Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sgrena Sets the Record Straight

/ fatal / accidents? /
Let me say this in advance: my initial reaction to the shooting of Giuliana Sgrena by US troops, was not that it was an assassination attempt. I thought that this was an example of the absolute desperation (and viciousness) with which US troops are facing any perceived threat, no matter how remote: Shoot first, ask questions later. Indeed, had a similar "accident" happened with some unfortunate Iraqi family, you can pretty much bet that it would be a non-event (unless captured in gory detail). It seems natural that the occupation forces can shoot anyone they please with near-total impunity.

That, I thought, was the real scandal behind the shooting. I couldn't believe that the US would (at any level of decision making) actually proceed to murder such a high-profile western journalist and knowingly cripple Il Duce II's already problematic presence in Iraq against most of Italian public opinion.

Why would the US government (or even the US military, if one accepts that you have rogue American commanders in Iraq setting their own agenda), want to alienate one of the few actual allies that the US has in this criminal mess?

Sure, the republican dumbfuckery that seems to be the voice of the Bush administration's psychoanalytic Id in these matters, was quick to jump in and suggest all sorts of conspiracy theories (my favorite was that she staged her own abduction - it requires colossal voluntary suspension of higher brain functions, or complete cluelessness to suggest as much), or just screamed ACCIDENT!!! ACCIDENT!!! as loud as they could, before the corpse of Nicola Calipari was even cold, in a way that made one want to counter their preposterous claims with exactly what they were anxious to exorcise. But, really, the motive was lacking and without some very serious evidence to the contrary, it was hard to believe that she was in any way deliberately targeted. It made no sense: Whatever she had from Fallujah was either already known and dismissed anyway by the reality-impaired thuggery and their faithful following or unlikely to top the gruesomeness that already has emerged from that particular war-crime scene. The idea that this was punishment of the Italians for paying a ransom was disproportionate: a deliberate shooting of a high ranking intelligence officer would certainly jeopardize Italy's involvement in general - forget about ransom paying...

Well, apart form the fact that Berlusconi himself has stated that the Americans had been notified about the vehicle carrying Calipari and the driver of the shot vehicle has confirmed that there was communication with their superiors, or the issue of US occupation forces barring Italian policemen from examining the destroyed vehicle we also have from the title link, Sgrena telling Naomi Klein in an interview something that sort of complicates matters even further:

"This is treated as a fairly common and understandable incident that there would be a shooting like this on that road," Klein says. "I was on that road myself, and it is a really treacherous place with explosions going off all the time and a lot of checkpoints. What Giuliana told me that I had not realized before is that she wasn't on that road at all."

According to Klein, when Calipari was killed and Sgrena wounded, they were on a secured road that can only be accessed through the heavily-fortified Green Zone and is reserved exclusively for top foreign embassy and US officials. "It's a completely separate road, actually a Saddam-era road, it would seem, that allowed his vehicles to pass directly from the airport to his palace," says Klein. "And now that is the secured route between the U.S. military base at the airport and the U.S. controlled Green Zone and the U.S. embassy."

"It was a VIP road, for embassy people, not for normal people," Sgrena told Klein. "I was only able to be on that road because I was with people from the Italian embassy"...
..."It was not a checkpoint. Nobody asked us to stop," Sgrena told Klein "All the streets we were on were USA controlled so we thought they knew we were going through. They didn't try to stop us, they just shot us. They have a way to signal us to stop but they didn't give us any signals to stop and they were at least 10 meters off the street to the side."

Sgrena also says that the US soldiers fired at them from behind, which of course contradicts the claim that the soldiers fired in self-defense. "Part of what we're hearing is that the U.S. soldiers opened fire on their car, because they didn't know who they were, and they were afraid," says Klein. "The fear, of course, is that their car could have blown up or that the soldiers might come under attack themselves. And what Giuliana Sgrena really stressed with me was that the bullet that injured her so badly came from behind, entered through the back of the car. And the only person who was not severely injured in the car was the driver, and she said that this is because the shots weren't coming from the front..."" [emphasis mine]

Well, I'm sure that there is a good explanation for all this, but the least conspiratorial theory I can come up with right now is that bored soldiers simply shoot at any car they feel like shooting, never mind whether its a threat or not, knowing that they will get away with murder.

