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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

On Second Thought....

This is one obnoxious individual, Karlheinz Schreiber. Nonetheless he was successful in many spheres of life. In his country of origin, Germany, having been employed in the secret service of West Germany, then as a justice for a number of years, and then on to arms dealing and industry-lobbying. In the process making allies of high-placed political acquaintances, including former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

In his Canadian incarnation as a resident, then citizen of this country, making friends in similarly high political places, both provincial and federal from among Liberals and Conservatives. Wheeling and dealing. He comes across as greasy, unsavoury, but then those characteristics fit quite nicely with many of our politicians who share those singularities. Brian Mulroney comes quickly to mind.

This man has managed to inveigle himself into the confidence of politicos in both of Canada's main political parties. And not just shady personalities, but some very well-thought-of and thoughtful politicians who are thought of in retrospect as having served the country well. So there must be something worthwhile about the man other than his unctuously ingratiating mien.

He's in somewhat desperate personal straits, however, having been charged in Germany for illicit manoeuvrings, and is being recalled to stand trial there. Canada, having him in custody, standing ready and eager enough to hand him over. But the current situation where he has revealed rather unsurprising allegations about former prime minister Brian Mulroney resulting in a number of enquiries has him given temporary leave to remain.

For which grace he is expected to testify during a number of official enquiries recently launched into the whys and wherewithals of cash monies of substantial amounts having been handed over by him to the former prime minister. In the process tarnishing the highest office in the land. Mr. Schreiber likes to be coy, but he is foxy and sharp, with an obviously unimpaired memory.

He will testify, he claims, but he wants to be treated with respect, to have the dignity of his person acknowledged. And who can blame him? Thus far he has been treated with contempt. And that is rather contemptible. To insist that he remain in a criminal holding facility, to be brought into the enquiry chambers handcuffed is an insult he ill deserves. Particularly as a man of a certain advanced age.

It does the government of this country no credit to insist that this man reveal all. Yet in the process behave toward him as though we are a second-rate banana republic. Then again, perhaps we are on occasion.

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Whither Braggadocio?

Imagine the miserable suspense that holds Lord Black in thrall as he awaits his sentencing in Chicago. For he is somewhat perturbed at the prospect of what possibly awaits his near future, make no mistake. This, despite his post-trial boasting that no evil would befall him, he would be spared, for he places great trust in justice and in justice would the truth prevail.

Rather absurd, given that he was already in the dock for serious offences, charged and found guilty of fraud and obstruction of justice.

Yet, he uttered, with great self confidence, the court would "yield a just result". Conceivably offering him a gentle slap on his upturned wrist, gently chide him for his ethical indiscretions, and casually wave him on without any tedious and time-consuming penalties, to the next phase of his life, which he is more than ready to embark upon.

In the interim, that space of time between verdict and sentencing, a little nervous mouse of "what-if" has been nibbling away at his confidence.

It's just not fair! We should all of us exhale a sigh of regret and compassion on behalf of this insufficiently-appreciated man whose footprint on the world stage has never quite been given the acknowledgement he so desperately seeks. Celebrity yes, pile it on. Notoriety, no thank you. They've both been earned, though. One sought, the other befallen. Life is so unfair.

He is, after all, a "person with a deep reservoir of kindness and generosity, one who has made significant contributions to society", we are informed. Who could doubt that he is a kind and generous man, particularly to himself, acceding graciously to his inherent need to succeed, to garner praise, and to heap upon himself titles and cash awards, equal to his status in life?

His contributions to society? Well, for starters, his keen eye in purchasing bargain-sale business on the cusp of ruin, raping their resources, booting out their employees, and tossing aside the spent shell. Then there's his literary accomplishments: his affinity for elegant prose and the dense dark matter of language and history granting the world yet more biographies of hitherto-overlooked political personalities of little note: like Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Still, for the piddling social infringement of the law whereby he undertook to enrich himself a trifle illegally, he has endured, we are also informed "unimaginable pain" as a result of "immeasurable suffering" during the past five years. Years during which his integrity has been impugned, his honesty and dignity have been called into question and defiled by nasty charges of corruption.

Ah, the character witnesses that have been brought forth to attest to his sound character and value to society; impressive beyond doubt. All agreeing that tough sentencing guidelines proposed for Lord Black "offends fundamental notions of justice". In that this sterling character whose unctuous pomposity and sense of self-entitlement so given to titles and ermine cloaks is undeserving of society's censure and the weight of justice declared.

Ah - schadenfreude at the plight of this beleaguered man of letters, captain of industry fallen from grace. How unkind, how perfectly untoward life can prove to be. This is not the avaricious cynic of regal aspirations we of the great unwashed take him to be, not at all. This is a good-natured and sweet-tempered man who seeks to acquire only that which he has rightly earned, in his regard.

The consequences of which have, in the most twisted fashion, caused him great pain as he "has watched his family suffer untold agonies at the hands of the savage and reckless press"; as his health and that of his family have been impaired through the onset of severe problems related "to the tribulations endured by the entire family".

His public outbursts proclaiming his innocence, despite the damning evidence and eloquent witness brought against him in a trial of law, should have alerted us to his innocence. Justice truly is blind, that it could not recognize the nobility of this man. He knows, though; he predicted his acquittal before, during and after his trial.

That his manner and confidence irritated his prosecutors (persecutors!) and trial Judge St. Eve is well known. And really, most unfortunate.

But truly, we know him not; he is but a family man, a loving father and husband. An intellectual, author, business proprietor, a standard-bearer of all that is admirable in a public figure of sterling repute. A man of deep spiritual faith - one who has installed his own very personal "spare and elegant" chapel in his Toronto mansion.

What do we grubby onlookers know of the true value of such patricians among us who, after all, are entitled to certain passes in life that we are not. The wealthy are not like those of society's benighted ordinary class.

Just ask Lord Black of Cross Harbour.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Assaulting the Honour of Muhammed

Inadvertent insults to the honour of Islam and its Prophet garners the incautious reflection-inducing threats of a type unimaginable in a western democracy. We simply cannot get it through our obviously thick skulls that insults, however unintended, will not be countenanced by the Islamic world. Islamic fanatics live on a knife-edge of awareness, quick to identify slurs against their faith, their Prophet.

And the penalties for transgressions, however minor they might appear to be to the rational mind, can be life-threatening at one extreme; experience-sobering at the other. Salmon Rushdie knows of the former, through the institution of a fatwa against his dread writerly impudence; Danish cartoonists know of the shattering middle-ground where Muslim rage can affect the bottom line of an entire country through association.

And now Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old British elementary school teacher working in Sudan is aware of the latter kind of punishment. She was originally looking at the imposition of a state-imposed charge of blasphemy under sharia law which would punish her with three months' imprisonment and 40 lashes. Punishment for lack of alertness.

To the fact that encouraging her grade two class of 7-year-olds to name a teddy bear after the Prophet Muhammad constituted a grave offence. Succumbing to the appeals of one of her 7-year-old charges whose name in fact was Muhammad, and who felt that the teddy bear whose function it would be to become a mascot to the entire class, should be named after him. Most of the other children in the class enthusiastically agreed.

Her fellow teachers at the independent international school serving ordinary Sudanese families, along with the children of diplomats were in agreement that she had done nothing deliberately to offend Sudanese religious sensibilities. Except for one teacher, herself a religious fundamentalist who fumed at the insult to Islam and who reported her to the authorities.

In Sudan human rights violations which see the government in Khartoum encouraging Arab janjaweed in league with the government's armed forces attack, murder, rape and throw thousands out of their homes into refugee camps is no crime, but a simple defence against insurgency. While a naive foreigner's inadvertent foray into the arcane world of sidestepping insults to Islam is a matter of grave government concern.

Reflecting the attitudes, or perhaps fomenting the attitudes of its greater population ready to march in high dudgeon through the streets of the capital, to descend upon the mixed Christian-Muslim school with a mind to attacking the institution whose board had the good sense to temporarily close it down. Fully realizing what would transpire as a result of the perceived insult.

Ms. Gibson was charged, incarcerated, a brief trial ensued, and as a result of world-wide outraged response to the absurdity of the situation and the charges, was given a 15-day prison sentence followed by an expulsion from the country.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bizarre Expedient...

But then when you're really pressed by a truly intransigent and unforgivingly-determined protagonist you use whatever means are at your disposal. The means chosen are enlightened beyond belief. The Dalai Lama depends upon reasonable compromise. His cause is beyond reproach, his methods beg to be emulated in all situations of contested legitimacy.

As the leader of 14 million devout Buddhists his is the responsibility to a higher order of thought and behaviour in the face of adversity. And he serves his spiritual belief and his followers well by disseminating unceasingly his message of peace and patience - and above all, love for one's fellow man. His is a solemn undertaking, but he is no symbol of solemnity in his personal demeanour.

He finds life a bracing experience in guidance for those dependent upon his simple wisdom. Agitating in his gently chiding manner against violence of any kind, advancing instead the simple expedient of proffering trust, of behaving moderately, of being respectful to others, of appreciating life and all the opportunities it offers us as reasonable individuals.

