Tuesday, March 4, 2008

'You carry the pearls of war within you' - poetry from Iraq

While overseas in Iraq, I carried a few books with me in my assault pack (like a medium-sized backpack). I wanted to learn as much as possible about the people of Iraq, their culture, their history. I wanted to know more of the history layered into the earth. . . .

. . . Ibn Khaldun's The Muqaddimah (An Introduction to History) - the classic Islamic history of the world - was very intriguing and eye-opening for me. The following poem I wrote from out of this study.

Dreams From The Malaria Pills (Barefoot)
Tamaghis ba'dan yaswadda waghdas nawfana ghadis

He's coughing up shrapnel, jagged and rough,
wondering if this is what the incantation brings,
those dreamwords shaping desire into being.

He's questioning why blood is needed, and so much,
why he's wheeled through his hometown streets
on a gurney draped in camouflaged sheets.

Ibn Khaldun takes each piece of metal from him:
These are to be made into daggers,
precious gifts, the souvenirs of death.

You carry the pearls of war within you, bombs
swallowed whole and saved for later.
Give them to your children. Give them to your love.

~ more... ~

Veterans' Bonus Blues

The earliest recorded blues were made in the wake of the First World War. It's tough to know how many blues musicians served in the armed forces, but the war was clearly a formative experience for many. Every veteran of the Great War was promised a pension that includes $1 for every day served on the home front and $1.25 for every day served overseas. The fight to actually receive this money would turn into one of the most important experiences of the Great Depression and inspire several blues songs.

From 1929, Congress had reviewed the bonus situation several times and in 1932 a bill to allow immediate payment passed in Congress, but not in the Senate. In 1932, a Veterans' Bonus Army known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force (in an echo of the American Expeditionary Force that served in Europe) had marched on Washington to demand payment. Black and white soldiers came from all over the country and formed integrated camps in south-east Washington along the Anacostia River. The veterans' camp presented a stark contrast to the strictly segregated units the soldiers had served in during the war as well as to the still segregated streets of Washington D.C.

After the defeat of the Bonus Bill, President Hoover ordered the camp of the Bonus Army be disbanded. General Douglas MacArthur led the effort to burn down the camp and force the veteran's army out of the city. The images of the standing army attacking veterans from its own ranks were printed in newspapers across the country, cementing national anger with the Hoover administration, and creating great sympathy for the veterans.

After being cleared out in 1932, the veterans continued their campaign to receive the bonus money including additional marches on Washington that had vast public support. The Government continued to resist immediate payment, citing concern about the effects of the huge expenditure on the economy. The veterans were finally successful in 1936. A bill to allow bonds to be cashed whenever the veteran chose passed over President Roosevelt's veto.

Joe Pullum may have been the first blues singer to reference the bonus in his 1934 song Black Gal What Makes Your Head So Hard? At that time the bonus money was available only in the form of bonds that could not be cashed out until 1945. Many veterans were able to capitalise on the bonuses through loans, but that entailed paying interest. That's what Joe Pullum referred to when he sang about having his bonus money. Joe Pullum eventually recorded several more songs that reference the bonus including Bonus Blues in 1936.

Most of the blues songs that address the bonus talk about how the money will be spent when they finally get it. These include songs by Carl Martin, Peetie Wheatstraw, and others. The political issues are referenced indirectly as they often are in blues songs.

~ from Migration Blues ~

Catapulting the propaganda on McCain

What the Times story does to a larger extent is to catapult the propaganda and allow for a look at McCain's serial dishonesty, his fervor for war and his veracity as a 'war hero'. Put quite simply, any man who comes out in favor of preserving the Bush-Cheney junta's dictatorial right to use water boarding, a torture method so foul that it was used by the masters of the Spanish Inquisition while trying to parlay his own past as one who was tortured into political power while playing up his victim status as a POW who was also reportedly tortured is amoral, cynical and exploitative. A portrait of a career charlatan is only slowly emerging although the signs have always been there back to his involvement with the Keating Five scandal and running up to his hijacking of the Iraq war and occupation as his hallmark issue stating that despite the obvious facts that 'stuff was getting better' when the carnage raged and the bodies stank in the streets, rotting and being eaten by packs of starving dogs outside of the Green Zone. There was that ridiculous stroll through that market with Lindsay 'five rugs for five bucks' Graham with nearly half the fucking army in tow that was exposed as so much stagecraft during that now famous 60 Minutes segment last spring and McCain's political aspirations appeared to be on life support. But that was before the Surge and the Vichy Democrat's surrender on efforts to stop the war that they lied about in order to be given control over Congress in November 2006. McCain was suddenly off the ropes and back in business again.

