Monday, November 30, 2009

Meanwhile, back in our bodies

Fibrin is a protein created by the body that works with platelets in the blood to clot a wound. As they reach the wound site, they attach themselves to fibers, and create a mesh. Working with the platelets, they make a scab that covers the wound until it heals.
Image source here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

You don't want to kill your pretext

Bin Laden 'within grasp'

Al Jazeera: The Senate foreign affairs committee report (.pdf) said that the failure to move in on Bin Laden when he was at his most vulnerable had 'enormous consequences'... 'The failure to finish the job represents a lost kill Osama opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism.'...

The committee's report criticises Donald Rumsfeld, the then-US defence secretary, and General Tommy Franks, the US general who commanded the invasion of Afghanistan, for not sending more US troops to Tora Bora to block the mountain paths to Pakistan, which were bin Laden's only means of escape.

'Fewer than 100 commandoes were on the scene with their Afghan allies and their calls for reinforcements to launch an assault were rejected, the report said. 'The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the army, was kept on the sidelines... Instead, the US command chose to rely on airstrikes and untrained Afghan militias to attack bin laden and on Pakistan's loosely organised Frontier Corps to seal his escape route.'


'The only justification for the bloody presence of America in Afghanistan is the ambiguous existence of Usamah Bin- Laden and the Al Qa'idah terrorist network... All these slogans, this fighting and killing are a game, a painful and prolonged game, whose end even the players do not know and which is running out of control.'

'How often does Delta come up with a tactical plan that's disapproved by higher headquarters?' CBS' Scott Pelley asked the commando leader. 'In my experience, in my five years at Delta, never before,' he replied.

Delta Force Commander Says Best Plan to Kill the Al Qaeda Leader in 2001 Was Nixed
Image source here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

An Ice-free Northwest Passage

September 15, 2007.
Image source: Earth Observatory/Terra Satellite/NASA/Reuters

US preparing for Arctic combat

US Navy plots Arctic push
'Roadmap' details plans to enlarge fleet in northern waters

The Ottawa Citizen: The US navy is planning a massive push into the Arctic to defend national security, potential undersea riches and other maritime interests. An 'Arctic roadmap' by the Department of the Navy details a five-year strategic plan to expand fleet operations into the North in anticipation that the frozen Arctic Ocean will be open water in summer by 2030.

While the plan talks diplomatically about 'strong partnerships' with other Arctic nations, it is clear the US is intent on seriously retooling its military presence and naval combat capabilities in a region increasingly seen as a potential flashpoint as receding polar ice allows easier access.

"This opening of the Arctic may lead to increased resource development, research, tourism, and could reshape the global transportation system. These developments offer opportunities for growth, but also are potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources," says the 33-page document, signed by Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, vice-chief of Naval Operations...

If the recent surfacing of a US submarine near the North Pole left any doubt, the navy's roadmap makes it clear the US and other nations will increasingly flex military muscle in the resource-rich region, says a specialist on Canada's northern security. "The Arctic is transforming and everyone else gets it and they're not going to go away," [said] Rob Huebert, associate director at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

But behind a public facade that promotes international Arctic co-operation, Huebert says, "If you read the document carefully you'll see a dual language, one where they're saying, 'We've got to start working together,'... and then they start saying, 'We have to get new instrumentation for our combat officers.'"...

The Norwegians and Danes have spent the last 15 years re-arming with a very combat-capable and Arctic-capable navy and air force, he said... "They're clearly understanding that the future is not nearly as nice as what all the public policy statements say." And the US, in addition to the planned naval re-armament, is to station 36 F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets -- 20 per cent of its F-22 fleet and what many consider the best overall fighter jet in the worl -- in Anchorage, Alaska.
Image: USS Annapolis on the surface of the Arctic Ocean after breaking through one metre of ice on March 21, 2009 (MC1 Tiffini, M. Jones, AFP/Getty Images); source here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Canada's environmental crime

'Canada has zero credibility internationally'

Scientists urge drastic action at Copenhagen summit meet
Leading climate scientists issued a grim diagnosis for the planet, along with a stern warning for world leaders.

