.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Monday, June 26, 2006

Warren Buffett donates $37bn to charity

Thanks to Ian Russell for bringing this story to my attention.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is to donate about $37bn - most of his vast personal fortune - to Bill Gates' charitable foundation"

Mr. Buffet is the second most wealthy person (after Gates). Recently Bill Gates announced his decision to step down from day to day running of Microsoft to dedicate his time to the charitable foundation that he and his wife Melinda run (his dad works for it as well). They have more than $30 billion in trust already.

The foundation works globally to address health and education problems.

This from Bill and Melinda: "We are awed by our friend Warren Buffett's decision to use his fortune to address the world's most challenging inequities, and we are humbled that he has chosen to direct a large portion of it to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."

While I'm appalled that so few people are able to amass such great wealth in today's free global market (at great cost to many others in some cases, such as Walmart's stranglehold on suppliers), I have to admire the intent to do good with some of the personal wealth. The Gates are known for being deeply involved in the issues, including visiting project sites all over the world.

What do you think and if you amass a billion or two, what will you do with it (beside share it with your best blogger friends of course)?


Friday, June 23, 2006

Peace Activist William Sloane Coffin Dies at 81

I'm old enough to remember the early civil rights struggles in America and certainly old enough to remember the Vietnam protests (I have some clubbing and gassing experiences I could share here sometime - that is, me being clubbed and gassed).

Reverend William Sloane Coffin died recently (story) He was one of the very public leaders and activists in those times. An establishment man (wealthy, influential family, war veteran, at one time worked for the CIA) - he became a committed, articulate and brave activist, who was able to bring Christianity into democracy in a way that is sadly lacking today.

I remember him saying that people are often 'love things and use people' and should learn to be 'love people and use things'. In the past few decades (since Reagan particularly, there has been a rapid rush to the top of the wealth heap by a tiny minority of Americans - at the expense of the majority sliding to the bottom or being squeezed lower in the middle. Where are the religious voices? What happened to the rich man and the camel and all that?

As for the Democrats - yes, they may win congress and even the Presidency by letting Bush and company self-destruct. But where is the fervor for what is right? Where are the voices for building a real democracy? What about the poor? What about the international disgust with America? What about torture and rendition? What about medicare for all? What about education, and hungry children and reducing the prison population?

May the spirit of William Sloane Coffin enter the discourse in America... and may the fires rage.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Graffiti of the week

Artistic, insightful, playful ... and rebellious. Couldy you ask for more in graffii?

Friday, June 16, 2006


This is my newspaper column for next week. I'm not crazy about it as I rushed a bit, but want to credit blogger Lindsay Lobe for some of the ideas that I pulled together.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines fear as: an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm. Some thinkers consider fear to be a useless emotion; others note its usefulness as a warning of potentially unpleasant situations or consequences.

Whether based on a real threat or not, fear is not only unpleasant – it immobilizes, tends to cancel productive thought processes and takes the place of creativity and intelligent actions. It can also deplete your immune functions and cause you to be sick.

Some, such as linguist and writer Naom Chomsky, say that we are living in a culture of fear – where feelings of fear and anxiety dominate our public discourse and relationships, changing how we relate to one another and how we behave as citizens. This is a relatively new phenomenon with potentially harmful implications. The argument is that the nature of the threats described in public discourse is out of all proportion to the real risks and harms entailed.

We may feel overwhelmed by media portrayals of one item after another which feed our fears. Media overkill destroys rational discussion of the issue being explored. A dramatic account of a single event, often caused by chance, turns into a national disaster, ready to happen again at any time and any place. We also may feel manipulated by politicians who have learned that they can turn our fears into voting preferences. Here are some examples to help you consider your own ‘fear factor’.

Think about your health…and review this list of words: obesity, tobacco, sunscreen, immunization, pandemic, antibiotic resistant, hip replacement, doctor shortage, West Nile, mad cow, flesh-eating disease and cholesterol. Are you afraid yet?

Now consider this: when my father was born in 1923, life expectancy from birth for a man in Canada was 59 years; when I was born in 1951 it was 66 years and today it’s just over 77 years (it’s higher for a woman in each example). While I need to attend to my health, I might pay attention to being more grateful for clean water, plenty of good food, safe working conditions, basic health care services, a civil society and affluence beyond reason (relatively).

