MY FIRST PROTEST/RIOT (Later in the day)


While I was in Barcelona I had the opportunity to experience my first ‘protest’. I was standing with a man from Columbia and he observed that the protest was around government cuts to education (They were University students – facing bleak prospect in a country with 24% unemployment and 40-50% unemployment if you are under 25 (depending on which news outlet you read)).


The fellow from Columbia was amazed that the students kept away from police saying “Look at the way they do not approach the police”. I commented that it isn’t that odd. He stated that isn’t the case in Columbia – in his country the police fear the people, not the other way around.


Moments later 20 paddy wagons came rushing in and riot police moved in. The crowd didn’t stick around.



A few years ago I blogged about Generation Kill, the HBO miniseries based on a Rolling Stone reporters experience in Iraq while embedded with the marines. The article was The Killer Elite and spawned the book Generation Kill. The article was not good for the marines. On a personal level, I found the whole thing quite sad and it painted an unpleasant picture of the war and the future for that country. Not inspiring. For several of the marines in the book, it lead to grave consequences:

Sergeant Espera was forced to leave the battalion and SSgt. Eric Kocher was disciplined for his actions in retrieving a fellow Marine who was wounded after stepping on a landmine.[2]

I am not sure how Rolling Stone does it, but their latest expose is even more damning. The article The Runaway General is a candid portrait of the situation in Afghanistan. Most people are ignoring the real issues in that country as the personal drama of whether or not President Obama will fire General Stanley McChrystal for his teams inappropriate comments in the article and open disdain for the White House.

Reading the article, I was left scratching my head. The strategy that the military is employing is a mix of military suppression, infrastructure rebuilding and active recruitment of a positive image within the Afghan community, called counterinsurgency:

From the start, McChrystal was determined to place his personal stamp on Afghanistan, to use it as a laboratory for a controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency. COIN, as the theory is known, is the new gospel of the Pentagon brass, a doctrine that attempts to square the military’s preference for high-tech violence with the demands of fighting protracted wars in failed states. COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation’s government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve. The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps. In 2006, after Gen. David Petraeus beta-tested the theory during his "surge" in Iraq, it quickly gained a hardcore following of think-tankers, journalists, military officers and civilian officials. Nicknamed "COINdinistas" for their cultish zeal, this influential cadre believed the doctrine would be the perfect solution for Afghanistan. All they needed was a general with enough charisma and political savvy to implement it.

With billions of dollars being deployed and hundreds of thousands of troops, the future does not look so bright:

When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France’s nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose. "Even Afghans are confused by Afghanistan," he says. But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. "It’s all very cynical, politically," says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who has extensive experience in the region. "Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there’s nothing for us there."

Military men acting as enforcement, government and diplomat. A volatile mix and it would appear that the despair continues for that region with very little hope, a lot of wasted money and no end in sight.

What I don’t see is someone looking at the big, monster UN with a critical eye.



As the G20 and G8 approach in Ontario, Canada has made it clear that we will urge debt reduction among the foreign governments of the world:

Canada will push for the Group of 20 countries to develop clear plans for cutting their budget deficits when leaders meet later this month in Toronto, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Monday.

Meanwhile, the new British Prime Minister has made it clear that the UK needs change. The change is in the form of the UK looking to Canada for radical debt reduction programs, like those that Canada adopted in the 90’s:

The Chancellor will announce a "once-in-a-generation" revolution in public spending inspired by Canada in the mid-1990s, when the government turned a budget deficit of nine per cent of GDP into a surplus.

Canada brought public spending under control guided by the principle that people should ask "what needs to be done by government and what we can afford to do".

Today the UK spends more money on financing debt than they do on education. The UK spends 70Bn GBP annually to service debt. I do not relish what the UK is about to go through, and I remember those times in Canada. But it was a worthwhile endeavour, note the trajectory after Paul Martin’s 1995 budget, the year when the government got serious about debt reduction. 


A full history of Canada’s debt can be found here, complete with charts. Interesting read.

