Monday, May 31, 2010

Israel attacks flotilla bound for Gaza

Hours after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was presented with this Toronto Maple Leafs jersey in Toronto, Israeli commandos dropped from helicopters onto the lead vessel of a six ship international aid flotilla bound for Gaza and opened fire.

Israeli Radio is reporting 16 to 19 killed with 30 injured and confirms the flotilla was in international waters.

According to AFP, "the Israeli military censor ordered a block on all information regarding those injured or killed during the storming of the ship."

The six ships bearing 10,000 tons of supplies and over 600 activists from 40 countries, including 86 year old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, are now being towed to Ashod.

I was watching a Turkish TV live feed from the lead vessel until it went off the air. I couldn't understand what anyone was saying except for a voice shouting in English that they were in international waters and a woman calling for help for the wounded. The live footage is now being rebroadcast at the same link with commentary in English.

But back to the jersey photo op. Netanyahu says Israel has never had a better friend than Canada and thanked Steve today for being "an unwavering friend of Israel."

Too true. Canada was the first country in the world to boycott Gaza for electing Hamas. When Israel bombed Lebanon in 2008 killing 1400, Steve called Israel's actions "measured". A Canadian killed when Israel shelled UN offices went unremarked by our government. We support the Wall at the UN. Peter Kent, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, has more than once stated on his website that "an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada." We have cut off funding to humanitarian groups like Kairos and UNRWA who have been sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, and replaced members on the board of the once independent group Rights and Democracy with pro-Israel hawks. Canada had the largest delegation at last year's Conference on Anti-Semitism in Israel and provides nearly twice the Canadian forces to man the borders of Gaza as does the United States. We have our own McCarthyite Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism and banned George Galloway from Canada. Con MPs have sent out flyers to their constituents suggesting that Liberals are soft on anti-Semitism, the definition of which has now been expanded to include any criticism of Israel, following the lead of our prime minister who has accused MPs of anti-Semitism in the House of Commons. Last month the Ethics Commissioner reported that Israel is the top destination of choice for MPs seeking junkets abroad paid for by outside organizations, and Ontario Premier McGuinty is there now drumming up trade. Two years ago Israel and Canada signed what it pleases Israel's Ministry of Public Security to describe on their website as a pact on "cooperation in home land security and counter terrorism issues."


Against this complicity by our own government in the three-year-old Israeli blockade of Gaza, we must raise our voices in support of international law. We must no longer allow our government to speak in our name here.

Witness Gaza. Witness. Gaza.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gulf oil spill - That was then; this is then

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Right. So they're just doing their very darnedest to deal with this completely unexpected environmental tragedy with their miles of boom and their top hats and their junk shots and their top kills - exactly the same useless shit that didn't work 30 years ago either.

Still, they have to tiddle about with something while the media cameras are rolling and Obama frowns on a beach.

Meanwhile according to this guy the real plume is five to seven miles away and spewing oil into the Gulf at the rate of 120,000 barrels a day. What we've all been watching is just the ancillary leak, says oil industry insider Matt Simmons, just the sideshow. It's like the drunk looking for his carkeys under the streetlight; it's not where he dropped them but the light is better there.

Today BP CEO Tony Hayward denied the existence of the large undersea plumes scientists say they've discovered.

'Plume' sounds so benign, doesn't it? Like something you might wear on your 'tophat'. Underwater oil volcano - that's what they got.

Time to revisit this idea, born out of the Exxon Valdez spill and left by commenter Neil H at The Beav :

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"No one takes Ethics Committee summons seriously" : Poilievre

"At the end of the day, [Ethics Committee Chair]Paul Szabo and this kangaroo court have no credibility and no one takes their summons seriously."

So said Con MP Pierre Poilievre in August two years ago when he was only an associate member of the Ethics Committee.
Since becoming fully-fledged, and also Parliamentary Secretary to Steve, his job there is apparently to pipe up "Point of order" every few minutes like some demented Energizer bunny until the Chair finally cuts his mike.

Lib MP Wayne Easter's spirited response to John Baird's surprise appearance before the Ethics Committee on Tuesday in place of Dimitri Soudas has already been well covered. Soudas cancelled only minutes before the committee convened, in keeping with Steve's new rules forbidding ministerial staffers from appearing before committees.

Chair Paul Szabo at first let Baird speak, setting off an hour of angry opposition motions to dismiss the usurper, interspersed with Poilievre's points! of! order! By contrast, the Con committee members dutifully bent over their brand new talking points on "ministerial responsibility for their staffers", carefully read aloud with heads bowed down when it was their turn to speak.
Eventually Szabo broke a tie vote over whether or not to let Baird stay and booted him out.

Well sure. After all, as Minister of Transport, Baird is not Soudas' boss and would not be able to answer any of the questions the committee was intending to ask Soudas, despite Baird's sinister hand waving about something he called "collective responsibility".
And as Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac of the Bloc pointed out, the last time a minister appeared before the committee on behalf of one of their staffers - that would be Christian Paradis, Minister of Asbestos - his idea of "ministerial responsibility" was to just blame the staffer.

Carole Freeman of the Bloc brought up committees' right to subpoena witnesses :
"[Soudas] is an ordinary citizen and should be treated as such. A house leader does not have the power to change existing rules simply by standing up in the House and making a statement."

But then there was another tie vote that I haven't seen discussed.

What to do about the many named bureaucrats already scheduled to appear in the few weeks remaining before the committee breaks for recess on June 22? And what to do if their ministers wanted to show up in their staffers' place?

