Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Die Bunte Vögel: Excerpted in Lettre International

This month's Lettre International (Berlin), "a publication which initiates innovative concepts for the advancement of world consciousness through bringing together the diverse aspects of economics, politics, art, and literature," runs an eight-page excerpt of my book Waiting for the Macaws, published by Penguin (Canada). There's a brief excerpt from the excerpt here, in German.

Here's another excerpt, in English.

Now go out and buy the dang book. If you're an American, it appears under the title The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among the Lost and Left Behind, published by Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press). If you're British, you'll soon be able to buy it under the title The Lost and Left Behind, published by Saqi.

"In support and memory of our fellow activists"

Arash Kamangir points to an effort by Iranian bloggers to draw attention to all those student activists that the Iranian regime has recently imprisoned. Human Rights Watch reports that the students are being tortured in order to ring "confessions" out of them.

Forced confessions are a speciality of the Iranian regime, as in the case of Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, who were recently arrested with two other Iranian- Americans, and also in the case of Iranian-Canadian Ramin Jahanbeglou, whose crime was "political-security relations with a person named Jaleh Esfandiari, (a notorious anti-revolutionary figure married to a Jew)".

Esfandiari, a grandmother, is currently housed in Evin Prison, Tehran's permanent Abu Ghraib. Jahanbeglou was there too, until his "confession" won him mere house arrest, and another Canadian who spent some time there back in 2003 - the journalist Zahra Kazemi - never came out. She was tortured and beaten to death.

Meanwhile, the regime has just handed down the death sentence to two Iranian journalists from the Kurdish minority. The charges against them were not specified.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Making Progress In Afghanistan: The Story So Far

Excellent work by the Ruxted Group:

1. Millions of girls are back in school with 400,000 new female students starting school for the first time this year; 2. Over 100,000 women benefited from micro finance loans to set up their own business; 3. Over a quarter of parliamentarians are women; 4. Over 7 million girls and boys are in school or higher education; 5. 83% of the population now has access to medical facilities, compared to 9 percent in 2004; 6. 76% of children under the age of five have been immunized against childhood diseases; 7. More than 4000 medical facilities opened since 2004; 8. Over 600 midwives were trained and deployed in every province of Afghanistan; 9. GDP growth estimates of between12-14% for the current year; 10. Government revenues increased by around 25% from 2005/06 to 2006/07; 11. Income per capita of $355, compared to $180 three years ago; 12. Afghanistan is one of the fastest growing economies in South-East Asia; 13. Over 4000 km of roads have been completed; 14. Work has begun on 20,000 new homes for Afghans returning to Kabul; 15. Over 1 billion square metres (roughly 32 km X 32 km) of mine contaminated land cleared; 16. 10 universities are operating around the country, against one (barely functioning) under the Taliban; and 17. 17,000 communities benefited from development programmes such as wells, schools, hospitals and roads through the Government’s National Solidarity Program (NSP); 18. 10% of Afghans now own a mobile phone, compared to 2 lines per 1000 people in 2001; 19. 150 cities across Afghanistan now have access to mobile phone networks and internet provider services; and 20. 7 national TV stations (6 private); numerous radio networks, plus a diverse and increasingly robust and professional print media are up and running.

And that's just part of the story. Read it all.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Canadian Universities Reject Anti-Israel Boycott

"The attempt of one group of scholars to stifle the views of another is an affront to modern society and must be condemned wherever it arises. Those British professors who have brought forward this shameful scheme ought to reflect on the example and consequence of the intolerance they are communicating to their students."

That's what our own Stephen Toope has to say about the ludicrous Boycott-Israel initiative. Stephen's the president of the University of British Columbia, and a well-respected human-rights activist.

Told you he was a good guy.

Keep an eye on these, and these, and for the real "peace movement" engaged in Israeli and Palestinian affairs, here's who you should be supporting.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ward Churchill: Serial Falsifier; Plagiarist; Wanker

After having spent almost ten years on the "Indian beat" for daily newspapers, then going on to write a couple of dozen major magazine articles from and about aboriginal communities and their struggles, plus a good bit of time spent as a researcher for tribal groups, then four books' worth of effort on the subjects Churchill has spent his career dumbing down and screwing up . . . let's just say I'm sufficiently confident to be pleased with today's news.

And no, Churchill wasn't fired for pissing on the graves of the 9-11 dead.

I had my say here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Job For The Elders: Smash Mugabe's Tyranny

Robert Mugabe has murdered more black Africans than the entire South African apartheid regime. In just one region of Zimbabwe, in just one decade – Matabeleland in the 1980s – his army slaughtered 20,000 civilians. This is the equivalent of a Sharpeville massacre every day for more than nine months.

