Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Through decades and now 45 issues the publication 'Anarcho-Syndicalist Review' (Formerly Libertarian Labour Review) has produced year in and out the very best of intelligent, interesting and insightful comment from an anarchosyndicalist viewpoint. The quality of the writing is worthy of the highest academic standards without the academic failings of jargon and obscurity. Always a delight to read. The latest issue to come out includes:
*A report on the recent AIT/IWA Congress in Manchester that gives far more information on what actually happened than anything available on the internet from either the friends or opponents of the AIT. It quotes the USI-AIT's (the "official" branch of the Italian section of the AIT) international secretary on the problems of the present International. This criticism is more potent for coming from within the AIT than any outside criticism could be. The article is also post-scripted by letters sent to the Congress from both the ASR and other Wobblies in the USA.
*An article 'Venezuela 2007' from Venezuelan anarchists opposed to the moves of the Chavez government to suppress actual "from below" social initiatives in that country.
*An article, 'The "Science" of Class Warfare", about the abuse of economics to serve ruling class interests.
*Another article, 'Success and Failure in Solidarity Unionism', discusses the new wave of direct action unionism in the USA.
*'The Spanish Revolution 70 Years on' is an historical analysis of the Spanish Revolution on its 70th anniversary. This is followed by Part 2 of 'Wobblies in the Spanish Revolution' documenting IWW members who found on the side of the Spanish people against Franco.
*An article 'Red Emma and the Reds' on the falsification of the career of Emma Goldman by various Leninist sources.
There are, of course numerous other book reviews and short items about various class struggles throughout the world.
ASR maintains a consistent non-sectarian stance towards the various branches of international syndicalism, and while its basic commitment to the IWW is obvious it sees benefit in many other members of this often quarreling family. The writing is lucid and the tone non-strident and intelligent. ASR is an invaluable source of honestly as well. It doesn't engage in the all too frequent triumphalism so common amongst some anarchists.
ASR's website is at http://www.syndicalist.org , its mailing address is Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Box 42531, Philadelphia PA 19101, USA and its email is syndicalist@iww.org . Subscriptions are $15 US for 4 issues and $17 for international subs.
truly one of the best anarchist publications around today.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A four year old girl was attacked by a "skquirrel" at the Mountain View Cuesta Park last Thursday (Feb 15th). The "Skqirrel" stole a bag of " Sun Chips" from the girl and "scratched her face"when the idiot yard ape resisted. Apparently while a ranger was droning on about animal behavior the evil squirrel made a bite on the child's face and afterwards went back to the chips. Ooops ! The yard ape was given a tetanus shot later. The above has been provided to you by Scary Squirrel World, the ultimate in conspiracy theories.

The Spanish Revolution is a "test case" amongst anarchists. More than the temporary accommodations of the Makhnovists in Russia this is a "real time" survey of how anarchism can exist in the real world. The generally accepted view is that anarchist methods of production and coordination were equal to the demands of a society at war. People may go to the original sources for this matter. What I want to emphasize here is the difference between the ideas of social organization that had been instilled by anarchist propaganda over several decades and the ideas of "revolution" that had been instilled by the same efforts. The "social ideal" was actually separate from the "means of achievement" ie "The Revolution" of myth, but the two tended to be conflated. The Spanish anarchists were confronted with a situation where they represented a large minority in most of Spain and a slight majority in some areas. How should one behave in such situations ? What I would say is that the "intransigent anarchist" policy left the anarchists helpless when they were confronted with the reality of collaboration while the "realist" policy of the 'Treintistas' offered a much more realistic way to play a "political game" with the other parties of the popular front. The "intransigent" factions of the people who had come to control the FAI bowed over to a large extent because they had no idea of "bargaining" which the Treintista section of the CNT very much had- no matter how much they might have been defeated by the FAI.
More on this matter later,
Charges against two university students, Ander Resczynski and Shaun Pelletier, of the Sudbury Coalition against Poverty have been dropped. The two activists were "roughed up" by the police up in their arrest on June 27th, 2006 and, as usual, the police filed extra charges to cover up their use of violence during the arrest. This has been dissipated by the latest court ruling. The original confrontation was at 'Our Lady of Lourdes' grotto last June 27th. The actual charges involve a possession of "implements for graffiti" (ie no crime had been committed) versus a committed crime of assault on the part of the police. go to the Autonomy and Solidarity site for more information.
Today 'The Best of the Blogs features Larry Gambone's Porcupine Blog , and his latest offering on 'The Problem of Social Democracy'. What Larry focuses on is the present day failure of social democracy to be a proper "transmission belt" to carry ideas from us anarchists into the mainstream for implementation. Larry goes into a brief history of modern social democracy to explain how this political trend "abandoned hope and inspiration". What this is is a call for social democracy to return to its original mission, to make possible the utopian dreams of people to its left. It should be noted that a small fraction of the Canadian NDP holds to a decentralist view of socialism even though the majority of the party holds to a typical managerial view. In any case go on over to Larry's blog to see what he has to say.

Nature magazine has recently published an interesting essay under the 'Connections' column(Nature:445:Feb 2,2007, p489) The title is as above, and the essay describes how "network math" may help the social sciences in making predictions that can be tested in a scientific way. The author makes a case that internet communications can provide a field wherein the ambiguities of ordinary sociological analysis are reduced so that precise predictions can be made and tested. The author admits that the results derived from internet research are "limited" . The author also, unfortunately, calls for a loosening of the privacy protections on internet communications so that research can be conducted on these matters. NOW, Molly has little doubt that a "science of society" can be constructed that supersedes political ideologies such as Marxism, conservatism, liberalism(or crude anarchism with whatever neologisms it may devise). Time marches on after all. Part of the book that I am trying to review, "A Beautiful Math', refers to such system mathematics. But still...my first objection here is as an individual concerned about their own privacy, and whether the benefit is worth the cost. In a class society such research will be framed in terms of how it can benefit the managerial controllers of the society. I assume that such research can yield testable predictions which I don't assume for most leftoid rhetoric. What I will say plain and simply is that the doomed effort to put chains on scientific inquiry is much more applicable to this case than it is in any other case of simple inquiry. These results will come to view, and leftists are obliged to come to terms with them no matter how much they might like to hide behind rhetoric.
Molly personally is not a leftist in the sense of believing in the underlying ("lying" is an appropriate word) philosophical beliefs of leftism (which includes the so-called "post leftists"). But she is still a "leftist" in terms of believing that the ultimate goals of "the left" are both valuable and achievable. What "the left" has to do is face reality such as that presented in papers such as this and use it for their own purposes.

