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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

On The Good News Front: Secular Turkey

If the European Union remains insufficiently convinced that Turkey should be welcomed as a member of the Union, recent events should inform them that the people of Turkey deserve the kind of respect that may be lacking in offering to the administration of the country. On the other hand, while the government of Turkey is anxious to be admitted to the ranks of the European Union, it's a moot point whether the Turkish population is itself adamant about achieving that signal honour.

They appear to be feeling somewhat less than appreciated as a proud population of a secular albeit religious country, by their counterparts within the European Union, and perhaps with good reason. Turks are justifiably proud of their country and even more so of their tradition as a secular country, in celebration of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk whose purpose was the separation of religion and state. Their secular standards, they feel, are second to none.

They are so committed to retaining that separation that an estimated one million determined Turks turned out for the latest show of strength. On the evidence of their mass presence, chanting of slogans and the brandishing of the national flag they have no patience with the very thought of a theocratic government for their country. "Seculariam is more precious to us than democracy", according to one university student. "And the EU won't ever accept us anyway; to hell with EU."

The Turkish army which considers itself the custodian of Ataturk's legacy has taken it upon itself to militarily overthrow four governments since 1960, and is now threatening, through a statement issued by its Chief of General Staff to forestall any political attempts to alter the structure of the Turkish government, unequivocally detailing the dangers posed by radical Islam.

"Neither Shariah, nor coup d'etat. Democratic Turkey", shouted the crowd, carrying portraits of Kemal Ataturk. This rally in Istanbul, the capital of the country, was the second in two weeks; the earlier one having taken place in Ankara, with similar feelings expressed. The ruling Justice and Development Party, originally a banned Islamist party, now maintains it has disavowed its Islamist roots, and is committed to secular principles.

The rallies were mounted in response to Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, a former Islamist, and the sole candidate in the race for president, taking on that role through a successful democratic election result. The prime minister of the country, another Islamist, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has ruled as a moderate Islamist, but Turks are concerned that the Islamists will succeed in altering the political system to suit an Islamist agenda.

Mr. Gul's wife is a rarity in the country, wearing the Islamic headscarf. Women are banned by law from wearing the headscarf in parliament, government offices, schools and universities. Should the election of Mr. Gul proceed, his wife would be the first presidential spouse to cover her head; a matter of fact that chills secular apprehensions. "A woman who covers her head cannot sit in Ataturk's palace", fumed Nesrin Akkoc, one of thousands of women attending the rally.

"Turkey will not become another Iran", she said.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Case In Point

Interesting that the presence of Western troops in a political dictatorship, be it secular or theocratic, can have a stimulating effect on equality for women. Here now are women in Afghanistan, formerly subjected to the most horrific of conditions, not permitted to venture out into public for the purpose of pursuing a modest living, even selling minor items in a bazaar to try to earn sufficient funding for shelter and food for their families. Widows were known to slowly starve to death if assistance was not forthcoming from already hard-pressed neighbours.

Women appearing in public without a male family member were subjected to the humiliation of public lashing and imprisonment. A full chador covering the body and most of the female face was a requirement, uncomfortable, hot and necessary regardless of outside temperatures. Music and dance was forbidden, all Western-influenced entertainment was forbidden. Boys attended a madrasa, a religious school that taught the Koran, in Arabic, so the children could recite passages they could not understand. No extended type of education, informing and engaging young minds, suiting a child for a future would be offered.

Girls were forbidden school attendance. Teachers who took it upon themselves to teach girls risked giving up their lives for the effort, if discovered, and many were indeed murdered. Young women were appropriated to live as multiple wives of those men within the Taliban hierarchy, the mullahs who were happy to practise Islamic polygamy. Men were beaten if they were improperly garbed and/or if they were foolish enough to trim their hair. Full beards were a religious requirement for all men, on pain of corporal punishment.

A recent Johns Hopkins University study found infant deaths in Afghanistan fell substantially since the ouster of the Taliban. Afghanistan's public health ministry and the World Bank have announced apparent improvements in all aspects of health care in almost every province of the country, with clear signs of health sector recovery and progress, although people in the more remote areas have not yet received equivalent care levels.

So the banishment of the ever-resurgent, ever-hopeful Taliban most certainly had an effect on Afghan society. In Saudi Arabia, that staunch ally of the West, where Wahhabism was slowly spread through their funding of religious schools for boys from Pakistan to Canada, women still are not permitted to vote, drive a vehicle or work outside the home without the permission of a male relative. This, despite the boastful claim of a senior government minister that the kingdom has met and even surpassed UN standards in equality between the genders.

In Iran, women are not permitted to attend sports events, where soccer tournaments are a wildly popular sport. It is deemed to be un-Islamic for women to appear in public at widely-attended events. This is a reversal of recent vintage, which had previously been relaxed sufficiently to allow women attendance at sports events. In the toughest crackdown in 20 years, this nuclear-assertive country now has deemed it unacceptable that women whose headscarves and clothing are considered to be too revealing in public be permitted to carry on. Female police clad in full black chadors are warning young women to cover up.

It doesn't seem likely that either of these two female-repressive, Islamic-adhering countries will any time soon invite Western influence to alter the situation of half of their population. Pity.


Canadian Troops in Afghanistan

Bad enough, sad enough for a determinedly peace-loving country like Canada to have to send her troops to a foreign country at a time of war. During a time of war waged against an already war-weary population by an occupying force whose purpose it was to impose a religiously-based totalitarian regime without mercy upon a country, while harbouring other theist-inspired radicals whose greater purpose was to impose that self-same totalitarian rule on a much wider scale, and in its determined search to destroy a social and political and cultural structure which it detested, sent a horrific message of wholesale destruction to the very seat of the capitalist social democracy it most hated.

The Canadian presence in Afghanistan is twofold: one; in response to the message that al Qaeda delivered to the world that it could and would strike forcefully and fearlessly anywhere in the democratic world, and two; in the effort to extirpate and destabilize the deadly al Qaeda force it was necessary to do likewise to the religious body that sheltered and encouraged their activities. The Taliban, whose presence in Afghanistan assured that Sharia law of a most resolutely rigid nature was imposed on the population, resulting in the virtual enslavement of women and children, was attacked and pursued by a NATO force with UN support.

As a member of NATO, Canada responded as it must, as it must also as a responsible member of the global community concerned about the right to life, safety and security for all countries sans intervention by destabilizing forces. Afghanistan is an ancient country which has been invaded by outside forces since time immemorial. The country is a fierce, war-like, tribal culture not known to take kindly to external invasion of their sovereignty. Yet the Afghanistan parliament, elected after the ouster of the Taliban (and comprised partially - unfortunately - of former war-lords well known for their human-rights abuses), has pleaded with NATO and Canada to remain until such time as it is feasible for the country's own troops and policing agencies to take control of safety and security for its citizens.

NATO countries see it as their global duty to assist the new parliament of the country, but above all, to assist in the building up of new civil infrastructure within the country, to assist the population in adjusting to their new reality. We are informed that women parliamentarians in the new government are fighting for equal treatment for women in this male-dominated culture, with a fierce determination. We are made aware that great strides have been advanced in health care in Afghanistan as a result of the NATO presence.

There has been a marked decrease in infant and maternal mortality rates in the country. Children have been returned to the classroom, as schools have been re-built and teachers are now assured they will not be subject to attack and grisly murders as a result of now teaching girls as well as boys, previously forbidden under the Taliban, where boys-only madrases ensured girl children were kept at home with their mothers, both unable to venture out into public without complete head-to-toe covering and without being escorted by a male relative. Women, particularly widows, are now able to work outside the home, instead of being constrained to the home and slow starvation.

Yet now there is a public furore in Canada over the question of Canadian troops handing over Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan's military for incarceration, because of alleged torture. Western values which certainly include adherence to the Geneva Convention on prisoner treatment eschew torture with a certain kind of delicate sensibility; it is simply not done by civilized societies. Afghanistan's social, political and religious culture is closer to their tribal past than it is to the western ideal of civilized behaviour.

Still, it does not express the official government position to engage in torture in Afghanistan. But this is a country at war, the most savage type of war with the Taliban adversary - determined to regain its totalitarian stranglehold over the governance of the country, and the insurgents don't recognize any western niceties of behaviour in dealing with their enemies; beheading and torture are routinely practised at that end. Which, evidently, hasn't stopped Taliban apprehended by NATO troops from complaining of having been tortured by government troops.

