Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Let's Get This Straight....

Where's that shipment of Russian tanks headed now, Sudan or Kenya? A sale from Ukraine, we were informed, to Kenya. Those Somalia pirates, didn't they kind of luck in on that one? And isn't it a bit of an embarrassment? Russia huffing and puffing about sending a warship, a Fearless one, at that, to confront the pirates and rescue the ship and its crew. Might be too late for the captain, said to have perished from fright and agitation through a heart attack.

Never mind, American ships are on the scene. Taking incriminating photographs of the wee boats of those pirates scrambling aboard that huge ship with its cargo of weapons. The original ransom has been downgraded slightly, but $20-million (U.S.) is not loose change. And the pirates don't seem overly concerned that they're effectively encircled. They're complacent, sitting tight, confident in their piracy which has, up to now, repaid them handsomely for their high seas adventures.

The pirates say pay the ransom and the MV Faina will be on its way. The USS Howard is standing by, on the alert, awaiting the arrival of the Russian warship Neustrashimy and two Malasian vessels. It's Russia's rescue, and the U.S. is content to stand by to assist if required. Downright friendly, companionably helpful, the way two great countries should react to one another.

Well, there's always something to spoil the vision of peace and goodwill, isn't there? It's rather inconveniently awkward that the U.S. Navy insists the cargo of Soviet-type T-72 tanks and allied military supplies are likely transiting Kenya, destined for Sudan. Kiev, and Nairobi both, deny this to be the fact, that the Kenyan and Ukrainian governments have a deal.

Ukraine somehow conspiring to support the Sudanese government in its pursuit of and ongoing victimization of Darfurians? Advancing their atrocities by taking their oil money in exchange for the means by which Sudan can handily continue its agenda of putting down a rebellion, in the process murdering and raping tens of thousands of black Sudanese?

Neither Ukraine nor Russia would appreciate these revelations particularly, should they prove to be fact. Yet another irritating little factoid further enraging Russia about American interference in its affairs.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Going It Alone

When you're a minority nation in a majority region refused recognition of right of existence, a powerful patron can do much to restore hope become faint with daunting experience. In the light of Iran's continued program of uranium enrichment for the purpose of creating its own nuclear arsenal, and the country's president and its ayatollahs' determination to wrest the "Zionist entity" from the geography, Israel needs all the help it can get.

Most countries strenuously resist the placement of foreign troops on their territory, invoking the inviolability of territorial integrity. Governments of most nations insist on their right to remain completely autonomous, irrespective of the assistance they ask from other nations. They will resist, and resent any incursions onto their territory, as an insult, an assault against their self-sufficiency.

The government of Israel, in facing up to the reality of the existential challenge that Iran represents to their little nation - particularly in view of the fact that they will receive no sympathy, no practical help from their neighbours, themselves nervous about the clear dominating aspirations of Shia Islam in a dominating Sunni geography - has had to make a decision.

Their great and reliable patron, the powerful - now somewhat sagging but ever renascent - United States, has always been a dependable ally. When Israel attempted to forge an invasion alliance with the United States to destroy Iranian nuclear emplacements, it was informed, unequivocally, that not only will the U.S. not commit to such an enterprise, it also sought to forbid Israel from embarking on it.

The imponderables were too great, the risks, formidable. The many, deeply underground caverns, well fortified, that shelter Iran's nuclear ambitions too difficult to identify, too well protected to effectively infiltrate, and the attack would most certainly result in a violent, and unpredictable response. Those were the reasons given in the public forum of response and reportage.

As solace of sorts, and practical assistance, the United States has agreed to establish a permanent military presence within Israel. Israel must surely have been of two contradictory, very polarized minds about this; on the one hand, struggling against the need to permit a foreign power a military base in perpetuity, on the other agonizing that to invite that power is to ultimately protect itself.

One hundred and twenty U.S. troops to be permanently deployed in the Negev Desert, to set up and operate a state-of-the-art early warning radar to track Iranian-launched missiles. Capable of tracking at a distance of 4,700 kilometres, this represents a meaningful increase in radar capabilities.

The system is allied with American satellites and an Israeli weapons system whose purpose it is to destroy ballistic missiles. Iran's most advanced missiles are thought to be 11 minutes' flight time from Israel. And Israel's top military member of its research section noted that Iran is "galloping toward a nuclear bomb"; time truly is of the most vital essence.

Iran, if we can recall, has been assisted in its nuclear ambitions by none other than Russia. It is from Russia and from China too that Iran purchases its most upgraded military equipment. Massive amounts of oil-derived credit changes hands from Iran to its partners in this enterprise, while the number of Iranians living in poverty grows, unemployment blooms, repression increases.

What now? Will there be a response from Russia to this latest of American initiatives to assist her allies in their struggle against totalitarian Islam? Will the Kremlin now seek to position troops outfitted with advanced equipment in Iran?

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reassuring World Events

It was moving to read and observe a photograph of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev kneeling in quietly humble respect before a memorial to the millions of Russian victims of the USSR's gulag punishment system for enemies of the state. Stalinist doctrine and murderous victimization of Russia's intelligentsia and land-owners and critics recognized now for the mass atrocity that it represented.

It's always reassuring to see the human side of any regime, most particularly one that has revealed by its retrograde actions a renaissance in a questionable human rights agendas. One that appears to have reverted to a semblance of its former aggressive techniques in the process of assuring its neighbours and one-time obsequious supporters that, like an anxiously responsible parent caring for their irresponsible young, the punishment they mete out is for their own good.

And, as though the Kremlin waxed nostalgic about the excitement and robust romance in facing off with its adversaries in the West, brokering a return to that not-so-distant past of anxiety-imposing insecurity on a world scale. And here we thought, thanks to Glasnost, courtesy of Mikhail Gorbachev, that Russia had mellowed, and would never again represent itself as the bully of Eastern Europe.

In which cause, that same Dmitri Medvedev has ordered up a complete renewal and modernization of his country's military, its defence systems. Never for the offensive; a country has a responsibility to itself to exercise every opportunity at its disposal to ensure the security of its borders and the safety of its peoples' interests, after all. Pity that former President Gorbachev is 77; pity too that he's held in such low esteem in his country.

But there we go, another arms race in the offing. And the usual global jockeying for supporters. It isn't all that difficult to find countries in the Western Hemisphere that resent the officious superiority of the United States. But damn, selling nuclear technology to Venezuela, having that dangerous clown Hugo Chavez in charge of nuclear-potential-devices... That's the Chavez whose buddy-in-vitriolic denunciations of the U.S. is - now let's see - Ahmadinejad of Iran?

Not dreadfully surprising, since Russia has been busy for quite some time now, assisting nuclear-determined Iran with its seasoned expertise, and supplying it with other state-of-the-art weaponry. The better to threaten the geography of the Middle East and beyond. Talk about circuitous logic: Russia supplies Iran which is a threat to the region and to the U.S., and becomes enraged that the U.S. is setting up mechanical deterrents to missiles emanating from Iran.

And, of course, if the U.S. admiralty feels sufficiently confident to exercise its options everywhere it seeks to, including Baltic ports, as well as the Straits of Hormuz, so too is the Kremlin entitled to send its nuclear-powered warships and submarine destroyers on a friendly military-exercise mission to the waters of the Caribbean.

One dimly recalls, a mere several weeks ago, President Medvedev bemoaning the perceived recommencement of another arms race, claiming Russia had no interest in such a travesty, such a waste of international co-operation and good will.

Paranoia reigns supreme.

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Another United Nations Failure

That august body whose presence and preoccupation it is to advance peace and security in the world doesn't appear to be all that preoccupied with recognizing when it has failed to do just that. On the other hand, it might not be surprising, given the character and construction of the participating world bodies purporting to represent the best interest of the globe with respect to peace.

The body politic is irremediably factionalized. How it might be otherwise is a real conundrum, given human frailties and emotions leading nations to form self-interested cliques. And given human nature which always seeks to marginalize and victimize entities which are different than their own. Gregarious people, like gregarious body politics tend to huddle in the comfort of their own, eschewing the company of others.

Despite which, one might reasonably anticipate that basic human decency would mitigate against blatant fear-mongering, hate-mongering, and outright threats from one member-nation against another. Whoever might issue very real promises of violence and existential threats against another nation, it might be assumed that their agenda would be rejected outright, even among their supporters.

That, obviously, is not the case. The world appears to have assembled itself into rigid collectives; the countries of the developed world, for the most part, arrayed against the interests of those of the developing nations of the world, although there are overlaps. When a hatefully delusional totalitarian emissary of militant Islam can stand before the general assembly of the world body and decry and threaten the existence of a nation state, as Iran did Israel, it resulted in general acclaim.

That approval, given in the guise of a general applause after the incendiary statements of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a re-statement of his oft-expressed contempt of the "Zionist entity", and his personal determination to wipe the country from the geography's map, spoke volumes about the constant persecution within the United Nations and its various bodies, of the State of Israel.

An outright condemnation of Sudan, for its genocidal war on Darfurians, in the face of the UN's helpless protests, would never surface in the world body, because it is the general consensus within the United Nations that one must never name names, cause embarrassment to member nations, but rather work quietly behind the scenes. Israel, however, is treated uniquely differently, held up for constant criticism and contempt.

Iran, another shameful Holocaust-denying country whose Ayatollahs excite deadly retribution against non-Muslims for perceived insults to the Prophet Muhammad, encourages Muslims in Iran to mock the memory of the Holocaust. Where public events mock the memories of the victims of the most horrendous mass slaughter of innocents to have taken place in modern memory. Where the theocratic government encourages calls for suicide bombings to assist in the "death of Israel".

