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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And He's Not The Only One...

It's a sad indictment of the Roman Catholic Church that it chose to align itself with General Francisco Franco's fascist ideology for the future of Spain. Many of its churches have in place proud Nationalist plaques and stained glass windows, installed in honour of "Those Who Fell for God and for Spain".

Mementos of the past which will now have to be removed, unfortunately. For the simple reason that to retain them, under new legislation, will result in defying the law.

The government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has enacted a new law titled The Law of Historical Memory which declares that all symbols related to General Franco and his Falange movement must be removed from public buildings. To do otherwise is to bring down the wrath of the government.

And unless the Catholic Church respects this new legislation, government funding to Catholic schools will be no more.

The memory of the 1936-39 civil war, and the 36 years that followed of fascist totalitarian rule continues to divide Spaniards in their loyalties, some siding with Franco's rule, others with the Republicans - communists who were supported by the Soviet Union. During the Spanish Civil War an international brigade was established with volunteers pouring in from all corners of the globe to defeat fascism.

Including one and a half thousand Canadian volunteers, determined to fight for freedom - half of whom died in the attempt. A failed one, at that. During the next three decades of Franco's rule, fifty thousand Republicans were executed, tens of thousands incarcerated. Resulting in bitter memories and an ongoing polarization of opinion within Spain.

But this current government is seeking to make amends, rehabilitating victims of the Franco regime, removing all symbols of the Franco and Falange movement; whether plaques, street signs or statues. Through declaring verdicts of summary trials held by the Franco regime against political challengers as illegitimate, the slate is wiped clean for victims' families who may now seek legal redress and compensation.

The offspring of Republicans who were forced to flee into exile may now regain Spanish citizenship. Mr. Zapatero himself will now experience peace of mind with the thought that his grandfather, executed by Falange forces, can have his memory honoured in law as well as in spirit.

The Archbishop of Pamplona urges Spaniards on each side of the issue "to look for ways to forget". Perhaps now they may be able to.

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Script! Re-Write...

Who? He said what exactly?! Fancy that. And here I had read, you read, we've all read, of Vladimir Putin lamenting the long-lost brotherhood of man exemplified by the late United Soviet Socialist Republic. Refresh my memory: did he not also speak of Josef Stalin at some point in rather glowing terms? Reflectively nostalgic for a time now past. As time and events have a habit of transiting human constructs.

Yet here is that very same Vladimir Putin, a very busy man on the world stage, of inestimable importance and entitled respect, airing another view entirely. One can understand. We are so often conflicted in our emotions and opinions. Recalling some events and characters with fondness while yet nudging past memory about some of the less palatable instances and observances outlined by history.

The president, speaking at commemorative ceremonies on the outskirts of Moscow - the Day of Memory for Victims of Political Repressions in memory of Stalin's purges in 1936-1938 - allows that the Soviet Union had lost sight of "fundamental" human values. Furthermore, that it was essential in a decent society to preserve political diversity. Um, yes. And where are Mr. Putin's political challengers languishing as he speaks?

Details, bloody details, they always get in the way of a good story.

Still, give the man his due, he is publicly aligning himself with a view that the past was full of flaws and human tragedies, when "ideas that seem attractive but prove to be empty are placed above fundamental values: human life and the rights and liberties of man." Trump that, if you can.

"For our country this is a particular tragedy. Its dimensions are huge, hundreds of thousands, millions of people were exterminated, people who had their own opinions and were not afraid to express them - the cream of the nation." Amen. No disputation. For a while back there it seemed he cared not a whit about human rights and the preservation of humanity. How mistaken can you be?

Not everyone is convinced, though. In the words of a representative from the organization For Human Rights in Russia: "It's a public relations exercise". Listen, even if it is, it's a nice exercise. I like it. If it's repeated often enough it may just make a desired dent. Those who hear it may anticipate that whoever expresses these views may become sufficiently engaged with them to begin to practise them.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Starvation Versus Slavery

The archaic world of slavery and of child labour stubbornly hangs on into our modern age. Although the elements of human need and desires not complementary to each other, but in opposition, where the human need resides in one country and the desires in yet another. The situation remain steadfast though we claim to have outgrown the need to manipulate and drain emerging countries' peoples for super-charged countries' casual desires.

We speak of our obligations toward others in less favourable circumstances to ours. To uphold their human rights for security and freedom. Yet in countries that are emerging economic presences, freedom is a moot point when security is interpreted as having a roof over one's head and sufficient food to stave off hunger. The Western world is still lingering in the vampire's mode of violating third-world peoples' needs.

Commercial enterprises like the famous clothiers - the Gap no less - are still being implicated in providing desired fashionable clothing to its avid customers through the process of employing child labour in production. The child rights charity Global March Against Child Labour has revealed that little boys as young as eight were employed as unpaid labourers in sweat shops in New Delhi.

Be careful what you shop for, eagerly unaware consumers in the West, for what you garb yourself with might be the results of a child's clumsy, or nimble fingers carefully hand stitching the garment you so proudly wear. Children, themselves dressed in ragged underwear, were taken by police out of these sub-contracted slave shops and handed over to a rehabilitation centre near New Delhi.

The children were terrified, fearful of apprehension, of having done something for which they would pay dearly. Not realizing that they were being rescued from lives of unrelenting slavery, fed little and much demanded of them. From impoverished rural families whose parents could not feed them, this had become their lives. Their families were represented by the other slave children by whom they were surrounded.

The charity will now give attention to engaging in a process to render financial compensation to the children before returning them to their rural villages and families. With the compensation their families will welcome their return and the funds should assist them in purchasing the food they so badly lack. But for how long?

Each of the rescued children, under India's Bonded Labour Act, is entitled to receive the equivalent of $500 Cdn in cash compensation. Which has been drafted to prevent the children from returning to slave labour. And the Gap, while claiming to be "deeply upset" announces their code of conduct compels them to compensate the children with financial support, education, and perhaps the prospect of future employment.

Nice conclusion to a nasty story. A sigh of relief. What?! The United Nations estimates that 55 million children from age five to fourteen are employed in the domestic and business sectors in India. Their work produces up to 20% of India's annual GDP.

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Our Most Precious Resource

Anyone would identify children as the most precious resource on the planet. They are ours to raise into meaningful adulthood. They are ours to love and protect. And most parents do their utmost to ensure their children do grow into adulthood, unharmed throughout the passage from infancy to childhood, the teen years and young adulthood.

We worry incessantly, and never stray far from the imperative and impetus to offer needed emotional support and stimulating opportunities to our young.

But then, there are those children whose needs are neglected. Children who are left to fend for themselves in a world that can be most unfriendly to an unprotected child. Some children prove adept at finding ways to look after their own needs and grow to successful adulthood. Too many others, lacking needed human warmth, fundamental to the needs of any human being, consider themselves unvalued and as a result find it impossible to value society.

There are the over-protective parents, those who suffer the anguish of doubt whenever their child is not in the immediate vicinity where their well-being can be measured and assured. And there are the casual parents whose obligation to their young doesn't make it past the greater necessity of the parents to live their lives as unrestrained to their own pleasures as possible - and the needs of the child fall by the wayside.

Two apposite and opposite events of recent vintage: A three-year-old girl brought along by her loving grandfather on a trip. The grandfather, a successful businessman and pilot, set off with a colleague and the child for a brief trip in poor weather near Golden, B.C. where the plane crashed and the child was the only survivor. Suspended for five hours in the security of a car seat, upside-down - where she could view the dead bodies of her grandfather and his friend. And her beloved Teddy-bear.

She was rescued, and will live to see many more days.

In Quebec City an emergency call came in to police from a woman who late on Sunday night heard the sound of a baby crying as she walked by on a downtown street. She investigated and discovered an infant left alone in a locked car. "When the police arrived on the scene, the car was cold", according to a police spokesperson. The temperature was below freezing, the child lightly clad, with bare feet. It wasn't known how long the child had been left there.

But the parents were found nearby, in the bar portion of a theatre where they had spent a pleasant evening together, sans baby. When the police explained to the infant's father what the potential consequences were that they might face, he became abusive. "He railed at them and told them it was not the first time they did that," according to the spokesperson. An investigation is proceeding.

Criminal charges should be laid. That child should be removed from the 'protective' custody of its obliviously neglectful parents.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

From Their Respected Vantage

Here are two insiders; Muslim men who see it as their responsibility to explain Islamic verities to Canadians. Muslim men of moderate vision who see it as their responsibility to explain to fellow Muslims their responsibility toward the country to which they have emigrated, and which has welcomed their presence as new, trusted and appreciated citizens.

It is the question of accommodation. For Canada strives mightily to honour and accommodate the needs and sensibilities of other cultures, ethnicities and religions. In turn, yet not indelibly enough spoken of, is the response incumbent upon immigrants to honour and absorb the values and customs, traditions and mores of the country which has welcomed them.

Which has offered them a safe haven from strife and rigidity, both political and religious. Which guarantees them equality under the law and equanimity as their mind-rest. Which offers opportunities unparalleled to their children's futures. Which guarantees an egalitarian lifestyle to women, and opportunities which parallel those of men in the workforce, in the professions, in education.

