This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Canada's Finest

If we're really being serious, that characterization belongs to the Canadian troops currently deployed in Afghanistan as part of the United Nations-NATO alliance, fighting a rear-guard war if attrition against resurgent Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Another of whom died today, victim of an IED. Just as those determined and courageous soldiers fighting in a foreign country stationed among a population whose culture is completely alien to them deserve better, so too does the population of Afghanistan.

But they live in a heightened atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety at the best of times. Thanks to their particular geographical and foreign-intrusion history and their placement in an area of the world continually wracked with unrest, political intrigues and religious strife. The uneasiness and downright animosity that attends political relationships between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Pakistan and India, and Iran and its neighbours threatens not only their own stability but that of the world at large.

These intransigent religious sectarian, cultural, societal, traditional divides between countries and factions within those countries where the population seems wedded to traditions belonging in the Medieval era, fractionate peoples' loyalties, and willingness to accept one another. Fears and divisions that are all too often encouraged and stimulated by their leaders, jealous of their political hegemony.

And then there are the purely social constructs, some of which diminish the importance of women, in strictured societies accustomed to the male domination of women. Customs that are inimical to the general health of the society, and whose perpetuation prey on the vulnerability of women in those societies. Where marriages are arranged and where families of eligible young women are expected to provide dowries to the prospective grooms and the spear-side of the family.

Outlawed by the government, perhaps, but engaged in nonetheless. The practise of dowry, an evil institution leading to the worst excesses of abuse of women - including murder and suicide, ostracizing and victimization by the bridegroom's family - continues in societies that have traditionally celebrated the rights of men and tolerated the presence of women as hidden necessities.

Police in India have revealed the arrest of four men, one of whom is from British Columbia - whose apprehended purpose was a conspiracy to murder the father of a young woman promised in marriage to a man living in British Columbia, Veerharinder Singh, a Surrey businessman. When the promised dowry of $75,000 did not materialize, the husband and his cousin - now among those arrested in India - conspired to hire contract killers.

This may not represent anything remarkable as an instance of social malfunction and criminal intent in India, where police in that country react to an average of one case each hour of brides suffering violence at the hands of in-laws for failure to delivery an anticipated dowry, but it is unique and a true horror story in Canada, a country where such transparent human rights abuses are not to be tolerated.

The young woman, Pawanjot Kaur, was informed she could not expect to travel to Canada to be united with her husband until the dowry was settled, despite the marriage that took place in 2004. She decided to travel to Canada regardless, to be with her grandfather, who lives in Edmonton. The four conspirators were arrested en route to the small village in an industrial area of the Punjab, where the bride's family was living.

Police were alerted to the plot by a man who had overheard the suspects planning the murder, while at a roadside restaurant. When the four men were arrested their car was seized and along with it, two guns, ammunition, Canadian, American and Indian currency, along with a photograph of the bride. Indian police plan to seek extradition from Canada of the husband and another of his involved cousins.

It doesn't do to cause umbrage among tradition-minded men who, though seeking wives, choose to accept those whose parents can arrange for suitable dowries. And when those dowries are not forthcoming it is the women who suffer. In this particular instance, Indian-born immigrants to Canada decided this very woman's father should also suffer.

Should justice run its course they will perhaps have learned a lesson in morality, but we shouldn't hold our breath. Meanwhile, there's cause for thought about the irreconcilability of social customs accepted as norms in some societies that victimize a huge percentage of any population, being imported wholesale to another country for whom such practises represent anathema.

And there's the rub: Canadians travelling to far-off countries to assist them in their travails, paying a dreadful price for their humanitarian impulses. The opposite side of the ledger is immigrants arriving in a foreign country accepting the benefits accruing to residence there, but betraying the values of the adopted country by pursuing ages-old customs of human rights violations.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Nasty, Nasty...

Could there be a more exalted calling than that of philosophy? Cerebral giants pursuing the understanding of human conduct, pointing the way whereby individuals can aspire to humility, grace, morality and ethical behaviour befitting enlightened beings.

The ancients in their wisdom handed down to us the fruit of their inspired intellectual labourings. Through their efforts at divining the emotions that impel the human spirit we have achieved a certain understanding of ourselves.

Added to and embellished over the centuries by succeeding cadres of learned individuals, all publishing and explaining and examining our attitudes, actions and reactions as sometimes rational beings.

All aspects of human activity are minutely deconstructed and reconstructed. Painstaking research leads to hints of believable truth achieved. We are informed of the reasons for which we behave as we do under any and all circumstances.

We owe much to the learned scientists and professionals and academics to bring clarity and vision to the understanding and delineation of human behaviour and its outcomes. And here, front and centre, is an illustration of the very manner in which these great minds go about forming consensus and collaboration, encouraging one another to ever greater heights of Eureka! moments.

The British newspaper The Independent has latterly published details of a recently published book on philosophy peer-reviewed in what has been claimed as a most professionally scurrilous manner, bringing opprobrium to the reviewer and doubt to the credibility of the author of the book.

The author claims that his gratuitously-insulting comment regarding the attractiveness of his one-time faculty fellow had poisoned the reflective mind-set of the receiver of the graceless insult against him.

He may have a point there, for who would not feel offended when, upon greeting a colleague and presenting to him one's current female companion, the laconic response of the colleague was that he could see that the new girlfriend was not as plain as her predecessor.

Imagine, these refined and elevated minds with their great consciousness of human behaviour and the outcomes of same, reverting to snide commentary believing themselves to be ever so clever. And here we thought cattiness was a female prerogative?

Which may or may not be why the slighted colleague reviewed the recently-published opus as "woefully uninformed about the work of others and at best amateurish". Since the book advances a controversial theory rather circuitous in its apprehension and follow-through, that conclusion, emanating from the lips of a mind well versed in the matter at hand, might very well be apt.

And since the offended author has been described as "the unthinking man's thinking man" by another thinking man, one might consider the conclusion to have been a generous one. And when another writer, one whose musings and writing I find admirable described the author once as "...George Orwell's idea of the socialist who gives socialism its bad name..." I personally give credit to the reviewer.

All the more so as the author, Ted Honderich, once voiced his sympathies for Palestinian terrorism, characterizing it as a method through which neo-imperialism could be defeated. Ech!

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Friday, December 28, 2007

"Chairperson For Life"

Gone the life. The Pakistan People's Party will either dissolve with this latest loss - having had in its history only two leaders; Benazir Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and she herself - or they will allow themselves to be led by another who possibly may attempt a trifle more determinedly to deliver what she did not - "Bread, Clothing, Housing".

So many hopes were hitched to her powerful aspirations. Her death has laid bare the desperation of the poor of the country. Those whom she pledged herself as a voice to demand their due. When news of her death reached the street the response was "Long live Bhutto!" She did not, however, live very long. Disappointing them in this as much as her inability to deliver them from poverty.

She was the acclaimed and beloved voice of the oppressed of her country. And with her death a dementia of grief propelled mourners into the streets to riot, to slash and burn and bellow their defiance of fated destiny. Destroying, in the process, public property, edifices and structures owned by government in answer to some of their needs.

She was their champion, their hero, their hope for the future. Believers, all. She had already had two opportunities to alleviate their pain, but they still trusted she would finally make good her promises. Despite her life of privilege, her autocratic rule, her political maneuverings that seemed to leave no opportunity to prosecute their case, they still trusted.

The common people of Pakistan eking out a living for themselves and their families, entrusting their future prospects to a woman who lived in accustomed luxury, loved the finer things of life, built a breathless marble monument to her father in their heartland, while somehow managing to overlook the vagueness of accomplishment as compared to promises pledged in their support.

Their adoration of her presence and her promises, their enthusiasm for her stated purpose, thrilled her. Their devotion to her and their loud expressions of approval, of gratitude, of hope, and the huge crowds that came out to hear her riveting speeches pleased her no end, gave her the attention she craved and the energy that spurred her to carry on.

She spoke passionately of the rights of women, spoke of herself as the champion of the poor. A defender of their rights in a country that gave them no rights, she pressed for democracy as the solution to all of the country's ills and disequilibriums. A feminist, a socialist, a democrat, and an enigma. Champion of the poor, the uneducated, her extravagance unremarked.

Speaking an ethos of liberalism she ruled as an autocrat. Speaking impassioned disaffection for the plight of the poor, she did little to advance their cause. Speaking of her anger at the presence of fundamentalist jihadists, she tolerated and even encouraged the infrastructure that led to their increase in numbers.

A humble patrician, a patriot whose destiny was irrevocably wound around her country's advance into the 20th century, she was convinced only her leadership would surmount all difficulties. A zealot, a messianic figure of determined conquest. Her ambition to lead damped down her fears of mortality.

She knew how vulnerable she was; her conviction gave her courage to face what she felt would not be the inevitable for her. She faced it, and it was.

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Verily, It Shall Be Done!

The older brother, the avuncular father figure, the one who wields power and influence and funding has the final word. Underlings, those dependent upon the good will and support of that alpha figure heed the word of the wise.

Alas, not always so wise. For does the father figure, having lived its life in a world far different from that of the dependent have full cognizance of the ebb and flow, demands and consequences for decisions made by the young, emerging figure?

