Tuesday, February 28, 2006

In the Name of Peace and Brotherhood

Whoops, fatwa number three in an odd litany of such rulings all issued in an heroic effort to instill confidence and enhance Iran's status throughout the world, most particularly in the Western world, that theirs is a religion of peace and goodwill to all. Not that we ever doubted, for how could we? We have read, been told time and again that Islam celebrates good will between neighbours, that Islam is a religion of peace.

And let's face it, there have been a goodly number of occurences in this weary world of ours whereby Muslims have aptly demonstrated to an unbelieving world that we have every reason to trust, respect and celebrate the Muslim presence, both throughout the world and within those fortunate countries of the world, secular-democracies in particular, which have welcomed Muslims as citizens and clasped their new citizens to their collective, trusting bosoms.

Under Mahmoud Alimadinejad influential clerics have now brought into question the legitimacy of Iran's traditional stand that Shariah law forbids the use of nuclear weapons. One can easily understand the rationality of the traditional stand, for in a theocracy, obedient to the voice of God who espouses peace and good will toward neighbours the use of an atom bomb might conceivably give pause for second thought. But who are we to judge? The potential recipients of such an unsought gift perhaps, but not the ones who write the rules for Muslims, right?

Consequently, these highly respected spiritual leaders have issued a holy order approving the use of atomic weapons against Iran's enemies. Enemies? How to define? Any individuals, groups, counter-religions, countries who fail to completely offer obeisance to the holiness of The Prophet, Allah, its devout adherents? That's a whopping parcel of humanity, to be sure. Why hold these eminent beings and non-beings up to question, never mind derision? Good question, something to do with hypocrisy, perhaps? Unfair too, but then who ever claimed life is fair.

Fairness is something an embattled population has seen little of throughout the course of its short national history, alas. Funny thing, that; they're still able to find humour in the most unlikely of scenarios, and have never claimed ownership of the world's only religion, nor threatened to thrust humanity in atomic smithereens wholesale into the endless atmosphere. Wait a minute, this isn't about Israel is it? we're talking Iran, back on topic, please.

This isn't entirely tangential as consider this: in the Koran is it written that whosoever takes away one centimeter of land which rightfully belongs to Islam they will bring the dreadful wrath of Allah upon themselves. So there's little Israel, a miserable transgressor, and there's the United States, transgressing like crazy in Iraq, Afghanistan (in their mad delusion imagining themselves to be liberators, bringers of justice and future peaceful prosperity) and there's also all those other European countries, along with the many and varied democracies all of whom bleed Islamic countries for their precious, life-enhancing oil. Dirty brutes all. Don't ask about your futures.

Well, I suppose, nuclear weaponry was kind of around the corner, if you think about it. This is, after all the theocracy that idolizes all those scary Ayatollahs, one of whom justified, in the name of Allah, the use of suicide bombers against "enemies of Islam". Come to think of it, that may just explain why these paranoid Islamists have been so busy blowing one another up, Sunni and Shia, along with their sacred mosques: because they somehow recognize one another as being "enemies of Islam". Makes a kind of convoluted manaical sense doesn't it?

Okay, that was that, now there's fatwa-the-most-recent. The latest news blast out of Iran has senior clerics giving the thumbs-up to attacks on foreign embassies in the country. Recompense, if you will, for these countries' implications in the publishing of those pathetic white elephants, the infamous cartoons.

Sorry, sorry, sorry. Didn't mean to upset you. We'd like to be friends? Can we talk?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Al-Qaeda, The Corporation

Who knew?

After all, the uninitiated, the ignorant, the non-believers, that vast audience of Westerners, mouth agape at the very prospect of an organization fully committed to the total destruction of the infidels of the world (kill, kill!); the United States and its suspected satellites (maim, kill!), the House of Saud (them too!); the State of Israel and all of its Jewish citizens (annihilate, and if that doesn't work, kill!) has structure, a world view, a sense of the order of things: they qualify! This is the ultimate corporate mindset, after all. Complete allegiance to the job at hand. Al-Queda = "carrying out Jihad". Well, of course!

Potential recruits must be of sound mind (well, exceptions of expedience), sound body (able to leap tall buildings...oh well, passenger-filled hi-jacked jetliners will do in a pinch), and be fully committed to al-Queda's objectives. Which are? Glad you asked. How about "supporting God's religion, establishment of Islamic rule, and restoration of the Islamic Caliphate, God willing". Yes, well. That requires translation, please. Oh, taking over the world, you say? Gee, I thought all you guys had already established that's what the Jews are all about, no? Oh, I see, I get it, you're planning to beat them at it. God willing, yes.

But, what if he isn't? You know, God. What if he is feeling particularly aggrieved, and fed up and sick and tired and he goddam isn't going to take it any more? Why do I ask? Why, because that's the impression he left me with, when last we spoke. Direct line? No, not exactly, but from time to time, he contacts me, just to touch base. You know, he's interested even in little sparrows and somehow, at some time he took an interest in me.

So I ask, what do you plan to do if he gets really, like I mean really peeved with you al-Qaeda guys? Hey, he's the boss! He watched with some modicum of interest when you began recruiting the mujahed brothers and inspired them to obedience, secrecy, avoidance of other groups; encouraged them to be healthy (and multiply), demonstrate religious integrity and morality, and sealing all of this off by reciting the pledge to al-Qaeda. He was impressed. But he recognized how derivative all this was. After all, he's the original, and you sneaky guys have kind of co-opted his imperatives now, haven't you?

He's told me to tell you that you're close to closing operations. Oh, he knows you're not willing to close shop; he's telling you he's putting you out of commission. He's already begun to whisper in all those recruits' ears that they're underpaid and unappreciated. And he's getting sick and tired of providing all those virgins for all those human wrecking balls. He's seen that you've brought on board a raftload of dim bulbs, but he hasn't signed on to the enterprise and he plans on holding back on the virgins.

Can the Corporation's employment contract and the personnel policies. Those 'emirs' all the fanatics with the command council, the military committee, the personal guards, they're on the way out. Did they attend university for this drek? God wants them to go get a job, a decent occupation. He wants them to look after their families, to re-think their intra- and external human relations. He is not pleased. He asked them, did they think they have a monopoly on him? He has other kids to look after too, and he's tired of all the bullying, and he's not going to take it any more.

This Base construct, this al-Qaeda Corporation has to go. God's about to send them into outer space. Won't be missed.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Our Very Own Earthquake

Well, why shouldn't the National Capital Region enjoy the very same astounding geographical features and the world-shattering events that erupt from them as other countries do? We're an advanced civilization, we have great natural reserves, we have an educated population, and we're quite proud of ourselves. So, if Indonesia, Iran, Afghanistan and other world-class countries enjoy earthquakes, why shouldn't we have our very own? So there. We do.

We to0 have tectonic plates that appear to like grinding their edges against one another, just to remind us that they're there, and we'd better respect them. We do, we do. It's just that, well, we kind of had the impression that our singular such events were like baby brothers to those which tend to remind puny humans around the world. We've seen havoc erupted here and there over the years, but who even dreamed that we were capable of panic in the streets right here in little old Eastern Ontario?

I should have known. After all, we'd experienced earthquake shocks often enough while living in Tokyo and while it didn't seem such a big deal when we were there, more of an astonishing but anticipated occurrence when you least expected it, we just didn't recognize it instantly wgeb our world rocked here. Last night, that's when. Yes, we've had previous such occurrences but they weren't so...what should I say? in-your-face? These were relatively gentle affairs when a slight tremor might have been experienced when we were snug abed, and wondered what the hell it was: we knew it wasn't our earth-shattering lovemaking of the moment. And indeed, the following day's newspapers told us otherwise. A slight tremor.

