Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

02
Jan

Laci Peterson and the Left: Ten years later

A recent headline said it all: ‘For Laci Peterson’s mother, the holidays mark a time of sorrow.’ Laci Peterson, if you’ll remember, was the pregnant woman in Modesto, California, who went missing exactly a decade ago. Her body and that of her seven-and-a-half-month-old fetus were found the next April on the shores of the San Francisco Bay. Later, her husband Scott Peterson was charged with her murder and that of their son, who was to be named Conner, and sentenced to death in March 2005.

As in other high-profile murders, such as the death of Jane Creba here in Toronto on Boxing Day 2005, special interest groups zoomed in on the Peterson case like vultures on a corpse. Not surprisingly, the self-described pro-life movement jumped on the Peterson story to pontificate on the evils of abortion. They avoided mentioning, of course, that Laci Peterson actually wanted her pregnancy and that at almost ‘eight months gone,’ she was far beyond the point at which virtually all abortions take place. One couldn’t help but sense a bit of opportunism in the anti-abortion movement’s use of the tragedy to further their own agenda.

However, the reaction of the pro-choice movement and the left wing in general to Laci Peterson’s killing bothered me even more. Some showed a disregard for and even outright hostility to Peterson which made me question so-called progressives’ supposed concern for women. Such an attitude was nowhere more apparent than on the American online forum Democratic Underground. Many commentators there gave the impression that they considered Peterson’s death no great tragedy. One poster, ‘SweetZombieJesus,’ said they ‘couldn’t possibly give a shit about Laci Peterson.’ He or she lamented the fact that ‘Miss Perfect White Soccer Mom Laci Peterson’ was receiving far more attention than a non-White victim of domestic violence would (never mind that Peterson was Portuguese, an ethnic group considered separate from Whites in places like Hawaii or colonial Guyana). Others were openly antagonistic towards Laci Peterson. One poster with the online name Quill Pen said she wasn’t disturbed by Peterson’s death because Laci wasn’t the ‘brightest bulb in the pack’ for getting pregnant in the first place.

To be fair, other Democratic Underground members attempted to counter the anti-Peterson rhetoric. One poster describing themselves as a ‘pro-choice atheist’ voiced satisfaction that the murder of Laci Peterson was being punished and openly rued the ‘Scott Peterson apologists coming out of the woodwork’ on Democratic Underground. Another stated that ‘we are the pro-choice movement, and we will stand up for the fact that Laci Peterson should have had a choice.’ On the other hand, the ‘pro-Laci’ faction was for the most part drowned out by those who saw Ms. Peterson’s death as nothing to really cry about and scorned or chastised those who did.

Beyond Democratic Underground, the mainstream pro-choice movement’s attitude wasn’t much more heartening. Many pro-choice leaders opposed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (otherwise known as ‘Laci and Conner’s Law’), a statute that would make the murder of a pregnant women equivalent to two crimes rather than just one, on the grounds that it would affect women’s right to abortion, even though the legislation specifically exempted legal abortions. Here again, there were dissidents: according to former National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland, Laci Peterson’s death was indeed a double homicide.

Still, the Left’s reaction to Laci Peterson’s demise makes one wonder about their much-trumpeted commitment to women’s well-being. At times, the lives of real women seem to take a back seat to abstract principles like the ‘right to choose [an abortion]‘ – which, by the way, I view as an important right. This is not the first time this has happened. For example, when Aqsa Parvez, a young South Asian woman in Ontario, was murdered by her father and brother for refusing to wear a veil, the left-wing Toronto Star’s columnist Jim Coyle expressed sympathy for her killers. In this instance, the need to avoid appearing racist (by condemning so-called honour killings) took precedence over an actual woman’s right to life itself.

The fact that a large majority of Americans – a majority that includes women – supported ‘Laci and Conner’s Law’ suggests that women aren’t falling for the fear-mongering by some leftists that this type of legislation will suddenly eliminate their right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I also believe that by vociferously opposing laws penalizing violence against expectant mothers, the pro-choice movement and the Left as a whole risk losing relevance in the lives of the women they purport to defend.

19
Dec

The Gypsies: Then, Now and Later

My mother said I never should,
Play with the Gypsies in the wood.

 

It might come as a surprise to many Canadians that the largest source of refugee claims to Canada right now is not some war-torn land like Afghanistan or Iraq, but Hungary. At least since the fall of Communism, Hungary has been a more or less peaceful country, having transitioned fairly smoothly into a quasi-Western existence. Goulash, not gunfire, is what first springs to most people’s minds when they think of Hungary.

 

However, the news might not be quite as surprising if one considers that in 2009, Canada imposed a visa requirement on citizens of the nearby Czech Republic. The purpose of the visa was to stem the tide of refugees from the latter nation. However, the measure was not targeted at Czechs à la Vaclav Havel: the personae non gratae here were the so-called Roma, otherwise known as Gypsies.