There has been no murmur of condemnation, much less a statement of disavowal by the United Nations' Security Council. In a U.S. appeal to Arab leaders, themselves fearful of the advance of Iran's nuclear agenda, and of Iran's up-front aspirations to assuming premiership of the Islamic hierarchy, the response was as usual. Arab leaders steadfastly refuse to recognize and accept Israel's right to its geographic location in the Middle East.

Proffering the fiction that they will be only too happy to incline toward inclusion just as soon as Israel removes its 300,000 settlers in the West Bank. As though that alone stands between acceptance or rejection. The ancient enmities and angers and hatreds are simply too fused into the Arab tribal, clan mentality. And in this very instance the enemy of their enemy is most certainly not their friend.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Does He Really Represent?

Hard to figure. For those who admire and cling to the possibilities he hints at, he represents the best choice for the chief administrator of the most influential and powerful country on this planet. They think they know his message. They think he reflects all the qualities that they want to see in a leader, to counteract their weariness with the current administration that has led them to a condition of severe disquietude about their country.

Embroiled in far-off conflicts the costs of which have threatened to exhaust the treasury at a time when there are quite a number of internal issues the country has been unable to deal with, like the state of Medicare and the potential of universal health care; like timely rescues of large swaths of the population fallen victim to catastrophic weather conditions; like the need to upgrade deteriorating civil infrastructure; how to deal with illegal immigrants.

Oh, and yes, there's that little item of a collapsed economy, the cataclysm of financial markets imploding under the weight of money markets forgetting the very basics of sound, ethical economic policies. Underlying all of this is the perennial issue of race relations in that vast country with its diverse populations; largely white Americans, with a sizeable black minority and an even larger Hispanic demographic.

Then there's the issue of growing unemployment as manufacturing jobs have slowly stolen away to more profit-enhanced venues abroad. The problems in facing up to society's infiltration by religious extremists whose goal is to completely unsettle the civil discourse, stealthily remove the country from its clasp of secular politics and bring it into the orbit of fundamentalism.

Is Barak Obama the man to meet all these problems head on? Can he be groomed on the job to speak to the manifold issues on the international scene that will of necessity take the attention of any sound global leader, but most particularly that of the United States? More than any other single country, or coalition of countries representing mutual interests, the United States of America's decisions impact around the world.

Can this young man with his limited executive background even given his brief exposure in Congress, claim ownership of the grave decision-making needs inherent in the position of President of the United States? He appears calm, confident, gravely intelligent, with his finger on the pulse of the nation. But many, in whose thoughtfully considered opinion the nation should give careful thought, have their doubts.

"I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such I am bound to disappoint some, if not all of them." Is this the introspective viewpoint of a self-acknowledged leader of a nation? This is not, after all, how Senator Obama portrays and presents himself and his nebulous agenda on the campaign trail. Is he capable of governing, or is he not?

Yet, this was his considered assessment of himself, as a tabula rasa, perhaps not quite completely known even to himself, in his autobiographical "The Audacity of Hope". If he indeed permits himself to become a blank screen prepared to accept the message of many different views written bold in full view purporting purpose, then where is his own persona, where his idiosyncratic self and purposeful direction?

It has been pointed out by his detractors from the dexter wing of the political spectrum that his sometimes-furtive behaviour, his backtracking, his disowning of what was originally presented as his true values, demonstrate his lack of character, his willingness to sway whichever way the political wind blows. He evolves as he goes, trying out the political suit that most resonates with voters, clothing himself in their expectations.

Expectations he has himself ignited in the hopeful minds of Middle America and Young America and Elite America who see in him long-overdue expiation of a historical wrong. He has walked a fine tightrope, trying to mollify uncertain suspicions from the black community while disarming white voters who want desperately to believe they have matured beyond the racial question that has so long dominated American life.

A community that feels it has finally moved beyond colour, to identify a candidate universal to their country's need. They want to believe him and to believe in his promise. They hope because he has encouraged them to hope. They believe because he has promised that he can deliver them out of the unhappy morass that is American society today. They want him to discharge them from guilt, and to bring them into Utopian America.

He is no Jesse Jackson, no Al Sharpton, who sharpen their rhetoric on the whetstone of blame, perpetual black rage against unkind history. Theirs is the fall-back of arrested adolescence as a people emerging from the shadows and lurking there still, fearful of the full strength of the sun. They refuse, in their ghetto mentality, to become fully accountable for themselves, for their failures to adjust to the new reality of opportunities.

He is most certainly not of their ilk. He stands tall and proud and ready to face head on any adversity that stands in the path of his full disclosure of himself as a whole human being. Trouble is, the world awaits full disclosure. Who is he, exactly? Other than representing what his supporters are looking for. Why has he changed his position so many times on so many issues?

What does it say about his certainty, integrity, gravitas, that he has exhibited a proclivity to make so many poor choices in those with whom he consorts? Until their irregular or erratic, or downright dangerously radical values are revealed publicly and he is forced to disown them, and with that, his own values adapted from theirs. From gun control, to wiretaps, faith-based initiatives, recognition of an indivisible Jerusalem, he waffles and weaves.

His supporters seem not to be able to focus on those disturbing anomalies in the character of an individual whom they take to be perfection incarnate, whose message is the shining light of hope for the future. Change and hope and empty rhetorical gestures like "yes we can", resonate with his ardent followers. They question nothing, demand no accounting, wish for no explanation from their candidate.

What record, exactly, is he running on? How has he been prepared by experience, by life's adversities, by exposure to high-level administrative exigencies, to govern a nation?

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Beijing Crackdown

For a country concerned with the well-being of its people, China has been extraordinarily lax about exercising the full strength of its co-ordinated federal capabilities in ensuring food safety. It's not quite as though there was any reason for complacency, given the complaints coming out of China itself, added to the many alerts seen internationally as a result of dangerously corrupted food products discovered in the country's international market.

But Beijing, finally, now that its attention is no longer focused on the Beijing Olympics, is turning its concern to yet another scandal, this one quite outstripping previous food-related disasters, in the scope and extent of its impact. Fifty-three thousand children made ill, some seriously, resulting thus far in a handful of deaths, as a result of ingesting a dangerous chemical used in the formation of plastics-manufacturing.

And here's a bit of a stinker, countries all over the world, including mine, have discovered that melamine-laced products have infiltrated our food supply, as well. A popular sweet, called "White Rabbit", formerly withdrawn from the market because it contained formaldehyde, had its formula altered to ensure it reflected food safety guidelines; so what was added to the formula? Why, melamine.

Thirteen thousand Chinese infants in hospital, and the numbers are growing, with 104 in serious condition. All to satisfy the unbridled greed of unscrupulous manufacturers who sought to increase their profit margins. Children in Hong Kong are now showing up with illnesses related to melamine-laced milk products. While Swiss, German, and French investors in the Chinese milk-products market have seen their reputations singed.

On the one hand, it's a shame that Nestle, the Swiss food giant, has had its reputation besmirched in this way. But Nestle has long since proven itself with a less than stellar conscience when marketing its products. Nestle was responsible, through its advertising campaigns in Africa, for persuading lactating mothers that formula-based milk was superior to their own, that their babies would benefit from Nestle infant formula.

Poverty-stricken poor rural women wanting to be as modern as anyone else, and wishing to give their infants a superior quality milk product as advertised by Nestle, watered down the expensive formula, resulting in severe malnutrition for their children, and sometimes death. It seems fairly evident now that Chinese mothers of babies and infants have also been exposed to Nestle's value message.

A well-known critic and writer-editor in China who has written extensively about China's record on food safety has a very good point. Zhou Quing states that when even baby milk powder has been dangerously compromised, what are the chances for a full range of food products emanating from Chinese food manufacturers and distributors being safe for human consumption?

"I believe the whole food safety situation is worse than what we are now hearing about in the milk powder industry", he claims. "Common sense says that products meant for infants are usually produced to a higher standard in every country around the world. The infant industry is the last area any government wants to have a scandal in."

As though Chinese parents haven't enough reason to be outraged by their government which legislates one child per family, and then neglects the safety of school-age children through faulty construction in earth-quake-prone zones. Now those precious single children are further, and on a much wider scale, endangered by government lassitude in ensuring milk formula purity, not to mention other milk products consumed by children everywhere.

Contrast China's record to that of another country in the region. For example Japan, whose population demands a rigidly high standard of food quality and whose government ensures they receive just that. Japanese authorities insist on fastidious management of food products. Consumers demand freshness, safety and excellence in product management, and they get it.

Yet Mr. Zhou, in his investigations into Chinese food safety regulations has discovered such outrageous anomalies as fish farmers placing contraceptive pills in fish feed, and factories in Sichuan province using DDT in pickle vats to discourage the infiltration of insects, while in Guizhou Province, restaurants commonly add opiates to their sour fish soup to ensure customers return.

Corruption is endemic. A year ago the Chinese quality chief food regulatory official was found wanting in his duty to ensure safe food products; he was dismissed and in shame committed suicide. The current chief of food quality has now also been dismissed. China excels at perfunctorily solving such inconvenient problems by selecting scapegoats, then brushing off further criticisms.

Collusion between government agents and the company officials whose practices they are meant to supervise, is rife with payoffs and exemptions. How can the Chinese people trust the safety of such food products, and how can the world at large? In an interconnecting system of product disbursement internationally, we're certain to see an increasing eruption of such problems.