These men, Raheel Raza, Tarek Fatah, both of whom represent the respected Muslim Canadian Congress, the rational, moderate and accommodating voice of Canadian Muslims, will have no more of political correctness which seeks to overlook embarrassing instances where too much is taken for granted and too little is given in return by immigrants seeking to impose their values upon that which the country has gifted them with.

They point out that new immigrants, racial minorities, are guaranteed ample access to successful outcomes as opposed to any other country on this planet. Certainly more so in comparison to the opportunities regularly denied non-Muslims in Muslim-dominated countries where freedoms are truncated and religions and cultural needs relinquished to the state's demands of mono-conformity.

On emigrating to Canada and becoming landed immigrants, it is their contention that Muslims realize the Canadian Charter of Rights offers them freedoms denied them in their countries of origin. Most immigrants make their decisions to join Canada as a matter of deliberate choice - requiring, they assert, that as the country takes genuine efforts to accommodate them, their obligation becomes to successfully adapt themselves.

The kind of assimilation that would require the laws of the land be respected, and that the cultural mores and practises of the country that has adopted them be respected as well, just as immigrants may anticipate that many of their own practises will receive respect. They aver that it is incumbent on immigrants to adopt a mien of impeccable integrity of character, instead of the insensitive flaunting of symbols confusing to the native population.

The onus is on immigrants to themselves accommodate their very particular needs, not require the society they have joined to make especial efforts to ensure their every whims and perceived needs are satisfied. Above all, the exercise of reasonableness in expectations, not entitlements in reflection of their singular differences of background and religion.

"Muslims", they write in their essay "should realize that citizenship in Canada is not based on inherited race or religion, but on a set of common laws created by men and women whom we elect and send to Parliament. Those who wish to introduce laws based on divine texts should try living in Saudi Arabia and Iran before they force the rest of us to embrace their prescription."

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Japan I Knew

It's quite the culture. Organized, self-aware, and extremely self-possessed. The sultry southern tip, (Kyushu) the main island of Honshu and the winter-bound northern island of Hokkaido. In a very small geographic area in the Pacific one can experience, in three tight little island-groups that make up Japan, exoticism, moderation and excess. Which, in a way, encapsulates the living formative society itself in its absorption with its colourful past, its passive presence and its passion for all things natural.

The prevailing religions are low on the horizon, but everywhere one looks shrines and temples are commonly part of both the heritage and the architecture, permeating everyday life as a key to the value of life and life's values. Within a small geographic area of which only a middling portion is truly habitable, with its forests and mountains, a large population of proudly monocultural ethnic Japanese mingle in crowded conditions, with perfect courtesy toward others. The kind of casual crime prevalent in most other societies, absent here.

Unnumbered and narrow abodes jostle comfortably against one another on unnamed streets, some so narrow that vehicles cannot pass one another. Necessitating, with their sometimes narrow laneways , that fire vehicles in no way resembling those of the West, are pulled by quaintly garbed firemen to the action at hand. Commercial and industrial and domestic buildings sit comfortably next to each other, with no interfering zoning by-laws. Construction workers in their body-covering white garb, white fabric boots, camel-hoofed.

Temple grounds become the quiet and green refuge of strollers, as much as city parks. It is within the temple grounds that one sees the fabled Japanese gardens, the koi ponds with the huge silver-gold-orange flashing bodies twisting energetically to the surface of the water to catch the daily tossed offerings. It is in the parks, and sometimes the downtown cemeteries with their own plum and cherry trees that one strolls in spring under a confetti of falling blossoms. The public museums offering tribute to the arts, religious and archaeological artifacts housed in bone-numbing exposure.

Feral cats and kittens roam the streets, the alleyways, the ubiquitous garbage-day repositories for specific neighbourhoods, to exact their due before collection. Above, clattering on the water-towers, the metal-clad roofs, the jungle crows abound. And occasionally the two meet; the denizens of the sewers and those of the air as the latter sweep down on occasion to make a dinner of the former - or, alternately, the city pigeons.

But this too is part of nature and it is as should be, with no interference as nature plays out her role, the hunter and the hunted. On the main thoroughfares, named and named again, in both Chinese/Japanese script, and spoken English, the night-time sky is kaleidoscopically lit with neon. For a crowded city there is not that much ambient sound, as car drivers habitually do not use their horns. Occasionally the low-sound-barrier is abruptly shattered in daytime from electronic loudspeakers perched on buses with political message writ large and "right".

Even the urban landscape is beautified with camellia bushes in ravishing bloom, and azaleas and rhododendrons in the spring; with ornamental cabbage planted along city streets in late fall. There are archaic-looking pine trees and beautiful large ginkgo trees planted on city avenues. People living in cramped apartments all air their futons, hanging them out their apartment windows through the day, festooning an apartment facade with thousands of 'white ribbons'.

There is public respect in abundance. It is rare to see a small plot of grass, since room to grow anything within the confines of Tokyo is rare. But people will place, in utter confidence for their safety, their familiar treasures; twisted bonsai of wonderful grace and elderly provenance alongside the street, beside their front doors. And too, koi pots, treasured pets allowed to be placed out in public where no one would think of interfering with them.

A multitude of cars - mostly white - which is to say a variety of colours emulating white; pearl, ivory, cream, chalk, latte. Black is reserved for the Yakuzi , and perhaps also on occasion for the diplomatic corps who know no better or don't care. By their cars thee shall know them. Taxi drivers are courteous, their vehicles immaculate, interiors carefully dusted countless times throughout the day. When drivers stop at a red light, many still shut off their engines; consigned to unthinking memory war-time conservation of energy.

You may respond to a telephone call by answering with an enquiring, "Hello?", but the Japanese enquire "Mushi-mushi?" and don't quite know why. Social customs are as ingrained in Japan as they are anywhere else. The Japanese appear to be particularly enamoured of the English language; will practise their language skills on strangers walking by, but only if they're obviously Gaijun, capable of responding or correcting.

This was a culture of birth-to-death security in lifetime employment, now hobbling into another reality. Of respectful adherence to uniformity where social rebels tended to be brought into line through, other measures lacking, relative economic deprivation. Opportunities for advancement, through the education system, employment opportunities advanced to those who conform, albeit brightly.

A culture respectful of their heritage, culture, antecedents; elders. Where the elders are themselves respectful of the promise inherent in their spoiled little grandchildren, where bent and wrinkled grandmothers will hoist a fat little, adored boy-child on their backs and trundle along. In this population of porcelain-skinned women with raven tresses and elegant carriage, style is abundant and beauty beyond the eyes of the observer.

Yet it is the foreign observer who looks mouth agape in appreciation at the loveliness of Japanese women, not their Japanese male counterparts, who appear to feel that Western women,blond and blue-eyed represent the fount of feminine beauty. In this country women are designated as second-to-men and their prospects for the future lie in housewifely duties and raising children. While their salarymen husbands work late, and drink hard and vomit in late-night alleyways before trending home.

Kite-flying, shrine viewing. Rice, miso, raw eggs, fried octopus, eel. Shinto temple grounds and interiors, so resembling in its mystique the interior descriptions in the-then popular "Name of The Rose". Monks praying early-early morning, singing high above on a cliff in unison in the afternoon. Sandal-shod, tonsured clad in monks' rough garb, speeding off in a Mercedes to the small town nearby the temple. Tea plantations. Bamboo forests. Torii, and fiercely scowling Temple guards.

Pachinko parlours, karaoke bars, night life, television interactive game-shows, manga, haut couture, elegantly marbled hotel interiors, royal palaces and gardens, No and Kabuki theatres, and pre-teen uniformed schoolchildren crowding afternoon streets, along with 'notice-me' Sunday teens garbed in unabashedly outre outfits in Harajuku.

Sumo wrestling, katydids, helicopters, Jesu statuettes crowding temple grounds, with their sad little mementos of children lost and aborted...grasshopper cages - this is Japan.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Hands Up, Bigots and Racists!

Um, a tad harsh, naming those among us desirous of retaining harmony among peoples by insisting on immediate conformance with Canadian norms - particularly the French-Canadian language, as racist. Can't you see it coming, though? It's a universal human fear, that all that they hold dear, all that is treasured and familiar, that resounds with the love of tradition and culture, may be held in low esteem by onlookers, and ultimately diminished by their presence.

These fears do bring out the worst in us. It's human nature to believe implicitly that what we treasure, our vaunted way of life, our values and our traditions are second to none. That all those who enter the sacred precincts of our inner sanctorums should be prepared to shift from allegiance to their own cultures and traditions, to immediate acceptance of ours. Since, of course, they are so superior.

Fact is, sometimes they are superior. Fact is, it takes people some little time to acclimate to new surroundings, to familiarize themselves with the new cultural, societal norms, and to make the attempt to fit themselves into those new paradigms. During which process a generation may pass.

But even before then, immigrants, valuing the freedoms and sureties that their new country offers them will invariably seek to incorporate those treasured norms of the newly-adopted country into their value system. All the while retaining vestiges of their original traditions and cultures.

