Friday, March 30, 2007

Russia, Again!?

What a triangle of intrigue. From the late 18th century onward Russia and England made their little deals with Iran, one trying to outdo the other. Russia would promise to protect Iran from English designs on its sovereignty, and England would entice Iran to sign agreements to side with it against Russia, and that it would protect Iran from any Russian incursions onto its territory. What has changed in the intervening period? Not an awful lot, it would seem.

Here's a deadlock between Iran and England, promising to have the potential to go far beyond what either nation would truly like to envisage. The mind boggles at Iran's dense-minded obligation to oblivion. As though almost universal public censure and the sanctions placed upon its economic well-being by the recalcitrant United Nations weren't enough, Iran feels itself moved to taunt and tempt fate.

Secure in the knowledge, withal, that it is the beloved nation of Allah. They're so mired in apocalyptic fantasies that they seem to believe that no actions on their part however inimical the backlash, will result in their having to pay the piper. The Islamist Iranian regime blusters and threatens and claims its theistic superiority with Allah looking approvingly over the shoulder of its Ayatollas; they are immune to reason, a completely foreign concept of thought.

Britain, as is her wont, exercises the diplomacy of international relations, forgetting in her understandable state of upset that this construct of relations between civilized countries is a lesson in frustration with one such as Iran. It is, after all, a law unto itself. Britain's call for an unconditional return of its seamen may seem rational to it, given the unprecedented hostage-taking event that led to the disappearance of its personnel, but it's a non-issue with Iran which believes itself to have behaved well under the dictates of its particular philosophy.

Which is that they can do whatever it pleases them to do, under any circumstances, to anyone, at any time. Therefore, Britain's outright refusal to 'admit' that the Iranian authorities are correct in their interpretations of the event - and the necessity for them to detain foreign spies, expose them to public shame, rant on about their guilt - is tantamount to their admitting wrong-doing. Warped thinking to rational minds, but completely acceptable to a certain eastern mind-set.

The seamen will not now be readily released. They may have to stand trial on charges of military espionage. It is Britain's fault, Iranian military commander Alireza Afshar contends, for its refusal to accept responsibility for the outcome of its having transgressed national boundaries: "The wrong behaviour of those who live in London caused the suspension," he claimed. Nor does Iran feel Britain should have gone wailing to the UN.

Britain upped the diplomatic pressure by going to the United Nations Security Council to formulate and issue a statement agreeing that the Iranian behaviour is deplorable, that Britain was operating its ships in Iraqi waters under UN mandate. That's when the spoiler enters the scene, and Russia raised her objections, going so far as to reject a call for the 'immediate release' of the 15 British hostages.

The UN capitulated as it generally does, and the watered-down statement read insipidly that the members express 'grave concern' at the capture of the 15 British seamen, and they support the call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon for an 'early resolution' to the dispute.

Ho hum.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

World-Class Diplomacy

When it comes to an insidiously jaundiced brand of sleazy hypocrisy overlaid with a tinge of modest humility no one can beat the Saudis. They're torn between their righteous sense of cultural and religious superiority and the drear task of dealing with inferior beings whose inability to recognize the hallowed presence among them of Allah's messengers is so dreadfully trying - but they forge on with their noble task.

As with the settling of some trifling discord between Fatah and Hamas; as with scolding their Iranian and Syrian counterparts responsible for Lebanon's annoying disequilibrium; as with the tiresome necessity of warning Israel that their blueprint for peace in the region is a take-it-or-leave affair. This is an admittedly ennobling task they have set for themselves - to solve the seemingly intractable problems besetting their region - which, unfortunately, they had a large share in creating.

Abdulaziz Al-Sowayegh, ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Canada, takes pen in hand to deliver himself of a message to the Canadian people, to further their understanding of the situation within the Middle East, to enlarge their comprehension of the illustrious part the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plays in the peace process, enlightening us no end.

He informs us that "Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has launched a program of regional reform based on the Saudi experience and culture while opening the door to outside expertise and know-how. On the level of international relations, King Abdullah has established a vision based on three fundamentals..." All of which are designed to work toward Arab unity, strengthening the unity of the 'Islamic nation', and extending co-operation to all peace-loving countries of the world.

Most laudable, very much appreciated, greatly to be admired. The place to start is right at home, right in the bosom of their own country where the Shia minority is repressed and unrecognized as functional Muslims, greatly discriminated against. Not a very good object lesson in tolerance in a region on fire with the hatred of internecine warfare, busily butchering one another. Is this the lesson the Saudi king and his ambassador are so anxious to teach us?

Ambassador Al-Sowayegh speaks of practical initiatives to spread peace, chiefly the Arab peace plan, unanimously adopted by all Arab states calling for Israel's withdrawal from all Arab territories it occupies; a 'just solution' to the issue of Palestinian refugees in exchange for full normalization of relations between the Arab countries and Israel. Israel's current 'occupation' of Arab territories resulted from Arab aggression, yet another attempt to wipe it off the regional map; and where is the explication of a 'just solution' of which he speaks?

Nowhere is there room for negotiating the signal points laid out for Israel's 'acceptance' of the Arab peace plan. The plan is presented as a whole, to be accepted in its entirety; so much for that. The ambassador claims the threshold of a new era of peace and stability may be ushered in, but only if Israel has the good sense to accept the Saudi initiative. It has long been acknowledged that the Arabs are incapable of compromise.

It is as though their culture renders them incapable of accepting that two sides can sit together, place their shared problems on the negotiating table and begin to solve mutual irritants to the eventual satisfaction of both parties. In so doing, each side realizes it is incumbent on them to meet some of the needs of the other party, while accepting that the other party will in turn meet some of theirs.

This is a process termed conflict resolution. Neither side comes away from the bargaining table with all it feels it requires, is entitled to, or necessarily wants. Each side begins the process of deliberation with the thought foremost that the end result must be the resolution of conflict. And with that end in mind, concessions become possible from either side, and acceptance of peace is embraced on either side.

By presenting Israel with a firm set of demands, a completely unilateral statement of agreement - or the potential for peace surrenders to continued protracted wars, the Saudis and the Arab countries in their collectivity are merely continuing their trajectory toward the eventual elimination from the territory of an alien state, sullying the greater Islamic geography.

Yet Ambassador Al-Sowayegh has the unmitigated gall, like his masters, to intone that "peace cannot be imposed on others, it has to be pursued by both sides of the conflict". He piously concludes it is high time that all countries of the region say "enough blood and tears"; that they have endured more than their share.

His article offers this startling observation: "Some have alluded to the possibility of a major, even historic visit to Israel by a senior Saudi official. Once peace is declared and diplomatic relations are normalized, one cannot exclude such a possibility."

One is left incredulous: is Allah to be conscripted into this feel-good exercise? This suggestion of a sacred dispensation is so hubristic Muhammad himself might find it difficult to determine whether he moved toward the mountain or otherwise.

The Royal House of Saud convinced it has the ear of god, themselves elevated to ascend a platform of righteousness opposite Muhammad.


Theists, Heal Thyselves

We are to believe that the assembled might and dignity of the Arab world holding forth against their arch-enemy Israel, have the condition of their house well in hand. Led by the Royal House of Saud and his imperial majesty the gathering sits in judgement of their neighbour Israel, holding an olive branch of peace to be offered once and once only. Blink to think and it's gone. Accept our conditions and you will be permitted to live; defy them and we will once again unleash the chariots of death against you.

Peace and goodwill toward all. Compromise to ensure that the interests of both are taken into account for a just and lasting peace is beyond question; accept what is proferred or suffer the consequences. Israel has proven adequate to suffering the consequences; the Arab world has proven proficiency in delivering the consequences, then slinking back in ignominious defeat to lick their wounds. The lesson, a logical mind might infer, is that Israel is determined to hold her ground, maintain her state of being.

