Sunday, January 31, 2010

One has been wondering about VH1's new documentary about virgins. I was hoping that it wasn't along the lines of "the 40 year old virgin"- which came out when I was in school, and didn't seem to showcase this life path in the most acceptable light.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, at Brent Bozell's wonderful article on the topic that just came out today. It is clear, when you look at the turf war that is talking place in American popular culture today, that the franchise of chastity is still a fraught and contentious topic. So, the work continues.

Anyway, do please read what Mr. Bozell, has to say below, when you get the chance :) I will post this disclaimer: Brent is the founder of the Media Research Centre, an American conservative organization, and I am a little surprised that such a topic is exclusively the preserve of the Right, although even the Right is divided- there are Ron Paul conservatives, paleoconservatives, which all differ, sometimes radically enough that they cannot be encapsulated by any one project. Still, as a further aside, I had rather hoped that women on all sides of the political spectrum could benefit from this kind of insight, and that it would not be conflated with potential positions on other issues :)

When the cable network VH1 planned a news special called "The New Virginity," an abstinence backer might have felt optimistic that teenagers and young adults were going to get a refreshing jolt of publicity about the option of premarital celibacy. That is, unless you looked at the network's promotional fine print.

Words have meanings. So when VH1 promised to explore the "roots of our current obsession with chastity" as it's advocated by popular teenage celebrities, you knew the fix was in. They suggest these stars just cannot be sincere. Instead, playing to "virgin mania" is just a marketing scheme: "Virginity doesn't stop celebs from looking and acting provocatively -- playing both sides with impressive marketing results."

Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution

Now, I suppose it's possible that some parents and agents of teen stars are in fact conducting crass marketing exercises on the side. But those really aren't the ones who bother today's sexual libertines. It's the sincere virginity campaigners that truly drive them crazy -- so nutty that channels like VH1 are out there warning the public that every purity pledger is a fraud, or weeks away from becoming a fraud.

Virginity "appeals to parents who feel that their kids should only buy books, TV shows, movies, or CDs from stars who have good morals," said jaded New York dating columnist Julia Allison. Speaking of Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, Jared Shapiro from Life & Style magazine added, "There was several hundreds of millions of dollars in sales waiting to be sold to children all across America and all you had to say was 'virgin.'"

Aw, come on. Not everyone is as callous as the guardians of today's pop culture. Parents whose children adore the pop stars on the Disney Channel are not hit over the head with "virginity" lobbying in Disney-produced TV shows, movies and CDs. These products are simply made safe for pre-teen children, with the subtle assumption that perhaps the whole teen sex vs. virginity debate is best left to the rest of the entertainment universe. And somehow, there's something ... wrong ... with that?

VH1's designated experts on virginity included Jessica Valenti, the feminist author of a book called "The Purity Myth," which neatly matched the channel's assumption that purity can't possibly be reality. Biology is destiny. Lust always wins. "There's now an iPhone application that's a purity ring that you can have on your phone to show that you're a virgin. I guess it's actually kind of useful because once you lose your virginity -- like most kids who take virginity pledges do -- you can just trash it."

Why wouldn't VH1 match the cynicism of Valenti with an author who has sincerely championed chastity? Take Dawn Eden, the author of "The Thrill of the Chaste." She would make a wonderful spokeswoman for -- and defender of -- chastity.

Here's the surprise: They did interview Eden last fall in New York. Here's the end of the surprise: They left her on the cutting room floor. She was informed with the usual cliches from producers that "the big guys above us" took the show "in a different direction," as they say. Translation: You were too good.

"I'm not surprised. This also happened the last time I did an interview for this type of program," she told my colleague Tim Graham. "It was clear that they were looking for a caricature of an ultra-right-wing evangelical, not a three-dimensional woman who had discovered a happier lifestyle choice."

Eden is not a caricature of an "ultra-right-wing evangelical." She came to the idea of chastity at age 31, after working in her 20s as a rock journalist. She was born in a Reform Jewish household as Dawn Eden Goldstein, dropping the last name when she became a writer. Chastity came naturally -- or as VH1 would insist, anything but naturally -- as a new spiritual commitment as she came to embrace the idea of Christianity and the Catholic faith.

She found the questions she was handed suggested a clear bias, like this one: "Teenagers have been horny since the dawn of time, no?" And "Critics say abstinence-only sex ed leaves kids clueless about sex. ...Talk about the agenda of abstinence-only education groups. What dangers does this kind of teaching pose?" Then there was: "Is it creepy that young girls are pledging purity to their dads until they are passed on to a husband?"

Even as they thanked her for participating (and getting censored), VH1 producers marveled at the "obsession" they could find in the media on the topic of virginity. So who's speaking honestly and prayerfully? And who's just cynically exploiting the topic?

VH1's whole concept should be turned around: Why should the advocates of premarital virginity be accused of insincere marketing? Especially by Viacom's "music video" channels that have long made their billions by selling the coolness and inevitability of sexual corruption to teenagers?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Feministing chosen to tackle the issue of unrealistic and uber adult cartoon representations for children in this post, a day or two ago :)

The Rainbow Brite phenomenon has been written about by a number of media sources previously and it has been extremely informative to see feminists beginning to discuss it as a relevant issue.
Have just discovered a very cogent article on ninemsn, one of Down Under's main news sites. Here is a description of the site on wikipedia: "ninemsn is an Australian 50/50 joint venture between Microsoft and PBL Media. It effectively acts as the website for both the Nine Network and MSN, and is one of Australia's most popular websites.[1] It is the default homepage for Internet Explorer 6 users in Australia, and the website that automatically appears when Australian users sign out of Windows Live Hotmail."

One of the associate producers, Nick Pearson, wrote about his choice to preserve his abstinence and protect his virginity, and why. Within hours, three hundred and fifty mostly supportive (although there were of course some detractors! :)) user comments appeared yesterday, and the maintainers of the site closed the story to further commenting because the site could not handle unlimited comments. Many people waxed rhapsodic about someone choosing to put such a lifestyle choice out there on a mainstream venue, held forth on the unnecessary stigma endured by virgins, and counted themselves among persons making similar decisions.

I could excerpt from the comments below, but there are so many that it would be well nigh exhausting. So take a peep, if you so desire- at the link above.
Saturday January 30 2010

Film directors can be very precious about their work. There is a reason why the "director's cut" tends to only make it as an added extra on the DVD -- only diehard fans can sit through their full, ass-numbing vision.

Neil Jordan, then, has gone against the grain by cutting a lengthy sex scene involving Colin Farrell from his new movie Ondine. Far from shedding tears in the editing suite, Jordan was unsentimental about losing the scene. "Sex scenes are embarrassing for anyone involved," he said.

Not all erotically charged scenes are as disposable; the plot of Jordan's Oscar-winning The Crying Game pivots around that scene of mind-bending nudity.

Back when the Hays Code confined Hollywood within a chastity belt of legislation, actors didn't have to worry about preserving their modesty. Now that sexual matters can be depicted much more freely on screen -- the 1927 code decried any kiss lasting over three seconds as "excessive" -- love scenes are all in a day's work for actors.

Getting paid to lie naked with Johnny Depp sounds like a dream job. We, the audience, see beautiful people writhing in a symphony of slick limbs and soft lighting. Just out of frame, however, is the sound guy holding the boom mike, the make-up girl waiting to panstick the actors' bottoms and the director yelling: "Grab her thigh -- now!"

Actress Victoria Smurfit has acted out her fair share of love scenes in a career that has spanned TV dramas and movies from Cold Feet to The Beach. The reality of filming them, she says, is not sexy at all.

"Usually by take three, I'm wondering what's on the lunch menu," she laughs. "They can be awkward. You talk about it beforehand, who's going to put what where, and you get on with the physical bit. Then you realise that you have lines to say -- there's the bloody dialogue to think about! It's more like stunt work than anything."

Like any stunt, sex scenes are heavily choreographed. This has two purposes: so that the camera can be in the right place at the right time, and secondly, to make the actors feel more secure.

When actor James McAvoy spoke to me about kissing Angelina Jolie in the thriller Wanted -- not as nice as "kissing someone you love" -- he referred to the rather more steamy scene he shared with Keira Knightley in Atonement. It wasn't fun, he said. But director Joe Wright made it easier by directing their every groan and grind.

"Joe was great because he set the boundaries very clearly. When you have boundaries you can totally go for it, you can get totally committed. Whereas if there are no boundaries, touching your hand to theirs might be too much, you know what I mean?

"You don't want to get too into it, you don't want to violate someone -- and I don't want to be violated either!"

As with McAvoy's experience of having to cling precariously to a bookshelf while ravishing Knightley, not all actors are afforded the luxury of filming their sex scenes in a bed. A new Irish film, One Hundred Mornings, has an uncomfortable scene where two of the actors have a loveless tryst up against a tree. Actress Kelly Campbell is looking forward to the film getting an airing at the upcoming Jameson Dublin International Film Festival -- it will certainly be more enjoyable than filming that outdoor romp.

"Invariably, it's always first thing in the morning when you film these scenes; it's half eight and you're in the nip," she says drolly. "My experience, though, is that directors are very respectful. Weeks before we shot the scene, we discussed it. I would approach it as a dancer would -- you break it down into movements and look at it in a mechanical way.

"Conor (Horgan, the director) was very specific which was helpful. He would shout, 'More vocal, less vocal, move your leg that way', and it's taken out of your hands and makes it easier."