In a country like Canada, whose population really is built upon a long process of immigration absorption, it has been proven that a long, slow integration does take place, with the result that one-time emigrants from diverse countries and backgrounds do become Canadian, accepting of Canadian values and imperatives. It's what multiculturalism has been built upon; the recognition of a multitude of cultures imprinting themselves casually upon the broader Canadian perspective.

It's when later waves of immigrants have swarmed into Canada's welcoming arms, rigidly wishing to impose their views of cultural norms upon the accepting culture that we have run into problems. Earlier waves of immigrants were absorbed into the population through their own strenuous efforts, while later floods of immigrants were officially welcomed with taxpayer-funded programmes fashioned to assist them in finding their place in the larger community.

Peculiar that; those who came here penniless and had to struggle against all odds to make a life for themselves and their families through this new opportunity granted them managed to integrate and enrich the greater society by their presence. While those for whom the transition from original country to adopted one has been aided and assisted by the welcoming country appear to feel entitled, rather than fortunate for the opportunity.

Still, nothing exceeds like excess, and it is excessive in the extreme for a large segment of the Quebecois population to anticipate problems before they even surface. In rejecting presumably untoward accommodation to newcomers by insisting that all outer vestiges of their original culture, religion, tradition, be eschewed in favour of immediate assimilation. Simply not possible.

For human beings cleave to the dear and the familiar. And for so many the outer symptoms of their religious regard reflects their inner absorption.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Mind Terminally Askew

Whatever might conceivably account for a human kind so twisted that it takes solace and pleasure in violence and murder? The world has a surfeit of serial killers, mass murderers, psychopaths of the first order. Yet we are always taken aback with disbelief, aghast at the reality that among us live distorted souls whose pleasure is derived from others' pain.

One such is the Russian Alexander Pichuskin who has attempted to explain his extraordinary adaptation from human being to monster as being akin to one who has fallen in love. For most people loving others becomes complementary to a life well lived; sharing our lives with another human being whose values, pleasures and orientations echo our own. And whose presence adds lustre to our own lives.

For this vile person, bestowing death on others became his passion. "He threw some of his victims down a drain when they were still alive and in some cases still conscious, even though some of them begged him to spare them", according to Moscow chief prosecutor Yuri Syomin in his address to the overseeing judge.

Who, responding with his judgement, life in prison, said: "On all accounts Pichushkin has been found guilty with no mitigating circumstances." He will face life in jail because Russia, to its great humanitarian credit, has a moratorium on the death penalty.

How does a human being, having lived a short life heretofore of 33 years, become so bitterly alienated from all that is human: compassion, empathy, pity, affection, that he eagerly seeks out victims. Allays their suspicions, invites them to share homily events with him, then attacks, tortures, and pitilessly murders them.

He has stated that he vividly recalls the first murder he committed, as other, normal human beings would recall their first love. A professional, he termed himself. He murdered people for the sheer pleasure it brought him, and his career as a murderer spanned fifteen years. His first initiation into the pleasures that murder brought him was at the age of 18.

Although the first person he murdered was a friend who had balked at the invitation to join him in killing someone, he thereafter sought out homeless men, lured them with promises of liquor, then dispatched them at his leisure, and his pleasure.

This man was - is - the epitome of odiously vile - a gruesomely vicious excuse for a human being. How to respond to the world's monsters? Is he worse in any way than Hitler, Stalin, Mao-tse-Tung, Pol Pot? He claims to have murdered 63 people, was convicted of the murder of 48. They murdered millions. By order. He with his personal touch.

What has failed these monsters?

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Over-Time For A New Environmental Protocol

Hand-wringings abound with respect to the ongoing and very visible signs of degradation of our global environment. Downright frightening. Regardless of initiation, the impetus with which the alterations in our normal atmospheric conditions are undergoing change demands closer scrutiny and more effective, clearer, and nearer-in-time deliberations in counteracting their effects.

No one wants to accept responsibility. No one wants to act responsibly. It affects the bottom line. For industry, for production of goods and services. For the enrichment of a country's gross domestic product. No one wants to be left behind in the global race to economic success and possible market dominance. And human nature being what it is, no one wants to obligate themselves to be less of a consumer.

But it's become a double race; on the one hand, all these national economies jubilant at their newfound excesses - on the other hand, the fall-out of charging ahead is steadily accelerating an already-deteriorating environment. One we all share. We have no other. Some areas of this globe will be far less seriously affected than others. But if even the least-case scenario eventually is realized low-lying areas of the world will be inundated from rising oceans resulting from melting ice-caps, and differing weather patterns will impact on agriculture.

Weather patterns have been proven to swing from mini ice ages to mini warming periods. It's there in the fossil records, even in the shorter-term historical records where we see from written history that climate has changed elaborately and distinctly through a wide swing from hot to cold. Nature seems to cling to a balance for a thousand years or so, then swing around to another scale, then repeat itself.

But what we're now doing to our environment through the frantic burning of fossil fuels and sending carbon particulates into the atmosphere at a steadily growing rate is hastening Nature's process and further unsettling it. Scientists simply don't know how much of an effect human intervention in normal weather swings is attributable to our activities primarily or whether we're adding in a minor way to normal pattern swings.

According to a report in the journal
Nature, though, we're setting about trying to stabilize our own deleterious outputs in the wrong way. The Kyoto Protocol, according to two authors, Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics and Steve Rayner at Oxford, isn't going to do the trick.

In "Time to ditch Kyoto", they characterize Kyoto as "a symbolically important expression" of concern, "But as an instrument for achieving emissions reductions, it has failed. It has produced no demonstrable reduction in emissions or even in anticipated emissions growth. And it pays no more than token attention to the needs of societies to adapt to existing climate change.

"Kyoto's architects assumed that climate change would be best attacked directly through global emissions controls, treating tonnes of carbon dioxide like stockpiles of nuclear weapons to be reduced via mutually verifiable targets and timetables" they write. But, they point out this was too simplistic a response to a dreadfully complex problem, and a controversial one that has polarized scientists into two camps: acceptance and denial.

Basically, irrespective of interrupted weather patterns that Nature herself bestows upon our environment, mankind has developed a global construct of fossil fuel energy usage that has complicated normal weather patterns within a very short period of time relatively speaking, and altered these patterns in ways we cannot quite explain with any degree of conviction.

They point out that fewer than 20 countries worldwide are the heavies in this action, responsible for approximately 80% of carbon emissions, with China and the U.S. on top and Japan, India, Russia, Canada and Britain comprising a portion of the following emitters. Their conclusion is that because this is a world-wide commission of sins against the environment, a conjoined committed effort at restraint is required.

Headed by a focus on scientific enquiry and the formulation of new energy technologies to combat the problem. "It seems reasonable to expect the world's leading economies and emitters to devote as much money to this challenge as they currently spend on military research - in the case of the United States, about $80-billion a year."

The contention being that at least an equal amount must be committed to solving our problem through global adaptation efforts. In other words, we lead unsustainable lifestyles as individuals, and as nations, aspiring to ever greater acquisitions, country by country. Are we ever likely to want to give up our lavishly wasteful ways? Become peace-loving nations all, dedicated to the betterment of universal needs-solving?

And don't we always fall back on the comfortable thought that science and technology will find a way to eradicate problems as they erupt? But have we ever before faced an impending scenario of environmental collapse and the potential of species extinction, global population relocations, food and energy shortages, than we now do?

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Respect Where It's Due

That great good man of peaceful intent, an inspiration to the rest of the spirit-impoverished world, the Dalai Lama, is on a bit of a roll of late. Despite being the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, heads of state hesitated to officially welcome him until fairly lately. Certainly our previously-unesteemed Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, refused to meet with him at all, fearful of incurring China's wrath.

And wise that was, since Mr. Chretien had the ability to think ahead. To his future, post-prime ministership, where he would hire himself out as a high-priced legal mind and lobbyist for the oil industry, flying off to China to work on behalf of corporate oil interests. And welcomed as aconspiratorially familiar figure. China recognizes scruples and personalities with whom they can do business.

His successor, Prime Minister Paul Martin, was made of sterner ethic, and agreed to meet with the Dalai Lama, but privately. So as not to incur the pique of a great country with whom Canada's business enterprise is so closely aligned. True, Canada was aware, always has been, of the sensitive issue of China's poor human-rights record, but as even earlier Canadian administrations averred it was better to keep channels open.

Why? Obviously, because trade could commence unobstructed by the inconvenience of our getting on our high horse of indignation. And also because it is politically expedient to state that an open business relationship would not entirely relieve Canada's obligation to gently remind China from time to time that people would like her more if she treated her subjects more humanely.

The thing of it is, a country which espouses mild left-of-centre values cannot come down too dreadfully hard on another country whose political and social mandate is built upon the (extreme) left-of-centre, even if it is that of a dictatorship with a well-earned reputation for brutality toward its own. Something about diplomatic relations. Something about relativism.

