Did Bhutto Mean That Osama Bin Laden Is Dead?

I saw a video today that is rippling through the web the past couple of days. In the video, David Frost interviews Benazir Bhutto on November 2 (see excerpt at youtube).

The excerpt focuses on Bhutto's In-The-Event-Of-My-Untimely-Death letter addressed to President Musharraf, in which she reveals information about hostile members of the President's government. Bhutto describes one of these men as having dealings with a variety of unsavoury people including "Omar Sheikh, the Man Who Murdered Osama bin Laden." She does not explain the allegation. In the excerpt, Frost does not question it.

Interestingly, in an Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times the next week ("Musharraf's Martial Plan," 7 November 2007), Bhutto bitterly accuses Bush II of blatant hypocrisy, and in the course of doing so states that Musharraf—propped up by more than $10 billion in aid from the US since 2001—has not "brought about the defeat of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, nor succeeded in capturing Osama bin Laden." This suggests that Bhutto believes bin Laden is still at large.

There are legions of slathering conspiracy theorists who take Bhutto's slip of the tongue as evidence of their delusion that bin Laden is dead. Nevermind that some claim he died of "lung disease," others claim he died of complications secondary to renal failure and dialysis, and none had purported that Omar Sheikh murdered bin Laden until Bhutto said so. But for viewers of "documentaries" like Zeitgeist and Loose Change, there is no end to the inventive ways in which we have been duped about everything. The moderator of the Omar Sheikh page at Wikipedia has locked the article, barring any changes to the biography until Bhutto's remark is corroborated. He describes the comment as a "brain fart."

It is sad that Bhutto's death has focused attention on an error rather than on her life and principles. Instead, read the Op-Ed and find out what Bhutto was risking her life for. While Musharraf may have been able to reassure Bush II and charm the US media, including Jon Stewart, his military coup and its aftermath have poisoned the political atmosphere in his country.

Says Bhutto:

The United States ... [has] always said the right things about democracy in Pakistan and around the world. I recall the words of President Bush in his second inaugural address when he said: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

...The United States can promote democracy — which is the only way to truly contain extremism and terrorism — by telling General Musharraf that it does not accept martial law, and that it expects him to conduct free, fair, impartial and internationally monitored elections within 60 days under a reconstituted election commission. He should be given that choice: democracy or dictatorship with isolation.
That the US prefers dictators it can manipulate over electorates it can't is no surprise. But it is a fact that never ceases to disgust me; every American who fails to protest this travesty is complicit.


If I Were President: An End To Wars...

If I were President, I would declare an immediate end to wars that could not be won: the War on Cancer, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror. I would vow to the American public that when I declare war, it would be a decision I make with a heavy heart, against a clearly defined foe, with a clearly defined objective, after all other options had been exhausted, and using overwhelming and decisive force.

The Wars on Drugs, Terror, and Cancer are programs of containment against a nebulous target and with nebulous objectives. How do we know we've 'won'? When cancer has been eradicated? When illicit drug use has been eradicated? When terrorism has been eradicated? Impossible!

These wars have failed. They have only succeeded in demonstrating the impossibility of victory. The War on Terror has actually compounded the problem it sought to solve.


Gaza Strip: Not As Bad As You Think

For some clarity on the recent flare-up in the Gaza Strip—variously described at best as a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, and at worst as a Palestinian Civil WarHarper's spoke with Mark Perry, a foreign affairs analyst with a long history in the region.

His take on the situation is that a faction of Fatah, the Preventive Security Service, tried to enter Hamas-controlled Gaza despite the warnings of Hamas leadership. "But the warning was ignored and [Hamas] attacked when the Service came in, soundly defeating it."

As usual, we hear reports that simplify and obscure what is actually happening in the Occupied Territories. The true situation is more complex and more challenging to understand. Which means that most won't bother to try.

Perry remarks on the discordance between the typical media portrait of Hamas as a fundamentalist Islamist party, when it has in fact been able to lead an effective government, and "Nine of the 15 members of Hamas's Shura Council have PhD's in the sciences."

This perspective is quite different from the blustery declarations of Mahmoud Abbas, who dissoved the Palestinian parliament and swears in an emergency cabinet: "The executive force and Hamas militias are declared outside the law for having carried out an armed rebellion against Palestinian legitimacy and its institutions."


Harper Full Of Shit On Environment

I am not usually reduced to such scatological rhetoric, but I have to be blunt: Stephen Harper is either lying about his government's commitment to the environment, or he doesn't know any better. Either way, he's hurting Canada.

Speaking at the Canada-German Business Club in Berlin, Harper said that his government would not meet the Kyoto protocol commitment, because doing so would cripple the Canadian economy. Canada has one of the fastest growing economies in the G8, as evidenced by its dollar nearly reaching par with the US dollar for the first time in more than thirty years.

According to the CBC, Harper "believes his government's plan for intensity-based targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions will be more effective than setting overall reduction targets." This is a lie. Intensity-based targets do not limit the overall production of greenhouse gases. They allow the indefinite increase in emissions as long as emissions fall relative to GDP or energy consumption.

What Environment Minister John Baird says is, "Canada's New Government will impose mandatory targets on industry, so that greenhouse gases come down and we achieve our goal of an absolute reduction of 150 megatonnes by 2020."

What he did is propose that existing facilities do not have to reduce their emissions at all, only demonstrate an intensity improvement of 6% a year. New facilities will have a three-year grace period. No absolute reductions need to be initiated during the Neoconservative Party's mandate.

Check-out the disinformation perpetrated on slide 8 of the government's linked presentation, "Clean-Air Regulatory Agenda." The slide is titled "Estimated Sector GHG [Greenhouse Gas] reductions in 2010." It allegedly lists the emissions reductions planned for 2010. What it actually lists is relative reductions in intensity compared to 2006, and absolute reductions compared to projections for 2010. No absolute reductions compared to 2006 are displayed because none are required.

