"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, December 09, 2005

The blogging of the election

The main political parties in Canada are all running official blogs. The Liberal party blog is by far the most interesting as it has nothing to do with policy or anything else political. It is written by comedy writer Scott Feschuk and is more about life on the campaign trail with the Prime Minister. Since most of the Woodshed readers are American, let me point out that the Liberals in Canada would be moderate Democrats in the U.S. not screaming Dennis Kucinich liberals.

The Conservative Party of Canada's blog is anonymously written, humorless and like the party itself, full of contraditions. The first post about how the Liberals have turned Canada into a drug oasis and the second accuses the Liberals of fear-mongering and exaggeration. Yeah, right. In the U.S. these guys would not be the Republican neo-conservatives, though that is what they aspire to - they would be the party of grumpy old people who wear their pants up to their armpits and complain endlessly about the "Gumminit" After all these are people who think Stephen 'I am not a pod person' Harper is a dynamic intellectual leader.

The New Democratic Party, while it has moved to the right in recent years is still far enough to the left that in certain red states in the U.S. you would be allow, if not encouraged, to hunt them with dogs. They don't seem to have a central blog but their web site is here

I haven't included any information on the Bloc Quebecois, since this is an English language blog and they are really only of interest to Francophone Quebecois.

Of the smaller parties, I like the Greens, who are poised to make a breakthrough in this election if things go well and may even get a seat on Vancouver Island. My cousin ran for them in the last election.

Info on other major parties and the election may be found at the excellent Politics Canada site

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Rules

Rule No. 7 "Wow" is not a verb.
Rule No. 8 Sitcom character watching porn always tilt their heads
Rule No.9 In movies Italianss can play Jews and Jews can play Italians but neither Jews nor Italians can play Lutherans

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The war on Christmas
Why do Protestants and Americans hate Christmas so much?

The Erotic Bible

You knew it had to happen - a German Church has released a nudie calender with "erotic scenes from the bible"

Erotic moments from Bible..
BERLIN (Reuters) - A German Protestant youth group has put together a 2006 calendar with 12 staged photos depicting erotic scenes from the Bible, including a bare-breasted Delilah cutting Samson's hair and a nude Eve offering an apple.
"There's a whole range of biblical scriptures simply bursting with eroticism," said Stefan Wiest, the 32-year-old photographer who took the titillating pictures.
Anne Rohmer, 21, poses on a doorstep in garters and stockings as the prostitute Rahab, who is mentioned in both New and Old Testaments. "We wanted to represent the Bible in a different way and to interest young people," she told Reuters.
"Anyway, it doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that you are forbidden to show yourself nude."
Bernd Grasser, pastor of the church in Nuremberg where the calendar is being sold, was enthusiastic about the project

Note: the link up top to the actual calender seem to have been overwhelmed - I'm far from the only one to have linked to it today - but the BBC has a story about it and a photo from the cover.

If you wait a few days and paste http://www.bibelkalender.de./ into your browser, it should work, but be warned the site is all in German.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Maybe they're thinking of a different Stephen Harper

Maybe it's the influence of Conrad Black in the UK or maybe it's hypnosis or maybe, just maybe the following writers don't know what the hell they are talking about.

Anne McIlroy in the Guardian

"However, voters don't seem quite ready to trust Mr Harper, a brainy Conservative who is battling an image problem. He can come across as angry and intense, and is working hard to appear more likeable."

The Economist (which has a whole series of stories about Canada)

"Stephen Harper, the Conservatives' leader, is an aloof, cerebral figure, disparaged well beyond Liberal circles as a neo-conservative importing dangerous ideas from the United States. Though hardly radical by most of the world's standards, Mr Harper has alienated many Canadians by his opposition to gay marriage and his reservations about abortion. "

"Brainy" "Aloof, cerebral" -- Who the hell are they talking about? Because it sure as hell isn't the doofus that is head of the Conservative Party of Canada -- I mean, just look at the guy. Maybe he is a secret genius at quantum physics or a brilliant scholar of ancient Norse or something, and his "head of the Moose Jaw junior chamber of commerce" routine is a clever disguise, but I'm inclined to doubt it.

Note to The Economist - the patronizing tone of this cover story is unlikely to make you many friends in the Great White North

"Since it is a peaceful, prosperous—dare one say provincial?—sort of place, it rarely makes much of a splash in the world."

No, one dare not say "provincial" - not when, as indicated by your own surveys, Canada has a far more consmopolitian attitude to immigrants, minorities and damn near everything else than our former colonial masters. So "take off, eh!"

And while I'm at it, the fact that Canada is having its second federal election in 17 months does not mean the country is unstable or that democracy is in trouble or that national unity is on the rock or any other such thing. Most of the coverage I've seen in the U.S. and British press seems to hint at this (see The Economist stories) Canadians are used to this. We often have minority governments and some people prefer them to ruled by a bunch of ideologues with a death grip on the reins of power.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

'Coffee' a real eye-opener
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Coffee: A Dark History
By Antony Wild
W.W. Norton, 308 pp, 25.95 dollars

Java junkies, beware. Antony Wild's Coffee: A Dark History is bound to make you think twice about your morning cup, and with good reason.

