Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last Call

The Afghans are setting new ground rules for dealing with the US, and it looks like a partnership is in the cards for the two countries.

An overwhelming majority of the participants of a loya jirga or the grand council of elders on Saturday backed President Hamid Karzai's call for a long-term partnership with the United States that would come into effect after the withdrawal of international troops in 2014.

“In order to protect the achievement of the last 10 years and given the political situation in the region, a strategic partnership with the United States is considered to be necessary for the political, economical and military stability of the country,” the meeting's final resolution said.

But that agreement would require the U.S. to agree to a complete halt of night raids, an end to the arbitrary jailing of Afghan suspects, the closure of all American detention centers in Afghanistan, and the transfer of all Afghan detainees to government-run prisons, according to the resolution, which was issued on the fourth and last day of the council.

Karzai said that he had worried that the jirga might reject the strategic partnership or that the participants would take a soft approach toward the issue and fail to set out enough conditions. But Karzai said he was satisfied with the result. “I absolutely agree with it,” Karzai said.

Karzai convened the grand meeting, which was attended by more than 2,000 delegates from across the country, to advise his government on what framework should govern a strategic partnership with the United States. Included in the meetings were members of parliament, tribal elders, members of provincial councils and representatives of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. The delegates were divided into 40 committees to discuss the issues.

Karzai said his government would use the recommendations to guide future discussions with the United States.

As 2011 have proven several times so far, "this is what democracy looks like".

Rush 'N' Attack

So it turns out that weird "cyber-attack" that knocked out a water pump facility in Illinois last week?  Yeah, turns out it was in fact...the Russians.

A cyber strike launched from outside the United States hit a public water system in the Midwestern state of Illinois, an infrastructure control systems expert said on Friday.

“This is arguably the first case where we have had a hack of critical infrastructure from outside the United States that caused damage,” Applied Control Solutions managing partner Joseph Weiss told AFP.

“That is what is so big about this,” he continued. “They could have done anything because they had access to the master station.”

The Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center disclosed the cyber assault on a public water facility outside the city of Springfield last week but attackers gained access to the system months earlier, Weiss said.

The network breach was exposed after cyber intruders burned out a pump.

“No one realized the hackers were in there until they started turning on and off the pump,” according to Weiss.

The attack was reportedly traced to a computer in Russia and took advantage of account passwords stolen during a hack of a US company that makes Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software.

So, maybe there's something to this whole "foreign cyber attack" thing after all, especially if Russian mafia hackers are getting into our infrastructure and playing with the equipment.  Maybe it was government-sponsored, maybe it was terrorists, maybe it was just some obnoxious kids.  Dunno.

Not feeling really good about such vulnerabilities if they exist.

One Tough Egyptian Cookie

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Egyptian blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy has become a household name in the Middle East and sparked a global uproar after a friend posted a photo of her naked on Twitter.

The photo, which the 20-year-old former student first posted on her blog, shows her naked apart from a pair of thigh-high stockings and some red patent leather shoes.

CNN: Why did you post a photo of yourself nude photo on Twitter, and why the red high heels and black stockings?

Elmahdy: After my photo was removed from Facebook, a male friend of mine asked me if he may post it on Twitter. I accepted because I am not shy of being a woman in a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who know nothing about sex or the importance of a woman.

The photo is an expression of my being and I see the human body as the best artistic representation of that. I took the photo myself using a timer on my personal camera. The powerful colors black and red inspire me.

CNN: Who is Aliaa Elmahdy inside the body portrayed in the nude photo?

Elmahdy: I like being different. I love life, art, photography and expressing my thoughts through writing more than anything. That is why I studied media and hope to take it further to the TV world too so I can expose the truth behind the lies we endure everyday in this world. I don't believe that we must have children only through marriage. It's all about love.

She is educated. She thinks for herself. She insists that she be valued in a society that treats women like livestock. She has hopes, dreams and ideas, and is willing to work to make them happen. She made a statement that will echo for many women who come after her.  She wants to break free from the oppression women face all over the world, but especially so in her part of the world.

She also addresses something that I found very disturbing a few months ago: the forced virginity tests young women are put through.  I had a hard time finding the words to say what I felt, and she comes back with the perfect and complete reply.

CNN: What do you think about the forced virginity tests performed by the Egyptian military on more than a dozen girls arrested in Tahrir Square?

Elmahdy: I consider this rape. Those men in the military who conducted these tests should be punished for allowing this to happen without the consent of the girls in the first place. Instead, the girls walk around feeling the shame and most of them are forced to remain silent.