"A vulture boards an airline, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

Last Monday, February 19th, I observed an interesting astonomical sight. It was about 6pm, and the setting cresent of the Moon was about 15 to 20 degrees above the horizon. Underneath it, seperated by about 5 degrees, was the planet Venus. The pair presented an amazing sight in the evening sky. Presently the Moon is far seperated from Venus. Nothing that I had read alerted me to the sight of last Monday. The questions I have are 1)what phase was Venus in on Monday (it looked like a waxing gibbous to my binoculars) and 2)when will Venus no longer be visible from the Central Time zone and what will its phases be like until then. In other words I'm having some trouble looking this up. Comments are invited.

Today is day 7 of the Chinese New Years festival. Eight more days to go until the Lantern Festival on the 15th night. So Molly spins her tiny little feline legs to catch up. On day 4 of the cycle people begin to prepare food for the return of the Kitchen God from the court of the Jade Emperor. This means the end of the period of freedom from the surveillance of the deities, and hence there is a saying, "It's never too early to send off the gods, and never too late to invite them back". Seems a bit different from the Abrahamist concepts of constant surveillance.
The fifth day of the festival typically involves removal of the offerings from altars. In Taiwan businesses reopen on this day which is considered the birthday of the god of wealth. Dumplings are a traditional serving today. People are supposed to stay home to welcome the god of wealth on this day. Visiting is considered bad luck. This day is called Po Wu in Mandarin.
People resume their visiting on the 6th to the 10th day of the New Years. The seventh day is known as the "birthday of the common man" when everybody turns one year older. This is a day when Chinese in Southeast Asia typically eat a raw fish salad, yusheng, though this custom is rare elsewhere in the world. For Buddhists this is another day to avoid meat. The raw fish are supposed to promote success. It's also a day of market gardens when farmers display their best produce. On the eighth day the people of Fujian have another family reunion dinner and at midnight pray to Tian Gong, the god of heaven.
The ninth day of the festival is considered to be the birthday of the Jade Emperor, the "king of the gods" in Taoism. Prayers are offered to the Jade Emperor on this day. The Hokkiens in China consider this to be the real New Years Day. Friends and relatives are invited to for further visits on the 10th to the 12th day. The Chinese New Years will culminate on the 15th day, March 5th in our calender. But more on that later.

The people at Straight Goods, (see also our 'Other Interesting Links 'section)a Canadian e-news site have provided a download of James Laxer's latest book 'Mission of Folly'. This is a book about Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan and how "Canadian troops are a pawn in a double game played by the US and Pakistan". Laxer goes through a history of the conflict and argues that the Canadians should be pulled out now and that Canada should turn its efforts to reconstruction only. The download can be accessed at:

The Congress of the Anarchist Federation of Poland took place on February 17th to 18th in the city of Szczecin, Poland. The report of the participants follows,
"This Congress attracted special police interest; we were informed that the police visited the space the day before and probably left a listening devise. They also decided to visit the space but left after people explained that they weren't invited and nobody would talk to them.
The Anarchist federation accepted two new sections: FA Dublin(Molly Note:I assume this refers to Polish workers presently resident in Ireland) and FA Pila. For the first time, observers to the Congress probably outnumbered FA members. Unfortunately attendance from the sections was rather low with only groups from Lodz, Warsaw-Praga, Gorzow, Krakow, Poznan, Silesia, Szczecin and Torun attending.
Special attention was paid to upcoming campaigns including protests and calls for a referendum on the placement of a US missile base in Poland, mobilization to the Rospuda Valley, May Day and the G8. It was also decided to hold a few days of anti-militarist actions around the time of the anniversary of the war in Iraq.
It was decided to hold an anarchist integration camp in Poland at the end of August. Other discussions and campaigns discussed included actions in defense of refugees, a proposal to but land for an ecological village and ways to promote direct democracy.
A number of internal and organizational matters were also discussed and decided. Many ideas were discussed relating to increasing participation inside the Federation and improving the information flow and cooperation between sections. It was also decided to do more to utilize existing resources and to publicize things like the collective secretariat more widely.
The next Congress will be held in the fall in Krakow."
Molly Note:
Anarchism has actually experienced a dramatic growth in Poland in recent years. The website of the Polish Anarchist federation can be found at http://www.fa.most.org.pl . The Polish FA is very much like the French FA as it is a "synthesist" organization that brings together anarchists from a variety of theoretical perspectives. The website has an very out of date English section like most anarchist websites in Eastern Europe. Translations to French or Spanish are non-existent. What the Poles are proving as we speak is that it is "possible" for a dynamic synthesist federation to exist and have a real presence in the world. It's hard to say if their experience(or that of the French FA or the Italian FAI) is directly transferable to North America as the ideological divisions here are much deeper than in Europe. But it at least shows that such a method of organizing is applicable in at least some places.

