Monday, March 26, 2007

Woke up this morning ...

( myself a wait, that's the Sopranos theme song...)

Ahem. I woke up this morning to a thunderstorm. As occasionally happens, I found myself literally, physically unable (despite a big ol' cup of coffee, and eating breakfast) to wake up. Fine motor control? Nyet. Eyes focusing? Ne pas. Muscle tone? Halo.1

So I go back to sleep for an hour or so because frankly? That's the only thing that ever works. And as I'm downing my second mammoth cup of coffee, I check my newsfeeds, and it appears that my beloved Slate has an article on sleep.2

The character Mike from My Own Private Idaho (River Phoenix). We have one thing in common...and it's not hustling, smoking, or road-tripping with Keanu Reeves...

Well, the article doesn't tell us much we don't already know, or at least, much I already don't know. I've become something of an armchair sleep doctor (and seriously, that specialty needs a better name...I suggest hypnologist) since developing narcolepsy in undergrad. Still, I find the synchronicity amusing.

Also today in Slate, William Saletan mentions a new study (ooh, shiny!) about the damage daycare may do to young kids. It's brief enough that I'll cite the whole shebang:

A big study suggests preschoolers who get non-parental child care are more likely to become disruptive in fifth or sixth grade. Non-parental child care includes nannies, day care, and "anyone other than the child's mother who was regularly scheduled for at least 10 hours per week." Caveats: 1) Kids who get good child care also do better on vocabulary tests. 2) The differences are small. 3) Parenting quality and genes are bigger factors. Conservative spins: 1) If you put your kid in day care, you're inviting the other kids to raise him, so they all become silly and disruptive. 2) Moms should stay home. 3) The problem will get worse as more parents dump their kids into day care. Liberal spins: 1) The study has no control group. 2) It doesn't adequately distinguish good child care from bad. 3) Kids who learn freedom and responsibility in good day care may be labeled disruptive by elementary-school teachers, because elementary schools treat kids like prisoners. 4) If you really want a generational disaster, try forcing moms to deal with kids all day on top of their paying and non-paying jobs.3

Now, I was a daycare baby from an early age (two single parents on opposite sides of the country) so I do take a very small and possibly irrational bit of offense at this suggestion. Which does not, of course, mean that it's untrue (I especially like Saletan's Liberal spin #3). Personally, however, I've always thought that daycare was an important step in naturally acquiring immunity, and in group socialization. I suspect that, as this NY Times article posits, there are a host of other considerations: the underfunding of the daycare system, the fact that the relationship is correlative as opposed to causative as the groups were self-selecting and there was no control group, et cetera. I think daycare kids are likely more prone to having to "fight" for adult attention, but suspect we are also better at entertaining ourselves. It's purely conjecture, of course, but that's what my common sense tells me.

Besides which, the whole idea that childhood is supposed to be some sacrosanct utopia, or that a happy child is mutually inclusive with a passive, obedient child, are weird Victorian remnants (thank you, Neil Postman). How about we work on feeding and educating all our kids before we start criticising the working poor for putting their children in daycare? ...Just a thought.

Finally, this morning I also found out that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Head of the Church of England, has stated that the Church is considering reparations for its part in the slave trade.4


How in heavens name would one calculate such a payment, much less figure out who should receive it? And how would you calculate the extent to which the public service of the Church should or should not mitigate such a payment?

And how would you reconcile the cheapening effect of paying meaningless "damages" with the immense spiritual and historical scars of the Atlantic slave trade?

Apologies, yes. Doing everything one can to ameliorate the situation of the descendants of slaves, of course, yes. But monetary reparations strike me as a tacky lose-lose situation. It makes me sad that the overly litigious greed of North American society has moved into international affairs.

  1. "Halo" means no in Chinook Jargon, my favourite language. I'm trying to learn it, or at least some of the vocabulary. I also don't think it's a pidgin as much as a creole, since my impression is that there are native speakers (i.e. those who speak it from birth--clearly there are Native/Aboriginal Canadian speakers).
  2. A few years ago, they also did an article on the narcoleptics pharmaceutical of choice:
  3. From
  4. Reported by the BBC, here:

Friday, March 23, 2007

I'm going to be critical of Israeli domestic policy here...please avert your eyes if you can't handle it...

