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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Free Ceasefire.ca Gear - Show your support and help get the word out

Ceasefire.ca is an important part of Canada's anti-war movement. You can read about their work here
Ceasefire.ca plays a crucial role in many campaigns, including preventing Canada from joining George W. Bush's "Star Wars" missile defence program. This important work could not be done without the help of our supporters.

Ceasefire.ca needs your help to sign up new activists. We are making available Ceasefire.ca Gear; which include sign-up cards and pins that can be handed out to friends and family. Each completed sign-up card you send back to us is an additional person who will join us in taking action on key issues facing our country.

Please order your free Ceasefire.ca Gear, which includes 25 sign-up cards and 3 pins today!

The pins are pretty snazzy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Special Coverage of Benazir Bhutto's Assassination

Global Voices, the website that aggregates blog postings from all over the world, has set up a special coverage page for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It has English language commentary from bloggers in Pakistan and other regions.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's Our Web

Cute animation. Fight the restrictatrons (Like the evil Goozle) with the freedomtrons (like Wikiator, Foxator, and of course, Freespeech.org/ourweb).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Miss Landmine Angola


In places in the world that have experienced war, especially if protracted as in Angola, bodies are far less likely to be "whole" and more likely be missing limbs. Even here in the West, people with disabilities are too often invisible, and a "whole" or "perfect" body is a precondition for the designation "beautiful". When was the last time you saw a model in a magazine or an actress on television who was missing a limb, or was even in a wheelchair? Can we not bear the fact that bodies reflect their experiences, sometimes in very visible ways? Would we rather the scars stay psychological, intimate, secret - so we don't have to be invested in others' pain? Or can we not wrap our minds around the fact that a wounded body does not necessarily mean a victim to be pitied? Do we not also then miss out on something important - the strength and bravery and, indeed, beauty of survivors?

A line at the upper left-hand corner of the picture reads "Everybody has the right to be beautiful." The woman standing below is surely that, dressed in beauty-pageant regalia, Atlantic waves meeting Angolan sands behind her. She is Miss Landmine Angola 2007. Showcased in the photograph are the attributes classically aligned with feminine beauty: high cheekbones, full lips, a curvaceous figure. Yet it is what the photograph, shot from the waist up, hides that makes her beauty a thing unparalleled, unusual, both tragic and wonderful. The lower half of her left leg is missing, a testament to her encounter with a landmine. She is one of several women featured in the Miss Landmine Angola project to raise awareness about the world's plague of landmines and to empower those who have survived them. Learn about the project and see this year's contestants at Miss-Landmine.org. Via Utne

Whatever one thinks of beauty pageants, this one has a positive message. The crowning of the world's first Miss Landmine will be taking place in Luanda, Angola on April 4th, 2008, the UN International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. Vote for candidates here.

Thoughts?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Greg Palast on the anti-Chavez Hysteria

As Arturo Quiran, resident of a poor folks' housing complex, told me, "Ten, fifteen years ago... there was a lot of oil money here in Venezuela but we didn't see it." Notably, Quiran doesn't particularly agree with Chavez' politics. But, he thought Americans should understand that under Chavez' Administration, there's a doctor's office in his building with "free operations, x-rays, medicines. Education also. People who never knew how to read and write now know how to sign their own papers."

Not everyone is pleased. As one TV news anchor, violently anti-Chavez, told me in derisive tones, "Chavez gives them (the poor) bricks and bread!" - how dare he! - so, they vote for him.

Big Oil has better ideas for Venezuela, best expressed in several Wall Street Journal articles attacking Chavez for spending his nation's oil wealth on "social programs" rather than on more drilling platforms to better fill the SUVs of Texas.

Chavez has committed other crimes in Washington's eyes. Not only has this uppity brown man spent Venezuela's oil wealth in Venezuela, he withdrew $20 billion from the US Federal Reserve. Weirdly, Venezuela's previous leaders, though the nation was dirt poor, lent billions to the US Treasury on crap terms. Chavez has said, Basta! to this game, and has called for keeping South America's capital in... South America! Oh, no!

Oh, and did I mention that Chavez told Exxon it had to pay more than a 1% royalty to his nation on the heavy crude the company extracted?

Like the rest of us, Palast doesn't agree with everything Chavez does, but he supports the right of the Venezuelan people to make their own decisions. He objects to the lies and misinformation - for instance he finds Chavez to be wildly popular, unlike the portrayal in the international media.

It's worth noting that Chavez' personal popularity doesn't extend to all his plans for "Bolivarian" socialism. And that killed his referendum at the ballot box. I guess Chavez should have asked Jeb bush how to count votes in a democracy.

So there you have it. Some guy who thinks he can take Venezuela's oil and oil money and just give it away to Venezuelans. And these same Venezuelans have the temerity to demand the right to pick the president of their choice! What is the world coming to?

In Orwellian Bush-speak and Times-talk, Chavez' referendum was portrayed before the vote as a trick, Saddam goes Latin. Maybe their real fear is that Chavez has brought a bit of economic justice through the ballot box, a trend that could spread northward. Think about it: Chavez is funding full health care for all Venezuelans. What if that happened here?

Read the Rest over at gregpalast.com

Also check out the coverage over at Paulitics: details about the proposed reforms and on media coverage

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Too much aid to Afghanistan wasted on contractors' profits, expensive expatriate consultants and quick-fix projects

Despite more than $15 billion of aid pumped into Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, many Afghans still suffer levels of poverty rarely seen outside sub-Saharan Africa.

"The development process has to date been too centralised, top-heavy and insufficient," said a report by Oxfam.

By far the biggest donor, the United States approved a further $6.4 billion in Afghan aid this year, but the funds are spent in ways that are "ineffective or inefficient", Oxfam said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocates close to half its funds to the five largest U.S. contractors in Afghanistan.

"Too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and sub-contractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs," the report said.

A full-time expatriate consultant can cost up to $500,000 a year, Oxfam said.
[...]
Spending on development is dwarfed by that spent on fighting the Taliban. The U.S. military is spending $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan, Oxfam said.
[...]
Violent incidents are up at least 20 percent since last year, according to U.N. estimates, and have spread northwards to many areas previously considered safe.

More than 200 civilians have been killed in at least 130 Taliban suicide bombs and at least 1,200 civilians have been killed overall this year — about half of them in operations by Afghan and international troops.

Oxfam called on the 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan to take greater care not to hurt civilians, particularly in air strikes. The lower number of troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq — less than a third as many in a much bigger country with a larger population — leads to a greater reliance on air power.

There are four times as many air strikes in Afghanistan as in Iraq, Oxfam said. <Common Dreams>


Meanwhile, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been very very generous to private contractors. Here's the top 100 private contractors, 2004-2006. In first place: KBR at $16 billion (2002-2004 they made $11 billion. Next on the list, DynCorp International at 1.8 billion.

Funny (not so much in a ha-ha way), more than $20 billion in contracts went to foreign companies whose identities (at least so far) are impossible to determine. The largest of these contracts is worth more than $6 billion, for "miscellaneous items".

