By Alex Derry - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 6 Comments
Lea Vivot has three life-sized statues of the late NDP leader in the works
When Lea Vivot heard that Jack Layton had died, she went to find some clay. Sculpting a life-sized likeness of the late NDP leader would be the renowned Czech-born artist’s way of mourning his death. She went to the studio in her 100-acre Kleinburg, Ont., farm to dig up the grey-coloured clay she had always used, only to find it had all dried up. Then Vivot, whose statues are found in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Prague, discovered what she calls her divine inspiration: the only usable clay in the studio was orange. “Only a higher force can commission the true artist,” Vivot, who has begun work on three statues of the late NDP leader, told Maclean’s. “Everything else falls into place.”
The statues are bound for Toronto, Ottawa and Layton’s hometown, Hudson, Que., yet neither sites nor payment for them has been secured. Vivot, after all, has developed a reputation as a provocateur in Canada’s arts scene for the way she installs her art. Many of the heavy sculptures are simply dropped off by Vivot and an assistant using a crane without the knowledge or approval of city governments or building owners; Vivot then asks for payment from proprietors, though not all have paid up. One such statue, Lovers Bench, was actually ordered removed from its Bay and Bloor location by the city of Toronto in 1979, and bounced around Montreal and New York until it was finally bought for $250,000 by Toronto developer Murray Goldman in 1991. In 1989, Vivot was also asked to remove The Secret Bench from its impromptu location outside the National Library of Canada due to the artist not having “gone through the right channels.” But a public campaign to have the bench reinstalled resulted in the Department of Public Works and the Canada Council Art Bank allowing her to unveil a recast version of the sculpture outside the library five years later. “It lent warmth and humanity to the front of the building,” said library spokesman Randall Ware.
By Alex Derry - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 1 Comment
Al Gore drops a hint about Apple’s anticipated new iPhone launch
Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, the self-described inventor of the Internet and global warming prophet, has once again displayed his oracular powers. While speaking last week at an economic conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Gore, an Apple board member, made specific mention of “the new iPhones coming out next month.” His statement, which he said was intended to be a “plug,” sent tech watchers into a tizzy of speculation over whether Apple would be launching not one, but two models of the iPhone—a slightly upgraded iPhone 4S and the brand new (and hotly anticipated) iPhone 5—at a rumoured launch event on Oct. 4. Neither Gore nor Apple, which is notoriously secretive about new products, has clarified the remarks. But given his inside knowledge of the company’s plans, Gore seems to have confirmed that there will be at least one new iPhone hitting the shelves in October.
By Alex Derry - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 0 Comments
Europe’s highest court bans the hammer and sickle from being trademarked
The Cold War is long over, but a recent intellectual property ruling by the European Union’s highest court shows Communism and capitalism are still at war, even in the world of contemporary fashion. The EU’s Court of Justice has ruled that a Russian designer cannot trademark the coat of arms of the former U.S.S.R. in the EU, on the grounds that it is “contrary to public policy and to accepted principles of public morality.” The decision looked at the case of Hungary, where the hammer and sickle is considered a symbol of despotism, with consideration for “the relevant public living in the part of the European Union which has been subject to the Soviet regime.”
The court’s decision was met mainly with accusations of historical revisionism in Russia, where the coat of arms is considered an unavoidable symbol of Russia’s past. But Oleg Smolin of Russia’s Communist party agrees with at least part of the ruling. “I believe it’s incorrect to exploit the [emblem] as a trademark,” Smolin told Voice of Russia. “A person has to earn money using his or her intellectual capabilities rather than those of the creators of the Soviet emblem.”
By Alex Derry - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 1 Comment
A new ban against street prayer in France sends Muslims looking for space to worship
Just as Muslims throughout France prepared for their Friday prayers, the government passed a ban on Sept. 16 outlawing the increasingly common practice of praying in the street. Despite the ban being seen by some as an example of Nicolas Sarkozy’s government kowtowing to right-wing voters seven months before an election, and a small group of worshippers protesting the new measure in Paris, many among France’s five-million-strong Muslim population welcome the prospect of getting off the streets, provided they have somewhere else to pray.
