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Jaks View from Vancouver

Friday, November 30, 2001

The Christian Science Monitor today has a good roundup on the international opposition to extending Dubya Dubya Three into Iraq. The German Foreign Minister has made the Ruropean position abundantly clear:
"All European nations would view a widening of the conflict with great scepticism, and that is putting it diplomatically," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the Bundestag on Wednesday. It would be "irresponsible to look for new targets."
In an interview with the BBC today, Colin Powell suggested he understood the problems. But can Powell hold back the hawks? I doubt it.

Rest in peace, George Harrison. As Yoko One said this morning, "Thank you George, it was grand knowing you."

Thursday, November 29, 2001

The massacre of Taliban prisoners in the fortress near Mazer-i-Sharif is only the latest and most visible of the war crimes Coalition forces have committed during Dubya Dubya Three. Innumerable Taliban prisoners have been abused and beaten and killed, primarily by the thugs of the Northern Alliance, but often with the knowledge and connivance of British and US "advisers". A couple of weeks ago, we heard of 200 prisoners dying in a school; an Alliance commander has admitted to killing 160 surrendering troops because they abused his men; and now we have another 400 dead at Qalai Janghi. As Robert Fisk of the Independent says, "We are the war criminals now."
"Nazi murderers were given a trial at Nuremberg because US President Truman made a remarkable decision. 'Undiscriminating executions or punishments,' he said, 'without definite findings of guilt fairly arrived at, would not fit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride.' No one should be surprised that Mr Bush – a small-time Texas Governor-Executioner – should fail to understand the morality of a statesman in the White House.
It is unlikely that any war crimes tribunal will ever hear about the outrages in Afghanistan. This is first because the victors are rarely required to face justice, second because the US, after all, does not believe anyone else is worthy of trying Americans, and the junior Minister at the British Foreign Office, Peter Hain, has already ruled out an inquiry because "nasty things happen in war." This last is rather odd as Minister Hain personally authored a press release in August of this year in which he paraded Britain's willingness to encourage and support the International Criminal Court in its work against war crimes. I guess this doesn't count when the SAS is involved.

In Palestine today, there were a lot of violent deaths. Three Israeli civilians were killed in an attack on a bus near Hadera. The Palestrinian militant was also killed. An Israeli soldier was shot dead at Tul Karm, and another Israeli civilian was killed near Baka a-Sharkiya. Two Palestinians were shot and killed at an Israeli roadblock at Beka'ot Junction. From September 11th until now (2:30m PST November 29), the total number of Palestinians killed is 168. In the same period, 36 Israelis were killed.

CounterPunch's Steven Blum has written a cautionary tale for those negotiating the future of Afghanistan. He relates the abysmal record of the United States in living up to its commitments to re-build countries it has bombed into submission. In 1973, President Nixon promised Vietnam $3.25 billion for reconstruction after the peace agreements. Nothing was ever paid. Laos and Cambodia, utterly destroyed by US military action, received nothing. The same amount was received by Panama, Grenada, Sudan and Iraq. Most recently, the "allies" agree to assist Yugoslavia with DM300 million, but deducted DM225 million for debts of earlier regimes (including those of Marshal Tito!). None of the balance of DM75 million has yet been paid.

The Afghani leaders must assume that no financial assistance of any type will be forthcoming from the Coalition, whatever the promises made. Planning for anything else is to throw the dice against all the historical odds.

Fish is, of course, a major foodstuff for many people around the world. It is also a major part of several countries' economies. When fish stocks collapse (as we have seen on both East and West coasts of Canada over the last decade or more), significant numbers of people and communities find themselves on the economic trash-heap. Researchers from British Columbia have conducted research which seems to indicate that China has been lying "spectacularly" about its annual fish catch, and that world stocks are in far worse shape than anyone suspected.
"Dr Rosenberg [a fisheries scientist at the University of New Hampshire] says that many countries assume that, as long as the overall picture remains healthy, fisheries management is a problem for the long term. As long as global volumes are rising or stable, it seems reasonable to conclude that the exhaustion of local fishing grounds has been balanced by the opening of new grounds farther afield. The new research suggests that this is wrong."
European regulators recognize the problem ... .
"Our fleet is still much too large for the available resources and we are constantly being criticised in international fora for its overcapacity and the possible compounding effects of our aid schemes. Courageous measures are needed. In view of the critical situation of several important stocks I feel that no time should be wasted", Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, said."
Unfortunately, they seem unable to do anything about it. The recent Fisheries Council meeting "could not reach an agreement."

As Western societies move away from the meat-based diets of our recent ancestors -- for spiritual reasons, or for fear of chemical contamination -- fish can become an ever more important source of food. Equally important, a revival of the coastal fleets will in many countries revive otherwise moribund regions, improving the lives of millions of people and enhancing the overall economy. Stock depletion should become everyone's concern.

While America mourns it's first combat death in Afghanistan, let us take a moment to note that eight journalists have already died covering Dubya Dubya Three. The eighth was a Swedish TV reporter shot during a robbery.

Today is the 54th anniversary of the decision by the United Nations to partition Palestine. The New York Times archive allows us to re-visit the discussions and disagreements that led to the decision.
"Representatives of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, four of the six Arab member states, announced that they would not be bound by the Assembly's decision and walked determinedly out of the Assembly Hall at Flushing Meadow. The Egyptian and Lebanese delegates were silent but walked out, too."
And so it began. From this position of distance, we can survey the hundreds of thousands of dead, the millions upon millions of impoverished refugees, the ethnic cleansing, and the terrifying degree to which this issue has affected the world's equilibrium for half a century. We can see the results of that decision in 1947, and we can say loudly and unquestionably that the decision was plain and simple wrong.

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

It is not too often that we are able to see deep inside the financial monoliths that are the media giants that dominate our world. But the failure of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp's US strategy, plus the birth of a new daughter to the 70-year old thus complicating the succession agreement with Murdoch's ex-wife and their children, and the extraordinary reverberations these events have caused throughout the media industry, has prompted Neil Chenoworth of the Sydney Morning Herald to write an absorbing essay on high finance and media manipulation. It may all sound like something out of the tabloids, but this stuff will affect how millions of us watch, read and listen over the next decades.

The Far East Economic Review has an engrossing article about Taiwanese politics leading up to next month's parliamentary elections. The old guard Kuomintang -- the Generalissimo's old party -- is in danger of effectively disappearing from the scene. Many Taiwanese will welcome this event ...
"Fifty years ago, the KMT parachuted into Taiwan," said the pro-DPP Taipei Times in a scornful November 17 editorial. "The fact that this alien regime managed to maintain its rule for so long is more miraculous than Taiwan's oft-touted economic miracle. Its regime was a prime example of rule-by-force."
However, there is no doubt that this will complicate the already tangled web of emotion, trade and ego that binds together Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. This is an area of the world where the international community faces the potential for grave dangers in the near future (the Koreas, Taiwan and China) and it will be valuable for us all to take more than a pasing interest in their affairs.

In Palestine yesterday, an Israeli woman and a Palestinian militant were killed in action at Gush Katif. From September 11th until now (5am PST November 28), the total number of Palestinians killed is 165. In the same period, 31 Israelis were killed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

When we read that an individual or company has been put on a list of suspected terrorist organizations, and that financial action has been taken against them, it may be that, like me, you think of bank accounts being seized and not much else. However, in a country with a limited infrastructure such as Somalia, the effects can be devastating. As the BBC reports, such actions have resulted in a complete shutdown of internet services in the country, major disruption to long distance telephones, and serious hardship caused by the closure of money transfer companies upon whom most Somalis depend. As usual in war, it is the innocents who bear the cost of rich mens' hubris.

"There's been a sexual liberation but no defecation liberation," said Dr Clara Greed of the University of the West of England and a member of the British Toilet Association. "That's got to change or millions of people are going to die." Openness to a discussion of sanitary habits is one of the guiding principles of the inaugural World Toilet Summit being held in Singapore. "King Louis XIII of France apparently decided to save time by holding audiences while on his other "throne"; the Japanese have designed a toilet that does an automatic analysis of your urine and gives a printout by the time you've washed and dried your hands; and the average person spends about three years of their life on the toilet. " Fascinating stuff!

With Bush's rhetoric and actions in Dubya Dubya Three becoming more shrill every day, it is no wonder that international aid and relief agencies are obliged to think in terms of world war. According to a report from Australian Broadcasting, the International Committee of the Red Cross is gearing up for "global conflict" in 2002. And people said this century would be different from the last. Huh!