Are you worried about armed conflict in the world today? Me too, but did you know that since 1995 there has been a decline in both the number of armed conflicts – and in the number of resulting deaths?

Do we need to get tough on criminals? Maybe, but according to Stats Canada, our national homicide rate hit a 36 year low in 2003 (it’s gone up slightly since). The overall crime rate has generally been falling in Canada since 1991, when it peaked. The crime rate in 2004 was 12% lower than in 1994.

Living in a culture of fear goes beyond a pervasive sense of anxiety. Fear will also immobilize me in tackling real problems. I can worry about a tic biting and infecting me if I must, but doing my small part to use less gas or write a letter for human rights is probably a better use of time.

It’s all about balance. I can avoid the saturation of an often-irresponsible popular media; this means the will to hit the OFF button. I can also seek alternate sources of information that offer broad perspectives, real evidence and debate and dialogue.

Finding the inner balance and remaining positive in life, while still acting responsibly, is an individual experience. For Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, it was finding time to play with children – almost every day. Albert Einstein said that he needed solitude to remain positive and that the most beautiful experience was the mysterious.

These are two wise men: I think I’ll play with children when I can, seek solitude daily and be open to the mysterious. Meanwhile, I’ll turn off the television, gaze at the beauty of nature that surrounds me - and not be afraid.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hate and hysteria in Canadian news

Interesting article in Straightgoods by Linda McQuaig, Canadian activist and writer. It's a Canadian take on the issue of how the security threat and 'war on terror' can breed hate and hysteria.

If being civil invites terrorism, there would be a lot more in Sweden and a lot less in Egypt.

by Linda McQuaig

This was not at all what CNN had in mind.

Washington had just dropped two massive bombs on a house in Iraq, killing renowned terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (as well as six others, including a woman and child), and CNN host Soledad O'Brien was interviewing Michael Berg, whose son had been beheaded by Zarqawi.

Surely Berg would be a great interview, expressing a vengeful satisfaction.

But Berg wouldn't co-operate. Departing from the usual CNN script, he refused to express satisfaction over the killing of Zarqawi, pointing out that it would only further the cycle of violence and vengeance. And he expressed sadness for Zarqawi's family.

What the hell is the matter with this guy? Doesn't he know how to hate?

Soon our television news programs will be just like CNN. It will be all security, all the time. So much for other news.

Clearly, CNN would have to rely on 'experts' to express the proper animus toward radical Islam, so helpful in reinforcing Washington's arguments about the need for US military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possibly even a strike against Iran.

Now that we in Canada allegedly have our own homegrown terrorism, we have apparently entered the big leagues of media terrorism hysteria.

Soon our television news programs will be just like CNN. It will be all security, all the time. So much for other news.

Some commentators here seem almost elated by the turn of events.

Finally, we can get on with the job of redesigning Canada more along the lines of a repressive fortress, stamping out soft-headed notions like tolerance, civil rights and respect for other cultures.

In the National Post, Jonah Goldberg blamed Canada's 'niceness' — even our 'sucking up to the United Nations' — for encouraging terrorism.

Goldberg seemed unfazed by the fact that the 17 accused have yet to be convicted, and that our security agencies have been wrong before, such as in 2003 when they falsely accused 19 foreign students of plotting to blow up the CN tower.

If 'niceness' and tolerance encourage terrorism, there would presumably be a lot more terrorism in Sweden and Norway and a lot less in repressive states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The real danger here isn't that tolerance will breed terrorism, but that hysteria over terrorism may help push Canada into becoming a less tolerant, open and civilized society.

A disturbing tone was evident last week in a front-page column in The Globe and Mail following the arrest of the 17 Muslim men and boys.

Dismissing concerns about a backlash against Muslims, columnist Christie Blatchford sneered at the notion that those who broke windows at a Toronto mosque 'stand before us as the greatest dangers to Canadian society.'

Blatchford was suggesting that the greatest threat Canadians face is terrorism, not those who express hatred toward Muslims.

We all agree terrorism is bad and should be rooted out and punished.

But it's worrying that hatred toward Muslims is being dismissed as no big deal on the front page of a national newspaper.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Proud parent

As regular visitors know, one of my children is a son who is 18, is a poet and musician and a free thinking bohemian type.

