Sep 27, 2007

Polish Women’s Party: nude electioneering

Poland - Women's Party

The Polish Women’s Party was founded in 2007 and has around 1,500 members. It is a refreshing contrast to the stuffy conservative Law and Justice Party of the Kaczynski twins. The women's party is hoping to clear the 5% required in order to get a seat in the Polish parliament.

Manuela Gretowska, who founded the party offered some insights when speaking with AFP news agency ...

This poster is intended to shatter stereotypes in the anachronistic world of politics, which is more often dominated by uncommunicative men with their black tie outfits. We are beautiful, nude, proud ... our faces are intelligent, concerned, proud.

Given the reactionary climate in Poland of late, the poster makes a bold statement. It is sure to anger the Catholic nationalist types whose reactionary views threaten to drag the country back into the middle ages.

Mercifully, the Kaczynski twins have shown no sign of countering with a nude election poster of their own.

Sep 25, 2007

Conrad Black: media baron blues

The recent trial of Conrad Black confirmed the suspicions of people who have long viewed him as a corporate crook. It also provided satisfaction to people who resented him, envied him and those who for political reasons would like nothing more than to see him roast in hell. He still has a few supporters but they're increasingly hard to find.

Back in 1998, Black’s National Post stormed onto the scene as an alternative to the standard newspaper fare in Canada. His personal style was far from typically Canadian. He didn’t hide his ambitions or his wealth or pretend to anything approximating humility. He assumed airs and graces that many Canadians found offensive. He was a union basher. Chased after titles. Threw lavish parties. Dismissed his critics with verbose attacks.

Black’s love of pomp and circumstance had a bit of a pantomime aspect to it. On one occasion he made an appearance as Cardinal Richelieu with Barbara Amiel at his side dressed as Marie Antoinette. He looked as though he was in his element when he posed for a photographer decked out in the finery of a British Lord.

It's difficult not to see some of this behavior as well ... childish. Behind the facade of the media baron there was a side of Black that never really grew up. The dress-up charades, aristocratic pretensions and titles seemed more like the preoccupations of an overgrown kid than activities anyone would regard with any degree of seriousness. The realities that compel most people to compromise and tailor their egos to the demands of an exacting world he was largely able to avoid. He set out on his business ventures buoyed by inherited money, and for many years was able to stay one step ahead of life-altering collisions with reality.

Black wasn’t ‘a team player’ in the usual sense of that overworked term - and of course was reviled for it. Canadians by and large have little affection for people who assume attitudes that appear to suggest they are ‘different’ or god forbid ‘better.' It gets even more personal when you give up your citizenship and head over to the UK to assume a title and a seat in the House of Lords.

Recently much loved Toronto entrepreneur, Honest Ed Mirvish died and a lot of ink was spilled in an attempt to capture the qualities of Saint Ed. One columnist even went to great lengths to make an extended comparison with Conrad Black, in hopes that the refracted light of Saint Ed would somehow show Black up as the vile self-serving toad he really was. This was fairly typical of the loathing extended toward him.

The man drew negative attention like a magnet. He loved to grandstand and the early National Post reflected that approach, even down to his gold newspaper boxes.

When the Hollinger allegations began to gather steam, a lot of the rumor and speculation seemed driven as much by sour grapes as actual facts. From an outsider’s perspective it was hard to know how much of it would hold up in court, how much of it was even believable. It seemed that the attack hounds were going in for the kill because it was Conrad Black ... because it was personal.

Ripping off shareholders isn’t a sin peculiar to Black. Corruption is rife in corporate culture. Bonuses, golden parachutes, any number of internal deals, schemes and ‘understandings’ - not to mention cushy non-jobs of the consultancy sort are part of the fabric of life. Corporations are clubs and as with most clubs, they cultivate their own insider culture, including practices that might be regarded as shady or even outright criminal by those looking in from the outside. There are a number of CEO’s out there who would have difficulty standing up to in-depth scrutiny.

Unlike his peers, many of whom prefer to fly under the radar, Black’s presumption of magnificence led him to act out in ways that were very public and in the end self-destructive. It was as though he was tempting fate... gambling that no matter how far he pushed it, his stars and the presiding gods would ensure that he would vanquish the finger pointers at the end of the day.

