Monday, November 30, 2009

900ft Jesus is back!

'Just When I thought I Was Out...They Pull Me Back In' Dept.
900ft Jesus is back with new digs at "Of Gods & Other Monsters" so drop by and say hello.
The trouble with quitting blogging is you've already amassed this wealth of research and every day you watch Steve and the mainstream Medea royally massacre the message and then heave it overboard ... and you think - well, I've got something to say about that.
Welcome back, 900ft Jesus. Love the message from Newt.

I want a Torture Inquiry

To:Prime Minister Stephen Harper
CC:NDP Leader Jack Layton,
Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe
Subject: I Want a Torture Inquiry
Dear Prime Minister Harper,
I am very concerned by the recent testimony of senior intelligence officer Richard Colvin.
According to Mr. Colvin, who served in Afghanistan and is currently posted to Canada's embassy in Washington, the government received repeated warnings that people who were taken prisoner and transferred to Afghan authorities by Canadian troops were tortured by the Afghans. Yet the Canadian government failed to act.
I support the call for an independent public inquiry into the possibility that government and military officials abandoned their responsibility to ensure Canada acted within Canadian and International law, and upheld Canadian values.
I look forward to your reply.
[Your name here]
With thanks to Thwap and Mentarch for picking this up.
It was mentioned in comments at Mentarch's that petitions are useless.
Verifiable petitions like this one from Ceasefire are read aloud in the House of Commons.
How else are they gonna know we're paying attention?
Who's with us?

It figures . . .

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Blue Black Friday . . . .

I don't want to be Scrooge here (well, maybe I do) but personally, I think this is a positive development. People just don't need all the crap they buy!

Per Reuters this afternoon:

Shoppers spent less over Black Friday weekend
Sun Nov 29, 2009 4:53pm EST | By Nicole Maestri

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Consumers spent significantly less at the start of the holiday season this weekend, dimming hopes for a retail comeback that would help propel the economy early in 2010.

While shoppers turned out in force as early as Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, many said they had zeroed in on highly discounted items, would buy only what they needed and would walk out of a store if they did not find a good deal.


Consumers said they will have spent nearly 8 percent less on average, or about $343 per person, over the weekend that includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday and runs through Sunday, according to the NRF.


Shoppers interviewed across the country by Reuters over the weekend said they were lured by bargains, but would stick to pared-down budgets.

"If they don't have rebates and sales before Christmas, I don't think people are going to go back shopping after Black Friday," said Joel Wincowski, a higher education consultant shopping at a Best Buy store in Plattsburgh, New York. He bought an Xbox 360 game console for $299.

"We're going to cut back on everybody, even the kids."

As "drf" has advocated for years:

"Simplify your life" . . . .

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

All About Bennie . . .

HUMANITIES is a magazine published by the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities.

Their web site is a fine, diverse creation, and has an article by Amy Lifson, titled "Ben-Hur: The Book That Shook the World". It's a fascinating look at the book, first published in 1880, and especially its author, General Lew Wallace, who was a Union Civil War hero.

For most of us, Ben-Hur is the Charlton Heston movie. It was the third try at the story. The first was done in 1907, two years after the author's death. Ms. Lifson notes:

Wallace died in 1905 at the age of seventy-seven. Later that same year, his study was opened to the public. Two years later, the first fifteen-minute, unauthorized film version was released and Wallace’s son took up the cause, suing the filmmaker for using the plot and title of Ben-Hur without permission of the author’s estate. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and firmly established the copyright infringement laws for the movie industry that are still in use today. A synopsis of the ruling hangs on the wall of the Study next to the only extant image from that film, showing the chariot race: All the other prints were destroyed by law.

The second version was done in 1925, with Ramon Novarro playing Ben-Hur, and then in 1959, the third version:

The film cost MGM $15 million to make, won the studio a record eleven Oscars, and was seen by ninety-eight million people in cinemas across the United States. It was the only Hollywood movie to make the Vatican’s official list of approved religious films, and, like clockwork, it is rebroadcast on network television every Easter. And yet the movie’s acclaim still does not compare to the waves of religious ecstasy that followed the publication of the novel, which is the most influential Christian book written in the nineteenth century.

The most influential Christian book written in the nineteenth century? No foolin':

Since its first publication, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ has never been out of print. It outsold every book except the Bible until Gone With the Wind came out in 1936, and resurged to the top of the list again in the 1960s. By 1900 it had been printed in thirty-six English-language editions and translated into twenty others, including Indonesian and Braille.

Victorians who swore off novels because of their immoral influence eagerly picked up Ben-Hur—were even encouraged to by their pastors. It became required reading in grade schools across the United States. For those who considered theater sinful, the spectacle of the Broadway version lured them in for twenty-one years, not to mention the touring show that required four entire trains to transport all the scenery and livestock. More than twenty million people saw Ben-Hur on stage between 1899 and 1920, complete with live horses running on hidden treadmills to recreate the chariot race.

Gen. Wallace was a rather exceptional chap:

The book made Lew Wallace a celebrity, sought out for speaking engagements, political endorsements, and newspaper interviews. “I would not give a tuppence for the American who has not at least tried to do one of three things,” Wallace told a New York Times reporter in 1893. “That person lacks the true American spirit who has not tried to paint a picture, write a book, or get out a patent on something.” Or, he added, “tried to play some musical instrument. There you have the genius of the true American in those four—art, literature, invention, music.”

Not coincidentally, Lew Wallace himself excelled at all four.

Go check out Amy's fine article.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Don't let the jargon get in the way . . .