And like Flintstone with "Gazoo" every time that McCain found himself in trouble on Iraq he just invoked "General Petraeus" and was out of any jam and his symbiotic relationship with Joe Lieberman which went over well with the same high rolling Jews that fund the campaigns of those of both parties who are acceptable to the neocons as well as his shilling for the American Enterprise Institute put Insane McCain back in the game again. He used the wizardry of a master in getting out in front with the game plan to incinerate everything that moves within 1000 miles of Israel which of course makes the Raptureheads pee in their undergarments in anticipation of their teleportation while the world immolates. But the "Surge" isn't working, it has all been one gigantic bait and switch in which taxpayer money is buying time by paying off Sunni insurgents not to fight Americans. That dirty little deal along with the ethnic cleansing have more to do with the reduction of violence along with the hermetically sealed media than any real political success. It's all to buy time so that dirty little fuck up in Mesopotamia doesn't play havoc with the election or any of the two chosen neocons who would be warmonger in chief, McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton. And if McCain is so brazenly lying about his holier than thou bullshit about being different and above corruption you really have to wonder how much else of his tailor made for mass consumption by the moronic, television addicted lemmings is also more of the same bullshit. Could he also be lying about Vietnam?

Let's talk about Nam, that nasty little quagmire in the American subconscious always waiting to be sprung like a bouncing betty whenever it is politically opportunistic, we are still fighting that fucking war and will continue to fight that fucking war until we as a nation are ready to collectively acknowledge the accumulated weight of all of our military interventionist sins and to seek atonement. That John McCain can continue to trade on his Vietnam record as he runs his campaign on the promise of more war for the rest of all of our lives even if it bankrupts us and rapes the futures of those who have yet to even be fucking born. Now I have a lot of problems with this great narrative that McCain has constructed for himself about being this great war hero, first let me say that there is absolutely nothing fucking heroic in dropping bombs on civilians and McCain himself has come out and admitted this when questioned during interviews, he correctly called himself "a war criminal" during another 60 Minutes interview back in 1997.

The Democrats and the more flaccid spined liberals out there with their pet issues snap to attention when it comes time to bestow their platitudes on the great and almighty war hero John McCain who will happily continue to send young men and women to their deaths if and when he snags the keys to the war machine. I have always found this sort of deferential treatment to be not only pathetic but self-defeating as well, the quisling Dems to use a sports analogy are all too happy to spot their opponent a two touchdown lead before they even take to the field for the opening kickoff. This is an area where I am flummoxed especially after the treatment that was given to John Kerry (a foofy haired elitist doofus who actually was something of a war hero) when he was savagely swiftboated by a Karl Rove operation back in 2004. Of course Kerry also came out against the war in his now legendary winter soldier hearings that peeled back the flags from the faces of the armchair patriots and the deniers which was and to this day is still a big taboo in a country that bathes in the blood of the innocent that are murdered by the war machine that has made death out top national export.

~ from John McCain: War Hero or War Criminal? ~

Japan's waning interest in sex

At least the do-it-yourself handymen, so to speak, are showing some interest in the pleasures of the flesh. Figures from the Japanese Association for Sex Education, which has been surveying students at schools and universities nationwide on an annual basis since 1974, show that there has been a dramatic decrease among young Japanese people's interest in sex since 1999.

"That was the year by which just about every Japanese home had a personal computer and nearly all students had their own mobile phones. With young people dramatically increasing their use of these two pieces of equipment, it led to the bipolarization of their sexual activity," Nario Kaneko, head of the association's secretariat tells Shukan Asahi, noting that those who favored mobile phones tended to be more outgoing and sexually adventurous, while people who pounded away at a mouse and keyboard in front of a monitor were withdrawn and less sexually active.