Sunday, November 18, 2007

We Don't Negotiate With Dams

According to the Washington Post,
The largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water, possibly killing thousands of people and flooding two of the largest cities in the country, according to new assessments by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. officials.

Even in a country gripped by daily bloodshed, the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam has alarmed American officials, who have concluded that it could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths by drowning Mosul under 65 feet of water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet, said Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, the dam manager. "The Mosul dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure probability," in the dry wording of an Army Corps of Engineers draft report.


Via the ever brilliant Bors Blog

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Robert Jensen on Oppression

How do we explain the fact that most people's stated philosophical and theological systems are rooted in concepts of justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people, yet we allow violence, exploitation, and oppression to flourish? Only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths, engaging in cruel and oppressive behavior openly and with relish. Feminism helped me understand the complex process, which tends to work like this:

--The systems and structures in which we live are hierarchical.
--Hierarchical systems and structures deliver to those in the dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits.
--People are typically hesitant to give up such privileges, pleasures, and benefits.
--But, those benefits clearly come at the expense of those in the subordinated class.
--Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions of equality and human rights, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.
--One of the most persuasive arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are "natural."

So, oppressive systems work hard to make it appear that the hierarchy -- and the disparity in power and resources that flow from hierarchy -- is natural and, therefore, beyond modification. If men are naturally smarter and stronger than women, then patriarchy is inevitable and justifiable. If white people are naturally smarter and more virtuous than people of color, then white supremacy is inevitable and justifiable. If rich people are naturally smarter and harder working than poor people, then economic injustice is inevitable and justifiable. And, if human beings have special status in the universe, justified either on theological or biological grounds, then humans' right to extract from the rest of Creation whatever they like is inevitable and justifiable.

For unjust hierarchies, and the illegitimate authority that is exercised in them, maintaining their own naturalness is essential. Not surprisingly, people in the dominant class exercising the power gravitate easily to such a view. And because of their power to control key story-telling institutions (especially education and mass communication), those in the dominant class can fashion a story about the world that leads some portion of the people in the subordinate class to internalize the ideology.

For me, feminism gave me a way to see through not only male dominance, but all the systems of illegitimate authority. I saw the fundamental strategy they held in common, and saw that if we could more into a space in which we were true to our stated ideals, we would reject those systems as anti-human. All these systems cause suffering beyond the telling. All of them must be resisted. The connections between them must be understood.

I thought this was a brilliantly succinct summary of how systems of oppression, dominance, and hegemony maintain themselves. He is also very good at connecting different forms of oppression, showing how they are all interrelated... racism, patriarchy, capitalism, and this ecological nightmare. Read the rest of "King of the Hill"

Also, on white privilege, read Jensen's comment on this blog post

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Abuse in the Teen Rehab Industry

In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office was asked to investigate the allegations of child abuse and neglect at residential "treatment centres" (also commonly known as "boot camps," "wilderness programs," or "behavior modification facilities"), including the deaths of 10 children. As mentioned before, these horrible places abuse kids on the parents' dollar.

The report (PDF) just came out. From USA today:
The congressional investigative agency selected 10 deaths to examine in depth and found reckless practices, inadequate training and misleading marketing. It also found what Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., called "horrific" examples of abuse.

Other common problems included:

    • Ineffective management
    • Untrained staff
    • Inadequate nourishment
    • Reckless or negligent operating practices
    • Inadequate equipment

The agency is examining how such facilities are regulated and is expected to make recommendations next year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lib Lit: Progressive Partisan Fiction

An article in the magazine Steve took home referred to a Canadian policeman who had died in Haiti. It stated that the police officer had died "for Haiti."

At home, Steve greeted Ming who was in the living room editing their latest "Action Alert." Steve immediately emailed the author of the magazine article.

"Didn't you mean to write that the officer died 'in Haiti' rather than 'for Haiti'?" he asked.

The reporter replied promptly and initially attempted to argue that there was no difference between writing "for Haiti" or "in Haiti." Steve replied asking if the reporter would write that the 9-11 hijackers died "for the US." The reporter then claimed that he had written "for Haiti" out of respect for the officer's family.

Steve replied: "What about the families of the people murdered by Canada's allies in Haiti? Why must respect for the policeman's family involve misleading people about our crimes in Haiti and negating the humanity of our victims?"

Steve received no further reply.

Excerpt from "The Publisher" by Joe Emersberger, a short story in which "A Canadian newspaper publisher confronts his complicity in the Canadian, US and corporate backed coup and mass murder in Haiti". Found on LibLit, Liberation Lit blog.

Liberation Lit publishes "progressive partisan" fiction (stories only). Stories are published online on a rolling basis and will be periodically collected in book form, in whole or part. Lib Lit prefers to publish fiction that may be deemed too partisan or didactic, or otherwise overtly factual and political, for publication by most corporate presses.

Why partisan fiction? Quoting V. F. Calverton, they explain:
"Most of the literature of the world has been propagandistic in one way or another…. In a word, the revolutionary critic does not believe that we can have art without craftsmanship; what he does believe is that, granted the craftsmanship, our aim should be to make art serve man as a thing of action and not man serve art as a thing of escape."

(ht Znet)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Young Iraqis Blogging

From Sunshine, a 15 year old Iraqi girl:
Last night, I stayed awake, I am suffering from insomnia, there are a lot of things I think about, and most of the days I don't sleep immediately I spend an hour or two laying till I sleep, I walked towards the window and was watching the neighborhood, it was dark (the electricity was off), empty, and scary, like a ghost city, and I started to remember how crowded my neighborhood and it's street were, I am glad I didn’t forget that, anyway I came back to my bed and there was sound of far shelling, after an hour or two, mortars erupted from the neighborhood , and we heard 3 near by explosions..<more>


From A Star from Mosul, written by a young woman who is an engineering student:
When my cousin drives me, I feel the need to keep talking, I just hate the silence. But because of my deep depression, and to keep myself from crying, I didn't talk much this time.. I concentrated on the road, something I rarely do (I still haven't learned the way to my school, I can't get my brain to concentrate on roads at all). I couldn't believe all the wreckage on the way.. Building after building, destoyed, burnt.. Black signs announcing deaths.. Smoke from a new explosion. We had to stop few times to clear the road for the police or the Americans.
I asked my cousin about a destroyed building I haven't seen before, he said it was months ago.. I was shocked; I didn't ask about the ones that followed. <>more>


From Last of Iraqis, by a 25 year old dentist in Baghdad:
About 1,000,000 deaths and 1,500,000 Injured Iraqi civilians since the beginning of the war in 2003 , an estimation of 4,000,000 Iraqis have been displaced with 2,200,000 fled out of the country and the rest are refugees inside their own torn country (I believe the real number of Iraqis outside Iraq is greater than this).