Campbell certainly had no trust issues during the making of another film she has just finished shooting. In Sensation, she has a sex scene with Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan and a good friend of hers in real life. The director is Tom Hall, who happens to be Campbell's husband. Awkward, much?

"Because we have worked together and we are very clear cut about our relationships, it was actually easy," says Campbell. "I had more of an advantage because the scene we shot was outside the intensity of the schedule. We did it two months after filming finished because we all agreed it was needed for the plot."

Kate Winslet's husband Sam Mendes was more squeamish when he directed his wife in Revolutionary Road with her old Titanic squeeze Leonardo di Caprio, apparently removing himself to another room to watch their love "action" on a monitor.

Victoria Smurfit also found that familiarity breeds embarrassment. "I once filmed a scene with a guy where his brother was the director," she remembers.

"Every time the actor reached over to pick up his script, his brother saw a lot more than he probably ever wished to see. It was awkward. It can be fine sometimes just to meet someone for the first time, shake hands, on with the flesh-coloured pants and get on with it."

Intimacy between the actors -- whether familiar with each other or not -- is almost a moot point when the fake lovers are surrounded by a film crew. Even a so-called "closed set" can be crowded.

"You have to have a camera operator, a focus puller, a boom operator, and if the camera is moving, you have a grip," says Dubliner Dan O'Hara, who has just directed an episode of the risqué Channel 4 drama Skins, which returned to our screens this week. "You could have someone from the costume department standing by with a dressing gown. I had one scene which called for an actor to get out of bed naked, and within two seconds of me saying 'Cut' and coming out from behind the monitor, he had his boxers on."

Victoria Smurfit's first love scene was filmed in a bog -- she has a clear memory of lying in the mud on her back, staring up at the soles of the electricians' boots as they adjusted lights up in the trees overhead.

Daisy-shaped plasters for nipples, careful editing, nude-coloured thongs and spray-on perspiration: the sweating flesh we see on screen is a game of smoke and mirrors. Kelly Campbell says that most performers use a protective barrier: "Only the most gung ho actor will say, 'Whatever'."

If you're Marlon Brando, you might plump for underpants and Wellingtons. That's what the star insisted on wearing while filming a sex scene with Stephanie Beacham in The Nightcomers in 1971, forcing the cameraman to keep calling "pants" or "Wellington boots" every time they came into shot.

And what about this for a passion-killer -- the need to adhere to health and safety laws. When director Declan Recks was preparing a scene for the TV series Pure Mule, the art department had to make sure the kitchen table on which two characters were to have sex wouldn't collapse.

Most directors are happy to do whatever it takes to limit the scope for embarrassment. And while some A-list actors can afford to write no-nudity clauses into their contracts, most actors have to trust the director to get them through sex scenes with minimal trauma.

"Most Irish actresses won't reveal a nipple, or part of, for television and I wouldn't blame them in the least. It's a small audience -- and they're not getting paid enough!" says Recks.

Irish actress Pauline McLynn, best known for her role as the tea-mad housekeeper Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, this week appeared au naturel in the cult Channel 4 drama Shameless, where her sex-mad librarian got it on with anti-hero Frank Gallagher (played by David Threlfall, who also directed the episode).

"It's an odd experience, pretending to have sex with a strange man, and with another 17 people lighting your bottom and whatever else," McLynn told one internet showbiz website. "And you don't want to frighten the audience with the wrong angles!

"So I'd never been asked to do sex scenes before, and we did the one where the kit was off. Because that annoys me, when you watch shows where you think 'Why have they got their underwear still on? They've already had sex how many times?'

"So we did a nude one. It was possibly the least glamorous thing I've done in my whole life."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Just came across this terrific blog, authored by the woman who co-wrote So Sexy: So Soon; The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids.

There is a good review of the book here, on MSNBC online.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I found the following review online for a book that is going to be released at any moment; it sounds promising as it is a feminist treatise that declaims the sexualization and objectification of women as relates to their most contested site: the female body. Just as modesty serves to make a woman's body truly her own, in the modern world there are forces that would seek to exploit a woman's worth only through the lens of sex. Should this book become available in my area, I do look forward to perusing it :)

"Living Dolls, by Natasha Walter (Virago). This long-awaited book from the author of The New Feminism, who is also a leading campaigner on behalf of women refugees, promises to offer a rallying cry for the post-feminist era – an age when hard-won liberties are being sacrificed to a market-driven, sexualised vision of what women are today."
Writing in her blog in the winter of 2009, American parenting educator and therapist Mary Jo Rapini had this to say about public displays of affection among teenagers:

Whenever I go to Italy or Spain I love to watch mothers and daughters walking down the street arm and arm. I also love to see men in a warm embrace and kissing each other as a greeting. It seems right to me and whether that is because I am Italian or just very demonstrative I believe hugging and kissing are more important than guns and bombs. However, seeing two teens groping each other in the school hall or at my friend’s home makes me feel uncomfortable. My discomfort comes from a feeling that the teens are not respecting themselves or their parents, the school rules or anyone who is in the room. I am all for passion, but I believe there is a time and place, and in front of others is not the time or place. As children grow they learn by trying new experiences. Their parents guide them, direct them and then they develop a sense of right or wrong with regard to individual behaviors. Parents (my friend included) would tell her daughter if she had chocolate on her face to go wipe it off, she would tell her it was inappropriate to talk with her mouth full, but yet when her boyfriend comes over and starts kissing her, or pulls her onto his lap the parents freeze and don’t know what to say.

She then proceeds to give parents advice on how to deal with the situation :)
Union Grove High school in Madison, Wi. just came out with a few rules for the students as part of the school code, that were reported on today in the online law blog, "right pundits".

Here is one, about what the administration has termed "sexual bending":

“When dancing back to front, all dancers must remain upright - no sexual bending is allowed,” the policy reads. “Examples are, no hands on knees, and no hands on the dance floor with your buttocks touching your dance partner. There will be no touching of the breasts, buttocks or genitals. There will be no straddling of each others’ legs. Both feet must remain on the floor at all times.”

They also have some rules around the dress code:

The Union Grove policy says girls cannot have dresses that “expose cleavage, extend above the mid-thigh, (or) have slits extending above mid-thigh” and boys must wear collared shirts and dress pants.

All of this actually served to remind me of the interesting fact that many academically elite private schools, including the private school that I attended, already have rules around what are known as "PDA"s, or "public displays of affection" between boys and girls, which are not sanctioned, in addition to rules around the dress code.

These images are from Recollections, which is an online purveyor of Victorian era clothing, with a special section for modest clothing! :) Its such a valuable resource that I couldn't resist publishing it with great elan upon this site. The prices are imminently affordable, the styles are gorgeous, and the tailoring looks as if it is of fairly high quality.
So it looks as though the ever estimable Antonia Zerbisias took exception to the feminist concept of modesty recently, linking to the patriarchy, rather than to a woman's own ability to control access to her mystery and thereby preserve her privacy and husband her feminine power. While the patriarchy's incursions into this realm are all too real, a thinking feminist may well understand why many women voluntarily follow the modesty code.

While it is a shame that Ms. Zerbisias does not appreciate things in this light, one must commend her blog for being otherwise a celebration of feminine rights, reason and good taste. Perhaps she will come around, perhaps not, but here is the comment that I left on one of her recent blog posts. I was led to her blog by the initimable Laura Kaminker of We Move To Canada, who, incidentally, and here is quite the digression- also recommended and inspired readers to watch Taxi to the Dark Side in recent months, a true and timely documentary which I felt was very important for people all over the world to seee.

In any case, this blog will be focussing much more heavily upon the burgeoning modesty movement in the weeks and months to come, as the theoretical underpinnings of this movement certainly need to be more fully fleshed out and developed.

But in any case, here is the text of my comment at Antonia's blog, which can be found by googling "Broadsides", the name of her home on the web- it is hosted by the Toronto Star.

"There is a certain element of the population that is pushing modesty, or a return to that certain glamorous age when women's validation included a right to their own mysery, insofar as such a concept counts for women's own privacy. Although this photograph* may have been an error, hat's off to those that would further this intriguing and uniquely feminist concept. Naomi Wolf has been writing about this with great alacrity recently, just in case anyone has some room for a contemporary feminist's examination of such things. As to the rest of your blog: thanks as always for the wonderful reads, Antonia."

*= note to readers: I am referring to an allegedly altered photograph criticized by the blog that was published by the NYT this week.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

There is a daily account of Aafia's trial on CagePrisoners, so I am just going to post it as it appears.

This week the long awaited trial of Aafia Siddiqui began in a federal courtroom in Manhattan. Her case has been one of the most baffling in the annals of post-9/11 terrorism prosecutions. Siddiqui, as regular readers of this website know, is a 37-year-old, MIT-educated neuroscientist, who lived in the U.S. for ten years before mysteriously vanishing from Karachi, her hometown, in 2003, along with her three children, two of whom are American born. For five years her whereabouts remained unknown, while rumors swirled that she was an Al Qaeda operative, and that she had married Ammar al Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and one of the five accused 9/11 plotters expected to face trial in the U.S. In July 2008 she was picked up in Ghazni, Afghanistan on suspicion of being a suicide bomber. The following day, as a team of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents arrived to question her at the police station where she was being held, she allegedly managed to get hold of an M-4 automatic rifle belonging to one of the soldiers, and, according to prosecutors, she opened fire. She hit no one but was herself hit in the abdomen by return fire. What is known is that the U.S. considered Siddiqui to be someone connected to a number of high level terrorism suspects. They say she went on the run and remained underground during her missing years. But human rights groups have long held that Siddiqui is no extremist and believe she was illegally detained and interrogated by Pakistani intelligence at the behest of the U.S. She now faces charges of attempted murder. Her trial is expected to last two weeks.