As of Feb 22, two days ago, Winnipeg Indymedia ( http://winnipeg.indymedia.org ) is up and running again. The new incarnation is considerably improved over the old one. There is an events section that actually lists upcoming events and a considerable devotion to local news. One waits to see if the lessons learned from what happened to the old Windymedia have been learned ie if the usual anti-Semitic posts will be automatically deleted and if the Middle East and its arguments will once more overwhelm everything else. But for now things look good. Go on over to the site to have a look.
One particular item in the events section catches my eye. On the upcoming Wednesday (Feb 28th) Raul Gatica will be speaking at the Mondragon Bookstore and Coffee House (91 Albert St.) on the struggle of the people of Oaxaca against neo-liberalism in Mexico. Gatica was born in Mexico and participated in many of the human rights, indigenous rights, ecology and union struggles in that country. He is presently living in exile in Vancouver, and he comes to Winnipeg to speak about the struggle in his homeland. Molly will try to attend if work lets her, and she urges you to do likewise. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The owner of the Against Monopoly site (see also our links section) has posted an interesting item on the relative costs of the monopoly granted by drug patents. It is basically a report on a case study published in the American Economic Review of the relative costs and benefits of patent protection in the case of quinolone antibiotics. The generally accepted opinion is that the loss to a developing country is about 150% of the gain to the developed country holding the patent. This, according to the study cited, is a gross underestimate as the conventional wisdom counts the cost to the pharmaceutical industry in a developing country but ignores the cost to consumers in such a country. In the case studied, quinolone antibiotics in India, domestic Indian firms may actually gain as consumers opt for other less expensive domestically produced drugs not covered by patent protection. The Indian government regulates the price of imported drugs, and the loss to the Indian consumer depends upon the letter of the price regulation by their government. According to the study the net loss (read transfer of money from India to countries/companies holding the patents) can range from $144 to $450 million dollars. The gain to the multinationals ranges from $19.6 to $53 million dollars. In other words the loss to the Indian consumer of these drugs is 7 to 9 times the gain of of the foreign companies.
Go on over to the Against Monopoly site for the full article.
Molly Note:
The whole subject of quinolone antibiotics is covered very extensively in the CPS and on the net in a less extensive treatment at the American Family Physician site. For the totally uninitiated the fluoroquinolones are derivatives of nalidixic acid- the old "drink more cranberry juice for your bladder infection" standby. This classification of antibiotics acts by inhibiting "topoisomerase" enzymes in bacteria. There are four classes of this enzyme, one of which, "type II", is the "DNA gyrase" that Molly was under the impression that all quinolone antibiotics acted on. In actual fact the various drugs may also act on the "type IV" topoisomerase, action which is associated with increased activity against gram positive bacteria. in human medicine the "second generation" quinolones such as ciprofloxacin have now passed beyond patent protection, and there are now 3rd and 4th generation quinolones that claim better pharmaceutical properties and efficacy. There are actually a whole slew of these drugs whose claims to patents depend upon minor tweaking of the molecular structure. For the average practitioner, both human and veterinary evaluating the various claims can be an exercise in "head banging". In the veterinary field the old standby is enrofloxacin (Baytril). Orbifloxacin (Orbax) nad marbofloxacin (Zeniquin) are also available (at an increased price of course, because they have patent protection). Claims by the companies holding the patent rights to the newer drugs are usually countered by propaganda from the original drug company. Like most veterinarians I depend upon academic reviewers for an unbiased comparison, but I have yet to come upon such, and so I stick with the old Baytril.
In the human field the situation is even more confused, and I pity the doctors trying to make a rational choice amongst the alternatives. Ciprofloxacin, by the way, is now available in Canada at least in generic formulation from both Apotex and Novo-Pharm. Some pharmacies make an automatic policy of generic substitution and some don't. Best to query both your doctor and your pharmacist directly.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The latest (March, 2007) edition of Scientific American has an interesting item by Earth Institute director Jeffrey D. Sachs with the title above. It basically a retelling of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and the lessons that can be drawn therefrom.
Now, the Earth Institute is certainly a worthy institution. Its mission statement says,
"The Earth Institute at Columbia University brings together talent from throughout the university to address complex issues facing the planet and its inhabitants, with particular focus on sustainable development and the needs of the world's poor. The Earth Institute is motivated by the belief that science and technological tools already exist, and could be expanded to greatly improve conditions for the world's poor while preserving the natural systems that support life on Earth."
The site is a wealth of information about research being undertaken in support of sustainable development. Jeffrey Sachs himself is an economist with special interests in development issues, and there's no doubt that he is "on the side of the angels". His telling of the tale, however, leaves little to the imagination about what his politics are. He's an American liberal who looks back to the Kennedy era as a sort of lost golden age. What is left out is as significant as what is included in his brief summary. The omitted fact that the USA started this whole game of brinkmanship by installing nuclear missiles in Turkey the year before is a convenient omission- one almost universally ignored in most popular western accounts of the crisis. For a fuller story of the Cuban missile crisis see the Wikipedia article on same. As a good liberal Sachs praises Kennedy- a praise that is hardly universally voiced- and ignores the good faith initiatives of the Soviets. Also, like a good liberal he ignores not just the crazies on the American side but also an equally detached set of hardliners in the Cuban ruling class. In the endgame the missiles in Turkey were removed albeit "secretly" without fanfare, and Sach's claim for the Kennedy administration that they "stressed the need to avoid humiliating one's adversary" really applies much more to the Soviet actions as opposed to the American ones. It was also the one, only and last time that the Soviet ruling class ever exposed their strategic nuclear forces in a position where they might escape from their immediate and total control (into the hands of Cuban ideologues in this case).
Anyways, whatever one may think of the moral rectitude of the various players in this game a point Sachs makes is that it was indeed a "game". He says,
"Today's game theorists would describe Kennedy's strategy as 'generous tit-for-tat(GTFT)' (The Soviet moves should also be so described- Molly). A player adopts a position of cooperation as long as the other side does too. If the second player begins to cheat, the first player stops cooperating as well, to show the cheater that there are adverse consequences to the collapse of this arrangement. The door remains forgivingly open to future cooperation, however, if the cheater reverts to form. And generously the first player might initiate renewed cooperation, with a view to enticing the former cheater to reciprocate. GTFT is so successful and robust that many evolutionary biologists suppose that the basic strategy is somewhat hardwired in human attitudes.".
Whatever one may think of Sach's assignment of blame and praise the essential point that he is trying to make is true. There are ways towards peace and security that are different from and more effective than the bluster of the present American administration and their equally ideologically driven Islamofascist opponents. The two sides actually mirror each other very well. Have a look at the essay for the full story. It will likely be posted on the net next month at the Scientific American website, which is usually one month behind the printed version.
It's also an example the application of game theory in real life, something that Molly will return to as she slowly posts her complete review of 'A Beautiful Math' on this site. The book is long finished, but reading is faster than writing about it.

