Monday, April 30, 2007

On Truth and Illusions

Truths are illusions which we have
forgotten are illusions.

From The Nietzsche Family Circus via More Notes From Underground

Boycott Bottled Water

Food and Water Watch is calling for a boycott of bottled water.

Take the pledge to:

- End your daily use of bottled water
- Fill a reusable bottle with tap water
- Support programs to ensure access to clean, affordable, public tap water for all

I have to tell you, I hate bottled water. I guess it is because I see it as a symbol of our economic disparity (not everyone can afford imported water but it is a status symbol), gullibility (we actually believe it's better for us. Why? Because the Evian commercial told us so), bad resource management (let's let Coca-cola steal the water out of our aquifiers, deplete our groundwater, or use our subsidized munipical water and then sell it back to us at an incredible premium) and sheer destructive power (when we consume bottled water we are really consuming petroleum: millions of gallons of oil are used for plastic bottles, not to mention transporting all that water in trucks instead of pipes).

Casting doubt on the safety of our public water systems has been one of the greatest marketing coups of all time.

The truth is:

Bottled water (in almost all North American municipalities) is not safer or healthier
Bottled water is bad for the environment
Bottled water is a waste of money
Bottle water worsens inequality (If those with money and power aren't drinking tap water, they also won't be fighting for tap water, and everyone else has to suffer with worsening water quality)

Stop the commodification of water; boycott Evian, Dasani (coca-cola), Nestle, Aquafina (pepsi), and all others who are stealing the water that is part of the earth's bounty. Ensure clean drinking water for everyone. You'll probably save money too.

More on water:

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another View of The Good Life

Following on the heels of yesterday's post, here's another way of looking at The Good Life.

Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World , who blogs at does a presentation about the amazing vibrancy of so-called slums: squatter communities. This will be of special interest for anarchists because there are real examples here of self-organizing, self-government. These are people taking their lives into their own collective hands - many because they have no choice, but others because they love these communities and the freedom they provide.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Good Life and The Economy

Last night I went to see David Suzuki speaking and he got me thinking about something. He spoke about how we've elevated the Economy to something above and beyond its actual purpose. The Economy is no longer about making sure everyone has their material needs fulfilled; it is considered a good in itself and our almost religious imperative is to grow it. (He says to John Baird: why do you keep talking about the economy, you're the minister of the environment, not of finance. aaah, snap!)

That's probably why I was so pissed off earlier this week when I saw the cover the National Post - two scenes of armageddon, with a headline that said something like: The Economy or the Environment? Yes, that old false dichotomy, resurrected by the Conservatives and spit out verbatim by their cheerleaders.

We worship at the altar of growth. How much did our economy grow this quarter? is the only legitimate economic question. But were there more or fewer hungry children this quarter? is a social question, unrelated to The Economy (I wish I could make a choir sing every time you read the word "economy" because I think that would capture my point well). The truth is, growth has only a tenuous connection to The Good Life (and can indeed be a pretty bad thing) and yet is has this special status. (Another D.S. paraphrase: we have twice as much stuff now compared to the 60s - are we twice as happy?)

I know philosophers have been philosophizing about The Good Life for a very long time and I'm unlikely to have any sort of breakthrough, but we all have a commonsense understanding of it which bears remembering.

We need food, shelter, water, clean air, love and community, security, and a sense of personal agency. These things are like the building blocks that allow us to live happy and fulfilled lives. A bigger house, new pair of shoes, or a fancier car won't make us happier. Yet somehow we have come to believe these things are good.

It brings to mind those who compare the situation of the poor in Canada with the poor in the slums of Calcutta or Sub-Saharan Africa (you know the kind of poverty you see on a World Vision commercial: little black children with big bellies and flies all over their faces). They say things like: our poor have everything they need. That's not real poverty. They want too much. They just complain because they want a big screen TV or an iPod.

The problem with being poor in Canada is not about lack of funds to afford a big screen TV. It's first and foremost about a lack of security. It's about chronic insecurity. It's about constantly being one paycheck away from being evicted. It's about having no room for error, no ability to be flexible: uh oh hydro costs went up this month - there's nowhere for that money to come from except from other necessities. It's about living in neighbourhoods that have more pollution and crime. Or possibly couch surfing, living with friends, sleeping in your car. Or for women, living with boyfriends who often have too much of control since they know you have nowhere else to go.

It's also about social isolation, and especially your children's. We live in a society in which kids who don't have what the other kids have are ridiculed and rejected. They grow up feeling like they are worth less than the other kids - simply because their family can't afford the right brand of sneakers. Don't scoff: it's true. That is life in this consumer-based society.

