Monday, July 31, 2006

Blaming the victim

There are those of us in the blog community that have absolutely no shame whatsover. Fred at GayandRight gutlessly simply quotes from an editorial, thereby leaving plausible deniability to cover the stink of the premise: Are the Lebanese really innocent?

I mean, they barely have an effective army, and it was pretty well understood that it might well have been infiltrated by Hezbollah long before this all began. This might very well be one of the reasons that the fragile government was unable to contain the movement in the first place. Which Lebanese are guilty Fred? The civilians that are dying? The military that, against all bets have not tried to defend their own homeland as its south has been chewed apart by more-or-less indiscriminant aerial bombardment?

Man, oh man, it's hard to not get personal sometimes.

Zolf on PMS

Larry Zolf, a newly-minted Stephen Harper cheerleader, tries to distance Harper's foreign policy on the Mid East from accusations that it is just an echo of the US, saying that, au contraire, Harper is returning to Diefenbaker-style or traditional Tory foreign policy values. I will agree with him that the "pro-American" epithet is a simplification, but in a world where the American government has asked all countries to choose sides such simplifications are required, hell, they are requested.

The real question is what is the Canadian electorate going to think of these traditional values. I only speak for myself, but the moral clarity they offer reeks.

In Vino Veritas

"In Wine There is Truth"

Given Mel Gibson's father's tirades against Jews in the past, it is becoming apparent that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. His fading popularity obviously not being sufficient reason to consign him to the dustbin of history, now he adds bigotry to his resume. Drunkenness is no excuse - his guard was down, he said what he was thinking, and his apology, after this and the Passion of the Commi$$ion, sounds hollow and untrue. So, life imitates art.

Somewhere, a publicist is weeping, somewhere, a former star has no credibility. Not that any of them really do. Gibson's life is beginning to take on all the glamorous cache of Bob Crane's, except that the sexual perversion that Crane displayed is sad, embarassing, and ultimately not all that bad. At least Col. Hogan had the advantage of dying before his shocking behaviour came to light; all Gibson has to fall back on is a bottle.

It can truly be said that instead of having a career in free fall, he has managed to pick up enormous amounts of speed. Never mind the Road Warrior, Mel's next role should be in a live action remake of 'The Roadrunner', so the audience will be better able to accept and cheer the reality, as Wile E. Coyote (Played by Mel, of course), is launched from an Acme cannon aimed straight downward over the edge of a cliff. Instead of falling silently, however, Ol' Mel can break character and shout anti-Semitic slogans on the way down. When he pops back up in the next scene, he can deliver his apology before falling over the cliff again. Metaphorically and artistically appropriate.

Unlike Wile E. Coyote (Suuuper Geeniuss) however, the audience won't be rooting for the coyote. They will hope instead that he gets all the cactus-up-the-butt-style rewards that he so richly deserves.

Ultimately, I'm hoping a well-earned obscurity is one of them.
You know how I loves the celebs.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Prin$ipled $tand, indeed

You have to check this out. Apparently Stephen Harper's "strong, clear direction" on the current Israel/Lebanon crisis makes him among the "amongst the first of the world's leaders to take a principled stand", and that this
Moral clarity feels a lot better than the endless equivocation we found with our previous government.
And naturally all who oppose such a moral titan are:
opposition parties which "are only interested in maneuvering for party advantage" and are "blindly determined" to topple Mr. Harper's minority government.
Get it? If you disagree with Harper's stand you are "blind" and only interested in "maneuvering for party advantage". Oh, thank you, Mr. Donison for pointing out this Buddha in our midst! I can curl up all comfy and cozy now in the knowledge that "Unca Steve" has everything all figgered out.

Of course it's just the old "yer fer us er agin us", except this time it's tied up with a nice little request for cash donations for the Conservative Party of Canada. Welcome to the new politics.

(h/t to Kris)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Old dogs, old tricks

George Bush still doesn't get it (I know, I know, but let's not be mean):


Q Thank you, sir. Israeli's Justice Minister said that the lack of a call from the international community for an immediate cease-fire essentially gives Israel a green light to push harder. And the top general there says there will be more several more weeks of fighting. Is your administration okay with these things?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I believe this. I believe that, as Condi said yesterday, the Middle East is littered with agreements that just didn't work. And now is the time to address the root cause of the problem. And the root cause of the problem is terrorist groups trying to stop the advance of democracies.
Tortured grammar aside, this is a lamentable misrepresentation of the real situation that serves to limit all options for action to military ones. I can't believe that this is accidental, after all Bush's modus operandi since the outset of his presidency has been a straightforward military approach to solving problems, and he appears quite ready to ride off into the sunset of his presidency with the same bag of tricks. For Bush, it's all nails, everywhere.

The implicit assumption in this statement is that the terrorist groups sprang into existence out of thin air for no reason whatsoever, a 2006 version of "they hate us for our freedoms". By ignoring, denying, or failing to look for and understanding the causal factors that produce terrorist organizations, we lose the ability to prevent their growth and dissemination in ways other than direct military confrontation. And how's that working out so far?

If I read his response right, he is brushing aside the idea of an agreement with Hezbollah outright and would like to find a solution without them in the picture. Somehow that seems like he is just crossing his fingers and hoping like hell that the IDF will make Hezbollah go away, something that is looking less and less likely with every day.

Reading this report on his meeting with Tony Blair today, I don't get a sense that any change in plan is in the offing:
Bush and Blair remained united against many other European and Arab nations, by resisting calls for an immediate, unconditional end to Israel's campaign against Hezbollah militants that effectively control southern Lebanon.
What has to happen for this administration to understand that trying to stamp out terrorist organizations without dealing with their root causes is like trying to cure a sympton?

On the road to Damascus and in neighbourhoods of Beirut

I don't usually quote entire articles at length without commentary, however I'm going to make an exception this time. I quote it in its entirety because it is a letter to the editor and I don't know how long they stay on-line and I want to keep it. And I won't comment on it becuase it needs none.

On the road to Damascus and in neighbourhoods of Beirut

By LARS OSBERG

Because my wife Molly and I happened to be visiting our son Spencer in Beirut recently, our perspectives on events in Lebanon may be a bit different.

Beirut is a city of strongly differentiated neighbourhoods and the Dahieh is often referred to as a "Hezbollah stronghold." On Sunday, July 9, we went for a walk there. It was a poorer area, with crowded streets and closely packed businesses. We had some sort of pizza from an outdoor stall, phoned my father from the Western Union office and shopped for clothes and trinkets.

Everywhere people were friendly and welcoming.

Our guide to the area was a friend of Spencer's, born in Canada but with many relatives in the neighbourhood - so when we passed his grandmother's place, etiquette dictated that we drop in for coffee. There was not much of a view from her second-floor balcony because the entire area was very thickly built up with closely packed eight- to 10-storey apartment buildings, but her sons supported her in her old age – it was a nice apartment.

Each area of Beirut tends to announce its political allegiances with posters of revered leaders, so the Sunni neighbourhoods have many photos of Rafik Hariri in heroic poses and South Beirut was dominated by pictures of Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader - but this is, in some ways, much like a Canadian election campaign. Hezbollah is a legitimate political party in Lebanon, with several seats in cabinet, and it was not clear how many signs were new or were left over from the recent general election. It was, however, absolutely clear that this was a peaceful, very densely populated civilian area, with no sign whatsoever of arms, militias or anything remotely resembling military activity.

The Dahieh is a fairly small area by Canadian standards, but it is the part of South Beirut that was attacked most intensively from the very first day. According to the New York Times website, in one 24-hour period last week, the Israelis dropped 23 tons of high explosives there.

The destruction of Beirut has been, however, a general thing. Christian neighbourhoods and the downtown, motorway interchanges, the airport runways and terminal, fuel storage depots, port facilities and public infrastructure of all types - all have been bombed repeatedly.

It is important to note that almost all of this destruction has no conceivable military purpose and no possible link to Hezbollah. Destroying an elevated motorway that is under construction in Beirut cannot possibly affect the ability of Hezbollah to conduct operations in the current conflict, but it does "make Lebanon pay a heavy price" (to use the words of an Israeli cabinet member). The only interpretation I can come to is that the Israeli objective is "collective punishment."

Molly and I know which areas of Beirut were bombed because we watched on TV - like millions of people in the Arab world - the saturation news coverage of Arab-language satellite networks. By great good luck, we had gone to Damascus for a few days of sightseeing. There are TV sets in every little shop in Damascus, in every sidewalk pizza place and in every cafe where the men gather to suck on their water pipes. Everywhere, they were turned to the 24-hour news coverage of Lebanon.

The Israeli bombing was not just "an item" on the news; it was the news - but it is important for Canadians and Americans to realize that people in the Arab world do not see the sanitized version of events we typically get in North America.

