Thursday, January 31, 2019

Finally ... Asia Bibi Free to Flee Pakistan

"I am really grateful to everybody."
"Now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters."
Asia Bibi, Christian, Pakistan
Bishop says Asia Bibi will live in Canada
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic accused of blasphemy, is pictured in a 2010 file photo Photo: CNS photo/Punjab Governor House handout via EPA
"This case does not have as many honest witnesses as it should have had ... and the petitioner has failed to point out any mistakes in the court’s earlier verdict."
"How is this a matter of religion?"
Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa 

"After nine years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit, it is difficult to see this long-overdue verdict as justice."
"But Bibi should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice."
Rimmel Mohydin, Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner
Protesters burn an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.
Protesters burn an image of Christian woman Asia Bibi in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.
AP Photo/Pervez Masih

Finally, on appeal Pakistan's supreme court has upheld its original acquittal of the woman whom global public attention has been riveted on for the past eight years as she languished on death row, convicted in Pakistan of blaspheming against the Prophet Mohammad. Pakistan's Islamist fundamentalists staged numerous violent mass protests after her original acquittal, demanding she be executed to satisfy their outrage that anyone might question the sacred name of the Prophet much less cast aspersions on Islam.

A friend with whom Asia Bibi was temporarily staying not only feared for her life, but his own for sheltering her, asking for anonymity as he related her first thought on hearing the news of her final acquittal: she would soon be enabled to join her daughters in Canada, where asylum was offered to the family. The dire need for circumspection in the interests of safety was made clear by the fact that the Supreme Court judges who freed her, Bibi's lawyer and her family were all recipients of death threats.

Necessitating that a contingent of police and paramilitary Rangers be on hand guarding the courthouse and the area surrounding it in Islamabad when the court once again acquitted Bibi of all charges in a country where blasphemy laws wield the harsh penalty of execution for any who dare question Islam or its Prophet. The mere accusation of blasphemy is enough to ensure that mobs will gather to violently demonstrate, and if the opportunity exists, to kill the blasphemer.

Two high-placed authorities, one a provincial governor who defended Bibi, another a government minority minister who questioned the blasphemy law were both shot and killed in revenge by Islamist fundamentalists. The heightened security presence around the court prevented a renewal of the original clashes when Islamists violently opposed police back in October, as well as the nationwide arrest of hundreds of supporters of radical religious parties the day before the court hearing.
Saif-ul-Mulook, right, the lawyer of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, leaves the Supreme Court building after the court rejected the review appeal against Asia Bibi, in Islamabad on Jan. 29, 2019. (AFP)

Asia Bibi has been confined to protective custody guarded by Pakistani security forces since her original October acquittal, changing hiding places constantly with the knowledge that neighbourhood searches have been carried out from house to house by fanatics whose dearest wish is to murder her and her family. Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, forced to flee Pakistan as a result of virulent death threats, returned to Islamabad to be present for the hearing.

Mr. Malook called the decision of the supreme court validating their original acquittal a victory for the constitution and rule of law in Pakistan, describing the three-judge Supreme Court panel that had "insisted on very strict proofs of blasphemy", finding none, as a deterrent against future false allegations.

Still from video of rampaging, protesting fundamentalist Pakistani Islamists insisting on execution for Asia Bibi

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Brazil's Industrial Disaster

"We are not dealing with an accident, but with a crime against people and nature. How many lives do we still have to lose [until] the Brazilian state and mining companies learn from their mistakes?"                                                                                                        Greenpeace Brazil Campaigns director Nilo D'Ávila

"I could only see people screaming and shouting. The sirens did not work, only people shouting to advise others, everyone was desperate."
"[Two survivors in the hotel said  employees didn't have time to advise anyone because] they could only run for their lives."
"It is devastating. Everyone here at the community is in shock. Nobody expected that to happen."
Karolainy Stefany de Jesus, 21, nearby resident of Brumadinho, Brazil

"The National Security Dam Policy was edited in 2010. It is a law that needed to be reviewed. After the accident in Mariana, various projects were presented but we couldn't finalize this change in the law, but this is essential."
"The responsibility of monitoring and avoiding future disasters is on all of us: private, state and federal. The idea is that we all sit at the table, listen to specialists, review the regulatory framework and improve this situation to avoid other disasters in the future."
Regional Development Minister Gustavo Canuto
An aerial view shows a collapsed bridge after flooding from a breached dam Friday in southeast Brazil.
An aerial view shows a collapsed bridge after flooding from a breached dam Friday in southeast Brazil
"We attended periodic meetings at their offices. No one had any information of any problems in the dam, but they were less than transparent. They wouldn't even share with us the presentations they made, for example."
"The only possible response is the full restoration of the Rio Doce basin. However, considering what happened in Mariana, I think we will still suffer for this for a very long time."
Local environmental activist Carolina de Moura
A Brazilian protester stands in front of a graffiti at Vale SA HQ
The death toll of the disaster has eclipsed Brazil's last major environmental disaster in 2015. (AP: Silvia Izquierdo)
Firefighters in Brazil have poised themselves to do a balancing act; walking, crawling, searching for survivors or bodies of those killed after an iron ore mining company's buildings were inundated with ore waste after a dam collapsed. Nearby neighbourhoods were also inundated with mud that was comprised of ore waste. Hundreds of people are missing of the 427 known to be present at the time of the mud slide, and 65 people have now been found dead. Six Vale mining executives have been arrested.
The day following the catastrophic collapse and mud inundation the expectation of further rescues was damped, the death toll expected to grow "exponentially", according to the Minas Gerais fire department. The sea of red-brown mud that surged over the landscape when the dam was breached on Friday is hampering search efforts. Up to eight metres in depth in places, searchers are forced to walk around the edges or to crawl agonizingly slowly on to the mud to prevent themselves sinking and drowning in it.
Searches were mostly focused on the Vale mining company cafeteria which is where many of its workers were seated, eating their lunch before the dam ruptured. The world's largest producer of iron ore, Vale SA's is now being accused of knowingly placing peoples' lives at risk. Helicopters in their search for bodies repeatedly took off and landed non-stop at the site while on the ground dozens of rescue dogs with their handlers searched for bodies through mountains of mud.
Fears of a second mine dam collapsing in Brumadinho caused rescue efforts to be suspended for about ten hours on Sunday, and some 24,000 people were warned to get themselves to higher ground. Civil engineers later claimed the second dam no longer posed a risk of collapse and full attention was returned to the scene of the collapse. As time goes on the mud is releasing some of its moisture and drying out, giving hope to firefighters being able to reach areas previously closed off to their searches.
The slow progress has resulted in residents beginning to launch their own searches in a desperate attempt to find loved ones, as anger mounted at the mining company, and questions began to rise that no warning siren was sounded before the collapse.
A group of Brazilian rescuers watch a body being airlifted in a red bag in a field with mounds of brown mud and dirt.
Victims had no warning of the deluge that rapidly swept through the region. (AP: Leo Correa)


