Saturday, October 31, 2009

'Myth-busting' Coke adverts get busted

Daniella Miletic
April 3, 2009 - 12:00AM

THE advertising industry has come under fire for failing to act on controversial claims that Coca-Cola does not make people fat or rot their teeth — claims the national consumer regulator has now ruled were "totally unacceptable".

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission yesterday ordered Coca-Cola to publish corrections in newspapers around the country over its "motherhood and myth-busting" campaign last year, which featured high-profile Australian actress Kerry Armstrong.

In the print advertisements, which ran in October last year, a smiling Ms Armstrong extolled the virtues of Coca-Cola.

"As a mum, I am often bombarded with conflicting messages about food and drinks — one day something is good for you and the next it's bad and that can be confusing … Now that I have found out what's myth and what isn't, it's good to know that our family can continue to enjoy one of our favourite drinks.

"My boys now call me mum, the myth-buster!"

When contacted by The Age yesterday, Ms Armstrong had less to say: "The campaign that I did has passed and gone and I haven't made any comment yet nor am I going to because there were things that happened that were way out of my control as well," she said.

The ACCC found the advertisements had the potential to mislead consumers by suggesting Coca-Cola could not contribute to weight gain, obesity or tooth decay.

It also ruled misleading the claim that 250ml of Diet Coca-Cola contained half the amount of caffeine as that in the same sized cup of tea. "The people in our office that looked at it … didn't have to look too closely to raise a sceptical eyebrow," ACCC boss Graeme Samuel said. "I think it was also pretty obvious to Coke. Despite their statements … they recognise that they overstepped the mark, that they had entered into the territory of misleading and deceiving consumers."

Coca-Cola South Pacific's managing director Gareth Edgecombe said in a statement that the advertisement was intended to "help balance the debate".

"We certainly did not intend our message to be misleading and we have been working with the ACCC to address its concerns," he said.

Late last year the industry-funded Advertising Standards Bureau dismissed similar complaints about the "myth-busting" campaign because, among other reasons, it did not promote "excessive consumption" and included extra detail about dental hygiene.

Health and dental groups applauded the ACCC's crackdown on the Coca-Cola campaign, while consumer advocates said it highlighted the failure of the advertising industry to effectively regulate itself.

"It just really underlined that (advertisers) are out of line with community standards," Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn said. "Advertisers are the people who are meant to keep their fingers on the pulse of society, but we would argue that in terms of junk food advertising they are just way out of step."

But the advertising industry defended its standards.

"We have a very efficient self-regulatory system for advertising here where any person in the community can send a complaint to us," ASB boss Fiona Jolly said.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/national/mythbusting-coke-adverts-get-busted-20090402-9l5e.html

Friday, October 30, 2009


Times Online Logo 222 x 25

October 30, 2009

Pakistan Army picks up trail of al-Qaeda operative wanted for 9/11

Pakistani soldiers observe from a mountain during an operation organised by the army

(Faisal Mahmood/Reuters)

Pakistani soldiers observe from a mountain during an operation organised by the army at the Sherwangi Tor village in South Waziristan

Pakistani troops fighting Islamist militants in the mountains of South Waziristan have picked up the trail of a leading al-Qaeda figure wanted in connection with the attacks on America on September 11, 2001.

The Times was shown yesterday the German passport of Said Bahaji, a close associate of the September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. The army said that it found the passport and other documents in a mud compound in the village of Shawangai.

The documents, which show that Bahaji, 34, has been in Pakistan since early September 2001, appear to provide the strongest evidence yet of a direct link between Pakistani militants and al-Qaeda’s high command.

The army said that the village, captured this week in the latest effort to drive out militants who have been extending their operations ever closer to the capital, Islamabad, served as al-Qaeda’s command base. The Times saw documents showing the recent presence of other European citizens.

The battle for Shawangai lasted several days. “They were ferocious fighters and we had to battle hard to capture the village,” Lieutenant-Colonel Inam Rashid, the commanding officer who led the assault, said. His men had killed some of the militants but many others had escaped. Bahaji’s fate was unknown.

Another officer said: “We do not know whether he was killed or fled.”

Bahaji, a German citizen born to a Moroccan father and German mother, briefly served with the German Army before coming into contact with al-Qaeda. He was part of the Hamburg cell, sharing an apartment in 2001 with Mohammed Atta and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks.