Once very basic needs are accounted for, it is the gap between the rich, the poor, and the middle class that determines how detrimental poverty is.

That is why even equal growth worsens poverty: if I make $10,000 per year and you make $100,000 per year, the gap between us is $90,000

Now let's say we each have a 5% increase in our wages. I made $10,500 and you make $105,000. Now the gap between us is $94,500. It's gotten much bigger, despite the fact that we both received an equal percentage of income growth.

We do not need 5% per annum. We do not need the Enrons and the Exxons to post ever higher profits each year. We need wisdom in the management of our earth's bounty. Equitable sharing of its produce. The return of cooperation as a driving force. Solidarity. Community.

Unceasing growth for its own purpose is tumor. Capitalism is a cancer.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Economic Growth Creates Poverty In The World

There is a "mystery" we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?
It is, of course, no mystery at all if you don't adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.

There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few. (From Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World by Michael Parenti)

Even though most Americans believe the poor are to blame for their own problems, the truth is inequality is the inevitable result of capitalism. "Wealth" is moved from those who have little money or power to those who already have a lot of both. Increasing the pace of economic growth does little to combat poverty, because it is a problem of distribution, not production. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most fertile places in the world, yet it also boasts the highest rates of poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

In The End of Economic Growth, Adam Parsons points out:
If one billion dollars in overseas aid truly lifted 434,000 people out of extreme poverty... then the world would be an altogether different place.
The 'trickle-down theorists', in no short number, argue with the same few hackneyed metaphors to illustrate their obsession with economic growth, like the rising tide that lifts all boats, or that, rather than share the cake more evenly, it is better to bake an even larger one... What this complacent premise fails to account for is the billions of people earning less than two dollars a day who are fortunate to own a corrugated shelter, let alone a 'cake' or a 'boat' to rise in. Poverty eradication is a nice enough idea, the lesson seems to be, so long as it remains consistent with the assumption of the rich getting richer.

As of May 2005, the three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 47 poorest countries. Wow, Bill Gates' personal net worth is higher than the GDP of more than half of the world's countries. (Crossed out because the comparison isn't valid - see comments)

To plead for a redistribution of wealth, even for a one percent redistribution of the incomes of the richest 20 percent to the poorest 20 percent, is tantamount to asking for a magic wand so long as the existing macroeconomic polices drive international politics... Another rudimentary metaphor to add to the trickle-down theorists limited repertoire, in this sense, might be the description of a cancerous tumour.

In other, related news, the UNDP says the brain drain costs the African continent over $4 billion annually. Canada's immigration policies do nothing to help, by the way. Our immigration policy favours the wealthy and professionals, such as doctors and lawyers - although once they get here, they are often unable to practice.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fighting Against Occupation Will Not be Tolerated (Unless you're on our Side)

Let's do a little mental experiment.

Let's say the USA was invaded by Cuba for harboring known terrorist Luis Posada Carriles. Many American civilians were killed.

Along with US army, private security contractors, militias, and regular armed citizens join in the popular resistance against the occupiers. Now lets say one of those killed a member of the invading Cuban army. Would that person deserve to be taken to a secretive prison, charged with murder, and potentially receive the death penalty?

What if this American was a teenager: 14 or 15 years old?

15 year old Omar Khadr (actually a Canadian Citizen) was arrested in 2002 because he threw a grenade which caused injury leading to death. He has been in Guantanamo since.

Now, nearly 5 years later he is being formally charged with murder. Originally the process was ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court, and the charges were thrown out, but the law was conveniently changed by Congress.

The message being sent? This is what happens when you resist the great military imperialist juggernaut that is the USA. Resistance is futile. It will not be tolerated.

The truth? The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is the crime. Resisting is not.

Oh yeah, and why do we understand that child soldiers in Africa are victims, who are traumatized and need treatment, while Middle Eastern children are not given the same consideration? Oh silly me. I know why: because of who they kill. If a child soldier kills one us they are evil. If they only kill other Africans we get that it isn't their fault. Read A Child in War: Detaining Omar Khadr Violates Our Moral and Legal Principles

UPDATE MAY 2, 2007
Read this excellent post, and the scary comments that follow

Sprawl --> Sedentary Lifestyle --> Obesity & Health Problems

When you create a mental image of the countryside, it probably features the smell of clean air, and green seas of rolling fields. Seems so healthy, doesn't it? But according to this article on people who live in the country are generally far less healthy than city-dwellers. That's because usually the countryside is actually a suburban environment that has little in the way of nature, and a lot in the way of big box chain stores whose names end in "-mart" that are connected by highways peopled by SUVs. This is not a recipe for health: "a sedentary lifestyle (which may or may not manifest in obesity) contributes to many American health problems -- including asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure."
Ever since two studies linked sprawl and obesity in 2003, study upon study has been published suggesting that our built environment -- marked by car-oriented, isolated, unwalkable neighborhoods -- is having a deleterious influence on our health. In other words, sprawl is making us unhealthy, unhappy and fat.

