Captain's Blog Star Stardate 2009.1
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Here's the link to some of the most bizarre statues in the world...
What was the creator of this stunning sculpture thinking?
Deadly day in Afghanistan
Four Canadians reportedly killed
CanWest News Service
Four Canadian soldiers were reportedly killed, and more than 10 injured Thursday in another day of bloodshed in Afghanistan, Global News reports.
If the numbers hold, the tally of dead and injured could make it the costliest day in terms of human life for Canada in Afghanistan since it joined the U.S.-led war on terror. Canadian Forces had announced earlier in the day that one Canadian soldier had been killed and four were injured in two separate roadside bomb attacks near Pashmul.
CNN reported the casualties, including 21 civilians, occurred in three separate incidents near Kandahar.
Though he made no direct public reference to the number of deaths, Prime Minister Harper appeared to know the grim news as he made in a speech earlier in the day in Cornwall, Ont., where he was meeting his Conservative caucus.
“Today, our forces suffered serious casualties,” Harper said. “For those who have lost their family or their colleagues, these are always terrible moments. Fellow Canadians, I know that we all share their grief."
“What the women and men in harm’s way want and need to know in moments like this that their government and Canadians stand behind the mission."
“Make no mistake my friends through good times and bad, this government will honour their sacrifice, we will stand behind their mission, and we are proud of the work that they are doing.”
The first killing near Pashmul happened as troops pressed on with operations aimed at preventing Taliban attacks against vehicles on the increasingly infamous Highway One, a vital economic lifeline in southern Afghanistan.
Cpl. Christopher Jonathan Reid, based in Edmonton with the 1st battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, is the 20th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan since 2002 and the 12th since operations moved to the volatile south in February.
“Our thoughts and prayers of all of Task Force Afghanistan are with the family of Cpl. Reid,” said Col. Tom Putt, deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan. “We will not forget his sacrifice.”
Although Reid and the injured soldiers were riding in LAV 3s, Putt said troop confidence in the heavily armoured vehicles has not wavered.
“It still is the best fighting vehicle on the land today here in Afghanistan,” said Putt.
Both attacks happened just hours after a memorial service was held in Montreal for Cpl. Jason Warren.
He and Cpl. Francisco Gomez of Edmonton died July 22 when a suicide bomber detonated a car filled with explosives beside their armoured vehicle.
Gomez and Warren are being interred Thursday at the Beechwood National Military Cemetery in Ottawa.
Gomez, 44, was laid to rest at the first of the two interment ceremonies.
His parents, friends, family and colleagues looked on as his flag-draped coffin was carried to its final resting place by eight pallbearers and lowered to the ground. Some of his fellow soldiers could be seen fighting back tears.
The flag that draped his coffin was folded and presented to the soldier’s mother; his beret was given to his father.
Afghanistan Close to Anarchy, Warns General
· NATO commander's view in stark contrast to ministers'
· Forces short of equipment and 'running out of time'
by Richard Norton-Taylor
The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan yesterday described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.
The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of NATO's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people.
The assumption within NATO countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said yesterday. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".
Corrupt local officials were fuelling the problem and NATO's provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan were sending out conflicting signals, Gen Richards told a conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "The situation is close to anarchy," he said, referring in particular to what he called "the lack of unity between different agencies".
He described "poorly regulated private security companies" as unethical and "all too ready to discharge firearms". NATO forces in Afghanistan were short of equipment, notably aircraft, but also of medical evacuation systems and life-saving equipment.
Officials said later that France and Turkey had sent troops to Kabul but without any helicopters to support them.
Gen Richards will also take command of the 4,500-strong British brigade in Helmand province at the heart of the hostile, poppy-growing south of the country when it comes under NATO's overall authority. He said yesterday that NATO "could not afford not to succeed" in its attempt to bring long-term stability to Afghanistan and build up the country's national army and security forces. He described the mission as a watershed for NATO, taking on "land combat operations for the first time in its history".
The picture Gen Richards painted yesterday contrasted markedly with optimistic comments by ministers when they agreed earlier this month to send reinforcements to southern Afghanistan at the request of British commanders there. Many of those will be engineers with the task of appealing to Afghan "hearts and minds" by repairing the infrastructure, including irrigation systems.
