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The Cannibalization of Charlie Sheen

Conventional wisdom tells us that the rich and famous have it easy, that they get away with murder, that they can buy and charm their way out of all the social traps the rest of us face. But in fact, people love to see a fall from grace, and they love to kick the fallen when they're down. When the mass media target a celebrity for character destruction, the ostracism and witch-hunts are typically more relentless than when a commoner is in the crosshairs. There is no privacy. There is no escape. The entire media class, from Hollywood to Manhattan, lines up to cannibalize one of their own with gratuitous relish.

That Charlie Sheen has been the biggest national story, while the Arab world is aflame with revolution and the U.S. marches toward ever more war and economic disaster, is not the most remarkable thing. What is most striking is how easily so many line up behind a consensus that someone ought to be the butt of all jokes and the focus of everyone's mockery and outrage. Why is the public so obsessed? Does the public's obsession fuel the media's, or is it the other way around?

Indeed, the main mystery is why so many entertainers have jumped on the bandwagon to belittle the actor. Why are so many glitterati pointing their fingers and laughing, judging, and psychoanalyzing Sheen from afar? And even if it was kind of funny the first time to compare his eccentric quips to the ranting of the dictator Qadafi, isn't it a bit unseemly for so many to be piling on with such insults?


Dutch Girl, 12, Gives Birth on School Trip

A 12-year-old Dutch girl gave birth while on a school trip, sparking a police search Wednesday for the father of the child.

The girl, from Groningen, 114 miles northeast of Amsterdam, complained of stomach pains March 22, during a day out with classmates.

Teachers realized the girl was in labor and called an ambulance. Medics rushed to the scene, and the 12 year old delivered a healthy baby girl in a nearby building. The young mother was then taken to the hospital but has refused to name the father.

Family members said that the schoolgirl's father previously sexually abused another older daughter and served two years in jail for the sex crime, according to the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf.

The girl was living with her father and brother after he won custody following a divorce from their mother, who was originally from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America.


Facebook shuts pro-Palestinian page

© unknown
US-based social networking website Facebook has obliterated a page that advocated a 'third Intifada (uprising)' in reaction to Israel's persisting measures to trample on the rights of the Palestinian people.

The Tuesday move came after 350,000 people endorsed the campaign by 'liking' the page and many of its entries received thousands of comments, reported Ynetnews, the website for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

The move came after Israel's Minister of Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein addressed Facebook's creator Mark Zuckerberg in a letter, pleading with him to remove the page.

The Facebook campaign had stated that "Palestine will be freed and we will free it," advocating the uprising against Tel Aviv's occupation of the Palestinian lands and its continued suppression of the Palestinian population.

Evil Rays

Japan to scrap 4 stricken reactors at Fukushima


Scrambling hard to tackle its worst atomic crisis, Japan said on Wednesday it will scrap four stricken reactors at the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear facility, as radiation seeping into seawater reached its highest level yet and the President of the troubled plant's operator hospitalised.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the plant's operator, said that it will decommission the four reactors at the plant, more than two weeks after the monster magnitude-9 quake and tsunami struck Japan's northeast leaving nearly 30,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

"We have no choice but to scrap reactors 1 to 4 if we look at their conditions objectively," Tsunehisa Katsumata, the company's Chairman, said at a press conference.


Toxic Plutonium Seeping from Japan's Nuclear Plant

Tokyo - Highly toxic plutonium is seeping from the damaged nuclear power plant in Japan's tsunami disaster zone into the soil outside, officials said Tuesday, as the government grew frustrated by missteps in the effort to stabilize the overheated facility.

Safety officials said the small amounts of plutonium found at several spots outside the complex were not a risk to humans but support suspicions that dangerously radioactive water is leaking from damaged nuclear fuel rods -- a worrying development in the race to bring the power plant under control.

"The situation is very grave," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters Tuesday. "We are doing our utmost efforts to contain the damage."

A tsunami spawned by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake March 11 destroyed the power systems needed to cool the nuclear fuel rods at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo.

