General Odierno “confident” U.S. Iraq withdrawal on schedule

General Odierno

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq said on Sunday he was confident of meeting an end-of-August deadline for a drawdown of U.S. troops despite political uncertainty and a spate of recent bombings there…

“We’re at about 95,000 today … our plans are intact. I feel very comfortable with our plan. And unless something unforeseen and disastrous happens, I fully expect us to be at 50,000 by the 1st of September.”

He said he believed it would take “a couple of months” for the formation of a new Iraqi government, but he added that a resurgence of sectarian violence was unlikely following a March 7 election that left two rival alliances nearly evenly matched in seats won…

“It’s been clear from all of the political leaders that everybody understands they must include all major political blocs in the government,” Odierno said, referring to the major Sunni, Shia and Kurdish political blocs…

Although al Qaeda was still capable of conducting attacks, Iraqis have rejected its ideology and Iraqi forces have taken the lead in going after the group with help from U.S. troops, he said.

Since he was appearing on Fox Noise, my guess is progress is probably better than he admitted. After all, he wasn’t invited to affirm good news about the administration that replaced the killer klowns that started the war.

Bunker mentality is alive and well in America

Abandon any notion of surviving the apocalypse by doing anything as boringly obvious as running for the highest hill, or eating cockroaches. The American firm Vivos is now offering you the chance to meet global catastrophe (caused by terrorism, tsunami, earthquake, volcano, pole shift, Iran, “social anarchy”, solar flare – a staggering list of potential world-murderers are considered) in style.

Vivos is building 20 underground “assurance of life” resorts across the US, capable of sustaining up to 4,000 people for a year when the earth no longer can. The cost? A little over £32,000 a head, plus a demeaning-sounding screening test that determines whether you are able to offer meaningful contribution to the continuation of the human race. Company literature posits, gently, that “Vivos may prove to be the next Genesis”, and they are understandably reluctant to flub the responsibility.

Should you have the credentials and the cash, the rewards of a berth in a Vivos shelter seem high. Each staffed complex has a decontamination shower and a jogging machine; a refrigerated vault for human DNA and a conference room with wheely chairs. There are TVs and radios, flat-screen computers, a hospital ward, even a dentist’s surgery ready to serve those who forgot to pack a toothbrush in the hurry. “Virtually any meal” can be cooked from a stockpile of ingredients that includes “baked potato soup” but, strangely, no fish, tinned or otherwise. Framed pictures of mountain ranges should help ease the loss of a world left behind.

Vivos says it has already received 1,000 applications.

Of course they have. There are the usual run-of-the-mill Christian Survivalists, militia membership optional, who sputter the same range of 18th-Century aphorisms as most teabaggers. They’re the ones preparing to subsist on bible verses and Spam.

The target clients are the miserable bastards whose greed probably caused half the problems afflicting humankind – and hung onto enough geedus to buy into a Death Condo from Vivos. Unless they already have access to one bought and paid for by state and federal taxpayers.

Then – there are the rest of us who keep on trying to build a better world – in the face of reactionary right-wing whiners and gutless liberals. We can’t afford to copout even if we wanted to.

British Prime Ministers bugged by MI5

MI5 secretly planted bugs in 10 Downing Street despite repeated official denials and they remained in place for more than 10 years during the tenure of five prime ministers.

The disclosure was to have been included in the official history of MI5 by the Cambridge historian, Christopher Andrew, published last year to mark the agency’s 100th anniversary. It is believed to have been suppressed by senior Whitehall officials to protect the “public interest”.

Is there anyone other than patent leather demagogues still giving credence to that specious defense?

Bugs are understood to have been placed in the cabinet room, the waiting room, and the prime minister’s study, at the request of Harold Macmillan in July 1963. They remained there until James Callaghan removed them in 1977…

The bugs were installed at Macmillan’s request in July 1963, a month after John Profumo, secretary of state for war, resigned over the Christine Keeler affair. It is possible Macmillan wanted to make sure no other ministers or officials were involved. MI5 was in close contact with Macmillan during the scandal.

The bugs are understood to have been removed after Macmillan left office but were reinstalled by his successor, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who was concerned about Soviet spies. They remained during the period in office of his successors, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. It is unclear whether they knew about the bugs…

Andrew suggests that ministers were more concerned about “subversive” colleagues or MPs than MI5 ever was.

Sounds as if the Brits maintained a strain of paranoia, a fear of free thought, equal to anything that afflicted the diseased politics of Richard Nixon or J.Edgar Hoover.

D.I.Y. Culture

It wasn’t so many years ago that Europeans loved to moan about American culture overrunning homegrown art forms…

That was then…

Something has changed, and it’s not just that Barack Obama has replaced George W. Bush or, in France’s case, that the film industry is doing O.K.

