Saturday, January 29, 2011

Parents push for foreign language in elementary schools

Written by Jake Kara
Monday, 17 January 2011 15:00

School officials tout the district as a deciding factor for home buyers, but for some parents who "shopped around," the district might fall short of expectations.

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For Karen Christiansen, a Darien mother leading the charge to get foreign language incorporated into the elementary curriculum for four years, being bilingual is a must in today's global economy.

"I've had every job I've had because I speak Italian," Christiansen, who taught at an international school in Italy and worked as director of international divisions for Tommy Hilfiger, Liz Claiborne and Donna Karan, said.

She taught first grade at an international school in Italy, where she said on average her students spoke three languages.

When she moved to Darien four years ago, her kids were in pre-school and she was surprised to find Holmes School, where her daughter was soon to enroll, didn't have a foreign language program.

She and a few other Darien parents set to work, talking to officials and other parents trying to get a program added three years ago.

When elementary foreign language education came up at a school board meeting and one board member questioned whether there was enough support for such a program in town, Christiansen said she knew otherwise.

"I know from working in town for years on this that there is a strong interest," she said.

She helped to start a petition and within two weeks had about 35 volunteers mobilized, collecting more than 1,700 signatures in favor a foreign language program.

"Everywhere I was, the clipboard was," she said. "I loved that document," she said of the battle-torn, rain-smudged pages she carried around collecting signatures. The group collected 1,700 names. "I felt the board got the message at that point."

Most people Christiansen met assumed Darien had foreign language, she said.

Of the 500 or so names Christiansen collected, she said she only a handful of parents gave reasons against signing the petition.

"A couple said it was the budget," she said. Others said they were already working on foreign language studies with their kids outside of school — like Christiansen. Her husband and children speak fluent Danish and she practices Italian with them.

The elementary schools started hosting a foreign language program before and after school, but it's paid for by participants, $180 per semester and not a school program.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Falcone, whose children go to school in New Canaan, which has elementary foreign language education, has been receptive, Christiansen said. In November, he presented a plan to the Board of Education to change elementary schedules to a six-day rotation. He even included it in his first budget proposal, presented Tuesday.

Whether the program, which calls for five new teachers at $306,645 will survive this budget season is yet to be seen, but Christiansen hopes it does because, she said with a laugh, "I can't do this another year."

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bully Shazam

There really is magic out there, team on those cold prairie nights. All the farming communities out in the midwest are holding anti-bullying initiatives, many of which are being covered in the media every single day now. I loved the fact that Chris Johnson got his message across using actual magic tricks! Its such a wonderful idea, and I'm super juiced to share this article on my blog. It really hilighted how massively lucky kids really are to live in Wisconsin. (Unfortunate that its not a larger geography so that even more people would get to dwell there. :) We need the Abracadabra-Make-Your-Own-Racine gold dust, please. Or wuz that Madison? Or even .... Woodstock.) There are, of course, many other communities working on new anti-bullying initiatives across North America and Australia and New Zealand, too.

I really think though that working these messages into something fun and interactive is faily sweet for young children. I'm reminded of the Afghan children's circus that was teaching Afghan kids hygiene. It was super exciting to see things like humungous children's toothbrushes and see all of the shy kids giggle in surprise. Plus, some of the kids actually became performers! Now there's a dream come true.


I sort of hesitated to throw down this link into the blog but finally did so because its not new news. I've heard about Skateistan episodically since Oliver Percovich first started it a couple years ago. Its just that now there's a film- Skateistan: four wheels and a board, that is premiering in January at the Santa Barbara Film festival. If I hear more about where to score a copy, I'll let people know- I feel like a lot of skateboarding aficianados would likely be interested in seeing it, especially if they work with youth in skate parks. Ollie down, crew.

Vacillations and Vaccinations

Heavens, it looks like the world is fair exploding with strange news. Our estimable population of Afghanistan, having barely gotten off its knees in modern times, is now being pulled around by its ears in ever more absurdities.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi has pledged a hundred million dollars to vaccinate Afghan children. It would be great if there was actually some cash to BUILD something in Afghanistan- Abu Dhabi, is after all, a nation rich in oil and much other material wealth, and all these years people have languished herding goats. People can be forgiven for not actually having thought very much about this region of the world before- its buried in the mountains, covered with snow and ethereal cold, and just generally benighted when it comes to outside access. One positive thing about a war fought by forty-two countries on its terrain is that there could quite possibly be a global reawakening as to this region of the world, the beauty of its people, and its potential. Its overrun by foreign armies and mercenaries, and if anyone is learning about its culture, it is them- and yet many of the soldiers are actually not being listened to when they themselves speak out about civilian casualities and torture within the nation, carried out by their confreres and quite often their masters. Its a sad time to be soldiering in Afghanistan, and its time the world helped them out by giving rise to the voices of those that desperately want to see a sea change in a policies that they have had to give their lifeblood for. It shouldn't be difficult to do- does the world really want to hear the trivial gossip that dominates the news stream today? As one Maritime writer put it- all such and such newspaper reports is that one old woman put a shawl on her head and crossed the road to talk to another old woman. Not to disparage the elderly, or movie stars, but there are REAL stories in Afghanistan. There are men, women and children, who are actually a lot like us. A lot of them are dying, or have died. There are people, who in the words of one traveller have "rights that are a bit of a joke". There is a perserverance that is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. And there is sadness, too, that life has handed them a future that they have had virtually no input in shaping, a destiny that was not theirs to command. And there are some wonderful people who are helping. There are foreign aid workers, there is a foreign press corps, and there are people from all over the world that are regarding this particular region of the world with shock and horror.

Things are not always going to be this bad in Afghanistan, of course. But they never should have gotten this way in the first place. And as we focus on how terrible the Afghans are, how "other" they are, how they don't deserve to be heard or to survive, remember this: it could easily have been you. And then do what I do- go out and be a voice that demands that people around you share their good fortune.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A lot of people are talking about social media language.

I have always told the truth about every single thing that I have said online.

Why would anyone not? The truth is crazy enough.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Afghan war continues. Luckily, there is support for withdrawal in Europe- the Dutch are pulling out this year. America, however, needs a nudge. I think we'll see people start to try- this war is totally unjust and beyond horrific. Hang in there, Affy- the momentum is gathering to end this terrible tragedy. This article, by the way, was published today.

KABUL (Reuters) – Twenty Afghan civilians, including 13 children, were killed by a roadside bomb in southeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a senior official said, in the country's deadliest insurgent attack in nearly six months.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst level since the overthrow of the Taliban by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001 with record casualties on all sides of the conflict and a raging insurgency that has shown little sign of abating.

Ordinary Afghans have taken the brunt of the fighting as they become increasingly caught up in the crossfire.

Brigadier General Josef Blotz, senior spokesman for NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, said 13 children and six women were among the dead in Wednesday's attack in Khoshamand district of Paktika, a volatile province south of Kabul, that borders Pakistan.

"It is another spike in this brutal Taliban arsenal and tactics and techniques. It is unjustifiable, it is brutal," Blotz said in an interview with Reuters.

Earlier reports from Afghan officials said 13 civilians had been killed as they traveled in a motorized rickshaw to the district center for medical treatment. Casualty tolls from such attacks can often increase hours after the incident.

The bombing was the bloodiest insurgent attack since July 28 when at least 25 civilians were killed after their bus was hit by a roadside bomb in western Afghanistan.
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In the first six months of last year, the deaths of children rose by more than half from the same period of 2009, according to the United Nations. Deaths of women also increased.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack calling it "inhumane and un-Islamic."

Roadside bombs are by far the deadliest weapon deployed by insurgents and are responsible for most of the casualties among international, Afghan troops as well as civilians.

Ordinary Afghans, however, have been hit the hardest. The United Nations said 2,412 civilians were killed and 3,803 others wounded in the first ten months of last year, a 20 percent increase compared to 2009.

Dozens of civilians have been killed this month alone.

Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed 17 people, including 16 civilians, inside a public bathhouse in southern Kandahar province.

The increased violence around the country has helped to dispel expectations of a winter lull in fighting and military commanders acknowledge militant attacks are up on a year ago.

In Gormach district in northern Faryab province, 12insurgents were killed and another six wounded when the homemade bomb they were making, exploded inside a compound overnight, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

Four Afghan policemen on patrol were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in southern Zabul province on Tuesday, said Abdul Razziq a senior police official.

(Additional reporting by Elyas Wahdat in KHOST and Deborah Lutterbeck in WASHINGTON)

(Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Jonathon Burch and Sanjeev Miglani)
This article appeared in Agence France Press today. France has a large number of people that are against the war, according to recent polls. Hopefully, the countries of Europe can come together and enact some pressure to remove troops from this part of the world.

