December 2006 Archives

December 29, 2006

The hardest working man in show business passed away on Christmas Day. Here's a clip from Soul Train to remember him by.


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Nuremberg mocked

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We have all been betrayed.

The international justice system that we began to build at the end of the Second World War, with the awe-inspiring dignity of the Nuremberg trials and the high purpose of international conventions and the creation of the United Nations, has been parodied in the trial of Saddam Hussein, who faces imminent execution. The story of Saddam's trial and the hasty decision to carry out this week's hastily affirmed sentence is easily accessible everywhere right now. I was moved by this eloquent protest from Richard Dicker, international justice director of Human Rights Watch, who speaks to the blow that international justice and the human rights of people world-wide have taken from the farce that was Saddam's trial:

For the first time since the postwar Nuremberg trials, almost the entire leadership of a repressive government faced trial for gross human rights violations. It offered the chance to create a historical record of some of the regime's unspeakable rights violations and to begin the process of accounting for the policies and decisions that gave rise to them. Trials conforming to international standards of fairness would have been more likely to ventilate and verify the historical facts, contribute to the public recognition of the experiences of victims, and set a more stable foundation for democratic accountability. Instead, unlike the Nuremberg trials, the proceedings have fallen far short of creating the reference point that could clarify for Iraqis what happened and why.

To hold such a trial in the midst of a war, to suppress most of the history of the undoubtedly evil regime on trial in order to protect and advance the interests of the major power urging on the prosecution, is a pathetic, sordid mockery of the purpose of a trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. We all have an interest in ensuring that such procedures enhance the understanding and commitment to justice of all the world's peoples. Instead, this trial and conviction will deepen for many the bitter conviction that the West believes in victor's justice and will cheat to get it.

There's worse (of course). There may be some strategic reckoning in the sudden rush to usher Saddam out of this world and to publicize his death as graphically and melodramatically as possible, thereby provoking the outrage of millions.


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December 25, 2006

I want my money back

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This is a day for choirs, and I promise to bring you my favourite choir of the season just a bit later.

But first, the Complaints Choirs. These performances have been around on the web since the spring, I know, but they come back to me every once in a while as endlessly charming and encouraging. The singers are just folks, speaking their minds or, rather, singing them. Some of their lines are political, but some are just cranky-funny. Work makes them crazy; they have personal problems; their local governments are limp, and the wider world is going off in directions they don't like ... It's not fair!

It's amazing to me to see the joy on all those faces as they toss big and little problems we can all identify with together into their choral protests. Of course life isn't fair. We're all supposed to know that. Who ever told you, yadda yadda yadda ... But doesn't it feel good sometimes to shake your little fist against the sky? Or any target of your choosing?

The Complaints Choir of Birmingham

The Helsinki Complaints Choir

Do join in with the Complaints Choirs in comments here if you feel so moved -- within reason, of course. The main rule is that your complaint must always end with the universal protest: "It's not fair!"

And now, to the classics.


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December 23, 2006

Somalia update

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Once again in Somalia, a struggle for control that is to some degree a proxy war has begun to build up this week.

Ethiopia, with some presumed quiet backing from the Bush administration, has stepped up its military intervention in support of the shaky Somali transitional government, headquartered in Baidoa, against the Somali Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC), which controls the national capital of Mogadishu and much of the south of the country. Ethiopia denies that it is invading Somalia, but the Guardian, the BBC, and Reuters all report otherwise.

From the Guardian:

The International Committee of the Red Cross said dozens of people had been killed, and more than 200 wounded, since Wednesday. It could not say how many of these were civilians. Agency reports, quoting aid workers, said civilians were fleeing for the relative safety of Mogadishu. Ethiopia continues to deny that it has military forces in Somalia, but makes no secret of the fact that its sympathies lie with President Abdullahi Yusuf's secular transitional government.

Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, has branded the SCIC a terrorist organisation that threatens his country and the western world. The United States, which regards Ethiopia as an ally in its "war on terror", has made similar claims.

By continuing to expand its territorial control and talk of war, the SCIC has done little to advance its cause with the international community. Seen from afar, its military face-off with Ethiopia is a brave or foolish strategy. The SCIC has no air force or tanks, and is greatly outnumbered in trained soldiers.

But it has two powerful weapons: the popular dislike within Somalia for Ethiopia, and religion. Senior clerics in the movement are pitching it as a holy war against infidel invaders.

Some analysts say it is a war neither can win. Ethiopia may inflict severe damage on the battlefield, but can never destroy the support for the courts. The SCIC, for its part, is unlikely to be able to defeat Ethiopia militarily. And even if it did manage to topple the government in Baidoa, it would be seen as an international pariah, surrounded by hostile neighbours.

"Sooner or later the courts and the government will have to get back to the negotiating table," said Matt Bryden, a consultant to the International Crisis Group, based in Nairobi.

