Sunday, January 31, 2010

Food more likely shared if given to women

Chaos Eases As Haiti Food Lines Focus on Women
CBS News: The 79-year-old woman with a 55-pound bad of rice perched on her head gingerly descended concrete steps and passed it off to her daughter-in-law -- who quickly disappeared behind the faded leopard-print sheets that are the walls of their makeshift home on the crowded turf of Haiti's National Stadium. That personal victory for Rosedithe Menelas and her hungry family was a leap forward as well for the United Nations and aid groups...

Under a new targeted approach to aid, Menelas and thousands of other women across Haiti's capital no longer have to battle with men at food handouts that in recent days have been chaotic and dangerous scrums. 'Every time they give out food there's too much trouble,' said Menelas, collapsing into a small wooden chair as two grandchildren quickly scrambled into her lap. 'Today, we finally got something.'...

The UN World Food Program and its partners, including World Vision, borrowed an approach that has worked in other disaster zones. The agencies fanned out across Port-au-Prince, distributing coupons to be redeemed for bags of rice at 16 sites. The coupons were given mainly to women, the elderly and the disabled. Men could redeem coupons for women who were taking care of children or who otherwise could not make it.

'Our experience around the world is that food is more likely to be equitably shared in the household if it is given to women,' WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said at the stadium, now a sprawling encampment of families left homeless by the quake. Officials targeted women because they are primary caregivers in most households and are less likely to be aggressive on aid lines. Many Haitians agreed. Chery Frantz, a 35-year-old father of four who lives in a ravine near one distribution center, said men are more likely to try to sell the donated rice. 'Women won't do that because they're more responsible.'...

A tour of several sites showed the project was largely successful. People hauled away their rice, often dividing it up among friends and family... Some recipients said it was their first aid since the quake. 'I have a big family and we have nothing,' said Nadia St. Eloi... who carried her rice bag on her head while holding her 2-year-old son by the arm. She said she still needs cooking oil and beans to make a meal but will make the rice last as long as possible.
Image source here.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Electric art

Japanese Photographer Bends Electricity to His Will

Wired: Hiroshi Sugimoto has always used his camera to explore unseen phenomena -- artifacts of time, light, the elements, and human perception. But for his latest project, called Lightning Fields, the award-winning photographer traded optics for electricity. He wields a Van de Graff generator to send up to 400,000 volts through film to a metal table. The resulting fractal branching, subtle feathering, and furry whorls call to mind vascular systems, geologic features, and trees. 'I see the spark of life itself, the lightning that struck the primordial ooze,' Sugimoto says. Although some of the effects happen by chance, the artist does try to exercise control. 'I have a kitchen's worth of utensils that produce sparks with different characteristics,' he says. 'But there are many variables -- weather, humidity, perhaps even what I had for breakfast -- I'm never sure what influences the results.'
Image source here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

'Keep hating the Arabs and justify the Jews'

Female soldiers break their silence
Ynet News: Six years after first collection of Breaking the Silence testimonials, organization releases booklet of testimonies from female soldiers who served in territories. Stories include systematic humiliation of Palestinians, reckless and cruel violence, theft, killing of innocent people and cover-up. Here are only some of their testimonies...

'We caught a five-year-old... can't remember what he did... The officers just picked him up, slapped him around and put him in the jeep. The kid was crying and the officer next to me said 'don't cry' and started laughing at him. Finally the kid cracked a smile -- and suddenly the officer gave him a punch in the stomach. Why? 'Don't laugh in my face,' he said."...

"It's boring, so we'd create some action. We'd get on the radio, and say they threw stones at us. then someone would be arrested... There was a policewoman, she was bored, so okay, she said they threw stones at her. They asked her who threw them. 'I don't know, two in grey shirts, I didn't manage to see them.' They catch two guys with grey shirts... beat them. Is it them? 'No, I don't think so.' Okay, a whole incident, people get beaten up. Nothing happened that day."...

"Crossing the checkpoint, it's like another world... Palestinians walk with trolleys on the side of the road, with wagons, donkeys... so the Border Guards take a truck with the remains of food and start throwing it at them... cottage cheese, rotten vegetables... Many times the soldiers would open the Palestinians' food... They take things all the time at checkpoints in the territories.... No one was punished. Really, it was an atmosphere in which we were allowed to hit and humiliate."...

