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25 July 2009

It's Election Day in Ciudad Vleeptron! and YOU can vote too! How will Measure F do at the polls???

Click, ballot gets bigger.

It's Election Day in Ciudad Vleeptron!

I've used the Zeta Beam to hack into the Ciudad Vleeptron computer voting machines! So anybody who reads VleeptronZ can vote!

Vote by Leaving A Comment!

Vote YES or vote NO

AND ... guess the results of this election! Which side will win? And by how large a margin?

After all the votes are in, VleeptronZ will post the REAL election results!

Here's the ballot Measure F again in Hot Text:

Measure F

Shall Ciudad Vleeptron's business tax, which currently imposes a tax rate of Ϡ1.20 per Ϡ1000 on "cannabis business" gross receipts, be amended to establish a new tax rate of Ϡ18 per Ϡ1000 of gross receipts?

[ ] YES

[ ] NO

21 July 2009

Worst Day Issue (V.2): The Vleeptron New Smile Project / Bob invites you to Feel My Pain

Click on image, probably gets bigger.
Things have been slow on Vleeptron, and this is why. Dentists -- 2 at the same time -- have been doing some monster excavations in my mouth. I had Phase 2 last week, and am slowly recovering.

You should see my face. I look like Bulgarian sailors have been stomping me in a dark alley.

When it's all over -- maybe a month from now -- I will have a smile Tom Cruise will envy. And I'll be able to rip through solid food. Right now mealtime is a Fiesta of Mush -- tapioca pudding, cottage cheese, and when I'm looking for thrills, garlic hummus.

Meanwhile, please send me your sympathy -- I am particularly partial to Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" -- and please forgive the slowdown.

Hang in there ... there is a particularly important post coming soon, a very rare and very significant poem. I thought I could just filch & post with the poet's permission, but the guy actually wants me to write about this very unusual work. And doing justice to his poem with my pathetic prose is proving to be challenging.
(I hate responsibility.)

And there is also Strange News From Jerusalem -- an ongoing streetcorner struggle between Thugs and Idiots, and Very Fine People, between bigots and idealists. Their weapons are ... alphabets!

Vleeptron also gonna post some Important New Developments in Porn!

Now I have to moan in pain, and get some sleep. But when next you see me -- I will have a Smile To Span An Ocean, and we can go down to Fernando's House of Slaughtered Quadrupeds and order a nice rare haunch of venison.

13 July 2009

constant companions / Scarlett-Charlotte's bestest pal at the vet

I'm pretty sure this is the right kind of tortoise. Polyphemus was the name of the cyclops who trapped Odysseus and his pals in his cave, and munched on a sailor when he got hungry. My guess is a taxonomist stuck this one with the cyclops' name because they're big, ugly, slow and not very bright.

As Odysseus cooked up an escape plan, he chatted with Polyphemus, and told him his name was Oosey -- which sort of sounds like a diminutive of Oodysey.

After the Greeks stuck a big sharp stick in Polyphemus' eye and blinded him, Polyphemus screamed for help from the other big, ugly, dumb Cyclopses on the island. "Who blinded you?" they asked, and Polyphemus cried: "Oosey has done this to me!"

In Greek, "oosey" means "nobody," so Polyphemus was screaming "Nobody did this to me!" and his dumb neighbors just ignored him, and the sailors managed to sneak out of the cave clinging upside-down to the bellies of Polyphemus' sheep.

About two years ago, as old Charlotte-Scarlett's health began to fail, she had to spend a week at our regular vet. Amazingly, she recovered and came home again.

The vet staff liked her a lot. She wasn't terrified of the weird smells and the dogs barking; she seems to have regarded her stay at the vet more as a very curious adventure, a week at an exotic animal resort.

She had no claws (a previous owner had done that, certainly not us) and only had two teeth left, so she couldn't have harmed anyone if she tried. But in all the time we knew her, she never tried to hurt or scratch or bite anyone.

She wandered up and down the halls day and night, never got into trouble, and when someone had to move her or do something to her, she was very docile, you'd just scoop her up under her tummy and carry her around like a furry purse, and put her down anywhere, and the most she'd complain would be a startled little "mek!" noise.