"The only question is how long this type of fighting can go on for."


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December 22, 2006

Friday night blues blogging

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Apparently this is Willie Dixon's band before Willie actually comes on stage. Flip, Flop & Fly. I've always liked this tune. (Note: there is no Downchild Blues Band on YouTube. Pity.)


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The Winter Solstice

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Best wishes to our Pagan readers on the occasion of the Winter Solstice which, technically, began just after midnight GMT. And I'll use this opportunity to send special greetings to my old friend Becka and the rest of the Wiccans in Vancouver.

Celebration of the Winter Solstice goes back to the earliest history of mankind and is probably the oldest and most widely celebrated rite in human history. In ancient times in northern latitudes, winter was a brutal event. Food growing was finished and even hunting and gathering were difficult. Added to this was the fear of primitive peoples that the life giving sun, whose daily appearances were visibly shortening, was about to be extinguished leaving them to freeze in the dark. When the days began to visibly lengthen slightly in a few days, it was time to celebrate a new beginning.


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December 21, 2006

Moonstruck MacKay is in Washington today, meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Ostensibly, Peter MacKay is meeting with Secretary Rice for at least two genuinely serious reasons: to discuss the ongoing, outrageous, and unconscionable intransigence of U.S. Homeland Security, whose spokespersons continue to insinuate that they have "information" about Maher Arar that justifies keeping him on their no-fly list, and to discuss with Rice the "new directions" that American policy on Iraq and Cuba may be taking. Well: discuss. More like she will be giving MacKay the word, or, as CTV puts it, a "heads-up."

One heartening detail in that CTV report:

Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, the incoming chair of a Senate judiciary committee, told The Toronto Star newspaper Wednesday that he plans on summoning U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before American legislators to demand answers in the Arar case.

Canadian authorities have taken responsibility for their part in Arar's 2002 rendition to Syria, Leahy said, adding that it's now the Bush administration's turn to redress the wrong.

"The Canadian government has now documented that the wrong thing was done to the wrong man," said Leahy.

"It is time for the (Bush) administration to do what it can to redress this wrong, instead of perpetuating it."

Leahy said Gonzales should explain the entire U.S. policy of rendition and he's sick of the lack of answers shrouded in security concerns or promises to get back to him.

Vermont Democrat ... incoming chair ... Senate judiciary committee ... Gosh. The heart leaps up. I call that poetry.

But back to Peter and Condi.


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December 19, 2006

Cryptics

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I went to a Christmas Party recently, and one of the games played involved cryptics, or word puzzles where you have to fill in the missing words from common phrases in which you supplied the first letter of each missing word. Sounds easy, right? It's actually rather tricky. According to MENSA, which developed this test, if you get 23 of 33 of these, you are a genius. I got 18 when I tried the test at the party, which I thought was pretty good. Four people did better, but no one got to 23.

The rules are simple: each of these are common phrases. Each capital letter represents a word you must fill in. The first is done for you.

24 H in a D (24 hours in a day)
26 L of the A
7 D of the W
7 W of the W
12 S of the Z
66 B of the B
52 C in a P (WJs)
13 S in the USF
18 H on a G C
39 B of the O T
5 T on a F
90 D in a R A
3 B M (S H T R)
32 is the T in D F at which W F
15 P in a R T
3 W on a T
100 C in a R
11 P in a F (S) T
12 M in a Y
13 = UFS
8 T on an O
29 D in F in a L Y
27 B in the N T
365 D in a Y
13 L in a B D
52 W in a Y
9 L of a C
60 M in a H
23 P of C in the H B
64 S on a C B
9 P in S A
6 B to an O in C
1000 Y in a M
15 M on a D M C

Copy the list and post your answers in the comments. Good luck!

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Tyranny works in petty ways

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One curiosity about tyrants and dictators: the attention they pay to the smallest slights and inconveniences. I suppose that makes sense to megalomaniacs, who tend to be micro-control-freaks, offended at the least sign of lèse-majesté, however oppressive such pettiness may seem to the rest of us.

This weekend in Washington, one honest man decided to call the Bush-Cheney White House on its latest cheap insult to democracy. Flynt Leverett, former CIA, State Department, and National Security Council staff member, charged that the White House had forced the CIA to censor an op-ed piece he had written for the New York Times -- a first in his long and productive career -- not because his article revealed a scintilla of information that was not already in the public domain but because he had dared to dissent openly over the administration's plans for Iran. Steve Clemons of the Washington Note published Leverett's first official statement Saturday night. It is impassioned, and it names names. Here is an excerpt:

The White House is demanding, before it will consider clearing the op-ed for publication, that I excise entire paragraphs dealing with matters that I have written about (and received clearance from the CIA to do so) in several other pieces, that have been publicly acknowledged by Secretary Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and that have been extensively covered in the media.

