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Jaks View from Vancouver

Monday, December 31, 2001

Corporate Welfare Fraud: US taxpayers will pay Boeing five times the value of airplanes used over the next 10 years. This fraud is valued at $20 billion! A statement issued by a wide range of progressive and conservative groups liaised by Ralph Nader notes that:
"There is no conceivable rationale for such a waste of taxpayer resources. If some in Congress believe Boeing needs to be subsidized, then they should propose direct subsidies to the company, and let Congress fully debate and vote on the issue before the American people."
Poor folks can scrabble in the dirt for health care and temp jobs, but the big corporations need a constant stream of government pork to keep them going.

Sunday, December 30, 2001

The Chicago Tribune's Paul Salopek has an intriguing piece about the sale of al-Qaida materials in Jalalabad. Recruiting and training videos, pamphlets and other items -- some of which may contain important intelligence information -- are openly available in the market place.
"Pilfered from terrorist facilities or stripped from militants captured in the Tora Bora mountains, the items for sale appear to be authentic and range from Al Qaeda members' passports ($800) to encrypted floppy disks ($50) to laptop computers ($2,000, content unseen) ...

The sale of this intelligence is just the latest step in the commercialization of the bin Laden myth: Outside the city, Afghan fighters ostensibly guarding the Tora Bora mountains from intruders are hawking everything from captured Al Qaeda notebooks to visits to caves for hundreds of dollars."
US Intelligence operatives are still scouring the hills looking for much the same stuff.
"We have no idea what's being offered for sale in Jalalabad," a surprised U.S. intelligence official said Friday. "It could be copies of ordinary bin Laden propaganda tapes or it could be really good stuff. There's just no way of knowing until we see it."
D'oh!

My grandfather was a steam train driver when the railway was a powerful and respected method of travel for the majority of the population, and the railway workers were the backbone of a militant union movement. He was proud of his job, proud to talk of it, and proud of his forty-year effort even if it only got him a silver watch and a tiny pension. He was that kind of man, part of that kind of generation. He would have been appalled to read about the sorry state of railways in England today. A new report has revealed that British railways are on the “brink of catastrophic breakdown with senior executives warning that much of the network is worn out and that even the most basic maintenance work is not being carried out.”

And all this since the great national enterprise was sold off to the highest bidder in a short-sighted ideologically-driven drive for cash.
A new government index ”reveals that cancellations, which officials say are a good marker of the overall reliability and standard of the rail service, have shown a rapid increase since 1999. In that year just over 62,000 of all train services were cancelled, about 1 per cent. That figure had risen to 91,000 by 2000 and 165,000 in the year to October 2001.

‘Once again the figures reveal the real state of the railways,' said a Whitehall source. 'No wonder the public are disgusted with the service they are getting’.'’
And disgusted they certainly are.
”Internal polling evidence commissioned by Number 10 … reveals that the public has almost given up on the railways. Asked if they thought the British railway system had got better or worse since 1997, when the Labour Government was first elected, seven times more people thought it was worse.”
The report suggests that the Transport Minister is in danger of losing his job over the crisis. Would this be a bad thing?

Six Palestinian militants were killed in two gun battles with Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip today. From September 11th until now (noon PST December 30), the total number of Palestinians killed is 225. In the same period, 72 Israelis were killed.

Terry Jones (ex-Monty Python) has written a biting commentary of Dubya Dubya Three in which he claims the entire result of spending billions of dollars and killing thousands of civilians is to make Osama Bin Laden look "haggard" in his latest video.
"Who has paid for it? US taxpayers have stumped up billions of dollars. They've paid for it. So have the British taxpayers, for some reason which hasn't yet been explained to us. Uncounted thousands of innocent Afghan citizens have paid for it too - with their lives. I say 'uncounted' because nobody in the West seems to have been particularly interested in counting them. It's pretty certain more innocent people have died and are still dying in the bombing of Afghanistan than on 11 September, but the New York Times doesn't run daily biographies of them so they don't count.
And what have we got out of it? Nothing worthwhile, Jones would claim..
"If the objectives of the 'War on Terrorism' were to catch the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks, bring them to justice and make the world a safer place, so far the score - on all three objectives - has been nil. We're all jumping around scared shitless that something similar is going to happen at any moment. No perpetrators have been caught; no perpetrators have been brought to justice."
Jones is particularly pointed in his criticisms of Bloodthirsty Blair. A good read.

One aspect of the war in Afghanistan that is barely covered is the effect on wildlife in the area. This brief BBC piece starts to address this gap. Ornithologists in Pakistan say that migratory birds have been devastated by the US air campaign.
"One impact may be directly the killing of birds through bombing, poisoning of the wetlands or the sites which these birds are using. Another impact may be these birds are derouted, because their migration is very precise. They migrate in a corridor and if they are disturbed through bombing, they might change their route."
Several of the species affected were already under significant environmental pressures and may not survive this disruption.

Saturday, December 29, 2001

I have spent some delightful hours today catching up as best I can on current work in archaeology. The latest issue of British Archaeology, for example, has a fascinating short essay reviewing recent archaeological analysis of the Black Death of 1348-51. As North America panics about a half dozen deaths from anthrax and spends billions combating diseases that kill perhaps tens of thousands of victims a year, it is sobering to recall that, in a three year period, a full one half of the population of England died from the plague. In Europe as a whole, the population fell from 80 million to 30 million during the epidemic period. Most people believed that everyone would die; that there was little hope. An extraordinary time without parallel in our experience. Archaeology has begun to find the physical evidence to back up the wide range of textual sources, and Mr James’s article does a good job of covering the work. He closes with a provocative swipe at the cute little rabbit as a potential spreader of fleas.


In the same issue, there is an excellent article reviewing the current state of knowledge of medieval ship- and boat-building in England. Gustav Milne touches on foreshore sites at Poole and elsewhere before focusing on recent work at Smallhythe in Kent which revealed the close links between ship-building and ship-breaking in that period, including a significant element of recycling. Milne then moves his attention to an analysis of London’s shipbuilding history, including its steady historical drift from Queenhithe eastward to Greenwich. He notes that the building of the first London Bridge at the turn of the first millennium, deliberately slung low to stop Viking ships raiding upstream, was “arguably the single most important development in the City's commercial history,” obliging sea-going vessels to transship their goods in London for movement inland. Good stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, the folks of Trinidad had an election (see this space at 11th December, 2001). When all the votes were counted, the two major parties each had exactly the same number of seats in Parliament; it was a tie. Politics on the island have been in chaos since. Now, according to the Trinidad Guardian, the incumbent party has openly offered good money to members of the other party to switch sides. Western-style democracy at heart is all about money; it is good that it is out in the open.

Yesterday, a Palestinian militant was killed in action against the Israelis near Netzarim Junction. From September 11th until now (7:00am PST December 29), the total number of Palestinians killed is 219. In the same period, 72 Israelis were killed.

Friday, December 28, 2001

The Guardian has a piece about what it suggests is the current military plan for extending Dubya Dubya Three against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Using what it calls “the Afghan model,” a large contingent of opposition forces would invade Iraq from Kuwait and take over an airfield near Basra. This would, so the plan contemplates, draw the Iraqi Army out into the open where a sustained US air attack would destroy it. Having destroyed his military backing, the proponents say, Hussein would fall. The article suggests that some senior Pentagon planners are actively investigating this plan in light of the perceived success in Afghanistan. However, it also states clearly that very senior uniformed officers are against it.

As the article itself mentions, this is a variety of an idea that has been pushed in Washington by the rebel Iraqi National Congress (INC) for years. It is quite possible that this whole story is just another INC flyer. However, the provocation of a large armed force roaming southern Iraq at will might well tempt Saddam. I think he’s too wily for that, but we’ll see.

It is probably no coincidence that the New York Times has an opinion piece today by Richard Perle which is shameless in its push for the immediate military destruction of Saddam Hussein and the recognition of the INC as “a decent successor regime.”
”The charter of the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group of Saddam Hussein's opponents, calls for eradicating weapons of mass destruction and renouncing terrorism. Those opponents need our political and financial support today, and when the time is ripe, they will need our precision air power.
Seems to me the militarist adventurers are getting their apologists warmed up for the big show ahead.

These pages have been tracking the small group of injured al-Qaida fighters who are still holding out at a hospital in Khandahar (see 14th December, 2001). The Guardian has the latest ultimatum for them to surrender. They won’t, I’m guessing, and it will end badly.