MANY YEARS AGO, back in the late 60's, there was a tired store front on the south side of College St., just east of Spadina. It was the office of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist). A dreary, worn, gray edifice, with a tired display of irrelevance in the window. Walking by, I noticed that there was a collection of some 30+ books, all beautifully leather-bound, on sale: the collected writings of Josef Stalin. I think they wanted $50 for the whole set, now probably a fundamental, objective part of a Toronto land-fill. 
Ah, the turgid, insightful dialectic of Marxist philosophy! The cure for insomnia, tovarich.
What brought that to mind was that I stumbled on this site earlier this week: it proclaims itself to be The Axis of Logic. It is a delightful dinosaur, a repository of the "true blue" old-school socialist mind-set.
Anyway, the site has an article titled, "Neoliberalism and the Dynamics of Capitalist Development in Latin America". Here's the preamble:

"Those who think they understand the future of the left on the continent may be surprised by what is happening in countries ranging from right wing governments such as Colombia to leftist states like Venezuela after reading this document. Time and energy given to building socialism and combatting the Global Corporate Empire everywhere in the world will be informed by neo-capitalist movements across Latin America. This analysis deserves careful study."

"Global Corporate Empire", "neo-capitalist", "Neoliberalism", oh my! To the barricades, comrade! 

The jargon they use keeps them from clearly appreciating what is really going on. Their fixation on pejorative definition, like "neoliberalism" indicates their continuing tunnel-vision. Same as it ever was. You can see why dogmatic socialists were never very big with stand-up comedy, unlike the Groucho-Marxists.
Check out a 1991-95 10-part series, Russia's War: Blood on the Snow. Doesn't tell you anything you don't already know, but it starts with the death of Lenin, and follows Uncle Joe's rise to absolute power, with some interesting film and comments, especially from Gulag survivors. Saw it listed as a DVD at Rotten Tomatoes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ineedadinnerjacket strikes again

THE LA TIMES HAS A DISTURBING REPORT: According to Alexandra Sandels in Beirut,  less than a year after authorities stormed the offices of Iranian human-rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, taking sensitive documents and her computer, unidentified authorities have now allegedly taken the Nobel Peace Prize medal and diploma from Ebadi's bank safety deposit box, said officials in Norway, which administers the prize.

Outraged officials in Oslo say the incident is unprecedented and has sent shock waves through the Norwegian foreign ministry.

In its statement, the Norwegian foreign ministry also expressed concern over the treatment of Ebadi's husband by Iranian authorities.

They say his pension is not being paid and that his bank account has been frozen. He also was detained in Tehran earlier this fall and subsequently beaten, they said.

Grrrrrrr. The revolution cannot come soon enough. Meanwhile, I can daydream about Ineedadinnerjacket's encounter with a .50 Barrett . . . at 2 kilometers. The 700-grain Excedrin headache. John Moses B. would be so proud.

Shiny object!


Prime Minister Stephen Harper will attend the Copenhagen climate change meeting next month after all, his office said Thursday — a day after saying he would not go.

Harper decided Thursday to attend the meeting to work on a new climate change agreement after the U.S. president and Chinese premier announced that they will show up, his spokesman said.

Wow, there's a twofer for the Harper. Prisoner scandal sprouting more legs than a centipede, and a bunch of other World Stage superstars jetting off to Denmark. A shiny object and a chance to let Airshow and the Generals wear the torture problem for a while. Careful Steve, leaving the boys out to hang like that might not end well for you...the shiny object you see might actually be a steely sort of glint.

CBC and expert hacks...

Thanks a bunch CBC. Your 6am news (which I normally don't mind waking up to, by the way) featured an interview with Mercedes Stephenson* about the prisoner issue in Afghanistan. In her unassailable University of Calgary/Pentagon/MIT/DND/Fraser Institute wisdom, Ms. Stephenson proceeded to inform bleary waking listeners such as myself that (paraphrased and summaried from my memory):
'it's an incredible stretch to think brave Canadian soldiers could face war crimes trials, let alone commit them and besides, the Taleban don't wear uniforms so they're not covered under the Geneva conventions [implicitly: who gives a damn what happens to them anyway, if torture really happened, so what].'
Waking up to this kind of drivel shits me to tears, especially when it amounts to a more credentialed variation the "support the war or fuck you" mantra repeated ad nauseum by the wingnuts and the consequent complete dismissal of contrary information. Especially when billed as a University of Calgary 'expert'. Sure this is part of the public discourse, and valid inasmuch as it articulates the rightwing braintrust's position on the prisoners, but not first thing in the morning, please.

*Ms. Stephenson seems to be early flyer of a hawkling, so maybe her apparent dismissal of the seriousness of the prisoner torture issue is a consequence of her naivety and early seduction by defence and security types on both sides of the 49th. So perhaps there's still hope for this one. If I were her, I'd probably think about not doing any more CBC interviews until I was certain I wasn't about to put my foot in my mouth.

Cooking lessons

JALOPNIK IS A CAR ENTHUSIAST SITE with a great sense of humour. On this American Thanksgiving, they have offered the nec-plus-ultra of trailer-park cuisine: the deep-fried turkey. For more details, just click on the link.

The recipe's ingredients:

  • Turkey Fryer Setup
  • Engine Hoist
  • 5-gallons Peanut Oil
  • Propane and Propane Accessories
  • Service Cart or Similar
  • Turkey
  • Bailing Wire
  • Hand Tools

Bon Appetit!

Richard Colvin vs the Generals.

3. Of the XXX detainees we interviewed XXX said XXX had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise "hurt" while in NDS custody in Kandahar. This period of alleged abuse lasted from between XXX and XXX days, and was carried out in XXX and XXX. XXX detainees still had XXX on XXX body; XXX seemed traumatized. This alleged abuse would have occurred before the new arrangement between the governments of Canada and Afghanistan was signed
'Torture' not mentioned in Afghan detainee reports: Generals

"Three generals declared Wednesday that there was no mention of the word "torture" in reports from a senior diplomat who asserts that he repeatedly warned the government against surrendering Afghan detainees to local authorities because they would almost certainly be abused.

