Friday, April 30, 2010

Oíche Bealtaine Shona!

Lá Buidhe Bealtaine maith duit.

Image source here.

Israel: ditch the enablers or self-destruct

Israel official: Accepting Palestinians into Israel better than two states
Haaretz: Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said... that he would rather accept Palestinians as Israeli citizens than divide Israel and the West Bank in a future two-state peace solution... Late last year, Rivlin said in a Jerusalem address that Israel's Arab population was 'an inseparable part of this country. It is a group with a highly defined shared national identity, and which will forever be, as a collective, an important and integral part of Israeli society.'

In a speech given in the president's residence, the Knesset speaker called for a fundamental change in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel, urging the foundation of a 'true partnership' between the two sectors, based on mutual respect, absolute equality and the addressing of 'the special needs and unique character of each of the sides.'

Rivlin also said that 'the establishment of Israel was accompanied by much pain and suffering and a real trauma for the Palestinians,' adding that 'many of Israel's Arabs, which see themselves as part of the Palestinian population, feel the pain of their brothers across the green line -- a pain they feel the state of Israel is reponsible for.' 'Many of them,' Rivlin says, 'encounter racism and arrogance from Israel's Jews; the inequality in the allocation of state funds also does not contribute to any extra love.'

Jeet Heer, National Post: Israel is the [Ernest] Hemingway of nations. Like the great writer, Israel is admired by many for its courage and fighting prowess and indulgently allowed to go on pursuing those elements of its behaviour that can only end in disaster. And just as Hemingway had his bar-room buddies who cheered on his alcoholism, Israel has its enablers, foreigners who encourage the Jewish state to follow the self-destructive path of keeping the Palestinians permanently immiserated...

Who are the enablers? Some are Jews in the Diaspora who feel, either out of tribal loyalty or guilt at their comfort, that Israel deserves unconditional support. Others are Christian millennialists who view the Middle East as a playground for their own apocalyptic fantasies. Still others are regular conservatives nostalgic for the imperialist days of yore when Western nations could impose their will on the unruly masses of the Third World. Some of the enablers have genuinely good motives. After the Holocaust, concern for the survival of the Jewish state is a strong moral imperative. What the enablers don't realize is that the policies they defend will doom Israel as Jewish democracy.
Image source here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Water, organic molecules found on asteroid

Ice on Asteroid Suggests Earth's Water Came From Space
AP: Scientists have found lots of life-essential water -- frozen as ice -- in an unexpected place in our solar system: an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.

The discovery of significant asteroid ice has several consequences. It could help explain where early Earth first got its water. It makes asteroids attractive to explore... And it even muddies the definition between comets and asteroids...

This asteroid has an extensive but thin frosty coating. It is likely replenished by an extensive reservoir of frozen water deep inside rock once thought to be dry and desolate, scientists report in two studies in the journal Nature... What they found on 24 Themis, a rock more than 200 miles wide with temperatures around 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, was more than they ever expected...

Furthermore, scientists didn't find just ice; they found organic molecules, similar to what may have started life on Earth... Earth, when it formed billions of years ago was dry, scientists say. So where did the water come from? One leading theory is from crashing comets... But comets come from the outer reaches of the solar system and tend to have more heavy hydrogen than the water in our oceans... Icy asteroids between Mars and Jupiter might have the right heavy oxygen ratio to match what's on Earth...

The icy asteroid also just makes a mess of the differences between asteroids and their cosmic cousin, the comet. The general definition has been that asteroids are dry rocks and comets icy snowballs. Now it seems to be more a continuum of dry and icy with not much difference.
Image source here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

DND contracted with Blackwater

Blackwater trained our troops
Defence spent more than $6M at controversial US security firm

National Post: The National Defence Department has spent more than $6-million having its troops trained by the controversial Blackwater security company [recently renamed Xe Services], whose own employees have been accused of needlessly killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, documents show.

The department sent a succession of personnel to Blackwater's Moyock, NC, training compound from 2005 to as recently as April 2009... The work continued even after the US State Department cancelled its pricey security contract with the company in Iraq amid mounting criticism of Blackwater's actions...

One critic... called the contracts 'appalling' and said the government should be prohibited from doing business with the company, or any others accused of serious human-rights abuses... 'This group is akin to a bunch of gangsters or mercenaries,' charged Steven Staples [of the] Rideau Institute. 'I would have to really question what the military thinks it can learn from an organization like Blackwater: How to kill civilians? How to operate outside the law? How to bilk taxpayers?