The New York Times has a good piece today on the realities of economic life in Argentina. The people are not stupid; they are well aware that the government’s new currency, the argentino, is backed by promises only. It is nothing but worthless paper.
”Growing doubts about the government's intentions led to long lines outside banks today, as middle-class Argentines tried to get their hands on dollars or pesos before the new system, announced on Sunday but largely ignored during the Christmas break, goes into effect.

‘I can't run the risk of losing everything if they should suddenly decide to change all the rules on us,’ said Marta Menéndez Cipriani, a 33-year-old secretary, as she stood in line at an automated teller machine this afternoon. ‘I deposited dollars, and I want dollars back’."
The argentino is only the latest in a line of failed currencies. The austral was introduced in 1985 at a rate of 0.80 to the dollar and ended its life six years later at 10,000 to the dollar.

To add to the daily problems, storekeepers have pushed up prices 25% in the last few days to hedge against uncertainties, and local holders of government bonds (pension funds, small investors, etc.) are wondering if their payments – their incomes -- are included in President’s Saa’s decision to suspend payments on the country’s $150 billion plus debt. Capitalism in the raw, folks.

Elliott.org, a travel consultancy, has posted a list of the important travel industry stories of 2001 that were missed by the general media. They note the collapse of the cruise industry (American Classic and Renaissance went bust), the hotel sector (occupancy rates are in freefall), and the rental car business (Alamo and National went into bancruptcy.) They also discuss the failure of airline re-regulation, the resistance of airlines to additional security measures, changes in business travel purchasing and adjustments in the role of travel agents. An interesting group of stories, I thought.

A Los Angeles Times article poses the question: Is there an East Coast bias to news coverage in the US? Is the West Coast short-changed?
”Erik Sorenson, president of MSNBC, based just over the Hudson River from New York in Secaucus, N.J., finds the reaction from viewers is as much about their state of mind as it is about coverage. From the Easterners, he says, it is: ‘Don't they understand that we're in World War III, that we've been attacked, that they could be next?’ From Westerners he gets this: ‘What's wrong with them, they're obsessed, paranoid, overwrought, they need a break’."
The figures – both general population and TV watching population – are clearly in the Eastern time zone’s favour, so don’t expect any significant changes in approach in the near future. Interesting stuff. I’m glad the paper made the choice to write up the story.

Thursday, December 27, 2001

Here is a forceful article by a free market apologist explaining why the collapse of Enron -- with senior, probably negligent, executives walking away with millions upon millions of dollars while employees face their retirement years eating mac and cheese -- is a good thing. It is in fact a triumph of the marketplace, according to the seriously logical Mr.Lynch.
"This is precisely how markets, which are complex webs of information based on trust, are supposed to work. Once the trust is gone, investors flee and enterprises fail. (If only the same could be said of governmental organizations, such as the Departments of Energy and Education.) Markets, be they for groceries or microchips, are wonderfully resilient. Failure for one firm provides opportunities for others. Just as the failure of Safeway would not cause anyone to starve for lack of access to food, the failure of Enron has not caused a single factory, office building, or house to lose power."
Lynch explains succinctly why investors in companies such as Enron deserve to lose their money. Unfortunately, he goes on to say that the employees are equally deserving of their losses because they "are in the best position to have actual knowledge about how a company actually operates and its general health." So, if you were the mail clerk at an Enron branch office, you apparently deserve to lose all of your 401(K) money because you were not diligent enough to spot the international financing scams the senior execs were successfully hiding from Wall Street. That is the triumph of the market!

On a CNN news ticker yesterday I saw that Kwanzaa was being celebrated by millions of "African-Americans" in the USA, Canada, England and Africa. Nonsense! African-Americans only live in the USA. Black Brits live in England, black Canadians live in Canada and Africans live in Africa; they may well have celebrated Kwanzaa but none of them consider themselves "African-Americans." The assumption that "African-American" is an exact synonym for "black" or "negro" gets my goat every time I hear it. It is yet another example of Americans believing that we all have to be like them.

Bloomberg’s site has an illuminating essay on the economic crisis in Argentina. In particular, David DeRosa concentrates on new President Saa’s plans for a third currency – the ‘Argentino,’ designed to circulate alongside the peso and the US dollar.
”The Argentino will have no economic backing whatsoever, as far as can be ascertained at present. This is straight out of the Cuthbert J. Twillie school of public finance. Twillie, W.C. Fields's likable con-artist in the film classic “My Little Chicadee,'' horns his way into a card game by telling the other gamblers: ``I will give you my personal I.O.U.'' Come to think of it, I would take Twillie's paper over Rodriguez Saa's.

The Argentino will be used to pay state workers. Want to bet that, if nobody makes a big stink, Congress and other assorted high officials will continue themselves to get paid in pesos?”
As DeRosa says, “These monetary antics are classics destined for the history books.”

As noted often in this space, I find the work of scientists to be endlessly fascinating, invigorating in its diversity. Today’s little nugget involves birds preferring to run up the sides of trees rather than fly, and how this may answer the question of how flying evolved. Kenneth Dial is presenting his theory that because certain birds use wing flapping to help them run up trees when they are too young to fly (such as partridges), this may explain the development of flying. His idea could link the current two theories – that flying evolved either from running dinosaurs with feathery wing tips, or from gliding tree-living creatures.



In Egypt, a well-known actress has received a sentence of ten years in jail for torturing her young maids. The actress fainted when told her sentence. The actress’s mother and three others each received one year in prison. I suspect that the maids were lucky to have their case publicized and their tormentors jailed. Many thousands of others have to suffer in silence for the brutality of those in economic domination over them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001

I came across this short article at the Australian Broadcasting site. It said that Cambodian strongman Hun Sen was continuing with a violent crackdown on illegal karaoke bars throughout the country. For some reason this intrigued me (why waste military resources on such an exercise?), but I couldn’t track down any more information until I came across this site about the huge trade in very young Vietnamese girls into a life of prostitution. It mentions that “karaoke” bars are used as fronts for brothels across east Asia. If these are indeed connected stories, then bravo to Hun Sen’s moves to close them down. (I assume that Hun Sen is getting his cut in some way from the new arrangement; sometimes the best results come from the worst motives.)



In Palestine, a Palestinian civilian was killed by the wild firing of a terrorist Israeli helicopter in a residential area of Jenin. From September 11th until now (5:00pm PST December 26), the total number of Palestinians killed is 218. In the same period, 72 Israelis were killed.



The Roma (aka, “gypsies”) are a fascinating people. They were frequently met as tinkers in their caravans when I was a very small boy and they were the “boogie men” with whom my mother occasionally threatened me. Some very interesting genetic analysis has confirmed the essential unity of the Roma populations of Europe. More, the genetic studies appear to confirm the linguistic evidence that the Roma came from India around 1000 AD. Roma representatives hope the study will help them in their claims for a separate “peoplehood.”

The Government of Sri Lanka was elected partly with the help of the Buddhist parties. As part of their agreement, the government agreed that no sporting events will be allowed to take place on a day of a full moon. Much of the country already takes the full moon seriously:
"Sinhalese Buddhists, who make up 76 per cent of the population in Sri Lanka, believe that the founder of their religion was born on a full moon day. When it occurs, offices are closed, butchers do not sell meat and bars do not serve alcohol."
Perhaps we could persuade North American politicians to stop politicking on full moon days. It would be start!

With the speed of developments in the Kashmir region, the next Indo-Pakistani war may well start this side of New Years! The Pakistanis have now mobilized their entire armed forces, generally a sign that hot conflict is imminent.
"Military officials have cancelled all leave and called back recent retirees in what one military source told CNN was the largest mobilization of Pakistani forces in 30 years -- greater even than during the war with India in 1971."
Both sides, of course, consider the other to be pushing for war:
"Relations with India could improve if India shed its 'superiority complex' and dealt with Pakistan 'on an equal footing,' Musharraf said in an address to the nation on the 125th anniversary of Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

For his part, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee accused Pakistan of pushing the two countries to the brink of war. 'We don't want war but war is being thrust upon us. And we will have to face it,' he said in New Delhi as he celebrated his 77th birthday.
Other observers, seeking signs in the minutiae of public utterance, suggest a wider intervention.
"The contrast in tone — Mr. Vajpayee pressing ahead with the war threat and General Musharraf hinting at flexibility — appeared to leave the way open for intensive behind- the-scenes diplomacy by the United States. While appealing for calm, the Bush administration has effectively sided with India over the Parliament attack, demanding that Pakistan take swift action to shut down the Islamic militant group known as the Army of the Pure, or Lashkar-e- Taiba in Urdu, which India has blamed for the strike."
Bush and Powell will no doubt decide they have to interfere. Arrogance, of course; but arrogance doomed to fail on this occasion, I believe. The whole Indo-Pakistani relationship has been a failure since 1949, and we are about to see a fourth war as a result of it.