Some of the female soldiers were shocked with the level of violence the settlers' children used against the Palestinians... "You also don't really know which side you are on... I have to make a switch in my head and keep hating the Arabs and justify the Jews.'... The same female soldier told of how she once spit on a Palestinian in the street: "I don't think he even did anything. But again, it was cool and it was the only thing I could do to... you know, I couldn't take brag that I caught a terrorist... But I could spit on them and degrade them and laugh at them."...

A female Border Guard officer in Jenin spoke of an incident in which a nine-year-old Palestinian, who tried to climb the fence, failed, and fled -- was shot to death: "They fired... when he was already in the territories and posed no danger. The hit was in the abdomen area, they claimed he was on a bicycle and so they were unable to hit him in the legs."... An investigation was carried out, at first they said it was an unjustified killing... In the end they claimed that he was checking out escape routes for terrorists or something... and they closed the case."
Image source here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

'There's a cover-up of something'

French missiles or just toy rockets? Mystery deepens in Newfoundland
Toronto Star: Were those mysterious bulletlike objects seen in the sky off the coast of Newfoundland missiles?... Resident Darlene Stewart was planning to take a picture of the sun going down around 5p.m. But to her shock she saw the objects in the sky above Fortune Bay and called her neighbour, Emmy Pardy. Stewart took pictures of the mysterious objects.

'It was grey and silver on colour. It looked like an oversized bullet with a trail of fire behind it,' Pardy told the Star. There was no sound of an airplane's engine, she said, and three of the objects were visible for about 15 minutes.

An RCMP officer initially confirmed to Pardy in two telephone conversations that it was indeed a missile, she said. 'He said the military was made aware of this,' Pardy explained, adding he told her a missile or missiles were launched from nearby St.-Pierre-Miquelon, which is French territory. But the RCMP later referred inquiries on the matter to the federal government, which said there was no missile and no evidence of anyone firing a rocket near the area.

Liberal Senator George Baker told the Star there's no way the objects were models fired by locals. They were too large -- one witness Baker spoke to said they were at least the size of an 18-wheeler.

Globe and Mail: 'That's a missile. Of course it's a missile. The question is, whose missile?' said Robert Huebert, associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary...

Dr. Huebert speculated it could have been a misfiring intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a submarine- or sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), which veered badly off course and travelled slowly enough to linger over the Newfoundland skyline for minutes. France, Russia and England are all testing new models of those missiles, he said.

'Generally they're so fast, so high, you'd never see it,' Mr. Huebert said. 'Unless it was having a malfunction. There could be something going wrong with it that wasn't allowing it to go supersonic.'...

As speculation ran wild Thursday, governments provided more denials than answers... 'We confirm that no French military activity took place at the time of the incident...' a French embassy statement said. 'There was never a rocket launched,' added Dimitri Soudas, the exasperated spokesman for Prime Minister Steven Harper... 'We have confirmed that there were no planned exercises off the Eastern Seaboard,' a Defence department spokesman said yesterday. 'We did not see a threat to the security of Canada.'

Ms. Pardy rejected the denials, saying, 'It seems like there's a cover-up of something.'

Image source here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Warmest decade; human extinction

2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade

NASA/GISS: This map shows the 10-year average (2000-2009) temperature anomaly relative to the 1951-1980 mean. The largest temperature increases are in the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Scientific American: The genetic evidence suggests that the effective population -- an indicator of genetic diversity -- of early human species back then... was about 18,500 individuals... That figure translates into a total population of 55,500 individuals, tops... The population, and thus its genetic diversity, faced a major setback about one million years ago. The finding is detailed in the January 18 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences...

The effective population researchers estimate at about 18,500 reveals that the extent of genetic diversity... was between 1.7 and 2.9 times greater than among humans today.... The diminished genetic diversity suggests human ancestors experienced a catastrophic event.
Image source: NASA/GISS

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

New York Times: Canada's response to Haiti

Canadians Give Generously to Haiti
The Lede, New York Times: While almost 90 million Americans tuned in to a celebrity telethon for Haiti on Friday, and donated more than $61 million, about 6 million Canadians watched one of two similar telethons broadcast the same night and donated nearly $20 million.