Anyway: It's slowly dawning on me that this reality-based thinking of mine might not be the appropriate means of figuring out the current US leadership's motivations... Any other ideas?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Republican Lawsuit Driven Lysenkoism

/ education / by lawsuit /
This boogles the mind, really. I thought it was a hoax, but no, here's the proposed bill on the Florida Senate website... This bill will allow students to sue their professors if they don't "respect" and cover their viewpoints... I don't think this can pass (surely?), but that this sort of thing is even attempted is rather worrying.
I blame this sort of thing on Ronald Reagan, he first legitimized idiocy in public office. This is the unavoidable result. Excerpt:

The bill sets a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative “serious academic theories” that may disagree with their personal views.

According to a legislative staff analysis of the bill, the law would give students who think their beliefs are not being respected legal standing to sue professors and universities.

Students who believe their professor is singling them out for “public ridicule” – for instance, when professors use the Socratic method to force students to explain their theories in class – would also be given the right to sue.

“Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’” Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue.

This Baxley fellow is the sponsor of the Bill, so he's using the above as a rational example...

The whole "spreading ignorance by lawsuit" mentality brought to you by the well-known deity of rabid wingnuttery: David Horowitz.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

WTO-AIDS: Deadly committments

/ TRIPs / deadly /
India's lower house of parliament passed a patents bill on Tuesday making it illegal to copy patented drugs, a practice that has made cheaper medicines available in India and abroad...
...The bill was approved after the government conceded demands from its communist allies and included some of the amendments suggested by them which included allowing export of pharmaceutical products to least developed countries.
Earlier, the legislation had faced resistance from the ruling coalition's allies and opposition parties who were concerned about the availability of affordable drugs in India...
..."Fifty percent of people with AIDS in the developing world depend on generic drugs from India," Ellen 't Hoen, director of policy advocacy and research at relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, told a news conference.
"The patent law will cut the lifeline to other countries. Besides, the Doha declaration also says that countries should design products so that they protect public health"...

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is supporting the law after most of its proposed amendments were accepted. This is their (rather defensive) explanation of events.
Humanitarian organisations are far from happy. Medecins Sand Frontiers report that despite "The worst-case scenario for people living with life-threatening diseases" being averted, but "only in the short-term". They say that, among other problems:

...People who rely on low-cost medicines will have to wait three years before a generic company can even make an application for a right to produce the drug. Whereas people in wealthy countries will have access to new medicines immediately when they are proved safe and effective, people in poor countries will have to wait years...

It is indicative that there protests about the Indian law change in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where HIV patients are dependent on cheap Indian generic anti-HIV drugs. The Guardian quotes a South African anti-AIDS activist:

Campaigners say African countries, where health budgets are already stretched will find it almost impossible to fund the new medicines.

"In Cameroon we pay $200 a year for each Aids patient's treatment, which is an Indian generic manufacturer's product," said Fatima Hassan of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign. "The latest drugs are only supplied by western multinationals and they cost $4,800 a year. We cannot afford those prices."


Many in the generics industry say what is being given away goes against the national interest. Yusuf Hameid, the head of Cipla, one of the main generic manufacturers of HIV drugs, says India can "not afford monopolies".
He added: "Medicines in India used to be unaffordable until we adopted our patent laws in the 1970s.
"Our population and pattern of diseases means we have to increase affordability and accessibility."

Older Guardian report on the AIDS divide. Of immediate relevance is this story.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Taliban Nostalgia

/ liberation / unconvincing /
A wave of crime in [Kandahar] -- including [a child's] killing two months ago, and a bombing Thursday that killed at least five people -- has evoked a growing local nostalgia for the Taliban era of 1996 to 2001, when the extremist Islamic militia imposed law and order by draconian means.