That great arbiter of issues has as its head from time to time those who seek to leave their legacy. The manner in which history records their office, the popularity of opinion in which the public advances its view of that same office holder means much to the departing figure. Power and hubris are fond brothers, but still susceptible to acclaim or lack of it.

And so, we have President George W. Bush forwarding his own personal opinion that he best knows what a client state requires. In this instance, the favoured little brother must knuckle under, accede to the strenuous "advice" of the superior. Swallow not only pride in self and self-determination, but wipe clean the slate of considered future plans identified as untimely and most inconvenient.

Back to the basics of the "road map", that outline handed down from above with the intention of resolving the unsolvable. The Palestinian Authority, instructed to "declare an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere" has blithely gone stone deaf, forgotten how to read, but not yet how to raise its own stridently unequivocal demands.

For that very same "road map" stipulates that Israel must concern itself rigidly with maintaining a halt to construction: freeze that frame. Settlement activity? Out of the question, and with good reason admittedly. Without the appropriate authority of fixed ownership no one can, observing laws, build where they don't belong. So settle the issue of boundaries and borders, then proceed.

But which should have precedence? Incommoding trivial expectations, or inconveniencing people with the imposition of the permanence of death? Terrorism at the hands of malevolently-inclined Hamas agents, those of Islamic Jihad as well as Fatah militias continue unabated - the Palestinian Authority's intentions half-heartedly undertaken for international view.

Yet now Israel has agreed to a halt to all Jewish construction in the West Bank, along with Jerusalem's suburbs, submitting to U.S. pressure.

There are apples and there are oranges; it was carefully explained during the Annapolis conference that construction required to accommodate the needs of the Jewish presence in an integrally Jewish part of south-east Jerusalem be excluded. Two and a half thousand Jewish families currently reside in Har Homa, in Jewish possession for the last four decades.

The urban enclave includes two synagogues, children's nurseries and three religious youth groups. It is on track to grow, as a vital Zionist presence by an additional four thousand families, all requiring accommodation. Not to be. For PA and American administration pressure has persuaded Prime Minister Olmert to stand down, the project in abeyance.

Fair enough, now when does the international community, and more specifically, the Bush administration begin to clamour for the PA to put its boots where its mouth is? The PA receives satisfaction in its (not entirely unreasonable) demands, yet the Israeli public continues to be traumatized and targeted by jihadist forces.

Ah, all is now revealed; all is being done, it would appear, according to the wishes of an informed and patriotic citizen of Israel, none other than the respected Haaretz newspaper's chief editor. Who in his despair and angst has invited U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to ensure that the United States "rape" Israel. Mission on its way to being accomplished.

But perhaps all is not as it would appear. Mr. Landau, the editor, considers his message not to have been rather indelicate, but delivered with sophisticated nuance. "I did say that in general, Israel wants to be raped - I did use that word - by the U.S., and I myself have long felt Israel needed more vigorous U.S. intervention in the affairs of the Middle East."

Self determination evidently - in the face of insurmountable obstacles to existence and the establishment of peace between geographic solitudes - should be placed high up on some inaccessible shelf, for the option of having an unaffected onlooker determine procedures and outcomes.

And with the opposite side perceiving affirmation, what need for it to make an effort to restrain its violent impulses?

So much for national need to engage in stringent introspection and itself arrive at an avenue whereby it can manage to persuade opponents that it has legal and lawful, moral and ethical rights in the region, and that the dilemma being faced by both sides require both to be up front and responsible, reliable partners for peace.

Let's hear it for the democratic process. Let us all now cheer loudly for friends, confidants and prospects for the future.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Alpha Animal

For lithe grace and beauty what other animal than the incomparably majestic Siberian tiger?

Caged, and fed and attended to in favoured animal plantations we call zoos in many places of the world. And now a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo has been killed because it poses a threat to the world of humans. A dire threat in fact, since it has killed a young man. The puzzle appears to be how in the world the powerful animal managed to escape what was considered to be a safely intact enclosure.

It would appear that as dusk was approaching on Christmas Day and the zoo was in the process of closing down for the night, three related young men remained near the tiger enclosure, an open grotto with a 5.5-metre-wide moat and six-metre wall dividing the enclosure from the public viewing area.

The tiger managed to surmount these deliberate obstacles to everyone's amazement.

And when it did, a 17-year-old man's life was immediately forfeit. And his older companions suffered grievous wounds through the attention of this dangerous beast, admired for its strength and rare form, conformation and pelt, feared for its wild and fatal potential.

The two who were mauled were fortunate in that police came upon the scene just as the tigress set in to committing mortal damage to the third man.

The noble cat, Tatiana by name was shot and killed.

The tragedy is a true puzzle the zoo officials are attempting to understand. Just how could the animal have managed to escape to freedom onto the larger zoo grounds.

Well, that old adage, "boys will be boys" was never so true. Facts begin to emerge. It would now appear likely that the young man whom the tiger succeeded in killing had taunted the animal. And in his preoccupation with so doing, using his own leg as lure, he created his own death.

A misplaced sense of adventure. A child's mind in a man's body. Don't trouble the animal, his parents might have warned. But the temptation proved too great and since there was hardly anyone about and dark was descending, what a splendid opportunity. And what a tale they could tell afterward, drinking beer with their buddies.

The tale will be told.

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The Imperatives of Trade

A business deal like none other. A social, humanitarian rescue, this trade. You give me one of ours, I'll give you oh, let's see, will a thousand of yours do? This is fair trade, Middle East style. Oh perhaps more specifically, Israel-Palestinian style. Israel, anxious for the return of one of her own - or three, as the case may be - is agreeable to returning hundreds upon hundreds of their own.

Of course, there's perspective at play here, also. A handy one to put in place is the realization that the meagre few Israel remains so anxious to recover represent young men conscripted into her army. Theirs was guard duty; called upon to guard the fractiously porous borders between Israel and her determined attackers. The prisoners that Israel holds were more actively engaged.

Their duty as Palestinians, as the wronged, was to "struggle" against their oppressors. The oppressors, needless to say, wanting nothing better than to withdraw with conditions - that they no longer be the continual victims of viciously bloody attacks. Struggle to be construed as a range of attitudes, intentions and successes. From tossing rocks or mortars, to murder.

Always two sides to any story, and no one is without guilt, granted. The Palestinians have suffered much. Like any other people they deserve their freedom to pursue a goal of satisfaction in life. Exclusive, however, of removing that opportunity from others' potentials. The nub of the matter is, give a little, get a lot. Or, in the instance of very stiff negotiations; give a lot, get what you need to get along.

The terror group Hamas, in control of Gaza, also has control of the whereabouts of IDF Sergeant Gilad Shalit, missing as a result of a cross-border raid into Israel since June of 2006. Mr. Shalit's parents would dearly love to embrace him and look upon his beloved face once again. As would the bereft parents, partners and children of incarcerated Palestinians.

Hamas is adamant it will not release Sergeant Shalit until and unless Israel meets its demand to release about one thousand, four hundred Palestinians currently in Israeli jails. There for all manner of reasons from the relatively minor to the horrendously murderous. One of whom is a potential Fatah PA leader, Marwan al-Barghouthi, currently serving five life sentences for the murder of five Israelis, and the wounding of many others.

There's a possible escape clause here in that Barghouthi has blood on his hands through the ordering of the murders; he did not take part in the actual physical drama, although most Israelis consider him guilty as charged and absolutely not to be considered for discharge. However, Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, speaking for the cabinet, thinks otherwise.

"Ultimately we will have to approve a list [of prisoners]. It doesn't matter what title these people are given. What's important is to return the boys home", said Shaul Mofaz, emphasizing that Israel intends to "take every step" to secure the release of Sergeant Shalit and two other Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerrillas last year.

Amazing the gap in the valuation of human life, between what we see of Israel's determination and the cleverly-determined bargaining of a terror group who see nothing morally amiss in sending fatefully indoctrinated children out as decoys and would-be suicide bombers against their perceived enemy.

But then that kind of skewed reasoning has its counterpart in the insistence of the Palestinian Authority that Israel cease its expansion plans for a Jerusalem neighbourhood that has been an inseparable part of the State for decades and which Israel fully intends to maintain as an integral portion of the state, negotiations aside.

While at the same time the PA sits on its hands, allowing its terror affiliates to continue lobbing Qassams into Israel.

And then, speaking of lop-sided fairness, there's always the neat little tricks of archaeologically sensitive sites around the Temple Mount being bulldozed by the PA's offshoots, lest any valuable artifacts be discovered that might solidify Israel's claims for prior establishment on the historical record, in a most unequivocal way.

What has been destroyed cannot be recovered, alas.

But let Israel's professional archaeological teams enter mutually sensitive areas in a careful search for antiquities of any derivation, and the Palestinian religious hierarchy cries shrill fouls claiming that Israel is intent on destroying Islamic cultural treasures.

Just business as usual in the geography.

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Benazir Bhutto, R.I.P.

No denying the simple fact, this was not a simple woman. Highly educated, to the manor and the manner born, she fashioned herself as her father's daughter. The latest, most high-profile manifestation of a political dynasty. She read her horoscope and it informed her that the time was - now. Ready for a third stint as Pakistan's Prime Minister, if the on-again, off-again consultations with current President Pervez Musharraf, despite protestations to the contrary, came off.

