September 17th, 2010

[PHOTO] Two countries, two towers

Two countries, two towers
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei
This Pakistani restaurant in Little India draws interesting parallels with the two photos located above the storefront. To the left is a picture of Toronto's CN Tower; to the right is a picture of Lahore's Minar-e-Pakistan, a mdoernistic minaret-style building commemorating the Muslim League's first demand for a Muslim successor state to the Raj. Transnationalism can find similarities most anywhere.

[LINK] "Precursor to H.I.V. Was in Monkeys for Millennia"

This New York Times article isn't such a surprise.

The new research, published Thursday in Science magazine, was relatively simple. Scientists tested 79 monkeys from Bioko, a volcanic island 19 miles off the West African coast. Bioko used to be the end of a peninsula attached to the mainland in what is now Cameroon, but it was cut off when sea levels rose 10,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

Since then, six monkey species have developed in isolation on the island, and scientists from the National Primate Research Center at Tulane University in Louisiana and other American and African universities found that four of them — drills, red-eared guenons, Preuss’s guenons and black colobuses — had members that were infected with S.I.V.

The four strains in the four species were genetically very different from one another — meaning they presumably did not come from monkeys carried over to the island by humans in the last few centuries. But each was close to the strain infecting members of the same four genuses on the mainland, meaning they must have existed before Bioko was cut off.

Knowing that all four strains were at least 10,000 years old, scientists recalculated the virus’s “molecular clock,” measuring how fast it mutates. They now believe that all the S.I.V. strains infecting monkeys and apes across Africa diverged from a common ancestor between 32,000 and 78,000 years ago.

“When we only had 25 years of data, we were dating from the tip at the end of a branch of the evolutionary tree,” said Preston A. Marx, a virologist at the Tulane primate center and an author of the paper in Science. “I knew that what we had before couldn’t be right, because the virus had spread from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean to the southern end of the continent, and it couldn’t have done that in a couple of hundred years.”

Beatrice H. Hahn, a virologist from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a discoverer of the simian virus, called the study “a very nice paper,” adding, “This is what people like us have been looking for.”

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On Canada's stupid, counterproductive policies in the Arctic

CBC reports on the latest stage of the Russian-Canadian competition over the Arctic waters about the Lomonosov Ridge, a piece of continental shelf which connects Siberia with Nunavut and which--depending on its precise geography--could give one country or the other access to substantial territory.

The foreign ministers of Russia and Canada both said Thursday they expect the United Nations to rule in favour of their nations' respective rival claims to Arctic resources.

Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is believed to contain as much as a quarter of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas.

Lawrence Cannon of Canada and Sergey Lavrov of Russia said after talks in Moscow Thursday that both nations claim the Lomonosov Ridge under the Arctic as an extension of their respective continental shelves.

The dispute has intensified amid growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping lanes and new resource development opportunities.

"We will submit our data on the Lomonosov Ridge and we are confident that our case will prevail backed by scientific evidence," Cannon said at a news conference after the talks.

Lavrov said Russia also is working to submit additional data that will persuade the UN of the validity of Moscow's claim.

"They should provide a scientific proof that it's an extension of our continental shelf," he said.

Moscow first submitted its claim in 2001 to the United Nations, but it was sent back for lack of evidence. Russia then dramatically staked its claim to the region by dropping a canister containing the Russian flag on the ocean floor from a small submarine at the North Pole in 2007.

An Arctic strategy paper signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 said that by 2011 Russia must complete geological studies to prove its claim to Arctic resources and win international recognition of its Arctic borders. The document said the polar region must become Russia's "top strategic resource base" by the year 2020.

This competition may not be a very good--at least not very productive--idea.

One international expert on maritime boundaries cautioned Canada could be waiting a very long time for the UN to rule given an accumulated pileup of submissions.

“The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf will decide whether the geological evidence is credible,” University of Ottawa law professor Donald McRae said.

“At the moment the Commission has a backlog in its work. If Canada submits in 2013 then by some estimates it will take 10 to 20 years to get a ruling.”

Arctic security expert Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary said Canada is likely assessing how ambitious it wants to be in claiming Arctic seabed.

“It’s a combination of these judgment calls: how far the science says you can go – and how far do you want to push the Russians?”

Russia is reportedly trying to encourage Canada to combine efforts when submitting Arctic claims to the UN. This effort has not borne fruit yet.

Yes, you read that last paragraph correctly. As John Ivison noted some weeks ago in the National Post, in many ways Canada and Russia are natural allies in the Arctic. But no, Harper--I suspect--is trying to play sovereignty issues for his own partisan purposes.

The Canadian government’s own strategy document says our only territorial disputes in the Far North are with Denmark over Hans Island and the United States over the maritime boundary in the Beaufort Sea.

A dispute with Russia may yet emerge if there are over-lapping claims along the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain range beneath the Arctic Ocean, where a mini-submarine planted a Russian flag in 2007.

But co-operating with Russia may yield more benefits than confrontation. Where Canada claims the North-West Passage as an internal waterway, so Russia claims the North-East Passage — both of which are set to become navigable.

[. . .]

Sources inside the department said there is increasing frustration at a hostility toward Russia that is manufactured for entirely domestic political purposes. The relationship between this government and its bureaucracy is showing signs of fraying to breaking point. Conservative politicians might joke that a public service strike would bring government to a standstill, if it were not for the fact that it is already. They might not be laughing so hard if they tested the theory. “More and more, the system is starting to resist,” said one senior Conservative, who lamented the aggressive approach taken by the PMO.

You can see, right, why I might favour a new federal government?

