Monday, August 31, 2009

The damage done

Harper cabinet unleashes flood of patronage
Canadian Press: Weeks before Stephen Harper named some of his closest Tory friends to the Senate, his cabinet quietly approved a flood of appointments to federal boards that also rewarded party faithful. At least 20 of the 111 appointments made Aug. 4 went to identifiable federal and provincial Conservative donors and supporters... Some of the bodies involved were: the Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada Pension Plan review tribunals, employment insurance referee boards, the parole board, coastal pilotage authorities, port authorities and museum boards...

The rush of appointments followed a little-noticed series of judicial appointments to superior courts across the country in July. That round brought the total number of superior court judges appointed by the Harper government to 201 since 2006. It also further fuelled opposition claims that the prime minister has abandoned election promises of transparency and merit-based public-service and judicial appointments. Conservative appointments to courts, boards, quasi-judicial tribunals and Crown corporations now total an estimated 3,000 since Harper became prime minister...

Harper has yet to establish his promised Public Appointments Commission to set standards and criteria for cabinet nominations to federal posts. That despite the fact that Treasury Board documents show a four-person secretariat set up to support the commission has cost taxpayers a total of $3.6 million since 2006.
Image source here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

'A bleak and terrifying vision'

Afghanistan Apocalypse
Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation: At the Brookings Institution, four analysts portrayed a bleak and terrifying vision of the current state of affairs in Afghanistan in the wake of the presidential election. All four were hawkish, reflecting a growing consensus in the Washington establishment that the Afghanistan war is only just beginning.

Their conclusions: (1) A significant escalation of the war will be necessary to avoid utter defeat. (2) Even if tens of thousands of troops are added to the US occupation, it won't be possible to determine if the US/NATO effort is succeeding until eighteen months later. (3) Even if the United States turns the tide in Afghanistan, no significant drawdown of US forces will take place until after five years have passed...

Not a single analyst questioned the goals, purpose or objectives of the Afghan war. Not one said anything about a political solution to the war, about negotiations, or about diplomacy. Not one questioned the viability of an open-ended commitment to the war. And none of them had any doubts about the strategic necessity of defeating the Taliban and its allies. Although the growing political opposition to the war was referenced in passing -- more than half of Americans say the war isn't worth fighting -- the panel seemed to believe that President Obama can and must ignore politics and push to expand the war when General McChrystal, as expected, recommends an increase in the level of US forces once again.

Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation: A key point of the Heritage Foundation presenters... is that it is critical for the White House to shore up declining political support for the war... So the White House is caught between two bad options: if it continues to gloss over problems like the fraudulent election, it will develop a Vietnam-like credibility gap as the truth becomes clear. But if Obama tells the truth, an American public already soured on a hopeless war against a vaguely defined enemy ten thousand miles away, with rising US casualties and the prospect of spending hundreds of billions of dollars, is very likely to decide that it's long past time to get out.

The four panelists... all agreed that getting out of Afghanistan would be a first-order catastrophe... Their argument was: if we leave, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and their jihadist allies will gain influence across the region... Again, as in Vietnam, all the panelists seemed content to make Vietnam-era, domino-theory arguments that the entirety of the Muslim world is at stake... It's easier to make the argument that radical Muslim extremists are energized by the US presence in Afghanistan and the concomitant jihad, and that a US withdrawal from Afghanistan would calm passions, not inflame them...

Barno's main argument was that the Taliban's strategy is to 'run out the clock' -- yes, he used a football analogy! In other words, the Taliban expect that US political support for the war will force a US withdrawal before we can 'succeed.' (I wanted to ask him if he was aware that precisely the same analogy was used in Vietnam, that the Viet Cong and Hanoi wanted to outlast the US invasion. How ironic.)
Image: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; source here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

People of the Omo River

Tribes of the Omo/ Les tribus de l'Omo (photo galleries)

Translation from the French: Within the most remote parts of Ethiopia, centuries from modernity, Hans Sylvester photographed for six years tribes where men, women, children and elders are true geniuses of ancestral art.

At their feet the Omo River, across a triangle of Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya, the grand Rift Valley [our human homeland] is slowly separating Africa. It is a volcanic region providing an immense palette of pigments, ocher-red, white kaolin, copper-green, luminous yellow and ash-grey.