Residents reached their boiling point last week, after a second kidnapped boy was killed. Hundreds of men poured into the streets, demanding that President Hamid Karzai fire the provincial governor and police chief. Some threw rocks at military vehicles and chanted, "Down with the warlords!" Witnesses recalled some adding, "Bring back the Taliban!"

Thus does the Washington Post describe the reactions of the residents of Kandahar. As far as the issues concerning the majority of the population, it seems that the current group of warlords that Karzai is allied with, are making life for the vast majority of people (outside Kabul) even worse than under the Taliban. And Kandahar id a Karzai-friendly city: "The rising discontent in Kandahar could prove particularly problematic for Karzai, who was born here and has drawn much support from the region's Pashtun ethnic group to which he belongs. Many Kandaharis, once alienated by the harsh rule of the Taliban, say their early support for Karzai is now giving way to a grudging nostalgia for the Taliban era."
It's worth noting as well, that VCRs and Satellite dishes are reported as being now available in Afghanistan. As this is one of the poorest countries in the world we're talking about - it's quite obvious that those that would take advantage of the availability of such merchandise are either warlords, western employees or entrepreneurs taking advantage of the recent liberalization of agricultural production in the country. A step in the right direction surely for the "liberation" of Afghanistan. Elites living in westernized comfort in their heavily guarded and luxurious homes, while the rest of the population is kept under chaotic random violence and left to their misery and superstition. Sounds like a winning recipe...

A Brief History Lesson

/ defining / democracy /

Dilip Hiro reminds everyone on some basic facts about US history in bringing democracy to the Middle East. Should be required reading, for anyone that has bought into the Bushite pro-democracy rhetoric...:
"The United States flaunts the banner of democracy in the Middle East only when that advances its economic, military, or strategic interests. The history of the past six decades shows that whenever there has been conflict between furthering democracy in the region and advancing American national interests, U.S. administrations have invariably opted for the latter course. Furthermore, when free and fair elections in the Middle East have produced results that run contrary to Washington's strategic interests, it has either ignored them or tried to block the recurrence of such events."

Meanwhile Tony Karon in the Haaretz warns that Arab democracy might not have the results that the neocons think it will. He also makes an excellent point about extremists and elections - well beyond the capacity of the Bush clique to grasp:

If the Bush doctrine is a clear-eyed attempt to weaken the appeal of terrorism by creating genuine democracy in the Arab world, giving the Islamists and other radical groups a peaceful channel to challenge their regimes, then it is indeed a shift of profound significance. Having Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups participate in electoral politics is infinitely preferable to allowing them to serve as a mythic symbol of popular frustration, unburdened by any accountability for good governance.

But whether the Bush administration is pursuing democratization fully cognizant of the consequences of success - oblivion for many of its traditional allies, and the empowering of long-time nemeses - is an open question. The triumphalist rhetoric of recent weeks suggests that when it comes to the consequences of Arab democracy, many eyes in Washington remain tightly shut.

Via the Cursor...

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sierra Leone: Female circumcision is a vote winner

/ barbarity / institutionalized /

"When the president's wife sponsors the circumcision of 1,500 young girls to win votes for her husband, you know you've got a problem persuading ordinary people and the government that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a bad idea.

And when the woman who is now Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Women's Affairs, threatens to 'sew up the mouths' of those who preach against FGM, you realise that you are facing a really big uphill struggle."

One woman's struggle against a barbarous custom.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dubleya Standards

/ censorship / paths / many /
Mark Ames over at the exile takes on the idea of state cenorship highlighted in the recent Putin press pool incident, to demonstrate that the style may change but censorship is alive and well in the the USA as well. He actually makes a case that censorship is more of a problem when made invisible by mountains of doctrinaire doublethink, then when everybody is aware of it - as in Russia. Ecxerpt:

...That is where Russians misunderstand America, and American methods. In Russia, everyone knows there's censorship, and maybe that's why it's effected so crudely as it is on Russian state television. And since Russian censorship is so crude, it only ensures that most people are aware of the censorship.