Right behind the Marines, Bollywood producers are eager to re-invade Afghanistan. It seems that Kabul was a lively market for Hindi films in the past and the hucksters would like to get back there to squeeze the last farthing from the hands of the starving Afghanis. I hope the aid convoys don't get in the way of their rush to riches!

On the radio this morning I heard a sociology professor from Ohio, James Moody, describe a new survey he and his team are conducting on the use of email. Specifically, he is investigating email's affect on the "six degrees of separation" paradigm of social cohesion. The working hypothesis is that the nature of email has increased cohesion to, perhaps, five or only four degrees of separation between each of us. Personally, I think it is both interesting and useful to know this stuff. I took the survey and would encourage others to participate.

Damon Linker has written a useful article for First Things. The article opposes the legalization of marijuana, doing so by cleverly counter-punching the familiar arguments of marijuana proponents. However, in the end, his position rests on his peculiar assertion that marijuana gives pleasure that is not deserved and is therefore unworthy of legality. Hmmmm. If everything that was undeserved was illegal, what the heck would we do with all our spare time?

In Palestine this morning, two Israeli civilians and two Palestinian militants were killed in action in the town of Afula. From September 11th until now (5am PST November 27), the total number of Palestinians killed is 164. In the same period, 30 Israelis were killed.

Monday, November 26, 2001

As a customer of @Home, I am interested in how such a well-heeled and well-connected company could go belly up so fast. Some of the losing shareholders claim it was due to a conspiracy by AT&T to gobble @Home's billion dollar assets for less than a third of that amount, leaving other creditors and shareholders in the lurch with hundreds of millions in losses.
" ... on the day At Home filed for Chapter 11, AT&T unveiled a deal to buy the company's assets for $307 million--without staging an auction that might have lured a higher bidder. 'They negotiated this deal behind our backs,' says Donald Morgan of investment firm MacKay Shields, who represents At Home's bondholders. They have asked the bankruptcy court in San Francisco to reject the paltry offer, and accused AT&T of 'unsavory shenanigans' that stripped At Home of value. Small shareholders feel just as hosed. 'This is an egregious and grievous manipulation. These people are worse than any crook sticking up a convenience store,' snipes Don E. Doby Jr., a sports marketing agent in Charlotte, N.C. He bought 1,000 At Home shares at $44 in 1999, has sold half of them since, but is still down $35,000.
It is somehow comforting to get such a clear indication that the Robber Barons still rule the world.

Foreign Affairs magazine has an absorbing description of the collapse of the Argentine economy into chaos and despair. Once again we see "market economics" attempted in a country not designed for it. Once again we see it fail with disastrous consequences for the small man and the small merchant.
"In the end, Menem's strong pro-market rhetoric simply meant that the losers in the domestic market -- the smaller firms that lacked the affordable credit and technical know-how to survive the competition -- had to bite the bullet. For the winners, the state was still there to lend a helping hand by granting access to lucrative contracts and assets and offering generous concessions with high investment returns."
And, once again, we read how the idea wasn't wrong, merely that the program managers weren't "tough" enough and that's why it failed ("the Argentine experiment does not reflect badly on liberalization, privatization, or the rest of the market package; rather, it offers evidence of another failure to pursue adequately tough change".)

Of course, the developers and proponents of these schemes (including the academics who examine the failures) cannot contemplate the idea that market economics (and the consumerist-capitalist system that it is designed to support are plain and simple wrong and bad for a people's health. Should that splinter of thought ever slip through into their minds, they would have to face the fact that the system only works through bribery (tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals and companies), illegality (secret subsidies for exports) and despair (threatening the masses with unemployment and reduced social welfare supports).

In Palestine this morning, a Palestinian militant was killed in military action in the Gaza Strip. From September 11th until now (2:30pm PST November 25), the total number of Palestinians killed is 162. In the same period, 28 Israelis were killed.

Yet another Best Ever Movie list, this time from over 20,000 Brits. Star Wars and Godfather scoop the top two places and, as ever, I am grateful to see "Shawshank Redemption" so high (at number 3). I can only hope that Gladiator (number 6) will slip down the charts as more and more discriminating viewers take these polls. God, haven't people seen Spartacus or Ben Hur or even Cleopatra for goodness sakes!

President Bush is beginning to build up his "reasons" or, rather, excuses, for the extension of Dubya Dubya Three into Iraq. He wants UN Inspectors to be let into the country "to show us" that Iraq is not doing anything the US would object to. I guess Bush wouldn't understand the irony of this demand being made by the United States, which refuses absolutely to have outside inspectors come and inspect any of its own facilities. "Do as I say, not as I do", seems to be the motto here. Of course, the real object is exactly to find something to object to.
"If they fund a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they're terrorists. I mean, I can't make it any more clear... to other nations around the world. If they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable," the president said.
Once again, we are left to assume that Israel with its nuclear arsenal is exempt from this accountability.

Sunday, November 25, 2001

This weekend is the 10th anniversary of the death of Freddie Mercury, one of the icons of rock and homosexuality. The Guardian saw fit to celebrate the event by re-running its obituary of Queen's leader. I can do nothing more than agree to celebrate by linking to it.

In Jerusalem this morning, the Israeli Army shot to death a 13-year old Palestinian boy. From September 11th until now (3:30pm PST November 25), the total number of Palestinians killed is 161. In the same period, 28 Israelis were killed.

Saturday, November 24, 2001

Wag the Dog indeed! September 11th and Dubya Dubya Three are being blamed for everything from lowered retails sales to an increased sex drive. They have been used as the justification for a wide range of unpleasantness from Government eavesdropping to huge tax giveaways to big business. They have become, indeed, the The All-Pupose Excuse.

It has been a bloody day and night in Palestine. Three senior Palestinian militants were assassinated on the West Bank; two others were killed in military action near Nablus, and a Palestinian civilian was killed when a car was sprayed with fire from an Israeli roadblock in the Gaza Strip injuring an entire family. Late this morning (my time), an Israeli civilian was killed by Palestinian military action at Dugit settlement. From September 11th until now (noon PST November 24), the total number of Palestinians killed is 160. In the same period, 28 Israelis were killed.

Friday, November 23, 2001

Even the lapdog has whined about the brutality of its master! British officials are criticising Rumsfeld's "kill 'em all" comments of the other day about Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. Equally revealing and disturbing are the details that are now coming to light about the death of 250 Pakistani fighters who had surrendered.
"Though the exact figures are not clear, workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mazar-i-Sharif said at least 250 Pakistani fighters had been killed in the school, many because of American bombardment.

The Pentagon's decision to bomb the large compound was supported by the Uzbek warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostam, but opposed by other local generals, who argued it would be more humane to allow the fighters to surrender."
War is always brutal. When you can wage war 30,000 feet away from your unarmed enemy, then brutality can reign supreme.

It is British Columbian politics that has given rise to our Province's nickname of La-La-Land. We have had -- and continue to endure -- more than our fair share of eccentric parliamentarians, not to say some genuinely wacko leaders and others who are or were so incompetent as to merit mention in a Guiness book. In this vein, I am indebted to my friend Brian Day for pointing me to this article concerning our new Finance Minister, a fellow of prodigiously peculiar ideas under whom we are currently groaning.

I adore orangutans; they are my favourite non-human primates. This picture is here for no reason other than to give me enjoyment.

These glorious animals, so close to us genetically, are in terrible danger. Contact the Orangutan Foundation to see what YOU can do to help!

The equality of men and women in Turkey is formally and legally recognized, finally. For this the day is worth celebrating.

It's here! Today is ...

... It is important to take these small symbolic steps against the corporate beast; it develops our muscles for the really bruising fights ahead. Today I brought no money with me to work, so nothing can I buy.

In Gaza, the Israeli Army shot to death a 15-year old Palestinian boy this morning. It now seems likely that the 5 Palestinian children killed yesterday died as a result of an Israeli terrorist booby-trap. From September 11th until now (9:00am PST November 23), the total number of Palestinians killed is 154. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Thursday, November 22, 2001

A couple of days ago in this space I gave my opinion on Colin Powell's speech regarding the Middle East. I was negative on the speech because it simply repeated old arguments, old ideas, and as usual insisted that the Palestinian victims take the first step (as if having their lands stolen and being ethnically cleansed for 50 years wasn't quite enough of a "first step"). It seems hard to find anyone who really can praise the statement --- and mean it. In this connection I was interested to read the New Republic editorial this week.