One of the shrewdest comments I read in the course of Black’s recent trial, was offered by Donald Trump, who posed an obvious, yet pertinent question - “why did he go public?” That he did and then proceeded to conduct himself as though he hadn’t, speaks to an ingrained naivety which is odd in the context of an intelligence that is nothing if not sophisticated. That odd blind spot made it difficult for him to fathom how he could ever be defined by the rules and regs that apply to the rest of us. His manner of doing business seemed that of a proprietor of a private company, rather than the CEO of a publicly traded company.

Black’s permanently inflated ego was underwritten by a hereditary conviction of entitlement. The affectations were often out of sync with time and place - weirdly anachronistic.

Black was undone by his need to act out aspects of his personality that more cautious players keep under wraps. His use of language is an apt metaphor for the disconnect between his subjective conviction of superiority, and the way the world actually perceived him. His pompous self-regard no doubt made him feel he had the edge over the hacks and commoners who dared criticize him. But his use of language betrayed him in the end also, just as his dodgy money games betrayed him.

Conrad Black in the clink

Conrad Black in Florida prison

Anorexia: a controversial ad campaign

The Italian fashion chain Nolita, has come up with a hard hitting advertising campaign targeting anorexia. The campaign coincides with the Milan fashion week.

Ultra thin models showcased by the fashion industry have been a factor in the increasing prevalence of eating disorders among young women. These disorders took on added concern after a 21 year old Brazilian model, Ana Carolina Reston, died from the eating disorder. She stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed only 88 pounds.

The photo used in the ad campaign features a 27 year old French woman named Isabella Caro who has been struggling with anorexia since she was 15 years old. She weighs a mere 31 kg (68 pounds) . She admits that for a long time she hid her body, but now she wants to candidly reveal herself for the camera in order to demonstrate how the disease impacts the body.

The Nolita campaign received the backing of the Italian Ministry of Health. However many have been shocked by the graphic nature of the image. Fabiola De Clercq, president of Italy’s Association for the Study of Anorexia considers the image “too crude” and said the model should be receiving treatment in hospital.

The campaign photo was shot by Oliviero Toscani, a photographer who has never shied away from images that many find disturbing. Toscani’s camera captured the powerful image of a man dying of AIDS that was used in a Benetton campaign.

An image of unique power, even though disturbing, can impact viewers in the way pages of text cannot. It has shock value and sometimes people need to be shocked into awareness, particularly when it comes to a ‘fashion disease' that has been wreaking havoc in the lives of women. While anorexia also has a psychological component, there is little doubt that constant exposure to the "ideal of beauty" represented by rail thin models has added to the pressure to appear slim at all costs - even at the expense of health.

Sep 21, 2007

Kathy Griffin: my life on the Christian hit list

A Christian theater troupe - The Miracle Theater - is spending $90,440 on a full page ad in USA Today to target Kathy Griffin for remarks she made about Jesus at the Emmy Awards.

Makes you wonder if Griffin set fire to a crucifix on stage or possibly defiled a bible in some manner that might be considered blasphemous. But no, nothing so extreme. When she received her Emmy for her work on the Bravo reality show “My Life in the D-List”, Griffin simply said "a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."

That sounds like candor. The effort that went into being selected as an Emmy winner wasn’t associated in her mind with any supernatural intervention. That seems eminently reasonable. Why on earth would Jesus help someone like Kathy Griffin win an Emmy for her work on “My Life in the D-List?"

Griffin also said "this award is my god now."

Sounds like a tongue-in-cheek remark. A bit of light banter. People sometimes kid about their dream car being their god (small ‘g’) or their dream job or dream house. Griffin didn’t say she was going to place the Emmy in a shrine and chant mantras to it while lighting incense sticks.

No matter, Miracle Theater along with the Catholic League are up in arms. Outraged Catholics even called on the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to “denounce Griffin’s obscene and blasphemous comment." Heavy stuff.

My guess would be that the average Emmy audience is made up mainly of folks who are indifferent to religion or nominally religious at best. There is no law that prohibits the use of Jesus' name in a manner that might offend a minority of touchy believers. It’s a discretionary matter, and if someone does get satirical or irreverent surely ... if the gospel message of Jesus has meaning at all... his followers should be turning the other cheek, shouldn’t they?

