Thursday, June 24, 2010

Personal details of soldiers killed in Afghanistan
23 June 2010

Privates Tim Aplin, Ben Chuck, and Scott Palmer have been identified as the Australian commandos who died in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan on Monday.

Their families are receiving support from 2nd Commando Regiment and from the Defence Community Organisation, and have requested their privacy be respected during this difficult time.

Planning for the repatriation of the fallen Australian soldiers has begun, although the date for their return to Australia has not yet been confirmed.

All wounded personnel from the crash arrived at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany late last night local time, with their return to Australia yet to be determined.

There has been no substantial change to their medical assessment with four assessed to be in a satisfactory condition, one listed as in a serious condition and two in a very serious condition.

An investigation is underway into the cause of the incident however it is not believed to be the result of insurgent action.

“We have suffered over the past week, but we remain firmly committed to serving our nation to the very best of our ability,” said Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston on Monday evening.

The commandos were from the 2nd Regiment based in Sydney.

Sixteen Australians have now lost their lives since operations in Afghanistan began in 2001.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This is from the blog that I follow:

First of all, you have to understand a distinct difference between the North and the South.
If you're in the south, and you order a drink of water, there's a pretty good chance of ice cubes in it. The pitchers carried by waiters and waitresses often have a special side 'spout' that is designed to pour ice from the pitcher to the cup.
I have been told that if I order a drink in the north, it comes 'straight up', aka without ice.
This makes sense - it's generally colder the farther north you go (in the Northern Hemisphere, of course), so there's little need for ice, the opposite being true as you travel south. Apparently the Mason-Dixon line is the Ice Equator as well.
When in Texas (unless you find a restaurant trying to reserve resources, which generally warns you ahead of time), you will get ice in pretty much anything but milk and some kinds of juice.
You can of course ask for a drink without, but bear in mind that if you don't, it'll come on the rocks.

BACK to my initial subject; while we do in fact have 'gourmet' (as the grocery stores will tout it) teas, that is, things like Earl Grey, available, you should keep in mind that just because they say that does NOT mean that an English tourist will agree. But I'm talking about normal tea, Lipton packets etc. etc.
To some, the idea of 'iced tea' (which is pretty much tea on the rocks) is completely out of left field. To those of us used to 105-degree-in-the-shade springs, it is not.
There are two basic ways to get ice tea. One is to, of course, brew up a bunch of tea bags in hot water, allow to cool, and then drop a truckload of ice into it. The other way is to use special tea bags, designed to be used in cold water. However, this has a different taste than normal tea.
It's far more common to get ice(d) tea in a southern restaurant; if you want it hot, you have to specify. Most sit-down restaurants, the nice ones at least, have the option of 'hot tea' (yes, that is what you'll have to ask for!), and many have more than one flavor available. However, I wouldn't recommend it, unless it's winter or you get cold easily.

Another standard to keep in mind - and watch out for - is sweet tea. For those who are big on specific language, this'll drive you crazy - plain tea, without sugar, is almost universally referred to as 'unsweet' down here.
Sweet tea is almost definitely made so with white sugar. However, the usual rainbow-colored sugar substitutes are available in almost every restaurant, including (although much less so) Splenda. If you have dietary concerns, or simply do not like sugar, it's best to order the tea 'unsweet', and then flavor as you so choose. If you order in a restaurant without specifying, it tends to be a toss-up, so WATCH OUT!
Also keep in mind that everybody has their own opinions on sweetness. Some believe sweet tea should be impossible to move a spoon through, others prefer a more moderate taste. If you're filling a cup at an open soda fountain, which down here almost always have tea, it's a good idea to pour in just a little and then sip, to make sure the sweetness is alright.

There are a variety of specialty cold teas, many of which are worth at least one try. If you find yourself in the South, have a taste; in fact, it'll probably be preferable, considering the likely weather.

I'm excited because I am heading down to Texas for a short stay, and I will keep all of this advice in mind when ordering up. I'm really looking forward to the visit; us cowgirls love Texas :)

Monday, June 14, 2010

".. if you want to play the field during the World Cup, here's how you can really score!"

I love the Frisky.

Just not this article, explaining how to have one night stands during the World Cup in South Africa.

Once upon a time there were these young girls, see, and they had these dreams..

Friday, June 11, 2010

Please take a minute today and tell President Obama to ban landmines. It would be so inspiring to see the United States of America take the leadership on something that affects so many people across the world.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"The lack of media attention and NGO presence, combined with its historical isolation, has created a situation where civilians, instead of being viewed as the primary victims of this conflict, are seen almost as acceptable collateral damage."
-Amnesty International, South Asia to the Australian yesterday.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A U.S. soldier has been detained on suspicion of leaking a classified combat video to WikiLeaks.

