Sunday, May 31, 2009

The dance of Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei

Ma Li was a promising professional ballerina when she lost her right arm in an car accident in 1996. She was 19. Five years later in 2001, she was invited to compete in China's fifth national special performing arts competition for people with disabilities, and won the gold medal. That success gave her hope for returning to the stage. 

In September 2005 she met a 21-year-old man, Zhai Xiaowei. He had lost one leg in an accident when he was four, and was being trained as a cyclist for the national special Olympics. He had never danced before, but she invited him to be her dance partner. Last April they won the Silver Medal in China's national dance competition -- second out of 7,000 competitors. This video showcases their winning performance.

More about them here.
Image source here.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Israel burns crops, steals water, kills hope

Israel destroying Gaza's farmlands
The Electronic Intifada: On the morning of 4 May 2009, Israeli troops set fire to Palestinian crops along Gaza's eastern border with Israel... 200,000 square meters of crops were destroyed, including wheat and barley ready for harvest, as well as vegetables, olive and pomegranate trees... 

Ibrahim Hassan Safadi... lost 30,000 square meters to the blaze, including 300 pomegranate trees, 150 olive trees, and wheat... In previous attacks over the last decade, Israeli soldiers bulldozed his land, razing his lemon, olive and clementine trees as well as demolishing greenhouses... In 2008, Israeli soldiers shot and killed 11 of his sheep and seriously injured a 15-year-old cousin, Jaber, by shooting him in the mouth...

Attacks by Israeli soldiers occur on a near-daily basis... Nearly a decade ago, Israeli unilaterally imposed a 'buffer' or 'no-go' zone solely on the Gaza side of their shared borders... The initial 100-meter 'off limits' area has now extended to one kilometer across much of Gaza's eastern border and two kilometers along the Strip's northern border... Roughly one-third of Gaza's agricultural land lies within the confines of the 'buffer zone.'... Gaza's farming sector is further devastated by the destruction of what is believed to be hundreds of wells and sources of water and the contamination of farmland due to Israel's invasion of Gaza... These attacks have left nearly 60 percent of Gaza's agricultural land useless.

The Guardian: The World Bank report found huge disparities in water use between Israelis and Palestinians, although both share the mountain aquifer that runs the length of the occupied West Bank. Palestinians have access to only a fifth of the water supply, while Israel, which controls the area, takes the rest... In some areas of the West Bank, Palestinians are surviving on as little as 10 to 15 litres a person each day, which is at or below humanitarian disaster response levels recommended to avoid epidemics. In Gaza, where Palestinians relay on an aquifer that has become increasingly saline and polluted, the situation is worse. Only 5%-10% of the available water is clean enough to drink...

In Gaza, the continued Israeli economic blockade played a key role in preventing maintenance and construction of sewage and water projects. In the West Bank, Israeli military controls over the Palestinians were a factor, with Palestinians still waiting for approval on 143 water projects... Fuad Bateh, an adviser to the Palestinian water authority, said... "Palestinians have no say in the Israeli development of these shared, trans-boundary, water resources... It is a situation in which Israel has a de facto veto over Palestinian water development.'

The New York Times: Families still live in tents amid collapsed buildings and rusting pipes. With construction materials barred, a few are building mud-brick homes. Everything but food and medicine has to be smuggled through desert tunnels from Egypt. Among the items that people seek is an addictive pain reliever used to fight depression...

There are many levels of deprivation short of catastrophe, and Gaza inhabits most of them. It has almost nothing of a functioning economy apart from basic commerce and farming. Education has declined terribly; medical care is declining. There are tens of thousands of educated and ambitious people here, teachers, engineers, translators, business managers, who have nothing to do but grow frustrated. They cannot practice their professions and they cannot leave...

Many here are especially worried about the young. At a program aimed at helping those traumatized by the January war, teenagers are offered colored markers to draw anything they like, says Farah Abu Qasem, 20, a student of English translation who volunteers at the program. 'They seem only to choose black and to draw things like tanks... And when we ask them to draw something that represents the future, they leave the paper blank.'
Image source here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A century of co-operation

Co-ops by the numbers
The Beaver: Member-owned 
co-operatives and credit unions are involved in many spheres of Canadian community life and operate in the agricultural, consumer, housing, insurance, and financial sectors... 

The Co-operative Union of Canada held its first meeting in Hamilton in March of 1909, before merging with the Co-operative College of Canada in 1987 to form the Canadian Co-operative Association.