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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Passion Over Reason

"What we have seen is that no one is getting across the border."
"This forces families, with all the desperation they feel, to go illegally."
Hector Silva, director, migrant center, Reynosa, Mexico

"I  honestly don't want to cross illegally, but I don't really have a choice."
"I don't have an option, I can't be there [Honduras]. Our government is totally corrupt, and if the Mexicans or Americans deport me, I'm dead."
Julian Escobar Moreno, 37, Honduran migrant

"Look, we know what the situation is in our country. We don't know what will happen when we cross [into the U.S.]"
"Desperation makes you do crazy things. I don't think anything would stop me. And certainly not a wall."
Osman Noe Guillen, 28, Honduran migrant, Reynosa

Rio Grande River bordering Mexico and Texas    Photograph: Meredith Kohut/The New York Times

Newly married, Mr. Guillen has decided he belongs not in his country of origin, Honduras, but in the United States, where legendary opportunities to prosper lie. What drives them is what they insist is economic need, and blind faith in a future that lies ahead for them in America, convinced that Honduras is history for them and the U.S. is their future. Now they've arrived in the Mexican town of Reynosa, a border town where they planned to apply for asylum in the U.S.

They can apply for asylum, but to do so they will wait a long time since the U.S. administration has adopted a policy to admit a handful of asylum seekers daily at border crossings where migrants must now wait on the Mexican side of the border for weeks or months before given the opportunity to submit their applications. Delays that make a faster option look promising. And to take advantage of that faster option means engaging the services of a smuggler.

There's no question of desperately searching out a smuggler. Their cartels are everywhere in Reynosa, blatantly advertising their services for hire. And the price keeps rising in lock-step with the border delays. Those waiting focus on just one thing; their anxiety to cross the border  separating Reynosa from McAllen, Texas near the banks of the Rio Grande. Reynosa is a border town grim with gun violence. And thousands of Central Americans wait at the border up to Tijuana, for their opportunity.

Although they know of the dangers inherent in illegal crossings, migrants who make that decision will not be dissuaded; they have calculated that they will not return to what they've left, and must by any means be enabled to enter the Paradise of opportunities that they imagine the U.S. to be. Osman Guillen and his wife Lilian Marlene Menendez took a bus from Honduras, looking upon it as a honeymoon adventure.

They chose Reynosa as the closest crossing from Honduras, the least costly to reach. They were aware of the anger expressed in the United States about illegal entrants to the country and the hordes of migrants waiting to rush the border or infiltrate it with the aid of smugglers. They know about deportations, they are aware of long waits at the border. Nothing will serve to turn them away from their destination of choice.

The risks of being smuggled in where polleros (smugglers) have been known to abandon migrants midway if payment is not  given in full, who sometimes kill those they have been contracted to guide to the promised land, who will attempt to extort migrants' families to mortgage homes and pay them more than contracted for, are all stories they are aware of. They were quoted a price of $7,000 each to guide them to the bank across the river on the Texas side.

Already one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, Renosa mayor Maki Esther Ortiz Dominguez states her concern over the situation: "This policy could at any moment detonate a new crime wave here". Smugglers are used by Mexicans as well, the price quoted them substantially less. Despite that the migration office in Reynosa recently saw a group of Mexicans waiting to be processed having been deported from the United States.

"For the migration authorities, it is a job. For Mexicans and Central Americans, immigration is a dream. We have something to live for, and that keeps us going", said18-year-old Melvin Gomez from the state of Chiapas, who had just attempted for the fourth time to cross into the U.S. and failed.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

China's Innocence, Canada's Disgraceful Conduct

"United Front work has taken on a level of significance not seen since the years before 1949."
"[China] is increasingly able to use its soft -power 'magic weapons' to help influence the decision making of foreign governments and societies."
Marie Brady, political scientist, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

"Overseas Chinese [should] remember the call from the Party and the people, spread China's voice, support the country's development, safeguard national interests."
Chinese President Xi Jinping

"An organization that once had another purpose has gradually been taken over to serve China's national interest. Where United Front work becomes problematic is when it's engaging persons of Chinese origin who have Canadian citizenship ... to serve the interests of the motherland, when in fact the motherland should be Canada."
Charles Burton, political scientist, Brock University, Ontario

