Friday, March 28, 2008

Au Claire de la Lune

The oldest recording of the human voice - made 17 years before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph - has been discovered and played back by audio researchers.

The 10-second recording is of a person singing a snippet of a French folk song, 'Au clair de la lune', and was recorded on April 9, 1860 by Parisian inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How to Support Union Jobs In Palestine

The Continuing Persecution of Sallahuddin Shoaib Choudhury

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hugo Chavez: What Is He Good For?

Leftists reflexively support him, rightists reflexively attack him. But is he making any use of himself, as a socialist, on behalf of Venezuela's poor?

Not much, apparently. It's all about oil:

"His government, the thinking goes, has provided subsidized food to low-income families, redistributed land and wealth, and poured money from Venezuela's booming oil industry into health and education programs. It should not be surprising, then, that in a country where politics was long dominated by rich elites, he has earned the lasting support of the Venezuelan poor.

"That story line may be compelling to many who are rightly outraged by Latin America's deep social and economic inequalities. Unfortunately, it is wrong. Neither official statistics nor independent estimates show any evidence that Chávez has reoriented state priorities to benefit the poor. Most health and human development indicators have shown no significant improvement beyond that which is normal in the midst of an oil boom. . ."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Damn Yankees Poking Fun Of Canada's Queen Again

Some English bloke helping them do it as well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Para Una Prensa Libre: A Special Report From The Committee To Protect Journalists

In her kitchen overlooking Havana’s crumbling skyline, Julia Núñez Pacheco recalls the day five years ago when plainclothes state security agents, pistols on hips, stormed into her home. They accused Adolfo Fernández Saínz, her husband of three decades and an independent journalist with the small news agency Patria, of committing acts aimed at “subverting the internal order of the nation.” Over the course of eight long hours, agents ransacked the apartment, confiscating items considered proof of Fernández Saínz’s crimes: a typewriter, stacks of the Communist Party daily Granma with Fidel Castro’s remarks underlined, and outlawed books such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. As Fernández Saínz was hauled away, Núñez Pacheco remembers one of the agents turning to her and saying, “You know, we’ve been told you are decent, quiet people. No fighting, no yelling. It’s a shame you’ve chosen this path.”

Real it all here.

How messed up do you have to be to ban George Orwell?

I love Cuba. I will always love Cuba. But I would love Cuba a lot more if its decrepit government did this:
  • Immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned journalists.
  • Vacate the convictions of the nine journalists who were released on medical parole since the 2003 crackdown.
  • Ensure the proper care of all journalists in government custody. We hold the government responsible for the health and welfare of those incarcerated.
  • Fully meet its commitments under the recently signed International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by allowing journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Obligatory shamroguery and paddywhackery post

To begin with, my mother's tribe is from up around Scarriff, and my father's tribe is from East Cork, around Midleton and Glanmire, so we are only distantly related to the Glavins of West Cork, around Mizen Head, about whom a very, very distant cousin relates a story in the New York Times about how that branch of the family is descended from mermaids and disreputable tax collectors.

This is hilarious:

In the better shebeens, the song is banned.

Meanwhile, with the tenth anniversary of Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta upon us, Peter Duffy has a good idea: Let's raise a toast to the Protestants.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Forget the Silly "Anti-War" Parades. Put The Afghan People First.

From Lauryn Oates, co-founder of the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, in today's Globe and Mail:

"If we do not urgently refocus our debate and put the needs and interests of Afghans at the heart of our discussions, we will leave a bleak smear in the Canadian history of international interventionism, a smear that will bring us shame in the history books our children will read. We must ensure that we are finding constructive solutions to the underlying problems plaguing Afghanistan and to the issues that Afghans point to as priorities, and not merely to our own insular interests. We have limited time to start making a genuine effort to understand Afghanistan, its history and its people, and to recapture what we have lost of our identity as humanitarians and peace-builders."