Within Canada, the current government has been hard pressed by the official opposition political parties to ensure that any Taliban captured by Canadians are not subjected to torture, alleged or otherwise, by government troops in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, underfunded and in its infancy, is doing its best to ensure that torture doesn't occur. The government of Afghanistan is doing its utmost to assure its allies that torture is not an official position of the government.

Sadly, the Canadian politicians who are now on their high horses demanding that the current government of Canada take concrete steps to ensure that alleged torture doesn't take place are playing unforgivably stupid political games. The opposition Liberal party, while in government was in receipt of yearly reports by Canadian diplomats stationed in the country warning that torture was an ongoing concern. While in government, the Liberals appeared unconcerned about the matter; now they're in opposition they're suddenly seized with the immorality of torture, as practised in a tribal society.

An incredible betrayal of gross hypocrisy on the part of the Canadian political opposition. On balance, what might take precedence, the restoration of human rights in a population deprived of same through constraints to livelihood and culture and the gross abuse of women and children, or the alleged torture of those very abusers?


Monday, April 23, 2007

The Arrogance of the Celebrated

One is an acclaimed writer of avant gard fiction, the other the prime minister of a fair-sized country. Both have reason, given their status in life, the importance of the tasks they set themselves, to feel fairly good about themselves. Each has responsibilities; one that of a celebrated, and award-honoured writer, the other as an intellectually-inclined and determined first minister of his country.

The prime minister is busy looking to the affairs of the nation. The writer is busy looking to his affairs, and finding novel means by which he is able to draw attention to himself.

Publicity, any kind of notice on a popular scale, cannot harm the sales record of one whose literary output is admired and respected. Publicity goes a long way to generating interest in anything new that the writer is engaged in, and if it's a play, then more people may be attracted to viewing it; if a book, this translates into additional sales.

Publicity of most kinds is a deterrent to the obligations of a country's prime administrator; it generally means something has gone awry and requires rectification, taking the man's attention away from other, more vital problems.

Yann Martel, however, feels justified in setting out to prove something; exactly what, isn't clear, unless it is that he demonstrates unmitigated gall in insisting that he can teach a man whose obligation to the country as a whole is otherwise engaged, while Mr. Martel wishes him to focus on the world's literature. To which end, Mr. Martel has taken it upon himself to mail off a book every two weeks to the prime minister with an injunction to read that book and learn much about the world.

If this doesn't reflect an act of stellar arrogance, what then? Mr. Martel claims otherwise; he insists that a website he has launched to chronicle his antics for the purpose of alerting Stephen Harper to the world of literature serves a good purpose - ostensibly other than harassing an already-harassed public figure and in the doing bringing admiration to himself and his own award-winning fiction. Quite the device, actually.

"I told the person at the Prime Minister's office, forget the spin that's been given on this, that I'm educating the prime minister. Go back to my first letter. It's not so confrontational. It's not buddy-buddy. But come on, you can't expect total obsequiousness," said the author. Well, I for one did read the published (and publicized) text of that first letter; it comes across as a snotty diatribe hidden in a patronizing review of Leo Tolstoy's "
Death of Ivan Ilyich"; the couth lecturing the uncouth.

Surely, according to Mr. Martel, there is room for dialogue between himself and the prime minister. Is Stephen Harper not given any choice in the matter? Why, after all, would he wish to bother bantering with someone who sees nothing amiss in treating the Prime Minister of Canad

If someone approached my personal taste in literature by presuming to send an unsolicited book to me I'd be rather affronted by the arrogance of the sender.

I love reading, cannot imagine how bleak life might be without the tempting promise of a good book, being able to immerse oneself wholly into a line of thought and perception, allowing the skill of a good writer to take me to places my own imagination never presented to me. My husband, over a period of 53 years of marriage, has a fairly good idea of my reading tastes, but no one else really has; history, religion, psychology, autobiography and biographical books as well as novels of any and all types.

Let someone I don't know, even someone who thinks they know me take it upon themselves to gift me with a book, with conditions such as Yann Martel has imposed upon the prime minister and I'd consider them to be beneath my notice. Yet Yann Martel, clever man that he is, insists "I'm a well-known writer. I'm writing him letters that are not insulting in any way. So, at one point, he should get me in a dialogue." Not insulting in any way? I beg to differ.

Were Stephen Harper given to the kind of expression that another former intellectual prime minister of Canada was capable of expressing, the only kind of dialogue that should logically ensue from this absurd charade might be "fuddle-duddle".

And there's an end to it.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Craven British

Once a proud society on so many counts, not the least of which was its upstanding dedication to the democratic ideal, Britain has gone all soft and mushy and hardly knows which end is up anymore. How can a nation swing so far from the path of knowing itself and its cherished values to one in which its politicians, its news sources, its intelligentsia has become so befuddled with the toxic reality of its demographics that it now treads, like France, on eggshards, carefully, and painfully.

From a once-elitist society with strict demarcations between the nobility and commonfolk and everyone accepting their place albeit grudgingly, to the current correctness which seeks to even the playing field for everyone, making everyone equally entitled, and no one universally responsible - either to the state or to the commonweal, or to the robust future of the country itself. There may be economic poverty in the country, a condition deplored by all those who live well, and who groan themselves under the burden of taxation. But it's the psychic poverty that will destroy the country.

All the virtues that were once respected: honour, selflessness, gratitude, courtesy, courage of conviction, devotion to the Crown, state and country have been diminished to the point of disappearance. Everyone is equally entitled and equally loud in proclaiming their rights. There seems no longer to be a recognized obligation of the individual to the collective, but rather the majority now pays obeisance to the concept of the rights of minorities.

All to the good, really, as long as minority rights don't obscure entirely the rights of the majority. That very same majority which, to some socially livable extent should absorb the minority in its midst for social cohesion. Differences observed and perhaps celebrated, but subsumed to the greater good of recognizing the majority values and social mores. Including a respect for the country's heritage and history.

Yet a recent study emanating from the British government's Department for Education and Skills indicates that teachers in some of its schools refuse to offer history lessons on the Holocaust or on the Crusades for the rather simplistic reason that they're unwilling to 'upset' their students who are Muslim. "Some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial", according to the report. In Britain, an EU country where the EU has just declared Holocaust denial unlawful.

And the Crusades are side-stepped as a topic of education in history as they would have a tendency to "contradict what is taught in local mosques". Incredible, as an admission of a country's failure to represent itself to all of its citizens, as historically accurate as possible, to imbue all of its citizens with a universal knowledge, inflicting the truth of history on students. That it is seen as acceptable to abrogate the necessity to teach truth and history in an education system whose purpose is to stimulate thought and discussion is mind boggling.

That it is seen as an acceptable device of tolerance to deny to young Muslim children the opportunity to learn the truth about human interactions, tragedies and past tragedies the better to prepare them for life in their adopted country is appalling. That it is seen as acceptable to practise 'non-interference' in a culture whose interpretation of world events so belie truth and accuracy is beyond belief.

To censor and side-step history in favour of cossetting a mendaciously ill-informed sub-group in society for fear of offending them is quite simply intolerable. The education system, through the dissimulation of these craven educators is setting the entire society up for a divisive and antagonistic future, simply because those who have the responsibility to teach would prefer not to challenge a religious group that prefers its history diluted to present its preference, not reality.

"Such behaviour constitutes a reinforcement of racism, intolerance and hatred in the name of a philosophy - political correctness - which is supposed to combat these things," according to one commentator. Rationality, responsibility has been completely abandoned in favour of cowardly prevaricators who have retreated to the barricades of surrender of reason. The liberal education system of the West, where instructors in reason are critical to the formation of healthy, enquiring minds has surrendered to mindless sanctimony.

When a society finds it expedient to tolerate those who espouse intolerance, they sign the death knell for their own future; they are prepared to collapse under the onslaught of delusional fundamental theism.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Africa Outdoes Itself

Or perhaps that should read Africa undoes itself, or does itself a grave injustice, or meets world expectations, simply because, given that continent's ongoing dark record on human rights abuses and grossly overt instances of national dysfunction the expectations are so abysmally low to begin with. There is so much human potential, there are so many raw resources, so many opportunities to become what African nations might aspire to for the sake of her people. Yet time and again one nation after another fails.

