Monday, May 31, 2010

Double Fudge

Congratulations, Celine and Renee on the twins! I hope we get a chance to hear the names at some point! :)
Standing amid the rows and rows of graves at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery, Francisca Bacong says she still cannot understand the nightmare that took the life of her only daughter, Navy Lt. Florence Choe.

As the nation today celebrates Memorial Day amid increasing American combat deaths in Afghanistan — 140 this year; more than 1,000 since the invasion in 2001 — Choe's death is proof anew of an immutable fact: War's cruelty is sometimes incomprehensible.

Choe, 35, a hospital administrative specialist, had gone to Afghanistan to help the Afghans establish a hospital for their military and civilians. She was devoted to her husband and young daughter in San Diego, but the call to duty was strong.

She and two other U.S. military personnel were jogging inside the perimeter of the base near Mazar-i-Sharif on March 27, 2009, when an insurgent posing as an Afghan soldier shot all three at point-blank range.

As Choe fell to the ground, the gunman stood over her and fired again. Choe and another Navy officer were killed, the third runner was seriously wounded but survived and the insurgent killed himself as armed U.S. guards came running.

"She went there to help the Afghan people," said Bacong, her voice trembling. "She had asked us to send clothes and chocolate and magazines for them, and we did. And then this happens."

Choe had insisted that she would be in no danger during the 12-month deployment: She was a noncombatant, working inside the security of a base.

She was born in San Diego — her parents had emigrated from the Philippines — and received a bachelor of science degree from UC San Diego in 1997 and a master's in public health with an emphasis on healthcare administration from San Diego State in 2001. She enlisted in the Navy two days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After service in Navy hospitals in Okinawa, Japan; San Diego; and Bethesda, Md., she was excited about helping the Afghan government begin to provide decent medical care for its people.

"She kept telling us after she got there, 'Don't worry, Mom and Dad, I'm safe, I'm not doing the fighting,' " said her father, Rufino Bacong, 65, a retired Navy culinary specialist.

The shock of having Navy officials and a chaplain arrive at their home to notify them of their daughter's death is still palpable.

"It was unreal, like I was watching a movie," her mother said. When the details of the killing were later revealed to them, the family's agony only increased.

"To shoot her while she was on the ground," said Choe's husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chong "Jay" Choe, 34, a physician at Naval Medical Center San Diego, "shows us how radical, how extreme many of their thoughts are about us."

On Monday, there will be a small flag on Choe's grave, and on each of the 102,000 other graves at the expansive cemetery in the Point Loma area of San Diego. It's a Memorial Day tradition.

Florence Choe's family members have their own tradition forged from tragedy. They go to her grave every week, sometimes more often, to talk, cry and gather strength from their memories of a bright, loving young woman dedicated to her family and her nation.

"It's peaceful here," said Choe's brother, Rufino "Ruffy" Bacong Jr., 37. "I can talk to Florence here. I feel her presence."

A cousin, Marsha Lapid, 29, works near the cemetery and visits the grave frequently. "It helps me to come here and talk to Florence," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "She's still here for me, still bringing the family together."

To 4-year-old Kristin Bacong Choe, her mother's grave is a "happy place." Last week she brought a small, pink stuffed bear to share with her mother.

On Mother's Day, she brought a card she had drawn for her mother and placed it beside the tombstone. A shy but sturdy child, Kristin offers strength to older members of the family.

"When Florence was killed, I said, 'I don't have any life anymore,' " said Francisca Bacong, 62, who wears a T-shirt with her daughter's picture. "But now I know I have to go on for Jay and Kristin."

Kristin's resiliency amazes her father. "She is my source of strength, she carries on," he said.

While in Afghanistan, Florence Choe had organized other U.S. personnel to videotape readings of their children's favorite books. Kristin occasionally asks that her father play the one of her mother reading "The Cat in the Hat" and "Goodnight, Gorilla."

It would be surprising if Jay Choe did not feel anger at the gunman and the circumstances that led to the killing. But when he thinks about his wife's death, he realizes that the U.S. cannot overcome the hatred and misunderstanding rampant in Afghanistan through force alone.

"It's going to take a lot more than bombs and bullets," he said. "It will take winning hearts and minds. That was what Flo was there for."

To walk the grounds of the 77.5-acre Fort Rosecrans cemetery is to bear witness to the service and sacrifice of generations. Choe's grave is between those of an Air Force veteran of World War II and the Korean War who died in 2008, and a Navy veteran of World War I and World War II who died in 1959.

Down the row from Choe's grave is that of Navy SEAL Michael Anthony Monsoor, who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for smothering a grenade to save his buddies in Iraq in 2006. His gravestone has the motto "No Regrets."

Choe's gravestone notes her Purple Heart and Bronze Star and says that she "graced us with her beauty."

As a military family, Choe's parents know that there will be more fresh graves and more grieving at Ft. Rosecrans next Memorial Day.

"I hope the war is over soon. I hope that they can all come home," said her mother.

"It's going to be awhile," her father said softly. "It's going to be awhile."
People don't see things.. or do they?

Knowledge and telecommunication evangelist Sam Pitroda, currently advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, is on a new mission — to make India hunger-proof and food-reliant.

He is working on a draft to set a countrywide network of private food banks — resource pools he calls them — that will work as a parallel distribution system to disburse food and allied infrastructure to people living on the edge of the poverty line and below in the vast Indian heartland.

Mr. Pitroda will put his project, India Food Bank, in place by the yearend with the help of a Chicago-based international organisation, Global Foodbanking Network, a Stanford University think-tank that provides food aid to 30 nations.

Statistics narrate a grim tale of hunger in India, a country of 1.2 billion that is home to 27 percent of the world’s hungry populace with one of the largest populations of malnourished children. Rough estimates by the Action Aid, a global anti-poverty organisation, cite that nearly 212 million people suffer from chronic hunger and undernourishment in India.

The United Nations World Food Programme paints a more alarming picture saying nearly 350 million of India’s population — roughly 35 percent — is considered food insecure, consuming less than 80 percent of the total energy requirements.

“I identify with the problem because I was born in a large family in Kalahandi in the Bolangir district of Orissa that is ravaged by hunger and is prone to drought,” he said at an interface on his new project in the capital hosted by Aspen Institute-India.

“Three years ago, I took up the issue with a group of food activists at the Global Foodbanking Network in Chicago, the global capital of commodity trading. I told them why can’t we go to India and explore the dimension of hunger and malnutrition that can affect the future of India. More than 212 million people face paucity of food (hunger) in India.”

“We have a friend in Chicago, John Kapoor, who has made a lot of money. He sponsored a fact-finding team to India that conducted a feasibility study of the project in four underdeveloped states to find out whether it was possible to engage local communities, ensure community participation and create a network of stake-holders who could source essential food and related infrastructure for voluntary donation and distribution under an alternative food chain like the sub-Saharan models.”

Mr. Pitroda, who left for the U.S. on Saturday, said he would return in July to “socialise the idea in the country with necessary modification for implementation by the end of the year”.

“The government has several food programmes but can we really organise these programmes effectively,” he argued in justification of his “food bank project”.

Commenting on the necessity of food banks to ensure “sustained food security in India”, he said “while populations grow, food resources are continuously shrinking”.

“Coupled with natural phenomenon like climate change and global warming, the security of food and other resources is a worrying question. One answer is the concept of food bank,” he said.

The Global Foodbanking Network, founded by Red Argentina de Bancos de Alimentos (Argentina), Food Banks Canada, Asociaciexicana de Bancos de Alimentos (Mexico) and Feeding America (United States), shares food banking concepts and helps partners evaluate the feasibility and most effective business model for implementation in their country.

The organisation was founded in 2006 by four of the world’s leading national food bank networks. Its objective “is to fulfil the vision of John Van Hengel, who founded the world’s first food bank in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1967 and worked to promote and establish food banking around the world”.

Keywords: Sam Pitroda, food security

Email the Editor
I found this fascinating and so sad.

Activists: Mother, son albinos killed in Burundi
By TOM ODULA (AP) – May 7, 2010

NAIROBI, Kenya — Attackers in Burundi chopped off the limbs of a 5-year-old albino boy and pulled out his mother's eye, killing them over the belief that their body parts would bring wealth and success, human rights activists said Friday.

Those deaths and other recent attacks in Tanzania are part of long pattern of violence against African albinos. At least 10,000 have been displaced or gone into hiding since attacks against them spiked in late 2007, the International Federation of the Red Cross says.

Since then, 57 albinos have been killed in Tanzania and 14 in Burundi, said Vicky Ntetema with the rights group Under The Same Sun.

The killings are fueled by superstitious beliefs that human albino body parts will bring others wealth and success, Ntetema said.

"Body parts are sought for their supposed miraculous powers," she said. "Some use them as human sacrifice as advised by witch doctors."

African albinos endure insults and segregation throughout their lives, and face greater discrimination than Western albinos because they live in darker-skinned communities. They also have a high risk of contracting skin cancer in a region where many jobs are outdoors.