Great numbers , right? a lot of zeros , a lot of grief and sadness , a lot of humiliation , a lot of black clothes , rivers of tears and many shocking stories , it's not just numbers . Just count all the people you knew throughout your life , not only the ones you talk to , but all the people you know, what their count will be?500 or may be 1000? let's say 1000. Can you imagine that all the people you know are only 0.1% of the civilian casualties in Iraq. <>more>


Of the Iraqi bloggers, there are not many left - many have stopped blogging, many have left Iraq, some still write from wherever they are. These three are still there. Via BBC.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Politics of Historicism

Historicism enabled European domination of the world in the nineteenth century... [It] posited historical time as a measure of the cultural distance (at least in institutional development) that was assumed to exist betwen the West and the non-West.
[...]
Historicism - and even the modern, European idea of history - one might say, came to non-European peoples as somebody's way of saying "not yet" to somebody else.

Consider the classical liberal but historicist essays by John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty" and "On Representative Government," both of which proclaimed self-rule as the highest form of government and yet argued against giving Indians or Africans self-rule on grounds that were indeed historicist.

According to Mill, Indians or Africans were not yet civilized enough to rule themselves. Some historical time of development and civilization (colonial rule and education, to be precise) had to elapse before they could be considered prepared for such a task. Mill's historicist argument thus consigned Indians, Africans, and other "rude" nations to an imaginary waiting room of history. In doing so, it converted history itself into a version of this waiting room. We were all headed for the same destination, Mill averred, but some people were to arrive earlier than others.

That was what historicist consciousness was: a recommendation to the colonized to wait. Acquiring a historical consciousness, acquiring the public spirit that Mill thought absolutely necessary for the art of self-government, was also to learn this art of waiting. This waiting was the realization of the "not yet" of historicism.
From Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe (Paragraph breaks added to facilitate reading)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Interesting maps of income and voting patterns in the USA






Immediately apparent is that if the poor had all the votes, Bush would have lost in 2002 - even in many "red states". To paraphrase Krugman, contrary to popular myth, The Democrats' base isn't the "latte liberals".

More interesting graphs and analysis here.

Via Creative Class

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tories say "nanner nanner" to Scary Veiled Women

New bill to ban veiled voters
October 27, 2007

OTTAWA -- The Harper government yesterday introduced legislation requiring all voters - including veiled Muslim women - to show their faces before being allowed to cast ballots in federal elections.

This same manufactured controversy is getting old.

Do I have to bring out the parable of the old lady and the biker again?

Some sectors of the population just love it when the mainstream legitimizes their bigotry. And politicians long ago discovered that they earn popularity points with them whenever they do or say something against marginalized minorities. Scapegoating can be good for the polls. The power differential means the bullies can have their way; how many Muslim women will get to vote on this bill?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

And I Thought my Bike Commute was Bad


Every time I travel on somewhere my bike I experience the heart-pounding feeling of impending death, and plenty of frustration. It seems Torontonians, especially the uptownians, have not yet realized their beloved car culture is dying. My bike commute usually consists of at least a handful of the following: people honking randomly at me as if to say "what are you doing on MY ROAD?", the delivery vehicles in the bike lanes, the cars stopped in the no-stopping-zones, the drivers too lazy to signal their lane change, the three or four cars that go through every red light, and the bike lanes with a 4 lanes of traffic and a raised streetcar right-of-way in the middle (St. Clair & Poplar Plains). Or I get caught in traffic because some impatient yahoo in a huge car wondering what's the blockage ahead (not considering that the blockage is more huge CARS) has to pull all the way over to the right to have a look, leaving not enough inches for wee little me and my wee little bike to get through.

But, I must say, my commute has NOTHING on this guy's.

For One Brief, Shining Moment...

... I came up in the Google blog search under "Laura Bush Breast". I had a whole bunch of perverts find this post on Laura Bush's breast cancer tour. I guess they were disappointed. I'm afraid it wasn't very sexy, what with the lack of boobs and all. Here, try these posts instead.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

White Woman in a Pant Suit Rescues the Dark Masses

This article which I noticed while writing my last post annoyed me so much I though it deserved its own post.
Laura Bush helps women in Saudi Arabia
First lady Laura Bush helped launch a screening facility in Saudi Arabia Tuesday as part of a U.S.-Saudi initiative to raise breast cancer awareness in the kingdom where doctors struggle to break long-held taboos about the disease.

Bush's trip to Saudi Arabia, her first to the oil-rich kingdom, is part of a regional tour that aims to highlight the need for countries to share resources and unite in the fight against breast cancer.

"Breast cancer does not respect national boundaries, which is why people from every country must share their knowledge, resources and experience to protect women from this disease," Bush said in a speech at the King Fahad Medical City in Riyadh.

Course we don't expect American pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge, resources, and treatment drugs.
"The cure for breast cancer can come from a researcher in Washington or a young doctor in Riyadh," she added.

Well shut my mouth! They have doctors in the desert?
Bush, who wore a navy blue pant suit, arrived in Riyadh from the United Arab Emirates, her first Mideast stop. Visiting female dignitaries are not required to don the traditional black cloak that all women in Saudi Arabia must wear in public. She was greeted by Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, the king's son, who is honorary president of the Saudi Cancer Society.

She's so modern and advanced, she wears PANTS! But hey, I want to know what the prince wore, too.
Bush visited the Abdul-Latif cancer screening center, the country's first, where she met with Saudi women affected by breast cancer.

She later witnessed the signing the U.S.-Saudi Arabia Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research agreement at a packed auditorium at the King Fahad Medical City.

Saudi became the third country to take on the program, which was organized by the State Department and includes the Susan G. Komen Foundation with MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Before the agreement was signed, Dr. Samia al-Amoudi, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in April, spoke about the pain she felt when her 10-year-old daughter asked her if she would one day be stricken with the same disease.

She said she told her daughter "hopefully you will be able to tell your children there was once a disease called breast cancer that killed women, but it no longer is the problem it once was."

Al-Amoudi, a gynecologist, said about 70 percent of breast cancer cases in Saudi Arabia will not be reported until they are at a very late stage, compared with 30 percent or less in the U.S. She also said 30 percent of Saudi patients are under 40 years old.

Al-Amoudi said many of the hurdles in Saudi Arabia are not medical. For instance, until recently, it was widely considered socially improper to refer to the disease by name in the kingdom, she said.

"People would refer to breast cancer as 'the bad disease' or 'that disease,'" said al-Amoudi.

"But today, when we talk to the highest levels of authority or are speaking in front of all kinds of media about this issue we name the disease for what it is: breast cancer," she added.

I don't know about you but I think women like this doctor are doing an amazing job on their own. Personally I'd rather hear more of what she has to say. First of all, becoming a doctor (getting through med school) is a hell of an accomplishment for anyone. She is providing essential services to women in her community. She is speaking out despite fear of reprisal (in this context, speaking the name "breast cancer" publicly is an act of bravery). Having the First Lady of America supporting your cause can bring helpful media attention, can maybe even exert pressure on the Saudi state, but how sad is it that women like al-Amoudi are eclipsed by a White Western Wealthy Wife?
Dr. Abdullah al-Amro, head of the King Fahad Medical City, said that almost one-fifth of all women with cancer in Saudi Arabia have breast cancer.

