Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sometimes It's Hard to be an Atheist

Particularly when you have the example of the couple in this story, who've pulled their children out of school in Ontario. Their problem? Their 10 year old daughter was in a school pageant and had to sing the 60's anti-war anthem 'One Tin Soldier' - they objected, calling the song 'violent and religious'. Now, I'll grant you that the song does have some religious overtones - heck I can remember it being sung in church when I was a kid, and it does have some violence in it - but no more than most and it has some important lessons to teach children, namely that violence isn't the best answer to things. Contrast that to what the children have learnt from their mother, which is that if something happens that you don't like, what you should do is whine about it and run away....

Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Dirty Trick on Cheap Trick

is being played by Sony Music, who's being sued by both Cheap Trick and the Allman Brothers Band for royalties they say are owed them from the legal sale of online music. The nature of the dirty trick mentioned is that Sony is treating the sales of online music as a physical sale, which allows them to deduct costs such as 20% for physical packaging, and 15$ for breakage, neither of which apply to a digital file. Let me say that this doesn't surprise me, between the Sony Rootkit fiasco, and the original idea Sony has of Digital Rights Management - it's obvious that Sony doesn't give a hoot about their customers, so it only follows that they're going to screw their artists over.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Cloaking Device...Check!

Interesting story here, from the Toronto Star. A T.O. city councillor, Michael Thompson, was attacked in Nathan Phillips Square on April 26. The net result of this is a homeless man in jail, and another councillor requesting another go-round on a bylaw to restrict panhandling.
I'm honestly a little uncomfortable with panhandling, personally. I volunteer my time to help try to alleviate poverty in my community, and that to me feels better and more meaningful than shoving change at someone to make them go away. I may be wrong about that, but that's my philosophy. I want to create an atmosphere of social justice, not soothe my conscience a quarter at a time. And, you get to meet a lot of people with a lot of heartbreaking stories. Real, human, unfortunate people. I would encourage people to get to know these people, and those that advocate on their behalf. Locally, the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty work hard to make their voices heard, and those of the poor, often against very strong odds. There are undoubtedly similar organizations wherever you, dear readers, may reside.

In a broad sense, the 'safe streets' laws that exist in some localities are more about the sensibilities of the rich than the needs of the poor, or the safety of 'ordinary citizens'.
The process of gentrification, the reclamation of inner-city neighborhoods by the affluent, is praised by some as beautification, and as a move toward safer streets.
Those concerned with social justice, however, see it differently. It's the displacement of low-income residents to ever-more-expensive locations outside the downtown core. When these people are displaced, they lose their ready access to services, and the cost of obtaining these services now has to include transportation to get there. So, people are driven to desperate measures: begging for change for the bus.
But, these people are begging in the city centre, the heart of the newly-affluent neighborhoods. 'Safe streets' laws make it possible to legally remove these people from the areas that used to be their homes.
Not enough to make them homeless and powerless, let's make them invisible - all the easier to sleep well at night, I suppose.

The conscience doesn't recognize what the self-indulgence refuses to see.

Jim Crow visits Halifax

Earlier this month, Flash posted an article on the topic of a city in Nebraska that was talking about possibly creating what amounted to segregated school districts in order to create schools that would better represent minority populations. In a comment, I suggested that the problems to me seemed to be more economic - rich/poor rather than black/white, and I then suggested in a comment that we had a similar divide here in Nova Scotia.

Little did I know that someone was going to propose this for Halifax, too. Wade Smith, vice-principal of St. Patrick's High School said in an interview on CBC radio this morning, and in this article, that Halifax schools are failing black students, who would be better served by a racially-segregated school.

To me, on the surface, this does not look at all like a good idea. As Flash wrote, schools teach a hell of a lot more than reading and writing, and setting up segregated schools is backwards. Among any good things it might do, it also will teach segregation, which I think we can agree is a bad thing. It is just too easy to extend the argument that if a separate school is good for self-esteem, maybe separate sections on the bus would work, too.

Simply from a mundane practical standpoint, how would this work? Where would this school be located? The black population in Halifax is spread quite widely, therefore students will have to be bused from all over the city; would the school have a larger budget to support that? If so, good luck selling that to the other residents of the city as their Art and Music budgets get cut still further. If not, will some areas simply not get bus service in which case those students would end up being an even smaller minority in a more white-dominated school? For those students, would African History courses still be available, or would they be cut for a more white-centred curriculum? After all, they have a school to go to for those courses. (I know, I know, the curriculum is already white-centred. Could this be the heart of the problem?)

I'm sure Mr. Smith's concerns are valid, although I am not black and did not live here when I was school-age and can't answer to it from experience. However, segregating the schools to teach self-respect seems counter-productive in the long run. There have got to be better alternatives.

I have no idea if this blog has any African-Nova Scotian readers, but I would love to hear from you on this topic. Heck, I wanna hear from anyone on this.

Will the real Ken Lay please stand up?

Time for an update from the Enron trial!

Ken Lay has been testifying this week. His defence, for those who don't know, is that he was just a wee, naive, somewhat incompetent CEO who was taken advantage of by a nefarious and scheming CFO (Fastow). The evil Fastow was wholly responsible for all the crooked bookmaking which led to the demise of Enron. All poor widdle Kenny-boy could do was watch as the world crumbled around him (oh...and sign all those financial reports/forecasts, expense reports, go forward documents, and whatever else CEOs are supposed to read and understand as part of their 7-plus-figure-salaried jobs). I'm starting to wonder if the defence team watched The Hudsucker Proxy while dreaming up this strategy.

Enough of the background. This week, the facade slipped. He's attacked the prosecutor and even his own lawyer while testifying. What happened to the good-ole folksy charmer? Folksy charmers don't try to tamper with witness testimony, Kenny-boy. They don't ask their underlings to "reach out and contact" trial witnesses. That's more of a mob practice, really.

And now for the laugh of the week! I will simply quote from the article, that you, the faithful reader, can enjoy the same gamut of emotions I experienced:

Lay said he is now worth negative $250,000 because he had so much debt, though he's paid all of it except the $7.5 million owed to Enron. He explained that he accumulated so much personal debt because he was constantly encouraged to diversify and since he didn't want to sell his Enron stock, he borrowed to invest elsewhere.

He later added that, although he's sold his many homes (including 3(!) in Aspen), he has some swampland in Florida that's still available, and perhaps a bridge or two for sale. See his website ( for details. If this link doesn't work, it's probably because Kenny-boy is just an innocent country bumpkin without the resources to run a website, or maybe there's a conspiracy or something.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

On strange bedfellows...

If this has an ounce of truth to it, we are in deep, deep doodoo in Iran. The quick precis is as follows:
  • The Pentagon is trying to raise rebellion within Iran by supporting the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a right-wing terrorist (or inusurgent - your pick) organization
  • According to the Council of Foreign Relations, these guys have killed many civilians, but the US view them as a friend because the enemy of your enemy is always your friend. Right?
  • In order to make sure they would stay nice and loyal to the US, not like those Afghan mujahedeen turncoats that jumped into bed with the Taleban and al Qaeda, the US has made them swear an oath to democracy. I shit you not - read that sentance again; it's one of those word tangles that a monkey might randomly generate with a typewriter and enough bananas, but not one that a sentient human should ever have to type.

This can't possibly go bad, can it?

More flappin' flags

Of all the arguments being used in the half-staff flag debate, this is the one that I understand the least (emphasis mine):
My biggest concern with lowering the flag for soldiers killed in Afstan is that it creates a perception of inequality among soldiers killed in this mission and soldiers killed in other missions. Aside from special cases, it is unfair to the memories of our fallen heroes and their families to distinguish the deaths in this way.
Unfair? Really? This is all about conistency and fairness? This is such a bogus argument that I don't know where to start.

We lower the flags for a Member of Parliament or an appointed (!) Senator, but not for someone who volunteers to put his or her life on the line and then pays the price, because we didn't do it in the past every time?

How far back does one measure this "consistency" to form a useful measure? Let's apply the same argument to healthcare - the federal government used to contribute 25% of the healthcare costs to the provinces - is Harper going to pony up that amount of cash now for historical consistency? Or, since for much of the history of Canada we didn't actually have socialized health care, so maybe we should just scrap the whole damned thing? (Okay, this one might be on the table.)

There is a story from these here parts that Edward Cornwallis used to pay 50 pounds for the scalps of the local native populations. Isn't it historically inconsistent to no longer continue this "tradition" with the Mi'kmaq?

Of course, the same person that posted this messy rationalization revealed their partisan stripes in this little unjustified snipe:

Today, in Sinai, Egypt, Canadian soldiers (multinational soldiers, infact) came underattack by two suicide bombers. *IF* this attack had killed a Canadian soldier and IF* the Liberals had won the past election, I guarantee you they would not have lowered the flag to half mast to honour the death.
*IF* this argument wasn't specious and *IF* its author not blinded by partisan politics I guarantee that I would have saved fifteen minutes by not having to write this.

Can we at least talk sensibly about this issue? Please?

Give it up, already...