Ten assailants armed with guns and grenades killed Desire Vyegura, 5, and his mother, Susann Vyegura, in Burundi on Monday, said Kassim Kazungu, head of the Burundi Albino Association.

Both victims had their limbs chopped off. Attackers also pulled out one of Desire's eyes and chopped off his mother's breasts, Kazungu said. The attack took place in Cankunko village in the Cendajuru district, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of the capital city, Bujumbura.

Kazungu said Thoma Vyegura, who was not albino, was also killed while trying to protect his daughter and grandson.

The IFRC said in report last year that the market for albino parts exists mainly in Tanzania, where a complete set of body parts — including all limbs, genitals, ears, tongue and nose — can sell for $75,000.

Albino children who are not killed at birth will often face discrimination, ridicule and stigmatization by family and friends, Ntetema said.

Mothers often refuse to breast-feed albino babies and husbands accuse women of sleeping with white Europeans, leading to divorces. In Africa most albino children are brought up by single mothers, she said.

Before Monday's killings, five other albinos have been attacked in Tanzania since February. One of those albinos died, Ntetema said.

Ntetema said that out of the 57 reported cases of killings reported in Tanzania, only two people have been convicted. In Burundi out of the 14 killings recorded 14 people have been convicted, she said.

"People believe in witch doctors more than they believe in God because they cannot see God," she said. "It is going to take a long time to change people, but if we start with the young ones then there can be change."

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The people who uncovered the fact liken it to "encountering a mass grave of people who do not matter" in India's seat of power: At least 10 homeless people are dying on the streets of Delhi every day, the rate peaking as the summer rolls on.

After a six-month examination of official records at crematoria, police stations and graveyards across India's richest city, Smita Jacob and Asghar Sharif, analysts with an advisory body to the Supreme Court, found that 94 per cent of those who die are single, working men. The average age: 42 years.

Hindustan Times verified those records on the Delhi Police's meticulously-kept website, where the 12,413 deaths between January 2005 and December 2009 are listed as UIDBs (unidentified dead bodies).

All unclaimed bodies and deaths on streets, except those due to accidents, must be treated as possible starvation deaths unless proved otherwise, says a Supreme Court-appointed panel.

The deaths in Delhi indicate the depth of the challenge to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as it tries to expand and reform its agenda of "inclusive growth". The task is growing because a third of India's poor — predicted to grow to half, already more than any other country — are now in cities unprepared or unwilling to build support systems.

By 2030, 590 million people will live in Indian cities, said a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

"That so many people, mostly working men, die each day at our doorsteps, close to the centres of power, is a reminder of how scarce compassion is in our public life," said Harsh Mander, Commissioner to the Supreme Court in a nine-year-long case that aims to make food a fundamental right.

Mander is now on the National Advisory Council created by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

He said the solutions are "simple": Shelters, affordable housing and hundreds of community kitchens. "But we aren't making these happen," said Mander.

Social welfare minister Mangat Ram Singhal said Delhi didn't have the resources to build shelters. From June 15, though, mobile centres will provide "quality food at reasonable rates" — Rs 1-15 in areas frequented by migrant labour.

"We have taken a lesson from Brazil; these mobile centres will use infrastructure from community kitchens, anganwadis (health centres), mid-day meal schemes," said Manoj Paridha, principal secretary, state social welfare ministry. "The poor won't need ration cards. They can just walk up to these vans."

Police data for the 60 months reveals an average of seven unidentified bodies a day. Analyst Jacob said the number is higher because not all people who die enter police records.

After examining the records for the first four months at Delhi's largest electric crematorium, Sarai Kale Khan, and the main Muslim burial grounds run by the Wakf Board, Jacob and Sharif found they averaged 306 bodies a month, or 10 daily.

"Using this premise, one may conclude that from May 2009 to April 2010… 92 per cent, i.e. 3,381 deaths could be directly or indirectly caused by starvation," said the report.

Even in relative terms, the number of homeless dying in Delhi is significant. India's average death rate, in 2010, is 7.6 per 1,000 people per year. Delhi's 16 million population means 333 people die here every day. The numbers thrown up by the study indicate 3 per cent of this number is made up of homeless working men in their 40s who die from hunger and disease.

Joint Commissioner of Police (northern range) Karnal Singh said the police see "a lot of dead bodies" on city streets but cause of death is investigated mainly where "criminality is established". He said it was "not within our purview" to probe deaths from the weather or hunger.

The report acknowledged lack of a detailed death analysis to provide a "sharp argument" for the starvation deaths; lack of hospital records; and data errors from a manual count of crematoria and Wakf Board records.

Mander said the actual count could be higher. He explained that in his years of working with Delhi's homeless, he has seen how they pool in their "meagre savings" to dispose of the bodies of friends. These deaths do not enter public records.

The report busts some myths about the homeless: that they are beggars and junkies; mostly the aged and destitute; that they are here temporarily; that most die in the winter.

"Homeless deaths actually peak during summers, then in the monsoons," said Jacob.

This emerged after the office of the SC commissioners began their investigation into deaths during the winter of 2009, one of the coldest on record in Delhi.

They found that many who died were young working people. Last winter, the government tried cutting back on shelters, which in any case aid no more than 3 per cent of the homeless.

After homeless people began to die on the site of a demolished shelter, the high court took suo-moto notice and summoned government officials.

Within two nights, the government doubled the number of shelters.

"In the commissioners' office, we wondered how many died every day on the streets? Is it a problem only of winters? Who are these people and why do they die?" asked Mander. Since the government kept no clear records, the investigation by Jacob and Sharif provided some answers — and more questions.

(Tracking Hunger is an HT initiative to investigate/report the struggle to rid India of hunger. You can read previous stories at
This is just an excerpt of an article that I thought was interesting..

Last Thursday, 62-year-old Nadeebullah from Kandahar checked into a city hospital, anxious about the impending double valve replacement surgery and intimidated by the plush hospital in an alien country.

But his fears were unfounded, as hospitals in Delhi have been going out of the way to make Afghan patients feel at home. From translating in-patient documents into Pashto and Dari to hiring full-time interpreters and setting up separate desks, hospitals across the city are rolling out the red carpet for patients from the war-torn country. And it makes good business sense too, as they make up a major chunk of medical tourists to the Capital, followed by Iraq and Nigeria.

Indraprastha Apollo Hospital has an ‘Afghan desk’ to help patients check-in. Last year, Apollo hospitals saw over 1,500 Afghan patients and they are now even planning to put up signages in Pashto to assist the patients.

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Similarly, Max Healthcare too has designated resources for patients from Afghanistan. “We have hired on-call interpreters for those who do not know English and Urdu. We will soon be translating all in-house documents, guides and patient records into Pastho and Dari for these patients. We are also looking at putting up signages, if needed,” said Hari Khubchandani, head of Max Healthcare’s international patient services.

For Westerners, Indian hospitals might offer a cheaper alternative, but for those from Afghanistan India is their only option for reliable medical care. “In my country, most hospitals do not have computerised scanners and even facilities like dialysis are difficult to access on a regular basis. This is why most Afghans prefer to come to India. It is not exactly affordable for us, but this is the closest we get to reliable medical facilities,” says Nadeebullah. In Kabul, complicated procedures to treat cardiovascular diseases, cancers or renal diseases are still not available, he adds.

Moroccan Avocado Milkshake Recipe

I've done quite a bit of reading on Morocco but never have I seen such a luscious recipe. This will be consumed in my household tomorrow :)

Avocado milkshakes – or avocado smoothies – are quick and easy to make, and very nutritious. This recipe uses only milk, avocado and sugar.

If you're only familiar with using avocados in salads and dips, you'll be pleasantly surprised how delicious an avocado shake can be!

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
2 to 3 cups cold milk
1 ripe avocado
3 tablespoons sugar
handful of ice (optional)
Peel the avocado and cut in half. Discard the pit.

Put the avocado and sugar in a blender with 1 cup of milk. Blend until very creamy and smooth.

Gradually add another cup or two of milk to make the shake as thin or as thick as you like. How much milk you need will depend on the size of the avocado.

Add a handful of ice to the blender if you like your shake well-chilled, and blend for another minute.

Pour into glasses, and serve.

There's Nothing Like Australia
No mother, or new mother, should ever be drugged against her will. Of course :)

Small miscarriage risk tied to antidepressants
Last Updated: Monday, May 31, 2010 | 1:41 PM ET Comments20Recommend11CBC News
Women who need to take antidepressants early in pregnancy should talk about the risks with their doctor, given a small potential increased risk of miscarriage, Canadian researchers say.

Its estimated depression occurs in up to 15 per cent of all pregnant women. Antidepressants are widely used in pregnancy, and up to 3.7 per cent of women will use them at some point during the first trimester, studies suggest. Discontinuing treatment can result in a relapse that can put mother and baby at risk.

A study of 5,124 women in Quebec who had lost fetuses in pregnancy showed a 1.68 times higher risk of miscarriage among those who were prescribed antidepressants, Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal and her colleagues reported in Monday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Bérard is director of the research unit on medications and pregnancy at CHU Ste-Justine in Montreal.