Nothing grabs an audience's attention like pictures of bleeding children, and Israeli bombing has produced many, many bleeding children in Lebanon. On the many competing Arab-language news networks, the camera does not flit away (as on North American TV news) - it shows every little detail, in long graphic shots, and pounds home the message (undeniably, a true message) that hundreds of totally innocent Lebanese civilians have died horrible deaths due to Israeli bombing.

According to the website of the Guardian newspaper of England, 377 Lebanese civilians and 17 Israeli civilians had been killed, as of July 25. I cannot imagine that the Lebanese total is anywhere near complete, since rescue crews have been unable to reach many areas of South Lebanon, or penetrate the collapsed wreckage of many Beirut apartment buildings - but even so, they imply that 95.7 per cent of civilian casualties in this conflict have been Lebanese.

For most of the TV viewers of the Arab world, the direct message of the unrelenting news coverage is simply one of Israeli brutality, but the implicit message is the total inability of the democratically elected Lebanese government to protect its citizens and the irrelevance of other Arab governments. When the New York Times website notes that the U.S. has expedited delivery of special laser-guided bombs to Israel, this information is disseminated instantly. Combine the ingredients - Israeli brutality, U.S. connivance, the irrelevance/acquiescence of their governments to prevent this suffering and humiliation - and the recruiters for al-Qaida must be rubbing their hands with glee.


Does Israel have a "right to defend herself?" Clearly, yes. Does that right mean that Israel can do anything it wants - kill any number of civilians, destroy any amount of infrastructure and housing - without criticism? I think not. The issue is not whether Israel had the right to respond to the capture of two of its soldiers - it is the brutal disproportion between provocation and response.

Collective punishment out of all proportion to provocation is, I am told, a war crime under international law. Having seen for myself the densely populated civilian areas of Beirut which have now been bombed into rubble, my opinion is that there is a reasonable case to be made that Israel is guilty of war crimes.

Collective punishment is also stupid policy. Collective punishment produces a collective experience and collective rage at unjust and brutal treatment. If Israel is to ever live in peace, it must some day sign peace agreements with its neighbours. Every bomb dropped in Lebanon makes it more likely that the rage and anger this brutality provokes will undermine moderate governments and fuel non-governmental organizations (like Hezbollah) whose raison d'etre is their uncompromising struggle.

Lebanon has lost hundreds of innocent civilian lives, billions of dollars of property damage and the hope for a prosperous, democratic, peaceful future. The region as a whole has lost any chance of peace for a long while to come. And all of us will lose a bit more of our personal security in future years, as the radicalism that Israel’s disproportionate response is producing percolates through the global system.

Lars Osberg is chair of the economics department of Dalhousie University, and a past president of the Canadian Economics Association.

Attention, Citizens...BOO!

McLean's magazine has this week reached a new low in journalistic ethics. At least, Canadian journalistic ethics - I don't think the American media has risen to this point in the last five or six years.

The article in question, the cover story for the week of July 24, is entitled "World War III", and describes the imminent (if not ongoing) Third World War, which will spread even further across the world, likely when the West least expects itOHMYGOD, IT'S STARTED WE'RE ALL GONNA DIEDIEDIE!!!

>ahem<

There is a theory in social psychology that refers to 'moral panic'. A moral panic is a mistaken belief that a particular cultural group, or set of cultural beliefs, or even a particular subculture, is dangerous, and poses a threat to the larger social structure.

The most interesting example of an inward-looking moral panic in America (and to a lesser extent in Canada) was the Satanic Panic of the late '80s and early '90s. Daycare centres were apparently hotbeds of satanic rituals, and there were more babies being ritually sacrificed in these suburban lairs of pure evil than had actually been born. Sooner or later, isolated voices began to pipe up: "Wait a minute - we're not finding all these dead babies we were promised. Could it be they never existed?" The absence of evidence was recognized as not being a result of a widespread pattern of ritualistic abuse and a thorough cover-up, but a result of the events never having happened.

What we are experiencing now is a more outward-looking panic, the type that sees the alien beliefs of Muslim Arabs as dangerous. What the Maclean's article goes to great lengths to point out is that this war (dubbed WW IV by some who regard the Cold War as WW III) is distinguished by an absence of front lines. The threat is therefore everywhere, as the attacks on New York and London illustrate - nowhere is safe, everywhere is the front line. The Home Front has become The Front.

The conceptual difficulty is that in order to maintain the aura of threat, we have to be at war with all Muslims, not just those who have radical interpretations of the Koran. The difficulty currently being experienced in Iran, Afghanistan and now in Palestine is that you can't tell the 'good Muslims' from the 'bad Muslims', therefore it's easier to fear them all.

Fear serves a purpose on a political level - it makes people more dependent on well-established authority, enhances the credibility of the police, the military (in theory, apparently not in practice), the clergy, the government, and, most importantly in this case, the Media. Fear sells, and it sells extremely well.

Understand that news outlets, be they magazines, newspapers, radio or television, are not doing what they do to 'keep you informed', or 'empower the citizenry by sharing vital information'. They are there to make a PROFIT. What you need is for something to grab people, to make them fear, but not think. To make them react emotionally rather than rationally, so this source of information is SOMETHING YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT. You don't want to be the one who doesn't see the next war coming, do you? Wouldn't you be letting your family down if you were uninformed or unprepared?

The bias is always toward exploiting the fear we all experience - the fear of armed conflict, the fear of terrorism, the fear of being judged negatively because your home doesn't glisten, even the fear of appearing unfashionable or unattractive based on a particular 'ideal', which outsells even the fear of death on an annual basis, I'm sure.

I'm not saying the world is an ideal, safe place right now - that would be foolish. There are threats, there is danger; for ourselves, for our children, for our planet. What I'm saying is this: think. Just take the few precious seconds you have to exercise your right as a human being to actively and soberly consider reality. Not the reality they give you, but the reality behind that reality: criminals and terrorists attack others because they have been subjugated by the global system of distribution of goods, which places the majority of wealth in the hands of a priveleged few.

That doesn't make attacking others fair or right, but it certainly makes it predictable - poverty, lack of health care, lack of basic human dignity, it all creates the anger that leads to violence, justified in some cases by re-interpretation of religious doctrine.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs describes the basic needs of the human animal, and when we make the most basic of these, food and shelter (biological needs) and personal safety, difficult if not impossible to acquire, we breed desperation and anger. When there are people who want more than their share at the expense of others, you have bred self-righteousness. There are much deeper historical reasons for what is happening out there, more detailed than the 30-second sound bite can provide. Don't buy the shallow'analysis' the news outlets spoon-feed us. Check on Aljazeera once in a while to hear the other side - just as biased, but in the other direction. Somewhere between the translated words of the MBAs in Marketing of Maclean's and Aljazeera is the truth, and you have always had the power to decide what that is for yourself.

Don't give in, don't succumb to the fear. Big Brother does love you, Big Brother will keep you safe, but Big Brother will take your humanity and your dignity in return.

Lebanon musings and WWIII

I found a couple of interesting articles by Jim Muir, a BBC correspondant who's been reporting on mid-East issues forever. Read and enjoy.

Part 1: History repeats with a vengeance

Part 2 - Washington risks a wider conflict

Things to note:

Muir doesn't think that Israel can repeat it's 'success' of the Lebanese invasion of 1982, which saw the PLO leadership evacuate Beirut and ship off to Tunis for a short time. This is because Hezbollah is home-grown (more or less), and reportedly enjoys support from the majority Lebanese Shia population. That's not to say that all Lebanese Shia support Hezbollah, but that enough of the Shia population supports them to keep them going. It is entirely possible that Hezbollah's support base could grow within Lebanon, as it is apparantly growing outside of Lebanon. They won't be boarding boats for Tunis any time soon.

He also doesn't think that the UN or any other group (NATO?) would be successful in containing Hezbollah even if the IDF is successful in permanently driving out all civilians from southern Lebanon creating a buffer zone in southern Lebanon. In his words, what nation will be successful in containing Hezbollah where Israel has failed? Sounds like a recipe for a ground troop meat grinder, even if those unfortunate troops are wearing blue helmets.

Finally, as we can all plainly see, the wider Arab world is not happy with the USA over their carte blanche approach to Israel, given the huge civilian toll exacted this month in Lebanon. Their one-sided approach to diplomacy in the region will probably completely ignore the ongoing IDF operation in Gaza, which fueled Hezbollah's recent actions in the first place. Even if a diplomatic agreement includes a pullback from Gaza (which I consider unlikely), it will certainly ignore the root cause of the violence in the region: the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories and the unabated expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Not Lovin' It...

This morning, I found an interesting New York Times article, describing a riot at a Chinese factory which makes toys for McDonald's.

Perhaps now we will have 'Unhappy Meals'?
'Labour Unrest Shakes'?
'Starvation Wage Burgers'?
'Chicken Nuggets O' Dignity'?