She has learned, unfortunately for the region as a whole, that to the Arab mentality compromise simply isn't an option. Compromise means capitulation, a sign of weakness, signing over to the enemy that which was not to be granted by any means, at any time, through any auspices; land once dedicated to Islam, surrendered to another religious group, another culture, historical intruders.

But wait: things have changed, the Arab world has undergone an alteration in its mind-set, and some at least among them seem prepared to accept the inevitable, that their neighbour, however much derided and despised is intent on staying for the duration. Accommodation is recognized as a new requirement, and to that end the Arab League mouthed the sentiment that a peace accord between neighbours is their goal. They speak as one voice, brothers all, religious cohorts, tribal partners in geography.

Yet they don't tend to their housekeeping, Sunni versus Shia is the order of the day. They chafe with the knowledge of carnage ongoing in Iraq, of the threat another non-Arab neighbour poses to the geography with its grandiose ambitions to spread a version of Islam anathema to most of the Arab League. Question is writ large: why is there no accommodation, no attempt at reconciliation, understanding and peace made to breach the gap between the two Islamic interpretations of Muhammad's message?

Why is it that a massive effort is not being waged to bring the seemingly irreconcilable factions in Iraq together in peace for the ultimate formation of a state to represent both versions of Islam? Why isn't an effort being launched to dissuade Sunni Islamists, Shia insurgents; to pacify them, to assist them in engaging in civil communication for the greater good of Islam and the country they represent?

Might not the resolve to solve this national misery be a matter of first issue to the collected assembly of arbitrators? Clean up the neighbourhood, bring peace to an important Arab state, illustrating that commitment to stability and peace. Then turn around and offer a sincere attempt to negotiate fairly and honestly with another neighbour, one that has no intention of disrupting the region, wishing only to live in peace.

Do they not care that in the last two days alone hundreds of Muslims were murdered by other Muslims? Hundreds more wounded? Is it not of intense concern to them that citizens of Iraq have no security, no peace, no surcease in violence? Revenge killing followed by revenge killing; children, women and innocent men forfeit their lives simply by trying to live within their country's borders.

Do something needful. Then come back and communicate meaningfully, honestly.


Developing a Strategy for Peace

Perhaps it's the verbal delivery, say one thing, mean another that confuses the issue. Perhaps it's the fact that Mid-East-style dialogue is simply unlike the kind of communicative outreach practised elsewhere in the world when individuals or groups attempt to bridge a gap of understanding. In any event, the parameters appear to change to suit the whim of the moment, and encouragement is readily exchanged with threats meant to stir the pot toward an urgent conclusion.

Saudi King Abdullah II whose peace initiative has been reborn from its original 2002 version and somewhat added to in the interim to better reflect Arab countries' expectations of their geographical nemesis slaps it on the table and effectively says take it or leave it - intact - or face the consequences. The consequences being of course more of the same rather than the potential for existential acknowledgement and a cessation of attacks.

An offer not to be refused. Unless, of course, the offer contains singular restrictions on Israel's long-term aspirations to exist as a country of refuge and pride for the Jewish people. To attain the much-vaunted and tantalizing miracle offered in the Saudi initiative would be to forget what Israel was formed to accomplish as a Jewish state. Jews returning to their historical birthplace, taking up once more their legal, cultural, traditional lives in their original geography.

Of course to obtain this Arab-recognized status sans the ongoing threats of attack by their neighbours, Israel is kindly enjoined to give up its most sacred religious sites, and the seat of government since time immemorial. Israel is threatened by continued attacks should she choose not to give up the territories won by her through wars not of her making. Israel is expected to dilute its Jewish demographic base, the very reason for her existence, to make way for a mass influx of 'refugee' returnees.

According to the Saudi master plan, which King Abdullah insists be accepted as is, without demur, Israel has the choice and the generous option of facing ongoing active hostilities against her territory, or that of accepting an Arab-favoured 'peace' which is designed to obliterate her purpose and in the long run, her existence as a primarily Jewish state. Some peace plan, some option, some choice. Not surprisingly, the Saudi initiative appears to have enthusiastic support from the very representative of the world body that should be looking out for fairness on both sides.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon characterized the Saudi initiative as "one of the pillars of the peace process", urging Israel to "take a fresh look at it". He delivered the opinion that "the Middle East region is more complex, more fragile and more dangerous than it has been for a very long time." A world figure stating the obvious, but also betraying his position by overlooking the obvious.

"The basis for a solution" he said, "is clear - an end to the occupation that began in 1967, the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state alongside a secure and fully recognized state of Israel, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region." Yes, yes, and most enthusiastically yes. All of it. The Palestinian people need a sovereign and secure and forward-looking state of their own. It is within their grasp. They are required to lower their expectations of the existing State of Israel in giving up much that is central to its very existence to help achieve that end.

The geographical land mass they attain to should be surrendered to them with well defined and mutually agreed-upon borders. The right of return of Palestinian refugees should be confined to return to the new borders of that same Palestinian state. Compensation of lands seized during the wars can be negotiated. The selection of their capital can be left to their autonomous decision-making, absent that of Jerusalem, already the designated, but unrecognized capital of their neighbour.

It is instructive to read Dr. Mamoun Fandy's observations, published in an article in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on March 26, 2007; some of its highlights published at the MEMRI on-line site at, special dispatch series - no.1525 relating to the Palestinian issue, the Arab summit and the manner in which Arab states used every means at their disposal to ensure it be kept on the front burner, unresolved and festering. He writes:
"In every country in the world when a rock obstructs a road, the municipality hurries to move it aside to facilitate the flow of traffic. However, in the Arab world, someone throws a rock in the road and instead of moving it aside, those claiming to be of sound judgement come up with [what they consider] the ideal way to deal with the problem of the rock - namely, placing a sign above it saying "Careful of the Rock."
"For 50 years the Arabs have been walking around the Palestinian issue. They started newspapers and broadcasts and TV stations for this issue, and produced writers and analysts and intellectuals for this issue, and readied tremendous armies and allocated fat budgets to this issue, but none of this advanced a solution or was of any benefit. All of this just rallied under the sign 'Careful of the Rock.'
"It was King Abdullah Bin 'Abd al-'Aziz alone who proposed [this] earnest initiative at the Beirut summit in 2002, and it was the start of an earnest dialogue to resolve the issue of Palestine. But the 'rock crowd' added to it the issue of the return of the Palestinian refugees, in order to change it from an earnest initiative suitable for a comprehensive solution, that made the most of the existing realities, into an initiative that was impossible to implement, [and] not much different than the unimplemented Security Council resolutions. In so doing, they emptied the Saudi initiative of its content, and left the Palestine issue as a rock, so that they can carry the lanterns that light up the sign hung on the rock, and so they can shout at us, 'Careful of the rock!'"
How's that for an interesting observation built on reality, born of frustration?


Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Iran characterizes British prime minister Tony Blair's assertion that he is prepared to take the standoff over its 15 captured seamen to a "different phase" as being "provocative".

Let's see now; Iran falsely accuses British sailors of venturing into its territorial waters on a pretext that will permit them to take said seamen into illegal custody, since they're really spies intent on destabilizing Iran. But it is not they who are behaving illogically, provocatively, but the country whose people are being detained.

Why are we not surprised? Iran's garrison mentality has prepared us for just about anything. But that they would take such bold steps to up the ante in the hostilities department is pretty mind-boggling, given where their behaviour up to now has landed them in the court of world opinion. Britain can certainly present proof that her ships were located well within Iraq's waterways through satellite observations, but that isn't the issue.

That the British sailors were on a routine inspection patrol sanctioned by the Iraqi government is irrelevant. Iran simply grasped an opportunity, as it always does, to take a complicated situation to the next degree of irritating stupidity. "The media campaigns and provocative remarks regarding the violation of Iranian territorial waters by the British sailors are doing nothing to help settle the affair", huffed Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

"The British service personnel entered Iranian waters illegally and the case will follow its legal and judicial course." For whom is this neat little drama taking place? The Iranian population, already frustrated and upset at the ongoing inanities by their president and supporting clerics? For the ruling elite's entertainment, in being able so effortlessly to blindside the hated British?