Army Specialist Bradley Manning, 22, is the prime suspect in a case that involves a video that was posted on the whistle blowing website, WikiLeaks. The video in question is footage of a 2007 helicopter attack in Baghdad that claimed the lives of many innocent civilians.

Manning was stationed at Baghdad’s Forward Operating Base Hammer when he was arrested two weeks ago. The arrest came about because of a tip from Adrian Lamo, a former computer hacker. Lamo told authorities that Manning had been bragging about leaking the footage to the site. According to Lamo, Manning has leaked more than 260,000 classified videos to WikiLeaks, including footage from another air strike in Garani, Afghanistan that involved civilians.

Lamo took to Twitter to explain the reasoning behind his decision to report Manning. He wrote that he reported Manning for fear that he was compromising national security. “I outed Manning as an alleged leaker out of duty. I would never out an Ordinary Decent Criminal. There’s a difference,” Lamo wrote.

The Pentagon has released the following statement:

“The Department of Defense takes the management of classified information very seriously because it affects our national security, the lives of our soldiers, and our operations abroad.”

Nissan Outdoor Games in Chamonix, France

Check out the pictures from last year; dazzling.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I kind of like some things about the world still

Soooo.. the Australian Parkour Association reported on their blog in late May that they've just been funded for Girls and Women Parkour in Queensland, and its been a huge success so far.

Just sayin'.
Banned GM maize sown in Germany

Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Monday, 7 June 2010 16:34 UK

GM maize (file pic) GM crops are much less widespread in Europe than in the US

A genetically modified (GM) variety of maize banned in the EU has been sown accidentally across Germany.

The NK603 variety has been planted in seven states. The seed supplier, US firm Pioneer Hi-Bred, called the level of contamination "minute".

It is not clear how the mistake occurred, but it could cost farmers millions of euros, as crops will now have to be destroyed.

The EU is currently reviewing its tight rules on the cultivation of GM crops.

Pioneer Hi-Bred, based in Buxtehude near Hamburg, says NK603 has been planted on "just under 2,000 hectares (4,940 acres)" of land. The environmental group Greenpeace put the area as high as 3,000 hectares.

Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Lower Saxony are among the states where it has been sown.
Information delayed

Supporters of GM crops argue that they deliver higher yields and resistance to pests, requiring less fertiliser and pesticides.

Opponents say more scientific data is needed, arguing that their long-term genetic impact on humans and wildlife could be harmful.

They also say GM crops can enter the food chain inadvertently if they are naturally cross-pollinated with non-GM varieties.

Greenpeace says that officials knew about the contamination in early March, but that because of bureaucratic delays farmers are only now being warned.

"This is the biggest GM crop scandal in Germany to date," said a Greenpeace agriculture expert, Alexander Hissting.
Ploughing up fields

In the affected fields, up to 0.1% of the crop is contaminated with NK603 - equivalent to 100 contaminated plants per hectare, Greenpeace says.

Pioneer Hi-Bred disputes that figure. Company spokesman Mike Hall told the BBC that the level of NK603 detected in the "conventional seed" was 0.03%.

"It's highly unlikely that it's a GM trace. Anything below 0.1% could be a false positive, impossible to quantify scientifically," he said.

"In the past when they found trace amounts we removed the seed from the market. In this case they told us after it had been planted."

Stefanie Becker, spokeswoman for Lower Saxony's Environment Ministry, said that "fields will have to be ploughed up before the maize blooms - it is still possible to halt the uncontrolled spread [of the GM variety]".

She said her ministry did not get details about the distribution of the GM maize until last Friday. "We have the distributors' names, and through them the farmers will be informed," she told the BBC.

Ms Becker said the contamination affected about 2,000 hectares and originated from two sacks of seeds. It is not yet clear how the seeds got mixed up, she said.
EU divided

So far the EU has allowed only two GM crops to be cultivated - Monsanto's MON 810 maize and a type of potato harvested for starch. But Germany, like some other EU countries, banned MON 810 last year.

EU member states are divided over GM crops. Commercial GM planting takes place in Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic. But France, Germany, Austria and Greece are among several states that have banned MON 810.

The GM maize that has spread in Germany "is not harmful to human or animal health", Ms Becker said.

