Monday, February 28, 2011

Web traffic

As Jake, a colleague/friend of mine, said:

"Al Jazeera is the only good news channel left."

Yet it's not broadcasted in the States.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Must See, Must Read

(I haven't read it yet!)


And coming soon for those of us who are less literarily inclined... the movie... coming out this fall.

Libya is F**ked

Gaddafi is launching cold-blooded attacks against protesters from the ground and the air. His own military won't comply with his orders, so he has hired foreign mercenaries to take out both protestors and any military threat that may rise from the ranks.

Yet people march on.

Libya is in no condition for a revolution.

There is no well educated, well endowed sector of the population that can take up the process of transforming the state from autocracy to something else.

Yet they march on.

Civil society is thin at best and political infrastructure of any sort is almost non existent. 

But still people are marching. They are unified against him.

Libya is f**ked.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

American blinders on?

Do people still believe that the US is the champion of democracy in the world even after learning that the US has supported Mubarak with 2 billion dollars every year (including 1.3 billion in military support)?

Do people still believe the US is promoting good governance even after learning that they support the current corrupt and oppressive (to varying degrees) regimes in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, Algeria and Bahrain?

Do people still believe the US helps to promote smooth transitions to democracy after learning that they supported military coups in Tunisia, (recently reversed!) Algeria, and oversaw the transition of power from father (who was assassinated) to son in Lebanon?

(And we haven't even started to talk historically, or to mention Iraq or Iran.)

Hell, the US even started giving money to Gaddafi in 2009!

Surely the truth must be coming out now. I refuse to believe that someone could credit the US's involvement in the Middle East for the peoples' uprisings these days.

It is also quite clear (if you check this graph) that the US has and will continue to use more military funding to bolster tis to autocratic regimes, than it has to back up the clamor you always hear about liberalization and democracy:

FMF = Foreign Military Funding

And yes, I do mean the Gaddafi: the madman, the tyrant, the Berlusconi of the Middle East (if Berlusconi were a little more prone to pogrom):

Then again, there is nothing like a good ol' virgin female bodyguard troope eh boys?

Trouble with Arab Autocrats pt.1

...exciting times in the Middle East right now. With tyrants ousted in Tunisia and Egypt, several body politics have risen up in contempt of their authoritarian rulers.

People wrongly perceive each country as largely the same, with the same problems running through the entirety of the Middle East. While these countries share certain attributes (they are all post colonial, for example) the conflicts in each are quite distinct. I'm going to try to make it all easy to understand.

But first, a map:

Oops, not that one... (Thats the one where Fox News MISPLACED EGYPT!)

This one:

Of course this is oversimplified, it's 90 seconds long!

Here's another gross simplification for you from 2006 (remember, I'm still getting started...):

And still another, less political:

Can you name the states?

So now we know the where...

Esperanza Spalding...

won the grammy for best new artist! She beat out Justin Bieber and some other pop stars. This is pretty exciting! But, would she have won the award if she weren't so damn gorgeous?

Probably not, but who cares? She is soulful; plays a mean bass and sings so sweetly. With that combination she is bringing a genre of music to the general public that is so sadly ignored: jazz, baby.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Today, February the 14th, is a day many of us celebrate romantic love. Of course, we can go on about how greeting card companies are just making up holidays to justify their own existence (and make some money), but thankfully, it seems Valentine's day as a day of romance goes back a little further than Hallmark.

According to Jack Oruch of the University of Kansas, the association of romance with Valentine's Day began with Chaucer. In Parlement of Foules (1382) Chaucer wrote:

"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make."

The trouble is... birds don't often mate in England in February, so people associate this reference to Valentine's day with the other, other Valentine (there were apparently four saints of the same name) who was remembered on the second of May.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Vancouver has lowest corporate tax rates in the world

A few of my old friends from UBC have been shaking up politics in Vancouver, an old haunt of mine, at their online news source, The Mainlander. It is fantastic stuff.

In their latest article, Nate Crompton writes that Vancouver politicians are continuing to ignore social problems in favor of pro-business policies. For one, Vancouver  has lowest corporate tax rate in the world which includes frequent reductions in taxes for condo development. Amidst the growing problems of homelessness and drug addiction, Vancouver is also seeking a clearly counterproductive anti-poor flat tax regime. Additionally, the once considered progressive mayor, Gregor Robertson, has reneged on his commitment to build social housing in of the newly built Olympic Village project.

Catch all the Vancouver civic scandal at

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Support the uprising, support democracy!

Several news agencies, and as a result probably many people, believe that there is a huge risk of radical, militant islamist political parties rising to power once the 'classic Arab autocrat' is ousted.

I have heard this theory promulgated many times over the past few weeks; used to describe both the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings and even implicitly used to justify the long standing American foreign support for corrupt regimes in the Middle East. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is patently false.

One of the central beliefs in Islamic political philosophy, though few there are, is that despotism beats anarchy. Basic Sharia law, unbeknownst to most western media outlets, largely steers clear of outright political assertions, dealing mostly with familial concerns. But it does come down clearly on this point. As Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), a very influential philosopher, put it, "The tyranny of a sultan for a hundred years causes less damage than one year's tyranny exercised by the subjects against one another... Revolt was justified only against a rule who clearly went against a command of God or his prophet."

This may at first glance seem to support the notion that these autocrats are saving society from what some may call "bad people". But, if we look closer at the political situations in many Arab countries we see that many fundamentalist islamic institutions are largely supportive of the long standing regimes. Islamists have been called on by many regimes for justification of political action in return for political positions and various other favours. Autocrats and dogmatists have been going skipping hand in hand, hanging onto each others backs, all the while sidelining the more moderate and democratic voices in society (be they of what ever religious bent). Those opposing the regime may indeed be religiously conservative and muslim (fine by me), but primarily they would oppose the regime because they are democratic (even more fine).

Mubarak for example, has held a tight grip on the official religious establishment. A horrid but perfect example occurred in 2007 when several journalists were convicted of publishing false information about the regime. A fatwa came from the Grand Imam, the highest religious authority, who cited the Quoran while stipulating that those convicted of libel should be sentenced to 80 lashes!

Ignorant and alarmist media outlets mention the illegal political party the Muslim Brotherhood (that attained 20% of the parliament as independents in the 2005 elections) and Americans westerners get a bit scared. The reality is that they have been the only sensible opposition to Mubarak, have worked explicitly towards democracy, and have claimed outright that they would pose "a democratic political challenge to the regime, not a theological one."

The notion that toppling dictators will plunge Arab Muslim countries into bedlam is frightening. But the idea that radical islamists will suddenly seize power if a regime is toppled simply does not hold not water.

By promoting either argument, America the West is oppressing the moderate democratic people who have been silenced for so long, and who have really never had the chance to take control of their countries.


By the way check out this and this for a who's who of the has-beens of Egypt.

Giant tip of the hat to the chaps at