Perhaps that has inspired the massive popularity of "otome" games, role-playing dating simulation games for women where the object is to win the heart of the computer-generated man they desire. Otome games occupied seven of the top 20 best-selling computer software game titles in Japan last year.

~ from More Japanese cutting out the middleman with dating sims and sex toys ~

Pizza Tax, Bratwurst Welfare Diet, Fond Memories of Stalingrad and Sadomasochism as Welcome Fetish

Reported in Der Spiegel.

This month has seen a veritable flood of stupid proposals and ill-considered utterances from politicians in Germany. But the country has also seen plenty of inanities in its past. From the pizza tax to a call to buy Mallorca, SPIEGEL ONLINE has collected some of the most bone-headed.

Sarkozy 'anything but friendly' to Germany

It's not so much the self-promotion that seems to drive Sarkozy's foreign policy -- officials at the chancellery and at the foreign ministry in Berlin have become used to that. For instance, he claimed that the EU's new Lisbon Treaty came about mainly due to his superior negotiating skills. He also made sure the world was aware that he alone was to thank for the release of five Bulgarian nurses from Libyan prisons last summer. Sarkozy likes to invoke the "great friendship" that he insists unites him with "dear Angela," but what he then says and does is often anything but friendly, at least from a German perspective.

But now Sarkozy's impulsiveness has truly infuriated the Germans. Many in Berlin now wonder if he is at all interested in good relations with his German neighbors after he cancelled a long-planned meeting with Merkel in the Bavarian town of Straubing, originally scheduled to take place on Monday. Sarkozy, his aides said, was unable to attend the meeting because of his "overbooked schedule," as if a meeting with the German chancellor were some minor event. Meanwhile, Sarkozy traveled to South Africa, as planned, and he apparently found enough wiggle room on his calendar for an excursion to Chad. Instead of the Straubing summit, the two will meet on Monday night in Hanover for a brief working dinner after opening the IT trade fair CeBIT together.

A tête-à-tête between German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück and his French counterpart Christine Lagarde, which had been scheduled for last Tuesday, also had to be cancelled. Sarkozy, who had scheduled last-minute visits to a number of factories in the French countryside, wanted Lagarde to accompany him instead.

~ more... ~

Equal Scrutiny Of All By UN Human Rights Organ

Opening the seventh session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on its members to ensure that all nations are held equally accountable for the protection of rights as the new body begins its first-ever universal review of their performance.

"No country, however powerful, should escape scrutiny of its record, commitments and actions on human rights," Mr. Ban said, hailing the start of the Universal Periodic Review, under which all UN Member States - at the rate of 48 a year - will be reviewed to assess whether they have fulfilled their human rights obligations.

[ ... ]

But he posed the question to Council members of whether they were fully meeting the high expectations of the international community, which included the application of human rights values "without favour, without selectivity, without being impacted by any political machinations around the world."

~ source ~

Jakarta fraud sleuth arrested

The Indonesian prosecutor investigating a multibillion-dollar fraud has been seized with $800,000 in a home linked to his prime suspect, two days after the case against the tycoon was dropped.

Anti-Corruption Commission officers said they caught senior prosecutor Urip Tri Gunawan "red-handed" receiving the cash on Sunday night. They said they were investigating possible links between the house, a woman found there and one of Indonesia's richest men, Syamsul Nursalim.

Mr Gunawan claims the money was not connected to his investigation of the loss of nearly $A3 billion lent by the Government to Mr Nursalim.

"I'm in the jewel business," he said while being taken into custody. The money came from a diamond sale to unspecified buyers, Mr Gunawan said.

Mr Gunawan was also the lead prosecutor in the terrorism trial of so-called smiling assassin Amrozi Nurhasyim in Denpasar District Court in 2003. Amrozi is on death row for key roles in the Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202 people.