One of the recipients of the widely distributed reports, which Colvin says were copied to 76 government and military personnel in Ottawa and Afghanistan, was retired Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, who was then the head of oversees deployment.
Gauthier told the Commons committee that none of Colvin's 2006 reports, including his May document, mentioned anything about torture.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, Canada's top soldier during Colvin's posting in Afghanistan in 2006-07 : "There was simply nothing there."

So there you have it - because Richard Colvin neglected to include the word "torture" in his accounts of detainees allegedly being "whipped with cables and shocked with electricity", there was no torture and the generals apparently feel justified in having failed to read his reports in the first place.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Chris and Stephen Show . . . .

Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry fire shots across the bow at the catholic church.

These are two clips from the BBC's Intelligence Squared presentation of "The catholic church is a Force for Good." Hitchens is up first followed by Ann Widdecombe - a recent convert to catholocism - and Fry finishes up.

bennie and the jerks: 0

Our side: 1 . . . .


(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

Outsourcing to the max

THE COMPANY FORMERLY KNOWN AS BLACKWATER, now with a suitably inscrutable moniker of Xe, seems to be a major player in the campaign against the jihaddis in Pakistan. According to Jeremy Scahill's article in The Nation

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

"It wouldn't surprise me because we've outsourced nearly everything," said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater's role in Pakistan. 

I'm probably mistaken, but to this old fart, it appears to me that using mercenaries is a sure sign of decadent imperialism. Countries have to look after their perceived interests, but Xe smacks of cynicism and decadence. If you'd like a précis, ol' FABIUS MAXIMUS has a list of salient points about the above. Also, if you haven't seen it, do rent a copy of "War, Inc.", a black comedy about America's first totally out-sourced war. Love the hot sauce.

But, if you need to train an army or rent one, Xe sure can help. Their site proclaims:

Xe has the ability to develop, test, and manufacture weapons and armor. With some of the most qualified firearm specialists in the world, we are able to gather input from experienced professionals for design of high quality weapons and armor. Our team’s extensive backgrounds in military and law enforcement gives us access to the information we need to produce the best armor and weapons for our customers. 

A ready supply of clothing, protective gear, weapons, and life support needs is located at our Headquarters. This entire stock of equipment is managed by Xe's logistics and procurement division and securely supervised in a designated warehouse. All personnel are properly outfitted for the requirements of the contract before departing the United States for work overseas. Our personnel are properly prepared to meet the needs of its customers.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not as sorry as he's going to be

Keddy says he's sorry for referring to unemployed as 'no-good
By Alison Auld (CP)
HALIFAX, N.S. — A Nova Scotia Conservative MP who stunned the opposition and advocates for the homeless after referring to the unemployed in Halifax as "no-good bastards" apologized Tuesday for the comments.
In a statement, Gerald Keddy said he did not mean to offend Nova Scotians who are out of work.

I guess it takes one to know one, Mr. Keddy, but people who are soon to live in glass houses might want to watch it with the stone throwing. I'm sure we will hear about this one again come election time and I bet I know who those "no-good bastards" will be voting against.

The Hockey Shtick

THE HOCKEY STICK is the soubriquet for the millenium-long graph that says the globe has gotten dramatically warmer this past century. 

Well, there's a bunch of sober-minded Finns who disagree, and you can check it out at DOTSUB. It's a 29 minute video, with clear English subtitles, plus two of the participants are English-speaking. I realize that skepticism over global warming is politically-incorrect, but, like I care? Knee-jerkers can bite me.

Anyway, it seems that the Gore gang haven't been entirely honest. Check out the video, then, if you feel it might have validity, ask yourself, who gets to make money out of the P-C hysteria? Like Donald Sutherland's character in JFK said, follow the money.

Dear Tom Flanagan,

What exactly do you mean by this?

“But that’s actually another interesting debate or seminar: what’s wrong with child pornography — in the sense that it’s just pictures? But I’m not here to debate that today.”

I hope and pray that this is only some sort of misquote or vile but harmless piece of abstracted intellectualising.

(h/t Dawg)

Monday, November 23, 2009

100 Reasons NOT To Vote For Gordo Ever Again

On BC election night last May, blogger Laila Yuile decided to throw her hat into the ring in her riding of Surrey-Panorama come the next chance we get to throw Gordo's gang out on their sorry asses. This morning she's looking for 100 reader-based reasons and stories why BC can't afford another go-round with this bunch. Here's one from her comments :
Because he doesn’t care about eldery people like me. I am in that care home on tv and my daughter is helping me with this on her laptop. She was laid off two months ago and lives in a small apartment, but I need more help than she can do while she is looking for a new job.
Where will we go? There is no where else to go, and I think his mother would not be proud to have a son who has been so cruel to so many people in need.
Thank you.

I don't have a personal story like Vera - yet - so I'm contributing Gordo's Energy Plan - fabricating an 'energy crisis' in BC to be solved by forcing the public utility BC Hydro to buy power at twice the market value from Liberal-stocked independent power producers and then reselling it at a loss to owners of air-conditioners in California .
Go. Add your own. Grow that list.
And while you're there, check out the vid on how many riot police it takes to help the Owelympic torch cross the road ...

Inspiration for the Old

OSHKOSH 365 is the site for the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) who promote civil aviation in the US, especially home-built aircraft. Every summer, the Oshkosh fly-in is astounding to see — thousands of home-builts and restored factory fliers.