They are painting geniuses, and their six feet tall bodies are an immense canvas. The strength of their art can be defined in three words: their fingers, speed, and freedom. They draw with their open hands, their nails and fingertips, sometimes with a wooden stick, a reed, a smashed stalk. They draw with swift, rapid and spontaneous gestures beyond childlikeness, these essential movements that great contemporary masters are looking for when they have learned a lot and are trying to forget it all.

h/t Bill Yake; image and translation source here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not what to do but how to be

Rain does not follow the plow. Political freedom, whatever the market evangelists may tell us, is not an automatic by-product of a growing economy; democratic institutions do not spring up, like flowers at the feet of the magi, in the tire tracks of commerce. They just don't. They're a different species. They require a different kind of tending.

The case for the humanities is not hard to make, though it can be difficult -- to such an extent have we been marginalized, so long have we acceded to that marginalization -- not to sound either defensive or naive. The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be. Their method is confrontational, their domain unlimited, their 'product' not truth but the reasoned search for truth, their 'success' something very much like Frost's momentary stay against confusion.

They are thus, inescapably, political. Why? Because they complicate our vision, pull our most cherished notions out by the roots, flay our pieties. Because they grow uncertainty. Because they expand the reach of our understanding (and therefore our compassion), even as they force us to draw and redraw the borders of tolerance. Because out of all this work of self-building might emerge an individual capable of humility in the face of complexity; an individual formed through questioning and therefore unlikely to cede that right; an individual resistant to coercion, to manipulation and demagoguery in all their forms. The humanities, in short, are a superb delivery mechanism for what we might call democratic values. There is no better that I am aware of.

-- Mark Slouka, 'Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school,' Harper's (September 2009)
Image source here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Global Peace Index: Canada #8

1 New Zealand
2 Denmark
2 Norway (tie)
4 Iceland
5 Austria
6 Sweden
7 Japan
8 Canada
9 Finland
9 Slovenia (tie)
83 United States
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in 1969: We are today the most frightening people on this planet. The ghastly things we do to our own people, the ghastly things we do to other people, these must at least compel us to look searchingly at ourselves and our society before hatred and violence rushes on to more evil, and finally tear our nation apart... We must recognize, I believe, that the evil is in us, that it springs from some dark intolerable tension in our history and our institutions. It is almost as though some primal curse had been fixed on our nation. We are a violent people with a violent history, and the instinct for violence has seeped into the bloodstream of our national life.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The US appetite for Canada

Canada has a tidy relationship with the US
-- but for how long?

Current trade relationship suits us, but there may come a day when the American appetite for our resources might exceed what we consider to be our best interests.

Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun: A US takeover of Canada?... Realistically, the issue would become pressing only if Americans were to relentlessly continue their unsustainable consumption patterns even as US resources kept on depleting and their economy declined...

Last year, Boston University economics professor Karen Holbik, in a US academic journal, wrote about 'one of the more subtle problems facing the US. The problem concerns retaining economic and political power in the face of decreasing self-sufficiency in natural resources and raw materials.'

The fact is that Americans increasingly depend on Canada's bounty. The two countries have been upgrading North American transit and electricity corridors and installing new pipeline infrastructure, to share resources. The US experienced peak oil way back in 1970. That was the year its old production began declining.

Canada funnels more than half the 3.4 million barrels of oil it produces daily to the US. And provides 82 per cent of all US natural gas imports. And sells a third of its hydroelectricity to US markets. And supplies a third of the uranium used in US nuclear power plants.

Water, of course, is another resource Americans will soon be short of, while Canada's supply remains healthy. Earlier this year, the US Government Accountability Office revealed at least 36 states are anticipating water shortages within five years. The US National Drought Mitigation Centre pinpointed areas hardest hit: The Southeast, Southwest, West Texas, Georgia and southern California -- all high population centres...

If Washington, DC can get what that country needs through 'an economic takeover' -- which nationalist groups like the Council of Canadians assert has been occurring in recent years... Why bring out muskets against a country politely marketing to you what you desire? And doing so happily, in the knowledge that US purchases make Canadians richer.