These matters include Iran's dialogue and cooperation with the United States concerning Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and Iran's offer to negotiate a comprehensive "grand bargain" with the United States in the spring of 2003.

There is no basis for claiming that these issues are classified and not already in the public domain.

For the White House to make this claim, with regard to my op-ed and at this particular moment, is nothing more than a crass effort to politicize a prepublication review process -- a process that is supposed to be about the protection of classified information, and nothing else -- to limit the dissemination of views critical of administration policy.

Within the last two week, the CIA found the wherewithal to approve an op-ed -- published in the New York Times on December 8, 2006 -- by Kenneth Pollack, another former CIA employee. This op-ed includes the statement that "Iran provided us with extensive assistance on intelligence, logistics, diplomacy, and Afghan internal politics."

Similar statements by me have been deleted from my draft op-ed by the White House. But Kenneth Pollack is someone who presented unfounded assessments of the Iraqi WMD threat -- the same assessments expounded by the Bush White House -- to make a high-profile public case for going to war in Iraq.

Mr. Pollack also supports the administration's reluctance to engage with Iran, in contrast to my consistent and sharp criticism of that position. It would seem that, if one is expounding views congenial to the White House, it does not intervene in prepublication censorship, but, if one is a critic, White House officials will use fraudulent charges of revealing classified information to keep critical views from being heard.

My understanding is that the White House staffers who have injected themselves into this process are working for Elliott Abrams and Megan O'Sullivan, both politically appointed deputies to President Bush's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley.

Their conduct in this matter is despicable and un-American in the profoundest sense of that term. I am also deeply disappointed that former colleagues at the Central Intelligence Agency have proven so supine in the face of tawdry political pressure. Intelligence officers are supposed to act better than that.


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December 18, 2006

Credit where no credit is due

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I don't really have a problem with Time Canada naming Stephen Harper Canada's Newsmaker of the Year. The guy has made an impact on the national scene being the PM and all. But why bolster their choice with Conservative talking points and gross factual errors? Here's why he was chosen accroding to the magazine:

Contributing editor Stephen Handelman writes that the prime minister who was "once dismissed as a doctrinaire backroom tactician with no experience in government has emerged as a warrior in power."

The magazine says Mr. Harper defied conventional wisdom about how to lead a minority government.

It says he slashed more than $1-billion worth of federal programs, reshuffled the federal bureaucracy, and reopened the wounds of the national unity debate by supporting Quebec's right to declare itself a “nation.”

At the same time, Time says, he has introduced a new standard of accountability for federal politicians, stewarded Canada's first major deployment of troops to a combat theatre in five decades and, for good measure, negotiated an end to a long-simmering trade wrangle with the U.S. over softwood exports.


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December 17, 2006

Holiday cookery bloggery

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Chanukah, the festival of lights, has already begun and lasts till next Saturday. Christmas Eve is just a week away. And on Friday, the sun will start to come back to us northerners one more time.

There are hard things that can be said about this season, hard things that need saying, but that's not what we'll do in this thread. Here we're just going to be proper pagans and celebrate the one symbol of the season that has always mattered most, especially to those who don't have enough of it: food. Yummy food. Food that we prepare together and sit down to share together.

So, ok, sometimes that last part is a bit of a strain for some of us, but it's the thought that counts, right? Here we shall honour the ancient thought of communities gathering together for warmth at the time of the solstice -- literally, the time when the sun stands still.


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December 15, 2006

Friday night funk blogging

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Just for a change of pace. The Neville Brothers. Mojo.


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Lawrence Martin is tone-deaf

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Update, 18 December: An arrest has been made in this case. See comments.

On 2 December, police officers in Suffolk, England, discovered the nude body of Gemma Adams, 25, face-down in a brook some distance southwest of the town of Ipswich. Six days later, the nude body of a second young woman was found dumped in a stream not far away, and two days after that, a third in woodland to the southeast. Then last weekend the bodies of two more young women were found just a bit further to the southeast. All are now said to have died by asphyxiation, strangulation, or "compression to the neck."

To their credit, the people of Ipswich have grasped that the victims of their serial killer were women first of all, and that a serial killer of women is a threat to all women. All five of the young women whose bodies have been found were sex-trade workers, most of them believed also to have been dependent on expensive drugs. But in this excerpt from the Globe and Mail summary of the case so far, notice the interesting shift of focus away from that aspect of their story when a woman of Ipswich has her say:

Beneath the fear that another woman-hunting serial killer is roaming the laneways and city streets of England is a deeper sense of embarrassment and shame: In Ipswich, as in other cities here, girls who have fallen into drugs and prostitution have been driven out of the brightly lit centre of town into the dim outskirts — and, many now fear, to their deaths.