These little fancies come at a price. Meanwhile, the United States is conducting rapid-fire simulated air attacks in the region, meant to last several days, although not considered to be taken as a reaction to the capture of the British sailors. Their warships are staying put for the time being. But the ongoing situation is troubling, very nervous-making.

Nice to be able to get an inside picture on what Iran hopes to accomplish, aside from the juvenile 'don't mess with us' message.


Peace, of Course - Terms?

Prince Saud al-Faisal urges Israel to accept the Arab League peace plan. He states the Middle East risks perpetual conflict if the peace plan fails. Yes, he is certainly correct there. Of course the Middle East has always, forever, been in perpetual conflict, so there's not much new there. One always hopes, and in this particular instance, that the near future may grant peace to the region.

Given the constant push-and-shove of the region, the tribal inheritances, the ritual displays of aggrieved anger, the hot tempers of the demographics who prefer jihad to 'surrender', peace appears a tenuous glimmering hope into the elusive future.

For two very individual sides in a conflict to agree to a cessation of hostilities, to recognize the legitimacy of each other's claims, a 'blueprint for peace' must contain a certain roominess for give-and-take. One side agrees to give a little, the other must also. What one is prepared to give, the other may take. But when the proposal for peace is entirely written by one protagonist in such a flagrantly unilateral manner as is being presented by the Arab League, more in the order of a conqueror's formula for the acceptance of the vanquished what is the value of the proposal?

A peace proposal that is weighted completely for the satisfaction of one entity as opposed to the other with unconditional demands for acceptance, not an openness to discussion with respect to the specific demands listed is a formula for failure. No self-respecting state can possibly accept the unilateral truncation of its parts to achieve a recognition due it legally and internationally by the very fact of its presence as a sovereign nation.

Yet here are the leaders of the Arab world gathering in Riyadh, for their annual summit. Under the Saudi-drafted proposal being re-introduced for the second time, Arab countries would agree to formally recognize Israel if it:
  1. Withdraws from all Arab lands it occupied in the 1967 war;
  2. Accepts the creation of a Palestinian state embracing the entire West Bank and Gaza;
  3. With East Jerusalem as its capital;
  4. And agrees to a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.
"What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done", Prince Saud announced. "So now it is up to the other side, because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it. Both sides must want it equally." Which is most certainly true.

The question remains; why does the Arab world which assembled to launch a deadly attack on the new State of Israel in 1948 and subsequently feel it now has the sole right to determine terms of peace, particularly when the Arab lands which Israel now occupies relate to the lands seized during wars that Israel did not initiate nor wish to occur? Furthermore, if "both sides must want it equally", why does the Arab world not make an effort to accommodate the needs of the country they are now pressing to accept their unilateral draft?

  1. Item number one may be readily accommodated, but as an obvious sacrifice to Israel.
  2. Item number two may be facilitated with the best of all possible intentions.
  3. Item number three calling for the sacrifice of East Jerusalem is hardly feasible for the ancient city of the Hebrews should be seen as indivisible; held as a previous Jordanian jurisdiction Jews were not permitted access to their most holy sites.
  4. Item number four is intensely problematical and as proposed its meaning is elusive; "right of return" for upwards of some four million Palestinians within the confines of the Jewish state's borders is unthinkable as it would irremediably dilute the purpose and character of the State of Israel.

"If Israel refuses", the Prince intones portentously, "that means it doesn't want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war", he claims. Choice, where is the choice? Fairness, where is the fairness? In whose hands should Israel place their trust for the furtherance and security of its interests; their own, or that of a despotic collective?

Prince Saud dismisses the potential for further diplomatic overtures toward Israel. "It has never been proven that reaching out to Israel achieves anything", he claimed. As though delivering an ultimatum can be correlated with 'reaching out'. Threats as signs of good faith. Very impressive. "Other Arab countries have recognized Israel and what has that achieved?" he intoned. "The largest Arab country, Egypt, recognized Israel and what was the result? Not one iota of change happened in the attitude of Israel towards peace."

Israel and history and objective observers would beg to differ. Israel stands ready to meet a softening of attitudes with a like response, as she always has. The peace with Egypt resulted in an official frigidity emanating from Egypt, not Israel. It is not Israel that teaches its population through the medium of the printed word and the electronic media that Jews are untrustworthy and their goal is to take what is not theirs, to eventually rule the world.

Egypt's state-controlled news and entertainment media regale its citizens with specially-produced television series that depict the Jewish state as a pariah in conformance with the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Egypt encourages its people to maintain a frosty distance of distrust and anger. So much for results of waging peace, not war.

In theory everyone is eager to give peace a chance. No one, it appears, is equally eager to take the steps necessary to create a climate favourable for peace. In the words of an overweening optimist shuttling from the United States to the Middle East: "The Arab states should begin reaching out to Israel, to reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more, not less secure by an end to occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"To show Israel that they accept its place in the Middle East", Ms. Rice said.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How Serious Is The World About Darfur?

We know that the suffering, tormented people of Darfur are little better off now than they were when their plight was fully brought to the attention of the world. The government of Sudan has effectively blocked plans to deploy UN peacekeepers to replace the struggling African Union troops, unable to contain the violence continually visited against the area's black farming communities.

China, which has some sway with the Sudanese through its trade in oil and investments in the country, merely politely enquired of Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir whether he could see his way clear to observing basic human rights. China could use its economic muscle to persuade Sudan that it is not in its best interest to continue its criminally brutal persecution of black Sudanese, but it has embraced the idea of non-interference.

Britain's Tony Blair, meanwhile has raised the issue of a no-fly zone monitored by the UN to stop Khartoum from using air power against refugees and displaced people in direct bombing missions; four million Sudanese are badly in need of aid, living in refugee camps or directly threatened by the fighting between local rebels and the Sudanese pro-Arab government. Over two hundred thousand people have been killed, more than two million fled to refugee camps.

The Khartoum government is wealthy, thriving as most governments do whose principle natural resources are energy extraction in an energy-hungry world. The government chose to ignore the needs of its indigenous Muslim black populations in the countryside, engendering an insurgency born of neglect, discrimination and resentment. Its response was not to answer to its responsibility but to arm and deploy Arab janjaweed to burn, pillage, rape and engage in wholesale murder in the black villages.

Refugee camps in neighbouring Chad have not been free from janjaweed and Sudanese troops' incursions, and the level of the conflict appears to be heightening and spreading. The crisis in Sudan is now considered to represent one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The UN continues to be frustrated by the Sudanese government's ongoing refusal to allow it to deploy peacekeeping troops, it awaits permission to intervene.

Meanwhile, UN agencies are assisting the homeless in refugee camps but the situation threatens to continue to deteriorate at which time aid agencies, as they've done in other refugee camps in the area, will feel forced to pull their workers out of harm's way, leaving the Darfurians to once more face the deadly intent of the Sudanese government and its proxy army.

Sudan is intent - despite the horror the rest of the world expressed in its helplessness - on committing genocide. The question is why is the combined strength of the international body along with its allies not capable of behaving in a supranational, humanitarian manner to launch a mission to defend the targets of Sudan's deadly assaults?

Haven't the UN and its members agreed in principle that there are times when it has a responsibility to intervene when a sovereign state targets segments of its population for extermination? Where is the resolve?


News Fit to (Re)Print

News, news. There it is, every single day of our lives. Something is happening, somewhere. Of general public interest, of social significance. We get it all. Including horror stories just to remind us that the world is spinning on its axis as it should. Since the superior animals upon this earth are so challenged to live up to their spirit of superiority by overdoing, over-reacting, over-bearingly challenging one another all these various instances become news-worthy and reportable.