In America, on the other hand, most people literally don't see the censorship, and refuse to see it even when it happens in front of their faces.

But wait! That means all of America is complicit in this ideological double speak, this enraging imperial hypocrisy! Perhaps this is why, of all the ideologies I've seen tested out on the public over the past ten years, none seems to be catching on more strongly than this increasingly irrational and hysterical anti-Americanism. It's gotten so insane that one TV report recently blamed the US for Russia's loss in the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War, while another program I watched blamed American drug companies for shipping tainted vaccines to Russia and infecting their children.

I'm just mentioning two small things, but believe me, every time an American helicopter crashes in Iraq or a hurricane hits Florida, nearly all of Russia stands up and cheers. And no wonder. The whole country I've left behind is a collaborationist country. And the fucked thing is, I'm a refugee in a country whose regime is even worse than America's, but far less effective, thanks to the people, who have remained, in their bitterness, so much more awake.

Friday, March 11, 2005

War Crimes Unpunished

/ warfare / chemical / endorsed /
It's an old story, but one might expect that some recompensation of the victims of the USA's extensive use of chemical weapons in Vietnam, would be given - at least for symbolic reasons.
Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange are outraged a U.S. court has dismissed their lawsuit against the chemical's manufacturers for crimes against humanity. The U.S. military in the Vietnam War sprayed the defoliant, which Vietnamese say has caused illnesses ranging from cancer to birth defects. A federal judge in New York Thursday decided the suit had no basis in law, and the plaintiffs had failed to prove a clear link between Agent Orange and their illnesses...
...Eighty-six-year-old Nguyen Mai, a retired government official, says someone should pay for the devastation Agent Orange has caused Vietnam. He says human morality teaches us that those who commit crimes have to take responsibility. Therefore, he says, the United States has to compensate generations of Vietnamese suffering the effects of Agent Orange...

This is dioxin we're talking about, which "was not proven" to harm the plaintiffs.

Some justice.

Typing error causes nuclear scare

/ terror / error /
But wouldn't they have noticed?

"The Sudanese government had a nasty shock this week, when it read on a US Congress website that the Americans had conducted nuclear tests in the country.
A House of Representatives committee report mentioned tests conducted in Sudan between 1962 and 1970.
However, when alarmed Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail raised it with US officials in Khartoum, it turned out to be a typing error.
The report should have said Sedan, a test site in the US state of Nevada."

Spanish Muslims issue fatwa against Osama Bin Laden

/ appropriate / rememberence /
The first fatwa against the former CIA trainee. The Spanish Islamic Comission also thanks the people of Spain and their government:

Joining the commemorations in a symbolic act of solidarity, the commission invited Spanish-based imams to condemn terrorism at Friday prayers. It also urged imams to publicise a document designed to “thank the Spanish people and the Government for their attitude towards Muslims” in the past year, in particular for not taking “disproportionate” measures similar to those which the September 11 attacks prompted in the United States.

Via Non Tibi Spero.

It is not democracy that's on the march in the Middle East

/ middle east / spreading / hype /
Seumas Milne, from the Guardian:
"The claim that democracy is on the march in the Middle East is a fraud. It is not democracy, but the US military, that is on the march. The Palestinian elections in January took place because of the death of Yasser Arafat - they would have taken place earlier if the US and Israel hadn't known that Arafat was certain to win them - and followed a 1996 precedent. The Iraqi elections may have looked good on TV and allowed Kurdish and Shia parties to improve their bargaining power, but millions of Iraqis were unable or unwilling to vote, key political forces were excluded, candidates' names were secret, alleged fraud widespread, the entire system designed to maintain US control and Iraqis unable to vote to end the occupation. They have no more brought democracy to Iraq than US-orchestrated elections did to south Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. As for the cosmetic adjustments by regimes such as Egypt's and Saudi Arabia's, there is not the slightest sign that they will lead to free elections, which would be expected to bring anti-western governments to power.