Testimony continued with the direct examination of FBI Special Agent John Jefferson. Jefferson, who was on the stand yesterday afternoon, continued to recount the scene of the shooting in Ghazni. He said that just after Siddiqui was shot, his partner Eric Negron called out to him for handcuffs. "There was a pool of blood on the right side," he said. Jefferson assisted Negron in subduing Siddiqui and cuffed her hands and her ankles. Jefferson said a stretcher was brought up to the room (an account that differs from that of Captain Snyder, who testified yesterday that the stairs were too narrow and so he had personally carried Siddiqui down to the Humvee). Jefferson said that by the time he and the others got downstairs a tense scene had unfolded as approximately twenty armed Afghan National Police officers had assembled outside. Jefferson said he remembers seeing a rocket propelled grenade launcher pointed at his head.

Siddiqui was then transported to the forward operating base in Ghazni and put in a small triage unit. Jefferson recalled that shortly afterwards he saw two Afghan intelligence officers who had been in the room at the time of the shooting. They had with them "a document stating that they did not have anything to do with what just occurred," and asked Jefferson and his partner to sign it to absolve them of any responsibility for the shooting. "We were like, we're not allowed to sign anything," said Jefferson.

At the Ghazni triage Siddiqui was given just enough medical attention "to sustain her," and was then flown by Black Hawk helicopter to another forward operating base in Afghanistan known as "Organ-E," where she underwent surgery. Jefferson and Negron were on the flight, along with the pilot and a crew chief who doubled as a medic. Afterwards Siddiqui was transported to Bagram Air Base, arriving at approximately 1 a.m. Jefferson brought with him brown paper bags containing the documents that Siddiqui was allegedly found with in Ghazni. The thumb drive, which had apparently gotten misplaced while in Ghazni was delivered to Bagram shortly after he arrived with Siddiqui.

On cross examination, defense attorney Linda Moreno asked if Jefferson had seen Siddiqui either touch or fire a weapon in Ghazni. He said no. She went over his statement to the FBI on July 21, 2008, just a few days after the shooting, where he said he heard four rounds fired in the room in Ghazni, but did not describe the nature of the rounds in his statement. On the previous day of testimony Jefferson had said he was certain that he heard two sets of shots that had each come from a different gun. Jefferson said that given his long experience with firearms, "there is no doubt in my mind that two rounds came from different weapons."

The government's next witness was Ahmad Gul, an Afghan translator present in the room in Ghazni. Gul, 27 years old, was born in Afghanistan and lived in Pakistan for a time before returning to his native country to work as a translator with the U.S Army. He speaks Dari, Farsi, Urdu, and English. Gul explained how translators are generally assigned to a specific person in a unit, mostly warrant officers and captains. In the summer of 2008, Gul "mostly went out with the chief warrant officer." He was with the warrant officer's team as they went into the room where Siddiqui was being held behind the curtain. Gul was positioned with the rest of the U.S. team and the other Afghans present to the right of the curtain. "I turned around and I hit the curtain with my left hand and I saw a female holding a gun pointed at the chief warrant officer and the ministry of interior representatives, and she shot the gun," he said. "Right away I lunged towards her and I pushed her towards the wall." Gul said he grabbed both the barrel and the stock of the gun and struggled to gain control of the weapon. "I was worried I'd get shot and at that time she shot again." The second bullet, he said, went in the same direction as the first. The struggle continued, and "she pushed me back into the middle of the room," he said. "The chief warrant officer was two meters behind me with his pistol shooting towards me while I was wrestling with the female detainee." The warrant officer then shot Siddiqui, despite the fact that she was using Gul as a shield. "As soon as she was shot, right away I snatched her gun. The chief warrant officer pushed her towards the bed."

The question of whether the warrant officer checked behind the curtain at some point before the shooting occurred was revisited on cross examination by Linda Moreno. Earlier Gul said the warrant officer did not look behind the curtain, but when asked the question by Moreno he said he didn't know. Moreno showed him a statement he gave to the FBI less than a week after the shooting, which apparently contradicted the answer he had just given her, but he said he did not remember giving the statement and later said he did remember giving the statement but that he did not telling the agents what was written there. She asked if he had read and initialed every paragraph at the time he gave the statement and he said he had. Moreno also asked Gul to elaborate on help he's received from the U.S. since the shooting. Gul said the U.S. sponsored his visa and his flight to the U.S. was paid for. He was given money for rent, food and transportation ("less than $4,000," he said). She also asked about his contact with the warrant officer since the shooting, which includes emails and phone calls. Gul said he considered the officer a "brother and a friend."

The government then introduced a series of forensic experts, FBI Special Agent Dale Hutson, who photographed the materials allegedly seized with Siddiqui in Ghazni. He also fingerprinted Siddiqui when she was at Bagram Air Base. Hutson said the M-4 rifle which Siddiqui allegedly fired was not among the materials he catalogued, but arrived some days later. FBI Special Agent Todd Schmitt told jurors he transported the materials from Bagram to Washington DC in his backpack, which he kept with him at all times during the flight. He did not bring the rifle back with him. Special Agent Shelly Sine took fingerprint impressions from Siddiqui in New York in August 2008, shortly after she was flown in from Ghazni.

The day's final witness, D.J. Fife, is a physical scientist and forensic examiner with the FBI. Fife was tasked with obtaining latent prints from the documents and other materials brought in from Ghazni, including the rifle, which was eventually flown to FBI headquarters in Quantico, VA. Fife described the various processes by which latent prints can be obtained and how a multitude of factors affect the ability to get a usable print. He told jurors that of 106 pages of documents he received from Ghazni, 33 pages had some kinds of fingerprints of value. He also described examining the rifle but said that he was unable to get any usable latent prints from it. Fife described the process, which includes exposing the surface to Superglue vapors that bind to any moisture on the surface and can sometimes reveal latent prints. He found no prints on the rifle. Fife said that it was not unusual for a gun to yield no usable prints, because any fingerprints on non-porous surfaces (like metal) can easily be smudged or wiped off, even by casual contact. He also said the rifle's surfaces are not smooth but "stibbled" to provide for easy grip, and that these types of surfaces do not yield good prints.

Cross examination of Fife's begins Jan 21, DAY 3, USA v. Siddiqui.
So nice to know.

Breastfeeding Leads To Better Mental Health

Remember just last week when a group of scientists announced that breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily make babies healthier? Well, it just may be that the benefits are more mental than physical.

A new Australian study suggests the soothing benefits of nursing longer than six months last long past infancy.

The researchers found that babies breastfed longer than six months have better mental health outcomes throughout childhood than their bottle-fed peers.

This wasn’t one of those studies that looked at 10 babies and made wild generalisations, either. The study included 2,366 children, who received a mental health assessment at ages two, five, eight, 10 and 14. At each age, researchers found the children who had been breastfed for less than six months were more troubled. They had higher rates of both depressive behaviours and aggressive ones.
It’s not clear the magic of mother’s milk was entirely responsible for the better outcomes. Mothers who breastfed for less than six months tended to be less educated, less affluent, younger and more stressed than the mums who stuck with breastfeeding beyond that six- month mark. Those who gave up breastfeeding before six months were also more likely to be smokers and to suffer from post-partum depression.

That said, the researchers stressed that breastfeeding remained “positively correlated” with good behaviour and psychological well-being even after social, economic and life history factors had been accounted for.

The Reuters article says that for every month beyond the six-month mark a child was breastfed, the benefit to their later behaviour grew stronger. I’m guessing that at some point you hit diminishing returns on that one. At least, I’d like to believe I did the right thing weaning my five-year-old.
Aafia Siddiqui may be a minor light in the constellation of alleged al-Qaeda operatives, but her New York City trial may be a test case for the way justice is meted out to one of the major figures accused of running the terror organization. Siddiqui is a U.S.-trained, Pakistani neuroscientist charged with attempted murder for allegedly firing an M-4 automatic rifle at a group of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan. Her case has been major news in much of the Muslim world — and a crush of journalists from Pakistan have been struggling to gain access to a trial hemmed in by security-conscious New York City officials. How the foreign press is able to follow the court proceedings — and thus perceive the fairness of the trial — will have an impact on upcoming high-profile terrorism trials like that of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspected 9/11 plotters, likely to be held in the same courthouse as the Siddiqui case.

"If we were able to file a transcript of the proceedings they'd probably print it," Iftikhar Ali, a reporter with the Associated Press of Pakistan, said of the Siddiqui trial. "That's how much interest there is in this case." But Ali, like many other reporters from overseas, has been hampered in gaining access to the live proceedings. Journalists from Pakistan on assigment in New York have been largely excluded from the courtroom. Because of tight restrictions observed by the presiding Judge Richard Berman, not a single Pakistani reporter had been granted a press credential when opening statements began on Tuesday. They were instead sent to an overflow courtroom to watch the proceedings via video link.
(See the case against Aafia Siddiqui.)