Chair Szabo asked for a motion to give him authority to summon the witnesses already scheduled to appear ... if necessary ... even if it meant allowing those witnesses' ministers to come as substitutes in their stead.

A pretty weak motion but as he explained, they were waiting on an expected future ruling by the Speaker on such witness substitutions. And he was only asking for either the scheduled witness or his/her minister to appear if that's what was offered.

OK so it was an astoundingly weak motion to exercise parliamentary committees' right to summon witnesses, but you know what? That vote was tied up 5 to 5 - the Cons vs everyone else - and only passed because the Chair broke it by voting in favour.

Pierre Poilievre suggested what he called "a friendly amendment" to solve the impasse over the next scheduled witness :
"just replace the name of the political staffer in question with the name of the Minister."

Your moment of hideous irony : The work currently before the committee is looking into "allegations of systematic political interference by ministers' offices to block, delay, or obstruct the release of information to the public regarding the operation of government departments".

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blogging hiatus

As the fifth anniversary of Dawg's Blawg approaches, I shall be taking about a month or so off to complete my thesis on the formation of Nunavut. My blogging activity, therefore, will be very light indeed, although you can expect a post or two here and there.

The wonderful Alison at Creekside has agreed to join up with my co-bloggers John Cross and Marie Ève so this place doesn't go to rack and ruin.

For your sign-off entertainment, here is a panel discussion on the Ottawa bank bombing, featuring corporate expert John Berlinger Hardy, criminal profiler Pat Brown, and--yours truly.

Have a good June. Play nicely and don't raise your voices.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The GOP becomes aware of all Internet traditions

See for yourself, thanks to Pharyngula. And be sure to contribute--the intrepid will easily figure out how to do it.

[via CC]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Come back, Alice B. Toklas

Well, it wasn't really her recipe, but anyway, now is the time at the Dawg when we juxtapose:

"Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stone dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of canibus [sic] sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient. Obtaining the canibus may present certain difficulties.... It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green."

More fudge than brownie, as noted here, but possibly better than this:

[T]he shortening used "shall have stability of not less than 100 hours as determined by the Active Oxygen Method (AOM) in Method Cd 12-57 of the Commercial Fats and Oils chapter in the Official and Tentative Methods of the American Oil Chemists Society," and the "dimensions of the coated brownie shall not exceed 3-1/2 inches by 2-2/12 inches by 5/8 inch."


Shelled almond pieces shall be of the small piece size classification and shall be U.S. No. 1 Pieces of the U.S. Standards for Grades of Shelled Almonds. A minimum of 95 percent, by weight, of the pieces shall pass through a 4/16-inch diameter round hole screen and not more than 5 percent, by weight, shall pass through a 2/16-inch diameter round hole screen. The shelled almonds shall be coated with an approved food grade antioxidant and shall be of the latest season’s crop.

Of course, the nutrients (like the troops who ingest them) must be suitably packaged:

The brownies shall be completely enrobed with a continuous uniform chocolate coating (see 3.2.14) in an amount which shall be not less than 29 percent by weight of the finished product.

The weight of the coated brownie shall be not less than 46 grams.

One chocolate covered brownie … shall be unit packed in bags as specified in or When product is held for more than 24 hours prior to unit packing, the product shall be stored at 80F or below and if storage time exceeds 30 days, the product shall be stored at 00F or below.

But 26 pages later, alas, it's less than rave reviews from chefs:

"They were a little bit crumbly. I typically think of a brownie as being sort of chewy … and it kind of fills your mouth with buttery, chocolatey flavour when it hits the tongue. And this was a bit more bland and a little bit dry. I think that’s because it used shortening. I would say that’s the number one reason."


"...The first thing that would come to mind is dry, quite crumbly … but basically they’ve got something that could be preserved for four to five years here. A soldier could lose it in the jungle and come back and find it … four years later and still eat it."

He added, "I think it’s safe to say I won’t be using this recipe any time soon."

Some of the grunts who have to scarf this stuff down have been invited to taste-test new MREs. Their reviews are hilarious. My favourite, indicating that that not all MIL-SPEC food can double as building material or projectiles: "The vanilla pudding is so good that I ripped it open. Licked the inside and rolled around on top of it like a dog."

Somehow I suspect that Pentagon brownies won't arouse the same enthusiasm.

A modest proposal

We--the taxpayers--are about to pay nearly a billion dollars for security for the G-8 and G-20 meetings next month.

Think about that for a moment.

Think what a billion dollars could do for ordinary Canadians. Let your imaginations run wild.

My suggestion? Build a permanent facility for these get-togethers--in Antarctica. There'd be capital costs to begin with, shared by the G-8 nations, and then each country would pay its own way to these interminable meetings, and back home again.

Security costs, minimal. Canadian tax bill, minor. Downtown disruption, non-existent. Getting the corporate globalization folks out of our hair--priceless.

UPDATE: (May 27) Did I say "nearly" a billion? $1.1 billion, and counting...

CC, meanwhile, uncovers an interesting wrinkle. Will
the costs of G20 security be reduced further this week, and our chocolate ration increased?

It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grams a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it. --1984

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


A First Nations-oriented university giving an honorary doctorate to--Mike Harris? The boneheaded "I want the fucking Indians out of the park" guy?

And the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations is OK with sitting on the same podium and getting a sheepskin of his own.

I can't improve on this commentary by Crazy Bitches R Us. Go read.

