Sunday, December 31, 2006
10. The International Space Station. I remember watching the first landing on the moon when I was a child. In my lifetime, we have gone from viewing space as merely the fodder for science fiction novels to living, working and exploring in space.
9. Pluto - the planet that never was. Or used to be, but isn't anymore. Or was, but shouldn't have been. Or....oh well. One of the controversies in astronomy this year was removing Pluto from the list of planets. It is now considered to be a dwarf planet...not quite ready to play with the grownups.
8. Close to home is our ever faithful neighbour, the sun, within whose depths temperatures reach over a million degrees Celsius. This picture says it all.
7. A dry, rocky, rather bleak landscape, looking like it belongs in some arid desert of California. Instead, it belongs to the planet next door. A Martian landscape.
6. Staying with the Mars theme, this picture generated a great deal of excitement. These pictures, taken six years apart, show a light-coloured deposit where none used to be. It has caused much speculation that the cause might be water ... free-flowing water.
5. I include this for the sheer beauty. The open star cluster named NGC 290 - a jewel box of diamonds.
4. I am awestruck by the exotica the universe has to offer and nothing sums it up quite like this picture of the Eagle Nebula.
3. Our fascination and interest in the stars has been part of mankind's psyche since the beginning of time. The Antikythera Mechanism, rescued from an ancient sunken Greek ship is about 2,000 years old and is one of the earliest mechanical computers. With it, the early Greeks could predict star and planet locations. lunar eclipses, solar eclipses, lunar cycles and much more.
2. Simply a glorious picture of the centre of our very own galaxy, the Milky Way. This picture shows over a millions stars.
1. This is unquestionably my absolute, number one favourite picture. Go to this link where there is a full sized picture and take a close look at the left portion of picture near Saturn's outer ring. There's a very small white dot. That's us - planet Earth.
Joshua Gallu, in Spiegel Online provides a look at the fallout that will likely occur from Iraq’s new hydrocarbons law.
The Iraqi government is working on a new hydrocarbons law that will set the course for the country's oil sector and determine where its vast revenues will flow. The consequences for such a law in such a state are huge. Not only could it determine the future shape of the Iraqi federation -- as regional governments battle with Baghdad's central authority over rights to the riches -- but it could put much of Iraqi oil into the hands of foreign oil companies.
Nevertheless, the draft law lays the ground work for private oil companies to take large stakes in Iraq's oil. The new law would allow the controversial partnerships known as 'production sharing agreements' (PSA). Oil companies favor PSAs, because they limit the risk of cost overruns while giving greater potential for profit. PSAs tend to be massive legal agreements, designed to replace a weak or missing legal framework -- which is helpful for a country like Iraq that lacks the laws needed to attract investment.
It's also dangerous. It means governments are legally committing themselves to oil deals that they've negotiated from a position of weakness. And, the contracts typically span decades. Companies argue they need long-term legal security to justify huge investments in risky countries; the current draft recommends 15 to 20 years.
Nevertheless, Iraq carries little exploratory risk -- OPEC estimates Iraq sits atop some 115 billion barrels of reserves and only a small fraction of its oil fields are in use. By signing oil deals with Iraq, oil companies could account for those reserves in their books without setting foot in the country -- that alone is enough to boost the company's stock. And, by negotiating deals while Iraq is unstable, companies could lock in a risk premium that may be much lower five or ten years from now.
The Bush/Blair administrations are always quick to respond to questions regarding Iraq’s oil stating that the invasion was not about the oil.
That, as most of us have come to believe, is an outright lie. It’s all about the oil, but more specifically, it’s about who controls it as a strategic resource, who profits from its production and how to outmaneuver a cartel which has enough influence to damage western economies with a less than herculian effort.
A better understanding of what is happening now comes from looking briefly at what Iraq was doing prior to the US invasion. Iraq had nationalized its oil industry in 1972 and allowed some foreign companies to participate by way of technical service contracts. (This has been the standard for most of the oil-rich nations of the Gulf region since the 1970s.) Essentially, TSCs were let to foreign oil companies for specific work for which they received payment. The foreign companies had no concessions in the oil fields and had no claim over the oil they produced. If they wanted it, they had to buy it. US and British oil companies were shut out of Iraq entirely.
After the 1991 Gulf War Iraq, faced with international sanctions, saw a marked production drop-off. The Food-For-Oil program allowed Iraq to export oil but severe, and necessary, limitations prevented them from expanding oil production to levels which allowed them to participate fully in the rewards gained by membership in OPEC.