Blackwater is the most contentious example of a recent trend in many countries to contract out services traditionally performed by military and other government security forces...Some detractors portray its overseas staff as a de facto private army.
Image source here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chernobyl fallout reached Canada in 9 days

Chernobyl Radiation Killed Nearly One Million People
Alternet: Nearly one million people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor, finds a new book from the New York Academy of Sciences...

The book, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, was compiled by Alexey Yablokov of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow, and Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko of the Institute of Radiation Safety, in Minsk, Belarus...

The authors said, 'For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki... No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe... Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere.'...

Drawing upon extensive data, the authors estimate the number of deaths worldwide due to Chernobyl fallout from 1986 through 2004 was 985,000, a number that has since increased...

Fallout reached the United States and Canada nine days after the disaster... Fallout entered the US environment and food chain through rainfall. Levels of iodine-131 in milk, for example, were seven to 28 times above normal in May and June 1986. The authors found that the highest US radiation levels were recorded in the Pacific Northwest... Four years later, 25 percent of imported food was found to be still contaminated...

In the early 1990s, a few years after the meltdown, thyroid cancer in Connecticut children had nearly doubled. This occurred at the same time that childhood thyroid cancer rates in the former Soviet Union were surging, as the thyroid gland is highly sensitive to radioactive iodine exposures.

The world now has 435 nuclear reactors and of these, 104 are in the United States.
Image source here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

'A form of attention'

Respect -- the currency of infinite value
Paul Woodward, War in Context: Respect is one of those words we use so often we rarely pause to consider its meaning. It describes an attitude, yet its Latin root, specere, to look, indicates that this is really a form of attention.

To be respectful is to attentively incline oneself towards the other in recognition of their autonomy and integrity.

There is no one we can respect and simultaneously try to change. When we coerce or manipulate someone, we cannot respect them because our attention is focused not on them but on what we want.

If one views respect as a resource, nowhere is it generally more scarce than among the powerful.

The conceit of power is that power elicits respect, when in truth the tokens of respect bestowed on the powerful are rarely more than expressions of fear, envy or duty. (Hence an underlying paranoia haunts the powerful; they know they are the beneficiaries of a social investment that could, if things turn sour, be swiftly withdrawn.)

Respect is not the fruit of power... On the contrary, it is a self-propagating virtue that becomes mirrored through its own expression.
Image source here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

'An even keel is an ongoing challenge'

Kowtowing to the Hegemon
Two books look at the always complex Canada-US relationship

Literary Review of Canada: The back cover of In Roosevelt's Bright Shadow: Presidential Addresses about Canada from Taft to Obama... displays a picture of Peter Milliken, speaker of the House of Commons, presenting a special prepublication copy of the selfsame book to President Obama... when he visited Ottawa last year... The book contains the speeches given by American presidents in Canada and Canadian prime ministers in the United States...

From the American side, securing the homeland has always been the dominant and abiding concern... Contingency plans for an invasion of Canada were kept on file until early in the 20th century... A second theme in the presidential speeches is the ongoing encouragement for Canada to become more involved in the Americas... A third subject is the American delight in the big project, especially the big engineering project...

The Canadian speeches reveal a different pattern of interest. Trade and economic issues regarding access to the American market clearly dominate... A second theme from the Canadian prime ministers is encouragement for the Americans to partner in stewardship of our shared land and air and the effort to clean up the Great Lakes, to eliminate acid rain and to address the North... A third, and important, concern is our quest for binational and bilateral institutions -- beginning with the now century-old International Joint Commission -- to provide an agreed set of rules for procedure...

An even keel is an ongoing challenge, especially for Canada... avoiding the perception of being a follower but keeping close and connected enough to be relevant... How to manage the relationship with the US has perplexed and frustrated every Canadian government since Confederation. As successive prime ministers have observed, the American relationship and national unity are their abiding preoccupations.
Image source here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Anthropocene: human harm, Earth's fate

New epoch to usher in cataclysmic extinction
Toronto Star: Humankind may be at the dawn of a new age, one that might not bring the word 'Aquarius' to mind. In fact, the arrival of the Anthropocene epoch may include the sixth-largest mass extinction in the Earth's history, according to a report in the journal Environmental Science & Technology...