His high school graduation just took place. Here is a photo of him with his date - I have to say I think they are both stunning... and just a little bit hip. (Click to embiggen)

I like what he did with my never-used tuxedo jacket. I like what she did with some Balinese silk.

Here's one of his recent poems since I'm here anyhow ...

A Life

He thinks he knows me
She thinks she knows me
They think they know me
But how could this be
When in my own eyes
I’m still a mystery?

Your life is not my life
My life is not her life
Her life is not his life
His life is not your life
Your life is not my life

Move a rock
Pick a flower
Plant a tree
Kick a pine cone
Live a life

- by Ryan

Irrepressible Info - censors go home!

There is a lot of internet censorship going on - much in countries that suppress free expression regularly (China and Iran for example). There are also international IT companies like Google and Yahoo, who have been playing the censor-game for their markets. Google is helping China limit its search replies and Yahoo helped China by providing information on a client.

This link allows you to place Irrepressible Info on your blog. It will regularly place a small box of content that has been censored somewhere in the world. (See box on my side panel.)

I like this!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Triple suicide at Guantanamo camp

Three detainees in the Guantanamo Gulag have killed themselves, two Saudis and a Yemeni - in an apparent suicide pact. (story here)

Rear Admiral Harris, the Camp Commander said , "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

I say Rear Adm. Harris is full of asymmetrical inhuman hypocritical shit.

For more than 4 years, hundreds of men (and some boys) have been imprisoned without charge, not given the basic rights entitled to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, have been offered a military kangaroo court as a legal process, some have been tortured (by international standards), and have been given no contact with their families and loved ones. All in the name of a 'war on terror' with no boundaries, no rules but those made in Washington and a 'war' that is overtly political (domestic as well as international) and clearly economic.

Shut the Guantanamo Bay prison down.

Remove the President.


Saturday, June 03, 2006


This is my LIVE WRITE column for next week - comments always welcome.

Not everybody agrees that happiness is the ultimate goal in life; however its desirability is almost undisputed. But what constitutes a happy life?

The struggle to understand human contentment is not new – the ancient Greek philosophers were absorbed by the question. According to Aristotle, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of live, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Modern era thinkers also ponder the question. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Social scientists are exploring this subject as well. Happiness researchers – yes, there is such a calling – conduct social indicator research. Understanding happiness can provide useful information for developing economic, social and health policies.

The World Values Survey is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging survey of human values ever undertaken. It is an ongoing (since 1981) academic project, led by social scientists, to assess the state of socio-cultural, moral, religious and political values of different cultures around the world.

One element of the survey asked thousands of global residents to rate themselves as very happy; quite happy; not very happy; or not at all happy. It also examined the basis for their happiness. The most recent version of the survey discovered that Nigeria has the happiest people on earth (leading me to wonder if running internet banking scams is a contributor to happiness…but I digress).

Nigeria was followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico. The melancholic Russians, Armenians and Romanians languish at the bottom of the 65 countries in this particular survey. Canadians placed a respectable 10th in the happiness rankings. Americans are possibly the only people in the world with a constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness, but they ranked 16th in this survey – proving it’s only the pursuit part that they are guaranteed.

Why are Nigerians and Mexicans happier than the rest of us? Consider the list of factors below that smooth the path to happiness (adapted from the World Values Survey). You’ll notice that most of these pursuits don’t require affluence.

Choose happy parents, as there is a genetic factor. Get married or have a significant other. Make friends and value them. Have sex when you can (responsibly of course). Desire less. Do something good for others. Have faith - religious or not. Stop comparing your looks with others. Earn enough money (beyond basic needs, more cash affects contentment only marginally). Grow old gracefully. And finally, work at something you enjoy doing.

The list varies from culture to culture and may not apply to everyone, yet it is based on serious research. If I were interviewed in the next survey I might suggest adding, ‘have a good sense of humour’.

Two modern philosophers, of the humorous variety, had something to say about happiness. Spike Milligan noted that, “Money can't buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.”

His American contemporary, George Burns, told us that, “Happiness is a large, loving, caring, close-knit family…in another city.”

I plan to work my way through the list above and if all else fails, move to Nigeria.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?