Bush, whose mother and grandmother suffered from breast cancer, was also scheduled to meet with King Abdullah and with breast cancer survivors during her visit. She will then travel to Kuwait, where she will meet with women democratic reformers, legal advocates and business leaders.

Laura Bush last visited the Middle East in 2005, stopping in Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories to promote freedom, education and the role of women.

Ugh. Gag me with a spoon.

Much worse than the story is the picture that went with it:

"Unidentified Saudi female doctor"? You couldn't ask her for her name? And doesn't Bush look so smug? And the darn medical equipment is blocking my view of her perfect perfect pant suit.

Women Being Kidnapped and Sexually Exploited: Oh That's So Odd and Quirky


In recent news of the odd, a man in a position of power extorts sexual favours from women prisoners in exchange for candy. Another man kidnaps a Malaysian woman who turns down his marriage proposal. Haha, that's so odd, so trivial, good for a laugh or two before I go read the real news. You know, the important stuff:

Amazon.com makes lots of money.
O.J. Simpson blah blah blah.
AT&T makes lots of money.
Laura Bush raises breast cancer awareness in Saudi Arabia.
New York Times makes lots of money.

Via Shakesville, with this comment:
I don't understand why I need to explain why a woman being kidnapped should not be filed under "odd news," but, because I evidently do, here's the lowdown (again): In recent months, I've read under the heading of "Odd News" stories about a man branding his wife with a hot iron, a man coercing his wife into having plastic surgery to look like his deceased first wife, wives/girlfriends/exes being held against their will in various "odd" places including a coffin, women being traded for "odd" objects or offered as reparations for "odd" transgressions, "odd" forms of abuse against women, and women doing notable things good and bad, that, while newsworthy, only seem to be "odd-worthy" because they were done by women, all reported alongside such frivolous fare as "Chocoholic squirrel steals treats from shop".

More on the Laura Bush Story to come.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Terrorism as a Rational Act of Resistance

I'm tired of hearing people say that suicide bombing and other such acts of terrorism are irrational.

There are many ways to opine about suicide bombing: we can be morally opposed to the specific tactic, we can support it in theory but oppose it in practice, we can be opposed to the ideology behind it, we can support it in some circumstances and not others, we can armchair speculate about its effectiveness, etc.

But we cannot really say that it is an irrational tactic.

Resistance ranges from demonstrations, riots, general strikes, petitions, destruction of property or symbols, and "everyday forms of resistance" such as false compliance, theft, sabotage, foot dragging, popular discourse, etc. Acts of violent resistance are simply one other tactic, and potentially a powerful one, for the weak to influence the strong. As such, they are as rational as any other tactic. Irrational would mean there was no reason behind the act, that it was a senseless act of violence for no purpose. But terrorist acts do have an internal logic and reasoning behind them. There's enough work done in the political sciences and history to prove that. Indeed that is the only premise on which to base an effective strategy to stop terrorism.

So why can't they admit that? Why can't the politicians and pundits oppose an act of terrorism by declaring it a tragedy and a terrible crime, or even by standing in opposition to the ideology espoused by the perpetrators? Why do they call it irrational?

I suppose to say that terrorism is rational is to admit the terrorists aren't so completely different from us, that they aren't inhuman, stupid, or beast-like. Or perhaps admitting respect for one's "enemy" displays a lack of machismo. Or maybe it's just laziness.

There's a desire in politics and punditry for simplicity. That's why stereotypes seem to be everywhere - they are a nice convenient way of avoiding any sort of depth, complexity, heterogeneity, multiplicities, layers, standpoints - you know, reality. The Manichean world view of good v evil is easily mapped onto other binaries, like Civilized/Uncivilized, Freedom/The Commies, Moral/Immoral, HonestHardworkingAmericans/Evildoers, Us/The Terrorists, Rational/Irrational. So you only have to conjure one of these and all the others are assumed. So maybe the word irrational is used as just another synonym for "evil".

Odd, because what "irrationality" is pretty much a synonym for is faith, and I don't mean it derogatorily. Faith, in the Christian sense anyways, is basically the gap between reason and God. What is beyond the rational.

Interesting, too, that the oppressed and marginalized have historically been labeled irrational. Women, people of colour, the colonized, pagans, the mentally ill, sexual "deviants", etc.

Irrational != Immoral
Moral != Rational

(Translation for non-geeks that means "Irrational does not equal Immoral, Moral does not equal Rational)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jena Six Hearing Video


Best line:
Don't we have a system that is essentially using the criminal justice system to do what the Jim Crow system did in the past? Isn't it just an extension?

Via Automatic Preference

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Guess Who's Running for US President?

Hint: last week, before he announced his candidacy, he said:
I am not ready to announce yet — even though it's clear that the voters are desperate for a white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative.

It's true. Stephen Colbert is running for '08.

He'll be almost as good as this guy.

In other breaking news (via PoliticsPlus) Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blogging Against Environmental Apartheid

Today is some kind of blogging for the environment blog action day. So in that spirit, here are some excerpts from a speech by Van Jones (I've seen him - he is an amazing speaker): "Spiritually Fulfilling, Ecologically Sustainable AND Socially Just?"

I want to suggest that there's a communication problem and there are two things that are happening. Number one: it's just very, very hard for white people to hear the pain of the subjugated people in this country.
[...]
So we live together in these bubbles that touch, and we call that diversity, but we don't know each other. And when that bubble breaks for just a second and we're face to face with each other, it's very, very hard to hear that reality.

But white supremacy, to use the provocative term, will reinterpret that experience for you; and make it not be about your inability to hear, but be about other people's inability to speak. This is one of the most remarkable things: if you can get this, all doors open. There is the assumption - this is deep, this is deep - there is the assumption that when there’s a breakdown in communication between people of color and white people, that there is an deficiency but that the deficiency is not in white listening, that the deficiency is in black speech. "Why are they so angry?" People start critiquing, and then you find somebody who keeps themselves together just for a little bit and it's, "Oh that one's very eloquent, that one’'s very articulate." Right? Always the assumption is that the deficiency lies with the people of color. "Why don't they care about the environment? What wrong with them, don't they see the big picture? ... What's wrong with them? Maybe they are just too poor or busy, because certainly there is nothing wrong with our speech!"
[...]
If it was just that you could show up and be heroic and save the polar bears that would be a boring ass movie. That's not the movie! You show up to be the hero and you discover just like Luke Skywalker, "Wait a minute, the dark side is in me! Wait a minute; my father is the originator of many of the problems that I am now trying to solve. Wait a minute, I can't just fight now the war monger without, the polluter without, the incarcerator without, the clear cutter without - I've got to fight the war monger within. I've got to fight the polluter within."
[...]
People are always talking about their comfort zones, you ever heard that expression: "this is outside of my comfort zone"? Grow your goddamn comfort zone then, okay? 'Cause we are running out of time.
[...]
I've sat with all these people who we think are in charge, and they don't know what to do. Take that in: they don't know what to do! You think you're scared? You think you're terrified? They have the Pentagon's intelligence, they have every major corporation's input; Shell Oil that has done this survey and study around the peak oil problem. You think we've got to get on the Internet and say, "Peak oil!" because the system doesn't know about it? They know, and they don't know what to do. And they are terrified that if they do anything they'll lose their positions. So they keep juggling chickens and chainsaws and hope it works out just like most of us everyday at work.
[...]
There's a pathway back to community that we have to walk. I have to give up something, I have to give up my right to be mad at white folks, 'cause that's not going to make a difference for my child. But white people have to give up something too, which is their right to stay ignorant about all of this. You have a perfect right to be ignorant about all of this and you'll be great people, honestly. You could lead big environmental organizations, you could lead spirituality retreats, you could do all kinds of stuff and you will get cookies and congratulations and people will cry at your funeral. You have a perfect right to not care about any of this. There just won't be any human family left.

