Thursday, November 30, 2006

Chutzpah Unparalleled

Another letter from the distinguished and honourable Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? How very interesting, how very nice. The president of Iran writing directly to the American people. To capture the hearts and minds of Americans. Isn't that a nice turn-about? An avuncular lecture on human rights and entitlements addressed to the American populace from the president of Iran.

After all, if the United States is so given to reaching the hearts and minds of Arab populations, of Afghanistan's population, to encourage them to recognize the United States' troop presence as liberators, eager and willing to lead them to democracy and all the goods that normally accrue from that political/social/ecnomic triumph, then why not the Iranian theocratic dictatorship, human-rights abusers extraordinaire turn to the same device?

This device to save face while offering hope to an embattled population does have merit, and can produce results useful to both the oppressed and their purported saviours, after all. Trouble is, of course, that Ahmadinejad is resorting to the tediously tiresome, yet surprisingly well-used and, in many, far too many audiences, welcome tirades. Those age-old libels of Jewish domination of world finances, news sources, governmental lobbies.

With delightful cheekiness Ahmadinejad instructs Americans on what is happening to them within the comfort of their own privileged society which honours equality of persons, freedom of expression, tolerance and respect of others that "civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed". How about that? Coming from the president of a country where civil liberties are completely absent, that's quite the statement.

It is exactly fanatical jihadists like Mr. Ahmadinejad and his ilk that have been the cause of world upheaval of late. It is as a direct result of Mr. Ahmadinejad's fulminations and intents and that of his religiously-inspired jihadist consorts that the United States in its absorption with the ongoing need to protect its population and their vaunted freedoms that some elements of civil liberties have been curtailed.

However, as the world knows American policy is completely ruled and regulated by Jewish control of "a substantial portion of the banking, financial and media sectors".

Patently Transparent, Patently Pathetic

It's not surprising, but it is instructive in the sense that like sociopathic individuals, societies that practise sociopathic governance know no shame, but rather bully their way through personally unpleasant scenarios when their egregious behaviour is brought before an audience sitting in moral judgement. It's hardly a secret in the world community that Iran, its lawmakers, and its clergy represent the very epitome of a theistic, dictatorial, human-rights-abusing state.

Iran is not the only state thus distinguished, there are others, past and present. Somehow the world has managed to surmount the effects of their evil presence in our global political structure, and to move on. We may be successful in the long run, in doing the same with Iran.

What's truly troubling is the double effect of a political structure mis-ruling the lives of millions of people in a tinder-box geography, along with the fairly new threat of nuclear-power acquisition attained not for peaceful means but for military potential in this paricular state's ambitions to spread its religious beliefs, its style of mind-numbing, societal-stricturing discipline.

This regime has encountered no great problems in acquiring the backing of like-minded regimes of far lesser consequence, nor of lick-spittle support elsewhere as a result of their trumpcard of oil resources of which the world's emerging economies are desperate to secure sufficient amounts to ensure ongoing opportunities for economic advancement.

All the while Iran subjugates its people, denying Iranian women equality of opportunities and freedoms under its religion-inspired laws, harassing minorities, executing minors accused of various offences from undermining state policy to practising homosexual lifestyles. Arbitrary detention, torture, disallowance of free expression and freedom of the press, lack of judicial independence nicely round out the reality of Iran today.

Canada has been a driving force within the United Nations to try to effect changes by public censure of this country's disgusting behaviour. There are enough reasons to censure Iran without even bringing up the frightening prospect of its acquisition of nuclear power and its determination to produce its own store of nuclear arms. Add this to the fact that this is a regime which has clearly and unequivocally stated its belief and intention that another geographically co-located state is illegal in their opinion and they plan on extinguishing it from the map of the Middle East.

An international belligerent, a threat to the states continguous to its borders whose members share another version of Islam - inimical to the worship of Allah in the considered opinion of Iran's ayatollahs - a distinct threat to world peace through the psychopathic state's determination to establish another caliphate and restore honour to the long-vanquished reality of Islamic domination, this country's current regime does great dishonour to its distinguished past, while potentially imperilling world stability.

Now this human-rights pariah, this poseur of religious righteousness and state autonomy has launched a vendetta of the wrongfully accused. Attempting to turn the tables with the help of its vassal states' acquiescence it brought forward a nuisance resolution in the UN claiming Canada was committing "horrible human rights abuses" against her aboriginal communities and minorities, a resolution that died the death it deserved.

Now, the Iranian regime which accuses Canada of supporting the "Zionist regime" and its "boss", the United States, has upped the ante in its estimation, by accusing the Canadian Embassy in Tehran of spying for the United States, engaging in espionage harmful to Iran. This is the new kind of hardball political/diplomatic gamesmanship being practised by fundamental Islamists in their attempts to best the West through their own kind of games.

Odd, is it not, that Iran has received its most recent human development ranking from the United Nations placing it 96th in the world, just ahead of the economically devastated Palestinian territories whose own flagrant human-rights abuses through the ongoing encouragment of suicide bombers fairly well reflects a mindset similar to Iran's.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Words Speak Louder Than Actions

The situation in Darfur grows ever more critical. While the world wrings its collective hands, laments the intolerable situation, the deaths of hundreds of thousands, torture and maiming , rape of women and girls, displacement of millions, and does nothing practical to stop the situation.

Not only has the United Nations, despite its mandate as the world's policing agency to serve and protect failed, but it continues to insist that the Khartoum government agree to permit UN peacekeeping troops into the country to assist the powerless, underfunded and barely-trained-and-armed African Union forces.

The conflict has spread to Chad and to the Central African Republic, as Arab Janjaweed, funded and sponsored by the Sudanese government continue to cross borders in their pursuit of their hapless and helpless Sudanese refugees. Camps set up to protect the refugees invite rebels, militia and bandits where they continue to harass, rape and murder.

UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland was refused access to refugee camps by Sudanese government officials. The refugees are housed for protection from ongoing rape, pillage, murder yet within these very camps the carnage continues. Mr. Egeland was informed that the camps represented areas too dangerous to visit. So much for refugee protection.

Two hundred thousand black Sudanese have been murdered, two and a half million driven from their homes. Sudanese militia target women and children. Armed men on horseback continue to attack, loot and burn remote villages in southeastern Chad, not only Sudan, forcing hundreds to flee their homes, while some 300 Chadians have been killed.

Yet the UN Human Rights Council rejected a formal move to allocate total responsibility for this humanitarian crisis to the government of Sudan. The Sudanese government insists its geography be respected, that it alone will halt the atrocities in Darfur, yet it continues to arm the Janjaweed militias and send them out to continue this mind-numbing human misery.

The Council, re-named from the original UN Human Rights Commission continues to be dominated by African and Muslim countries. Along with China, Cuba and others they prevent criticism of individual countries' human rights abuses. With the sole exception of pointing accusatory fingers of blame at Israel, the only state that regularly is singled out for condemnation.

The European Union and Canada demanded that the Sudanese government prosecute those responsible for killing, raping and injuring civilians in Darfur, bu the council voted 22 - 20 against the resolution, despite that the United Nations has named the situation in Sudan as the world's most horrendous humanitarian disaster.

However, the council did vote 25 - 11 (10 abstaining) to approve the council's African group resolution that all parties to the conflict be called upon "to put an immediate end to the ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law with a special focus on vulnerable groups, including women and children".

That and fifty cents will gain you entrance to the future memorial within the United Nations mourning the horrible deaths of countless civilians, the displacement of millions, the ongoing degredation of humankind in Sudan.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ah, Religion!

Religion has many uses. It is a unifying force among peoples. Its use by a governing body can be critical to control of a population. It confers upon people the sense of belonging to something greater than themselves. Belief in a divine spirit delivers a comforting sense of a great power overseeing events. Humans endow a universal spirit of godliness with attributes of compassion and care while demanding of mere humans respectful attendance to the deity's divine dictums. The omniscient god is to be worshipped and his instructions obeyed.

Independent thought expressing doubt is to be deliberately excluded from a believer's mindset. The focus of thought, behaviour and mode of living to be entirely consonant with the deity's outline of the code of human behaviour. A brilliant concept, to introduce to the mind of uncertain humankind awed and inspired by the glory, the power and the unanticipated events which nature showers upon her observers, an immortal being whose image mankind reflects.

We consider ourselves in a way, children of nature. Without accepting the scientific fact that we are indeed Nature's offspring. Nature, however, in her infinite wisdom simply is. Nature is the result of he interraction between the cosmos and the elements abundant within it, the fortuitous melding of time, circumstance and the elements of life. Happenstance. Nothing deliberate.

But this elegantly simple yet complex conclusion would mean that everything that happens in the natural world is a result of accidental fortuity. That no magnificently brilliant mind belonging to a universal overseer deliberated with himself and from the vast expanse of his intelligence brought forth mankind and all the other natural elements of the world we inhabit.

Clearly, this explanation lacks dignity. Mankind requires the existence of an all-powerful god to explain our exceptionality, our existence as superior creatures.

The cosmos, the universe, is an immense construct of fact and imagination, too powerful in and of itself to be handily grasped and appreciated. That it might also be a non-presence, a stew of chemicals and little else is unacceptable. Where came direction? Where is the purpose of it? What speaks to our place within this accident of nature? God's will.