But last night!? Well, that was something else. THE WHOLE BLOODY HOUSE SHOOK! Sorry for yelling like that, but it was that kind of event. Shocking to one's sense of the expected, you know? I mean, I was sitting up here, clacking away on my keyboard and all of a sudden THE HOUSE SHOOK AROUND ME. Sorry. Did it again. Don't mean to shout. But really, this is a shouting-type experience. In the sense that it felt as though the whole house was about to collapse, and there we were, on the second floor.

Irving emerged from the library down the hall shouting something in panic and I in his wake followed, the two dogs in mine, barking frantically, clattered our way downstairs to the foyer. There was this loud, awful rumbling, and we peered outside to the front willing ourselves to see a great honker of a mechanical device, a big truck maybe? making all that noise, having accidently bumped into our house, you know? Only: nothing there, just snow gently falling into a black, frigid, windy night. And the house still shaking, that damn rumbling continuing, on and on and bloody well on. Was it ever going to stop? Should we all trundle ourselves down into the basement and seek shelter under the stairs or something? Forgotten, everything we've ever read about What To Do In The Event Of An Earthquake.

The thing was, only last week when we were preparing to go up to bed, around eleven, there was a huge CRACK! (sorry, I seem to be all of a sudden devoted to shouting) that seemed to come from the roof on just such another frigid, wind-swept dark night and with it, we felt the floor shake under us. Our neighbours also heard that very definite, incredibly loud report, but they hadn't noticed their floors trembling as we did. The rafters expanding in the cold, we knew, but what the hell, that was some expansion, huh? So what gives? Deja vu? Again? As in all over again? No, but it does go some way to explaining why old earthquake-hands like us didn't immediatly think: earthquake!

Irving dashed down to the basement just to make certain that the furnace hadn't given up the ghost by blasting inself into oblivion. Nope, looked fine. Ditto the hot water heater. I grabbed the telephone, damn! forgot I'd been on line, dashed back upstairs and (illegally!) shut down the computer, called one of our neighbours who had been calling out at the time to her sister-in-law and, without even a ring, asked into her receiver "Madeleine?". No, Susan I said, it's Rita. Um, anything amiss? The house, she said breathlessly, the house shook! Yes, I said, calmly, it was an earthquake, Susan. Calm and collected I was then. After all, I'm older, I've had experience, I should know, right?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Muslim Outrage

All-too visible instances of Muslim outrage continue throughout the world. One might have thought the protests might have, by now, begun to fizzle out. After all, how much ferocious energy and obvious hate can be expended by the frenzy of believers of the true faith mobilized to illustrate to the West what a hornet's nest of vitriole and bile awaits each confrontation, before a kind of entropy sets in? But no, on it goes, and the waste of human life and property, along with the dwindling good will of the West in the aftermath of each of these instances of mass violence fomented strictly for political purposes continues to rise. Aptly illustrating the human capacity for baseness in the extreme.

And all this energy erupting like disturbed neutrons for the sake of protesting the publication of a handful of truly innocuous cartoons. Are people stupidly malleable, inanely suggestible, combustibly irresponsible? Obviously, quite so.

Where is the protest at the loss of human life for the sake of such trifles? Is introspection, even a cursory attempt at engaging the brain to examine the whys and wherefores of this ludicrous situation so beyond the capacity of these devout religionists such an impossibility?

Reading of a young French Jew kidnapped, murdered and tortured by a crew of anti-Semitic Muslims ostensibly for the purpose of "getting back" at Jews in general for their purported plots at destabilizing Islam in the world is rather mind boggling in its insanity of apprehension, purpose and execution. Ilan Halimi, 23 years of age, became the deadly target of a group of Muslims who taunted his family first with ransom demands, then anti-Semitic jibes and Koranic extracts while they spent days torturing the young man before dumping him in a public place, in a condition beyond life. This group of Iraqi-insurgent-type copycats sought vengeance on their selected symbol, to avenge the excesses of Abu Ghraib prison. What a noble act, in honour of Allah. Why are Muslims not outraged on behalf of their revered Messenger of God?

One of the holiest symbols in the Shia Muslim pantheon of mosques has been bombed, its beautiful, ancient and unique architecture irremediably destroyed, a horrible affront to ardent believers, setting off a counterpart destruction by Shiite Muslims of Sunni mosques. Is there no end to this insanity? The Shiites distrust and detest the Sunni Muslims, and why is this, since both worship the same all-merciful god, the same sublime Prophet. This is the way they practise their faith which demands of them obeisance to Allah and kindness toward one another?

And they decry the West's lack of respect for Islam?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Moderate Muslim Voice

It's like an article of faith. We know they're out there, we just don't know where. We know they're speaking, protesting, attempting to talk rational sense into the hotheads, the unthinking mobs. They're there, pointing out how futile, how self-destructive these incendiary protests against a relative trifle are. How they're marring irreparably, their own image, and that of their god. Is anyone listening? Seems those that are, are also pulling the strings of all those puppets of Islam, and they're also marginalizing, targetting, abusing and ultimately silencing those outspoken few.

But why so few? Because those many who feel as they do are not quite so brave. Not for them the fear realized in imprisonment, and sometimes worse. So the great silent majority lives in a thinner aura of fear, and a sense of self-abasement, a moral failure. But then there are also bright lights who simply do not care; they understand the absurdity of this world play in manipulation and want no part of it.

In Ramallah, of all places, Khaled Mahameed, founder and curator of the Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education, a very elevated nomenclature for what is in reality a tiny single-room structure. It is lined with photographic records of the Holocaust. Mr. Mahameed has borne the curses of fellow Muslims and is viewed as a collaborator. But look, there are Muslims from nearby towns and villages who venture out to look and to educate themselves, to understand for the first time that this was a horrific, singular event in world history. These enlightened thinkers also want their children to see and to understand. They are few, but this is a start, this is a hope for the future of mutual understanding. This is how people will recognize one another as fellow humans, as worthy of their interest and compassion, on either side. It is how, eventually, the Israelis and the Palestinians and by extension the larger Arab world; the world of the Muslims and Jews will come together in tolerance. It can happen, it should happen; we can only wish that it will.

Look here, there are Arab journalists in Jordan, Yemen and in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world who risk condemnation and imprisonment, and certainly a loss of journalistic credibility and livelihood in the world they inhabit, for the sake of truth and justice. They point out that it is the proudly televised image of the jihadist beheading a Westerner, that of the suicide bomber welcoming death in the name of the Prophet which damages Islam in the eyes of the world, not the publishing of cartoons meant to lampoon self-righteousness and hypocrisy in the name of Allah. Eleven journalists in five Muslim countries are currently facing prosecution for printing some of the infamous cartoons in their attempts to talk reason, to make people think instead of react.

An Egyptian judge and author of books on political Islam, Said al-Ashmawy explains that for liberal-minded Muslims to point out the endemic failings of the political system, and the emerging popularity of religious fanaticism is to court personal danger. There is no one, he says, to protect the outspoken, and for that matter, no one willing to publish them either.

