Onion Pearl

I used to read the Onion online every week. That was until the Daily Show and Colbert Report were around to fulfill all my fake news needs. I used to circulate great stories to friends under the e-mail header 'onion pearl'. I checked in today and found this great News in Brief:

Philip Morris: 'Please Talk To Your Cooler Children About Cigarettes'
December 6, 2006 Issue 42•49
NEW YORK—Philip Morris, the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the United States, released the first in a series of television commercials yesterday urging parents to take the time to educate their hipper, better looking, and more rebellious children about the dangers of smoking. "If your child is idolized by other kids, always gets the girls, and has no patience or respect for authority figures, please talk to him immediately about cigarettes," said the ad's narrator over a montage of Hollywood stars apparently smoking after intercourse. "Parents need to keep an eye on their charismatic and persuasive children, who are at the highest risk of smoking at an earlier age, when it's most respected by their peers." According to Philip Morris' new print-ad campaign running in Maxim and Sports Illustrated, it is unnecessary for parents to discuss the dangers of cigarettes with lame children who like board games, science, and their parents.

I guess my children have nothing to worry about. It's like I always say: The geeks shall inherit the earth.


Pit Bull Noshes on Infant

This is a horrible story. A young couple sleeping next to their one-month-old infant asleep in her car seat were awakened by her cries. They found that four of her toes had been chewed off by their six-week-old pit bull. The parents, perhaps a bit unfairly, were booked on charges of child desertion and criminal negligence.

The thing that made me post this though is the post on digg.com that accompanied a link to the story. Patrick Fisher wrote:
"The parents were charged with child desertion, but the dog was charged with child dessertion."


CPR -- Cell Phone Resuscitation

Two days ago, I was a CPR first responder. My wife had been doing the dishes, feeling around in the soapy water for the next thing to wash. She drew her breath in sharply as she ripped her Motorola ROKR from the water. I have no idea how long he was under.

Too distraught to respond rationally, she handed the little fella over to me and pleaded with me to do something. "How do I shut it off? Help me shut it off!" I demanded. I spread a tea towel out on the counter, removed the battery cover, battery, memory card and SIM card. I dabbed at the case futilely to try to get at more water, but its insides were sealed. Having administered Cell Phone Resuscitation, I turned to my wife and said, "It's a waiting game now. We'll just have to let it dry out."

The little phone lay pathetically splayed out on the tea towel. Thirty-six hours passed. My wife was working again today and was eager to get her phone back in circulation. I reassembled him, and on the off chance that God exists and he is generous enough to care about an atheist's wife's cell phone, I tossed off a quick prayer before holding my breath and pressing the power button.

It lives! HELLO MOTO indeed! Incredibly, the ROKR didn't miss a beat. My wife beamed as I handed her the phone. She checked her voicemail then returned ROKR to her pocket with a reassuring pat.

PS: I should add that whenever I come up with clever little phrases like cell phone resuscitation, comedic checkmate, or jihadist hydra, I look them up in google to see if someone else could be so clever. Turns out my search on cell phone resuscitation had thirty hits, and led me to this helpful site: The Cell Freak and an article titled "How Do I Save a Wet Cell Phone?"

Interestingly, Motorola installed a submersion indicator in the battery compartment, a little white circle about 4 mm across. When the phone is submerged, the indicator turns candy apple red, voiding the warranty. The MobileMistress at the Cell Freak advises that most manufacturers install at least two of these indicators, one in an accessible location to alert vendors and sales reps to the submersion, and the other a tamper-proof one located in the phone's insides to alert technicians.


Vive L'OS Libre!

The French National Assembly and its Ministries will make the switch from Windows PCs to open source OS Linux and Open Office. I love this story because it throttles the life out of the MS monopoly bugbear. Apple has said you can switch for years. This move takes switching one step further for large institutions or corporations by championing a free--as in liberated and gratis--solution to computing software.


I've Had My Fill of Borat—Time to Purge

My liberal-minded shame is finally catching up with my enjoyment of Borat. Yes, it's true.

I binged on Borat at his indextube portal this week. I saw a clip that did not benefit from the editor's splice when he addressed a group of moviegoers at the Toronto International Film Festival. He was unfunny when his audience is in on the joke. He repeated jokes he'd made on other occasions and perseverated on flirting with an audience member.

But more damaging than the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen is a fallible comedian is this fact: he's mocking me, and I just got the joke, and it's not so funny anymore. Cohen's audience tends to be young, savvy, and liberal. The marks in his hilarious documentary-style segments are anything but savvy. But they are sometimes achingly patient and accommodating of Borat, whether he's incapable of correctly holding a wine glass, demonstrating his acting skills, or singing anti-semitic folk songs. On other occasions, they threaten to pulverize Borat if he nudges them a bit further.

I laughed when I watched Borat sing "Throw the Jew down the well/So my country can be free," and laughed even harder when the rednecks in the honkytonk where he was performing gleefully joined in on the chorus. But I don't find it funny anymore. It's sad. It's sad that so many people can accept that Borat is a Kazakh. It's sad that the liberal marks are so bloody tolerant and obsequious that they forget to be indignant.

That Cohen can retaliate against Kazakhs who want to sue him for defaming their country by appearing as Borat calling for Kazakhs to "Sue this Jew!" is the height of cunning. "So Please Captain of Industry, I invite you to come to Kazakhstan where we have incredible natural resources, hard-working labour, and some of the cleanest prostitutes in Central Asia." Kazakhstan backed down. But it's a bit too cozy, isn't it? Is he merely capitalizing on prejudice or exposing it?

It's a question asked of comedians for decades: Are they pandering or are they actually rebuking us? Lenny Bruce. Andrew Dice Clay. Howard Stern.

But Cohen exhibits here a different phenomenon. He is not just indecent. He reflects Western stereotypes about Central Asia, and amplifies our prejudices about everything. He mocks our intolerance, and he mocks our tolerance. By being Jewish, he is insulated from criticisms of anti-semitism, but he can attribute his characters' anti-semitism to any group he wants, in this case Kazakhs, thereby vilifying them. He exploits an insatiable appetite for people—celebrities and everyman alike—to be on television and indulge his ignorance so they appear decent.

It is a comedic checkmate.

Listen to an interview with NPR's Robert Siegel


Jihadist Hydra: Enough with the head-slicing thing!

In the interest of supporting the use of source documents when forming opinions on current events, here follows a link to an extended excerpt of the National Intelligence Estimate report titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States."

I have read the excerpt and seen the comic soundbites of Bush II's press briefing on the subject. I also read the transcript of Bush II's Presidential Radio Address and I have to say I agree with some of his comments. See what you think, and try to forget for a moment that it is Bush II's hard head from which these words emanated:
"The National Intelligence Estimate confirms that we are up against a determined and capable enemy. The NIE lists four underlying factors that are fueling the extremist movement: first, long-standing grievances such as corruption, injustice, and a fear of Western domination; second, the jihad in Iraq; third, the slow pace of reform in Muslim nations; and fourth, pervasive anti-Americanism. It concludes that terrorists are exploiting all these factors to further their movement.