He is also extremely creative. He asks now of China nothing more than a relaxation of its iron grip on Tibet, and the Tibetan people. While China angrily continues to accuse this man of advancing "splitism", he instead goes out of his way to express his desire that China see the utility of offering autonomy to Tibet, within greater China.

In his creative spirit, the challenge that reality has posed to him to ensure the continuity of Buddhist tradition in the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama faced with the opposition of China to permit that tradition to carry on in its 600-year-old tradition, he advances a series of options. The solution to be arrived at in a decidedly democratic manner, although he has the power vested in his person to arrive at a solution on his own.

He proposes a referendum be held among his followers, one that might serve the function of selecting a successor, but before the advent of his death. And even whether Buddhist heritage might be better served in the long run were he not to be reincarnated at all. Alternately, that he might himself select a successor to his exalted post who would be an adult, not a child to be guided and structured into the post, given the trials and tribulations Tibet faces.

It is as though this quietly brilliant man of peace seeks to turn back history and re-create tradition to better reflect the present, an unheard-of unseating of time-honoured custom, and an overhaul entirely of accepted Buddhist conventions, reliant on complex religious rituals to arrive at succession. Challenging the very essence of refined tradition to protect his spiritual lineage.

China professes to be scandalized and continues to excoriate this man.

China unabashedly continues to apply rigorous and often deadly pressure on uncompliant Tibetans, stifling the authenticity of the Buddhist reality and belief structure, then she poses as the righteous protector of that very same religion's traditional rites of passage. "The Dalai Lama's statement is in blatant violation of religious practise and historical procedure" clamours China hysterically.

For China, as befits its aggressive standards, is unwilling to allow control of Tibetan Buddhism to slip from her grasp, in her intention to install a child Dalai Lama she has selected as the "legitimate" successor to the incumbent. The situation transcends absurdity. It flies in the face of reason and intelligent appraisal of the conditions under which China stifles and controls Tibet.

Isn't the Panchen Lama truly a puckish figure? Who better than he to prick China into risible protest?

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On The Inside

Well, if anyone has an inside seat to what's happening in Iran it should be an Iranian with a varied background like that of Akbar Ganji. He's had the life experiences to ensure his pronouncements and insider knowledge are taken seriously. And so we should. Because his message is, after all, intriguingly hopeful.

He is a journalist who is actively defying the current government of Iran and its Ayatollahs, the real power behind the maundering idiocy of President Ahmadinejad. His credentials are impressive; as former Revolutionary Guard, he has the insight of what life looks like from that perspective, as one who once was an enthusiastic supporter of the Islamic Revolution.

How refreshing that this man is now the leading dissenting voice, a symbol of resistance who has paid his respectable dues by a long incarceration in the dread Evin Prison. His stay there was not without its own drama, where a hunger strike of resistance nearly took his life when he was reduced to 47 life-tenuous kilograms. He served ten years in prison, with lengthy periods of solitary confinement and the special treat of torture for a recalcitrant outcast.

While in prison he authored a formula, later smuggled out and published, titled Republican Manifesto, setting outlines for a secular, democratic Iran. How's that for hope and determination? Mr. Ganji agrees that human rights violations and repression under theistic totalitarian Iran have increased recently, but that oppression has not weakened the resolve of the country's pro-democracy movement.

He claims that in Iran civil society is more united now, with differing interests making common cause for the good of an eventual revolution leading to democracy. He cites groups such as feminists, students, labour unions, academics and journalists, all of whom remain committed to changing the direction of their country from one of politically stifling religious zealotry to one of democratic reform.

He affirms, furthermore, that fundamentalism does not express the core values of the society itself.

And, he argues, regime change must come from internal pressure, not from external boycotts and and threats of aggression, which will only serve to alienate the population by the outside world's violent intervention. Instead, he recommends opening a dialogue with the ruling theocracy and continuing to press the government to commit to honouring human rights.

He correctly points out what should be obvious, if we were not so fearful of the threat posed to the world by Iran's nuclear-aspiring trajectory.

"Economic sanctions and military attacks against Iran are the first and foremost enemies of democracy and human rights." Yes, he says, Iran is a dictatorship, but one which is being confronted by an increasingly aware, educated and articulate civil society. Since his release from prison he has travelled extensively around the world with his non-violent message.

An emissary for peace and patience, while the world nervously awaits serious symptoms that change inspired by Iran's population determined to become what they are not yet, a respected nation among nations, comes to fruition. Before the anticipated disaster of either invasion or successful detonation of a nuclear device occurs.

Some choice.

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All Is Fair In Politics

Why is it not surprising that the currently-leading contender for the Democratic presidential vote is trailing the five leading Republican presidential contenders in what is described as "match-ups"? It is after all, Hillary Clinton, a woman, a notoriously strong-willed and determined woman who has top billing for the Democratic nod.

Why would a woman whose history in politics and whose private life has been fodder for much excited speculative gossip even harbour any expectations of winning against male candidates with much less intriguing backgrounds? One, moreover, who seems to bring out compelling polarizing attitudes in the U.S. body politic.

And since the two Democratic rivals trailing her in popular support among Democrats, Barack Obama and John Edwards, seem impressive enough in the minds of the voting public in match-ups with the Republican contenders, it would seem that in America, as in North America, women still take a substantial back-seat in political opportunities to their male counterparts.

In a first-contest state like Iowa, it would appear she hasn't a hope in hell. Women should, after all, know their place, and in the White House it's as spouse-of only.

All is not lost, if the Democrats are looking for hope, since Barack Obama is out there pulling a strong second, and he has a winning card up his sleeve. The enlistment of the First Lady of U.S. television entertainment and life-management - none other than the telegenic and ever enthusiastic Opra Winfrey. She will do her magic for Barack Obama, hauling in the female vote, never quite persuaded that they want to see Hillary Clinton in the White House again, in any event.

Mr. Obama is playing hardball now, even going so far as to use girlspeak in his bid for the female vote: "You guys have been measuring the curtains for a while, you telling me she can get away with not winning Iowa?" he asked winningly addressing a televised discussion with female panellists. Hammering in the message that her front-running status is lost if she fails to beat him in Iowa, a state which has never backed a woman for statewide office, or for Congress. No one told him, evidently, that this gambit bordered on patronizing.

Ms. Winfrey is available and ready to go, prepared to campaign right by Mr. Obama's side in Iowa, beginning the nominating process. And then, it's on to other early battlegrounds; more reasonable states - relatively speaking- New Hampshire and South Carolina. But Mrs. Clinton has her own trump card in her ever-popular husband and former president, Bill Clinton, who will be campaigning alongside her in Iowa. That will either endear her to some swing-voters or infuriate them convulsively.

Obama and Oprah, or Hillary and Bill. Formidable together as a force of nature and political manoeuvring. But on their own? It's anyone's guess, right? Interesting suspense, nice show.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

So What Is The Solution, Then?

Criminal psychologists and academics are all blasting Canada's latest attempts to reach some kind of reasonable accommodation between state punishment for crimes committed, and sentences meted out that hardly seem to fit the seriousness of the crime committed. Our new Conservative government promised in its pre-election platform to get tougher with criminals rending the fabric of social life. And have produced a new 'get-tough' crime bill. No doubt it is lacking in many ways, but it does attempt to make some inroads in justice; at least from the perspective of the vast number of law-abiding Canadians.

We've had more than enough drunk driving manslaughter cases with laughable sentences meted out to unrepentant repeat DUIs. We're horrified at the rate of youth-upon-youth murders, at increasingly earlier ages of commission. We're thunderstruck at the vulnerability of our school-age children in our trusted institutions where armed intruders have been able to take innocent lives in the commission of their demented fixations, their social dementia demonstrating their irrational hatred of those so unlike themselves.

It's time the punishment to fit the crime. That increasingly earlier lifting of minimum sentences, earlier parole dates are benefiting the criminals and leaving the victims incredulous at the lack of interest our government and our justice system demonstrates on their behalf hardly does justice to the victims of crime. It's time and past time that some meaningful alterations in the criminal justice system be undertaken. Changes that speak to the temper of the times, and the expectations of Canadians to be able to live in unchallenged peace in the privacy of their lives.

Yet, dammit, here is the crime bill that increases mandatory minimum sentences for various violent offences, as a partial answer, we think, to the present conundrum. One supposes it's the inclusion of a rather different, reverse onus provision that would have repeat offenders prove that they do not represent a further and ongoing threat to society that has defenders of the criminal class on edge and crying foul.

The critics contend that our legislators are taking the quick and easy direction in attempting to deal with criminal activity in the country. Rather, they say, than looking for root causes and effective ways to deal with crime. Would it help if the government issued an executive order declaring that crime is not permitted in Canada; would that compel would-be malefactors to cease and desist? What would these critics recommend as more effective ways to deal with the situation?

Well, enlisting the entirety of the country at every level of governance and civic infrastructure, to ensuring that every child is given equal opportunities throughout their formative years, perhaps? Making certain that decent living arrangements are available to low-income families, good nutritious food on the table, an evenly-proven education ending with good job prospects? I'm all for it. How do we solve the very real problem of a genetic disposition to psychopathy?