One early study of 200,00 people, led by urban planner Reid Ewing, found that residents of sprawling communities tended to weigh more, walk less and have higher blood pressure than those living in more densely populated areas. Another study, by health psychologist James Sallis of San Diego State University, concluded that people living in "high-walkability" neighborhoods walk more and were less likely to be obese than residents of low-walkability neighborhoods. A 2004 study based in Atlanta, led by Lawrence Frank, reported that the number of minutes spent in a car correlated with a risk of obesity. Among the oft-cited conclusions of the study: A typical white male living in an isolated residential-only neighborhood weighs about 10 pounds more than one living in a walkable, mixed-use community.

I never understood the suburbs. I know someone who moved out of the city when he got married because he wanted to bring up his kids in the country. Of course what this meant was getting a McMansion in a subdivision (which destroyed the very nature he said he wanted to live in). The cute little chipmunks he sees on his lawn are there because their home was bulldozed to make way for his lawn. His family has to drive any time they want to go somewhere. He doesn't like his neighbours. There's no sense of community. Culture is hours (of driving) away.

Unfortunately in places like Toronto, living in the city is increasingly expensive. Many have little choice: "30 percent of the respondents reported that they wanted to live in walkable neighborhoods but were unable to afford them."

The answer isn't necessarily to move everyone into the few walkable cities that exist in North America, but to focus all development on the principles of New Urbanism: neighbourhoods that are pedestrian-friendly, medium-density development, mixed-use zoning, and preserved green spaces outside the city. In concrete terms this means you can live, work, and shop in the same neighbourhood, without having to own a car. (Here's a virtual demo of what such a community might look like)

Via the Carfree USA Blog. Urban environments can have all kinds of benefits, health is just one.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sorry We Missed You

Funny anti-Patriot Act door-hanger. Scare the pants off your Patriot Act-loving Republican friends. Buy a memo pad with 25 sheets at Via Window into Palestine

Happy Announcement

I'm going back to school!

As of September 2007, I'll be working towards my masters at U of T. I'll be taking the Collaborative M.A. in International Relations and History at the Munk Centre.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Gender Genie Thinks I'm a Dude

Via Do you Blog Like a Girl?, comes the Gender Genie, which is supposed to predict the gender of an author.

I ran several of my posts through; here are my results:

So, despite the fact that almost all of these were wrong, apparently the algorithm is pretty accurate.

Interestingly, I took a nice long post from Daddy Dialectic: peein like a boy, or the follies of fathering in which the author talks about being a father. The results: "Female Score: 2014, Male Score: 1903 - The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: female!"

Which leads me to wonder if my voice would be more "female" if I wrote more about personal relationships and less about politics and social issues? If so, that means the "out of the home" topics are still largely the purvey of men, while "in the home" topics are womens' topics. Or is "serious" writing considered to be male? Or do I feel the need to take on a "male" writing style when discussing serious topics? Is there really such a thing as a female or male voice, or are we simply so programmed to communicate differently? Are these different linguistic styles simply a clear demonstration of patriarchy? Are women relational communicators due to our subordinate position in the hierarchy? In which case, does my "male" voice indicate I'm not writing submissively? Or is it because women are still the primary caregivers - then of course we'd communicate more relationally?

Or is this tool just bunk?

Try it out yourself. Choose posts that are longer than 500 words, and that quote the least from other sources, so as to ensure your own style comes through. Let me know if it is accurate.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Right to Bomb