The five corpses were found over the past 10 days along the A14, a secondary highway leading out of Ipswich. Police say the young prostitutes had been working the streets of Ipswich and its outskirts, after their purses and other belongings were found in an intensive police operation.

Some businesses also offered female workers special hand-held alarms.

“How is that going to stop someone trying to kill you?” asked Sally Townsend, 55, who works at Marks & Spencer and walks to her job each morning in the darkness that envelops this eastern English city in winter. Once inside the store, she told The Associated Press, she calls her husband to tell him she's safe.

Right on, Sally Townsend, and Mr Sally Townsend too.


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December 14, 2006

Harper's Arrow

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Updated. Please see below.

As I noted in my post below, some very important government programs for homeless poeple are going by the wayside because Stephen Harper's government can't be bothered to make a decision before March. But it is not only on the streets of our cities that the Conservative's do-nothing philosophy will be felt. Their incompetence spans interplanetary distances.

The federal government has turned down a request by Canada's space industry to support a contract that would have allowed the companies to build the European Space Agency's Mars surface rover, CBC News has learned.

The decision stunned the companies and has left the ESA scrambling to find a new partner, as no European firm is adequately prepared to match the technical abilities of Canadian firms to build its ExoMars rover.

A computer rendition of the ExoMars rover, which the European Space Agency wanted the Canadian space industry to build for a planned mission to Mars by 2015.

The European Space Agency (ESA) wanted Canadian space companies — considered world leaders in robotics — to build the rover for its planned exploration of Mars by 2015. The rover would have a far more sophisticated robotics package than the current U.S. platforms in use.

In July, the companies made an impassioned presentation to federal Industry Ministry officials for a clearer mandate for the Canadian Space Agency, which included making the Mars rover project its top priority, the CBC's Henry Champ told the CBC's Don Newman Thursday on Politics.

The project required no additional funding from Ottawa, but was contingent upon $100 million over 10 years from the existing CSA budget being redirected to the program by restructuring priorities and cancelling or postponing other projects, according to documents obtained by the CBC.

But just a few short weeks after the presentation, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier told the companies the government hadn't made up its mind about the future of Canada's space role and didn't want to go forward with the project.

The project was strongly supported by the Americans, who cite Canada's solid track record of success in space technology as one of the main reasons they support an expanded role for the Canadian Space Agency. The CSA is still producing good work, despite the fact that the Cons haven't bothered to appoint a new president for the agency for the last year.

Thanks to their inaction and lack of vision, Canada's future as a space-going nation is in serious doubt. This is going to haunt Harper much in the same way the Avro Arrow haunted John Diefenbaker. Following Dief's decision to cancel the Arrow project, many of Canada's best and brightest in the aerospace industry went to the United States, the majority of them to work for NASA's burgeoning space program. The shortsightedness of this government could once again trigger a brain drain that this country will be years in recovering from.

Update: Scotian does a very good post on this topic over at his blog, and he also provides a round up of reaction to this story from other bloggers. Go read.

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Success is not a factor

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When you govern by ideology, success no longer becomes a factor in whether or not a publicly-funded program should continue. A classic example of this thinking is the Conservatives' attempt to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board. Despite that fact that the CWB works well and is supported by the majority of Canadian wheat farmers, big agribusiness wants it gone, and the Cons are nothing if not faithful to their corporate pals.

On October 25 [2006], Inside US Trade, an American business magazine, published a report that could have serious implications for Canadian grain farmers. The Report of Technical Task Force on Implementing Marketing Choice for Wheat and Barley was first released not to farmers or the Canadian public, but to this US journal. According to Stewart Wells, President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), that reveals something about the report’s underlying aims. “That should provide some indication of whose interests are being served with this report,” he said. Essentially, the report argues for eliminating the present Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and replacing it with the so-called CWB II, a move that many argue will threaten the viability of small wheat farmers in Canada and further increase the profitability of Big Agribusiness.

Profits rule all, and any public spending that does not increase corporate profits seems to be on the chopping block. The latest victim of this type of thinking is a highly successful program to combat youth homelessness that has been praised by the United Nations as one of the best programs of its type in the world.


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Obama Redux

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I see my dismissal of Barack Obama is hitting a nerve.

To be honest, I don't find any of the defenses of Obama to be very convincing. The reality is that there are very few experiences that prepare a candidate for the gruelling nightmare that is a U.S. presidential campaign, and Obama has been through absolutely none of them. That's why I'm dismissive of his chances.

It's nice that Obama was the editor of the Harvard Law Review and that he's been both a state Senator and has been in the U.S. Senate. Sure, he's articulate, intelligent, has a great biography, and all that. But none of those things matter compared to the sad reality that George W. Bush, despite his record of personal failue and limited intelligence, was far better positioned to win the White House in 2000 than Obama is today.


