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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Suffer The Children

Children have been abducted, abused, forced to commit atrocities as unwilling members of militias dedicated to destroying the civil infrastructure of many countries in Africa, some 300,000 of them at present, taking up AK-47s by demand of the adults who control their destinies. From Uganda, to Rwanda, Liberia to Algeria, Angola to Burundi, Congo to Central African Republic, Sudan to Sierra Leone, children have been inducted into death-dealing.

The message is out there. There are so many children, they're so vulnerable, so helpless, so incapable of judgement, so culpable to threats against their own lives, they become ripe for this most evil of exploitation of their innocence and their fear. If it's all right for Africa, it's all right for countries of the Middle East. There have been well-publicized accounts of al-Qaeda submitting to using distraught women and young girls to prosecute their agenda of suicide missions.

But then, you don't need al-Qaeda, just the determination of adults with completely blackened souls that equip them with the required inhumane perspective that no sacrifice is too great for a child to bear. In Iraq a 15-year-old orphan, a young woman already married to a Sunni Muslim, whose family conspired to drug the girl, wrap her in an explosive vest, and send her out to a busy market square in Baquba. She, like the mentally retarded girls before her, was innocence abused incarnate.

"My husband took me to see some of his relatives I'd not seen before. I stayed the night.... Then, in the morning, they brought me breakfast with apricot juice. It tasted funny, so I asked what was in it. They told me 'nothing, just drink'." She never got past the security checkpoint, her long voluminous garment casting suspicion; her explosives vest was soon revealed, and she taken into custody.

As in Iraq, so goes it also in the Palestinian Territories, where pre-teen children are being taught terrorist activities, given live firearms training from the Salah al-din Brigades, of the Popular Resistance Committees. Their mission is to go out and kill children: "I want these parents to get a taste of what it's like to have your children killed, just as the Palestinians experience every day", said an 11-year-old terror trainee.

There are photos showing boys handling Israeli-furnished M-16 rifles, the weight difficult to support; the rifles given in trust to the Palestinian Authority police. "I would rather die fighting the occupation than die at home from a missile, which is what happened to hundreds of Palestinian children", said the boy. The critical propaganda fed these children; the critical training and exposure to militancy and death-dealing successfully imbibed.

This is the considered, humane response of Palestinian militias, the organized and determined terror groups, battling the "occupation", unwilling to dedicate themselves to mutual peace and respect. Military training aimed at older boys and young men is insufficient unto their need;, they've recognized the successful prospect of training child killers to fulfill their futures.

According to a spokesman, "The Palestinian people support the resistance and understand that we are responding to the occupation and that these children are being recruited to help defend their homes and their land. We are preparing these children to fight the enemy, as the enemy does not differentiate between children and adults; it wants to annihilate the entire Palestinian nation."

The lovingly, carefully cultivated land in Gaza that saw the forced evacuation of Jewish settlers in 2005 by the Israeli government, in the futile hope that this unilateral step would be seen as an advance toward a peaceful settlement, that the Palestinians would make the most of the opportunity given them to become productive and self-supporting there, saw a military parade of armed terrorists on Saturday.

"We will unleash the fires of hell if the Zionist enemy continues its crimes" claimed the parading group's military chief, Abu Hamzeh. "We're getting ready for the next round. The Zionist enemy will have neither peace nor security while it occupies our land." So much for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

So much for cherishing Palestinian children and protecting them from harm. So much for preparing children to become killers and justifying the inhumane atrocity with pride and honour.

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Manipulating Democratic Freedoms

One supposes it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Islamic and Arab groups purporting to represent the majority opinion and needs of Muslims living in liberal democracies like Canada have recognized that the tools to corrupt the guaranteed freedom of expression are available to them through the subversion of the original designs of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions.

Those quasi-legal bodies whose original function was to protect the civic, legal entitlements of visible minorities in situations of discrimination in the workplace and in social settings such as denial of accommodation due to racial prejudice.

Canada has in place a set of legal hate-law guarantees through which charges can be made when required, and a legal suit brought against promoters of discriminatory hate against minorities in a court of law. It should be recognized as being beyond the mandate of Human Rights Commissions to investigate and present determinations with respect to the promulgation of hate against visible minorities.

Yet various Muslim and Arab organizations have taken it upon themselves to register complaints with federal and provincial commissions because it costs them nothing. And in the process the reputations of people and entities accused of hate-mongering are deleteriously impacted upon, their lives disrupted, and they must pick up any costs associated with defending themselves whereas the complainants have a free ride, courtesy of the Canadian taxpayer.

The organized Islamic groups taking umbrage at perceived slights against their religion feel fully justified in manipulating the right to freedom of expression under the apprehension that they can, so they do. They also support the isolation of the Canadian Muslim society from the rest of society in their ongoing complaints about Islamophobia and their harsh criticisms of anyone who questions their fundamentalist Islamic ideals.

Not all Muslims feel complacent about this appropriation of their voice by groups who claim to represent their best interests. Canadian Muslims like Tarek Fatah, who co-founded the reformist Muslim Canadian Congress, regularly criticize groups like the Canadian Islamic Congress, and their anti-Canadian agendas at their peril. Yet they do continue to criticize the oppositional direction and the trajectory taken by these fundamentalist groups.

With the full understanding that the Islamists in the Canadian population are using western values and guarantees of freedom for their own purposes; taking the direction of attacking those values in the pretense that they’re inimical to the well-being and comfort of groups such as themselves, claiming to be the targets of hate crimes. Tarek Fatah points out his utter exasperation at the situation whereby Islamist groups have been partially successful in muffling the voices of free speech.

He is vocal in criticizing the lax attitude of Canadian politicians, loathe to defend traditional Canadian freedoms of expression in the very real fear of being labelled racist themselves. Bending backwards to ensure they don’t offend the prickly pretensions of the fundamentalist Muslim groups, they permit themselves to be silenced, blackmailed into compliance.

Critics of Islam who are not Muslim are awarded the nomenclature of Islamophobes, while Muslims critical of the offensive backwardness of Islamists are labelled apostates. Which, Mr. Fatah points out, is the equivalent of issuing a fatwah, having the decided effect of issuing a “hidden death threat”. He should know, he’s received them, and he’s been on the receiving end of physical violence as well for his forthright outspokenness.

Canadian Muslim groups have taken a page out of the success of such international organizations as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in its successful manipulation of United Nations institutions, to ensure that their message is on track and that their aggressive labelling of a singular nation as a racist entity is approved and echoed through the auspices of the UN Human Rights Commissions.

Anti-Semitism successfully practised through an highly visible and ostensibly legitimate creation of the United Nations, set up for the purpose of defending human rights; completely suborned to the racist and belligerent needs of Islamic groups. How's that for the ultimate manipulation and corruption of a human-rights-representative body? If it works, repeat it elsewhere.

Turn it around and use it as a defence. It's past time that Liberal MP Keith Martin's private member bill to eliminate Canada's human rights commissions, or at the very least, take away their self-entitled mandate to accept all accusations of hate speech as part of their purpose for existence. Should they be kept intact and insist on hearing and investigating such cases, some signal changes should take place.

The accused should be given all the information available to the commissions, including the names of their accusers. Enabling them to defend themselves. Costs associated with lodging complaints should not be borne by the taxpayer, but should be billed to the accuser. Defendants who succeed in defending themselves should have their costs restored. If commissions insist on pursuing these avenues, they should be tasked with doing so with due process under the law.

That might just persuade accusers to refrain from launching their flimsy and self-serving civil-rights complaints and investigations at no cost to themselves. They have the right, under Canadian law, to launch formal criminal prosecutions, to hire lawyers and underwrite the costs associated with legal proceedings in a Canadian court of law. They might then, re-evaluate the substance of their complaints.

Which are undeniably unsubstantive in true measure, and amount to deliberately nasty mischief.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Not Russia's Fault!!

Like the unruly child who whines that whatever insubordination he is being chided for is unfair and not his fault, there is Vladimir Putin wagging his denunciatory finger at the United States, claiming that the invasion of Georgia, its occupation and the military brutality that followed is America's fault, not Russia's. Not to discount his allegations completely, for there is truth to some of what he says, as far as the aggravating quotient is concerned.

But the decision to react in the way that Russia did, is Vladimir Putin's fault; no other source can be faulted. Mr. Putin's violent reaction to a neighbouring state's assertion of its territorial imperative as a sovereign nation, cannot be handily explained away by accusing another country of provocation. Not that provocation was not there, and plenty of it, but that's politics, and Mr. Putin knows how to play that game, too.

Yes, the West practised a double standard; occasionally welcoming Russia as an ally in its social, military, economic clubs, and at the very same time, poking it in the eye as it offered far greater comforts to countries that were once staunch allies of Russia during the period of the Cold War. Europe reveled in a new relationship with a de-barbed Russia, expecting the country to tread softly, cap in hand.

This conflicted relationship, exacerbated by an unwillingness to help Russia when its economy collapsed, post Soviet dissolution, and it presented as a beached whale, along with the U.S.'s unforgivable (in Russia's opinion) courting of its former satellite states, isolating Russia and leaving it bereft of geographic support, did indeed set the stage for the current rupture in international relations.

Oil-wealth has allowed Russia to regain some of its former strength and power in the region, and with it has come a resurgence in Russian pride in itself and braggadocio. Along with a propensity to exert its reputation as a bully. Why not? The United States, the world's uber-power, has never been reluctant to display itself as the super bully on the world stage...?

Russia's invasion of Georgia demonstrated that Vladimir Putin felt he could, if they did. His ally, Serbia, was humbled and forced to accept an internationally illegal truncation of its territory with Kosovo's recognized separation. Assembling interceptor anti-missile batteries on its near territory exemplified just another slap in the face for Russia, another assault on its regional dignity.