The European Commission is overhauling the rules on GM crops and will present new proposals next month allowing member states more freedom to allow or ban GM varieties.

Countries would be allowed to set their own technical standards for GM farming, including buffer zones to prevent cross-pollination.

The new rules will still require approval by EU governments and the European Parliament.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quote of the Day

"As our world continues to flatten, sports, particularly soccer, has the power to break down cultural barriers that may have existed for generations. The courageous stories in However Tall the Mountain teach us all that soccer has no boundaries, and that it can change lives. These young girls prove to us all that while we have our own individual identities off the field, on the field, we are universally the same - striving and struggling to achieve our greatest potential."
- Sunil Gulati, President of the U.S. Soccer Federation

*please see the link, if interested, to However Tall the Mountain, Awista Ayub's book on eight girls in the Afghan women's soccer program.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

From the Australian Age.

President Horst Koehler of Germany has resigned after a barrage of criticism of his remarks during a visit to Afghanistan.

It was the first time in four decades a German president has quit the post, the nation's highest despite being largely ceremonial.

Mr Koehler set off the criticism when he said in an interview that German soldiers serving in Afghanistan or with other peacekeeping missions were deployed to protect German economic interests.
I, for one, will be waiting to see who wins. :)

DANNY Green has granted Paul Briggs his wish -- a shot at a title -- three years after he was forced to give up boxing on medical advice.

Specialists had found an adrenal gland disorder.

"I'm giving Briggs the opportunity of lifetime. He's got nothing to lose," Green said.

At stake for Green is his IBO cruiserweight world boxing title next month, when he steps back into the ring against former sparring partner Briggs.

Green has had some bruising training sessions in the past with Briggs, who twice fought Poland's Tomasz Adamek for a light heavyweight world title.

"I guess I've sparred him (Briggs) in 30 or 40 of the hardest rounds I've ever had," Green said.

"They were almost blood wars. The thing about Briggs as a fighter is his incredible willpower.

"He has also got a cult following from his kickboxing days and what I'm offering him is a chance in a lifetime for him.

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"If he comes out on the night in July and beats me, then the world is his oyster, but that ain't going to happen."

"Hurricane" Briggs, a former world champion kickboxer and DJ, said he had overcome the problems with his adrenal gland and nervous system, which forced him to quit and take up work as a TV commentator.

Briggs, who comes from a family of Kiwi fighters, had his last bout in February 2007, against South African Rupert van Aswegen.

"I'm in great shape," he said.

His trainer Billy Hussein said: "Briggs is not doing this for the money. He has passed his medical and now comes the hard part of working on a fight strategy.

"Both Briggs and Green are big, big punchers, so we're expecting it to be fireworks from the opening bell."

Green's trainer, Angelo Hyder, said his fighter's lack of long fights was not a concern.

The Green "Machine" last fought Manny Siaca in April, knocking out his opponent inside three rounds. Against Roy Jones Junior, the fight lasted a mere 122 seconds.

He took out Julio Cesar Dominguez in five rounds, while Anthony van Niekerk was pummelled into submission in two.

Green, who has a 29-win, three loss record, including 26 wins inside the distance, takes on Briggs (26-3) at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on July 21.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Last night I had a dream. The Afghans couldn't sleep; they couldn't speak. All they could do was hum. All over the country, all over Afghanistan, they were humming. In the high mountain passes, deep in the black jails of Bagram, fed hallucinogens, crying for their wives and daughters, from broken injured and beaten throats, the innocent Afghans were humming. The song, the spirit, the heart of Afghanistan hung in the air as they hummed their voiceless dirge, as they fell and died, and their torturers listened dry eyed, save the scant grimace of shame and the otherworldly glee of the insane.

Rise up, white nations of the world. Defend your honour. For the least of us are the best of you. We are one, and yet you let your little brothers, incomprehensibly alienated, die after torture that is so terrible that no one in history has endured it. Let it stop, white nations of the world. Let it end, and not in death, but in life. Rise, Europe. Rise and rid yourself of this terrible burden, for we, all of the peoples of the world which ought to include yourselves, will never forget Afghanistan, for as long as we can dream.

We are you. We are your heart. We are your blood. We are your bones. We are capable of tremendous spirit and unceasing love.

Stop the Holocaust.

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Four Afghans accused in bombing attacks appeared Tuesday for a preliminary hearing — the start of a legal procedure which U.S. officials say will lead to the first trial of detainees held by American forces in Afghanistan.

The hearing, which took place before three Afghan judges in a small white-walled room, was described by U.S officials as a major step in a plan to hand over control of the long-secretive detention facility at Bagram Air Field to the Afghan government.