Tuesday, December 25, 2001

I am always fascinated by the discovery of linguistic isolates. How did a pocket of language from area A turn up in area B? Archaeological reports often provide the answers, as does this report on Celts in post-Alexandrian central Turkey. In the fourth century AD, St Jerome noted that the Galatians of Anatolia used a Celtic dialect identical to that used around Trier in Gallic Europe. The language had arrived in Turkey seven centuries earlier.
"In one of the few sketchy accounts, the Roman historian Livy noted that a king in Anatolia hired Celts as mercenaries to re-enforce his own army. They arrived in 278 B.C., 20,000 of them, including provisioners and merchants as well as their families, in a caravan of 2,000 baggage wagons."
Modern archaeologists have teased these people's lives out of the successive ruins of the city of Gordian. For someone like myself, raised to be proud of a Celtic heritage, it is striking to learn that Celts of this period can be discerned from their neighbours by the practice of ritualistic and possibly cannibalistic human sacrifice.

On this Christmas Day, an Israeli soldier and two Palestinian militants died as a result of their leaders' ego-crazed stupidity. From September 11th until now (3:30pm PST December 25), the total number of Palestinians killed is 217. In the same period, 72 Israelis were killed.

Monday, December 24, 2001

When the fighting starts in Kashmir, it will almost certainly be Indian and Pakistani forces that clash. However, taking advantage of Dubya Dubya Three's anti-Islamic posturing, it is possible that the US (hiding behind Musharef's military skirts) will weigh in on what is, effectively, India's side of the dispute.
"For India, getting the groups declared terrorist organizations by the United States, and persuading Mr. Bush to press General Musharraf to disband them, was a strategic goal from the moment of the Sept. 11 attacks. In New Delhi, Mr. Bush's war on terrorism was greeted as a rare opportunity to accomplish what perhaps half a million Indian troops and police have been unable to achieve — to suppress, at their source in Pakistan, the groups that have kept India's rule in Kashmir violent, costly and fragile."
The New York Times has an interesting article on the attitudes of the Muslim militants in Kashmir. The article points out the crucial position of Kashmir in Pakistani politics.
"But for many Pakistanis, branding Lashkar a terrorist organization is nowhere near as obvious a sequel to the events of Sept. 11 as it must have seemed to Mr. Bush. In Pakistan, the struggle for Kashmir is an epic that no Pakistani leader could abandon without risk of immediate ouster, by fellow politicians or the army. The bottom line on Kashmir, in Pakistan, is that more than 80 percent of Kashmiris, in India and Pakistan, are Muslims — and that those living in the Indian-ruled part, known as Jammu and Kashmir, were never given the right to vote on whether to join India or Pakistan that India guaranteed them in United Nations Security Council resolutions 50 years ago."
The militants, of course, play up the vulnerability of politicians to this issue, and have kept the pot boiling for fifty years. US pressure, direct or through Musharref, can do nothing but fan the flames.

Sunday, December 23, 2001

Asia Daily has published a list of the 59 countries that "endured serious conflicts" in 2001. No part of the world has been immune this year. With Dubya Dubya Three on fast-track for expansion, the year 2002 seems unlikely to be better.


A couple holds a lamp while a Pujari, chants prayers while making offerings during 'Yagna', a ritual to make offerings to the gods through fire, for world peace in Mumbai. One thousand three hundred and thirty-one couples took part in the 'Yagna'.

I don't much care for Oliver Stone. I don't much care for Richard V. Allen. I therefore reference Mr Allen's review of Mr Stone's new TV movie, "The Day Reagan Was Shot", without comment.

This week's edition of US News has an interesting article outlining the numerous ways in which corporate greed is dressing up funding requests in the garb of patriotic anti-terrorism.
"The nation's restaurants were among the first to hit up Congress with a recycled pitch. Ever since lawmakers did away with the full tax deduction for business meals and entertainment in 1986, the industry has been trying to get it restored. After September 11, the restaurateurs declared eating out "the cornerstone of the economy," and their campaign for the full write-off began anew."
Those who have turned governance into a business have been close on the heels of the private sector with their hands out.
"Public projects with only the thinnest connection to homeland defense have sprung up as well. In suburban Virginia, a proposal to widen Interstate 66 has long been controversial. After September 11, Gov. Jim Gilmore sought $130 million for the project, under the guise of speeding evacuation in some future disaster. In New York, Gov. George Pataki sought federal money for a high-speed rail project upstate, highway bridge construction, and replacement of transit system bus fleets."
And who is actually paying these billions upon billions of dollars? It is you and me, paying each other, backwards and forwards, with only the middle men -- the corporations and the politicians -- making a profit as they slice their cut in passing. And if we have any sense at all, we will never forget that these same greedy bastards, scrabbling over each other to grasp the last nickel coin, have fired hundreds of thousands of honest labourers in their patriotic glee since September 11th. And Bush rubs his hands and shouts "Bravo! Bravo!"

The latest "terrorist threat" is said to come from a fleet of 20 merchant ships owned or controlled by al-Qaida. They are presumably sailing the high seas looking for targets to destroy. The Brits have already boarded one suspected vessel, only to find it carrying bulk sugar as advertised. I seem to recall that L.Ron Hubbard ran the Scientology nonsense from a boat for quite a while; perhaps Osama can get away with a similar scam.

The India/Pakistan situation is becoming ever more tense. Border guards are being killed on a daily basis, troop movements near the "border" are increasing, and inter-governmental rhetoric is shriller by the day. These countries have fought wars before and not resorted to all-out warfare, so there is hope (bad assumption?) that their new nukes will be kept under wraps. All we can do is hope at this point.

Saturday, December 22, 2001

In yet another move designed to side-swipe Congressional and hence public oversight, the Bush White House is planning a number of controversial "recess" appointments using an arcane Executive power. Highly partisan appointments to the Labor and State departrments are likely, along with equally problematic ILRB and SEC selections. The Imperial Bush team seem oblivious to the constitutional notion of a balance of powers. I guess, having won the election partly through the derogation of the judiciary, the Bush boys assume that the legislative branch will be an equally easy pushover after the Leader's mighty military triumph. They might well be right.

Yesterday, American AC-130 gunships and fighter jets attacked a convoy of 10 to 12 vehicles southwest of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, destroying it completely as their media relations experts crowed. The US says the convoy comprised Taliban and al-Qaida leadership elements fleeing from an encampment.
”Speaking Friday at the Pentagon, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the area around Khowst has been hit previously because al Qaeda training camps are there. ‘I'd like not to address the specific indicators that caused us to strike that convoy, but the intelligence we gathered at the time indicated that this was in fact leadership, and we struck the leadership,’ he said.”
Unfortunately for clarity, the Interior Minister of the new US-backed unity government in Kabul announces that the victims in the convoy included tribal leaders traveling to Kabul for the government’s inauguration ceremonies.

It is probable that both are right. These sort of tangled loyalties – combined with continued unfortunate “incidents” such as the U.S. airstrike, and the centrifugal force of clan rivalry – will drag down the best efforts of the UN and US centralizing bureaucrats and “nation builders.” It will be a long and costly and ultimately bitter experience for all concerned.

Afghanistan should be the anarchist’s poster child, proving the historic unreliability of the nation state.

Man, this Christmas stuff sure takes a bite out of web logging time!

Friday, December 21, 2001

In a move that Tom Buffenbarger, president of the IAM, has characterized as "the defining moment in this administration's war against American workers' collective bargaining rights," Bush has used an Executive Order to delay a strike by United Airlines' mechanics. The workers voted 99% for a strike, the National Mediation Board booked out 30 days ago, but your beloved leader knows best. Pop quiz: when was the last time a US President used an executive order to stop a pay cut, or a lay off?

Thursday, December 20, 2001

The situation in Argentina is spiralling downwards by the hour. Yesterday, the Finance Minister resigns, today, the President himself.
"The unrest spread across the nation of 37 million people, with looters attacking supermarkets in major cities and ransacking homes. Eight of those killed were in outlying provinces, and many died of gunshot wounds. Fourteen people died Thursday and six others were killed on Wednesday. The dead included a 15-year-old boy shot Thursday during disturbances in western Santa Fe province, as well as people reportedly shot by merchants defending their stores."
The new President inherits the State of Siege imposed yesterday by the outgoing De La Rua. Sounds like a perfect recipe for old-fashioned rightwing repression. We'll see.