Not only should they be turning their cheeks, they should be extending love - not taking out $90,000 ads in USA Today to air their grievances.

Just think of all the charitable work that could have been done with that misdirected Christian money.

Catholic League Jesus

Catholic League targets Kathy Griffin

Sep 20, 2007

Global warming: all it takes is two degrees!

If temperatures make a critical two degree climb above pre-industrial levels, the planet is in deep trouble.

According to scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this temperature increase is already underway and is “very unlikely” to be reversed despite our best efforts. The prognosis for the planet? Crop failures, rise in sea levels, water shortages, species extinction and the increasing prevalence of disease.

The mercury is already showing an increase of 0.8 degrees. Scientists are predicting that it may be as little as 10 years before we reach the tipping point. One of the reasons preventative measures won’t see much success is due to the time lag in the way carbon dioxide is absorbed in the atmosphere.

According to IPCC projections - around two billion people worldwide will face water shortages. Up to 30% of plant and animal species will be at risk of extinction.

The organization is urging the developed world to take active steps to help regions in Africa and Asia that will be most severely impacted. They are recommending aid in the form of irrigation technology, drought-resistant crop strains and construction assistance.

Global warming has been accelerating in ways that have caught scientists off-guard. Professor Martin Perry, said that ten years ago he and his colleagues were talking about the impact of global warming on their grandchildren. He didn’t expect to see the evidence mounting so quickly.

Sep 18, 2007

Paddy Ashdown: behind the 'War on Terror'


Lord Paddy Ashdown is highly regarded by the new British PM, Gordon Brown. In an era when a lot of people have allowed hyper-patriotism and an overwrought sense of emergency to cloud clear thinking, Ashdown offers a dose of badly needed clarity.

He thinks the West’s strategy in fighting terrorism is historically illiterate and counter-productive.
Our problem is that we have chosen the wrong mindset, the wrong battlefield, the wrong weapons and the wrong strategies to win this campaign. We have chosen to fight an idea, primarily with force.

He adds that the West’s tactics “... have strengthened the concepts of our enemies and weakened our own.”

Ashdown stresses that the threat has been exaggerated and the West’s response wrong headed:

We have chosen language and means which unite the moderates in Islam with the fanatics, when we should be uniting with the moderates in Islam against a common enemy. We have adopted methods ... which undermine the moral force of our ideas and strengthen the prejudices of our opponents. We are seeking to win a battle of values by sacrificing our most precious and most potent value, our freedoms and our civil liberties. We concentrate almost all our efforts on the short-term struggle to prevent the next outrage, and almost none on the long-term task of winning the hearts and minds of moderate Islam.

He adds... "What al-Qaida and its sister organizations are actually engaged in is a battle, not for the west, but for the soul of Islam. They kill and maim in London, New York and Madrid, in order to win in Riyadh, Cairo, Damascus and Tehran."

What Ashdown understands, is that this struggle is primarily a struggle for hearts and minds. The West’s strategy has been alienating those who should have been on-side as partners.

When Bush realized that in attacking Iraq far from being the recipient of flowers, he had in fact unleashed a nightmare scenario, the liberation of Iraq morphed into “the front against al-Qaida” This was in part a trumped up strategy to legitimize an invasion that had gone horribly wrong.

The idea that Islamist ideas and the jihad mentality can be defeated by waging war in Iraq is absurd. What Bush’s folly has succeeded in doing is creating an uprising in Muslim communities across the globe and making militants out of young men who would otherwise never have picked up a gun.

Sep 15, 2007

Brian Mulroney: dart thrower extraordinaire

Few people can throw darts like ex-Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney. He has a deep attachment to his grudges and likes nothing more than taking the time, as he did in his recent memoirs, to haul them out for a bit of spit and polish.

Mulroney’s love-of-the-grudge isn’t really typically Canadian. Of all the places I’ve lived in my life, Canada is one of the least hate-centric. One of the great talents of Canadians is their ability to broker a compromise.

Mulroney could broker alright - mostly by schmoozing and arm twisting. There is no question he had the deal maker instinct going on. That is an Irish talent also, especially though when combined with a long fertile memory seeded with an extensive grudge history, so that when making the deal you inadvertently manage to screw a few undesirables in the process.