Militant Islam, and uneasy Middle East rulers make a potent combination for unrest, each doing their best to rally the faithful to their call. Since the reigning royalty, the quasi-democracies, and the theocracies have consistently failed their people, it seems the fanatics are gaining the upper hand, and woe to the world.

Hope lies in the fact that human beings can absorb just so much intimidation, deprivation and misery and then they begin to turn, to look elsewhere for relief. In that process, we can hope that the large and mostly silent majority will ultimately make some decisions that will impell them toward a solution that will include sensitivity toward the world at large, in a successful search for their own well being in joining the 21st century.


It's a puzzle that it seems to be so difficult for feminists to understand that boys and girls, men and women are wired differently. Because the physical evidence is so obvious there is agreement that we are physically different, but gender differentiation in general seems to be a hard and bitter pill for feminists to believe in. It is in the very nature of the genders to be different; nature has programmed us so, and for obvious reasons. It is definitely not a question of nurture, as has been so often targeted as the reason for behaviourial differences.

We are constructed differently. Science can prove it, but any observant mother can claim to know it to be true. Anyone who is unblinkered by a feminist agenda can look at the record and understand the whys and wherefores of the differences. And celebrate them. And wonder at the complementarity of the differences. Of course there is also the baffling element of the differences, as when men and women attempt to understand one another, automatically ascribing one to the other behaviour characteristics completely foreign by reason of gender. Then give one another a failing grade.

Differences do not rule out egalitarianism in society and culture. We each fill our respective niches because we are fulfilling nature's design. Also, the differences are generalized between the genders, but there are always exceptions to any generalization, so we'll have instances where some men share some female characteristics and vice versa. Science can prove that men and women typically have brains characteristic of their gender; they're different from one another. In between the differences there are the similarities which make up individualism.

So males are biologically determined to systemize and analyze, while females are biologically predisposed to communication, to be caring, to empathize. We use different sides of our brains; different places in our brains are more developed, one from the other - generally. There are limiting conditions in social development which favour one gender over the other, such as autism being far more prevalent among males.

We cannot accomplish pure gender parity at various tasks because we are programmed differently by nature. Women listen better, convey spoken information better, emote and "understand" in a far superior manner than men. Men excel in the hard sciences more naturally than women do, on average. Lack of empathy and a predisposition to aggression is far more common among men than women, although women can be just as nasty as men when it suits them.

We're different, and we're inextricably drawn toward one another. We bond, we love, we enjoy each other. We argue, we blame, we abuse one another. These too are human traits we share universally.

But heaven help the unwary social scientist who expresses these views too publicly. Female academics and feminists blast the horn of male chauvinism for all to hear, and a worthwhile administrator like Lawrence Summers of Harvard University finally resigns for being uncautious enough to point out the obvious.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Muslim Protests - in Canada

So Canadian Imams and Muslim groups have encouraged their followers to go out and protest. Silly, silly. Protest what? A deadly insult to their prophet, their messenger of god. All right, already. We get it. We got it awhile ago. We're sick of it. Also kind of tired of being pushed around. You want respect, give respect.

I haven't seen too much respect from Muslims, truth to tell, going out to others not of their faith. Although I do know it exists, from the quiet ones, those in the background, intimidated by all the noisy ones who proclaim their great love for Allah and Muhammad, and have no problem expressing their disgust with the Western way of life, while taking unto themselves all of the benefits deriving from residence within the great West. They've seen what life offers to those who live in Muslim societies and have decided it's somehow not for them. They seek opportunities elsewhere, where they are offered freely.

They're also free to dissent, free to discuss, free to criticize. But not free to demand that others among whom they live who do not share their beliefs, their cultural imperatives and their religious piety, fully recognize and do obeisance to those same beliefs, etcetera. It just isn't on. That's the whole point, fellas, about living in Canada. We tolerate one another's differences, we don't seek to foist our beliefs upon others. Harmony, co-operation, that's the ticket.

So when the Imams and Muslim spokespeople begin to publicly congratulate themselves and their adherents for displaying restraint in the manner of their public protests, I'm somewhat taken aback. These are supposed to be Canadians, what are they protesting for, what are they protesting about, and were we really afraid that things might just get out of hand, and the protesters might begin smashing up storefronts, burning flags, hurling rocks at disinterested passersby?

Are Canadians supposed to congratulate Muslim protesters at the damage they have caused to Denmark? Or will they recognize that we abhore this truly unbelievable response resulting in the deaths of both innocent victims and protesters themselves in Muslim countries? To view the crazed behaviour, the fanatic demeanour demonstrated by hordes of implacably insulted Muslims in their rampages is to view a society envisaged by Hieronymous Bosch in his illustrations of humanity inhabiting hell. Muslims have themselves to thank for the spectacle which now persuades rational people that they are an ungovernable, frantic and murderous rabble.

Fellow Canadians, be you Muslim or otherwise, accept Canadian values and the Canadian way of life, our priorities, our acceptance of others, or you really do not belong here; the proverbial square peg in a round hole. It's quite possible that most Muslims have much to give to this country and this country will be the better for it, but quite possibly that would exclude those whose rage is so great against so slight an excuse they will never achieve Canadianness and we have no need of them here.

Religion, Dangerous?

I always kind of thought that religions were dangerous in the sense that they lulled people who believed against all logic, into a kind of mental deep-freeze. You know, kind of like sticking your brain away somewhere nice and safe, where it won't have to work too hard, and you don't have to think about things, knowing that someone up there is looking after everything. Total faith. Incredible waste of human resourcefulness.

Now along comes this Dr. M.A. Persinger, professor of behavioural neuroscience at Laurentian University in Sudbury quoting from a questionnaire in Robert Buckman's book "Can We Be Good Without God?". Said questionnaire found that 7% of Canadian university students (hot damn! Canadian university students no less, there goes another cherished ideal of education being the cure for stupidity) say they would kill in God's name, if God told them to do so. Puzzling that, in so many ways, for how might these educated kids figure God will communicate to them personally his desire that they GO OUT AND KILL IN MY NAME!, anyway?

But wait: the number approached 20% if the person responding to the questionnaire was um, male, attended a religious setting frequently and showed enhanced activity in the areas of the brain coupled with beliefs. Beliefs? Well, how diplomatic. Let's have it in plain Yinglish, pleeze. Males, presumably adult males since they're attending an institute of higher education (how high? sky-high; isn't that where the supreme being exists?) are extremely susceptible, suggestible, and willing to kill? (ya gotta be kidding) if a) they frequently attend a church, a mosque, synagogue or other (shudder) shelter of god which in and of itself leads to a (swelling of the brain because of religious belief) b) willingness to suspend moral imperatives in favour of a godly one compelling one to commit murder. Yeah, sure.

On second thought, it kind of makes sense. I'd like to think that humans of the female persuasion are more sensitive and sensible, that they generally dislike the sight of gratuitous blood and shun options to create dead bodies. After all, who has to do all the cleaning-up afterward in this male dominated world, anyway? Women, that's who: it falls upon them to bear the generations to come, to assume unto themselves the tedious duty of caring for those ready to depart. Hatch and despatch, and general clean-up.

So, if reasonable, easy-going, and presumably intelligent Canadian males are that ready to commit themselves to snuffing out a life on the presumed requirement of their god, that goes a bit of a way to explaining, proportion- and population-wise the obviously greater numbers of religious nutters whose dark and nasty visages intent on mayhem and worse we've been treated to via the media of late, threatening vengeance (and worse) on those hapless Danes, and the rest of us who don't seem to be able to offer our heartfelt respect in the matter of cartoons depicting Muhammad. For heaven's sake!