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December 13, 2006

Not feeling any safer

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I have quite a bit to catch up on regarding developments on the Maher Arar case but I couldn't let this particular article go by without comment. Stockwell Day wants to assure us that a case like Arar's couldn't happen today because we've come so far since then. Look how far Stock himself has come:

Among the changes to national security protocol are improvements in intelligence sharing.

"There have to be caveats attached to that information that would say, 'All right, here's some evidence about a particular individual, however, there's a caveat to this,' " Day explained. "A caveat is, for instance: 'We have no firm information that this person is involved with terrorist activity.' "


In a security context that's not a caveat, it's a reliability assessment. Attaching a written caveat to the information you're sharing puts limits on the purposes for which the recipient can use the information, e.g. for intelligence purposes only. A caveat can also constrain the recipient from sharing the information with anyone else without at least getting permission from the originating agency.

Anyone who's spent any quality time with O'Connor's report knows the difference between a caveat and a reliability assessment. Methinks Day is trying to fake it. That doesn't give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

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Reaping the Whirlwind

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Updated. Please see below.

There are some ominous signs that the Iraq War - already a disaster by any reasonable reckoning - is about to explode into a wider regional conflict involving two of the largest players in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Events were set in motion yesterday with the sudden departure of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.

WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, has abruptly resigned after 15 months on the job, an embassy official said Tuesday.

"The embassy can confirm that he is leaving," said the official, who asked not to be named as the announcement had not been made by the Saudi government. "He wants to spend more time with his family."

Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the United States and is the world's top oil exporter. Turki's predecessor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, held the job for 22 years and the short tenure of the current envoy came as a surprise.

*snip*

The departure came days after Turki dismissed a consultant who wrote an opinion piece published in The Washington Post that suggested the Saudi kingdom would back Iraq's Muslim Sunnis in the event of a wider sectarian conflict. The article by a Saudi government security adviser, Nawaf Obaid, said that the kingdom would intervene with financing and weaponry to prevent Shiite militias from attacking Iraq's Sunnis and suggested that Saudi Arabia could bring down world oil prices to squeeze Shiite power Iran.


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December 12, 2006

Booktag

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Ce n'est pas ma faute. Mandos at Politblogo made me do it.

The instructions:
Find the nearest book.
Turn to page 123.
Go to the fifth sentence on the page.
Copy out the next three sentences and post to your blog.
Name the book and the author, and tag three more folks.

Now, first of all, I am not going to tag anyone in particular. If you are reading this post and you love wiggy bookishness, consider yourself tagged. Please feel free to add your eccentricities in comments here, or spread the mischief on your own blog.

And another thing: if you could see the room I work in, well, you'd know the existential agonies I had to go through to figure out what the book nearest to me would be. I finally decided to close my eyes and reach out to the nearest shelf to my right, to the book at exactly my level when I'm sitting and as close to the same degree of latitude as I would be if typing.

And this is what happened:


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Why airlines fail and GM always has a hand out

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I've recently been reading a couple of interesting (if somewhat dry and occasionally over my head) books by Michael Perelman, a radical who is also an economist. There was lots I'd heard before in different forms, lots that was news to me but only interesting if you're willing to sit through a really long development of ideas. But one bit seems direct and relevant, and really turned my ideas upside down about a big chunk of the economy. He'd dug up some old (late 1800s) economics by a group of actually quite conservative economists who had a vogue during a particular crisis but were dropped like hot potatoes as inconvenient as soon as that crisis was over. They concluded that open competition among firms with big capital requirements couldn't work--they'd all go bankrupt if some kind of cartel or monopoly or trust wasn't established. The theory why is simple enough that I could grok it and it rather blew my mind.


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Obamamania

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A brief thought:

Barack Obama is the Democratic Party's Michael Ignatieff.

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December 11, 2006

The pet dictator

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Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet finally got what he never deserved: a peaceful death outside the confines of prison. The man well known for his 17-year reign of terror in Chile, during which thousands were tortured and more than 3,000 "disappeared", managed to avoid prosecution for his crimes for 16 years, and died yesterday a frail old man wracked by illness. I don't wish death upon anyone, but this is not an individual we should mourn.

Pinochet's brutal regime was midwifed by the United States by way of the CIA. The US loathed the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, and backed the coup which was assisted by several of their intelligence assets in the Chilean military.


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As Gaza implodes

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First and always, pity, tears, and rage for the sake of the innocents:

In Monday's attack, gunmen in two vehicles riddled the car carrying the children with some 60 bullets, Palestinian security officials said. Three of Mr. Balousheh's children, ranging in age from six to 10, were killed, along with an adult, hospital officials said. Mr. Balousheh was not in the car.

Four more people were wounded in the attack on Palestine Street, which is lined with nine schools. The attack sent children in the area running for cover, some dropped to the ground, others fled in panic. “We saw fire coming from one car. We started screaming and children started running,” said 12-year-old Fadwa Nablus, who had been walking to school with her 9-year-old brother.