U.S. may stay in Afghanistan after 2014, Biden says

By Katherine Haddon, Agence France-Presse January 12, 2011

The United States is not in Afghanistan to "govern," but will offer support beyond a 2014 security handover if Afghans wanted, visiting U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden told President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday.

Speaking after talks with the president in Kabul, Biden said: "We're not leaving if you (Afghans) don't want us to leave."

However, he also emphasized that the planned handover of responsibility for security from international troops to Afghan forces in four years, agreed at a NATO summit in November, was on track.

"It's not our intention to govern or to nation-build. As President Karzai often points out, this is the responsibility of the Afghan people," Biden told reporters at a news conference.

"We stand ready to help you in that effort and we'll continue to stand ready to help you in that effort after 2014."

A senior White House official said Biden was not announcing a change in policy.

"The vice-president was simply restating for the public what he had said to the president (Karzai), which was that the United States wants an enduring partnership with Afghanistan," the official said.

There are about 97,000 United States troops serving in Afghanistan as part of an international force of some 140,000. Limited, conditions-based withdrawals are due to start in July ahead of the scheduled 2014 transition.

Biden said Afghanistan was in a "new phase" and insisted that Taliban momentum had been "largely arrested" in key areas such as the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. His comments came despite several recent attacks in the south, seen as the focus of the war, including a suicide bombing at a bath house in Kandahar province last week which killed 17 people.

A U.S. official travelling with Biden said the vice-president's trip came at a "pivot point" for the U.S. in Afghanistan, adding it would allow Biden to review progress toward handing responsibility for security to Afghan forces.

Biden's trip comes four days after the U.S. announced it was sending an extra 1,400 Marines to southern Afghanistan, seen as the heart of the Taliban insurgency, in a bid to preempt an expected spring offensive in April or May.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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Social media addiction may lead to a lack of social awareness and a dearth of empathy, leading to a much poorer quality of life. People forgo meaningful contact and connections in the real world, in favour of hours spent staring at soulless screens. Overall, they are less fit and healthy and have less "social capital"- meaningful face to face interactions with one another. Using social media is also an appalling waste of time, likely leading to a massive decrease in human productivity for societies who engage in it. In most societies around the world, including Australia and Canada, one would suspect that the average gross domestic product (GDP) is negatively affected because social networking eats up so much time. As well, the negative consequences for people's health mean that the healthcare burden is significantly higher. Think about it: people can't exercise, don't have as much time to look after the household, etc. Some of the negative consequences of social media addiction have been active day to day neglect of children such that the children have actually been left in the bathtub and died; viral rape scenes where people have shared underage rapes of a victim's sexual activity without the victim's permission, and complicity in online bullying and harassment, wherein schoolchildren experience severe, traumatic, and significant bullying that is likely to alienate and traumatize- to the point of suicide- or potentially radicalize children.

Asia is Facebook’s fastest-growing region, home to roughly 112 million of its 580 million users worldwide, according to Facebook statistics.

In the last 24 months, the network has seen quadruple-digit growth in Malaysia (1,000 percent), Thailand (4,000 percent) and Taiwan (7,500 percent). As of 2010, the largest Facebook population outside America is no longer the United Kingdom. It’s Indonesia, an archipelago where 80 percent still lack Internet access.

“Facebook has swept across the Asian region in a way no other web property has done. Ever,” said Thomas Crampton, social media analyst and Asia Pacific director of the 360 Digital Influence marketing agency.

Facebook’s eastern sweep is driven in part by development and demographics. As the Asian middle class rises, the price of internet access continues to fall. But the boom is also fueled by an Asian obsession with online games, as well as Facebook’s ease of use on mobile devices, far cheaper in Asia than at-home web connections.

Across the region, Chinese-made web-ready mobile devices sell for $150 with unlimited internet access plans as low as $20. Facebook has become an essential diversion during epic traffic jams in Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila.

“I use Facebook when I first wake up,” said Sahid Priambodo, a student at Paramadina University in Jakarta. “Then I go to school, but I’m still Facebooking in class.”

Priambodo’s Facebook addiction even follows him into bed at night via his smartphone. “Sometimes I can’t sleep because of Facebook,” he said. “It affects my GPA at school.”

Investors are convinced there are plenty more Sahids for Facebook to enlist. A Goldman Sachs investment this month led analysts to peg Facebook’s value at $50 billion and forecast continued heavy growth.

So far, Facebook has chewed through competitors Friendster, Hi5 and MySpace with very little local investment. Unlike Yahoo — which built offices in Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere in a bid for Asian dominance — Facebook only maintains offices in Japan and, as of last year, India and Singapore.

“Until mid-last year, if I wanted to talk to someone at Facebook, I had to call one poor guy in Australia,” Crampton said. “He was the only representative on this side of the Pacific Ocean.” (Facebook did not respond to GlobalPost’s repeated inquiries into plans for opening new offices or its overall Asia strategy.)

Facebook’s adaptability to local tongues has aided its Asian spread. When Facebook detects a non-English script, it asks the user to translate portions of the site for free — a clever means of recruiting an army of free interpreters.

Facebook also partially owes its growth to the Asian obsession with Farmville, a game that invites players to tend digital farms while sharing seeds and tools with fellow users.

The online phenomenon, played by an estimated 10 percent of Facebook users, is exclusively accessed through Facebook. Despite its simple 1980s arcade-era graphics, the game’s rules are complex and it begs near-constant attention from cyber-ranchers.

Farmville led Facebook’s charge into Taiwan, where people scrambled to sign up simply to access the game. “They wanted to play Farmville,” Crampton said, “but had to sign up for this thing called ‘Facebook’ first.”

Thailand, now the fastest-growing Asian Facebook population, is among the latest to fall under Farmville’s spell.

“Games are one of the main reasons Thai people join Facebook,” said Wattana Pattanagul, a 35-year-old biology professor. His hobby site, “Farmville in Thailand,” was created to decipher the game’s English-language instructions for Thai fans.

“I got tired of always translating for everyone,” he said. “Some people barely sleep because of Farmville. They set their alarm clocks early to wake up and harvest their crops.”

This month, Wattana officiated at a “Farmville Competition,” which drew spectators to a Bangkok exhibition hall where judges awarded points to contestants’ farms for beauty and skill. (Sample commentary: “All this empty space? The farm leaves me feeling cold” and “This garden is arranged strangely ... are the crops meant to spell out something in Chinese?”)

Still, despite its rapid ascent in much of Asia, Facebook remains banned in the region’s most crucial market: China.

Asia’s largest social network isn’t Facebook. It’s RenRen, virtually unknown in America despite its 150 million Chinese users. (Facebook claims roughly 145.7 million U.S. users.) Unlike Facebook, RenRen and other Chinese-language networks are Chinese owned and subjected to communist party oversight.

“Facebook isn’t going to break into China anytime soon,” Crampton said. “Historically, the Chinese government is uncomfortable with any social media used in China but owned by foreigners.” Unblocking Facebook, he said, would require conceding to communist party controls under “some model no one has ever used.”

Still, Facebook watchers have noted China’s influence on founder Mark Zuckerberg. The 26-year-old is studying Chinese, according to a cover story in Time Magazine, and recently visited Beijing with his Chinese-American girlfriend of seven years.

His empire has already proven willing to take on another communist, Facebook-banning nation: Vietnam. Even under an official (but poorly enforced) block there, Facebook quietly advertised in late 2010 for a Hanoi position.

According to the job posting, the company seeks an applicant capable of “communicating with policymakers” and “ensuring the site’s accessibility.”

Japan and South Korea, largely loyal to their homegrown social networks, are two more troublesome countries for Facebook. The tech-obsessed countries have only about 4 million Facebook users combined. Korean authorities in particular are suspicious of Facebook collecting data on its citizens.

If officials officials fear Facebook’s power to coalesce political anger, they need only look at Thailand as an example.

Despite cultural taboos against face-to-face confrontation, Thailand has spawned a notable number of Facebook campaigns channeling fury at various newsmakers and political adversaries.

Within the last month, 300,000 Thais backed a group devoted to denigrating an upper-class, 16-year-old driver who crashed into a van and killed eight people. The campaign insisted the girl was not appropriately remorseful for her wrongdoing.

“May you be cursed so that hell forever chews your heart,” read one comment.

“Some of the most popular groups, actually, are formed around disliking something,” said Benjamas Promchaisiri, a 33-year-old information specialist in Bangkok who joined Facebook last year. “People find it satisfying.”