The analysis of the province's pregnancy registry between 1998 and 2003 showed 284 or 5.5 per cent of women who had a spontaneous abortion had filled at least one prescription for an antidepressant during the pregnancy. Each miscarriage was verified by a doctor and compared with 10 matched controls — 51,240 women of the same gestational age, after taking factors such as other illnesses into account.

"In light of our results, physicians who have patients of childbearing age taking antidepressants or have pregnant patients who require antidepressant therapy early in pregnancy may wish to discuss the risks and benefits with them," the study's authors concluded.

The study's authors acknowledged that relying on pregnancy registry data without actually speaking to women "might not have reflected actual intake."

"Despite all the limitations, there does seem to be a very, very slight risk," said Adrienne Einarson, a registered nurse at the Motherisk Program at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, who wrote a journal commentary accompanying the study. "But not enough to make any difference when the women needs to be treated for depression in pregnancy."

The bottom line is that it's still not known whether it's the depression itself or the medication that could be causing the miscarriage effect, Einarson said.

To find that out would either require a randomized control trial that few women would participate in, or a study following matched groups of pregnant women — those depressed and treated with an antidepressant, those depressed and untreated and those not depressed, Einarson said.

Read more:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Judith Wright is a poet that I have great admiration for. I published her "South of My Days" on this blog last year. This year I have something gentle in response to the Canadian government's proposed prison policy.

The rows of cells are unroofed,
a flute for the wind's mouth,
who comes with a breath of ice
from the blue caves of the south.

O dark and fierce day:
the wind like an angry bee
hunts for the black honey
in the pits of the hollow sea.

Waves of shadow wash
the empty shell bone-bare,
and like a bone it sings
a bitter song of air.

Who built and laboured here?
The wind and the sea say
-Their cold nest is broken
and they are blown away-

They did not breed nor love,
each in his cell alone
cried as the wind now cries
through this flute of stone.

Quote of the Day

Umberto says it better than I have, and what's more, is probably one of my favourite writers of this age. I feel he is vastly underrated. Although I should add that painless torture is possible; the pain is not necessary, but discomfort, disquietude, and potential imminent threats to innocents that the person values is. The chemicals of arousal can also be fed into the body without using the pain synapses of the nervous system. Why would people want to do this to people? Its as simple as it is psychopathic. Power.

"“There is only one thing that arouses animals more than pleasure, and that is pain. Under torture you are as if under the dominion of those grasses that produce visions. Everything you have heard told, everything you have read returns to your mind, as if you were being transported, not toward heaven, but toward hell. Under torture you say not only what the inquisitor wants, but also what you imagine might please him, because a bond (this, truly, diabolical) is established between you and him.”

-Umberto Eco
"..but what I am really doing? Because it feels like what I am doing is trading one set of labels for another. Sure, now I can call that jerk who hits on me at the bar a red Orientalist ricer, but that's just like him slicing into me and calling me a curry Indian savage. ..I probably need to read more.."
-my journal, circa 2004.

*ricer= guy who likes Asian and Indian chicks. Urban dictionary didn't show up on the party with this one, although they remain one of my fave Internet sites! :)

Oh yeah, mami

And a long tall woman will make a preacher lay his Bible down - But a big, fat mama will make a mule kick his stall down.”
-Willie Jackson

Adore her =)

"I knew people who have married pretty rapidly after losing a spouse . . . particularly with older people it seems like a friendship thing.

"It's a different thing than just that total abandonment of desperate love, so finding love again is beautiful but for me it's not on my horizon."- Terri Irwin, the late Steve Irwin's wife, two days ago, on how she would only marry again for love.
Some of the same shops that supply to the steampunk movement also have gorge' clothes of the modesty movement. Sometimes I am tempted by modest clothing that has less austerity about it, but generally am aware that the modest clothing movement is more about preserving one's not inconsiderable assets for the general purview of people you like and trust. In other words, if you really like someone, you reveal more layers of yourself. Colleen McCullough once noted in her famed book, the Thornbirds, that people become more revelatory- that is, they talk more about themselves and reveal more of their inner thoughts, faces and figures, as they age. Her character, Fee, once said she was rather like an onion. I'd like to be like an onion, too- tightly encased in totally embracing layer upon layer upon layer.

Anyway, I really like steampunks! What fun, to dress up in Victorian clothing and add a built structure to one's bodies and inner selves. They have a convention based in different places every year. In 2006, the NYT did a huge article about this subgenre.

In our society, the temptation to be sexualized is a huge one. To be pretty, glimmery glammery, to be gorge'. I'm not saying that women should deny this basic urge, but I wonder how many women, like me, have deliberately dressed frumpy? Sometimes the attention is overwhelming and becomes too much. Sometimes you just want to accomplish something other than being eye candy.

In Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne novels, Anne has a roommate, Philippa, that is very rich. She says to Anne, nine nights out of ten, you are like a brown moth that hardly anyone notices, next to my vaunted charms. No one thinks that you are beautiful- people look right past you. On the tenth night, you choose to flame out and outshine me completely. That's what I seek to be like. When I want to dazzle, I want to be compared to all those times when I was just ordinary. I like everyday ordinariness, the lack of pressure, the building of inner character. And I like to one day surprise the right people with something that is totally rare. And of course I enjoy contributing to society and making it a better place. I guess what you can take from this, though, is that you'll never see me as the type of girl that does makeup and heels every single day. But you will see it just often enough, and for the right audiences, for it to be truly special.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Canada has some strong voices speaking out on its behalf. This from the Hansard debates from Gerard Kennedy regarding Canadian war resisters. Mario da Silva also spoke out about this issue. I'm starting to feel more optimistic for the future of this country.

Mr. Gerard Kennedy (Parkdale—High Park, Lib.) next intervention
moved that Bill C-440, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (war resisters) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to a bill that requires the Conservative government to take into account the opinion of Canadians regarding the war in Iraq.


It is a bill that is very basic in its presentation to require the government to take Canadians into account on a matter that, on the face of it, might seem to only affect a relatively small number of people, perhaps 200 Americans who came to Canada looking for refuge based on their conscientious objection to the war in Iraq. Worse perhaps for some people in the House is they are people who do not even vote. They do not have a consideration in terms of whether at the next election anybody is returned to this place.

Despite the behaviour of the government to date, and we hold out hope, the bill would give all members of Parliament a chance to examine not just their consciences but their role as parliamentarians in expressing a will for Canada on important issues.

Underlying a simple law amending two parts of the Immigration Act, which would very directly provide for conscientious objectors to become permanent residents of Canada, to be eligible for wars that were not authorized by the United Nations in particular, that this would give them an ability to be considered. They would still have to meet all kinds of other criteria, and I mentioned that as I will later on, to ensure there is no distortion of what we are dealing with today.

Beyond those simple clauses, protecting them, protecting their families, ensuring they can be heard from is a bigger requirement. That bigger requirement is for this generation of Canadians to address how we feel about Canada's ability to determine who should be part of our country and how we feel not just about our traditions but about a Canadian sensibility going forward.

The bill is meant to give life to a Canadian sensibility that so far has been resisted from the government benches, certainly on the part both the minister responsible and the Prime Minister in terms of the public comments they have made.

It is essential that all Canadians have some access to this debate. It is not because it should command their attention or it should be a worry for them, but it is those quiet noises, the ones we do not ordinarily see, that are the measure of the character of a country.

All Canadians should be alert to those kinds of questions. While the Iraq war resisters from the United States may be voiceless in a classic sense, it is how we treat those kinds of individuals and classes of people that determines who we are as Canadians.

We have answered these questions before. A previous generation had not just the temerity, not a particular courage but just a sense of themselves to say to the Vietnam War resisters, those people who were volunteers in the army and decided, based on what they were asked to do and saw in that war, that they could not prosecute that. Over 10,000 of the 50,000 Vietnam War resisters who came to Canada were people serving in the military service at the time and they were accepted by a previous generation to Canada.

That was done out of a fulsome sense of what Canada was, not better, not against in terms of who we thought Americans are or were at that time, but rather who we are. We are a country of some tolerance, a country of some patience, a country willing to provide for differences in how some of these moral questions are addressed and willing to acknowledge that we in our country will have the gumption to take on those questions without trying to defer or without trying to say it is somebody else's decision.

It is our decision when people from wherever in the world present themselves to us and ask for asylum. This would allow us to address that question.

It is also necessary to keep in mind that this is a remedy because we have already addressed this question in other ways before.


In June 2008 and March 2009, the House of Commons adopted motions that we should welcome Iraq war resisters.


The question has already been discussed and by vote decided in terms of whether Canada wishes to provide a welcome availability to those types of people who want to be brought into permanent residence in our country. The difference is the government chose not only not to accept it, but to act in a way that was adversarial to their chances of being considered.

+ -(1820)


But the Conservative government rejected all of the applications. It publicly criticized the resisters, thus limiting their chance of a fair hearing. There were serious penalties for those who were repatriated to the United States.


This is not only about whether people get to become Canadian, but what should happen to them next. For those who were deported even as the debate was taking place, a few days later this chamber decided that it wished to provide a home in Canada to American Iraq war resisters. A few days later the government deported someone who subsequently received a 15 month sentence, someone who had participated in good faith.