Oh look, things can't be quite that universal. Sure there are religious berserkers all over the place, representing every religion imaginable, I guess. (Buddhist excepted?) But what's with all these cheerily irrepressible Muslims? Why so quick to take umbrage OVER A BLOODY CARTOON!!!? Looks like there's a credibility gap in there. Maybe a sensitivity gap too. A vast cerebral gap?

I don't feel like embracing the concept of Allah and his blessed messenger, why should I? I have no interest whatever in the cartoons of note, the original dirty dozen and the additional much dirtier Islamist-derived others, but damned if I think they are really the cause of all this outrage. Can't all these poor brain-starved Muslim believers understand how they're being manipulated? Don't they have anything better to do with their valuable time? How many have made even a tiny effort to look at themselves for a really good laugh? Well, forget that one.

Collectively, it might help if they reached up, hauled those brains down off the disused shelf, and got to thinking. Islam is their universe, it's not universally central to the lives of most people on earth. Get over it.

Guess not.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ain't that Putin Something?

Once a KGB agent, always on the lookout for ways and means. Vladimir Putin is some guy. He's certainly no Gorbachov. Gorbachov brought a new dawn to the Soviet Union, did he not? United no more, that tight cordon wrapped so selflessly around Russia's neighbours which made of a large country a giant self-sustaining United Soviet Socialist Republic, a kind of octopus that controlled all it surveyed and then a little. Did I ever in my lifetime expect to see the fall of the Berlin Wall? Never, you bet. I winced when I first heard Ronald Reagan intone "the evil empire"; talk about Hollywood-speak. Still, he is now credited with helping to bring about the fall of an empire. Wave that good old Hollywood wand and presto! it happens.

Not to everyone's satisfaction, obviously. Oh yes, those Russian nouveau-riche, the oligarchs, even that emerging and eventually mollified Russian middle class. Once the drunken clown departed after giving his blessing to Putin, something sinister began to happen. State-owned enterprises given away to lusty new entrepreneurs as worthless began to render untold riches for those enterprising visionaries. All of a sudden those giveaways looked really good, so Putin, no shrinking violet he, decided to yank them back under state control. And imprison the entrepreneurs who so handily milked them, so much for unfettered greed on either side.

And it doesn't sit well with covert types with power to spare to have former satellites think they can make the coveted break, just like that. Elections, so what? Democratic reform, so what? The hardest nut to swallow though, was that big one, the acknowledgement that the USSR was no more, leaving in its wake only one super-duper power. Life just ain't fair.

Russia also knows all about what it's like to be mired in an invasion they felt compelled to initiate then didn't know how to extricate themselves from. They coulda told the U.S. not to embark on that mission, now they're stuck in Afghanistan, never mind Iraq. Chechnya was always a thorn in Russia's belly, look at the 19th century Russian writers and their observations about vicious war-mongering Chechens. Oh yes, Russia knows what it's like to harbour vipers close to its chest.

Do you suppose it will reflect well on Russia, and most particularly its fearless leader, should their overtures to Hamas bear fruit? Well, they will bear fruit, since these new ties will assist Hamas to bear arms of Russian manufacture. Oh, it's not just a straight business-for-profit deal, after all, don't think of it that way. No, it isn't true that Israel has been supplying the Chechens with not-for-profit military hardware, and Israel hasn't been training Chechen guerillas; they don't need the help.

Oh right, the idea is a kind ear to listen to Hamas's complaints about Israel. Israel doesn't belong on Arab land. It wasn't a deal they made, it was a European venture, a guilt-deal, a United Nations inspiration in memory of the millions no one made an effort to save. Hell, we know the Arabs didn't murder all those Jews. Too bad, so sad, historical precedence and all that. Live and let live? Compromise? Assist one another commercially? Just a teeny, tiny bit? General Baluyevsky will offer you arms if you desist... Say it, just say it, it will only stick in your craw the first time, and then you'll get used to it.

Say after me: Israel has a right to exist. Go ahead, say it. No, not moved to Central America, that's not what we said. Now, come on, pretty-please; remember all those shiny new rifles and mortar launchers, eh? Let's hear it: We'll accept Israel's right to...get back to the original borders, and WE WANT JERUSALEM. And what's so wrong with living under Arab rule? the Jews can stay, we'll treat them nice-nice, but they've got to give up that land, and the Palestinians have to return.

Okay, all right, that's a private conversation. Let's have one for publication, so repeat after me...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Blind Faith versus Rational Debate?

Well, how do you do it? How does one logically accomplish any kind of meaningful discourse, debate, exchange of opinion and ideas without logic meeting logic? Can one make snowballs from the ether? Rational debate by its very nature excludes passion, emotion, subjectivity. Reason is by its very nature cold and objective. How else to make meaning of reality? How do you make reality understood but by examination, explanation, and agreement.

Faith depends upon the elasticity of the mind of the adherent, its simplicity. Faith demands acceptance, with no explanations, no reason, no proof of existence, no prevarications. You believe or you do not believe, as simple as that. One's intelligence is set aside. There is no room for doubt, there can only be a wide embrace of the unprovable. For the sake of, and in the name of one's belief, sacred scripts conceived by and set forth by people who claimed to have the eye of god, consequently hailed as the messenger of god, were accepted as the holy word of god. There can be no dispute as to their authenticity, their genuine and sacred origins and originality.

Rationality demands proof of existence or reproducibility, of amenity to informed discourse. There is no faith involved other than the belief that for something to exist one must be able to see it, touch it, explain its existence in reasonable terms readily understood and entirely amenable to proof. While there are many people comfortable with the thought and practise of faith as a private element of their being, while still practising rational thought in their everyday existence they exist, for the most part, in the world of the West, where a strict separation of church and state exists for the betterment of practical governance, resulting in a social construct that aims to be objective and just to all of its citizens.

In many parts of the world, those recognized for the most part, as non-democratic in nature, religion informs, instucts and demands its place in the hierarchy of every human endeavour, including governance of state. The most basic tenets of some religions govern the laws and the structure of the state, as well as the daily lives of its adherents, but in a more background manner, whereas in countries where Islam is revered and practised (with rare exceptions and degrees) its precepts inform and command recognition at every level of government and the law, compelling its adherents to embrace their faith in all its demanding manifestations before love of family, tribe, country. In these countries any minority groups which exist among the majority Muslims do so on sufferance and generally without the full protection that the majority enjoys.

Those countries usually referred to as the West have (fairly latterly) been open and welcoming to those who practise Islam, (it hasn't entirely been a bed of roses for many such immigrants, facing ample discrimination in their host countries, making it, in effect, difficult for them to fully integrate even if they were so inclined) while Islamic countries permit the incursion into their realms of those outside their religion begrudgingly and with suspicion. Now we begin to see western countries hesitate in their welcome as they realize that their western values are rejected by Muslim immigrants and integration with the agreement of a common goal for the entire society is not being achieved as anticipated. Experience has demonstrated that the more accepting and welcoming the host country the greater the demands of the immigrants in many instances.

That old saying "East is east and West is west and never the twain shall meet" was always thought of to be terribly quaint. But the fact is human beings are not becoming more intelligent, more tolerant, more humane, more amenable to living together in peace and solidarity of purpose. We always were basically suspicious of one another and tended to treat outsiders as being unlike and inferior to those with whom we share a common background.