South of here 20 miles there's a big city -- Springfield, where Homer Simpson lives, yes, that's the Springfield -- and it has a zoo, small, but with a good reputation.

The zoo had a tortoise, Francine, and, like Scarlett-Charlotte the Siamese, Francine didn't like the cold and certainly couldn't make it through a New England winter. So she wintered over at the vet's clinic in Amherst, slowly wandering around the hallways.

When Scarlett-Charlotte began to recover and wander around, she turned a corner and ran into Francine. She'd certainly never seen anything like that before. She was startled, amazed, fascinated.

She poked around its head with her paw, but Francine just did what tortoises do when anything tries to molest them, and pulled her head into her shell and sealed herself up until the cat lost interest.

For the rest of the week, S-C followed Francine all over the place. Then she climbed on top of Francine and let Francine carry her around the clinic like a big slow taxi. The vet staff said they were inseparable, constant companions, the friendly toothless de-clawed old Siamese and the ancient tortoise. S-C had a great time at the amazing vet clinic. She was sorry to leave -- but glad finally to come home.

Not long after, we heard that Francine had passed away. They live for a long time (documented record: 188 years), but not forever. As the lawyers say, old Francine predeceased old Charlotte-Scarlett.

We didn't want to tell Charlotte-Scarlett the sad news. S-C was so crazy about Francine the tortoise that she may have been the only cat on Earth who looked forward to going to the vet so she could poke and ride around on Francine.

Charlotte-Scarlett the old temple-guarding Siamese leaves our household

Hmm apologies if things have seemed to slow down here on Vleeptron ... been a very rough week.
That tan/brown sleeping heap under the Christmas tree is Scarlett, or Scarlett-Charlotte, the ceaselessly screaming shrieking Siamese cat. She was very old -- by some guesses maybe 17, but could have been older.
Last night she came to the end of her run. There wasn't any other choice, but we had to ask the vet to end her suffering. We all said goodbye Saturday night. She was exhausted, but awake, alert, she knew we were there petting her and speaking to her.
I don't mean to sound dumb, but I really don't understand why the animals and the people we love give us so much for so many years, make our household so happy and so warm and comforting and rich, and then die.
There's such a terrible hole in the living room now. For the last six months she'd pretty much lived her life in her one big comfy chair. At night we'd leave the public FM radio station, classical music, on for her. We suspected she liked light classical to bring peace and reassurance to her night.
The temptation is huge to want to believe in eternal life, an afterlife -- if and only if I get to hang with my animals again, to have them near me again.
Scarlett-Charlotte had been my mother-in-law's cat, and when Mom couldn't care for her, we moved S-C in with us, and S-C seemed to like the new arrangement. As she grew older, and got frail, we pampered the crap out of her.
Mom was raised in Georgia, so she named Scarlett for Scarlett O'Hara from "Gone with the Wind."
I tacked on Charlotte, from the 18th century romance novel "Charlotte Temple," by Mrs. Rowson. It's an English novel, but has the historical distinction of being the first novel with an American setting. The innocent schoolgirl Charlotte Temple is seduced by an army officer cad, who takes her to America to be his mistress while he fights the rebels, and then abandons her. I think I posted the first few pages of it on Vleeptron, where Charlotte first meets the scoundrel lieutenant.
So I'd call out to her: Charlotte-Scarlett! And then give her very rough fingernail scratching on her back and butt, she liked that a lot.
No, quite frankly, I don't understand suffering, and I don't understand death. I don't see the point of it all.
A lot of the stories in "The Arabian Nights / 1001 Nights" end this way:

And they lived happily ever after,
until there came the Destroyer of Friendships,
the Shatterer of all Loves.