Well, here's a truly unique home-built. Jim O'Hara, a retired college professor, learned to fly 21 years ago. Six years later, he began construction of a two-thirds-scale P-38. He's now 81 years old and he and his wife made its maiden cross-country trip three weeks ago.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The old order passes

INTRODUCED IN 1935, KODACHROME IS DEAD. Last week, I discovered that Kodak ceased the manufacture of this wonderful film this year, after 75 years, but will support its processing until the end of 2010. Sad, but inevitable, for a number of reasons: in the 1990s, other colour emulsions finally caught up with it for sharpness, and then with the advent of digital photography, the silver era is ending. But as Dan Bayer observes on his site, The Kodachrome Project,

Kodachrome is a very unique film that has played a major roll documenting much of the last century of our world's history. It has encapsulated many important eras preserving them safely in the cradle of its superior archival properties. As a result, Kodachrome's 75 year lifespan will have become an era in its own right; an era deserving of its own preservation effort.

That the film exists at all, is amazing. It was invented by two New York city musicians, Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes.  Like Dan says, Kodachrome is unique:

Kodachrome is fundamentally different from other transparency and negative color films that have dye couplers incorporated into the emulsion layers. Kodachrome is unique because it has no dye couplers in the emulsion; these are introduced during processing.

That makes its processing much more complex, compared to other emulsions, except the Technicolor 3-strip dye transfer process. That's why, except for the U.S. (because of antitrust concerns) Kodachrome was sold with processing included, with a mail-pouch to put the used cassette in to send to the Kodak lab.

So why was it important? Well, it was originally introduced as 16mm movie film, but soon afterward, some bright soul in Kodak authorized its manufacture in 4x5" sheets, for the big view cameras and Speed Graphics used by serious photographers.

When WW2 came along, the U.S. Government put a corps of photographers out in the field to capture America at war — using 4x5 Kodachrome.  To the delight of archivists, as decades passed, it was discovered that if processed Kodachrome transparencies were stored in darkness, there was virtually NO colour degredation, unlike other colour film, which would start to deteriorate rapidly.

And this brings us to SHORPY, a delightful web site that is a compendium of all manner of photographs. They have a great number of these 4x5's to display — and they are awesome. Great saturated colour that is 70 years old, but looks as fresh as today. Anyway, go visit Shorpy for some colorful history.

Notice the subtle, non-fried, non-faded 70 year-old skin tones in the photo below, of workers on lunch break at North American Aviation's Inglewood, California factory:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Skullduggery abounds

THE NEW YORK TIMES has a report about what has been called a "computer hack" into the University of East Anglia’s Hadley Climatic Research Centre.

Why should you care? Well, according to the Times, the revelations:

are causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.

In one e-mail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical “trick” in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend. In another, a scientist refers to climate skeptics as “idiots.”

Some skeptics asserted Friday that the correspondence revealed an effort to withhold scientific information. “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted evidence pointing to human-driven warming and is criticized in the documents.

FABIUS MAXIMUS has a page about the hack, with numerous links, as does WATTS UP WITH THAT?

There is going to be so much knee-jerk on both sides over this, rehab clinics are going to have to hire more staff.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shoes dropping

Colvin's testimony was alarming and the Conservative Party response, true to form, abysmal and disgusting. But there are shoes yet to drop regarding Afghan prisoners. So far the discussion seems to be around what happens to prisoners after Canada hands them to the ANP or ANA. The next shoe to drop will be when the stories come out about what Canadian soldiers have done to Afghan prisoners.

Right now the Canadian Forces are something of a boundary object. Left and right have taken pains avoid directly criticising or negatively commenting on the CF. True, the right confuses supporting the troops with supporting the war, and others do not, but I definitely sense a reluctance to directly criticise the military in reference to Afghanistan. All sides, no matter the stance on the war, seem to view the armed forces as something in need of support both in voice and action, it is only the mission that is questioned. Missing among the images of flag draped coffins, troops on patrol, troops in vehicles, yellow ribbon magnets and the like, and narratives about how hard it is in Afghansistan, are descriptions of what actually happens when a firefight turns deadly, or a suspicious local is picked up. Maybe this is partly the success of a propaganda machine, or maybe it is the public and political pendulum swinging the other way post-Somalia. Maybe something else. Whichever the case, it's only gonna get worse from here.

Most human beings, given enough time in a new place, adopt its norms of thinking and custom. It should therefore come as no surprise that one of the effects of deploying soldiers in a corrupt and poorly defined war, is that eventually the nature of the war will be reflected in the troops fighting it.

GOP goes nuts over ACORN

TPM HAS A REAL THIGH-SLAPPER — Poll: Majority Of Republicans Think Obama Didn't Actually Win 2008 Election -- ACORN Stole It! According to Eric Kleefeld,

The new national poll from Public Policy Polling (D) has an astonishing number about paranoia among the GOP base: Republicans do not think President Obama actually won the 2008 election -- instead, ACORN stole it.

The poll asked this question: "Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election last year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?" The overall top-line is legitimately won 62%, ACORN stole it 26%.

Among Republicans, however, only 27% say Obama actually won the race, with 52% -- an outright majority -- saying that ACORN stole it, and 21% are undecided.

Teabaggers and Birthers and Nutters. As MeMeMeMeMe observed in the DAILY KOS

This is the state of today's GOP: it counts as some sort of triumph of reason that only four out of ten of them are birthers. At this rate we'll be handing out gold stars to them for not making poopie in their pants.

One last thought: pause for a moment and ponder how they'd be handling things if they'd lost the election by, say, 500 votes. In a state run by Obama's brother.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Agora Agony

Last Rites: Even with God's help, this shopping center in Pahrump, Nevada, probably cannot be revived.
THE DESIGN OBSERVER is one of the more thoughtful web sites dedicated to the appreciation of design of all kinds. Mark Dery has an article, titled "Dawn of the Dead Mall", where he proclaims "The landscape is littered with the giant carcasses of failed retail emporia. Ideas for what's next are no less visionary. But are they any more practical?"