 

The Gypsies have a long and complicated history. Once believed to have come from Egypt, hence the name ‘Gypsy,’ it is now clear that their homeland was in Northern India. Their original language, Romany, is related to Indian languages like Hindi, Punjabi and Gujarati, the names of which may be familiar to Canadians thanks to recent immigration. The Roma, or Gypsies, reportedly made their way from India to Europe around the 14th century via the Balkans and from there spread to the rest of the continent. Virtually every European country has a Gypsy community. In Spain, the Gypsies helped create the colourful flamenco dancing. Britain as well had a distinct Roma population, a member of which is actor Bob Hoskins of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Mermaids fame; one of his grandmothers was a British Romani. Gypsies from Europe also travelled with their European overlords to the New World, as actor/director Robert Duvall’s documentary Angelo My Love about the Roma in New York demonstrates. Nonetheless, most Gypsies today live in Eastern Europe, particularly Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. There they form a small percentage of the population, a proportion expected to rise due to higher birth rates among the Roma than in the wider community.

 

Over the centuries, the Gypsies have been reviled, romanticized in works of fiction from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen to British author Jilly Cooper’s trash novel Riders, and routed to Nazi concentration camps during the Third Reich. Although the Roma have always been ‘outsiders,’ attitudes towards them even by nationalistic leaders of their host countries have varied through time and place. Adolf Hitler, most notably, despised the Roma as ‘non-Aryans.’ In contrast, Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan deliberately courted the Gypsies, describing them as ‘fellow victims of fascism’ (while Arkan’s overtures to the Roma were probably motivated more by opportunism than humanitarianism, the reality is that in World War II, both Serbs and Gypsies were persecuted by Axis forces).

 

Attitudes towards the Gypsies in the Anglo-Saxon world have likewise been ambiguous. On one hand, they have seen themselves glamorized in works of fiction: for example, the romantic hero of the above-mentioned Riders is a half-Gypsy man who steals the beautiful wife of his blond blue-eyed childhood enemy. Even the word ‘gypsy’ with a small ‘g’ has the positive connotation of a free spirit, as in the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Gypsy.’ On the other hand, ‘gyp’ or ‘gip’ is hardly a flattering term, though interestingly, similar expressions exist about other ethnic groups, such as to ‘Jew someone’ or to ‘Welsh on a bet.’

 

Returning to Hungary, the position of the Roma in that country and other parts of Eastern European is not very enviable. Gypsies in those places experience higher than average unemployment rates, are much poorer than the general populace, and basically live on the margins of society. An alarmingly high proportion of Gypsy children are enrolled in special education classes. Roma activists and outside observers frequently attribute these findings to oppression on the part of the larger community, noting as well that Gypsies have been targeted by nationalist groups, sometimes violently. ‘Native’ Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans are quick to respond that much of what the Roma do – theft, unruliness, and uncontrolled breeding at the taxpayers’ expense being among the things most commonly mentioned – hardly endears them to the rest of the population. After a group of Roma from the Czech Republic attempted to seek asylum in Canada in the mid-1990s, a Maclean’s reader noted that the Czech government had once built special housing for the Roma but that the Roma burned down the dwellings.

 

The Roma are frequently compared to the Jews, with whom they perished in Hitler’s concentration camps. It is true that the Jews, another diaspora population, often incurred the dislike and even open hostility of the inhabitants of the nations in which they resided. Similarly, like the Jews the Roma at times deliberately chose to separate themselves from the surrounding society: both groups, for instance, have special terms for outsiders (‘goy’ or ‘Gentile’ for the Jews and ‘gadjo’ for the Roma). One significant difference between the Roma and Jews, however, is that while the former group has constituted an underclass, the Jews were and in many ways still are an overclass in the lands they have inhabited: rich, well-educated, and disproportionately represented in prestigious professions like medicine. To illustrate, whereas Roma children are streamed into special education classes, Jewish schools in Hungary are known for their academic excellence to the point that even some non-Jews send their children there. The glaring discrepancy between Jews and Gypsies’ status in countries like Hungary calls into question the charge that the latter’s present misery is entirely due to discrimination from the host society. One might ask why are the Jews, who have also faced fierce prejudice (including, I must admit, in Canada), not living in poverty or filling the rosters of schools for subnormal children.

 

The situation of Jews versus Gypsies may help explain why unlike the former, the latter have never pushed for an independent nation for themselves. According to columnist Steve Sailer, the Jews were able to create their own country (Israel), but in a homeland of their own, the parasitical Roma would lack a non-Gypsy population to ‘leech off of.’ Nor is returning to their actual homeland – India – a feasible proposition. Not only would a developing nation like India have difficulty absorbing a large essentially non-productive population, but seven centuries away from India have distanced the Roma from that country socially, culturally, and religiously. Even the Romany language is no longer spoken by the bulk of Gypsies in Europe: most have adopted the languages of their host countries. The bond between the Gypsies and the people they left behind in India has long been severed.

