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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Finally: Playing Hardball

The initial address was replete with mea culpas, an apology by the U.S. Secretary of State for the outcome of the 2000 presidential election and all that befell the world in its wake. As though that election heralded and provoked all that was to come. As though, falling on one's proverbial sword would be the welcomed admission that all that has gone awry in the world is the unfortunate result of a Republican administration's response to world events. But it does reflect the stated humble retractions and beliefs of this still-new Democratic administration.

Careful not to ruffle the feathers of oppositional forces abroad, in an effort to restore some semblance of balance and moderation to world affairs. As though that could thus be accomplished. By sacrificing America's status as the single current world power to the grievances of failed states and non-state adversaries alike, the hoped outcome would be a partnership for co-operation and understanding. As though that were remotely possible between a country with a conscience (however insipid at times) and those conscious only of their sovereign right to abuse their own and threaten others.

Hillary Clinton has finally emerged as a person of potential distinction, someone whose mind is nimble enough to give her the courage and the backbone to respond honestly to her hostile interlocutors in Pakistan, serenely convinced that their nation is beyond reproach, and that the foreign intervention of the United States is responsible for the catastrophic turmoil now existing in Pakistan. As though Pakistan is utterly innocent of fomenting grievances through the deliberate and unforgivable encouraging and funding of violence between herself and her neighbours.

What reason has Pakistan, asked Secretary of State Clinton, to voice complaint that the eyes of the world are upon it as a breeding ground for world-wide terrorism, when the simple fact is that Pakistan has bred within itself that very fertile breeding ground that exists within its geography with utter impunity. (Inviting participation by disaffected international Islamic youth to train in jihadist militancy on Pakistan's soil.) Those groups approved by and supported by its military, and those who now turn against the national government, and its military in the interests of a greater accomplished Islamist Sharia movement shunting aside a nascent democracy.

When the leadership of al-Qaeda along with the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban both find comfort and security within the boundaries of the country, despite protestations of absolute and indignant denial from Islamabad. Pakistan's insistence that the United States should hand over sophisticated drones to its military, to enable it to target border areas hosting the terror groups reflects its rage over the United States' unauthorized incursions over its air space and ground territory. Targeting those remote hideouts where al-Qaeda and the Taliban are ensconced.

"I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn't get to them if they really wanted to. Maybe that's the case; maybe they're not gettable, I don't know." Yet she carefully and without malice leaves the indelible impression in the belief of her own administration, one shared by many other countries of the NATO alliance, that there are high-placed Pakistan officials who are complicit with these terror forces, allowing them sanctuary, and defiant of the need to co-operate with foreign forces attempting to uproot them.

Her verbal assault, piercing the innocence of the Pakistan administration and the country's armed forces, does not go down very well; it is a truth that Pakistan feels need not be publicly aired. Ruffling diplomatic feathers in a way that has not quite been seen before. Because most Pakistani civilians believe that it is the presence of the United States in the geography that threatens their country. The vicious attacks upon the institutes of governance, upon military emplacements, upon civilians by the fundamentalist Islamists within Pakistan, attempting to destabilize the country and prevent success of the army's assaults on tribal areas are laid at the feet of the U.S.

It is not the implacable fundamentalists who exist in the formidably-hostile areas of the country and who visit bloody atrocities on the population, destroying schools, attacking and murdering teachers and children, flogging women inadequately garbed, tormenting shaven men, outlawing music and laughter with the rigour of fanaticism - spreading their territory to encompass hitherto government-controlled areas that are at fault. But the presence of NATO and American troops in the neighbourhood, forcing Pakistan into a war it has no gut to pursue.

"Slowly, but insidiously, you were losing territory", she pointed out to one of many accusers at a Pakistan university where she took questions from an obviously aggrieved audience of university students. "If you want to see your territory shrink, that's your choice. But I don't think that's the right choice." As though it were as simple as that. The university students exhibiting such resentment at outside forces - foreign forces, unlike interior malign forces that strive to alter beyond recognition all that they take for granted in whatever freedoms they have - for all their education adamantly refuse reality.

Should Pakistan ultimately and catastrophically fall to the Islamist fanatics battling in South Waziristan it would result in the beginnings of a near-east Caliphate, giving Islamists elsewhere the impetus to strive even more forcefully to achieve their end of the bargain within the Magreb, with Somalia falling to the Islamists, leading the way for other nations to succumb, in Africa. If Islamism could be contained within the traditional confines of Islamic conquest that would be one thing.

But the obvious, and proven intent of global jihad is to conquer all countries of the world. The migration of Muslims to Europe and to North America over the past decades has swelled their numbers to significant proportions of the populations there. And while most Muslims appear to have integrated to a good degree into the surrounding social milieu, accepting Western values, a slowly growing number of young Muslims are rejecting those values, representing a fifth column of jihadists violently dedicated to the overthrow of the West.

All of which appears preposterously improbable, in the length, depth and breadth, not to mention fundamental hysteria of the movement. But there appear many cracks in the solidarity of Western liberal democracies, with ultra-leftist groups implausibly, imponderably professing a certain level of sympathy for those very dedicated jihadists who, in the final analysis, will have no use for these dupes, but whose valuable support at the present helps global jihad in its mission.

Kudos, then, to Hillary Clinton, for what can be hoped to be the first of many future frank admissions, seeming to run counter to President Barack Obama's failing, flailing, game plan.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Oblivious to Terror? Canada?

So it would certainly seem. We are such well-adjusted communities in Canada, we consider ourselves so perfectly aligned to living in harmony with one another, we simply cannot imagine that ensconced within our communities where freedoms of all kinds are taken for granted, there could be any individuals or groups whose covert actions are meant to violently disrupt our lives. We are, as a country and as a collective of people, fairly blase, not really given to excess of any kind.

We are so fair-minded that we are more than willing to extend the courtesy of doubt toward those whom our intelligence agencies and policing agencies have brought attention as potential, or outright threats to the moderate balance of our lives together, as a pluralist society embracing people from all parts of the world who have migrated here as refugees or immigrants. Who could possibly resent such a country, ready to open its doors to those seeking a new life?

But from experience we now know there are those who resent Canada as a country of the West, a nation allied with others like ourselves who value the freedom of advanced economic activity and the political stability of a liberal democracy. The ire of religious extremists whose grievance against the West is so monumental that they harbour no second thought or self-doubt about the carnage they will unleash on innocent civilians through their intention of violent attack, appears boundless.

Through the easeful communication made possible by use of the WorldWideWeb, militant fanatics seeking to sow terror within countries whom they scorn as degraded societies lacking a fundamental commitment to their vision of the Almighty, sometimes betray their presence through fumbled attempts at violent upheavals. National policing agencies track their presence, apprehend suspected members, gather evidence and seek to prosecute.

And then a hue and cry rises to the heavens about due process of law, (which all agree is crucial to the functioning of any modern society), and the illiberalism seen to be inherent in running counter to individuals' rights under the Canadian Constitution. A left-liberal media, hand in glove with liberal-sensitive NGOs focused on single-issue problems, create their own advocacy on behalf of those suspected and placed on trial for terror-related activities.

We are so functionally mild and mannered that we cannot comprehend that there are those among us, either imported temporarily through visas, or home-born and -bred whose disaffection with our society has led them to plan and attempt to carry out violence against us. And when these suspects are apprehended, and subjected to due process of law - under admittedly special legal precedents to deal with terror - we look askance at those whose mandate it is to protect the nation.

In the words of the newly-installed CSIS head, Richard B. Fadden, there exists a "loose partnership of single-issue NGOs, advocacy journalists and lawyers" in the general population who believe in their collective naivete that "our charm, and the Maple Leaf on our backpacks are all that we need to protect us. Why ... are those accused of terrorist offences often portrayed in media as quasi-folk heroes, despite the harsh statements of numerous judges?

"Why are they always photographed with their children, given tender-hearted profiles, and more or less taken at their word when they accuse CSIS or other government agencies of abusing them?" Accused terrorists, he points out, are etched out as unsophisticated, idealists or too young to be held accountable for the plans they hope to execute; fallen victim to false ideologies, and needful of understanding. And if their plans manage to succeed, what then?

All too often the government itself and its agencies, tasked with the huge responsibility of protecting the population and the country at large from malevolent attacks such as have been seen elsewhere in the world, is held in suspicion. Intelligence agencies' motives are held up to scrutiny, taken to be so maladroit, and themselves evil, in attempting to hold to account innocents who have been wrongly labelled as agents of violence.

"Terror is downgraded to a form of dissent, an act of revolutionary charm rather than a Criminal Code offence and a violation of international human rights standards. Much of the coverage of the trials of those charged in Toronto has reflected this approach. Perhaps this has roots in the belief that Canada is somehow immune from terror, and therefore can't really have any terrorist conspiracies.