The extreme right takes the same material, the same history, agrees that the speech was "breathtakingly" banal, that the homilies have been heard "a thousand times before," and yet can still come out swinging against Powell for asking Israel to accept "unsafe" and "stupid" policies.

Ain't diversity a wonderful thing?

Naomi Klein's piece in Common Dreams this week raises a number of important issues. First, she points out the stark hypocrisy of Canada honouring Nelson Mandela in the same month that the Canadian Government will pass an "anti-terror" bill that would have labelled Mandela a terrorist, blacklisted the ANC and defeated any anti-apartheid work in Canada had this law been in place in the 1980s and 1990s. Second, she illustrates the brutal reality of wealth/class-apartheid as ordained by the World Bank and implemented by the South African Government under Tom Mbeki.
"The results have been devastating. Half a million jobs have been lost since 1993. Wages for the poorest 40 per cent have dropped by 21 per cent. Poor areas have seen their water costs go up by 55 per cent, electricity by as much as 400 per cent. Many have resorted to drinking polluted water, leading to a cholera outbreak that infected 100,000 people. In Soweto, 20,000 homes have their electricity cut off each month. And the [foreign] investment? They're still waiting."
A new "anti-apartheid" movement is beginning in South Africa's shanty towns to resist this devastation; will the West's new "anti-terror" laws forbid us to help?

This morning near Gaza, five Palestinian children aged between 6 and 13 were killed on their way to school when an Israeli tank shell exploded. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST November 22), the total number of Palestinians killed is 153. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Say what you will about Microsoft and Boeing as arrogant corporations, there is something to be said about the value of the expertise they and their multitude of sub-contractors require to function efficiently. A new report from the US Census shows that 52% of adult residents in Seattle had 4-year college degrees, the highest percentage for any big city in America and more than double the national average.
"William S. Dillingham, senior economist with the state Employment Security Department said Seattle's educated population may make the city somewhat less vulnerable to the current economic downturn. 'Having a more educated work force makes it much more resilient and makes the labor force much more employable,' he said.
Surely this is clear evidence of the value of education to society as a whole, a value that should be recognized by making all post-secondary education free, with entry governed by merit alone. It is hard for me to believe that even the most die-hard capitalist could not recognize the profit that would be generated from such an investment.

The Florida Supreme Court has banned F. Lee Bailey from practising law in the State. Gosh, it couldn't happen to a nicer chap -- except perhaps Alan Dershowitz!

Here in Lotus Land, the B.C. Government -- which makes the Reaganauts look like pinko liberals -- has decided to revive the faltering economy by putting a huge number of Provincial employees on the unemployment lines.
"The government, B.C.'s largest employer, currently has 35,000 full-time equivalent positions. Starting in January, the government plans to cut 23 to 33 per cent of those jobs, ranging from 8,050 to 11,550 positions ... 'It is going to hurt individuals, there's no question about that,' Finance Minister Gary Collins said Tuesday. '... It's not going to, in the short term, spur the economy'."
No shit, Sherlock! Unless, perhaps, you own shares in Kraft Dinner or thrift stores or Food Banks.

Foreign Policy magazine this month includes an essay entitled The Lone Gunmen by Ehud Sprinzak. I mention this not to encourage a reading of the article but rather to point out its primary failing. The conclusion of the piece, that the "best way to deal with megalomaniacal hyperterrorists is through preemptive military strikes on known terrorists", as usual in these pieces ignores -- and in this case, doesn't even mention -- the alternatives of (a) seeking to understand why these people feel terrorist attacks are necessary, and (b) attempting to solve some of the problems that give rise to terrorism. It assumes that these terrorists are simply indivisably evil, with no motivation other than to kill Americans (or Jews or whomever) and make a name for themselves.

Further, the article avoids the problem of definition, assuming that anyone identified by the US -- and presumably the US alone -- as a terrorist is a terrorist regardless of whether or not other people, other nations, may have a different interpretation of what these people are doing.

In Mr Sprinzak's scheme, Pax America means that America is by definition always right, and anyone who thinks otherwise could -- and should -- be subject to "pre-emptive military strikes." What a horrible stinking world that would be.

It may be that Edith Piaf is unknown to many of today's generation(s), but to many Europeans of my vintage she was a supreme artiste, the waif, the sparrow with the voice of gold. Kelly Wittman has a fascinating article in Gadfly that blows apart many of the myths surrounding Piaf that I have carried from my youth. Some make me shake my head with sadness. But mainly I hear in my head her voice in the Olympia concerts; sad, strong and beautiful.
[Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the link]

As the first skirmish grinds on, more questions are raised about the wider objectives of Dubya Dubya Three. The New York Times lays out the groundwork quite clearly:
"[T]he second Bush administration has modified [the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force] in favor of innovative tactics that quickly exploit enemy weaknesses with ruthless bombardment from the air under a doctrine in which the use of force is unrestrained by borders or allies. Where Mr. Bush now takes this doctrine is an open question, but he has painted his mission broadly across the world."
Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post makes it almost a joke: "the commentators already seem bored with Afghanistan." It is not only "terrorists" who should be concerned. Pax According to America comes loaded with a mailed fist for all of us.

This morning in Gaza, a Palestinian man died of a heart attack as a result of his ambulance being refused passage through an Israeli roadblock. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST November 21), the total number of Palestinians killed is 148. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

I think I look my age right now. Trouble is, I have looked this same age for the past dozen or more years! The Moral Majority almost had me convinced it was because I lived a devilish life of excess and abuse. Luckily, the BBC have stepped in to inform me that it was all to do with my blood chemistry!
" ... one hypothesis is that small blood vessels to the skin are damaged, whether by cholesterol or smoking, making you more wrinkled and older looking."
Sins of consumption and of pride are equally exempt it appears; "The study found that looking older was not related to alcohol consumption, or one's level of attainment at work."

I adore tulips. In the spring this year we had a marvelous bloom in our containers. When they finished, we left them in the pots to sit over this winter and re-bloom next spring. Should be easy, right? Well, more than half-a-dozen of the bulbs have decided to come up early -- three or four months early! We haven't had any frost in Vancouver yet and I have no idea if these front-runners will survive.

(NOT the early risers!)

The Christian Science Monitor has a detailed article looking at how US-based hate groups -- Aryan nation types, Christian Identity wackos, anti-Semites of very description, and basic violence-seeking skinheads -- have used the events surrounding September 11th as a recruiting campaign.
"One recent development in recruiting is shortwave radio. A shortwave receiver is far cheaper than a computer, and hate-filled messages (some advocating violence) now are heard on 1,100 hours of broadcasting a month across the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center ... the messages of Pierce of the National Alliance, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and other right-wing extremists have been broadcast from Iran and Iraq."
The article ends by suggesting the possibility that a Middle Eastern anti-Israel group may have supplied anthrax to US-based militants. Strange and disturbing bedfellows indeed.

On the question of recreational drugs, it is good to see the British police way out ahead of the politicians on liberalization policies. Disagreeing strongly with their Minister, senior police officials told a House of Commons committee that they wanted to see some drug possession downgraded to less important offences, and for the establishment of shooting galleries to assist the health of heroin users.
"If the medical authorities say it is worthwhile and they can be controlled in a way that people are happy with, then clearly from ACPO's perspective they would support it, because it would reduce the tensions in the community and the erosion of the community."
With the police on side, operational gravity is now disposed to follow their lead. One can only hope the politicians wake up and smell the coffee real soon.

Well, I think Colin Powell really blew it yesterday. He had a chance to go down in history as a Secretary of State who "fixed" the Middle east. Instead, his speech was more of the same boring pro-Israeli BS we've heard since 1949. Once again the US insists that the victims stop complaining while the bullies are talked to in the hope that they will reform if they are bribed enough. The intifida is a direct result of the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by an exansionist extremist State supported by nuclear weapons (no problems with weapons of mass destruction here, say the US) and yet the US demands that the intifida stop while the internationally-condemned invasion and brutality continue. Powell thinks that waving the ragged flag of Israeli-controlled Palestinian sovereignty in the far off distant future will make it all sound so much better. I don't know why I expected more of Powell, but I was deeply disappointed.