Gen Richards said yesterday that was a priority. How to eradicate opium poppies - an issue repeatedly highlighted by ministers - was a problem that could only be tackled later.
General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the British army, said recently: "To physically eradicate [opium poppies] before all the conditions are right seems to me to be counter-productive." The government admits that Helmand province is about to produce a bumper poppy crop and is now probably the biggest single source of heroin in the world. Ministers are concerned about criticism the government will face if planting over the next few months for next year's crop - in an area patrolled by British troops - is not significantly reduced.
Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Afghanistan, told the Guardian that the immediate target had to be the biggest poppy cultivators and dealers who control the £1bn-plus Afghan drug trade.
The strategy should be: "Go for the fat cats, very wealthy farmers, the movers and shakers of the drug trade" and their laboratories, he said. Asked about the concern of British military commanders that by depriving farmers - and warlords - of a lucrative crop, poppy eradication would feed the insurgency, Mr Howells admitted: "It's a big problem for us."
Hamid Karzai was elected president of Afghanistan in October 2004 and a new constitution was signed and a parliament was inaugurated in December 2005. But he has not been able to exert much authority beyond the capital. The Taliban have re-emerged as a fighting force and hundreds of people have died in clashes over the past year.
In June this year a US-led force of 11,000 launched the biggest anti-Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan since 2001. The UK government has said the deployment of the 3,000-plus strong British brigade, based in Helmand province, would last for three years.
The following month it said an extra 850 soldiers would be deployed. Six British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan in less than a month and 700 people have died over the past few weeks.
Afghanistan is now one of the poorest countries with an economy and infrastructure in ruins.
Sandy, are you happy now? It's partially your fault!!
Iraq civilian toll spikes to nearly 6,000 (in May and June)
By NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press Writer
Nearly 6,000 civilians were slain across Iraq in May and June, a spike in deaths that coincided with rising sectarian attacks across the country, the United Nations said Tuesday.
The report from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq describes a wave of lawlessness and crime, including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, torture and intimidation.
Hundreds of teachers, judges, religious leaders and doctors have been targeted for death, and thousands of people have fled, the report said. Evidence suggests militants also have begun to target homosexuals, it said.
"While welcoming recent positive steps by the government to promote national reconciliation, the report raises alarm at the growing number of casualties among the civilian population killed or wounded during indiscriminate or targeted attacks by terrorists or insurgents," the U.N. said in a note accompanying the report.
In the last two days alone, more than 120 people were killed in violence in Iraq. In the worst attacks, fifty-three perished in a suicide bombing Tuesday in Kufa, and 50 were slain Monday in a market in Mahmoudiya.
According to the report, 2,669 civilians were killed in May and 3,149 were killed in June. Those numbers combined two counts: from the Ministry of Health, which records deaths reported by hospitals; and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad, which tallies the unidentified bodies it receives.
The report charts a month-by-month increase in the number of civilians killed, from 710 in January to 1,129 in April. In the first six months of the year, it said 14,338 people had been killed.
The report's figures were higher than some other counts, but even the U.N. said many killings go unreported.
According to an Associated Press tally based on its daily reporting, at least 1,511 civilians were killed, in May and June, with at least an additional 289 police and security forces killed.
The AP tally showed that from January through June 2006, at least 4,191 civilians were killed. The minimum number of police and security forces casualties in that period was at least 805 killed. The AP figures do not include insurgents.
It was unclear whether the tally from the Medico-Legal Institute included only those who were killed as a result of violence.
The spike in casualties comes despite the formation of a unity government, which took power on May 20. U.S. officials had hoped it would make good on promises to disband Shiite militants and bring Sunni insurgents into the fold.
Yet, as the report said, parts of Iraq have seen "collusion between criminal gangs, militias and sectarian 'hit groups,' alleged death squads, vigilante groups and religious extremists."
It also details the rise in kidnappings, particularly of large groups of people. On May 17, for example, the report said 15 Tae Kwon Do athletes were kidnapped in western Iraq.
"There is no news regarding their whereabouts," the report said.
Women report that their rights have been rolled back by extremist Muslim groups — both Shiite and Sunni. While under Saddam Hussein's largely secular regime, women faced few social restrictions, they say they are now barred from going to market alone, wearing pants or driving cars.
And children are frequently victims, perishing in large crowds or sometimes even targeted themselves, the report said.