From an interview 21 January 2003 (Before this Iraq War officially began), with Sadiq, a scholar:
Now they are saying we are 'a threat' to them. But hasn't it always been they who have threatened us?
Yes, we are a threat to them. Every time we break bread, thousands of them are at risk from each munch of our teeth. Every time I chew a grape or a sugared date, suck a mulberry or an apricot, someone in England must shudder in fear. Every time my son climbs a tree to find a fig, the fine imperial gentlemen of England are put at risk. Yet all we have ever wanted to do is to live our own lives without them. The other night on TV I heard an old Iraqi layman saying, 'they have everything, we have nothing. We don't want anything from them - but still they want more from us'. All we ask is for them to stop interfering with us. We have not been bombing them since 1920. It is they who have been bombing us. Do they never think of that? It never bothers them. They seem to think of it as their god-given right. Or is it another of their human rights - the right to bomb?
And still they claim that it is we who are a threat to them. So much so that they have been killing us over the decades, bomb after bomb after bomb, whenever we displeased them or went against their interests. Our problem though, I suppose, is that ... we didn't just go along with everything they wanted... They will never subdue us, you will see, never 'pacify' us - even if they keep at it for all eternity.
I often wonder how they would feel if we had been bombing them in England every now and then from one generation to the next, if we changed their governments when it suited us, destroyed their hospitals, made sure they had no clean water, and killed their children and their families. How many children is it that have died now? I can't even bring myself to think how many. They say that their imperial era is over now. It does not feel that way when you hear the staccato crack of their fireballs from the air. Or when the building shakes around you and your children from their bombs as you lie in your bed. It is then that you dream of real freedom - in shaa' allah - freedom from the RAF

Quoted from Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction by Robert Young. Emphasis mine.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Woman too smart to have put up with abuse

From the International Herald Tribune:
A Spanish judge has thrown out a woman's harassment suit against her ex-husband on the grounds she has a good education, arguing that had she really suffered abuse during their 16-year marriage she would have reported it right away or sought counseling.
He said he found it "surprising" that a woman with her level of education would put up with that alleged treatment for so many years without reporting it or seeing a psychiatrist, and "curious" that she is filing suit now, years after the marriage fell apart.
Rocio Mielgo, president of the Association of Victims of Sexual Aggression and Mistreatment, said the ruling is unacceptable because it suggests that only "if you are from a lower class or have little education can you be mistreated."

Three letters: WTF?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tastes Like Child Slavery

The secret ingredient in that creamy, delicious chocolate bar? The toil and sweat of children in West Africa, forced to work long hours for no pay and little food. Doesn't taste so sweet anymore, does it? Like chocolate, child slavery comes in many colours. But usually brown. Its victims are poor, desperate kids - the most marginalized of society.

A Dutch journalist, Teun (Tony) van de Keuken, hoped to bring awareness to this issue by having himself arrested for eating chocolate two years ago:
Teun van de Keuken, 35, is seeking a jail sentence to raise consumer awareness and force the cocoa and chocolate industry to take tougher measures to stamp out child labor.

"If I am found guilty of this crime, any chocolate consumer can be prosecuted after that. I hope that people would stop buying chocolate and thus hurt the sales of big corporations and make them do something about the problem," van de Keuken said.[...]

"We profit from these people and they get almost nothing in return. As consumers we are also responsible for these atrocities," van de Keuken told Reuters.

Listen to an interview on CBC with van de Keuken explaining everything he's done to try to force Nestle and other companies to stop buying chocolate produced with child labour, including launching his own line of chocolate, creating a movie, trying to get his issue on Oprah, and more. Read this for more information on child slavery in the chocolate industry, and on van de Keuken's work.

Blood Chocolate. Blood Diamonds. Blood Oil. Blood Gold. Are you seeing a pattern? I'll give you a hint: the problem isn't chocolate. It's this whole rotten global corporatism that ensures businesses are rewarded (hooray, stock increase, let's go play golf!) for squeezing as much as they can out of those who actually make the stuff they sell.

UPDATE April 20: Italy is leading the way:
Last year, the Italian government issued a new regulation stating that public authorities should take account of sustainable development when they are issuing calls for tender.

Because schools are required to sell fair trade products in their canteens, it is estimated that this will lead to weekly sales of fair trade bananas and packets of biscuits of almost 300,000 each in 2007-12.

The Perpetrator as Victim, Too

This is a note from a young, thoughtful man who has a lot of significance to say. To understand the minds of our youth, it is important to listen to them. So read this:
I'm dead tired of them demonizing the shooters. People fail to see the shooter himself as a victim as well. A victim of exclusion, bullying, beatings, ridicule and being ignored. The most frustrating thing is that I can relate to these shooters. I feel like every time they criticise them they indirectly criticise me. Another very frustrating thing is that they dodge the issue of ignorance. If I go to someone for help, and they criticise, ignore or admonish me, will I bother? I got lucky there were no firearms readily available and just got forced to quit school. I wonder if only two students who had it coming ended up on the news, what would people say? Poor guys, boo-hoo, nice guys, what a shame. How about a couple witnesses saying that they pushed him too far, they had it coming. It's no different than silencing the protests to the war on Iraq. They only keep one side of the story. Then you hear the typical opinion of a prof. of psychology. My mom and dad still maintain that it was my fault that I "quit" school. I've still got that beef with them. They didn't help much. But Mr. [xxx] (principal of [xxxx]) is still in my black books. I still want him dead, I just don't want to do it myself. I need to speak out about the FACT that the SHOOTER was VICTIMISED without being told how insensitive and mean and evil I am. I want to save lives. I want bullies to get expelled on the first offence and sent to juvie for assault and harassment like any other criminal. Once you can't get away with something, people don't do it as much. Then comes the problems of popular kids sticking up for popular kids, getting bullies off the hook or other kids (maybe 12 of them) saying YOU'RE a bully and getting YOU expelled. How come a kid can break another kid's arm and watch him scream with a smile on his face, before some other kid gets a teacher. If you can resolve the REAL problem (bullies, ignorance etc.) you won't usually have to deal with the RESULT (the shootings) as often. I want to do something about this. Any ideas?

