This is an update to my recent piece on Blackwater's withdrawal from the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), a private military industry trade group. Earlier today, the IPOA issued a press release, explaining that Blackwater's sudden departure from the organization, announced yesterday, may have been intended to quash an IPOA investigation of the firm's conduct in Iraq, specifically relating to the September 16 shootings in Baghdad, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians and wounded 24 others. According to the press release:
On October 8, 2007 the IPOA Executive Committee authorized the Standards Committee to initiate an independent review process of Blackwater USA to ascertain whether Blackwater USA's processes and procedures were fully sufficient to ensure compliance with the IPOA Code of Conduct.
Yesterday, I spoke with Doug Brooks, the IPOA's founder and president. He assured me that Blackwater's decision to withdraw from the organization had not been the result of an internal IPOA disciplinary process. He went on to praise Blackwater for its cooperation, saying "they've been quite open with us."
Nevertheless, Blackwater's decision appears to have had the intended effect: According to a source with knowledge of the IPOA's internal deliberations, the group's investigation of Blackwater's conduct has now been cancelled.
Gay rights supporters are confronting an unlikely foe—Rep. Barney Frank. Frank, who is gay himself and has been a longtime champion of gay rights, is getting heat from civil rights advocates for supporting a job discrimination bill even though it omits transgender people.
The legislation, which would be the first to protect gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the workplace, is a compromise that was reached to move the bill forward. A poll done by a popular gay news site shows that its readers are divided on the issue, with one-third supporting Frank's position, one-third opposing it, and one-third saying gay and transgender people shouldn't be lumped together in the first place. At a press conference yesterday, Frank blamed the tension on the "ideological purity that plagues American politics, that holds liberalism back in a number of areas."
As much as I think transgender people should be protected, Frank has a point. The Bush administration's failure to give an inch on everything from Iraq to civil liberties over the last seven years has left our country deeply divided and the population completely disillusioned with government. It's time to let our Democratic leaders lead us in the right direction, even if it takes a while to get to our final destination.
Get ready fans and foes of Dan Brown: The Vatican has "discovered" a cache of documents from the Knights Templar. For those of you who were spared the bad movie and worse prose (via AP):
The military order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon was founded in 1118 in Jerusalem to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land after the First Crusade. As their military might increased, the Templars also grew in wealth, acquiring property throughout Europe and running a primitive banking system. After they left the Middle East with the collapse of the Crusader kingdoms, their power and secretive ways aroused the fear of European rulers and sparked accusations of corruption and blasphemy.
The documents in question "reproduces the entire documentation of the papal hearings convened after King Philip IV of France arrested and tortured Templar leaders in 1307 on charges of heresy and immorality," which includes "a 14th-century parchment showing that Pope Clement V initially absolved the Templar leaders of heresy, though he did find them guilty of immorality and planned to reform the order, according to the Vatican archives Web site."
AP continues: "Historians believe Philip owed debts to the Templars and used the accusations to arrest their leaders and extract, under torture, confessions of heresy as a way to seize the order's riches."
Okay, this is all juicy stuff but what I love best is this:
Only 799 copies of the 300-page volume, "Processus Contra Templarios," - Latin for "Trial against the Templars" - are for sale, said Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican's secret archives. Each will cost $8,377, the publisher said Friday. An 800th copy will go to Pope Benedict XVI, said Barbara Frale, the researcher who found the long-overlooked parchment tucked away in the archives in 2001.
The Da Vinci Code book was published in 2003. The movie came out in 2006. So the entire stupid "is the Da Vinci Code right or wrong" industry could have been, I dunno, at least arguing over the facts for the past four years had only the Vatican released this earlier.
Madonnais set to close a ginormous deal with concert promoter Live Nation, in what is being called the first agreement of its kind. The new contract, reportedly worth $120 million, includes payments for three albums as well as tours, and all of this is after she finishes out her contract at Warner, whom she still owes a new album and greatest-hits package. That's a lotta Madonna.