Somehow, I don't think the marketing department at Mickie D's will go for it.

The Games games continue...

Halifax Regional Municipality is apparently dead serious about "winning" the right to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. So serious, in fact that they've ponied up some more of my tax money to hire Tony Holding as its director of strategic relations. Holding held a similar position in helping Melbourne, Australia "win" the bid for last years' Games. He's the kind of guy that calls advertising "look", so he must be worth every cent.

If you're at all concerned that HRM council has no idea what it's getting us into, then you're not alone. The Herald article links to a site devoted to stopping the games here. It is definitely worth a read - there is a petition to sign if you're concerned and a series of interesting links for your reading pleasure.

Unfortunately, I have a sneaking feeling that the city is dead-set on going for this. I wonder if this will give Halifax the highest per capita municipal debt in the country? Top that, Moncton!

P.S. Did you notice my "clever" use of quotations around the words "winning", "look", and "win"? I'll bet you did - because you are smart and good-looking! Do you know where I got the idea from (because I don't have any good ideas myself - only ones I steal from smart people!)? I got it from the "clever" righties that have their knickers in knots over the "Canadians" that the government had to extract from Lebanon the last week or so. Okay, maybe "clever" is not the right word - it was Allan Fotheringham, who is at least sometimes funny, Peter "Bitter" Worthington, who is at best unpleasant, and Adam "Himself" Daifallah, the always-pretty and soooo optimistic.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nouri al-Maliki is (gasp) playing politics

The reaction this week to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's remarks at the White House the other day is interesting and revealing. His comments have newscasters and politicos in knots, so it might be worthwhile to see what he said. In answer to a question on his position on Hezbollah, al-Maliki responded:

PRIME MINISTER MALIKI: Thank you. Here, actually we're talking about the suffering of a people in a country. And we are not in the process of reviewing one issue or another, or any government position. The important thing here is what we are trying to do is to stop the killing and the destruction, and then we leave the room and the way for the international and diplomatic efforts and international organization to play the role to be there.

We are not here facing a situation only in Lebanon, but would be facing a variety of issues in different countries. I'm talking here about the approach that should be used in order to stop this process of promoting hatred, that has to be superior decisions coming from above in order to protect these experiments, particularly the democratic experiments that should be protected by those who are trying to oppose it.

Overall, a balanced position, refusing to take sides - settle things down and get the international community involved to protect the citizenry. Do not throw out the baby (Lebanon) with the bathwater.

Of course, that's the problem - he didn't take sides, or specifically, he didn't take our side. And why wouldn't he do that, I wonder? Well, if you're Howard Dean, or any of the hordes of conservative bloggers echoing his remarks today, it's because he's an anti-Semite, of course. Let me first say that I absolutely hate this racist strawman that gets trotted out anytime someone says something against Israel. Does not supporting the current Conservative government in Canada make me anti-Caucasian?

Fuck.

Of course calling someone names is the easiest thing in the world to do, although it rarely results in anything positive afterwards. (Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, is an expert on rarely reaping positive benefits. He won't in '08, either.) The fact of the matter is that Maliki is in a very delicate political situation at home that also plays into remarks he makes on the subject. The Arab world, including Iraq, is being bombarded by images of dying civilians in Lebanon right now, and if Maliki was to publicly condem Hezbollah it would be seen as giving comfort to Israel.

A Shi'a, Maliki has to play to the Shi'a majority in Iraq if he has any hope at all of creating stability; even then, his chances aren't really good. In order to do so, at the very least, he can't be seen to be condoning what is being done to fellow Arabs in southern Lebanon right now. Note that he did not come out and say that he backed Hezbollah, he merely played a political line up the middle of the argument so that he can save his own skin, indeed save American skin in Iraq: he is the last American hope of keeping Iraq from spinning fully into civil war, if it's not already there. There are no more baskets left in Iraq for the only remaining American egg: a vaguely western(ish) democracy. Whether he has a snowball's chance in hell is an open question, but he has no choice.

Does he back Hezbollah? I don't know. If he does, it can't be because he's got a lot of idle time on his hands and a lot of power outside of the Green Zone to exert. No, this statement, or non-statement really, is all about Maliki's domestic political situation.

Just like Howard Dean's.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Stephen Harper is getting a grammar lesson

measure: 1 a : to choose or control with cautious restraint

Stephen Harper's claim that Israel's response to the capture of two soldiers was a measured response is obviously becoming less and less tenable with every Canadian evacuated, arrested, or killed. And what to make now of the fact that the UN has verified that the IDF was repeatedly warned in the hours leading to the deaths of the observers that the bombing was coming far too close to manned UN positions.

Ah that's easy-peasey for Prime Minister Harper: the UN observers should obviously have left the post.

Methinks that Stephen Harper is going to learn the lesson that pro-war Republicans and Democrats may learn this fall: be very careful when you pick sides in, or start wars against terrorists; you generally are going to end up picking a political loser. And why is that? Because fighting terrorists with a military necessarily results in massive civilian casualties, and massive civilian casualties produces political backlash that will eat you alive even if you do win on the battlefield. A more useful approach would be to deal with the forces that created the terrorists in the first place and strengthen representative governments in areas where they spring up.

Of course that's hard stuff, takes a long time, and it requires that you think about shit really hard before you do it. And it doesn't make for flashy CNN war logos, martial music, and snappy soundbites.

Javis Roberts to open Masturbation Club For Men

Javis Roberts might just be starting to get the hint that a strip club in north end Dartmouth is not such a good idea. After losing his liquor license for 45 days yesterday, he has said that The Den Masturbatorium will open as a private club. No liquor will be served, however if (throbbing) members would like to bring their own, they are more than welcome to do so.

In his announcement today, Roberts suggested that he might re-establish the business elsewhere in HRM - perhaps Burnside, "somewhere where there ain't no neighbours", in his own artful words. If he ever does look back on this whole sordid affair, and there is no evidence in his past business dealings that he will do so without a court order, he will find that this is exactly what he was fucking told to do back when he opened up the Sensations Shithole Cabaret in the first place.

For the neighbours of this fine establishment and it's even finer proprietor, this must be starting to feel like the end... finally.

Goodbye, fucky.

Could it be possible?

I would have thought that Israel's military objectives in southern Lebanon were modest enough that they could be achieved relatively easily, even if it involved excessive civilian casualties. However the battle is now nearing its second week and is beginning to show some unsettling signs of escalation.

First, there is the threat by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to extend rocket strikes deeper into Israel, threatening "installations and infrastructure", I suppose in response to Israeli attacks on same in Lebanon. This bodes poorly for civilians in the northern half of Israel.

The second sign is the inability of the US and allied countries to come to some kind of an agreement for a cease-fire, or even if the parties involved would agree to one.

And third is the comment today by Billmon, who suggests that the Israeli army might well be facing an outright military defeat at the hands of Hezbollah. I shudder to think what effect this might have on other terrorist operations like the Muslim Brothers, Hamas, or any of the other Wahabi or Shi'a groups that are gaining in strength around the region.

This is not to say that these groups shouldn't be countered, but if Iraq wasn't lesson enough that you can't attack terrorism militarily, then this should be. Unfortunately the lesson might well come at the cost of a quickly escalating Mid-East-wide conflict that has the prospects of drawing in all of us.

Looking for the silver lining, $3 per litre gasoline might be just what the doctor ordered to get our asses onto public transit.

Still Not Leaving...

Follow-up from my post on the advance of Creationism in British universities.

The Times Higher Education Supplement arrives in our departmental library on an uneven schedule, so I was able to read the letters column responding to the article today. Andrew McIntosh, one of the professors quoted in the original article, and in my subsequent post, contributed to the letters page these gems of scholarly wisdom:

"One accepts that most academics believe that evolution has got us to where we are after 4 billion years, but a recent 'Horizon' poll showed that less than 50 per cent of Britons accept the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life..."

This would constitute the 'Apples and Oranges' argument: Comparison of two completely different groups that most likely would not agree, namely, academics and poll respondents, presumably the general public. The main problem is lack of context: where, by whom, and when was the poll conducted? How was the question asked? What is the definition of the word 'best' in this context?

"To suggest that design is not a valid scientific alternative is absurd, since any engineer knows how to recognise design and improve on what has been done."

Ok, the 'Argument from Authority', which invokes a professional group as the example of proper comprehension. The assertion is valid as far as it goes, but what he fails to mention is that in this case, the original designer is an unseen, divine, omnipotent supernatural entity. The concept completely violates Occam's Razor, and therefore is not science.

