Demonstrations in D.C.

A very busy day in the nation’s capital yesterday (From the Washington Post):

Demonstrations drew thousands of people from around the country to the White House and the streets of downtown Washington on Saturday afternoon in peaceful protests.

In one, participants called for an end to the continued violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, advocates converged in the District to urge President Obama to take administrative action on issues involving undocumented immigrants. Both groups ended up at the White House in the afternoon, seeking a stage to voice their concerns.

The larger group, supporting the Palestinians, arrived by bus from big cities and many others drove hundreds of miles to participate, organizers said

“Free, free Palestine, killing children is a crime,” the crowd chanted. Several people held Palestinian flags, cardboard boxes representing coffins or posters with graphic images of the wounded. …

… At the same time, hundreds gathered — first at the Mall, and then at Freedom Plaza and at the White House — to push for ­immigration-policy reform..

I don’t usually go around the White House on Saturday, but I was biking to Northwest Washington to see a friend headed off to China, and just saw mobs of people everywhere and a huge police presence around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For some reason, there were also a lot of people lined up to go on the White House grounds, and I didn’t think they had tours on the weekend.

And I will say that although this story gives the impression that both demonstrations drew equal attention. the reality is that the immigration gathering was nothing compared to the Gaza demonstration. I biked by Freedom Plaza and saw a very small group of people for the immigration rally. And to be honest, I’ve seen more people at the regular Sunday night tango sessions in Freedom Plaza than at the immigration rally.

For those of you who never pay attention to international news, you are aware, in the abstract, that people are getting killed as Israel and Gaza exchange rocket and missile fire. There are pretend cease-fires, but the minute one is announced, it’s broken. This is the death toll so far (click to enlarge):

Gaza-deathsThis is what the Gaza demonstration was about. The slaughter of children. No one would be demonstrating if it was just soldiers and militants killing each other.

What does your nation’s leader drive?

What’s interesting in the following chart is:

1) The queen of England got ripped off.

2) South American leaders drive cheaply (look at Chile and Uruguay).

3) The premise that you can determine a country’s level of corruption by the cost of a head of state’s car is really stretching it.


The horrors of childhood in Syria

We can’t conceive of the real-life nightmares children face in other parts of the world. These Syrian children were almost blown up. I would have been catatonic. They just see it as another day of surviving.


Forced feedings at Guantanamo

At last count, there were more than 100 detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility participating in the fifth month of a hunger strike.

According to the AP:

Lawyers for prisoners say the most recent hunger strike began in February as a protest of conditions and their indefinite confinement at the U.S. base in Cuba. The military says the hunger strike began in early March and that, as of Monday, 106 of the 166 detainees met the criteria to be declared hunger strikers, a definition that includes missing nine consecutive meals.

Prison medical officials have determined that 45 of the prisoners have lost enough weight that they can be fed liquid nutrients, by force if necessary, with a nasogastric tube to prevent them from starving themselves to death. The U.S. military intends to feed all prisoners, including those on hunger strike, before dawn and after sunset during the Muslim holy period of Ramadan to accommodate the men’s religious practices. Military officials have said the feeding process is not painful and only done to prevent any of the men from dying, not as punishment.

So the military says the process isn’t painful. The rapper formerly known as Mos Def decided to see if that was the case. The following video is not going to be pleasant. You have been warned:

A federal judge this week rejected a bid by a the hunger to block force-feeding at the Cuban detention center, but said that the practice appears to violate international law and urged President Barack Obama to step in.

That’s where it stands.

It doesn’t matter where you stand of the issue of the detainees’ possible guilt or innocence. What you do need to know is that this is what we’re doing in Guantanamo. You may not have known it, but the rest of the world is watching closely.

Revolution in the air

All is not calm in the world, but we don’t notice it because we’re too focused on being surprised by something we already knew was happening. (The government is watching us. It’s finally catching up to the banks and corporations.)

The people of Egypt are bracing for a new round of demonstrations, with opponents of demanding the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The military, which was asked to stand aside to allow for Democratic elections, is now threatening to take over if things get out of hand. If the military takes over, expect even bigger demonstrations.

Turks are demanding the removal of their Islamist government, as a skirmish over the destruction of a park for a business center has escalated into a nationwide protest against the imposition of Muslim law on a secular society as well as a fight against government corruption. This now threatens Turkey’s efforts to gain membership in the European Union, as talks have been put aside because of the government crackdown on demonstrators.

And on this side of the planet, people in Brazil are massing in the streets because the government is using public funds to build stadiums and venues for the Olympics and the World Cup soccer tournament … funds that originally were designated for social programs. The result:

So why am I bringing this up?