Via Gristmill. More on Van Jones and eco-apartheid. You can also watch him speak, short:

or longer.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Update: Burma - It's not good news

Harrowing accounts smuggled out of Burma reveal how a systematic campaign of physical punishment and psychological terror is being waged by the Burmese security forces as they take revenge on those suspected of involvement in last month’s pro-democracy uprising.

The first-hand accounts describe a campaign hidden from view, but even more sinister and terrifying than the open crackdown in which the regime’s soldiers turned their bullets and batons on unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Rangoon, killing at least 13. At least then, the world was watching.

Read all about it here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Nothing Like Commemorating a Revolutionary Leader by Slapping his Face on a Bikini

Photo from BBC


... 40 years after his death, Che - born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna - is as much a marketing tool as an international revolutionary icon. Which raises the question of what exactly does the sheer proliferation of his image - the distant gaze, the scraggly beard and the beret adorned with a star - mean in a decidedly capitalist world? <Common Dreams>

Friday, October 05, 2007

My Last Conversation With Aung San Suu Kyi

By John Pilger, on Znet:
As the people of Burma rise up again, we have had a rare sighting of Aung San Suu Kyi. There she stood, at the back gate of her lakeside home in Rangoon, where she is under house arrest. She looked very thin. For years, people would brave the roadblocks just to pass by her house and be reassured by the sound of her playing the piano. She told me she would lie awake listening for voices outside and to the thumping of her heart. "I found it difficult to breathe lying on my back after I became ill, she said."

That was a decade ago. Stealing into her house, as I did then, required all the ingenuity of the Burmese underground. My film-making partner David Munro and I were greeted by her assistant, Win Htein, who had spent six years in prison, five of them in solitary confinement. Yet his face was open and his handshake warm. He led us into the house, a stately pile fallen on hard times. The garden with its ragged palms falls down to Inya Lake and to a trip wire, a reminder that this was the prison of a woman elected by a landslide in 1990, a democratic act extinguished by generals in ludicrous uniforms.

It's sort of hard to read or listen to an interview with Aung San Suu Kyi and not fall just a little bit in love. She has distinguished herself as one of the great heroic figures of our time, although she is quick to dismiss it:
"People I've spoken to regard you as something of a saint, a miracle worker."

"I'm not a saint and you'd better tell the world that!" "Where are your sinful qualities, then?"

"Er, I've got a short temper."

"What happened to your piano?"

"You mean when the string broke? In this climate pianos do deteriorate and some of the keys were getting stuck, so I broke a string because I was pumping the pedal too hard."

"You lost it ... you exploded?"

"I did."

"It's a very moving scene. Here you are, all alone, and you get so angry you break the piano."

"I told you, I have a hot temper."


I tend to disagree with hero worship, since it discounts the daily struggles of the people. But a hero provides an entry point, an interviewable spokesperson, and 30-second sound bytes that drive today's media. Put simply, a hero gets on TV. And a hero can more easily be emulated. Aung San Suu Kyi may not be a saint, but she is indeed a hero, and so are the monks, the Karen, and other regular people in Burma. Their people power faces the immense military power of the junta; we in the West could certainly learn from them.

... no matter the regime's physical power, in the end they can't stop the people; they can't stop freedom. We shall have our time.


Read the rest of the article here

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

Playing this weekend at The Brunswick Theatre in Toronto, Reel Bad Arabs shows the persistence of negative stereotypes of Arabs in film and the effect it has had in dehumanizing Arabs and Arab culture.



Also a shorter trailer here. Also check out the trailer for Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class

Make Me a Reading List - Open Thread

I've been so busy lately I've been unable to do the rounds and visit all of my favourite blogs. So I invite you to help me prioritize.

Leave a comment with one of your most important recent blog posts with a short description, and, time permitting, I will visit it. Hooray for free links!

Thanks everyone!

In return, here are a couple of comics relating to Bush's veto of the children's health insurance bill:


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The end of civilization as we know it!


This funny video comes to us from Vote for MMP. Only 2:16 long. If you like it, rate it 5 stars and favourite it. We've only got a week left 'til the referendum.

Just in case you need more information, here's Ten Reasons to Vote for Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sending Good Vibes for Alabama

I'm thinking of starting a new charity. I think I'll name it Magic Wands for Montgomery. Or maybe
Bunnies for Birmingham.

This is necessary because, sadly for Alabamians, the sale of sex toys has been illegal in Alabama for 9 years (something that is unlikely to change following The United States Supreme Court's recent refusal to hear the case).

An adult-store owner had asked the justices to throw out the law as an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy of the bedroom. But the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leaving intact a lower court ruling that upheld the law.

Sherri Williams, owner of Pleasures stores in Huntsville and Decatur, said she was disappointed, but plans to sue again on First Amendment free speech grounds.

"My motto has been they are going to have to pry this vibrator from my cold, dead hand. I refuse to give up," she said.

Alabama's anti-obscenity law, enacted in 1998, bans the distribution of "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs for anything of pecuniary value."


So this is a call to all women to take pity on the women of Alabama, cruelly denied the pleasure of a pocket rocket. Our sisters need us! Send good vibes for Alabama.

Via Boing Boing.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Happy 800 Birthday, Rumi

Today is the 800th anniversary of the birth of the great Sufi poet Rumi.

An interesting article on Rumi in Afghanistan here
If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,
or what "God’s fragrance" means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.


Excerpt from Like This. Illustration by ERIK VILET, from Rending the Veil.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Troops refuse to fire in Rangoon - Possible army mutiny?

The best outcome we could hope for in Burma would probably be if the soldiers were won over. That would be in keeping with the peaceful Buddhist ideals. Whether or not this is a real possibility has been debated by many others far more knowledgeable than me, but the reality is nobody knows.

However, if this is true, it looks promising:
Reports from Rangoon suggest soldiers are mutinying. It is unclear the numbers involved. Reports cite heavy shooting in the former Burmese capital.

