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Current Topic: Current Events

Anna Nicole Smith
Topic: Current Events 5:57 pm EST, Feb  8, 2007

The former Playboy playmate collapsed Thursday afternoon and was found unresponsive in her room at the Hard Rock Seminole Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla., says Los Angeles attorney Ron Rale, who represents Smith in an ongoing lawsuit regarding the paternity of her daughter. Smith was rushed by ambulance shortly after 2 p.m. to nearby Memorial Regional Hospital, where she died.

I can't say as I was ever a fan of Ms. Smith, but she was so high profile, it was hard to be unaware of her existence. All the drama around her life seemed unreal, like she was a character that had stepped from some bestselling novel - marriage to a dying billionaire, legal battles about the estate with his stepson, then the death of that 67-year-old stepson, the birth of a new child to Anna Nicole, then the death of her own son, and now Anna gone too.

There's a life lesson here somewhere, but I'm at a loss to express it, other than perhaps to realize that even in those moments when I'm depressed about my own life, I have to be aware that things could be much much worse.

Many stories and legends will doubtless ensue about Anna Nicole's life, especially because of the "live fast, die young" nature of her existence, combined with her beauty and resemblance to Marilyn Monroe .

Ultimately though, I am left with sadness for Anna, for her family, and for her now motherless daughter. I offer my sympathies to all those who genuinely cared about her.


Anna Nicole Smith - Iraqi leaders call for withdrawal schedule
Topic: Current Events 11:49 am EST, Nov 22, 2005

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Reaching out to the Sunni Arab community, Iraqi leaders called for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces and said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance.

The communique -- finalized by Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders Monday -- condemned terrorism but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.

The leaders agreed on "calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces ... control the borders and the security situation" and end terror attacks.

The preparatory reconciliation conference, held under the auspices of the Arab League, was attended by Iraq President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish lawmakers as well as leading Sunni politicians.

Sunni leaders have been pressing the Shiite-majority government to agree to a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The statement recognized that goal, but did not lay down a specific time -- reflecting instead the government's stance that Iraqi security forces must be built up first.

Works for me. If they want a timetable, there should be a timetable. If they want us to stay, we stay. If they want us to leave, we leave. It's their country, and if the democratically-elected leaders make a request of us, we should honor it. It's their call. - Iraqi leaders call for withdrawal schedule

Al-Zarqawi's Jordan family renounces him
Topic: Current Events 12:17 pm EST, Nov 20, 2005

Family members of Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi renounced the terrorist leader Sunday after his al-Qaida in Iraq group claimed responsibility for the Nov. 9 suicide attacks on three Amman hotels that killed 59 people.

The family of al-Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmed Fadheel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, reiterated their strong allegiance to Jordan's King Abdullah II in half-page advertisements in the kingdom's three main newspapers. Al-Zarqawi threatened to kill the king in an audiotape released Friday.

"A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear," said the statement by 57 members of the al-Khalayleh family, including al-Zarqawi's brother and cousin. "We sever links with him until doomsday."

The statement is a serious blow to al-Zarqawi, who no longer will enjoy the protection of his tribe and whose family members may seek to kill him.

Though the "brother against brother" nature of the story saddens me, I still found this news enormously encouraging. The Jordanians' desire for peace, and strong support for their king, gives me great hope for the region. A lasting legacy from the king's father.

Al-Zarqawi's Jordan family renounces him - Breaking tradition, Carter rips Bush's policies
Topic: Current Events 9:44 pm EST, Nov  3, 2005

At a breakfast with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Carter, 81, diverged from a time-honored practice in which ex-presidents refrain from criticizing those currently holding the office. He acknowledged making mistakes when he was president from 1977-81, and at one point declared: "I can't deny that I am a better ex-president than I was a president."

But he said Bush has made such significant changes to U.S. foreign policy and human rights doctrine, resulting in precipitous declines in the country's standing abroad, that he felt compelled to write "Our Endangered Values." It is Carter's 20th book since he was defeated for re-election by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
 . . .
Carter, who supported the invasion of Afghanistan, said public opinion in the Arab world has turned strongly against the United States since the invasion of Iraq, creating a deep impression among Muslims that the U.S. is on a "crusade" against Islam.

Carter said Arab leaders he regularly consults with believe the United States intends to maintain permanent military bases in Iraq irrespective of how that country's transformation to self-rule plays out. Removing U.S. forces from Muslim nations could reduce "95 percent" of the terrorist threat from Islamic fundamentalism, Carter said.

Carter also aims heavy criticism at fellow Democrats. He said John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign ignored the concerns of the "very religious" and that his party has overemphasized abortion rights.

"I have never been convinced ... that Jesus Christ would approve abortion," Carter said, adding that as president, "I did everything I could under Roe vs. Wade ... to minimize the need for abortion." But many Democratic leaders today "are overemphasizing the abortion issue," Carter said.

Layin' into *both* sides, that's what I like. Go Jimmy. :) - Breaking tradition, Carter rips Bush's policies

Letter from Zawahari to Zarqawi
Topic: Current Events 3:05 pm EDT, Oct 12, 2005

The 7/2005 letter from al-Zawahiri (Osama bin Laden's #2 in Al Qaeda), to Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq. Amongst the religious rhetoric, it lays out goals, strategy, and suggestions for PR (like "slaughtering hostages in public is probably not going to bring the public to your side").

Interesting reading.

Letter from Zawahari to Zarqawi

Offer of buses fell between the cracks
Topic: Current Events 9:30 pm EDT, Sep 23, 2005

. . . as images of devastation along the Gulf Coast and despair in New Orleans flickered across television screens, the head of one of the nation's largest bus associations repeatedly called federal disaster officials to offer help.