Charlotte's breed seems to have been bred to be guard cats for Buddhist temples.
How can a cat guard a Buddhist temple?
We found out quickly. Charlotte is very smart and very observant and very high-strung.
When, in the middle of the night, while we slept, she detected anything Wrong with the household, anything or anyone where it shouldn't be at that hour, she would begin to shriek, howl, very much like a baby's cry. Unignorable, impossible to sleep through.
And she would keep howling until one of us woke up, got out of bed, and walked out into the living room to see what Charlotte was screaming her brains off about.
That's how she guarded the temple.
Very effectively. If nobody acknowledged, addressed and fixed Charlotte's complaint to her satisfaction, nobody slept.
She was an extremely challenging old cat to love. She wasn't designed to love and be all warm and fuzzy. She was designed to guard the temple.
I'm sorry the photo doesn't do her justice. She had an exquisitely beautiful face and color markings. Her body grew a bit scrawny and thin and old, but her face, her expression, remained beautiful to gaze at into her last days. Her long thin tan tail ended in a black tip. The toes of her paws were in the same soft but startling black.
She had very little interest in or love for the outdoors. But a few superhot days each summer, she would cautiously agree to go into the front yard, lie under a bush, and let the Sun bake her for hours. An old tropical cat is always cold in New England. In winter, she paid very close attention to the sounds of the thermostat, because when it clicked, that meant that soon the metal radiator would get hot -- and Charlotte would make a beeline for the hot radiator.
She had strange, difficult relationships with the other cats, they made her nervous and fearful. But she fell instantly in love with big giant Maine coon Elmer, and gazed in astonishment at his handsomeness, so we gave him a new nickname: Tyrone Purrer.
In her last years she grew senile, and was often disoriented when she woke in the middle of the night, and howled: Where am I? How did I get here? Where is everyone? What's going on?
But it was easy to calm her down with our voices and by petting her, and she would go back to sleep.
She didn't like adventures or thrills, or strangers. She particularly didn't like the vacuum cleaner. She watched the outdoors closely through the living room window, and when a bear was smashing around in the bushes (trying to get at the bird feeder), that would terrify her for the entire next day.
She had a very scary-looking crisis early Thursday morning, and we put her in a big cardboard box with a blanket, and drove her to a new vet clinic in Deerfield that's always open and specializes in dog and cat emergencies. They're not running a charity, and Charlotte's last days ran up quite a tab -- two blood transfusions and all sorts of diagnostic tests, that finally made it clear she was dying, and nothing could prevent that. All that was left to do was to end her suffering and torment.
The staff of the emergency clinic was very expert at managing the love and concern of the pet owners. Everyone in that waiting room was worried and miserable. One dog waited his turn to have a little black beard of porcupine quills removed from his chin.
There was a big old sheep-herding dog, and an 8-month-old boxer with mysterious, frequent little seizures. It was 10 at night, and mom and dad brought their 6-year-old daughter, a study of worry and concern long past her bedtime.
They herd and protect our sheep, guard the temple, kill mice and rats (and moles and bunnies and squirrels and chipmunks and birds). And drown us in torrents of unconditional love. Living with us gives their world meaning, safety and peacefulness. Knowing we're there lets them sleep long and deep. I think they dream about hunting -- and sometimes have nightmares of being chased by dogs or coyotes.
I have no interest in hunting, but have infinite admiration for their skills at hiding, stalking, racing, pouncing, the quick kill. It's quite horrible to see it up close.
Much more horrible, in city and country, if they weren't such skilled, dedicated hunters. The mice and rats would quickly take over, plague would come back, a huge amount of our grain would be lost, bread would skyrocket in scarcity and price, we would be a lot hungrier.
It's the middle of the night, and for the first time since Charlotte came to live with us, I miss her yowling terribly, I wish it were coming from the living room interrupting my thoughts and my work, and I would get up and soothe her with my voice, and pet and scrunch her with my fingernails, until she knew where she was, and settled back down in her chair, and purred, and went back to sleep, with soft classical music playing on the radio.

08 July 2009

PizzaQ -- find the 2 differences between Reality & not-Reality / Galveston / Flaco Jimenez: accordian but it not suck

Click, certainly.

From our trove of photos from Cape Cod. Taken on the only Sun-shiney day of the whole week.

But I liked the fog and the ocean gale and the violent lightning storms. I don't think Chatham Lighthouse, long automated, blows a horn, but in the night fog you could see its beam swing across our pond every 20 seconds. Cape Cod was and remains very dangerous waters to navigate. Typically the skipper or bridge watch makes 3 small little mistakes in a row, none of which by itself would cause harm, and then the ship hits the rocks and everybody drowns. In the Quaker Meeting House Cemetery, every sixth gravestone: Lost At Sea.