She had the support, the prestige, the hard-won experience to attain to that post once again. Mind, there was always the irrelevant nuances of past history that could erupt at some troublesome time or other. But President Musharraf had suspended criminal corruption charges that had hung over her head and reputation. Not that having done so would completely expunge the record and perhaps the reality. Her aristocratically-wealthy husband's business dealings had also brought vibrant charges of corruption.

She pledged innocent of any such charges, pointing out there was not a shred of actual evidence to be brought against her. Suspicion suspended. She was truly a most remarkable woman. Of great patrician bearing, high degree of intelligence, well educated, and truly a patriot of her beloved country. A woman of immense personal courage; that not to be overlooked. But rash in her overweening need to be seen and heard and publicly applauded. A beloved celebrity in Pakistan. And why would she not be, as the first woman elected to such high post in a Muslim country?

She was urgently secular, a champion of liberal democracy. She was also, unfortunately the latest victim of a star-crossed dynasty. One wonders why she would not have listened a trifle more carefully to President Musharraf's urgings to be more prudent in her public exposure. She would have none of it; rather than be airlifted on her return in the fall she chose a motorcade route to her destination. Providing ample opportunity for violent jihadists to blast 140 of her supporters into oblivion. All this time later her ears were still ringing.

But she was adamant; she would appear in public, she owed it to the faithful of her party, her multitude of fervent supporters. Among whom are the underclass, the unprivileged. Who now violently blame Mr. Musharraf and call for his downfall; it was, after all, under his watch that she was murdered by an assassin who fired the two mortal shots that killed her. Just as it was under her watch as prime minister that one of her brothers was mysteriously murdered, making it a total with her death of four members of her family so disposed of.

Administering the affairs of her beloved country was her personal mission in life; she was utterly engaged in her destiny, her proud inheritance. Seeing herself as integral to the country's advance into the future, an irreplaceable asset. As was Indira Ghandi and Rajiv, her son, both former Prime Ministers of India. Also assassinated by terror groups; Sikh, in that unfortunate instance.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Social Disintegration

The result of trying too hard to be accepting, toward non-interference, to believe that a balance will be achieved naturally, sometimes has tragic consequences. In a liberal-minded atmosphere of child-rearing when parents sometimes feel they have as much to learn from their children as their children can learn from them, we can sometimes forget the real purpose of discipline.

It is not necessarily to impose our will upon recalcitrant young minds, but rather to instill a sense of personal obligation, self-reliance and purpose in the young, to help create character, to learn to practise compassion toward others, to become an integral part of society.

Our attitudes are occasionally too relaxed about our own obligations and purpose as parents.

Our children's intelligence, resilience and quest for knowledge intrigues and impresses us, and we feel they are capable of observing and drawing conclusions exclusive of our assistance. That, if we create an atmosphere of comfort for them, and live our own lives in a manner we would like them to emulate, they will naturally gravitate to that way of living their own lives.

They will adopt our values. They will learn to adapt themselves to society around them applying the lessons in ethics and morals they will have picked up from us. That is, if we demonstrate those social mores that are so integral to producing well-balanced human beings.

If, as parents, we not only neglect to ourselves behave civilly and exhibit ethical tendencies, but fail to teach them to our children as well, because we cannot see the value in it, we've failed.

Examples abound; one need look no further than the dysfunction of female head of single-parent families living in assisted housing projects in Toronto whose male offspring have gravitated, without the steady guiding hand of a male parent, toward the easy pickings of drug trafficking and the comfort of joining street gangs.

Excluded from the larger society, their inclusion in a street gang gives them public credibility and personal satisfaction in that particular community.

And they're a scourge on their community and on society at large. Common street crimes like car thefts are now perpetrated by young men between the ages of 12 and 17. It's estimated that fully 85% of young men in Canadian prisons are members of street gangs. Gun violence is a stunning and growing problem, with no end in sight.

The incidence of common-law partnerships is steadily growing in Canada; said to be at 13% in the country, but in the Province of Quebec a full 35%. Which on the face of it, seems fine between consenting adults, but in common-law relationships it's fairly easy for partners to simply walk away from one another. Complicated somewhat when children are involved, particularly with a proven more-frequent incidence of break-up.

As far as role-modelling is concerned, that too is yet another concern. Society sees massive increases in violent crime and divorce rates generally, as values are relaxed and acceptance of casual relationships with little thought given to consequences of lack of commitment. It's a severe social dysfunction, a decomposition of traditional societal mores and values.

In any society that values the place of children, this is all inimical to that fragile demographic.

The result is that 26% of families with children are led by a single parent - usually female. Out-of-wedlock births reached 37% back in 2005; one can only assume it has since grown. It's true that there is no longer social stigma attached to children born out of wedlock. But there is the undeniable truth that such children are being short-changed as far as stability of lifestyle and prospects is concerned.

Critics point to the presence of hip-hop music, with its underworld and misogynistic messages as integral to the rapid deterioration of social cohesion, leading to anti-social pathologies of non-inclusiveness, male domination, of rejection of traditional social mores, of growing casualness in ethical and moral behaviour.

Individuals no longer become involved in community. Self-actualization, one's own interests are first and foremost, and that's one of the reasons why people seem incapable of forming long-lasting personal bonds with one another in traditional relationships. Moderation is passe, fidelity a virtual unknown, and personal responsibility fading from the scene.

We're all so busy entitling ourselves, seeking quick gratification, looking for validation from others rather than expecting it from our own sense of obligation to ourselves, to those around us. If society collapses any further, then surely we'll see a rebound in social decency and social obligations. Won't we?

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A Lost Generation

It is no little thing for a country with a population as small as that of Israel's to lose 40,000 young people. Not through war directly, despite that country's constant state of embattlement but in an indirect way. An attrition due to that continual awareness of war on its periphery of existence. This is a country envisioned and established for the direct purpose of offering a refuge to world Jewry post-Holocaust.

In any country its most prized resources must represent its new generation, its young. In any population children enjoy a very special relationship to the larger population who see a need to protect the young, to encourage and stimulate them and prepare them to take their place in the layer upon layer, generation upon generation that speaks to us of the human experience, the relaying of the torch of life from the old to the new.

In Israel, a country birthed in agony and struggling continually against the adversity of resentment at its presence in a hugely Islamic geography of traditional culture and religious supremacy, there has never been a relaxation of armed services conscription. When young Israeli boys and girls are taken away from the normalcy of everyday life and brought into the hard reality of armed service in protection of their country.

Israel has, of necessity, and through genuinely authentic creativity, sought many methods by which she could make full use of the small parcel of land allotted to her. In the dry, desertified presence of the Middle East her pioneers established agricultural collectives, Kibbutzim, that became successful enterprises, the envy of the world. They succeeded where Communism's collective farms in the U.S.S.R. became spectacular failures.

The success owing to the passionate need of the people to succeed, to ensure survival in a harsh atmosphere, not entirely conducive to passive relaxation in the triumph of nationhood. Their attempts at self-sufficiency, their success at being able to produce agricultural products sufficient to their needs, and enough for export, helped the State, and gave confidence to its people.

Children growing up in these collectives were accustomed to living in a communal atmosphere; everyone's children became as siblings to one another. They thought, behaved and reacted as a collective, for together they succeeded at what they did best. They relied upon one another. Their collective reliance, after all, their ability to selflessly co-operate with one another, was what marked their success.

Their social closeness was endemic to the Kibbutz tradition and reality. Self-reliance, however, suffered, and it was discovered that these Kibbutz offspring were incapable of conceiving and reacting as individuals, bereft of their companion Kibbutz members. That was yet another interesting lesson learned in collective human behaviour.

And here is another lesson to be learned. Young Israelis, conscripted into the Israeli Defence Forces becoming mentally, psychically fatigued beyond endurance. Utterly drained of normal aspirations. Seeking escape from the inevitable in a country truly beleaguered and seeing no other options for its populace than to call upon the young and the untried to protect, exposing themselves to constant danger.

Following their obligations to protect and to wage war when required, including taking up positions at check-points and border entries humiliating to, and deleterious toward normal living conditions imposed upon neighbours from among whose population death stalks Israelis, these young people have chosen to opt out. To completely absent themselves from all that is familiar and should have given comfort to them - their country of birth.

They have found sanctuary other than in Israel, their country of sanctuary for Jews. They have transported themselves to Goan India, an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 young people, to live alongside the country's 900 million Hindus and 150 million Muslims. "Our souls need a permanent break from Israel", said a 24-year-old IDF veteran. "We're all runaways. There's nothing for us back in Israel."

They have willingly, desperately, traded in their lives in Israel for the pointlessness of drugged dissipation, frail indolence, and a nihilistic mindset living on a long beachfront below the impoverished mountain villages of Goa. A room with a plank bed and a mosquito net goes for $5 a night, although many choose to sleep under trees.

There are little restaurants with piquant names like Outback Indian Israeli Restaurant complete with Hebrew-speaking Hindus ladling out vegetarian food for a few cents a plate. "People my age come here because Israel is an empty place. The presence of Muslims in India is not a concern. India is not just the world's biggest democracy, it's the world's rowdiest democracy", explained a 30-year-old waiter.