And a press release from Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan:

"Troops Out" is Pro-War

With the organized ‘anti-war’ rallies planned this weekend across Canada, there are many Canadians who consider themselves peace activists who share a different view.

“I do not agree with the 'troops out' position," says Janis Rapchuk, board member of the Calgary-based volunteer organization, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

“I’m a peace activist and have spent years volunteering my time on a daily basis in what could be called ‘living activism.’ That is, our activism is aimed towards a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Marching on the streets may give voice to one group of organized individuals, with a set agenda like the TROOPS-OUT position, but it does not provide space for good dialogue and discussions that can help Canadians understand how we can influence change and provide sustainable alternatives to war”, says Rapchuk.

Her organization raises awareness and funds to advance and protect human rights for Afghan women and girls. “It is important to learn about the complexities of these issues. If you don’t like the role Canada has in Afghanistan, then lobby for change but be sure that your actions are based on what is best for the people of Afghanistan, if you truly believe in ending war, ” says Rapchuk.

“From our perspective, a troop withdrawal would mean a very bloody civil war with no end in sight--an assessment in line with the United Nations. This is a very emotional issue for Canadians, and rightfully so given the millions of lives at risk, both Afghan and Canadian. We, as Canadians, have a very important role working in partnership with the Afghan people. The majority of Afghans want us there and want to work towards building a peaceful Afghanistan with those who truly have this as their goal. We see this troops-out position as, in fact PRO-WAR!," says Rapchuk.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Reporters Without Borders Launches "Online Free Expression Day," UNESCO Quits

"To denounce government censorship of the Internet and to demand more online freedom, Reporters Without Borders is calling on Internet users to come and protest in online versions of nine countries that are Internet enemies during the 24 hours from 11 a.m. tomorrow, 12 March, to 11 a.m. on 13 March (Paris time, GMT +1). Anyone with Internet access will be able to create an avatar, choose a message for their banner and take part in one of the cyber-demos taking place in Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, North Korea, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

"There are 15 countries in this year’s Reporters Without Borders list of “Internet Enemies” - Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. There were only 13 in 2007. The two new additions to the traditional censors are both to be found in sub-Saharan Africa: Zimbabwe and Ethiopia."

But UNESCO is all of a sudden withdrawing its patronage, offering the fuzzy explanation that Reporters Without Borders "published material concerning a number of UNESCO’s Member States, which UNESCO, had not been informed of and could not endorse."

Says Reporters Without Borders: "We are not fooled. Several governments on today’s updated list of 15 ‘Internet Enemies’ put direct pressure on the office of the UNESCO director general, and deputy director general Marcio Barbosa caved in. . .UNESCO’s grovelling shows the importance of Online Free Expression Day and the need to protest against governments that censor."

Not coincidentally, just while all this was happening Iran's Science and Technology Minister Mohammad-Mehdi Zahedi challenged UNESCO to take action in the matter of several European newspapers that have recently published those recurring Mohammed Cartoons. Zahedi chalked up the publication of the cartoons as "ignorance of correct cultural and religious values in the multifaceted world of today."

Meanwhile, in Havana, the government-run press is pleased, calling Reporters Without Borders "a court of inquisition against developing nations" and a CIA front group besides - citing as their authority the Canadian journalist (and Havana propagandist) Jean-Guy Allard, who also says the JFK assassination was a plot that somehow implicates both the father of the current occupant of the White House and the father of actor Woody Harrelson, or something like that.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pour Le Droit d'Intervention Humanitaire: Can A French Socialist Rescue Kandahar?

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will embark on a joint mission to Afghanistan next month with his Canadian counterpart, Maxime Bernier - an event "that could presage the announcement of badly needed reinforcements for Kandahar province," the Toronto Star reports.

Kouchner is a soixante-huitard of an especially principled kind. The founder of Doctors Without Borders, and the former head of the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo, Kouchner has been called the father of humanitarian interventionism.

He has friends on the left in Canada. He has important acquaintances in the middle (and here, a lengthy profile in the NYT Magazine, notice the byline - it's Michael Ignatieff).