And we read all those bits of reportage, and either laugh, or ponder the circumstances, or deplore the state of the world.
  • Middle East - European Union monitors at the Rafah border crossing caught a Palestinian woman trying to sneak into the Gaza Strip with three live crocodiles strapped to her stomach, a spokeswoman said yesterday. The young crocodiles, each about 40 centimetres long, were taped to the woman beneath a loose-fitting robe, said Maria Telleria Chavarri, spokeswoman for the EU mission at the crossing connecting Egypt and the Gaza Strip. "The crossing monitors suspected her because she was so fat and they searched her, discovered the crocodiles and arrested her," Ms. Telleria Chavarri said. The woman told border guards she intended to sell the crocodiles to a Gaza City zoo.
  • Jerusalem - Under U.S. pressure to answer to increasing Arab flexibility on Mideast peace, Israel has agreed to resume face-to-face talks with a moderate, western-backed Palestinian leader who is sharing power with Islamic Hamas militants. Also yesterday, Israel welcomed the idea of a regional peace summit; Saudi Arabia suggested it would consider changes to a dormant peace initiative that could make it more acceptable to Israel.
  • London - The two opposing parties whose conflict fuelled decades of violence in Northern Ireland met face-to-face for the first time yesterday and agreed to enter a power-sharing government on May 8. The meeting marked the beginning of the end of a conflict that claimed 3,700 lives over three decades, and set the stage for Rev.Ian Paisley, the 80-year-old standard bearer of pro-British unionism in Northern Ireland, to become the province's first minister within 6 weeks. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who has spent much of his political life battling to end British rule in the province and unite Ireland, agreed to delay an official handover of power until May, calling the pact "the beginning of a new era of politics on this island."
  • Beijing - They are notoriously picky about their food and suffer from an exceptionally low sex drive, but when it comes to poo, pandas have few peers. Entrepreneurial Chinese are looking for ways to make a profit from the 20 kilograms of excrement produced each day by a single adult male, and help the endangered animals to pay their way. Officials at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base are working on a scheme to convert the fibre-rich droppings into high-quality paper.
  • Baghdad - Iraq's prime minister and president will introduce legislation as early as today to let former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling party - including those in the feared security and paramilitary forces - resume jobs in the government. Long demanded by the U.S. to appease Iraq's once-dominant Sunni Arab minority, the measure would set a three-month challenge period after which ex-Baath party loyalists would be immune from legal punishment for their actions during Saddam's reign.
  • Berlin - Desperate mothers are being urged to drop their unwanted babies through hatches at hospitals in an effort to halt a spate of infanticides that has shocked Germany. At least 22 babies have been killed so far this year, many of them beaten to death or strangled by their mothers before being dumped on wasteland and in garbage cans. Police investigating the murders are at a loss to explain the sudden surge in such cases, which have involved mothers of all ages all over the country.
  • Ukraine - An ad campaign featuring billboards and commercials with images of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin exhorting people to pay their bills was pulled yesterday after protests from rights groups and nationalists. Critics said it was shameful for authorities to be using an image of a man many Ukrainians blame for killing one-third of the country's population during a famine in the 1930s.
  • South Korea - The world's first cloned wolves have been created in South Korea, using the same technique that enabled British scientists to create Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal. The wolves are the work of a team once led by Woo Suk Hwang, the disgraced South Korean scientist who faked human stem-cell research. Although the two female wolves were born in October 2005, veterinary scientists at Seoul National University announced their achievement only yesterday, after independent DNA tests finally verified their claims.
  • Pakistan - Police killed two suspected militant recruiters in a gun-battle at a boys' school yesterday, after hearing they were trying to sign up students for suicide bombings and holy war, officials said.
  • Iran - Iran yesterday said 15 British sailors and marines seized in the Persian Gulf last week were "fit and well", but refused to divulge where they are being held or when they might be freed.
  • Japan - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under fire for denying that Japan forced women to work as sex slaves during the Second World War, offered a fresh apology yesterday, but stopped short of clearly acknowledging the government's responsibility for the front-line brothels. "I express my sympathy toward the comfort women and apologize for the situation they found themselves in", said Mr. Abe.
  • Jamaica - Police investigating the murder of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer are looking for at least three Pakistani cricket fans who were at his hotel when he died last week.
  • United States - The Jewish Theological Seminary, considered the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, said yesterday it will start accepting gay and lesbian applicants. The move came after scholars who guide the movement lifted the ban on gay ordination.
  • Boston - ASA in low to moderate doses may lower the risk of death in women, particularly those who are older and prone to heart disease, a 24-year study of nearly 80,000 women suggests. In this long-running study of nurses who were middle-aged and older, women who took ASA had a 25% lower risk of death compared to those who never took it. ASA-takers had a 38% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 12% lower risk of death from cancer.
Thus turns the world.


Monday, March 26, 2007

What Boredom Has Wrought

Idle hands are the work of the devil, goes that old folk saying. When people have attained to a stage of material sufficiency where their physical (or mental) labour suffices them to a living wage they realize they have leisure time on their hands and look to be entertained, amused. We now have ample time in some societies to look about for ways to challenge our sense of amazement, amusement and credulity.

We explore all the options available to us, and some of us choose to find ways to challenge our intellects, others their physical prowess. While others prefer to sit back as indolent observers, passively awaiting entertainment delivered by skilled performers; singers, dancers, magicians. Transform my life, give it meaning, I am so bored. When people lack a sense of their own potential for adventure, when they turn to the entertain industry they soon become satiated with the same-old and demand new tricks to turn their heads.

There must be a resident pyromaniac in so many people. Why else would we be so in awe of fire and combustion and the transformation of chemicals into an arsonist's wet dream? How many times, on how many stages, in how many venues have audiences gasped with appreciation and demanded yet more when entertainers flirted with that ancient element that brought us out of the stone age? Seems some people even in our modern era belong back there in the stone age.

I refer to the Neanderthals at Moscow's "911" strip club (911; some message there) watching women slowly disrobe while a stuntman-cum-barman tipped burning alcohol on himself triggering a fireball, filling the club with deadly fumes. The barman's clothing was aflame, spread to a five-litre container of ethanol and the stage caught fire. The legality of the fire show is being checked, solemnly intoned a spokesman for the Moscow division of the Russian emergency service ministry, post-blaze.

Some show that: a fluid performance, from mildly boring erotic bemusement to a hotly-fled pyrrhic conclusion. Six men and four women died in the resulting conflagration. Clubs offering ever more outlandish and extreme entertainment are in hot demand in this post-Soviet social era. That was some wild performance; the fourth accident in the past two weeks in Russia.

Plane crash, methane gas mine explosion, another fire at a nursing home, fire at a drug rehabilitation centre. Who says life isn't a challenge?


Nano Technology

Wow, who could imagine manipulating and studying the most basic particles of life could be accomplished? That scientists could build microscopes and other investigative tools so highly sophisticated, so powerful that they might examine the minuscule particles of theory. Nano, meaning dwarf in Latin; a nanometre represents one billionth of a metre.

No wonder angels are able to dance on the head of a pin: the head of a pin is a million nanometres wide. How's that for nano-perspective?

Here's the fascinating thing about nano-technology. The observation that when one is dealing with such infinitesimally tiny particles, ordinary materials which are comprised of these particles can assume different properties. "What makes nanotechnology so exciting is that as you reduce the size of a piece of material, something interesting happens," according to John Preston at McMaster University.

An example: gold which is gold regardless of the form and shape it is melded into. Until it's taken down to the nanometre range and properties begin to alter; colours change, the magnetic and electronic properties change. A gram of gold will melt at a much higher temperature than 100 nanometres of gold. Which is why scientists are looking to exploit the potential arsenal of new properties to engineer materials to applications never before dreamed of.

Imagine: computer memories powered by carbon molecules rather than silicone chips. Imagine: nanoparticles that can travel the bloodstream, delivering a lethal drug dose to specific cancer cells, not imperilling the rest of the body. Imagine: highly efficient solar cells that may one day transform the heat of the sun to society's main energy source.

The Scanning Tunnelling Microscope makes this enterprising determination at successful experimental with nanoparticles possible.