Harper claimed that Canada "can be a world leader on climate change." Harper has only demonstrated leadership on how to forestall real change, obfuscate his agenda, and ignore science, critics, and his public. For nations interested in the same ends, Harper truly is leading the way.

I suggest you send a letter to Minister Baird expressing your disapproval of his 'actions' on the environment. Go to www.tarsandswatch.org and make your voice heard. They have a petition you can modify and mail. I added the following embellishment to mine:

"Canada is a widely respected member of the international community. Canada is quickly becoming notorious for its illegal breach of the Kyoto protocol it ratified, for being one of the top per capita GHG emitters in the world, and for its promotion of intensity-based emissions reductions. Mr Baird, you are contributing irreparable damage to Canada's reputation, and to the climate of our planet. Your actions are cowardly, and transparently subservient to the interests of industry and the US, rather than those of Canadians and the community of nations."


Subsidize Coal?!

I read in the New York Times today that Dick Gephardt, former Presidential hopeful and Democratic House majority leader, is now a shill for Big Coal. Speaking on behalf of Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal producer, Gephardt is promoting coal as an "alternative fuel."

The crux of the case is that newer technologies to generate power from coal, and to convert coal to liquid fuel, would allow a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. The power generation angle was recently profiled in Discover.

The main problem with coal is that when you oxidize or burn coal, you break carbon-carbon bonds and link the carbon to oxygen, releasing carbon dioxide. When you use fuels like octane, you break carbon-carbon bonds and more than twice as many carbon-hydrogen bonds. Combustion releases carbon dioxde and water. For natural gas, the ratio of C-H to C-C bonds is even more favorable.

Coal is the least desirable fuel choice for anyone interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The NYT printed a graphic accompanying the story showing how unfavorable coal is as an alternative fuel, even with expensive coal-to-liquid conversion processes, based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency.

So what does this technology accomplish? Well, if the US is going to burn coal anyway, better that it be done with these cleaner technologies. That goes for China, too. But the real agenda here is to make energy independence—a euphemism for allowing the US to be more hostile to OPEC states like Venezuela and Nigeria—a more palatable decision to an electorate that is emissions conscious.

The US should give loan guarantees to the companies willing to build these plants. It should not give a tax credit of 51 cents per gallon of coal-based fuel thru 2020—or ever. It should not subsidize the industry if the price of oil drops. It should not guarantee a 25-year contract with the Air Force for a billion gallons of coal-based jet fuel.

What happened to letting the market's efficiency decide on the appropriate distribution of capital? The corporate agenda in the US has nothing to do with laissez-faire capitalism, and everything to do with corporate favoritism, pork barrel politics, and subversion of the democratic process.

According to Howard Herzog, a principal research engineer at MIT, “At best, you’re going to tread water on the carbon issue, and you’re probably going to do worse.” How about this as cause for alarm: “If all the coal-burning power plants that are scheduled to be built over the next 25 years are built, the lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from those power plants will equal all the emissions from coal burning in all of human history to date,” says John Holdren, a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama is a champion of coal-to-liquid technology.


WTF? Arrested for WiFi Piggybacking

A Michigan man, Sam Peterson II, was arrested after he was found parked outside of a Grand Rapids cafe, wirelessly surfing the web via the cafe's open WiFi network from his car.

An article describing the incident on a local TV station's website states that "Piggybacking - using someone else's WiFi without their permission - isn't legal." It links to the Michigan law which supposedly prohibits what Peterson did: The Fraudulent Access to Computers, Computer Systems, and Computer Networks Act, clause 752.795 Prohibited Conduct, section 5.

A person shall not intentionally and without authorization or by exceeding valid authorization do any of the following:

(a) Access or cause access to be made to a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network to acquire, alter, damage, delete, or destroy property or otherwise use the service of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network.

(b) Insert or attach or knowingly create the opportunity for an unknowing and unwanted insertion or attachment of a set of instructions or a computer program into a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network, that is intended to acquire, alter, damage, delete, disrupt, or destroy property or otherwise use the services of a computer program, computer, computer system, or computer network. This subdivision does not prohibit conduct protected under section 5 of article I of the state constitution of 1963 or under the first amendment of the constitution of the United States.

In point of fact, there is a violation here. In the language of the law, Peterson intentionally and without authorization accessed a computer network to use the service of the network. Now, the intent of the law was to deny malicious access. Peterson was not malicious, just cheap. He could have purchased authorization with a cup of coffee. Or he could have stayed at home to pay for access instead driving to this cafe routinely to surf.

But he didn't. And to arrest him for accessing an unsecured network with no malicious intent or activity itself seems malicious. If the cafe really sought to protect its network, it would rely on more than the passive protection of a law originally enacted in 1979 as a reactionary anti-hacker law. It would rely on encryption and password protection, and would limit access only to its clients.

I wonder how many other jurisdictions have similar legislation.


Victimhood Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

I saw these pictures in Yahoo! News today. One shows Ehud Olmert inspecting a damaged Israeli home. The other shows the remnants of the Hamas Executive Force. Olmert looks half-tempted to stick that light fixture in himself.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (C) and Defence Minister Amir Peretz (2nd L) survey a damaged house during their visit to the southern Israeli town of Sderot, in this May 17, 2007 handout picture from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO).

-------===== ooOoo=====-------

Palestinian Hamas militants stand among the rubble of a destroyed building of the Hamas Executive Force after an Israeli air strike in Gaza May 17, 2007. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)


Smearing Gore

The self-described Former Next President of the United States, Al Gore, was harshly criticized after his recent Oscar victory for failing to practice what he preaches.

An organization called the Tennessee Center for Policy Research promoted the view that Gore's mansion consumes extraordinary amounts of energy, and as a consequence contributes to global warming. The Drudge Report picked up the story in February.