Michael Totten correctly places Kouchner in the socialist tradition of "militant anti-totalitarian liberals and leftists from the generation of 1968 who didn’t become neoconservatives, who started out on the radical left and who remain radicals of the left in more mature versions."

Christopher Hitchens writes: "His principles led Kouchner to defend two oppressed Muslim peoples—those of Yugoslavia and Iraqi Kurdistan—who were faced with extermination at the hands of two parties daring to call themselves socialist. . . I personally find it satisfying that a French socialist was identified with both these victories."

So do I.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Two Houses Half-Buried In Sand: Some Hul'qumi'num Stories From Hereabouts

Back in 1927, Beryl Mildred Cryer, a young writer from the well-established English settler community at Chemainus, on Vancouver Island, set out to introduce the world to the grand storytelling traditions of the local Hul’qumi’num people.

Cryer found many accomplices among the aboriginal people of the Cowichan Valley and the adjacent coast. Between 1929 and 1935, she produced more than 60 articles for the Victoria Daily Colonist’s Sunday magazine.

The result was a treasure trove of Hul’qumi’num narrative literature, told mainly in the voices of women—a rare thing in Coast Salish ethnography—and told also in an everyday language, the kind that anthropologists so rarely use.

It was also mainly an unlikely collaboration between Cryer, a down-at-heels high-society type, and Mary Rice, a high-born Penelakut woman from a long line of chiefs and warriors. Rice had lost her “Indian status” by marrying an Irish-Squinomish man, and Cryer was scraping up freelance work in the depths of the Depression. When they met, Rice was a widow, the town washerwoman, living in a shack on the beach near the Chemainus wharf.

It's edited by Chris Arnett, and published by Talonbooks. My wee review of the book is here.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Freedom Will Come

All over the world today, thousands of trade unionists, human rights activists and other citizens, in a variety of acts of solidarity with the persecuted workers and imprisoned trade unionists in Iran, raised their voices in unison: We have not forgotten you.

There were demonstrations, visits to Iranian diplomatic missions, rallies and pickets in Seoul, Bangkok, the West Bank, Jakarta, New Delhi, Kiev, Lahore, Istanbul, Basra, Amman, Casablanca, Geneva, Brussels, Wellington, Sydney, Tokyo, Tunis, Oslo, London, Toronto, and elsewhere. They spoke with once voice:

Free Mansour Osanloo. Free Mahmoud Salehi. Free all jailed trade unionists. Respect workers' rights.

In the House of Commons in Ottawa
earlier this week, efforts by the Teamsters Union resulted in Liberal MP Mario Silva raising the matter of Tehran's trampling of trade union rights, and Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Secretary Deepak Obhrai pledged to continue to make it known to the Iranian regime what Canadians think about these things.

It was a grand day, but also a reminder of a special kind of shame.

In London, where trade unionists distributed leaflets at railway stations, Colin Foster noticed it. Workers' Liberty members showed up to help, but the rest of the left didn't.

In the Guardian, Peter Tatchell has also noticed the absence of huge sections of the left from this most crucial of international solidarity campaigns: ". . .with a few honourable exceptions, many of them are now silent about the anti-worker regime in Tehran. Their justified opposition to US war threats against Iran has led them into a wholly unjustified collusion with Tehran's Islamist tyrants."

In Canada, that collusion is not just an inexcusable passivity, but sometimes a conscious activity. Around this time last year, the leadership of the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Toronto Stop the War Coalition were in Richmond Hill, Ontario, as the special guests of Iranian diplomats and far-right clerics, for a celebration of the 28th anniversary of the founding of the Khomeinist tyranny. Only two weeks ago, James Clark of the Toronto coalition was again a scheduled speaker at the anniversary celebrations, this time in the company of some of North America's most rank antisemites.

In Ottawa, Mehdi Kouhestaninejad of the Canadian Labour Congress recently pointed out how discouraging this is to ordinary Iranians: "This is the main question in every Iranian's mind. . . the Cuban and Venezuelan left, and the leftists outside Iran, is staying by the Iranian government by their actions."