* 4 Canadians in ten are members of at least one co-op.

* 8,800: The number of co-ops and credit unions across Canada.

* 155,000: Canadians employed by co-operatives and credit unions.

* 30 billion: Dollars in business generated by Canadian non-financial co-ops each year.

* 2: The number of times more likely a co-operative enterprise is to survive after five years, compared to an investor-owned business.

* 70: Percentage of Quebec's population belonging to at least one co-op.

* 2,100: The number of Canadian non-profit housing co-ops, which together are home to more than 250,000 people.
Image source: CCA

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

US and UK 'proceeding downward'

Recession 'shape'
points down
W. Joseph Stroupe, Asia Times: The shape of this crisis, then, is a series of steps proceeding downward into the gloom for the US and Britain. The two powers are guilty of massive over-reach, and now they are suffering the terrible consequences. Sooner or later, these ongoing events that were inevitable, and that should have been foreseen before the new asset-based model was so enthusiastically and wholly adopted, will force the two powers to make the gut-wrenching, long reversion back to a more traditional economic model.

The longer their leaders resist this, the more profoundly painful and destructive the adjustment will become. Obviously, this situation provides a tremendous opportunity for the rest of the world, but especially for the increasingly wealthy and powerful states in the East, to capitalize in various ways. The ongoing crash of the US and UK liberal capitalistic incarnations of the asset-based economic/financial model also, therefore signifies the collective rise of the Eastern managed-capitalistic (authoritarian) incarnations of the traditional income-based model.

Leo Panitch, Foreign Policy: Penning his most famous works in an era when the French and American revolutions were less than a hundred years old, Marx... was singularly cognizant of what he called the 'most revolutionary part' played in human history by the bourgeoisie -- those forerunners of today's Wall Street bankers and corporate executives... He understood that 'the need for a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe.'... Marx identified how disastrous speculation could trigger and exacerbate crises in the whole economy.

Marx would have no illusions that economic catastrophe would itself bring about change. He knew very well that capitalism, by its nature, breeds and fosters social isolation. Such a system, he wrote, 'leaves no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, then callous cash payment.' Indeed, capitalism leaves societies mired 'in the icy water of egotistical calculation.'... We now can see where ignoring Marx while trusting in Adam Smith's 'invisible hand' gets you.

As Columbian President Alvaro Uribe, a close US ally, put it: '[The] whole world has financed the United States, and I believe that they have a reciprocal debt with the planet.'

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often endangers a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Image source here.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bully nation

War-Addicted US Afflicted With Imperalist Hangover
William Pfaff, Truthdig: The United States has become war-addicted. Since the Korean War, it has been permanently at war... War has become part of the national identity, as well as the national economy, which turns out more weapons and more military high technology than all the rest of the world combined...

When the Soviet Union collapsed, one of the Russians who knew the most about the US, Georgi Abatov, then head of the Soviet Union's Institute for USA and Canadian Studies, said to an American, 'We are about to do something terrible to you. We are going to deprive you of your enemy.' He did not realize how simple it was going to be to find replacements.

Chris Hedges, Truthdig: The embrace of any society of permanent war is a parasite that devours the heart and soul of a nation. Permanent war extinguishes liberal, democratic movements. It turns culture into nationalistic cant. It degrades and corrupts education and the media, and wrecks the economy...

Citizens in a state of permanent war are bombarded with the insidious militarized language of power, fear and strength that mask an increasingly brittle reality... Since the Second World War, the [US] federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current and future military operations... It is gilded corporate welfare... Taxpayers fund the research, development and building of weapons systems and then buy them on behalf of foreign governments. It is a bizarre circular system.

Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: National Security Advisor James Jones and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, fretting about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and faced with President Karzai's repeated pleas to cease air attacks on Afghan villages... both used the same image... 'We can't fight with one hand tied behind our back.'... 

This is one of the truly strange, if long-lasting American images. It was, for instance, used by President George H. W. Bush on the eve of the first Gulf War. 'No hands are going to be tied behind backs. This is not a Vietnam.' Forgetting the levels of firepower loosed in Vietnam, the image is abidingly odd... Hidden in the image is acceptance of the United States as a bully nation, about to be restrained by no one, least of all itself.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

US to Canada: Give up, or you get this wall

Smile! The US sees you coming
Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star: About 15 metres before a car from Canada reaches the border inspection booth, the screenings begin. A camera snaps your license plate. An electronic card reader mounted on a yellow post scans your car for the presence of any radio-frequency ID cards inside. If there is an enhanced driver's license embedded with biometric information, its unique PIN number is read without you offering it. The Customs and Border Protection computer connects with your province's database and in less than a second your personal information is uploaded to a screen in the booth. A second camera snaps the driver's face. Welcome to the United States of America.

