Friday, September 15, 2006


Do you want the vote?

It is a human right to control one's own destiny. Part of that right is the right to participate in the choosing of our representatives. I ask you then, when was the last time you voted for a Secretary-General of the United Nations? I believe that we, humans, must elect our highest representative, and I intend to describe how it can be done in a matter of a few short years.

A little background first, the secretary-general is currently chosen by the general assembly of the UN based on the recommendation of the security council. To this date the security council has always recommended a single person and the general assembly has always chosen this individual. The UN charter is ambiguous on this topic, saying that the security council recommends, the general assembly accepts the recommendation, and then chooses. By my reading this means the security council recommendation is automatically nominated for the position but the general assembly is free to choose as it sees fit.

How do we get past the security council and its five vetos? I don't think anyone imagines that America, China or France is willing to sit there and watch ordinary people choose the head of the UN. The answer is we don't. We ignore the irredeemable security council and focus on the general assembly. At this time there are 192 countries in the general assembly each with one vote. To elect a secretary-general we need 97 countries to support the popular choice. These can be any 97 countries (Tuvalu is worth the same as China and will be a lot easier to convince). What is needed a bloc of countries to decide to share an election, that is hold one election across the entire bloc, and then vote as a bloc to support the person chosen by this election. For example, Canada, Grenada and Turkey decide to participate in this election. Then one election is held where one vote in Canada equals one vote in Grenada equals one vote in Turkey. The person elected is now backed in the general assembly by three votes.

In this next paragraph I am going to talk about the steps we as individuals can take to get this to happen. First we need to tell people, and once we have told people then we need to tell some more. Keep pushing this idea. We have a strong message, “You have the right to vote for the UN Secretary-General.” Second, we need to demand this of our leaders. Letters to our members of parliament work as do calls, and stamping to the their offices in person are also effect. It is their job to listen to you, make them do their job. Third we need to connect to others that agree with us. Our voices are stronger united then alone. Let us roar so load that the earth trembles and another piece of liberty is won for every human on this planet.


What America Had and Lost.

This letter was posted on Andrew Sullivan's site. It contrasts the America of 15 years ago with the one of today. The letter begins with some context:

I was deployed in my reserve unit (USMCR) as part of operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Marine infantry, and we were on the front lines, supposedly to guard a gunship base, but really, though, the gunships guarded us.

Not too much later, it was time to take prisoners. One of the platoons went north, and when they came back, there were stories about how Iraqi soldiers lined the roads, trying to surrender. I spent a week guarding Iraqi men in a makeshift prison camp, a way-station really, and more than I could count. They didn't look like they were starving or dehydrated. Apparently, once the ground war began, they just pitched their weapons and headed south at first opportunity. The more I've thought about it, the more I realize that they knew bone deep that they'd get fair treatment. We gave them MREs (with the pork entree's removed) but almost immediately some Special Forces guys arrived and set up a real chow line for them. We gave each man a blanket, (I kept an extra as a souvie) and I think I saw a Special Forces doc giving some of them a once over.

After some more detail he continues:

Looking back, I think that one of the main drivers in these men's heads was that they knew, absolutely, that they'd get fair treatment from us, the Americans. We were the good guys. The Iraqis on the line knew they had an out, they had hope, so they could just walk away. (A few did piss themselves when someone told them we were Marines. Go figure.) Still, they knew Americans would be fair, and we were.

Thinking hard on what I now know of history, psychology, and the meanness of politics, that reputation for fairness was damn near unique in world history. Can you tell me of any major military power that had it? Ever? France? No. Think Algeria. The UK? Sorry, Northern Ireland, the Boxer Rebellion in China... China or Russia. I don't think so. But America had it. If those men had even put up token resistance, some of us would not have come back. But they didn't even bother, and surrendered at least in part because of our reputation. Our two hundred year old reputation for being fair and humane and decent. All the way back to George Washington, and from President George H.W. Bush all the way down to a lance-corporal jarhead at the front.