Unsurprisingly, number one on Mulroney’s grudge list is Pierre Trudeau. The reasons he presents for his antipathy toward PET seem rational at first glance. Trudeau’s great abomination as stated in Mulroney’s recent memoirs, was to oppose the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords. But Mulroney’s dislike of the man goes deeper than mere political differences. It is visceral even after a lot of time has passed and with Trudeau ten under. Why such animus after all these years? In part because Pierre Trudeau is still the pre-eminent Canadian icon, loved and respected at home and abroad. A deceased Trudeau is regularly accorded higher popularity ratings in polls than an alive-and-kicking Mulroney.

Lucien Bouchard is another exhibit in the Mulroney grudge museum. He is branded a traitor for founding the Bloc Quebecois. Writers Stevie Cameron and Peter Newman are skewered for having the temerity to question his [Mulroney's] veracity and in Newman’s case for “betrayal." One of Newman’s crimes was revealing phoneman - one of Mulroney’s less public personalities that surfaced when engaging in intimate wired chats with people he believed to be reliable confidantes.

Mulroney’s grudges even extend to members of his own party... especially those who had the gall to vote for Joe Clarke back in the day. Then of course there is Jean Chretien who is also given ‘the treatment.'

Mulroney can be very entertaining. Another Irish gift. He’s the kind of punter who would be great at the craic back in the oul sod - tweed cap shoved back on his head quaffing a pint of Guinness in a Dublin bar. If he had been around in James Joyce’s day, I have no doubt that Joyce’s ear for well oiled blarney would have perked up and resulted in a short story or two.

Mulroney may have been happier if he had gone into a different profession. He would have made an engaging stand-up comedian who I’m sure could have had them lining up at Yuks Yuks. In that capacity his popularity rating might even have exceeded that of Trudeau’s.

Brian Mulroney returns to his roots


Sep 13, 2007

Facebook: photos of breastfeeding moms deleted


Those who are familiar with facebook claim there is plenty of material on its pages that might be deemed offensive by some people. Everything from people posing in skimpy thongs to racy prose. Compared to that type of material a photo of a mother breastfeeding her infant seems innocent. Not by the standards of facebook apparently. It has been busily deleting photos of breastfeeding moms.

This has ticked off the women who set up a new facebook group named - “Hey facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” On last check the group had 10,200 members and is growing.

It’s no surprise women have been angered by the crackdown. Could anything be more inoffensive than an image of a mother breastfeeding her child?

The sight of a mother nurturing an infant in the time honored fashion is humanizing. It touches the heart. Have we become so oddly hypersensitive that there are people who now actually consider the act of breastfeeding in public to be somewhat pornographic or even obscene?

A number of Canadian women were impacted by the facebook decision. Karen Speed from Edmonton had five of her photos deleted and her account closed down. Others are fighting back. Sarah Kaplan, is the owner of Evymama, a breastfeeding and maternity wear shop in Toronto. Kaplan points out that the World Health Organization recommends breast feeding until the child is two years of age. She has been working to help make breastfeeding more socially acceptable.

Kelli Roman, a Californian mother of two, also fell victim to facebook policing. Several photos were deleted from her personal profile.

There is inconsistency in the facebook policy on this issue. An article in the Toronto Star points out that there are currently photos of breastfeeding moms on facebook. These can be found in groups such as La Leche League, Canadian Breastfeeding Mommies.

It would appear that facebook is drawing distinctions between breastfeeding pictures with breast and nipple in evidence, and those in which the 'offending parts' are partly covered. Facebook spokesperson, Meredith Chin, reportedly said - “photos containing an exposed breast do violate our terms and are removed.”

Facebook is sending the wrong message with this approach. After all a lot of these pictures appear in the context of a group with members who have a shared interest in breastfeeding. If the group was named “Hot Lactating Chicks” I could see there might be an issue - but “Breastfeeding Moms” is about as user friendly as it can get.

Facebook cracks down on breasts

Facebook cracking down on breasts

Sep 12, 2007

Eva Herman: fired for praising Hitler's family policy

eva herman

A controversial German talk show host, Eva Herman, has been fired by the German public broadcaster, ARD, for praising Adolf Hitler’s family policy. Herman has long been promoting the view that women should stay home and have babies, or else in her opinion, Germany will run out of Germans. However using the Third Reich as any type of example of good family planning is more than a little odd, not to say offensive.