But Benjamas is far too busy for online hate mongering. Tending her Farmville project — a strawberry ranch overlooked by gingerbread homes and a day-glo “party barn” — is akin to a part-time job.

“I’m on Facebook and Farmville about five hours a day,” she said. “At least.”
The Plight Of Afghanistan’s Child Water Carriers
...the fact that they are missing school to deliver water that should be delivered by public utilities outrages the people of their neighborhood
By Zarif Nazar, Charles Recknagel

KABUL - Early each morning, the schoolchildren of the Aqibi Silo neighborhood emerge from their homes on a hillside near the center of Kabul.

After the canisters have been filled, children use donkeys to carry the water back uphill.But they don't go to class. Instead, they go off to fetch water -- over and over again -- until long after the school day is done.

They begin by tumbling down the narrow footpaths carrying brightly colored plastic canisters as light as balloons. The banging of the empty cans lends the scene a playful air, until they reach a tap at the base of the hill, where water flows two hours every other day.

The kids fill the canisters with water until they are as heavy as grain sacks. Then, loading the canisters on a donkey, or carrying lighter loads on their heads, they climb back up the hill in the first of many trips.

By the time school has let out elsewhere in Kabul, the children will have ferried enough water uphill to compensate for the municipal pipes that don't deliver water to their hillside homes. To find water tomorrow, they will have to go still farther afield, because the tap at the base of their hill will be off.

The water carriers of Aqibi Silo are hardly the only child laborers in Kabul. But the fact that they are missing school to deliver water that should be delivered by public utilities outrages the people of their neighborhood.

But calling on the government for action is easier in Kabul than getting results. As individuals with complaints quickly learn, there are myriad agencies responsible for public services in Kabul. Worse, there is little coordination between them and little public information about which does what.

'We Face Difficulties'

"Liberty Listeners," a gadfly program produced by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, is aimed at getting officials to address citizens' complaints. The show experienced the maze of bureaucracy firsthand when it sought to relay listeners' concerns about the water carriers to city officials. A phone call to the mayor's office revealed the scope of the problem.

Mayor Yunus Nawandish said a new office had recently been created to manage the distribution of water in Kabul. But he said the office was not under the mayor's jurisdiction.

"Unfortunately, some responsibilities such as water distribution and canalization, which should be actually under the jurisdiction of the mayor of Kabul, are not under the jurisdiction of the mayor of Kabul," he said. "Therefore, we face difficulties. But we are hopeful that this issue will be solved in the future."

Even the mayor was uncertain of the new office's name and location. He did promise, however, to try to independently solve the hillside neighborhood's water shortage.

Children Become Lifeline

A lack of coordination is endemic among Afghan government offices, where officials compete to set up new bureaus to enlarge their patronage systems. But the results are particularly noticeable in Kabul because the population and need for services has swollen with hundreds of thousands of returning refugees since 2001.

The hardscrabble slopes around Kabul pose a particular problem. They are attractive to poor people looking for space to build a home but providing water to them requires pipes with sufficient pressure to flow uphill. During the past 10 to 15 years, the pipes that once did that have fallen into disrepair and now work only occasionally or not at all.

For families with children, the children become the lifeline. And as they do, the children of the poorest families also become the water suppliers to those with no children of their own.

One resident, Zauddin, says he is in too frail health to carry water up to his home himself. So, he buys water from children who deliver the heavy canisters to his door. But he says the water is not clean or healthy and has to be boiled before use.

The children of impoverished families who make a business of selling water earn just a pittance for their labors.

One, Mirwais, tells Radio Free Afghanistan that he earns just 10 Afghanis a bucket, about the price of a piece of bread. But he says the money is needed by his family, so he continues working.

"We have nobody at home who earns money. Everything is very expensive -- rice, wood for heating," he says. "Because of that, I left school and I'm working with my donkey."

The cost for Mirwais himself is high. He has already missed so much time at school that he has given up any ideas of returning. And he has already suffered his first serious injury as he begins what is likely to be a lifetime of hard manual labor.

The accident happened as he and his companions ventured far from their neighborhood to bring water from a cistern near Kabul University. As they moved along a crowded road, a passing car sideswiped their heavily burdened donkey, knocking it off its feet and onto Mirwais.

The boy broke his arm and temporarily had to stop working. But he is back leading his donkey up the steep paths to his neighborhood, as unable to take time off to rest as he is to take time off for school.

Radio Free Afghanistan's Sayaed Jan Sabawoon contributed to this report

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Addiction to Facebook

January 19, 2011

Posted Sunday, January 9 2011 at 18:18

Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old billionaire founder of Facebook, was voted Time Person of the Year in 2010, and this is why:

One out of every 12 people in the world – or more than 500 million people – has an account with his social networking site, whose membership is growing by about 700,000 people a day.

If Facebook were a country, says Time, it would be the third largest, behind only China and India – and perhaps more influential.

Apparently, members of this rapidly expanding community spend more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month. But I am not among them, and I have no apologies to make for it.

Call me an old fuddy duddy or a technophobe, but the fact is that the main reason I have not joined Facebook is because I want keep my private life private.

Facebook allows users to connect and “make friends” with dozens, if not hundreds, of people they would not normally interact with in daily life.

It allows users to know things about other people that they would normally not care to know – such as their birthdays, their hobbies, and their likes and dislikes.

Users can also get into the minds of their “friends” by learning about their deepest secrets and darkest fears. This wouldn’t be so scary if the friends were a select group of people you chose to reveal these facts to.

But the way Facebook works (and also, depending on your privacy settings, which I am told, are not as private as people would like to believe) any Facebook user that you have accepted as your friend can know all of the above, and much more.

He could be your boss, your co-worker, an old school friend who you haven’t seen in years, a former lover, a member of your football team, a fellow church-goers, and even people you absolutely loathe, but who have somehow entered your personal space via Facebook.

Zuckerberg believes that by allowing many to share more of their personal lives with each other, he is helping to create a virtual global community where “people stay in touch and maintain empathy for each other.”

In other words, he is creating a more caring world, where transparency and openness are the modus operandi and where there are no secrets. (I am sure Julian Assange of WikiLeaks would agree.)

Perhaps we can blame his youth for this na├»ve view of the world, because in real life, relationships, and human beings, simply don’t work that way.

As Time writer Lev Grossman so rightly put it, while the Internet allowed people to lead double lives – real and virtual – Facebook “smooshes together your work self and your home self, your past self and your present self, into a single generic extruded product.”

What is worse, “On Facebook, there is only one kind of relationship: friendship, and you have it with everybody. You’re friends with your spouse and you’re friends with your plumber.”

Moreover, writes Grossman, “relationships on Facebook have a seductive, addictive quality that can erode and even replace real-world relationships”.

Apparently, “Facebook addiction” has even entered the vocabulary of psychiatrists. At least one case has been reported of a woman who lost her job due to Facebook addiction.

Lawyers in the United States are also reporting a rise in the number of divorce cases where Facebook is used as the primary source of online evidence.

Facebook also has a narcissistic quality about it. Tom Hodgkinson wrote in The Guardian in 2008 that Facebook appeals to “a kind of vanity and self importance” in people and encourages a “disturbing competitiveness around friendship” where “quality counts for nothing and quantity (i.e. the number of friends you have) is king.”

Critics have argued that instead of connecting people in meaningful ways, Facebook actually isolates people, who spend more time online rather than doing things that strengthen relationships, such as talking or sharing a meal.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

January 18, 2011, 2:52 p.m.
E-mail Print Share Text Size la-fg-afghan-fuel-shortage-20110119
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Winter in Afghanistan is always a hardscrabble time, but this year the season's bite has been sharpened by a growing shortage of fuel. And because the dwindling supply is due to an Iranian blockade, the dispute is further tangling complicated dealings with a powerful neighbor.

For the last five weeks, a traffic jam of fuel tankers, now swelled to about 2,500 vehicles, has been backed up at the Iranian-Afghan frontier, with only a fraction of the usual number allowed to pass. The resulting shortages were initially felt most keenly in the agricultural south and west. But in recent weeks, the effects have spread to the crowded, car-choked capital, Kabul, with higher pump prices, longer lines and ever-shortening tempers.

"Sometimes people get angry and argue with us about why it has become so expensive, but there is nothing we can do about it," said gas station attendant Abdul Farwad, who was manning the pumps on a recent chilly morning, fending off customers' grumbles as he did so. In the last month, the cost of a gallon of gasoline has risen by about 20%, to $4.35 in the capital, with higher prices in the provinces.