Crazy world. What's next--
a Nathan Bedford Forrest scholarship offered by the UNCF?

Annals of justice

The mills of the law grind on:
  • I blogged about the vicious prosecution of Peter Fonteece back in February. A crusading Crown attorney went after one of the most vulnerable people in our population, a plea bargain was struck, and Fonteece heard his fate on May 13. Probation, a little community service, no jail.

    The Globe & Mail describes this shameful episode perfectly today:

    There may have been a more cruel and shameful prosecution somewhere in Canadian history – perhaps the one involving Viola Desmond of Nova Scotia, for sitting in a white section of a segregated movie theatre in 1946 – but for the recent past, the case of R v. Fonteece in Thunder Bay, Ont., may top them all as an example of the bullying of the weak by the strong.
    This was a man who needed help to recover and get on his feet. He should never have been charged, nor should he have spent 70 days in custody, as if he were a threat to hurt someone or flee.

    When Mr. Fonteece’s wife killed herself, he lost everything he had in the world. “He grieves her loss,” said Madam Justice Helen Pierce of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. “It is he who has suffered most from her death.” She went on to say, “Had they enjoyed supportive friendships, perhaps they would not have felt so alone. Perhaps they would have not felt so desperate.” She expressed hope that Mr. Fonteece could find supports in his life and meaningful activity. Her statements went some way toward redeeming a legal system that leapt on the weakest of the weak at the moment of his greatest tragedy.

    UPDATE: The decision (h/t a commenter).

  • All criminal charges against former attorney general of Ontario Michael Bryant have been withdrawn. Given the facts in evidence at the time--he was attacked in his car by a drunken hoodlum and tried to shake him off, ending in the thug's death--this sensible decision is welcome.

  • Omar Khadr: the New York Times editorializes; the Obama administration is split; and the kangaroo court ploughs on, minus a few journalists.

Take the test

El Nino in the long term.

In a previous post talking about current temperatures, a point was raised in the comments that both 1998 and 2009 were el Nino years and that this was causing the observed increase in temperatures.

Since I have a desk full of paper work and am looking for ways to avoid it I thought I would play with the data a bit. I used the time period 1900 onwards (since I happen to have an Excel spreadsheet of the GISS data for 1900 onwards) and obtained the el Nino years from this paper.

I had to think about how to remove the el Nino years and still leave a workable dataset, so I decided that I would simply remove the temperature for an el-Nino year and replace it with an average of the year before and after. Not perfect, but a good first approximation.

The following is what I produced.

It is probably hard to see, but the red data set is the years as recorded, the blue data set is the years with the el-Nino averaged out. I have also included statistics for a linear trend through the data. As you can see while several hot years are "cooled", there is very little change in the overall trend. So while el Nino can make years hot, it does not contribute to longterm changes.

I am willing to provide my data to anyone interested. If you want it, e-mail me at john dot croix hat (without the h) hotmail dot com.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wheels within wheels in Gaza

Anyone imagining that the Middle East conflict can be viewed as a simple binary--Israel versus Islamism--will be discomfited by this recent story about an attack on a children's camp in Gaza.

UNRWA, whose Canadian funding was cut off by the Harper government earlier this year to a burst of applause from the usual suspects, runs a summer camp for kids in the Gaza strip. It has come under fire--metaphorically at this point--from Muslim extremists, who trashed the camp yesterday before the children were due to arrive. The separation of the camp into boys' and girls' sections was considered insufficient: the vandals were incensed that schoolgirls would be taught "fitness, dancing and immorality."

Hamas, presently running the government of Gaza, is furious. On Canada's list of terrorist organizations, it's been on the receiving end of terrorism itself for some time, targeted in a series of attacks by Salafist extremists. It has vowed to "track down the perpetrators."

(Hamas has no problem, it seems, with female fitness, but apparently draws the line at hip-hop, sending police to break up a concert last month.)

One can imagine the hypothetical conversations--or try to. Quite different, I think, from the ones we have from our comfortable vantage-point, where distant tangles resolve into black and white.

Tories: contempt of Parliament redux?

Probably not.

The government's decision to prevent ministerial aides from testifying before Parliamentary committees has invited comparison with its refusal to provide documents on Afghan detainees to Parliament just a few weeks ago. As everyone knows, that nearly provoked a constitutional crisis, which was adroitly nipped in the bud by Speaker Peter Milliken's historic ruling on April 22.

Since then, two cases of ministerial interference with public access to information have surfaced. Senior aide to former Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, Sebastien Togneri, ordered the "unrelease" of a document about government real estate holdings. And Ryan Sparrow, a seasoned political operative now on the staff of HRSD Minister Diane Finley, blocked information on the considerable cost of some government TV advertisements.

Togneri gave a bumbling performance before Parliament's Ethics Committee, duly noted, one might assume, by the powers that be. When Sparrow was called to testify, his Minister appeared instead, and was ruled out of order by committee chair Paul Szabo. Now a senior aide to the Prime Minister, Dimitris Soudas, has flatly refused to appear.

The government, as reported yesterday, has decided that henceforward ministerial staff will not appear before Parliamentary committees. Needless to say, this affront has received its due reaction.

Kady O'Malley writes:

There are, of course, some annoying parliamentary traditionalists out there -- including the one behind this keyboard -- who will point out that, although this latest tactic may get full marks for procedural chutzpah, it is, alas, completely unenforceable, since Parliament has the power to send for persons, papers and records. We just went through all that with those soon-to-be-delivered detainee-related documents, so really, there's no excuse for this apparent outburst of cabinet-wide amnesia forgetfulness.