What the TCPR press release fails to reveal, however, is that Gore is making a concerted effort to reduce his "carbon footprint," his contribution to carbon dioxide emissions (see also this report in the Chattanoogan, and reader comments). He is reducing his consumption (for example, by using compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs), generating power (solar panels), consuming power generated from renewable sources (from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Green Power Switch program), and purchasing carbon offsets to compensate for the reduced emissions he generates.

Does his mansion consume a lot of power? Compared to the average American's abode, absolutely. Is he doing something about it? Yes. He's deliberately and consciously walking the walk; the Green Switch costs, the solar panels cost, the carbon offsets cost.
The disgusting thing about this story is how readily the media ran with it. In their gleeful unmasking of Gore's alleged hypocrisy, they instead baselessly slander him and undermine his cause—our cause—to sustainably inhabit this planet.
Do not trust the media for balanced, accurate, or truthful reporting. Parse the truth.


Halliburton Hides

Halliburton has been in full retreat in recent months, getting the f* out of Dodge and circling the wagons.

Says halliburtonwatch.org:

Halliburton is moving to UAE at a time when it is being investigated in the U.S. for bribery, bid rigging, defrauding the military and illegally profiting in Iran. It is currently in the process of divesting all of its ownership interest in the scandal-plagued KBR subsidiary, notorious for overcharging the military and serving contaminated food and water to the troops in Iraq.

Although Halliburton will still be incorporated inside the United States, moving its corporate headquarters to UAE will make it easier to avoid accountability from federal investigators. The company has proven adept at using
offshore subsidiaries to circumvent restrictions on doing business in Iran and to elude responsibility for paying benefits to former employees. Halliburton has also used its operational structure for contracts in Iraq and post-Katrina -- especially multiple layers of subcontractors -- to elude oversight and accountability to taxpayers. Moving to UAE may also hinder ongoing government investigations into Halliburton's alleged bribes paid to the government of Nigeria....

The United States has
no extradition treaty with the UAE.

Halliburton earned a record $2.3 billion in profit last year, and it is now putting all that capital—hustled from American taxpayers via the Pentagon's liberally awarded no-bid contracts—and all its operations beyond the reach of Americans seeking restitution. It is diabolically clever and unabashedly unjust. And it's going to happen anyway.

Wolfowitz: Like Getting Capone For Tax Evasion

Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the spurious invasion of Iraq, is now being busted for nepotism at the World Bank for awarding a plum post to his girlfriend.

Wolfowitz, along with Rumsfeld, Bolton, and other neocon luminaries, co-authored a letter in 1998 urging President Clinton to invade Iraq and eject Saddam Hussein:

The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.
Instead of responding to credible threats to the US and properly securing Afghanistan after successfully ejecting the Taliban, the hawkish cabal used the threat of terror as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq, stretching the American military too thinly, failing to secure either theatre, and actually increasing the number of terrorist attacks against Americans. The American dead in Iraq will soon exceed those killed in the World Trade Centre attack.

Although no ignominy fell to Wolfowitz for the Iraq debacle, he is being rebuked for impropriety at the World Bank. Hardly a proportionate or appropriate punishment, but I guess it's something. The New York Times reports today that European officials of the World Bank have offered Wolfowitz a clear and face-saving exit strategy: the US can choose his successor.

If only Wolfowitz had offered a similar exit strategy to his President.


Oh, The Audacity!

Yann Martel has decided to petition Stephen Harper to increase funding for the Canada Coucil for the Arts. His scheme is the height of audacity and condescension: "For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written."

I am a lover of books, and I value the vast repository of knowledge and wisdom contained in literature, scripture, and essays. I even value Yann Martel's writings. I've read his debut novel, Self, and read Life of Pi before it was endorsed by Oprah. We selected it for our book club as well.

But for Martel to appoint himself the Prime Minister's tutor, to publicly announce the humiliation he intends to heap on him, does nothing but hurt his cause. He may chuckle about it over Americanos at a Queen Street cafe, but he does not serve the Canada Coucil and Canadians by affixing a dunce cap to the Prime Minister's preternaturally coiffed head.

In justifying this stunt, Yann Martel recalls the day he attended the House of Commons as a member of the gallery to commemorate the Council's fiftieth anniversary, and the underwhelming recognition the Council's delegation received. Writes Martel, "Do we count for nothing, you philistines, I felt like shouting down at the House."

No. As you note, you count for precisely $182 million, $9m more than last year. This represents an increase of 5.2%, more than double the CPI for 2006, and a refreshing improvement on declining appropriation provided by Paul Martin's past Liberal government (see page 21 of the 2005-06 Annual Report).

You count for $5.50 from every Canadian, whether they're not old enough to read, too old to read, or don't want to read. Whether they love or hate opera. Whether or not they can tell the difference between a French horn and an English horn. Their $5.50 is yours to disburse to as many starving artists as you see fit.

By the way, I do plan to check out Martel's reading list.

Charter?! We Don't Need No Stinkin' Charter!

Twenty-five years ago today, on April 17, 1982—more than a hundred years after Confederation and about 200 years after the US went through the same exercise—Canadian legislators enshrined their analogue to the Bill of Rights: The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The purpose of the Charter is to ensure that certain inalienable rights are respected by legislation and protected by the courts.

Naturally, it is the target of any legislator with contempt for those rights.

According to the CBC, events commemorating the Charter's anniversary will not be attended by Prime Minister Harper, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Heritage Minister Bev Oda, or former Justice Minister Vic Toews, all of whom declined their invitations.

This is not surprising since Harper has for many years criticized the Liberals for appointing "activist judges." Hypocritically, he has also vowed "to make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence" with his government's objectives. Apparently, Harper regards the judiciary as "activist" when it upholds the Charter, and appropriate when it serves the neocon agenda.

Hmmmmm...I think you've got that bass-ackwards, Mr Prime Minister.


