Blog of Mass Distraction

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


The tsunami that struck in southern Asia has claimed some 24,000 lives so far. Caused by a massive earthquake off the coast of Aceh region in Indonesia, the wave generated even reached Somalia though there wasn't the same level of devastation there that there was in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. The quake was the most powerful in 40 years, a 9 on the richter scale. The massive destruction easily comes in at billions of dollars. Even in Somalia, some 6000km away, dozens of lives were lost. The wave actually reached Somalia about 7.5 hours later so, just guessing, it travelled at something around 800km/h. There were apparently a lot of tourists in Thailand at the time, including a couple of Canadians, but the vast majority of the thousands of lost lives are people of the regions.
Aid efforts from around the world are scrambling to try to circumvent the damage. They are now worrying about those that will continue to die from disease after the initial numbers killed by the wave itself. I was just watching BBC and the latest numbers say up to 60,000 people have died, including 27,000 in Indonesia alone. Many people are trying to dispose of the dead and get food, clothing and medicine to those that were spared their lives.
It's in tragedies like this that people remember the precious value of life. Seeing so many lose so much in a senseless, inescapable tragedy; it can lead to a very fatalistic view of the world. Especially the view that we are living out our own destruction. But as morose and tragic as the events and topics I discuss and take interest in are, I consider myself an optimist. Perhaps I'm cynical of certain people and organizations, yes, but I'm definitely an optimist when it comes to humanity in general. It's tragedies like this that bring out both the best and the worst in human nature; I always assume that the best will prevail. It is in man made disasters, however, that I cannot make the same assumptions.
News is still coming in from the worst hit areas since communication links have been down. There are also areas where there just aren't people to report the situation. Aceh already had problems with reporting since it has been under a military crack-down for such a long time. For now, there is little more to do other than wait and watch and, for those of us who believe in a greater power, pray.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Feed the world

It looks like I was very tired when I wrote my last post. I'm a little surprised it's even as comprehensible as it is... but anyway...
I've had discussions with people about over population and famine across the world. I tell people that I don't think there is any food shortage in the world; that the problem is with difficult and unequal distribution. Some seem to have a hard time believing that. I guess I can understand, when you see so many millions starving in so many countries. But the reality is, there is no problem in producing the number of calories needed by everyone in the world.
I think we could produce enough food to feed maybe 10 billion without too much trouble. But right now, something like 90% of the grains we produce are not used for human consumption. They are considered low grade and are used strictly for animal feed. There was quite a problem this year with many Canadian farmers that had poor harvests and have had little support from the Canadian government. They couldn't sell whatever they did harvest because they produce animal feed grains and the prices they would get on international markets just wouldn't cover their costs.
Now I'm not going to get into the whole 'everyone should be a vegetarian' spiel, because I don't believe that. While I don't believe deforestation in South America to make room for grazing land is a good idea, I do think there are better ways to manage meat production that wouldn't cause a burden on the environment and would free up resources.
But I don't know why people just assume that there isn't enough food in the world for everyone and we need to start controlling population growth more effectively. I find it a rather offensive idea to be honest. The poor countries can't get enough food so they should control their population, while at the same time western countries are worried about the epidemic rates of obesity. Now I know that many people who have low income or are poor may become obese because of low quality food (fast food, etc.); but there is definitely not a shortage of calorie consumption here.
Canada and the United States make up something like 5% of the world's population, but we consume an immense amount of resources. The US is by far the largest consumer of energy in the world. It's the largest producer and importer as well. In per capita timber usage the US is number 2 behind Finland (which has a population around 5 million), Canada is number 3.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Men of Peace

Libyan dictator Momar Khadafi is enjoying his new found popularity among western leaders. With his agreement to stop nuclear weapons research and renouncing terrorism, the leader of the oil-rich country is being courted by many leaders including Canada's own Paul Martin.
Speaking of dictators, Pakistani dictator/president Musharraf has decided he will go back on his word and maintain his position as head of the army, drawing widespread finger wagging and frowns. Because Musharraf is a key ally to the war on terror, I doubt the US will allow much harm to come to him.
Martin left after some more travel to go to Morocco where he's been keeping the government's jet at his personal disposal. Talk about a waste of money. Almost as big a waste as the 8 billion or so spent on pointless missile defense tests that completely and utterly failed even though there was 2 years of preparation. Speaking of missile defense, Martin has said that the Canadian position on it is that there will be no agreement with the US if there are any plans for the weaponization of space. There is, however, sort of a gray line between the militarization of space and weaponization. While military satellites can be used for tracking and guidance, etc. (militarization), they shouldn't have weapons, kinetic or otherwise (weaponization).
Violence continues in Iraq with some of the deadliest attacks in the past couple of days. In spite of all the violence and bloodshed, Iraqi and American officials claim that elections will be held. The violence is escalating as the elections draw near and the Bush administration has said more troops will be needed because the Iraqi forces are just not equipped to police their own state. In fact there are still Iraqi recruits that are abandoning their posts.
To draw attention away from the horror of Iraq, the Bush administration has recently looked towards the Israel Palestine conflict (along with several other nations). With new elections set to take place for the successor to Arafat, many are saying there is a new opportunity for peace. Sharon's government has also been spared from another election by making a coalition with Peres's Labour party. So it looks as though Sharon's Ghaza pullout plan may go through next year. The possibilities for peace, however, are pretty slim. On the same day that the Knesset approved the pullout plan, more settlements were approved in the West Bank. There is no foreseeable plan to pull settlers out from there. And even though IDF troops will pull out, Israel will still maintain control of all the borders. So instead of being the giant cramped prison that it is now, the Ghaza will be a giant prison with just a perimeter guard. Who really believes that these are the steps towards peace?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Expanding Spheres of Influence

