Why Do We Mourn Some and Not Others?


Did you hear that? No?

Put your ear closer to the suds of culture and listen more closely.

Pop. pop.

Two more tiny bubbles of celebrity burst. Two people whom I never met have passed, and all around me, I'm watching folks mourn.

Yes. I understand that if "I'll Be There" was playing in the background the night you lost your virginity, well maybe you feel some affinity to the singer of the song.

And if in high school, someone once told you that your hair looked like Farrah's, well, maybe you thought that gave the two of you a special bond.

But what did you know of either one of them? You watched Farrah's 'documentary' about dying from cancer and you were moved. You've seen The Jacksons on VH1 so often, you know by heart the moments when Papa Joe blows a gasket and beats poor Michael.

But what do you really know?

Yes. It is sad when a person transitions from life to death. We, the living, call it mourning, we call it grief, we attend funerals and wakes and memorial services. But, in general, when someone passes, they are someone who has been part of our life in some tangential way. We spoke to them, we touched them, we held them, we gave birth to them, we made love with them, we teased them at the dinner table, we went for walks with them on summer afternoons. We formed real, emotional bonds with these people and we grieve when they are gone.

What does it say about our culture that we are mourning people that the vast majority of us had no contact with whatsoever? What does it say that we are mourning one man in particular who was the butt of jokes, who, until 2:30 pm Pacific Time yesterday was a washed-up pop phenomenon who lived in isolation and who freaked us out with his constantly changing looks and his hooded or masked children, who always looked as if they were being held hostage by Shining Path Guerrilas?

I listened to Michael Jackson when I was a teenager. I remember "Motown 25 years" and the moonwalk. I remember the ubiquitous poster of Farrah in her orange tank top and her mass of hair and perfect teeth.

But they were not my friends. They were not people I could call in the middle of the night to say I was having trouble sleeping. I wasn't going to go sit with them when they were having a hard day. They weren't going to loan me money during a tight spot, or come with me on a hike.

In a lot of ways, Farrah and Michael were abstract nouns. Since hearing of their deaths yesterday, I haven't shed a tear. Truth be told, I haven't even felt sad.

But show me this:
A child dying of starvation in Darfur, or

A woman who bled to death from an illegal abortion, or

women whose bodies were destroyed by rape in the Congo Civil War or

a young American soldier killed in Iraq,

and I get angry. Or sad. Grieve. Cry. Feel called to action. Want to change the world.

For those folks who feel that they have lost some genuine connection with the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, I say, "Let you find comfort in your grief."

But for the rest of the world, that seems to be participating in some meaningless ritual of rending garments and leaving flowers and gathering together to mourn dead pop icons, I say, please find ways to connect with the real and the genuine.

Make a difference in the life of a child.

Aid a woman who seeks shelter.

Provide an ear to a young soldier who needs to talk.

Give money to aid organizations trying to feed and protect people in Africa.

There are different ways of connecting us, one to the other. I cannot join you as you weep for voices you heard on the radio, or an actress you saw on a mid-1970's piece of schlock television. I can weep with you as we work to give aid and comfort to those who need it.




Some bubbles are easy to hear as they burst.

But listen closely:

help me

feed me

I'm dying

Underneath the pop bubbles, real people are drowning.

(Warning - graphic images)


Why I, as a British Muslim woman, want the burkha banned from our streets

By Saira Khan | 24th June
Shopping in Harrods last week, I came across a group of women wearing black burkhas, browsing the latest designs in the fashion department.

The irony of the situation was almost laughable. Here was a group of affluent women window shopping for designs that they would never once be able to wear in public.

Yet it's a sight that's becoming more and more commonplace. In hardline Muslim communities right across Britain, the burkha and hijab - the Muslim headscarf - are becoming the norm.
Saira Khan, runner up in the first series of The Apprentice, believes the burkha is an oppressive tool and says it is time to ban it from the streets of Britain

In the predominantly Muslim enclaves of Derby near my childhood home, you now see women hidden behind the full-length robe, their faces completely shielded from view. In London, I see an increasing number of young girls, aged four and five, being made to wear the hijab to school.

Shockingly, the Dickensian bone disease rickets has reemerged in the British Muslim community because women are not getting enough vital vitamin D from sunlight because they are being consigned to life under a shroud.

Thanks to fundamentalist Muslims and 'hate' preachers working in Britain, the veiling of women is suddenly all-pervasive and promoted as a basic religious right. We are led to believe that we must live with this in the name of 'tolerance'.
And yet, as a British Muslim woman, I abhor the practice and am calling on the Government to follow the lead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and ban the burkha in our country.

The veil is simply a tool of oppression which is being used to alienate and control women under the guise of religious freedom.

My parents moved here from Kashmir in the 1960s. They brought with them their faith and their traditions - but they also understood that they were starting a new life in a country where Islam was not the main religion.

My mother has always worn traditional Kashmiri clothes - the salwar kameez, a long tunic worn over trousers, and the chador, which is like a pashmina worn around the neck or over the hair.