The passport showed that Bahaji arrived in Karachi on September 4, 2001. A senior Pakistani investigator said that he was accompanied by Abdullah Husayni, a Belgian, and Ammar Moula, an Algerian with a French passport. Both were closely linked with al-Qaeda.

There was no indication that Bahaji ever left Pakistan. Pakistani investigators said that he stayed in Karachi in a hotel for several days where he was in contact with al-Qaeda members. He is believed to have moved to South Waziristan in 2002. The militants have been gathering strength in the region ever since.

Yesterday the mountains around Shawangai echoed to the sound of artillery fire as the army laid siege to the town of Kaniguram about 12 miles away. “It is going to be a tough fight but we will drive them out in the next few days,” Brigadier Ihsan Ullah said.

Kaniguram, with a population of 90,000 before the offensive, is considered a significant militant fortress. It sits at the centre of a network of roads leading to far-flung corners of the tribal region. Almost the entire population has fled. The town is under the control of the hardline Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, whose leader, Tahir Yuldashev, was killed in a US drone attack last month.

Officers said that about 1,500 Uzbek fighters were entrenched in Kaniguram. “They would fight to the death,” Major-General Khalid Rabbani, the regional commander, said.

The capture of the town could clear the way for troops to advance towards Saragoha, another key militant base.

More than 30,000 Pakistani forces backed by F16 jets launched an offensive this month to flush out al-Qaeda and Taleban militants from their stronghold in South Waziristan after a series of terrorist attacks across the country.

The government troops have made significant advances, capturing key areas such as Kotkai, the home town of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taleban movement.

This is the army’s third campaign in South Waziristan. The last two in 2004 and 2007 ended in failure, forcing the authorities to sign a peace deal with the militants that analysts say turned the area into an al-Qaeda and Taleban base.

Officers have vowed that this time they will not stop until the region is cleared of the militants.

The fighting has forced about 200,000 people from the battle zone, creating a humanitarian crisis as civilians try to escape before the harsh winter. A US-based rights group warned of a “catastrophe” if aid was not allowed in to help civilians trapped in the area.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement yesterday that the Pakistani authorities should ensure that civilians who could not escape the fighting had access to basic necessities.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Work by Jason Steven Williams ("Revok")

$15,340 damage: A train tagged by Jason Steven Williams ("Revok"). Source: Herald Sun

Suspended jail term for US graffiti artist Jason Steven Williams, aka Revok

AN American who graffitied Melbourne buildings and posted pictures of his work on his webpage has been handed a suspended jail sentence but ordered to pay more than $15,000 in damages.

American artist Jason Steven Williams - known by his tag "Revok'' - caused $15,340 damage to Melbourne buildings, bridges and trains in just two weeks.

The 32-year-old was arrested as he tried to fly home to Los Angeles last night - after boasting of his exploits on Twitter and posting photos of his handiwork online.

"I'm going to paint as much as I can then get the f.. out of here,'' he Tweeted.

But graffiti devotees weren't the only ones following his antics - and Victorian police pounced after reading his post,''on my way to the airport... can't get on that plane fast enough!!!"

"I guess I shouldn't have talked about that on my way to the airport, huh?'' he joked as he walked from court today.

And he says in a YouTube video about his work that he had "gone to jail I don't know how many times''.A celebrity in the world of illegal street art, Williams made headlines in his home town last year when he was arrested for vandalism.

But Melbourne Magistrates' Court heard he had no convictions - a matter the magistrate took into account in handing him a suspended jail term.

He was in town for a legal graffiti competition but when the event was cancelled he instead defaced train carriages, bridges, walls and the side of St Vincent's Hospital.

Williams said he was sorry for the trail of destruction.

"I feel very remorseful,'' he said. "I came here, I did some stuff, maybe I did a few things I shouldn't have done.

"I apologise to the court and to Melbourne."

His lawyer Anna Balmer said Williams was a passionate artist whose future exhibitions had been jeopardised by his crimes.

She said he had "painted himself into a very uncomfortable corner" and had acted immaturely.

Ms Balmer said Williams would pay for the damage. He pleaded guilty to nine counts of criminal damage.

Magistrate Ian von Einem said he took into account Williams's plea of guilty and his lack of convictions.

