Sunday, December 19, 2010

Below the Tree

This is a chill book, Elliot Coleman`s Winter Harvest four season gardening book. Looks like a good Christmas gift! :)
Maggie Furey is one of my favourite writers. Love her fluid, inventive mastery of the craft :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This just came out yesterday.

Obama 'must talk to Afghan Taliban'

(AFP) – 1 day ago

KABUL — A group of influential international experts on Afghanistan Saturday appealed to US President Barack Obama to radically change his strategy in the war-ravaged nation and negotiate directly with the Taliban.

A huge US troop surge has failed to stem a worsening insurgency in Afghanistan, with 2010 proving to be a year of record violence.

The letter from 23 researchers, journalists and NGO chiefs comes just days before the White House publishes an evaluation of the US strategy.

Researchers Gilles Dorronsoro from France and Italian Antonio Giustozzi, as well as Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, were among those who said the current strategy was failing as the Taliban, ousted from government by a US-led invasion in 2001, grew in strength.

A coalition government that includes the Taliban should be the long-term goal, they said.

"We ask you to sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan," the experts said in their open letter.

"It is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban will likely be stronger next year."

"The situation on the ground is much worse than a year ago because the Taliban insurgency has made progress across the country," the letter said.

"The Taliban today are now a national movement with a serious presence in the north and the west of the country."

The experts said military operations in Kandahar and Helmand, provinces in the south hard hit by the insurgency, are not going well and had become "a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property.

"Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war."

"The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure," the group said, decrying the "huge" human and financial cost of the war.

The letter also says the 2014 deadline to put the Afghan army in command of security was unrealistic.

"Like it or not, the Taliban are a long-term part of the Afghan political landscape and we need to try and negotiate with them in order to reach a diplomatic settlement. The Taliban?s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate and it is in our interests to talk to them."

Since taking office, Obama has ordered more than 50,000 extra troops into battle to reverse Taliban momentum and build up Afghan government forces so that combat troops can start leaving in 2011.

There are more than 140,000 US-led NATO troops on the ground -- two-thirds of them American.

But the increased numbers has also seen more troops killed this year than ever before, with more than 680 foreign soldiers dead so far in 2010 and the tally mounting almost daily.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made overtures to the Taliban and other insurgents to negotiate an end to the war, but that was "not enough", the experts said.

"The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations with the insurgents and frame the discussion in such a way that American security interests are taken into account," they said.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.
Another reprint.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says that US forces in Afghanistan are carrying out what he referred to as "battlefield executions" of prisoners.

"One of the great tragedies of my country is that Mr. Obama is looking the other way, because equally horrible things are happening to prisoners, to those we capture in Afghanistan," Hersh said during a discussion at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference last month in Geneva, where he was also the keynote speaker. "They're being executed on the battlefield."

Hersh, who broke the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story in 2004, says that five or six people had told him about the battlefield executions of prisoners. A video of his comments was uploaded to Michael Moore's YouTube Channel on Tuesday.

Here's how Hersh described the executions:

What they've done in the field now is, they tell the troops, you have to make a determination within a day or two or so whether or not the prisoners you have, the detainees, are Taliban. You must extract whatever tactical intelligence you can get, as opposed to strategic, long-range intelligence, immediately. And if you cannot conclude they're Taliban, you must turn them free. What it means is, and I've been told this anecdotally by five or six different people, battlefield executions are taking place. Well, if they can't prove they're Taliban, bam. If we don't do it ourselves, we turn them over to the nearby Afghan troops and by the time we walk three feet the bullets are flying. And that's going on now.

During the discussion Hersh also warned that he thought President Obama was in "real trouble" when it came to geopolitics. "The military are dominating him on the important issues of the world: Iraq, Iran, Afghan, and Pakistan," Hersh said.

"He's never going to win in Afghanistan," Hersh said. "He's got the wrong policy in Pakistan."
I am reprinting a journal piece that I published in 2009. This is writing by Afghans- the people who are dying, the people you don't ever see or hear from.

The following story, and the poem are hosted here, at Our Journey to Smile, an organization started by Afghan college students and volunteers.

First, Zarlasht Hafeez, a female Pashto poet who has published a collection called "Waiting for Peace". Her lines read:

"The sorrow and grief, these black evenings,

Eyes full of tears and times full of sadness,

These burnt hearts, the killing of youths,

These unfulfilled expectations and unmet hopes of brides,

With a hatred for war, I call time and again,

I wait for peace for the grief-stricken Pashtuns"

This story makes me realize afresh that blue is such a beautiful colour- limitless, boundless, the hue of the great everlasting skies and oceans, of stone on the great mountains in the distance, the colour of freedom and the cosmos, to my mind.

But look now for the the tale:

I’m an Afghan girl. And ripe for marriage.

I don’t recall many pleasures in my childhood but I remember the blue skies.

I live near Kandahar. Most of you would have heard of this playground of war. But I don’t wish to describe the perpetual fighting. I wish to describe the perpetual sky.

You see, the pleasures which an Afghan child has, especially an Afghan girl, are few.

So whenever I could, I would sprawl on a secret green spot next to my mud house and stare at the blue beyond. Blue, blue, blue.

Afghan eyes, lakes and stones. That range of blue. Beautiful sky blues.

I’ll follow the clouds, magical pillows of comfort and tears. I’ll track the birds that paint and glide.

My mother used to tell me how the skies were divided into 7 layers and how when the dry lands were parched for help, everyone would look up to the heavens, often.

In the different swings of time, the sky would tease me by changing. Its blue changes. Real change in an unchanging war.

My mother would sometimes sit by my side knitting her shawl and I would sometimes lie on her lap looking up, safe, a true ‘refugee’, at peace.

The simple thing about the confidence of the skies was that it didn’t make claims. It didn’t need to say, “I am here for you.” It was there for me, even when it refused to rain in the harsh drought months.

I could hide under its generous freedom. I could shout complaints at it without being told ‘You are wrong!’, again. I could pour out my questions and hurts without being misconstrued as mad, as if I was talking with Allah, the sky’s keeper.

At least, the sky hears my voice.

It always helped when my mother whispered stories in my ears or better still, when she sang me the stories. She helped to seal the safety of earth below under a heaven above.

I’m lucky to be alive. Many mothers and newborns die early, despite hearts that hope. That’s just the way things are. It seems to be the best that life can do.

I remember the recent autumn when the leaves were turning yellow and the afternoons were beginning to cool a little. I watched the sky as its blue matured before the approach of dusk, as if coaxing me to rest, to cry if need be, but to rest.

The orange glow of our setting suns is wonderful too but that late afternoon, I did not want the blue to go away. I wanted it to stay because it was singing and dancing and twirling.

It made me surprisingly happy. Okay, maybe I was being childish, but I didn’t want to lose those colorful hues. I thought, “I’ll miss this blue sky like I miss my mum when I’m away collecting wood, too soon and too insensibly.”

A gust of wind came gushing by with a trail of dust, suddenly shielding me from the hanging sea view. My eyes shut instinctively, then, in the next second, needing to deliberately embrace the delight of the open skies, I forced them open.

Oh, the blue.

Thinking about such moments makes me smile many inner smiles.

People say that the Afghan smile is enchanting but there is nothing uniquely Afghan about that smile. It’s the smile of the skies. It arises from an ignored but dignified life.

That’s why this great expanse, drawn out like a cut blue ‘chadari’ ( burqa ) that flaps in the limitless winds, is worth the risk of a little dust. Dust may make my eyes smart and tear, but it’s worth it.

News of late hadn’t been good. Unrest. Insurgents. All sorts of shifty characters. And of course, killings. My mother says that Man and Woman have never been able to rid ourselves of what we don’t want, the selfishness and silence of violence.

Funny how both the perpetrators and spectators of this domineering violence are unaware of their own selfishness and silence. I really shouldn’t say funny. It’s not at all funny for the victims.

There are even rumours that strange planes have been spewing out remotely controlled bombs. And no pilots or humans in them! Ha! I usually don’t bother with such nonsense or make believe.

We shouldn’t have to cope with such cold possibilities; it’s just too unforgiving on our chronic grief.

It’s bad enough that people get blown to red pieces. People elsewhere hate us so much they say that even those red pieces are rotten, that we people are dirty.

Nowadays, we have to get permission even to bury those scattered, dirty pieces, just so others can quibble about the number who have been killed. And insist to each other, ‘You are wrong!’

Wrong not on the killing, but on the exact number killed.

As I mentioned, I was ready for marriage. Preparations had been underway and I was hopeful.

And please, don’t rob me of my hope, even if it were false hope. It can work out. I thought of my mum and how she had found and shown love in her family, my family.

The big, blue day had come.

My relatives and friends had gathered for my wedding. This was no make-believe! This was my wedding! My wedding!

That morning, my husband had received me into his village, and our future life. We had had gifts, food, dancing, and drums.

I was excited and nervous. My sisters were with me. The music was bright and homely. I was dressed to the glittering ‘brim’. :)

I was all the time conscious of my mother’s joy and sorrow. All my life, I’ve never let that go.

Through my veil, I could see the rhythmic clapping. It was a noisy merriment to drown all worries. I was compelled to sneak a look at the sky, at which I felt all calm and clouded.

When the carnage began, I was still feeling excited and nervous.

Damn…it must be the Taliban! Things and bodies were spurting everywhere.

I wanted to see my mother.

My sisters and I ran. Illogically, I still thought about preserving that wedding dress while scrambling, about retaining some trace of honour.

Blue, blue. Red and red. More red than blue.

I looked up. The planes, drones? Oh…they’re not rumours… and as the dizzying bombs made their precise way to my heart and everything and everyone I loved, I needed to deliberately embrace the delight of the open skies.