How can we legislate parental responsibility? Since, after all, it's the child's earliest exposure in the home situation, to emotional support and responsibility that really sets him or her up for the future direction they select. Many would argue, and I'd support them, that ensuring that every family has their elemental needs assured in a humane society might be a workable first step. But there are no guarantees even in this; individuals who don't make the most of their opportunities abound, regardless of how gently society attempts to support them.

What is the "different strategy" that these academics talk so convincingly about? We do happen to have great swaths of disadvantaged groups in this country; every society has. Some people simply do not have the emotional wherewithal, the physical stamina and determination, the cerebral capability, to haul themselves into the middle class, thus giving their children a more level platform from which to launch themselves into the future.

It's the diversity of humankind. We are gifted differently. Our genetic endowments vary widely. Our social and economic circumstances differ, setting us up to inhabit specific social and cultural, economic and pluralist spheres in society. Lethargy may keep us there. Misfortune and lack of opportunity fall more heavily on the disadvantaged; it is why and how they are disadvantaged. Their early exposure to available options, their social class, ethnic roots.

We have a huge Aboriginal population whose presence in institutes of criminal detention far outweigh that of the average; whose presence in the education system at high levels is markedly lower than that of the average; whose addictions to spirits and recreational drugs is more compelling than that of the average Canadian. Who perceive a very real bias against them, and rebel against it, to their own continued disadvantage.

We have immigrant ghettos, whose inhabitants start out at a disadvantage, all the more so when they are black bringing their often assimilable social mores with them; one of absent fathers and a gang culture. We've more than enough social ills and unworkable social solutions, and hang-wringing. But in the final analysis, we are all imbued with free will. The freedom to choose between what is acceptable and what is not.

Resentment against a society that does its best to be inclusive and whose justice system ensures that we enjoy great freedoms and protections, creates defiance and social obstruction. When violence occurs as a result, any social system closes ranks and isolates its criminals. Teach us a better way.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

O Canada - Beware These Revelations

This is perhaps more, much more than we anticipated. Fulsomely, shamefully more than we might have expected to hear. Ours is, after all, a population accustomed to the introduction of immigrants, the acceptance of others. We welcome immigrants to this great vast, meagerly populated geography, and always have done, though the countries of exit and emigration are not now what they once were.

We are now truly a country comprised of multifarious cultures, traditions, ethologies, religions. We revel in those very differences as a nation, proudly multicultural, a mosaic of humankind living in fairly good-natured harmony. At least such was the prevailing opinion in reflection of what seemed once to be our reality.

Yes, there have always been elements in the population of "old stock" Anglo-Saxon heritage, suspicious of newcomers, tardy in their acceptance of the "others", but this country has seen a great turn-about in its recognition of the quality of humankind wherever their origin. We are a free people, a proud people, committed to social justice and inclusion.

We value our pluralism, our heritage, our willingness to embrace others and help make a place for them for there is so much "place" in this country to inhabit and to share.

Still, the world has seen a great fit of fear and suspicion descend upon our shoulders. The result of which has been an uncomfortable, sometimes difficult to contain backlash of resentment and further suspicion of foreigners, those who have come to our shores to partake of its natural resources, the beauty of this land, and the opportunities that await them here.

Opportunities often slow to bear fruit, although the land continues to.

Rumblings of discontent and accusations bordering on outright hostility coming from rural portions of Quebec stimulated an public enquiry, a travelling commission headed by two highly respected academics; Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor. Public hearings have revealed some good will and a good deal of ill will targeting immigrants.

People have aired their grievances about the presence of unwanted traditions and strange symbols in their once-homogeneous society: Muslim headscarves, Jewish kosher food, Sikh ceremonial daggers. Headgear and body coverings which are so starkly at odds with what is considered the norm that they draw hostility and censure at their presence. How parochial can we be? Diluting the purity of the overwhelming French presence and heritage.

The Muslim community, already fearful as a result of backlash at their presence and their demands for sensitive accommodation, feel the impact of these revelations as a catastrophe for them personally. Yet there is, in large part, some common sense in the expectations expressed by some presentations; why is it, after all, that immigrants seem loathe to integrate more readily into the larger society? Our values after all, are fairly universal.

Still there is an overwhelming, discomfiting feeling on the part of civil volunteer groups helping immigrants and refugees adjust to their adopted country that a seriously discriminatory malaise has been unveiled by the commission. "There is a distrust of immigrants.... At the extremes, there was racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia. That was hard to listen to."

Unsurprisingly, and as a result, immigrants are beginning to re-think their futures in Quebec, wondering whether they should pull up and settle elsewhere, in another province.

Tellingly, one man pointed out that when the Bouchard-Taylor commission set out, it was Quebecers whose fears were being aired - of their threatened social-cultural identity. Now it is immigrants who realize fear for the future of their families in a social-political atmosphere of paranoia. At the same time, there are other Quebecers who express shock at the revelations: "I had believed I was heir to an open, welcoming, freedom-loving culture. I have heard too many comments from my fellow citizens that have called that into question."

There has been another kind of response too, from immigrants. A more positive one, finally expressing some realization that there are reasonable expectations in this society from Muslims upon whom the greater part of suspicion has settled. Groups are beginning to coalesce, to organize themselves in a way that they can collectively determine to avoid what appears to be exaggerated demands for special treatment in a sensitive environment.

Most important of all, an understanding is beginning to set in that they have a responsibility to themselves as well as to the larger community to become more involved in reining in the activities of "preachers of hate". There is now a self-acknowledged need to protest at the presence of fundamentalist imams at local mosques who address the faithful with corrupted and distorted interpretations of the Koran. And who preach animosity against the non-Muslim society.

"We do suggest that there be limits to what [Muslim] preachers say. They should adapt to the reality here and understand the realities of Quebec society", according to Abdallah Annab, president of the Association des marocaines et des marocains de l'Estrie, speaking before the commission. "Because what happens sometimes - and we don't know how they wind up here - is that preachers come here to preach hate.

"And we must insist on this point, that people who give religious instruction be informed, and that there be some kind of control over what they say."


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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Apologies : Agendas

Suffer the little children to come unto Me
Attempts to right wrongs can be exorbitantly costly. In terms of dignity, of self-perception, of value to the observing community, of hard cash payment in lieu of turning back the clock and undoing that which has been wrought. The Catholic Church, once the fount of all that was blessed in man's higher spiritual aspirations in the minds of its passionate adherents has fallen from grace. Not onto the billowy white softness of a cloud once thought suitable as the home of holy communion, but with a thump, onto the nail-stippled bed of reality.

Oregon Jesuits have agreed to what is considered to be a huge cash settlement to settle sex abuse claims in Alaska. A settlement whose sum total of $50-million for 110 victims appears to satisfy victims rights advocates and their lawyerly support teams, no doubt rubbing their hands in glee. "It seems that Alaska was a dumping ground for predators", according to the president of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. So who can blame them for humbling the Church for its human-rights violations, then denying, denying.

Which is to say high-ranking prelates themselves sighing in exasperation at the only too-human soul-destroying behaviours of their priests and yet outraged at their obvious lack of focus of duty to their flock; succumbing to their base urges and violating the trust of children. In response to which when faced with the reality of a priest whose pederasty made him a threat to the reputation of the church - never mind the futures of the preyed-upon children - it became an urgency to re-assign them.

Not de-frocking these slayers of child-innocence, but sending them off to other parishes where it would most certainly be known their predatory activities would continue. And, it would seem, the further away these miserably conscienceless men of God were sent, the greater the sigh of relief in the offices and administration of the clergy. Where better than frozen Alaska where it might be thought the frigid atmosphere might cool the wicked ardour of these failures?

Where better, in fact, than parishes where the majority of the faithful would be indigenous populations? Hesitant to speak out for themselves, fearful of the wrath of the Church should they despoil the reputation of a ranking cleric, prepared to submit to the corruption of their trustingly vulnerable young. Yet another insult to be borne by the victims of white superiority and churchly virtue. For in their isolated villages, shut off from outside contact for months on end, what could they do other than to helplessly submit, these trusting children, one after another....

"In some villages, it is difficult to find an adult who was not sexually violated by men who used religion and power to rape, shame and then silence hundreds of Alaska native children. Despite all this, no Catholic religious leader has yet to admit that problem priests were dumped in Alaska", grieved one of the victims' lawyers. "No amount of money can ever bring back a childhood, a soul or a community," he offered.

While money will change hands in the settlement, there is no requirement that Jesuits admit to having performed any harmful acts against their congregants. How is that for meaningful contrition, an admission of wrong-doing? Indeed, the provincial superior of the Oregon Jesuits informed the Los Angeles Times that his group felt "disappointed" at the substance of the disclosures revealed by the victims' lawyers "which we see as premature and detrimental to the province".

Earlier a whopping settlement of $660-million was paid out by the Los Angeles archdiocese to offset the claims of 508 plaintiffs. Followed by the diocese of San Diego which settled lawsuits with 144 victims of abuse for $198-million. The Boston archdiocese may have originally set the standard for abuse and scandals. It's truly beyond comprehension that the Church would take to its bosom men whose predatory pathology overtook their humanity.