A post-mounted scanner screens your vehicle for radioactive material -- a probe so sensitive it will detect if you've recently had a medical test that used isotopes. As you pull up to the booth, a computer monitor may be filling with information about you even before the guard asks [questions]. Border agents, packing pepper spray, collapsible batons and 9-mm automatic pistols, are the first point of contact for people and cargo alike. Sometimes their supervisors order vehicle sweeps at random. Then for 30 minutes, agents will pop every trunk, just for a look-see...

High in the sky over North Dakota, an unmanned Predator drone is on patrol, equipped with an infrared security camera that looks forward 24 kilometres. The drone is not authorized to fly in Canadian airspace, but it can peer across into Manitoba. Another one is to be stationed near Detroit next year to scan the Michigan-Ontario boundary. More daytime and nighttime infrared camera, radar surveillance towers and remote motion sensors are being erected across the northern US border... Before 9/11, the US had 340 Border Patrol agents along its Canadian border. By next year, there will be more than 2,000. [In] US Coast Guard training exercises on the Great Lakes boats are equipped with machine guns that fire more than 600 bullets a minute.

Patrick White, The Globe and Mail: Last year, US Customs and Border Protection spent $2-billion on an assortment of high- and low-tech toys... About 1,400 unattended ground sensors have been installed, picking up seismic activity from the lightest footstep. A multibillion-dollar virtual fence called the Secure Border Initiative linking dozens of surveillance towers, motion-sensitive cameras and acoustic sensors by fibre-optic cable will eventually encircle the entire United States...

[Former Homeland Security policy chief Stewart] Baker says, 'Look,' after working through the usual explanations for tighter borders, 'There is simply a lot Canada can do in terms of information-sharing that it hasn't done.'... Mr. Baker insists that this lack of co-operation forms the crux of the border issue...

'There's some concerns about privacy and what Canadian law will allow in terms of information-sharing,' says Christopher Sands, a border scholar at the Hudson Institute, a right-wing US think tank. 'But there is an opportunity to move toward a perimeter where, once you're in North America, there's a homogenous level of monitoring and security all the way across the interior so that, from an American-security point of view, we're not blind in any way. If that were the case, the border would matter less. It's just a checkpoint. It would be like Europe: Once you're in, you're free to move around.'

[Minister of Public Safety Peter] Van Loan will have to decide whether the political and privacy sacrifices are worth the value of an open border. 'There are obviously concerns that relate to the kinds of situation we saw with Maher Arar,' he says. 'We have to take that into account. We share a lot of information, but we have to ensure there are appropriate caveats to how it is used.'
Image source here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

We want out

Half of Canadians Adamant About Ending Afghan Mission Before 2011
Angus Reid Forum: The vast majority of Canadians want the country's military presence in Afghanistan to wane by 2011, a new Angus Reid Strategies poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample, 84 per cent of respondents think the bulk of Canadian troops should be withdrawn on or before 2011 -- 51 percent would end Canada's mission in Afghanistan before 2011, while 33 per cent would bring the troops home in 2011, when the mission is due to expire.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thank you, Arthur Erickson: 1924-2009

Arthur Erickson in front of the BC Law Courts building he designed.
Photograph: Bill Keay
Vancouver Sun  Photo Gallery

Museum of Anthropology, UBC. Image source here.

Mary Frances Hill, Vancouver Sun: Arthur Erickson's colleagues and disciples paid tribute Thursday to the man who was known around the world, but left a big legacy in his home town of Vancouver. Bing Thom, who began his own career under Erickson in the 1960s, said... 'He could be graceful in the most difficult situations, but he had a very abrasive tongue when he saw injustice and ignorance.'...

Erickson embraced Zen Buddhism in his personal life, a love that translated to his architectural work, which blended concrete with softer garden features, flat water features and waterfalls...

Portland Hotel Community Services Society executive director Mark Townsend said he approached Erickson's office nearly a decade ago about constructing a building for people struggling with addictions and mental illness. Designed by a great like Erickson, the new Portland Hotel would honour those people who are least likely to get respect, he said. Erickson created a simple, light-filled concrete structure with a courtyard waterfall. It's in this courtyard where residents hold memorial services...