Oil Shale

digg directed me to a deliriously optimistic post by Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard regarding extracting "shale oil" at a cost of $30 a barrel. Royal Dutch Shell has applied for a patent on the extraction process. Allegedly, "there is more oil in the Colorado shale fields than the entire Middle East had at its peak."

The most optimistic production estimate suggested a capacity of "200,000 barrels a day from oil shale by 2011, 2 million barrels a day by 2020, and ultimately 10 million barrels a day." 10 million barrels a day.

Do you know how much oil the US consumes every day? More than 20 million barrels. Current domestic production is only 5m bbl/d and falling. Even if the shale oil pipe dream works, and even if the US holds its consumption level steady over the next fifteen years—hah!—the US will still be dependent upon the import of billions of barrels of oil each year.

Goldfarb closes the post with the following conjecture: "Wow. What would the world be like if all the oil in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Iraq, Nigeria, and elsewhere was suddenly nearly worthless?" No such luck. With such paltry production levels, and rising international consumption, there is no way we can avoid the continuing ascendancy of the petro states.

Learn more about shale oil at the World Energy Council site.


A Rising Tide

You've probably heard the expression, "A rising tide lifts all ships." Have you heard what a rising tide does to the land?

The New York Times featured an article about the Sundarbans today, the mangrove covered islands that fringed the Ganges river delta at the border of India and Bangladesh. I use the past tense because the islands are no longer covered with mangroves, and they are slowly washing away, weakened by the clear cuts, and subsumed by a rising sea.

Last week I watched CBC's report from Egypt in the Nile's delta, part of its series, "Ready or Not: Living in a Warming World." Farmers there are watching helplessly as the marginal existence they eke out falters before the advancing Mediterranean.
It is an increasingly and depressingly familiar story: the world is not about to alter, it has already altered. The mechanisms are complex and mulitfactorial, but are primarily linked to human activity. The solution will require compromise, sacrifice, ingenuity, and co-operation. Even with a complex multifaceted solution, the stage has been set for calamatous change in the coming decades.
Stock your pantry and your gun rack. This ain't going to be pretty.

Imus vs Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks

I've got nothing more to say about the Imus uproar than Michelle Malkin has: "The Culture of 'Bitches, Niggas, and Hos.'"


Retarded Provocation

The US engaged in a series of naval exercises today on Iran's doorstep, just beyond where 15 Britons were apprehended by Iranian authorities for allegedly trespassing into Iran's waters on March 23.

ABCNews described a US Navy exercise involving "Twelve ships, 100 aircraft, and 12,000 sailors...designed to get the attention of Iran." No shit? Yeah, I guess that'll work.

ABCNews' Martha Raddatz reported from the flight deck of the USS Eisenhower as F-18 Hornets screamed off the carrier deck behind her. Her report included the ominous sabre rattling of an unnamed US Official: "It hasn't reached a crisis level yet, but if Iran fails to release all of the sailors soon...it could."

I have to say that Iran's treatment of its British captives seems eminently more civilized than the US's treatment of its detainees. The rhetoric coming out of Tehran is far more reasonable than that shrilly brayed in the House of Commons. Aren't they supposed to be the blood-thirsty, slavering provocateurs? I was sure it's supposed to be them...

That exercise had to be expensive. I guess when you're spending $275 m a day, what's another twenty or twenty-five million dollars? What's the upside for the US, though? The US is not directly affected by the apprehension of the alleged tresspassers. Why stage an alarmingly disproportionate show of force, invite the possiblity of inadvertent incursion into Iranian airspace or waters, and risk escalating tensions with a quite reasonable-sounding bargaining party? Well, reasonable aside from the whole nuclear proliferation thing. But that may be yet another reason to tread lightly.

Have you looked at a map of Iraq's coastline? It is a startlingly narrow fragment of a delta about seven miles wide jammed between Kuwait and Iran. It takes pretty steely nerves and a steady hand to pilot the waters beyond. The maps below (courtesy the Guardian Unlimited) show the geography of the area with a close-up of the location where the Britons were captured.

I hope the parties stand down before they do something we'll all regret. That's the crux of it, isn't it? What do the politicians care? They'll be safe. I don't think they realize that their posturing kills.


China's Alarming Military Expenditures?

In the March 19, 2007 of Macleans, I read Nancy MacDonald's news tidbit regarding China's growing military spending with some alarm. It was not until I read the "At a glance" column in the March 27, 2007 Economist, and its accompanying graphic, that I put the growth in perspective.

"China is increasing its military budget by 17.8%, to $44.9 billion (at market exchange rates) in 2007. The country has raised military spending by over 10% every year since the early 1990s. America, though, is by far the biggest spender, allocating over eleven times as much as China to its defence budget, and more than the other nine biggest combined."


Lucky Pharos

The Pharos Book Club had the good fortune to discuss our latest reading selection, Kinglsey Amis' Lucky Jim, a couple of weeks ago at Kelowna's El Dorado Hotel Dining Room. I have read several novels by Kingsley's son, Martin, including a title chosen by our book club, Time's Arrow. While comparisons are inevitable, I don't know if they're terribly enlightening, and I'll resist the temptation to draw them here.

Lucky Jim is the first book I've read penned by the elder Amis, and it is his debut novel, published in 1954. In its opening pages we see a protagonist, James Dixon, contorting his features while delivering calculated responses to the queries of an aging don in a provincial university in the English countryside. Dixon takes care to conceal his thoughts, though he is not especially expert at it. Presumably, these contortions reflect Amis' opinion of what we all do, projecting a congenial self, a facade, over our ulterior impulses.

It is not only Dixon who employs this technique. Dixon's nominal girlfriend, Margaret, relentlessly attacks Dixon in a series of histrionic allegations. When Margaret thanks Dixon for his "tact" after her recent suicide attempt, he "alerted all his faculties. Conundrums that sounded innocuous or even pleasant were the most reliable sign of impending attack."