How to retrieve its reputation? Threaten Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, and by extension the European Union. Demonstrate, indisputably, that it holds the power and the right and the determination to come to the defence of a former ally which has shunned its friendship and chosen to side with the West. And just incidentally, suppress secessionist forces within its territory.

The opportunity was there, to make a point, and Vladimir Putin embraced it. Now he and his country are in an untenable position, but no less so, in a very real sense, than is Europe and the G-8 countries, which oppose Russia's reversion to its former brutal tactics. Does the European Union, NATO, the G-8 really desire the current situation to deteriorate beyond redemption? Hardly.

Sometimes - perhaps all too often - actions taken in the white-hot fire of anger result in situations beyond anyone's control; no one wants to back down lest they see themselves and be seen by the rest of the world, as intemperate losers. Which is exactly where Russia finds itself now.

Presenting itself as the conquering hero which stood up against the demands of Europe and the United States at the Shanghai Co-operation Organization. Where traditional and newly-engaged friends and neighbours would congratulate Mr. Putin and admiringly uphold Russia's right to conquest. Except that didn't quite happen. There was a surface demonstrate of solidarity, but skin-thin.

While the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, post-meeting, claimed it "supports Russia's active role in contributing to peace and co-operation in the region", it also indicated a peaceful solution to the crisis in Georgia was required. China unequivocally expressed its concern with respect to Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as sovereign nations.

A very uncomfortable precedent that, one that China, and not she alone, is unprepared to deal with, given China's own troublespots in Tibet and Xinjiang, not to mention Taiwan's independence ambitions.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Defending Exactly What?

Muslims are quick to express their exasperation at the West in general for mis-labelling Islam, for insisting that Islam is responsible for the prevailing situation which sees decidedly Muslim fanatics - having dedicated their lives to prosecuting Islamic (Islamist) jihad, in a strenuous effort to obliterate as many of the perceived enemies of Islam as possible - as representing Islam.

Great, outraged umbrage is taken at the expression "Islamofascism" and Muslim academics daintily point out that fascism as a political expression is relatively new in origin, whereas Islam is an ancient and respected religion, not a political movement. A weak claim, at the very least. Islam is one of the world's great religions, and its adherents are numerously represented, but it is also a political way of life.

One which has been subverted by hate, a burning detestation of other ways of life that have been successful in embracing a kind of modernity that Islam has eschewed. In the process, creating a social, political, scientific, technological backwardness in Muslim countries, struggling to keep up with the strides made by non-Muslim countries in advancing their economic futures.

Religion as a man-made construct in the belief of a superior and enlightened non-human existence that orchestrates the lives of humans, can be a force for good and has proven in the past to be a unifying social force to enable people to live in harmony with one another. On the other hand, it is also a tool that has been used successfully in the past to ensure estrangement between peoples.

Which makes it rather more than a trifle disingenuous for Muslim academics and clerics to claim that Western news media and self-serving politicians have chosen to identify Islam as a source of evil, intent on destroying Western influence for the purpose of re-installing an Islamic renaissance throughout the world. When the simple fact is that it is Muslims themselves, choosing to present as warriors of Allah, doing his bidding in a holy jihad, who make the news.

The monologue of hatred and bloodshed is an Islamist-inspired travelogue, presenting throughout the world as a menace that must be resisted and defeated. Bellicose threats of annihilation of others, the inflammatory rousing of religiously-devout and impressionably restless young Muslim men to fulfill their duties to Islam as fanatical warriors is of Islamic derivation, not Western.

One such as Mobashar Jawed Akbar who scornfully lashes the West for its fascination with "Islam and the West" in an attempt to come to terms with what is occurring on the world stage, on the basis that Islam is a religion and the West a geography cuts no ice when it is Islamic fundamentalists themselves who make the link between Islam and the West; it is from them that the term derives to describe the Muslim struggle.

The influence, power and ascendance of the West that appears so grating to the sensibilities of insecure Muslims, furious that Islamic influence waned after its great period during the Caliphate when Islam encouraged the acquisition of knowledge and the perfection of art and literature and industry and agriculture and trade has become the target of Islamist jihadists. The geography of the West did not create that antipathy for the purpose of engaging in a war of attrition.

Islam became too stridently devotional, too dedicated to statism and fundamentalism, shedding its curiosity, its inquisitiveness and sense of empowerment through social, scientific and educational advancement. Call it what you will, but if scholarly Islamic clerics and academics wish to ensure their religion be held in the respect it deserves and which they so ardently desire, it is incumbent upon them to take measures to defeat the rogues among them.

Those whom they airily term the "Fasad", the ill-doers among them. Who threaten to become legion, through aggrieved disaffection. Surely, Islam is failing them by not imbuing in their consciousness the true message that Islam is purported by its high-minded defenders to represent. The simple fact of the matter is, while the academics declare that Islam sturdily rejects murder, its terror contingent energetically commits wide-scale murder.

Quoting scriptures selectively to demonstrate that Islam stimulates its followers to goodness cannot belie reality. And that reality is that, though some verses indict those who would commit murder, other verses encourage believers to understand that murder in some signal circumstances is not only permitted, but is downright proper to the occasion.

Overt crimes such as murder are not condoned, we are informed, yet they can be punished by such kindly adverse-intervention punishments as "execution, crucifixion, maiming or exile". Convincing the non-Muslim of the kindliness of such religiously-inspired punishments for malefactors misses the point, however.

Telling us that the Koran recognizes the existence of different faiths, and that it is Allah's prerogative, not Islam's followers, to be the judge, does not alter the reality of influential clerics in mosques the world over taking it upon themselves to charge their followers to remain separate from others, to disdain those who do not recognize Islam.

Which, in and of itself, is no crime, but does set the stage for isolation and fear and suspicion. Harking back to a time when the Sultanate gave sanctuary to Christians and Jews in Spain recalls an imperfect history, but one which did, in some large part, present a shining picture of potentials, now long defunct.

Claiming that justice and equality express the soul of Islamic belief gives no comfort at a time when the world sees horrors otherwise expressed in situations of mass murder, of dreadful, ongoing crimes against humanity, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere in the world.

Perhaps it's past time for influential Muslim clerics and academics to recognize that reality, to stop blaming liberal democracies and to collectively take steps to combat the carnage taking place in the name of Islam.

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Will The Defendant Please Stand?

Fascinating; B'nai Brith, the original anti-discrimination group whose singular but not sole purpose it is to defend Jewry against the manifest anti-Semitism that tends to poke its ugly head up now and again and too-often-again, has now been accused of fomenting hatred against another identifiable group: Muslims. In Canada, in any event. Which tells us yet again that one can never be too careful, never too cautious in any kind of undertaking lest one be labelled racist.

Or, in this particular instance, anti-religion - since it is Islam and Muslims and their place in society, and in particular instance the undeniable phenomenon of fundamentalist Muslims harbouring a none-too-secret desire to wreak havoc on any and all vestiges of Western imperialism evinced by the United States and her allies playing the heavy in Arab and Muslim countries.

Of course, that too is not quite correct, since the occurrence of jihad against non-believers, Jews and Infidels superseded the war in Afghanistan and the following Iraq war. Each of which owed to the spectacularly disastrous (for America) destruction of New York's World Trade Towers, the attack on the Pentagon, and the foiled attempt on the White House.

Not to mention attacks on western interests elsewhere in the world. Muslim rage at the West and most particularly so against the United States has been taken seriously since 9-11; it is no longer a sidebar in unsettling world events. The terrorists whose militias and whose single-minded dedication to wreaking havoc on ordinary Muslims, Jews and "infidels" are overwhelmingly Muslim.

These dedicated Islamist attackers, suicide bombers, bloody-minded shaheeds have brought the rest of the world to regard Muslims with no little alarm. They have - in their fanatical embrace of death deliverance in the name of Islam, in purported obeisance to Allah and the dictums of the Prophet - demonstrated the militant jihad-bent side of Islam, not the peace-loving side its faithful declare it to represent.

Which is why it presents as absurd in the extreme that B'nai Brith Canada now stands accused of Islamaphobia for having set up a conference in Winnipeg in 2003 for the purpose of educating first-responders to terrorist-inspired disasters. The Higgins Counter-terrorism Research Center of Arlington, Virginia, was the presenter, and while B'nai Brith had a representative at the conference, not all sessions were attended by them.

Some one, or some individuals who did attend all the sessions of the conference, must have come away from the experience personally convinced that Muslims were unfairly targeted. Absurd in and of itself, in that it cannot be denied on the evidence that most terrorists espouse Islamic jihad, and prosecute their death-dealing in the name of Islam. Yet those individuals, or that single individual expressed outrage at the perceived slight to Islam.

The result of which was the Manitoba Human Rights Commission received a complaint from Shahina Siddiqui, Winnipeg executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association of the United States and Canada, who is also a member of the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-Canada), insisting that B'nai Brith's initiative resulted in a violation of the Manitoba Human Rights Act, prohibiting statements that "incite, advocate or counsel discrimination".

This complaint was lodged on the basis of hearsay, but furthermore on the basis of isolated, perhaps out-of-context, comments relating to the delivery of some of the information sessions at the conference. The exact wording of which has not been revealed to the defendants, nor have the defendants been given the identities of the original complainers. In other words, it is impossible for them to investigate the incident themselves, and in the process to defend themselves.

In Shahina Siddiqui's complaint she claims "Based on comments from some in attendance that the presentation was biased against Muslims, I conclude that the content of the seminar presented a negative prejudice about Muslims in terms of being probable terrorists. This prejudiced picture would encourage and support racial profiling by first responders and law-enforcement agencies dealing with possible terrorist incidents".