Taking into account a promise by Canada's government to match, dollar for dollar, every donation made by its citizens, the two telethons -- 'Canada for Haiti' and 'Ensemble Pour Haiti' -- raised almost $40 million for the devastated country. Given that Canada only has about one-tenth the population of the United States, the success of their two telethons is quite remarkable.

Canada has played a leading role in the emergency relief effort to help the survivors of this month's earthquake in Haiti. On Monday, world leaders met in Montreal to discuss plans for rebuilding, which Canada's foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, said could take ten years.

On Sunday, Canada's Haitian-born governor-general, Michaelle Jean, sang part of what she called 'a song of hope,' which her mother used to sing to her when she was a child in Haiti, during a speech in Calgary.

Canadian troops are currently working in Ms. Jean's hometown of Jacmel, on Haiti's south coast, providing disaster relief and emergency medical care.
Image source here.

Rape: in US Military, and in Bangladesh

1/3rd of Women in US Military Raped
Newsjunkie: According to NPR, 'In 2003, a survey of female veterans found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military. A 2004 study of veterans who were seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder found that 71 percent of the women said they were sexually assaulted or raped while serving. And a 1995 study of female veterans of the Gulf and earlier wars, found that 90 percent had been sexually harassed.'

The BBC recently reported on The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq by Helen Benedict... Army specialist Chantelle Henneberry spoke of some of her experiences in Iraq, 'Everybody's supposed to have a battle buddy in the army, and females are supposed to have one to go to the latrines with, or to the showers -- that's so you don't get raped by one of the men on your own side. But because I was the only female there, I didn't have a battle buddy. My battle buddy was my gun and my knife.'

Another study concluded that 90% of all women serving are sexually harassed. Another one estimates that 90% of the rapes do not get reported... In 2008, 62% of those that were convicted of sexual assault or rape received very lenient punishments... This problem is not confined to the US military. This abuse is rampant among private defense contractors.

The Daily Star (Lebanon): Eight months after being raped, a 16-year-old... had to receive 101 lashes as 'punishment.' A village arbitration found her guilty... but amazingly left alleged rapist Enamul Mia, 20, untouched. The arbitration also fined the victim's father and issued another fatwa that her family would be forced into isolation if he failed to pay up...

Family sources said said Enamul Mia of Gabbari used to tease the girl on her way to high school. He raped her April last year. Fearing the shame, the girl did not disclose the incident. The girl's family had married her off to a man of neighboring village but after a month into the marriage medical test discovered she was seven months pregnant. She was divorced and she had to live at her father's place after an abortion...

At one stage of the inhuman torture, the girl collapsed and fainted. She regained her sense after two hours... 'Enamul has spoiled my life. I want justice,' said the girl as tears rolled down from her eyes... Neighbors spoke in favor of the girl and blamed Enamul. They did not dare to say anything against the so-called village arbitration... A team of human rights activists... will help the victim file separate cases against the culprits.
Image source here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'Men and boys will have to change'

Equality for Women & Girls
The Elders: Religious values and teachings, along with traditional customs, have... been used throughout the centuries to justify and entrench inequality and discrimination against women and girls. These teachings have been abused by men to give them power over the female members of their families and women across their communities... This deep-rooted belief that women are worth less than men has infected every aspect of our societies...

This is not a fight which should be left to women and girls alone... It is up to all our leaders, particularly male political, religious and civil leaders, to challenge and change these practices and attitudes, however long-established... We also call on all men and boys to throw their weight behind the campaign for equality and challenge those who oppose women's rights... Men and boys will have to change their behavior and thinking... We now have to show the courage and determination to root out discrimination and change our world for the better.

The Canadian Press: More Afghan women are choosing suicide to escape the violence and brutality of their daily lives, says a human rights report prepared by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department. The 2008 annual assessment paints a grim picture in a country where violence against women and girls is common...

'Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides,' said the report, completed in November 2009... 'Rape is widely believed to be a frequent occurrence, though its true extent is concealed by under-reporting owing to the social stigma attached to it.'... The Afghan practice of 'honour killings' has been cited as a major problem...