Another of Margaret's pseudo-betrothed, Catchpole, says that although he was not interested in "any kind of sexual relationship" with Margaret, "she soon started behaving as if I had. I was perpetually being accused of hurting her, ignoring her, trying to humiliate her in front of other women." Not a flattering portrait of sexual relations.

And certainly an unflattering portrait of Margaret. This, together with later love interest Christine, led more than one of us to wonder aloud whether Amis betrays a streak of misogyny in the story. I prefer to believe otherwise. That these two flawed characters happen to be women is undeniable. But I think the question of misogyny can be dismissed for a couple of reasons. First, nearly every character, man and woman alike, is not especially virtuous. Look at the conniving Johns, the maddeningly absent-minded and manipulative Professor Welch, the Cro-Magnonic Atkinson (who would no doubt object to a poncey frog label like 'Cro-Magnon'), the infuriatingly self-absorbed Bertrand, the unscrupulous Caton. Second, Dixon and Christine are the only characters who develop over the course of the story, the only characters who renounce the comfort of their unfulfilling lives to risk embarking on an unknown future. As Dixon cousels himself while he begins to stray, "He had no charts for these waters, but experience proved that it was often those without charts who got the furthest." Or shipwrecked.

There are plenty of errant ports of call in the story that make this probably the most enjoyable selection of the Club and one of the funniest books I've read. I confess I was a bit wary after reading the superlative quotes on the book's back cover. "I do not remember having laughed so much at a funny book as I have at Lucky Jim," declared former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman (pictured). "A brilliantly and preposterously funny book," reads the Guardian. I expected I would share very little of the sense of humour possessed by these two authorites of half a century ago. But Lucky Jim lives up to the hype; it had me smirking right out of the gate, and laughing out loud going into the stretch.

One passage so memorable that two Club members were able to quote some of it at the meeting when the book was pitched to the group described Dixon awakening with a hangover:
"Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad."
His portraits of other characters are economically conveyed in equally hilarious vignettes. Once, when encountering Professor Welch outside the library, Dixon notes " a small golden emblem on his tie resembling some heraldic device or other, but proving on closer scrutiny to be congealed egg-yolk." Or on examining some of his matron's family photographs hung in the dining room, Dixon's rooming house mate, Atkinson, distills "the huge volume of abuse evoked by these sights into four tiny toxic gouts of hatred, one for each photograph."

The novel is one of the first satires of campus faculty life. Dixon is a marginal academe who acknowledges his inadequacy from the opening pages: "How had he become Professor of History, even at a place like this? By published work? No. By extra good teaching? No in italics." Dixon attempts to publish an article, "The Economic Influence of the Developments in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485." Of his article, Dixon says, "It was a perfect title, in that it crystallized the article's niggling mindlessness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems [....] his [article] seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance." Dixon himself is not encumbered by such delusions.

He struggles throughout to maintain his facade of mere competence, having abandoned any pretense to erudition long ago. His dissertation on "Merrie England" is another hilarious vignette that I won't belabour here. The novel is full of comedy and wonderful turns of phrase. I can scarcely open to a page in the book and fail to find a memorable passage. The three bucks I paid for the 1976 mass market Penguin depicted above, complete with typo on the rear cover ("Kingsley Amis poked devasting [sic] fun at a very British way of life") is some of the smartest money I've spent. Try to find yourself a copy.


Suzuki Comes to Town

Dr David Suzuki stopped in Kelowna yesterday on his cross-Canada tour. He was...angry. I expected him to be knowledgeable, I expected him to be passionate, and persuasive--and he was. But he was also really angry.

He told us he has been down this road before, that he had seen persuasive evidence of global warming in the 1980's, and had consulted Canada's Minister of the Environment in 1988, Lucien Bouchard, who got it, who understood that climate change threatens the species. Then the efforts of international consensus-building were undone by sustained obstinance and proapaganda by the US and other corporate sympathizers. And here we are, among the most egregious environmental outlaws in the world, dumping more per capita carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions and consuming more per capita energy than nearly any other nation.

So now Dr Suzuki is reduced to this, preaching his message to Canadians a couple hundred at a time. He hopes to persuade the electorate so that the leaders who jilted him will be replaced by those he can trust.

Some interesting ideas Dr Suzuki presented:
  • Speaking of the detection of pollutants at the South Pole, "You can't go anywhere on the planet and escape the toxic debris of our industrial activity."
  • He claimed that foresight is the uniquely defining characteristic of our species accounting for the huge success of the Naked Apes we descended from--a claim I would dispute. It is this ability which has apparently now deserted us.
  • In the 19th century, consumption was the name for tuberculosis. Now consumption is is a way of life, reflected in Bush II imploring Americans to spend their way out of a post 9/11 hiccup in the economy. Now, "it is the Earth that is suffering from consumption."
  • "I was enormously proud of Jean Chretien for ratifying Kyoto in 2002."
  • Regarding Sir Nicholas Stern's report on the economic impact of failing to forestall global warming or paying to do so: "On the one hand is economic ruination and on the other is 1% of GDP. What the hell is all the arguing about?"
It wasn't all serious. There were also his memorable anecdotes of picking cherries in the Okanagan, and of growing up in a family of six in a thousand-square-foot home in London, Ontario, stories with a message that struck a chord with my boys.

There was an air of desperation in Dr Suzuki's presentation. He told us that the envronment is now ranked as the number one priority by Canadians. He clearly intends to build on this momentum going into Canada's impending election to fill the House with sympathetic legislators. But I don't know that it's enough.

I asked whether the environment is too important to leave in the hands of politicians with four- or five-year mandates. [The number one issue that the environment supplanted? Health care. And we've seen politicians in Canada's richest jurisdictions, elected to protect the public system, focused on eroding it and delisting its services.] I said that legislators don't protect our civil rights, the courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms do. I proposed that we develop a Charter of Environmental Protection as an analog. More on that another time.