Mr von Einem said graffiti put off tourists and Williams's actions set back his own efforts to legitimise graffiti as art.

He said a jail term would act as a deterrent to others and imposed a nine-month sentence suspended for two years.

He also ordered that he forfeit his iPhone, laptop and camera.

Isherwood: “What aren’t you telling us, Treasury Secretary Henry?”

Citizens Electoral Council leader Craig Isherwood today accused Treasury Secretary Ken Henry of lying to the Australian people, by talking the economy up, and promising five decades of prosperity, when he knows it is about to come crashing down.

“Dr Henry is lying, because he knows that any supposed ‘boom’ in the 22-million-person economy of Australia, is about to be swamped by the bankruptcy of the United States, and the collapse of the U.S. dollar,” Mr Isherwood said.

“He’s enthusiastic to talk up the Australian economy, to suck people back in to the markets and into buying property and into debt, but when he was questioned about the implications of a U.S. debt default, he refused to come clean.”

Dr Henry was questioned in a Senate estimates hearing on 21st October by Senator Joyce about the implications for the Australian economy with a U.S. debt default, and Dr Henry refused to reply, saying it could alarm the community:

As reported in The Age, 23rd October, Dr Henry said, “I don’t mind discussing hypotheticals in general … [but] one has to be careful not to discuss publicly hypotheticals that are that extreme,” he said. “I don’t, myself, consider that outcome to be a high probability outcome, certainly not one that I would want to say much about in a public forum.” [emphasis added]

Mr Isherwood pointed out that Dr Henry knows the recovery/boom in the Australian economy is a sham, propped up by an enormous increase in public debt, the federal government’s guarantee of Australia’s banks, which owe $643 billion overseas that they couldn’t pay last October, and China’s swap of increasingly worthless U.S. dollars for Australian resources.

The CEC reported a fortnight ago the advanced state of bankruptcy of the U.S. economy,” he said. “If the U.S. defaults on its sovereign debt that will totally collapse the dollar, bankrupt China, and trigger a chain reaction collapse worldwide.

“Dr Henry and the Rudd government are lying, because they are committed to the monetarist globalisation policies that caused the crisis, even as it sets to take Australia down with it.

“The only hope is what the CEC is working with U.S. statesman and physical economist Lyndon LaRouche to achieve—a ‘Four Power’ agreement between the U.S., Russia, China and India, which the rest of the world can then join, to replace the failed monetarist system of globalisation, with a credit system to reconstruct the world economy.”

Mr Isherwood concluded, “This month’s historic agreement between Russia and China is a very significant first step towards such an agreement, and it is already working to support the U.S. dollar, and save the world from bankruptcy.”

Outrage as terrorist game lets players massacre civilians

Asher Moses
October 29, 2009 - 3:21PM

A prominent children's lobby group is calling on the Government to review its decision to classify as suitable for 15-year-olds an upcoming video game that allows players to assume the role of a terrorist and shoot innocent civilians in an airport.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a highly realistic shooter title due for release on November 10, is one of the most anticipated games of the year. Its predecessor, Modern Warfare, sold more than 14 million copies worldwide and garnered a slew of "game of the year" awards.

But the game has sparked controversy after leaked footage revealed that, in one of the missions, players can join a group of Russian ultranationalist terrorists and massacre civilians with assault weapons in an airport.

The mission effectively simulates a terrorist attack from a first-person view.

Even gaming publications have expressed concern, with GameSpot saying the scene is "reminiscent of last year's mass killings in Mumbai".

The Classification Board gave the game - available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC - an MA15+ rating this month. Australia is one of the only Western democracies without an adult (R18+) rating for video games.

Jane Roberts, president of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, called on the Classification Board to review its rating decision.

She said even if the game maintained an MA15+ rating it would still be easily accessible by people under 15.

"The consequences of terrorism are just abhorrent in our community and yet here we are with a product that's meant to be passed off as a leisure time activity, actually promoting what most world leaders speak out publicly against," said Roberts, who is also the principal policy officer in Western Australia's Department of Premier and Cabinet.

"We understand that it's a game but ... we're not far off when you look at the images that you could actually put it on a Channel Nine news report and you'd think maybe that is real.

"If that material was on the internet about how to become a terrorist, how to join a group and how to wipe out people - that would be removed because it would not be acceptable."

