Archive for: November 2009

This Nova Scotia: low bridge

Max Headroom: 4.5 metres wasn’t quite enough this morning for a pair of Halifax-bound trucks carrying two halves of a windowless metal-clad building:

low bridge 1-s

Daylight appears between the Old Enfield Road bridge and the load in this second photo, but that’s only because the trailer was detached and resting on the pavement of Highway 102:

Low bridge - 2s

Feedback: A contrarian Contrarian reader called Jeff writes:

Low Bridge? What low bridge? That is an oversized load. Your anti-government bias shows! I am teasing, but, at the same time, I do find it interesting you report it from that perspective.  Am I being too contrarian?

The unbearable whiteness of flesh – a CP perspective

Canadian Press alumnus Dan Badel, who often covered state visits, writes:

[W]hichever protocol staff were in charge would always provide reporters with a card describing what she was wearing, whoever “she” happened to be — Princess Diana, the Queen, etc. Those notes covered it all – from the shoes to the hat, which was especially important for the Queen!

I rarely included any of that detail in my reports since I felt I was there to cover news, not fashion. However some media — especially social or fashion reporters and many of the photographers — would snatch them up and usually quote them verbatim. I vaguely recall one being quite miffed when that info wasn’t provided quickly since it was absolutely crucial to her report.

It would be interesting to know if protocol staff do that for White House events and, if so, how they described the dress. I notice there are many Associated Press pickups on the story that use “cream-colored” instead of “skin-colored.” So AP must have quickly sent corrected copy, but apparently not quick enough, since the original story was widely used.

Incidentally, the Indian-born fashion designer, Naeem Khan, includes a link to the original version on his Facebook page, and has a note thanking AP for “a great story.”

Blatchford makes herself useful

In the PMO War Room, columnist Christie Blatchford must have seemed an inspired choice. She can turn a purple phrase with the best of them. She stands foursquare for troops, widows, and orphans. She’s against plummies, toffs, and pointyheads. She’s long on guts and glory, short on assay. She has an ego as big as the Ritz, and fragile as a Gruyère Soufflé. To receive a document drop on a Matter of National Importance would be sweet validation.

So the Harper Government—someone in the Harper Government—got the brilliant idea of handing Blatchford a trove of Richard Colvin’s long-sought emails from Kandahar, the same documents Harper has thus far refused to surrender to Parliament.

This is a standard bit of hardball damage control. Before releasing damning documents to anyone who might review them critically, pass them instead to a compliant journalist—a “high-value third-party,” in PR lingo—who can be counted on to convey their content with government-friendly gloss.

sky27nw2Blatchford did not disappoint. Her piece in Saturday’s Globe is replete with snide references to Colvin, who did not spend enough time outside the wire for her liking. Apparently volunteering to step into the shoes of the highest ranking diplomat ever to be killed in Afghanistan isn’t sufficient for our combat-besotted scribe.

Blatchford says the document drop  “appears to be the entire collection” of Colvin’s Afghan e-mails. Journalists who have actually followed the torture testimony confirm that she appears to have some documents not among those previously released, but she is also missing others. Even by Blatchford’s own account, the documents she got range from “virtually completely blacked out” through “heavily redacted” to [snideness alert] “rattl[ing] on at such length they could have done with a little more redacting.”

The omissions neither trouble Blatchford nor deter her from complaining about what Colvin doesn’t say. She finds nothing in the documents that might have alarmed Colvin’s superiors, noting one memo’s observation that the Kandahar prison was, “not that bad” and “not the worst in Afghanistan.” She somehow overlooked these sections of  Memo Kandh-0138:

Of the [redacted] detainees we interviewed, [redacted] said [redacted] had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise “hurt”….detainees still had [redacted] on [redacted] body; [redacted] seemed traumatized.

Individual sat with his toes curled under his feet. When he straightened his toe, it could be seen that the nails of the big toe and the one next to it, were a red-orange on the top of the nail, although the new growth underneath appeared fine. When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] rather than Kabul, he became quiet. He said that [redacted] he had been “hurt” and “had problems.” However, he is “happy now.” He did not elaborate on what happened [redacted]. [Redacted] seemed very eager to please, very deferential, and expressed gratitude for our visit. General impression was that he was somewhat traumatized.