I wish I could have stayed longer. (I left after a couple of questions including my own.) I watched The Nature of Things as a lad, and his text on genetics is one of the first textbooks I purchased, back in 1987. I would have like to meet this great Canadian, and perhaps someday soon I will. But I had to get my flagging boys to bed. We debriefed at home. I plan on screening An Inconvenient Truth for them later this week to reinforce some of the mesaages we heard. If they feel invested in their future, maybe they'll keep my wife and I on task.


Ignatieff Wins House Motion Calling Out Canadian Neocons

The passage of a motion in the House yesterday received virtually no press. I was browsing the Hansard record last night (don't ask) and discovered that Ignatieff passed a motion criticizing the Neoconservative Party of Canada of doing everything from stacking judicial appointments, to neglecting child care, renouncing Kyoto, assaulting democracy, and being "narrow minded." Here's the text of the motion (YEAS 155; NAYS 122):

"That, in the opinion of this House, the government is failing to act in accordance with the democratic and open values expected of its office by imposing a narrow minded, socially conservative ideology as reflected in its approach to the judicial appointment process to dramatically increase the influence of right-wing ideology in the judiciary, its refusal to honour Canada's international obligations under the Kyoto Protocol including a refusal to act immediately to introduce regulations under the Canada Environmental Protection Act, its misconception that Canadians don’t want or need a dramatic increase in child care spaces on a national basis, its budget spending cuts directed at aboriginal people and silencing advocacy work done on behalf of women and the most vulnerable Canadians even in the face of budget surpluses, its failure to protect and promote linguistic and cultural diversity, and its undemocratic assault on farmers who support the Canadian Wheat Board."

The only press I found was in the National Post, which played the role of Conservative Apologist, pointing out that Liberals exercised partisan patronage during their long tenures in power.

Here is a link to the debate in the House when the motion was presented on February 15. Some excerpts from that debate:
  • [Ignatieff, Lib]: The Prime Minister is turning back the clock on the social reforms of the last 30 years. It is not surprising that the Conservative Party decided to drop the word “progressive” from its name. That means we are no longer faced with the conservatism we know but with an ideological conservatism, a movement conservatism that will take Canada backward.
    Bit by bit, the Prime Minister is shaping Canada into his vision and it is less progressive, less fair, less just and less equal.
  • [Ignatieff]: This is a government that has plans to build more prison cells instead of child care spaces.
  • [Day, CPC]: Mr. Speaker, I am just wondering if either the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore ... can tell us if there is a typo here because everything that is being referred to are failures of the former government....As far as Kyoto, the Liberals did not follow any of it and we are 35% below the levels that we should be. It is this government that created child care spaces. They created none. As far as aboriginals, it is this government that has provided a $3.7 billion increase over two years, more than four Liberal budgets altogether, and as far as an assault on the farmers being undemocratic, it is the former government that put farmers in jail related to the Wheat Board.
  • [Neville, Lib]: The issue of the $3.7 billion [increased funding to aboriginal peoples] includes the residential schools agreement, which was negotiated by the previous government and ratified by the Conservative government. It is not part of the regular operating dollars of the Department of Indian Affairs. Therefore, that is misleading to the public and to aboriginal peoples.
  • [Anderson, CPC]: The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food last fall announced that we would hold a plebiscite on the marketing of barley. That plebiscite is now under way and, let me ask members, how much more democratic could the process be than what we have put in place?...Each farm operation, whether a single producer, partnership or corporation, will be eligible for one vote as long as it has produced grain during the last year and has produced barley in at least one of the last five years between 2002 and 2006 inclusive.
  • [Nash, NDP]: ...under the previous government it was unfortunate and terrible that there was a missed opportunity, because after signing the Kyoto agreement, in fact our environmental record deteriorated. Our record is now worse than that of the United States. It was a phenomenal embarrassment and a betrayal of the confidence of Canadians.

An interesting and lively debate.

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The Way Forward

I read the Iraq Study Group Report. You can find it in its entirety as a pdf here at the New York Times site. I have to confess that I learned much from its survey of the current situation in Iraq, which I think says more about the limitations of media coverage of the region than the depth of the Report. Whole countries receive little more than a paragraph's exposition about their relationship to Iraq and role in future intiatives in the region.

The authors make no sensational claims about the promise of their proposal. They open the report with a letter: "There is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq." The Executive Summary reinforces this sentiment: "There is no path that can guarantee success;" and this is echoed in the opening line of the first chapter, "There is no guarantee for success in Iraq."

They describe a situation in Iraq that is highly unstable, even moreso than I appreciated. Reading their survey of the context in Iraq, with its internal strife and neighboring countries compounding the problem, I began to appreciate the appeal of a puppet autocrat in a client state. Violence was never as bad now as it was under Saddam Hussein. And while Shia and Kurd lives were cheap under the Sunni Baathist regime, they're all cheap now. The number of civilian attacks that go on in Iraq on a daily basis is staggering. Roughly 10 civilians a day are killed, and about 180 attacks on US and Iraqi security forces occur each day. Any similar day occurring in Canada would be unthinkably tragic and alarming. I can't imagine a life in that context, with no end in sight.

Given the clear roadmap and numerous recommendations offered by the Iraq Study Group, I can't understand why the Bush II regime would focus on troop redployment, with an additional 20,000 troops, as the centrepiece of its renewed strategy. The ISG Report clearly states that what is required is a New Diplomatic Offensive, a typically American oxymoron of international relations. Recommendation 2 (p. 45) explicitly enunciates the components of this Offensive:

RECOMMENDATION 2: The goals of the diplomatic offensive as it relates to regional players should be to:

i. Support the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.

ii. Stop destabilizing interventions and actions by Iraq’s neighbors.

iii. Secure Iraq’s borders, including the use of joint patrols with neighboring countries.

iv. Prevent the expansion of the instability and conflict beyond Iraq’s borders.

v. Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.

vi. Energize countries to support national political reconciliation in Iraq.

vii. Validate Iraq’s legitimacy by resuming diplomatic relations, where appropriate, and reestablishing embassies in Baghdad.

viii. Assist Iraq in establishing active working embassies in key capitals in the region (for example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).

ix. Help Iraq reach a mutually acceptable agreement on Kirkuk.

x. Assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones, including better performance on issues such as national reconciliation, equitable distribution of oil revenues, and the dismantling of militias.