Vancouver Sun: The upcoming round of climate talks in Sweden will have 'profound' consequences for human civilization and the planet's ecosystems, the scientists say in their report, The Copenhagen Diagnosis... It's 'imperative' that world leaders commit to a legally binding treaty to reduce emissions, says co-author Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria. Otherwise, he says, the world can 'kiss goodbye' hope of holding global warming to two degrees Celsius this century, which is seen as tolerable.

Citing evidence from the Arctic to the Amazon, the report says climate change is occurring faster than expected and urgent emissions reductions are required. If emissions are allowed to continue soaring 'business as usual,' the report estimates global mean temperatures will climb four to seven degrees Celsius by 2100, 'locking in climate change at a scale that would profoundly and adversely affect all of human civilization and all of the world's major ecosystems.'...

The area of summer sea-ice melt during 2007-9 was about 40 per cent greater than the average projection by the IPCC. Sea level rise is also climbing and has risen five centimetres over the past 15 years, about 80 per cent higher than expected... In 2008, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were about 40 per cent higher than in 1990... 'The turning point must come soon,' say the scientists... 'To stabilize climate, a decarbonized global society -- with near-zero emissions of C02 and other long-lived greenhouses gases -- needs to be reached well within this century.'

Despite more than two decades of political promises to reduce emissions, Canada's greenhouse emissions remain on a 'significant' growth trajectory, according to the latest greenhouse-gas inventory from Environment Canada. After a slight dip in 2004-06, Canada's total emissions took off again in 2007, thanks largely to Alberta's oilsands, an increase in the number of vehicles on the road, and greater reliance on coal-fired electricity... The country's emissions are now 33.8 per cent above Canada's Kyoto commitment...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he is committed to reducing emissions but critics say the Conservative government has been blocking progress at climate change talks. 'Canada has zero credibility internationally.' says Weaver.

The full report is available here.
Image source here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Canadians don't believe Harper coverup

Tories not believed in Afghan torture case: Poll
Toronto Star: Canadians aren't buying the Harper government's assertion that there's no credible evidence Afghan detainees were tortured, a new poll suggests. Indeed, the Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey indicates Canadians are twice as likely to believe whistleblower Richard Colvin's claim that all prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were likely abused and that government officials were well aware of the problem...

Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they believe Colvin's testimony... In stark contrast, only 25 per cent said they believe the government's contention... A majority in all regions -- except Alberta where 41 per cent believed Colvin and 35 per cent the government -- sided with the whistleblower... Moreover, fully 70 per cent said it's unacceptable that Canadian forces would hand over prisoners if it's likely they'll be tortured...

Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg said... Canadians' deep misgivings about the mission in Afghanistan, combined with their underlying belief that Canada is a peaceful country that should never condone torture, likely predisposes them to believe Colvin. 'We recognize that we may never be a military power or an economic power but we like to see ourselves as a moral power. The notion that somehow we might be knowingly giving up detainees for potential torture flies directly in the face of that sensibility.'

Nipa Banerjee, Ottawa Citizen: The Richard Colvin saga sounds much too familiar. Many departments of the government are studded with manifold incidents of a similar nature that violate our purported Canadian values. In my experience, most such violations are hidden from public eyes because the lid is capped at a very early stage...

Abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan has been common knowledge. I was told by one of my colleagues -- a political officer at our embassy in Kabul -- that his e-mails alerting Foreign Affairs headquarters... were ignored. One of Canada's former envoys also confirmed abuse in Afghan prisons was known since 2001... More serious, however, is that Colvin's warnings... not only went unheeded, Colvin was allegedly asked to shut up. And this allowed the government to dig itself into a deeper hole...

It seems to me the deliberate cover-up of unwanted truths is more the norm than the exception, especially on the Afghanistan file because of its high public profile. Hiding bad news from the media and the public are the standard operating procedures. What examples do we set while we demand eradication of corruption in Afghanistan?... I can recall numerous instances during my term with the Afghanistan program where the Canadian bureaucracy took a despicable stance on issues of ethics, accountability and the public's right to access information.
Image source: DND handout.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Harper government hosts 'conference for militarists'

Realities Collide at Halifax 'War Conference'
Inter Press Service: An imposing 'United States of America'-emblazoned aircraft greeted visitors on the tarmac of Halifax International Airport as more than 250 of the Western world's top military leaders and their brain trust descended on the city for the inaugural Halifax International Security Forum.