~ more... ~

US govt forces military secrets on UK webmaster

A website promoting the town of Mildenhall has been shut down after it unintentionally became the recipient of hundreds of classified emails, including messages detailing the planned flight path of President Bush.

Over more than a decade, www.mildenhall.com received emails detailing all kinds of secret military information that were intended for official Air Force personnel. One detailed where Air Force One could be found in the air during a planned visit to the region by President Bush. Others included battlefield strategy and passwords.

"I was being sent everything from banal chat and jokes, to videos up to 15mb in size," Gary Sinnott, owner of mildenhall.com, said in this article in EDP 24. "Some were classified, some were personal. A lot had some really sensitive information in them."

As owner of mildenhall.com, Sinnott received every email that had that domain name included in the address field. The site was set up to provide information about the town of Mildenhall, which is about a half-hour's drive north east of Cambridge.

Sinnott says he brought the SNAFU to the attention of Air Force officials but was never able to get the problem fixed. At first, they didn't seem to take the matter seriously, but eventually, they "went mental," he said. Officials advised Sinnott to block unrecognizable addresses from his domain and set up an auto-reply reminding people of the address for the official air force base.

~ more... ~

Yahoo sued by Chinese dissidents again

Yahoo faces another lawsuit over its actions in China. Several Chinese men are suing the company and its Hong Kong subsidiary claiming they were harmed because of Yahoo's cooperation with the Chinese government.

The lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Oakland, Calif., alleges that Yahoo provided information to the Chinese authorities that led to the 2003 arrest of Li Zhi, who has served about half of an eight-year sentence. However, Li is not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Plaintiff Zheng Cunzhu alleges that when the arrest came to light in 2006, he was living in the U.S. at the time and lost his property in China when he did not return for fear of getting arrested for his pro-democracy activities, the lawsuit alleges.

A second dissident plaintiff, Guo Quan, claims he lost business when his name and that of his garment company were blocked by the Yahoo search results.

The claims against Yahoo include violation of international law including torture and prolonged detention, as well as unfair business practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and assault.

~ more... ~

EU: Net Censorship a Possible Trade Barrier

The European Parliament has accepted a proposal by the Dutch conservative member Jules Maaten to consider internet censorship a trade barrier. (The news, in Dutch.) This was first reported first on the Web site of Maaten's political party, the VVD.

The proposal was accepted on Tuesday (571 in favor, 38 against). When the proposal is accepted by the a meeting of the leaders of the 27 member states, the EU has to take measure against countries who deploy internet censorship. This would include China, Cuba and Tunisia.

Maaten admits the proposal is unusual, but could be an effective way to protect online freedom of speech.

~ source ~

14 years is optimal copyright term, research finds

It's easy enough to find out how long copyrights last, but much harder to decide how long they should last—but that didn't stop Cambridge University PhD candidate Rufus Pollock from using economics formulas to answer the question. In a newly-released paper, Pollock pegs the "optimal level for copyright" at only 14 years.

Pollock's work is based on the promise that the optimal level of copyright drops as the costs of producing creative work go down. As it has grown simpler to print books, record music, and edit films using new digital tools, the production and reproduction costs for creative work in have dropped substantially, but actual copyright law has only increased.

According to Pollock's calculations (and his paper [PDF] is full of calculations), this is exactly the opposite result that one would expect from a rational copyright system. Of course, there's no guarantee that copyright law has anything to do with rationality; as Pollock puts it, "the level of protection is not usually determined by a benevolent and rational policy-maker but rather by lobbying." The predictable result has been a steady increase in the period of copyright protection during the twentieth century.

~ more... ~

Iran drops dollar sales

Deputy head of the National Iranian Oil Company for international affairs says Iran has completely dropped dollar in its oil sales.

“We issue invoices in dollars and agree with clients that the letters of credit and other means of payment will have a non-dollar basis,” he said.

In an interview with The Financial Times, Hojjatollah Ghanimifard said that over the past three months, Iran has received 75 percent of the proceeds from its oil sales in euros and the remaining 25 percent in the Japanese currency, yen.

Analysts are of the view that Iran's oil revenues have enabled the country to bear the costs of UN sanctions and US attempts to prevent dollar transactions through third party banks.