Some in Washington have selectively quoted from this document to make the case that by fighting the terrorists in Iraq, we are making our people less secure here at home. This argument buys into the enemy's propaganda that the terrorists attack us because we are provoking them."

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Then he goes too far and says "The terrorists are at war against us because they hate everything America stands for." I beg to differ. I think if the President acts in a manner that reflects "everything America stands for" that the US would have far fewer enemies in the world.

Freedom. Democracy. Truth. Self-determination. Free markets. Justice. That is what America purports to stand for.

But from the perspective of anyone outside the deluded administration or blinkered rural electorate, we instead see: Lies. Occupation. Martial law. No due process. No-bid contracts. Theft. Poverty. Despair.

Hard to cultivate allies from such a quagmire.

Death of an ad campaign

CBC reported today that NPR and CNN are refusing to air ads promoting the film Death of a President (official site and IMDB entry). The film is a documentary-style account of the fictional assassination of Bush II in 2007.

Death of a President was awarded the International Critics' Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The indignant co-founder of the film's distributor, Newmarket Films' Chris Ball, bitched to the LA Times: "To refuse to accept ads for a movie is tantamount to saying it shouldn't be seen, and this runs counter to everything we are supposed to believe in a free society."

Objecting to participate in the promotion of your movie undermines free society? Puh-leeze. I didn't realize that a publicly funded radio service has a duty to advertise for anybody. And for a corporate media outlet to choose its sponsors typifies what is meant by a free society. He reminds me of Dennis the Peasant hurling abuse at King Arthur, then wailing, "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!" I would not be surprised if Ball's indignation was in fact calculated to generate publicity from all news outlets, and thereby promote his movie for the cost of a conversation with a reporter.

If NPR and CNN refuse to report the film's opening and the controversy surrounding it, that is quite another matter. As news outlets, they certainly have a duty to reportage. But they are not bound to shill for you.


Thai Coup Haiku and more

Inspired by yesterday's events, and by some Hockey Haiku circulated to me by my brother, I present Thai Coup Haiku:

Not a shot is fired,
PM Shinawatra's gone.
But the more things change...

One night in Bangkok
Makes a hard man humble. Now,
Pass me some pad thai.

The Hockey Haiku my brother sent were excerpts from a book by his colleague, described as the "long awaited marriage of Zen poetry and bloodsport." My favourites:

What's so Wild about
Minnesota? Ten thousand
lakes fill up with tears.

Berserk hockey dads
have different agendas
Coach has a shiner

These haiku reminded me of the haiku I composed when we read The Odyssey for Pharos Book Club:

Polyphemus' eye:
A niche for my hot poker.
Fruitless blind fury

My foolish shipmates
Release Aeolian gales
While I dream of home.

Fair Penelope
Beacon of fidelity
For twenty years. Wow.

This started some one-upmanship between my brother and brothers-in-law. B wrote:

In my hopes and dreams
I'll never be so clever
As my dear friend Islam


I replied:

Too true, Fat Bastard.
Push yourself from the table
Before you explode.

My brother F immediately punished me for that crack:

Insults come quickly
To a cringing scrawn tapping
Computer keys

M, my other brother-in-law, could not be outdone by us youngsters. He shared a series of Bardic haiku, though sonnets would perhaps have been more apt:

To be or not, now?
An existential question.
But we all die still.

Tomorrow is a
Curse to an ambitious king
Whose candle gutters.

Filial love is
A salve to tyrant fathers
'Til their daughters die.

Star-cross'd lovers
In a comedy of errors
Tragically too late.

I tried my hand in the same vein:

Ask a pound of flesh
At your peril. Sly gentiles
Might just call your bluff.

M delivered the ultimate retort:

Ask a pound of flesh
At your peril. My geni-
tals weigh more than that.

More than a little forced, but funny all the same.


The Lessons of 9/11

Jon Stewart riffed on the rhetoric of today's anniversary in an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhal was promoting her new movie, Sherrybaby. She was lamenting the poor turnout to advance screenings in LA, versus the great turnout in NYC. Jon Stewart says, "That's because people in Los Angeles haven't learned the lessons of 9/11. See, people in New York know that if you don't go out and see Sherrybaby, you've let the terrorists win."

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Good Cheese

My apologies to the handful of regular readers who have checked-in lately and found nothing new here since G's seizure. By the way, he is fully recovered.

I had an interesting exchange recently with my brother-in-law, M, who dispatched me to review the Caravan Farm Theatre's recent production of Macbeth in Armstrong, BC, renowned cheese-producing region. He planned on using my review as part of a larger piece on summertime, outdoor Shakespeare productions.

The Caravan Farm Theatre productions have traditionally taken classic plays and adapted them to their local setting: the ranchlands and mountain valleys of interior British Columbia. The stage facility is rural and outdoors, rustic and friendly. Their adaptation of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard to The Apple Orchard was notable for its local color and wit. I was looking forward to a similar adaptation of Macbeth, complete with the horses and pipers hyped in the promotional material.

Instead, the company staged a faithful production of Macbeth with some contemporary stylistic flourishes; I was quite disappointed. I did enjoy the outdoor setting. The horses and pipers were deployed to good advantage, though no mounted skirmishes were used. And as the sun set, the sky darkened, and the wind kicked up in the trees producing an ominous and foreboding natural backdrop to the darkening tone of the play.

I accused the company of Bardolatry, a term my brother introduced me to. It could be defined as: the irrational belief of Shakespeare's works as sacrosanct and inviolable.

M thought I was being unfair: "Had they done what you expected, however, that wouldn’t have been Macbeth. [...] it would have been, say, The Pathologically Ambitious Cheese Farmer from Armstrong."

I loved the expression "cheese farmer." Of course, there is no such thing. But the phrase conjures an image of a man in springtime busily sowing rows of cheese chunks, nursing their subterranean growth through the summer, then unearthing beautiful perfectly formed rounds of cheese at harvest. A satisfying thump on the rind shows they're ripe and ready for market. That's a good cheese!

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Seized With Fear

I went through something terrifying on Tuesday. One of my nineteen-month-old twins was roused from his nap by my wife. He had been well earlier in the day, playing in the children's water park at Kelowna's City Park. But J was upset and said that our son, G, wasn't looking right. I was in the middle of a haircut at home and told her to stop freaking out. She remained concerned and upset, and my hairdresser offered to release me from my chair.

I went to look at G and was instantly struck by how wrong he looked. His cheeks and ears were flushed, especially on the left side. He was grunting and moaning, his breathing laboured, and his half-open eyes were gazing fixedly up and to his left. His back was arched, his head lolled back, his jaw clenched, and he wouldn't respond to anything. "J, I think he's having a seizure." She nodded, her face openly showing her fear in her knotted brow, downturned mouth, and imploring eyes. "Let's go!" I said.