In the overflow room this week I met journalists from Pakistan with United Nations and U.S. State Department issued press credentials. They work for some of the biggest outlets in their countries, including BBC Urdu, the Associated Press in Pakistan, Jang, Dawn, Geo and Haj TV. None were issued credentials for the trial, though some had applied weeks ago. We watched the proceedings on a flat screen television. The view didn't include any of the exhibits being offered into evidence, among them multiple diagrams of the scene of the shooting and incriminating documents allegedly written by Siddiqui. At one point a key government eyewitness stepped off the witness stand and out of range of both the camera and microphone to use a visual aid to demonstrate where he was during the shooting. He was permitted to give much of his testimony off camera.

Ali, who has been at the court every day of the trial — including jury selection — was granted access to the main courtroom for about five minutes on the first day, but was escorted out when court security guards realized he was not on the list of approved media. At the time the only other occupants of the four-row press box, which covers half the available seating in the courtroom with room for about 20 individuals, were one each from the The New York Times, The New York Post and the New York Daily News. The court has officially recognized only media who carry New York Police Department issued press passes, traditionally reserved for reporters who regularly cover crime scenes and certain public events in the city. Out of the approximately 30 such individuals from U.S. news outlets who were eligible to attend the trial, most were not present for opening statements.

"We've been coming to all the pretrial hearings and we were never told there was going to be a different system for the trial. We were told the press will be allowed," Ayesha Tanzeem, a journalist with Voice of America Urdu said. After TIME made inquiries on Thursday, individuals in the overflow room, including the Pakistani journalists, were for the first time ushered into the main courtroom during the afternoon session. But with the exception of a BBC Urdu reporter and a Samaa TV reporter who received official passes, none have been granted a press credential that would guarantee them a seat on future days.
(See the most underreported stories of 2009.)

The decision to accept solely the NYPD pass for the Siddiqui trial came from the judge's chambers, says Elly Harrold of the District Executive's office, the administrative arm at the federal courthouse. "Of course there are exceptions," Harrold said, "but I'm not at liberty to discuss that."

Although Siddiqui is not charged with any terrorism-related crime, security concerns are paramount though the procedures seem to be unevenly enforced. During the lunch break on the first day of the Siddiqui trial a group of Muslim men praying in the waiting areas outside the courtroom were afterwards asked to leave the floor. That prevented them from securing a place in line for the afternoon session. Several Muslim women in hijabs were also given similar instructions, but others in the same area, dressed in business attire, including this reporter, were permitted to stay. On the second day of the trial metal detectors were posted outside the courtroom and individuals were asked for photo identification and their names and addresses were logged by court security officers. At the close of proceedings on Thursday defense attorney Charles Swift protested the practice. "The suggestion is that the gallery may be a threat," said Swift, calling the measure "highly prejudicial."

Petra Bartosiewicz is writing a book on terrorism trials in the U.S.,The Best Terrorists We Could Find, to be published by Nation Books early next year. You can find her daily coverage of the Aafia Siddiqui trial at the Cageprisoners website.

Read more:,8599,1956197,00.html?xid=rss-topstories#ixzz0dZpmqoBI

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I have done exactly the same thing! ;) I did some research into this a couple of years ago and found a number of Internet communities of men who were specifically looking for women who did not shave, and actually found it attractive. You go, Mo'Nique.

Mo’Nique’s recent public display against depilation has caused a stir – but why are women so attached to the razor? writes FIONA McCANN

THIS JUST IN: women have hair on their legs! Who knew? Well now we all do, thanks to one careless Hollywood star who flaunted her hirsute pegs at the Golden Globes this week. When Mo’Nique pulled up her long gold dress to reveal that her perfectly pedicured toes were topped by – gasp! – legs unshaven, the intake of breath across cyberland was practically audible.

And with the exhale came the insults. “Nasty”, “gross” and “sick” were some of the more polite comments that littered the internet in response to pictures of the grinning Golden Globe winner proudly showing off her pegs. We hadn’t seen this much hair since the famed Julie Roberts underarm incident, back in 1999, a moment that traumatised so many that Roberts was back on the razor before you could say “wax on, wax off”.

So why the furore? Given that it’s recession time, and women across the world spend millions annually removing body hair from various parts of their anatomies, shouldn’t we all be embracing the cost-saving measure of just letting it grow and show? And isn’t it gratifying, after years of watching perfectly coiffed starlets take to the red carpet as if all that hair uppery and spray tannery and skin smoothery didn’t cost an arm, a leg and a whole team of stylists, to see someone buck the beauty trend for once? It’s a long, long established trend at that, with evidence pointing to hair removal among women dating back to ancient Egypt.

Apparently, Nefertiti and her ilk used beeswax to remove their leg hair, and if Greek sculptors are to be believed, ancient Greece didn’t look too kindly on women’s pubic hair. Some say it was the Romans who got us into razors, and are therefore responsible for every ankle nick and shin scar to the present day.

Yet though much of the world has been depilating for centuries, the custom was for a long time practically unheard-of among Caucasian Europeans. So what happened our happy-to-be-hirsute ancestors that has given birth to today’s frenzied, painful, skin- stripping cultural obligations? Fashion. Of the flesh-revealing kind. It turns out that the historical imperative to cover up from neck to ankle protected not only a woman’s modesty, but also her body hair. Once the sleeves came off the evening gowns, the hair was quick to follow.

An ad in Harper’s Bazaar in 1915 featuring a woman with hair-free armpits set the trend, and generations of women followed.

What began with the arm continued to the leg, creeping upwards towards a line that only started to matter with the invention of the bikini in the 1940s. Then came the thong, and more had to come off. The only thing that may have saved us from head-to-toe depilation has been the modicum of modesty or indeed repression remaining that has yet to make nudity a fashion statement.

There have been those who fought back. The feminist movement in the 1970s brought with it a return of female body hair, and though depilation is still a thriving industry today, there are those who are unafraid to drop the pretence. Like Mo’Nique, who reportedly told US talk show host Barbara Walters, as far back as 2006, that she was going to “show America what a real leg looks like”.

Following her Golden Globe display, Mo’Nique has laid down a marker. Forget the increasing encroachments on your body hair and downtime, and embrace the new fuzzy philosophy: from now on, sisters, Mo’ is more.


Om Home is having a sale!
So much of the stuff is sold out, especially stuff I love. So I'll be placing my order today!

Lulu and Nat has gorgeous stuff!
One of the women there is actually based out of Mumbai. Ab fab! :)

I'm going shopping!

Friday, January 22, 2010

If I am feeling strong enough, I would love to pop over and visit Tampa. I've always heard good things about this Florida city and years ago read a murder mystery by a Southern writer, with a French- Canadian cop (anyone remember this series? ;) ) that was set in this town. As a result, I have always wanted to revisit places like Tampa specifically, Miami, and many other intriguing locations, like the Everglades, of course. I highly recommend Florida as travel destination, having been there for a most lengthy and memorable stay, and the fabulous Indian River fruit that emanates from this region and is such a delicacy that it is not available just anywhere. Florida is such a grand Southern dame, from the slow turning overhead fans to the broad leaved gracious palms and the high style Southern manners. I was incredibly pleased to find this travel guide to Tampa and am very proud to put it on my blog.

I should add that in the 1990s, I visited Busch Gardens and have some terrific memories of exploring this amazing haunt. I would love to go back :)

p.s.- if I go to to Fla., most certainly my brothers will come to Tampa with me! I look forward to showing them a well researched Tampa, and the hidden gems that they were too busy to slow down and discover on their last trip over to this sweet venue.

Lowry Park Zoo -- is located just ten minutes from downtown Tampa. In 2009 it was named the Number One Zoo in the U.S. by Parents Magazine and that title is well deserved. The site is so clean, animals well cared for and signage throughout the site playful and charming. Tampa's moderate climate makes this zoo ideal for all the animals that originate from Africa and other warm climates. There are 2200+ species housed in replicas of their natural habitats and there is also an on-site Manatee hospital where the injured or abandoned Manatees in the area are cared for (it's interesting to note that the complete staff of this Manatee Hospital is female).

We loved the viewing station in the giraffe compound at Safari Africa. Visitors climb the stairs and at the very top you are level with the giraffe's head and ... his very big, wet, tongue. The kiddies squealed with delight as the giraffes ate the cookies from their outstretched little hands.

P.S. If you're too tired to walk another step you can tour the park with the sky train or the original one on the ground (all rides are included in the price of admission). Whether you are five, fifteen or fifty Journeywoman heartily recommends a trip to the Lowry Zoo. P.P.S. If it's your birthday you get in free. Website:

Busch Gardens -- is a combo of delicious delights for kids, especially the older ones. This is where wildlife and wild rides come together in a crazy mix of Broadway-style shows, a world-class zoo with more than 2,500 exotic and endangered animals and more record-breaking roller coasters than any destination in Florida. Travelling with little ones? Check out Land of the Dragons where Busch Gardens devotes one and a half acres of fun just for young adventurers. They'll love the illuminated water geysers, the echo chamber and the mini flume ride. Website:

Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) -- We absolutely loved The Children's Science Center at MOSI. Called 'Kids in Charge!' this museum for youngsters 12 and under uses play areas and exhibits to explain science and inspire creativity. It's a huge open area and kids are free to touch and try everything. This video will give you the best idea of what Kids in Charge! accomplishes. Guaranteed you'll be inspired to visit.
I thought this was a really sweet little recent travelogue.ODD.