When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] he said he had “a very bad time. They hit us with cables and wires.” He said they also shocked him with electricity. He showed us a number of scars on his legs, which he said were caused by the beating. He said he was hit for [redacted] days….

He and others told [redacted] that three fellow detainees had had their fingers “cut and burned with a lighter”….When we asked about his own treatment [redacted] he said that he was hit on his feet with a cable or a “big wire” and forced to stand for two days, but “that’s all.” He showed us a mark on the back of his ankle, which he said was from the cable. [Note: There was a dark red mark on the back of his ankle.] [Hat tip: Dawg's Blawg & Voice from the Pack.]

Blatchford gloats that Colvin’s most prolific period as a memo-writier dates from a period in 2007 after Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith began filing reports on Afghan abuse of detainees arrested by Canadian soldiers. This may or may not be true, given that Blatchford is clearly missing half of Colvin’s 2006 reports (and God knows what else). It also shows remarkable intellectual flexibility, given that Blatchford believes nothing bad ever happened to the Afghans we arrested. The mere mention of Smith’s compelling reportage to the contrary must be embarrassing to her.

The redactions are interesting. Let’s call this fellow Detainee 1:

Redact 1-sc

And this fellow Detainee 2:

redact-2-sc

What exactly are the national security imperatives that prevent disclosure of what Detainee 1 was told after his several beatings, and what he alleged? Why is it vital to Canada’s security that we not know how many men interrogated Detainee 2, or for how long? He was allegedly threatened [blank] and, some time after the interrogation, told that he would not be [blank]. Why doesn’t the government want to fill in these blanks?

There is a bigger issue here than whether one gullible columnist wants to abet Harper’s  assassination of one diplomat’s character.  For weeks, the opposition MPs who constitute a majority in the House of Commons, our only elected federal institution, have been trying to get their hands on the relevant documents. For weeks Harper has put them off, promising eventual delivery while insisting that General Rick Hillier and Ambassador David Mulroney give their evidence before MPs had a chance to study the documentary record.

“The government has. and will continue. to make all legally available information available.” Harper told the Commons.

Now suddenly the unreleased documents turn up in a friendly (and not very sophisticated) columnist’s inbox. All the pious fretting about national security was, bluntly, a lie; the real concern all along was damage control—even when the issue at hand is Canadian complicity in torture.

Footnote: On the Globe’s website, conservative blogger Norman Spector pleads with Harper for the third time to call an inquiry into the torture allegations. Spector warns of a cloud on the horizon in the form of a Wall Street Journal report that Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, “is already conducting a ‘preliminary examination’ into whether NATO troops… may have to be put in the dock” over torture allegations.

Simpson scopes the Labrador war

Jeffrey Simpson has a sensible column on NB Power’s proposed sale to Quebec Hydro, which he correctly portrays as the latest battle in the decades-old war between Newfoundland and Quebec. That’s a war in which Nova Scotia is no innocent bystander.

Simpson, who spoke in Baddeck Friday, can’t disguise his contempt for Danny Williams, the uppity colonial, but he has the broad strokes of the conflict right. He notes Ottawa’s “desperate” reluctance to intervene on behalf of the weaker party, a bit of realpolitik that might cause one to wonder whether Canada really is a country after all.

The unbearable whiteness of flesh

APTOPIX Obama US IndiaIf the largest news service in the United States still feels the need to run musty sidebars about the distaff side of state functions, then we can’t be too surprised when it makes a boo-boo this cringe-inducing:

First lady wears Naeem Khan gown to state dinner

By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL (AP) – 4 days ago

First lady Michelle Obama chose to wear a gleaming silver-sequined, flesh-colored gown Tuesday night to the first state dinner held by her husband’s administration. She was tending to her hostess duties in a strapless silhouette with the beads forming an abstract floral pattern that was custom-made by Naeem Khan.

Er, what color was that again?

As The American Prospect pointed out, Crayola got with the program in 1962, when it “voluntarily changed ‘flesh colored’ to ‘peach’ …partially as a result of the U. S. Civil Rights Movement.”

Sociological Images collected a gallery of images rooted in the same assumption. The website’s Lisa Wade of Occidental College wrote:

Part of the privilege of being white is having a society that considers you the norm and is, therefore, organized around you.  A really nice example of this is “flesh” color.  What is flesh color?