Portishead's irascible Geoff Barrow apparently disagrees with Radiohead's recent decision to allow flexible-priced downloads of their new album. He wrote on Portishead's website, "If you can get our album for nothing or very little, does that mean I can get my boiler fixed for free?" You're in Portishead, don't you get everything for free? He also revealed that the band are in the mixing stage of their long-awaited third album, and you'll get free plumbing with every copy.
Kanye Westhas announced he's been working on music with Michael Jackson, saying (somewhat defensively) to the London Sun that "If I like what a person brings to the table then I'll speak to them," and then, one can assume, adding, "even if they're a creepy alleged child molester." Jackson recently sent a letter to his European fan club telling them to anticipate "exciting and surprising news." Like anything could surprise us at this point. You can bend spoons with your mind?
It's only been in the last two weeks that the black church came to Jesus about AIDS. Let us pray that it's not too little too late.
Having long ignored the alarms about the AIDS epidemic decimating an already ravaged community, blacks' most prominent ministers officially joined elected officials, the National Medical Association (formed when the AMA was segregated) and other groups in moving past their homophobia and brimstone to reality: blacks must do something about the cultural underpinnings that feed the flames of AIDS. Not since the 60s has the black church so thrown itself behind a community issue.
Read this for a snapshot of the crisis and news about the group's first meeting, but the bottom line is this: black refusal to deal with its attitudes about male privilege, sex, drugs, homosexuality and superstitions (please don't mention Tuskegee again) was threatening us with near extinction (AIDS is the number 1 cause of death for black women 25-34). Blessedly, last week's meeting was a success, complete with action plan:
"Following a two-day conclave, over 150 African American leaders proposed the National HIV/AIDS Elimination Act, which they plan to introduce to Congress as early as January. The act calls on the federal government "to declare the HIV/AIDS Crisis in the African American community a 'public health emergency'" and urges "the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use his emergency authority to redirect resources to address this emergency."
Here's the news I never wanted to hear. The seriously tragic news. Apparently, while we dithered over god's word and Rush Limbaugh's opinions, we missed the easy targets. You know, the piddling percentages of greenhouse gas emissions we could have reduced a mere 5, 10 or 15 years ago to maintain a benevolent planet. The latest study indicates we've waited too long and now only zero emissions will avert the Big Doomsday, the 2-degree rise that the science community (you know, the real one) agrees is needed to prevent the tipping points from tipping. The same 2-degree rise our unesteemed Leader in Washington doesn't get. Why? Because he can't convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, apparently. This from New Scientist:
Andrew Weaver and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Canada . . . used a computer model to determine how much emissions must be limited in order to avoid exceeding a 2°C increase. The model is an established tool for analysing future climate change and was used in studies cited in the IPCC's reports on climate change. They modelled the reduction of industrial emissions below 2006 levels by between 20% and 100% by 2050. Only when emissions were entirely eliminated did the temperature increase remain below 2°C.
The researchers conclude that governments should consider reducing emissions to 90% below current levels and remove what is left in the atmosphere by capturing and storing carbon. There is a stark contrast between this proposal and the measures currently being considered. Under the UN's Kyoto protocol, most developed nations have agreed to limit their emissions to a minimum of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. What happens beyond this date is the subject of ongoing debate and negotiation. The European Union nations have agreed to limit their emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and support dropping global emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.
"There is a disconnect between the European Union arguing for a 2°C threshold and calling for 50% cuts at 2050 - you can't have it both ways," says Weaver, who adds: "If you're going to talk about 2°C you have got to be talking 90% emissions cuts."
As for the naysayers and their inevitable frakkin whining. What can I say. It looks like we are going to meet in hell.