Joining us for a breakfast of those lovely little rice dumplings called idlee, our host Saijan exhibited a profound limp we hadn’t noticed on our arrival.

But that had been after dark. We had been rescued after our taxi transport had broken down in the Rajasthan desert some 30km short of our destination, Jodhpur.

This city in the north west corner of India, famed for its blue-painted houses and riding breeches, offered us the third family lodging of our Indian visit as guests of Mahindra Homestays.

Family sums up Surya Kunj (it means Garden Of The Sun). Saijan and his wife share it with his father and mother and two sons (both absent when we were there). Oh, and Sabre the labrador. The boisterous hound was responsible for Saijan’s injury, sustained on an over-enthusiastic early morning ‘walkies’.

The family, descended from generations of Rajput warriors, occupy the ground floor while the first floor is a dark, characterful long room that serves as sitting and dining room for guests, several bedrooms opening onto it. We were the only visitors staying at the time, so it’s difficult to tell how it would feel if fully booked.

We felt a bit guilty as a hobbling Saijan escorted us around the sights of Jodhpur, including the vertiginous Meheranghar fort on its sandstone outcrop. This is fairytale India, inevitable warts and all (a lot of hustling goes on and poverty sits cheek by jowl with affluence) and we were blown away by its vibrancy.

Doors do open for Homestay visitors. Saijan’s family are important in the town and he used his ‘ins’ to get us a peek at the strictly private section of the sumptuous Umaid Bhawan Palace, built in 1929 as a previous Maharaja’s 1929 famine relief project and now a Taj Group hotel.

Glamour lurked in the unlikeliest of places. The spice bazaar by the Sardar Market landmark clock tower where we purchased Kashmir saffron, vanilla and black cardamom, boasted pictures of a recent shopper, Owen Wilson, from when he was filming Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Express.

Truth be told, we were initially underwhelmed by Saijan’s invitation to a country drive ‘a camel camp where we could swim’. How wrong we were. OK, his mum chided him for not showing us the eighth century temple complex at Osian, but instead we ended up in the surrounding desert worshipping at the shrine of Madonna. She found refuge at the Camel Camp ( during her break-up from Guy Ritchie. Mick Jagger and Goldie Hawn’s stays are also commemorated.

Behind extensive walls the Camp offered discreet luxury with fine food and a pool with vast vistas. We trekked on camels across the dunes, me wondering whether I was straddling Madonna’s camel – but she probably adopted the one she rode.

Our real taste of rural Rajasthan, its tribesmen in their distinctive headdresses, the women carrying loads on their heads through lush crop fields, came with the car journey through the idyllic Aravalli Hills from Udaipur to Jodhpur – the joy barely dented by the breakdown!

From the mighty leopard-haunted fortress of Kumbalgarh to the elaborate stone carvery of the Jain temple at Ranakpur it was a sunlit dream.

Quite a contrast to the sudden onslaught of the Monsoon in picture postcard capital Udaipur. We knew in advance that drought had reduced picturesque Lake Pichola to a tenth of its normal size with the famous Lake Palace Hotel having to discount to keep visitors. Monsoon seasons have been erratic in recent years and this year’s was a month adrift.

It came with a thrilling vengeance when we there. After shopping for pashminas in the maze of Sacred-Cow ridden streets and taking tiffin from turbaned flunkeys in the spectacular City Palace, the largest royal complex in Rasjasthan, we went for a boat ride on the lake. The service had only resumed that day after an overnight downpour swelled the waters.

A rainbow should have alerted us, as the sky turned black and we were caught napping in the middle of the lake by a stupendous downpour.

A tuk-tuk (autorickshaw) ride back to our outskirts Homestay, Balundra House was a splashing rollercoaster ride through streets turned into swirling torrents. Novices in the Indian ways we hadn’t agreed a fare in advance with our Lewis Hamilton wannabe driver and our canny host Narendra Singh had to renegotiate on our behalf. Later, as the rain cleared we dined al fresco by the lakeside, Lake and City Palaces lit up bewitchingly as the bats and dreaded mosquitos flitted through the night.

On paper Homestays had seemed the perfect way to get to the heart of modern India, in a way denied to those whisked from luxury hotel to luxury hotel or, at the other end of the scale, mingling with other backpackers on the hostel trail.

It was a risk. We’ve all got bad B&B nightmares etched on our psyche – trapped in small talk over the smell of fry-ups while the rain (drizzle not romantic Monsoon) teemed down a moorland bungalow’s patio doors.

The reality in India was quite delightful because of the nature of our hosts, well-informed ambassadors for their nation, keen to share their encyclopaedic knowledge of the sub-continent, past and present. So alongside intensive tuition in the myriad Indian gods, we also got a crash course in the rapidly evolving Inida of today, on crash course to become the world’s biggest economy.

This was particularly evident in the Delhi leg of our homestay holiday. I knew nothing of Gurgaon before our journey. Checking it out, I was perturbed it was on the periphery of Delhi, a futuristic satellite city of call centres and shopping malls, the end of the line for the new metro system being extended in time for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. To jump from a state of the art metro station to board a cycle rickshaw pedalled by a gaunt old man is quite surreal. So is Gurgaon. When our host there, Capt. Baldev Singh moved into his lovely house, Haree Shankar, a couple of decades ago it was surrounded by fields full of partridges.

Now the area’s a bizarre mix of flashy developments and ramshackle semi-rural pockets with gypsies practising metal crafts by the roadside. We also found marijuana bushes growing wild, too – pointed out by Capt. Baldev’s old army friend and fellow Homestay host Major Chandra Kant Singh . He stepped in to welcome us when Baldev was delayed getting back from Mumbai where his family are in Bollywood television production.

Chandra Kant was not just a mine of information on flora and fauna; his tour of major Delhi Islamic monuments such as the Qutb Minar complex and Humayun’s Tomb (a kind of Taj mahal rehearsal) was vastly enlightening – despite his own spiritual home being Hinduism.

He also led us through intimidating alleys to show us an ancient and joyous Sufi shrine that would be way off most tourists’ path. Similarly, back in Gurgaon Baldev introduced to us a millionaire developer/cinema owner with internatonal repute as an astrologer.

Up on a terrace, we sipped the ubiquitous Kingfisher lager, while from his laptop he spun the web of our fortunes, including advice for our spiritual and physical well-being. Down below in the bustling streets worshippers revelled outside a colourful Indian temple. Such moments are what makes Homestays unique.

Back in Raj-haunted New Delhi on the way home, after an atmospheric overnight rail journey from Jodphur on the Mandoor Express, we enjoyed the supreme comfort of the Shangri-la- Eros hotel, one of the best in town. The previous day the city, now the world’s largest, had come to a standstill when stormclouds vented their fury

This was a time for shopping (my wife is a born haggler, books are particularly cheap, for trinkets try the Tibetan market on Janpath) and more obvious tourist delights. But even for the hardened India hand the teeming ginnels around Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi are exhausting, but that’s where Karim’s is.

We had had fine home-cooked food at the Homestays, another plus, but we wanted to eat at the shrine of Moghul Cuisine, situated appropriately close to the stupendous red and white Jama Masjid mosque.

Karim’s is a series of very basic dining rooms round a courtyard and the curries are artery-hardening ghee-soaked concoctions. For pennies we lunched on the best tandoori chicken known to man, toasted India with the yogurt drink Lassi, then hailed a bicycle rickshaw. The Monsoon had cleared.
Don't forget Goldie Hawn; she was just there, relaxing in an ashram.

Celebrity Vacationers on the Subcontinent

8. India

The architectural beauty found in India, especially the Taj Mahal which was built in the 1600s, makes it a celebrity draw. Celebrity Vacationers: Russell Brand and Katy Perry.
This is a short review by the Baltimore Sun, and this film is premiering at Sundance.

As President Obama prepares to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, one of the most acclaimed documentarians around takes a look at one of the most well-publicized casualty in the Central Asian conflict. Amir Bar-Lev, the filmmaker who took on art and child-rearing in the 2007 stunner "My Kid Could Paint That," examines the death of Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinals safety who enlisted in the Army and was later killed in Afghanistan. Originally categorized by the U.S. military as a hero who died in the line of battle, Tillman is slowly revealed by Bar-Lev to have been killed under far murkier friendly-fire circumstances. (In competition)
..and in NYC..

South Scranton native Marty Holleran walked the red carpet at a movie premiere with a host of celebrities this past Tuesday.

He was at the world-famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with his family, John and Aileen Crowley and their children, John, Patrick and Megan. They joined stars like Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Calista Flockhart, Jessica Simpson, Keri Russell, Sumner Redstone, Kayla Ewell and Ayanna Berkshire to watch "Extraordinary Measures," a film about the Crowleys' battle to find a cure for a disease that threatened the lives of two of their children.

The family was among a crowd of 500 who attended the premiere at the famous theater this week.

"It was a home run," Mr. Holleran told The Times-Tribune from Los Angeles. "It's the first premiere I've ever been at and it was very well done."

Mr. Holleran first told The Times-Tribune in December about the movie and his family's uplifting story.

"Listen," Mr. Holleran said of the premiere event, "there were so many celebrities and I really don't know one star from the other, but it was still great. I'm amazed the movie was able to accurately depict our lives and our struggles together in a one-hour-and-30-minute film."

Despite the family's magical Hollywood night, Mr. Holleran said he was looking forward to getting back home.