This is mind-bogglingly incoherent. If most terrorists have proven, on verifiable evidence, to represent their version of Islam, as Muslim jihadists, one would have to be blind, deaf and completely incompetent not to recognize that simple fact; that most terrorists that now bedevil the world at large, within Muslim countries and countries that are liberal democracies alike, are Muslim, whatever their origin.

How that simple recognition can be equated with prejudice rather than represent simple reality is beyond comprehension. It's disingenuous beyond belief to expect intelligent people to buy that message of religious aggrievement. In the name of social emancipation of all people from all backgrounds to shuffle one's feet in agreement, overlooking the obvious, in an absurd salute to political correctness.

More to the point is why organizations such as those this woman represents are not actively involved in educating their own constituents - and most particularly young Muslim men to recognize that Islam that most claim to be respectful of others and desirous of peace among peoples - to reject the overtures of hardened jihadists looking to recruit young men to their murderous agenda.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Isn't That Telling!

Canada has received an international and much-deserved slap in our freedom-of-speech pretensions. And how could this be? After all, we are so righteously proud of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which in fact, guarantee those rights. In fact, under "Fundamental Freedoms", we read: "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: a) freedom of conscience and religion; b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; c) freedom of peaceful assembly, and d) freedom of association."

Guess that pretty well covers it. We've got freedom of expression, of thought, of communication. We've also got some pretty good laws in place that protect against the promulgation of hate, of hate-mongering, of incitement to hate. So that should produce a fair balance, one would think. Oops, we've also got our human rights tribunals; a federal one, and provincial human rights commissions. They sit in debate on matters purporting to spread hate, brought to their attention by aggrieved groups or individuals.

And occasionally they issue condemnations against groups or individuals whom they conclude have, in their considered opinion, spread hate in society, or caused suffering to certain minority groups. Overlooking the fact in their great and good wisdom that there are existing laws to protect against such ethical and moral lapses leading to societal infractions. Overlooking too their original and anticipated function; to protect minorities against discrimination in seeking jobs or housing.

Several high-profile cases brought against writers, editors or publications relating to issues such as religious debate, homosexuality, or terrorism have brought their function to the public eye and have resulted in a huge debate. A discussion has ensued whether they should in fact be debating those issues. A debate that has obviously had repercussions beyond Canada's borders. Others concerned with free speech and debate in the public fora have taken notice.

To the extent that a group of American academics involved in political thought have taken steps to ensure that a representative body of which they are members - the American Political Science Association - bypass having their next annual meeting in Toronto in 2009. For fear of running afoul of Canadian law. Or, more likely, the various Canadian human rights commissions, and their meddling penchant for misrepresenting the freedoms of Canadians to express their personal opinions.

The concerned group considers it "unseemly" for their association to "turn a blind eye to [Canadian] attacks on freedom of speech" and find it "unacceptable to risk exposing its own members to them." They write, moreover that "Our belief is that the APSA should choose its sites carefully, with particular regard for questions of freedom of speech and conscience. We therefore believe Canada to be a problematic destination."

So do we. Unfortunately.

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Saintly Men

Conrad Black, he of the penchant for impeccable language, history, news-hounding and financial emoluments, currently incarcerated in a medium-security institution meant to house convicted white-collar embezzlers and the like, continues to entertain his reading public. He turns his finely-tuned mind and exquisite grasp of semiotics to the printed explication of world events and historical antecedents in a compassionate effort to educate the masses.

He now has been afforded ample opportunity to isolate himself from the distracting influences of sparkling high-society events, the attending of countless business meetings, tending to political happenings, and tedious familial obligations, in sweet isolation, among other innocents who have been similarly faulted by a justice system that has gone awry.

"It is an unsought honour to be an agent for reinforcing constitutionally guaranteed rights that have fallen into disuse." Dreadfully hard done by, but secure in the knowledge that he has done no wrong; dismissive of a justice system that erroneously found him guilty of nothing at all, but pursuing his innocent business interests as he saw fit, as any experienced businessman would, indeed.

"But someone has to resist the putrification (sic) of justice in these jurisdictions, and if someone of my means doesn't, who will?". Yes, true, who indeed? Who among the population at large had access to the social and political high and mighty, to corporate wealth and stealth, to living an outrageously lavish and ostentatious lifestyle? Too bad about justice being in such a state of putrefaction, though.

Peculiar, on the face of it, that none of his high-priced lawyers' appeals to higher courts of justice have yet to render an alteration of the verdict of guilt, nor have they found any success in ameliorating his plight by shortening his prison sentence. Justice can be so tediously unreasonable. But he is using his time well. Having launched a series of inmate-invited lectures on American history.

Purring with self-gratified pleasure with self, acclaiming the success of his history lessons launched in a generous effort to educate his fellow-inmates. During the process of imparting his historical knowledge, he also indulged in entertaining his fellow inmates with tales of his corporate successes "...I did reminisce about some parts of my career. It was an amusing session, as the other participants are colourful and interesting people."

The simple fact being that anyone with whom Lord Black, the former media baron, associates, must of necessity be interesting. And since he is now companioned by a group of people whom justice has unaccountably punished by separation from law-abiding society, they too must be seen to be "colourful and interesting". As no doubt they are.

No narcissism on display here, though. Other than what he has discerned in the manner of a newspaper reporter dispatched to the prison to interview his fellow inmates whom he describes as: "A Post stringer infested the parking lot, badgering arriving and departing visitors and generally maintaining the high standards of Murdoch journalism." Quite unlike the outstanding quality of reportage manifested in his own lost publishing empire.

As for the prison he is currently confined to: "It is far from a country club and is a material contrast from life in my homes, but it is not uncivilized and I am putting the time to good use and planning the relaunch of my career when this lengthy and tiresome persecution is over." Poor man, so put-upon, so little-understood by the authorities, but complacent in the realization that his friends and admirers understand the situation.

He hastens to add that he remains philosophical about his travails. "If saintly men like Gandhi could choose to clean latrines, and Thomas More could voluntarily wear a hair shirt, this experience won't kill me." He has a penchant for placing himself in the company of world-class luminaries, imagining himself to be one of their ilk, and that history can be expected to treat him so.

Sigh. Will no one rid us of this troublesome scribbler?

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Feeding The World

Coca-Cola and McDonald's had it all wrapped up at Beijing's official Olympic sites. Want to eat or drink something? Take your pick. McDonald's or Coca-Cola. That's the deal that Beijing struck with the two American fast-food giants, and money talks. China might have spent $43-billion on mounting their impeccable version of the Olympics, but even a moneyed giant like China appreciates all the help it could get.

Besides which, they entertained the international community, and there is comfort in familiarity, is there not? What's more familiar to the world at large, particularly those who move in exalted economic circles, albeit plebeian at that, than the ubiquitous presence of that giant purveyor of sugared drinks, and that other that feeds us heart-constricting hamburgers?

Life can be a gastronomic bore at times. Tourists and locals who bought seats for the events were not permitted to import their own food and drink to the official sites. Hungry? Buy a Big Mac. Thirsty? Quench it with Coca-Cola. Burden your arteries and rot your gut. But there are countries out there that are food-conscious and discriminating in their tastes.

Think, for example, of France, and its reputation for outstanding cuisine, the quality-demanding French who would not besmirch their palates with comestibles that owe more to artificial chemical interacting with ingredients that were once representative of the food chain, but now resemble artificial nutrition-less "food" of unpalatable derivation.

Oops, so much for reality in today's global culture and economy. Paris alone, it would appear, hosts no fewer than 70 sets of golden arches, and that doesn't count those in the outer suburbs. The world simply cannot get along without McDonald's. Difficult as it is to credit, revenues in France are astounding, challenging those of the United States.

And do the French admit that they frequent these eating-out establishments? Not very likely; they are, after all, foodists, and proud of their reputation. True, the French have their standards, and they do demand a certain quality. So how is McDonald's different in France than it represents itself in, say, the United States?

The exterior looks remotely up-market, not at all resembling the vision-crazed architectural scrawlings of a hungry teen. But the food? Clones of what is offered in North America. Unlike there, however, beer can be had to wash down that Big Mac and the French fries; no pedestrian Coca-Cola for them.

And eating out at McDonald's has become more of a family affair, than a quick dash-and-bite in North America. A treat for the entire family. They're catching up, those French. The incidence of obesity is raising its ugly head there, though they've a way to go yet to challenge the U.S. and Canada.

Only 11% of the French are obese; a mere 40% overweight. They're getting there. It's hard work, puff-puff, but they're working at it.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Internal Orange Rift

Ukraine is now divided into two camps; wisely pro-Russian and incautiously otherwise. Actually, it's a word to the wise, that would have the country and its administrators desist in provoking their neighbour. The thing of it is, nationalistic pride is such that once branded, becomes more than sufficient. The experience was not a roaring success for the people of Ukraine.

With the singular exception of that 17% of Ukrainians whose ancestry is Russian. And when push comes to shove, they'll be there, clamouring for the necessity to bolster Russian claims in the country. Moscow's own special constituency. Reflective of a like situation in all former Soviet satellite countries. Those for whose safety and security Moscow claims the right to invade other countries.

President Victor Yuschchenko, whose face bears the results of personal experience of disciplinary measures Moscow can invoke against her detractors, remains staunchly determined to become a member of NATO. He sees Ukraine's future within the Western sphere of influence. Irritating Moscow no end.

He will have an opportunity, in two years' time, to contest an old adversary for control of his country's destiny. None other than Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister. Ukraine's very own beautiful and braided Iron Maiden. Their initial exultant triumph in leading Ukraine toward its current trajectory didn't last very long.

After the briefest of honeymoons, he fired her, then accepted her back, now is burdened with her rejection of his policies. She is adamantly opposed to his rash restoration of military hardware displays in celebration of independence day. The parades of military might that would shrink in power and significance allayed against those of Russia.