The "American dream" remains just that -- a dream -- for huge numbers of people left out in the supposedly prosperous 1990s. After almost a decade of sustained economic growth, one in five of all US children continue to live in poverty and in some counties the family poverty rate exceeds 40%.
" 'Now we don't have the economic good times, and we can only be very fearful about what will happen with large numbers of families without jobs,' Deborah Weinstein of Childrens' Defense Fund said.
Although these are US figures, similar inequalities are visible in every capitalist-consumerist economy. Huge swathes of misery are necessary to help fund CEOs making a half-billion a year, celebrities commanding tens of millions, and the trillions of dollars wasted on arms and advertizing.

The other day in this space, I discussed the possibility that an unnecessary arms sale by the UK to Tanzania might be blocked by opposition in the British Cabinet. Wishful thinking! According to the Guardian, Bloodthirsty Blair and his bully boys have forced through the sale. It seems the very temporary welfare of a few British workers in Southampton is more important than the life and death of a poor African nation. Shame on the Brits! Shame on them!

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

More research on the mechanics of marijuana use. Our brains have a very specific protein receptor for THC. Who knew?

Rather like the Spectator in England, one reads the Weekly Standard with caution. But the unfortunate political slant of the magazine sometimes hides an article of serious import. A case in point is Fred Barnes' very readable and very plausible analysis of the Bush public persona. Bush is, claims Barnes, "a president without a large ego" who knows how to wield his star-laden national security team. Barnes puts a positive spin on these abilities. Another reading might be that this shows Bush is merely a figurehead for the Republican Right. Either way, I agree with the surface analysis.

I am an inveterate drinker of red wine. For years I have followed with pleasure the growing body of scientific evidence linking red wine with a certain measure of good health. Researchers from London have now pinned down the valuable element -- pigments called polyphenols.

A few days ago in this space we were discussing where the troops of Dubya Dubya Three will next be deployed. Somalia has always been high on the list -- there is no government there to object, for one reason -- and leaks from Germany are pointing that way.
"Somali Transport Minister Abdi Guled Mohamed said Wednesday that 'there are no terrorists that we know of'' in Somalia. He said Somalia's transitional government has told the Bush administration it is ready to cooperate in the war against terrorism. 'We have said since Sept. 11 that we want to help. If the Americans say there are terrorists in Somalia, they should tell us how they know this,'' he said in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was attending peace talks between Somali faction leaders and the transitional government.

'If there are terrorists there, than we will put them in prison, put them where they belong. We will work with the Americans to fight terrorists,'' he added.

The United States, however, does not recognize the transitional government led by Abdiqasim Salat Hassan, U.S. diplomat Glen Warren told reporters in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. 'We of the American government do not recognize any government or regional government or any other sort of administration in Somalia,'' Warren said.
Sounds like a fine playground for military exercises. And those who might suffer collateral damage don't vote, so who cares?

Ebola Watch: This virulent disease – a serious breakout candidate in my opinion -- has claimed the 13th victim in the current epidemic in Gabon, Central Africa. The World Health Organization has focused a great deal of attention on this outbreak. Thank your gods there are people willing and able to do the containment work on this stuff.

While the corporate media keeps the masses focused on Dubya Dubya Three, the capitalist-consumerist system is collapsing in Argentina. Riots and looting are not, perhaps, what we would think of coming from one of Latin America's foremost economies. But supermarket riots and government office building takeovers are daily events these days throughout the country.
"At the root of the crisis is a recession triggered by years of public overspending and heavy borrowing that has left Argentina on the brink of defaulting on its staggering $132 billion public debt. The 18.3 percent jobless rate has left nearly 15 million of the 36 million population at or below the poverty line as consumer spending has been choked off and industrial activity plummeted 11 percent last month."
The IMF is telling the government to turn up the screws even more on the poor. But I bet the famous polo ponies are still getting their daily workouts. After all, economic collapse is only a factor for those poor people who didn't have the sense to shelter their funds abroad.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

The world's richest customers are always selling unnecessary military hardware to the world's poorest countries. It is rare that such a deal reaches the public radar, and even rarer when it comes to light because of a major political rift within the selling nation. Tanzania, with a per capita income of $170 a year and where a quarter of all children die before their fifth birthday, has been persuaded to purchase a $28 million military air traffic control system, the major benefit of which is to extend the employment of a handfull of workers in Britain.

Under normal circumstances, the system would have been shipped and the $28million added to Tanzania's crushing debt. But this sale is so outrageous -- not only is it unnecessary, the system is old and unsuitable -- that the World Bank publicly criticized the deal, and the British Ministers of Finance and International Development have managed to stall completion against the pressures of the Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, and, it is said, Bloodthirsty Blair himself.
" 'The whole thing stinks,' said one government source last night, adding that a World Bank-commissioned report had concluded Tanzania could buy a new civil air traffic control system for a quarter of the price of the BAe deal. Ms Short and Mr Brown believe Tanzania should use the benefits of a £1.4bn debt relief package announced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund last month to boost spending on health, education and basic infrastructure rather than on what one source called 'unproductive' expenditure.
Of course, the very fact that this story has made it to the media indicates the ferocity of the intra-Cabinet row that must be going on. Boss Blair forgets that even New Labourites can occasionally have flashes of conscience.

In Palestine yesterday a 13-year old boy playing with his toys was shot and killed by Israeli terror forces in Khan Younis. In addition, a leading Israeli noted that if the Palestinians "lose this war" they will be expelled from the country. In other words, US-backed ethnic cleansing will be the order of the day if the Palestinians lie down and allow the terrorist Israelis to win by brute force. We should not be surprised, I suppose, from two nations (Israel and the US) that were born of terrorism and ethnic cleansing. From September 11th until now (6:30am PST December 18), the total number of Palestinians killed is 215. In the same period, 71 Israelis were killed.

Monday, December 17, 2001

The Wilson Quarterly has published an engrossing article about the potentially catastrophic decline in Russia's population. It is a decline so steep President Putin has declared that "the very survival of the nation will be endangered."
"The broad outlines of Russia´s looming catastrophe can be sketched in stark terms. Russians are dying at a significantly faster rate than they are being born. Gloomy as it was, President Putin´s speech was based on the relatively rosy projections of the Russian State Statistical Agency, or Goskomstat. This scenario assumes an increase in the total fertility rate beginning in 2006, a decline in the mortality rate, and an increase in net in-migration. But only the latter projection is remotely plausible. By 2050, I believe, Russia´s population will shrink by one-third. In other words, it will drop from roughly 145 million today to about 100 million, a blow that even a stable, prosperous country would have difficulty sustaining.
The Russians it seems are dying rapidly from alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis. They are also seriously challenged by environmental disasters including significant radioactive concentrations.
"What goes on today within the 10 formerly secret nuclear cities devoted to the development and production of nuclear weapons in Russia remains largely a mystery. Around the city of Chelyabinsk, a thousand miles east of Moscow in the Urals, some 450,000 Russians face unknown risks from a series of spills and accidents that occurred from the late 1940s to the 1960s. And area rivers may have been tainted by seepage from nuclear waste directly injected deep underground at the Krasnoyarsk, Dmitrovgrad, and Tomsk sites."
This is truly frightening; a picture of a society in collapse. Saving Russia will take several Marshall Plans, and there may not be the political will to help until it is too late. Perhaps it is already too late. If so, the fate of tens of millions of people is horrible to contemplate.

In the past 24 hours there were no attacks on Israelis in Israel or Palestine. This is what the Israelis said they wanted. And yet in the same 24 hours the hypocrites assassinated one Palestinian in Hebron, and shot dead a Palestinian policeman near Nablus. They will continue to do this day after day until the Palestinians are forced by self-defence to fight back; and then the Israelis will say the Palestinians cannot keep the peace. And the US media will ignore the daily killings of Palestinians by Israelis, and the US government will continue to send guns and money and political goodwill to Israel. And the Palestinians will keep on dying without hope. From September 11th until now (6:00am PST December 17), the total number of Palestinians killed is 214. In the same period, 71 Israelis were killed.