A sucking wind came gushing by with a stench of death, suddenly shielding me from the hanging sea view. My eyes shut instinctively, then, in the next second, I forced them open.

Oh,…the blue. The now misty blue I trusted and enjoyed.

Every Day Is Amazing

gold is spun
and jewels fall
in sparklement
around us all

bloodmagic stalks
the brightest free
love is faith
for you and me

Cam MacKellar's page in Australia
. Just two hours to go in his raise- if I was there, I'd be easily persuaded to meet with Cam and see Sydney. What a bonza opportunity! :) :) :)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This was a terrific article! Katie is so cute!
E-books massively increase the potential for censorship. Does anyone out there want to have that conversation? The world awaits you.

Published: July 17, 2009

In George Orwell’s “1984,” government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the “memory hole.”
Skip to next paragraph
Times Topics: Kindle
Gadgetwise Blog: Amazon Offers Free Replacements for Cracked Kindles Comment Post a Comment on Pogue's Posts

On Friday, it was “1984” and another Orwell book, “Animal Farm,” that were dropped down the memory hole — by

In a move that angered customers and generated waves of online pique, Amazon remotely deleted some digital editions of the books from the Kindle devices of readers who had bought them.

An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, said in an e-mail message that the books were added to the Kindle store by a company that did not have rights to them, using a self-service function. “When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers,” he said.

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.

Customers whose books were deleted indicated that MobileReference, a digital publisher, had sold them. An e-mail message to SoundTells, the company that owns MobileReference, was not immediately returned.

Digital books bought for the Kindle are sent to it over a wireless network. Amazon can also use that network to synchronize electronic books between devices — and apparently to make them vanish.

An authorized digital edition of “1984” from its American publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was still available on the Kindle store Friday night, but there was no such version of “Animal Farm.”

People who bought the rescinded editions of the books reacted with indignation, while acknowledging the literary ironies involved. “Of all the books to recall,” said Charles Slater, an executive with a sheet-music retailer in Philadelphia, who bought the digital edition of “1984” for 99 cents last month. “I never imagined that Amazon actually had the right, the authority or even the ability to delete something that I had already purchased.”

Antoine Bruguier, an engineer in Silicon Valley, said he had noticed that his digital copy of “1984” appeared to be a scan of a paper edition of the book. “If this Kindle breaks, I won’t buy a new one, that’s for sure,” he said.

Amazon appears to have deleted other purchased e-books from Kindles recently. Customers commenting on Web forums reported the disappearance of digital editions of the Harry Potter books and the novels of Ayn Rand over similar issues.

Amazon’s published terms of service agreement for the Kindle does not appear to give the company the right to delete purchases after they have been made. It says Amazon grants customers the right to keep a “permanent copy of the applicable digital content.”

Retailers of physical goods cannot, of course, force their way into a customer’s home to take back a purchase, no matter how bootlegged it turns out to be. Yet Amazon appears to maintain a unique tether to the digital content it sells for the Kindle.

“It illustrates how few rights you have when you buy an e-book from Amazon,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer for British Telecom and an expert on computer security and commerce. “As a Kindle owner, I’m frustrated. I can’t lend people books and I can’t sell books that I’ve already read, and now it turns out that I can’t even count on still having my books tomorrow.”

Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said.
Stockholm, Dec 12 (DPA) An apparent suicide attacker blew himself up in central Stockholm Saturday, local media reported.

The man allegedly sent a threatening e-mail addressed to news agency TT minutes prior to the attack. The message said it was time for the Swedes to die 'like our brothers and sisters' and made reference to the country's involvement in Afghanistan and caricatures of the prophet Mohammed published in Sweden.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt dubbed the incident an attempted terrorist attack.

'Most worrying attempt at terrorist attack in crowded part of central Stockholm,' he wrote on Twitter. 'Failed - but could have been truly catastrophic.'

Unconfirmed reports said police found multiple explosive charges on the man, who was killed in the explosion. The Aftonbladet newspaper said the man apparently had the explosives in a backpack, but police would not confirm the reports.

It was unclear what connection, the suicide had with a separate car explosion in the central shopping area of the Swedish capital. The car explosion occurred at the intersection of Drottninggatan and Olof Palmes Gata roads and then a second blast went off in the nearby Bryggergatan, where the man's body was discovered.

Two others were injured in the blasts, the BBC reported.

Friday, December 10, 2010

James Astill, writing in the Economist, five days ago.

Not that there are many optimists out there. But by stressing that any progress will be gradual General Petraeus hopes to buy more time for his mission from a reluctant Barack Obama, who wants to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. Even if Mr Obama, in the absence of any compelling alternative, is persuaded to stick it out a little longer, General Petraeus will not get the extra reinforcements he would like.

The news is not all bad. In some parts of the south, American troops have brought a bit more security. Sotto voce, American commanders also point to the many Taliban commanders being killed by their special forces—a tactic pushed by General Petraeus’s predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal. Another of Mr McChrystal’s efforts, to ensure NATO’s men inflict fewer civilian casualties, has also had success. Many more Afghans are now being killed by the Taliban’s roadside bombs than by NATO air-strikes.

The NATO-led force will maintain these promising efforts in 2011. But this will not prevent it being another terrible year for ordinary Afghans, nearly 1,300 of whom were killed in the first half of 2010—a 31% increase on the same period in the previous year. Nor will it persuade Afghanistan’s corrupt government or Pakistan, its unhelpful neighbour, to amend their destructive ways.

President Hamid Karzai will remain a largely ineffective leader, distrustful of his allies and apparently unconcerned by Afghanistan’s dreadful corruption.

Pakistan, which in 2010 suffered wretchedly from flooding, will need huge help in 2011 from Western donors to feed over 6m destitute people and more. But this will not be sufficient to persuade Pakistan’s generals to support those same Western allies in Afghanistan, by expelling the Taliban from their north-western border areas. Alas, they consider the insurgents inoffensive—or perhaps useful.

This will embolden the Taliban in 2011. They are unlikely to come to terms with Mr Karzai even if he offers to negotiate. To encourage that, many American and European officials now speak more respectfully of the Taliban, as peeved Pushtun nationalists. In fact, not much is known about them. And if the fighting proceeds at its expected ferocity, little more will be revealed in 2011.
From the Guardian, one of Britain's most eminent newspapers.

I began to understand this as a young reporter during the American war in Vietnam. During my first assignment, I saw the results of the bombing of two villages and the use of Napalm B, which continues to burn beneath the skin; many of the victims were children; trees were festooned with body parts. The lament that "these unavoidable tragedies happen in wars" did not explain why virtually the entire population of South Vietnam was at grave risk from the forces of their declared "ally", the United States. PR terms like "pacification" and "collateral damage" became our currency. Almost no reporter used the word "invasion". "Involvement" and later "quagmire" became staples of a news vocabulary that recognised the killing of civilians merely as tragic mistakes and seldom questioned the good intentions of the invaders.

On the walls of the Saigon bureaus of major American news organisations were often displayed horrific photographs that were never published and rarely sent because it was said they were would "sensationalise" the war by upsetting readers and viewers and therefore were not "objective". The My Lai massacre in 1968 was not reported from Vietnam, even though a number of reporters knew about it (and other atrocities like it), but by a freelance in the US, Seymour Hersh. The cover of Newsweek magazine called it an "American tragedy", implying that the invaders were the victims: a purging theme enthusiastically taken up by Hollywood in movies such as The Deer Hunter and Platoon. The war was flawed and tragic, but the cause was essentially noble. Moreover, it was "lost" thanks to the irresponsibility of a hostile, uncensored media.

Although the opposite of the truth, such false realties became the "lessons" learned by the makers of present-day wars and by much of the media. Following Vietnam, "embedding" journalists became central to war policy on both sides of the Atlantic. With honourable exceptions, this succeeded, especially in the US. In March 2003, some 700 embedded reporters and camera crews accompanied the invading American forces in Iraq. Watch their excited reports, and it is the liberation of Europe all over again. The Iraqi people are distant, fleeting bit players; John Wayne had risen again.

A statue of Saddam Hussein is pulled down in Baghdad on 9 April 2003. Photograph: Jerome Delay/AP The apogee was the victorious entry into Baghdad, and the TV pictures of crowds cheering the felling of a statue of Saddam Hussein. Behind this façade, an American Psyops team successfully manipulated what an ignored US army report describes as a "media circus [with] almost as many reporters as Iraqis". Rageh Omaar, who was there for the BBC, reported on the main evening news: "People have come out welcoming [the Americans], holding up V-signs. This is an image taking place across the whole of the Iraqi capital." In fact, across most of Iraq, largely unreported, the bloody conquest and destruction of a whole society was well under way.

In The War You Don't See, Omaar speaks with admirable frankness. "I didn't really do my job properly," he says. "I'd hold my hand up and say that one didn't press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough." He describes how British military propaganda successfully manipulated coverage of the fall of Basra, which BBC News 24 reported as having fallen "17 times". This coverage, he says, was "a giant echo chamber".

The sheer magnitude of Iraqi suffering in the onslaught had little place in the news. Standing outside 10 Downing St, on the night of the invasion, Andrew Marr, then the BBC's political editor, declared, "[Tony Blair] said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating, and on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right . . ." I asked Marr for an interview, but received no reply. In studies of the television coverage by the University of Wales, Cardiff, and Media Tenor, the BBC's coverage was found to reflect overwhelmingly the government line and that reports of civilian suffering were relegated. Media Tenor places the BBC and America's CBS at the bottom of a league of western broadcasters in the time they allotted to opposition to the invasion. "I am perfectly open to the accusation that we were hoodwinked," said Jeremy Paxman, talking about Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction to a group of students last year. "Clearly we were." As a highly paid professional broadcaster, he omitted to say why he was hoodwinked.

