Suzuki Motorcycle Assembles Itself

Watch a Suzuki GSXR assemble all by itself!
Total film time was roughly over 30 hours.
The bike ran on first start-up too!
Music: Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer


Why Humans Are Never Satisfied


Can A Car Drive Upside Down, Defying Gravity?

Replicating the classic Hot Wheels set, Fifth Gear TV attempts to perform a full 360 degree loop in a full size car.


The Amazing Lyre Bird - Unlike Any Bird You've Ever Heard!

David Attenborough presents the amazing lyre bird, which mimics the calls of other birds - and chainsaws and camera shutters - in this video clip from The Life of Birds. This clever creature is one of the most impressive and funny in nature, with unbelievable sounds to match the beautiful pictures. From the BBC.

The ABSOLUTE worst thing that could happen in 2012


2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame

The Sweatshop Hall of Shame 2010 highlights apparel and textile companies that use sweatshops in their global production. Hall of Shame inductees are responsible for evading fair labor standards and often are slow to respond or provide no response at all to any attempts by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF), workers, or others to improve working conditions.

The official inductees of the 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame are: Abercrombie and Fitch, Gymboree, Hanes, Ikea, Kohl’s, LL Bean, Pier 1 Imports, Propper International, and Walmart. This list also includes an Honorable Mention to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, a national trade association representing apparel and footwear companies. This association has exhibited a flagrant disregard for workers’ rights by primarily focusing on maintaining trade with Honduras in the middle of a military coup.

Most of the companies listed employ laborers who toil for long hours under dangerous working conditions for poverty wages. When these workers attempt to form a union to voice their collective concerns, they face threats from management and risk being fired or even beaten. Many of this years’ inductees use suppliers that practice illegal tactics to suppress workers’ rights to organize. Some of the companies mentioned weave shame into their clothing by continuing to use cotton sourced from Uzbekistan where harvesting is accomplished through forced child labor.

Though this list highlights the most abhorrent of companies, they are certainly not the only offenders. They represent a mere sample of a global industry in which brands have persistently flouted the rights of workers for more than a decade.

Don’t despair - not all is bad news in the clothing industry. For many years, the International Labor Rights Forum and SweatFree Communities have published the Shop with a Conscience Consumer Guide – a list identifying “sweatfree” options for the ever-increasing number of consumers interested in buying clothing made under ethical and worker-friendly conditions. You can find out more at www.Sweatfree.org/shoppingguide.




Canada's Top Health Official says "the mortality rate from this [H1N1] is no worse than seasonal flu"

by Sharon Kirkey

Despite the recent surge in H1N1 deaths, the nation's chief public health officer says the pandemic virus appears no deadlier than regular seasonal influenza and that there could actually be substantially fewer flu deaths than normal this season.

Although H1N1 is disproportionately infecting more children and otherwise healthy young adults "the mortality rate from this [H1N1] is no worse than seasonal flu," Dr. David Butler-Jones said in an interview with Canwest News Service.

"The individual risk of severe disease or dying if you happen to get the flu is very similar today as it was back in June. It's just that we're starting to see a lot more people affected," he said.

"The fact that we haven't had more deaths and more people in [intensive-care units] I think is a testimony to people doing the right things to both prevent and reduce the severity of disease," Dr. Butler-Jones said. People are following public health advice to cough and sneeze into their sleeves, stay home if they're sick and get on anti-virals if symptoms are worsening, he said.

"When you do take this disease seriously, you can actually dramatically reduce the number of people with severe illness and death," Dr. Butler-Jones said. "So the usual 2,000 to 8,000 range [of flu-related deaths] that we see with seasonal flu, we might actually be able to reduce that substantially."

Experts said the rates of serious illness and death are far from the levels predicted for a novel pandemic virus and that, based on the information available up until now, H1N1 is not on track to causing disease and death on the scope or scale of the flu pandemics of the 20th century.

Given the delays in getting people vaccinated, that's a good thing, said Dr. John

Granton, president of the Canadian Critical Care Society.

"If this was a more deadly virus, we would be in big trouble."

Canada's national pandemic plan estimated a flu outbreak could cause 15% to 35% of the population to fall clinically sick, and force the hospitalizations of 34,000 to 138,000 people.

So far, an estimated 7% to 8% of the population has been infected between the first and second wave, Dr. Butler-Jones said.

While the number of hospitalizations jumped twofold in the week ending Nov. 7 compared with the previous week, to 1,324 from 661, according to the latest analysis from the Public Health Agency of Canada, there has been a drop in severe infections.

As well, the proportion of ICU admissions and deaths among those admitted to hospital with H1N1 is falling.

The number of new reported deaths were up fourfold in the same reporting period (35 versus eight).

But some say relying on deaths and hospitalizations can lead to what seems a sudden surge in population-wide sickness that does not paint a true picture.

It can take two to three weeks in many cases for people with influenza to get sick enough to end up in hospital or an intensive-care unit, and even longer for them to die, said Dr. Richard Schabas, a former chief medical officer of health for Ontario.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, "people had the impression right through April of 2003 that the SARS outbreak was still roaring along, because they kept reporting deaths," Dr. Schabas said. "But what they didn't say was that these were people who got their SARS back in March, and it took them two, three, four, five weeks to die.

"It's the same thing with influenza. Most people with influenza don't die quickly. They die slowly. Continuing to report [deaths] as if it's a way of judging what the outbreak is doing is wrong." He said school absenteeism and emergency rooms visits are more timely indicators.

Estimating the death rate for swine flu is difficult, because the denominator -- how many people have been infected -- is missing. Canada, like most countries, stopped counting confirmed cases in July, and H1N1 causes mild symptoms in the majority of people it infects, so many people never see a doctor.

Reporting in this month's Harvard Health Letter, Harvard University researchers said data from the United States shows the death rate for H1N1 is one death for every 2,000 people who develop symptoms. The death rate for seasonal flu is about one death for every 1,000 to 2,000 infections.

During the 1957 flu pandemic, the death rate was elevated fourfold over regular seasonal flu, said University of Ottawa virologist Earl Brown.

In other words, for every person who dies of seasonal flu, the mortality rate was-four during the pandemic in 1957. "If you take 1968, where if you had one person dying per year, it went to two," Mr. Brown said.

"If we're looking here at 2009, one is going to, one? Less than one?" The data is incomplete, he said.



Fine, I'll fight the rebel alliance. But not before naptime.

20 Years Ago The Wall Came Tumbling Down...

Vanished Persian army said found in desert

By Rossella Lorenzi

The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.

Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert have raised hopes of finally finding the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.

"We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus," Dario Del Bufalo, a member of the expedition from the University of Lecce, told Discovery News.

According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.

After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an "oasis," which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.

"A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote Herodotus.

A century after Herodotus wrote his account, Alexander the Great made his own pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun, and in 332 B.C. he won the oracle's confirmation that he was the divine son of Zeus, the Greek god equated with Amun.

The tale of Cambyses' lost army, however, faded into antiquity. As no trace of the hapless warriors was ever found, scholars began to dismiss the story as a fanciful tale.

Striking evidence

Now, two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed in a sandstorm. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are already famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian "city of gold" known as Berenike Panchrysos.

Presented recently at the archaeological film festival of Rovereto, the discovery is the result of 13 years of research and five expeditions to the desert.

"It all started in 1996, during an expedition aimed at investigating the presence of iron meteorites near Bahrin, one small oasis not far from Siwa," Alfredo Castiglioni, director of the Eastern Desert Research Center (CeRDO)in Varese, told Discovery News.

While working in the area, the researchers noticed a half-buried pot and some human remains. Then the brothers spotted something really intriguing — what could have been a natural shelter.

It was a rock about 114.8 feet long, 5.9 feet in height and 9.8 feet deep. Such natural formations occur in the desert, but this large rock was the only one in a large area.

"Its size and shape made it the perfect refuge in a sandstorm," Castiglioni said.

Right there, the metal detector of Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat of Cairo University located relics of ancient warfare: a bronze dagger and several arrow tips.

"We are talking of small items, but they are extremely important as they are the first Achaemenid objects, thus dating to Cambyses' time, which have emerged from the desert sands in a location quite close to Siwa," Castiglioni said.