The ongoing resorting to a primitive tribal mindset, eschewing advanced and enlightened thought to lead to a working cohesion remains stubbornly resistant to change. Those dictatorial rulers who have assumed power through military means amply demonstrate that their sole interest is to advance their own economic well being. Without any kind of social conscience they happily liberate funds which Western countries donate in the hope of alleviating some of the social imbalance leading to mass malnutrition and endemic diseases which afflict those countries.

Zimbabwe's slow dissolution into dire national poverty with a stunning inflation rate that beggars the state and its people was a result of a tyrant whose ascension to power had been celebrated by the West in its hopes for the future. In its 27 years of independence, misrule has seen the former breadbasket of the continent slide into corruption, anarchy and chaos. Robert Mugabe's defiance of world opinion, his crippling of his country's economy, his persecution of his own debilitated population has earned the scorn of the West and the support of other African nations, most notably South Africa for whom great hopes for the future also appear to have been misplaced.

The wars in Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone and elsewhere in that benighted region have only served to enhance the already blighted opinion the world has of the continent. In some of these countries oil wealth has enriched the country while their population remains destitute, deprived of the nutrition and shelter, safety and medical needs any society requires for success. Those countries elsewhere on the globe who become energy clients of these failures hesitate to dilute their friendship born of energy greed with the conscience born of abuse of humanity.

Now the world's attention is momentarily brought to Nigeria, a huge and populous country with the world's seventh-largest oil reserves. Still under military rule posing as a quasi parliamentary system whose latest election it was hoped would lead to a civilian, democratic type of governance, those who rule Nigeria have gone out of their way to elevate corruption and greed, disregard for the needs of the nation and its 140 million people for their own purposes.

Villages in the country comprised of thousands of Nigerians are being taught a life-lesson in survival; violent deaths are meted out to ensure the lesson strikes home, and those residents understand they are not, on pain of death, to venture to voting booths. Which might be difficult under any circumstances, since thugs have been dispatched also to ensure that the ballot boxes, papers and other materials disappear; if they're not high-jacking the stuff by which elections are conducted, they're murdering those who would seek to cast their ballot.

And vote-rigging hasn't been overlooked, either, nor has the salubrious function of false accusations leading to imprisonment for adversaries of the current government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Whose intention it was to have a third mandate, denied him by law and by the lack of acquiescence by his vice-president, whom Obasanjo then turned around and accused of misappropriating over $100 million from the state treasury.

The ruling People's Democratic Party will be victorious; their candidate, hand-picked by Obasanjo to continue his governing policies will be handily voted into power by a population thoroughly besotted with their good fortune in living in such a wealthy country, administered by politicians who place love of country first and foremost.

"The money has been paid, everything is rigged out already," according to a police officer outside the remains of his office, burned to the ground last week by a mob.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another Myth Laid to Rest

After last year's scandal revolving around the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the resignation of its editorial staff in a disagreement with its Board of Directors, determined former editorial board members have launched the inaugural issue of a new Canadian medical journal on line, accessible to the lay public as well as medical professionals. Unlike the journal of the Canadian Medical Association, the new journal, Open Medicine, will not accept advertising and funding from pharmaceutical companies.

One of the papers published in the on-line journal is of real interest to Canadians and to the medical establishment in Canada as it puts to rest a myth about the quality of health care in this country and the cost of same to the public purse, vis-a-vis that which obtains in the United States. The authors of the report examined the results of 38 major studies comparing patient health outcomes in both countries, finding that the U.S. spent an average of $7,129 per person as opposed to the $2,956 per person spent in Canada.

Hitherto, we were given to understand that health care costs on average per person in both countries were roughly similar. Moreover, a greater number of studies appear to have favoured Canada over the United States with respect to morbidity and mortality. The studies covered a wide range of diseases and conditions, inclusive of cancer and coronary artery disease.

What this study points out is that those advocates of a two-tier system, the public, universal system Canadians have long enjoyed, existing alongside private, for-profit health care as an instrument to improve total delivery of health care services in this country will not solve our problems of lengthy wait times, nor offer improved health care delivery.

"There are issues in our health care system, but a lot of the people that are really pushing it to make it sound more dramatic than what it is have the potential to actually gain a lot financially (from for-profit care)," said McMaster University professor Dr. P.J. Devereaux, one of the authors of the report. "So part of it is to give people a reality check that, in fact, we actually have very good health outcomes in Canada."

The study indicates that in total health care delivery in Canada is equal to and in many areas surpasses that received by Americans. And that, furthermore, we're actually spending less than half of the U.S. health care system. What a surprise, since the doom-and-gloomers love to inform us constantly that we're receiving second-rate health care in comparison to the U.S.

And using that argument, repeated ad nauseum, to support their ongoing efforts to persuade Canadians that two-tier is the way to go. In the process, pressuring government to relent in its refusal to override the Canada Health Act, to permit the introduction of private, for-profit services. That is, private services which go well beyond that which we've already permitted to dilute, by necessity, the public health care system.

Needless to say the recent successful court challenge in Quebec has potentially opened new opportunities for advocates of two-tier medicine within Canada. And we do have medical clinics now operating outside of the Canada Health Act where individuals are willing to pay up front for speedy services. Translating effectively, as one system for the wealthy, another for the general public.

It's also helpful to remember the universal nature of our health care system, available to all Canadian citizens, irrespective of ability to pay for additional services. It is the very fairness of our system that is at the root of our Canadian social conscience. Which compares rather favourably, to say the least, to the situation prevailing in the United States where a huge proportion of working Americans have no access to medical insurance.

Medical and hospitalization charges for uninsured individuals translates to potential economic catastrophes for families facing huge bills they haven't the wherewithal to pay. Charity patients don't receive the same calibre of treatments available to their insured or wealthy counterparts. Individuals whose meagre means cannot cover needed medical procedures often eschew services which they need for optimum health outcomes.

Ten of the 38 studies included in the analysis enrolled broad populations, including extensive statistical adjustments with the results being that five favoured Canada, two the United States, and three indicated equivalent or mixed results. Of the remaining 28 studies, nine favoured Canada, three the United States and 16 indicated equivalent or mixed results. Which appears to place the quality of health care and outcomes in Canada well ahead of the status we've been spoonfed to believe is substandard, but the best we could attain to.

As an example of a specific condition where results favoured one country well over the other, Canadian patients with end-stage renal disease had a superior rating. The 17 doctors and researchers involved in the huge analytical study concluded that Canadians enjoyed a 5% lower death rate than people in the United States. That 5%, if supported by further studies, equates to approximately 6,000 deaths in hospital per year.

Nice to know we're doing all right, and striving for even better results.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Is Darfur's Rescue At Hand?

The government of Sudan whose Arab-dominated administration has been accused of genocide against black African Darfurians has finally relented, assenting to the United Nations request that a UN peacekeeping group be permitted to assist troops of the African Union in bringing an end to the current impasse. Over a period of four years, the government of Sudan's military along with Arab militias, the Janjaweed, have succeeded in incurring violence on ethnic blacks on a horrendous scale.

The Sudanese government's refusal to admit a 'white' UN peacekeeping group into the country to assist the poorly equipped and badly trained African Union force of 3,000 has meant that the mass displacement of black farmers and villagers, the rape of women and children, the rampant murders have simply continued despite the horrified objections of a seemingly powerless world body.

That two hundred thousand people have been killed and two and a half million left homeless is an unspeakable travesty of the United Nations' pledge to observe the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect.

Black Darfurians held in refugee camps are still ongoing victims of murder and rape when they venture outside the confines of the camps for firewood or water. The camps themselves have been subject to helicopter gunship strafing and bombing. Sudan has been immune to the world's pleadings, comfortable with its newfound wealth in oil and gas, supplying clients such as China, buying back from China weapons and military aircraft, and taking in investment funds for infrastructure support of its energy industry.

The insurrection of the ethnic black Sudanese that resulted in the current conflict was a reaction to the unfair treatment they experienced by their government, the neglect of their needs in favour of the Arab population within the country. A traditional live-and-let-live situation whereby the sheep-herders and the agriculturalists accommodated one another had become imperilled as a result of drought now thought to have been occasioned by climate change. The government response to the uprising was a swift and brutal one.

The UN's projected peacekeeping force has yet to be assembled from among volunteer countries represented by the UN membership, and that can take months yet before they can be deployed. The government in Khartoum makes no secret of its expectation that the African Union will lead the mission in Darfur, while the understanding is that the UN mission will be more widespread throughout Sudan.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir insists his country as a sovereign state, has the right and the obligation to 'protect' all its citizens - at the same time that the state has been complicit in the murder of so many of its citizens. He objects to the very thought of foreign peacekeepers using force should the need arise, to protect civilians.