Human beings are capable of great good between and among themselves, just as they are imbued with the alternate qualities of wretched behaviours which can visit misery and mayhem one against the other. A great percentage of humankind has a natural tendency to view the presence of others with good will. While another great percentage harbours ill will against others, the "good" qualities inherent in us all, submitting to the "bad" qualities within us.

Nature is neutral, what will be will be. She merely provides the playing field where events, dramatic or plebian play out over a hugely prolonged period of time. Since she is unaffected by unfolding events, it's obvious that another, far greater presence is responsible for all that occurs, and to which Nature herself submits. God, the chess master. The Master of the Universe, the all-powerful, all-seeing, pitiless yet compassionate.

Or so needful believers adhere to. Better not to feel alone and powerlessly vulnerable. Better to believe in a universal spirit of kindness. Humankind shares one basic emotion that has the qualities to enable us to persevere through any conditions otherwise inimical to survival: hope. God has become hope's enabler.

Or is it hope that has become God's enabler?

Monday, November 27, 2006

At Ease -- versus -- On the Offensive

There were two photographs figuring large in news stories about the two-day-old truce in Gaza, an agreement for a pause in hostilities between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Yesterday's photograph was that of three or four assembled Palestinian men with threatening dark visages, all hefting kalashnikovs, leaving no mystery of their thoughts post-agreement. Seven rockets were aimed at Israel from Gaza post-agreement yesterday, and these men might very well have been the authors of the assaults.

Today's photograph is one of four young Israeli soldiers relaxing at a staging area in south Israel near the Gaza border. To a man their open friendly faces are covered with relaxed smiles of camaraderie. To be sure, their assault rifles are close at hand, but they're not hoisted ready for immediate use as were those of the insurgents, but lying close by ready for use, if need be.

Why would there be such an oceans' breadth of difference between the two groups? One group of soliders seemingly fully engaged with life and all its promises, despite the warfare conditions they've been involved with. The other group, the fiercely embittered militants appear fully attuned to dealing death. They display a tunnel vision of hideously dark dimensions.

There is hope on both sides that the accord will hold. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has instructed his security chiefs to enforce the ceasefire; thirteen thousand Palestinian police officers in flak jackets and helmets patrolling Gaza's borders for the purpose of discouraging another break in the truce.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered his army to demonstrate restraint, despite the early violation of the cease-fire, "to give this ceasefire a chance". After five months of attempting to stop the daily assault of Kassam rockets into Israeli border towns, Israel is ready to wait and see what the Fatah/Hamas PA can produce beyond the current truce.

Hamas's initial demand for the release of 1,400 Palestinians in exchange for kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit has been modified; they will now accept 400 prisoners in exchange for Cpl. Shalit. It appears that combat action during the fighting between Israel and the insurgents resulted in the deaths of mostly armed fighters, significantly reducing the ranks of insurgents.

Which might explain why they compromised even their moral compass sufficiently to encourage a Palestinian grandmother to commit herself to an attempt at multiple murders while submitting herself to the will of Allah by suicide-martyrdom. An event which brought them no plaudits from a watching world, but a sense of overall abhorrence that they would stoop so low.

Time reveals all, and one can only hope that this is not yet another stalling tactic to enable Hamas to restore their weapons cache in this interregnum between hostilities.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Some Deal, Some Dealers

The first offer from Ismail Haniyah of Hamas was for Israel to pull back all of her troops from Gaza and the West Bank in exchange for Hamas and Fatah to halt the incessant firing of rockets into Israeli territory. Well, how about that? At last, at long last, some kind of movement from Hamas. Oh dear, what's that? Only a cessation of rocket firing? That would not include suicide bombing and other incidentally lethal attacks against Israeli civilians?

Well, forget it. No deal. What kind of an absurd agreement would that represent? The State of Israel would no longer seek to halt attacks upon its citizens, its territory, if rockets no longer were lobbed, but would just sit on its hands in the event of other attacks? Right. Of course, Israel, always hopeful, had signed on to quite similar offers in the past - only to find that there was no cessation of said attacks, despite troop withdrawal.

Look at Gaza, now emptied of its Jewish settlers, at great cost to the State of Israel, but worse, much worse, so much anguish visited upon Jewish settlers in Gaza to whom a constant state of war with Palestinians and the urging of their government justified their view that this was their land, through biblical history, successful settlement in altering the landscape to productivity, to traditional "right" of conquest.

Gaza, that vast emptied land proven to be wonderfully habitable, profitable and arable, left to pride-wounded Palestinians to do with as they would. Opportunity was there, so was some of the industrial-use infrastructure for the productive use of Palestinians. Destroyed, everything destroyed. The land used for nothing more useful than a launching site for deadly rockets into Israel. Opportunity denied.

Mr. Haniyah urged the Israelis "to respect this positive readiness expressed by the Palestinian resistance factions". A broader ceasefire might be possible, it was suggested, should Israel be amenable to the offer. Israel, though, knows full well with whom she is dealing. Israel was warned by Hamas that this would be a final opportunity to cease hostilities. No deal.

A later telephone call from Fatah's Abu Masen to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured Israel that a final agreement was reached between the Fatah/Hamas factions, that all attacks from their "resistance factions" would cease. The deal was agreed to.

One supposes there can be honour between enemies. The IDF has agreed to withdraw, and their word has proven to be good. Post IDF-withdrawal, the various Islamic factions fell all over themselves to claim honour restored by a continuation of the Kassam rocket assaults. Some dealers.

We stay tuned.

Choosing Sides

Interesting how being everyone's friend turns into no one's interests. Canada, that nice friendly country, cosy with those whose direction, orientation and governance mostly closely reflects her own (hardly surprising) and delicately diplomatic with those whose abuses of governance and human rights places them in quite another sphere of influence and condemnation.

Condemned by those states whose recognition of the vital importance of observing and complying with the basic elements of human rights in a participatory humanistic democracy cannot be denied. Influence, nonetheless on other rogue states whose casual denial of the fragility of human rights as an absolute human right places them comfortably among others of their ilk. It seems so often that never the twain shall meet, but in the atmosphere of togetherness of the United Nations they do.

Canada goes out of her way to give support to marginal governments which it hopes to assist out of the mire of human want and degradation, in the process subtly encouraging them to embrace the larger interests of democracy and development toward becoming fairer entities, stretching toward prosperity for its populations. As an instance, Canada's long record of voting against the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Its willingness to trade with China and give it economic support without insisting on improvements on their human-rights record. Until recently.

China, a country which has demonized a sizeable proportion of its population for practising a humanisticly innocuous religion; hounding, jailing, and even murdering its practitioners. This is also a country which has recently admitted that it sells human organs for transplant and profit, those same organs whose origins are the cadavers of political prisoners put to death by the state - including Falon Gong practitioners.

Other instances, that of financial support given directly to corrupt governments in Africa and elsewhere for the purpose of aiding their people in want, hoping that the level of corruption will eventually fall to an acceptable compromise between a dictator's sense of entitlement and the need for the country to prosper, its people's basic human needs looked to. It's a long, sad and sorry haul.

Canada is a prosperous country, blessed with wide open spaces, arable land, beautiful and intensely varied geography, a great abundance of natural mineral resources, corporate and business acumen, an enterprising and hard-working population who share a common vision of fairness, sharing, pride in country. Its government and its people demand no less of themselves that they lend themselves to assisting less blessed countries. Though we could do more, and should.

So when Canada is sufficiently outraged at the lethal force used by another state which holds itself unaccountable to the outside world, even within the precincts of the United Nations fora - for its egregious assaults against basic human rights one might assume it does so with a modicum of confidence in its outcome. Recognition from the world body that no country should be immune to a finger of shame when it destroys peoples' hopes and in the process murders citizens.

Canada's censure of Iran for the incarceration, torture and murder of a Canadian citizen, Zahra Kazemi, did pass the motion for censure. Sufficiently so to rankle the country's "honour" to the point where it launched its own tit-for-tat censure of Canada. The government in Tehran called for the UN to censure Canada over its treatment of aboriginals and immigrants. Although the motion ultimately failed, it's immensely instructive to evaluate Iran's supporters and those who chose to abstain from voting.

Condemning Canada for poor treatment of immigrants would be hilarious if it weren't so frivolously errant as a device for accountability. This is a country of immigrants, people whose desperate search for security of person, improved opportunities and more assured futures for themselves and their children, brought them to Canada as refugees from failed countries.

Much of Canada's attention on an ongoing basis is focused on the seemingly-insolvable needs and problems facing our first nations peoples. It is not for lack of trying that Canada should be censured, and Canada requires no outside interventions to persuade her that there is an intractible internal problem. It is most definitely not a problem of deliberate state-sponsored human rights abuse.

Yet this is all well known, both at home and abroad. The nations voting against the trivial, unsubstantive motion brought forward by a vexed nation whose abuses condemn it unequivocally, were, unsurprisingly, from Western democracies. The European Union, Australia and New Zealand going further by putting it on official record that Iran's anti-Canada draft was clear retaliation as a counter-motion against Canada's successful condemnation of Iran.

Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and Belarus supported Iran's draft motion. What an illustrious group of highly respected regimes; dictatorial human-rights abusers, all. Cuba! whom Canada continues to provide political and economic support to, and where Canadians leave hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenues. A clique of the outcast countries of the world, condemning Canada for abusive treatment of immigrants and aboriginals.

And there was China, Thailand, Singapore, Barbados, Costa Rica and South Africa, all recipients at one time or another, some on an ongoing basis, of Canadian assistance in politicial, social and economic development.

Like with like.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tribal Warfare

The fine old traditions of tribal warfare goes on unabated in the Middle East. Thus it has always been thus it appears destined always to remain. It could be otherwise, but it appears to be difficult to rein in the sadistic impulses of a culture so long accustomed to being preyed upon and seeking vengeance in return. Hatred appears to be the order of the day.

What is it other than a celebration of bloodlust when one video after another is aired on Arab television demonstrating the seriousness with which the population finds their concept of martyrdom appealing; a visceral hatred for the enemy displayed whether it be another tribe - or the ultimate "other", Israel.

Make no mistake, if Israel were not present the incessant pathology of hate would still dominate the minds and aspirations of these tribally-primal populations. This is their dominant cultural attraction: revenge for perceived wrongs, insults to honour whether of ancient vintage or through the medium of more current events.

Hard to believe? No.
Hard to stomach? Yes.

Look no further than the present tribe-on-tribe carnage in Iraq. There, nothing is sacred. The militants bomb and strafe innocent civilians entering and exiting mosques. They prey on men seeking occupations which may gain them the funds required to support their families. Although they share the same religion, roving bands of sectarian thugs bomb mosques other than their own.

If the casual armies of jihadists murdered one another, Shi'ite against Sunni, there would be no big loss. The dreadful thing is that they enter opposite neighbourhoods with the intent of killing innocent civilians merely because they represent the "wrong" interpretation of Islam. And then feel exultant about their deadly excesses because they're serving Allah as they've been taught to do.

Most of the world celebrates the glory of life in all its endless permutations and potentials. They glory in the celebration of death. Their own, as martyrs to an ancient cause, molten into their genes. And that of others whose lives they violently take espousing their implacably deadly cause.

A primeval thirst for blood, for vengeance, for honour and for territorial, cultural and religious advantage dominates the culture. Fix your gaze upon Darfur. Remember Mumbai, London, Spain and Bali. Recall the transfixing horror of New York.

Yet these are people like all others. Like you and me.

They have been deprived by their culture of a sense of self. The collective of murderous aggrievement has effectively shut down the possibility of personal rationality, the ability to reach sound conclusions, to govern oneself in a civil manner toward others, to extend compassion.

These are people for whom exposure to humanistic attitudes has been denied in the all-abiding, primal defence of the tribe. The full development of a universally applied social conscience has been denied them for the close comfort of a religion that informs them through the self-interested prism of rigid cultural-social prohibitions, exclusive of outside influence.

They are true exemplars of humankind's worst possible outcomes, unwilling to look closely at what they represent, too comfortable with the familiar, as horribly stultifying and anti-life as it is.

What...Us? Nah!

Who knew that Ottawa had a prime-time comedian in our foreign diplomatic community? But there he is, larger than life, Ambassador Georgly Mamedov, making like a Russian Damon Runyon. The wrong comics are making headlines. This man's dead-pan delivery, incredible send-up of a haplessly misunderstood mission is not to be believed.

Ambassador Mamedov has a rare talent, and it must be seen/heard to be truly appreciated. This jewel of a man, this incredible spokesperson for his country has honed an obviously superb ability to project the image of hurt innocence representing a country whose single most vital purpose on this earth is to ensure human dignity prevails over human rights abusers - both true champions of virtue, ethics and moral imperatives.

Canada's CSIS agents have unveiled the presence within this country of a Russian agent, an embedded agent whose purpose here is to engage in surveillance of the country and to report back to his political handlers in Russia. And here we silly old things thought that with the dissolution of the USSR, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, surreptitious spying on friendly countries would remain a dead image of the unfortunate past with all of its misgivings and misunderstandings. Friends now, friends forever.

Old habits die hard. But what are we talking about, anyway? All these charges are unsubstantiated, mere figments of charged imaginations within our own spy agency. Ahah! Canada has a spy agency, so it's clear, we're at fault here, fabricating the existence of a foreign spy answerable to a vast network within Russia controlling the activities of thousands of foreign spies on Canada's soil. Much like the charges against China controlling countless spies here as well. We're pathologically neurotic!

After all, Mr. Mamedov should know; he suggests the suspect in custody could conceivably be a mobster, since Canada has also lately arrested numberless suspects in a Mafia crackdown. It's his considered opinion that the current situation resembles a failed attempt to do Casino Royale one better. "I don't run a spy shop here", he rumbled. He knows nothing of the named Paul William Hampel, a decade-long resident of Canada long under suspicion and found in possession of quite incriminating materials.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service may believe that Mr. Hampel is an undercover intelligence officer instructed by and reporting to Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), but ha-ha, the joke's on you, he isn't, we'd know, says Mr. Mamedov, and quit trying to pin things on us: the case, he says, is not a "slam dunk".

Nor, needless to say, is Russian intrigue involved in the death yesterday of a former Russian intelligence officer, Alexander Litvinenko who defected to the West. The chemical agent in his untimely demise has not yet been identified but the lethal agent did its job well; notwithstanding the effects exerted to save his life by a team of doctors at University College Hospital in London. "The bastards got me," Mr. Litvinenko whispered before finally expiring, "But they won't get everybody".

Mr. Mamedov's performance equals skilful satire at its most exquisite; reducing savage cold war techniques of spying and the performance of assassinations against turncoats to mere skulduggery. At a time of international tension - comedy!

(No Kramer, doesn't work that well in reverse; check yourself into a mood-disorder clinic. All will be forgiven...)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Justice? Variably Human

We have a world body formulated to ensure, to attempt to ensure that representatives of countries, nations around the world come together in an effort to work together in the promotion of world harmony, of peace between nations, of the wealthy assisting the poor, the advanced nations holding out a helping hand to the under-developed world. To achieve, eventually, some kind of parity where no country's population goes hungry or remains gainfully unemployed without the others feeling compelled to answer their need.

For the most part it works reasonably well. The United Nations is a mandated world body to oversee the health and fitness of our globe, country by country, region by region. It is also a court of public opinion, an arbitrator, an interlocutor, a source of humane succouring to those in need. It is an institution where those who come together for the purpose of trying to make the world a better place can work together in good faith for the good of all.

That is the ideal. The reality is in there somewhere, half way between trying and inertia. Assembled countries, singly and in allied groups are able to point out what they take to be egregious behaviour on the part of other UN members and hold a vote of non-confidence in those countries within the world body. Now a powerful UN policy committee feels this should be done otherwise, that the world body should no longer shame human rights violators.

Canada has yearly tabled a condemnation of Iran's human rights record in the UN, since the 2003 torture and murder in a Tehran prison of an Iranian-Canadian. Iran was able, through its influence on other countries dependent on it for its vast natural resources in oil, to gather almost enough nay votes to avoid censure. One hundred and three countries in the United Nations indicated they did not agree that despite a dreadful record of human rights abuses, Iran should be held accountable.

In many instances this is also a form of self-protection, since a good many of those countries also bear an unenviable reputation for human rights abuses. Arab and Muslim countries direct country-specific attacks in the General Assembly on a regular basis, lining Israel in their sights for general approbation for what they term as aggression, and what in reality is defensive actions against attacks from those same regimes.

If the Arab and Muslim countries had their way, along with their many dependent supporters they would ideally like to engineer a situation where individual countries are never named or called to public account for their obvious and well-publicized (outside the countries of origin) human rights abuses. And to make a sole exception for the State of Israel.

The idea behind dialogue without finger pointing is that human-rights-abusing countries will be spoken to quietly, behind closed doors, diplomatically, with a view to encouraging them to alter priorities and change long-ingrained habits of abusive conduct from state-sponsored murder to long-term incarcerations, torture and appalling instances of state harassment against minorities, religious minorities, and what is considered deviant sexual behaviour otherwise known as same-sex alliances.

These countries should then, the reasoning goes, be encouraged to make changes with the delivering of funds or technical assistance to assist them in improving their human rights performance. They insist that dialogue on human rights should "not be used for political purposes", however they define that.

Another case in point is the UN Commission for Human Rights and its current commissioner Louise Arbour, a product of the Canadian judicial system, and an exemplar of the Canadian Quebecoise leftist elite who love to champion an underdog, and who harbour vestiges of their culture's predeliction for anti-Semitism.

This all represents yet another face of human-directed justice. We always hope to be able to expect better from the world body, but then they are only comprised of humans, and humankind is so very terribly compromised with all its self-promoting advantages one over the other.

At least we're talking.

Justice is Blind

She is portrayed that way; blind. Blind, to indicate that neither fear nor favour can impinge on her neutrality, her ability to sift fact from fiction to deliberate, to weigh the pros and cons, to arrive at a balanced response. Sounds good, and most of us have grat respect for Justice, we honour her and believe in her and we call out to her and for her intervention, to give meaning and direction to our lives, to succour us, to right wrongs.