My brother is a mahof, of both musical and spiritual matters, of a whomp-butt Unitarian-Universalist church near Washington DC. Last trip I had lunch with him and Pastor Lilly of the Universalist Society of DC, I think she originally hails from the Texas Gulf Coast, maybe Galveston -- the Hurricane Smash Hit Center of North America -- but I could be wrong about that.

Galveston historically is destroyed by hurricanes more than any other city. These tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico must like the local seafood -- a lot of shrimp -- or the music -- Janis Joplin was from there, and this is also the region where Tex-Mex and Flaco (Skinny) Jimenez el Rey de Tex-Mex, who also plays the accordian and it not suck, was born and blossomed.

There's a large German-American population in this part of Texas, and in some towns you can hear nothing but deutsches on the street. (New Braunfels also has WurstFest (30 October - 8 November 2009) where thousands of cowgirls and cowboys in cowboy and cowgirl hats and cowboy and cowgirl boots dance much Polka and consume much Wurst and Beer.)

They had their accordians and polka music, and their Tejano neighbors paid close attention to all the things they were doing wrong to music, and the ways they were tormenting and insulting music, and sometimes the Tejanos played in their polka bands. So polka somehow partially morphed into Conjunto/Tex-Mex, a truly unexpected miracle. I think recently I posted Flaco's English/Spanish/German cover of

"en el Cielo no Hay Cerveza"
"In Heaven, There Is No Beer"
"Im der Himmel dar ist kein Bier"

so that's why we drink it here
and when we're gone from here
all my friends will be drinking all the beer

It's a sad sort of song about a serious defect in Heaven.

But back to the U-Us. I wanted to snap this very handsome piece of architecture, so I talked S.W.M.B.O. into parking in the strip mall while I got out with the little digital camera and photographed the church across the road perched up on a hill.

Very much as you see it here. But

What You See
Is Not What I Got

when I looked at the church.

Back at the Graphic Arts Department of Agence-Vleeptron Presse, I changed -- fixed, I think is a good word -- Reality to suit my taste with 2 specific changes.

My new way, this way, makes a better New England Cape Cod Tourist Postcard. Reality sucked, so I fixed it. Now it's Better Than Reality. It's New, Improved Reality (tm).

One change (1) is/was Large, and the other (2) Smaller, a bit more subtle.

Okay, 2 slices extra mozarella, capers.

If nobody gets these, I may explore a possible future as a counterfeiter. I already make faux postage stamps, how hard can this be?

06 July 2009

3rd & final warning / CORRECTED crappy unauthorized English translation of "Petite annonce amoureuse" / aussi: les Filles du Roy

TO: Robert Merkin

M. Merkin:

l'Academie Française exige que vous ne tentiez jamais de parler ou écrire en français encore.

Cette est votre avertissement ters et final.

Philippe de Montebello
l'Academie Française

patfromch said...

That cover is just awful.

The music isn't. Folksy pop, a bit of country, georgeous quebequois accent. Call me an Idiot, somehow this reminds me of the Indigo Girls or Joni Mitchell in their best moments. This Is Montreal, Not Nashville.

Uplifting music for a wonderful hot sunny summer afternoon like today (even though the lyrics are not meant to be uplifting somehow).

Vleeptron has broadend my horizon once again ! I for one know who I am going to play this to, wonder if she likes it...


Did you see the goofy YouTube video? La realizatrix (?) is as talented and funny as les chanteuses.

Okay, about the cover.

I have "Pronto Monto" down in the basement in vinyl, my Shrine to les Saintes McGarrigle c'est la bas aussi, candles, incense ...

"Pronto Monto" was released in 1978, when Anna was 34 and Kate was 36. Above, les Soeurs McGarrigle in a more recent photograph.

I would whack a perfect stranger if either of these ladies asked me to. They could pay me by singing to me.


There is a little ambiguity about the authorship of the song "Petite annonce amoureuse." It's by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, but may also have been co-written by Philippe Tatartcheff, a poet who has written songs the McGarrigle Sisters have made popular before. One source co-credits almost all the songs on this album to Tatartcheff.