Late in Saddam’s regime contracts were struck with several oil companies primarily from France, Russia and China. The problem for those companies was UN sanctions which prevented the execution of those contracts. The US and UK continued to apply pressure to maintain sanctions against Iraq if, for no other reason than to prevent France, Russia and China from gaining a foothold in the second largest proven oil reserves in the world and possibly, (if the western desert produces what is expected), the largest reserve of light-sweet-crude ever known. Worse, from the US and UK standpoint, four of the world’s dominant oil companies, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, BP-Amoco and Royal Dutch Shell were excluded from Iraq totally.
While sanctions worked in preventing French, Russian and Chinese activity in Iraq, it also shifted more power into the hands of OPEC and prevented the US and UK “big four” from exploiting the super-giant fields of Iraq. Further, there was other pressure on the UN to ease sanctions, particularly if Saddam, individually, could be replaced.
That would have been an utter disaster for the US and UK. Eliminating Saddam and leaving the structure and form of his government in place, along with all previous laws, would have allowed the contracts with foreign oil companies to become operative; it would have done nothing to curtail OPEC power; and, it would have continued to exclude the US and UK based “big four” while giving preferred access to countries like China.
Pretend for a moment that September 11, 2001 went by without incident. The situation with regards Iraq was already a problem. If Saddam suddenly lost power in Iraq by whatever means, a possibility which increased with each passing month, the US and UK rationale for continued sanctions would vanish with him, to their detriment.
The only way to exercise any control over Iraq’s massive oil reserves would be to, not only get rid of Saddam, but eliminate all vestiges of his government and render null and void any and all agreements made under his regime. The only way into Iraq’s oil reserves was to completely retool Iraq as a state and do it such a way that the standard practice of the Gulf states, nationalized oil production and OPEC quotas, could be avoided. That meant invade, conquer and occupy. And, it had to be done relatively quickly, before Saddam’s ability to exert control over an increasingly dissatisfied population evaporated or someone took the $2.95 solution with a bullet.
Whether 9/11 had happened or not, Bush/Cheney had every intention of invading Iraq before their only reason not to, disappeared. The attacks on New York and Washington, a real reason to go to war, sent the US into a deep state of national grief which transmuted into a comprehensive national anger. While the Bush administration would exploit that grief and anger to their advantage, Afghanistan was hardly the preferred target. In fact, Afghanistan was the fly in the ointment. Any plans for Iraq would have to be delayed until Afghanistan was dealt with. If there was a bright side it is that the world was solidly on-side and would support a US military response in South Asia.
It’s worth looking at the conduct of operations in Afghanistan for a moment since there is more than a hint of how inconvenient that particular event was to the Bush administration plans. In fact, Afghanistan threw the Bush administration off its stride. If the neo-cons simply wanted a war, they now had one. But it wasn’t the war they wanted. And they were literally screwed. Osama bin Laden had robbed them of the timeline which would put the US firmly in control of Iraq.
The US escalated to an attack on Afghanistan at what could be considered to be a normal pace. The appropriate options, with sufficient deadlines, were offered to the Taliban government. The failure of the Taliban to respond appropriately, (hand over Osama bin Laden and company), forced an assault. The assault and initial campaign for Afghanistan went exceptionally well. The Taliban was forced out the seats of power and the ground campaign was well organized and coordinated. The problem, however, was that the basic strategy employed by General Tommy Franks (dictated by Rumsfeld) was fatally flawed. Rather than make a direct attack on al Qaeda with US forces and NATO attachments, it was decided to take out the Taliban, before going after al Qaeda, employing Afghan war-lords and their private armies. Al Qaeda was given the opportunity to escape to the complex at Tora Bora and enlist the paid assistance of local villagers and some of the war-lords themselves.
The sealing off and capture of Tora Bora was crucial if al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were to be captured or killed. Except that Tora Bora was never sealed off. It was extensively bombed from one side and the US military made a mistake which would come back to haunt forces in the future. It relied on dubious war-lords, many of whom despised each other, to conduct a majority of the operation. Special Forces units which were in Tora Bora were ordered to hold back and allow an amalgam of Afghan private armies to catch up to them. The Khyber Pass, which was supposed to be closed down on the Pakistan side of the border by the Pakistani army, remained wide open. On the Afghan side of the border the Khyber Pass was ignored. It is not a leap of strategic thinking to understand that the one clear escape route needed to be closed, but the very air-mobile US military did nothing to block that avenue of escape.
It is a point where military analysts had to look at the employment of war-lords and fickle allies over prosecuting the attack on Afghanistan with well-trained, well-equipped, US and NATO forces (and other allied organized forces). Anyone with a minor amount of knowledge of the area would know that utilizing war-lords as a surrogate army would eventually lead to them exercising their power, and not in a good way, in a re-emergent Afghanistan. It could be argued that holding back massed mechanized ground forces reduced US and allied casualties, but that alone is not a sufficient reason. The truth appears to come from the rings of the Pentagon and the West Wing of the White House. That massed US military might was needed elsewhere to execute a plan of attack in a place other than Afghanistan: Iraq.
