Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cute Klux Klan

I was blog surfing yesterday when I came across this white supremacist blog (that’s the unfortunate thing about clicking “next blog”, you never know what you’re going to get. And if I come across the Fear Factor couple’s blog one more time I’ll scream) spewing hatred and contempt and everything else one has come to expect.

Despite my best judgment (it’s a morbid fascination I need to work on, I know) I let myself be drawn into an entry about Lamb and Lynx. They are 13 year old girls, blonde, cute, Californian and have been singing since the age of 9… Their pop duo is called Prussian Blue are by all accounts the new Olsen twins, only not as clean-living and cheerful and light-hearted. They are very popular too. Especially with the Ku Klux Klan to whom they endeared themselves by making Sieg Heil salutes, singing at rallies, dedicating songs to Rudolf Hess and generally being complete racists.

"We are proud of being white. We want our people to stay white we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."
Such comments have secured them a record deal with the white supremacist label Resistance Records who also has bands with names such as Angry Aryans under contract. Charming.

To give you an idea of what we’re talking about here, their DVD is called “PRUSSIAN BLUE - Blonde Hair Blue Eyes”, links on their website include Women for Aryan Unity and here is a sample of song titles on their album: The Road to Valhalla (they are so proud of their Aryan ancestry that they can't even spell it properly) and Aryan Man Awake. For inspiring lyrics, you can go here. Oh, and they write some of their own songs. Mummy must be so proud.

For more on this, read this ABC News article

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Halloween pumpkin: the new piñata?

It would seem that the manifestations of social and political unrest are forever changing and being adapted to the season. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's security services have had to tackle new threats in the last couple of weeks...

First came the scores of cardboard skeletons with anti-Chávez messages hanging from bridges and lampposts in Caracas. The police are hot on the trail of the culprits who (using their highly deductive powers) they believe to be student and probably middle-class students at that. I'll say. A group calling themselves Cambio (Change in Spanish) have claimed responsibility for this act and denied any intention to harm anybody. Nonetheless, police approached the cardboard cut-outs wearing protective gear, just in case.

And then came the pumpkins, carrying messages of rebellion.

(REUTERS) Local media showed heavily armed police and bomb experts surrounding one orange squash with a Halloween face and covered with stickers; others sprouted cables and wires making authorities wary they could be home-made explosives.

"We took preventative measures, as this could have been someone with another intention or an artifact that could have harmed someone," Investigative police division commissioner Jesus Gonzalez told local radio.

The pumpkins were found outside the state petrochemical company Pequiven and the offices of Chávez's political party with references to a constitutional article about civil resistance, local media reported. Chávez opponents often refer to Article 350 when calling for support of street protests.

Police described them as a "Machiavellian" attempt to cause unrest.

Machiavellian indeed. Maybe President Chávez who has apparently already cut his coffee intake from 26 espressos a day to 16 need to chill a bit more. A military court has already sentenced three Venezuelan former military officers and 27 Colombians today. Prison terms are ranging from 2 to 9 years for an alleged plot to kill the President.

As an aside, it looks like the "revolutionary doll" is going to be a must this Christmas in Caracas. Eek.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

New toy

11 days before Ages of Empire III hits the shops, I can't wait!!!
The graphics are FANTASTIC...

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

The B in LGBT - part 2

As I have received some interesting comments to my previous post on the issue of bisexuality (both on this blog and outside), I have decided to dig into it a bit more and to maybe give my perspective on some of the comments.

First of all, EWI said it reminded him of the disapproval of “going outside of the community”. I am not exactly sure what he means by this but my interpretation of it would be, going outside of the community would mean that you would still belong to the community but seek or just happen to find a partner who does not belong to this community, regardless of what the community is based on (religion, sexual orientation, race etc.) In that sense, I am not sure this is what happens to bisexuals who enter opposite-sex relationships. There is a stigma attached to it, a sense of disappointment on the part of the community, a sense of betrayal even sometimes, a sense that the prodigal son / daughter might actually not come back and is denying his or her true self and is selling out to a certain extent.