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As often happens, some of the resentment is aimed at a highly visible target: the 150,000-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization force. Iranian officials have blamed the chokehold on "technical reasons" but also have suggested that at least some fuel ends up in the hands of the Western military.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force, which is composed largely of U.S. troops, has stated repeatedly that its supply routes do not run through Iran. But the denials are to little avail; the belief that Americans are indirectly responsible for the fuel shortage has taken hold strongly among many Afghans.

Analysts say a likelier culprit is regional muscle-flexing, with Afghanistan cast in its familiar role as the pawn of great powers. When Iran feels squeezed by the United States, it can in turn put the squeeze on Afghanistan, where few tasks are easier than stoking resentment against the unpopular administration of President Hamid Karzai.

"All this is because we have no real government," said a student who gave his name only as Hamayoon, fuming after a pricey fill-up for his battered Toyota. "They can't look after our basic needs. Or they won't."

A potential break in the crisis came Tuesday, when Karzai's office announced that Tehran was prepared to ease the restrictions in coming days provided that Afghanistan spells out for Iran its fuel requirements. But Afghanistan has previously balked at, in effect, petitioning Iran for permission to import what it needs.

Afghanistan is entirely dependent on the outside world for fuel, and between one-third and half of it passes through Iran. Afghan officials have talked of trying to develop direct supply links with neighbors such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. But in the meantime, Iran has a heavy hand on the spigot.

In this instance, Iran's motivation is murky. Some observers have pointed to continuing U.S. pressure over its nuclear program.

"Above all, for Iran, it's a way of showing power," said Haroon Mir, an independent political analyst in Kabul.

The fuel shortage has been blamed for an overall creeping up of food prices, including for staples such as cooking oil, and hikes in the cost of crucial items such as firewood, which is used to heat most Afghan homes and often needs to be transported long distances. In this impoverished country, where children pick through trash for saleable items and burka-clad widows beg for small change in the street, the winter months mean cold and hunger for many.

Some of the anger against Iran has boiled over into street protests, including rock-throwing demonstrations at the Iranian Consulate in Herat, the nearest large Afghan city to the western frontier. Protesters also have gathered in recent weeks outside the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, galvanized not only by the developing fuel crisis but also by reports that Afghan laborers in Iran have been mistreated.

Iran then fanned the flames by calling on Afghan authorities to crack down on such demonstrations, stirring indignant sentiment over this perceived affront to Afghan sovereignty. Even so, Afghan officials are treading carefully, mindful of the importance of Iranian patronage.

Only this week, after the near-embargo had been in place since mid-December, did Commerce Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahady term Iranian actions "unfortunate."

In agricultural areas, some farmers are having difficulty finding and affording diesel to run their irrigation pumps. The insurgency is strongest in the south, and such pressures can tip the balance between villagers supporting the U.S.-backed government or throwing in their lot with the Taliban.

Farmers come under constant threats and blandishments from the insurgents to switch to growing opium poppies, which do not need as much water and can be trafficked by the Taliban to fund its war effort. Noor Agha, a farmer in the bitterly contested Arghandab district of Kandahar province, said that because of a lack of fuel for irrigation pumps, it was all he could do to save his fruit orchards. His wheat fields, and those of his neighbors, were a loss.

"And tomorrow," he said, "the Taliban will come and tell us there is another way."

Monday, January 17, 2011

This law actually did pass in 2008, courtesy of the Conservative government.

A new set of patent rules proposed by the federal government would delay generic versions of Lipitor, Viagra and several other blockbuster drugs by as much as two years, The National Post reports. And generic drugmakers, not surprisingly, are warning the effort will cost consumers and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually.

The government says the regulations would simply restore fairness and stability to the brand-name industry after two court rulings put unexpected new curbs on the practice of “evergreening,” which involves filing new patents on a drug in an attempt to stave off generic competition. Generic drugmakers say the move is an unjustified sop to the brand-name industry, the paper writes.

“It completely surprised us. We had no inkling it was coming,” Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, tells the Post. “The provincial drug plans (which pay for many medications) are really going to feel this in a big way.”

The affected drugs have combined sales of more than a $1 billion a year and generic versions are up to 50 percent cheaper than the brands in some provinces. But Deirdra McCracken, a spokeswoman for Industry Minister Jim Prentice, tells the paper the new regs are just an attempt to uphold government policy as it was before the court rulings, and avoid abrupt changes to the pharmaceutical market.

“Canada currently has a reputation as an internationally competitive location for innovation and investment,” she tells the Post. “To ensure that reputation stays intact, we need predictable and stable intellectual property laws.”

In the tangled world of drug patent law, the suggested new regulations have a complex background. In 2006, the government cracked down somewhat on evergreening. Still, brand-name drugmakers are often able to obtain a two-year, court-ordered stay on generic competition while patent disputes are adjudicated.

In October, 2006, amendments included a grandfather clause that allowed new patents filed before June of that year to stay on the books. A month later, though, the Supreme Court of Canada brought down a decision that said many new evergreen patents were improper. The Federal Court later applied the reasoning in a separate decision.

Such court judgments could result in “sudden and unexpected loss of market exclusivity for a number of innovative drugs,” Industry Canada says in a preamble to the new reg. The changes would override the rulings and allow Industry Canada to keep the grandfathered patents on the books.

While the amendments could result in “delayed savings” to consumers and provincial drug plans, they are needed to maintain the industry’s confidence in Canada as a place to invest and introduce new products, the department’s statement says.

“The government never intended this part of the [2006] regulations to apply retroactively, since this would have been inequitable,” Jacques Lefebvre, spokesman for Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies, tells the Post. “This will in no way prevent the generic drug makers from entering the market after the expiry of patents.”

Lefebvre noted that the prices for generic meds in Canada are among the highest in the industrialized world. Meanwhile, Keon says the changes were likely the result of lobbying by brand-name companies, according to the paper.

Lobbyists for the industry association, according to a federal registry, include two prominent Conservatives. Goldy Hyder is a Tory strategist and was chief of staff to Joe Clark, then opposition leader, in 2001-2002. Geoff Norquay was director of communications in the office of Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, in 2004 and 2005, the Post writes.

Surfing the Century

Good news!!!!!

"Along with working directly with the elite of NSW surfing, Hamish will be implementing a new National Development Plan, working closely with surfers and mentoring coaching state-wide."

The State Coaching Director will implement the National High Performance Development Program, an initiative of Surfing Australia. The intent is to develop surfers and provide ongoing support, using the world's best practice in all regional coaching, training camps, and competition setting, with the ultimate aim being to maintain Australia's number one ranking in global surfing.

NSW has the largest resident surf population in Australia and with junior surfers dotted all over the most accessible surf coastline in the country, the funding will provide more opportunities for NSW surfers.

Hell or High Water

...we've got to end the Afghanistan war.

Hey kids,
This excerpt is pretty terrific.

Fake feminism NATO-style
NATO’s attempts to master the dark arts of spin cannot be allowed to conceal the brazen opportunism of the alliance
By David Cronin

Back in 2002, the Indian writer Arundhati Roy brilliantly satirised the official excuses for the invasion of Afghanistan . “It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas,” she said. “We are being asked to believe that the US marines are actually on a feminist mission.”

Afghan women buy jewelery at a roadside in Herat (Photo: EPA/JALIL REZAYEE)The effort to rebrand militarism as compassionate and motherly continues today in NATO’s Brussels headquarters. Stefanie Babst, a senior official in the alliance working on “public diplomacy” (a synonym for propaganda), keeps busy trying to raise the profile of a decade-old United Nations Security Council Resolution on gender, peace and security. It is “extremely encouraging” that NATO is committed to this resolution – number 1325 in case you were wondering – and its call that women and children be shielded from violence during armed conflicts, Babst has declared.

Can it really be the case that NATO is sparing women from the horrors of the war it is waging in Afghanistan? Of course, it can’t.UN data published in December stated that 742 civilians were killed or wounded by NATO or by Afghan forces loyal to Hamid Karzai’s government in the first ten months of last year. Most of these casualties – including 162 deaths – were attributed to air strikes, a NATO speciality.

Documents made public through the heroic work of WikiLeaks have helped give us a glimpse of what Afghans have to endure. On 16 August 2007 Polish troops mortared a wedding party in a village called Nangar Khel. Four women and one man were killed. A pregnant woman in attendance was among those wounded by shrapnel. Though an emergency caesarean was performed, her baby died.

NATO’s attempts to master the dark arts of spin cannot be allowed to conceal the brazen opportunism of the alliance. When the Soviet Union started to collapse, there was much nervousness among NATO staff that their beloved institution would go out of business. After a lengthy period of scrambling around for reasons why the alliance was still relevant now that the Cold War was supposed to be over, it was given a new lease of life with the implosion of Yugoslavia. In 1999, NATO celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by raining down cluster bombs – weapons so dangerous that over 100 governments have subsequently agreed to ban them – on Serbia. No soldier, general or political leader serving the alliance has ever been held to account for that monstrous war crime.