In Palestine yesterday, a Palestinian militant was killed in military action with Israeli forces near Nablus. From September 11th until now (9:00am PST November 20), the total number of Palestinians killed is 147. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Went to see the iconic Taj Mahal play at the Commodore Ballroom last night. He was pretty darned good. It was supposed to be a solo gig (his first after many years of working with increasingly large bands or orchestras) but the second half of the set included a trio (drums, bass, rhythm). I thought he was much looser and more comfortable when the combo joined him. The biggest impression I will take away was his presence on stage. He looked startlingly like Evander Hollyfield, the former Heavyweight Boxing champion; and Evander has a particular brooding presence whenever he enters a room. All night I caught glimpses of the "boxer" and kept wondering how such fine music could be coming out of the often-inarticulate Hollyfield. Good crowd there of all ages. Blues rocks!

Monday, November 19, 2001

At the end of each year, there are countless lists of Books of the Year. The Publisher's Weekly entrant is new this year, but none the less appealing for that. If nothing else, these lists make it plain to me just how much reading I didn't do this year!

Further to an article discussed here a week or so ago, the Christian Science Monitor has an interesting piece on falling support for Palestinian Authority leader, Yassir Arafat.
"Ever since hostilities broke out between Israelis and Palestinians more than a year ago, Fatah has been more of an opposition party than a bastion of support for the PA. Fatah leaders have struck this stance in order not to pay a political price for the perceived failings of the PA's policy of negotiation."
More and more it seems to me that Arafat is the Moses who must now step down for his people to receive their Promised Land.

We tend to be complacent about our gender-neutral politics in British Columbia. After all, we have had a female Premier, and many of our other politicians and cultural leaders are openly gay. We claim that bigoted institutions such as the Surrey School Board and Doug Collins are merely abberations, not representative of the body politic. Maybe we are right. It is even more shocking therefore when a gay man is beaten to death by a gang of thugs in Stanley Park. An ugly crime by even uglier people.

In Palestine today, two Palestinian policemen were killed and an American school badly damaged during a terrorist raid by Israeli Army forces. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST November 19), the total number of Palestinians killed is 146. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

In the Guardian this morning, Madeleine Bunting has an excellent article about how we should be more afraid of American ruthlessness in the wake of September 11th than we ever should be about Islamic extremism.
"For the US, the whole country of Afghanistan is collateral damage. Or, to put it another way, a little hors d'oeuvre before they move on to the next course - Somalia, Yemen or, most worryingly of all, Iraq? The latter is already being openly touted in Washington as a possibility for the "second stage" and tension is growing in the Gulf region. Meanwhile, as far as the US is concerned, the UK with its nation-building agenda, the UN and everyone else is welcome to spend their soldiers' lives on the onerous task of clearing up the mess the US bombing has left behind, freeing it to concentrate on the next task"
The wreckage of the future for Afghanistan is already in place as this perceptive piece from the New York Times attests in some detail. As I mentioned on Saturday, soon is the time the body bags will begin to fly for an American-inspired mission, and yet by then the Americans themselves will probably be at 30,000 feet, safe above another country bombing it to shreds in the name of freedom.

Sunday, November 18, 2001

As mentioneed a few times before in this space, the School of the Americas was the USA's own terrorist training camp. from these gates went forth graduates who have killed literally tens of thousands of civilians -- men, women and children -- often in the most brutal of circumstances. Each year there is a protest outside the school; this year's protest was today. Bravo to the brave demonstrators who have been arrested for expressing their disgust at this aspect of US foreign policy.

I like Macy Gray a whole bunch. It's true that her new album, The Id, is not as original and instantly mind-shattering as her debut effort, but it is still pretty darned good. The Observer's Tim Cooper has written about a recent interview experience with the diva.
"Self-examination, it swiftly transpires, is not her strongpoint. 'She simply can't talk about herself,' says Ted Cockle, her product manager at Sony's UK headquarters in London. 'She can't even look you in the eye when she meets you. And she's bonkers, so she can be very unpredictable. But she comes alive when you put her on a stage'."
Ain't that the truth!

In earlier times, an overwhelmingly odd figure like Macy Gray may have ended up in the Freak Show, a staple of US travelling carnie culture for a long time. One of the finest exponents in such a circumstance was the Human Blockhead, Melvin Burkhart, who hammered nails up his nose for a living.
"Mr. Burkhart, who lived in Riverview, Fla., was one of the last of the old-time sideshow performers clustered around the Tampa area. Percilla the Monkey Girl died in February, and Jeanie Tomaini, the Half Girl, died in 1999. James Taylor, publisher of the journal Shocked and Amazed, which chronicles sideshow history, also listed the Lobster Boy, the Ossified Lady and a man famed for boxing gorillas, all of whom have died in the last decade."

Saturday, November 17, 2001

There are bloody times ahead for Afghanistan; all the signs are there. The bully boys (Bush and Blair) have dropped their bombs without any political plan (other than to oust the Taleban) and now they will have to be involved in the mess that follows. The BBC has a good rundown of the players involved, each of whom have armed supporters willing to turn on each of the others.
A sample: Camped outside of Kabul, there are contingents of Hazara peoples attempting to protect their interests, "equipped with weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, which are far more than they need for a light security role." (BBC)
The LA Times has a well-written summary of the present difficulties in the US position. By unleashing a focused thrust to overthrow the Taliban regime, the US chose to ignore the brutal realities of armed ethnic politics. By choosing to fight at 30,000 feet, the US lost its best chance to influence events on the ground.

It is now that the bloody business begins, when body bags will start winging their way west. For me the interest will be in seeing how many US forces are committed to the "peacekeeping" operations, or whether the casualties to come will be confined to Brits and French and Germans.

Friday, November 16, 2001

The sex industry is a multi-billion dollar part of the US economy. Like many other sectors, prostitution was affected by the events of September 11th. Dara Colwell has a fascinating article at AlterNet that tells all.
"... the tanking economy has resulted in a marked drop in business, as clients -- just as the general public -- cut back on spending and struggle with post-traumatic."

The cover story for Atlantic Monthly in November is "The Crash of EgyptAir 990" by William Langewiesche. Atlantic Unbound has an interview with the author about his investigations into the crash which killed 217 people in October 1999. He is clear that the Egyptian co-pilot deliberately caused the crash (for whatever personal reasons), and he is equally clear that the FAA (which will agree with his theory) and the Egyptian authorities will disagree in their findings. What impressed me most about the interview was how careful Langewiesche was to make sure he made no value judgements about the Egyptian position; he merely reports it as being different, not better or worse. I look forward to reading the full story (unavailable online).

The term "white elephant" has negative connotations in the West. Not so in Myanmar where white elephants are prized. A rare specimen has just been captured and feted by the regime's leaders.

In Palestine this morning, a Palestinian was killed during an Israeli attack near Ramle. From September 11th until now (4:00am PST November 16), the total number of Palestinians killed is 144. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Thursday, November 15, 2001

As the Guardian says, "in a foretaste of trouble" to come, the revanchist, fascist, medieval woman-hating, atrocity-ridden Northern Alliance, perched on its triumphant little hill in Kabul, has told the world, "We don't need your peacekeepers!". As most Afghanis recognise -- if the western chancelleries do not -- the Coalition's bombs have done nothing but replace "Hitler" with "Stalin".

Yesterday I mentioned how pleased I was that the US and Russia had agreed to destroy a large portion of their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. It was fascinating, therefore to find this piece in the New York Times about the Pantex plant near Amarillo, Texas, where US missiles are dismantled.
”From 1990 to 1997, 10,482 warheads were disassembled at Pantex, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Until 1997 the company dismantled slightly over 1,000 a year; but accidents and other delays that year, the last for which numbers are available, cut the figure in half.”
An interesting insight into an important but rarely discussed part of the disarmament process.

It is a sign of the times, I guess, that a $200 water sterilization appliance for the home is one of Time's Inventions of 2001. Personally, I'd be happy to see the motorized surfboard under my Christmas tree!

Family troubles in Bangkok. The murder of a much-decorated police officer in a bar fight with the sons of a prominent politician has Thailand in a mood to shakeup the "safety net" around the rich and powerful. "Until now, Duangchalerm and his elder brothers, Arthan and Wanchalerm, have lived what seemed to be charmed lives. Over the years, they have been involved in a dozen bar brawls, but have never ended up in court." As I read this, I couldn't help but think of the Dubya twins.