Now, another view:

"..The first and second laws of thermodynamics find explicit expression in the scriptures. The first law, on mass/energy conservation with respect to quantity, is found in Nehemiah ix, 6, which reveals with respect to the heavens and the earth 'and all things that are therein' that 'thou (God) preservest them all'. The second law, addressing entropy and the degradation of energy and matter by all real processes with respect to quality, is found in Isaiah li, 6, which states that 'the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner'." - Alan O'Reilly, Teesside University

This is surely enough to make Nostradamus go, "Dude, what the f**k are you talking about?" This is certainly the most creative semantic interpretative reaching I've ever seen, akin to reading the word 'dog', but assuming the writer actually meant 'cat'.

I sincerely hope that this is a big inside joke among British academics, because if not, centuries of revered tradition of British scholarship is in serious jeopardy.

The death of a real Canadian hero

Read it here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sensations-ally sober

Javis Roberts' wife's strip club, Sensations Cabaret has lost its liquor license for 45 days. In an interview on local CBC radio this morning he said that he intends to keep operating during the suspension and will announce later today how that will happen. I'll post later when I've heard the details.

I gotta give the guy props for being persistent. He is still a complete asshole for running a strip club in a residential neighbourhood, but he's persistent.

It's what they call yer assymetrical diplomacy.

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday
New York Times,
July 21, 2006.

The U.S. humanitarian aid will cover blankets, medical kits and sheet rolls.
Washington Times
July 25, 2006

The American "solution" is becoming clearer...

Q On Lebanon, there seems to be two tracks that have emerged. There are those calling for an immediate cease-fire; there are those calling for a sustainable cease-fire. And the sustainable camp says there's a risk -- if you just call for an immediate, you'll be back here in three weeks or three months. Isn't it worth the risk if you stop innocent Israelis and Lebanese from being killed; isn't it worth taking that risk while you try to bang out something more sustainable?

MR. SNOW: The question is whether that's a fool's errand, Jim. The idea that you suspend -- number one, there's a notion that somehow both sides are going to suspend, and we remain deeply skeptical that Hezbollah is going to abide by any such agreement. But the more important thing is, sustainable really does matter, because as we've seen in some places, if you allow terrorists to proclaim victory and to continue to take root within a country, you actually encourage further misbehavior. There's no place on the record where as a result of a negotiation a terrorist organization has said, okay, we give up, great treaty.

So instead I think the most important thing is to put into place conditions where you'll have a sustainable cease-fire. What does that mean? It means that Hezbollah not only returns the soldiers, not only returns the rockets, but either decides or lacks the capability to weaken the government of Lebanon by operating independently of that government and serving as a rogue force that is capable of not only seizing territory, destabilizing within Lebanon, threatening the Lebanese government, threatening the Lebanese people, but also threatening the peace of the region.

So the sustainable cease-fire is one that is not going to enable Hezbollah to declare victory, but instead will allow the people of Lebanon to look forward to peace and prosperity.

Tony Snow, White House Press Briefing
June 24, 2006

Given that Tony Snow also appears to believe that a cease-fire is a victory for Hezbollah, it looks like Peter Mackay really is reading from the White House playbook. Shame. (As for the quip that no terrorist organizations have ever abided by a treaty, I would have thought by now that the press would have heard of Northern Ireland, but apparently not.)

So, the US is simply waiting for the proper conditions for a sustainable cease-fire. What could those be, I wonder? It's interesting that Tony Snow was a journalist (okay, he worked for Fox, which isn't quite the same) because I don't really understand what the hell he's talking about. He's taking grammar lessons from his boss, I'm afraid. Hezbollah has to "return" the rockets to whom? Syria? Iran? Right now they seem to be returning them a few at a time, but I'm not sure if that's what he means.

I think that he's hinting at the fact that the US want to detooth Hezbollah so that they can no longer destabilize the Lebanese government, which is a useful and constructive goal. However, if in doing so we mobilize the population of Lebanon against the West, by say bombing the shit out of everything, then there is no way that we can have a stable government that is also ready to go to the table with Israel and seek a peaceful solution. Bombing civilian populations and destroying civilian infrastructure has proven time and time again in the long run to produce more resentment and anger, and this is not what the situation requires.

So what really is the US up to here? I find it hard to believe that they think that a long-term solution can come of a simple military victory, because as dull-witted as Bush has proven to be, Condoleeza Rice isn't. No, there's something more here. The Washington Times has an interesting take on Tony Snow's statements:

In Washington, Mr. Snow said there was no reason to think that an immediate cease-fire would stop violence in the Mideast and that the world should confront the destabilizing force of Hezbollah and its practice of using the Lebanese people as "human shields."

This got me thinking that maybe what the Israeli government plans to do is to remove the human shields behind which Hezbollah is currently hiding. Driving the civilian population to the north leaves Hezbollah two choices - melt into the human tide and go north or stay in the south, now more exposed, and fight it out. If they fight it out, they will either lose or at best get hurt very badly, and if they leave, the Israelis move in and allow a very controlled return of civilians, hoping to filter out Hezbollah.

I'm not sure exactly how this is supposed to work, it's not like terrorists actually look any different so "filtering" might be very difficult. What is becoming clear now, is that the Americans are onside and are perfectly willing to drag the negotiations on to give the Israelis time enough to drive out or kill all of the civilians.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Thing That Wouldn't Leave!

As a routine part of my work, I have occasion to peruse the Times Higher Education Supplement. As some of you may have guessed, it is a supplement to the London Times updating those who are interested on the state of higher education in Britain. Generally, it's one of the publications I buzz through pretty quick, as most of it for the last few months has been consumed with the lecturers' strike at UK universities, and the subsequent settlement.

Nevertheless, as I had been away from my regular routine for a while (as some readers may have noticed), I decided to skim over it this morning. Then I had to stop and look again - there is a phenomenon gaining ground in English universities that I find troubling, mostly because I didn't see it as an issue over there.

Creationism is gaining a foothold in British universities.

"Evolution is disastrous because if you teach people that they are animals then it is inevitable that they will behave like animals."
- Stuart Burgess, head of Mechanical Engineering, Bristol University

Like people don't behave like animals based on their religious faith. We're predators. No amount of wishful thinking is going to make our animal nature untrue.

"Genesis gives us the basis for the only correct way to look at the world because God has told us how everything came to be... Evolution and long ages is completely contrary to what the Bible says."
- Andrew McIntosh, professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory, Leeds University. Quoted in Creation, the quarterly magazine of Answers in Genesis.

Um...Yeah. The only correct way to look at the world. Can you conceive of how many people will disagree with you, just based on the fact that you are describing Christianity as the one, true religion? Hoo boy. If I were you, I'd buy some bulletproof... everything.

As the Supplement quite rightly points out, in terms of denying evolution and proposing intelligent design, the commonality shared by these professors, and by many others who feel the need to share their religious views with us every chance they get is that these men are commenting well outside their area of expertise. The human eye is often cited as proof of irreducible complexity - the premise that some things are so complex, and only function if all parts are present, that they must have been created as a whole by someone who planned in advance.

I consider myself an expert in certain social-scientific and philosophical concepts and methods, and have dabbled in enough of the various sciences to have a slight grasp (very slight) of the basic concepts. My friends here are all extremely intelligent, and would by any measure be considered experts in their fields as well. In addition, all of them are open-minded and curious by nature, which is at least a part of the reason we are friends in the first place. Given our collective level of experience and knowledge, I don't think there are any of us who would pretend to know, in detail, how some biological processes, particularly those which took place in the distant past (assuming that the eye has been in its current form for at least the last few hominid iterations), and in a variety of settings, and under particular conditions that may not exist in exactly the same way as before.

We aren't necessarily smarter than these chaps, but at least we don't have to rely on the supernatural to explain stuff we don't get. God, Yahweh, Allah, Ganeesh, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever: They have their place, and served their purpose in explaining the unexplainable in certain historical contexts.

But now, as we careen madly further into the 21st century, we have the capacity to at least attempt to explain phenomena, based on what we have observed, and extrapolating from those observations what the universal mechanisms are that govern such processes. Some phenomena have not been fully explained to the satisfaction of all members of a particular field, like Astrophysics, simply because it's difficult to verify some of the suppositions. Others, however, based on an overwhelming body of evidence that cannot be manipulated or misinterpreted, are considered facts: gravity and evolution being the two that come to mind.

There are no gaps in the fossil record. Fact.
There is no evidence for a Biblical deluge. Fact. (corollary: just because other cultures share a similar 'flood myth' does not mean it happened - it just means that Man has recognized the importance of Water to our origins and have incorporated it into mythology)

Religion is not, nor shall it ever be, the source of rational explanations of any sort. It does not explain the origins of humanity, nor does it explain human behaviour, human sexuality, biological reproduction, the sources of crime, geography, geology, politics, death, life or why I never get what I want for Xmas. Science has not failed humanity, it has brought us war, pain, suffering, joy, relief, cures for old diseases, confusion, despair, inspiration, confidence and knowledge. Of all the routes to knowledge, it is the most reliable.