That's a pretty clear path they're charting. I looked at Bush II's January 10 troop surge speech and there was little about diplomacy, although I found plenty that was offensive. The speech focused almost entirely on securing Baghdad and gave short shrift to Rice's diplomatic mission to compel regional players to play ball with the US.

At one point, Bush II states:
"The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life."

The claim is so thick with hypocrisy that I get nauseated and dyspeptic just reading it. Has Bush II so little insight into the misery that the US inflicts on civilians caught in the crossfire? Or is it merely contempt for an audience that will swallow such lies? Is freedom and moderation what the US has supported in Saudi Arabia for the last sixty years? Or Israel? Could not Osama Bin Laden have made the exact same speech?

Bush II had no intention to follow the Iraq Study Group Report. His only interest in the Report was that its release be deferred until after the mid-term elections so it wouldn't leave the Republicans even more vulnerable.

With the release of the Report, Bush II made a show of extensive consultations and ultimately pursued an option that was outlined by Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute in a report titled, "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq." The recommendation: basically, a troop surge to secure Baghdad because all other options would fail. For example, "Negotiating with Iran and Syria will not stop violence."

Fortunately, there may be other trends afoot in the region that don't involve the US and may, as a result, bear fruit. To wit: Turkey has been welcomed by Israel to inspect the construction around Al Aqsa mosque that recently spawned so much protest. Another: The leader of Hamas has stepped down as the democratically elected Palestinian PM, paving the way for a unified government and halting the slide to civil war amongst Palestinians, in a deal mediated—or at least hosted—by diplomatic wallflower Saudi Arabia.

Despite the US's efforts to avert peace, it just may flower in the desert after all.


Chomsky Gives Me The Red Pill

I just finished reading Noam Chomsky's Failed States this weekend. It is always unnerving to exit the internally consistent mediasphere of the US and get a whiff of perspectives abroad. Chomsky is one of few Americans who seem immune to the obfuscating propaganda that saturates our senses, parsing the truth from American and foreign sources.

There are good reasons to resent the US and its policies, and nearly every nation in the world can cite some grievance against the state or the corporations it serves. Chomsky's persuasive thesis is that the US, by its own definition, meets the criteria for a failed state. It is widely acknowledged by many countries as their greatest threat to national security. It acts unilaterally, often in contempt of international consensus or law. It ignores the will of its people, safeguards the interests of corporations and the powerful, and increasingly shirks its responsibilities to the citizens who need the state most.

Chomsky opens by asserting that the most important issues to those concerned with human welfare are: the threat of nuclear war, looming environmental disaster, and that the government of the world's leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of both calamities. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved their Doomsday Clock to five minutes to midnight for just these reasons.

While Chomsky is compelling, he makes a couple of careless contentions that should be scrupulously avoided in the future to limit assaults on his credibility. Specifically, he dismissively describes Robert Kagan's commentary on transatlantic relations as "Europeans being 'from Venus,' while 'Americans are from Mars.'" This reduction substantially misrepresents Kagan's thesis. His position is not that Europeans are fundamentally different from Americans. He describes Europe's long history of military adventurism, unilaterality, and dim view of the law. Europe's current interest in multilateralism and international law is not the consequence of an enlightened moral centre or congenial temperament, but of an emasculated military in the last half century.

Chomsky also offers up dubious arithmetic when he contends that developing domestic oil supplies in the Arctic Northern Wildlife Refuge "entails even greater reliance on Middle East oil." He also tries to argue that there is no Social Security crisis because "If American society was able to take care of the boomers from ages zero to twenty, there can be no fundamental reason why...[America] cannot take care of them from ages sixty-five to ninety. At most, some technical fixes might be needed."

Perhaps I am being unfair to Chomsky to focus on these shortcomings when he presents a relentless account of where America has gone and continues to go wrong. Failed States left me despairing for the future my four boys will inherit from my generation. The world's most powerful nation's "formal democratic practices are largely reduced to a device for periodic mobilization of the public in the service of elite interests." American efforts in Iraq, ostensibly to quash terrorism, have inspired unprecedented Islamic radicalism, factional power, and terror. The US renounces international law governing the treatment of prisoners of war, nuclear proliferation, trade, and international intervention.

Speaking of Israel's relations with Palestinians, Chomsky paraphrases scholar and scientist Yeshayu Leibowitz's warning that "oppressing another people would lead to serious moral degeneration, corruption, and internal decay." The caution applies equally well to the US, with its awesome sphere of dominion, and oppression abroad and--often overlooked--domestically.

Our current government's sympathy for the US's religious fundamentalism, corporate primacy, fear-mongering, and militarism ranks behind that of only the UK and Australia, perhaps. That is a disturbing development. Canada has long had a reputation as a successful plural society, a social welfare state in the model of Western Europe, a mediator of international relations, a peacekeeper, and a tolerant, progressive society. But, as Chomsky warns in the US, reactionary statists are seeking to exploit current opportunities to enshrine policies which serve the powerful elite "so that it will be no small task to reconstruct a more humane and democratic society."

Why, oh why, did I take the Red Pill?


The Echo Chamber

I have to repeat this great line from last night's Colbert Report:
...the media has gone from an old boys' club to an echo chamber. If you want people's attention you don't need to be right, you just need to shout.