Hopefully Canada will take their own medicine. After running a positive budget for the last 13+ years while paying down debt, this recent recession and massive stimulus spending has really put a dent in the debt meter.



The other night I happened onto the story of the Sea Shepherd organization and their recent accident. In the below video, their anti-whaling ship the Adi Gil was rammed and sunk by a Japanese security ship as it worked to protect an illegal Japanese whaling ship. Japan whales by calling their whale hunting scientific in purpose.


It peaked my interest and I spent the next hour reading through the website. Truly an amazing history documented here ranging from being attributed with huge gains in the anti-whaling movement to activity against Canada and the seal hunt. The story of the original Sea Shepherd ship and its war with the Sierra, a whaling ship that killed more than 25,000 whales, is a fascinating one. I found myself rooting for the Sea Shepherd as we come to the end:

The Sierra had been towed to Lisbon for repairs, though the Portuguese authorities lied to the American consul and told him that the ship had left the country. Taking advantage of the Sierra’s immobility, a team of underwater demolition experts made preparations to finish the career of the whaler.

On February 6, 1980, after undergoing US$ one million in repairs, the Sierra was sunk at dockside by a single limpet mine that blew a small hole in the hull. The ship took on water and slowly sank until it struck the bottom. Nobody was injured.

The sordid career of the Sierra was finally brought to an end.

Later that year more limpet mines sank half of the Spanish whaling fleet. A reward offered by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for the sinking of whaling ships caused owners to mistrust their underpaid crews and shut down their own whaling operations. Sea Shepherd and her allies had achieved in one year what 10 years of rhetoric and national posturing had failed to do.

Paul Watson, the founder, has an interesting history, particularly with Greenpeace:

Paul Watson became active with Greenpeace in 1971 as a member of our second expedition against nuclear weapons testing in Amchitka, and went on to participate in actions against whaling and the killing of harp seals.  He was an influential early member but not, as he sometimes claims, a founder. He was expelled from the leadership of Greenpeace in 1977 by a vote of 11 to one (only Watson himself voted against it).

Having now watched him on the Animal Plant biography about his organization ‘Whale Wars’, one thing becomes clear – the man is passionate about saving the whales. I hope he wins. The irony in his struggle with the Japanese and their illegal whaling, is that the modern Japanese don’t even appear to like whale meat. From the article ‘Controversial killing fleet tastes failure as Japanese lose their appetite for whale meat’:

Despite falling market prices, and regular government efforts to "educate" the population by way of academic lectures, food festivals, and compulsory school lunches, whale meat remains a dish that few modern Japanese have eaten more than twice. Not because it is scarce, they just don’t like it.

Daiki Fukuda is owner of a traditional izakaya restaurant called Paddock, in the northern coastal prefecture of Ishikawa.  His reasons for not serving whale meat are purely culinary. "It doesn’t taste good," he says.

"I think it’s very strange to go hunting for whales near the South Pole when we have other meat and fish that are much more delicious. I tried whale meat once at school when I was a kid, and I hated it. We all did."

Japanese diet or a fleet of eco pirates, it would appear that either one could end the whaling trade.



A few weeks ago we went to see Stuff Happens downtown. The play centers on the Bush administration and the build up to the Iraqi war. Not surprisingly, George Bush is portrayed as an arrogant leader (not unlike his portrayal in W), Rumsfeld as a warmonger and Cheney as the quiet, back room manipulator and profiteer.

The ‘good guy’ of the play is Colin Powell, caught between loyalty to his country (dictated by the will to go to war of the current administration) and the plays depiction of his efforts to find a peaceful resolution. One particularly interesting point is where he makes it very clear that Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld have an insatiable desire for war because they do not respect it or the cost, due to their questionable or non-existent active military service.

In the end, one is left wondering, what were they thinking (or how can they live with themselves)? More than 100,000 Iraqi dead, a whopping $1.3 trillion in expense (Which is well documented to have made Cheney, Halliburton and the US Military industrial complex happy) and … Osama is still free. Madness with no justification.