Despite the most recent demonstration of Russia's response to the fiery kindling of territorial sovereignty from Georgia, Victor Yushchenko moves relentlessly forward, snubbing Russia with his demand that its fleet prepare to vacate Sevastopol. Ukraine, he insists, has no intention whatever of renewing Moscow's lease in 2017.

Ukraine, like Poland and other Eastern European countries once in thrall to Soviet Russia, is outraged at the violent intrusion into Georgia, its horrendous pounding by its neighbour. Incensed that the missile corvette that sank a Georgian patrol boat has returned to the Black Sea port.

Ukrainian anti-Russian protesters faced off against pro-Russian protesters. The presidential decree that imposed restrictions on Russian naval craft moving within Ukrainian waters, requiring permission and a Ukraine escort, has been flicked aside by Russia. There is a standing treaty, and Russia may move there with impunity.

A spokesman for the prime minister has expressed her unease with the military pride and demonstrations blanketing Kiev. "The prime minister thinks the military parade is inappropriate because of the cost at a time when Ukraine has to cope with severe flooding but also because this flexing of muscles is a provocation."

The prime minister has taken steps to distance herself from the potential for NATO membership. Her spokesman pointed out that whatever military upgrading Ukraine has resorted to, is certain to prove inadequate in protecting the country; the best assurance for self-preservation lies in preserving peace with Russia.

The future resembles the past. It's all in the geography.

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National Gloom

Life, it would appear to the outsider, is a perpetual shade of grey, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Practising their very special Wahhabist form of Islam, personal celebratory events are frowned upon. Grim stuff, that. Personal anniversaries, recognition of special events in one's life are to be shrugged off as insignificant in the greater order of notable events within society and by extension, within families.

The Holy Koran informs Muslims that whatever exists in the universe is the blessed creation of God, so that everything that is, represents a sign of God's presence. There is nothing whatever that can be observed, appreciated, practised, worked with, that does not require thanks to Allah for having created it and the opportunity it offers to human beings, as part of creation.

"Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the succession of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the water that God sends down from the sky and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds and the clouds that run appointed courses between the sky and the earth; here indeed are signs for a people that are wise."

Presumably, all those who fail to recognize and offer due appreciation for all that surrounds us fail the wise test. That includes individuals and families who hold dear wedding anniversaries and birthdays. For to celebrate such dearly-held personal events is to impudently mock Allah's vital importance, for no celebrations can be held of such a nature; only those which draw attention to Allah's preeminence in all matters.

One may, in Saudi Arabia, it has been decreed, offer gratitude unending to Allah, and congratulate oneself for recognizing the need to to do, but one may not, at risk of mortally offending Islam, congratulate oneself for occurrences the nature of which are His due, not ours.

Saudi Arabia's foremost cleric has pronounced that the marking of anniversaries, birthdays, or special days such as Mother's Day, is offensive to Islam. Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz al-Shaikh spoke with the authority vested in him, to explain that such celebrations are unIslamic.

There is no debate. This is spiritual law, transcending all others. To do otherwise is to become as followers of other, erring faiths. Which would include Christians and Jews. "A Muslim should thank almighty Allah if his children are healthy and if his married life is stable as the years pass by."

Yeah, verily. And amen.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Another Trudeau Heard From

"Our aggressive military activities in Afghanistan are foolish and wrong", according to 34-year-old Alexandre Trudeau. "The Pashtun [people] have extremely different values than ours, values we may not agree with in any case, but it's not our business to try and teach them lessons with weapons. Because, in fact, they'll be the ones teaching us lessons." Mr. Trudeau, a film-maker of protest, left-wing accreditation, has summed up the situation to his satisfaction.

Afghans, according to Mr. Trudeau, don't share the same human emotions and aspirations as other people around the world. They don't value security, health, education, the freedom to live in a stable society, to aspire to achieve a decent life, to hope for their children's future. He must know of what he speaks. They did, after all, live under a political-religious regime that denied them all of those social attributes.

And Mr. Trudeau believes that the Taliban should be free to return so that all the advances made by the current government of Afghanistan along with the international aid groups and foreign military attempting to establish a modicum of normalcy for the country could be overturned. Turned back to the fundamentalist mullahs who deny girls an education and women a public face.

"What I want to do is to leave it to younger filmmakers to show who the Pashtun are - people we falsely call Taliban, in most cases - and why we really have no reason to tell them how to live their lives, why Afghanistan should be left to its own devices." He is 34, but feels younger filmmakers would be more suited to follow his agenda. Afghanistan, he feels, is too dangerous a place for him.

It's a dangerous place for everyone, Afghan citizens included. They, most particularly, especially the young and the vulnerable; the women, the widows who have no means of supporting themselves and whom the Taliban ruled could not work, nor be seen in public. Public flogging and executions were disciplinary tools for the Taliban. The indigenous culture of music and dance was forbidden.

Pashtun does not equate with the Taliban, nor vice-versa. Religious fundamentalists, jihadist-driven psychopathic groups whose purpose is a divinely-inspired vision of fundamentalist Islamist rule does not reflect the people of Afghanistan. It does reflect the strivings of a religious perversion of human needs, sacrificed to a warped view of Islam, one that serves the purpose of hate-driven religious ideologues.

It is no coincidence that the Taliban have allied themselves with the aspirations of al-Qaeda, for their purposeful attacks on both Muslims and non-believers, follow a like agenda, to establish Islamist rule under sharia law and to eventually replace all other forms of religion and social life and politics with a universal Islamism. Afghanistan's neighbour which had long ignored the presence of Saudi-funded madrassas on its soil, is now realizing the extent of Taliban ambition.

Radical Islamists there, their very own home-grown Taliban, allied with the fundamentalist chieftans of Pakistan's wild tribal regions are on the move, determined to bring utter chaos and political destabilization to Pakistan. While continuing their ever-more aggressive militia assaults in Afghanistan. These are not only Afghans and Pakistanis who have been radicalized, but volunteers from other Arab countries, from Central Asia.

As in Afghanistan, Taliban forces wreak havoc in wider circles now in Pakistan also. Suicide attacks and bombings are rampant, taking the lives of ever more innocent civilians whose brand of Islam enrages the Taliban mullahs. Hundreds of people killed, hundreds of thousands displaced now in Pakistan, a result of the North West Frontier Provinces acting as breeding grounds for jihadists.

The Taliban, like members of al-Qaeda, are well armed and increasingly well trained now. They carry Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, placing them in a position to meet the Pakistan army, just as they increasingly do that of Afghanistan. As in Afghanistan, schools that teach girls, or that teach secular curricula have been destroyed; some 130 girls' schools near Peshawar alone, in the last six months.

The singularly vicious attacks in that area threaten further the stability in Afghanistan, since the Taliban are trying to expand their area of control to choke off supply routes from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Almost 80% of NATO supplies in Afghanistan are driven overland through the Khyber Pass, and attacks on supply convoys are on the increase.

We have the luxury of listening to someone like Alexandre Trudeau, sitting back, tut-tutting the misery of Afghans and Pakistanis living in their horrendously troubled countries, and doing nothing. Interpreting their condition as normal, as something that they must deal with in their turbulently embattled helplessness.

We of the West were invited to enter Afghanistan by their current government, to assist it in battling the Taliban, to re-build destroyed civic infrastructure, to give hope to the population, to accomplish some semblance of normalcy for the Pashtun people whom Mr. Trudeau feels are capable of fending for themselves.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008


Amazing how swiftly world events take shape that shake international complacency. Never a dull moment has never been as relevant in the world as it is today. One catastrophe after another, both natural and of human causation. The Chinese in their traditional and ancient wisdom know how to deliver a meaningful curse. We are, all of us, "living in interesting times", including China.

The world lived for so long in the shadow of fear, feeling that the potential of an outright war of a kind that would leave the world devoid of hope might erupt at any time. Reason prevailed, although two great world powers viewed one another with hateful antipathy, both in possession of nuclear weapons, each ready to commit to the ultimate destruction in suspicion that the other would attempt pre-emption.

Reason prevailed, in the end. Populations held in thrall by a totalitarian union thrust upon them by a conscienceless tyrant whose power, whose breadth and depth of depraved and self-empowering control over hundreds of millions of people knew no equal, found themselves free at last. An humiliating and self-involved power dissolved in the acid of its extreme inhumanity extruded for far too long.

The world celebrated in joyful disbelief as the United Soviet Socialist Republics dissolved, as countries held within the grasp of Soviet Russia freed themselves and their people from the alliance and the ideology that had held them in its iron grasp. The failed experiment in human social conditioning was over, and Russia began to take on the aspects of a normal country, bereft of its controlling aspirations.

Russia humbled and feeling itself the target of the derision of those it had once controlled, lamented its lost destiny. Yet it was prepared to begin again, to emulate those aspects of the successful democracies that found fulfillment in social freedom and the capitalist system of economics. A process which disappointingly did not accommodate itself seamlessly to the traditions of the country.

Its experience with a sad succession of inadequate and troubled administrators, allied with a tradition of corruption spelled failure. Until the ascendancy of a crafty and skilled secret-service-agent-cum-president who resolved that his country would no longer tolerate the neglect and disrespect meted out to it by its former satellites in lock-step with its former adversaries.

Here's Russia resurgent, refreshed with the salve of steady economic growth of a kind that gave it a new kind of clout over its tormentors. Now, with a newly enhanced armed forces equipped with the machinery of war, the country will no longer tolerate second place in any international scheming. Recognize an independent Kosovo? Place missile silos too close for comfort with former allies? Be prepared to pay the price.

Russia is now prepared to debate, briefly, Abkhazia's appeal for help, for Russian recognition of its sovereignty from Georgia. Right alongside South Ossetia's determination to declare likewise. As far as Russia is concerned, these two breakaways are now their new allies; separate countries complete with Russian citizens whom they have pledged to support and to keep safe from harm.