But wait, there are confessions of wrong-doing and regret expressed by church elite; one such from the mouth of Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec City. He asks forgiveness for the sins of the church committed in the province of Quebec. Commenting that "errors were committed" by Catholics, by church officials - ah, there's the rub - prior to 1960. The current representatives of the Catholic Church conveniently excluded.

It was their unfortunate predecessors who so badly handled sex scandals and shaped attitudes favouring "anti-Semitism, racism, indifference toward First Nations and discrimination against women and homosexuals". Present company is of a different, far finer stock. And in them should we trust. His is no voice of denial, for he outright makes claim to the sordid past of sexual offences: "youngsters were subject to sexual aggression by priests".

Delicately put, nicely done. Yet what's this? the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the association of Quebec Bishops cannot find it in themselves to support and stand behind Cardinal Ouellet. He speaks, they gravely intone, "only for himself", for bishops are free to say what they wish to in their own diocese. He stands alone in his noble admission of failure which unfortunately for these dissenters sweeps them grandly along in the matter of responsibility and silence when they should be heard in support.

That's a long time, from the 1960s to the present. We are obviously to take comfort in the unspoken, that in the interim the Church and its spiritual representatives have been exemplary soldiers of the Holy Spirit. Inspired, he was, said Cardinal Ouellet, by Pope John Paul II's apology for wrongs committed by the Church in the last thousand years. Now there's a sweeping admission and repentance.

The Cardinal looks to the future, away from the past. Exhorting lapsed Catholics to return to the fold. The Church is not now what it was then. For behold, has not the Vatican opened his arms to scientific research recently unveiled that promises not to insult the life-giving monopoly of God, by using ordinary human cells for reproduction purposes and not the forbidden stem cells?

Can the ordination of women and gays be far behind?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Venality Personified

It's most certainly true that most Canadians view the character and reputation of our former Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, with utter distaste bordering on the obsessive. He's earned that lack of respect edging over into outright contempt. He didn't have to do anything special to persuade Canadians that his oleaginous persona expressed character traits running counter to our naive expectations that the leader of this country exhibit a high degree of rectitude in earning public trust.

All he had to do was exactly what he demonstrated, his own true character. Memory of which is still sufficiently potent to ensure most Canadians view his stint in public life as the leader of his political party and his installation as the premier legislator in our country with the kind of disbelief that had us asking who on earth voted him into power?

It's been a blessing for the country to have been rid of him, to no longer see his blarney-smeared image front and centre in our daily newspapers. We breathed a sigh of collective relief; good riddance to rubbish. Doubtless there were many in his party who exhaled relief as well in the wake of his having single-handedly destroyed the party - or at least brought it to the brink of extinction.

He has his supporters, some defending his record in administering the internal affairs of this country. There are many who point to his having brokered a free-trade agreement with the United States, claiming it has served to enhance Canada's economic prosperity. While many others dispute this. He enacted legislation to impose a burdensome consumer-services tax some hold to have been necessary. His government continued his predecessor's pressure on South Africa to end apartheid. It enacted some forward-looking environment legislation.

These initiatives, some questionable in efficacy, some decidedly on the right track for the country in upholding our reputation in support of human rights, in broadening and extending immigration acceptance figures, in lobbying the United States to take steps to counter the incidence of environmental acid rain fall-out, could certainly have produced a proud enough legacy for the man. One can only suppose his allegiance to self overrode that to the country.

From time to time tawdry reminders of his smarmy, self-certifying antics would come back to momentarily haunt us, giving us occasion to think back and congratulate ourselves at his absence from the national podium. He was free to pursue all avenues open to him in his ongoing goal of acquiring wealth, by whatever means offered. His past governance having afforded him the opportunity to acquire the status of power leading to many other pursuits.

Not the least of which, in the interim transition from public to private life was the ethically twisted decision to tarnish the public office he was on the cusp of leaving by stealthily accepting cash inducements in the purchase of the authority vested in him as a former prime minister. Now, the allure of being handed three discrete packets of $100,000 cash for unspecified, undocumented lobbying to bulk up his family fortunes has come back to haunt him. And us, as he blathers on about winning yet another assault on his reputation.

But his loyal admirers and defenders are quick to point out it was an error in judgement for which he should not be held accountable, since the man was looking at an uncertain financial future. Needing the wherewith to support his family in the manner to which they had become accustomed. Handily overlooking the fact that he lied under oath when he declared unequivocally that he had no business dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber in the Airbus investigation.

That at no time did he divulge that he had accepted $300,000 in under-the-table cash for unexplained activities that just could not conceivably have been a bribe for his assistance in securing an Airbus deal with Air Canada. That he tardily declared that sum for taxation purposes some six years later. That he was innocent of all charges of criminal skulduggery, he has been quick to claim. Just as he was quick to claim $2.1-million of taxpayer money to settle a legal claim against the RCMP and the government of Canada for smearing his reputation.

Fact is, it is his own actions that have cast a grim light of malfeasance over his character, now ably aided and abetted by his loyal pimps who righteously claim on his behalf that it was all a big mistake, that this poor hounded man was simply trying to provide for his young family. That despite after representing Canada on the world stage he besmirched the office he left, everything is all right.

"So when he left, he had no money. He was optimistic, he was going back to his old law firm, but there is a difference between optimistic and having the revenue" according to spokesman Luc Lavoie. "So the man kind of - I wouldn't say 'anguished -- but worried about how the future would unfold." His family was "expecting the type of lifestyle they had prior to joining politics, which is something he had probably promised them."

Dear dear, we are so heartlessly unsympathetic.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Give Me A Break...!

Aren't we getting more than a trifle unnecessarily fussy about the manner in which people present themselves? It's true I find it hard to take someone seriously who has, in an excess of youthful impulse, festooned themselves facially with bits of metal. Perhaps the metal worn on eyelids, tongues and elsewhere is felt to enhance natural beauty.

Perhaps it's their idea of standing out from the crowd. That crowd, including myself pleased to wear metal on fingers and hanging around our necks.

But we're a civil society and make every attempt to fairly judge people, not by their appearance necessarily, but by their behaviour, the decisions they make, the actions they take, the trust or lack of that they inspire in us by demonstrating values similar to our own in other respects.

Now, Halima Muse, a baggage screener for Toronto's Pearson International Airport is appealing her dismissal from a job she feels she performed more than adequately.

Her dismissal by the security firm Garda, working under contract with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority which found fault with her decision, as an observant Muslim, to alter her uniform. She had the choice of wearing trousers or a skirt with her uniform, and finding trousers uncomfortable, undertook to herself design a longer skirt of fabric identical to that supplied by her employer.

It was this ankle-length skirt which Ms. Muse wore while X-raying hand luggage and waving a metal detector over travellers in the course of her duties, not the manner in which she conducted her duties, that offended her employer. How utterly irrelevant to the manner in which she performed her duties.

How absurd on the face of it to seek to enforce a company rule about skirt lengths for female employees.

Exceedingly strange that other employees who chose to shorten the company-provided knee-length skirts to more adequately express their views of themselves as fashionable and fetching females were not similarly relieved of their duties for deviating from company dress policy.

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Bulgaria's Criminal Is Canada's Citizen Rescue

That's the problem with human institutions; they are only as good as the people who administer them. And given that human beings are equipped with all manner of emotions, values, instincts and modes of behaviour for good and for ill, one can only hope that we as voters are able to discern qualities and select those politicians whose capabilities appear superior over those who clearly are devoid of that royal ruling jelly.

Well, no one's perfect, we all have our faults. Canadian voters selected a man who seemed a relative political novice, one whose apparent ideological underpinnings gave us pause to think twice before committing ourselves to a ruling Conservative party. The result being a minority government. Even that grudging permission to legislate owing more to the complete disillusion suffered by the electorate through the indescribably jejune and corrupt administration of the Liberals.

So the current Government of Canada is displaying its mettle with a different kind of individual at the helm of government. Once viewed as the most right-wing of conservatives, formerly of the Reform, then the Alliance party whose vision of Canada sent anticipatory shivers of doom down most reasonably moderate peoples' spines. But yet a man who is proving to be resolute, practical and refreshingly honest with obvious governing ability.

Some of us have deplored some of the decisions emanating from the prime minister's office affecting Canada's internal governance. Yet on the other hand we have congratulated ourselves for our splendid discernment in electing Stephen Harper, however minimally, at the revelation of other government initiatives, particularly those dealing with Canada's international obligations indicative of our values and traditions. With universal human rights values front and centre.

We don't like everything we see unfolded in this government's decision making. But there are, on balance, a good many more that reverberate with us and one such is the current government's committed activities on behalf of the human rights of Canadians held incarcerated abroad when it is perceived that the countries holding those Canadians are lacking in democratic legitimacy and an independent judiciary.

One such case now being pursued, and which had been abandoned through lack of interest by the previous Liberal government, is the long incarceration of a Canadian man held in Bulgaria for a purported crime of relatively minor import, through political machinations. He has been held in solitary confinement, exposed to torture, had water withheld, and fed tainted food while housed in dreadfully unsanitary conditions for a white-collar crime in which he was accused of taking funds from a company he wholly owned.