I grabbed G and ran barefoot to the van. I barked at J to get the keys and my shoes. I strapped myself in and held him in my lap while she drove the two blocks to the emergency department. He remained flushed, which was good, that meant he was still getting oxygen, but he had brief apneic spells prompting me to consider mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Fear gripped me as I gazed into those eyes, eyes that did not look back, eyes that gave no hint of the bubbly toddler they belonged to. I rocked him back and forth and begged him to return to consciousness. I lied to J about how he was doing so she'd keep her eyes on the road and get us to the hospital intact.

I raced into the emergency department, went to the triage desk and said, "This baby is having a seizure." I was directed immediately to a nurse and said again, "This baby is having a seizure." In retrospect, I still don't know why I referred to G that way, as "this baby." Was it more clinical? Did I intuitively distance myself to seem more objective in my assessment, and gain credibility? I don't know.

We were quickly escorted to a vacant trauma room where--nothing happened. For a seeming eternity, nobody seemed to make much effort to match our concern. G continued to look into the void, we continued to fret, and aside from some vitals, nothing was being done. No anticonvulsants were administered, no doctor assessed him, no tests were ordered. This was unbelievably distressing to J and I, but we are both too reserved to press for attention.

At last, after about five minutes, a colleague and friend of ours arrived to quickly assess G, looking him over and listening to a retelling of the events leading up to this episode. G is a healthy nineteen-month-old identical twin. His brother had a febrile seizure three months ago (witnessed by my wife, and also prompting a trip to ER). He has recently been well, except for a low-grade fever that day before his nap. I gave him some acetaminophen before I put him down to sleep. His brother had been gamely suffering through a mild head cold, snotty nose, disrupted sleep, nothing serious.

G received more acetaminophen and some ibuprofen. It took a few more long drawn out minutes for G to finally recover consciousness, before his eyes brightened and he gathered in his surroundings, before he was able to give voice to his own distress with a good sustained cry. It had never sounded sweeter.

He remained irritable, jittery, and easily startled in his post-ictal state. Over the succeeding hour, his temperature remained over 40 degrees Celsius, and he threatened to seize again. But that terrifying vacant look never reappeared.

G was discharged within a couple more hours after blood and urine were collected.

Over the next day, I watched him carefully for signs of permanent or acute brain injury, my greatest fear given the duration and intensity of his seizure.

With my first son (the twins are my third and fourth), it took several years for it to dawn on me that he was not perfect. I aspired to his perfection as a parent. But when his lip was scarred by a fall to the pavement, when he needed his tonsils out to deal with his sleep disturbance, mouth-breathing, and venous stasis, when he ultimately needed glasses at six, I realized that he was not perfect. He was just a talented, affectionate, intelligent boy, and that's all I could wish for.

Now I was scared that G was beyond mere imperfection. I was concerned about a lasting impairment, cognitive or physical. He played with me later that day before bed, deftly repacking some wooden blocks into their box; listening to a favorite story, turning the pages; vocalizing some toddler conversation as I tucked him and his brother in. He was still febrile, still acted sick, but he seemed undamaged. I feel so goddamn f-ing fortunate that he is unscathed.

The next day, his fever rocketed to over 40 again (40.2). And again, shortly after I got him up from a nap, he seemed jittery, easily startled, and generally miserable. But he never had a repeat seizure. And it appears that he is now getting over whatever virus he was suffering from. We gave him antipyretics like clockwork, the ibuprofen every six hours and the acetaminophen every four, skipping an overnight dose when a hand to his forehead revealed a satisfyingly normal temperature.

I wanted to write about this awful experience to let you know what happened to us and also to reach out to other parents trying to make some sense of this condition. As physicians, both J and I have counseled parents going through what we just did. That didn't really make it easier to handle it though. We were scared.

For more, check out this fantastic parent-oriented page from the Mayo Clinic. Here's another from the NIH. An excellent review article appearing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood can be found here. In the scholarly literature, there is evidence of a familial association of febrile seizures, and thus, unsurprisingly, genetic susceptibility loci associated with the condition. Consequently, concordance rates in monozygotic twins are higher than in dizygotic twins.

I hope your child never suffers such an alarming episode. But if they do, I hope knowledge of our experience with this condition gives you some comfort.

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I flew yesterday, after more stringent security measures were applied in response to the plot to detonate explosive devices aboard ten transatlantic flights bound for the US from Heathrow. I flew from Kelowna to Cranbrook via Vancouver, not exactly hubs of terrorist activity.

Nevertheless, I had to check my overnight bag, containing shaving cream, toothpaste, hair gel, and other potentially compromising materials. I also didn't dare venture outside the security checkpoints in Vancouver to avoid having to line-up again. However, I was allowed to carry through my cell phone, iPod, laptop, books, pens, and key fob. I couldn't if I was flying from Heathrow.

British passengers were advised the following:
"Passengers may take through the airport security search point, in a single (ideally transparent) plastic carrier bag, only the following items. Nothing may be carried in pockets:
• Pocket-size wallets and pocket-size purses plus contents (for example money, credit cards, identity cards etc (not handbags)
• Travel documents essential for the journey (for example passports and travel tickets)
• Prescription medicines and medical items sufficient and essential for the flight (eg, diabetic kit), except in liquid form unless verified as authentic
• Spectacles and sunglasses, without cases
• Contact lens holders, without bottles of solution
• For those travelling with an infant: baby food, milk (the contents of each bottle must be tasted by the accompanying passenger) and sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight (nappies, wipes, creams and nappy disposal bags)
• Female sanitary items sufficient and essential for the flight, if unboxed (eg tampons, pads, towels and wipes)
• Tissues (unboxed) and/or handkerchiefs
• Keys (but no electrical key fobs).
All passengers must be hand searched, and their footwear and all the items they are carrying must be X-ray screened. "

At least you don't have to taste the female sanitary items. Just the breast milk.

The main problem for experienced travellers is the noobs who gum the whole procedure up. It may take me less than 45 seconds to pass through the security checkpoint, because I know which shoes and belt to avoid; to take off all my metal anything including watch, pager, pens, foil wrapped gum; to have my boarding pass ready for presentation, my passport close at hand; to remove all banned items from my carry-on in advance; to remove my laptop from the bag; etc.

But the noob traveller does not do any of these things. And the rest of us have to stand around while he walks through the detector wearing his jacket, then he withdraws, takes it off, puts it on the conveyor and walks through again. *beeeeep* Oh, I've got these steel-toed boots on. *beeeeep* I'm supposed to put my keys on the thing? Whoops. *beeeeep* Then the wanding. Open the belt, close it up. Turn around. Now on to the bags. "Sir, is this your bag? You're going to have to remove the scissors, the nail file, and the pocket knife. You'll also need to remove the lighter, contact lens cleaner, after shave, conditioner, shampoo, pomade, hair gel, and mousse. If you like, sir, you can return to your airline gate to check these items in your bag. Otherwise they'll have to be confiscated. Please don't use that language with me, Sir. These regulations are intended for your safety."

