Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hezbollah night-vision equipment diverted from UN anti-drug programme

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Israeli intelligence officials have complained to Britain and the United States that sensitive night-vision equipment recovered from Hezbollah fighters during the war in Lebanon had been exported by Britain to Iran.


one of the pieces of equipment is a Thermo-vision 1000 LR tactical night-vision system, serial No. 155010, part No. 193960, manufactured by Agema, a high-tech equipment company with branches in Bedfordshire, England, and San Diego.


The equipment, which needed special export-license approval from the British government, was passed to the Iranians through a program run and administered by the U.N. Drug Control Program. The equipment uses infrared imaging to provide nighttime surveillance that allows the user to detect people and vehicles moving in the dark at a range of several miles.

The report quotes an anonymous British Foreign Office official:

"We've been encouraging the Iranians as part of their anti-narcotics program, and there was an export in 2003 ... as part of the heroin and opium smuggling program. This is an area where we try not to let the nuclear issue prevent cooperation on countering narcotics"

Apple iPod Chinese factory's new "normal 60 hour week"

If you own an iPod, as we do, this BBC story on conditions at an Apple iPod supplier in China is interesting. Apple themselves released a report reflecting interviews with 100 out of the BBC's figure of 30,000 Apple-related workers which included

"Two employees reported that they had been disciplined by being made to stand at attention."

This report in response to previous British media reports of conditions in the facility. The facility as a whole was reported by the Mail on Sunday as employing 200,000 workers but this may have included lines for other manufacturers.

[seen on Slashdot]

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Searchers

Like pretty much every blog, google tends to refer some odd searches here. I'd like to address two in particular.
  1. What's so special about "parking games"? It seems on a look at my logs that it comes up at minimum once a week. It tends to direct people to the account of Sam Sullivan practising flag waving in a car park.

  2. "From Cork to Toronto" is 5181 kilometres according to Great Circle Mapper (3219 miles in "old money").

Progress on defeating preeclampsia?

Spotted this on realitycheck(dot)ie - a New Yorker article discussing researcher Ananth Karumanchi's research into possible causes of preeclampsia and strategies to combat it by looking at levels of certain soluble proteins. The article is as interesting for its examination of the "politics" (of a career nature) of research, of getting that research published and of obstetric research as it is for the discussion of the work to date. Don't know if it's going to lead to a cure but I'm glad he and now others are taking another swing at it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

General Cantona?

Has Eric the King grown tired of beach football and acting? He doesn't say anything, not even gnomic references to trawlers and seagulls.

"There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution"

So said Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in her opinion calling a halt to the warrantless, FISAless tapping of phones by US intelligence (sic) agencies.

Slate has what seems a good article here, noting its follow-on to Hamdan vs Rumsfeld.

Let's hope a similar, thorough examination of signing statements is not far behind. Taylor quotes Justice Black:

The Constitution limits his functions in the lawmaking process to the recommending of laws he thinks wise and the vetoing of laws he thinks bad. And the Constitution is neither silent nor equivocal about who make laws which the President is to execute. The first section of the first article says that 'All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States'
Taylor ends by quoting Justice Warren:

Implicit in the term ‘national defense’ is the notion of defending those values and ideas which set this Nation apart. . . . It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of . . . those liberties . . . which makes the defense of the Nation worthwhile.

A good reason to hope for an early election

Given Harper's performance over the last few weeks and his handpicked Senator's failure to make progress at Public Works, here's the news that will hopefully end his dreams of an overall majority and send him to Opposition - proof positive that Reformer and other social conservatives are simply unable to co-exist with progressive Conservatives.

Halton Tory Youth have come out for Garth Turner's challenger (who isn't even admitting until recently he's running at all to keep things nice and secret). [Originally seen at Big Blue Wave] All this is being co-ordinated by Charles McVety and Rondo Thomas, and if you don't recall who these guys are then Zac at Behind the Headlines has some reminders for you. According to Turner the numbers turning out in public (via "Defend Marriage meetings") are small but not so small that he's ignoring it either - far from it.