But because her administration is conducted through the design of human fallacy she reaches her judgement through a web of human shortcomings. We humans require justice to be done. Justice done represents the underpinnings of democracy. Due justice is sought everywhere to validate the belief that mankind is endowed with those emotional characteristics that raise us from the muck and mire of daily struggle where in extremes of emotion we bring forth from dark hidden places inside ourselves those other emotions which we cannot control through the intellect we are endowed with as a counterbalance.

Those whom we select to represent Justice in our courts are enjoined to examine all the data available and reach a reasonable compromise representing societal justice. So who is to say that individuals whose moral imperatives have been compromised will not be placed in these positions of high moral judgemental office? We hope and pray that individuals whose sense of justice has not been impaired by personal ethical frailties or discriminatory beliefs will stand in judgement on us.

We believe in the system of justice we have in place to ensure neutrality in weighing issues of social moment, to arrive at a response reflecting even-handedness, fairness, a reflection of the law that is in place to protect society as a whole. It is then left to fallible humans to appraise, to evaluate, to study, to reach balanced and informed conclusions.

The process can only reflect the independent thoughts, the academic credentials and humanistic training of moderate-minded individuals entrusted to weigh critical facts and issues, then render judgements reflective of society's agreed values, norms and ethics. We seek human solutions to often-intractible human problems, hoping that panels comprised of suitably schooled, empathetic judges can assemble their collective wisdom to arrive at acceptable, workable solutions to vexing issues facing individuals, groups or society at large.

We say justice delayed is justice denied. But even when justice is expedited through the system there are no guarantees that justice will be done, when facts are sifted through the lens of human beings, however trusted, however creative-minded, however well meaning. Just solutions proposed by inadequae human intellectual resources are celebrated for the validation they provide that justice prevails. Then we're willing to accept the conceit that Justice has done her duty.

But there are interventions of vested interests, there is the problem of moral relativism, allegiances of religion, culture and politics corrupting the process - to sway opinions of already-compromised human decision-makers. Process can only be as successful as its human representatives' true neutrality to the issues at hand.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

That's Gratitude, For You

How perfectly uncivil. Someone visits them and they demonstrate their gratefulness at interest in their well-being by lobbing stones. Well, what can you expect from such people anyway? They're entirely too arrogant, feeling that their problems should trump others' problems to begin with. They have a strong government to look to their interests, the other unfortunates have a bickering do-nothing government. You can see where sympathies lie, of course; one must have one's priorities in order; the underdog rules.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights got a front-row-centre-view of the civil-bludgeoning effect that a rocket bombardment can have on unprotected civilians first hand in Sderot when a hostile crowd of (who else?) Iraelis demonstrated their disdain for a UN ambassador who berates and threatens their government for its attempts to protect their lives. How unreasonable.

"I saw people in Beit Hanoun, civilians, mothers who lost their children, who feel...terribly exposed, terribly vulnerable, extremely afraid, very abandoned and I have a sense there is the same thing here," she said in Sderot. Brilliant. The residents of Beit Hanoun accept the presence of fanatical Islamists knowing full well their intent to bombard other residents of Sderot just across the border but they feel vulnerable, frightened, abandoned. Why do they not demand of the Hamas militants that they cease and desist, that they feel the lives of Israelis are as much to be protected as their own?

Commissioner Louse Arbour ventures the opinion that the residents of Sderot feel exposed, vulnerable, afraid, and of course they are, why wouldn't they be, since there is a relentless onslaught of deadly rockets headed their way on a daily basis? The truth is there, it is obvious, the woman witnessed several such attacks, including a deadly one taking the life of a nearby worker in Sderot. Is she incapable of making the connection?

Instead she intones the mantra of the UN that Israel must look for "partnership" to build a sustainable atmosphere for peace. Does this woman live with her head in the sand, her arse in the air? With whom, exactly, must Israel bid for peace: Hamas whose leadership is adamant that they will drive Israel into the sea, and who delight in murdering innocent civilians? This is the same Hamas that both murders indiscriminately and harbours ambitions to lead the Palestinians to their long-awaited homeland encompassing the entire region, sans Israel.

This woman is intolerably tedious, tendentious, obnoxious, arrogant, irresponsible and a downright pain in the arse. Pontificate, my dear, to the Khartoum government.

Failing that, visit the PA and lecture Hamas. They too are a government. They too must respect international law. They too have an obligation to meet Israel half way in the bid for a "partnership" to build an atmosphere where peace may be sustained.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Abysmal Iniquities of Religious Sectarianism

So many of the world's religions are split into segments which disagree profoundly with one another. Seldom have we seen the kind of murderous vitriol that describes the bloody enmity one tribal religious allegiance holds against another, other than the current situation in Iraq. Sunni and Shia Muslims have fought one another for hundreds of years, each claiming to represent the true face of Islam, but they have also lived together in the harmony of neighbours recognizing the split of faith, but embracing the spirit of the god whom they both worship.

Ah, but when civil order breaks down, human inhibitions are replaced with raw tribal jealousies, suspicions and destructive impulses at their most deadly. The world has seen time and again how divisive religious differences can be, how bloody the outcome of settling those differences can be. Yet, witnessing the utter mindless chaos now ongoing in Iraq it's doubtful that any news media has ever reported on the scope of mutilations, murders, humanitarian outrages such as are now happening in Iraq.

Abd al-Sattar Obeid's sons Ali, 28 and Thaer, 27 shot dead during the memorial service for their younger brother Mohammed who was gunned down alongside his uncle and two cousins. Unmasked gunmen interrupted the procession of mourning carrying Kalashnikovs and pistols. Abd al-Sattar Obeid declared "I begged them, I told them, please don't kill anyone. We have done nothing. What have we done to deserve this? But they didn't listen to me. They killed my two other sons and ran."

One of his sons had five children, the other two, and the third three. These children are now without their fathers, their uncle, their cousins. Sectarian violence, all-out war of Sunni against Shia has deprived them of their immediate and their extended family. Their bereaved and anguished grandfather is yet left to them. But even that is uncertain, just as their own survival in this maelstrom of unforgiving violence remains unassured.

Iran - that threat to world stability on its very own in its self-fulfilling determination to hurl nuclear death at its enemies, its march to world supremacy, the long-awaited advent of world-wide subjugation to and the wider embrace of Islam - has been busy supplying and funding the Shiite death squads responsible for thousands of deaths in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Their vision of the Prophet Muhammad moves their agenda forward to world domination.

Syria is responsible for the surge of Sunni jihadists and insurgents, thought to be in the order of a hundred daily, streaming into Iraq across its contiguous borders. Syria, one of the few Arab states bereft of natural resources, feeling itself needful of reaching out yet again to the resources of its neighbours, intent on restoring its hegemony over Lebanon, is yet another piece of this intractable puzzle.

Over seven hundred Iraqi civilians have been killed during the past week as a never-ending, but increasing cycle of violence represented by Sunni attacks and Shiite militia reprisals, gives way to Shia attacks and Sunni militia reprisals. Somewhere in all of this is the fragmented, undedicated Iraqi government forces, themselves implicated in attacks on civilians, kidnappings, murders.

Murderous barbarism has been unleashed. The odious genie of tribal fanaticism will not readily slip back into the jar of civilization.

Ban It and They Will Protest

What's more, the protest will turn to defiance. Women have become the unwitting scapegoats of the war of words between the West and Islam. It's difficult to distinguish motive and intent in Muslim men, between men who appear to belong to the mainstream of reasonable Islam, and those dedicated to extreme fanatacism. Much easier for simple Western minds to grasp the idea that if a Muslim woman wears extreme religious clothing, taken to be the burka, the niqab, she becomes a visible symbol of the Islamists' intent.

So the Muslim woman who is already beleaguered by the very fact that she is identifiably Muslim in a Western society is adopted as a symbol of what is wrong when Islam refuses to meld into the societal mainstream, the ideal of Western secular humanism, keeping herself apart, deliberately refusing even the illusion of assimilating into the social fabric and universal culture of her newly-adopted country.

Conservative Islam in its latest manifestations, exhibiting its rigid Koranic interpretations inimical to living in harmony with other religions, other cultures, other social constructs has already had a dampening effect on Muslim women's human rights. Along comes outside sources who, given the most recent history of clashes between the solitudes of Islamism and the West, begin to blame the most visible symptoms of Islamic repression.

The response is predictable: insults within the family are borne with quiet dignity; insults from without are not to be tolerated, the family draws together. Thus, Muslim women, like it or not, feel compelled to rush to the aid of their religion, that succouring religion that informs their very souls' ease, their way of life from cradle to grave. Those who have never before given thought to the veil - hitherto relatively emancipated Muslim women - begin to see the political utility of defiance.

This is human nature, this is the way most people respond to criticism, to hostility - by drawing into themselves by disowning their detractors' insults, by embracing those elements of their personal beliefs that have been the cause of their social grief. Muslim women then point out that to wear the hajib is their right, their choice, the manner in which they pledge themselves to Islam.

Is that any less acceptable than the suggestively obscene manner in which liberated young Western women flaunt their physical presence with thongs poking out of low-slung jeans? This is a legitimate observation brought forward by Muslim women in defence of their body-covering traditional garb which marks them as Muslim women embracing their faith in a public manner, and which we Westerners discover to be so intolerable.