The need to attack and occupy Afghanistan was a surprise to the Bush administration. It interfered with existing plans for Iraq and the need to mobilize a hefty land force was expensive and inconvenient. Bells should have started ringing when Bush started calling for NATO to provide an extensive security and assistance force from the time Afghanistan was consolidated. There appeared to be an anxious desire to get right out of the place and hand the job of occupation over to others. Afghanistan was clearly an unwanted distraction from something much more important and much more urgent on the Bush administration’s agenda. It had to be. Bush had carte blanche from the American people, and indeed the world, to pulverize Afghanistan, occupy it and take as much time as necessary to rebuild it as a compliant state. Yet, he seemed to be in a rush. That rush would eventually leave the mission in Afghanistan unfinished with the Taliban intact and NATO struggling to achieve a level of security the US had left unattended.
Why then would the Bush administration leave such an overwhelming security concern such as Afghanistan in such disarray and shift its focus back to Iraq? And why would Britain suddenly take such a resolute position alongside the US on Iraq?
The United States, the third largest producer of oil in the world at 8.7 million barrels a day (and declining), was consuming over 20 million barrels a day. Britain was forecasting that she would become a net importer of oil by 2004, her production peak having been reached in 1999 as the North Sea reserves declined.
To be continued.... (watch for part 2 in the days ahead)
Saturday, December 30, 2006
I'm not saddened by the passing of Saddam Hussein. For most of my life I was completely ambivelent about his existence. Unlike Donald Rumsfeld, I never met the man and never shook his hand. He meant nothing to me until 1991. There was a point where I would have had no hesitation, if, in the highly unlikely event I ever had him in my rifle sights, in squeezing off whatever number of rounds it would have taken to kill him. I was committed to war and he was the leader, both political and military, of my declared enemy.
That changed when we went home. War's over, let the politicians and the generals sort out the mess. Saddam, now an international pariah, reverted, in my mind at least, to that of an unapprehended criminal and a brutal dictator. He remained that until captured by US forces in December 2003. After that, he became the accused and, regardless of what anyone might like to believe, his captors had a duty and responsibility to present their entire case against him and allow him to present his version of events. Without it, judgement would be nothing but a hollow display of vengance; the climax of a temper tantrum thrown by the incompetent prosecutors of a failed and unnecessary adventure in Iraq. Without a full and comprehensive trial, charges and airing of all events for which we considered Saddam culpable, those who have led this charade; those who encouraged it and; those who claimed that, once captured, any form of trial was unnecessary became no better than Saddam Hussein.
Scott, at Lawyers, Guns and Money quotes Jim Henley who states:
And it’s also true that the US and its Iraqi allies chose to try Saddam on one of his relatively minor crimes because if they did so they could get him safely hung before they had to try him for the major ones, the gas attacks and massacres that happened during The Years of Playing Footsie with the United States. The Dujail reprisals were a war crime, no doubt about it, a bigger sham of justice than Saddam’s own trial, by two orders of magnitude. They were also the sort of war crime that people like Ralph Peters and a hundred other pundits and parapundits think the United States should be committing. Every time you read a complaint about “politically correct rules of engagement” you are reading someone who would applaud a Dujail-level slaughter if only we were to perpetrate it. Those are the people who are happiest of all about tonight’s execution. Smells like - victory! It’s the pomander they don against the stench.Scott then picks up on an entry reeking in putrifaction by Jeff Goldstein. It is there that the point made by Cathie comes ringing through. The newest chickenhawk talking point to deflect attention from the depth of the failure of their saviour and themselves:
Let them, for one brief moment, bracket their partisan aggressions and reflect on what the US and its allies have done in removing this butcher from power—which, contrary to received wisdom, has made Iraq a far better place, if only for the moment potentially.Potentially?! But not now. Maybe in the future. A success that hasn't occurred yet. We can expect, as Cathie warned us, to hear this used for almost every failure.
Even in their moment of "victory", as they are so inclined to view this execution, the chickenhawks are scratching at the dirt trying to find a morsel of justification for their actions and their words. They were wrong. They promoted a sham, from justification for the invasion of Iraq to kabuki theatre being held out as a trial, the likes of which fell so short of international and US standards that it found new ground.
And what will be their mark of victory tomorrow?
From Josh Marshall:
This whole endeavor, from the very start, has been about taking tawdry, cheap acts and dressing them up in a papier-mache grandeur -- phony victory celebrations, ersatz democratization, reconstruction headed up by toadies, con artists and grifters. And this is no different. Hanging Saddam is easy. It's a job, for once, that these folks can actually see through to completion. So this execution, ironically and pathetically, becomes a stand-in for the failures, incompetence and general betrayal of country on every other front that President Bush has brought us.I have always maintained that Saddam should be dealt the most severe of hands from the international community. But it had to come from a moral, conscienable source, prepared to deal with his high crimes from a dignified and just quarter.