France has enforced the separation of church and state since 1905, but a growing tide of anti-Muslim sentiment among the country’s more right-leaning groups has put pressure on Sarkozy to crack down on religious displays in public spaces. Particularly in cities, such as Paris and Marseilles, mosques are located in small buildings and storefronts with little space, leaving many worshippers no other option but to face Mecca in the street. Marine le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has equated Muslims praying in Paris’s streets to the Nazi invasion of France in the Second World War, albeit “without the tanks or soldiers,” but instead with fundamentalist displays in a proudly secular society. “Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism,” Interior Minister Claude Guéant told Le Figaro. “All Muslim leaders are in agreement.”
Mohammed Salah Hamza is one of those leaders. As the imam who leads some 2,000 Muslims at a makeshift mosque in a vacant fire station in northern Paris, which opened on the day the ban became law, he says that moving worshippers into an actual place of worship is “the beginning of a solution.” But Hamza called on the government to be more accommodating to France’s Muslim population—the biggest in Western Europe—and opposed being herded into makeshift spaces. “We are not cattle,” Hamza told France’s TF1 News. The 2,000-sq.-metre fire station was only handed over to worshippers under a three-year lease two days before the deadline, after an uneasy accord was reached with municipal authorities. In Marseilles, a disused hangar was set aside as a temporary mosque in a similar deal, but is in a state of such disrepair that it was unusable for the Sept. 16 deadline. Guéant estimates that half of the country’s 2,000 mosques have been built in the last decade.
By Alex Derry - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:45 AM - 0 Comments
Production of typewriters in India has ceased, but not the country’s reverence for them
As one of the world’s most advanced economies, India has an IT industry employing millions. But while the subcontinent has gone high tech, its labyrinthine and paper-centric bureaucracy has made the typewriter de rigueur among the country’s clerical workers. It is also a necessity for people who cannot afford a laptop or who live in regions without power. There is also a kind of national reverence for the typewriter, according to the Los Angeles Times, which originated in the 1950s when then-prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru called it a symbol of modernity and independence.
But as younger generations are predominantly using computers, a dying market and the impact of the global financial crisis have taken their toll on typewriter production. Mumbai-based Godrej and Boyce, the last company in the world making new machines, announced in 2010 they were down to their last 200 models and would no longer be manufacturing them. Nevertheless, India’s typewriter enthusiasts hope that with enough repair know-how and hardware, the carbon ribbons will keep flying and carriages will continue to ring across the page. “The computer is lifeless, but there’s a sheer joy in manual typing,” says Mumbai’s Abishek Jain, who set a world typing record in 1993. “It’s a kind of music.”
By Alex Derry - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford says there are dangers everywhere, whether in Libya or London
As rebels stormed Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s lavish Tripoli compound in August, one foreign correspondent, Alex Crawford of Sky News, was there to cover the action. At one point, she even interviewed an ecstatic rebel fighter wearing one of Gadhafi’s military caps stolen from the dictator’s master bedroom. Crawford has been called the journalistic face of the Libyan conflict. But she is also a mother, and her presence at the deadly conflict has reignited a familiar debate over whether female correspondents, mothers in particular, belong on the front lines of a conflict zone. Is it legitimate to question whether they should be putting themselves at risk in deadly environments while their children grow up far away, or are such doubts inherently sexist?
Crawford, 49, is a veteran journalist, having worked at Sky News since its founding in 1989. After becoming a foreign correspondent for the network in 2006, she has reported from hostile zones including Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt. Her coverage of the 2008 Mumbai attacks won Sky News a BAFTA, and she was also awarded the 2010 Woman Journalist of the Year by Women in Film and Television, among other awards. According to her company bio, she has been “arrested, detained, interrogated and faced live bullets, tear-gassing, rubber bullets, IEDs, and mortar shells.”