Co-sponsored by the government of Canada and the US-based German Marshall Fund think tank, over 60 percent of the attendees hailed from these host nations for what is being dubbed a World Economic Forum-style conference for militarists.

Announcing the Forum last July, German Marshall Fund President Craig Kennedy called it 'a step in the process of changing the conversation' about Canada's role in the 'trans-Atlantic community,' toward a recognition of its being a top-tier power in its own right that is worthy of a seat at the table with the globe's most powerful war-fighting nations...

Although Halifax is known as a pro-military community, outside a small group of protesters denounced the forum, which they called a 'war conference' that is being held to 'work out the justification for the global expansion of NATO and to extend the ongoing illegal occupation of Afghanistan.' ... A larger protest featured former Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya, who has been touring North America promoting her new book, A Woman Among Warlords.

An outspoken critic of the ongoing occupation of her country, Joya has called for NATO to withdraw its forces. No Afghans participated in the Forum itself, and Joya was forced to deliver her speech while separated from the Forum venue by a wall of police...

Joya told IPS correspondent Chris Arsenault that 'The war in Afghanistan has fostered terrorism, even though the stated goal is to fight it. The biggest beneficiaries of the conflict have been extremist groups who take advantage of legitimate grievances against NATO.'

Monday, November 23, 2009

Harper 'scripted and fed' Afghan torture denial

PMO issued instructions on denying abuse in '07
Former NATO official says response to reports was 'scripted' in Ottawa

Toronto Star: Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office used a '6,000-mile screwdriver' to oversee the denial of reports of Afghan detainee abuse when the scandal first erupted in 2007, according to a former senior NATO public affairs official who was then based in Kabul.

The former official, speaking on condition his name not be used, [said] that Harper's office in Ottawa 'scripted and fed' the precise wording NATO officials in Kabul used to repudiate allegations of abuse "at a time when it was privately and generally acknowledged in our office that the chances of good treatment at the hands of Afghan security forces were almost zero."

"It was highly unusual. I was told this was the titanic issue for Prime Minister Harper and that every single statement that went out needed to be cleared by him personally," said the former official, who is not Canadian. "The lines were, 'We have no evidence' of coercive treatment being used against detainees handed over to the Afghans. There were very clear instructions for a blanket denial. The pressure to hold to that line was channelled via Canadian military and diplomatic personnel in Kabul. But it was made clear to us that this was coming from the Prime Minister's Office, which was running the public affairs aspect of Canadian engagement in Afghanistan with a 6,000-mile screwdriver."

The official described the tensions over the fate of detainees as 'uniquely Canadian' -- despite the fact that doubts over the treatment of Afghan detainees were ubiquitous among all NATO partners with military footprints in Afghanistan. "It was not an issue for anyone else, though other nations ought to have been as concerned as the Canadians. The Americans in particular were not remotely squeamish on this. To them, everyone was an enemy combatant."...

The dynamic was especially disturbing to Canadian military officials based at ISAF in Kabul, the former official said... Many NATO officials in Kabul were also aware how seriously Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin was following the issue, he said. "Richard Colvin behaved as a straight-up-and-down person, completely honest and doing his job to the best of his abilities... He had to be terribly careful. He couldn't speak to us about this. But it was clear that the tone at the Canadian Embassy had changed. It became far more politicized -- and it was clear that Richard Colvin was struggling enormously to do his work on the question of detainees."
Image source here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Climate change poll: 'Conservatives out of step'

Canadians chagrined over status as climate-change dawdlers
Globe and Mail: On the eve of major UN climate change talks next month in Copenhagen, a major survey of Canadians has found that more than three quarters of the public feel embarrassed that the country hasn't been taking a leadership role on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions...

The survey was compiled by Hoggan & Associates, a Vancouver-based public-relations firm... The finding is a message to federal Environment minister Jim Prentice and the Conservative government, says Jim Hoggan, president... Even in Alberta 65 percent of respondents agreed with a statement that 'it's embarrassing that we are not doing more to curb emissions.' Support for the view was highest in Quebec, at 86 per cent. 'I think they underestimate the levels of people's concerns about our international responsibility,' he said in an interview.