You'll find this sentiment echoed elsewhere, including the progressive side of the blogosphere. Unfortunately, people should go back and read the Speaker's ruling a second time.

What people remember most about it is the part that focuses upon the detainee documents. But there was also a matter of witnesses called to appear before Parliamentary committees. It had been alleged that the government had engaged in witness intimidation:

A second matter before the Chair is the contention – made primarily by the Member for Scarborough—Rouge River – that witnesses were intimidated by answers given in Question Period by the Minister of National Defence and that a letter written by an official from the Department of Justice was contemptuous of the House in setting out for potential witnesses a false basis for refusing to answer questions in a committee of this House.

In the event, the Speaker found insufficient evidence that such intimidation had occurred, although he did express concern:

It does concern me that the letter of the Assistant Deputy Minister could be interpreted as having a ―chilling effect on public servants who are called to appear before parliamentary committees, as contended the Members for Scarborough—Rouge River and Toronto Centre. This could be especially so if the view put forth in the letter formed the basis of a direction given by department heads to their employees who have been called to testify before parliamentary committees.

But Milliken did not stop there, alas:

At the same time, it is critically important to remember in this regard that our practice already recognizes that public servants appearing as witnesses are placed in the peculiar position of having two duties. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states at pages 1068 and 1069:

―Particular attention is paid to the questioning of public servants. The obligation of a witness to answer all questions put by the committee must be balanced against the role that public servants play in providing confidential advice to their Ministers. …In addition, committees ordinarily accept the reasons that a public servant gives for declining to answer a specific question or series of questions which….may be perceived as a conflict with the witness’ responsibility to the Minister….

The solution for committees facing such situations is to seek answers from those who are ultimately accountable, namely, the Ministers themselves. [emphases added]

In effect, the Speaker has set out the government's current case. And you can be very sure that Harper will not be hesitant to trot out this unequivocal language when the new rules are tabled tomorrow.

It's another stonewall, because Ministers, unlike their aides, cannot be subpoenaed by Parliamentary committees. The new government edict is odious and immoral. But it may well be entirely legal.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reaching across the aisle

For my friend Darcey Jerrom, this post, a shout-out for Frank Godon, running for the presidency of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

Godon is perhaps better-known to blogospherians as Krazy, who wrote for Dust My Broom, a harsh right-wing place that has now become a blues site. I've certainly had my profound differences with him--not to mention with Darcey, who once booted me from DMB (all his references to me and to the booting have now been expunged).

I still do.

So why this post? Truth is, I don't really know. Maybe just a favour for a friend who, in spite of our political differences, is a person I could literally trust with my life. But, more important, I do believe in alternatives and in accountability. Godon wants the MMF to be accountable for every dime it spends. He wants all Manitoba Metis to be eligible to join the MMF and vote in elections. He's not an outsider, but a member of that community.

He's a former US Marine, and about as conservative as it gets, but he's among his own people now, putting forward a different way of doing business, and it's up to the Metis in Manitoba to decide--the ones who are permitted to, that is. (If you leave the province to work, as Darcey found out, you are stricken from the rolls--even if you return.)

Let's just say that this is a statement of good faith. Just as I want as many democratic alternatives as possible to be presented to Canadians, and to be represented in the House of Commons--which is why I support the CBC, funding for dissensus groups, and proportional representation--so too the MMF deserves real political contention. Godon will certainly provide the latter.

Would I vote for him on June 10 if I were a registered Manitoba Metis? Hard to say. A lot of folks
in the labour movement disapproved of my politics, but I got their votes anyway because I could get the job done. Godon may be someone whose politics I dislike--intensely--but he, too, sounds like someone who can do the job, and he stands for openness and transparency and accountability as well.

I know, I know, Stephen Harper ran on the same ticket, and he blasted it to quarks once elected. But Canadians needed to see that for themselves. Maybe Godon will go the same route, maybe he won't. Manitoba Metis need to see for themselves as well. Either way, he offers a fresh dissenting voice at this point, and has opened up the debate.

My own politics forbid me from offering a formal (or informal) endorsement, but I wish him good luck in the arena. Besides, anyone who has nice words to say about the October Revolution can't be all bad. :)

All you need to know about Elena Kagan

She doesn't cross her legs when sitting. Lesbian?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The discrimination that must not speak its name

Once again, critics of Israel have been silenced and excluded by officialdom.

Queers Against Israeli Apartheid has been banned from this year's Pride Parade in Toronto.
Members can participate, but as individuals. The a-word is now forbidden.

Yet the Globe & Mail notes:

In a statement at the Herzeliya Conference earlier this year, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak used the term himself.

“If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state,” he said, “and if they don't, it is an apartheid state.”

But that's in Israel, where free-wheeling debate on the issues is permitted, or, more accurately, is impossible to shut down. This is Canada, 2010, where that other a-word is used once again as a political bludgeon to squelch any and all criticism of Israeli state policy. And by acquiescing, the organizers of the Pride Parade have struck a cowardly blow against their own proud legacy of resistance against injustice. Shame on them.

Ignorance and its human consequences

Mr. Ward Hindson is a profoundly ignorant man. And because of his ignorance, a family is being torn apart.

