October 14, 2015

QotD: The temptations of power

Filed under: Americas, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The late Jean-Claude Duvalier, better known as Baby Doc, played only a small part in my life. I arrived in Haiti for the first time two years after his downfall, during the presidency of the eminently respectable academic, Leslie Manigat, who was soon to be removed by army coup. The pudgy bovine face of Baby Doc still adorned the worn and grubby banknotes in circulation, and I could not help but feel a certain personal sympathy for so eminently unintelligent and naturally undistinguished a person, thrust into a prominence and power he never sought, and actually wanted to avoid.

It cannot have been easy to be president for life from the age of 19, especially since he had a bossy mother, sister, and wife, all of whom plotted and intrigued for power. And if I had been in his shoes at that age, I think — being more intelligent than Baby Doc and therefore having my head more stuffed with adolescent nonsense — I should have been far worse even than he.

Theodore Dalrymple, “The Despot Within”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-10-12.

December 17, 2013

The purity of Quebec’s linguistic environment must be protected at all costs!

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:29

How dare these linguistic wreckers think they can subvert the official language laws by speaking another language to each other?

Two Montreal hospital workers of Haitian origin who sometimes speak to each other in Creole — and not exclusively in French — have raised the ire of the Office québécois de la langue française.

On Dec. 3, the OQLF warned the Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies, an 88-bed psychiatric facility, to take action after an employee of the hospital complained to the French-language watchdog about the two workers.

The hospital was given until Dec. 20 to respond or face an investigation by an OQLF inspector and a fine of as much as $20,000. The two employees in question do speak French, and there appears to be no evidence that they refused to speak to patients or co-workers in French. But on occasion, they engaged in private conversations in Creole while on lunch or during some shifts in the presence of colleagues and patients.

On Dec. 10, the east-end hospital held a meeting of all the employees in the department where the two Creole-speaking workers are assigned, and reminded everyone that French is the official language of the workplace in Quebec, not Creole.


The Charter of the French Language, adopted in 1977, states that French is the sole official language of Quebec. What’s more, the charter enshrines the right of every Quebecer to be served in French, and that “workers have a right to carry on their activities in French.”

However, the law does not prohibit workers in the public sector from engaging in a private conversation other than French while on the job.

Even if a conversation between two public-sector employees “is related to work,” they can still speak in another language as long as their exchange does not involve colleagues who don’t understand what they’re saying, Le Blanc explained.

Gagnon, who is also the hospital’s liaison with the OQLF, said the government agency did not provide her with the precise circumstances of the complaint.

“We’re in a very difficult position,” she added. “It’s a very particular situation, because we don’t know the name of the person who made the complaint, we don’t know the circumstances, we don’t know the moment that the employees spoke to each other in Creole, but we have an obligation to act because we received a (letter) from the Office.

February 26, 2013

UN mistake costs 8,000 Haitian lives, UN refuses to compensate or even apologize

Filed under: Americas, Asia — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

A mind-numbing case of bureaucratic error, death, and ass-covering in Haiti:

International affairs can be complicated, but sometimes a case comes along that’s so simple it’s almost absurd. In 2010, the United Nations made a horrendous mistake that, so far, has claimed more than 8,000 lives. Its officials tried to cover it up. When the evidence came out anyway, lawyers for victims’ families petitioned the U.N. to end the crisis, pay damages, and apologize. For a year and a half, the world’s leading humanitarian organization said nothing. Then, last week, it threw out the case, saying, “The claims are not receivable.”

The background should be well-known by now. But despite the fact that American taxpayers have footed the lion’s share of the bill for the U.N. peacekeepers responsible for this disaster — to the tune of roughly $1.5 billion since 2004 — the story remains largely unknown in the United States.

The place was Haiti. The mistake: a killer combination of cholera and gross negligence. The peacekeeping mission, known by its French initials, MINUSTAH, had been in country since 2004, when it was authorized to protect an interim government installed after a coup. Six years later — thanks to a healthy dose of mission creep — the peacekeepers were still there. While rotating troops into what was now post-quake Haiti, the U.N. neglected to adequately screen a contingent of soldiers coming from an active cholera outbreak in Nepal. Upon arrival, the soldiers were sent to a rural U.N. base, outside the quake zone and long known for leaking sewage into a major river system that millions of Haitians used to drink, bathe, wash, and farm. Within days of their arrival, people downstream began to die. The epidemic then exploded, sickening more than 647,000 people, and killing in its first year more than twice the number of people who died on 9/11.

January 15, 2013

Don Cherry: Canadian … icon?

Filed under: Americas, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:34

In an article designed to stir up controversy over aid to Haiti, Kathy Shaidle provides a neat thumbnail portrait of Don Cherry:

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) says taxpayers must keep funding this great unwatched billion-dollar behemoth because the network has a never-hear-the-end-of-it “mandate” to “reflect Canadian values.”

Which “the Corpse” does indeed, but for just about nine minutes every Saturday night, and only during hockey season, and by accident rather than design.

That’s when Don Cherry’s red light goes on and the former Boston Bruins coach begins bellowing about the fruitcakes and foreigners destroying his beloved game.

He’s old, white, loud, and uneducated. He’s bigoted, mawkishly patriotic, and he dresses like an Edwardian time traveler stuck in 1970s Detroit trying to pass himself off as a pimp — and Don Cherry’s Coach’s Corner has also been the CBC’s highest rated… thing for generations. It’s not even a show, you see, just a segment — possibly the only “intermission” in history that prompts people to run to their seats instead of away from them.

By lucky chance, “shhhh!” is the same “word” in both official languages, and that’s the sound heard in sports bars and rec rooms across Quebec and the ROC (Rest of Canada) as the show’s familiar intro gallops into millions of ears.

To the countless Canucks who can’t stand him, however, Cherry is a perpetual outrage machine. The coach doesn’t make “Kinsley gaffes,” either — those “controversial” statements which accidentally reveal some embarrassing truth. Cherry tells embarrassing truths on purpose. His only “crime” is saying things lots of his countrymen agree with but aren’t allowed to say — or even let themselves think — anymore.

June 1, 2010

Media emphasis distorts extent of conflicts

Filed under: Media, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:53

Strategy Page points out one of the baleful aspects of modern media coverage of wars and other conflicts:

Worldwide violence continues to decline, but most people are unaware of this because the mass media will feature whatever wars and disorder they can find. This is an old journalistic technique, and it’s good for business. But not so helpful if you are trying to keep track of what’s really happening out there. Oddly enough, the most bloody conflicts (like Congo) get the least media coverage. Reporting tends to be distorted by how accessible wars are, as well as how easily your viewers could identify with the combatants. The media also has a hard time keeping score. For years, Iraq was portrayed as a disaster until, suddenly, the enemy was crushed. Even that was not considered exciting enough to warrant much attention, and that story is still poorly covered by the mass media. Same pattern is playing out in Afghanistan, where the defeats of the Taliban, and triumph of the drug gangs, go unreported or distorted. If you step back and take a look at all the wars going on, a more accurate picture emerges.

Worldwide, violence continues the decline is has exhibited for most of the decade. For example, violence has greatly diminished, or disappeared completely, in places like Iraq, Nepal, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Chechnya, Congo, Indonesia and Burundi. Even Afghanistan, touted as the new war zone, was not nearly as violent this past six months as the headlines would deceive you into believing.

All this continues a trend that began when the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union no longer subsidized terrorist and rebel groups everywhere. The current wars are basically uprisings against police states or feudal societies, which are seen as out-of-step with the modern world. Many are led by radicals preaching failed dogmas (Islamic conservatism, Maoism), that still resonate among people who don’t know about the dismal track records of these creeds. Iran has picked up some of the lost Soviet terrorist support effort. That keeps Hezbollah, Hamas, and a few smaller groups going, and that’s it. Terrorists in general miss the Soviets, who really knew how to treat bad boys right.

February 11, 2010

Nobody knows how many died in the Haiti earthquake

Filed under: Americas, Government, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:22

I can only assume it’s a slow news day for this to be a headline: “Differing death tolls raise suspicions that no one really knows how many died in Haiti quake“. Of course nobody knows: the Haitian government was barely functioning even before the quake hit, and not at all afterwards. They had no accurate idea of how many people lived in the area beforehand, and they still haven’t been able to recover all the bodies. Any death toll estimates will be inaccurate, almost by definition:

Wildly conflicting death tolls from Haitian officials have raised suspicions that no one really knows how many people died in the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The only thing that seems certain is the death toll is one of the highest in a modern disaster.

A day after Communications Minister Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue raised the official death toll to 230,000, her office put out a statement Wednesday quoting President Rene Preval as saying 270,000 bodies had been hastily buried by the government following the earthquake.

A press officer withdrew the statement, saying there was an error, but then reissued it within minutes. Later Wednesday, the ministry said there was a typo in the figure — the number should have read 170,000.

Even that didn’t clear things up. In the late afternoon, Preval and Lassegue appeared together at the government’s temporary headquarters.

Preval, speaking English, told journalists there were 170,000 dead, apparently referring to the number of bodies contained in mass graves.

Lassegue interrupted him in French, giving a number lower than she had given the previous day: “No, no, the official number is 210,000.”

Preval dismissed her. “Oh, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” he said, again in English.

What is not in dispute is that the death toll was very high, and that even with all the disaster relief efforts from other countries, there will still be many more deaths in the quake’s aftermath. Food, water, and medical aid is still not reaching everyone. That fact reduces the importance of the squabble over macabre numbers to a little bit of political theatre.

Update, 24 February: Radio Netherlands is claiming that the death toll has been vastly over-estimated and thinks the number of casualties will be under 100,000:

Haiti has buried an estimated 52,000 victims since the earthquake on 12 January 2010. More bodies still lie under the rubble, but the total number of casualties will not surpass 100,000 — that’s according to observation and research on the ground in Haiti, carried out by Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

This number is considerably smaller than the number of 217,000 victims the Haitian government claims to have counted so far, and far fewer than the estimated final count of 300,000 mentioned by President René Préval just last Sunday.

February 2, 2010

Haiti still at high risk of further quakes

Filed under: Americas, Science, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 17:27

Wired discusses the results of NASA’s first UAVSAR 3D image of the devastated area:

NASA’s radar-equipped jet has returned its first 3-D image of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This false-color image clearly shows the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault extending east of the city.

The image supports a Jan. 21 U.S. Geological Survey report that suggested the section of the fault (indicated by the black arrow above) nearest to Port-au-Prince (yellow arrow) did not slip significantly in the magnitude 7 Jan. 12 earthquake.

The new image, taken by JPL’s Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar attached to a modified Gulfstream III jet, shows that the ground rupture moved westward from the epicenter. The section of the fault in the image did not rupture, a situation that increases the risk of another significant earthquake in the future.

[. . .]

The colors in the image, which shows a swath of about 12.5 miles, are the result of three different radar polarizations that make vegetation appear green, water appear blue and urban areas look reddish.

January 26, 2010

Charities to avoid when donating to help in Haiti

Filed under: Americas, Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:49

Ezra Levant warns about two particular charities that probably don’t deserve to get your donation for Haiti relief:

I’ve spotted two Haiti-oriented NGOs that readers should stay away from, for reasons of corruption. Simply put, not enough money given to these NGOs actually winds up helping Haitians — too much is spent on lavish luxuries for NGO staff and managers.

[. . .]

I love Wyclef Jean’s sound, but I wouldn’t give a cent to his charity. Jean has been ubiquitous these past weeks raising money for Haiti, and no doubt his tears are real. But financial records from Yele Haiti show that Jean has made sure the first person to get paid from Yele Haiti events was himself — including a staggering $100,000 fee for him to perform at one of his own events (that benefit was cancelled because of his demands) and other gigs that poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into companies he controlled. Here’s one where he took nearly $100,000 out of $150,000 raised. Even if Jean’s fading star could still fetch that on the open market (he can’t — here’s a contract showing he performs for a fraction of that), it’s still outrageous that people donating to Yele Haiti are told the money is going to help Haitians, when the poor Haitian benefiting the most is Wyclef himself.

Best to take Jean for who he is — a talented musician who has helped spread the Haitian creole sound around the world — but put your trust (and money) into accredited charities that take only a modest sum for administration and overhead. The Red Cross is probably your best bet.

I came to the same conclusion, and my donation went to the Canadian Red Cross.

Another corrupt NGO that donors should stay away from is Rights and Democracy (R&D), the ironically-named Canadian government-funded NGO that has recently been rocked by scandal for donating money to a Palestinian terrorist.

R&D has a Haiti program, but like Yele Haiti, an inordinate amount of money received by R&D is spent on their own jet-setting staff. Here’s a 22-page internal audit memo from just two years ago, for example, that looks into a raft of corruption allegations — and unfortunately finds many of them to be true. The review, conducted by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Foreign Affairs found “weak internal controls” over money.

January 18, 2010

QotD: Haiti was already in trouble before the earthquake

Filed under: Americas, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:17

For the past several days, I have found myself unable to look at the photographs from Haiti. I have also found that when I start reading an article datelined Port-au-Prince, I have to force myself to read to the end of it. I have donated money to Doctors Without Borders, on the grounds that it has been in Haiti a long time and will be able to use the cash quickly. However, I have no illusions about my tiny donation, or about the organization’s ability to help. I have no illusions about anyone’s ability to help, for this is not just a natural disaster: It is a man-made disaster first and foremost, and so it will remain.

