Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Their day will come

Israel Can Learn from 'The Troubles'
Ellis Weintraub, in Real Clear World: Upon the arrival of Sinn Fein President and Northern Ireland Republican leader Gerry Adams into the Middle East, Israeli officials will give him the cold shoulder -- 'We expect all dignitaries who come here to make it clear that they will not dignify Hamas with a meeting,' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor...

Perhaps Israel's cynicism with regard to Adams comes from the long and often antagonistic relationship between Israel and Irish Republicanism. During the dark days of the Troubles of Northern Ireland, Irish Republicans identified with the far-off struggle of the Palestinians... Murals found on buildings in Belfast's Catholic neighborhoods depict Arab 'freedom fighters' in a common struggle... Many Northern Irish Catholics perceive Israel in a similar fashion to that of the Protestant community, an aggressive colonial movement usurping land from an indigenous population.

Israel's rhetoric, oddly enough, can match the idioms and language-style of Northern Ireland's Protestants. In the past two centuries, Ulster's Protestants have proclaimed their province as a beacon of Protestant liberty and freedom amidst backwaters of Papal tyranny and superstition... As the crises of Irish home rule and Irish independence unfolded at the beginning of the 20th century, Ulster Protestants refused to submit to the prospect of 'Rome rule,' and so they engineered Ulster's exemption from the Irish Free State...

Israel and its unwavering supporters have long proclaimed the country's separation from the rest of the Middle East, an enlightened democracy surrounded by Oriental barbarism and irrational hatred... During the recent war in Gaza, pro-Israel commentators wrote of Israel as a product of the Judeo-Christian culture that fostered the Enlightenment, while they regarded Israel's Hamas opponents as implacably fanatical and possessing an unreasonable medieval cultural ethos...

The rhetoric of Ian Paisley and Mark Steyn vastly simplified the Northern Irish and Arab-Israeli conflicts. They are not Manicheist struggles between good and evil, liberty and tyranny, nor are they caroonish battles between progress and darkness. Rather, they are both messy and complex clashes over territory, sovereignty, and identity... Israel should cease discouraging third parties from engaging with Hamas in ways that might clarify the movement's view and test its behavior, and Israel could start by meeting with Adams.
Image source here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

'They just bully their way in'

Paul Palango, in Dispersing the Fog: Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP:
It is normal for the FBI and CIA to have agents in Canada attached to the American embassy, just as the RCMP and CSIS have liaison officers in other countries. But the Canadian approach to such work is much different than that of the Americans, who feel it is their right to enforce their laws anywhere in the world... 'Everyone knows how the Americans are, they just bully their way in,' one high-ranking official told me... 'What were we going to do, tell them to leave?'

The FBI, the CIA, and presumably other foreign police and intelligence services have been exploiting a loophole in the Canadian system. Informed sources say it is not uncommon for foreign intelligence services to retain Canadian lawyers, who in turn hire accounting firms and private investigators -- who can then hide behind the lawyers -- while conducting an investigation. The private investigators, most of them ex-Mounties, operate without the encumbrance of search warrants and other legal niceties. They gather evidence against Canadians in Canada while circumventing the laws of the country. All of this is being done with complicity of governments, which have collectively turned a blind eye to the practice.

J. L. Granatstein, quoting Robertson Davies, in Yankee Go Home? Canadians and Anti-Americanism: Americans are 'beguiled by the notion that the fate of mankind and human culture' lies wholly in their hands. They are 'natural-born crusaders, forever in the right, even when they are least aware of what they are crusading about.'

Rachel Maddow, interviewed in The San Francisco Chronicle:
Q: You are a proud progressive, yet you regularly take on the left. What has the Obama administration done wrong so far?
A: Oh, tons of stuff. State secrets? That was in a San Francisco courtroom, wasn't it? The judge was so incredulous that the Obama Justice Department folks were going to continue with the Bush administration's argument that one of these horrible terrorism rendition cases shold be dismissed on the basis that the whole idea of it was secret. Not that a specific piece of evidence was secret, but that the whole idea of the case was about a secret thing. [And the administration] dropped the enemy combatant designation, but kept all of the meaningful things about making somebody an enemy combatant. So there's been a bunch of important national security/constitutional things where the outcome is confusing at best and a continuation of the Bush policy at worst.
Image source here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

US looking for an exit strategy

From Obama, a guide 
for avoiding defeat in Afghanistan
Tony Karon, The National: The keyword of US President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan plan didn't make it into the text of the speech in which he announced it on Friday. That would be 'exit strategy.' ... The new plan, then, is less a blueprint for victory than it is a guide for avoiding defeat...