Muslim women have become an unfortunate scapegoat of intolerance. It is not the women, not the coverings they are now adopting where they once eschewed them, because to wear them has become a statement of defiance against general approbation, a political statement of allegiance to their forebears, their culture, their history, their religion. By seeking to ban the hijab and the burka we are succumbing to an inappropriate response to our own inadequacies in dealing with the very real threat of Islamism.

Yes, it is disconcerting to be faced with another human being who chooses to withdraw her individuality, her presence, from the scrutiny of society, and more particularly, from the potential of meeting one-on-one in recognition of the elemental social need to be able to view that person to whom one speaks, even on the most superficial level of passing on the street and delivering a greeting in passing. This is an alienating social act, behaviour not anticipated in the normal mainstream of life in Western society.

But it is not illegal, not until a ban comes into effect. And if and when it does, it avails nothing at all; its purpose is clouded in rhetoric and suspicion. By banning the burka and other like coverings for Muslim women society only succeeds in driving diversity away by feeding on the unpalatability of accepting mores not our own. This does nothing to advance the cause of harmony among peoples, and goes a long way to creating ever more divisions among people of varying cultures.

This is not the answer to the dilemma facing Western society against the noxious rise of Islamism and the threat it poses to the world at large, and just incidentally to moderate Muslims around the world.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Syria's Sincere Assistance

Oh look, here is the foreign minister of Syria, come to Iraq to address his counterpart parliamentarians in the government in Baghdad, to indicate the sincere willingness of his country to offer any and all assistance to their embattled neighbour. Syria wishes to convey the information that it is concerned about all the "unrest" in Iraq, and it will commit to doing its utmost to help calm the situation of murder and mayhem, unending blood-letting, ongoing carnage; offences to humanity. All of which is very unrestful.

Following a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Mr. Hoshyar Zebari, Syria's foreign minister, Mr. Walid Moallem called for a timed withdrawal of foreign troops on the grounds that this will help "stabilize Iraq". For his part, Mr. Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister stated that Mr. Moallem's visit would open "a new page in relations between the two countries"; that Iraq anticipated "complete relations with Syria".
Oh yes, indeed yes.

Mr. Moallem further stated that Syria is prepared to "back the country's political process and is ready to offer all help required in maintaining the unity of Iraq". Syria, after all, has had a lot of experience in this type of thing. Remember Lebanon? Refer to Lebanon's crippling civil war. Refer to Syria's kind assistance to Lebanon. Recall Syria's annexation of Lebanese wealth, resources, its beggaring of Lebanese national aspirations and sovereignty.

There's a lot of work cut out for Syria here in stabilizing Iraq and earning its undying gratitude. It will, of course, start with controlling its porous borders across which pour unabated suicide-bomber aspirants of Syrians, Egyptians, Saudis. Yes, there is some significant unrest and destabilization one could say:
  • Gunmen kidnapped Iraq's deputy health minister from his home in a Sunni district of Baghdad yesterday and at least 55 people were killed in attacks across the country;
  • Five westerners were kidnapped in southern Iraq;
  • There was a mass abduction of dozens of men from a Baghdad ministry building;
  • A suicide car bomber posing as a contractor loking for workers blew himself up among a crowd of labourers killing at least 22, wounding 44. The bomber was a Syrian, arrested along with two Egyptians and an Iraqi - brothers-in-arms.
  • A group of farm labourers came under attack in a small village; 8 were killed, 2 wounded when their minibus was sprayed with bullets;
  • Ten Iraqis were killed when four car bombs exploded within minutes of each other at a bus station in southeast Baghdad's largely Shia neighbourhood.
  • Three children were killed in the northern town of Hawijah when a booby-trapped toy exploded.
  • In the northern city of Kirkuk eleven people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up.
This is just the time and place for rapacious, conscienceless Syria to enter the picture. Good luck, all.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

What a splendidly officious title. Who could possibly argue about the need to ensure that human rights remain on the agenda, everywhere, anywhere, that we all be alerted to egregious instances of abuses. Thank heavens Louise Arbour is on the scene - now we will begin to see the light of reason prevail. We will see the malefactors brought to justice, we will see the victims of human rights abuses cradled in the gentle embrace of their defenders.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has brought her fact-finding delegation to Gaza, to view for themselves the straitened circumstances in which Palestinians live under their oppressor. From interviews with the bereaved she can hear how the IDF deliberately murders and maims without just cause, without reason, against all humane impulses so abundantly found amongst the Palestinian population of "insurgents" terrorists by any other name.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also scheduled a tour of Israel in her fact-finding mission. Will she commisserate with those bereaved who have Jewish names as well, and tell them as she has done the Palestinians in Beit Haroun that she is there to assure them that the world has not forgotten them? Most certainly that will be on her agenda. As will also be the imperative to scold Palestinian terrorists among the civilians for deliberately exposing the innocent to danger.

I'm anxious to read all about it. Particularly having missed all the news coverage of her otherwise well-publicized fact-finding trips to the Darfur region of Sudan, where she similarly reassured the millions of displaced black Muslim Sudanese, where she expressed her sincere regret and outrage against the murdering Janjaweed and government Sudanese forces on behalf of the tens of thousands of dead women, children and elderly from Darfur.

Nineteen civilian Palestinians were killed by an inadvertent IDF strike meant to destabilize the deliberate and ongoing rocket attacks from the town of Beit Hanoun and its sister towns, against Israeli villages and towns and kibbutzim. Any deaths of non-combatants are tragedies, but one must also muse upon the compliance of a civilian population which understands that its "heroes" attack other civilians and with no compunction whatever when Israeli civilians are killed or wounded, children terrified on a daily basis.

The children of Sderot are now testifying before a public commission in Israel, describing their daily fears and the terror they experience at the ongoing assaults from Gaza on their community. Louise Arbour, don't, whatever you do, forget to speak with these children.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What Other Country?

That's interesting, to say the least. The very least. Israel's bad luck just goes on and on. It hardly matters what the State does to try to protect its citizens, it is seen as an aggressor. What other country, what other state would stand by and do nothing while its borders were breached by munitions meant to spread terror among its citizenry? None, of course.

Certainly none of those countries surrounding that tiny sliver in the Middle Eastern geography. Certainly none of those countries in Europe and Africa and beyond who would, all of them, assert their military might to bring the malefactors to flight. Right? Israel is held to different, quite impossible standards. Which means what? Stand and take it? Well, Israeli citizens feel otherwise: they demand their government protect them.

In response to which, Israel calls up its defence forces and delegates them the task of protecting their borders, the citizens living within those borders. They fight an elusive enemy, one which is comprised of a hard core of embittered militants, encouraged by the masses of Palestinians discouraged by the inadequacies of their own leaders to find workable solutions toward peace with the State of Israel.

That same elusive enemy that melts into a crowd of civilians, that sees nothing amiss in sheltering themselves and their armaments within civilian enclaves, that sees great utility in firing off missiles from among the very midst of those populations knowing full well that when a responding assault is sent off it will register exactly the same position where the original missile emanated from.

The result is an untimely death for members of the civilian population while the aggressors melt away, unharmed, but later more than capable of screaming foul! to the international community all too eager to condemn not the attackers but the defenders. Nor are those civilians who have been the deliberate victims of those who claim to represent them able to use reason to conclude they have been duped.

Now, what have we? Families of those Palestinian civilians accidently killed in Beit Hanoun plan to sue the State of Israel. They plan to sue for monetary compensation for the deaths, rather than hold the true killers of their relatives to any responsibility. Name me one other country in the region where plaintiffs in such a situation could retain the services of an (in this case, Jewish) attorney for the purpose of a civil lawsuit for unlawful death against the State.

What will this initiative solve? Will it bring back the dead? Will it help fill a depthless chasm in the hearts of the surviving family members? Will it in any way bring light to the matter of tribal hatred? Will it point a finger of responsibility to Palestinian civilians who, by their very complicity in the activity of the militants in targeting Jewish civilians are guilty in part?

Will it be instrumental in any positive way in bringing an end to the current crisis?

Ah, but it will illustrate the trust that even Israel's avowed enemies hold in her democratic system, her sense of justice, her independent judiciary.

Palestinian Authority groups and international human rights organizations are encouraging the families involved to bring their case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Will the Court of Justice in the Hague look at the whole picture and make a just determination outlining in their esteemed opinion that there is wrong and responsibility in both sides?

Doubt it.

Thank You, Mr. Prime Minister

Oh dear, business groups and corporate heads in Canada are all in a dither over Prime Minister Stephen Harper's lack of respect for their rights. The Prime Minister has asserted, publicly (!) that he has no intention of denying Canada's respect for universal human rights, and he planned to discuss just that during his talks with the Chinese President. Horrors! Offend the Chinese, bring them to the point of losing face; simply not done. Well, why not?

MP Jason Kenney was instrumental in having Canada honour the Dalai Lama on his latest visit to Canada. His Excellency the Dalai Lama is now an honourary Canadian citizen. No big deal for this illustrious personage, but rather a big deal for Canada. It has offended China. Well, suppose we think of it this way: China has offended the rest of the world with its actions in Tibet, its brutal repression of the Tibetans, its disavowal of the sacred and temporal position in Tibet of the Dalai Lama.