James Moore, Gerald Keddy, John Prentice and John Baird are also believed to be on the hardliner hitlist for challenge to nomination or via independent candidates. In Moore's case he saw off Greg Watrich last time out who failed to stop Moore increasing his majority of the Liberal challenger and Baird did likewise with John Pacheco. Pacheco had previously run for the Family Coalition Party against Dalton McGuinty who noted "For the Family Coalition party to say it stands for inclusiveness is like Colonel Sanders saying he's going to look after the chickens".

Clearly CPC HQ in letting this go on has forgotten electoral mathematics - the Christian-Talibs have nowhere to go, whereas social liberals can just follow Brison and Stronach. Meanwhile Turner could "do a Lieberman"... (or to keep it Canadian, "a Desjarlais").

I hope progressive Tories are also keeping an eye on whether McVety is backing Tories AND independents running against Tories such as James Moore - that's the kind of thing that got Buzz Hargrove in hot water. That said, it's not all bad news - there's a challenger to so-con Rob Anders but since he wasn't given a heads-up by CPC HQ he's only got one week to apply, get all of sorts of forms filled and crucially - memberships signed up! McVety must have "had a visitation" or something to have Keene's process run so much more smoothly.

A Liberal slate with Ignatieff up front and Dion at Foreign Affairs as well as retaining most of the other challengers in key positions to keep the party united (except Fry and Volpe - let's not go mad altogether) could make back a lot of ground, especially with a cabinet commitment to start rebuilding consensus on what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan. This would be enhanced if the CAW's disaffiliation from the NDP has a substantial impact and the people who lent Jack their vote last time remember the kind of government that vote bought.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Chirac gets it right on Lebanon troops?

When you have bloggers such as Far and Wide's Steve V and Sicilian Notes' Richard Waghorne, the former a raging critic of Israeli operations in Lebanon and the latter a largely uncritical supporter, agreeing on something you can't help feeling like the unlikely has happened - France is doing something right.

They have both criticised France's reluctance to increase UNIFIL troop numbers beyond a fairly token 400, up from their current commitment of 200. France's reluctance is mirrored by the Germans who have offered naval anti-smuggling patrols and perhaps border security, the UK and Denmark who have also offered ships, the Italians who are ready to send 3,000 but not yet and the Irish who have earmarked 200 (which would bring them up to the legal maximum of about 850 overseas at any time due to the Liberia mission) but who are also holding back.

The reason is that which I posted on some days ago (albeit having taken a second swing at it) - Resolution 1701 does not provide necessary powers to do what the Lebanese Government have now openly said they will not do - disarm Hezbollah fighters if they don't feel like being disarmed. Instead, the fear is that UNIFIL will be, as usual, caught in the crossfire without a clear mandate.

Steve V blames France for this:

Chirac's refusal to send a robust force gives the impression that France is nothing more than a paper tiger, unwilling to take any practical risks. Other countries looked to France for leadership, and now they essentially fail the region. Sending a paultry (sic) engineering company tells the world that France doesn't merit the status it so often demands.

This is despite the fact that it was France who together with the US negotiated the initial resolution draft, before Russia began backing its clients in Syria and Iran and the Lebanese themselves began buckling to their Hezbollah cohort in cabinet, leading to the dilution of the resolution's aims. It was said at the time that a Chapter 7 resolution was unnecessary since Lebanon was inviting the UN in and would act to enforce the resolution's aims. Well, the UN seem to be welcome but the Lebanese Government have now made it clear they will not enforce the resolution.

Meanwhile Richard Waghorne thinks the Israelis should just follow the Likud hardliner view and head back across the border.
Israel should point to Hezbollah's continuing violations of the ceasefire arrangments, the inability of the Lebanese army to disarm it, the tragic farce of the 'international force', and resume the job it left unfinished at the soonest opportunity, this week, using the ground operations that proved militarily highly effective in the last days of the recent fighting.

The Israelis know that any protest on their part, however well founded, would be futile. They only have friends or enemies - there seems to be no swaying either with logic or justification of anything. In any case, I doubt many Israelis would agree with Waghorne's urging them on - the IDF tried to win an air war and failed, and in the process revealed a yawning intelligence gap regarding Hezbollah tactics and weaponry. A respite could be as valuable to Israel, if not more so, than Lebanon.

He also takes a swipe at the Irish political posture too

Ireland says we won't send troops if, you know, they might get shot at and stuff. Makes you proud, doesn't it? Nothing like living in a pretend country for idyllic unreality.