Pakistan has made clear that it has no intention of fighting Taliban elements whose operational focus is on fighting NATO in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army has made peace agreements with a number of Pakistan-based Taliban groups that continue to wage war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan originally installed the Taliban in power in Afghanistan to ensure that its western flank was guarded by a friendly regime... After the September 11 attacks, the then president Pervez Musharraf tried, ultimately in vain, to convince the US to adopt a strategy of trying to detach the Taliban from al Qa'eda, and persuading them to expel Osama bin Laden.

But Pakistan's generals are arguably taking a long view, assuming that the US and its allies will eventually tire of their entanglement in the Hindu Kush, and when they do, Pakistan will be in a position to restore at least some of the power of its erstwhile proxies next door...

So, while Washington hopes to change Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban, Pakistan may be aiming ultimately to persuade Washington of the utility of that relationship. After all, Pakistan will be a player in Afghanistan long after America departs, and as far as it's concerned, the Taliban will be, too.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Solid political ground

Crime and politics
Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen: The essential thing to bear in mind when examining the Harper government's policies on crime is that they are not about crime. They are about politics... 

So we should be suspicious about the government's announcement that it will eliminate so-called sentencing discounts for time served awaiting trial. Is it broadly popular? Absolutely. Will it please the Conservatives' disgruntled base? Certainly. Will it make streets safer or the justice system more just. Not in the slightest. It's just another small, cheap, crowd-pleaser tossed out to score political points.

Paul Woodward, War in Context: By basing a war strategy on the objective of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, Obama is resting on solid political ground. 

The question that everyone resolutely refuses to address is this: where's the evidence that al Qaeda's capacity to operate is bound together with its ability to maintain some sort of infrastructure in north western Pakistan? Why should we not assume that if another 9/11 type attack is being planned that it may well emanate from a location far removed from al Qaeda's historical base?...

At the same time, what happens to Pakistan and Afghanistan will certainly be affected by the extent to which the West provides jihadists, insurgents and tribal fighters the foundation for coming together to combat a common enemy.
Image source here.

Earth Hour tonight

Vote Earth tonight
At 8:30 your time
Turn off your lights for one hour

Friday, March 27, 2009

'We never had to engage the evidence'

Ian Brodie offers a candid case study in politics and policy
John Geddes, Maclean's: 'Despite economic evidence to the contrary, in my view the GST cut worked,' Brodie said in Montreal at the annual conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. 'It worked in the sense that by the end of the '05-'06 campaign, voters identified the Conservative party as the party of lower taxes. It worked in the sense that it helped us win.'

There was something unsettling about Brodie's candid presentation. He made it in a panel discussion meant to try to address the question 'Does Evidence Matter in Policy-Making?' To some of the other panelists... the assumed premise was that evidence -- facts, objective analysis, expertise -- should matter a great deal more in policy than it does now. But Brodie painted a picture of politics where that would appear to be a hopeless aspiration...

He mentioned the way 'sociologists, criminologists, and defence lawyers' attack just about every aspect of the Harper government's tough-on-crime policy package... Brodie noted that such experts are 'all held in lower repute than Conservative politicians.' 'Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition. So we never really had to engage in the question of what the evidence actually shows about various approaches to crime.'...

I'm left with two unsatisfactory impression of the link between evidence and policy. In good times, politicians might feel they have the luxury of ignoring evidence, and so design and implement expedient policy; in bad times, politicians might feel they don't have the luxury of gathering evidence, and so design and implement expedient policy.
Image source here.

US political system: 'fundamental corruption'

The Quiet Coup
The Atlantic: The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured out government -- a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets... If the IMF's staff could speak freely about the US, it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we're running out of time.

A Tiny Revolution: There's been a common phenomenon in the third world over the past three decades or so. A country's financial sector, in collaboration with the larger financial world, would create some type of gigantic economic fuck up. The IMF would then (in collaboration with the local financial elites) step in and provide loans in return for what was called 'structural adjustment.' Structural adjustment involved getting rid of any kind of social spending that made life bearable for everyone else. In other words, the country's financial elites would use the catastrophes they'd created themselves in order to do what they'd always wanted to but couldn't get away with in normal times.