Like all questions of principle, this basically rides on a human dimension, a human dimension of being Canadian. This is not a question of just 200 people. It is a question of giving a fair hearing to any group of people who find themselves in difficulty. This debate today is about whether or not this chamber is capable of providing that fair hearing.

Let me use as an example Chuck Wiley, one of the Iraq war resisters, who served 17 years in the American military. There may be some members of this House who believe they can speak of devotion to duty and we have some serving members who have exhibited that. I want people to consider what it was like for Mr. Wiley, who served in the navy for 17 years, and who arrived at a conscientious objection that did not permit him to serve in Iraq. I want people to consider what they know about American military sensibility and how difficult it was for him having served all those years, two years away from a pension, to walk away from his service as a matter of conscience and appeal to this country instead.

Words have been used by some of the members and ministers opposite and they invoke things like cowardice. They walk in the easy shoes of judging people without really giving full consideration to what happened in terms of an individual situation. The situation is tied to a larger perspective, the Iraq war itself.

Canadians had a perspective on the Iraq war. All we are being asked to do today with this bill is to confirm a perspective where 82% of the people of Canada oppose the war in Iraq, a perspective where the Government of Canada decided that this country did not support the war in Iraq. With all due respect to others who decided to participate and to sanction that war, we did not and neither did the United Nations Security Council. The facts about the famous weapons of mass destruction that informed that debate are available to members of this House.

Canada has spoken in that regard. It was a difficult debate. A decision was made after due consideration, and it is a decision that needs to be upheld not out of any sense of superiority but simply because we have the right to be sovereign in terms of how we look at developments in the world that engage us both ethically and morally and with the resources of this country. We made that decision.

The question for this House now is: Why in the face of that decision do we not extend some understanding to the people who appeal to us? Why does the government instead wish to impose its minority view, a view at one time that supported the war in Iraq, but a view that has changed? The Prime Minister has now said it was a mistake and he shares the same view as that held by the current President of the United States, that the Iraq war was a dumb war, that the United States should not have been involved in the first place. The Iraq war has a strong resonance for Canadians. It is something that they understand was a distinction Canada decided to make.

Some people might ask why we would entertain service personnel from another country. Would that not somehow affect us? It would not.

Different rules prevail and much of that is now recognized in the United States itself. Various hearings have been held in the U.S. which indicated that people were subject to irregularities, to conduct in terms of some of the incidents involving civilians, the Abu Ghraib prison, things that I believe this House, this country would wish the discretion for our service personnel faced with certain decisions of conscience. I believe there is faith in this House and faith in this country that Canadian soldiers would take those kinds of decisions if they were faced with them.

People who are asking for our consideration through this bill today faced a number of situations, but again many of them, like Mr. Wiley, are people who served not just a tremendous amount of time but served under a tremendous amount of difficulty. Some of them were subject to provisions that do not exist for service personnel in our country.

+ -(1825)

For example, there is the question of stop-loss. People like Phil McDowell served his time in Iraq. He served his contract. The Iraq war was being prosecuted at the time and there was a dearth of personnel. People may not realize it, but the Americans have fewer people under arms than at any time in their history. To conduct a war in Iraq required taking people and bringing them back again and again. That form of compulsion that exists is not to be found in how we deploy our service today.

The contract provisions for stop-loss have been found to be extremely difficult. The current President of the United States has asked that they be eliminated, but they were enforced particularly at the peak of the war. Phil McDowell, who served in Iraq under difficult circumstances, came back to the United States to find that the fine print in his contract required him to go back. After what he had seen, in good conscience, he could not.

That is what the House is being asked to uphold. This is how we respect some of those decisions that were made, a sensibility that in this country is every bit about endorsing a view of how we see our military operating, which is with some extreme level of decision making for individuals based on their conscience.

Those provisions exist and are available in the Canadian armed services. They were not available to many of the people like Jeremy Hinzman, who sought to be seen as conscientious objectors. Because of the difficulties and the challenges in terms of having enough personnel, for months stretching into years in terms of deployments, those provisions were not available to American service personnel.

There are distinctions that are made in how the National Guard was used and how other things were done in this war that meant there were some extraordinary circumstances faced by these personnel. That relates back to the war itself. People like Robin Long, who got 15 months in military jail, faced a very harsh outcome as a result of the government not listening to the House.

We understand there is a characteristic that some members opposite feel very comfortable with of a government that puts itself above Parliament and that is accountable to no one and to nothing. I would like to believe it will not find its way expressed in this bill. However, there is also something just as serious and that is the government putting itself above the Canadian people.


According to an Angus Reid poll conducted in 2008, nearly one-third of Canadians wanted Americans who opposed to the war in Iraq to be allowed to stay in the country.


Two-thirds, or 65%, of Canadians would like to give American resisters a chance to be citizens in this country, just as a previous generation gave to those from the Vietnam War. That may sit uncomfortably with members opposite, but it is something to be listened to. How Canadians feel on a question of conscience is something to have regard for. It needs to find expression and I am hoping that is the spirit in which this debate will be considered.

Canadians have that point of view and they look to the House to give it respect. I submit the only way for that to be given respect is to give this its expression in law.

We hear from some of the members opposite the idea that they cannot even give it consideration. Somebody said, “Not a chance”. People need a chance because this is a test.

As John F. Kennedy said, war will be less available when conscientious objectors have the same status as warriors in our society. Canada is not afraid to be a refuge against a militarism that is unthinking and that does not trade off against the rights and needs of individuals. This law will do exactly that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

MARK COLVIN: On the campaign trail back in 2007, Barack Obama promised that if he became President, America would once again be the country that stood up against torture. But in the last few weeks more evidence has emerged that some types of torture continue to be used by the US military under President Obama.

In a BBC investigation, nine separate former inmates told of a secret jail at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan. They called it the Black Hole and independently told stories of freezing cells, intensely loud noises throughout the day and night, and long-term sleep deprivation, among other techniques.

Michael Otterman is the author of the book American Torture. Here for the Sydney Writers Festival to promote his new book, Erasing Iraq, he talked to me about the techniques apparently used at Bagram.

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Some people believe these are Bush-era style tortures but it's become quite clear that under the Obama administration torture is still practised. Torture is still authorised if you look at the army field manuals. It spells out quite clearly that sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation are still authorised for use.

MARK COLVIN: Under what circumstances?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Under the circumstance, well according to this Appendix M which is part of the Army Field Manual, it says in, for not every inmate but for inmates of - how do they phrase it - where information must be expedited-ly received, so to speak. And so they allow this almost loophole, which is obviously exploited.

MARK COLVIN: Which you might call the 24 loophole.

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Yeah, it's this ticking time bomb philosophy which, again, it's a television scenario where there's a ticking time bomb and you've got to get the guy that planted it before it goes off and then you've got to torture him to get the information to save the, save the world, so to speak. You know this...

MARK COLVIN: What's wrong with that logic?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well, this is, this is a Hollywood logic. This is something, again, you see in 24, you see in the movies, you see everywhere except in reality. And in all my research I've never actually seen a true example of this. Yet this is the example that proponents of torture and of even legalising torture, always argue.

MARK COLVIN: You've never seen an example of that?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: No, I've never seen a true example of the quote, unquote ticking time bomb scenario.

MARK COLVIN: Not one case, for instance, where a hostage, their life might be saved?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: When torture was used and it saved a life? You know, I haven't seen it. I'm not saying it's never existed but even if it did exist, or someone presented it to you in that way, it, again it's how could you prove that torture was necessary to get that information?

There's much better ways to get that information and perhaps, you know, again, I haven't seen this example. It was a lucky break in that case if torture ended up to be okay. But in all my research, torture is always the least reliable and the most counterproductive way to get information.

MARK COLVIN: There's another alleged secret torture space which was a second space at Guantanamo. There's a man called Scott Horton in the Harper's magazine who dug this out. There's a huge controversy over that. What do you think about that?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well, Scott Horton is, I mean he's one of these, the few journalists and he's not a journalist but among the many things he does, he writes very eloquently about human rights abuse and he tackles Guantanamo.

In this Harper's article, he talks about alleged murders that occurred in Guantanamo and he pulls together very convincing evidence that where, a few years ago the US military claimed these guys committed suicide, if you look at the evidence it's quite impossible for them to tie the knots as they did and hang themselves and so on and so forth in the way that the military describes things.

MARK COLVIN: So if these things are right, how much does President Obama bear responsibility for and how much is being covered up?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well, Obama claims as much responsibility as say Bush or, you know, that the buck stops at the top. There's a number of things the Obama administration has done to continue the worst abuses of the Bush administration.

For example, you have this torture centre operating in Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. You also have the administration failing or refusing to prosecute or even investigate Bush era officials using torture, authorising torture, things of that nature.

The Obama administration …

MARK COLVIN: There are two different issues there. With Bagram, for instance...


MARK COLVIN: you think that the knowledge of that goes all the way to the top?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: I would be surprised if it didn't. And like I said a lot of these things are simply just out there in the army field manuals so, and also in a place like Bagram where human rights' monitors don't have access to, again it, you have to almost, it's not a surprise that these types of abuses take place.

