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Do Only Some Massacres Matter? Remembering the Munich Olympics

The Washington Post has published a moving article, "Russian Jews remember Israeli athletes murdered at 1972 Munich Olympic Games." Unfortunately, it gets a few things wrong and provides a one-sided context for the tragedy.

Allow me to correct the report and fill in a few of the missing facts.

Just 23 years before the Olympic incident, Israel had been created through ethnically cleansing much of the indigenous Palestinian population.

This had been accomplished through at least 33 massacres and was maintained in the years following by still more acts of ethnic cleansing and additional massacres. (These included areas from which the Munich kidnappers came).

Five years before the Munich incident, Israel violently conquered even more Palestinian land (illegal under international law), pushing out another 325,000+ Palestinian men, women, and children, and killing at least 13,000 Arabs in all. About 800 Israelis died.
The violence continued, and beginning in 1968 Israeli forces repeatedly savaged 150 or more towns and villages in south Lebanon alone. By the time of the Munich Olympics, Israel held hundreds of prisoners in its notorious prison system.


California's gun confiscation program - apparent civil rights violations


California’s Gun Confiscation Program Hits Firearm Owners Hard
Efforts by the California Department of Justice to disarm gun owners have led to apparent civil rights violations, gun group says

Following numerous reports of improper arrests and firearm seizures throughout California, Roseville-based gun rights group The Calguns Foundation has issued a new warning to gun owners in the Golden State.
"Gun confiscation efforts pushed by Attorney General Kamala Harris have apparently led to unconstitutional arrests of regular, non-prohibited gun owners as well as the seizure of their firearms and ammunition," said Brandon Combs, the group's executive director and creator of the Foundation's DOJ Watch project.
California's Armed Prohibited Persons System, or 'APPS', firearms confiscation program was funded in 2013 through Senate Bill 140, authored by state legislators including San Diego-based senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine). SB 140 re-appropriated money paid by gun buyers for background checks to APPS law enforcement actions, including the one which took firearms from Bakersfield, California resident Michael Merritt.
"These frightening raids, often carried out by heavily armed DOJ agents and local law enforcement agencies, aren't just hitting violent criminals," noted Combs. "What a sad day it is when even elderly law-abiding people need to be on the lookout for Ms. Harris' gun-grabbing goons."
Should you be contacted by law enforcement, be polite but prepared to exercise your rights. For instance, should a warrant be served upon you, do not physically resist the officers but do remain silent and contact your attorney as soon as possible. Do not consent to any search and remember that you are not required to volunteer information or open locked containers.

Arrow Down

Did Discovery Channel fake the image in its giant shark documentary?

Image showing Megalodon swimming past U-boats off Cape Town was doctored. Come clean, or prove me wrong.
© Sharkzilla/Discovery Channel
Image purporting to show a giant shark swimming past German submarines.
The suspicion that the Discovery Channel had abandoned its professed editorial standards was a powerful one. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, its documentary claiming that the giant shark Carchardon megalodon still exists contained images which gave a strong impression of being faked; reports of incidents which don't appear to have happened; and interviews with "marine biologists" no one has been able to trace.

But allegations of fakery are very hard to prove. As you know, absence of evidence doesn't mean evidence of absence. Just because no one has been able to find the news reports the Megalodon show claims to have found, or any record of the deaths of four people in an attack by a giant shark off South Africa last year, or any trace of the suspiciously handsome experts it used to confirm its thesis doesn't prove definitively that all of them are inventions, even though it's hard to see how they could not be.

And pointing out that a photograph the "documentary" used to make its case looks like a really bad CGI cobblers in which just about everything is wrong isn't quite the same as being able to state categorically that it's a fraud.


Japanese-Americans warn interment for 'undesirables' still possible, Muslim-Americans take heed

© David Monkawa/NCRR
A poster for Day of Remembrance 2002, months after the 9/11 attacks, focused on the detention of Muslim and Arab Americans.
As they mark Day of Remembrance, former detainees say talk of national security can still trump Americans' basic rights

Japanese-Americans are holding a Day of Remembrance this week for community elders who were unlawfully locked in internment camps during World War II. But for many people - including U.S. judicial authorities - the specter of the camps is hardly a thing of the past.

