Thursday, May 29, 2008

The War on Terror: Pick a Terror Threat, Any Terror Threat

In recent news:

Fox News is running a story about recent insights from Homeland Security on who is worse: Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah?

JERUSALEM — Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff warned Thursday that the radical Islamic group Hezbollah "makes Al Qaeda look like a minor league team," and poses the greatest threat to national security.

source

It is interesting to see that Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff is stating that Hezbollah is worse than Al-Qaeda. It also strikes me as a more than a slight coincidence that there has been recent talk about Iran being the next potential target of the 'War on Terror,' and then we have this statement released saying that Hezbollah, which has been tied to Iran, is portrayed as worse than the terrorist group the United States has had its target set on for quite some time.

This also begs the question: if Hezbollah is worse than Al-Qaeda, then why did the United States invade Iraq to get rid of Al-Qaeda? Was it really necessary? Or is the difference in the threat of these two groups a really close match?

The Fox News story states:

"The group's primary weapons are believed to consist of an arsenal of Russian- and home-made rockets, as well as arms supplied through Iran, the group's political and spiritual ally."

It seems like Homeland Security is trying to force the issue of starting a war with Iran. The 'War on Terror' appears to take on attributes that fit with the goal of waging war on whatever target the United States wishes to attack next. I am not trying to say that I condone the terrorist activities of Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda, because I am adamantly against all forms of violence. I think it is rather convenient that Hezbollah is all of a sudden MUCH worse than the Al-Qaeda threat.

PS- One bit of information which may also sway how Chertoff portrayed Hezbollah is the fact that he presented this information in Jerusalem, Israel.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Top (Insert Number Here) Lists: Why Are They So Popular?

I am an avid Digg, Delicious, and Reddit reader and I have been looking through those databases for quite some time now. I have noticed a common trend when it comes to popular items that appear on these bookmarking sites. The common element is the presence of lists, and people love them just like Jim Kukral says.


That's right, lists. Most of the popular posts/bookmarked items that garner the most attention are 'top 10 lists,' 'top 100 lists,' etc. etc. To just make sure I wasn't crazy, I took a random trip to Digg for instance and looked at the "Top in All Topics" list on the right side, and noticed that 3 out of 10 of the topics shown were a "top (insert number here) list."



The interesting part is that in the most popular dugg items throughout the year, there are no 'lists' in the top 30 items ranked by number of times they were dugg.


What is so special about lists you might ask? Well, my personal opinion is that people tend to be in a hurry about 90% of the time. Also, by nature most people are lazy (well it's true!), and they don't want to have to read through a long article. Most people want to "cut to the chase," and that's exactly what lists do. For instance, I could write a 20 to 30 page article on the most prominent renaissance painters, OR, I could make a list called "the top 10 renaissance painters of all time." If I was to post these up on the internet, I would bet the second choice would receive more traffic.


Like I have stated, people want to be able to get to the main argument or content without having to read for a few hours or more. Another reason why people love lists, in my opinion, is that humans naturally try to make order out of chaos. We like to fit things in their places (even if there actually is no set place for something). It's like when you were younger and you had those blocks of different shapes (such as a square, triangle, circle) and you had to fit them in the holes that they corresponded. People like lists because it gives them order to something. Be it a list of the top 10 rockstars of all time, or the top 30 shoes ever!


The odd fact is that, we hardly ever remember the top 10 lists in the long run. It is usually the essays, articles and stories that capture our attention that are remembered the most. (Although I warn you I am a little biased towards essays and stories).

Thinking Out Loud: US-Brazil Friendship A Coincidental Relationship

The Wall Street Journal has recently published an article stating that a Brazilian oil company, PetrĂ³leo Brasileiro SA, has just discovered a massive deep-water oil field which may make Brazil one of the top oil-rich countries in the world.

While reading this article I started thinking about how the high prices on oil and lack of oil reserves is creating a great strain on the economy of the United States and the world. However, I thought to myself, "I wonder if the US knew about this beforehand? If so, did they make any political moves to secure oil resources for themselves?"

I cannot say for certain if the U.S. did have advanced knowledge of the Brazilian's looking for the oil, or if they had a good chance of finding such a vast oil field, but I did find that they increased "good" relations with their Brazilian comrades.

On April 30th, 2008, U.S. News posted an article about President Bush's increased relations with Brazil. I know that the U.S. has had some relations with Brazil but it seems as if the relationship was becoming closer during the past couple of months. One part of the article states:

"Numerous foreign policy commentators have expressed surprise that Bush would take such a liking to a left-leaning, career labor leader in the person of Lula. But their friendship has 'reduced suspicions that might have existed...[and] overcome that wariness and replaced it with a certain confidence that we can actually get things done,' says Shannon."

