Davida Jones, visiting San Juan del Sur from Diablo Crossfit in California, achieves a personal best deadlift of 215 lbs. Wow!
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Following upon my post about the beneficial properties of blueberries, here is a report from the Houston Press say that many processed food companies are labeling their products as containing blueberries when, in fact, only artificial blueberry flavour is included. Read more
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
There has been much hand wringing in the US media over the past couple of weeks in response to revelations about torture techniques, or enhanced interrogation if you prefer the Bushism, used by the CIA during the recently abandoned and unlamented Global War on Terror. An article in the op-ed page in today's New York Times demands that the newly released CIA memos be investigated and those responsible brought to justice, so that America can reclaim its soul. The hypocrisy of it is appalling.
American culture is built upon a powerful mythology, most of which is dependent upon a very subjective, if not creative, historical perspective. If America does not torture, why has the Central Intelligence Agency had a training manual for torture techniques since the 1980's? The reality is that hooking up a man's scrotum to a car battery is as American as Mom's apple pie.
The Harvard University of systematically inflicted pain is the US Army's School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Georgia. This is where torturers from Guatemala to Chile have received their tuition. General Pinochet's infamous detention centres were responsible for the 'disappearance' of some 130,000 people during his regime and survivors have documented their horrific suffering in those cells, often remarking upon the silent American standing in a corner. Even Saddam Hussein employed Langley to train his secret police in the fine art of the rubber hose, back in the days when Donald Rumsfeld was a pal. The number of other authoritarian regimes who have tapped CIA expertise to terrorize their peoples is too long to list.
In the Viet Nam war, US interrogators would commonly take three Viet Cong suspects up in a helicopter, then throw two of them out the door to their deaths. They found that the third man invariably talked. During the many US incursions into Latin America in the first half of the twentieth century, their military often reverted to medieval techniques to suppress popular resistance to Washington's client regimes. Go back as far as the Spanish American War of 1898 and you can read about the unsavory methods applied by US Marines to captured Philippine guerrillas fighting the American occupation of their country. In truth, torture has been standard operating practice in the US military and intelligence services for generations, with the full knowledge and approval of their political leadership. George W. Bush was simply the first president to let the veil drop.
The righteous indignation of the American media is a sham. Not only does the United States torture, it is arguably the world's most enthusiastic proponent of coercive physical abuse. The preference of Americans to maintain their pretensions of nobility rather than confront the inconvenient truth is understandable, but it does them no credit and it will not stop the torture.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
A news story today reports the capture of a group of children in Iraq who were being trained as suicide bombers by al-Qaeda. Yet another despicable act attributed to this fictional organization. Contrary to popular belief, al-Qaeda was actually a creation of the United States Justice Department and not Osama bin Laden.
In 1993, the hapless perpetrators of the first, failed attack on the World Trade Center were quickly captured and the Justice Department wanted to prosecute them under anti-racketeering statutes. This required proof that the accused belonged to a criminal organization and the government lacked any evidence to support such a claim. At that time, Egyptian intelligence was being offered information about Osama bin Laden from a man who had worked for him, stolen money and was now on the run. The Egyptians considered the man a very unreliable source, but US agents were eager to interview him. When asked about the bombers' organization, the informant confirmed its existence and gave its name as al-Qaeda (the Base). He later admitted to having made it all up to get cash out of the Americans, but by then the bombers had been convicted.
Osama bin Laden only started referring to al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, when he realized that the US government was using the name. Justice Department officials claimed that it was a vast organization with cells in more than sixty countries. In fact, when a British film crew interviewed him shortly before 9/11, bin Laden hired hooded gunmen for the day from another Islamist group to provide himself with an impressive bodyguard for the filming. His own organization amounted to a cook and a driver. The attacks on 9/11 and other terrorist actions attributed to al-Qaeda were actually carried out by independent groups whose only association to bin Laden was through his cheque book. The wealthy Saudi was a reliable source of funding for these operations, but he appears to have had little other involvement.
For the Bush Whitehouse, the truth was not helpful in persuading the American public that an imminent threat existed from a sophisticated worldwide terrorist network lead by an evil mastermind. A handful of cave dwelling Luddites hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan, armed only with 30-year old Kalashnikovs, would not have inspired the fear and rage that was manipulated to produced the War on Terror.
Since 9/11, Islamist extremist groups have applied the name al-Qaeda to themselves to borrow some of bin Laden's fame and the western press and governments have implied an affiliation to the non-existent organization to any terrorist group that appeared. The phantom menace, indeed. Osama bin Laden no doubt finds it all very amusing.
In an interview recently published in The New York Times, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the liberal Nicaraguan journalist and editor of the Sandanista newspaper Barricada during the 1980's, stated that democracy was not the goal he and his fellow revolutionaries had hoped to achieve with the overthrow of dictator Antonio Samoza in 1979. They were simply seeking social reform. Nicaragua at the time had no experience of democracy and no institutions to support it. Democracy is still nascent here and struggling. Even the flagrant corruption and election rigging that they commonly see fails to incite outrage among Nicaraguans. After all, why would you expect better from politicians?
Contrary to the child-like belief of George W. Bush, the mere holding of an election does not a democracy make. The old Soviet Union held elections regularly, but could hardly have been called democratic. The great, unappreciated gift Americans received from England and which is the foundation of their republic is a tradition of democracy, responsible government, personal freedom and the rule of law that was centuries in the making. Only an Englishman could have written the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, Iraq and Afghanistan have no such legacy to build upon and it cannot be implanted by naïve foreigners. Likewise, the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in recent years may have brought more popular leaders into power, but they have not really changed the nature of government in those nations. Election to public office is still commonly looked upon as a license to steal rather than an opportunity to do public service. It will take generations of hard work to make these countries into functioning representative democracies, if it ever happens at all. The same is true over much of the world.
Hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid has been sent to the developing world over the past few decades since the end of colonialism. Along with sincere diplomatic efforts, innumerable international conferences and many well intended global projects, it has achieved just slightly more than nothing. Until the political systems of the poor countries change, all efforts to improve the circumstances of their peoples will be nothing more than spitting into the wind. The aid money might just as well be stacked in a great pile, doused with gasoline and set alight for all the real good it will achieve. Building genuine democracy is a hard, complex, costly and long-term endeavor, but it is the only true path to development.
Political development means that grass roots political parties have to be formed and leaders of integrity found. A free press needs to take seriously its responsibility to inform the public and question power. Independent and disinterested commissions must be formed to run elections and safeguard the results. When courts, legislators and civil servants feel the moral obligation, and moral authority, to protect the public interest against abuses of power, then democracy will have a chance to flourish.
Ultimately, progress will only be made through decades of persistent and often thankless work by a few activists that will most often yield frustratingly incremental gains. Political leaders can be expected to play an incidental role, at best. It will be the dedication of the small minority who devote their lives, and often risk their lives, to press for fundamental change that will decide the future of our world. The support and financial aid of the First World should be directed to these change agents if it is to have any genuine impact. The task is huge and the odds are stacked heavily against success but, in the end, it's still the best hope we have. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In a recent conversation with a woman who has proven herself an astute investor with an insightful view of economic trends, she outlined her expectation of worldwide economic Armageddon within months and Mad Max style violence and anarchy in the United States within a year. The reality is that not even Nobel winning economists have a clear idea of how the current economic crisis will unfold. Everything is speculation at this point.
Back in 1980, Ronald Reagan started the neo-liberal revolution of big debt, deregulation and plentiful consumer credit. Sadly, Margaret Thatcher emulated his policies and much of the rest of the world followed suit, even though Reaganomics was more of a political ideology with no real basis in economic theory. Today the US national debt is nearing 100% of GDP, personal bankruptcies are at an all time high and there is genuine fear of a 1930's style depression. We can only hope that people wake up to what has been going on and start demanding more responsible governance of the economy. Countries cannot live inevitably running budget and balance of payments deficits, anymore than a person can live perpetually on credit cards. Politicians know this, but are loathe to tell the voting public that they are going to have to live within their means. That big screen high definition television will have to wait, Bubba, even if the line of credit your bank gave you will cover it.
The Reagan Revolution actually resulted in a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class public to corporations and wealthy individuals. Over the past few decades, corporate earning have risen spectacularly and the wealthy have become the super wealthy while middle class incomes have stagnated at late '70's levels. In fact, people are working longer hours to earn the same income, making this the first generation of North Americans in the last couple of centuries that is worse off than their parents. There is an accomplishment for the neo-cons to trumpet.
The need is for a paradigm shift, away from the often stated but dubious belief that the market always knows best, government should be minimized and that enriching corporations and the wealthy will eventually benefit everyone else. Change the primary statistical measures of economic progress from GDP growth and corporate profits to increase in the average household income and decline in income disparity. Politicians forget that the economy is not an abstract idea, it is made up of people. The wealthy suggest that their taxes should be low because they are highly productive individuals and should be encouraged to invest and spend. The problem with this concept is that, no matter how many new Mercedes they buy, the rich are an inconsequentially small segment of the economy. The overwhelming majority of economic activity is generated by middle-class and working-class house holds buying groceries, paying bills and going about their daily business. Any economic policy that is not directed at the broad middle-class is doomed to fail.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
A small commotion was created two days ago by a would be comedian on the television show Red Eye on the Fox News Network, what its host describes as a satirical news programme. He and his guests mocked the Canadian military over a report that the Canadian Forces would need an operational break of one year after finishing their Afghanistan mission to refit and reinforce.
As Canadian satirist Rick Mercer pointed out, comments made on a low-budget, third-rate imitation of The Daily Show, shown on the worst news network in the United States in the dead of night are not worth the outrage that it generated from Canadians. Dead soldiers are not comedic material and the host of the show, Greg Gutfeld, merely humiliated himself with an appalling display of ignorance about Canada in general and its contribution to the Afghan operation. When the Canadian government demanded an apology, Gutfield lacked the backbone to make it himself and delegated the job to the Fox News PR department. The most likely result of this fracas is that the cancellation notice for Red Eye that has no doubt been sitting on the desk of the VP of Programming at Fox News has moved to the top of his IN box.
Sadly, Fox News is now the most popular news network in the United States and the ignorance and laughable arrogance displayed by Mr. Gutfield probably played well in middle America. To put the credibility of Fox News as an information source in perspective, in 1997 the company fired two of the employees in its Florida affiliate for refusing to include in a news report information they knew to be false. The employees sued the company successfully, but Fox News appealed the decision and won on the grounds that FCC rules against the deliberate falsification of information in news programming did not constitute an actual law. Fox sued for the right to lie to the public and won.
Monday, January 26, 2009
The civic government in San Juan del Sur appear to have found some funds, with the assistance of a local distillery, to begin placing various signs around the town. Visitors are now welcomed as they arrive and informed of the local population size. Street signs have begun to sprout on every corner.
This is all quite salutary, although not particularly useful. Buildings are not numbered in Nicaragua and street names are never used to identify addresses. Even in the city of Leon, where they have always had street signs, all locations are identified by references; ie. half a block south of the Banc Centro office and one block west of the Hotel Estrella.
Although begun with good intentions, these things are inevitably taken too far. The sign pictured below just appeared today.