Instead, we got George W Bush. What a fucking crime.
Friday, December 29, 2006
I no longer care what happens to US service people and private contractors in Iraq.
Of course in that I'm not alone. Most of the US media and what seems like a pretty significant percentage of the US population doesn't appear to pay much attention or much care either.
I find I have as much empathy for US soldiers in Iraq as I might have had for Wehrmacht soldiers in France or Belgium.
That makes me a bad person I know. I'm supposed to root for the white people, the english speaking people, the westerners, the christians.
What's more, and this is far worse, I'm now silently rooting for the Iraqis to wrest their country back from the invading crusaders by whatever means they can. I'm hoping they find a new Saladin or even if all else fails a new Lawrence.
I'm a damned apostate.
Now I have to get to work defending Canada's participation in Afghanistan.
Because, after all, that's different.
It is isn't it?
We're not there to "kill their leaders and convert them to christianity" in Ann Coulter's deathless phrase.
We're just there to convince them or maybe force them to be more like us. Or failing that to kill them.
And that's an important distinction.
I guess I should spend the rest of my life in jail.
Or maybe be shot at sunrise.
Bill Scher has added a Canadian section to his extensive blogroll at Liberal Oasis. I know... so what? Well, Liberal Oasis swings a pretty big machete in the US liberal sphere and it's nice to see that Canada has something to add to the neighbourhood. <---note spelling. We felt pretty good about being included with fourteen other Canadian blogs.
POGGE lays it right out. Nuremburg has indeed been mocked. The Saddam "victor's" trial and imminent execution is an abomination of the standards for international justice. While I don't believe Saddam shouldn't be dealt with, I do believe there was a need to expose everything, and I mean everything, for which he could be considered criminally culpable. That hasn't happened. Instead he'll be executed and silenced permanently. You can't help but believe that isn't convenient for somebody.
There's more as POGGE sends readers to Juan Cole's site where get op-ed columnist Larisa Alexandrovna lays out here view of what's actually happening. If she's correct in her reasoning she's describing the actions of an administration that is totally devoid of morality - which makes her theory all that much more credible.
CathieFromCanada put a label on it. When Fran Townsend, US Dept of Homeland Security was presented with this observation by Ed Henry, on CNN's Situation Room:
You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.She replied with this:
Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.Cathie roars in with the perfect label: This is the best. talking. point. ever!
China said Friday it will strengthen its military to thwart any attempt by Taiwan to push for independence, but vowed that it was committed to the peaceful development of the world's largest army.Really? They didn't really identify their "sea space". And, as for not posing a military threat to any other country, one would have to question this.
A report issued by the State Council, China's cabinet, also said the country's defence policy will focus on protecting its borders and sea space, cracking down on terrorism and modernizing its weapons.
"China will not engage in any arms race or pose a military threat to any other country," the 91-page white paper said.
China has announced double-digit military spending increases nearly every year since the early 1990s, causing unease among its neighbours.Lag behind or not, why is it that when a burgeoning military power makes the statement that they are not engaged in an arms race, it turns into an arms race?
But despite its huge size, its forces are said to lag well behind those of other major countries. In recent years, leaders have focused on improved training and advanced technology, hoping to close that gap.
"This increase … is compensatory in nature, and is designed to enhance the originally weak defence foundation," the white paper said. "It is a moderate increase in step with China's national economic development."
The Muslim Canadian Congress will honour Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan during a prayer service this weekend in a move that's believed to be the first of its kind in the country.It would be difficult for most Canadians not to share that view. Regardless of how one sees the Afghanistan mission, the value of our service personnel on the job should never be a question and it's heartening to see a variety of groups put a high level of importance where it belongs - on the troops themselves.
The congress organized the service even though it has been critical of Canada's role in Afghanistan in the past.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the fall, congress president Farzana Hassan suggested Canada should reassess the Afghan mission given the high number of soldier deaths.
But interfaith affairs director Raheel Raza said this prayer service is not a political statement."We're doing this as a humanitarian gesture, as reaching out to fellow Canadians, the families who have lost their children," she said yesterday.
"This must be a very hard time for them, and we want them to know that we are thinking of them and we hope that the troops come back safely.
"Regardless of how people feel about our troops being in Afghanistan, this is for a human connection of our solidarity and of our concern, and because we are Canadian."