[Shannon is a reference to Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.]


I also find it strange that President W. Bush, who is always so selective on who he retains good relations with, would befriend the left lying leader of Brazil.

On May 1st, 2008, fibre2fashion.com reported that the Textiles and Clothing Industries of both countries met and signed an agreement to increase cooperation. Prior to this meeting, the United States and Brazil had also met on April 28th, 2007 to increase economic and commercial relations. In the article the Brazilian ambassador to the U.S., Antonio Patriota, states:

"We are at the beginning of a new age of cooperation between our two countries."

It seems that Brazil and the U.S. have become very close buddies. I can only assume that Brazil will be allowing the U.S. to obtain some barrels of oil for a "good" price once production starts. I guess the U.S. might not have to carry out their plan to overthrow Hugo Chavez.

BUT, all in all, this is only a thought from the top of my head. Although I have provided some articles which lean towards depicting U.S. involvement in gaining oil from South America, I have no hard proof. So, for now this is only a free floating hypothesis with no ancor to solid facts (until something happens).

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Consumer Society: We Are Citizens to Corporations

I visited jwharrison's blog today, The Largest Minority, and read a very interesting post called Just A Quick Heat-Induced Thought.

Harrison proposes that we have become a society (North Americans, I am assuming) that no longer meet to talk, converse and exchange ideas. We have become focused solely on being consumers. He makes an excellent point when he writes:

"Parks are the only place where you can sit down without being harassed for not consuming. If you dare to rest anywhere else it’s called loitering."

Corporations have become the forces behind countries. Countries aren't based on the people that make them up anymore, they are based on corporate entities. The sole reason for being in our society is to make money, and to spend money. This mentality takes presedence over mostly everything else (possibly excluding religion).

Take the example of Enron for example. That company's sole mission was to make money, and give off the perception that they were worth investing in, and were on top of the market. That was just the PERCEPTION though, because in reality they were in major debt. What did the executives do though? Continued to deceive everyone into thinking they were a money-making venture. They were so blinded by corporate mentality and greed that they continued the facade and ended up destroying the lives of many people. The interesting aspect is that many big investing banks and companies knew about it and continued to invest as long as they were making money. Just goes to show you have much of an emphasis is put on making profit at any cost.

The emphasis needs to be put back onto the aspect of society that matters the most, everyday people! Corporations may help the politicians garner funds for their campaigns, provide commodities, and jobs, but it is the people that hold the power. Underneath all the corporate blanketing there lies a nation of people, people that hold more power than they have been led to believe.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

UPDATE: The Separation of Church and State: Why We Should Allow Gay Marriage

The Pope made an announcement the day after the Californian decision to make gay marriage legal was passed down. With no mention of the decision made in the sunny state, Pope Benedict reiterated that the Catholic Church does not condone gay unions.

He said:

"The union of love, based on matrimony between a man and a woman, which makes up the family, represents a good for all society that can not be substituted by, confused with, or compared to other types of unions"

The Pope and George W. Bush are apparently on the same page, as Bush opposed gay marriage as well. I think the Californian decision is the right decision. It is a step towards widening the gap between church and state (as I have stated previously). This is a good thing. As politics becomes more secular, people will become more tolerant of others.

The Popes announcement comes as no surprise to me, as he wants to keep a firm grasp on the Christian elements that pepper politics. What really frustrates me is that it is really no concern of the Catholic Church what a gay couple does. Since the gay couple would not be recognized by the church anyways, why are they fighting it so ardently?

People need to realize that homosexual relationships have been around since ancient Greek times. They have just been viewed as taboo because that is the way OUR culture has pegged them. When people open their eyes and see past their 'cultural programing' they will see this.

Americentrism: Molded Viewpoints

I was listening to some of my older music the other day and came across Rage Against the Machine. One song in particular stuck out to me as I was listening, "No Shelter."

In the song Zack De La Roche, the lead vocalist, states:


American eyes, American eyes
View the world from American eyes
Bury the past, rob us blind
And leave nothin behind

This is a very interesting statement, although not surprising coming from Rage Against the Machine. I just found that it is worth note because it was released in 1998, and here we are in 2008 and it still rings true.

I bet that the emotions in that stanza of the song reflect the way many Iraqis feel towards the United States. If George W. Bush's 'War on Terror' is continued than I am sure many more people will feel VERY similar. It is also very true that many people try to "bury the past," by diverting our attention onto distracting situations and news. One example I can think of is how the Clinton-Obama Democratic Presidential Race is being portrayed. When Barack Obama won the primary in North Carolina, Seth Godin makes a very good point in his post "The Media Markets" where he shows how the media just wants to create 'drama' not portray the actual news.

