Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Push Israel?

Well yes, push Israel - that is what the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States is telling the U.S. The ambassador points out that the esteem in which the U.S. is held within the Middle East is at an all-time low, and that such an initiative undertaken by the United States would encourage a more favourable view of it within the Arab populations. Much could be solved if the United States agreed to push Israel to relinquish all occupied Arab land - including Jerusalem - to the Palestinians. Land which the Arabs lost in yet another of their pre-emptive wars against the Jewish state.
"We want you to remain friends with Israel," Saudi Ambassador Turki al-Faisal said at a news conference. "But that friendship should be used to push Israel" to give up the land lost in the 19567 Mideast war and provide the Palestinians with a state they have been denied for more than a half-century, the prince said.
"The United States is the only one that can deliver," the ambassador said. "The basic interest of the United States is for peace to reign in our part of the world."
Over to you, United States. Go to it. Give Israel the compelling reason that it should give up the occupied land because Saudi Arabia feels this is the only chance for peace in the Middle East. While you're at it, iterate that you will guarantee that this simple measure will indeed guarantee peace in the Middle East. Including, needless to say, amicable intentions with all of Israel's neighbours toward the Jewish State. With the assurance of complete peace why would Israel not agree to such an initiative?

Well, perhaps because it's been tried time and again. Perhaps because time has proven that each and every time Israel offers to give something up for peace it is seen as a sign of weakness, and her enemies become jubilant with the assertion of victory achieved. Perhaps because those who will not tolerate Israel's presence in an other-wise Muslim world will not agree to change and welcome her presence, finally. Perhaps because, when the Palestinians were given a firm and workable solution to their desire for nationhood, they spurned it.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan, those countries which have reached an accord of sorts with Israel do want peace in the region; peace and stability, just as Israel does. But those three Arab countries despite all their efforts at diplomacy and clarification, and promises and appeals have been singularly unsuccessful in their own overtures to Syria and to Lebanon, to Iran and to Hezbollah, to Hamas and to the Palestinian Authority in convincing them that compromise and conciliation will lead to the region's peace and prosperity.

When Israel pulled out of Lebanon, that heartened and strengthened Hezbollah who declared it a great victory for Islam and for the eventual extinguishing of the Israeli presence. They have never looked back; they hunger for a final victory over the Jewish state. Does experience tell Israel that giving up the territory under question will inevitably lead to peaceful co-existence? Hardly. Hamas will agree to a hudna, a temporary truce - until some future time when the final jihad against Israel will ensue to culminate in a final victory against Israel.

Is that a compelling reason for Israel to be pushed into a greater state of vulnerability? Cannot we do better than that? If the Saudis are so anxious to contain the fanatic jihadists in the Middle East they too have to exert themselves to achieve a more acceptable solution.

WalMart: Pharmacy-Inept

Not content with being the most successful retail conglomeration in terms of financial success and customer loyalty due to low-pricing policies and the eradication of local competitors, WalMart is expanding its supermarket-food enterprises in an ongoing effort to put even more of its competitors, if not out of business then certainly on edge.

And now WalMart is eager to explore another promising market, that of banking and investment financial services. Just why the consuming public is so welcoming to this marketing colossus is a bit of a puzzle; it is in everyone's best interests, retailers and consumers alike to ensure that the choices of retail outlets offering a wide range of products at a wide range of prices remain vital and healthy.

WalMart does not really offer the consuming public the best value, the best prices, the best services in all instances. No one does. WalMart does offer a standard of consumable goods, reliable pricing and tolerable services. But they're not the only ones that do so, and to continue to create such an agreeable marketing atmosphere for one single retail giant can only be inimical to the future of retailing in general and consumers in particular.

Take just one incident which I'm familiar with. Not that I have experienced it myself, for I prefer not to frequent WalMart, and if I enter their premises once throughout the course of a good year I consider that once too often - but accidents do happen. Here's just a little reminder that things can go awry when one automatically turns to a retailer with a reputation that is part-earned, partly urban myth.

My daughter's partner, an OPP officer, hurt himself quite badly a few years ago. He was attempting to escort a very reluctant individual, heavier and larger than he is, into a holding cell. The man had been brought in for drunk and disorderly conduct. He was violently unwilling to enter the cell and the man of whom I write (let's call him Anon) was forced to hold the cell door open with one arm while attempting with the other to push the man into the cell. In the process exerting himself beyond what his body could endure.

Since that time he has lived with great discomfort, in the vain hope that time would help to heal the wounds he suffered. It was not to be; doctors diagnosed his problem and he joined the ranks of those awaiting elective surgery. He kept putting surgery off, reluctant to submit himself to the further agony of a surgical procedure that would not only in the short run cause great pain to correct his body's injury, but would also have the effect of placing his life on hold through a long recovery period.

Finally the appointed day arrived for his surgical procedure. The night before he had to abstain from food and drink and observe other required niceties. He was admitted to hospital several hours pre-operative, then underwent a series of preparatory practises, was wheeled alongside the operating theatre, waited, and was informed there were no beds available, the operation was to be postponed. The operation was re-scheduled for a month hence.

Again the entire scenario was repeated, but this time the operation was enabled to take place as scheduled. He had been informed pre-operation that recovery time in hospital would be relatively lengthy; he would have to prepare himself for a five to seven day hospital stay, longer if needed. Despite which, he hoped he would be able to leave hospital the day following the operation. That too was not to be. He had mentally prepared himself for the pain that would follow post-operation, but his imagination had been deficient; nothing could have prepared him for the severity of the pain he suffered.

His vital signs were good, he was constantly monitored in recovery, but the pain was so unforgiving that for days his shoulder had to be kept in a nerve-frozen state, and even then the device he had to deliver pain increments of morphine had to be clicked continually to enable him to endure the pain. He hated being in hospital despite the pain and hoped for early release, but it would be six days before he could be released.

His partner was finally able to pick him up and he was discharged, given four prescriptions which would have to be filled at a pharmacy before being taken home. Home was a full one hour's drive from hospital. First stop on leaving hospital was a destination as close to home as possible, and they decided to try the WalMart pharmacy in Kanata. The assistant pharmacist behind the counter observed the obvious pain the man standing before her was in, and said she would try to expedite things, but it would nonetheless be at least twenty minutes before the prescriptions could be filled.

They waited. Our daughter approached the counter when twenty minutes had elapsed to question progress, but was informed they would be required to continue waiting. Ten minutes later, she returned to the counter, but again, nothing was ready. Another ten minutes, during which time Anon was wracked with pain. This time she was informed that two of the prescriptions were for products that they could get over the counter.

And then she was told that the most important of the prescriptions could not be filled there, as the pharmacy did not have that particular drug. Her patience, already sorely tried, ran out and she demanded to speak with the pharmacist. When he appeared she remarked on the unprofessional, uncompassionate service they had received. That she would never venture to return to the store for any reason, as a shopper.

They made their unhappily weary way to a pharmacy not far from the WalMart. This pharmacy, like most others resembling big-box operations, sold gift items, food items, greeting cards, toys, bath and beauty products, fast-food snacks, and linens. But at this pharmacy they waited a scant ten minutes before all four prescriptions were duly filled. The pharmacist listened sympathetically to their outraged tale of ineptness at their previous stop and commented that he had heard similar stories from other shoppers.

Shoppers, beware.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Living Together

There has to be some commonality. Aside from the fact that we are all human beings, that we harbour like aspirations, experience similar emotions, seek a comfortable way of life. Our aspirations, emotions and lifestyles are informed by our cultural heritage, our geography, our religion, or ethnicity, or both, the mores and morals acceptable by all the former. So when groups of people emigrate whether by necessity due to war or social duress or a wish to improve future opportunities for their families, they bring with them considerable baggage to their newly-adopted countries.

Language is a temporary barrier. Cultural adaptation another. Recognition of the laws of the new land yet another. Finding one's place in the general society is an obvious necessity, and without the solution found through enterprising adaptation to the first three, finding employment will remain a severe difficulty. Once having solved these problems facing most immigrants, a gradual melding into the host country's way of life, adaptation to its legal system, its cultural, ethical and social mores is necessary to ensure the immigrant becomes a bona fide citizen of the country.

Remaining apart from the mainstream by design, with the intention of remaining true to the original country of birth's history, culture, religion and distinct behavioural mores ensures that there will always be a gulf of misunderstanding, a divide, a distrust and dislike between newcomers and the indigenous population of the country. As much as the country of adoption's citizens wish to extend understanding and a helping hand to the immigrants they will be put off and find fault with deliberate self-ghettoization.