Jose Figueroa and his spouse left El Salvador for Canada in 1997, claimed refugee status settled down in Vancouver. They had three children, one of whom is autistic. In 2000, his claim before the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) was unsuccessful; he and his spouse then asked to be accepted on humanitarian grounds, and the processing of their application began in 2004.

Six years later, on the recommendation of the Canadian Border Services Agency's Ward Hindson, he is about to be deported to El Salvador.

It seems that Figueroa was a member of the Farabundo Martí Liberation Front in the early '90s. "Aha," said Hindson. "Terrorist!"

The FMLN forms the current government of El Salvador. It had been one side of a civil war in that country, pitting peasants against government death squads. Pleasant fellows like "Blowtorch Bob" d'Aubisson were ruling the roost back then. Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated by his paramilitaries; nuns were raped and murdered by government soldiers.

In 1992, after twelve years of this, a peace accord was reached and the warring parties chose to engage in elections instead.

Here's a little potted history for the likes of Ward Hindson. It would have taken him 10 seconds or so to Google it for himself:

After the ceasefire established by the 1992 Chapultepec Peace Accords, the FMLN became a legal political party. The FMLN has now participated in elections in 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2009. The 1994, 1999, 2004, and 2009 elections were for the Presidency. The 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, and 2009 elections were for Legislative Assembly seats and mayor and municipal council positions.

Note the dates. In the early '90s, when Figueroa's involvement in the FMLN constituted "terrorism" according to Hindson, the FMLN was already taking part in democratic elections. Indeed, an IRB member in the original refugee case in 2000 wrote that "The FMLN is a recognized, legitimate political party."

Perhaps the IRB members who, more recently, uncritically accepted Hindson's bone-headed assessment is even more to blame here. That agency, stuffed with patronage appointments, has made some staggeringly awful decisions recently, including the acceptance of a claim from a white South African that he was persecuted in SA because of his race, and ordering the deportation to Burma of a young military deserter who would have faced certain death.

This must be overturned--and Hindson, not to mention the IRB members involved, should be ordered to take a remedial course in modern Latin American history.

FURTHER: Decision link in this story. The part-time IRB official is one Otto Nupponen. In 2007 he appalled observers by releasing another El Salvadoran into the community--a gangster with up to sixty arrests who admitted murdering four people.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Damn. Law and Order, too.

The terrorists have won.

OK, I give up

What is this thing?

[H/t ftbt, b/c]

UPDATE: I was willing to accept the "dead otter" hypothesis put forward by commenters until my attention was directed to this by reader Fillameena:

The nurses themselves [who took the pictures] have been posted elsewhere, and staff at the nursing station won’t talk. “We work for the federal government,” said one. “We’re under a gag order.”

Roswell North. The cover-up is well under way.

Research excellence, Part 2

It seems that the recent asymmetric distribution of rewards under the Canada Excellence Research Chair program has become rather widely noticed. 19 men, no women; 18 white men, one visible minority; and (why not throw this in) 4 Chairs established at the University of Alberta, none for the four Montreal universities. [h/t reader Justin]

Industry Minister Tony Clement pronounced himself shocked, and had a quick informal investigation done, which revealed that the 36-name shortlist for the awards was all-male as well. So now the search is on for plausible explanations, and the subalterns are speaking.

Industry Minister Tony Clement...asked three leading female academics on friendly terms with the government to probe what happened. Their report, obtained by The Globe and Mail, finds no deliberate attempt to shut out women, but concludes the tight deadlines for the competition, the areas picked for research and a competition where candidates on the short list had only a 50 per cent chance of winning probably all worked against female candidates. [emphasis added]

The last "explanation" has never been satisfactorily explained (what? women only bet on a sure thing?), but the ad hoc committee cast more light on the first:

The academic "old boys club," also was a factor. With limited time to find and court top researchers, universities resorted to “informal processes” to find candidates, the study finds. "These informal outreach processes may have involved senior researchers identifying potential nominees from among their international peers," it says.

"Informal outreach processes" are an essential part of systemic discrimination. No one is arguing conscious bias here, but old habits, instincts and networks maintain rigid patterns of preference and selection. These are barriers, just as surely as now-abandoned height restrictions for police officers (which weeded out Asians and women), and other not-so-bona fide selection requirements in various job descriptions.

When confronted by such a limit case as the CERC results, there are really only two options to consider if one wants to account for a clearly non-random selection process. First, white males really are brainier and more accomplished in the sciences, and that's that. No less a personage than Lawrence Summers, President of Harvard, appears to be open to the possibility that women just don't have the same innate abilities in this respect.

Or, alternatively, you might want to take a look at how these selections are made: how the pool of candidates is established, the criteria used to define and measure "excellence" (which is hardly an objective universal standard handed down by the gods), and the assumptions and attitudes involved at every step in the process.

It is odd to suggest that women are genetically programmed to be less drawn to engineering and the natural sciences, when ever-increasing female enrollment can be observed in those very disciplines. Systemic discrimination, then, is the only logical explanation. It has taken--and will obviously continue to take--considerable energy to kick out the institutional jams.

Not that all women see things that way. Here's Sumitra Rajagopalan, who happily made it on her own, she insists:

Any systemic bias that might have once existed in science is finished. If anything, science and engineering departments the world over now actively seek female candidates for open positions – and many women find it patronizing. The notions of "equity" and "excellence" are simply incompatible. [emphases added]

Anyone hear the loud buzz of a queen bee in the room?

