Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I-phones as spies, without Apple's knowledge???

While the U.S. courts issue opposing rulings about whether the NSA (National Security Agency), the penetration of techno-spying continues in newly revealed and frightening ways. On the last day of what the Queen might call "annus horribilis" (she used the phrase when her "family" was falling apart in divorce and scandal) we learn from reports out of Australia, on a conference in Germany, from an independent privacy advocate of how nefarious, Orwellian and "out of the box" this scourge has become.
And once released, no matter what Obama does to tighten the ropes around the NSA, there will never be a world for our grandchildren without excessive intelligence sweeps, limiting the privacy of all people living under whatever political regime. Big Brother is here, and proudly strides the globe like a colossus, without any hope of being put back into the box.
And this is the outcome, with undoubtedly more to come, of Islamic terrorism. There have been mobs in various countries, carrying out criminal activities for centuries. There have been pirates plundering the cargoes of freighter ship on the high seas, also for centuries. And now, in this century, we have a convergence of high tech capability rising to meet a different kind of threat, one backed by thousands willing to martyr themselves for their 'holy cause'....
And the "protectors" of national security have opened their box of 'tricks' and unleashed a world of ubiquitous spying, even from instruments carried by individuals, without the knowledge or the complicity (officially) of a company like Apple, whose instruments have been compromised, if this latest story is valid.
Radar waves to harvest computer-stored information, even if those computers are not on line....just another of the pieces of information disclosed to the communications conference in Hamburg, Germany, and carried today in the Sydney Morning News....(See story below)
For ordinary people, the question, on this last day of this rather despicable and tragic calendar of events, for which the human race cannot be proud or even tolerant, is,  "Do we have more to fear from the "protectors" of national security or from the terrorists who seek to take power anywhere and everywhere they can gain a foothold?"
And the answer lies, as do the answers to most questions, in "both" and not one or the other.
It was Pogo, the comic strip character who used the unforgettable phrase, "We have met the enemy and he is us!"
And if we are to both survive and thrive, we will have to confront our inner enemy, the one that seeks to sabotage our best efforts to govern, to conduct business, to instruct our young, to discover the biological as well as the political "germs" that seem to constantly beset our best angels in all fields.
I once designed and delivered a workshop to entrepreneurs entitled, "Tickling the demons that sabotage!" in which I attempted to illustrate how our personal, individual and unconscious "demons" get in the way of our achievement of our goals, objectives, dreams and best instincts.
Some came to the session wondering what was meant by the title. Others thought I was about to conduct a comedy routine. Still others had so intimate an awareness of the issue that they began telling their own stories about how the theme had affected their lives, generating turns they never expected they would find or take, creating connections that they did not plan, and thwarting the best laid plans and strategies.
On a global scale, we can ill afford to let those unconscious demons destroy the many useful and even healthy structures our ancestors have passed along to us, in their determined attempt to make our lives "better" than were theirs'. And, in that light, we have to demand that our "spy-chiefs" reign in their enthusiasm for eavesdropping, and for sweeping the globe clean of the information that we have come to believe is private, personal and unavailable without our formal, written and legally warranted consent.
And we must not give that consent away willy-nilly, without requiring the "state" to bear the burden of proof that it is not abusing its power "on our behalf" no matter how valuable the information they are gathering.
We did not sign on to the social contract that subverts even the technology that we purchase on the open market, for the purposes of state-controlled spying.
We did not sign on to a social contract that even permits such spying, without strict protocols demanding warrants, supervising, independent courts and legislatures unwilling to sell out to the national security establishment.
On this issue, we are all protective conservatives, in the sense that our personal information has value, in spite of the tsunami of "sell-out" data that unconscious individuals put up on the web every minute of every day, in every corner of the world.
On this last day of 2013, I invite you, dear reader, to read the piece from the Sydney Morning News and reflect on how together we might take steps to demand that our political leaders come clean with both their motives and their methods of surveillance on our private lives, while continuing to balance the needs and objectives of national security and international peace and security, goals at which we seem to be having considerable difficulty succeeding.
So, not only are we giving up our privacy, we are also losing the battles against terrorism. Watching the Russian security apparatus gather up dozens following the two attacks within days in Volgogard, we are not inspired with confidence that such heavy handed police methods do much more than play out an historic drama of public relations, without producing much in the way of evidence or convictions.
Outside of prison growth, health care explosion including pharmaceutical invasions, it would seem that we have created a "security monster" over which no one has control, or even monitoring capability and perhaps that enemy Pogo spoke of was our ambition to dominate, to build the biggest and the best and the most lethal machines to demonstrate our pride of accomplishment, when what we are really doing is laying bare our deepest fears and vulnerabilities. And for public figures to acknowledge that would render them political eunuchs.

 NSA can turn your iPhone into a spy, says privacy advocate Jacob Appelbaum

By Raphael Satter, Sydney Morning News, December 31, 2013
The NSA can plant malicious software on Apple's iPhone, turning one of the world's most popular smartphones into a pocket-sized spy, according to a leading security expert.
Privacy advocate Jacob Appelbaum gave the public an unusually explicit peek into the intelligence world's toolbox at a hacking conference in Germany, pulling back the curtain on the US National Security Agency's (NSA) arsenal of high-tech spy gear.
The independent journalist and security expert said on Monday that the NSA could turn iPhones into eavesdropping tools and use radar wave devices to harvest electronic information from computers, even if they weren't online.
Appelbaum told hundreds of computer and technology experts gathered at Hamburg's Chaos Communications Conference that his revelations about the NSA's capabilities "are even worse than your worst nightmares".
"What I am going to show you today is wrist-slittingly depressing," he said.
Even though in the past six months there have been an unprecedented level of public scrutiny of the NSA and its methods, Appelbaum's claims – supported by what appeared to be internal NSA slides – still caused a stir.
One of the slides described how the NSA can hide malware in the iPhone, giving US intelligence agents the ability to turn the smartphone into a spying device.
Another slide showcased a futuristic-sounding device described as a "portable continuous wave generator", a remote-controlled device which – when paired with tiny electronic implants – can bounce invisible waves of energy off keyboards and monitors to see what is being typed, even if the target device isn't connected to the internet.
A third slide showcased a piece of equipment called NIGHTSTAND, which can tamper with wireless internet connections from up to 13 kilometres away.
An NSA spokeswoman, Vanee Vines, said she wasn't aware of Appelbaum's presentation, but that in general would not comment on "alleged foreign intelligence activities".
"As we've said before, NSA's focus is on targeting the communications of valid foreign intelligence targets – not on collecting and exploiting a class of communications or services that would sweep up communications that are not of bona fide foreign intelligence interest to the US government."
Apple has not yet responded publicly to the allegations.
The documents included in Appelbaum's presentation were first published by German magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday and Monday.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Can Russia assure peace and security at Sochi Olympics without outside help? Doubtful!

With a second bombing in two days, in Russia, carried out by terrorists who seek to establish an Islamic state in the North Caucusus, a string of provinces near Volgograd, Russia and the world are facing a security problem with the Olympics only a few weeks away.
Naturally and predictably, the IOC declares confidence that the Russian authorities will provide adequate security for the athletes and spectators to the Olympic Games in Sochi; however, if I had purchased tickets for travel to Russia and for admission into the various events, I would be re-considering the trip.
The people behind these bombings are publicly declaring their wish to disrupt the games, to the point where they are actually unable to be held. The people behind these bombings are not interested in anything except their own political/religious agenda, and their determination cannot be discounted, nor can their cunning and their resourcefulness.
Giving Putin a black eye, on the world stage, is only a means to achieving their objective. It is an important step, however, as was the terror inflicted by Chechyan rebels at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last summer. Similar motives were at the root of both the current bombings in Volgogard and those in Boston.
Unfortunately especially for those hundreds of athletes whose lives have been dedicated for years to their pursuit of "Gold" on an Olympic podium, it seems more and more possible that the games will be disrupted, if not actually cancelled. Such a prospect would, if nothing else, give the terrorists precisely what they want, huge headlines, and major disruptions to the "western" way of life that includes the best of what humans can and do offer in sportsmanship, training, and disciplined commitment, not to mention the integration of multiple ethnicities in a common pursuit of excellence, another role model for the youth of the world.
Tragically, the terrorists are either unwilling or unable, or both, to see the monumental benefits of a world collaborating to the degree resources permit, in an event that speaks to a historic heritage and to a future in which differences can be set aside in order to participate in both individual and national competitions on a stage big enough to include all faith communities, all languages, all ethnicities and all political ideologies. Their hubris blinds them to the larger and mutually shared goal of peaceful co-existence. And their hubris is nothing more or less than their blind, fanatical and unshakeable perversion of a religion, practiced around the globe, known as Islam. They are blackening the eye of all of Islam, in their zealous pursuit of their political/religious agenda, and their capacity to wreak havoc threatens all of us, especially those who have not and will not convert to Islam.
The more I see from the terrorists, including their disdain for the lives of innocent human beings, their willingness to sacrifice themselves for some abstract and hopefully unattainable political goal, and their insensitivity to the damage and danger they inflict on people everywhere, in the name of Allah, the more I believe that their insurgent cancer has to be removed through means that I never would have considered ethical prior to their invasion of the world's neighbourhoods and communities.
And, like most, I suggest that no individual country's security establishment is single handedly capable of suppressing and certainly not of removing this blight on the human landscape, and that includes Putin's Russia. He will have to call for help from all countries participating in the athletic competitions, to provide security support, if these games are to be carried out in peace, in relative security and in some semblance of predictability. And those nations on whom he calls will have to provide whatever supporting resources Russia needs, in what one can only hope will be a beginning of a collaborative effort to bring this monster to "heel."

