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Monday, October 31, 2005

UN rejects Guantanamo visit offer

Well, can you blame them? (Story here)


Saturday, October 29, 2005

UN invited to inspect Guantanamo...sort of

This story describes how the US has 'nothing to hide' and has invited UN officials to visit Guantanamo Bay prison. Gee - nothing to hide, so why this?
Three human rights monitors will be allowed to observe the facilities and question military officials but will not have access to detainees.
Nothing to hide, well, except the prisoners themselves.
The facts are that there is no domestic or international law that permits the prisoners to be held in the first place and that allegations of mistreatment are rampant - I guess that's all just gossip.



I love Haiku - (a Japanese lyric verse form having 3 unrhymed lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables). This format somehow brings out a profundity in seconds. Some are beautiful, some are silly. I am going to place one of each below (beauty, silly) and then invite you to add your Haiku in any theme you'd like. Yes, you can do it!

The years first day
thoughts and lonliness;
the autumn dusk is here.
- Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)

Harriet Meiers
dreams of kingdom and castle
Texas dust and tears
- Gary (1951 - )

Your turn!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I Think I Could Handle Winning the Lottery

Last night someone in Camrose, Alberta won $54 million in a lottery. This story tells of some big winners who aren't too happy sometime later. I want all of you to know (especially if you win) that I think I can handle a lot of money. My plan is to create a foundation, choose some fine people to be Directors and then proceed to have fun doing some good, challenging some idiots ... and of course, holding board meetings in wonderfully interesting places (especially in February).

I'm now taking applications (and money if you win... remember that)!


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

U.S. death toll in Iraq campaign reaches 2,000

This is a sad news story. An Army spokeman, Lt.-Col. Steve Boylan had this to say about the 2,000th US soldier dying from the Iraq conflict:
"It is an artificial mark on the wall set by individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives."
With all due respect SIR! The life of every one of these men and women was precious. Every single one was some parent's little boy or little girl. Many loved their own little boys and girls. Every one had stories, plans, people in his or her life. Every single one deserved to live and not to die in a conflict founded on lies, waged within lies and certainly set in place by 'individuals or groups with specific agendas and ulterior motives'.

Lt. Colonel SIR! You should be ashamed to have to be a spokesperson for such an unfeeling Commander in Chief. My heart goes out to the 2,000th casualty, Staff Sgt. George Alexander, to the 1,999 before him and to those souls who are lining up in your dirty war to be the next to die.

I don't write this as a pacifist, but as a son of a Major General and grandson of two WWI veterans, both wounded.

This link leads to a sad, thoughtful moment.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Study Shows Major Decline in Political Violence Worldwide

A comprehensive 3-year study shows surprising evidence of major declines in armed conflicts, genocides, human rights abuse,military coups and international crises, worldwide.The number of armed conflicts has dropped 40% since 1992. (Download the whole report here.)

This is really fascinating - it's a credible study, supported by five governments, produced at the University of British Columbia and published by the Oxford University Press. Some of the findings might surprise you:
  1. The number of armed conflicts has declined by more than 40% since 1992. The deadliest conflicts (those with 1000 or more battle-deaths) dropped even more dramaticallyby 80%.

  2. The number of international crises, often harbingers of war, fell by more than 70% between 1981 and 2001.

  3. Wars between countries are more rare than in previous eras and now constitute less than 5% of all armed conflicts.

  4. The number of military coups and attempted coups has declined by some 60% since 1963. In 1963, there were 25 coups or attempted coups; in 2004, there were 10. All failed.

  5. Most armed conflicts now take place in the poorest countries in the world, but as incomes rise the risk of war declines.

  6. The UK and France, followed by the US and Russia/USSR have fought most international wars since 1946.

  7. Most of the worlds conflicts are now concentrated in Africa. But even here there are signs of hope. A new dataset compiled for the Human Security Report finds that between 2002 and 2003 (the last year for which there is data) the number of armed conflicts in Africa dropped from 41 to 35.

  8. The drop in armed conflicts in the 1990s was associated with a worldwide decline in arms transfers, military spending and troop numbers.

  9. Wars have become dramatically less deadly over the past five decades. The average number of people reported killed per conflict per year in 1950 was 38,000; in 2002 it was just 600 a decline of 98%.