"Violence, corruption, inefficiency of state organs to exert control over security, establish the rule of law and protect individual and collective rights all lead to inability of both the state and the family to meet the needs of children," it said.
The government still has not pursued many allegations of torture and other inhumane treatment in prisons and detention centers, the U.N. said.
A controversial bill expanding federal funds for embryonic stem cell research is set to be passed by the US Senate.
But the vote will bring a swift response from President George W Bush, who has vowed to wield his veto for the first time to block the legislation.
Opinion polls suggest most Americans back the research, which scientists hope will lead to cures for illnesses like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
But Mr Bush has consistently opposed embryonic research on moral grounds.
The Senate vote will come at the end of two days of debates on three separate stem cell bills.
Senators are now giving their final arguments before the voting.
The most controversial bill, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, would scrap limits on federal funding imposed by Mr Bush in 2001.
Who know how many human embryos we will have to destroy before any tangible progress is made?
Senator Jim Bunning
It has already been passed by the House of Representatives.
In the years since Mr Bush's ban was imposed, pressure has been building for a loosening of restrictions.
Campaigners for stem cell research include prominent Republicans such as Nancy Reagan, whose husband, former President Ronald Reagan, died after a long battle with Alzheimer's.
Monday's debate in the Senate heard impassioned arguments on the issue.
"I lost a beautiful daughter some years ago to heart disease," said Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan.
"I wondered then and I wonder now and I will wonder some long while if there's anything that we could do to unlock the mystery of that devious killer."
George W Bush: 0
Bill Clinton: 38
George HW Bush: 44
Ronald Reagan: 78
FD Roosevelt: 635
Thomas Jefferson: 0
Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, argued that it was "immoral to destroy the youngest of human lives" for research.
"Who knows how many human embryos we will have to destroy before any tangible progress is made?" asked Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican from Kentucky.
The White House on Monday reiterated Mr Bush's determination to veto the bill if it is passed.
"The bill would compel all American taxpayers to pay for research that relies on the intentional destruction of human embryos for the derivation of stem cells, overturning the president's policy that funds research without promoting such ongoing destruction," a White House statement said.
Opinion polls suggest almost two-thirds of Americans support the research.
It also seems set to become an issue in November's mid-term congressional elections.
But Mr Bush remains firmly against any change to the law, along with many other conservative Republicans.
Although the bill enjoys support from both Republicans and Democrats, the Senate is unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.
Not since Thomas Jefferson has a US president gone this long without using his veto, reports the BBC's James Coomarasamy.
He says the Bush administration has successfully used pro-life issues to mobilise its Republican base, notably in the 2004 presidential election.
It is ironic that one of those issues seems set to result in the president's first veto, he adds.
"You'll feel some slight pressure" is what he told me. Ok, it was a little more than slight.
But I survived to tell the tale....
Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd, dies
By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press Writer
Syd Barrett, the troubled genius who co-founded Pink Floyd but spent his last years in reclusive anonymity, has died, a spokeswoman for the band said Tuesday. He was 60.
The spokeswoman — who declined to give her name until the band made an official announcement — confirmed media reports that he had died. She said Barrett died several days ago, but she did not disclose the cause of death. Barrett had suffered from diabetes for many years.
Barrett co-founded Pink Floyd in 1965 with David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright, and wrote many of the band's early songs. The group's jazz-infused rock made them darlings of the London psychedelic scene, and the 1967 album "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" — largely written by Barrett, who also played guitar — was a commercial and critical hit.
However, Barrett suffered from mental instability, exacerbated by his use of LSD. His behavior grew increasingly erratic, and he left the group in 1968 — five years before the release of Pink Floyd's most popular album, "Dark Side of the Moon." He was replaced by David Gilmour.
Barrett released two solo albums — "The Madcap Laughs" and "Barrett" — but soon withdrew from the music business altogether.
He spent much of the rest of his life living quietly in his hometown of Cambridge, England, where he was a familiar figure, often seen cycling or walking to the corner store.
Despite his brief career, Barrett's fragile, wistful songs influenced many musicians, from David Bowie — who covered the Barrett track "See Emily Play" — to the other members of Pink Floyd, who recorded the album "Wish You Were Here" as a tribute to their troubled bandmate.
The band spokeswoman said a small, private funeral would be held.
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