While the other side of the scale is balanced by the international community, determined to support Georgia's declaration of sovereign territorial integrity rent asunder by separatists to be legally null and void. Russia may have signed 14 UN resolutions confirming Georgia's oversight and ownership of those provinces, but that was then. It is no now longer prepared to honour that dispensable obligation.

Not too surprising, after all, since Russia has long encouraged separation, has supported the rebel separatists in every way. The situation is particularly worrying to countries like France and Germany who would far rather this unwholesome situation hadn't arisen, who chafe at unpleasant relations with Russia upon whose good graces they do rely in some small part. Former relationships still resonate, still rankle.
The dissolution of good relations are lamentable.

As for Russia's glowing and warm relationship with its former satellites, who chose to abandon her, and to ally themselves with NATO, they have reason now to worry. And for NATO, which was willing to accept a casual yet not-too-close relationship with Russia, all bets are off. Just as NATO has pronounced itself reluctant to resume that relationship in the wake of the Georgian invasion, Russia has returned the compliment, removing itself from future military co-operation with NATO.

This is all too dreadfully unfortunate. It is not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, that resurgently assertive Russia is on the cusp of alienation and isolation from the rest of Europe and North America. It's nastily miserable that Russia has reverted to type, citing its declaration of support for breakaway groups, while brutally suppressing the desire for some, like Chechnya, to break free of Russia's influence.

Russia has balefully and brutally put Georgia in its place, destroying its military emplacements and much of its civil infrastructure. History coming back to haunt the world on the anniversary of its march into Prague, responding to a plea for help from the "true communists" within Czechoslovakia, resistant to a dilution of communism. Just as it responded to a plea for support from its "citizens" and allies within Georgia.

On that occasion, Russia invaded Czechoslovakia with a force of 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops, representing East German, Polish, Bulgarian and Hungarian friends and colleagues in the collective. This time around, the 10,000 troops that invaded and occupied Georgia were Russian, assisted by Chechens. The mighty have not fallen, merely stumbled.

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Solomon's Wisdom Revisited

How to judge the unflinching resolve to dedicate one's life to another? State the intent to take a loved one's life if a solution is not found to demands for recognition. Challenge the individual who claims rights by informing them that their continued demand for recognition will result in the death of loved ones.

Isn't that, after all, what heartless terrorists do, hold someone for ransom in the certain knowledge that those who love them will do everything in their power to have them restored? It's a primitively time-honoured expedient, one practised by unprincipled antagonists determined to have their way. Innocents held to ransom to extract information from recalcitrant family members, for example.

It's what we witness, for example, with Hamas threatening Israel that unless it accedes to demands made by the Islamist terrorists, the life of captured IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit will be forfeit. Knowing full well how seriously the country takes its obligation to its people to shelter them from harm, to retrieve them at whatever cost from capture, even when to do so results in doing harm to the country's own interests.

And here is Robert Mugabe, the triumphant, South Africa-supported tyrant of Zimbabwe, willing to "share" power with his political adversary as long as Morgan Tsvangerai accepts a minor government position void of political power. To emphasize his determination, Mugabe refuses to allow transport of international relief into his country from its temporary warehousing in South Africa.

This prime example of an egotistically delusional despot determined to hang on to power in Zimbabwe despite the catastrophic effects of his misrule which have left his country, formerly one of the breadbaskets of Africa in ruin, poses that age-old conundrum in yet another permutation. Aid agencies were accused by Robert Mugabe of actively taking part in campaigns on behalf of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Irrespective of the staunch denials of humanitarian groups which remain politically neutral, with the certain knowledge that they will be marked as an enemy otherwise; tailoring their activities to ensure that emergency food and medicines will get through to the starving in Zimbabwe, the internally displaced, the rural indigent. Yet a ravening and violent dictator decreed that this aid will not reach his people.

With a world-record, truly staggering inflation rate sweeping the value entirely away from that collapsed economy, leaving its population in dire straits, Mugabe remains obdurately unmoved. Despite that he had promised, as a signatory to a memorandum of understanding between his party and his antagonist's, he steadfastly refuses to lift the ban on permitting life-saving supplies to reach his countrymen.

The talks between Mugabe and Tsvangerai remain deadlocked. And will remain so until and unless Mr. Tsvangerai ceases to insist that his is the democratic right to either co-rule in equal measure, or take over the administration of his forlorn country completely. Yet were he to value as his personal responsibility the desperate condition in which Zimbabweans are now struggling, he has the means to transform the situation.

If he agreed to give up his opposition to Mr. Mugabe, permitting him to continue his ruinous administration, raping the country completely of its resources, leaving his people destitute and starving, Mugabe will relent, and permit those emergency supplies to reach Zimbabweans in desperate need. Mugabe and his supporters, along with the army and the police will continue to live in style, while the country desiccates.

Obviously a sacrifice of personal ambition allied with the fervent desire to rescue his country from immediate disaster that Mr. Tsvangerai is not prepared to submit to. What would result from such a move would be of transitory value, in any event, perhaps. The country would continue to limp along, its economic immune system in complete decline, its people left with no hope for the future.

As a complex moral issue, a criminal, violent, self-availingly mercenary president, exerting inhumane pressure on his people through a political adversary anxious to save his country in its dying paroxysms accepting a tenuously temporary solution, the outcome is nothing short of fascinating.

That is, if the onlooker can detach himself from the horrendous matter of peoples' lives forfeit to the gamble of criminal persuasion.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jihadist Bound

Momin Khawaja aspired to become an honourable jihadist, battling the infidels in Afghanistan, coming to the aid of his embattled brethren. As a Canadian, a young man living in an affluent neighbourhood in the country's capital, and enjoying all the privileges of a free society unencumbered by strictures related to religion, customs, politics, ethnic strife, he yet chafed at the assaults his co-religionists suffered through the auspices of the very country he lived in.

He dreamed of becoming an avenger, a Muslim jihadist, one who would pledge himself to joining the battle of the believer, those who submit to Islam and the edict to resist unjustness. One supposes that, at no time, did he aspire to live in Afghanistan under the Taliban, there to become one with the fundamentalism of the ruling mullahs. And claim friendly co-operation with the forces of al-Qaeda against those of the insolently insulting West.

He wrote messages through a series of explanatory emails to a fiancee that he quite recognized the efficacy and needfulness of sacrificing the lives of countless civilians to the cause of instilling fear in Western society for the end purpose of achieving militant Islam's aims. No price in human lives might be considered too dear a price to pay in support of Islamic rule and justice.

He made contact with incipiently-aspiring jihadists through the Internet. And conspired with a group in Great Britain to deliver an indelible message of Islamic anger. Travelling repeatedly to London from his home in Ottawa, to confer and plan with his co-jihadists, all of them intrigued with the possibilities and potential inherent in applying themselves to delivering that message.

In his defence, his lawyer has laid out a trajectory of overtures leading to the hope of travelling to Afghanistan to join the resistance. To become a member of the Islamist defence against the incursion of foreign armies in that country. Since his objective was to join the Afghan Taliban to fight against the forces of NATO, the accused could not logically and legally be accused of plotting to blow up civilian sites in London.

Great Britain has long since taken Momin Khawaja's co-conspirator's to trial and finding them guilty, sentencing them to life in prison. The country would have sought extradition from Canada for Mr. Khawaja, but was persuaded to allow him to remain in Canada, so that this country could undertake its first substantial terrorist proceedings. Put to trial in Great Britain he would have shared the guilty verdict of his fellow jihadists.

His lawyer in Canada, Lawrence Greenspon, loves a legal challenge, and he is determined to persuade the presiding judge, Ontario Superior Court Justice Douglas Rutherford, that the case against Mr. Khawaja should be dismissed. For lack of evidence that his client really was involved in the plans to bomb popular London shopping and night-spot areas, to murder and mutilate as many innocents as possible.

The explosives device he was working on at home in Ottawa, and of which he wrote and spoke often to his London-domiciled jihadist friends, was totally innocent of plans for use there. He planned, his lawyer contends, to fight in Afghanistan, and for that purpose attended a training camp in Pakistan; he had no intention, nor knowledge of the London bombing plans.

Momin Khawaja, so solidly implicated as a co-conspirator for a number of planned terrorist attacks to take place in London, is said to be totally innocent of intent by his lawyer. The device he was working on, to improvise an explosives trigger, discovered at his Ottawa home along with much other incriminating evidence, is simply incidental.

That this man was incapable of reaching the required technical proficiency to create a useful working model with sufficient power to trigger an explosion is one thing. That his intent to achieve success for the purpose of incendiary violence is another altogether. He encouraged and he funded the exercise he is claimed to be innocent of.

That he felt a deep desire to travel to Afghanistan to fight Canadian soldiers stationed there, does not necessarily rule out his determination to aid and assist his fellow jihadists in their plans to explode bombs in London.

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A Study In Convoluted Extremes

What a formula for disaster. A country now teetering on the cusp of complete destabilization, one which has the great misfortune (that is, as it portends and pertains to the international community, let alone internally) to be comprised of a politically-fractured population, a surging tide of Islamism, and possessing nuclear proficiency - cemented with direly dreadful relations with its nearest neighbours.

India, faced with the very real prospect of a political melt-down in Pakistan, must be in a state of breathtakingly nervous apprehension. Bad enough its traditional relationship with its one-time provinces, and with the dreadful religious enmity exacerbated by ever-resurgent belligerence over ownership of Kashmir. Now, the very Pakistani politician with whom a brief grace of detente was achieved, is gone.

And the two major parties, each contending for leadership after a fractionated election no longer recognize much in common, with the final resignation of Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan can celebrate the end of its "dictatorship", but what now can it anticipate for its near future other than on one hand the ascension of authoritarian rule with the Pakistan Peoples Party or an Islamist regime with the Pakistan Muslim League.