By Maria Tsvetkova, Reuters, December 30, 2013
A bomb blast ripped a trolleybus apart in Volgograd on Monday, killing 14 people in the second deadly attack in the southern city in two days and raising fears of further violence as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics.
The morning rush-hour bombing, which left mangled bodies in the street, underscored Russia's vulnerability to militant attacks less than six weeks before the Sochi 2014 Games, a prestige project for President Vladimir Putin.
Sunday's blast came less than 24 hours after a suicide bomb blast killed at least 17 people in the main railway station in the same city, a major transport hub in southern Russia.
A Reuters journalist saw the blue-and-white trolleybus reduced to a twisted, gutted carcass, its roof blown off and bodies and debris strewn across the street. Federal investigators called the blast a "terrorist act".
"For the second day, we are dying. It's a nightmare," a woman near the scene said, her voice trembling as she choked back tears. "What are we supposed to do, just walk now?"
The consecutive attacks will raise fears of a concerted campaign of violence before the Olympics, which start on Feb. 7 in Sochi, about 430 miles (690 km) southwest of Volgograd.
In a video posted on the web in July, the leader of insurgents who want to carve an Islamic state out of the North Caucasus, a string of Muslim provinces south of Volgograd, urged militants to use "maximum force" to prevent the games from being held.
"Terrorists in Volgograd aim to terrorise others around the world, making them stay away from the Sochi Olympics," said Dmitry Trenin, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Centre.
A female suicide bomber from the North Caucasus killed seven people on a bus in Volgograd in October.
A spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, said: "Our condolences go to all those affected by today's bombing in Volgograd. Unfortunately, terrorism is a global phenomenon and no region is exempt, which is why security at the Games is a top priority for the IOC. At the Olympics, security is the responsibility of the local authorities, and we have no doubt that the Russian authorities will be up to the task."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Part 2: When will the world join forces to counteract Islamic terror...and ditch a patchwork, knee-jerk approach?

Whether or not tolerance between Sunni and Shia Muslims, as well as tolerance between Muslim and Christian religions, can be achieved even minimally, might well be one of the defining issues for the world community over the next decade. Christians can and will have marginal impact on the achievement of any degree of tolerance between the Sunni/Shia factions of Islam, rending a  Sunni majority oppressing a Shia minority the norm. So that fractious and violent theme will likely continue. And so long as the terrorist segment of Sunni Islam reigns, there is little likelihood that Christians will be empowered to make peace with their Islamic cohabitors of the planet.
Disentangling "Divine Law" from the exercise of political power, by all faith communities, seems an obvious yet virtually impossible task, and among the Muslim communities, Divine Law is so integral to their faith as to be considered 'the' defining feature of its praxis. Yesterday in this space, we wrote about the history of "divine right of kings" aspect of the Christian faith, a historic barnacle that continues to hold too much sway in the organizational structure of both Roman and Anglican churches. For any human to presume that s/he is in possession of the absolute will/mind/spirit of God is, to put it mildly, presumption that defies the humility to engage in any faith expression. And for large groups, in all religious camps, to graft violent words, judgements, missiles and bullets to that presumption is tragically pathetic.
Nevertheless, that grafting is a crime integrally embedded in both Christianity and Islam.
While there are modest signs that, some would argue through democracy and the protection of minority rights, the west has made some progress out of a tribal/viscious/narrow parochialism that continues to rear its ugly head among Christians. There is a reasonable case to be made that bases religious intolerance upon excessive fear and self-righteous compensation, fear of being unacceptable to the Almighty and compensation that demonstrates a zealous discipleship to that same Almighty.
It was Henri Nouwen who introduced many of us to the concept of "redemptionism" as one of the less savoury features of the practice of the Christian faith by many of its adherents. "Working one's way into heaven" through excessive works, whether those be of the good Samaritan kind or the much more violent kind, is still evident as a very thin and questionable praxis of any faith discipline.
And for the west to depend on the achievement of democracy in many of the places where Christians are being violated by radical Islamists, not to mention the violent violation of the lives and communities of "other" Muslims by their Sunni "brothers" seems a little over simplistic.
If Divine Law trumps human law, for all of the Muslim communities, and using whatever means, including violence of extreme proportions, to achieve the imposition of that Divine Law in what they regard is Islamic states such as the one sought in both Iraq and Syria, then the achievement of democracy will be a much lower priority, if a priority at all, for those convicted of their radical Islamic "faith".
The language of the "state" or the democratic process, including the writing of laws that seek not to impose specific religious tenets of any faith represents a completely different culture from the impetus to seek to impose Divine Law on a people living within a specific geographic and political boundary. Much of the cognitive dissonance of the last half century over the question of Quebec's remaining within Canada has been the separation of a language and impetus to preserve a unique language and culture within a wider and more dominant culture, and the failure of the people of Canada, that larger culture, to grasp the subtleties of culture from 'economics and taxes and status' the normal questions facing governments.
And Canada's dissonance did not come from a clash of religious faiths. It came from a deep passion to preserve and protect the French language and culture in what the Quebecois feared was and is a tsunami of "English" culture that dominates the North American continent. And while many "democratic" steps have been taken, both in Quebec and in Ottawa to "accommodate" the preservation impetus, including referenda on actual sovereignty for Quebec outside of Canada, there continues to be a significant chasm of missing political empathy from the people outside of Quebec
for the sovereignist movement, and the fears that sustain it. And so far as most of Canada is aware, there is no sovereignist arguing on the basis of anything resembling "divine law" to support the impetus to secede.
Nevertheless the "radical" impulse to achieve a specific political and religious goal, the establishment of many Islamic states, a caliphate, in spite of the existence of a plethora of states in which Islam is now practiced without interference or even the threat of interference by the state, remains at the core of the radical Islamic terror that seeks to engulf the world's political apparatus, including its economy, its military, its intelligence and its governance. And given that the movement is armed, and committed to its own martyrdom in the effort, and seeking to acquire all weapons of mass destruction, there is nothing to which that movement will not resort to achieve its "religious" goals, inspired by a conviction that they are doing this as part of their "worship of Allah".
Of course, Christianity, in the abstract, does not seek to engage as either an official or an unofficial enemy of radical Islam. Pluralist, democratic states too do not seek to declare war on radical Islam. Consequently, the radical Islamists have, by default, gained the upper hand, although their capacity and resources are marginal when compared with those of the 'western' states. In fact, radical Islam occupies the role of David as the one with only a sling-shot for a weapon, in a undeclared war on the mightiest militaries the world has ever known. And those behemoths of power seem increasingly powerless in the mountains of Afghanistan, and on the streets of Boston, in the underground in London, on the rail line in Spain, and in the heart of the financial district of New York.
In an undeclared war, without the usual conventions, expectations, strategies and tactics, those mega-weapons have little if any opportunities for effective engagement. The 'west' is in danger of scratching itself to death, like the mosquito sprayed with insecticide dust that lodges in the crevices of its wings. Only this time, the insecticide comprises not merely a chemical compound but a religious fanatic group determined to achieve dominance by Islam, in the form they consider appropriate, Sharia Law.
Negotiating with terror, and with terrorists, like negotiating with hostage-takers, is never easy or often effective. It is fraught with deception, distraction, and all of the deviance of evil for the simple reason that those forces have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, in their own mind, an afterlife of specific rewards, promised, also deceptively and deviously by their faith leaders. Engaging in all-out military conflict will render Islamic terrorists precisely the status of martyr that they seek. Headlines will scream "unfair" for the big boys to be so merciless to poor little unarmed and incompetent Islamic terrorists. And yet, spotty, piecemeal attacks by whatever micro-weapons like drones, will also evoke similar cries of "foul" given the "collateral damage" that results.
If Islamic terrorism were a new biological virus, the WHO would have a team of researchers in many labs working on its chemical, physical, and geographic implications, as well as how it is spreading. This would constitute a "world health danger" of significant magnitude that every country would be contributing large sums to ward it off. The people of the world would demand such a response.
While one could stretch the case and call this "infection" a disease of the human spirit, there is no specific  body like the WHO, or the IMF, nor any military alliance that is designed to confront this malaise.
We are frightened, and we are also trained to be tolerant of the religious views of 'the other' in our many pluralist states, and so to turn our eyes directly in the face of the new threat would be to deny our personal and our national histories, for the most part. We fought organized crime through the police and criminal investigative resources of Interpol and other police-like cadres. We fight cancer in the labs, in the universities and in the operating rooms where biopsies can be secured and analyzed. We fight criminal behaviour in our courts, through the presentation of evidence before a judge and jury. We even have been able to convict specific people of crimes against humanity, in the International Criminal Court in the Hague, when the evidence against them was so convincing as to be incontrovertibly convicting. Are we either unwilling or unable to "define" the acts of Islamic terrorists in a manner that would render both those committing those acts and the acts themselves "fitting" with our existing legal structures? Or, perhaps, are we so frightened that we do not have adequate evidence to convict, and are therefore unwilling to expose our deficit in an open and public Does the world not, in fact, face a common enemy in Islamic terrorists?
Does the world not, in fact, have the collective will and the collective imagination and resources to do more than carry out micro-raids, "chopping the head" from the monster in a vain hope of eventual success?
Let's acknowledge that Al Qaeda is in this fight for the long haul. They are ready to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of martyrs for their cause, and clearly they are gaining in their recruiting efforts, helped, ironically and tragically by our very minimalist approach, which nevertheless  garners negative press especially among the civil libertarians who consider those acts "bullying" when carried out by large states against a single household.
We cannot hold out the hope for the democratic ideal to become the norm in states currently fraught with Islamic terrorist threats. Nor can we hold out the hope that our democratic and negotiating ways, including our collective criminal court, can and will be adequate to the threat that grows and spreads its tentacles daily. We also cannot fold up our collective "arms" (in the physical, anatomical sense of the word) and sit back by the fireplace waiting for some world leader to come up with a strategy to confront this threat.
Together, through the media, through think tanks, through intelligence gathering when and where appropriate, and through a collective and collaborative merging of the best intelligences around the world, we have to elevate this scourge to the top of our shared agenda, in an effort to stem the tide everywhere, with a concerted and intelligent and committed strategy linking both hard and soft power, linking both Christian and Islamic scholarship, and linking various representatives of different cultural heritages. This is not merely a national emergency. Nor it is an incalculable international emergency. It is clearly an amoeba-like movement that seeks the light of headlines through the death and destruction of thousands if not millions in order to accomplish its goals. And we must invoke all of our historic models, including perhaps in a new century and generation, forces heretofore that considered themselves non-negotiable enemies in this world effort to block further destruction of lives, of communities, of economies and of opportunities.
And we must not be "intellectually detached" in asking whether radical Islam can get along with other elements of Islam or with Christianity. that is not the relevant question at this time. And we must sacrifice our national perspectives, in considering this issue, not as another complication faced by "our" military, or "our" intelligence community as is too often the case in the United States.
Writing in the Washington Post today, former presidential speech-writer Michael Gerson asks some significant questions, but, we believe, from a narrow national perspective and while relevant, such a perspective, in order to be effective, has to be merged with a broader point of view.
As William Inboden of the University of Texas notes, there is a robust correlation between religious persecution and national security threats. “Including World War II,” argues Inboden, “every major war the United States has fought over the past 70 years has been against an enemy that also severely violated religious freedom.” The reverse is equally true. “There is not a single nation in the world,” he says, “that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States.” 
There are a number of possible explanations for this strong correlation. The most compelling is that religious freedom involves the full and final internalization of democratic values — the right to be a heretic or infidel. It requires the state to recognize the existence of binding loyalties that reach beyond the state’s official views.
It took many centuries for Christendom to achieve this thick form of pluralism. Whether the Islamic world can move toward its own, culturally distinctive version of this democratic virtue is now one of the largest geopolitical questions of the 21st century.
Some argue that Muslim theology — emphasizing fidelity to its conception of divine law — makes this unlikely (or impossible). Others point to past centuries when Muslim majorities and rulers coexisted with large Arab-Christian populations — a thin form of pluralism in which Christians were second-class citizens but not subject to violent intolerance. Every major religious faith contains elements of tribal exclusivity and teachings of respect for the other. The emergence of social pluralism depends on emphasizing the latter above the former. (By Michael Gerson, Can Muslim lands learn to tolerate Christianity? Washington Post, December 26, 2013)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