And here is the National Post's Tasha Kheiriddin, who appears to be the author of this NaPo editorial ("Excellence, not 'equity'"), and who asks:

[H]ow many men teach women’s studies? Has an effort been made to recruit male academics to balance the faculty in women’s studies departments? Or are there just too few qualified men who apply? What about other traditionally “female-dominated” fields of study, like nursing? Have women launched a campaign to get men into those areas? If not, why not? Shouldn’t gender equity be the priority in the hiring practices of every department?

Followed by this unintended bit of hilarity:

As for the charge of gender bias against the government, it is bunk. This government desperately wants to appoint women to all sorts of places, and I can vouch for this first-hand. From 2006-2008 I served on the Judicial Appointments Committee for the Tax Court of Canada (an unpaid position). [emphasis added]

Good to see that her hard work for the Tax Court was valued.
In any case, note the straw-women and false equivalences. The comparison of the sciences with a specifically gender-based discipline like women's studies is disingenuous, or simply muddle-headed. And the intent of her analogy with nursing schools is unclear: there are obvious systemic biases in play there, most notably the "masculinity factor" that discourages men from entering a traditionally female occupation. Should not such biases, in every profession, be identified and eliminated?

Finally, no one is blaming Kheiriddin's beloved Harper government for this mess. The systemic gender bias in the selection had already taken its toll by the time the results of the competition were conveyed to an embarrassed Tony Clement.

More generally, the cognitive dissonance after this scandal broke has been remarkable.
From the letters column in today's Globe & Mail:

Perhaps instead of counting persons of colour and itemizing the gender of the 19 Excellence chairs, one might have focused on their accomplishments and research areas. The spectre of political correctness is a blight upon individual achievement. Skin colour and gender quotas must not be applied [emphasis added] to those who conduct original and fundamental research, and they must be measured only by their achievements. It is time to put aside such childish notions or risk descending into the dystopic mediocrity of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.”

Robert S. Sciuk, Oshawa, Ont.

It never occurs to Sciuk--and his hordes of right-wing allies in the media and elsewhere--that there are already
de facto quotas in place. The male one in this instance appears to be 100%, and the white one, 95%. Unless one is prepared to support the notion of white male supremacy openly, one has to question outrageously biased results like these.

Sometimes the thing really does speaks for itself. The trick is to listen.

Teabagger: No soup for you

Just over half a century ago, four African American college students sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely requested service. They were refused. When told to leave, they stayed where they were.

What followed was an ever-widening mobilization that led to the desegregation of the lunch-counter six months later. The protest proved to be a tipping point for Jim Crow in the deep South. Four years later, on July 2, 1964, the US Congress passed the Civil Rights Act.

Kentucky Teabagger Rand Paul,who just won the Republican senate primary in that state, thinks that was a bad idea. Private businesses, he believes, should be able to discriminate against anyone they choose.

He's proving to be an intense embarrassment to some of his fellow Republicans, who are still making valiant efforts to appeal to the mainstream. Good luck with that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Attentat in Ottawa

On July 23, 1892, Ovsei Osipovich Berkman entered the offices of Henry Clay Frick, the manager of a steel plant in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Frick had just finished presiding over the shooting of several locked-out members of the Amalgamated Association of Steel and Iron Workers by 300 armed Pinkerton strikebreakers.

Berkman shot Frick three times, stabbed him in the leg with a file, and was beaten unconscious by workers in the vicinity. He was later sentenced to twenty-two years in prison, of which he served fourteen.

The working class across the country was not ignited by this spark of revolutionary violence. Ordinary workers and anarchists alike condemned the action. And nothing improved on the local front. The factory resumed operations after 8,500 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard were ordered into Homestead. The locked-out unionized workers were almost entirely replaced by non-union immigrant labour.

Life went on much as before--except that fears of domestic terrorism were now freshly fanned among the population.

Fast-forward to May 18, 2010.

At approximately 3:30 this past Tuesday, an anarchist group calling itself FFFC-Ottawa firebombed a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada in Ottawa's upscale Glebe neighbourhood. The group then posted a record of the event on YouTube.

FFFC-Ottawa has promised more of the same, and claims that it will be a presence at the upcoming G20 summit in Toronto.

No one can doubt the sincerity of Berkman and other violent anarchists in the US during a period of massive labour strife. Their theory was a simple one, based on a delusion: workers were ready for revolution. All they needed was a decisive action to galvanize them.

But such actions, again and again, simply frightened people and gave public moral authority and sanction to the very forces of law and order that the anarchists were confronting.

Theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer say of "the people" in whose name the anarchists presume to speak: "immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them. The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities."* That's hegemony, in a word: and you don't overcome it by random acts of terror--you energize it.

Why do the latter-day anarchists--the Black Blocs, FFFC-Ottawa--pay no attention to history? Perhaps, in fact, they do. It appears that the attentat theory
--that a bold act of violence will activate the revolutionary potential of the masses--has been (thankfully) abandoned. Instead these political street-urchins are inflicting minor flesh-wounds on capitalism, and getting high on feeling like revolutionaries as they commit their acts of vandalism.

But the establishment now has the excuse to push its own agenda. Articles and editorials have already appeared in the press that attempt to draw predictable "lessons" from the unthinking, unstrategic actions of a few.