People who live in close proximity, but who don't share a common language cannot communicate effectively and misunderstandings ensue. It should be understood by would-be emigrants to any country that it is incumbent upon them, and expected of them to learn the language of the new country. Many welcoming countries offer free language tuition to immigrants. The laws of the new country should be recognized as having primacy over all citizens; religious laws must be in conformance with a country's legal system for the equal protection of all citizens. If migrants' religious laws or cultural practices come into conflict with existing state laws, it is the state laws that must supercede the others.

Most immigrants from various countries of the world have, in the past, learned to adapt themselves to the countries to which they have been accepted as new citizens. On their own, they have learned the new language of the majority, they have sought employment, they have honoured their cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds, while embracing the vital societal structure to which they have emigrated, and a gradual process of integration has taken place, where the second generation has found itself a sturdy place in the general population.

It has only been of late that the kind of multiculturalism practised by welcoming Western countries to emigrants from Muslim countries have been determined to have gone badly awry. Too lax rules have encouraged immigrants to Western societies to feel empowered to practise their religion in the very same manner in which they did in their countries of origin, where religion and state practise intermeshed. In secular Western countries which embrace a variety of religions and ethnicities the law of the land is meant to protect freedom of religion, of speech, of heterogenous cultural practices which do not come into conflict with the law.

It's fair to say that among Muslim populations in Western countries the greater proportion learn to become comfortable with the societal imperatives and practises of their adopted countries. This, despite the fact that these immigrants often suffer from discriminatory practises not encouraged by the state, but practised by some elements of society and by business interests. Because of this disadvantage, as a result of ignorance and racism resentment occurs and a restiveness among the youth of the introduced immigrant population often results in anti-social behaviour sometimes moving into violence.

It is just that element of the indigenous population which resents the presence of observable immigrants, meeting the equally resentful element of the introduced population that results in violent clashes. Young immigrants disadvantaged in education, social migration, employment are ripe pickings for radical religious groups, resulting in a deadly clash between the values of the original population and that of the introduced population.

A true recipe for disaster. Immigrants need to be made immediately and clearly aware of a welcoming country's expectations before they can be admitted to the country as potential citizens. Should immigrants not be prepared to adapt and respect the country's laws and social structures, they should be deemed inappropriate and refused entry.

As for the belligerants on both sides, racial extremists and religious extremists alike, they should be subject to full prosecution under the law. Neither the immigrants from among whom the religious extremists result, nor the host country's xenophobic extremists should be permitted to destroy the potential for harmony among the two solitudes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Iraq Partitioned

Iraq is a divided country. Only the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was capable, at obviously great cost to the Kurdish agitators and others who chafed under his rule, to maintain a semblance of law and order. It was Saddam who kept the majority Shia population at a disadvantage under the minority Sunni, the sect he represented, all the while ruling the Islamic country as a secular one, embracing and marginally entitling other religions and ethnics within the country; Christians and Jews among them.

The U.S. military and its "coalition of the willing" are discovering belatedly, as have so many others with similar aspirations to conquer and impose their own version of civil democracy or whatever the flavour of rule at the time expressed, that an alien-sourced, orderly, rule-abiding, conventional military observing normal parameters of military activities is no match for the no-holds-barred, passionately furious dedication of an insurgent rag-tag militia determined to take back their own.

Not only have the foreign-based Muslims coming to the aid of their beleaguered Iraqi brethren against the aggression of the infidels wrought havoc in the best-laid, but incomprehensibly-inadequate plans of the Western invaders, but in the process their uncompromising presence in the Islamic country has unleashed a deadly onslaught of sectarian violence where Sunni and Shia citizen-militias hunt down and murder countless of their own under the very noses of the invaders.

It should seem clear to most intelligent observers that there will be no Western-oriented "success" as a result of this ill-timed, ill-prepared, and stubbornly-pursued invasion of a country as alien to the culture, values, history and traditions of the west as can possibly be imagined. The country, once held together by sheer force of cleverly-applied state terror is ready to collapse.

Once Marshall Tito died, the coalition he held together despite aeons-old hostilities of one group against another within the borders of Yugoslavia collapsed, and civil war gave way to separate borders, separate identities. India and an emerging Pakistan agreed in the wake of dreadful bloodshed and religious violence to separate, and Pakistan came into existence. India helped Bangladesh to come into existence through a timely separation from a reluctant Pakistan.

The Soviet Union fell apart under the burden of its own impossible vision of a greater union of member-countries under the iron rule of Communism, held together by a fierce determination to maintain a vast geographical ruling body, determined to keep traditional geographic enemies from each others' throats, while reaping economic benefit and status as one of two world powers for Russia.

None of these upheavals have been accomplished amicably, with neighbourly intent to remain helpful to one another. All of these separations were resisted with the passion of determination to avoid the death-knell of a great but artificially-imposed geographic inclusion to fulfil the grand ambitions of a singularly hubristic leader, or a nation that sought to increase its hegemony.

It's time that the world recognizes the requirement to abandon the geographic boundaries that now describe Iraq. Reconciliation between the various religious and cultural elements that make up the current borders seems impossible. Co-operation between the various elements has been attempted, but has been foiled at every step. The good intentions might have been there to begin with but the passions of ethnicity, sectarianism and old rivalries and conquests cannot be quenched.

In the north of the country the Kurds have fairly well established their longed-for sovereignist Kurdistan (and would love to enlarge it to include a nice bit of Kurd-inhabited Turkey). It behaves as an independent state, with its own elected government, system of laws, army and flag. It is nicely endowed with natural resources that the Sunni-ruled Iraq under Saddam valued for the oil riches it bestowed upon them. In a semi-official, but non-binding vote, the majority has voted for independence.

In the Shia-dominated south of the country governance is separate from that of Baghdad. The population is informed by Shi'ite religious parties which have adopted and enforce Iranian-style Islamic Sharia law. There are well armed militias loyal to their various Shia parties, ready to enforce any edicts propounded by their Ayatollas. They too are well resourced with oil revenues.

The new post-invasion Iraqi constitution brought forward and sanctified by the new coalition government, voted in overwhelmingly by the country's citizens in a democratic vote, ceded the powers of taxation to the regions. Those same regions are permitted under law to establish their own armies, and they have much control over their own oil resources. Regional laws are favoured above those of the country.

The Sunni minority will no longer, and would not in any event, under any manner of conclusion of the current instability and violence, have first word. Their irreconcilable hatred for the Shia minority will never be satisfied, and it's time a physical separation was brought to bear to ensure no further continuance of the current violence. The Sunnis will be out of luck, unless future oil exploration discovers resources in a region they will govern, but there is always the possibility that in the interests of living side by side in peace, the other two may be willing to grant a portion of their revenues to the Sunni region.

With a mutual agreement to secede from the ungovernable union, and a determination to forge their own independent regions and recognize them finally as separate and distinct, ready to be proclaimed as sovereign countries with their own rights and freedoms, and a willingness to live in some kind of helpful harmony as neighbours the solution to the current disaster-in-the-waiting is all but assured.

It's obviously time for negotiations leading to general agreement and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country to enable the indigent population to resolve their own problems.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The World News