Be careful, though. If you have merely the audacity to notice this kind of collusion and moral bankruptcy, you will be called a neoconservative, and a lot worse. But you keep your spirits up, in the full knowledge that one day, freedom will come:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Sordid History Of The "Israeli Apartheid" Canard

It began with the South African apartheid regime itself, back in the 1950s and 1960s, when Israel took sides against Pretoria, and Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, apartheid's chief architect, used it to threaten South Africa's Jews. Nowadays, it's fashionable among certain sections of the ruling ANC elite, it earns the ANC some electoral currency among its rivals' constituencies, and there are trade deals with Syria and Iran to take into account.

South African Rhoda Kadalie, a former anti-apartheid activist and South African Human Rights Commissioner, and Julia I. Bertelsmann, editor-in-chief of New Society: Harvard College Student Middle East Journal, point out: "However potent the Israel-apartheid analogy, few of those who suffered from apartheid directly have bought into it."

The main reason they haven't, of course, is that the analogy is simply bogus.

Read it all.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Watching Democracy Wither And Die

It's not exactly a sign of civic health that Albertans have lived under an unbroken succession of conservative governments since 1971, and before that, they were governed by the right-wing populist Social Credit party, going all the way back to 1935.

It's not a clear sign of what Albertans really want, for one thing. What follows - from an analysis put together by the Alberta civil servant and blogger “Kuri”, an Edmontonian New Democrat - is more than merely disturbing. Looking at the dismal, lowest-ever voter turnout for yesterday's elections (about 40 per cent), and comparing the popular vote with the legislative seats that resulted, here's what Kuri sees:
A huge great crowd of Tory MLAs:

But what voters actually chose:

But if "I Don't Vote" was a party:

The legislature would look like this:

I've noticed we hear a lot less about the Alberta advantage these days.

Maybe it's time we looked at this, nationwide.

And this.

Björk: Go to the top of your highest mountain, raise your flag, declare independence!

A moveable feast.

First: Iceland became independent from Denmark 60 years ago. We were a colony for 600 years, and we were treated really badly, as all colonies are. And Greenland and the Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark. The song was partly written to those countries.

Then: Representatives of Björk have insisted that the singer was forced out of Serbian festival "Exit" due to her views on Kosovo.

Today: Björk is under attack after shouting Tibet! Tibet! at the end of her song Declare Independence at a concert in Shanghai.

She explains: "I am not a politician, I am first and last a musician and as such I feel my duty to try to express the whole range of human emotions. The urge for declaring independence is just one of them but an important one we all feel at some times in our lives. . . I would like to wish all individuals and nations good luck in their battle for independence. Justice!"

Elsewhere, she has made this sensible observation: "I stopped being afraid because I read the truth, and that's the scientifical truth, which is much better. You shouldn't let poets lie to you."

Björk tells no lie:

Monday, March 03, 2008

Cadillac Disgorges Media Baron: Welcome to Coleman Prison, Inmate 18330-424!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

This Coming Thursday: Solidarity With The Working People Of Iran

LabourStart reports that the oppression of the Iranian independent workers' movement is deepening. On March 6, trade unionists around the world, together with human rights activists, are hoping to send a strong message to the Ahmedinejad tyranny: Hands off the unions. Free Mansour Osanloo. Free Mahmoud Salehi. Free all imprisoned trade unionists, now.

The Canadian Labour Congress is planning one demonstration in Toronto. It would be nice to know that there was something more than just that going on in this country, but it's an uphill climb, for the most dreary "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sorts of reasons, as I recently reported here.

The CLC's Mehdi Kouhestaninejad made the same observation recently, noting how dispiriting it is to ordinary Iranians: "This is the main question in every Iranian's mind. . .the Cuban and Venezuelan left, and the leftists outside Iran, is staying by the Iranian government by their actions."

In two parts: