US activist Nguyen Quoc Quan released after 9 months of detention in Vietnam – GlobalPost



SACRAMENTOAmerican activist Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan has been released after 9 months of detention in Ho Chi Minh City by the Vietnamese government.

Vietnamese authorities claimed the California software engineer and former teacher was engaged in terrorist activities due to his association with Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group that works “inside Vietnam and among the diaspora … to mobilize the power of the people.”

The Vietnamese government has for years had a contentious relationship with Viet Tan, of which Quan is a long-standing member.

The 58-year-old activist arrived in his home state of California on Wednesday evening to an exuberant crowd of family and friends, soon after his wife received the surprising news that the Vietnamese government would allow him to walk free.

“I received a phone call from the consulate, and [the staffer] told me ‘You better sit down,”’ Quan’s wife, Mai Huong Ngo, told GlobalPost.

Ngo dutifully sat down, but became worried: Was her husband sick, she wondered?

He wasn’t. Instead, the consular staffer told Ngo that her husband was returning to the home they shared in the Northern California city of Elk Grove.

“I kept crying, I cannot speak, I keep crying … and [the staffer] asked me, ‘You are happy, right?”’ said Ngo.

Read more over at GlobalPost…..


Dark day for free speech in Vietnam: 13 activists jailed


A rotten week for freedom of speech in Vietnam. Wrote about it for GlobalPost and hoping to do something else for UN Dispatch today.

Vietnam Convicts 14 Activists of ‘Anti-State’ crimes After Two-Day Hearing – GlobalPost

Fourteen bloggers were convicted of “anti-state” crimes today in the central Vietnamese city of Vinh, after a swift two-day-trial that many human rights defenders have been swift to condemn.

Read more from GlobalPost: Vietnam: Girl suspended over Ho Chi Minh joke

Thirteen of the convicted were given jail sentences between three and 13 years, coupled with house-arrest sentences of varying lengths.Twelve of the convicted are men, and two are women, while the majority are affiliated with the Catholic church, according to Human Rights Watch sources.

“I pray and hope that soon the society of Vietnam will have truth and justice. I fully accept and will endure any and all suppression under this regime,” said 24-year-old Catholic activist Tran Minh Nhat in his final testimony on Wednesday, which was posted on the Thanh Niên Công Giáo blog.

Read more over at GlobalPost….



Mutant Butterflies/Cornelia Hesse-Honegger

Have you found yourself profoundly concerned about radioactive butterflies in recent months? It’s cool, I’m on it by way of GlobalPost.

I find it interesting that there’s been such a media flap over this. I suppose the symbolism of mutant insects flitting around vomiting smoke-stacks of nuclear hell stick in the craw of the public. On the record, I’m no anti-nuclear activist – but it’s interesting to contemplate the emotions and fears that these mutated animals evoke.

I attempted to dispel some of the confusion in this GlobalPost article, by calling up a certain Dr Joseph Rachlin of New York’s City College. Via his aggressively New York accent, I learned more about mutant butterflies than I had ever expected to learn. I thank him for that.

Mutant butterflies? What “radioactive” insects means for everyone else

Mutant butterflies are flitting around the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the public is — understandably — looking for answers. GlobalPost reported yesterday that some butterflies near the site of the Japanese meltdown, according to a recent study, are exhibiting some bizarre characteristics,including smaller wings, irregularly developed eyes, and malformed antennae.

The study, published in Nature, also found that pale grass blue butterflies appear to be passing abnormalities to their offspring.

But how worried should we be about this new development, and the possible effects of low-dose nuclear radiation on humans? GlobalPost contacted City University of New York biology professor Dr. Joseph Rachlin to find out more. 

What is a mutation, anyway? 

“A mutation by definition is a change in genetic structure,” said Rachlin. The butterflies, according to the study authors, are exhibiting germ-line mutations, which are hereditary. That’s different from a somatic mutation, which only affects the body and can’t be passed on to offspring.

“A genetic mutation can be positive, it can be negative, or it can be neutral, in the sense that it’s affecting — or not affecting — deleteriously the survivalship of the butterfly population,” Rachlin said, adding that there are actually more neutral mutations than negative in nature.