One of Australia's most ardent campaigners against violent video games and the main reason this country lacks an R18+ rating, South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, said: "Expecting game designers to be responsible by not glorifying terrorism will always lead to disappointment."

Activision, the game's publisher, and its lawyers, have been working frantically to remove all traces of the footage from the web, arguing that it was released illegally before the game had come out. But the company has confirmed the footage is authentic and that the mission is part of the game.

In the report accompanying its decision to give the game an MA15+ rating, the Classification Board said that in the scene: "Several civilians are shot with blood burst bullet wounds; civilian corpses are strewn across the airport floor, often in stylised pools of blood; injured civilians crawl away with lengthy blood trails behind them."

But the Board noted that no post mortem damage can be inflicted on victims and, in other missions in the game, killing a civilian results in mission failure.

Activision said in a statement that the footage was "not representative of the overall gameplay experience". It said players could choose not to play the scene if they found it too confronting.

"Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 features a deep and gripping storyline in which players face off against a terrorist threat dedicated to bringing the world to the brink of collapse," Activision said.

"The game includes a plot involving a mission carried out by a Russian villain who wants to trigger a global war. In order to defeat him, the player infiltrates his inner circle. The scene is designed to evoke the atrocities of terrorism."

Nicholas Suzor, spokesman for the lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said the incident highlighted the need for an R18+ rating for video games.

But he did not believe a video game could breed terrorism. He said previous games such as Counter-Strike have allowed players to assume the role of terrorists.

"Films often show the villain's perspective and, by doing that, they get across the character's story and the heinous nature of people who carry out atrocities. Games, too, are becoming more expressive, and are telling more involved stories," Suzor said.

"We may make an argument that these sorts of topics are not suitable for children, but I don't at all accept that it is unsuitable for adults."

A spokesman for the Classification Board said the Board could not review its own decisions and anyone who wanted the decision reviewed would have to apply to the Classification Review Board.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/games/outrage-as-terrorist-game-lets-players-massacre-civilians-20091029-hmey.html

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009 from the New York Times

Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll

This article is by Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen.

KABUL, AfghanistanAhmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban.

More broadly, some American officials argue that the reliance on Ahmed Wali Karzai, the most powerful figure in a large area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency is strongest, undermines the American push to develop an effective central government that can maintain law and order and eventually allow the United States to withdraw.

“If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the senior American military intelligence official in Afghanistan.

Ahmed Wali Karzai said in an interview that he cooperated with American civilian and military officials, but did not engage in the drug trade and did not receive payments from the C.I.A.

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists. On at least one occasion, the strike force has been accused of mounting an unauthorized operation against an official of the Afghan government, the officials said.

Mr. Karzai is also paid for allowing the C.I.A. and American Special Operations troops to rent a large compound outside the city — the former home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s founder. The same compound is also the base of the Kandahar Strike Force. “He’s our landlord,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai also helps the C.I.A. communicate with and sometimes meet with Afghans loyal to the Taliban. Mr. Karzai’s role as a go-between between the Americans and the Taliban is now regarded as valuable by those who support working with Mr. Karzai, as the Obama administration is placing a greater focus on encouraging Taliban leaders to change sides.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

Some American officials said that the allegations of Mr. Karzai’s role in the drug trade were not conclusive.

“There’s no proof of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s involvement in drug trafficking, certainly nothing that would stand up in court,” said one American official familiar with the intelligence. “And you can’t ignore what the Afghan government has done for American counterterrorism efforts.”

At the start of the Afghan war, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, American officials paid warlords with questionable backgrounds to help topple the Taliban and maintain order with relatively few American troops committed to fight in the country. But as the Taliban has become resurgent and the war has intensified, Americans have increasingly viewed a strong and credible central government as crucial to turning back the Taliban’s advances.

Now, with more American lives on the line, the relationship with Mr. Karzai is setting off anger and frustration among American military officers and other officials in the Obama administration. They say that Mr. Karzai’s suspected role in the drug trade, as well as what they describe as the mafialike way that he lords over southern Afghanistan, makes him a malevolent force.

These military and political officials say the evidence, though largely circumstantial, suggests strongly that Mr. Karzai has enriched himself by helping the illegal trade in poppy and opium to flourish. The assessment of these military and senior officials in the Obama administration dovetails with that of senior officials in the Bush administration.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in drug money are flowing through the southern region, and nothing happens in southern Afghanistan without the regional leadership knowing about it,” a senior American military officer in Kabul said. Like most of the officials in this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the information.