Too true. Read CBC reporter Neil Macdonald's account of the Barack Obama—Indonesian madrassa smear campaign mounted from within Obama's own party.

The smear campaign exploited the media echo chamber. I'll quote Colbert again:
In the old media, an overpaid staff of fact-checking dinosaurs would have ignored this story. But new media pioneers like John Gibson knew that this story was too important to corroborate before reporting on the report. If you stop to check the factual basis of every 50-point headline, you're just going to get scooped by the guy who runs with an even bigger font.


iPhone: Not for me

As avid readers of this blog know (I may be the only person that can be described in that fashion), I have been eagerly awaiting the announcement of Apple's iPhone (see post from July). I imagined a phone only better, graced with good looks and charm: those design and interface flourishes that only Apple seems to know how to do.

I purchased Apple stock in September in anticipation of an announcement at the Developers Conference, but nothing was said. I held on to the stock until late December when, after a 24% run-up, I decided to take the money and run. The next week, Apple's stock price dropped sharply after concerns over stock option backdating were raised, but bounced back when Steve Jobs was exonerated. Then Mr jobs announced the iPhone, and the stock spiked up almost 20% over the ensuing days from the bleak trough just a couple of weeks earlier.

The stock price has now cooled as the hype for this beautiful device wears off and the reality of an overcommitted and underdelivered product sets in. There are reasons why Steve Jobs should not have announced what he did, when he did, clearly enunciated by Mike Elgan at ComputerWorld. There are reasons why the device itself is lacking.

My main criticism is—despite the beauty of the device and the elegance of its interface—it is not first and foremost a phone. I have always had a problem with convergent devices because they do too much and rarely do it optimally, leading to bulky design, delayed rollout, expense, component failure, and differential rates of obsolescence. I was talking to friends this week and said I can't wait for the iPhone nano, a product which is now just a figment of my imagination but one which could actually appeal to the broader market: A device that is functional, portable, fashionable, affordable, and replaceable.

iPhone nano, Steve. Think about it.

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Hanging Hussein

The Hanging: Beyond Travesty

I can't find words better than the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer's in response to Saddam Hussein's hanging. While I shy away from Krauthammer's description of Hussein as "the preeminnent monster on the planet"--that kind of overblown rhetoric disguises the commonness of a disregard and devaluation of human life by political leaders throughout history to achieve their political agendas--I agree entirely with his assessment of the hanging itself and its implications for the new Iraq. As Krauthammer notes, the event managed to turn Hussein "into the most dignified figure in the room."


Amiel, Ariel; Ariel, Amiel

I happened across an old issue of Maclean's at the hospital where I work. I don't know why the December 5, 2005 issue was lying around, but the Maclean's negative mojo was in full effect. In yellow block letters over a fetching black and white photo of ND Leader Jack Layton, the cover blared Who is this man and why is he running the country? This reminds me of their Liberal leadership home stretch covers touting Michael Ignatieff as the best thing since Pierre Trudeau sliced bread, and we remember how that's turned out, right Stephane Dion?

Anyhoo, the reason I brought up this particular issue of Maclean's is to point out the Curse of the Black Widow, Barbara Amiel. This issue carries her column titled "The steely survivor." She writes: "Weight and waist circumference are highly overrated markers of a man's health and vigour, as the rotund 77-year-old prime minister of Israel demonstrates." On December 18, Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke he never recovered from. He entered a persistent vegetative state from which he never recovered.

Cute-as-a-button Amiel goes on to spew out other nonsense, like "Israel's survival depends on it remaining an ethnic Jewish state" because "living under the rule of unbelievers is anathema for Muslims." The six or seven hundred thousand Muslims in Canada seem to be living under the rule of a devoutly and unabashedly Christian leader just fine. The real danger in Israel is the continued belief by many that Israel belongs to Jews by Divine Right. Israel's survival depends precisely on it no longer remaining an ethnic Jewish state, a condition that will change passively as Arab Israelis gradually shift the demographics in the tiny state with their higher birth rate. As long as they stop blowing themselves up.

Over Their Dead Bodies

First World War veterans don't want state funeral

I love this story. It recounts how the well-meaning Dominion Institute successfully lobbied the Canadian government to honour the death of the last surviving Canadian World War I veteran with a state funeral, despite the fact that none of the three remaining survivors wish to be honoured in this manner.

When I first heard of the initiative to hold a state funeral on this occasion, I was supportive. I was not one of the 100,000 Canadians who signed a petition supporting the measure, but I numbered among the 75% of Canadians who agreed. Until I heard what the vets themselves had to say.

Two additional features of the Institute's lobbying efforts concern me. Rudyard Griffiths, director of the Dominion Institute, has said that the final decision will be left entirely up to the veteran's family (quoted by CBC in an article dated November 6, 2006), not to the veterans themselves. Secondly, the article goes on to describe Griffiths' insistence on a state funeral because of its religious component and the importance of reflecting that veterans of the war "fought for a tolerant, peaceful, and open idea of Christianity." The absurdity of Christians taking up arms against other Christians to fight for peace would be funny if it were not actually believed.
I think it is incredibly disrespectful to these three men to continue to plan for a state funeral when one is customarily not granted to these individuals, and when they have clearly objected to doing so. I wonder how many Canadians would support such a measure over the objections of the men they mean to honour. While I agree that the death of the last surviving veteran will mark a watershed moment in our nation's history, some tribute other than a state funeral is warranted to honour the sacrifice of those who served Canada in World War I.

The image above is the introduction page from the Book of Remembrance for the First World War, a beautiful and moving tribute to Canadians who died in combat, "loyal to the Crown & faithful to the traditions of their fathers." It is part of a whole series of such books recording the names of Canada's fallen, prepared in the style of an illuminated manuscript. They are housed and displayed in the Peace Tower of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I first saw these books in 1998 or 1999, and the effect is haunting.