Oh yes, and there's the little matter of the politely overlooked national aspirations of Taiwan. What country in the world doesn't feel that the Taiwanese deserve their sovereignty, other than China. What country in the world doesn't want to have official relations with Taiwan. What country in the world feels it can afford to bring the wrath of China down upon them?

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter McKay has permitted an odd lapse in diplomatic procedure to occur by meeting with the ambassadors of many of the countries of the world which have diplomatic legations in Ottawa, but he has somehow (oops) overlooked a critical courtesy of meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Canada. He's a young man, one cannot understand how it might have slipped his mind.

Oh yes, the same Peter McKay mused aloud about the prevalence of industrial espionage agents from China operating within Canada. Dear, oh dear. This man is the chief of Canada's diplomatic contingent? Guess I'll have to change my mind about the efficacy and delicacy of diplomatic overtures among the diplomatic community; I always had the impression that Canada's diplomatic corps was rather rough-and-tumble, a real scurvy lot.

It does us proud as Canadians that our Prime Minister will state loud and clear that his imperative as the leader of this country is the well-being of Canadians. It is the well-being of a Canadian citizen of Chinese heritage which concerns Mr. Harper, a dissident who decries some of the methods meted out by the Government of China, and for which he is now paying dearly. Incarcerated and incommunicado; China did not even inform the government of Canada of their intent to bring this man to trial'\, to charge him; how revolting. How's that for a diplomatic lapse?

Go to it, Mr. Prime Minister.

As for all those nay-sayers, troubled about their bottom line: remember there's a sizeable trade imbalance between Canada and China. Yes, we'd feel the pinch if all those cheap and well-made consumables stopped flooding our market. We'd know it if our own primary products' flow halted; our natural resources which China badly needs to ensure it can continue its inexorable rise. They receive our primary resources; we receive their finished products.

Hey, who do you think needs the flow continued unabated more, China or Canada?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

From Silent Spring to Plentiful Graves

The deadly scourge of malaria, once almost brought to heel by the effective use of DDT, has gained a substantial come-back in Africa and elsewhere in the third world where susceptibility to the mosquito-borne vector of this noxious disease is endemic. DDT has not been used as a chemical agent to eradicate deadly mosquitoes for six decades, and in that time there has been a spectacular rise in deaths due to malaria among vulnerable children in Africa.

The famed biologist Rachel Carson wrote in the 1940s of the devastation wrought in the natural world by the use of DDT, and alerted the world to its inimical effect on birds and all manner of small creatures, effectively halting the use of this pesticide whose original purpose was to target a single deadly organism - but the indiscriminate use of which horribly affected organisms throughout the food chain.

Toward the end of her book,
Silent Spring, Ms. Carson made it abundantly clear she was not advocating the total ban or absolute withdrawal of useful pesticides, but rather that she was intent on demonstrating the need for responsible, carefully-managed use of these substances, with an increased awareness of the chemicals' impact on our entire ecosystem. Her section on DDT was concluded by the phrases: "spray as little as you possibly can", rather than continue spraying "to the limit of your capacity".

Regardless, her observations on the deadly fallout of DDT and her impassioned pleas had the effect of totally discrediting the carefully-measured use of DDT. Measured to a dosage sufficient to the purpose at hand; the close eradication of mosquitoes and larvae carrying malaria and infecting huge swaths of populations in undeveloped countries. The gap left by the discontinued use of the chemical left the coast clear for a spectacular come-back of that dread disease.

Malaria now is the single greatest cause of child mortality in much of Africa. There are many concerned scientists and environmentalist who urge the studied return of DDT whose effectiveness in fighting malaria has never been equalled, but there is still much in the way of suspicion for its continued use. And meanwhile, children are dying, not in small numbers, but rather over one million children die from malaria annually.

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, a medical activist, was instrumental in alerting the developed world to the devastation among Africa's children. He and his concerned colleagues have set up a charitable oranization to supply families with treated netting, a mosquito bed net. The net is treated with insecticide to last for a five-year period. Spread over a child's bed it provides assurance that the child will grow to become an adult. advertises its presence and invites charitable donations to concerned individuals who wish to help. There is a cost of $10 to purchase and distribute a net for a child - free, because of the help of donors. The first two targeted countries are Liberia and Rwanda.

Ten dollars buys a lot of hope, it buys a life.

Your Neanderthal Father...?

It's possible, entirely possible. You may have within your genetic code a footprint fragment of DNA linking you way, way back in prehistory to Neanderthal man. You always suspected it anyway, didn't you? All those times when you submerged good sense and blurted out how you really felt about situations, and then had that disrespectful label flung in your face: Neanderthal!

Well, let's face it, none of us is truly responsible for the genes we've inherited; nature took care of that in her inimitable way, linking our ancesters in ways we couldn't even begin to guess at.

So here were two separate and very distinct pro-human archetypes, one called Neanderthal, those whom we imagine shambling along with a distinct sloping lope, slanted forehead, bony features, shaggy as all hell. Hey, guess what? they had larger brains than their "modern human" counterparts. They buried their dead, they constructed rudimentary tools, they recognized and made their own music. Nah, nah!

And then there was that other group, our forefathers so to speak, modern, yet not completely modern humans, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, Man the Wise (hah!), the tabula rasa of you and me and everyone else claiming to be part of humankind. Ah, but the thing is, many evolutionary biologists and paleoanthropolgists believe, based on what little evidence there is, that the two strains, although separate and distinct, lived alongside one another and had more than ample opportunity to inter-breed, and in fact, did.

Well, not entirely. Remember that larger brain, leading to a larger cranium; a large, bony head? I recall reading decades ago theories about inter-breeding and potential relations which might have existed between the two - before Neanderthal disappeared from the fossil record entirely, about 30,000 years ago. Neanderthal men might attempt to father a child with a "modern human" prototype, but it would be destined to failure, given the pelvic-bone spacing of the human female.

Alternatively, the "modern human" male fathering a child with a Neanderthal female could reach success, given the adaptation of the female to her own species' larger cranium and her own birth canal and pelvic-bone spacing to accommodate same. Bearing a human child would be child's play (likely sometimes was. You mightn't have had a human female forbear, but its entirely possible that there's a Neanderthal mother away back in your DNA history. How does that strike you?

Of course this is all conjecture; scientists have not yet been successful in isolating anything remotely like evidence in modern humans today of Neanderthal ancestry through some tiny, teeny, isolated DNA bitties, but they might yet, should they be entirely successful in developing the entire DNA sequence of our bedding cousins.

Mystery upon mystery. Stay tuned: we're going to hear a lot more.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Yes, yes, what to do with Kashechewan. Leave it to fester as it has been doing for far too long? Move it out of the floodplain in which it is currently situated and which leads to problems of flooding and water contamination? Neither option comes anything close to a solution. The people of Kashechewan live unnatural lives of degredation and hopelessness, in complete isolation from the opportunities available to other Canadians.

Yes, there was the imagined pride of living the way one's ancestors did, naturally, within nature, hunting when required - and what happened to that? It was an unrealistic ideal. What other population sought to live as their ancestors did? Well, I can think of those quaint little living museums, pioneer-type villages that 20th century citizens loved to visit from time to time to remind themselves of what they left behind. What they left behind, for most, was hardship, privation, rampant disease, illness, inadequate shelters.

Canadians, like citizens of any advanced society left the past behind, although fondly recalling aspects of the past that seemed appealing in memory, often far removed from reality. Civilizations move forward, they take advantage of technical advances, of creative new living environments, of opportunities for livelihoods that satisfy the human need for active employment and participation in civic life.

What have the native Canadians living in Kashechewan and in so many other communities accomplished for themselves? Isolation from the mainstream, acceptance of a status of dependence on government coffers far in excess of that issued to other Canadians, and all to no avail. They have no pride in place, few opportunities for gainful employment, inadequate medical care, no interest in the maintenance and upkeep of properties they don't themselves own.

Drug misuse and alcoholism is rampant in the community, children's lives are at risk. Educational opportunities for children are mishandled and insecurely operated. Children are not prepared to take their rightful place in society, they are given no options, no opportunities, no interest in life. Their disaffection with their station in life reflects that of their elders.

The people of Kashechewan need to be rescued from the incompetence of their self-serving feudal-style chiefs who love the reserve lifestyle, since they're more concerned with enriching themselves and their cronies personally than the welfare of the community. Not all reserves reflect the disaster that is Kashechewan, but too many do. We rarely hear of the successful reserves, but they're there; they are the ones who are competently managed, who have moved themselves into the mainstream, who have discovered ways to integrate themselves into neighbouring economies.

Canadian taxpayers spend $9-billion annually in the preservation of resident reserves. That translates to approximately $80,000 for each resident-household on a reserve, and this amount of money represents far more than the average Canadian family lives on in relative comfort and security through their own managed resources.

Human nature demands more of aboriginals than the acceptance of the status quo. Human beings are hard-wired to produce for themselves, to mature into independent, intelligent and forward-looking survivors. Aboriginals have to become more personally resourceful, responsible, engaged in the proces of living, to ensure their own futures and the viability of their children's.

