Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spotlight Scandals

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Betraying the Planet

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.
 
But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn't help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there's growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we're facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/opinion/29krugman.html?_r=2

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Demolished! 11 Beautiful Train Stations That Fell To The Wrecking Ball (And The Crappy Stuff Built In Their Place)

by Yonah Freemark and Jebediah Reed

NYC's Pennsylvania Station, demolished 1963

In 1963, America learned a painful lesson when Pennsylvania Station, an architectural treasure that Senator Daniel Moynihan described as "the best thing in our city," was torn down and replaced with a dreary complex that includes an office building and Madison Square Garden. The rail station, to this day the nation's busiest, was moved underground into a claustrophobic warren of artificially lit passageways and bleak waiting rooms. While there has been an active campaign since the 1990's to rectify the mistake by creating a new and worthy station a block away, the $1 billion-plus project remains tied up in political gridlock.

But the sad saga of Penn was by no means an isolated incident. Almost like a rite of passage, cities across the country embraced the era of Interstates, Big Macs, and suburban sprawl by tearing down their train depots. (Frequently, they just did the Joni Mitchell thing and put up a parking lot.) But time and experience are showing that train stations are vital organs in a healthy city, and removing them deadens the entire organism. The lesson is especially stark at the moment, as cities around the country face the challenge of rebuilding the infrastructure for regional high speed rail networks. Chicago–once abundantly blessed with grand stations–is today bouncing around ideas for a new high speed rail depot.

One lesson of this legacy is that what replaces a well designed and centrally located rail depot can is rarely of equal worth to the city. Following a tour of 10 great depots that were lost to demolition orders–and one more that might be still–and what stands on those sites today.

1. NEW YORK CITY: Pennsylvania Station

THEN: "The best thing in our city," according to Sen. Daniel Moynihan
Old Penn station interior

WHAT'S THERE NOW: The new Penn Station is a dingy labyrinth beneath an ugly arena
Penn Station today
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2. MEMPHIS - Union Station

When this city's Union Station opened in 1912, it was the largest stone structure in town. But when the U.S. Postal Service announced that it needed new land in the city in the late 1960s, the magnificent building was chosen for demolition because it no longer attracted the crowds that it had once brought into the city. Any interest in saving the structure itself was ignored.

These days Memphis is expressing interest in being part of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.

THEN: A grand Beaux Arts depot for a thriving city
Memphis old Union Station
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WHAT'S THERE NOW: A windowless postal facility surrounded by barbed wire
usps-bldg1
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3. ATLANTA - Terminal Station

Atlanta was once the largest rail crossroads in the south. Travelers could get virtually everywhere quickly and conveniently by rail. Built in 1905, Terminal was the grand portal to the city. It had two Italianate towers and a huge train shed behind. When the station was razed in 1970, it was replaced by a government office building. These days Atlanta's intercity rail depot is a small former commuter rail station located far north of downtown, adjacent to a 16-lane highway.

Recently, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue–after scouting the passenger rail systems in Spain and China–has enthusiastically embraced the idea of a high speed rail network for the southeastern US. Of course, Atlanta would be a network hub–and very likely in need of a suitable depot.

THEN: A fitting portal to a regional capital
Atlanta's old terminal station
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NOW: A government office building
Federal building at old Terminal Station site
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4. BIRMINGHAM, AL - Terminal Station

In 1909, Birmingham opened its grand Terminal Station, which united the train services of six operators. The two block-long Byzantine-styled complex had 10 tracks, and when opened was the largest of its kind in the South.

Yet this station — which served a peak of 54 trains a day in 1943 — by 1969 only was seeing seven daily arrivals. As a result, the city chose to demolish the structure that year. Although the land was originally intended for a new federal building, a highway was built there instead.

Today, Birmingham is slated as a primary stop on the designated high speed rail corridor linking New Orleans and Atlanta.