 

Finally, should Canada accept requests for asylum from Roma applicants? I tend to take a libertarian approach to immigration: that is, let everyone in (barring of course those with criminal records), but once they are here, they are on their own (i.e. no tax-funded settlement services, English as a Second Language classes, etcetera). However, since I know such a scenario is unlikely to occur in my lifetime, under the present circumstances I would say that the Roma’s claims for Canada’s protection are fairly weak. So, of course, are many other refugee claims, like that of South African carnival worker Brandon Huntley, who applied for asylum in Canada on the basis that as a White man, he was targeted by Black criminals in his homeland. I do not doubt that Huntley may have been a victim of crime – South Africa is, after all, one of the most violent countries in the world – but whether he was victimized solely because of his skin colour is another matter altogether. Interestingly, I wonder how many people who scoffed at Huntley’s claim of persecution would be the first to call for the acceptance of Roma refugees from Hungary. I have absolutely no problem with Hungarian Gypsies – or Mr. Huntley, for that matter – coming to Canada under other programs, like the Federal Skilled Worker category. However, granting asylum to citizens of Hungary, a democratic country and member of the European Union, comes off as insulting both to Hungary and Canada, in my view. Although it cannot be totally excluded that some individual Hungarian Gypsies may have valid claims for refugee status, Canadian immigration authorities should remain sceptical.

29
Sep

Pisco – An Increasingly International Drink

From El Popular
Translated by Emilia Liz

Pisco is a banner product from Peru that very few Canadians know about, as it is very difficult to find in Canada. However, according to several studies and internationally renowned sommeliers, in two years this distilled beverage made from grapes will be the new boom in the sector, becoming an internationally fashionable distilled product. Its success lies in the current market trend, which leans on natural and classical products from the field. Qualities that fit perfectly with pisco.

The sector that produces this brandy in Peru is dominated by medium-scale industry and is largely manufactured in artisanal form in the coastal region of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna and the valleys of Locumba, Sama and Caplina. Due to the beverage’s link to the geography and toponymy of Peru, along with its long established tradition in the country’s roots, it is often manufactured not for commercial purposes but out of generational family pride, using ancient manufacturing processes to provide a quality product.

Pisco exports in the first six months of this year rose by 105% in comparison to the results of 2010 and generated $1.7 million, according to data from the country’s Exporters Association. The United States continues to be the country that imports the most pisco, spending $1.1 million in the first six months of 2011, a 201% increase from the previous year. Other countries that import the beverage include Chile, Spain, France, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia among others.

In the city of San Francisco, California (US), pisco has gained many fans and become a regular spirit after many Americans tried pisco for the first time at the end of the 19th century thanks to the punch called pisco punch, and subsequently pisco sour, that the Scot Duncan Nicol created in the basement of his San Francisco bar. The beverage is so well-established in the American city that they even have a Pisco Punch Day there just like in Lima and Ica.

There are 325 brands of Peruvian pisco, a brandy that ‘is not like Chilean pisco, Italian grappa, or Spain’s orujo. We only distil it once, and in practice, the final product is 100% grape, for which you need eight kilograms of grapes in order to produce a litre of pisco. And in the case of green must (unfermented grape juice), you need between 12 and 15 kilograms,’ explains Ricardo Carpio, owner of PiscoBar, which is one of the most famous Peruvian bars and which pays tribune to pisco.

Single distillation

‘In Spain you have orujo, which is made from spare wine, which are the already pressed skins and which have no sweetness, as a result of which you add water and sugar. In contrast, in Peru we pick the grapes and take them to a plant to crush them, and it is as if we were making a wine with grape juice. But instead of leaving part of the alcohol, with pisco, everything changes and distils. Grappa, for example, uses one or two kilograms of grape per litre,’ Ricardo explains.

In fact, green must is one of the piscos that Canadians like best because of its greater smoothness, as it is 40 degrees rather than 42 like most piscos. It is obtained through a shortened fermentation process, which usually lasts between seven and 20 days in order to make the sugar turn to alcohol and thereby distil it. In the case of green must, it is not completely fermented, and sugar residues remain in the wine’s juice so that the final distillate contains sugar particles and turns out a bit smoother.

Before this potential increase in global demand for pisco, the company Pisco Bar Corner has started marketing the brandy in the province of Ontario. At the events the company organized to let Canadians sample pisco, they discovered that besides green must, Italia and Torontel, both made with aromatic pesquera (literally, ‘fishing’) grapes, were also very popular.

Quebranta pisco ‘is the most common kind made and grown in Peru. It is a pisco with a strong blow, not an aromatic blow, and so it is not going to be popular with clients who have just begun to consume it or who want to learn,’ notes Ricardo, an expert at creating new cocktails made with brandy as well as a member of Pisco Bar Corner.

A very versatile drink

Serving it cold or at ambient temperature depends on the client and how it is going to be consumed. ‘In Peru, pisco is drunk in cocktails and in pure form. But not as if it were a tequila but rather served in a glass like a cognac, sampling it, tasting it, giving it aroma,’ Ricardo explains, emphasizing that this drink ‘is not only an alcohol but also citric, sweet and herb tastes and aromas.’

This characteristic allows it to be combined with all types of food and even flambéed. As well, it goes perfectly with chocolate or with Peru’s typical turrones, Ricardo comments.

Pisco has all the numbers to become an international drink, given its great versatility, especially when it comes to making cocktails. One of Ricardo’s works is the so-called Native, a combination designed exclusively for the Canadian public which contains pisco, brewed coffee, Canada Dry, Green Tea Ginger Ale, lemon juice and ice.

For the pisco expert barman, it is very important to explore every country and discover which products can be consumed with brandy. This way, not only will you get the best flavour but also adapt the Peruvian beverage to Canadian tastes, and then those cocktails will start showing up in bars in the country.