"It is our responsibility to protect the civilians; nobody can take it from us," declared Sudan's ambassador to the United Nations. "This is a sovereign right." The logic of which should escape anyone with a time-line and past exposure to the various media presenting news coverage of the events as they unfolded over the past four years detailing the total carnage in Darfur.

Which is when the Islamic government mounted its response to the unrest and dissatisfaction in Darfur and, with the enthusiastic assistance of the Janjaweed swept across the country, destroying hundreds of villages in their wake, killing all inhabitants suspected of being rebel sympathizers. Which needless to say would have been anyone at all among the ethnic black Sudanese.

We can only hope that this will be the final note to this grim disaster, but Sudan has changed its mind on other occasions and may find it expedient to do so again.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Submission to Ego

The extent of incompetence of the British Navy in particular and the British government in general in dealing with the consequences of its relaxation of its professionalism is astounding. But no less so than the crass and juvenile behaviour of the conscripts it welcomes to serve in the once-hallowed Royal Navy. This is, after all, the follow-up to the egotistical 'me' generation, charitably taught that they could do no wrong, that the world belonged to them and they owe no one, no ideal, no individual, not their country, anything at all.

The selflessness that once permeated society when answering the call to duty in defence of one's country, its values, freedoms and ideals have been so utterly subverted by the prevailing social mores of self entitlement that it remains a dim memory of an anachronistic time long removed from the present. Pride has become personal, having nothing at all to do with the value inherent in representing a universal, let alone nation-wide ideal.

Patriotism and duty is now a flexible thing, an ideal that can be invoked or revoked, given the circumstances and how personally favourable they happen to be at any given time. Honour is a characteristic remotely recognized, but having very little substance in this time and this age. Courage and perseverance are truly out of the range of the capabilities of those who have come of age at a time of personal self-regard which stands first and foremost in a personal lexicon of priorities.

None of this is so dreadfully surprising. After all, it is a reflection of the tenor of our time. What is more disappointing, though, is the lack of humility through it all. That there does not exist a sense of personal shame, of having somehow failed to rise to the occasion, that is the let-down. Ameliorating circumstances are brought forward and confused emotions cited, but through it all there is a certain sense of bravado, a belief that the most explosively cringing and personally disabling response is acceptable because those circumstances pardons one.

And that, furthermore, that one is to be viewed charitably despite having succumbed to a fearfully self-serving mode, rather than having put forward the professional mien and attitude conditions warranted is beyond mere contempt. On the other hand, the inept and craven manner in which the 15 British servicemen (and woman) comported themselves while 'guests' of the government of Iran have been fully supported by their superiors.

Those very same superiors whose lack of forethought and foresight was partially responsible for the contretemps to begin with. To chastise the unfortunate subordinates would be tantamount to bringing public scrutiny upon themselves, after all. Which would then demand the occasion of an responsively official investigation, and that would be most uncomforting for all concerned.

And the government, blithely assuring the released servicemen (and woman) that it would be perfectly all right if they profited from their experience? And that there was not so much as a blush of shame on the part of some whose craven failings were aired for all to see, and who yet thought themselves entitled to receive cash awards for revealing the circumstances of their incarceration and subsequent demeaning responses?

Little wonder the government is now standing down from its former cavalier attitude in a paroxysm of embarrassed stupidity.


A Despot By Any Other Name

So after all, Vladimir Putin is nothing less than a vicious dictator. Surprise, surprise. No surprise. He brooks no dissent, finds it expeditious to his larger purpose to commit state murder like that other, unlamented father of his country, Joseph Stalin. The scale is different, the scope has been considerably reduced thanks to his more immediate predecessors, but the mindset, purpose and intent are all there. To successfully rule Mother Russia one must rule with an iron hand. This is, after all, the modus operandi that most Russians are themselves most familiar with, most agreeable toward, most comfortable with.

A proponent of social democracy he most certainly is not. Although he seems to feel "Russian-style democracy" is just fine, thank you very much. Alas, democracy Russian-style is not the kind of democracy recognized by the west, although it appears to suit the greater balance of Russian citizenry well. As one colleague to another, one head of state to another, one country at peace with the other, President Putin has called upon his British counterpart to render the billionaire expatriate Boris Berezovsky into official Russian hands.

For there most certainly does exist within and without Russia, many who would contest Mr. Putin's executive rule of the country, whose intent it is to re-introduce Russia to a system of governance more closely aligned with true democracy. Oh yes, there are other detractors of the current Russian state and its president, those who still mourn the passing of official communism in fond retrospection. But Mr. Berezovsky and Garry Kasparov and even the former prime minister of Russia, Mikhail Kasyanov are committed to the ideal of a true democracy for their country.

Mr. Putin has his own way of dealing with internal dissent, as he has with the stealth of those seeking to undermine his authority and the corrupt administration of Russia's affairs. Poison, radiation-contaminated substances ingested or administered, outright public shooting, any and all means required to ensure the stability of his reign. Investigative reporters who feel they can reveal the substance of illegal, immoral and deadly acts performed by state actors don't last very long in this Russia, nor do former state functionaries seeking to unseat Mr. Putin.

In his decision-making and official declarations, along with the persecution of those whose political and social prestige offer the opportunity to utter condemnatory fulminations against him - posing threats to his longevity however remote - his dictatorial behaviors bring to mind those of the irrationally geriatric leader of Zimbabwe. President Putin and his Kremlin buddies threaten police violence to be visited upon those taking part in demonstrations against his rule. Marches and demonstrations are banned, there is no official recognition given to opposition parties; their leaders and followers are rounded up and imprisoned.

All of which acts appear to do little to diminish the huge popularity within Russia enjoyed by President Putin, beloved of his people who cling to the man refusing to acknowledge let alone believe he is capable of doing wrong. His current position of state and popular dominance render him virtually invincible. His rule is so obviously exactly what Russians appear to wish for themselves. His governance is anti-constitutional; he has it in his power, given his wild approval ratings to extend for himself the privilege of vying for the popular vote a third time as president.

"It isn't possible to change this regime through democratic means. There can be no change without force, pressure." This assertion through the British media by Boris Berezovsky is quite the admission. If a country is content with its charming despot irrespective of the human rights crimes on his hands, how right is it to overthrow the current government to replace it with one which recognizes the rule of law which has been usurped to bring it in?


Friday, April 13, 2007

Fears, Fascination and the Paranormal

It's amazing how focused people can be on what they don't understand. Or what presents itself as a phenomena beyond normalcy, not readily adapted to scientific or rational explanation.

Peoples' obsessions with UFOs, with objects beyond the readily explicable, with the belief that extra-terrestrial beings are teasing us, visiting our planet, examining and studying our way of life, our bodily structures, our minds, are legend. Sightings are reported on a continual basis, often by people purporting to be of sound mind, and often enough in some kind of official capacity whose rationality is usually beyond reproach.

So we have government agencies investigating these inexplicable and often troubling occurrences where people claim to have been taken captive on board a spacecraft, and being subjected to surgical treatments.

We have credible witnesses swearing to having seen hovering, well-lighted spacecraft, flying in a manner unlike any spacecraft we have ourselves devised. We have conspiracy theories in abundance, that government knows the truth of these alien forays into our earthspace, but the evidence that they collect is strictly classified and cannot be breached, remaining closely-guarded state secrets.

Then there are the earthbound creatures of great perplexity which roam among us, rarely seen, but leaving indications of their existence behind from time to time for mankind to ponder. Great leviathans of the deep whose huge, undulating coils bring to mind primeval existence and which make their homes deep in lakes and seas. Huge, hairy humanlike creatures whose powerful bodies and Neanderthal-like heads make their surprising appearances from time to time, eluding cameras and teasing the terrified observer.

How about the irrational, but deep-seated fears people exhibit, believing that walking under a ladder will result in some personal tragedy? Or that seeing a black cat, particularly on Hallowe'en night is a prediction of bad things to follow? Or, heaven forfend, those suffering from a morbid fear of what evil can befall them on Friday the 13th. The 13th floor of a building doesn't exist because of peoples' fears relating to that deadly number.

Irrational fears to be sure, but in the depths of fear they instill in people, they take on a reality not readily explained. Do we inherit these fears, or are they handed down to us as dreaded fables?