The Taliban deserved to have failed as a government, according to the US spinmasters, because they were mean to their people. Not like that friendly Uzbekistan regime of President Karimov which has made US troops so welcome. Uzbekistan is a country that is, nominally at least, a democracy; but it is a democracy that has all the features of dictatorship:
”Opposition parties are banned in Uzbekistan, and Karimov, when he does bother to run for re-election (he side-stepped a competitive ballot in 1995), hand-picks his challengers. (The last, in 2000, proclaimed loudly that he was voting for Karimov.)
This is the sort of democracy that Ronnie Reagan and Richard Nixon were so fond of backing. Like that in Noriega’s Panama, or the Shah’s Iran. And, like those other examples of US-backed regimes, the justice system follows the politics.
”[S]ome victims of police interrogations here … according to Human Rights Watch, are sent home wrapped in sheets soaked with blood, along with dubious explanations from the coroner's office attributing the cause of death to heart or kidney failure. Electric shock, beating and burning are routine tools of Uzbekistan's anti-Islamic inquisition, says Acacia Shields, a Human Rights Watch researcher who recently returned from a two-year posting in Uzbekistan. She adds that another tactic to elicit confessions involves stripping the accused's female relatives and threatening to gang-rape them in front of their loved ones.”
And if you get sent to jail, life actually gets worse:
”Specifically constructed to house the growing influx of religious prisoners, the new desert gulag has developed such a reputation for torture and tuberculosis that dissidents say the only way out of Jaslyk is in a body bag -- if the pretrial interrogation, or a firing squad, doesn't kill you first.”
However, ”Uzbekistan's jails aren't confined to suspected religious fanatics.”
”In 1995, for instance, when one of the country's former ambassadors to Washington fell out of favor with Karimov, his pregnant niece was hauled in on smuggling charges. Rather than release her on bail pending trial, as Uzbek law requires for expectant mothers, authorities aborted the fetus in a prison hospital.”
And these are our new best friends.

Sunday, December 16, 2001

It's tough being the Superpower; so many decisions to make. It's obviously necessary to keep beating up on somebody -- but who? Iraq? Indonesia? Somalia? The Philipinnes? Pakistan? So many choices! The New York Times takes a good shot at pointing out the problems as Dubya Dubya Three moves ahead.

My daddy raised me to love the gentlemanly art of boxing. My boyhood heroes included Floyd Patterson, Freddie Mills and Archie Moore. And then along came Cassius Clay.

Like millions of others, I was immediately enthralled by the mouthy kid who kept every one of his increasingly large promises. When he came to London and beat up the Londoner's favourite, Henry Cooper, I cheered for him. As an anti-Vietnam War Brit, I was cheered by Ali's opposition to the draft and the war, and horrified (though not surprised) at white boxing's (and white society's) attempts to beat Ali outside the ring. But he was the very best; he hung in there until today he remains the most recognizable sports figure in the world.
"Seldom has a sportsman, however epic his journey and his achievements, approached the level of the sublime that a truly gifted musician can reach. That is why, when I think of Muhammad Ali now, I do not think first of Joe Louis or Rocky Marciano, but of John Coltrane in excelsis reaching a place beyond mere words and meaning, or Sam Cooke inhabiting the lyric of a love song until it becomes a vehicle for pure communication, until it lifts and energises, and transports the listener, taking them out there, beyond. This is the realm that Muhammad Ali occupied when he danced around the ring, and brought more grace and artistry to boxing than that besmirched sport ever deserved.
Since his retirement there have been a lot more Leon Spinks's and Buster Douglas's than there have been great fighters, and the black political world has suffered more Marion Barrys than Martin Luther Kings. Muhammed Ali needs to be remembered and we can only hope that Michael Mann's and Will Smith's "Ali" matches up to the man himself. Sean O'Hagen's piece in the Guardian sets up the film -- and the man -- nicely.

Saturday, December 15, 2001

If you've got $60 to spare, and a hankering to get back to the spitball culture of High School, there might be a catapult watch in your future. Consumerist ingenuity knows no bounds!

It was another bloody day in Palestine. The Israeli army invaded the Palestinian village of Beit Hanoun, killing 5 people including a 12-year old boy. In another incident, a Palestinian militant was shot dead near Gush Katif. From September 11th until now (10:00am PST December 15), the total number of Palestinians killed is 212. In the same period, 71 Israelis were killed.

As the New York Times rightly says, it was a night "of which opera legends are made." Placido Domingo, making his farewell performance as Otelo at the soon-to-be-changed- forever La Scala Opera House in Milan, falters during "Ore e per sempre" and has to leave the stage. After ten minutes he is persuaded to return, and he finishes the opera in triumph.
"By returning, Mr. Domingo forever endeared himself to La Scala audiences, who greeted the tenor with sustained applause and foot-stomping. Clearly moved, with tears in his eyes, Mr. Domingo raised his hands to his heart and lips, gesturing his appreciation for the audience's understanding. At the beginning of the third act, Mr. Muti made another brief announcement that despite the weakness of his voice, Mr. Domingo would continue to the end. By the final "bacio" in the death scene, it seemed that the tenor could have run for mayor of Milan and won in a landslide."
Domingo has had such a superb career that he deserves all the praise he gets.

In Vancouver we are lucky that the personal possession and use of marijuana has been, to all intents and purposes, de-criminalized. That is still not so in too much of the world, leading to exploding prison populations in the United States, for example, and a truly extraordinary waste of human and public resources. It is good, therefore, to follow the growing crescendo of pro-legalization statements from senior police officers around the world. The latest is the Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, who, supported by his Police Board, called for the legalization of all drugs.
”Public opinion is moving rapidly,” he told BBC Wales. “There is evidence to show a main plank of our strategy - to control availability - simply isn't working. The consequences of that in crime and societal health are quite frightening - it's time to consider an alternative."
In related news, researchers at Harvard report a study indicating that frequent heavy use of marijuana does not lead to long term cognitive impairment.

Friday, December 14, 2001

Capitalism comes to the Amazonian jungle. The native Indians are seeking patent protection for the medicinal plants they have discovered or will discover in the future.
" 'There is no law defending indigenous traditions and all the models are for the ideas and science of the white man,' said Marcos Terena, chief coordinator of Indian rights program with the government's Funai Indian protection agency. 'We are also trying to prevent piracy in genetic resources, in biodiversity on our lands,' said Terena, who comes from Terena tribe in the Pantanal region in central western Brazil."
While wishy-washy liberals will probably cry "Better the Indians than the pharmaceutical companies," I say: Why the hell does capitalism have to sully this place at all?

This web site, along with every other web site you will visit today, is the love child of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. It was there, 10 years ago this week, that Dr Paul Kunz put up the world's first real web site.
"A month later, Dr Kunz said, the web had passed a more important test when it was demonstrated in front of a group of 200 physicists in France. 'The grand finale of the demonstration was Tim Berners-Lee connecting into the Slac database, which was well known world wide. This really stunned people.So, when they went home, they had to tell their colleagues, "hey, there's this new interface to the Slac database and it's called the world wide web, and it's real cool". And that was the first big push to get the web accepted and taken seriously'."

The New York Times has an intriguing story from Afghanistan. It seems there are eleven heavily-armed Taliban patients at the main hospital in Khandahar, who refuse to move and give every indication they will blow up themselves -- and the hospital -- at the slightest hint of imminent arrest or the arrival of foreign troops.
"'Of course I'm scared every time I go in their rooms,' said Noorul Haq, the main nurse in Ward D. Still fierce believers in the Taliban creed, the men do not listen to music. They spend their days reading the Koran, and they talk of jihad, Mr. Haq said. 'They say their task is to die,' he said."
An Afghani stand-off. I'm guessing it will end unpleasantly at best.

Being a Palestinian in Palestine continues to be more dangerous than swimming the Orinoco in pirana season. Yesterday and overnight, the invading Israeli terrorist army killed 6 Palestinian policemen in Salfit, another near Nezarim, 2 others in Gaza and a 13-year old boy near the Egyptian border. From September 11th until now (5:30am PST December 14), the total number of Palestinians killed is 206. In the same period, 71 Israelis were killed.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

While every innocent Arab, Arab-looking and dark be-turbanned citizen has to look over her or his shoulder in fear that the FBI is creeping up on them, other "terrorists" seem to be able to relax at home without a care. According to this fascinating piece by Bill Berkowitz at Working for Change, leaders of both the Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) and Government of Free Vietnam (GFV) are based in Long Beach, California.
"Nguyen Huu Chanh is the 51-year-old head of GFV. Chanh immigrated to the U.S. in 1982 and is, according to the November 27 Time Asia, 'Vietnam's most-wanted terrorist, a globe-trotting rabble-rouser sought by police in his homeland and in the Philippines, where three of his associates were recently arrested with bombmaking materials.' Over the past three years the GFV is 'suspected in half a dozen attacks on Vietnamese targets in Europe and Asia'."
The CFF has a similar history
"some 70 rebels armed with assault rifles and rocket launchers -- and wearing matching Cambodian Freedom Fighters T-shirts -- attacked government buildings in downtown Phnom Penh."
Seems to me the FBI could save the taxpayers a few bucks in their search for "terrorists" by cancelling their plane fares to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and taking a bus to Long Beach instead. It would be cynical, of course, to suggest that "terrorists" who aren't shooting at Americans or Israelis aren't really "terrorists" at all.