This is the state of the world today, as seen through the lens of news reporters throughout this globe. The stresses and strains of humankind living in the one world we all inhabit, the world we seem unable to co-habit within, without straining its resources and our ability to live together in a semblance of peace and harmony.
  • Thousands Riot in Budapest: Police in Budapest fired tear gas and rubber bullets yesterday to disperse thousands of protesters as demonstrations against the government escalated on the 50th anniversary of Hungary's revolution against the Communist regime. Sirens, helicopters and canister explosions could be heard in areas as police, some on horseback, pushed people back and deployed water cannons. A demonstration turned into riots last month after revelations Ferenc Gyurcsany, the Hungarian Prime Minister, lied about the economy to win re-election.
  • Hunters May Have to Shoot Whales: Dozens of beluga whales are trapped in an Arctic waterway and as ice begins to clog their only escape route Inuit hunters are preparing to shoot them and collect their blubber. Earlier this month, flights near the Arctic coast hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk spotted more than 200 belugas in the Husky Lakes, a labyrinthine network of saltwater inlets and bays connected to the Arctic Ocean. By last Friday the number had dwindled to 76, but with ice forming in the single 100-metre-wide channel that connects the lakes to the sea, time is running out for the whales to free themselves.
  • Olmert Adds Hard-Liner to Coalition: Israeli politics shifted to the right yesterday when Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, persuaded a fiercely anti-Arab party to join his government. Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Israel Beitenu - or Israel My Home - party, was promised the position of deputy prime minister in exchange for committing his party's 11 MPs to the coalition led by Mr. Olmert. The agreement changed the complexion of Israel's government, which had previously presented itself as centrist.
  • US$800-Million Stolen from Iraqi Defence Fund: Iraq's former finance minister said as much as US$800-million has been stolen from a US$1.2-billion fund intended to equip the Iraqi army to control a growing insurgency. "It's a huge amount of money - gone up in smoke. The culprits are running around the world, hiding and scurrying around," he said. The rest of the funds were spent on useless and outdated equipment. The Iraqis responsible for looting the fund have fled to countries such as Jordan and Poland. One suspect was in charge of defence procurement at the time.
  • Iran Launches Second Batch of Centrifuges at Nuclear Plant: Iran has launched a second batch of centrifuges at its pilot nuclear fuel plant despite possible UN Security Council sanctions, diplomats said yesterday. Tehran fired up the new cascade of 164 interconnected centrifuges, which can enrich uranium for power plant or nuclear bomb fuel, earlier this month.
  • Ethiopia's and Somalia's Islamists Accuse Each Other of Aggression: Tensions between Ethiopia's government and Mogadishu's new Islamist rulers have sparked fear among Addis Ababa citizens of a new conflict, but have also inflamed nationalist passions against traditional rival Somalia. The Islamists, who have imposed a Taliban-like order on the capital accuse Ethiopia of sending troops across the border and have declared jihad against Addis Ababa.
  • Taliban Vows Revenge Attacks in Europe: Afghan terrorists are planning to launch deadly attacks on civilians in Europe in revenge for the 2001 invasion by U.S.-led forces. Mullah Mohammed Amin said terrorists had built up stockpiles of weapons and were bent on vengeance against "the foreign invaders". "It's acceptable to kill ordinary people in Europe because these are the people who have voted in the government", he said. "They came to our home and attacked our women and children. The ordinary people of these countries are behind this, so we will not spare them. We will kill them and laugh over them like they are killing us and laughing at us."
  • Border Region Now Closed to Militants: Pakistani militants used to cross the porous border from the Waziristan region of northwest Pakistan to neighbouring Afghanistan whenever they had the urge to fight U.S.-led forces. But their trips have stopped since Waziristan tribal leaders struck a deal with Pakistani authorities last month barring militants from entering Afghanistan from the semi-autonomous state. The Pakistani government believes the arrangement will enable it to stem a growing tide of "Talibanization" among the conservative and fiercely independent Pashtun tribes who live in six semi-autonomous tribal states along the Afghan border.
  • Teenage Nun Allegedly Killed by Chinese Army: Tibetan refugee children told yesterday how they escaped Chinese soldiers who shot at them as they fled to Nepal three weeks ago, killing a teenage nun. They were among a group of 75 people making the 22-day trek over the Himalayas when Chinese troops fired on them September 30, sending them running for cover. An unnamed British climber told the pressure group International Campaign for Tibet they watched "Chinese soldiers quite close to Advance Base Camp kneeling, taking aim and shooting, again and again, at the group, who were completely defenceless."
  • Cleric "Misses Picture" on China's Religious Freedom: The Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, was accused yesterday of "not meeting the real church", after he toured China and concluded freedom of religion had increased. The Archbishop said China was at a "watershed" in its attitude to religion despite the government's record of persecuting underground Christians.
  • Call to Tackle "Atrocities" of Mugabe: In the past six years, up to one million people may have been abused and tortured by the dictatorship of President Robert Mugabe, according to Gabriel Shumba, a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer. "The use of torture has increased and it has become widespread and systematic" he said. "The Zimbabwe government is one of the most persistent and brutal torturers in all of Africa today." It is impossible to get a fair trial in Zimbabwe, and no African nation seems willing to challenge Mr. Mugabe. "African countries stick together as a club, an African brotherhood", he said. Once one of Africa's most successful economies, Zimbabwe is on the brink of disaster, plagued by shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange. The former grain exporter known as the breadbasket of southern Africa now lives in the shadow of famine. Its economy has shrunk by 50% since 2000. About 4,000 of its people die every week from HIV/AIDS. The government has seized nearly 4,000 farms from white farmers in a move that is seen by many as the cause of Zimbabwe's current economic crisis.
  • Maoist Rebels Charging Climbers Near Everest Fees to Maintain Army: Nepal's interim government asked Maoist rebels yesterday to stop taking money from tourists and climbers near Mount Everest. Climbers said the rebels have been collecting 100 Nepali rupees from every climber, especially foreigners, for a day in the region.
Doesn't it seem as though things cannot get any worse, that world events have to begin improving? Or is this just me? Am I just whistling into thin air? Will it help if I learn to laugh more? What about if we all give one big hearty laugh? Will this all disappear? Was it William Shakespeare who advised: "Laugh and the world laughs with you"?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Harmony and Loving Kindness in Kindred Religion

What is happening in Baghdad? What is happening in Iraq? Surely this isn't business as usual in the world of Islam? Definitely, most definitely not. Regardless of the manner in which this maelstrom began, it was initiated by clerics who sought to claim sectarian one-upsmanship and sacred territory by manipulating their followers.

As a result, entire neighbourhoods of Iraqis sharing a common heritage but an uncommon aversion to one another's version of the legitimacy of Muhammad's inheritance in Islam have succumbed to the most base instincts, reverted to primitive bloodlust in the best tradition of rival, war-mongering tribalism. Where harmony once ruled there are now killing grounds.

Each day sees additions to the piles of corpses left at curbsides, abandoned lots, waterways, roadways. Life hinges upon whom you happen to cross: are you Sunni, or are you Shia? Quick thinking is required, and often no matter how swift the response it is the wrong one and life turns to ugly death. Ugly, I say, because it appears that to deliver the quick to death's door doesn't seem to appease the burning hatred of the killers. Their act is not complete without the desecration of the corpse.

To abuse a corpse is bad. To visit cruel and inhuman torture on the still-living body of a co-religionist, with a common background in history and culture, but a death-dealing divide in the sect you adhere to, is the fate of many, from either side. No one is guiltless here. Not the least of the guiltless is Muqtada al-Sadr, who early on established his Mahdi army in rejection of the U.S.-British presence in Iraq.

What is now menacing, what is foiling the vain hope for reconciliation is that hostility has now erupted between Shia and Shia, and they too appear intent on murdering one another. There are no bounds to this all-consuming hatred which has been unleashed and there appear now to be no boundaries beyond which murderers fear to tread. The Shias, once the underdog majority under Saddam Hussein's minority Sunnis, seek revenge and demand blood.

Now it has come to revenge killings among the Shia themselves. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani whose word was once sufficient to ensure his flock would listen and obey, speaks to the wind and his words demanding restraint and reason are lost on the unknowing ether. Deadly hatred, once unleashed is difficult to recall.

There is nowhere to hide. Frightened residents use any means at hand to try to barricade their streets at night, but their death-dealing oppressors find their way regardless. Talk of a deep trench, a high wall, come to nothing since it is not the enemy without that murders relentlessly but the enemy within.

Where is the peace, the charity, the kindness the Koran enjoins Muslims to display toward one another?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tehran Triumph of Diplomacy

It is truly touching the lengths some countries and their leaders will go to to entrench themselves in history as the best and the brightest. In the interests of assuming their rightful place in the world, adding to the general harmony between countries and particularly neighbouring countries, Iran does seem to go out of its way to curry favour and convince the doubtful that its mission is a useful and indeed god-blessed one.

Tens of thousands of Iranians gathered to march and proclaim the "triumph of Palestine" (whatever that means) on the country's annual fete of "Jerusalem Day" (whatever that means). Only tens of thousands? Where are all the other devout Muslims and honest brokers, those Iranians who have somehow managed to hold back from joining the general enthusiasm in slandering Israel and the United States?

Are they unconvinced? Have they not accepted the president, Mr. Ahmadinejad's thesis that Israel needs to be removed from the map of the Middle East? Can we really believe it's possible they don't regard the State of Israel as a festering sore on the body politic of the Middle East? I've had the pleasure of meeting educated, civil Iranians and I do believe it's quite possible.

Does the brutality of the theocratic dictatorship-cum-democracy ensure these reasonable, thoughtful and intelligent people keep a low profile? Does state-sponsored terrorism wreaking havoc in other countries neighbouring theirs worry the hell out of them? Does the fate of protestors languishing in Iranian jails stifle their will to insist on a superior way of life than that offered them by Mr. Ahmadinejad?

In the meantime, Mr. Ahmadinejad invokes interestingly eloquent curses, predicting Israel's imminent collapse and warning that its allies, particularly in Europe face the "boiling wrath" of Muslims for their continued support of the Jewish state.
"You should know that any government that stands by the Zionist regime from now on will not see any result but the hatred of the people," he said. "The wrath of the region's people is boiling.
"Efforts to stabilize this fraudulent regime have completely failed, thank God...This regime has lost the rationale of its existence."
It would appear that there is ample support within the Iranian population for this line of thought. Many in the crowd had no hesitation in expressing their support for the triumph of Palestine, the destruction of both Israel and the United States, proudly holding aloft banners reading "Death to Israel".