Scientists behind the report say that in just two centuries, humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes that we actually might be ushering in a new geological time interval, and altering the planet for millions of years.

The scientists fear thousands of plants and animals will disappear in the new dawn because of the harm humans have inflicted through urbanization, pollution, travel, population growth, mining and the use of fossil fuels.

'It is suggested that we are in the train of producing a catastrophic mass extinction to rival the five previous great losses of species and organisms in Earth's geological past,' said co-author Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz, of the University of Leicester.

The new time or epoch is named Anthropocene -- meaning new man -- because it would be the first space of geological time shaped by the action of a single species. The term has been in informal use for more than 10 years, but scientists have been gathering evidence that would support recognizing it as the successor to the current Holocene epoch.

'The Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet,' the journal reported.

A working group of experts will consider changes human activities have brought to Earth's biodiversity and rock structure as well as the impact of factors like pollution and mineral extraction. It is hoped that within three years, their case will be presented to the International Union of Geological Sciences, which would decide whether the transition to a new epoch has been made.
Image: Footprints filled with muddy water sit in a rice field that has been eroded by clear-cutting. Source: National Geographic.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earthworm collectives

Earthworms make 'group decisions'
BBC Earth News: Earthworms form herds and make 'group decisions,' scientists have discovered. The earthworms use touch to communicate and influence each other's behaviour, according to research published in the journal Ethology. By doing so the worms collectively decide to travel in the same direction as part of a single herd...

'Our results modify the current view that earthworms are animals lacking in social behaviour,' says Ms Lara Zirbes, a PhD student at the University of Liege in Gembloux in Belgium. 'We can consider the earthworm behaviour as equivalent to a herd or swarm.'... [Description of experiments here.]

'I have observed contact between two earthworms. Sometimes they just cross their bodies and sometimes they maximize contact. Out of soil, earthworms can form balls.'... 'To our knowledge this is the first example of collective orientation in animals based on contact between followers,' the researchers wrote in the journal. 'It is also the first one of collective movements of annelids.'...

The researchers... now hope to investigate why the animals come together to form herds. One reason may be that clustering helps the worms protect themselves. Individual Eisenia fetida earthworms secrete proteins and fluids which have antibacterial properties, potentially deterring soil pathogens. They also secrete a yellow fluid to deter predatory flatworms. Gathering into groups may increase the amount of fluids covering the earthworms and hence better protect individuals.
Image source here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Graph of the day: Global views of influence

GlobeScan: GlobeScan's Chairman Doug Miller commented: 'This is the first time in our five years of tracking we've seen a worsening of Canada's image around the world. Negative media coverage of Canada's environmental policies may be partly to blame.'...

Toronto Star: The biggest drops in ratings were in the United States [62% from 82%], and China [54% from 75%]. The self-image of Canadians also dwindled. The 86 percent who felt positive about their country's influence in 2008 shrank to 75 percent last year...

There may be other issues [beyond environmental policies] at stake, said Paul Heinbecker of Wilfrid Laurier University... 'Canada has played down the significance of China for years, and if you look at the Middle East and beyond, it has aligned itself with Israel on everything to do with Palestinians.'

CBC: 'If the conditions persist, it can start to set in more cognitively and become an anchor that weighs down [Canada's] reputation,' said Miller. 'What countries have found it that it's extremely hard work to regain trust.'

Hate-painting the Star of David

Judy Mandelbaum, Salon: Time was when Nazis used to slather swastikas on synagogues and Jewish businesses to prepare the local population for expulsion or much worse... Israelis [are now] regularly defacing Palestinian property with Stars of David...

A gang of Israeli settlers attacked the West Bank village of Hawara... Haaretz writes, 'A small village mosque used only on the weekend, had the word 'Muhammad' sprayed in Hebrew and a Star of David... The attackers also took the opportunity to destroy some three hundred olive trees, a major source of local income.

In February of 2009, a Canadian writer by the name of Marcello Di Cintio witnessed how 'earlier this week, the IDF raided Jayyous. Soldiers entered the village at night, seized about a hundred young men and penned them in the school gymnasium. The troops also occupied several village houses and spray-painted a Star of David over a pro-freedom mural on a school wall.'...