"You are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told University of Hawaii law students earlier this month. "In times of war, the laws fall silent."

For many former detainees who will tell their stories during remembrance events Wednesday, Scalia's words are a sobering reminder that national security at times trumps constitutional rights. They think of the National Security Agency's mass surveillance of private communications or the indefinite detentions of alleged terrorism suspects - mostly Arab and Muslim men - under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The Day of Remembrance marks not only the day in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese origin after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor; it also serves as "a reminder to our communities - our civil rights are still not protected," said Karen Korematsu, whose father, Fred Korematsu, famously challenged his detention in the landmark Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States in 1944.

Karen Korematsu cited the NDAA's indefinite detentions as one attack on civil rights now faced primarily by American Muslims. Among the other issues they say they face are the mass infiltration of mosque communities by law enforcement and harassment by Transportation Security Administration staff at U.S. borders.

"Even (Scalia) said this could happen again. That's why education (on Japanese-American internment and civil rights) is so important," Korematsu said.


Scarlett Johansson: mired in one of the Middle East's touchiest controversies

Scarlett Johansson faced a dilemma this week, and that dilemma has become an international political controversy. On the surface, it seemed like a choice between her volunteer gig and a paid sponsorship deal. But she ended up getting mired in one of the touchiest, most sensitive and most controversial political issues in the Middle East.

It started when Johansson took a presumably lucrative contract as spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli company that makes at-home soda-making machines. The complication is that, since 2007, she's been a "global ambassador" for Oxfam, a well-respected NGO that fights poverty around the world, and which also opposes SodaStream's decision to build a big factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Oxfam did not like that Johansson was repping a company that, in its view, benefits from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and from the Israeli settlements it sees as illegal and as "further[ing] the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support." You can see how they might consider that inconsistent with their work in the Palestinian territories.


5 Disturbing reasons not to trust the news (From a reporter)

Growing up, I remember wondering why major catastrophes were relegated to just inches of column space somewhere in the middle of the newspaper, while knocked-up celebrities farting into a maternity gown would crack the front pages. Then I started working as the editor of a U.K. tech news site at the dawn of citizen reporting, social media, and the Web, and I realized that the gulf between the newsworthy and the filler has been widened on an enormous scale. Here are just some of the reasons journalism has gone (and continues to go) to shit:

#5. The Money Is in PR
© Medioimages/Photodisc/Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
You can spot a press-sourced news article miles away. A cheap and easy way to push coverage into a publication is to commission a survey. You know the type: "New Study Shows Women Most Attracted to Morbidly Obese Men." The great thing about them is that they're a cinch to game until you get the result you want -- that hypothetical example was probably funded by Rascal Scooters and Hot Pockets, then given to the press so they could pick out the key talking points, without going into any detail about how they arrived there. You'll usually find the source in the last paragraph, if at all.


California high school senior suspended for protecting his sister from sexual harassment

© Twitter
Dominic Conti
The family of a high school senior threatened a lawsuit Wednesday after their son - now ex-class president with a 4.4 GPA - was suspended over an altercation with a football player who allegedly sexually harassed the senior's then-14-year-old sister, reported KCAL-TV in Los Angeles.

Dominic Conti, 17, was suspended from Westlake High School in Ventura County, Calif., for five days, stripped of his elected office, and banned from all extracurricular activities following the incident with the player at a football game last October 11.

"They way they treated me was someone that has brought, like, a firearm to school," Conti said at Wednesday's news conference.

The Conti family says it complained to the school administration about the player but nothing was done.

"I'm a victim of sexual harassment," Conti's sister, a Westlake freshman who didn't reveal her name, told KCAL. "And you know what, [the sexual harassment] it is not okay."