Secondly, he asks whether there is such a fear or hatred of heterosexuals amongst gay people. Some fear, yes of course. Gays die every day for their “crimes” in certain societies, they get beaten up outside pubs here in Ireland and the trend is growing. When a queer comes out, he or she has to be prepared for any kind of response, from a hug to a fist in the face.

As to whether there is hatred, I don’t think so. What is not liked is people who identify as bi-curious, bisexuals (because quite often the difference between the two is not clear in people’s minds) because there is that impression that they do not know to which side they belong. Most people are proud to be gay and would not change their sexuality for anything because it has become such a huge part of their self-identity. However, maybe there is some tension towards bisexuals who (should they "choose" to), can demarginalise themselves and enter “normal society”? I don't know, not being either a lesbian or a gay man myself... Of course, this would be easy if matters of the heart weren’t so complicated. For bisexuals, gender or sex is not an issue, the attraction is elsewhere and most people fail to understand that.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

CIE and economics

Maman Poulet has bravely attempted to show "the misconceptions that rail travel in Ireland is expensive", quoting comparisons of fares on a cost per kn basis published by Irish Rail. Quite rightly, she expects cynisism on my part.

First of all, as mentioned, the survey's being published by Irish Rail. One thing I have learnt about statistics is that who commissioned the survey and who is publishing it and the expected result are as important as the numerical outcome itself. My faith in an Irish Rail survey is minimal.

However, she makes a very good point and I would agree with her that public subvention is at the core of the debate and that subventions here are not in par with other European countries. I made a quick comparison between France and Ireland and here are the results. The numbers speak for themselves.

Another given is that costs of running trains are going up. However, I am sure that all trains currently "traveling" the length and breadth of the country and purchased eons ago have now been paid for twice over. Any company makes provisions and amortisations, especially ones whose assets need replacing every so often. I would assume CIE did because otherwise th3y would be the biggest tits on earth and then ask: where did the money go? Where are the new trains? The new engines? Maintaining the existing fleet is probably what is killing them. It's time to cut their losses. They seem to be so committed to the "Learn more about Iarnród Éireann's investment plans" page on their website that is down.

As for the price increase being justified by the rising petrol prices. Well, there's some saving to be done by changing the trains there too. Technological advances mean that engines are getting more performant, less polluting etc etc... they'd use less petrol for a start.

My last question I guess would be to ask... Price increase for the customer? Fine. But is it going to be matched by an increase in public subventions or are we going to have to bear the brunt of it? It's bad enough that we have to use the bloody thing.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Run Warren, Run!

Speculation is mounting in California and bets are taken on whether we are going to witness a Celebrity Death Match. The Terminator vs Girlie-Man. (Girlie-men is the ever affectionate nickname Arnie gives his opponents). Now that sounds like something straight out of the WWE.

Even since Schwartzy became Republican governor of mainly Democrat California, his popularity has gone down the drain. I put it to you that this is a result of putting forward a centre-right political agenda prior to elections and moving more towards the right with each passing issue and the clincher has been the special interests he has since decided to take on:

- Proposition 74 would extend from two to five years the time teachers must work to receive tenure;
- Proposition 75 would require public employee unions to seek written permission from members before using their dues for political purpose;
- Proposition 76 would enact a state spending cap;
- Proposition 77 would strip lawmakers of the power to draw political boundaries.

These, needless to say, are less then popular amongst the Democrat ranks.
One of the most vocal and vociferous adversaries of the Governator and his curtailment of union power, state spending and teacher rights in a November 8 special election is none other than Warren Beatty, 68 year old ladies man (well, before he married Annette Bening) and Hollywood star. A fierce liberal, he has never made a mystery of his political allegiance to the Democrat Party and has been entertaining for years ideas of political battle and glory. And although he has declared he would not be a candidate (they all say that at first, don’t they?), his candidacy for the 2006 elections is a popular idea amongst Democrat who start to think that the best way to fight celebrity… is with celebrity.