...

... Balousheh arrived surrounded by bodyguards, wiping his eyes as he tried not to cry. Two of his sons killed in the attack, still wearing their school uniforms, were carried in the arms of family members. One of the boys had 10 bullet holes in his head.

And then the fears of internal strife that can only mean greater bloodshed for those trapped in Gaza, innocent or not, innocent once but no longer, all trapped, all pawns of more powerful international game-players.

Baha Balousheh, a senior Palestinian intelligence officer and interrogator from the days of Arafat's Fatah regime, has been an opponent of Hamas and is thus considered to have been targeted by them. Hamas has denounced the murder of his children, but the situation is explosive. President Abbas has been stepping up the pressure on Hamas this month, perhaps preparing to dissolve the democratically elected parliament that is dominated by Hamas.

And so we wonder: who has been stepping up the pressure on President Abbas?


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December 9, 2006

Saturday panda blogging

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Of course you love them. We all love them. We love them because they have big dark doleful soulful eyes and they are essence of roly-poly.

I've just been watching Tai Shan and his mother, Mei Xiang, who live under benevolent dictatorship at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, and they are so dear. (Scroll down a bit to the pandacam.) Tai Shan never walks more than a few steps before he does a somersault, and he can roll in just about any direction. He hardly seems to know -- or care -- which way is up.

There are other good pandacams, notably the one at the San Diego Zoo. And a pandapic update: On the flip, I've added a couple of photos from one of the panda centres in China discussed later in the post, courtesy of Alison at Creekside.

But it's a guilty pleasure, isn't it? I can tell you're bothered, even as you're letting that huggy-fuzzy stumbly perambulatin' smiley rock 'n' roll his way into your heart. He's good for us, but we haven't been all that good for him and his cousins back in the old country.


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December 8, 2006

Friday night blues blogging

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For our main course we have Freddie King performing Sweet Home Chicago.



And for dessert? Lonnie Mack and Stevie Ray Vaughan do Oreo Cookie Blues.



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If you look just below this post you'll find that someone new has been added. Purple Library Guy has been a frequent commenter here and we decided the best way to make sure that continued was to get him on the front page.

So now we are eight and The Magnificent Seven isn't going to work for me anymore. I'd probably beaten that poor horse to death anyway.

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In among all the specific foreign policy blunders and partisan viciousnesses of the Bush administration, one senses a broader malaise. It strikes when one realizes nobody in the Democratic party seems to fundamentally disagree with much the Bushites are doing, including on issues like taxation, and few are even willing to talk about the serious issues. It comes when one reads just how badly the United States military is performing; sure, we don't think they can beat an insurgency against a committed, populous country with plenty of weapons—but one is surprised they aren't making a better showing than this. It comes when we hear that political elites are apparently united in support of offshoring, even though it's becoming clear that the hollowing out of US manufacturing has reached such a level that vital inputs even to the military machine are coming from abroad.
United States policy, for all its laser-like focus on looking out for number one, its insistence on maintaining US control of oil, seems in many ways as if it's been designed for medium-term failure on its own terms for quite a few years now. The term may no longer be medium, it may be short, and yet few voices are heard sounding any danger signs. What is going on?


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December 7, 2006

Marriage for all

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There. You've had two chances, now, Mr. Harper, and you lost both times. You've sent the right signals to your neaderthalic base. You've thrown some red meat to the Christianists. You've made sure everyone knows you don't support teh gay.

Can you please leave these people alone now and find someone else to use as a political tool for a while?

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The only quiz that matters

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I see once again that quizzes are flying around the blogosphere, and being of a somewhat whimsical frame of mind this week, I thought it was time to create a quiz around a subject that really matters. And so, without further ado, I present the POGGe Institute Quiz: How Canadian are you?

As the quiz's creator, I naturally got a 100 percent score. Let's see how you do gang. Post your results on your own blog and we'll link to them, or drop them into the comments if you don't have a blog of your own.

Update: I see Dan Dickinson over at Skirl scored 100 percent on the Quiz. Welcome to Hoser Heaven, Dan.

Update 2: We have another 100 percenter in Rob Cottingham. Josh Gould also played along as did Scotian. The rest of the POGGe Institute crew admits to their scores in the comments. ;-)

Update 3: JKelly also got 100 percent, and Pample the Moose also did the quiz. Both object to the John A. question, arguing he was at least as famous for his drinking as for his being the first prime minister. I think if you asked any Canadian why John A. is significant, it is safe to say their first choice would be his prime ministership, with his drinking running a distant second. Still, it is very Canadian for us to argue over interpretations of our history.

Update 4: Welcome to the 100 percent club, Sean Incognito!