She said the player had been saying vulgar things to her and repeated his behavior, for the third time, on Oct. 11. "He begins asking me to do things to his private parts - many things to his private parts - and I begin to tell him no and I would never, ever do that," Dominic's sister told KCAL.

Her father, Larry Conti, said he and his son Dominic found a security guard and confronted the player.

Bad Guys

Workplace pressures being examined in France after spate of suicides

High-profile cases involving France Telecom and Renault led to review of work pressures, but are companies doing enough?

Many imagine France as a country with never-ending vacations and long leisurely lunches. Yet while there is a grain of truth in this, the reality is that the French workplace has been simmering with pent-up pressure since long before the 2008 crisis.

A recent study by the Paris-based consulting firm Technologia has found that more than three million French workers are at a high risk of burnout. Tales of work-related suicides in the French media over the past eight years seem to support these statistics.

Two of the perhaps most high-profile cases involved France Telecom (rebranded Orange in 2013) and Renault. The former's CEO, Didier Lombard, and two top executives resigned in early 2010 following 35 suicides in 2008 and 2009. They were subsequently indicted in May 2012, along with the company itself, under criminal law for workplace bullying. The case is still before the courts.

At the same time, a French court of appeals found car maker Renault guilty of gross negligence in May 2012 with regard to three suicides in 2006 and 2007.

Arrow Up

Men commit suicide 350% more than women in the UK

© Niall Carson/PA
A Samaritans' vigil in Dublin. The charity, with Bristol University, is looking at the impact of the internet on vulnerable people.
Samaritans says men at greatest risk in 40-44 age bracket as Office for National Statistics reports 4,590 male suicides in 2012

The male suicide rate in the UK was 3½ times that of women in 2012, the highest ratio between the sexes in more than 30 years, official figures show .

The data was published as the University of Bristol and the Samaritans announced the launch of a project to investigate the impact of the internet on those with suicidal thoughts amid growing concerns about its effect on vulnerable people.

There were 4,590 male suicides registered in 2012, compared with 1,391 female, equating to 18.2 per 100,000 men and 5.2 per 100,000 women, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

When the data series began, in 1981, the male suicide rate was 1.9 times that for women. But the rate for women halved, with a much smaller decrease (from 19.8 in 1981) for men.

Clare Wyllie, head of policy and research at Samaritans, said the figures showed that the highest suicide rate was among men aged 40 to 44, at 25.9 deaths per 100,000. This bore out the charity's own studies, which have found middle-aged men of low socioeconomic status to be most at risk. "They will grow up expecting by the time they reach mid-life they'll have a wife who will look after them and a job for life in a male industry," she said. "In reality they may find that they reach middle age in a very different position. Society has this masculine ideal that people are expecting to live up to. Lots of that has to do with being a breadwinner. When men don't live up to that it can be quite devastating for them."


What's causing the suicide epidemic in the United States?


The means - prescription drugs, access to firearms, bridges without prevention methods - play a much bigger role than any emotions or thought processes.

In the 19th-century, French researcher Emile Durkheim calculated the ideal temperature for suicide: 82 degrees Fahrenheit. It was his compatriot Albert Camus who, a half-century later, then asked not under what conditions people kill themselves, but why. "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem," he said. "And that is suicide."

While the science behind suicide research has certainly improved since Durkheim and Camus' times, the quest to understand the phenomenon is still two-pronged, a question of both how and why.

What must go so wrong that someone would fight against every survival instinct, every ounce of biological drive to end their life? Why did 40,000 Americans kill themselves last year, the most in recorded history? How has - as a new study published in January by JAMA Psychiatry revealed - suicide become not only the leading cause of "injury" death in America but also the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 49, now surpassing even cancer?

Suicide stems from four feelings that coalesce to make a deadly cocktail, according to a new theory by Thomas Joiner, a professor at Florida State University, as presented in a comprehensive article in The Daily Beast last year. The equation is made up of Thwarted Belongingness ("I am alone"), Capability ("I am not afraid to die"), Perceived Burdensomeness ("I am a burden"), and Desire, according to Joiner.