As good a place to start as any is the determination to break away from the paternalism traditionally demanded by tribal elders, the complete reliance on federal transfer monies in lieu of personal achievement and self-management. Efforts to become self-reliant, self-sufficient and proud pays solid dividends. With no personal effort and commitment to withdrawal from the soul-crushing cradle-to-grave financial support administered through Indian Affairs native peoples live hollow, insubstantial lives of resentful boredom.

There is no integrity in dependence, there is no pride in lack of personal achievement. With no vested interest in private ownership of land and home, no employment to sustain and nourish independence, there is no interest in establishing a good life for oneself. The opportunities available to most Canadians from achieving a reasonable education to pursuing a profession, to pride in home ownership and raising healthy families is denied native communities.

This fallacy of leaving native Canadians to live "natural, cultural" lifestyles has led inexorably to family unit breakdowns, lack of suitable education opportunities, alcohol and drug dependencies, critical health problems, soaring suicide rates, violence, societal crimes and incarcerations far outstripping their relative numbers in society. It's time to look at upsetting the status quo.

The remedy is obvious and right at hand. Ecnomic and social integration. While safeguarding cultural memories. Apartness, tribal ghettoes, isolated communities living the sad myth of retention of an historical way of life, a more "authentic life experience" has failed. Badly, sadly.

Time to move on, to integrate into the larger community of Canadian life. Where tradition and culture can still be celebrated.

The Nobel Women's Initiative

Leave it to women to identify the fall-out of warfare whose death-dealing lingers long after the warring parties have departed the scene. Six women Nobel Peace Prize recipients have formed their own lobby group, the Nobel Women's Initiative, a noble initiative of their own devising to attempt to focus world opinion on an ongoing problem war-torn countries' citizens face once hostilities have departed the scene.

Jody Williams (U.S., 1997), Shirin Ebadi (Iran, 2003, Wangari Maathal (Kenya, 2004, Rigoberta Menchu Tum (Guatemala, 1992), Betty Williams (Ireland, 1976)and Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Ireland, 1976) gathered their intellectual and moral resources to confer between one another and identify a grave problem facing the world. This is by no means a new problem, but it is a growing one. Growing in the sense that there is a cumulative effect; cluster bombs in increasing use, their disarming comprised of the deaths of curious children and farmers harvesting their fields.

Cluster munitions have been used in twenty-two countries by thirteen governments and a number of non-state armed groups. The United States used them in its war in Vietnam and has used them recently in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Soviet Union used them in Afghanistan and later Russia (post USSR) used them in Chechnya. What's more, 70 countries are stockpiling billions of these weapons for future use in potential war situations.

Children have a habit of picking up odd looking objects, rarely imagining that their lives are at risk, and they are dying in great numbers, thanks to their curiosity and the happenstance of cluster-bomb existence. Farmers trying to work their fields reveal the presence of these munitions and lose their lives or their limbs; in either case rendering their lives hopeless beyond endurance.

The United Nations recently issued a report confirming that both Israel and Hezbollah launched cluster bombs against one another's territory. Something perhaps expected of Islamist terrorists, but what possibly could be Israel's excuse? Well, yes, militarily it makes good sense; while withdrawing from areas where the Hezbollah was previously stationed, the bombs are left to ensure that Hezbollah in re-occupying the area will not have a kind reception.

The reality is that it is not just Hezbollah which is involved in the aftermath of the withdrawal and cluster bomb emplacement, but the untold numbers of civilians living in that same area among whom Hezbollah establishes itself, the better to shield themselves from retaliation from the IDF, post-provocation. The civilian Shi'ite population re-entering the former theatre of war are doubly assaulted when farmers enter their fields to harvest olives or other crops and become vulnerable to the deadly shrapnel.

In the area, three civilians are still being killed or injured daily as a result of these lethal munitions. In addition to deaths and injuries to men, women and children, life is put on hold in the area as a result of ground contamination by thousands of unexploded ordnance. What holds true for south Lebanon is also true for Israel, itself grappling with the problem of dealing with cluster bombs.

Countries who wage wars of invasion for whatever reason, or those who fight wars of defence must recognize the indefensibility on moral grounds, of the continued use of these munitions. A group which came into existence in 2003, the Cluster Munition Coalition is working to try to persuade governments against their use. Belgium has banned the weapon; Norway has enacted temporary legislation for a moratorium on their use.

Hopes for success in obtaining an International treaty currently being negotiated are high as a growing number of countries and their leaders are evincing a greater willingness to address the humanitarian concerns behind the eradication and cessation of the use of cluster bombs.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Freedom of the Press

We've got it pretty good in the Western world since freedom of the press, along with freedom of expression and association is guaranteed under secular Democracies. Not so, unfortunately, in countries where repression of news and ideas and affiliations are the order of the day in a closed society, where ultra-religious doctrines inform every aspect of peoples' lives leaving no opportunity to seek out new and different information which the authorities fear may cause the population to begin to reason, rather than react.

Right now in Bangladesh, a courageous journalist by the name of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is set to go on trial for his life. The Bangladeshi government has officially charged Mr. Choudhury with serious offences in just about any country, but within a Muslim-dominated society these charges of espionage, blasphemy and sedition may cost him his life.

Mr. Choudhury is the publisher and editor of the English-language
Weekly Blitz, published in the capital of Dhaka. That he has dared to publicly express opinions critical of Islamic fanaticism and at the same time expressive of support for the State of Israel has marked him as a hunted man. If the state doesn't end his life extremists within the country most certainly will. Yet, knowing that, he continued to defy danger and to speak his mind.

The capital offence which he stands charged with is that of being a spy for Israel. He was first arrested in 2003 at Dhaka International Airport, en route to Tel Aviv at the invitation of The Hebrew Writers' Association. Bangladesh does not officially recognize the Jewish state. The
Weekly Blitz is the only pro-Israel newspaper in the Muslim world. Not an enviable position in which to find oneself by any means.

Mr. Choudhury was thrown into solitary confinement for 17 months, where he was reportedly tortured. Public pressure launched with the help of an American activist, Dr. Richard Benkin, assisted by the influence of a few U.S. congressmen, including Mark Kirk of Illinois helped to secure his release. Immediately upon his release Mr. Choudhury returned to work at his newspaper.

Mr. Choudhury then had his newspaper offices bombed by Islamist radicals, and on October 5 a mob attacked the journalist in his office, breaking one of his ankles. No one was arrested for this assault, and Choudhury was brought back to prison, ordered to stand trial for sedition, on the grounds that he has hurt Islam by praising Christians and Jews.

Should public pressure result in his release once again it would be a decided victory for the supporters of freedom of the press, along with interfaith dialogue and a potential link in the eventual reformation of Islam through encouraging other like-minded but hesitant Muslims to speak their minds.

We have an investment in the future in the fate of Mr. Choudhury.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Dare We Hope?

We dare, and we should. For without hope, what is there? Well, for one thing, being resigned to a status quo which is so untenable that it cannot continue. So when we read a caption such as: Arab nations call for new Mideast peace talks, we rush to read the details. And, on the face of it, with certain reservations, there is hope that something worthwhile could conceivably come of it. New Mideast peace talks. Talking is good, talking is always good, better by far than ignoring a crisis - than behaving in a resolutely belligerent manner that belies all hope for meaningful solutions.

But negotiations require determination to succeed, and in situations such as what we see at the present time, and indeed what we have seen and experienced second-hand through the news media the only determination in evidence was that of expunging one state out of the geography of the Middle East entirely. Now, if we are to believe statements coming from Arab League sources, the object will be to achieve peace between Israel and her closest neighbours, the Palestinians - and by extension the balance of her Arab neighbours.

A laudable goal, who on earth would not celebrate a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Everyone cheers on the potential of two sovereign states living side by side in amity and co-operation. Perhaps, on the face of it, that is a little too much to expect right now, but perhaps also if the two-state contiguous solution is given a chance and becomes reality, a modicum of mutual trust could eventually come to pass and with it the opportunity to learn more about one another, to commit to co-operation.

The Arab League ministers issued a statement of intent, for a conference to be held to which permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Israel and Arab parties would be invited. This would be a peace conference, its purpose to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute based on the principle of land for peace. If this is to be an offer for a reasonable exchange of ideas and offers, of reasonable assent to reasonable solutions, then there would be certain to be a favourable outcome - for all involved.

If, on the other hand, this conference turns out to be yet another in a long series of aggrieved demands and counter-demands, threats and counter-threats, then nothing is to be achieved by mounting it. Hopes will have been raised, and dashed. In the order of first-things-first, Hamas, as part of the official make-up of the Palestinian Authority must see its way clear to accepting the rightful presence of the State of Israel.

From there, proposals can proceed for the relinquishing of captured lands, for a re-alignment of official borders, for a workable agreement on border harmony. And speaking of border harmony, it must be a controlled border. A situation far removed from what we see at the present time, where Israel and its citizens are continually bombarded by Hamas- and militant Fatah-fired Kassam rockets.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa condemned the U.S. decision to veto the resolution to condemn Israel for the inadvertent bombing in Gaza which resulted in the truly unfortunate deaths of 18 civilians, but what he neglected to address was the reason why the IDF was there in Beit Hanoun to begin with: unceasing rocket attacks into Israel from the site. And in the time since the IDF withdrawal, and while the Arab League summit was ongoing, countless rockets have continued to be launched into Israel, resulting in injuries and widespread damage to public and private properties in the western Negev.