The multitiered, fully enclosed mall (as opposed to the strip mall) has been the Vatican of shiny, happy consumerism since it staked its claim on the crabgrass frontier — and the public mind — in postwar America. The nation’s first enclosed shopping mall, the Southdale Center, opened its doors in Edina, outside Minneapolis, in 1956. Southdale was the brainchild of the Los Angeles– based architect (and Viennese refugee from the Anschluss) Victor Gruen. A socialist and former student of the modernist designer Peter Behrens, Gruen saw in the covered mall a Vision of Things to Come.

But it wasn’t Gruen’s Mad Men take on the Viennese plazas he remembered so fondly that made his Ur-mall go viral. Developers liked the way Gruen used architecture to socially engineer our patterns of consumption. His goal, he said, was to design an environment in which “shoppers will be so bedazzled by a store’s surroundings that they will be drawn — unconsciously, continually — to shop.” (Remember, Gruen was from Freud’s Vienna, where psychoanalysis was a growth industry.)

Unfortunately, Gruen made the fatal mistake — fatal for an arm-waving futurist visionary, anyway — of living long enough to see American consumer culture embrace his idea with a vengeance. In a 1978 speech, he recalled visiting one of his old malls, where he swooned in horror at “the ugliness...of the land-wasting seas of parking” around it, and the soul-killing sprawl beyond.

Good thing he didn’t survive to see the undeath of the American mall. Most economic commentators attribute its dire state to the epic fail of the American economy. In April of this year, one of the country’s biggest mall operators — General Growth Properties, owner and/or manager of over 200 properties in 44 states — filed for bankruptcy, mortally wounded by the exodus of retail tenants.

Anyway, Mark has lots to say. Along the way, check out DEAD MALLS.COM, an eponymous web site with interesting stuff, including a Dead Mall Dictionary, with situationally-relevant entries like

Labelscar: Fading or dirt left behind from a sign on or in a mall. Labelscars leave a readable marking, which is very helpful when identifying former stores.

It is also interesting to see how Europeans look upon the situation. DER SPIEGEL has a great piece with some neat photos, like the one at the top. Originally published in German, you sure have to love that Google Translation.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Be Careful What You Ask For . . . .

It appears members of the GLBT community in Texas will be enjoying a bit of
schadenfreude in the near future.

You're gonna love this one, gang, via McClatchy today:

Texas' gay marriage ban may have banned all marriages
Dave Montgomery | Fort Worth Star-Telegram
| November 18, 2009

AUSTIN — Texans: Are you really married?

Maybe not.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer and Democratic candidate for attorney general, says that a 22-word clause in a 2005 constitutional amendment designed to ban gay marriages erroneously endangers the legal status of all marriages in the state.

The amendment, approved by the Legislature and overwhelmingly ratified by voters, declares that "marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman." But the troublemaking phrase, as Radnofsky sees it, is Subsection B, which declares:

"This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Architects of the amendment included the clause to ban same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships. But Radnofsky, who was a member of the powerhouse Vinson & Elkins law firm in Houston for 27 years until retiring in 2006, says the wording of Subsection B effectively "eliminates marriage in Texas," including common-law marriages.

She calls it a "massive mistake" and blames the current attorney general, Republican Greg Abbott, for allowing the language to become part of the Texas Constitution. Radnofsky called on Abbott to acknowledge the wording as an error and consider an apology. She also said that another constitutional amendment may be necessary to reverse the problem.


Radnofsky, the Democratic nominee in the Senate race against Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2006, said she voted against the amendment but didn’t realize the legal implications until she began poring over the Texas Constitution to prepare for the attorney general’s race. She said she holds Abbott and his office responsible for not catching an "error of massive proportions."

"Whoever vetted the language in B must have been asleep at the wheel," she said.

Was I right?

Do you love it?

Thought you would . . . .

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time bomb . . .

THE BORDER BETWEEN CONGO AND RWANDA has had a lot of nasty things happen over the years. Well, it seems God thinks this should continue into the future, too. You see, there's this lake, called Lake Kivu, part of the freshwater lake system bordering Rwanda and the Republic of Congo. Well this lake has a problem, in that it appears it could explode.

According to Science Daily:

Scientists can't say for sure if the volatile mixture at the bottom of the lake will remain still for another 1,000 years or someday explode without warning. In a region prone to volcanic and seismic activity, the fragility of Lake Kivu is a serious matter. Compounding the precarious situation is the presence of approximately 2 million people, many of them refugees, living along the north end of the lake.

Vodacek likens the contained pressure in the lake to a bottle of carbonated soda or champagne. "In the lake, you have the carbon dioxide on the bottom and 300 meters of water on top of that, which is the cap," he says. "That's the pressure that holds it. The gas is dissolved in water."

When the cap is removed, bubbles form and rise to the surface. More bubbles form and create a column that drags the water and the gas up to the surface in a chain reaction.

"The question is, and what's really unknown, is how explosive is that?" Vodacek says.

Monday, November 16, 2009

so sell a few Michelanglos and feed Africa

I think most reasonable people, where ever they are on the political spectrum, would agree that hunger and poverty are objectively bad things and the fact that one in six people on this planet does not get enough to eat is pretty awful, especially when we in the wealthy developed world look at the plenty that surrounds us.

So when I saw this story about the UN food conference in Rome, it perturbed me. As usual, all the diplomats sitting at the banquet table agree that hunger in the poorer nations is a terrible thing and "somebody ought to do something about it" - at least, they all agree until coughing up some money to irrigate fields in Africa or start fish farms in South East Asia or build better dykes in Bangladesh is discussed and then suddenly everyone is full of excuses.