The issue isn't whether they would be shot at Richard - it's whether they could shoot back.

This interlude might also be a welcome opportunity for reflection for those bloggers who are not serving and have not served in the military, like myself and I suspect both of the bloggers mentioned above, to reflect on the sacrifices made by those who fight with rifles rather than keyboards.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bush vs. Gore - fuggetaboudit?

According to Adam Cohen in the New York Times (rego required or use Bugmenot) seminars on the Rehnquist Court are avoiding discussion of perhaps its most historic case. Cohen argues that Bush vs Gore was right in law but wrong in remedy, and that Democratic petitioners attempting to use Bush vs Gore to ensure electoral fairness are winning in lower courts but being reversed when the cases are heard en banc at the District Courts of Appeal.
There are several problems with trying to airbrush Bush v. Gore from the law. It undermines the courts’ legitimacy when they depart sharply from the rules of precedent, and it gives support to those who have said that Bush v. Gore was not a legal decision but a raw assertion of power.

The courts should also stand by Bush v. Gore’s equal protection analysis for the simple reason that it was right (even if the remedy of stopping the recount was not). Elections that systematically make it less likely that some voters will get to cast a vote that is counted are a denial of equal protection of the law. The conservative justices may have been able to see this unfairness only when they looked at the problem from Mr. Bush’s perspective, but it is just as true when the N.A.A.C.P. and groups like it raise the objection.

There is a final reason Bush v. Gore should survive. In deciding cases, courts should be attentive not only to the Constitution and other laws, but to whether they are acting in ways that promote an overall sense of justice. The Supreme Court’s highly partisan resolution of the 2000 election was a severe blow to American democracy, and to the court’s own standing. The courts could start to undo the damage by deciding that, rather than disappearing down the memory hole, Bush v. Gore will stand for the principle that elections need to be as fair as we can possibly make them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How does this help anybody?

I've been thinking some more about the AIDS Conference, and especially given the media coverage of the Federal Government's participation. It's clear that this event has caused a complete meltdown as far as the Tories are concerned, not merely because of the mileage Harper's decision to go to Alert (like Ottawa wasn't far enough away - 4,300km Harper? Seriously, you wouldn't have caught anything, not even at 1/10,000,000th the distance.) but also the bewildering performance of Tony Clement and Josee Verner, cancelling press conferences twice now. It is true that Chretien didn't go in Vancouver in 1996 but if the p'tit gars de Shawinigan is the standard against which the Tories wish to be judged now the next election can't come soon enough.

What this is really about is Harper being booed. Once again we see the American influence at work, but instead of "free speech zones" far from the President, Harper is keeping himself far from anywhere free speech might occur. If Harper had turned up and shown real compassion for the cause of AIDS victims those who booed him might have looked like idiots. Pity he hadn't the courage to find out.

However, on the other side of the events there has been some shocking writing. Let's start with Peter Worthington's disgraceful Toronto Sun column:
Certainly there are more votes available in Nunavut than there likely are at the AIDS get-together.

Even with all the overseas representation I imagine there were more than the five permanent residents Alert listed in the 2001 census.
Like most Canadians who don’t have AIDS and aren’t HIV carriers, Harper probably isn’t much interested in the topic.

Even if such a thing could be true, it is quite at odds with Harper's prioritisation of compensation to Hepatitis C sufferers excluded from Allan Rock's 1998 package - considering the inertia of government it was positively lightning fast and to a fairly small cohort of 5,500 compared to 2,463 HIV positive tests in 2005 alone. In addition, Worthington thinks it is the role of the Health Minister to handle these matters, and I would agree if that was the consistent policy of the Government, which it is not.

And what are we to make of this?
In that vein, I’m not sure our police chief gained many points when, as a good sport, he attended a Gay Pride function and was bussed on the cheek by someone he’d probably have preferred to deck.

And this from a newspaper whose letters and editorial pages are full of dismissiveness and yet find the event itself important enough to have a special section on its website.