Another point is, how many places has the United States tried to initiate its 'democracy?' Who is to say that American democracy is any better than another method. North American society has become so 'Americentric' (yes, I made that word up) that people fail to see beyond the end of their noses. People need to wake up and realize that there is always two viewpoints to every story, and it's not always the popular 'truth' that is really true.

(visit http://www.ratm.com for more Rage info)

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Separation of Church and State: Why We Should Allow Gay Marriage

In a recent court decision in California gay marriages are now legal. In a 4-3 split decision by the Supreme Court of California judges overturned the ban on gay unions.

This decision strikes me as a turning point for the changing elements of religious undercurrents in California and the United States. Massachusetts is the only state that has legalized gay marriages besides California. Both of these examples are providing proof that secular viewpoints are slowly creeping into the once religiously saturated environment of government and law-making.

Although religion is supposed to be separate from government it is hard to separate the two. For example, James Dobson, head of a conservative Christian group, conveys has opposition towards the Californian decision by stating the ruling was an outrage, and:

called on the people of California to pass a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage saying that "Only then can they protect themselves from this latest example of judicial tyranny."


This is precisely why religion seems to permeate every aspect of politics and culture. People such as Dobson call upon other members of their religion, in a sort of "do this or your not really Christian" rally cry. Many people are members of some sort of religion, and when feelings as strong as those against gay marriage surface it is hard to dispel them from the debate.

For me, I think they should be separated because it just creates sectarianism, which never results in anything constructive. I personally believe that anyone that wants to get married should be able to do it. People can be married by the state if they so choose. They need not enter a church if they do not want to. Some people become so enveloped by their religious "laws" and "rules" that they fail to see that people should be allowed to believe what they want, and act how they want as long as it does not hurt anyone else.

I know it is virtually impossible to separate religion from politics, but some effort should be made to step back from the religious perspective and look at it with an objective lens. Would Christians like to be persecuted for having heterosexual marriages by another religion? I would say most likely not.

What we need is more open-minded decisions such as the Californian decision to happen. I am not saying that religion should be disregarded, but just that it needs to become less invasive into people's lives that do not follow that particular belief system.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The "War on Network Congestion" Heats Up

On Monday past, CBC posted an article concerned with Bell Canada Inc.'s breech of their customers privacy. Apparently Bell has been spying on their customers and finding out what they are using their Internet connection to do on the web.

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, has joined the battle against Bell's Deep-Packet Inspection (DPI) practices.

"The CIPPIC, which is made up mainly of lawyers and law students from the University of Ottawa, says Bell has not only failed to show that its network is congested and that its actions are necessary, but it has also run afoul of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in doing so."

This is a very interesting point. Bell states they need to use DPIs to help them discern who is using Person-to-Person downloading agents, but they have no proof that Internet connections are slowing down due to this. Bell and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be liable to a government agency or equivalent. Through this change, ISPs will then not be able to do as they please in the telecommunications world. Internet throttling and similar actions would have to be scrutinized before being put into action.

Not only are the ISPs throttling the Internet connections of their users, but the use of DPIs is an invasion of privacy. Bell says:

"it is using DPI only to read the 'header' on the type of traffic, which determines what kind of usage it is. But CIPPIC contends that DPI must be used to 'open the envelope' on the traffic for it to be of any use to an Internet service provider, thus violating the user's privacy."

BUT, as the CBC article states they would have to look at more sensitize information for it to actually be valuable for them. Since Bell and other ISPs do not seem to be answerable to any higher power, they can do as they wish. They could be checking out which websites a customer visits, what they are downloading, etc. Seems to be an invasion of a persons privacy and security.

It seems that ISPs are waging a "War on Network Congestion," which is similar to the "War on Terror."
  1. Firstly, both are not answerable (at the moment) to any higher power, so they can do as they wish.
  2. Secondly, they say there is Network Congestion, but there is no proof. In many instances of people being apprehended for being a terrorist, they are not told what their crime is, and imprisoned without trial.

It seems that the ISPs are using Person-to-Person downloading as an excuse to lower connection speeds at peak times, and DPIs to find out more information about their customers Internet habits. Since there is no proof of connection speeds being hampered by downloading clients, it begs the question, what are they REALLY up to? I think people in the government should be willing to ask the same question, and be willing to do something about it.