Ali Shams-Ardakani, head of the energy committee of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, said the move away from the dollar was “absolutely right” and was economically justifiable on the grounds that it helped prevent losses due to the fall in the value of the US currency. “It should have happened much earlier,” FT quoted him as saying.

Ghanimifard did not deny there have been some problems for Iran in opening letters of credit but did not elaborate on the extent of the problem or which banks were involved.

“Sanctions could not harm our exports and those banks that have problems issuing letters of credit for our clients are the ones that lose income,” he said, insisting that trying different channels did not cost Iran “even one single cent”.

“We understood that money does not exist only in the west,” Ghanimifard said.

~ source ~

Gulf States urge citizens to leave Lebanon

The Saudi Arabian embassy in Beirut has called on its nationals to leave Lebanon a day after a US warship was positioned off the country's coast.
The embassy on Saturday sent SMS messages to Saudis living in Lebanon urging them to leave the country as soon as possible, Al Jazeera's correspondent said.

Saudi Arabia issued an advisory last month urging its citizens not to travel to Lebanon because of deteriorating political and security conditions.
Kuwait and Bahrain followed with similar calls.

~ more ~

Pentagon to test invisible gases in Crystal City

The Pentagon is scheduled to release an odorless, invisible, and yes, harmless, gases into the city Thursday to test how quickly they spread through buildings, officials said.

The test is part of the military's national security preparation for the capital area.

Over the past few years, the defense agency has worked with Arlington County to set up chemical sensors throughout the county, where thousands of defense employees work in leased office space...

...The test, dubbed "Urban Shield: Crystal City Urban Transport Study," is similar to one conducted in Manhattan a few years ago, officials said.

~ source ~

Myanmar 2nd largest opium producer

Myanmar remains the world's second-largest producer of opium poppies, but its share has dropped from 55 percent in 1998 to just over 5 percent a decade later, a global U.S. State Department report said Friday.

The report said despite the reductions, the Myanmar government still failed to reach full compliance with its international anti-drug commitments.

"This large proportional decrease is due to both decreased opium poppy cultivation in Burma and increased cultivation in Afghanistan," the report said, referring to Myanmar by its other name. The report identified Afghanistan, where farmers illegally grew record amounts of the plant in 2007, as far and away the largest supplier to the world's addicts with 93 percent of the crop.

Thanks to a 10-year reduction plan undertaken by Myanmar's ruling junta in 1998, production had fallen to just 5 percent of the world's supply by 2006 but moved slightly higher last year, the report said.

Thus, the report said, "The Golden Triangle region in Southeast Asia no longer reigns as the world's largest opium poppy cultivating region."

~ more ~

FYROM name dispute threatens NATO membership

NATO's secretary general said Monday that Macedonia's effort to become a member could be blocked if it failed to resolve a longstanding dispute over its name with Greece, a longtime NATO member.

Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, hopes to win NATO's invitation to join the 26-member military alliance at a meeting of leaders in Bucharest, Romania, in April.

But Greece has threatened to block those plans if Macedonia does not relinquish its name, which Greece contends is its exclusively. Greece says that using the name implies a claim to the northern Greek province of the same name.

“There is no certainty that invitations will be issued to aspiring nations,” said the secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, following talks in Athens with the Greek foreign minister, Dora Bakoyannis. “A solution to this dispute will be a big plus for us, but it has to be made possible.”

~ more ~

Global recession - the writing on the wall

From credit crunch to global recession

The bad news: in 2008 a global recession is bound to set in. The scant good news: the oil price will fall back and the development of environment-friendly technology will fuel investment.

The story of 2007 was the credit crunch. The story for 2008 will be global recession. Last year, the US home prices collapse was the worst since the Great Depression – a fall of 6% year on year. Starting with the sub-prime defaults, this led to huge markdowns in asset-backed securities and special investment vehicles owned by banks globally.

Global markets tumble on US recession fears

Global stock markets fell yesterday as weak economic data and downbeat comments from billionaire investor Warren Buffett led to renewed fears of a US recession.