Contrarian confesses to feeling some sympathy for poor Samantha Critchell, who will wear this for a long, long time.

Canadian army officer finds detainee policies ethically dubious

The National Post ferrets out a Canadian army officer’s surprisingly critical master’s thesis on Canada’s handling of Afghan detainees.

In an exhaustive critique, the author concluded Canada’s decision to hand over suspected insurgents to Afghan authorities with a history of abuse violated Canadian ethical values, could turn ordinary Afghans against foreign troops and likely increased the stress of this country’s combatants. The policy might even have contributed to the alleged mercy killing of a Taliban fighter by a Canadian soldier, she wrote.

Major Manon Plante’s thesis, completed this year as one of the requirements for a master’s degree from the Canadian Forces College, shows a level of candor the Harper government has thus far been unable to muster:

Based on the Afghan human rights track record and its primitive prison capacity, how the Government of Canada came to the conclusion that the Afghan authorities had the capacity to detain personnel is perplexing, The decision may have been legal but it appears that it may not have been the right ethical choice.

View Plante’s 122-page thesis in html, MSWord, or .pdf formats. Hat tip: Chris McCormick.

Visual data: wind power

wind map detailA highly scalable map [5 meg .pdf] of offshore wind farm installations in northwestern Europe shows how far behind Canada is in exploiting this renewable energy source.

The map detail at right is a static screen capture, at far less than maximum enlargement.

(The map is reminiscent of various offshore petroleum maps of Nova Scotia’s, an example of which can be downloaded here [400-k .pdf].Hat tip: Colin May.

Burtynsky’s Tar Sands images hit DC on the eve of Copenhagen

“Oil,” a major exhibition by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, is currently on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. in Washington, DC. The exhibit includes horrific photos of the Alberta Tar Sands:

Burtynsky-06-s

[Click images for larger view - links fixed.]

Burtynsky specializes in sweeping, often eerily beautiful views of landscapes altered by industry: mine tailings, quarries, scrap piles. James Fallows, of the Atlantic, which features another of Burtynsky’s images this month, writes:

The impact of the exhibit as a whole is, well, hard to convey in words…. [V]ery few people have seen the range of oil-industry artifacts that he has captured in his wall-sized and incredibly-detailed photos. Extraction and refinery operations around the world; the industries oil has made possible; the indications of the end of the oil era. Hard to forget.

The exhibit moves next to The Rooms Art Gallery in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where it will be on display from May 7–August 15, 2010. It will continue to travel through 2012.

More photos and a video after the jump.

Read more »

Down’s syndrome “is a medical diagnosis, not a name.”

Peter Elliott, Research Director of the Down Syndrome Research Foundation – UK, elaborates on his view of Down Syndrome as a medical problem warranting intervention. Money quote:

The children need our help; they have put on a brave face all of their lives. There is nothing to fear from a cure that is going to improve their memory and reduce brain injury.

More after the jump.

Read more »

A “cure” for Down syndrome? — Reader feedback #7

Previous posts questioning the efforts to “cure” Down syndrome begin here and here.

Tora Frank of Madison, Wisconsin, whose daughter Asha has Down syndrome, offers a different view:


I would be eager to provide my daughter with a medication that could help her to learn more quickly, struggle less with everyday tasks, communicate better with those around her, make her needs known, allow her more independence. No, not eager—I would be *frantic* to do so. But is that assertion a comment about how I value my daughter? Am I somehow saying that I want her to be different—or that I want a different child–that I am dissatisfied with my daughter as she is?

Not in the slightest. I’d argue that I’m just like any parent who wants to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their children are happy, healthy, and well.

The difficulty, if there is any, is that I feel the need to fiercely protect my daughter’s right to be exactly who she is. There are plenty of folks who believe that my daughter is …an accident …a mistake …a waste of space …a burden that society must bear. There are people who think her life should have been avoided, and even some who think that bringing babies like her into the world is unethical. So I feel as though I need to express, for all to see, that I’m proud of her every day. That I love her just the way she is.

But am I willing (even hypothetically) to put my need to assert that I love my daughter, the proud possessor of an extra chromosome, exactly as she is *above* my desire for her to thrive? Nope, not at all.

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