This is the power of a reputation for fairness and justice. This is what George Bush has wasted (okay, Bill Clinton's globalization push hurt as well but it did not cause nearly the damage that this................... has done).



Tunnels and Bridges

Here is Sara Robinson's follow-up to Cracks in the Wall called Tunnels and Bridges. It is worth your time.

Tunnels and Bridges IV
Tunnels and Bridges: A Short Detour
Tunnels and Bridges III
Tunnels and Bridges II
Tunnels and Bridges I


Open Systems and Change

Sara Robinson, who has been recruited to write at Orcinus, is rapidly becoming my favourite futurist. Here is a bit of her must recent posting. Also we is the writer behind the Cracks in the Wall series of essays... if you haven't read them do so now.
Beyond accelerating technology and all its outfalls, we've got seismic geopolitical shifts, global warming, increasing resource scarcity (water is the big one nobody's talking about), and the necessary transition from hydrocarbons to other fuels. We've got a massive amount of work to do just to keep this blue ball alive and spinning; and the clock is ticking.

Unfortunately -- as we have so painfully learned from the way America's authoritarian leadership botched Iraq -- the inflexibility, irrationality, defensiveness, either/or dogmatism, and epic capacity for denial inherent in authoritarian systems often preclude them from even recognizing actual threats, let alone moving ahead to create clear and effective plans to deal with them. Any system that allows a few amoral opportunists do most of the thinking for the entire group is not only inherently brittle and unstable; it's also profoundly ill-equipped to respond effectively to the kinds of challenges we are going to be facing in the century ahead.

It's obvious that authoritarian leaders and followers, reflexively acting out of their fear of change, will not be the ones to solve our huge and looming problems. Even worse: they've already put us on notice that they're going to do whatever it takes to keep us from even acknowledging those problems, and doggedly work to obstruct our best efforts to do anything about them. There is too much at stake here to waste time on these people. We no longer have the time or the bandwidth to deal with their nonsense.

Ten thousand years of human history, 220 years of modern democracy, and the more recent discoveries of chaos theory have convinced most of the world-- pretty much beyond argument -- that groups and individuals operating within free, open societies are more innovative, prosperous, and creative. They are also more likely to seek and preserve peace, and immeasurably more flexible and adaptive in the face of serious political, economic, environmental, or other threats. Looking ahead, it's clear that if we are going to solve our looming global issues, promoting and preserving democratic societies is the critical precondition for success.

At the same time, we are coming to understand that these open social orders and democratic societies are also complex organic systems that take many generations to come into being, but can be very easily and thoughtlessly destroyed in the space of a few years. These fragile ecologies are global assets need to be protected for the sake of the future of the planet, no less than the rainforests and oceans.

Yet, when it comes to building the kind of open, democratic societies that are our best hope for a prosperous and peaceful future, the world's authoritarians can only manage reactions that range from vague suspicion to outright hostility. It's probably not an overstatement to say that the fate of the planet may well depend on our ability to reliably, intelligently, effectively identify and deal with these enemies of the future wherever they crop up -- and figure out how to create the conditions that will prevent them from arising in the first place.


Signs of Victory

No sarcasm here.

...[A] top-secret assessment by the Marines' Chief of Intelligence that focused on the catastrophic situation of his undermanned Corps in the heartlands of Iraq's Sunni insurgency. He concluded, according to the Post's Tom Ricks, that "the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there."

Couldn't get much worse, you'd think. Then, Major General Richard C. Zilmer, the senior Marine commander, decided to "dispute" both news accounts. His [argument] was that "he had sufficient forces to carry out his mission but that the mission did not include defeating the insurgency."


Quote Chain

There is nothing like a well crafted chain of contrasted quotes to hammer a point home. Billmon has one here and it is spectacular.


The Occulted Iman in Iran

The Twelfth Iman's return is to shia islam what the rapture is to fundemenalist christianity. This article explains how important the Twelfth Iman is to the Iranian regime.