In Canada, for example, try to find garlic throughout the year for sale in supermarkets that doesn't come from China. You can, however, if you frequent area farmers' markets and buy directly from them, certain of their pride in their own products. Honey produced in China and suspected of harbouring harmful bacteria is used globally in bakery products throughout the world.

Products like instant coffee blends, now known to be contaminated by the addition of the chemical melamine, are available as an imported speciality in many places of the world. Why, an international consumer, should ask themselves, are we being offered food products like snap peas and snow peas grown in China then shipped around the world, when our own farmers produce them?

That old adage that cheaper is not always better was never as true as it is in this instance. China's grand plans to stretch its trade tentacles around the world through cheaper production methods so beloved of the world's consuming public is coming home to haunt us.

And we can stay tuned for more scandalous revelations and urgent food recalls.

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Hail And Farewell

It's official, the U.S. troop withdrawal is soon to commence, with the new year. Draw-down in Iraq, boot-up in Afghanistan. Odd, that reversal of the original invasion. History most certainly does tend to repeat itself and that, of course, is because history is driven by and recorded through the auspices of men of whom posterity takes little notice.

Invasion of Persia and of Kabulistan; why that's been happening for millennia...

But there it is, the initial withdrawal agenda, leaving Iraqis free to get on with their lives, to take charge of their destiny, to formulate national policies equally representative of the civil rights of all its peoples, Shia, Sunni, Kurds, along with the minor, perpetually-overlooked minority tribes.

Even, let us not forget that they exist there, Christian Iraqis.

The current Shia-dominated administration - ruling over the minority Sunni who had, under Saddam, been dominant and privileged - have assured their minorities of even-handed, temperate, moderate, deserving, equal treatment. They are to be recognized as being equally entitled and respected as the Shia majority.

That majority, by the bye, still smarting with enraged, smouldering indignation at the assault on their rights and entitlements through the painful and burdensome Saddam regime. None of that miserable sectarian blood-letting will be countenanced by this regime.

The atrocities brought to Shia and Sunni and Christian neighbourhoods by marauding sectarian militias that scant short time ago represented a regrettable anomaly.

So relax, Brig. Gen. Tarek Abdul Hameed; be assured, Awakening Council leaders. It is the intention of the Shia-led government to honour the vital work of the Sunni militias in restoring peace, restraining the unfettered violence that so utterly blemished the character and intent of the fledgling administration.

Taking over payroll and leadership from the departing Americans, yes, but rest easy; salaries will continue to flow, and the young men of the Sunni Awakening will be slated for absorption into the country's regular forces. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has given his solemn word.

The Awakening members, all 99,000 of them to whom the U.S. military elite credits the failure of al-Qaeda in Iraq, however, must hand in their weapons to government authorities. They may retain their Kalashnikovs, but they may no longer "move freely with their weapons".

Nor may they embark upon arrest procedures "as they did before", when they were encouraged by, and paid by, and trained by the Americans to effect their ultimately successful diminishment of violence and bloodshed, rejecting and battling al-Qaeda.

Iraqis now are left with mixed feelings of angst and insecurity. They've experienced more than enough of bloodshed, privation, and the torment of unrelenting loss, not to mention the disquietingly vicious burden of fear. They're of mixed feelings toward the impending American troop departures, timed and sequential.

a) They'll never leave, loathe to hand over control of the country's oil wealth;
b) They must leave, instantly; not needed or wanted;
c) Americans leave, stability rises, none too soon;
d) Chaos and destruction will follow the American withdrawal...stay awhile longer, much longer.
e) American troops represent protection - from ourselves, from our neighbours. "They are all wolves - the Arabs, the Persians, the Turks."
f) Not yet, not quite yet, please.
g) Time for American troops to leave. I'm going too, to plead for asylum, anywhere that will give me another nationality.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Seriously Conflicted, Sadly Afflicted

Excellent, instructive, introspective coverage in The New York Times of Thursday, September 9, 2008. There is a large, coloured photograph of an American soldier, fully uniformed and geared, sitting in a parlour in Baghdad. Dated 2007, the booted, helmeted soldier, holding his rifle, is sitting in an armchair, beside him a television set, behind him heavily brocaded draperies.

His boots rest, akimbo, on a Persian rug. His face turned toward an unseen presence. The nervous, perhaps frightened, perhaps delicately offended lady of the house, possibly? The caption under the photo reads in part: "As part of the counter-insurgency strategy, American soldiers knocked on doors at random to visit Iraqis in their homes and get to know them".

Lucky householder. Didn't good fortune smile upon her, that day in 2007. An American soldier come to visit. A courtesy call, a "getting to know you" initiative. Wonder how he'd feel, seeing a photo of his mother, his wife, or his sister, standing nervously in her living room, some foreign, armed interloper brandishing a weapon, paying a friendly "hearts and minds" call.

Might she be hoping, curious children at her side, that the rifle wouldn't accidentally discharge? Might she entertain the thought that her visitor might have been involved in the death of a brother, an uncle, during the initial invasion and assault? Might she possibly be hoping for a swift departure, enabling her to vacuum up the mud left on her rug by his boots?

If the electrical grid is working.

Details, details. Mere inconveniences. He doesn't want to be there. He is following orders. Be a visitor, not an armed guard. We've got to show our human side for these people. Spread some good feeling. Smile. Widely, with sincerity. Ask a few questions. Compliment the lady of the house on her superior house-keeping skills. Her obvious decorating abilities.

Think of your mother. Be kind. Be gentle. Offer a stick of chewing gum to the kid hiding behind his mother, mouth agape, eyes wide.

We're all of us, human, after all. Everyone knows that, subscribes to the veracity of that little fact. These folks can't help that they were born in this Godforsaken place. Not everyone has the great good fortune to be born American. Finally, take your leave, with courtesy.

Say it's been a pleasure. And a positive learning experience. Tell her you'd love to come again, but you've got lots of other places to visit, as well.

Same paper, same issue, one page over. A brief black-bordered little column. Directly under a much longer one captioned: "U.S. to Pull 8,000 Troops from Iraq Early in 2009".

The smaller item is titled "Names of the Dead". A daily accounting of U.S. losses. Fully 4,149 American service members since the inception of the Iraq war. Another, 580 who have died as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

And, bringing things up to the present, an additional three names from Iraq; one from Afghanistan.

More to come.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

All Roads Lead To Waziristan

It was affirmed by a Pakistani general yet again today that Pakistani troops have fired on American troops which had entered the country's North-West border region in pursuit of members of the Taliban. The military fulminates against the unwanted intrusion of U.S. forces, the sullying of its territory by the presence of foreigners.

They, Pakistan's armed forces, are serenely capable and determined to look after themselves.

As for Afghanistan which continues to smear the sterling reputation of their good neighbour by insisting that it harbours terror groups among its hill tribes, such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, consider the source. It's no great secret any longer that Pakistan's military and its secret service have long since been infiltrated by Islamist sympathizers and activists.

It is the government, it was Pervez Musharraf - with his sometimes confused and always conflicted loyalty, having to balance the demands of his military, hoping to retain their loyalty, against his acknowledged interest in the well-being of his country, a Muslim country seeking to solidify its democratic credentials - hoping to be able to retain the fiction of support to the U.S. in the "war on terror".

A war on terror that not so subtly made its presence on the world stage through the kindly auspices of prior and current Pakistani government administrations. But then, a funny thing happened on the way to the future. The government finally came to the realization that it was battling an internal fight, a covert civil war, and delicate balance was required to keep it underground.

When, however, the would-be sharia-led insurgents became too demonstrably arrogant in polite Pakistan society, the government had little option but to bang it down, thus eliciting rancour from the tribal chieftans which no amount of agreements afterward for "cease-fires" could prevent the growing determination to bury inept moderation once and for all.

Attacks against army units and the countryside became more frequent as the militant strongholds in the northwest regions became more confident, better equipped, more efficient at attacks and the number of civilians and army personnel they were able to dispatch. And then those of the ilk of Baitullah Mehsud, delivered a very noticeable attack, right in the centre of Islamabad.

One might ask, without the active collaboration of insiders could this truck mega-bomb ever have penetrated the inner reaches of the city, to breach the defences of the army and the secret service dedicated to protection of the government, foreign embassy personnel, and the Pakistani civil elite? Was there a planned meeting of the new government at the Marriott Hotel, or was there not?

What a delicious combination for a deadly attack. Destroy the very symbol of Western oppression and economy, and with it the country's complicit, U.S.-bowing government. Where did that inside information emanate from? In any event, not at all a bad score, killing and wounding Americans including U.S. military personnel, the Czech Ambassador, and hundreds of Pakistani civilians.

The Taliban had, after all, warned the new government to stand off, stop playing nice to the United States by sending Pakistani military to their mountain hideouts. There would be a price to pay, beyond the already 60-successful suicide attacks this past year. And remember Benazir Bhutto's triumphant parade through the streets in advance of her heralded election victory?

Asif Ali Zardari has found it prudent to denounce American intervention in Pakistan's business on the North-West Frontier. Which is what he must do, under the circumstances; claiming indignation at the occasional cross-the-border U.S. intrusion in public, while assuring the U.S. it has his complete confidence in private, and thank you very much for that financial support, badly needed in a reeling economic downturn.

Benazir Bhutto's widower, understandably, has no immediate wish to join her just yet, in that great hereafter.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Walking Quietly, Carrying that Big Stick

The world admires and detests, criticizes and praises, fears and trusts the most powerful country in the world. Isn't that the way it is, after all? When a country is capable of exerting - without lifting much of its interior-contemplating head in the process - its influence on the entire globe, for good and for ill, it is only to be expected that it cause all of those feelings, along with with suspicion and dread, and a hope for the future, combined.