Ms. Raza said she is not aware of any other Muslim group that has held such a prayer service. It will take place on Sunday at the Eternal Spring United Church in Hamilton.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the innovative and occasionally controversial former hospital executive who has managed Elections Canada for the past 17 years, is stepping down from the job.Harper was less than effusive about Kingsley's performance during yesterday's announcement. One could have expected that Kingsley, who has modernized the Canadian electoral system while at the same time maintaining a tight grip on the election process would have been the subject of a great deal of praise. His work put Elections Canada out front in international circles with a reputation for scrupulous fairness and remarkably non-controversial electoral processes.
Mr. Kingsley tendered his resignation to Peter Milliken, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and Noel Kinsella, the Speaker of the Senate, in a letter dated Dec. 22. But his pending departure wasn't made public until yesterday afternoon in a news release issued by the Office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
When he was president of the National Citizens Coalition, Mr. Harper challenged provisions in the Canada Elections Act prohibiting any third party from spending more than $150,000 to support or oppose any party or candidate -- or any issue linked to a party or candidate -- during a campaign. Mr. Kingsley appeared in court to defend the rule.Which prevents this kind of thing.
In that same capacity, Mr. Harper backed a British Columbia man's fight to post federal election results on the Internet before the polls closed -- another restriction introduced by Elections Canada under Mr. Kingsley.
Gerry Nicholls, the NCC vice-president, said in a release yesterday that Mr. Kingsley's resignation is good for Canadian democracy.Not that the National Citizen's Coalition has anything to hide. They would just love to be able to behave like a US 527 group, and even in the US, serious consideration is being given to curtailing the election campaign activities of such organizations. Nicholls comes off as weak and sounds like a persistent and unrepentant speeder who complains that the reason he gets traffic tickets is because the police are out to get him. Perhaps if it weren't for the internal secrecy and obvious political bent of the NCC, Elections Canada would not be so suspicious of their activities.
"He was not a disinterested bureaucrat," Mr. Nicholls said. "Kingsley had an ideological axe to grind and he used his powers to go after groups he didn't like."
It was a standoff that had been waged between the party and Elections Canada over several months. And, in the end, it meant that three party members, including Mr. Harper, had donated more than the legal limit. That prompted the Liberals to suggest there are political subtexts to the resignation.I wouldn't be too sure about that. Despite the enmity Harper holds for Kingsley, removing the Chief Electoral Officer from his post is next to impossible. However, Harper isn't beyond playing dirty and the timing of Kingsley's announcement is more than a little curious. It would take a real bit of investigative journalism to find out what's behind it all.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Morale: [M]orale among our guys is very high. They not only believe that they are winning, but that they are winning decisively. They are stunned and dismayed by what they see in the American press, whom they almost universally view as against them. The embedded reporters are despised and distrusted.Right. Except, as TPMmuckraker points out, this is not a new email and its authenticity has been questionable since it originally appeared as a sort of chain-letter, well over a year ago.
TPM points out that the email, offered by NRO's Corner as a recent piece of evidence, contradicts even Bush's admission that the US is losing in Iraq. And, as one of TPMmuckraker's commenters points out, there is a "not so subtle" attempt to conflate the entire Iraq insurgency into an Iran/Hezbollah/Hamas/Syria/al Qaeda operation in the form of a grand conspiracy. Either the author does not understand the enmity that actually exists across those groups or believes that ambivelent readers wouldn't pay attention.
There's a bit more to it as well.
Most of the carnage is caused by the Zarqawi Al Qaeda group.That would be all well and good if it weren't for the fact that Zarqawi was killed last June and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir took over as its leader. Additionally, al Qaeda in Iraq is regularly referred to as the QJBR or JTJ. The "Zarqawi Al Qaeda group" is a form of identity which, even when Zarqawi was alive, was not standard lexicon. It was, however, the form taken when reported by the media in the US or at Bush administration press conferences. That should have made the age of the email obvious.
The original version of the email goes into detail about the "good and bad" about various weapons being used by US forces. It's there that the parlance and description of weapons gives rise to the question, "What kind of marine wrote this?"
1) The M-16 rifle : Thumbs down. Chronic jamming problems with the talcum powder like sand over there. The sand is everywhere. [The Marine] says you feel filthy 2 minutes after coming out of the shower. The M-4 carbine version is more popular because it's lighter and shorter, but it has jamming problems also. They like the ability to mount the various optical gunsights and weapons lights on the picattiny rails, but the weapon itself is not great in a desert environment.Excuse me, but US Marines have been issued M16A4s as standard issue since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. By 2005 there would be very few older variants left anywhere. The US Army uses a mix of M16A4s and M4 carbines. Both are equipped with flat-top receivers and the USMC M16A4 is equipped with picattiny rails. How very odd that a US marine would not know that.