Tatartcheff lives or once lived in Val d'Or, in Northern Quebec, and his Day Job was as a miner in a gold mine. Gold mines are our deepest human-made penetrations into the Earth, and are extraordinarily dangerous workplaces. To get the gold we love so much, a lot of people die every year all over the world. I drove through Val d'Or and stopped for gas on a day there'd been a very bad collapse, with lives lost, in the gold mine. The young woman I spoke to said everyone in town knew someone trapped in the mine.

The price of gold is up -
- it always goes up during economic crises or collapses -- and suddenly a long-abandoned mine in the center of Johannesburg, South Africa, has re-opened. Hundreds of badly (but regularly) paid miners are going down one of Earth's deepest holes again, because people trust gold, where they have lost faith in other forms of value storage -- stocks, bonds, derivatives, pork belly futures, exotic loans and odd financial arrangements with questionable promises on pieces of paper. We have lost faith in paper, and instinctively want to hoard gold, which we can touch and pet and admire and weigh and assay.

Gold was regarded as the tangible manifestation of the Sun on Earth, and silver the manifestation of the Moon. Women were often prohibited from being associated with or coming near goldsmiths and gold metallurgy; their presence was believed to spoil or ruin the magic associated with working in this unique metal, which never rusts or oxidizes. Thus gold is believed to be the only uncorruptible -- eternal -- substance on Earth, requiring special priestly ritual.

All else which we experience decays, rots, rusts.

Gold has unique chemical and industrial properties. It can be hand-pounded to foils of one or two or three atoms of thinness. (You can wrap chocolates in this foil, and eat the chocolate, gold foil and all, without harm.) The contact surfaces of electrical connections which must be reliable (telecom, space) are often gold or gold-plated. Gold dissolves only in a highly concentrated cocktail of Aqua Regia -- nitric and hydrochloric acid.

* * *

"La vache qui pleure" (2003) is the McGarrigle Sisters' second album of (mostly) French / Quebecois songs.

After bothering a very nice fellow named Aesop on the Internet Relay Chat UnderNet channel #Montreal, I have hammered out an Unauthorized English translation, I did the best I could.

Aesop informs me that "fille du Roy" is a 300- or 400-year-old expression for prostitute, streetwalker, sex worker.

{Aesop} Fille du Roy = Whores
{Droog4} ah ah ah ah merci
{Droog4} this is a local nuance i do not know
{Aesop} Im not a whore, i feel happy or not.
{Aesop} it's an old timer expression
{Droog4} the singers are Montreal sisters, now they are maybe 60 annes
{Aesop} fille du roy = more than 300-400 years old expression
{Aesop} hehe
{Aesop} it was used in the times of kings and knights
{Droog4} ah wow, i would never have known this, this is not in regular Larousse
{Aesop} nop

If you find mistakes, glaring or subtle, in this translation, SVP Leave A Comment, set me straight. I did the best I could. I tried to retain or reproduce the expressing style of the singers, the intentions of the woman who sings

A little personal love ad

Looking for man five-foot-three
I'm no debutante, no Fille du Roy
Sometimes I'm happy
Sometimes I'm not
Please answer my ad

Whoever answers this ad
He'll get a nice reward

Whoever answers this ad
He'll get a nice reward

Me I'm not quite five-foot-two
But I'm not lame
I wouldn't be taller than you
You'd be a little taller than me
For the love of God, answer

I've had it with being alone at my place
It breaks my heart, hurts my liver too
Dogs run away from me
Cats stare at me
Little kids are scared of me

I only smoke good tobacco
I like mice, I hate rats
Two paws, three or four paws
Bums or fine aristocrats

Five-two, five-three
Glass eye, wooden leg
And especially savoir faire

04 July 2009

Stop me before I post more McGarrigle Sisters Québécois songs

Speakers ON / Right-click: Open in New Tab
or just click
and watch their very funny YouTube
(realisé par / directed by Sarah Mishara)

From the 2003 album "La vache qui pleure"

(There's a famous brand of cheese: La vache qui rit)

Petite annonce amoureuse
(a little personal love ad)

by Kate & Anna McGarrigle & Philippe Tatartcheff

Je cherche une homme qui a cinq pieds trois

Moi j’suis pas la fille du Roy
Ou bien ça va
Ou ça va pas
S’il vous plaît répondez-moi

