Naked girls plow fields to make it rain. OK.

Obviously – it worked

Farmers in an eastern Indian state have asked their unmarried daughters to plow parched fields naked in a bid to embarrass the weather gods to bring some badly needed monsoon rain, officials said on Thursday.

Witnesses said the naked girls in Bihar state plowed the fields and chanted ancient hymns after sunset to invoke the gods. They said elderly village women helped the girls drag the plows.

They (villagers) believe their acts would get the weather gods badly embarrassed, who in turn would ensure bumper crops by sending rains,” Upendra Kumar, a village council official, said from Bihar’s remote Banke Bazaar town.

“This is the most trusted social custom in the area and the villagers have vowed to continue this practice until it rains very heavily.”

India this year suffered its worst start to the vital monsoon rains in eight decades, causing drought in some states.

Something interesting had to come from climate change. South of Greenland.

Obama chides California for failing to evaluate teachers

U.S. President Barack Obama has singled out California for failing to use education data to distinguish poor teachers from good ones. Obama urged the state to change this situation so as to receive competitive, federal school dollars, according to the Los Angeles Times.

At stake are billions of U.S. dollars in federal stimulus funds to be allocated in “Race to the Top” grants, the paper noted.

Obama’s comments on Friday echo recent criticisms by his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who warned that states that bar the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, as California does, are risking those funds.

Obama and Duncan made their position clear. “This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group,” Obama said. “Instead, it will be based on the simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works.”

“Race to the Top” applicants must show progress in four key areas to compete for the 4.35 billion dollars: adopting rigorous academic standards, recruiting and retaining talented educators, turning around chronically low-performing schools, and building data systems to track student and teacher effectiveness.

But Obama also pointed out that teachers should not be judged solely on student test scores.

You’d think that was clear enough.

It seems likely that if the president has to point out student eval isn’t the only road on the map – then that must be the target for those whose opposition to change is more important to them than the change considered.

Humbugs all.

Bigoted web posts traced to Department of Homeland Security


After federal border agents detained several Mexican immigrants in western New York in June, an article about the incident in a local newspaper drew an onslaught of vitriolic postings on its Web site. Some were racist. Others attacked farmers in the region, an apple-growing area east of Rochester, accusing them of harboring illegal workers. Still others made personal attacks about the reporter who wrote the article.

Most of the posts were made anonymously. But in reviewing the logs of its Internet server, the paper, The Wayne County Star in Wolcott, traced three of them to Internet protocol addresses at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border protection.

Homeland Security started an investigation into the posts this month, according to the reporter, Louise Hoffman-Broach, and Richard M. Healy, the Wayne County district attorney. A spokeswoman for the federal agency’s inspector general said she could neither confirm nor deny an investigation; department rules prohibit the use of office equipment for the personal transmission of material that could offend fellow employees or the public…

Local officials and residents say that beginning about 2006, federal officials stepped up their enforcement of immigration laws in western New York. Farmers and other residents said the push created a climate of fear in communities whose economies depend on migrant laborers, many of them illegal immigrants.

The Obama administration has moved to a less confrontational policy at work sites, focusing on employers. But Customs and Border Protection, which does not conduct work-site inspections, had not changed its strategy in New York, Mr. Price said.

The newspaper removed the posts. When they checked further, they found more racist and bigoted comments tied to previous articles coming from IP addressed belonging to DHS.

Nice to see the Department of Homeland Security living up to the standards of its founders.

Evangelist convicted of abusing his five underage “wives”

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Evangelist Tony Alamo is going to prison.

A raid forced in haste, a prosecution relying on decade-old memories and a jury dealing with a century-old morality law could have given Alamo, 74, a chance to walk away from sex-crime charges a free man.

The five women he took as underage “wives” when they were as young as 8 didn’t let that happen.

Jurors cried with the women through their testimony, listening as they related how Alamo told them God commanded them to be his sexual partners and even molested one girl while in federal prison. They did not falter under cross-examination, staring down the man who took their childhood and exploited their faith.

I just don’t want him to hurt anybody else,” the woman Alamo took as a “bride” at age 8 said on the stand, weeping. “I don’t want him to touch my little sister. She’s only 12…”

“I’m just another one of the prophets that went to jail for the Gospel,” Alamo called to reporters as U.S. marshals escorted him back to jail.

Shouts of “Bye, bye, Bernie” — Alamo was born Bernie Lazar Hoffman — came from a crowd gathered to watch.

Throw away the key!

UPDATE: Practically the same as throwing away the key. Found guilty – and sentenced to 175 years.

Two million people endangered by poison gas from African lake

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

More than two million people living on the banks of Lake Kivu in central Africa are at risk of being asphyxiated by gases building up beneath its surface, scientists have warned.

It is estimated that the lake, which straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, now contains 300 cubic kilometres of carbon dioxide and 60 cubic kilometres of methane that have bubbled into the Kivu from volcanic vents. The gases are trapped in layers 80 metres below the lake’s surface by the intense water pressures there. However, researchers have warned that geological or volcanic events could disturb these waters and release the gases.

The impact would be devastating, as was demonstrated on 21 August 1986 at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, in West Africa. Its waters were saturated with carbon dioxide and a major disturbance – most probably a landslide – caused a huge cloud of carbon dioxide to bubble up from its depths and to pour down the valleys that lead from the crater lake.

Carbon dioxide is denser than air, so that the 50mph cloud hugged the ground and smothered everything in its path. Some 1,700 people were suffocated.

“The lake was essentially like a bottle of beer that had been shaken up,” said Professor George Kling, of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Michigan University. “When you opened it, carbon dioxide bubbled up, and the beer frothed over. A glassful is OK. A lakeful is deadly.”

Kling has since turned his attention to Lake Kivu, which is more than 3,000 times the size of Nyos and contains more than 350 times as much gas. More worrying is the fact that the shores of Kivu are much more heavily populated. About two million people live there, including the 250,000 citizens of the city of Goma.

Mount Nyiragongo, near Goma, erupted in 2002 and lava streamed from it into Lake Kivu for several days. On this occasion there was no disturbance of the lake’s deep layers of gas and no deadly outpouring of carbon dioxide or methane. However, Kling has warned – in the journal Nature this month – that in the event of another eruption the region may not be so lucky again.

Sometimes, nature can be scarier than human beings. True – not very often.

Still, there are risks attendant upon siphoning off the gases – as is currently being tried. And if you don’t try, a natural disaster could still upset what equilibrium there is – and kill millions of people.

Sounds like a good reason to move.

Reincarnation Bank? You have got to be kidding!

I appreciate truly simple hustles. And I learned long ago that The Religious were always the easiest to dazzle with footwork.

This morning, my wife noticed a Google Adsense advert when she went to log into her online banking account this morning. It was for the Reincarnation Bank.

What? Yes, the Reincarnation Bank.

Worried about how well off you will be in the next life? Just deposit money on a regular basis into an account you establish in the Reincarnation Bank – in Gibraltar [chuckle] – and it will be waiting for you when you return with your authorized spirit in a new persona – after reincarnation.

“As in this life, in the next you will have memories of previous lives. One of these recollections will be of your arrangement with Reincarnation Bank. Whatever version of the internet or data retrieval mechanisms in use at the time of your return, you will renew your contact with Reincarnation Bank and through regression you will recall the details/instructions that you left at the time of making your deposit. A custodian of Reincarnation Bank will open your letter privately in your presence and will ask you to repeat the details contained therein (whilst in regression). Once this has been satisfactorily achieved, funds/property will be handed back to you and the account closed.”

Got that?

Thanks, Helen