When will the world join forces to counteract Islamic terror...and ditch a patchwork, knee-jerk approach?

If the world wants a foretaste of the future of Afghanistan, following the departure of U.S. and NATO forces, we have only to look to Iraq, where Al Qaeda insurgency is bombing Christians leaving Christmas mass from St. John's Roman Catholic church, and is gaining control in both Iraq and in Syria. There is little doubt that Islamic terrorists, under several covers all pointing back to the Al Qaeda model, are stepping up their intensity in many regions of the globe. Just today, a recorded video appeal from a U.S. citizen captured in Pakistan to President Obama asking for his help in freeing him from captivity brought the Al Qaeda response that he would not be released unless and until the U.S. stops bombing Al Qaeda camps in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, a demand the president of the U.S. is highly unlikely to accede to. Adding further complications to the U.S. relationship with Al Qaeda, the Congress refuses to permit the White House to bring Guantanamo-housed prisoners to the U.S. for trial, fearing a backlash from their voters who themselves fear violence from the prisoners in their local prisons, before, during and after a trial.
Anyone who thinks that this scurge on the human race, especially on Christians, and Jews everywhere around the globe is going away any time soon should rethink that view. The scourge is not only not going away, it is gaining strength, including footholds in many regions including both Iraq and Syria, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan.
On the other side of the "ledger", just yesterday, the Egyptian temporary government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist agency, as part of its attempt to bar former president Mohammed Morsi permanently from regaining political power in Cairo.
Nevertheless, without a concerted, co-ordinated and coherent strategy from all the countries which hold memberships in the General Assembly of the United Nations, a non-state actor will continue to wreak havoc whenever and wherever they detect vulnerabilities in the defences of the west, soft-spots in the economies of those countries, and especially where they detect weak and ineffectual governments, and ever more critically, in failed states.
Patchwork approaches that garner headlines are not the answer to this cancer.
We need collective political will and action to design a plan that is much more pro-active and reactive, in order to stop playing catch-up. And U.S. diplomats who pour soothing words into ready and available microphones that there is less violence in hot spots, in order to calm the U.S. people should be put under strict orders to keep quiet, and to release only those pieces of data that bear directly on the seriousness of the growing problem. Inducing the American people into another sleep-walk of both innocence and ignorance is not the approach that is needed.

U.S. Sends Arms to Aid Iraq Fight With Extremists
By Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 25, 2013
The United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by a Qaeda-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The move follows an appeal for help in battling the extremist group by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who met with President Obama in Washington last month.       
But some military experts question whether the patchwork response will be sufficient to reverse the sharp downturn in security that already led to the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis this year, 952 of them Iraqi security force members, according to the United Nations, the highest level of violence since 2008.
Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq. Riding in armed convoys, the group has intimidated towns, assassinated local officials, and in an episode last week, used suicide bombers and hidden explosives to kill the commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers and soldiers as they raided a Qaeda training camp near Rutbah.
Bombings on Christmas in Christian areas of Baghdad, which killed more than two dozen people, bore the hallmarks of a Qaeda operation.
The surge in violence stands in sharp contrast to earlier assurances from senior Obama administration officials that Iraq was on the right path, despite the failure of American and Iraqi officials in 2011 to negotiate an agreement for a limited number of United States forces to remain in Iraq.
       The move follows an appeal for help in battling the extremist group by the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who met with President Obama in Washington last month.       
But some military experts question whether the patchwork response will be sufficient to reverse the sharp downturn in security that already led to the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis this year, 952 of them Iraqi security force members, according to the United Nations, the highest level of violence since 2008.
Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has become a potent force in northern and western Iraq. Riding in armed convoys, the group has intimidated towns, assassinated local officials, and in an episode last week, used suicide bombers and hidden explosives to kill the commander of the Iraqi Army’s Seventh Division and more than a dozen of his officers and soldiers as they raided a Qaeda training camp near Rutbah.
Bombings on Christmas in Christian areas of Baghdad, which killed more than two dozen people, bore the hallmarks of a Qaeda operation.
The surge in violence stands in sharp contrast to earlier assurances from senior Obama administration officials that Iraq was on the right path, despite the failure of American and Iraqi officials in 2011 to negotiate an agreement for a limited number of United States forces to remain in Iraq.

Congrats to Milos Raonic, Canada's Male Athlete of 2013!