"Terrorist offences are the most vile form of criminal conduct. They are abnormal crimes.... They attack the very fabric of Canada's democratic ideals... Their object is to strike fear and terror into citizens in a way not seen in other criminal offences." A large proportion of the public adheres to the liberal-left notion that national security and the security of human rights are consistently in opposition where in fact you cannot have one without the other.

Judicial demands for full disclosure have placed intelligence at a distinct disadvantage. To agree to full disclosure of all details painstakingly assembled as a scaffold by which CSIS and other agencies are able to convince themselves through evidence and interviews, intelligence-sharing and geographic and political data, would be to give away the shop. Leaving such agencies with little option but to demur and withdraw.

In the process leaving those naive elements in society triumphant with the success of the withdrawal of charges by the demanding judiciary against suspects whose activities and background checks have sufficiently incriminated them to render them suspect as terrorists determined to wreak havoc in Canada or using this country as a springboard to terror activity elsewhere.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Like a Massive Earthquake""

Pakistan has become a reluctant ally with the West, and particularly the United States and NATO, in the 'war against terror'. Accepting American largess with alacrity under the guise of assisting in that 'war against terror', Islamabad had no real intention of putting itself out to extend aid in eradicating the Afghan Taliban they had themselves brought to life, much less al-Qaeda, twinning with the Taliban in their shared purpose.

They little imagined that the monster they encouraged would establish a Pakistan-centered version, to imperil the sovereignty of the nation. The government, through the intervention of their military had, after all, always enjoyed good relations with the tribal chieftains, and signed numerous agreements with them. That the military would leave the Waziristan area to them, and they would in turn refrain from infringing on government-controlled territory.

Now that the Pakistani Taliban have emerged determined to bring fundamentalist Islamist Sharia to the entire geography, the government of Pakistan understands it has little option but to shove back, to restore the rule of law around Peshawar, and extend it to the tribal regions. In the process, defeating the ferocious determination of the Taliban and bring peace to the region.

If they can. Which they claim they can. "Even if we have to die, we'll keep fighting these terrorists until our last breath", bravely declaimed a senior provincial minister on visiting the scene of yet another atrocity visited on the civilians of Peshawar. Where another suicide blast killed women and children shopping in a market because the Taliban find it offensive that women are out in public, shopping.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is utterly outraged at the "appalling loss of innocent lives", and so too is U.S. President Barack Obama, and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Their outrage will not impress the Taliban, whose vision of a future Pakistan is one without schools for girls, with women enveloped entirely in black, and with total censure of music and laughter.

Urged by the United States to hit harder, faster, more deliberately at their now-perceived common enemy, the Pakistan military resents American interference in their country fully as much as the civilians who lay blame on foreigners for the instability that now wracks their country. Adding insult to injury is the aid package stipulating the Pakistan administration gain firm control of their military.

And, above all, that the administration and the military give ample proof of their ability to maintain safeguards for its nuclear facilities. This kind of gross interference in the affairs of the country are not taken with the good grace of those grateful for massive infusions of funding and the handing over of technologically-advanced arms.

This peculiar alliance of dire mutual need is not playing out in a choreography of smooth interplay between trusted allies. Given the adversarial nature of the principals, and the history of the region, throw in the intransigence of the Pakistan military and the leavening dose of religion, little wonder.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maternal Mentoring

Is it not every parent's duty to instill in their children sound values? After first imbuing them with the ability to make sensible choices in life. And prioritizing their needs, and leading them toward becoming intelligent adults. Of course this would have to have been preceded by the early nurturing years where the child's emotional needs are recognized and supported, and that child encouraged to learn social and educational-attainment skills. For the greater purpose of achieving success in life.

What a profound failure some children's lives become, as a result of parental indifference. Or ignorance leading to demonstrating for their children how not to value themselves and their futures. With parental values completely defunct, establishing no guidelines of any ethical purpose, no yardstick of achievement, no respect for self. These failures of guidance resulting from parental lack of responsibility are pitiful, and plentiful.

In Ottawa, a mother has reported that her 17-year-old daughter was abducted and raped. The trauma to the young girl was obvious in her having escaped her abductor to appear at her mother's home "screaming and crying". The girl appeared bruised, she said she had been given cocaine, then sexually assaulted, according to the mother and the mother's boyfriend. A social outrage, one that infuriates those who learn of it, and baffles the conscience.

That society, even such a one as ours, that values human connections, purports to care, recognizes the equality of the genders, does its utmost to protect the vulnerable, still grapples with violent crimes against women and girls. But, in fact, violence between men and women is covert and universal, discreet and ongoing. Surfacing to public attention when violent sexual assaults occur and are brought to light.

But this young girl was inebriated, when her mother and her mother's boyfriend decided to take her and another young girl along with them for a night out at a local bar. Arriving at Grace O'Malley's at 12:15, fifteen minutes into another day. The mother confided to authorities that she hadn't realized the girls had been drinking beforehand, that her daughter was "tipsy". What might horrify most mothers, seemed of little concern to this one.

The two adults and the two underage girls were admitted as a group into the bar. The adults noted that a young man appeared to be fixated on the daughter. In response to the attention, the girl left the bar with the man. The mother and her boyfriend discovered the 17-year-old sitting in the man's vehicle, and they recovered the girl, returning to the bar, where the doorman, discerning the state the girl was in, declined to allow her entry.

Nonetheless, the mother and boyfriend entered the bar to retrieve their belongings along with the daughter's friend, and when they returned to the parking lot there was no sign of the daughter. A nearby security guard claimed to have seen a vehicle matching the description the adults gave of the young man's car, leaving the area. The adults informed police, calling from the bar, at about 1:45 a.m.

What kind of future is in store for this 17-year-old girl, under the tutelage of her mother?

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Sabotaging Safety

Adolescent pranks, things that people arrested in juvenile-delinquent mode find amusing can so very often result in grave consequences. Not for the jokesters but certainly for the victims of their 'amusing' little practises. Behaviour that looks like no-brainers for consequences, like dropping rocks off bridges onto oncoming traffic, that kind of thing. Fun and games to the undeveloped intelligence of a prankster, but catastrophe to the driver and passengers when the rock drops through the windshield and the driver loses control of his vehicle.

And what's the allure of using lasers, to shine them at people, temporarily blinding them? Used to be flashlights that feeble-minded youngsters enjoyed lighting up others' faces with. Now there are new, infinitely more powerful toys to play around with. And, of course, the more people know about the practise, the more it gets reported - particularly because sometimes the big joke causes the spectacular to occur, which is presumably what the urge to play idiot is meant to produce.

Transport Canada's Civil Aviation Daily Occurrence Reporting System keeps track of what are termed by them laser attacks on aircraft. Virtually any strength of laser is capable of causing harm when it is directed skyward into the cockpit of an aircraft. The darker the night, the more dangerously effective the blinding light that shines into the eyes of the unsuspecting victim piloting an aircraft.

If convicted, someone suspected of deliberately flashing a laser at an aircraft could be fined up to $100,000 under the Aeronautics Act. That individual could also face up to five years in prison. Presumably, if the fall-out of such an attack is sufficiently grave, the individual who committed the attack could face both penalties; fine and prison. And should the worst-case scenario ensue, and the offender caught and convicted, that type of penalty is well deserved.

Lasers can burn the retinas of people who are exposed to them. The lesser effect of such exposure can result in temporary damage to the retina, not permanent. But sufficient damage that it would take months for the victim to fully recover normal eyesight. In the case of a pilot that would mean he or she would be effectively grounded as a result of a health impediment to eyesight, obviously vital to piloting a mechanical craft of any kind.

That's one issue. The other is the obvious potential for loss of control of the aircraft, imperilling the lives of anyone aboard the aircraft. In the instance of passenger jets that might result in a catastrophic crash with a huge loss of life. At Pearson International Airport in Toronto, 30 flight crews reported being disturbed by a laser beam while in the process of taking off or landing, in 2009. Fewer such complaints have emanated from other Canadian airports.

People indulge themselves in various types of anti-social and on occasion psychopathic behaviours, revealing their utter lack of concern for the welfare of others. Perhaps in the long run, the situation will require the fashioning of a new type of aeronautical eyewear, goggles with properties that could effectively deflect the beams of laser light. The solution to the presence within society of mentally-deranged and morally-devoid malefactors is another thing altogether.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Establishing A Reputation

Which was precisely what Robert Bernstein, former president and chief executive of Random House, as chairman of Human Rights Watch from 1978 to 2998, managed to establish. A solid reputation as an advocate for basic human freedoms, while supporting political dissenters within closed societies. Human Rights Watch encouraged vigorous public debate in advocating for those struggling to obtain rights and freedoms on behalf of the oppressed. Shining the light of reasoned enlightenment in dark corners of the world.