The sad thing about all of this is that it is entirely too easy to generalize. And while much of the above is certainly true, there are obvious deviations from the general. There are thousands upon thousands of immigrant Muslims who have lived peacefully among their neighbours and who fully accept their differences, making of the differences not an issue, but an interesting sidebar to their own traditions. These are the countless people who conform to the prevailing social structure and mores, while retaining their important personal ties to Islam. They are also, it would appear, the great silent majority abroad, most of whom reject the image and the purpose of militant Islamists, but who find themselves at an impossible crossroad; the misunderstandings among cultures, the tendency to paint with a broad stroke.

The West sees itself as being progressive and takes pride in its ability to rise above the xenophobia traditionally experienced when foreigners entered its soil. As the West existed the 20th century on entry to the 21st there was a greater appreciation of diversity, and a belief that human nature would adapt itself given the opportunity to living together in harmony. But a people held back by a stern religion and a series of theocratic states or dictatorships failed to evolve past the Medieval era, and the strength of their belief in their god was the only thing that offered succour in the unfair, insensitive and poverty-ridden world they continued to inhabit, where the rulers continued to live in plenty and their populations continued to live a marginal existence. Control of these people could be achieved by the age-old deploy of blaming outsiders, interfering blasphemous infidels for their plight and to enjoin them to accept their lot in life in the name of Allah.

Reason with mobs who declare their pious allegiance to an unseen being who has complete control over their lives? Who have not been able to look beyond their narrow lives and to sharpen their intellects to attempt to understand another way of life? Who exhibit no curiosity, no human understanding and compassion for others? Who take such violent affront to a perceived slight that they demand revenge which can only be satisfied by the death of the offender? This is the raw embodiment of the worst impulses in human nature. How to deal with it?

How far do we go in appeasement of a perceived insult? All this righteous rage aimed at the West in the wake of the casual dissemination of a series of silly cartoons? Clearly, attempts at explanations, at pointing out the proclivity of the West to make light of many symbols or religions, widely accepted as a type of critique, a device to make people think through to a universally logical conclusion has been deemed unacceptable. That such a practise is not meant to degrade one's belief, but to ensure that one can weigh the elements of a situation and reach a reasonable conclusion is insufficient it seems. Apologies, explanations, have been savagely declined, and in their stead, demands for revenge compound the contretemps. When do we determine that the sacrifice to one own's values goes beyond acceptance? How to compare one's intended-or-not slight of another's sacred beliefs to their concomitant demand for attonement in blood?

It seems strange that an overweening belief in a divine spirit whose attributes embody all that might make humans better beings, such as tolerance, compassion, understand, love, seems to make its adherents, in a display of their mob spleen, display instead a lunatic bloodthirsty rage.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Old War Horses and Blighted Designs

What is it with these conservative-type Conservatives? Republicans and Conservatives alike. George W. brought his father's old stalwart Dick Cheney into the elevated circle after his election, and now what does Harper do, but avidly consult with Brian Mulroney (father figure?) and bring aboard Marjory LeBreton and Derek Burney; one to guide him through the election process, the other to parlay his victory into an ascension formula. Now he's reached out yet again and brought in Michael Wilson, another Mulroney-era operator.

Michael Wilson, the Finance Minister whose monetary policies led to high interest rates and high unemployment in the 1990s. Michael Wilson who brought in the Goods and Services Tax. Which the new government has pledged to reduce by 2% during its mandate. Well, Michael Wilson is reputed to still have important personal links with what are considered to be important elements in the Bush white house; he counts as personal friends senior advisors to George W. Bush.

How nice for Canada. God bless. We can now move into lock-step with U.S. foreign policy, U.S. domestic policy, U.S. monetary policy, and what else? oh, U.S.-style medicare. Stephen Harper said he is interested in renewing the possibility of Canadian participation in the Pentagon's ballistic missile defence programme. Mr. Wilson, as Canada's new ambassador to the United States can guide us into that noble undertaking, among others.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is bold, decisive, audacious, our new leader. He and his Alliance-Conservative party garnered some 38% of the Canadian vote during the last election. He sits in the House of Commons with a minority government. Mr. Harper campaigned on a platform of honesty, transparency in governance, eager and determined to correct the so-called democratic deficit.

He has thus far gone to great lengths to prove to the Canadian people how very earnest he is in gifting us with his initial demonstrations of probity. We have a turncoat Liberal distinctly lacking a moral compass, an unelected Minister of State who was troughed into the Senate, and the dredging up of provincially-failed Conservative hardliners to effect the inevitable changes toward which Canada will be dragged. To make us a better country. God bless Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is busy proving to us how bold and decisive he is, initiating moves which most Canadians have previously indicated they have no interest in participating in. Remember that 38%? Well the flip side of that is a whopping 62% of the population who did not vote for the Alliance-Conservatives, including those poor deluded strategic-voters in Vancouver who brought back David Emerson as a Liberal oops, Conservative.

On whose behalf is this new prime minister acting to change the face of this country? One-third of the population? With a minority government? Isn't one of the first lessons brought to bear in a minority government, that it cannot behave as though it has the total consent of the population? Lest they be thrown precipitously out of governance? What on earth is going on here?

Do we really deserve this? Can we throw them out soon enough? Before we sign away all manner of resources necessary to our survival?

God bless Canada.

Escapism? Entertainment? Edification?

We're fascinated with one another. We must be, otherwise how to account for peoples' preoccupation with television programmes, termed "reality" shows like Survivor, American Idol, its Canadian counterpart, and others which appear to qualify such as Oprah, and Dr. Phil. So what is it exactly, or even vaguely, that would explain our penchant to become such avid watchers of these programmes? It seems to me, (as someone who hasn't really watched any of these, other than by sheer accident, but rather has come across many references to them in the various news media) that they must make up for something lacking in our lives that they've become such an integral form of entertainment.

Somewhat like, come to think of it, people, mostly women I would venture to say, who become fascinated with the cult of celebrity (and, increasingly men as well). People who are firmly interested, fascinated and somehow fulfilled by knowing about the dreary little details of film actors' personal lives. Why, why, why? Are their own lives so devoid of interest to them that they must seek out these other avenues to find some meaning in their own lives? What gives?

I suppose it's something like the large readership of escape novels, romance novels, trashy melodramas, where women are swept off their feet, literally, figuratively, by take-charge men. Harlequin romances. Are our own lives so dull, so predictable, so devoid of joy, pleasure, kindness, adventure that we must find satisfaction in letting ourselves pretend however briefly that we're involved in a romantic adventure of a type that will never intrude on our own prosaic lifestyles? Don't we know how to go about living our lives? Will we ever learn if we continue to give credence to these silly alternatives?

I find it stunningly peurile that entertainment pages of our newspapers contain columns whose purpose it is to document the personalities, trials and tribulations, triumphs and ersatz happiness of "real" people who enter various competitions, placing themselves and their aspirations and disappointments on full public view - but for what real purpose? Is this real in the sense of reality? Artificial constructs they certainly are, so why confuse them with reality? People, this is not life! Life is what you make of it. There is such great potential. Why waste is on such irrationally silly garbage?

When viewers tune in to television shows which demonstrate "real" police hard at work tracking down and apprehending low-lifes, the dregs of society, and we view the darker side of slums, why is this in any way instructive, let alone so fascinating that people hate to miss these favourites? Why such fascination with "real" justice in action, watching plaintiffs stand before a judge, contesting civil matters? Who really wants to be confronted time and again with such evidence of human frailty? What do we really learn from this repetitive evidence of peoples' inability to behave in civil, ethical society?