Update 5: As some commenters note, the quiz is buggered up somehow at the hosting site. I am, apparently, only 31 perfect as a girlfriend. Like I'm going to live my life trying to meet some guy's unreasonable standards. Men!

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Drive-by Blogging 12/7/06

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For those new readers - drive-by blogging is something I started to do a while back and haven't done nearly enough of lately. My feed reader scans news sources from around the world and drops me several hundred stories a day. If even 5% of those stories were deemed blog worthy, we would still be hard pressed to cover them even if we all quit our day jobs and blogged full time. (Where's George Soros when you need him?)

In the past, I have just bookmarked the stories I found interesting in hopes of eventually doing something with them. The end result has been thousands of bookmarks to stories that have never seen the bloglight of day - and should have. Drive-by Blogging is a way to keep those stories from simply disappearing into the black hole that is my bookmarks. If any other bloggers want to pick any of them up and do something with them, so much the better.


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December 6, 2006

The language gulf

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Here's a little mid-week yuk for you.

Movies may be part of world culture, but language still remains a barrier when it comes to translating films for the international audience. Below are some actual English subtitles that have appeared in films made in Hong Kong.

1. I am damn unsatisfied to be killed in this way.

2. Fatty, you with your thick face have hurt my instep.

3. Gun wounds again?

4. Same old rules: no eyes, no groin.

5. A normal person wouldn't steal pituitaries.

6. Damn, I'll burn you into a BBQ chicken!

7. Take my advice, or I'll spank you without pants.

8. Who gave you the nerve to get killed here?

9. Quiet or I'll blow your throat up.

10. You always use violence. I should've ordered glutinous rice chicken.

11. I'll fire aimlessly if you don't come out!

12. You daring lousy guy.

13. Beat him out of recognizable shape!

14. I have been scared shitless too much lately.

15. I got knife scars more than the number of your leg's hair!

16. Beware! Your bones are going to be disconnected.

17. The bullets inside are very hot. Why do I feel so cold?

18. How can you use my intestines as a gift?

19. This will be of fine service for you, you bag of the scum. I am sure you will not mind that I remove your manhoods and leave them out on the dessert flour for your aunts to eat. [sic, of course]

20. Yah-hah, evil spider woman! I have captured you by the short rabbits and can now deliver you violently to your gynecologist for a thorough examination.

21. Greetings, large black person. Let us not forget to form a team up together and go into the country to inflict the pain of our karate feets on some ass of the giant lizard person.

I dunno about you folks, but I'm seeking out that film about the stolen pituitaries. After all, I'm a sucker for movies about gland larceny.

What? Stop groaning!

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The 2006 Weblog Awards

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It's been a week full of honours for the gang here at the POGGe Institute. I should first thank everyone who supported us in the Canadian Blog Awards, allowing us to take second place in Best Progressive Blog and first place for Best Blog Post.

Now I see we are amongst the finalists for Best Canadian Blog in the Weblog Awards.

Best Canadian Blog

Small Dead Animals
Samantha Burns
CalgaryGrit
My Blahg
Matthew Good
bound by gravity
Amber Mac
Milkmoney Or Not, Here I Come
Peace, order and good government, eh?
Girl on the Right

As tempted as I am to vote for POGGe in these awards, I have decided I am going to support My Blahg for a couple of reasons.

First, Robert does excellent work on the part of the entire Canadian blogging community by running the CBAs, yet removes himself from the competition to avoid the apparent conflict of interest. It is high time he got some recognition for his efforts.

Second, last year, the "best Canadian blog" was won by someone with a certain small, dead soul who represents not the best of Canadian blogging as a whole, but rather our most vile and hateful element. I see this year she is joined on the finalist list by her fellow hatemonger Girl on the Right. Very revealing what our conservative brethren nominate as "the best" among their bloggers. Anyway, I see the need for progressives to pick a unity candidate to support so the "best Canadian blog" is not filled with racist bigotry. Therefore, I suggest My Blahg.

Not only would it give Robert McClelland some well-earned recognition, but it would also be a poke in the eye to certain grotesque elements of the Canadian right, who Robert tends to drive batshit crazy (not that it was a long drive) with his provocative style. It's a win-win situation.

You can vote in The Weblog Awards right here starting tomorrow.

Sheepish Update: As Paladeia quite rightly points out in the comments, there is a co-blogger at My Blahg now. Consider her one more good reason to support My Blahg.

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On 6 December 1989, at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, an engineering school affiliated with the Université de Montréal, fourteen young women were shot to death in the classrooms and halls of their school and thirteen others (including four men) were wounded by a gunman on a rampage who left a suicide note blaming "feminists" for ruining his life.

The massacre began when Marc Lepine, carrying a .223-calibre (5.56mm NATO cartridge) semi-automatic rifle, entered a class of sixty students, ordered the men to leave, and then opened fire on the trapped women. For forty-five minutes Lepine roamed three floors of the school, shooting as he went and reportedly shouting "I want women." Finally, he turned the rifle on himself.