According to the Maan News Agency, in December 2008, 'Israeli settlers rampaged through five villages... vandalizing mosques, attacking farms and harassing residents... Settlers slashed the tires of more than 20 cars and also set fire to thousands of shekels worth of straw bales, used as animal feed... Settlers painted a Star of David and slogans such as 'Death to Arabs' on the village mosque.'...

'On 19 March 2007, Israeli settlers illegally occupied an empty four-story Palestinian building,' the Electronic Intifada reported... 'Already settlers have placed a wire at the entrance of the Palestinian house across the street to trip residents as they exit their homes. They have stoned the house and spray painted a Star of David on the front door.'...

Also in 2007, Tim McGirk blogged about his own experience in the West Bank for Time Magazine: ... 'The settler kids had spray-painted a Star of David on walls of all the Arab houses. A religious symbol used for intimidation. I found this disturbing, like seeing the Ku Klux Klan's cross blazing on a black man's lawn.'

Blogging for the Madison Times, George Arida described a visit to Nablus in 2003: 'We stopped at Joseph's Tomb, a site of archaeological and religious significance... The soldiers had left a spray-painted Star of David on the ancient stone wall. This spray-painted souvenir was left by the Israelis on the walls of many buildings in Nablus.'

Israeli troops pulled out of the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2002. 'The home of Hamdi Flaifer, 35, was in ruins after an Israeli search,' the New York Times reported... 'Just outside his front door, Israelis had spray-painted a Star of David and a number, indicating to other Israelis that his house had been searched.'
Image source here. More Israeli graffiti here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Atlantic 'garbage patch' found

Massive garbage patch discovered in Atlantic Ocean
Smartplanet: Billions of pieces of plastic trash are accumulating in a massive garbage patch in the Atlantic Ocean, mirroring the Texas-sized one in the Pacific... Off the coast of North America -- between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude, or about the distance from Cuba to Virginia -- the patch poses health risks to fish, seabirds and marine animals.

Like the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, debris can circulate for years, accumulating as the result of ocean currents.

The patch was found by student researchers participating in the Sea Education Association's semester academic program, who over 22 years deployed thousands of fine-meshed plankton nets in the area to discover the makeup of the patch. They found that most of the debris is comprised of tiny pieces of trash -- each 'less than a tenth the weight of a paper clip,' according to National Geographic -- that came from consumer product litter either blown off open landfills or directly disposed of in the ocean.

Students found some areas as dense as 520,000 bits per square mile, or approximately 200,000 bits per square kilometer. In comparison, spots of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have been found to be as dense as 1.9 million bits per square mile, or approximately 750,000 bits of plastic per square kilometer (and several tens of feet below the surface).

Toronto Star: Researchers are warning of a new blight at sea: a swirl of confetti-like plastic debris stretching over a remote expanse of the Atlantic Ocean... Since there is no realistic way of cleaning the oceans, advocates say the key is to keep more plastic out by raising awareness and, wherever possible, challenging a throwaway culture that uses non-biodegradable materials for disposable products...

The most nettlesome trash is nearly invisible: countless specks of plastic, often smaller than pencil erasers, suspended near the surface... The plastic bits, which can be impossible for fish to distinguish from plankton, are dangerous in part because they sponge up potentially harmful chemicals that are also circulating in the ocean... As much as 80 percent of marine debris comes from land.
Image source here.

Ash and Lightning Over Eyjafjallajökull

Image source here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Peak Oil: US Army 'biggest single user' in the world

US military warns oil output may dip causing massive shortages by 2015
Surplus oil production capacity could disappear by 2012:
US Joint Forces Command

The Guardian: 'As early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day,' says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N Mattis.

It adds, 'While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India.'...

The warning is the latest in a series from around the world that has turned peak oil -- the moment when demand exceeds supply -- from a distant threat to a more immediate risk... Future fuel supplies are of acute importance to the US army because it is believed to be the biggest single user of petrol in the world. BP chief executive Tony Hayward said recently that there was little chance of crude from the carbon-heavy Canadian tar sands being banned in America because the US military like to have local supplies rather than rely on the politically unstable Middle East...

There are signs that the US Department of Energy might also be changing its stance on peak oil. In a recent interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Glen Sweetnam, main oil adviser to the Obama administration, admitted that 'a chance exists that we may experience a decline' of world liquid fuels production between 2011 and 2015 if the investment was not forthcoming...