Still, with the responsibility to govern such an unwieldy population on such an incredibly huge geographic base representing a wide diversity of ethnics, tribes, languages and customs, it's not the easiest job in the world. Sometimes a little bit of knuckle-dusting is required to keep everyone in line. Right? Yup.

Question here: How is it that the right-of-centre goes out of its way to embrace the Dalai Lama, not fearing the anticipated back-lash of the leaders of a powerful country whose economic clout is now so fearsome that other countries spring to attention when she roars? Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had Canada confer citizenship upon the spiritual leader of Tibet.

And now Mr. Harper plans also to meet and greet publicly. In the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush's public display of unity with theDalai Lama, and the conferring of the Congressional Medal of Honour upon him. China fairly trembled with incoherent rage, terming theDalai Lama a secessionist and the U.S. an enabler who would pay the price of assisting treason.

And of course German Chancellor Angela Merkel also met with the Dalai Lama. And just to grind China's nose further into the hell's fire of its deep dudgeon, another anathema-laden meet-and-greet was arranged with Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, just itching to declare independence from an "indivisible" China.

China is unequivocal in its denunciation of these encouragements extended toward the titular and spiritual head of a country it has invaded and terrorized and swamped with Chinese settlers: "We are against the provision of venues by foreign countries to theDalai Lama's secessionist activities and also against the foreign dignitaries meeting with him."

At the risk of insulting and enraging China's leaders, world leaders are recognizing it's past time to do the right thing. At least by Tibet. Perhaps Sudan will be next in line. Then Burma?

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Values and Choices

Front page news today - the dire necessity for the U.S. Congress to approve a money bill that will provide emergency funding for "bullets and body armour". Implicit in that appeal is the need for patriotic Americans not to forget their brave soldiers fighting abroad. Without the 'bullets and body armour' they will be incapable of prosecuting a war their president charged them into launching.

The bullets required to offset the retaliatory offensives launched by those representing the forces they invaded to bring to unequivocal and utter defeat. The armour required to ensure that this numberless and many-sectarianed enemy - equally determined to defend its own - might not succeed in imperilling American lives. Well, this is, after all, a very complicated world we inhabit.

"I often hear that war critics oppose my decisions, but still support the troops. Well, I'll take them at their word. And this is a chance for them to show it, that they support the troops", challenged George W. Bush while warning lawmakers against delays at this time of urgent need. The sum of $196.4-billion is what is being sought.

Lest the message of $=American lives protected be lost on his detractors, President Bush surrounded himself at a White House ceremony with war veterans and family members of soldiers killed in battle. It wasn't reported whether he had draped an American flag across the left side of his chest. But that wholesale sum was required to cover military operations for 2008 in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The cost has crept up from earlier estimates by a piddling $45.9-billion. This current U.S. administration has mired the country in a double quagmire; of hoping against hope they will yet gain control of a rapidly disintegrating Iraq, of gritting their teeth in sustaining the high-impact-and-growing cost to the nation which has already committed to $560-billion on post-9-11 wars. The national debt is monumental.

Here's the rub: this same month the U.S. president found himself unable to support a bipartisan piece of legislation for the addition of $45-billion over a five-year period in support of a health insurance programme for underprivileged children. All those tens of millions of American families with no health insurance do have children, and those children do have pressing health needs.

The poorer the family situation, the less likely the children will have their health needs met through the availability of a nutritional diet, through regular doctor visits, through a healthy lifestyle including physical recreational and educational opportunities, and above all, affordable housing. All of which are requisites to ensure that children prosper into a sound personal future.

But Mr. Bush saw fit to oppose that particular bill for the betterment of his population because he felt it might provide coverage for too many children from the middle class. As though they too are often as not victims of their parents' inability to secure affordable private medical insurance. He saw the bill as having the unfortunate potential of encouraging Americans to drop usurious private insurance in the hopes of attaining government coverage.

"The bill provides for basic needs, like bullets and body armour", said this president.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Intolerant? Perish The Thought!

This is intolerable, to be termed "intolerant", quite unfair. What it might conceivably be, is a mystery inside a conundrum, but intolerant? Hardly. Throw in a little xenophobia, sprinkle with a dash of peppery unwillingness to 'accommodate', varnish with a veneer of civility and you have the answer: prevaricating inability to admit intolerance. Oops! There's that unfortunate word again.

The one overriding trump card that any would-be immigrant to the Province of Quebec could flash that would be guaranteed to gain them landed-immigrant status in that province within Canada would be to firmly establish facility with the French language. Entre! Mesdames, Messieurs...! No speakin' no French? Forget it, move right along now.

However, entry to other provinces within the confederation we lovingly call Canada is possible. So if a refugee or an emigrant from another country is accepted as a landed immigrant they can locate to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, British Columbia or Ontario. Or the two Territories or Nunavut.

But if they've got family members established in the province of Quebec it's understandable that, once having gained entry to Canada, they might wish to gravitate to that province. Which they do, in droves. Little do they know what awaits them. For the newly-installed leader of the Parti Quebecois, Pauline Marois, has tabled a new "identity package" proposal, Bill 195. Meant to delineate for prospective immigrants some of the entry requirements to the province.

One of which is that newly-arrived immigrants would be required to have an "appropriate" working knowledge of French to become Quebec citizens. This kind of "appropriate" working knowledge of French is a stringent one. Most recently, in the City of Gatineau (Aylmer, Quebec), an skilled immigrant-class dentist had his license to practise in the province revoked because he was unable to pass the province's language test.

His ability to converse in French is more than adequate; he has no problems reading French. His downfall was an identified inability to adequately - or to use the PQ's quaint phraseology - "appropriate" capability to write comprehensively in French. Little good it did him when he pointed out that his office staff is well acquainted with French writing style and it is they who communicate in writing with patients and others associated with his profession.

This skilled practitioner who has built a practise serving the health needs of some two thousand patients in the province on a temporary license has other language skills. He speaks fluent Persian (Farsi), English and Spanish. This is a health professional capable of and willing to serve the province which is experiencing a distinct and some would even say desperate dearth of health professionals.

Quebec has an obvious need for immigrants to augment its low birth rate among Quebecois, and provide the wherewithal for a stable workforce linked to the economic advancement of the province. Yes, Quebec desires the presence of hard-working and skilled immigrants and she is quick to acknowledgement their contribution. But, BUT, Ms. Marois contends, French proficiency is a primary requirement.

Additionally, the failure to become adept at using the French language will ensure that any such individuals would be barred from public office at any level, or even petitioning the National Assembly for redress of a grievance. All of which sounds suspiciously like an (il)legal challenge to the Canadian Constitution, for these provisions run counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms whose protection all Canadians enjoy.

Whoops, what's this? Pauline Marois is intolerant of the intolerance of reporters who try to bait her into speaking English? What's that you say, her English is fractured and unintelligible? G'wan with ya! This woman has lived in Canada all of her life and she is not able to convey her thoughts and statements in "adequate" English?

Ms. Marois has had second thoughts about switching to English to be understood on English-language television and radio - as is the custom - fearing the fall-out of a garbled message failing to convey the true meaning of her intentions? "I do it and I want to do it well but you know very well that I have been criticized a lot on this despite the efforts I make to speak English.

"I know my English is not perfect. I work every day at improving it. I will continue to do so, so please be patient with me because I have had it up to here with this question." Oh dear.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

There Are Priorities And There Are Priorities

Clearly the safety and well-being of vulnerable young children left adrift in a world of want and deprivation is not seen as an imperative as far as state-driven protection is concerned, within the European Union. These are the unseen children slipping through darkened streets, attempting to ensure that attention is not drawn to their illegal presence. These are the hordes of children preyed upon by soulless ghouls who make profit out of their vulnerability.

Child traffickers have gained a reputation for Brussels as a haven for the abuse of children. A certain segment of traditional society spurns the human rights of others among them such as the Roma community, a nuisance upon society, obviously undeserving of full protection under the law. The United Nations reveals that roughly one million children are trafficked world-wide annually, gaining profit for the perpetrators in the range of $7 to $10 billion.

The children are pressed into a life of petty crime, begging, dealing drugs and stealing. They are placed in domestic settings as indentured servants. They are introduced to a life on the streets as child-prostitutes. Some become a part of the illegal adoption and organ-provision markets. Europe's large Roma population are especially targeted because of their vulnerability, the disinterest of the larger society in their welfare.

Endemic poverty where families in eastern Europe are unable to care for their children leads to circumstances where the children are encouraged to migrate to cities to look for jobs that simply are not there for them. Children are abandoned by their poverty-stricken families, they are sold into bondage to odiously unscrupulous child traffickers who move them swiftly from one urban area to another, escaping detection.

There is no EU legislation in place to protect the rights of a child who has been displaced and exploited.

The European Union which is so manifestly absorbed in the economic advance of its member-states, and so rigidly concerned with ensuring that all its members adhere to certain rules and principles, seems unconcerned about the plight of these children. Local groups attempting to help the children, trying to stop the human trafficking have limited impact without the intervention and assistance of government agencies.