What has actually taken place since 9/11 and the Iraq war is a relentless expansion of US control of the Middle East, of which the threats to Syria are a part. The Americans now have a military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar - and in not one of those countries did an elected government invite them in. Of course Arabs want an end to tyrannical regimes, most of which have been supported over the years by the US, Britain and France: that is the source of much anti-western Muslim anger. The dictators remain in place by US licence, which can be revoked at any time - and managed elections are being used as another mechanism for maintaining pro-western regimes rather than spreading democracy."

From the Washington Post (free reg. required):
"In an interview, [Egyptian diplomat] Aboul Gheit criticized Bush's speech Tuesday to the National Defense University at Fort McNair, in which the president listed elections held by Iraqis and Palestinians and anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon as signs that "clearly and suddenly, the thaw has begun" in the largely authoritarian Middle East.
"What model are we talking about in Iraq? Bombs are exploding everywhere, and Iraqis are killed every day in the streets," Aboul Gheit said. "Palestinian elections? There were elections seven years prior."

As for Lebanon, Aboul Gheit noted something that Bush did not: Tuesday's huge pro-Syrian demonstration mounted by Hezbollah, the Lebanese group that the State Department labels a terrorist organization. The rally showed that "there are other trends in society," Aboul Gheit said, warning that U.S. pressure might lead ethnically and religiously divided Lebanon into chaos.

"Maybe things will get better, but we see what we see," he concluded

Useful alternate point of view: Indymedia Beirut.

Via the Angry Arab

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Iraqi Women's Rights Coalition

/ iraq / women / no rights /
An Iraqi organisation for the protection of women's rights. They seem to have a lot of work ahead of them:

The need for these services?

In order to gain a broad perspective of the local scene, and a sense of the urgency to activate change towards the women’s cause in Iraqi Kurdistan, we refer to one recent statistical figure done in North of Iraq - Kurdistan
That could explain it all:

Within a population of 5 Million in Iraqi Kurdistan:
  • 4000 honor killings (1990-1999)

  • Hundreds of burnt women

  • Tens of honor driven mutilations against women

  • Thousands of circumcised (genitally mutilated) girls yearly till this present day

  • The organisation is less then impressed with the recent elections:

    The coming "parliament" will be nothing but a continuation of the last two years of administration by the Governing Council and the Interim Government. This means continued violation of women’s rights through compulsory wearing of the veil, allowing polygamy and pleasure marriage, turning a blind eye to the crime of honor killing (exonerating the perpetrators of these crimes) and implementing Islamic sharia which means active discrimination against women, violating their rights and depriving them even from those few rights they enjoyed under the Baath regime.

    The sentiment is shared by Iraqi writer, activist and former Saddam prisoner Haifa Zangana who points out their irrelevance:

    Behind the facade of post-election political process, despite Tony Blair's desire to move on and George Bush's attempt to mend fences with Europe, in Iraq the atrocities continue to mount. Some, like the Hilla attack, are Zarqawi-style, with hundreds dead and wounded. Others are more mundane and sustained, like US warplanes bombing suspect houses in Ramadi, Hit, or Mosul, roadblock killings in Najaff, or post-curfew hunting by snipers in Sammara.

    Despite all the rhetoric about "building a new democracy", daily life for most Iraqis is still a struggle for survival, with human rights abuses engulfing them. A typical Iraqi day begins with the struggle to get the basics: petrol, a cylinder of gas, fresh water, food and medication. It ends with a sigh of relief: Alhamdu ilah (thanks, God), for surviving death threats, violent attacks, kidnappings and killings.

    There's a pattern here... Another Women's group RAWA, from Afghanistan, which fought against the Taliban regime, is also unimpressed with developments under the American occupation.

    Well, no one said that the new colonialism would be pleasant...