Michael Kapoustin is in a medieval-type prison in Sofia, and has been there for 12 years of a 17-year sentence. A severe sentence for even the most egregious crime, let alone such a trifling one. He was left to languish, even though it was clear to the impartial observer that his arrest, trial and imprisonment represented a miscarriage of justice. In response to which the Liberal government was completely indifferent.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has personally appealed on this man's behalf, and Secretary of State Jason Kenney has energetically pursued the issue abroad. It is now on the table for consideration by the Council of Europe which is set to begin a mediation process which could pressure Bulgaria into releasing Mr. Kapoustin back to Canada and to his family.

This man has obviously already suffered far too greatly for the commission of a crime so relatively trivial that it begs for an answer. Which answer might conceivably be found in the suspicion that during his business dealings in the country too much had been revealed of state corruption, failing to endear him to the country's political elite whose course of action was to provide eternal detention as a reward for inconvenience.

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Gone The Way Of The Dodo

It's become a very scarce commodity; common sense. As though people have become completely overwhelmed by the demands made upon their discriminating sense of identifying the urgent from the mundane. Happy to give their brains a rest and rely completely on mechanical devices rather than attempt to discern reality and appropriate responses to specific circumstances.

Computers have become the superior intelligence and mankind offers obeisance to the beast's commands. Succumbing to the safety of expediency in a society besieged by messages of impending terrorist strikes. Abandoning human skills of informed decision-making and empathetic humanitarian responses.

Here we are, friends and neighbours, and there's that old truism that neighbours should be friends. After all, we are reliant upon one another for so many reasons, sharing a geographic space on the planet. Our values, customs and traditions are similar, although to be sure our variant political climates shatter the illusion that we share everything in a commonweal separated only by an artificial border.

We both recognize the vital importance of first-responders to emergency situations, are each prepared to stand back and permit these professionals to do that which we cannot. Ready to stand forward to assist if the need for assistance is requested. As, for example, an urgent request put through to contiguous-border-located firefighters on the Canadian side by their upstate New York counterparts; a common enough occurrence.

What was different this time was that border security at U.S. Customs insisted on stopping a fire engine with flashing emergency lights and blaring sirens, to assess its business and legitimacy, while their presence was required immediately to help bring a fire under control. Mistakes do happen; errors in judgement occur, we are but human. But put the clues together and a reasonably intelligent interlocutor can reach a reasonable conclusion fairly speedily.

In a later occurrence shortly afterward, an ambulance out of Windsor ferrying an emergency patient to a hospital in Detroit - the vital equipment not available at the Canadian hospital - was halted at the border. The usual protocol had been observed; the U.S. hospital agreeing to see to the heart attack patient's urgent need for life-saving surgery. The ambulance had had the usual benefit of a police escort to the tunnel entrance.

Tunnel traffic had been shut down as a precautionary measure in the emergency situation. Once the ambulance had arrived at the border crossing, a pickup truck belonging to the tunnel company, complete with flashing lights led the ambulance to the designated U.S. Customs lane as has been performed on many other occasions. The expectation being that the ambulance would be waved through in recognition of its urgent mission.

Instead, a U.S. border guard forced the ambulance, sirens blaring, flashing lights notwithstanding, to pull over. The U.S. Customs officers informed the ambulance driver he would have to enter the Customs office at the secondary inspection area and provide identification and allied documentation. While other guards insisted the paramedic crew open the ambulance back doors so they could request that the victim being conveyed personally confirm his identity.

Luck was with the 49-year-old heart-attack patient who had twice been brought back to life with defibrillators. He survived his emergency angioplasty surgery at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital. In whose care he remained in the cardiac care unit still in serious, but recovering condition, when the story of the border guards whose intense scrutiny of even obvious first-responder emergency crews trumped common sense.

Turns out a U.S. Customs-deployed computer had randomly selected the ambulance vehicle for intense scrutiny. The computer's demands are not to be denied. To take the measure of the situation and duly inform oneself that an emergency overrides routine inspection needs is evidently far too much to ask of intelligence-hampered uniforms. More's the pity.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Where's the Sense in That?

Are we striving for cohesiveness, for inclusion, for an education system geared to bringing Canadian children from all walks of life and a multitude of ethnicities and traditions together to educate and inspire them to learn, while introducing them to a social atmosphere of acceptance or not?

If not, why not? Is it in the children's best interests that singular groups representing a specific culture or tradition or religion detach themselves from the mainstream and decide on the superior advantage of separation? Or is it in the interests of special-interest groups determined to hold themselves and their children separate and apart?

How does that benefit the children? How is that of any social, educational and practical benefit to the future of a country which has opened its borders to immigrants? The whole situation is absurd. Immigrants wanting to make a new home for themselves should logically accept the reality that they're not cattus-fly larvae, installing themselves in any serendipitously discovered shelter and hauling it about until nature consents that it mature into adulthood.

Respecting one's original culture and the traditions that flowed from it is one thing; expecting to import both culture and tradition into the new surroundings for the purpose of displacing the host's is insulting and unworkable. If finding economic, political and social refuge is the purpose for emigrating from a source country, then be prepared to accept and adapt to the prevailing culture of the new country.

Accepting the new realities of new laws, protections, freedoms and accepted social mores. Usually it takes a generation, even two for the metamorphosis to complete its trajectory from immigrant to citizen-resident, not a necessarily a seamless change, but a necessary one. For the intellectual comfort and social need of succeeding generations. But if those children whose promise is to emerge into full participation with the prevailing culture are side-lined it becomes a formula for future problems.

In a just and fair society where personal freedoms are guaranteed, it is also incumbent on immigrants to find their place in the society, to gradually accommodate themselves to their new geography and their station in it. Successive generations once guaranteed that while the original immigrants might live between two worlds, their progeny would accept the reality of the presence, the only world they know and have adapted to.

So why compound the problem of integration by insisting on separate schools for children? Thus ensuring that there will always remain mysteries and suspicions between ethnic, cultural and religious groups, rather than have all children come together under a common educational system designed to prepare them for a future life of independent success in their country?

We don't need parochial-inspired schools that keep children's minds prisoners to the 'heritage' left behind. We need children whose experience has been universally designed to ensure that they feel comfortable in their society and their country, despite their parents' diverse backgrounds. This is what makes them Canadian. We should also do away with public funding of separate schools of Roman Catholic design.

And we most certainly do not need children of African heritage, children whose forebears were brought to Europe and North America and the Caribbean centuries earlier to celebrate their uniqueness by removing them from the common experience. African-centred schools, the latest invention of psyche-injured rejection of what is perceived to be Euro-centred ubiquity, insulting to the tradition of all those not sharing that heritage seeks to ensure that simmering resentments remain alive.

If the current educational system is seen by informed and neutrally-capable investigators schooled in educational needs for a child population comprised of a multitude of backgrounds to be lacking, then it should be re-designed to better reflect a more balanced approach that is more inclusive and productive. Ultimately expressing Canadian views and needs and values.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bad Decision-Making, Mr. Harper

What else, one might say, could be expected from a Conservative government, after all? One by one, sensitive funding being cut to programmes that have a certain importance to society; some admittedly, more than others. Feminist enterprises seeing their government funding zapped. A public outcry, somewhat muted, has done nothing to restore funding to programmes such as those dedicated to lobby for changes in legislation which would protect women under the law, when needed.

Then there was the equally controversial decision not to renew government funding for Arctic scientific research. To enable Canadian scientists to better understand the process through which our environment in the North is inexorably undergoing change that may prove to be rather deleterious to this country as well as to the world at large. The scientists involved decry the decision, pointing out the obvious: until and unless we understand the process at work how can we possibly devise potentially ameliorating solutions?

This, from a government newly claiming to be responsive to, vitally interested in, devoting time and resources to fight global warming, and the general degradation of our environment.
Slowly but surely an agenda reveals itself that is more than a little worrisome. Are we a responsible global community or are we not? Are we committed to bettering our society and the world we inhabit, or are we satisfied to coast on inertia?

So here's the Harper government introducing legislation yet again to cancel the long-gun registry originally introduced by the Liberal government under pressure for concerned citizens who want to see more gun control in Canada. The newly-introduced bill seeks to remove the requirement for owners of rifles and shotguns to register their weapons with the government.

The long-gun registry has produced huge cost over-runs, scandalizing the former government almost as much as it did taxpayers, who remain resolutely of the opinion that the registry is needed. As an effective anti-violence measure. Most police forces in the country applaud the initiative, while critics such as hunters and farmers decry it, feeling it would accomplish nothing positive while harassing them.

Canada's Public Safety Department lets us know there are close to seven million registered rifles and shotguns in Canada - out of a population of approximately $32 million. Those are the registered firearms; no knowledge whatever of the greater number of unregistered ones. Since the registry was first introduced in 2003, 2,441 homicides have been recorded, 2% of which were committed with registered rifles and shotguns.

Yet a recently-published book on violence against women in Canada tells a rather different story. The book tracks the incidence of partner-brutality in this country. Admitting that there is a certain percentage of reported incidents of male injury suffered in an abusive partnership - but while that does exist, it pales against the large numbers of women murdered by their controlling partners - using both handguns and long guns.