Glenn Greenwald, Salon: The key dynamic underlying all of this -- the linchpin that allows it all to happen and, historically the primary hallmark of a deeply broken nation -- is the total elimination of the rule of law for the ruling class, with a simultaneous intensification of the law as a weapon against the citizenry... We have (and are continuing to solidify) exactly the state of affairs that political science literature and the American government itself have long self-righteously warned other countries is the prime enabler for tyrannical rot: a two-tiered system of justice which exempts the country's elites from accountability.

There is fundamental corruption in our political system that has led to all of this... Our political class cheers on treasury-draining wars, allows financial elites to rob and pillage, witnesses huge transfers of wealth to the richest, and then when the whole thing explodes, the 'real fiscal answer' is for ordinary Americans to have their Medicare benefits 'slashed' and Social Security benefits reduced.

Desmond Lachman, The Washington Post: In the twilight of my career, when I am hopefully wiser than before, I have come to regret how the IMF and the US Treasury all too often lectured leaders in emerging markets on how to 'get their house in order' -- without the slightest thought that the United States might fare no better when facing a major economic crisis... If we insist on improvising and not facing our real problems, we might soon lose our status as a country to be emulated and join the ranks of those nations we have patronized for so long.
Image source here: 'What the IMF would tell the United States if it could'

Thursday, March 26, 2009


The economic crisis has exposed the myth of business-school expertise
Matthew Steward, Slate: The truth is that the relevance of the technical training allegedly offered by the MBA was always overblown... The empirical evidence on the contribution of the MBA to individual career performance seems to bear this out -- mainly because it doesn't exist. In fact, if the relevance of an M.D. to the performance of doctors were even half as unsubstantiated, we'd probably be fantasizing about tossing a few physicians in jail, too.

The other truth helpfully revealed in the throes of the crisis is that ethics and integrity and social responsibility aren't just optional extras for good business management -- unless by 'management,' you mean 'looting.' Managers don't need to be trained; they need to be educated -- in the sense of 'civilized.' Unfortunately, a business degree isn't just irrelevant to that purpose; it's positively detrimental...

The only semblance of a theory behind modern business education is that it purportedly produces 'experts' in shareholder-value maximization who are capable of forming an ideal, self-regulating market... It's now clear that we would all have been much better off if, instead of cloistering these people on fancy campuses with world-class golf courses, we'd have sent them off to do two years of national service...

Since the national-service idea probably isn't going to gain much traction, I suggest that it's time to go long on the humanities. Now that we've tried business with savages, perhaps it's time to give the educated a shot.
Image source unknown.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

'Meaning happens after the fact'

Christine Kenneally, in

Although we experience ourselves in some sense as finished or perfected, we are not in any way intended. There is no blueprint for what humans are meant to be. And as this moment is merely one movement in the past and future history of our evolutionary lineage, your life right now is merely an instant in the past and future history of the interaction of your genome and your environment... 

Having evolved means that you are less a creation than an accretion. You are a piled-up assemblage of systems and organs (some of which work better than others) and because of this, focusing only on sameness or only on difference doesn't take us very far...

If there were a moral to the story of evolution, it would be that meaning is something that happens after the fact. There is no rhyme or reason to the mutations that occur over the evolution of a species. Within the constraints of what has so far developed, genetic mutations are random; it is what the creature does with them that makes them meaningful. Evolution is the opposite of destiny, and because we are creatures of both biological and cultural evolution, where we are going is really obvious only in hindsight.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

US 'in need of a moral bailout'

Narcissism fuels drive and ambition, a desire to be recognized for one's accomplishments, a sense that one's life has meaning and importance. The problem occurs when narcissism becomes the primary principle of someone's personality... Narcissists are stuck with the emotional development of 5-year-olds... Because of narcissist's inability to control their own emotions, they unconsciously experience the world as constantly threatening -- thus the tendency toward wild overreactions to the slightest perception of criticism.

The moral purpose of a man's life is the achievement of his own happiness. This does not mean that... human life is of no value to him and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency. But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others, that he does not sacrifice himself to their needs, that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental.

The great scholars of capitalism, from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes, understood full well that a functioning economic system depends not on greed, but on moral sentiments and an acceptable social contract between the rich and the rest of society. The rich can make money, of course, but they must not flaunt it or consume it frivolously. Instead, they must invest their wealth for social benefit... It is only the dangerously arrogant rich or the servants of the rich who believe that morals don't matter in the great matters of finance.