There is, though, resentment of their presence. The locals don't think highly of the youth hanging about, their reliance on recreational drugs, living in utter squalor, and doing nothing of the most utilitarian nature to support themselves. This exodus to India began in 1994 as a perceived temporary escape from reality, post-military experience.

Now, the young people living on the beaches, with no intentions of returning to Israel any time soon, and no apparent thoughts of their future, sit about, embittered, with nothing to look forward to. They have fled, they say, their country's armed turbulence with the Palestinians. And, they also say, the spiritual emptiness of Judaism.

This large, self-disenfranchised demographic represents young people too fragile emotionally, traumatized by the brutality of war, their nebulous requirement to desert morality to the imperative of survival. Not for them the comfort of martyrdom, that young Palestinians resort to. They seek their very own version of Paradise on a sandy beach in India, stoned out of their pain.

Israel: much has been sacrificed for the imperative of national survival.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Doing the Right Thing

So you think, but there are times when appearing to reach logical conclusions in a misguided attempt to right wrongs only serves to confuse issues and in the end truly empowers no one.

Such appears to be the case when the Province of British Columbia determined it would overturn centuries of neglect and disempowerment to allow a handful of aboriginals their traditional hunting and fishing and logging rights. In the process neglecting the universality of rights accruing to all without discrimination.

Of course the federal government in Canada has long recognized our debt to Canadian aboriginals and enshrined special permissions for various tribes to continue their traditional hunting and fishing and logging at times when non-aboriginals were forbidden to engage in these practises for the simple reason that first-nations people have special entitlements accruing to them as both a practical matter of survival and as a recognition that lands once their own were wrenched away by European settlers.

The same reasoning lies behind special Indian legislation which cedes authority to band councils, which authorizes First Nations to escape taxation levies, which obligates the federal government to hand over billions of dollars yearly to Indian Affairs to dole out to various agencies involved in the support of aboriginal needs.

In the particular instance of B.C.'s commercial fishing policies, select bands like the Musqueam and Tsawassen have been given exclusive access to salmon fishing for food and ceremonial purposes as well as priority access to salmon for commercial purposes at peak salmon-runs. Department of Fisheries personnel only permit the opening of the fisheries to all others once indications are that native fishers have received their prior considerations.

The emphasis is on fish-use for personal purposes: food and ceremonial uses. Yet it appears that roughly 90% of the salmon caught for those purposes ends up illegally on the market for commercial profit. In attempting to right a dreadful historical wrong, bending the rules to benefit a few to the detriment of many, another segment of the population is penalized.

British Columbia's commercial fisheries is held hostage to a race-based policy based on a perception of upholding native rights.

This decades-long and since expanded-upon illogicality has bred contempt for the Fisheries, and resentment from commercial fishers who have attempted to have the courts strike down this 1990s-era government policy. Even aboriginals who aren't members of the two entitled groups are out of the picture, along with their non-aboriginal counterparts, resulting in a race-based disparity for opportunities among fishers.

Why this becomes truly ridiculous is that in British Columbia historically the fisheries have represented a multicultural industry. A large proportion of the commercial fishers are represented by Canadians of Japanese, Vietnamese and European background; only the remaining 40% are of aboriginal origin.

Government has succeeded in overturning the traditional balance, disinheriting the 60% of their traditional livelihoods while franchising a much smaller proportion of the aboriginal 40%.

While Canadians are assured of equality of opportunities under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, this situation has resulted in the very unhelpful condition of observing what is considered by the lawmakers as a "higher social purpose". That purpose being to promote a sense of dignity and self-respect among native Canadians.

At a steep cost to other native Canadians as well as non-natives. Some logic, some outcome.

The problem is of course compounded by the fact that in the early 1900s Japanese fishermen were discriminated against by government policies that denied equal and needed fishing access to this community. That same community was horrendously discriminated against, their human rights violated when during the Second World War, they were stripped of their material assets and sent away to be incarcerated for the duration.

It's clear that it isn't terribly wise heads who are arriving at these hindsight-ameliorating conditions for some, in the process implementing hardships upon others who, in fact, had nothing whatever to do with the plight that aboriginal Canadians found themselves in as a result of European immigration to the land they inhabited.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Culture Clashes

Migration from one prevailing culture into another brings with it more than headaches. The transference of people leaving a homeland to emigrate to another country often brings with it heartaches to the very people whom circumstances beyond their control have conspired to wrench them away from all that is familiar and consoling to them.

Yes, there's the issue of culture clashes, where we witness the home culture expressing dissatisfaction with the importation of an alien culture. And there's the very real issue of immigrants bringing with them tribal grievances, and acting on them in the country of adoption. Problem enough when the welcoming society does its best to accommodate traditions hitherto unknown to them in an effort to give newcomers ease.

But then, there's the unexpected, the unanticipated, when immigrants to another country find it difficult to break old habits which stereotype them. The relaxed attitudes in Caribbean countries where men father children to women they don't marry, then walk away from any responsibilities, has caused no few headaches in Canada. Where unmarried, unattached women with multiple children struggle to raise these children outside the traditional family structure, alone.

It's not as though Canadian women don't also find themselves raising children alone, without benefit of an at-home male figure. We have our very own home-grown single-parent families either through a product of divorce, death or simply the male-quotient walking away from a situation that demands more than he is willing to accept. We also have young women who are as casual about having and raising children as their Caribbean counterparts.

Within this demographic - and it's a sizeable one - there hasn't arisen a like situation where fatherless children drift toward destructive criminal behaviours and alliances as a seemingly structured portion of their reaching maturity. It's hard to believe that in accepting immigrants we can also be opening ourselves up to a future demographic that seems to migrate toward criminal activity, yet that too appears to be part of a culture, which in time may turn itself around.

Society does its best to help, making subsidized housing tracts available to this demographic, but where there is a lack of discipline and attention to the needs of children growing up in a society structured otherwise, problems result. Without a firm guiding hand to teach the prevailing social mores and acceptable, ethical behaviour, young men emulate the irresponsibility of the fathers they've never known.

These black urban ghettos churn out too many young men bereft of behavioural guidelines and rejecting of the prevailing culture outside the ghetto. They're bedazzled by the potential for wealth through criminal proceedings and become immersed in the drug trade. Their allegiance is to their street gangs. They intimidate the people among whom they live, and they prey upon each other with arrogant impunity.

The tragedy is that in their pursuit of material fulfilment and their rejection of society's lawful mores, they destroy their families' hopes for the future just as they destroy the lives of those with whom they interact, challenging other street gangs for primacy. They become a living canker of promise and intentions gone dreadfully wrong. And in the process of attempting to deal with them, a society sensitive to the criticism of racism confronts a double dilemma.

Dreadfully wrong too is the situation on Canada's West Coast where Sikh communities have been subject to hideous wrongs resulting in terrorist-inspired mass murder from members in their own communities whose perspectives on historical entitlements having their origin in the country they have left, have completely divided this community. Canada's most violent incident of mass murder owes its memory to Sikh terror.

Fund-raising among other immigrant communities in aid of terror groups whose purpose is to completely destabilize their countries of origin, as has occurred with Sri Lankans, for the purpose of violent agitation to advance separation and the recognition of a separate state devoted to a minority championed by the Tamil Tigers, continues to be a problem within Canada.

As has the similar problem of funding terror groups of Muslim jihadists intent on visiting terror abroad. And just incidentally, within Canada as well. Since the jihadists' purpose is an ongoing struggle as they see it, against powerful but corrupt Western interests whose singular purpose, they claim, is to spurn and degrade Islam. And whose further belief is that the West expresses a society whose time has come and gone - to be replaced by jihadist-triumphant Islamic governance and Sharia Law.

Less noticeable, but still posing a problems of a more innocent dimension, are other issues emanating from other communities. Families living in low income neighbourhoods whose cooking styles depend largely on frying foods, having to cope with the nuisance factor involved in smoke alarms being triggered by cooking fumes. In exasperation the smoke alarms, although hard-wired, are disassembled, fires occur, and people die.

Celebratory customs brought over to a new country do not necessarily transport well in an environment more given to mechanical transport on roads and highways than rural areas that are quieter and less dangerous than those in Canada. A traditional party to celebrate the oncoming wedding of an East Indian couple results in tragedy when the candle-lit procession of celebrants are mowed down by an oncoming vehicle as they proceeded down an unlit road.

In some of these incidents the larger community is uninvolved, but certainly not in all. The larger community is moved to compassion when tragedy strikes as a result of an innocent tradition not readily transposed to another geographic setting. Responding to the needs of those who do not completely understand the repercussions of practising cultural traditions in an alien culture, by expressing its sorrow in the face of tragedy.

But policing agencies spring into action when there is blood shed within a community by the intractability of internecine warfare. And the country's security intelligence agencies are brought to attention when the safety of the country and its citizens are threatened by the actions of both immigrants and home-grown violent activists whose purpose it is generally to wreak havoc on society.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Congratulations, E.U.

Rejoicing, from one end of Europe to the other.

The European Union has swelled to include in its ambitious plan for unity - social, political and economic uniformity - 24 countries representing 400 million people. This vast embrace has led to the total relaxation of borders. Already thousands of people from less advanced economies like those of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have migrated to countries like Britain and Ireland whose employment markets have been opened to workers from new EU member-countries.