In Palestine last night, a Palestinian was killed during an Israeli attack on the Khan Yunis refugee camp. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST November 15), the total number of Palestinians killed is 143. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Here is a wonderful article about the mores of cafe society in Paris.
"Jose’s cafe has its share of regulars, from a shoemaker down the street who comes in every few hours for a couple of minutes each day, never taking off his apron, to the older gentleman, a seller of roasted chestnuts on the street fifty yards away, who may or may not be originally from a Baltic state."
It is a while since I have been in Paris, but I am happy to report that cafe society on Commercial Drive in Vancouver is remarkably similar.
[Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the link]

In an interesting article for The Dismal Scientist, David Givens shows that, overall, the gambling industry in the US has been remarkably resilient. It is true that Vegas is still suffering -- can you imagine 12,000 workers from a single industry losing their jobs in a single town! -- but the recent expansion of casinos to other States has mitigated the September 11th-based downturn. Gambling exists most prominently where consumerism (and its associated social pressures) is rampant. Americans have got the habit real bad.

The Dubya has announced that the USA will cut its stockpile of nuclear weapons from 7,000 to 2,000 over the next decade. I am not dumb: I know perfectly well that this is preparation for the ABM deployment with which I disagree; I know perfectly well that this is offered only because advances in technology allow 2,000 of today's weapons to be at least as effective as 7,000 in the old days. I know all this and yet ... I was growing up while these huge stockpiles of weapons were being built, when we had serious nightmares of obliterating nuclear holocaust, when bomb shelters and civil defense films were commonplace, when we fought police in the streets in our efforts for disarmament. It is impossible, therefore, for me to fail to acknowledge the imminent destruction of 5,000 or more of these bastard devices.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Reality is a whole bunch tougher than "Castaway" could ever be. Two Samoan fishermen just survived 132 days adrift in the Pacific! When they were rescued off Papua-New Guinea, they had spent four months living off raw fish and rainwater.

Ghana in West Africa is taking serious steps to end the brutal practice of female genital mutilation as this editorial from the Ghanaian Chronicle makes clear. If only the US, Canada and the rest of the "civilized" west would take the same care to eliminate the practice of genitally mutilating millions of infant boys. Our practices of circumcision are only justified if we assume that the religions which encourage it (Judaism and Islam) are somehow more important than certain African religions. Such a position is, of course, morally repugnant. Almost as repugnant as slicing up little boys and little girls.

We are about to spend billions of dollars throughout the world equipping ariports with improved scanners. As this story from Wired reports, it may all be for naught, with militants willing to carry plastic explosives within their bodies.
"Criminal groups running drugs and diamonds into the United States have for years smuggled contraband by stuffing it into condoms and having a "mule" swallow the load, or by having it implanted surgically or rectally. The same technique can be used to smuggle plastic explosives like Semtex past security at an airport."
I guess we won't spend the billions necessary to deal with the causes of "terrorism" until we have wasted billions more on inadequate "security."

It is good to see that, amid all the arm-in-arm war camaraderie, the Democrats are not letting the worst of Bush's judicial appointments slip through without notice.
"It's purely partisan politics," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., one of the leaders of the bill blockade. "Be truthful about it. They don't want conservative judges on the court" ... Stop whining, the Dems say -- when President Clinton left office after eight years, 67 of his judicial nominees had never had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee."
Which is more partisan -- the appointing of extreme justices, or the complaining about the appointments? Don't pick controversial appointees, and there won't be so many delays!

I am a great admirer of Naomi Klein's writing and I am glad to see she now has a recurring column at In These Times. Her piece this week discusses the current WTO negotiations in Doha. As usual the big bullies are insisting that their agenda be accepted almost without question. While they are willing to apparently give way on certain issues of interest to smaller countries, the promises are rarely kept.
"So it’s no surprise that poor countries are this round’s strongest opponents. Before they agree to drastically expand the reach of the WTO, many are asking rich countries to make good on their promises from the last round."
Klein's close is depressingly accurate: "Trade negotiations are all about power and opportunity, and for Doha’s Kamikaze Capitalists, terrorism is just another opportunity to leverage. Perhaps their motto can be: What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger. Much stronger."

So now, a Dubya Dubya Three update: First, the "really bad guys" have left Kabul. Unfortunately, some other not so good guys took it over against our stated wishes, which has really pissed off a major ally, Pakistan. In the meantime, the "really bad guys" have concentrated their forces in their area of strongest support, and have promised an endless guerilla war if all else fails (a type of war they excel in). With Dostum (an Uzbek) and Rabbani (a Tajik) in control of Kabul, the political battles amongst the Allies will now be hotter than the military ones against the taliban.

Today is the 45th anniversary of a US Supreme Court decision banning segregation on buses. It hardly seems credible today that just a generation or so ago we were used to black people having to sit at the back of the bus. Thank our Gods for the couage of people such as Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith who wouldn't put up with such bullshit in the face of police with dogs, sticks and guns.

In Palestine, a Palestinian militant was killed in the village of Tel. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST November 13), the total number of Palestinians killed is 142. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Just a reminder ...

Execution of wounded prisoners, looting of bodies, gross indifference to human life: Thank goodness these guys are on our side!

The third largest cigarette manufacturer in the world -- Japan Tobacco, maker of Camel, Winston and Salem -- is aiming to control the marketing and distrubution of a range of lung cancer treatments.
'"Giving a tobacco company exclusive rights to lung cancer vaccines is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank,' said Helen Wallace, deputy director of GeneWatch UK, which uncovered the deals ... Derek Yach, director of the non-communicable diseases cluster at the World Health Organisation, said: '... The last company that should control the rights to a lung cancer vaccine is one that makes huge profits from products that cause the disease'."

The Economist has an interesting piece about the rise of armed crime in China. If people are willing to risk China's horrible prison system, it makes you wonder if jail is any deterrent!

Tiny Country Department: My interest in tiny countries is undiminished, most especially for those with royal families and aristocracies. I was pleased, therefore, to hear from Swaziland. This is a funny story in a way -- the king having to pay a fine of a cow for breaking his own rule against sleeping with virgins -- but it lays upon a hideous reality: "A staggering one-third of the population in Swaziland is infected with the HIV virus. So far Aids is estimated to have killed 50,000 of Swaziland's one million people."

Meanwhile, in Nepal, the royal family has lost another Princess, this time in a helicopter crash. After the massacre earlier this year, the Nepalese royal family can hardly afford to lose more members. At this rate the Maoist militants won't have to dissolve the monarchy when it takes power: there won't be any left!

Even God has a bad night once in a while. MJ has one of the worst games of his career.

In Palestine during the past 24 hours, an Israeli security guard and a Palestinian militant were killed in separate military incidents at Kfar Hess. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST November 12), the total number of Palestinians killed is 141. In the same period, 27 Israelis were killed.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

The Bush-Blair Coalition includes a fair number of non-democratic regimes (Pakistan is an excellent example), but few can compete for brutal repression with Uzbekistan, about to become the latest in a long line of US-sponsored bloodthirsty military-industrial colonies. Ted Rall was in the country before the present war and tells his story in Mother Jones this month.
"Last year, the Department of State's omnibus human rights report harshly criticized Uzbekistan, describing it as "an authoritarian state with limited civil rights" whose already poor human rights record only worsened as the government "continued to commit numerous serious abuses." The country was listed along with China and Sudan as having imposed "severe restrictions" on press freedoms. It was cited along with Algeria, Sierra Leone and Cameroon for the "widespread" use of torture by security officials."
With allies like these, why do we need enemies?

I think I first heard about Ken Kesey and the Pranksters when I read "Divine Right's Trip" serialised in the original Whole Earth Catalogs, and only later in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test". We reveled in his Acid tests, his anarchy, his good commercial work ("Cuckoo's Nest") and his essays and smaller pieces, and we put up with the lesser stuff ("Great Notion"). Kesey could have been the Kerouac of our generation but wasn't. Still, in all, it was always good to know that Kesey was out there somewhere having a time of it. Now he is dead, and the world is less for that.