Pisco in Ontario

Ricardo is part of the company Pisco Bar Corner, which seeks to introduce pisco to the province of Ontario. However, to introduce this brandy in places, the company first wants to see how Canadians accept it, as alcohol ‘is very difficult to introduce to this market compared to those of other countries, given that the LCBO controls everything,’ Ricardo points out. For this reason, to get one of the premium piscos sold by the company, it is necessary to go to the website and order it.

Pisco Bar Corner not only brings pisco to Ontario but other high-quality Peruvian products for a gourmet public so that they can taste new exotic delicacies that are ‘an experience of new tastes and scents. A feast for the senses,’ and at the same time, ‘complementary products, as someone who likes a good pisco will also like a good coffee or good chocolate,’ says Jack Angeles, who is responsible for international business and management innovation at Pisco Bar Corner.

In the catalogue of Peruvian products, we find chocolates, tea, coffee, and eight varieties of pisco of the brands Cholo Matias, Torre de la Gala, Tres Generaciones, and Campo de Encanto. The last is one of the most famous internationally, especially in San Francisco.

‘A taster or sommelier not only seeks to try wines, whiskey or vodka but also products like chocolate and coffee because they have a complex that includes sight, flavour, taste and aftertaste,’ Ricardo says, describing why they have chosen to include on their list other products besides Premium pisco, which costs just under $50 a bottle. A price that reflects its degree of exclusivity.

The company, which is associated with the Latin American company in Peru MIREMS, also seeks to demonstrate that part of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries is feasible for small businesses, especially those linked to social issues, Jack emphasizes, explaining that Ontario was chosen to start the business because for Peru, ‘Toronto is the gateway to Canada,’ as all flights from Lima land in Toronto.

Translation from original Spanish at http://retrolab.ca/elpopular/2011/09/el-pisco-una-bebida-cada-vez-mas-internacional/

For more information, see http://www.piscobarcorner.com/ or call 416-901-0988.

09
Apr

Race Mixing and Westernization in Latin America and the Philippines

In his book Race and Ethnicity, Belgian sociologist Pierre van den Berghe compares the impact of European colonization on Africa and the Americas. While the former largely retained its original character despite being under European rule, the latter ended up with a predominantly Western culture. As well, race mixing was widespread in the New World but occurred on a much smaller scale in Africa, with the exception of South Africa’s Cape Province. The amount of acculturation and miscegenation moreover did not depend on whether the European power in question took an “assimilationist” approach, as France, Spain and Portugal did, or a “racialist” one, as did Britain and the Netherlands. At the end of the day, the Americas are a “cultural extension of Europe,” whereas Africa is not.

The same observation can be made of Latin America [1] and the Philippines. Though both were under Spain’s control for roughly three centuries, Latin America essentially adopted a Western (Iberian) culture as a result of colonization while the Philippines remained more or less as it had been before the conquest. Similarly, miscegenation between the conquered and conquerors took place extensively in the former region but was fairly negligible in the latter. To paraphrase van den Berghe, Latin America is a cultural extension of Spain; the Philippines is not.

This is not to say that the Philippines was not influenced by three hundred years of Spanish rule. Among Spain’s legacies to the islands were Castilian [2] loan words to the local languages, Spanish personal names of the inhabitants, and perhaps most importantly, Roman Catholicism, today the religion of over 80% of Filipinos. (When it comes to being good Catholics, the Filipinos may have beaten their former colonial masters and the latter’s overseas descendants at their own game. Several years ago the international newswires reported on Father Ener Glotario, a priest in Barranquilla, Colombia who refused to give communion to scantily clad female parishioners. I couldn’t help thinking how much easier Father Glotario’s life would have been if he were stationed in the Philippines, where the women, unlike their Western sisters, generally eschew miniskirts, midriff-baring tops and short shorts.) Yet the Philippines’ status as an Asian country is undisputed not only geographically but also culturally.

In fact, the example of the Philippines provides a powerful counterweight to claims by left- and right-wing ideologues alike that Latin America is not Western and that its “soul” is Indian rather than European. If such were the case, the counter argument might go, why did the region not end up like the Philippines, whose people were conquered by Spain but nonetheless kept their own languages and cultural traditions?

One of the most striking differences between Latin America and the Philippines today lies in the racial composition of their inhabitants. Mestizos [3] form the bulk of Latin America’s population. By contrast, most Filipinos are of indigenous Malay stock, and individuals of mixed Spanish-Malay descent are relatively rare.

What accounted for the low rate of miscegenation between Spaniards and natives in the Philippines? Certainly not a lack of desire by either party. Even clerics succumbed. Spanish chronicler Sinibaldo de Mas attempted to explain why so many Spanish priests in the Philippines broke their vows of celibacy: “The offense is most excusable, especially in young and healthy men placed in the torrid zone… The garb of the native women is very seductive; and the girls, far from being unattainable, consider themselves lucky to attract the attention of the curate, and their mother, father, and relatives share in that sentiment. What virtue and stoicism does not the friar need to possess!” (The good de Mas is perhaps a little too quick to blame the “girls” and their attire for his compatriots’ lust. More likely, the women’s eagerness to couple with curates stemmed from the higher social status that mixed race children in colonial — and according to some sources, modern — Philippines enjoyed compared to their unmixed native counterparts. In addition, I suspect Spanish priests’ fall into temptation was due less to the native women’s “garb” than to the fact that, as Pierre van den Berghe writes in his book Human Family Systems: An Evolutionary View, “celibacy, however saintly, goes against most people’s grain.”)