Somehow, Human Rights Watch appears to have sloughed off its mission for the greater perceived 'good' seen in illuminating the wrongs and misdeeds of an open, free and democratic country with a strong and adversarial press, an independent judiciary, and a national conscience. That same state, surrounded by countries ruled by force of arms, not democratic participation by their citizens, whose human rights are depressed by tyrants, religious thugs, and royal autocrats, is held to a standard they are not.

In its original mandate, Human Rights Watch earned international respect as a voice for the oppressed living in closed societies, and was actively going about its work exposing human rights abuses in 70 countries. In a turn-about of purpose and direction it has joined most other left-leaning, pseudo-humanitarian organizations that see profit in heralding a new mission that they cleave to - the slanderous accusations that can be levelled, with impunity, against the State of Israel.

Israel itself, with its sparse 7.4-million population, one-sixth of which is comprised of Israeli Arabs, has its own human rights organizations, dozens of them, critical of the government at every turn. It has no need of outside critics. It also enjoys the presence of a vibrant free press, one that has no hesitation in criticizing their own government, when they see it to be fit and proper. And the independent judiciary too, has occasion when it rules for a plaintive, against the government.

Arab regimes - and the Iranian Republic, and Muslim societies elsewhere - have much to learn about respecting the human rights of their citizens. Unfortunately, they have no wish to learn anything about human rights, much less those of their citizens, in thrall to the dictates of the state which disdains to consider it might owe certain basic freedoms to its population. Dissent is put down swiftly, brutally. Political adversaries are simply shunted away; prisons are handy for that.

Yet Human Rights Watch is focused on Israel, and Israel alone. Uncritical of the threats posed by, for example, the Islamic Republic of Iran against Israel in its constant threats of annihilation of the "Zionist entity". Despite that this kind of provocation is in direct contravention of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In this way, Human Rights Watch is right on cue in partnership with the United Nations and its redoubtable Human Rights Council.

That non-state militias such as Hamas and Hezbollah, acting as subordinate proxies for such dangerous human-rights-abusive states as Syria and Iran, training children in the art of suicide attacks, deliberately using densely populated areas as shields when launching attacks against Israel so that in the aftermath of response, they can crow to the international community about Israel's brutal assaults on minors and civilians, there is no thumping from Human Rights Watch.

So much for a once-vaunted reputation. Human Rights Watch itself has become a willing surrogate for the forces of human relations gone berserk.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Sliding Support

As though Stephane Dion's feeble performance as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada didn't demonstrate adequately how best not to position the party in a favourable light with the voting public, along came the party's saviour, Michael Ignatieff - the intellectual-celebrity, the self-assured and suave man-about-town who wowed Britain with his brilliant dispatches, and taught ivory-tower human rights in the United States - to match Stephane Dion's mis-steps, one after the other.

Unerringly, blissfully certain of himself, he too, like his predecessor, took great delight in playing the schoolmaster, berating their nemesis, the prime minister of the country, for not living up to their exalted expectations. Warning him, time and again, that he had precious little time left to see the error of his directions, and warm to theirs. Else, they would have little option but to call him out, and inform the electorate that in their elevated opinion, there was little cause to have confidence in the government.

Amazingly, this approach - stated with supreme confidence each time it was expressed, as though they and they alone held the key to successful governance - did not result in the collapse of the government, giving the Liberals the opportunity to resume their rightful place in the hierarchy of Canadian politics, astride the PMO. What ingrates Canadians are, for recalling the contemptuous display of prime ministerly regard awarded them through the auspices of the 'little guy' from Shawinigan.

Who unabashedly took pork barrelling to new heights, and saw no reason to stand down from those heights, nor to defend them beyond the odd quip here and there. Little jokes that, instead of appearing effusively disarming and charming, in the end led his party to oblivion. A much-deserved distance from resuming power. And the electorate has finally come to the realization that the Conservative leader, now prime minister of yet another minority government, has done them proud.

Nothing is perfect, and certainly no government comes even close to that ideal. But the governing Conservatives have done very well for Canada, restoring some level of pride to the country and those who care about how we perceive ourselves, let alone how others perceive us. Now the confidence of the Liberals, in the Liberals, has been sapped by yet another leading failure, and the view in which they are held by the voting public is ever-ebbing.

The hysterical efforts of the Liberals to attempt to blacken the reputation of the governing Conservatives, through finger-pointing, expressions of dismay at unethical behaviour reflective of Liberal governing history, has worn rather thin. As the CEO of Ipsos Reid commented, "The Liberal brand is suffering a bit...", in Ontario no less, the traditional heartland of Liberal support.

Oh, woe!

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Blemished Connections

This new phenomena that has been afflicting the world, of populations migrating in great numbers from their countries of origin to other countries of the world which promise them a better, more secure and more prosperous future in developed countries, for themselves and their families has appeared to have brought with it some extremely undesirable elements. Where people, decades earlier, were grateful to leave the geographies which failed to live up to their modest expectations of a life well lived, and eagerly left all vestiges of their old lives behind to take up entirely new ones, this attitude no longer seems to prevail.

People migrating through emigration to other countries of the world from impoverished countries, countries suffering the ravages of war, of political, minority and religious oppression, or as persecuted refugees, appear to arrive on the new shores of the welcoming countries replete with traditional grievances, importing their restiveness and aggressions along with their other belongings. Canada has had some fairly dreadful experiences in the last decades with the importation of such grievances, where immigrants bring the past with them.

From the violence in the Sikh community where moderate Sikhs and Hindus find themselves afflicted by the threat of vengeance and violence expressed in the name of militant Sikhism determined to force India to surrender part of its Punjab area to a completely autonomous Sikh homeland, to the Tamil Tigers extorting funds from Canada's large Tamil population, to support its battle for separatism and a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.

The larger problem of greater proportion seen among the Muslim communities in Canada where young men are encouraged to express their anger at the West that has succoured them and their families, but which is seen as blisteringly, hatefully anti-Muslim is another problem of much more urgent expression, simply because the violence of Islamist jihad is so widely scattered. Intelligence and policing authorities and their agencies are focused on stemming the rising tide of home-grown jihadist activities.

Yet here in Ontario, reflecting what had occurred decades earlier in British Columbia, a moderate Sikh publisher of the Punjabi Post out of Brampton, has been the victim of vicious political thuggery, resulting from politics that have their ancient genesis in India, not Canada. Because Jagdish Grewal, along with so many other Canadian Sikhs, rejects violence, and criticizes the violence emanating from pro-separatist Sikhs, he was targeted, as was Tara Singh Hayer before him.

The Air India investigation was a horribly botched affair, where no one was found guilty of the terrorist murder of almost three hundred Canadians, and 22 Indian nationals, except for one individual implicated in the plot. Those truly guilty of this dreadful assault on civilization costing the lives of hundreds of innocent people, have been able to escape justice. Which may just breed contempt for Canadian law and order and the efficacy of our policing authorities in establishing adequate evidence for convictions.

Encouraging, in an extremely perverse way, like-minded terrorists to believe that they too can escape justice if they undertake to silence an outspoken critic of violence, like Mr. Grewal. Whose three attackers, clad in black and masked, attempted to kill him, managing to brutalize him, and instill in him the bleak realization that although he lives in a country that protects freedom of expression, there are those who will deny him that right.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Re-Inventing The World

She came, she interviewed, she drew conclusions, she departed. With some measure of triumph, we can assume. Well armed with damning statistics and perceptions that no amount of common sense could ever dispel. Canada will now be brought to the attention of the damning comments of the UN Human Rights Council. Serves us right, actually, for our complacency, our belief in ourselves as enlightened, rational and fair as a society, struggling to accommodate our entire range of pluralist social traditions within the larger Canadian social contract.

We have sinned, unforgivably, institutionally, for our government has and continues to accommodate the needs of visible minorities to ensure they are embraced and as entitled as the rest of Canadian society. Our sin lies not in attempts to encourage inclusivity and a greater public role for visible minorities, at least commensurate with their numbers, but in naming them 'visible minorities'. This identifying nomenclature is seen by the UN's Human Rights Council as a troubling indication of racial profiling, an insult to those whom it identifies for statistical purposes.

Now, Gay McDougall, the UN's Independent Expert on Minority Issues has departed Canada, satisfied that she has completed her mission to identify problems in integrating and respecting minorities that Canada has obviously failed to succeed with. She has, she stated, discovered "significant and persistent problems" that exist within minority communities, some of whose representatives appear to have confided to her investigatory ear that their needs "have not been adequately responded to by government and to which solutions of long-term nature have not been found".

Ms. McDougall's interviews, moreover, with federal, provincial and territorial governments, appeared not to have convinced her that those representatives are sincere in their efforts to satisfy the needs of Canada's minority communities. For her interviews with minority communities in her data-collecting mission to produce a report to be presented to the UN's Human Rights Council, have produced damning evidence to the contrary. Which she might wish to run by her colleagues from Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Cuba. To get a sense from them about human rights.