When it comes to throwing its weight around, the U.S. government is never very shy about doing what comes naturally to the world's premier powerhouse. The symptoms of which can be as relatively innocuous as leaning on a neighbour to accept their singular and self-protective laws, merging their own to produce the U.S. comfort of good neighbourliness, to propping up criminal regimes abroad when it suits their agenda, to invading countries which it assumes may harbour an intent painful to the U.S. economy, or security.

On the other hand, it is the United States of America that is always up front and first in offering aid and assistance abroad where it is needed. It is invariably the U.S. that will opt into lending their authority to assist a good cause. Or to help rescue a country from the debilitating effects of a natural disaster. In fact, despite the country's deserved reputation for egregiously interfering in the autonomous decision-making of other countries, it still stands as a sign-post of collective morality.

Just as individuals have their lacks and their faults, their idiosyncratic views and values, so do countries, obviously. If the international community had a choice over which country they would prefer to have such a great influence on that of their own and the world at large, might they, as an alternate to the United States select, say, Russia, China or India instead? One mightn't think so.

The political system may too often produce politicians and governing bodies whose end product is unsettling on the world politic and the international economy, but its system of justice is second to none, its collective conscience does shine through in the final analysis and - its decision-making propensities, though often enough badly interpreted and prosecuted - the world is still a better place for its dominance.

The quintessential benevolent dictator. Plenty of faults, balanced with a generous sprinkling of positives. In fact, reflective in large part of each and every one of us as individuals. Certainly far and above in universal social value those humanity-abusing regimes of which the world has far too many. So if the world is to be impacted by the whims and prerogatives of one powerful overseer, better it be the ogre we know than the devil we don't.

The simple fact is, of all the world's nations the United States of America is by far the most persuasive. Reject their agenda at your own peril, as a state, as a member country of the United Nations. This is not only the single most powerful military in the world, but the most impressive economy as well, one whose smooth operation benefits every other country in the world; those with which it trades, and those whose existence its charitable beneficence benefits.

This is a country that exhibits toward the world the persona of a strong ally, or, in reverse; a formidable enemy. Either camp pays very close attention indeed to the mood of the day, the month or the year, emanating from that country. The social upheaval evident in its population's democratic decision-making in selecting a new government has its impact across the globe. As evidenced of late, the health of its economy and financial institutions are echoed globally.

So it's little wonder indeed that people the world over are entranced by the current presidential pre-election proceedings. Since whichever way the wind blows there, it will most certainly blast elsewhere in the world. We hope that the U.S. electorate will exercise their mandate intelligently, give themselves a government that will represent their interests fairly and intelligently.

And by extension ours as well. We want that country to be stable, well-adjusted, balanced and well run. We like the U.S. to be comfortable with itself and its place in the world, for its financial institutions to operate smoothly and predictably. On the other hand, we're utterly helpless when those same public and private systems go awry through abandonment of caution and embrace of corrupting entitlements.

In a very real sense, the American electorate adores thinking of itself and its country as the number one of everything that counts in the world. In a very real sense, it's regrettable that they remain oblivious to the deleterious impact they and their country have on the rest of the world. Mostly because Americans are so self-absorbed, so smug about themselves that they don't waste their time thinking about other countries.

Yes, we exist, but so what? Americans are so deeply immersed in their singular culture, their traditions - their values that simply outstrip those of any other nation in their estimation - there is no need to become even remotely knowledgeable about the world around them. They are sedate in their complacency, their pride in self, their disregard of what simply holds no interest for them.

In the end, all of us pay for the outcome, dearly.

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Roosting Chickens in the Bear Pit

When push comes to shove, international investors become decidedly uneasy. It hasn't helped that, in the not-so-distant past, investment in Russian industries by profit-seeking foreign investors has resulted in government take-overs. The new Russia, however, has long given assurance to investors that Russia is not a hostile, but a welcoming arena for investment, and so, greed always capable of overcoming caution, has muted suspicion.

If the oligarchs can make money hand-over-fist, if Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ex-KGB-klub can be assured of rich endowments from cushy positioning, then why not take the risk and have faith that what has been declared as dependable assurance is as good as gold? In a burgeoning oil-rich economy like Russia's what need of the government now to step in and claim property and investment not their own?

Well, there are of course, other ways in which a country - arrogantly unmindful of the soothing effects of stability in a country's political situation and their economy - can behave to startle investors and give them acute headaches. And Russia has staunchly played her traditional role as the area's headache-inducing grizzly so easily aroused to striking out at those who are incautious enough to provoke her.

Little wonder both foreign and domestic investors have decided to protect their investments, all $35-billion (U.S.) of it, leaving the Russian stock market wondering what hit it. And then of course, there's the fall-out from current global market ills, thanks to America's near financial collapse frightening the lucre-addled wits out of the international market.

And who would've guessed, given the oil-market turmoil of the past six months that oil would actually fall back to the new comfort zone of $100 a barrel? Though who knows how long speculators will be satisfied with that modest return; still enough to give aches to the hearts of motorists everywhere. Let alone the impact on economies no longer quite so ready to ship goods to far-off markets cheap, cheap.

Russia's powerful oligarchs - who despite the example set by one of their own for his temerity in politically challenging then-president Vladimir Putin, now languishing in prison, his empire claimed by the government as their own - surely have something to say for the current frail condition of their country's economy, thanks to the Kremlin's irresistible urge to stifle rebellious dissent to their regional authority.

How long can Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev blithely trivialize their violent intervention in Georgia, blaming the U.S. and E.U. for pushing it to those extremes, in the face of the damage they've themselves wrought to their country's economic fortunes, one would ask. Yes, they've "recognized" the independent viability of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but how do they now anticipate reacting to their interior restive minorities? Take an educated guess.

President Medvedev has validated a whopping budget increase for modernizing and up-grading Russia's military, and that'll cost a mint, while having the desired effect of bringing them up to grade, roughly second in the world in military investment, still not even close to the U.S. But while the Kremlin is busy building their military machine, they've also got a shrinking domestic workforce.

Not at all helped by a steadily declining birthrate, a growing mortality rate due to the population's social investment in obviously health-deleterious habits like smoking and drinking to abandoned excess. That isn't the fault of the "saboteurs" ready to abandon the economy as a result of the Kremlin's bellicose accusations against its neighbours and the U.S., its rancour toward the U.S. and E.U.

Still, to hear Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev tell their tale of having been excessively wronged by an outside world ready to impose their version of an Iron Curtain around poor Russia, it isn't their fault at all. Vladimir Putin has allowed his autocratically hubristic passions to swamp his native intelligence. Power plays of the kind he's demonstrated of late will isolate him along with his country.

How honestly sincere, after all, were his plaintive assertions that Russia has no use for a return to Cold War conditions? Does President Medvedev really believe the blame he allocates unilaterally to the West is justified? Just asking.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Partners In Trust; Trustworthy Partners

The war on terror is a terrible thing. Simply because those who wage terror on others consider it their manifest destiny as a religious duty to their deity. Islam scorned is a terrible thing, for it brings down upon the heads of the unwary the thunder of death. Mind, it is not only those who battle the terrorists who are seen as ripe for sacrifice to the ideal of fanatical Islam, but Muslims themselves.

Those plentiful populations of Muslims who worship Islam as a peaceful tradition and all-encompassing way of life in their culture, their society. They die just as certainly as do the Western targets that are so much more difficult for the Islamists to reach, given the net of security carefully wrapped around the citizens of developed countries. When a terrorist break-through is achieved in the West, invariably the victims also include Muslims.

This is an incendiary war so brutal that almost everyone is seen as legitimate targets in the battle for a greater Islamic presence on the world stage. It's not quite certain that the great Prophet of Islam would wince in pain at this unfettered blood letting, but surely, Allah, he whom his worshippers claim to be a god of peace would?

The West, joined in its struggle against a mortally determined and ever-surging enemy of modernity, moderation and multi-faiths, joins hands with the most amazing partners who claim to be concerned at the abandonment of humanity by Islamists, and who claim that their butchery insults Islam, but who yet are most certainly supporters of terrorism.

Given the fact that fundamentalist Muslims like the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia have spent inordinate amounts of oil wealth to establish their unbendingly stern Islamic madrassas in countries around the world, wherever Muslims have established themselves in exile from their native lands. To find new lives, discover new opportunities, bringing their sacred religion with them, fitting it into democracy.

Or not. Pakistan is one country where the madrassas raised their educational work to a fine art. And, of course, Pakistan's neighbour, Afghanistan, as well. Pakistan eagerly, willingly, Afghanistan under duress. Since out of Pakistan came the rigid application of Sharia law as practised by the Taliban. Another way to control its neighbour, and at the earliest opportunity, absorb it.

Not all things work out as they're meant to. Al Qaeda pre-empted that plan, exercising their own agenda on 9-11, which brought the United States swooping down upon a governing Taliban refusing to render to the Americans the personage of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. The U.S. and its UN and NATO-allied forces disturbed those plans, but acquired the helpful acquiescence of Pakistan in their war.

That's Pakistan, angrily aggressive about India's ownership of Kashmir, and certain it deserved a greater share of the Punjab, raging against its nuclear-sharing neighbour, and by extension Afghanistan as well. The land of the pure, is intent on exercising its pure determination to expand its territories. It's also exceedingly generous with its allies, rogue countries like North Korea and Libya with whom it shared nuclear-enabling expertise.