The Joint Operating Environment report paints a bleak picture of what can happen on occasions when there is serious economic upheaval. 'One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.'
Image source here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


AP: Raw Video

Image from Reuters gallery

Radar image of craters: Iceland Coast Guard

Satellite image of ash cloud: NASA Earth Observatory

Ash cloud Friday night: London Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre

Flights over Europe Friday night: Yellow planes were flights in the air at the time of the screenshot.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Between universes

Does Our Universe Live Inside a Wormhole?
Science Now: A long time ago, in a universe much larger than our own, a giant star collapsed. It's implosion crammed so much mass and energy together that it created a wormhole to another universe. And inside this wormhole, our own universe was born. It may seem fantastic, but a theoretical physicist claims that such a scenario could help answer some of the most perplexing questions in cosmology.

A number of facets about our universe don't make sense. One is gravity. Scientists can't construct a mathematical formula that unites gravity with the three other basic forces of nature: the strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetism. Another problem is dark energy, the mysterious phenomenon that seems to be expanding our universe at an accelerating rate, even though gravity should be contracting it or at least slowing the expansion.

These conundrums may be a result of stopping the search for the riddle of the cosmos at the big bang, says Nikodem Poplawski of Indiana University in Bloomington. The big bang theory holds that our universe began as a single point -- or singularity -- about 13.7 billion years ago that has been expanding outward ever since. Perhaps, Poplawski argues, we need to consider that something existed before the big bang that gave rise to it. Enter the wormhole...

If another universe existed before our own, gravity could be traced back to a point where it did unite with the nuclear forces and electromagnetism. And if our universe is now expanding toward the other end of the wormhole, this movement -- rather than the elusive dark energy -- could account for our expanding universe...

Don't get any ideas about traveling between the universes, Poplawski adds. The physics of wormholes are similar to the physics of black holes. If you could ever pass through the event horizon of the wormhole to visit the universe on the other side, you could never return. 'You would be stuck,' he says.
Image source here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Graphs: The consequences of inequality

Tony Judt, 'Ill Fares the Land'
Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ill a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay...
-- Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Peru: Melting glacier falls into lake

Glacier breaks in Peru, causing Andes tsunami
MSNBC: A huge glacier broke off and plunged into a lake in Peru, causing a 75-foot tsunami wave that swept away at least three people and destroyed a water processing plant serving 60,000 residents... The ice block tumbled into a lake in the Andes... near the town of Carhuaz, some 200 miles north of the capital, Lima... Investigators said the chunk of ice from the Hualcan glacier measured 1,640 feet by 656 feet [500 metres by 200 metres].

'This slide into the lake generated a tsunami wave, which breached the lake's levees, which are 23 metres high -- meaning the wave was 23 metres high,' said Patricio Vaderrama, an expert on glaciers at Peru's Institute of Mine Engineers. Authorities evacuated mountain valleys, fearing more breakages.

It was one of the most concrete signs yet that glaciers are disappearing in Peru, home to 70 percent of the world's tropical icefields. Scientists say warmer temperatures will cause them to melt away altogether within 20 years.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Israel's new apartheid order

'If, and as long as between the Jordan and the Sea there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If the Palestinians vote in elections it is a binational state and if they don't vote it is an apartheid state.' -- Israel's defence minister Ehud Barak, at Israel's annual Herzliya security conference, February 2010.

Haaretz: A new military order aimed at preventing infiltration will come into force this week, enabling the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years. When the order comes into effect, tens of thousands of Palestinians will automatically become criminal offenders...

The order's language is both general and ambiguous... unclear over whether the permits referred to are those currently in force, or... new permits that military commanders might issue in the future. The provisions are also unclear about the status of bearers of West Bank residency cards, and disregards the existence of the Palestinian Authority and the agreements Israel signed with it and the PLO...

The fear that Palestinians with Gaza addresses will be the first to be targeted by this order is based on measures that Israel has taken in recent years to curtail their right to live, work, study or even visit the West Bank. These measures violated the Oslo Accords...

Currently, Palestinians need special permits to enter areas near the separation fence, even if their homes are there, and Palestinians have long been barred from the Jordan Valley without special authorization... Another group expected to be particularly harmed by the new rules are Palestinians who moved to the West Bank under family reunification programs...

The new regulations are particularly sweeping, allowing for criminal measures and the mass expulsion of people from their homes... The IDF Spokesman's Office said... 'The IDF is ready to implement the order, which is not intended to apply to Israelis.'