Why such huge audiences for shows that deliberately set out to illustrate to their viewers peoples' inability to cope with their lives, their pedestrian, miserable and ongoing efforts to place their interests above those of other family members, neighbours, society at large? Will viewing these pathetic attempts at self-glorification, self-aggrandizement, self-flagellation help make one a better human being, or are we just so delighted to watch peoples' self-abasement to help us feel somehow superior?

I cannot really quite come to a conclusion on this: whether the human fodder, objects of interest or the voyeurs are the more lacking in judgement, personal dignity and self-respect. Let alone lack of imagination, of personal values. Grow up!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Move Effected

It's done. Saturday was the day of the move. Took the entire day. The movers sent a straight van, the largest there is, apart from a step up to a tractor-trailer. And three men to effect the move. They arrived three-quarters of an hour later than anticipated. And more than made up for the lag in time by their incredible efforts. From our own experience in moving households we feel that it's the smaller, more wiry men who seem to be the strongest, work the hardest. But, of course, that's not always the case. In this particular instance there were two men verging on the large-stout end and one, younger, thin, stooped. They worked well together. We didn't arrive on the scene until noon. It was our daughter's move, after all.

We had stopped to pick up some pine boards to take the place of the box spring that had to be returned because it just would not allow itself to be prodded, pulled or shoved into the main bedroom upstairs upon delivery from the store, the day before. Just temporary; there's a split box spring on order, and when it arrives we'll haul it ourselves on the car-top carrier. We loaded up our car trunk with some items, including two full gas-can carriers the movers couldn't take, a couple of middling-size ceramic elephants, Angelyne's miniature Victorian chair we'd bought when she was a baby (she's too big to sit in it now) and other odds and sods. And, oh yes, Stevie the Sheltie and Zoe the Pomeranian.

We helped Karen load the eight rabbits in their carriers into the back of her Honda SUV, then her other five dogs went into the back seat of the vehicle, the two tiny ones sharing the front with her and Angelyne. Karen had been in a panic that we'd arrived "so late"; she thought the movers would finish loading up the van before we arrived and she'd be stuck there unable to leave until our arrival. That obviously didn't happen, but she was on tenterhooks anyway, and began weeping, frightened and in momentary despair, as she contemplated the daunting task before her.

There were so many boxes crammed with their worldly possessions that despite the fact that she wasn't moving bedroom sets, nor kitchen appliances there wasn't room in the van for her garden furniture, despite that she decided to sacrifice the washer and dryer that she'd intended taking with her. All of the appliances were left for her in the log house she had bought, by the previous owners. She'd bought the washer/dryer set for the house she was now leaving and didn't feel inclined to leave them for him to use, although she had offered to sell them to him. She didn't feel particularly generous nor kindly disposed toward him considering the manner in which he had tried his utmost to completely shaft her, demonstrating his willingness to send her and her child out into the world without a penny, despite the thousands of dollars she'd given him.

We arrived at the new house first, opened up, let poor little Stevie and Zoe in, to their complete bemusement, along with Button and Riley. So all of them were able to put up a racket of whining and pleading to be let out of that strange new place. Soon enough Karen and Angelyne arrived with the rest of the contingent and then things began to get interesting. The neighbours wouldn't mind though, since Karen's new neighbour is the local representative for the Humane Society, and they've got their own menagerie across the street. Their geese were honking up a racket themselves.

Once the moving truck arrived the front door was left open to the elements, frigid air rushing in like an Arctic storm as they hauled items relentlessly from truck to home. Pieces that Irving and I had bought forty years ago and more, for a relative pittance, because back then very few people were interested in buying pine Canadiana. Because we were so poor back then, though, even shelling out a few dollars for these items had been difficult for us. Now, in came the dough box, the two washstands, the rocker, the Nova Scotia pub chairs, the Hoosier, the large flat-panelled armoire, the pine commode with walnut acorn pulls, the six-board chests, the rough benches. They too had finally found their home. Along with the granddaughter clock Irving had made aeons ago, and the huge oak bellows table he'd constructed, and the pine diamond point reproduction armoire her brother had built some twenty years earlier. And the pine kitchen table her father had made for her birthday, ten years ago. This one hundred and fifty year-old house absorbed everything. And everything looked just right. The furniture glowed in there, took their comfortable, comforting place in the interior of that wonderful house that is now their home.

All the while that the movers travelled back and forth with furniture, boxes, Irving was upstairs in the large bedroom where the dogs were also sequestered, safely out of the way, while he put together the bed and bed frame for Karen's new queen-size bed. Angie's would be downstairs in the bedroom off the great room, and hers is a double, and would require the same effort to get it up and usable. In the meantime, the dogs took grudging comfort in the presence of their owner's father, and were kept from getting underfoot at every turn. I accepted small items from the movers at the door to bring them into various places in the house, and Karen hauled as many of the boxes from van to house as she could manage, herself.

The great room, ah the great room. Truly a great room. The squared timbers which horizontally comprise the walls of the house, chinked with cement and whitened with mortar, are truly impressive, warm and protective. The ceiling beams are uniformly 15" in diameter; where to find such trees today? The windows marching along the long wall of the room emit light even on this overcast, cold day, and the views through them, and the tall windows on either side of the cast-iron propane-burning fireplace give out onto a view of richly rolling, tree-encrusted land. Right outside those windows a constant stream of birds flit over to peck at suet, at seeds in abundance.

Everything has been safely stored inside by six in the evening. The dogs are permitted to come downstairs from their temporary bedroom prison. We'd been unable to find Tibby the cat at first, worried she'd slipped out at some point, but she was there, deep in one of the many built-in closets. All of the rabbits' cages had been set up and they appeared none the worse for the ordeal. Angelyne had been opening the large refrigerator steadily throughout these working hours; her energy hadn't been severly depleted. She'd been very helpful in assisting her grandfather, putting her own bed together. On clear days, we tell her, she will be able to look up through the skylight in her bedroom, and see the moon and the stars.

There are a few other things we help out with before finally decamping to drive back to Ottawa; sixty wearying miles to get back to our own home. As we pull away our daughter and granddaughter are framed in the blazing light of those large front windows, waving at us, and we feel that they've finally found their home.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Then There is the Fertility/Childbearing Factor

It's official: modern women who have achieved social parity with men, fully educated, part of the job market, are increasingly rejecting traditional roles of mothering. I'm personally a bit of a dinasaur here in that I believe that women who have children owe to their children their daily presence on an ongoing basis. Which is to say: ladies if you have children be with them, don't farm them out to day care facilities. Children need the near presence of their parents, but I'm not fussy, if the mother is more interested in joining the permanent work force, I'll agree that the father, if so inclined, is capable of fulfilling children's emotional and learning-to-adapt-to-life needs.

Personal perceptions of this type aside, it is interesting to note that fully emancipated women who find satisfaction and fulfillment in the world outside the kitchen and nursery are declining in ever-increasing numbers to have children. And those who do have children have fewer than ever before. Not to mention the fact that women are putting off having even those few offspring until they are a little longer in the tooth, to established a career before feeling comfortable enough to spare the time for childbearing.