Dan Rather, who was the CBS news anchor for 24 years, was less reticent. "There was a fear in every newsroom in America," he told me, "a fear of losing your job . . . the fear of being stuck with some label, unpatriotic or otherwise." Rather says war has made "stenographers out of us" and that had journalists questioned the deceptions that led to the Iraq war, instead of amplifying them, the invasion would not have happened. This is a view now shared by a number of senior journalists I interviewed in the US.

In Britain, David Rose, whose Observer articles played a major part in falsely linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida and 9/11, gave me a courageous interview in which he said, "I can make no excuses . . . What happened [in Iraq] was a crime, a crime on a very large scale . . ."

"Does that make journalists accomplices?" I asked him.

"Yes . . . unwitting perhaps, but yes."

What is the value of journalists speaking like this? The answer is provided by the great reporter James Cameron, whose brave and revealing filmed report, made with Malcolm Aird, of the bombing of civilians in North Vietnam was banned by the BBC. "If we who are meant to find out what the bastards are up to, if we don't report what we find, if we don't speak up," he told me, "who's going to stop the whole bloody business happening again?"

Cameron could not have imagined a modern phenomenon such as WikiLeaks but he would have surely approved. In the current avalanche of official documents, especially those that describe the secret machinations that lead to war – such as the American mania over Iran – the failure of journalism is rarely noted. And perhaps the reason Julian Assange seems to excite such hostility among journalists serving a variety of "lobbies", those whom George Bush's press spokesman once called "complicit enablers", is that WikiLeaks and its truth-telling shames them. Why has the public had to wait for WikiLeaks to find out how great power really operates? As a leaked 2,000-page Ministry of Defence document reveals, the most effective journalists are those who are regarded in places of power not as embedded or clubbable, but as a "threat". This is the threat of real democracy, whose "currency", said Thomas Jefferson, is "free flowing information".

In my film, I asked Assange how WikiLeaks dealt with the draconian secrecy laws for which Britain is famous. "Well," he said, "when we look at the Official Secrets Act labelled documents, we see a statement that it is an offence to retain the information and it is an offence to destroy the information, so the only possible outcome is that we have to publish the information." These are extraordinary times.

• The War You Don't See is in cinemas and on DVD from 13 December, and is broadcast on ITV on 14 December at 10.35pm

This Week

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday British troops may begin withdrawing from Afghanistan as early as next year.

Mr. Cameron made the remarks during an unannounced visit to Afghanistan's Helmand province, where he met with Britain's top military official, General David Richards.

The two men said recent security improvements may allow Britain to start drawing down troops in 2011. Mr. Cameron added the goal is to withdraw all British forces by 2015.
This image is from 2001, after the war began, when people were killed in a wedding party by American forces.

Jamie Doran, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, in 2002.

The sense of urgency was not lost on Amir Jhan, who raced between the opposing sides in an attempt to halt the inevitable. Finally, on November 21, they reached a settlement: the entire Taliban force would surrender to the Northern Alliance in return for a pledge that their lives would be spared. Around 470 men (including many suspected al-Qaida) were taken to Kalai Janghi where they were incarcerated in tunnels below one of its giant compounds.

On 25 November two CIA operatives arrived to interrogate individuals. During this time, there was a breakout as the vanquished Taliban overpowered several guards, seized their weapons and began shooting. Within minutes, the CIA’s Johnny "Mike" Spann was dead, along with 30 Northern Alliance soldiers.

A fire-fight began, magnifying when the Taliban captured the fort’s armoury, stupidly situated inside the compound in which they were imprisoned. US Special Forces on the ground called in air strikes, while the British SAS led counter-attacks. By the third day of fighting, there was not a single Taliban alive above ground at the fort, which is very unusual in a military operation - one always expects to find a few living combatants, albeit badly wounded.

The Western media, present in hundreds at the Kunduz surrender, moved en masse to Kalai Janghi where they filed exciting reports from the relative safety of the adjacent compound and even further away. Kalai Janghi became the centre of focus on the Afghan war, and the discovery some days later of the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, and 85 others who had survived in the tunnels below the fort strengthened its central position. Incredibly, no one was concerned to ask at the time what happened to the others who surrendered at Kunduz.

The fate of those thousands of young men has led to calls for independent, international inquiries after we previewed our film at the European parliament in Strasbourg. Their fate darkly stains the hands of Northern Alliance soldiers, the Western media, the UN, the US government and its military personnel.

What happened to them involves another fort, previously unmentioned by the media, where murder began and led to the death of up to 3,000 prisoners. Amir Jhan, who helped negotiate the surrender, said: "I counted them one by one; there were 8,000. Now there are only 3,015 left. And among these 3,015 are local Pashtun people from Kunduz, Shiberghan, Balkh and Mazar, who were not even among the original prisoners I handed over. Where are the rest?" The answer lies partly in that 50-metre mound of sand in the desert at Dasht Leili.

Over 5,000 are missing. A few may have escaped; others may have bought their freedom while more may have been sold to the security agencies of their countries, to return to a terrible fate. But according to a number of eyewitnesses found during a six-month investigation, most lie in the sand. None of our witnesses received payment and all put themselves in great danger because they took part in our film.

The story begins at the fort of Kalai Zeini, which is on the road from Mazar to Shiberghan. This fort, enormous even by Afghan standards, was used as a holding point for the thousands captured at Kunduz. The official objective was to transfer them to Shiberghan prison where they could be held before interrogation by American experts. Those singled out would then be transferred to the base at Guantanamo in Cuba.
Containers of death

At Kalai Zeini they were forced to sit, side by side, across a vast field within the perimeters. Soon a convoy of trucks arrived with metal cargo containers fastened to their chassis. The prisoners were then ordered to line up before being squeezed into these containers. A Northern Alliance officer, who agreed to speak anonymously, said: "We were responsible for delivering the prisoners and we loaded 25 containers from Zeini to Shiberghan. We put around 200 people into each container."

Compressed into these airless, dark metal boxes in very high temperatures, the Taliban cried for mercy. Another Afghan soldier who lent credence to his testimony by admitting he killed some prisoners, said: "I hit the containers with bullets to make holes for ventilation and some of them were killed." I asked him if he personally shot holes into the containers, and why, and who gave the orders, and he said: "The commanders ordered us."

But his honesty conceals enormous cruelty. We found many of the bullet holes in the containers were in the bottom and middle, rather than at the top. If they had really been intended for ventilation, then bullets fired into the top of the containers would have given the prisoners a better chance of survival.

A taxi driver we met had called in at one of the makeshift gas stations that litter the main roads: "At the time they took prisoners from Kalai Zeini to Shiberghan, I went to fill my car with petrol. I smelt something strange and asked the attendant where it was coming from. He said ’Look behind you’. There were three trucks with containers on them. Blood was pouring from the containers. It was horrible. I wanted to move but couldn’t because one of the trucks had broken down and they had to tow it away, blocking my path."

The following day he stood outside his home in Shiberghan and another horrific sight caught his eye: "I saw another three trucks loaded with containers drive past my house. Blood was pouring from them." Some of the misery within the sealed containers had not been relieved by the at least fast death from bullets. The prisoners were left for four or five days to die of suffocation, hunger and thirst. When the containers were finally opened, a mess of urine, blood, faeces, vomit and rotting flesh was all that remained. The immediate question anyone who has seen Shiberghan prison asks is how such an institution, capable of holding no more than 500 prisoners, could realistically have been expected to cater for 15 times that number? Was it coincidence that many destined for there never arrived?

As the containers were lined up outside the prison, a soldier accompanying the convoy was present when the prison commanders received orders to dispose of the evidence quickly: "Most of the containers had bullet holes. In each container maybe 150-160 had been killed. Some were still breathing, but most were dead. The Americans told the Shiberghan people to get them outside the city before they were filmed by satellite." This accusation about US involvement will be crucial to any inquiry: international, and national, civil and military law relies on establishing the chain of command under which crimes took place. It is a matter of determining who was running the show at Shiberghan.

We found two drivers from different regions who, on separate days, led us to the same spot in the desert. They were both visibly distressed. Their accounts of the journey from Kalai Zeini through Shiberghan to Dasht Leili are harrowing.

Driver number one said: "There were about 25 containers. The conditions were very bad because the prisoners couldn’t breathe, so they shot into the containers. Many of the prisoners lost their lives. At Shiberghan, they offloaded the prisoners who were obviously alive. But there were some injured Taliban and others who were so weak they were unconscious. We brought them to this place, which is called Dasht Leili, and they were shot. I came here three times and each time I brought about 150 prisoners. They shouted and cried when they were shot. There were about 10 or 15 other drivers who made the same journey."

Driver number two said: "They commandeered my truck from Mazar without paying any money. They took my truck and loaded a container on to it and I carried prisoners from Kalai Zeini to Shiberghan and, after that, to Dasht Leili where they were shot by the soldiers. Some of them were alive, injured or unconscious. They brought them here, bound their hands and shot them. I made four trips backwards and forwards with prisoners. I brought 550-600 people here."

Despite many sightings by local villagers, drivers and Northern Alliance soldiers, the Pentagon continues to deny that American soldiers were present at the time in Shiberghan or Dasht Leili. "They weren’t in the vicinity at all," according to Colonel David Lapan of Central Command. He said they had carried out an internal investigation and were satisfied that no US soldiers had been present or witnessed atrocities. All calls for a formal inquiry have been rejected.

Driver number one said: "There were Jumbish [Uzbek] people and American soldiers at Shiberghan jail. I didn’t see any [Americans] here, but I saw them at the prison and they may have been in the trucks."