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CIE taking the piss (again)

I heard on the radio the other day (and was reminded about this issue by Mental Meanderings) that Irish Rail are actually looking for a 10% increase in fares. Cause you know what? Upgrading the network costs money. No shit.

But haven't you had time to save money in the last 20 years when you have done nothing to the network, the trains or anything else?

Luckily enough, it sounds like Irish Rail are unlikely to get their 10% increase. Maybe cause it's unjustifiable? So they'll get 7.5% instead or something to that effect.

Meanwhile, I receive regular e-mails from SNCF (the French national railway company) reminding me that I can now book my train ticket 3 months in advance, that I can do so online, that I can choose my seat, the air conditioning and the toilets will be working, we will not have to change the engine en route and there will be tea, coffee and sandwiches served in the restaurant.

I will travel in a train that looks this and that a trip from Paris to Nantes for instance will last 2 hours and 8 minutes to cover 400 kilometres and that it will cost me EUR20 one way.

That's when I want to cry.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Rome - Day One

Friday 14th

It almost didn’t start at all. After having spent a very rushed evening finishing up at work, going down to my Spanish classes and packing / tidying the house up, it was rather late (or shall I say early) before we got a chance to go to bed. Me being the “once-I’ve-hit-the-hay-good-luck-with-getting-me-up” type of girl, I never heard the alarms go off and hadn’t it been for F, would have missed the flight. I am told that she almost didn’t get up either so whoever was in charge of Fate that night… thank you. Thankfully, Dublin is actually rather pleasant to drive through at 5am and we got to the airport in no time.

I am very pleased that the dreaded repeat of the hundreds of meters long queues did not occur and everything there went very smoothly. Flight was eventless, slept for a good chunk of it only to wake up after the food and above the Alps, basked in the early morning light… Switched on the iPod, listened to some music together, one earpiece each cause of course we had forgotten the splitter; meaningful looks were exchanged along with the feeling that this was going to be a great weekend.

This of course was not to last. Arrived in Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport, got our first (of many) taste of Italian fast-food (plastic-y focaccia) while waiting for the train to take us into town to Termini Station (if you ever go to Rome and need to make the same trip, there’s a nice little summary here, got Metro tickets, got into the metro to reach the B&B on the other side of town (when we actually realized where the B&B was located, we gathered that traveling in and out was going to take forever), found the street, found the black gate on the left of the Chinese Pizzeria (yeah… I know) and then nothing. No mention of the name of the B&B on the intercom. No plaque, nothing. So we called. No answer. Called the second number. That’s when we’re told they have no booking. Not even asking our name or anything. But he said he was going to come down after we insisted that yes... he had.

Five minutes later and nobody’s come down, or at least not for us. People living in the building and exiting it are looking at us funny. So I decide to go for a recon. I mean, maybe there’s another black gate on the other side of the Chinese Pizzeria and the guy’s waiting for us there. No signs of a B&B there either. Just an Internet Café that will later save our sanity and a dirty courtyard. So I went back. Guy calls back, says he can't find our booking. We don't have the name of the guy we talked to twice to confirm the booking. The B&B is full, no room at the inn. turns out the guy is in Naples and we're calling his mobile. How he was going to come down and get us is slightly bewildering but that's the least of our problem. We've just wasted 2 hours between travelling to the place and talking to the obnoxious owner and here we are, stranded in Rome with no accomodation in the middle of the busy touristic period. At this stage, F is on the verge of a meltdown, oscillating between anger and despair.