But then I read a little further and got really ticked off.

"Despite endorsing the strategy in the first hours of Monday's meeting, the 192 participating countries did not commit to the $44 billion a year for agricultural aid that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says will be necessary in the coming decades.
Soon after the delegates approved the declaration, Pope Benedict took the floor to decry "opulence and waste" in a world where the "tragedy" of hunger has been steadily worsening. Benedict's speech marked the first time a pontiff attended such a gathering since Pope John Paul II took part in a 1996 food summit.
The pontiff, lending his moral authority as head of the world's 1 billion Catholics, also called for access to international markets for products coming from the poorest countries, which he said are often relegated to the sidelines."

The Pope, who insists that every sperm is sacred and his flock must keep having lots and lots of Catholic babies, who lives in a golden palace full of priceless art in his own nation-state in the middle of Rome with his own private army and bank (estimated to have at least $10 billion invested in foreign corporations), who presides over a global organization that brings in an estimated $50 to $100 million a year in donations alone, who made sure that the Church spent millions defending pedophiles in the U.S. and elsewhere and who wears simply fabulous hats, is decrying "opulence and waste."

Yeah, right.

Sure, the Catholic Church is one of the world's largest charitable organizations and Catholic charities do a lot of good work, but how many of "Peter's Pence" get spent on running a parallel religious school system where there is already a perfectly good public school system? How much of that money is going to the pay for the Monsignor's Cadillac? What is the ratio of bibles to bags of rice that are getting shipped to starving nations? How much is getting spent on making women feel bad about seeking an abortion or using birth control? How many lives, how many man-hours of labour, skull-sweat and angst have been dedicated to appeasing an invisible sky-daddy instead of helping humans in the here and now?

I'm not saying the Catholic Church (or any other church for that matter) doesn't do good works -- it does provide some vital services in some pretty grim places around the world. But for God's self-proclaimed spokesman on Earth to sit in the lap of luxury and start railing about "opulence and waste" is just a bit rich.

Crossposted from the Woodshed

H1N1 details

NATURE weighs in with details on H1N1. Nature reports from three laboratories scrutinizing the pandemic flu virus. One is working to find out what it might do .  .  . 

The profile emerging is of a distinctive virus. Although seasonal flu tends to infect just the cells high in the upper airway, H1N1 penetrates down into the terminal air sacs called alveoli.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Columbus, go home

the General shows us someone who knows how to best handle the teabagger/minutemen xenophobic dingbats, with mockery.

Help! It's Here Now ! ! ! !

If you think the influence of the US christian right "wrong" is creeping north across the 49th, there's now proof.

On a trip to the US southland last summer
I was not surprised to see this ad on television down there. Unfortunately, it is now here.

Two, count 'em two ads for the item within the past hour on "ahem," "choke," "gasp" CTV.

It appears harper is winning, ya'll . . . .

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Joya to the World . . . .

Since my friend was singing in the pre-show choir for Malalai Joya's Vancouver book tour kick-off, I walked up the hill to her performance this evening.

I had previously heard Ms. Joya on a PBS program in the US, but to hear her story live in person was very moving. It is something I would recommend to anyone that has the opportunity to attend one of her appearances on this tour.

Be advised that neither bush, harper nor obama are positively portrayed. The woman knows where the real element of change for her country lies: Within it's people.

In answer to a question from an Afghani-Canadian woman in the crowd:
"What will happen to Afghanistan if all the foreign troops leave?"

"The Afghani people will work it out. Slowly, they will begin to see that democracy and equal rights for all people, genders, religions is the thing to do. It won't be easy. It won't be fast. But it will happen. Having foreign troops there only more firmly entrenches the Taliban and the war lords in power. Make them leave, and the situation will slowly begin to change."

I'm thinking the military/industrial/congressional complex would not like her answer.

The Lady Alison has the details of the tour . . . .

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

How the US funds the Taliban

From Aram Roston at The Nation :
"Welcome to the wartime contracting bazaar in Afghanistan. It is a virtual carnival of improbable characters and shady connections, with former CIA officials and ex-military officers joining hands with former Taliban and mujahedeen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort."
An example : NCL Holdings, a licensed security company in Afghanistan, has been awarded hundreds of millions of dollars - a 600% increase for the proposed new "surge" - to handle the bulk of US trucking in Afghanistan. Its chief principal is Hamed Warduk, the American son of Afghanistan's current defense minister, who graduated as valedictorian from Georgetown University in 1997, earned a Rhodes scholarship, and interned at the American Enterprise Institute, where "he forged alliances with some of the premier figures in American conservative foreign policy circles, such as the late Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick".

Watan Risk, another security company run by Karzai's family relatives - convicted heroin traffickers, controls the road to Kandahar because of its principal's alliance with a local warlord who really controls the route, extorting $1500 per truck for passage to Kandahar.
NCL pays Watan Risk $500,000 a month for protection.

Roston :

"The security firms don't really protect convoys of American military goods here, because they simply can't; they need the Taliban's cooperation.

"Most escorting is done by the Taliban," an Afghan private security official told me. "Now the government is so weak," he added, "everyone is paying the Taliban."

To underline the point: NCL, operating on a $360 million contract from the US military, and owned by the Afghan defense minister's son, is paying millions per year from those funds to a company owned by President Karzai's cousins, for protection."

Afghanistan - the "good war".
Would the Taliban collapse entirely if not financially supported by the US government?
Is all that is necessary for the collapse of the Taliban is for the troops to leave?