That little phrase, "Death to Israel" is an incredibly popular mantra in the Middle East. One tiny piece of geography, one very small country, one neat little population base. But, sad, no room in that huge area for an (ugh!) Jewish state. Muslims only, thank you very much. In fact, there's even a movement afoot to prove that the Jews have no legitimate history in the area.

They're representative of a massive insult to history. Jews are entirely new to the Middle East; their forbears had never lived in the geographic area - the Temple of Solomon, like the Holocaust is a hoax visited upon the guilty gullible. They're intruders in the Land of Islam, and as such can not and will not be tolerated. Ask any Muslim. They're in the vast majority, after all, and they should know.

Even the children know, thousands of them, brought by their parents to attend the festivities and the brilliant threats against other segments of humanity. Can't teach hatred and lust for blood to early in one's development as a contributing member of a hostile majority. "I am here in order to tell the infidels that Palestine will be saved, and both Israel and the United States will be destroyed, " said Batoul, a mother, carrying a placard emblazed with "Death to Israel".

Protesters were also treated to a display by members of the !!Iranian rollerblading federation!!, who chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" in chorus as they performed a choreographed routine. Really, it's true. No, this is not a Monty Python skit. Go ahead, you can laugh anyway.

There are even booths where young Iranian men and women can sign up for the ultimate pledge of faith in their country and its battle on behalf of Islam. There was a photograph in the newspapers showing a young woman who had just signed on the dotted linem - her intention to honour her family and her country and her god by becoming a suicide murderer.

Jerusalem Day evidently was a holiday initiated by Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, annually drawing hordes of Iranians, including government workers to call for the holy city to be returned to the Palestinians, a holiday and aspiration observed across the Islamic world.

What possible connection, after all, could Jews have to the city of Jerusalem? What possible reason might there be for Jews to continue their existence and thus the contamination of the world at large. Haven't we heard this refrain before?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Best Laid Plans

What's that old saw? The best laid plans of mice and men do often go astray? What if the plans weren't all that great to begin with? What if monumental collective ego compelled a country to launch an invasion of another one without bothering to put together a real plan of action and an eventual exit strategy? What then? With vagueness in the future, yet a determination in the present to prevail despite any untoward events, is it any wonder that there is a disquieting, disheatening result?

Despite the best of intelligence given at every level, the government of George W. Bush invaded Iraq with its made-in-the-U.S.A. "Alliance of the Willing" all willing to impose a culture of democracy upon a people and a nation that has lived since their time began in a culture of tribal animosity, mistrust and war, rather complicated by the addition of irreconcilable religious divisions. The not-too benevolent dictator whom these allied forces sought to remove actually kept these disparate social forces from each other's throats while visiting upon them almost equally a brutal despotism that they deplored but lived under in a semblance of harmony.

With the exception, needless to say, of those who sought to oppose his rule and who, for their pains, suffered painfully excruciating death in large numbers. There were the Kurds who chafed under his rule and said so, and tried to extricate themselves and who were gassed and violated and killed for their troubles. There were the Marsh Arabs whose style of living was disrupted and they uprooted because they were in the wrong place at the right time. There were those countless dissidents who were improvident enough to have a finger of suspicion pointed at them and that was sufficient for their incarceration or torture or death; occasionally all three in rapid succession.

And while no one bemoans the loss of a brutal dictator, everyone detests the ego of a would-be victor whose actions cause unspeakable privation and finally, through sheer incapability, countless deaths. There is no denying the destabilizing effects visited upon this volatile country by the invasion of foreign troops. An insult of massive proportions in a Muslim country, even one governed in pale imitation of a secular one. The mass Muslim population could see it no other way than as an unwelcome foreign intrusion by foreign troops worshipping an altogether different god, following a prohibited way of life.

Now, post-invasion, despite promises of stability and a return for the population to a normally-functioning infrastructure, private militias run amok in the streets of the country's capital, communities are without basic amenities of potable water and sewage disposal, let alone dependable power sources. Sectarian violence of a vicious nature unimaginable in most societies have let loose the bloody urge to kill all those not sharing the religious views of the other.

There are 100 to 200 civilians being murdered daily in the cities and towns of Iraq, with religious leaders often leading their adherents to their deadly acts by invocation of their adherence to the one true god; all others being imposters. Innocent men, women and children have been murdered, their mutilated bodies continually discovered cast off as evidence of the intransigence of murder-lust.

The religion of peace and tolerance - one of them, in any event - has been handily highjacked and transformed into a religion of death and destruction. How's that for a sterling result rising out of the determination to aid and assist one's perceived enemies to rise to the occasion of the democratic ideal?

Is This Man a Complete Cad?

Might well be. If he's not a cad, he's certainly not the picture of male chivalry. Nor does he exemplify the best characteristics of a mature male, comfortable in who and what he has become. He's behaving, in fact, like a resentful youth, incapable of coming to grips with the reality that the woman with whom he had a fairly solid liaison is no longer available to him because she has a mind of her own and was willing to trade him in for her own imperatives, right or wrong?

In the area of right or wrong, there's been much said, much written about what compelled Belinda Stronach to abandon the Conservatives in favour of the Liberals. At that juncture it appeared that the Liberals might be closer to the finish line than the Conservatives. Ms. Stronach may be cursed with short-term vision, and she's now paying for that, in a manner of speaking. Unless she prefers sitting things out as an opposition backbencher, to the rather more glorious position of a cabinet position in government.

The thing of it is, Peter MacKay is no longer an adolescent and it is unbecoming of him to behave like one. All the more so when he is a key figure in the current government of Canada. All the more so, one cannot stress sufficiently, when he occupies the high profile position of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Can anyone really take seriously any pronouncements enunciated by this man in representing the government on foreign affairs situations when he is personally and too-publicly incapable of restraining himself from behaving like a spoiled child?

And then there is Belinda Stronach. It's kind of tough to feel much sympathy for a woman whose financial resources are literally infinite, whose opportunities to succeed can be liberally purchased, whose potential as a pal in a partnership for life are self-evident but who continues to make rather questionable decisions about the direction in which she chooses her life to proceed.

There's the matter of several failed marriages; big deal, that's her affair. Failed relationships happen, people are people - are people unwilling to accommodate themselves to others' needs, valuing their own far more - as evidenced by the MacKay/Stronach romance and its unhappy end. If there is one constant in society and its values, however, there is the little matter of the seriousness of involvement in destroying a marriage which comes complete with children.

Ms. Stronach denies this is the case with her latest entanglement, and this may be so, but regardless of what she asserts, there is a wife, children and a family which is disintegrating and she's at the other end of the triangle.

Pity you've been hard done by, Belinda; public embarrassment is always such a nuisance.

Pity you've got such a lot of growing up to do, Peter; your government cannot afford such public demonstrations of inadequacy.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Not Very Auspicious Move - What's Next?

Nice that our provincial government has decided to act on behalf of Ontarians and finally bring into law a Clean Water Act. Which should ensure that our sources of drinking water will be guaranteed by law to be free from contamination. Don't we deserve at least that? Doesn't every community? Pity that this has come into law after a tragedy, but that's so often the case.

Contaminated drinking water resulting from inadequate supervision and treatment in Walkerton led to a public enquiry after the tragedy of deaths and illness, and the commission that was set up to conduct the enquiry issued key recommendations insisting that drinking water sources be protected by the development of watershed-based source protection plans for all of Ontario's watersheds. That's one big leg up for Ontarians and finally, a bit of confidence in the government's ability to tackle important issues.

Now, if we could only transfer some of that sense of urgency to the federal government we'd be in a lot better shape. In a very real sense, a short-term problem of vital importance has been solved or is on the way to being solved, while a much larger, much more difficult problem with larger consequences on a far grander scale is being shunted aside because no one really wants to face the painful steps that will have to be taken to try to forestall what seems now to be the inevitable.

Climate change, environmental degradation, green-house gas emissions,it's all facing us in the near future. Would that it were; in fact it's here now. We've seen ample indications that weather patterns have changed, from the increasing severity and intensity of storm systems to the melting ice cap, to the too-swift warming of the earth and its inevitable consequences not the least of which is the advance of deadly diseases now making their home in areas of the globe hitherto free from them.

Polar bears' environment is degrading to the extent that there is fear they may become an endangered species at risk of losing their battle with the elements. Seabirds are abandoning their young, unable to feed them as a string of consequential changes to the atmosphere also affect the food chain. As the oceans warm they also fuel the ferocity of storms passing over them, wreaking havoc on coastal habitation whose presence in such vulnerable areas to begin with were a disaster waiting to be triggered.