But Crawford, who lives with her family in Johannesburg, South Africa, also has four young children—her oldest is 14—and has faced criticism for neglecting her duties of motherhood. After all, say critics, women are more nurturing than men, and children need their mothers. “I knew having a child would mean I would miss lots of stories and would never again be the first one inside a city under siege or get the first interview with a dictator,” wrote Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and mother, in the Daily Mail, addressing the controversy, “but I would have pages and pages of diaries filled with memories of [her son] Luka’s first tooth and witness the first moment he walked.” It was a sentiment that Crawford herself admitted to feeling when she spoke via satellite from Tripoli at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, saying “I hope I’m a role model for my daughters, although my children say, ‘Why can’t you be a dinner lady at school?’ ”
By Alex Derry - Monday, August 15, 2011 at 9:38 AM - 0 Comments
The drought in Somalia has revealed cracks in al-Shabaab’s tenuous and brutal control over the region
Even with evidence that 29,000 children have died in the last three months, al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group controlling much of Somalia, continues to deny there is any famine in the region at all. In fact, they had responded to the famine by banning international aid groups—whom they accuse of overblowing the scale of the disaster—from entering the worst-afflicted regions, and are actively preventing refugees from trying to reach relief centres. They are, however, using hunger to recruit desperate Somalis into their fold.
By Alex Derry - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 63 Comments
The UN upbraids Canada for its use of the term ‘visible minority’
Canada, despite a reputation for being an inclusive society that celebrates diversity, will have to defend itself against UN concerns about racial discrimination—all over a term designed precisely to combat racial discrimination. Next year, for the second time in five years, a delegation from the Ministry of Canadian Heritage will appear before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to answer criticisms over Ottawa’s use of the term “visible minorities.” The committee deems it to be out of step with the “aims and objectives” of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Canada’s use of the term “seemed to somehow indicate that whiteness was the standard, all others differing from that being visible,” says committee member Patrick Thornberry, a professor of international law at Keele University in Britain.
“That’s just crazy,” says Tom Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary and former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “It’s the internal logic of professional bureaucrats gone amok.”
Canada was last brought before the 18-member UN committee in 2007. Comprised of diplomats and academics tasked with monitoring member states’ implementation of the convention, it found the term itself discriminatory. And it didn’t stop there, faulting Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act and its potential for racial profiling of ethnic groups, as well as the country’s treatment of undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers, systemic discrimination of Aboriginal people, and a disproportionate force used by police on African Canadians. But the objection to “visible minorities” topped the list of concerns. While the committee (which doesn’t include a single Canadian member) was quick to rebuke Canada’s use of terminology, it refrained from recommending any alternatives—it asked that Ottawa “reflect further” on its use.
After the 2007 rebuke, Ottawa went to work consulting experts and holding workshops. The result was a 74-page report examining “visible minorities” through the years. It said the term is “specific to the administration of the Employment Equity Act,” designed to protect visible minorities, women, Aboriginal people and the disabled against workplace discrimination. While the EEA interprets “visible minorities” as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour,” it also specifies that only employees who wish to identify themselves to their employer need do so. Flanagan traces the roots of the term to “the identity politics of the 1970s and ’80s,” when neologisms like multiculturalism entered the bureaucratic lexicon.
The EEA itself emerged from the 1984 Abella commission establishing the principle that employers must use practices that increase minority representation. Nearly 5.5 million Canadians self-identify as part of a visible minority. “I don’t see the point of replacing it, it’s not a pejorative term,” says Flanagan. The government concluded no other category adequately addressed the labour market disadvantage faced by these groups. Further, it encourages proactive accommodation of diversity in the workplace. The report also said that Canada has “no plans of changing its standard usage,” a position it will defend when it appears before the Geneva-based commission again in early 2012.
“Some people consider affirmative action and quotas as racist,” says Jason Maghanoy, a Filipino-Canadian playwright in Toronto, “but sometimes you need to force diversity.” Maghanoy says it’s a matter of choice that he identifies himself as part of a visible minority when he applies for arts grants. “I always identify myself as Asian and I don’t feel discriminated against when I do.”
While many Canadians might dismiss the committee’s concern, it doesn’t mean the EEA couldn’t stand to be updated. Flanagan admits that while “visible minorities” doesn’t need to be replaced, “as a working term, there are some problems with it.” Michael Bach, national director of diversity, equity and inclusion at global accounting firm KPMG, supports the UN recommendation and says that while the legislation was a benchmark for progress in the workplace 25 years ago, he has never been a proponent of “visible minorities.” It’s archaic, he says, and reinforces the view that white is the norm. “We should be asking ourselves what is the right term,” says Bach. One proposed alternative is “racialized communities.” But this makes many people on both sides of the debate uncomfortable: it’s either an example of political correctness gone too far or it reinforces racial stereotypes. Ultimately, says Bach, the government should be involving minority communities in the process.