About a quarter-mile from the natural shelter, the Castiglioni team found a silver bracelet, an earring and few spheres which were likely part of a necklace.

"An analysis of the earring, based on photographs, indicate that it certainly dates to the Achaemenid period. Both the earring and the spheres appear to be made of silver. Indeed a very similar earring, dating to the fifth century B.C., has been found in a dig in Turkey," Andrea Cagnetti, a leading expert of ancient jewelry, told Discovery News.

A different route?
In the following years, the Castiglioni brothers studied ancient maps and came to the conclusion that Cambyses' army did not take the widely believed caravan route via the Dakhla Oasis and Farafra Oasis.

"Since the 19th century, many archaeologists and explorers have searched for the lost army along that route. They found nothing. We hypothesized a different itinerary, coming from south. Indeed we found that such a route already existed in the 18th Dynasty," Castiglioni said.

According to Castiglioni, from El Kargha the army took a westerly route to Gilf El Kebir, passing through the Wadi Abd el Melik, then headed north toward Siwa.

"This route had the advantage of taking the enemy aback. Moreover, the army could march undisturbed. On the contrary, since the oasis on the other route were controlled by the Egyptians, the army would have had to fight at each oasis," Castiglioni said.

To test their hypothesis, the Castiglioni brothers did geological surveys along that alternative route. They found desiccated water sources and artificial wells made of hundreds of water pots buried in the sand. Such water sources could have made a march in the desert possible.

"Thermoluminescence has dated the pottery to 2,500 years ago, which is in line with Cambyses' time," Castiglioni said.

In their last expedition in 2002, the Castiglioni brothers returned to the location of their initial discovery. Right there, some 62 miles south of Siwa, ancient maps had erroneously located the temple of Amun.

The soldiers believed they had reached their destination, but instead they found the khamsin -- the hot, strong, unpredictable southeasterly wind that blows from the Sahara desert over Egypt.

"Some soldiers found refuge under that natural shelter, other dispersed in various directions. Some might have reached the lake of Sitra, thus surviving," Castiglioni said.

Mass grave discovered
At the end of their expedition, the team decided to investigate Bedouin stories about thousands of white bones that would have emerged decades ago during particular wind conditions in a nearby area.

Indeed, they found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls.

"We learned that the remains had been exposed by tomb robbers and that a beautiful sword which was found among the bones was sold to American tourists," Castiglioni said.

Among the bones, a number of Persian arrow heads and a horse bit, identical to one appearing in a depiction of an ancient Persian horse, emerged.

"In the desolate wilderness of the desert, we have found the most precise location where the tragedy occurred," Del Bufalo said.

The team communicated their finding to the Geological Survey of Egypt and gave the recovered objects to the Egyptian authorities.

"We never heard back. I'm sure that the lost army is buried somewhere around the area we surveyed, perhaps under 16.4 feet of sand."

Piero Pruneti, editor of Archeologia Viva, Italy's most important archaeology magazine, is impressed by the team's work.

"Judging from their documentary, their hypothesis of an alternative route is very plausible," Prunetic told Discovery News. "Indeed, the Castiglioni's expeditions are all based on a careful study of the landscape...An in-depth exploration of the area is certainly needed!"


"Oh great, now we've disturbed the final resting place of the last people to have been cursed by the oracle at the Temple of Amun.

This will not end well."


Kari from Mythbusters wants you to say hello to her leetle friend

Fresh from the Twitter feed of Grant Imahara we see Kari from Mythbusters going nuts with a sniper rifle taller than her. I hope it’s for an experiment and not a Discovery-channel sponsored “Deadliest Game” reality show where the prey will be hosts of various Food Network programs.


The Cable Song -Dave Carroll

From the guy who brought you "United Break Guitars" - The Cable Song.

http://www.localtvmatters.ca Millions on American news services To pay for Canadian news You pay for local channels Cable pockets all that money While local Canadian channels go broke. Rates should be regulated. Force cable companies to pay for Canadian TV. You're already paying for it... localtvmatters.ca

Marc Emery: The Sacrificial Goat of Canada’s US-Dictated Drug Policy

By Chris Bennett

After witnessing the slow-moving tentacles of the Federal courts wrap around and consume my friend and fellow Canadian pot activist Marc Emery after a 4-year extradition process for US-based charges regarding the sale of marijuana seeds into the USA, I can’t help seeing Marc as a sacrificial offering that was given by Canada to the White House officials who set Canadian drug policy at the end of the Chretien era.

I have known Emery for over 15 years, writing for his magazine Cannabis Culture, and managing his popular video streaming website Pot-TV from 2000-2005, until a US DEA raid in Vancouver forever altered our lives, and our feelings of sovereignty.

The time of Emery’s bust in July 2005, had been preceded by considerable talk in Canada about liberalizing cannabis restrictions on the Federal level, including a Senate committee report in 2002 that recommended the legalization and regulation of cannabis, and a House of Commons report in 2004 that called for decriminalization.

Such talk caused considerable concern south of the border, where George W. Bush’s White House was determined to continue with America’s military-style drug war that was championed by both his father, and his father's predecessor Ronald Reagan. A 2004 Parliament report recorded the White House’s feelings about the Canadian discussion on loosening the restrictions of cannabis:

The reports of the House of Commons and Senate Special Committees in relation to cannabis in 2002 caused some immediate concern in the United States. The Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, John Walters, warned that relaxed marijuana laws would lead to an increase in drug abuse in Canada, stating, "When you weaken the societal sanctions against drug use, you get more drug use. Why? Because drugs are a dangerous addictive substance." The United States also expressed concern that liberalized marijuana laws in Canada would lead to more drugs crossing into the United States. For example, Colonel Robert Maginnis, a drug policy adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, asserted that the United States would not look kindly on changes to Canadian marijuana laws and warned that it would be forced to take action. He stated, "It creates some law enforcement problems and I think it creates some trade problems and some perception problems, especially in the U.S., with regard to whether Canada is engaged in fighting drug use rather than contributing to drug use" and "We’re going to have to clamp down even stronger on our border if you liberalize and contribute to what we consider a drug tourism problem."

After Canada introduced its initial marijuana bill in May 2003, John Walters, the U.S. Drug Control Policy Director, warned that if the bill passed, the result would be increased security and lengthy delays at the border. He was quoted as saying, "We don’t want the border with Canada looking like the U.S.-Mexico border," "You expect your friends to stop the movement of poison toward your neighbourhood" and "We have to be concerned about American citizens … When you make the penalties minimal, you get more drug production, you get more drug crime." David Murray, special assistant to Mr. Walters, stated that the proposed decriminalization initiative was "a matter we look upon with some concern and some regret" and "We would have no choice but to respond." Mr. Murray was also quoted as saying, "We have a working partnership that has been mutually beneficial with enormous amounts of trade. Eighty-five percent of Canada’s exports go into the United States. ... That trade is mutually beneficial, but we might have to make sacrifices for the integrity of the border on both sides if we recognize that drug trade is hurting us."

Also in 2003, Asa Hutchinson, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was quoted as saying, "We don’t want the northern border to be a trafficking route for drugs" and "If countries have divergent policies on drugs, then that increases the potential of the borders becoming a trafficking route." Will Glaspy, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, was quoted as saying, "Liberalizing drug laws will lead to an increase in drug use … and drug supplies. They will lead to increased security at the border." - (Canada's Proposed Decriminalization of Marijuana: International Implications and Views, 2004)

The US pressures were so extreme that in 2003, the then Canadian Justice Minister, Liberal MP Martin Cauchon, who largely championed Canada’s proposed decriminalization legislation, took the Canadian bill to the White House , where after a discussion with then US Drug Czar John Ashcroft, he returned with a vastly changed proposal. Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, who was somewhat more outspoken on the issue at the time, responded to this visit, saying, "There goes Canadian sovereignty up in smoke. [...] Here's the American government advising on what Canadian policy will be before the House of Commons even has a look at it. It's quite astounding."

In 2005, deeply concerned by threats of a Canadian shift in pot policy, the US Drug Czar John Walters, who called BC Bud the "crack of marijuana" decided to find the source of Canada’s movement towards legalization, and visited the liberal city of Vancouver to attack this 'problem' head-on. It was there, while giving a presentation hosted by the Vancouver Board of Trade, that Walters met his match in the persona of Vancouver resident and pot maverick, Marc Scott Emery, who had made millions selling cannabis seeds internationally via his website emeryseeds.com, and spent equal millions in efforts directed at promoting the legalization of the said herb.