Erickson will be remembered for his talent infusing a sense of tranquillity into an otherwise harsh environment, said Architectural Institute of BC Pierre Gallant. No other architect, no matter how great and experienced, has been able to use concrete, or craft such an infusion of light in a harder space as Erickson, he said.

Many people who walk in or around an Erickson piece remark that it meshes so well with the natural West Coast environment, it feels as if the building grew there. 'He understood architecture, he understood the elements, he understood space, he understood materials,' said Gallant. 'It's extraordinary. How the hell did he do what he did? I'm an architect, I studied him, and I can't do it. He's the master.'

Robson Square, Vancouver. Image source here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's Cheney got on Obama?

The hidden hand of 
Dick Cheney
Juan Cole, Salon: The Obama administration just forced the Pakistani military to invade the Malakand region and to displace hundreds of thousands of civilians in the course of shelling and bombing a few thousand Taliban tribesmen. Among its rationales for this massive application of force was that the Taliban had advanced too close to Islamabad and, apparently too close to that country's nuclear warheads. (In fact, the idea that a small force of rural Taliban could take over the Pakistani government or get access to its closely guarded arsenal is fantastic.)

In the government's commitment to a doctrine of 'state secrets' that protect the executive from the scrutiny of other branches of government, in the continued attempt to block lawsuits and release of important documents, and in the shielding of secret programs of torture, unlawful kidnapping and warrantless wiretapping, Obama is preserving policies to which Cheney is deeply committed. In configuring Pushtun fundamentalists in southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan as a mortal threat to the US and potentially even a nuclear power, the Obama administration is picking up themes from Cheney's old speeches and running with them. Cheney may or may not win his struggle for the soul of the Republican party. If we are not careful, he will win the struggle for the soul of the country as a whole.

ThinkProgress: In an interview on NPR's Fresh Air, host Terry Gross asked investigative journalist Seymour Hersh if, as he continues to investigate the Bush administration, 'more people' were 'coming forward' to talk to him now that 'the president and vice president are no longer in power.' Hersh replied that though 'a lot of people that had told me in the last year of Bush, 'call me next, next February,' not many people had talked to him. He implied that they were still scared of Cheney.

'Are you saying that you think Vice President Cheney is still having a chilling effect on people who might otherwise be coming forward,' asked Gross. 'I'll make it worse,' answered Hersh, adding that he believes Cheney 'put people back' in government to 'stay behind' in order to 'tell him what's going on' and perhaps even 'do sabotage.'
Image source here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bison restoring grasslands

Bison turn back the clock on a patch of prairie
A baby boom hits a herd in a remote Saskatchewan national park, an area that hasn't felt bison hooves in more than 120 years.

The Globe and Mail: 'When they were released they were kind of like schoolkids,' said Adrian Sturch, manager of resource conservation at [Grasslands National Park]. 'They all kind of hung together in one group. Now, their herd dynamics are starting to take place.'

The bulls group together in winter. The cow-calf herd split in two. The animals have started exploring their range. They have also discovered buffalo wallows, large pockmarks on the landscape, that hadn't been used since the 1800s... The landscape is changing in other ways and so is the wildlife. Officials hope endangered and threatened species will one day thrive.

Grass is being grazed in lengths ranging from barely picked through to golf-course groomed greens. Songbirds are lining their nests with shed bison fur, and ideal material for protecting fledglings from the cold and rain. The chicken-like sharp-tailed grouse has been dusting itself in buffalo wallows and using short green lawns as leks, or mating areas. Ideally, the endangered greater sage-grouse, known for its elaborate courtship rituals, will follow suit. There's also hope the new landscape will be hospitable to struggling birds, including the Sprague's pipit, long-billed curlew and burrowing owl.

This summer, university students will study how the bison have affected songbirds in the park. Remote sensing is being used to assess grazing. Radio collars are tracking where the bison spend their time.

The herd is still too small to be considered viable, according to experts, and Parks Canada acknowledges more research needs to be done. Still, officials are overjoyed with how the bison -- and the prairie -- are adapting. 'The thing we're witnessing here is genetically driven, deeply ingrained in their psyche and in the landscape,' [Wes] Olson said. 'It's remarkable.'