In Palestine overnight, 10 Israeli occupation-settlers were killed on the West Bank. Three Palestinian militants also died. From September 11th until now (5:30am PST December 13), the total number of Palestinians killed is 197. In the same period, 71 Israelis were killed.


I had absolutely no idea that one could personalize breakfast cereals. Where have I been?

"Next spring, General Mills is expected to introduce www.mycereal.com, a Web site that allows users to mix and match more than 100 different ingredients to create and name their own breakfast cereals, delivered to their homes in single-serving portions ... For a price of approximately $1 per serving, General Mills will deliver a one- or two-week supply of your personalized cereal mix to your home.
Hmmmmm. Why not, I guess.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Some scientists do the most interesting things. Some folks in Auckland, New Zealand, have concluded that the tool-making crows they studied were preferentially right-handed (or "billed" in their case). Handedness had not previously been detected in species other than man, gorillas and chimpanzees "and its discovery in a bird species raises the question of how it developed." The theory had been that the preference for right-handedness followed the development of complexity in the right side of the brain triggered by language acquisition. If so, what's a bird doing with it? Fascinating stuff.

It is always fun and games when big money folks sue each other. In this case it is J.P. Morgan suing the now-bancrupt Enron Corporation. When thieves fall out ....

During the past day, a Palestinian civilian was shot by Israeli soldiers in the village of Azun; and four Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli helicopter-fired missiles in the Khan Yunis refugee camp. From September 11th until now (5:30am PST December 12), the total number of Palestinians killed is 194. In the same period, 61 Israelis were killed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

While it seems certain that Iraq is the primary target in any expansion of Dubya Dubya Three, there is a chance that Somalia will be hit first. A team from the US is in the country right now discussing matters with an opposition group, and tensions are high in the capital.
”A Western diplomatic source in Nairobi said some people in Mogadishu were worried over indications that some people were moving out of the city in anticipation of a possible U.S. strike. But Western diplomatic sources said they knew of no terrorist targets in that city.”
Of course, having no known terrorist targets has never stopped America before ….

Trinidad is one of those countries we don't hear much from. But this week, a general election has put them on the news map both because of the election's circumstances -- less than a year since the last one -- and the result -- a tie! The CBC is covering the story, as is CNN and the New York Times.

The other day there were huge screaming headlines in the US media because a Palestinian bomber had killed himself and injured a few Israeli civilians. I don't see any headlines today after Israeli helicopters in two separate firings killed two Palestinian children yesterday in Hebron. Not so odd, I guess; just more proof of the underlying biases operating in the media world today. In addition. two Palestinian militants were murdered by the Israelis at Tul Karm. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST December 11), the total number of Palestinians killed is 190. In the same period, 61 Israelis were killed.

Monday, December 10, 2001

The US crime novelist Patricia Cornwell has taken one of her obsessions beyond the limits of discretion. Ms Cornell is convinced that Victorian artist Walter Sickert -- "regarded by some as the greatest British painter between Turner and Bacon" -- is Jack the Ripper. To that end she has spent $2 million on a selection of Sickert's paintings and papers. Now, she has destroyed one of his paintings in a search, I think, for DNA samples. Cornwell may be right that Sickert is the Ripper (a theory, however, not supported by any other major researcher) but does that justify the destruction of his art merely to satisfy curiosity?

Sunday, December 09, 2001

That most horrifying disease, Ebola, has surfaced again in central Africa. Perhaps 28 people are already dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo and another 10 in Gabon. With no known cure and 90% of victims dead in a week, should Ebola or Marburg or any other haemorrhagic fever really begin to spread internationally, then anthrax and Osama Bin Ladin will become footnotes in a heartbeat.

Last night, my wife and I went to see the closing performance of Jean Yoon's play "The Yoko Ono Project" at the Firehall Theatre. It was entirely successful, enjoyable, surprising, intriguing, consistent in its random links; it was, in fact, just like Yoko Ono herself. It was staged, nominally, in an exhibition of Ono works, and examined three young Asian womens' reactions both to Yoko Ono's art and poetry, and to their relationships with Asian and non-Asian young men. The young cast were superb. It was fun and noisy and sometimes silent, with fascinating light and soundscapes. As you can probably tell, I enjoyed it immensely. It was only this morning that I realized we saw it on the 21st anniversary of the death of John Lennon. John would certainly have laughed and applauded with the rest of us, of that I am sure.

The disappearing Vice-President has emerged to announce to a waiting world that he has been -- watching videos! However, I'm guessing he's also spent some time watching the collapse of his stock in Halliburton. The oil services company is being devastated by asbestos liability suits that came along with the other assets when Cheney purchased some companies in the mid-1990s. Where was due diligence when they needed it?

It was another bloody day if you were a Palestinian yesterday and this morning. A Palestinian militant was killed in action near Haifa this morning. A Palestinian civilian taxi driver was shot and killed by Isreali soldiers at Jenin (the IDF is "investigating" the incident). And four Palestinian policemen were shot and killed defending Anabta village from invading Israeli terrorists. From September 11th until now (8:30am PST December 8), the total number of Palestinians killed is 186. In the same period, 61 Israelis were killed.

Saturday, December 08, 2001

In an article entitled "The Degredation of the Species," Tania Kindersley has scored a major hit against what she calls "the cool post-liberal consensus on porn." Hardcore is a "whole other ball game," she notes, from Playboy or even the adult channels on pay-TV. It is exploitative of both men and women; it is about money, not sex. It is demeaning and ultimately destructive. Kindersley imagines that there might be good hardcore out there, but she seriously doubts it. Even if there is,
"it strikes me that those brave exponents of the delights of porn should ask themselves one serious question: would you let your daughter become a porn star? Would A.A. Gill be pleased and proud if he had a little girl who grew up to become a member of the Girly Zoo? Would Toby Young’s eyes mist over with delight if his 17-year-old daughter ran away to join the Teen Sluts? Would the Feminists against Censorship sincerely feel that the battle for liberation had been won if their daughters grew up not to be doctors or lawyers or writers, but chose double penetration for a living?
It's a good question. But, she cautions:
"Censorship isn’t the answer. The free market and the Internet would make any attempt at control look like taking on an elephant with a pea-shooter. A war on porn would have the same pompous pointlessness of the war on drugs; and, as the misguided crusades of Mary Whitehouse showed, there are inherently illiberal dangers in telling people what they should be allowed to watch. The only weapon of any potency against the tide of market forces is, paradoxically, fashion: tell the kids that porn is cool and groovy, that the performers really love what they do, and you breed an eager new generation of consumers. But if the rock chicks and movie icons and rent-a-crowd celebrities were bold enough to proclaim that sitting in a darkened room with a can of lager and a copy of Latino Sluts is a pitiful substitute for the real thing, then it might be a start.
I always have to question myself when I agree with a feature article in the Spectator. However, I'm certain I agree with this one.

It seems likely that the US is about to build a concentration camp for "terrorists" on a desert island in the Pacific. Heavy equipment has been seen moving onto the island of Tinian in the Northern Marianas, one of the US's economic colonies. Many of the islanders, heavily dependent on the tourist trade, oppose the damage such a camp would cause to their business.

Friday, December 07, 2001

Yesterday, I wrote some about police states and this morning we get see a perfect example of what can happen. In Israel, the security service, Shin Bet, an organization known to use torture in its interrogations, is holding a young Palestinian militant in custody. The Israeli High Court just ruled that the detainee has no right to be told his rights, no right to speak to his lawyer, no right to be told he even has a lawyer. To do otherwise would, they say, "impair" the investigation. This is what a police state is like. The state gets to choose who they hold, and on what conditions they are held, regardless of legal "safeguards."

This is similar to to the situation under the new rules proposed by Bush and Ashcroft for the United States. Last night on a talk show I heard a conservative Congressman say that constitutional problems with the "anti-terrorism" legislation should be set aside because the Constitution was written at "a different time." I wonder if he'd accept that argument when we try to ban handguns?