So we go to the internet cafe down the road and start surfing. A lot of hotels are full, the cheap(er) ones are gorgeous but way out of town, the ones in town are rather expensive. We make a few phone calls (by that, I mean about 10) and bastard owner calls back, saying he found us somewhere. Gives us a phone number that doesn't work and much more cursing of his name ensues. We finally find a room at the Hotel Le Petit off Via Nazionale but only for one night, they're full on Saturday. The search continues and we eventually find another hotel (hotel Giolli) that has vacancies, on Via Nazionale, about 5 minutes walk from the first one. Neither of them are cheap in absolute terms and even in relative terms compared to the B&B but hey... can't afford to be choosy.

So here we are, trekking back into town to check in to the first hotel, drop down to the second hotel since they wouldn't take our booking over the phone, even with a credit card number. Italians are obsessed with faxes and that's one thing we didn't carry with us.. Damn.

So there we are. It's past 5pm, we've been up for 12 hours are we are finally ready to start the holidays.


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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dublin sunsets

Encouraged by Eole's kind words and acknowledging the fact that I need to "practice", I got the camera out tonight and snapped away. There are not quite sunsets but it's impossible to get "proper sunsets" in town since the horizon is... well.. nowhere to be seen. Hope you enjoy!

Roma here we come!!!

1 day 17 hours and 43 minutes before we land in Rome...

Weather forecast isn't that bad (better than it was a few days ago anyway), travel guide has been bought if not studied, flight details are printed off, B&B booked and passports are... well... somewhere.

Let's hope that this time Dublin Airport doesn't turn into the same fiasco...

I'm even going to try and take nice pictures I will post here when we get back, just for Eole who takes some really cool pictures like these I'm rather jealous of!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Why put the B in LGBT?

I am sick and tired of biphobia. It’s bad enough that bisexuals’ partners are more often than not insecure in both themselves and their relationship to constantly fear that their other half is going to run away with someone of the same / opposite sex and that there’s nothing they can do about it because they don’t have the right body parts. A lot of people, both straight and gay, would refuse to go out / date a bisexual (wo)man because of the stigma that is attached to it. Unfortunately, that’s the way it often goes, the lines between bisexuality and monogamy happily blurred or erased by the ones it serves the less to do so. Newsflash: it IS possible to be bisexual, live your identity to its fullest, be in a relationship with either a man or a woman and not wanting to be intimate with anyone else. So get over it.

Unfortunately, this is not the only issue we have to contend with.

We are getting pounded on by our own community on a regular basis. LGBT(Q) is a marvelous concept. Inclusion, communitarism, political activism… For those of you who might not know it, LGBT(Q) stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, (Queer) and I guess the order of the letters is less than innocuous. Gays and Lesbians DO come first, bisexuals and transgendered people were “added” to the list and (more often than not badly) included in the LGBT community.

The problem is that bisexuals don’t have a community per se. Unlike gay men or lesbians, we do not have a community. We belong to both the "straight world" and the "gay world" or as perceived this way. We are tolerated in both worlds as long as we do not express whatever part of our desires and identity belong to the “other” world. Heterosexuals want to hear as much about same sex relationships as homosexuals want to hear about opposite sex relationships. As a result, a bisexual (wo)man’s identity is not defined by his own personality but by the intimate bonds (s)he forms, by his / her relationship. It makes it easier for everyone, I guess. If you’re in a same sex relationship, join the ranks of the oppressed and go with the queers, if you’re not, go with the breeders and enjoy the fact that you can blend in and whatever status or societal acceptance that gives you. Go on, take the easy road. Easier for everyone but bisexuals.

The worst biphobia I have experienced came from my own ranks, the community I live most of my life in due to my personal relationships: from lesbians. An argument has unfolded on an Irish forum a couple of days ago. This forum is purely made of female members, some lesbian and some bi but all having in common the fact that they love women. A long standing member of this forum and of the international lesbian community at large has recently had her sexuality challenged by what must be the best man on the planet… having lived as an “out” lesbian for decades and finding honesty the best policy, this member shared the news on a forum where I assume she expected support and encouragement from her chosen family.