"I have heard of Chinese influence over community newspapers."
"[But] I think the Canadian Chinese community is remarkably resilient and diverse, and for the most part immune to blandishments from the Chinese government."
Jeremy Paltiel, China specialist, Carleton University

"I think there is definitely an attempt to influence domestic public opinion here."
"But from what I can see, the extent of success here is rather limited."
Lynette Ong, professor, China expert University of Toronto

"Our executive committee's background is a combination of Canada, mainland China, Taiwan and Chinese from other Asian countries."
"Support for China is not and will not be a focus ... Our primary focus is to support the Chinese community and to promote Chinese culture in Niagara."
Li Yu, former president, Niagara Chinese Cultural Association

"A lot of people don't think of the long arm of influence of China in Canada, because they're under the influence, to put it mildly."
"Outsiders like me, who is a Hong Kong immigrant ... we see very clearly that this is a United Front effort, a very subtle, soft-power kind of advance into Canadian society."
Cheuk Kwan, head, Toronto Association for Democracy in China
Chinese police are seen patrolling in front of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing last month. A new book, Claws of the Panda, argues that the Chinese Communist Party has spent decades manipulating Canadians.
Chinese police are seen patrolling in front of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing last month. A new book, Claws of the Panda, argues that the Chinese Communist Party has spent decades manipulating Canadians.  (GREG BAKER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Canada is comprised of many immigrant populations; it is the defining identity of the country, multi-cultural in origin. Immigrants from Ukraine, Greece, Poland, Germany, Japan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, China, India, the United States, Scotland, Ireland, Britain, France; wherever in the world they come from, including Jews from all over the world, escaping oppression and finding a haven in a Canada that has, in the latter half of the 20th Century forward, extended equality of opportunity and security to all its citizens.

Unsurprisingly, people migrating from other countries find comfort in the fact that their original cohabitants have arrived in numbers to form communities in their new country of habitation. They form clubs and build churches reflecting their own religious commitment and the cultures they left behind, to support one another in their adjustment to their new reality. And even long afterward once they have acclimated socially and culturally, their original congregations remain of importance to them.

In some instances, like the Turkish population in Germany, the government in the original homeland takes on an 'ownership' attitude, viewing their expatriates as a demographic abroad they can continue to manipulate and have control over, to the extent of demanding from their new homeland government especial privileges for their own. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin are especially given to these unwanted and unwarranted interferences in other countries, the latter with Ukraine.

And, it seems, China has made inroads in Canada by surreptitious means, to retain influence among its once-time citizens, now resident in and citizens of Canada, and to extend that influence to non-Chinese by offering to install and pay for programs that have benefit to China, and ostensibly to Canada. The Confucius Institute is one such organ which Communist China uses to extend a friendly hand, persuading Canadian universities and schools of the bonus it offers in teaching Mandarin and Chinese culture.

The Toronto Chinese Canadian Association once put on a banquet to bid farewell to the Chinese vice-consul who persuaded local Chinese to support the Confucius Institute. Now, Confucius is entrenched at three school boards in the region and on nine university and college campuses across the country, its funding very much appreciated by those institutions. Chinese state-aligned corporations have made large investments in Canadian industry. Suspicions are rampant not only in Canada but in other western countries that China's friendly helpfulness comes at a price.

Chinese intelligence services and Chinese technological giants are known for their industrial infiltration and military espionage escapades. Under President Xi, a "massive expansion" of China's soft power has emerged, much of it within the auspices of the United Front Work Department, an offshoot of the Chinese Communist party, which forges links with officials in foreign missions to influence the Chinese diaspora.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at a fundraiser held on Nov. 7,2016 at the West Vancouver mansion of B.C. developer Miaofei Pan.
Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the Wenzhou People’s Government

Infiltration for the sake of befriending foreign political and economic elites, with the aim of promoting Beijing's agenda all helps in expanding a China-centric economic bloc. A goal of the United Front is to advance opinions on issues such as acquisition by Chinese companies of Canadian natural resources and technology. The decision Canada has yet to make about Huawei's involvement building Canada's 5G telecom network a critical issue at hand.

Huawei's close ties to the Chinese state makes accusations of corporate espionage logical, enough so that the U.S., Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand have all backed off allowing Huawei to take part in their 5G trials, leaving Canada the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance to not yet having decided to leave Huawei out. Which has led China's ambassador to Canada to issue none-too subtle threats of 'repercussions' that might accrue.

Such 'repercussions are already being seen by Canada in China's fury at the arrest on December 1st in Vancouver of Huwei's chief financial officer on an extradition warrant issued by the U.S. justice system which led China to arrest two Canadian businessmen and commit another Canadian to death for drug smuggling out of China. Canada under this Liberal government has been ingratiating itself with China in the search for a free trade deal and in its zeal to have a seat at the revolving UN Security Council.

There are 211 accredited 'diplomats' from China in Canada at the various Chinese missions. The U.S. with ten times the population and with huge trade between China and the United States, rates a comparative fewer 276 accredited representatives of China, while the United Kingdom has 38. Of that 211 in Canada, it would be interesting to know how many are accredited in China's intelligence apparatus and outreach to Canada's very large Chinese diaspora.

Canada's recently removed Ambassador to China, John McCallum boasted in an interview with Chinese foreign and domestic reporters to which major Canadian news outlets were not invited, that his sons were married to Chinese women. While he was a backbencher, he was the recipient of $73,000 worth of trips to China paid for by pro-Beijing business groups and the Chinese government.