“If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” the American officer said of Mr. Karzai. “Our assumption is that he’s benefiting from the drug trade.”

American officials say that Afghanistan’s opium trade, the largest in the world, directly threatens the stability of the Afghan state, by providing a large percentage of the money the Taliban needs for its operations, and also by corrupting Afghan public officials to help the trade flourish.

The Obama administration has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the drug lords who are believed to permeate the highest levels of President Karzai’s administration. They have pressed him to move his brother out of southern Afghanistan, but he has so far refused to do so.

Other Western officials pointed to evidence that Ahmed Wali Karzai orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of phony ballots for his brother’s re-election effort in August. He is also believed to have been responsible for setting up dozens of so-called ghost polling stations — existing only on paper — that were used to manufacture tens of thousands of phony ballots.

“The only way to clean up Chicago is to get rid of Capone,” General Flynn said.

In the interview in which he denied a role in the drug trade or taking money from the C.I.A., Ahmed Wali Karzai said he received regular payments from his brother, the president, for “expenses,” but said he did not know where the money came from. He has, among other things, introduced Americans to insurgents considering changing sides. And he has given the Americans intelligence, he said. But he said he was not compensated for that assistance.

“I don’t know anyone under the name of the C.I.A.,” Mr. Karzai said. “I have never received any money from any organization. I help, definitely. I help other Americans wherever I can. This is my duty as an Afghan.”

Mr. Karzai acknowledged that the C.I.A. and Special Operations troops stayed at Mullah Omar’s old compound. And he acknowledged that the Kandahar Strike Force was based there. But he said he had no involvement with them.

A former C.I.A. officer with experience in Afghanistan said the agency relied heavily on Ahmed Wali Karzai, and often based covert operatives at compounds he owned. Any connections Mr. Karzai might have had to the drug trade mattered little to C.I.A. officers focused on counterterrorism missions, the officer said.

“Virtually every significant Afghan figure has had brushes with the drug trade,” he said. “If you are looking for Mother Teresa, she doesn’t live in Afghanistan.”

The debate over Ahmed Wali Karzai, which began when President Obama took office in January, intensified in June, when the C.I.A.’s local paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, shot and killed Kandahar’s provincial police chief, Matiullah Qati, in a still-unexplained shootout at the office of a local prosecutor.

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Qati’s death remain shrouded in mystery. It is unclear, for instance, if any agency operatives were present — but officials say the firefight broke out when Mr. Qati tried to block the strike force from freeing the brother of a task force member who was being held in custody.

“Matiullah was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr. Karzai said in the interview.

Counternarcotics officials have repeatedly expressed frustration over the unwillingness of senior policy makers in Washington to take action against Mr. Karzai — or even begin a serious investigation of the allegations against him. In fact, they say that while other Afghans accused of drug involvement are investigated and singled out for raids or even rendition to the United States, Mr. Karzai has seemed immune from similar scrutiny.

For years, first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration have said that the Taliban benefits from the drug trade, and the United States military has recently expanded its target list to include drug traffickers with ties to the insurgency. The military has generated a list of 50 top drug traffickers tied to the Taliban who can now be killed or captured.

Senior Afghan investigators say they know plenty about Mr. Karzai’s involvement in the drug business. In an interview in Kabul this year, a top former Afghan Interior Ministry official familiar with Afghan counternarcotics operations said that a major source of Mr. Karzai’s influence over the drug trade was his control over key bridges crossing the Helmand River on the route between the opium growing regions of Helmand Province and Kandahar.

The former Interior Ministry official said that Mr. Karzai was able to charge huge fees to drug traffickers to allow their drug-laden trucks to cross the bridges.

But the former officials said it was impossible for Afghan counternarcotics officials to investigate Mr. Karzai. “This government has become a factory for the production of Talibs because of corruption and injustice,” the former official said.

Some American counternarcotics officials have said they believe that Mr. Karzai has expanded his influence over the drug trade, thanks in part to American efforts to single out other drug lords.

In debriefing notes from Drug Enforcement Administration interviews in 2006 of Afghan informants obtained by The New York Times, one key informant said that Ahmed Wali Karzai had benefited from the American operation that lured Hajji Bashir Noorzai, a major Afghan drug lord during the time that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, to New York in 2005. Mr. Noorzai was convicted on drug and conspiracy charges in New York in 2008, and was sentenced to life in prison this year.