That these men still practice their professions (mechanical engineering and thermodynamics) means that they are simultaneously accepting and rejecting the scientific method. You can't decry science's ability to explain some things while having complete confidence in it for others - that is patently hypocritical. If you reject some of science, you reject all of it. Disagreeing with certain aspects of scientific theory, or questioning specific methods are part of science - it would not grow without the exchange of ideas this engenders - but denying that it has any merit at all to examine biological processes invalidates the scientific method for all areas of science.

Scientists can be religious, I know this. But, true scientists still accept the power of the scientific method, while keeping their faith separate. In fact, religion serves as a useful 'moral compass' to scientists whose work may lead to harm.

Trying to invoke the supernatural to explain natural processes that are explained thoroughly by science is cheap showmanship. To attempt to paste a moral template over Evolution, to make it look evil or misguided is wrong. Science doesn't decide right and wrong in a moral sense, humans do. Humans impose values of right and wrong over the products of science, but it is impossible to do so with the method as a whole. X happens because of Y, and if we don't know Y yet, it's not because we aren't looking, and it's not because a supernatural entity caused it to happen.

Evolution continued without regard to what people might think of it in a million years. Evolution continues, and changes humanity as we zoom toward the future, all the while arguing about who or what started the engine.

Thank you, Matt Groening, Lisa Simpson, and Carl Sagan.

Oil spill in Halifax Harbour

Well, I didn't listen to the news all weekend, so imagine my surprise when I awoke this morning and discovered that there had been a fuel oil spill in Halifax Harbour on Saturday. It's probably hard to imagine my surprise over the net, so we'll call it a 6 of 10 on the surprise meter. Here's a link to the CBC story on the spill. Let's probe further, shall we?

Which boat dumped the toxic goo into the Harbour? ASL Sanderling. This is the largest ship in Oceanex's fleet, if that means anything. Built in 1977 by Sasebo of Japan.

What caused the spill? Transport Canada's initial speculation is that the inner fuel tank on the container ship was corroded. This is a ship that does regular runs between Halifax and Corner Brook. It is flagged in Canada. Knowing how hard Transport Canada rides my friends in the sailing industry here, I find it rather surprising that a corroded fuel tank on a container ship which works continually within Canadian waters could escape their notice. Oh well.

Who owns the ship? (i.e. who should pay the cleanup charges and fine?): Oceanex. Oceanex bills themselves as "your Newfoundland connection" for shipping, but they are based in Montreal. You'll like that, Dan. Anyway, the president and CEO is Peter Henrico.

How bad is the spill? According to the NS DOE, Bunker C fuel oil is "generally not toxic to plant or animals" because it contains few volatile compounds. The US Coast Guard cites a minor risk to marine birds and fur-lined mammals who could get coated in the oil, but don't list it as a carcinogen nor as a danger to other marine life. So, it's not that bad, thankfully. Bunker C is fairly viscous, so it should be easy to clean up using booms and vaccuums. Lucky us.

Hopefully, Transport Canada will figure out how a corroded fuel tank could escape the notice of their inspectors (and the notice of Oceanex crew and their certifying authority, if any) and prevent such an accident in the future.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Give peace a chance

Condoleeza Rice, the saviour of the Republican Party in '08 (or is the Democratic Party the saviour of the Republican Party?) is heading to the Mid East to try to help negotiate a peace. Now, I've been called cynical before, but if I was Hezbollah and read this, I'd have some misgivings.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

From bad to worse...

Until now, the Lebanese government, specifically the Lebanese Army, has done nothing about the Israeli bombardment, now into its 11th day. Just where do you think this is going to go, if they decide that at some point the job of the military is to protect its own people?

I mean, if the Israelis actually invaded? Do you think we're about to find out?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Reality bites

Faced with almost daily reports of sectarian carnage in Iraq, congressional Republicans are shifting their message on the war from speaking optimistically of progress to acknowledging the difficulty of the mission and pointing up mistakes in planning and execution.
-Washington Post - July 20, 2006

In short, the liberal media has been reporting the half-empty glass as it sees it, more or less, and there is no time before November to turn it around. Classic Rove.

You have to respect his... chutzpah

Omar Bakri, a Syrian-born cleric and former member of the violent Muslim Brotherhood and banned from Britain because he was "not conducive to the public good", was turned away from a British warship in Beirut yesterday, seeking escape from Lebanon.

This is the same guy that just a short while ago said this:

Q) Do you think about going back to the United Kingdom?

A) No. I do not think about that unless Britain renounces its terror laws through which it is terrorizing Muslims under the pretext of fighting terrorism. It is religiously prohibited for people like me to return to the United Kingdom, because this would fall within the framework of offering oneself as captive. Islam prohibits Muslims from allowing themselves to become captives of nonbelievers.

Oh yeah, and he also referred to the Sept. 11 terrorists as the magnificent 19. In some ways, being trapped in an Isreali bombardment, if not just, is at least poetic.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lebanon and the Irony Party of Canada

As it is becoming obvious to anyone watching and reading, the Canadian government's reaction to the crisis in Lebanon has left something to be desired. So slow was the government in moving that before Sunday, the only official announcement was a travel advisory issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs. This would be of help to those planning trips, but would do nothing for the tens of thousands of Canadians that the government knew were trapped in Lebanon.

And the reason for the painfully slow response? It appears that the good Prime Minister has all decisions coming from Ottawa and that the PMO's "communications" director Sandra Buckler put a lid on all information about the situation.

The Conservative Party of Canada - giving a whole new meaning to the word "communications". I can see the campaign billboards now.

PS - Does anyone else think that this is beginning to look like Stephen Harper's Hurricane Katrina? I mean, he's even flying in to Cyprus with a little press crew and his wife for some CYA "rescue" photo ops now that the damage is done.

The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Weak...

Following up on Kevvy's post on the financial inadvisability of Rodney MacDonald directing the profits from Deep Panuke into general revenue rather than dept reduction is the fact that it might well violate at least two laws - it's funny that Rodney insists on observing the spirit of the law only when it applies to Sunday Shopping. Of course, the elephant in the room is the fact that in the case of both the Sunday Shopping regulations, and the the Dept Reduction plan where're overlooking the real intent of the law(s) - either sucking up to the Rural Vote through the Sunday Shopping regulations or bribing the Nova Scotia voters in general by spending oil money on paying off his election promises.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Commonwealth Games bid update

I seem to remember a little while back, the Halifax city council said that it would not reveal costs of the bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Well, I guess what they really meant was that they would only reveal costs that come in under budget.

"The Halifax 2014 team is committed to being fiscally responsible, and we’vedemonstrated again that we are doing just that while meeting our objectives," committee CEO Scott Logan said in the release.

"Of course, we're not going to tell you what those objectives are until we've met them", he was not heard to say.

Information is not power. The selective control of information, however is.

If Palestinian kids idolize suicide bombers...

what do Israeli kids idolize?

Apparently artillery.


The next time I hear someone claim that Islam is a religion of war / death / destruction, I think I'll scream. What do you think these pretty little Israeli girls are writing on the shells that are about to be lobbed over the border and into perhaps a Beirut apartment building? And is that a proud looking mom in the background or what?

[Update - a commentor pointed me to this - apparently the kids were egged on by their parents to do this. I'm not sure that this makes things any better or worse. It's still unsettling.]

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

For those that like watching live war on CNN

...James Woolsey is your man.

Israel and Palestine: a thought experiment

There have been an awful lot of interesting (and some aggravating) posts on the current Mid-East crisis that I've read in the last few days. I'm picking up a common thread from those that support the current Israeli actions in Lebanon and Gaza that I would like to comment on. (Don't forget about Gaza - that one is even more complicated.)

The idea is that I might not have the right to comment on Israeli actions because I have never been in the shoes of an Israeli citizen, living under the threat of an attack at all times. It is obvious that this is both a dodge and true at the same time. It's a dodge because the same people that write this will in the same paragraph write that they want Israel to totally destroy Hamas and Hezbollah [edit - please scroll down the link to the comment by "Mark". The link that I posted is actually to this comment, not the article to which it is affiliated, unfortunately it does not automatically scroll down like I thought it would. canadi-anna has rightly taken me to task here for misrepresenting her argument, which I did not intend to do at all. My apologies.], which if my reading comprehension is correct, is also commenting on the situation. And it is true in that I do not have any idea at all what it must feel like to live like that.

Since I am one of those that have been critical of Israel's actions, I should try to answer the question - "how would I respond if I was an Israeli citizen?" And since I don't have any experience to go on except to know how I react under low levels of stress, I'll have to simulate, but here goes.

There is a good chance I would know, or know of someone that was killed by a bus bomb or while serving in the army. I know that I would be furious and I know that I would be scared. I know that I would say irrational and unhelpful things in my fear and I know that I would do irrational and unhelpful things in my fear. I also know that I would, above anything else, want it to end.