What do you call a person that protests Canadian or American political policies? Anti-Canadian? Anti-American? Anti-Caucasian?

No, because protesting a policy is simply protesting a policy, whatever the form it might take. Whether it is burning a flag, writing a political cartoon, or my mode of choice - whining on the internet.

Can we finally therefore, once and for all stop calling protests against Israeli policy anti-Semitism?


Why on earth is the Canadian government providing subsidies to oil companies? Jack Layton yesterday demanded that these, which he estimates to be about $1.5 billion, be removed from the budget. Surely, if there is one industry that can get pulled from the government teat it is oil and gas! Harper, for his part, said that they weren't planning any more subsidies for oil companies. I should think not.

Let's put that money either back in my pocket, into a useful program like childcare or health, or into the debt so we can get rid of those interest payments. I' prefer the programs, but anything is better than pissing it away into the pockets of the oil industry in times of record profits.

Anything, just make it useful, please!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Beds are not the answer

A sad story from the West Coast has emerged over the past few days, which is somewhat emblematic of a problem facing health care facilities across Canada. An 88-year-old man died on a stretcher in the hallway of an emergency department for lack of attention and treatment. A traumatic experience for the family, disappointing for the doctors and nurses who work at the facility, and ultimately embarassing for the Government of British Columbia.

As expected, the call has come for more beds, not only from members of the public, but from the doctors themselves. However, as I have discussed here, the actual number of beds is not the problem. The fact that people who have no need to be occupying the beds are in them - which, unless they intend to double up, prevents patients from being placed in the appropriate ward and receiving the appropriate treatment.

There likely are a suitable number of beds, it's just impossible to use them effectively while running the hospital the way they are. The secret is to discharge people 24 hours a day, as they have done in the UK. This effectively rectifies the 'bed-blocking' problem.

I have put this theory forward before. However, upon further reflection, I realize that it will likely never happen because of...and I know I'll make some enemies care workers and their unions. The concessions that would have to be made to have people to clean and re-make the beds, and adequately treat new patients as people were discharged overnight would not be something I would want to negotiate.

Another problem is created in the way hospitals are staffed - why is the shift 8 to 4 for everyone? Hasn't it occurred to anyone that having your entire nursing staff (for example) get up and leave, and an entirely new complement of staff arrive may result in some patients getting lost in the rush to head out the door? This is not to say that nurses don't work hard, they do. But having this complete turnover during a busy time is madness.

Back in the day, when this stuff was actually my business, there was talk of employing industrial engineers to look at the problem. They would study the patterns of highest ER volume, and help hospitals plan staffing levels accordingly. The ability to respond with adequate levels of care would be enhanced by having an increased number of staff during peak periods. Do you expect the unions to approve of this? I certainly don't - it would require more people to be present at the least desirable hours.

Until we break the hold of the 'assembly-line' union culture in health care, we will never make any headway. The secret is not to add more capacity, it's to work more efficiently within your means. The present system of inflexible shiftwork is failing the patients, and it's time that front line workers stood up and showed they actually do care about the people they serve. And that's the word, serve. It's their job. They are not doing us a favour by treating us as an inconvenience. If you've lost your empathy because you feel the system keeps you from doing your job, help the system to work, don't take it out on people who are frightened and in pain.

And maybe, just maybe, another 88-year-old man won't die untreated on a cot in the hallway. That's just about the loneliest death I can think of.

Flags a' flappin'

In a recent post on what has been termed the "flag flap" I said that I really wasn't sure how I stood. Well, I'm not sure if I actually lied then, if my thoughts evolved through the week, or if I just hadn't thought things through, but in reading other posts and participating as a commentator on a couple of conversations (here and here) I think that it has become obvious that I have in fact chosen a side.

First, I would like to state up front that the debate, at least that which I've seen, has for the most part maintained the civil tone that it deserves. There are a few notable exceptions but I will not point them out - they deserve to get no further attention and I'm not going to provide them with hits. Don't get me wrong - I love animated discussion and I understand that it can get a little heated sometimes, but in some cases the tone of even the original posts were bathed in invective and ad hominem attacks. Armchair chickenhawk cowards with axes to grind.

I think that in originally considering the subject, I underestimated the importance of the ceremony of lowering the flag; the honour that it represents and the respect that it invokes. It is an act of love and respect for the families of the fallen and a token of appreciation for those that still serve. In short it is the very least we can do. As Rick Mercer points out in his blog, if we are going to have to lower the flag when a party apparatchik like Michael Fortier dies, then why on earth not for someone that actually deserves it?

Prime Minister Harper, lower the damned flags and publicly admit that you made a mistake. There are those out there that might mistake you for human if you did.

As for the media at the airport in Trenton - give it a rest. That absolutely is a time for the families to begin the real grieving; Harper has this one right. That's right, you read it right - I said "Harper has it right". Me! This is not a move to hide the dead. If the media suddenly becomes barred from showing the services in Kandahar, then I'll get worried, but not now. This is for the families.

That he has made these two decisions so close together cannot be coincidence, but I'm not sure of the motivation behind them yet. Is he simply being an absolute control freak as it appears in some of his other actions? Perhaps. Or does he actually want to hide the real cost of the war from Canadians? Also possible, but only time will tell.

I would like to say here that if we had the chance to vote on our participation in Afghanistan we would be more likely to openly accept the deaths as part of the cost, because we would bear some of the responsibility for being involved. As it is now, we are dragged into a war by them and our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters get to pay the price. It's too easy an argument to make, and one that I'm sure he's paying attention to.

And one that I'm sure he would do anything to avoid.

Is Iran asking for it, and if so, why?

It really is beginning to look like Iran wants to push the West (and East) as far as it can. It seems to have gotten pretty much what it has wanted til now - time to develop its own enrichment capability; the question now is what else does it want? As some authors have suggested, there is a chance that the Iranian government actually wants an attack from outside in order to rally its people. Announcements like this one today, that Iran is willing and interested in exporting nuclear technology can only be understood in this light.

Because this is exactly the kind of provocation that could unite Europe and the US in a military effort. If any evidence were to appear that Iran had actually approached a non-nuclear nation with overtures on these lines, an attack would surely occur. It might just even be enough for Russia and China to look the other way for a while, if not participate directly.

That the Iranian government would be willing to push like this implies either absolute confidence or desperation. In some ways, they appear to have the west by the cajones. First, they sit on a huge chunk of much-needed oil and natural gas reserves and are in position to make the Gulf of Hormuz impassable. Secondly, the American economy very possibly could not withstand the shock of an Iranian oil bourse based in euros, as they've hinted at. (I've summarized the discussion about the oil bourse here to the best of my meager ability). Some writers have inferred that the US might actually attack should Iran do this; nukes or no nukes. And finally, geopolitically, they are important to China and Russia both for trade and as a foothold of influence in the Middle East.

However, despite their rich oil reserves, the Iranian economy is not doing well and economic indicators for the immediate future are not good. Also, the Iranian electorate is more progressive than many in the Mid East and have in the past voted in reformist governments. (In some ways, if Bushco actually wanted to "spread democracy" in the region, Iran might have been a more fertile location than Iraq.) Should they suspect that an attack from the west was induced by their government, they might be savvy enough to bring it down - it is after all possibly fear of its own people that drives the Iranian government to such desparate measures.

And the overarching question is how do Russia and China react to a proposed attack on Iran? If they throw their hand in with the US and Europe, then they aknowledge in some manner a shared domain over Iran, which might not be in their own best interest.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

AMS Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology

A leading hurricane researcher, Greg Holland, has told the 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology (speakers list here) that the 2005 hurricane season is directly linked to global warming. Unfortunately, the abstract to the talk makes no reference to this conclusion and there is no extended abstract, as it sadly common at scientific conferences.

I'm looking forward to further reports from this conference, particularly commentary on William Gray's talk. He has argued that global warming is not the result of anthropogenic sources, rather it results naturally from deep-water cirulation issues that are not adequately modelled in the global circulation models. I am not a climatologist and I'm interested to read about what others in the field think about his work. I have read the abstract (pdf) to his talk and his logic seems to my untutored mind valid, though he offers only a hand-waving model to replace the circulation models he doesn't like.

[Whether or not this is related I leave for you to decide. I'm just saying... ]

Shame on you, Dalhousie University!

Flash popped me a note this morning to tell me that a friend of mine is being presented with an honourary degree at Dalhousie University at the convocations next month - thanks! However, I was distressed to see that in the same slate of honours, Derek Brown, one of the main backers behind privatizing Nova Scotia Power is also being so honoured.

Someone smarter than me is going to have to tell me how privatizing a utility and creating a monopoly, is in any way good for the province. Good for the shareholders, sure, but me? Yes, I understand that power rates would have gone up anyway because of the cost of energy, but now we the rate-payers, are forced to support a profit! And in the meantime, we have had layoffs of staff and maintenance personnel that have resulted in increasing and longer disruptions due to severe weather and insufficient maintenance.

I might be convinced that privatizing government utilities is a good idea - but never, never, never into one single company that can then distort and control the market as it sees fit. It's not like I can opt to get my electricity from NB Power.