The fact that this email is being proffered by NRO as recent information is bad enough. We now know it's recycled. And, while the original has always had dubious origins, the mistakes it contains suggest that it may well have been written by someone who had a less than initmate knowledge of the actual conditions.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
The armed forces, already struggling to meet recruiting goals, are considering expanding the number of noncitizens in the ranks -- including disputed proposals to open recruiting stations overseas and putting more immigrants on a faster track to US citizenship if they volunteer -- according to Pentagon officials.
Ah... yes. You mean like this lot.
The proposal to induct more noncitizens, which is still largely on the drawing board, has to clear a number of hurdles. So far, the Pentagon has been quiet about specifics -- including who would be eligible to join, where the recruiting stations would be, and what the minimum standards might involve, including English proficiency. In the meantime, the Pentagon and immigration authorities have expanded a program that accelerates citizenship for legal residents who volunteer for the military.Minimum standards? Why? Cannon-fodder doesn't need to meet a minimum standard. And you can bet that recruiting stations in foreign countries aren't going to be set up anywhere in the G8.
Overseas service was loathed, however, and whenever possible expendable Irish and Scots were used in preference to native-born Englishmen.Why, that's a 400 year-old historical precedence on which to draw!
To find the large numbers of men required, other methods were resorted to: capital offenders were offered enlistment as an alternative to the gallows, vagrants and unemployed persons were impressed and debtors could obtain release from prison if they enlisted or found a substitute. Many men were reluctant to enlist for life, so a short-term enlistment of only three years was introduced, and this helped ease the problem somewhat. Such unwilling and criminal material seems unpromising material for an army, many of them only kept to their duty by fear of the lash and gallows. But it was with men such as these that the Duke of Marlborough won his many victories against the French, and brought Louis XIV's vaunted legions to their knees.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
There are moments that make you question your fundamental assumptions about the world. One of them took place a few days ago, when news emerged that Monica Lewinsky had just graduated from the London School of Economics.
Reporter surprised that a woman’s brains do not leak out during a blowjobAnd from Feministing:
You know, cause she sucked dick. Which clearly is a mark of the intellectually impaired.But my favourite comes from Amanda at Pandagon:
While Copeland is goggling at the idea that a woman could both know how to suck a dick and how to write a paper, I’m goggling at how Copeland just managed to advertise her categorical rejection of fellatio and possibly of flirtaciousness to every straight man reading the Washington Post.I don't suppose it would make much of a difference to point out that while this was happening, Copeland was an intern at the Washington Post. And, you can't help but wonder if there isn't a hint of jealosy in Copeland's column. Lewinsky - London School of Economics; Copeland - University of East Anglia.
Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.So, for the time being, I won't say global warming and the "head-up-their-ass" crowd can't say erosion. (Even though the two are harmonically related.)
As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.
Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.
It has been officially recorded in a six-year study of the Sunderbans by researchers at Calcutta's Jadavpur University. So remote is the island that the researchers first learned of its submergence, and that of an uninhabited neighbouring island, Suparibhanga, when they saw they had vanished from satellite pictures.
Two-thirds of nearby populated island Ghoramara has also been permanently inundated. Dr Sugata Hazra, director of the university's School of Oceanographic Studies, says "it is only a matter of some years" before it is swallowed up too. Dr Hazra says there are now a dozen "vanishing islands" in India's part of the delta.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
No. You had to be in Vancouver, British Columbia at a nightclub called The Cave to have heard it for the first time.
It doesn't matter, it's the greatest Christmas song... ever. You have to love Rolf Harris.
All of that is irrelevant to my story, but it explains how we met.
What is relevant is that we spent a lot of time sharing ideas on a wide variety of subjects and one of them was Christmas. Why that should be of interest is that he had immigrated to this country from a place that was not dominated by Christian beliefs and traditions. He was Iranian by birth and had been brought up Muslim.
While Farsi was his mother-tongue, he spoke fluent English. We also discovered that we could also converse in Arabic, although admittedly mine suffered from considerable lack of practice.
I had already determined that he was very secular. His religion was not a part of his conversation and, when we were speaking Arabic, neither of us used colloquial metaphors which could be attributed specifically to religion.
When he asked me what I was doing for Christmas I was a little surprised. I explained that Christmas, with hundreds of different meanings, meant little more than an occasion for gathering with friends and family, eating food I would normally avoid and drinking stuff I might otherwise not consider. The decorations were nice, but this year, even they had less significance than in the past.
He nodded with understanding and then said, “It’s mostly for the kids.”
Again, I was surprised. I asked, “Do you observe Christmas?”
“Oh yes,” he replied. “The kids love it, and it is a rather pleasant event with all the activity surrounding it.”
“You don’t mind the religious aspect of it?” I asked.
“No. We don’t really do anything surrounding any religion this time of year,” he said.
