Unique camel haircuts competition – Bikaner, India

Every year, the desert city of Bikaner, in India’s state of Rajasthan, hosts one of the most colorful events in the world – the Bikaner Camel Festival. Home to the only camel breeding farm in India, and one of the largest such farms in all of Asia, it’s only natural this city should have a festival dedicated to the useful humped animal. The popular event takes place over two days, in January, and draws in camel breeders from all over Rajasthan, as well as tourists from all around the world. This homage to camels includes various events, from camel races and rides, to camel haircut competitions and even a camel beauty pageant.

Although many of the thousands of visitors who flock to Bikaner for the desert festival eagerly await the camel races that take place during the second day, I for one found the shearing and beauty contests the most fascinating. In the shearing competition, artists wielding sharp scissors transform their camels into breathing works of art, by shaving their coats to make room for traditional Indian patterns. For the beauty contest, most breeders adorn their camels with colorful accessories to attract the attention of the judges, but don’t be surprised if you see some humped ones wearing make-up, as well…

Situated in the heart of the Indian desert belt, Bikaner has always been a hard place to reach, and before motor vehicles became available, the people of these land depended on camels for their transportation. In fact, the camels of this region were famous for their endurance, strength and beauty.

RTFA and look at the array of beautiful camel haircuts. Beautiful, creative.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

New Jersey mall cop orders Muslim woman to remove veil

A woman shopping at a New Jersey mall said Saturday that she was shocked when a security guard told her to take off her niqab, the traditional face veil worn by some Muslim women.

Wakeelah Salaam, born in the U.S. and raised Muslim, told WABC Ch. 7 Eyewitness News she felt threatened after the same guard at Bridgewater Commons mall approached her twice.

“He said, Maam, I’m telling you, you cannot wear that mask in here,” Salaam told ABC. Salaam said she felt so uncomfortable she eventually called the police. After speaking to police, she left the mall…

Salaam regularly wears a face covering, a hijab, or headscarf, and a long dress in public, leaving only her eyes exposed…Some women choose to wear the scarf so men don’t judge them by their appearance…

She said she’s worn the niqab to court and to visit a relative in prison without complaint, so was surprised by the security guards actions.

Later, an executive from the company that runs security at the mall called Salaam to apologize.

Our security guard has received additional training in cultural diversity, said the spokesperson. “We respect her right to dress according to her religious beliefs.”

Salaam told ABC she appreciated the apology, but would probably choose a different mall to shop at in the future.

What is there to say? You can come with snappy little jokes about mall cops and nuns, Hassidic Jews, whatever. The company providing security guards did a lousy job at hiring or training or both. This is, after all, supposed to be the United States of America in the 21st Century.

The Obama spending binge that never happened

Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree. As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”

Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.

Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has. Here are the facts, according to the official government statistics:

• In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.

• In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.

• In fiscal 2011, spending rose 4.3% to $3.60 trillion.

• In fiscal 2012, spending is set to rise 0.7% to $3.63 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the budget that was agreed to last August.

• Finally in fiscal 2013 — the final budget of Obama’s term — spending is scheduled to fall 1.3% to $3.58 trillion. Read the CBO’s latest budget outlook.

Over Obama’s four budget years, federal spending is on track to rise from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion, an annualized increase of just 0.4%.

What people forget (or never knew) is that the first year of every presidential term starts with a budget approved by the previous administration and Congress. The president only begins to shape the budget in his second year. It takes time to develop a budget and steer it through Congress — especially in these days of congressional gridlock.

The 2009 fiscal year, which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama moved into the White House. The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress.

Republicans who aren’t in the Kool Aid Party Ignorance Patrol know enough to activate Keynesian remedies while plunging into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The crap about dribble-down economics may keep meatballs like David Stockman in royalties from book sales at Koch Bros. jamborees – but, when push comes to economic shove, keeping the unemployed from storming the Wall Street Bastille or the Congressional Clown Show requires doing things that actually work.

The Wall Street Journal – the owners of Marketwatch – have a responsibility to provide legit numbers to their subscribers as often as possible. A certain amount of Heritage Foundation agitprop is always icing on the reality cake and the transfer of power to Rupert Murdoch layered the frosting of rightwing lies a bit thicker. But, they can’t afford to dump reality altogether in the face of competition which ain’t about to disappear.

Republicans and the Mittster will crank up Rove-ish lies about these facts as much as they can. And don’t kid yourselves – they know they will be lying. They are part of that investing class the WSJ wants to keep as subscribers. They know this is the real deal. But, ideology is dearer to Tea Party Republicans than to an infomercial peddler offering you abs of titanium from 2 double-A batteries and a patented whirligig.

China crackdown on ID theft – over 1700 arrests in a month

Beijing authorities have arrested 160 individuals on charges of stealing personal information, according to the Chinese news site Sina. Police have also shut down 13 online platforms that were alleged to have traded in stolen personal information. It follows the arrest of 1,700 suspects in China on similar charges last month.

The raids are part of an ongoing crackdown on online identity theft in the country.

In a co-ordinated raid, 400 police homed in on 10 districts including Dongcheng, Xicheng and Chaoyang to make the arrests.

The suspects are believed to have registered fake commercial consultancies and legal affairs research firms. They are also accused of illegally using professional spying equipment to obtain large volumes of personal and company information. It is claimed the details were then sold for a profit.

A Beijing-based lawyer is among those detained. Sina reports that he had been the subject of a police investigation since October 2009. It said the suspect had been identified while using an online chat program. He is alleged to have told a lawyers’ group that it could be “profitable” to pass on company information.