The Associated Press reported (all over the internets, but here's a link to the Toronto Star version) that a UN expert has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Commission which characterizes Israeli domestic policy towards Palestinians as "apartheid."

...Cue crazed uproar about anti-Semitism...

Anyways, the investigator is a South African who--having actually lived under apartheid--should know whether or not something is apartheid. UN Ambassador from Israel Itzhak Levanon called the report "'utterly one-sided, highly selective, and unreservedly biased.'" The one sided-ness may well come from the fact that Dugard (the expert) was only given a mandate to look at the treatment of Palestinians. I haven't read it yet, but I doubt very much his report says that Israelis spend their time dancing about the flowers eating cake and drinking champagne. Nothing about highlighting the criminal treatment of Palestinians negates the possibility that Israelis are also suffering under the situation, for instance, getting kidnapped and bombed, et cetera. Both sides in a conflict can suffer, Mr. Levanon, and in fact, I'm pretty sure that's usually the case.

Levanon also said Dugard used: "'inflammatory and inciteful language' which did not contribute to a constructive dialogue on the Middle East question." I'm assuming by this he means the use of the term "apartheid." Let's assess that. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, apartheid means the following:

a·part·heid (ə-pärt'hīt', -hāt') n.

  1. An official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites.
  2. A policy or practice of separating or segregating groups.
  3. The condition of being separated from others; segregation.

[Afrikaans : Dutch apart, separate (from French à part, apart; see apart) + Dutch -heid, -hood.]

Well, option 1 clearly does not fit the situation, I must say that option 2 is pretty much spot on. And it's not like Dugard was making wildly speculative accusations:

The 24-page document ... catalogues a number of accusations against the Jewish state ranging from destruction of Palestinian houses to preferential treatment for Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Separate roads, the need for checkpoints and passes, and the security fence/wall--these all say apartheid. Now, a lot of the criticism of that term has been based on the argument that the Israel/Palestine situation is not "as bad as" South African apartheid, and that calling it "apartheid" necessarily implies that it is. To me, this is an incredibly hollow argument. Criminal acts involve a threshold, on one side of which is acceptable behavior, and on the other is the unacceptable. Now, the spectrum of unacceptable is broad, ranging from just inside the threshold off into the distance. There is, for instance, a hell of a difference between intentional murder, being a serial- or spree-killer, and committing genocide.1 All of these are, however, criminal. Israeli apartheid needn't be "as bad as" South African apartheid to constitute a serious human rights problem, apartheid per se.

  1. I am not suggesting in any way that Israel is committing genocide. That is an untrue and perhaps offensive allegation which has also been thrown into the mix, but unlike the argument for apartheid, there is nothing with which to back it up.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

War crimes prosecutor slams 'muted' European response to Srebrenica genocide ruling - International Herald Tribune

War crimes prosecutor slams 'muted' European response to Srebrenica genocide ruling - International Herald Tribune

Same-sex Unions Recognized in Mexico City

The capital of the massively Catholic nation1 approved same-sex civil unions as of Friday, says the BBC. The northern state of Coahuila has also legalized same-sex unions. Parts of Mexico therefore join a growing complement of nations with a significant level of recognition for same-sex unions. This list includes South Africa (2006),2 Israel (2006),3 Belgium (2003), Czech Republic (2006),4 Germany (2001/2004), Hungary (1996!),5 Netherlands (2001),6 Portugal (2001),7 Slovenia (2006), Spain (2005),8 United Kingdom (2005),9 Canada (nationally, 2005), the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil (2006),10 the province of Rio Negro and the autonomous Buenos Aires in Argentina,11 Colombia (2007),12 and New Zealand.

In the United States, only Massachusetts fully recognizes same-sex marriage. Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey offer civil unions, and California, Maine, the District of Columbia, and Hawai'i have laws protecting same-sex domestic partners with regard to property, benefits, and so on.

Now, you might ask why I list the Catholic-ness of a lot of the above nations, and the reason is this: the new Pope Benedict XVI has restated (yes, again) that the Catholic Church is not now, nor will it ever, be open to certain reforms, including same-sex marriage.13 He also gave tacit support to Bishops choosing to deny communion to Catholic politicians supporting any of these causes, e.g. John Kerry in the last US presidential race. Kerry supported abortion rights.