Somehow it seems fitting that on the day we celebrate the passing of one of our icons, we should also discuss the re-branding of another. Mick Jagger needs a makeover, it seems. Virgin Records is using the release of his solo album "Goddess In The Doorway", to remake Jagger in the image of Britney Spears for the "Y Generation."
"But many in the industry are sceptical that the singer can find new teenage fans. 'I see no wisdom in Virgin's internet strategy of trying to interest Britney Spears fans,' said Craig Marks, music editor of the US magazine Blender . 'It seems impossible, if not ridiculous.' The first problem, Marks said, would be to convince Spears fans that Jagger wrote 'Satisfaction', a song she covered on her last record. 'He'd have to cover Britney Spears's cover.' "

Saturday, November 10, 2001

Charles Moskos and Lawrence Korb debate a re-introduction of the draft in American Enterprise magazine
Moskos: "It is time to construct a new form of American conscription that will restore the citizen soldier, properly compensate the career force, and allow other essential security work to be done at a reasonable cost to the nation."

Korb: "The all-volunteer force has given us the most professional and competent military in our history. Even in the booming economy of the 1990s, it managed to attract and retain high-quality people."

I suspect that while many on the Republican side of the aisle would like to bring back conscription, the Bush wing will take the middle ground and adopt the Third Way creed of extended voluntarism.

I was reading the FBI's profile of the anthrax mailer this morning -- adult male, loner, has little contact with the public, has changed his pattern of activity since September 11th, and may be missing periods of work lately -- when it came to me: it's Dick Cheney!

Friday, November 09, 2001

Climate researchers have often wondered how much affect aviation has on the climate. Unfortunately, it was hard to tell what it would be like without airplanes because the skies were never clear of the machines. Until September 11th, that is. The lockdown of all flights in North America has given scientists an unprecedented look at clear plane-free skies.

America is at war, American troops are in harm's way, the President asks for time to deliver a televised address to the nation, and the networks say -- no! Of the four major networks, only ABC played last night's speech live. CBS played "Friends", NBC showed "Survivor", and Fox premiered "Family Guy." I'm not really sure what that says about the US zeitgeist; but I do know that Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Andrew Card and the others are not doing well right now.

Admit it, you always wanted to know what Art Gallery directors get paid.

There was news yesterday that the US may send a fourth carrier battle group to Dubya Dubya Three. What for? Every analyst, every pundit says the time has come for a ground ar in Afghanistan -- not a job for another carrier. So why is it going? To set up an attack on Iraq is certainly one possibility, and may even be the primary purpose. But I am intrigued by another possibility, that of the potential destabilization of Pakistan. Tensions have been high inside the country since before September 11th, and Musharef's decision to side with the Coalition went against the full thrust of Pakistani diplomatic, political and military policy for the previous decade or more; a change that required the wholesale upheaval of the military and intelligence top brass. Significant numbers of Pakistanis are in Afghanistan fighting alongside the Taliban army. This morning, Pakistani police shot and killed anti-American protesters, action which can only ratchet up the violence between the government and the opposition parties. While visiting Britain today, Musharef was openly asked about the possibility of a coup. Maybe the fourth carrier is being sent as a resource for a takeover of Pakistan in the event of an anti-American coup. Just a thought.

In Israel and Palestine over the past 24 hours, a Palestinian militant was killed in military action, while an Israeli woman civilian was killed this morning. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST November 9), the total number of Palestinians killed is 140. In the same period, 26 Israelis were killed.

Thursday, November 08, 2001

Behind the President during his speech this evening was a banner proudly proclaiming "United We Stand." At the same time in London, senior Brits were mumbling that the Coalition will be united not much longer unless the US starts to listen.
"The handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main source of dispute, with Downing Street and the Foreign Office worried that dithering in Washington in its handling of the peace process risks alienating Arab opinion, which is seen as crucial in the coalition against terrorism ... The British government is also intent on opposing the expansion of the war beyond Afghanistan and is horrified at elements within the Pentagon pushing for an all-out assault on Iraq."
If the Brits really do oppose turning the Coalition onto Iraq, Bloodthirsty Blair will have been a late convert to that position. In the past he has parrotted Dubya's "hit them wherever they are" rhetoric.

Talking of tonight's exercise in national hypnotism, is it just me, or does Dubya really look more and more like Alfred E. Newman each time he makes an address to the nation?

Researchers have identified what they believe to be a meteor crater in southern Iraq, the position and age of which lends itself to the suggestion thet the meteor was the cause of the decline of many empires that we see in the historical record around 2300 BC. The detailed work on this new evidence will be fascinating.

It's certainly not that I lie in bed nights wondering what happened to the "Two Fat Ladies" after Jennifer died, but I was interested to read about Clarissa Dickson Wright's life after the show's end. She has become quite the British countrywoman with all the vices and virtues thereto attached. Keeping her opinions to herself is not her way of facing life, no matter how unpopular.
A columnist named Joan Burnie wrote in The Scottish Daily Record last March that "it is time someone doused her in strong disinfectant and placed her in permanent quarantine so she can cease contaminating the nation."
She is so unpopular, in fact, that she is "assigned a Special Branch officer by Scotland Yard. Her car is inspected for bombs every morning. She has to have her mail scanned." Hmmmmm, and you thought her lamb chops cooked in bacon fat were bad for you!

The PR campaign for extending Dubya Dubya Three into Iraq moved ahead a little today. A high-ranking Iraqi defector has reported the existence of an alleged terrorist training camp inside Iraq. It sounds a lot to me as if this defector is looking for a home and is trying to suggest that he has information worth paying for. Whatever the truth of the matter (and, frankly, I don't have any problem believing that such a camp exists), the appearance of the story at this time helps lay the groundwork for the Pentagon's agenda.

In Palestine yesterday, a Palestinian militant was assassinated by Israeli terrorists near Hirbat Carmel. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST November 8), the total number of Palestinians killed is 139. In the same period, 25 Israelis were killed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

The most obscure jungles of South America are the marketplace of terrorists, according to this CNN story.
"In Ciudad del Este on the Paraguayan side of the Parana River, the commercial district is a mosaic of businesses owned mostly by Arab merchants. International and regional intelligence sources say those businesses and a mosque in the city serve as a revolving door for Islamic extremists ... They include Egypt's Al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya and Lebanese Hezbollah, both identified by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations linked to Osama bin Laden; and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which has been linked to Iran's Imad Mughniyah, who is on the United States' list of most wanted terrorists."
In July, 2000, Paraguayan sources were reporting that there were 460 operatives in the region for the Hezbollah organization alone. Bet you a dollar there'll be some military action in that area soon.

Local Rant: Some days it is hard to look at a local newspaper or turn on the radio talk shows without someone complaining about the “sorry state” of public transit in Vancouver. My experience is entirely different – I am a huge fan of Vancouver’s public transit system.

I gave up my last car in 1991 and have used public transport virtually every day since then. Sure, I’ve waited in the rain longer than I should have on a few occasions; sure, I’ve met one or two surly bus drivers. But, I have to tell you, this system has never yet let me down, has always found a way to get me from A to B, and all for less than two bucks a throw. The addition of cross-town express bus service (99 east-west, and 98 north-south) has been brilliantly successful in my opinion. These routes, combined with Sky Train (including its soon-to-be-completed Millennium Line), Sea Bus, and the suburban express services (123 bus, West Coast Express rapid rail link, etc.) form the backbone of an effective transportation network for Greater Vancouver.

I am convinced that many improvements could me made, in service, in equipment, in management (the bus strike this summer was a disaster, for example). But what we have now is so much better than most people have in their cities that we should cherish and protect what we have before the Liberal Government tries to give it all away in a grab for ready cash.

Vancouver sunset

New Yorkers will be able to blame Rudy Guiliani for the next four years. Bloomberg could not have won without Rudy's endoresement. You've got to wonder why anyone would enter public service: Mark Green works hard for years and years and when it comes time for him to get his reward, some rich kid comes along and buys it out from under you. Why bother?

The "defenders of free speech" are at it again. Now they want to close down the Taliban's press conferences in Pakistan because they "annoy" the United States. Seems like if the US wins Dubya Dubya Three we'll all be free to say whatever we like -- so long as it doesn't "annoy" the boss.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Now here's an idea: According to this story from Rediff (which I haven't seen elsewhere), the Taliban Foreign minister challenged Bush and Blair to face him and Mullah Omar in a shootout.
"I propose that Blair and Bush take Kalashnikovs and come to a specified place where Mullah Omar will also appear with a Kalashnikov. Then we will determine who runs," he challenged.
Maybe Blair can discuss this interesting winner-take-all offer when he meets with the Dubya tomorrow.

