Friday, December 29, 2006

My List of End of Year Lists

Round-up of those ubiquitous end of year stories:

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Politicking Means Never Having to Answer to your Constituents

I recently wrote a letter to our illustrious PM registering my disapproval of our actions in Afghanistan. I clearly stated we should end our combat mission and work towards peace and security for the Afghan people. Here's a selection of what I wrote:
Killing people doesn't win their hearts and minds. We should not be fighting as part of NATO, but should find positive alternatives, such as protecting NGOs who are on the ground working efficiently for reconstruction.

The Northern Alliance (the 'Good Guys' we are supporting) are just as violent and fundamentalist as the Taliban were. The people of Afghanistan are left with little choice and little hope.

We need to stop killing the Afghan people, and start talking. Negotiating. Rebuilding.

Here's the prefab response I received (note the total lack of response to my actual letter):

It is in Canada's national interest to see Afghanistan become a free, democratic and peaceful country. An unstable Afghanistan represents a serious threat to Canada and the world. Canada has assumed an international leadership role by serving in the United Nations mandated, but Canadian led, Afghan security mission.

Canada has a tradition of stepping up to the plate and providing leadership on global issues. The Prime Minister is proud of the Canadian Forces personnel who have put themselves on the line to defend our national interests and to help Afghans rebuild their country. They are standing up for core Canadian values and achieving important victories for the people of Afghanistan.

As you may know, the House of Commons voted to extend the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan until February 2009. If you would like to access further information on this issue I would encourage you to visit the following websites:

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write.

There's some very interesting and subtle manipulation going on. They make it sound like a UN mission, and don't mention NATO at all. They don't use words like "kill", "maim", "fight", or "war". Indeed it sounds like a UN peacekeeping mission.

It's not that I actually expected anything different, of course. I think a simple acknowledgement of my disagreement would have made me feel heard, but that's just not politics.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Funny Where You Find Bits of Truth

As the lyrics of one of my favourite songs goes:
"Once in a while
you get shown the light
in the strangest of places
if you look at it right"
On my way to Edmonton for Christmas with my family, nestled in-between pages and pages of advertisements and "shopping guides", I read a good anti-consumerist article in the in-flight magazine.

The author quotes Roger Scuton who said as a society, we've become very good at "means" (ways to do things) but worse at "ends" (reasons for doing things). Reminded me of a question asked of Richard Dawkins: what can we do about the "why" questions that science can't answer. (Dawkins says those questions are invalid and nonsensical).

In our education system, science and technology are priviliged over liberal arts, humanities, and social science. In reality, though, what is more important for the health, happiness, and fulfillment of all people: figuring out how to build a better, more harmonious and healthy society, or how to build a faster jet or more deadly pesticide?

Merry Christmas, American Troops and their Families

It's official: the war in Iraq has killed more Americans than 9/11. Not to mention hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Merry Christmas indeed. :(

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bright Sparks of Light, on the Longest, Darkest Night

Well, Winter Solstice is upon us. Not only is it the longest night of the year, it is also a new moon this year, meaning a very dark night

2006 has been quite a dark year: Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Israel/Lebanon, Palestinian territories, AIDS, etc.

Despite all of this, there is room for hope; the longest, darkest night is the best for stargazing. The Bush Administration is crumbling, something which we hope will result in a major change in course. Support for the war in Iraq reaches a new low. The very exciting developments in Latin America include (among others) the increased integration of the new Cochabamba Declaration. Death penalty executions in the USA were this year the lowest in a decade. The hard work of dedicated activists and brilliant thinkers has had many positive results. The good news and signs of hope inspires me to say: "Merry Solstice"!

Download and watch Biology, Resistance and Restoration: Sustainability as an Infinite Game (Free 51 Minutes, ipod video, zipped 300mb download here). Paul Hawken inspires us to imagine a world of growth without inequality, wealth without plunder and work without exploitation.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

John Mohawk, Iroquois Leader and Scholar, Dead at 61

Rest in Peace, John Mohawk.