Now, it must be acknowledge that the dearly departed Pope John Paul II held many of the same doctrinal beliefs. In a sense, Benny16 is just following the party line JP2 set out. But here's what I see as the fundamental difference between the two (and the reason I maintain a personal affection for JP2 while having no warm-and-fuzzies for Benny16): Pope John Paul II sincerely believed that the primary medium, message, and methodology of his religion was love. He believed that faith and reason could be reconciled, that women were equal to men notwithstanding that they could not be ordained as priests. His affection for non-Catholics was both ecumenical and personal. His stances on abortion, homosexuality, priestly celibacy and other matters might run in opposition to what I believe (in some cases, what most of the world believes) but they were honestly held, stemming from centuries of teachings, and I think it is horrendously arrogant and narrow-minded of us to criticize him for not reversing the core beliefs of his faith. Through some miracle of personal strength, some super-humanly deep well of charity, Karol Józef Wojtyła managed to actually do what so many religious figures can only purport to do: he did, in fact, hate the sin and love the sinner.

How can such a beacon of light not shine particularly bright in a world where we increasingly insist that people pay lip service to accepting the "sin", while secretly but virulently hating the "sinner"?

I find the question increasingly relevant to my own crisis of faiths. I am a baptized-but-unconfirmed-High-Anglican, who grew up semi-practising lapsed Catholicism, with strong neo-pagan beliefs and a deep commitment to small-u universalism. In short, I am a member of the Church of the Census Taker's Worst Nightmare. And now the Canadian Anglican Church is considering reversing its heretofore positive/permissive stance on same-sex unions, an action which would compel me to permanently cut ties with them. As a philosophical or spiritual action, this would have little effect on me--I don't believe I need the Church or its sacraments to attain...well, whatever it is we attain. However, as a personal matter, I would be heartbroken to lose the history, the family connections, the collectivity and rituals I grew up loving.

  1. 89%, according to the CIA World Factbook:
  2. Since the recent Fourie case:
  3. Oddly enough, Israel can only recognize same-sex unions legalized outside the country. As I understand it, this is because of a highly peculiar internal system whereby there is no secular family law. So until the Sharia courts, Rabbinical courts, or ecclesiastical courts give same-sex unions the thumbs up, they can't be performed in Israel.
  4. No adoption rights, however.
  5. Hungary's common-law partnership laws have included same-sex couples since 1996, but full same-sex marriage is still being tweaked by legislators.
  6. The first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage! Raise your hand if you are at all surprised...yeah, me neither.
  7. Civil unions are okay, and while same-sex marriages aren't officially legal, there's a case going forward and they're constitutionally protected, so it seems likely. I would also like to point out that Portugal = Catholic, with a whopping 94% identifying as such (according to the CIA World Factbook:
  8. Also 94% Catholic:
  9. Technically only civil unions, but functionally equivalent. I mention this mainly because the government kept insisting they were not "marriage".
  10. 73.6% Catholic:
  11. 92%, though many non-practicing:
  12. 90% Catholic:
  13. Halifax ChronicleHerald:

Friday, March 16, 2007

Does anyone remember when bananas were yellow?

Does anyone remember when bananas were yellow?

Well, of course they're still mostly yellow, but the ones we buy now (at least in Canada) tend to start out green-yellow at the store and end up sort of a dark goldenrod with raw umber splotches, or black splotches, without ever passing through the "perfectly ripe and delicious" phase.

Of course, this is partly because of the rigours of unnatural "ripening" they are put through to get here to the great white north. Wikipedia describes the appetizing process thusly:

Export bananas are picked green, and then usually ripened in ripening rooms when they arrive in their country of destination. These are special rooms made air-tight and filled with ethylene gas to induce ripening. Bananas can be ordered by the retailer "ungassed", however, and may show up at the supermarket still fully green.

Mmm, yummy. Ethylene is an anasthetic, by the way, but largely harmeless and with a solid history of use by people without third eyes developing.