The latest cost-cutting measure by a government which has lauded its cleverness in posting yet another staggering $14 billion budget surplus has been targeted against an important website promoting good health through the provision of reliable, non-commercial information on how to stay healthy and prevent injury and disease. The Canadian Health Network is scheduled to shut down at the end of March.

Affiliates of the website were blindsided by the decision. Those affiliates include 26 government agencies, and non-government affiliates such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Canadian Diabetes Association, all contributing to the site. They claim, with good reason, that shutting down the site will most certainly adversely affect this country's well-being.

It will deprive citizens - ordinary people, along with members of the medical community - nurses, doctors and additional personnel of access to a priceless source of reliable health information and allied resources.

Bad moves, all, chum.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Israel: A Beacon Unto The World

Israel; a guide or a warning? One or the other? Both? Trudging toward redemption, or a symbol that despite best intentions, hope and the will to succeed, human constructs are geared to fail through the faltering inability of human beings to reach beyond their origins in dust to aspire to the light of a higher accomplishment.

Israel, we would like to believe; is an exemplar of social justice, of egalitarian emancipation, of participatory inclusion, moral rectitude, compassion and understanding. Would it were so. The state is, after all, comprised of ordinary mortals, human beings invested with the same emotional traits for good and for ill that affect us all.

We strive to rise above our failings; we can but strive. For as Israel is so are we all. Solomonic wisdom and a sense of unerring justice eludes mankind's reality. It is but an evanescent spark of hope, an evasive illusion. Nature has equipped us with an original urgency - the instinct to survive.

Real, potential or perceived inhibitions or challenges to our survival as an individual, a nation, a species call out in each of us an instinctual response. And that is to parlay any and all advantages toward the end result of survival. If that translates to injustice done to others, from refusing their economic and social advancement to denying their very right to live, it is but a by-product of our own existential advantage.

This is a primeval condition of existence that has equipped us with a vestigial; universal memory. A fear that haunts us evermore. And in the case of Jews throughout time a lesson well learned. From ancient pre- and post-biblical tribal triumphs and failures onward to historical events of medieval blood libels and pogroms, to the Inquisition where methods of torture reached new heights of human depravity.

And the final horrors of man's ingenuity in contriving to visit upon the community of the world's Jewish populations utter annihilation as a sister-project to world war, using scarce resources of armed forces, valuable transit equipment, scarce foodstuffs, chemical production - offset by slave labour, the sourcing of precious metals from teeth, bones for soap production, skin for leatherworks.

The establishment of the State of Israel held a noble purpose. The landscape where the brilliant notion of Monotheism was born, where insignificant local tribes combined to elect themselves to represent the highest aspirations of mankind, was to welcome its dispersed children home again. There, the offspring of those original tribes whose vulnerable and fervent grasp of faith and humanity had suffered constant and intolerable deprivation were to find succour.

A long, anguished social-cultural memory of victimhood plagues the collective psyche. Social traditions ensure the memories be kept and honoured. Post-Holocaust it was recognized that nowhere on earth would Jews be comforted and held safe from the everpresent ebb-and-flow of the scourge of hatred. So Jews worldwide were invited to return to their ancient home where their very own state would protect them and advance their interests internationally.

Within the country they would be safe. But without, obviously not, as the immediate birth of the nation gave birth also to unrelenting deadly hostility from surrounding neighbours and war was the game afoot. From brilliant promise to combative response - time and again. Suspicion, spite, righteousness and neglect of duty rise to the occasion when push comes to shove and the allure of good intentions vaporize into the mist of self-preservation.

The country's brief history has demonstrated a steady decline from shining idealism to the progression of an ailing society. Led by a political elite more interested in its own self-enrichment and empowerment, its social maladaption translated into the reality of a country like all others. Resembling the power struggles in its near geography, and the struggling democratic playing field of the West.

From the fierce determination of survivors to ensure a future for the vestiges of what was once a strong and proudly integrated European contingent of Jews, an independent state for an independent people. We exist, therefore we are. We struggle, therefore we exist. We fight, therefore we endure. That safe haven whose existence is evermore imperilled by a hostile world, not the least of which residing close by.

Israel, where a moderately tempered existence of Jewish sufficiency in health, wealth and success might be accomplished for all. Where justice and fairness would prevail, and respect allocated to everyone deservingly. Where the political elite could be trusted to act responsibly on behalf of their electorate, those dependent on their good judgement.

What is the reality? Every man and woman for themselves in an excess of doubt- and success-empowered materialism. Now, one sinks or swims on one's own merits and initiatives. Seems somehow familiar. A reflection of every other materialistic-acquisitive capitalist-dominated democracy in the world. A country no worse than the best among us, and better than most. Is that enough?

So the unprepared and the defenceless are given short shrift by the state and the social compact. The economy blesses the middle-class lifestyle and blights the lives of the repressed and the oppressed. A people for whom the class evil of distinctiveness led invariably to discrimination and victimization, now practising the same.

The country's social problems reflect those of any other country, beset with the ills of corruption, violence and poverty. A social order's will to succeed as a humanitarian nation of great distinction in science, jurisprudence, the humanities, education and political and social justice is now like any other. A sad, failed experiment. Suspicion, distrust and downright hostility levelled at the strangers among them, be they Sephardim or Arab.

Now the social elite oppress the underclass. Who ever might have thought that a country with such an illustrious claim to demonstrating to the world what a nation might strive to in providing equal access to opportunities and the comforts of life to all its inhabitants could fail so spectacularly? That poverty on a miserable scale exists there and the reality of soup kitchens and needy, neglected children are a fact of life.

Hope springs eternal. The experiment is perhaps not yet complete. Many Israelis are heartsick at the downfall of their humanitarian expectations for themselves, their country, their future. At this juncture it may yet be safe to say that the tide may turn, the jury is still out.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Resolute Professional Integrity?

Well, where has it gone? Did it ever exist? Surely it did, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has had a long and esteemed history within Canada for keeping the peace on the national scene. Canadians were proud of our national police force, their history in the formation of the country, their tradition of representing the forces of good succeeding over ill-doing.

And when, as has happened too often recently, young RCMP officers lose their lives in the commission of their duties, the nation honours the force in general, and the loss hits us particularly hard. A life gone to waste, with all its youth and inherent promise never to be realized. A man performing his professional duties on behalf of all of us.

Yet increasingly, there have occurred instances where it appears clear that common sense has not been exercised in the fulfillment of those official duties from within the RCMP. The former unlamented Commissioner Zaccardelli who left his position in disgrace, and left also the headquarters in disarray, having shredded his credibility and that of his administration as well, leaving Canadians in a state of disbelief at the sheer stupidity of it all.

Now we've a fresh incident pointing a finger of accusation at a national police force that is not adequately training its recruits. A young officer on his first deployment shot dead within six weeks of completion of training. Might experience and the presence of an active partner have saved his life? Why then are trainees not sufficiently inducted into fully professional methods of law enforcement?

The question all the more needful of a response now that a distraught Polish immigrant deplaning in Vancouver has become the latest victim of the too-casual use of a taser gun. The man confused, with no English language skills at his command, waiting fruitlessly for an inordinate length of time for a relative to arrive at the airport, becoming frustrated and upset.

In his distraught state appearing as a possibly troublesome person to handle, within five minutes of having arrived at the airport scene four young RCMP officers decided in their great wisdom to immediately immobilize the man. No attempt at trying to discover what the problem might be, to make verbal contact through an interpreter, or even universal gestures leading to understanding.

Simply put, an instant end to what might turn out to be a half-hour of gentle calming. A quick decision to unleash a taser gun, and while the man was on the ground, in obvious pain, all four struggled to physically contain him, with one of the officers kneeing him strenuously on his chest, until the realization struck that the man was dead.

A tragedy, yet another useless, stupid decision leading to the death of an innocent.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Integrity Suborned - Or Absent?

Karlheinz Schreiber is a crafty businessman, a German national in whose country of birth it is completely legal to pay off politicians to advance one's position, whether it is to earn support for a particular political position, or whether it represents purchasing support as a deft lobbyist to gain an inside track in government to have its purchasing agents give favour to a particular product over others.

Not only is this seen to be a legal tactic, but it's also legal to use these buying-of-favours as a tax deductible write-off. The idea being, apparently, the German government's practical view that politicians are susceptible to monetary suasion. Nice, huh? On the other hand, it's kind of surprising, given the fact that in most countries such activities are considered unethical if not downright illegal.

Such activities are thought to be corrupting of integrity, particularly when engaged in by elected officials sworn to uphold the law, and the wider interests of the people whom they represent. In the case of Germany it's obviously not against the law to buy compliance, but it's hard to believe that this practise benefits the taxpayer.

Karlheinz Schreiber is in the process of being extradited by Canada to Germany where he awaits a prison sentence for tax avoidance on the profits (along with bribery and fraud charges) gained by such illicit activities. Licit in Germany granted, but not in Canada. He holds dual German-Canadian citizenship, and it cannot have escaped his notice that what is permissible in Germany is frowned upon in Canada.