Mr. Hoggan said the Conservatives have been out of step with public sentiment on climate change virtually from the moment they took office in 2006. Early on, the Conservatives repudiated the Kyoto Protocol... to which Canada is a signatory. And rather than develop an independent Canadian position on combatting global warming, Mr. Prentice has said he wants to tailor domestic action on emissions to policies developed in the US...

A substantial majority said that in tough times governments and business need to make a 'top priority' of both economic and environmental issues, such as climate change. That view was held by 67 per cent, compared to the 33 per cent who felt that during a slump, the best course would be to fix the economy first...

The polling also found an overwhelming majority of the public shares the assessment of the scientific community that global warming is a major threat to the planet. A total of 72 per cent thought the impacts of climate change 'are going to be very serious.'... There was also strong support for the view that 'most scientists agree that human activity is the primary cause of climate change,' a position held by 62 per cent of the public...

The survey also found a great deal of public skepticism about corporate environmental claims, with 83 per cent believing that most company pronouncements on their sustainability claims 'are more for public-relations purposes than actual results.'
Image: North Pole sea ice minimum 2009; source here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

'We detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of innocent people'

EU diplomat backs claims on torture
Toronto Star: Richard Colvin's repeated warnings to the Canadian government about detainee torture in Afghanistan were an expression of the common concerns of like-minded Western nations, a European colleague says. Michael Semple, former deputy head of the European Union's mission in Afghanistan when Colvin was second-in-command of the Canadian embassy, said his own records from his time in Kabul are littered with the same findings...

Colvin told a special Commons committee on Afghanistan that Canada took vastly more battlefield prisoners than either the British or Dutch militaries operating in southern Afghanistan. He said that those detainees were, by and large, innocent taxi drivers and farmers rather than Taliban operatives, and that abuse was the 'standard operating procedure' of Afghan authorities, regardless of the intelligence value of a prisoner. The implements of torture were wire cables, electrical shocks and physical and sexual abuse, he said.

Colvin says his verbal and written warnings, sent far and wide to Canadian diplomats and military officials, were at first ignored. Once newspaper reports brought the problems to light, Colvin said he was instructed to keep quiet... Diplomats were told not to put torture allegations on paper.

The Globe and Mail: The April 2007 memo was obtained by Amnesty International during its court battles with Ottawa over whether Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the actions of Canadian soldiers overseas...

Paul Champ, a lawyer acting for Amnesty, said the Harper government is incorrect to dismiss Mr. Colvin's testimony by saying there are no other credible voices saying all detainees handed over to Afghan authorities are tortured. He points out the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which has received significant funding from the Harper government, reported in April 2009, that more than 98 per cent of Afghan detention-centre inmates interviewed said they had been tortured.

The Guardian: 'According to our information, the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured,' Colvin told Canada's parliament... 'In other words, we detained, and handed over for severe torture, a lot of innocent people.'... The allegations have shocked a country that generally regards itself as an upholder of humanitarian values...

Colvin said his complaints about the torture of Afghans were 'mostly ignored' for a year. After that he was told by government officials to keep quiet and to express his concerns by telephone rather than put them on paper. He said 'the paper trail on detainees' was reduced after the arrival of Arif Lalani, Canada's ambassador in Kabul from May 2007. 'Reports on detainees began sometimes to be censored with crucial information removed.'
Image source here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

And now for some perspective

Mystery 'dark flow' extends towards edge of universe
New Scientist: Something big is out there beyond the visible edge of our universe. That's the conclusion of the largest analysis to date of over 1000 galaxy clusters streaming in one direction at blistering speeds. Some researchers say this so-called 'dark flow' is a sign that other universes nestle next door.

Last year, Sasha Kashlinsky of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and colleagues identified an unusual pattern in the motion of around 800 galaxy clusters. They studied the clusters' motion in the 'afterglow' of the big bang, as measured by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). The photons of this afterglow collide with electrons in galaxy clusters as they travel across space to the Earth, and this subtly changes the afterglow's temperature.