Yet there remains just as much mystery behind what nature has wrought as ever there was. Even if atoms can be manipulated toward an intended purpose there is no guarantee it will perform as anticipated. The potential for new engineering to produce materials that are stronger, lighter, more purpose-driven is there, but only if science can begin to understand the attributes and possibilities that nature has endowed her nanoparticles with.

University of Toronto chemist Ted Sargent points out that the goal of nanoscience is not remove or replace the laws of nature, but to work within them "to coax matter to assemble into new forms". He says while scientists have become adept at understanding the structure of things, they don't comprehend how a molecule's particular shape, or its chemical bonds give rise to its function.

"Today we can marvel at nature's glorious creations," he writes, "but when it comes to designing our own using nature's Lego blocks, we are all thumbs." That may well be, but without thumbs - opposing thumbs - we would be able to manipulate nothing. Nature has endowed us with those thumbs, as well as with powerful brains to tease out her shy little secrets.

All things come to those who seek.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Enduring Slavery

In pre-biblical times, within biblical times and thenceforth evermore slavery as a fact of life which benefited a few to the horrible detriment of many has existed as a measure of the little regard humankind has for one another. Human tragedies the world inflicts on itself through the pursuit of enabling some to achieve great potential wealth through the enslaving of segments of a population unable to fend for themselves as free human beings. War and slavery remain the two indelible black marks against mankind as the flower of free will.

In ancient times religion sanctioned slavery as a recognized social condition of material progress. Prohibitions came slowly as mankind become ever more civilized, rational and emancipated from the belief that the strong had the right to take over the lives of the weak. But it certainly took a long, long time. Slavery still exists in its original forms, in its original cradles of existence, from bonded-labour, to child and female sexual slavery, to the kidnapping of young people for the purpose of using them as fodder to wage war.

In Europe, the slave trade which took its victims by long sea voyages to other continents began in the 16th century and flourished there for the next three centuries. Arab traders, long accustomed to acquiring black slaves in Africa, along with the warring African tribes who themselves acquired slaves as war tributes proved themselves adept at this new kind of trade. Fully ten percent of slaves being conveyed to their new places of slavery died en route. The condition of slavery was a continuum from birth to marriage to birth to death.

In Upper Canada the slave trade was abolished in 1793 through an anti-slavery bill supported by Lt.Governor John Graves Simcoe. That same bill established gradual emancipation for the children of existing slaves. In Britain the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act received royal assent in 1807, ending the slave trade across the British Empire, although slavery itself was not abolished by the British Parliament until 1833, preparing the way for the abolition of slavery in every colony of the British Empire.

It is entirely possible that the deep psychosis wounding the black slaves and their descendants has still not been healed over the course of history that brings us to the present day, two and a half centuries later. A peoples' stinging memories handed down from generation to generation of the haunting tenuousness of their lives, their living agony as those whose lives were completely at the command of those owning their bodies and souls may never be healed. The stark injustice of one segment of a population completely at the mercy of others who considered them less human, eminently disposable, and theirs to task until death is not easily erased.

In the world of today we wonder how our ancestors could have taken the stance that a life is but a commodity, to be purchased, owned and worked to their advantage. The belief that slaves owned no emotions resembling those of 'real' people such as those who owned slaves, enabled slave-owners to disregard the needs of their dependent-slaves, to overlook their suffering much as they would those of ill-used farm animals. While we wonder now how civilized society could have lent itself so blithely to the misuse of other human beings we seem not to understand that the condition of slavery continues.

It's estimated that world wide there are 27-million people living in slavery; women as sex-slaves linked to organized crime; bonded-labour slavery where low-caste indigenous people are worked with little recompense and no freedom, in perpetuity. Domestic-labour slavery through a female migration from South Asia, and child-soldier slavery in Uganda and Sri Lanka are among the sources. Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Sudan have a very active slave workforce where thousands upon thousands are worked without pay, little food or water.

Slavery is condemned world wide, and as a result the countries in which it remains a common condition may have legally outlawed its practise, but it continues regardless. It's our enduring shame.


Playing With Ire

What is it with Iran? With their glorious history of human achievement, their brilliant past seems to have dimmed their sights to the present somehow. They wear their tradition like a badge of honour not appearing to realize that time has passed and their momentum toward the future has been fizzled away by their unrealistic clinging to a religion not of this time and age. Which wouldn't matter all that much if it was any religion but Islam, as Islam incorporates into its very essence not only the worship of Allah, but the path to living and political aspirations, all in one.

Having lost their place in time they overcompensate for their shortcomings by shouting louder, boasting higher, threatening more and achieving very little in the long run. Their population has been impoverished in terms of opportunities, their state is in danger of becoming a well-deserved pariah, and their Ayatollahs remain defiantly unrepentant that they are now viewed as an uncivil, war-threatening danger to their region and the world at large. They've no need to repent, for they have ascertained through high-level discussions with the sacred one that they are but pursuing his divine commandments.

And they're playing with fire, continually raising the ire of those countries whose placement within the international community is stronger, whose economies dwarf Iran's, whose potential to wage a winning war trumps that of modern-day Persia with its dwarf of a president and its unheeding clerics. The United Nations, whose function is to broker for peace between restive nations, and to maintain order and goodwill within the international community, is seen to be wrong in its conclusions that only sanctions will bring the country to a full realization of its international obligations as a compliant member in good standing.

To that end sanctions have been placed on arms exports to the country and on the alternate purchase of weapons from Iran. There has been a freeze on the country's assets abroad, a call on UN-affiliated governments not to offer financial aid, all for the purpose of having Iran agree to suspend nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities. Nowhere in the sanctions is there a reminder that one UN-member country does not threaten the existence of another with impunity; considered, doubtless, to be a lesser issue though not by the threatened country, since the two issues are complementary.

Iran is adamant that it is within its rights to progress in whatever ways it deems meaningful to itself, including its aspiration to acquire and maintain a nuclear-fuelled armament. The country is expressing its righteous indignation over the constraints the international community seeks to impose upon it, in the interests of restraining its nuclear ambitions. It's telling the world 'you tweak our nose, we'll finger your eyeballs'. Then sets about doing just that.

There are currently no fewer than 15 'captured' British seaman being held incommunicado in Tehran, being questioned with a view to extracting 'confessions' that their intent in serving their country is to do ill to Iran. Britain had a 'brisk' dialogue with the Iranian ambassador to Britain on two occasions leaving no doubt how seriously this breach of international etiquette is seen by London, demanding the immediate return of their seamen. But Iran is blithely going on its way, interrogating the hapless seamen to extract confessions of aggression.

The British fleet might have thought they were in Iraqi waters; Iran knows they were lurking within Iran's territorial waters. Business as usual with Iran; it truly does seem to enjoy its unending stand-offs with the West.


"If Tears Could Build a Stairway"

With all due respect, and with outrage in my heart, the judge was, quite simply, wrong. Wrong, wrong. Wrong. Justice Brian Burrows, holding court in the trial of a group of sub-normal hominids ruled that the oldest among them, among the group of men who raped and murdered a beautiful vivacious young girl should be acquitted. Justice Burrows extinguished the guilt of a guilty man, expressing a peculiar version of justice, leaving the murdered girl's family to live out their anguished lives of justice unrealized.

Nina Courtepatte, thirteen vulnerable years of age when she was so brutally attacked and her life taken from her, leaves behind a younger sister for whom the trauma of this particular life's experience may never permit her to live a normal life. The dead girl's mother, Peacha Atkinson, wept when 21-year-old Joseph Laboucan was pronounced guilty of first-degree murder. He was given a mandatory life sentence with no parole for 25 years, although under the 'faint hope' clause in 13 years' time he can apply for early parole.

Who would not weep - for the utter uselessness of it all. A murderer is tried, found guilty and sentenced. The life he took is gone. There is no return on the deposit of murder in the first degree or for that matter any degree; life is gone, forever. There is no surcease of sorrow, there is a huge yawning chasm of disbelief, sorrow and emptiness. "If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I would walk right up to heaven and bring you home again", Nina's mother promised her daughter.