The organisation Helfen ohne Grenzen (Help without Frontiers) is reporting that "Soldiers from the 66th LID (Light Infantry Divison) have turned their weapons against other government troops and possibly police in North Okkalappa township in Rangoon and are defending the protesters. At present unsure how many soldiers involved."

Soldiers in Mandalay, where unrest has spread to as we reported this morning, are also reported to have refused orders to act against protesters.

Some reports claim that many soldiers remained in their barracks. More recent reports now maintain that soldiers from the 99th LID now being sent there to confront them.

Growing numbers of protestors are gathering in Rangoon, with 10,000 reported at the Traders Hotel and 50,000 at the Thein Gyi market. The police are reported to have turned water cannons against crowds at Sule Pagoda.

Many phone lines into the Burmese state have now been cut, mobile networks have been disabled and the national internet service provider has been taken off-line.


In a related development, an unverified report from cbox says:
Military sources in Rangoon are claiming that the regime's number two, General Maung Aye (right), has staged a coup against Than Shwe, and that his troops are now guarding Aung San Suu Kyi's home. A meeting between him and Suu Kyi is expected. Maung Aye is army commander-in-chief and a renowned pragmatist.


Lots more here or on the facebook group.

Winners of the "Latin America and the Millennium Development Goals" Journalism Awards

Daniel San Juan Tolentino dug his own grave. A pile of earth fell on him and buried him.
First Prize was awarded to this article on child labourers in Mexico. The quote is from one of the stories in the article, and refers to a 12-year old boy who was digging a ditch to prevent floods in the field where he worked. He was buried by an avalanche of mud.

None of the daily rituals carried out by 26-year-old biology student Flávia Santiago, who is seven months pregnant and anxiously awaiting the birth of her first child, was ever experienced by Nadja Batista Borges, 29, who dropped out of primary school in the third grade. She, too, is pregnant. But with her seventh child.

They probably love their babies equally. The difference lies in their addresses. Nadja lives in a 'favela' (shantytown) of Santo Amaro. Flávia lives with her husband in a comfortable apartment [in a well-off neighbourhood].
This quote is from the second place article about women and motherhood in Brazil, "Faces da maternidade" by Bruna Cabral and Mona Lisa Dourado, published in the Jornal do Commercio in Recife, Brazil.

"This kind of journalism, often consigned to the sidelines and neglected for obvious reasons, has shown its credentials and demonstrated that in Latin America, hidden behind more sensational reporting, there is this other kind, with a vocation for participating and a sense of its own usefulness," said one of the members of the jury. 466 articles were entered from 19 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The top five winners will be published in a book, and the top 3 also recieved cash prizes. More info on the competition here.

I tried to find more, but nothing much was available in English. I'd love to read the articles in full if they get translated. If anyone has more info or a link, please let me know!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Because War Just Isn't Enough...

As if invasion, occupation, destruction of infrastructure, unemployment, poverty, and displacement aren't enough... now they've got cholera, a truly horible and deadly disease.

You know, if the American military had any intention of actually trying to win "hearts and minds", they might consider nutritious food and clean water as a start, rather than, say, this.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Shape of a Mother

The Shape of a Mother shows the beauty of the female form during and post pregnancy.
One day I sat in a restaurant in Anaheim, California eating breakfast, when a woman passed by my table with her infant carrier in tow. As she lifted it up to fit between the tables, her shirt raised and I saw that, although she was at a healthy weight and her body was fit, she had that same extra skin hanging around her belly that I do. It occurred to me that a post-pregnancy body is one of this society's greatest secrets...

I don't know about you but I think the photo on the right is absolutely gorgeous. You can see the life weight of her heavy breast and the aesthetic texture of her stretch marks. Whereas this photo is artistic, most of the other photos are more like snapshots. There are photos of lovely round bellies, babies, and stretch marks.

This is a very cool site. Check it out. Reminds me of another really interesting project which shows photographs of normal breasts (Obviously NSFW).

(Via Cranky Fitness)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Media Face Off: OJ Takes on the Jena Six

I watched television news this weekend. Typically I get my news online, or from a newspaper, but rarely from television. I think I forgot how limited and misleading TV news tends to be. I'm sure some experts have theories about why this is, but all I know is it is worse than print media.

I was shocked to see no coverage at all of the Jena 6.

So I thought I'd do a little experiment, to see whether the newsies think people are more interested in OJ Simpson, or in a new chapter in the ongoing struggle for African American civil rights.

Google News (which is a highly balanced aggregator of diverse sources), offers me 15,599 results for OJ Simpson.


How did the Jena 6 fare? Well, Google informs me there are 3,465 pieces. Apparently OJ's antics are just that much more interesting.


This of course should lead any thinking person to question why one is considered newsworthy and the other is not.


See my first Media Face Off: China's Stock Market vs. Migrant Workers.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Revolution Will Not Be Motorized: Tomorrow is World Carfree Day


Plan to be in Toronto this weekend? Check out the World Carfree Day festivities on Queen Street West.

Why not have a parking meter party around 1:00 pm? Here's how:
  • Scout out a parking spot where you'd like to spend the afternoon
  • Park your non-motorized "vehicle" (bike, trike, roller-skates, dinky-car etc.) along Queen West
  • Pay the meter: for $1.50 per hour the spot is yours! (Be sure to display your parking receipt on the "dash" of your "vehicle")
Or, go a-paradin' at 6:00. Meet at 5:00 at Trinity-Bellwoods park. One tip: I don't suggest driving down to the parade (or if you have no other method of transportation, why not consider one of these).

More festivities on Sunday. Details here and here

If you feel so inclined check out these related links:

Do Motorists in the US Pay Their Own Way? No. They are subsidized by taxpayers. Check out the UC Davis study (PDF) that proves it. Bookmark it for use the next time some taxpaying motorist complains about subsidizing public transit.

And, yes, it is within our power to create carfree cities. Don't believe me? Check out the book that proves it.

Today is also Park(ing) Day. Who knew? A whole day in which parking spaces are transformed into parks. Like this on a larger scale. Sweet.

And next time you get into a car by yourself, for goodness sakes, check the passenger seat. Darn evil dictators, always bumming a ride!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why I Am Not an Objectivist, #2311

Ayn Rand on the theft of Native American Lands:
They didn't have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using . . . . What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their 'right' to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent. <Lawyers, Gun$ and Money>


Hmm... Greenspan hearts Rand. Probably thinks they Iraqis live like animals in caves, too. Which is why the civilized Americans need to liberate their oil. Well, as long as we are all as selfish and greedy as possible, it will all work out in the end, right? ...right?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Politics of Solidarity: Six Nations, Leadership, and the Settler Left


The European settlers who colonized most of North America, were themselves uprooted from the land through capitalist enclosure and the commodification of land and labour – a process later exported to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the rest of the world. By becoming small farmers and independent commodity producers in the early stages of Canadian development, poor and working class settlers in North America clearly benefited from the theft of indigenous lands. However, over the past 100 years, capitalism has extended and intensified its reach. Non-native people have become increasingly concentrated in large cities (Canada has the most urbanized population per capita in the world) and have been integrated into the capitalist system as workers. Because of the inherently exploitative dynamics of capitalism, workers in North America have faced a decline in living standards since the neo-liberal offensive of the late 1970s.