Written by Emerson MacIntosh.

How is it that a 24 year old understands this, but our politicians and pundits can't seem to wrap their heads around it?

It's extremely hard to grow up in this hyper-individualized super-paced and highly complex world. The widening poverty/wealth gap, isolation, bullying, pressure to conform, child abuse, pressure to succeed, and a culture of violence have their effects on the children who will one day be the adults running the world.

If we insist on fearing and pathologizing the emotions and behaviour that are an inevitable result of the society we live in, we only alienate these kids even more. Is it any wonder that depression, eating disorders, partner violence, binge drinking, and drug abuse are common among kids and young adults?

One example: anger. Our society doesn't demonstrate healthy ways of dealing with anger, a normal natural emotion. Kids learn either that anger is bad and shouldn't be felt, or they learn that anger is best expressed through violence (at least if they watch TV - and I'm not even talking about Rambo, watching a White House press conference is enough to give that message).

Also on the Virginia Tech massacre

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Violence at Virginia Tech and at Iraq's Universities Unacceptable

Think about how you felt when you heard about the terrible tragedy that happened yesterday at Virginia Tech. Think of those 33 innocent people who were killed, for no good reason, while they were going about their business. They had futures, which are now gone. They have families who loved them and who are devastated. Their friends, lovers, parents, neighbours, teachers, and even strangers like us are mourning their loss. There is fear among students and their families - what if this happens again? What if it's my school next? What if it is my son or daughter?

Now think about this: Iraqis face this every day.

Innocent Iraqi students, who also have bright futures, and families who love them, are killed or fear being killed every day.

Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty, from
Students look at the scene of two explosions in front of Mustansiriya University on January 16.

The nation reacted in horror as students counted their dead by the dozens, all innocent victims of an indiscriminate attack violating the sanctity of the university campus.

Today, it’s Virginia Tech, the site of a horrific mass murder in which at least 33 students are confirmed dead in a shooting rampage by an as-yet unidentified gunman.

In Iraq, universities struggling to operate in the midst of a war zone have been struck repeatedly by bombings, shootings, assassinations, and abductions that have left behind hundreds of killed and wounded, victims and forced thousands of students and professors to stay away, or even leave the country.

On Monday, the same day as the Virginia Tech mass shooting, two separate shooting incidents struck Mosul University, one killing Dr. Talal Younis al-Jelili, the dean of the college of Political Science as he walked through the university gate, and another killing Dr. Jaafar Hassan Sadeq, a professor from the Faculty of Arts at the school, who was targeted in front of his home in the al-Kifaat area, according to Aswat al-Iraq.

In January, Baghdad’s Mustansiriya University sufferred a double suicide bombing in January that killed at least 70 people, including students, faculty, and staff. A month later, another suicide bomber struck at Mustansiriya, killing 40.

Read the rest of the article from

Yesterday as we huddled around our TVs and Radios, listening to the events at Virginia Tech and the subsequent analysis, we were putting ourselves in the place of those affected by the violence. We were imagining what if it was our son, our daughter, our wife or husband, or ourselves who were killed. We were experiencing our natural human gift of empathy. Universally there was an opening of hearts. What happened yesterday was a tragedy, and I think as human beings, we all feel the pain of those who suffered.

A wise woman I know once said: "When a heart breaks, it opens, and it can become a powerful force for love in this world". I hope our hearts stay open to help us feel the pain of others in the world, and I hope we are inspired to act and stop letting thugs kill and destroy, indiscriminately ruining countless lives.

Oh right, but I forgot. The most important thing is to make sure nobody worries about losing their right to bear arms.