Shares fell sharply in Asia and the falls were mirrored in Europe. The London FTSE 100 index fell 1.12 per cent, in Paris the CAC 40 index lost 1pc while in Frankfurt the Dax tumbled 0.86pc.

Asian stocks plunged with Tokyo ending down almost 4.5pc, Hong Kong tumbled 3.07pc and Seoul gave up 2.3pc. Singapore and Sydney both shed about 3pc.

Indian shares fell more than 5pc, their biggest percentage drop in six weeks. The main 30-share BSE index closed down 5.12pc, or 900.84 points, at 16,677.88.

The Tragedy Of This Recession Is Its Bad Ending Is Already Penned

Last week Bush told reporters: "I don't think we're headed to recession." But when one tried to puncture the denial, mentioning that America's energy analysts were predicting $4 gas, our oil-man president stopped him: "Wait, what did you just say? You're predicting $4-a-gallon gasoline?" No, Mr. President, experts are. "That's interesting. I hadn't heard that."

Once again, as in a classic tragedy, crucial facts never quite make it to the king's chambers in time, setting the stage for a fateful turn of events, propelling the plot to its tragic climax.

Indeed, the next 12 acts of this tragedy have already been written. And though many folks are in denial, the consequences are painfully clear. Last week we forecast a global recession. Reader response was overwhelming. Read previous Paul B. Farrell.

One alerted us to a powerful economic report that reads like the plot lines in a Shakespearean tragedy. Twelve acts relentlessly drive the action forward in a dark yet realistic plot reading like a brutal military-style assault on markets and economies worldwide.

In The GRE Monitor, the Roubini Global Economics newsletter published by NYU Prof. Nouriel Roubini, we read of "The Rising Risk of a Systemic Financial Meltdown: Twelve Steps to Financial Disaster," a report that will never make it into any While House briefings.

Why? Roubini's 12-act drama is chilling, apocalyptic, coming at us in 12 relentless waves, tearing down the world's economic and financial system, triggering a severe recession in America that spreads globally, impacting every corner of every economy across the globe and creating havoc in world financial markets, leaving nothing intact.

This is Bush's legacy, an economic disaster no one can stop. And the more they try, the worse it gets.

Over the top? You decide. Then after you read Roubini's dark 12-act plot, we urge you to rethink your investment strategies for the years to come. Why? He warns: "The current recession looks fundamentally more severe than the [last] two for three reasons: we are experiencing the worst housing recession ever in U.S. history; a shopped-out, saving-less and debt-burdened consumer is now in financial trouble and retrenching; and we have a severe systemic financial crisis.

Forget about Washington's happy-talk about avoiding a recession. They got us into this mess and don't know how to get us out.

Chavez issues threat to Colombia

President Hugo Chavez has warned of war if the Colombian military crosses into Venezuelan territory, after Bogota launched a strike against FARC guerrillas in Ecuador, killing a top rebel official.

Raul Reyes of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was killed Saturday in the Colomban raid on a jungle camp on the Ecuadoran side of the common border.

Chavez, speaking in Caracas, warned Colombian President Alvaro Uribe that any similar strike against FARC rebels in Venezuela would reap dire consequences.

~ more... ~

Tacoma ecoterror trial: Jury deliberating despite new fire

A federal jury in Washington resumed deliberation in the arson trial of an Oakland woman accused of an ecoterror arson as flames were burning at another fire claimed by the Earth Liberation Front.

The defense lawyer for 32-year-old Briana Waters asked for a mistrial because of the possible effect of the news on jurors. After questioning the jury, the judge refused the motion.

The case against Waters went to the jury on Friday. Prosecutors in Tacoma say she was the lookout in 2001 when the Earth Liberation Front set fire to the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington in Seattle.

~ source ~

'Flu season' explained in new study

Influenza viruses coat themselves in fatty material that hardens and protects them in colder temperatures -- a finding that could explain why winter is the flu season, U.S. researchers reported on Sunday.

This butter-like coating melts in the respiratory tract, allowing the virus to infect cells, the team at the National Institutes of Health found.