These companies are free to charge whatever they like for Internet service, cellphone service, telephone service, and then throttle connection speeds. Not only that but they are able to gather information on all their customers free of charge! Seems like something is VERY wrong with this picture. In the end though, they have us by the horns, as the Internet has become a gateway to our world. We use it for everything, and they know that. What would we do without an Internet connection? Not very much (probably send telegrams).

ISPs need some liability. They need to have a watchdog group assigned to assess their practices. The "War on Network Congestion" has just begun.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Critical of the Israeli Government? In Canada, That Makes You An Anti-Semite

In Canadian politics Steven Harper, Canadian Prime Minister, has made some accusations that there are anti-Semites lurking in the government. In a recent CBC.com article Rae Asks Tory House Leader to Identify Opposition 'Anti-Semites'. Bob Rae, who is the Liberal foreign affairs critic, challenged the Tory government to point out which Liberals were anti-Semites. The House Leader failed to point out any opposition members.

The article states:

"In the interview, Harper said that in some circles, anti-Israeli sentiment has become 'a thinly disguised veil for good old-fashioned anti-Semitism.' "

That is a very blatant statement to make about members of the opposition and government. It will be very interesting if Harper actually identifies which people he is actually referring to. Another important thing to note is that just because you criticize Israel doesn't mean that you are an anti-Semite. Israel is a COUNTRY, not a group of people, religion, or society. Although, all those elements make up the country, neither of them are being criticized when you question the Israeli government. If that was the case it would be virtually impossible to speak out against any government if they hid behind religion or culture. (I would definitely be persecuted for criticizing the United States, if that was the case).

I do agree that anti-Semitism is alive and well in most societies, and I do not condone any such beliefs or actions, but, if you are critical of the Israeli government that doesn't mean you hate Jewish people. The Israeli government has been less than perfect with dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its 'strike first-ask questions later' attitude has something to be desired. Any government should be open to feedback from not only their citizens, but also the international community.

Harper should clarify who he is talking about, because it may just create an unfavorable environment for ANY critics of the Israeli government if he doesn't.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

27 Stories of Exquisitely Wasteful Money Spending


Excessive, extravagant, exquisite and 'over-the-top' are just some of the ways you can describe the Ambani family's new home.

In a recent article by Matt Woolsey entitled Inside the World's First Billion-Dollar Home the Amabani's home (Antilla Tower) was showcased. This home is 27 stories tall, and costs $2 billion to construct. Each floor uses completely different materials from each previous floor, which adds to it's awe-inspiring price tag.

Woolsey states:

"The home will cost more than a hotel or high-rise of similar size because of its custom measurements and fittings"

This is one of the (for a lack of a better word) biggest wastes of money I have ever seen. The Ambani family consists of Nita and Mukesh, the parents and three children. Do they really need 27 floors to live in? Do they really need unique building materials for each floor?

Just think of how much even a fraction of the money spent on this tower could help with: world hunger, impoverished living conditions of poorer people, helping fund medical improvements, etc.

If people spent more time worrying about the essentials, rather than extravagances the world would be a better place. To me this is awe inspiring only in how much money is being spent to accommodate a 5 person family.

(photo courtesy of Businessweek.com)





Saturday, May 3, 2008

Haves into Have-nots, and Vice Versa

Update: The link for the cartoon I had posted here has been removed, so I direct your attention to Artizans to view the cartoon.

This is a political cartoon I picked up from the The Chronicle Hearld. It depicts Ontario's premier Dalton McGuinty (the left) and Newfoundland and Labrador's premier Danny Williams (the right). In recent news Ontario has been dubbed a 'have-not' province and Newfoundland, formerly labelled as the 'have-not' province, is beginning to be regarded as a prosperous province.

I think the label ('have-not') should not be tossed around lightly. Being viewed as a backward and poor province does not help the situation. If a province is in economic trouble these types of labels should not be applied under any circumstances. Newfoundland was pegged as the 'have-not' province for a long time. This did nothing but tarnish the province's reputation as the rest of Canada viewed Newfoundland as backward and a welfare state.

The one good thing about the reversal of roles is that maybe Ontario, and the rest of Canada, will gain a little more understanding of the situation Newfoundland was in for a long period of time. There is a big difference in perspective when you are in someone elses shoes.

Friday, May 2, 2008

No Piece of Art is Safe: Copper Sculpture Thieves Strike

In an article published in the Wall Street Journal called Copper Caper: Thieves Nab Art To Sell for Scrap, Sarah McBride writes:

"When a sculpture called the "The Spirit of Life" was stolen from its public perch here, city officials reported it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a case of stolen art. But the local police said it was likely a different kind of crime: commodity theft.