If I wanted to read that level of analysis I could just stick with the Tory and/or uber-Catholic Bloggers like Kathy Shaidle who "thanks God" for the Worthington article above, and here's "Upper Canada Catholic":
The cold, hard truth about AIDS is that every single case – EVERY SINGLE CASE – can be traced back to a moral choice to engage in disordered sexual conduct. Every baby who got AIDS from its mother, every person who received infected blood in a transfusion, all of them can trace the origin of their infections back to a very human choice to engage in conduct judged for thousands of years to be harmful to the human race.

Cantor the Conservative:
Can you imagine Richard Gere, or Angelina Jolie advocating for the mentally ill? Of course not... their careers would be ruined if they did.

To all of them I answer:
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Matthew 25:37-40

Update: Apparently Harper's absence meant the President of Liberia cancelled a planned appearance for protocol reasons. I understand a similar situation pertained when Chretien skipped the Vancouver conference and Nelson Mandela who was president of South Africa at the time cancelled for the same reason.

Update2: forgot to add a hat-tip to montreal simon earlier.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Reaching out

"I make this simple request to the Afghan people: Reach out and grab on to the help we offer to you in good faith. Together, and only together, can we succeed," she said.
Angela Reid, mother of Corporal Christopher Reid who was killed by a roadside bomb, speaking at his funeral in Truro, Nova Scotia. [CBC video report - Realplayer]

The decline and fall of Fidel (episode 211)

Personally I suspect that the opinions that Soviet style methodology is at work in Havana (Fidel is sick when he's really already dead) might be proved wrong, but here are two articles I noticed about the situation - one by Alexandre Trudeau reminiscing about the good old days when his Dad hung out with Castro but this one in the Jamaican Gleaner gives what I think is a more realistic view of Cuba today.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

UNIFIL finally gets to do its' job?

Security Council Resolution 1701 section 12:
Acting in support of a request from the government of Lebanon to deploy an international force to assist it to exercise its authority throughout the territory, authorizes Unifil to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilised for hostile activities of any kind, to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, and to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel, humanitarian workers, and, without prejudice to the responsibility of the government of Lebanon, to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence;
What a pity it has taken several invasions of Lebanon to get these words which most people probably thought a UN force would have had before. Now to see (a) if they mean it and (b) which countries will provide the 15,000 troops.

Note to the UN - (a) does not mean "promise protection but deliver ineffectual rules of engagement and insufficient manpower and equipment". Another Srebrenica or Rwanda will be the sunset of UN peacekeeping.

Section 8 subpoint 6 is pretty important too:
Provision to the United Nations of all remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel's possession;
Update: I may have spoken too soon - the magic words "Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter" are missing, reflecting a Hezbollah veto. This would have empowered UNIFIL to have a peace-enforcement role. Even an intention to enter a future Chapter VII resolution (section 10 of the US-French Draft Resolution) has been excised and disarmament of Hezbollah is reserved to the Lebanese Government. Essentially UNIFIL will act as bodyguard to UN personnel and as aid to the Lebanese civil and military power if requested.

The danger remains the same as after the 2000 agreement - that the Lebanese State remains too weak to do what the international community expects of it, because of lack of resource but also because of the presence of Hezbollah representation within the executive.

Friday, August 11, 2006

John Ibbitson nails real issue of banning carry-on liquids

From his Globe and Mail column today:
This latest alleged bomb plot has thrown international aviation into chaos. Flights are delayed, airline stocks have tumbled. And we'll be forced to drink Air Canada's coffee.
Damn you international terrorist masterminds!

Damn your principles! Stick to your party!

Maria Minna's sense of national interest in her reaction to Wajid Khan's appointment as Harper's special adviser mirrors Benjamin Disraeli's nineteenth century thinking. I must say I hadn't considered myself lucky to live west of Coxwell Avenue (and thus Jack Layton's constituent rather than Minna's) for quite a while but today I do. Hedy Fry makes it clear that she is all for the same kind of ideological uniformity the Tories are regularly accused of. Jim Karaygiannis' attack is probably not entirely unrelated to the fact that Khan recently replaced him as leadership campaign chair of Joe "Youth for" Volpe.

It's a bit startling (but as an immigrant also encouraging) to watch the rapid rise of the former head honcho at Dufferin Mazda and the object of many FAN590 morning show comedy sketches. He had already been in the news for confronting Qayyum Abdul Jamal, one of the 17 arrested on terrorism charges, at a Muslim centre in his riding.

Some Liberals have rightly welcomed the appointment and others at least are holding back the tar and feathers:
Keith Martin, Liberal foreign affairs critic, said he takes Mr. Khan at his word. "I have to take it at face value in the hope that Mr. Khan is a good man, an honest man, and he will give his best to make a positive contribution to Canada and to the government on this crisis." [from the National Post article]
Now that he has agreed to not attend caucus meetings, the MPs who called for him to be excluded should explain why they think Khan would divulge information from caucus to Harper while remaining a Liberal - it couldn't be because Stronach and Brison brought details of the Tory caucus with them when they jumped ship? Surely not...

In any case, the bloggers who suspect a floor crossing is in Khan's future, especially if he is pushed out by his own side, might be right in the end. Once again the Liberal party's headlessness is revealed, as with the Afghan vote and the budget fiasco - Bill Graham (who approved Khan's appointment) won't be able to go through airport metal detectors soon with all the knives in his back. I can only hope Graham is keeping a diary for publication.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bloggers need to get over themselves

When you subscribe to blog aggregators like OntarioBlogs or IrishBlogs, you come across a lot of varied and wonderful stuff but also a lot of one-note blogs and a lot of one-track minds. God knows I have often been wrong about stuff I have written and commented but I hope that when it gets to the stage where I reflexively abuse people personally simply for thinking differently that someone like Twenty will less than gently smack me upside the head and I will find something else to do with my time.

The problem is that sometimes an interesting sounding subject line will have me clicking on the aggregator link before I realise whose blog it is and then my heart sinks on discovering where I've landed. Even if I don't click on it, sometimes scrolling down through the aggregator brings post after post which are cut and pastes from other outlets favouring their positions and little if any content of their own.

Having made this comment in some frustration on one such blog, I then noted this post of James Bow's where he makes similar points - that terms like "wingnut", "warmonger", "apologist", "Harperocrites" and "Libranos" are the default reaction of some people in discussing matters such as the Middle East or the state of the nation in general.

I also (via Sicilian Notes) noted this New Yorker article which takes on the notion of blogger-as-journalist (or worse, blogger-as-history-maker) with a healthy dose of vinegar, not to mention interesting historical perspective. I thought "deathmatch posting" was only as old as Usenet but apparently the Spectator (not the "modern" Spectator which arrived in 1828) and its peers were the soc.culture.celtic of the 18th century! Ironically a search of that and other formerly contentious boards from a few years back seems to indicate the heavy flamers have largely moved on... I wonder where...

Many news outlets refer to the "influence" of bloggers but the only way they ever got any was when working journalists decided to take them seriously - and even take up the medium themselves.


On CBC's the National, another report on AIDS - this time from South Africa. It is frightening how quickly we have become inured to AIDS and in particular AIDS in Africa. [Realplayer, begins at 25:30, link will work until evening of 10th Aug]

So many blogs and so many journalists have weighed the tens and hundreds of deaths in Israel and Lebanon, looking for a few more killed on the side they favour to prove some kind of point. In Africa the deaths come in thousands, and tens of thousands. The crises in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan have so many fewer deaths than the conflicts in Somalia, in Congo, in Sudan, and in the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa but so many more column inches.

One thousand is the number of AIDS deaths each day in South Africa. The documentary made no mention of the Mbeki regime's disastrous attitude to AIDS - if the apartheid regime had acted one tenth as culpably there would be demonstrations about genocide in every university, every union hall, every Western capital and rightly so.

Instead I fear there is a reluctance to acknowledge the sheer horror of what is unfolding, a thinking that it is killing those who would die of something else anyway, that these countries are poor, corrupt, "failed".

But South Africa, a country with gold and diamonds, that had a nuclear weapons project, is spending billions to host the World Cup in four years - this is the reality, where volunteers and grandmothers are the first line rather than the last line of defence of children, many of whom who have inherited a death sentence in the womb?

While at the cinema this weekend, I saw a trailer for this film, which tells of a world bereft of children. In South Africa and many other African countries, there are children and no parents, and even the grandparents are now dying of AIDS too.

Update: I would really like to know what Stephen Harper was doing today which decreed that he couldn't make time for this.