Wild traces the origin and 500-year history of the spread of the beverage and the crop, their past and present social and economic effects and recent major changes in the industry. In the main, he writes with wry good humor, following his narrative thread down digressive, but informative side alleys. However, his examination of the modern history of coffee is incandescent with moral and aesthetic outrage over exploitative practices that keep many in poverty while ensuring low prices for Western consumers and high profits for multinational corporations engaged in a race to the bottom in terms of taste and quality.

A historian and former coffee buyer widely credited with introducing specialty coffees to Britain, Wild, like the fictional hero of the 19th century Dutch classic Max Havelaar, or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, is a bitter man, and for much the same reason. While Max Havelaar was a polemic against the injustices of the Dutch colonial system in Java in the 1850s, Wild's book is an indictment of the practices that drive today's multibillion-dollar global coffee industry.

While Wild speculates briefly that it may have been the coffee cherry and not the apple that Eve picked from the Tree of Knowledge, the first recorded consumption of coffee coffee as we know it took place in the 15th century in Yemen by Sufi mystics, who used the drink in rituals. The drink quickly spread throughout the Islamic world, so welcome as an alternative to forbidden alcohol that it became known as "the wine of Araby."

Diplomats from the Ottoman empire brought coffee to the court of Louis XIV in 1669 and the soldiers of the Sultan drank coffee while besieging Vienna in 1683. Coffee and coffeehouses soon swept the continent.

Once the Yemeni port of Mocha's virtual monopoly on the trade was broken, coffee cultivation soon spread to Europe's colonies in Asia and the Americas, where slaves were used in the labor-intensive process, a practice that continued in Brazil until the 1880s. By the 18th century, coffee along with sugar and cotton was the backbone of the colonial slavery-driven export economy.

Wild makes much of the role of coffeehouses in the formation of various groups ranging from the Freemasons to Britain's Royal Society as well as financial institutions including the venerable Lloyds of London, which began as a coffeehouse. In fact, he suggests the Enlightenment may have been nudged along a considerable amount by the caffeination of Europe.

Antipathy toward taxes on tea in Britain's American colonies made coffee a patriotic drink for those seeking independence from the mother country, and the Green Dragon coffee house in Boston, where the Boston Tea Party was planned, was the first headquarters of the American Revolution.

Lengthy digressions on the role of coffee in the empire and exile of Napoleon--one of the deposed emperor's last requests was for coffee--and poet Arthur Rimbaud's later career as a coffee merchant add interest but distract from the punch of Wild's condemnation of the coffee industry.

The United States consumes about a quarter of the world's coffee, importing 75 percent of it from its southern neighbors, a situation Wild contends contributed greatly to the corporate neocolonialism of the 20th century as successive U.S. administrations backed repressive regimes in Latin America as a bulwark against communism and as a source of cheap, labor-intensive agricultural products including sugar, fruit, rubber and, of course, coffee.

Fluctuations in coffee prices resulting from oversupply and occasional crop failures in Brazil, the world's largest producer, were once largely controlled by the International Coffee Organization. It had long been in the interests of the United States to support the ICO to mitigate the poverty and social unrest that could lead to revolution, but with the end of the Cold War the United States embraced a more laissez-faire approach and withdrew from the ICO in the early '90s. At the same time, the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund extended massive loans to Vietnam to develop its coffee industry, which went from being the world's 42nd largest coffee producer in the 1980s to being number two today.

Wild tracks the consequences of these moves: "In 1991 the global coffee market was worth around 30 billion dollars, of which producing countries received 12 billion dollars, or 40 percent. Current figures suggest that the global revenues from coffee sales are in the region of 55 billion dollars, of which only 7 billion dollars (13 percent) goes to the exporting nations."

He further notes that the spread of coffee cultivation in Vietnam, which grows mainly low-grade robusta coffee used in coffee-blend beverages such as packaged espresso-milk drinks and instant coffees, has followed the same pattern seen in Latin America as indigenous subsistence farmers are driven off their land to make way for coffee-growing sharecroppers.

Wild also mentions the recurring, but unconfirmable rumor that Vietnamese coffee may be contaminated with dioxins from the thousands of tons of Agent Orange chemical defoliant sprayed on the country during the Vietnam War. Another chapter details the hazards of caffeine and the industry's drive to increase the levels of the addictive stimulant in their products while compromising the scientific information available to the public on the world's most popular drug.
Such chilling thoughts, along with Wild's smooth, bold and acidic prose style, make Coffee a book that is sure to keep the reader up at night.
(Dec. 4, 2005)

Beer - is there anything it isn't good for?
Study indicates beer may help prevent cancer
Studies strongly suggest that a compound found only in hops and the main product they're used in - beer - is effective in preventing many types of cancer. And the darker the brew the higher the concentration of the active ingredient, Fred Stevens, professor of medicinal chemistry and researcher at the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University, said Tuesday.

? CanWest News Service 2005