Well said. This week we linked to an article that said women whose eyes are "too tempting" may have to cover them. Women are treated as property if they are lucky, slaves if they are not. They live and often die at the whim of men. It's not a crime to be a woman, and there is nothing wrong with being true to yourself and demanding fair treatment. It takes brave people, and this woman repeatedly shows more strength and morals than those who would flog her for daring to show her face in public.

McDonald's And Target Drop Egg Farm Over Cruelty Claims

This really bothers me, and I usually skip these articles.  I accept that I'm a hypocrite, destined to eat meat while feeling guilty about how animals are treated.  We took good care of our farm animals, and treated them with consideration and respect.  It is important to recognize what goes on so we can eradicate this in the future.

(CNN) -- McDonald's and Target dropped an egg supplier this week after an activist group released disturbing video showing what it says shows animal cruelty at three of the company's barns.

The undercover video, released by Mercy for Animals, was allegedly shot between May and August at facilities run by Sparboe Farms in Colorado, Iowa and Minnesota. It shows hens crammed in crowded cages, workers burning beaks and one, trying to shove a bird inside the pocket of a co-worker, apparently for fun. Another worker presses his thumb against the back of a chick's neck until it breaks.

"Regarding the undercover videos, the behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald's wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers. We take this responsibility -- along with our customers' trust -- very seriously. It's important to note that the most alarming actions on video did not occur at Sparboe's Vincent, Iowa, facility that supplies McDonald's. Nonetheless, our extremely high standards for our suppliers prohibit this conduct," McDonald's said in a statement, announcing its decision to cut ties with Sparboe Farms.

The response from Sparboe was "this isn't who we are." Ridiculous in light of the fact that this happened on their premises, and serious violations were found. I am glad to see two major vendors taking this seriously. It gives me hope that standards will be enforced and animals can be treated as kindly as possible, whenever possible.

Gingrich Calls Child Labor Laws "Truly Stupid"

(CNN) - Newt Gingrich proposed a plan Friday that would allow poor children to clean their schools for money, saying such a setup would both allow students to earn income and endow them with a strong work ethic.

Speaking at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, the former House Speaker said his system would be an improvement on current child labor laws, which he called "truly stupid."

"It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid," Gingrich said. "Saying to people you shouldn't go to work before you're 14, 16. You're totally poor, you're in a school that's failing with a teacher that's failing."

So, I actually see where he was going and I feel dirty about admitting it. I was raised on a farm and I worked from the time I was old enough to handle the physical requirements. My childhood was pleasant enough, and I grew into a responsible adult with a solid work ethic. I had chores, and I had Big Chores, and I learned a lot of practical tips.

However, there is a lot wrong with the actual application of his suggestion. Children are going to learn a leaner and harder lifestyle than the generation before them. However, child labor laws are far from stupid, and it is shameful to imply that exploitation of children is not a real threat. Once upon a time that happened everywhere, and it still happens all around the world.

Learning responsibility is a good thing. A child contributing to the family is a good thing, through helping in whatever their abilities allow. However, there are liabilities and things not mentioned here, such as who is going to run this and ensure the safety of the children. It's a sloppy answer that wasn't thought out, and calling child labor laws stupid was the sprinkles on the cupcake of stupidity.

Fire Walker Chronicles, Part 4

A big weekend rally in Madison, Wisconsin was a huge success as over 25,000 gathered in the state capital to protest Gov. Scott Walker and to urge his recall.

Thousands of people gathered at the Wisconsin capitol on Saturday to demand a recall of Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose controversial and successful drive to limit public unions last winter sparked the biggest protests in the state since the Vietnam War.

Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat, signed a recall petition during a morning meeting with about 300 recall volunteers and pledged to help the effort through his political action committee.
With the crowd chanting “Run, Russ, Run,” Feingold repeated that he would not run against Walker in any recall election.

“There will be a new governor in a few months. It won’t be me, but it will be somebody good,” Feingold said. “It’s not about me. It’s not about any particular candidate. It’s about restoring civility and some kind of sense of unity to the state.”

The Wisconsin Department of Administration estimated that between 25,000 and 30,000 people gathered at an afternoon rally at the Capitol building to boost the state-wide petition drive for a Walker recall election that began on November 15.

United Wisconsin, part of the coalition leading the recall effort, said more than 105,000 signatures had been gathered through the first four days of the effort. Organizers need 540,208 valid signatures by January 15 to trigger a recall vote.

So 20% there in 4 days?  Yeah, things are looking good for the recall effort, I'd say.  Walker and his administration are in trouble, even if Russ Feingold isn't going to replace Walker.  Still, the effort appears to be going rather well, I'd say.
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