2007 - %3, May

Shoot an Iraqi from the Comfort of Your Own Home Computer

| Thu May. 24, 2007 1:56 PM PDT

Wafaacrop.jpg

It's not just a video game. A performance artist has been holed up in Chicago with a webcam and paintball gun trained on him. Right now Wafaa Bilal is out (late lunch?), leaving just a bedroom splattered with paint, so Web snipers are aiming for the plant instead. It's a statement on that American combination of high-tech trigger-happiness and apathy toward Iraqis. I was going to suggest Bilal was inspired by this technology, "computer-assisted remote hunting." But it's much worse. According to his bio, Bilal grew up in Iraq, and his 21-year-old brother still there was recently killed by stray American gunfire. Maybe he's trying to heal by reenacting the trauma, as they say. Black humor heals all wounds. Thank you, Goode, for the tip.

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Finally Time to Go Home to Diego Garcia

| Thu May. 24, 2007 1:00 PM PDT

Americans may have never heard of Diego Garcia, but today Diego Garcia is very much on the minds of thousands of people.

After more than four decades, Chagossians get to go home to Diego Garcia, a British colony and US air and naval base. Yesterday the British High Court ruled in favor of the Chagossian people. The judges denounced the British government's move to "exile a whole population" from its home as "repugnant" and that the right of Chagossians to return home is "one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings". The High Court also said that the government can no longer appeal as it had unsuccessfully tried three times in the past. Chagossians had won a legal victory in 2000, but in 2004 the British government overturned it via a royal prerogative.

Why were they kicked off in the first place? The British colony has been "colonized by the Americans" since the 1960's, when more than 2,000 inhabitants of the island were forcibly "repatriated" to Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Brits gave the Americans a 50-year lease, which will expire in 2016. The U.S. has launched memorable military campaigns from the Diego Garcia base, including bombing Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the past years, the US military said it was against the idea of allowing Chagossians back to their land because it would undermine the "security" of Diego Garcia. And while it has fought to keep the natives off the land, the US Navy still calls the Diego Garcia base its "Footprint of Freedom."

—Neha Inamdar

Now You Can Shoot an Iraqi from the Comfort of Your Own Home Computer

| Thu May. 24, 2007 12:39 PM PDT

Wafaacrop.jpg

It's not just a video game. A performance artist has been holed up in Chicago with a webcam and paintball gun trained on him. Right now Wafaa Bilal is out (late lunch?), leaving just a bedroom splattered with paint, so Web snipers are aiming for the plant instead. It's a statement on that American combination of high-tech trigger-happiness and apathy toward Iraqis. I was going to suggest Bilal was inspired by this technology, "computer-assisted remote hunting." But it's much worse. According to his bio, Bilal grew up in Iraq, and his 21-year-old brother still there was recently killed by stray American gunfire. Maybe he's trying to heal by reenacting the trauma, as they say. Black humor heals all wounds.

Thank you for the tip, Goode.

One In Six European Mammals Threatened With Extinction

| Thu May. 24, 2007 12:39 PM PDT

The first assessment of European mammals finds nearly one in six mammal species threatened with extinction. According to the World Conservation Union, 27% of all mammals have declining populations. Only 8% are increasing, including the European bison, thanks to successful conservation measures. Europe is now home to the world's most threatened cat species, the Iberian Lynx, and the world's most threatened seal, the Mediterranean Monk Seal, both classified as critically endangered. --JULIA WHITTY

Global Warming's Effect on Whales And Dolphins

| Thu May. 24, 2007 12:23 PM PDT

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are facing increasing threats from climate change. A report published by the World Wildlife Fund and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, released in advance of the 59th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, finds many populations to be vulnerable to global warming. Cetaceans that rely on polar waters-–belugas, narwhals, and bowhead whales-–are likely to be dramatically affected by the reduction of sea ice. Less sea ice will allow more commercial shipping, oil, gas and mining exploration and development, and military activities in previously untouched areas.

Other impacts of global warming include less habitat for river dolphins, the acidification of the oceans as they absorb CO2, more cetacean disease epidemics, and lower reproductive success and survival rates. Climate change could also be the nail in the coffin for the last 300 or so endangered North Atlantic right whales. The survival of their calves has been directly related to the effects of climate variability on prey abundance.