We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of call cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with new and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. 

We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, it its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.
Image source here.

Calligraphy on the wall

China calls for new reserve currency
Financial Times: China's central bank on Monday proposed replacing the US dollar as the international reserve currency with a new global system controlled by the International Monetary Fund.

In an essay posted on the People's Bank of China's website, Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank's governor, said the goal would be to create a reserve currency 'that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run, thus removing the inherent deficiencies caused by using credit-based national currencies.'

Analysts said the proposal was an indication of Beijing's fears that actions being taken to save the domestic US economy would have a negative impact on China.

'This is a clear sign that China, as the largest holder of US dollar financial assets, is concerned about the potential inflationary risk of the US Federal Reserve printing money,' said Qu Hongbin, chief China economist for HSBC...

Mr. Zhou said the proposal would require 'extraordinary political vision and courage' and acknowledged a debt to John Maynard Keynes, who made a similar suggestion in the 1940s.

Image: Chinese characters for 'disaster';  source here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

UN: 'Violations too numerous to list'

Dead Palestinian babies and bombed mosques -- IDF fashion 2009
Haaretz: Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques -- these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty... A sharpshooter's T-shirt shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, '1 shot, 2 kills.'

The Globe and Mail: Israeli soldiers used an 11- year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the war in the Gaza Strip. It was included in a 43-page report... and was just one of many verified human rights atrocities... Ms. Coomaraswamy accused Israeli soldiers of shooting Palestinian children, bulldozing a home with a woman and child still inside, and shelling a building they had ordered civilians into a day earlier. 'Violations were reported on a daily basis, too numerous to list.'

Haaretz: One of the main themes in news reports during the Gaza operation, and which appears in many testimonies, is that IDF soldiers shot at Palestinian and Red Cross rescuers, making it impossible to evacuate the wounded and dead. As a result, an unknown number of Palestinians bled to death as others cowered in their homes for days without medical treatment, waiting to be rescued. The bodies of the dead lay outside the homes or on roadsides for days, sometimes as long as two weeks.

Fresh allegations have come to light that gung-ho leadership inculcated a culture of disregard for Palestinian casualties. The Guardian: According to the group Breaking the Silence, the witness statements of the 15 soldiers who have come forward appear to corroborate claims of random killings and vandalism carried out during the operation made by a separate group of anonymous servicemen during a seminar at a military college... The testimony it has received already suggests widespread abuses stemming from orders originating with the Israeli military chain of command.

The Independent: Alleged violations by Israel include using 155mm artillery and white phosphorus in built-up areas. HRW says it has documented six cases in which troops fired on groups of Palestinians holding white flags. And it claims Israel used an 'unjustifiably expansive definition' of military targets to attack civilian facilities.

IOL: The signatories include former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Trials for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Irish president and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.
Image source here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Galloway: I will be heard

Canada can't muzzle me
To ban me from the country for my views on Afghanistan is absurd, hypocritical, and in vain.

George Galloway, The Guardian: The Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenney [said] that I was to be excluded from his country because of my views on Afghanistan. That's the way the right-wing, last-ditch dead-enders of Bushism in Ottawa conduct their business...

Young Canadian soldiers are dying in significant numbers on Afghanistan's plains. Their families are entitled to know how many of us believe this adventure to be similarly doomed and that genuine support for troops -- British, Canadian, and other -- means bringing them home and changing course.

To ban a five-times elected British MP from addressing public events or keeping appointments with television and radio programmes is a serious matter. Kenney's 'spokesman' told the Sun, 'Galloway's not coming in ... end of story.' Alas for him, it's not. Canada remains a free country governed by law and my friends are even now seeking a judicial review. And there are other ways I can address those Canadians who wish to hear me.

More than a century ago, Paul Robeson, one of the greatest men who ever lived, was forbidden to enter Canada not by Ottawa but by Washington, which had taken away his passport. But he was still able to transfix a vast crowd of Vancouver's mill hands and miners with a 17-minute telephone concert, culminating in a rendition of the Ballad of Joe Hill. Technology has moved on since then. And so from coast to coast, minister Kenney notwithstanding, I will be heard -- one way or another.
Image source here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

'It did not matter if they were innocent'

Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay
Lawrence Wilkerson, in The Washington Note: There are several dimensions to the debate over the US prison facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that the media have largely missed, and, thus of which the American people are almost completely unaware...