Driver number two, asked about the presence of US soldiers, said: "Yes, they were with us." At Dasht Leili? "Yes, here." How many? "Lots of them: maybe 30-40. They came the first two times with us but I didn’t see them on the next two trips." Months later the bulldozer tracks were still visible on the final stages of the trail to Dasht Leili: the bodies were pushed into a hollow and then hidden under tons of sand.

Even for those who survived the journey from Kalai Zeini to Shiberghan prison, their fate at the hands of American soldiers was hardly more merciful than death in the desert, according to eyewitnesses. One soldier recounted an incident when a US soldier murdered a Taliban prisoner in order to frighten the others into talking: "When I was a soldier at Shiberghan, I saw an American soldier breaking a prisoner’s neck. Another time, they poured acid or something on them. The Americans did whatever they wanted; we had no power to stop them. Everything was under the control of the American commander."

A general in the Northern Alliance, also stationed at Shiberghan at the time, claimed: "I was a witness. I saw them [US soldiers] stab their legs, cut their tongues, cut their hair and cut their beards. Sometimes it looked as if they were doing it for pleasure. They would take a prisoner outside, beat him up and return him to the jail. But sometimes they were never returned and they disappeared, the prisoner disappeared."

All of the witnesses in our film have agreed to attend any international inquiry or court case that may result from their statements. If given the opportunity, they would be willing to identify the US personnel. While the accusations of torture and murder in Shiberghan prison may be difficult to substantiate so long after the event, a mass grave containing the bodies of thousands of prisoners does lie just four kilometres from that jail. If US servicemen were involved in disposing of these prisoners, if they headed the chain of command as alleged by many witnesses, and stood by as hundreds were summarily executed, then they are guilty of war crimes.

While the US Congress rushes through laws to prevent any American soldier from facing prosecution abroad, the senators and representatives might wish to consider the words of Andrew McEntee, a leading human rights lawyer and former chairman of Amnesty International, who has read the full transcripts of our witness statements and viewed hours of filmed evidence. "I believe it is quite clear from the evidence presented that an independent inquiry is essential. These are not simply crimes against international law, they are offences under the laws of European countries, attracting universal jurisdiction. And they are also offences under US law."

If the US wishes to continue and even expand its role as the world’s policeman, standing firm against terror, it must be seen to be applying the rule of law and not of the gun. The 1968 massacre in the Vietnamese village of My Lai, and the US army court martial of Lieutenant William Calley, seem a long time ago, and the world may have changed since, but the basic tenets of law and justice remain the same. And the innocent have nothing to fear from the truth.
This was on page A1 of the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2001, when the war was only a few months old. .

Published on Thursday, January 3, 2001 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
Thousands of Afghans Likely Killed in Bombings
by Murray Campbell

The Afghan village of Qalaye Niazi vanished in a rain of bombs, with only craters, remnants of mud walls and scraps of flesh and hair to show that it once existed.

The people who used to live there say as many as 107 civilians died when U.S. warplanes, including a B-52 bomber, swooped down early Sunday.

The Pentagon says the village in eastern Afghanistan was a haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban loyalists and that, in any event, the estimate of casualties is "unfounded."

Such conflicting information has been a staple of the three-month-old Afghan war and, critics say, has served to obscure the toll exacted from civilians.

There is no agreement yet about how many ordinary Afghans have died from the U.S.-led bombardment, but one American academic estimates that the toll stands at 4,050 -- surpassing the number of people killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The Pentagon has played down the number of civilian dead, dismissing many early reports as Taliban exaggerations.

The bombing campaign is controversial in Afghanistan, with some members of the interim government suggesting it be stopped. Washington has refuses, and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai said this week the bombing must continue, to "finish terrorists completely."

The bombing campaign remains largely uncontroversial in the United States, where President George W. Bush's war on terrorism enjoys strong support.

Marc Herold, a University of New Hampshire economics professor who has monitored the campaign, said yesterday that U.S. officials again have demonstrated their ability to manage the news and mainstream U.S. media have shown their willingness to be managed.

"It's been a concerted effort to keep this kind of news off the front pages," he said. "The record of the Bush administration is pretty clear: This is a non-topic."

Prof. Herold has gathered media reports (many of them unverified) from around the world for his estimate that 4,050 Afghan civilians have been killed in the bombing. Other organizations, whose monitoring has been less rigorous, offer lower figures.

Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based organization, offers an estimate of at least 1,000 civilian deaths, while the Reuters news agency said that perhaps 982 people have died in 14 incidents.

Prof. Herold's estimate, updated to include Qalaye Niazi and four other recent incidents, follows his initial calculation three weeks ago that 3,767 Afghan civilians had died since the first bombs fell on Oct. 7.

He said he decided to study the effects of the bombing because he suspects that modern weaponry is not as precise as advertised, and because he found hardly any mention of civilian casualties in the U.S. media.

He noted there have been news reports that Washington was spending millions of dollars to buy exclusive rights to accurate satellite images of the areas under bombardment. "Preventing the images of human suffering caused by the U.S. bombing from reaching U.S. audiences creates precisely what the Pentagon and Bush seek -- a war without witnesses."

Sidney Jones, Human Rights Watch's Asia director, suggests there are several reasons for the muted reaction to the Afghan civilian toll.

She said other Afghan topics -- the rebuilding of the country and the hunt for Osama bin Laden -- crowd the news agenda.

© 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Japan, many of the sweets are simply colourless or very pale colours. I don't know what exactly they use, but works for me.

After years of insisting that the artificial food dyes in those technicolor treats are perfectly safe, the FDA has changed course: Maybe Yellow 5, Red 40 and Blue 1 really do cause kids to bounce off the walls.

The agency has announced that it will hold a public hearing in March to discuss the link between food colorings and hyperactivity in kids, the diagnosis of which has been on the upswing for at least the last 13 years.

For food companies, dye removal recommendations or — heaven forbid — warning labels would be a huge headache. In March, FDA Week quoted an attorney saying that the industry’s response to any labeling changes would be to “go ballistic.” That’s because food companies now use some 15 million pounds of synthetic dyes in products ranging from breakfast cereal, mac & cheese, fruit roll ups, fruit drinks and baked goods. They’re much cheaper and easier to work with than natural alternatives.

But the good news is that replacement is eminently doable: with the British government and European Union zeroing in on artificial colors, many companies already sell chemical dye-free version of their products overseas. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has petitioned the FDA to ban artificial food dyes, reports that McDonald’s (MCD) Strawberry Sundaes are colored with Red 40 in the US, but strawberry extract in the UK, and that the British version of Coke’s (KO) Fanta orange soda gets its bright color from pumpkin and carrot extract.

And there’s a bigger picture: The FDA’s change of heart and public hearing, while preliminary, may mark a regulatory and scientific tipping point. The British government has asked food manufacturers to remove artificial colors and in the European Union food products containing dyes now come with a warning label that the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Here in the US, companies like Pepsi’s (PEP) Frito-Lay unit have already started working to swap out synthetic colors for natural ones. Other manufacturers would be wise to follow suit.

The problem with artificial food dyes is that not only do they turn your food — and your child’s mouth — the color of anti-freeze, but they may also be contributing to your son’s inability to sit in a chair for more than 10 seconds and his trouble doing basic math problems. Colorings have been suspected of triggering behavioral problems since the 70’s, but recent research has given the theory more weight. A study done at the University of Southampton in England in 2007 showed that food dyes (and the preservative sodium benzoate) can have a manic effect in as little as an hour.

Some food dyes have also been linked to cancer in lab rats, and one in particular — red 3 — was acknowledged by the FDA back in 1985 to be a carcinogen, but the agency was blocked from taking action by the USDA.

Food manufacturers love using artificial colors. In an article in the industry journal Prepared Foods, Rohit Tibrewala, an executive at Roha USA, one of the leading makers of food colorings, explains why they’re better than the natural, fruit and vegetable-derived alternatives:

Providing intense uniform color, [synthetic colors] typically retain color longer than naturally derived versions, while allowing for a variety of blues and greens not easily available naturally. They are easier to source and less expensive. In order to stabilize natural colors, often additives are needed; even then, they are not as stable. Since natural colors are crop-based, availability can be uncertain. For example, this year (2010), due to a shortage of carmine and turmeric, both costs increased almost 4-5 times over last year. Typically, naturally derived colors are 8-20 times more expensive than synthetic.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wisconsin's Fallen

By The Associated Press | Posted: Thursday, December 2, 2010 9:23 pm

MILWAUKEE — Nineteen Wisconsin residents have died as a result of service in Afghanistan. They are:

—Army Pfc. Jacob A. Gassen, 21, of Beaver Dam, Wis., died Nov. 29, 2010

—Army Spc. Scott T. Nagorski, 27, of Greenfield, Wis., died Nov. 14, 2010.

—Marine Cpl. Justin J. Cain, 22, of Manitowoc, died Oct. 13, 2010.

—Senior Airman Daniel Johnson, 23, who went to high school in Monona, Wis., died Oct. 5, 2010.

—Army Staff Sgt.Matthew West, 36, Conover, died Aug. 30, 2010

—Army Pfc. Adam Novak, 20, Prairie du Sac, died Aug. 27, 2010

—Army Lt. Col. Paul R. Bartz, 43, of Waterloo, died May 18, 2010.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Meinert, 20, Fort Atkinson, died Jan. 10, 2010.

—Army Sgt. Nickolas A. Mueller, 26, Little Chute, died Oct. 26, 2009.

—Army Sgt. Ryan C. Adams, 26, Rhinelander, died Oct. 2, 2009.

—Army Pvt. Steven T. Drees, 19, Peshtigo, died June 28, 2009.