The team combined the WMAP data with X-ray observations and found the clusters were streaming at up to 1000 kilometres per second towards one particular part of the cosmos... Their latest analysis reveals 1400 clusters are part of the flow, and that it continues to around 3 billion light years from Earth, a sizeable fraction of the distance to the edge of the observable universe. This is twice as far as seen in the previous study.

The dark flow appears to have been caused shortly after the big bang by something no longer in the observable universe. It has no effect today because reaching across this horizon would involve travelling faster than light.

Laura Mersini-Houghton of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, thinks the flow is a sign of a neighbouring universe. If the tiny patch of vacuum that inflated to become our universe was quantum entangled with other pieces of vacuum -- other universes -- they could have exerted a force from beyond the present-day visible horizon.
Image source here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DND sees soldiers on our streets

Looking beyond desert patterns: military considers urban camouflage
Vancouver Sun: Future Canadian soldiers could be wearing new uniforms designed to provide camouflage on the streets of our largest cities. The Defence Department will know by March what designs are to be based on the 'unique requirements' of the urban settings of Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, according to an outline of the project co-ordinated by scientists at Defence Research and Development Canada in Suffield, Alta. Ottawa was left off the list because it doesn't rate as a major metropolitan centre.

'We're not trying to slight any city in the country,' explained Scott Duncan, head of the soldier and systems protection group at DRDC Suffield. 'We chose the three largest urban centres to have baseline data in this early development project.' He said information gathered on what patterns might work best in those three cities could also have applications for other urban areas in the country.

Duncan said the $25,000 study to come up with camouflage patterns does not necessarily mean a new uniform will be produced for the Canadian Forces anytime soon. Once the patterns are determined, the results will be presented to the Canadian military and it will be up to the leadership on how to proceed...

'If you were to refer back to the Canada First Defence Strategy, one of the principal mandates that has been given to our military is that they must provide protection to the citizens of Canada and help exercise Canadian sovereignty,' Duncan explained. 'Given our large urban population, should any operations be required, there's a good probability that some of them will be taking place in urban environments.'
Image source here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Transparency: Canada an 'inspiration'

Canada least corrupt in the Americas
Vancouver Sun: Canada is viewed as the least corrupt country in the Americas and is an 'inspiration' for the US and other neighbours in the hemisphere, Transparency International said in its annual report...

The Berlin-based watchdog ranked Canada eighth globally, in a tie with Australia and the Netherlands, in its index that assesses internal perceptions of corruption in 180 countries. In first place was New Zealand.

Canada, with a score of 8.7 out of 10, 'continues to be among the ten countries with the lowest perceived levels of corruption worldwide, serving as a benchmark and inspiration for the Americas,' TI said in its report... The only other G8 country in the top 15 was Germany, tied for 14th place with Ireland.

Of the other G8 countries Japan and the United Kingdom were tied in 17th place, while the US, which lags behind Canada in TI surveys largely because of concerns about how money influences the US Congress, was in 19th place with a score of 7.5 out of 10... France was 24th, Italy was tied in 63rd place with Saudi Arabia, and Russia was tied in 146th place with a number of poor countries...

Among TI's independent sources include analysts from the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, Global Insight, the World Bank, and the World Economic Forum.
Image source here.

How plastic could save the world

Does exposure to plastics make boys less masculine?
Toronto Star: A new study suggests that in utero exposure to certain plastics may change behaviour in boys, making them less masculine.

Researchers at the University of Rochester examined the play habits of children aged 4 to 7 years old. The mothers of 145 youngsters had previously volunteered to be tested during pregnancy. Those boys born to women with higher levels of exposure to phthalates were less likely to play with toys like guns or trucks, or exhibit play behaviour typical of their gender, such as roughhousing or participating in sports...

The affected boys did not display feminine qualities, such as increased play with dolls. Instead, they acted in ways less masculine than peers whose mothers were not exposed to high levels of phthalates during pregnancy.

'They're playing in more gender neutral ways -- the sports were quite neutral, for instance,' said Dr. Shanna Swan, the lead researcher. 'What it does suggest is that (the effects) could manifest in other ways -- in verbal ability, in spatial ability, and so on, which are also sexually dimorphic.'...

The phthalates examined in Swan's study -- DEHP and DEB -- can be found in commonly used flooring products, PVC shower curtains, and a variety of textiles and dyes found in many homes... Swan believes that the main source of phthalate exposure for the women in her study was through food -- either through the packaging of processed foods or storing and heating of food in plastic containers...