There have been EU recommendations that are still at stage one: defining child trafficking to address the occurrence of sexual exploitation, early marriage, adoption, slavery or bonded labour. There appears to be no great rush to attempt to help these children. And private social agencies, while expending considerable efforts to help the children must also lobby authorities to impose legislation and offer services.

"It's our responsibility to help them; they are children on our territory, and they're our future. They may seem tough from living on the street, but they have the same needs as any child. the moment they come to us and find they no longer have to search for food, they are just kids again", according to one social worker. Meanwhile, the trauma these children have suffered will remain with them and inform the rest of their lives.

In a complex world of political intrigues and jockeying for power, surely there is some need to be perceived to ensure our obligation to protect children.

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Human-Rights Defender: Abuser

Nothing is ever black and white, that's a given. There are so many nuances, permutations, secret little imponderables, stealthy misgivings about matters of moral certainty. In certain circles, that is. There is truth and reality and they remain verities in and of themselves, to be recognized and respected and acted upon. Still, there are always caveats, always "what if" and "but" which are handy qualifiers when what should be embraced as incontrovertible becomes moot.

Case in point, the recent news of the U.S. Congress stating unequivocally that it will not tolerate the use of torture on suspected terrorists by special U.S. forces and the CIA, both tasked to protect the good people of the United States of America and their government and their country. The United States, after all, has always been on the footing of a moral mentor to the world. Absent the occasional slip-up in various parts of the world when they back the wrong dictator.

Yes, America is concerned about the state of the world in general, wishing in the great goodness of its collective heart, to ensure a general state of non-conflict and reasonable static for the good of all. Most particularly for the political aspirations of its own concerns, its own social and cultural needs, its own corporate prowess in furthering the economy of that great nation. Why would they be otherwise inclined?

To their own self-interests firstly, then to the general stability of the world at large. Still proving in its own authoritarian way to be the general conscience of the world, with some notable lapses in judgement. They earn at the very least a B-minus. Of late the scale has slid backward somewhat alarmingly, but there is always the future. Which will kick in when the greater American voting public finally has its way.

Until then the administration they helped to install, and which has reflected the hard-right agenda of the sizable proportion of family-values-oriented, "heritage"-committed religious right will continue to wag the dog. Under which administration stealth was employed to install a method of prisoner interrogation that doesn't flirt with torture, but actually goes out of its way to inflict it, unflinchingly.

Interrogation methods directed toward "irregular" prisoners defined as those apprehended in a theatre of war who are not part of a regular army, but are instead recognized as insurgents, guerrillas, or terrorists - human beings, withal. But for the purposes of this administration, not subject to the protections offered under the Geneva Convention. For this special group there are a number of extraordinary interrogation methods including:
  • The Attention slap, the belly slap.
  • Long time standing where prisoners are handcuffed and forced to stand with feet shackled to an eye bolt installed on the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation result in confessions.
  • The cold cell, where prisoners are left naked in a cell whose atmosphere is held to 50 degrees and during which time the prisoner is doused with cold water.
  • Water boarding which translates as the prisoner being bound onto an inclined board with feet raised and cellophane wrapped over the face while water is poured over. The gag reflex is aroused and a fearsome replication of drowning is the result.
These illegal interrogation techniques called "enhanced interrogation" were revealed by Justice Department lawyers, appalled at their use, and the methods were withdrawn. Only to be resurrected with a vengeance; new secret rules permitting the techniques to be used in tandem for greater effect. That they will be successful in resulting in confessions is not surprising, since people under torture will admit to anything to be released from their fear and pain.

That this cogent little fact seems to have slipped the notice of the technique's practitioners whom the administration has tasked with their implementation is another thing. The identification of prisoners as "unlawful enemy combatants" has given the U.S. administration entitlement to pursue their agenda as they will, notwithstanding the moral stench that emanates from their deliberate suborning of human rights.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Principle? What's That?

Finally, overdue retirement of the studied and stupid nomenclature clamped on to the minority government of "Canada's New Government". It's gone, and we're all the better for it. Now it's simply "this government", and hallelujah. As in 'this government' is a clean one. Ah, those sly, not-quite subtle tricks of memory retention, harking back to the bad old days of government malfeasance under the Liberals.

That was then, this is now, with a new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, mightily aspiring to a self-righteous come-back as the higher-power-inspired government of entitlement. In the care of a Liberal stalwart who adores flexing his integrity-laden muscles of indignation against the blundering assaults of the hidden-agenda-unprincipled mountebanks representing the current government.

The stalwart, trustworthy champion of principle, the front-line charger of ideological purity has experienced a quandary he's been incapable of surmounting. So much for principled attestations of intent, and squandered opportunities to put his principles to active duty. Tch, tch. But then the opportunity came at him like a juggernaut, representing a nightmare scenario even his inept leadership wasn't able to anticipate.

So, for all his righteous fulminating about standing up for what he believes in, he found it more expedient to stand down. It was all a vast misunderstanding, in any event. When he insisted that the Conservative government enlist its all-out efforts in support of the Kyoto Agreement, he was revealing his personal failure as Minister of the Environment in the previous government which casually signed on to Kyoto, sans commitment and subsequent action.

For having done little, it is now clear he has such great faith in the Conservatives to mend what the Liberals have torn asunder, that he simply cannot believe his faith has been misplaced. And thus he mourns yet another hallucinatory mirage evaporated. True, he warned dire consequences for the Conservative-ruled Government of Canada should they insist on stepping down from Kyoto, but he didn't mean it, not really.

As for the law-and-order package, containing many things that this country requires implementation of, along with the contentious issue of anti-terrorism security certificates; just think of it as an omnibus bill. We get a whole lot for our vote of confidence: more realistic penalties for impaired driving, raising the age of sexual (congress) consent, imposition of stricter bail conditions for commission of crimes while under the influence of a firearm.

We'll take it, we'll take it all. In the not-so-distant past the anti-terrorism security agenda, ushered into law by the Liberals and declared unfit for Canadian consumption by this newer incarnation of the Liberals was grandly denounced, but now, under these somewhat dire circumstances, there is nothing, alas, to denounce. We're feeling a little peckish, a trifle feeble, not willing to risk the near future for a carte-blanche slate of majority governance.

The Liberals cry out in pain at the Conservative move to de-centralize government in favour of offering the provinces leave to opt out of universal programmes with reasonably reflective compensation as long as compatible programmes are advanced by the provinces. A limiting of federal spending of tax dollars in instances of clear provincial jurisdictions - yet another favour to Quebec, accounting for their new-found liking for the Conservatives, and loathing for the Liberals.

All right, so the Liberals can swallow hard and decide it isn't worth battling over, and rejecting the Conservative agenda outright. Which doesn't mean they can't criticize and groan over provisions they say fall short of what the country needs. Which, needless to say, only they can deliver, not the perfidious, black-hearted Conservatives with their private, backroom agendas the unsuspecting electorate will only become apprised of once they elect a majority Conservative government.

He's saving us from ourselves. For, he pompously declares, there is a higher principle at stake here. While fully recognizing his commitment to his original intent, he also recognizes his commitment to the taxpayers and voters of Canada who do not wish to have imposed upon them another election, representing the third in five years. Especially when the economy is on boom-cycle, the unemployment rate as low as it's ever been, and Canada is feeling pretty good.

But Stephane Dion's prized personal project in which he has generously invested such grand rhetoric? The Conservative government of Stephen Harper speaks of the clear and present danger to our environment adequately evident in climate change. How they are prepared to take needed action to preserve our quality of life, to avoid the dilemma of increasing health threats for Canadian children and elders. Lovely motherhood statements. Who would cavil?

Hands up everyone! And another backhand slap to the previous governing Liberals: "It is now widely understood that, because of inaction on greenhouse gases over the last decade, Canada's emissions cannot be brought to the level required under the Kyoto Protocol within the compliance period which begins on January 1, 2008, just 77 days from now." Heart-stopping declaration that.

And now you've done it; these dastardly declarations and immobilizing decisions have made Stephane Dion angry, very angry. Game over for this government. Oh, on second thought, no? You sure? Too much to lose, too little to gain? How's that again, Stephane?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vanishing Act

What a man, what an image, what a forceful personality: integrity and intelligence personified. Only...where is the substance? Where are the hidden treasures of political skill and keen intellect that we've been assured are there. Yet to be uncovered. They dwell deep and dark in the pallid persona of Stephane Dion, he who was selected to lead the Liberal Party of Canada out of its well-earned dungeon of disgrace and dishonour.

Former (unlamented) Prime Minister Jean Chretien has written in his latest pulp fiction account of his life in the high seat of Parliament that he thought ofStephane as one would a son, he groomed him as his successor, as the best and the brightest, as one worthy to ascend the throne Mr. Chretien had finally absented himself from. As much as Canadians could rely on the good judgement and excellent character of one - can they the other.

At each and every step along the way to solidly assuming the mantle of head of the Liberal Party, as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, Mr. Dion's shrill accusations and denouncing pyrotechnics have resounded hollowly, mirroring his past record and past associations. From Kyoto to Quebec sovereignty, from Canadian troops in Afghanistan, to Canada's anti-terrorism legislation, hischittering arousal to meet and defeat have garnered him little support.