Since then, three of the plant's six reactors are believed to have partially melted down, and emergency crews have grappled with everything from malfunctioning pumps to dangerous spikes in radiation that have sent workers fleeing.

Arrow Down

UK: Care Home Costs Hit 80,000 More as Those Being Denied Council-Funded Places Soar

Tens of thousands more elderly people are being forced to pay for their care compared with this time last year, a report has found.

elderly person
© Alamy
Counting the cost: More elderly people are having to fund their own care as council funds dry up
The number being denied a council-funded place in a care home or help from a carer in their own house has risen by 80,000 in the last 12 months amid public spending cuts.

The report revealed that 1.7million elderly people received some form of free care in 2010/09, down from 1.78 million in 2009/08 - a drop of five per cent.

The fall will prompt fears that cash-strapped councils are becoming increasingly reluctant to provide free care for the elderly, many of whom have dementia or have suffered strokes and need round-the-clock help.

The report, by the Care Quality Commission watchdog, also revealed that the number of hospital beds on geriatric wards has fallen by more than 15 per cent in the last five years.

There are now just under 21,000 geriatric beds across all NHS trusts in England and Wales - down from 24,700 in 2005/06 - despite the fact that the elderly population is increasing.

Recent reports have already highlighted how the needs of the elderly are being increasingly sidelined by the NHS and local authorities.


Silence is betrayal (MLK anti-war speech)

Arrow Down

UK: Future of Elderly Below the Poverty Line: 1 in 4 Women Will Retire on Under £10,000

retired woman
© G. Baden/zefa/Corbis
Bleak prospects: Women retiring now are paying the price for taking time out earlier in their careers to look after their families
One in four women will be living below the poverty line when they retire, a study reveals today.

Researchers found that 26 per cent of women who plan to retire this year will have less than £10,000 a year - or under £200 a week - to live on when they stop working.

The findings highlight the nightmare facing women who are paying the price for deciding to give up their jobs to bring up their children instead of staying at work and building up a pension.

An annual sum of £10,000 a year will barely cover the basics such as food, fuel and utility bills.

It is below the minimum income standard set by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which estimates somebody needs at least £14,400 a year to escape poverty.

By comparison, the average worker in Britain earns around £26,000.

The study, from insurance giant Prudential, which polled more than 10,000 adults, found women are far worse hit than men by pensioner poverty.

Only 12 per cent of men who retire this year will have to try to make ends meet on less than £10,000 a year.


Worse Than Chenobyl: When the Fukushima Meltdown Hits Groundwater

Fukushima is going to dwarf Chenobyl. The Japanese government has had a level 7 nuclear disaster going for almost a week but won't admit it.

The disaster is occurring the opposite way than Chernobyl, which exploded and stopped the reaction. At Fukushima, the reactions are getting worse. I suspect three nuclear piles are in meltdown and we will probably get some of it.

If reactor 3 is in meltdown, the concrete under the containment looks like lava. But Fukushima is not far off the water table. When that molten mass of self-sustaining nuclear material gets to the water table it won't simply cool down. It will explode - not a nuclear explosion, but probably enough to involve the rest of the reactors and fuel rods at the facility.


Japan Nuclear Crisis: Workers 'Losing Race' to Save Reactor

Greenpeace anti-nuclear activist
© AP
A Greenpeace anti-nuclear activist holds a flower bouquet during a candlelight vigil outside the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta
Workers at Japan's earthquake hit nuclear plant lost ground in the battle to save the plant from meltdown after the radioactive core of one reactor appeared to have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel.

The core at reactor two of the Fukushima plant may have melted on to a concrete floor, according to experts, running the risk of radioactive gases being released into the surrounding area.

Richard Lahey, who was a head of reactor safety research at General Electric when the company installed the units at Fukushima, said the workers, who have been pumping water into the three reactors in an attempt to keep the fuel rods from melting, appeared to have "lost the race" to save the reactor.

"The indications we have ... suggest that the core has melted through the bottom of the pressure vessel in unit two, and at least some of it is down on the floor of the drywell," he told a newspaper.