There were no discernible effects on girls in the study
Image source here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Israel's pathology: We're victims, we're innocent

Israelis and Obama
Henry Siegman, former national director of the American Jewish Congress, in The New York Times: Polls indicate that President Obama enjoys the support of only 6 to 10 percent of the Israeli public... The reason for this unprecedented Israeli hostility toward an American president is a fear that President Obama is serious about ending Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza...

That is how Israel's government and people respond to any outside pressure for a peace agreement that demands Israel's conformity to international law and to UN resolutions that call for a return to the 1967 pre-conflict borders and reject unilateral changes to that border... An American president who addresses the Arab world and promises a fair and evenhanded approach to peacemaking is immediately seen by Israelis as anti-Israel.

The Israeli reaction to serious peacemaking efforts is nothing less than pathological -- the consequence of an inability to adjust to the Jewish people's reentry into history with a state of their own following 2,000 years of powerlessness and victimhood.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose assassination by a Jewish right-wing extremist is being remembered this week in Israel, told Israelis at his inauguration in 1992 that their country is militarily powerful, and neither friendless nor at risk. They should therefore stop thinking and acting like victims. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's message that the whole world is against Israel and that Israelis are at risk of another Holocaust... is unfortunately still a more comforting message...

Ida Chernus, Truthout: Pathological feelings of fear, weakness and victimization are comforting? How can that be? For starters, they automatically put Jews on the side of innocence. Who can blame the weak victims for the violence? All the trouble, it seems, is started by 'the other side.'...

And if all the trouble is started by the other side, then all the fault must lie with the other side. Weakness and victimization seem to prove that 'We're moral.' Obviously, it's our enemies who are immoral and thus to blame for all our problems. So Israelis have no reason even to consider changing any of their policies or behaviors...

The pathology is deeply rooted in Israeli life. It goes back to the very beginnings of the Zionist movement. And it's a terribly complicated syndrome... It also involves a sense of shame, both countered by pride in acts of (often violent) strength.

To understand, however, is not to forgive. Regardless of what pathological traits may explain Israel's resistance to peace, they should not be allowed to block a resolution of the conflict, which virtually the whole world now demands.

As Henry Siegman rightly concludes, 'the conflict continues because US presidents -- and to a far greater extent, members of the US Congress -- have accommodated a pathology that only be cured by its defiance.'

Image, 'David and Goliath'; source here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The belief that women are less than human

Breaking a Conspiracy of Silence
Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books: UN Resolution 1820 says that 'Women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group. There are many ways to define war, just as there are many ways to violate a woman's body...' UN Resolution 1820 was a small step toward ending what Jan Egeland, the former United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, called recently 'one of the biggest conspiracies of silence in history.'

One party to that conspiracy has been the mainstream media, which, as Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn point out in their stellar new book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is what happens when a phenomenon is extensive, entrenched, and so common as to be perpetually old news even when it's happening...

Kristof earnestly takes up the cause of the poor and oppressed of the world, most of them women, and of those who work on their behalf. For him, it seems, the traditional newsroom dynamic is reversed: the fact that another girl has been denied an education, or sold to a brothel at seven, or raped by the police to whom she was reporting that she had been raped, or left to die because of an obstetric fistula that has left her leaking urine and feces is worthy of comment because it has happened again, and will keep on happening until something -- moral outrage, jurisprudence, grace -- intervenes...

A girl in India dies every four minutes because her parents don't believe she's worthy of medical care; a third of all women worldwide are beaten at home; women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined; according to the United Nations, 90 percent of females over the age of three were sexually abused in parts of Liberia during the civil war there; there are, very conservatively, according to the British medical journal The Lancet, ten million child sex slaves. If Kristof and WuDunn have their way, righting 'gender inequality in the developing world,' will be embraced as the moral battle of the twenty-first century, as totalitarianism was in the twentieth and slavery was in the century before that.