Habibullah Jan, a local military commander and later a member of Parliament from Kandahar, told the D.E.A. in 2006 that Mr. Karzai had teamed with Haji Juma Khan to take over a portion of the Noorzai drug business after Mr. Noorzai’s arrest.

Dexter Filkins reported from Kabul, and Mark Mazzetti and James Risen from Washington. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.

In Deadliest Month, 53 U.S. Troops Die in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — Eight Americans died in combat in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, bringing October’s total to 53 and making it the deadliest month for Americans in the eight-year war. September and October were both deadlier months overall for NATO troops.

The troops, along with an Afghan civilian accompanying them, were killed in several attacks involving “multiple, complex” improvised bombs, according to a statement from the NATO-led coalition.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said that Taliban in Zabul Province were responsible. He said they had blown up two armored vehicles carrying the troops. He also said that the Taliban had engaged in a fierce firefight lasting more than a half-hour with Afghan police in Zabul and killed eight officers. His report could not be verified because the American military is with-holding additional information until the families of the dead had been notified.

On Oct. 26, two incidents involving helicopter crashes resulted in the death of eleven American troops and three drug enforcement agents, but hostile fire was almost certainly not a factor in those cases, according to a military spokesman.

The October toll of 53 American soldiers killed exceeds that of August, when 51 died, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks military losses in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The United States has been increasing the number of soldiers and marines in Afghanistan and many have gone into some of the toughest areas of the country. Southern Afghanistan has been the most contested ground with both locally-based insurgents and fighters that cross the border from Pakistan.

“A loss like this is extremely difficult for the families as well as for those who served alongside these brave service members,” said Capt. Jane Campbell of the Navy, a spokeswoman for the international troops.

The mounting casualties come as President Barack Obama is deliberating over whether to send more troops to Afghanistan and whether to undertake a full counter-insurgency strategy, which requires a larger commitment of resources. The American public is split on whether to put more troops in harm’s way.

Also on Tuesday, the American and NATO-led forces said an Army plane that had been missing since Oct. 13 was found with the remains of three civilian crew members on Oct. 21 in the high mountains of northeastern Afghanistan over Nuristan Province, where the military has been conducting extensive operations. The army said the plane’s disappearance had not been announced until recovery efforts were complete.

The aircraft was stripped of all sensitive materials and destroyed in place, according to a statement from the NATO-led forces. The case is under investigation, but the military said it did not think that hostile action was the cause of the crash.

Taimoor Shah contributed reporting.


Portion Size, Then Vs. Now

Over the past few decades, portion sizes of everything from muffins to sandwiches have grown considerably. Unfortunately, America’s waistbands have reacted accordingly. In the 1970s, around 47 percent of Americans were overweight or obese; now 66 percent of us are. In addition, the number of just obese people has doubled, from 15 percent of our population to 30 percent.

While increased sizes haven’t been the sole contributor to our obesity epidemic, large quantities of cheap food have distorted our perceptions of what a typical meal is supposed to look like. These portion comparisons, adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Portion Distortion Quiz, give a visual representation of what sizes used to be compared to what they are today.

Two Slices of Pizza

Twenty years ago Today
500 calories 850 calories

Those extra 350 calories, if eaten a two times a month, would put on two extra pounds a year, or forty pounds in the next two decades.

Cup of Coffee

Twenty years ago Today
Coffee with milk and sugar Grande café mocha with whip, 2% milk
8 ounces 16 ounces
45 calories 330 calories

When our parents ordered a coffee two decades ago, they weren’t given as many size options—a standard cup of joe was eight ounces, the size of a small coffee cup. Nowadays, most of us feel like we don’t get our money’s worth unless the cup is at least twelve ounces; it’s not unusual to see thirty-two ounce coffee cups, four times the size they used to be. When made into a mocha, the morning coffee has as many calories as a full meal.

Movie Popcorn

Twenty Years Ago Today
5 cups Tub
270 calories 630 calories

We don’t have to eat those extra 360 calories in the tub of popcorn, but that’s easier said than (not) done. Studies indicate that when given food in larger containers, people will consume more. In a 1996 Cornell University study, people in a movie theater ate from either medium (120g) or large (240g) buckets of popcorn, then divided into two groups based on whether they liked the taste of the popcorn. The results: people with the large size ate more than those with the medium size, regardless of how participants rated the taste of the popcorn.