Pakistan continues to encourage bombing raids inside both India and Afghanistan, the government claiming otherwise; its Army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency, well infiltrated with Islamist militants in league with and in sincere sympathy with al-Qaeda and the Pakistan Talibans operating easefully in North Waziristan, on the country's North-West border with Afghanistan.

Easy access to Afghanistan struggling to achieve some semblance of an organized, civil nation to enable its distraught population to plan for a peaceful and prosperous future. Easy access for mounting raids and planting IEDs to target UN and NATO troops attempting to forestall the Talib plans to re-take the country and re-make it once again into their own image.

The Pakistani army - new president aside, meeting in the United States with President Bush to further discuss their amicable relations - has been given firm orders by their military high command to prevent U.S. raids on Pakistani soil. The U.S., out of sheer frustration, has decided to assault the border regions to de-activate North Waziristan's tribal Talib, and their partners in militant Islam.

President Asif Ali Zardari, sending a message to the world of Pakistan's good will toward Afghanistan, even invited Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to the ceremonies surrounding his election triumph. A solemn occasion of celebration for the Pakistan Peoples Party, that included its friend and neighbour. What a convoluted relationship, not to mention that between surly Pakistan and perplexed America.

The truth on the ground is that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, who is generally regarded as being responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and the suicide bombing in Spain, is so assured of his personal safety and his strength as a fighter for Islam that he held a recent press conference. Baitullah Mehsud invited journalists to attend a conference in South Waziristan, where he would address them.

The invitation was sent out two full days ahead of the planned conference. And reporters were able to use their satellite telephones to call in news resulting from the conference. The terrorists are nicely ensconced, unfearful of inconvenient interruptions of their activities by Pakistan's Army or security details. Despite that Pakistanis themselves are dying in hordes, through the never-ending work of suicide bombers.

Violence is on the increase both within and without Pakistan. Al-Qaeda is sitting comfortably, as honoured guests of the tribal Taliban. Sending out occasional messages of support for their terror cells all over the world, exhorting them to greater efforts in plying their trade of bloodshed and terror, from Africa to Europe, from the Middle East to North America.

Pakistan most certainly appreciates the billions of dollars in aid funding received from a generous United States' treasury, representing a kindly gift in recognition of Pakistan's invaluable contribution to the war on terror.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pipe Dreams and Other Imponderables

If there is one industry that can be viewed with some measure of contempt, I would personally assay that it is the pharmaceutical industry. Whose sole interest in producing a product for human consumption is their bottom line. Their bald attempts to secure ever more of the pharmaceutical market share, to even invent, with the willing assistance of the medical community, new "diseases" or frailties in the human condition that can be handily ameliorated with their newly-released drugs should elicit nothing but contempt from any thinking individual.

The giant international pharmaceuticals claim they must make a hefty profit to enable them to re-invest in their research laboratories for ever greater benefit of humankind. They portray themselves as corporately caring, as driven to discover through their research capabilities, fuelled by their huge profits, benefits to us, to ensure we live longer, more disease-free or -controlled lives. Carefully controlling and manipulating their valued formula-protective patents.

In the interests of which they will minimally alter formulae to produce similar drugs they can then re-patent, further protecting their formulas from adoption and replication by other pharmaceutical companies whose specialty is producing generic drugs, cheaper and more economically accessible to the consumer. Their public relations ploys, their funding of university laboratory researchers for self-serving outcomes is lamentable, but reflects the free market system.

Their advertising, directly to the consuming public, claiming to have the winning formulas to enable people afflicted with various types of illnesses, diseases, or even newly-discovered social ailments which at any other time are considered to be normal bodily or aging processes, are contemptible beyond imagining. They victimize the vulnerable, just as surely as fraudulent medical practitioners or illegal purveyors of unregulated drugs purporting to be miracle cures do.

Yet here is an altruistic group of medical practitioners who have set up an initiative called "Incentives for Global Health", a non-profit organization that has thought up a proposal to alter incentives for pharmaceutical companies, to try to entice them, through government guarantees of pay-back, to invest in new research. The sad fact is that 90% of money spent on medical research is targeted on 10% of conditions, those that impact on the populations of the developed world.

For it is that global demographic that has the means to pay for the pharmaceuticals. While 10% of funding for pharmaceutical-medical research is used to target 90% of "the global burden of disease", as identified by the World Health Organization. That "global burden of disease" is identified as various types of diseases that ravage the populations of under-developed, emerging economies of the world. That global demographic that hasn't the wherewithal to pay for expensive drugs.

Sounds good, really. Encourage and entice huge international corporations to become just a trifle altruistic. They will still be paid in the end, and if they co-operate they will be involved in producing life-saving antidotes for millions of the world's disease-afflicted. Sounds good, really good. And one can only applaud the humanitarian empathy and goal-setting of people like University of Calgary Aiden Hollis, professor of economics, and Thomas Pogge, professor of philosophy and international affairs at Yale, who unveiled this radical new proposal.

They estimate that roughly $6-billion annually would suffice to enable the Fund they envision to provide a workable incentive for drug companies to sign in on their deal, to produce drugs that target the diseases of the poor. Except, actually, wouldn't it be far more intelligent to target the reasons and the conditions that lead to these dreadful life-wasting diseases?

To opt for and work toward improving the living conditions of people existing in squalid, miserable conditions? To work directly with local agencies in those countries - bypassing their too-often corrupt governments - to improve those impossible living conditions that generate, through endemic poverty and ignorance the opportunity for those diseases to fester and ruin the lives of the forgotten miserable of the world?

To fundamentally educate those wretched communities living in nasty, unlivable conditions. To teach them hygiene methods whereby they do not defecate in the very waters that they drink, nor allow their cattle to do so. To enable them to produce potable water by very simple, yet proven techniques that are cost-effective and efficient. To educate the parents and the children, and give them primary health care.

The $6-billion annual investment might go a very long way to achieving that kind of liberation for people whose governments are simply disinterested, or incapable, or both. Teach people to avoid contamination, to avoid the conditions that produce dire illnesses, rather than give them the means by which they may live with those conditions.

Something like teaching a man to fish for himself, rather than handing him a fish someone else has caught.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Heads Up

North Korea, at it again, the world's perpetual pouting child intent on mischief and enjoying the bedevilment of its elder communities. With a sigh of relief we learn that "Dear Leader" is recovering nicely from a stroke, a heart attack, or some other mysterious ailment. What good fortune; he is the devil we know, after all. Some accounts have it that his sons lack his governing abilities, his deep love for his people, his intelligent regard for world order.

This is a man whose sensibilities are insufficiently appreciated. Those rough and ready outside influences tread too heavily on his tender sensitivities to criticism. He has, after all, the best interests of his country at heart. And by extension, needless to say, the rest of the world. The rest of the world, after all, goes to great lengths to feed his starving countrymen, taking pity on a population held in bondage to the nuclear intent of their beloved leader.

Several U.S. administrations thus far have identified the threat to world peace inherent in this little dictator's agenda for nuclear power. Not nuclear power as in peaceful domestic energy sources, but the kind of power that issues from the spectre of a huge mushroom cloud hanging menacingly over South Korea, Japan, VietNam, for example. China is not the least bit worried, it would seem, and encourages the raving ambition of their little cousin.

The disabling of the major facilities in North Korea's nuclear complex appeared to be going exceedingly well, to expectations. In exchange for funding, fuel, food. The country's clandestine plans for its weapons program with enriched uranium, an inspiration to Iran and which country indeed, along with Syria, it has gone out of its way to accommodate. As Pakistan extended that courtesy to North Korea, so North Korea magnanimously does to them.

Oops, the plans of hopeful interventionist technical scientists and world leaders do often go astray, unfortunately. Only eight of the eleven disabling tasks undertaken by the team working on Yong-byon's nuclear reactor were in the accomplished stage. And then, poof! Taking unfortunate umbrage at the U.S. State Department unreasonable insistence on labelling a renegade a danger to the world, Dear Leader changed his inconsiderate mind.

Deal's off. Yon-byon is to be re-built. Now it is revealed by impeccable sources that the country has perfected a long-range intercontinental missile with the potential to reach major cities on the U.S. West Coast. Superior, one would imagine, to those released several months earlier, where doctored images revealed collapsed missiles; an unfortunate contretemps.

This, however, represents another, hitherto unknown missile launch site on North Korea's west coast, identified by Jane's Defense Weekly, through satellite images. Complete with a mobile launch pad and 10-story tower in support of truly large ballistic missiles. South Korea's Defence Minister has testified that the launch site is nearing completion.

The economy of that benighted country is in near-collapse. But thanks to the humanitarian instincts of the West and the United Nations, the population will be kept from starvation. A population too demoralized, too weak and desperate to survive, to mount any semblance of opposition to their cruel fate as fodder to the ambitions of a lunatic.

Lunatic, perhaps that's too harsh. How about totalitarian psychopath?

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Ah, Those Irritating Reversals

Not to trivialize the distinct danger inherent in seemingly responsible nations and their seemingly mature administrators resorting to juvenile threats and blandishments, but isn't it amazing how little is learned from unfortunate experiences? We just trudge forward, repeating them ad infinitum. We simply cannot seem to get it through our thick heads that nothing succeeds quite so well as mutual respect.

Instead, heads of state insist on indulging in intrigues and behaviours reflective of manipulative, attention-getting childhood rants, raves and tantrums.

The United States and its allies in the European Union will insist on engaging in constant irritating gestures toward Russia, challenging its dearly held idee fixe that it represents the best interests, political, economic and social of Eastern Europe. What may seem like a rejection of tedious bondage to Russia's neighbours, in stark memory of their vulnerabilities and exploitation during the Soviet era, appears to Russia as the nasty manifestation of ingratitude.