Tony Karon, The National: The former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert warned in November 2007 that without a two-state solution, Israel would 'face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights,' which it would be unable to win.

Henry Siegman, The Nation: Israel has crossed the threshold from 'the only democracy in the Middle East' to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.

Image: Jewish settler tosses wine at a Palestinian woman on Shuhada Street, in Hebron, the West Bank; source here.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Terry Fox: 'His story is woven into ours'

Terry Fox began remarkable journey 30 years ago

Toronto Star: April 12 marks the start of Terry's Marathon of Hope, the day in 1980 when he dipped his artificial limb -- looking back it was a cobbling of leather and aluminum, like suspenders -- in the harbour at St. John's, Nfld,. and turned westward. He ran for 143 days until cancer caught up to him. He was 22 when he died June 28, 1981.

His impact is incalculable, until you start to calculate it:
  • $451,737,622 invested in cancer research
  • 1,164 cancer research grants and awards
  • 14 schools
  • 32 streets
  • 7 statues, including one at Simon Fraser university, another in downtown Ottawa and the soaring Terry Fox monument that overlooks Lake Superior, east of Thunder Bay
  • 1 The Terry Fox Hall of Fame, since renamed the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame
  • 9 fitness trails, including Toronto's new Miracle Mile Park... designed in part by the writer and artist Douglas Coupland
  • 1 Terry Fox Gardens in Jerusalem
  • 1 icebreaker -- the Terry Fox, 88 metres long
  • 1 mountain, Mount Terry Fox and provincial park on the British Columbia-Alberta border
  • 14 buildings -- most are athletic facilities, including Mississauga's Terry Fox Fitness Centre and research centres including the new Terry Fox Research institute in Vancouver
537: Number of Canadians who have won the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award since 1982. The effect of these awards ripples through Canada and beyond. Among the winners are six Rhodes Scholars, 70 medical doctors, and 50 teachers. In 2006, the federal government, through the Department of Canadian Heritage, gave the program a $10 million endowment.

23: Number of students awarded Simon Fraser University's Gold Medal Award, given to those, who like Terry, have set goals some might say are beyond their grasp.

2: Number of Olympians honoured in Fox's name. This year, Vancouver's Olympic committee created the Terry Fox Award, in collaboration with Terry's parents, Betty and Rolly Fox. It honours athletes who show the qualities that Terry lived by: courage, perseverance, determination, humility.

His story is woven into ours. 'He was handsome, photogenic, wholesome. Here was a graceful, well-spoken, poignant kid from Port Coquitlam, whose cause was beyond reproach and personal courage was above reproach.' says Andrew Cohen, president of the Historica/Dominion Institute.

The Terry Fox Foundation is encouraging people to share their stories of meeting or seeing Fox during his Marathon of Hope. To take part, go here.
Image source here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

'Continued failure' to please the US

MacKay says Canada will continue training Afghan police post-2011
CanWest: 'We will then transition into some of the other important work that we're doing. That includes a focus on police training. The Prime Minister has been clear in saying our commitment to Afghanistan is for the long-term.'

Canadian Press: A police training program would go part way towards meeting a US demand that Canada stay engaged in the Afghan fight... It's well-documented that Ottawa was driven into Kandahar by the political desire to please the US.

Spiegel: 'We don't recognize the Afghan reality, and that's why we will fail there,' says the inspector... 'The establishment of rule of law in Afghanistan is an illusion'... The plan isn't working... As one instructor says, confessions are all that count in the world of the Afghan police. The instructor once asked one of the Afghan officers how he obtained confessions. The officer replied by pointing, somewhat shyly, to his baton...

No one knows how many of the 98,000 police officers trained to date are actually performing their jobs, how many are merely shown on salary lists, and how many have been recruited by the Taliban... Some police academy graduates promptly fall into line with the usual customs and collect bribes at checkpoints. 'Among the population, they are denounced as highwaymen.'... The Association of German Criminal Police Officers is calling for a suspension of the mentoring program... arguing that 'continued failure is inevitable.'...