With the rationale for their co-operation now evaporated, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif do not really have all that much to work together for; one a determinedly secular, democracy-aspiring party, the other a renascent Islamist party, intent on re-introducing shariah law to the country. Unhappily it appears that a benevolent totalitarian government is in the offing; one that bodes ill for the geography.

As they circle one another for opportunity to each lay claim to and cement their superior position to govern, the underlying suspicion and hostility natural to each party begins to surface, and each can indulge in plotting to undo the other's aspirations. And in the background, the country's potential to achieve some modicum of political and social moderation dwindles.

The forces of Islamism surge triumphantly ahead. Little wonder, that, given the background of Saudi-fuelled madrassas flourishing there, to instill the concept of fundamentalist Islam and the jihad-inspired eschewing of any other influences in its surge to install the regime they violently espouse. Aided and effectively abetted by their very own Taliban streaming out of mountainous tribal border villages.

So their own home-grown terror groups, intent on suicide bombings to make their point, erodes the security of the country at large. How can they fail to succeed, in large part, given the encouragement and active assistance of Pakistan's own security services (Inter Services Agency), long since infiltrated by Islamists. Themselves battling Pakistan's security forces; those that aren't themselves tainted.

Will it be Mr. Sharif with his shaded past of al-Qaeda co-operation, who instilled, during his rule, sharia law, and oversaw Pakistan's first test nuclear explosion; who himself was responsible for incarcerating Benazir Bhutto's corrupt husband? Or will it be Mr. Zardari, whose father-in-law was responsible for funding nuclear development, the very man whom Mr. Sharif's mentor imposed a death sentence on?

Either side of the flipped coin will deliver results sufficient to flagellate the tender hopes of any Pakistani citizen looking for an end to uncertainty and confusion, and a beginning of moderation-inspired national normalcy.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Charged As Guilty

"When is it going to stop?" This is the tremulous wail of an old woman, ousted from her small Georgian town, now a refugee. "When are they going to leave?" Why, simple enough to answer; this very day. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said so, he said Russian troops are prepared to withdraw this very day, yes he did indeed say so. If you cannot trust the president of a great country, why then, who can you trust?

To clarify matters, the intent is to pull Russian troops out of occupied Georgia, not to be mistaken for the two breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Those, by Kremlin determination, are definitely not part of Georgia, international recognition be damned. As for the international community claiming that Russian troops have delved ever deeper into Georgia, despite the signing of the peace pact; inflammatory nonsense.

Georgia had it coming to them, after all. That stupidly provocative move by its president to invade South Ossetia, and just coincidentally committing unforgivably outrageous atrocities on the population there, could not be countenanced by a peace-loving humanitarian-respecting country like Russia. Had they not acted to protect their own, how could they then live with their conscience?

As for the claims that Ossetian militias and Chechen irregulars in the Russian army had indulged in pillaging, don't believe everything you hear from obviously hostile sources. If there are smashed shop windows and banks and restaurants robbed of their cash transactions, and motorists of their vehicles, it's the fault of Georgians masquerading as Russian soldiers, blast them.

Let's not even give space to the charges that South Ossetians charged through Georgian villages to go house to house raping and murdering. The very thought of such an absurd claim is unworthy. The charges that Russian troops in occupation of Georgian territory witnessed these atrocities and did nothing to halt them, represents yet another calumnious slander.

So what if reporters interviewed a handful of Chechen soldiers who admitted to the Ossetian reprisal activities. Please bear in mind that they also insisted that the Ossetian actions were entirely justified in view of the outrages visited upon the South Ossetians by the Georgian army. "Do you know what the Georgians did in Tskhinvali? They killed 2,000 people. Georgians were crushing small children with their tanks!"

They should know, after all. They heard it from the highest sources, unimpeachable sources at that, from the Kremlin. Why, they had it on authority that not only were tanks used to crush children, but Georgian soldiers in their blood lust, took to beheading innocent Ossetian civilians. How can you deal with such people, other than to give back what they give to you?

Don't believe it? Well, how about Vladimir Putin, that stalwart man of the people, the prime minister of Russia, stating unequivocally on Russian television that this is precisely what the Georgians engaged in. It's unspeakable that Human Rights Watch (but then, what can you expect from a U.S.-based "human rights" group) - charges that the Kremlin's deliberate fomenting of outrage was meant to encourage reprisals.

It's the West again, trying to damage the reputation of Russia and its people. Russians know better; they know whom to believe. They know that President Mikheil Saakashvili is a genocidal monster. They know also other truths, that Ukrainians, Estonians and Western interests were complicit with the Georgians, had sent troops to fight alongside them, against Russian troops.

When embattled the Russians know what to do. Sit tight and hold their own. There must be no withdrawal, regardless of what the hostile world demands, intent on once again humiliating Russia. Russia must stay the course, re-claim her honour and her place on the world stage. That much is demonstrably clear.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dizzying Power

It is truly amazing, the drawing strength of some rare personalities capable of enthusing and stimulating a broad expanse of the public interest out of the inertia of surrender to the banality of life. The tremendous power of communication through television and the Internet has eclipsed all previous methods of instilling awe and respect in people through a political, religious, social agenda pursued for the purpose of gathering people together to realize a common goal.

New power structures have arisen through the force of rare personalities capable of a level of persuasion that leaves even charismatic ministries of the past with their vast supporters, in the dust of history. Someone like a populist yet elite television personality whose personal journey of discovery reaches out to the yearning masses, promising them deliverance from the ordinary, holding out the possibility of ascending to the highest order of human spirituality and achievement.

With, or without the vision of the traditional Judeo-Christian tradition of God somewhere in the general template of empowering people through their every spiritual, temporal and material desires fulfilled. Success of achievement can be theirs if they simply follow benevolent directions. Someone else has blazed the way, discovered the means by which true meaning can be approached and the thoughtfully worshipful can be enveloped within its comforting embrace.

Of course everything in this world has its price. Spirituality no less than group affiliation. In fact, the two converge very neatly, don't they? The attraction of frail souls to the power of imagination, particularly if it's someone else's powerful imagination, someone else whose success on the world stage is unquestioned, unrivalled, envied and emulated. And who has, coincidentally to achieving that vast following, amassed great wealth precisely through their trust.

Oprah Winfrey offers salvation. Her intent is to empower people, to help them find themselves, reach their goals. In fact, teach them what their goals should be. From the right books to read, to how they can decorate their homes, to the manner in which they should regard the world around them, and become an integral part of it. How to select a mate, raise their families. It's a gradual process, one that requires profound understanding of the steps to be taken.

The steps neatly laid out in a horizontal line of acquisition, a commercial transaction that resonates on the modern consciousness of satisfaction relating to personal material surroundings. Oprah Winfrey instructs her passionate followers whom to vote for, what to demand of their political leaders, and how to weigh the success of their personal lives. And to demand of themselves perfection; they can do it; they have it within themselves,they have but to reach high enough.

This is a woman who has succeeded in convincing herself of the rigorous righteousness of her drive to perfection. And in achieving that station in life, she generously and genuinely feels she can be the conduit that can lead others to experience the same life-affirming satisfactions she has been able to garner for herself. The substance of which she finds soul-affirming and which she is willing to share.

Everything is for sale, and nothing comes cheap. Ideas and ideals must be formulated and those to whom they reveal themselves have ownership over them and are given the opportunity to expand their fortunes while extending the virtues they've discovered to expanding urgently-trustful followers' futures. Their drive is messianic, for the need is great. There are so many lost souls out there in that troublingly-demanding world.

Can one truly be too critical of someone whose celebrity has been hard-won through the application of a fertile mind and a determined personality? A combination that has been amply demonstrated to appeal to the immense crowds of seekers after fulfillment and truth? If, through her machinations, she has been able to build her little empire and in the process give hope to countless searchers, why not?

Power, success, fulfillment becomes her. She glows with an incandescent fire. Illusion, allusion, delusion, whatever it takes.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008


Contracting out governmental humanitarian aid to the acknowledged expertise of specialized humanitarian organizations should not be construed as giving the green light to governments that they need be absolved of responsibility should representatives of those same dedicated humanitarian groups be injured or killed while prosecuting theirs and government's business.

Canada's CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) has the great good sense to realize that they are not fully competent to deliver aid and support in areas of the world where the need is great in the provision of humanitarian assistance to indigent populations in an atmosphere of natural disasters or politically-inspired violence or working in a theatre of war.

They turn to international aid agencies and contract with them to deliver vital services in support of their mutual agendas to provide needed assistance as an international obligation.

In Afghanistan, humanitarian aid workers, those altruistic souls who feel compelled to place their own normal lives in abeyance for the greater good of assisting others through times of great peril and tribulation, have increasingly come under threat from terrorists and opposing militias. Part of the problem is that humanitarian aid workers are no longer viewed as politically neutral.

Terrorist groups now see them as agents of the very groups whom they battle. As being aligned - despite that they're delivering vital aid to the needy - with government forces, or international military and political entities invading and occupying territory that insurgents claim for their own.

Aid workers are now being targeted deliberately, as a means of delivering a deeper message. That, basically, no one is immune from attack when they represent the enemy.

And since, in Afghanistan, the Taliban abhor anything related to the West, their goal being to re-install their fiercely uncompromising version of Islamism and shariah law and in the process rout the Western-supported Afghan government, they will have no truck with social or medical workers or teachers or those supplying hope to ordinary Afghans working with impunity.

Three female aid workers and their Afghan driver, working under the auspices of the International Rescue Committee, and funded indirectly by CIDA through money it allocates for that purpose to the Government of Afghanistan have now joined the roster of murdered humanitarian workers.

The Taliban are complacent in observing these killings to represent revenge for a coalition air strike that inadvertently hit Afghan civilians.