His ill-considered reassurances of the welfare of Huawei's Meng Wanzhou's bid to escape extradition to the U.S. which forced Justin Trudeau's hand in firing him, has given aid and comfort to China and stoked the furnace of concern over the fate of Canadians arrested in China in furious retaliation against Canadian law honouring a commitment with its neighbour on extradition.
"McCallum was merely stating the truth when he observed that Meng has a strong case against extradition, which he rightly said was politically motivated."
"Although what he said is 100 per cent true, his words seem to have fallen on deaf ears at home. Those who had attacked McCallum should feel ashamed of themselves... the political mess that Ottawa is floundering in could get a lot worse if it chooses to accede to the U.S. request for Meng’s extradition despite the problems with the case that McCallum, among others, has pointed out."
China Daily
John McCallum, Canada's former ambassador to China, arrives at a fund-raising event at a Chinese restaurant in Vancouver, B.C on Jan. 25, 2018.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Recalling The Holocaust

Cemetery of Jews killed by Horthysts in Sărmașu

Recalling The Holocaust

"Because my father and I had fled Romania when World War Two broke out and managed to get visas to Australia, I was in the Australian army on my twenty-first birthday. My commanding officer had given me a short leave. Thus, I spent my birthday alone, walking in the Australian countryside and thinking about who among my family and friends back in Transylvania were alive or dead. What had happened to them?"

"Soon after the war, I learned that on that very day, Hungarian soldiers shot the entire Jewish population of Sarmas, a village east of Kolozsvar, in Transylvania. Those poor people. They had thought of themselves as Hungarians. They spoke Hungarian. They had managed to survive five years of fascism without being deported to concentration camps. It was as if they had been miraculously forgotten while every kind of horror reigned around them. Then their own Hungarian soldiers appeared in Sarmas, and what did they do? They herded all the Jews into pigsties for several days and then took them to a hill and massacred them. Within the Holocaust, there were many little pogroms."

A week after Fischer [Rudolf Fischer] told me this story, I would visit that same hill in Sarmasu, Romania. It was a vast and sloping fold of grass surrounded by villages of rotting wood, where wild pigs scampered through the mud and peasants in black sheepskins worked with scythes. I saw three lines of graves, 126 in all, each with a Star of David and a Hebrew inscription. The graves were surrounded by an ugly cement barrier, a brutal box that might be called 'modern history'. I climbed over the barrier and read the Romanian inscription:

"....[Hungarian] fascist troops, the enemies of mankind, occupied the village of Sarmasu, where they herded all the Jews -- men, women, and children -- inside pigsties, where they kept them without food and tortured and humiliated them in the most vicious manner for ten days, after which they were taken to this hill of weeping and killed in the most sadistic ways on the eve of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah....."
Exhuming the victims of the Sarmas massacre for burial, 1945. Photo of exhumation via Yad Vashem, via

Of course, this monument in Romania made no mention of equally horrible atrocities perpetrated against Jews by the Romanians themselves during World War II.

Eastward to Tartary, Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, Robert D. Kaplan

RO CJ Camarasu 6.jpg
Sărmașu massacrePart of the Holocaust in Northern Transylvania

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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Efficient Agronomy

"Food is the mother of all sustainability challenges."
"We can't get below two degrees without major changes to this system."
Janet Ranganathan, vice-president, World Resources Institute

"We wanted to avoid relying on magic asterisks."
"We could imagine a significant shift from beef to chicken, and that by itself goes a long way [since poultry production has a far lesser impact on the climate as opposed to beef production]."
Timothy D. Searchinger, researcher, Princeton University, New Jersey

"In the past, we've often seen agricultural policies and conservation policies moving in parallel without a lot of interaction."
"The big challenge is to link the two, so that we get more intensive farming without using more land."
Linus Blomqvist, director, Breakthrough Institute, California
We’re not managing our crops to support global nutritional needs: In fact, we use a disproportionate amount of land used to grow grains, fats, oils, and sugar, and not enough land to grow the fruits and vegetables that we need to survive    Motherboard

A new study by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group in Washington, concluded that if meaningful progress on climate change is to be achieved agriculture will have to change. Radically different, more efficient farming and cultivation will have to be part of the picture as well as demands for cleaner operating vehicles and factories. Wheat fields and cattle will have to be part of the picture. Both to feed a larger world population and to deal with the reality of climate change.

The world's agricultural system, warns the report, requires dramatic alternation in the coming decades before a climate catastrophe is triggered. Agriculture occupies about 40 percent of the world's land, is responsible for roughly a quarter of humanity's greenhouse gas emissions at the present time. By 2050 it is anticipated that the world population will grow to ten billion from its current 7.2 billion, leading to more people eating more meat with its concomitant environmental impact.

The report's authors state world agricultural production would require a 45 percent increase in calories in 2050 as compared to 2010. Farmers and ranchers, they suggest, clearing more forests and using other ecosystems for cropland and pasture would transform an area twice the size of India to meet that growing demand if they proceed as has traditionally been the response to a growing need to produce more foodstuffs.

Global food production (blue bars) are from FAO (2011) data and nutritional recommendations (orange ...

Doing so would make it impossibly difficult to remain below 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, the target agreed as an international goal. When forests are cleared, there is a release of carbon they have stored in trees, and that release results in atmospheric change. Most agree that consumers for their own health and the health of the environment should turn to consuming more vegetables and less meat, and waste less food already available.