Twenty Years Ago Today—Noah’s Plain Bagel
3-inch diameter 5-6-inch diameter
140 calories 350 calories

Because portions are now so large, it’s hard to understand what a “serving size” is supposed to be. Today’s bagel counts for three servings of bread, but many of us would consider it one serving. Larger sizes at restaurants have also contributed to larger sizes when eating at home. A study comparing eating habits today with twenty years ago found that participants poured themselves about 20 percent more cornflakes and 30 percent more milk than twenty years ago.


Twenty years ago Today’s Burger
333 calories 590 calories

According to a 2007 paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, portion sizes offered by fast food chains are two to five times larger than when first introduced. When McDonald’s first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed around 1.6 ounces; now, the largest hamburger patty weighs 8 ounces, an increase of 500 percent. And while a Big Mac used to be considered big, it’s on the smaller side of many burger options. At Burger King, you can get the Triple Whopper; at Ruby Tuesday’s there’s the Colossal Burger; and Carl’s Junior has the Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger.


Original 8-ounce bottle 12 ounce can 20-ounce bottle
97 calories 145 calories 242 calories

While the 12-ounce can used to be the most common soda option, many stores now carry only the 20-ounce plastic bottle, which contains 2.5 servings of soda. When presented with these larger sizes, humans have a hard time regulating our intake or figuring out what a serving size is supposed to be. A 2004 study, published in Appetite, gave people potato chips packaged in bags that looked the same, but increased in size. As package size increased, so did consumption; subjects ate up to 37 percent more with the bigger bags. Furthermore, when they ate dinner later that day, they did not reduce their food consumption to compensate for increased snack calories—a recipe for weight gain.


It’s not just food portions that have increased; plate, bowl, and cup sizes have as well. In the early 1990s, the standard size of a dinner plate increased from 10 to 12 inches; cup and bowl sizes also increased. Larger eating containers can influence how much people eat. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that when people were given larger bowls and spoons they served themselves larger portions of ice cream and tended to eat the whole portion.


32 ounces 44 ounces 64 ounces
388 calories 533 calories 776 calories
$0.99 $1.09 $1.19

We Americans love to get the most bang for our buck. When confronted with a 32-ounce drink for 99 cents versus a 44-ounce drink for ten cents more, the decision is easy. You’d have to be a sucker not to go big. But our ability to get the most out of our dollar doesn’t always serve us well. Value pricing, which gets us a lot more food or drink for just a little increase in price, makes sense from an economic standpoint, but is sabotage from a health standpoint. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Americans consume around 10 percent more calories than they did in the 1970s. Given no change in physical activity, this equates to around 200 extra calories per day, or 20 pounds a year.

What is normal?

Increased portion sizes give us more calories, encourage us to eat more, distort perceptions of appropriate food quantities, and along with sedentary lifestyles, have contributed to our national bulge. Unless you’re trying to gain weight, it might help to reacquaint yourself with serving sizes. The NHLBI tells us that a serving of meat should be the size of a deck of cards while one pancake should be the size of a CD. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a scaling down of food to these sizes anytime soon, so perhaps we should all become familiar with another image: the doggy bag.


Monday, October 26, 2009



by Ian Bullock.
From Adbusters #85 Volume17 Number 5

On a Tuesday morning in June, a Vancouver man named Salim and his beloved decided to get married. They tracked down a minister and a few hours later in Choklit Park, realized they needed a witness. I was crossing the street when I saw thrtee people waving me over. "Sorry, I've got a meeting," I said, when they asked me to help. "It will take five minutes," the minister assured me. "We'll say the vows, you'll sign the registrar and then you'll be off." So in Choklit Park -overlooking Yaletown's office towers and million-dollar condos - Salim and his bride made their solemn oaths. I joined these strangers in a bubble of unexpected, collective happiness.

What can this bubble tell us about happinerss and economics? Quite a lot.

