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Bizarro Earth

Afghan in uniform shoots at U.S. soldiers in country's east Patika province

An Afghan man wearing an Afghan army uniform shot at U.S. soldiers in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least one serviceman on Sunday, local officials and the NATO-led coalition said.

The so-called "insider attack" in Paktika province is the fourth in less than a month and is likely to strain already tense ties between coalition troops and their allies, with most foreign troops scheduled to withdraw by the end of next year.

A Reuters tally shows Sunday's incident was the tenth this year, and took the death toll of foreign personnel to 15.

"A man wearing an Afghan army uniform shot at Americans in Sharana city (the provincial capital) near the governor's office," said an Afghan official, adding that two soldiers had been hit by the gunfire.

The NATO-led coalition confirmed one soldier had been shot by a man in security forces uniform, but did not comment on his nationality or whether the Afghan was wearing a army uniform.

Insider attacks threaten to further undermine waning support for the war among Western nations sending troops to Afghanistan.


Gender Inequality: The myth of merit and unconscious bias

merit bias gender equality
© shutterstock.comDespite representing a greater proportion of the tertiary education sector, qualified women are still drastically underrepresented in managerial roles
The presence of only one woman, albeit a high profile one, in Tony Abbott's cabinet has prompted renewed calls for the introduction of quotas to ensure greater numbers of senior women in government. And with the 2013 AGM season well underway, resolving issues surrounding gender inequality in leadership roles is a hot topic.

However, calls for quotas are usually instantly met with the claims that they are anti-meritocratic. Particularly in Australia, merit has become synonymous with fairness, equality, or objectivity. In fact, merit-based processes operate much differently.

Discrimination is actually integral to a meritocratic system. A merit-based system "discriminates" on the basis of how much "merit" a person has - assuming the pre-condition that everyone has equal opportunity to acquire it - and favours those who have more of it. Or more precisely, are perceived to have more of it. And this is where the trouble starts. How are perceptions of merit shaped and influenced?

There are two immediate problems with the merit argument. Firstly, everyone must have equal access to acquiring whatever quality is defined as "merit" - the so-called level playing field. Secondly, people must be assessed only on criteria that predict performance. Can we say that either of these conditions is ever truly met, particularly in organisational decision-making processes?

In terms of the first condition, while women are overrepresented in tertiary education, they still remain under-represented in senior roles in virtually every professional sphere. So while this playing field may start off level, it doesn't stay that way for long. Equally qualified women are being denied the managerial exposure of their male counterparts.


Chris Christie slams Congress for not doing their job

Chris Christie
© Mel Evans/Associated PressNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering in Camden, N.J.
The compromise-friendly New Jersey governor tells Lloyd Grove he thinks Washington - including his own party - has failed at its only job: keep the government running.

"It's ridiculous," Chris Christie said.

New Jersey's blunt-spoken, bipartisanly-inclined Republican governor was discussing the ongoing federal shutdown and debt ceiling crisis plaguing the nation's capital. "You get hired to do a job. Do your job!" he said. "There are too many people down here who spend all their time pontificating rather than working. And that applies to both parties. I don't have patience for that."

The 51-year-old Christie - who many hope will launch a presidential campaign once he gets past what is widely expected to be an easy reelection on Nov. 5 - was making a rare visit to Washington, D.C. Technically, however, he was in the sovereign nation of Italy, having been selected to receive a Points of Light voluntarism award during a black-tie dinner Friday at the Italian Embassy. "My mother" - the late Sondra Grasso, a descendant of Sicilians and a Democrat to boot - "would always be happy to have me spend any time in Italy," he quipped.

Earlier in the day, during a meeting with the editorial board of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Christie had suggested that the dysfunction in Washington drives him to thoughts of suicide: "If I was in the Senate right now, I'd kill myself."

Comment: Nice talking points. But Chris Christie's association with the Bush clan does not bode well for the U.S.

Arrow Down

Poll: 60 percent say fire every member of Congress

Throw the bums out.

That's the message 60 percent of Americans are sending to Washington in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, saying if they had the chance to vote to defeat and replace every single member of Congress, including their own representative, they would. Just 35 percent say they would not.

According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, the shutdown has been a political disaster. One in three say the shutdown has directly impacted their lives, and 65 percent say the shutdown is doing quite a bit of harm to the economy. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

The 60 percent figure is the highest-ever in that question recorded in the poll, registered in the wake of the government shutdown and threat of the U.S. defaulting on its debt for the first time in history. If the nation's debt limit is not increased one week from now, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warns that the entire global economy could be in peril.

"We continue to use this number as a way to sort of understand how much revulsion there is," said Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted the poll with Republican Bill McInturff. "We now have a new high-water mark."

Read the full poll here (.pdf)

The numbers reflect a broader trend over the last few years. Americans have traditionally said that while they might not like Congress, they usually like their own representatives. But that sentiment appears to have shifted


Oregon father's memorial trek across country ends in a family's second tragedy

Joe Bell
© Chris Baxter/The La Grande ObserverJoe Bell, in La Grande, Ore., in March, was walking across the country to tell the story of his gay son, Jadin, 15, who killed himself after being bullied.
As he made his way across the country, Joe Bell walked through rain squalls, slept in ditches and talked to anyone who would listen about how his gay son had killed himself after being taunted and bullied at school.