And real inequalities still exist today. “Decision-makers, those in positions of power,” says Maghanoy, “are still predominantly white men.”
By Alex Derry - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 4:56 PM - 11 Comments
Aaron Swartz’s arrest reveals the limits of open access ‘hacktivism’
Aaron Swartz was arrested last week after allegedly breaking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer network to play Robin Hood—stealing academic journals from the ivory tower and making them available for free online. The 24-year-old online activist and then-fellow at Harvard now stands accused of fraud. The prosecution, led by U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz, alleges that between September 24, 2010 and January 6, 2011, Swartz repeatedly broke into M.I.T.’s restricted computer wiring closet, accessed the network using an anonymous email address (at one time shielding his face with a bicycle helmet to hide his identity from security), and illegally hacked his way into the school’s JSTOR account to download 4.8 million articles. At one point near the end of his heist, according to the indictment, Swartz fled M.I.T. security officials attempting to question him.
Swartz, an early contributor to reddit and the co-founder of Demand Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization specializing in online campaigns for progressive causes, including protecting internet freedom and protesting the Patriot Act, may have disclosed a possible motivation behind his alleged actions three years ago. In his “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,” released in 2008, he rallied against what he saw as the private monopoly of public culture:
“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.”
Open access ‘hacktivists’ like Swartz argue that academic journals constitute open data that should be freely available for the benefit of public knowledge. As Matt Blaze, a computer scientist at Princeton University, puts it, expecting authors to release their intellectual property to copyright is “quaintly out of touch with the needs of researchers and academics who no longer expect the delay and expense of seeking out printed copies of far flung documents.” The New York Times even lauded Swartz for a similar hack in 2009, when he and “a small group of dedicated open-government activists teamed up to push the court records system into the 21st century,” by downloading and releasing to the public over 19 million pages of court documents from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, described as “cumbersome, arcane and not free.” While government officials were beside themselves, Swartz and his crew had broken no laws.
Matt Ingram of Gigaom.com finds Swartz’s recent indictment disturbing, and argues that what the online activist did was no worse than when Mark Zuckerberg downloaded photos from Harvard’s network to create the beta version of Facebook. “It’s certainly nowhere near the kind of espionage that the government is alleging occurred in the case of WikiLeaks and the diplomatic cables it published, or the hacking that groups such as Anonymous and Lulzsec are accused of being involved in. What could possibly [be] gained by going after a young programmer for trying to liberate academic research from a library?” In a statement, Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal said that Swartz’s indictment was “like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”
But in reading the indictment, “liberating academic research” is not the charge he is facing. The four counts leveled against Swartz are for wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. Timothy B. Lee of Forbes.com also notes that M.I.T. students’ access to JSTOR was cut off for several days following the Mission Impossible-inspired data breach, no doubt providing students much-needed fodder for the old “hacker ate my homework” excuse. Like the comedian who threw a pie at Rupert Murdoch and succeeded only in victimizing a man who was doing just fine making himself look bad, such actions make JSTOR “look like an injured, even magnanimous, party and gives them an excuse to make their policies more restrictive.”
Swartz wasn’t arrested for reading under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime. He faces allegations of deliberately breaking into someone else’s bedroom and re-wiring the lighting completely before even getting under the covers, all while wearing a mask. While the purpose of distributing JSTOR’s content for free on file-sharing sites may seem bizarre grounds for federal charges, fraud and trespassing aren’t.
Whether Swartz should be facing felony counts that could bring him up to 35 years in prison for actions, which while perhaps brazen and illegal, harmed no one, is another question altogether—JSTOR is not pursuing legal action against him and say they have no interest in doing so because the articles have been re-secured (although plenty of documents have already appeared online). However misguided such methods may be, it seems unfair to punish someone so severely for wanting to help the general public access a science journal, which would normally be available only to an elite group of graduate students.