Malalai Joya has been telling us this for years.
She is speaking in Vancouver tonight at 7pm at St. Andrew's Wesley Church at Nelson Street and Burrard.
West End Bob will be there - naturally he'll be wearing a disguise.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gay Eternity

The Guardian UK today reveals:

Censored gay sex scenes in From Here to Eternity revealed

Daughter of author James Jones discloses details of cuts insisted upon by the novel's original publisher

* Alison Flood | *, Friday 13 November 2009

It is one of the most
celebrated images in cinema, an icon of heterosexual romance: Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing as the waves crash over them in the 1953 film From Here to Eternity. But behind the Hollywood gloss is a tale of censorship and repression, with the author of the award-winning novel on which the film was based forced to remove scenes of gay sex from the manuscript before publication.

Kaylie Jones, a novelist in her own right, says her father, James Jones, was told by his publisher Scribner to eliminate both expletives and homosexual scenes in From Here to Eternity, which was based on his own experiences in Hawaii in the army on the eve of the Pearl Harbour bombing.

The original manuscript of From Here to Eternity went into "great detail" about the kinds of sexual favours soldiers like Private Angelo Maggio, played in the film by Frank Sinatra, would provide to rich gay men for money, Kaylie Jones revealed in an article written for US news website the Daily Beast.

"'I don't like to be blowed [by a man]'," the novel's hero Private Robert E Lee Prewitt tells Maggio in a section cut from the novel. "Angelo shrugged," writes James Jones. "'Oh, all right. I admit it's nothing like a woman. But it's something. Besides, old Hal treats me swell. He's always good for a touch when I'm broke. Five bucks. Ten bucks. Comes in handy the middle of the month ... Only reason I let Hal blow me is because I got a good thing there. If I turned him down I'd blow it sky high. And I want to hang onto that income, buddy.'"


James Jones, she wrote, "believed that homosexuality was as old as mankind itself, and that Achilles, the bravest and most venerated fighter ever described, was gay, and to take a younger lover under your wing was a common practice among the soldiers of the time". "He also believed also that homosexuality was a natural condition of men in close quarters, and that it in no way affected a soldier's capabilities on the battlefield. What would have amazed him is that the discussion still continues to this day, cloaked in the same hypocrisy and silence as it was 60 years ago," she wrote. The US military's current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy allows gay men and lesbians to serve only if they keep quiet about their sexuality. President Obama has previously announced his intention to revoke the rule, but for the moment it remains in force.

It's time for Eternity to be Here, Mr. President.

Let the women and men in the US military "ask" and "tell" . . . .

H/T Penelope ;-)

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jason Kenney's Guyed For New ConserCanadians

h/t Holly Stick at Bread 'n Roses

When the Mexican toilet flushes . . .

FABIUS MAXIMUS is an American who has an eponymous blog which is "a discussion about geopolitics, broadly defined, from an American's perspective". Over the years, I have found a sage perspective.

Anyway, Fabius has a page on the current debacle that is Mexico, leading with the comment, "Mexico continues to fall apart in slow-mo. There seems to be little we can do to help, so our government pretends all is fine — rather than take defensive measures." Fabius is not given to hyperbole, so, just how bad is it?

He cites an article in THE ATLANTIC, by Philip Caputo, titled "The Fall of Mexico":

In the almost three years since President Felipe Calderón launched a war on drug cartels, border towns in Mexico have turned into halls of mirrors where no one knows who is on which side or what chance remark could get you murdered. Some 14,000 people have been killed in that time—the worst carnage since the Mexican Revolution—and part of the country is effectively under martial law. Is this evidence of a creeping coup by the military? A war between drug cartels? Between the president and his opposition? Or just collateral damage from the (U.S.-supported) war on drugs? Nobody knows: Mexico is where facts, like people, simply disappear. The stakes for the U.S. are high, especially as the prospect of a failed state on our southern border begins to seem all too real.

14,000 people killed in 3 years? Wow. Here there be dragons. As well, the Fabius page has links to other articles about this festering problem. As Pete De Lorenzo says at Autoextremist, "a heaping, steaming bowl of Not Good".

Others concur. William S. Lind is what you could call a "paleoconservative", which seems somewhat whacko to my milquetoast weltanschauung, but, Willie is something of an avant-garde theorist, when it comes to things military. His take is that La Familia, one of the Mexican drug outfits, is different from the rest, in that it is the acquiring the shape of a "4GW" entity. That's 4th Generation Warfare. He is a major contributor to Defense and the National Interest, and what he has to say is worthy of attention:

An article in the October 23 Washington Times points to what I think may be the next important evolution in Fourth Generation war. The piece concerns Mexico’s third-largest drug gang, La Familia. La Familia is best known for beheading people it does not like. But according to the article, its real claim to fame may be as a pioneer in seizing the mantle of legitimacy previously worn by the state.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Learning how

CITY JOURNAL is a thoughtful magazine that covers issues of concern. Sol Stern has a worthy article, titled "E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy". So, who is E. D. Hirsch, and why should you care?

E. D. Hirsch is an American educator who is concerned about the decline in acadenic performance of most American students. Simply, he believes that a content-rich pedagogy makes better citizens and smarter kids.

This has what might be called the politically-correct pedagogical elite rather upset. But, testing scores seem to indicate that Hirsch is right, and they are wrong, If you have kids in school, this article is worth the read.

The “Massachusetts miracle,” in which Bay State students’ soaring test scores broke records, was the direct consequence of the state legislature’s passage of the 1993 Education Reform Act, which established knowledge-based standards for all grades and a rigorous testing system linked to the new standards. And those standards, Massachusetts reformers have acknowledged, are Hirsch’s legacy.