Thursday, December 06, 2001

U.S. Inquisitor-General Ashcroft says that anyone criticizing his seizure of police-state powers will aid enemies of the state. Benito Mussolini said the same thing. Josef Stalin said the same thing. The Ayatolla Khomeini said the same thing. Mao Tse-Tung said the same thing. Pinochet said the same thing. The South African National Party said the same thing. Nearly all dictators (and would-be dictators) have said the same thing. Is there a connection here?


Talking of police states, Zimbabwe is finally losing its neighbours as allies. For a difficult year or more, South Africa and other countries in the region have worked hard at maintaining a pan-African front to protect Mugabe. But Mbeki and the others are not foolish enough to keep up the pretence in the face of openly encouraged brutality and lawlessness. Now, of course, the Harare regime is surprised and hurt that its friends would turn against them.

”The paranoia strikes deep: ‘President Mbeki's alleged utterances neatly dovetail into Britain's grand plan for a global coalition against Zimbabwe,’ [the government controlled Harare] Herald said. ‘A clear pattern is now emerging of that build-up against Zimbabwe and South Africa's complicity in the plot to overthrow the ruling Zanu-PF government from power’.”
Well, yes, big Bob: We do want to overthrow your tinpot little racist kleptocracy and give the power back to the people you are stealing it from.

Peter Blake, the New Zealand sailor who put his fame and fortune to good use for the environment, has been killed by pirates in Amazonia. "We want to make a difference," he wrote in his log. He did.

We have long been aware that Kenneth Lay and other favoured executives at Enron have filled their pockets with ill-gotten gains over the past few years. Now, it seems, they tried to spread the bounty a bit at the death of the company. Anything, it seems, to keep the money away from the people (like the employees' retirement accounts) to whom it was actually owed.

Last night in Palestine, one Palestinian militant was killed in action with the IDF, and another died after a confrontation with the PA Security. From September 11th until now (5:00am PST December 6), the total number of Palestinians killed is 180. In the same period, 61 Israelis were killed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

68 years ago today, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, thus repealing the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition on the manufacture, sale and distribution of liquor. Today would be a fine day to introduce a repeal of marijuana prohibition, thus freeing a natural and healthful substance from the legal restrictions that were lifted on dangerous alcohol products three generations ago.


46 years ago today, the once-glorious CIO fell under the baleful control of that capitalist goon George Meany when the Congress and the AFL merged to form the AFL-CIO. The labour movement is lucky to still have members willing to go all the way to protect the rights of labour. In New Jersey, a growing number of teachers are being jailed as the blantantly biased judiciary bends its weight behind the corporate authorities. It is a crying shame that they are sacrificing themselves on behalf of a movement that has long been a tool of management.

Arianna Huffington is always interesting to read, and her new libertarian attitudes swing dangerously close to progressive thinking at times. She has written a sparkling piece about the Enron collapse and the influence that Kenneth Lay had on Republican politics.
Enron's "chairman, Kenneth Lay, is the former 800-pound gorilla of Washington power brokers ... Witness, for example, the unprecedented input Lay and Enron were given on the makeup of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency charged with regulating Enron's core business. Lay went so far as to brag to one potential nominee about his "friends at the White House." He also personally put the screws to FERC chair Curtis Hebert in an effort to change his views on electricity deregulation. Hebert didn't, and was soon the former chairman of FERC, replaced by an Enron ally"
I have begun looking forward to Ms Huffington's irregular pronouncements: They are always bitter, twisted, and absolutely fun.
[Thanks to AlterNet for the story which isn't yet available on Huffington's own site]

The Times has published the full text of the Afghanistan Interim Administration agreement hammered out among the factions in Bonn. And what happened a few hours after the agreement was signed? The Americans bombed and injured the newly-agreed leader, Hamid Karzai!

A Palestinian militant was killed in action in Jersualem today. From September 11th until now (12:30pm PST December 5), the total number of Palestinians killed is 178. In the same period, 61 Israelis were killed.

Bernard Feshbach on the super-rich Robert Belfer who has recently lost a fortune in the Enron debacle:
"He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

I have rarely commented directly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in these pages, preferring to let my daily body count paragraph speak for itself. However, the current attacks by the terrorist regime in Tel Aviv are just too much. This is the culmination of a deliberate policy to force Arafat out of office. The French Government, amongst many others, agrees with me:
"French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine accused the Israeli government ... 'Arafat has been weakened by the harrassment of the Israeli army... and as a result people are using his weakness as an argument to say that since he cannot reestablish order in his own camp, he should in some way be eliminated,' Vedrine said. 'Sadly, it looks like a deliberate policy,' he said.
Sharon has said that the attacks will increase in ferocity over the next few days. Italy, Turkey, Ireland and most Arab countries have made it clear they oppose Sharon's murderous tactics, but with the bully boy's protectors giving him carte blanche (Powell: "[Sharon] is responding in a way that he believes is appropriate to defend his people and to defend his country.'') there seems no end in sight for death, destruction and destitution for the Palestinians.


Inquisitor-General John Ashcroft seems to have all the visibility these days. In fact, Uber-Gaulieter Tom Ridge has joined Dick Cheney in the ranks of the vanishing leadership. It was almost refreshing, therefore, to see Ridge step forward to announce the latest terror threat against the United States (even if he did have nothing of value to say!)


It must be the weather in Vancouver right now (cold rain most of the time), but I seem to be drawn to information on warm places. The other day I mentioned Laos as a destination; today, it is Vietnam; and specifically the island of Phu Quoc.

”The sand on Phu Quoc was powdery white, and the water was the clearest I had even seen: perfectly transparent close to shore, and a deep turquoise farther out. The stretch of beach in front of the Tropicana was set up very simply: a row of tiny pavilions hung with hammocks. Shade is definitely advisable at midday on Phu Quoc, where temperatures rise into the 90's throughout the year, so I sat in a hammock and watched two girls from the young, friendly Tropicana staff shrieking with giggles as they tried to knock coconuts out of one of the trees near the beach.”
My, oh my. I could call my travel agent, use my Amex and … Oh well, back to work.

I should have more integrity than to post items about stuff like this, but frankly, in my opinion, O.J.Simpson deserves all the bad press a guy can get.

This weekend, David Hockney went before an expert audience of artists, curators and scientists to present his theory that artists had used "photographic" aids long before anyone suspected. Bringing forth no scientific evidence regarding the optics involved, but rather relying entirely on an expert analysis of Old Master paintings and drawings themselves, Hockney made his case that since around 1430 painters including van Eyck, Caravaggio, Vermeer and Ingres were able to produce replications of reality that "are too correct and too natural to have been 'eyeballed' or drawn freehand. The armor, eyes, lutes and clothes in them look too real; the expressions appear too fleeting."
"But these paintings are also too incorrect. They have parts that are out of focus, like photographs. Or they have multiple vanishing points and parts that do not quite fit together, telltale signs that the artist focused and refocused his lens to capture different parts of his picture. Or they have a preponderance of left-handed drinkers, suggesting that a reversing lens was used."
But the well-prepared audience did not let Hockney's assertions go unchallenged. Evidence produced against the thesis included "perfect" drawings known to have been made freehand, staggeringly realistic renditions of reality produced by a 5-year old autistic, and a scientific examination of van Eyck's "Arnolfini Wedding."

But the arguments eventually strayed to the real issue: whether it matters or not that artists use aids to assist their draftsmanship, and, even more generally, the relationship between art and technology. The usual intellectual suspects were in attendance.
"Susan Sontag went after Mr. Hockney's ideology of picture making. To say that there were no great painters before optical devices, she said, is like saying there were no great lovers before Viagra. It is a 'very American' kind of argument. Although Mr. Hockney was born British, she said, in his thinking 'he is one of us.' To argue that there is a 'direct line from van Eyck to television,' she said, is to use present-day mass visual culture as the lens through which the past is examined. It represents the 'Warholization of art'."
It sounds like everyone had a lot of fun at this bash.

The US press seems completely unconcerned with the double standard involved when they call Palestinian attacks on Isrealis "terrorism", and Isreali attacks on Palestinians as "retaliation." In Israeli-directed terrorism yesterday, 2 Palestinian civilians were killed during air attacks on Gaza, and a Palestinian militant was shot dead near Nablus. From September 11th until now (5:30am PST December 4), the total number of Palestinians killed is 177. In the same period, 61 Israelis were killed.