Emery, and a crew of hand-picked pot activists, which included this author, attended the $750-a-table gala event, where they heckled an astounded John Walters, who was further insulted for his Republican views on drug policy in media coverage of the event by then outgoing Vancouver Mayor Phillip Owen, and then incumbent Larry Campbell.

After the event, Vancouver Police chaperoned John Walters on a guided tour of Vancouver’s lower east Side, known for its hard drug problem and legal injection site, and Pot cafes, where the disgruntled Walters literally had marijuana blown in his face by cocky local pot smokers. The VPD, who were in obvious awe of Walters, were miffed that their honored guest had been insulted by Vansterdam’s Prince of Pot and tried to encourage Canadian Crown prosecutors to issue a search warrant on Emery’s cannabis seed shop, one of a number of such businesses that had operated unmolested for some years in Vancouver (many remain), but the Crown refused.

Unhappy with the decision of their own Federal Prosecutor, the Vancouver Police took it upon themselves to report back to US Drug Czar, John Walters. Walters, angered at Canada’s lack of motivation on the issue, took the unprecedented action of overriding the Canadian decision and approaching the Canadian Government with a US-based arrest warrant against Emery for the sale of seeds in the US over the Internet and through the mail.

By this time the Canadian federal Government was already feeling the shock and awe of US threats over Canadian plans to decriminalize cannabis, and Cauchon’s replacement, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, who had suffered personal insults from Emery in the press after the activists 3-month jail term for passing a joint in Saskatoon, was only eager to sign off on both the US request for a search warrant and the later extradition of Emery. Indeed, it can be seen that in a sense, Emery himself became a sacrificial offering from the Canadian federal government to their American masters, in appeasement for their earlier attempts to decriminalize the plant, as all further talk of decimalization faded into the mists of Ottawa’s disjointed politics.

Clearly, the US DEA considered Emery’s arrest a victory in smashing the marijuana legalization movement in Canada, but also internationally. As the DEA press release regarding the case stated:

Today’s DEA arrest of Marc Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine, and the founder of a marijuana legalization group- is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the U.S. and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement.

His marijuana trade and propagandist marijuana magazine have generated nearly $5 million a year in profits that bolstered his trafficking efforts, but those have gone up in smoke today.

Emery and his organization had been designated as one of the Attorney General’s most wanted international drug trafficking organizational targets – one of only 46 in the world and the only one from Canada.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery’s illicit profits are known to have been channelled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.

The DEA's own press release makes it infinitely clear that Emery’s case was politically motivated from the get-go. Canada’s own shift away from the popular discussions on the decriminalization of cannabis after this time period, along with the Canadian Government’s eagerness to ship Emery off, and recent embracing of American-style penalties for cannabis make it equally clear who is in control of Canadian policy. In their compliance with their apparent American masters, the Canadian Government, has in a very real sense offered up one of its own citizens to the behemoth of America. In so doing, they have turned Emery into a marijuana martyr, or at the very least, a sacrificial scapegoat for Canada’s failed attempt at loosening the noose of its own outdated and unjust cannabis laws.

The laws against cannabis have turned the image of a prohibited leaf into a world symbol of natural liberty that people proudly display despite the harshest prohibitions of the plant itself. Likewise, the American Government’s persecution of Marc Scott Emery, and the Canadian Government’s abandonment of him (even refusing to allow Emery to serve his prison time in Canada), have turned Emery into a powerful human symbol of the plant liberation movement he has so selflessly stood behind.

This scapegoating of Emery is rife with symbolism. The term scapegoat comes from the ancient Greek word Pharmakos. In the Ancient Greek religion the Pharmakos was a human scapegoat chosen and expelled from the community when purification was needed at times of disaster or upheaval. In some cases these victims were sacrificed; in others beaten and expelled from the community to carry off their collective sin.

The word 'pharmakos' later became the term 'pharmakeus', which refers to "a drug, spell-giving potion, druggist, poisoner, by extension a magician or a sorcerer," a description that in many ways fits our Prince of Pot. A variation of this term is "pharmakon" either a herbal remedy, poison, or drug and from this, the modern term "pharmacology" emerged.

In Christianity, this symbolism of the Pharmakos scapegoat filtered into the concept of the sacrificial lamb. Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, carrier of the sins of the community - but in Emery’s case as a scapegoat, they may find that their sacrifice turns around to buck them in the ass. In the imprisonment of Emery, the system has in a sense ingested the drug man. At the moment, they savor his sweet taste in their victory, but as Emery descends into the great belly of the American prison system, they will truly begin to feel his effects.

They will feel these effects as countless activists stand up to carry the torch of freedom in his honor, as the debate rages on regarding the most asked question of the Obama administration, as more States try to override Federal laws regarding medical marijuana, and as California opens the debate for full legalization and taxation, potentially giving birth to a billion dollar industry that may be indebted to genetics Emery provided through his seed business.

By burying Emery in prison they have turned him into one of his own seeds, and if there is one thing that can break through the concrete Hell he has been placed in, it's a weed. Ironically, it may be from a prison cell that Emery witnesses the realization of his own long-time battle cry of "Overgrow the Government"!



2012 isn't the end of the world, Mayans insist


Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly "running out" on Dec. 21, 2012. After all, it's not the end of the world.

Or is it?

Definitely not, the Mayan Indian elder insists. "I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff."

It can only get worse for him. Next month Hollywood's "2012" opens in cinemas, featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" Web site, says people are scared.

"It's too bad that we're getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin said. "We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn't live to see them grow up."

Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.

A significant time period for the Mayas does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 25,800 years.

But most archaeologists, astronomers and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials such as one on the History Channel which mixes "predictions" from Nostradamus and the Mayas and asks: "Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?"

It may sound all too much like other doomsday scenarios of recent decades — the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the Jupiter Effect or "Planet X." But this one has some grains of archaeological basis.

One of them is Monument Six.

Found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s, the stone tablet almost didn't survive; the site was largely paved over and parts of the tablet were looted.

It's unique in that the remaining parts contain the equivalent of the date 2012. The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 involving Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.

However — shades of Indiana Jones — erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible.

Archaeologist Guillermo Bernal of Mexico's National Autonomous University interprets the last eroded glyphs as maybe saying, "He will descend from the sky."

Spooky, perhaps, but Bernal notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 — including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.

And anyway, Mayas in the drought-stricken Yucatan peninsula have bigger worries than 2012.

"If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea," said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. "That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain."

The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., had a talent for astronomy

Its Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.

"It's a special anniversary of creation," said David Stuart, a specialist in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin. "The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they're just recording this future anniversary on Monument Six."

Bernal suggests that apocalypse is "a very Western, Christian" concept projected onto the Maya, perhaps because Western myths are "exhausted."

If it were all mythology, perhaps it could be written off.

But some say the Maya knew another secret: the Earth's axis wobbles, slightly changing the alignment of the stars every year. Once every 25,800 years, the sun lines up with the center of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun's lowest point in the horizon.

That will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, when the sun appears to rise in the same spot where the bright center of galaxy sets.

Another spooky coincidence?

"The question I would ask these guys is, so what?" says Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the "Bad Astronomy" blog. He says the alignment doesn't fall precisely in 2012, and distant stars exert no force that could harm Earth.

"They're really super-duper trying to find anything astronomical they can to fit that date of 2012," Plait said.

But author John Major Jenkins says his two-decade study of Mayan ruins indicate the Maya were aware of the alignment and attached great importance to it.

"If we want to honor and respect how the Maya think about this, then we would say that the Maya viewed 2012, as all cycle endings, as a time of transformation and renewal," said Jenkins.

As the Internet gained popularity in the 1990s, so did word of the "fateful" date, and some began worrying about 2012 disasters the Mayas never dreamed of.

Author Lawrence Joseph says a peak in explosive storms on the surface of the sun could knock out North America's power grid for years, triggering food shortages, water scarcity — a collapse of civilization. Solar peaks occur about every 11 years, but Joseph says there's evidence the 2012 peak could be "a lulu."

While pressing governments to install protection for power grids, Joseph counsels readers not to "use 2012 as an excuse to not live in a healthy, responsible fashion. I mean, don't let the credit cards go up."

Another History Channel program titled "Decoding the Past: Doomsday 2012: End of Days" says a galactic alignment or magnetic disturbances could somehow trigger a "pole shift."

"The entire mantle of the earth would shift in a matter of days, perhaps hours, changing the position of the north and south poles, causing worldwide disaster," a narrator proclaims. "Earthquakes would rock every continent, massive tsunamis would inundate coastal cities. It would be the ultimate planetary catastrophe."

The idea apparently originates with a 19th century Frenchman, Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, a priest-turned-archaeologist who got it from his study of ancient Mayan and Aztec texts.

Scientists say that, at best, the poles might change location by one degree over a million years, with no sign that it would start in 2012.

While long discredited, Brasseur de Bourbourg proves one thing: Westerners have been trying for more than a century to pin doomsday scenarios on the Maya. And while fascinated by ancient lore, advocates seldom examine more recent experiences with apocalypse predictions.

"No one who's writing in now seems to remember that the last time we thought the world was going to end, it didn't," says Martin, the astronomy webmaster. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of memory that things were fine the last time around."


God is not the Creator, claims academic

The notion of God as the Creator is wrong, claims a top academic, who believes the Bible has been wrongly translated for thousands of years.

By Richard Alleyne

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew.

She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world -- and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.

Prof Van Wolde, 54, who will present a thesis on the subject at Radboud University in The Netherlands where she studies, said she had re-analysed the original Hebrew text and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".

The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"

According to Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the Earth out of nothing.

Prof Van Wolde, who once worked with the Italian academic and novelist Umberto Eco, said her new analysis showed that the beginning of the Bible was not the beginning of time, but the beginning of a narration.

She said: "It meant to say that God did create humans and animals, but not the Earth itself."

She writes in her thesis that the new translation fits in with ancient texts.

According to them there used to be an enormous body of water in which monsters were living, covered in darkness, she said.

She said technically "bara" does mean "create" but added: "Something was wrong with the verb.

"God was the subject (God created), followed by two or more objects. Why did God not create just one thing or animal, but always more?"

She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground.

"There was already water," she said.

"There were sea monsters. God did create some things, but not the Heaven and Earth. The usual idea of creating-out-of-nothing, creatio ex nihilo, is a big misunderstanding."

God came later and made the earth livable, separating the water from the land and brought light into the darkness.

She said she hoped that her conclusions would spark "a robust debate", since her finds are not only new, but would also touch the hearts of many religious people.

She said: "Maybe I am even hurting myself. I consider myself to be religious and the Creator used to be very special, as a notion of trust. I want to keep that trust."

A spokesman for the Radboud University said: "The new interpretation is a complete shake up of the story of the Creation as we know it."

Prof Van Wolde added: "The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now."



Piano stairs - The fun theory

Former Beach Boy to complete Gershwin songs

The musical genius behind the Beach Boys has been asked to complete the work of a pop composer from earlier in the 20th century — George Gershwin.

Gershwin, a famed lyricist and composer who created works such as Porgy and Bess, An American in Paris and the Oscar-nominated They Can't Take That Away From Me, left behind dozens of unfinished songs when he died in 1937.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Gershwin family trust, administered by the composer's nephew Todd Gershwin, has approached former Beach Boy Brian Wilson to finish some of the songs.


Wilson was the lead songwriter for the '60s band, penning hits such as Good Vibrations and Little Deuce Coupe, but also the more sophisticated album Smile, which came out in 2004.

Wilson, 67, said he was "thrilled" at the prospect of working with the ghost of Gershwin, adding that one of his earliest memories was of hearing Rhapsody in Blue, a Gershwin jazz-classical composition.

Wilson plans to issue an album of Gershwin classics, with his own arrangements, next year that will include at least three new Gershwin songs.

"George for his time was a visionary," Todd Gershwin told the Times. "He certainly crossed genres and musical lines, tried things that hadn't been done before and Brian Wilson has done exactly the same thing."


Canada’s biggest problem? America

by Luiza Ch. Savage

It has been almost two years since Stephen Harper disclosed that his cabinet was having serious discussions about what to do to “restore the special Canadian and American relationship” that he said had become “lost” in the Bush years. “What has happened is that Canada lost that special relationship with the United States. We increasingly became viewed as just another foreign country, albeit an ally, a good friend, but nevertheless a foreign country. You know, the northern equivalent of Mexico in terms of the border,” the Prime Minister told Maclean’s in an interview back in December 2007. “That isn’t just a shift in the view of the administration, that’s somewhat a shift in American public opinion as well, which concerns me.”

At the time, Harper was preoccupied with a new passport requirement that threatened tourism and trade, adding a new scale to the ongoing red-tape “thickening” of the world’s longest undefended border. “I’m certain this trend will not be reversed in the lifetime of the current American administration,” Harper said at the time. “I’m more optimistic it will be deferred later by a new administration.” But, he added, “I’m far from sure.”

He was right to be wary. If the special relationship was lost under George W. Bush, nine months into the new administration it remains missing. At his Sept. 16 meeting with Obama at the White House, Harper boasted that it was his seventh session with the new President. But the passport requirement remains, as do agricultural inspection fees on commercial cross-border traffic and air travellers. Instead of “un-thickening” the border, the new administration has kept the Bush policies in place and even piled more on: in February, the U.S. sent unmanned aerial surveillance drones to patrol parts of the border with Canada. The drones, which can detect human movement 10 km away, are supposed to help catch smugglers. But they have raised concerns about privacy in border communities, and although they are unarmed, give the 49th parallel something in common with the tribal lands between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Since Obama’s February trip to Ottawa, where he was greeted with a rapturous welcome on his first official foreign visit, the state of the world’s largest trading relationship has become even more fraught. Given that fully one quarter of the Canadian economy depends on exports to the U.S., growing American protectionism has proven to be a growing threat. Problems began with a Buy American provision in the US$787-billion stimulus bill. While there have been reports that an exemption for Canada may be imminent, in return for Canadian municipal and provincial governments allowing procurement contracts for U.S. companies, rules similar to the Buy American provision are now being repeated in other legislation. Protectionism has also surfaced in proposed climate change legislation that would impose border tariffs on imports from countries whose carbon policies Washington deems insufficient. And there are other issues galore that affect Canada, from complicated and costly trucking rules and the treatment of Canadian hydroelectricity under U.S. environmental laws to “country of origin” labelling that imposes costs on Canadian agricultural producers and reduces the appeal of their goods in the U.S. marketplace.

Oh—there’s Canada’s national sport as well. In August, Canadian NHL teams faced the prospect of having their seasons thrown into limbo by a sudden Obama administration crackdown on Canadian charter flights operating between U.S. cities. That issue arose when a U.S. charter airline and an American pilots’ union complained that the Air Canada charter company was beginning to take U.S. business, and the Department of Transportation stepped in. When Harper sat down with Obama at his Sept. 16 Oval Office meeting, he took precious minutes away from discussions of Afghanistan and Iran to address the war over hockey players.

That problem was eventually resolved, with Air Canada agreeing to “an unprecedented level of monitoring and enforcement” of who boards the flights. But it was just one more high-profile imbroglio between the two countries that may have left many Canadians asking the question: is America Canada’s biggest problem?

Jason Myers, the president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, calls growing American protectionism “the hottest issue for us.” He is not only concerned about new rules that affect us directly, but also those aimed at other countries that lead to problems for Canada. For example, when Obama announced in September that the U.S. would impose tariffs on tires from China, Myers worried that any Chinese retaliation against the U.S. auto industry would hurt Canadian businesses, too, because that sector is so integrated in North America. “We just see a whole lot of areas where the U.S. is becoming more closed, protectionist and isolated in terms of trade,” Myers says. “It’s not just that it’s our biggest market, but we make things together. We are part of an integrated supply chain. It has far-reaching impacts throughout industries.”

The impact of the Buy American provisions has been not only to exclude Canadian suppliers from government contracts at the state and local level, but also to encourage American distributors to stop carrying Canadian products. “The impact of this goes well beyond the procurement markets at state and local levels and beyond the federal restrictions,” Myers says. The economic impact is hard to estimate, in part because only a small portion of the stimulus money has been disbursed, but at least 250 Canadian companies have lost business, he adds.

Washington, Ottawa and the provinces have worked toward a solution to the problem. But even if Canada gains an exemption from the Buy American provision, Canadian businesses are worried that initiative may have been just the tip of the iceberg. Similar protectionist rules have been included in several bills pending in Congress, including the Water Quality Investment Act, which Myers notes could affect $4 billion worth of Canadian exports.

Of course, U.S. protectionism is rising precisely because the American economy is struggling, with the country’s global trade deficit now a domestic political football. To American ears, this drumbeat of Canadian complaints is beginning to look predatory. The Canadian Embassy arms itself with fancy maps detailing just how many jobs in each congressional district depend on the annual US$742 billion in trade with Canada. But congressmen know a trade deficit when they see one: the Canada-U.S. imbalance happens to amount to several billion dollars each month—in Canada’s favour (it was US$2.2 billion in July).

“I think we need a whole new vocabulary in the relationship,” says Scotty Greenwood, executive director of the Washington-based Canadian-American Business Council. The two countries are often tone-deaf to each other’s politics, she observes. “Canadians like to talk about NAFTA and say, ‘We’re your biggest trading relationship.’ Well, here NAFTA is a dirty word and everyone knows that Canada has a trade surplus. That is not what Americans want to hear. Basically, Canada is saying, you guys are an awesome market. We know that. We want you to be an awesome market for us, too.”

Likewise, in an America where national security concerns are top of mind, Canadian complaints about “thickening” at the border fall on deaf ears, Greenwood says, including those of the new secretary of homeland security. “Janet Napolitano leaned over to me at a dinner,” she recalls, “and said, ‘They talk about this like it’s a bad thing.’ ” Greenwood suggests new language for discussing border issues. “The Canadian vocabulary should be something like, ‘smart, breathable armour.’ If Canadians would talk about it as smart, breathable armour it would automatically reassure Americans that you understand the concerns.” Canadian governments should adapt to the fact that U.S. attitudes changed permanently after 9/11, she says. “It’s like the passport thing. If you want Canadians to be advantaged and have privileged access to the U.S., then get a secure card instead of arguing that we should accept 5,000 different documents.”

David Wilkins, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada, says Canadians should recognize the immense power of Congress when trying to press their case. That is what Wilkins himself is doing in his new role as a lobbyist for Saskatchewan, which wants to develop and export production from its oil sands at a time when some members of Congress want to penalize “dirty oil” in upcoming climate change legislation. He recently flew several influential U.S. senators to the province to see a joint Canadian-American carbon capture and sequestration project aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He also praised Harper for calling on congressional leaders on Capitol Hill during his last visit to Washington. “He obviously gets it because he did that visit to the Hill,” says Wilkins.

Better late than never, says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat in Washington. “It’s been five years since a Canadian prime minister has been out there in a formal sense,” says Robertson, a senior fellow at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. “It is entirely appropriate for the Prime Minister to go to Congress—he is our legislator-in-chief. If we started doing that on a consistent basis, that will give us more credibility. It opens the conversation on future engagement,” he adds.

To address concerns about border security, Robertson says the heads of Canadian security agencies such as CSIS and the RCMP, and their U.S. counterparts, should jointly educate members of Congress about the deep bilateral co-operation in law enforcement and intelligence. “If you send that information to Congress, it will make it easier on border issues,” he says. Likewise, Robertson says Canadian labour should take an aggressive role in pressing top U.S. labour leaders on protectionism that hurts Canadian unions. “A third of Canadian unions are affiliates of U.S. unions. It’s brother hurting brother,” he says. “Canadians need to work the American system the way the Americans themselves use it. You have to play by American rules.” Myers agrees. “It’s clear Canada won’t go far just by trying to encourage the U.S. to do us favours,” he says. “We have a lot of work to do to build a stronger voice among stake-holder groups like business associations and labour associations across Canada and the U.S. to say that we are in this together.”

But when it comes to direct dealings with the Obama administration, Canada has to walk a fine line between raising bilateral issues and trivializing the relationship. “Because of the U.S.’s position in the world, the President is dealing with international issues, whether it’s Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea,” Wilkins says. “Those are the primary focus. It behooves any country dealing with the U.S. to talk about the international issues before you turn your attention to wait times at the Peace Bridge.”

Robertson has much the same message. “With the Americans we tend to focus on just the little neighborhood stuff,” he complains, noting that the Canadian emphasis on bilateral irritants came to irritate Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. “She would say, ‘Here come the Canadians with their condominium issues.’ ” Robertson, for one, regrets that Harper raised the issue of hockey flights at his tête-à-tête with Obama, rather than leaving it to ministers and ambassadors. “It makes them wonder: are we dealing with a border state governor or a serious G8 nation? We tend to ratchet stuff up because we think this is what the public wants. But the public wants results. A lot of stuff the President can’t resolve.”

Meanwhile, Robertson says, the U.S. is strongly interested in the Canadian perspective and Canadian contacts on issues from Afghanistan to Pakistan to the western hemisphere. Indeed, the outgoing Canadian ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, has called Canada’s military role in Afghanistan the “best calling card I had” in Washington. When that military commitment winds down, it will not make the Canada-U.S. relationship any easier. “That’s going to be front and centre for the government, for Parliament, for some time, as to how we handle this in a way that doesn’t undermine the terrific goodwill that we have,” he told Maclean’s in a recent interview.

Despite the tensions, there have been notable examples of smooth co-operation between the two countries on urgent matters. Facing a possible swine flu pandemic, labs in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico worked together to identify the new virus. There were also the neatly dovetailed government bailouts for the auto industry. “It was definitely a team effort,” says Ann-Marie McGaughty, a partner at the law firm McKenna Long and Aldridge, who was counsel for the Canadian government in the negotiations. “The word at the top was ‘get it done,’ and everybody tried to find a way to make it happen.” Despite the Canadian government’s much smaller stake in Chrysler and General Motors, McGaughty says that “from the beginning the mantra was, ‘U.S. and Canada side by side.’ Which meant if it was a right or a privilege that the U.S. was getting, then Canada would get it too.”

Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s foreign minister, says that while border-thickening and Buy American issues draw disproportionate attention, the underlying relationship is solid. “They aren’t issues that prevent us from continuing on a good relationship,” he says. Evidence that the Conservative government is working on the bilateral bonds can be found in the 36 trips by Canadian cabinet ministers to Washington since Obama took office, as well as the eight meetings between the Prime Minister and the President (the last one was at the G20 in Pittsburgh). Obama, too, has tried to put a happy face on relations. At his meeting with Harper on Sept. 16, he said protectionism is a “legitimate issue” but encouraged Canadians “to keep things in perspective.” “Canada continues to be a huge trading partner to the United States,” the President added. “Businesses in the United States and Canada both benefit from that trade, as do consumers. On the scale of our overall trading relationship, [irritants] shouldn’t be considered the dominant element of our economic relationship.”

But Liberal MP Scott Brison, his party’s trade critic, says the Tories started out with a serious disadvantage when Obama came into power, since Harper had been seen as ideologically close to Bush. “Their focus was very much partisan and ideological,” Brison charges. He slams the Harper government for failing to adequately push back against new border rules that have decreased casual travel between the two countries, which he says has been “devastating” for Canadian small businesses that rely on U.S. travellers. Brison also says Ottawa should have fought back harder against new U.S. country-of-origin labelling rules that hurt Canadian food producers.

And there is a growing recognition in Ottawa that Canada can’t count on things getting better quickly. In the halls of the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Department there’s growing talk of diversifying to other countries as a hedge against not-so-reliable U.S. markets. Trade Minister Stockwell Day alluded to that during a recent two-day mission to Brazil to promote trade and investment. “We do have a relationship with the U.S. that is in many ways the envy of the world,” Day said. “But as we have experienced, when they hit a downturn in the economy, their demand drops and that hits us hard.” Brazil, which has emerged as the clear focal point of Ottawa’s beyond-the-U.S.A. strategy in the western hemisphere, is a huge prize—an economy just slightly smaller than Canada’s and a notch bigger than Mexico’s. Day, in fact, has been to Brazil twice since being named trade minister after last fall’s election. In 2008, Canadian exports to Brazil—everything from fertilizer to paper—totalled $2.6 billion, a 70 per cent leap over the previous year. “We see our engagement with Brazil kicking up to a new strategic level as a partner in the post-economic-crisis global marketplace,” said one Canadian trade official.

That may be so. But America will remain Canada’s biggest opportunity, and greatest challenge, for years to come. After all, Brazil remains small potatoes compared to the U.S. market. And there is nowhere else for those NHL charter flights to go.


Why the U.S. doesn’t trust Canada

by Paul Rosenzweig

On June 1, for the first time in history, Canadians and Americans crossing the border were required to show a passport (or equivalent) document. By all accounts the transition has, despite Canadian fears, proceeded with remarkably modest disruption. Canadians, however, continue to question the requirement and to object to other U.S. border security measures. As I worked (on behalf of the United States) over the past four years to prepare for these changes, most Canadians expressed a quiet dismay: “How,” they wondered, “could you be doing this to us when we are such good friends?”

After all, it has been a major sea change in the American approach to the land border with Canada. For more than 100 years, though Canadians have thought frequently and almost obsessively about the United States, most Americans have paid relatively little attention to Canada. Except for those who live close to the border (let’s all say it together: “the longest undefended border in the world”) or whose business is linked to Canadian products, most Americans don’t hold any strong opinion about Canada. You’re just like us, we think, only a little different and a little less temperate. We’re the lucky ones, because we have Florida (though each winter the residents of Ontario invade).

In the years since 9/11, I think many Canadians have come to yearn for this era of benign neglect. Before then, Canada had come to rely on the fact that America had not been paying very much attention to it. In effect, that let Canada have the best of both worlds—the capacity and interest in pursuing policies that are independent from those followed by the United States, joined with the enjoyment of an open border that substantially reduced any practical sovereign distinction between the two countries insofar as travel and trade were concerned.

The result was an undefended border, but one that had an inherent tension to it as differences grew in American and Canadian policies. By and large Canada has much greater openness to the rest of the world than does the U.S. Canadian asylum policies are more liberal; Canada extends the privilege of visa-free travel to the citizens of many more countries. And, more fundamentally, Canada takes a much lighter hand in screening arriving travellers.

These are, of course, generalizations, so let me provide a specific example. The United States has long had challenges on its southern border with Mexico. At this juncture, we have fairly stringent identification requirements for Mexicans entering the United States directly. Yet until new Canadian visa restrictions came into effect on July 14, Canada had chosen to allow visa-free travel for Mexicans to Canada; the lack of a more concrete identification requirement on the part of the U.S. at the northern border until June 1 created an opportunity for Mexicans to evade the southern border restrictions. Let me be clear: Canada is a good friend of the United States and a separate sovereign nation. It is, and ought to be, perfectly free to make independent sovereign decisions regarding its admissions policies. Nobody in the United States would say otherwise. But differences—like Canada’s past treatment of Mexican nationals—necessarily have consequences.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, the disharmony in immigration and border control policies was of relatively minor importance—certainly not worth attempting to correct if the cost would be a disruption in cross-border trade. That changed after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where I served, we spent a large fraction of our time thinking about Canada—and with good reason. Created in 2003, DHS is the locus for American efforts to prevent another terrorist attack on the United States. To a large degree that means that DHS is a border security agency—and as a border agency, we worry about (surprise!) borders. That means that DHS spends a lot of its time thinking about Canada (along with Mexico and our “third border” in the Caribbean), and much less time worrying about more distant overseas threats in, say, South Asia or the Middle East. For DHS, “international affairs” frequently means “Canadian affairs” (or Mexican or Caribbean).

So the initial problem for Canada was a simple practical one—we were paying more attention. And what we saw caused us some concern. What had earlier been very modest divergences in immigration policy now loomed larger as differences in counterterrorism policy. Some Canadians have yet to come to grips with the new reality that Canada can’t have it both ways—it can’t both exercise its own sovereign authority over its border policies, and expect the United States not to do the same thing. If we did we would, in effect, be outsourcing American security decisions to Canada, a state of affairs that simply cannot continue in a post-9/11 world.

This new reality would be of little moment if we had a shared sense of the terrorist problem and could anticipate a commitment to working on a convergence of policies. Unfortunately, over the course of many discussions with my Canadian colleagues, all of which have been exceedingly amiable and pleasant, I’ve begun to worry that the U.S. and Canada are not as closely aligned as they think they are. We have tried to work at realigning our vision (the preferred course of action), but if we don’t succeed and continue down a path of divergence, that will, inevitably, lead to even greater disparities and controversies between the two countries.

The opening assumption that I brought to the negotiating table, and that I think every American would begin with, is that the U.S. and Canada more or less see the world in the same way. At the core, we like to believe that we think alike and have the same aim—a free and safe citizenry. Increasingly, however, I’m not sure this assumption holds. We don’t seem to see the world the same way anymore, and as a result there is perceptible erosion in the trust between us. Americans responded to Sept. 11 in ways that most Canadians don’t seem to have internalized. At an intellectual level, they recognize that 9/11 was a traumatic experience for the U.S. They understand and respect the fact that it has caused a reaction. But in their most candid moments, I suspect most Canadians think the U.S. overreacted (a view that some in the U.S.—though likely a minority—also share). Many Americans, by contrast, think that Canada didn’t react enough to Sept. 11, and that what little reaction there was amounted to, if anything, tepid half-measures.

Back in 2006, DHS made a broad strategic proposal to our Canadian counterparts: let’s work to synchronize our perimeter security approaches as much as possible. The payoff would be relaxed controls along our mutual border. I remember when then-DHS secretary Michael Chertoff first presented this idea to his counterpart, Stockwell Day, then minister for public safety. We laid out a comprehensive proposal that included: greater information sharing, coordinated standards for passenger screening, shared technology and targeting for cargo containers, and other similar concepts. Essentially we proposed a joint security model for homeland security that resembled NORAD in conception. Even at that first meeting the response from Canada was lukewarm, at best.

I continue to believe that there are many real benefits that would flow from co-operation of this sort. Here’s a concrete example. The U.S. has begun to develop a series of policies aimed at deterring the importation of a nuclear weapon or radiological material for a “dirty bomb” into the United States aboard small private aircraft (known, in the trade, as “general aviation”). Some of those policies are internal to the U.S.—we’ll be requiring better identification for passengers and pilots, for example. But one key component of the strategy is the idea of screening general aviation airplanes overseas, before they depart for the United States.

This was a win-win proposition for everyone. America would have greater security, since any radioactive material would be interdicted before it even started toward the U.S. The general aviation community would benefit, since they would undergo all of the regular U.S. customs and immigration screening overseas and then be allowed to travel to any airport in the U.S. (instead of the current practice, where they must first land at an official port of entry, like Miami, and then fly onward to their ultimate destination). And the host country and airport would benefit from increased traffic, with the resulting economic benefits. The attraction is so great that in less than two years the U.S. has already signed agreements of this sort with Ireland, Bermuda and Aruba. More are likely.

Early on, we saw this as a great opportunity to synchronize our perimeter security with Canada. The idea would be for Canadians to co-locate their own customs and immigration officials at the same facilities and provide the same service for Canada-bound general aviation. Since it’s unlikely that a terrorist would actually be able to acquire a loose nuclear weapon in Canada, there would be no real need for screening Canadian traffic to the U.S. if Canada and U.S. radiological screening overseas were coordinated in this way.

I can’t say why, but while I was at DHS we had absolutely no real expression of Canadian interest in the project (or in any of the other synchronization proposals). I personally briefed our general aviation plans to Canadian delegations on at least three occasions—but when I left DHS in January 2009, Canadian participation in a joint general aviation screening program was firmly placed on the back burner.

Maybe it is because the nature of minority government prevents co-operation of this sort. Maybe it was the product of a distrust of the Bush administration that will dissipate now that Barack Obama is president. But I suspect, as well, that it simply reflects a Canadian disposition toward the terrorism issue: if you don’t think terrorism is that important an issue, then you aren’t willing to invest the time and energy required to address the problem. And if that really is the cause of our divergence of views, it will become a permanent and enduring reality, with consequences at the border.