In marketing news, the Topps trading card company have not been slow to generate revenues on the back of Dubya Dubya Three.
"Kids need to understand that the President (and his team) will keep them safe and that evil-doers will be punished. Our cards deliver the details in a medium with which they are familiar and comfortable."
Perhaps there will be another set giving some other opinions. Yeah, right.
[thanks to memepool for this one]

In Palestine today it was a bloody day as Israeli terrorists assassinated two Palestinian men. In an earlier incident, three Palestinian militants and an Israeli Army member were killed in a gun battle. There are reports that, in the later incident, the Palestinian militia were executed after being wounded and captured. Finally, a Palestinian policeman wounded by Israeli action on October 21st died of his wounds. From September 11th until now (1:30pm PST November 6), the total number of Palestinians killed is 138. In the same period, 25 Israelis were killed.

Why do men still tip their barbers? I'm talking about the old fashioned men-only "No Styles" barber who still exists on most Main Streets in North America. Most of them are independent businessmen, who own their own shops, no matter how small or humble, and yet, by tipping them in addition to their listed charges, we treat them like waiters or porters or taxicab drivers. I do it myself: my barber charges me $10 and I always add a dollar. I guess it is the personal nature of the service involved. Still, I think it strange.

Noam speaks! The Chomsky gave a speech in Delhi yesterday "at a surprisingly large non-religious anti-war congregation." He sharply criticised the Indian government for its human rights record in Kashmir.
"Earlier, Chomsky told a gathering including Defence Minister George Fernandes and Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, that the United States was a leading terrorist country which borrowed its anti-terrorism manual from the Nazis."
Never one to sit on the fence is old Noam.

Religion Watch: Tired of being a Buddhist? Or a Catholic? Or a Mormon? Come try the Agape International Spiritual Center "a warehouse-turned-church in suburban Los Angeles."
"It's not the Lutheran church where I grew up," says Abby Elliott. "It's never boring or fearful or full of guilt."
I certainly don't knock this; I have dear dear friends who are members of one or another of the various Religious Science congregations. They believe, and I accept, that they are better people for so belonging.

Ha'aretz, the English-language Israeli newspaper, has a very interesting article concerning the current political position (or non-position as the article would have it) of Chairman Yassir Arafat of the Palestinian Authority.
" ... whatever the material contribution of successive Israeli governments to the collapse of the Oslo framework or Israel's moral and legal responsibility for its own behavior since autumn 2000, Arafat is guilty of strategic misjudgment, with consequences for the Palestinians of potentially historic proportions."
Arafat may join the list of leaders, starting with Moses, who brought their people to the Promised land, only to be discarded themeselves at the gates.

Monday, November 05, 2001

In the fog of war, where the truth requires a bodyguard of lies, who the hell can tell what really goes on. That being said, the Guardian has an extensive article today documenting the failure -- the almost disaster -- of the US Special Ops raid in Khandahar a couple of weeks back.
"The failure of the October 20 raid prompted senior British officers, to emphasise the importance of good intelligence. They made it clear they did not yet have it, and the postmortem following the raid has delayed repeat operations."
Rumsfield and Bush (and all the media outlets that bought into that grainy parachuting footage) have been telling us that the raid was a wonderful success. With the deep-sixing of information for which this Administration is already reknown, it is going to be a while before we get an acceptable "official history."

It seems that when Dick Cheney (so rarely seen in the office these days) isn't finding tax-breaks for his oil-drilling buddies, he is out drilling holes in innocent little birds.

Now that we've solved the problems of child prositution, serial killings, racial hatred and anthrax mailings, it is good to see the cops getting back to the serious business of uprooting medical marijuana plants.
"The recent enforcement is indicative that we have not lost our priorities in other areas since Sept. 11," said Susan Dryden, a department spokeswoman.
I know I'll sleep more soundly in my bed tonight.

Diabetes Watch: Scientists have discovered a possible link between Vitamin D deficiency and the occurence of Type 1 diabetes. There is an interesting thought that increased concern over UV from the sun -- leading to use of stronger sunscreens on children and thus decreased exposure to our largest source of vitamin D -- may have something to do with this. Also: A protein from certain fat cells has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in diabetic mice. This could be of valuable assistance in treatments for Type 2 diabetics.

Sunday, November 04, 2001

Jean Dubuffet was one of the most creatively interesting artists of the 20th century. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Pompidou Centre in Paris has organized a major, if controversial, retrospective.

In Israel today, two Israeli civilians were killed. The Palestinian militant involved was also killed. From September 11th until now (9:30pm PST November 4), the total number of Palestinians killed is 132. In the same period, 24 Israelis were killed.

While the Veep hides out in a "secure location," the Second Lady is showing her stuff at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.

In the PR4/2001 edition of the Partisan Review, David Sidorsky has written a long and important essay regarding the modern concept of identity. He examines in detail the two classic concepts of liberty famously described by Isaiah Berlin in the 1950s, then introduces a third concept.
“The connection between the interpretation of freedom and the agenda of political action since the 1960s is demonstrable. The new politics of identity on such diverse issues as gender, ethnicity, race, nationalism, and multiculturalism has aimed at social transformation based upon the freedom to form new patterns of self and group identification.”
A long description of the third concept in action today follows. In conclusion, Sidorsky says: “The third concept of liberty represents a formulation of the perennial ideal of freedom that has special bearing in the peculiar circumstances of our own age. In the new international context, after the rigidities of the long struggle between two antagonistic power blocs, there has been increased room for change in the formerly fixed boundaries of national and ethnic self-identification. In a period of global economic transformation with rapid advances in information technology, there has been greater space for individual self-definition. Yet whether that torch of liberty will function as a guiding light or as a burning sun will depend upon the ways in which its application is carried out with an awareness of the bonds of nature, the burdens of history, and the plurality of values that are implicit in the achievement of a free society.”

Now this is worrying: It appears that lions could become extinct in large parts of Africa.
"According to a commission set up under the auspices of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), there is not a single population of lions in West or Central Africa that is large enough to be viable."

It is a sure sign that China has become a part of the capitalist/consumerist hegemony when Forbes magazine prints a Richest 100 list for the country. US$60million was needed to make the Top 100. I read all the names and didn't know a single one of them.

Paul Wolfowitz is the senior hawk at the Pentagon. As Deputy Secretary of Defence he wields immense power. This brief interview with the Far Eastern Economic Review allows us to hear his views on China and the Far East. More specific and more detailed is Doug Ireland's excellent essay in "In These Times" about the belligerence behind current US foreign policy.
"The escalation strategy is now clear, particularly after Dubya’s October 11 prime-time press conference: We will expand military strikes against other countries ad seriatim. There is no question that Iraq is next on the list. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, let slip on Meet the Press that we are selecting targets in Iraq. And when Dubya went out of his way to publicly praise Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon’s No. 2 and its most fervent hawk on Iraq, his goal became obvious."
Ireland closes with a deeply negative view: "The likelihood of Bush being granted sweeping powers will measurably increase when Republicans almost certainly retake both houses of Congress next year during a deepening war with more U.S. casualties. Meanwhile, the rush to shred our civil liberties is unimpeded ... At this point, it is hard to see a way out of the crisis the long war is creating for our democracy. One is reminded of the old Russian proverb: An optimist is only a pessimist who has not yet heard the bad news."

As Michael Shermer puts it in this absorbing expose, "Fads come and go, in clothing, cars, and psychics. In the 1970s it was Uri Geller, in the 1980s it was Shirley MacLaine, in the 1990s it was James Van Praagh, and to kick off the new millennium it is John Edward."
"I was on the John Edward show. He even had a multiple guess "hit" on me that was featured on the show. However, it was edited so that my answer to another question was edited in after one of his questions. In other words, his question and my answer were deliberately mismatched."
Psychics, televangelists and Ronco infomercials make television work for them. [Note: the link to the article takes you to the Skeptic's front page. Click on the story: "Deconstructing The Dead"]

Saturday, November 03, 2001

I am fascinated by the little medieval principalities that still exist around the world; Tonga, for example (see below). Brunei is one of the most fascinating if only because of its wealth and the decadence of much of its royal family's lifestyle. The mess left behind by the collapse of the financial empire of the most profligate member, Prince Jefri Bolkiah, is still not cleaned up, and it is doing nothing to improve the country's image.