How safe does this make us, anyway? I have no doubt that these regulations have prevented many more incidents from occurring. Security works. Nobody's hijacked an El Al airplane in over 35 years.

I think what needs to happen, though, is a way to accommodate air travellers better. If I can't bring food and drink through security, the airlines or airport better provide it and in copious amounts. If I can't bring my toiletries on board and the airlines lose my checked luggage, they should provide a his or hers two-day toiletries supply. I shouldn't have to spend the first few hours at my destination shopping for them. And give us good stuff to read on board. And video and audio on demand. And a way to do work on board. In short, they should replace all the amenities we passengers ourselves are prevented from providing.

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Galloway Excoriates SkyTV Interviewer

British MP George Galloway blasted a SkyTV interviewer, the media in general, and everyone in the world with a memory no longer than 4 weeks for the obfuscating rhetoric and perspective employed in reports about the recent conflict in Lebanon. This interview is not to be missed.
"The Hezbollah are a part of the Lebanese national resistance who are trying to drive—having successfully driven most Israelis from their land in 2000—Israel from the rest of their land, and are trying to get back those thousands of Lebanese prisoners who were kidnapped by Israel under the terms of their illegal occupation of Lebanon. [...]

"[Israel] has killed thirty times more Lebanese civilians than have died in Israel. So it's you who should be justifying the evident bias which is written on every line on your face, and is in every nuance of your voice, and is loaded in every question that you ask. [...]

"America has given Israel missiles that can target not just every city in Lebanon, but every city in the Arab and Moslem world including Iran. Why should America be allowed to give long-range missiles to Israel—including hundreds of nuclear missiles—but Iran is not allowed to give—"
"Because Hezbollah is a terrorist organization—"
"But they're not a terrorist organization. [...] It's Israel that is a terrorist state!"

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Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land

A friend forwarded me a link to a provocative documentary titled Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land: Media & the Israel-Palestine Conflict (link to the movie, the imdb entry, or the Media Education Foundation page). In footage from the occupied territories and interviews with media analysts like Noam Chomsky, this 2004 documentary explores the calculated public relations campaign by Israel to obscure the truth.

Take a listen to a perspective that is too rarely heard, the perspective from the West Bank. An illegal military occupation. Harrassment, detention, and torture. Illegal and strategically deployed Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank. Bad faith offers at peace. The documentary makes the point that American media reports on the area are filtered and skewed; sometimes they are even authored by the Israeli Press Office, filed from their facilities, and constrained by their accepted lexicon.

While not directly related to the current conflict, the film is a worthwhile way to further refine your own perspective on the region by hearing a perspective that—I concede—is also filtered, but not by the Israeli Press Office. By The Independent, Rabbis for Human Rights, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Village Voice, Tikkun Magazine, The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, The Institute for Public Accuracy...

Where is your opinion coming from?

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Nasrallah Defiant

Reuters reports casualties incurred in the 23 days of violence triggered by Hezbollah's incursion into Northern Lebanon:
"Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the war had killed 900 people in Lebanon and wounded 3,000, with a third of the casualties children under 12.
"He said a million Lebanese, a quarter of the population, had been displaced and infrastructure devastated. The Reuters tally of Lebanon deaths is at least 683.
"Sixty-six Israelis have been killed in the war including 40 soldiers. Israel lowered the number of people killed in rocket strikes to seven after earlier reporting eight."

A little lopsided.

And yet, Hezbollah's Nasrallah remains defiant and continues to invite Israel to wreak devastation on Lebanon:

"If you strike Beirut, the Islamic Resistance will strike Tel Aviv and it is able to do so."
Neither side wants to back down first. The death toll continues to mount.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council continues to deabte the form any stabilizing force would take, and the details of a ceasefire. A French proposal calls for the creation of a buffer zone in south Lebanon which can be occupied only by UN Forces or Lebanese security forces. Other stipulations of the plan are likely to prevent its adoption, such as provisions for the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers and Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel, and the disarmament of "all militias in Lebanon". You will recall a resolution containing this final provision was already passed by the UN and ignored (UNSC Resolution 1559).

Plus ca change, plus c'est la same goddamn thing.

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Apple iPhone?

Something completely different. I need a respite from the carnage 10 time zones away.

Some monitoring future offerings from Apple have divined the possiblity of a phone in the product pipeline by examining code from the latest iPod firmware update. Check out a blurb about the findings here and the forum post listing all the interesting iPod-OS applets here.

For reasons discussed in detail at the links, these applets are not related to the Motorola iTunes phone.

A speculative design is offered below.

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Adding Ecological Insult to Bodily Injury

You have no doubt by now heard that Israel's overzealous crippling of Lebanon's infrastructure has lead to a major oil spill, with an estimated 110,000 barrels of crude oil lapping at Lebanon's shores. For comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled about 257,000 barrels of oil in 1989 (source: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council)

Above you can see what Ramlet el-Beida now looks like. The name of this Beirut beach translates to the White Beach.

The power plant is located 20km south of Beirut. I found it on google earth and have highlighted it for you at right. You can make out Beirut's airport and Beirut beyond that at the top of the satellite pic.

International assistance is ready and waiting, but unable to reach the affected area because of Israel's maritime and air blockade, and disruption of ground transportation infrastructure.

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Shame on the Times

The New York Times published an article today entitled "Israel Suffers Bloodiest Day of Fight With Hezbollah." In fact Israeli soldiers incurred between 8 and 14 casualties while fighting "house to house, and village to village" in southern Lebanon. The Israeli border was not breached by Hezbollah. No Lebanese or Hezbollah casualties are reported in the article.

Can you say "journalistic bias"?

ADDENDUM: The Times changed the title of this story to "Israel Battles Militants in Conflict's Deadliest Day." Hezbollah casualties were vaguely described as numbering in the dozens. A new photograph was substituted for the original. The deaths of 23 Palestinians were added for good measure.

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Worse Than Damn Lies

Vancouver newspaper The Province reported today that Estratest, a combination hormone therapy for severe menopausal symptoms, increases the risk of breast cancer. The article cites a Nurses Health Study, with the report authored by lead researcher Rulla Tamimi.

The newspaper headline blares "Risk goes up 250% with drug". This is not actually true.

The text of the article accurately reports that the risk of developing breast cancer in post-menopausal women using the drug is nearly 2.5 times higher than the baseline risk, an assertion I confirmed in the original article appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This translates into a risk increase of 150%, a still alarming risk increase, but not 250%.