This is the here and now, the beginning. Environmentalists are warning us that intense weather anomalies will continue and become more serious. They are warning that the melting ice cap will raise the level of the seas and inevitably inundate coastal areas of continents as well as populated islands within the oceans. There will be greater incidents of both cooling and warming periods and the growing of nutrient crops will be seriously compromised.

Now Canada has a Clean Air Act. Sounds good, sounds like a start, but this is a very tardy beginning and nothing on the near horizon appears to result from this which will ameliorate the conditions we're already facing, let alone those the future will without doubt bring before us. The good start includes energy-efficient standards and government regulation of volatile compounds. Why did this take so long?

And now that automobile manufacturers will face mandatory regulations for compliance once the voluntary agreement expires there's some hope for the future. But why is it that the State of California, with approximately the same population base as that of this country in its entirety, saw fit to enact far stricter regulations that will see results far sooner than this country will?

And why, for heaven's sake, are the largest polluters in the country dealing with oil extraction, energy-producers like power plants, not facing stricter guidelines, good solid caps on carbon emissions until 2050? Clearly the government shies away from running afoul of these highly-regarded, powerful elements. We need the resolve of a government that will recognize the high priority of meaningful action on this file, and we don't quite seem to have made the grade here.

Not that this current government does not seem to be pursuing the matter more energetically than its predecessors; far from it. Past governments have promised much, delivered nothing concrete. They've all been utterly useless in the recognition of the dire need to properly regulate the output of carbon emissions; powerful lobbying and the prospect of loss of support from powerful sources will do that to even the most dauntless of politicians.

The establishment of solid goals put forward by this government is great. While the mandate is theirs to pursue, the timeline given doesn't create a climate of confidence for the future. Surely they can do better; surely Canada and Canadians deserve better?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Municipal Election Debates - Ottawa

Nice, when election time comes around you can review the past actions, activities, deliberations and failures of the current town council and decide on that basis whether they deserve an additional go-around as they so feverishly claim they do, or whether it would be more expedient and intelligent to toss them out and vote in a new group to bungle the straightforward.

There is one issue in particular that really grabs me, an I know it's an issue that a whole lot of other people are concerned with, not only in the city where I reside, but elsewhere in this country. In fact, many municipalities, including the city of Toronto, and the city of Montreal, have passed by-laws severely restricting and sometimes outright banning the use of cosmetic pesticides. As a matter of fact the entire Province of Quebec has banned the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes.

In recognition of the fact that deadly chemicals used to eradicate living creatures cannot possibly be good for all living creatures. In recognition of the fact that any process using the term "cide" in it means this is a harbinger of death. We bring death to unwanted flora through the use of herbicides, and to unwanted fauna by spraying pesticides. The chemicals in these mixtures are sprayed on lawns but they also are sprayed into the ambient air and carried away into the atmosphere.

Where they affect not only the targetted area but bystanders, neighbours, children, animals. What is this preoccupation about the perfect lawn anyway? Because people are so focussed on something of such negligible value they are willing to risk the health of people around them, including their own children, their own family pets. People appear to be either totally ignorant of the fallout of their actions, or simply unwilling to admit they're behaving in a truly anti-social manner, or they're damned if they'll let someone else tell them what they can do with their property.

People will not believe that the use of these chemical agents are completely unnecessary in the attainment and management of good lawns. Mostly because there's a bit of effort involved in ensuring that the grass grows nice and green and thick and healthy without the use of pesticides. And they'd much prefer taking the perceived "easy" way out. It's their property, it's their right, and they're not doing any harm to anyone, they assert. The thing of it is why do local politicians permit this to happen?

All the more so when researchers, though reluctant to state definitively cause and effect, still have found direct links between exposure to such chemicals and later onset of cancer. In 2004 the Ontario College of Family Physicians released a report on the effects of pesticides and they found disturbing links between pesticide use and human health pathology - such as birth defects, neurological problems and cancer onset.

The Canadian Cancer Society has voiced its objection to the permissibility within municipalities vis-a-vis this topic. Before the last municipal election held in the Ottawa area where I live, I telephoned one of the local candidates and asked his position. He needed more data, something like real proof behind the issue and until then he wouldn't support a ban. A recent report issued by an environmental group gave failing grades to most of the current municipal council on the environment, citing the very issue of pesticide use.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a report stating that some substances in pesticides are known to be probable agents causing cancer. If there is any doubt at all would that not mitigate against the use of cosmetic use of such substances? Ottawa council defeated two motions brought before them to ban the use of pesticides, last year. 220 other municipalities in Canada have brought forward a ban on their use, but not the nation's capital.

Finally, the Ontario branch of the Cancer Society has decided to issue a questionnaire to all candidates running for council, asking for support of a ban on pesticide use. It's time the city faced realities to undertake the responsibility to protect the wider population from the petulant ownership-imperatives of the lawn-loving sociopaths among us.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

To Be or Not To Be

This gets tougher by the day. Should Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces be involved in Afghanistan? Depends, I think, how you look at it. Do we have an obligation as a free and democratic country, a wealthy first-world country to involve ourselves in the affairs of one of the world's poorest and in many ways most backward countries? Yes, I think.

Especially given the recent background of the intolerable imposition of strict Sharia law by the Taliban which victimized women and children, particularly girl children. But under the Taliban men too suffered if they weren't deemed to be sufficiently Islamicized, although as Muslims they too were practising their faith as they deemed fit.

Women who were widows were particularly in dire straits, since under the type of Sharia law practised with Taliban rule, women were not permitted to earn a living, however meagre, to feed their children. Starvation, utter privation was visited on these families. Families in which three generations of females were left to their own helpless devices to survive - or not. Girl children were denied the opportunity to gain even the most elementary of educations; school was not for girls.

Those schools which did exist were meant for boys only, and the kind of education they received revolved solely around that dictated by the Islamist mentality of complete immersion in religious studies; the kind of religious studies which garnered approval by the Taliban governing authorities; boys reciting entire passages from the Koran in Arabic, taking on faith anything and everything that was transcribed for them by the Mullahs.

Of course there was also the connection - tenuous some might aver - with Osama bin Laden and his redoubtable crew, all of whom were given succour and encouragement by the Taliban. The palpable hostility related to any interference with strict Muslim rule and interaction in any manner with the West and western values should have cautioned NATO and the UN, especially given Russia's rude awakening on their venture into Afghanistan, especially given the long past history of Afghani aversion to any kind of intervention in their country.

Muslim countries in general do not take kindly to incursions into their territory, and why, after all should they? Wouldn't we cringe at the very thought of a Muslim empire making a military incursion into a Western, Christian-heritage country? Isn't this, after all, human nature, to nurture and value what is one's own, to disown and hold in low esteem that which is natural to and accepted by other cultures?

Conundrum upon conundrum. The harder NATO troops push the insurgents, the more determined the insurgents become, the more casualties result on both sides. And it's true that an occupying force from abroad hasn't the same depth of need, the same vested interest as the country's indigenous population who fight for their homeland, their vision of their right to complete autonomy, allegiance to the religion that is a fundamental mainspring of their culture.

Yes, an Afghan government has requested NATO assist it in fighting and overcoming resistance to their more moderate, Western-friendly rule. Pity that the new government has invested so heavily in bringing former war lords and human-rights abusers (including some who had no problems dealing as war lords with the former Taliban government) into the makeup of the current government. Corruption is known to be rife in this new government.

And it is charitable funds from Western countries raised through tax dollars and conveyed to the Afghani people directly through their new government that are used to supposedly assist in building new infrastructure. CIDA assists Afghanis through direct funding of the Afghan government. It is true, for the time being, that schools have been erected under the auspices of friendly, charitable Western countries determined to help this country, and children, all children, now are able to attend school.

It is also true that health clinics are operating now which give medical help to a far larger proportion of the population than were formerly able to access medical assistance. To a large degree the economy of the country was beginning to reawaken and renew itself. Sad that there has been a recent downtown and a return to insecurity in the country because the Taliban and their supporters have re-grouped when it was thought soon after the NATO invasion that they had been defeated.

The population of Afghanistan is troubled, they're frustrated beyond endurance, they want a life of safety and security, the opportunity to educate their children, treat medical emergencies, enjoy a level of economic advancement for the country and for its citizens hitherto denied them. But they also resent the presence of foreign troops and it is becoming harder every day for them to appreciate that the troops are there for their protection, since so many of them are now dying as a result of suicide bombings that target them as well as foreign troops.

Afghans want stability, they want an assurance of a decent future for themselves, for their children. They want to embrace their country for themselves. They would like to see Afghans controlling every facet of their country from government infrastructure to civil emplacements and services. They want an end to war and strife and insecurity. Don't we all deserve that at the very least?