And then there are the mysteries that we cannot quite explain, like the feeling that whatever you're doing at any given time has already been experienced by you at some earlier time. Deja vu. How many people are struck by the odd phenomenon of seeing the time 11:11 on a clock so often that you wonder just how this comes to be that you happen to glance so frequently at a clock and find those numbers blinking back at you. Scary, no?

Does human telepathy exist? What explains that suddenly the thought of someone will glance across your consciousness and next thing you know that person telephones you, or writes you a letter, or you just happen to bump into one another. Odd, how odd can it get? What about thought transference? Isn't it really peculiar that someone you're close to just happens to think the same thing you do at the same time? What's going on? Just as you pick up that ringing telephone, you instantly know who is on the other line. What?!!

There are those who claim to have 'felt' or 'seen' or 'dreamed of' an event that eventually, or very soon afterward actually occurs. How freaky is that? Of course, like faith in a belief of the Almighty, there is no scientific way that any of those can be 'proven' as a living phenomenon. These things appear to happen. There is no acceptable explanation for them. Science cannot give us proof that human telepathy exists, for example.

Here are some interesting examples about the human brain, about which, in fact, very little is known - where is the seat of the soul, for example, what is thought, where does it go?
  • More electrical impulses are generated in one day by a single human brain than by all the telephones in the world.
  • It is estimated that on an average day the human brain produces 70,000 thoughts.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Idle Rich

Ah, the wealthy in society, the idle rich. They're not, as the wag once famously proclaimed, 'like you and me'; after all, why should they be? They don't have to be pedestrian, they've got untold wealth. They needn't toil for scant remuneration, they've been born into great wealth or acquired it through clever entrepreneurship, or business acumen which recognizes that there are certain scruples and laws that pertain to some, but by no means all, aided and abetted by that other famous proverb: 'there's one born every minute'.

And I don't mean the wealthy, the unscrupulous capitalist, but those among the great unwashed who are cowed by wealth and afford its owners celebrity status by its very acquisition, or alternately - worship by default.

Human nature, that's just the way it is. Money makes the world go 'round, the world go 'round, the world go 'round. Those that have it may satisfy their every whim and conceit. It's the way it is. And while the rich are not like you or me, if you or I had that untold wealth at our disposal we could handily turn things around and yes indeed become just like them. But man does not live by lucre alone, and having an embarrassment of it at one's disposal can become, to some, simply palling, a downright bore, for nothing is beyond one's reach and there is nothing to be hoped for, nothing to aspire to, nothing to solve. Other than to sit and count it.

So the wealthy turn to other means of comfort and appeal, playing life games which in fact only the wealthy can afford to do. There are many options; set up charitable organizations in one's own name with one's own wealth, to dispense largess to those areas where the perceived need is greatest. Something akin to playing God, offering not salvation through righteous living, but through dispensation of wealth. The awesome power of distributing wealth for the purpose of alleviating dire straits visited upon helpless, hapless populations falls to some, and more power to them. For indeed, this is power - to sit in judgement in determining where one's investment will wreak the most 'good'. Adulation follows.

Whether it be making costly vaccines for impoverished peoples susceptible to dread diseases, or encouraging others in one's own stratosphere of national society to take up the good fight against global warming, the wealthy, the celebrities among us seek to enhance their legacy in life by providing inspiration and hope for others' futures. They may in their inner selves be wanting as decent and good human beings, but the artifice of compassionate caring can be readily accomplished through the good auspices of money-dispersal. It will be the good they accomplished when they could that will recall them to fond memory, not the manner in which they acquired the wherewithal to do so, or the sad dysfunction of their personal lives.

The celebrated, the wealthy and the politically accomplished can also aspire successfully to the highest position in the land. In third-world countries by military diktat, in capitalistic democracies by calling in their social and political favours to amass gaspingly-great sums of dispensable cash with which to run a political campaign. Needless to say, the recipients of such favour, themselves favour and befriend and eventually give pay-back to the great corporate boardrooms of their nation. Wealth, whether one's own, or that 'borrowed, with-interest-to-follow' can enable accession to the administrative power of a country through attainment of the stature of the most elevated position possible: sufficient funds and political smarts equal the opportunity of election to the highest level.

Humility is not an asset, nor is uncertainty whether or not an unchallenged intellect should aspire to that office. Being born to the manner and the manor are definite assets in this day, and in this age. Canada, for example, has had her own such in the likes of Paul Martin and Belinda Stronach, of late. Some politicians achieve the wealth they desired post-leadership with the considerable help of their 'friends' in high corporate places while others bring their wealth to bear upon their aspirational successes or lack thereof.

And then the wealthy make decisions, having attained their coveted positions of power, that impact directly upon our lives; we live with the fall-out of their decisions, they have the option, much exercised of walking away from their folly.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Rabid Xenophobia of the Southern U.S. Police

Brings back rather unfond memories to read of a Saturday night adventure granted a young Canadian university student from Ottawa transiting Georgia with her husband, brother-in-law and another friend on their way through to a Florida vacation. This young woman was apprehended on the basis of two relatively minor traffic infractions by Georgia state police officiously protecting their country from the vicious predations of visitors from Canada. The young woman was fingerprinted, mugshot taken, stripped and showered and dressed in a jail outfit to sleep overnight in a prison cell alongside two other female inmates, while observers in other cells jeered and leered their approval of the proceedings.

Cheryl Kuehn, 23 years of age, a student at Carleton University, was admittedly injudicious enough to have driven some 20 mph above the zoned speed limit and failed to stop at a stop sign. All bad decisions, each of which should have garnered her traffic infraction tickets. At the very least, in the interests of good relations and encouraging tourism, her explanation might even have garnered her a stern warning. Instead the Georgia state trooper who confronted her as she parked outside a restaurant informed her she had to post a bond. She was driven in his cruiser to the detention centre where she spent the next 11 hours waiting for release.

It was explained to her that legitimate procedures were being followed when dealing with foreign nationals bringing attention to themselves through law infractions. A procedure which included being held - despite being able to show a valid passport - until such time as clearance was received from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency indicating that presence in the U.S. was considered to be legal. In fact, that clearance, once the Agency was contacted, came through in 11 minutes, a fact not shared with Ms. Kuehn. And the bond money demanded before release was in her husband's hands before an hour was up. Yet the young woman was forced to spend the night in custody.

"I'm not a terrorist. I'm a blond, petite woman from Canada, trying to go to Florida to celebrate graduating my master's in social work," said Ms. Kuehn. "They knew I was a tourist from Canada. They were treating me like an (illegal) immigrant." The wrong exit she took attempting to leave I-95 near Brunswick, Georgia, occasioned the U-turn which in turn brought this young woman to the misery she suffered through the decisions made by the state trooper, along with all the other officials who happily supported his decision. Jail officials offered no explanations to the young woman and she was not permitted to call the Canadian Consulate for assistance.

A truly memorable experience for the young woman celebrating her social work credentials with her husband. An experience which accords well with some that my husband and I were treated to on several occasions while we lived in Atlanta, Georgia. And we weren't mere tourists travelling through the state en route to another destination. We were legal residents of the state, albeit as Canadians attached to a diplomatic mission. But we were not Americans, and as Canadians, regardless of our status, we were obviously thought by policing authorities to be less worthwhile than any Americans, despite their status, despite the circumstances.

One occasion saw us travelling from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia, during our first year of residence in Georgia. We had left Atlanta fairly early in the morning, discovering the highway, on Easter week-end, to be full of like-minded travellers. Halfway to our destination I became aware of a little drama in the traffic lane beside our own, where the driver of a van appeared to be having difficulties slowing down in the heavy traffic. The van kept hitting the compact-sized car in front of it, in the thick of traffic. I pointed this out to my husband who had already noted it, and in a split instant the van veered away from the car it had kept nudging and into our lane, hitting us and sending our own car off the outer lane and into the ditch beside it, the van following after us.

We were in shock, but unhurt, while our newly-acquired vehicle suddenly didn't quite resemble its proudly intact exterior any longer; part of the side and the back crushed, with something sizzling under the hood. The very car that the van kept hitting made its way to the outer lane and came to rest between our vehicle and the van. A woman exited the car and ran over to the van. A witness, was my first thought, seeing the traffic resuming as though nothing untoward had occurred. But we soon realized that the woman was concerned about those in the van, not us. It was her 17-year-old-son who was driving, and the van was full of teen-agers, 9 in all. The young van driver had panicked, unable to control the van, continuing to hit his mother's car, took the only action he could think of to stop hitting that car by swerving into our lane and nailing us.