- that's from brother Peter Tatchell's latest, which seems like a job this crowd might take up. After all: "Precisely what problems The Elders will tackle is unclear; none have yet been selected."

UPDATE: The progressive case for overthrowing the Mugabe regime is well presented here, in The New Republic. The essay's young author, James Kirchick is well worth reading on any subject.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Foundation For Int'l Democratic Development?

A fine idea. The Conservatives and Liberals should be congratulated. The New Democrats have some useful observations, and are not being entirely obstructionist. The Bloc is being weirdly paleoconservative.

An arms-length, government-funded foundation could be especially helpful for this sort of thing.

Very little attention from the news media, sadly. But Carol G. makes sense: Let's get it right.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Rise And Fall Of The Old Working Class

Half a century ago the working class or proletariat — however one chose to define them, and definitions varied — were surely something close to half the population or more. In a much more real sense than today they were a community, or string of communities. No sense of human or social failure hung above them; to be among them was to be among a mainstream. As in any thriving, self-confident and culturally rich community, people respected each other and looked after each other. The existence of social barriers (though permeable) to upward mobility sharpened self-definition and a sense of belonging and shared responsibility.

That's from a Matthew Parris column, in the Spectator, giving out about the consequences of social mobility in Britain. It occurred to me that much the same can be said of the trajectory of the Canadian working class, perhaps especially noticeable in the case of the transformation of Vancouver in recent years. Been to Hastings and Main lately?

The photograph above is from around Granville and Smythe; from the collection of the great Fred Herzog. In his footsteps, these days you'll find the likes of Keith Freeman.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

In Today's Citizen: The Land Democracy Forgot

We met in a basement coffee shop across Sakhyanova Street from the Khrushchev-era complex of dank hallways and dingy offices where he works. Nikolai Tsyrempilov, the 31-year-old chairman of the Buryatia Young Scholars Union, lowered his voice and leaned across the table.

"The secret police are very active in Buryatia," he said. "People get together to discuss problems, and there is a resistance movement, but it's limited to the Internet. I don't think it will be easy for anyone to openly express political views in the coming years."

When I asked Tsyrempilov if he was sure that he wanted me to quote him talking about these things so candidly, he replied: “Yes, yes. They can’t control everything. And we know the only power that can stop or even soften the oppression here is the West.”

That's from an Ottawa Citizen Special I wrote from Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryatia, the last major stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway before Ulan Bator, Mongolia. It's related to this. In the photograph above, that's Nikolai, with Radjana Dugarova of the Buryat Human Rights Movement. You should recognize the guy in the background. What he had to say about these things is here.

Don't be surprised if you've never heard of Buryatia, or the Altai Republic, or Koryakia, or Tuva (it wasn't called the "Iron Curtain" for nothing). But you might not have a chance to know about these places much longer. They're among the 60-odd republics, krais, oblasts and okrugs that Vladimir Putin intends to wipe from the map.

I see Wikipedia's map still shows Koryakia. It won't be there for long – it's about to be merged with Kamchatka. And notice how big Krasnoyarsk is? That's because it recently swallowed up the ancient territories of the Evenks, Nenets and Dolgan peoples. The Altai Republic is still there though (it's right beside Kazakhstan). If it weren’t for a popular, non-violent uprising, it would have been gone by now.

It's probably a good idea to merge many of Russia's regions and districts. Many of the citizens of these places seem to think so. But in the case of the dissolution of the orphaned Buryat districts I mention in the Ottawa Citizen report, it was hardly a free choice.

Russian authorities reported a 90-per-cent voter turnout in the Aginsk referendum, and 94 per cent of ballots in favour of abandoning self-government, while in Ust-Ordynsky, 98 per cent favoured dissolution in ballots cast by 99 per cent of eligible voters. Buryat human rights activists say the votes were a sham of disinformation, harassment, press-muzzling, intimidation and ballot-rigging.

When I was in Ulan Ude, I talked about these things with Stepan Efimov, a beefy, rosy-cheeked apparatchik who serves as the deputy chairman of the Buryat parliament. I caught up to him on his way out of the Council of Europe meeting at the presidential palace. “Everything is done according to the constitution," he said. "The Buryats have no limits on their freedom of expression. Our situation is quite democratic. People can even come here to this meeting and say what they want. This is evidence that all Buryats can speak their minds.”

Well, no, they can't, Mr. Efimov. They can't form their own political parties. The Buryat People's Congress has been banned. Newspapers get shuttered, pamphleteers get arrested, and autonomists are fired from their jobs. As Radjana puts it: “You even need a licence to publish a newspaper here, and if the people protest and complain, the secret police take pictures of their faces. In the state newspaper, they say we are spies. It is like the 1930s all over again.”