In fact, his hysterical hyperbole in demanding of the current, Conservative-led government that it live up to the standards imposed upon Canada by the previous, Liberal-led government ring tinny and flaccid. Much like Mr. Dion's own aspirational plans for his future as prime minister of this country. He has succeeded in alienating an already-doubting public, and has been dropping support left and centre in his own inner circle of confreres.

Mr. Dion's resurgent Liberal Party of Canada is, according to the former vice-president of the party's Quebec wing, "imploding". Three important by-election losses in Quebec for starters. And more resignations than anyone might concede a sanctimoniously naive academic could muster in his own defeat. Where Jean Chretien's arrogantly scandal-ridden government was the architect of its own defeat,Stephane Dion's abrupt fall from grace has gone one better.

Where, now, is the shining new Liberal Party? In deep dudgeon, that's where. Rather than rebuild the climate of trust so wasted by his predecessor, he has ably engendered a climate of disdain, for his pathetic attempts to re-shape Canadian policy to better reflect his own ineptitude on the national and the world stage. And in record time, too.

When, despite the poor showing in Quebec and the promise inherent in his election as party leader, he simply accelerated the disenchantment with the Liberal Party amongQuebecers , he ably demonstrated he could even widen the fault line by abandoning loyal and charismatic Quebec Liberal electoral candidates by neglect and disdain, resulting in their withdrawal and bitter criticism of this pretense of a leader.

Then came the national party's executive director's resignation; all the bitter in-fighting, the ultra sensitivities of Quebec members seeking to augment control of direction, and tarnishing any semblance of working together in harmony; an absurd sham. The latest step-down in support for this seriously-decision-challenged leader is the loss of his Quebec lieutenant.

Looks as though voters in Quebec are regarding the current government far more favourably than self-immolating Liberal wannabes. Now there's the challenge of the Throne Speech setting out the new Conservative-led agenda. There's a hard place for the embattled and obviously confused Liberal leader. Lead the charge to contest the agenda and he topples the minority government.

As though Prime Minister Stephen Harper isn't already enjoying himself more than anyone might have predicted a mere year ago. How much crow is Mr. Dion prepared to stuff down his craw to prevent an election that promises to bring in a majority Conservative government?

This man of letters, of great integrity and promise for the future. Tch!

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Review of: Stirring The Pot

Nothing shy and retiring about this man. Fact is, he is retired... from the office of this country's premier seat of power, but he would have the public see his time in the prime ministership as he would have it, not as events unfolded demonstrating him to be a self-righteous wielder of the public weal - as he would have it.

When, around 1985 the Liberal party selected John Turner to head the party into a new election - post his mentor, Pierre Trudeau's retirement - rather than Jean Chretien, he had everyone's heartfelt sympathy.

His earlier memoir, "Straight From The Heart" gained him much public acclaim as "the little man from Shawinigan" who had been so hard done by, and the Canadian public in turn done out of the services of a man of folk wisdom who could guide the country to our faultless destiny, a world-respected middle power whose population was heterogeneously and comfortably Canadian to the core.

How kind of fate to offer us a second chance, and how meet it was for Jean Chretien to finally take the helm of governance on our behalf. The street fighter with the long history of public office who had, in the interregnum, joined corporate Canada and polished all the right contacts came out swinging. Out with the old, in with the decrepit (vision, that is). A mediocre leader for an unsuspecting country.

His contacts, through business and familial outreach, brought him into comforting (to him) proximity to the other movers-and-shakers within the country. The influential law firms, the bankers and investment houses, the corporate heads of international conglomerates. We thought because we wanted to, that he was one of us.

Canadians learned to love his America-bashing, his unabashed flirtation with the press, his teasing malapropisms that simply rendered him more folksily, foxily close to the population; he was one of us. A modest man with a large vision, but with the smarts to govern wisely. A decent and compassionate man, an honest man.

And then he proceeded to invest in his future, not ours, by all manner of neat little tricks. Sending costly government projects to his home riding of Shawinigan, even setting up an expensive museum display for the locals there, to the detriment of the need in the National Capital. Fobbing off his local investments at inflated prices and blackmailing bankers to do his will.

Waylaying the needs of the underprivileged in this country by short-changing us all on needed social spending, all the while intoning the sacred obligation of the government - particularly his government - to uphold our most basic social values. Down-sizing government payroll, then inflating it as public servants were dismissed, then re-hired under new countracting-out rules.

Slicing transfer payments to the provinces so that universal health care, education, subsidized housing would all feel the nasty pinch and begin to falter, leaving people in desperate straits. His aggressive verbal pyrotechnics, amusing on the surface, revealing the core meanness of the man. Accosting a relatively frail representative of the poor and the homeless, revealing the street fighter in the prime minister, by throttling the man.

Taking the public pulse on whether to join the United States in its grand sweep of allies, then opting out of the "coalition of the willing", as though the decision was his, unfettered by public opinion averse to having Canada invade a foreign country on a pallid excuse by a cerebrally challenged, ethically questionable leader of our neighbouring country.

Entitled to all things at all times, breezily sloughing off any and all criticisms, he took great umbrage at the time-inclement demonstration of impatience on the agenda of Liberal leader-inheritance, viscerally calling up the street fighter to claim another electoral victory when a leader more interested in the country's furtherance than his own agenda would have stepped down.

Finally, playing the sad little game of not being treated any differently than any other Canadian with an urgent health need for corrective surgery, being admitted instanter for heart bypass surgery when older, more frail, just as seriously afflicted seniors must wait weary months for same, and then be shunted off pre-surgery to wait again, for lack of operating-room space and hospital beds.

Did I say finally, up there? Wrong. Finally, the final insult, the publication of yet another memoir, this one to really stir the pot at a time when his beleaguered party can ill afford it, to cast slings and arrows at one and all, renewing animosities, relieving himself of bile, exonerating himself from the ultimate responsibility of his prime ministerial actions.

Worse yet, it's the most inauthentic of books, self-serving and vitriolic, cast in language he is utterly incapable of mustering, the narrative not his voice, but the intent and purpose, most certainly.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Human Carrion-Eaters

Humans shudder at the thought of vultures and hyenas doing the required work that Nature has set before them; ravaging the bodies of the dead. They are performing needed work, clearing away carrion, to prevent disease, to take back into nature's recycling formula that which is required to ensure that the cycle of life and death remain a continuum, one feeding into the other.

Order is maintained, the balance of Nature is assured.

Nothing particularly dreadful about this; actually its usefulness and stark utility is an acknowledged benefit to mankind, as it is to the natural world around us. Quite different from the menace of predators hunting down their prey and destroying life. Yet still responding to nature's call, since they too are imbued with a need and they fulfill their need as nature has intended them to.

And then there is mankind, and the human tendency to ravage one another, to contest territorial ownership, to slake one's desire to attain to ownership of what clearly is not one's own. As rapacious predators there seems little doubt that mankind outstrips its animal roots in its morally-challenged determination to avail itself of what it desires, regardless of the harmful impact upon others.

From the most outrageous examples of psychopathic mass murderers, to the deleterious impact visited on peoples' aspirations to live decent human lives when others see clear benefit of profit in depriving the naive of their opportunities for advancement. It's an insidious process, where greed feeds on greed, and one wonders whether there truly is an element of the guilty feeding upon the innocent.

As a case in point, the sub-prime mortgage crisis now taking its toll, impacting on economic markets around the world. With its genesis in that most enterprising of all social systems boasting the opportunity of equality to all its citizens. Or the opportunities inherent in unbridled capitalism gone berserk, bereft of human compassion; the ideals of ethical behaviour.

Vulnerable, gullible low-wage-earning people are persuaded by suave and fast-talking mortgage brokers into home ownership they can ill afford. Others are enticed to re-mortgage existing homes to take advantage of low-interest opportunities to extend the length of mortgage repayments, to extract savings from mortgage investments in a spiralling series of re-mortgaging schemes.

In the interests of sharp business practices, in the interests of making gains where none should be had. Leaving in their wake ruined aspirations and a swelling horde of homeless. The greed of the entrepreneurs who leave no opportunity untried to entice people into over-extensions of their meagre incomes is often dependent on the greed of the vulnerable to attain the freedom of ownership they so aspire to.

Forgotten is the adage that if it is too good to be true, then prepare to pay the price if you succumb to these economically unstable blandishments to enrich yourself. Peoples' greed, to withdraw sums of ready cash in the belief that in so doing they will not imperil their investments comes home to haunt them, and they point a trembling finger of accusation at their tempters.

Houses whose owners have been forced to vacate for want of economic upkeep when the schemes they were attracted to and agreed to, fail to materialize. The once-valued homes are left to the fate of unprotected property; looted of anything remotely valuable in a black market that accepts copper tubing, aluminum siding, usable doors and windows, plumbing fixtures.

The various levels of society prey each on the other. Neighbourhoods collapse. Chaos reigns.
The economy bleats in terror of collapse.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mendacious Illusions

Was it not ever so? A clean sweep with a "new" political party succeeding at the ballot box and assuming the mantle of governance. Pledging to restore the confidence of the public in government and the politicians who we are to assume represent the best and the brightest, the most astute and honest candidates this society can offer up.