Mighty Milos! Tennis player Raonic voted Canada's male athlete of the year

 By Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press, in Ottawa Citizen, December 26, 2013
TORONTO - Milos Raonic entered uncharted territory for a Canadian men's tennis player this year, reaching the top 10 in the world singles rankings and leading the Davis Cup team to unprecedented heights.
He also won two tournaments in 2013 and thrilled Canadian fans by reaching the final of the Rogers Cup last summer. He capped his impressive year Thursday by winning the Lionel Conacher Award as the 2013 Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
Raonic made some big strides this year despite going through some early-season struggles and a coaching change.
"The fact that I was performing under those circumstances when things weren't the best leading into those events, it's really great for me," he said. "It's what I'm most proud of."....
"Raonic had the most successful year in the history of Canadian tennis and his outstanding performance in the Davis Cup played a leading role in the country's semifinal appearance," said Yahoo Canada's Steve McAllister. "Raonic's climb up the ATP Tour rankings happens in an era that features more depth than ever before."
Raonic finished second in last year's voting behind cyclist Ryder Hesjedal. He's the first men's tennis player to win the award, which dates back to 1932.
"To have them vote (for) me and tell my story back home and being so positive about it, it's really great to see," Raonic said when reached after a training session in Monte Carlo. "To (be) recognized through an award like this means a lot to me."...
Raonic won indoor hardcourt tournaments in Bangkok and San Jose and finished with a 45-21 singles record this season, picking up more than US$1.72 million in prize money along the way.
Known for his booming serve, the six-foot-five Raonic showed improvement in other facets of his game in 2013. His ground strokes, backhand and net play were stronger and that helped him to some big victories.
Raonic was ranked 15th at the start of the year and hovered in the teens for most of the season. He rose to a career-high No. 10 in early August before falling to No. 11, where he has remained since.
He won the San Jose title for the third straight year last February after beating Tommy Haas in the final. Raonic also helped the Davis Cup team to wins over Spain and Italy as he endured a stretch of middling results on tour.
The Canadian's power game has always been most effective on hardcourts but Raonic enjoyed some success on clay this season as well, reaching the semifinals at Barcelona in April before falling to Rafael Nadal. However, he struggled on the grass courts and made a second-round exit at Wimbledon.
Raonic managed an injury-free season for the first time since joining the tour and was able to fight through that early-season inconsistency.
"I learned for the first time in the first three years of my career how to deal with the tough moments," he said. "Not any moments disrupted by injury or anything, just like a little bit of a slump, let's say. It gave me a lot of experience and it's helped me grow a lot.
"It's great from the educational side, but then also the way I turned around the second half of the year and really gave myself an opportunity to achieve my goal."
Raonic made a coaching change in the spring with Ivan Ljubicic replacing Galo Blanco, who spent more than two years in the position. An adjustment phase followed before Raonic really got the country's attention with an impressive performance at the Rogers Cup.
With Ljubicic pushing him to play a more aggressive, higher-risk game, Raonic responded with wins over Juan Martin del Potro and Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil before losing to Nadal in the final.
It was a rare run of homegrown success at the country's biggest tennis event as Raonic became the first Canadian to reach the championship match in more than 50 years. He lists qualifying for the final in Montreal — his first Masters 1000 final appearance — and reaching the Davis Cup semifinal as his standout moments.
"The fact that I was able to execute and bring my level up in those moments and to do well, it's important to me," Raonic said.
The Canadian made it to the fourth round of the U.S. Open in September and pushed Richard Gasquet the distance before falling in a four-hour 40-minute marathon.
A trip to Serbia soon followed as Canada continued its historic run in the Davis Cup World Group with its first-ever semifinal appearance. Raonic, who was 5-1 at the international team event in 2013, got by Janko Tipsarevic before losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic, and the host side later won the deciding match.
"It's really been great what we put together this year," Raonic said. "Doing it in tight moments, doing it at home in Canada and playing well. So really it's special for us to share this moment as a team considering how individual of a sport we are.
"To see four, five, six Canadians doing well, it's a lot more motivating for a country than just to see one."
After the Serbia loss, Raonic came out gunning at his next tour event in Bangkok. He avenged the Gasquet loss and then beat Tomas Berdych for his second tournament win of the year.
Raonic is still trying to break through against the sport's elite. He has won two of three career meetings against Andy Murray but is a combined 0-13 against Nadal, Djokovic, David Ferrer and Roger Federer.
However, Raonic — who turns 23 on Friday — has age on his side. He's the first player born in the 1990s and the first Canadian to crack the top 10 in the men's singles world rankings.
"He's one of the most focused guys on tour," said Davis Cup teammate Daniel Nestor. "Someone who is (turning) 23, I think his maturity is far beyond his years.
"He's really impressive with his positive attitude and real focus and drive to be a champion."
Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., has spent the last few weeks training for warmup events ahead of the Australian Open next month. He also has his eye on Canada's Davis Cup tie against Japan in late January.
"I think it's just about development," he said of the upcoming season. "Getting better day in and day out and picking up experience through matches, making sure that I'm making the progress and that I'm pushing myself every day, which I do already.
"I think it's just about time and I've got to keep working away."
Raonic wants to crack the top six in the world rankings next year, go deeper in the Grand Slam events and qualify for the eight-man ATP World Tour Finals.
"Even as a junior, he was just aiming high," said Davis Cup coach Martin Laurendeau. "He wanted to be a top-10 player and even beyond that and he just believed it. It was just a matter of giving him the time and opportunities to be able to do that.
"His dream is coming true. I know that he's not happy or satisfied with No. 10 or No. 11 — he wants to go higher and I think he will."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christian faith not based on "divine right" of kings or bishops