Eva Herman has acquired a certain notoriety in Germany as a talk show host. She succeeded in infuriating feminists with her book “The Eva Principle" which argues that the German race is in danger of extinction unless German women drop out of their careers and get back into the reproductive and parenting business. Herman’s views have been publicly endorsed by the far right National Democratic Party which is known to have links to neo-Nazi groups.

In the Hitler-era's clinic-based Lebensborn program women were treated somewhat like cattle. They were selected for their ‘Aryan traits’ in hopes that they would birth lots of blonde, blue-eyed children. Some 8,000 children were born in Germany, and around 12,000 in Norway as part of the a fertility 'offensive' aimed at increasing the Aryan birth rate and purifying the race.

Prospective mothers were selected with great care. Around 60% of them were unmarried. They had to provide proof of their Aryan stock going back to their grandparents. Reichsfuhrer, Heinrich Himmler. actively encouraged even married members of the SS to 'spread their seed' in Lebensborn clinics.

The Lebensborn program was part of the greater Nazi agenda in relation to ‘purification policies.’ This included the killing of children born with defects and the forced sterilization of those with hereditary disease.

Despite Herman’s efforts to detach her praise of Hitler era family policies from the atrocities associated with the Reich, her employers at the public broadcaster ARD would have none of it. Program director, Volker Herres, said Herman had been fired “with immediate effect."

Madeleine McCann: suspicions, rumors and denial

The disappearance of Madeleine McCann while on a family vacation in Portugal, has generated more news coverage than some regional wars being waged around the globe.

The McCann case has attracted attention of soap opera proportions, in part for cosmetic and status related reasons. The parents are an attractive looking couple, both white and both doctors. Madeleine herself had the type of cute angelic looks that seems to attract media attention like a magnet.

For the most part the British press has engaged in uncritical and at times blatantly unabashed pro-McCann promotion that says less about a search for truth than the determination to root for their own no matter how many legitimate suspicions surface in the course of the investigation.

The fascination with the story is understandable as it is offensive. It’s understandable because an innocent child was allegedly abducted while on vacation. What makes it offensive is the fact that thousands of children go missing with barely a mention. For example in the UK alone hundreds of children have gone missing over the past few years according to British police. Many of these cases have only received scant mention in the press.

The alleged disappearance occurred while the family was on vacation in the up-market Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz, adding an exotic touch to what has really become a sort of reality whodunit, with people taking sides and pointing fingers.

The perception that the case was being given special priority by the media for all the wrong reasons, was underlined in comments made to the press by Jose Miguel Judice, a former head of Portugal’s bar association. He said the extraordinary attention and effort devoted to the case was because the little girl is "English, white and the daughter of doctors."

It has also become a case of us-against-them with some British commentators in newspaper columns and blog threads making their prejudiced view of Portuguese authorities crystal clear, while displaying uncritical support for the parents. Some news outlets have presented a version of events that frequently understates or glosses over important details.

While acknowledging that the McCanns may indeed be the victims of a rumor mill and unusual circumstances, it is important to state what is factually known about the events before and after Madeleine went missing without spinning it to suit a pro-McCann position.

The picture painted in some media outlets of devoted parents who have been wronged, on the face of it doesn't seem altogether accurate. First of all, devoted parents don’t abandon their young children in a vacation apartment and head out for the evening. This fact has been glossed over by those who have become fixated with the abduction theory. As anyone who has raised a child knows, this is something you simply don’t do - especially when the children are small, easily frightened and in a strange place. Moreover this wasn’t the first evening the McCanns left their kids in the apartment alone. The evening prior, they headed out to dinner with friends and according to a neighbor in the apartment complex, Pamela Fenn, left the children in distress - she used the word "screaming."

The decision to leave the children alone in the apartment is hard to understand. A local company, Mark Warner, offered babysitting services for just ten pounds a night. Hardly too pricey for a well heeled professional couple. The entire cost of babysitting for the duration of their vacation would only have amounted to 140 pounds ( 280 US dollars). The McCann's did make some limited use of the service since a Warner employee named Charlotte Pennington helped out on occasion with the kids. Pennington worked as a nanny for the Ocean Club's Baby Club, looking after children from 12 months to 4 years of age.