Obviously it's only at a point when the US appetite might exceed what Canada considers to be in its best interests that push might come to shove... For most Canadians, the current arrangement suits -- we've got extra, they can buy it. That said, we'd be foolish to think that within the current century this tidy equilibrium might not be challenged.
Image source here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

'Male domination of a society is a risk factor'

The Women's Crusade
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, NYT: In the 19th century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater... The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren't the problem; they're the solution...

The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine 'gendercide' far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century. For those women who life, mistreatment is sometimes shockingly brutal... In the developing world, meanwhile, millions of women and girls are actually enslaved... Another huge burden for women in poor countries is maternal mortality, with one woman dying in childbirth around the world every minute...

Why do microfinance organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks?... Some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor -- especially by men... When women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier.

Bill Gates recalls once being invited to speak in Saudi Arabia and finding himself facing a segregated audience. Four-fifths of the listeners were men, on the left. The remaining one-fifth were women, all covered in black cloaks and veils, on the right. A partition separated the two groups. Toward the end, in the question-and-answer session, a member of the audience noted that Saudi Arabia aimed to be one of the Top 10 countries in the world in technology by 2010 and asked if that was realistic. 'Well, if you're not fully utilizing half the talent in the country,' Gates said, 'you're not going to get too close to the Top 10.' The small group on the right erupted in wild cheering...

Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country's population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is a risk factor;... when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys' locker room.
Image: Saima Muhammad, shown with her daughter Javaria (seated), lives near Lahore, Pakistan. She was routinely beaten by her husband until she started a successful embroidery business. Katy Grannan for the New York Times.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Measuring the Health of Nations

US deluded about its health care: ranks 37th

The Most Outrageous US Lies About Global Healthcare
Foreign Policy: As the US Congress this summer holds its first serious health-care reform debate since the Clinton era, the resulting public furor has featured increasingly overheated claims about everything from so-called 'death panels' to the supposed prowess of America's homegrown medicine. Many of the most wildly inaccurate statements have been directed abroad -- sometimes at the United States' closest allies, such as Britain and Canada, and often at the best health-care systems in the world...

The lie: The United States has the best health care in the world.

The liars: A slew of US presidents, politicians, journalists, commentators, and everyday citizens.

The debunking: There is one yardstick by which US health care distinguishes itself: cost. The United States spends more -- in total dollars, percentage of GDP, and per capita -- than every other country on Earth.

On virtually every other broad metric, the claim that US health care stands for global excellence is demonstrably false. The United States doesn't take a top spot in either the World Health Organization or nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund rankings. The American health-care system is not best in terms of coverage, access, patient safety, efficiency or cost-effectiveness. It does not produce the best outcomes for diseases such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes; for the elderly, the middle-aged, or the young; or in terms of life expectancy, rates of chronic diseases, or obesity.

Which countries do come out on top? -- France, Switzerland, Britain, Canada, and Japan. On the World Health Organization's list, the United States comes out 37th.
Image source here.

Oceans heat up, 'bracing for another bad year'

AP: July was the hottest the world's oceans have been in almost 130 years of record-keeping. The Average water temperature worldwide was 62.6 degrees [17C], according to the National Climatic Data Center, the branch of the US government that keeps world weather records. June was only slightly cooler, while August could set another record, scientists say. The previous record was set in July 1998 during a powerful El Niño weather pattern.

Meteorologists said there's a combination of forces at work: A natural El Niño system just getting started on top of worsening man-made global warming, and a dash of random weather variations. The resulting ocean heat is already harming threatened coral reefs. It could also hasten the melting of Arctic sea ice and help hurricanes strengthen.

The Gulf of Mexico, where warm water fuels hurricanes, has temperatures dancing around 90 [32C]. Most of the water in the Northern Hemisphere has been considerably warmer than normal. The Mediterranean is about three degrees [F] warmer than normal. Higher temperatures rule in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The heat is most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees [F] above average. The tongue of warm water could help melt sea ice from below and even cause thawing of ice sheets in Greenland...

Breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land, because water takes longer to heat up and does not cool off as easily as land... Water is warming in more places than usual, something that has not been seen in more than 50 years...

Long-term excessive heat bleaches colorful coral reefs white and sometimes kills them. Bleaching has started to crop up in the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands -- much earlier than usual... Experts are 'bracing for another bad year.'
Image source here.