Afghanistan has helped ensure that NATO will remain alive and kicking for the foreseeable future. In August 2003, NATO took charge of the US-led “stabilisation force” occupying Afghanistan. Karl Eikenberry, now US ambassador to Afghanistan and a former deputy commander of NATO’s 28-nation military committee, stated in 2007 that “the policy of turning Afghanistan over to NATO was really about the future of NATO rather than about Afghanistan, one that could ‘make’ the alliance. The long view of the Afghanistan campaign is that it is a means to continue the transformation of the alliance.”

Transforming NATO “means in the first place expanding it into a global military force, one able to wage wars like that in Afghanistan and others modeled after it,” Rick Rozoff has observed on his excellent “Stop NATO” blog.

In his New Year’s message, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, rejoiced in how there are now nearly 140,000 NATO soldiers deployed around the world: in the Balkans, Iraq, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean (off the Horn of Africa), as well as in Afghanistan. Rasmussen would like us to think that all these men and women are working tirelessly to bring peace and stability to trouble spots. But closer inspection of NATO’s track record shows that their primary purpose is to ensure that the US and Europe will have access to energy supplies and other resources that our myopic governments regard as essential for our economies.

NATO’s activities in Africa, for example, have received only a fraction of the media coverage given to Iraq or Afghanistan. But the bit of information that we have available to us is illuminating. James Jones, who stepped down in October as the US national security adviser, paid a considerable amount of attention to Africa when he was a high-level NATO commander a few years previously. In 2006, Jones signalled that NATO was thinking about using the fight against piracy as a pretext to launch a mission off the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea.

The aim of this mission would be to avert any perceived threats to the energy supply routes for Western nations, he said. It is about time that journalists grew more sceptical than we have been towards the whole industry of think tanks and self-appointed experts in Brussels and Washington who praise NATO at every available opportunity.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chris Cook from Pacific Free Press has this.

16 Jan 2011

Afghanistan: The War is Over, but the Killing Goes On PDF Print E-mail
written by Conn Hallinan
Killing Peace
by Conn Hallinan
In spite of a White House declaration that "progress" is being made in Afghanistan, by virtually any measure the war has deteriorated significantly since the Obama Administration surged troops into Kandahar and Helmand provinces. This past year has been the deadliest on record for U.S. and coalition troops.

Civilian casualties are on the rise, and, according to the Red Cross, security has worsened throughout the country. U.S. allies are falling away, and the central government in Kabul has never been so isolated. Polls in Afghanistan, the U.S. and Europe reflect growing opposition to the nine-year conflict.

So why is the White House pursuing a strategy that is almost certain to accelerate a descent into chaos, and one that runs counter to the Administration's stated goal of a diplomatic solution to the war?

It is not an easy question to answer, in part because the major actors are hardly being straight with the public.

For instance, while U.S. commander Maj. Gen. David Petraeus says his strategy of counterinsurgency is making headway, in fact the military abandoned that approach long ago. Instead it has ramped up the air war and replaced the campaign to win "hearts and minds" with "night raids" aimed at assassinating or capturing Taliban leaders and supporters.

"Night raids" have more than tripled, from an average of 5 a night to 17, and they more and more resemble the Phoenix Program during the Vietnam War. Phoenix was aimed at decapitating the leadership of the National Liberation Front (NLF) and dismantling the NLF infrastructure in the countryside. It ended up assassinating somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 people.

As in the Phoenix Program, night raids are directed at destroying "shadow governments" the Taliban have established in virtually every province in the country. Over the past three months, U.S. and NATO forces claim they have killed or captured 360 "insurgent leaders," 960 "low-level leaders," and some 2,400 fighters.

The Taliban have responded by assassinating government officials in Kandahar and increasing their cooperation with the two other insurgent groups, the Hizb-i-Islami and the Haqqani Group.

In spite of the raids, United Nation's maps show that the central battlegrounds of Kandahar and Helmand provinces are still considered "very high risk" and the situation has grown considerably worse in the north and east.

The White House argues that the only solution to the long-running war is a diplomatic one, but the administration seems bent on systematically sabotaging that outcome by trying to kill the very people who will be central to any negotiated peace.

"By killing Taliban leaders, the war will not come to an end," former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttwakil told the Nation's Jeremy Scahill, "on the contrary, things get worse." Indeed, according to former Taliban leader Abdul Salam Zaeef, the killings push more radical leaders to the fore. "It will be worse for everyone if the [current] Taliban leadership disappears," Zaeef told Scahill.

The US has also sharpened its criticism of Pakistan to the point that a recent intelligence analysis essentially says the Islamabad is the major problem. There is even talk about sending U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the special 3,000-man Afghan army organized by the CIA into Pakistan to attack insurgent camps near the border, an act that would almost certainly further inflame anti-Americanism in that country.

In reality, there is not a whole lot Pakistan's 600,000-man army can do. It is already fighting a homegrown Taliban, and its tense relations with India require it keep substantial forces on their mutual border. It has also largely taken over the job of dealing with Pakistan's devastating floods last year. But even were it use all its forces, it is doubtful it could control the mountainous, 1553-mile border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistanis argue that current U.S. policy, not the border, is the problem. They point to the fact that the Americans have hitched themselves to the corruption-plagued Karzi government and have little to show for the billions spent to train the Afghan Army and police. "The Americans are looking for a scapegoat," says leading Pakistan politician Mushahid Hussain.

Is the problem that Obama has turned the war over the military?

For all of Petraeus' talk about "hearts and minds," the military's job description is to kill people. That is why Karl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of modern war, pointed out that war is much too important a matter to be left in the hands of generals.

The Obama Administration seems paralyzed by a combination of those in its ranks who support a muscular foreign policy, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the late Richard Holbrooke, a fear that the Republicans will brand them as "soft" in the 2012 elections, and an unwillingness to confront the generals.

The tragedy here is that many of the pieces for a deal are already in place. The Taliban and its allies are not tightly organized groups with a common ideology other than expelling invaders. They range from dedicated jihadists to local people fighting over turf or for revenge. And while Afghans have a reputation for being fierce, they actually excel at the art of the deal. If they did not, the country would have been depopulated long ago.

Of course, there are substantial roadblocks to overcome. The Taliban insists all foreign troops must leave, and the U.S. and Karzi demand the insurgents accept the Afghan constitution and put down their weapons. None of the above is likely to happen.

But the Taliban said back in 2008 that they would accept a "timetable" for foreign troops to leave. Of course both sides would have to agree to a ceasefire.

The U.S will have to back off from its insistence that the insurgents accept the current constitution. The document establishes a powerful centralized government, a form of organization that flies in the face of the country's history and which few Afghans outside of Kabul support. A constitution based on strong local autonomy would garner more support. In turn, the insurgents would have to guarantee that groups like al-Qaeda could not set up shop.

The Americans insist they will not talk with the Haqqani Group or others they consider "irreconcilables," but you have to negotiate with the people you are fighting. No party has the right to veto the participation of another.

Any agreement will have to take into account regional security issues, including Islamabad's fear that India will make Afghanistan a client state, thus surrounding Pakistan on both sides.

The polls are on the side of those who want to end the war.

A recent survey found that 83 percent of Afghanis want negotiations, (though 55 percent show little sympathy with the insurgency). According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 60 percent of the American public say the war "is not worth fighting." Opposition to the war is much higher in Europe, reaching 70 percent in Germany.

The U.S. polls suggest that any Republican charge of the administration being "soft" is not likely to make much headway with voters.

Further, the conflict is hemorrhaging money at a time of severe economic crisis. The war is costing $8 billion a month, not counting the tens of billions the U.S. has spent training the Afghan Army and police. So far, the cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars is $1.1 trillion, but, according to economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmer, the long-term costs of both wars will be $3 trillion.

One thing Democrats in Congress can do is to press for a troop drawdown starting this year. Again, the polls show 55 percent support withdrawals starting in summer 2011, with another 27 percent saying it should begin sooner.

According to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, delaying the withdrawal date from the end of 2011—the President's original goal—to 2014 will cost an extra $125 billion. As a comparison, the House Republicans pledge to cut $100 billion from the domestic budget—excluding the military, Homeland Security, and veterans—would require a 20 percent across-the-board cut in all programs.

The war is lost. We are broke. Many of the key protagonists are prepared to talk. It is time to silence the guns and seek common ground.