Iranians have celebrated the Twelfth Imam's birthday for centuries, but it was only after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that the holiday was celebrated by draping Tehran in tinsel and colored lights, much like a Western city during Christmas. The government honors the Mahdi's birthday with more fanfare than it treats other arguably more prominent Muslim holidays. This year, out on a short trip for groceries, I ate Mahdi birthday cookies on one street, and was offered a cold fruit drink at a nearby square. The result of this government-nurtured devotion to the Mahdi has transformed the piety of millions of Iranians to frenzied worship bordered on superstition.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad adores the Twelfth Imam, and has dedicated much of his public speeches to pleading for his return, and expounding on the importance of preparing for it. He invokes the Mahdi so frequently, is so suggestive of his own divine guidance, that the ordinary, devout Iranian could be easily made to think the two enjoy a special connection. These religious tendencies irritate many clerics in Iran's theological center, Qom, and serious religious scholars, who feel the president is using the Mahdi mythology to expand his own power, and in the process conflating the Mahdi's attributes with those of God.

But as abstract as it may sound, Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Republic need the Twelfth Imam. Iran's system of absolute rule by the clergy is vested in the Mahdi's disappearance, for in his absence the ayatullahs function as his deputies on earth. The legitimacy of the Islamic system and the credibility of the establishment clergy are founded on the Twelfth Imam. Which is why the President mentions him at every opportunity, why the Jamkaran pilgrimage site is becoming a small city. And of course, why his birthday is celebrated with unparalleled passion, at high volume.


Thursday, September 14, 2006


I, Humanist

A humanist is someone who puts humans first. To the left of the humanist is the radical ecologist who sees humanity as no more worthy of survival than moss, maybe less. To the right of the humanist is the theist who sees humanity as depraved, ignorant, even possessed by demons. Here in the middle, we humanists value humans above all.

Jonathan Tweet


Flying Snakessssss

You have heard of flying snakes? I hadn't either. Here are a collection of photos of flying snakes in action, and there are video clips here.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Will Canada's Green's First Seat in Parlement Be In the Senate?

Elizabeth May, the Green Party's new leader, is a parlementary veteran with decades of experience in Ottawa. This experience may (no pun intended) bear fruit sooner then expected. She has taken to the red chamber to recruit senators for the green party and apparently there is interest from senators

Here is the story from the Globe and Mail.
The new leader of the Green Party said yesterday she is talking with "more than one" senator about joining her party.

"I am talking to a couple of friends who are in the Senate to find ways that they may be able to help the party, including whether they can become Green Party senators," Elizabeth May said in a telephone interview.

Ms. May, a career environmentalist who was elected Green Party Leader last month, also said she is solidly in favour of the present unelected Senate even though that is "not yet" Green Party policy.

The ability of senators to conduct in-depth studies without worrying about elections has produced many useful policy proposals, she said.singling out the Senate's work that inspired the banning of bovine growth hormones from milk.

"The time horizon of the average politician is the next election and making sure they're re-elected, which skews their focus on issues [away] from what really matters for the future of the country or the planet," she said. "The benefits of the Senate and the achievements of the Senate are massively undersold, particularly by the Senate itself."

Ms. May would not identify which senators might join her party, but her ties to the Progressive Conservatives as a minister's assistant in the Brian Mulroney government may offer some clues.

The most likely senator to make the jump is Mira Spivak, a former Red Tory appointed by Mr. Mulroney in 1986 who has led a host of environmental battles.

Ms. Spivak, 72, who has been sitting as an Independent since February, 2004, endorsed Ms. May's candidacy for the Green Party leadership. Her assistant said Ms. Spivak could not be interviewed by phone because of a hearing impairment and stated "the rumour is not accurate."

Senators count in the funding formula used for caucus research money, but it is unclear whether Green senators would qualify as a caucus without a presence in the House of Commons.