"The premiere and all of the interviews were fun," Mr. Holleran said. "But, you can't change a kid from Scranton."

Contact the writer:
This is from TOI; I can't wait to see this movie. Harrison is a such a multiplicious actor (yes, I made that last adjective up!) and I've always really enjoyed watching his films.

Superstar Harrison Ford got his big break in Hollywood while he was on his knees doing a carpentry job for filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and the actor believes there is nothing better than the profession to get into showbiz.

It was when Ford was first noticed by director George Lucas, who gave the actor a break with Star Wars.

The 67-year-old actor, who plays Dr Robert Stonehill, a eccentric research scientist in Extraordinary Measures, a film based on Indian writer Geeta Anand's novel The Cure, says it was perseverance and tenacity that helped him survive in Hollywood.

"There is no way into acting; it's impossible. I knew that from the beginning. It's statistically impossible to make it happen. What is going to make it happen is luck and tenacity. I never made a living until I was 35 years old," Ford said in a statement.

"But one thing I knew and recognised was that people around me were giving up and going home. I just, quietly, never gave up."

Ford, who is the number one box office star of all time, is known for getting the top billing for his movies but he listed co-star Brendan Fraser's name for the medical drama on top.

It is the first time since 1983's Return of the Jedi that Ford has not received top billing for a film.

'Extraordinary Measures' will be released in India in March by Sony Pictures.
Aafia has attracted a lot of attention from unsavoury persons but then that was the torturer's intent, and they have a lot of power because they can hurt people who can't stop them. When will America rise?

The woman dubbed "Lady Al Qaeda" was booted from her trial again Friday after blurting out that her lawyers won't let her testify.

"If you follow the mercy of mankind...they want to take away my right to testify. I've asked for it," Aafia Siddiqui told spectators during a break in the case. Please, I know you'll take me out," she told U.S. marshals as they motioned to move her to a holding cell outside the Manhattan courtroom.

"I am not an enemy. I didn't shoot anyone. I can bring peace with Afghanistan and the Taliban in one day, God willing," she said.

The American-trained Pakistani neuroscientist - charged with attempted murder for shooting at Americans in Afghanistan - also demanded to testify in a similar outburst Wednesday.

Judge Richard Berman told her she had a right, but no obligation, to testify - and warned he wouldn't put up with any more courtroom antics.

She stayed quiet for a day and a half. Siddiqui has repeatedly vowed to boycott her trial and says she does not trust her defense team.

Asked if Siddiqui would be allowed to take the stand in her own defense, lawyer Dawn Cardi was non-commital.

"It remains to be seen," she said.

Siddiqui is accused of snatching a M-4 Army rifle and firing two rounds at a team of Americans who tried to question her in Afghanistan on July 18, 2008.

She was under arrest at the time after being caught by Afghan cops with two pounds of poisonous chemicals, handwritten bioweapon-making documents, and a list of targets including the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Her defense team says no fingerprints were on the rifle and no bullets or fragments were found at the scene.

An FBI ballistics expert testified Friday that M-4 rifle shots travel at 2,700 feet per second and could have disintegrated.

Read more:

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Lithuania’s foreign minister steps down
By Andrew Ward in London

Published: January 22 2010 01:39 | Last updated: January 22 2010 01:39

Lithuania’s foreign minister resigned on Thursday amid a dispute over the Baltic country’s hosting of secret CIA prisons that may have been used to interrogate terror suspects.

Vygaudas Usackas, foreign minister, had continued to insist that no prisoners were held on Lithuanian soil even after a parliamentary investigation concluded last month that two CIA facilities were set up by the staunch US ally.

This put him at odds with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, who has led the push for investigations into the prisons and made clear that she believes people were detained.

The parliamentary probe found that Lithuania’s national security agency helped the US intelligence service set up two secret facilities and a logistics system in the country between 2002 and 2006 but found no firm evidence that prisoners were held.

The report made Lithuania the first country to officially acknowledge hosting clandestine CIA prisons after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Former US president George W. Bush admitted in 2006 that the CIA had operated prisons abroad in a move that critics said was designed to allow interrogations to take place out of reach of US laws.

Poland and Romania have denied allegations that they were also among the countries involved.

Ms Grybauskaite, who was elected president last year, has called for Lithuania to “clean up, take responsibility, apologise and promise this will never happen again”.

She publicly rebuked Mr Usackas over his more circumspect attitude towards the prisons and the pair also clashed over policy towards neighbouring Belarus and other issues. “Considering the present situation I am announcing my resignation,” he told reporters on Thursday.

A foreign ministry official said the CIA prison issue was just one of several reasons for Mr Usackas’s decision to quit. Andrius Kubilius, Lithuanian prime minister, was still mulling the minister’s resignation offer on Thursday night but officials said he was expected to accept it.

The departure would come just over a month after the head of Lithuania’s domestic intelligence agency resigned in connection with the prison controversy.

The parliamentary investigation established that several aircraft linked to the CIA landed in Lithuania between 2003 and 2006 and that local customs authorities were barred from inspecting them.

The probe concluded that the potential existed for prisoners to be held in Lithuania but fell short of conclusive proof that they had been.

Lithuania’s political leadership was largely absolved of responsibility in the report, which said the security services did not inform top government officials of the scheme.

Andrius Kubilius, Lithuanian prime minister, said last month that the report was “deeply worrying”, warning that the country’s “strategic partnership” with the US could not be used as an excuse for “Soviet methods”.
.Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.
I found this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, and really appreciated their coverage of such an important issue.

The organisers of Latin America's biggest fashion show have raised the alarm over emaciated Brazilian models apparently following unhealthy US and European trends.

"We have noticed with concern that some models on our catwalks - often the most booked - are extremely thin. These Brazilian girls are based most of the year in Europe and in the USA where they work majorly," Paulo Borges, the creative director of the Sao Paulo Fashion Week, said in a statement on Thursday.

He issued the warning after seeing models fly in to parade in this week's Brazilian fashion event and stressed he and the other organisers were intent on "preventing extreme health problems among these professionals."

The Sao Paulo Fashion Week has over the past three years introduced minimum age restrictions and a health report requirement for the agencies and design houses that book models to help create "a positive message" about modelling.

But the perceived new push towards skeletal models was a worry.

"This situation cannot be ignored," Borges said, urging those in the fashion industry to stand up against the new trend.

"We would like to propose a joint effort towards minimising this issue and preventing the effects of this trend on models, on our industry and on society itself," he said.

I think Josh Engwerda must have read La Carmina's book! Too cute ;)

Strawberries for a 'sweet heart'
Posted Wed Jan 20, 2010 9:01pm AEDT
Updated Thu Jan 21, 2010 10:05am AEDT

Slideshow: Photo 1 of 2

The berries are the brainchild of 22-y-o engineering graduate Josh Engwerda. (Josh Engwerda)

Video: Hearty fruit for Valentine's day (ABC News) Audio: Felicity Ogilvie talks to Josh Engwerda about his heart-shaped strawberries. (ABC News) Map: Hillwood 7252
A northern Tasmanian farm expects to harvest the world's first heart-shaped strawberries by Valentine's Day.

An engineering graduate from Melbourne, Josh Engwerda, came up with the idea to grow the berries in a heart-shaped mould.

He has teamed up with a farmer at Hillwood, north of Launceston, to grow the strawberries.

Mr Engwerda says the romantic idea just came to him while he was gardening.

"I'd seen square-shaped watermelons in Japan and then I was gardening with my strawberries and something just clicked," he said.

"I was trying to impress my girlfriend at the time, but I didn't get a chance to, unfortunately, so it was a bit of a fail."

David Warren owns the Hillwood strawberry farm and he predicts great commercial success for the heart-shaped fruit.

"I think in certain markets they'll take off, definitely around Valentines Day and things like that," he said.

"I think it'll keep a lot of girlfriends happy and we'll probably be flat out supplying them but the regular strawberries will still be popular."


CNNGo has premiered my very favourite recipe,

Tiger Chicken Tikka Masala!

from La Carmina's Cute Yummy Time, the book that was my Christmas present to myself. Loved it, showed it to my brother and he loved it, too!

Apparently she will be doing a number of receipts from the same book. Kawaii, desu ne? Aah, mochiron..totemo kawaii desu.

*translation: cute, isn't it? ah, of course, VERY cute.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A suspected U.S. drone attack in Pakistan's volatile tribal area killed five people Tuesday, as part of an unprecedented wave of strikes since a deadly attack against the CIA across the border in Afghanistan, said intelligence officials.

The two missiles slammed into a compound and a nearby vehicle in the Deegan area of North Waziristan, a zone dominated by the Haqqani network, an al-Qaida-linked Afghan Taliban faction that many suspect helped orchestrate the Dec. 30 suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees at a remote base in Khost province.

Tuesday's strike was the 12th since the CIA attack, an average of one about every day and a half. The unmanned aircraft have also targeted the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, who appeared in a video alongside the Jordanian man who carried out the suicide bombing. But a series of strikes against his stronghold in South Waziristan apparently failed to take out the militant leader.

In Tuesday's strike, four people were killed in the compound and one in the vehicle, said the intelligence officials. The victims' identities were unknown, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The area hit in the attack is located 18 miles (30 kilometres) west of the town of Miran Shah and 12 miles (20 kilometres) south of the Afghan border. The area abuts Khost province, where the Haqqani network also holds dominance.