Conn Hallinan can be reached at:
Out today.

by Tod Ensign

One of the greatest achievements of the Vietnam antiwar movement was its creation of a GI coffeehouse and counselling network. The first coffehouse was opened outside Ft. Jackson, S.C. in late 1967, two and a half years after America troops invaded Vietnam. Within weeks, hundreds of GIs had visited during their off duty hours. Over the next year, similar projects sprang up outside twenty other major U.S. bases.

These projects embodied the "counter cultural" spirit of the times. Sex, psychedelic drugs and rock and roll coexisted with a strong anti-war message. Civilian activists, mostly recruited from the anti-war movement, worked in tandem with active duty GIs, some of whom had just returned from Vietnam. At some projects, the soldiers played a leading role in setting political goals, providing counselling and putting out the anti war newspaper that was a staple of every coffeehouse project.

Today, antiwar organizers are again discussing how active duty GIs can be recruited to play a more active part in the struggle against the war. A Stars and Stripes newspaper poll of soldiers fighting in Iraq, reported in March 2006, that 72% of them wanted to be withdrawn within a year, while 29% favored immediate withdrawl.

Organizers from Citizen Soldier, a GI/veterans rights advocacy group ( recently met with anti-war veterans and GIs in Fayetteville, N.C. , home to Ft. Bragg, where 40,000 combat troops are stationed. They discussed the prospects for establishing a coffeehouse and counselling project near the base--the largest in the eastern U.S. Their hope is that a successful pilot project at Bragg could stimulate the creation of similar efforts at other key posts.

Both the US military and American society have experienced enormous change since the Vietnam era. Foremost here is the transformation of a conscript-driven military to one that is entirely composed of "volunteers." This has made the armed forces much less representative of American society as a whole. One of the primary reasons why advocates of an "all volunteer" military wanted to junk the Draft was their belief that it fueled much of the anti war opposition--especially among young people. When one compares the size and intensity of today's movement against the war in Iraq with that of the Vietnam war, this analysis appears to be accurate.

The transition to a volunteer force has had two other significant consequences. One, women were integrated into most military jobs, except for the infantry and armor. Today, every sixth soldier is female, except in the Marine Corps. Second, the shrinkage of active duty force levels, which became necessary once competitive wages were being paid has meant that reservists and Guard troops must shoulder a much greater combat burden when the military deploys into combat. Today, one out of three GIs serving in Iraq is a reservist. These soldiers are older, have family obligations and are less accustomed to the rigors of military life.

These demographic changes are central to any discussion of how a coffeehouse project could attract the participation of GIs today. During Vietnam, the average low ranking soldier was paid less than $300 a month. They lived in austere barracks and ate their meals in dingy chowhalls. These conditions made an off base coffeehouse seem attractive as an off duty refuge from the tedium of the "green machine" and its grinding routines.

Today, half of all soldiers are married and many have children. Their relatively good pay and benefits allow them to buy expensive cars and vans and many choose Applebee's and Mickey D's over the messhall. To counter serious problems with recruitment and retention, the Pentagon now offers a series of robust bonuses which range from $10,000 to $40,000, payable over the life of an enlistment hitch. Elite "Delta Force" troops can get up to $100,000 if they'll sign for another tour. (A note to those who believe that recruiting shortfalls may force a reinstitution of the Draft: the Pentagon has shown that it will spend whatever it takes to induce (bribe?) low income youth to fill its combat slots.

One of the main attractions of the Vietnam era coffeehouse was that GIs identified them with the "counter cultural" changes that were sweeping America at the time. Psychedelic paraphenalia and drugs fanned the latent anti authoritarianism of soldiers. This,in turn, sparked challenges to all forms of authority--sexual mores, gender roles, social conventions, and the military's vaunted chain of command. One key demand of the American Servicemen's (sic) Union was; "an end to siring and saluting." Explicit anti war organizing, while important, was only one item on the projects' agendas.

Popular culture today is much more diffuse, blending many different strands; rap, punk, heavy metal, goth, hippy, traditional rock and roll, and even country-western. In lifestyle , openly gay couples (not on a military base, however!) co-exist with super straight engaged couples who flaunt their pre-marital chastity.

Organizers concluded that a coffeehouse/counselling project could succeed in attracting significant numbers of soldiers assuming that it provided internet access, good latte, and plenty of free parking. Many young soldiers today quest for intellectual, cultural and political fulfillment today, as they always have. A coffehouse which combines an alternative bookstore with a lively mix of free musical performances, stand up comedy and poetry (with some political speechifying thrown in) could become highly popular with a significant minority of GIs.

A number of important questions remain. Who will finance the cost of one, not to mention a dozen such coffeehouse projects today? Certainly GIs can't be expected to provide more than a small portion of the budget. During Vietnam, the United Servicemen's (sic) Support Fund, raised substantial sums, which it then parcelled out to the local projects to help them pay rent and staff saleries. Nothing like the USSF exists today, but something along these lines will be needed if these projects are to thrive. Important first steps have been taken, but much more needs to be done. Contact Citizen Soldier for additional information.
War Resisters Support Campaign Launches
'Let Them Stay Week' on Saturday
More than a dozen events will be taking place in communities across Canada until January 22, including in: Grand Forks, BC; Vancouver, BC; Windsor, ON; Victoria, BC; St. John's, NL; Newmarket, ON; Winnipeg, MB; Halifax, NS; Fredericton, NB; Peterborough, ON; Sudbury, ON; and Toronto, ON.

The War Resisters Support Campaign is launching 'Let Them Stay Week' on Saturday, January 15

- Majority of Canadians want Iraq War resisters to stay
- 12+ events across Canada urge Stephen Harper to give resisters status

The Week begins with an information picket at Market Square in Windsor, ON and a film screening and discussion with Rodney Watson, an Iraq War Resister who is marking his 70th week (more than 480 days) living in sanctuary in Vancouver, BC:

Information picket in support of US Iraq War resisters
Saturday, January 15
11:00 am to 12:00 noon ET
Ottawa Street (across from Market Square)
Windsor, ON

Film screening and discussion with Rodney Watson, Iraq War resister in Sanctuary
Saturday, January 15
2:00 to 4:00 p.m. PT
First United Church
320 East Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC

Iraq War resisters and their supporters in Toronto will also be available for interviews throughout the weekend.

For a full list of Let Them Stay Week events, please see the website.

"The majority of Canadians have spoken out in support of Iraq War resisters being allowed to stay in Canada," said Michelle Robidoux, spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. "These young men and women made the difficult decision to cease participation in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq. They have shown tremendous courage, leaving behind their homes, their family and friends."

Yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney — both of whom wanted Canada to participate in the Iraq War — are deporting Iraq War resisters.

War resisters Robin Long and Cliff Cornell were sentenced to significant prison terms because the Harper government refused to respect two House of Commons motions (passed June 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009) that directed the government to immediately stop deporting U.S. Iraq War resisters and to facilitate the resisters' requests for permanent resident status from within Canada.

On July 6, 2010, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Jeremy Hinzman. The Court unanimously found that immigration officers must consider war resisters' sincerely-held beliefs and motivations for coming to Canada. The Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and immigration officers have consistently ignored resisters moral, political and religious beliefs, issuing cookie-cutter decisions that conform to the Immigration Minister's prejudicial comments rather than fairly considering each case based on its merits and the individuals' circumstances.

Jeremy Hinzman's case will be sent back for a new humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) grounds decision. Hinzman was the first U.S. Iraq War resister to come to Canada. Along with his wife Nga Nguyen and their son Liam, he arrived in Canada on January 3, 2004. Jeremy and Nga's daughter Meghan was born in Toronto on July 21, 2008.

Later in July, Citizenship and Immigration Canada issued Operational Bulletin 202, flagging US Iraq war resisters as potentially “criminally inadmissible” to Canada.

Peter Showler, former chair of Canada’s IRB, has written to Minister Kenney urging that the prejudicial directive be rescinded: “The bulletin implies that military deserters from the US should be treated differently than deserters from other countries. There is no basis in law for that proposition.”

Amnesty International Canada has also written to Minister Kenney, calling for the withdrawal of Operational Bulletin 202 because it “misstates the law and seeks to intrude on the independence of both IRB members and Immigration Officers.”


Media Advisory/Photo Opportunity
For Immediate Release
January 14, 2011
Nine killed by Afghan bomb en route to wedding

Nine killed by Afghan bomb en route to wedding AFP/File – A policeman stands guard at Pul-e Khumri in the Baghlan province of Afghanistan in 2009. Nine civilians

by Enayat Najafizada Enayat Najafizada – Sun Jan 16, 10:40 am ET

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) – Nine civilians including a child were killed by a roadside bomb in northern Afghanistan as they travelled to a wedding on Sunday, police and local officials said.