Okay, so I'd be angry and scared. Scared shitless most likely - I'm like that. However, being outside of the region, and not being so emotionally tied to it, and not (yet) scared shitless, I can view things a little more dispassionately and I think that dispassionate review of the situation is what is in fact required.

Naturally, those that pose these questions of us Israel-critics (for want of a better term) seem unlikely to flip the question around and ask how they would feel if they were Palestinian. It's a useful exercise - try it. Since I'm good at following my own lead, I'll take that one on, too.

If I was Palestinian, I might be the second or third generation living in a refugee settlement without power and little or no water. I would likely have no job and come from a family in which no one has ever had a job. I very probably would know or be related to someone killed by Israeli shelling or rockets. (Body counts vary, but a rough estimate for the number dead during the recent Intifadah are about 3500 Palestinian and 1000 Israeli.) What's more, in all likelihood, I would have little or no hope of ever seeing any change in the situation for me or my kids. I'd be angry, scared, and hopeless. I might be angry at my government enough to do something aside from tossing protest votes at Hamas, but when the only alternative offers more of the same (with a smiling American stamp of approval), that is unlikely. It's more likely that if this world offers no solace I might make plans instead for the next one.

And when those proffering the next world speak in the language of 72 virgins (or white grapes), I might just listen. (For what it's worth, I'd be a pretty churlish dead guy if it turned out to be grapes. I would haunt mosques. Unless they were really, really good grapes.)

Now, having seen how either side in this conflict has the right to claim Victim Status and to act in anger, can we set aside the "blow Israel / Hamas / Hezbollah into the sea" crap and start looking for possible solutions?

Especially since we know that if a military solution was possible it would have been solved long ago.

Monday, July 17, 2006

It's come to this...

Rodney MacDonald and Darrell Dexter, you've brought me to a low that I never thought that I would ever see. You have forced me to write a sentance that I thought not possible to write - one that, under other circumstances I might attribute to the random keystrokes of burned out crackhead monkeys on a coffee course. Here it is, and I can't believe I'm writing this:
I agree with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

Just reading this made me throw up in my mouth a little.

What brought this on was today's announcement by Rodney MacDonald that the offshore oil and gas money from Deep Panuke, estimated to be about $450 million over ten years, would go into general revenue rather than be set aside to pay off the mountainous provincial debt. This is doubtless the result of the remarkable heap of expenditures promised in this year's budget and then added to during the election campaign that very nearly made MacDonald a one-session premier.

If this was a reliable and long-term source of income I could understand, however there is very likely going to only be ten or so years of this money and I think that instead of getting used to it being there and having to reduce expenditures at the other end, it would be wiser to earmark it now for debt maintenance. Short-term pain, long-term gain. In fairness to my pinko soul, I would then take the savings and put them into social programs. I expect that me and AIMS would differ on that point.

Hopeful or scared?

I'm not yet sure if this is a hopeful sign in the Mid East or just more of the same, but it appears that some Arab governments are not very happy at all about the recent behaviour of Hezbollah and are saying so in public (h/t to Mezba). Saudi Arabia has called the capture of Israeli soldiers "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible" and that "[t]hese acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we cannot simply accept them". Similar reaction has come from the Egyptian and Jordanian governments.

This is nearly unprecedented - in the past, Israel behaviour has been condemned while Arab actions whitewashed or praised. What does this mean?

It could be that some Arab states realize that stability in the region is in their best interest, and that accepting the existence of Israel, even without officially aknowledging it, promotes stability. Or, it could be that they are worried that these uprisings are really rooted in Iran after all, and that this is the sign of a broader Shi'a/ Sunni/ Wahhabi conflict that is about to revive.

For now, I choose to believe that this is a hopeful sign - one of the first I've seen in a few days.

Measured, indeed...

So our dear PM Harper considers the Israeli response to the kidnapping of two soldiers (130 civilian dead and counting...) to be a "measured response". My first response to this little bit of idiocy is to ask what exactly Harper knows about a measured response. As many bloggers have already pointed out, Harper's career has been studded with "measured responses" from calling for the effective cessetion of Alberta ("we lost an election - wah!") to screwing with the Ottawa press gallery ("they're not using the adjectives I issued them - take that!") to declaring the fate of Rona Ambrose as Environment Minister a confidence motion ("they don't like my utter lack of an environment policy - wah!").

So now that seven Canadians, including four children, are dead, how "measured" does he think the response is? Perhaps it is measured in exactly the same way that Harper likes - pushed to the brink and teetering.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Thanks, Pete!

Don't travel to Lebanon, Canadians warned
No shit? Thank you, Foreign Affairs, Canada!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Why NASA Should Be Fully Funded


Do it for the Chimps

The Bush administration seems... confused...

As this headline rather succintly points out (thanks, Eugene!), the US government is in a bit of a quandry over what to do about Israel's recent foray into Lebanon. The US historically has backed Israel economically, politically (especially in the UN), and militarily, so what could be causing pause this time? Oh yeah, oil.

As Billmon points out:

For the first time since I don't know when -- the early '70s, I guess -- something is standing in the way of the customary U.S. kneejerk support for Israel. The higher gas prices go, and the lower the 401(k) portfolios of the masses drop, the dicier it gets for the GOP in its desperate struggle to stave off an eruption of democracy in our Chamber of People's Deputies (i.e. to preserve its death grip on congressional power.)

For the Rovians, it's a nightmarish dilemma: Do they pander shamelessly to the Israel lobby and its Christian conservative supporters (the default election year position) or do they try to keep the Israelis, and the global oil markets, under some kind of adult supervision, even if it leaves Charlie Krauthammer sputtering with rage? You can already see the sweat popping out on Condi Rice's forehead.

...

If Nixon and Kissinger didn't knuckle under to an Arab oil embargo and mile-long gas lines, I don't think the Cheney administration is going to let a bunch of 25-year old oil traders drive a wedge between America and its 51st state. But you can tell the gang is worried, and that in itself is almost a foreign policy revolution.

The roadmap to peace and potholes therein

The events of the last week, which build upon the Intifadah of the last six years (which are the result of...), have the real possibility of spilling over into a general Mid East war. Mitch Potter's article in today's Toronto Sun proposes that Hezbollah is attempting to fill the Arab leadership role that was most recently held by Yasser Arafat, and that sucking Israel into over-reacting in southern Lebanon, or worse, Beirut, would be just the thing they want. A regional analog of Osama bin Laden drawing the US into over-reacting and hence raising the power of his international jihadi movement, I suppose.

The real threat is, as always these days, Iran. Iran has backed Hezbollah for some time and recently also the Palestinian government, thanks to the West's reaction to the election of Hamas earlier this year. The coordination of the attacks on Israeli soldiers in Gaza and in the north from Lebanon imply either coordination between Hezbollah and the Hamas military arm (via Iran?) or maybe simple opportunism on the part of Hezbollah. If it is the former, then there is an increased likelihood of a military defeat of Lebanon drawing in Syria and perhaps Iran.

The Israeli government, in cutting off Beirut, is trying to isolate the Lebanese government in order to force it to deal with the more active elements of Hezbollah, in the same way that they isolated Yasser Arafat in his compound. However, the government, which includes Hezbollah, has in the past not been able to handle Hezbollah in any effective manner, and it seems unlikely to me that they will have any more luck with a civilian population that will doubtlessly harden against Israeli demands. Anyone older than kindergarten age in Lebanon will remember at least some of the 18 years of Israeli presence.

As Potter points out, Hezbollah may well have under-estimated Israel's determination this time around, but I can't help but think that Israel is simplistically thinking that a military solution will last. Whatever the immediate result, in the long-term this may well mark the resurgence of Iran's Shia-based extremism, which has for the past few years been quiet.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Iraq: The good and the bad

Coalition forces handed over a peaceful province in southern Iraq today, so it is now under the control of the Iraqi government. That is one down, seventeen to go in case you're counting, but it is good news, the kind of good news I suppose the right seems to think is being hidden from us.

However it is one relatively easy one, and some of the seventeen remaining provinces are, well, not-so-easy. Provinces that include Baghdad, for instance, where things seem to be going in exactly the wrong direction:

Most of Iraq's political parties have militias.
Always a positive sign in a democracy, no?

The result is a thoroughly efficient approach to creating a civil war, organized in part by the same people who were the state killers under the old regime. Zarqawi, the marketing genius who inspired so many jihadis with his call for the mass slaughter of Shiites, is now a ghost who hovers patiently, waiting for the day when the bloodletting becomes a flood tide.
Oops.