There are also reports about the way the children were handled that have raised eyebrows. Allegations have been made that the parents sedated Madeleine to put her to sleep since she could be difficult around bedtimes. There is also an allegation that a syringe was found in the apartment - an allegation denied by the parents. The twins, Sean and Amelie, slept through the ruckus following Madeleine’s disappearance, leading to speculation that they may have been sedated. Kate McCann is a GP and a trained anesthetist. She would certainly have known the type and quantity of drug to administer, if in fact sedation was involved.

The tapas bar where the McCanns went for dinner and drinks is some 65m from the apartment. A longer distance than the McCanns initially claimed - roughly two thirds the length of a football field. There is no way they would have been able to hear the children in distress at that distance, especially when seated in a noisy bar.

Kate McCann returned to check on the children at around 10 pm. When she discovered Madeleine was missing she reportedly screamed "They've taken her! They've taken her!"... an outburst witnessed by the nanny Charlotte Pennington who was in the apartment five minutes after the alleged abduction. Kate McCann's assumption an abduction had taken place and use of the plural to describe 'the abductors' struck a number of observers as odd.

Various inconsistencies come into play around the time of the alleged abduction. The McCanns claim that whoever took Madeleine broke into the apartment. However there was no evidence of any break in. They claim they raised the alarm within 10 minutes of discovering Madeleine was missing, but local police said that they didn’t receive a call until 10.50 pm. Moreover the offer by a neighbor to make an emergency call was reportedly rejected by Kate, who told the neighbor she had already placed the call, whereas she in fact waited for another 40 minutes before placing the first call. The McCanns reject this version of events.

The inconsistencies in the story as reported and the rumors that have been circulating should not be used to leap to rash conclusions. People can have memory lapses and behave in a manner that is out of character when under pressure, especially with the intense media coverage the case has been receiving. It’s entirely possible that the McCanns are victims of unusual circumstances and misunderstandings - perhaps even of police misconduct. They have certainly steadfastly maintained their innocence throughout the ordeal. However the above mentioned inconsistencies do raise legitimate questions.

As matters stand, the Portuguese police have submitted their case against the McCanns to the public prosecutor who will decide what charges, if any, will be brought against the couple.

Sep 8, 2007

John Tory and religious schools

Far from seeking to bolster a badly underfunded public school system in Ontario, John Tory’s support for religious schools heads in the opposite direction. Tory has proposed the offer of $400 million to help fund the 53,000 students who are currently attending Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Christian and other religious schools. It will provide an inducement for more students to leave the system and become sequestered in private religious schools.

We also learned this week that Tory supports the teaching of creationism in funded religious schools. Initially he didn’t specify which subject areas should include the creationist point of view. After the outcry that greeted his remarks he appeared to backpedal and said creationism should only be a part of religious classes.
The Genesis myth is just one of thousands of such creation myths from different parts of the world. All of them different. All of them equally lacking in credibility when viewed from a scientific perspective. Neologisms such as “scientific-creationism” and “intelligent-design” are highly questionable and underscore why creationism is a dodgy topic at best for school curriculae.

John Tory's religious wonderland

John Tory - religious schools in Ontario

Sep 7, 2007

Kyla Ebbert and the Southwest Airlines cover up

Last month in Iran, the police cracked down on women wearing revealing attire and targeted men with Western hairdos. This type of fashion policing doesn’t go on in America - right?

Well, it depends on where you happen to be. If you are a female and have a preference for tight fitting outfits and fly Southwest Airlines, there is a chance you will be targeted by a flight attendant doubling as a dress code cop. It certainly happened to a 23 year old San Diego co-ed, who boarded a Southwest flight to Tucson, Arizona. Kyla Ebbert was confronted by a male flight attendant concerned about her “revealing attire”.

Ms Ebbert was on a one-day round trip and had a doctor’s appointment scheduled. She wasn’t carrying additional luggage with a change of clothes. Nonetheless, the male flight attendant who asked her to leave her seat for 'dress review', had the gall to suggest she go to a gift shop to buy clothes prior to boarding a later flight.