Because the U.S. Supreme Court today effectively spayed and neutered the Voting Rights Act, which has been used for the past four decades to make sure minorities aren’t disenfranchised by racist efforts to keep them from the polls. And the states that have been the biggest offenders … (Really? Do I have to remind you which ones they are? Oh, hell! here you go.) …

voting map

… (I’m sure that came as a shock.) …

… are now getting ready to rev up their latest suppression efforts by reintroducing voter ID laws that were struck down because they were specifically designed to keep a certain shade of people from the polls.

And you know what? We aren’t going to do a damn thing about it.

The court said Congress has to update a formula that determined the jurisdictions in violation. You know and I know that Congress isn’t going to do jack. And that means Republican efforts to make sure all those brown people aren’t going to screw up their election chances have just gotten the green light from the law of the land.

So sit back and watch people in the rest of the world fight for their freedom. Because we seem to be doing everything to give ours away.

Finding your way around Geoguessr

geoguessrThe illustration at the right isn’t what I have a hard time with on Geoguessr.

I can pretty much figure out where I am within a couple of meters as long as the road signs are in Roman letter.

But I seem to spend a good percentage of my time stuck somewhere in Russia and China bombarded with signs that I can’t translate.

Here’s what I do. I land. I do a 360 degree turn. I look for clues: street address, road markers, phone numbers on trucks and buses, business signs.

Eventually, I’ll find something that’s helpful. Then, do a little Internet cross checking, pull up Google maps, figure out how close you can get to the place in the photo using the street view and mark your location on Geoguessr. I can do this almost everywhere in the world.

Except for Russia and China.

Really. I can find my way around a tiny remote island without a problem. The Marshall Islands, the Canary Islands. Anything that has streets off the African coast. Every country seems to include Roman letters in their signage. Even Japan uses various forms of spelling: characters, its own alphabet and Roman letters. It takes a while longer to figure out where you are, but eventually, you can hit the mark.

And, I guess knowing any Romance language will help. If you can read signs in French, you can figure out signs in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. But it’s not essential. I don’t know any Nordic language, but I still can mark where I am.

At least with the Greeks, the letters are close enough that you can work out in your head what the corresponding Roman letter is.

But the Russians and the Chinese rarely provide those clues. Maybe twice, when I’ve found my way to a Russian highway, I see a sign with Roman letters, and then, even when it’s an odd spelling, I’ll figure it out. But that’s rare.

Minutes before I saw the above cartoon, I was on a roll. I zipped through a town in Iowa, a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco and not far from Stockholm, and got more than 6,000 points on each.

Then I hit Russia. Twice. Game over.

Here the link: Give it a shot and see where you end up.


How the NSA affects you: the movie explanation

What with everyone now focused on the NSA and its massive collection of data on you, me and everyone we know, let’s see what information Hollywood has given us on this mysterious spy agency.

Digby found the perfect clip from “Good Will Hunting.”

I wonder how much data the NSA has collected on Matt Damon?

Death from the sky

One of the technologically fascinating but morally disturbing aspects of modern warfare is that the means of attack have taken on the character of a videogame.

Here’s a clip of an aerial attack on a group of hostile insurgents in a house during the Iraq War:

You see the precision of the attack and the calm manner in which it’s carried out. Air support is literally putting missiles in the windows it wants to put them in. Troop on the ground ask for help from the sky, and it’s there in a matter of minutes. From the air perspective, things blow up soundlessly. If the missile doesn’t go off? Fire another. Any motion detected among the insurgents? Then stick another missile in the front window.

But what is actually happening on the ground? Here’s a BBC clip showing what happens when there’s a case of mistaken identity. Ten years ago, the BBC crew was with a group of Kurdish allies in northern Iraq accompanied by Americans prepared to battle Saddam Hussein‘s army. Air support misidentified the allies as insurgents. (Warning: This is very graphic, so keep that in mind before you view the clip.)

Today, instead of troops on the ground and pilots in the air, an attack against enemies can be carried out with a drone aircraft guided by a soldier hundreds of miles away. War is done with pinpoint accuracy and is more efficient and more deadly. But it oddly has become more sterile when seen through the prism of a video screen.

And then a mistake is made. When that happens, we hear terms like “friendly fire” and “collateral damage.

Those words turn into Orwellian profanity, when you fully realize what has happened: People have been blown up, like in the “friendly fire” the BBC crew witnessed. And it isn’t a videogame, where you get a new life after you’re killed.

The worst thing you can do in war is to undermine the horror of what is really happening.