We're sacrificing our young men with the thought and the sincere belief that we're doing a true service to an impoverished and brutalized country and its citizens. It yet remains to be seen whether this sacrifice will turn out to have been a futile effort.

We hope not. The signs are not encouraging.

The World Today

This is the state of the world today, 17 October 2006, as reported through the auspices of just one newspaper in Canada:
  • U.K. Gang Trend- Man taken off life support after attack by youths: Police are investigating whether a Toronto man who died after an attack by teenagers is the latest victim of a London-born phenomenon called "happy slapping". Happy slapping, a youth craze in which violence is filmed and passed phone-to-phone or on the Internet for others to see, usually involves unsuspecting victims being slapped, punched or beaten. Last Tuesday evening, Peter Ramsey, a 40-year-old man from Toronto who had been living as an artist in England for two years, was walking home from a supermarket with his girlfriend when they were confronted by a group of teenagers.
  • Bono called a hypocrite for avoiding Irish taxes: Bono, the rock star and campaigner against Third World debt, is asking the Irish government to contribute more to Africa. At the same time, he is reducing tax payments that could help fund that aid. After Ireland said it would scrap a break that lets musicians and artists avoid paying taxes on royalties, Bono and his U2 bandmates moved their music publishing company to the Netherlands. The Dublin group which Forbes magazine estimates earned US$110-million in 2005, will pay 5% tax on its royalties, less than half the Irish rate.
  • Israeli president could be facing rape charges: According to graphic accounts carried by the Israeli press, the head of state is alleged to have behaved like a sexual predator, groping, manhandling and ultimately raping two women, including his office manager, at the presidential residence.
  • Militants labelling rockets for credit: Rivalry among militant groups in the Gaza Strip has prompted some to place Hebrew labels on the rockets they fire at Israel to make sure they get credit for the attacks. Israeli authorities nearly always refer to the makeshift rockets fired from Gaza as Qassams, the name of those made by Hamas, the ruling party and Fatah's chief rival. Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the Hamas armed wing, said the group has no plans to label its rockets in Hebrew, though he said Hamas is pleased the "factions are running an honest and positive competition in rocket-firing".
  • No deportation to Egypt: The Federal Court of Canada has upheld the government's case against an alleged Egyptian terrorist caught in Toronto, but said deporting him to a country that practices torture would violate his human rights.
  • Shot mother had reconciled with husband: A woman killed along with her two daughters over the weekend had divorced her husband several years ago but reconciled with him for the sake of the children. Mila Voynova, 40, a historian and yoga teacher, and daughters Alice, 10, and Iva, 17, were found shot to death at their home in Beaconsfield, Quebec. Their psychologist father, Dragolub Tzokovitch, was clinging to life in hospital yesterday after turning his .357 magnum pistol on himself in an apparent suicide attempt after the killings.
  • Teens to help police Afghan trouble spots: Canadian troops building and guarding a road where six soldiers have died in 16 days will soon receive help policing the treacherous region: local teenagers armed with Ak-47s and just 10 days of training. The new auxiliary force of officers is being thrown together to aid with security in Kandahar province and other troubled spots in southern Afghanistan.
  • U.S. "sniffer" plane confirms nuclear test: U.S. scientists confirmed yesterday that North Korea successfully tested a nuclear device last week. A WC-135 Phoenix, the last Cold War-era "sniffer" plane still in service was airborne in international airspace around the renegade dictatorship at the time of the test. Two days after the detonation, the aircraft gathered air samples that contained radioactive fallout.
  • Chavez's speech may have cost Venezuela support at UN: As the 192 member states of the General Assembly voted yesterday to fill five seats on the UN's most powerful body, several ambassadors said Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, shot himself in the foot when he called George W. Bush, the U.S. president, "the devil" and said he could detect a "smell of sulphur" in the room. "Many people felt the speech was in bad taste," Augustine Mahiga, Tanzania's ambassador to the UN said of the Venezuelan president's address to the General Assembly in September. Before the speech, many diplomats had named Venezuela as the favourite to win the Latin American seat on the council.
  • Musharraf dodges yet another bullet: Two weeks ago, just as he returned from a book promotion tour of Canada, the United States and Britain, someone tried to fire three batteries of Russian-made anti-tank rockets at Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf's home on an army base in Rawalpindi, his office in Islamabad and the headquarters of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
  • At least 12 million people enslaved worldwide: At least 12 million people, most of them children, are trapped in slavery worldwide, a human rights activist said yesterday. Children are ensnared in pornography and prostitution, and exploited as cheap labour and child soldiers. "They are more vulnerable, cheaper to hire and less likely to demand higher wages or better working conditions", Sarah Williams of Anti-Slavery International said of the 8.4 million enslaved children.
  • Suicide truck bomb is Sri Lanka's deadliest: Sri Lanka suffered its worst suicide bomb attack in two decades of civil war yesterday when Tamil Tiger rebels detonated an explosives-laden truck next to a convoy of sailors, killing at least 103 people and wounding 150 more, police said.
  • Indonesian pastor gunned down: A gunman shot dead a Christian pastor yesterday in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province, sparking fears of a return to sectarian fighting that once gripped the region. Reverend Irianto Kongkoli was killed as he was buying construction materials in the provincial capital of Palu, 165 kilometres northeast of Jakarta.
  • Australian drought fuels nuclear debate: Australia's worst drought in living memory is threatening the booming economy of the driest continent on earth, driving global warming and nuclear power to the forefront of political debate. Soaring temperatures and bushfires marking the apparent early onset of another hot and dry summer have dragged the government into a fresh debate about the effects of global warming. Australia has refused to ratify the UN's 1997 Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is a major exporter of fossil fuels, which produce the gases blamed for rising temperatures worldwide.
And there, folks you have it. All the news that's fit to print, there to cheer you up on any given day of the week.

Smile, no point weeping.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Israel's National Disgrace

Good grief, there's nothing quite as unsavoury as crooked politicians. Challenge me on that. Tell me how I'm wrong, that my opinion is sadly superficial, has no basis in fact, no merit in truth. I'm waiting. Waiting. Time's up.

The President, yes the President of Israel identified as a sexual predator, an abusive molester of women, an egotistical scumbag extraordinaire. How veddy nice. How does a country live that down? Oh, the scumbag will live with it. How about his wife, his five children, his six grandchildren. Or perhaps they already knew the inner man and weren't surprised. His colleagues? They knew nothing?

This disgusting excuse for a man, let alone the country's top political figure - even if he's a mere figurehead in the position he holds - is facing charges of rape. At 60 years of age one would reasonably anticipate someone of his stature might have learned some social verities; the primary one of which is not to bring disgrace upon yourself, your family, your country.

Ah, perhaps it was his political stature, not his personal acumen that persuaded him he could do no wrong. Actions which would appear horrible in nature when prosecuted by others could be overlooked because of his high office. He said as much, he obviously believed it when his victim fought back and he responded delightfully with: "I'm the President and you're nothing" after brutally raping the woman.

Well, a woman could conceivably bear a grudge for any number of reasons and bring unsubstantiated charges of such a serious nature against someone, could she not? This is a repeat offender. It was not merely one woman to whom he meted out his brutal advances. A number of women have brought forward details of his lust, his brutality, his predatory behaviour; details of his raping technique. One of them his office manager.

That's sad and serious anti-social, sociopathic behaviour in a respected politician. But wait, he's not alone, not entirely. It would seem that in Israel long and distinguished careers of public service go hand in hand with personal avail. Obviously many Israeli politicians have a different take on the free enterprise system. In other countries they call this kind of political corruption being "on the take".
  • These very enterprising men see it as their just due to take freely from this sterling system. The Yiddish word for it is Grobe Yung. The Prime Minister himself, Ehud Olmert is under investigation for possible corruption involving several property deals in Jerusalem.
  • A senior member of the Kadima party and chairman of parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee, Tzahi Hanegvi was indicted in September over unlawful appointsments allegedly made while a government minister.
  • Omri Sharon, son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon was sentenced in February to 9 months in prison on corruption charges in connection with the financing of his father's campaign for the Likud leadership in 1999.
  • Benjamin Netanyahu, former prime minister and now chief of the Likud party was investigated in 1999 on allegations he planned to use public funds to pay for work done on his private residence.
  • Ezer Weizman, a true elder statesman of the State of Israel, resigned in July 200 after revelations he received $450,000US as "gifts" from a French millionaire when he was an MP and government minister in the 1980s.
  • In 2000 the Trasnsport Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai resigned after being charged with sexually assaulting a female employee - he was given a 18-month suspended sentence.
  • Former chief of the ultra-orthodox Shas party was sentenced in 2001 to three years in prison for corruption and breach of trust.
Well, that's fairly well representative of political parties across the board (Labour; you there?). These dysfunctional politicians celebrate equal opportunity as their nation's top crooks and miscreants.