A traffic cruiser pulled up shortly, two officers pulled out notepads and began questioning everyone. It was obvious that we were physically shaken up. It was even more obvious that we were angry, outraged that such a stupid incident had occurred. That an inexperienced young driver had been encouraged to drive on a busy highway, with the lives of 8 other young people in his hands. That we were made a target in the young driver's desperation to stop hitting his mother's car. That this little scenario occurred at all. That we were left shaken and our property damaged and disabled because of stupid decisions made by stupid people. There was no sympathy extended toward us as innocent victims of this stupidity.

It soon became obvious that the sympathies of the state police were entirely with the mother, the young son, inadequate as their story might have been in endangering a gaggle of young people along with all the other vehicles on the road. There wouldn't be so much as a ticket written along the lines of dangerous driving. We were told, in just so many words, that this represented an unfortunate occurrence; we were in the wrong place at the wrong time, despite our protestations that there should be charges laid against both drivers, mother and son. Didn't happen, wouldn't happen. We were just told we'd have to forget about it and toddle on our way. Canadians, eh?

Several years later, driving along some back country roads on our way to launch a canoe in Georgia we experienced another example of the kind of treatment accorded "foreign nationals" in the Deep South. My husband was driving our car, pulling a trailer with a canoe. I was in our youngest son's car. He was doing a research project for University of Georgia that summer between his master's and doctorate degrees, and we spent week-ends together. Our son's car was in the lead, my husband hauling the trailer behind, as we drove up a hill toward our destination, a put-in for a nearby river. Suddenly, over the top of the hill a car came careening down, partly on the right-hand side, way out of his lane. Some quick maneuvering spared us from a direct head-on hit, but we were broadsided.

The car that hit us just kept going; my husband attempted to turn and speed after the car, forgetting he was hauling a trailer and jack-knifed the trailer. After we ascertained the damage, and there was plenty, although again no one was hurt, we straightened out the trailer and turned around, headed back in the direction we'd come from, to report the incident. At the small nearby town we entered the local police station and gave our account of what had occurred. The officer who took the details of our report was pretty disinterested, gave his opinion that it was people like us, from the "big city" who drove recklessly in those parts, not the residents. Tough, but they weren't taking any responsibility for anything. Canadian, eh?

Although the U.S. South likes to think of itself as a generous-hearted, courteous and polite society, this is a superficial blind, not to be confused with an open and fair consideration of people who don't represent the same political, social, cultural, religious background. So there are some fairly wide differences between what obtains in fair treatment and equality under the law in the United States and in Canada.


Monday, April 09, 2007

It's Time

It's a start. Perhaps it's a start that will lead to a breakthrough. We can hope so. The world looks on, hardly knowing what to think. Is this finally a legitimate road to somewhere? Will it finally lead to an end to that impossible impasse? Is it possible that the indomitable will not to bend will relax and allow itself flexibility in the name of humanity? Still, it remains an uneven situation with so many disturbing sidebars and deadly incidents it's hard to believe that the protagonists will become partners in discussions leading to a hopeful future.

Wasn't it only yesterday that I read words issued from Mahmoud Abbas, a declaration that the Palestinian Authority is prepared to release the captured Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit? With no strings attached, as a goodwill gesture, a peace move, an indication that the PA is serious about working toward peace. And didn't I think to myself, what? again!? No quid pro quo? Likely! Even so, today's news reveals that Hamas, the other half of the PA has handed over a list of Palestinians held in Israeli jails; a wish list for the release of Palestinians incarcerated for their active acts of sabotage and murder against the legitimacy of Israel.

"These names have been presented to the Egyptian [mediators], who in turn have presented it to the Israeli side", Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. "There is clear progress in the fact a list of names has been presented." The opaque language of the Middle East. This is progress? The presentation of a list of prisoners to be released? Is there an underlying message that with the release of the Palestinians, this gesture will be one of trust enabling, not only the release f Corporal Shalit, but the recognition by Hamas that they are a nascent state dealing with a well-established state whose presence and legality is now accepted unconditionally by Hamas?

Or do we, as usual, read too much into such situations, wishing to believe it to be so? It might, and it conceivably could be so. Although Mr. Barhoum did not divulge the numbers the list represented, Israeli media reported the roster listed roughly one thousand, three hundred Palestinians. That is one awful lot of people to be released into a still unsteady atmosphere of 'resistence by all means against occupation'. In previous such releases of Palestinian prisoners when the State of Israel agreed to hand over Palestinians in their hundreds in exchange of a handful of Israelis, most of the released Palestinians simply reverted to the same terror tactics against the state which had originally caused their imprisonment.

Is this the scenario Israel is facing yet again? Or are the possibilities deeper and more meaningful to all concerned? Can this mean some progress in talks between Israel and the PA can be assured? Some of the names on this long list represent Palestinians whose flirtation with terrorism has tagged them with the blood of Israeli citizens. Israeli is not too fond of the remoteness of releasing murderers of her people to freedom, and the potential to recreate the same situations that prevailed when they were caught, judged and imprisoned. Where is Solomon when you need his great wisdom?

On the other hand, there is one particular prisoner, a long-time resident of the Israeli prison system. He in particular has the ear and the loyalty of many Fatah members, and was indeed elected into the PA parliament in the last election that also brought Hamas to power. Qassam Barghouti, himself recently released from the Israeli prison cell which he shared with his father claims his father Hamid has changed. "He believes that what happened in 1948 is a part of history and we, as Palestinians, must now accept that there will always be an Israel" the young man claimed. "The only solution for this conflict must be two states side by side, an Israeli state and a Palestinian state."

Amen. Perhaps there is indeed hope for the future.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Conduct Unbecoming

Well, whatever did happen to name, rank and number? Under the Geneva Convention that is all a member of a country's military captured during times of combat is expected to deliver. In the case of the 15 British military seamen absconded by the Iranian Republican Guard this is most definitely not what occurred. When the decision was made in Tehran to stage this abduction in the very best tradition of international behaviour unbecoming any country proud of being a respected part of the world community, they were no doubt uncertain what their own next step would be, beyond bellicose accusations and issuing threats to young and inexperienced military personnel in their temporary keep.

One imagines they felt triumphant at their successful coup and nervous at the very same time about the uncertain outcome of their audacious little adventure on the high seas. In the end, although they certainly gained their share of scorn by other nations, as much for their silly bombast as for the deed at hand, they doubtless feel they came off pretty well. Their bullying was, after all, highly successful. They completely cowed the young marines and sailors into attitudes of abject apology in response to their self-acknowledged violations of Iranian territorial waters.

Are we to assume that the her Royal Majesty's Royal Navy has become so lax, so degraded in their protocol that they not only failed to properly ascertain that their personnel, engaged in UN-sanctioned inspections were in full sight and protection at all times to avoid just such an event, one that had already occurred years earlier and for which a recurrence could be found to be an inexcusable lapse of due diligence? That discipline and the need to properly train personnel was at such a low ebb that personnel had not received the training they would require to enable them to behave in a manner becoming their nation's proud and able military representatives?

Are recruits into the Royal Navy so insecure, shallow and self-absorbed that they are considered to be untrainable, and better let them get on, on their own recognizance, any which way that circumstances led them to? "Throughout our ordeal", said Lieutenant Felix Carman, their spokesperson at a press conference at a military base in England, "we faced constant psychological pressure". Well yes, they would. They were not, after all, playing cops and robbers in a back alley of Liverpool.

Threats and carrots were employed by their Iranian interrogators to convince these prisoners that their situation would seem infinitely more appealing if they were to admit that their country's presence was a deliberate trespass into Iranian waters. And so they relinquished the truth to expediency. Were they ever taught otherwise, that to give their name, rank and number in response would be sufficient, in such troubling situations, should they ever arise? Well, admissions of guilt were forthcoming, handily enabling Tehran to see her way through to a magnanimous gesture, urged on by the more moderate among their ruling elites.

That's swell, that means everyone is happy. Iran is thrilled to have got these nuisances off their hands, having, they feel, made their point, and the hostages are content to be sent back home into the welcoming arms of their worried, but now happy families. And Britain? She grins and bears it, and bears also the news of fresh new deaths of her service people abroad. Britain also has a new appreciation of just who her trustworthy friends are, given this fresh new experience.

