Australia starts moving towards gay civil rights

Australian lawmakers have passed new laws giving gay and lesbian couples many of the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts but have ruled out legalizing same-sex marriages.

After a low-key debate, the Senate passed amendments to around 100 family, health and taxation laws that give same-sex couples access to the same services as opposite-sex couples living together in “de facto,” or common law, relationships.

Among the major changes, gays and lesbians will be allowed to get family benefits under the state-run health care program and to leave their retirement benefits to their partners if they die. The changes also confer parental rights on gay and lesbian couples with children.

While the laws give same-sex partners many of the same rights and protections as married couples, they stop short of allowing gays and lesbians to wed under the Marriage Act, which was redrawn by the last conservative government to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

When the governing Labor Party unseated its conservative rivals in 2007, it did so in part on a promise to end discrimination against gays and lesbians. But party leaders have said that pledge does not include a push to legalize same-sex marriages.

The changes passed without opposition through the Senate, with support from both major parties. The laws now go before the Labor-controlled House of Representatives, where they are expected to pass without controversy.

Yes, every step forward is greeted as a positive, measured event. The hypocrisy of denying full civil rights to a segment of society, denying equal opportunity to otherwise law-abiding individuals – is as backwards as any theocracy might be.

Australia may be self-defined as a modern, democratic entity. That’s called denial. Don’t hurt yourself patting your own hairy back!

Zoo Solves Mystery of Celibate Polar Bears

“So there!”

Puzzled zookeepers in northern Japan have discovered the reason why their attempts to mate two polar bears kept failing: Both are female.

The municipal zoo in the city of Kushiro in Hokkaido brought in a polar bear cub three years ago. They named it Tsuyoshi, after the popular baseball outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and waited until it reached reproductive age.

In June, the zoo introduced Tsuyoshi to its resident bear, an 11-year-old female named Kurumi, and waited for sparks to fly.

But much to the disappointment of zookeepers, Tsuyoshi never made any amorous advances toward Kurumi.

Earlier this month, zookeepers put Tsuyoshi under anesthesia to get to the bottom of the matter. That’s when they made their discovery: Tsuyoshi is a female.

The devil is in the details.

Canadian cell phone “no-call” scam


A major cell phone service provider in Canada is warning its customers about an ongoing do-not-call scam that could lead to identity theft.

Telus was first made aware of the operation Nov. 18, and has since issued news releases to its customers warning them of the potential for fraud, CTV News reported.

The fake e-mail still circulating says Telus cellular customers are charged for incoming telemarketing calls, which could be stopped by registering over the phone at one of two telephone numbers or online.

The Web site and one of the phone numbers are genuine for Canada’s new do-not-call registry, but the second phone number was traced back to an undisclosed U.S. location, where personal data is collected. The scam also claims Telus was planning on selling customers’ names to telemarketers later this month – which is untrue.

It never ends…

Ohio official suspended for misusing “secure” state databases

The Ohio attorney general’s office says it has suspended one of its lawyers for allegedly using state databases to learn information about acquaintances.

A spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers said Erin G. Rosen, the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway general counsel, was found to have allegedly been finding data on social acquaintances through the private databases.

As a result of her alleged actions, Rosen served a temporary suspension last month and has since been transferred to a different crime victim’s services position, spokeswoman Michelle Gatchell said.

You know, this isn’t a new question – how can you trust the people in charge of discharging the public trust? But, you’d think existing checks and balances might cover problems like this.

Presuming you had a government that didn’t spend a portion of its energies denying existing checks and balances.

A game with a message for the 21st Century

I hate to be one of those people who forwards links to “hilarious pictures” or “brilliant games” to half their contacts database. You know the ones. The hilarity or brilliance of a forwarded link is inversely proportional to the number of people it’s sent to.

So it’s been something of a trial to me this week to discover a link that I really do want to send to at least half the people I know: the wonderfully simple, sublimely intelligent little online game Oiligarchy. It combines so many fascinating elements: it’s part strategy game, part political statement, part chilling near-future narrative. It’s charmingly designed, and yet so slyly educational that I’ve been thinking a little differently about the world ever since I played it…

Oiligarchy makes no claims to be an impartial guide to the oil industry. As the designers say in their fascinating postmortem document, “Software does not constitute…documentary footage or a journalistic report…”

Of course, not everyone will agree with Oiligarchy’s politics and with the assumptions it makes about the world. But that’s not the point. The point is that there’s no more powerful way to understand the world than by stepping into someone else’s shoes. And games are an incredibly effective way to do that.