No longer are there barbed-wire, machine-gun protected borders in an eastern Europe dominated by the hegemonic strictures of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin must be near apoplectic from time to time, recalling the great power that was once the U.S.S.R., and what Russia has since been reduced to, in territory, resources and political clout - while her former satellites and allies have now gone over to the Cold War-era "enemy".

People are now free to walk, bicycle, drive, fly across borders that once divided the Soviet bloc from the West. Fireworks brightened the sky as people cheered and music - Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU's anthem - was played in celebration as the European Union's expansion became reality. No one, at the present time, yet mentions Turkey's long wait for acceptance.

The latest expansion took in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. There are both high expectations and low anticipations; that tourism and business will expand, encouraging economic growth on the one hand, while the potential for illegal immigration and a rise in crime may also be in the offing.

The very fact that so many countries with, it might seem, so little in common but their economic advancement - the determined surge of the strong pulling the weak into better economic health, recognizing the utility of forming a collective canopy of legislation, social and political - speaks practical volumes. As well as producing a unified front where strength of numbers reflects greater clout in the world economy.

That ease of travel will assist people in advancing their careers is a positive; that that same ease of surmounting other barriers will allow people to appreciate their differences in culture and traditions leading to greater acceptance and respect can only be a good thing in the larger world order.

Only time will tell if this is the mechanism through which countries can finally learn to live together in peace and prosperity, and whether this unifying device can be translated into transformative, emulative action elsewhere on this planet.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Up Front and Centre-Left

Well, there's our New Year's statement from the Leader of the Opposition: prepare for the government to fall in 2008. Thank you very much. We're prepared. What's on offer, Stephane? More bluster and critical badinage? More reminders to the voting public of just how effective you personally were on the environmental agenda back when the Liberals were in majority government and championing Kyoto but sitting on their hands?

You claim the Conservative government has failed in adequately demonstrating its ideology through competence and sincere action. Well, in part you're right. They've demonstrated a rather mixed response to variously-required government reactions. Sometimes pleasing, sometimes inadequate. But guess what? They've done all right, by and large. They've responded far more satisfactorily from the perspective of many with memories than the Liberals managed.

They're far from as good as we would want them to be. But yet far ahead in many arenas than the previous Liberal governments proved themselves to be. And didn't we get just so bloody fed up with all the Liberal-fed and -dominated scandals; don't ask. Whereas now we have a minority government anxious to please and going about its work on tippy-toes. Yet bold in determination and action when it needs to be; finding its legislative sea-legs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper judiciously stated in a recent interview that Canadians would do well to prepare themselves for a bit of an economic downturn. Not because Canada is in anything approaching dire economic straits; we're in fine shape, actually. But as an expression of reality; we are part of a larger world, and a global economic slowdown is working its way through the system.

It will most certainly affect this country, and we should indeed be aware and prepared to countenance its reality. As for Mr. Harper's additional caution to the people he governs that we should anticipate a "challenging year" as the slowly emerging fall-out from government initiatives to get a handle on the domestic front from the challenges of meeting global warming; we need to hear that.

Just as we all are acutely interested in seeing how effective new federal government regulations may turn out to be in the interests of protecting against climate change; how new regulations will affect industry and the country at large. We should indeed be prepared to recognize changes and challenge the government to do better, if that's not enough. And to expect to make some of our own sacrifices for the greater good.

Yet the word from Stephane Dion is that this represents a mere smokescreen, that the prime minister makes such statements as a way to protect himself and to shield his government from the repercussions of economic mismanagement in the anticipated failed guise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. How's that for a jaundiced, pessimistically insulting point of view? Aren't we all in this together?

And what's this? He states that Canada should sell China technology related to that country's ongoing commitment to adding two coal-powered plants-per-week agenda. Yet we haven't ourselves met with sterling success in adequately cleaning up our own smokestack emissions from coal-fired plants. Exactly what technology should we be so eager to sell to the Chinese to take advantage of their need before we can satisfy our own?

Mr. Dion complains that the public is unaware of all the strenuous efforts he and his party have made in their proposals for the betterment of Canada. And that so many people know him only through negative ads - attack ads. How neat; the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has unleashed unfair campaign-style advertisements highlighting Mr. Dion's perceived lacks, and that's miserable politics.

Perhaps it is; harking back to that old adage of everything being fair in love and war - and politics can be a reflection of that. Fact is, the electorate doesn't need reminders from those ads; we very well recall Mr. Dion's legendary lack of effectiveness. So what's Mr. Dion engaged in doing through this interview other than slagging his opponent, calling into question his integrity and efficacy, warning that he himself is big and tough and ready for action?

Election on the near horizon. Earlier opportunities unsuited to his project. He's ready now. We're not.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Revelatory Insights

Not that most people are unaware that there are bigots, racists and immigrant-detractors in the general population. There always are, it's just the way things are. In a mixed society derived historically through immigration the original settlers, those of Anglo-Saxon ancestry seem to find it hardest to accept a dilution of a social culture proudly borne from country of origin to a new land made their own.

But even immigrants from Europe, finally assimilated into the greater culture, accepting of social attitudes, find much to grumble about, with the onslaught of immigrants from other continents into what has become their own. It's immigrants from Asia, from India, from Africa, from Latin America, from the Middle East more latterly settled in Canada that now bear the brunt of suspicion from that relatively minor proportion of the population who may view them with some disquiet.

All the more so since immigrants now comprise such an immense proportion of the population; the original French minority and Anglo-Saxon majority appear threatened to become subsumed by a steady influx of migrants from more exotic locales.

Bringing with them their customs, traditions, religious inheritance; a total way of life sometimes quite at odds with what is considered the Canadian norm. Still, there is a lot of goodwill generally and acceptance, and respect offered immigrants. And now, in this modern era, government at every level go out of their way to provide assistance in settling in, something that was entirely non-existent years earlier. There are private aid agencies, charitable groups, church-operated agencies as well set up to assist immigrants in finding their place.

Canada's dedication to multiculturalism is all very well and good; the encouragement of minorities to continue recognizing the validity within this society of their origins and their cultural underpinnings. This is Canada's willingness to recognize the complexity of the world we live in generally, and the growing complexity of settling in to a country that prides itself for its inclusiveness in the backdrop of an often exclusionist and hostile world. The laissez faire attitude toward the responsibility of immigrants to embrace Canadian customs and social and legal mores however, leaves something to be desired.

The term "reasonable accommodation" and the backlash in the population against the incursion of immigrant groups who have latterly begun to assert themselves as separate cultural-social-religious entities in the atmosphere of freedom of expression has brought to the fore all of the concerns on both sides. The sense of entitlement by immigrants to concessions, the sense of grudging hostility on the part of Canadians who feel that the situation has become too lop-sided, with immigrants flocking to the country to take what they will of what it offers, without themselves feeling a commitment to its values.

The recently-concluded Bouchard-Taylor "reasonable accommodation hearings" whereby through 22 public fora, the public was invited to express their opinion about reasonable accommodation was fairly revelatory in its conclusion. But it hasn't told us anything we haven't been aware of; that a small proportion of Canadians in the Province of Quebec are downright racist in attitude (1.83%), a somewhat larger proportion are intolerant (12.79%), a helpfully larger segment are tolerant in nature (47.79%), and finally pluralists represent 19.56% of the population.

This airing of public opinion was meant to be a cleansing project. To allow whoever wished to do so to be given a public arena to unleash their frustrations and points of view; citizens of French-Canadian origin specifically, since it has been in Quebec that small groups have become vociferous in their criticism of the demands placed on the larger society by minority set-apart groups. Hateful, painful-to-hear and receive apprehensions of differences were revealed through the hearings by a small minority. There is little reason to believe the responses would be different elsewhere in Canada.

Expressions of negative apprehensions revealing stereotypical prejudicial judgements are by their nature sufficiently overwhelming to stultify an atmosphere of general acceptance by the larger majority. The listener tends to be more aware, because the statements are hurtful, of expressions of blame, distrust and dislike, than the more copious and generous expressions of respect and inclusiveness. During these hearings Muslims were described as dirty, violent and sexist, while Jews were characterized as litigious, crass and rude. Sikhs were described as fanatics. It's these labels that the target groups remember because they are painful, not the more general expressions of acceptance.

So what, really, was gained by this long, careful and tedious process?

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Artful Politics

Now that just seems downright silly that Russia seems, in a fit of pique over its tit-for-tat diplomatic-political spat with Britain - to have exercised its option to deny a long-awaited art loan for a London-based exhibition of paintings. Conciliation through scientific and scholarly exchanges as well as art and culture exchanges can do wonders for mending broken fences.

But the Kremlin decided, in its great wisdom and annoyance with Britain's accusations of human-rights abuses against Russia, to pull out of the art loan. Artwork by Van Gogh and Kandinsky are part of the over 120 paintings that were scheduled to arrive in London from state collections held at the Pushkin Museum, the Tretyakov Gallery, the Hermitage and the Russian Museums.