When Queen Elizabeth II speaks, as is her tradition on Christmas Day, she points, this year, to the human benefits of reflection, of pausing to consider not only the past but also the future. Thoughts of those loved and lost, those newly entering into the family circle, and prospects for the future, linked to those almost sacred words, "duty and service," seem to pour from her lips as if they were engraved in both history and in faith.
In Queen Elizabeth II, history and faith are one; she is, after all, the head of state of Great Britain and of the Commonwealth of Nations, a British attempt at "empire" albeit of the benign kind, as well as Head of the Church of England.
Sometimes, her personal and professional "duties" seem to pose a special conflict, as when, for example she remained in Balmoral, Scotland, for four days, before then Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded her to return to London, to the throngs of grieving Brits mourning the untimely and tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales  in a tunnel in Paris. They needed their "Queen" to share in their grief, and although delayed, welcomed her agreement to enter and share that grief publicly.
And, because the public perceptions of "royalty" demand a scrupulous attention and discipline to the details of that presentation, including staging photographs, rehearsing ceremonies and speeches, (she is known as "one-take Windsor" to those producing her Christmas Day messages!) and the pretense of royalty also demands hundreds of servants, as part of the "duty" of preserving what has come to be known as a feudal and hierarchical model of power, the "faith and spirituality" part of her headship are given short shrift, at the demands of the political, the public and what has become known as the requirements of "the firm" of the British monarchy itself.
Nevertheless, for those of us colonials, many of whose grandparents and great grandparents emigrated from England, we can see the blurring of the lines between crown and church, and the unfortunately consequences of that blurring.
As part of the "firm's"(The Crown's) maintenance of its inscrutable public persona (Jung's word for The Mask) individuals have lost their heads, their marriages, their employment, their public reputation and their previous standing inside the royal household, at the mere whim of the monarch, or his or her agents, depending on the "firm's" needs to appear strong, in charge, invulnerable and even perfect. And, in all cases, there was never any redress, reconsideration, reconciliation or rehabilitation of the "miscreant".
Similarly, the Church of England has spawned a culture of "the firm" in its pursuit of the moniker as the "Right Religion" (words from a sign hanging over the entrance to Huron College in London, Ontario), through the unassailable authority of its bishops, and archbishops, its canons and its deans. Unilateral decisions made by those individual authorities have the force of  God's law, with or without recourse to something called "due process" (inaugurated as early as Habeus Corpus in the Magna Carta of 1215) whereby individuals are assured their legal innocence unless and until such innocence is disproven in a public hearing, usually inside a court room presided over by a judge under strict guidelines and perhaps a jury of ordinary people who, upon hearing and reflecting on the evidence, are provided options of both the degree of conviction and the punishment deemed appropriate for the misdemeanour.
The British monarchy, being non-elected, is responsible to no one and to no "judge and jury" save and except public opinion, which history demonstrates they have both the funds and the cunning to micro-manage to their advantage. Individuals in their penurious employ are exposed to their every whim, for the reputations of their career and their persons, without recourse to anything resembling due process, remediation or reconciliation. Once dismissed, forever forgotten seems to be the royal administration of authority against those who have contravened their edicts. And who is going to challenge that kind of authority on this earth? One former favourite valet of the Queen Mother was found dead in the street, five years after having been evicted from his residence, and his duties, upon her death.
While the British monarchy has historically deemed both its creation and its longevity on the theory of the "divine right of kings," believing as it once did, if not still holding to that caveat today, that God had installed them on the throne, thereby elevating the "raison d'etre" of the monarchy to God's will and presumably the Holy Spirit's collusion.
Borrowing the "divine right of kings" into the church hierarchy, and thereby justifying the rulings of those "elected" into the hierarchy of the church as part of God's will is analogous to the Roman Catholic Pontiff's dogmatic assertions that rise above human debate and scepticism and doubt, and make those rulings "unassailable, not open to appeal," and of course, not open to amendment or change. That is partly why there are no woman priests or bishops in the Roman Catholic church, and why the gays and lesbian lifestyle is considered "sinful" by the Roman Catholic church. And it is also why the current Pope's "Who am I to judge?" rhetorical question about gays and lesbians prompted so much public attention and discussion, because although he did not alter the teachings of the church, he nevertheless altered the tone of all previous Popes on the matter.
For the Church of England and its daughter churches to continue the practice of the divine right of bishops, as the authority empowered to "rule" without contextualizing that "rule" into processes that respect the individuals who, in the church's mind and view, have transgressed against church rules, dogma and doctrine, is another of the many aspects of infantilizing of its parishioners, its praxis and its future on an altar of naivety, and feudal and unchallenged or unchallengable administration of that authority. There is a profound chasm of difference between Jesus' "Go and sin no more" to the prostitute and any bishop's consent to the permanent ostracisism (in the Roman Catholic church it would be called "excommunication") of that prostitute in the contemporary Anglican churches, or the demonizing of gays and lesbians in so many Anglican daughter churches in Africa, for example.
On a personal note, I once discussed the option of ordination in the United Church of Canada, with a female clergy and pastoral counselling supervisor, while I studied in the Anglican tradition. I recall vividly her counsel: "You and I are both abused children, and in the Anglican church, the location of power and authority is clear, it resides with the bishop, while in the United Church, it floats around a table of laity, and one is never sure where it comes to rest with which person or persons. So, I would advise you to stay with the Anglican church for that reason."
In reflection, after decades of engagement with the power structure and the rulings of the Anglican church hierarchy, I would, on balance, gladly submit to the gathering of all the relevant evidence and the relevant options by a group of my peers, whose decisions would be able to be appealed, and reject outright the political motivations of too many decisions made to preserve the perfect mask of the "firm" known as the Anglican/Episcopal church, both daughters of the Church of England.
When I swore an oath of obedience to the bishop, I did not ever believe or intend to sacrifice  my person, nor my beliefs nor my autonomy nor my dignity nor my reputation to the authority of any single human being, no matter what office he or she held. I believed then, and continue to believe today, that I was entering a culture in which my person would be respected, would be appreciated and would be valued, not above that of any other, but at least from a reasonable expectation of being given honourable and honest consideration and the option of reconciliation, which, from my perspective, is the heart of the gospel message, allegedly at the heart of the church's mission.
And the recent death of Nelson Mandela, the epitome of human reconciliation, having been reared in both the African traditional culture and the Methodist church, has only prompted more reflection on how Christian are exhorted to treat their enemies. And once again, the gap between theory and praxis, at least in the Anglican tradition is so wide as to be unconscionable.
Unfortunately, for both the monarchy and the Church of England and its daughter churches, the Episcopal Church of the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada, this feudal, hierarchical, monarchical even pontifical structure is both witness to and agent for unilateral decisions unappealed, without either due process or forgiveness, and clearly without opportunity for reconciliation.
The Royal family is replete with dismissals of those formerly in its employ who, through the most minor of indiscretion, brought dishonour to the "firm" and its public image, while, of course, those who are inside the "family/firm" have brought the most egregious disgraces to the "firm/family" without so much as a rebuke, publicly or privately. Similarly, within the culture of the Anglican/Episcopal churches, those in power continue unassailed regardless of their "mistakes" while those in their employ are vulnerable to private, even secret investigations, deliberations and decisions that neither incorporate all the available evidence nor a willingness to consider such evidence when presented voluntarily, outside the purview of the official investigation.
Priests whose marriages are clearly broken and lying destitute on the cellar floor of the rectory, so long as no one in the parish or especially in the diocesan offices is aware, or speaks of the truth to anyone publicly, continue to hold their appointments until retirement and their reputations until long past that date.
Priests whose dependence on alcohol, while merely whispered among those who are aware, by evidence and not by rumour, continue to perform their public "duties" without the slightest encounter of officialdom with the truth of their illness, nor their need for professional help.
Affairs between clergy and parishioner, unless exposed and regaled against often by parishioners determined to seek revenge for previous "slights" of either  party, continue unexposed and under-reported, so that the "firm's mask" remains as intact as it is humanly possible to maintain.
Unfortunately, while preaching both a loving and a forgiving God and His Son Jesus the Christ, and an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God, it would seem that it is God's will that the "firm" remains "perfect" at least in its public image, unless and until the "controls" on that mask can and do no longer "hold" and then it becomes the "official duty" of both the monarch and the bishop to perform what is commonly known as "damage control", a cargo ship load of which became necessary upon the divorces of both Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, and upon the confessional interviews of both Diana and Charles, each seeking revenge on the other during the proceedings of their divorce headlines.
While perhaps necessary in the political arena, these cover-ups and omissions of "due process" are neither appropriate nor tolerable in the church arena, to which they have been grafted as a piece of  skin is grafted to an open wound on the human body, in order to bring it back to health. Cover-ups and omissions of due process are, unfortunately, not analogous to spiritual health, pursued through the pursuit of the whole truth, even or especially when those truths are inconvenient, messy, perhaps even pathogenic and remediable, under the appropriate supportive and healing arrangements.
The ministry of the church, in fact, is not analogous to the "duties and the service" of the monarch, and the culture of the church's persona is not, and never has been, congruent with the aspirations, the goals and the purposes of the Christian church, no matter its denominational imprimatur. Clearly the Anglican imprimatur has flown across the Atlantic and attached itself to the church praxis as if it were sacred, sacramental and baked into the culture of the church "cake"....unable to be removed from that cake without exposing the crumbs of the cake for what they are, sugar, spice and fruits dried, decayed and lifeless on the chopping block. Even the Altar Guilds in too many parishes function on the basis of perfectly pressed linens, perfectly folded, and borne along through history by mean-spirit imposition of the authority of the "Head" of the Altar Guild, as if she were the "Mother Superior" of her own convent.
It is long past time for the Church of England, the Episcopal and Anglican churches to incorporate into its spiritual life, a publicly endorsed and publicly designed "due process" to which all miscreants can appeal, in the sad and often tragic circumstances that find human beings being human beings, filled with gaps of judgement, behaviour and attitudes that would, on the surface, make the "firm's establishment" blanch with embarrassment, (and perhaps insure fewer short-term financial contributions and contributors) while, if the whole "story" were known, would seem much less toxic, dangerous and much more tolerable than a perfectionistic praxis of the Christian faith would permit.
It is time to separate church and state, at the highest levels of the Church, in order to assure its continued viability, vitality and very survival.
"I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly!" comprises no idle or hollow aspiration, today, yesterday nor tomorrow, and on the birthday of the baby Jesus, it seems appropriate to think of a new birth inside the life of the institution that is pledged to keep His words, His life and His promise of love and forgiveness alive!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Anglicans sacrifice love, forgiveness, compassion on the altar of political correctness and corporate power

Christianity’s uniqueness lies in its ambivalent relationship with power.
“Christianity’s really unusual insight is into the use of power – or rather its lack of it, as we see in the life of Christ. This Christ forsook the path of the revolutionary zealot and rejected the role of both politician and jurist. 
“Weakness and humility are the values chiefly in the foreground – although lurking in the background lies considerable power to redeem and change the world.” (Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, from "Christians are under pressure to keep quiet about their faith, says former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey" by Ian Johnston in The Independent, December 24, 2013, below)
"Ambivalent relationship with power....rejecting revolutionary, politician and jurist" seems to point to a focus on one-on-one relationships, in which the power of love, forgiveness, compassion and empathy (agape) transforms a hardened heart to one of equal, if not surpassing love, forgiveness, compassion and empathy. It is the ambivalence that makes the application of personal, individual, discipleship both complicated and often abortive. The Anglican church, for centuries, has been the church of the "establishment" of the political power of the realm. In fact, the Queen of England is also the Head of the Church of England, and there is no one more "powerful" than that single person in the political life of both the country and the church. Political correctness has too often, if not completely, obliterated the expressions of love, forgiveness, compassion and empathy (agape) preferring to "appear" correct, rather than to forsake appearances and let the truth out: the truth of one's faith, of one's confusions, of one's doubts, of one's deepest passions, of one's most creative urges, including those of art, poetry, dance, design and music.
One is prompted to challenge the former Archbishop's word ambivalence, since for the last century at least, the church has practiced a kind of politics of marketing, moral superiority, disdaining as it must any hint of conflict or disagreement over the tenets of its foundation....and institutionally preferring a highly conservative and exclusionary position on first women clergy, then gays and lesbians first from the pews and then from the pulpit, and clearly disdaining any political posture that would seriously challenge the power of the corporations, the plutocrats, the terrorists, and the environmental deniers...preferring instead the cover of both upper class snobbery and mediocrity as role models for those who call themselves 'cradle Anglicans'.....and this has been both a scurge on the culture's need to reform its political structure as well as a ceiling on what is considered both practical and worthy of institutional commitment.
Anglican/Episcopal church.

Christians are under pressure to keep quiet about their faith, says former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey
By Ian Johnston, The Independent, December 24, 2013

Christians are under pressure to be “silent about their faith” and display “increasing timidity” about admitting they have a faith at work, according to Lord Carey.