Mr. Bell's artificial knees ached and his feet were mapped with blisters, but he told friends and strangers that he was determined to make it on foot from his home in eastern Oregon to New York City, where his son, Jadin, 15, had dreamed of one day working in fashion or photography. "I miss my son Jadin with all my heart and soul," he wrote on Facebook in late May. "I know you're with me on this walk."

But last Wednesday, Mr. Bell's American journey - one that drew attention from local newspapers and attracted thousands of followers on social media - ended in an instant on a two-lane road in rural eastern Colorado. He was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer whose driver had apparently fallen asleep, the state police said.

For nearly six months, Mr. Bell, 48, had been on the road, sharing his son's story and trying to salve his own grief. He spoke at motorcycle rallies and college bars, schools, diners and gay-outreach centers, telling people about his sensitive, artistic son who hanged himself from a piece of playground equipment on Jan. 19.


44 killed in Laos plane crash

laos map
At least 44 dead after internal flight from capital Vientiane crashes into Mekong river, local media reported.

A Lao Airlines plane carrying 44 people from the capital Vientiane to the southern town of Pakse crashed on Wednesday, killing all on board, among them nationals of 10 countries, a Thai foreign ministry spokesman said.

Laos officials informed Thailand that the plane carrying 39 passengers and five crew went down around 8km from the airport in Champasak province in southern Laos, Sek Wannamethee said.

Light Saber

Colombian farmers risk death to reclaim lost land

colombian farmer
© Jeremy Horner/CorbisA Colombian rice farmer. Millions of hectares of land have been abandoned or stolen since 1991
The government wants to correct decades of 'land reform in reverse'. But powerful criminal, armed and business interests are ranged against the country's displaced peasants

The threats against Sifredy Culma's life come in many forms: suspicious men on motorcycles circling his neighbourhood; a flyer slipped under the door declaring him a "military target"; a menacing phone call warning that he will be killed if he tries to reclaim the plot of land he abandoned when rightwing paramilitary militiamen stormed into his town in Colombia.

The intimidation started in 2010, when Culma began collecting signatures from other farmers who had fled the village of Santafe and been forced to sell their land under threat from the paramilitaries. Culma is reclaiming that property as part of an ambitious government programme to return abandoned or stolen land to millions displaced by the country's half-century-old conflict.


60% of Americans dissatisfied with both GOP and Democrats, think a third major party needed


Twenty-six percent believe Democratic and Republican parties do adequate job

Amid the government shutdown, 60% of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of this question. A new low of 26% believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans.

Heart - Black

Tel Aviv Judge Nissim Yeshaya: 'Some girls enjoy getting raped'

 Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
© Nicholas KammJudges must know they are under scrutiny says Israel's Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
A judge in Tel Aviv has stepped down after commenting aloud that “some girls enjoy rape” during an appeals committee hearing on the rape of a teenager.

Judge Nissim Yeshaya of the District Court announced he would step down from present duties after meeting with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, reports.

"All judges need to know they are under scrutiny and must conduct themselves in a manner becoming those entrusted with safeguarding the law and deciding the fates of others," said Ms Livni.

"This isn't just about any single statement, it's about a perception women have fought against for years whereby victims are being blamed for the rape, " she added. "Such a statement, even if unintentional, could legitimise rape in the twisted minds of potential offenders. And judges too need to know that when a woman says 'no' she means 'no'."

The offence by four Palestinian youths from the Shuafat refugee camp, took place six years ago, against a 13-year-old girl, Army Radio reported.

The judicial review panel was assembled in the Tel Aviv District Court discussed the rape victim's appeal of a decision of the Defence Ministry not to recognise her rape as an act of terrorism, as she had requested.

The victim was not present at the hearing when the statement was made by Judge Yeshaya.

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The great outdoors is largely avoided by British children

British Children
© Thinkstock

British children are largely missing out on the bounties of nature. This is the conclusion of a three-year study that set out to measure the effects of the great outdoors on today's modern children.

According to research results, only 21 percent of eight- to 12-year-olds living in the UK have a discernible connection with nature. It's possible that even if these children were going outside, they wouldn't see the same plant and animal life their ancestors did.

The study, published in Connecting with Nature, found 60 percent of species native to the UK are on the decline. The researchers believe children who get outdoors and take an interest in nature would not only reap the rewards of being outside but could also help protect these declining species.

"Nature is in trouble, and children's connection to nature is closely linked to this," said Dr. Mike Clarke, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the group that carried out the study.

"This report is groundbreaking stuff. Millions of people are increasingly worried that today's children have less contact with nature than ever before, but until now there has been no robust scientific attempt to measure and track connection to nature among children in the UK, which means the problem hasn't been given the attention it deserves," Dr. Clarke told The Guardian's Adam Vaughan.