A British study... said 87 per cent of Afghan women [reported] they were the victims of violence, half of it sexual... 'The report added that 60 per cent of marriages are forced, and 57 per cent of marriages involve girls under the age of 16... There are few places victims can go to escape abuse.
Image source here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

'There was only the sound of wind'

We're 18 million years older than we thought, footprints reveal
Toronto Star: A chance discovery in a Polish quarry speeds up evolution by 18 million years but the scientists who previously found the reigning stars of paleontology in the Canadian Arctic aren't ready to concede...

'This upsets the apple cart,' admits Dr. Per Ahlberg, lead author of the report in the current Nature... 'These are some of the most exciting fossils I have ever encountered.'

Ahlberg, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Uppsala, and his Polish colleagues uncovered secure -- meaning clearly evident -- footprints of a trackway, or walking stride, of tetrapods, four-legged animals with obvious legs and feet. That means we crawled out of the water and started walking 397 million years ago, 18 million before the previous best estimate...

The Polish discovery doesn't just rewrite the history of evolution. It also challenges why we first slunk out of the sea. 'This is about more than just footprints. We're talking about moving from one living environment to another,' said Ahlberg. 'We've argued until now that tetrapods were linked to the ecosystem, which was a seriously barren mud bank. This means they had nothing to do with the terrestrial ecosystem. They were not herbivores. They had vicious, nasty looking teeth and were carnivores.'

Poland itself was nearly tropical, sitting in the Southern Hemisphere on a land mass that included present day Europe, North America and Greenland wedged together. While these crocodile-sized animals were devouring fish and jellyfish that washed up from the sea 'nothing was in the sky. There were no birds yet, no winged insects, no reptiles,' said Ahlberg. 'There was only the sound of wind.'
Image: A fossilized footprint dating back some 397 million years and found in south central Poland, is seen on display at the Geology Institute in Warsaw; source here.

Haiti: Dignity and respect

The Haiti I love is still there
Michael Diebert, Salon: Hardly anyone who has witnessed the response of the Haitians to this great catastrophe has not been moved by their incredible resilience and solidarity and their intact sense of humor... As all the pillars of the Haitian state... collapsed around them, the Haitians helped one another, dug through rubble, prayed, sang and showed everyone who has watched them what the meaning of true perseverance in the face of adversity looks like... Seeing their dignity in this moment has made me love them and their battered country as never before. 'Life goes on,' a friend of mine who lost his wife in the earthquake told me yesterday, bringing to mind the famous Haitian proverb, deye mon gen mon. Beyond the mountains there are more mountains.

Paul Woodward: Dignity is perhaps the most precious human resource on the planet and its distribution bears no relationship with the distribution of material wealth. Indeed, it is so often to be found in greatest abundance among those who possess the least. That's why at times such as these, hands reached out in help should also offer respect.

Haiti: 360 degrees (interactive)
Image source here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Afghanistan: 'Public statements misleading'

Petroleum economist ties Canadian presence in Afghanistan to pipeline
Georgia Straight: Why has Canada spent eight years in Afghanistan? ... According to John Foster, a petroleum economist with 40 years experience in international development, a big part of the answer is energy... A 'new great game' is emerging, Foster said. The United States, Europe, Russia, China and Iran, are all vying for control over oil and natural gas deposits and transit routes.

Afghanistan holds a significant geographic position in this game... Turkmenistan (to Afghanistan's north) holds the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world... 'The Russians are planning new pipelines north, the Chinese are building new pipelines east, the United States is promoting pipelines west to Europe and south through Afghanistan, to Pakistan and India.'...

He continued, 'Pipelines are important today in the same way that railway building was important in the 19th century. They connect trading partners and they influence the regional balance of power. The pipeline route is critical.'

Foster went on to dispel many of the government's long-stated reasons for staying in Afghanistan... noting that the $7.6 billion project is expected to run right through Kandahar, where Canadian forces have encountered heavy resistance and suffered many casualties.

'One has to listen very carefully these days, Foster said. 'Lots of public statements are technically accurate, but misleading. Talking heads say, 'Afghanistan is not about oil.' And that is literally true. The pipeline plan through Afghanistan is for natural gas. And I've heard diplomats say, 'Canada is not involved in the project.' And that is misleading. It is a multinational project sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, and Canada is a proud member of that bank.'