Here's one, by Tom Quiggin, described in today's Ottawa Citizen as a member of the "council of advisers for Canada's Global Brief magazine and...a senior research fellow at the Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University." It's a frankly jejune piece of analysis, of which this extract will give the flavour:

[T]he recent RBC attack demonstrates an escalation in the level of violence on the part of a small core group. Furthermore, over the past several years, we have seen an ongoing convergence between the "extreme left" in Canada and various radical Islamist groups. The most visible manifestation of this "convergence" could be seen at the Cairo conferences in Egypt from 2002 to 2007. The presence of Canadians from a variety of "peace and social justice" groups was a regular occurrence. The Cairo Anti-War Conference was started by the British Socialist Workers Party (Trotskyites and Fourth Internationalists) and it was attended by Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist organizations. Why Canadian organizations felt the need to spend their money by sending individuals to this conference is a question all Canadians should be asking.

From the Glebe to Cairo in the blink of an eye! Squeezing the dread "Islamists" into the mix is a propagandist's master-stroke. Note, too, the reference to mysterious "Canadian organizations" with money, and the conflation of anti-war organizing with Islamist terrorism. This is the standard rhetorical trickery of the Right, and it hasn't changed much since Frick took his bullets: define the act as international in scope; tar "the left" as a clear and present danger to right-thinking, peaceful people everywhere; and proceed to fan the flames of local and national paranoia.

Just as a few undisciplined hooligans in Vancouver endangered thousands of peaceful protesters there, you can bet that security at the G-20 will clamp down hard on peaceful protesters in Toronto next month--if not by the unskillful use of agents provocateurs, quite possibly with a wild police overreaction
like the one seen here in Ottawa in November, 2001.

Thanks for nothing, FFFC-Ottawa. These childish, self-indulgent acts of violent individualism do nothing but help our enemies. You're an affront to the values that motivate us, and to the ideals that we share.

You speak and act for no one but yourselves.
Turn yourselves in before someone gets hurt.

*Horkheimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. "The Culture Industry," in Dialectic of Enlightenment. London: Verso, 1979, 8.

2010 is the new 1998

I have criticized people in the past for making too much of a single reading so I will only note that the monthly anomaly for April is the highest value since we have been keeping records. Is this proof of global warming? Of course not. I would list it as information consistent with the theory laid out by global warming.

However we also have this interesting bit of information. The graph below is from the UAH data set looking at atmospheric temperatures. This is the preferred data set for skeptics since it is produced by two of the few scientists whom I would classify as skeptics (in the global warming sense of the word) and generally shows less cooling than other satellites analysis. The current year is the lime green line, if you can tell the color of it, just look for the highest line! Click on the link to go to the UAH site and you can create the graph yourself.

We should be careful about reading too much into this since this is essentially the raw data and, like most data these days, it will probably need to be corrected / adjusted.

Now, while surface temperatures are interesting, a number of people have been saying look at how the ice in the arctic is recovering this year, citing this as evidence of a cooling world. Indeed, while in the early part of 2010 the ice extent was almost "normal", if you look at it now (as of May 18) , you can see that it is currently 2 standard deviations below normal. This is probably what you would expect if the ice was thinner in the arctic which is what the scientists have been saying all along.

Let me stress that all the above is observation and thus is not proof of global warming. However it is pretty good evidence that the world is not cooling after all. This is actually quite important since it should give zero creditability to the people who have confidently stated that the world is cooling or that global warming has ended (and yes, I have a list).

On a personal note, work has been hectic for the first part of 2010. Hopefully regular blogging will commence soon. Since there has been little fodder for the skeptics, global warming has not been in the news much. However there has been a lot going and I hope to raise it in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Abousfian Abdelrazik: labour says no to Harper

Canadian labour stood up for a single Canadian citizen today, giving new life to the slogan "An injury to one is an injury to all."

It is illegal to so much as buy Abousfian Abdelrazik a cup of coffee, much less offer him employment. He remains on a UN "no-fly" list for reasons that no one--not even the RCMP and CSIS--knows.

Under Canadian law, specifically the United Nations Act, he cannot be employed, fed, clothed, sheltered, or have a bank account. Recently a small bequest from his late spouse, deposited in a local Montreal bank, was frozen by the Harper government. After going cap in hand to our overlords in New York, he has now been given permission to draw a small amount each month for necessities of life--except that the bank holding his money is still refusing to release any of it.

This is happening in Canada. In 2010. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms be damned.

Not long ago a few of us stood up and sent him money. And now organized labour--I am proud today--is confronting the government directly:

Hassan Yussuff, Secretary Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) stated, "We are taking this step in full consciousness that it could be deemed illegal. We are hoping that other unions and labour federations will join us in hiring Mr. Abdelrazik to document his story, so that other Canadians can be made aware of the impact of the security agenda on innocent people."

The Canadian Labour Congress will employ Abdelrazik for one week. Two affiliate unions, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the International Association of Machinists
, have already offered him work, and other unions are expected to follow suit.

Yet again, Minister of Foreign AffairsLawrence Cannon is caught in a lie, or at least a quarter-truth:

"All I can say is that in the past I tried to make sure that Mr. Abdelrazik had the support he needed to be removed from the UN list," Cannon said in reference to the government's 2007 request to have him de-listed.

"That attempt, unfortunately, failed."

Our miserable excuse for a foreign minister actually threw Abdelrazik to the winds, and then spent tremendous time and energy--on the taxpayer's nickel--to keep him in exile illegally.

Brother Hassan has never had any problem telling it like it is:

"We’ve seen this situation far too often, whether it’s a Muslim Canadian or a person of color, that the government has been lax in its passionate commitment to move vigorously," Mr. Yussuff said. The government, he added, is not moving with any haste on this file.