By macleans.ca - Friday, July 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM - 0 Comments
Activists say security forces opened fire on large crowds in Damascus suburb
Seven people are dead after security forces in Syria opened fire on large crowds of anti-government protesters the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, activists said. They are among a total of 12 killed in the country as tens of thousands protested against the government of President Bashir al-Assad on Friday. Rallies broke out after Friday prayers in the central Syrian cities of Homs and Hama, Deir al-Zour in the northeast and in the southern town of Dara’a, which was subjected to a brutal military crackdown in April. After four months of protests across the country, the government has spoken vaguely of offering reforms. Most anti-regime activists are skeptical of the government’s intentions.
By Alex Derry - Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
A far-right group in Hungary is cracking down on what it calls “gypsy crime”
In the Hungarian town of Tiszavasvári, members of the far-right Jobbik party have taken it upon themselves to combat what they call “gypsy crime.” Mayor Erik Fülöp has formed a “gendarmerie”—a band of 10 unarmed vigilantes, half of them paid by the city council, who patrol Roma areas and can detain suspects until the police arrive. Fülöp has defended the “gypsy crime” term: “[There are] certain types of criminality which are unfortunately especially prevalent among the Roma—extortion by loan sharks, and robberies from homes and gardens.”
Jobbik’s support is rising just as tensions between the country’s Roma and non-Roma communities are also escalating. Nine people, including two children, were killed in 49 attacks on Roma communities in Hungary between January 2008 and April 2011, according to the European Roma Rights Centre. And the historical allusions are troubling—the original Hungarian gendarmerie was a nationwide force that played a key role in rounding up Hungarian Jews for the Nazis before being disbanded in 1945. Hungary’s conservative Fidesz government has discredited the new gendarmerie as rogue vigilantes who are violating laws prohibiting citizen-led paramilitary groups from targeting ethnic or religious communities.
By Alex Derry - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 9:15 AM - 0 Comments
Pilots in Denmark are taking big risks in the skies
Several recent studies reveal that many Danish pilots are falling asleep at the throttle, despite a law requiring they declare themselves unfit to fly if they are fatigued before takeoff. Denmark’s Politiken magazine interviewed 21 pilots from four airlines and found that many routinely break the law due to feeling pressured by employers to take to the skies or risk losing their jobs. “I thought that I should declare myself unfit, but flew nonetheless,” one pilot told Politiken. “During the flight, I made a lot of small mistakes, but luckily nothing happened.” In a separate survey of 61 pilots, conducted by Denmark’s Aviation Medicine Clinic, 80 per cent said they felt pressure to work despite feeling unfit, and 34 per cent had done so more than five times in five years.
And it’s not just pilots in Denmark. In a February poll by public broadcaster NRK, half of the 389 Norwegian pilots who took part admitted to falling asleep in the cockpit. Pilots often work up to 15 hours a day, with 13 hours at the controls. The EU is seeking to reduce the number of working hours to 14 a day, and 12 at night. The European Cockpit Association says there should be an even greater reduction.
By Alex Derry - Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 10:18 AM - 1 Comment
The Kiev zoo goes from a family favourite to a den of neglect and death
What did Boy the elephant, Maya the camel and Theo the zebra have in common? All three beloved animals have died at the Kiev Zoo, a facility that went from being one of city’s favourite destinations to a place better known for animal neglect and death. The 100-year-old zoo was expelled in 2007 from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria after a brown bear was traumatized when moved to a pen she had to share with a male Malayan sun bear. Svitlana Berzina was then the zoo’s director; during her tenure, about 250 animals died.
Some Kievans believe the animals are deliberately being neglected and, in some cases, illegally sold in order to expedite a real estate deal. Welfare groups are calling for the zoo to be closed and for the animals to be sent to more humane zoos around Europe. “The Kiev Zoo will never attain any basic standards, it’s so far removed from any zoo in Europe,” said John Ruane of Naturewatch, a British animal rights organization. “The conditions have been absolutely horrendous.”
By Alex Derry - Friday, April 1, 2011 at 3:57 PM - 12 Comments
‘Name one thing that got solved at the G8/G20 summit’? We’ve got two."Name one thing that got solved at the G8/G20 summit. We got nothing done. It wasn’t just that it cost a billion dollars, it wasn’t just that it shut down a whole city, it was that we didn’t get anything done for Canada, for the people in the world who look to our leadership to get something done."- Michael Ignatieff
March 28, 2011
Bull Meter score:
Okay, we’ll bite. In fact, we’ve got two things for Ignatieff: there was progress, however modest, on both maternal and child care efforts and with fiscal reform.