Some interesting information I've learned in the past little while concerning some contentious contemporary issues. The dispute in Ukraine has died down a little since the non-confidence vote passed and another runoff has been called. Yushenko has asked his supporters to continue their demonstration in the streets of Kiev for the time being to make sure the runoff goes through as planned. While it's fairly evident that Yanukovych did some vote rigging the first time around, he still has a strong base of support in the East.
Yushenko seems to have some popular support, but it turns out that he isn't immune to the corruption that is associated with Yanukovych and the old guard aristocracy that has controlled things since the end of the Soviet Union. One of his strongest supporters was driven out of politics in Ukraine for massive corruption; and he was Prime Minister when the President was in hot water for ordering the assassination of a dissenting journalist. Much of Yushenko's campaign has been sponsored by the United States and should he take control he'll likely follow the same path that the late Djindjic followed in Serbia, selling off the country's economy to western countries. Not that Yanukuvych would necessarily be any better or worse, but the popular support for Yushenko doesn't really bode well for Ukraine.

There's also been a $100 billion fuel deal between China and Iran. This flies in the face of US policy that has been trying to put sanctions on Iran. In fact, before the deal was reached concerning Iran's nuclear program, China had said it would veto an attempt to put sanctions against Iran.

In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the leader of Afghanistan this morning. Foreign dignitaries were there for the ceremony including Dick Cheney. I'm not really sure what you can say about Afghanistan's democratic process when one of Karzai's opponents was general Dostum, a former leader of the Northern Alliance and war criminal. So Dostum will just have to settle for minister of defense. Moreover, one of Karzai's two official deputies is Ahmed Zia Massoud, the younger brother of the late war criminal Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Yesterday was also the somber anniversary of the Montreal massacre. While that type of tragedy is rare, regular violence and poor treatment of women is far more common in North America than most people realize. More than just random violence, spousal abuse happens far too often. And all of the great advances of women in the workplace notwithstanding, women still aren't paid equal salaries for equal work.

On a final light note, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf came to visit the US. While he was in town he did an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, during which he said that the Iraq war was a mistake and has made the world less safe. One of his media people later recanted his statement. While what he said is blatantly obvious, it's still funny to see these guys slip up and say something they're not supposed to.
I can't for the life of me understand why the terrorists haven't attacked our food supply.
Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson, resigned

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, but before I get into that a few items to cover. Tom Ridge resigned as chief of Homeland Defense. The move was widely expected so no surprise there. Bush is also visiting Canada for a couple of days. He was received in Ottawa with some chilly weather, and a lot of protesters. Bush happily quipped about this saying there were still plenty of people waving at him with all five fingers. He spent yesterday in Ottawa and is due to head to Nova Scotia for today. In Ottawa in discussions with Prime Minister Martin, President Bush brought up something Martin was hoping to avoid, Canada's participation in the North American missile defense system. The majority of Canadians oppose any Canadian participation in the plan.
In Ukraine, talks between current leader Victor Yanukovych and opposition leader Victor Yushenko broke down briefly and there was an attempt to storm the parliament by the many opposition supporters that have been camping out in front of the government buildings for several days now. Only a handful of people managed to get in and Yushenko encouraged his supporters not to take rash actions. It seems that their patience has been rewarded because, though an earlier non-confidence vote failed, another has passed and the leadership will be dissolved with the hope of new elections coming soon.

World AIDS Day is every year on December 1st. This year's focus is on women and AIDS. I think last year the focus was on stigmatization. Women are known to be more at risk of infection than men for many reasons. In a strictly physiological sense women are more susceptible to the infection. But there are many social factors that increase the risk of women. The biggest problem, however, continues to be all the external factors in the areas and countries where people at risk live.
While, as far as I know, most of the people that contract HIV/AIDS in Canada or the US do so through high risk behaviours that are usually very avoidable. Whether through arrogance or ignorance they continue to put their lives at risk. This does not necessarily include the increasing rate of immigrants and refugees that are becoming infected with HIV.
In sub-Saharan Africa and now China, India, Brazil and Eastern Europe, people who do not engage in high risk behaviours, particularly women, are increasingly becoming infected; either through spouses, abuse, or a slew of other reasons. While addressing the disease and helping those with infection is necessary, the tide will not be broken unless the concomitant factors such as poverty, education and health are not dealt with. This is something that Western leaders have rarely addressed and while we continue to avoid it, future generations will continue to be lost.