So I'd be very surprised if Obama himself didn't know that his own military was operating a separate prison within the prison itself that handled this quote, unquote "high value" detainees and use these types of methods.

MARK COLVIN: And the question of whether to prosecute the people in the Bush administration who were involved is a huge debate, but is that over now?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well, sadly it's largely over because, in Obama's words, he "Prefers to look into the future and not look to the past." So what essentially is that, that means is that people like Alberto Gonzales and this gentleman, Bybee, who literally wrote the memo authorising a range of techniques, they're allowed to go off scot free and that's the way it's going to be, certainly under the Bush admin... I mean the Obama administration and future administrations 'cause he's setting this tone right now.

MARK COLVIN: I know a lot of the video of interrogations has been destroyed. How much material will historians eventually be able to get their hands on? How much has been destroyed?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well, it's difficult to say. You know there's an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the destruction of about 92 video cassettes depicting torture in secret block site prisons. But, you know, it's impossible to say. When the Abu Ghraib photos were first released there were reports of other photos with similar types of depictions disappearing, getting destroyed.

Anyone who held this type of, these materials, instantly destroyed them knowing what, you know, the outroar that the Abu Ghraib images have caused. So it's difficult to say what's left out there. What we do know is that a judge…

MARK COLVIN: What are you digging for?

MICHAEL OTTERMAN: Well, a few, well there's one thing which I hope will be released. A federal judge ordered that a whole collection of torture images be released. The Obama administration actually stopped that and there's an executive order preventing the release of these torture images.

I think those will see the light of day. There's certainly a lot more memos and things of that nature that describe the Bush administration's decision making surrounding torture, which human rights' groups and myself hope to either be in time declassified or leaked.

MARK COLVIN: Michael Otterman, the author of American Torture and also the co-author of Erasing Iraq.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I also really want to thank Kellie Tranter, at the Australian Age, for her terrific piece vis-a-vis Afghanistan. I also want to thank all the Aussies that commented below, who overwhelmingly rejected further military activity in Afghanistan. It is hugely welcome and appreciated.
I just want to thank these think tanks in Germany, the top institutions of policy intellectuals in the country, for seeing the light in Afghanistan. Many people worldwide, I am sure, really appreciate this, and I am glad to publicize these recommendations. Again, thank you :)

German peace institutes criticize NATO Afghanistan strategy

Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: The report suggests isolating the Taliban is not workingGermany's five leading peace research institutes have expressed their doubts about NATO's new Afghanistan strategy, arguing that only a power-sharing deal with the Taliban can create stability for the war-torn country.

In a 2010 report published in Berlin on Tuesday, Germany's five top think tanks have criticized NATO's new approach to the war in Afghanistan.

NATO's recently adopted tactic of launching large-scale counter-insurgency operations in an attempt to create security for the civilian population won't succeed, said Margret Johannsen of the Hamburg-based Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, one of the authors of the study.

"I don't believe that its possible to, at the same time, chase Taliban and build efficient state structures," she says. "It is necessary to emphasize reconciliation. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to do this knowing that otherwise he won't be able to build an Afghan army that is accepted by the population as well as an accepted police force."

Instead, the think tanks say they clearly favor the policy adopted by Karzai, who - they say - appears to be moving away from a strategy of bombing the Taliban to one in which he is willing to talk with them.

Taliban talks

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Karzai's government was described as corrupt
The 2010 report goes on to describe Afghanistan as fragile, its government as corrupt and its civil society as hugely fragmented. The researchers say the only hope for stabilizing Afghanistan lies in the country's traditional tribal power structure.

The Western aim of establishing a democratic state with respect for human rights simply won't materialize, they add. For this reason, a pact with the devil is unavoidable, says Johannsen, inferring that Taliban leaders must be offered a power-sharing deal.

"Those leaders are interested in having their share of the power, so to speak," she says. "This must include security guarantees, also material incentives as well as that their honor is being respected so that they can, without losing their self-respect, lay down their arms."

The think tanks call on Western leaders to stop demonizing the Taliban, commenting that this only makes the extremists more resentful and less open to dialog.

Approach to Iran

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Ahmadinejad should not be threatened by the West, the report says
The institutes also found fault with Western leaders for their cautious response to Monday's nuclear fuel accord struck between Brazil, Turkey and Iran.

They said continuing to demonize Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would make it more difficult for the Western leaders to have Iran halt its nuclear program, which they fear is secretly aimed at building a nuclear weapon.

Johannsen says the West must adopt a more proactive policy towards Iran, which would start with welcoming the initiative taken by Turkey and Brazil, which will see Tehran swap low-enriched uranium with Ankara in exchange for highly enriched uranium rods to be used for medical research.

She says the West must "ensure Iran that they do not have to fear regime change by force or, secondly, a military attack on their nuclear installations.

"And the West should also make it very clear that Israel would be on its own if they engaged in a military adventure. I don't believe that sanctions will work. More sanctions will only mean more harm for the people."

Author: Uwe Hessler / dfm

Editor: Nancy Isenson

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Globe and Mail editorialized this month that Omar Khadr should be brought home from Guantanamo for a fair trial.

Further, Gloria Galloway had this to say in February:

Tories stand pat on Omar Khadr

Gloria Galloway

The Conservative government will not ask for Omar Khadr to be repatriated from an American detention centre in Cuba despite a Supreme Court ruling that his rights have been violated, the Foreign Affairs Minister said Wednesday.

“It’s exactly the same decision that we have taken since the outset of this incident,” Lawrence Cannon told reporters.

“We, of course, respect the decision that the Obama administration has taken to close down Guantanamo but at the same time to make sure that those people who are held, and who have charges that are being put forward and they are facing, that indeed the American justice system go forward,” he said.

Mr. Cannon said the Canadian government will continue to monitor the situation and allow the Americans to make a determination. Once that determination is done, he said, “then we will see what the next steps are.”

In a 9-0 ruling last week, the Court found that Canada and the United States are violating Mr. Khadr's right to life, liberty and security under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but stopped short of ordering the government to ask Washington to send him home.

NDP MP Paul Dewar said the government’s response is unacceptable.

“What the court was clearly directing the government to do was to reply and provide remedy and what the Supreme Court said is that every day that Mr. Khadr is in the facility in Guantanamo Bay, his constitutional rights are being violated.”

It’s obvious, Mr. Dewar said, that the government should immediately communicate with the U.S. administration and ask that Mr. Khadr be returned to Canada.

It’s obvious, Mr. Dewar said, that the government should immediately communicate with the U.S. administration and ask that Mr. Khadr be returned to Canada.

Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic, also said it is up to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the Attorney-General of Canada, to explain how the government will react to the court's ruling.

“The Attorney General of Canada has to tell us how the government intends to comply with a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Mr. Rae.

Mr. Cannon said that Mr. Nicholson is still reviewing the Supreme Court decision and will offer a response once the review is complete.

Mr. Khadr was 15 years old in 2002 when was severely wounded in a skirmish in which he is alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic. He was charged with murder and scheduled to go before a Guantanamo Bay military commission. He is still awaiting that trial.

Meanwhile, more than half of the respondents (54 per cent) to an Angus-Reid online poll online poll released Wednesday said they have no sympathy for the man who has been held by the Americans in a Guantanamo Bay detention facility and subjected to torture.

That has number actually increased since last year when 45 per cent of respondents said they were untroubled by what has befallen Mr. Khadr.

Omar Khadr - Angus Reid Poll, February 2, 2010

Nearly half (48 per cent) of those surveyed by Angus-Reid agreed with that decision while 28 per cent disagreed.

But the poll suggests that Canadians are evenly divided about whether to return him to Canada. When asked whether they believed he should be tried by a military commission in Guantanamo Bay or repatriated to this country, 40 per cent of respondents said keep him there and 40 per cent said bring him back. The remainder said they were unsure what to do.

And while 39 per cent said they believed Mr. Khadr would get a fair trial in Cuba, 47 per cent said he would not.

Which leaves the government – and the opposition members, for that matter – in a difficult spot. With Canadians so split about Mr. Khadr’s fate, it is impossible to walk a line that will please large numbers of Canadians – or even a majority.

The Angus Reid poll, which was conducted on Feb.1 and Feb. 2, of 1,001 randomly selected Canadians who participate in Angus Reid’s online forum, is expected to accurately reflect the views of the Canadian population within 3.1. percentage points 19 times out of 20.

(Photo: The Foreign Affairs Minister responds to the Supreme Court ruling on Omar Khadr today in Ottawa. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Here we were in 2004.

Bush: Afghanistan is a victory over terrorism
Hamid Karzai thanks U.S. for aiding his country
Wednesday, June 16, 2004 Posted: 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)


Has the war against terrorism in Afghanistan been won?


Hamid Karzai

George W. Bush



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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday claimed victory in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and announced what he called five new initiatives to strengthen the links between that country and the United States.

Bush praised the visiting head of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, as a man of "honor, courage and skill helping to build a new and democratic Afghanistan."