Wildfire smoke: from Cariboo to Spokane

NASA: Fires in British Columbia smothered parts of that province as well as Washington State with thick smoke on August 19, 2009. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Aqua satellite captured this true-color image the same day.

Near the top edge of the image is a cluster of red dots -- hotspots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with wildfires. From these fires, smoke blows toward the southeast, and another thick plume hovers over Vancouver Island in the southwest. Both the island and the city of Vancouver are almost completely hidden by thick smoke. Skies also appear smoky over Seattle, and visible smoke travels as far as Spokane.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Afghan deal; how many more will die first?

Public Opinion in US Turns Against Afghan War
Washington Post: Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting.

IPS: Polls suggest that Karzai might have to pad his legitimate vote total by as much as 40 percent... But Karzai has been laying the groundwork for just a contingency for many months.

The Guardian: 'The Taliban is very strong,' said the taller of the two men, Agha Mansour.'They control the whole area. The village is peaceful and there is no fighting except when foreigners enter the area. Then the Taliban start shooting at them and we are in a war... They collect 10% tax on all income even from the government fields... They give you a receipt and never charge extra or more.' Shirjan added: 'At least they are honest. They don't take bribes like the government officials do.'

Then Shirjan repeated an argument that can be heard all over Afghanistan. 'If you take your case to a government court it will take you four to five years to finish because the longer the case goes the more bribes you pay. So the officials don't want you to finish. Whereas if you take your case to the Taliban court they will give a judgment in one day and according to God's ruling. So the people go to the Taliban.'

Financial Times: The Taliban is winning the war in Afghanistan, a fact that even the top US commander in the country reluctantly concedes... The insurgents are part of the population, and there is no way to distinguish them from ordinary villagers. In the Pashtun south, where xenophobic feelings are common, many if not most Afghans support the insurgents more readily than the international coalition.

Huffington Post: For almost a year, Western officials have been conceding that the war will not end without a political solution that involves negotiations with insurgents. But, these officials say, the West isn't ready yet to make a deal... So, there's going to be a deal with insurgents... The question that remains is how many more people will die before that happens.
Image source here.

Methane feedback loop begins

Methane seeps from Arctic sea-bed

BBC: Scientists say they have evidence that the powerful greenhouse gas methane is escaping from the Arctic sea-bed. Researchers say this could be evidence of a predicted positive feedback effect of climate change.

As temperatures rise, the sea-bed grows warmer and frozen water crystals in the sediment break down, allowing methane trapped inside them to escape. The research team found that more than 250 plumes of methane bubbles are rising from the sea-bed off Norway...

The research was carried out as part of the International Polar Year Initiative, funded by Britain's Environment Research Council (Nerc). The team say this is the first time that this loss of stability associated with temperature rise has been observed during the current geological period.

Professor Tim Minshull of the National Oceanography Centre at Southampton told BBC News: 'We already knew there was some methane hydrate in the ocean off Spitzbergen and that's an area where climate change is happening rather faster than just about anywhere else in the world.'
Image source here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

US public intolerant and ignorant

You Can't Blame Obama for American Stubbornness
William Pfaff, Truthdig: The American public is intolerant and too many know little more than what they are told by Fox News and by talk radio, which means that they haven't a clue as to what really is going on in the world...

The final great obstacle to reform of national health care is the stubborn belief of Americans, whatever the evidence, that the American system is superior to all others on Earth, that Americans live better and richer lives than anyone else, and that if employment, working conditions, wages and health care are bad in the United States they must be worse everywhere else. If not, why does everyone in the world want to come to live in the United States?

Can anything be done about this? I doubt it. The combination of prejudices concerning socialism and the supremacy of the American system that Americans seem to acquire in the womb, with Republican electoral nihilism, is probably impossible to overcome.

ThinkProgress: Conservatives have frequently obscured the fact that Medicare is a government-run single-payer program. Constituents appearing at health care town halls have even demanded that their members of Congress keep their 'government hands off Medicare.'

Now, a new Public Policy Polling poll (.pdf) finds that millions of Americans do not realize that the federal government runs Medicare: 'One poll question indicative of how difficult it is to gain public understanding on a complicated issue asked if respondents thought the government should 'stay out of Medicare,' something inherently impossible. 39% said yes.'