In 1991 the government of Canada established this day as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.

The anondyne descriptions of this remembrance day for women on the SWC and Wiki sites, however, belie the contention and outright hostility that this memorial has always aroused. From the beginning, many have denied that Lepine's rampage had much to do with women at all, and every year there emerge from the woodwork individuals who seem truly enraged at the thought.

This year, Canada's New Government™ will mark this day by reopening the debate on equal marriage, a cynical exercise of the Harperites in pandering to their so-con base while thumbing their noses at all other Canadian citizens, since the government know that the motion will fail.

That unutterably tone-deaf move on this day has deeper significance, I think.


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December 5, 2006

Back in late September there didn't appear to be a lot of ambiguity in the reporting. Like this story in the Toronto Star.

RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli admitted yesterday he knew shortly after Maher Arar was deported to Syria in October 2002 that Canadian investigators had wrongly labelled him to American authorities as a terror suspect.

Or this from the CBC.
Zaccardelli recounted his personal history with the case, saying that in 2002, he had some knowledge of the investigation into Arar and that he knew he was considered a person of interest.

But he said he didn't become involved until after Arar was already in jail in Syria. Zaccardelli said he learned that RCMP investigators had been trying to correct the false information that had been given to the Americans.


Part of that statement seemed suspect at the time because O'Connor's report provides no evidence that the RCMP tried to correct any misconceptions in the minds of American authorities. But the clear implication is that Zaccardelli knew then that there was a problem.

Now fast forward to today.


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December 4, 2006

'The weapon used to kill Vladimir was a Moscow Centre assassination device,' Smiley said. 'Concealed in a camera, a briefcase, or whatever. A soft-nosed bullet is fired at point-blank range. To obliterate, to punish, and to discourage others. If I remember rightly they even had one on display at Sarratt in the black museum next to the bar.'
-- John le Carré, Smiley's People (1979)

The weapon used to kill Alexander Litvinenko was most probably Polonium-210, an isotope of the rare and highly radioactive chemical element. In theory easily concealed and transported, in this case it was also apparently sloppily transported. Harmless to unbroken skin, it would have to have been ingested in substantial quantities, whereupon it would begin to degrade every internal organ agonizingly over the course of a month or so until death -- in Litvinenko's case, over at least twenty-three days, although he may have been poisoned earlier than was first thought. How or why one of a steadily expanding list of suspects would have assassinated Litvinenko is still unknown, but the purpose seems familiar. "To obliterate, to punish, and to discourage others."

Ah, the nostalgia. I admit, that was my first reaction too. From this distance the Cold War has the great virtue of seeming to be Not the War on Terror, at least -- although, think about that. Have you ever known for sure exactly what the war on terror was, anyway? Were you all that sure that the Cold War had ended? And the longer you think about it, how firm a line are you able to draw between "state actors" and clever crooks, gangsters, and thugs? By the time a state actor turns into a triple agent, as le Carré taught us that so many do, or even a still-respectable state triangulator, where do we find that firm line any longer?

Alexander Litvinenko was clearly no General Vladimir, no formerly valuable source of intelligence, although the investigation of his death may be shaking old certainties about the shape of the wars we are living through.


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December 3, 2006

He Soft Rocks My World

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Stéphane Dion's election as leader of the Liberals has brought out some particularly numb-skulled commentary, commentary annoying enough to coax me out of my comfortable blogging semi-retirement. James Traver's column in the Star today provides an excellent example:

In an uncharacteristic fit of idealism over pragmatism, Liberals have made Stéphane Dion their new leader and turned federal politics upside down. Dion's triumph over favourite Michael Ignatieff marks a generational shift within the party, pushes the environment to the top of the national agenda and hands Stephen Harper's Conservatives a priceless gift.

Frankly, I've never understood why either Ignatieff or Rae were being presented--and viewed--as "pragmatic" choices for the Liberal leadership. Both were high-risk candidates who should, if Liberals were thinking clearly, have rested near the bottom, not the top, of the pack.


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December 1, 2006

Friday night blues blogging

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Junior Wells. Help Me. (It's been a long week and I can identify with the sentiment.)



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Testing

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Don't mind me. This is just a test post so I can try commenting.

Update:

I think we're back in business. There are a few posts that have to be rebuilt in order to show the comments, but the comment database itself is back.

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Comments are closed for repairs

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The commenting function has been turned off for the moment while I investigate an apparent problem with the database. Hold that thought!

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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Martha Hall Findlay.

I'm no Liberal (c'mon: I'm from Medicine Hat), but I will join in any standing ovation for Martha, and those other twerps had better give her one tonight, boy.

What she has done in these last few months is simply stunning. Name the portfolio, chick. And you go, gril.

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