Since the war began in 2001, detainees held in Afghanistan have had no access to lawyers. The U.S. alone decided who could be released or held indefinitely as a continued threat through a series of internal reviews by a military commission.

Tuesday's hearing also comes just a few weeks after a federal appeals court ruled that detainees held in Afghanistan cannot file suit for their release in U.S. courts — a right enjoyed by detainees in Guantanamo Bay — because Afghanistan is a war zone in the nearly nine-year fight against Taliban insurgents.

But the chaotic nature of the first court session also showed that the transition toward an Afghan role will likely be slow and messy.

The defendants, a 60-year-old farmer and his three adult sons, were ushered into an elevated booth in a corner of the courtroom. All four prisoners wore dark gray-blue tunics. The father — whose long gray beard was tinted orange from traditional henna dye — wore a brown shawl around his shoulders. Two of the sons had bloodshot eyes.

They stood as prosecutor Ghawarl, who uses only one name, read out the charges and evidence against them.

He said some of the men's fingerprints matched those on bombs found in their native Khost province, in eastern Afghanistan. A search of their house turned up a stash of Kalashnikov rifles and pistols, he added.

But the defendants spoke only a smattering of Dari, the Afghan language used in the hearing. There was no translation into their native language — Pashto — which is spoken by most of the about 830 prisoners held at the prison. There were simultaneous translations but into English for Western soldiers and journalists in the courtroom.

The four government-appointed Afghan defense lawyers objected to the lack of Pashto translation and complained they had only had a few days to review the cases.

They also argued that it is common for men in the remote mountains of eastern Afghanistan to keep a stash of weapons to protect their families and not necessarily to fight for the insurgents.

The chief judge agreed to adjourn to give the defense lawyers more time to talk to their clients and review their cases, and to enlist a Pashto translator. No new hearing date was set.

According to the indictment, 24-year-old Misri Gul was captured first in Khost in October 2009. His brother Ghazni was detained when he went to visit Misri at the detention facility in March. Then last month, U.S. forces raided their family house and arrested a third brother, 22-year-old Rahmi, and their father Bismullah.

U.S. officials have not promised a trial for every detainee. Some of those held are will likely be too high of a security threat or too valuable as intelligence assets to relinquish to the Afghan system. It is unclear how many will be granted trials.

"We're in this world between two systems," said Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the deputy commander for U.S. detention operations.

He said the problems in that first hearing should be taken in context: this is the first session and there are kinks that will have to be worked out. He said he did not have details on whether there was classified intelligence that would have to be held back from the trial.

The hearing took place in a new prison complex on the edge of Bagram, Afghanistan's main U.S. base. The prison — called the Parwan Detention Facility — opened in December and can hold up to 1,300 inmates. It replaced a smaller and more notorious prison that was inside the Bagram base.

The deaths of two Afghans at the older prison in 2002 led to prisoner abuse charges against several U.S. service members. Allegations of mistreatment have dogged the detention facility since, even after reforms improved conditions.

Still under construction are a full courthouse, lodging for court officials and an Afghan army barracks. The Americans expect to start handing over portions of the complex to the Afghans in January and continue piecemeal over about a year.

The new complex and the possibility of trials are to phase out a procedure that has damaged the reputation of U.S. forces in Afghanistan — the indefinite imprisonment of Afghans suspected of insurgent ties.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
It’s just too easy to say ‘Oh this has failed’ and write the Haitians off and say ‘It’s just a nightmarish mess.’

-- Tracy Kidder, on helping deliver medical care to refugees in Haiti

*speaking of which, the demise of the term refugee really concerns me. Now its all "detainees"- "migrants"- "boat people". I like the term "refugee"- its very evocative for me- people seeking refuge. What could encapsulate their plight better than that? :)
Consumer Reports hilighted GM food labeling on their Safety Blog today. Below is what they had to say about it all. This is incredible news and I hope they continue to foster dialogue and debate around this issue.

Unsafe by definition? GM/GE-free product labeling
What it is: GM/GE refers to genetically modified or genetically engineered products. GM/GE processes may be useful because they can transfer certain traits and properties from one organism to another. For example, soybeans can be given a gene that protects them from the herbicide that's sprayed on the field to kill weeds.

Why it's news: There are currently no mandatory government labeling requirements for GM/GE products. Growers and product makers are allowed to label their goods as GM-free or GE-free. At an international meeting on food labeling in Quebec City, Canada in early May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration came out against a proposal to allow countries to adopt different approaches to labeling of GE/GM foods, as long as they are in line with existing U.N. guidelines.