The New York Times: One in five recruits tests positive for drugs, while fewer than one in 10 can read and write -- a rate even lower than the Afghan norm of 15 percent literacy. Many cannot even read a license plate number. Taliban infiltration is a constant worry; incompetence an even bigger one... 'They'll be out there on a checkpoint with an automatic weapon in a couple of weeks, said one of the trainers... 'I wouldn't want to be an innocent civilian downrange of them.'

Newsweek: 'We are still at zero,' says Captain Moqim, 35, an eight-year veteran of the force. 'They don't listen, are undisciplined, and will never be real policemen.'... Crooked Afghan cops supply much of the ammunition used by the Taliban... The program has been a disaster... Ambassador Richard Holbrooke... has publicly called the Afghan police 'an inadequate organization, riddled with corruption.'... The worst of it is that the police are central to Washington's plans for getting out of Afghanistan... And what has become of all the billions of dollars this program has cost?...Government investigators aren't entirely sure.
Image source here.

Kolgrima River, Iceland

Image source here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Guantánamo coverup to justify war on Iraq

George W. Bush 'knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent'
Times Online: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror... The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State...

Colonel Wilkerson... claimed that the majority of detainees -- children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said -- never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because 'the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were.'...

Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: 'He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent... Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld... deemed the incarceration of innocent men acceptable if some genuine militants were captured, leading to a better intelligence picture of Iraq at a time when the Bush Administration was desperate to find a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, 'thus justifying the Administration's plans for war in that country.'

There are currently about 180 detainees left in the facility.
Image source here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The ice is melting

Two more glaciers gone from US national park
Ecologist: 'They've been on this landscape continually for 7,000 years, and we're looking at them disappear in a couple of decades.'... More than 90 percent of glaciers worldwide are in retreat.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The US wants our Passage

Melting Arctic poses security risk: US Congress report
Vancouver Sun: A new report prepared for the US Congress on the growing importance of the Arctic in global affairs has highlighted the 'potential emerging security issue' created by diminished ice, increased ship traffic and looming resource competition on the Northern Hemisphere's polar frontier.

The study... also underscores the 'major jurisdiction question over the status of the Northwest Passage, the disputed sea route through Canada's Arctic islands that's viewed as an 'international strait' by the US but as 'internal waters' by the Canadian government...

The report also quotes the US navy's top oceanographer warning that American navigation through several 'strategic choke points' in Arctic waters, including the 'narrow passage' south of Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands, is 'vulnerable to control or blockade by adversaries.'...

University of British Columbia polar specialist Michael Byers... raise[d] concerns about the report's 'mistaken' contention that the European Union backs the US position in its dispute with Canada over the Northwest Passage. 'To the contrary, the EU has always maintained a studied ambiguity on this issue,' Byers says.

The US report notes that 'preserving freedom of navigation' in Arctic waters is 'an important tenet of US policy.'
Image source here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kyrgyzstan key US supply route to Afghan war

Kyrgyzstan Protests: Opposition Claims Control
AP: A revolution in the Central Asian nation was proclaimed by leaders of the opposition, who have called for the closure of a US air base outside the capital that serves as a key transit point for supplies essential to the war in nearby Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan at the hub of superpowers' plans
BBC News: Kyrgyzstan has found itself in the cockpit of what has been dubbed the new 'great game' in the region -- so-called because the modern big powers jostling for influence there appear reminiscent of the 19th Century contest between the British and Russian empires over access to India.

It has been a scramble for access to energy and other natural resources, trade routes, and more recently Western supply routes for operations in Afghanistan... For Kyrgyzstan -- one of the poorest of the neighbours in this region -- the chief international focus has been access for military bases. The Manas air base has become a key strategic staging post for the US military in Afghanistan -- especially after the closure of the so-called K2 base in Uzbekistan.

That itself followed the souring of relations between the US and Uzbek governments in 2005... But the sensitivities have been growing -- not least from Moscow, as the US-led operations in Afghanistan, and therefore also Washington's military interest in the region, have become ever more prolonged... It took a personal intervention by President Barak Obama to keep the Manas base open to the Americans. Even then it was on a compromise basis, under which Manas was to be described as a 'transit centre.'

But the bumpy nature of relationships in the region has helped fuel a debate over how much commitment the West -- and especially the US -- should have in the region in the long term, particularly if operations in Afghanistan eventually tail off... There are broader Western concerns about stability, governance, access to energy... but how these should be translated into long-term policy, against the background of Russian, Chinese and other local sensitivities, is very much open to question.

Image source here.