Governing a country becomes an equal opportunity smorgasbord.

How reassuring. How utterly disgraceful.

In Defence of Whiteness Studies

That was the caption over the article. Whiteness Studies? What the hell!? So I began to read the article. It was in response to an item published the month before (which I had missed), in the National Post, by columnist Barbara Kay, herself a thoughtful and excellent writer. As I read on, I became convinced this was a clever send-up, a sly Monty Pythonesque skit meant to poke readers in their metaphorical funny-ribs - an obvious entertainment on a discredited thesis.

The responder, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia, name: Bruce Baum wrote in the second paragraph of the article:
"As someone knowledgeable of (sic) this field, I can report that her (Barbara Kay's) argument was highly misleading. She belittled significant insights that this field of study offers to comprehend the tangible reality of white racial domination in modern history along with the pervasive, race-inflicted global inequalities that are its legacy."
The light dawns: this stiffly pedantic paragraph reflects the anguish of the academic left. That group that cannot sufficiently kick itself in its collective arse in compensation for history's white colonial conquests of other-coloured peoples around the globe. Repent, ye offspring of unrepentant white slavers!
"Population genetics has shown that old ideas about human races do not fit the actualities of human genetic similarity and diversity. Yet race ideas and race-based social practices and policies have firm roots in U.S. (and Canadian) social and political history. In 17th century Colonial America, English planter elites came to see themselves as "white" people and enslaved African peoples whom they called "negro" - a term for "black taken from Portuguese and Spanish." (wot? where's the rest of the thought, the sentence structure?)
Really! Who would've guessed?

Through the stilted language and serious demeanor we hear the discovery of a child crying out: Eureka! Does the writer truly believe that what he has discovered, what he and his peers are promulgating is unknown to most people? Must we belabour the obvious? Has society not acknowledged this past time and again and made concerted if overdue efforts to make amends?

This, dear Political Scientist, is what people throughout time immemorial have done to one another; manipulated and enslaved and used and abused one group over another. You've just discovered that? You want to flagellate your audience? You insist they take you seriously?

Is this a rehash of history or hysteria?

I felt compelled once I realized the good (assistant) professor's pitch was earnest and for real, to fall on my dinner fork and commit a hari-kari of mea culpa for my ancestors' "white" presence on this globe.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Maher Arrar - Martyr of Injustice

Time to move on. Nurse your grievance if you must, but kindly permit us to move on. Yes, a grievous injustice was done you through the confluence of external events which moved western societies to unleash their security agencies' operations to high alert, and you were caught in an unfortunate web. These were extraordinary circumstances, a conjunction of world-class catastrophies which rendered normally-sensitive and sensible governments to a level of suspicion and aggression they would normally never exhibit, compelling them to accept a curtailment of civil liberties they would not condone under normal circumstances.

But who is the naive one here? At such a sensitive time you chose to travel abroad to countries which fell within the sphere of suspicion. While you travelled on a Canadian passport you also held a Syrian passport which identified you as Syrian-born. Under these still-dire circumstances of nervous suspicion when individuals of Middle East origin, readily identified, were held to be suspect - right or wrong - a foreign government took it upon itself to spirit you away to the country of your birth.

It was the country of your birth, Syria, which dealt with you in an inhumane manner, subjecting you to abusive treatment. Syria recognizes Syrian citizenship, not dual citizenship. Syria is known to inflict torture on its prisoners. Incarceration in most Middle East countries is no country idyll. Have you thought to lecture Syria on its human rights record?

Your campaign for justice, led by your indomitable wife has been acknowledged. Many Canadians sympathized with your ordeal. An especially commissioned court of enquiry, set up by the government which you accuse of orchestrating your humiliation, the misery of your experience, has found on your behalf; exonerated you from all trumped-up charges, found you innocent and the government of Canada through its national policing agencies culpable.

Members of Parliament have stood up in the House of Commons and passed a motion to express their sympathy with your plight, with the violent interruption of the normalcy of your life. The Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, implicated in the truly unfortunate events which led to your year-long ordeal in Syria has apologized, has admitted that his force had erred, and pledged to implement safeguards to ensure such a travesty of justice would not re-occur.

You will of course know that any institution, particularly one representing government interests and by extension the interests of the citizen of the country, is susceptible to subversion by the all-too-human individuals charged with its oversight. Another government policing agency, CSIS, has also been implicated in the sad and sorry mess made of your life for that period you were held in Syria. We know that a critical member of External Affairs, responsible for the welfare of Canadians in Syria failed you.

That said, we must believe that this government and those agencies realize how serious an infraction was caused by the confluence of emergency measures under unusual circumstances and the human rights of citizens seen as possible suspects and potential threats to the safety and security of the country, its citizens and its institutions and infrastructure.

Your legal suit against the government of Canada (and by extension the taxpayers of Canada, your fellow citizens who sympathize with you and have expressed their support for you) is proceeding and is certain to conclude in your favour. Out of this exercise you will be set to receive millions of dollars in compensation. And while money cannot adequately compensate for your lost year of life and the torture you underwent, it will help you to re-establish yourself and secure a future for your children.

This country whose actions you so deplore has empowered you, through its laws and its systems of checks and balances to call it to account. Your ongoing, bitter mission to humble this government does you no credit and will not succeed. In this you do not have the support of most Canadians. This government, in recognizing its failure toward you, and in attempting to serve your interests, however tardily, has spent millions of tax dollars to deal fairly with you.

At this juncture I would prefer any additional funds to be spent elsewhere. Rather than waste more money on satisfying your need to see the perpetrators of the injustice done to you - inefficient and incapable faceless government agents - I would like my government to turn its attention to the needs of the homeless in our society; our indigenous people, so ill-served by their own representatives and our clueless bureaucrats; the immigrants who require assistance in adjusting to this country; the refugees, the asylum-seekers.

Cease and desist, Maher Arrar. Leave off your determination to prolong your victimhood like a badge of outraged honour. In the process milking the public of sympathy, the government of tax dollars, the news media of space better given to more latterly-worthy causes. Time to move on.

Others who have suffered far more seriously have somehow managed to come to grips with their lives, without ever having received the recognition, homage and satisfaction that you and your supporters have wrung from the civil system. Get on with life.

Look to your own unfortunate tendency to cling to your self-illuminated status as this country's primary victim. There are countless others who have suffered and continue to suffer injustice and privation as negligent fall-out of a stressed and often incapable bureaucracy. We need to focus on their legitimate needs - not continually be jerked back to your dissatisfaction with the steps taken to make amends on your behalf.

Find your new niche in life and live it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sere Fall on a Sunday Stroll

Well, it is fall, after all, so we've just got to become accustomed to the new look that surrounds us now. Fully one-third of the mature trees in our neighbourhood have already lost their leaves. Some of these trees turned delightful colours of nuanced rose and yellows, others remained green, but all invariably, were loosed by the impetuous wind that arose during our many rainstorms of late.

And so, walking up the street toward the ravine, we see some of our neighbours out raking their lawns, restoring order from autumn leaf-loss. One neighbours, with small children, raked all of his leaves up against and around the trunk of the tree from which the leaves fell. There the considerable leaf-pile will remain until Hallowe'en is over, or the winds play fast and loose with the pile and restore them to their former place on his lawn - or generously scatter them as decoration onto the lawns of his neighbours. Meanwhile, his children also have the option of diving into the pile in an excess of childjoy.

In the ravine, suddenly much is revealed. Too much, in fact. We value the fact that we can quit the street, enter the ravine, and the streetscape is lost to our view, the surrounding trees smothering sound and concrete. Now, with so much of the canopy fallen to ground, we are able to see further and our gentle conceit of being adrift in a wilderness of trees is revealed for the silly ruse that it is.

As we walk along the trails, the wind howling above on this too-cool-for-the-date Sunday, the leaf mass above is diminishing even more, twirling downward as it descends to add to the leaf-confetti already claiming the trail. The clouds scuttle above, also under the influence of the wind, and there are dark clouds that look to promise more rain. A nuthatch calls out from a pine and we strain to see if there are chickadees with it.

Button and Riley are both wearing warm sweaters against the cold wind; she ahead as usual and he bringing up the rear. Because it's a Sunday afternoon there are other occasional strollers enjoying the fall day and a brisk walk through the ravine. They cast amused glances after little Riley plodding along behind, and a short chat ensues; nothing like companion dogs on a wooded trail to break social ice.

Squirrels are busy scrambling about in the underbrush; they're all represented today, the tiny territorially-clever red ones, the larger grey and black. All busy with the season's ritual of search-and-horde. Now that the trees are becoming increasingly bare it's easier to make out the presence of their truly sloppy nests high above. One imagines the tiny red squirrels house themselves more intelligently in hollow tree trunks because of their size, while the others make do and hope for the best through the winter months.