Of course she wouldn't really want to antagonize them, either, nor to visit them anytime soon, to determine how advanced their internal human rights agendas happen to be. Or their treatment of minority rights, or religious tolerance, or equality of women, or tolerance of political dissent, that kind of thing. It's safe and easy to have a look at a country like Canada, an advanced and enlightened society, a politically stable democracy, to bring it for censure to the Human Rights Council - alongside Israel, for example, whose perennial censure in that same Council chamber has become a seasonal rite of vituperative, ritualized hatred.

Canada's constitutional guarantees, independent judiciary, elected Parliament, enlightened civil society and free press count as nothing, beside the 'negative' experiences related to her by some members of African- and Asian-Canadian communities who report their disappointment in Canadian public schools inadequately addressing the curriculum to reflect their own histories and heritage and culture, and their contributions to Canadian society. What a truly sad reflection of misplaced entitlements; rather than accepting and living within a society that has welcomed them, some members of hyphenated communities feel that society should adapt itself to their cultures and traditions.

And Ms. McDonald can be satisfied that her mission has been accomplished, much as she pre-determined it would be. She may eventually, occasionally, get around to visiting those countries of the world whose human rights realities are truly debased, and where minorities are truly vulnerable and preyed upon in a most atrocious way, but she will doubtless find reason to applaud their attempts to foster better relations between the sum of their parts, if they are adequately reflective of her purpose.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Industry Standards of Shame

Quebec, in line with the rest of the advanced, industrialized world does not use asbestos, known to cause cancer and asbestosis. Within Canada, work is ongoing to carefully remove asbestos from old buildings to ensure they can continue to be used, safely, without exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is so notorious a threat to human health that Realtors routinely ascertain that houses and buildings they undertake to sell, have no asbestos in them.

Yet, in Quebec the industry that continues to mine chrysotile asbestos, which now represents all of the world asbestos trade, also continues to insist that chrysotile asbestos is perfectly safe. There are experts, paid by the industry who are prepared to tell developing countries that the use of this asbestos is safe. The Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Medical Association, and independent experts in the field call for an end in Canada of the asbestos industry.

While strictly avoiding the use of any kind of asbestos in Canada, there is no prohibition in exporting chrysotile asbestos to developing countries of the world. Even though it is clear that asbestos is a dangerous substance, and Canada should play no part in exporting it for use elsewhere. Still the Quebec asbestos lobby refuses to give up the ghost of chrysotile asbestos, an industry that employs a bare several hundred in the province.

Moreover, the open-pit mines are close to exhaustion in some areas, requiring huge investments in underground mines to extract harder-to-reach deposits. It is in Thetford Mines, employing 340 workers that chrysotile asbestos has its last stranglehold on the industry, refusing to face reality, that the health of the workers is directly affected by the work they do, that it is a moral offence to export asbestos to inflict it on poor countries.

All that really remains to be done is for the federal government to finally proclaim that it can no longer countenance the ethical disequilibrium of outlawing the use of asbestos in Canada, while assisting Quebec-based asbestos-extraction companies to continue to mine the product and ship it overseas to countries where it is used without due regard for its impact on people there.

It's criminal, its wrong, and it's past-due time that the practise be halted, forever.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Negotiating Blindly

Negotiations with Iran have gone from dire threats to pleading, to diplomatic niceties, all with the goal of bringing the Islamic Republic of Iran to heel with respect to its nuclear aspirations. There is some semblance of truth, no doubt, in Iran asserting that it needs fuel for its original U.S.-supplied reactor (back in the days of the Shah and stable relations between Iran and the U.S.) for medical reasons; that Iran plans to produce its own medical isotopes. If so, it will be one of the rare countries of the world that will do that.

The supply of medical isotopes world-wide has been problematical within the last year, with isotope-producing countries coping with tired nuclear reactors that urgently require upgrades and better yet, replacement. It would be more than a little ironic if a country teetering on economic insolvency (which hasn't stopped its funding of non-state terror militias), high unemployment and political unrest, becomes one of the few isotope-producing countries of the world.

As in 'give me a break'. But this is their story of the hour.

And it appears to be just what the nations breathing down the necks of Iran's aspirations really want to hear, rather than view Iran as the fire-breathing dragon it aspires to be, with nuclear militarization. Forgotten, it appears, is the ongoing uranium enrichment, the newly-admitted reality of a hidden reactor at Qom that was giving the world heartburn a mere month earlier. Appeasement and entitlements appear to have won the day.

With the Security Council and Germany urging Iran to agree to the nuclear-fuel agreement stick-handled by France and Russia, and championed by Mohamed El Baradei of the IAEA, a solution is in sight! Seemingly forgotten too is the sticking point of Iran's ongoing refusal to allow the inspectors working for the International Atomic Energy Agency access to all of Iran's (known) reactor sites.

It's as though suddenly the opposition to Iran's acquisition of weapons-grade uranium and its top-secret work has become an embarrassment, in view of Iran's sudden about-turn willing to be engaged in negotiations. Western diplomats, long accustomed to Iran's style of negotiating, accepting conditions, then moving back from them, in a one-step-forward, two-steps-backward dance aren't being consulted, obviously.

The draft accord whereby Iran would ship most of its low-enriched nuclear fuel to Russia and then on to France for fuel rod production, would appear to placate the demands of the adversarial position to Iran's nuclear program. It has certainly caused Mohamed El Baradei to exult over the 'break-through'. As one deadline for compliance after another has passed, and then Friday loomed as the final day for a response.

And then, Thursday evening, Iran's nuclear-negotiation representative claimed Iran had no intention of signing the agreement. Or perhaps, on second thought, they may be prepared in a fortnight or two to reach a deliberation, and relay that to the waiting world community. And then, on the other hand, perhaps not. The world powers sit and wait. Haplessly, helplessly pondering alternatives.

Are there any? This situation and its potential for peacefully being resolved is being regarded as a test of U.S. President Barack Obama's stated policy of trusting to diplomatic negotiations; in his extension of a hand of friendship to Iran. Which, of course, initially rebuffed that generously open hand with a vituperative reminder that the U.S. remains, as far as Iran is concerned, the "Great Satan".

So then, if Iran agrees to have its uranium enriched by Russia, will it be sitting there covertly twiddling its centrifuges, and working its way up to the 50,000 it would require to operate a centrifuge cascade producing enriched nuclear fuel for the manufacture of nuclear weapons? Who will know? Tehran is in the test phase of a more advanced centrifuge technology, capable of producing larger volumes of enriched uranium. Will they be successful, and will they crow to the world about their success?

Which is to say, before or after unleashing the reality of their possession of a number of rocket-propelled nuclear warheads? It's anybody's guess, isn't it?

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

African Agriculture

After Asia, Africa is the world's second-largest and second most-populated continent, covering 6% of the world's surface area. Nine hundred million people live in 53 countries in this huge continent. Both Asia and Africa were colonized by European countries, and their natural resources exploited to profit countries like Britain, France, Holland. With the withdrawal of colonial overmasters, and the independence of the countries of Africa after 500 years of foreign exploitation, Africa is still the largest recipient of food aid world-wide.

With its vast land mass and arable land, Africans haven't seemed to be able to cultivate the land in a way that would see them feeding themselves. Despite independence, their rulers are still amenable to making natural resources available to huge Western and European industries through mineral and precious metals and gems extraction, profiting few in Africa itself. It seems that only white farmers in Africa who had succeeded, through the years of colonial rule to amass huge tracts of land, have been capable of providing agricultural stability, enabling many countries to adequately feed themselves.

When Robert Mugabe enacted his land distribution process, violently wrenching land, without due process of law, from white land-owners who had farmed the land they had amassed for generations, employing countless black Zimbabweans as farm workers, the economy of the country went into collapse, and food became scarce. South Africa has now begun its embarkation on a like mission for land distribution, without the violent upheaval. And white South African farmers are anticipating that they will have to look elsewhere for arable land to be profitably farmed.

But it isn't just Zimbabwe and South Africa in agricultural transition. Many countries in Africa are now earning petro dollars, drilling for oil, in a consortium with international oil companies, and this is where attention has turned, neglecting farmland that once was intensively farmed, feeding their people. Other countries have turned to Africa to themselves invest in renting former agricultural land laying fallow, from the United Kingdom in Angola, Saudi Arabia in Sudan and Ethiopia, Qatar in Kenya and China in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This new initiative puts cash infusions into the countries' treasuries and in the pockets of government officials, but it doesn't trickle down to the population who are perennially short of food, and have to pay more than their income can sustain for imported food. South Africa's white farmers, represented by their union, Agri SA, have begun a deal with Republic of Congo to lease up to 200,000 (for starters) hectares of under-utilized Congo farmland to grow corn, soybeans and to raise poultry.