The current U.S. position says mandatory labeling of food as containing GM/GE ingredients is “likely to create the impression that the labeled food is in some way different” and would therefore be “false, misleading or deceptive.” Of the approximately 60 countries present at the meeting, only Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina supported the U.S. position to drop all work on this topic. Consumers Union and dozens of other farming, public-health, environmental and organic-food organizations recently sent a letter to the USDA and FDA warning that the U.S. position could create significant problems for American food producers who wish to convey that their products contain no GE or GM ingredients. Organic food in particular, which prohibits GM/GE ingredients, is frequently labeled ‘GE-free’ or ‘No GMOs’.

A recent CU poll found that two-thirds of consumers would be concerned if they thought that GE/GM ingredients were in organic food.
This work certainly sounds interesting.

Isabel Allende sets new book in Haiti with theme of slavery and regrets timing
By Sigal Ratner-Arias (CP) – May 18, 2010

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Chilean author Isabel Allende hopes readers don't think that her latest book, "Island Beneath the Sea," set in Haiti, is being published in English to take advantage of the current focus on the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean country.

"It's a terrible coincidence," says the best-selling author of "The House of the Spirits."

"I felt bad that the book was going to come out now (in English) and that it might look as if I was taking advantage of the circumstances, but on the other hand it seems important that Haiti is in the news, that it's on the map again and that people are talking about Haiti, a marvellous country in need of help," she says.

The 67-year-old author originally considered setting the novel in New Orleans, but her research took her to Haiti.

"I noticed that the French flavour of New Orleans, the cooking, the voodoo, a lot of the customs come from 10,000 refugees who fled Haiti during the slave revolution at the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s . . . and many of them came to Louisiana," she says during a recent interview.

"So I began investigating the circumstances that forced them to leave and that's how I got into the Haitian Revolution, which is fascinating."

The book, which debuted in Spanish last year and just came out in English in the United States, follows Zarite Sedella, a slave in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) at the end of the 18th century who had the good fortune to avoid working on sugar plantations or in the mills, because she was always a domestic slave.

Although "Island Beneath the Sea" takes place 200 years ago, Allende says, "the theme of slavery is one that is horribly alive today."

"There are 27 million slaves in the world today . . . and we're not just talking about girls who work in Cambodian bordellos, but people who are in indentured servitude, sometimes for generations; entire villages that work in agriculture, in the fishing industry, logging and all sorts of sweatshops," she says.

"When there's so much poverty, when there's so much abuse, I think it's important to say it as much as possible — to make awareness about this," Allende says. She added that 300,000 children in Haiti are domestic slaves who are given away by their parents who are too poor to take care of them.

Allende is one of the best-known contemporary women authors in Latin America, who sometimes writes based on her own experiences, weaving together myth and realism. Her books, which have been translated into more than 27 languages, shift between autobiographical and historical and are usually focused on women.

Her latest book has been a bestseller in many Latin American countries and is already a bestseller on

Terry Karten, Allende's editor at Harper Collins, said the book continues to sell well in hardback and e-book.

"We expect the novel to be a favourite choice for summer reading and book groups as well," she said in an email to The Associated Press.

The book's research took about four years and writing another year.

"When I begin writing I have the place and time well researched. I have all the documentation about what happened during that moment in that place and nothing more," she says of her creative process.

"It took me maybe two years to gather the primary materials, but I wasn't able to write the book because I didn't have Zarite, I didn't have her voice — the story was very rough," she says. But one day, she dreamed about the character. "Or she appeared to me when I was meditating, but I saw her fully. And when I had Zarite's personality, with her body, her long neck, her elegant hands, her voice, I was able to write the book easily."

Zarite, as with many of the women to whom Allende has given life on the page, is full of strength, sensuality and heroism.

"I don't invent women. I've worked all my life with women and for women. I know them well and if you ask me where are there weak women, I wouldn't know, because the majority of them have had difficult lives and are for the most part very strong," said the author of "Eva Luna," ''Of Love and Shadows" and "Ines of My Soul," who was born in Peru and raised in Chile and now lives in California (she became an American citizen a few years ago).

Allende, who has endured personal tragedy — she shared the loss of her daughter in her memoir "Paula" — says she is grateful for the life she's led.

"I think very few people pass through life without suffering. And my suffering is no different from that of others and it's not greater," she says. "I celebrate each day."

Copyright © 2010 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.