Dalhousie University, my alma matre, shame on you!

[Update: There are some others in the list that are entirely worthy, I'm just using this as an opportunity to bitch about privatization;)]

Iran, the SCO, and the NPT

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ratcheted up the rhetoric, suggesting that Iran might quit the NPT, which the has been used to restrict and control the development of nuclear technology. This announcement, which was made in a discussion with reporters and is not official policy (yet) is likely Iran's way of saying that for them as well "all options are on the table". This could simply be rhetoric to heat up the Americans into a preemptive strike on Iran, which would likely play into any political desires Ahmadinejad has. If so, he is playing a very dangerous game; if the Iranian public begins to get a sense that he has baited the outside world into attacking them, his gambit might be for not.

He also said that he doesn't believe the UN will impose economic restrictions on Friday, the day the Security Council demanded Iran suspend all uranium enrichment. In that he might be right, but, as others smarter than I have suggested, he should be wary; the UN Security Council might well back sanctions yet.

Economic sanctions or worse are indeed less likely owing to the reluctance of Russia and China, who rely on Iran for oil and gas, however anything is possible. If a UN security council resolution is proposed, all that is required I believe is yes votes from nine of the fifteen members and no vetoes. Russia and China do have vetoes, and every public statement they have made to date indicate they might veto, but it is hard to say exactly what they would do if a motion was proposed and backed by enough countries.

An interesting piece of recent news that has some bearing on this is that the Chinese are about to offer Iran membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO is an economic organization which, if observer memberships become full for Pakistan, India, and Mongolia, will cover the majority of the world's fastest growing economies. This bit from the article must be raising eyebrows in the US State Department:
Its main focus has been regional security and the fight against separatism and extremism, but last year witnessed a shift linked by some analysts to Beijing's opposition to American "hegemony" and wariness about U.S. presence near its western flank.

It's certainly hard to see how Iran would fit in an organization whose main goals are fighting extremism, but it certainly could be a welcome member state in the "Us vs. Them" club. I'm not sure if we're beginning to see a Cold War-style alignment of powers yet, but it is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Iran keeps getting bigger and more complicated and more important with every article I read. And for what it's worth, the PNAC decision to invade Iraq looks more and more foolish.

I don't know enough about the internal politics or economics of Russia to know if Putin would benefit from flipping the bird to the Americans or indeed how reliant they are on trade with Iran. Would sanctions damage their own already fragile economy? As for the Chinese, it is anyone's guess. They certainly need the resources, but they have the economic clout to get them anywhere. I have a sense that they are beginning to express their interests more openly on the international stage and at some point in time we will see the Chinese put their foot down on some issue in the face of international pressure; I'm just not sure whether this is the issue or not. As important as it is for the threat to nuclear proliferation, this might also mark the debut of a new and bolder China on the international scene.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Vatican and AIDS: common sense vs infallibility

It appears that the Vatican might be considering entering the 20th century – congratulations, only one more to go! According to this report, the Vatican is considering overturning its ban on the use of condoms as a preventative measure to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa.

Reversing decisions must be difficult when You and Your Office are officially infallible.

I knew it!

Get your Stinking Paws Off Me, You Damn Dirty Ape!

The revolution has begun!
That's really the only reason I can think of that this qualifies as 'News'.

I'd be watching for Roddy McDowall, if I were them...

Anyway, I did this for three reasons:

  1. We have a serious lack of Charlton Heston quotes. Moses cannot be ignored. Remember, guns don't kill people, Chuck Heston kills people. (I would personally pay big money to see a to-the-death cage match between Heston and William Shatner. But that's for another day.)
  2. Up until now, we have remained monkey-free. There must be a lobby group somewhere waiting to protest at any moment. Sooner or later, SFRPIB (the Society for Fair Referencing of Primates in Blogs) will strike.
  3. Seriously. C'mon. A Canadian or two is injured in a plane crash, a Canadian was in the area of an earthquake, a Canadian was injured by a clan of rogue ninja chimps. The first two, I could see as being valid in a news sense - the families like to know these things, and often the news gets the message out that someone has survived faster than the spotty telecommunications in some parts of the world.
But injured in a chimp attack?

The family is probably denying that they know the poor schlub. What's remarkable about this is they must have edited out the laughter of the police as they talked to the press.
What precipitated the attack? I don't know - someone was wearing Calvin Klein's Eau de Banane or something - or maybe the chimps found out the guy/girl was Canadian, assumed they were from Hollywood, and were auditioning for the sequel to King Kong.
My point is, this isn't news, it's the stuff that gets shoved into the last slot on the newscast as one mindless pile of clothes smiles, turns to the other, and says, "Oh, I saw monkeys at the zoo." Congratulations, Muffy, I'm proud of you. You've learned what a 'zoo' is.

I don't mean to disregard or belittle the fact that someone died, I'd just like to make clear the fact that I, personally, have no intention of dying in such an embarassing manner. Saving a child from a fire? Fine. Hail of bullets as I save the lives of a busload of nuns? Cool by me.
Maniacal monkeys? Not a chance.

Unless, of course, I end up saving a child from a fire, saving a busload of nuns, and dying in a hail of bullets fired by maniacal monkeys. That would be news.

Then it's me & Chuck, against the world:
"It's a madhouse! A maaaadhouse!"

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Lest we remember

The Conservatives have stopped the Liberal tradition of honouring the deaths of Canadian soldiers overseas by flying flags at half-staff only on DND buildings. Gordon O'Connor, Minister of Defense announced that we've "returned to the 80-year tradition of remembering all casualties of war or operations on one day -- Nov. 11", which I was surprised to learn we weren't doing already. What the hell was I doing every year up to now? Or was he saying that we are returning to limiting the tributes of our military dead to Nov. 11?

As other bloggers have noted, this change in policy comes at a time when Canadians have been warned to expect greater losses in Afghanistan, and therefore is noteworthy. Does this mean we are hiding the costs of this foreign engagement at an important time, or are we simply making consistent rules, as the Conservatives suggest? Personally, I don't think that it is a real big deal, it's not like the Conservatives have ordered the media to not cover military funerals or to cease publishing pictures of coffins like the Americans have. But it is interesting.

We have a few members of the armed forces past and present that comment regularly here, and one that posts. What do you guys think of this?

This Blog Brought to You By...

No one - yet. But, as the link shows - if Congress has it's way, control of the Internet will be passed over to Telco's such as Verizon and AT&T who will get to decide which websites get preferential treatment or even get access at all - and somehow I don't think independant thought like blogs are going to be well treated.

A Green Goes Nuclear

Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, makes a compelling case for nuclear energy in this Washington Post article. There's some good points here, including dispelling a lot of myths that have been spread about.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cultural Relativism...An Example

Apropos of nothing except the spirit of Friday afternoon, I present the following.

As regular readers may know, in a rather lengthy comment to my compadre kevvyd's item here, I made reference to the concept of cultural relativism. Simply put, it is the unfortunately rare ability to judge a culture, or its members, on its own merits, and not on the basis of another country's cultural norms. The opposite of cultural relativism could therefore be called ethnocentrism.
Other cultures are different, that's pretty much why there are other cultures. It makes the world an interesting place to live, all too often in the sense conveyed in the Chinese curse.

Japan, as a culture, has some interesting and unique qualities similar to our own, but just different enough to make us cock our heads sideways like a dog when you make a funny noise. For example, comic books are for the most part intended for adult consumption, and many cartoons are also so intended. The output of the anime culture, as it is called, is immense.
For quite a while, different business interests have made deals to bring some of these products to North America - the comic books are experiencing an unprecedented surge in popularity, for example. The cartoons have enjoyed a longer history, with Astro Boy closely followed by Speed Racer. Japanese cartoons, as a rule, have often seemed badly animated, and poorly dubbed, which is partly true: often the dubbing is a result of the stories needing to be changed to more appropriately, shall we say, North American values.

Which leads me to this: many of my generation look back with an embarassed fondness on a show called Battle of the Planets. You know, the one with the flaming spaceship. In said battle of the titular spheres, Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop and Tiny save the world each weekday (or whatever) from the forces of the evil Zoltar, from the planet Spectra.
With me so far? Great.
Not long ago, I was excited to find at my local library a copy of the Ultimate Collection of B.o.P. (if you'll excuse the acronym). What intrigued me, however, was the inclusion of the original Japanese episodes of the series that became, after the meaty paws of Sandy Frank was finished with them (anybody else thinking about the 'Sandy Frank' song from MST3K?), Battle of the Planets.
Originally, the series was entitled 'Science Ninja Team Gatchaman'. In this series, Ken, Joe, Jun, Jinpei and Ryu battle the forces of Galactor (from somewhere on earth, not from space), represented by the evil Berg Katse. In this series, the characters, particularly Joe (the moody one), swear a fair bit, using the 'S' word more than once, per episode. As I said, these things were relatively easy to remove, since the dubbing process would change the language anyway.
Further to this, the show is considerably more violent - in one episode, we are shown the corpses of victims of one of the monsters, and people obviously die by the hundreds in some of the attacks on cities. This content was cut to reflect the North American culture at the time, and since it resulted in a considerable amount of material being cut, the U.S. producers hastily animated the robot 7-Zark-7 to act as a narrator and time waster.
This is going somewhere, honest.
As I watched one of the episodes, I was completely surprised by something. We open the episode in a fictional country, in which there is a large peak, Blue Mountain. Upon said mountain are carved the faces of three of the country's past presidents (sound familiar?). The work has taken three generations to complete, and the young lady is just about to finish the fourth head, that of Jesus. Yes, Jesus.
The Gatchaman episode is, in the original translation from the Japanese, "The Magma Giant: Emperor of Hell". One of the heads from the mountain is used by Galactor as the head for the roughly 500-foot tall lava monster. Can you guess which one?