"That journey to democracy and peace deserves the support and respect of every nation," he said at a Rose Garden news conference after a meeting with Karzai, "because free nations do not breed the ideology of terror."

"Coalition forces, including many brave Afghans, have brought America, Afghanistan and the world its first victory in the war on terror," the president said. "Afghanistan is no longer a terrorist factory sending thousands of killers into the world."

A short while later in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, NATO forces came under fire Tuesday when at least one rocket exploded outside their headquarters. One soldier suffered non-lifethreatening injuries, officials said.

About 20,000 U.S. troops and more than 6,000 ISAF peacekeepers have been involved in almost daily gunfights with members of al Qaeda and the ousted Taliban leadership, who appear intent on disrupting elections for the Afghan Constitutional Assembly planned for September.

"The fight, this war, this fight against the remnants of terrorism will go on for some time," Karzai warned during an appearance Monday on PBS' "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer."

"It will not end this year. It will not end next year. We may have it for many years to come. So Afghanistan will continue to have security incidents as it builds its security institutions."

Karzai has come under criticism for reportedly cooperating with corrupt warlords, but in the Rose Garden on Tuesday he said that the Afghan government would make no deals with "bad people."

"As president, it's my job to take country to better future ... to a higher degree of democracy," he said. "To do that peacefully ... I will talk to anybody that comes to talk to me about stability and peace and about movement towards democracy. ...

"There are bad people in Afghanistan with whom we are not making a deal, with whom we are not talking and with whom we will not make a deal."

Both in the Rose Garden and in his address to a joint meeting of Congress, Karzai acknowledged a growing problem with drug trafficking -- used by some warlords to raise money for more weapons. Afghanistan is "adamant," Karzai said, about ending the drug problem.

"Drug profits undermine our efforts to build a health national economy," he told Congress. "... We are determined to cleanse Afghanistan of this menace."

Bush noted "a long road ahead" but pledged that the United States would stand with Afghanistan "as partners."

To seal those ties, Bush ticked off five new initiatives that include training newly elected officials, expanding assistance in the educational realm, working toward a bilateral trade agreement, expanding opportunities for women and increasing opportunities for cultural exchange with the United States.

"My government affirms its ironclad commitment to help Afghanistan succeed and prosper," he said.

Karzai thanked Bush for making democracy possible in his nation.

"We have a constitution that we have today which is the most enlightened in that part of the world," Karzai said. "And that constitution has been made possible because of the liberation that you helped us gain and because of the stability that the United States helped us have in Afghanistan."

"Thank you very much, Mr. President, for that."

Speaking to Congress, Karzai said that Afghans embraced the American war on terrorism even though the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda had come about after the United States and other Western countries left Afghanistan to the warlords after Soviet Union pulled out.

Karzai reminded U.S. lawmakers that Afghanistan faced alone the "unspeakable terror" of the Taliban and al Qaeda "long before the horrific tragedy of September 11."

"The terrorists subjected the people of Afghanistan to unspeakable terror even though we were among the most pious Muslims in the world," he said. "These atrocities continued for many years, and the world remained unengaged."

However, Karzai said, Afghanistan is grateful "for your generosity and commitment to our people" and will continue to support U.S. efforts to battle terrorists.

"You have supported us with your resources, with your leadership in the world community and most importantly with the precious lives of your soldiers," he said.

"Without the partnership between our two nations," Karzai said, Afghanistan would not have made the progress it has, including the opening of schools to boys and girls, new health centers and road reconstruction to stimulate trade.

Both Bush and Karzai acknowledged that Afghanistan is a work in progress.

Karzai noted that his country remains "one of the poorest." Only 6 percent of its people have access to electricity, few have access to safe drinking water and farmers have a shortage of water to irrigate their crops, he said.

Armed militias still pose a serious problem, he said, especially when they are using the illegal drug trade to buy arms.

"We have come a long way, but our common journey is far from over," he said.

Still, he said, Afghanistan is confident it will succeed, particularly with international help.

"To succeed, we ask for your continued investment," he said. "Afghanistan is open for business and American companies are welcome."

Karzai also addressed new freedoms among women in Afghanistan in the wake of the oppressive Taliban regime.

"The new constitution replaces the Taliban-imposed gender discrimination by assigning 25 percent of the seats in our future parliament for women," Karzai said.

On Monday, Karzai visited the Pentagon, pressing for more NATO peacekeeping troops to help the 20,000 U.S. forces already in his nation.

"The Afghan people demand and insist on disarming and demobilizing private militias," Karzai told Congress. "Only with your support, and that of the international community, can we achieve this necessary goal."

At the Pentagon, Karzai was asked about the chances of capturing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The president expressed optimism. "Has a fugitive run forever? No, at least not in my country," Karzai said. "We will catch him one day, sooner or later."

CNN's Ed Henry and Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.
Here we were in 2008.

LONDON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday the fight in Afghanistan won't be won quickly and Defense Secretary Robert Gates scolded NATO countries who haven't committed combat troops "willing to fight and die" to defeat a resurgent Taliban.

"I think that it puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure and perhaps even get worse," the Pentagon chief said from Washington.

Gates said he's not optimistic that the influx of 3,000 more Marines into Afghanistan this spring will be enough to put the NATO-led war effort back on track. He said he has sent letters to every alliance defense minister asking them to contribute more troops and equipment, but hasn't received any replies.

As he has before, Gates insisted he would continue to be "a nag on this issue" when he meets NATO defense ministers Thursday and Friday in Europe to discuss Afghanistan, but also said that only the Canadians, British, Australians, Dutch and Danes "are really out there on the line and fighting."

"I worry a great deal about the alliance evolving into a two-tiered alliance, in which you have some allies willing to fight and die to protect peoples' security, and others who are not," Gates said during a Senate hearing on U.S. defense spending plans.

Gates didn't name countries that aren't stepping up, but Germany has flatly rejected sending soldiers to volatile southern Afghanistan. Instead, Berlin agreed to send about 200 troops to serve in a quick reaction force in northern Afghanistan, fulfilling a NATO request, the defense minister said Wednesday. The quick reaction force would be based along with Germany's other roughly 3,300 troops in the north.

Overall, there are about 43,000 troops in the NATO-led coalition now, including 16,000 U.S. troops. There are an additional 13,000 U.S. troops there training Afghan forces and hunting al-Qaida terrorists.

All 26 NATO nations have soldiers in Afghanistan and all agree the mission is their top priority. But the refusal of European allies to send more combat troops is forcing an already stretched U.S. military focused on the Iraq war to fill the gap, and straining the Western alliance.

"I do think the alliance is facing a real test here," Rice said, speaking at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. "Our populations need to understand this is not a peacekeeping mission," but rather a long-term fight against extremists, she added.

The United States and Britain believe the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants are turning to guerrilla and terror tactics to counter NATO forces but have not been able to sustain prolonged combat.

"It frankly doesn't take much courage to blow up a school," Rice said.

The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide missions last year, the most since the regime was ousted from power in late 2001 by the U.S.-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Rice and Miliband met as Britain confirmed that it will not increase the size of its force in Afghanistan. Some NATO nations had hoped Britain would essentially transfer fighting forces from Iraq, where its operations are scaling down.

Britain has about 7,700 soldiers in Afghanistan and will replace infantry troops with more paratroopers during a routine changeover in April. Prime Minister Gordon Brown told lawmakers Wednesday he will continue to push European allies to provide more combat troops.

"What we are looking for, particularly when it comes to the NATO summit a few weeks from now, is a determination on the part of all our allies to ensure the burden sharing in Afghanistan is fair," he told legislators at the House of Commons.

"We need a proper burden sharing _ not only in terms of personnel, but also in terms of helicopters and other equipment," he said.

Britain, Canada and the Netherlands are also fighting the Taliban violence on the front lines in Afghanistan's south. Canada has threatened to pull out unless other allies do more of the hard work.

Canada's minority Conservative government said Wednesday, however, that it will ask Parliament to extend the country's combat mission in Afghanistan. A vote could take place in March _ if NATO follows recent recommendations by an independent panel saying that Canada should continue its mission only if another NATO country musters 1,000 troops for Afghanistan's south, a spokeswoman for the government said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is under pressure to withdraw Canada's 2,500 troops from Kandahar province, the former Taliban stronghold, after the deaths of 78 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat. The mission is set to expire in 2009. Canadian opposition parties have threatened to bring down Harper's minority government if he does not end the combat mission.

The Afghanistan mission is not as unpopular in Europe as the U.S.-led war in Iraq, but European publics, and many leaders, have misgivings about long-term combat in the fragile nation and doubts about the focus and commitment of the Bush administration in its final year in office. Some European nations also have troop commitments in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East and are under pressure to do more for peacekeeping in Darfur.

Rice and Miliband both had the same response to a new U.N. report Wednesday showing a spike in Afghan opium production, which is fueling the Taliban insurgency: it is a problem for both the alliance and the Afghan government, and Afghans themselves must do more.

"We are not in Afghanistan to create a colony, but to help an independent country and now a democratic country run its own affairs," Miliband said.