And, as we departed for our homes, we wished each other a “Merry Christmas”; a good wish which both of us recognized as completely non-religious.
Curiosity, of course, got the better of me and I wondered if there was any Iranian or Persian influence in the Christian religion. I was not to be disappointed.
The “Three Wise Men” story suggests that Persia had a lot to do with Christian tradition surrounding Christmas. It’s also been molded over time to suit Christian belief.
It is very likely that the Magi who visited Bethlehem originated in Persia and were actually Zoroastrians. Interestingly, the Christian bible doesn’t mention how many of them actually visited, but given the day and age, it was probably a very large group and there was probably a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding their journey. The reference to “three” magi arises because there were supposedly three gifts presented: gold, frankincense and myrrh. That too, is disputed since nothing in the bible says that there weren’t more – just that those are the only ones mentioned.
The names associated with the magi, Gaspar, Melchoir and Balthasar are probably also fictitious since, in various parts of the world, different names appear.
The gospels in the new testament were written well after the existence of Jesus of Nazareth and there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the veracity of the texts themselves. There is even considerable ambiguity between books and there is a question as to why the Christian church did not include testaments which were written much earlier. The Christian bible, after all, did not actually have any definition until around 400 C.E. and was not finalized until the Council of Trent, by which time a huge amount of myth had been included in the religion itself.
None of that is of much consequence, however. What is significant is that at least one author of the new testament books understood the importance of demonstrating that the new Messiah had received the blessing of one of the most influential groups of the time: the original monotheistic religion – the Zoroastrians.
Oh, and the Zoroastrians have something in their religion with which we all might be familiar. During the Zoroastrian festival of Yalda, (just happens to be right around Christmas), an evergreen tree known as a sarve, “a potent symbol of Yalda” is adorned with ribbons and decorations. Gifts of food are placed under it.
I will go no further.
Have a Merry Christmas, or which ever winter celebration makes you feel good.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I work in the fickle world of international finance. After I had been in the office until 1am one night, my boss asked me to hastily compose a presentation the next day. I put a chocolate penguin (from a top Bond Street chocolatier) on his desk with the documents. After he left, I found the penguin, still in its transparent box, forcibly thrown into the bin. There was no doubt that he knew who it was from. Should I tell him I know what he did (by the way, I have now eaten the evidence), or should I say nothing and let it pass?
There could be far more to this than meets the eye. After all, if I read my Dan Brown correctly, the penguin is the ancient symbol of the Brotherhood of Knights Rampanter, a sinister order devoted to the restoration of the Plantagenet line to the throne, the forcible removal of Scotland from the Union and the promotion of Norwich as one of the world’s financial capitals (which, of course, is what would have unnerved your boss). Then again, perhaps he’s just watching his waistline.
This is a country that is worth the investment because once it emerges as a country that is a stabilizing factor, you'll have a very different kind of Middle East. And I know that from the point of view of not just monetary costs, but the sacrifice of American lives, a lot has been sacrificed for Iraq, a lot has been invested in Iraq.As Billmon says:
Maybe Condi is just a cold, heartless bitch -- as morally numb and sociopathic as her office husband. But these kinds of comments could also simply reflect the incredibly sheltered life Madame Supertanker appears to have led, especially since she entered the pampered, intersecting worlds of the academic, national security and corporate elites.Be prepared, now that Condi has said it, to expect her drooling, slathering Canadian puppy to repeat something similar with respect to Canadian losses in Afghanistan.
Some farmers will privately get a better price from another grain buyer, say - because they live close to the US border and so their transport costs would be lower than that of more northern farmers.
More farmers will switch to this new buyer.
CWB loses power and folds.
Individual farmers are pitted against each other and the price of wheat falls.
NAFTA says no new CWB can be launched.
Farmers have to sell out to whoever is big enough to survive the price drop, ie agribiz.
Farmers become sharecroppers on what was formerly their own land.
Friday, December 22, 2006
HERE is the redacted version of a draft Op-Ed article we wrote for The Times, as blacked out by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Publication Review Board after the White House intervened in the normal prepublication review process and demanded substantial deletions. Agency officials told us that they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House.And, if that isn't bad enough, it becomes clear that Flynt Leverett is now flagged by the White House.
Indeed, the deleted portions of the original draft reveal no classified material. These passages go into aspects of American-Iranian relations during the Bush administration’s first term that have been publicly discussed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; a former State Department policy planning director, Richard Haass; and a former special envoy to Afghanistan, James Dobbins.
The decisions of the C.I.A. and the White House took us by surprise. Since leaving government service three and a half years ago, Mr. Leverett has put more than 20 articles through the C.I.A.’s prepublication review process and the Publication Review Board has never changed a word or asked the White House for permission to clear these articles.Which would suggest that Mr. Leverett is on a "watch list". He's politically unpalatable.