THEN: An impressive and centrally located depot
Birmingham's old Terminal Station
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NOW: A connector highway
The highway that runs over the old station site
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5. CHICAGO: Grand Central Station

Perhaps more than any other American city, Chicago's destiny has been a result of its transportation links to the rest of the country. As such, it had something of an abundance of train stations. Even while it still has four commuter terminals inside the Loop, knocking down impressive stations like Grand Central did not yield much for the city. The site of this former station, prime real estate on the banks of the Illinois River, is still a vacant lot after nearly four decades.

THEN: Located on the banks of the Chicago River, the beautiful station with ornate marble floors, Corinthian columns, and a fireplace. It served travelers to DC and many other cities.
Chicago's Grand Central Station

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NOW: A vacant lot
central-station-site

http://www.infrastructurist.com/2009/06/22/11-beautiful-train-stations-that-fell-to-the-wrecking-ball/

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Technology graveyard

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Musical Healing For A Region In Conflict

By Banning Eyre

The Qadim Ensemble, led by multi-instrumentalist Eliyahu Sills, brings little-understood worlds of music to a wider audience.

The Qadim Ensemble, led by multi-instrumentalist Eliyahu Sills, brings little-understood worlds of mAll Things Considered - Eliyahu and The Qadim Ensemble is a new consort out of San Francisco with a diverse repertoire of Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian and Turkish music. The musicians are out to create musical unity in a region of the world better known for division and conflict. In the process, they provide a gentle introduction into a vast realm of largely unfamiliar music. The group's debut album, Eastern Wind, is a diverse set of offerings that are beautifully presented. The players bring palpable enthusiasm to each performance.

Rachel Valfer does much of the singing throughout the album, and even when she's backed by a chorus of other vocalists, they rarely resort to harmony. Unison singing is a common thread that runs through many of these regional styles. The technique is showcased in the album's first track, "Im Nin'alu," a Yemenite Jewish song from the 17th century. The piece might be more than three centuries old, but its refrain contains an effective pop hook. The Qadim Ensemble chooses its repertoire wisely, with pieces that are varied, tuneful and short enough not to tax the attention span.

Eliyahu Sills has studied and performed jazz, Indian classical, Arabic and Turkish music — all of which encourage extended instrumental improvisation. But when Sills takes a solo, usually on the end-blown wooden flute, the ney, he is admirably succinct. The ney has been called the most human of Arabic and Turkish instruments, a reflection of the soul. Whether the music comes from Sufi trance ritual or a romantic Armenian lament, voice and ney create a sense of human communication with the divine.

Master musicians devote their lives to perfecting the classical and religious traditions The Qadim Ensemble dips into on Eastern Wind. That very American impulse to nudge disparate elements onto common ground inevitably risks offending purists. For the rest of us, The Qadim Ensemble makes little-understood worlds of music accessible and pleasing, without trivializing them. It's hard to find fault with that.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105098816

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Why pay taxes?

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Comics artist Mark Sable detained for Unthinkable acts

By Ian Randal Strock

Boom! Studios sends word that comics writer Mark Sable was detained by TSA security guards at Los Angeles International Airport this past weekend because he was carrying a script for a new issue of his comic miniseries Unthinkable. Sable was detained while traveling to New York for a debut party at Jim Hanley's Universe today.

The comic series follows members of a government think tank that was tasked with coming up with 9/11-type 'unthinkable' terrorist scenarios that now are coming true. (See this article for more on the series.)

Sable wrote of his experiences: 'Flying from Los Angeles to New York for a signing at Jim Hanley's Universe Wednesday (May 13th), I was flagged at the gate for 'extra screening'. I was subjected to not one, but two invasive searches of my person and belongings. TSA agents then 'discovered' the script for Unthinkable #3. They sat and read the script while I stood there, without any personal items, identification or ticket, which had all been confiscated.'

'The minute I saw the faces of the agents, I knew I was in trouble. The first page of the Unthinkable script mentioned 9/11, terror plots, and the fact that the (fictional) world had become a police state. The TSA agents then proceeded to interrogate me, having a hard time understanding that a comic book could be about anything other than superheroes, let alone that anyone actually wrote scripts for comics.'