  10. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s by far the highest battledeath tolls in the world were in the wars in East and Southeast Asia. In the 1970s and 1980s, most of the killing took place in the Middle East, Central and South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. By the end of the 1990s, more people were being killed in sub-Saharan Africas wars than the rest of the world put together.

  11. The new dataset created for the Report finds that between 2002 and 2003 the number of reported deaths from all forms of political violence fell by 62% in the Americas, 32% in Europe, 35% in Asia and 24 % in Africa.

  12. The biggest death tolls do not come from the actual fighting, however, but from war-exacerbated disease and malnutrition. These indirectdeaths can account for as much as 90% of the total war-related death toll. Currently there are insufficient data to make even rough estimations of global or regional indirectdeath toll trends.

  13. Not withstanding the horrors of Rwanda and Srebrenica, Bosnia, the number of genocides and other mass killings plummeted by 80% between the 1989 high point and 2001.

  14. International terrorism is the only form of political violence that appears to be getting worse. Some datasets have shown an overall decline in international terrorist incidents of all types since the early 1980s, but the most recent statistics suggest a dramatic increase in the number of highcasualty attacks since the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. The annual death toll from international terrorist attacks is, however, only a tiny fraction of annual war death toll.
The Human Security Report identifies three major political changes over the past 30 years thathave radically altered the global security landscape.
While there's no room for complacency - there are still some 60 armed conflicts raging around the world; there are gross abuses of human rights (especially women and children); war crimes and terrorist attacks. The underlying causes of conflict are not being addressed fully.

Anyhow, this data does go against some of the current popular wisdom (as a bumper sticker I saw put it: WHAT IS THIS HANDBASKET AND WHERE AM I GOING IN IT?.

What do you think?

Lions Skulls Found in Tower of London

Wow! Not only did the Kings of England like the lion symbol (they still do) - they actually had lions in the Tower of London (story). How times change...now they have a weasel in 10 Downing Street (or is it a chameleon)?
The best preserved lion skull was radiocarbon dated to between AD 1280 and 1385, making it the earliest Medieval big cat known in Britain. The period when it lived covers the reigns of Edward I, II and III, when the lion tower was built.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

US soldiers alleged to have desecrated Taliban corpes

This story describes allegations against US soldiers in Afghanistan.
The footage, captured by Australian TV channel SBS, purports to show the corpses of two Taliban fighters laid out facing Mecca and then being set alight. Later footage shows soldiers reading from a notebook messages they said had been broadcast to villagers, "Attention Taliban, you are cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to belaid down facing West and burnt. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."
War is hell and hellish things happen. If the US is going to wage war on terrorism in Afghanistan (or anywhere else) - shouldn't soldiers be trained in International Humanitarian Law (Geneva Conventions et al)? It doesn't take a military genius to realize that not only do human rights violations break the law (and dehumanize the perpetrators), but this ain't going to do much for the cause either boys... The simplistic message that "we'll hunt down all the terrorists and kill them" ignores the fact that there will always be more men (and women) ready to die for the cause. This kind of inhuman behavior is a wonderful recruiting tool for the Taliban.

So sad that the US squandered so much international good will since the attacks on the Trade Towers... from Canada to Islamic nations.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Live to work or work to live?

This is my newspaper column for next week...(10 small town papers).


This is Workplace Health Week in Canada – a time for employers and employees to consider how to strive for a healthier workplace and a good balance between home and work. This is a large topic; it clearly includes safe environments and preventing injuries, yet goes beyond to include the elusive work-life balance and job satisfaction.

Thinking about this led me to reflect on the workplaces I’ve enjoyed (or not) over the years. Several of my first jobs were of the ‘never again’ variety. The shortest was a mere twelve hours, peeling potatoes before retiring to my ‘free accommodation’, a filthy, windowless shack, teeming with mosquitoes and just spitting distance from the highway. The toughest job was working on a tobacco farm – backbreaking, nicotine-oozing work that would make a terrific smoking cessation program. In those early years I also shoveled out pens in a zoo, unloaded ships near Igloolik, served customers (some of them armed) in an all night convenience store in Colorado Springs and worked as a technician in a hospital operating room – setting up for surgery and mopping up the bits at the end.