This provides further evidence of the need to be skeptical of what you read, and go to the source material where you can if the information is consequential.

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Parse The Truth

I gave some advice to a friend recently who was having a crisis of confidence in the media:

I had read an article in Harper's a few years ago titled "The Numbing of the American Mind" that enunciated the many levels of reality, virtual reality, and flat out artifice that now coexist in our experience. Reality TV is more TV than reality, and news--depending on the media outlet--can reside more or less close to ends of a spectrum ranging from veracity to entertainment.

With such impressive simulacra of reality out there, it is difficult to trust even your senses. News is niche marketed.

We are left to parse out truth as a kind of probabilistic estimate based on numerous sources. Most people don't bother because the effort is too great and the rewards too meager.

I agree that it is important to be skeptical. It is the duty of a citizen to be skeptical of those who govern and inform him. But you should not allow your skepticism to be so psychically crushing that you cut yourself off from all the world, and sit moaning at your dinette, rocking back and forth and doing sudoku puzzles.

He told me about the Jewish tradition of the minyan, a communal worship with a quorum of at least ten, "making sure there were at least ten people arguing the truth together, just so that no one begins to mistake his perspective for reality."

I'll parse your truth if you parse mine.

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Half Empty Glass

Looks like the optimism I expressed in the last post was misguided. Israel has expanded the scope of their attacks to include suspected Hezbollah strongholds in Beirut (see picture) and are preparing for a ground offensive in Southern Lebanon to occupy the area as a buffer zone.

As I noted in my last post, these territories were vacated by Barak in 2000, and Hezbollah moved in within 12 months to establish missile launch posts there. It's hard to blame Israel for wanting to re-occupy that territory. However, they demonstrate no regard for multilateralism, proportionality, or collateral damage, and that makes it hard to sympathize.

See Kofi Annan's comments of yesterday here: press release.
"Hizbollah’s actions, which it portrays as defending Palestinian and Lebanese interests, in fact, do neither. On the contrary, they hold an entire nation hostage, set back prospects for negotiation of a comprehensive Middle East peace."

"Israel has confirmed that its operation in Lebanon has wider and more far-reaching goals than the return of its captured soldiers, and that its aim is to end the threat posed by Hizbollah. The mission was informed that the operation is not yet approaching the achievement of this objective.

"Israel states that it has no quarrel with the Government or the people of Lebanon, and that it is taking extreme precautions to avoid harm to them. Yet, a number of its actions have hurt and killed Lebanese civilians and military personnel, and caused great damage to infrastructure. While Hizbollah’s actions are deplorable and, as I’ve said, Israel has a right to defend itself, the excessive use of force is to be condemned."
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Fixing Blame

I have to confess that I have been quick to point out Israel's aggression and have been emphatic about denouncing it, while I have nearly omitted mention of Hezbollah in my posts.

Newsweek recently posted an article to their web site after Bush and Blair were caught conversing frankly within earshot of an open mic at the G8 summit this week. Michael Hirsh's commentary reprimands Bush for not re-opening dialogue with Syria, especially in light of Bush's candid acknowledgment of Syria's influence on Hezbollah: "See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."

Hirsh speculates about who "they" might be, possibly Annan and the UN Security Council. He states that the Security Council "officially demanded that Syria stop its interference with Lebanon, including its support of Hizbullah." That's not exactly true. The resolution he cites, number 1559, names neither Syria nor Hezbollah. While I acknowledge that this was the intent of the resolution, the text of the resolution is not specific. This embellishment leads me to question some of Hirsh's other assertions about al-Assad's relationship with Washington, with Ahmedinejad, and with Hezbollah.

I agree that Hezbollah should be disarmed and disbanded within Lebanon. I acknowledge that the events of the last couple of weeks were instigated by reckless attacks on Israel by Hezbollah. I don't pretend to know why. I do know that Israel has injured and killed many that have no part in this conflict, and it has deliberately crippled infrastructure in Southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah has a stockpile of about 13,000 missiles (according to Israeli military intelligence). The Fajr-3 missile is manufactured in Iran. The Katyusha is manufactured in Russia while the C-802 cruise missile is manfactured by China. These too are allegedly supplied by Iran. All were used in the recent attacks on Northern Israel, including a cruise missile attack on an Israeli warship.

These missile launch locations had been occupied by Israel until May 24, 2000, when Ehud Barak began a withdrawal of Israeli occupation of the area. Within 12 months, Hezbollah had reportedly erected a belt of mobile rocket launchers and truck mounted missiles.

Hezbollah is likewise responsible for reckless attacks on Israeli civilian targets in addition to military targets, though the consequent loss of life and damage to infrastructure is far lower than that incurred in Lebanon.

I think it's interesting that Bush and Blair, in their conversation, do see a way forward. Blair envisions preparing the region to accept a multinational stabilizing force, with Condoleeza Rice coming in after him to announce specifics about such an approach. Bush is not dismissive of Annan's role, but seems to view Annan as a useful conduit to Damascus to discreetly persuade al-Assad to use his influence on Hezbollah. Perhaps Hezbollah is even acting on directives from Syria, as implied in Bush's remarks. Iran is certainly not mentioned.

Hopefully, Lebanon can regain her footing after the recent attacks, and will receive assistance to put its heavily damaged infrastrutcture right again. I am guardedly optimistic that a de-escalation will be achieved.

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Albert Camus' The Outsider

On July 7, the Pharos Book Club met at the Bean Scene to discuss Albert Camus' The Outsider.

The novella is widely hailed as a manifesto of existentialism and a polemic against capital punishment. It appeared on a survey of men's "milestone fiction" commissioned by the Orange Prize for Fiction and conducted by Lisa Jardine and Anne Watkins. Interestingly, our book club has now read the top two books on this list (The Catcher in the Rye occupies second place), and five of the top twenty books.

[There are spoilers ahead. Read on if you don't mind]

The Outsider begins memorably with: "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know." The protagonist, a young man known only as Meursault, attends his mother's funeral as an unengaged spectator, overwhelmed not by grief but only by torpor and Algeria's heat. He is conscious of being judged by those around him. Meursault, however, does not judge, he merely observes. Over the next few days, he seems like a passenger on a ride, distanced from a sense of responsibility or connectedness to others. Ultimately, he drifts into a dissociative state induced by heat and anxiety, and shoots a nameless Arab armed with a knife, pumping four more lethal shots into his immobile body.

Meursault spends this first half of the story looking outward. Once he is apprehended and imprisoned, trapped in his cell, the scope of the novella changes dramatically, and Meursault is left to look inward, perhaps for the first time in his life. The remainder of the story focuses on Meursault's trial, the flaws of the justice system, and Meursault's epiphany about his insignificance.

The story was quite provocative for our group. We were eventually kicked out of the Bean Scene at closing time three hours after we began our discussion.