There is hope, but it cannot be for a one-sided solution. The solution to the conflict must benefit all parties, and it must be supported by all affected belligerants. Otherwise, it's just talk, and talk as we all know comes cheap. If the statement issued by the Arab League is to be taken seriously, and it is not merely meant for public consumption by the gullible, then the League must also call upon its members to accept the inevitable for the future of the entire region: The State of Israel is there to stay.

Accept it, learn to live with it, and find yourselves with a neighbour willing to lend itself to the solution of the problems facing the entire region, from the prospect of dwindling oil reserves in the future, to cheap and successful desalination, to agriculturally successful practices, to the sharing of academic, scientific and practical resources, to light and exportable industry to benefit the region as a whole.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


What do we get each and every day? Why fresh and notable news! That is to say, the news of the day. If it's newsworthy, there it is, front and centre - if it happens to fit into the newspaper's credo and orientation - seek it elsewhere within if not. Well, the news is often surprising, but it's seldom all that new in the sense that conflicts continue to abound, stresses pile up, hunger, homelessness and disease is rampant throughout the Third World which we no longer name in that manner; rather the Emerging World Economies. The squeamish among us can spurn the newspapers, get our handy little clips from the other media in absorbable sound-and-picture bites, but there's nothing quite like reading the details of our collective lunacies.
  • Wal-Mart in U.S. lifts ban on "Christmas"; reacts to Christian anger over watered down "holiday": After facing a barrage of criticism from religious groups for neglecting to mention the Christian celebration in its U.S. stores or advertisements last year, the world's largest retailer announced it will rename its seasonal area "The Christmas Shop", instead of "The Holiday Shop", play Christmas carols in its stores and increase its overtly Christmas-themed displays by 60% this year. (Pretty stupid move to alienate and confuse traditional consumers in any event; what's so wrong with calling Christmas by its long-established and correct nomenclature? Profits may also rise by 60% this year...)
  • Synagogue reopens 68 years later; ceremony held amid growing anti-Semitic sentiment: Sixty-eight years to the day afer a Nazi mob destroyed Munich's main synagogue, the growing Jewish community here opened a new central house of worship at a time of new fears about anti-Semitism in Germany. Built in the heart of Munich's old city, the new synagogue has a modern facade, designed to represent a combined temple/tent. A new survey conducted for the respected Friedrich Ebert Foundation run by the Social Democratic Party found high levels of anti-Semitism in German society. More than 15% of Germans in the prosperous west agreed with the statement, "Jews use dirty tricks more than other people," compared with 6% in the economically depressed east. Germany is now host to one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world. (That the miserable spectre of anti-Semitism holds fast the minds and hearts of so many Germans is explicable given the past; that Jews continue to live and thrive there is barely explicable - why would they want to?)
  • Masterpiece emerges from Queen's storeroom; Misattributed painting hidden away for decades: Britain's Queen Elizabeth holds one of the world's greatest art collections, an unrivalled set of hundreds of Leonardo drawings, almost 30 Canalettos and paintings by most of Western art's greatest figures, including Tintoretto, Vermeer, Holbein and Durer. Now, the Queen has been advised she has her first genuine Caravaggio, worth more than $100M. The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, owned by the royal family for almost 400 years has lain unloved and seldom seen in a storeroom at Hampton Court Palace for decades. (If it's that much of an inconvenience to hang it in a prominent location, I'll accept it for my palace; we loooove Old Masters.)
  • Alberta's beetles chew through 1.5M pine trees: Pine beetles are chewing through up to 1.5 million trees in northern Alberta. That's ten times the infestation level reported last month. It means Alberta Sustainable Resources will be ratcheting up their pine beetle attack in hopes of slowing the spread of the ravenous insect that has ravaged much of British Columbia's forests. The beetle has infested 8.7 million entire hectares of British Columbia forest. (These truly are miserable little invasive beasts - destroying a renewable resource to be sure, but it takes time to renew, to regrow, to regroup. Another fall-out of global warming; where previously the beetles' onslaught had been slowed by cold winters, more temperate weather is enabling them to prosper, and we to pay the piper.)
  • Halifax's "microcredit" summit aims to help poor: "Microcredit" was just aother piece of arcane economic jargon until the Nobel Foundation thrust the world into the planet's spotlight, bestowing its famous Peace Prize on a little-known but hugely successful Bangladesh banker who pioneered the business of making loans to the poor. Muhammad Yunus is coming to Canada this weekend on the heels of his Nobel celebrity, along with more than two thousand other bankers, bureaucrats and economists from 107 countries to compare notes and set ambitious goals at the Global Microcredit Summit in Halifax. (And Canada, bless her generous heart, wants to get in on the good works, starting with a $40M pledge for microcredit, administered through CARE International, for women in Afghanistan.)
  • "Family Honour" Murder defence rejected by Supreme Court: The Supreme Court of Canada declined an invitation yuesterday to consider whether Muslim cultural and religous beliefs in "family honour" should be taken into account as justification for receiving a lighter sentence for killing an unfaithful wife. The court refused to hear the appeal of Adi Abdul Humaid, a devout Muslim from the United Arab Emirates, who admitted to stabbing Aysar Abbas to death with a steak knife on a visit to Ottawa in 1999. Mr. Humaid's lawyer argued Humaid was provoked by his wife's claim she cheated on him, an insult so severe in the Muslim faith it deprived him of self-control. (Should not Islam, one wonders, teach its devout that if men can be philanderers and womanizers, equality demands forgivability when women give tit for tat, and that murder under any circumstances is not to be mistaken for religious piety.)
  • 'Blue Dog Democrats' pose challenge for party; we need a voice as well: "You have this new breed of Democrats coming in who were recruited by the party because they were more centrist," said Mark Rozell, political science professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "But the Democratic leadership is far more progressive. It will be a surprise if they don't clash." (Well, how about that, angry voters eager to ditch the Republicans have gifted the Democratic party with their own mini-Republicans; will we see intra-secular violence ensue?)
  • Former Iranian president sought in 1994 bombing of Argentine Jews; Hezbollah suspected in attack that killed 85 people at charity: A judge issued an international arrest warrant yesterday for Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Iran, and other top Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charity in Argentina that killed 85 people. Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Coral said he had asked the government of Iran as well as Interpol to hand over the former president on a warrant issued for crimes against humanity in the bombing attack on the office of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, aJewish charities' federation, which also injured 300 people. (Hey, isn't that the same Rafsanjani who just recently wound up a tour in North America, speaking gently of misunderstandings? In the annals of Lost Opportunities...)
  • French angered by 'hostile' Israeli warplanes in Lebanon: French peacekeeping troops with the UN mission in Lebanon recently came within two seconds of firing missiles at Israeli fighter jets that approached as if to attack them. Speaking to the lower house of parliament on Wednesday night, the French defence minister said it was the latest in a string of incidents in which Israeli warplanes had "adopted a hostile attitude" to French and German forces, and added it was "not tolerable". Daniel Shek, Israel's ambassador in Paris said the flights were reconnaissance operations designed to counter Hezbollah efforts to re-arm and re-establish itself in southern Lebanon and denied the jets had targeted French troops. (These are the same French/German UN peacekeeping troops who fear to tread outside their little bunkers at night to ensure that cover-of-dark re-arming doesn't continue; which, of course it does, handily overlooked by those same peacekeepers who were enjoined by the UN ceasefire treaty to ensure no such re-arming and re-grouping of Hezbollah would occur.)
  • British Muslim convicted of stirring up racial hatred: A British Muslim who called for 9/11-style attacks across Europe during a protest outside the Danish embassy in London was convicted yesterday of stirring up racial hatred. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on a separate charge of soliciting murder after he was said to have called for the "indiscriminate killing" of British troops in Iraq. (Bending over backward to give slack to a poor enraged man whose perception of insult to the Prophet Muhammed through the publication of Danish cartoons was simply too much to bear.)
  • Klebnikov verdict overturned: Russia's top court has overturned the acquittal in May of all three suspects in the murder of Paul Klebnikov, a U.S. journalist who was shot dead in Moscow two years ago. The 41-year-old editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine was gunned down outside his Moscow office in July 2004, one of the highest-profile killings of a journalist in Russia before the assassination of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya in October. (Would be nice to know that justice will be done; now move on to Ms. Politkovskaya's turn at justice...)
  • Zimbabwean officials, whites line up for 99-year farm leases: Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean ipresident, doled out long-term leases yesterday on land confiscated from white farmers, warning the former owners not to expect government compensation. Senior government officials and five white farmers were among those receiving 120 99-year leases. Zimbabwe launched its controversial land reforms seven years ago, seizing at least four thousand properties owned by white farmers to redistribute to landless blacks. The move precipitated a collapse in agricultural production, once the mainstay of Zimbabwe's economy, and has produced extensive food shortages. (Well, how about that? the confiscated land wasn't turned over to poor blacks, after all. How about that? It's the country's 'officials' who get to keep the land, and now what will they do with it, allowed to lie fallow while the country's poor is starving? And what can you say about those white who "lined up" for leases as well? Blind faith? Gross stupidity.)

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