The recommendation is to cut meat consumption to 1.5 servings a week of beef and lamb, the two meat types typically involving large environmental footprints. Broad strategies to grow more food on existing agricultural land while cutting emissions is the goal, requiring a major shift in farming techniques worldwide, along with technological advances; new chemical compounds to help prevent nitrogen fertilizer produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, as an example.

Feed additives where cattle burp up less methane -- a recognized contributor to global warming -- is being explored by scientists. Strategies meant to improve productivity of existing croplands and pastures, paired with more rigorous conservation policies in protection of existing forests in Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa, represents yet another vision for the future, as an example.


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Friday, January 25, 2019

A Global Epidemic of Glacier Melt

"Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime. It's like watching the Statue of Liberty melt."
"This glacier used to be closer [since 1901, Sperry Glacier has shrunk from more than 800 acres (320 hectares) to 300 acres (120 hectares)]. That's out of date."
"It's now less than 250 acres (100 hectares)."
Daniel Fagre, research scientist,  U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Research Program
Photo of a glacier in the Pamir Mountains
A glacier in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia where some of the largest runoff changes are projected to occur Source: ‏Nozomu Takeuchi‏/Twitter
The Tuyuksu glacier in Kazakhstan is rapidly melting and rivulets of meltwater gush down the thin leading edge of the glacier. A warming climate is shrinking glaciers in Central Asia, as it is all around the world. Every year, ice is being lost at the Tuyuksu glacier as it does globally, and this will result in less available water for crops and people in future years. Tuyuksu is considered to be one of the longest-studied glaciers in the world, studies that help gauge the effect of climate change on the world's ice.

The snows acquired and accumulated over centuries become compressed as time wears on, becoming gradually flowing ice rivers up to around 300 metres of thickness in the Tien Shan range of Central Asia, though glaciers are known elsewhere to assume even thicker proportions, as for example in Antarctica. Glaciers never remain static, they are always moving as they accumulate new snow in winter, and lose ice in summer as melting occurs.

In Kazakhstan and elsewhere around the globe, with its 150,000 glaciers worldwide, melting is beginning to vastly outstrip accumulation, for a net loss of ice. Those glaciers worldwide cover roughly 520,000 square kilometres of the surface of this planet and during the past four decades they have been diminished by the equivalent of a layer of ice 21 metres of thickness. Along with the loss of thickness, smaller glaciers in the Andes and Rockies have disappeared where elsewhere many are losing length as well as thickness.
Cayoosh Glacier, Marriott Basin, British Columbia   Photo: JSR
In lock-step with melting glaciers, where thousands of years of ice accumulation are calving off from the main glacier in Antarctica and Greenland, seas are rising as they absorb the melt and cradle the melting pieces that crack off. All of this has consequences seen in rapid-onset floods that bring catastrophe, in the alteration of river courses and ecosystems, impacting on the marine organisms that live within. Production of hydroelectricity is also affected. And looming into the future is the prospect of less available water for agriculture and for people.

The Tuyuksu, about two kilometres in length, is steadily decreasing in length as well. Its research station was positioned a few hundred metres from the Tuyuksu's edge when it was built in 1957. It needs the better part of an hour now, scrambling over boulders and till left as the glacier retreated, to reach the ice tongue, where in six decades the glacier has lost over 800 metres. As it melts, the rivulets become torrents, carving surface channels in its hurried wake.

The Little Almaty River, fed from the flow, services the capital city of the country, Almaty, supplying drinking water for two million people and irrigation for cornfields and other crops nearby. The fear is that in the next twenty years shortages of water will loom, threatening water deprivation. "At some point they cannot produce the water they are providing right now. It's really important for water managers to know when this tipping point is reached", explained Maatthias Huss, researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Zurich.
PhD student Matt Beedle (left) and professor Brian Menounos measure changes in glacier thickness using GPS  UNBC


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Thursday, January 24, 2019


"[Canada's extradition treaty with the U.S. infringes on the] safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens."
"[China demands the U.S. withdraw its arrest warrant against Meng and] not make a formal extradition request to the Canadian side."
"Anyone with normal judgment can see that the Canadian side has made a serious mistake on this issue from the very beginning."
"We all need to shoulder responsibility for what we do. The same is true for a country. Be it Canada or the U.S., they need to grasp the seriousness of the case and take measures to correct their mistakes."
Hua Chunying, China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
In this Dec. 12, 2018, file photo, Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office with a security guard in Vancouver, British Columbia. China on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, demanded the U.S. drop a request that Canada extradite the top executive of the tech giant Huawei, shifting blame to Washington in a case that has severely damaged Beijing’s relations with Ottawa. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

"[The arrests of the two Canadians will lead to] less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground."
"Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result."
Partial text of letter to President Xi, signed by academics and foreign diplomats
Clearly the West is on a hunt to discredit the Peoples Republic of China. Its successes in every field of endeavour from technology to business and trade, science and medicine, not to mention spreading goodwill among other nations of the world, in particular its neighbours around the South China Sea has resulted in the United States and Canada plotting to cast a dark shadow of suspicion over China's gains to portray it as a bully and an illegal outcast for its industriousness in forging business ties across the landscape of the world.

The latest assault that has roiled relations between China and the U.S. is the move to bring the chief financial officer of China's powerful, most successful technology giant, Meng Wanzhou of Huawei Technologies Co., to trial for deliberately misinforming banking interests with respect to Huawei's ownership of companies doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite U.S. sanctions. That Canada was dupe enough to honour an American extradition request, and hold Meng Wanzhou in custody was clearly outrageous, but China is prepared to forgive as long as Canada forgets its international obligations.