As William Robinson has argued, the contemporary resurgence of indigenous struggle in the Americas is happening as the few remaining autonomous indigenous communities are being forced into compliance with the demands of capitalist world market. This market seeks to commodify their labour and their land. At the same time, it seeks to drive down living standards and commodify the lives of non-native people as well. These pressures are just as evident on the Haldimand tract as they are in Canada's far north, in the mountains of Chiapas, or in the jungles of the Amazon. Traditional indigenous resistance to enclosure and commodification is increasingly assuming a directly anti-capitalist character. When this resistance takes place in large urban areas where a relatively small proportion of settlers directly occupy the land in question, new opportunities for joint struggles arise. Doing this kind of work will not be easy. Building radical organizations and combating white racism within predominantly white communities, workplaces, and political organization will be particularly hard. But it remains necessary task as a pre-condition to building meaningful solidarity with indigenous struggles.

Read this article by Tom Keefer via Whenua, Fenua, Enua, Vanua (originally published here), discussing how non-native activists can support indigenous struggles, like that of the Six Nations reclamation in Caledonia, breaking away from the "leadership" model, and turning towards work within our own comminities as well as alliances with indigenous communities. It is a long article, but worth the read.

U.S. War resisters in Canada need our help

We Canadians love nothing better than watching and criticizing American politics and foreign policy. It's practically our national pastime.

Nearly all of us oppose the Iraq invasion and occupation, but we feel helpless to do anything. As non-consistuents, we have no representative or senator to call. Inhabiting a different geography, we cannot easily participate in anti-war demonstrations. There is, however, something we can do, and that is to support the war resisters looking for asylum in Canada.

A couple hundred AWOL GI's are currently living in Canada. They are from the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. Many of them served one tour in Iraq and then refused to go back again. Instead, they and their families have moved to Canada. With the support of many Canadians, they are struggling to create a home for themselves and a sanctuary for war resisters.

Nearly fifty of the resisters have asked Canadian authorities to allow them to remain in Canada as political refugees. They strongly believe they are doing the right thing by refusing to fight in an illegal war. They look to UN refugee law, which states that soldiers should be considered as refugees if they face persecution for refusing to fight in wars that are "widely condemned by the international community as contrary to standards of human conduct."

These absentee GI's are upholding the Nuremberg Principles, which were adopted as U.S. law after World War II. By refusing to fight in illegal wars or to commit war crimes, they are exercising their rights and responsibilities as soldiers.

So far, the war resisters' refugee claims have been rejected by the political appointees on Canada's refugee boards, who say that war resisters had legal avenues in the U.S. they could have pursued. They say that prosecution for being AWOL does not amount to "persecution." They are reluctant to call the U.S. war "illegal."

But the war resisters are fighting for their rights and for international law. They are appealing in Canada's federal court system. The first two U.S. war resisters to apply for refugee status, Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, have asked the Supreme Court of Canada to hear their appeals. Their lawyer, Jeffry House, is optimistic that the Supreme Court will overturn the negative decisions of the refugee board and the lower courts that have upheld them. In November, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear the war resisters' appeals.
<Read the Whole Article & Watch the Video>


Tell the Canadian government: Let them stay!

Contact both Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and Minister of Citizenship & Immigration, Diane Finley to request that they make a provision to allow U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Fax: 613-941-6900
Email pm@pm.gc.ca

Minister of Citizenship & Immigration Diane Finley
Phone: 613-954-1064
(between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.)
Email: Minister@cic.gc.ca

For more information or to donate to the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, visit their website at www.resisters.ca.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Back to School in Iraq

This article Back to School, Back to Horror offers a good opportunity to compare some lifestyle differences between the invaders vs. the invadees, occupiers vs. occupied.

While American kids are getting settled in their new classes, probably after going on a shopping spree, Iraqi kids are also going back to school.
With the security situation grimmer than ever all over the country, just stepping out of one’s house means a serious threat to life.

"God knows how we could send our kids to school this year," Um Mohammed, a mother of five in Baghdad told IPS. "Our financial situation is the worst ever and the prices are way too expensive for the majority of Iraqis to afford. I might have to keep some of them at home and send only two."

The 40-year-old woman shed tears when she started to talk about the family’s financial now compared to what it was before the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"My God, don’t those Americans have any conscience? We were not rich before, but life was easy and we used to celebrate the school season, watching our kids trying their uniform on and looking at the colourful pictures of their new books," she said.


Now, the state of American public education is somewhere between adequate and dismal (depending on which school district you look at), something for which there is no excuse in the richest country in the world. Iraqis face infinitely more challenges:

"The educational system in Iraq is destroyed and we are suffering all kinds of difficulties," said Hassan, a school headmaster in Baghdad who spoke on condition that his last name and the name of his school would not be used. "There will be a shortage of desks, blackboards, water, electricity and all educational supplies – as well as a critical shortage in the number of teachers this year."

Teachers, like other Iraqis, have fled the country because of threats from sectarian death squads. Some were evicted from their areas and moved to others inside Iraq for sectarian reasons.

According to Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education, as of February 2006, nearly 180 professors were killed and at least 3,250 have fled Iraq to the neighbouring countries. The situation has deteriorated severely since then.


Many children in the USA have little more to worry about than studying and socializing, with puberty and various crushes thrown into the mix for older kids. This is enough for any kid to deal with, and many American kids have other concerns on top of these: learning disabilities, bullying, child abuse, incest, family violence, gang violence, poverty, racial or ethnic discrimination, social exclusion, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, pressure to succeed... it goes on. Is it any wonder that kids have a lot on their mind and often experience mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or hyperactivity?

Now imagine life as a school-age child in Iraq.
According to an Oxfam International report released in July, "92 percent of children had learning impediments that are largely attributable to the current climate of fear."

The report added, "Schools are regularly closed as teachers and pupils are too fearful to attend. Over 800,000 children may now be out of school, according to a recent estimate by Save the Children UK -- up from 600,000 in 2004."

Photo from War News Radio


More on Children in Iraq

Other recent interesting posts on back-to-school: Surveillance, Control and the First Day of School and School, Take Four...

And speaking of school, instead of blogging, I should really be reading right now (Revolutionary Terrorism: The FLN in Algeria, 1954-1962)... time to get back to it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Who's Got Our Oil?

We may never solve the riddle of why God put our oil under their sand, but at least we know how to get it back. After all, if God didn't want us invading, slaughtering, and destroying resource-rich countries, he wouldn't have given us such a powerful military-industrial complex.


It may not be that accurate (Canada is so small - I assume tar sands aren't included) but this world map is a very special world map. It tells us
who has our oil.

That means this Very Special Map can tell the future. In a simple visual display of colour and shape, it shows us which countries we needs under our control. The bigger the chunk of map, the sooner we'll invade (unless other arrangements are made).

Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Canada (along with three other good old-fashioned white colonial settler nations: USA, Australia & New Zealand) voted no. 143 other countries voted yes, so it passed anyways.

Wait... we voted no? To a non-binding declaration?

Yup, that's right: "No rights for you!"

Um. What gives the Canadian state the right to dictate who get rights anyways?

JJ is right, it is embarrassing, but unsurprising.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Petreus Antidote: Amazing Mini Documentary The Ghost of Anbar

After the Petreus report, I definitely recommend watching these rather intense clips from Big Noise Films.

The Ghost of Anbar
From an expose on the new American strategy in Iraq, this video examines whether the controversial US policy of joining forces with Sunni tribes in Iraq's volatile al-Anbar province has worked, and who is paying the price. Each clip is just over 10 minutes, and well worth the time.

Particularly distressing was the part where they go to a Shiite informal refugee camp (read: slum) on the outskirts of Baghdad. Many of these refugees are from Anbar, and were forced out of their homes by the same Sunni tribes allied with the Americans. Because it is considered too dangerous for international media, theirs was the first camera to film in this neighbourhood.

Part 1:


Part 2:


You can also watch some of this over at Democracy Now (click here to launch segment in Real Player, as well as an interview with Rick Rowley, one of the reporters, to put it all in context.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On Torture

Today, while reading this article, published in the 70s, I started thinking about torture as it is practiced by the US in places like Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. We usually think of it as a method of extracting information, since that is what they lead us to believe. The debate about this interrogational torture revolves around questions like: are the acts of torture morally justified, when considering the importance of the information sought? Some of us say no, some say yes.

Torture's real purpose, however, instead of or in addition to the purpose of extracting information, can better be described as terroristic. That is, it primarily functions to intimidate "people other than the victim". In other words, there's a message being broadcast to actual or potential enemies: Don't Fuck with Us.

There are few, if any, clear cases of a regime's voluntarily renouncing terror after having created, through terror, a situation in which terror was no longer needed. And there is considerable evidence of the improbability of this sequence. Terroristic torture tends to become, according to Amnesty International, "administrative practice": a routine procedure institutionalized into the method of governing. Some bureaus collect taxes, other bureaus conduct torture. First a suspect is arrested, next he or she is tortured. Torture gains the momentum of an ingrained element of a standard operating procedure.

Several factors appear to point in the direction of permanence. From the perspective of the victim, even where the population does not initially feel exploited, terror is very unsuitable to the generation of loyalty. This would add to the difficulty of transition away from reliance on terror. Where the population does feel exploited even before the torture begins, the sense of outrage (which is certainly rationally justified toward the choice of victims, as we have see) could often prove stronger than the fear of suffering. Tragically, any unlikelihood that the terroristic torture would "work" would almost guarantee that it would continue to be used. From the perspective of the torturers, it is rare for any entrenched bureau to choose to eliminate itself rather than to try to prove its essential value and the need for its own expansion. This is especially likely if the members of the operation are either thoroughly cynical or thoroughly sincere in their conviction that they are protecting "national security" or some other value taken to be supremely important. The greater burden of proof rests, I would think, on anyone who believes that controllable terroristic torture is possible.

Henry Shue, "Torture", Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter, 1978), pp. 124-143.

World's Smallest Cars



Of course, I prefer no cars at all, but failing that, and all other things being equal, smaller is better.

Here are many teeny weeny itsy bitsy street legal cars.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Uganda: Women Start Own Bank, Building on their Savings Group


I first read about these savings groups in a very cool book: Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World. Sometimes known as a merry-go-rounds or savings circles, these grassroots groups build on both the self-help and cooperative models.

Here's an example of how they can work: a group of neighbourhood women get together and they each contribute a small amount on a regular basis (say, a dollar a week) to the pot. Then at a predetermined period of time, say, each week, one woman gets the entire pot. She can use this money to pay for her kids' school, to improve her (usually self-built) home, pay off debts, to purchase materials for a small business, or whatever else she may need. The next week, the next woman in line gets the pot. And it keeps going around and around, meaning each woman can rely on a tidy sum of money a couple of times a year.

Recently, in Uganda, one of these groups, grown too large to handle the savings circle model, expanded to something resembling a community bank.

It started five years ago as Nigiina, a village group where women meet, discuss development issues, party and exchange gifts on a merry-go-round basis.

Bukesa Women Kwagalana Group has since graduated into something more serious - a village bank with 320 'shareholders'. <AllAfrica.com>


More:
A 320-member women’s merry-go round group, (Nigiina), is in the process of transforming itself into a Savings & Credit Cooperative (SACCO).

The group started five years ago as a gift-giving group.

Every week, they would come together, deposit money or gifts in a pool and give it to a member. But as the group grew, the members had the good sense to realise their business model had limitations.

For starters, the bigger the group grew, the longer the intervals between gifting for a member. Secondly, it was only a matter of time before differences of opinion about how to employ the monies tore the group apart.

In a SACCO, there are well laid out rules and procedures for how surpluses are created and spent. <New Vision>

Yep, good thing they have us, those helpless women, those Africans, those Third-Worlders.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

ID/ Creationist Bingo

First, print this card:

Then:
...check off a square every time the relevant dopey argument is presented. You win when you have a straight line of five - horizontally, vertically or diagonally. The "JOKER" square can either be a free square, or you can reserve it for any new ludicrous argument presented (as long as it is presented with total sincerity), or any argument [you've] missed.
From Skeptico via Friendly Athiest

What do you think? Can we play it with John Tory? Ooh, or turn it into a drinking game?

Madeleine L’Engle, Writer of Children’s Classics, Is Dead at 88

As a confirmed bookworm and serious child-nerd, who frequently found herself in the quandary of no-new-books-to-read, I re-read my favourite books over and over... and over and over. Several of Madeleine L'Engle's books fell into this group of well-loved stories, including of course the famous Wrinkle in Time. Filled with science, magic, space and time, and children coming of age, her books spoke both to my natural curiosity and to my growing emotional complexity.
Madeleine L'Engle, who in writing more than 60 books, including childhood fables, religious meditations and science fiction, weaved emotional tapestries transcending genre and generation, died Thursday in Connecticut. She was 88.
[...]
Her works - poetry, plays, autobiography and books on prayer - were deeply, quixotically personal. But it was in her vivid children's characters that readers most clearly glimpsed her passionate search for the questions that mattered most. She sometimes spoke of her writing as if she were taking dictation from her subconscious.
[...]
The "St. James Guide to Children's Writers" called Ms. L'Engle "one of the truly important writers of juvenile fiction in recent decades." Such accolades did not come from pulling punches: "Wrinkle" is one of the most banned books because of its treatment of the deity.
[...]
The book used concepts that Ms. L'Engle said she had plucked from Einstein's theory of relativity and Planck's quantum theory, almost flaunting her frequent assertion that children's literature is literature too difficult for adults to understand. She also characterized the book as her refutation of ideas of German theologians.
<The New York Times>