I was fortunate enough to see John Mohawk at the Bioneers conference, at a "Kitchen Table Conversation" entitled Race, Class and Power, where he spoke alongside Paul Hawken, Aqeela Sherrills, and Akaya Windwood. This was a powerful workshop, which was so packed full there were people crammed in, sitting on the floor (You can buy a copy of the CD or MP3 from this session. It's worth a listen). I always have soft spots for historians, since history is one of my passions, but I have to tell you John Mohawk gave off such an aura of wisdom and gentleness. He also had very important things to say.

The 20th century saw the rise of Stalinism, of Hitlerism, of Fascisms of all kind all over, I mean not just Europe but in many places has led to holocausts, exterminations, extinctions.

In each and every case it was started by a people who felt like the Germans did, that they were somehow left out, somehow not given their due. People who took a conscious effort to reform their culture, and in so doing gave themselves permission to commit murder. That has been accelerating in this century and I think it will continue to accelerate into the next century.

That is going to be a result of the side effects of the combination of the globalisation of economy and all the social changes that have diminished the value of human labour and diminished the value of people's relationships and their symbiotic relationships with land.
Read or listen to the rest of this interview with him regarding the future.

Yesterday's Democracy Now also featured an excerpt from a talk he gave at a teach-in last month.
the American civilization has a rationalization for a lot of bad things, things like the removal policy and things like the Indian war thing, and things like the forced assimilation policy.

All of those flow from an ideology of white supremacy, which was the dominant ideology of race theory in the United States in the 19th century. I point this out, because it seems to me that the moment we're looking at is a proposal that peoples of the world, distinct peoples of the world have a right to a continued existence as distinct peoples. And I point to you that the white supremacy argument offers no such rights. It doesn't offer any rights to a distinct existence -- a continued existence of other species, of birds, animals, plants and whatever, fishes. It is a theory that says that one group has the absolute unhindered right to do what they need to do to get what they want.
Listen, read, or watch the whole thing

Monday, December 18, 2006

To Map a Green Line or Not

Peter Hirschberg: JERUSALEM, Dec. 18 (IPS) - "A directive by Israel's education minister that all maps in new editions of school textbooks must include the 1967 line that separates Israel from the West Bank has sparked a political firestorm, with right-wing politicians and religious leaders threatening to boycott the books if they are issued."
Read the rest

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What Can I Do About the War in Afghanistan?

Most of us progressives are opposed to what Canada and NATO are doing in Afghanistan. But what can we do about it?

1. Let Canadians hear your voice. Write letters to the editor of your local paper (tips). Email important independent news articles and commentary to your friends and family. When you hear people offering uninformed support for the mission, challenge them. Ask if they know that The Northern Alliance (the supposed good guys) are just as violent and fundamentalist as the Taliban. Ask them why a civilian man, woman, or child killed is called a "Taliban" by the news?

2. Don't let the government forget there is an active opposition to our war in Afghanistan. Write to your MP. Remind them that it isn't enough to get our troops out - we helped to create this mess, we need to take some responsibility for fixing it. Sign the NDP's "Support our troops; Bring 'em home" petition.

3. Educate yourself. Like any country, Afghanistan has a long and complicated history, which is very relevant to what is happening today. Read independent media. Try to find out and understand what the Afghan people really want. Here's a good article to start.

4. Express solidarity with indigenous groups, like RAWA and The Afghan Women's Mission. The people in these organizations are courageous and are working their hardest - the least we can do is help them. Provide moral support, offer to fundraise , donate a few bucks. It will go a long way. Join Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan

More suggestions? Please add them in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Puts Things in Perspective, Doesn't It?

If there were... 100 People in the USA:

(From The Rational Radical): If 100 people collectively own $100.00, here's how it would be distributed as per current U.S. wealth distribution:
    1 person gets $38.10
    4 people get $5.32 each
    5 people get $2.30 each
    10 people get $1.25 each
    20 people get .60 each
    20 people get .23 each
    40 people get half a penny each
So, as per Democratic Space, is a wealthy country one with the most rich or the fewest poor?

If there were... 100 people on Earth

What would the Earth be like if it were a village of 100 people? Watch The Miniature Earth (It's really good) to find out... Via The Skwib.

