Saturday, December 25, 2010

Streams of Consciousness, Christmas 2010



Although there were dozens of beautifully decorated white Christmas trees in the stately lobby of the recently renovated Mamounia Hotel yesterday, Marrakech is more a place to escape the gaudy, sacrilegious Xmas holidays than to come to celebrate them. (Toon and Mieke brought me a hand-crank, battery-free flashlight as a gift, though, and tonight we may go have dinner at Dar Zellij, although no one thought of it as a Christmas dinner especially.)

So this edition of Streams has only one thing in common with Christmas: December 25. Although I will mention that in the mad scramble for last-minute gifts-- where you are, though not were I am, electronic devices and the wonders of technology are among the most popular and sought-after; 31.1 million consumers, more than 15 percent of Americans, planned to do last-minute shopping-- but it's too late to order a Kindle from Amazon. Wii video games, the motion-detecting console from Microsoft Kinect, PaperJamz, Scrabble Flash, 3-D televisions and Apple's iPad are all going like... well the way sweaters and ties used to.

Don't expect to see any Members of Congress playing Scrabble Flash or PaperJamz during sessions, but obsessively dull tweeter-- and incoming House Speaker-- John Boehner has proposed new rules allowing House Members to play with electronic devices while the House is open for business. Boehner was once caught on the floor of the House handing out bribe checks from Big Tobacco (while the House was voting on tobacco regulation) and said at the time that that kind of practice must stop.

I can easily imagine lobbyists bidding for votes for their special-interest projects via e-mails and IMs from now on. Boehner, of course, says that the electronic devices won't be allowed to impair congressional decorum. Of course, for a man who gets soused on a daily basis and cries publicly and whose idea of decorum means not getting caught handing out bribe checks from lobbyists, this might be very broadly interpreted, especially now that the Republicans are getting rid of Pelosi's independent ethics watchdog mechanism.
The new rule would relax the complete ban on the use of gadgets like the iPad, iPhone or BlackBerry on the floor. Mobile phones, tablet computers and the whole universe of applications that run on them will be officially available to House members as they conduct business.

Members still may not talk on the phone in the chamber and are supposed to use the devices for official business only, according to a spokesman for the soon-to-be speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio. But as long as the mute switch is on, lawmakers will be free to tap away.

...The decision represents a vivid concession of old-fashioned tradition to new technology. But while the nation’s lawmakers will be fully plugged in, they will also be in danger of tuning one another out.

As the Emily Post etiquette Web site states: “Tapping on a hand-held device is O.K. if it’s related to what’s being discussed, but taking care of personal business is unprofessional. Your associates might think that you were more interested in your gadget than the business at hand.”

Mobile technology has already started to sneak onto the floors of both the House and the Senate. While the rules of the 111th Congress officially banned iPads and other devices from the floor, there has been a “wink and a nod” approach to a lawmaker who takes furtive glances at his BlackBerry, according to a senior Republican aide.

The intent may be to let legislators look at the text of bills being discussed, but come on, we're dealing with a shitload of perverted Republican egomaniacs here, many of whom can be expected to continue their inane tweeting, while others play games, and others... well, just do what Republicans always do when they get into positions of power.

Random Mass Murder Also Big This Christmas Season

In the Taliban mini-state within Pakistan's northwest tribal area, a suicide bomber managed to kill over 40 people lining up for UN food aid packages in the town of Khar today. Unlike anti-Christian attacks in Iraq (and, more subtly, in Saudi Arabia) this is just anti-anyone-at-all.
Local police official Fazal-e-Rabbi said the bomber, dressed in a traditional women's burqa, first lobbed two hand grenades into the crowd gathered at a checkpoint outside the food center in the town of Khar on Saturday.

Rabbi said the attacker, who is believed to be a woman, then detonated an explosive vest. If true, it would be the first time that a woman has carried out a suicide attack in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

"First there were two small explosions and people started running for cover. But within seconds there was a major blast and there were dead bodies scattered everywhere," witness Hussain Ahmed said. "It was very terrifying."

Last night there were bombings in central Nigeria, and at least 11 people were killed. It's an area where Muslims and Christians are fighting over whose God is better.
Although the clashes take place between rivals gangs of Muslims and Christians, observers say the underlying causes are economic and political.

Muslims are generally from the Hausa- or Fulani-speaking communities.

They are often nomadic people who live from rearing animals or petty trade.

The mainly Christian Berom, Anaguta and Afisare groups have traditionally been farmers.

Some Christian farmers feel they are under threat, as Hausa-speaking Muslims come down from the north looking for pasture for their animals.

In a separate development, suspected Islamist sect members attacked a Catholic church during a Christmas Eve service in northern Nigeria, a military spokesman was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Roman anarchists bombed the Swiss and Chilean embassies in that city Thursday, seeking to "destroy the system of domination."
...[W]hile there's little doubt the group shares an ideological affinity with violent activists in other parts of the world, it's less certain that their capabilities rise to the level normally associated with international terrorism. The bombs, made from video cassette boxes stuffed with gunpowder and metal shards, were triggered by a nine-volt battery. Officials say they were mailed from within the country, using the Italian postal system. "It is a small group of individuals, not really capable of organizing themselves," says Gianfranco Pasquino, a professor of political science and expert in terrorism at the University of Bologna, adding that the anarchists had few supporters in Italian society. "To throw a bomb or put one in a letter is not that much of a challenge."

And in Uganda, where homophobic Christian fundies under the influence of American far right hate groups like Jim DeMint's and John Ensign's shady Family are terrorizing gay people and invading Somalia, and where a Yellow Fever epidemic is killing more people than terrorism, the burgeoning little fascist state is clamping down hard while the country's genocidal dictator is very much asserting himself domestically and internationally.

And in the U.S., the TSA is now taking a closer look at Thermoses and coffee cups, presumably to make sure no one is smuggling any fingernail clippers onto planes with them.

The Holiday Risk Report says, basically, "You never know."
Just days before Christmas, the White House asked Americans to be vigilant this holiday season, warning of a possible-- though unspecified-- terror threat from Al Qaeda. The caution echoed a week's worth of warnings from law enforcement authorities.

...[White House counter-terrorism chief John] Brennan's warning comes days after Attorney General Eric Holder, the FBI, and Department of Homeland Security also alerted the public to a possible attack, citing a year's worth of thwarted attempts starting with last year's Christmas Day "underwear" plot. It was a year ago that a suspected Al Qaeda operative tried to detonate explosives packed in his underwear, onboard a flight bound from Amsterdam to Detroit.

This week Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News in an exclusive interview that Americans "have to be prepared for potentially bad news."

"What I am trying to do in this interview is to make people aware of the fact that the threat is real, the threat is different, the threat is constant," he said.

"We are concerned these terrorists may seek to exploit the likely significant psychological impact of an attack targeting mass gatherings in large metropolitan areas during the 2010 holiday season, which has symbolic importance to many in the United States," said the "Security Awareness for the Holiday Season" bulletin released by the FBI and DHS last week.

Terrorizing The Terrorists

Pam's House Blend reports that starting next week Ireland will get civil unions. The country may be going bankrupt but at least the LGBT community will be able to go through that on an equal basis with everyone else. "The Minister for Justice and Law Reform Dermot Ahern TD today signed the Commencement Orders for the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights of Cohabitants Act 2010." Much to the consternation of the Vatican, Ireland is now in line with most of the E.U., where anti-gay discrimination is not tolerated.

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