Peter Pantuso of the American Bus Association said he spent much of the day on Wednesday, August 31, trying to find someone at the Federal Emergency Management Agency who could tell him how many buses were needed for an evacuation, where they should be sent and who was overseeing the effort.

"We never talked directly to FEMA or got a call back from them," Pantuso said.
 . . .
Pantuso, whose members include some of the nation's largest motor coach companies, including Greyhound and Coach USA, eventually learned that the job of extracting tens of thousands of residents from flooded New Orleans wasn't being handled by FEMA at all.

Instead the agency had farmed the work out to a trucking logistics firm, Landstar Express America, which in turn hired a limousine company, which in turn engaged a travel management company.

More evacuation foul-ups. :/

Offer of buses fell between the cracks

RE: Evacuation Instructions (or lack thereof)
Topic: Current Events 5:46 pm EDT, Sep 23, 2005

ibenez wrote:
(( Do you really need instructions? It's like, get family; leave town; go a direction away from hurricane. Bring cash. ))

For someone who's financially well-off, has a working car, plenty of gas, and a place to go, sure. For others though, it's not so simple. Like check this article.

Evacuees stranded again
Traffic, lack of money force many to stay put

HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- Wilma Skinner would like to scream at the officials of this city. If only they would pick up their phones.

"I done called for a shelter, I done called for help. There ain't none. No one answers," she said, standing in blistering heat outside a check-cashing store that had just run out of its main commodity. "Everyone just says, 'Get out, get out.' I've got no way of getting out. And now I've got no money."
 . . .
Census figures show Harris County had 3.6 million people in 2004, of whom 14.7 percent lived below the poverty level while 8.7 percent of households lacked a vehicle, both percentages slightly higher than national figures. More than one-third spoke a language other than English at home.

For the poor and the disenfranchised, the mighty evacuation orders that preceded Rita were something they could only ignore.

RE: Evacuation Instructions (or lack thereof)

Powerful Shiite Cleric Backs New Iraq Constitution
Topic: Current Events 5:47 pm EDT, Sep 22, 2005

The country's most powerful Shiite cleric endorsed the draft constitution Thursday, rejecting opposition voiced by two popular leaders of Iraq's majority sect and underlining a rift also on display in anti-British violence in the southern city of Basra.

Two officials in the Shiite Muslim hierarchy in Najaf said Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called senior aides together and told them to promote a "yes" vote among the faithful during the Oct. 15 national referendum on the constitution.

al-Sistani is on board, that's great news. :) I've always been very impressed by his thoughtfulness and charisma, and I'm glad that he seems to have recovered well from his heart surgery last year.

He's got a nice website too, available in five different languages.

Powerful Shiite Cleric Backs New Iraq Constitution

Evacuation Instructions (or lack thereof)
Topic: Current Events 4:19 pm EDT, Sep 22, 2005

Okay, this is a rant...

I was really identifying with the people of Galveston and NOLA, and thinking to myself, "What if I had to evacuate from my home? Where would I get information on what to do, where to go, what to pack?" So I decided I'd meme a webpage with a list of Evacuation Instructions.

And that's where I started a descent into hell.

First of all, there are very few "webpages" out there with such info. Mostly they just link to PDFs, which are useless to anyone without the plugins. And even then, the stuff out there is often appalling. For example, this Louisiana Government page:

Now, it's already annoying because of the PDFs. But it adds insult to injury, since the PDF files are enormous 7 Megabyte clunkers *per page*. And to add the cherry on top, the diagrams require non-standard paper, 11x17!

I made an attempt to download the PDF, and was further horrified by how unwieldy it was. It was huge, it was slow, it was displayed sideways, and was so large and zoomed out that my system kept trying to redraw it every time I tried to read it. I finally just gave up in disgust. And keep in mind, this is a situation where I'm sitting here safely in St. Louis, in a nice comfy office with a high-end computer and plenty of bandwidth. For someone who's in an emergency situation, with a low-end computer and a slow dial-up, those files would be completely inaccessible and useless.

I kept looking, and there is *some* useful information out there, but it's difficult to find, and often in a very rough format. For example, this PDF (again, with the PDFs!) from the Houston Red Cross. It has a packing checklist, along with some solid advice about dealing with an emergency situation such as a hurricane or tornado. But it still has typos, gives conflicting information (like about how much water to store), and doesn't have any specific advice like *where* to go or how to find transportation. Even at the FEMA site, it just says, "Contact the local red cross for evacuation information," but without saying *how* to contact them. And has got nothing on their main page about Rita.

My ranting aside, what is my "constructive criticism" advice?
 - Some of our government resources *must* be devoted to providing basic and easily-accessible emergency information on the web.
  - This information needs to be searchable by common-sense terms such as "evacuation information" or "How to evacuate".
  - The information needs to be available in *non-PDF* format, like a straightforward quick-to-load HTML page with a checklist of what to pack, loca... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

Galveston Storm Surge Animation
Topic: Current Events 1:41 pm EDT, Sep 22, 2005

This animation was created to show the prediction of water level in Galveston, Texas, assuming a storm surge of up to 20 feet. Terrain data was 1/3rd Arcsecond NED DEM. Imagery was 30m Landsat, processed with PixelSense LS combined with 1m Color Infrared DOQQ, processed with PixelSense CIR. The NED terrain surface is made from contour maps, and does NOT include building heights, so it is not indicative of how much the buildings themselves would be submerged.

A cartographer friend of mine put together this well-researched Quicktime animation about what would happen to Galveston under a 20' storm surge. Not pretty. :/

Galveston Storm Surge Animation

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