Cultural relativism: the ability not to totally laugh your ass off at any culture in which this phrase is even possible:

500-Foot Tall Molten Lava Jesus.

Working in the Arctic

I don't mean to get my online virtual bitchyandwhiny life tangled up with my real one, but I wanted to get this link out there. The flesh and blood me works for the federal government at a technical level on issues relating to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It so happens that right now we (not me, but others on the project) are working north of Ellesmere Island on a collaborative seismic project on the ice of the Arctic Ocean over a subamarine feature called the Lomonosov Ridge. The work is part of a project called LORITA and it is being done with the GEUS, the Danish national geological organization. GEUS is kindly hosting a more or less daily update on the project from their website at the link above.

If anyone is interested in how science is done in the Arctic, check it out. There are links on the right side of the page that link to the regular updates.

For the record, I am not posting this on orders from anyone in the government, or as part of my job - simply because the project updates are interesting and I think it's good for people to see some of the work that the government is doing, especially on this project.

And Briguy, you might see a couple of familiar faces in the pictures.

Why do the Conservatives need a majority government?

When there is effectively no opposition in Parliament?

As has been remarked in other blogs recently, Jack Layton and Stephen Harper have been in close talks recently that appear to have resulted in some cooperation between the two parties. I haven't discovered exactly what the meat of the conversation has been, but buying into the basic premise of the child care plan appears to be part of the NDP committment.

As for the Liberals, I've long thought that Bill Graham's blowing on about holding being prepared to be a tough opposition and being ready for an election any time ("oh yeah, you wanna step outside?") was just wind. Now I know - it appears that the Liberals are also afraid to take on the Conservatives on child care.

So that's the most contentious of the "Big Five" down. Of the other four, reducing wait times looks to be the most difficult, but because the Liberals botched or avoided it in the past, they will likely not be held to task if they at least make some expensive motherhood statements to provincial treasuries.

By my estimation, the Opposition has til about early 2007 to begin acting like one, or Harper will be able to put some form of tick mark beside each of the five boxes and drop the writ for a new election. One that he will stand a really good chance of winning.

It takes an unprincipled one to know a partisan one...

(h/t to Briguy)
So David Emerson is surprised that Stephen Harper is a bit of a partisan bastard? Why on earth would he have expected otherwise? Emerson has apparently complained to a former aide that Harper is a (gasp!) "hard-ass" and (great Scot!) "has no people skills".

This has already been blogged at length by many others, so I won't dwell a great deal on it, but it leaves me with a few questions. If Emerson is so smart (and that's the cited reason Harper poached him - being a Vancouver-area MP had nothing to do with it!), how is it possible that he didn't see this Harper coming a mile down the track? After all, he basically had him pegged during the election campaign but walked across the floor anyway. What does it say about Emerson, the man? Did he have no faith in his own much-vaunted cranial capacity that he might have been wrong about Harper? Or was he gullible andflattered when Harper, the prime minister came knocking after the election? Or did he really believe that he has too much ability to serve merely as a little opposition MP?

In any case, it's a good thing we have his wife holding him hard to the grindstone. After all, he has a tremendously important job, one in which the first major project, softwood lumber, he's probably not going to be allowed to say word one on.

I really, really want to believe that our leaders and elected officials are smart - we need them to be. But it's so so so hard.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Worst President Ever

Or so seems to be the judgement passed on George W. Bush by the majority out of 415 historians cited in this Rolling Stone article - of the historians polled 81% considered the Bush Administration a failure - and of the 19% who considered him a success, 1 in 10 called him 'the Best President since Bill Clinton' which is kind of damning with faint praise....

How many bounced cheques would you tolerate?

Now it looks like Japan is getting in on the action. I guess a localized jihad is not enough for some of us - spread it around! Okay, here's a question to all you dummies wise analysts that figure punishing the Palestinian Authority by removing foreign aid is a good idea:

Explain to me (please!) how removing or delaying the paycheques of 165,000 people in the PNA civil service is going to bring about peace in Palestine and Israel? Are these people most of whom at least for now aren't suicide bombers (humour, get it?), going to take their anger out on their government or on us?

And for those with faith in invisible guys in the sky, here's the PNA treasury minister Omar Abdel Razek:

It's a puzzling problem. You can't do anything. You can only wait. So I have a strange feeling. For the first time, I find myself in such a dilemma. But I hope that God will provide a solution

Now what if God's name is "Allah". And what if God/Allah, rather than raining help and money from heaven, works through more earthly means, like say, Iran? What if there were a few strings attached to that money? Would punishing the Palestinian people for voting still look like such a hot idea?

Seriously, someone let me know that our government has actually thought this out, because I have no confidence that they have.

kevvyd waits with baited breath... hear Halifax city council say that we can't afford the $600 million (over 25 years) to upgrade the sewer system but we can afford to toss $750 million at the Commonwealth Games. For the record, I didn't read that anyone in council said "shut up and do it - what it costs is what it costs".

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Why they don't allow cell phones in caucus

Peter Mackay: Hey guess what? We might bring hard-working Canadians a little relief and lower the gas tax.

Stephen Harper: What part of "shut up, bitch" did you not understand?

Thoughts on Israel, Palestine, and terrorism

The Monday suicide bombing in Tel Aviv was bad news for both Israeli and Palestinian citizens and has disturbed an already uneasy political situation. Such bombings are politically more dangerous for the ruling Hamas party in the Palestinian Authority, as they themselves have not renounced the use of violence as a political tool, although they do not appear to be involved in this particular bombing. For the Israeli government, it is sadly simply business as usual - issue more orders to clear borders, lob a few artillery shells, arrest a few Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority issued the following official statement after the bombing:
We have issued official statement in the name of the Palestinian National Authority absolutely condemning the operation, which we consider a despicable operation that harms the Palestinian people.
The harm that this does to the PNA is particularly great coming only a short while after many western nations, including Canada, withdrew financial support of the PNA government. The resulting financial crisis has caused the largest employer in the country, the government, to withhold pay cheques for at least this month.

The statement issued by Khaled Abu Helal, spokesman for the PNA Interior Ministry has been interpreted by those that would like to interpret it as such as a defense of the bombing:
We think that this operation . . . is a direct result of the policy of the
occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people
This was interpreted breathlessly in the US press as "emphatic support", and likewise by our very own National Fishwrap Post.

The National Post, true to its short-sighted form, goes on to explain that this completely justifies cutting off support to the PNA and then villifies their acceptance of aid from Iran. This makes total sense if you look at the world through goggles that only let you see things in right and wrong; punishment becomes the only tool in your toolbox. The logic, I suppose goes like this:
- the Palestinian people voted for Hamas
- Hamas supports terrorism
- the Palestinian people voted for terrorism
So naturally, why indeed should we support Palestinian terrorists?

That this argument is facile should not need be stated, but since our very own government and a healthy chunk of the right-wing blogosphere, not to mention the purveyors of such idiocy at the National Post, haven't gotten beyond this, maybe it does. This argument doesn't lead to a constructive future for a number of reasons, and I will likely spawn some hate mail for this, but here goes.

First, let's put it up front and centre - terrorism isn't evil. Rightly or wrongly, terrorism is a battle tactic used by the downtrodden to fight back. It is dirty fighting, and lots of innocent people get killed to be sure, but it is not a personified "evil". You can't fight terrorism as a construct or as an enemy - it is a tactic. You fight terrorism by trying to find the cause that drives the terrorists. Going after those that commit terrorist acts is all well and good, but if you do not deal with the underlying motivation, you will play an endless game of whack-a-mole with terrorists popping up faster than you can deal with them.

In the case of Israel-Palestine (and I will limit my discussion for now to this topic), there is a nation of displaced people that are still effectively homeless, largely jobless, and almost entirely hopeless. Is it possible that someone that has any hope at all is going to strap a mantle of bombs to his or her belly and walk into a restaurant? It is this hopelessness what must be dealt with, and we do not deal with it by withdrawing our support because they voted for someone we don't like. This will, I guarantee, drive the population in directly the opposite direction we would like them to go. That they are now accepting donations from countries we don't like, countries that would surely love to export Islamic jihad to them in the case of Iran, is only natural - by withdrawing our support we effectively asked them to do just that. And furthermore, we have absolutely no right to bitch three or four years down the road when the Israel-Palestine conflict expands to an actual real-life Islamic jihad - because as surely as anyone, we helped create it.