In the meantime, three Canadians in China having fallen afoul of Chinese law which is not permissive of foreigners seeking to do harm to China's security, have been incarcerated as a tit-for-tat leverage, one of whom is slated to receive the death penalty for presumably being involved in China's illicit drug trade. China would be amenable to forgiving the trespasses of these Canadians should Canada see the light and stop persecuting an important figure in Chinese technology sector with close, very close ties to both the Communist government and its military, whose human rights have been tragically defiled.
Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., leaves her home while out on bail in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Meng suffers the indignity of having to wear an ankle-strapped GPS monitor. She must observe a curfew. She has been ordered by a British Columbia court in Vancouver to remain in one of her luxury mansions in Vancouver. She has the freedom to consult with her lawyers, to venture out daily to shop for designer clothing, and she has the company of her family living with her in their Vancouver mansion while the second mansion is being 'renovated'. She is accompanied on her forays by security guards.

The two Canadians arrested on security concerns, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on the other hand, languish in sparse prison cells, exposed to subtle torture meant to break prisoners' spirits. They cannot see lawyers to represent their interests, nor members of their families, but former diplomat Michael Kovrig has had Canadian consular advice, while Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, has not. As for accused drug dealer, Robert Schellenberg, he waits on death row, an example to Canada of China's determination to observe Chinese 'law' to the letter while deploring Canadian law.

And at the same time, China is incensed that Canada may now prevaricate over using Huawei technology hardware to set up its new mobile networks, following the lead of the United States, Australia and several other countries that have all declined to have Huawei equipment used in their electronic infrastructure. Chinese Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye has deplored the human rights abuses against an illustrious Chinese citizen and has warned that should Canada ban Huawei from 5G work in Canada, there would be "repercussions".

It is unfair and utterly infuriating that over 140 academics and former diplomats, five former Canadian ambassadors included, have signed a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping urging the release of the two Canadian detainees. Canada's outreach to its Western democratic collegial nations to garner sympathy and outrage against China's reasonable demand to return a Chinese citizen to China from the demoralizing and outrageous "racist" attack on her by U.S. authorities is yet another instance of 'white supremacy' in action.

And China won't stand for it. "Have they shown any concern or sympathy for Meng after she was illegally detained and deprived of freedom?", Ambassador Lu Shaye asked, as he acidly accused Canada of wallowing in "Western egotism".

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Allure of 'Their' Future

"This is something completely new for us. And it has absolutely exploded."
"The risks are extremely high [with strong currents in the Channel, and the water so cold] you would survive for less than an hour."
"It’s been an unusually good spell for winter – very light winds, no swell."
"That seems to have encouraged the criminals. These crossings are not being made by individuals using whatever they can find, they are organized by criminal networks. That’s new. It’s shockingly dangerous: this is the busiest sea lane in the world, more than 400 ships a day. The water is at 13C. Survival time, if you fall in, is an hour."
Marc Bonnafous, search and rescue operations, Cap Gris-Nez, France

"It was cold, very cold. The sea was calm, flat, but it was frightening. A dark night and, of course, no lights. Dangerous. We all knew it was dangerous. We could die. Instead, we’re back here [northern outskirts of Calais]."
"The man picks us up in his van, takes us somewhere, we don’t know where, we get in a boat. I don’t even know if he bought it or stole it."
"But I will keep trying as long as I can. I have to, of course. It is my future."
Wahid, 22, Iranian, twice-failed attempt to cross the English Channel

“They forced the window on my boat in an effort to break in."
"We could repair it. But others, they ripped open the control panels to try and jump-start them … They couldn’t go to sea. People have lost two, three days’ fishing, just before New Year’s Eve."
Anthony Cuvillier, captain, fishing boat Surcouf

"[The engine on one Boulogne boat was] completely wrecked [after intruders failed to open its valves]."
"Someone will get killed. And these boats can’t leave the port without appearing on the authority’s radar screen anyway. It’s crazy."
Alain Brulin, relief crewman, the Geoffrey Laurent
Workers repair L’Epervier, a boat that was stolen and damaged by migrants who tried to cross the Channel, in Wissant, northern France. Photograph: François Lo Presti/AFP/Getty Images

A surge of migrant crossings the last three months of 2018 has been reported in Boulogne-sur-Mer, the largest fishing port in France. Those crossings are attempted in small inflatable boats setting off in the dark from beaches on the French coast. Often, however, the ships are fishing boats that have been stolen. And many of them become wrecked in the process. The owners of the fishing boats are frantic; this is their livelihood that is being threatened.

Smugglers and their migrant clients intent to reach Britain are on the lookout for any vessels they can find to allow them to cross the English Channel, despite the dangers inherent in that challenge which has always been viewed as unbreachable for its shifting currents and volatile weather making it an extremely dangerous option. The result is that fishing boat captains returning to Boulogne-sur-Mer with the day's catch tell a similar story of their boats being broken into.

Around 500 migrants, ten times the number as in 2017 made the attempt to voyage across the channel, about 30 kilometers at its narrowest point, with over half of those attempts succeeding; these crossings of huge concern to Britain, politicians hostile to immigration calling it a crisis. This is hardly immigration; it is the stealth, unwanted entrance of illegals determined to forge their way into Europe to escape a country that has failed to convince them their futures lie where they were born.

"This boat is my business; it's my only enterprise" Jean-Marie Baheu stated, working to fix a lock on his 13-meter boat, Murex, where someone had made the attempt to smash into the captain's cabin. Deck hands busy hoisting crates of crab as the captain worked to repair the damage on the Quai Gambette, the favoured docking spot where skippers can unload their catch directly to the stalls lining the waterfront, selling their newly-caught sea treasures.

