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"Pillow Angel" Sparks Online Debate

Blogophile is written by's Melissa P. McNamara

"Ashley X," a severely disabled child, is sparking outrage online after her parent's controversial decision to stunt her growth. There's also war brewing between bloggers and the Associated Press. Find out why. Plus, Senator Barack Obama has long acknowledged some youthful indiscretions, but his drug use is now making headlines online. And when a blogger took on Disney, it sparked intrigue and support in the blogosphere.

What Would Ashley Say?

The case of "Ashley X," a severely mentally and physically disabled child whose growth was stunted by her parents to keep their "pillow angel" portable, has captured attention online, raising many ethical questions.

Ashley's uterus and breast tissue were removed at a Seattle hospital, and she received hormones to halt her growth. The parents say the treatment will benefit their 9-year old daughter because it will better allow her family to care for her. A hospital ethics committee approved the treatment, but many other ethicists, and bloggers alike, have decried the actions as inhumane.

Ashley's doctors wrote about her treatment in October's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, and it gained attention online after Ashley's parents created a blog this month — which they say has received over a million hits — to respond to the article. They wrote:

"A fundamental and universal misconception about the treatment is that it is intended to convenience the caregiver; rather, the central purpose is to improve Ashley's quality of life...Ashley will be a lot more physically comfortable free of menstrual cramps, free of the discomfort associated with large and fully-developed breasts, and with a smaller, lighter body that is better suited to constant lying down and is easier to be moved around."

Many bloggers question whether Ashley's parents were truly acting in their daughter's best interest. "I have no idea what this lady's parents were thinking of, but it's a fact that people can persuade themselves that something is for their children's own good when it is in fact convenient for themselves," Indigo Jo blogs. "I can understand them wanting to make things simpler, but this is Ashley's life and body, not theirs," Disgruntled Ladye adds at Everything and Nothing At All.

Some say "Ashley's treatment" is just an attempt at eugenics. "That is just totally messed up -- the foot binding of Western medicine," Media Girl writes. "I think we should all be very frightened of the possibilities this opens before us, this gaping Pandora's box of alteration, this Brave New World," Christina writes at Inside Motherhood.

Disability rights activists argue that Ashley's parents should've tried to adapt society to Ashley's needs, not the other way around. "Instead of looking at the societal and physical institutions that might make life for Ashley difficult and changing them -- instead of going all out for disabled human rights -- Ashley's parents pruned her so that she could exist in society's walls with as little physical discomfort they thought humanely possible," Wheelchair Dancer blogs. "Ohhh. How wrong. Change the world not the person!"

Others suggest this type of procedure is a slippery slope, and note that it raises many other questions about the rights of the disabled and children. "Do parents have the right to have those sorts of medical treatments carried out on their children?," Flynn writes at Jokeroo. "Where is the blurring of the lines in other childhood disorders where a parent or a guardian can ask for a procedure such as sterilization be carried out?"

Still, Ashley's parents do have some defenders online. They've identified their daughter's needs and pleasures—basically, those of an infant—and are looking for ways to fight social structures and even biology that would erode their daughter's ability to have those things," Amanda Marcotte writes at Pandagon. "It's weird, but it makes sense."

I suspect this isn't the last we'll be hearing about Ashley X.

Bloggers Vs. AP

A battle brewing between conservative bloggers and the Associated Press appears to have come to a conclusion, though the fight is far from over. The battle began after the AP reported that about six Sunnis were being attacked and burned to death by Shiites at a mosque in November.

Conservative bloggers questioned the AP's source for that information — an Iraqi policeman named Jamil Hussein — after the U.S. military and the Iraq Interior Ministry initially said there was no Iraqi policeman by that name. Bloggers claimed it was evidence that the media was trying to portray a grimmer picture of Iraq than actually existed, and suggested that the source was a fake. Blogger Digby called it the "rightosphere's Jamail Hussein witch hunt."

But last Thursday Iraq's Interior Ministry finally confirmed that Jamil Hussein is an Iraqi police captain, adding that he could be imprisoned for talking to the AP. The Iraqi government initially reported that to the best of their knowledge, there was no "Police Captain Jamil Hussein" working for the Baghdad police department.

So are bloggers who accused the AP of manufacturing their source eating crow now? Well, not exactly. The conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who led the charge against the AP, links to fellow bloggers who still maintain that the AP was wrong.

"Whether Jamil Hussein actually exists is really a secondary issue. The fact that the AP used a single source for dozens of inflammatory stories about atrocities in Iraq that still have yet to find any confirmation is almost as disturbing as making the source up," Ed writes at Captain's Quarters.

Many other bloggers still have lingering doubts about Hussein's veracity. "If AP still believes that Hussein is a reliable source after the 'burning Sunni' story, why has it apparently not cited him as a source for any story since then?," John Hinderaker blogs at Power Line.

"It took six weeks to confirm that Jamil Hussein even existed. Why did it take that long?," Lawhawk blogs. And Chad at Kuru Lounge adds, "Capt. Jamil Hussein is conveniently incommunicado again, AP says his phone has been disconnected. Sorry it just doesn't add up as credible."

"AP's stonewalling and shenanigans in refusing to produce their source, once the story came into serious doubt, remain unexplained," The Dread Pundit Bluto writes.

Love Affair Over?

Senator Barack Obama has long acknowledged that he used marijuana and cocaine when he was younger, but the sudden love-fest surrounding the possibility of his 2008 candidacy has pushed the issue front and center.

In his 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father" — a bestseller lists — Obama wrote:

"Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. . . . I got high [to] push questions of who I was out of my mind."

Obama's past drug use was not an issue in his 2004 Senate campaign, and he's certainly not the first politician to admit to youthful indiscretions. As a Washington Post article points out, Bill Clinton infamously said in 1992 that he did not inhale, and President Bush has acknowledged he had an "irresponsible" youth amid questions about what that might entail.

Many bloggers say, "So what?". Others note that Obama's drug use is old news. "What relevance does it have now? Is there any evidence that Obama uses drugs now? He did it 30 years ago and he published an admission 10 years ago," a blogger at Dingesgang writes.

Some suggest Obama's nicotine habit could be his real downfall. "Now, I do think the fact that Obama smokes cigarettes has the potential to be MORE of a problem than past drug use...the political correctness over smoking is greater among some people than the political correctness over having once snorted cocaine," D-Day blogs.

One blogger points out that Obama is likely highlighting his prior drug use to get it out in the open before the campaign fully heats up. "There's a political strategy of 'hanging a lantern' on potentially devastating secrets candidates have in their closets that could hurt them in the heat of a campaign," Fran Eaton explains in Obama Watch. "This 'secret' is easily found in his autobiography. It's no secret."

Larry at Oval Office 2008 agrees. "In the media-saturated world of Oprah Winfrey, YouTube, and Doctor Phil, it's better to disclose faults on your own terms and ask for forgiveness rather than to hide the truth," Larry blogs. "Obama--whether he was politically minded while writing his youthful biography or not--has seemed to have have learned this political lesson."

Spocko Takes On The Mouse

There's nothing like a blogger being shut down by a major company to spark intrigue and support in the blogosphere. Media critic Spocko became one of the most searched people on Technorati after his blog, Spocko's Brain, was shut down by The Walt Disney Company. The company said he violated its copyright by posting on his blog audio files from right-wing San Francisco talk radio station KSFO.

Spocko recorded the programming to point out, he says, that the station spreads hatred directed at politicians, journalists, minorities, and Muslims. He also sent letters to the station's advertisers, urging them to withdraw their sponsorship because of the program's content, directing them to his blog to hear the audio files. A spokesperson for Spocko's internet provider said the company gave Spocko one week to remove the material — after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from ABC Radio — and when he did not, took down his site.

Spocko's blog is back online now, after several bloggers from around the world posted the disputed audio files, perhaps to provoke Disney.

Many bloggers say Spocko's stand was courageous and the attention he drew was a victory for the little guy. "It's David and Goliath all over again," John Welan proclaimed at Missing Link. "The people must be free to express their views, beliefs and thoughts, or the government ceases to be of the people and for the people, and becomes of the elite for the elite at the cost of the peoples freedoms."

"Spocko did exactly what should have been done. He hit them were it would get their immediate attention. In the wallet. Kudo's to him!!," a blogger wrote at Blognonymous. "Mr. Spocko was trying to expose hate radio for what it is. One has a Constitutional right to say nearly anything one wishes in political speech, but that doesn't mean corporations who fund hate radio should continue to get a free pass," adds Stillwell at Northwest Progressive Institute.

Others praised the power of the blogosphere for generating attention for Spocko's cause after Disney shut him down temporarily. "The big guns like Disney can't beat the small guys into submission any longer because there is no controlling the messaging. The blogosphere can bring down the bad but at the same time it can boost up the good ones (and the bold ones)," a blogger at Creative Concepts writes.

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By Melissa McNamara

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