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happy to be in Canada

World's happiest places
A new report reveals where people feel most positive about their lives.
1. Denmark
2. Finland
3. Netherlands
4. Sweden
5. Ireland
6. Canada
7. Switzerland
8. New Zealand
9. Norway
10. Belgium
The report looked at subjective well-being, defined as life satisfaction. Did people feel like their lives were dominated by positive experiences and feelings, or negative ones? Some sample questions: Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Were you treated with respect yesterday? In each country, a representative sample of no more than 1,000 people, age 15 or older, was surveyed. The poll was scored numerically on a scale of 1-100.
The average score was 62.4.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

'Their loathing for the US is even greater'

The Writing on the Wall for Obama's 'Af-Pak' Vietnam
Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan: It requires a spectacular leap of faith in a kind of superheroic American exceptionalism to imagine that the invasion of Afghanistan that occurred in November 2001 will end any differently from any previous invasion of that country. And it takes an elaborate exercise in self-delusion to avoid recognizing that the Taliban crisis in Pakistan is an effect of the war in Afghanistan, rather than a cause -- and that Pakistan's turmoil is unlikely to end before the US winds down its campaign next door.

The Obama Administration has linked the fate of its campaign in Afghanistan to its efforts to persuade Pakistan to fight the Taliban on its own soil... following weeks of hysteria in Washington about the country falling to the Taliban, nukes and all. That was nonsense, of course... But the operation already appears to be following a familiar pattern: Anger at the Taliban will quickly give way to revulsion at the military operation to dislodge the militants in Swat, which has now -- together with similar operations in Bajaur Agency, turned 1 million Pakistanis into refugees in their own country...

The majority of Pakistanis are hostile to the Pakistani Taliban... but they see it as a problem stirred up by the US invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistanis don't blame the Taliban for the US drone strikes that kill Pakistani civilians. I suspect they won't blame the Taliban for the civilian suffering inflicted in the battle to retake Swat. While they may loathe the Taliban, their loathing for the United States is even greater.

Pepe Escobar, in TomDispatch: In its first hundred days, the Obama presidency introduced us to a brand new acronym, OCO for Overseas Contingency Operations, formerly known as GWOT (as in Global War on Terror). Use either name, or anything else you want, and what you're really talking about is what's happening on the immense energy battlefield that extends from Iran to the Pacific Ocean. It's there that the Liquid War for the control of Eurasia takes place... Once the Soviet Union collapsed, control of the energy-rich former Soviet republics in the region was quickly seen as essential to future US global power...

Afghanistan, as it happens, sits conveniently at the crossroads of any new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China, and four nuclear powers (China, Russia, Pakistan and India) lurk in the vicinity. 'Losing' Afghanistan and its key network of US military bases would, from the Pentagon's point of view, be a disaster... The country itself is a lot more than the towering mountains of the Hindu Kush and immense deserts: it's believed to be rich in unexplored deposits of natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chrome, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, and iron ore, as well as precious and semiprecious stones...

The US is now building in Dasht-e-Margo ('the Desert of Death') a new mega-base to host President Obama's surge troops... Meanwhile in 'transit corridor' Pakistan, where Predator drones soaring over Pashtun tribal villages monopolize the headlines, the shady New Great Game slouches in under-the-radar mode.
Image source here.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Harpercons: mean, closed and controlling

How Harper's European spring turned sour
Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail: For three years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had his diplomats and ministers sell the idea of a 'new, muscular Canada' to Europe... Canada was set to build a new and powerful set of eastward-looking relationships to shift weight away from our US ties... What happened? ... Europeans and their leaders were left with two images of Canada: a man clubbing a seal, and a prime minister missing a photo opportunity because, the European media kept reporting, he was on the toilet...

Jeremy Kinsman, Canada's former ambassador to the EU: 'This government has failed to reciprocate initiatives from the Europeans, it has not listened of offered anything that matters to them.'... A senior EU official: 'Canada's mistake was that they didn't make a big, visible sacrifice so they could get something in exchange. They just wanted to win everything.'

Nicola Ross, The Globe and Mail, reviewing Elizabeth May's Losing Confidence: [Harper] makes all the decisions, leaving his cabinet ministers, in the words of National Post columnist Don Martin, 'to play the role usually reserved for potted plants.' She accuses the PM of putting winning the next election ahead of governing, the result of which is that the parliamentary process 'becomes a mere backdrop for non-stop electioneering.' One of the more remarkable actions she attributes to Harper is that he 'cheated' during the 2008 all-candidates debates.