There are times when words miss their mark, when mere letters forming words of explanation fail to convey the full measure of unassuagable grief. But Nina's mother Peacha managed somehow to bridge that gap when she informed the court how much her family's lives have been impacted, diminished, impoverished without the presence of the young girl whose presence was so precious to them, whom they so dearly loved.

The man whom Judge Burrows acquitted was the oldest among the deranged group of imbeciles who lured Nina from the West Edmonton Mall, drove her with a companion girlfriend to a secluded spot, sexually assaulted her and beat her to death with a sledgehammer on April 3, 2005. It was the acquitted man, Michael Briscoe, 36, who drove the group to the isolated golf course. He was present when the young girl was being raped and horrendously beaten. He did nothing to stop the assault.

Each time Peacha Courtepatte sees a young girl who resembles her murdered child her heart will shrivel in pain. Every year that passes will have her think of her child Nina, as being a year older; when Nina might have been certain sign-post ages in her development as a older teen, a young woman, her mother will recoil in the aching thought that comes to her mind unbidden of her dead child's lost opportunities to experience love, marriage, motherhood. Nina's mother will force herself to deal with her loss for the sake of her other daughter, but nothing can ever restore to her the peace of mind she once owned.

A degenerate primate passing itself off as a man remains free in the exuberance of freedom restored, to live his life in any manner to which he has become accustomed. What manner of social exchange can this represent in the pursuit of justice?

The judge erred, grievously. We're all the poorer for it.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Psychopathic Religious Confliction

You've got to wonder. Why can't we be left alone? In the larger sphere, that is. Why must one group of people harbour such dark feelings against another group? We've been constructed and hard-wired in a manner to have feelings of suspicion against strangers in our midst, against those whose social mores, cultures and traditions don't match our own since time immemorial, as a simple expedient of nature, to assist us in our basic organic need of self-preservation.

But it's been a very long time since furtive forays of one hunting band against its neighbours took place to ensure that their territories weren't breached and with it their food stocks depleted. Wouldn't, one wonders, our superior brains, since we are, after all, "Man the Wise" dictate reason to smooth over our ungovernable emotions of distrust in all those millennia since mankind hunted and foraged for territorial and existential advantage?

One of the first emotional ingredients for disaster recognized and set aside by ancient philosophers and religious leaders was that of envy. The Ten Commandments, emulating much earlier injunctions brought forward in early societies seeking to infuse their populations with a sense of right and wrong so that all might live together in harmony, warned against envy and greed. Man the wise, it appears on the record of our long and sad history of abuse one against the other is not all that wise.

Take the most recent aggressive attacks against the West by fanatical Islamists who despise our less rigid, more accepting, social-democratic codes of living for our populations, where diversity is respected and egalitarianism is honoured as a right between human beings. Our societies have evolved where generally speaking people of varied backgrounds are able to live in some semblance of harmony, goodwill and peace. Religion has taken a back step to secular democracy as a governing tool. As a result people are far less rigidly doctrinaire in their religious observances, as well as in their broader acceptance of what is socially acceptable in behaviour and lifestyles.

There are times when this results in a society less concerned about true values, more concentrated on the trite and cosmetic appurtenances of life. Morals and ethics become diluted to the point of 'relativism'. This is the exchange between rigid observance of forbidden behaviours usually related to religious proscriptions, and the freedom of expression, the tolerance of others that Western societies have succumbed to, for the betterment of society at large.

Yet many among the most rabidly jihadist Islamists seem to prefer to deliver their messages of hate and condemnation in the very seat of those societies they so abhore. They have no interest, it would seem, in living within the confines of the repressive societies which their hate-speech exemplifies, much preferring the freedoms that participatory-democracies provide them to express their right to free speech, that very society they condemn. Fundamental extremists who incite against the West and its culture prefer to live within the safe confines of that very culture.

When some of these hate-mongerers are deported from the countries which have given them safe refuge because of their virulently harmful activities they do everything in their power to return to that country which sought to expunge them. Somehow the countries to which they have been deported and from which they originally came lack appeal, fraught as they are with socially repressive laws and religious demands for behaviour beyond their true wish to practise. In the same breath that they inhale the freedom of the West, they exhale the dark terror of the baleful societies they've left behind.

When authorities in the West finally determine that their presence is too troublingly incendiary and potentially harmful to the population at large and take measures to expel them from the country, these hate-mongers plea that on return they may be subject to imprisonment or torture in their home countries whose virtues they had previously expounded upon. Some even threaten to use the laws of the free country to sue the governments seeking to expel them.

Islamist extremists incite against the West while spewing their hatred and contempt, domiciled there in safety and protection for their families. They embrace the protection afforded them by the despised countries' laws, while decrying the loose social mores that so offend them in a secular society which offers refuge to those who practise their various religions without persecution.

These malcontents adeptly learn all the advantageous ways in which they can manipulate laws enacted to ensure freedom, safety and equality within the population at large to their devious advantage.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Sovereign Protection?

War is hell, yes it most certainly is. The urge of imperialist countries in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to extend their visions, expand their horizons, subjugate other less powerful countries and reap the benefits of their resources while holding their peoples hostage to the perceived needs of the conquering country was just another scourge in the world repeated time and again in earlier incarnations, but now generally frowned upon.

The British Empire extended far and wide, and in its hey-day competed for hegemony with countries like Spain, France, Portugal and Russia. Britain's was a vast empire of conquest, an amazing feat for a small island-nation determined to enlarge its territory, resources and reputation. Only bit by bit did Britain relinquish control of all those subjugated countries so far removed from her own geography.

But an odd thing happened on the way to independence for many of those countries; they determined it would be in their best interests to remain loyal to the British Crown, and despite attaining independence as sovereign states, also bowed to their past as subjugated states. The world, all of a sudden, on April Fool's Day, 1982, became aware of a little island that Britain named the Falkland Islands, and which Argentina from whom it had been wrested by Britain named the Malvinas.

Argentina at that time was in disarray, its dictator-politicians held in deep suspicion by its people, and it sought an adventure to restore its former territory-island as a way to bring back a little lustre to its sorry self. The thing about the Falklands is that, despite its distance from Britain, it was settled by Britons, and over the generations Falkland Islanders have remained British, their loyalty to the home country unalloyed by proximity to Argentina within South America.

Britain too was in political doldrums, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher restored herself in the opinion of her public by ordering a task force to the rescue when Argentine troops invaded 25 years ago. Outright war seen through two months of miserable fighting. Margaret Thatcher's popularity soared, guaranteeing her victory in a looming election that previously had her on the losing end. It was the worst kind of imperialistic posturing, to prosecute a nasty war to retain a tiny island that Britain had no business acquiring in the first place.

And in the process of that war, Argentine troops were completely routed, utterly demoralized, and the country of Argentina had reason to go into a deep mourning for the lives of hundreds of seamen lost when their ship was bombed and sunk by the British. The Argentines fought bravely for what they believed was theirs to begin with, but they were no match in the end for the well-trained and superbly equipped British. Moreover, there were Falklanders who spied on the Argentine troops and passed on vital military information to the British forces.

Details such as equipment, position and morale. There were even photographs taken of anti-aircraft sites smuggled through to the British. In some places like Goose Green and Darwin, hand-to-hand combat took place, with rifles, pistols, bayonets, shovels and fists. There were no tanks, little air cover, and hardly any artillery. The debris of war; wrecked mortars, discarded army boots, food rations and crushed radio and signalling equipment still litters the coast in places.

Since the British success in defending the Falklands and the complete routing of the Argentine forces, British troops remain on standby there.

Question is, what was accomplished? How can a country find pride in such an enterprise? More to the point, how can Lady Margaret Thatcher have a clear conscience for the deaths of so many for so little?