John Kirton, director of the G8 Research Group and an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, says Ignatieff is glazing over some rather important achievements in dismissing the summits. The G8 summit in Muskoka notably managed to secure $7.3-billion to fund the maternal and child health initiative. That figure increased to $40-billion three months later at a UN Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York. “By not spending the money on hosting the summit,” says Kirton, “we would not have raised those funds.”
Meanwhile, the G20 summit in Toronto had one job: to stop the euro crisis by convincing markets that indebted nations were serious about cutting their deficits. This was achieved, in part, with the so-called “Toronto Consensus,” which saw developed nations agree to halve their deficits by 2013. While the Irish and Portuguese debt crises that followed the summit rendered the Toronto Consensus somewhat obsolete, Kirton says “it could have been a lot worse.”
Roland Paris, director of the Centre for International Policy and professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, is more critical of the Toronto summit. While he says there was modest progress made on global health and financial reform, the Harper government went too far in trumpeting the successes of the G8/G20 summits. But Paris agrees with Kirton that Ignatieff’s assessment is lacking. “It’s fair to highlight the disparity between the enormous costs and limited accomplishments of these summits,” he says. “It’s not correct to say that they achieved ‘nothing.’”
Heard something that doesn’t sound quite right? Send quotes from the campaign trail to email@example.com and we’ll tell you just how much bull they contain.
By Alex Derry - Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 11:41 AM - 44 Comments
Should we avoid the polls so long as the economy is fragile?"Against this backdrop of growing economic risk, and against our advice, the opposition parties have chosen to force an election the country doesn’t want; an election the economy doesn’t need."- Stephen Harper
March 26, 2011
Bull Meter score:
When looking at the Canadian stock market index and the performance of the loonie over the past 20 years, election campaigns appear to have virtually no effect on the Canadian economy. Sure, Canada’s stock market tanked around the time voters last went to the polls in 2008, but we’re pretty sure the collapse of the global economy had a bit more to do with it than the prorogation of Parliament. Data collected by the Bank of Canada shows that the Canadian dollar’s average fluctuation in the 35 days prior to an election was about US$0.03, with the biggest change—US$0.05—occurring during the 2004 election.
Indeed, few economists would defend the the idea that an election is a “risk” to Canada’s stable economy. With all the part-time jobs involved and party spending, an election may even give Canada’s economy a stimulating jolt.
Heard something that doesn’t sound quite right? Send quotes from the campaign trail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll tell you just how much bull they contain.
By Alex Derry - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 10:08 AM - 0 Comments
The Ivory Coast dictator is refusing to give up power
With the world’s attention focused on the Libyan conflict and pro-democracy uprisings sweeping North Africa, another African dictator’s refusal to give up power has resulted in the complete collapse of his country, leaving it on the brink of anarchy and civil war.
In Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo continues to cling to the presidency despite losing the November 2010 election to his rival, Alassane Ouattara. It was a power grab that resulted in international condemnation, economic sanctions and a delegation of African Union leaders paying him a visit to demand that he cede power. Instead, Gbagbo unleashed a wave of violence. So far, 365 people are dead, and an untold number of rapes, abductions and disappearances have been conducted by security forces and pro-Gbagbo thugs.
Today, Abidjan is a war zone, with pitched battles raging between trained militias loyal to Gbagbo and the insurgent Forces Nouvelles rebels who support Ouattara. Both are using heavy weaponry; pro-Gbagbo youth militias are looting and burning the houses of pro-Ouattara politicians. There are unconfirmed reports of soldiers entering hospitals and executing wounded victims. “You can’t really understate how cruel and sadistic the combat has become,” says Marco Oved, a Canadian journalist with the Associated Press based in Abidjan. “What is going on here are war crimes.”
By Alex Derry - Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 12:09 PM - 1 Comment
Anna Chapman has been turning heads with revealing photo shoots. Now she’s running for parliament.
When a Russian spy ring was discovered in the U.S. last summer, one agent—Anna Vasilyvna Chapman, 29—became the subject of scrutiny and some ridicule in the United States. Now, she’s running as a parliamentary candidate for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in her hometown of Volgograd. Being a national hero, she’ll probably win.