The report, by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said that Afghanistan, in turmoil since a U.S.-led military operation toppled the repressive Taliban regime in 2001, is also steadily increasing its production of marijuana.

Afghanistan supplies some 90 percent of the world's illicit opium, the main ingredient in heroin, and the Taliban rebels fighting the U.S.-led forces receive up to $100 million from the drug trade, the U.N. estimates in the new report.

Poppies are Afghanistan's most successful export, albeit an illegal one. Rice tried to answer criticism that eradication efforts leave farmers destitute. The drug trade, concentrated in Taliban strongholds in the south, is increasingly a business arrangement run by cartels and hitched to terrorism, she said.

"There are a lot of big fish," involved, she said.


Associated Press reporter Anne Flaherty contributed to this report from Washington.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
I really liked this message, delivered by Breda O'Brien of the Irish Times. You can see it on their main page today.

The limited research available shows that parents’ opinions, especially mothers, really matter to young people. For example, one US survey in 2000 found that young people were more likely to delay sexual activity if they knew their mother strongly disapproved of becoming sexually active too young. But lots of young people were not aware of their parents’ opinions.

I suspect it is because when puberty arrives, many parents give up and hope for the best. There is a crisis in parental confidence. Parents are not sure what messages to give.

Parents who only deliver “if you can’t be good, be careful” teaching often fail to realise the amount of emotional damage caused to young people when they are sexually active too young. Few things are as fragile as the teenage heart. No matter how the culture attempts to indoctrinate them that sex is merely a recreational activity, they will persist in investing it with far more significance

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Handed Down

Probably one of my absolutely favourite varieties of tomato in my whole garden two years ago when I had bumper crops is the Black Krim tomato. Can you believe it, before the Soviet Bloc collapsed, no one in the west had even heard of this amazing tomato, which has such a long heirloom heritage? A whole whack of seeds came flooding out of that region of the world when the Iron Curtain collapsed. The tomato itself is absolutely delicious, with black dappling speckling its exterior- one of the famous "black" tomatoes that come from eastern Europe. I thought it was marvie, as the sixties children used to say.

Black Krim is lush, sweet, deep, fabulousity. It tastes of the earth and organicity. It comes from an island in the Ukraine of which there is virtually no knowledge on the entire world wide web- the island of Krim. I hunted for pictures; I hunted for all sorts of things, and there is virtually nothing of the sort. I envy the Island its mystery. I grew it on my island and it bounded out of the ground in one long graceful reaching. It was among my most successful and reliable tomatoes, absolutely steeped in history. So, I recommend it to everyone.

I wish I had asked my grandmother's very best friend of several years about the elusive, mystical Krim before she tragically died of a heart attack. She was Ukranian, full of love and warmth and interesting kitchen tales. She adored my grandmother, who would routinely accompany her places several times a month, and my grandmother in turn adored and doted on her daughter. When my grandfather died, her huge heart (the irony when it failed is not lost on me) were a solace to my grandmother in her loss.

I found this wonderful site, Tatiana's tomato base, which had all sorts of information about the Black Krim tomato that they had listed from Heritage Harvest Seed, which is run by a young woman of partial eastern European ancestry in Carman, Manitoba, whom I had a wonderful chat with when I telephoned two years ago. Here is what her self devised seed catalogue had to say about it:

" A very popular heirloom that originates from the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula. This is one of the first heirloom vegetables that my mother and I grew and is largely responsible for my “obsession” with heirloom vegetables today. The medium to large size fruit are oblate and usually have numerous cracks around the stem end. The color varies according to the climate but generally the hotter the climate the darker the fruit. In my climate the fruit are a dark purplish color with green shoulders and the taste is intense. Definitely one of the tastiest tomatoes that I have ever eaten. Excellent for slicing, salads, and tomato sandwiches. Indeterminate, regular leaf foliage. (85 days from transplant)."

What I really liked about this woman was that she was trying to provide a Canadian alternative to the American South's Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, which is such an amazing company that I remember being quite happy to support her project and place a large order. She was so serious about following Baker Creek's example that she also gave all of her customers a free packet of seeds and she slipped in an heirloom tomato variety that she knew I would like given our personal conversation on the phone, in which she had told me how she and her boyfriend were basically running her farm, an inheritance property, singlehandedly. Interesting, n'est-ce pas? I know, I thought so, too.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I'm ordering this wonderful book to read.

Here's a description; its about a topic that I have covered recently:

Seizing the Hungarian throne at the age of fifteen, Matthias Corvinus, the "Raven King,” was an effervescent presence on the fifteenth-century stage. A successful warrior and munificent art patron, he sought to leave as symbols of his strategic and humanist ambitions a strong, unified country, splendid palaces, and the most magnificent library in Christendom. But Hungary, invaded by Turkey after Matthias's death in 1490, yielded its treasures, and the Raven King’s exquisite library of two thousand volumes, witness to a golden cultural age, was dispersed first across Europe and then the world.

The quest to recover this collection of sumptuously illuminated scripts provoked and tantalized generations of princes, cardinals, collectors, and scholars and imbued Hungarians with the mythical conviction that the restoration of the lost library would seal their country's rebirth. In this thrilling and absorbing account, drawing on a wealth of original sources in several languages, Marcus Tanner tracks the destiny of the Raven King and his magnificent bequest, uncovering the remarkable story of a life and library almost lost to history.

When I read it, I will try to post a few of the interesting bits to my journal, especially if they are about Matthias' intriguing wife Beatrice.
Here's an excerpted poem from Somalia's great poet, Hadrawi. Its about two lovers. The language translates in such a stilted fashion that you know that Somali is an utterly unique- different from English, two luscious fruits of the human vine.

there's a flower which blooms
after morning's compassion
has refreshed it with dew
it brings forth a red liquid
for the mouth to sip
its stamen and stigma
entwine like a rope
was it this they exchanged
offering as a legacy
did they present it to taste
as the last earthly food of love
did they place at the other's ear
the word which was missing
Is the Shoah, then? If not, what is? So heartbreaking.

A young man believed to have been detained in the US-run Bagram prison in Afghanistan since 2004 now appears to have become mentally disturbed.

Younis Ramahtullah, or "Salah" as his family calls him, disappeared in 2004 while living with his uncle in Pakistan to finish his studies. His family, who could not explain how or why their son had been captured by the British Forces in Iraq, maintain his innocence, portraying him as a modest young man, with no interest in politics.

According to the Ministry of Defence, however, two men believed to be members of the terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and who the legal rights NGO Reprieve group maintains are Salah and a man named Amanatullah Ali, were handed over to the Americans in Iraq and placed in the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility in Afghanistan.

The torture of prisoners at Bagram is comparable to that of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In 2002, the US military investigated the deaths of two men in Bagram, one was a 22-year-old taxi driver named Dilawar, who died after being severely beaten by US soldiers while shackled to the ceiling of his cell.

Identified by another former prisoner, Dr. Ghairat Baheer, Salah was confirmed to have become mentally ill. "Sometimes he used to beat his head against the bars of his cell and he was always in a temper and taking a lot of medication," he said to the BBC.

After a nine-month investigation, the NGO Reprieve was able to track down Salah's family. Apparently, the young man's parents broke down in tears when they spoke to BBC.

"For anyone who managed to get out normal, like I did, -- it was just a miracle and a blessing from God," proclaimed Dr. Baheer.
Three Good News (if you have only one piece of News, should that be plural? Shouldn't it be called a New? my brain est crazie) :

1. Today is the International Day Against Homophobia (from the angels)
2. Raul Castro's daughter supports gay rights, ergo, the Day is being massively celebrated in Cuba, with parading and fetes (celebrations) galore.
3. Danni Minogue, the charismatic Aussie stAr eXTRodinAirE just said she supports gay marriage.
What I really wanted to do tonight was find some more information on Estes' O Erdoban, She of the Woods. All I could locate on the web, however, was some really plodding information about a few trees. It was almost like trying to look for a naiad, which is a water sprite- you look into the ocean and the creature is transparent! Or looking for the faeries below. Clearly most mortals aren't privy to this knowledge, unless of course they can actually read Hungarian.

But then I stumbled on the wonderful Babel Matrix. I wish that they would expand it to the entire world- wouldn't that be amazing? But I loved its mission statement for Europe: unity in diversity. At any rate, Lakshmi, who is always with me, smiled, just a little, not too much, but just enough, and I got given the fab live slice of life below.

by Party Nagy Lagos.

Holdbanán (Hungarian)

banánon élek mint a hold
mondta és lassan elcsúszott
zakója ujja kréta volt
a szíve héj száraz lucsok
tűzoltó volt egy hajnalon
sivatag volt és flórián
törődj velem mert hajlanom
nincs ki elé és ki után
mondta és zárvány lett megint
átnézni rajtam semmi ok
s már önnön kis lupéja volt
én így végződöm rendszerint
a héjon élek mint a hold
mondta és lassan elcsúszott

Bananamoon (English)

I live on bananas like the moon
he said and slowly slipped away
his jacket sleeve was of crayon
his heart a rind of dry purée
one dawn he was a fireman
a desert and a florian
look after me for I incline
before nobody nor behind
he said a xenolith once more
there is no need to look through me
and reproduced a tiny loupe
that’s how I finish usually
live on the peel just like the moon
he said and slowly slipped away
Regrettably, I don't know the name of the person who so generously translated the verse vertabim on his blog, but I must say that I like the translation! Its another one from the book, Poets of Nicaragua, which is out of print..alas, but some of the verses can be found on the web. Nicaragua was bombed by the USA in the seventies, and these are the writers which emerged in the aftermath; its a fascinating look at the disparate voices queuing for attention. Really, the book is so beautiful and conveys all the longings of the Nicaraguans, as well as their confusion and awesome hope.