Qui annonce reçoit réponse
Qui demande a récompense

Qui annonce reçoit réponse
Qui demande a récompense

Moi je n’ai que cinq pieds deux
Pourtant je ne suis pas boiteux
C’est tu trop
C’est tu trop peu
Répondez pour l’amour de Dieu

J’en ai assez d’être seul chez-moi
Ç a crève le coeur et puis le foie
J’éloigne les chiens
J’effraie les chats
J’fais peur aux petits enfants

Je ne fume que du bon tabac
J’aime les souris, j’hais les rats
À deux ou trois
Ou quatre pattes
Vilains ou bien aristocrates

Cinq deux, cinq trois
OEil de verre, jambe de bois
Et surtout du savoir faire

© 2009 Kate & Anna McGarrigle, All rights reserved.

03 July 2009

shifting strategies, new major US offensive in Helmand and opium-growing provinces of Afghanistan

Click image for larger, clearer

Associated Press (newswire USA)
Thursday 2 July 2009

U.S. Marines exchange fire
with Taliban in searing heat

by Jason Straziuso, Associated Press Writer

NAWA, Afghanistan (AP) -- U.S. Marines hiked through searing heat and took fire from small pockets of militants Thursday after landing in this Taliban-controlled southern region of tree-lined fields, mud homes and crisscrossing waterways in the first major operation under President Barack Obama's strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, the U.S. military announced that insurgents were believed to have captured an American soldier missing in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. The missing soldier was not involved in Operation Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword," under way in southern Afghanistan.

The southern offensive was launched shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday (4:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 2030 GMT), as thousands of Marines poured from helicopters and armored vehicles into Taliban-controlled villages along roughly 20 miles of the Helmand River in Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy-producing area. The goal is to clear insurgents from the hotly contested region before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.

The Marines have not suffered any serious casualties and have seen only a sporadic resistance, said Lt. Abe Sipe, a spokesman for the unit.

"The enemy has chosen to withdraw rather than engage for the most part," Sipe said. "We had a couple of heat casualties, but not deemed serious in nature at this time."

Officials described the offensive as the largest and fastest-moving of the war's new phase and the biggest Marine assault since the one in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. It involves nearly 4,000 newly arrived Marines plus 650 Afghan forces. British forces last week led similar, but smaller, missions to clear out insurgents in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province.

"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said in a statement.

Pakistan's army said it had moved troops from elsewhere on its side of the Afghan border to the stretch opposite Helmand to try to stop any militants from fleeing the offensive. It gave no more details, but U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed concern that stepped-up operations in southern Afghanistan could push the insurgents across the border.

Transport helicopters carried hundreds of Marines into the village of Nawa, some 20 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, in a region where no U.S. or other NATO troops have operated in large numbers.

The troops took many insurgents by surprise, dropping behind Taliban lines, said Capt. Drew Schoenmaker, from Greene, N.Y.

"We are kind of forging new ground here. We are going to a place nobody has been before," said Schoenmaker, 31, who commands Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Several hundred Marines took positions in a freshly plowed dirt field at 3 a.m. The soft, deep dirt proved challenging for troops weighed down with days' worth of water, food and gear, and many frequently stumbled.

At daybreak the Marines walked along tree lines, and at 6:15 a.m. the company took its first incoming fire, likely from an AK-47 along a tree-line. The next three hours brought repeated bursts of gunfire and volleys of rocket-propelled grenades, sending deep booms across the countryside.

A small force of Afghan soldiers accompanying the Camp Pendleton-based Marines got into several scraps with an insurgent force of about 20 fighters. The fire came from a mud-brick compound, and the Marines, the Afghan soldiers and their British advisers surrounded the compound on the east and the south.

Before the mission, Schoenmaker, the company commander, said he would practice "tactical patience" as a way to avoid civilian casualties -- ” an issue newly arrived Gen. Stanley McChrystal has underscored in recent weeks. Though troops in many similar circumstances have called in airstrikes on such a militant-controlled compound, Schoenmaker did not.

"We made the decision to isolate the compound and not destroy it because we couldn't confirm if civilians were inside," he said. The militants were believed to have escaped out the back.