The idea of another election a little more than a year after the last one sends shivers down Hillier's spine, not so much for the political aspects but for the upheaval it causes for planners and the morale of soldiers in the field.Really...
An election "is exactly what we would not like to see," he said.
Perhaps General Hillier hasn't quite grasped the reality of the political condition of this country. It is led by the weakest minority government in history and has no real mandate. But beyond that, the Chief of Defence Staff is expected to appear absolutely apolitical and that remark is close to the edge.
General Hillier needs to be reminded that the timing and results of any federal election, beyond his one vote, are matters with which he is not to concern himself. The armed forces he commands are generated by the Crown and financed by Parliament. This is a democracy, an institution he is sworn to defend, and to suggest that a federal election, whatever the time, would be inconvenient to his particular agenda is not within his province.
Hillier's suggestion that an election call causes upheaval for planners is patently false. Nothing prevents planners from progressing their work unless he stops them or the current minister of national defence orders plans to be placed on hold during an election campaign.
Given the fact that the current mission to Afghanistan, which is sucking up a great deal of National Defence Headquarter's energy, was a Liberal government initiative Hillier should be confident that even after an election he would likely be expected to continue with whatever plans are in place or are being developed.
General Hillier's comment that an election affects morale of soldiers in the field is specious. It may be that Hillier so lacks confidence in the validity of the Afghanistan mission that he fears an election would require he alter the committment of troops. Whatever it is, whether the Afghanistan mission continues or is revised, it is not his decision.
The troops are Canadian, raised in a democracy. Elections are a part of their life and, as electors, they traditionally participate at the ballot box in higher percentages than most other Canadian homogenous groups. Why would morale suffer?
Hillier also has little on which to base his statement. Elections have been held with troops deployed in combat many times in Canadian history and the troops fought on.
17 December 1917 - World War One.
26 March 1940 - World War Two
11 June 1945 - World War Two. (Germany had been defeated but Japan was still fighting.)
The general might have contained himself on this occasion. A more proper answer would have been to suggest that an election is a part of the democratic process in this country and whenever it comes he will view the results as the will of the people. Period.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
We passed bills establishing the first ever First Nations Education Act.Horseshit. Read this.
We also finally passed (the toughest in history) Accountability Act which will lead to the cleanest and most accountable government operations ever. (No more ‘sponsorship’ scandals)No... you'll have your own.
We brought in tough laws on street racing and measures to deal with money laundering and proceeds of crime.And spoke into your lapels every time somebody asked you about Patient Wait Time Guarantees.
The Softwood Lumber Agreement was finalized, bringing us seven years of stability and returning $5 billion to Canada’s industry which had been taken by U.S. interests.Ummm... that certainly doesn't sound accurate. Oh yeah, I see now. Stockwell didn't bother to read Article XVI of the Softwood Lumber Agreement. There's that niggling $1 billion dollars that was just, y'know, given away.
The real show stopper in the eyes of many though, was the Prime Minister’s bill to usher in a whole new era of democratic reality with his plan to have the citizens of each province, elect their choice for senators. This was historic.You know, I'd agree with that if it weren't for the fact that it's smoke and mirrors. Proper senate reform involves a constitutional amendment and a regional parity formula. Since the Senate remains substantially the same, this is chicken-feed.
Aaaaanyway, it appears that local libs now send bits and pieces of my local columns to their favourite spear-chuckers down east who are quick to unleash a volley of indignation, which makes for good fodder back here at home.Ahem! Spear-chucker?!! That, Mr. Day, is a racist epithet, which makes you a racist motherfucker.
And, bonus, seems that Maclean’s mag was so enthralled as they scanned my past columns that they are going to publish a whole page of my lighthearted quotes on a host of topics.Allow me...
"Just as Lake Erie drains from north to south, there is an ongoing drain in terms of our young people but hardworking people -- entrepreneurs, job creators, research people -- who continue to move foward..."Lake Erie drains from south to north.
"Homosexuality is a choice, in my view."
"Women who become pregnant through rape or incest should not qualify for government-funded abortions unless their pregnancy is life-threatening."
"Homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured through counselling."
"God's law is clear: standards of education are not set by government, but by God, the Bible, the home and the school."You can check out more of them here.
In the meantime we'll feel free to label Stockwell a racist, homophobic, bible-thumping, misogynist, jackass.
BONUS: A "must read" is Darren's post at apply-liberally wherein he raises a salient point and tosses one right into Kate McMillan's face.
Stop right there. Two conflicting reports and the Brigadier is being a little cagey. He didn't announce 50 confirmed Taliban killed. It's an estimate. Further, the term "leaders" is undefined.