Marvellously understated, but clear as a bell. The struggle continues.


...oh, yeah.


Remember when "beat cops" meant police on patrol? And "cop killers" meant people who murdered police officers?

Of students and their conservative stalkers

As a student myself (MA, and yes, it's taking far too long)
I was fascinated to learn that some conservatives believe learning stops at age thirty. Given the Conservative Party of Canada's voter demographics, however, I'm not entirely surprised. They're simply reporting what they observe in their own circles: they're older and less educated than the average Canadian.

This all resurfaced after one of those youth group photo-ops which, in true Stephen Harper fashion, had been scrubbed and rubbed with enough political lye soap to render the proceedings utterly sanitized. But in a world populated by non-robots, things can still go awry. Member-organizers of the group in question, rather too tightly wound, intervened on-camera when the press attempted to interview a "non-designated" attendee. And people don't like being manipulated: when it happens too obviously, they tend to say so.

Students had been told to submit their questions to Harper in advance, and Raimee Gallant posed this one:

In light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the reluctance of the companies involved to accept responsibility, what new control measures for oil drillers will the Canadian government put in place to reduce the risk of oil spills in Canadian waters, and ensure the continuance of our marine ecosystems and the sustainability of our fisheries?

That was skipped over--not surprisingly, given the Conservatives' contempt for environmental protection. She expressed some displeasure about that. But one criticizes the Harperites at one's peril, and the wingnuts are now out to savage the impertinent individual who dared complain.

The mudfish who inhabit the starboard side of the blogosphere are normally best mocked or ignored, but every now and then their antics deserve the full light of day. A blogger calling himself "BC Blue" and his psychotic commenters have demonstrated, once again, the seething rot that lies at the core of the conservative value-pattern.

According to BCB, the student's question was "non-economic" in nature, a claim so fatuous that it doesn't require rebuttal. But, typically, she is now under sustained and vicious character assassination at his place, and the cyber-stalkers are out in force.

We see this sort of thing fairly frequently these days--and it's always women who are targeted. For those with a clinical interest in conservative psychopathy (and ever-present misogyny), BC Blue's wretched blogsite is well worth checking out.

[H/t CC, who has been following the conservative stalker brigade for some time.]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Urban renewal in East Jerusalem

A Palestinian woman whose house has been occupied by Jewish settlers argued with Israelis who came to celebrate Jerusalem Day in the mainly Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, Wednesday. (Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

One picture is worth a thousand words.

[H/t Dirk]

Research excellence

The WASPish old boys' club is showering its brighter members with gold.

The competition results have just been announced for the winners of the federally-funded Canada Excellence Research Chair program.

Today's Globe & Mail (print edition) has a "Brain Gain" insert that offers some detail about the Chairs and their projects, including photographs.

All nineteen Chairs are male. All but one are white.

2010. And you haven't come a long way, baby.

UPDATE: We have somewhat of a tradition of this sort of thing in Canada. When will they ever learn?

Hassan Diab: Canada's Dreyfus?

A clear abuse of process is presently going on in a Canadian courtroom.

I have blogged about the Hassan Diab case before. Briefly, Diab has been accused of the bombing of a synagogue in France thirty years ago. Extradition by French authorities has been requested. Hassan was abruptly fired by Carleton University, and is currently out on bail, having to bear the considerable costs ($30,000 a year) of wearing a GPS device to comply with bail conditions.

France's case has crumbled.
Diab's defence team was permitted to call expert witnesses, who demolished the evidence provided by the French government's handwriting experts, key to its extradition request. But Crown prosecutors here have sought delay after delay to allow France to rebuild its tattered dossier.

France has now withdrawn all that evidence--and has "discovered" a fresh new handwriting expert, who has written a 34-page report yet to be filed in court.
Crown prosecutor Claude LeFrançois, shamefully, has demanded that the defence not be permitted to call expert witnesses a second time in rebuttal.

In France, only the prosecution may call expert witnesses. In Canada, the scales are more evenly balanced. LeFrançois appears to have forgotten which jurisdiction he is in.

Why the mention of Dreyfus? He, too, was framed on the basis of alleged similarities between his handwriting and that of the actual author of a document who had expressed treasonable intentions. He was exonerated by one handwriting expert, who was then replaced with an obliging new one who reported what his persecutors wanted to hear. The abuse of process that followed is well-known.

France may not have learned from its mistakes. But why are its machinations--for such they appear to be--being replicated in a Canadian courtroom?

Diab's lawyer is withering:

"At the 11th hour and 59th minute they withdraw their entire handwriting case and substitute a new case," said Bayne, who accused French authorities of finding a new handwriting expert in an attempt to save their case after the two they originally used were discredited by four defence handwriting experts, including a former RCMP document examiner.

Bayne said the 56-year-old Diab, who has no criminal record and can no longer work, "has depleted his resources, been imprisoned, fighting a case they have decided to change."

Bayne added he may file an abuse of process application and may now have to represent Diab for free since France's "war of attrition" is "disabling this ordinary citizen from fighting back."

In the Dreyfus case, anti-Semitism was an obvious factor in that gross miscarriage of justice. One cannot help but speculate that Diab's own ethnicity may be at play here, at least to some degree. It took only one complaint from B'nai Brith to get him booted out of his job at Carleton. And now a more than shaky case, hastily reconstructed by a foreign government, appears sufficient for a distinctly malodorous judicial persecution here at home.

Diab's lawyer is understandably upset. So should we all be.