The main reason for the dearth of Spanish-Filipino mestizos was that few Spaniards ventured to the Philippines. The voyage from Spain to the islands was considerably long. Before the construction of the Panama Canal, it involved going around the southern tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean. The Philippines in addition lacked natural resources like gold and silver that the Americas had and that might have convinced large numbers of Spaniards to migrate there (indeed, at one point the scarcity of potential riches led Spain to consider abandoning the islands). According to de Mas, in some Philippine villages the friar and/or the mayor were the only white residents.

Whatever the cause, the low incidence of race mixing in the Philippines effectively stopped that country from going down the path of Hispanicization. The offspring of Spanish men and Filipino women [4] may have adopted the culture of their fathers — some mixed race families in the Philippines still speak Spanish among themselves, for instance — but ultimately there were simply not enough Spanish mestizos in the country to have much of an effect on Philippine culture as a whole. Mestizos in Latin America conversely came to constitute the largest racial category in the region, so as a group they managed to maintain and promote the Spanish language and culture.

One giveaway to Latin America’s “Westernness” is the fact that the majority of the population speaks Spanish, not an indigenous language or even a Creole, as their mother tongue. On the other hand, it has been estimated that even at the height of Spanish domination only 10% of Filipinos were able to speak the language of their masters, and undoubtedly fewer still learned it as a mother tongue. And while the Americans who took over the islands in 1898 were much more successful in teaching their Filipino subjects English than the Spaniards were in teaching their language, the reality is that English in the Philippines is a lingua franca and an administrative medium rather than a mother tongue. Neither the Americans nor the Spaniards managed to eradicate the islands’ Asian character.

Going back to van den Berghe’s argument, the example of the Philippines and Latin America shows that regions colonized by the same power may nevertheless turn out quite differently. It also shows how miscegenation can change the course of history. Despite Spain’s assimilationist approach and occasional “successes” in the Philippines (such as religious conversion), the Spaniards failed to acculturate the islands to any significant degree. Spain’s conquest of Latin America on the other hand transformed that region into a part of the Western world. As van den Berghe explains with regard to Africa and the Americas, differences in the Philippines and Latin America themselves rather than racial attitudes on the part of the colonizer were responsible for the different outcomes of European rule in the two regions.

(1) For the purpose of this essay, Latin America will refer only to the Spanish-speaking part of the region.

(2) The term “Castilian” refers to the official language of Spain (as opposed to regional dialects and languages like Galician and Catalan).

(3) Though the term “mestizo” literally means “mixed” in Spanish, for the purpose of this essay the term will refer to individuals of mixed Spanish and Native American descent in the Latin American context and to those of mixed Spanish and Filipino Malay origin in the Philippines.

(4) The opposite combination was virtually non-existent, as even fewer Spanish women than men traveled to the islands.

22
Mar

AIDS and the Condom Conundrum

In Italian-Canadian writer Mary Melfi’s novel Infertility Rites, the Catholic protagonist is told by her WASP husband that the Pope “cannot be taken seriously as a religious leader.” The husband goes on to say that the Pope should be tried as a terrorist. Because of the Vatican’s opposition to condoms, millions of people in the Third World will die of AIDS.

Given that Infertility Rites was written in 1991, the Pope to which Melfi’s book is referring is obviously John Paul II. Now the present Pope, Benedict XVI, appears to be following in his predecessor’s footsteps and adding his voice to the chorus of “condomnation.” Benedict stated in his recent visit to Africa that condoms cannot resolve the AIDS crisis on that continent. In fact they could make it worse, in his view.

Benedict’s words sparked a firestorm of controversy. They brought back a piece some years ago in the National Post by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise, herself a lapsed Catholic. She loudly decried the Catholic Bishops of Botswana’s criticism of a plan by that country’s government to distribute condoms to stem the spread of HIV there. They could have merely remained silent even if they disapproved; instead they chose to open their mouths. She further pointed out that while Thailand had managed to head off a major AIDS crisis through a public health campaign on safe sex, the incidence of HIV infection had increased exponentially in Botswana and other African countries where no such campaign had taken place.

The Catholic Church’s prohibition on condoms sometimes borders on the ludicrous. According to German theologian Uta Ranke-Heinemann, the Church would not even sanction the use of the device by the post-menopausal wife of an HIV-infected haemophiliac, even though in this instance the condom was not meant to prevent conception (the chance of which would be practically zero in a woman after the so-called “change of life,” Sara in the Bible notwithstanding) or encourage promiscuity (since the woman would only be having sex with her husband).