—Army Sgt. Daniel James Thompson, 24, of Madison, died Feb. 24, 2009.

—Army 1st Lt. Nick A. Dewhirst, 25, of Onalaska, died July 20, 2008.

—Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard, 52, of Waukesha, died Sept. 8, 2006.

—Senior Airman Adam Servais, 23, of Onalaska, died Aug. 19, 2006.

—Army Staff Sgt. Patrick L. Lybert, 28, of Ladysmith, died June 21, 2006.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Anderson, 21, of Sauk City, died March 13, 2006.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan J. Nass, 21, of Franklin, died Sept. 3, 2005.

—Army Spc. Robert Cook, 24, of Sun Prairie, died Jan. 29, 2004.


Ninety-two members of the military from Wisconsin have died as a result of service in Iraq or associated with duties in Iraq. They are:

—Army Spc. Robert Rieckhoff, 26, of Kenosha, died March 18, 2010.

—Army Sgt. Earl D. Werner, 38, of Mondovi, died Aug. 28, 2009.

—Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Naseman, 36, of Racine, died May 22, 2009.

—Army Spc. Steven J. Christofferson, 20, of Cudahy, died April 21, 2008.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Dean Opicka, 29, of Waukesha, died April 14, 2008.

—Marine Cpl. Richard Nelson, 23, of Kenosha, died April 14, 2008.

—Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Frost, 24, of Waukesha, died March 3, 2008.

—Army Pfc. Keith E. Lloyd, 26, of Milwaukee, died Jan. 12, 2008.

—Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Pionk, 30, of Superior, died Jan. 9, 2008.

—Army Pfc. Timothy R. Hanson, 23, of Kenosha, died Jan. 7, 2008.

—Army Pfc. Jason F. Lemke, 30, of West Allis, died Jan. 5, 2008.

—Army 2nd Lt. Tracy Alger, 30, of New Auburn, died Nov. 1, 2007.

—Army Sgt. Louis A. Griese, 30, of Sturgeon Bay, died Oct. 31, 2007.

—Army Reserve Spc. Rachael L. Hugo, 24, of Madison, died Oct. 5, 2007.

—Army Capt. Derek Dobogai, 26, of Fond du Lac, died Aug. 22, 2007.

—Marine Cpl. Matthew Zindars, 21, Watertown, died July 24, 2007.

—Navy Chief Petty Officer Pat Wade, 38, Manawa, died July 17, 2007.

—Army Sgt. Tyler Kritz, 21, Eagle River, died June 3, 2007.

—Army Sgt. Jesse Albrecht, 31, Hager City, died May 18, 2007.

—Army Sgt. Scott Brown, 33, Brookfield, died May 18, 2007.

—Army Pfc. Nicholas E. Riehl, 21, Shiocton, died April 27, 2007.

—Army Staff Sgt. Robert Basham, 22, Kenosha, died April 14, 2007.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Harry H. Timberman, 20, Minong, died March 17, 2007.

—Army Pfc. Jon B. St. John II, 25, town of Vinland, killed Jan. 27, 2007.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Matus, 19, of Weyerhaeuser, killed Jan. 21, 2007.

—Army Spc. Matthew Tyler Grimm, 21, Wisconsin Rapids, killed Jan. 15, 2007.

—Marine Cpl. Josh Schmitz, 22, of Loyal, died Dec. 26, 2006.

—Army Private Evan A. Bixler, 21, of Racine, died Dec. 24, 2006.

—Marine Capt. Kevin M. Kryst, 27, of West Bend, died Dec. 18, 2006.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Jesse D. Tillery, 19, of Vesper, died Dec. 2, 2006.

—Army Capt. Rhett W. Schiller, 26, of Waterford, died Nov. 16, 2006.

—Marine Sgt. Luke Zimmerman, 24, of Green Bay, died Oct. 27, 2006.

—Army Cpl. Kenneth Cross, 21, of Superior, died Aug. 27, 2006.

—Army Pfc. Shaun Novak, 21, of Two Rivers, died Aug. 27, 2006.

—Army Spc. Ryan Jopek, 20, of Merrill, died Aug. 1, 2006.

—Army Spc. 4 Steve Castner, 27, of Cedarburg, died July 24, 2006.

—Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaime S. Jaenke, 29, of Bay City, died June 5, 2006.

—Army Pfc. Grant Allen Dampier, 25, of Merrill, died May 15, 2006.

—Army Pfc. Eric D. Clark, 22, of Pleasant Prairie, died May 11, 2006.

—Army Sgt. Nathan J. Vacho, 29, of Janesville, died May 5, 2006.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Eric A. Palmisano, 27, of Florence, died April 2, 2006.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Adam J. VanAlstine, 21, of Superior, died Feb. 25, 2006.

—Marine Sgt. Andy A. Stevens, 29, of Tomah, died Dec. 1, 2005

—Army Pfc. Anthony Alex Gaunky, 19, of Sparta, died Nov. 18, 2005.

—Army Spc. Benjamin A. Smith, 21, of Hudson, died Nov. 2, 2005.

—Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew R. Kading, 32, of Madison, died Nov. 1, 2005.

—Army Spc. Michael Wendling, 20, of Mayville, died Sept. 26, 2005.

—Army Sgt. Andy Wallace, 25, of Oshkosh, died Sept. 26, 2005.

—Army Sgt. 1st Class Trevor J. Diesing, 30, of Plum City, died Aug. 25, 2005.

—Marine Staff Sgt. Chad J. Simon, 32, of Monona, died Aug. 4, 2005.

—Army Capt. Benjamin D. Jansky, 28, of Oshkosh, died July 27, 2005.

—Army Spc. John O. Tollefson, 22, of Fond du Lac, died July 27, 2005.

—Army Spc. Charles A. Kaufman, 20, of Fairchild, died June 26, 2005.

—Marine Lance Cpl. John J. Mattek Jr., 24, of Stevens Point, died June 13, 2005.

—Army Spc. Eric Poelman, 21, of Racine, died June 5, 2005.

—Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Scott, 28, of Sun Prairie, died May 27, 2005.

—Sgt. Mark Maida, 22, of Madison, died May 26, 2005.

—Sgt. Andrew Bossert, 24, of Fountain City, died March 7, 2005.

—Sgt. 1st Class Donald W. Eacho, 38, of Black Creek, died March 4, 2005.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Travis M. Wichlacz, 22, of West Bend, died Feb. 5, 2005.

—Staff Sgt. Todd Olson, 36, of Loyal, of the Wisconsin National Guard, died Dec. 26, 2004.

—Marine Pfc. Brent Vroman, 21, of Omro, died Dec. 13, 2004.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Richard D. Warner, 22, of Waukesha, died Dec. 13, 2004.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Cantafio, 22, of Beaver Dam, died Nov. 25, 2004.

—Marine Sgt. Benjamin Edinger, 24, of Green Bay, died Nov. 23, 2004.

—Army Pfc. Isaiah Hunt 20, of Suamico, died Nov. 14, 2004.

—Marine Cpl. Brian P. Prening, 24, of Sheboygan County, died Nov. 12, 2004.

—Army Reserves Staff Sgt. Todd R. Cornell, 38, of West Bend, died Nov. 9, 2004.

—Marine Cpl. Bobby Warns, 23, of Waukesha, died Nov. 8, 2004.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Shane K. O’Donnell, 24, of DeForest, died Nov. 8, 2004.

—Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel R. Wyatt, 22, of Racine, died Oct. 12, 2004.

—Marine Pfc. Andrew Halverson, 19, of Muscoda, died Oct. 9, 2004.

—Marine Cpl. Adrian V. Soltau, 21, of Milwaukee, died Sept. 13, 2004.

—Army Staff Sgt. Stephen G. Martin, 39, of Rhinelander, died July 2, 2004.

—Army Sgt. Charles Kiser, 37, of Cleveland, died June 24, 2004.

—Army Spc. Michael McGlothin, 21, of Milwaukee, died April 17, 2004.

—Army Spc. Michelle Witmer, 20, of New Berlin, died April 9, 2004.

—Marine Pfc. Ryan Jerabek, 18, of Hobart, died April 6, 2004.

—Marine Cpl. Jesse Thiry, 23, of Casco, died April 5, 2004.

—Army Pfc. Sean Schneider, 22, of Janesville, died March 29, 2004.

—Army Capt. John F. Kurth, 31, of Columbus, died March 13, 2004.

—Spc. Bert E. Hoyer, 23, an Army reservist from Ellsworth, died March 10, 2004.

—Spc. Nichole M. Frye, 19, an Army reservist from Lena, died Feb. 16, 2004.

—Maj. Christopher J. Splinter, 43, of Platteville, died Dec. 24, 2003.

—Army Pfc. Rachel Bosveld, 19, of Waupun, died Oct. 26, 2003.

—Army 2nd Lt. Jeremy L. Wolfe, 27, of Menomonie, died Nov. 15, 2003.

—Army Spc. Eugene A. Uhl III, 21, of Amherst, died Nov. 15, 2003.

—Army Sgt. Warren S. Hansen, 36, of Clintonville, died Nov. 15, 2003.

—Army Spc. Paul J. Sturino, 21, of Rice Lake, died Sept. 22, 2003.

—Army Reservist Dan Gabrielson, 40, of Frederic, died July 9, 2003.

—Army Maj. Mathew Schram, 36, of Brookfield, died May 26, 2003.