Included in the Penguin Modern Classics edition pictured above is an afterword written by Camus. I recoiled at Camus' veneration of Meursault, saying The Outsider is "the story of a man who [...] agrees to die for the truth," because "he doesn't play the game." He goes on to claim "I tried to make my character represent the only Christ that we deserve." We tried to tease out what Camus meant by this statement. Did Meursault die for our sins of projecting falsehoods on the truth to suit our social morés? Did Meursault die not for our sins, but only for his own, as it should be?

Camus appears to indict society more than Meursault. Camus lauds Meursault for seeking sensual pleasure, for not judging those around him, and for an unfailing allegiance to fact. In contrast, the justice system distorts fact. The people in the jury box—like people on a tram, like mourners at the mother's funeral—are quick to judge despite their imperfect knowledge of events. Society condemns the taking of life, yet it takes life itself based on the machinations of a faulty system. At one point, the prosecutor proclaims, "I ask you for this man's head, and I do so with an easy mind." Surely such a demand should never be made with an easy mind, if at all.

Meursault comes to recognize his insignificance, and "the benign indifference of the world":

"...everbody knows that life isn't worth living. And when it came down to it, I wasn't unaware of the fact that it doesn't matter very much whether you die at thirty or at seventy since in either case, other men and women will naturally go on living, for thousands of years even." [p 109]

I fixed far more responsibility on Meursault than others were prepared to, including Camus. Meursault recognizes, as he approaches the reclining Arab, before either weapon is drawn, that all he has to do is walk away and a lethal escalation could be avoided. He shows no remorse for his action and no regard for his victim. He blames the sun, but never himself. It is he who allied himself with a pimp who beat the Arab's sister; who placed the gun in his pocket as a precaution when returning to where the Arab was seen; who emptied the gun into the Arab after the first shot disabled him. Until Meursault understands that he chose this course—it was not fated—he will never accept his culpability.

Perhaps it is because I too am an Arab, while no one else at the table was (four other ethnicities represented), that I was an outlier in this segment of our discussion. I was less able to abstract Meursault's actions as a logical framework upon which we might examine nihilism, absurdity, existentialism, capital punishment—seeing it instead as a murder. While Meursault could have "played the game" and possibly avoided the guillotine, he does not feign remorse, he does not embrace God and beg forgiveness, he does not claim self-defense or mental anguish, he in no way distorts the facts. The prosecution does play the game, manipulating and distorting the facts, painting a portrait of more than a killer—a sociopath—persuading the jury to decapitate Meursault. Meursault's murder of the Arab is just as capricious, arbitrary, and immoral as his execution.

In his long essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus notes:
"The most important question is whether life is worth living. Everything else follows afterward. Galileo's inquiry of whether the Earth revolves around the sun or the sun revolves around the Earth is not a dilemma that causes nearly as much suffering or loss of life as the despair felt by some that their lives are not worth living."
As a secular humanist (a label I am sometimes willing to accept), I feel that life is worth living because life is all there is. I don't have an everlasting soul, a nirvana seeking spirit, a karmically-challenged id. This is it. And while I agree with Meursault about the benign indifference of the physical world—the mountains, lakes, deserts and oceans—that indifference does not diminish how precious life is, how jealously we should guard it, and how wrongly we squander it.

It is this sentiment which is challenging to reconcile with the notion of capital punishment. If someone wantonly takes a life, especially repeatedly, remorselessly, and unrepentantly, should their lives be ended as well? I would not be among the throng that greets Meursault at the guillotine with cries of hatred. But I can't decide whether I would want every killer spared.

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Extracting Canadians: Who Foots the Bill?

I listened to comments this morning from journalists and the public about covering the cost of evacuating Canadians from Southern Lebanon as a consequence of Israel's disproportionate and crippling retaliation. Some reports describe these Canadians as 'Lebanese Canadians', as though the distinction is important.

Lebanese Canadians are grateful for the evacuation effort and for the unflinching official response of the government (see a letter of thanks to Stephen Harper from six organizations representing Lebanese Canadians).

Many Canadians resent being asked evacuate people who have placed themselves in harm's way by travelling to the Middle East. I wonder if they would feel similarly callous about rescuing hikers, mountaineers, fishermen, etc who have similarly placed themselves in harm's way. But who are almost all white Canadians.

I don't like having to pay for someone's passage from Lebanon when they have decided to live there instead of Canada, and have done so for years. My mother is a dual citizen of Canada and Egypt. She lived here for twenty-five years before returning to Egypt in 1994. I was thinking about what it would be reasonable for her to expect from Canada if she were in a similar predicament.

I think a distinction can be made between two classes of Canadian citizens, and there is a precedent for it under the law: Canadian tax law. If you are a Canadian citizen, you have a right to expect Canada's assistance to extract you from a region where war breaks out. If you claim Canada as your primary residence, spending at least six months plus one day in Canada per year, you can further expect that Canada will pay for your safe conduct out of harm's way. But if you claim another country as your primary residence, then you or your country of residence should bear the cost of your evacuation.

Someone who resides in Lebanon and has done so for years should conceivably be able to draw upon local resources—financial, means of transport, their friends and family, familiar local authorities, employers—that non-residents would have far more difficulty accessing. I think the distinction is intuitive, meaningful, justifiable.

I also expect that for the most part it will be difficult to recover the costs from evacuees. Nevertheless, Canadians should understand that there are limits to the privilege that citizenship confers.

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Candid Bush

That's not the name of an upskirt porn site. That is a description of Bush II as he chatted up leaders at the G8 summit while his comments were picked up surreptitiously by a live mic. I was enthralled when I saw this yesterday, glimpsing the Wizard behind the curtain, hearing a candid assessment of the forces driving the latest Mid-East crisis.

Here is the transcript posted at MSNBC:

Bush [to Putin]: I gotta leave by 2:15. They want me out of town so they can free up your security forces.
No, just going to make it up. I'm not going to talk too long like the rest of them. Some of these guys talk too long.
Gotta go home. Got something to do tonight. How about you? Where are you going home? This is your neighborhood doesn't take you long to get home.
[to China's Hu Jintao] You eight hours? Me too. Russia’s a big country and you’re a big country. [to Putin] Takes him eight hours to fly home.

[to wait staff] Not Coke, diet Coke.
[to Putin] Russia’s big and so is China.
Yo, Blair. What are you doing? Are you leaving?

Blair: No, not yet. On this trade thing…

Bush: Yeah, I told that to (inaudible). If you want me to. I just want some movement. Yesterday I didn't see much movement. The desire to move.

Blair: It may be that it’s impossible.

Bush: I'll be glad to say. Who's introducing me?

Blair: Angela

Bush: Well tell her to call on it. Well, tell her to put me on the spot.
Thanks for the sweater [a recent 60th birthday gift]; it was awfully thoughtful of you. I know you picked it out yourself.