“The concerns you’re looking at are manifested at the population level,” said Rachlin of the Fukushima butterflies. “We don’t really care about what happens to an individual organism — unless it’s human.”

Read more at GlobalPost….

If you’re interested in mutant insects – and who isn’t! – I can’t recommend the beautiful work of Swiss science artist Cornelia Hesse-Honegger strongly enough. She specializes in in painting and documenting insect mutations near nuclear sites, most famously at Chernobyl.

She was kind enough to respond to my e-mail vis a vis mutant butterflies lately. (Oh, the things I do for my craft. But isn’t it nice to be paid to research mutant butterflies!)

Q – I`ve read reports that insects are considered to be relatively immune to radiation – but I`ve also heard the opposite, especially regarding butterflies. Can you shine any light on this for me? 
A – As the scientist irradiate insects, mostly flies from the outside with high doses of x-rays they correlate from their studies to what is happening around nuclear power plants and the insects living there. But – insects in nature are exposed to a cocktail of radionuclides. so a comparison with the lab work is not possible unless they do as the Japanese scientists did, mainly irradiate also the food of the insects.
Low doses of radiation are considered harmless among the official scientists, which is purely political. I published my findings with Drosophila in Chernobyl fallout areas in Jan 1988 and have ever ben opposed by biologists in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Q – Why do you think the public is so horrified by these mutations in insects – especially butterflies, which are often considered something of a symbolic species? Should they be? Are you? 

A – Butterflies are dear to humans and this is why they are shocked, at least for some time. True bugs are less a symbol for a healthy Nature.

Q – Do you feel the mutations you document are grounds for cutting down on nuclear power use worldwide? Why or why not?

A -I cannot confirm they are mutations, because I cannot look at chromosomes ore genes. I am an artist and never a biologist offered to do this work. Yes all nuclear power plants, all depleted uranium ammunition all nuke bombs and all nuclear scientific institutes should be closed down and our main independent research should be – what do we do with the waste.

Dangerous Sandwiches Throughout History: my recent magnum opus


Possibly my favorite image of Mittens ever. With a sandwich. 

I am really, really proud of my recent story on Dangerous Sandwiches Throughout History for GlobalPost. I just thought I’d share. 

Maybe there’s a book in dangerous food somewhere.

Deadly sandwiches: remarkably dangerous lunchtimes throughout history

Sewing needles have been found in in-flight sandwiches on Delta and now, on Air Canada, causing some to cast an eye of suspicion towards our most dearly-beloved lunchtime dish. But what about other dangerous sammiches in human history? A non-exhaustive list follows.

I don’t care if this sandwich is dangerous. It is delicious.

1. Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s Dangerous Sandwich. (Addendum: you find the best things when you Google “Dangerous Sandwich.”

Ohio congressman (and 2008 Presidential hopeful) Kucinich’s very public ordeal began in 2008, when he bit into an unmarked-and-dangerous olive pit in a sandiwch served at a House of Representatives cafeteria in Washington DC – splitting his tooth into multiple pieces and causing him “excruciating” pain.

“This injury required nearly two years, three dental surgeries, and a substantial amount of money to rectify,” Kucinich told CBS, pointing out that he had to get both implants and a new bridge to fix the ensuing dental problems.

2. Exploding Chicken Sandwich of Doom 

Pity Frank Sutton: late one evening in 2005, the amusement park ride technician decided to stop for a McDonalds chicken sandwich, somewhere in the bowels of Southwestern Virginia.

But things got ugly when the Florida native bit into the sandwich, whereupon, according to court records of Sutton’s testimony, “the grease from the inside of the chicken sandwich spread out all over my bottom lip, my top lip, down onto my chin,” and immediately caused serious facial blistering.

Sutton promptly filed suit and demanded $2 million for his troubles, pointing out that he was forced to work less due to a painful, persistent lip condition induced by the burns. The “exploding chicken sandwich” case was eventually settled in September 2010 for an undisclosed sum – and set off a round of hearty debate over tort reform and frivolous lawsuits.

Read more at GlobalPost…