Ms Ebbert was understandably mortified that she had been targeted in this high handed manner with other fliers looking on, even though the 'dress review' was conducted in a walkway leading back to the terminal. Embarrassed by the flight attendant’s unwelcome attentions, she offered to pull the top of her sweater over her breasts and pull her skirt down as far as possible. A compromise that was finally agreed upon.

Southwest is an airline that caters to clients who like to save money, many of them students. This episode happened at a time of year when a lot of co-eds opt for casual outfits. There was nothing about Ms Ebbert’s outfit that could be regarded as offensive, except perhaps to really sheltered folks who don’t get out much. The flight attendant was clearly making an arbitrary judgment based on personal prejudices.

His decision to ask Ms Ebbert to ‘adjust’ her attire wasn’t part of any clearly defined dress code policy on the part of Southwest. It couldn’t be, because on the return flight, far from receiving the same treatment, Ms Ebbert was in fact complimented on her outfit by a different attendant.

Kyla Ebbert was hoping for an apology from Southwest that hasn't been forthcoming. She is presently considering a lawsuit.

SouthWest air: student told to change 'revealing' outfit

Sep 6, 2007

Popcorn alert: the Diacetyl risk factor

Dr Cecile Rose is a pulmonary specialist who also offers her services as a consultant to the food industry. She has been investigating a condition known as ‘popcorn workers’ lung’ for a number of years.

Some popcorn plants have been shown to contain high levels of diacetyl. Diacetyl, a byproduct of the fermentation process, has a buttery, butterscotch-like flavor that is ideal for improving the taste of popcorn. Problem is, there are health risks associated with exposure to diacetyl.

There have been cases of workers in popcorn factories who have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans - a serious lung disease. Researchers have good reason suspect that it is exposure to diacetyl that is the problem, because many of the workers who suffered lung problems were young non-smokers, with few other risk factors. The courts appear to agree with these findings. In July, 2005, a popcorn worker in Missouri was awarded $2.7 million as a result of developing bronchiolitis obliterans through exposure to diacetyl in the workplace.

Dr Rose came across a case that involved an American man who was a self-confessed popcorn addict. He would eat microwaved popcorn at home as often as twice a day and had the habit of inhaling the fumes from the popcorn as he removed it from the microwave. Over time the man developed severe breathing problems.

Tests showed that the level of diacetyl in the man’s Colorado home was similar to the levels Dr Rose had found in popcorn plants. When he was put on a microwave popcorn-free diet, the man dropped 50 pounds and his lung function improved.

Given the numbers of workers in popcorn plants who have sustained serious lung damage, regulators need to do more to crackdown on unacceptable diacetyl exposure. The work of Dr Rose indicates the risks associated with diacetyl exposure also extend into people’s kitchens.

Sep 5, 2007

George W. Bush: on weeping and ghostly visions

Over the years there have been rumors about Bush’s mood swings and tantrums. There has been speculation that psychological problems might be involved. Some recent confessions in an interview with John Draper make you wonder if Bush is coming apart at the seams.

As his supporters bail out left and right, it now looks as though the pres is attempting to put distance between himself and unpopular positions he has staked out in the past. Bush rarely confesses to mistakes. His approach is to show his weepy side, indulge in self pity and talk a lot about his relationship with “God”.

Bush was interviewed recently by John Draper for the ironically named book about his Presidency entitled Dead Certain. Given the President's admissions in the interview Draper might want to consider renaming the book Dead Uncertain.

Bush confesses to serial bouts of weeping. It must be reassuring for Americans to learn that the commander-in-chief spends at least part of his waking hours balling his eyes out. His wife Laura has been doubling as comforter and counselor (when God’s shoulder isn’t available). By his own admission Bush claims to have shed “more tears than you can count”.

Weeping is not something that is attractive in a leader. It gets even more alarming when the teary eyed one begins to talk about ghosts coming out of walls in the White House. According to Bush the White House is a “creepy place” Once while approaching the Lincoln Bedroom, he claims he saw ghosts coming out of the wall. I’m not sure if weeping can induce hallucinations, but the President is in no doubt that he works in a haunted mansion.

You have to wonder how much of this is guilt... what some new agers might refer to as bad karma. By his own admission the President indulges in bouts of self-pity and has to be chivvied up by his wife, who also seems to double as personal trainer of sorts.

George Bush: “This is a job where you can have a lot of self pity.”

No kidding.