But is it fair to lay the burgeoning of the AIDS epidemic entirely at the feet of the Vatican? Not all individual Catholics share the Pope’s views. Even some members of the Church hierarchy feel that while abstinence and fidelity to one partner are the best defences against contracting the disease, people who can’t or won’t abide by these principles should use condoms to protect themselves against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Thailand is a largely Buddhist country with few Christians of any kind. However, similar success in averting an AIDS explosion occurred in Brazil, where most of the population is Catholic. And Catholics are far from a majority in Botswana and the other southern African nations cited by Laframboise. Though of course one can argue that Brazil’s battle against AIDS succeeded in spite rather than because of its Catholicism, it’s unclear whether the Church’s pronouncements have made much difference in the progression of AIDS in any individual country. The same might be said about the Church’s stance on contraception as a whole. In Europe two of the nations with the highest birth rates – France and Ireland – are for the most part Catholic, but so are some of those with the lowest: Italy, Spain and Portugal. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that the French are producing more babies than average out of a desire to keep themselves in line with Vatican teaching (the situation might be somewhat different in Ireland, where until recently the Catholic Church influenced not only citizens’ lives but government policy as well).

Let me be clear that I don’t agree with Pope Benedict’s stance on condoms or birth control in general. I’m heartened that a large of proportion of Catholics, including some priests and higher-ups, don’t either. And I concur with Donna Laframboise that the Bishops of Botswana should have kept their mouths shut. There may be isolated cases where an individual became infected with HIV by declining to use, or make his or her partner use, a condom as a result of the Church’s opposition to the device. But on a large scale the Catholic Church and the incidence of AIDS probably don’t have much to do with one another.

06
Nov

Obama’s Campaign = Classic Sun Tzu

If I determine the enemy’s disposition of forces while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate my forces while the enemy is fragmented. The pinnacle of military deployment approaches the formless: if it is formless, then even the deepest spy cannot discern it nor the wise make plans against it.
-Sun Tzu
“The Art of War”

Barrack Obama’s campaign was about everything and nothing at the same time. He essentially became the pinnacle of what the voter wanted for America … or what was feared the most. His agenda became transparent to the point where his enemies could not even tie him to the nefarious words and deeds of his previous associates. By the same token, few could name any definitive action he would likely take once in office but this seemed secondary to the feelings he evoked in his followers. Formlessness maximized Obama’s reach among neutral voters, as they could fashion him any way they wanted.

Obama’s ground-breaking campaign will be studied for years to come, with elements being used by both parties. It turns out less really can be more in an election.

For the record, Obama seems set to govern from the center, just as predicted here at CU. House speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested he do just that:

“At a time of this economic crisis, our priority should be very clear about what we need to do,” she said. “Each side of the spectrum can hope to influence the decision. But the fact is that a new president coming in, in my view, must take the country down the middle to solve the problems, to gain the confidence, to take us more strongly in a new direction.”
-Nancy Pelosi

Also, Obama’s first appointment, Emanuel Rahm, is a master Democratic strategist but also a strong supporter of Israel and originally supported George W Bush’s Iraq war.

Obama’s old radical friends must be apoplectic. His detractors should be relieved.

04
Nov

2008 U.S. Presidential Election Day Blog

8:10am – Election Summary

Will history be made today in the United States of America?

Although the polls seem to be leaning heavily in Democrat Barrack Obama’s favour (the final FOX poll put him ahead of McCain by 7 points) this race is still too close to call. The winner will be determined according to which one of the following effects is stronger –

The Bradley Effect – Describes a phenomenon where a non-white candidate’s polling numbers are inflated when running against a white candidate. The cause is white voters telling pollsters they are undecided or in favour of the non-white candidate so not to appear “racist”. This effect was so named after Tom Bradley, a black candidate who lost the 1992 California governor’s race despite being well ahead in the polls.

The Cellphone Effect – Most polls do not target cellphones. Obama supporters tend to be younger and use cell phones as their primary source of communication. The same can be said of the urban poor, who also are suspected to favour Obama over McCain. With their numbers unaccounted for, Obama’s support could be far above what has been reported in the media.

In terms of history, Obama will be America’s first black president … at least as America defines black. Not to bore one with technicalities, but Obama is probably less than 50% black – his mother (Ann Dunham) is white while his father belongs to the Kenyan Luo tribe. Obama’s father was a Muslim – a minority within the Luo and an indicator that he may be mixed with Arabic (though this has never been proven). Nonetheless, the 1 drop rule persists in America and to Obama is the “black guy” for this election.

Whoever wins, the election was a great disappointment. What could have been a high-profile battle of ideology for the ages instead denigrated into a vile partisan hate-fest where dead grandmothers, developmentally-disabled sons and teenage pregnancies all trumped ideas and plans. Small town white America bared its inner racist to the world while some of black America thought of little more than putting one of “their own” in office – regardless of what the man stood for. Some people saw the election as a final chance to voice their displeasure towards George W Bush while others tried to sidetrack it into another tiresome abortion referendum. The economy was a fleeting 5-day discussion, despite the fact that its fragile state imperils any other pet causes that small sects of Americans may conceive.

I started this election a McCain supporter because substance should always trump flashy rhetoric. Sure I want a black guy in office because middle class blacks are tired of being lumped together with the thugs and drug addicts. However, Obama’s campaign lacked substance in my view and the nation’s finances cannot afford his plans to expand health care or any other attempt to “spread the wealth” as he puts it. Luckily for Obama, John McCain’s campaign went surreal by first choosing an obscure fundamentalist-courting governor as a running mate then by launching a “southern strategy lite” where by Obama’s demographic differences were lightly touched upon to the expected jeering of scared rednecks. If McCain was ever a maverick, he sacrificed it the minute he signed up with the evangelical cheesecake. He disappointed me greatly and my support moved cautiously towards Obama.