The Kremlin didn't stop there, having ordered the British council to close its offices in St.Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. So much for the exchange of culture. The verbal spitting and diplomatic impasse has resulted from Russian's refusal to isolate and hold responsible the killer of a former KGB officer living in Britain, dissident Alexander Litvinenko. In the wake of which Britain expelled the Russian ambassador, and Russia returned the compliment.

Of course there's another little untidy element here as well. The long-planned exhibit, From Russia, might conceivably have posed a threat to the return of all the loaned artwork. Many of these great pieces of world art are claimed to have been taken from private collections in 1917 during the early days of Communist rule. Legal claims are outstanding on some of these art works, by descendants of the original collectors.

Russia has an official policy of refusing to lend works of art to those countries who have enacted anti-seizure laws in the wake of some 55 paintings from the Pushkin Museum which were briefly impounded in 2005, on loan in Switzerland. These are, after all, state treasures, despite the murky reality of their past ownership. And Britain is just on the cusp of seeing an anti-seizure law through Parliament.

So the two countries are in the deep freeze, relation-wise. Pity, that.

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What Price Social Manipulation?

We're informed by adjunct professor Charles Castonguay through his article, "the contribution of immigration to francophone populations outside Quebec", how thoroughly discredited and unworkable the federal government's campaign to shore up the French language in communities outside Quebec with minority French-language populations has proven to be.

The policy of recruiting francophone immigrants to minority French communities in English Canada has been a failure, with a large number of those immigrants embracing English instead. Predictably enough, because it's a practical solution to fitting in to the majority population of English speakers, and one conducive to advancing the futures of their children in a largely English-speaking environment.

Why should immigrants, after all, be sacrificed as fodder to the aspirations of the French minority, intent on securing their language against all practical odds? "It's a stupid program," Mr. Castonguay claimed in an interview. "We're wasting our bloody money here, because we're actually recruiting anglophones."

Indeed, analysis of government figures demonstrates that within roughly twenty years of immigrating to Canada, a large proportion of francophones outside Quebec adopt English as their primary language of choice. Native French-speakers for that matter, migrating outside Quebec to reside elsewhere in Canada, find themselves assimilating in ever larger numbers into the English-speaking community, along with their children.

It quite simply should not be government policy to spend large sums of taxpayer money to try to ensure that minority French-speaking groups in far-flung towns in parts of Canada which are majority English retain their mother tongues. Canada's Official Languages Commissioner, Graham Fraser has revealed that the federal government is incapable of tracking millions of dollars it hands out in support to provinces for the purpose of fostering bilingualism among schoolchildren.

The funds are being distributed, yet bilingualism is on a downward spiral, despite the funding. The aim was to ensure that half of all high school graduates were functionally bilingual by 2013. "Over the years, millions of dollars have gone from Ottawa to provincial capitals, from provincial capitals to school boards, from school boards to schools and there is very little accountability once it leaves Ottawa in terms of that money actually arriving where it's intended to go", according to Mr. Fraser.

A failed policy, and a costly waste. Social manipulation on this scale is a gamble. People don't take readily to being sidelined when it doesn't seem to be in their best interests. As how could it be, to encourage people to learn and practise a language in a minority situation that will avail them nothing to advance their own personal agendas? It's unreasonable and not too bright for the federal government to make the assumption that people will be happily complicit with the bilingual intent.

There's a really positive aspect to teaching schoolchildren a second language. It's a true asset to be able to speak more than one language, and it puts young people at an obvious advantage to be proficient in both official languages. It's been posited that learning more than one language is beneficial to the thinking process, to the capacity to learn overall, expanding cerebral function. Tell that to kids who resent having to learn another language, and who won't lend themselves to the practical advantage of making an effort.

That old adage of leading a horse to water, but being unable to make him drink if he doesn't feel like it is as true here. Ongoing funding of an unworkable and discredited programme, irrespective of its practical utility in theory, is still a waste of money.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What Standards, These?

It's more than a little interesting, looking in from the outside, reading newspaper reports in our Canadian papers about the ongoing presidential nominations leading up to 2009's U.S. election. That's a very, an extremely long campaign the Democrats and the Republicans entertain as lead-ups to the final selection process. More than a little interesting, as well. Taxing and tedious to the principles, no doubt.

That religion appears to play so significant a role in the process is also interesting. In Canadian politics religion is not really an issue; while it may be in some measure, it's not out there front and centre. It's held to be a private matter and it is treated as such for the most part. Although Canadians are just as susceptible as Americans of making an issue of just about anything during election campaigns.

We're not above making potential or leading candidates very uncomfortable about their particular brand of religion when it's of a type that goes beyond a simple declaration of accepted faith, when it's of a fundamentalist variety, which has a tendency to make the electorate skittish. That's when our news hounds and our pundits and comedians resort to a nasty bit of taunting.

We've never but once had a woman candidate for Prime Minister. We did once, for a few short months, have a female prime minister through redundancy when a despised and discredited sitting prime minister stepped down, but she did not realize success through the democratic vote. Now here is a woman in the United States, trying out for the top job. Geraldine Ferraro, after all, only ran for vice-president.

Hillary Clinton has some outstanding qualifications for the job, not the least of which is her determination. Added to her experience as "wife of", a hands-on wife-of, at that. And, of course, her years in the Senate. She has a social conscience, and amply demonstrated that through her attempts during her husband's first mandate, to bring the U.S. into a badly needed universal health care system.

It's understood she has her detractors, those who resent her "pushiness", her obvious desire to succeed. She is criticized as being politically robotic, too determined, lacking warmth and humanity. Now how ridiculous is that, that an accomplished, highly intelligent, capable and experienced politician has been pushed by public opinion to demonstrate credentials as a good and decent human being?

Shouldn't her record speak for itself? If she wasn't a fighter, a highly motivated individual she would never have committed herself to attempt to achieve high office. Does the fact she is a woman make her potentially less capable than a man might be in that office? Other women elsewhere in the world have more than sufficiently demonstrated their capability; from Israel, to Pakistan, Ireland to Ukraine, Philippines to England and Spain, to name a few.

Yet she has to trot out personal friends to provide media testimonials regarding her capacity for human warmth, her credentials as a caring, responsive human being. If she's seen as cute and cuddly will that help her or harm her? The answer to that is fairly obvious. If she is a personally private individual in the public sphere she is not alone in so being, and it is to her credit that she is capable of performing as she does.

Charisma offers no guarantees of respectable performance as a prime administrator and legislator. Integrity, intelligence and courage do, and she has amply demonstrated those qualities.

Not that Barak Obama isn't an attractive candidate.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Initiatives of Necessity

Amidst all the sad news and bad news, public-interest stories and reports from abroad, a hint that our government is moving toward domestic legislation long overdue in the protection of consumers' health and welfare. The notification that Canada plans to get tough on unscrupulous or just downright uncaring marketers of goods containing elements that may threaten our well being.

At a news conference held at - in all places, talk about ironies and metaphors - the Salvation Army toy depot, the prime minister - admitting that Canada lags lamentably behind some of its trading partners in ensuring product safety - stated that this situation is about to change. We've seen far too many product recalls in the past year alone, making us realize how vulnerable we are in so many ways to coming in contact with contaminated goods.

Everything from toothpaste, dog food, children's toys, foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals have been implicated as having been contaminated by harmful elements in their production. "The truth is, the product safety regulation in this country is not as rigorous as it should be", said our prime minister. Haven't we been telling him that for ages? Haven't we been agitating for better accountability, more stringent regulations imposed by government for product safety?

"As more and more products from all over the world find their way onto Canadian store shelves, we need to set and enforce state-of-the-art safety standards for domestic and imported goods." Right you are, Mr. Harper. And, under the legislation it would appear that importers must take responsibility for the safety of goods they import to Canada or risk hefty fines. There will, moreover, be more inspections of imported goods.

Good for us. But not particularly good on us. Not as long as this government remains complicit with a small but determined industry in Quebec that keeps insisting its particular type of asbestos is safe for use, and for export abroad. Government, heal thyself.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Protest In Bad Faith

Every country in the West has huge problems of illegal immigrants at large. And when the opportunity exists to expel these people those countries take full advantage of their prevailing laws enabling them to return would-be immigrants to their countries of origin. There to take legal and time-proven steps to register as potential emigrants to their country of choice. Joining the legitimatequeue like everyone else.

Even when legal procedures are undertaken, some would-be immigrants produce false identify papers. Which, if and when discovered, completely disqualifies them for entry into the country. It often enough happens that individuals of unsavoury character, with a history of violence or other criminal offences taking place in their countries of origin attempt to pass themselves off with false papers denying their criminal past.

A current such case is before the Canadian Immigration Board. In its own way it represents a personal tragedy. For a man who misrepresented his identity byproffering a false passport on entry into Canada in 2003, had suffered a critical aneurysm while in the country, leaving him a quadriplegic. This refugee claimant, Laibar Singh, is slated for deportation. There are many within the Sikh community in Vancouver who have responded to his plight, demanding he be allowed to stay in the country.

Obviously, the man would become a weight on an already over-extended health care system. With no legal status in the country, he is not entitled to free health care. And with no visible means of support, he would become a burden on the country for his costly, ongoing care. At the 11th hour, vociferous supporters claimed they would be responsible to care for all his needs, as they rallied to physically prevent his deportation at Vancouver International Airport.