Finally, there is one other piece to the puzzle that must be mentioned in any candid assessment of the U.S.-Canada relationship. Since both countries, broadly speaking, seek the same social ends through the same governmental means, we have come to believe that we each are a trustworthy partner. There is a very good, historical basis for this trust. We used to say at DHS: “If the Canadians say they will do something, they’ll do it.” I’m not sure that mutual trust exists as much anymore—especially Canadian belief in American trustworthiness. Though we continue to co-operate closely and well on a tactical level (shared law enforcement investigations and the like), I and my colleagues at more senior levels had a distinct perception of distancing by our Canadian counterparts, and a notable reduction in our ability to share information across the border.

Much of this, I think, traces back to the Maher Arar incident. And here I begin to worry even more, because I cannot see reconciliation. In Canada, the belief is that Arar was mistreated. It has become so strong a belief that it has become an article of faith. This is neither the time nor the place to rehash the questions about Arar, save to make an important point that often gets lost: the U.S. is both entitled to, and obliged to, form its own judgment about Arar.

And reasonable friends may interpret facts differently. Where Canadians see an innocent 20-minute walk in the rain (according to the report issued by Justice Dennis O’Connor, who oversaw Canada’s public inquiry into the affair, on Oct. 11, 2001, Arar spent 20 minutes outside in the rain talking to an individual who was the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation), some Americans (and the RCMP) see behaviour reminiscent of those seeking to avoid surveillance and “taking great pains not to be overheard.” A walk in the rain is, in our experience, a tactic frequently adopted by organized crime figures to avoid audio surveillance. On the basis of this conduct, and other information, I expect that Arar will continue to remain an object of U.S. concern for the indefinite future.

This is not to say that either side is necessarily right in its judgment about Arar’s activity, and it is certainly not to suggest that what Arar reports having experienced in Syria was proper treatment. But it is to say that the Canadian reaction to what is, at worst, a disagreement as to a single (albeit prominent) case does broad damage to our relationship—and that damage can have wide-ranging effects. If we do not trust each other enough, we are unlikely to find ways to bring greater openness to our borders.

But another aspect of the erosion of trust, from our side of the border, lay in Canadian public diplomacy over the potential imposition of border controls. What would be the reaction in Canada if American cabinet officials and ambassadors were personally engaged in overt efforts to lobby Parliament to change Canadian laws that Americans thought were not beneficial? Canadians would, and quite rightly, object. Yet, for nearly four years, I witnessed exactly congruent Canadian conduct—ministers and your ambassador vigorously lobbying Congress for a change in American law. On at least one occasion, the ambassador hosted a dinner at the embassy for the sole apparent purpose of having all of his guests publicly lecture the DHS officials present about how wrong-headed our policies were. Discussions that ought to have occurred between our respective executive branches were made the fodder of American politics. And that, too, erodes trust.

Indeed, given the successful implementation of the passport requirement—which by most accounts has had a modest disruptive effect on trade and travel—we can see, in retrospect, how Canadian fears caused Canadians to overreact. There is a bit of an irony here, because overreaction is supposed to be the flaw in America’s response to the terrorism threat, not the flaw in Canada’s response to America.

There is still much to be celebrated in our relationship. Despite our differences we continue to co-operate routinely in ways that no two other countries in the world are capable of doing. But that kind of relationship requires constant care and attention. For too long we’ve benefited from a lack of any challenges. Today that is changing—we have much work to do to rebuild a shared consensus and world view and recreate an atmosphere of trust. The task is not an easy one, and the first step on the road is a candid assessment of where we are. No longer can we rely on just hoping we don’t notice our differences. Instead, let’s begin to acknowledge them for what they are, with the hope and expectation that good friends can resolve them if they are willing.


Canadian muslim group urges gov't to ban burkas, niqabs in public

By: The Canadian Press

Middle Eastern garments designed to cover a woman's face are "medieval" and "misogynist" symbols of extremism with no basis in Islam, a Canadian Muslim lobby group said Wednesday as it urged Ottawa to ban the burka and the niqab.

The Muslim Canadian Congress called on the federal government to prohibit the two garments in order to prevent women from covering their faces in public -- a practice the group said has no place in a society that supports gender equality.

"To cover your face is to conceal your identity," congress spokeswoman Farzana Hassan said in a telephone interview, describing the issue as a matter of public safety, since concealing one's identity is a common practice for criminals.

The tradition of Muslim women covering their faces in public is a tradition rooted more in Middle Eastern culture than in the Islamic faith, Hassan added.

There is nothing in any of the primary Islamic religious texts, including the Qur'an, that requires women to cover their faces, she said -- not even in the controversial, ultra-conservative tenets of Sharia law.

Considering the fact that women are in fact forbidden from wearing burkas in the grand mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest site, it hardly makes sense that the practice should be permitted in Canada, she said.

"If a government claims to uphold equality between men and women, there is no reason for them to support a practice that marginalizes women."

The proposed ban would include the burka, an iconic head-to-toe gown with a mesh-like panel over the face that allows the wearer to see and to breathe, as well as the niqab -- a veil that leaves only the eyes exposed.

Hassan said the ban would not extend to the hijab, a traditional headscarf that does not cover the face.

The proposed ban comes on the heels of reports that Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, dean of Egypt's al-Azhar university and the country's highest Muslim authority, is poised to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, against the garments.

Media reports Monday said Tantawi described the face coverings as "a custom that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith."

Mohamed Elmasry, former president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said he agrees the tradition has its roots in cultural customs rather than religious teachings, but that the issue is irrelevant in Canada where the practice is not widespread.

Elmasry disputed suggestions that the garments pose a security threat, saying only a minority of Muslim women living in Canada feel the need to conceal their features in public.

He said he believes those women should have the freedom to decide whether they wish to cover their faces, and that a ban would limit freedom of expression.

"People feel it's part of their identity, people feel it's part of their culture," Elmasry said.

"It's not for you and me to decide."


"These stories leave me conflicted.

On one hand, I completely support the decision of women who want to wear a burqa. I might disagree with it, but I'll fight to the death for their right to wear it.

On the other hand, I very much doubt that the majority of women who wear one do so out their own free will and because they want to instead of being forced to, or doing it out of fear of ostracization at best, corporal punishment being quite likely, and being killed for honour reasons is not an extremely unlikely possibility."


The extraordinary true story of a Malawian teenager who transformed his village by building electric windmills out of junk

By Jude Sheerin

The extraordinary true story of a Malawian teenager who transformed his village by building electric windmills out of junk is the subject of a new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Self-taught William Kamkwamba has been feted by climate change campaigners like Al Gore and business leaders the world over.

His against-all-odds achievements are all the more remarkable considering he was forced to quit school aged 14 because his family could no longer afford the $80-a-year (£50) fees.

When he returned to his parents' small plot of farmland in the central Malawian village of Masitala, his future seemed limited.

But this was not another tale of African potential thwarted by poverty.

Defence against hunger

The teenager had a dream of bringing electricity and running water to his village.

And he was not prepared to wait for politicians or aid groups to do it for him.

The need for action was even greater in 2002 following one of Malawi's worst droughts, which killed thousands of people and left his family on the brink of starvation.

Unable to attend school, he kept up his education by using a local library.

Fascinated by science, his life changed one day when he picked up a tattered textbook and saw a picture of a windmill.

Mr Kamkwamba told the BBC News website: "I was very interested when I saw the windmill could make electricity and pump water.

"I thought: 'That could be a defence against hunger. Maybe I should build one for myself'."

When not helping his family farm maize, he plugged away at his prototype, working by the light of a paraffin lamp in the evenings.

But his ingenious project met blank looks in his community of about 200 people.

"Many, including my mother, thought I was going crazy," he recalls. "They had never seen a windmill before."


Neighbours were further perplexed at the youngster spending so much time scouring rubbish tips.

"People thought I was smoking marijuana," he said. "So I told them I was only making something for juju [magic].' Then they said: 'Ah, I see.'"

Mr Kamkwamba, who is now 22 years old, knocked together a turbine from spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and an old shock absorber, and fashioned blades from plastic pipes, flattened by being held over a fire.

"I got a few electric shocks climbing that [windmill]," says Mr Kamkwamba, ruefully recalling his months of painstaking work.

The finished product - a 5-m (16-ft) tall blue-gum-tree wood tower, swaying in the breeze over Masitala - seemed little more than a quixotic tinkerer's folly.

But his neighbours' mirth turned to amazement when Mr Kamkwamba scrambled up the windmill and hooked a car light bulb to the turbine.