The UK Guardian responds to a poll naming Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" the best music video ever with their own, "alternate" Top Ten; but honestly, both of them miss the mark. "Rhapsody" is a great song and the video was, indeed, one of the first videos, but best? It was followed in the poll by Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and again, I got excited about it when I was 11, but in retrospect it seems pretty ridiculous. The Guardian's list, on the other hand, includes REM's "Losing My Religion," which was apparently inspired by some highbrow art, but always seemed pretty boring to me, and Daft Punk's "Da Funk," whose man-with-dog-head concept gets old after about 15 seconds. So, DJ with the silly name, what are the best videos ever? Off the top of my head, here's a few ideas, in various categories.
The AP reports that a federal judge has temporarily delayed construction of a 1.5-mile section of a border fence in a wildlife conservation area along the Arizona-Mexico line. Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club requested a 10-day delay alleging the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies failed to conduct a thorough environmental study of the fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted the delay because the government did not explain why it hurried through an assessment and began building.
Huvelle repeatedly asked the government's attorney, Gregory Page, to explain why the agencies took only three weeks to do the environmental assessment. She said that amount of time was unprecedented and that the government was trying to "ram" the environmental study through and start construction "before anyone would wake up.
Ouch. Good judge. . . MoJo covered the really bad environmental aspects of this fence in GONE. Bottom line, regardless of what you think of the immigration issue: the fence won't keep people out and it will destroy the most endangered wildlife linkage in North America. Check out The Wildlands Project to learn more.
The most underappreciated TV series ever just got, uh, less appreciated? New Yorkreports that Fox has shut down a theatrical "sing-along" tour of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's musical episode, "Once More, With Feeling." Tour creator Clinton McClung apparently had the legal clearances for the events, which had been taking place over the past year (including a recent San Francisco stint), and also had the tacit support of show creator Joss Whedon. However, apparently Fox had some issue with, you know, TV shows in movie theaters or something. McClung speculates that despite his securing permission for the shows, "someone who is supposed to get paid when these things get screened wasn't."
The episode, for the uninitiated, featured a demon of some sort whose arrival in Sunnydale causes the locals to burst into song-and-dance routines, and then burst into flame. Not only were the songs actually pretty catchy, but since the spell also caused people to sing out their innermost feelings, the plot got moved along quite a bit as well. Like: turns out Willow cast a spell to make Tara forget their argument! And Buffy was in heaven! If you don't know what I'm talking about, buy all the DVDs right now and take a week off from work to watch them.
About 10 minutes of "Once More, With Feeling" is on YouTube:
These audience-participation showings have become more and more popular lately, but usually with movies, making clearances a non-issue. Either way, your chance to raise your voice along with the second-greatest episode of one of the greatest TV shows ever is gone, although hopefully just temporarily: you can sign a petition online to support the tour.
As of today, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has begun using a new kind of x-ray to search passengers for possible weapons. The radiation-free x-ray, called a "millimeter wave," scans a person's entire body. In the process, it creates a blush-inducingly graphic image of the person being scanned. The TSA blurs the face in scans, and only allows a remote screener to see the final scan. But for some, that isn't enough: "If you want to see a naked body," ACLU director Barry Steinhardt told the Associated Press, "this is a naked body."
The millimeter wave is just one of a few kinds of advanced technology (AT) x-rays being tested by the TSA. Another kind of AT x-ray has received similar outcry (it's been called a "virtual strip search"). In response, the TSA altered the machine, but so much so that it obscured the very weapons it was supposed to find, as we reported in our July/August issue. The technology was initially developed for use in prisons and courthouses.
Despite privacy concerns, the TSA seems determined to roll out AT x-rays across the nation: they recently awarded more than $30 million in contracts to the companies that produce the machines and have used them at several airports including New York-Kennedy, Los Angeles International, and Regan National. So far, the machines have been voluntary, as an alternative to a pat-down in secondary screening. And, the TSA says, it has disabled the "save" function so that images cannot be stored or distributed. However, with the TSA's history of violating passengers' rights, I wouldn't bet on it.