Trouble is, they are not putting their mouths where their money should be in their declarations of support. The group who pledged their support have recanted after a six-day period, by now claiming they are unable to care for this severely disabled man. The New Westminster temple which had, up to now, sheltered him, now also declares they can no longer do so.

At the airport protest which forced the Canada Border Services Agency to put the deportation proceedings on hold, Sikh community leaders pledged they were prepared to cover medical expenses for Mr. Singh in perpetuity. In the meanwhile, another Sikh temple in Surrey has attempted to accommodate his needs, and its president has promised not to launch protests seen to be illegal in support of prevailing against deportation.

The new temple, Guru Nanak Sikh temple, is on its own in its humanitarian concern for Mr. Singh: "I am disappointed that all the guys who went to the airport to make big speeches have completely backed off", said the temple president. "They didn't give any money to us to help him." The Guru Nanak Sikh temple is now prepared to launch a legal challenge for permission to keep Mr. Singh in Canada.

Which is a refreshing approach attesting to their earnest wish to help as opposed to the stridently illegal demands put forward by this man's original supporters. Mr. Singh requires 24-hour-a-day care. His condition requires that he be established within a long-term care facility at a huge cost to the Canadian taxpayer.

If this issue is as it is purported to be, one of humanitarian concern for an unfortunate man, irregardless of the way he entered the country, it does seem a reasonable expectation that the very community of which he is an integral part should step forward and commit to providing the means by which his expensive nursing care will prolong his life here.

His impending deportation, and his physical vulnerability was taken up by a group called the South Asian Human Rights Group who have seen fit to champion Mr. Singh. They seem since to have abandoned him, backing away from his case. It seems now that the goodwill and concern of the Sikh community for one of their number must be consolidated in a promise to pay for his health needs.

As a Canadian citizen, Mr. Singh's needs would be looked after by the Canadian taxpayer. As matters stand, Mr. Singh is an unwanted visitor to the country, regardless of humanitarian concerns. His plight is truly unfortunate, but there are many would-be refugees who face life-threatening difficulties. If the Sikh community is sincerely concerned, they have the option of stepping forward to assure funding.

That's an expression of good faith, and an indication they take this issue seriously.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Another Roadmap

Nice to know that the majority opinion prevailed. Exerting sufficient pressure, including that of public naming-and-shaming to ensure that recalcitrant hold-backs would buy into the general consensus. The result being, ladies and gentlemen of the world, passionate environmentalists and third-world weather targets - we have a victory of sorts; a collective agreement at the very least.

And heaven knows, we do need something of that order to combat the atmospheric threats we are facing.

On the face of it, it most certainly does seem unfair to impose the same restraints on developing countries with respect to carbon emissions, as that required of developed countries. Pity we cannot pick and choose which developing countries to excuse. On the basis of the undeniable fact that when we speak of global economically-emerging giants like India and China, and their immense populations, and the impact worldwide of their surging economies, perhaps they might be treated differently?

At the very least, on the same level as developed countries, perhaps? The horrendously storied emissions coming out of China, literally blackening its environment and the lungs of its people, do have their impact thanks to prevailing winds, much further afield, even entering the airspace of North America. But because there are these stark divisions, the polarising views of developed and developing, it's all-inclusive.

And the Bali roadmap was born, with all attendees to the United Nations climate change signing on; reluctant signees like the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, most markedly. In the final analysis, this can only be a good thing. In that all countries are recognizing the plight that all countries - particularly those developing countries unable to themselves afford remediation measures, and whose geographies are in particularly climate-sensitive areas -
will benefit through co-operation.

The pain that will be felt by developed countries in searching for sound new methods whose adoption may assist in adapting to the new requirements for lowering carbon emissions is, in any event, offset by the pain deeply felt by geographically vulnerable, poorer countries. In the end, all the hang-back countries, unwilling to sacrifice their growth potential to assist other countries in both economic advancement and adaptation to a changing world, heeded UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's injunction.

"Seize the moment, this moment, for the good of all humanity."

So, we're signed on for good, not for ill we hope, to a framework for cuts in global emissions, clean technology transfers, the reduction of forest degradation through deforestation, and working toward aid adaptation for developing countries geographically positioned to suffer through droughts and rising sea levels.

Here's to the future and its unknowns.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Beedle The Bard

Wow, there is one born every minute. Let's hear it for peoples' values. Objects have certain values intrinsic to their characteristics. For some people it's a creative work of antiquity, including items of value that have somehow survived to come down to us from their antique past where they were vessels of ordinary utility, like wine jars, and in their intact state represent museum items of great attraction and social-historical value.

Artistic geniuses of the past who have enriched the world with their creations on canvass, with their gifted manuscripts, monuments and sculptures, and sublime architectural achievements which have withstood the test of time and atmospheric environment. These and more, represent to a great many people objects worth while of admiration and of inestimable monetary value.

There are other categories of desirous objects, needless to say. Fabulous jewels such as those made by Cartier or Faberge, exquisite in their design, materials and workmanship. Furniture which has been hand-made of fine materials and conception, speaking of an era long past. Auction houses offer these and far more for moneyed connoisseurs to bid up and successfully award themselves ownership of.

It's amazing but more or less within the realm of understanding that a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, Auguste Renoir, Raphael, Vincent Van Gough, or Hieronymus Bosch will bring down what was once thought to be a king's ransom to attain. In the world of acquisition surprises abound; for many non-representational artworks of modern vintage which still demands millions to take possession of, seems money ill spent.

But then, we're talking personal tastes. And, of course, another element entirely - investment with the thought that whatever the object of desire, it has invested in it the potential to increase in value, thus expanding one's investment toward the future when that same object will be offered up once again for auction, realizing an even greater sale price.

Sometimes, the mind truly boggles. The runaway success, for example, of a series of quasi-child-centred literature like the Harry Potter books. And that its celebrated author (and good on her; more earning power to her in this world of truly peculiar celebrity and values) could undertake to hand-scribe a few trifling bits of literature aligned with her runaway literary success and parlay one for $4-million.

She has earned through her royalties more than enough to keep her and her offspring in comfort. And, it would seem, unlike many others whose ideas and work have been copyrighted, isn't dreadfully rigid about insisting that others "respect" her creative genius by desisting from copying it. Her social conscience displays itself in her charity, co-founding a Children's Voice campaign for disadvantaged children.

Which charity is destined to receive the proceeds of the trifle's untrifling sale price. Nice work.

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Ugh, That Face, That Voice...!

Here's hoping the Mulroney-Schreiber fiasco will soon be over. Much as one would like the investigation to continue, far beyond the tentatively inexpert prodding we've seen in the parliamentary committee set up to examine the affair, it's a clumsy and inadequate investigative tool.

Talk about ambivalent; I'd like the affair to be gone and done with simply because to see that greasy smirk on Mulroney's face yet again and to hear his unctuous baritone simply drives me to distraction. Yet on the other hand, I'd like to see his mean-spirited, self-interested boondoggling unveiled. Not very nice of me, granted. Considering that the man has already been forced to face condemnation of his behaviour resulting from his unabashed greed and sense of self-entitlement in the public arena.

On the other hand, the choices he made were made freely; he must have been aware of consequences should his underhandedly unethical shenanigans be made public, yet his venal addiction to lining his pockets overrode any possible hesitation he might have felt about lending himself while in public office to shady dealings.

It's just the kind of person he is. Greasily and casually for sale to the highest bidder. His self-pitying mea culpa before the committee when he testified yesterday in Parliament, did have a desired effect, softening up some of his interlocutors, but certainly not all of them. While he admitted to poor judgement on his part, and his bitterness at the further public shame he's brought on himself while just incidentally smirching the offices he held, he also defended himself as an innocent falling prey to a slickly cosmopolitan shyster.

Poor man. Ever the thespian, he cagily set the stage for sympathy, his lovely wife in tow, along with his grown children, all symbolically wearing black; in mourning for the lofty laid low. So unfortunate, so dreadfully unfair. Other details were not overlooked; such as hiring public relations types to stand forward, help in the choreography of regret-for-compulsion that led this well-meaning but trusting man to be betrayed by a foreign and unworthily shady "businessman".

He tenderly coloured himself as one taken dreadful advantage of; no poltroon he, facing his detractors bravely and with full determination to clear himself and his soiled reputation. In the process casting dire aspersions on the reliability of any testimony that could be wrung out of Karlheinz Schreiber, his tormentor. Mr. Mulroney attempted, piecemeal and with careful intent, to persuade that Mr. Schreiber was a born liar - but not he. It was he wronged; the present carnival representing Mr. Schreiber's desperate attempts to remain in Canada.

His characterization of Karlheinz Schreiber simply redounded on himself, for however he described Mr. Schreiber's lack of credibility seemed also neatly to describe his own. Claiming too that Mr. Schreiber created a media frenzy, but who exactly was behind this sordid mess if not Himself? "He's got what he wanted. He's sitting in his mansion over in Rockcliffe, chuckling", pointedly claimed the put-upon Mulroney as though he doesn't himself gloat in satisfaction in his own Montreal mansion.