As the blades began to spin in the breeze, the bulb flickered to life and a crowd of astonished onlookers went wild.

Soon the whiz kid's 12-watt wonder was pumping power into his family's mud brick compound.

'Electric wind'

Out went the paraffin lanterns and in came light bulbs and a circuit breaker, made from nails and magnets off an old stereo speaker, and a light switch cobbled together from bicycle spokes and flip-flop rubber.

Before long, locals were queuing up to charge their mobile phones.

Mr Kamkwamba's story was sent hurtling through the blogosphere when a reporter from the Daily Times newspaper in Blantyre wrote an article about him in November 2006.

Meanwhile, he installed a solar-powered mechanical pump, donated by well-wishers, above a borehole, adding water storage tanks and bringing the first potable water source to the entire region around his village.

He upgraded his original windmill to 48-volts and anchored it in concrete after its wooden base was chewed away by termites.

Then he built a new windmill, dubbed the Green Machine, which turned a water pump to irrigate his family's field.

Before long, visitors were traipsing from miles around to gawp at the boy prodigy's magetsi a mphepo - "electric wind".

As the fame of his renewable energy projects grew, he was invited in mid-2007 to the prestigious Technology Entertainment Design conference in Arusha, Tanzania.

Cheetah generation

He recalls his excitement using a computer for the first time at the event.

"I had never seen the internet, it was amazing," he says. "I Googled about windmills and found so much information."

Onstage, the native Chichewa speaker recounted his story in halting English, moving hard-bitten venture capitalists and receiving a standing ovation.

A glowing front-page portrait of him followed in the Wall Street Journal.

He is now on a scholarship at the elite African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Mr Kamkwamba - who has been flown to conferences around the globe to recount his life-story - has the world at his feet, but is determined to return home after his studies.

The home-grown hero aims to finish bringing power, not just to the rest of his village, but to all Malawians, only 2% of whom have electricity.

"I want to help my country and apply the knowledge I've learned," he says. "I feel there's lots of work to be done."

Former Associated Press news agency reporter Bryan Mealer had been reporting on conflict across Africa for five years when he heard Mr Kamkwamba's story.

The incredible tale was the kind of positive story Mealer, from New York, had long hoped to cover.

The author spent a year with Mr Kamkwamba writing The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which has just been published in the US.

Mealer says Mr Kamkwamba represents Africa's new "cheetah generation", young people, energetic and technology-hungry, who are taking control of their own destiny.

"Spending a year with William writing this book reminded me why I fell in love with Africa in the first place," says Mr Mealer, 34.

"It's the kind of tale that resonates with every human being and reminds us of our own potential."

Can it be long before the film rights to the triumph-over-adversity story are snapped up, and William Kamkwamba, the boy who dared to dream, finds himself on the big screen?


"This remarkable example shows how much of a contribution one could make by taking an initiative with a sound vision."


We only get one chance at this, with no do-overs. Life is, in effect, a non-repeatable experiment with no control.

The Referendum
By Tim Kreider

Recently an editor asked me for an essay about arrested adolescence, joking: “Of course, I thought of you.”

It is worth mentioning that this editor is an old college friend; we’ve driven across the country, been pantsless in several nonsexual contexts, and accidentally hospitalized each other in good fun. He is now a respectable homeowner and family man; I am not. So I couldn’t help but wonder: is there something condescending about this assignment? Does he consider me some sort of amusing and feckless manchild instead of a respected cartoonist whose work is beloved by hundreds and has made me a thousandaire, who’s been in a committed relationship for 15 years with the same cat?

My weird touchiness on this issue — taking offense at someone offering to pay me money for my work — is symptomatic of a more widespread syndrome I call “The Referendum.”

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home. It’s exacerbated by the far greater diversity of options available to us now than a few decades ago, when everyone had to follow the same drill. We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated — that we are, in some sense, winning.

It’s especially conspicuous among friends from youth. Young adulthood is an anomalous time in people’s lives; they’re as unlike themselves as they’re ever going to be, experimenting with substances and sex, ideology and religion, trying on different identities before their personalities immutably set. Some people flirt briefly with being freethinking bohemians before becoming their parents. Friends who seemed pretty much indistinguishable from you in your 20s make different choices about family or career, and after a decade or two these initial differences yield such radically divergent trajectories that when you get together again you can only regard each other’s lives with bemused incomprehension.

I may be exceptionally conscious of the Referendum because my life is so different from most of my cohort’s; at 42 I’ve never been married and don’t want kids. I recently had dinner with some old friends, a couple with two small children, and when I told them about my typical Saturday in New York City — doing the Times crossword, stopping off at a local flea market, maybe biking across the Brooklyn Bridge — they looked at me like I was describing my battles with the fierce and elusive Squid-Men among the moons of Neptune. The obscene wealth of free time at my command must’ve seemed unimaginably exotic to them, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.

What they also can’t imagine is having too much time on your hands, being unable to fill the hours, having to just sit and stare at the emptiness at the center of your life. But I’m sure that to them this problem seems as pitiable as morbid obesity would to the victims of famine.

A lot of my married friends take a vicarious interest in my personal life. It’s usually just nosy, prurient fun, but sometimes smacks of the sort of moralism that H.G. Wells called “jealousy with a halo.” Sometimes it seems sort of starved, like audiences in the Great Depression watching musicals about the glitterati. It’s true that my romantic life has produced some humorous anecdotes, but good stories seldom come from happy experiences. Some of my married friends may envy my freedom in an abstract, daydreamy way, misremembering single life as some sort of pornographic smorgasbord, but I doubt many of them would actually choose to trade places with me. Although they may miss the thrill of sexual novelty, absolutely nobody misses dating.

I regard their more conventional domestic lives with the same sort of ambivalence. Like everyone, I’ve seen some marriages in which I would discreetly hang myself within 12 hours, but others have given me cause to envy their intimacy, loyalty, and irreplaceable decades of invested history. [Note to all my married friends: your marriage is one of the latter.] Though one of those friends cautioned me against idealizing: “It’s not as if being married means you’re any less alone.”

Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. In fact it seems from the outside as if these people have joined a dubious cult: they claim to be much happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedience to a capricious and demented master.

I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people’s children, not to yours.] But there are also moments when some part of me wonders whether I am not only missing the biological boat but something I cannot even begin to imagine — an entire dimension of human experience undetectable to my senses, like a flatlander scoffing at the theoretical concept of sky.

But I can only imagine the paralytic terror that must seize my friends with families as they lie awake calculating mortgage payments and college funds and realize that they are locked into their present lives for farther into the future than the mind’s eye can see. Judging from the unanimity with which parents preface any gripe about children with the disclaimer, “Although I would never wish I hadn’t had them and I can’t imagine life without them,” I can’t help but wonder whether they don’t have to repress precisely these thoughts on a daily basis.

Yes: the Referendum gets unattractively self-righteous and judgmental. Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others’ as selfish or pathological or wrong. So it’s easy to overlook that hidden beneath all this smug certainty is a poignant insecurity, and the naked 3 A.M. terror of regret.

The problem is, we only get one chance at this, with no do-overs. Life is, in effect, a non-repeatable experiment with no control. In his novel about marriage, “Light Years,” James Salter writes: “For whatever we do, even whatever we do not do prevents us from doing its opposite. Acts demolish their alternatives, that is the paradox.” Watching our peers’ lives is the closest we can come to a glimpse of the parallel universes in which we didn’t ruin that relationship years ago, or got that job we applied for, or got on that plane after all. It’s tempting to read other people’s lives as cautionary fables or repudiations of our own.

A colleague of mine once hosted a visiting cartoonist from Scandinavia who was on a promotional tour. My colleague, who has a university job, a wife and children, was clearly a little wistful about the tour, imagining Brussels, Paris, and London, meeting new fans and colleagues and being taken out for beers every night. The cartoonist, meanwhile, looked forlornly around at his host’s pleasant row house and sighed, almost to himself: “I would like to have such a house.”

One of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled. In stories, those who look back — Lot’s wife, Orpheus and Eurydice — are lost. Looking to the side instead, to gauge how our companions are faring, is a way of glancing at a safer reflection of what we cannot directly bear, like Perseus seeing the Gorgon safely mirrored in his shield.