'I cooperated politely and tried to explain to them the irony of the situation. While Unthinkable blurs the line between fiction and reality, the story is based on a real-life government think tank where a writer was tasked to design worst-case terror scenarios. The fictional story of Unthinkable unfolds when the writer's scenarios come true, and he becomes a suspect in the terrorist attacks.'

http://sfscope.com/2009/05/comics-artist-mark-sable-detai.html

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Bottom Line on Public Option

This won't come as the slightest surprise to those versed in health care policy issues. But I fear it's only barely permeated the health care reform debate in the country, certainly in Washington. And that's this: the opposition to a so-called 'public option' comes almost entirely from insurance companies who have developed monopolies or near monopolies in particular geographic areas. And they don't want competition.

Note, I'm not saying more competition. I'm saying any competition at all. As Zack Roth explains in this new piece 94% of the health care insurance market is now under monopoly or near-monopoly conditions -- the official term of art is 'highly concentrated'. In other words, there's no mystery why insurance costs keep going up even as the suck quotient rises precipitously. Because in most areas there's little or no actual competition.

It's something everyone can understand that if you have only one widget maker, widgets will get really expensive, and probably decline in quality. And the widget makers will pour lots of money into Congress or whatever the law-making power is, to keep their monopoly in place because their monopoly ensures locked in profits. It's market theory 101 (or perhaps, rent-seeking 102, depending on your perspective.)

That's basically what this is all about. Read the piece, it will open your eyes (if they're not already) and make clear why the opposition to a public option is about preventing competition.

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2009/06/bottom_line_on_public_option.php?ref=fpblg

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Clarence Thomas reverses himself

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Exorcism and the 'homosexual demon'

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

To Manifested Glory Ministries of Bridgeport, Conn.:

Perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me what a "homosexual demon" looks like.

I will confess that until last week, I had no idea demons even had sexual orientations. Or, for that matter, sex. Then I happened upon a video that is making the rounds online. It depicts members of your congregation conducting what can only be described as the "gay exorcism" of a 16-year-old boy.

He convulses on the floor as if in the grip of a seizure while adults circle above, apparently attempting to holler the gay out of him. They yell things like, "C'mon, you homosexual demon! We want a clean spirit!"

And . . . "Come out of his belly! It's in the belly!"

And . . . "Right now, I command you to leave!"

And . . . "Rip it from his throat! Come on, you homosexual demon!"

A woman fans a towel at the writhing boy. At one point, the child, limp and unresisting as a sack of flour, is held upright and vomits into a bag. A piano plays gospel chords in the background.

Originally, you all had posted the full 20-minute video on YouTube, but for some strange reason (surely not embarrassment?), you've since taken it down. Still, snippets survive and are as near as a Google search. The ones I saw do not make clear whether the demon ever poked its head out, but if it didn't, you have to wonder if maybe it was scared to. That was quite an unsettling scene, after all. Unsettling enough that it has landed your church in the middle of controversy and outrage.

The Associated Press reports that some advocates for gay youth regard what the video depicts as abuse and are calling for an investigation. They warn that this is not an isolated event. To the contrary, they say, things like this happen all the time.

The AP went to get your side of things and one of your leaders, "Apostle" Patricia McKinney, told a reporter the boy actually came to you seeking help. She said your church isn't prejudiced in the least. "We have nothing against homosexuals," she said. "I just don't agree with their lifestyle."

I know you're up against it right now, but I want to assure you: I'm not here to beat up on you, or to accuse you of being the bigots you say you aren't, or to call you a bunch of backwards mouth breathers who abused a confused teenaged boy. No, I'm just hoping you'll tell me what a homosexual demon looks like. I'm scared I may unknowingly run into one, so please help me sharpen my demon gaydar.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/70961.html

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Old dashed political career home

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Debbie Rowe Doesn't Want Custody Of Michael Jackson's Kids

Well, that was fast. Michael Jackson hasn't been buried yet and Debbie Rowe has already opened up her no-lips to the media. In an interview with the prestigious and well-respected News of the World, Debbie started by saying, "Where's my cashiers check?" Then she went on to say that Prince Michael and Paris are not her ex-husband's biological children. Debbie says the sperm came from a donor and not from MJ. Oh, Debbie, you should teach a master class in class and taste.