However, it is not Mr. Schreiber's moral underpinnings or lack thereof that we're concerned with, but the company he keeps. His sleazy ingratiation with politicians and corporate heads through his lobby company earned him a wide circle of business and politico-acquaintances and partners in under-handed shenanigans. People do tend to respond positively when they're offered largess.

Not all, obviously, but sufficient numbers to ensure that enterprising businessmen like Mr. Schreiber do very well indeed. It's a gradual, lateral advance; meet and greet and pay off one principal who will then lead on to another on an ever-ascending hierarchy of responsibility. Until one is introduced to the person with whom the buck stops - and resides.

The thing of it is, Canadians do not take kindly to such revelations, that their prime minister of the day was insufficiently attuned to the dignity of the office he held that his avaricious pruning of the tree of opportunity led him to lend himself to Mr. Schreiber's enterprise of the moment. Which was to give the inside track to Airbus Industries when the-then Crown Corporation Air Canada was purchasing aircraft.

These are serious allegations. Much as Canadians adore their distaste for Brian Mulroney such charges would never reach the light of day without the presence of due cause for suspicion. Mr. Schreiber got lucky; he came across someone whose greed matched his own. One, an entrepreneur on the short side of the law, the other holding the office of premier legislator.

A match made in purgatory. That's where each of these gentlemen find themselves at the moment; Mr. Schreiber in his own legal hell leading to several years of incarceration, Mr. Mulroney in his social gehenna of probationary distaste as former colleagues make haste to widen the gulf of peer fellowship.

It's not merely an issue of where there's smoke there's fire. It's the incendiary issue of a then-sitting prime minister assiduously arranging to have a substantial amount of cash stealthily delivered into his grasping hands at a near-future date. The acceptance of three sweet deposits of $100,000 in bills to total $300,000; a substantial amount of money received from someone whom Mr. Mulroney swore he hardly knew, scarcely met.

And whom he has managed to infuriate by not having delivered the promised goods for which hard cash was paid. He'd have been better off returning the money. But it obviously couldn't be pried out of his possession and now explanations are due. Not, though, easily forthcoming. Shouldn't it be a simple matter to explain how such a windfall of cash came to him legally and above-board? That is, if he is indeed innocent of all charges - as he charges.

Instead, desperate to hold on to a rapidly vanishing reputation, and even more determined not to let go of the $2.1 million he happily accepted from the Government of Canada to drop his counter-charges of harassment, he is readying us for yet another public enquiry which will, in the end, cost the Canadian taxpayer multiple tens of millions of dollars.

Of course, we expect little else from that degenerate windbag. Pity.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What Will It Take?

There are some enlightened municipal politicians who have seen the practical expedience of making a real effort toward solving a by-product blight of modern civilization in the West. One that has resulted in the scourge of homelessness, endemic poverty, people sick in mind and in body left to roam purposeless and helpless in the wilderness of cement surrounded by purposeful, wage-earning citizens who somehow don't notice the presence of the downtrodden.

We have inured ourselves against the unseemly spectacle of street beggars, the homeless, the shiftless, the unwaged, the mentally unstable - society's off-casts. We're wealthier than ever we have been, with giant corporations competing with government in manipulating our everyday existence, steering us into compliance and offering us the rewards of plenitude; the satisfactions of ownership of trifling acquisitions.

We're complacent and accepting of the social order, happy to be a functioning part of it, taking unto ourselves all the pleasures and fulfilment inherent in the social functioning of a wealthy society. The beggars are there by choice. The homeless prefer their 'natural' environment. Shiftless, homeless young people are there because they have rejected society's values. The mentally ill are better off on their own than being locked up in institutions.

We choose to believe these myths because they ease our conscience. And advocates for the homeless shout and scream to be heard in the corridors of political power, entreating the politicians whose choices about allocation of tax dollars could make a difference. And the fact is, in cities across North America, some 200 in all, like New York City, Calgary and Red Deer, things are changing for the better.

These municipalities, taking their responsibilities for representation of all the people in their jurisdictions, are turning to a new supportive housing model to assist people off the streets and into the promise of normalcy and self-care. They recognize that the actual cost of dealing with the chronically homeless in terms of emergency shelter, policing, incarceration-time and hospital services has an actual cost ten times that of providing decent housing for them.

It has been proven to be more cost-effective to build social housing, and in the process providing educational, addiction, mental and physical health services tailored to this population, according to studies. The cost of tending to the homeless in the heartless way that has been done thus far adds up to an average of $400 to $500 a day for all allied services on this ad hoc emergency method we've become accustomed to in our neglect of real needs.

Whereas an individual taken into socially-responsible custody and given a decent home, encouragement toward further education, assistance in their health and addiction needs through social support programmes costs out at $24 to $115 each day, depending on the level of need. "Institutional and emergency responses are much more costly than long-term housing options, even when including the costs associated with providing support services with housing."

If our own moral imperatives haven't kicked in up until now to ensure that we care enough about those in our society less fortunate than ourselves due to circumstances beyond their control, then perhaps the allure of spending less in instituting workable programmes will do the trick.

Says a lot about us a society, doesn't it?

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Hot Damn! He Did It!

Still, politics being what it is, he's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. But this is one foxy man, this current prime minister of Canada. Stephen Harper has an instinctual grasp of performance, and he has little difficulty in distinguishing right from wrong. His very own ethical antenna are well tuned and more than adequately practised. His integrity shouts its presence in his responses to cogently urgent situations. Usually.

Now he has seen the merit in reversing himself. He recognizes that a murky matter of fairly recent history which almost everyone would like to shove back into the hole it now and again pokes itself out of, can no longer be ignored. It's there, front and centre, and with new allegations against the integrity, honesty and morality of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, threatens the public's trust in the highest office of the land.

Besmirched by Mr. Harper's Conservative predecessor. In a way that the morally corrupt dealings the ruling Liberals, when in power, never reached low enough to accomplish themselves. It would take a smarmy, self-congratulatory, social-climbing, power-hungry and cash-strapped individual like Brian Mulroney. Whom no one in Canada voted into office.

That loose change, represented by three hundred thousand dollars in cash, purportedly handed over to Mr. Mulroney by Karlheinz Schreiber for innocent business lobbying efforts on the part of a retired prime minister appear to have been propositioned to a very receptive sitting prime minister for something entirely other. Something for which a previous, suspicious Liberal government and the RCMP unsuccessfully attempted to find evidence of.

Here we are now, a decade later with a sworn affidavit that in 1998 a Mulroney advisor, Fred Doucet asked Mr. Schreiber to transfer funds "related to the Airbus deal" from lobby firm Government Consultants International to Mr. Mulroney's Swiss lawyer. Ah, that infamous Swiss bank account that the Mounties travelled to Switzerland to examine in an effort to link Mr. Mulroney to Airbus kick-backs.

And for which effort Mr. Mulroney in his great good wisdom and innocently hurt feelings launched a $50-million suit for defamation of character against the government. Actually, the people of Canada - informing them in his back-handed way that he had as high a regard for them through the access to their tax dollars, as they had for him, for somewhat like reasons and many others as well.

Absent hard evidence the pursuit ended, the case was closed and Mr. Mulroney was awarded a settlement to assuage his hurt feelings to the tune of $2.1 million. We, the people of Canada, want that money to be restored to us. We want it back. We want it all back. Including the apology offered to Mr. Mulroney by the Government of Canada, as part of the out-of-court settlement.

So thank you, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for launching an independent examination in light of new allegations. Look for the evidence, it's a daunting task, but it's there. Mr. Mulroney is clever too, in his twisted way, but he's been out-clevered by someone who faced no difficulties in suborning his frail integrity.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Climate Change 2007 - Reap The Whirlwind

Another drear, dread report by the United Nations' science advisers. The synopsis, clear and concise, appears front and centre. It's a conclusion anticipated, but most certainly not welcome: We are to prepare for a hotter world.

We can do as we will with the best of will, and it will not forestall the inevitable. Whether the root causes are man-inspired or not are, at this point, rather moot. The trajectory is oppressively unstoppable.

Our planet is on its melt-down route and it is determined, regardless of what we do, to impact on our ecosystems, transforming them beyond anything we have been able to anticipate. There are those who hasten to assure us that worst-case scenarios are doomsday-lovers' inventions, and wouldn't we love to believe them?

There are those who hypothesize that global warming won't be entirely catastrophic, as long as you don't reside in coastal areas, in which case all those affected would be wise to begin a long migration elsewhere. With some level of global warming we may enjoy longer agricultural growing seasons, with extended crop possibilities.

On the other hand, if weather patterns are truly egregiously affected and we see more prolonged bouts of drought and hot high winds, or alternately typhoons and increasing rainfall, how will this impact other than truly deleteriously on any agricultural crops? So there it is: rising sea levels, submerged coastal areas.

The Panel on Climate Change would have us know and appreciate that there is a direct and distinct potential for an increase in the already 'astounding' rate of Arctic ice retreat, heralding a 'tipping point'. Hastened, need we dare say by the steady growth of global emissions thanks to China and India.