Inspired by this and this.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Action: Support Independent Journalism in Haiti by Buying Beautiful Photos

One of the few Haitian journalists reporting from the point of view of the poor majority needs your assistance. Wadner Pierre has been regularly contributing to important solidarity sites such as HaitiAction and HaitiAnalysis and the Institute for Democracy and Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), but his camera is barely functioning.

Darren Ell and the IJDH are selling 8x10 photographs taken by Wadner and Darren in the last year in Haiti to raise money for a new camera. Click HERE to view the photos and place your orders. They have already raised $500, and Wadner has saved $100, but we still need another $500 to get him the kind of camera he needs

8 x 10 prints of each of the photos are selling for only $25 US ($30 Canadian), shipping included.

Support independent journalism in Haiti. Buy photos for yourself, as a gift to someone else, and tell your friends. It's for a very good cause. Via The Dominion.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Before Rosie was a Riveter

Rosie, 7, is a regular oyster shucker at Varn & Platt Canning Co. in Bluffton, South Carolina. It is her second year at it. She is illiterate and works all day. Shucks only a few pots a day. February, 1913. From Shorpy, the 100-Year-Old Photo Blog. Via Mental Floss.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

We're Not Here to Get Bored

Heavy Denim
- Stereolab

We're not here to get bored
We're not here to get bored
We are here to disrupt
To disrupt, to disrupt
To have the time of our lives

Listen to clip

Speaking of heavy denim...

And how about Doubt... (Listen)

Doubt will kill you
you've passed away
the various controls
Appeal of the marvelous
Is it enough to show
How the nightmare works
so everyone will wake up
Is it enough?

My apologies for an incoherent post. It's late and for some reason everything I'm reading is making me hum Stereolab.

Colonization and the Killing of History

Read this slowly. Let it sink in.
Roland Chrisjohn:
What if the Holocaust had never stopped?

What if no liberating armies invaded the territory stormed over by the draconian State? No compassionate throng broke down the doors to dungeons to free those imprisoned within? No collective outcry of humanity arose as stories of the State’s abuses were recounted? And no Court of World Opinion seized the State’s leaders and held them in judgment as their misdeeds were chronicled? What if none of this happened?

What if, instead, with the passage of time the World came to accept the State’s actions as the rightful and lawful policies of a sovereign nation having to deal with creatures that were less than fully human?

What if the Holocaust had never stopped, so that, for the State’s victims, there was no vindication, no validation, no justice, but instead the dawning realization that this was how things were going to be? What if those who resisted were crushed, so that others, tired of resisting, simply prayed that the ‘next’ adjustment to what remained of their ways of life would be the one that, somehow, they would be able to learn to live with? What if some learned to hate who they were, or to deny it out of fear, while others embraced the State’s image of them, emulating as far as possible the State’s principles and accepting its judgment about their own families, friends, and neighbors? And what if others could find no option other than to accept the slow, lingering death the State had mapped out for them, or even to speed themselves along to their State-desired end?

What if?

Then, you would have Canada’s treatment of the North American Aboriginal population in general, and the Indian Residential School Experience in particular.

Canada's aboriginals are survivors of genocide. They are still a colonized population. It isn't history. It isn't in the past. They are still living the effects today.

From Praxis Media's Hoping Against Hope: The Struggle Against Colonialism in Canada Listen to the first episode, read transcript here, read a review or purchase the series.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Smoking & Beef Soon to be Illegal for Men of Breeding Age

"Male reproductive health is in trouble," say two new studies, so urgent guidelines are needed for men of breeding age, just like for pre-pregnant wimmins. In case you'd forgotten:
New federal guidelines ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves -- and to be treated by the health care system -- as pre-pregnant, regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant anytime soon.

Among other things, this means all women between first menstrual period and menopause should take folic acid supplements, refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes under control.

Potential causes for the problems with male reproductive health include carcinogens (like from cigarettes), chemicals (like dioxins), hormones (like from American beef, or milk), and endocrine disruptors (such as found in many plastics). So all men capable of inseminating have a pretty long list of substances to avoid: smoking, beef, dairy products, most personal care products, bottled water, etc.

Details from Grist: Separate studies show chemicals, cigarettes may affect male birth rate :
The percentage of boys born in the U.S. and Japan each year has gradually declined over the last three decades, a new study says -- and pollutants are a possible cause. "Male reproductive health is in trouble," says lead researcher Devra Lee Davis of the University of Pittsburgh, noting that both adult fertility and fetal chances seem to be affected. The study, published in the online journal Environmental Health Perspectives, calls the trend "a serious matter" that could be caused by exposure to chemicals like dioxin and mercury; it also points to factors including stress, obesity, and fertility treatments. The true cause, says Davis, is "something we need to find out and act upon." Because a woman without a man -- well, she'd probably be fine, but still. Meanwhile, a British study says smokers are twice as likely to conceive girls, suggesting that nicotine may affect sperm. Yes, smoke gets in your Y's -- but picking up puffing in an effort to determine your child's gender is not recommended.