But, writing in The Daily Telegraph, he also said Christianity was under threat in Europe and elsewhere.
“I admit I am worried about the future of faith in the West,” he said. “Many Christians I meet say there is a pressure on them to be silent about their faith. 
“Though there can be no question of a comparison with the powerlessness and weakness of the Church in the Middle East, there is an increasing timidity on the part of churchgoers in the West – about even admitting that they have a faith in the workplace.”
Lord Carey attacked Western governments for being “strangely and inexplicably reluctant to confront” the situation in the Middle East. 
“In a recent House of Commons debate on the issue, the Government response was full of denial that this was a problem uniquely affecting Christian communities,” he said. 
“But, then, successive governments have done little to speak up for Christians facing human rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East.
“In fact this Government, which has conspicuously sought friendly and co-operative relationships with the Churches, is doing just as much to wash its hands of persecuted Christian communities as any of its predecessors.”
He said that leaders of Western countries seemed to find it difficult to think of Christians as a persecuted minority.
“Yet far from being important and influential, in many parts of the world Christianity is weak and despised, and Christians are attacked and killed,” he said. 
“In Nigeria, churches are firebombed; in Pakistan, churchgoers are prosecuted under draconian blasphemy laws, while in Egypt, they are either marginalised or assaulted.
“This is a reminder, if ever we needed one, that Christianity’s uniqueness lies in its ambivalent relationship with power.
“Christianity’s really unusual insight is into the use of power – or rather its lack of it, as we see in the life of Christ. This Christ forsook the path of the revolutionary zealot and rejected the role of both politician and jurist. 
“Weakness and humility are the values chiefly in the foreground – although lurking in the background lies considerable power to redeem and change the world.”
Lord Carey said last month that Christianity was a “generation away from extinction” in the UK.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Climatologist: Earth's Rate of Global Warming "equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days a year

It was very disheartening to listen to the "McLaughlin" host of the McLaughlin Group on PBS this weekend comment that there was no evidence of global warming from the last fifteen years. Global warming and climate change deniers have  billions of dollars poured into their cause, the cause of corporations and some governments who individually and collectively still have their "heads in the sand" and seek the sole pursuit of personal, corporate and political profit, at the expense of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we attempt to feed ourselves upon.
An "ecojustice" lawyer appearing on CTV's Question Period yesterday, when asked about the issue of the continuing dependence on fossil fuels commented, "Canada currently produces 2 million barrels a day of crude from the Alberta tar sands and is projected to produce some 5 million barrels a day by 2030. Is that the direction we want to go?"
We are living in a culture dominated by shouting larynxes, without anyone in power really listening....especially in Canada where the federal government has turned a tin ear to the climate issue, in favour of securing both funding and votes from its conservative base, who would happily quote McLaughlin as a source of pride and resolve as they take Canada into the backwaters of the global warming and climate change debate.
Enmeshed in the oil industry, the Conservatives are determined to move Alberta crude to Far East consumers like China and India, just as they are moving lethal asbestos to third world countries, because it generates "jobs" in the Canadian economy; they could not case less about the lives of those it poisons in their off-shore market places. Similarly, with a blanket of CO2 covering the earth, these deniers, avoiders and corporate capitalists care only about their own short-term, narcissistic and lethal motives that literally disregard the lives of future generations.
Making headlines like the one in the story below will alienate those who seek arguments of sensationalism against the people who really care about how we treat the fragile "earth" and its supporting ecosystem, because, once again, it will be considered apocalyptic, and therefore irrelevant.
On the other hand, there is a slight possibility that such a headline might just waken a few people in power in lands not yet having to wear masks just in order to continue breathing, the smog from industry being so heavy.
Collective collaboration, certainly no the global community's strong suit, will be required to bend the curve of political action on behalf of future generations, and if it takes headlines like this to begin to raise the consciousness of those in denial, then so be it. Bring on the apocalyptic metaphors, so long as they have a base in evidenciary science.

Earth’s Rate Of Global Warming Is 400,000 Hiroshima Bombs A Day

By Joe Romm, Climateprogress website, December 22, 2013
How can one convey the Earth’s staggering rate of heat build up from human-caused global warming — 250 trillion Watts (Joules per second)? The analogy to the energy released by the Hiroshima bomb has been used in recent years by a number of scientists, such as NOAA oceanographer John Lyman, and Mike Sandiford, Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute. In his TED talk Climatologist James Hansen explained the current rate of increase in global warming is:
“… equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year. That’s how much extra energy Earth is gaining each day.”
That comes out to more than four Hiroshima bombs a second, which is a metric Skeptical Science has turned into a widget. I prefer the 400,000 Hiroshimas per day metric simply because the heat imbalance is occurring over a very large area, which four Hiroshimas don’t do justice to.
The deniers don’t like the metaphor because, they assert, it is inexact and sensationalistic. But the deniers don’t like the literal facts because they think those are inexact and sensationalistic, too, so we can safely ignore them.
Some climate scientists disagree with those scientists (and others) who use this metric “because climate change is nothing like atom bombs” and “my problem is that the association of death and destruction is also easy to grasp,” as Dr. Doug McNeall of the UK Met Office has tweeted.
Metaphors are not literal — by design — so if you don’t like non-literal comparisons, you won’t like metaphors. I have argued at great length that one of the major failings of science communication is the failure to use figurative language. For what it’s worth, Aristotle believed, “To be a master of metaphor is a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.”
So I’ve been delighted to see scientists start to use metaphors, such as analogizing the effect of greenhouse gases on extreme weather, by saying it’s like the climate on steroids. But of course the climate isn’t literally on steroids. It is figuratively on steroids. It is literally on CO2, which is much worse.
Abraham Lincoln was a master of metaphors. He famously said of a nation split by slavery that, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” But, of course, he was literally wrong: You could turn it into a duplex.
Ironically, a metaphor is the source of some of the most common terms in climate science: the greenhouse effect and greenhouse gases. And yet at least one expert has argued that the metaphor is fatally flawed:
“By producing an illusion that the climate system will respond instantly at the moment when CO2 level is reduced, the greenhouse metaphor is ultimately responsible for the wait-and-see approach to climate change.”

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Canada in 2014 unlikely to be dominated by Quebec Secularist Values Charter