    Wednesday, March 9, 2005

    Lebanese views: Zogby International

    / politics / complicated /
    Well I stand, partially, corrected then... According to this Zogby poll in Lebanon although a large part of opinion in Lebanon is indeed explained by denomination, the picture is not as absolute as one would think. James Zogby (himself of Lebanese Maronite Christian descent, I think), has a very informative analysis and commentary about the poll results and the situation in Lebanon, which concludes with the following refreshing display of knowledgeable insight (as opposed to the tons of pretentious nonsense we've been bombarded with lately):

    ...The lesson in all of this is that as important as the demonstrations may be, those not demonstrating and their views must be factored by policy makers into the complex equation of how to move Lebanon forward. While it has become clear that the Syrian military presence in Lebanon has run its course, a Syrian withdrawal by itself doesn’t solve the Lebanon puzzle. Intense U.S. pressure to implement the other half of 1559 may provoke counter-demonstrations that fragile Lebanon may not be able to easily digest.

    A cautionary note: before we begin celebrating falling dominos and claiming credit for them, it is important to know where they might fall and what might come after they land. [emphasis mine]

    Update: Robert Fisk on the Recent pro-Syrian demonstrations.
    (via Phersu)

    Chavez ascending

    / socialism / democratic /
    The numbers are soaring. The man with the plan is becoming more ambitious, more savvy and more imaginative.

    The vision is expanding...

    Millions of babies' lives could be saved

    / news / good /
    Simple solutions for fighting infant mortality:

    "Simple, inexpensive treatments could prevent the deaths of three million babies every year, doctors and child advocates have announced.

    According to studies published in the medical journal The Lancet1-4, each year four million babies under a month old die, and three-quarters of them die in the first week of life. But the research shows that most could be saved through 16 basic interventions, such as encouraging mothers to breast-feed and providing antibiotics for sick babies. "

    Also from Nature some more good news, with kudos to the WHO and UNICEF: Measle death toll plummets:

    The WHO and UNICEF are confident that they will hit their target of reducing measles deaths to fewer than 440,000 by the end of this year. A panel of experts will meet soon to set a new goal for the initiative.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2005

    News of the day

    / newsday / busy /
  • Huge Pro-Syrian demonstration, larger than the anti-Syrian demonstrations of the past few days take place in Beirut. To the shock, I assume, of assorted pundits who apparently were unaware of the very sectarian nature of Lebanese politics and attitudes towards Syria.

  • Maskhadov killed by Russian troops in Chechnya. Bad news for any hope of political settlement as this leaves Basayev as the heir apparent to the leadership of the Chechen resistance. Maskhadov's last interview.

  • Haradinaj charged with war crimes. Kosovo's prime minister is finally charged with war crimes. The UN authorities are very worried about possible unrest. Possibly a first step to pacify the Serbs. Next step will be the floating of proposal for independence of the province (if things don't blow up in the mean time)

  • Update on the Giuliana Sgrena story: Differing accounts.
  • "Clean breaks" and false dawns

    / reality / middle east /
    A very interesting analysis of recent developments in the Middle East by Khader Khader:

    "..To understand what is happening in the Arab world these days and not to rush into romantic analyses about the strong desire of the Arab masses to enjoy democracy, as some Arab intellectuals tend to believe, one needs to look back at a 1996 policy paper prepared under the supervision of now-US vice president Dick Cheney and his neo-con task force of Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David and Meyrav Wurmser, et al. Entitled 'Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm', this paper outlined a scenario whereby the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PA would be torn to shreds, and, first Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Hezbollah, and Iran, would be targeted for military assault and political destabilization. The outcome of the regional convulsions provoked by the 'Clean Break' doctrine was to be a new Middle East, with Israel hegemonic in the region, presiding over a series of newly balkanized states run by puppet regimes...

    ...The fragmentation of the Arab world will serve at least two goals: it will serve Israel to a great extent when it engages in final-status negotiations with a weaker Palestinian side stripped of support from any Arab hinterland, and it will serve the US in replacing the current Arab leaders who have been exhausted with a new group of indebted "young democrats".