More info here and here

Afghanistan: Canadian is the New Soviet

As I previously mentioned, there are many parallels between what NATO is doing in Afghanistan and what the Soviets did.

From the enjoyable Afghanistanica comes this post on The Other Side of the Soviet Invasion:
[...] the strategy in the north on the part of the Soviet Union was to deliver aid and development projects as a reward for cooperation (or merely not violently resisting).

And also point out that:
[..] there was not universal resistance to the Soviets (I am not claiming that there there was no resistance to the Soviets in the north) and that the Soviets actually did give development an attempt. You can take the example of the Soviet attempt at "winning hearts and minds" and note either the striking similarity to or the stark difference with the present NATO/ISAF effort in Afghanistan.

Nothing in history is exactly the same, but there are definitely echoes to be found.

Via Global Voices

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Huge Peaceful Demonstrations in Najaf: Press & White House Dismissive

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against the occupation yesterday. The demonstrations were peaceful and unmistakably anti-Occupation and anti-American. I guess that's why the White House and the American press needed to minimize it. It's inconsistent with the propaganda that Iraqis are savages who understand nothing but violence, and who need the occupation forces to protect them from killing each other.

The CS Monitor reports:
Monday's marchers included some Kurds in traditional dress as well as Sunni clerics, many of whom were bused by Sadr's movement from the city of Basra in the south. "Let's put out the fire of discord and chop off the snake's head," chanted some in reference to Iraq's ongoing sectarian strife.

There were wildly different estimates on the numbers at the Najaf rally. The U.S. military shrugged the protests off, claiming only "5,000 to 7,000" participants. Other news agencies reports vary from estimates of "tens of thousands" to "hundreds of thousands".

Whatever the precise numbers, the truth is this is nothing new. There has been non-violent resistance in Iraq from the beginning, although you'd never know that from the lack of coverage of these resistance movements.

From eIraq:
The White House responded to the massive demonstrations with a typically dismissive sound bite. "Iraq, four years on, is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Jondroe's comment begs a little context: Opinions were indeed expressed in yesterday's demonstrations. But freedom? It is difficult to hear Iraqis described as free. Saddam Hussein is dead, sure. His regime is scattered, sure. But does the subtraction of dictatorship equal freedom? What about the addition of house raids, death squads, checkpoints, detentions, constant violence and curfews?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Economics of Motherhood and Shopping at Wal-Mart (in Comic Form)

What do we want? Full employment, living wages, sustainable local economies, recognition that parenting is a job, affordable child care... or maybe just a laugh

Welfare mothers should get jobs. You mean a full employment economy?
I'd love to have kids, but with my job I just can't afford itBy Carol Sim

Wal-Mart greeter gone wild

Happy Easter, Passover, Springtime, Long Weekend

Two girls

Under Siege, by Mahmoud Darwish a prolific contemporary Palestinian poet. Excerpt:
Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.

Psalm Three
On the day when my words
were earth...
I was a friend to stalks of wheat.

On the day when my words
were wrath
I was a friend to chains.

On the day when my words
were stones
I was a friend to streams.

On the day when my words
were a rebellion
I was a friend to earthquakes.

On the day when my words
were bitter apples
I was a friend to the optimist.

But when my words became
flies covered
my lips!...

Translated by Ben Bennani

Read more of his work:

Murdered Houses, excerpt: "In one minute the lifetime of a house is ended. When a house is killed, it is a serial killing, even if the house is empty: a mass grave of all the things once used to give a home to Meaning..."

The Girl / The Scream, excerpt: "...the girl becomes the eternal scream of a breaking news event made obsolete by the planes return / to bomb a house with two windows and a door"

5 more poems here

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Darfur and Iraq: The Politics of Naming

The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency by Mahmood Mamdani
The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly similar. The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the official military, which is said to be their main source of arms. The victims too are by and large identified as members of groups, rather than targeted as individuals. But the violence in the two places is named differently. In Iraq, it is said to be a cycle of insurgency and counter-insurgency; in Darfur, it is called genocide. Why the difference? Who does the naming? Who is being named? What difference does it make?

Hmm... could it be that the West names conflicts differently depending on who is the perpetrator? If we are the perpetrators, it is definitely Insurgency/Counterinsurgency not genocide. What about the participation of Arabs? Caveman voice: "Ug. Us Good. Them Bad."