Held every year since 1999, 'Bike Summer' is "a celebration of love for bicycles and community beginning Summer Solstice 2007.Bike culture, rides, speakers, street theatre, art, classes, workshops, music, films, critical masses, community building and more." These activists in and around the Critical Mass 'non-organization' hope to bring this celebration to numerous cities around the world again this year. Presently over 400 cities across the world have had critical mass rides, and the people behind 'Bike Summer' hope to inspire a DIY Carnival this year in as many of these cities as possible. Go on over to their website at http://www.bikesummer.org/2007 to see what it's all about and to get ideas if you'd like to join in. Lots there for fun and entertainment.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday. Mardi Gras is the culmination of the tradition Carnival Season, a time of celebration that actually predates Christianity. In Christian custom Carnival is most prominent in Roman Catholic countries, but it also makes an appearance in Orthodox countries such as Greece. The most famous celebration of carnival in Greece is in the town of Patras in the northern Peloponnese. It actually begins 4 days before Mardi Gras and finished on the Monday before that day.
Carnival was a time of celebration before the austere season of Lent. Feasting was almost a necessity so as to use up meat, eggs, butter and other animal products before fasting began. Most commonly it began on the third from last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, but in some places it began as early as the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan 6th in our calender).
Little of Carnival has survived the coming of Protestantism in England, except for the custom of "Pancake Day". Most of England's "Carnivals are held during the summer and fall. The southern, Catholic part of the Netherlands where it is called Karnaval, Carnaval or Vastenavond preserves the custom as do most countries in Eastern Europe. In Russia it preserves many of the traces of its pagan origin. Also, in many countries of the region Carnival has taken on some of the costume aspects that we in North America usually associate with Halloween. Needless to say this is true in many Latin countries as well.
It's in the Latin countries that Carnival has become the most famous. Portugal, Spain, Malta and Italy all share in the Carnival tradition. In all these places vestiges of the "inversion of society" still linger. In Tarragona in Catalonia, for instance, the effigies of the Carnival King and Queen are burnt at the end of festivities. In fact the festival of Carnival took many of its themes from the Feast of Fools that openly mocked the rulers, clerical and secular. This festival, usually held around New Year's had many elements dating directly back to the Roman feast of Saturnalia.
The most famous European Carnival is that of Venice, first recorded in 1268. Over the years the Venetian authorities many times tried to restrict the practices of Carnival such as the wearing of masks (though "society ladies" were sometimes required to wear masks during Carnivale so as to discourage the exhibition of costly jewelry). During much of the Middle Ages Venice was something of an "adult content Disneyland" during Carnivale. It took the decline of the Venetian Republic, Napoleon's conquest of Venice and the long grey rule of the AustroHungarian Empire to end the party. In the 1970s, however, local craftspeople began to manufacture the tradition pale carnivale mask known as the larva (Lating for "ghost") or volto (face). In 1979 an effort on the part of the Biennale, an international exhibit of contemporary and avant-garde art held every odd numbered year in Venice since 1895, and the Campagnia dei Grandi Alberghi (local hoteliers' association) relaunched Carnivale in Venice as one of the most popular events in Italy, and perhaps in all of Europe. Nowadays Venice, a city where tourists usually outnumber locals at any time of the year, becomes so crowded during the 10 days of carnivale that the causeway from the mainland has to be shut down because of the overcrowding. I don't speak of no place to sleep or eat. I speak of too little room to walk around.
In the Americas the Carnivals of Brazil, especially that of Rio de Janeiro, are the most famous. The Carnivales of the Caribbean, however, may be more festive. On some islands, such as Trinidad and Tobago, the celebrations may last a full month. Carnival is also celebrated in other parts of both South and Central America with varying amounts of enthusiasm and varying customs.
Here in Canada the Quebec City Winter Carnival is a descendant of the old celebrations, though it is held on the last days of January and early February so as to have good snow accumulations and cold enough temperatures for the ice sculptures. Winnipeg's Festival du Voyageurs is similarly held in early February for the same reasons.
The culmination of Carnival in Mardi Gras is not a universal feature of Carnival. In some places, particularly those with a longer carnival season other days of the festivity are more important. In Brazil, for instance, the season lasts two weeks. In New Orleans the celebration of Carnivale was introduced by the French settlers, but it became a multicultural event with traditions all its own. There are numerous "krewes", perhaps over 60 at the peak, which organize parades and other festivities during the two weeks preceding Ash Wednesday. The oldest parading krewes include those of "Rex: King of the Carnival"(from 1872) and Zulu (founded 1909). Both of these parade on Mardi Gas morning. The oldest of the night parading krewes is the Krewe of Proteus (1882) which organizes parades on the night of Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) . Numerous other Carnival celebrations are also held in the south eastern USA and even as far afield as Detroit.
For an overview of the subversive history of Carnival, the actual festival and other aspects of "collective joy" see Barbara Ehrenreich's new book 'Dancing in the Streets:A History of Collective Joy' (Metropolitan Books, NY, 2006). This book puts the whole matter into a comprehensive overview of what such festivities mean for society.

Monday, February 19, 2007


As mentioned in the previous post Chinese New Years is actually a 15 day festival. The customs, ceremonies and legends of this festival vary from one part of China to another, let alone from China to the overseas Chinese community. The customs will also vary due to religious commitment. But what follows is a more or less "typical" distillation of the events of the celebration.