It’s a widening realization, I think, that globalism, beyond banking, climate change and warfare, has always been a dubious concept, a misleading catchall for how the world supposedly works, to which culture, in its increasing complexity, gives the lie…

Culture means many things in this context, but at heart it is a suite of traits we inherit and also choose to disavow or to stress. It consists in part of the arts. It is something made and consumed, in socially revealing ways…Bricolage, it’s called. Anyone may now pick through the marketplace of global culture.

This may sound like the essence of globalization, but the fact that everybody from Yerevan to Brasilia, Jakarta to Jerusalem, knows songs by the Black Eyed Peas or wears New York Yankees caps doesn’t mean that culture is the same everywhere…

Partly the problem with globalization has always been that the term, culturally speaking, is so vague. In one respect, it’s another word for empire, or at least its effects are as old as empire. What’s new is the power available to wide swaths of the populace, thanks above all to cheap travel and the Web, to become actors in the production and dissemination of culture, not simply consumers. A generation or more ago, aside from what people did in their home or from what’s roughly called folk or outsider art, culture was generally thought of as something handed down from on high, which the public received.

I discount the cheap travel to some extent. Nations and societies defined by their poverty only scrape together the wherewithal for travel to get to a marketplace – to buy or sell. But, life at home can be enhanced by the cheapest mobile phone – and that is beginning to provide access to the Web.

That provides an opening, a doorway, to other cultures that people are more and more willing to step through.

And it needn’t be a diminishing experience. Doors swing both ways. As long as they’re open, two-way traffic remains possible, even tempting.

RTFA. Long, detailed, check out your own conclusions.

Taipei’s plastic bottle pavilion

A Taiwan company has built a three-storey exhibition hall using 1.5 million plastic bottles instead of bricks to raise interest in recycling, creating what the builder described as a world-first.

Far Eastern Group, a Taiwan-based conglomerate known for construction and financial services, commissioned the 130 meter long, 26 meter high structure almost three years ago and will donate it next month to the city government.

Builders took bottles from Taiwan’s waste stream for reprocessing into plastic containers that interlock strongly enough to block the elements and withstand storms or earthquakes, said Arthur Huang, managing director of the contractor Miniwiz Sustainable Energy Development Ltd.

No one else in the world had built an exhibition hall with walls made entirely of bottles, he said.

The pavilion, dubbed the EcoARK, includes an amphitheatre, museum space and a screen of falling water collected during rainy periods for air conditioning. The clear plastic containers in the wall allow natural light to flood the cavernous interior.

Just a single example of what can be constructed from society’s leftovers.

I’ve worked on similar projects here in the United States. This ain’t rocket science, folks. It just takes a willingness to innovate and make do with sensible technology vs. what has become the American ethic, e.g., Cheap is What Counts!.

There really is a difference between smart shopping vs. cheaping out.

Toyota Prius minivan coming in 2011

We’ve been hearing the rumors for over a year, and it’s now looking increasingly likely that Toyota is getting ready to launch a new hybrid minivan that will wear the Prius nameplate. If true, this would be the first completely new vehicle added to the Prius stable, where it would join the well-known hatchback sometime in 2011.

According to Reuters (which is citing the Japanese Nikkei), this new Prius hybrid minivan may very well be the first such vehicle from Toyota equipped with an in-house developed lithium ion battery pack. The three-row vehicle, which we can only presume would also have sliding doors, would potentially seat up to seven people, expanding Toyota’s hybrid technology further into the family-use market.

No other details are available other than the notion that Toyota would like to keep the price close to that of standard minivans currently on the market.

This is the concept car Toyota just showed in Geneva. No doubt a production version would have a higher roofline and a tad more ground clearance. Perhaps, all-wheel-drive and a longer cabin. All mods which would reduce mileage a bit.

But, not a bad idea.

Online sites win journalism firsts at Pulitzers

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

ProPublica, in an historic first for online journalism, won a coveted Pulitzer Prize…for investigative reporting about controversial deaths at a New Orleans medical center following Hurricane Katrina.

The chronicle of decisions by doctors caring for patients stranded by the flood, written by Sheri Fink of ProPublica in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine, marked the first time an online service won a top journalism award given annually by the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University.

The nonprofit ProPublica is considered by some to be a new model for journalism as struggling for-profit outlets have fewer resources to put toward investigative reporting. The Times magazine published the Hurricane Katrina piece.

“This is something we’re going to see more of in the years ahead as there’s more and more collaboration of news entities when it comes to enterprise journalism,” Sig Gissler, administrator of the prizes, said in announcing the winners.

In another online first,, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, won for editorial cartooning. The award for the animated cartoons by Mark Fiore marked the first time an Internet-based entry won in that category.


Though the standards for the Pulitzer are high enough, the time it has taken for online journalism to be considered is mostly legit. Even if geeks don’t think so.