I was lucky enough to spend my infancy and youth in the oddly vibrant and colourful 1950s -- hillbilly rock 'n'roll, plastic tablecloths, furniture that is occasionally hip again, and big hair! When I was ten, I would joke that my 16-year old cousin could hide her boyfriends in her voluminous beehive hair-do. Well, deep research has discovered that even the huge hair of the late 1950s and early 1960s had historical precedent. It is a great article, but even more worthwhile is having found an online magazine like Common-Place.

Well, if the rich have to be rich, they might as well buy good art for all of us. The Art Newspaper has a profile of billionaire Eli Broad's wonderful collection of post-WW2 art, much of which is soon to be exhibited by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
"Sotheby’s will not forget his $2.5 million purchase of Roy Lichtenstein’s painting, “I’m sorry”, with an American Express card. Mr Broad gave most of the 2.5 million Frequent Flyer miles to art students in Los Angeles. When asked, he admits that he used the card because it gave him extra time to pay."

And speaking of art, the LA Times has a great review of where to find the happening art galleries in Los Angeles. I look forward to visiting Chinatown and Echo Park next time I'm down in Southern California.

I have found an excellent essay by Stanley Hoffman in the American Prospect magazine. It is one in a number of "Why Don't They Like Us" pieces written by commentators -- thoughtful and otherwise -- since September 11th. Hoffman goes a long way to explaining the kind of political anti-Americanism that I am familiar with; and his analysis of the Middle East problem works well. His criticism is limited, though, because he omits the economic and cultural aspects of American hegemony which, I would assert, are more important day-to-day in formenting popular anti-Americanism around the globe (other than in the Middle East) than are geo-political moves.

Yesterday I posted about the problems of succession in the Kingdom of Tonga. This morning I found this backgrounder from the Asia Times which sheds more light on the current situation

Friday, November 02, 2001

What is this all about. Dubya has signed an order giving him (or any president) the right to withhold, for ever, public access to their papers. Sheesh, those guys' egos are so big they'll ruin anything -- even the future of history.

An Israeli was killed near Ramallah today. From September 11th until now (9:00pm PST November 2), the total number of Palestinians killed is 131. In the same period, 22 Israelis were killed.


I've read a few pieces about the Oprah Winfrey - Jonathan Franzen ruckus and this is the best so far.
"What was telling about the Franzen-Winfrey contretemps was the five-alarm outrage of Manhattan’s literary publishing community. Faced with a choice—reprimanding arguably their brightest star in years or alienating a woman who spends many of her shows in the company of a bald-pated schmaltzateer named Dr. Phil—judgment was swift. New York publishing chose Oprah."
I sure am ambiguous about all this. By the way, my wife -- who has had extensive experience with Parkinson's in her own family -- is currently reading the book, declaring it the finest depiction of the disease and its affect on families that she has ever read.

Beware all you free spirits! In Ann Arbor, apparently, a huge vagina is not acceptable as a High School Halloween costume!
"I just don't see what the big deal is ... I mean, what if I was wearing an elbow costume? That's part of the body. Would they suspend me then?"
After winning first prize in the costume contest from his peers, the vagina wearer was suspended from school.

In the same way that plate tectonics continues to shape the physical world around us, the continuing stream of human history works to buckle the structures of human spritituality. Some religious notions are plunged beneath the mantle of understanding, while others are thrust up into prominence like towering mountains. Hinduism has a long and venerable tradition of god-creation; a tradition that has not ceased today. In southern India, Religious Studies student Anna Portnoy has documented the appearance and early development of AIDS-amma, a goddess of HIV/AIDS. She also describes how she became "a walking billboard" for the shrine.

According to a new poll in the UK, 91% of Brits support the use of medical marijuana; and a whopping 65% support outright legalisation. Impressive numbers. Of course, if democracy really mattered, we wouldn't still be having this conversation.


I was never a fan of "Dallas," but Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing was a cultural icon for a long period in the 1980s. Hagman's autobiography therefore has some interest to the historian of pop culture. The tales of drugs (marijuana with Jack Nicholson, acid with Crosby Stills & Nash) will no doubt propel this to the best seller lists.

The 82-year old King of Tonga is seriously unwell. And this has led to political tension in the country.
"The heir to the throne, Crown Prince Tupuotoa, is apparently battling with his sister, Princess Pilolevu Tuita, for control."
Trouble in paradise, it seems. Perhaps we should send in Colin Powell or the CIA to sort things out for them.

In Palestine yesterday, the Israeli Army assassinated two Palestinian militants. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST November 2), the total number of Palestinians killed is 131. In the same period, 21 Israelis were killed.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

"Boxing is my guilty pleasure. I love it" is how Jack Newfield opens his wonderful long piece on boxing in The Nation. That's how I feel about boxing, too, and so I galloped through this well written review of the sport, even though its conclusions are depressingly downbeat in the face of crooked boxing regulators and blatant conflicts of interest.
"Respectable society doesn't really care ... They say it's just boxing, and boxing has always been dirty. Respectable society doesn't care because almost all the fighters are black or Latino. Boxing is the sport of the underclass. Even the Russians are poor. If a golfer or baseball player were getting cheated and injured like this, there would be televised Congressional hearings."
It is hard to disagree with Newfield's suggested course of action. "Boxing has to be changed, even though there is no lobby for fighters and no constituency for reform. It is the moral thing to do. I know Congress has more serious and universal priorities--the war on terrorism, the economy, the minimum wage, campaign finance reform, preventing the confirmation of right-wing judges and preserving the environment. I know it's difficult to legislate more regulation in an era of deregulation. But attention must be paid, the effort must be made. The fighters are powerless workers of color, waiting for the arrival of their Cesar Chavez, their A. Philip Randolph. They need representation, rights and a collective voice."


It was Dubya himself, I think, who told us all that Dubya Dubya Three would be a different kind of war: quiet, covert, not like Vietnam at all. Hmmm, what's that sound I hear? Can it be -- surely not -- the massed ranks of B-52 carpet-bombers?
"A 2,000lb bomb ... no matter where you drop it, is a significant emotional event for anyone within a square mile".
As the author says, this is a tactic being resorted to by "increasingly desperate military planners." Can the draft be far behind?

Now, this is truly outrageous! Goodwill Industries of South Florida has fired Michael Italie from his minimum-wage sewing job because he is running for mayor of Miami as candidate for the Socialist Workers Party.
"[The CEO of Goodwill] said he researched the matter and fired Italie after receiving legal advice from lawyers he knows. He said he realizes he can't fire someone based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, but that firing someone for political views is legal."
Land of the free and home of the (defunct?) First Amendment.

As a diabetic, I am always interested in research for "cures" and treatments for diabetes. An insulin-producing cell implant sounds like a fine idea.

What do you think of the idea of your local cops hovering over you in a helicopter, controlling your movements with bursts of skin-burning microwaves? Far-fetched? Not if you work at the Air Force Research Lab in New Mexico where trials have already been conducted. Critics are not convinced the device is safe. Wow, that's a surprise!

Upper Arrow Lake, Nakusp

It is a sure sign of aging, I guess, when one's childhood hero's have become, officially, "nostalgia figures". This is the fate that has befallen the mighty Popeye. The gaming commission authorities in Atlantic City have approved a line of slot machines based on old spinach mouth and the gang. New Jersey casino regulators can reject game themes that are considered too child-oriented. However,
"By and large, Popeye is a nostalgic figure at this point, one that doesn't appeal to people under 20," lawyer Gilbert Brooks told regulators.
The commission voted 5-0 to let New Jersey casinos offer the game.


The Coalition's big pal, the autocratic military dictatorship of Pakistan, deals with dissenters the old-fashioned way -- they lock 'em up without charges, or excuse. Mukhdoom Javed Hashmi, acting president of the Pakistan Muslim League, the largest political party in Pakistan, had only to suggest he would join an anti-government rally to find himself supping on bread and water for the next while. Dubya Dubya Three -- to make a world fit for dictators and oil profiteers!

The centenary of the birth of the great Richard Rodgers -- My Funny Valentine, My Romance, Where or When, With a Song in My Heart and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, to name a few -- is coming up next year. USA Today gets in early with this overview of the composer's life and work.

What do you think it would be like to have a roommate who was a call girl? Dara Colwell has produced a well-written piece that explores this issue with care and sensitivity.
"You know you could do it," the South African said to me in her clipped speech. "All it takes is the first time." Toni nodded, adding, "You think you're not going to go there, you're not going to cross that line, but once you have sex for money, you've changed. You can do it."
[thanks to AlterNet for the link]