[URBAN NOTE] Toronto, guns, and paranoia Canadian-style

I'm becoming less and less impressed with the Harper government. Blaming the failure of the Conservative government's plans to abolish the Canadian long-gun registry not on the opposition of the parliamentary opposition and much of the public at large, but rather on a manipulative "Toronto elite," is, well.

Conservative House Leader John Baird blamed politicians in Canada’s largest city for pressuring colleagues into changing their positions in advance of a crucial vote in the House of Commons next week.

It is not the first time Baird has launched an attack on Toronto and outgoing Mayor David Miller said the minister was “inaccurate and divisive.”

At a Thursday news conference, Baird said it was Toronto-based party leaders — Liberal Michael Ignatieff and New Democrat Jack Layton — and their “friends” driving the pro-registry lobby.

While outlining the government’s priorities — the economy being number 1 — for the upcoming Parliamentary session, Baird warned that “flip flopping” MPs who “face pressure from Toronto elites” and change their votes will be held accountable at the polls.

Baird had to apologize last summer to Miller after he was overheard by the Toronto’s Star’s Petti Fong saying the city “should f— off” during a dispute over Toronto’s application under the federal government’s $4 billion infrastructure stimulus fund.

Did you know that Stephen Harper was born and raised in Toronto? Etobicoke, granted, but that still counts.

Toronto Life's take on the matter was amusing and to the point.

Sometimes it’s difficult to keep the Conservative talking points straight. Is Michael Ignatieff a Toronto elite? We thought he was “just visiting” from Harvard. Or was it London? We can’t tell whether we’re supposed to resent Ignatieff because he’s from Toronto or because he’s not. Meanwhile, Jack Layton is from Hudson, Quebec, despite serving on Toronto’s city council and representing a riding here. But wait, we thought they were both in a coalition with Quebec separatists.

One thing’s clear: we know who the elites aren’t. Conservatives, that’s who. John Baird may be a cabinet minister in the government of Canada, and a graduate of Queen’s University, but don’t think he ain’t just folks. Nothing says down home cooking like “I’m a pescatarian, not a vegetarian.” Maybe his vocabulary was corrupted by the 10 years he spent in Toronto.

Baird’s colleagues in cabinet are just as homey, we’re sure. Tony Clement may have graduated from U of T Law and spent years in the Harris government at Queen’s Park (in Toronto!) but now he represents Parry Sound-Muskoka, where he engages in that most rural of Canadian past-times: building fake lakes and airport expansions for visiting global leaders.

Finally, the most un-elite of the un-elite must be our prime minister himself, Stephen Harper. Sure, he was born and raised in Toronto (in fact, he’s the first PM we can say that about). Sure, he spends his nights doing duets with Yo-Yo Ma and hobnobbing with Canadian celebrities. But he too enjoys traditional Canadian values, like having his underlings slag the city he was born in for cheap political gain.

The gun registry is popular elsewhere in Canada, too. It is big in Québec thanks partly to the shootings in that province, most prominently the famous Polytechnique massacre of women in Montreal in 1989, it is popular among police in British Columbia and indeed most everywhere in Canada (not Harper's home base of Calgary, naturally), and the latest RCMP report concludes that the gun registry is efficient. But, of course, the Conservative government's opposed to "experts," with their "knowledge," and includes instead at least one conspiracy-theorist MP talking of a police conspiracy to disarm Canadians.

We need a new government.

[BRIEF NOTE] On Sun TV News' controversies

One major event in the Canadian media environment is the plan to add to the SUN TV television complex, owned by the right-wingish Quebecor and operated by subsidiaries, a Sun TV News Channel scheduled to be launched by New Year's Day 2011. The television channel, called by its detractors FOX News North, is expected to be significantly more right-wing than either of the dominant national television networks, CBC and CTV. The whole idea has already triggered a lawsuit.

[B]illionaire financier George Soros is threatening to sue the Sun Media Chain, a part owner of the upstart Sun TV News channel.

Michael Vachon, a spokesman for Vachon, told the Globe and Mail newspaper Friday that Soros was upset by a recent Sun Media newspaper column that connected his opposition to Sun TV News to his experience as an Hungarian Jew during the Second World War.

"It made false, defamatory and offensive statements and as a result Mr. Soros has notified the relevant parties of his intent to sue," Vachon said.

"What is of concern in the article are the false assertions that Mr. (Ezra) Levant makes regarding George Soros's conduct as a 13-year-old child in Nazi-occupied Hungary," he added.</i>

Almost at the same time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former director of communications Kory Teneycke, arguably the most prominent personality behind the new channel--and certainly a very visible link with the current federal government--has resigned.

Teneycke is a gifted communicator who aggressively and effectively pushed the prime minister’s message when he worked in government. Last March, he and the prime minister had lunch in New York with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, the men behind Fox News. The theory is that over lunch, they dreamed up Fox News North.

Teneycke left the Prime Minister’s Office in July and found a backer for Sun TV: Quebec billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau, who owns the Sun tabloids and a bunch of other things, and who would like Harper to give him a cable licence and also a new hockey rink in Quebec City while he’s at it.

To pump up Sun TV, Teneycke sought to grab attention by personally attacking people like Atwood in the bombastic style of a Fox News host, which was jarring in traditionally deferential Canada. Like Icarus in the Greek myth, he flew too close to the sun, got burned and fell to the ground.M

As the above author notes, Teneycke may have resigned because of potential legal troubles: allegedly he and his added fake names to an anti-Sun TV petition organized by (among others) Margaret Atwood and a George Soros-founded group in order to discredit it, this fact apparently revealed by one of his tweets.

Stay tuned. I'm sure that things will get more exciting yet.