—Marine Sgt. Kirk Straseskie, 23, of Beaver Dam, died May 19, 2003.
If you want to learn more about Afghanistan, please try and get Sonali's book for your local library, home or school. :)

The Other Quagmire: An interview with Sonali Kolhatkar
Sonali Kolhatkar remembers Afghanistan, even if the rest of us don’t
Thursday, May 17, 2007 – 3:00 pm

Remember Afghanistan? The Taliban? Hamid Karzai? That weird game Afghans play involving a goat carcass? Of course not. If the Iraq War is our latest Vietnam, then Dubya’s Afghanistan adventure is our Philippine-American War: a major incursion that became a quagmire no one talks about.

One of the few media figures who bother to pay attention is Sonali Kolhatkar, host of KPFK-FM 90.7’s popular Uprising morning show. She’s involved with various Afghan charities and is the author, along with her husband, of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence. Kolhatkar will talk about the book and show slides from her visits this Saturday at the Centro Cultural de México. But first, she talked to the Weekly.

* * *

Give us a summary of your book in 25 words without using the word “imperialism.”

The book traces the history of U.S. policy in Afghanistan from the 1970s to today, its effects on ordinary people, particularly women, and their resistance and resilience to war and fundamentalism.

You went to Afghanistan in 2005. How was the situation then, and has it changed for better or worse?

When I went in 2005, Afghans had just finished voting in the presidential elections and there was a lot of optimism. However, there was still overwhelming poverty and unemployment, and most people admitted that “liberation” was a Bush fantasy. While Afghans were surprisingly candid about what they saw as American double standards in defeating one set of terrorist fundamentalists by bringing back another set of terrorist fundamentalists, they were still hopeful the world community would pay some attention to them. Since then, that optimism has evaporated as the Taliban are stronger, warlords dominate the government and the U.S./NATO forces continue to kill civilians. It’s a much more dangerous country now.

Are you optimistic about Afghanistan’s future?

Not really. Firstly, the U.S. doesn’t seem to want to change its trajectory of sponsoring fundamentalism and war in Afghanistan; secondly, American people just don’t give enough of a damn about Afghanistan to pressure the U.S. government to change. Ordinary Afghans are, as usual, caught between the twin forces of fundamentalism (U.S.-sponsored and otherwise) and war. Still, what’s hopeful is how incredible the nonviolent resistance on the ground is. Ordinary people are doing their best to survive and be defiant. They have organized peaceful demonstrations burning effigies of Bush and started schools for girls despite the dangers. If their efforts are supported internationally, perhaps there is a small measure of hope.

Your show Uprising covers an array of topics, yet it seems Afghanistan is the cause closest to your heart. Why?

I was actually involved in Afghanistan solidarity work about two years before I began my work at Pacifica Radio. It all started when I got a chain e-mail about the Taliban oppression of Afghan women. I did a Web search and found RAWA—the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Despite their sectarian sounding name, they are an incredible group of women whose ideals are based on democracy and human rights. I wrote to them and asked if I could help. Myself and a couple of friends started a nonprofit, the Afghan Women’s Mission, to fund RAWA’s social and political projects in 2000. Six years later, my partner Jim Ingalls and I published the book. We’re still deeply involved with supporting RAWA as volunteers.

Do you think the United States had the right to invade Afghanistan in 2001?

Not at all. It had just about as much right in 2001 as the Soviet Union had to invade Afghanistan in 1979. If the U.S. was really interested in defeating the Taliban before the tragedy of 9/11, Clinton and Bush would’ve pressured their allies and weapons buyers—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE [United Arab Emirates]—to stop supporting the Taliban.

Earlier this year, Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya said the United States “pushed us from the frying pan into the fire.” Do you agree with that statement?

Yes, I do. The Taliban is stronger today than it was in 2001, even if they don’t control as much territory. The Northern Alliance warlords and druglords have government power and legitimacy, which they didn’t have in 2001. It took barely a month for the U.S. to defeat the Taliban in 2001. Yet today, the Taliban are carrying out suicide attacks—an unheard-of phenomenon before 2005—and are gaining popularity because they don’t kill as many civilians as the U.S.

At this point, what’s the United States’ responsibility to the Afghan people?

The U.S. needs to disarm its warlord allies—these men should be considered proxy U.S. soldiers on the ground who are terrorizing the population. The U.S. should divert far more funds into Afghan-led reconstruction projects than the military effort. And I’m talking about grants to local groups here, not corporate subsidies or paying foreign aid workers. The U.S should then pressure its allies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to stop tacitly supporting the Taliban.

And then, the U.S. should get the hell out of Afghanistan. The U.S. should also support Afghan-led efforts to criminally prosecute the warlords and Taliban for past crimes in the interest of healing and reconciliation. If these things are done, there will theoretically be some space for Afghan civil society to grow, exercise their democratic rights, and reject the armed fundamentalists.

Why do you think the media and American public pays so little attention to Afghanistan?

They’re too busy thinking about Iraq, which is understandable. There are more than 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and only about 20,000 in Afghanistan. We’ve killed far more Iraqis than Afghans. Also, I think that, sadly, most Americans subconsciously think of Afghanistan as “the good war”—a myth that Jim and I try to dispel in our book. So there is a tendency among most Americans that we need to get our troops out of Iraq so we can focus them on Afghanistan. But this is very shortsighted—the same military blunders in Iraq have been committed in Afghanistan, and the Afghan war is as unjust as the Iraq war.

What should the United States do about Al-Qaeda?

What hasn’t the U.S. done about Al-Qaeda?! Our actions have only strengthened the group and helped get them more recruits. We’ve made this organization far more important than it ever was. If the U.S. were to improve its policies in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and other Muslim and Arab countries, Al-Qaeda would have no reason to scream bloody jihad. That’s the only long-term permanent solution. Any other solution involves brute force, and that will only lead to more anger, more recruits, more terrorism.

* * *


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

From Australia.. Saharan wind is tempered by the ocean breeze, the remnants of the Saxo Bank team (plus whatever boss Bjarne Riis could muster in the transfer season) gather in the Spanish Canary Island of Fuerteventura.

And for the first time since Riis took ownership of the team a decade ago, there will be no training camp led by B.S. Christiansen, the former soldier from the Danish Ranger Corps who spent 28 years as a top-notch commando.

“It’s all about teaching people that they can achieve their goals by cooperating. They have to perform their very best under the worst possible circumstances, where every action has a consequence,” Christiansen said at their winter 2004 camp, where Australian Scott Sunderland began his career as a sport director.

Denmark’s version of Bear Grylls, B.S. Christiansen’s oddball training camps soon became stuff of legend, where Riis’ men donned army fatigues and went into the wild – sometimes desert, other times jungle, always inhospitable – often without food or water and sometimes for two or three days, all in the name of team building. When they finished the camps looking like malnourished cats, they must’ve wondered exactly whose interests Riis had at heart. The only individual who seemed to revel in these fight-or-flight conditions was Jens Voigt, the irrepressible hard-man who probably throws a few nails in with his Weet-Bix at breakfast time.

“We didn't have any clue of time nor place,” said Sunderland after his first boot camp in 2004.

“We didn’t know where they took us and we had to hand over our mobile and watch. They split us up in groups of 13 people and we were on the go for 48 hours. We got the whole military kit, huge backpack and all. Over the last two days, we didn't get to sleep much more than a couple of hours. [We were] under the open sky and on an island, and that wind cuts through you; it was horrible, really. Our feet are all blistered and we were absolutely knackered after the two day ordeal.”

But when the cammo’s came off and the lycra came on, come race time, the team was formidable. Terrifying, even.

When they gathered their troops up front in an early season race like Paris-Nice, it sent shivers of fear down the peloton’s spine, because their rivals knew there would soon be carnage and by the day’s end, just a handful would be left standing. “If they are this strong, this organised, and this deadly now, what would happen in the Classics or Tour de France?” many riders must’ve been thinking.

Many times, they won well before they crossed the line.

“When a rider is under a lot of pressure,” said Christiansen, “he reacts very selfishly, and that’s where I have to work with them.” Former Riis rider turned sport director (who is now at Team Sky), Bobby Julich, said that, “those days in the bush bonded us much closer and gave us the strategies to work as a team in any racing situation”.

Fuerteventura, which has the epithet “island of the eternal spring” for its near-perfect year-round climate, sounds a far cry from Man vs. Wild.

“Will you miss the survival camp?” I asked Richie Porte, who endured his first and last in the European winter of 2009 before Christiansen took a job at FC Midtjylland, one of the top soccer teams in Denmark’s Super League.

“No, not at all. It wasn’t nice... No, it was bloody horrible, spending a night out in the desert,” he told me. “I guess Bjarne’s always going to do something to put us out of our comfort zone, but me personally, I’m not going to miss that. But it really did bring the team together; it was an incredible idea.”

But then Richie owns up to the real reason why it was so bad: “It was harder on most of the young guys because they had to have a couple of days’ off Facebook, to be honest. You can quote me saying that!”

As funny as it was – and I did laugh out loud – I can’t help thinking whether these Facebook-addicted teens and 20-somethings might be missing out on vital social skills that Christiansen was so determined to instill, which, if one thinks about it, are the essence for survival in the real world.

A recent article in the New York Times, ‘Generation wired to distraction’, said the lure of new technologies is particularly potent on younger people and “the constant stream of stimuli they offer pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning”. The risk, researchers say, is that the brains of our wired youth become so used to switching tasks, over time, they may render themselves unable to see a task to its completion.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but jumping to the next thing,” Michael Rich told the NYT, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the executive director of the Centre on Media and Child Health in Boston. “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

In this year’s Giro d’Italia, Porte showed he not only has the physical ability to ride consistently over three weeks, but the mental capability to handle the stress of such an event (though he did admit to me to being extremely highly strung throughout). However in 2011 as possibly the sole Grand Tour leader on the squad, he’ll also need to demonstrate he has the social skills to gather and motivate the troops at Saxo Bank, if he’s to lead them to victory.