The poll also shows that an additional 15% of respondents were 'not sure' if the government should be involved in Medicare. Only 46% of respondents disagreed with the proposition that the government should stay out of the government-run program.

The poll also finds that only 62 percent of respondents believe that President Obama was born in America. Of the 38 percent who either don't believe or are unsure, some think he was born in Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, or France. Six percent of the total poll respondents also don't think Hawaii is a US state.
Image source here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

To strive, to seek, to find...

Slate: For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs... Humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones... When we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing. The juice that fuels the seeking system is the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine circuits 'promote states of eagerness and directed purpose.'... It's a state humans love to be in...

When we experience pleasure, it is our own opioid system, rather than our dopamine system, that is being stimulated... Wanting and liking are complementary. The former catalyzes us to action; the latter brings us to a satisfied pause. Seeking needs to be turned off, if even for a little while, so that the system does not run in an endless loop. When we get the object of our desire... we engage in consummatory acts that reduce arousal in the brain, and, temporarily at least, inhibit our urge to seek...

But our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied... Nature imbued us with an unquenchable drive to discover, to explore... The possibility of a payoff is much more stimulating than actually getting one.
Image source here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

'The Canadians are bitter about their role'

In Taliban heartland, coalition's made little headway after 8 years
McClatchy: The Canadians who have been here for the past three years are openly skeptical that their US brethren, with huge eight-wheeled Stryker armored fighting vehicles in the lush waist-high grape vines, will have any better luck subduing the Taliban than they did...

For three years, a Canadian force of a few hundred has faced as many as 15,000 Taliban here. In those three years, however, the Canadians acknowledge that they've had little more than a 'finger in the dike strategy' aimed at preventing Taliban forces from capturing Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, 20 miles to the east. With few resources, stalemate was the Canadians' strategy.

America's allies have no territorial gains to show for the effort. The schools they built were destroyed after the Taliban took them over and used them to stage ambushes. The small outposts they established, including the one in Sangsar, were abandoned in 2007 under constant Taliban attack...

The Canadians are bitter about their role. They've lost 125 soldiers -- the highest proportionally of any coalition partner -- and have killed thousands of Taliban fighters and hundreds more civilians in short bursts of operations, usually lasting a few days...

The local population has lost hope that the coalition can wrest control from the Taliban fighters who hide in their fields and take over their homes. Afghans resent the Canadians for making their lives more difficult. They've seen civilians killed. Their districts aren't safe. Canadian soldiers often have driven off the roads and destroyed farmers' 100-year-old grapevines in an effort to dodge the explosives that are waiting for them.

Image source here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

US crazies, and the foxes who use them

In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition
Birthers, Town Hall Hecklers and the Return of Right-Wing Rage

Rick Perlstein, Washington Post: So the birthers, the anti-tax tea-partiers, the town hall hecklers -- these are 'either' the genuine grass roots, or evil conspirators staging scenes for YouTube?... They are both. If you don't understand that any moment of genuine political change always produces both, you can't understand America, where the crazy tree blooms in every moment of liberal ascendancy, and where elites exploit the crazy for their own narrow interests....

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny... The various elements -- the liberal earnestly confused when rational dialogue won't hold sway; the anti-liberal rage at a world self-evidently out of joint; and, most of all, their mutual incomprehension -- sound as fresh as yesterday's news...

The orchestration of incivility happens, too, and it is evil. Liberal power of all sorts induces an organic and crazy-making panic in a considerable number of Americans, while people with no particular susceptibility to existential terror -- powerful elites -- find reason to stoke and exploit that fear...

Liberals are right to be vigilant about manufactured outrage, and particularly about how the mainstream media can too easily become that outrage's entry into the political debate... Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters... The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America's flora. Only now it's being watered by misguided reporting and [it's] taking over the forest.

National Post: When a protester showed up outside Barack Obama's health care town hall meeting this week in New Hampshire with a pistol strapped to his thigh, the unsettling image seemed almost inevitable. For weeks, Democratic politicians consulting their constituents about the President's health-reform push have faced angry, shoving crowds complaining that a plan to bring about universal medical coverage was tantamount to communism, or fascism, or even racism...

