Blog of Mass Distraction

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mistakes have been made

The big news these past few days has been about the 17 men arrested in the GTA for plotting a terrorist attack on targets in Southern Ontario. While there was one man who was older, I believe he was a bus driver in his forties, most of them were young men from middle class families living in the suburbs. They attempted to purchase 3 tons of fertilizer that could be used in a bomb similar to the Oklahoma city bombing (by Timothy McVeigh which only used 1 ton of fertilizer). The alleged terrorists were said to have been inspired by Al Qaeda and certain websites they visited but otherwise are not known to have links to international terrorist groups. They don't seem like they were the most cunning of terrorists (which I suppose is a good thing). The fertilizer they tried to buy was actually from an undercover officer and the 'training camp' they went to was just some paintball on some land they were trespassing on north of the city.
The real question is how could these young men have taken such vile and misguided views of their society and religion? How could their friends and families have failed them so miserably as to not foresee this kind of turn and prevent it from happening?
Unfortunately these arrests have also brought Canada on to the US security through insanity bandwagon. There are already people calling for curtailing of freedoms in hopes of increasing security. Cracking down on rights and freedoms rarely deters those that are determined. However more (and better) education along with a little guidance and leadership would go a long way in preventing young men and women from throwing their lives away by making such horrible mistakes. At least it's good to know that our security agencies were able to stop these men before anything terrible happened.

The Hamas led government in Palestine has been having its share of problems recently as well. Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas has proposed a referendum on an independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution (effectively declaring peace with Israel). Hamas has condemned this as an attempted coup against their democratically elected government. Also, in response to the Israeli murder of a Palestinian family, the Hamas government ended the truce with Israel. Israel shelled a beach claiming they thought rocket attacks might be coming from there. As a result they killed members of a family including a mother and several children.

Friday, June 02, 2006

25 years later

It was 25 years ago that HIV and AIDS first appeared. It was first seen as a rare form of pneumonia, or other AIDS related illnesses, that affected gay men in the United States. It was a few years later that it was discovered to be the monster virus that it is known as today. When scientists found out how it behaved they realized there was a pending epidemic; the extended dormancy of the virus (up to 10 years) meant that there were thousands if not tens of thousands already infected and showing no signs.
Moreover, because of the strange biology of the HIV virus it's extremely difficult to fight it, within ourselves or with medications. HIV has a high sugar molecule content in the shell that surrounds its genetic material. This provides a barrier that protects the virus and the shell itself is seen as an innocuous sugar particle by our immune system. The virus can also rapidly mutate giving it a very strong resistance to treatments and possible vaccines. The long dormancy period, previously mentioned, allows it to infect many other people while it quietly inhabits a victim's body.
While was initially seen as a disease affecting gay men (and the homosexual community is still dealing with it today), globally the face of AIDS has become poor women in the developing world. Women are disproportionately affected because men tend to have high risk behaviours and more sexual partners. Thus infected men will infect all women they have unprotected sex with. Marriage has become one of the highest risk factors for women in developing countries. Many husbands are forced to migrate to other regions to search for work and support their family. Many of these men will have other sexual partners while away from their wives or make use of sex workers. The husband becomes infected, returns to his family and infects his wife and she infects any new children they may have. This pattern has lead to an enormous number of AIDS orphans since both the parents eventually die of the disease and the children, many already infected, are left to be cared for by relatives or the eldest sibling. This has happened to millions of children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Recently as well, India has gained the dubious honour of having the highest number of people living with HIV. It surpassed South Africa and now has some 5 million infected. The percentage of population however infected in India is still incredibly low; India has over 1 billion people, as opposed to South Africa with nearly 50 million.
Since its discovery AIDS has killed some 25 million people and there are now over 40 million people living with HIV. Last year alone about 2.8 million people died of AIDS related illnesses.1 That's over 7500 people each day. And over 500,000 of those whom died were children.

1. UNAIDS 2006 Global Report

Monday, May 29, 2006


Sometimes I wonder about the state of democracy in our country. Prime Minister Harper has rejected the free press on Parliament hill. The PMO has said the PM will not answer questions from reporters in press conferences from the regular press gallery. The PMO said they will select the people that are allowed to ask questions of the PM. The press gallery rejected these restrictions and walked out during a recent press conference. As a result the PM has rejected the Ottawa press gallery all together and says he will no longer speak with them. Instead he will speak only with local media and news organizations. Harper said he restricted the questions from the press gallery because he says the press decided "to be the opposition to the government." Harper said he hard trouble believing a Liberal Prime Minister would have as much trouble as he's had with the press. He's complained strongly about a supposed anti-conservative view in the press. The PMO of Martin's government made similar complaints during the dying days of his government.

The row boiled over when Harper said he would only answer questions from an approved list of journalists. This kind arrogant nepotism really epitomizes the neo-conservative ethic. I've heard the conservative ideal described as wanting to reward the successful or alternatively punish the weak. I don't ascribe to such glib idealistic interpretations. I'm certain there are different reasons for each person, but the overriding pattern I've seen in politicians like Harper (and Bush for that matter) is the penchant for taking as much as they can whether that's by rigging rules, changing laws, and doing their utmost to help themselves and their friends rather than the general populace.