The three aid workers, they insist, represent people "in the service of occupation forces ... serving the enemies of the Afghan people". They also wonder at all the fuss surrounding the death of a trio of females. Life in Afghanistan under the Taliban was a tenuous affair; women in particular hanging on a slender thread of fearfully bare existence.

If NGOs continue to be encouraged by CIDA to enter dangerous territory to deliver aid services in the interests of pursuing Canada's agenda of improving life for ordinary Afghans, as noble as that goal is, the government of Canada, through CIDA, must also be prepared without equivocation to assure the security of aid workers as they pursue their dangerous tasks.

Canada cannot presume to insist that it is indemnified in the event of any of its aid-delivering subcontractors requiring assistance in the delivery of that aid, nor shrug off demands for redress in the event of catastrophic events leading to death. In assessing grants to aid organizations, Canada's liabilities should be fully addressed and a joint agreement be made to provide security and, if needed, additional financial assistance if death occurs.

It is, quite simply, the moral thing to agree upon. Government cannot insist it should be viewed at arms' length from responsibility to protect and give aid to the very aid workers it contracts to accomplish what it cannot itself provide.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Deal's On!

Who said this has been a boring summer? Anything but. And who said all eyes would be turned exclusively on China for the Beijing Olympics? China now has no monopoly on the news, something she's no doubt gnashing her teeth in frustration over. On the other hand, China has been subjected to more than enough impudently rude criticisms during these Olympic games, so perhaps it's just as well that the world is turning its critical gaze elsewhere.

And impudently insane, resurgently warlike Russia is causing a world-wide epidemic of white hairs, nervous twitches and sagging facial lines of dread.

More than a little frightening, actually, considering the potential for upgrading the current crisis in post-invasion Georgia to something more approximating a world upheaval of some substantial dimensions. Russia has been goaded endlessly by the United States which doesn't seem to be able to exact some discipline upon its wish to inflict a few more humiliating blows to the country's pride and prestige in Europe.

It's a strange relationship, actually. On the one hand, diplomacy prevails when Russia is invited to take part as an ex-officio participant - albeit temporarily, and tenuously - in NATO exercises (now oops-withdrawn). And when it's being invited to become involved in the World Trade Organization, and has been effectively added as a member of the G8 group of influential world leaders.

And then taunted when its former allies and satellites are enticed into entry to NATO and the European Union, allying themselves inextricably for the future with Russia's former political antagonists. It's things like that that really smart, and humiliate Russia, whose inability to retain the loyalty of former allies is inexplicable to her. Their gross ingratitude to their former protector puzzles the Kremlin beyond torment.

Russia's response, as she began to draw on the windfall landed through her natural resources and the resulting build-up of her armaments, has been prickly and offensive. Claiming ownership of the Arctic seabed and along with it, the limitless natural resources lying there. Russian bomber-provocative overflights close to North America's airspace, enjoying the spectacle of the North American Air Defence Command scrambling to respond.

Flights past the U.S. base on Guam, and over the USS Nimitz battle group, as well as causing the British to send up Tornado fighter jets three times in its little spat with Britain over the London murder of a Russian ex-patriot critic of the regime. As well as an overflight over the North Sea where NATO defence ministers were meeting in the Netherlands, compelling another intercept in response.

Nothing, however, infuriates the Kremlin to the degree that the United States' determination to install a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe does. Infringing too close for comfort on Russia's territory, and effectively thumbing their nose at Russia in a manner the country finds madly intolerable. The installation is ostensibly meant as a protection against attack from hostile Iran, but not as Russia sees it.

The Czech Republic has given its assent for a radar installation there. Now the government of Poland, white with outrage over Georgia, is adamant it has considered the affair long enough and is now ready to commit, to immediately sign the deal to install 10 interceptor missiles in northern Poland. For, said the Polish defence minister, "We feel at the moment a greater concern for our safety".

Astonishingly, and boding ill for a future reconciliation with Russia on friendly terms, restoring the relationship to its post-U.S.S.R. break-up warmth, Washington has accepted Warsaw's security demands in return for hosting the interceptor missiles silo at their Brdy army base. Patriot missile batteries installed on Polish soil is the price for assent. To be manned by 100 American soldiers.

And that's not all; a pact will be signed for mutual defence; if one country is attacked the other will come to their defence. If that isn't drawing an indelible line in the sand across which Russia may not tread, what then? Well, Russia was quick to respond with a military spokesman warning Poland it will pay dearly for its craven sell-out to the U.S.

Warning darkly that it has exposed itself to the potential of invasion by so doing. And that nuclear weaponry may just be used in a process of due punishment. This is, of course, overheated rhetoric in the passion of the moment, in response to what is seen as an intolerable insult. But the threat inherent in the response cannot be overlooked.

Tread with caution: here lie cluster bombs of explosive consequences.

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Facing Off

Good grief, we thought we'd been through all of this. The nightmare is back. A big territory-and-resource-hungry country tormenting another, smaller neighbour. That's the way the world of geography and territoriality goes. And here we thought we'd finally advanced beyond that. Overlooking, of course, transitory "peace-keeping" ventures by countries we respect and trust who take it upon themselves to similarly invade and occupy. Life is so complicated.

Still, the current reality is that Russian troops have been deployed well inside the sovereign borders of Georgia. The facade of cease-fire pledges aside, nothing really has stopped the Russian advance into Georgia, well beyond the borders of the two provinces that Russia purports to be engaged in protecting from Georgian predation. The invading troops have been busy destroying Georgian military installations. Russian naval vessels destroyed have Georgian vessels.

The Russian air force bombed Georgia's major airport, and destroyed the country's military planes. In possession of a tiny fraction Russia's inventory of military ships, planes, armoured personnel carriers, tanks in any event, Georgia has been reduced to military-equipment-penury. A sea embargo, refusing entry of grains into Georgia's port has occurred. There is a food shortage in the country. A hostile attack of her Web sites left Tbilisi shut out of the Internet.

Towns and villages invaded, swept clear of residents, as 100,000 Georgians are now displaced, internal refugees. They're the fortunate ones, those who were able to escape the murderous rampage of the Russian forces aided by South Ossentian militias. Pillaging and looting, a general breakdown of civilized behaviours in an all-out effort to cripple the country beyond easy recovery.

And in echoes of the post-WWII U.S.-Berlin airlift, the United States is ferrying humanitarian aid to Georgia via military aircraft. Having had to assure the Kremlin that U.S. troops would not be facing off with their own, and that the shipments to Georgia constitute medicines, tents, food. Which hardly allayed Russian suspicions that military equipment was being smuggled into Georgia.

American plans are that two hospital ships will be sent to Georgia's Black Sea ports, and that Moscow should be prepared to allow them entry. These initiatives greatly shoring up Georgian resolve in the face of such an immense national calamity. Although its citizens will not soon forget that the military support they anticipated would result immediately on the Russian invasion did not materialize.

Russia's foreign minister has informed the world - and in particular the United States - that Georgia "can forget about" its territorial integrity, that the international community recognizes as comprising a whole, including the two breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Just desserts for Georgia having committed countless "atrocities" against its minorities.

Russia has a fine solution to the possibility that its own population may somehow question what has been occurring in Georgia, by bruiting it about through officially-sanctioned news media that the United States initiated the conflict, in an effort to restore former conditions of duo super-power enmity and a continuation of the arms race.

Russia is stalwartly standing up to the world's singularly first-class bully.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Contenders

The men who would be president have been tossed a hot ticket to instant stardom, as the back-seat drivers in the latest alert on the world stage, the Russian invasion of Georgia. As an object lesson that one should never take too many steps away from the podium at a time of psychological entreaty and emphatic avowals of readiness, there was Republican Senator John McCain at the ready, and foaming at the bit.

While weary world-travelling Democratic Senator Barak Obama was resting on his early laurels, enjoying peace and privacy on a family vacation, in Hawaii. Swift out of the starting-gate, the old warrior knew how to react. Consolidating his reputation as a candidate with impressive experience in the art of war, in foreign policy relations, and burnishing his suspicion-of-Russia position, he roared like the old lion he is.

"Today, we are all Georgians!" he declared. Actually, he's right in a sense, the international community is fairly well agreed on that. In that there's full agreement that most of the world views Russia's resurgently-blunt brutalism with both distaste and apprehension. But he also proved that there's more than mere bluster cooking away in his cerebellum.

Calling for an emergency meeting of NATO's executive council. Well, no need to call for it, they're all scrambling to put together some kind of unified response that would instill fear in the heart of Vladimir Putin. As one, they plan to declare that he's been wickedly awful, and they expected better of him; they're bitterly disappointed in his actions, and he should be ashamed of himself. That'll do it.

Mr. McCain has also recommended an international peacekeeping force be sent to South Ossetia. He hinted darkly that Russia will be punished; steps may be taken to expel it from the Group of Eight, and his application for the World Trade Organization may just find itself flushed down the toilet.

All of which is certain to devastate the prime minister of Russia and his assiduously servile president ("Georgia must pay reparations..."), both of whom are now basking in the adulation of their population, thrilled at the drama of it all, restoring Russia to its deservedly-premier place in Eastern Europe.

But lest we sell Mr. McCain short, it should be noted that the current administration has adopted a few of his better recommendations. Audaciously, given the limp position of the United States in the matter of dropping its guard and encouraging Georgia's President Saakashvili to rash action, the United States has issued stern warnings, and has deployed its military to ferry humanitarian supplies to the devastated country.

The tongue-lashing Senator McCain indulged in, directing outraged vitriol toward a supremely indifferent Russia, at the very least gave cold comfort to Georgians who were convinced that America the Great would come to their rescue. The truly unfortunate result of which would most surely have been to advance World War III. Definitely unclever, demonstrably insane.