Right now the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a political and economic struggle. Surely we would be no better off if we turned it into a religious one, too?

Count Me Out

Questions to the esteemed gallery. If you are a Canadian citizen would it bother you to know that Stats Canada has contracted out the software to do it's 2006 census to a foreign company? Would it bother you to know that it was contracted out to a company in the United States, where personal information is considered interesting toilet reading for the federal government? Would it bother you that the company it was contracted out to is Lockheed Martin, a very major defense contractor?

If your answers to some of these questions is "yes", then you should check out the link above. To be honest, I'm not 100% sure how I feel about this. Contracting out the software might be as innocuous as choosing Microsoft Word, but having worked in the software industry in the past, there can be an awful lot of vendor/client interaction that might well lead to data viewed by LM personnel, regardless of any guarantees of StatsCan.

In any case, I give you this link to do with as you please. Let me know what you think, it will help inform my decision, too.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My hovercraft is full of eels

"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."

How many things about this statement bother you? Here's my list:

1) I hear voices...
This one is just too easy and frankly cheap. And if there is anything I'm not, it's cheap. Okay, I won't be cheap this time.

2) I read the front page...
I suppose that it's better than way back when he said he never read the paper or watched the news. But since all of the articles are continued on pages three and four, don't you think he'd flip it open? Don't know about you, but I'd feel better...

3) ...I'm the decider...
This is something my five year-old might say, but only when she's using "baby talk". As of this instant, DubyaSpeak doesn't have this one, but they will. Oh yes, they will.

4) ...I decide what is best...
This really is the scariest thing anyone has ever said. Ever.

I need a drink.

Billmon on Iran

Billmon, who writes what is perhaps my favourite blog Whiskey Bar, takes a guess at some of the motivations behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his current game of chicken with the ruling global powers. He suggests, as I've suggested here in the past, that Ahmadinejad may be playing a purely political game to maintain power within Iran using hardline tactics with the west to unite his base and silence dissent at home. Unlike me, Billmon goes on to provide a reasoned analysis as to why this is so, suggesting that there is an economic crisis brewing in Iran that is about to bubble over and for which there is no easy non-structural solution. He opines (emphasis mine):

Under the circumstances, Ahmadinejad and his fellow hardliners might see confrontation — up to and even including war — as just what the doctor ordered, both to rally public opinion behind the regime, and to purge it of the corrupt old guard. As one analyst recently put it, for Iran a U.S. air blitz would be the emotional equivalent of 9/11. It could turn a radical crackdown into a patriotic mass movement. It could even make Ahmadinejad the unchallenged dictator of Iran. Such a scenario might seem worth the potential damage to Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

It's also possible that Iran's hardliners are suffering from the same hubris that swept through the Cheney administration after the fall of Baghdad. American failure in Iraq — and the insurgency's success – may have led them to overestimate their own ability to cope with a U.S. attack. Soaring oil prices may have led them to believe the Cheney administration will never risk the energy chaos a full-scale ground invasion ("real men want to go go Tehran") inevitably would cause.

In other words, there is real risk that key players in the crisis — Iranian as well as American — are fundamentally misreading the situation. They may not understand that their counterparts on the other side are perfectly willing to escalate, because they actually want war, or at least are pulled in that direction by their own political and/or strategic dilemmas.

I have yet to read as sensible an analysis of the situation as this. Why are you here - go read the rest of it! And for heaven's sake, make sure you check him out daily.

I Am Speechless...

I know, some of you are saying, "Oh, if only that were true, Flash", but sadly, it's just a figure of speech, prompted by this little fiasco in Nebraska.
As my eloquent compadre Kevvyd does, I often traipse through the New York Times to see if there is something interesting enough to feed a rant. Well, today I found it. I will admit (and it would no doubt be confirmed) that I am not often at a loss for words, but this story from Nebraska stopped me in my tracks - I had to read it again to make sure I was getting it, and sadly, I was.
A Bill in the Nebraska State Senate was passed into law. A law that provides for the segregation of school districts in Omaha according to race - White, Black and Hispanic. Thirty of the votes in favour were from conservative rich white guys - no surprise there. The big surprise comes from the state senator who sponsored the bill - the only Black state senator in Nebraska.
The senator claims that this will allow Black children to attend schools under their control, presumably allowing the district more autonomy, and the children a better, more afrocentric education. I'm not qualified to judge certain aspects of this, not being an economist or a teacher myself (yet), but even the most short-sighted individual could see that placing everyone of the same race in the same system would certainly make it easier to give that system just slightly less than the others in funding, with an explanation that would no doubt be accepted and promoted by the aforementioned rich white chaps.

What I can comment on is this: school serves other purposes than the ones explicitly spelled out. Children are supposed to obtain the intellectual and behavioral basis for good citizenship which, depending on how you define it, is a good or a bad thing.
More importantly, schools are a place where children socialize with others different from themselves, gain knowledge of others and how to interact effectively, and respectfully, with children who may have a variety of ethnic or religious backgrounds. The more you learn from real individuals you interact with, the less likely you are to believe or perpetuate stereotypes of other races and cultures.
Unfamiliarity, as we have seen, breeds fear, and fear breeds hatred. It is easy to fall back into the 'us-vs.-them' mentality when you've never met one of 'them', shared class time, played with 'them' at recess, eaten with 'them' at lunch.
This is a step backward for education and civil rights, and a step forward for those who want to polarize our societies, to make the authority figures seem more authoritative, to ultimately justify a process of separation 'for our own good', and to justify violence to back it up.
And all because this unfortunate political pawn, who will be put back into 'his place' by those who supported him in this vote the very moment he no longer does what they want, was taunted at school so many years ago.
I hope he's proud of himself, and I hope he'll be happy in the delusion that he's helping anything. Because he may be the only happy African American in Nebraska before long.

Rummy responds

In today's New York Times Rumsfeld responded to his detractors and critics. His response is largely to say publicly that he is ignoring the criticism and going on with his job:

So I'm here at the Pentagon doing my job, working on transformation and seeing that we manage the force in a successful way, and working on things involving Iraq

He is however, also going to have a closed-door meeting with retired officers and civilian analysts today to assess the current situation in Iraq, and I presume to stop some of the political bleeding from the recent public calls for his resignation.

Alas, Rumsfeld can't open his mouth without something interesting coming out:

if every time there were critics and opponents to war, we wouldn't have won the Revolutionary War and we wouldn't have been involved in World War I or II, and if we had, we would have failed, and our country would be a totally different place if it existed at all, if every time there were some critics that we tossed in the towel."

To paraphrase: critics are weak and stupid, and bad for your health. He went on:

That said, if we had only listened to the critics in the 1960's and stayed out of Vietnam, we could have saved hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of lives and would very likely have avoided the inflation crisis of the 1970's. At the very least, our economy would have been far better able to withstand the oil shocks of the early 70's. Oh, and we probably wouldn't have sold our entire economic engine out to the defense industry and we'd still be making useful things that the world's consumers would want to buy.

Okay, I made that last one up.

Heckuvajob Rummy

Donald Rumsfeld appears to have his back to the wall. Of course, it is a wall in the Pentagon, more formidable for protection than many, but it is a wall nonetheless. In the months leading to the invasion of Iraq, against the advice of senior military staff, he promoted the idea of a lightning quick strike, a la WWII Germany, using a light, fast, high-tech military behind an intense aerial bombardment. That it appeared to work well in the opening weeks of the war now appears no longer a vindication of a strategy that later went wrong, rather further evidence that the military's manpower concern was valid - invading an impoverished, largely disarmed country is easy; holding it while arranging for the transition of power takes serious effort and lots of boots on the ground.

Three years ago, one month before the actual invasion, Eric Shinseki told Congress that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed to properly invade Iraq. Wrong answer; his career as a functioning military officer effectively ended at that moment, thanks to Donald Rumsfeld. If you read the right-wing news, this number was pulled out of the air, and Shinseki was speaking out of turn and off the cuff. However, John Batiste, one of the retired generals that has stepped up to publicly criticize Rumsfeld in recent weeks, said on Good Morning America (commented on here) that Shinseki's statement accurately summarized twelve years of military planning on Iraq, planning that was thrown out by Rumsfeld in his desire to make war his way.

The Whitehouse and Pentagon spokespersons have played this as an organized smear campaign by disgruntled former employees - the kind of thing that can happen to any tough-minded and capable CEO. Those involved claim it is not organized, but I hardly see how it matters. In any case, it is much more than a smear campaign. By destroying Shinseki, Rumsfeld sent a powerful message to an organization that respects the fact that at the top sits the elected civilian government; public discussion of options outside those that came from the top would be viewed as dissent and treated as such. The very fact that Shinseki went public three years ago speaks to the frustration that the senior staff of the day had in dealing with Rumsfeld. This kind of atmosphere will stifle discussion in any organization, but in the military more effectively than most, owing to the soldier's respect for command structure, authority, and channels of communication. That it is retired senior officers, those without fear of reprimand or mistreatment a la Shinseki, coming out now is another indication of the fearful attitude within the organization.