While youthful employment stories are great for impressing my teenage children’s friends, I’m certainly glad that my career evolved to more rewarding employment, including my current self-employment. (I generally get along very well with the boss.)

According to a Health Canada survey, on a typical day, a Canadian worker spends 10.5 hours at the job or commuting and four hours doing housework and caring for children or other dependents. Add in sleeping time and it’s easy to see why so many workers feel a little touchy by the time their vacations roll around. The workers between 30 and 49 years old particularly indicated difficulty in achieving a balance. Career, children and aging parents all converge on workers in that age group. Who wouldn’t feel stress? It won’t surprise some readers that women are almost twice as likely as men to have trouble balancing home and work responsibilities.

What would the enlightened employer do to foster workplace health? Build flexibility into programs and policies to help employees juggle family responsibilities. Allow employees to pursue flexible career paths and give them as much control over their duties as possible. Change the work environment to make it easier for women to pursue a productive career and for men to contribute more fully to their families. And they would foster favourable health practices – from employee assistance programs to encouraging physical activity. And why would he do all this? Along with reducing absenteeism and sick leave, this would likely contribute to a healthier bottom line and would retain good employees for years to come.

What would the enlightened employee do? Seek an integrated life that includes emotional, spiritual, social, mental and physical elements. Choose one or two behaviours that would be helpful and might reduce stress, then ask someone close for support in this. Bring kindness, good humour and a calm focus to the work team. Celebrate successes at work. And finally, look for alternate employment if needed – in Canada’s wonderfully free society, it’s still a choice.

A friend of mine retired recently after working decades for a large company. He attended his final luncheon, got his watch (he really did) and then packed his personal belongings up to head home. Everything that was his to remove fit into one small cardboard box. When he got home, he set the box on the bed and was suddenly flooded with the realization that for years and years he had given so much to his work…and missed so much at home. Did it really all fit into one small box?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

US Polls Hammer Bush & Co.

It looks like Bush is tanking in the polls... and not just in Paris or Madrid. I'm not sure what will drag him down to the bottom of the US voters list, but put my bet on the Iraq morass and the ever-blossoming unimaginabley huge US deficit.

I have two fears: first that a terrorist attack on Americans will galvanize the fear-factor, pulling people into a huddle that looks to George. This is somewhat likely to happen, sooner or later - I just hope people can think critically, instead of with the reptile part of the brain.

The other fear is that the Democrats will be unable to find a voice to offer change. They should be shouting about the lies and corruption; the wrong war being led the wrong way; the beating the poor are taking; the massaging the rich are getting; the toilet the environment is flushing down and the distrust and outrage the international community feels towards Bush's UN policy, flagrant disregard of International Humanitarian Law and rush to nuclear armament.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Amnesty to challenge Canadian security certificates in UN

Did you know that even in good old Canada, the government has the power to arrest and detain non-citizens indefinitely... without charges or a trial? There are men who have been in jail for years and have never even seen the evidence against them. (This is, of course, also practiced in the US under Homeland Security.) The government is also working to deport these people - to countries that routinely practice torture.

Amnesty International is focusing some attention on Canada at upcoming UN Human Rights Committee Meetings.

You can let the Canadian government know what you think too. (link here)


Friday, October 14, 2005

Guantanamo lawyers demand access

Link to story. Very nice approach to spreading democracy and freedom. First capture hundreds of alleged terrorists, then ship them to the US toenail on Cuba ... and do whatever you want with them - for years. Hey, they're not under US laws - not on American soil. Hey, they're not covered by the Geneva Conventions - not really prisoners of war. Amnesty International calls it (and the other surrogate Gitmos around the world) "the Gulag of our time". Sure makes one feel all keen about democracy and freedom, doesn't it? Or does it explain why American tourists are sewing Canadian flags on their gear?


What's with the union bashing?

Teachers in British Columbia are going into the second week of an illegal strike. The underlying issue (aside from wages and working conditions) is that the government has imposed a contract on them with no negotiations and no meaningful way for teachers to even address issues of concern. There is some pretty strong public support for the teachers (it wanes as time passes I fear), but I have had a few people say things to me like: "I wish I had a raise - haven't had one for years." or "They get summers off, why should they complain" or "Try working without any benefits, then ask for my support".