Rex Murphy, The Globe and Mail: There are a lot of cards in the political deck, but the attack card seems to be the one that most fits with the Conservatives under Mr. Harper... They are not good at reaching out. They are not good at getting beyond the bristling, mean way they view everyone who is an opponent. Even after their victories -- they are in power, remember -- the Conservatives of the Stephen Harper party still radiate the sullenness of a party denied, a party... nursing a sense of injury that they haven't been fully acknowledged, fully appreciated... It comes mainly from the edgy, mean spirit that predominates... There is an unacknowledged element in all attack ads. They say as much about those who design those ads as about their ostensible targets.

James Travers, Toronto Star: This Prime Minister's Canada is as unfamiliar to those who stick close to the neighbourhood as it is to expatriates. It grafts presidential powers and situational expediency to the Westminster democracy that has served well, if imperfectly, for 141 years and then wraps it in the rhetoric of Reform Party populism. By incremental steps and leaps of logic, the Prime Minister is taking advantage of public confusion to advance a political hybrid... While hardly unique to Conservatives, extreme partisanship is now the Ottawa norm. It makes nonsense of those other populist principles of accountability and broad-spectrum participation... After promising transparency and open democracy, Harper is delivering arguably the most closed and controlling government of modern times.
Image source: CBC

Owning the Arctic

Hands off our Arctic, Canada tells Europeans
The Globe and Mail: As countries scramble to grab a piece of the Arctic, Ottawa is fighting back with an aggressive PR campaign across Europe that this isn't an unclaimed wasteland. It's active, it's a home -- and it's ours...

The European Parliament recently stated that it is interested in an international treaty on the Arctic, like the one that governs the Antarctic. The United States and Europe both dispute Canada's claim that the Northwest Passage is purely in Canadian territory...

Behind closed doors, Canada's relations with its Arctic neighbours are actually fairly co-operative these days, in large part because all the Arctic nations agreed last year to settle their disputes using the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea... The Arctic has become a closed club, and the new threat to its integrity comes from outside...

[According to] Peter Harrison, who until last year was the senior federal bureaucrat responsible for Arctic affairs... 'Many people in Europe believe they should take a role in governing areas that are not anyone's territory. Well, the Arctic happens to be owned by the countries around it, and a third of it is in Canadian territory.'...

Canadian officials say they want to project an image of Canada as a responsible, more ecologically careful and aboriginally oriented steward of the Far North... But at its core is a far more simple and relentless message: It may be empty and cold and inaccessible, but it's got a red-and-white flag on it.

Vancouver Sun: Ottawa's stated outrage over a Feb. 18 Arctic flight by two Russian bombers -- a response dismissed by Moscow as 'bizarre' given the 'routine' nature of the training exercise -- appears even more puzzling now that details have emerged about a friendly, Feb. 20 meeting in Moscow in which top Canadian and Russian officials contemplated unprecedented levels of co-operation on Arctic issues.

The two sides... noted a 'high degree of similarity in their positions on the issue of international shipping in the Northwest Passage (Canada) and the Northern Sea Route (Russia)' -- hinting at an allied Canadian-Russian stance against the US on one of the thorniest issues in Canada-US relations.

And the meeting... even involved discussions about a possible 'joint Russia-Canada-Denmark' submission to the UN's continental shelf commission -- a surprisingly genial proposal that would defuse potentially explosive questions about where each other's Arctic territory ends...

Foreign Affairs spokesman Alain Cacchione [said] it was Russian officials who 'raised the idea' -- 'any boundary disputes in the Arctic Ocean will be resolved peacefully and in due course.'

[Michael] Byers also noted that while Russia has been 'quietly favourable' towards Canada's position on the Northwest Passage -- that the shipping route through Canada's Arctic islands is part of the country's 'internal waters' rather than an international strait -- the Feb. 20 meeting suggests Moscow may be ready to voice stronger support for Canada's stance.
Images from articles quoted.

Friday, May 15, 2009

US promises: made to be broken

Trade Wars Brewing In Economic Malaise
Outrage in Canada as US Firms Sever Ties to Obey Stimulus Rules

The Washington Post: Ordered by Congress to 'buy American' when spending money from the $787 billion stimulus package, the town of Peru, Ind. stunned its Canadian supplier by rejecting sewage pumps made outside of Toronto. After a Navy official spotted Canadian pipe fittings in a construction project at Camp Pendleton, Calif., they were hauled out of the ground and replaced with American versions. In recent weeks, other Canadian manufacturers doing business with US state and local governments say they have been besieged with requests to sign affidavits pledging that they will only supply materials made in the USA...