Agri SA has looked at offers of land leases from 17 African countries, opening negotiations with Angola, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Sudan, for prime production land. This can conceivably be a positive element in the future of agriculture in Africa, on the part of white South African farmers. In the end, benefiting the countries where the agricultural pursuits are taking place. Far less so when countries like China, the U.K. Qatar, Saudi Arabia invest in their own pursuits to ensure that the populations of their own countries have sufficient food through agriculture undertaken in Africa.

It puts no food on the table for millions of Africans already in a perilous state of insufficient food production, and needful of assistance from the international community to stave off starvation. It's past time for African countries to recognize the enormity of their need and their responsibility to their populations. And to move with determination to encourage large-scale farming on their own, undertaken by their own citizens, to benefit their own populations.

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Prince of a Fellow

It would appear that in the opinion of the Italian prime minister, the only things that count for anything in life are wealth, entitlements, political power, and sexual gratification. Somewhere in there is the obvious; the gratuitous male appreciation of female pulchritude. Female beauty trumps intelligence, accomplishment, dedication to the public weal. Female enticement of male braggadocio in the bedroom is, according to this aged Lothario, another entitlement of wealth and power - and male prowess.

All accorded in heaping adulation to him, personally.

It troubles this great man that Italian courts are so incredibly unreasonable as to assert in their rulings that he is no different than any other man on the street. As regards not sex but rather criminal wrong-doing. That if Silvio Berlusconi - media titan, prime minister of Italy, playboy wannabe - indulges in criminal activity, he cannot invoke the privilege of immunity, because of who he is. He, like any other petty little crook with an absurdly huge attitude of entitlement, will have his day in court.

The law in Italy isn't, evidently, impressed by that age-old phrase: "Do you know who I am?"

The thing of it is, they do know. As does everyone else in Italy, whether repulsed or titillated by this man's excesses. Which can only lead the onlooker located elsewhere to wonder how he could possibly have been elected for the second time to lead the country? But then, it is the rare country whose citizens view their politicians with total respect for their whole-hearted commitment to the public weal. Those rare creatures for whom social propriety and zeal to commit to working on behalf of their countrymen, exhibiting the passion of political probity appear all too rare.

But even so, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is in a class all on his own. This is a class that has a single, risible dunce inhabiting it. One who cannot view a woman with respect, but who must, without any provocation other than his connoisseur's eye for physical beauty, comment insultingly on any woman's physical attributes. Or lack of, in his opinion. And it's really about that, that the women of Italy have finally mounted a protest against this man's pleasure in running roughshod over the sensibilities of fifty percent of his country's voters.

The mystery of it all is that Berlusconi, despite all his peccadilloes, his shameless bedroom antics, and political nonsense, his crooked dealings, still enjoys a 50% approval rating from the electorate. Perhaps it's time that Italy's women had a talk with their men. Italians appear to be accustomed to clownish politicians pursuing their tawdry goals.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Come Into My Parlour....

How sublimely generous it is of Pope Benedict to invite disaffected Anglicans (and Episcopalians) into the Mother Church. They too, can become Catholics. While retaining the traditions and the liturgy they hold dear. They will be welcomed as Roman Catholic priests even if they are married. Not, however, if they are female or gay. Married priests may not anticipate elevation to a Bishopric.

(If they are single and discreet pedophiles they may be considered, however.)

The Church of England has been under some great degree of stress, of late. Fissures have appeared, sadly irreconcilable to the communion as a whole. The traditionalists in the Anglican faith have no use for the liberal loosening of tradition. Particularly those traditionalists in Africa, in Asia, for whom female clergy represent an insult to the ordained order of things. And the ordination of homosexuals? Unspeakable.

Might it be a sign of contempt, or forgetfulness, that the Vatican made no attempt to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury before issuing to Anglican parishes the wholesale invitation to return to the fold from which they came? Pope Benedict who vowed to restore the Catholic Church to its former glory, battling a dwindling membership has his eye on the 400,000 disaffected Anglicans who left their church.

A pragmatist, or an opportunist, seizing the moment? Archbishop Rowan Williams appears to have bowed his head to the inevitable, seeing nothing remotely amiss in this welcome by the Vatican to his Anglican flock. For whom the Catholic theology expressed in transubstantiation, and the Pope's supremacy is foreign. Dr. Williams, in response to the Apostolic Constitution believes this not to be an "act of aggression".

How gentle and generous. How disappointing to his followers. But then, this is also the Anglican leader who expressed an opinion on Sharia in Britain, avowing it his belief that it might be a positive step forward. Dr. Williams' capitulation to the Catholic Church's putsch heralds a further fragmentation of the Anglican Communion. How sad it is when traditions fade.

The (breakaway) Anglican Church in North America with their 700 parishes and 100,000 members may prefer to remain just as they are, spurning the kind offer by the Vatican, and preferring to keep their traditionalist distance from the larger Anglican community. Having no wish to join a club that is not quite so exclusive any more.

Having proven its lack of discrimination in inviting back to the fold the Society of Saint Pius X, inclusive of its Holocaust-denying bishop.

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Stimulus, Anyone?

This is horrendously disturbing news. A government in power is doing the unspeakable; favouring its MPs' ridings in the dispensation of governing funding. How dare they! In a democratic country like Canada where corruption is virtually forbidden, and where voters expect their elected members of Parliament to scrupulously observe the niceties of neutrality in the larger interests of fairly representing all the citizens of Canada, wherever they live, this is untenable!

Off with their heads! Of course, it is quite inconvenient to look back not very far into the Chretien years, when a Liberal-led government did the very same thing, aggressively favouring the voters who had the good grace and high intelligence to vote in Liberal members of Parliament. It wasn't seen as effrontery then for Prime Minister Jean Chretien to boast: "Listen. We are the government. I don't see why we can't try to get credit for what we do."

But the Liberals are sanctimoniously livid with outrage. This is what, from time immemorial, it would seem, the 'victors' do. They reward those perspicacious enough to acknowledge their superiority, and install them into public office. Where they then, judiciously, pay homage to their supporters. It isn't particularly nice, but it is reality. And fairly universally practised.

Taxpayers have become accustomed to this kind of favouritism. Your bonus this time, someone else's next time around. For the moment, it would appear through research undertaken by the Ottawa Citizen and Halifax Chronicle-Herald, that 57% of big-ticket stimulus projects worth more than $1-million each in federal funding went to Conservative ridings, while the party holds 46% of House of Commons seats.

Lopsided arithmetic, to be sure. And, we are informed, the differential between opposition and government-held ridings in Quebec is particularly pronounced. There, Conservative-held ridings received 22% of large projects, whereas the party holds 13% of the seats. Yes, concerning. So are we troubled by all of this? Is this a lesson to Quebecers to get out there and vote Conservative if they'd like more of that cash flow?

Well, really, no need. Take Canada's once-proud equalization program, as an example of lop-sided government intervention in spreading largess. Equalization payments have grown from a total of $8.6-billion in 2003-04 to the present total of $14.8-billion. That's one whopping increase isn't it? But here's the kicker: Quebec alone receives $8.4-billion of that $14.8-billion total.

With roughly 24% of the Canadian population.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To The Victors Go The Spoils

National treasures of antiquity, that is. Amazing, isn't it, that conquering armies always manage to seek out and to loot the artistic, heritage treasures of countries that they have subdued. Not enough, the exploitation of invaded countries' natural resources, but to heap insult onto injurious and quite humanely-injudicious looting, treasures of antiquity are also violently loosed from the soil out of which they came.

Ancient Egypt, Greece and other aged civilizations have all been forced by untoward circumstances to surrender their treasures, and they yearningly attempt to make their case for the return of their heritage, for the most part quite unsuccessfully. The British Museum's Elgin marbles, for one instance. And the treasures of Egypt, looted by Napoleon's invading forces and by amateur archaeologists over the centuries.

These imperialist treasures echoing the heritage of ancient civilizations - long pre-dating the current civilizations that now presume to own these fabulous items beyond measure - languish far from their provenance. China estimates that some 1.5-million art treasures belonging to that country are on proud show in museums and private collections around the world.

China would dearly love to reclaim those objects of ancient art. Ironic, in a way, since modern Communist China has long since disavowed its ancient heritage. But there is a certain urgency in claiming those fabulous treasures of yesteryear for the purpose of restoring them to rightful ownership. And they make compellingly prestigious tourism attractions.

China's Old Summer Palace was sacked, in 1860, by British and French troops as pay-back for the torture and execution of 18 diplomatic emissaries representing Western powers, to Beijing. It is a dreadful thing to rob a proud country, one with an ancient civilization renowned for its high art and skilled craftspeople producing creatively sumptuous art forms and heritage artefacts.