~ more ~

China finds Panchen Lama 'Too young'

A Tibetan youth named by China as the 11th Panchen Lama is too young to be a parliament deputy, a spokesman said, quashing speculation he would soon become the country's youngest cabinet minister-level official.

China's atheist Communists and Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in 1995 chose rival reincarnations of the 10th Panchen Lama, the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism.

Sources had said Beijing's choice, Gyaltsen Norbu, who turned 18 last month, could become a member of the elite Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, or parliament, as early as this month.

But parliamentary spokesman Jiang Enzhu said on Tuesday that the youth was not 18 when elections were held.

"According to our country's laws and regulations, members of the National People's Congress must be at least 18 years old," Jiang Enzhu told a news conference.

~ more ~

Bloomberg: China Plans to Increase 2008 Military Budget by a Record 19.4%

China's military will boost its 2008 defense budget by a record 19.4 percent, upgrading the world's largest regular army's technology and resources to rival Japan, the U.S. and Taiwan.

Spending will rise to 417.8 billion yuan ($58.8 billion) from last year's 350 billion yuan, the Chinese legislature's spokesman Jiang Enzhu said today.

Jiang calculated the increase to be 17.6 percent, or $57.2 billion, using the yuan's end-2007 exchange rate and comparing the 2008 budget with 2007 actual spending.

The People's Liberation Army, with 2 million soldiers, had the biggest military expenditure in five years in 2007, going on a spending spree to upgrade a missile force capable of shooting down one of the country's own obsolete satellites. Government spokesman Qin Gang said in March last year the navy was planning to build its first aircraft carrier by 2010 to expand the defense forces' operational range into the South China Sea.

~ more ~

Reality creepier than fiction

The final shot in "The Blair Witch Project." An oozingly possessed Linda Blair crawling down the stairs on all fours, upside down, backwards, in a full backbend, on her toes and fingertips, in the uncut version of "The Exorcist." The ending to (and overall creepy feel of) "Don't Look Now," the famous cult horror movie from the '70s with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie and the creepy little midget in the red robe. Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock," another classic '70s occult flick, chaste schoolgirls disappearing up a bizarrely haunted mountain — entirely fictional, but plays all too damn real.

But still, they're just movies. Fiction, mostly. No matter how good they are, they all kneel before the one true god of interminable creepiness: reality.

Here's one. It's called the Dyatlov Pass Accident. Oh my God, yes. I stumbled over this delicious tale just recently over at Metafilter and it's one of those stories that contains all the best elements of a deep, resonant creep-out. Inexplicable behavior. Bizarre factoids. Inconclusive evidence. Missing body parts. And not a single clue, almost 50 years later, as to what really happened.

The nutshell: In 1959, nine experienced Russian cross-country skiers — seven men and two women, led by a man named Igor Dyatlov — headed to the Ural Mountains, to a slope called Kholat Syakhl (Mansi language for "Mountain of the Dead," ahem) for a rugged, wintry trek. On their way up, they are apparently hit by inclement weather and veer off course and decide to set up camp and wait it out. All is calm. All is fine and good. They even take pictures of camp, the scenery, each other. The weather is not so bad. They go to sleep.

Then, something happens. In the middle of the night all nine suddenly leap out of their tents as fast as possible, ripping them open from the inside (not even enough time to untie the doors) and race out into the sub-zero temps, without coats or boots or skis, most in their underwear, some even barefoot or with a single sock or boot. It is 30 degrees below zero, Celsius. A few make it as far as a kilometer and a half down the slope. All nine, as you might expect, quickly die.

And so it begins.

Why did they rush out, unable to even grab a coat or blanket? What came at them? The three-month investigation revealed that five of the trekkers died from simple hypothermia, with no apparent trauma at all, no signs of attack, struggle, no outward injuries of any kind. However, two of the other four apparently suffered massive internal traumas to the chest, like you would if you were hit by a car. One's skull was crushed. All four of these were found far from the other five. But still, no signs of external injuries.

Not good enough? How about this: One of the women was missing her tongue.

Oh, it gets better. And weirder.

~ from How creepy do you want it? ~


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