A Cobra helicopter circling overhead for most of the day fired rockets at a tree line nearby. Other troops walked through fields of corn and past mud-wall homes. Only a handful of villagers dared to venture outside.

Helmand's deadly heat, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, proved to be another enemy the Marines had to fight. Because soldiers were on foot, they had to carry all their own water and food. Forward observers and snipers spent the entire day under the cloudless sky.

"It's like when you open up the oven when you're cooking a pizza and you want to see if it's done. You get that blast of hot air. That's how it feels the whole time," said Lance Corp. Charlie Duggan Jr., 21, of Baldwinsville, N.Y.

The Marines trained for months in the heat of the Mojave desert for the deployment, and many appeared happy to be here.

At one point Thursday, some 50 Marines were relaxing in an abandoned and dilapidated mud brick compound, their dusty-brown uniforms stained with perspiration. Suddenly someone spotted an Afghan male who appeared to be watching them from a nearby road.

The Marines quickly threw on their flak jackets and Kevlar helmets.

"It sucks but it's what you've been training for your whole life," Lt. Chris Wilson, 25, of Ramsey, N.J., said with a smile as he held a radio with an eight-foot antenna. Thursday was Wilson's first mission into a combat zone.

Last summer, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit took the town of Garmser --€” about 15 miles south of Schoenmaker's company --€” and helped provide security for an area U.S. commanders say is now relatively secure.

The U.S. would like to replicate the success in Garmser to the north and south. The strategic setting can help the military slow the opium poppy and heroin trade and interdict fighters coming from Pakistan.

Of immediate need is security for the country's Aug. 20 election.

Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Without such a massive Marine assault in this southern section of Helmand, the Afghan government would likely not have been able to set up voting booths to which citizens could safely travel.

The Pentagon is deploying 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

The Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan in 1996 and were ousted from power following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have made a violent comeback, wreaking havoc in much of the country's south and east.

Thousands of British forces, fighting under NATO command, have been in Helmand since 2006 with broadly the same strategy, but security has deteriorated. They have encountered stronger resistance than had been expected from Taliban fighters bankrolled by the vast opium and heroin trade.

Reversing the insurgency's momentum has been a key component of the new U.S. strategy, and thousands of additional troops allow commanders to push into and stay in areas where international and Afghan troops had no permanent presence.

In March, Obama unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan, seeking to defeat al-Qaida terrorists there and in Pakistan with a bigger force and a new commander. Taliban and other extremists, including those allied with al-Qaida, routinely cross the two nations' border.

Obama told The Associated Press on Thursday that he will reassess the possible need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the August elections.

The president said the main U.S. goal is to keep al-Qaida from acquiring a haven from which it can train fighters and launch attacks on the United States or its allies. He said the U.S. and its allies also must build up the Afghan national army and police and enable Pakistan to secure its borders against terrorist movements.

Last year, NATO and Pakistani forces cooperated in a series of complementary operations on the border, but the overall commitment of Islamabad to Washington's aims in Afghanistan has long been questioned. Pakistan has frequently been accused in the past of failing to stop — and sometimes aiding — the movement of insurgents into Afghanistan from its side of the border.

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Associated Press writers Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul, Nahal Toosi in Islamabad and Lara Jakes in Washington contributed to this report.


Reuters (newswire UK)
Friday 3 July 2009

Opium and Afghanistan's insurgency

by Jonathon Burch

KABUL (Reuters) -- Controlling the opium trade in Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of the drug, is a key element in the fight against Taliban militants.

With thousands of U.S. Marines launching a major new offensive against the Taliban-led insurgency in southern Helmand province, the epicenter of world opium production, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, has also foreshadowed a new approach to controlling the trade.

Following are questions and answers about Afghanistan's poppy production, its role in the insurgency and efforts to combat it.


Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world's opium, a thick paste made from the poppies that is processed to make heroin, according to United Nations figures.

In 2008, 157,000 hectares of opium were cultivated, down 19 percent from 193,000 hectares in 2007. Opium production only declined 6 percent to 7,700 tonnes because of record high yields.

Helmand cultivated 103,000 hectares in 2008.

In the same period, prices fell by about 20 percent, meaning the value of the opium to Afghan farmers fell by about a quarter from roughly $1 billion to about $730 million.