Under the PQ’s newly proposed “Charter Affirming the Values of Secularism” (widely known as the Secularism Charter), the provincial government would ban the display of any “overt” religious headgear by public employees – which would most notably include Muslim hijabs, Sikh turbans and Jewish yarmulkes. (As a nod toward nominal religious neutrality, the Bill also would ban large crucifixes displayed on chains. But, as many critics have noted, the PQ failed to take down a large Christian cross adorning the provincial legislature, thereby making nonsense of their evenhanded conceit.) If the bill becomes law in 2014, a huge swathe of workers, including bureaucrats, day-care providers, teachers and medical professionals, will have to decide between publicly expressing their faith and keeping their jobs.
According to the Quebec government, such legislation would help protect Quebec society from religious extremism. But outside of a few scattered anecdotes (one trumped up controversy, for instance, revolved around the desire of a handful of Sikh children to play soccer while wearing their turbans), the urban regions where immigrants live generally are marked by peaceful co-existence. Indeed, it is only since Quebec introduced its Secular Charter in 2013 that racial and religious tensions have worsened.
The Secularism Charter has alienated the province’s immigrants and religious minorities, many of whom now wonder whether they have a future in Quebec. But for ardent separatists, this isn’t seen as a bad thing: Most newcomers to Canada care little for Quebec’s separatist grievances, and can be expected to vote no in any future referendum. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ PQ would likely be happy to see these federalists depart for other jurisdictions – along with the province’s increasingly beleaguered and disenfranchised Anglo minority – thereby leaving Quebec with a more “purified,” French-speaking, pro-sovereigntist Québécois electorate. (By Jonathan Kay, Canada in 2014: Separatist issue looms, on GPS website, December 20, 2013)
While Mr. Kay's analysis of the situation inside Quebec is authentic and warranted, there are some factors that might help to put this situation into a different context. First, the cultural purity argument among Quebec sovereignists is less about not wanting immigrants than it is about poking a finger in the eye of Ottawa, a federal-provincial tension that has helped to shape the country for well over a century. Provincial governments, especially those bent on a different tone and policy flavour from the federal government use the "bash Ottawa" argument to win parochial votes from an electorate that seeks a common enemy. However, given that two referenda have failed inside Quebec, the people of Canada generally have adopted the attitude: "Let them go, if they want to leave! We have had enough of pandering to their demands."
Currently, the federal government is far to the right of the normally left-leaning social policy invoked by the Parti Quebecois's charismatic leader and former premier, Rene Levesque, and even passing a bill acknowledging the "nation" of Quebec, within the Canadian federation, (mostly a pandering, hollow word-game) by the Harper conservatives in Ottawa does not paper over the divide between Ottawa and Quebec city on social policy. Quebec, for example, has the most future oriented policy on maternity and paternity leave, on post-secondary tuitions, on in-vitro fertilization support through their health care system, while Ottawa is attempting to disengage from all discussions on the future of health care, funded by Ottawa while operated by the provinces, by making a blanket announcement on the funding formula without engaging in any level of negotiations with provincial counterparts.
Secondly, the Canadian constitution, including the 1980 Amendment formula would require approval of seven of the ten provinces and a majority of the electorate to approve Quebec separation (really only a nominal divorce, keeping the Canadian currency, passport and defence protection,) while opting out of all other federal-provincial programs and statues. Currently all provinces are responsible for municipal affairs, health care administration, education (Ottawa does make significant funding contributions to the post-secondary phase of education), transportation and consumer protection. Quebec's legal system differs from the British legal system that operates in all other provinces and territories, although there is a federal Criminal Code.
Under a former Liberal administration in Ottawa, the federal government passed a Clarity Act designed to require any Quebec government seeking sovereignty to put an unequivocal and clear proposition before their electorate in any referendum, thereby attempting to close loopholes that could envisage a loose wording that produced results that could later be interpreted as a vote approving "divorce".
So while the rest of the country is more than a little embarrassed and chagrined at the "Secular Values" charter, given that the same ethnicities live and work in all provinces and territories without such a bill and without much rancour or division, there is no evidence that the bill, even if passed in the Quebec legislature, would cause much of a ripple of concern in the rest of the country, even if immigrants to Quebec began to leave and find homes and work elsewhere. In fact such a new labour pool could well enhance the projected labour shortages over the next few decades in Canada as the boomer bubble retires.
Quebec is the most creative, imaginative, literary and culturally sophisticated culture within a country whose primary engine is economic, and Quebec's historic and traditional interest in and efforts to support the human social net, along with its unique linguistic and cultural flavour in its theatre, dance, art and drama points to a highly nuanced and sensitive and generally forward-looking perspective. Most Canadians respect and value Quebec's uniqueness, and seek to retain her many unique contributions to the country. (A majority of former Canadian prime ministers, for example, have Quebec roots, whether coming from the French or the English segment of the Quebec population, while always retaining a bilingual fluency. Both current leaders of the opposition parties are Quebecers and either could become the next prime minister following the next election in 2015.)
It is a long-held perspective of the west (where Harper's government counts on much of its support,)and many of the traditional "anti-Quebec" bigotry camps who point to the silliness, or even the divisiveness of whatever Quebec proposes that seeks to highlight Quebec's mis-steps. (Mr. Kay writes for one of the most staunch English-first papers in Canada, which is also dedicated to the proposition that Harper is the best option for the future of Canada, keeping a shared top priority of the corporate sector and the economic growth of the country while rendering social policy to the back burner, if not completely off the stove.) This was especially evident at the passage of a Quebec law known as  "Bill 101" that required all businesses in Quebec to have French "first" signs on their store fronts, complete with a language "police" to enforce the bill. The education of all immigrant children in French language schools in Quebec, for some, has proven an advantage to entering both Quebec and Canadian cultures and citizenship as well as ensuring the continuation of a French education system, part of the long-standing commitment to the French language and culture that has guided Quebec governments of both federalist and sovereignist persuasions.
Let the world not be misguided on the prospective future of Canada that suggests the single most important headline to come from Quebec's sovereignty urges in 2014. With a federal election scheduled in 2015 there will be other issues that dominate public discourse and debate for the next several months. There is a boiling public debate over the environmental impact of the federal government's bullish development of the energy deposits in the tar sands; there is a boiling public debate over the future of organized labour, headed by a federal government that seeks to decimate the labour movement, while Quebec has historically been the heartland for labour support. There is a simmering public debate, likely to morph into a "boil," over the historic treatment by the federal government of the First Nations communities across the country. And there will be a strong public debate over the international trade "deals" that Ottawa is attempting to negotiate with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, both of which threaten the "independence" of Canadian companies if and when the trading partners use the option of suing those companies in the event of a dispute, a provision to which many Canadians are solidly opposed. Harper has also made Arctic sovereignty a priority of his next administration, and there will likely be considerable public discourse on both pro and anti sides on that complex and still unmapped issue.
If the people in the rest of Canada (outside Quebec) were asked about how big a priority they would consider the Secular Values  bill before the Quebec legislature, many would not even know about it, and most would not be even modestly interested or concerned. And while that may change, it will take a public event of such magnitude that it is hard to envisage such an event on the Canadian horizon.

Friday, December 20, 2013

We're part of international outcry against Uganda's life-in-jail anti-homosexual law

Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law
From the BBC website, December 20, 2013
Uganda's parliament has passed a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts to include life imprisonment in some cases.

The anti-homosexuality bill also makes it a crime punishable by a prison sentence not to report gay people.

The prime minister opposed the vote, saying not enough MPs were present.

The bill has been condemned by world leaders since it was mooted in 2009 - US President Barack Obama called it "odious".
I am glad the parliament has voted against evil”
End Quote David Bahati MP

The BBC's Catherine Byaruhanga in Kampala says the government knows there will be an international outcry, which could see some countries suspend aid to the country.

She says that Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi might follow up on his complaints about a lack of quorum, while it remains to be seen whether President Yoweri Museveni will sign the bill into law.

The private member's bill originally proposed the death penalty for some offences, such as if a minor was involved or the perpetrator was HIV-positive, but this has been replaced with life in prison.
Miniskirt ban
The MP behind the bill, David Bahati, told the AFP news agency: "This is victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil."
"Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks," he said.

The bill also bans the promotion of homosexuality.

"I am officially illegal," Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha said after the vote.

The bill's supporters say it is needed to protect traditional family values, which they say are under attack from Western-inspired gay rights groups.

Its critics say the bill has been pushed by some US evangelical Christians.

Uganda is a socially conservative country and on Thursday passed an Anti-Pornography Bill, which bans miniskirts and sexually suggestive material such as some music videos.

Human rights activists say the bill highlights the intolerance and discrimination the gay community faces in Uganda.

One gay activist was killed in 2011, although the police denied he was targeted because of his sexuality.

Meanwhile a local newspaper has been condemned for publishing the names and addresses of people it said were gay.


The introduction of this bill led Uganda to be called the worst place to be gay.
As parliament debated it, gay activists met in a suburb of the capital Kampala to work out their own plan. They say their lives are often in threat here because of intolerance.
First tabled in parliament back in 2009, the proposed law caused such an international backlash that it has languished in parliamentary bureaucracy up until now. It originally proposed a death sentence for certain homosexual acts but this was scrapped and punishment limited to life imprisonment.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has been instrumental in giving the bill a new lease of life. Last year she promised it as a "Christmas gift" to the country.
The challenge is enforcement. Authorities need to be able to gather evidence that shows someone has engaged in homosexuality. This is hard to prove and one of the reasons Uganda's current anti-gay legislation has been rarely enforced.
But once enacted the bill might give law enforcers extra motivation to tackle "homosexual crimes". This could lead to more arrests and intrusive medical exams.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Reflections on the season of Christmas...and the faith that undergirds the celebrations

This season, allegedly celebrating the birth of a man/God, is so replete with mercantile consumerism, filled malls and parking lots and hollow questions like, Have you finished your shopping yet?"
The churches will undoubtedly be filled at least on December 24, with people who rarely, if ever, dawn the doors of those same buildings on any other day of the year. The clergy will deliver homilies about peace and love to all, and the papers and media outlets will detail stories of heart-warming personal stories of compassion, healing and generosity, as if to say that "we really have caught the spirit of the season.
Nevertheless, the conflicts among and between faith communities will witness more deaths and more injuries and more refugees, even while the celebrations of the birth of Jesus, and the convergence of the Winter solstice are observed.
From our best angels to our worst nightmares, the divide between the stories that really do inspire us to reach out and to love one another, as the Pope did this week, in sharing his 77th birthday with homeless men from the streets of Rome, and those that make us cringe with shame, guilt and loathing for the heinous acts against human beings, most of them innocent, will make us wonder how to achieve a better balance of more love and less hatred and fear.
Individually and collectively, we have a history and a tradition that bears the scars of too much "Christian judgement and fear" and too little love and forgiveness. We also bear the imprint of too much literalism in our faith observances and too little poetry. It is as if too many 'Christian' expressions are ones of pointing the self-righteous finger of judgement against those near who do not comply with our pictures of saintliness. And, if this is not a time to address that dynamic, then which time of year would be that time?
Many people were exposed to bible lessons that stressed the memorization of the words of the Decalogue, or the Lord's Prayer, or even some of the tenets of the Sermon on the Mount, without  being offered a comprehensive, coherent and even revolutionary sense of the meaning of those words and those stories. And the church has only itself to thank for such indoctrination and brain-washing.
One courageous man, a English scholar who teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont, Jay Parini, has taken up the task of re-introducing Jesus to a twenty-first century reading audience, in a new book entitled, "Jesus: the Face of God" in which he excoriates the literal readings of scripture and exhorts his readers to step into the mind/heart and footsteps of the man from Galilee, whose "go and sin no more" to the woman scorned by the Saducees for her harlotry would bring cries of "too soft" and "too liberal" from today's right-wing conservative branch of Christian conservatives.
Speaking on the Fresh Air program from WHYY with Terry Gross, former Boston University Catholic chaplain James Carroll has an article in the latest edition of The New Yorker in which he writes:
"Who am I to judge?" With those five words, Pope Francis "stepped away from the disapproving tone, the explicit moralizing typical of popes and bishops," writes columnist James Carroll. Francis made that statement in July, in response to a reporter's question about the status of gay priests in the Church. In a new article about Francis in The New Yorker, Carroll describes the pope as having "unilaterally declared a kind of truce in the culture wars that have divided the Vatican and much of the world."