Six women, two men and the child died in the blast, which happened as the vehicle they were travelling in headed from Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, to a local village on a road often used by foreign forces.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blast. The Taliban did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"A mine struck a civilian minibus," provincial governor Abdul Majeed told AFP.

"Nine civilians -- six women, a child and two men -- have been killed. The road is often used by the PRT (provincial reconstruction team) soldiers. All the casualties are civilians."

Hungarian soldiers are stationed in the province as part of the PRT, which aims to help local government work more effectively.

The incident was also confirmed by Major Qudratullah, a spokesman for police in Baghlan province.

The incident came a day after six civilians were killed by a roadside bomb which hit a minibus in the Sangin district of southern Afghanistan's troubled Helmand province.

Helmand provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi said that those killed Saturday dead were all relatives of a local tribal chief, Haji Zainullah, and that three more people were wounded in the incident.

Afghanistan's interior ministry says that last year 2,043 civilians died as a result of Taliban attacks and military operations targeting the militants.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or home-made bombs are the weapon of choice for insurgents and are a frequent cause of death for civilians in Afghanistan.

There are around 140,000 international troops, two-thirds of them from the United States, in the country fighting the Taliban insurgents who were ousted from power in a 2001 US-led invasion.

International troops are due to start a limited, conditions-based withdrawal from Afghanistan from July, and Afghan forces are scheduled to take over responsibility for security in 2014.

Last year saw the highest death toll yet for international troops serving in Afghanistan. According to the independent website, the toll stood at 711, while a total of 18 have died so far this year.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of staff, warned last week that levels of violence in Afghanistan "will be worse in 2011 than it was in 2010 in many parts".

He added that gains made so far were "tenuous and fragile", echoing comments by President Barack Obama in his review of war strategy last month.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Australian Women Report Sexual Abuse in Victoria Psychiatric Wards

by Cara on October 4, 2010

in Australia,International,disability,human rights,misogyny,patriarchy,rape and sexual assault,sexual exploitation and harassment,violence against women and girls,women’s health

Trigger Warning for discussions of violence against women with disabilities, and discussions of sexual violence particularly within the context of psychiatric units.

Last week, news broke in the Australian state of Victoria that women who are patients in psychiatric wards are being routinely sexually harassed and assaulted by men who are patients in those same wards. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reports:

The Victorian Women and Mental Health Network is calling for more wards to be segregated after reports of patient harassment and sexual assaults.

Victorian wards were de-segregated in the 1960s because of a perception that sharing spaces with women would help male patients.

The network’s chairwoman, Heather Clarke, says the assaults hinder the victim’s ability to cope with and recover from mental illness.

“Threats and intimidation, unwelcome sexual advances, sometimes males entering bedrooms and at times even sexual assault,” she said.

“This is very concerning when it’s recognised that a majority of women, 70 per cent of these women, already have past histories of physical or sexual abuse so these volatile environments are re-traumatising.”

Ms Clarke says while some facilities have female-only spaces, a lack of resources means it is not always enforced.

“Some wards have created women’s corridors, but there a number of issues with those corridors,” she said.

“There may not be enough beds in them for all women to be admitted and when they need extra beds for men they sometimes admit men to those those corridors.”

Well, it would have been nice if, when desegregating wards because of a perceived benefit to male patients, someone had bothered to ask what the impact might be on the women. That said, very few people with even a passing familiarity with these issues will be surprised by such revelations and accusations, and readers of this blog might recall that I’ve written about this very subject before. Unfortunately, a passing familiarity is much more than most people seem to have.

Julie Dempsey, a woman who has been a patient at various psychiatric units in Victoria spoke to the Age about her experience of being assaulted in a ward and witnessing other sexual assaults. Her comments offer invaluable insight:

”You’re told to go to hospital so you will be safe, but people are often put into vulnerable positions,” she says.

”I no longer feel comfortable even visiting someone in hospital, let alone voluntarily putting myself in as an inpatient to a psychiatric facility.

”Something needs to be done to make them safer.”

Like the rest of this story, what Dempsey has to say is not surprising, but it is devastating. It’s no secret that sexual violence almost always has a negative impact on the victim’s mental health, not infrequently going so far as to cause or otherwise trigger a mental illness (such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, to name only a couple of examples), or exacerbate one that’s already present. And, as the ABC articles note, 70% of women who are patients in Victoria psychiatric units already have a history of physical or sexual abuse, due both to the link between victimization and mental illness and women with disabilities’ particular likelihood of being chosen as victims by perpetrators of violence. That sexual violence is not good for women already struggling with mental illness is one hell of an understatement.

But clearly, this violence is not only having a direct negative impact on mental health, it’s also preventing women with mental illness(es) from seeking out treatment and services that they may otherwise feel would be beneficial to them. Inpatient psychiatric treatment is definitely not for everyone. But it certainly should be an option for those to whom it does look appealing. And if a woman feels that such treatment may be appropriate and helpful for her, but she is too afraid for her personal safety to seek it out, that is an enormous violation. I highly doubt that Dempsey is the only woman whose prior experiences with violence inside psychiatric facilities has caused this option to be taken entirely off the table for her.

Further, the fact is that not all patients in psychiatric units have freely chosen to be there. This is an issue that needs addressing outside the scope of this post and my knowledge base. But being forcibly placed in treatment against your will is usually traumatic and can be damaging enough to one’s sense of safety. Forcibly confining people in treatment against their will while placing them in an environment that subjects them to the constant threat of sexual violence is unconscionable on a whole new level.

I can’t claim to have the answers. While sex-segregated wards will strike many as an obvious and easy solution, they’re not without their problems, particularly as it concerns trans* patients. Wherever sex segregation is enforced, trans men and women are much too frequently placed by cis people in the units inappropriate for their genders, not only denying their identities but also placing them at risk of violence. Further, non-binary identifying trans patients are put between a rock and a hard place, and forcibly identified with a gender that does not belong with them as well as placed in an environment that may not be safe. While sex segregation almost certainly would reduce the rates of sexual violence by cis men against cis women, there’s a large possibility that it would come at the price of increased rates of violence (sexual and otherwise) against trans* people of all genders (or non-genders), when they likely face some of the highest rates of violence already. And that is a trade off that should be considered unsettling at the absolute least.

The fact of the matter is that gender integrated wards are also hardly the only cause of the problem here. Indifference and rape culture are also major issues:

Network chairwoman Heather Clarke said several sexual assaults had been reported to the network recently, including the rape of an 18-year-old woman by a male patient in an acute adult psychiatric unit.

”She had previously told staff that he was harassing her but they had dismissed her concerns,” Ms Clarke said.

Segregating by gender won’t ultimately have the full desired impact if abusers are still not being dealt with once they have been identified. Rather, the abusers will just get craftier or pick new victims. Further, in addition to failing to address violence at its roots, this strategy alone lets abuse enablers off the hook. Everyone deserves safety, no matter what their mental health or disability status. But there is an extra responsibility to keep safe those who have been placed in restrictive and vulnerable environments. That staff in many (quite possibly most) units are not up to the task, and indeed are sometimes abusers themselves, is a part of the problem and needs to be addressed if freedom from violence is actually to be accomplished.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

At the races this week in Melbourne. People should have a look at the hats all of the ladies were wearing- quite scrumptious! :)
The Danforth food festival in Toronto last summer.

Affy, two weeks ago...


The bumble bee is the teacher who continually teaches the lesson. But how can one understand, unless one is made to understand?”- Sri Guru Granth Sahib

Actor Vivek Shauq dies

Submitted by Surbhi Garg
on Tue, 01/11/2011 - 14:12

The film industry lost a very good character artist in the form of Vivek Shauq who breathed his last today. The actor was a prominent face in a lot of Punjabi films but also had done work in a lot of Bollywood films as a support actor.

He has films like 'Gadar Ek Prem Katha', 'Aitraaz' and '36 China Town' where his comic timing earned him a lot of accolades to his credit.

The death was rather untimely as he was just 47 and suffered a heart attack on Jan 3 after which he was taken to Sant Nirankari Mission where he breathed his last today.

He has worked with a lot of top bollywood actors like Sunny Deol, Akshay Kumar, Akshaye Khanna and Shahid Kapoor. His acts with Jaspal Bhatti in Ulta Pulta TV show were very famous in the north region.