Banana Scary Fun Facts

  • The primary banana variety in export markets is the "Cavendish"
  • The Cavendish varietal is a "genetically modified food" (not really) in that it is a crazy franken-hybrid in that it can only reproduce through farmer-assisted vegetative reproduction (really) which means they're all clones (really) which means a disease that will wipe out one could wipe out all of them1
  • This already happened once to the previous most-popular-for-export varietal
  • This would crush the banana production sectors of many developing countries in Latin America and the Carribean, as well as Asia and Africa, which could indirectly lead to massive famines2
  • This could also happen to varieties used as local food crops in many (all?) banana-producing regions3
  • Bananas are a very important staple food crop, analagous to potatoes in oh so many ways, including their starchy goodness and their prevalence in former colonies
  • Oh look! It's the Irish Potato Famine! But with fruit...

  1. Read the Wikipedia article on Bananas if you don't believe me:
  2. See Mike Davis's horrendous Late Victorian Holocausts for how/why:
  3. Ask the UN Food and Agriculture Organization:

Monday, March 12, 2007

Books r fun

I just finished reading the latest Kathy Reichs book Break No Bones . I will fully admit to being a voracious consumer of the works of Reichs and similar authors like Jeffrey Deaver

and Patricia Cornwall. I love me some forensic anthropology/pathology, apparently. D.R. and I often discuss how she should go into forensics because you get to work with really hot people and the soundtrack is awesome (e.g. BONES, the CSI franchise, et cetera).

It is just possible that I have been unduly influenced by television.

What is far more exciting is that the conclusion of Break No Bones was directly related to the paper I'm writing for Scott's International Human Rights Law course, In fact, Reichs mentions Nancy Scheper-Hughes in her epilogue, and directed me to the NGO Organs Watch, which in all my Google-fu and so on I had not found. So I guess leisure reading has its uses after all. J

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Raouf Abdel Rahman claims asylum

Raouf Abdel Rahman,1 the Kurdish-Iraqi former chief judge of Saddam Hussein's one-and-only trial,2 has apparently claimed asylum in Britain. All I can say is, I hope like hell they give it to him.

As Human Rights Watch has reported in detail,3 the Coalition Authority and the Iraq government have both failed miserably at keeping court staff, witnesses, et cetera safe during the trial. I'm not surprised Abdel Rahman left, and I would hope the fact that he is at risk of death in Iraq is not just accepted but accepted quickly, and with a minimum of dangling for the family. Britain has less-than-awesome recent history vis-a-vis its refugees, including letting legal residents/asylees like Bisher Amin Khalil al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna languish in Guantanamo because they weren't citizens (a legally suspect and hideously unethical argument). And the whole Belmarsh debacle.

In other Iraq is now a hell-hole news, the Beeb reports that "Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction'". Sabian Mandaeans form a small Judeo/Gnostic religion which I believe fits pretty snugly into the category of dhimmi. But that's just me...

  1. a.k.a. Rauf Rashid Abd al-Rahman
  2. Regarding the Dujail massacre; Wikipedia article here:
  3. Judging Dujail report from HRW, availible here:

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Noam Chomsky is not light reading...unless you are Noam Chomsky

Dear sweet and fluffy lord,

So, long time no blog. It's been a helluva week: shakeups at the office, the Journal, family medical emergencies, birthday parties, and all manner of such things. It's shocking that Reading Week is over, and it's THURSDAY for heaven's sake.

Right now I'm reading Failed States by Noam Chomsky. It's um...interesting. It's also the teeny-tiniest bit...let's say...strident. Also, it references not only Chomsky's previous works (a pet peeve of mine; however, when you're Noam freakin' Chomsky, or otherwise one of the most prolific authors in any given field, you will have to reference yourself) but omits footnotes in favor of end-notes referencing citations in his previous works. *grinds teeth in editorial frustration*

Other sizable pet peeves...I've fallen behind in a number of my "stories" and so an dl'ing them...I'd watch them on the network site, but I'm not allowed to because I'm in Canada. Anyway, I always get into this situation where I've got, say, 5 of the 6 episodes I've missed, but it's the first one I'm missing, so I can't watch the others, and the first one is trickling in at a few kB/s. Even at school, where I get pretty excellent connections, the episode is rare enough that I can't get a good speed going.

And I can't buy it either. See above, re Canada. Gah.