Near the end of his presentation, Foster turned somber. 'Do Canadians want to be involved in NATO wars around the world?' he asked. 'Do we want the militarization of energy? There is a high price to pay in dollars, lives, and morality.'
Image source here.

MSF/DWB inflatable hospital in Haiti

Plug and Play: Voilà
Common Dreams: Inspiring video shows the remarkable Doctors Without Borders [Médecins Sans Frontières] creating their inflatable 'plug and play' hospital in Haiti. People worked through the night to set up a complex of nine tents with their own generators and sanitation equipment; they hope to start treating patients today.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Haiti Gaza

The Lede: As reported on Sunday, one of the search and rescue teams deployed to Haiti after the earthquake was sent by the Israel Defense Forces. On Tuesday, The Los Angeles Times noted a Palestinian news agency report which said, 'Palestinians in Gaza set off for the Red Cross headquarters on Monday to offer donations and financial support for the victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake.'... Jamal Al-Khudary, head of the Committee to Break the Siege, told the news agency that the Red Cross director in Gaza 'was only able to accept financial donations as transferring goods out of the Strip is near impossible.'

Juan Cole, Informed Comment: When a relief plant for [Doctors] Without Borders isn't allowed to land by US military authorities at the airport in Port-au-Prince, there is an outcry. But Israeli military authorities will not allow any relief planes at all to land in the Gaza Strip. (The Israelis destroyed Gaza's airport in 2001.)

We cheer when a Haitian child is rescued from the rubble, but ignore the thousands of Gazan children who are suffering malnutrition and being buried by Israeli policy, a policy that is a war crime... The situation in Gaza is not as dire as that in Haiti. But it is very, very bad, and it is man-made. UNICEF report here. World Health Organization fact sheet on Gaza here.
Image: Gazans raise money for Haiti; source here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Doctor in Haiti: 'There are no security issues'

In the streets of Haiti
Amy Davidson: Jon Lee Anderson, who has reported for The New Yorker from Afghanistan, Iraq, and, most recently, Somalia, headed to Haiti soon after the earthquake hit on January 12th. I reached him in Port-au-Prince by text message...

What has surprised you?
The love of country. Or perhaps I should say the depth of and extent of that love. Yesterday, a Haitian man, looking out over his destroyed country, told me: 'I have traveled, you know. I have been to Miami and Paris. But this is the country for me. I love my country, you know? That is why I always came back.'

Democracy Now: 'There are no security issues,' says Dr. Evan Lyon of Partners in Health, reporting from the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, where 1,000 people are in need of operations. Lyon said the reports of violence in the city have been overblown by the media and have affected the delivery of aid and medical services...

Dr. Lyon: One thing that I think is really important for people to understand is that misinformation and rumors and, I think at the bottom of the issue, racism has slowed the recovery efforts of this hospital. 'Security issues' over the last forty-eight hours have been our leading concern. And there are no security issues. I've been with my Haitian colleagues. I'm staying at a friend's house in Port-au-Prince. We're working for the Ministry of Public Health for the direction of this hospital as volunteers. But I'm living and moving with friends. We've been circulating throughout the city until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning every night, evacuating patients, moving materials. There's no UN guards. There's no US military presence. There's no Haitian police presence. And there's also no violence. There is no insecurity.
Image source here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Common purpose vs. 'elite panic'

Tremonti interviews Solnit
CBC's The Current: There's often a strange familiarity to the narrative that unfolds in the wake of a disaster in a heavily populated area. There's the frantic attempt to get information. The urgent casualty count. The rush to deliver aid. The efforts to restore public services and social order. And the stories of heroism, but also of misery and callousness.

Rebecca Solnit has studied the ways that cities respond to crises from San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake to the Halifax explosion of 1917 to New York City after 9/11, and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She thinks she's found another element to the narrative... one that often goes overlooked and undervalued. Rebecca Solnit has written about that in her book, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.

Listen to Solnit interview here (scroll down); podcast here.

Review by Dwight Garner, The New York Times: [Solnit's] new book is an investigation not of a thought but of an emotion: the fleeting, purposeful joy that fills human beings in the face of disasters... These are clearly not events to be wished for, Ms. Solnit writes, yet they bring out the best in us and provide common purpose. Everyday concerns and societal structures vanish. A strange kind of liberation fills the air. People rise to the occasion. Social alienation seems to vanish.