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan believe the Haqqani network poses the most serious threat to coalition troops operating in the country. The Obama administration has pressed Pakistan to target the group and other militants staging cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops.

But the Pakistani government has resisted, saying it has its hands full battling groups like the Pakistani Taliban that are waging war against the state. More than 600 people have been killed in Pakistan since the army launched a major ground offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan in mid-October.

Given the Pakistani government's reluctance, the U.S. has increasingly turned to drone strikes as a way to target militants in the country who pose a threat to its troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. does not usually comment on the strikes or their targets, but officials have said in the past that they have taken out several senior al-Qaida and Taliban leaders.

While the Pakistani government publicly condemns the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, it is thought to have a secret deal with Washington allowing them.
I hope the wounds from what the Americans made the Pakistanis do are healed someday. Pity the brown man, for it is his blood that runs when the imperialist's heats. Oh, for the gold and umber, and the lost children that end a thousand generations of love. Pity them, for they are gone, forever and aye, and who will count the cost? Their tortured women and benighted sons. Speak not to me about the white man's burden, for the brown's goes uncounted, incalcuble. Never again, the white man cries, and then wonders at our private grief. A thousand thousand nightmares have been brought to our door.. the death of every hope, every aspiration, every dream. Will the weight ever cease? For these dark shoulders can only bear these manifold sins, this unrelenting treachery, so long, without being ground into dust..

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The Pakistani army said Thursday it cannot expand its offensive against militants for at least six months, and the United States backed off public pressure on an ally considered vital in the war next door in Afghanistan.
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Pakistan's Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar, right, meets U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Remarks from the Army's chief spokesman during a visit by U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did not rule out the offensive the United States would like to see, against militants who target U.S. forces in Afghanistan from hideouts in Pakistan.

"We are not talking years," Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told reporters travelling with Gates. "Six months to a year" would be needed before Pakistan could consolidate the gains it has made against militants in other parts of the country and then consider going further, he said.

"By a lot of hard work we brought public support on board," for campaigns last year in the Swat valley and South Waziristan, he said.

U.S. officials appeared to accept Pakistan's rationale that it has limited military resources and cannot risk getting ahead of the public's acceptance for a campaign that involves killing fellow Muslims.

"We have to do this in a way that is comfortable for them, and at a pace that they can accommodate and is tolerable for them," Gates said ahead of meetings with Pakistani civilian and military leaders. "Frankly, I'm comfortable doing that. I think having them set that pace as to what they think the political situation will bear is almost certainly the right thing to do."

The Obama administration has taken a softer tone with Pakistan in recent months, praising the country's unprecedented assault on militants inside its borders.

In meetings Thursday with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, the country's army chief and others, Gates called the antiterror operations a success so far, "and he acknowledged to all of them that we realize that has come with a great deal of sacrifice for the military," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said following the sessions.

"We are not trying to prescribe a timeline by which they must do things," Morrell said.

Abbas' comments clearly indicate Pakistan will not be pressured to quickly expand its fight beyond militants waging war against the Pakistani state. Whether it can be convinced in the long term is still an open question.

The Pakistani army launched a major ground offensive against the Pakistani Taliban's main stronghold near the Afghan border in mid-October, triggering a wave of retaliatory violence across the country that has killed more than 600 people.

Washington believes Pakistani pressure on militants staging cross-border attacks against coalition troops in Afghanistan is critical to success in Afghanistan as it sends an additional 30,000 troops to the country this year.

A senior U.S. military official in Pakistan said Pakistan is doing far more than outsiders would have imagined possible a year ago against militants on its turf, but holds back information about its military plans.

The reticence is understandable if frustrating, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military co-operation. The United States holds back too, even while contributing more than $3 billion in military aid to Pakistan last year, the official said. The Obama administration has promised $1.5 billion in nonmilitary aid on top of that for the next five years.

Referring to intense political pressure in Washington to lean harder on Pakistan, Gates sounded sanguine.

"As I try to remind Congress from time to time, and frankly some of the folks in the administration, it's the Pakistanis who have their foot on the accelerator, not us," Gates told reporters at the start of his two-day visit to Pakistan.

The political pressure goes two ways. Suspicion of U.S. motives runs high in Pakistan, and many Pakistanis bristle as the notion that Washington could dictate the country's priorities even with a recent promise of an unprecedented $1.5 billion in annual aid.

In an interview Thursday with local Express T.V., Gates said he is well aware of what he called conspiracy theories about U.S. motives in Pakistan, calling them "nonsense." The U.S. has no intention or desire to take over control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, occupy or split up the country, or divide the Muslim world, he said.
I'm very familiar with Bryce and Colleen's work, but not the others.. how wonderful to have some new people to read.

AS ONE of those increasingly rare letter writers who eschews email, David Malouf still queues in the post office and thinks carefully about which stamp to put on his envelope.

Now he can choose a 55-cent stamp with his face on it, though he says modesty will stop him.

Malouf is one of six novelists featured on the latest Australian Legends set of stamps, which Australia Post releases today.

He is joined by Peter Carey, Bryce Courtenay, Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullough and Tim Winton - a group of Australia's most prolific, most popular, most awarded and mostly grey-haired authors.

''Stamps aren't what they used to be,'' joked Courtenay, who was born in South Africa. ''It was the king's head on stamps when I was young. Now they just put old shitbags on them.''

Sir Donald Bradman was the first living non-royal to appear on Australian stamps when the Australian Legends Awards were launched in 1997 ''to honour individuals who have made a lifetime contribution to the development of our national identity and character''.

Since then athletes, Anzacs, racing figures, fashion designers and actors have qualified.

Carey, the winner of Britain's Man Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang, considers the honour ''moving'' and flew from his New York home to Melbourne for today's awards lunch.

''There's a big part of me that really wants to be part of Australian culture," he said.

Keneally, the author of more than 40 works, recalled writers of the 1960s such as Patrick White, Kenneth Slessor and Judith Wright who ''were better in many ways than all of us being honoured but were not considered central to the community.

''So it's astonishing that writers should be considered fit objects for national inclusion. On the other hand, there are many brilliant writers who are not there. There's no poet. So it is with a certain chastened conceitedness that we accept.''

Each writer has two stamps: one with a new photograph and the other with a younger image.

Malouf thinks he looks like the ancient Roman writer Seneca in his youthful portrait, which was shot in 1979 by an Italian photographer friend, Carlo Olivieri. He had written his first novel, Johnno, at Olivieri's apartment in Rome a few years earlier and dedicated it to him.

''I'm glad they are self-adhesive because it prevents jokes about licking their backside,'' Keneally said.
C'est fabulous... in Pakistan.

Senate approves bill to protect women rights
By Asim Hussain

ISLAMABAD—The Senate on Wednesday amended Code of Criminal Procedure incorporating provisions to protect rights of individuals particularly sexual harassment of women.Amendments in 150 years old Code of Criminal Procedure provide for rigorously dealing with those involved in harassing women at public or work places or exploiting them for sexual abuse.
The Criminal law (Amendment) Act 2009 passed by the House with a majority vote provides for three years imprisonment or with fine up to Rs. 500,000 or both.
The new law will be applicable to anyone intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word makes any sound or gesture or exhibits any object intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by intrudes upon the privacy of such women.
Moreover, it will also be applicable to one who conducts sexual advances or demands sexual favors or uses verbal or non-verbal communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature which intends to annoy, insult, intimidate or threaten the other person or commits such acts at the premises of work place, or makes submission to such conduct either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or makes submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual a basis for employment decision affecting such individual or retaliates because of rejection of such behavior or conducts such behavior with the intention of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance of creating an intimidation hostile or offensive working environment.
As majority of the members and the parties supported the Bill the religious parties felt like singled out to oppose the Bill which was adopted with a thumping majority. These parties had proposed a simple amendment that women should also observe the religious sanctity in their dresses and maintain modesty.
The Luxist Asks this question today:

There are exceptions, of course, but the fashion world does not react too kindly to the Playboy bunny look. (I know. I know. I, too, remember Louis Vuitton a few seasons ago) Sure enough, the irony was not lost on stylists who skewered the breast brigade -- and in particular Carey -- for standing in front of the Golden Globe Awards with their gazongas.

The fashion world likes a little more subtlety. More mystery. Less on-the-nose sexy. For spring, designers prefer another method of seduction: sheer. Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang showed layer upon layer of gauze and organza in dresses, trench coats, gowns and blouses.

In spite of their dominance in the fashion world -- both what brands they wear and, increasingly what labels they design -- celebrities make fashion faux pas. God love them. Where would worst dressed lists be without them? Sometimes it appears that celebrities can't shake off the stage or the theater and want to give audiences what they want -- an eyeful. But is it fashion?

We'll turn this question over to you: Is cleavage stylish?
Pakistan's media has the most comprehensive coverage of Dr. Aafia's trial, so that is what I am using. I am fairly sure that this is actually a jury trial.