The first of these is the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the US operations there. No meaningful attempt at discrimination was made in-country by competent officials as to who we were transporting for detention and interrogation...

The second dimension is that several in the US leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on, and thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released. But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership...

[Another] unknown is the ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people. This philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance...

But their ultimate cover was that the struggle was war and in war those detained could be kept for the duration. And this war, by their own pronouncements, had no end. For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years. Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office...

It has never come to my attention in any persuasive way that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed [by] intelligence and law enforcement.
Image source here.

The damage is 'vast and enduring'

Mark Danner, New York Review of Books: In the wake of the ICRC report one can make several definitive statements:

1. Beginning in the spring of 2002 the United States government began to torture prisoners. This torture, approved by the President of the United States and monitored in its daily unfolding by senior officials, including the nation's highest law enforcement officer, clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.

2. The most senior officers of the US government, President George W. Bush first among them, repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The President lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration's policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.

3. The US Congress, already in possession of a great deal of information about the torture conducted by the administration -- which had been covered widely in the press, and had been briefed, at least in part, from the outset to a select few of its members -- passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and in so doing attempted to protect those responsible from criminal penalty under the War Crimes Act.

4. Democrats, who could have filibustered the bill, declined to do so -- a decision that had much to do with the proximity of the midterm elections, in the run-up to which, they feared, the President and his Republican allies might gain advantage by accusing them of 'coddling terrorists.' ...

5. The political damage to the United States' reputation, and to the 'soft power' of its constitutional and democratic ideals, as been, though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring... Guided by the President and his closest advisers, the United States transformed itself from a country that, officially at least, condemned torture to a country that practiced it.
Image source here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Israel's moral narcissism

IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement
Haaretz: During Operation Cast lead, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive...

The squad leader said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, the squad leader's soldiers complained that 'we should kill everyone there. Everyone there is a terrorist.'

The squad leader said: 'You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything. To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most.'

Ynetnews.com: One NCO told of the experiences that bothered him during the operation... 'When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up story by story... I call that murder. Each story, if we identify a person, we shoot them.'...

The NCO also related a story about an old woman who was crossing a main route who was shot by the soldiers. 'I don't know whether she was suspicious, not suspicious... I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out... It was cold-blooded murder.'

Another NCO told of an incident in which a family was killed. 'We had taken over the house... and the family was released and told to go right. A mother and two children got confused and went left... 'I don't know whether he first shot at their feet or not (per IDF engagement instructions), but he killed them.'

BBC: Testimonies also included allegations of unnecessary destruction of Palestinian property. 'We would throw everything out of the windows... Everything... Refrigerators, plates, furniture. The order was to throw all of the house's contents outside.'...

The soldiers' testimonies also reportedly told of an unusually high intervention by military and non-military rabbis, who circulated pamphlets describing the war in religious terminology. 'All the articles had one clear message... We are the people of Israel, we arrived in the country almost by miracle, now we need to fight to uproot the gentiles who interfere with re-conquering the Holy Land. Many soldiers' feelings were that this was a war of religion.'

Paul Woodward, War in Context: Israel is very well-versed in the practice and value of public displays of soul-searching -- witness the fact that the Oscar-contending Waltz With Bashir got promoted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. But self-criticism ultimately is of little value if it rests on a foundation of moral narcissism.

To suffer from, or in truth enjoy indulging in, moral narcissism is to be able to examine one's failings while retaining an unshakable conviction in one's virtue. Within this condition, self-examination, far from leading to any revelations, is in fact an expression of the underlying conceit of virtue.
Image source here.

Happy Spring!

Lawren Harris, Spring on the Oxtongue River, 1924

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Discover Magazine: When we see faces, we don't just recognize them; we also make the same face, if only for a moment. If you see someone wearing a big grin, muscles on your face will start contracting in about a third of a second. The same goes for angry faces and sad ones. We respond this way whether people are looking at us or at someone else.

Mimicking faces is a deep instinct in humans -- babies start doing it days after birth. And our ancestors were probably making these faces for millions of years... We do not mimic faces simply as a side-effect of looking at other people. Experiments show that mimicry actually helps us understand what other people are feeling... When humans mimic others' faces, in other words, we don't just go through the motions. We also go through the emotions.

In some trials subjects chose two words to describe each face's expression, forcing them to consciously reflect on the emotions they saw. In other trials, subjects chose a name for each face, but no attention was drawn to the emotion.