There it is, educated women fully comfortable as professionals in the workplace are unwilling to reproduce. Western countries are facing a downright paucity of births and ultimately replacement workers. Populations of western countries' homegrown segments have stabilized and even in some instances declined as the birthrate is not even keeping up with a diminished population of workers due to advancing age and death. At one time western countries thought they could overcome this problem by offering financial incentives to women to encourage childbearing, and this did work for a while, post-war. But raising children is an expensive proposition, on the health and vitality and expectations of women, let alone family incomes and home-grown populations have simply continued to decline.

Not so with the families of immigrants. Which is why they are welcomed as potential sources of workers in various industries, with the expectation that their higher birth rates will bump up population growth to a more acceptable level of replaceability. The wheels of commerce and industry, leading to a healthy national GDP must be constantly oiled, and how other to do that than by a secure supply of workers? Traditionally immigrants' offspring would assimilate nicely into the general population, swell the ranks of the future, and gift the country of their choice with cultural and genetic diversity.

Something happened on the way to the future. Newer immigrants, often offered government help as was never done to this same extent in the past, are not so amenable to integration of the most basic kind; accepting the laws of their new land, tolerating customs and mores unfamiliar and even offensive to their cultural sensitivities. Under the all-encompassing umbrella of a demanding religion these new immigrants reject the past passivity which aided integration, and demand full recognition of their differences, including their own versions of justice and laws.

Moreover, their children are being fully indoctrinated not into the customs and conventions of their adopted, often country of birth, but that of their parents' country of origin. Their religion which comforts and guides them throughout their daily lives also hosts precepts and instructions completely at odds in many instances with those of their adopted country. And while the native populations decline, the newly-introduced immigrant populations (including those of several generations' domicile, increases exponentially.

We now have a situation where once ethnic diversity melded into a compatible whole culture, while now that same ethnic, cultural, religious difference remains defiant to integration into the host culture, resulting in resentment, loss of opportunities, discrimination, and ugly civil backlash. The result?cultural-religious solitudes. And the future spectre of western countries being swallowed whole by a totally alien, populous and determined religious community.

Is this the future?

The Right Honourable Myron Baloney

Oops, did I say that? Tongue-crossed as usual. How does this sound? The Wrongly Dishonourable Brian Mulroney. There! That's what I meant to say. Doesn't strike as very nice? No, guess not. But guess what? Gotta call them as you see them. Right? Right.

The former-former Liberal government under the leadership of Jean Chretien initiated a surprise investigation soon after his inauguration as Prime Minister, into the Airbus Affair. The RCMP was tasked to launch this investigation with a view to determining whether Chretien's predecessor, Brian Mulroney, was guilty of malfeasance during his prime ministership. It was believed by some, clearly not admirers of Mr. Mulroney, that he had received funds in the way of a bribe from one Karlheinz Schreiber, an international arms merchant and dispenser of bribes, who somehow had access to those in the elevated circles of government and commerce in Canada and in his native Germany.

Mr. Mulroney vehemently denied any and all charges and counter-launched a law suit against the government of Canada. In their investigations the RCMP found no concrete evidence which would stand up in a court of law which could find Mr. Mulroney guilty of accepting funds-for-favour, and the government of Canada was forced to stand down. Mr. Mulroney's law suit looked as though he had the government in a vice of its own making, and in the end two million dollars of Canadians' hard-earned taxes went into the Mulroney family coffers in an out-0f-court settlement. In the process somewhat soothing Mr. Mulroney's ruffled feathers as a result of the assault on his good name.

Brian Mulroney, whom Canadians generally loved to loath enjoyed a modicum of rehabilitation in the last few years. Some public sympathy went out to the man as a result of a grave illness he suffered, and news reports of a lengthy hospital stay. He has recovered his health, and has been busy since in the public eye, amid musings about taking his rightful place in Canadian history as an effective prime minister during his tenure. More latterly it has been revealed that our new (Reform) Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, was in constant communication with his (Progressive) Conservative predecessor seeking advice from the seasoned veteran.

Um, what have we here? Revelations? Of a questionable sort, to be sure. It appears that the morality-challenged Karlheinz Schreiber whom Germany is interested in extraditing from Canada to face grand larceny charges was willing to ingratiate himself to the authorities to avoid an invitation he cannot refuse to leave this country. Mr. Schreiber informed the media during a television interview with the Fifth Estate that he had kindly given "payment" to the former prime minister: cash in the amount of three hundred thousand dollars. What for, we say, whatever for?

Innocent enough, declares Mr. Mulroney, it was for consultations. Wot? This known-t0-be-shady individual had the ear of the prime minister and approached him in a consultative capacity with respect to business interests of Mr. Schreiber's concerning pasta machines? Oboy, that's a good one. Wait a minute, is this the same Karlheinz Schreiber of whom Mr. Mulroney testified under oath that he had never met, never known of, never done business with? Oh, it is. Dear, dear.

Yet, it would appear that the funds handed over to Mr. Mulroney mere days after he stepped down as prime minister had a dubious route through various Swiss bank accounts, all of which were funded out of Mr. Schreiber's company named Inernational Aircraft Leasing. Which leads directly to Airbus Industries the very same firm that paid a hefty commission per aircraft sold to Air Canada.

Do we now understand that Mr. Mulroney against whom the government's case was dismissed a decade ago due to lack of evidence and to whom we, through the government of Canada, ponied up $2,000,000 as a penalty for proceeding in haste without due diligence in obtaining proper evidence to convict, and declared finally that conclusions of wrongdoing by the former prime minister were unjustified, was in reality a true miscarriage of justice? The man lied under oath, can we ask please, kindly please, for our money back?

Can we discuss this further?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Clashes of Civilization/s

I used to be of the mind, like many others of my generation and my fellow citizens, although by no means all, that open immigration could only be a good thing. For one's country, for the future of mankind. It would give all of us the opportunity to become exposed to other cultures, and in so doing we would become more open, come to the realization and the understanding that we are basically alike, that we share universal emotions and longings, that we can aspire to be a population of assorted beliefs and experiences with our own cultural influences, but that together we would strengthen society by our willingness to live together in peace, amicably, tolerantly.

It has taken a few short years for such a longstanding belief to turn itself around. Canada, like the United States and Europe, has had a long and honourable tradition of welcoming immigrants. Oops, that rather grandiose statement should be amended for the sake of veracity. Although Canada and the United States were both born of an influx of immigrants, in the 19th century and first half of the 20th, it was a very selective type of immigration policy which had the ascendancy. Visible minorites suffered disgraceful discrimination, and those who were, however reluctantly admitted, suffered greatly as a result.

Let us then now address the current situation, where for the past half-century at least, both countries have administered a far more open, fair and welcoming immigration policy welcoming people from all countries of the world in their mass and individual migrations, whether through refugee programmes, or those of economic migration. We have practised a more inclusive, nuanced, compassionate type of welcome for new immigrants, assisting them to integrate into the new country they have chosen; offering assistance in education, job-seeking, accommodation, family adjustment.

Traditionally, people emigrating from their countries of origin were seeking a better future for themselves, for their families, whether it was to escape discrimination, poverty, military and governmental persecution or simply better overall economic conditions. These people were not met with state-sponsored assistance of the type we see now, but had to make their own way, often with help from self-help groups set up by those former compatriots who had preceded them. They managed to survive the turmoil of relocation and the difficulties which adjusting to a totally new and different environment exposed them to. In the end they prospered, and they enriched the communities they entered and ultimately became part of.