To me, the really interesting questions revolve around why Rumsfeld chose the route he did, against the strategic advice of many of those under him. Is he simply an asshole that can't listen to underlings? I haven't read much about his private sector life, but there would be evidence of this kicking around, I'm sure. Was he under political pressure to mount as inexpensive campaign as possible? Remembering back to the time before the invasion, there was widespread support for the war in the US, was this because everyone thought it was going to be easy? Was he hoping to use as few troops as possible in order to have others at his disposal in case the other members of team "Axis of Evil" stepped out of line?

At any rate, Rumsfeld is left alone at the top of a war in which he quickly felled a government, but has been unable to put the pieces back together; and the organization he heads is discouraged, unable to meet recruitment targets, and involved in a costly long-term struggle that even if won, is still lost. What's more, the Iraqi adventure, which could have solidified the American presence in the Mid East has instead bogged down the military, harmed their credibility with the international community, and destroyed their ability to deal diplomatically with Muslim nations at exactly the time when such diplomacy is crucial.

George Bush has very few options left. Firing Rumsfeld would require an admission of some big, big mistakes; admissions that are like pulling teeth for him. There have been some muted admissions of late of mistakes in the conduct of the war, but none of the initial assumptions or strategic thinking - to now these have been off limits. He could always use the "criticizing Rumsfeld plays into the terrorists hands" defense, but this old trout ain't gonna swim too many more times.

There's always "you're doing a heckuva job, Rummy".

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Halifax Xplosion

Bad taste knows no gender limit.

Halifax has its first women's tackle football team, which I suppose is good news for those into that sort of thing. To celebrate this, and to capture a piece of the city's history, they've decided to name themselves the Halifax Xplosion, which also, I suppose, is fine if you're into that sort of thing. It even has that funky mis-spelling to make them feel funky and young, which apparently they require as part of the "branding" for the "market".

However, what is getting them the most press is not that they are playing football, or that they can't spell, rather that they are dancing on the memories of a couple of thousand people that actually died during the explosion and the storms that followed it. Naturally, the coach has said that they are "hounouring" the dead, not mocking, using, or defaming them in any way.

No, of course you're honouring them and this is all a silly misunderstanding, one that I'm sure the fans of the Hamburg Holocaust football club or the New York September11's baseball team are all too familiar with.

A request to the members of the Halifax Xplosion. First, spell the goddamned thing right - you are not divesting yourself of any responsibility by changing the word - if anything, it further mocks the event. And second, before you put on your jersey again take a walk down to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and go see the explosion memorial. Check out the list of names and ages of people killed, and see the blood-stained dress of the two-year old wounded daughter of the telegraph operator who died at his post while sending for help.

Then, if you still feel you are "honouring" anyone, go back, slap on your uniform and practice your sweeps and sneaks. And when you're out on the field under the bright lights, wave to the members of your family that showed up - they'll be easy to identify because they will be the only people standing at the sidelines.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Idealistic Pragmatist: Tories 1, environment 0

Idealistic Pragmatist: Tories 1, environment 0
If you haven't read this post on how the presumed failure of Kyoto by our erstwhile Minister of Natural Resources is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, do so. Short version -
Step 1: Ambrose says Canada can't possibly meet it's Kyoto commitments.
Step 2: Conservative government cuts programs to fight global warming by 80% and those to study climate change 40%
Step 3: Canada doesn't meet is Kyoto commitments and there is celebrating in the Conservative Party headquarters because they were right in Step 1.
Step 4: Celebration unfortunately can't continue onto the golf course because they are either dried out and brown or half-flooded owing to erratic and extreme weather.

Asking for the truth = irresponsible reporting

That's Scott Maclellan's take on the situation, anyway. He was broiled alive by the White House press corps yesterday over Bush's lie about the Dr Evil's "mobile weapons labs". First, a little background for anyone who may have missed this story:

The date? May, 2003. The find? Iraqi Mobile Weapons labs, designed to make anthrax and other nasties deep in the heart of the desert, where no White Hats could track them down. Or so we were told. Of course, most of us cynics doubted the find from day one, as BushCo was desperate to find any evidence of WMDs post-invasion. Colin Powell is the individual quoted in the May 2003 story, but President Bush repeated the claim (gleefully, if I recall) that same day, and Dick Cheney repeated the claim on Meet the Press as late as September, 2003.

But here's the thing: It was all a lie. The initial report about finding mobile weapons labs was followed up quickly (the same day, I think) by a FAX from agents in the field saying "Whoopsie, jumped the gun there, Mr. P. These trailers aren't really Mobile Weapons Labs. Our Bad." (I'm paraphrasing). Despite this, Powell, Bush, and all the chief liars insisted for months and months that the invasion was now justified, because Dr. Evil had these mobile labs.

On to yesterday. Only 3 years later, and the press corps has caught up with this lie. Here is a brief excerpt of Scott MacLellan blaming the reporters for his own lies:

Reporter: So was the president made aware of the fact ...
McClellan: And are you all going to apologize?
Reporter: Was the president made aware of the faxed field report?
McClellan: Are you all going to apologize for that?
Reporter: Was the president aware of the faxed field report?
McClellan: Is that a correct statement?
Reporter: Scott, was the president made aware of the field report that was faxed?
McClellan: Jessica, I just told you, I've asked the intelligence community what they based this paper on. I can't tell you what they based their paper on. You have to. We're not an intelligence-gathering agency.
Reporter: No, but was the field report faxed ...

I wish I'd witnessed the skewering live. The press corps may be gutless weasels, but they will turn on their masters after being lied to and embarassed. Whee!

Incidentally, The Guardian broke this story in June, 2003, and raked Blair through the coals over it back then, in a more timely fashion. They didn't need a leaked fax to do so, either, as they did their own investigative reporting into the WMD trailer claim. Journalism 101.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Far and Wide: Weak Reasoning On Afghanistan

Far and Wide: Weak Reasoning On Afghanistan
I don't know whether I'm more stunned by the foolishness that the National Post will print as "journalism" or "editorial", or by the quality of research that goes on at our institutes of military studies. This article, found by SteveV at Far and Wide is a Letterman-style Top Ten List of reasons to stay in Afghanistan, and I could write for months on everything I disagree with here.

Deep breath, here goes:

1) Canadian security They apply the standard "it's better to fight them there than here" argument that has been such a raging success in Iraq. I would like to stay with the Iraqi analog for this discussion. While Canada was directly affected by the attacks of 911, we have not lessened the risk of terrorist attack one bit. The argument that has been made that the Iraqi invasion is creating more terrorists than it is removing can also be applied to Afghanistan, I expect.

2) National pride This is just too lame to even comment on. We do not need to beat up on third-world countries in order to "hit above our weight" as the article suggests. Offering intelligent solutions to crucial problems and aid in solving them would also help. I do not mean to suggest that this should not sometimes include military action, but only when it has a real role and reasonable hope of success. I'm not as certain as these guys that it does in this case.

3) Canada-US relations There is some argument to be made for this one, after all Chretien used the expansion of the Canadian role as a way of placating Bush when he said no to Iraq. However, the authors suggest that we should be flattered that the US "trusts us" with Kandahar. Who are they trying to fool? The US has been absolutely aching to drawdown these troops to rotate some more fodder through Iraq - they would have handed over to anyone that didn't sit down and look away fast enough.

4) Central Asian security They argue that securing Afghanistan promotes security in its neighbours Iran and Pakistan. I would turn this argument around and suggest that creating any real peace in Afghanistan is not going to happen while jihad is still being exported actively from and increasingly aggressive and far more powerful Iran and Pakistan.

Think of it this way - Afghanistan is Canada and Pakistan/Iran are the US. Is instability in Canada going to really affect the US in a critical way? Economically a bit, but seriously, no. Now imagine an aggressive, expansionist US with it's eye on Canada - is stability in Canada going to be able to hold off its crazy big neighbour? Again, not likely.

The real hope for peace in the region does not start with pacifying Afghanistan; it starts with Iran and Pakistan. I would and have argued that there is little opportunity to actually affect real stability in Afghanistan before somehow convincing its neighbours, especially Pakistan, to lay off.

5) Treaty obligations There is no contest here - our NATO ally was attacked and we have an obligation to step in. I do not arue

6) Reinforcing success I'm not really sure where this argument comes from, because I'm not really seeing the success yet. Yes, they had presidential elections, and yes there are some stable pockets in the country, but only where NATO troops regularly control. Hamid Karzai has been referred to in the press as the Mayor of Kabul, and it is not far from the truth.

7) Democracy They trot out the racist strawman that a Muslim nation can't be democratic and that establishing one would set an example... yadda yadda yadda. I will just say that being a democracy takes a will of the people and cannot be imposed from outside. Many Afghans want a democratic state, but it is not up to Canada to impose it on those that don't. I speak only for myself in saying this, but even if it was up to us, I don't think the Canadian government is interested in paying the whole price for what it would cost to actually quell all of the rebels in Afghanistan to guarantee elections. And half measures might only make things worse.

8) Rule of law and human rights This is definitely something worth fighting for.

9) Poppies As Steve says, this is kinda silly. According to something I read today, twice as much money is coming into Afghanistan via poppies than from reconstruction funding from the west. It would be so easy, using purely economic means, to get farmers off of the production of poppies. Hell, in the US they have paid farmers to plow produce right back into the soil so as not to destabilize markets, why not just pay the farmers to grow food in stead? Hell, I'll buy Afghan paprika if it would help! If something other than poppies paid, I'm sure something other than poppies would be planted.

10) Economics Again citing Steve, their argument that a peaceful Afghanistan would be an economic boon to Canada is cynical. I'm certain that there is nothing coincidental in Hamid Karzai's past job with big oil and the initial move to invade Afghanistan after the failed attempts to push a pipeline through in the 90's. However to suggest that there would be great benefits to the local population by building a pipeline is specious. There would be benefits, alright, but I have some suspicion that it's not in the towns and cities of Afghanistan that they would be realized. Ask an Ogoni how good Nigerian oil has been to them.

That leaves two reasons for sensible Canadian involvement, and they are good ones, I might add. However, just spouting off on my own here, I have to think that there are better ways to get where we want to be over there rather than fight a losing battle against endless jihadists and taliban. I'm not sure what it is offhand, but I strongly suspect that any solution lies not in Afghanistan, rather in Pakistan.

But like I said, I'm just spouting off.


Oh, boy.

Now, at last, another method of laying claim to things you haven't earned. It takes a really bankrupt culture to create a business that lets people exploit the fact that they had an ancestor of a particular ethnicity for personal gain.

Of course, we white folks have been doing it for years. But, leave it to us to find a way to circumvent those pesky affirmative action rules by discovering your 2% of African heritage that will allow you to make a mockery of the rules, and claim priveleges, nay, rights, that were hard fought and won. In return for the historic legacy of theft, slavery and death that we visited on the Africans and the First Nations, we'd like to give you...the shaft. Again. If you think that by not enduring the daily smackdown that life is to people of different ethnicities you are somehow entitled to the small compensations some of them have waited centuries for, well, you need to be euthanized. Now.

What troubles me even more is that this seems to continue the trend that preceives DNA as the defining factor in our humanity. We are sorted according to genetic risk by insurance companies, and now we are divided up into the sum of our ancestries, and letting that define us. Soon, you will have to have a certain percentage of African/Asian/European ancestry to gain certain benefits. People will be sorted by their genetic makeup, and only the 'five percent ethnic or less' group will occupy the top echelons of society. Is any of this sounding familiar?

I'm assuming that the marketing departments of the companies testing DNA for this purpose have come up with a really snazzy word to describe the process, but I have a better one: Eugenics.

Be afraid, folks, be very afraid...This isn't over yet.

The things we do for love...

Sorry, I meant "The things we do to maintain our frail grip on power".

Bernard "40-watt" Lord has pulled two little rabbits out of hats in the past month to maintain his very fragile minority government in New Brunswick. First he made Tanker Malley, an independent MLA and former Progressive Conservative, Speaker of the Legislature in order to buy his vote for the budget that barely passed. Tanker Malley, of course walked across the floor earlier this year apparently because he wanted nicer shit than the PC windshield scraper and votive candle set that everyone else got.

Now it appears he's arranged a little love-trip for himself and Frank Branch, an independent MLA and former Liberal, though neither one of them have actually come out about their relationship as of yet. The trip doesn't appear to be a honeymoon, they're not apparently that comfortable in public yet, Lord is going to Montreal to attend a premiers conference and Branch will, um, carry his bag.

Naturally, the provincial Liberal party, cynics all, don't buy my little love theory and suggest that Lord merely wants to make sure that it might be better to have Branch, who voted against the government on the budget bill, out of the province while he's away so there won't be enough Opposition MLA's to burn his House down while he's away. Liberals are so tawdry.

Spring is the season of love and beginnings...

The dilemmas that ruin sleep

Is it possible that the administration, that the “west”, has underestimated how close Iran was to enriching their own uranium?

The Iranian nuclear standoff has taken an ominous turn in recent weeks. Two weeks ago with great bluster and fury, George Bush and Condoleeza Rice made aggressive statements toward Iran, explaining that no options are taken off the table and that military strikes were still considered options if the stalemate could not be broken. How the stalemate could be broken otherwise is unclear to me, with the Iranian insisting that it is within their NPT rights to maintain a peaceful nuclear program, rejecting any offer of offsite enrichment or enrichment under the guidance of other countries, and the West not trusting Iran with its own enrichment facilities.

That is where the situation remained until Monday, when Iranian officials said that an important nuclear announcement would be made Tuesday. The administration response came from Donald Rumsfeld, who said that discussing military options was "get(ting) into fantasy land"and that the administration sought a peaceful compromise with Iran.

On Tuesday, Iran announced that it has successfully enriched uranium to the 3.5% purity required for peaceful power generation, two weeks ahead of the IAEA report to the Security Council on whether Iran has halted it’s research program into enrichment. Observers have suggested the announcement is part of an effort to present the Security Council with a “fait accompli” and changing the dynamic of future negotiations.

The announcement was declared a step “in the wrong direction” () by Scott McClellan, who then threatened further measures by the Security Council, a move stymied by Russian and Chinese hesitation in recent weeks.

Where does this go now? The US is in an unenviable position, trapped by the need to do something firm and the fear that any military intervention, even a quick strike at nuclear facilities, would spill over into an already unstable Iraq as well as endangering oil shipment through the narrow Gulf of Hormuz. As Mark Steyn points out (I think) in his tortured, self-indulgent prose, the time to act on this is now – Iran is a nation known to support terrorism, and promotes a radical Islamist political faith, and we might wish five years from now that we had done something to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Of course, we might also wish five years from now that we hadn’t further radicalized the Mid East through our clumsy and callous mishandling of this affair. Thus are the dilemmas that ruin sleep.

Lefties and irresponsible peaceniks like me will unkindly point out that the Bush Administration has essentially asked for this kind of problem by voluntarily invading Iraq, destabilizing the region, and pinning a large component of their military, but saying that doesn’t help get us to a solution. I’m still staring at this problem and the only thing that comes to me is the hope that a new generation of Iranians will be more influenced by outside Liberal forces than by the regressive religious tendencies currently in power. Iran has made steps toward loosening the conservative’s hold on power in recent years and has made overtures toward becoming a real democracy; however these forces need time to work. The flip side of this coin is that that the Iranian people have a long history of nationhood, unlike Iraq, and are fiercely nationalistic. Direct outside intervention might not be welcomed.

Of course a military strike toppling the Iranian government could release the pent up forces of freedom. And forces of an allied west would march triumphantly into the streets of Tehran while a jubilant population throws flowers at their feet…

Haven't I seen this somewhere before?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How to Steal an Election

An excellent article I found through Peter David's website, showing the security measures taken with Electronic Voting Machines and contrasting them with those taken with Las Vegas Slots - would that Americans protected their democracy as well as the Casinos protected their profits...

Marine *&^$^&%&%@#@! Atlantic

(insert rant)
As a dyed-in-the-wool lefty, my blood boils when I read about government execs wasting taxpayer dollars like this. Executives of Marine Atlantic, the Crown corporation that runs the ferry service here on the east coast, have been dining out, playing heady rounds of golf, and going to conferences in Athens and the Bahamas at our expense.

Stuff like this makes it that much harder to defend government initiatives that provide needed services and jobs against charges from the right that they would be better off privatized.

When the revolution comes, I will be waiting next to the wall with a golf club for the heads of assholes like this. They will understand.
(end rant)

Afghanistan debate: the odd angry shot

I caught some of the take-notes debate on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan last night and was frankly really impressed with Jack Layton and not very impressed with the Defense Minister. I have mentioned in conversation with friends and likely in these pages that Layton's tendancy to play for the cameras doesn't sit well with me, but last night he seemed to be the only leader to say something other than "I support the troops, and oh look, a flag to wave!"

I particularly liked the little exchange, covered in today's G&M article linked above, in which Layton asked a series of questions of Chief Defense Lobbyist Minister Gordon O'Connor that O'Connor himself asked in the fall:
What are the goals and objectives of the mission and how do they meet our foreign-policy objectives? What is the mandate, what is the defined concept of operations, what is the effective command and control structure, what are the rules of engagement?

These are good questions, regardless of who asks them, and they were not answered, instead they were responded to with snipes about his "support of the troops". To quote directly from Hansard, O'Connor's response (page 284 of the Hansard PDF (page 84 in the PDF) - sorry, the HTML is not up as I write this (update - html link here)) to these questions and the others asked by Layton:

I wonder if the hon. member basically supports our effort in Afghanistan or not, because it is not clear to me. That is the party that opposed our being in NATO until a few years ago.

How low! Instead of answering good questions with a substantive answer, or even a clever evasion, he responds by challenging his patriotism! I won't say what that reminds me of because I'm sick of seeing arbusto's name in print. It is unsurprising, but a shame nonetheless, that the courage to ask questions in Opposition is not often met with the same to answer them when in government.