Do the young hostages have anything to answer for? Their initial inhibitions about how their submission to fear and uncertainty would be received appears to have been appeased by their enthusiastic welcome home. Forgotten are their effusive thanks and gratefulness for 'forgiveness' of their trespass, given with a sincere smile to President Ahmadinejad. Forgotten are the suggestions that their country's troops need not be abroad where 'they don't belong' by members of those very troops so proudly representing their country abroad.

And their subsequent behaviour? Let's be practical, after all. Wouldn't it be just damn silly to overlook the serendipitous opportunity to earn big money by 'selling' their spectacular story?


Friday, April 06, 2007

Spiritual Needs of Human Faith

Odd how so many of the world's population turn to the emotional, spiritual and social support of a belief in a holy spirit, an all-seeing, all-forgiving, all-powerful being whose oversight of all that exists gives hope to believers and provides balm for the spiritual needs of those who believe. The comfort that people derive from their belief of an unseen spiritual presence overlooking their lives cannot be underestimated. For so many their belief in the divine gives meaning to their otherwise-impoverished lives.

The manifestations on earth of this unearthly presence in whom so many place their ultimate trust, their undying devotion are the messengers the divine presence has sent to this mortal coil to assure the faithful of his presence, his compassionate regard and his determination to have the masses place first and foremost in their minds obedience to his supreme presence.

The divine spirit's messengers, prophets and those through whom his work has been seen to be done inspire others by their trusting alliance with the presence on high. For Buddhists it is the figure of Buddha in his many guises, for Hindus, their inspired holy men, for Muslims, the prophets, chief among them Muhammad, for Christians the holy trinity, for Jews the figure of Moses and vast generations of faith-inspired prophets and interpreters of the holy word.

Ancient writings of the world's religions inspire worshippers of god to attain to a higher level of human behaviours, invoke restraint of ungovernable emotions. To hold blind faith in the higher purpose of the worshipped figure. To generally uphold the belief of goodness, to treat others with respect and kindness in the name of the holy spirit. Faith requires no direct proof of existence; it enables worshippers in their great need to believe, to bypass another human instinct; that of demonstrable proof.

Still, people are left vulnerable to the very suggestions of their own needs, seeking subliminally for some certitude that eludes faith. A symptom of some kind, a holy sighting, a visitation, a gesture that could only have come from one on high, a phenomenon not readily explained rationally that must have its inspiration from the divine. As miracles cannot be explained other than by faith, an experience that presents as immune to rational explanation is sought as confirmation of the existence of the divine.

So can innocents suddenly encounter events so out of the ordinary, so inexplicably immune to reason and the experience of reality that they can only be taken as a sign of god's existence. Evidence is seen in the appearance on an otherwise-ordinary wall of the outline of a holy figure, that of the mother of Christ. Word spreads of the vision and the faithful flock to view it, to authenticate its presence with their very eyes as proof of the presence of the divine.

Visions can be found in the most unlikely places; the visage of Christ outlined on a cookie sheet, that of his mother Mary on a piece of toast, a grilled cheese sandwich; Mother Teresa on a commercial bun. A fish can be found upon which is written in Arabic script the word Allah on one side, on the other that of Muhammad. The faithful scrutinize without realizing their search for meaning and inspiration, and discover visions that prove their faith.

A statue of the Virgin Mary sheds tears and this is seen as a holy communication from on high. Word of mouth soon has the faithful streaming in droves to witness the miracle. A crucifix with the figure of the tortured Christ begins to show droplets of blood, and no one appears to be able to apply any acceptable scientific logic to explain phenomena not of this world. The Catholic church may even step in and after long deliberations, give it the stamp of authenticity.

A special place of worshipful respect is given to artifacts said to be related to some holy figure of the past. A shroud which was said to have been used to wrap the dead body of Christ and upon which can be seen an outline of the holy figure. Bone shards said to represent the ankle-bone of a significant biblical-historical figure given a shrine in a holy place of worship. This is what people demand, this is what the church upholds.

There are times when science intervenes, as when tests indicate that the shroud of Turin, although aged, may not be of the period in question, and indeed represents an example of holy fakery. Objects very much venerated for their connection to fabled religious figures of note have been copied since time immemorial; splinters of wood taken from Christ's cross; bits of fabric said to have been worn by a holy figure.

Religious artifacts of faith that have inspired peoples' veneration over the ages cannot be truly authenticated. Their authenticity is taken as a matter of spiritual trust, a need to believe in their existence as a symbol of divine presence. They fulfill an all-too-human need of worshippers who require the inspiration of these symbols to uphold their faith.

Scientific analysis has recently confirmed that the remains of the French saint, Joan of Arc don't really date from 1431, but from two millennia earlier in time. Carbon dating demonstrates the human bone artifacts were in fact that of a mummy, someone who died 2,000 years earlier than the Saint. These same venerated bones are kept in a French museum, dutifully "authenticated" by the Roman Catholic Church.

People are, after all, suggestible, willing to suspend disbelief for the greater happiness of believing and finding comfort in visions, in sacred visitations, in god's kindly dispensation of opportunities to enhance belief in his existence. Proof, where faith demands none. Proof that is hailed as his divine intervention in the paltry affairs of mankind. The truly pious are willing to pay large sums of money to acquire these symbols of god's existence.

Great holy pilgrimages to places like the shrine at Lourdes, to the Ganges River, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, to Buddhist temples and shrines become the highlight of peoples' religious lives. This is all to the good. People need to believe in something that inspires them, that relates to their idea of their presence on earth, that gives meaning and value to their existence.

On the other hand there are also vast numbers of people who profess no belief in the existence of an inspiring spirit of goodness and who find their own salvation in exemplary human behaviour through an appreciation of life itself and our presence within nature's bounty.

In a landscape of troubles where humankind does not always act in a collaboratively humane manner yet seeks to do otherwise - to behave in the laudable manner in which the sages and clerics would have us do in recognition of god's word to mortal souls - one supposes people need all the help they can get to secure a feeling of peace, to credit values and meaning in life.

Those who can see their way clear to setting guidelines and goalposts for themselves along the journey from life to eternity simply perform as best they can of their own volition.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Stewards of Plenitude

We inhabit a world that for the fortunate offers all that could be desired for human satisfaction. A plenitude of foods, stable personal shelter, the security of law and order, a country blessed with ample fresh water so lacking elsewhere in the world, our health-care and educational needs assured by our societal-minded government agencies. In fact, we are entertained by all manner of cultural and artistic exhibitions by the talented among us, along with tax-payer supported institutions which help us to understand our past to better form our futures.

With such a beneficent ambiance how is it that we have never learned the discipline of governing our predilection toward greed and super-acquisitiveness well beyond our needs? Because we are human, with all the faults of humanity - and more's the pity. Because it is pitiable that we continually demand more of anything that can be available, from our basic necessities of life to the kind of luxury goods that enhance life, but aren't at all required to sustain life.

For our short-term satisfactions before going on to greater consumption of energy and resources, we demand more of everything. In the process managing to pollute our very atmosphere, the air we breathe, compromising our health and that of the flora and fauna that live alongside us in our geography made our very own. We deplete existing resources and search for additional or compensatory resources. We complain about the ever-rising prices of commodities, although it's our wasteful use of them that add to their greater costs.

In seeking solutions to our energy-absorbing and depleting lifestyles we are now turning to the unspeakable; growing grains for the purpose of establishing a replacement energy resource, because, we say, it's sustainable and reproducible and never-ending. Huge corporations will take over from family farms to grow corn to produce ethanol to run alternate-energy-source vehicles. In countries where corn is a nutritional diet staple having suddenly to face a challenge for this life-saving food source, this is a disaster in the making.

We've gone from grazing corn-fed cattle which require enormous amounts of vegetation capable in itself of feeding large portions of a population to feed a relative few wealthy meat consumers. Turning now to the vegetation itself, vulgarizing it into an alternate energy source. Which will also, in its use, produce as much polluting carbon as any other energy source. Are we Man the Wise? We're impacting our closest environments on every level, and deleteriously.

With climate change we face the additional problems of an increasing lack of fresh water, not only for direct human consumption but also to water domestic animals and growing crops. With a potentially notable future decrease in the world's fresh water resources we have the spectre of farmers and herders in third-world (emerging markets economies) countries where each becomes the antagonist of the other, both struggling to maintain themselves. The herders' flocks require grazing fields in direct competition with the farmers who require the fields for agriculture. We can feed greater numbers of people with grains than with meat.

This scenario of herder-versus-farmer is what has propelled the crisis in Sudan. The Arab animal herders in competition for grazing land, opposed to the need of farming communities to safeguard arable land to grow crops to feed their population. The growing scarcity of resources compels attitudes that blame one side for complications suffered by the other. Where at one time the herders and the farmers made an effort to accommodate one another, where herders could graze their flocks on lands recently harvested, a larger influx of herders has swamped the ability of compromise to the detriment of the farmers.

People will be faced in the near future, if predictions about global climate change materialize to the extent forecasted, with decreasing geographical areas on which to settle and share resources. Our increasing use of arable land in developing economies for road infrastructure, factories and housing settlements results in less land available for agricultural purposes; particularly when the best agricultural lands are precisely those which have been targeted for 'development', further compounding the problem.

With the gradual advent of global warming comes the potential for encroaching desertification, along with coastal erosion, particularly in Asia where rising ocean levels and storm surges will affect low-lying areas and deltas in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and China, whose populations will be forced eventually to higher ground in massive migrations. Human settlements in areas close to or even below sea level will be imperilled and human habitation become impossible in those and other critical regions of the world.

Those fortunate areas of the world like many in the West which are less populated than the East will be faced with the necessity of absorbing larger and larger numbers of people forced out of their traditional homelands by the juggernaut of climate change. Population density will increase dramatically in parts of the world where it is already thought a sufficient number of immigrants have been absorbed, impacting on traditional demographics. Will human beings be sufficiently welcoming of a new reality that flings people in greater numbers together in a tighter geographic area?

It's always been known that there is a risk in establishing sea-surging tsunamis. Those risks have been multiplied by the inevitability of global climate change.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Who'se a Hypocrite?

Imagine a panel of objective adjudicators judging the credibility of individuals appearing before them for the purpose of persuading the panel that their informants' conclusions that all is not entirely well with their countries' observations of human rights hearing statements such as these:
  • The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations addresses a letter to the panel terming the Holocaust a "historical claim", disputing the "number of perished".
  • The Nigerian ambassador to the UN speaks of attacks on homosexuals as having a certain air of legitimacy, for "Death penalty by stoning for unnatural sexual acts should not be equated with extrajudicial killings".
  • A Sudanese official in support of his country's actions against its black population claiming that "Incidents of violence against women have been exaggerated".
  • The Cuban ambassador to the UN derides a UN expert's report on human-rights abuses in Cuba as "libellous", informing her that "there is a significant contribution you can make, and that would be by quitting."
  • The delegate from Zimbabwe hails his Finnish counterpart as "ignorant", accusing him of "astonishing and astounding hypocrisy".
Guess it just comes with the territory. You've got a job to do, you intend to give it your best, and you roll with the blows. After all, you're part of the United Nations' Human Rights Council. Oh, you say, that group. Aren't they the ones that were discredited years ago because their members were comprised of countries well known for their excessive human-rights abuses? Weren't they called the UN's Human Rights Commission? Good recall.

But this is a new group, named the Human Rights Council. And on this council sit countries like Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia to name but a few of the member-states of the 47-member council. Canada included. What glorious company Canada has on this illustrious human-rights-defending council. And what demonstrates most clearly the sterling work done by this council?

The Human Rights Council established an ad hoc committee to look into the situation in Darfur; the report they produced placed blame squarely on the Arab-led government of Khartoum as being deliberately behind most of the violence during which tens of thousands of black Darfurians have been murdered, women and children raped, and several million people displaced. The Khartoum government, with its proxy janjaweed militia are continuing their genocidal persecution, unperturbed by world opinion.

Why should they care? They've been able to refuse the United Nations' continued requests to allow a UN peacekeeping group to monitor the situation and bring the assaults to a halt, something the ill-equipped and inadequately-trained African Union troops have been unable to do, standing by helplessly as the attacks continue. And the Human Rights Council will not itself endorse the accusation of government-sponsored genocide on the part of Khartoum. They are merely 'deeply disappointed'.

As indeed, are we all. Last month, the Geneva-based UN Watch issued a report card hitting pretty close to home, charging Canada, a member of the Human Rights Council, of rarely taking the opportunity to speak out against injustice visited upon innocent people by the world's global bullies. Canada joined other member states on the Council, in supporting the tepid disappointment evidenced in the face of Khartoum's continued murderous rampage on its civilians.

But Hillel Neuer, head of the UN Watch monitoring group made no secret of the fact that the reincarnation of the discredited Human Rights Commission is as critically infiltrated by human-rights-abusing countries as its failed predecessor. Their resolutions are invariably engineered o excuse the worst human-rights excesses, for it simply makes sense that those who practise such abuse cannot afford to point a finger of accusation at others whose abuses may simply be slightly more egregious than their own.

The Human Rights Council will permit some criticism of its members and their findings; witness the examples above. But it will not countenance criticism that places the onus of responsibility upon it to produce resolutions that are meaningful, when their constant critiques against one country and one country alone are juxtaposed with their track record. It's perfectly all right in their considered group opinion to denounce perceived human rights violations focused on Israel, and this it regularly engages in.

Mr. Neuer hit a sore nerve in the collective sensibilities when he used forbidden terms such as "Middle East dictators", the "racist murderers and rapists of Darfur women", the "occupiers of Tibet", and the "butchers of Muslims in Chechnya". Hits too close to home for comfort.


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Human Rights, UN-Style

When Hillel Neuer, executive director of the NGO United Nations Watch spoke to the 4th plenary session of the UN Human Rights Council last week, he outlined the disappointment experienced by people whose sense of morality has been outraged by the investigations, pronouncements, actions and behaviours of the re-named UN Human Rights Council. Which has proven to be as uselessly, maddeningly cynical as its predecessor. Not altogether surprising, given the make-up of its members.

Deep deliberations on the part of the Human Rights Council on the dreadful situation in Sudan, recognizing through their investigative activities that Khartoum was directly implicated and indeed responsible for the mass killings in Darfur, nonetheless resulted in a statement that evaded placing responsibility on the government of Sudan, avoiding naming the murderous carnage genocide, and lamely expressed "deep concern" with respect to the murders of hundreds of thousands of innocent Sudanese, and the systematic rape of women and children.

Like its parent body the Council has a great reluctant to "name, blame and shame". Human rights excesses may be investigated and details may result, but the end of it is that an expression mildly recognizing the situation as unfortunate is brought forward, with the innocuous suggestion that the perpetrator kindly consider ceasing activities. Members of the Council themselves come from the very strata of world members known for their human-rights abuses, such as China, Russia and Cuba. The role of China and Russia in watering down resolutions against abusers has become legendary.

China, itself so well known for its treatment of religious minorities, its occupation of Tibet, its threat to Taiwan independence, its aggressively deadly pursuit of Falun Gong members, is happy to do business with Sudan, a situation that enriches both countries; offering China an ongoing and reliable energy source, while Khartoum reaps the benefit of Chinese investments. China refuses to confront Sudan, unsurprisingly, on its horrendously genocidal assaults.

The Human Rights Council's own commissioned fact-finding mission issued a statement that found Sudan's government "has manifestly failed to protect the population of Darfur from large-scale international crimes". The response of the Council was to 'take note' of the report. And file it away forever. Rather than agree that the UN mandate to serve and protect should be translated into an insistence that Khartoum accept a UN peace-keeping force to assist the African Union, instead of awaiting permission to act.

Even mild-mannered, carefully egalitarian, proudly multicultural Canada has been singled out by the Council for censure for its use of the term "visible minorities" in government documents for the purpose of lifting them into the general sphere of job-sharing as an easily-identifiable device. The UN Council declared this term of visibility an expression of unacceptable racism. Not to mention the obsessive and sole-country condemnation of Israel year after year by the Council for what it purports to be human-rights abuses, overlooking cause and effect or human-rights abuses regularly expressed by others in the region.

Mr. Neuer's long-overdue criticism that the Council has wilfully ignored crises all over the world, from Zimbabwe to Central Asia and Darfur, to Arab-on-Arab murders in Iraq and Gaza, while steadfastly targeting the only democratic nation in the Middle East for ongoing censure was not well received by the Council's president, Luis Alfonso De Alba of Mexico, who angrily let it be known that the dignity of the Council was not to be impugned by anyone, for any reason.

That's the United Nations style of defence of human rights. Seems some things simply will not change.


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