"We don't really know how many relics have been plundered since the catalogue of the treasures stored in the garden was burned during the catastrophe", stated the current director of the palace. "But based on our rough calculations, about 1.5-million relics are housed in more than 2,000 museums in 47 countries."

Now that represents big-time cultural-artistic thievery. Implicating, moreover, nations who saw it in their best interests to greedily acquire what they had no right to own. Does a century confer immunity from responsibility and moral prosecution?

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Now That's Sad

Imagine, being so isolated that no one misses you when you're suddenly not quite there. There, but not there, as it were. Within a huge metropolis of countless people, all going about their business, one lone human being's end-of-life experience barely twitches an eyebrow with wonder, or compassion at the passage of yet another life from the quick to the afterlife.

Some kind mordant humour that is; that a lifeless form is casually mistaken for yet another festooning of a residence in honour of that peculiar holiday beloved of children everywhere, regardless of age. Corpses, skeletons, headstones, and all manner of macabre, ghost-like representations are used to deck out - as Hallowe'en ornamentation - private dwellings.

Sending delicious shivers of fear down the darling spines of children out trick-or-treating. And of course, child-conscious adults and fun-loving adults both, do their utmost to set the stage for the night of dark prowling well in advance, building up the suspense and the expectations to a crescendo of fearful delight.

For five days the residents of Marina del Rey, outside of Los Angeles, admired the display a neighbour had set up on his balcony. "It looked like somebody had thrown a dummy over the back of a chair", said a neighbour, afterward. After the grisly discovery of the body of Mostafa, Mahmoud Zayed, 75.

It is believed by local Sheriff's deputies that Mr. Zayed committed suicide, shooting himself in the head, through an eye. Neighbours, it was explained, had reported hearing "popping noises on Sunday".

Pop, you're dead. Just fall over; that's right. Looking good.

Isolation. Solitude. Loneliness. Despair. Disinterest.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Patronizing Bully

It's tough to live beside a bully. A bully that sometimes puts on a nice-guy persona, but never lets you forget that his advantage is what counts, not your aspirations. If you can manage to convince the bully that it is also in his self-interest to agree to good relations between you, and results encourage that belief, then he may relent, and relations may become reasonably acceptable.

Being a bully, however, he makes certain that you know he can pull the plug at any time.

And thus it is with Canada-U.S. trade relations. American subsidies to agriculture and various types of signal enterprises are well enough known internationally, but this has never stopped the United States from accusing its trade partners of seeking advantage through themselves subsidizing industries like, for example, Canadian lumber. And then the U.S. Congress loves to play the heavy, invoking hierarchy.

For the interests of the United States and its states and its lobbyists trump any deal made for free trade between countries, in recognition of their competing interests and trade advantages. Any country signing a trade agreement with the United States knows that there will be exemptions, and if one wishes to trade with that giant market, one must be prepared to accept the negatives with the positives.

The positives are those advantages in trade that the U.S. Congress will permit another country to relish, without relinquishing its supreme right to invoke the interests of the U.S. as paramount, when State or industry lobbyists strenuously make their case against the importation of other countries' goods that impact deleteriously on their own.

America is struggling to recover from a financial collapse its own corporate free-enterprisers foisted on the international economy. In its extremis, it has focused on rescuing itself from the disaster of a flailing economy and a population that has been victimized by the established financial institutions who care little for the common good, and much for their own bottom line.

Steadily rising unemployment and a weak consumer market, along with a collapsed housing market has decreed that the Obama administration invoke executive privilege and it has done so with questionable success, seeming to reward the very establishments that spectacularly failed the country, and tormenting the population by demanding sacrifice of them, not the perpetrators of capitalism's default.

In the process of which, the usual protectionist Democratic mindset has re-emerged, to circle the wagons and exclude foreign interests, trade agreements or not, while rewarding the home market and hoping to boost employment by that route. Hence the stimulus package (placing a huge mortgage on the country's future) and its associated "buy American" pledge, so discomfiting to U.S. trade partners.

Canada, in particular, since Canada thinks its neighbourly role and its distinct position of supplying the United States with a huge proportion of its energy needs, places it in a strategic position to demand exclusion from "buy American". The implementation of which has already resulted in lost jobs and opportunities for trade expansion, along with factory closures. This was not supposed to happen.

In a perfect world, it would not. A trading country of 30-million people becomes highly dependent on the good-nature-persona of a 300-million consuming nation that often shows its bully side. Thus, Canada seeks an exemption, to set it aside from all other trading nations, in recognition of the truly singular trade relationship and interrelatedness of industry between the two countries.

Even if a semi-exemption were to be granted, it would still be to the advantage of the United States, as much as it would be to Canada. There are also American jobs dependent on the continued free flow of goods and services between Canada and the United States. It is the short-sightedness and ignorance of reality evinced by the Democrats that exemplifies this current situation.

Canada does have some persuasive weapons in her trade arsenal of negotiations. But this country has always been loathe to push the bully on the block too hard, lest that bully turn around and simply shove us off the block entirely. Were that to happen, the bully would discover, belatedly, that he too has fallen off the block.

Pity, isn't it, that reasonableness falls by the wayside when panic sets in.


Doctrinal Duplicity

Interfaith dialogue is viewed by most intelligent individuals as a way in which peoples of various religious faiths can learn to appreciate and understand one another.

Unless one is a staunch Roman Catholic and adheres to the current Church position as outlined by Pope Benedict XVI, and believes that the ultimate purpose of inter-religious dialogue is the opportunity it presents for a larger purpose; converting those whose trust has been won through dialogue, to the true faith.

This is the pope who has introduced the return of the Tridentine Latin mass. Beloved of many traditionalists within the Church, to be sure. Not so much the large Judaic brotherhood who look askance at the re-introduction of the Good Friday prayer that specifically commands conversion of the "faithless Jews".

That did warrant some attention from onlookers, and attention was duly given it, and the move generally deplored.

Still, Pope Benedict holds fast to his beliefs, for he is, after all, as the voice of the Almighty on Earth, infallible. The Holy See issued a declaration in 2000 as the world entered the 21st Century (after the common era) pointing out the obvious to Church-faithful, that those who choose to live outside the embrace of Christianity are "in a gravely deficient situation". Truly.

Does this man speak with the proverbial forked tongue?

in Jerusalem with Jewish religious leaders, avowing the critical importance of inter-religious dialogue. For what purpose, then? Other than to open the door to potential conversions? To re-establish the warm relations that the Vatican Council initiated under John Paul II which agreed that Jews and Christians, believing in the same God, are equal in status?

Catholics would no longer view people of other faiths as doomed to hell. There would be no further need to attempt to convert Jews, for their own good, to Catholicism. Respect being the order of the day. This can reasonably be called enlightenment. All religions to be viewed as sanctified.

Where Pope John Paul II pacifically embraced world religions, the-then Cardinal Ratzinger was critical of this initiative. When Pope John Paul invited world religious leaders to pray together for peace in Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger claimed that Catholics may not pray with members of other religions.

Clearly a schism, one little remarked upon in a broader sense of awareness, where the new Vatican under Pope Benedict has moved the church away from its generous inclusiveness, restoring Catholicism to its earlier, exclusionary traditions.

For the generosity of spirit initiated by Pope John Paul was seen by the Orthodox as a surrender of the spirit of Catholicism. Rendering faithful Catholics no different than any other denomination in Christianity. Watering down, and rendering ineffective the traditional Catholic identity. And this is the danger of inter-religious dialogue.

Absent the compelling, missionizing pre-conditions of triumphalist conversion.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Not Too Smart, Are We?

Statistics released by the OECD appear to reveal that Canada's university graduation rate has been on a steep decline. Ranking Canada 20th of 24 countries compared in the process of university-graduate rankings. We're ahead of Hungary, Austria, Germany and Greece. But - good grief, isn't that incomprehensible? - behind Poland, Portugal and the Slovak Republic! Wot the hell!

Here we've been burnishing our medals for scholastic achievement in our young, and we've managed, somehow, to fall by the wayside. Canada ranks fourth in university education for our population between 55 - 64 years of age. But 12th in the 25 - 34-age bracket. So our old fogies were smart enough to obtain a good education for themselves, but our younger cadres have resisted the impulse.

Portugal has four times the PhD graduates as Canada! Unbelievable, truly. Finland manages three times the number, and Australia and the U.K. have each twice the number of doctoral graduates as Canada has managed, of late. Why are fewer young Canadians actively seeking out higher education? It's a costly process yes, but it's also a state-subsidized one.

We don't look too bad when college graduates are lumped in with our university graduates. That nicely brings up our numbers, and there's no reason whatever to begrudge college degrees as representative of some elements of higher learning. Still, they're not quite the same thing; community colleges are more directly utilitarian in education-acquisition.