El barco negro
Cifar, entre su sueño oyó los gritos
y el ululante caracol en la neblina
del alba. Miró el barco
fijo entre las olas.

—Si oyes
en la oscura
mitad de la noche
—en aguas altas—
gritos que preguntan
por el puerto:
dobla el timón
y huye

Recortado en la espuma
el casco oscuro y carcomido,
(—¡Marinero!, gritaban—)
las jarcias rotas
meciéndose y las velas
negras y podridas
Puesto de pie, Cifar, abrazó el mástil

—Si la luna
ilumina los rostros
cenizos y barbudos
si te dicen
—Marinero ¿dónde vamos?
Si te imploran:
—¡Marinero enséñanos
el puerto!
¡dobla el timón
y huye!

Hace tiempo zarparon
Hace siglos navegan en el sueño

Son tus propias preguntas
perdidas en el tiempo. The Black Boat
Cifar, inside his dream he heard the cries,
the ululating conch out in the mist
of dawn. He saw the boat
fixed among the waves.

—If you hear
within the dark
middle of the night
—on high seas—
cries, cries that beg you
for the port:
turn your tiller back
and flee

Outlined in the raging surf
the boat's hull dark and eaten away,
(crying, —O Seafarer!—)
the broken rigging
swaying and the sails
black and rotting
(—O Seafarer!—)
On his feet, Cifar embraced the mast

—If the moon
lights up their faces
ashy, bearded, jinxed
if they ask you
—Seafarer, where you going?
If they implore you:
—Seafarer, show us the way
to the port!—
turn your tiller back
and flee!

They set sail long ago
They're sailing for ages, in the dream

The questions are your own
forgotten in the ages

The Rain

I've plugged Majid Majidi's emerald of a film a couple of times before, but somehow I just thought about it tonight, in the middle of this parching drought on my little island, which is strange because Baran means "the rain" in Farsi. Nonetheless, I just wanted to take a minute to remind those out there that Baran is a very enjoyable, and completely surprising film. I had never expected to sympathize with a character who was completely mute- although I am female, I rarely shut up- but once you understand the cultural constraints that Majidi is operating under, it is totally remarkable that the movie is as powerful as it is.

It is interesting to note that in Iran, Afghans are a minority. The depiction in this film was the first time that I had ever even laid eyes on an Afghan in my entire life, and its a tall order to make you care about a person from a group that you have never even heard of and whose ways are totally alien to yours. I guess the really interesting thing about Majidi is that he manages to make something so different into something so powerful. Even in Iran, Afghans do the scut work- and are basically illegal aliens that can sometimes be disregarded or even heavily exploited, which is what the film so arrestingly depicts. The treatment of Afghan people in comfortable Iranian society has always been a bit of a can of worms, and its not always talked about- right along with child labour abuse in Pakistan, etc. That's what made Majidi such a sensitive trailblazer. There are some other progressives in Iran that have felt that Iranians should be helping their much more disadvantaged Afghan brethren (sisterate ;)) and Majid freely chose to fall into this relatively enlightened category.

Here is the website for this film, for those who are interested.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

15 May, 2010
Ground Reality

It was always on cards. Only agricultural scientists, blinded by the money and perks that biotech companies keep on dangling in front of them, refused to see. Pest explosion is something that happens naturally whenever you promote monocultures. It happened when chemical pesticides were pumped in, and it is happening now with Bt cotton. Farmers paid the price earlier, and once again farmers will suffer.

Agricultural scientists will retire gracefully, hoping for re-employment with private companies. Scientists work for promoting the companies commercial interests, and not for farmers.

In US, in Latin America, in China and in India, the story is the same. These are the countries where you have enough evidence of pest explosion (from even GM crops). As The Hindu op-ed page article says: Farmland struck by infestations of bugs following widespread adoption of Bt cotton made by biotech giant Monsanto. This report is certainly not going to trigger an overhaul of the way scientific research is carried out, and to change the criminal way the inconclusive findings are imposed by the scientific regulators on the farming community.

Regulatory bodies deliberately avoid looking into the pest emergence issue. The reason is simple. These regulatory bodies are corrupt, and are under the influence of the lobbyists. In the US alone, for instance, Monsanto spent US $ 8.7 million in 2009 on lobbying, in part to oppose labeling of GM foods.

Let me provide you a little more insight into how lobbying works. Since 1998, the agribusiness sector has poured more than $1 billion into lobbying for the purpose of protecting and advancing its legislative interests. The sector includes the crop production and basic processing industry, which alone spent $20.3 million in 2009; the food processing and sales industry, which spent $30.2 million in 2009 and the mighty agriculture services and products industry, which spent $34.4 million last year.

McDonald's, for its part, recorded its strongest lobbying output ever in 2009, spending $480,000 at the federal level to influence government. You can read it all here:

Meanwhile, have a look at this news report from the pages of The Guardian. It is time to demand suitable action against the erring regulatory bodies and the scientific institutions. In India, we cannot allow GEAC to walk free. Neither can we allow another 'independent' scientific panel to be set up simply to endorse the wrongs that have been perpetuated by GEAC. The GEAC, which accorded environmental clearance to the controversial Bt brinjal, and which is now on hold pending the outcome of the national consultations held by the Environment & Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh, needs to be held accountable for its scandalous role.

Pest resurgence is a major cause for farmer suicides in the cotton belt in India. The Indian Council for Agricultural research (ICAR), as well as the GEAC is responsible for the cotton suicides.

Scientists call for GM review after surge in pests around cotton farms in China

Farmland struck by infestations of bugs following widespread adoption of Bt cotton made by biotech giant Monsanto

Scientists are calling for the long-term risks of GM crops to be reassessed after field studies revealed an explosion in pest numbers around farms growing modified strains of cotton.

The unexpected surge of infestations "highlights a critical need" for better ways of predicting the impact of GM crops and spotting potentially damaging knock-on effects arising from their cultivation, researchers said.

Millions of hectares of farmland in northern China have been struck by infestations of bugs following the widespread adoption of Bt cotton, an engineered variety made by the US biotech giant, Monsanto.

Outbreaks of mirid bugs, which can devastate around 200 varieties of fruit, vegetable and corn crops, have risen dramatically in the past decade, as cotton farmers have shifted from traditional cotton crops to GM varieties, scientists said.

Traditional cotton famers have to spray their crops with insecticides to combat destructive bollworm pests, but Bt cotton produces its own insecticide, meaning farmers can save money by spraying it less.

But a 10-year study across six major cotton-growing regions of China found that by spraying their crops less, farmers allowed mirid bugs to thrive and infest their own and neighbouring farms.

The infestations are potentially catastrophic for more than 10m small-scale farmers who cultivate 26 million hectares of vulnerable crops in the region studied.

The findings mark the first confirmed report of mass infestations arising as an unintended consequence of farmers using less pesticide – a feature of Bt cotton that was supposed to save money and lessen the crops' environmental impact. The research, led by Kongming Wu at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, is published in the US journal, Science.

"Our work highlights a critical need to do ecological assessments and monitoring at the landscape-level to better understand the impacts of GM crop adoption," Dr Wu told the Guardian.

Environmental campaigners seized on the study as further evidence that GM crops are not the environmental saviour that manufacturers have led farmers to believe.

Read the full report at:
15 killed in missile attacks in Khyber

PESHAWAR/LAHORE: At least 15 people were killed and others were injured as eight missiles – apparently fired from Afghanistan – struck an encampment in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, a private TV channel reported on late Saturday night.

However, another TV channel reported five killings in the missile strike. The suspected strike in the Khyber Agency could fan fresh anger because it represents a widening of the military offensive in the region. Officials had given differing death tolls in the strike, with one saying that two missiles had hit a house and two trucks loaded with terrorists.

The channel reported that the death toll ranged from five to 15. Such discrepancies are common and are rarely reconciled. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media. The identity of the deceased is not yet known.

Much of the supplies for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan are transported through the region and the convoys have often been attacked. The US does not officially acknowledge firing the missiles, let alone make public where they have hit. ap/daily times monitor

Thursday, May 13, 2010

As a young teenager, I adored Vanyel Ashkevron. Don't read the spoiler wikipedia article linked to above, however, read the books! The rising homophobia in North America has been of great concern to me, and I hope to counter some of the toxin by revealing this little piece of inclusivity. Aa a straight girl, I secretly surrendered a corner of my heart for Vanyel, back in the days when queer was cool. And it will be again, just like in ancient Greece.