There alone, twelve attempted break-ins were logged in recent weeks "We've never seen anything like this", Valerie Arnout, at her stand selling fish her brother's boat brought in that morning, worried. As the largest fish-processing center in Europe the town depends on its fleet for its very survival, leading some of the fishermen to claim they're prepared to sit up all night in their boats, with guns to respond to would-be break-ins.

Iranians have been identified as representing most of those making the crossing attempt, according to officials who reason they possess the funds to pay smugglers' hefty fees. Migrants were known to have paid their smuggler around $115,000 each, in one recent case, according to officials. One of the most trafficked waterways in the world, where giant container ships leave wakes threatening to tip inflatable skiffs, makes the option of stolen fishing boats irresistible.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Mexican Tragedy

"We are going to eradicate that which not only causes material damages, it is not only what the nation loses by this illegal trade, this black market of fuel, but the risk, the danger, the loss of human lives."
"I believe in the people, I trust in the people, and I know that with these painful, regrettable lessons, the people will also distance themselves from these practices."
"Mexico needs to end corruption. This is not negotiable."
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Firefighters stand at the scene of the explosion January 18 in Tlahuelilpan.
January 18, Firefighters stand at the scene of the explosion at Tlahuelilpan, Mexico

Gangs of fuel thieves have been drilling illegal taps into pipelines in Mexico. In 2018, an average of about 42 of these dangerous events have taken place for a total of 12,581 ruptures. The loss to the government of revenues is staggering from State oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex). In an effort to put a stop to the thefts, Mexico's President Obrador was responsible for an offensive, ordering the pipeline to close down temporarily. An move that made fuel scarce and expensive.

The crackdown that was meant to solve one problem created another as gas stations experienced fuel shortages. The situation is seriously troubling, Mexico can ill afford to forego the $3-billion it loses annually in fuel to the enterprising fuel-theft gangs. As though the country is not sufficiently challenged with its proliferation of narcotics cartels and the deaths that accompany rival gangs' territorial ambitions and challenges.

In central Mexico last Friday, the pipeline that supplies a great swath of central Mexico with fuel, recently re-opened, was breached by thieves. And although Pemex became aware of the breach, it did nothing to stop the gush of fuel for several hours. In the interim, fuel-starved locals swarmed to the site where they had heard gasoline was gushing freely, bringing with them buckets, jugs, whatever might hold fuel they could return home with.

There were soldiers at the site, urging the people to turn away, but their cautions were largely ignored. As the fuel spurted and people gathered around collecting what they could, the fuel ignited, then exploded and a fireball lit up the night sky. Flames shot into the sky, and people screamed, trying to escape the explosion. Many of those fleeing were on fire. People were burned so thoroughly visual identification is not possible. In some instances there are only piles of ashes to indicate where people fell as they burned to death.

Hidalgo State Governor Omar Fayad spoke of dozens of people missing, of 74 who were being treated for their injuries. The latest death count stands at 91. Most of the bodies will be difficult to identify, and this is where DNA testing comes in with relatives offering samples to be matched with whatever is left of their loved ones. Forensic workers, close to the explosion site, marked mounds of ash with numbers.
Forensic doctors work at the scene of the pipeline explosion January 19.
Forensic doctors work at the scene of the pipeline explosion, January 19.

The duct that had been perforated by fuel thieves lured hundreds of people from Tlahuelilpan -- about 100 kilometres north of Mexico City -- to the site as gasoline was thrust 20 feet into the air. President Obrador has tasked  his attorney general to investigate to determine whether the explosion was deliberately caused. More likely, it resulted from risks inherent in clandestine fuel extraction. He believes in the people, he averred, calling on them to give testimony.

To inform authorities what they know about the chain of blackmarket fuel theft. The pipeline that had taken such a terrible toll on the locals had already been breached ten times before this last, fatal event. And that particular breach was one locals had visited frequently for 'free' fuel. This breach began with a gentle trickle of fuel until one of the locals pried a steel bar into the breach to enlarge it and the gasoline began spurting out.

If locals do have information, if they do know of names and activities that they themselves have long taken advantage of, how likely are they to deliver that information to authorities if they also fear retribution from the gangs, much less recognition of their own culpability?

Motorists wait in line for hours to buy gasoline at a Pemex service station in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, Mexico. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has urged Mexicans not to panic as gasoline shortages spread across the country, caused by a crackdown on fuel theft that risks backfiring badly. Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Male Mind, Female Body : Remedy?

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Still from short film BOY
"I just want to do what's best for Max. And sometimes that's tough love."
"I have no animosity toward Sarah on this issue. I think we both believe we are doing the right thing. And I believe we both have Max's best interest in mind."
"I thought it was a long process and nothing drastic was going to really happen, at least without consent."
"You don't just jump them into things they can't change back. When she's 18 and she does it, I'll support her 100 percent."
"What if?"
Clark, father of daughter/son (identities withheld)

"I have a male brain that doesn't match up with the body I'm in. It's like being trapped in a cage."
"It just kind of clicked right away [after watching YouTube video "Boy" while in Grade 7]."
"Even if I'm open with who I am, I'm still insecure."
Max, 14, Grade 9, Surrey, British Columbia