And here's the really scary thing about all of this. It isn't the Canucky-shmuckies who are mostly enrolling in great numbers in Canadian universities. Children of recent immigrants are flocking to Canadian universities in far greater comparative numbers than the young of the indigenous population.

Children of parents who hail from India and Asia, for example, who are far more education-achievement-oriented, and for whom education is a tradition, one honoured and respected by their communities. Whereas Canadians of long standing, by and large, appear to feel that graduating from secondary school is about as ambitious as they can bother striving toward.

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Oh, Those British!

They are so elegantly discriminating. They can be so sublimely aristocratic in their cerebral awareness of the world around them. Little wonder that Britain has gifted the world with a treasure-trove of world-famed literature. The propensity of the British to observe and to digest that which they observe and to reach stunning conclusions perhaps knows no equal anywhere else in the world. A wee tad arrogant? Heavens, no, simply discriminating. In the finer sense of that evocative word. Provocative word?

Surely Canadians needed to know this, that a former British high commissioner to Canada, Lord Moran, wrote: "Anyone who stands out at all from the crowd tends to be praised to the skies and given the Order of Canada at once". Imagine, Canadians have been taken with the illusion that out of the vast mediocrity of sameness, we occasionally breed some artistic talent that is deserving of recognition. And hence, those Canadians who strive to carry themselves well above the commonality to achieve some measure of personal fame and public acclamation, may be deserving of this honour.

For their successes - in representing Canada at its best in human achievement - does reflect well on Canada and the aspirations of its people. Not so, sniffs Lord (Richard John McMoran Moran Wilson) Moran; evidently he views nothing extraordinary in the achievement of Canadians in the social sciences, the public service, science, medicine, social services, theatre, the plastic arts to name but a few. For these are - sniff-sniff - paltry Canadian achievements measured by obviously inadequate Canadian standards.

Certainly not to be compared with, say, the Queen honouring British citizens who achieve great fame through popular celebrity in pop culture, or in earning great sums of cold, hard cash, or operating a venerable news empire as a winning enterprise. Those colonials really could learn a thing or two by emulating the mother-country.

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Simply Amazing!

The world looks on as Muslims slaughter one another, from Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Somalia and Iraq. Shiites target Sunni Muslims with ongoing, lethal suicide missions, and Sunni Muslims return the compliment with vigour and determination. Slaughtering to their hearts' content, fulfilling the given directions for the accomplishment of jihad, in recognition as well of ancient tribal and religious-factional grievances. The mission is all-encompassing, targeting militants as well as government agencies, along with civilians, young and old.

The carnage is unceasing. The world looks on, and is revolted by the bloodshed, yet somehow inured to it, simply because it is so continuous, relentless, unsparing and without merciful conscience. Do we accept this as somehow reflective of a kind of Muslim normalcy? After all, repressive Arab and Muslim governments, with few exceptions, harness religious commitment to political and social domination of their populace. Some of them infinitely more harshly than others, to the point of outright human rights abuses.

Yet whenever some wag mentions that it is passing strange that the continual contempt expressed by bloodshed evinced by one religious faction against the other through mass homicidal dysfunction, silence reigns. It is unremarkable, because of its commonality. And Islamic nations themselves have no wish to linger on the matter. Yet these same nations harbour an immense grudge against a tiny non-Muslim state, one whose religion is Judaic, which just happens to immensely predate, perhaps even having inspired Islam.

The greatest form of flattery is to have one's inspiration flagrantly copied - alas, then corrupted in an agony of rejection. The ever-renascent hatred of Islamists for Jews, re-ignited by the presence of a non-Muslim country in a Muslim landscape has its culmination in a universal forum where anti-Semites of every background can come together in a common celebration of hatred. Thus is Israel condemned for protecting itself militarily against the ongoing assaults on its people and its sovereignty.

For there are many truths being demonstrated on the world stage. Much as religion separates Muslim believers one from the other in an ongoing paroxysm of hatred, there appears one thing that can bring them together in a common agreement of ultra-hatred; the existence of the State of Israel. Israel's denial of the possibility of its all-too-frequent promised death-knell at the hands of rocket-lobbing Islamists infuriates them all the more.

And that makes perfectly good sense, for after all, anything that goes awry on the world has its genesis in the maleficence of the Jewish presence. This explains why Pakistanis are convinced that 9-11 was a product of the Mossad. Why, when a Hezbollah bomb-maker is blown to smithereens in his home while busily manufacturing munitions, militia spokespeople can claim that it was the result of an Israeli bomb. Why Iran can hint darkly of Zionist interference in their latest democratic election results.

Why the president of Sudan is able to condemn Israel as a prime example of a state that commits crimes against humanity, and at the same time loftily ignores the condemnation of the International Criminal Court which has found him, personally, guilty of crimes against humanity for the deliberate massacre of Darfurians. It is why official Venezuela, condemning the Zionist entity, champions Iran's right to nuclear militarization, and helpfully votes in the United Nations to bring Israel before the Security Council for censure.

It is why Britain will accept certain initiatives to consider Israeli IDF commanders as persona non grata on its Island soil, because of the insistence of a growing Muslim population that also threatens grave turmoil should Geert Wilders profane British soil to espouse his views on the Koran. It is why the world turns away from inconvenient criticism when Muslims run violently amok in protest over cartoons depicting the Prophet in an unflattering pose.

It is why the liberal-left media, academia, unions the world over find it so useful to adapt themselves to their fanciful reality of Israel The Occupier of Palestinian land. To commit themselves to believing that Israel commits grave atrocities against the poor defenceless Palestinians. Those same Palestinians who support the suicide bombers among themselves as martyrs for their common cause, who teach their young to lob rocks at Jews, who claim the Temple Mount is theirs alone, not to be profaned by a Jewish presence.

This amazing phenomenon is a gift to the world - damping down its collective potential to achieve peace and understanding - one that just keeps on being gifted. And no great proportion of the world, Muslim or non-Muslim appears to find it perplexingly outrageous. This is an obvious testament to the limits of human intelligence.

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Tough Isn't It?

American tobacco growers are crying foul over a new government initiative in Canada to further protect the health of Canadians. It isn't as though there's any great mystery that nicotine in tobacco products is lethal to the health and future well-being of individuals who become addicted to smoking. No thanks to the tobacco industry which conspired long after they were made aware through their own research of the horribly deleterious health effects on smokers. As well as non-smokers incessantly assailed by second-hand smoke.

And it's a forgone conclusion that smoking affects human beings through the onset of cancers, heart problems, lung, neurological and stroke effects. Yet although stringent warnings have been forced on tobacco advertisers as well as on the packaging of tobacco products, cigarette producers have found other ways to entice people into using their products. Apart from advertising 'milder' products, they've also taken to flavour enhancements. What's far worse, some of those flavour enhancements are directed toward children.

Nothing like giving tobacco a fruity sweet flavour, or one reminiscent of candy-flavours to enlist a whole new cadre of smokers into the blissfully unaware suicide brigade that sacrifices a generation while that making whopping profits for growers and manufacturers. And American lawmakers are extremely protective of their constituents. Farmers, and tobacco farmers no less than any other form powerful lobbies on Capital Hill.

And here is Canada, not seeking a trade advantage of any kind, but attempting to protect the children of the nation from the stealthy advance in popularity of candy-flavoured tobacco products, targeted directly at young people. Foul! A new American advertising campaign attempts to colour the issue as a violation of the two countries' international trade agreement. Through discrimination against American cigarette imports.

Well, folks, this isn't roof shingles, or other types of forestry imports contending with the home market - that the U.S. Congress so adeptly steps in to countervail, as they are able to do, since no international trade agreements trump American interests - for trade advantage, through presumed Canadian government economic support or 'dumping'. This is represents a deliberate health-preservation step a responsible government has undertaken to protect its young from health disaster.

Kentucky burley-tobacco growers claim they're being swept, hurly-burly into the dragnet of flavour-enhanced tobacco, through their practise of using a flavour enhancer in the manufacturing process to cover the harsh flavour of burley. Health Canada counters with the fact that American-style cigarettes use flavourings including "sugars and sweeteners to enhance their taste", in their production methods.

And as such these tobaccos are included in the outlaw for sale of such cigarettes under Bill C-32. And, according to the spokesperson for Canada's International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, "Canada's trade obligations were taken into account", at the time that Bill-C32 was written. But, groans the president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Co-Operative Association, "It will eliminate an entire class of products from legally being sold in Canada."

Precisely. Live with it. Canadian youth have the opportunity to live longer, more healthfully, without it.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Responsible For What!??

Afghanistan is a hard place to be located in, all the more so for foreigners, and even more so for foreign troops. This is not a war, for example, that has touched the shores of the many countries whose military representatives are there, at the request of the United States, NATO, and the United Nations. Foreign troops, along with foreign dignitaries, NGOs, and civilian volunteers to assist in the law, policing, health-care and other civic institution-building, are there in an extremely dangerous, difficult place, trying to do the best they can.