On lumber and hammers

There is no rest for the wicked or the parliamentarian. PoliticsWatch reports the international trade committee has been recalled, after calls from the NDP to do so, to discuss the softwood lumber deal with the US. The recall comes amid heavy and prolonged attacks on the deal by both provincial governments and the private sector, neither of which like the 23-month escape clause or the fact that the US industry gets to keep $1 billion dollars in Canadian tariffs paid over the past four years.

For his part, Minister of International Trade David Emerson maintains that the deal guarantees three dispute-free years of trade at a minimum and that $300+ million per year is a fair price to pay for that. (I'm not sure how the three years he referred to equates to the 23 month escape clause, so I'll just leave off without niggling.) Several of the larger Canadian operations have launched costly court action against the US government to recover their tariff dollars, all of them, and are unwilling to give up on the lost dollars for two or three years of trade "stability". If the seven-year deal actually was seven years long, there might be less opposition to it, but that's not the case.

The deal is set to come into effect October 1 and the Conservative government would dearly love to have all opposition details ironed out of it by then. So much so that Harper has pulled out the hammer and threatened that the issue will be considered one of confidence in Parliament, thus triggering an election should it fail. Why not? Having defended Rona Ambrose's job using the same tactic in the spring, he has already demonstrated that the Liberals are scared to go to election until their leader is chosen in 2112, so the deal should be as good as done, at least from Parliament's standpoint.

It remains to be seen what industry will do, but for now it doesn't look likely that trade peace is going to be the product of a summer of love.

I just can't wait...

for the publication of the pricetag for Halifax's bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I can't wait, because I would like to see how much of my tax dollars is going into swan research trips. The policy of the HRM council's bid committee is to not reveal any costs because it would somehow give away too much information to it's competition or somesuch.

Yeah, right.

The real reason is that the council still hasn't figured out the right way to approach the taxpayers with the outrageous pricetag that's coming down the pipe, and seeing that the steady dribble of cash is already started is only going to get people (like me) yapping. No, it's not going to hurt the competitiveness of the bid, it's just going to rub it in the faces of those of us that are now paying with annual property re-assessments and increased costs and fees.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dissonance And Disrespect: The Soldier's Complaint

Loyalist, over at Dissonance And Disrespect today notes how the media has jumped all over comments that the late Anthony Boneca made regarding the Canadian mission in Afghanistan and his role in it. I agree that it is a shame that on the day that his body is returning home we have to read about a low-level squabble involving his own family that is playing out in media releases and interviews that he might or might not have been disillusioned by his role in the mission. Right now, they should be looking inwards to help one another and not to the media to defend him or the military, or the mission, or whatever it is they feel that they have to do right now.

For those that haven't seen the reports, shortly after his death his girlfriend and other friends were interviewed and they told the media that he wasn't happy over there, that he felt unprepared for the situation, and that he was going to leave the Reserves when he returned home. Yesterday, his father, in a press release, told the opposite - that his son was proud to be helping out the people of Afghanistan and that he loved being in the army. The media has even gone so far as to use this to question the role of the Reserve troops in the mission, prompting response from the military and the Minister of Defense. Perhaps this is a question that should be asked, but does it have to come up now?

That this has made the news has mostly to do with the fact that we are divided as a nation over the mission and anything to do with it is deemed inherently newsworthy. Of course, there is also the press' fixation with all things dead ("if it bleeds, it leads").

As for Cpl. Boneca's views of the war and his role in it - who knows? It is entirely possible that he told different things to his father and his girlfriend, in fact, it is entirely likely. And it is equally possible that he was telling the truth to both of them - fear, pride, and feelings of inadequacy can go hand-in-hand when someone is placed in a stressful situation.

Who knows, and really, why is it our business? If this is a prelude to a discussion on the value and importance of the mission, or the role of the Reserves in it, then fine - but give the family some space and time. The media needs to stop trying to get the scoop sometimes, IMO.

A bushel of bad apples

Civilian deaths are worth whatnow?

The link above presents some interesting math:

The next day Redam Jassim was summoned to a local police station. "The Americans offered me 5,000 dollars, and told me it wasn't compensation but because of tradition," Jassim told IPS. The U.S. military pays usually 2,500 dollars compensation for killing an Iraqi. Jassim says he refused the payment.

The U.S. military recently announced in a Defence Department report provided to Congress that it paid out 19 million dollars in compensation to Iraqis last year -- half of which paid out by Marines in al-Anbar province west of Baghdad.

The military claimed the amount was paid in 600 separate incidents, but it is common knowledge in Iraq that the usual payout for a non-combat civilian death is 2,500 dollars.

A payment of 19 million dollars compensation at 2,500 dollars a person would suggest such killings in thousands.


7600 civilian killings, assuming the $2,500 figure is accurate and constant and that no haggling goes on. It takes a lot of bad apples to 'mistakenly' kill 7600 civilians.

This is a promising development, although it won't go anywhere (the US does have a veto on the UNSC, correct?).

A week after Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, asked for a review of the immunity that has been granted to foreign troops, Iraqi Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael said the review is now underway, reports Reuters. She added that a request to end the immunity could be ready for the United Nations, under whose mandate the US-led forces serve in Iraq, in August.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tune In, Turn On, Fill Out the Form For A Grant...

When the Financial Post reports on stuff like this, I have a new respect for just how interesting life, and particularly science, can get.

Apparently there are very few hippies who have gone into science...Not necessarily a bad thing.

So, when people ingest substances that contain psychedelic compounds, they have psychedelic experiences. Okay, I'll buy that. What surprises me is that someone is getting paid to find this out. They could have just asked my friends from High School.

I never touched them (no, really - I actually, truthfully did not partake of this sort of thing), but I had a good friend who enjoyed a few 'shrooms from time to time. 'Shrooms and Blue Oyster Cult. I remember he told me that during a Buck Dharma solo his roof lifted off and flew away. Right before the snakes arrived.

Yuh-huh. That would be why I didn't try them.

I was pretty sure that the medical value of this type of drug had been pretty much dismissed some time ago, but, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Why someone is now getting money for this, I'll never figure out ('Cuz I'm not on drugs!). I'd be surprised if there weren't people out there interested in this who are of a more...military bent, let's say. If everyone in Baghdad starts waving their hands in front of their faces and claiming to see trails, and if Osama starts his next tape with, "Duuuuude...", we'll know what happened.

Seriously, whatever happens, I am actually glad that money does reach scientists for actual science. It has nothing to do with remote viewing or astrology or telekenesis or clairvoyance or ghosts or "intelligent design", so I can get behind it. More scientists fail than succeed, as is true at any point in history,but in the environment down South, I'm glad that they can still try.

I suppose it's true that, as a character in Bloom County once said, "Scientists need Porsches too!"

Why does the internet bring out the asshole in us?

I have been following Meghan's recent posts on Tory fiscal malfeasance with great interest over at Somena Media (which is fast becoming one of my favorite blogs) and I got reading her discussion of dust-ups between her and Kate at Small Dead Animals. And that got me reading late into the evening on the right side of the blogosphere, something that I used to do but stopped.

And now I remember why I stopped.

I stopped because too many of the commentors and posters on the more popular of the sites resorted to ad hominem attacks as a first response to anyone posting a differing opinion. To be fair, it doesn't happen everywhere, and it does happen on the left as well; Deb Frish being a recent and particularly vile example. In any case, I have bumped into it far more often in the right-wing blogs, and it has happened often enough that it turned me off and I simply couldn't be bothered with the grief anymore. I'm here to learn and ask questions and discuss. (If anyone followed the discussion on the flag lowering issue that we had here and on many other blogs a few months back, you will note that I totally changed my opinion on the issue after lots of interesting discussions.) That is what I'm here for - education. If I can't get it because a site is full of immature jerks that would rather insult people, then I just don't feel the need to hang around.

And I see that Small Dead Animals hasn't changed much at all.

Where exactly does this come from? This belief that I am right, that there is no possibility that I could not be right, and you are not only wrong, but also the lesser for it. And what's more, you need to be told in no uncertain terms that not only are your ideas shit, but you as well are. Why exactly does this manifest itself so verdently on the internet? Maybe I should turn the question around. How is it that I can work and run with people that have radically different opinions on things political and religious than I, and we can have conversations over coffee about these very things without the words "asshat" or "stupid motherfucker" ever coming out? Is it because I'm too much of a coward in person to tell people what I really want to and that they should be called asshats?

Are these beligerent jerks on the internet in fact just me, but with balls?

Of course not. The reason the world works at all is not because of jerkwads like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but in spite of them. Most people, even though they might disagree strenuously on some issues, can do so without insult or threat, hell, without even being rude. If this is the case, why must political discussions on blogs be so different?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing even happens on quiet little back-alley blogs like ours. When someone would rather tell me to get a brain instead of putting together a cogent argument simply because I disagree with them, it saddens me because it is another lost opportunity to learn, discuss, and have a bit of fun. I'd like to respond in a sensible manner, but crap like this makes it hard to do that because it gets my ass up. I don't at all mind differences of opinion, hell I like it when others have different opinions than I - but I don't expect or deserve to be insulted for the difference.