For hundreds of years we have believed that increased material wealth makes us happier, and we have shaped our world accordingly. We have built larger and larger vehicles that isolate us from others and emit dangerous levels of carbon. We work 40 hours a week - or more - to maintain this lifestyle. Why do we believe that making a lot of money makes us happy? "We didn't evolve with iPods and fancy cars," explains Christopher Barrington-Leigh, an economist at the University of British Columbia. "How could we possibly have a preset level of satisfaction that relates material things to how happy we are?"

While the world has certainly grown richer in the last 50 tears, most happiness economists agree that happiness and life satisfaction levels remain constant. The United States, for example, has failed to see higher happiness levels since the end of the Second World War, despite a quadrupling of their GDP. The \New York Times recently reported that while incomes in China grew by 250 percent between 1994 and 2007, life satisfaction levels shrank drastically. The Eastern Paradox, a theory developed in 1974, explains this phenomena: Money makes us happier until average incomes are achieved. After that, money's affect on happiness is greatly reduced.

So if Hummers and iPods won't make us happier, what will? Instead of concentrating on the accumulation of wealth, we should be concentrating on the quality of our human relationships. Social scientists and economists have shown that groups with strong social networks usually have lower crime rates, better child welfare and public health, and less political corruption ... all of which translate into greater happiness and life satiosfaction. Societies that are democratic, supportive of gender equality and more accepting of marginalized groups such as immigrants and homosexuals tend to be happier societies as well.

Back in Choklit Park, the minister handed me the marriage papers to sign. I was going to be late for my meeting, but something more important was going on. Salim and his new wife were trusting me to sign the document that could chart the course of their lives for many years to come. Married people generally report greater life satisfaction than unmarried people: One study suggests that this marriage could produce the same happiness as a quadrupling of Salim's annual income. (Although if Salim's proposal was as whimsical as he said it was, the effect of his marriage could be similar to that of winning the lottery: a sudden spike in happiness that quickly diminishes.)

In the distance the downtown sector shimmered with economic productivity, but in Choklit Park we had enacted a microcosm of pro-social, financially neutral, happiness-inducing activity that would slip below the radar of mainstream economics. As Senator Bobby Kennedy famously said to a group of Kansas students: "[GDP] measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile." Will happinomics actually free us from the big box stores and the never ending mutations of the iPod? Probably not. But people are paying attention. The government of Bhutan has been following a policy of Gross National Happiness since 1972, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently announced that happiness levels would be taken into account when measuring the country's economic performance. In the coming years, we can expect to find these ideas beginning to influence our government policies. In the meantime, we can open ourselves to our communities and reap the dividends of a rich social life.

For sale: hotted-up chair, one driver only

Chair / AFP

A pimped-up lounge chair used in a drink-driving incident will go under the hammer / AFP Source: AFPA SMALL town police department in Minnesota will put a motorised lounge chair up for auction next week after it was seized in a drunk driving incident.

The black and blue leather lounge chair comes complete with stereo, footrest, cupholders, headlights, a nitrous oxide power boost system, drag racing-style steering wheel and a parachute.
Built on top of a riding lawnmower engine, the chair is decorated with stickers proclaiming "hell yeah it's fast" and "I smoked your (expletive)," and can get up to speeds of around 24km per hour.

It was seized on August 31 last year after Dennis LeRoy Anderson, 62, smashed it into a parked car on his way back from a local bar in Proctor, Minnesota.

Anderson told police the only reason he hit the car was because a girl jumped up on the chair.

"We cannot confirm or deny the story," police chief Walter Wobig told Agence France-Presse.

"The bottom line is it doesn't get him off driving while intoxicated."

Anderson, who Wobig called "a very nice guy," had a blood alcohol level of 0.29 - more than three times the legal limit. And it wasn't his first drunk driving arrest.

State law allows police to seize vehicles in drunk driving cases and either use them for official use or sell them once a conviction is obtained.

Wobig, who had seen Anderson driving the chair around town for a year or two prior to his arrest, decided it was only fair to treat the chair the same way he would treat a Corvette.

So he stuck it in his garage while Anderson's case made its way through the courts.

Anderson pleaded guilty on Monday and the paperwork to transfer ownership to the police department should be completed soon, Wobig said.

It will hit eBay once Wobig can post a notice in Proctor's weekly paper, which comes out on Wednesday.

He's not going to set a reserve price and won't even hazard a guess at what the chair will bring in for his department.

Defence Minister John Faulkner reaffirms Australia's commitment to Afghanistan