The brain activity in the two groups was strikingly different. When people merely chose a name for an angry face, the amygdala region of the brain became very active. The amygdala plays a central role in how we respond unconsciously to emotional situations. Among the volunteers who used words to describe the faces -- consciously reflecting on the emotions they say -- the amygdalas remained quiet. But an entirely different region, called the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, became active. This area is energetic during reflection, reasoning, and self-control.
Image source here.

We want the land, not the people

Uzi Arad: 'It is territory we want to preserve, but populations we want to rid ourselves of.'
Paul Woodward, War in Context: During an interview on Israel National News TV, Arad was asked whether the time has come to abandon the two-state solution. This is how he responded:

'I don't think that one has to do that far because at the end of the day, I don't think the majority of Israelis want to see themselves responsible for the Palestinians. We do not want to control the Palestinian population. It's unnecessary. What we do want is to care for our borders, for the Jewish settlements and for areas which are unpopulated and to have our security interests served well. But also to take under our responsibility these populations which, believe me, are not the most productive on earth, would become a burden. We want to relieve ourselves of the burden of the Palestinian populations -- not territories. It is territory we want to preserve, but populations we want to rid ourselves of.'

This comes from the man tipped to become Netanyahu's national security adviser. [Because of alleged contact with Larry Franklin, an American indicted on espionage charges, Arad is currently banned from entering the United States.]
Image source here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How many stars can you see?

ASC/NASA/GSFC: Through next week, the GLOBE at Night project invites people from all over the world to go outside at night, look up, and see! 

Specifically, people are invited to go out an hour after sunset and look toward the west for the constellation Orion. Rather than count Orion's stars directly, the GLOBE at Night website has made things easier by providing several star charts for comparing your view of Orion. Possible matches extend from a bright sky where only a few Orion stars are visible, to a very dark sky where over 100 Orion stars can be seen. 

Pictured above are results from last year's sky observation campaign. Because 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, it is hoped that an even better map can be created this year, for a better understanding of how light pollution is changing over our planet. 
Image source here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We're number three

List of countries by Human Development Index
Top 10:
1. Iceland
2. Norway
3. Canada
4. Australia
5. Ireland
6. Netherlands
7. Sweden
8. Japan
9. Luxembourg
10. Switzerland
As included in a United Nations Development Program's Human Development Statistical Update released on December 18, 2008. The list covers 177 UN member countries (out of 192). Fifteen UN member countries are not included due to lack of data. The average HDI of regions of the world and groups of countries are also included for comparison.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. The index was developed in 1990 by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and Indian economist Amartya Sen.

St. Patrick, yes. Bush, no.

Beannacht Lá Féile Pádraig!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Image source here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Zionism: 'premeditated national suicide'

Zionism is the problem
The Zionist ideal of a Jewish state is keeping Israelis and Palestinians from living in peace.

Ben Ehrenreich, The Los Angeles Times: The problem is fundamental: Founding a modern state on a single ethnic or religious identity in a territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse leads inexorably either to politics of exclusion (think of the 139-square-mile prison camp that Gaza has become) or to wholesale ethnic cleansing. Put simply, the problem is Zionism...

The Brit Shalom movement -- founded in 1925 and supported at various times by Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt and Gershom Sholem -- argued for a secular, binational state in Palestine in which Jews and Arabs would be accorded equal status. Their concerns were both moral and pragmatic. The establishment of a Jewish state, Buber feared, would mean 'premeditated national suicide.'

The fate Buber foresaw is upon us: a nation that has lived in a state of war for decades, a quarter-million Arab citizens with second-class status and more than 5 million Palestinians deprived of the most basic political and human rights. If two decades ago comparisons to the South African apartheid system felt like hyperbole, they now feel charitable. The white South African regime, for all its crimes, never attacked the Bantustans with anything like the destructive power Israel visited on Gaza in December and January...

Opposing Zionism is neither anti-Semitic nor particularly radical. It requires only that we take our own values seriously and no longer, as the book of Amos has is, 'turn justice into wormwood and hurl righteousness to the ground.'

Establishing a secular, pluralist, democratic government in Israel and Palestine would of course mean the abandonment of the Zionist dream. It might also mean the only salvation for the Jewish ideals of justice that date back to Jeremiah.
Image source here.

Harper's 3F Agenda

Harper at the Manning Conference
National Post: Harper told 
the group that his version of conservatism is summed up 
'in three Fs: freedom, family 
and faith.' 