'What is this feeling that crops up during so many disasters?' Ms. Solnit asks. She describes it as 'an emotion graver than happiness but deeply positive,' worth studying because it provides 'an extraordinary window into social desire and possibility... a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become.'... Her overarching thesis can probably be boiled down to this sentence: 'The recovery of this purpose and closeness without crisis or pressure' -- without disaster, that is -- 'is the great contemporary task of being human.'...

The problems that arise in the wake of disasters, Ms. Solnit posits, largely come from official government reactions. Top-down responses quash improvised collective efforts... Worse, Ms. Solnit writes, the news media and other factors have conditioned those in power to believe that people tend to behave badly in times of crisis... Thus a mentality she calls 'elite panic' sets in...

The provocative image that stuck with me from A Paradise Built in Hell is this one: When the electrical power failed after the 1989 Bay Area earthquake and after Hurricane Katrina, the light pollution that usually blotted out the night sky vanished. All the stars came out. 'You can think of the current social order,' she writes, 'as something akin to this artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster.'
h/t CC

'Haiti can be proud of its survivors'

US troops land at Haiti presidential palace
BBC News: The US, which had previously considered aid drops too risky because of the danger of riots on the ground, is now considering airdrops across Haiti... The leading US general in Haiti, Lt Gen Ken Keen, and UN humanitarian chief John Holmes played down worries over security, saying that despite violent incidents, the overall situation was calm... Last week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said airdrops had been ruled out because they might do more harm than good. Mr Gates warned that they could trigger riots if there was no proper structure on the ground to distribute supplies.

The Telegraph: France accused the US of 'occupying' Haiti on Monday as thousands of American troops flooded into the country... The French minister in charge of humanitarian relief called on the US to 'clarify' the American role amid claims the military buildup was hampering aid efforts... Geneva-based charity Médecins Sans Frontières backed his calls saying hundreds of lives were being put at risk as planes carrying vital medical supplies were being turned away by American traffic controllers. But US commanders insisted their forces' focus was on humanitarian work and last night agreed to prioritise aid arrivals to the airport over military flights, after the intervention of the UN.

David Belle: I have been told that much US media coverage paints Haiti as a tinderbox ready to explode. I'm told that lead stories in major media are of looting, violence and chaos. There could be nothing further from the truth. I have traveled the entire city daily since my arrival. The extent of damages is absolutely staggering. At every step, at every bend is one horrific tragedy after another; homes, businesses, schools and churches leveled to nothing. Inside every mountain of rubble there are people, most dead at this point. The smell is overwhelming. On every street are people -- survivors -- who have lost everything they have: homes, parents, children, friends.

NOT ONCE have we witnessed a single act of aggression or violence. To the contrary, we have witnessed neighbors helping neighbors and friends helping friends and strangers. We've seen neighbors digging in rubble with their bare hands to find survivors. We've seen traditional healers treating the injured; we've seen dignified ceremonies for mass burials and residents patiently waiting under boiling sun with nothing with their few remaining belongings. A crippled city of two million awaits help, medicine, food and water. Most haven't received any. Haiti can be proud of its survivors. Their dignity and decency in the face of this tragedy is itself staggering.

The Wall Street Journal: Lack of medical facilities and doctors for tens of thousands of injured people in the decimated Haitian capital is one of the major problems facing aid efforts... US Naval officials said earlier Saturday that the Vinson nevertheless didn't plan to take on care of earthquake victims... When the clinic was observed by a Wall Street Journal reporter Saturday afternoon, all of the beds were empty. Lt. Cmdr. Jim Krohne, a spokesman for the aircraft carrier and its captain, responding to a reporter's queries, said the vessel's mission was 'sea-based' and the primary focus of the clinic was to treat American citizens.
Image source here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The media on Haiti: finding food vs. 'looting'

When Are Haitians Looters and When Are They Just Hungry?
Natalie Hopkinson, The Root: An arresting Damon Winter photo of a Haitian child graces the cover of the Sunday New York Times. A boy of about 10 wearing a bright red, oversized polo shirt, is caught mid-stride by the camera, dashing through the streets of Port-au-Prince, eyes gazing purposely ahead, gripping a white plastic bag.