We pass several young boys off their bicycles - they must be about ten, eleven years of age, and they're looking intently at the ground as they proceed. We ask, have they lost something? Yes, one of the boys lost a Loonie and they're trying to spot it. Impossible, given the loose leaf coverage, and they agree, but continue their disconsolate search. Had we loose change on us we'd restore the boy's lost coin.

Later there are two smaller boys on bicycles, and behind them a girl with a scooter. Beside her toddles a tiny girl, dressed exquisitely in fashion, clever on her tiny feet. The boys hurry off, exiting onto a street, the girl on the scooter far behind. One cannot help admiring the duo; tiny girl and older minder. She is not the infant's sister, only caring for her. How old, I ask? and she tells me the child is two. At which the tiny toddler holds up two fingers and I guffaw.

"I taught her that" said the older girl proudly.

Life and Death in the Garden

Yes, the garden. The garden as a metaphor for life and death anywhere, everywhere. Where else but the garden through which to view the renewal of life, the advent of death's ascent? The seasons descend one after the other bringing us renewal, causing us to lament the end of yet another year's adventure in rebirth. What could be more fundamental to our own lives on this earth than the yearly advent of spring and rebirth; autumn and sad preparation; winter and the death of vegetation.

This very same vegetation upon which we have always relied to maintain our own slender and tenuous hold on life. From the time of the first humans to surface upon the earth and who sought their sustenance through the vegetation which surrounded them, to the hunter-gatherer societies, to the establishment of farming communities and the constant recognition of life-sustaining crops in the history of mankind?

In today's world we maintain this connection in a far less direct way. We no longer need to grow our own crops to sustain ourselves. We can thank the evolution of farming communities, the great conglomerate farming enterprises who grow crops and export them world-wide in an ever-diminishing need to depend on local crops. Farming techniques have changed, greater production can be achieved with new advances in farming, and the resulting foodstuffs shipped to further and greater locations than ever before.

As for us, we still celebrate Nature and her abundance in our own way, to fulfill our own individual needs, by gardening in very small areas where we live. Our gardens continue to give us pleasure, to surprise and enlighten us, to remind us of what nature herself means to us in her great diversity and sometimes-crotchety behaviours. We too celebrate the seasons' needs and messages. Another year gone. With it the other denizens of our gardens, the butterflies, the songbirds.

We see and experience the loss of warmth in the atmosphere, the fewer days of light, the lessening of sunlight, the greater events of rain and wind and cold interrupting our too-brief and glorious summer. The gardens are put to rest. Perennials cut back to wait out their renewal time come spring. The tender annuals are ruthlessly taken from the soil, rather than permitting them to die in the cold. We take in our lawn furniture; our gardening tools are set aside for another winter to pass.

And while we clean things up and tuck them away in holding areas for the duration of the winter, we discover verities which hadn't occurred previously. Ardent gardeners, always looking for new ornamentation in their outside living areas were recently reminded of the wonderful effects that could be had in the garden through reflection and added light, of placing mirrors in their gardens.

None other than Marjorie Harris, the Canadian gardening guru, author of many books on gardening, editor of a Canadian gardening magazine of some note, did a feature last year of the renewal of her own downtown Toronto garden where she brought in landscapers whose first step was to frame a portion of her garden entirely in large mirrors. Ms. Harris admitted it took some work to get herself accustomed to seeing her "getting-older" visage in those mirrors, but she thought she would really get to love this new look.

We took in a large square mirror from our backyard today, to store it downstairs in the basement over winter. And then concluded, from the sad evidence before us that we would never again place a mirror in our garden. For into this mirror had flown a junco, its tiny back broken by the impact of its body against the hard glass of the mirror. And although we hadn't realized it at the time of earlier discovery, this was not the first casualty we experienced because of this truly stupid garden decoration.

All that looks attractive is not necessarily what it is made out to be. We should take more careful measurement of our attraction to unnatural products in natural settings.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Shopping Surfeit - Sufficient Unto The Day

Shopping, the past-time extraordinaire. Everyone indulges - is there such a thing as excess? One supposes that nadir has been has been reached when women in particular declare that this is the past-time they were born to exhaust. And in our present time and space it can be an inexhausible search for fulfilment.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, and other signal Middle East countries where women are not to be seen in public unescorted by a male relative, and must be driven to appointments, and must be covered lest the sight of their womanly attributes awaken impure thoughts in the minds of men, the place to congregate is shopping malls seemingly in the middle of a desertified landscape, where all the luxurious goods that can be available anywhere in wealthy Western countries are displayed for sale and satietion.

Little different than what we are exposed to here, where I happen to live. Where, a scant decade earlier there was a dearth of retail outlets of any description, in two short frantic years of blasting, digging and building, entire emporiums of goods appear to have arrived as though out of some fabled treasure-hunt. Now, acres of land have been given over to an orchestration of mini-malls, each hosting four or five retail establishments under a single roof, separated from the next such grouping by an elegant driveway.

These driveways criss-cross one another, each giving onto yet another grouping of retail outlets selling items as diverse as house linens, footwear, sports equipment, children's clothing, women's apparel, wine-making equipment, paint and wallpaper supplies, housewares, fast-food. And there are neighbourhood restaurants and pubs, banks, furniture stores, pharmacies, pet-food supplies, bakeries, and any number of other vital sellers-of-goods the absence of which would surely spell disaster in our lives.

Where once entire communities of shoppers parked at huge indoor shopping centres, walking into a huge indoor mall decorated with great potted palms and majestically spurting fountains, and all manner of clever little shops were collected all the better for the shopper's discriminating delectation - we now have an outdoor shopping experience. Before, the theory was that indoor shopping was a must in a cold climate country like Canada's. We've moved away from the stifling togetherness of the mall experience now, and have embraced the ersatz small-village experience of grouped shops approached from the outdoors.

All of which could conceivably spell a more salubrious way of shopping-lifestyle for potential shoppers living within a reasonably wide radius of these new shopping meccas, given their handy geographic placement, and the much-appreciated construction of pedestrian-friendly sidewalks the better to approach them by. Yet park in one of the myriad parking lots to service these grouped shops and there is an endless choreograph of vehicles spurting to and fro.

It's an exceedingly pleasant shopping landscape to be sure. The network of drives meshing with the grouped shops are not without their verdant boulevards, all well landscaped and soothing to one's aesthetic. Even if a shopper left a vehicle parked at its original spot and legged it over to a number of different shops, there might conceivably be an element of energy expended, but such, alas, is not the case, as vehicles are moved from one parking lot to access one particular shop, to yet another.

Leaving one to muse that at least when the destination was the all-encompassing mall, the vehicle was parked once, and the shopper moved about within to access the shops of interest that day. The end result being that although one had to drive to the initial installation and then home again, there was less traffic and energy usage than with this wonderful new shopping experience.

So in an ergonomic, ecology-enhancing perspective this might be conceived as a backward step.

But ain't it fun?!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sigh, The Garden Goes To Sleep

Yes, it's inevitable, but that doesn't make it any easier. The garden flourishes, it nourishes our souls with its beauty. When it was just early September I consoled myself with the thought that there was at least another whole month of "summer" in the garden, when we could continue to enjoy that unsurpassed beauty, the colour, fragrance, texture, architecture of the many garden beds and borders. And so it was. But how swiftly a month passes!

It's a yearly ritual. Hold off for as long as possible. Maintain that living beauty for as long as one can. It's just too heart-wrenching, too unfair to dismantle it all. To remove the annuals, still thriving and colourful, to cut back the perennials, still holding aloft their bright flowers. In the wake of which there is a sere landscape awaiting the advent of frozen days, of wind and snow and ice.

It has become unseasonably cold; colder than what is considered to be normal here, at this time of year. So unfair! So predictable. Weather is not predictable, but that it will do unexpected things, gifting us one day with bright sunshine and mild temperatures, blasting us with harsh winds, unremitting rain and cold temperatures the next, is predictable. We just tend to forget the inevitable.

Yes, for about a month I've been steadily cutting back those perennials whose days of bloom have passed. And those annuals whose bright colours became wan and sparse were disposed of. Gradually, the clean-up commenced and although it hardly seemed to make a difference in the overall appearance of the still-rampant growing things, it brought a tinge of sadness to the ritual that is fall.

Now, however, there is no mistaking the season. And preparations for retiring the garden must begin in earnest. That work will take many days of effort. But sad though it is, there is still the thought and the certainty that this is but a temporary set-back in the annals of one's garden's life.

For after winter doth come spring. And in preparation for that grand event, once the gardens have been cleared away, the new tulip, daffodil, crocus and hyacinthe bulbs will be planted, and watered until the ground gives way to frost.

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