His smoothly-delivered explanation, leaving great unanswered gaps, well larded with his usual little bon mots did give pause on reception, but didn't last much beyond first reflection. No one is yet any the wiser about the work he is purported to have performed for those cushy cash payments. This man, a cagy lawyer, a seasoned politician and social arbiter, well travelled and well-met in the international community, professed not to have had the smarts to refuse cash payment up front for an undocumented "assignment".

He speaks of Schrieber's falsehoods, handily overlooking his own. His denials of ever having had business dealings with Mr. Schreiber, his manipulations of fact and fantasy. His having withheld the fact that he had accepted cash for an as-yet unknown purpose - despite his protestations of international lobbying for Thyssen - and his subsequent successful lawsuit against the country, resulting in his pocketing a cool $1.2 million for hurt feelings. Let's have it back, Mr. Mulroney, it doesn't quite belong to you.

One wonders, was it placed alongside Mr. Schreiber's hundreds of thousands in little home safes and safety deposit boxes, to be withdrawn at leisure? When NDP MP Pat Martin turned down Mr. Mulroney's flatulently self-serving explanations, he spoke for a whole lot of Canadians in saying "I'm not calling you a liar Mr. Mulroney, but I want everyone here to know that I don't believe you".

The slick, self-assured lawyer-politico no match for a humble little go-getter. The abused and his abuser. The wronged, and the devil who did it. Ugh. His reputation tarnished? It was of his own doing. It was this country that was wronged. This was not, as he averred, a private affair, but a very public albeit carefully discreet betrayal of the public trust.

His testimony, although not complete, and not yet to be put to rest, merely sounded the death knell to an already moribund reputation, for in the court of public opinion, this man, once the prime minister of this country, hasn't much to be proud of.

Nor, on reflection, do we.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

No One-Trick Pony

For a tiny country with a slender population base Israel hits above her weight in the world of scientific discovery, as she does in so many other ways; music, philosophy, medical science, to name a few. Yet Israel is known world-wide for one thing only, and that is the unsettling of the Middle East. To her is accorded the dubious sobriquet of 'intruder' on a landscape not recognized as her own, despite that this is precisely where her people first appeared on the world stage, however condensed it was at the time.

The scattered people that once populated ancient Israel but who were forced through conquest to migrate all over the globe acquired over the millennia an uncanny ability to produce individuals whose genius altered world consciousness forever. The most widely-read single piece of literature originated with ancient Jewry; philosophy and medicine and scientific achievement owed greatly to Jewish intellect. Jews of renown in the arts and sciences still are over-represented in their numbers as opposed to those of any other ethnic-cultural origin.

And in settling once again in Israel, Jews demonstrated to the world that they were capable of achieving scientific break-throughs in agronomy, desalinization, the health sciences, literature, and military strategy, to name but a few areas of distinction. Jewish scientists have been generous in agreeing to share their findings and knowledge with others, for this is the way with scientists in general; an open invitation to colleagues to share.

Hardly surprising, then, that Israel sought to bring her expertise in agricultural advances to the world stage in an effort to lead the way toward enabling less-practised economies to produce for themselves the opportunities to feed their populations through the development of new farming technologies, encouraged and funded by developing countries.

Israel's resolution to encourage wealthy nations of the world to assist developing countries was successfully passed at the United Nations. Her very first such attempt at taking her place within that body in such a manner, completely outside of politics. The General Assembly's Second Committee which deals with development issues saw the resolution passed with 118 votes in favour, 29 abstentions, and no opposing votes, to be brought before the full General Assembly in a week's time for full ratification.

A non-political resolution whose purpose is to benefit undeveloped countries to provide for themselves. Yet made political by the fact that those who abstained from supporting this vital resolution represented mostly countries with whom Israel is politically estranged; Arab and Muslim countries of the Magreb and perhaps not surprisingly, some African countries. Yet this was a celebratory occasion for the State of Israel.

Through this achievement, the country finally feels it has been accepted on a wider scale than merely a country whose presence within a contested geography is seen as that of an irritating nuisance on the world stage, whose presence on that very stage has been contested time and again by her adversaries. "For Israel, this is a very dramatic development, and an historic day at the UN" stated Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman.

"It is the very first time that Israel initiates and authors and submits a resolution which has nothing to do with the conflict. It is not easy for Israel to have its resolutions and its points of view adopted. This makes Israel a much more normal and acceptable member of the UN. One of our main aims is to not be a one issue country and to bring awareness of Israel's excellence to the world."

Stunningly, among the countries abstaining, out of nothing but pure spite, were Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. All of which are in dire need of such assistance in achieving agricultural sustainability for their populations. Nicely enough, Afghanistan and Pakistan voted in favour of the resolution, so solidarity among Islamic countries was not absolute, with a few extending themselves toward exercising a political element of individual practicality.

Predictably, someone had to rain on Israel's parade in a more obviously pointed manner, and that was left to the Palestinian Authority's UN representative who, in criticizing the initiative, informed Reuters that Israel was only "trying to score political points". He, of course, would know all about that element of making one's presence known at the United Nations.

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Digging In - Deleteriously?

Canada's feeling the heat of global warming, in Bali. This country's government is being accused of foot-dragging for not signing on to do our part in the fight against climate change. Hesitation in no small part due to the fact that it sees the goals set forward by committed environmentalists and governments committed to the environment as unrealistic and unreachable.

In fact, while the United Nations is steadfastly urging the developed nations of the world to heed the report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself appeared to agree with Canada's environment minister John Baird's statement that it is unrealistic to expect Canada to cut emissions by 38% to 53% within a decade.

Canada should and must exert itself to bring some control over our emissions. But we still don't have a handle on our earlier commitment to bring down carbon emissions; in fact they've been steadily rising. "I'll put reality on the table. To suggest that we could get a 52% reduction in Canada in 12 years - there is no one in the world who believes that is possible", Mr. Baird reported, demanding a more practical, feasible approach.

And, of course, Canada stands almost alone on the world stage insisting that any commitment must include all major polluters, and not only developed nations. The heavy hitters on the issue; the European Union and China are pushing for the United States to agree to a 40% target. It's true that the U.S. is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gas pollutants, but hey, China's right behind the U.S. and she's being excluded.

Canada has more than enough opposition; the current government is pragmatically committed to reducing emissions, but in a workable manner that will not impact too deleteriously on her bottom line. For all the support for a harder line being espoused by the provinces, blaming Ottawa for lack of commitment, should the federal government come down with a hard-line regulatory framework, the provinces would surely ignore its reality claiming provincial integrity.

Of the ten worst emitters in the country, one is located in Saskatchewan, two in Ontario and fully 6 in Alberta. These provinces have every intention of protecting their interests, of ensuring that their economies do not suffer exponentially in line with the federal government's guidelines which would have relatively minimal impact on the other, lesser-emitting provinces. And although most Canadians profess fears for the future of the environment, most would hesitate to agree to a significant diminishment of their way of life.

The federal government has set a firm deadline for its big industrial polluters, all 700 of them. They've been put on notice and have six months to submit emissions data which will then be used to set binding reductions targets. Industries such as electrical providers, oil and gas, pulp and paper, smelting, steel, cement, chemicals and mining sectors are all involved. Individual Canadians too will have to begin to slowly turn around our expectations.

Using less energy, becoming less expendable than we had always thought. Our markets will undergo changes, with fewer edible products being flown in off-season from far-flung producers. We will have to accept that all the electric and electronic gadgets we so adore eat up too much energy. Motor vehicle emissions will have to be cut through the implementation of tougher guidelines for manufacturers on the production line, much as California has already done (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on challenge by automobile producers).

That we're facing global climate change is undeniable; we have reports from our own Inuit to that effect; they're our front-line observers. As are farmers in Africa; from Kenya who tell us that the fruits they used to depend upon in their forests when drought conditions failed their crops are no longer to be had. Where farmers from Mali note that although they have always dealt with drought conditions those conditions have been irremediably altered, and floods become more frequent.

And then there are the many scientific specialists, experts in climatology, statisticians, theoretical physicists, biological scientists, hydroclimatologists, agro-biologists, atmospheric scientists, geologists, economists, meteorologists, climate data analysts, forest microclimate specialists, physical chemists, industrial energy efficiency scientists, marine researchers - who have concluded that planet earth is indeed undergoing climate change, but that what we are seeing is the result of a natural process.

Which hardly lessons the urgency. But, they point out, is a result of natural variability in the earth's climate. There are heavenly orbs that are our companions and that have their effect upon us, as well. The moon affects our tides, and who knows what else? That great gaseous globe to which we are magnetically harnessed affects our atmosphere in ways not yet fully understood; its sun spots and violent electrical eruptions and currents reverberate in our atmosphere.

The experts and climate nay-sayers, tell us in their great accumulated, acquired wisdom that what we are witnessing is not man-made climate change at all, but the inevitable natural alterations of the climate, cyclical in nature and to be accepted. They claim that any attempts undertaken by alarmed and well-meaning governments to prevent these changes will be ultimately futile. In short, a misallocation of funds and resources, far better spent on assisting more vulnerable populations in adjusting to the reality of climate change.

This represents humanity's real and pressing problem, according to an open letter sent to the Secretary General of the United Nations and copied to heads of state of (climate-change) signatory countries. Who should know if not they?

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