And as B.S. Christiansen would have said, that’s something you can’t do on Facebook.
WINNIPEG — She's watched her 13-year-old daughter terrorized online by tactics that allegedly included plastering personal information on an adult website. But now, Karry Boti said she's at her wits end after her daughter, Kyra Lynn, was targeted in an extreme case of cyber-bullying that started about seven weeks ago.

Boti and Kyra Lynn's father, Mike Jubenville, who lives in London, Ont., said they've contacted police agencies, technology companies and a local anti-child abuse organization, but they've hit roadblocks in their effort to learn who is publicly maligning their teen daughter.

"How much damage has it done already?" said Boti. "What a smack in the face."

She said the trouble began after someone stole her daughter's Facebook password and hacked into her account this summer.

Problems continued to mount after Boti received an online message in October from a stranger — reportedly a man — saying her daughter's information had been posted on an explicit adult website, along with information how to access the girl's Facebook account.

In the weeks following, the cyber-bullying escalated after classmates of Kyra Lynn told her they'd received hateful messages from her Facebook account, messages the girl hadn't written. The kicker came after the family found out websites had been created saying Kyra Lynn, a Grade 8 student, was a "little skank."

"All of her friends hate her and she wonders why . . . she talks behind people's backs and makes out with their crushes," said one of the websites. Another site, which doesn't identify an author of the content, posted photos of Kyra Lynn taken from her Facebook account.

The family went to police in Winnipeg last month to complain about the harassment. Boti said police told her "there's no laws" against the online harassment.

"It can happen to any kid, and there's nobody out there to help them. Nobody," she said. "It's sad, but in all of the people that we've called, everybody keeps saying 'I don't know what to tell you, I don't know where to turn.'

"They'll give me resources, but the resources are web pages on how to avoid bullies. Well, you can't avoid them."

Jubenville, a computer technician, said he went to police in London, Ont., with his laptop telling them about the problem, but the trip was futile.

"It's been really, really trying through the whole thing . . . I've sat a lot of hours on the computer trying to sort this out, and find out where everything is coming from," said Jubenville. "She's a 13-year-old kid. I find it just horrifying, actually."

Police said Monday general patrol officers were gathering information on a case that will be forwarded to Integrated Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit detectives.

"We're certainly aware of it," said Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Jason Michalyshen, who said there was a volume of information for police to "sift through."

"These types of investigations are . . . a little bit more complex because obviously we're dealing with the Internet, and we're dealing with social networking, and it's not as cut and dry," he said. "We take (complaints) seriously, bottom line."

The family believes that, based on their own investigation, the creator of the content is a teenage girl in Ontario who sees Kyra Lynn as a rival for a teenage boy's affections.

Boti said the two girls have never actually met.

Boti said police in Winnipeg contacted the family of the girl who is believed to be the tormentor after Boti complained to police for a second time about the harassment last week.

The websites about Kyra Lynn have been shut down, but the family said the web company told them they needed a police subpoena to release information about who was behind the sites.

Paul Gillespie, a former Toronto Police Service officer who is now head of Kids Internet Safety Alliance (KINSA), said cyber-bullying is growing increasingly sophisticated.

"(Bullies) have realized with a little smarts about the technology, they can make life very miserable for their intended victims," he said. "And then there's not much, you know, one can do."
© Copyright (c) Winnipeg Free Press

Read more:

Stressheads! Eek! :P


Social media is causing people to become increasingly anxious as users feel pressured to be constantly connected, a new survey says.

According to the Cenovis Chill Pill Survey, 63 per cent of respondents feel social media is contributing to stress levels.

About a third (37 per cent) of these people feel under pressure to be in constant contact, and 35 per cent say there is an expectation to respond quickly to messages.

Thirteen per cent of stressed users say they feel pressure to be witty in writing status updates on Facebook.

La Trobe University law student Nikkita Venville says she can relate to the survey's findings.

"There's a bit of pressure to have a unique status that people will laugh at and press the `like' button," the 24-year-old from Melbourne told AAP on Monday.

Ms Venville said she felt "out of loop" if she did not check or respond to messages on Facebook regularly.

"You always have to know what's going on," she said.

"Even when you're out you think, `I wonder what's on Facebook', and it's the first thing I have to check."

The survey also found that women feel more stressed than men, with 69 per cent saying they felt pressure to be interesting in their status updates, as opposed to only 39 per cent of men.

Ms Venville said that she was spending so much time on Facebook that she asked her sister to change her password so she could study for her exams.

"I did feel like a bit of my social life had (gone) because I couldn't keep in contact with the people I usually kept in contact with - and I didn't know what was going on," she said.

"People were saying haven't you got my Facebook message instead of calling me up to invite me (to parties).

Ms Venville finally broke her Facebook sabbatical by hacking into her profile through her mum's account.

"It was my birthday, and I wanted to know what people wrote on my wall," she explained.

The survey was conducted by Galaxy research on behalf of sanofi-aventis Consumer Healthcare, interviewing 420 Australians over 18 years of age.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Those at the Groton school may have been trying to help the victim of bullying in this case. But here are Barbara Coloroso's thoughts on the school suicide of an alleged bully:

“Expulsion is not the way to go; it’s harmful,’’ said Barbara Coloroso, a specialist on bullying and author of a number of books, including “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander.’’ “Instead of coming down heavy, they need to come up with a decent plan that holds bullies accountable, holds bystanders accountable, and keeps the targets safe.’’

Coloroso said schools should institute “restorative justice,’’ which supports victims and helps them stay safe while teaching bullies about the impact of their actions and giving them “the opportunity to make right what they’ve done . . . to own what you did and then attempt to fix it.’’

Monday, November 29, 2010

Inuit throat singing

is called kattajaq and


while the singers on Hokkaido, in Japan have basically had their tradition erased from the historical record

So anyway, Bjork has it on 2004 album, called Medulla, an there's one particular song on there called Vespertine

and I can't wait to check it out.

I haven't watched Atarnajuat, the Fast Runner, and its on my list of things to do before I disappear into the Hills. Hopefully its as good as Rabbit Proof Fence, which is an Australian back bush miracle, a story of love and hope and challenges to triumphal freedom.
From, one hour ago:

Western Australia has 26 community gardens and another 14 are under construction but Christina believes we could be doing a lot more to encourage collaborative sustainable agriculture.

“I realised while in the US that the potential for community gardening in Australia is largely untapped,” she said.

“Although many city councils in Australia are beginning to promote community gardening, I think there is so much more potential that could be tapped into. I think it is very important to create strong collaborations between community, government and businesses to provide opportunities for growth and expansion.

“I think it is very important that gardens are accessible and inclusive, so that all members of our community (including marginalised members) can participate in them and be involved in the community in meaningful ways.”

The Child

what is there to say

about a girl

a wee uan

who is seven years old today?

except three things?

1/ she is sick, and her doctors think she will die before christmas
2/ her fears are that that she will be forgotten?
3/ she looks forward to 'everything'

her name is mikayla francis, and whatever you do, wherever you go, remember that you
once were six, and the world nourished your small soul

she has said to her father
if you have another child,
will you tell her about me?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Antipodean Lost

To lose hale young men in the prime of life here is a sad thing. May God bless the poor families of the miners, and keep them in our hearts.

Long wait for miners' families

Brigid Glanville reported this story on Friday, November 26, 2010 12:34:00

SHANE MCLEOD: The board of the Pike River Coal mine in New Zealand has met to discuss the recovery of the bodies of 29 miners from its mine near Greymouth and to discuss the future of the mine.

Equipment brought in from Australia has arrived at the site and will be put to work as soon as possible to dispel toxic gases from the mine so it becomes safe to enter.

Our reporter Brigid Glanville has been at the media conference with the board of the company this morning. She joins us now.

And Brigid now that the equipment has arrived from Queensland is there an update on when the company thinks it will be safe to retrieve the miners bodies?

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Shane the company is still saying it will probably be weeks before the bodies can be retrieved.

Now that this large piece of equipment that's designed basically like a big massive fan that sprays water vapour throughout the mine to inert the toxic gases, that could be up and running within a day. But it may be a few days because of course they are still really assessing how close they can get to go into the mine.

The other thing that did happen during the press conference is, Shane you may remember after the first blast which is actually a week ago this afternoon they sent in a robot and the robot shows picture of a conveyor belt that was about a kilometre into the mine and that was intact.

After the second blast on Wednesday they sent in a third robot. And today those pictures have shown a very violent blast. It was described as devastating. That conveyor belt is completely in pieces, barely recognisable.

So it sort of really brought home to the families just how bad that second blast was and reaffirmed to some of them that there is absolutely no way that anyone could have survived that second blast.

SHANE MCLEOD: And Brigid there are plans I understand for a national memorial service in New Zealand for next week. What can you tell us about that?

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Yes next Thursday at two o'clock in Greymouth there will be a memorial service. Up to 5,000 people are expected to attend.

John Key the prime minister yesterday said they were going to hold that service probably in Christchurch at the cathedral. But after calls from the families and of course the community of Greymouth they wanted it here so it will be held at the racecourse.

This afternoon at exactly 3.44, that is one week since the first blast, Pike River Mine, miners, emergency services will hold a minute's silence up at the actual mine site.

For the first time since the blast many of the families have been able to go up to the mine. Peter Whittle the CEO said today they had about 400 families, many extended families that have flown in were at the mine sites. They are able to get much closer to the gate.

Of course the families would like to get near the portal, right near the whole area to go where the miners would go down but that's not possible as yet.

SHANE MCLEOD: And how are support services, carers, how are they coping in looking after these family members?

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Well the community has definitely been rocked and shaken. It's a very sort of sombre town at the moment. Quite a sort of strange feeling in many ways.