The festival actually starts before the actual New Year on the 24th day of the 12 lunar month. On this day various gods ascend to heaven to pay their respects to the Jade Emperor, the supreme Daoist deity. Households burn ritual paper money to provide for the travel expenses of these gods. Malt sugar is smeared on the lips of the Kitchen God to ensure that he says only good things or nothing at all. The homes are then given a good "spring cleaning", and the bad luck is swept out. The brooms and dust pans are then put away until after the first day of the New Year so that the newly arriving good luck won't be swept out. The house is then decorated with paper scrolls inscribed with such things as "good fortune", "longevity", "spring time", "wealth", etc.. The most popular is a red diamond shaped banner inscribed with "good fortune" (pinyin "fu"). This is hung upside down as the word for "upside down" sounds similar to that of "arrive", and so it symbolizes the arrival of good luck. Many different floral decorations are also used in trimming up the house.

New Years Eve is the traditional time for the most important family gathering in Chinese culture. Like Christmas in Christian countries and Thanksgiving in the USA transportation systems are jammed as people try to return to their home village or neighbourhood for the celebration. The get together is usually held at the home of the most senior member of the family if possible. Families try and stay up at late as possible so as to welcome the New Year properly. It was once believed that doing so would ensure that one's parents lived a long life. During the meal and the following celebration red packets containing money are often given to the children and sometimes the elders. The amounts vary, but it is considered proper that the denominations be even numbers as odd numbers of money are given at funerals. A meal is sometimes set aside for the ancestors at the New Years' Eve table.

On New Year's Day itself the first order of business is paying respect to the same ancestors. Reverence is then paid to the gods, followed by the younger members of the family offering their respect to their elders. Visits are made first to one's most senior relatives and then to friends and neighbours. Dragon Dances and Lion Dances are held to drive the bad luck away.
On the second day of the New Year it is typically expected that married women will visit the homes of their parents. If it is a newlywed couple her husband must accompany her with gifts for her family. According to legend this is the day that all dogs become one year older, and so it is considered proper to be especially kind to dogs on this day. Sons in law are also expected to pay further respect to their inlaws on the next two days, but it is considered inappropriate to visit relatives on the third day as this is supposed to be a day when it is likely that people will quarrel. Families who have had a death of a relative in the preceding 3 years will use this day to visit the grave. Another interesting legend is that people should go to be early on the night of the third day because this is when the mice marry off their daughters, and the mice appreciate not having the ceremonies disturbed.

More tomorrow on day 3 of the New Year.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Today is the first day of the 15 day celebration of New Years according to the traditional Chinese calender. Also known as the Spring Festival, it is the most important celebration in the Chinese year. In pinyin it is referred to as "Nongli xinnian". Traditionally it begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calender, and it ends on the 15th day. This 15th day is referred to as the Lantern Festival (pinyin yuanxiaojie - Mandarin). This is considered to be year 4705 in the traditional lunar calender, though there is considerable dispute about when the actual Chinese calender began. It is possible that it began with month 1 during the Xia dynasty, month 12 during the Shang dynasty or month 11 during the Zhou dynasty. The final fixing of the New Year was established by Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty in 104 BC. Intercalary months were added to keep the festival in line with the solar year at various times. Today Chinese New Year falls anywhere from January 21st to February 20th. The date of Lichun is a traditional Chinese solar term marking the beginning of spring, and usually falls on either Feb 4th or 5th. Yes, the Chinese have both a lunar and solar calender.
In ancient myth the man-eating beast from the mountains, the Nian, could enter houses to prey on humans. It was said that this beast, something like a Sasquatch with a toothache, could be scared away by loud noises and the colour red. Hence the origin of a lot of the customs of Chinese New Year, from the traditional firecrackers and fireworks to the wearing of red clothes. Sad to say firecrackers have been banned in most countries today for "safety reasons", an example of where "social management" is hardly confined to western managerial societies. Molly can remember them from her youth, and she never suffered anything more than a slightly burned hand. They were always coloured red in those days, by the way. But, once more, "the people" have to be protected from themselves by their supposed betters. Too bad- I always liked firecrackers.
Back to the subject. Chinese New Years is a statutory holiday in many countries in the world. In the Peoples' Republic of China the first 7 days are stats, in Taiwan the first 5 days, in Hong Kong and Macao the first 3 days, in Malaysia and Singapore the first 2 days and in Brunei and Indonesia the first day only. The Vietnamese usually celebrate their New Year of Tet on the same day as the Chinese, but because of the time zone difference between Beijing and Hanoi it is occasionally on a different day. This year it was a day early, on February 17th. Korea officially follows the Gregorian calender, but the date of the lunar New Year is a three day holiday(as opposed to one day for Jan 1st). The Japanese have the first three days of the Gregorian calender as holidays. They changed the date of their celebrations in 1873.
More on Chinese New Years tomorrow the second day of the celebration.
Hopefully more on Carnival and the upcoming Shrove Tuesday as well.
The other night, Saturday, Feb 17th, Vancouver City Police entered the St. Michael's Anglican Church in Vancouver and arrested the Iranian refugee Amir Kazemian who had been living in that church in sanctuary for 2 years and 8 months. The Vancouver police laid no criminal charges and attended on an unrelated matter. They immediately turned Mr. Kazemian over to the Canada Border Services Agency, and he is is presently under their detention awaiting deportation to Iran where he was previously tortured and likely will be again- if not executed. There has been only one previous episode where Canadian police arrested a person within sanctuary, that of Mohammed Cherfi who was taken out of a church and deported to the USA in 2004. A year later Mr. Cherfi was granted asylum in that country.
To read more about this case go to the Solidarity Across Borders site(see also our links section). To ask how you can help Mr. Kazemian contact either his lawyer Naomi Minwalla at 604-689-8100 or write the Vancouver No One is Illegal group at noii-van@resist.ca
Shoplifting is the illegal removal of goods from a retail outlet. "Shopdropping" is the precise opposite, the addition of merchandise and information to retail displays. The people over at Social Design Notes (see also our Links section) have a description of what this means. This may vary from altering an album cover to even altering the voice hardware in a toy store doll. Social Design Notes contains links to new packaging that can be placed on certain products in the stores, packaging that tells stories about the workers who make the products. Go on over to Social Design Notes to see more about this and other "unbranding" creative activities.