    This is not a defense of any of the current Arab leaders or regimes. It is a warning to the romantics, those who advocate reform and democracy in the Arab world and see the US as the necessary conduit for such change. One day, when they have outlived their usefulness, they will face the same fate as their predecessors. "

    Monday, March 7, 2005

    Giuliana Sgrena: This is the truth

    / invaders / trigger / happy /
    The released journalist Giuliana Sgrena reports on her experience as an abductee and the events surrounding her release and the subsequent murder of Nicola Calipari:

    ...The car continued on its course, passing an underpass full of puddles and almost disbanding to avoid them. We all broke out into incredible laughter. It was liberating. Disbanding on a road flooded with water in Baghdad and perhaps ending up in a nasty road accident after all that I had gone through was really not fit to be told. Nicola Calipari then came to sit by my side. The driver had communicated twice to the Embassy and Italy that we were headed towards the airport which I knew to be very heavily controlled by the American troops. It's less than a kilometre away, they told me, when ... I only remember firing. At that point, a shower of fire and bullets hit us, shutting up for ever the cheered up voices of a few minutes earlier.

    The driver started to yell that we were Italians, "We are Italians. We are Italians..." Nicola Calipari threw himself upon me to protect me and immediately, I repeat, immediately, I felt his last breath as he died on me. I must have felt physical pain, I didn't know why. But I had a flash. My mind went straight to the words my kidnappers had pronounced. They had declared they were committed to letting me free but I had to be wary "because there are the Americans that don't want your return". Then, when they had told me that, I had judged those words as superfluous and ideological. In that moment they risked giving me the taste of the bitterest of truths.

    Her description of her captivity is also very interesting, and acquires an almost surreal quality as it is revealed that Francesco Totti the football player (!), AS Roma's striker, had an influence in her release:

    The kidnappers seemed to me to be a very religious group, continuously praying with verses from the Quran. But on Friday, at the moment of my release, the one that seemed to be the most religious among them and who used to get up every morning at 5 to pray, said "congratulations" to me, incredibly squeezing my hand tight, a behaviour not at all normal for an Islamic fundamentalist, adding, "If you behave well, you will leave immediately". Then an almost funny episode. One of the two guardians came to me amazed both because the TV was showing my portraits hanging from European cities and because of Totti. Yes, Totti. [The kidnapper] had said he was a fan of the football team of Rome and had remained bewildered that his favourite player had entered the field with the writing "Free Giuliana" on his T-shirt.

    Znet link to the article as the above link is non-permanent.
    This, BTW, was not the only incident involving a "friendly-fire" death in Iraq on March 4.

    Update: Sgrena's BBC interview.

    Friday, March 4, 2005

    The last cold war prisoners: Free the Grenada 17!

    / prisoners / political /
    A couple of weeks ago, "a court in Grenada refused to release 17 men and women who have been held in prison on the island since 1983. These are the victims of a more-or-less forgotten US atrocity, the invasion of then socialist Grenada 22 years ago by armed forces of its enormous neighbour. This unprovoked attack brought to an end the rule of the People’s Revolutionary Government and an exciting attempt of a tiny nation to free itself from the bonds of colonialism and the legacy of slavery and exploitation..."

    Amnesty International describes the Grenada 17 as possib;y the last cold war prisoners in a detailed report that provides much of the background to this story.

    Also informative is the website for the campaign to realease the political prisoners, and the declassified documents pertaining to the story.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2005

    The Free Trade Game

    / trade / free / for all /
    This latest issue of the New Internationalist, tackles "Free Trade". It includes a primer on the induced race to the bottom - and a rather interesting fact sheet.

    Fair Trade perhaps?

    Near Sci-Fi

    / physics / meets / fiction/

    Three things you've read about, are not as fictitious as you might have thought:

    - Invisibility shield! - well almost: "the concept as it stands is "no magic cloak", because it would have to be delicately tuned to suit each different object it hides. Perhaps even more of a drawback, he points out, is the fact that a particular shield only works for one specific wavelength of light.
    An object might be made invisible in red light, say, but not in multiwavelength daylight.
    And crucially, the effect only works when the wavelength of the light being scattered is roughly the same size as the object. So shielding from visible light would be possible only for microscopic objects; larger ones could be hidden only to long-wavelength radiation such as microwaves. This means that the technology could not be used to hide people or vehicles from human vision."