The F3 values are faith, family and freedom.
* Faith -- We believe faith is essential to conservatism. Only through a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ can true compassion and conservative values be understood.
* Family -- We believe that the traditional family is the only means by which to enact change in a corrupt society and to bring meaningful structure to a diseased culture.
* Freedom -- We believe that every living person is the legitimate creation of God and that all persons should have the freedom to worship and live without the burden of an oppressive national or world government.

Image source here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Get yer US war criminal news right here

Raw Story: Seymour Hersh: 'After 9/11, I haven't written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven't been called on it yet.'

Hersh then went on to describe a second area of extra-legal operations: the Joint Special Operations Command... 'It's an executive assassination ring essentially... Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving.'

MinnPost.com: 'The guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder... Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you've heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized... In many cases, they were the best and the brightest... Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.'

Image sources here and here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

New age coming as US goes down

Global mess gives birth to new era
National Post: 'Much of the rest of the world sees the current global financial crisis simultaneously as: a) America's fault; b) a very big deal and c) worthy of a rethinking of the basic assumptions of US-style capitalism. But the United States doesn't appear to recognize how much anger and blame is being cast its way,' says Douglas Rediker, a former investment banker who is now director of the Global Strategic Finance Initiative at the New America Foundation in Washington.

'The financial crisis created an ideological deficit, where even our closest allies in Europe, not to mention other countries with whom our relationship is more complex, like Russia, China and the Gulf states, are re-thinking the balance between social values and market-based economies,' he adds.

'[It has] opened the door for others to question not only whether the United States is up to the task of driving and policing the world's financial systems. Perhaps it also extends to a broader question about US leadership, international alliances and the world order.'

James Laxer: The age that ended in the autumn of 2008 was the American-centred age of globalization. That age had been a long time in the making. It had taken shape as a consequence of the interactions of forces of different durations. 

A central narrative in its construction was capitalism, technology and science. Another narrative, closely associated with the first, was the rise of the United States and the American Empire to the zenith of global power, an achievement fully realized in the decades following the Second World War, and consummated in triumph with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire between 1989 and 1991. A third narrative, more limited in time, was the methods and practices of capitalism over the past thirty years, a time of global markets, de-regulation, and neo-liberal ideology...

We need new bearings to cope with a new world. Then we can rid ourselves of the political leadership we have had so we can construct a new and sustainable Canadian economy, with different rules about the distribution of rewards that can endure in a new age.
Image source here.

Dispatches from the culture front

Same-sex marriage no big deal
Note to Americans: Canada resolved the contentious issue four years ago and the sky did not fall.
Vancouver Sun: With almost four years having passed since we resolved the same-sex marriage question, it's hard to remember there was controversy in the first place. The debate wrapped up without drama. Parliament passed the Civil Marriage Act on June 28, 2005, Canadians said okay, and the country went back to its business.

The Globe and Mail: Britain has the second-highest rate in the developed world with 40.4 conceptions for each 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17. The US rate is highest, with 44 births registered for each 1,000 women aged 15 to 19. In Canada, teenage pregnancies are in sharp decline, having dropped to 11 for each 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Israel spying on Canada

Breaking the Taboo on Israel's Spying Efforts on the United States
Christopher Ketcham, Alternet: In 2004, the authoritative Jane's Intelligence Group noted that Israel's intelligence organizations "have been spying on the US and running clandestine operations since Israel was established."... 

The former deputy director of counterintelligence at FBI, Harry B. Brandon [said] that "the Israelis are interested in commercial as much as military secrets... Virtually the entire American telecommunications system is bugged by [Israeli-formed] companies with possible ties to Israel's eavesdropping agency."...

In 2000, the Canadian intelligence service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, conducted "a probe related to allegations that [Israeli] spies used rigged software to hack into Canada's top secret intelligence files," according to an article in the Toronto Star. Several sources in the US intelligence community told me the Canadians liaised with their American counterparts to try to understand the problem. 

According to the Bush administration official who spoke with me, "the Dutch also had some to the CIA very concerned about what the Israelis were doing with this." The Dutch intelligence service, under contract with Verint, "had discovered strange things were going on -- there was activity on the network, the Israelis uploading and downloading stuff out of the switches, remotely, and apparently using it for their own wiretap purposes. The CIA was very embarrassed to say, 'We have the same problem.' But the CIA didn't have an answer for them."
Image source here.