And there are a number of support services here for the families. And as far as from what we have been told that some of the families have taken up those counselling services; others haven't.

I actually went to a Catholic Church mass today where there was probably about 100 people in that and that was very moving. Everyone, there's still many candlelight vigils around the place. So it is of course still very raw.

They've got a yellow ribbon that people are wearing in support and condolence for the miners. And you see a lot of yellow ribbons as you are walking around town.

And of course being a town of 10,000 people, 29 miners, everyone knows someone. So everyone is still greatly affected. But from what they're saying they are appreciative now of the daily updates that Pike River Mine is still giving to the families.

SHANE MCLEOD: Our reporter Brigid Glanville at Greymouth on New Zealand's South Island.
The case for Russian honey bees. They may actually be more resistant to the Colony Collapse Disorder.
When people look at Putin they probably don’t think about cows. Putin thinks about cows, at least sometimes. They are in one of the national “priority projects,” aimed at developing the country’s agriculture (the other three are about education, health and housing). It focuses on animal husbandry and tries to get young people into the countryside, much of which is a social disaster area. The social part of it is interesting, but let’s put that aside for now - this is a food blog, and if all that money budgeted for the project does anything it’ll have a serious influence on what Russians eat.

Russians are quite innocent about food. Grocery shopping here was at first a disorienting experience: imagine walking into a library confident in your knowledge of the Dewey decimal system and finding that all the books are simply alphabetized by title: novels, fine art albums, legal texts, bible commentaries… Russian foods don’t come with half the category labels that American ones sport. There’s no organic. No cage-free. No grass-fed. No kosher. No low carb. No stories of how one’s grandma used to make this yogurt from the milk of a brown cow called Daisy. Food choices are about taste and wallets and waistlines - not identity, values, policy.

There is certainly an understanding of what good food is, but the goodness is not on the label. The best food is perhaps one without a label at all - it’s the stuff grown by the family itself, by friends and relatives, by someone’s grandma on a quarter-acre or land an hour out of the city by electric train, and sold out of a canvas sack next to a tram station. The second-best, if one ended up in a store, is Russian. Russians fervently believe that their chickens, vegetables, even sausages and yogurt are better - safer, less processed, “cleaner” of antibiotics, pesticides, artificial flavorings and preservatives, grown in a purer environment.

This food patriotism surprised me - it somehow arose out of profound suspicion of foods Soviet and unquestionable preference for foods imported, and I don’t know when the switch took place. But it’s often justified. Russian chickens get fewer antibiotics. Russian cows eat more grass (although nobody would put it in these terms). Fewer pesticides are applied to Russian fresh fruit and vegetables (and sometimes they look awful because of it) and fewer ingredients are added when preserves are made out of them. A fair amount of Russian agricultural land is effectively organic, although only a tiny percentage is certified as such under European or American regulations. (Whether Russian sausages still contain more cellulose than meat I don’t know - but I’m suspicious and don’t buy them.)

All this goodness is not the result of conscious environmental and agricultural policy. Antibiotics, pesticides, artificial flavors, and industrial feed for cows are expensive to import and Russia doesn’t make a whole lot. The cleanliness of Russian food is dumb luck, a fortunate side effect of unfortunate years of agricultural mismanagement, which also led to deplorable rural poverty. Now that the government is trying to do something about it - as it should - the food quality is also coming under threat. All the more so because it’s simply not an issue. Russian carrots are assumed to be organic, not certified as such. Russian chickens are trusted to be free of antibiotics, but no-one would be responsible if that trust is broken because there are no explicit claims. Some producers used to label their stuff “ecologically clean” (the closest Russian has to “organic”) but instead of regulating what the term must mean the Russian government simply forbade its use.

This stuff can be successfully marketed, and Russians will even pay extra for the quality assurance. The Alexeevsky collective farm outside of Ufa, which now operates several brick-and-mortar stores as well as stalls in all the farmers’ markets is a good example. It does not advertise itself as organic, but earns trust simply by being a no-nonsense local producer who stakes its name and reputation on every carrot it sells. The produce is basic: tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in summer, cabbages, radishes, and carrots in winter, fresh herbs in little pots all year round, dairy and smoked lard - and the stuff is good. Good enough that I gladly put up with brusque service, waiting in line (they have lines!), and the need to bring my own plastic bag.

If you can sell it at profit to price-conscious Russians, you can certainly sell it abroad, where “organic” premiums are much higher. And there’s growing demand for certified organic at home, and organic stores and restaurants are appearing in Moscow. Ironically, they have to import their goods as Russian products do not carry the requisite certifications.

It would be unrealistic to expect all Russian agriculture to become organic - if nothing else, the government is also trying to develop domestic fertilizers industry and compete with cheap imported meat from Eastern Europe. But Russia should take advantage of its agricultural backwardness, and start labeling things and letting consumers make more informed and conscious choices.
This is a fascinating article about the organic movement in Russia, from RIA Novosti.

Every weekend I go to my local market. My usual path is like this: First, I’ll go to the Lipetsk farmer for dairy products, then on to the Tambov farmer for meat and poultry; I buy honey from people I know in Volgograd; the fruit and vegetables I like best are those that are in season. Of course all this can be bought much more cheaply at the supermarket, but the taste of a chicken that has been running around a farmyard is completely different from that of a chicken that has spent its short and unhappy life imprisoned in a cage at a factory farm. And organically grown apples smell completely different from those that will keep for half a year.

It turns out that I share these preferences with many of my compatriots. According to a recent survey carried out by the research company Romir, 39 percent of Russians believe that high-quality produce and Russian produce are one and the same. This surge of culinary patriotism is easily explained. In the early 1990s, when the Russian market was flooded with imported produce, their foreign origin alone was seen as a guarantee of quality, but it gradually transpired that this was a simplistic view. After it became known that much foreign produce was genetically modified, enthusiasm for it cooled off completely. This is a good example of Russian backwardness being one of the country’s assets: Thanks to the fact that the progressive feats of Western bio-engineers were never applied to Russian agriculture (due to lack of funds), Russian produce has retained its natural taste.

According to the survey, 37 percent of Russians are willing to pay more for produce free from genetic modification and 41 percent would spend more on organic produce. In the early 2000s, the first organic food shops began to open in Russia. Their proprietors were counting on the Russian public being willing to pay more for quality food, but nearly all of these enterprises folded within a short time. The people who set up these shops approached it from the wrong angle; ninety percent of the produce in these shops was imported from outside Russia, so it was much more expensive to buy food in these organic shops than in the most expensive supermarkets, let alone at local markets. The owners of these organic shops blamed their failure on the ignorance of the Russian public, but in my view, common peasant savvy also played a role. City dwellers from even the biggest Russian towns have not forgotten their peasant roots, and every one of them has either a dacha in the area or relatives who live in the countryside. The result is that Russian city-dwellers still remember the taste of true local, organically grown food. As a result, they could not justify paying the price for imported, certified organic food from special shops when they could get quality food at a better price at the market.

There is no official organic produce in Russia, but this is because organic standards have yet to be developed, and it does not mean at all that organic produce doesn’t exist. In fact, state regulations on food production are already quite strict. Russian health authorities recently banned the import of chicken drumsticks from the United States because they had been treated with chlorine. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, the United States uses 11 times more mineral fertilizers than Russia, and China uses 23 times more. Pesticides are also used much less frequently. All this is a result of Russia’s relative poverty, which could unexpectedly be turned to its advantage as the market for organic food continues to grow.

And now, major suppliers of organic produce are Russian farmers. A year ago, Alexander Konovalov ran a big web marketing company. Now he owns a farm where he grows vegetables and raises pigs, sheep and chickens. One of his latest plans is to start breeding rabbits. His daughter Nastya, a graduate of Moscow State University, said that at first she was embarrassed to tell her friends that she worked on a farm. But when her friends came to visit, tasted the farm’s products, and began to regularly order food from the farm, her initial concerns disappeared. Although their products are twice as expensive as those from a conventional supermarket, the organic farm already has a regular client base. Their produce cannot be officially verified as organic because there are no standards in place, but Konovalov’s customers trust him and for them, the quality of the food speaks for itself. I also trust the farmers at my local market even though their produce has no “organic” label. The difference is plain to taste.

In communist times there was a very popular anecdote. An Englishman asks a Russian: “When do you start selling strawberries in your country?”
The Russian answers, “In June.”
“And in England,” says the Englishman, “we start selling them at six in the morning.”
Today, strawberries are sold all year round in Russia and that’s a good thing, but you cannot dispute the fact that strawberries in January have a very different taste from strawberries in June. I prefer to wait until June, and for the winter, I have three kilograms of cranberries already prepared that can be turned into a really tasty jam.

Bella Akhmadulina

I watched the day begin breaking some time past nine;
it was a drop, a black light shining absurdly
onto the window. People dream that they heard
a little toy bell-ringer ringing the bell on the tree.

The day as it downed was week, not much of a sight.
The light was paler than pink, pastel, not harsh,
the way an amethyst shimmers on a young girl's neck.
All looked down, once they had seen the sad, humble cross.

And when they arose, reluctantly opening their eyes,
a trolley flew by through the snowstorm, gold trim inside it.
They crowded the window like children: "Hey, look at that car!
Like a perch that's gotten away, all speckled with fire!"

They sat down for breakfast; they argued, got tired, lay down.
The view from the window was such that Leningrad's secrets
and splendors brought tears to my eyes, filled me with love.
"Isn't there something you want?" "No, there's nothing."

I have long been accused of making frivolous things.
Frivolity maker, I look at those here around me:
O Mother of God, have mercy! And beg your Son, too.
On the day of His birth, pray and weep for us each.