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Mon, 27 May 2019
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'Slap in the face': Daughter of CIA officer killed after 9/11 slams 'American Taliban' release

Alison Spann
© Image courtesy Spann family
Alison Spann
The last time Alison Spann saw her father, she was 9 years old. "My family drove to CIA," she recalls. "I was the only one who cried. The last memory I have of my dad is him walking away from us in the dark with all his bags."

That was shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Johnny "Mike" Spann was 32, a CIA paramilitary officer and former Marine who knew he was bound for northern Afghanistan and might never return. Less than two months later - and moments after he had been questioning a bedraggled Taliban detainee named John Walker Lindh - he was killed by a mob of prisoners attempting to escape from the remote fortress of Qala-i-Jangi.

In a cruel twist of fate, Alison Spann's mother died of cancer a month later. Suddenly, the young girl became the first orphan of what was already known as the War on Terror.

Now 27, Alison Spann is a television reporter working in Biloxi, Mississippi. After her father was killed, Lindh, now 38, was recaptured and it was discovered he was an American who had grown up in California, converted to Islam at age 16, and at 20, traveled to Afghanistan, joining the Taliban before 9/11 and attending al Qaeda training camps. After being captured by Northern Alliance fighters on Nov. 25, 2001, he was taken to Qala-i-Jangi.


Maria Butina: jailed for the crime of being Russian

Maria Butina

Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization, speaks in October 2013 during a press conference in Moscow
Maria Butina was not a Russian spy. She did not trade sex for influence. She had nothing to do with any clandestine espionage activity, nor did she ever hide her dealings with American political officials. In fact, she unabashedly loved America - perhaps to a fault. But she's currently sitting in jail, and almost no one will say a word in her defense. The ordeal to which she's been subjected is jaw-dropping for its recklessness and absurdity.

There's so much that's wrong with this case, it's almost hard to know where to begin. Maybe the most obnoxious malfeasance was committed by moralizing media members who saw fit to cast judgment on her personal romantic decisions - as if that was ever remotely any of their business in the first place. Butina was in a long-term relationship with an older man, Paul Erickson, a fact automatically skewed as proof (somehow) that she was a transactional harlot. The sleazy hunch was never supported by actual facts, but that didn't stop journalists from spewing the most malignant theories about what could have possibly possessed her to enter this consensual adult relationship. When it comes to the wider Trump-Russia saga, all ordinary journalistic and ethical standards are chucked decisively out the window.

Comment: 'Russians don't surrender': Butina asks for help to fight injustice in video address from US prison


'Climate crises' madness: Girl reportedly bullied by teacher and Classmates for refusing to participate in 'Climate Strike'

Greta Thunberg
© AP
A Swedish girl who refused to join her classmates in skipping school for the sake of the climate has ended up being labelled as a "climate denier", which her mother described as "mass psychosis".

A high-school pupil who refused to attend a so-called "school strike for climate" has been bullied not only by her classmates, but the teacher as well, the magazine Det Goda Samhället reported.

When the girl's classmates decided to join the "climate strike" spearheaded by teenage activist-turned-superstar Greta Thunberg, "Sanna" declared she didn't want to attend and was given a tongue-lashing from the teacher.

"The teacher said 'Sanna' was uncommitted and failed to understand the seriousness of the climate threat. She asked her to reconsider her decision, and she said it openly, for the entire class to hear. 'Sanna' felt like the teacher was trying to ridicule her in front of the others", "Lena", the girl's mother, told Det Goda Samhället.

Because of the teacher's actions, the rest of the class also turned against "Sanna", who ended up being boycotted by her own friends and accused of being a "climate denier", "Lena" recalled.


Geoffrey Rush wins record $2.9 million defamation payout in sexual harassment case

Geoffrey Rush and his accuser Eryn Jean Norvill

Geoffrey Rush and his accuser Eryn Jean Norvill
Geoffrey Rush holds the record for the largest defamation payout to a single person in Australia after The Daily Telegraph agreed to pay the actor almost $2 million for lost earnings, on top of an $850,000 payout, for a series of reports accusing him of "inappropriate behaviour" towards a female actor.

On Thursday, the Federal Court heard that lawyers for Mr Rush and Nationwide News, the publisher of the Telegraph, had agreed the Oscar winner should receive $1.98 million in damages for past and future economic loss resulting from the reports.

The court heard Mr Rush had previously offered to settle the case for $50,000, plus costs, and an apology.

The $1.98 million figure is in addition to $850,000 in compensatory and aggravated damages, plus $42,302 in interest, that Federal Court Justice Michael Wigney previously awarded Mr Rush to vindicate his reputation and compensate him for the "personal distress and hurt" caused by the reports.

Damages for economic loss are in a separate category and require proof of particular loss.


AI assistants like Siri and Alexa spread sexism, UN study reveals

AI assistant
© Shutterstock
Voice-activated personal assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri are reinforcing and spreading sexism, according to a recent United Nations study.

The feminine-voiced AI helpers, which also include Google Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana, perpetuate the harmful gender stereotype that women are subservient and tolerate being treated poorly, the report from UNESCO found.

"Because the speech of most voice assistants is female, it sends a signal that women are... docile helpers, available at the touch of a button or with a blunt voice command like 'hey' or 'OK,'" the report says.

Comment: Give. Us. A. Break. These AI assistants are not women, they are sexless. No one thinks that they're women so it's not possible for them to perpetuate gender stereotypes. The UN 'study' could just have easily come up with reasons why using a female voice is a positive thing - they're helpful, pleasant, capable, trustworthy... If these companies had chosen to use a male voice for their products, there would likely be a list of complaints about the exclusion of women from AI. It just goes to show, if you look hard enough, you can find something to be outraged by anywhere.


Let's not make a drama about Skripal case before important questions are answered

skripal house
© REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
A police officer stands guard as a scaffolder works at the site of former spy Sergei Skripal's house, in Salisbury, Britain January 9, 2019.
It's over 14 months since the Skripal poisonings first made world headlines but to paraphrase the words of the 1970s Johnny Nash hit 'There are more questions than answers, and the more we find out, the less we know.'

There's been neither sight nor sound of Yulia or Sergei Skripal. Yulia was last seen in a short video statement released on May 23, 2018, her father in CCTV footage in a shop in Salisbury at 12.47pm on February 27, 2018. If Sergei was sure that the Russian state was responsible for what happened to him, why hasn't he been put before a camera to say so? Even more mysteriously, why hasn't this dutiful son not called his 91-year old mother Yelena to say he's ok? Might Sergei Skripal actually be dead - and if so, why haven't we been told?

Then there's the unraveling of the Amesbury (a town nine miles from Salisbury) postscript. The news that two British nationals, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, had been admitted to hospital after being exposed to alleged Novichok poisoning from a bottle of perfume found in a bin by Rowley, caused a sensation when it broke in early July 2018.

Comment: To expect anything more than a blatant propaganda piece from the BBC is simply foolish. It will, no doubt, paint a picture that shows the evil dastardly Russians did it, addressing none of the questions posed above. Same story, different format.

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UKIP's European election candidate Carl Benjamin designated as 'hate agent' in secret Facebook list - report

Carl Benjamin Sargon of Akkad
© YouTube / UKIP Official Channel
Carl Benjamin, British candidate to the European Parliament, best known under his YouTube handle 'Sargon of Akkad'.
Carl Benjamin, a British candidate in the European Parliament elections, has reportedly been labelled a 'hate actor' by Facebook including for 'neutral representation' of a Proud Boys member.

Benjamin's inclusion on the 'blacklist' was reported by Breitbart on Wednesday, mere hours before the kickoff of the UK portion of the European elections. Benjamin, mostly known as a prolific political commentator on his YouTube channel 'Sargon of Akkad,' stepped into offline politics last year when he joined the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and is now vying for a seat in the European legislature.