Integrity and honesty are the order of the day. No longer will ethics in government be seen as an empty ploy to be skirted around to the benefit of those who seek to transform their experience in the inner circles of government and government bureaucracy into private gain. The Conservative government hobbled into a minority government after ushering the Liberals out with among other promises, to restore trust.

And so it was that Conservative Minister John Baird was tasked with ushering in a package of ethics reforms soon after coming to office as head of Treasury Board. His right-hand man at the time, privy to the inner sanctums of the new government's determination to appear to honour its commitment, a key figure in the work performed on the government's ethics law, has now seen fit to feather his nest.

In a way that completely confounds the original intent of the ethics legislation. Which had included required provisions to ensure that the revolving door of opportunity then existing which saw bureaucrats in cabinet ministers' offices launch themselves into private enterprise to lobby the government they had left, and make full use of their impressive contacts in powerful inner circles would be decently shut.

One such individual now seeking to reap returns on his investment as a government bureaucrat, Mike Van Soelen, removed himself from the government payroll in August, then promptly launched a public relations firm promising to "score big" on behalf of well-heeled clients. The literature tempting future clients sets out this man's stellar connections to the Conservative Cabinet Minister then at Treasury Board.

He self-lauds his work on the ethics law: "In this role, I supported the launch of the new government's first priority in coming to office, the Federal Accountability Act". "I also provided strategic counsel in the Environment portfolio, one of the hottest communications files in the country today." Making a total mockery of the exercise, and marking himself as a self-serving hypocrite of the first order.

Odd, under the Tory-introduced provisions not yet brought into effect, former ministerial employees such as Mr. Van Soelen would be forced to wait a full five years before setting out on their lobbying assaults for private-sector clients. But isn't there always a way with a will to acquire? It is not Mr. Van Soelen's intent to personally lobby government; he would contract-out, and provide the communications expertise.

Surprise, surprise, looks as though not much has changed despite the government's assurance that trust in its intent and determination to clean up less-than-ethical practises is not misplaced. Despite which, post the January 2006 election, a number of senior Conservative strategists have set up as high-powered lobbyists in advance of the introduction of the accountability act.

This is one very tired act.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

He's The Man

It's hard not to admire Nicholas Sarkozy. This is one determined individual. He is an adept politician, an assured leader of a country that has long been bereft of both. A man of principle, of action and unquestionable standards. Hard to believe that his country isn't feeling pretty good just about now that they have at their helm someone of his staunch character.

His frank assessment of Vladimir Putin's choices on the world scene, and his undaunted determination to confront his colleague on the international stage is more than a little admirable. In fact, it seemed a situation where two men of equal self-regard and awareness of their unique positions in the world at large, let alone in their countries could meet, however uneasily for Putin, with trust.

In that President Putin could trust that he would be hearing the unvarnished truth from President Sarkozy. Knowing that there is no possibility of intimidation, but an exchange of opinion met with respect. One a canted-right liberal Democrat, the other a dictator-tinged autocratic Democrat. Never the twain shall meet? Well, they do, they did and they quite well understand each other's language.

President Putin snarls courteously. President Sarkozy courteously chides.

And then goes off to meet with the ostracized opposition, the only visiting Western politician with the courage to do so. After receiving a grudging permission from host Putin. That nothing positive resulted from this two-day meeting is unfortunate. Mr. Putin is firm in his resolve that Russia will continue to support Iran. This does not portend well for the near future.

Mr. Sarkozy will not be put off so easily. He will employ other tactics when the time is right. He speaks for a powerful conglomerate. Mr. Putin listens attentively when the European Union speaks, much as he decries many of their decisions and pronouncements. This portends well for the future.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007


There, it's done. Done and over. For another four years. Four years of living with the premiership in Ontario of Dalton McGuinty. That peerless, self-satisfied exemplar of the status quo. The province needs more than that. It needs a steady hand to guide it through a period of exhausted economic conditions geared to become worse. It needs more than the hypocrisy of one who sets himself forward as a traditional family man, ardently religious.

The poor, the indigent and homeless need social support they just are not getting enough of. We need more subsidized housing for low-wage families, we need housing for the homeless. We need assurances that the growing number of children dependent on food banks to keep hunger at bay is an anomaly we fully intend to make history of. We need decent hourly wages for low-wage workers.

We need attention to our faltering health care system. We're deficient in the number of nurses we staff our hospitals with. We urgently require a greater number of primary care doctors; too many Ontarians are without family doctors. Our hospitals have a dearth of required diagnostic equipment. We need our provincial government to adjust the health care formulary to cover vital services they've removed.

We need smaller classes for primary and elementary-grade students so children can receive the benefits of more teacher time and attention. We need more funding for our schools so that basic equipment will be assured, and schoolchildren will no longer be sent out on fundraising missions going from door to door, begging for support for school programmes.

We need some attention paid to the enormous number of manufacturing jobs lost in the past few years, placing Ontario, once the engine of Canada's economy, well behind its Western provincial partners. We need more assured sources of energy, along with a greater investment in research into newer technologies, rather than having to fall back on reliance on cheaper, more plentiful, dirty coal.

But the election is over, the die has been cast, and we've got good old Dalton McGuinty again. That unabashed promoter of self. The family man beyond reproach. When what we need is a good leader. Wait, as a reward to his faithful followers who have granted him another majority government, and just incidentally inclusive of the rest of us, the reward was swift: a provincial holiday in February, titled "Family Day".

Thank you, thank you so much, Mr. Premier. Alas, not all families in this great province live the ideal, assured lives that your family and those of your siblings, acquaintances and fellow Members of Provincial Parliament do. The many families who struggle to make ends meet, who are frustrated by inadequate schooling, medical treatment, may not feel like celebrating about another day off.

And for all this you have to thank not the voters of Ontario who have so gladly handed you another kick at the Ontario legislature, but your erstwhile Progressive Conservative rival for the throne. As capricious fate would have it, this seasoned back-room good old boy who fashioned his politics after an earlier incarnation of a Red Tory bloopered exquisitely to your great advantage.

Why, your handlers and your own backroom boys must have thought they'd died and gone to heaven. Fund religious-based private schools in recognition that the province already funds the Catholic school system - in the interests of fairness? What a grand opportunity you were given - to stand tall and declare unequivocally that you would not be a party to anything that would divide the people of this great province.

Of course your experience was slightly different, based on historical perspectives and social obligations of the time. Of course such entitlements must be preserved in frozen-in-time observation of our heritage. Of course your sterling qualities as a legislator, an upright Roman Catholic, a reliable and trustworthy public servant has placed you where you are.

Of course a slothfully indolent, gormless electorate has dolefully accepted there is little other choice for now.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Verily, It Maketh The Heart Glow

Well, Canadians just love it, that their government is generous to a fault with their hard-earned tax dollars. Just being droll. Fact is, Canadians don't mind all that much paying stiff taxes when they can be assured that the lucre their government collects from them is used to good cause and good effect. For the services we require as a civilized, free and responsible society. From education to health care and social services for the needy among us.

And, lest we seem too inward-looking, too unfortunately parochial in this great wide world, to assist and help fund needs in other, less developed, less fortunate countries than ours. So, to read the results of data out of The Commitment to Development Index produced by the Washington-based Center for Global Studies, that Canada ranks fifth among the 21 wealthiest countries of the world in international usefulness, makes us feel pretty good.

Fact is, we know we're well off and we're grateful for that fact. Fact is, we understand our international obligations, the very thought of our wonderfully(?) wasteful way of living weighs heavily upon our collective conscience and to appease our sense of guilt we offer what we can to those so much less fortunate than we, with good grace and a sense of unburdening ourselves somewhat.

The index measures, on an annual basis, how the world's wealthy nations weigh in on their policies and responses to deliver needed support for the developing world in seven key areas. Aid, trade, investment, migration, security, technology and the environment. That about covers every aspect of perceived need, wouldn't you say? And Canada is right up there with the best of the do-good achievers.

We're fifth in ranking, with The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Norway before us, in that descending order. So good on us, all of us, eh?

Understandably enough, countries such as Japan with protectionist mindsets disallowing the importation of goods from developing countries in opposition to their own manufacturers and growers, are right down there at the bottom of the list. Trade barriers imposed on the hopes of trade for developing countries are a distinct no-no. And down there on the bottom, next to Japan are Greece and Italy.

Isn't there always a fly in the ointment when you begin to chortle too enthusiastically about how wonderful you are and someone patiently points out your deficits? Well, for Canada it's all about the environment and our failures in that arena. For lower taxes on gasoline (consumption), fishing subsidies encouraging taking of dwindling stocks, and high pollution per-person level, effectively lowering our otherwise-sterling performance.

We're getting there, though, and in the process learning about how to improve our performance. We can follow the example of uber-sterling Norway which, although the largest exporter of natural gas in the world, was ranked first in the environmental category for offsetting its downside by expanding forests and working to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Catching up...getting there...puff-puff... Waaait! for us!

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Comradely Confrontation

All is diplomacy and the promise of delicate stepping around the issues of maintaining stable relations between the European Union and the new Russia become so fond of carrying her big stick and not averse to using it. Russia, through Gazprom, is now stepping down slightly from rhetorical belligerence so worrisome to the EU through past experiences of sudden energy cut-offs to prepare to sign an agreement with Ukraine in the interests of settling outstanding payments.

Payments claimed to be overdue, and representative of a truly astounding amount to the great puzzlement of Ukraine's own energy representatives, who responded to Gazprom's claims of entitlement and warning of a cold winter in stunned disbelief. The disgruntled Russian bear, still smarting from the realities of world-power honour lost and regained, chooses now and again to lash out in anger at those who formerly relied so heavily upon her good graces.

Still, Europe is concerned. And France's new president has stepped up to the plate. Something that Nicolas Sarkozy is fond of doing, presenting himself as a new Napoleon on the world stage. Uttering bold statements, undertaking risky adventures, and basking in the glow of his early achievements. Including moving France closer to a traditional ally, the United States.

And obviously not averse to chiding those who step too severely out of line. In the process telling it like it is: Iran is moving itself from world censure to the potential for violent invasion to ensure it does not gain nuclear weaponry and in the process arm the world's too-ample supply of terrorists in its bid to unseat every other world power through force of acquisition and action.

Also, not ignoring Russia's newly-gained strength of posturing, and even more, supporting worrisome regimes, thus "complicating" world affairs. So here is Nicolas Sarkozy telling Russia that its human rights record is compellingly awful, and its bullying on the world stage, most particularly its neighbours through the threat of withholding oil and gas is having a deleterious impact.

Not the least of which is expressed in the way that others view its alarming alignment with problematic governments. So helpful in nuclear acquisition for Iran, for example. So unwilling to denounce human-rights abusers in the guise of other nations' leaders lest they bring undue attention to their own dreadful lapses. As in what truly is the story behind the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

As though the Kremlin is prepared to denounce its own - apart from its identification of past KGB apparatchiks gone bad, as little red herrings. Sarko is feeling a little perky himself, flaunting his EU-aligned presence in Bulgaria, Poland and Czechoslovakia, then going on to visit in a most comradely fashion with Vladimir Putin.

His message initially placatory; to address Mr. Putin with the assurance of his "conviction that Russia is, and will remain, a major player in international relations, and an essential partner". But there are buts, aren't there always? Yet, meeting the prospect of confrontation, Moscow contends its anticipation is that the visit would clear the air on France's stand on several global issues.

So which will it be? Russia holding France to account for its more aggressive stance in support of all that Russia tends to find itself in conflict with, or France holding Russia to account for its more aggressive stance, refusing to support Western-based initiatives to halt the spread of nuclear arms and human rights abuses?

Well, doggone, when all is said and done, both countries will have their differences. In values and priorities and the friends they choose. Because the first order of business will always be trade entitlements and the enhancing of opportunities in development and partnerships so valuable to the economies of both countries.

Case closed. Kind of.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Witless Wonder Whining

Who might that be? Why none other than the current and soon-to-be new Premier-elect of the Province of Ontario. Do we deserve this? Must be so. If we see another mini-interview with Dalton McGuinty praising his sterling up-bringing in a classic Canadian caring family of British Isles background, I'll puke. So don't sit too close to me, since these interviews and heart-twisting testimonials to the sacred memory of his faultless social-minded father are ubiquitous.

Try sitting next to me after the election, when the only excretions emanating from my poor battered disbelieving face will be tears, countless tears of regret and rage that we Ontarians are destined to spend another four interminable years of listening to, hearing, and worse yet, being governed by Dalton McGuinty. With ample input, needless to say, from other members of the McGuinty clan, all equally dedicated to the public weal. Which is what they tell us.

This walking, talking, quacking (he's the canard, all right) celebration of political chicanery, representing mediocrity at its most opportunistic, crass, hubristic and infuriatingly, stolidly smug level exemplifies the worst in political ineptitude. I hate to commit this thought to view, but is this man, could this man possibly be a reflection of ourselves? Might that be why he was elected for the first term, and now is roaring steadily toward re-election?

Is this what we want for ourselves, to be governed by such a one as he? Must be. He's entitled to the post; we've made it possible. True, the alternatives are few and for most voters, seemingly unlikely, although I wouldn't, myself, own to that kind of uncharitable thought. The Liberals' most likely opponent with at least a chance of election, experienced the great misfortune of watching their glib leader shoot them all in their collective foot.

Serves 'em right. Yet they're still telephoning us, belabouring us, cajoling and employing treacly means to entice us to get right out there on that auspicious day and vote Conservative. As if we'd sully our values by doing the unthinkable. Almost as painful as the thought of voting Liberal. Nice to hear that the NDP and the Greens are moving up there in the public opinion polls. Much good it'll do us.

Still, we're allowed a modicum of humour in all this mess. To know that Premier McGuinty is taking centre stage to 'lash out' at his Progressive Conservative rival, accusing that campaign of underhanded attack advertisements. "It's never the kind of ad I would have approved", sniffed old Dalton. "I was raised to find a way to be positive. It just runs counter to what I think Ontarians want to hear".

Right-o, Dalton. We're positively wild about being reminded time yet again that you've been a colossal failure at governance. We can understand that it's a trifle annoying to be viewing television hockey with your innocent little son only to watch in horror as an Tory advertisement asks "Do you really want four more years of mismanaged health care? four more years of Dalton McGuinty suing the parents of autistic children?".

What's his problem, anyway? Nothing untrue about those reminders, pity he considers them uncouth. If the truth stings, then he must know it's hit its target. When challenged by reporters who ask about his own sometimes unkind Liberal online advertisements, his superior sniff that "There's only so much I can manage in terms of my campaign" really hits the mark for elevated self-regard and prissy sound-back.

McGuinty can verbally thrust and feint and claim superiority in matters of honesty, clarity and responsiveness, but his record proves otherwise.

Another four years...oh the pain of it!

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Get This: Canada's Serious

Very true; Canada is seriously serious. About her dominion over the Canadian Arctic and the Northwest Passage. So look out, all you narrow-eyed contenders. We're finally also putting our money where our anxiety is. That's always a hopeful sign that we're ready to confront reality in the realization that statements of ownership and intent don't always cut the ice we political naifs hope it will.

Because there's biiig money to be had in the offing, or in this instance, the hopeful geographic claims of ownership. A more navigable year-round trade route made possible by climate change and the faltering summer sea ice presence, for one thing. With all those countries insisting these to be international waters, free and open to all commercial, let alone intra-national shipping.

And the untold riches waiting to be discovered, isolated, dredged, mined and carried off in triumph. Not that Canada is interested in anything quite so unmeaningful and sordid as oil, gas and mineral resource plundering. Not at all: noble, high-minded and proud Canada is concerned about the environmental degradation that will inevitably come to pass should those commercial national vultures descend on her territory to despoil its wild natural beauty.

So. This great country is dispensing infrastructure funds. Hmmm, $68 million to repair Churchill, Manitoba's port and rail lines. In the greater interests of guaranteeing Canada's Arctic sovereignty, inclusive of the future of northern Manitoba's signal outpost. A lonely, but courageously enterprising locale.

Imports and exports opportunities will be significantly boosted through Hudson Bay. Tourism will be greatly enabled and enhanced, all enlisted in the spirited defense of Canadian control over the Arctic. "Rest assured, as the world beats a path to our Arctic doorstep, our government is working hard to ensure that Canada is ready to greet them when they arrive", trumpeted Stephen Harper just outside Churchill.

Drum rolls. A choir of trumpets ascending to a heavenly chorus. And to commemorate the International Polar Year, a scholarly initiative to attract thousands of scientists from around the world in a joint study of the Arctic's changing climate and ecosystems; money for research, accordingly. Research projects signing on to studies of the effect of climate change on seals, whales and polar bears.

Also pollution in the Arctic environment and recently-recorded changes to glaciers, ice caps and sea ice. "Scientific enquiry and development are absolutely essential to Canada's defence of its North, as they enhance our knowledge of, and presence in, the region" the prime minister intoned, labouring mightily to excite his listeners and himself as well.

"I've said so many times before; use it or lose it is the first principle of sovereignty!" How pithy, how cerebrally cognizant, how very elegant a statement, so uniquely original.

But the funding to help repair the rail line linking the Port of Churchill to The Pas and inevitably to grain farmers all over Western Canada, will help Canada to be more - well, Canada. This is, after all, needed upgrade in neglected infrastructure; panic over unwanted international focus relentlessly urging practical upkeep. As in: about time.

So the three-pronged initiative, begun earlier with the announcement of a new northern military training centre in Resolute Bay, and the new northern deep-sea port announced for the old Baffin Island village of Nanisivik, Nunavut, amount to the first of the knock-out punches Canada is finally arranging to convince herself and those insolently mendacious contenders that we mean business....

Trust us, we do. No kidding.

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