When she found work in England, she adapted her dress without making a fuss. She is still very much a traditional Muslim woman, but she swims in a normal swimming costume and jogs in a tracksuit.

I was born in this country, and my parents' greatest desire for me was that I would integrate and take advantage of the British education system.

They wanted me to make friends at school, and be able to take part in PE lessons - not feel alienated and cut off from my peers. So at home, I wore the salwar kameez, while at school I wore a wore a typical English school uniform.

Now, to some fundamentalists, that made us not proper Muslims. Really?

I have read the Koran. Nowhere in the Koran does it state that a woman's face and body must be covered in a layer of heavy black cloth. Instead, Muslim women should dress modestly, covering their arms and legs.

Many of my adult British Muslim friends cover their heads with a headscarf - and I have no problem with that.

The burkha is an entirely different matter. It is an imported Saudi Arabian tradition, and the growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of creeping radicalisation, which is not just regressive, it is oppressive and downright dangerous.

The burkha is an extreme practice. It is never right for a woman to hide behind a veil and shut herself off from people in the community. But it is particularly wrong in Britain, where it is alien to the mainstream culture for someone to walk around wearing a mask.
The veil restricts women. It stops them achieving their full potential in all areas of their life, and it stops them communicating. It sends out a clear message: 'I do not want to be part of your society.'

Every time the burkha is debated, Muslim fundamentalists bring out all these women who say: 'It's my choice to wear this.'

Perhaps so - but what pressures have been brought to bear on them? The reality, surely, is that a lot of women are not free to choose.

Girls as young as four are wearing the hijab to school: that is not a freely made choice. It stops them taking part in education and reaching their potential, and the idea that tiny children need to protect their modesty is abhorrent.

And behind the closed doors of some Muslim houses, countless young women are told to wear the hijab and the veil. These are the girls who are hidden away, they are not allowed to go to university or choose who they marry. In many cases, they are kept down by the threat of violence.

The burkha is the ultimate visual symbol of female oppression. It is the weapon of radical Muslim men who want to see Sharia law on Britain's streets, and would love women to be hidden, unseen and unheard. It is totally out of place in a civilised country.

Precisely because it is impossible to distinguish between the woman who is choosing to wear a burkha and the girl who has been forced to cover herself and live behind a veil, I believe it should be banned.
French President Sarkozy has backed moves to outlaw burkhas in France
President Sarkozy is absolutely right to say: 'If you want to live here, live like us.'

He went on to say that the burkha is not a religious sign, 'it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement... In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity.'

So what should we do in Britain? For decades, Muslim fundamentalists, using the human rights laws, have been allowed to get their own way.

It is time for ministers and ordinary British Muslims to say, 'Enough is enough'. For the sake of women and children, the Government must ban the wearing of the hijab in school and the burkha in public places.

To do so is not racist, as extremists would have us believe. After all, when I go to Pakistan or Middle Eastern countries, I respect the way they live.

Two years ago, I wore a burkha for the first time for a television programme. It was the most horrid experience. It restricted the way I walked, what I saw, and how I interacted with the world.

It took away my personality. I felt alienated and like a freak. It was hot and uncomfortable, and I was unable to see behind me, exchange a smile with people, or shake hands.

If I had been forced to wear a veil, I would certainly not be free to write this article. Nor would I have run a marathon, become an aerobics teacher or set up a business.

We must unite against the radical Muslim men who love to control women.

My message to those Muslims who want to live in a Talibanised society, and turn their face against Britain, is this: 'If you don't like living here and don't want to integrate, then what the hell are you doing here? Why don't you just go and live in an Islamic country?'



Your Eyes Cheat Your Brain

No matter how strongly you want to believe you are seeing blue and green spirals here, there is no blue color in this image. There is only green, red and orange. What you think is blue is actually green. You can check this through Photoshop, if you need an affirmation. Your eyes cheat you.


U.S. Health Insurers Revoke Policies To Avoid Paying High Costs

According to a new report by congressional investigators, an insurance company practice of retroactively canceling health insurance is fairly common, and it saves insurers a lot of money.

A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently held a hearing about the report's findings in an effort to bring a halt to this practice. But at the hearing, insurance executives told lawmakers they have no plans to stop rescinding policies.

The act of retroactively canceling insurance is called rescission. It happens with individual health insurance policies, where people apply for insurance on their own, not through their employers. Their application generally includes a questionnaire about their health.

The process begins after a policyholder has been diagnosed with an expensive condition such as cancer. The insurer then reviews the health status information in the questionnaire, and if anything is missing, the policy may be rescinded.

The omission from the application may be deliberate, to hide a health condition that might have made the applicant ineligible for insurance. But sometimes there's an innocent explanation: The policyholder may not have known about a health condition, or may not have thought it was relevant.

The rescissions based on omissions or immaterial conditions incensed many lawmakers.

"I think it's shocking, it's inexcusable. It's a system that we have in place and we've got to stop," Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) said at the hearing.

From the other side of the aisle, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) was also appalled.