Cripes. Might even get me to play games some day or other.

Microsoft releases study of ‘cyberchondria’

If that headache plaguing you this morning led you first to a Web search and then to the conclusion that you must have a brain tumor, you may instead be suffering from cyberchondria.

Microsoft researchers have published the results of a study of health-related Web searches on the company’s Live search engine as well as a survey of the company’s employees.

The study suggests that self-diagnosis by search engine frequently leads Web searchers to conclude the worst about what ails them…

Although the term “cyberchondria” emerged in 2000 to refer to the practice of leaping to dire conclusions while researching health matters online, the Microsoft study is the first systematic look at the anxieties of people doing searches related to health care, Eric Horvitz said.

Horvitz, an artificial intelligence researcher at Microsoft Research, said many people treated search engines as if they could answer questions like a human expert.

“People tend to look at just the first couple results,” Horvitz said. “If they find ‘brain tumor’ or ‘ALS,’ that’s their launching point.”

I know I’m capable of being a word-class hypochondriac. I guess the Web ain’t going to help that, very much.

I already know that headaches are really a symptom of spinal meningitis.

Laos still paying the price of Vietnam war

American heritage

Imagine growing up in a country where the equivalent of a B52 planeload of cluster bombs was dropped every eight minutes for nine years.

Then imagine seeing your children and grandchildren being killed and maimed by the same bombs, three decades after the war is over.

Welcome to Laos, a country with the unwanted claim of being the most bombed nation per capita in the world.

Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military dropped more than 2 million tons of explosive ordnance, including an estimated 260 million cluster munitions — also known as bombie in Laos.

To put this into perspective, this is more bombs than fell on Europe during World War Two.

The U.S. bombing was largely aimed at destroying enemy supply lines during the Vietnam war that passed through Laos. The war ended 35 years ago, yet the civilian casualties continue. According to aid agency Handicap International, as many as 12,000 civilians have been killed or maimed since, and there are hundreds of new casualties every year.

Right-wing nutballs in America never forget the VietNam War because their pitiful egos have to confront defeat – not only by another nation; but, by a proud people who also happen to be non-white. Racism and imperialism are virtually symbiotic in the United States.

Those of us who not only opposed Imperial America in Southeast Asia; but, supported national liberation movements throughout the world – are accustomed to being in conflict with the U.S. government. The “cops of the world” took over from the Brits after WW2 and were no less callous and criminal.

Even though I consider myself a citizen of Earth, I have a responsibility to confront and oppose the politics responsible for so much death and destruction. Uh, so do you – if you’re an American.

Thank Sarah Hale, rather than Pilgrims, for Thanksgiving feast

The holiday came about through fifty years of relentless promotion by Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine. She promoted it in columns and stories in her magazine until President Abraham Lincoln finally bestowed it national recognition…

Hale was a New Hampshire widow struggling to support five children by her writing when, in the late 1820s, she came to the attention of Louis Godey, who had plans to launch a women’s magazine.

Godey hired Hale in 1827 to edit the publication, and she did so for fifty years until retirement in 1877. From the beginning, Wills explained, Hale was a crusading type. “She freely used her magazine to promote causes like women’s education, and to raise a monument to honor those who fought and died at Bunker Hill. And Thanksgiving was another of her big concerns.”

Hale was concerned over increasing factionalism in American society, and envisioned Thanksgiving as a commonly-celebrated, patriotic holiday that would unite Americans in common purpose and values. She viewed those values as rooted in domesticity, and rural simplicity over urban sophistication…

Current fashions in football and dedication to shopping are not what she ever intended.

25 best cities to find a job

Job seekers with no ties to any particular location often seek jobs in big cities like New York, Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California, or San Francisco, California. But are these the places where they’re most likely to find a job?

Not according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job seekers are better off looking in such cities as Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Rapid City, South Dakota. All of these cities registered the lowest unemployment rates in July 2008.

There are several cities with low unemployment rates and sizeable job growth. Here are 25 cities with the lowest unemployment rates and the job growth they’re experiencing, according to the BLS.

Oh, uh – before you jump in your car ready to move to Midland or Odessa, Texas. Go there for a few days in the middle of a summer week.

They have something there they call the smell of money – that ain’t really a good excuse for air.