Check out why we need all these species. --JULIA WHITTY

Oklahoma Bans Abortion in State Hospitals

| Thu May. 24, 2007 12:03 PM PDT

We were hoping the governor of Oklahoma would veto a ban on abortion in state hospitals, with exception for only rape, incest, and when a woman's health is in jeopardy. But Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, let it pass yesterday. Here's the fate of other abortion bills this week.

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Alarming Acceleration In CO2 Emissions Worldwide

| Thu May. 24, 2007 11:54 AM PDT

Worldwide CO2 emissions have increased at more than three times the rate of the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2004, the rate increased from 1.1 % per year to 3.1% per year—as alluded to in an earlier post. The Carnegie Institution reports that not only is no region is decarbonising its energy supply, but a long-term trend toward greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon intensities is being reversed.

"Despite the scientific consensus that carbon emissions are affecting the world's climate, we are not seeing evidence of progress in managing those emissions in either the developed or developing countries. In many parts of the world, we are going backwards, " remarked co-author of the study Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. The research also shows that the actual global emissions since 2000 grew faster than the highest of the scenarios developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The acceleration is greatest in the exploding economies of developing regions, particularly China.

Of course, by refusing to tackle our own emissions (the largest in the world), we in the U.S. paralyze whatever superpower muscle might be brought to bear on the issue worldwide. Another casualty of six years in the Bush leagues. --JULIA WHITTY

Dem or Repub? Half of the Answer is in Your Genes

| Thu May. 24, 2007 11:39 AM PDT

A new study from New York University shows that your political preference is more than just a preference: part of it is written in your DNA. "40, perhaps 50 percent of our political beliefs seem to have a basis in genetics," said Josh Hibbing, political science professor at University of Nebraska, who contributed to the study.

Hibbing's research showed that identical twins were more likely to share political beliefs than fraternal twins, regardless of how they were raised. But DNA does not "hardwire" the belief itself, it merely affects how a person responds to a given situation. A control-happy neat-freak is far more likely to be a conservative because he or she prefers order and the comfort of the familiar in their life, whereas a touchy-feely, globe-trotting artist is more likely to be a liberal because he or she enjoys new experiences.

But the environment is just a strong a factor as genes, especially when personal security is threatened. Thirty-eight percent World Trade Center survivors, said they grew more conservative after 9/11; only 13 percent said they were more liberal.

—Jen Phillips

"Adolescents Play Pranks..."

| Thu May. 24, 2007 11:37 AM PDT

Last November, someone set fire to the central wing of a high school in Jena, Louisiana. Then white students beat up a black student because he went to their party. Soon after that, a white adolescent pulled a shotgun on three black adolescents in a convenience store, and then four black students jumped a white student as he came out of the school gym. Following that incident, in which the student received minor injuries, six black students were expelled and were charged with attempted second-degree murder. They face up to a hundred years in prison.

Conversely, the white boy who beat up the student at the party was charged with simple battery, and the boy who held three others at shotgunpoint was not charged with anything. However, his victims were charged with aggravated battery and theft after they grabbed the shotgun in self-defense.

If this sounds like scenes from a 1950s newsreel, that's because Jena is stuck in time when it comes to the issue of racial equality. Enter Jena mayor Murphy McMillian, who says that "Race is not a major local issue. It's not a factor in the local people's lives."

No kidding--he said that.

The latest incident at the high school involves some black students who attempted to sit on the "white side" of the school yard. There, they saw three nooses hanging from a tree. Enter school superindendent Roy Breithaupt, who says that "Adolescents play pranks. I don't think it was a threat against anybody."

Again, he really said that.

The Jena community isn't alone in dismissing violence and threats against women, people of color, the disabled, and members of the LGBT community as "pranks" and "jokes." But this particular piece of denial is so over the top, it would probably shock most reasonable people. The local ACLU calls Jena a "racial powder keg."

Immigration Bill Changing: Guest Worker Program Halved

| Thu May. 24, 2007 7:25 AM PDT

Two days ago I wrote that the guest worker program in the Senate's immigration bill would probably be the first provision to be changed or killed. That's exactly what has happened.

Yesterday the Senate overwhelmingly voted to cut the guest worker program in half. Now instead of 400,000 immigrants receiving visas annually to work temporarily in the United States, only 200,000 will. The votes to reduce the number came from Democrats who see the guest worker program as a repeat of the bracero program intended to provide cheap labor to big business and Republicans who see the whole bill as soft on illegal immigration. Pro-business Republicans voted to keep the number at 400,000.

See how the vote broken down along party lines here. See Mother Jones massive and excellent feature on immigration, "Exodus," here.