Sina reported that he had subsequently searched for clients online and had obtained documents from Beijing’s Industry and Commerce Department, with the help of a fake introduction letter from the law firm he worked at.

The news site said it was believed that he went on to recruit other lawyers to obtain further information from local businesses, and raised more than 40,000 yuan ($6,310) from selling it on.

Some of the script kiddies sell essential stolen information for as little a $1 a pop at Chinese sites. Always nice to see authorities in any nation make this part of their daily practice.

“Yes, it does feel the same…”

For decades at the White House, photographs of the president at work and at play have hung throughout the West Wing, and each print soon gives way to a more recent shot. But one picture of President Obama remains after three years.

In the photo, Mr. Obama looks to be bowing to a sharply dressed 5-year-old black boy, who stands erect beside the Oval Office desk, his arm raised to touch the president’s hair — to see if it feels like his. The image has struck so many White House aides and visitors that by popular demand it stays put while others come and go…

The boy in the picture is Jacob Philadelphia of Columbia, Md. Three years ago this month, his father, Carlton, a former Marine, was leaving the White House staff after a two-year stint on the National Security Council that began in the Bush administration. As departing staff members often do, Mr. Philadelphia asked for a family photograph with Mr. Obama.

When the pictures were taken and the family was about to leave, Mr. Philadelphia told Mr. Obama that his sons each had a question. In interviews, he and his wife, Roseane, said they did not know what the boys would ask. The White House photographer, Pete Souza, was surprised, too, as the photo’s awkward composition attests: The parents’ heads are cut off; Jacob’s arm obscures his face; and his older brother, Isaac, is blurry…

“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.

Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.

“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.

As Jacob patted the presidential crown, Mr. Souza snapped.

“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.

“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said

“As a photographer, you know when you have a unique moment. But I didn’t realize the extent to which this one would take on a life of its own,” Mr. Souza said. “That one became an instant favorite of the staff. I think people are struck by the fact that the president of the United States was willing to bend down and let a little boy feel his head.”

One of the best things photography can do – capturing a tiny moment in time and life that says a great deal about our lives. I love the fact that Pete Souza – and the president – decided to leave it uncropped, raw. Though I can never resist the urge to tailor my own photos at least a little bit.

FBI has established a surveillance unit for the Web — and you!


You think we’re going to do what to protect the Bill of Rights?

CNET has learned that the FBI has formed a Domestic Communications Assistance Center, which is tasked with developing new electronic surveillance technologies, including intercepting Internet, wireless, and VoIP communications…

The establishment of the Quantico, Va.-based unit, which is also staffed by agents from the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency, is a response to technological developments that FBI officials believe outpace law enforcement’s ability to listen in on private communications…

DCAC’s mandate is broad, covering everything from trying to intercept and decode Skype conversations to building custom wiretap hardware or analyzing the gigabytes of data that a wireless provider or social network might turn over in response to a court order. It’s also designed to serve as a kind of surveillance help desk for state, local, and other federal police.

The center represents the technological component of the bureau’s “Going Dark” Internet wiretapping push, which was allocated $54 million by a Senate committee last month. The legal component is no less important: as CNET reported on May 4, the FBI wants Internet companies not to oppose a proposed law that would require social-networks and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail to build in backdoors for government surveillance…

“The big question for me is why there isn’t more transparency about what’s going on?” asks Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group in San Francisco. “We should know more about the program and what the FBI is doing. Which carriers they’re working with — which carriers they’re having problems with. They’re doing the best they can to avoid being transparent…”

Eventually, the FBI may be forced to lift the cloak of secrecy that has surrounded the DCAC’s creation. On May 2, a House of Representatives committee directed the bureau to disclose “participation by other agencies and the accomplishments of the center to date” three months after the legislation is enacted.

How hard does anyone think the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will “push” the FBI towards transparency?

If there’s a singularly outstanding characteristic of the rightwing creeps currently infesting Congress it is their hypocrisy about individual freedoms, the liberty guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. All you need is one fart escaping the anus of American politics and attracts the attention of Homeland Security – then rallying around the flag of repression immediately takes precedence over civil liberties.

Lots of details in the article. But, then, CNET is already being watched through heavy lenses, anyway. As would be the Electronic Frontier Foundation and anyone else subversive enough to believe in free speech, free thought.

Phony dying bride ordered to repay those she swindled


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A New York bride who faked having terminal cancer to swindle well-wishers into funding her dream wedding and honeymoon to the Caribbean on Wednesday was ordered to repay more than $13,000 to her victims…

Jessica Vega, 25, pleaded guilty last month to fraud and forgery charges for deceiving people in the Hudson Valley area of New York into thinking she had only a few months to live, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. Moved by her tale, individuals and businesses donated thousands of dollars to pay for her wedding in May 2010 and her honeymoon in Aruba.

Her scheme unraveled after her husband, Michael O’Connell, contacted the Times Herald-Record in Orange County to say his bride had faked her illness. He was not charged, and the couple have since divorced, although the Times Herald-Record reported he was there to pick her up from jail on Wednesday.

“To prey on people’s emotions by pretending to have a terminal illness is unconscionable,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement. “I am pleased that the community members, who felt so compelled to generously help a neighbor in need, will be given back their hard-earned money.”

Besides repaying $13,368.48 to her victims, Vega was sentenced to time already served in jail, must do 300 hours of community service and serve five years on probation. She spent eight weeks in jail before her release on Wednesday.

I hope her community service is dedicated to those truly stricken with life-threatening illness.