Stuff Happens

Footnote: On the topic of Osama, the playwright makes a  scathing accusation during the play when Blair calls Bush, basically asking Bush why British troops were asked to pull back early in the Afghan conflict when they could have captured Osama (suggesting that the US ordered it). A quick internet search turns up little on the topic other a few articles:

The ultimate fault for the failure to capture bin Laden lies not in the U.S. effort, but in the U.S. strategy. Franks and Rumsfeld decided to attempt to deliver a swift and economical knockout blow to the Taliban through airpower and the limited application of troops on the ground. Instead of employing the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force, the Afghan model for Operation Enduring Freedom depended on airpower and on highly mobile paramilitary teams, working in concert with opposition warlords and tribal leaders. Franks capped the number of boots on the ground at 10,000.

For this reason — the relative scarcity of U.S. soldiers — Franks and Rumsfeld refused to send more troops to Tora Bora to block, capture, or kill bin Laden. But soldiers and scholars alike have since argued that there were sufficient troops available in Afghanistan and nearby Uzbekistan to mount a genuine assault on bin Laden’s position at Tora Bora. And they could have been augmented within about a week by reinforcements from the Persian Gulf and the United States.

The report prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee state that the British had managed to corner Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Boar mountains in the December of 2001. The escape was possible for the leader as the British officials had chosen to bank on “air strikes” and “untrained Afghan militaries” to track down a group of highly trained militants. Though the military had requested repeatedly to the government to send in reinforcements, their plea had gone unnoticed.

The military team that went to war against the Al-Qaeda were quite certain that they would be able to capture or kill Laden. Even as the militants endured hours of air strikes, the British asked to be allowed to block the mountain paths, but the vast array of the military power was not allowed to be used. While the leaders today admit that capturing Bin Laden would not have eliminated the terrorist threats that has captured the world, it would have put an end to the figure that continues to threaten the world and inspire fanatics.

One has to wonder how many would have been saved had Osama been caught 8 years ago? Another sad chapter in a saga that is far from over. Just glad Canada didn’t join in.



A friend forwarded this article ‘Changing face of Canada ‘Cowboy City’ about my home town, Brooks Alberta recently. Due to the packing plant, the town has undergone a dramatic ethnic shift – as refugees from Africa flock to the town to build a new life.

About 10 years ago, the company started hiring new immigrants and refugees who had recently arrived in Canada.

Alberta’s oil patch with its high salaries had enticed locals away and the plant could not find enough Canadian workers.

Word spread across the country that newcomers could get a job quickly at the meat processing plant in Brooks without speaking English or having any specific skills and that starting pay would generally be $13 an hour (£7).

Immigrants and refugees have come to Brooks because jobs are available

The job attracted many immigrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America who had left their country for a better life in Canada.

"People know (it) doesn’t matter what your language, doesn’t matter where you’re from in the world – you show up tomorrow and you can go to work at Lakeside Packers," said Brooks Mayor Martin Shields.

The article is right, it was a cowboy town when I grew up there. There were minorities, but no one every thought about it. My brother’s best friend’s parents were from India, our buddy’s parents were Chinese and owned a local restaurant and one of my best female friends in high school was born in India. But we never thought about it. Race never came into it, as it was an integrated society and everyone was just who they were. In all of my time there, I cannot think of a single race incident.

When I returned there a few years ago for my 20th high school reunion, I was shocked by the undertone that race was sending through conversations. The ‘preppy bar’ that I knew from my youth was now the ‘Somali bar that you can’t go near or you will be knifed’, and I heard more than one racial slur. I was shocked.

The town has a lot of change ahead. As the article quotes:

"They go to that wonderful mural of the four cowboys and they see our western heritage and they picture themselves on a horse being a cowboy," she said.

Jackie pointed out that this was not the first time Brooks has experienced an influx of immigrants.

"The cowboys that came in the early days were either English or Scottish and then we had an influx of Hungarians," she said.

"The new immigrants will be the next phase of our heritage."

It was a great place to grow up, I hope that it finds its balance again.