The second day of Aafia Siddiqui's trial on attempted murder charge was marked by conflicting versions given by government witnesses of the 2008 incident in Afghanistan, with an FBI expert saying on Wednesday he found no fingerprints on the rifle that she allegedly used to fire at US interrogators there.
T. J. Fife, the FBI fingerprint expert who was put on the stand by the prosecution on the second day of Ms. Siddiqui's trial, said he used all techniques, including the top-of-the-line laser technology to search for evidence, but found nothing on the M-4 rifle, which was produced in the court.
"There were no fingerprints on the rifle, but it is difficult to obtain them from firearms," he added.
Fife was the last of the five prosecution witnesses who testified on Wednesday. He will be cross-examined by defence lawyers on Thursday.
Throughout Wednesday's proceedings, the lawyers for the prosecution and defence worked to focus the jurors' attention on their stands concerning the July 18, 2008, incident in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
In his opening statement on Tuesday, Charles Swift, the defence lawyer, had said Ms. Siddiqui didn’t fire any weapon that day. Authorities were never able to find any gunpowder residue on Ms. Siddiqui or any ballistics evidence showing the rifle had been fired or that she had used it, Swift said.
The prosecution brought in the FBI fingerprint expert in an obvious attempt to take the edge off Swift's statement because the government witness said that firearms usually do not record the impressions. The reason he gave was that firearms have rough surface that do not retain fingerprints, with heat, humidity and sweat also contributing to erasing them.
Meanwhile, a former Afghani interpreter with US Special Forces on Wednesday appeared to contradict the version of the Ghazni shooting incident given by a US Army captain on Tuesday about the position of Ms. Siddiqui while allegedly aiming the rifle. While interpreter Ahmad Gul told the court that the Pakistani neuroscientist was standing with the gun in her hand, Capt. Robert Snyder had said that she was in kneeling position.
This was cute. Vive la pudeur :)

January 20th, 2010

SUN SEEKERS: Three women sunbake topless at a Surf Coast beach recently.

ON THE surface, the days of semi-naked women bathing in the blistering sun appear over.

Fewer and fewer women can be seen strapless and without a care in the world on Surf Coast beaches.

It begs the question: Is topless still trendy? Or has the sun smart message finally taken hold?

East Malvern's Kirsty Connors, 39, said topless was a dying trend.

``I never see anyone do it any more,'' she said.

``When we were young, we'd do it all the time but attitudes have changed and the skin care message is so strong.''

What are your thoughts on this story. Tell us using the feedback form below

Mrs Connors' close friend Jo Ward, a topless sunbaker of the past, said beach-goers has entered a new era.

``People prefer to cover up from the harshness of the sun. And in this environment (Torquay beach), it's not appropriate.''

However, Cathy, of Reservoir, is proof topless sun seekers still exist on the Surf Coast.

``I'm considering doing it now . . . but not around children and young families,'' she said as she panned along the beach.

``I want to feel what it's like and be able to say to myself `I've done that, what's next?'. But I would only do it if there was a few of us around it would be a secluded thing.

``It's OK for a few minutes, but not for half an hour that's ludicrous.''

Anglesea lifesaver Andy Doyle, who chatted to the Geelong Advertiser while patrolling Torquay beach, agreed topless sunbaking a popular pastime in the 1980s, was still seen.

``It does happen, and there are still people doing it . . . I've had people come up and complain just recently and we had to approach two women and say would you mind putting your clothes back on.''

However, sightings are few and far between.

Free Beaches Australia member and Nudist Association of Victoria representative Rob Stephenson said fashion trends, not fears of skin cancer, had caused some topless sunbakers to suit up.

``If there's a trend away from toplessness I don't think it's because of the concerns of the sun it's more people's comfort levels and fashion,'' he said.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More on Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.

The "Lady Al Qaeda" suspect sat quietly Wednesday as an Afghani interpreter described her wild-eyed attempt to gun down a roomful of Americans with a stolen Army rifle.

Defendant Aafia Siddiqui, who was tossed out of court after an angry Tuesday outburst, said nothing as witness Ahmad Gul detailed the chaos inside an Afghan police station on July 18, 2008.

"She was using my body as a shield while bullets were going," said Gul, 27, a one-time interpreter for the Army Special Forces in Afghanistan.

Gul recalled that the MIT-educated neuroscientist was "mad, angry" as she leveled the M-4 rifle at the Americans and Afghan police inside the second-floor room.

The interpreter said he managed to disarm Siddiqui, 37, after she was shot in the abdomen.

The terror suspect grabbed the rifle after a Special Forces officer inexplicably left the weapon within her reach.

The same officer used his 9mm pistol to shoot Siddiqui after she fired two shots, prosecutors said. In the minutes before the shooting started, Gul said, there was a bit of chit-chat between the five Americans and the local cops in the room.

Two FBI agents, two Army officers and the Special Forces chief warrant officer were there when Siddiqui - arrested a day earlier - made her move.

Gul recalled Capt. Robert Snyder's surprised shout: "She's got the gun!"

Gul, standing just three feet from the rifle-wielding woman, said he lunged at her and started wrestling for the weapon. Siddiqui fired one shot before he reached the rifle, and a second after he shoved her into a wall, Gul said in the second day of trial testimony.

A chastened Siddiqui sat at the defense table throughout the morning, in contrast with her prior angry explosions.

She was removed from court after declaring her innocence Tuesday, and tossed last week after interrupting jury selection.

"Do you agree not to disrupt the proceeding and speak out of turn?" asked Judge Richard Berman.

"I understand English," she replied. Siddiqui is charged with attempted murder for the shootout in Afghanistan.

Read more:


Just what I was looking for, and in light of the current media attention after the earthquake, here is some information for those who take a depth of interest in Haiti.

Then of course there are the structural adjustment policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank in the 1990s. In 1995, for example, the IMF forced Haiti to cut its rice tariff from 35 percent to 3 percent, leading to a massive increase in rice-dumping, the vast majority of which came from the United States. As a 2008 Jubilee USA report notes, although the country had once been a net exporter of rice, "by 2005, three out of every four plates of rice eaten in Haiti came from the US." During this period, USAID invested heavily in Haiti, but this "charity" came not in the form of grants to develop Haiti's agricultural infrastructure, but in direct food aid, furthering Haiti's dependence on foreign assistance while also funneling money back to US agribusiness.

A 2008 report from the Center for International Policy points out that in 2003, Haiti spent $57.4 million to service its debt, while total foreign assistance for education, health care and other services was a mere $39.21 million. In other words, under a system of putative benevolence, Haiti paid back more than it received. As Paul Farmer noted in our pages after hurricanes whipped the country in 2008, Haiti is "a veritable graveyard of development projects."

So what can activists do in addition to donating to a charity? One long-term objective is to get the IMF to forgive all $265 million of Haiti's debt (that's the $165 million outstanding, plus the $100 million issued this week). In the short term, Haiti's IMF loans could be restructured to come from the IMF's rapid credit facility, which doesn't impose conditions like keeping wages and inflation down.

Indeed, debt relief is essential to Haiti's future. It recently had about $1.2 billion in debt canceled, but it still owes about $891 million, all of which was lent to the country from 2004 onward.

Deutsche Welle Asks

Feedback: What path should Germany take in its activities in Afghanistan? Send us an e-mail. Please include your name and country in your reply.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Speaking of seeds, I found this website very interesting, and worth checking out.
A little sparkie here, a little sparkle there.. the modest clothing movement is one that will stare flare alight :)

True Beauty

Mrs. North Carolina Rachel Lee Carter’s chosen platform is promoting modesty to teens and young girls.

“Often,” she says, “my industry encourages immodesty, but I believe that I can impress girls not to fall into the trap of immodest dress, and to show off their best side … their inside.”

She offers these tips for moms and teen girls.

- You can find modest clothing, but it takes time. “Your integrity and your image is far more important than a quick trip to the mall,” said Carter.

- Add layers to cover bare spots (low-cut tops or cropped shirts).

- Be willing to throw things out or use them for a different purpose. If the shorts are too short, use them for pajamas. If a top is too tight, always wear it under a blazer or a sweater.

- Model for your father and ask him if it’s modest. He will let you know.
In case people were looking for something to do; this advice is excerpted from the Huffington Post.

Holidays are over; decorations are put away. The winter darkness is starting to lift a tiny bit, but the cold doldrums are here to stay for a while. These are all the indelible signs that it's time to order seeds and plants for this year's garden.

Sure, you can wait until spring, and rush to your local big-box store or nursery like all the other amateurs. And there will be plenty of time for that. But if you are a serious gardener, or even a serious foodie, you want to get your order in now and plan everything around your big goals for this growing season.

My latest discoveries are organic seedlings that you can order now to arrive just in time to plant in the spring (although, last spring I jumped the gun and planted before the frost-free date and lost a few things). With seedlings, I can order a whole variety of heirloom tomatoes and just a few other specialties and not have to start a whole pack of seeds of one thing. My two favorites sources are Seed Savers Exchange and Peaceful Valley Farm Supply.

My biggest goal this year is to plant an orchard...or, rather, a few fruit trees--I can only fit four in my yard right now. But for some fruits you need two trees for pollination. So I think I'm going to start with two apples and two sour cherries.

When I first started gardening, I was overwhelmed by all the catalogs and choices. But the more I garden, the more I know exactly what I want and where to get it. I love to support the small organic companies that are doing their best to free seeds from global domination, and keep the world safe for things that are different and simply old-fashioned.

By the way, have you all seen the new Organic Gardening magazine? It's been totally redesigned, and is new and improved. I am totally in love with it, and thankful to our new editor, Ethne Clarke, who is a most qualified and inspired editor. My favorite compliment so far was from Jeff Cox, a former editor of OG in the '60s! When he saw the new issue he declared that "the mag is back."

He then went on to say: "It's the organic gardeners who are truly perfecting the earth, one garden at a time." I couldn't agree more!