This week, Canadians fired back. A number of Ontario towns, with a collective population of nearly 500,000, retaliated with measures effectively barring US companies from their municipal contracts -- the first shot in a larger campaign that could shut US companies out of billions of dollars worth of Canadian projects...

Initial concern north of the border over the buy American provisions died down after a clause, supported by the administration, was inserted in the bill clearly stating that the measure would not supersede existing US trade obligations... But in recent weeks as federal authorities drafted broad guidelines for implementing the law and hundreds of states and towns have begun preparing for stimulus-related projects, Canadian companies have been surprised to discover that while some federal contracts are still open to Canadian materials and equipment because of trade treaties, most of those issued by state and local governments are not.
Image source here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who he is

Glen Pearson, MP (London North Centre): Few other prime ministers have left their distinct effect on Parliament the say Stephen Harper has. Not just about his leadership style, it's also how his practice of politics has characterized the House of Commons. In short, he has rendered it largely dysfunctional. In speaking with longtime civil servants and elected representatives the conclusion has been almost universal: he has changed Parliament... for the worse.

But it's worked for him. I watch him from across the aisle and witness a calculating mind in overdrive. Everything is covered in his thinking, down to the last detail. True, he is feared, but it's not a fear borne out of political mastery but rather an apprehension at being walloped in the schoolyard. In Canada, where a variety of views expressed in different regions have historically been respected, Harper's leadership has been counter-productive and counter-intuitive...

In his desire to obliterate his opponents, he ended up destroying Parliament -- at least for a time. Neither civil servants nor elected representatives can put the pieces back together so long as his method of politics reigns supreme...

Machiavelli could never have been a successful prime minister of Canada. His 'ends justify the means' strategy has never really worked in Canada because there are many 'ends' and many constituencies that require the others in order to succeed. Mr. Harper never understood this practical Canadian reality. This country can only be guided, not constructed. The best people in Parliament have to wait 'post-Harper' until we can put the pieces together again.

Aaron Wherry, Maclean's: When Elections Canada ruled that his party had violated electoral rules in winning the 2006 campaign, he took them to court. When an MP's dying suggestion that Conservatives tried to bribe him was made public and the opposition demanded to know what Mr. Harper knew, he sued. When the Military Police Complaints Commission insisted on looking into the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, he sought an injunction. When parliamentary committees too insistently went about their own business, they were driven to dysfunction...

Forgive the Prime Minister if you find his behaviour unseemly. He knows not what he does. Or, rather, he knows only what he does -- 50 years into his life and three years into his government, he certainly seems to have settled on who he is.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Animal elders

Age Brings Knowledge
Wayne Grady: Older animals are survivors, and so often the bearers of good genes; they stick around to care for their offspring and grand-offspring, thereby insuring that good genes remain in the pool...

Pilot whales stop having young at around 40 years of age, but females continue producing millk until they are 60 and can babysit their grandchildren while the mothers dive for food... Sperm whales can live into their eighties, and elders actually teach the young the vocal dialects of nearby pods so they can more easily find mates outside the family and thus avoid the dangers of inbreeding.

The more social a species is, the more important its elders are. Among African elephants, elder females remain dominant long after they stop reproducing. This is partly because their growth is indeterminate -- the older they are, the bigger they get -- but also because of their long memories: being able to find water during a drought can be the difference between survival and extirpation. Elephant herds with the oldest matriarch often have the most reproductive success. Older males, too, exert a moderating influence on younger members...

In patriarchies, such as in mountain gorilla troops, males gain leadership by fighting and competition: gorilla leaders are not elders but alphas, and their constant defence of territory and harems can actually render them unfit for breeding. Among pronghorn antelopes, fighting males so often die in their prime than subordinates live longer and have more offspring...

In matriarchies, on the other hand, females become leaders by dint of their experience and superior abilities, and remain leaders long after they pass the peak of their physical strength. In vervet monkeys, subordinate females can acquire leadership simply by living long enough to have more offspring, not only because such females have a small army of defenders, but also because it seems to be understood among vervets that a mother who has a large number of surviving young must be doing something right.