9:05 pm – Early Lead for Obama

A big early lead more-like. Projections show a 174-49 lead. Master Republican strategist Karl Rove has already gone on record to declare Obama will win a landslide. Despite all the controversy created by Congressman John Murtha (referring to his state as racist), Pennsylvania seems to be giving Obama the nod. Florida is close, which is bad news for McCain because he needs to win that state after losing PA. Although the horizon looks bright for Obama … slight skepticism would still be prudent.

A total blowout for Obama would be tragic in one way – John McCain’s career should not end with such a stunning defeat. Unfortunately he took the reigns of a battered GOP as a moderate when the moderates were flocking to the Democrat Party. He had to make a deal with a hard-right evangelical base that doesn’t trust him and was forced to be the front-man for all kinds of ugly activity.

CNN made an interesting observation – race was statistically NOT an issue with voters. Obama is handily leading among voters who race was a factor and those who said race wasn’t a factor. Conversely, age is costing McCain dearly, with Obama enjoying approximately 75% support among voters who declared age is a factor.

9:40pm – A Surprise

Ohio has given its electoral votes to Obama as well. Assuming Obama will win California no matter what, McCain has to win nearly every remaining state to acquire the necessary 270 electoral votes. Unfortunately, these states include Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – likely Democrat-leaning states. The GOP have turned off news telecasts in their hotel reception for McCain, all but conceding defeat.

11:00pm – Victory

Obama wins Virginia, another key state. CNN has declared Barrack Obama the 44th president of the United States. 297-139. History has been made!

CNN obviously wanted to make history as well, given their news room looks like a Stark Trek set. Political analysts quickly dissected statistics on huge touch screen monitors and conversed with 3D holograms of reporters “beamed” into the studio.

11:25pm – McCain’s Speech Very Classy

John McCain delivered one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard and he doesn’t even seem to be reading it. He’s managed to make the GOP faithful cheer for the historic significance of the election and took the entire blame for the failure of the campaign (which the public resisted). His tone was not even and not embittered. McCain’s reference to Sarah Palin drew mostly cheers but a surprising number of boos. Sarah Palin looks nearly ready to shed a tear. The constant boos from the crowd are definitely annoying McCain. Quotable line: “We never hide from history; We make history”

Honestly, it’s regrettable McCain had to run in this election.

11:58pm – Obama’s Acceptance Speech

What I wouldn’t give to be in that audience …

Obama’s initial message was obvious: yes we did. The crowd actually cheered for John McCain the first time his name was mentioned. Grace in victory is a good trait. Obama played heavily to skeptics who think he’s an elitist by highlighting the grassroots nature of his campaign – from the humble beginnings to the millions of ordinary Americans who made him a household name. Very wise of the President-elect to list all the problems he is going to face (mortgage meltdown, Afghanistan, recession). Just like a lawyer, he’s throwing in mitigating language (“we may not get there in one year, or even one term”) but his offer of hope was followed by frenzied chants of “yes we can!” (which were repeated many times by Obama and his audience in a call/response fashion).

Obama’s seemed to have started his term immediately by giving commands to the audience to get involved right away in community building and not see the election victory as a victory but rather an opportunity. He reached across the divide to moderate GOP’s by quoting Lincoln and reminding the audience that the Republicans started in Illinois and that their values really “aren’t so different”

The public was eating out of his hand and that speech will also be one for the ages.

Addendum

Robert Fulford, a staunch conservative and highly critical of Obama’s platform, has delivered a summary for the ages on the historical significance of the campaign:

Robert Fulford: A Divide has Been Crossed

25
Apr

TTC = Take the Car (Strike Time!)

Just when you thought the latest Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) shakedown had passed without incident, the union rank and file have voted to reject a tentative deal and go on strike effective at midnight:

The TTC’s largest union has voted not to ratify a tentative agreement reached with management last weekend and the transit system will grind to a halt at midnight.

Sixty-five per cent of TTC union members voted to reject the tentative agreement, which required a 50-per-cent plus one vote to pass. Bob Kinnear, the union president, said he had no choice but to call an immediate strike for the safety of his members.

The deal, which critics of Mayor David Miller have criticized as being too generous, offers TTC workers improved health benefits and three years of 3-per-cent annual wage increases, that will make TTC drivers the best paid in the Greater Toronto Area.
..
But in a clause seized on by critics, the deal also offers bus drivers an additional raise in December of 2009 if their pay falls behind that of other Toronto-area drivers, something the union says it deserves because of the demands of driving a bus or a streetcar in the city.

If ever there were an argument for the abolition of unions for municipal workers, this is it. The TTC workers union overriding Kinnear’s promise of a 48-hour advance notice is disrespectful to both Kinnear and the city. To do it on a Friday night –when many Torontonians are already out and expecting a ride home- should be criminal. The cowardly maintenance workers who drove this rejection do not have to deal with the drunken public ire sure to keep TTC drivers and police busy for the first few hours of this strike (ironically, Kinnear claims to have pulled the services suddenly to prevent TTC workers from having to endure public backlash).