Here are a few examples of what the author Siegfried uses to illustrate Von Neumann's game theory in his book 'A Beautiful Math'.
The first is from real life and has a trivial outcome ie a single best strategy fort each player no matter what the other player does.
During WW2 General George Kenney was in charge of the allied air forces in the southwest Pacific. During the battle of the Bismark Sea he knew that the Japanese would be sending a convoy of supply ships to New Guinea. The Allies wanted to bomb this convoy and could get in three days of possible bombing if the convoy too either of two possible routes, either north or south of New Britain. The complication was that the northern route would be stormy for one of these days, leaving only two clear days for bombing. Kenney could send his reconnaissance planes either north or south but not both (too few planes to cover both routes I guess). If they sighted the convoy the attack planes would follow. If not the attack force would head in the opposite direction the next day by a process of elimination.
I think you can see where the complications in this scenario lead, complications not mentioned by Siegfried and apparently not by the many textbooks that use this example. This first is why not send the attack planes in the opposite direction if the convoy is not sighted in due time ? The second is that one has to assume that reconnaissance is 100% effective. If the planes say that the Japanese are not there they are really and truly not there. this becomes particularly acute of day 1 is the rainy day. Can reconnaissance be 100% effective at the same time as bombing is 100% ineffective ?
But anyways Kenney made a decision by brute logic without the aid of game theory. The basis of his decision is best illustrated by the typical matrix used in game theory, outlined below(please excuse the limitations of the blogger format):
North South


Allies North 2 2

South 1 3

The game is "zero sum". Whatever the Allies gain the Japanese lose. The above matrix represents the days of bombing available given the choices of both the Japanese to go either north or south and the choice of Kenney to sent his reconnaissance planes either north or south. From the allied point of view sending the recon planes north would give two days of bombing in either case, and sending them south would give either one or three days depending upon what the Japanese did. Hard to choose from these possibilities. From the Japanese point of view, however, the choice is obvious. Going south results in a loss of either -2 or -3 (the Japanese "gains" are the obverse of the allied gains tabled above). Going north results in a loss of either -2 or -1. The best strategy is to go north no matter what the allies do. This indeed what happened in the real world. Both the convoy and the recon planes went north.
The secret of Von Neumann's proof is that it applied only to those cases where "the opponent plays as well as possible". It doesn't apply to an erratic opponent. Because of this there is a "minimax" strategy for the allies. Send the planes to the north because the Japanese are not fools. And maybe they aren't good at "bluff" either. Both "bluff" and "stupidity" are complications that often occur in real life.
Where Von Neumann's concept of "minimax" really becomes interesting is where the game is not, like the example cited above, a "one shot deal" but is repeated. Siegried uses an example modified from one given in Martin D Davis' book 'Game Theory:A Non-Technical Introduction' (Dover, Mineola NY 1983/1997). It goes as follows:
Two players, call them Alice and Bob are each dealt a single card. Black always beats red. Each player antes up "5" on each round so there is always "10" in the pot. Alice plays first, and she can either call or bet an additional "3". If she calls both players show their cards, and the black card wins the pot. If they both have black or they both have red they split the pot 50/50. Bob, on the other hand can, if Alice bets, either fold or match her "3". If he folds Alice takes the "13" in the pot. If he matches and calls the one with the black card wins the pot, and if both players have the same colour they once more split the pot 50/50.
The matrix for this game is considerably more complex than that given above. I'll spare you the attempt, but try it out if you are interested. Instead of the 4 possible entries in the matrix above there are 128 different possibilities because both Alice and Bob can follow 4 different strategies. From Alice's point of view she can either 1)always bet, 2)always call, 3)bet with red and pass with black or 4)bet with black and pass with red. The result with Bob's options is a 4X4 matrix with 8 entries in each cell because the different winnings have to be listed beside each other. This sort of game introduces the idea of "bluff", and it turns out that the best minimax strategy is a "mixed" one for both players. Alice's best strategy is to bet 60% of the time no matter what card she has (ie to "bluff" if she has black) and 40% of the time to bet only if she has black. Bob, on the other hand, should call Alice's bet 40% of the time no matter what card he has and 60% of the time call if he has black and fold if he has red. The choice of what to do should be totally random so that the percentages equal the above.
This game, by the way, is stacked in favour of Alice. She'll come away with a gain of about 30% if both players play their optimum strategies. So Von Neumann showed that there are minimax strategies that are "mixed strategies" where a given course of action is chosen randomly a certain percentage of the time.
Molly has added another link to her 'Other Interesting Links' section of this blog. This is the website God Space , produced by William Brandes, one of the commentators on a previous page here. This is a site devoted to what we call here in Canada the social gospel. Brandes is a member of the United Church of Christ. No connection to the Canadian United Church as far as I can tell. The American UCC was established in 1957 and is basically "congregationalist" in orientation. Each congregation is totally independent, and the ways of worship and theology vary tremendously as may be expected from this decentralized means of organization. Mr. Brandes' wife is a pastor in this Church. Go on over to this site if you are tired of the new right saying they speak for all Christians in the USA.