Experts say many Americans reject the notion they have a moral obligation to ensure that everyone gets decent care without going bankrupt. Some participants in focus groups conducted by the School of Public Affairs at the University of California at Los Angeles balked at the idea of paying more themselves so others less fortunate could enjoy better health care, said Frank Gilliam, the school's dean... 'The American myth is that any of us can be among the wealthy... and if you were, you sure wouldn't want the government taking your money and giving it to someone else.'... Even strong advocates of reform say the administration must appeal more to self-interest -- how change can aid the already insured middle class -- than altruism to sell the idea...

White fears about an increasingly diverse America may also be driving the opposition to reform. Some believe the proposed health overhaul would redistribute wealth from white to disproportionately poor blacks. Indeed, Glenn Beck, the controversial Fox News commentator, alleged recently that health-care reform and other policies are 'transforming America, and they're all driven by President Obama's thinking on one idea: reparations.'
Image source here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

'She is considered disobedient'

Afghanistan passes 'barbaric' law diminishing women's rights
Rehashed legislation allows husbands to deny wives food if they fail to obey sexual demands

The Guardian: Afghanistan has quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands, despite international outrage over an earlier version of the legislation which President Hamid Karzai had promised to review.

The new final draft of the legislation also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. 'It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying 'blood money' to a girl who was injured when he raped her,' the US charity Human Rights Watch said...

Islamic law experts and human rights activists say that although the language of the original law has been changed, many of the provisions that alarmed women's rights groups remain, including this one: "Tamkeen is the readiness of the wife to submit to her husband's reasonable sexual enjoyment, and her prohibition from going out of the house, except in extreme circumstances, without her husband's permission. If any of the above provisions are not followed by the wife she is considered disobedient.'...

Human Rights Watch, which has obtained a copy of the final law, called on all candidates to pledge to repeal the law, which is says contradicts Afghanistan's own constitution. The group said that Karzai had 'made an unthinkable deal to sell Afghan women out in the support of fundamentalists in the August 20 election.'
Image source here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Antarctic melting 'unprecedented'

Antarctic glacier 'thinning fast'
One of the largest glaciers in Antarctica is thinning four times faster than it was 10 years ago.

BBC: A study of satellite measurements of Pine Island glacier in west Antarctica reveals the surface of the ice is now dropping at a rate of up to 16m a year. Since 1994, the glacier has lowered by as much as 90m, which has serious implications for sea-level rise... Calculations based on the rate of melting 15 years ago had suggested the glacier would last for 600 years. But the new data points to a lifespan for the vast ice stream of only another 100 years. The rate of loss is fastest in the centre of the glacier and the concern is that if the process continues, the glacier may break up and start to affect the ice sheet further inland.

One of the authors, Professor Andrew Shepherd of Leeds University, said that the melting from the centre of the glacier would add about 3cm to global sea level. 'But the ice trapped behind it is about 20-30cm of sea level rise and as soon as we destabilise or remove the middle of the glacier we don't really know what's going to happen to the ice behind it... This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We've known that it's been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this glacier.'...

This comes as scientists in the Arctic are finding evidence of dramatic change. Researchers on board a Greenpeace vessel have been studying the northwestern part of Greenland. One of those taking part, Professor Jason Box of Ohio State University, has been surprised by how little sea ice they encountered in the Nares Strait between Greenland and Canada. He has also set up time lapse cameras to monitor the massive Petermann glacier. Huge new cracks have been observed and it's expected that a major part of it could break off imminently.

Professor Box told BBC News: 'The science community has been surprised by how sensitive these large glaciers are to climate warming. First it was the glaciers in south Greenland and now as we move further north in Greenland we find retreat at major glaciers. It's like removing a cork from a bottle.'
Image from quoted article.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Journey into Time Immemorial

'Ancient' website looking at Fraser Valley touted world's best e-content

Vancouver Sun: A Simon Fraser University-designed website that portrays the Fraser Valley as it was hundreds of years ago has emerged ahead of 20,000 other e-projects from around the globe to win the World Summit Award, the United Nations-based contest for e-content and creativity.