Though UVA’s admissions standards were as competitive as the Ivies’, the reading and writing skills of many incoming students were poor, sure to handicap them in their future academic work. In trying to figure out how to close this “literacy gap,” Hirsch conducted an experiment on reading comprehension, using two groups of college students. Members of the first group possessed broad background knowledge in subjects like history, geography, civics, the arts, and basic science; members of the second, often from disadvantaged homes, lacked such knowledge. The knowledgeable students, it turned out, could far more easily comprehend and analyze difficult college-level texts (both fiction and nonfiction) than their poorly informed brethren could. Hirsch had discovered “a way to measure the variations in reading skill attributable to variations in the relevant background knowledge of audiences.”

“Cultural literacy constitutes the only sure avenue of opportunity for disadvantaged children,” Hirsch writes, and “the only reliable way of combating the social determinism that now condemns them to remain in the same social and educational condition as their parents. That children from poor and illiterate homes tend to remain poor and illiterate is an unacceptable failure of our schools, one which has occurred not because our teachers are inept but chiefly because they are compelled to teach a fragmented curriculum based on faulty educational theories.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jalopnik would like to know . . . .

JALOPNIK WOULD LIKE TO KNOW — and so would I — just what is that woman doing in the back seat of her $524,000 (US) Maybach Zeppelin? Sorry to be a fountain of ignorance, but I haven't the faintest idea. What do you think? Coke? Crank? Crack?

'Lympic loudspeakers and wars coming home

This morning's bullshit (emphasis mine):

Vancouver police have a new crowd control device capable of emitting painfully loud blasts of sound, just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics, CBC News has learned. The Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) can use sound as a weapon, emitting tones that cross the human threshold of pain and are potentially damaging to hearing. But it is also designed as a communications device that's clearly audible up to 1,000 metres away.

Const. Lindsay Houghton said the device was first tested this summer as a public address system during the Celebration of Light fireworks events in Vancouver.

Houghton said police don't plan to use the device for anything more than communication. "The primary function we're using the device for is its ability to communicate with very large groups with respect to crowd control, evacuations, tactical situations where we may need the loudspeaker portion of it," he said.


The device, labelled as non-lethal, was designed for the American military and was first used publicly in North America in September as police in Pittsburgh tried to control anti-G20 demonstrators. The device, which weighs about 40 kilograms, can be mounted on top of a vehicle. It is reported to be capable of emitting a blast of directional sound measuring an estimated 150 decibels at one metre away and an estimated 90 decibels at 300 metres.

Sound above the range of 120 to 140 decibels is considered painful and damaging to human hearing. The device has reportedly been used in ship defence systems to repel would-be pirates, by the U.S. military to drive away insurgents in Iraq and by Japanese whaling ships to drive away protesters. But police in Vancouver have no plans to use the sonic weapon feature of the device, said Houghton."We have no plans to look at that portion of the device. It was looked at solely for its effectiveness at delivering a message to a large number of people," said Houghton.

It should go without saying that if the cops had simply wanted a new public address system, they'd have bought one that wasn't weaponised. And the ethics behind testing an undeclared weaponised loudspeaker at a public event are questionable at the very minimum. My conspiratorial guess is the fireworks show gave the police an live crowd event where they could test the deployment and operation of the device in a relative safe "walk through" scenario where they could plausibly hide their intent. Described another way, unknown to the public, the police levelled a weapon against them, but kept the safety on. I don't know about you, but I certainly wouldn't have consented to being a police guinea pig.

SFU criminologist David MacAlister, whose research focuses on police powers and civil liberties, said the public should be concerned about the police bringing in new tactics just months before the 2010 Winter Olympic Games,

Protesters have threatened to hold large public demonstrations and possibly attempt to disrupt the Games.

"We want to be concerned whenever we're putting a new weapon in the hands of the police and they're basically telling us 'trust us, we're not going to use it,'" said MacAlister.

Yes, Dr. MacAllister, watch these people like hawks. Owelympic protestors and members of the public: be sure to wear ear defenders, gas masks and hockey pads when nearing five ring circus venues without tickets.

Quebec recently showed us the police infiltrating and attemping to provoke violence amid peaceful demonstrators before their boots gave them away (something they've probably done for a while, but they were caught with their pants down this time). We are to trust that police agents provacateurs will not be infiltrating Olympic protests so the police can then justify using force against them? Are we to trust the police won't try engineer an incident to justify flicking the safety off on their new boom box?

There's some big picture questions that come to mind over this. We're seeing Canadian police acquire a weapon designed for and used by the occupying military against hostile groups of civilians in wartime counterinsurgency operations. There is now a direct relationship between COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan and policing in Canada, the United States and other countries. Extending the relationship between overseas wars and domestic policing, one might also view the incredulous police resistance to inquiries stemming from the use of new weapons as representative of a de facto police view of the public and civilian institutions as the enemy and something to be controlled and resisted, least of all trusted.

This I think, is part of the larger trend of increasing weaponisation and 'tactical' focus (read militarisation) of domestic policing. Police are acquiring weapons for every occassion and type of incident, from firearms, to tasers, to pepper spray, and batons, to water cannon and CS gas for larger groups, and now new sonic devices to damage your hearing. It is not hard to see that the more specialised the weapons become, the more occassions they can be deployed, and the more reliant on weapons their users become. The end result of this techno-fetishism is a dehumanisation of the policing process and a focus entirely on the tactical control element of a given scenario and an utter ignorance of context. Violence more often becomes a question of relative degree versus one of actual necessity for resolving an issue, to the point now where police will incite the scenario that allows them to deploy violence for control. Are we moving to a situation where the only tools police understand and use involve the application of a weapon system?

More from Alison and Dr. Dawg.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Martian Landscapes

THE BOSTON GLOBE has a picture section on their web site, and this week, it's about Martian landscapes. These are not the dreary rover pictures of rubble-strewn plains, but an exciting variety of views. The has links to the respective science labs responsible.