Weighing about 250 pounds, the sculpture was cast in bronze, the main ingredient of which is copper. That made it a tempting target for thieves looking to cash in on skyrocketing copper prices by selling it to a scrap yard.

Manhole covers, pipes and wiring have already been targeted for theft in many cities, thanks to copper prices that have risen to about $4 a pound from $3.50 a year ago and $1.50 three years ago. In the prosperous Orange County city of Brea, home to a thriving public art program, big bronze sculptures are now on the hit list. The city has lost three such works in the past 18 months.

Art specialist Trinitee Manuel oversees Brea's public art programs. Along with commissioning works for bus shelters and organizing events for children, she's now something of an expert in security systems, metal-cutting tools, hidden cameras, and ways to protect open-air sculptures -- including shrub barriers. She's even considered installing LoJack-style devices on the more vulnerable pieces. "One thing we're trying to make sure we're not saying is, 'Hey, Brea is a target,'" she says.

Copper art thefts are leading some sculptors to rethink their use of bronze altogether. Arizona sculptor John Battenberg, who has a 50-year career working with bronze, says he ditched the material after he woke up one day to find gaping holes in the walls of his house, where panels from his monumental work, "The Gates of Arcadia," had rested. Mr. Battenberg mostly paints now.

Sculptor Joel Fisher, who had some 50 bronze works stolen from his Vermont studio last fall, says he hasn't been able to move beyond making simple models because the theft of so much of his life's work has stifled his "creative process."
Police believe the works of both artists ended up in scrap yards, though 31 of Mr. Fisher's sculptures were eventually recovered. Copper typically fetches a lower price secondhand than what's listed on commodities exchanges; metal with 66% copper content, typical for a bronze, might sell for around $2.45 a pound at the scrap yard.
Switching to Stone

In Brea, rapid growth in recent years has led to a public-art boom. Developments over $1.5 million are required to commission a piece of art. The city now has 144 public sculptures, of which almost 50 are bronze. Expressive and sturdy, bronze doesn't rust under extreme weather. While the city's population hits about 120,000 on weekdays, it shrinks to 40,000 at night as commuters and shoppers head home, leaving many areas deserted.

One of Brea's missing sculptures, William Cornwall's "Dove of Peace, Hope and Love," stood in front of a nondescript office building just off the freeway. The building was undergoing renovation when a contractor noticed the sculpture was no longer there, says Scott Boureston, a manager at Boureston Development Inc., which had bought the building in early 2006.

Mr. Boureston says he has no way of knowing exactly when the piece was taken, but he eventually notified the police last year and filed an insurance claim, recovering $8,000 of its $13,000 value. Sheila Rodgers, executive administrator at Boureston, is now preparing to commission a new work. She says she's staying far away from bronze and looking instead at a different metal or stone: "There's no way we're going to give [thieves] a second chance."

Police say such heists typically require more planning than those involving pipes or other small copper items because of the statues' sheer weight. Police Detective Jason Celmer, who has been assigned to the Brea cases, says he thinks two or three men typically tackle the sculptures, although it would be possible for one man with the right tools to do the job. "Most of these guys would back a truck up to [the sculpture], and knock it into the truck," he says.

"Spirit of Life" sat at the edge of a housing development in Brea, not far from City Hall. The piece, by sculptor John Kennedy, depicted a woman swinging a child through the air. Valued at $65,000, it was a favorite of DeAnne Nicholas and her daughter Stephani, now 25, who lived next door to it.

In the early hours of April 20 last year, Stephani Nicholas says she awoke to a racket. Thinking burglars were trying to make off with the patio furniture, she raced outside in time to see a red pickup truck roaring off. In the middle of the night, she says it was hard to gauge what exactly was missing; it wasn't until the next day that the Nicholases realized "Spirit" -- attached to its plinth by a single slim bolt -- was gone."


It is fairly sad when an artists work is no longer safe to be displayed outside, or contain a certain metal. This copper-craze has caused artists to rethink the medium they are working in which makes me quite mad. An artist should be free to express whatever they want in whatever form they want. Sculptors such as Joel Fisher should not have to feel as if their creative flame has been extinguished because thieves are stealing his works of art. This is much more than the theft of art, it is the theft of a piece of each of the artists who have been affected by these crimes.

Some people will do anything to make a penny, even when it hurts people. Manhole covers and copper wire can be easily replaced, but if a bronze sculpture is melted down or striped of its copper, that cannot be replaced. These pieces of art are one of a kind, and priceless to the artists and the art community.