In fairness, I did not watch all of the proceedings, but I do not feel any more assured that our elected officials really know what is going on in Afghanistan and that they do not have enough information to make informed decisions. It's a good thing decisions aren't being asked of them, I suppose.

Is this the new governanment strategy for Canada - keep 'em dumb and then complain that they're too dumb to make important decisions?

[Updated with html link to Hansard]

Monday, April 10, 2006

Enron trial fun

Ah. My fun reading for this week is going to include testimony from the Enron trial. For those not keeping track, the trial is reaching somewhat of a crescendo this week, with former CEO Jeff Skilling taking the stand in his own defense. He is using the time-honoured defense of most crooked CEOs: the No Clue defense. As in: "I had no clue that the company I'd been running for four years was cooking the books!". Is that believable? If true, what does such an admission say about the competence of corporate executives, in general? If Skilling and Lay are found to be innocent through incompetence, maybe the lawmakers who deal with Wall Street should consider creating a law akin to involuntary manslaughter for large-scale fraud.

The No Clue defense isn't really believable, anyway. Here's an older NYT article which points out inconsistancies in Skilling's defense. The Big Inconsistency: Skilling has flatly denied that Enron used cash reserves to bolster company earnings (an illegal practice). A former Enron accountant has already pointed to one specific instance of this happening (July 2000, to the tune of $14,000,000). Skilling also claims to have read every financial schedule from "cover to cover", and never saw any problems within. That kinda blows away any claim that he could be ignorant of the fraudulent accounting, although it's still minutely possible that he was too incompetent to notice the scams. There are other recollection problems highlighted in the NYT article.

I've been trying to find Jeff Skilling's net worth via google without much luck. He did sell large quantities of Enron stock in September 2001, just two months after his abrupt resignation, worth about $15.5 million. He claimed, during the investigation, that he sold this stock because he was worried about a market crash after September 11th, but his original sale request went to the broker on September 6th. It was held up for a while because his broker wanted to ensure that Skilling wasn't breaking any SEC rules, given his recent position.

I hope that by the end of the trial, we're calling it the "No Hope" defense. Rot, you bugger, rot.

Operation Save America... the voyage continues

There must be something in the water here at blevkog, but here's another bit of right-wing christian silliness thanks to the ever-productive comedy and overstatement team at Operation Save America. It appears that those entertaining straight men soldiers are off to fight the spread of "tolerance and friendship among all sexual orientations" at a high school in North Carolina. It seems that some upstart young high schoolers ("naive" and "willing dupes" are the terms they use) have formed a group to promote tolerance at their school - how dare they! I meant what did Christ die on the cross for other than a war on fags?

Run for your lives, because the "homosexual agenda", or as they also describe it the "lie from the pit of hell":
is not only out of the closet and parading its sin publicly in the hallways of South Rowan, it demands all bow down and be subject to it, or be sued. Friends, if we do not fight this battle now when we have a good chance of winning in Jesus' name, we may find ourselves having to fight when there is little or no hope of victory, realizing that it is better to die free than live under the bondage of homosexual slavery.

Mmmmmm... bow down...bondage of homosexual slavery... mmmmm. Oops, sorry there, lost my train of thought.

The telling bit is that the OSA loons are most offended by the fact that this organization is going directly to the kids, circumventing parents and teachers in the misguided belief that kids should learn to think for themselves. I guess if you believe in the Flying Spaggheti Monster, you're going to want your kids free from all the confusion that doubt and reality introduce. I understand.

(I mean, however would you be able to manipulate them into voting sheep for God's Own Party if they start thinking? And how are those tasty little wedge issues going to work if they start tolerating differences? And what if they start believing that the destruction of the world is not a good thing?)

If you ask me, they can't build that fence they're fantasizing about fast enough. Do you know if they're looking for donations?

The great Afghanistan "debate"

Today is the day of the "great debate" on Canada's role in Afghanistan. As I've said before in these e-pages, I'd prefer the debate to have some meaning, but I'd be happy if it answered a few questions. Canadians might not understand that Afghanistan is not an isolated island in the middle of nowhere - it adjoins two geopolitically volatile countries - Pakistan and Iran. These are both Islamic nations and have at various times financed radical fundamentalists throughout the Middle East. In particular, Pakistan helped the CIA finance and organize the mujahadeen resistance, and likely has continued interest in perpetuating an Islamist government in Afghanistan.

Our involvement here is not trivial, nor inconsequential. Before giving our unqualified assent to extending this mission, we should be able to answer these very basic questions
  • What is NATO's overall strategy (without details, naturally) for defeating the growing Taliban threat? What is the expected manpower requirements for this and roughly what is expected of Canada?
  • Put in writing the goals of the mission. Simply for clarity.
  • If larger troop counts are requested in the future, will Parliament be asked to vote on continued Canadian involvement?
  • Is there a plan to reduce the influence of Pakistani militants in the country?
  • What type of government are we interested in fertilizing? Are we willing to accept stability at any cost?
  • Knowing that one of the primary reasons Afghanistan is the disaster that it is was the withdrawal of Soviet and American control, interest, and money, at the end of the war in '87-'88. Is there a plan to garrison Afghanistan should the need arise, and if so, what are the projected costs for Canada in manpower and dollars?
  • Afghanistan already receives more foreign aid from Canada than any other country. Canada has reneged on promises to increase foreign aid to 0.7% GDP and the Martin government refused to create a timetable for attaining this number. Knowing that the development of civilian infrastructure in Afghanistan is critical, is the Harper government prepared to increase foreign aid to Afghanistan? If so, is it also prepared to increase the amount of money that Canada provides to foreign aid generally, or does that money come from somewhere else in foreign aid budget?

I have many more questions, but these would suffice for now. If anyone would like to add any, we can compile a list and approach our elected officials in the future when meaningful discussion of this mission begins.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sometimes the Irony is Just Too Delicious

The Creationist Theme Park known as Dinosaur Adventure Land may have to close after a judge ruled that the park, which shows how dinosaurs roamed the earth a mere few thousand years ago, failed to obtain the proper building permits. The owners of the park have argued that getting the permits 'violates their deeply held religious beliefs' (why is it that the Religious Right get upset at 'separation of Church and State' when it comes to prayers in school or Ten Commandment statues in courthouses, but when it comes to paying taxes or obtaining goverment permits - they're all for it?)

Best quote:
Scripture also says 'Render unto Caesar what Caesar demands.' And right now, Caesar demands a building permit," County Commission Chairman Mike Whitehead said.

The Banality of Evil

Every now and again, we are reminded of the true extent of the human capacity for evil. The recent story from Toronto of the little boy who was starved to death by his own grandmother, and the case a few years ago from New York where two brothers were nearly killed in the same manner, make me wonder: What is the nature and definition of evil?

A little heavy, I know, but bear with me. I may not answer the question in the end, but it's something worth thinking about.

Certainly, the most profound examples of evil in human history have been perpetrated, by and large, since the beginning of the 20th century. Hitler's Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Stalin's Russia, Rwanda, and so on. We're all familiar with them, even if some people seem incapable of grasping the enormity of them, and even start being apologists or deniers. But they happened, they were real, and they were enormously evil and depraved acts of violence against human beings.

But what about the less-well-known examples such as those mentioned above? What about the exploitation of the helpless, the cruelty to children, to one's own relatives, that shock and appall us? Acts that, in all likelihood, are happening right now in big cities and small towns around the world? These examples of smaller-scale evil will never appear in the history books.

But, perhaps, in fairness, they should. This would constitute a more accurate reflection of 21st century human society. We are small, greedy and petty. We are uncaring and callous, and completely lacking in empathy. In moments like this, it is important to remember one thing, though: we are also capable of great acts of sacrifice, kindness, and love. The balanced picture of the heights of goodness and the depths of evil are what constitute the real story.

When we exploit acts of kindness for personal gain, like those who defrauded the efforts to help the victims of Katrina, or when we victimize the helpless, we unbalance the scale. That's why it's important for us to recognize the imbalance, and try as best we can to right it. That doesn't necessarily mean becoming vigilantes, it may just mean working as best we can to try to eliminate the social conditions that motivate some to try to gain advantage by washing in the blood of others. Social justice, respect and empathy are the best tools we have.

I don't believe in the 'soul', and I never have - some people would regard that as a defect in my personality. To me it is a strength. I don't judge based on differences, I learn more from them. I don't react thoughtlessly at the expense of others, I reason and plan a strategy for the future. And I keep those I care for and respect close to me, and share in their affection and respect. it may be because we are like-minded, or it may be because of our differences, it doesn't matter. And I volunteer, in the hopes that I can make my community a better place, where children will not have to grow up in fear of their relatives or neighbors. It's relatively small-scale, but it's a start. And it makes me feel better than shovelling money on a problem in the hopes it will go away.

Because what we're missing is the sense of connection, and I hope to help correct that, in a small way. Because the sooner we realize that we are all connected, and that we can learn and grow through one another, the sooner we will realize that evil done to others is a profound evil done to ourselves.