For Westerners, the words 'gender inequality' are likely to suggest pay differentials and glass ceilings and old-boy networks. For the women and girls Kristof and WuDunn write about, gender inequality is more elemental. It takes the form of sexual slavery and other kinds of bondage; rape and other kinds of physical and mental assaults; and the withdrawing of medicine, food, and other privations; and it issues from a belief so fixed as to be unimpeachable: women are less human than men. (Not that they are less worthy, but that they are, fundamentally, less human.)

When this belief is coupled with religious and political ideology, class bias and racial supremacy, women's bodies also become tools for ethnic 'cleansing,' for political intimidation, and for genocide. If this is old news for being commonplace, might it mean that in some deep place most of us believe it, too?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver

Glaciers melting in the global south

Kilimanjaro's snows melt away in dramatic evidence of climate change

The Times [UK]: The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro will be gone within two decades, according to scientists who say that the rapid melting of its glacier cap over the past century provides dramatic evidence of global climate change.

If the forecast -- based on 95 years of data tracking the retreat of the Kilimanjaro ice -- proves correct it will be the first time in about 12,000 years that the slopes of Africa's highest mountain have been ice-free. Since 1912, 85 per cent of the glacier has disappeared and the melting does not appear to be slowing down. Twenty-six per cent of the ice has disappeared since 2000.

The study concludes that the primary cause of the ice loss is the increase in global temperatures. Although changes in cloudiness and snowfall may also play a role, these factors appear to be less important. Even intense droughts, including one lasting about 300 years, did not cause the present degree of melting...

The melting of Kilimanjaro is part of a trend of glacial retreat throughout Africa, India and South America. Melting is occurring on Mount Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains in central Africa, as well as on tropical glaciers high in the Andes and Himalayas.

'The fact that so many glaciers throughout the tropics and subtropics are showing similar responses suggests an underlying common cause,' Professor [Lonnie] Thompson [a paleoclimatologist at Ohio State University who led the study] said. He attributed the changes to increases in the Earth's surface temperatures, which are exaggerated at high altitudes. Scientists predict that, even if no further significant warming occurs, all but the very highest of summits will eventually melt.

The melting of glaciers can be devastating for species who rely on snowy environments for survival. If can also have consequences for agriculture. Much of the river flow in glacial regions comes from melt water and glacial retreat is predicted to increase water scarcity... Glacial retreats could lead to a 20 per cent decline in global agricultural productivity.
Image source here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Be careful what you wish for, Israel

Department of meaningless gestures
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy: The sun is now setting on the 'two-state solution' -- if it is not already below the horizon -- and pretty soon everyone will have to admit that they are sitting around in the dark and pretending they see daylight.

Be careful what you wish for. Israel is going to get what it has long sought: permanent control of the West Bank (along with de facto control over Gaza). The Palestinian Authority is increasingly irrelevant and may soon collapse, General Keith Dayton's mission to train reliable and professional Palestinian security forces will end, and Israel will once again have full responsibility for some 5.2 million Palestinian Arabs under its control.

And the issue will gradually shift from the creation of a viable Palestinian state -- which was the central idea behind the Oslo process and the subsequent 'road map' -- to a struggle for civil and political rights within an Israel that controls all of mandate Palestine. And on what basis could the United States oppose such a campaign, without explicitly betraying its own core values?

In this regard, it was telling that Martin Indyk -- a key figure in the lobby and far from a harsh critic of Israeli policy -- is quoted in the [NY] Times saying 'more than likely, we are entering a new era.'

Paul Woodward, War in Context: The perennial debate on whether the US will ever find the will to cut off aid to Israel invariably misses what is ultimately probably the most important sticking point: a lion's share of the money that Congress allocates as foreign military aid ends up going back into the US economy. Members of Congress face pressure not only from the Israel lobby but also the defense industry lobby and in many cases their own constituents to keep on doling out the cash.

The Israeli government is currently in the process of negotiating its largest military purchase ever: 25 F-35 fighters at a cost of $3.25 billion, paid to Lockheed-Martin who will start delivery in 2014. Interestingly, Israel has the ability to allocate funds coming from US taxpayers that will appear in US budgets that have yet to be passed or even drafted by Congress!