"I didn't quite understand transgenderism myself, didn't know if I fully believed in it. But having gone through the experience, I've gone through with my son I fully believe that yes, it is very possible that transgenderism does exist and there are people wandering around feeling excruciatingly uncomfortable in their own skin."
"If this [testosterone injections] is what alleviates my child experiencing this dysphoria, I'd rather move forward. ... If it happens to have side effects down the road, we're OK to handle that -- at least our child would still be alive."
"I don't want it on my conscience knowing that if this is all it took to alleviate that dysphoria from my child then why didn't we follow through with it?
Sarah, Max's mother

"Max's health care team has concluded that he possesses sufficient maturity and intelligence to be capable of consenting to his own medical care, notwithstanding the fact that he is only 14 years old. Furthermore, the team agrees that the proposed course of treatment is in his best interests."
"Under these circumstances we are of the view that it is ultimately up to Max to give or withhold consent to is own medical care; neither you nor his mother can make this decision for him."
Letter to Clark, Max's father, from B.C. Children's Hospital

"I have seen in some circumstances  ,,, where young people have had health care delayed and denied because everybody wasn't on board. One parent is supportive, and one is not, and nothing happens. That can be a problem. If the clinicians, the psychologists, the endocrinologists, the family doctor, if all of them have done the assessment and have determined that this is medically necessary, then it's important to actually pay attention to the expertise."
Elizabeth Aaewye, professor, UBC school of nursing 
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Some enterprising researcher who may have doubts about the new open and accepting attitude of medical professionals toward accepting a child's confident assertion that they are not in fact, a girl despite having been born female, or a boy, identified as such at birth -- but in reality a member of the opposite sex yearning to be recognized as such and anxious to be given medical treatment to make the physical transformation to match their psychological belief -- should begin interviewing women of all ages to ask whether such gender-identification confusion ever resonated with them.

It would, without doubt, be recognized that a good proportion of girls in their early years fantasized being a boy, imagining how much freedom it would confer upon them to do things that boys do so effortlessly and so physically well coordinated, in rebellion against the cultural confines they struggle against as girls. The same would be true for many boys who resent the expectation that they will do
manly things and behave in a manner that fails to suit their personalities, imagining that pressure would be relieved if they were girls instead.

Children are suggestible, hugely so, and their imaginations can run rampant into fanciful territory. We are a species never quite satisfied with who and what we are, seeking to portray ourselves differently to reflect what we would prefer, and at the same time we are attention-seekers, wanting to stand out in the crowd, generally to be admired, even if it takes a leap at non-conformity in rebellion to do so; we see ourselves as individualists so often, entitled to insist on having things our way. Who is it that can claim with complete confidence that children are not in fact gender-confused psychologically and briefly as part of maturation?

The general scientific, medical consensus seems now to have succumbed to the confidence in belief of a biological mismatch between ego/personality and birth presentation in gender. This is not now seen as a type of brief psychosis, but rather a biological error in need of intervention by medical science to remediate an error that nature produced. And if this doesn't represent a confusion of medical arrogance and layman effort to salve an emotional conundrum afflicting a steadily increasing group of people for whom transgenderism has become an escape from their reality in life, what else is it?

Max, all of 14, born a girl, feels she is a boy and insists she must live out her life as a male. Her/his mind is settled on self as male and all that is now wanting is to convince her father just as he was successful in convincing his mother, and undergoing treatment to transform his voice, his physique and confer upon him the male characteristics that she so fervently wishes to acquire. All the medical personnel consulted agree with that candidacy, as does mother Sarah, but father Clark is the holdout. The parents are separated, with joint custody and a provision in the custody agreement that both must agree on any issues of substance.

Clark and Sarah must jointly exercise "all parental responsibilities" inclusive of "giving, refusing or withdrawing consent to medical, dental and other health-related treatments for the child", reads their legal document. Despite which the B.C. Children's Hospital invokes the B.C. Infants Act to insist that as long as a health care provider is satisfied a child understands the nature, consequences, benefits and risks of the proposed treatment and concludes that the treatment is in the child's best interests the right to consent "belongs to the child alone".

Max was assessed a half dozen times over a period of several months starting in Grade 8, by a clinical psychologist. When those sessions ended, the psychologist considered Max a good candidate for testosterone therapy, for Max demonstrated to the psychologist a "long-lasting and intense pattern of gender non-conformity or gender dysphoria" among other issues related to the matter at hand. Sarah and Max went to the B.C. Children's Hospital's gender clinic, reputed to be one of the busiest in North America.

They met with a medical team that included a paediatric endocrinologist, a social worker and a nurse. All described the treatment that Max would undergo. On a three-page "informal consent form", the risks of testosterone therapy were laid out. The "treatment  in young adolescents is a newer development, the long-term effects of which are not fully known". Testosterone use would lead to permanent changes; a lower-pitched voice, facial hair and thicker hair on arms, legs and torso, that would prevail even should treatment be stopped.

Testosterone treatment could lead as well to an elevated risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. "It is not known", according to the consent form, what the effects of testosterone are on fertility. "You may or may not be able to get pregnant in the future". Max, said his mother, was definitely not undergoing some "phase". Staff at the hospital were prepared to initiate injections that very day, but Sarah felt it incumbent upon her to advise Max's father who was shocked at the swiftness of the conclusion.

He refused his assent on the basis of the information on the form. A court hearing has ensued. Clark's lawyer speaking for his client advised they take the position that Max not be rushed into treatment, that no injections should commence until such time as both parents agree to consent, or Max turns 18, or the court orders treatment to proceed. The judge, in hearing the details felt he had never encountered a case quite like this before in his career.

He was not aware whether provincial law recognizing Max's rights to give informed consent trumps family law and the parents' joint responsibilities in care of their child as per their separation agreement.

Related image
Still from short film BOY

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