How Rich Am I?

To get an idea of how rich we really are, check out the interactive Global Rich List. If you live in a Western country, even a modest income will place you in the top 10% of the richest people in the world.

How Many People are in the World?

As I go about my life, I feel like pretty much the centre of my world, but I am aware that there are billions of other subjects out there (or as a wise woman I know used to say: "you aren't the bellybutton of the world"). Indeed, there's a heckuva lot of people in the world. 6.5 billion is a really big number... too big to wrap one's mind around. So, check out Population:One and remember, one pixel is one person.

Does History Matter?

Anyways, to prove the past really did exist, check out this series of photographs of Iraq in 1918. A_Resident bought them at a yard sale. History is important. The past really did exist, and events of the past affect the present. The Middle East was a colonized area (many countries still are), and the results of that are still being played out.

Of all places, in MSN Money: "Got $2,200? In this world, you're rich. A global study reveals an overwhelming wealth gap, with the world's three richest people having more money than the poorest 48 nations combined."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What Do Kids Think?

After all, it is they that will be inheriting the world we create.

According to UNICEF, "...the world would be a far better place if children's views were seriously and systematically taken into consideration, if children's participation as citizens and bearers of rights was encouraged and empowered." I agree.

Kidlink is an amazing participatory web site, which asks young people from around the world for their thoughts on important questions, such as How Do I Want The World To Be Better When I Grow Up? Their answers vary, but there are common themes. Overwhelmingly, they want peace, tolerance, justice, a clean world, health, and safety.

For example, an 11 year old girl from India says:
Say no to racism and intolerance.Trying to improve the lot of poor people andtrying to create a youth community that will take a strong stand against anyone starting the politics of hatred.
C'mon grownups. Why aren't we listening?

Kids have a lot to say, when they are simply given the forum. UNICEF has also conducted polls to find out what children think about issues that affect them. They have results of these polls for East Asia/Pacific, Europe/Central America, and Latin America.

Also, check out today's BBC's School Day (Download the 15ish minute mp3 here), in which they ask kids from Tanzania, India, and England their opinions on topics like school, marriage, and terrorism. Very well-spoken kids with lots to say. This programme is what inspired this post, and is worth a listen.

Other posts about Kids

Solar Power in India/Wind Power in Africa

One of nine solar power stations replacing diesel generators on Sagur Island, West Bengal. Low carbon technologies allow this family and a new generation of local people to miss out on the pollution of 20th Century technology and its related health impacts.

Photo by Alex Webb.
It is not just in Ecocity that low carbon solutions are delivering an improved standard of living. This woman from Hluleka, one of the many remote, rural communities in South Africa, gets on with her day knowing she can look forward to a continuous electricity supply thanks to a combination of wind and solar power. Renewable energy is a cheap way of providing power for isolated communities.

From the amazing exhibit NorthSouthEastWest: A 360° View of Climate Change.

More on Art and Environment.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An American in Hezbollah's Tent

Excerpts from Rethinking Terrorism: A Jewish American Crosses into Hezbollah Territory:
I found myself in front of a squad of Jordanian police, explaining that I could not share in the bread they were offering because it was Eid al-Pesach, a holiday commemorating the Jewish escape from Egypt thousands of years ago.

They offered me yogurt and a spoon.

In all my travels in the Middle East I have repeatedly received the same welcome response.

This trip to Lebanon was no different than the other trips to the Middle East, says the author, which leads to the question:
How does the bombing start when we can we stand here chatting politely, drinking coffee, asking questions about Israel and Lebanese politics? Who are the people who start the bombing? Who are the kidnappers and the killers? And why can't they talk a little more first?

Why indeed? It is at least partially due to the incredible fear-mongering seen from the government and media. Fear is the most useful tool for governments bent on warmaking, and the media are their echo chamber. There is a dangerous and irrational anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria, mostly fueled by the false, but fear-provoking equation: Muslim = Terrorist.

Howard Zinn reminded us of this in a recent address, by quoting Göring, who said: "Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war? But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism. It works the same way in any country." (Emphasis mine)

Filed under Reflection