Though the earthquake was a powerful one, its impact was multiplied many, many times by the weakness of civil society and the absence of rule of law in Haiti. As Roger Noriega has written, “You can literally see [the] dysfunction from space”: Satellite photos of Hispaniola, the island split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, show green forests on the Dominican side and bare, deforested hills on the Haitian side. Mudslides and collapsing houses were routine in Haiti, even before this disaster. Laws designed to prevent erosion, and building codes designed to prevent criminally shoddy construction, were ignored. The rickety slums of Port-au-Prince were constructed in ravines and on steep, unstable hills. When they collapsed, they collapsed completely.

So weak were Haiti’s public institutions, literally and figuratively, that nothing is left of them, either. Parliament, churches, hospitals, and government offices no longer exist. The archbishop is dead. The head of the U.N. mission is dead. There is a real possibility that violent gangs will emerge to take their place, to control food supplies, to loot what remains to be looted. There is a real possibility, within the coming days, of epidemics, mass starvation, and civil war.

Anne Applebaum, “Haiti Is a Man-Made Disaster: Recovery will require a profound cultural and political change”, Slate, 2010-01-16

January 14, 2010

The situation in Haiti

Filed under: Americas, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:51

I keep thinking I’ve heard the worst of the situation in Haiti, and I keep being unpleasantly surprised. Haiti was not in the best of social or political health before the earthquake (to be kind — see update below for more on this), and does not have the resources to quickly recover from a disaster of this scale. Canada, the United States, Mexico, and other nations have been scrambling to provide what assistance they can quickly (both the US Navy and the Canadian Navy are dispatching ships, but ships take time to sail, so they can’t provide immediate aid).

The worst thing about earthquake damage is that they disrupt everything for large areas around the epicentre, so that recovery is doubly difficult. It’s not only the damage caused directly by the tremors, but also that the damage often includes the critical infrastructure that rescuers need: the water system, the electrical grid, telephone land lines and cell towers, and the road and rail arteries. Help can’t arrive from outside the area fast enough to save many lives closer to the epicentre, and it is very difficult to co-ordinate efforts to rescue the trapped and the injured.

Funds are needed to provide food, safe drinking water, shelter, and medical care, and Haiti lacks any large surplus of any of these things right now. If you can contribute anything, even a few dollars, please do: in Canada, the government will match private donations up to $50 million (even as a staunch libertarian, I can’t object to this use of tax dollars).

In Canada, you can send your donations to the relief effort through the Canadian Red Cross website, by phone at (800) 418-1111, or in person (cash or cheque only) at any Red Cross office. You can donate to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts by text message:

The Salvation Army has activated its Text to Donate program in support of the Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund. Canadians can make a $5.00 donation to The Salvation Army’s efforts in Haiti by texting the word HAITI to 45678 from any Rogers Wireless or Bell Mobility phone. Donors will then receive a message asking them to confirm their donation with a YES reply. The proceeds of each text donation will support the ongoing efforts to serve the victims of the recent horrific earthquake that has left thousands dead and many more without adequate food, clean water or shelter.

“Our immediate focus is the safety and welfare of those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said Graham Moore, Territorial Secretary for Public Relations and Development for The Salvation Army in Canada. “The mobile giving program is another way to raise funds in support of this vital relief effort.”

In addition to the text message donation program, Canadians can support The Salvation Army’s relief effort in Haiti by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769), by visiting our website, www.SalvationArmy.ca, by mailing donations to The Salvation Army Territorial Headquarters, Canada and Bermuda, 2 Overlea Blvd., Toronto, Ontario M4H 1P4, or dropping off financial donations at the closest Salvation Army unit in your area. Donors should specify their gift to the Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund. The call centre (1-800-SAL-ARMY) and www.SalvationArmy.ca are accepting donations

Update: At the start of this post I said that Haiti’s social and political situation was bad even before the quake. I didn’t realize quite how bad things were:

Tyler Cowen suggests that Haiti, as a nation, may have just effectively ceased to exist. Haiti, as a people, is still there. But the institutions that made up the Haitian nation state, and its economy, have literally been flattened. Aid agencies usually work through local governments, which already have distribution systems for hospitals and so forth. But the local government in this case does not really seem to exist at the moment; it has been hollowed out by deaths. The main port seems to have suffered heavy damage, and while flights are making it to the airport, there’s no one there to unload.