So, if the White House is not about to call Congress to cut back on aid to Israel, the one lever over which it retains absolute control is the way the US casts votes in the UN Security Council. I'm not holding my breath waiting for any surprises there.
Image source here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Peak Oil: 'I think that the situation is really bad'

'We have already entered peak oil': IEA source

Watchdog's estimates of reserves inflated

The Guardian: The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves...

'The IEA in 2005 was predicting oil supplies could rise as high as 120m barrels a day by 2030 although it was forced to reduce this gradually to 116m and then 105m last year,' said the IEA source, who was unwilling to be identified for fear of reprisals inside the industry. 'The 120m figure always was nonsense but even today's number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this.

'Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil reserves,' he added.

A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was 'imperative not to anger the Americans' but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. 'We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad.'
Image source here.

New CD: 1970 Greenpeace Amchitka concert

Amchitka, the 1970 concert that launched Greenpeace now on CD

Vancouver Sun: Vancouver's nightlife was hopping on Oct. 16, 1970... Tucked away at the bottom of the nightclub ads was a small blurb for a Greenpeace benefit concert. Tickets were $3 at the door, for a lineup that included Joni Mitchell, Chilliwack and Phil Ochs [with surprise addition James Taylor].

Ten thousand people turned out, raising $18,000 after expenses. It was enough to send a protest ship to Amchitka Island, off Alaska, where the United States was conducting hydrogen bomb test. And enough to launch the world's foremost environmental organization.

The concert has been more or less forgotten over four decades. But not to the Stowe family, which had a tape of the concert. Every now and then, they'd haul it out to play for friends. A couple of years ago, Robert Stowe transferred the original reel-to-reel tape to CD as a Christmas present for his mother Dorothy and sister Barbara. The performances were so great, he thought they should be released.

Greenpeace thought so, too. And so the world has Amchitka, the 1970 Concert That Launched Greenpeace, a double CD that is being released today. The show is available through Greenpeace here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

November 9, 1989

Two decades after the Berlin Wall came down, BBC Mundo looks at walls and barriers around the world which are still standing -- or have been put up -- since 1989: West Bank, Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Ceuta and Melilla, Cyprus, Pakistan-Iran, Rio de Janeiro, US-Mexico, India-Pakistan, Korean Border, Western Sahara, Botswana-Zimbabwe
Image source here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Afghanistan: torture for a pipeline

Former UK ambassador: CIA sent people to be 'raped with broken bottles'
Raw Story: The CIA relied on intelligence based on torture in prisons in Uzbekistan... says a former British ambassador to the central Asian country. Craig Murray, the rector at the University of Dundee in Scotland and until 2004 the UK's ambassador to Uzbekistan, said the CIA not only relied on confessions gleaned through extreme torture, it sent terror war suspects to Uzbekistan as part of its extraordinary rendition program.

'I'm talking of people being raped with broken bottles,' he said... 'I'm talking of people having their children tortured in front of them until they sign a confession. I'm talking of people being boiled alive. And the intelligence from these torture sessions was being received by the CIA, and was being passed on.'...

Murray asserts that the primary motivation for US and British military involvement in central Asia has to do with large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As evidence, he points to the plans to build a natural gas pipeline through Afghanistan that would allow Western oil companies to avoid Russia and Iran when transporting natural gas out of the region.

Murray alleged that in the late 1990s the Uzbek ambassador to the US met with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush to discuss a pipeline for the region, and out of that meeting came agreements that would see Texas-based Enron gain the rights to Uzbekistan's natural gas deposits, while oil company Unocal worked on developing the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline. 'The consultant who was organizing this for Unocal was a certain Mr. Karzai, who is now president of Afghanistan,' Murray noted.

Murray said part of the motive in hyping up the threat of Islamic terrorism in Uzbekistan through forced confessions was to ensure the country remained on-side in the war on terror, so that the pipeline could be built. 'There are designs of this pipeline, and if you look at the deployment of US forces in Afghanistan, as against other NATO country forces in Afghanistan, you'll see that undoubtedly the US forces are positioned to guard the pipeline route. It's what it's about. It's about money, it's about oil, it's not about democracy.'

The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline is slated to be completed in 2014, with $7.6 billion in funding from the Asian Development Bank. Murray was dismissed from his position as ambassador in 2004, following his first public allegations that the British government relied on torture in Uzbekistan for intelligence.
Image source here.