As the media circus buzzed around the Cold War-style scandal of Russian spies operating in the U.S. for more than a decade, the tabloids set their crosshairs on Chapman. Allusions were made to femme fatale archetypes and James Bond villainesses. Countless news stories focused exclusively on her sex appeal and the various broken hearts she left in her wake. On NBC’s Tonight Show, Jay Leno asked Vice President Joe Biden if there are “any spies that hot [in the U.S.]?” Biden, equally quick with a wince-worthy one-liner, replied with Obama-like inflection: “Let me be clear, it wasn’t my idea to send her back.”
By Alex Derry - Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 4:39 PM - 19 Comments
‘Moammar Gadhafi is not a normal person that you can poison or lead a revolution against’
On Tuesday, Moammar Gadhafi addressed Libyans on state television while his security forces waged a pitched and violent battle against anti-government protesters on the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi. Gadhafi, always up for a good ramble, didn’t disappoint. His remarks—all 73 minutes of them—were typically incoherent and contradictory. If the reality on the ground weren’t so serious—hundreds killed; complete civil collapse—they might even be funny.
“Those who want glory should remember the evacuation of the Americans, and the Great [Manmade] River, and the return of oil in Libya, and the nationalization of companies. Now 90 per cent of these companies you own, and only 10 per cent are owned by foreign [agents].”
ON HOW HE WILL NOT USE FORCE—UNLESS HE USES FORCE, WHICH WOULD BE ALLOWED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION HE INVENTED:
“We will not use force again. The force is on the side of the Libyan people. If matters require the use of force, we will use force according to international law and according to Libyan laws and [the] constitution.”
ON WHO’S IN CHARGE:
“If I had the position, if I were the president, I would have resigned. I would have thrown my resignation in your face. But I have no position, no post. I have nothing to resign from. I have my gun, my rifle to fight for Libya.”
“Moammar Gadhafi is not the president, he is the leader of the revolution.”
“I am a fighter, a revolutionary from tents…I will die as a martyr at the end.”
ON SOBRIETY AS VIRTUE:
“A small group of young people who have taken drugs have attacked police stations like mice… They have taken advantage of this peace and stability. However it is not their fault, these young people; they tried to imitate what happened in Tunisia … However there is a small group of sick people that has infiltrated cities that are circulating drugs and money.”
ON KEEPING A COOL HEAD:
“Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs. They are taking your children and getting them drunk and sending them to death. For what? To destroy Libya, burn Libya.”
“I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired…when I do, everything will burn.”
ON WHAT’S AT STAKE:
“Do you want America to occupy you, like Afghanistan and Iraq?”
ON THE APPARENT HEALTH BENEFITS OF EMPLOYING A VOLUPTUOUS UKRAINIAN NURSE:
“Moammar Gadhafi is not a normal person that you can poison.. or lead a revolution against”
ON HOW PROTESTS ARE PASSÉ:
“They are just imitating Egypt and Tunisia.”
By Alex Derry - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 5:00 PM - 1 Comment
For some, skating on a synthetic surface is as bad as buying a fake Christmas tree.
For some, skating on a synthetic surface is as bad as buying a fake Christmas tree. But running an arena is a costly enterprise, and so with a budget crunch putting several city-run rinks at risk—including eight in his ward—Winnipeg city councillor Gord Steeves wants the city to consider installing the more affordable fake stuff. A report on the benefits and drawbacks of synthetic ice, commissioned earlier this month by the protection and community services committee that Steeves chairs, is due in 90 days.
There is, not surprisingly, a bit of skepticism over making the switch. Thomas Steen, Steeves’s colleague on council and a former Winnipeg Jets forward, has skated on the surface and recently told local reporters that “it’s harder to turn or stop” on it, but he’s not opposed to the idea if the technology has improved. Georges Laraque, a former right-winger with the Montreal Canadiens and Canada’s representative for Super-Glide ice, argues that synthetic ice is “80 per cent like a real ice surface.” Laraque partnered with the Florida-based company following his retirement in 2009, when he noticed that maintenance costs were forcing some municipal arenas in Edmonton to close, leaving nowhere for kids to play hockey. Laraque, the deputy leader of the federal Green party, says that synthetic ice is a “green technology” and a cost-effective way to keep rinks open year-round. Plus, at $20 a square foot, he says, Super-Glide’s synthetic ice, made with a plastic polymer, is a cheaper alternative to the labour-intensive real thing.