Not their fault; they're catching up with the rest of us. Or so they say. And so we accede.
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level", according to the report.

The unstoppable evidence is seen on "all continents and most oceans". How grim can it get? "Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 (!) and far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years." Big surprise; any primary-school graduate could match that conclusion.

Get this: the coalition of international scientists representing environmental disciplines of all kinds, have concluded that even if we somehow manage - by some universal herculean determination of willpower and scientific advance - to stabilize greenhouse gases, the warming and rising sea levels will continue to advance.


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Remembrance Day

Too many wars, too many young men dying. Too much waste of lives, civilian and military.

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— John Gillespie Magee, Jr

The author of that transcendingly beautiful poem was a young American who had, despite his youth, crossed into Canada and enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was one among many young Americans who did this even though the U.S. was not yet entered into the Second World War. John Magee Jr., was born in Shanghai. His mother British, his father American, of Scotch-Irish derivation.

When he entered flight training he was 18, then sent to England and posted to No.412 Fighter Squadron RCAF, activated at Digby, England, June 1941. He flew the Supermarine Spitfire in sweeps over France and air defence over England against the Luftwaffe, rising to the rank of pilot officer. In September of 1941, he flew a high altitude test flight in a newer Spitfire V. He orbited, climbing upward and was inspired.

Later, in a letter to his parents he enclosed a poem, composed during the flight, committed to memory, then to paper on landing. He spoke of the poem as enabling him "to touch the face of God". It has since inspired all those who have read it, and it has been quoted innumerable times by many people and on occasion in the initial launch of space craft, which must most surely seem to 'touch the face of God'; the universe at the very least.

On December 11, 1941, as the U.S. was on the cusp of entering the war, the Spitfire V he was flying collided with an Oxford Trainer, and Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., was killed at the age of 19.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Children Enticed By Vice

They're children, after all. Do they understand completely the consequences of what they undertake to do? They live in a community where long-gun ownership is common enough that every family owns a rifle. Nothing untoward is seen within the community of teaching young children how to handle that rifle, and as a consequence, those children are comfortable with the situation.

So why be surprised when children - who are always on the lookout for something interesting to do, always conspiring between themselves to produce situations that will inspire admiration in their peers, always flirting on the edge of danger - act on their impulses? The entire community is aware that there is a firearms cache close by, housed in an unused police station. Its presence is an enticement to children.

Wouldn't a responsible community take action to remove the cache of .40-calibre police-issue handguns, along with associated ammunition? Well, perhaps not, if it's a community accustomed to having firearms around, since it's also a traditional hunting community. Unable to foresee the likelihood that a child might want to own something common enough in his community, but for his very own.

So, in an aboriginal community in northern Ontario a group of teenagers broke into the police station, no longer used because the Long Point First Nations had recruitment problems and decided to abandon their own community-operated policing in favour of signing on with the Surete du Quebec provincial police force. While the Surete recommended the firearms be removed, the community was in disagreement.

The children, aged 12 to 16, out of a community of some 350, somehow broke through a reinforced door to make away with the eight stored .40-calibre handguns. The Surete du Quebec was called to investigate and five of the guns have since been recovered. Residents hearing gunshots on the perimeters of the town alerted police who found the children shooting at targets.

Five accounted for, three left to be retrieved. In the interim, there are some very nervous residents of the town, wondering where those handguns are, and in whose possession. And why they hadn't had the foresight to remove them to begin with.

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Re-Think Priorities, Please

If it appears to have all the symbols attached to it of government pumping itself up publicly to appear as though its actions fairly and honestly represent the wishes of the electorate, while stealthily practising deceit - so it's hypocrisy, plain and simple. Worse, its a serious dereliction of responsibility under the guise of duty done.

Does Canada's current Conservative government believe we face danger in the not too distant future as a result of environmental degradation or does it not?

Coming into office as declared non-believers in the urgency with which climate change is occurring and whether or not human activities are mostly to blame for the acceleration in environmental degradation, the Conservative government under prime Minister Stephen Harper did a reality check, understanding finally, we thought, the imminence and seriousness of climate change.

Regardless of how much human activities are impacting deleteriously on the environment or whether what we're seeing is the results of naturally-occurring patterns on an upswing, there is a need to understand more fully what is occurring and why, and what can conceivably be done to counteract, or slow the process.

And we can only do that successfully by encouraging and funding expert environmental research. All agreed? Why then, has it become government policy to look the other way and drop the ball? Research that produces a better understanding of events which can lead to the development of systems to be undertaken to remedy or at least stabilize degradation is in all our interests.

Yet this government is in the process of closing a federal climate research network, insisting its mandate has been completed - in the assessment of impacts of global warming within Canada. Nothing could be further from the truth; indeed, researchers still do not fully understand the causes of global warming simply because of a paucity of scientific studies.

The obvious remedy for this is to encourage and fund additional studies. "I don't think they know what the Canadian impacts and adaptation research network has done. To say that it has completed its mandate is truly ridiculous", according to climatologist Andrew Weaver from University of Victoria's school of earth and ocean sciences.

He, among many other Canadian climate specialists receiving federal grants through the federal climate network, or the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science is truly puzzled by the government's withdrawal of support. The results of their studies to date have been reviewed by the United Nation's 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change and incorporated into the assessment report that was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

What additional value considerations must be optioned to persuade this government of the vital importance of carrying on and expanding research efforts? Yet at the very time that the government has decided to stop funding the foundation, it has launched a $2-million federal publicity campaign trumpeting "the real action that their government is taking to fight climate change and protect the environment".

Gordon McBean, a climate scientist and the volunteer chairman of the foundation avers that the government doesn't understand process and value: "I'm quite concerned because they never ask us. They have never allowed us to give them a briefing on what we do... They don't acknowledge our requests." Doesn't that speak volumes in terms of neglectful dereliction?

To dedicate $10 to $20 million yearly to climate change research may sound like a sizeable dollar commitment, but it is not. Not in the face of impending climate change and the very serious impacts it will make on every facet of our lives. When the government can see fit to returning billions of dollars of taxpayer money for tax "relief" and still have a huge surplus, that amount of funding is almost irrelevant.

We have a deficit here of practical understanding and political commitment, one that should be corrected as soon as possible.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

What A Dear Man - Really...!

He most certainly has his detractors, but from this vantage point he's the man of the hour. Facing up to internal problems within France and those externally vexing problems without his country that bedevil and bemuse the world at large in attempting to deal with tyranical, autocratic governments whose main focus is to fail their people and cause no end of problems worldwide.

His internal formula for dealing with the immigrant-sequestered demographic of destructive youth is to promise a heavy hand in punishment. The education system requires revamping and he's extended the way forward. Assertive unions who will not see their gains rolled back are facing off against his reasoned explanation that it makes good sense to share work time with the vast unemployed.

He visits Russia and counters Vladimir Putin's bellicose Russian renewal with an understanding of the situation at hand, yet does not hesitate to read the riot act; two firm, self-assured and compelling personalities meeting as equals, albeit from opposite sides of the track. President Nicolas Sarkozy presents a neat counterpart to his equally-worthy EU peer, German President Angela Merkel.

Now, in Washington, he stands tall (for a height-challenged champion, but remember testosterone-gifted Napoleon?) and wins over The American Congress with heart-felt praise and a promise of partnership in world affairs. He expressed his deep appreciation for all that is best in the universal character of the United States. Along with his country's unremitting debt to the U.S. for its sacrifices during the Second World War.

He lauded the U.S. for being a "constantly renewed challenge to the inventiveness of the human spirit", before spiralling into inanity in naming pop-culture icons of Hollywood and the recording industry. Thus disarmed, he cleverly segued into authority urging the U.S. to demonstrate respect for its own "wide open spaces and nature reserves" by signing on to the global warming struggle, a "fight essential for the future of humanity".

"I want to be your friend, your ally and your partner - but a friend who stands on his own two feet", he orated charmingly. So trust me, and consider my offer ofa staunch alliance, but please remember I will not always agree with every turn your country takes. I have the sensibilities, sensitivities and global direction of my own country to consider first and foremost.

For, he elaborated, his message was that his visit was for the purpose "to say that one can be a friend of America and yet win elections in France". A brilliant, practical tactic. And he pounded home another message, that he and France were right on track with the United States and other countries in their determination to fight terrorism; that France could be counted on for the duration in Afghanistan.

"For me, failure is not an option. Terrorism will not win because democracies are not weak, because we are not afraid of this barbarism." Reaffirming too France's deep concern with the direction of Iran in its enduring pursuit of nuclear weapons. In direct response, it might appear, to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that Iran's nuclear program was "irreversible"; that he "could not care less" about Western sanctions.

Nicolas Sarkozy is proving his energy-driven agenda; he is here and there and everywhere; a Scarlet Pimpernel reborn but of French extraction, the literary analogy plot turned-about. His appetite for becoming embroiled in world affairs on behalf of a proud France unassuaged, his ardour for action and diplomatic confrontation undiminished. He glows in the public eye; abroad, that is.

At home things are somewhat problematical. That's where his work is laid out for him, truly. Where words lead to deeds and action that his people are restive with. Good man, that.

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