Read James Carroll's Article In The New Yorker:

Carroll was a seminarian and a priest during another great period of change — Vatican II, which, under the leadership of Pope John XXIII, led to reforms that modernized the church. As a priest from 1969 to 1974, he served as Boston University's Catholic chaplain. He left the priesthood in part over his disagreements with the leadership after the death of Pope John and the beginning of what Carroll describes as a counterrevolution. He's now an author and a columnist for The Boston Globe. His New Yorker article is called "Who Am I to Judge? A Radical Pope's First Year." (From the Fresh Air website, December 17, 2013)
"Who am I to judge?" in reference to the Pope's response to a question about gays and lesbians, has made the Pope the 'man of the year' for The Advocate, a gay rights magazine, apparently for the potential to change attitudes the Pope has brought to the current culture.
And who is the church, as an institution or as its hierarchy, to judge?
It was the man/God whose life, in however small and fragmented snippets we have been given through the writers of the four gospels, all of them written at least a half century after his life on earth, whose birth allegedly comprises the core reason for the celebrations that we witness today in our malls, box stores, on-line shopping outlets and in television Christmas "specials" attempting to evoke the traditions of carols and joyous entertainment of bygone programs.
And yet, it is, as Parini sees it, his revolutionary yet pragmatic teachings that we have so disdained and so corrupted, in the name of the institution (and not the gathering) that attempts to bear witness to his gospel.
We need far less literalism in our reading of scripture and far less judgementalism in our practice of our faith, especially inside the Christian faith communities and between those communities and the communities of other faiths...and we will not find that less literalism and less judgementalism through our compulsive, obsessive parade through the malls and the box stores in search of the gift that we believe we give  hope and love to those we cherish.
We will find a new expression of the birth of love and forgiveness through the practice of our courage and our compassion and our willingness to "walk a mile in our enemies' shoes"....and especially our enemies. It is so easy and facile to walk a mile in our family's or our friends' shoes...the real test is to embrace the spirit, the tragedies and the hopelessness of our enemy, of the ones who have found us the target of their sniping and their contempt and their loathing.
And to forgive both their acts and their persons for those acts, as Jesus does with the adultress, is neither easy nor conventional. It is both demanding and unconventional....both qualities exhibited by Jesus himself in his own life.
Excommunication, and all of the churchs' acts of alienation must be completely atoned, through personal, professional and institutional acknowledgements and a process of seeking forgiveness. One Canadian example that reached the public consciousness this week saw a man, a victim of the abuse suffered in the religious schools, who, upon receipt of some $40,000 of reparations for his pain and suffering, donated the money to charity in his own community, even though his own state was one of poverty. Now that is a sign of Christian charity, whether the man attends or is even a member of a Christian church community....

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ukraine latest victim of bad governance...bailed out by Putin with no "quid pro quo"?

Apparently, Ukraine has become the latest to prostrate itself on the altar of Russian reserves, with the announcement from the leaders of both countries, Yanukovich and Putin respectively, that gas prices have been significantly reduced for the Ukraine and the cliff  of bankruptcy over which the country was dangling has been averted. And, according to Putin, there is no quid pro quo...
Nevertheless, the people are still protesting "sell-out" in the streets of Kiev, and the tenure of the Ukraine president is not worth  betting on.
Buying influence, brazenly bribing a country facing public protests in favour of a closer connection to the European Union, has become one of the less savoury instruments in the foreign policy arsenal.
Clearly the move gives Putin another front page headline in his continuing competition with the 'west' as he seeks to expand Russian hegemony in the region. However, given the apparently public standards attached to the fund from which the bail-out was paid, there seems to be considerable discrepancy between those criteria and the existing situation in the Ukraine.
Crafty, cunning, opportunistic and clearly brazen, Putin is proving himself an extremely devious and potentially dangerous Russian leader, even to Russian opponents most of whom have either been silenced or removed. One wonders about the tactics of such a leader, especially given the latest "collaboration" from Obama over Syrian chemical weapons.
On the Ukraine side, clearly the current leader was/is desperate for a quick-fix to his political dilemma...so many protesters, with so many cell phones and so much global coverage, cannot be secreted away into some prison cell somewhere. And their quest of further links to the European Union will not evaporate with the latest agreement.
In fact, that goal will only get additional impetus, given the opposition to the Russian deal from the people of the Ukraine.
Perhaps it might be timely to remind ourselves of the old adage: "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time"...in reference to this "deal"...
And eventually, there will be news of the price paid by the Ukraine president in his "sell-out" of both his country and his people and by then, one assumes, the Russian president is counting on the abbreviated memory of both Ukrainian people and the rest of the world to fail to recall his cunning and highly opportunistic deal-making...but the winter cold will have consumed gas at the new and much lower prices by then.
We have heard of other bail-outs in Italy, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and potentially Spain....and then in North America, only this week, a judge in Detroit concurred with that city's petition for bankruptcy, with dozens of other U.S. cities facing the same fate....and cities falling like bowling pins, at the mercy of flagrantly irresponsible municipal politicians over decades of absent scrutiny from both the public and the media does not paint a bright picture for their previously hard-working civil servants, many of whom have lost their pensions and for the futures of the people still trying to make their cities work.
The relationship between government and people, as well as between government and corporations has to be re-calculated because just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes the whole community to nurture and sustain both cities and counties and even countries....and a sleeping or drugged population wakens too late for the crisis to be managed in their preferred manner.

Russia Offers Cash Infusion for Ukraine
By David M. Herszenhorn and Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, December 17, 2013      
For Mr. Putin, the jousting over Ukraine is the latest of several foreign policy moves that have served to re-establish Russia as a counterweight to Western dominance of world affairs. This year, he defied Washington by granting temporary asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, and deflected an American military strike on his longtime ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, with a proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.
There was no immediate quid pro quo for Russia — at least not in plain sight — as Mr. Putin announced the deal at the Kremlin with Ukraine’s embattled president, Viktor F. Yanukovich. Protesters in Kiev have been deeply worried that Mr. Yanukovich would cut a secret deal to join a customs union that Russia has established with Belarus and Kazakhstan. The union is essentially a free-trade zone across a large section of the former Soviet Union, allowing goods to cross travel through borders without clearing customs.
Over the weeks of protests, however, it became clear that the customs union was a nonstarter for Ukraine, and Mr. Putin said the subject did not come up in their discussions on Tuesday.
In Independence Square, where the large crowd was bolstered by people coming out of work, the initial reaction appeared to be a mix of fury and dismay, with people chanting, “Out with the crook!” But there was no call for drastic new steps.
Leaders of the three opposition parties who are coordinating the protest said the demonstrations would continue, and they voiced suspicions about what Mr. Yanukovich had offered in exchange for a Russian bailout.
“Free cheese is only found in a mousetrap,” Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the leader of the Fatherland coalition in Parliament, said in a speech. He asked for the patience of protesters.
The implications for the protest movement were not immediately clear, but Mr. Putin’s announcement, at a Kremlin meeting with Mr. Yanukovich, substantially alters the political landscape. It throws Mr. Yanukovich an economic and political lifeline that will spare him for now from negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, which was demanding significant changes to the government, judiciary and the economy in exchange for aid.
While Mr. Putin portrayed Russia’s assistance as a gallant move, requiring Ukraine neither to commit to the customs union nor to put in place any of the austerity measures demanded by the I.M.F., the rescue plan carries serious long-term economic and political risks. Experts say that unless Ukraine carries out overhauls, including increases in household utility rates, limits on government spending and pension increases, and improvements in the business climate, the country’s economic problems will continue, raising the likelihood that the aid will be wasted.
In addition, the political uncertainty raises the possibility of changes at the highest levels of government, perhaps even sooner than the presidential elections in February 2015.
Then there is the immediate investment risk. Russia’s rules for its national welfare fund require investments in countries with long-term bond ratings of AA or better; both Fitch and Standard & Poor’s rate Ukraine at B-.
Mr. Putin, sitting beside Mr. Yanukovich on Tuesday, said Russia was happy to help. “With the goal of supporting the budget of Ukraine, the government of the Russian Federation made the decision to issue in bonds from the Ukrainian government part of its own reserves from the national welfare fund in the amount of $15 billion,” he said.
Nodding to the demands in the West, he added: “I want to bring your attention to the fact that it is not connected with any conditions, not connected with the increase, decrease or freezing of any social standards, pensions, subsidies or salaries.
“And I want to calm everyone down. Today we did not discuss the question of Ukraine’s accession to the customs union.”