Thursday, March 22, 2007

The News Today

It keeps coming. More news of the day. From the amusing to the illogical, the monstrous to the incredible, there is the daily grind of news coming our way, informing us time and again of what a puzzling world it is we inhabit, what amazing and often harmful decisions people and their governments make that impact so dreadfully on their lives. Thank heavens for the occasional bit of good news, but you've got to dig pretty deep to find it in among the stories of our inadequacies and our failures.
  • China - China's latest cultural revolution is a government campaign to silence unofficial voices and re-assert control over the news media, the Internet and all independent forms of expression. Zhang Jianhong, a 48-year-old Internet blogger, known to readers as Li Hong, became the latest victim this week when he was sentenced to six years in prison for posting articles on his Web site calling for political reform.
  • New York - For years New York and Los Angeles have stationed safety officers and armed police in schools. One in five middle and high schools in New York have metal detectors, while a 1996 survey shows half of public high school students in Los Angeles must pass through them to attend class. A survey found students feel police and safety officers are "intervening in everyday disciplinary issues and treating young people like criminals for behaviour that would not be considered criminal in any other setting."
  • Nigeria - Muslim students at a secondary school in northeastern Nigeria beat a teacher to death yesterday after accusing her of desecrating the Koran. Uluwatoyin Olusase, a Christian, was invigilating an Islamic religious knowledge exam at the school in Gombe state when the incident occurred. The students attacked her outside the school compound after the exam and killed her. In February 2006, at least five people were killed and several churches burned down in neighbouring Bauchi by Muslims infuriated that a Christian teacher in a secondary school had tried to confiscate a Koran from a student who was reading it during class.
  • Israel - The country came to a grinding halt temporarily yesterday after the powerful Histadrut labour union called a one-day nationwide strike that stopped international flights and public services. The union said thousands of municipal workers it represents have not been paid for months. The strike was called off late in the day after union and Finance Ministry officials hammered out a deal with the help of a labour court.
  • Russia - More than 100 residents of a Russian village have refused to switch to new passports because they believe the documents' bar codes contain satanic symbols. "We believe these new passports are sinful," said an elderly resident of Bogolyubovo, about 210 kilometres east of Moscow. Some villagers have even stopped collecting their pensions because the payment slips also have bar codes that might contain the mark of the devil.
  • Paris - Jacques Chirac finally gave his official blessing yesterday to centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to succeed him as French president. The two men have been bitter rivals for years and disagree on many domestic issues.
  • New York - Coffee lovers who are in good health may have little reason to cut back, at least as far as their blood pressure is concerned, a new study suggests. Because the caffeine in coffee and other foods can cause a short-term spike in blood pressure, there has been concern that coffee drinking may, over time, raise the risk of high blood pressure. Studies, however, have come to inconsistent conclusions. In the new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that healthy women who drank upwards of 6 cups of coffee per day were no more likely than abstainers to develop high blood pressure over the next decade. On the other hand, women who drank coffee in moderation, zero to three cups a day,had a higher risk of developing high blood pressure than the heavy drinkers or the abstainers. Go figure.
  • Baghdad - Police said yesterday that children were used in a weekend car bombing in which the driver gained permission to park in a busy shopping area after he pointed out that he was leaving his children in the back seat. Once the vehicle was parked the men leaped from the car, leaving the children inside as it exploded. In addition to the two children, three Iraqi bystanders were killed in the attack near a marketplace in the northern Baghdad neighbourhood of Azamiyah, and seven people were injured.
  • London - An American Airlines pilot arrested at an airport security check-in after apparently arriving for duty drunk was found not guilty by a court yesterday, after telling a jury that he must have consumed a third of a bottle of Irish whisky in his sleep.
  • Pakistan - Fighting this week between area and foreign militants near the Afghan border was cited yesterday by Pakistan's government as a testament to the success of efforts to get tribesmen to root out al-Qaeda fighters. But the bloodshed underscored the government's inability to police the region and could unleash a cycle of violence between the warring factions, experts warned.
  • Iran - Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, yesterday warned that his country will pursue "illegal actions" if the UN Security Council insists it halt uranium enrichment, an apparent reference to nuclear activities outside international regulations. Mr. Khamenei also warned the United States that Iran would fight back with "all its capacities" if attacked.
  • Marshall Islands - The government of the Marshall Islands dispatched a ship to supply drinking water to outlying islands yesterday, after declaring a state of emergency amid a prolonged drought. Many islands in the western Pacific island nation of 60,000 people have had little rain since January and, earlier this week the former U.S. territory declared an emergency for six islands and appealed for international help.
  • Zimbabwe - About 2,500 Angolan paramilitary police, feared in their own country for their brutality, are to be deployed in Zimbabwe, raising concerns of an escalation in violence against those opposed to President Robert Mugabe. Zimbabwe's home affairs minister confirmed their imminent arrival. Angola is regarded as the most powerful military nation in Africa, after South Africa. The deployment comes amid reports of concern in Mr. Mugabe's government over the capability of the country's own police force to suppress outbreaks of unrest, mostly in Harare's volatile townships. Dubbed "ninjas" for their all-black uniform of combat trousers and tunics, boots and balaclavas, the Angolan paramilitaries form part of the presidential guard of Jose Eduardo dos Santos. They patrol in pickup trucks with mounted heavy machine guns and are notorious for their violence.


Taking the Initiative

Finally. Segments of the Muslim community are beginning to wake up. Not just sole voices here and there, speaking up and earning the enmity of their fellow Muslims, but now a concerted effort by groups. Yes, we do have a group in Canada speaking up against fundamentalism in Islam, warning Canada that harm is being done and will increase, through the activities of rabid Islamists. That brave group of individuals has been set upon, they've been threatened and suffered insult and beatings; we owe much to the Muslim Canadian Congress.

But they're hard put to maintain themselves, despite their courage and their resolve. It isn't a simple matter to continue work such as they have undertaken in the face of death threats and threats issued against family members. Already Tarek Fatah has had to step down from his central role in representing the moderate face of Islam in Canada, against repeated threats. Others have taken his place and they too now live lives of fear, while determined to continue their work on unmasking the evils of fanaticism.

So it's good to hear that a delegation of British Muslim leaders have come to Canada for the express purpose of instructing Muslim leaders in Canada, adding their experienced voices to those of our home-grown Muslim moderates. Britain, with its larger Muslim immigrant population and its recent problems with hate-spewing mullahs in British mosques whose purpose it has been to convert the moderate to jihadists has learned from its experience. And the moderate Muslims have taken up the challenge which fate has thrown their way.

They are here to state that Canadian Muslims can take measures to counteract extremism by guiding their young away from radical political interpretations of Islam. Abdul-Rehman Malik, contributing editor at Q-News, a British Muslim current affairs magazine spoke of the effectiveness of a program called the Radical Middle Way Project, a grassroots movement to ensure that credible and knowledgeable Islamic scholars travel across the country to preach against violent interpretations of Islam.

"What's happening on the ground is that 'Muslim' is becoming a political identity, not a religious identity", Mr. Malik told a gathering of Canadian Muslim leaders. Moderate leaders must reinvigorate the faith among disenchanted youth who have adapted to a Muslim identity reflective of anger over Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than about being a good Muslim.

Radical imams, he pointed out, who speak Arabic are granted legitimacy by uncertain teenagers prepared to believe whatever translation or interpretations of the Koran these imams offer to them. Yahya Fadlalla, an imam and cyber-terrorism consultant from Hamilton, Ontario encouraged the group to keep an observant eye on "so-called imams" with little genuine scholarly training. Such pretenders exert a poisonous influence on the gullible young, he pointed out.

"I think we need to talk less about accommodation and more about contribution" said Waqqas Khan, a former student leader in Britain. Mr. Khan was among a number of British Muslims who participated in a series of "Preventing Extremism Together" workshops in collaboration with the British government after the July 7 attacks in London.

We can only applaud the work of these responsible, responsive members of our society, and wish them well in their endeavours, since their success impacts on all of us.


Hollywood Strikes!