Review of The Social Behavior of Older Animals by Anne Innis Dagg

Monday, May 11, 2009

90% of Canadians want out of Afghanistan

Overseas commander gets an earful about Afghan mission

Canadian Press: While on his way to the shower at Kandahar's provincial reconstruction base last month, Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier bumped into a worn-out soldier who unloaded on him about Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

With both of them out of uniform, the soldier spewed out his frustration to the man who retires Monday after leading all of the country's overseas operations for the last three-and-a-half years. Gauthier listened quietly...

'Of course he didn't know who I was. He was being a little more frank than we would have been knowing there was a three-star general in his presence.'

The unidentified soldier, a 23-year veteran, drove an ambulance with a quick-reaction force of troops retrieving wounded comrades and attending to the dead before evacuation helicopters arrive. A few weeks earlier, a roadside bomb blast had struck the vehicle in front of him, killed a couple of buddies and left the frustrated soldier wounded.

Because of his wounds, doctors had offered the man a chance to rotate home, but the driver chose instead to 'stay with his buddies until the end' of the tour, Gauthier later learned...

To the man who has been in charge of the country's largest and most complex overseas operations since the Korean war, the out-of-uniform chance encounter spoke volumes about where the hearts and heads of his soldiers were...

Up to 24,000 soldiers, sailors and aircrew have served under him on 15 different missions.

Gauthier will hand over the reins Monday to Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard and leave behind an unfinished, unpopular war -- one that 90 per cent of Canadians in a recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey said they wanted out of on schedule in 2011.
Image source: CBC

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

The US has used torture for decades.

All that's new is the openness about it
By ignoring past abuses, opponents of torture are in danger of pushing it back into the shadows instead of abolishing it

Naomi Klein, The Guardian: The US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been 'We do torture.'...

CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for 'no-touch torture,' based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain... These methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix programme and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training...

Past administrations kept their 'black ops' secret, the crimes were sanctioned but they were committed in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush administration has broken this deal: post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimised by new definitions and new laws...

The real innovation has been in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability...

Since the US has never had truth commissions, the memory of its complicity in far-away crimes has always been fragile. Now these memories are fading further, and the disappeared are disappearing again.

CNN: A new national poll indicates that most Americans don't want to see an investigation of Bush administration officials who authorized harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, even though most people think such procedures were forms of torture.

Six in ten people questioned... believe that some of the procedures, such as water boarding, were a form of torture, with 36 percent disagreeing.

But half the public approves of the Bush administration's decision to use of those techniques during the questioning of suspected terrorists, with 50 percent in approval and 45 percent opposed.

Paul Woodward, War in Context: Investigate torture? Heck no! That's the past and the past is the stuff we leave behind. We live in the future -- haven't got there yet, but it's sure to be good. Mustn't let anything spoil the American dream.
Image source here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

'The Pentagon's eternal arms race of one'

Secretary Doomsday and the Empathy Gap
The Everyday Extremism of Washington

Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch: A front-page New York Times headline last week put the matter politely indeed: 'In Pakistan, US Courts Leader of Opposition.' And nobody thought it was strange at all...

It's just the norm on a planet on which it's assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called 'foreign aid,' now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince...

We now live in a thoroughly ramped-up atmosphere in which 'American national security' -- defined to include just about anything unsettling that occurs anywhere on Earth -- is the eternal preoccupation of a vast national security bureaucracy... 

The US government has been embroiled with Pakistan for at least 40 years and for just that long, its top officials have regularly come to the same policy conclusions -- to support Pakistani military dictatorships or, in periods when civilian rule returns, pour yet more money (and support) into the Pakistani military...

The situation is unnerving -- certainly for the Pakistanis, the large majority of whom have not the slightest love for the Taliban, have opted for democracy and against military dictatorship with a passion, and yet strongly oppose the destabilizing American air war in their borderlands. It could even result in the fall of the elected government or of democracy itself...

[US national security managers] are, it seems, incapable of seeing the situations they deal through the eyes of those being dealt with. They take it for granted that America's destiny is to 'engineer' the fates of peoples half a world away and are incapable of imagining that the United States could, in almost any situation, be part of the problem...

The decisions to be made in future panicky 'crisis' meetings in Washington, when 'American security' once again faces a 'mortal threat,' are already being predetermined in the Mojave desert and elsewhere. In the Pentagon's eternal arms race of one.
Image source here.