A Journey into Time Immemorial, which is based on First Nations traditional knowledge and oral history, was selected from 500 finalists by a team of international e-content experts in New Delhi.

The site, which has already gathered numerous national and international awards, was created by SFU's Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and new media specialists from the Learning and Instructional Development Centre (LIDC), in concert with the Xa:ytem Centre in Mission.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Battle of Maple Tree Square

Vancouver 'Gastown riots' August 7, 1971
One thousand protesters clashed with police in 'The Battle of Maple Tree Square,' angered by the actions of undercover police agents and their targeting of 'hippies' who advocated the legalization of marijuana. The cops arrested seventy-nine and charged thirty-eight with various offenses. Mayor Tom Campbell went on an anti-hippie rampage, attempting to invoke the War Measures Act against the flower children, draft dodgers, and anti-war protesters, a number of whom led a symbolic invasion of the United States soon after the marijuana protests, surging into Blaine, Washington.

A judicial inquiry into the Gastown events headed by Justice Thomas Dohm heard lurid police testimony of the role of 'professional revolutionaries' in orchestrating the events, a number of whom turned out to be local poets. Dohm concluded that the police had rioted and, in their indiscriminate beatings, use of riot batons, and unprecedented employment of horse-backed charges on crowds of tourists and onlookers, had overstepped the bounds of their authority.
Image source here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Variations on the theme of manhood

Women at Risk
Bob Herbert, New York Times: One of the striking things about mass killings in the US is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls... Dr. James Gilligan [says] 'What I've concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal, is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one's manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.'

Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation's women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female... We would become much more sane, much healthier, as a society if we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way men feel about women, combined with the absurdly easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions.

Globe and Mail: 'Male co-workers, clients and supervisors appear to be using harassment as an 'equalizer' against women in power, consistent with research showing that sexual harassment is less about sexual desire than about control and domination,' wrote the American researchers, whose long-scale longitudinal study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association...

'By objectifying women, it strips them of any power or prestige that they hold in the workplace,' Ms. McLaughlin said... [She] said that mostly, men harassed their bosses in order to impress other men at work... In the workplace cases, 'it's not that they're trying to get the woman fired or get her to quit her job; it's about proving your manhood and masculinity to other men.'

Al Jazeera: The savage methods being used by street gangs in their fight against each other are now being used against women. Gang-related violence has increased sharply here in recent years, amid an increase in drug-trafficking activity. But while the murder rate cuts evenly across both sexes, women's groups point out that females are killed simply because of their gender... Odilia Sanchez's niece was raped and killed by three men hoping to rise through the ranks of their gang. She was only three years old. Her father found her dead, naked and badly beaten, after searching for hours...

The pattern of violence includes sexual assault and physical torture before the women are killed and their bodies dumped in public places... Those who dare challenge the power of men in Guatemalan society often pay with their lives and only two per cent of crimes against women are solved. Adela Chacon Tax was tortured and stabbed to death by a man whom she refused to date. Her body was thrown in a ditch in Escuintla.

Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post: An already staggering epidemic of rape has become markedly worse since the January deployment of tens of thousands of poorly trained, poorly paid Congolese soldiers, with people in front-line villages such as this one saying the soldiers are not so much hunting rebels as hunting women...

'After reaching an area, the soldiers are taking everything there as the spoils of war, including the women,' said Honore Bisimwa who works with a non profit group, Olame Center... 'They take them like property.'... 'If soldiers meet you, they will rape you,' Ngalya said. 'They don't fear anything.'... 'In this territory, men take women like an instrument that doesn't have any value.'...

'The truth is like this,' said one officer, sitting under a shed and sipping a powerful local brew. 'What is making the soldiers do these bad things is their treatment by the army. Imagine, one can of sardines?! And you send a soldier away for 10 years?! So, I'm hungry, I'm in need of a wife and I have no money' to pay for a prostitute... 'If I see a woman walking on the road, and I love her, I will take her. I will help myself.' The lieutenant, who did not give his name, is in charge of teaching the soldiers about human rights.
Image source here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Harpercons regress foreign policy

'Gender Equality,' 'Child Soldiers' and 'Humanitarian Law' are Axed from Foreign Policy Language

Embassy: With subtle strokes of the pen, it appears the Conservative government has been systematically changing the language employed by the foreign service and, as a result, bringing subtle but sweeping changes to traditional Canadian foreign policy...