Estonia, the Czchek Republic, Ukraine, Georgia and Poland (migod, even Serbia; will these betrayals never end?) may wish to ally themselves ever closer to the success, orientation and democratic ideology of the West, but in so doing they agitate the sensitivities of their resurgently-powerful neighbour. During the Cold War, the two nuclear-powered adversaries, sought to divide and conquer, and they're still doing it.

Each seeking adventure and influence invading - in the most friendly manner conceivable - the hemispheric influences of the other, challenging the other to do something about it, relatively complacent that conventional aggressive techniques, though possible, would not eventuate, while the assurance of mutual assured destruction would convince each to hold their breath and count to ten.

Now, if the United States feels justified by its status in the world as the currently recognized sole super-power, in setting in place missile interceptors in Eastern Europe, at Russia's very door, why would Russia, having emphatically rejected those emplacements which it feels could just as easily be turned on it, not do likewise?

In the process feeding the manic ego of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who now chortles of Russian protection against those mad-dog Americans who wish nothing more than to destroy his country and take unto themselves all the precious oil, the patrimony of the Venezuelan people. Thus, two Russian TU-160 bombers sit on Venezuela's El Libertador air force base. Oh, the symbolism, it's just too much to bear.

Not to ignore their former dependent Cuba, of course. There is buzz about plans to reinstate a solid military Russian presence in Cuba as well. Poor little Cuba and its misfortune to be located so fatalistically close to the Florida coast, so far from its erstwhile champion. Imagine, on that storm-tossed island, the existence yet again of an American military base and a Russian military base.

It's the case of the goose and the gander battling for the sauce based in hegemony and oil production. Wait, a flotilla of Russian warships is also scheduled to deploy alongside their Venezuelan and Cuban naval compadres. Such excitement, like the circus coming to town, only with the added thrill of drama inherent in the unsolved mystery of which is the tyrant and which the liberator.

Well, kind of makes sense. If you don't want a stranger, some alien from who knows where, and with what malicious intent, informing your good neighbours that you're an undercover front for a criminal gang, then don't do that kind of embarrassing thing to someone else's neighbour, right? Er sumthin'.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Storming the Ramparts of the Universe

What a species we represent. Not quite countless numbers, but we're getting there, billions upon billions of us. And from among this unique life-form species there erupts on occasion blinding genius. Genius of a calibre removed from the bright intelligence of those who aspire to rise above the common grain through the sheer force of their intellect. We celebrate a history down through documented time of famous names in physics, philosophy, astronomy and the arts.

Mathematics, literature, music, sculpture, medical science, architecture; there have been seminal moments in history when brilliant theorists have taken their place in society, whose life work has never been equalled, not in their time and not beyond. They have set the parameters of cerebral excellence. Their questing, questioning minds have opened new avenues of enquiry that following generations strive to compete with, let alone surpass.

Their pioneering quest for answers to the puzzles of existence, empower us to understand, in some small part, that we represent an infinitesimally minuscule portion of a whole whose very presence is yet unknown to us. Yet they have ensured through their genius that they have left hints and directives for ongoing enquiry to their successors to carry on with their mesmerizing scientific agenda.

To understand the make-up of the universe, if not the purpose of existence. The constituents of the universe may eventually explain much yet unknown about the cosmos and our place in it, and we may, on the other hand, never reach that understanding hidden from us by nature; the creator and sum of all things. As for the purpose of our existence, that intriguing message is said to exist only on the lips of another creator.

There is the nature of science and the science of nature which invites exploration. And there is the nature of the spiritual world, and the spiritual world of humankind's devising which invites faith and confounds and defies exploration. Great minds make their journeys of discovery through the function of their great brains hypothesizing the existence of unknown elements and their chemistry.

Other minds, having inherited the concept of a godhead, responding to the undeniable need of humankind to surrender to belief in that guiding spirit, can expound and interpret, but there is no wish to probe, to prove and to experiment, let alone offer theories, for to do so is strictly forbidden. To have faith is to abandon reason. To reason is to vanquish faith.

The world has known a handful of outstanding men - and why it is that men appear to represent in whole portion such discoveries and revelations is perhaps one of those intriguing areas which invite investigation - and ultimately scorn from one-half of humanity - capable of revealing rare truths and realities. One such mind belongs to modern history, the other to historical myth.

Both resulted from the tribe that postulated and embraced monotheism, bringing the world into the embrace of the one true God. First to make his mark on the world was the Christ, a young Jewish man of rebellious conviction. His existence is taken on trust, the same kind of abandonment of intellect that clasps faith and rejects proof. The second appeared in 20th Century Germany, another Jewish man.

The religions that grew from Judaic belief also grew to disdain their origins, extending disdain to its originators, feeling compelled in the process to attempt the destruction of the people, while exalting its concepts of God and the earthly apparition that brought them to worship. The countrymen of Albert Einstein embellished anti-Semitism to a fine art, determining to succeed where others had failed.

Two Jews, one exemplifying the highest pinnacles of scientific thought and achievement, the other bringing to celebration the soul and the spirit of humankind in the guise of the single holy spirit of revelation and salvation. Today, in the 21st Century, Judaism is no better positioned to protect itself, nor is its singular country-state designed for the protection of world Jewry, than it has been throughout history.

But today, the world stands on the threshhold of new discoveries inherent in the fine understanding of the universe, its characteristics, its structure and its constituents. While purpose may always elude understanding. At this time in world scientific enquiry, a collaboration of nations and their outstanding astrophysicists, mechanical engineers and technologists bring us to the cusp of discovery.

All relating to Albert Einstein's brilliant theoretical mind's output. The Large Hadron Collider's capabilities have been put into motion, and for the next half-year scientists will live with the suspense of what the trillions of protons travelling at unimaginable speed around the 17-mile circuit of the underground tunnels might possibly reveal to further instruct and enlighten them, and by extension to some degree, us also.

Einstein's imagining of a unified theory encompassing all forces and matter; super-symmetry, may be revealed through this gigantic, inspired and world-shattering experiment. We will learn more about the mysterious dark matter and its ravenous appetite. As well as the tantalizing theory of the existence of dimensions that go beyond those we recognize and can experience in space and time.

It has been said that if such a discovery is indeed proven, that transdimensional particles exist, our ideas of the reality of length, width and height will be transformed to such a degree that our understanding of the universe will move a giant step forward.

Anticipation aside, of the experiment ultimately resulting in an understanding of the fundamental principles of the chemical constituents, the variabilities of the construction of matter, leading us to knowledge of the infinite nature of the universe, there is also the distinct possibility of surprise, perhaps a multitude of surprises, causing scientists to completely re-structure their current knowledge-base.

We may begin to understand how it was that we came to exist, and what exactly it is that exists universally, surrounding us and influencing our galaxy, the outer atmosphere, the finiteness or infinity of nature's premise. God, in His great good wisdom will say nothing, will withhold comment, will keep us guessing.

Human hubris touching the outer reaches.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Opiate of the Spirit

That good fellow is on about his duty again, spreading the promise of inclusivity, tenderness and agape among his followers, those for whom religious observance and belief is a panacea for whatever ails their spiritual essence and corporeal presence. More power to him, good man that he is. More hope for his followers, in an uneasy and too-often hostile, and obviously frightening world many struggle to cope with.

They seek too the comfort of a Jewish mother. She whose fabled place in the Abrahamic religions is of hallowed memory. She appears in visions of shining splendour to young girls, emotionally enamoured of miraculous stories, given, in certain times of hormonal disruptions, to hysteria and the comfort of certain neuroses. Repeat a miraculous sighting often enough, rendering splendid details of certainty and they will come.

Belief is the order of humankind. Faith the opiate of the spirit, bought through the promise of everlasting love from on high, the assurance that a powerful essence, a universal paterfamilias of divine intelligence, forgiveness, omniscience, promises salvation and a coveted space in heaven. Thereby is humankind's most desperate fear; oblivion, death, the long black night, allayed.

Pilgrims in Lithuania flock to a shrine to the virgin Mary. Four hundred, fifty years ago, shepherd children witnessed the sight of a weeping presence, a young woman with her baby. "This is one of the main sites to give thanks to Mary in Lithuania. People come here also because they have different problems, sufferings, and we know this is a miraculous place."

The pope's emissary, Archbishop of Cologne, attended the ceremony there. Pope Benedict himself, however, appeared in Lourdes to speak before the faithful, the pilgrims who bring their aches and their pains, their deformations, absent limbs, disease-ridden bodies, their hopes for transformative cure to the world's most famous shrine that so many believe heals broken bodies.

There, in Lourdes, one hundred and fifty years ago, a 14-year-old girl stood transfixed, in the presence of the Virgin Mary, a young woman "beautiful, more beautiful than any other". There were then no fewer than eighteen apparitions of this peerless beauty, a little Jewish mother of a baby Jewish boy whom Christians the world over worship as their Saviour.

(Ah, what a strange world this is. The world's eternal scape-goats somehow managed to produce a universal Messiah, one who would save the world. From itself, presumably. In whose name believers then proceeded to further persecute Jews. They, who produced the Christ also dispatched him. Anti-Semitism reached its nadir in Nazi Germany. A German-born pontiff pays obeisance to the spirit-healing prowess of a little Jewish mother.)