Ms. May said she hopes that having Green Party senators would allow her to take part in the daily scrums with reporters outside the House of Commons.


Battle in Seattle

A new movie will dramatize the WTO protests in Seattle (Can we get a Canadian version for Quebec City?).

Charlize Theron will play a pregnant bystander who loses her baby in Seattle's WTO riots. Susan Sarandon may take the part of a newscaster sympathetic to the protesters.

Former Mayor Paul Schell just hopes the movie re-enacting one of the worst chapters of his political life tells "the whole story about the 21st-century Boston Tea Party."



How to Avoid Hassle at Airports

Own the jet your flying in... sort of

Fractional jet ownership programs have zoomed, since these programs suffer none of the security delays and hassles mass transit endures. A great example is Warren Buffet's NetJets, which has a 50% market-share in the fractional jet industry. It has already expanded to 600 aircraft (equal in size to the world's second largest airline, albeit with much smaller jets) and sports global coverage.



Internet Security Map

Jon Robb has poste a link to an interesting website that tracks cyber-attacks by region on a daily basis. The map is made by collecting and aggregating data from firewalls around the world.


Terrorist Database Online

You can search here to see if you are a terrorist.


Monday, September 11, 2006


Classical Music Done Japanese Surfer Style

And it is actually good.

The link is here.


Clean Your Hands, Clean Your Soul

A new paper has hinted at a remarkable connection between cleanliness and self-perceived morality. That the act of cleaning yourself actually may decrease your guilt about over some perceived sin. The researchers did a series of experiments, all of which are linked below, but the final one is possibly the most telling. It greatly strengthens the saying, "To wash your hands of this."
In the final experiment, participants were again asked to recall a bad deed from their past. Half then washed their hands with an antiseptic wipe while the others didn’t, and all were asked to fill out a form surveying their current emotional state. Finally, they were asked whether they would donate their time, free of charge, to take part in another study for a desperate graduate student.

The negative feelings aroused by contemplating behaviour which the participants were not proud of would presumably have led to a desire (conscious or not) to make amends by doing something that expresses the moral commitments they would prefer to see in their self-image, or to otherwise erase the stain of moral impurity through an act of cleansing. In this set up, the cleansing option was forced on half the study subjects, which had the effect of reducing feelings of the negative moral emotions of disgust, regret, guilt, shame, embarrassment and anger (non-moral emotions were unaffected). Mere hand washing also reduced the likelihood of offering help to the student in dire straits – if you’ve cleaned your conscience, there’s no defect in the moral self-image to fix.
This leads to an interesting series of conclusions.

The implications of the Macbeth effect, and this demonstration of its power to influence moral behaviour, is potentially alarming, and leads to a counter-intuitive thought. If is often supposed that observance of religious practices and rituals forms a core component of an ethically grounded life. But these results plausibly point to an entirely different conclusion. If threats to the moral self-image of individual religious adherents can be countered through cleansing rituals rather than actually amending the moral offence, and if such rituals make compensatory moral behaviour after an ethical blunder less likely, then a religious life could, all else being equal, make the devout less moral! This is another empirical question, and it is likely that other factors will feed into the overt moral behaviour we observe.

In any case, physical cleansing, even if intended as a symbolic offering of commitment, seems a rather cheap and easy route to moral rectitude. But at least it might help make sense of how many ostensibly morally upstanding and devout followers of various religions can also be capable of living with themselves and a range of moral misdemeanours and sinful behaviours, sexual and financial*. And the celebrity pages are replete with cases of decadent, immoral stars who have renounced their wayward pasts, and been born into the glory of God’s kingdom through the miracle of baptism, all beneficiaries of the Macbeth effect. Perhaps for the faithful cleanliness really is next to Godliness.
This fits with the discovery that atheists are underrepresented in american prisons (They are 10% of the population but are only 0.2% of America's prison population).

Follow the
link for more.




"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding," - Justice Brandeis 1928.


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