Here's the short rant - Why do unions get bashed by other workers comparing how bad their own conditions are? No one should work without benefits. Every worker should earn enough money to live decently. Every worker should have paid vacations. What a load of crap to think that by bringing down union workers somehow things will be more fair or just. I dream of the day that every Walmart employee in Canada hits the street, forms a union and begins a movement to create a decent career in the retail and service industry. Globalization and fear has got us on the run folks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Canadian quake aid rises to $20 million

More than 20,000 dead...I can't imagine it, can you? That would be every person in Nelson and the surrounding 20 kilometres (where I live). Along with a feeling of sadness and deep empathy, particularly for parents - I guess the best response is a donation to the Red Cross and/or a letter to government asking them to be generous with my tax dollars.

Blogs are competing with traditional news ... and being noticed

You knew this already. More and more people are turning to blogs for news and insight. Link here. Even the news broadcasters are looking at blogs. Millions of eyes and ears out there - some incredibly dedicated. Every point of view developed beyond mainstream analysis.

And it's fun too...


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Pondering 'A Good Life'

We had visitors over last night and sat around a table with glasses, ice, cold water and single malt. Lots of discussion and stories led to the question: "How does one lead a good life here...today?" Here's the deal:
I live in arguably the safest, most free, affluent, educated and healthiest place in the world (Canada). Here's some choices - what do you think?

  1. Enjoy life and all the benefits I've got and don't spend too much time looking around - in fact, turn off the news, stop reading the paper... and only go to gardening or literary blogs. Put up some nice walls to make sure no one else gets at what I have.
  2. Become sad, depressed, angry and see the world through a lens that views pain, loss, the hopelessness. Rant away! (Open more single malt?)
  3. Look at the situation enough to understand it, don't get hung up on the negative, enjoy the gifts life offers... and live a life of kindness, tolerance and direct action in the things I believe in. As Gandhi said, "What you do may not matter, but you have to do it."

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cruise and Holmes expecting child

But the really big question: When can we expect him to learn to act? (Katie could probably teach him a few things...)


10,000 Voices - Amnesty International

Around the world, at least one in every three women are targets of violence. This is wrong. It's unacceptable. And we have the power to make it stop.

Go to this site to have your voice heard, to learn about this issue and to see some things you can do...

Guys - I'd love to see your words show up on this site.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Today's Bumper Sticker

Life is short.
Don't be a dickhead.

What's your bumper sticker for today?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Bumper Sticker of the Day


Seen any good bumper stickers lately?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Intelligent Design

Photo: created or evolved?

I have been thinking about the intelligent design debate as it gets more and more air time (even in Canadian media where there is no issue around schools...yet). Here goes: this isn't really a debate about the merits of evolution versus God's own creationism (masquerading as intelligent design). The real debate is about what is appropriate to teach our youth in school. If we're teaching science, then evolution is a valid thing to teach - it's a scientific theory with mountains of evidence ... and some interesting questions to still answer.

Intelligent design is not about science or evidence - it's really about faith, wonder, interpretation of transcental experience etc. It might be interesting to discuss in philosophy or in history or anthropology - but it ain't science.

I talk to my teens about everything, including this issue. I'm not afraid of discussion. But I'd be lining up to challenge the school board if they began teaching intelligent design or religion as part of a science curriculum.

Oh, I still think the issue is being pushed mostly by people who have some sort of superstitious belief system that leads them to want everyone in America (and the world) to become Christians. Weird idea. I suspect Jesus would be the first to say so.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Vietnam Vet Leader in Canada Speaks Out About Iraq

Woody Carmack is the President of the Vietnam Veterans in Canada (VVIC). He served in the US Marines. At a recent meeting of the VVIC, Woody made a powerful, moving and articulate speech against the war in Iraq (and the Bush regime). To read this speech, go here and start on page 11. This speech is not based on a position of the VVIC.

Take your time to get there if you want to honour the American dead in Iraq for a two week period before this meeting...

I contacted Woody and asked his permission to get this speech out - he agreed.


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