"Doesn't it bother you to do this?" he asked Don Hamm, CEO of Assurant Health, who appeared with the CEOs of UnitedHealth's Golden Rule Insurance Co. and WellPoint's Consumer Business.

Losing Insurance At A Critical Time

Hamm's insurance company rescinded the policy of Otto Raddatz after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Raddatz had not told the company about a CT scan by a now-retired doctor that showed gallstones and a weakened blood vessel.

That's because he didn't know about the findings, his sister Peggy Raddatz, an attorney, testified. She spent weeks on the phone and ended up at the Illinois Attorney General's office, which began an investigation. The retired doctor turned out to be off on a fishing trip.

"Luckily, they were able to find the doctor, who was able to say, 'Yes, I never discussed those issues with him; they were very minor,' " Raddatz testifed.

After Minor Misunderstanding, A Policy Revoked

One of Barton's constituents, Robin Beaton of Waxahachie, Texas, did know that her health history included acne and a rapid heartbeat. But she didn't think they were relevant to her current health and left them off her application.

After she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was scheduled for a double mastectomy, her insurer cancelled her policy, leaving her devastated.

"I had to completely refocus on what to do, where to turn, because my insurance canceled me," she said. Beaton called Barton's office, which started a series of phone calls to her insurer. It took a call from Barton himself to get her reinstated.

Committee investigators found a total of 19,776 rescissions from three large insurers over five years. The rescissions saved the insurers $300 million.

Insurers Say They Won't Change Rescission Practice

During the hearing, Barton asked Hamm how he felt hearing the three cases of people who'd been burned by rescission.

"I have to say I felt really bad," Hamm replied.

"It's my hope there will be changes made that this will no longer be necessary," he said. His hope, and that of the other insurance company CEOs who testified, is that a health care overhaul will mean that everyone has insurance. If that were the case, people couldn't wait until they got sick to apply, and insurers wouldn't have to worry about whether someone had lied on an application.

Several lawmakers at the hearing suggested there were things the companies could do right now: They could vet applications when they receive them, rather than waiting until people get sick; they could consider whether something that was omitted was related to a current health condition before rescinding; and they could be more careful to positively identify fraud before rescinding a policy.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), who chaired the hearing, asked all three CEOs if they would agree to stop rescinding policies except in cases of fraud.

All three said no.

If they don't do something to stop it, said Barton of Texas, Congress will.


Fire ant infestation startles Nova Scotians

They've got a bite like a hornet's sting, leave an itch as bad as poison ivy and are smart enough to learn to avoid insecticide.

It sounds like a B-movie scare but this invasive species of ant is a real and growing concern in Nova Scotia. European fire ants have been turning up in new areas and there are localized infestations so bad that yards are unusable and people mow the lawn wearing protective gear.

Halifax is holding a briefing Monday night on how residents can protect themselves from these insects, which have appeared in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario as well. But some scientists say little can be done to halt the march of the ants.

“I'd want to be three kilometres away, on the other side of some water, maybe with nuclear weapons,” joked Eric Georgeson, a retired entomologist with the province's Department of Natural Resources.

“They don't spread fast but they're persistent,” he said from his home in Lyons Brook, N.S. “I think the big thing with these ants is their ability to survive, to adapt and survive.”

Mr. Georgeson said that he started seeing the ants in many more parts of the province over the past decade and that their aggression toward other species has left the woods “quiet, too quiet.”

The ants can damage property, drive down real estate values and attack those who come too close to their homes. They are lethal only to a small percentage of people, who are thought to be hypersensitive to their venom, but cannot be dismissed as just a nuisance to others.

“If you had a toddler that fell down out there, those ants would be all over them,” Mr. Georgeson said. “It'd be like being bitten by a lot of hornets. It'd be a very unpleasant situation.”

Scientists warn that the national spread of the ants, which are vulnerable to cold, may be sped by warming winters.

“The cold was one of the great things about moving here,” said Rowan Sage, a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto.

He had so many fire ant mounds near his former home in Georgia that his garden was an “obstacle course.” He would build bonfires on them occasionally, he said, but between the fire ants and the ticks and the chiggers, anyone who was active outdoors could look forward to months of itching every year.

“We had two seasons…the scratching season and the non-scratching season,” he said.

The itching from a fire ant attack, which Dr. Sage compared to a case of poison ivy, comes up to a day after the initial pain of the bites.

“When one of the ants starts biting it sends some kind of signal and they all start biting at once,” he said. “If you want to know the feeling, get a needle and heat it up until it's red hot and then stick it in your skin.”

Eric Ashton knows that feeling all too well. A Halifax resident, he is watching nervously as his neighbours grapple with fire ant infestations. They haven't colonized his property, but he's not sure he will be able to stop them.

“They seem to be a hell of a lot smarter than a normal black ant,” he said. “You're always looking down…wondering ‘are they here today?' It sounds like one of those television shows about aliens coming, but that's how we feel.”

The retiree has one neighbour who has to put on rubber boots before she'll dare go outside to hang her laundry.

“There's got to be something that the city will do or allow us to do,” he said. “They've got to allow us to kill the bastards. Not shoo them away, but kill them.”