The trial of eleven members of the Israeli anarchist group 'Anarchists Against the Wall' (see also our links section) ended today, Feb 18th, after three years of legal wrangling. Seven of the defendants had their convictions set aside in lieu of 80 hours of community service. The verdict for three others was set over until March 18th because of combined charges for other political activity. One defendant, Jonathan Pollack, received a three month suspended sentence. This defendant asked the judge to sentence him to actual jail time in a political statement read before the court. He stated plainly that, "this is my first conviction and it certainly won't be my last", in essence saying that he will continue his political activity and thus the suspended sentence will turn into a real one in due time. The terms of the sentence say that Pollack cannot participate in any illegal gathering in the next two years. In Israel any gathering in the occupied territories is automatically "illegal", and Pollack says that his intent to participate in same, not cooperate with the parole board and not comply with the community service provisions of his parole means that he might as well go to jail now.
For more on the Israeli anarchist click on the link above or go to our links section.
The above is the title of a recent review in Science magazine (Science 315, pp601-602, February 2, 2007) by reviewer Caroline Ash. This a review of two books. One of them 'The Altruism Equation:Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness', was the subject of the review that Molly discussed back on Feb. 11th under the heading 'A Review of a Review'. The other is the book 'Conflict', edited by Martin Jones and A.C. Fabien. Both of these books are collections of previous writings, but the approach couldn't be any more different. The first book features writers puzzling over the evolution of altruism while the second discusses the equally strong biological tendencies that lead to intraspecific conflict. The two together make an interesting study in contrast.

Caroline Ash is much more enthusiastic about 'The Altruism Equation' than the reviewer for Nature was. She finds it "exhilarating", and her "irritation" is reserved for the author Dugatkin's "unfairly bemoaning the lack of insight into economic modelling by all of Hamilton's predecessors, including Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Walter Clyde Allee."

The lack of mathematical base or simple mistakes are also bemoaned in the likes of Ronald Fisher, J.B.S. Haldane and Sewell Wright. The reviewer could easily have included Kropotkin amongst this number as he is discussed extensively in 'The Altruism Equation'. Kropotkin was no mathematical illiterate; he trained in the artillery after all, and his criticisms of Marx's theories of value show that he understood at least a complex situation to be so...quite unlike Marx did. I will, however, defer to the reviewer's irritation here. I've read about where Haldane expressed the "bare bones" of the theory of kin selection, but I am not well read enough to tell anybody where he went wrong. From a simple historical perspective, however, the theories of altruism could simply not be expressed at the time of Kropotkin, Huxley and the others because the mathematical tools of game theory were as yet unknown.

Molly has yet to acquire a copy of 'The Altruism Equation', but this review definitely whets my appetite more. Ash brings up the question of George Price, one of the most fascinating characters in the development of evolutionary psychology. Price turned Hamilton's theories of the evolution of kin selection on their head and laid out a theoretical explanation for "the evolution of spite" whereby a spiteful act could still be selected for if the cost to the actor was less than the damage done to a rival.

Price is one of the more interesting characters I have ever heard of. Born in 1922, he was originally a physical chemist, later a science journalist and a computer consultant. He came to population genetics and evolutionary biology late in life when he devised the Price Equation after having read Hamilton's 1964 paper on kin selection. This is a covariance equation (1)that explained the frequency of allele variation in a population where the frequency of one allele depends on the frequency of another. This had previously been derived by C.C. Li, but price's formulation allowed it to be applied to all levels of selection, including inclusive fitness and group selection.

On June 6th, 1970 Price underwent a "conversion experience" and turned from atheism to a devote Christianity. He devoted the rest of his life to helping the homeless, taking to sleeping in his office at the Galton Laboratory so that homeless people could sleep in his rented house. This house was eventually demolished as part of a construction project. Having given away all his possessions Price went on to live at various squats in north London until he eventually committed suicide at Christmas, 1974 with a pair of "nail scissors".

This character definitely deserves a further look, and Molly will do same in the future.

Caroline Ash uses Price's work on the evolution of "spite" to lead into the second part of her review on the book 'Conflict'. This is part of the Darwin College lectures, Cambridge, a series held each year. This is apparently from the 1995 series on conflict that covers a wide spectrum of topics, from Labour and Conflict, to sex differences in intergroup conflict, to the Middle East and the evolution of state sponsored war...along with much more. The reviewer obviously can't do justice to such a wide range of topics in a few paragraphs and so she concentrates on two essays in the volume, one on parallels between aggression in humans, the regular chimpanzee (Pan trogodytes), and the bonobos (Pan paniscus), and the possible ecological pressures that led to different rates of inter-group aggression in these different species, the second on sex differences in intergroup aggression in humans. This hardly does justice to the volume on the lectures, but little more can be expected from a two page review devoted to two books.

Molly is not surprised at how two different reviewers can have such different views of a book like 'The Altruism Equation'. Each focuses on things that the other ignores because each brings their previous tastes to the reading. This doesn't mean, ala a pseudo intellectual post modernist "explanation", that they "create the meaning by manipulating the text". It merely means that they notice and emphasize different things that actually exist in the books reviewed.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