[. . .]

But in the longer run, what do you do for a country that already had one of the worst-functioning governments in the world? Half the budget was provided by foreign aid before the earthquake. For the next few years, we will effectively hold government power there, whether we want to or not, because we’ll probably essentially be providing all of its funding

Haiti’s plight

Filed under: Americas, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:53

An editorial at the National Post makes a strong case for Canada to do everything in its power to help the survivors of the Haiti earthquake:

Nature has many ways to kill us. But none are as sudden and catastrophic as a major earthquake. They demolish not only buildings, but something very basic within the human psyche.

The Greeks believed earthquakes were the result of a vengeful Poseidon smashing the earth with his trident. The book of Revelations is full of seismic upheaval: “I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became as blood.” In the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, religious Indonesians thought they’d been punished for straying from the path of true Islam. Pat Robertson became an instant figure of Internet ridicule on Wednesday when he suggested that the earthquake in Haiti resulted from a Napoleonic-era “pact to the devil.” But he is hardly alone: Throughout human history, in all parts of the world, the devastation wrought by earthquakes has been so enormous as to be inexplicable as anything but a manifestation of divine wrath. In the wake of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake, no less a thinker than Voltaire questioned his faith in a benevolent entity, posing theological questions that persist to this day: What kind of God destroys schools alongside prisons, mansions alongside hovels, the good alongside the wicked?

In the case of Haiti, epicenter to what will likely become the most deadly earthquake in the history of the Americas, that question is particularly apt. Even before the earth moved, the country was the impoverished, chaotic hellhole of the Western hemisphere. To send another horseman galloping into its capital seems a species of sick, cosmic joke. All great tragedies test humanity’s faith in a higher power. But some, like this modern day reprise of Lisbon, more than others.

January 13, 2010

Haiti death toll could be in the tens of thousands

Filed under: Americas — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 15:22

The scale of the disaster engulfing Haiti is hard to comprehend. When the reports started to come in yesterday afternoon, it sounded bad (a hospital was said to have collapsed in the quake), but more recent reports show the situation is unimaginably worse:

Haiti’s prime minister on Wednesday warned the death toll may top 100,000 in a calamitous earthquake which left streets strewn with corpses and thousands missing in a scene of utter carnage.

Hospitals collapsed, destroyed schools were full of dead and the cries of trapped victims escaped from crushed buildings in the centre of the capital Port-au-Prince, which an AFP correspondent said was “mostly destroyed.”

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN the final death toll from the 7.0 quake could be “well over 100,000,” as an international aid effort geared up in a race against time to pull survivors from the ruins.

Twitter and Facebook posts are encouraging people to donate to the Haiti relief efforts, but there’s some confusion as US residents can donate money by sending a text message to a certain address, but this method does not work for Canadians. Canadians can donate by visiting the Canadian Red Cross website (www.redcross.ca), by phone 800-418-1111, or in person (cash or cheque only) at any Red Cross office.

Update: CBC News reports that the Salvation Army can accept donations for disaster relief in Haiti by text message:

Canadians looking to donate money to earthquake disaster relief in Haiti through text messages can do so via the Salvation Army.

Cellphone users can send donations of $5 by texting the word “Haiti” to 45678 through a system set up by the Mobile Giving Foundation, a group that enables charities to collect money by text messages.

The Salvation Army is a member of the group, as are several other charities including the Children’s Wish Foundation and Princess Margaret Hospital.

According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, the cellphone industry’s trade group, 100 per cent of all donations that go through Mobile Giving are forwarded to their respective charities.

Update, the second: The US Navy is reported to be assembling ships to send to the scene:

It looks like the Navy is developing a massive Sea Base operation centered around the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), the USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), and the USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) with cruisers and frigates in support (note helicopter capable vessels). Also as should be expected, significant Coast Guard and assets from other services are being mobilized as well, so far I think I have seen 4 different cutters mentioned.

The USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in particular will be what I am watching. With significant fresh water production capacity, that may turn into one of the most important early assets needed. It cannot be overstated the strategic and tactical significance of a large deck aircraft carrier arriving quickly to this situation. Consider for a moment what it means to look out into the sea following this disaster and seeing the distinct and globally recognized silhouette of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier. That really is by definition strategic communication of hope that the US is there to help. We should never take that symbolism for granted should we wish to remain a global power, as that soft power influence factors strategically well beyond the capacity for critics who desire to create hard power tactical alternatives.

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