That was then. This is now. And now has become most unpleasant. Formerly emigrants seemed inclined to become residents of a new country with which there was some shared tradition. And in that near distant past immigrants seemed far more willing to accept that to become citizens of their adopted countries they also had to adopt many of the values and certitudes of that new country, while still adhering to the tenets of the culture, the ethnic background, the religion left behind. They became a valued, practising and accepting element within the larger population, grateful for the opportunity to be granted all of the benefits as well becoming cognizant of their obligations of that society.

This appears, more and more, no longer to be the case. Most particularly with the arrival in various countries of the world of large groups of practising religious Muslims. This is a complex issue, complicated by intolerance, growing lack of opportunity, and a religious divide which has become difficult to reconcile. Yet it cannot be denied that when an immigrant leaves his or her country of origin it must be to escape a situation which has become intolerable, whether because of poverty or repression or regional conflict. All the more reason upon arrival in the new country of choice that immigrants learn to accept that their adopted country has its own values laws and mores, which must be accepted by all of its citizens.

New citizens of any country cannot choose to reside there with a view to changing the culture, the values of the new country and replacing them with those which they have brought with them, even if they consider their own culture and ethnic identity to be superior to those which greet them in their new country. If there are elements of the accepted social convention which they find personally injurious to their sense of values because they go against the grain of their religion or the cultural values instilled in them in their country of origin, this is a problem which they personally must come to terms with. They cannot and should not expect the host country to alter its way of life and embrace the alien culture which they bring.

What's really at the heart of things here is that a relatively tight group of non-accepting immigrants have created situations of tense suspicion between themselves and their host countries. At times these situations are not entirely of their making, but the reactions have been of a type and intensity not normally tolerated by any part of a population, bringing critical attention to themselves, and making life far more complicated for that much larger group of immigrants from similar backgrounds who have themselves had far fewer problems in integration.

That growing realization of unsuitability for integration into another country has been the cause of some interesting and realistic changes whereby some countries are now considering exposing would-be immigrants to suitability tests. These are oral or written examinations which weigh whether an immigrant's views are compatible with the values expressed in a host country's constitution. Questions range from evaluations of basic principles like acceptance of democratic values, religious sensitivities, the rights of minorities, female emancipation, acceptance of a system of justice administered by the state, gender equality and general acceptance of the ethical precepts of the country of admission.

Sad, sad to say.

Religious Brethren?

Islam is fractured between major sects, the Shiites and the Sunnis, all part of the same religion, but each disputing the authenticity of the other. Much, one might suppose, like Christianity, where we have the majority factions of Roman Catholic and Protestants. Not to say that both of these religions don't also have other sectors each of which dispute the authenticity of their sublime allegiance to god. Suffice to say that each of these major streams hold the others in a contempt of superiority.

For a secular population which eschews belief in a supreme being, it is difficult to comprehend why these religions which claim their views of divinity are the true ones, whose primacy others, interlopers, have attempted to usurp, cannot find peace with one another. They all worship a deity which commands of them that they be honest, compassionate and god-fearing, to treat their fellow beings as fellows in being, not to hold them in contempt.

We have a situation currently, most notably in Iraq, where dissension between Shiites and Sunnis creates deadly combat, where Mosques belonging to one or the other of the sects will be bombed by the other, its adherents targeted and murdered in the streets of towns, cities and villages where they reside. Is this a religion of tender compassion for one's fellows, or is it one of murderous passions unleashed? Do the adherents of this type of religious practise do justice to their one true faith, or are they not failures both as human beings and as pious followers of Islam?

Northern Ireland is yet another example of fairly recent historical clashes between religious sects, each claiming to believe in god, and dedicated to doing his will. Yet the clashes between intolerant Protestants and Roman Catholics resounded around the world in their ferocity and deadly intent, leaving thousands of people dead in the wake of their religious irascibility and irrationality.

Well, truth to tell, it isn't exclusively religious intolerance and the smouldering and deadly belligerence of righteous believers who cause havoc and mayhem throughout the world. In the past to the present a political territorial imperative has done its share of destruction. Bring the situation a trifle closer to the scene on a passing street and we can see Nazi-admiring youth in a murderous rampage against the helpless homeless. It's human nature at its worst.

But surely religion should have a part to play in teaching tolerance among their followers, rather than thundering from their various pulpits that those who hold values other than those which they recognize as having merit should be slaughtered without mercy. I am certainly among those many who feel that religion, which could certainly have been used as a vehicle for the greater good of mankind has failed as a potentially noble human construction for the betterment of mankind.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

What Was I Thinking?

Emerson, Fortier, they're just Crown Princes of Chutzpah. They answer to one who practices the pinnacle of nerve, their boss, and sigh, ours for the present. Well, not our boss, our servant, right? He serves the country...? I mean after all isn't that what we elect our prime ministers and our members of parliament to do? Serve Canada? I suppose one could say that in serving the country they also service themselves, but that's another story. No, it's part of this story.

The King of Chutzpah, after all, is none other than - wait for it! ta-dum! Yep, you guessed right. Stephen J. Harper! Crown him, quick, before he can get away. Here's a club, do a good job of it. Oh, he'll only agree to being struck by a sceptre. Wielded by the hand of her Royal Majesty? In the process of proclaiming him a Knight of the Realm? Damn! why didn't I think of that?

Back to page 1: Not only did Mr. Harper, oh, pardon - Prime Minister Harper proclaim loudly, with great conviction and for all to hear and savour, that the Senate, that venerable institution which has served so many troughers so well, should be, will be unalterably changed under his brilliant rule, but he has gone to great steps to illustrate just how sincere he is about this. No more appointments, a particularly sleazy thing to do, and well polished by the previous administration. This is part and parcel of the democratic deficit, after all. No, the Senate will be changed to reflect its high calling, and Senators will henceforth be elected.

And dang, those traitorous turncoats who had the unmitigated gall to slither across the floor of the House from the Party of Dedication and Truth to the Party of Unalloyed Sleaze shall henceforth be snubbed, right royally at that. Because the Alliance-Conservatives are righteously angry at such shenanigans and they just aren't going to take it any more.

And as the new prime minister of this great country, Mr. Harper avowed his intention to ensure that the country will stay together and play together and be one huge entity entitled to respect from the rest of the world (ROTW). Quebec is deserving of a greater role within Canada, and assymetrical federation which was severely critiqued under Martin's initiative will continue to roll out handsomely.

So, well within week one of this reign, what do we have? Um, yes, a quickie appointment to the Senate. All the better to serve you, dear Canada, for thus do we bring that great city of Montreal into the flash-point of happening, right? Oh, and day one following the election, what did we do? why canvass a potential turncoat, and welcome him into the party, into the Cabinet (see, Vancouver, you're not forgotten either). All the better to serve you, dear Canada.

Did I forget Mr. O'Connor who served the military-industrial complex so handily? Well, he's welcome too, all the better to serve you, dear Canada. Yep, Mr. Flaherty will also be given free rein to slash spending, aided and abetted by Mr. Clement, both of whom love to pick away at our universal health services (Toronto, welcome!). In love of and service to country, that's you, Canada, you deserve no less.

Oh, while we're at it, here's another doozy: Stephen, dear lad, you've outdone yourself. A unilingual anglophone Albertan for parliamentary secretary for La Francophonie and Official Languages? Oh goodie, Quebec will love that one, they'll fall over themselves in appreciation.
What's next, Mr. Prime Minister? We're waiting with bated breath.

Say, exactly when was it that you developed two left feet? That'll look cute with that crown you've earned.

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