Fast Company has a very interesting article on the decline of Dubai called ‘Bye-Bye Dubai’ which features a slideshow on the cities ongoing decline and non-stop shutdown of mega projects. The Dubai decline slideshow is fascinating … abandoned cars and all.


When we were in Dubai, I asked the same question ‘Why? How can it last?’. It seems like there is more pain to come. From The Globe and Mail ‘Crunch Time in Dubai’:

The sheikdom and its network of state-controlled companies amassed at least $80 billion (U.S.) in debt on projects like manmade islands and opulent high-rises during a multiyear building boom that saw the city-state craft itself into the Middle East’s financial, trade and tourism hub.

About $50 billion worth of that debt needs to be covered over the next three years, said Farouk Soussa, S&P’s head of Middle East government ratings. A lack of government information has left investors wondering how it all will be repaid or refinanced.

“It’s anyone’s guess how much the government of Dubai has to support that debt,” Soussa said at a conference in Dubai. “It comes back to transparency.”

I guess Dubailand will have to wait.



NASA and the University of Phoenix (home of the golf scholarship and ‘Mojito making 101‘) just landed a ‘scout’ on the surface of Mars. Feedback from the scout’s AI?

‘It is flat and cold, and which one of you jokers flew me 75,000,000 miles without a color camera?’

You can read all about it here. Pictures can be seen here (B&W). Riveting photos, I have added a few captions:



  Over heard from Phoenix mission command:

  ‘Wow, that is amazing. The rocks of Mars’

  ‘Looks like my backyard if I forget to water. I gave up my summer to do this?’






  ‘Seriously guys, if the NASA scientist dude comes back and sees us making hand puppets with the robotic arm, he is going to flip and I won’t get course credit’








‘Yes, it does kind of look like an Alien. But seriously, he will be back any minute. Stop fooling around’








  ‘Frank, do you remember how to get the camera pointing out?’



My wife’s Messenger is still set to Canada, so on occasion I see the news thing that pops up or see Canadian news through her homepage (which is also set to Canada).

This is how I came across the article ‘Why Canada is not in the subprime mess’. The crux of it being, don’t over borrow – you will not go bankrupt, and don’t let financial institutions lend recklessly. As they put it:

Both federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the Bank of Canada have recently worried aloud about the growth in long-amortization and no-down-payment mortgages. Forty-year mortgages now represent up to a third of new mortgage business at some institutions. And because such a large portion of our net worth tends to be locked in our homes, many Canadians certainly are exposed to risks if house prices plummet or interest rates soar.

Still, for once, we can take heart in the fact that our more boring, prudent ways will likely save us from the disaster down south.

True enough.



You read about Saudi Arabia and what goes on there and you wonder? They allow no religious freedom, no rights to women, no freedom of the press, no democracy and the monarchy rapes and pillages the local wealth. We support them why? (We all know why, oil. But still, why?)

In the latest atrocity, the Saudi courts (which are based on Islamic law) have decided to punish a woman who was raped with 200 lashes and a jail term. The punishment was increased for "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.” And if that is not enough, they also took away her lawyer’s license.

Read about it here. Good thing that Saddam was taken out. After all, he was the dictator, right? Read what Amnesty International has to say on Saudi Arabia here.

Then again, as a Canadian, how can we point a finger after the 4 RCMP bullies used a tazer to apprehend a man who was unarmed, agitated for a proper reason (First time flying ever, held in detention with no interpreter for 10 hours) and made no threatening move to the well armed officers who massively outnumbered him.

As most Canadian’s know, they did not tazer him once – they hit him twice, writhing in pain and then pounced on his neck. He died. You can read about it here or watch this tragedy in action here (A bystander caught it on video). The even sadder thing? It is clear that the RCMP were well on the way to a cover up as they took no action until the video hit the internet.

We don’t need an external influence for evil, mankind does a proper job of manufacturing it on our own. A shameful day for a nation that is proud of a heritage of serving, treating people fairly and for a police force that is respected around the world.