So yes, Senator McCain did present as not only seniorly-Senatorial, but providentially-presidential as well, in defence of justice and the well-being of America's allies. While Senator Obama, rather late out of the gate in the guise of presenting a measured response, appeared at first to be a trifle too measured, unwilling to allocate blame to one side or t'other.

He unerringly demonstrated the classical UN approach.

It's out there, very telling in a very real sense. And clear as mud. Take yer pick.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Well, So Bleeding What!!

China is trying very hard to bask in the glory it sought, in hosting the Beijing Olympics. Incredible; $40-billion smackeroos; just trying to visualize all that money invested in such a national conceit - it's mind-boggling. Of course, China has an immense economy, and it's continuing to grow.

It's middle-class is burgeoning, and it has accomplished much in its advance toward material entitlements for its vast population. The country has fast-tracked itself to economic success and is taking its place as a world power. National pride evidences itself also in its ability to select and burnish natural athletic talents.

It's been able to stage a world-class event, much anticipated internationally, despite grudging acknowledgement that even if the Chinese politboro doesn't deserve this opportunity to shine and demonstrate for the world what China has accomplished, its people do.

Their pride in themselves, in their country, for all the complaints from international communities that their country doesn't quite equate with standards and values upheld elsewhere for human rights, is understandable. And truth is, they've plenty to be proud of.

This is a country with a profound and ancient past. Its culture, arts and traditions have nothing at all to ask forgiveness for. That the huge, unwieldy conglomeration that became unified China was a monstrously difficult entity to administer, to haul into modernity, to advance the lives of its billion-plus population is beyond contention.

That its sternly Marxist totalitarian ethos that sacrificed so many of its traditions and people, is a living reminder of human vulnerability and imperfection is also beyond dispute. Great strides have been made in China's great leap forward. Apart from the appalling sacrifices foisted on the population.

What, after all, is the loss of several million people, when the country has so many more to fill in the gaps? Having said which, errors in judgement are made, and life goes on. China is proud and anxious for validation of her more current, more judiciously appropriate undertakings. Minus those little problems linked to matters best left unnoticed.

So, the big show is on, and the enraptured world is entranced by the nightly entertainment. Oh sure, there are those grumpy reviewers who have taken full note of some irregularities.

That in her great anxiety to shine before the gaze of the world, China has indulged in a few little tricks of the entertainment trade. If Hollywood can do it, why not China? Bid deal, the fireworks were digitally enhanced for electronic transmission. They were magnificent nonetheless. What other country could assemble tens of thousands of entertainers so impeccably synchronized?

So what if the proudly "sold-out" seats are anything but, staffed to save face by "volunteer" seat-warmers. And all right, it's been done before; one cute little girl's visage exchanged for the exquisitely perfect one of another, while the former child's miraculous voice at the opening ceremonies entertained, and the latter child's mouth lip-synchronized the words. All is forgiven.

Well, not quite all. There's the little matter of officialdom and police presence, and military presence muting even minute observations that can be construed as critical of their hosts.

Although it's impolite to criticize one's host; very bad manners indeed. On the other hand, for the hosts to physically manhandle those whom it suspects of undermining the genuine appeal of its world-class product, that's fairly unspeakably poor behaviour on the part of a host.

Which makes things kind of even, right?

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Craftily Diluting Allegiance

It takes a cunning long-term prescience to stack the decks as Russia has done, encouraging its citizens to migrate to its neighbours' geographic locations to place a whole lot of Russian sentiment and allegiance where it could most wreak havoc on another state's priorities and values.

Granted, much of this moving about and settlement took place during the era of the Soviet Union when Russians felt free to migrate "internally" as it were, but their sentimental attachment to the motherland has never evaporated in place of total allegiance to the new country of residence.

And now those chickens are coming home to roost. Not that the accepting countries, those now outside the Soviet Union and independent (or so they like to feel) of Russia, had any great say in the matter. With the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. they were left with a significant minority of originally-Russian citizens, now comprising a sizeable enough political-cultural bloc that places especial emphasis on loyalty to Russia.

And now, the fact is, Russia can call in those chicks to support her in her continuing insistence on former satellites' allegiance to Russia. An allegiance those former Soviet bloc countries were only too glad to shed.

Russia liked to think of its heading the U.S.S.R. and controlling the political agenda, along with the natural resources of its colonized east European "partners" as that of a sensitive mentor and caretaker of countries less capable of looking after their own best interests than could Russia, hence the "Soviet But Equal" assurances.

But each of its satellites quietly chafed under Russia's iron rule. And now that they (think) are free at last, and have been enabled to go on their own, autonomous, self-directed way they have been quick to make choices for themselves without (they thought) undue interference.

Many have been materially enriched by their sovereign decision-making and would have it no other way, despite Russia continuing to insist they are obligated to her. Russia feels it should be consulted in all matters concerning its former satellites' political dispositions.

Yet many continue to have aspirations to join Western-based institutions that they feel might protect them and enhance their autonomy. Some, still rankled by their past obeisance to their U.S.S.R. master, have even delighted in proffering gentle pokes at the sleeping giant, once their overseer.

Russia has responded variously; through bellicose threats; cutting off energy sources; rumbling its deep-throat warning that it has been humiliated more than sufficiently. And now, countries like Ukraine and the Baltics, after Russia's starkly brutal invasion of Georgia shrivel into their shells in complete recognition that what has been visited upon Georgia can be repeated with them.

Latvia, Moldova and Ukraine are just about as vulnerable as Georgia. They too also host Russian enclaves within their borders - not just South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Latvia's near-million Russians, and Estonia's half-million, along with Ukraine's estimated 11-million Russians are wise to tread carefully lest Russia cast about for a reason it might rattle its sabre and herd a long line of armoured vehicles across their borders too, in protection of Russian citizens.

Russia's "peace-keeping" missions have set a new standard in modern realpolitik, demonstrating that whatever the United States might undertake in breaching nations' borders and usurping authority, they can do one better. NATO? What does that stand for, that quaint acronym?

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Municipal Responsibilities

Over 40 years ago when we lived in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, when our children were infants, I well recall one very hot summer night when the windows of our living room were thrown wide open as we hoped to catch stray night time breezes to cool off the house, we were abruptly whipped away from our comfortable relaxation with the sound of a huge !!whump!! that simultaneously seemed to lift the draperies on either side of the windows straight up to the ceiling.

We were thrown into instant panic, heading straight for the children's bedrooms to see if they were all right, awaiting with great trepidation any following night-sky thumps, wondering if we were being invaded by some alien military force. Tuning into the radio, turning on the television, telephoning the town hall, made us no wiser. Telephone calls were exchanged with neighbours. No one could deduce the source of the immense impact.

We discovered the following day that a propane installation in Maple, Ontario, had blown up, and with it several lives. Presumably its placement in a small town was far away from peoples' homes, but that was so long ago, we can barely recall what transpired in the news after that event. But the memory of the panic we felt when we were assailed by that huge report and the rude wind that impacted on our home, so far from the source, instilled a sense of respect for potential danger with such installations.

And so it should have also with municipal authorities whose job it is among other things, to determine zoning for industrial placements of highly inflammable materials - as far from residential zoning as possible lest a catastrophic event such as the week-end's blast after a propane plant exploded might take place. It's a minor miracle that there was one sad death related to the immense explosion; that of the sole employee of Sunrise Propane present there at the time.

Miraculously, nearby residents - as close as the houses facing the plant across the roadway - escaped unscathed but for a few minor injuries. People were forced to flee from their homes in their nightwear, shoeless, some carrying pets, and told to evacuate the area - just keep walking, they were told. So much for emergency preparedness; it took some while before emergency personnel had buses on the scene to take people to various safe-haven destinations.

Such as York University which opened its doors to evacuees, preparing with the help of emergency workers to bed them down there for the night. While most others who evacuated fled to the homes of family members and friends. In the end, it took fire crews a full 16 hours to control the blaze that ensued in the wake of the explosion and fireball that levelled the propane plant. The Ontario Fire Marshall's office is sifting through the remains to ascertain the cause.

Regardless of the cause, it's incredible that such a depot was permitted to locate in that area. Everyone living within a 1.6 kilometre radius of the scene was urged to vacate their premises. Homes and nearby businesses were damaged by the blast. People were traumatized by the impact of the explosion, fearing for their lives as they fled what they didn't understand what was occurring. An earthquake, many thought, while others thought the area had been struck by a massive bomb.

The area around Keele and Wilson became a dead zone as police, rescue workers and firefighters attempted to deal with the issue of a still-undetermined number of explosions that had rocked the area. An important section of Highway 401 was shut down for the better part of the day, while the situation was being evaluated, in fears that there might be additional explosions. Yorkdale Mall, a huge shopping infrastructure, was shut down.

Bystanders took photographs of the huge mushroom cloud that rose above the scene following the red-hot incandescent bloom of explosive fire. The propane company installed at that junction was not always there; its presence did not precede the building of the homes and businesses surrounding it. For some truly idiotic reason they were permitted to position themselves there, legally; the municipality later said they had all the requisite permits.

Long-time residents had complained to the city when, a mere four years earlier, Sunrise Propane had installed itself directly within their residential enclave. Obviously, to no avail. The company stored and distributed highly flammable welding supplies, along with gases such as acetylene, argon, nitrogen, propane and oxygen. All highly explosive elements. This was an accident waiting to happen. Despite which authorities say the cause has not yet been determined.

The sheer idiocy of permitting such an installation within the city, in the midst of a residential-business neighbourhood is mind-boggling, to say the very least. In the United States and much of Europe this would never be permitted. An installation such as a propane gas depot must be located at least two miles away from residences. Time for the City of Toronto - along with all other responsible municipal governing bodies in the country - to visit the issue and produce remedial zoning bylaws.

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