Blair: Oh, absolutely!
What about Kofi Annan? I don't like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically cease-fire and everything else happens. I think the thing that is really difficult is you can’t stop this unless you get this international presence agreed.

Bush: She's going. I think Condi's going to go pretty soon.

Blair: Well that's all that matters. If you see, it will take some time to get out of there. But at least it gives people…

Bush: It's a process I agree. I told her your offer too.

Blair: Well it's only…or if she's gonna or if she needs the ground prepared as it were. See if she goes out, she's got to succeed as it were, where as I can just go out and talk.

Bush: See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over.

Blair: Because I think this is all part of the same thing. What does he think? He thinks if Lebanon turns out fine, if he gets a solution in Israel and Palestine, Iraq goes in the right way, he's done it. That's what this whole things about. It's the same with Iran.

Bush: I felt like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen. We're not blaming Israel and we're not blaming the Lebanese government.

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Time's Up, Israel

I am absolutely disgusted by the vastly disproportionate and indiscriminate response Israel has meted out against Lebanon in retaliation for the abduction of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Israel will tell you that it has a right to assert its sovereignty and defend itself and its citizens from attack. Apparently, this right also extends to the inadvertent slaughter of vacationers in Aitaroun, including seven Canadians.

I think that the Western democracies need to acknowledge that the Israeli experiment was a horrible mistake. The US provides Israel with direct foreign aid of $3 billion, amounting to nearly 20% of the government's revenues (see my post Must There Be Foreign Aid To Israel?). Israel can only continue to act so belligerently because it is allowed to, and enabled to, by the US.

When I was young, I was fascinated by maps. I memorized the world's geography as fully as I could, and I thought the world was immutable. I didn't realize that nations could reunite (like East and West Germany), that they could splinter apart (like the former Yugoslavia), or that whole bodies of water could simply evaporate (the Aral Sea) or be created (Lake Nasser) if men willed it.

What about a world without Israel, as we know it today? A world where the wall is torn down and a new nation is created in its place, integrating Palestinians and Israeli Jews? Would that be worth protecting? Would that nation be more accommodating of and acceptable to its neighbours? Would that nation be truly democratic, rather than denying the vote to Israeli Arabs in Israel, or leaving governing to the farce of Palestine? What if the religious zealots were completely circumvented, so that a secular constitutional democracy was created? Wouldn't that be a better world?

With the bombing of Lebanon's airport, Israel effectively severed the most efficient way for foreign countries to secure their citizens trapped in Lebanon. Now they are all subject to the nightmare of being in Israel's gunsights.
Change can't happen when 'leaders' like PM Stephen Harper say things like "We don't intend to single out Israel" while Israel kills innocent Canadians. It can't happen when bloodthirsty Moslems unleash their venom on what they perceive as Israeli vermin. It can't happen when billions in 'foreign aid' pour into Israeli coffers without restriction. Millions are under threat everyday. The region is in a constant state of unrest. The stability of the world is undermined with every embargo, blockade, missile test, bombing and helicopter attack.
I think Israel's time is up. It's a do-over. Enough blood has been spilt.

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ZZ Blows Top

Zinedine Zidane closed his illustrious career in high drama yesterday. The French midfielder and captain who dominated the elimination round of this year's World Cup was sent off after head-butting the Italian player Materazzi in the waning minutes of extra time in yesterday's final.

At 110 minutes, with only 10 minutes remaining in extra time and the teams deadlocked at 1-1, Zidane turned to Materazzi and drove his head into the Italian's chest, dropping him to the pitch. At first, play was going to continue as the referee hadn't seen the infraction. While officials are not allowed to make video-assisted rulings, the incident was replayed in the stadium possibly forming the basis for the fourth official's confirmation of the attack and Zidane's red card.

Zizou left his team in the lurch with Vieira, Ribery, and Henry already subbed out. Zidane is his team's place kick specialist, scoring earlier in the game on a penalty kick for a foul awarded to Malouda, and scoring another penalty kick goal to eliminate Portugal. It was his free kick cross to Henry that eliminated Brazil. Only a couple of minutes before his dismissal, Zidane powered an impressive header at the Italian net that Buffon only narrowly directed to safety. Instead of leading his team into the penalty shootout, he left them short-handed with minutes to go.

One British tabloid noted Materazzi could be "clearly seen twisting the Frenchman's nipple," and he allegedly followed that up by calling him a terrorist. Who knows. All I know is while Zidane may explain what he did, he can't excuse it. Materazzi's actions, whatever they were, were calculated to bounce Zidane from the game, and Zidane stupidly, selfishly cooperated.

By this time, the voting for the tournament's MVP had closed. Zidane was awarded the Golden Ball while he sulked ignominiously in his locker room.

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An Inconvenient Truth is essentially the lecture on global warming Gore has delivered for years, "probably more than a thousand times." As a result, the presentation is polished, thorough, approachable, and compelling.

Gore, the self-described "Former Next President of the United States," aims to raise awareness of the problem of global warming. The globe is addicted to an unsustainable lifestyle, and as we've heard with other addictions, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. But as the evidence accumulates, so too do the greenhouse gases. The solutions offered in the closing credits give small comfort. And rather than Melissa Etheridge's "I Need To Wake Up," perhaps REM's "It's The End of the World As We Know It" is more apt.

Which isn't to say it's the End of the World. But the world will change, and drastically. What remains to be seen is if those changes will anticipate the trends we're observing today, or simply react to the damage yet to be done.

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Cup Coach Scat

Is it just me, or are the names of many World Cup coaches more than a little scatological. Take for example Australian coach, Guus Hiddink. I mean, really. Begs the question: Where did he hide it?

How about Argentina's coach Jose Pekerman? Or South Korea's Dick Advocaat? Dick Advocaat!

My personal favourite has got to be Togo's Otto Pfister. That conjures an indelible mental image, doesn't it?

Maybe it is just me after all.



Stephen Colbert is so skilled at being the Devil's Advocate, oozing irony with every bon mot he delivers. Like tonight, while interviewing Bart Ehrmann, author of Misquoting Jesus. After hesitantly conceding he is an agnostic, Ehrmann is stung by Colbert: "Isn't an agnostic just an atheist without balls?"

"The country is run by extremists..."

During his interview with author and Washington Post columnist Juliet Eilperin, Jon Stewart lamented, "The country is run by extremists because the moderates all have shit to do." Too true.


Germans Limp to Victory

DORTMUND -- The Germans did not mount an overwhelming offensive against the Poles today. They did just enough to score a goal, and more importantly 3 points in the standings, quenching any hope the Poles had of advancing to the round of 16 today. Neuville delivered the Germans from an embarrassing draw in extra time. After 180 minutes of play against Ecuador and Germany, the Poles have yet to post a goal and deserve to go home.