Monday, December 03, 2001

The Village Voice has an impressive article reminding us that not all the dead from the World Trade Towers worked in clean offices, kept office calendars and had survivors' benefit policies. Many of the victims were homeless people who left behind little in the way of traceable records.
"The towers drew homeless people from across the city. They formed their own culture on the broad, bustling concourse filled with stores. They slept near the E train, in the long hallway that stretched out from the A, in the tunnels of the PATH train. They hung out on the ledge by the Chase bank ATM, in the nook next to Golden Nugget Jewelry, by the phone bank at building five, by the entrance to the 1 and 9. In the summer months, they congregated on the plaza by the fountain. In the early mornings, they crowded the sinks and washed up together in the bathrooms.

The Trade Center had energy to it. It was clean, safe, and warm in the winter. Some old-timers had been there 15 years and knew the place up and down. "They would sleep by our store," says Samuel Benejan, who managed the Ben & Jerry's by the south tower. "We had a kiosk, and it was a warm place to sleep. I'd wake them up in the morning at 5:30 and give them a cup of coffee. You'd see the same guys over and over again, not new people. The guys there knew the routine, where to stop, how long 'til the police came around. Those guys lived there. It was their home."
Increased security on the streets of New York since September 11th has apparently made life for the homeless even more miserable. And the winter has only just begun.

At the end of last week I had an idea that webloggers in Vancouver should get together in some fashion. To this end, I sent an email to all the Vancouver bloggers I knew. No sooner had I begun thinking about what I had done when, lo and behold, a web site appears before me, started by Richard of justagwailo. I am looking forward to interesting collaborations with a whole bunch of folks I haven't yet met!

David Greenberg has written an interesting article for The Washington Monthly. The article is essentially a review of John Dean's "The Rehnquist Choice", a detailed history of the appointment by Richard Nixon of William Rehnquist as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Both Dean and Greenberg argue that Nixon's appointment set in train the conservatization of the bench, which lead directly to the scandalous decision of the Court in the matter of Gore v Bush in December 2000. A key quote:
"Constitutional experts, including conservative scholars, concede that the majority's purpose seems to have been to install in the White House someone whose politics matched their own and who would buttress their numbers on the Court. Instead of checks and balances, this was logrolling."
And we have Tricky Dicky to thank for this. Greenberg's review has inspired me to add Dean's book to my Christmas wishlist!

Polygamy isn't just for Mormons and cannibals anymore! Kate Silver of the Las Vegas Weekly blows open the story of polygamists who are Christians! (shock! horror!) Isn't it odd that these fellows never seem to find a basis for a society based on one woman-many husbands? Couldn't possibly be a power thing, could it?

President Bush has announced that, in advance of the full scale extension of Dubya Dubya Three into Iraq, the United States will work with Iraqi opposition groups to help overthow Saddam Hussein. Said Aburish dissects these opposition groups in a piece written for the New Statesman and made available through ZNet. Aburish describes the opposition groups as
"... so corrupt, feckless and out-of-touch lot that they make the Butcher of Baghdad look good ... In addition to the Kurds and Shi'as, there are more than 70 other "opposition" parties. Some are made up of Saddam's old cronies, people who turned against him after they lost their jobs. To make a living, they accept the backing of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They publish newspapers and magazines no one reads. They have no offices or followers. In private conversation, they admit that their cause is hopeless."

But the failures of the opposition seem as nothing to the power elites in Washington pushing for an attack on Iraq. In an article covering similar ground, David Korn argues that the "neo-cons" lobbying for a final confrontation are a small minority of right-wingers. Even if that is true, these folks are determined to fight Hussein regardless of the consequences it seems; and it seems they have the ear of the President.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

The opening to this New York Times article about the Solomon Islands is dramatic:
"Plagued with violence and facing bankruptcy, the scattered South Pacific island chain of the Solomon Islands goes to the polls on Wednesday, 18 months after an ethnic militia coup. Residents and diplomats fear that unless a strong leader emerges to restore law and order, the island nation's very existence will be under threat. 'Its make or break,'' one diplomat in the capital Honiara said on Monday. 'If the country continues the way it is, it will gradually fragment and collapse'.''
The story goes on to relate the sorry state of the economy where major employers are closing because of intimidation from armed gangs, and land claims are decided by gun battles. A unfortunate State about which we hear little or nothing.

AsiaWeek has a fascinating list: The 50 Most Influential Communicators in Asia. The leader of Falungong movement, Li Hongzhi, is rated Asia's "most powerful communicator," followed by Keiji Tachikawa, the pioneer of wireless Internet, and film director Ang Lee.

At this time in America's history, as the zealots against their own definition of un-Americanism ride the high saddle again, it is worth remembering that on this date in 1954, the U.S. Senate condemned Sen.Joseph McCarthy, that previous champion of witchhunts across the American landscape.

Laos is one of those places I have always wanted to visit. Geronimo Madrid did during his trip around the world and he writes about it in the New York Times.

As usual, the most detailed plans for the US military's expansion of Dubya Dubya Three leak out of Europe. According to this London Observer report, plans for the military assault on Iraq are well advanced. And America seems willing to face down global opposition to it's plans.
"Opposition by Blair and French President Jacques Chirac may not be enough to dissuade the Americans. One European military source who recently returned from General Franks's headquarters in Florida said: 'The Americans are walking on water. They think they can do anything at the moment and there is bloody nothing Tony [Blair] can do about it'. "
Bush's determination to show he can do better than his Daddy in Iraq will not only come at the expense of the Iraqi people but will cost America all support in the Middle East, and could seriously damage both NATO and the growing closeness with Russia. And for what?

In Palestine yesterday and last night it was hard to keep the body count straight. 10 Israeli civilians and 2 Palestinian militants were killed at a mall in Jerusalem. Another 14 Israeli civilians and another Palestinian militant were killed on a bus near Haifa. An Israeli civilian and 2 Palestinian militants were killed in an attack at Alei Sinai in Gaza; and a Palestinian civilian was shot by a security guard in East Jerusalem. From September 11th until now (5:30am PST December 2), the total number of Palestinians killed is 174. In the same period, 61 Israelis were killed.

Saturday, December 01, 2001

I have never been a great lover of the paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds, but one has to be impressed by the $17million sale price of his "Portrait of Omai" which sold at Sotheby's in London this past week. The previous record for his work was less than $3million.

A few days ago in this space I mentioned that the Far East (the two Chinas and the two Koreas) was a prime candidate in the next few years for serious military conflict. I was not forgetting the potential in South Asia, but this essay from the current Scientific American provides a timely reminder of the dangers of the India-Pakistan conflict.
"... the [nuclear] tests have dramatically changed the military situation in South Asia. They have spurred the development of more advanced weapons, missiles, submarines, antiballistic missile systems, and command-and-control systems. In August 1999 the Indian Draft Nuclear Doctrine called for the deployment of a triad of "aircraft, mobile land-missiles and sea-based assets" to deliver nuclear weapons. Such a system would cost about $8 billion. This past January the Indian government declared that it would deploy its new long-range missile. A month later the Pakistani deputy chief of naval staff announced that Pakistan was thinking about equipping at least one of its submarines with nuclear missiles.
This conflict has only been complicated by the regional power shifts required to accommodate Dubya Dubya Three, and a solution seems nowhere near. Dangerous times ahead.

The semi-dictatorship that is Mugabe's Zimbabwe is rapidly becoming a fully totalitarian state. A new law will make it impossible for non-Zimbabwean journalists to work in Zimbabwe; a transparent attempt to hide Mugabe's brutality from the world's view, and at the same time bolster the xenophobic racism that underpin's the government's populism. The regime has already destroyed the judiciary in the country, and even rigged elections seem unlikely next year. Armed militia continue to stalk the rural areas, killing and despoiling at will it seems. I wonder if Britain's emotional link to the white settler population will combine with South Africa's desire for peace in the region and cause a military intervention? I doubt it, and Zimbabwe's people are probably in for another rough decade.

Under the Bush doctrine of modern warfare, the United States fights all its battles from 30,000 feet, reducing its own casualties to zero and inflicting widespread death and damage among the civilian populations affected. If ground fighting is required, some other nation's forces will be used to handle that, once again limiting US casualties to accidents and misadventure. When the destruction from the air has done its dirty work and the impoverished victim has surrendered, the Bush doctrine, as espoused by Ari Flesicher yesterday, calls for the US to back off and, once again, oblige other countries to handle the dangerous work of "peacekeeping".

The bully boy doesn't want a steady stream of body bags disturbing its chances of re-election back home.

That the US can decide to start wars and then leave others to clean up the mess is the arrogance of supreme power. No doubt the Romans and Portuguese and Spanish and British all felt the same way at the height of their empires. They are all in the dustbowl of history now.