It seems Harper and his ilk consider a 'bias' anything that includes facts and opinions that differ from or unfavourably portray their own views. The National Post may be a rag that's losing millions, but with its love for all things Harper at least it won't have any trouble getting the PM to answer questions.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Fighting Tyranny

The Whitehouse has released its updated National Security Strategy; the first revision since the last publication in 2003. In it the US Government lists countries which it regards as despotic regimes that are a threat to security or are outposts of tyranny. The list includes Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Belarus and Zimbabwe. These countries certainly aren't the most democratic of places. Iran and Belarus have had elections though Iran is still a theocracy and the Belarusian elections were not the most free and fair. Still I don't see how Zimbabwe of all countries could be a threat to anyone. With a currency that's virtually worthless and massive starvation, dictator Robert Mugabe drove Zimbabwe into the ground and just kept going.
The US has tried to promote countries like Pakistan which has been an ally in the war on terror. And Secretary of State Condi Rice visited Indonesia which is a key ally and promoted as an example of a peaceful Muslim state (as opposed to some Arab countries). Of course 'peaceful' is a relative term. I'm sure the people of Indonesia are nice and peaceful, but the Indonesian government hardly has a peaceful past. Genocide in East Timor has ended with its independence. Suppression in Aceh ended shortly after the tsunami (though it continued during some of the aid operations there). Suppression of the independence movement there continues in Irian Jaya aka West Papua which has large mineral resources and major mines.

There have been major protests in the US regarding some proposed legislation that would put harsher restrictions on illegal immigrants and people without status. This has angered many latino Americans. The changes and extending walls along the US Mexico border have caused migrants across the country to take to the streets to speak out against the proposed law. Considering the large number of migrant workers in the US, especially those that come in from Mexico as day workers, this doesn't seem like an overly bright move. To appease people like the Minute Men as opposed to the millions of illegal immigrants and hard working people hoping to become citizens.

The Christian Peacemaker team that was being held in Iraq has been released. The two Canadians: James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, and the Briton were released and in good health. The American captive Tom Fox however was found murdered a few weeks ago. Fox was 54 and is mourned by his fellow former captives and family.

The Israeli election is also coming up this week. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to be a likely front runner but we'll have to wait and see what happens. Olmert has promised more unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank, though this likely does not include major settlements and strategic military locations there.

When the government fears the people, you have liberty. When the people fear the government, you have tyranny.
-- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Oh snap!

Slobodan Milosovic died in his cell a few days ago. It was reported that he died of heart attack as he was known to have heart problems for quite a long time. Some people however, particularly his family living in Russia, have questioned the treatment he was getting and even go as far as saying he was poisoned and murdered. I doubt that would happen, especially under care of an international tribunal, but who knows. Anyway, his death was met with little interest in Serbia. Considering he was overthrown by a massive public revolt, it appears the people of Serbia don't want to dwell on their time with Slobo.
Many people however are disappointed that Milosovic will never face justice for the crimes of which he's accused. The verdict in the tribunal was still several months away and it looks like it will never come down with the death of the accused.

Israeli forces have raided a Palestinian prison in Jericho. The Israelis demanded the handover of prisoners they suspect of being involved in an Israeli minister's death. They have not necessarily captured those prisoners yet but there has been a harsh response from Palestinians. Many Palestinian groups have been observing a cease fire, but thise kind of overt military action strains the ability of the new Hamas government to maintain peace in Palestine. Several attacks have resulted including setting fire to a British Council building in Palestine. British observers who were present in Jericho have stated they will withdraw as well.

Isaac Hayes has said he'll quit working on tv show South Park. Hayes claimed he was leaving because of the religious intolerance on the show. This however is being dismissed by the shows creators. South Park recently did a show that poked fun at Scientology though since its inception South Park has regularly made fun of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Shintoists and others. Hayes however is a scientologist and claims that as a defender of civil rights he feels the show has gone too far. The rather dubious claim will mean the end of Hayes character "Chef", the school cook with ample libido.

I saw this while browsing around, I think it originally came from dailykos but I'm not certain. If you've heard about South Dakota's newly minted laws about planned parenting you'd find it as funny as I did.