"It is enough to love", the pope tells the faithful, the Lourdes pilgrims, and by extension, the world at large. And he is right, is he not? They come in steady droves, certain that they will discover in that miraculous place, a solution to their grief, for their physical and psychic incapacities; hope for their future. The pope, a highly rational man, transcribes the experience thusly:

"How many come here with the hope - secretly perhaps - of receiving some miracle? Then, on the return journey, having had a spiritual experience of life in the church, they changed their outlook upon God, upon others and upon themselves." To reporters, his message was clear: "Naturally, we don't go to Lourdes for miracles. We go there to seek the love of the Virgin Mother, which is the true healing."

In the pope's exchanges with the president of France, a nominal Catholic, Mr. Sarkozy pays his due respects to the socializing effect of religion, admitting the "folly" of overlooking organized religion's efficacy in pacifying the heart of humankind, in co-ordinating the evolution of moral effect, in creating a common denominator of cultural and social normatives.

Nikolas Sarkozy, wise man himself, despite himself, concedes the role of religion in its capacity to "respond to man's need for hope ... the search for spirituality is not a danger for democracy, not a danger for secularism". And as the pope articulated, religion is fundamental in the process "...for the formation of consciences [and] the creation of a basic ethical consensus within society".

It would be absurd to argue against that reality. The simple fact is that the majority of people passionately require the comfort inherent in their belief in the supernatural, their faith in the presence of a spiritual mentor from on high, one who sees and knows everything, and whose unconditional care for his frail supplicants renders hope eternal.

Those capable of dealing with the vicissitudes of life, of accepting personal responsibility, of acknowledging that life is a transitory opportunity to become what one will, what one becomes capable of through personal effort, through the belief of possibilities, through the exercise of curiosity, through the understanding of the impermanence of being, need no further assists.

But for those whom the travails of life become a burden which, without the fervent belief and trust in the Almighty would become intolerable, that faith becomes the vessel that will lift them to safety through the shoals of adversity. Human beings are basically social creatures. We take comfort in the presence of others whom we presume are like ourselves.

When people gather in the communion of religious belief, they give comfort to one another. When religion does not become a distorted mission whereby the faithful allow themselves to violate the essence of the message of love and turn instead to our natural endowment of fear, suspicion and hatred, it serves a good and useful function.

And so be it.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Heed The Message, All Ye Who Doubt

It's tough being a tough when what you really want is respect. It's tough understanding that toughness will elicit fear and disgust from those who feel threatened by a tough demeanor. Treat others as you would wish to be treated. They will reciprocate, appreciate and place their trust in you. It's a simple enough nostrum, one that has been recognized since time immemorial, as part of the Golden Mean.

If you withhold respect and trust from others and portray yourself as a bully, you will not be beloved of those who cringe in fear. People respond to courtesy extended by one who wishes to receive courteous treatment in response. Threats elicit resentment and fear, and great dislike.

Certainly no formula for encouraging friendships and influencing people. People become influenced to dread the presence of the bully, make themselves scarce, want nothing to do with them. They look elsewhere for friendship, accommodation and reciprocation. And what happens to the bully? Isolation, loneliness, misery. Other than for the subservient few who depend on them.

But even bullies have feelings, don't we know. And when their feelings have been assaulted their tactics become even more strident and belligerent, promising ever greater interference in the freedoms of others. There are some countries, powerful countries, that are usually capable of exerting their influence upon lesser countries with a modicum of civility, and their sphere of influence may be grudging, but respected.

While others, such as traditionally aggressive Russia, the powerhouse political influence in Eastern Europe, continue to insist on their right to instruct their neighbours how they may or may not comport themselves. Their national interests must be pursued in a manner that complements that of their powerful neighbour. In a sense, that's understandable. In another, it's lamentable, regrettable, a grievous error; illegitimate and unprincipled.

Yet once-secretive and offensively-defensive Russia issues other, mixed messages from the Kremlin. Their assertiveness must be seen in the lens of self-protection in an uncertain and often violent world of disagreeing ideologies and potentially destructive forces led by religious, political and social agendas injurious to the comfort and serenity, let alone the territorial integrity of Russia.

Look at it this way, when Russia seeks to make a presence in the Arctic, in South or Central America, alarm bells ring all over the West. Yet when NATO, the European Union, or the United States make inroads into what has been traditionally Russian hegemonic territory, it is seen as the exercising of international brotherhood, and freedoms for all.

Even when Russia finds itself becoming inexorably encircled by countries once close allies, now rejecting them utterly and choosing to cross over into the camp of the others, those will still view Russian intent with alarm. Oh, perhaps with good reason. It's somewhat disquieting to stand by helplessly while a friendly country is being invaded.

In fact, from all perspectives, no matter who indulges in the invasion and occupation. There are always two sides to every story. And such stories can become complicated indeed. And here we are, with Vladimir Putin instructing that it not Russia that has begun another new arms race, but Europe and the United States. And from his perspective, is he entirely wrong?

"Today", he stated with his own personal brand of conviction, "there are no ideological contradictions, there is no basis for a Cold War. There is no more Soviet threat, but they are trying to resurrect it." The United States, he avers, is behaving as though they represented the power of a "Roman emperor". Moscow, he claims is committed to maintaining workable relations - with the next U.S. president.

"Please, do not instigate an arms race in Europe. It is not needed. What should we do? Sit pretty while they deploy missiles?" No. Yes. Please.

And Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine - Georgia too - exercise the restraint of self-preservation. Kindly go with care. You plan to emerge into another world of opportunity and the adventure of possibilities hitherto unknown in your geography. Joining a coalition of advanced democracies which struggle with their own problems, internal and external.

Russia is a country in inner turmoil. Uncertain, despite its newfound wealth and confidence, about its future. The country mourns its low life expectancy, and high death rates due to over-consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Its increasingly sparse northern presence is set to produce a confrontation in some near future with China, needful of increased territory for its burgeoning population.

Russia's population is on a slow and steady decline. Birth rates don't come anywhere close to bridging the gap between early deaths of the working population and a bleeding of emigration, with no counter-immigration. This is not a pretty picture.

The Kremlin understands full well that with its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia they've opened up a hornet's nest of other tribal and religious aspirants for sovereignty. Have some respect for a wounded giant, even a burly, hairy, growling menace to its neighbours. Cornered, such creatures have a penchant for violent reaction.

Listen to the appeal for reasonableness. Echo it into the hills and valleys, and it may come back to haunt the worried aspirations of the Kremlin.

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Ironies Abound

Democratic countries seem completely immersed in portraying themselves as fair and liberal to the point of leaving themselves vulnerable to the very adverse forces that make their mission one of destroying the very basis of democratic freedoms. We are so utterly concerned that we do the right thing that we insist, detrimentally, on upholding the civil rights of those whose concerns are completely at odds with our own.

Those for whom laws guaranteeing freedoms to individuals that make up the diverse populations of the developed world are the unmistakable sign of degraded values. Whose relentless ambition is to replace liberal democracies and the freedoms they enshrine with rigid authoritarianism.

To replace secular rule of the people by the people with freedom-repressive ideologies or fundamentalist theocracies, re-structuring society in a manner commensurate with the agendas of the powerful, restrictive, state- or crown- or deist-designed overseers who brook no criticisms, permit no personal freedoms.

Of course the alternate is to meet rigid authoritarianism halfway by practising the same close-minded, suspicious, justice-abandoned strictures that they would. It's a fine line indeed for a country's justice system to weigh the balance between lawful and criminally unlawful behaviour, most particularly in the apprehension of plots whose design is to destroy that very system that veers unerringly toward justice.

Evidence in a court of law must be substantial enough to indict a suspected malefactor. An argument presented on the part of the state to convince a judge or a jury, or both, of the malevolent intent and careful planning of events meant to subvert the state, or, in the prosecution of hate-mongering attacks - the commission of atrocities meant to exact as many human deaths as possible - must be inviolable to the challenge of the defendant claiming innocence.

Yet in many instances, doubt is raised simply because the character of the evidence is inconclusive, although fairly reflective of the intent of the person charged. Add to that the mind games involved in a clever lawyer intimately aware of precedents and loopholes in some aspects of state law, undertaking to demonstrate his professional showmanship, less focused on justice, and more on his foxy abilities to challenge an imperfect case.

The trial of Momin Khawaja in Ottawa, which has just concluded a month of testimony is one of those cliff-hangers, no one with an insider's knowledge quite being able to grasp how the presiding judge will find; whether for the state or for the defence. His lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, has delighted in casting doubt on the Crown's case, although even he does not really know whether his client is guilty as charged.

Mr. Greenspon deliberately chose not to ask Mr. Khawaja whether, in fact, he is guilty. Preferring instead to work the case untroubled by the personal knowledge of his client's guilt. Preferring to exercise his brilliant courtroom challenges in a demonstration of his comfort with Canadian law, in a direct challenge to the judge to acquit his client on the basis of insufficient direct evidence of complicity in a plot to bomb central areas of London, England.

That his client, Momin Khawaja, is a self-acknowledged jihadist who, on the record, sees nothing amiss in Muslim mujaheddin sacrificing innocent civilians to their war against the West in the conviction that all Westerners are symbolically guilty of assaults against Islam, is of no concern to his lawyer. That his client's intent was to lend his talents, his ambitions and his finances to the work of jihad that ultimately targeted either civilians in a Western city, or combatants in a foreign country is simply grist for Mr. Greenspon's lawyerly talents.

It is not only Canada whose national jurisdictional theatres of justice have met with obstacles to the state attempting to identify and bring furtive enemies of the state and its people to an accounting and out of practical commission. The United States, whose avowed purpose, post 9-11. is to combat terrorism whenever and wherever it raises its raging head, has also experienced instances where a defendant's lawyers have met success in winning acquittal.