The caption gives a seemingly 'objective' recitation of the facts. 'Haitians fled gunshots that rang out in downtown Port-au-Prince Saturday. Tons of relief supplies had arrived for delivery.' It is up to the viewer to connect the dots, and connect them to another front-page article below the fold: 'Looting Flares Where Order Breaks Down.'

So was the kid looting?

Nearly five years ago, when you could see photo captions of white Hurricane Katrina survivors side-by-side with black survivors, the racial double standard in the news media covering a catastrophic tragedy were obvious. Hungry, desperate white survivors were 'finding food' while hungry, desperate black survivors were 'looting' for food.

Le Monde's front page is given over to an interview with the Haitian novelist Dany Laferrière, who was in Port-au-Prince at the moment of the earthquake. He wants people to stop talking about Haiti as if it was cursed, suggesting that the island's population was, in some sense, being punished for a past crime. And he wonders about the identification of those who took food from destroyed shops as 'looters,' saying that, when people risk their lives, crawling through ruins in search of something to eat and drink, they are motivated by need, not by greed.

The Lede: Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, retired, who took charge of security in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, told CNN: 'These people are trying to survive, and you should not shoot someone over trying to get food -- they are [doing] nothing but expressing a human need to get food.'

On Monday in Port-au-Prince Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen, deputy commander of US Southern Command, told the media that, despite reports of violence that may have been amplified in the press and online, there appears to be less violence on Haiti's streets now than there was before the earthquake.
Image sources here and here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

US Population reduction policy at work

The New York Times: Even as the United States took a leading role in aid efforts, some aid officials were describing misplaced priorities, accusing United States officials of focusing their efforts on getting their people and troops installed and lifting their citizens out. Under agreement with Haiti, the United States is now managing air traffic control at the airport... Said Jerry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for [The World Food Program], 'Their priorities are to secure the country. Ours are to feed. We have got to get those priorities in sync.'...

In a notice over the weekend, the US Federal Aviation Administration said priority would be given to search and rescue, military and humanitarian aircraft, in that order... 'We're all going crazy, said Nan Buzard, senior director of international response and programs for the American Red Cross. 'You don't have any kind of orderly distributions of food, water, shelter, clothing. The planes are in the air, the materials are purchased. It remains a frustrating situation for everyone... [President René] Préval said he was making food, water, medical supplies and the re-establishment of communication the priorities for his government.

DWB/MSF: Despite guarantees given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay.

USA Today: The next morning after the earthquake, as a military man of 37 years service, I assumed... there would be airplanes delivering aid, not troops, but aid," said retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore... "What we saw instead was discussion about, 'Well, we've got to send an assessment team in to see what the needs are.' And anytime I hear that, my head turns red."

BAGnewsNotes: If you're as tired as I am from watching... the endless loops of video... of Haitians, in isolated incidents, grapple with each other for food; or reading how total mayhem had broken out; or watching reports harping over and over (to the consternation of the locals) about how violence must be just around the corner, this UN video is a necessary infusion of reality.

Point Two. Have You Ever Been Without Water? Hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti have had no access to clean water since the quake hit... People can live without food for a long time. Without water? A very short time. In hot conditions people can become dehydrated in an hour. Lack of water puts you into shock and starts breaking down the body right away. People can die within hours if they are exposed to heat without water...

Point Five. Aid Is Sitting at the Airport. While millions suffer, humanitarian aid is sitting at the Port au Prince airport. Why? People are afraid to give it out for fear of provoking riots. Which is worse?
Image source here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chomsky: The Tragedy of Haiti

From Noam Chomsky's Year 501: The Conquest Continues (1993). For complete article go here. Footnotes are available here.

'The First Free Nation of Free Men': 'Haiti was more than the New World's second oldest republic,' anthropologist Ira Lowenthal observed, 'more than even the first black republic of the modern world. Haiti was the first free nation of free men to arise within, and in resistance to, the emerging constellation of Western European empire.' The interaction of the New World's two oldest republics for 200 years again illustrates the persistence of basic themes of policy, their institutional roots and cultural concomitants.