Debbie could never talk about any of this before, because she signed a confidentiality agreement before she skipped off with a large bag of MJ's money. But now that he's gone, let the famewhoring begin!

Debbie said, ""I was just the vessel. It wasn't Michael's sperm. Just like I stick the sperm up my horse, this is what they did to me. I was his thoroughbred." And this is the part where my brain vomits...

While she was pregnant with Prince Michael, MJ wanted to marry Debbie so they could look like a perfect family. They never sexed it up together or even kissed on the lips.

After Debbie gave birth to Paris, she learned that she could never have kids again, "The delivery was so hard. My insides were all torn up and I was barren. When he knew I couldn't have any more babies he didn't want anything to do with me."

MJ reportedly bought her a house and gave her millions of dollars to go away. Debbie says she will not fight for custody of Prince Michael or Paris, "I know I will never see them again. I was never cut out to be a mother - I was no good. I don't want these children in my life. My children are my animals now."

If any of this is true, you better believe that some dumb ho is going to crawl out of a roach motel and declare he's "the sperm donor" just so he can get a piece. On a very special Maury.....

http://dlisted.com/node/32722

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Global politics of ‘pretty’ women bends coverage of Iran’s election protesters?

With reporting opportunities strictly limited in Iran, images of Iran women carry the narrative. Much of the media focus is on young attractive women. The author wonders about complexities hidden behind the emerging icons.

by Latoya Peterson – with
Women's Media Center – for Women News Network

Images are driving the Western response to the Iranian elections.  The media, hampered in their ability to report from the ground, has elected to go with citizen videos and photographs of the rising civil unrest.  One early narrative that emerged, before the demonstrations against the results of the election, was of a beautiful Iranian woman, in modern clothes, wearing a loose headscarf and casting her vote.

We can't predict the image that will eventually represent the Iranian elections as the situation grows more serious each day. The original iconography of painted hands—with green representing the regime's chief challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi—has given way to palms painted red, to commemorate those who are dying.  A video is circulating of a woman known as "Neda," who was killed during the protests and is becoming a symbol for the protestors who feel betrayed by their government. One site proclaims, "We Are All Neda."

However, the pre-protest narrative needs a bit more analysis. One of the most recognizable photographs was shot by Atta Kanare for Getty Images.  A young woman stands facing the camera, a stern expression on her face and lips painted peach. A trendy pink and purple headscarf and sunglasses complete the look and she stares directly at the lens, holding up her ink-stained index finger to prove she voted.  Some journalists and bloggers have noticed that this and other photographs taken before the election results were announced, of proud young women lining up to cast their ballots, seem to focus on the beauty of the women engaged in political action, and this trend has continued in documenting the protests.  In the midst of scenes of chaos, smoky streets, and anger, small symbols of beauty continue to emerge—a hand with manicured red fingernails clutching a pamphlet, or a bright yellow headscarf framing a waterfall of chestnut hair.

Sex sells, but so does Iranian beauty, compelling even those who are disinterested in politics and current events to pay attention, if for no other reason to find out why the alluring girl in the photo has painted palms while she flashes a peace sign.  Advertising agencies understand that attractiveness draws people in, forcing them to pay attention.  In addition, photographers are known for working toward a poignant, beautiful, and memorable picture, so their focus on beauty should come as no surprise.  However, is the narrative around what's happening in Iran becoming dominated by the idea of what is beautiful?

http://womennewsnetwork.net/2009/06/26/global-politics-of-%E2%80%98pretty%E2%80%99-bends-coverage-of-irans-election-protesters/

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The reality belt

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