    - Teleportation (US Air Force research!): "Contemporary physics, as well as theories that presently challenge the current physics paradigm were investigated. The author identified and proposed two unique physics models for teleportation that are based on the manipulation of either the general relativistic spacetime metric or the spacetime vacuum electromagnetic (zero-point fluctuations) parameters. Naturally occurring anomalous teleportation phenomena that were previously studied by the United States and foreign governments were also documented in the study and are reviewed in the report. The author proposes an additional model for teleportation that is based on a combination of the experimental results from the previous government studies and advanced physics concepts."

    - Life on Mars? "Formaldehyde has been found in the martian atmosphere, according to a senior scientist working with the Mars Express orbiter. If correct, the discovery provides strong evidence that Mars is either extremely geologically active, or harbouring colonies of microbial life. But many experts are not yet convinced."
    See also: Seas of Mars.

    Catastrophes Report, Climate Change worries Insurers

    / climate / uninsured /
    There are sections of the corporate world with a great incetive to fight global warming, this story reminds us:

    Munich Re, the largest reinsurer in the world, has just released its report Topics Geo—Annual Review: Natural Catastrophes 2004. (Full report here [pdf].)

    An early corporate voice expressing concern over the potential impact of global warming and resulting climate change (since each disaster hits it economically), Munich Re sees those concerns confirmed. From the report:

    By and large, however, 2004 was dominated by extreme atmospheric events and weather-related natural catastrophes, both in terms of the number of events and the monetary losses they generated. The past year thus confirmed the fear that has long been expressed by Munich Re: global warming—very probably triggered by human activity—is leading not only to an increase in the frequency and intensity of exceptional weather events but also to new kinds of weather risks and greater loss potentials:

    *A hurricane formed off the Brazilian coast for the first time since observations began—this area had been considered hurricane-free.
    * Hurricane Alex intensified to a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale in the region of 40°N—unusually far from the Tropics. Tropical cyclones usually weaken or subside completely in these northern latitudes.
    * Florida was hit by four hurricanes in the space of a few weeks—making it the costliest hurricane season ever for insurers.
    * Japan was hit by ten tropical cyclones—a record number that was unequalled throughout the previous century.

    via baloney

    Tuesday, March 1, 2005

    Radio Free Nepal

    / media / democratic /
    "King Gyandendra of Nepal has issued a ban on independent news broadcasts and has threatened to punish newspapers for reports that run counter to the official monarchist line. Given that any person in Nepal publishing reports critical of 'the spirit of the royal proclamation' is subject to punishment and/or imprisonment, contributors to this blog will publish their reports from Nepal anonymously."

    Regarding the situation in Nepal:
    Nursing the pinion
    Nepal one month on
    Chilling tales emerge in the wake of the Nepal coup

    Worth noting from Radio Free Nepal, although not exactly unexpected: Pro-Bush bloggers support coup.

    iowahawk: Fear and Loathing in the Mystery Machine

    / scooby / doo / gonzo /
    The late, great Hunter S. Thompson meets Scooby Doo: the lost episode. Brilliant:

    "We were ten minutes south of San Clemente when the putrid green daisy walls of the van started closing in. I recall the fat four-eyed lesbian sweater girl saying something like 'are you okay, Mr. Duke? We've got a mystery to solve...' when suddenly the gullet of the garish chartreuse steel beast began to spasm, as if a digestive track readying itself to vomit. I began clawing at my hamstrings and when I turned my head I was looking into the irridescent eyes of a grotesque animal screeching 'Ruh Roh! Ruh Roh!' in a hoarse irritating dog-accented gibberish. That's when it things began to turn weird..."