These late winter evening are a great time to observe Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Sirius is actually at least a binary star system with an apparent magnitude of -1.47(1). Sirius is visible from any part of the Earth lower than about 73 degrees north latitude. At this time of year to see Sirius draw an imaginary line downwards from the stars in Orion's belt. At about 20 degrees to the southeast you'll come to a very bright object that seems to exhibit a faintly blueish white twinkling. When the star is near to the horizon the actual apparent colour may vary (2). This star's name is derived from the Latin "Sirius", a term borrowed from Greek meaning "glowing" or "scorcher". This is because in ancient Greek times this star rose at dawn during the hottest time of the summer. Because of precession Sirius now rises much later in the year.
The ancient Latin name for this star is 'Canicula', the "little star", and the Arabic name is 'Al Shira'. Many other culture have other names for Sirius. In Sanscrit it was known as 'Mrgavyadha' (the deer hunter) or Lubdhaka (hunter). The former name is a representation of the God Shiva. The Chinese knew Sirius as the "celestial wolf", and the Japanese common name for Sirius is Aoboshi (blue star). In ancient Egypt this star was worshipped under the name of Sothis. The Middle Kingdom of Egypt actually based their calender on the rising of Sirius which occurred just before both the summer solstice and the annual flooding of the Nile.
It was as late as 1844 when astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel deduced the existence of a companion star to Sirius by means of analysis of its proper motion(the way that stars move in relation to each other-first described in 1718 by William Halley). This companion was confirmed in 1862 by Alvan Graham Clark. Nowadays this companion star is called Sirius B while the star that we see with the naked eye is called Sirius A. Sirius B is a white dwarf with a diameter only that of the Earth even though its mass is 98% that of our Sun. Sirius A is a main sequence star with a mass of about 2.1 times that of the Sun. The two stars are separated by a distance of about 20 AU ie about 2o times the distance from the Sun to Earth. There is a possibility that there is a third member of this system, but this has never been definitely confirmed.
The stars Betelguese (at the upper left of Orion), Sirius and Procyon in Canis Minor form what is called 'The Winter Triangle' in the southern sky. Sirius lays about 8.5 light years from Earth and is the fifth closest star to our system (and the second closest "visible star" after Alpha Centauri). It intrinsically about 23 times as bright as our Sun.
Sirius has found its place in pseudoscience as well. Early ethnographers of the Dogon people in West Africa reported that "had knowledge" of the companion star to Sirius A. In actual fact this claim was based solely on the observation that the Dogon had a mask ceremony in which a new mask was created every 60 years, supposedly showing knowledge of the periodic dimming of Sirius A as its companion passes in front of it - every every 50 years actually- the star seems to dim, but this luminosity change is imperceptible to the human eye. A crooked book writer by the name of Robert Temple, inspired by the financial success of people such as Von Daniken, used this along with other pseudofactoids to concoct an "ancient astronauts" argument in 'The Sirius Mystery'. The whole matter has been thoroughly debunked by Carl Sagan, but it's doubtful that Sagan made 1/1000th of the money that Temple did with his book.
1)The astronomical scale for apparent luminosity is an inverse logarithmic scale. This is like the better known Richter scale for earthquakes where one integer equals a ten fold change. In astronomy, however, the lower the number the greater the luminosity. The Sun, for instance, has a luminosity of about +26, and the full Moon shines with a luminosity of about +11. This scale was originally devised by Hipparchus, and it assigns magnitudes such that the faintest stars in the sky have a magnitude of about -6.
2)This has led to some puzzles in interpretation as several ancient Latin texts refer to Sirius' colour as "red", even though Chinese texts of the same time describe unequivocally as white. Some have suggested that this represents a recent stellar evolution change in the Sirius system, but the position on the horizon is a more likely explanation.

The Carnival of Anarchy will host another roundtable this coming weekend, Friday, Feb 23rd to Sunday, Feb 25th. This time the theme will be 'Anarchism in your area', and the field is wide open for descriptions of how anarchism plays out in your area of the world. New members of the Carnival are always welcome. To see what it's all about or to join up go to the Carnival of anarchy at http://carnival-of-anarchy.blogspot.com .

Friday, February 16, 2007

Molly has added a few more links to her blog, as well as eliminating some dead links. The dead links first. I have trouble linking to the Space.Com website so I have eliminated it from the 'Scientific Links' section. But under there I have now included the Out of the Cradle website, another space related source. Also, under the 'Other Interesting Links' section I have included the 'Time and Date' website. This site is nitpicking at its finest, and Molly admires nitpicking as it is one of her major hobbies. Go to this site to delve into the mysteries of time zones, daylight savings time, sunrise,sunset,moonrise, moonset times and much more. Fun for the inner pedant.
But more importantly-the sidebar- last Feb 12th was Darwin day, the anniversary of both Darwin's 198th birthday and the 148th anniversary of the publication of 'The Origin of Species'. I've added the website that celebrates this event, 'Darwin Day' to the list under the 'scientific Links' category along with 'The Evolution Dialogues' from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and 'The Clergy Letter Project'. Both of these, in particular the latter, address the intersection of science and religion. The last item, in particular, stands as an example of how the majority of the world's Christians, despite the propaganda from the fundamentalists of the 'American Taliban' have made their peace with reality and modern science. A great number of sermons and writings from more intelligent Christians are found on this site.

There will be a total Lunar eclipse soon, on March 3rd. the eclipse will, unfortunately, be optimally visible only in Europe, Africa and the eastern part of the North American continent. Totality will arrive at 6:20 PM EST (later if you live in Europe). Here in Winnipeg moonrise will occur at the same time as sunset ie 6:20 PM. Moonset will be at 7:09 AM. This means that totality will occur at 5:20 PM, long before the Moon rises. Some of the effects will still be visible here, and Molly hopes to be out watching, weather permitting. Other people further to the west, in the Mountain and Pacific time zones will see even less of this eclipse than we will here in Winnipeg. The next eclipse, due to occur on August 27th is more promising as its time of totality will coincide with a visible Moon here in the west. People on the eastern seaboard will get the best view of the March 3rd eclipse as it will occur when the Moon is near the horizon. People in Europe and Africa will see the event when the Moon is already well above the horizon.
Here's a couple of lunar factoids for those interested. The first is the answer to the question, "Why does the Moon appear larger when it is near the horizon ?". Actually the Sun does too, and the answer is the same. It's not a "magnifying effect" of the atmosphere but rather the optical illusion, known as the Ponzo Illusion. The brain interprets things perceived on the horizon to be further away than things perceived directly overhead. This means that they "must" be bigger than they actually are. The reality can be tested by using a circular object and moving it back and forth until it totally covers the disc of the Moon. You will find that the distance at which this object eclipses the lunar disc is exactly the same no matter where the Moon is in the sky.
Also, I've found an interesting beginner's guide to the Moon that has links to more advanced material. it's at the Stargazer's Guide to the Moon site. Also, if you want to go beyond baby steps in Moon observations check out Ken Murphy's 'Lunar Library' at the 'Out of the Cradle' site, a site devoted to things astronomical and planetary. The title of the site refers to the Tsiolkovsky quote that, "the Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever".