Flags a’ flappin’

April 26, 2006

In a recent post on what has been termed the “flag flap” I said that I really wasn’t sure how I stood. Well, I’m not sure if I actually lied then, if my thoughts evolved through the week, or if I just hadn’t thought things through, but in reading other posts and participating as a commentator on a couple of conversations (here and here) I think that it has become obvious that I have in fact chosen a side.

First, I would like to state up front that the debate, at least that which I’ve seen, has for the most part maintained the civil tone that it deserves. There are a few notable exceptions but I will not point them out – they deserve to get no further attention and I’m not going to provide them with hits. Don’t get me wrong – I love animated discussion and I understand that it can get a little heated sometimes, but in some cases the tone of even the original posts were bathed in invective and ad hominem attacks. Armchair chickenhawk cowards with axes to grind.

I think that in originally considering the subject, I underestimated the importance of the ceremony of lowering the flag; the honour that it represents and the respect that it invokes. It is an act of love and respect for the families of the fallen and a token of appreciation for those that still serve. In short it is the very least we can do. As Rick Mercer points out in his blog, if we are going to have to lower the flag when a party apparatchik like Michael Fortier dies, then why on earth not for someone that actually deserves it?

Prime Minister Harper, lower the damned flags and publicly admit that you made a mistake. There are those out there that might mistake you for human if you did.

As for the media at the airport in Trenton – give it a rest. That absolutely is a time for the families to begin the real grieving; Harper has this one right. That’s right, you read it right – I said “Harper has it right”. Me! This is not a move to hide the dead. If the media suddenly becomes barred from showing the services in Kandahar, then I’ll get worried, but not now. This is for the families.

That he has made these two decisions so close together cannot be coincidence, but I’m not sure of the motivation behind them yet. Is he simply being an absolute control freak as it appears in some of his other actions? Perhaps. Or does he actually want to hide the real cost of the war from Canadians? Also possible, but only time will tell.

I would like to say here that if we had the chance to vote on our participation in Afghanistan we would be more likely to openly accept the deaths as part of the cost, because we would bear some of the responsibility for being involved. As it is now, we are dragged into a war by them and our brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters get to pay the price. It’s too easy an argument to make, and one that I’m sure he’s paying attention to.

And one that I’m sure he would do anything to avoid.

Is Iran asking for it, and if so, why?

April 26, 2006

It really is beginning to look like Iran wants to push the West (and East) as far as it can. It seems to have gotten pretty much what it has wanted til now – time to develop its own enrichment capability; the question now is what else does it want? As some authors have suggested, there is a chance that the Iranian government actually wants an attack from outside in order to rally its people. Announcements like this one today, that Iran is willing and interested in exporting nuclear technology can only be understood in this light.

Because this is exactly the kind of provocation that could unite Europe and the US in a military effort. If any evidence were to appear that Iran had actually approached a non-nuclear nation with overtures on these lines, an attack would surely occur. It might just even be enough for Russia and China to look the other way for a while, if not participate directly.

That the Iranian government would be willing to push like this implies either absolute confidence or desperation. In some ways, they appear to have the west by the cajones. First, they sit on a huge chunk of much-needed oil and natural gas reserves and are in position to make the Gulf of Hormuz impassable. Secondly, the American economy very possibly could not withstand the shock of an Iranian oil bourse based in euros, as they’ve hinted at. (I’ve summarized the discussion about the oil bourse here to the best of my meager ability). Some writers have inferred that the US might actually attack should Iran do this; nukes or no nukes. And finally, geopolitically, they are important to China and Russia both for trade and as a foothold of influence in the Middle East.

However, despite their rich oil reserves, the Iranian economy is not doing well and economic indicators for the immediate future are not good. Also, the Iranian electorate is more progressive than many in the Mid East and have in the past voted in reformist governments. (In some ways, if Bushco actually wanted to “spread democracy” in the region, Iran might have been a more fertile location than Iraq.) Should they suspect that an attack from the west was induced by their government, they might be savvy enough to bring it down – it is after all possibly fear of its own people that drives the Iranian government to such desparate measures.

And the overarching question is how do Russia and China react to a proposed attack on Iran? If they throw their hand in with the US and Europe, then they aknowledge in some manner a shared domain over Iran, which might not be in their own best interest.

AMS Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology

April 25, 2006

A leading hurricane researcher, Greg Holland, has told the 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology (speakers list here) that the 2005 hurricane season is directly linked to global warming. Unfortunately, the abstract to the talk makes no reference to this conclusion and there is no extended abstract, as it sadly common at scientific conferences.

I’m looking forward to further reports from this conference, particularly commentary on William Gray’s talk. He has argued that global warming is not the result of anthropogenic sources, rather it results naturally from deep-water cirulation issues that are not adequately modelled in the global circulation models. I am not a climatologist and I’m interested to read about what others in the field think about his work. I have read the abstract (pdf) to his talk and his logic seems to my untutored mind valid, though he offers only a hand-waving model to replace the circulation models he doesn’t like.

[Whether or not this is related I leave for you to decide. I'm just saying... ]

Shame on you, Dalhousie University!

April 25, 2006

Flash popped me a note this morning to tell me that a friend of mine is being presented with an honourary degree at Dalhousie University at the convocations next month – thanks! However, I was distressed to see that in the same slate of honours, Derek Brown, one of the main backers behind privatizing Nova Scotia Power is also being so honoured.

Someone smarter than me is going to have to tell me how privatizing a utility and creating a monopoly, is in any way good for the province. Good for the shareholders, sure, but me? Yes, I understand that power rates would have gone up anyway because of the cost of energy, but now we the rate-payers, are forced to support a profit! And in the meantime, we have had layoffs of staff and maintenance personnel that have resulted in increasing and longer disruptions due to severe weather and insufficient maintenance.

I might be convinced that privatizing government utilities is a good idea – but never, never, never into one single company that can then distort and control the market as it sees fit. It’s not like I can opt to get my electricity from NB Power.

Dalhousie University, my alma matre, shame on you!

[Update: There are some others in the list that are entirely worthy, I'm just using this as an opportunity to bitch about privatization;)]

Iran, the SCO, and the NPT

April 25, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ratcheted up the rhetoric, suggesting that Iran might quit the NPT, which the has been used to restrict and control the development of nuclear technology. This announcement, which was made in a discussion with reporters and is not official policy (yet) is likely Iran’s way of saying that for them as well “all options are on the table”. This could simply be rhetoric to heat up the Americans into a preemptive strike on Iran, which would likely play into any political desires Ahmadinejad has. If so, he is playing a very dangerous game; if the Iranian public begins to get a sense that he has baited the outside world into attacking them, his gambit might be for not.

He also said that he doesn’t believe the UN will impose economic restrictions on Friday, the day the Security Council demanded Iran suspend all uranium enrichment. In that he might be right, but, as others smarter than I have suggested, he should be wary; the UN Security Council might well back sanctions yet.

Economic sanctions or worse are indeed less likely owing to the reluctance of Russia and China, who rely on Iran for oil and gas, however anything is possible. If a UN security council resolution is proposed, all that is required I believe is yes votes from nine of the fifteen members and no vetoes. Russia and China do have vetoes, and every public statement they have made to date indicate they might veto, but it is hard to say exactly what they would do if a motion was proposed and backed by enough countries.

An interesting piece of recent news that has some bearing on this is that the Chinese are about to offer Iran membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO is an economic organization which, if observer memberships become full for Pakistan, India, and Mongolia, will cover the majority of the world’s fastest growing economies. This bit from the article must be raising eyebrows in the US State Department:

Its main focus has been regional security and the fight against separatism and extremism, but last year witnessed a shift linked by some analysts to Beijing’s opposition to American “hegemony” and wariness about U.S. presence near its western flank.

It’s certainly hard to see how Iran would fit in an organization whose main goals are fighting extremism, but it certainly could be a welcome member state in the “Us vs. Them” club. I’m not sure if we’re beginning to see a Cold War-style alignment of powers yet, but it is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Iran keeps getting bigger and more complicated and more important with every article I read. And for what it’s worth, the PNAC decision to invade Iraq looks more and more foolish.

I don’t know enough about the internal politics or economics of Russia to know if Putin would benefit from flipping the bird to the Americans or indeed how reliant they are on trade with Iran. Would sanctions damage their own already fragile economy? As for the Chinese, it is anyone’s guess. They certainly need the resources, but they have the economic clout to get them anywhere. I have a sense that they are beginning to express their interests more openly on the international stage and at some point in time we will see the Chinese put their foot down on some issue in the face of international pressure; I’m just not sure whether this is the issue or not. As important as it is for the threat to nuclear proliferation, this might also mark the debut of a new and bolder China on the international scene.

The Vatican and AIDS: common sense vs infallibility

April 24, 2006

It appears that the Vatican might be considering entering the 20th century – congratulations, only one more to go! According to this report, the Vatican is considering overturning its ban on the use of condoms as a preventative measure to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa.

Reversing decisions must be difficult when You and Your Office are officially infallible.

I knew it!

April 24, 2006

Get your Stinking Paws Off Me, You Damn Dirty Ape!

April 24, 2006

The revolution has begun!
That’s really the only reason I can think of that this qualifies as ‘News’.

I’d be watching for Roddy McDowall, if I were them…

Anyway, I did this for three reasons:

  1. We have a serious lack of Charlton Heston quotes. Moses cannot be ignored. Remember, guns don’t kill people, Chuck Heston kills people. (I would personally pay big money to see a to-the-death cage match between Heston and William Shatner. But that’s for another day.)
  2. Up until now, we have remained monkey-free. There must be a lobby group somewhere waiting to protest at any moment. Sooner or later, SFRPIB (the Society for Fair Referencing of Primates in Blogs) will strike.
  3. Seriously. C’mon. A Canadian or two is injured in a plane crash, a Canadian was in the area of an earthquake, a Canadian was injured by a clan of rogue ninja chimps. The first two, I could see as being valid in a news sense – the families like to know these things, and often the news gets the message out that someone has survived faster than the spotty telecommunications in some parts of the world.

But injured in a chimp attack?

The family is probably denying that they know the poor schlub. What’s remarkable about this is they must have edited out the laughter of the police as they talked to the press.
What precipitated the attack? I don’t know – someone was wearing Calvin Klein’s Eau de Banane or something – or maybe the chimps found out the guy/girl was Canadian, assumed they were from Hollywood, and were auditioning for the sequel to King Kong.
My point is, this isn’t news, it’s the stuff that gets shoved into the last slot on the newscast as one mindless pile of clothes smiles, turns to the other, and says, “Oh, I saw monkeys at the zoo.” Congratulations, Muffy, I’m proud of you. You’ve learned what a ‘zoo’ is.

I don’t mean to disregard or belittle the fact that someone died, I’d just like to make clear the fact that I, personally, have no intention of dying in such an embarassing manner. Saving a child from a fire? Fine. Hail of bullets as I save the lives of a busload of nuns? Cool by me.
Maniacal monkeys? Not a chance.

Unless, of course, I end up saving a child from a fire, saving a busload of nuns, and dying in a hail of bullets fired by maniacal monkeys. That would be news.

Then it’s me & Chuck, against the world:
“It’s a madhouse! A maaaadhouse!”

Lest we remember

April 23, 2006

The Conservatives have stopped the Liberal tradition of honouring the deaths of Canadian soldiers overseas by flying flags at half-staff only on DND buildings. Gordon O’Connor, Minister of Defense announced that we’ve “returned to the 80-year tradition of remembering all casualties of war or operations on one day — Nov. 11″, which I was surprised to learn we weren’t doing already. What the hell was I doing every year up to now? Or was he saying that we are returning to limiting the tributes of our military dead to Nov. 11?

As other bloggers have noted, this change in policy comes at a time when Canadians have been warned to expect greater losses in Afghanistan, and therefore is noteworthy. Does this mean we are hiding the costs of this foreign engagement at an important time, or are we simply making consistent rules, as the Conservatives suggest? Personally, I don’t think that it is a real big deal, it’s not like the Conservatives have ordered the media to not cover military funerals or to cease publishing pictures of coffins like the Americans have. But it is interesting.

We have a few members of the armed forces past and present that comment regularly here, and one that posts. What do you guys think of this?

This Blog Brought to You By…

April 23, 2006

No one – yet. But, as the link shows – if Congress has it’s way, control of the Internet will be passed over to Telco’s such as Verizon and AT&T who will get to decide which websites get preferential treatment or even get access at all – and somehow I don’t think independant thought like blogs are going to be well treated.


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