Errol Mendes, a professor of international law at the University of Ottawa... said that such changes to the language, depending on the context, could be an attempt to downplay the International Criminal Court... In fact, a source close to Foreign Affairs told Embassy that the Prime Minister's Office had once tried to change Canada's official position on the ICC to essentially state that Canada does not support the ICC, it tolerates it...

Removing references to 'gender equality' and 'gender-based violence' are particularly sensitive because it is Canada who, in the past couple of decades, has led the fight to bring these terms into the international development and human rights agenda...

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada... said it is fundamentally important that 'gender-based violence' be recognized as a particular form of human rights abuse at the United Nations and elsewhere because it reflects the fact that it is women, particularly in the midst of conflict, who disproportionately experience very serious and distinct forms of gender-based violence...

"The term 'gender' has a specific meaning, it refers to a series of socially constructed roles,' said Maxwell Cameron, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia. He said that removing the term 'gender' from Canada's foreign policy vocabulary would mean there are a host of issues that can no longer be talked about in a meaningful or clear way.

As the source close to Foreign Affairs explained, the social conservative base is looking for some wins out of the Harper government.

"And one of the ones they're getting is these kinds of languages," the source said. "It's a substantial change in philosophy and for anybody outside who's followed Canadian foreign policy, if you were to talk to the Nordics or the Brits or the Dutch, they would be shaking their heads. They wouldn't understand what was going on, and would ask 'why are you contesting language which everyone's accepted and which you helped pioneer?'"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What's not on the agenda

Three amigos and guns
Toronto Star: It's the 'iron river' of smuggled guns flowing from the US to both Canada and Mexico, and leaving destruction in its wake.

Mexico's ambassador to Washington has accused the US of fuelling drug-related violence in which some 6,000 people have died in the last year alone. He said there was 'direct correlation' between the overturning of a 2004 US law banning assault weapons and Mexico's upswing in seizures of those guns on its own turf...

A recent study by three international researchers suggested that two-thirds of criminally used guns seized across Canada have American origins. And last year, more than 500 restricted and prohibited weapons were confiscated by Canadian border security officials, a figure they say is only 3 per cent of the total smuggled into the country.

During the pro-gun Bush administration, there was little hope of convincing Washington to come to grips with the problem. Ironically, while President George W. Bush called for tighter border controls to fend off would-be Canadian terrorists, he had no evidence that the hypothetical terrorists had killed any Americans. Meanwhile, illegally-smuggled US guns were demonstrably injuring Canadians.
Image source here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 64 years

Daniel Ellsberg: Our popular image of nuclear war -- from the familiar pictures of the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima -- is grotesquely misleading. Those pictures show us only what happens to humans and buildings when they are hit by what is now just the detonating cap for a modern nuclear weapon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Drug company fakes science to push HRT

Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy
The New York Times: Newly unveiled court documents show that ghostwriters paid by a pharmaceutical company played a major role in producing 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women, suggesting that the level of hidden industry influence on medical literature is broader than previously known.

The articles, published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005, emphasized the benefits and de-emphasized the risks of taking hormones to protect against maladies like aging skin, heart disease and dementia. That supposed medical consensus benefited Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company that paid a medical communications firm to draft the papers, as sales of its hormone drugs, called Premarin and Prempro, soared to nearly $2 billion in 2001.

But the seeming consensus fell apart in 2002 when a huge federal study on hormone therapy was stopped after researchers found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. A later study found that hormones increased the risk of dementia in older patients...

The articles appeared in 18 medical journals, including The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and The International Journal of Cardiology. The articles did not disclose Wyeth's role in initiating and paying for the work. Elsevier, the publisher of some of the journals, said it was disturbed by the allegations of ghostwriting and would investigate...

Dr. Joseph S. Ross, an assistant professor of geriatrice at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who has conducted research on ghostwriting [said] 'You don't know which articles are tainted and which aren't.' Because physicians rely on medical literature, the concern about ghostwriting is that doctors might change their prescribing habits after reading certain articles, unaware they were commissioned by a drug company.
Image source here.