For Steeves, it’s less about choosing fake over real ice, and more “a choice between synthetic ice and closing down these arenas.”
By Alex Derry - Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 5:58 PM - 22 Comments
Why the Giffords shooting isn’t out of character for the desert state
Having recently returned from Washington, where she was sworn into her third term in the House of Representatives, Gabrielle Giffords and her aides arrived at a Tucson Safeway to meet and greet her constituents on the morning of January 8, 2011. As one of Arizona’s more conservative Democrats and the only Jewish woman in the state’s history to serve in Congress, Giffords was a popular centrist politician in a state whose political representatives have often gone off the ideological deep end.
When the news spread that Jared Lee Loughner, 22, had allegedly turned a gun on the crowd, killing six and wounding 14, with Giffords as his intended target, it was greeted with shock and disbelief. How could America have fallen so far? Could the national debate have grown so vitriolic that people now turn to their guns to express their dissatisfaction with the order of things?
Perhaps such utter disbelief is a little naïve. After all, as Stephen Lemons of Phoenix News described Arizona, it is a place where “there are very real ideas at war with each other.”
Giffords herself represents Arizona’s conflicting political dichotomies. She is a hawkish “blue dog” Democrat in favour of tighter border security. She has defended SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration bill, calling it a cry for help from a state that was desperate for action on comprehensive immigration reform. Arizonan journalist Terry Greene Sterling explains that while she is by no means a polarizing figure in the state’s politics, “she walked an increasingly political tightrope in her sprawling southeastern Arizona district.” Her constituency, Sterling says, was a loose patchwork of “employees of military bases, Minutemen, retirees, borderland townsfolk, meth dealers, Tucson suburbanites and cattle ranchers.”
In Arizona, even law enforcement is tainted by the state’s divisive politics. Pima County Sherriff Clarence Dupnik, a friend of Giffords’s and an opponent of SB 1070, said in a press conference following the shooting that Arizona is a “Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” In contrast, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of neighbouring Maricopa County is a militant opponent of illegal immigration. He has regularly rounded up Hispanic people suspected of being illegal immigrants and thrown them into Tent City, a Guantanamo-like detention centre that even he has described as a “concentration camp.” His harsh tactics have made him the subject of a Federal Grand Jury investigation for civil rights violations.
Gun ownership in Arizona is not as politically divisive an issue as it is in the rest of the United States. While critical of the state’s lax gun laws and draconian immigration policies, Sherriff Dupnik has also advised Pima residents to arm themselves, saying the Tucson Police Department doesn’t have the resources to protect residents. A strong supporter of the second amendment, Congresswoman Giffords also owns a gun and has described herself as “a pretty good shot.” Her weapon of choice is a Glock 9, the same make of gun that Loughner allegedly used to shoot her through the back of the head at point-blank range.
During the 2010 mid-term election campaign, Nevada Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle invoked a troubling and archaic interpretation of the constitutional right to bear arms. Angle’s supporters, she warned, were increasingly looking to “Second Amendment remedies” as a means to “turn this country around.” The rhetorical symbolism of the gun used by frontier state conservatives is not a recent trend. In 1961, Arizona’s native son and archconservative Barry Goldwater declared “we’re not going to get the Negro vote as a block in 1964 and 1968, so we ought to go hunting where the ducks are.”
In the meantime, Arizona has kept its law books clear of all but the most rudimentary restrictions on gun ownership. Last January, Governor Jan Brewer signed a law allowing Arizonans to carry concealed weapons without a permit. This law allowed Loughner, reportedly motivated by political passions, to buy a Glock 19 handgun almost a year later. He passed the instant background check despite a history of unstable behaviour (he had been suspended from Pima Community College due to “mental problems”), because his name never appeared on the National Instant Background Check System.
Decades of financial mismanagement have left Arizona teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, forcing it to make massive cuts to social services, including mental health counseling. It is now a state where vigilantism rules the border, and where guns are freely allowed in universities and the state legislature. Loughner’s crime may be no one’s fault but his own, but is it really that much of a surprise that it happened in Arizona?