According to the excerpts from the internal Facebook document, as cited by Breitbart, the social networking site's censors are keeping a detailed log of Benjamin's behavior both on and off the platform, such as voicing support for a member of the right-wing Proud Boys group or hurling a homophobic slur.

Comment: Wasn't there another group who historically kept secret files documenting the activities of certain people they deemed wrong-thinkers? Not to worry; we're sure there's nothing to be learned from history in this case.

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Judge orders Antifa activist Yvette Felarca to pay Judicial Watch legal fees for her 'entirely frivolous' lawsuit

Yvette Felarca
Judicial Watch announced that a U.S. District Judge in California awarded Judicial Watch $22,000 in legal fees in a case filed by an Antifa organizer in an effort to block Judicial Watch from obtaining information about her activities.

Yvette Felarca, a middle school teacher in the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), and two co-plaintiffs were ordered to pay Judicial Watch $22,000 in attorney's fees and $4,000 in litigation costs. Felarca had sued the BUSD in federal court to keep the school district from fulfilling its legal obligation to provide Judicial Watch with records of their communications mentioning: Felarca, Antifa, and/or BAMN. Judicial Watch also asked for Felarca's personnel file.

Felarca is a prominent figure in By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), a group founded by the Marxist Revolutionary Workers League that protests conservative speaking engagements. In 2016, Felarca and two of her allies were arrested and charged with several crimes, including felony assault, for inciting a riot in Sacramento. Earlier this year, Felarca was ordered to stand trial for assault.

Comment: See also:


Real pastor holds church in virtual reality, baptises anime girl

VR virtual reality baptism
Games reach an incredibly diverse set of people across national, linguistic, and social barriers, and that goes for religion, too. Last week, we noted that Ninja was taking meals off-screen out of respect for Ramadan, and it should be little surprise to see religious groups taking up residence inside virtual spaces. One Christian pastor now holds church in VRChat, and that even includes baptisms - no matter how ridiculous a person's avatar.

Pastor D.J. Soto is the subject of a new video from YouTuber Syrmor (via Polygon), and the whole process is equal parts earnest and absurd. Soto describes his VR ministry as allowing disadvantaged people - from folks in wheelchairs to recovering drug addicts - to attend church without the judgement that sometimes comes from traditional congregations.

Fellow YouTuber Drumsy, appearing in VRChat as a busty, pink-haired anime girl in a pastel suit, undergoes a digital baptism by crouching underwater for a few seconds as Soto describes the symbolism of the ceremony. You can see Drumsy's own perspective of the baptism on YouTube, or see Syrmor's full video below.

Comment: Welcome to clown world.

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Adding nuance to the abortion debate

my body my choice protest sign
Last Tuesday, the Governor of Alabama signed the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America into law. The new law bans abortions even in the case of rape and makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Despite the low probability of this law going into effect, it has provoked a slew of commentary from both sides of the aisle. To call it "commentary," however, suggests that people are engaging in thoughtful attempts to persuade one another. In reality, the abortion debate has had all the intellectual rigor and emotional maturity of a pissing contest.

In an effort to be part of the solution, I'd like to explain why I'm pro-choice. Without doubt, my position will put me at odds with pro-lifers. But it will also put me at odds with many pro-choicers. Indeed, part of the reason I feel motivated to defend my position is because of how unpersuasive I find the central argument of the pro-choice movement. It's painful to watch a movement use bad reasons to defend a position when good ones are available.

Comment: Good on the author for bringing some much-needed nuance to the debate. Despite some of his arguments relying on hypotheticals that would benefit from some statistical back-up (most women who get abortions already have kids? Do we know this for sure?), the author, at the very least, seems to have a handle on arguments from both sides and avoids painting one side or the other as unreasonable monsters.

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