The backlash didn’t start until a few days after. It has been suggested by people this woman would have until a few days ago called friends, that she WAS taking the easy way out, and I am sure that the fact that she’s currently going the long adoption road to have a baby has entered some heads as one of the reasons why she would do such a thing as degrade herself to pursue a man. In the lesbian community, if you’re not a hardcore lesbian, you’re next to nothing. It’s sleeping with the enemy, giving in to patriarchy. Lesbians who sleep with men can discuss it because it’s sex, they were horny and the poor guy was there. As long as we use them, it’s alright. But actually looking for a romantic relationship with one? It’s obviously denying who you are. Obviously.

(continued here)...

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

1918 Spanish flu: latest addition to list of WMD?

It would seem that American researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have managed to recreate and revive the 1918 Spanish flu virus in hope that discovering what triggered its virulence will contribute to fighting a potential avian flu pandemic.

The results of their study published today in Science and Nature provide useful information. Information they had to dig up a female victim of the Spanish Flu in Alaska for, mind you. Her frozen lung tissue were used to recreate the virus’ genetic code. Their analysis suggest that the 1918 virus (H1N1) was originally avian but later adapted to humans. Interestingly enough, the virus currently propagating amongst birds is an adaptation on this virus: H5N1.

Using reversed genetics or positional cloning, Terrence Tumpey of CDC and his team recreate the virus and conducted a series of experiments to understand its virulence. When you know that the 1918 Spanish flu affected over 500 million people and killed between 20 and 50 million of those according to most estimates, the results are rather worrying:
- 50 times as many virus particles are released from human lung cells a day after infection with the 1918 virus as are released after exposure to a contemporary strain called the Texas virus,
- 13% of body weight is lost by mice 2 days after infection with 1918 flu; weight loss is only transient in mice infected with the Texas strain.
- 39,000 times more virus particles are found in mouse lung tissue 4 days after infection with 1918 flu than are found with the Texas virus.
- All mice died within 6 days of infection with 1918 flu; none died from the Texas strain.

You get the picture. What we have here sitting in an American laboratory is probably the most effective bioweapon known to man.
So of course, they are protecting it the best they can… Or are they?

An enhanced biosafety level-3 lab (upper body suits and respirators required) was used for the work. All good, unless you know that a level 4 exists where for instance full body suits are required and unless you also know that in 2003 a SARS virus escaped accidentally from a level-3 lab in Singapore, and in 2004 two further escapes occurred from such labs in Beijing. Hmmm…

I mean, it’s not as if the US had enemies, either individuals or States, who would love to get their hands on it for instance. Theft by a disgruntled, disturbed or extremist laboratory employee is hardly out of the question too. The re-creation of the full genome sequence of the virus and its mandatory publication on the GenBank database are also rather worrying: anyone can apparently order DNA to be made to a certain sequence and that there are currently no governmental controls on what sequences can be used. The technology is available and the only barrier anyone would face would be the screening of DNA orders by DNA synthesis companies for pathogenic sequences…

I would appear however that even if it did escape, it wouldn’t have the same consequences as it did in 1918 as most people now have some immunity to the 1918 virus because subsequent human flu viruses are in part derived from it. We might not face a Twelve Monkeys scenario just yet, then…

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tuesday Feeling

Oh I hate when that Monday feeling carries on to Tuesday...

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Yet another political test

One finds the strangest tests in the strangest places these days... A political orientation test at OK Cupid?? Huh?
So in the spirit of the Political Compass, I bring you yet another test... Just to see if you're consistent, like. I know I am!

Maybe one day when I have time I'll give a more substanciated answer than Strongly agree / Agree / Disagree / Strongly Disagree...

You are a

Social Liberal
(63% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(21% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test

Florida Sunsets

Thought I would share a few pictures I took when we were in Florida last June, taken with my (then) brand new Pentax Optio MX4. God how I love this camera!!!