The export value of opium, morphine and heroin at border prices in neighboring countries fell to $3.4 billion in 2008 from $4 billion in 2007, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2008 Afghan Opium Survey.


The Taliban are mainly funded by the opium trade.

Despite the drop in cultivation, production and prices, the UNODC says the Taliban and other "anti-government forces" still make "massive amounts of money from the drug business." Their take, mainly from levies on processing and trafficking, has been put at between $200 million and $400 million, with up to $70 million more from "ushr," or charges on economic activity.

UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa has also pointed to the danger of opium stocks held by the Taliban. "For a number of years, Afghan opium production has exceeded world demand. The bottom should have fallen out of the opium market, but it hasn't," he said in the UNODC's 2008 Afghan Opium Survey.

"So where is the missing opium? Lack of price response in the opium market can only be the result of stock build-ups, and all evidence points to the Taliban."


Addressing the opium problem will no doubt form a big part of General Stanley McChrystal's new counter-insurgency strategy, part of Washington's wider effort to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan.

McChrystal and other commanders say their new strategy is designed to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans, "to talk more and shoot less."

But the amount of money farmers can make from opium instead of other crops like wheat is a big problem. Destroying farmers' livelihoods by eradicating opium crops would make it very difficult to win them over to the fight against the Taliban.

In 2007, the gross income ratio for farmers from opium to wheat was 10:1. In 2008 that narrowed to 3:1, although that was partly due to drought. The United Nations has called for greater international development to consolidate on gains, along with "more honest government" and more security, it says.


Holbrooke told a G8 conference this week that Washington is to phase out poppy eradication in a dramatic overhaul of its anti-drug strategy.

"The Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy crop, have been a failure. They did not result in any damage to the Taliban, but they put farmers out of work," Holbrooke said.

Haroun Mir, political analyst and co-founder of Kabul's Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies, agreed.

"I'm sure this new (Holbrooke) decision to shift the counter-narcotics policy has something to do with the new General McChrystal," he said.

In total, only 5,480 hectares -- less than 4 percent of all cultivation -- were eradicated in 2008 compared with 19,047 hectares in 2007, a 71 percent drop.

Eradication is also costly and dangerous. At least 78 people involved in eradication, most of them policemen, were killed in 2008, a 75 percent increase on 2007, according to the UNODC.

Supporters of poppy eradication say it is only a small part of a wider counter-narcotics policy and is only carried out on targeted areas where farmers have access to alternative crops.

Holbrooke says Washington will now concentrate on intercepting drugs and chemicals and going after drug lords.

(Editing by Paul Tait and Alex Richardson)

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© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

02 July 2009

India court ends colonial-era ban on homosexual acts

The New York Times
Thursday 2 July 2009

Indian Court Overturns
Brit Colonial-Era
Gay Sex Ban

by Heather Timmons

NEW DELHI — In a landmark ruling Thursday that could usher in an era of greater freedom for gays and lesbians in India, New Delhi’s highest court decriminalized homosexuality.

“Discrimination is antithesis of equality,” Delhi High Court judges wrote in a 105-page decision that is the first in India to directly guarantee rights for gays and lesbians. “It is the recognition of equality which will foster dignity of every individual,” the decision said.

Homosexuality has been illegal in India since 1861, when British rulers codified a law prohibiting “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” The law, known as Section 377, has long been viewed as an archaic holdover from colonialism by its detractors.

Gay men and women have rarely been prosecuted in modern times, but it has been used to harass, blackmail and jail marchers and participants in gatherings.

The repeal applies only to the territory of India’s capital city, but it will force India’s government to either appeal the decision to the Supreme Court or repeal the law nationwide, lawyers said.

In their decision, Chief Justice A. .P Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar declared Section 377, as it pertains to consensual sex among people above the age of 18, in violation of key parts of India’s Constitution.

The law violates Article 14, which guarantees all people “equality before the law;” Article 15, which prohibits discrimination “on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth;” and Article 21, which guarantees “protection of life and personal liberty” they said. The repeal comes after a broad campaign organized by gay rights activists, authors and celebrities, lawyers and AIDS awareness groups.

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