He slipped into coma after a minor operation and could never attain conscious again. His sense of humor was amazing and had a lot of fans in the industry; he was also one of the founder members of Nonsense Club.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thank you to everyone involved. :)

Judge Dismisses Cases Against Military Veterans and Antiwar Activists Following December 16 Washington, D.C., Arrests
Posted on January 5, 2011 by eb

Washington, D.C., January 4, 2011–Antiwar military veterans and other activists celebrated a breakthrough victory today in DC Superior Court, when charges were dropped, following arrests in front of the White House, on December 16, 2010. Over 130 people were arrested in a major veteran-led protest while participating in non-violent civil resistance in a driving snowstorm. U.S. Park Police charged all 131 protesters with “Failure to Obey a Lawful Order,” when they refused to move from the White House fence. The protesters were demanding an end to the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and further U.S. aggression in the region.

Among those arrested were members of the leadership of the national organization Veterans For Peace, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, former senior CIA analyst Ray McGovern, and, Dr. Margaret Flowers, an advocate for single-payer health care.

Forty-two of those arrested opted to appear in court and go to trial with the first group appearing in DC Superior Court on January 4, 2011. Prosecutors from the DC Attorney General’s office stated that the government “declined to file charges due to missing or incomplete police paperwork.” Presiding Magistrate Judge Richard Ringell confirmed that the cases were dropped and defendants were free to leave.

Those who participated in this action make this statement:

“This is clearly a victory for opposition to undeclared wars, which are illegal under international law, have led to the destruction of societies in Iraq and Afghanistan, bled the U.S. Treasury in a time of recession, and caused human rights violations against civilians and combatants. Many of us will return to Washington, D.C., to support an action on Tuesday, January 11, 2011, to protest the continued use of Guantanamo detention facility, including torture of detainees in violation of international law.”

The defendants were represented by co-counsels Ann Wilcox, Esq., and Mark Goldstone, Esq. Ms. Wilcox stated: “Clearly the government and police felt that these veterans and their supporters acted with the courage of their convictions and did not wish to spend the time and funds necessary for a trial proceeding. This is a major victory for the peace movement.”

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← Failure to Obey a Lawful Order

Saturday, January 1, 2011

This article was published today, contextualizing the artificial colours debate in America. Its terrific that the media are hilighting this as a significant issue.

Food coloring is the reason glace cherries are red rather than beige and that children's tongues sometimes appear freakishly blue. But man-made dyes may do more than make processed food look vibrant and whimsical. Some blame the additives for triggering behavioral problems in youngsters.

Acting on research published in the Lancet, the European Parliament last year began requiring products containing synthetic food colors to carry warning labels saying that "consumption may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."

Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a March hearing on whether food dyes adversely impact children's health. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, is asking the agency for a synthetic food-dye ban and to place warnings on products until the colors are removed.

The dyes are often used to enhance the appearance of sugary cereals, candies, sodas, fruit-flavored snacks, fast food and other products that are aimed at children and have little nutritional value, the CSPI said in a citizen's petition signed by 18 physicians and researchers. Since naturally derived alternatives exist, the continued use is hardly worth any potential risk, it said.

"What's the benefit? To make junk food even more appealing to children than it already is?" asked CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson.

Other experts say food dyes, which require pre-market approval, are among the most tightly regulated additives on the market and there's little evidence for the long-suspected link between food colors and hyperactivity.

"The (synthetic food dyes) used in the U.S. are absolutely safe," said Joseph Borzelleca, a professor emeritus of pharmacology and toxicology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. "Food colors are among the most thoroughly studied of the food ingredients."

That hasn't always been the case. Originally, naturally derived ingredients were used to make food look more appealing — saffron, for example, gave rice a yellow tint. In the 1850s, manufacturers began using long-lasting coal-tar dyes to brighten both fabric and food, a practice that sickened countless unsuspecting consumers.

Nearly 200 substances were in use when safety testing was finally required in 1960; only a handful survived the testing process.

Today, the nine synthetic hues approved for use in food — meaning they've been certified by the FDA — are used primarily to help restore the color washed away by industrial processing, even out natural variations and make foods look more appealing or "fun."

Manufacturers also can use dyes made from plant, animal or mineral sources, such as beets, caramel color or grape color extract, but the petroleum-based colors are cheaper and can be more consistent.

"The content of a natural color like grape skin varies, depending on where they're grown, the season, the kind of chemicals used and harvesting," said Borzelleca. "But with approved colors you're getting the same thing every time."

Synthetic food colors have been suspected of triggering behavioral problems in children since the 1970s, when pediatric allergist Ben Feingold began treating allergies by putting children on elimination diets, free of both synthetic food dyes and preservatives. But Feingold's ideas, now touted as a way to treat children with attention-deficit disorder, were never convincingly substantiated.

The issue resurfaced in 2007 after University of Southampton researchers reported in the Lancet that hyperactive behavior increased in two groups of children — age 3 and ages 8 and 9 — when they consumed two different mixtures of artificial colors, plus a preservative.

Unlike previous studies, the Southampton research found the effect in children from the general population, not just those whose parents suspected they were sensitive to food dyes. And the study didn't just rely on parental ratings of their children's behavior, which can be subject to bias; it also used ratings generated by teachers, researchers and computers.

The British Food Standards Agency, which commissioned the trial, subsequently advised concerned parents to reduce or eliminate six colorings from their children's diets. A committee of the European Parliament then voted to ban all synthetic dyes from foods consumed by babies and small children.

The FDA still maintains there's "no evidence" of a link between dyes and hyperactivity. When it reviewed the Southampton study, the agency "found no information to suggest that the behavioral changes noted were adverse, detrimental or maladaptive." One of the study's shortcomings, the FDA said, was that it used a mixture of color additives and the preservative sodium benzoate, making it impossible to know which individual additive was responsible for the effect.

The researchers, who have been invited to the March FDA panel, acknowledged that more studies are needed but disagree with the FDA's view that the effects were insufficient to warrant action.

While many factors can influence hyperactivity in children, including genes and environment, "there is good evidence that artificial food colors can also increase levels of hyperactivity," said Jim Stevenson, the study's lead author and professor emeritus in the school of psychology at the University of Southampton.

Certain food dyes, including FD&C Yellow No. 5, also can trigger allergic-type reactions in some people, but allergists note that many natural foods also can cause such symptoms.

"Some chemicals naturally present in strawberries, pineapples or some insecticides used on fruit also bother some people," said Michael B. Foggs, chief of allergy, asthma and immunology for Advocate Medical Group of Advocate Health Care. "Should children be forced to eat foods devoid of artificial coloring agents because a small percentage of children are bothered by recognizable side effects?"

The uncertainty over the evidence leaves parents with many questions and pediatricians with few answers.

Aaron Donnell, an allergist and pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital and Illinois Masonic Hospital, said that if parents have questions about attention-deficit disorder, he tells them that skin- or blood-testing won't help, but they can try removing gluten, sugar, dyes or preservatives from the child's diet. "At least half get some improvement by adjusting their diet," he said.

Soledad Erickson, a Chicago teacher, went to Donnell after she suspected food dyes were affecting two of her children. Daughter Marcella, 8, had severe mood swings, and Sydnie, 5, broke out in severe rashes.

Both girls improved after she removed the chemicals from their diet, she said.

"Marcella became more focused and pays attention," said Erickson, adding that signs of the old problems re-emerge when food dyes sneak back into the girls' diets. "She's so much happier and friendlier since I've taken out the dyes. If you met her last year, you'd never think this was the same child."

In Ari Goldstein's clinic, meanwhile, parents are often counseled on the potential benefits of dietary changes after children are diagnosed with learning difficulties or behavioral problems.

Goldstein, director of Cognitive Solutions Learning Center in Chicago and Highland Park, said he knows more research is needed. Still, he urges parents to "clean up" their children's diets, which included removing as many refined and processed foods as possible and incorporating whole foods.

"I've seen some cases where removal of synthetic dyes has improved behavior patterns tremendously; however, other dietary interventions were also in play," Goldstein said.

Some manufacturers and retailers already are moving to replace synthetic colorings with natural alternatives in their products. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have pledged not to sell products with synthetic food colors. Starbucks doesn't permit dyes in its beverages or pastries, Necco has switched to safer natural colorings for its wafers and Frito-Lay is testing dye-free snack foods, according to CSPI.

Many companies have also reformulated products to adjust to the regulations in Europe. For example, Kellogg's strawberry Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars sold in the U.S. contain Red No. 40, Yellow No. 6 and Blue No. 1. But in the U.K., the cereal bars contain natural alternatives: beet root red, annatto and paprika extra.

"I don't think the dyes are good for anything," said Dr. Alan Greene, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine who signed the CSPI petition. "The only benefit is to trick you into eating the food or to make it look healthier than it is."