Recent Reads

Some stuff I've read lately:

John Kenneth Galbraith's The Underdeveloped Country and The Affluent Society. These books are interesting couterpoints to one another. The Underdeveloped Country is a transcript of the Massey Lecture given by Galbraith in the 1960's on developing nations, the duty of the developing world to those nations, and the likelihood that the affluence gap will widen without concerted efforts to counteract passive economic forces. The Affluent Society is Galbraith's classic long essay on capitalism in societies where subsistence has been left so far behind that the economy's engines rely on the creation of superfluous wants by a robust marketing industry, where the needs filled by the marketplace are psychological rather than physical, and where expenditures on public spaces and institutions lag far behind private ones.

Michael Ignatieff's The Rights Revolution. This is another Massey Lecture transcript. Michael Ignatieff has had a resurgence of late as a parachuted Liberal candidate in the last federal election and as a candidate for the coming Liberal leadership race. This book is loaded with interesting insights into Ignatieff's political philosophy. It is an account of a decades-long movement toward the primacy of individual and group rights in politics, and of the pitfalls and payoffs of that movement.

Sarah Vowell's Take The Cannoli. I first noticed Sarah Vowell when she voiced Violet in The Incredibles, a dubious credit in the career of this interesting writer. Take The Cannoli is a collection of essays that Vowell wrote for NPR's This American Life. I found the poignancy of the opening essay, "Shooting Dad," (listen to Vowell here at minute 4:30) truly heart-wrenching. There is something about the last two lines in the essay that makes me well-up every time. I found most of the other essays don't end nearly as well; in fact, Vowell seems to have a tough time closing her ideas. It is only in the rambling middle sections of each essay that she really shines. The title essay, "Take the Cannoli," is an ode to her fixation on The Godfather and its explicit Sicilian moral code. The appeal of an alternative to a religious moral code was magnetic, especially in the post-theist state of mind Vowell found herself in during college. In her words: God was dead and I had whacked Him.


Indie Nightmare

I watched Darwin's Nightmare last night, an indie documentary that is allegedly about the Nile perch's obliteration of native species in Lake Victoria. With a title like that, I was settling in for a riveting tale of man's careless introduction of an alien species into the fragile Lake Victoria habitat, and a naturalist's take on the devastating effect of the introduced species, like the cane toad in Australia, or the mountain pine beetle in North American forests. Maybe it would be narrated by David Attenborough to boot.

Instead I got everything but that. The point of the documentary wasn't the perch at all. In interviews with European pilots who flew out 55 tons of fish in a single load, Tanzanian prostitutes who serviced them, Indo-Tanzanians who were the entrepeneurs of the companies thriving on the fish trade, and dirt poor black Tanzanians who barely subsisted on the shore, the message was this: the outsiders are just as voraciously and rapaciously consuming native Africans as the Nile perch consumed Lake Victoria's diverse bounty. The 'West' has homogenized and devoured the Africa that was there before. In an endless convoy, the massive planes arrive in Africa laden with ordinance, and return to Europe laden with fish. Fish that is too expensive for the fishermen who catch them to eat. As one Russian pilot observed after a December weapons run to Angola then return via South Africa to Europe, "For Christmas, African children get guns. European children get grapes."

I struggled through passages of this film. The sound was good, but the digital video was frequently shaky and poorly composed. Sometimes conversations were allowed to ramble without purpose. And at the end of it, I felt the weight of a lot of guilt.

It is sometimes hard to enjoy the fruits of my good fortune. In the world's lottery, I won just by being born here. What do I need a million dollar jackpot for when I have health, security of person, security of property, job security, education, a pantry and freezer full of food, and a house full of my four kids and wife? This is the jackpot.

While the film does depict some nightmarish scenes, I don't know how much Darwin or natural selection has to do with it. Director Hubert Sauper shows children collecting styrofoam fish packaging, melting it down, then inhaling the volatilized chemicals to get high. He shows women sifting through heaps of decomposing fish carcasses to lay them on racks in the sun so they can be dried, fried, and consumed. The maggots wriggling up through the ooze between their toes turned my stomach. The bitter irony of the World Bank and European Union's pride at what they have wrought in the fish industry was not lost on Sauper; he juxtaposes a self-congratulatory EU press conference with headlines of famine and millions of dollars of emergency food aid. In achieving the quality standards that make these fish fit for consumption abroad, the industry has priced itself beyond the reach of nearly all Africans.

Though not what I expected, Darwin's Nightmare was worth suffering through.



A Disjointed and Disappointing 'Highlight' Reel

A documentarist, like any filmmaker, must convey a compelling story. With "Noam Chomsky: Rebel Without a Pause," Will Pascoe fails utterly in this effort, cobbling together uninspired snippets of Chomsky's wisdom from a visit to McMaster University in Hamilton. The footage is shot amateurishly and in video. Pascoe's only effort at cohering the fragments into a whole is by periodically throwing a vague title on the screen: "9-11", "Activism", "Truth". Lame.

Compare this with documentaries like "The Corporation" or "The Fog of War" which create a narrative drawing material from interviews, stock footage, and filmed footage. In the end each delivers a poignant and insightful message deftly and intelligently.

The only saving graces of the film are Chomsky's nonchalantly delivered upendings of historical dogma, and the fact that the running time is only 74 minutes.

One of the more interesting passages was Chomsky's recounting of his experience with National Public Radio. He describes the conservative media as more accommodating to differing views, while NPR's liberal dogma strait-jackets its interviewees and dramatically limits its permitted messages. Yet another media outlet to be skeptical of.

This documentary is for Noam Chomsky completists only.


Christian Clue

I wouldn't describe myself as a Simpsons fanboy. I'm not a regular viewer anymore, though during med school I watched the show religiously. But I caught yesterday's episode, Bart Has Two Mommies (season 17, episode 14, air date March 19, 2006), and had to post about something that made me laugh out loud.

Marge babysits milquetoasts Rod and Todd Flanders. Upon returning home, Ned spots a band-aid package "rip-cord" on the floor, and discovers that one of his boys (I can never keep them straight) has a boob-diddly-oo-boo, cutting his finger on the knife in "Christian Clue".

Flanders' other son reports on the crime solution this time: the Secular Humanist did it in the Schoolhouse with Misinformation!


Post-Colonialism and The Pitfalls of Projecting Power in the Modern World

James K Galbraith wrote this interesting column at MoJo.com about how the modern age curtails the effective projection of colonial power. People are still the same. On (re)reading Machiavelli's The Prince, you will be startled by how much of his commentary and advice will ring true in completely different contexts five centuries later: office politics, family relationships, non-profit organizations--the struggle for power and influence is ever-present, and the means to consolidate it effectively in many ways remain unchanged.

But in the context of projecting colonial power and global hegemony, the world has changed dramatically and old paradigms can no longer be applied. One would think that the immediacy of global personal communication, the accessibility of intercontinental travel, and the instantaneous coverage of the media would complement a strategy to project power on a global scale. Not so according to Galbraith. Happy reading.