I haven't felt the need to monitor or moderate the posts here and I really, really don't want to. It's not a time thing - the traffic is light enough that I'm sure it wouldn't take very much effort, but I wouldn't be able to access my email to perform the moderation during the daytime and I don't want people to have to wait 12 hours or whatever to see their comments posted. It's not fair and besides, I really would rather everyone felt free to say whatever is on their minds anyway. But what I will do from this point forward is delete any comments that include infantile attacks and/or insults that do not add to constructive criticism. I don't mind bad language - I use it all the time, so wail away, but I would rather not see it directed at people and won't let it sit too long on this site.

Even when I write it - which I have on a number of occasions.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Accountability? Not so much...

Meaghan, over at Somena Media is continuing to burrow into the fiscal misdeeds of the Conservative Party. It isn't looking pretty and I have a feeling that it's going to get uglier. It will be interesting to see the Blogging Snories reaction to this as time goes on...

Every victory has a shitstained lining

The US declared a great victory in Iraq on June 8th last month, after killing the insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. So why are things so much worse? Is it possible that military intelligence overestimated (or overstated) al-Zarqawi's influence. Was al-Zarqawi's group actually keeping a lid on the sectarian violence? I don't know, obviously, but here are a few articles on the subject.

Baghdad Burning (Riverbend's Blog)

"A new day for Iraqis" is the current theme of the Iraqi puppet government and the Americans. Like it was "A New Day for Iraqis" on April 9, 2003 . And it was "A New Day for Iraqis" when they killed Oday and Qusay. Another "New Day for Iraqis" when they caught Saddam. More "New Day" when they drafted the constitution… I'm beginning to think it's like one of those questions they give you on IQ tests: If 'New' is equal to 'More' and 'Day' is equal to 'Suffering', what does "New Day for Iraqis" mean?

How do I feel? To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation- he came along with them- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now?


Juan Cole's blog

Baghdad was the site Sunday of the worst wave of of faith-based violence ever perpetrated by its sectarian militias in one day. Eyewitnesses in the Iraqi capital said that elements of the Mahdi Army, loyal to young Shiite nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, killed at least 61, among them women and children, on the basis of their religious identity. [Official Iraqi and US sources said these numbers were exaggerated, and most American wire services gave the number of dead as 42.]


Juan Cole's collected documents on al-Zarqawi (2003-2004)

I have to get back to work now. This post really has no point at the moment. I (and I'm sure everyone else who pays attention) have noticed that the sectarian violence in Iraq has gotten much much worse in the past month. Sunnis and Shias appear to be killing each other as a matter of course. I don't know if the increased violence can be correlated at all with the death of al-Zarqawi, or if it was destined to increase without such a flash point. Regardless, it doesn't appear that the killing of al-Zarqawi has had any quelling effect on the insurgency, as initially insisted by the Americans. What a friggin' mess.

Oh ya...I hope any readers find the two blogs I linked above informative.

Dilbert on Iraq...


Scott Adams, whose Dilber comic has always been a great sociology study, looks to be getting political for the first time that I can remember. A bit late, but every little bit helps.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Stevie, George, and talk of playing "guns"

It might well be that the meeting between "Steve" and George this week marks the beginning of a real change in Canada-US relations. Depending on your geo-political view, the change might be for the good or bad, but there seems little doubt that there will be greater cooperation between the two countries than there has been in years. That is not to say that the two nations have not cooperated, but things on the surface have been decidedly not smooth since Bush's first electoral "victory" in 2000.

I'm proud to have allies like Steve who understand the stakes of the 21st century

Ally or not, I personally find it problematic that Stephen Harper might actually understand the geo-political situation in the same way that George Bush does. Certainly his policies more closely parallel the US on important international issues than did his Liberal predecessors, but then again there really was no clear foreign policy while the Liberals were in power, so comparisons really are difficult. For now, it remains to be seen whether Harper is auditioning for the "clever side-kick" role that seems to have been relinquished by Tony Blair. Improved dialog between the countries is welcomed, but I am sure that Harper is aware of how tolerant Canadians are of openly kissing American ass.

The lucky timing of the meeting on the heels of Kim Jong-Il's missile tests let Bush sneak in a jab about the need for a ballistic missile shield ("We're trying to make sure, by the way, that the missile that he fired wasn't headed for Canada" - a thought that kept me up late at night all week), which Harper dodged, while leaving opening the option for future Canadian participation ("Canada is not prepared to open a missile-defence issue at this time". Note the signature wink to his right-wing, big-military special friends).

Canadian participation means two things to the Americans - international acceptance and money. Since Harper aknowledged the importance of the missile shield and we've just decided to donate $15 large to the American defense industry in recently-announced defense expenditures, Bush basically has what he wants for the time being. Further Canadian involvement in missile defense can quietly be arranged through NORAD, as the Liberals likely planned to do it, or through further defense integration in the Fortress North America plan that the US has promoted.

Where exactly this goes is anyone's guess - it depends on whether Harper does understand the stakes of the 21st century in the same way George Bush does. Harper has proven to be a good political tactitian so far, so I expect that he will avoid too many gestures to the Americans before he has secured his majority government (amid the wreckage of the Liberal party, a sad near-certainty in my view). However, at that point I expect to see a distinctive shift toward a US approach to government; small-government when it comes to social programs and taxes and big-government on issues like defense and policing.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

WTF? or I wanted to touch him like a kitten...

I really don't know what to say about this except maybe ol' Vladimir might be showing up for work, um, still in his cups, as they say.

Still more Sunday shopping

It looks like the newly "amended" Sunday shopping Act in Nova Scotia is going to be taken to court by Sobeys. The law, which was found to be full of holes a few years back when the province tried to force Pete Luckett to close Pete's Frootique and lost, was changed in June to prevent the larger Sobeys and IGA franchises from opening. By slapping a stale-date on a law that was already found silly is a criminal waste of tax-payers money, because now we get to fork out court costs for the battle with Sobeys, which the province pretty much is guaranteed of losing.

Meanwhile, in an audio clip that you can listen to here, Rodney Mac explains that his intention is to uphold the "spirit and the intent of the plebiscite" - referring to the vote held in 2003 on the issue. Of course, the plebiscite itself was not binding and did not constitute the law, which was written up by the poo-flinging baboons in the province's backrooms several years before. And, as discussed here before, we aren't really sure what the intent of even the original law is anymore - it's not to protect the Sabbath, and by allowing Pete's Frootique to open, it isn't to protect the little shops either. What has it accomplished? The drug stores have a wider grocery section now, and so do the gas stations.

Please, let me go to Canadian Tire on Sundays - it's the day that I usually bust shit!

New Brave New World...

The CBC has seen fit to share the information that the crack team here at the 'Kog have known about for about a month: people are travelling to the USA to choose the sex of their unborn children. I won't start ranting again about the materialistic, narcissistic morons who would choose to undertake such a choice, nor will I describe the obvious moral bankruptcy of the doctor involved. I've done it before, and regular readers will already be familiar with my position.
I do have a few questions, though, the first one being: Why bring this up now? Can there be that little happening in Saskatchewan that they need to bring back 'greatest hits' news to fill space? If so, I look forward to the election of Tommy Douglas in the near future.

I've gone and mentioned 'CBC' and 'Tommy Douglas' in the same piece - some producer is sensing a great disturbance in the Force...

My other question is in regard to this:
Steinberg said he is aware that his work is controversial. "I've been doing in vitro fertilization from the beginning, and I remember walking out of my office 30 years ago and seeing a note on my windshield that said: 'Test tube babies have no soul.'"

So, not only are the parents choosing the sex of the baby, they are assuring the kids' future in politics? That's child abuse, as far as I'm concerned.

The great presidential disappearing act

Billmon has a really interesting article on the Bush disappearing act. His handlers are no longer satisfied with creating a PowerPoint-like backdrop for him to speak from, he is too unpopular for that. Nope, he is not the Boy God Emperor anymore, landing on an aircraft carrier with the little emperor deftly framed and highlighted, he is now actually hiding behind or within the backdrop.

This is as apt a demonstration of Bush's failure to do anything constructive in his second term as I have found. With the "political capital" he earned by (apparently) winning the 2004 election, he has variously promised Social Security reform, to make the 2002 tax cuts permanent, to reduce American dependence on foreign oil, and a host of other promises that have either not engaged the American public or came to naught. The second term, which for most presidents would be the time to do great things, to create the legacy that will bear their name, for Bush is marked instead by failure. For him it is the time when the problems he created during his first term come home to roost. The CEO president becomes case study in failure.

It's going to be nice to see him disappear back to Crawford for good, won't it?