Imagine the difficulty in making RUSSELL CROWE look like he got into a fight.
-- Jon Stewart at the Oscars commenting on "Cinderella Man" being nominated for best make-up.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Non-Proliferation and Non-Violence

George Bush was visiting the subcontinent the past few days. Apart from some niceties with Manmohan Singh and playing some cricket in Pakistan Bush was there for an agreement with India. The US government will be providing India with nuclear technology for generation in return for India opening up some of its generation stations for international inspection. The hypocrisy of this when compared with the treatment of Iran is stark. India has been sanctioned by the international community for its development and testing of nuclear weapons and it's one of the few countries to not sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Iran is a signatory of the treaty and has done nothing to break its agreement, yet it will be referred to the UN Security Council while India is rewarded.
The real danger here is the more subtle implication of this proposed agreement. Bush is really looking to build up alliances against the growing super power China, a long standing traditional rival of India. Bush likely hopes this will accelerate the Indian development of nuclear weapons. This of course will also strain the growing, though tenuous, relationship with Pakistan.
The agreement must however pass through Congress. Under current US law passing nuclear technology to India would be illegal since it's not a signatory of non-proliferation (and has an active nuclear weapons program). Iran however hasn't broken the rules of non-proliferation, which it signed, so would be more qualified to receive technology (apart from the likely numerous embargoes the US would have on it as an enemy state...).
Bush also visited the memorial for Ghandi while in India. I'll spare you the possible sarcastic comparisons of him laying a wreath there so as not to further desecrate the memory of the Mahatma and those like him who lived and died for peace and justice.

The growing violence in Iraq has, some say, brought the country to the brink of civil war. While many have said the US forces in Iraq had to stay to prevent factional fighting and dischord, a few people have been trying hard to make that prediction a reality. The tensions spiked when the mosque and Shiah shrine in Samarra was detroyed. Revenge attacks were carried out on Sunnis and now a curfew is in place in the region. Still, removing the existing US forces (which are being condemned by organizations like Amnesty International for the ongoing abuses of captives in Iraq and elsewhere) and replacing them with an international force would be better.

The Oscars are also going on this evening. I actually went and watched all the Best Picture nominees before this evening. Crash I saw some time ago, but the other four I watched in the past few weeks (including one just this afternoon). Crash was really the worst of them, trite and over-hyped. Crash's Dickensian portrayal of racism in 'white America' or any America for that matter was inelegant and lacked subtlety. The other four were quite good though. Brokeback was very well acted, though to be honest, apart from being the main characters being gay it was a rather normal tragic love story. Munich was shocking, but was well done and had lots of depth. Capote had some excellent acting but it was quite dour and depressing. Good Night and Good Luck was just excellent all around, a spectacular film. If any of the four win I suppose it would be worth it, but my preference is probably for the latter two.

Finally, in Haiti the proposal of the Brazilian delegation was accepted. Rene Preval has been named President once more and the people of Haiti may get their due democratic government, though only time will tell what external international stakeholders and opponents of Preval and Aristide will do about it.

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to defeat, for it is momentary.
-- Ghandi

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dumping Ground

Haiti is in turmoil in the wake of the recent Presidential election. The election marked a hoped return to democracy but has now been blemished by scandal and corruption. The most popular candidate has been former President, and ally of the deposed Jean Bertrand Aristide, Rene Preval. Large groups of people, predominantly the country's poor, have been saying they don't care about the official results, they know Preval won. Regardless of his popularity however, a majority is required to win the presidency. Preval has apparently close to 50% of the vote, but not the 51% needed to win outright. Or so says the government. This caused protest and anger among the many Preval supporters. Moreover, recent discoveries have revealed corruption and fraud in what were thought to be free and fair elections. There have been thousands of ballots cast without any candidate selected. This is highly unusual when you consider the effort required and the many hours Haitians must spend queueing for a chance to vote. There were also thousands of ballots, most of which were marked for Preval, found smouldering in a dump. The dump was used to bodies during the military junta rule and simply for rubbish later on. With these new revelations protests have broken out in the streets. The UN group overseeing the election claimed to have preserved over 90% of the ballots, though that's easily enough to give Preval a clear victory. Though the next candidate after him only has about 12%, if the scandal is not resolved in Preval's favour it will force a runoff vote. That would not be taken well by Preval's popular support base. Thus in an attempt to prevent mass riots the Brazilian delegation in has proposed having the other candidates concede the election to Preval. This is being discussed, but the situation is tense and could easily erupt.

US Vice President Dick Cheney went quayle hunting over the weekend and accidentally shot his friend, a well known Texas lawyer, in the face with his shotgun. The Vice President and the Whitehouse made no statement or even news releases about the incident until some 24 hours after it happened. The incident was finally reported, not by the Whitehouse, but by a local Texan paper which heard from the owner of the ranch where the shooting took place. The victim is doing well after getting hit with buckshot and subsequently suffering a mild heart attack. Cheney was interviewed a few days later on a local Fox News station and admitted blame for the incident and said it was the worst day of his life. Cheney, who is a major supporter of the gun lobby, said the shooting was his fault and that it was definitely an accident. The Vice President also was given a warning since he did not possess a required hunting permit and he had also been drinking that day.
Aside from the roasting from many comedians on the subject, this is an examplary incident for the anti-gun lobby. How can the Vice President talk about responsible gun use when he shot a man in the face and summarily caused him to have a heart attack. How can anyone talk about 'responsible' gun use when guns are used solely for killing? How do you responsibly kill people? Considering how much money is thrown away on killing people or devising new ways of killing people, I'd be all in favour of banning gun ownership or use outside of the police and military. The $900 billion dollars spent on arms and military each year could be put to much better use. Or at the very least, used for something other than killing people.