As compared to the near blackout about Iraqi suffering in the American media:
Newspaper writing on Darfur has sketched a pornography of violence. It seems fascinated by and fixated on the gory details, describing the worst of the atrocities in gruesome detail and chronicling the rise in the number of them. The implication is that the motivation of the perpetrators lies in biology ('race') and, if not that, certainly in 'culture'. This voyeuristic approach accompanies a moralistic discourse whose effect is both to obscure the politics of the violence and position the reader as a virtuous, not just a concerned observer.

The scariest thing is the call for military intervention in Darfur.
What would happen if we thought of Darfur as we do of Iraq, as a place with a history and politics - a messy politics of insurgency and counter-insurgency? Why should an intervention in Darfur not turn out to be a trigger that escalates rather than reduces the level of violence as intervention in Iraq has done? Why might it not create the actual possibility of genocide, not just rhetorically but in reality? Morally, there is no doubt about the horrific nature of the violence against civilians in Darfur. The ambiguity lies in the politics of the violence, whose sources include both a state-connected counter-insurgency and an organised insurgency, very much like the violence in Iraq.

It is as if military intervention would somehow purge American guilt over not intervening in Rwanda. But:
What the humanitarian intervention lobby fails to see is that the US did intervene in Rwanda, through a proxy... Instead of using its resources and influence to bring about a political solution to the civil war, and then strengthen it, the US signalled to one of the parties that it could pursue victory with impunity. This unilateralism was part of what led to the disaster, and that is the real lesson of Rwanda.

Terrible crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide arise and are worsened in the context of war. War is the problem, or at least the catalyst. It is not the answer. "Strengthening those on both sides who stand for a political settlement to the civil war is the only realistic approach. Solidarity, not intervention, is what will bring peace to Darfur."

Read the Article or listen to an interview with Mahmood Mamdani

Also see Iraq is a Humanitarian Disaster, Too

Monday, April 02, 2007

Radical Aboriginal Canadians are Terrorists?

Let me get this straight. Let's say I walk into your house, kill most of your family, take your children away, destroy your means of livelihood, and force you to go live on the sidewalk. When I then take a stand and ask for, say, my garage back, I'm the problem? Not just a problem... a terrorist?

Let's see if this definition resonates. "Terrorists", noun, plural: people on the underside of the social, economic, and political power structure who stand up for themselves. Those who, marginalized on the land they peopled first, take a stand and demand their rights instead of continuing to allow themselves to be further beaten down. Also known as "Insurgents" or "Military Opponents".

At least that's how the term is to be understood in the Canadian army's counterinsurgency manual, which states:
The rise of radical Native American organizations, such as the Mohawk Warrior Society, can be viewed as insurgencies with specific and limited aims... Although they do not seek complete control of the federal government, they do seek particular political concessions in their relationship with national governments and control (either overt or covert) of political affairs at a local/reserve ('First Nation') level, through the threat of, or use of, violence. (G& M)

Read the excellent response by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine. Excerpt:

Any reference to First Nations people as possible insurgents or terrorists is a direct attack on us - it demonizes us, it threatens our safety and security and attempts to criminalize our legitimate right to live our lives like all other Canadians do. Just being referenced in such a document compromises our freedom to travel across borders, have unimpeded telephone and internet communications, raise money, and protest against injustices to our people.

I mean, we all know it is which side of the power structure you are on which determines whether your fight is "terrorism" or "defense" or "freedom fighters" or "insurgents". But usually they try to hide that fact.

Please Keep our Streets Clean: Over 818 People Have to Sleep on Them

Seen around Toronto:

"Please Keep our Streets Clean: Over 818 People Have to Sleep on Them"

"Homeless Sleeping, QUIET"

"Approximately 5052 Homeless Living in Toronto as of April 2006"

Turns out these signs are the work of Mark Daye, a 4th year graphic design student at OCAD, who says:
Instead of rebranding a product, or service for my 4th year thesis project I chose to represent a local population that usually gets overlooked. I re-coded official signage and affixed 30 of them to poles in the downtown core with messages pertaining to an obvious but ignored urban sub culture. The goal was not only to catch people off guard by creating signs that acknowledge the homeless population on a seemingly official level, but to get people to think about codes of behaviour, conformity, acceptance and to maybe spare some consideration for the homeless who live mostly ignored in the city, blending into the background just like the signs.

"2 Homeless People Die Every Week in Toronto"

Via 3 excellent Toronto blogs: Torontoist, BlogTO, and Spacing Wire

UPDATE (APRIL 4): Reactionary Signs