No kidding! Another big Hollywood blockbuster. Plenty of action, lots of bare physiques, some semblance of actual ancient history in there somewhere. The film is showing to sell-out crowds, enthusiastically grossing millions in revenue for its producers. Don't we all love those action-packed, ancient history re-written for the big screen blow-outs! Hollywood entertains. Not instructs, not informs, not educates. This is the American entertainment industry at its, um, well at its core, all right? That's what it does.

And, if in the process of entertaining, of unleashing buzz about its latest release they can somehow anticipate a little bit of denial here and there, some disagreement from various quarters, why all the better. There is that fond old quip that there is no such thing as "bad publicity". In fact the more furore a movie can evoke from special interest groups whose toes have been stepped upon the greater the glee of the movie studios. Nothing gets those addicted film crowds out like a little bit of controversy.

The Catholic church has attempted in vain in the past to lobby against the release of certain films, and so have Jewish lobby groups in the more recent past. They just forgot for the moment that nothing stops the determined earning power of a public entertainment that heaps scorn or praise on a subject not ordinarily treated in such a casual manner. Take religion, for example, take ethnicities, take historical accuracy, take a peoples' pride. Well, Hollywood has taken them all, confronted them and corrupted them for mass entertainment. It's what Hollywood does.

Hollywood has offended Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Oh the sheer exquisite ecstasy of it. We owe Hollywood a debt. A grave debt: no longer will I think of it with such unalloyed scorn as the worst type of low-grade, gutter-style, violence-prone, gender-offensive garbage as I have in the past. Hollywood has redeemed itself. It is now its own reason for existence. It has performed in the most stellar manner in producing a film, titled "300" which purports - oops, sorry - which illuminates a historical event of great moment.

The battle at Thermopylae where 300 Greeks of the city-state of Sparta fought and bested a huge invasion of thousands of Persians led by Xerxes (the Great, who wasn't all that great, now was he?). Iranian president Ahmadinejad's cultural advisor claims the film is part of a U.S.-led conspiracy to villify Iran. Oh, precious! "American cultural officials thought they could get mental satisfaction by plundering Iran's historic past and insulting this civilization" intoned Javad Shamqadri.

Yup, yup, yup. What a dastardly plot. Bring it on, there should be a sequel of some kind in the planning stages, shouldn't there?

"Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Hollywood and cultural authorities in the U.S. initiated studies to figure out how to attack Iranian culture. Certainly the recent movie is a product of such studies" said the outraged Shamqadri. He must know of what he speaks, since his country led the way in hosting its most illuminating and entertaining Holocaust Denial conference, no?

An on-line petition states: "300 ... is fraudulent and distorted, and its broadcast guarantees the violation of undeniable international legal rights". Oh. A Hollywood film does all of that. Not the repeated statements of the president of Iran that it is the intention of that country to eradicate another UN official presence in the geography.

Undeniable international legal rights don't apply to the right of survival of a country, but do apply to the entertainment industry developing an unhistorically-accurate film plot. Well, it all came out right in the end, didn't it?

"It is a proven scholarly fact that the Persian Empire in 480 B.C. was the most magnificent and civilized empire." True. Isn't it a dire shame that it has collapsed into the meagre and uncivilized state it now represents itself as, a threat not only to the sole Jewish state in the geography but also to other Islamic regimes who have good reason to fear its sweeping intent for the area. The UN Security Council isn't too dreadfully fond of the regime, either.

What's happened to its magnificence, it's scientific, philosophical, artistic and political heritage? Poof!


The Errant Convenience of Hypocrisy

What is there about the human psyche that impels so many among us that it behooves them because of their social, political or celebrity status to become a beacon unto the world? To lead us into a world that they conceive of as superior to that which we inhabit? To bring their message of sanctimonious righteousness to those of us so utterly lacking in the ability to recognize the true values in life and living? Not that none of us should be immune to taking lessons from any source that we recognize as legitimately able to teach us.

But it is the compromised high-minded among us that tend to extend their efforts the furthest and most emphatically to fulfill their own needs to teach us the way of the world and how to take our place within it, with their gentle and inspired guidance. We start out the process having the utmost respect for these people, for having attained their life's position, imbuing them with a sensitivity and creative genius somehow lacking in us.

And then, alas, discover that they are but straw men, their exterior upright and sound, the interior corrupted - just like the rest of us. The condition of mankind. But isn't it a miserable disappointment, anyway? Someone of the character, for example, of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who despite his fine mind found himself functionally incapable of looking straight ahead and keeping his hands from wandering, then having no compunction about lying to preserve his tattered reputation. We love him anyway, don't we?

Since we started off with American presidents, how about Jimmy Carter, that god-fearing failure of a president, but resounding success as a human-rights activist? Through his Carter Center in Atlanta, it is undeniable the man has done much good, sending his emissaries out throughout the Dark Continent to offer assistance where they can. His connection with Habitat for Humanity was a good and decent effort to demonstrate what ordinary people could aspire to, in helping their fellow man.

Then he somehow went off track, dissembling and fulminating and pointing fingers of blame in a one-sided tirade against a country assailed on all sides by adversarial proponents of Islam at its most rigidly doctrinaire. There's also the former presidential hopeful and sidekick of Bill Clinton whose stated concern for the environment pre-dated his vice-presidency and whose vintage activities culminated in
An Inconvenient Truth, hailed as a Hollywood award-winning blockbuster, leading the good fight to save the environment.

Wouldn't you know it, Al Gore's personal lifestyle simply doesn't match his message for us plebeians. The staggering energy it takes to ensure his mansion chugs along nicely would do for 20 ordinary homes; his heated pool-house alone consuming what most households use in energy. Nary a blush. He has purchased carbon credits to offset his splendiferous lifestyle. Smoke and mirrors, anyone? Carbon credits! He has the imperial presence, the ready cash, so he can have his mansion and heat it too.

This is staggeringly awful; who can we trust? Well, how about Bono, for a good-hearted, determined saviour of the indigent and the oppressed, forever urging governments, including his own, to increase their foreign-aid budgets to ease the pain of an unprivileged life for the downtrodden? His message is right on; who could not agree there are such needs? In a sense, he does himself, seeing the utility in moving his taxable assets offshore to handy tax havens avoiding the punishing Irish tax system. Effectively leaving Ireland with less income which it is expected to assist underdeveloped countries with.

Hmm, our own, highly-respected and much-loved David Suzuki? There's a Canadian media star and nagger-extraordinaire and he's all our very own. He's been telling us for years that we're neglecting our environment, that we don't value it as we should, that we are incredibly wasteful, that we should heed the dire need of other creatures we share this planet with. He's right, and we admire and respect him for all of what he's done in educating us and encouraging us to be better world citizens.

So, imagine the disappointment when we discover that in his eagerness to educate us still further in encouraging our awareness of the environmental disasters already on our horizon, he and his entourage, travelling across this vast country, are unnecessarily adding to the particulate matter sullying our air through the use of a honking big 'celebrity-style' diesel bus whose capacity is far in excess of the needs of his modest 7-man crew. David! how could you?

All right, how about Michael Moore? Whose celebrated films have won him admiration the world over, for tackling the worst aspects of American capitalism, pointing out the wrecks, civic and human left in the wake of wealthy corporate depredation. He hounds his prey - nervous executives - and tracks them, and interrogates them, and embarrasses them, and demonstrates how shabby and hollow they are, poor elites.

Oops! what's this? Seems as though his films are a trifle less than honest in content; he has the unfortunate habit of showing that which underlines his message eliminating nuisance facts, kind of like fashioning a research project to reflect one's theory, right? So what happens when someone realizing just that, through the exposure that comes with actually working for and with him decides to ask questions? Nothing to discuss. Just go away. Well, how about an independent news person seeking an interview to clarify these misunderstandings? Um, too busy. Sorry about that.

Remember his dedicated pursuit in Detroit featured in
Roger and Me? Tables have turned. Sorry: Mr. Moore is simply too busy; unapproachable, untouchable, unavailable.


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