The much-publicized trial of seven men in London, suspects in plots to explode airliners over the Atlantic in 2006, saw verdicts that failed to convict the accused of plotting and attempting to blow up those airliners. Three of the suspects were found guilty of complicity to murder, but none of the accused faced guilty verdicts over smuggling explosives onto aircraft. The Crown, as a result of the unanticipated verdict, plans to appeal.

Mr. Khawaja's lawyer jeers at the Crown's lack of what he insists is fully culpable evidence. He claims that should the Crown be successful in reaching a conviction through the decision of Ontario Superior court Justice Douglas Rutherford, it would be tantamount to overthrowing the principles of fundamental justice in a democracy, making Canadian justice more akin to that meted out by the terrorists we seek to protect ourselves from, than what we purport to represent.

A clever ploy, to jab at our collective sense of complacent rightness, that we seek only to defend ourselves from the deadly intent and bloody onslaughts of dedicated jihadists. Clever indeed, but exactly who is it surrendering principles in this very particular instance? The Crown has demonstrated beyond a doubt, thanks to the very words of the accused himself in expressing his thoughts through emails sent to friends that he is a committed jihadist.

That it was his intent to make himself part of the universal jihadist movement, to aid in the incitement to murder, expounding a fascist ideology of destruction of those whom Islamists deem unworthy and in direct opposition to their very ideology of raging hatred, appears undeniable. But this is merely an item to be shrugged off as irrelevant to the charges, according to Mr. Greenspon.

Perhaps this is begging the question, but why would an Ottawa-based Canadian take such great measures to travel to London, England - to meet directly with co-conspirators other than to aid and assist, as his continual reassurances to the London plotters attest - than to join their quest to wreak atrocities there? To spend endless hours perfecting an explosive-trigger for use in Afghanistan, where they are readily available to the Taliban makes no practical sense.

Mr. Khawaja's aspirations did indeed reach beyond merely disturbing the peace in the West, since it was also his intention to fight for the cause he espoused in Afghanistan too, among the mujaheddin he so admired. Which is to say, a Canadian Muslim exercising the intent to build toward a future event where he would become actively engaged in trying to eradicate as many Canadian troops and other allied military personnel as possible.

That a clever Jewish lawyer, not content with his current reputation as one who takes on difficult court cases, determined to win acquittals and burnish his reputation further, sets out to thumb the nose of the Crown through the manipulation and misrepresentation of legalities in the prosecution of an avowed jihadist, is unfortunate to the end degree. His flamboyant flouting of conventional legal interpretations does him no credit.

That a murder-prone hater of Jews and Christians who blithely expressed satisfaction at the deaths of same wherever they occurred, in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania or Israel as fodder for the cause, is defended by a Jew, remains one of life's perplexing little conundrums.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Nation's Religious-Social Complexities

India, which vaunts itself as the largest democracy in the world, has a population almost that of China's; well over a billion people. An ancient culture, a fount of diversity in its social, cultural and religious demographics, it has long struggled to fend for itself, to adequately feed and house its huge population.

During the British Raj the country's natural resources were exploited, its people subjugated, but when the British finally left after centuries of colonial rule, they left behind much that was British. The most important of which was British-style jurisprudence, and governance.

A secular, democratic government that struggles to fairly represent all of the country's various social, cultural and religious demographics, the very weight of the mass of humanity, their languages, religions and social customs mitigate against neat solutions. The indigenous Hindu religion is based on the caste system and a rigid structure of social customs.

People born into a particular caste are disadvantaged from birth by social, political and cultural designations leaving them disenfranchised and mostly destitute without opportunities for advancement. And for centuries the Hindu population has lived uneasily with the large Muslim population, each suspicious of the other; from time to time suspicions breaking out into violence.

The large and influential Sikh population has its own cultural-religious imperatives, and the distrust and dislike between them and the other segments of society have been oppressively dysfunctional, leading to atrocities between the various segments. The most obvious and notable violence resulting in crackdowns by the government against militant Sikhism, itself resulting in the assassination of two prime ministers.

And then there is the problem of Christian converts in India. One would think that in this day and age evangelical Christians would no longer feel impassioned about venturing into other countries to bring peoples of other backgrounds and cultures to Christ, but such is obviously not the case. Dalits in particular, those low-caste Indians who live in perpetual degradation and poverty, have been targets for conversion.

Now, irate Hindus have convinced themselves that those among them who have converted to Christianity are unworthy to live among them, as heretics, as foreign elements, as disruptors of society and an affront to tradition and societal culture. Christian villages have been invaded, their attackers on a rampage to "Kill these pigs". Mobs breach through homes displaying posters of Jesus, robbing the homes of valuables and then torching the houses.

Residents who have been insufficiently forewarned, or incapable of fleeing to safety are beaten, sometimes fatally. The Indian Christian converts' allegiance to Christ is indomitable. The missionaries who have converted them have given them a new lease on life. They provide schooling for the children as well as food and assurances of equality, values something denied them culturally.

Small prayer houses and an estimated 80 churches have been destroyed by rampaging mobs of Hindus, along with thousands of homes destroyed or damaged. The clergy serving the population tell of orphanages also being destroyed in the Indian state of Orissa. The fearful refugees take shelter in relief camps, unable to return to their home villages for fear of further reprisals.

In many instances the attackers are recognized as neighbours. A 2001 Indian census revealed a figure of 2.3 percent of the population representing Christian converts. A statistic that infuriates India's Hindu population. There is no assurance that conversion to Christianity, or on occasion Islam, will result in a complete relaxation of caste identity, but the fundamental economic and social conditions of converts is relieved from the usual denial of basic amenities.

Christian missionaries, in their zeal to represent their religion, in their belief that it is their duty to aid and assist the indigent and the hopeless, offer a solution to the condition of hopelessness due to social status. They offer English classes to converts; fluency in that language is a requisite for anyone aspiring to become part of India's growing service businesses.

The information technology industry, steaming full ahead, and responsible for a good portion of the country's growth potential, requires fluency in English. "Across India today, the disenfranchised and repressed people, the tribes and the low castes are exiting the caste system" so entrenched in the Hindu religion, according to the president of the All Indian Christian Council.

Low-caste Indians, in desperation and a need to find a place for themselves in an ancient culture and system built along strict caste lines, are converting to Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and even secular-socialism or Marxist atheism. This has been happening for decades, however, in a slow and desperate struggle to achieve social and economic equality.

V.S. Naipal's book, "India", described in graphic detail the upheaval facing traditional and cultural values as people attempt to advantage themselves and their children toward a future of opportunity, thus far denied them. Indians are traditionally political, prone to violence when exasperated beyond endurance. They live in mean and squalid hovels, even the lower middle-class.

Traditions die slowly, particularly in rural areas where women have conventionally been an underclass of gender. Where young girls are sacrificed to the expedient of early marriages, gravitating to the villages and homes of their husbands, maltreated by their families-by-marriage. And where widows are either still cast out of society to fend for themselves - even by their children - or are forced to join their husbands on the funeral pyre.

Becoming an enlightened society, one that favours equality of opportunity is far easier expressed than accomplished. Although the caste system is legally outlawed, it persists. Although the government is secular and designed to represent the interests of all its people, corruption remains rampant. The civil service remains an area of employment most sought after by ambitious people eager to gain an assured livelihood. Who you know is important.

That Indians are highly intelligent, skilled at technology entrepreneurship and the sciences and arts and manufacture, is undeniable. These opportunities are confined to the fortunes of the middle- and upper-middle class. To be able to offer like opportunities for education to an immense population is a truly daunting undertaking.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

An Antidote to Social-Cultural Rigidity

It's amazing what opportunity can avail the individual with the foresight to recognize and make the most of it. The determination to rise to the level of her ambition. A woman, for example, born to slight opportunities.

As one of a dozen siblings, father a Moroccan labourer, mother an illiterate Algerian. In a Muslim household of limited means, moderate ambition, and with social concerns that would not reach beyond an arranged marriage for their second child.

Who, herself, had much other aspirations. Which disdain for time-honoured social custom and religious tradition has left many another young Islamic woman a victim of family honour.

Yet that young woman who had the strength of character to leave her enforced marriage, the impetus of conviction that she would acquire an education and make something beyond the ordinary expectations conveyed through faith and familial tradition, became the French Justice Minister.

An inordinate accomplishment. Now that's validation of her character, strength of purpose and conviction; belief in self. And if that is not quite enough, this proud daughter of Islam has the confidence to advise the world further of the singularity of her presence.

She continues to defy tradition. As a Muslim, as a woman, as an independent, capable, intelligent and forthright exemplar of confident womanhood. Rachida Dati, in revealing that at the age of 42, her unmarried status has not prevented her from aspiring also to motherhood.

To experience additionally that ultimate female rite of passage. It is her will and studied determination to love and nourish and nurture and raise a child to adulthood. Which will most certainly require sacrifice of time, attention and careful apportioning of self to accomplish the success of that notable undertaking.

She will not divulge any further details of her personal life, much less who it was who shared the intimacy with her of creating a child. This is her absolute right. She voluntarily divulged as much as she felt comfortable with.

As much as she felt compelled to, as a public figure, answerable in some part to the electorate whom she represents. They will most certainly have the opportunity in the future to express their displeasure at the ballot box.

But it's hardly likely. For she has also placed herself firmly within France's 50% unwed birth-giving demographic.

She is a credit to her gender. Highlighting possibilities available to women who choose independence, political life, success in the management of a complex and satisfying career.

Reaching out at the same time to access the ultimate personal satisfaction, the experience of raising another generation.

The ultimate survivor. More honour to her.

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