The lesson from this is simple – unions should only be allowed in industries and services where striking hurts the owning companies and possibly themselves. Calling a strike for an essential service is tantamount to holding the local economy hostage while doing so on short-notice is just plain dangerous. The union is acting irresponsibly and their complaints ring hollow in a city where a ticket collector earns phenomenally more than a retail clerk, despite doing less work. Darts for their lack of consideration.

Additional darts to Adam Giambrone for not taking charge when his presence was requested and to David Miller for refusing to forsake his China holiday / trade mission to fight this fire.

And finally, a dart to the city of Toronto. You wanted socialism, you got it.

09
Jan

More Saddam Video (Post Mortem)

And just when you thought it was over … more video of Saddam’s death has emerged. This time, the video shows Saddam being wheeled away post-mortem. A particularly nasty gash on his neck is the video’s main focus.

(obviously, you have been implicitly warned that this video is graphic)
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-233844812484249985

There was some question as to whether the gash was caused by an intentional puncture after the hanging took place. One can’t say what happened with 100% accuracy (a continuous video of the proceedings has yet to surface) but the injury was probably caused by the rope when the noose tightened. If you look at the original hanging video, Saddam was initially standing on gallows but could be clearly photographed beneath the gallows after execution. This implies that the 6’2 Hussein fell at least 6 feet and 7 inches before the noose tightened.

A drop of this length qualifies the execution as a so-called “long drop”, when the force from the sudden change in acceleration once the rope tightens (which is a function of body mass, distance traveled and gravity) should ideally snap the neck, removing nearly all sensation and creating a “humane” death. According to the 1913 “Drop Tables” –created to advise hangmen how far subjects should drop in order to cause a near-instantaneous death- the 210lb Saddam Hussein could have snapped his neck after a mere 5 foot drop. Any longer of a drop would risk decapitation, which is probably what nearly happened in this case.

Perhaps we’ll just end this morbid line of reasoning here :)

28
Dec

Suddenly Sylvia

Sylvia Browne, the famed and controversial psychic, has once again delivered hear yearly predictions on the Montell Williams show. Far from being a simple $20 fortune teller, Brown has parlayed her self-proclaimed expertise into several books, regular television appearances and even a Gnostic Church.

sylvia.jpg

Here are some of Sylvia’s more noteworthy predictions for the year:

  • The USA will have an extremely mild winter, especially on the East Coast. Canada will have a harsh winter
  • There will be lots of extreme weather during 2007. This will include flooding in the south and a possible “Tsunami” on the east coast
  • 8 years until a black American president
  • Spirituality is going to soar in the United States (not to be confused with religion)
  • Evangelicals will have a difficult 2007 as they come to grips with revelations that many of their leaders have been robbing them blind
  • There will be no terrorist attacks on a 9/11 scale, though there is cause for concern about trucks and trains
  • Gas prices will drop sharply in February
  • Overall, 2007 will be a comfortable year

Overall, I found Sylvia’s predictions to be vague or “obvious”, but as always Montell fawned relentless over her as self-conscious audience members covertly sought assurance about their immediate future.

Now, there are a lot of people who don’t believe in psychics and truthfully I’m sitting on the fence myself (having once been intrigued by Ms Brown’s literature before discovering her other business exploits); however Sylvia Browne is questioned even within the psychic community. One statistic that is never discussed on Montell Williams is how often Sylvia gets her predictions WRONG. Incidentally, Browne has many detractors both in and outside the psychic community who are more than happy to point them out. Below is a passage from the Fox News account of her now infamous Virginia Coal Mine blunder:

Controversial TV psychic Sylvia Browne made a major mistake about the West Virginia miners tragedy on a Tuesday night radio show.

I always like it when psychics are asked, ‘If you know so much, how come you haven’t won the lottery or cashed in big in Vegas or in stocks?’

Maybe Browne was thinking the same thing when she was a guest on George Noory’s live syndicated radio show

Noory: “Had you been on the program today, would [you] have felt if — because they heard no sound — that this was a very gloomy moment — and that they might have all died?”

Browne: “No. I knew they were going to be found. I hate people that say something after the fact. It’s just like I knew when the pope was dead. Thank God I was on Montel’s show. I said, according to the time, it was 9-something and whatever Rome time was. And I said he was gone, and he was.”

But the situation was fluid, something Browne — ahem! — obviously didn’t sense despite her claims of being able to speak to the dead, among other things. She couldn’t have imagined that within a short time, the entire story of the miners would change completely — and make her look very foolish indeed.

Noory soon announced that there were new reports that all but one of the miners was dead.

Browne — who was still in the studio taking questions from listeners — had to say something. Now she was just riffing: “I don’t think there’s anybody alive, maybe one. How crazy for them to report that they were alive when they weren’t!” Then she added: “I just don’t think they are alive.” She cleared her throat, and there was a deafening pause.

Noory went to a commercial.

Detailed information can be found at True or False, although the site has an obvious bias against Sylvia Brown. In the meantime, we will wait to see the accuracy of this year’s predictions.


Update:
Sylvia Drops the Ball Again




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