The Republic of Haiti was established on January 1, 1804, after a slave revolt expelled the French colonial rulers and their allies. The revolutionary chiefs discarded the French 'Saint-Domingue' in favor of the name used by the people who had greeted Columbus in 1492, as he arrived to establish his first settlement in Europe's New World. The descendants of the original inhabitants could not celebrate the liberation. They had been reduced to a few hundred within 50 years from a pre-Columbian population estimated variously from hundreds of thousands to 8 million, with none remaining at all, according to contemporary French scholars, when France took the western third of Hispaniola, now Haiti, from Spain in 1697.

The leader of the revolt, Toussaint L'Ouverture, could not celebrate the victory either. He had been captured by deceit and sent to a French prison to die a 'slow death from cold and misery,' in the words of a 19th century French historian. Medical anthropologist Paul Farmer observes that Haitian schoolchildren to this day know by heart his final words as he was led to prison: 'In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint-Domingue only the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.'

The tree of liberty broke through the soil again in 1985, as the population revolted against the murderous Duvalier dictatorship. After many bitter struggles, the popular revolution led to the overwhelming victory of Haiti's first freely elected president, the populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Seven months after his February 1991 inauguration he was driven from office by the military and commercial elite who had ruled for 200 years, and would not tolerate loss of their traditional rights of terror and exploitation...

Without popular support [from outside Haiti], Toussaint's tree of liberty will remain deeply buried, at best a dream -- not in Haiti alone.
Image source here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Update from Médecins Sans Frontières

Dear Friend,

As you read this, MSF medical teams in Port-au-Prince are treating thousands of people who were injured in the quake. Most have fractures, head injuries and other major trauma injuries. We have set up four tented facilities beside the now damaged hospitals we used to work in. The need for wound treatment and major surgery is immense.

In the next 24 hours an MSF field hospital will arrive by air, equipped with two operating theatres, along with trauma surgeons and anesthetists. Our teams on the ground in the capital are also trying to identify intact buildings that could be used to do surgery.

Food, water and shelter materials are all in short supply, but medical stocks are not yet exhausted. Forty tonnes of material will arrive on the ground tonight, conditions permitting, and an additional 80 staff will join the 800 MSF staff already working in Haiti. Teams will be distributing medical disaster kits, blankets, plastic sheeting, hygiene and cooking sets, tents and jerrycans.

If you've already donated to the relief effort, thank you. You can continue to help by forwarding this message or sharing it with your networks on Facebook and Twitter.

If you haven't had a chance to support these relief efforts and would like to do so, please click here to make a donation now. Thank you for your solidarity at this most difficult time.

Marilyn McHarg
General Director, MSF Canada

PS: Due to the high level of interest in our crisis response, MSF Canada has been experiencing slower performance on our website. We are working to resolve this. Thank you for your patience.

Moving plates, earthquake zones

Sources here and here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti: Some saw it coming

Le Matin, 15 September 2008 (translation):
The question of the seismic threat to Port-au-Prince is a hot topic. It has been debated in recent days by many people, including high-ranking intellectuals. The conclusions are unanimous: PAP risks being transformed overnight into rubble after a violent quake. 'For two centuries, no major earthquake has been recorded in the Haitian capital. The amount of energy accumulated along the fault runs the risk of an earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale. Better not even to talk about it, there's no need to panic. But it would be a catastrophe,' said the chief of the Bureau of Mines and Energy.
h/t Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish.
Image source here.

Asteroid flyby today

Earth to Get Close Shave Wednesday From Newly Discovered Asteroid
Wired: An asteroid 30 to 50 feet across will pass by the Earth at just more than one-third the distance between the Earth and the moon on Wednesday. That's the closest near-Earth object approach currently known between now and the flyby in 2024 of a similar-size object known as 2007 XB23.

The new asteroid, called 2010 AL30, was discovered by the NASA-funded Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program, and announced Monday by the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

The short amount of time between the spotting of the object and its near intersection with Earth is a good reminder that humans don't know every object that could come hurtling out of space and collide with our planet.

'Visitors frequently ask me if I worry about the NEOs that I measure," wrote Dr. P. Clay Sherrod of the Arkansas Sky Observatories, on a forum thread discussing the asteroid. "My response: I don't worry about those that we keep up with... I am more concerned about the ones we never see coming.'

To see how close the asteroid will get, check out this animation of the asteroid's Earth approach (.avi) by Gerhard Dangl, an Austrian astronomer.
Image source here.