Initially there to rout the Taliban and their al-Qaeda guests, they've stayed behind at the fervent request of the allied-assisted new government of Afghanistan, one attempting to move beyond medieval backwardness toward 19th Century social-political-religious balance to advance the country toward human rights and turn its back on oppressive fundamentalism. This is no easy accomplishment, since the country and its population is huge, diversified and culturally attached to its traditions.

Yet, back at home in Canada, the opposition parties are calling out the government on its laxity in responding to the human-rights warning of a former Canadian diplomat who reported in 2006 that it was his opinion, based on his interviews with Afghan detainees, that prisoners turned over by Canadian troops to their Afghan counterparts, were being abused. Canada is in no position to retain prisoners. Due process indicates prisoners be turned over to the care and apprehension of Afghan authorities.

When, initially, the spectre of prisoner-abuse came to light, efforts were made on a government-to-government basis to ensure that Afghanistan was aware of Canada's concerns. But Afghanistan is not Belgium or France or Italy, cognizant and respectful of the Geneva convention. The country is backward, brutal and fiercely independent, with their own military and authoritarian traditions. There are so many instances of social and cultural traditions that are distasteful and abusive by Western standards, the abuse of prisoners is quite far back in the line-up.

Telling it like it is, is not an option for the political parties in Canada who are interested in scoring public-relations victories over their more successful rival, now in power. But their eagerly-opportunistic rantings and railings over the presumptive failures of this government and the Canadian troops in Afghanistan are gruesomely out of place. Apart from the fact that they would do things no differently.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Beware UN Human Rights Probes

Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, South Ossetia, Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Zimbabwe, Sudan - among other sturdy stanchions of human rights must be celebrating their free pass, while countries like France, Greece, Hungary and Canada are quaking in their proverbial boots, knowing they have been and will be visited by the UN Independent Expert on minority rights.

Canada has come under special UN notice in the past, for its use of the term "visible minorities" used in census data. Canada was, after all, given due warning that the term was unpalatable to the tender ears of the United Nations. And, of course, the unsavoury reality within Canada of aboriginal rights along with the struggle of both government and First Nations leaders to solve the problems endemic to a disadvantaged minority is a sore patch.

Gay McDougall, an American national and the first UN chief monitor of governmental treatment of minorities, is visiting Canada. Bypassing China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia. She has had experience with checking into how democracies treat their minorities; Hungary was cited for issues revolving around their Roma; Greece for its "historical understanding" of minorities; France a reproof for its "serious discrimination ... targeted at 'visible' minorities of immigrant heritage". So Canada is forewarned.

To be perfectly fair, Ms. McDougall has also searched through the minority-respecting-rights backgrounds of the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan; hardly first-world countries, more on the agonizingly-developing side of world affairs. It is, however, instructive to note that the decidedly black-tinctured Ms. McDougall praised Ethiopia for its "comprehensive foundation for rights, freedoms and quality", for which any observer could be excused for picking himself off the floor with incredulity.

All world affairs of late having taken on the politically correct language of relativity.

Ms. McDougall, on her ten-day tour of Canada, will be visiting Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. While in Canada she will meet with senior federal and provincial government officials, along with community members, academics, representatives of activist groups, and those striving toward the promotion of "equality and non-discrimination". Ten days to accomplish all that, and more. Amazing, what can be dredged out of a superficial glance at a country's values, priorities and constitutional supports for minority rights.

In the final analysis, Ms. McDougall, pursuing the avenues open to her through her UN special investigative office will draw her own conclusions, weighted with the impressions she will have garnered through her interviews with representatives of activist groups and those striving toward the promotion of 'equality and non-discrimination.

Aggrieved word-of-mouth always proves persuasive to the compassionate ear. Particularly one on a particular mission, pre-conceived or otherwise. Betcha Iran is waiting with bated breath to hear the outcome...!

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A Raging Plague

Indifference to symptoms of disease can lead to a dire collapse of normal defence mechanisms through stealthy infiltration, neutralizing the immune system's defences.

In Pakistan's case the world is presented with a case study, where the pathology of extreme Islamism has become so pervasively rampant it has marginalized the nation's ability to rescue itself from collapse into fundamentalist anarchy. The country's prevailing paranoia, its suspicion and hatred of its neighbours, and its determination to wreak havoc on them, as a way to protect itself has come back to haunt it.

The ideological, political, social malevolence that Pakistan heaps on India, and their most visible irritant, Kashmir, led Pakistan to nurture violent Islamist paramilitaries to helpfully launch continuous attacks on India's interests in Kashmir. Pakistan's imperialist views of extending its territory into Afghanistan which it suspects sides with India, had it arming and encouraging terror on Afghanistan, through the Afghan Taliban, and their al-Qaeda allies.

The Taliban posed no threat to Pakistan, until suddenly, as it were, the hill tribes of Waziristan created their own Taliban. Pakistan, a much ballyhooed supporter of the United States and its allies in the war against international terrorism, remained indifferent to the presence of the Afghan Taliban and their incendiary allies on their mountainous border. But the administration and the executive and the secret service and the armed forces of Pakistan were livid with rage when their American allies launched raids into Pakistan, against the Taliban.

Sovereignty intolerably breached with impunity cannot be tolerated! Finally, the impetus for Pakistan to begin to act reared its ugly head with continued attacks by the very Islamists they nurtured savagely biting off the hands that nurtured them. And it was time for the government of Pakistan to turn the tide, to begin acting in its own defence. Except that it was a little late in the game.

For time and the tides of excitable extremists wait for no government encouragement to turn against former supporters. And the extremist infiltration is so broad and so all-encompassing that there is nowhere, anywhere in Pakistan, safe from encroachment by the collective strength of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other jihadi groups, like Jaish-e-Muhammad and Laskar-e-Jhangvi. Attacking India now takes second-place to securing their right to supremacy in Pakistan.

While it has become common knowledge that massive troop movement heralds an all-out attack by government forces on South Waziristan to clean house there, a combined logistical plan has been launched whereby attacks elsewhere in the country, in the Punjab, in Lahore, in Peshawar, North West Frontier Province, will dilute government troop strength and render them far less effective.

Very neat strategizing. Attack the police stations and their recruits here, there and virtually everywhere. When police die, army officers, civilians in a thriving marketplace, so does a broader sense of fearful vulnerability arise.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ban The Burqa?

How, exactly? Make it illegal by passing a law? Can that really be done in a country that celebrates its civil freedoms? Should it be done? The sight of a burqa may be offensive to some in that it may leave an impression that the wearer chooses to sequester herself, to be kept apart from those around her. That is one interpretation. Another, of course, is that wearing the burqa is a woman's way of asserting the extent and depth of her religious conviction. Also, that this is a traditional, cultural custom, common enough in some regions of the Muslim world.

But of course we do not inhabit a Muslim world. This is Canada. Yet on the other hand, the country freely welcomes immigrants from all over the world. Personally, I don't feel affronted on seeing a woman garbed in such a way, although that hasn't been often. More often I see women and girls wearing a hijab, just the head covering. And I have seen a woman wearing the full body covering and a partial niqab, with only the eyes revealed. That appeared to me to be her choice, and it didn't make me uncomfortable, merely curious.

One makes eye contact, or not. It did appear that though I was willing, the other was not. And that too was her prerogative. The Muslim Canadian Congress recently suggested through a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government that the burqa and any other face-covering veils be banned in Canada. Doesn't seem likely that would occur. There doesn't seem any real reason for steps like that to be taken, since it does impinge on peoples' human rights to wear what they will. One could point to women who are scantily dressed and most inappropriately so, and recommend banning slatternly fashions, as well.

We would not, but why point to one and not the other. Perhaps it's offensive for many to see how young women flaunt themselves excessively rather than dress modestly, but we don't insist on a fashion moratorium for young women, pleased with their bodies and eager to reveal as much of them as they can. We simply shrug it off as commensurate with bad taste and poor social manners. If we can identify the wearing of full body and head coverings with the subjugation of women, then this is a social malady and a deplorable one, if fundamentalist Muslim men insist that their womenfolk cover completely as a way of controlling them.

But how are we to know? There are many instances, common enough, in mainstream society where women are treated horrendously by the men with whom they live, and there is no religious significance to their maltreatment. This is a manifestation of a socially maladjusted relationship between a demanding, controlling and sometimes brutal man and his hapless companion. It is this type of relationship, where men prey on their women companions and inflict psychological and physical pain on them that is the insult to society. Not that this will not occur also in religious households.

Attempting to legislate against outer manifestations of one's faith through the clothing worn by women in particular, is unfair and undemocratic. We would prefer new Canadians to adapt to the values that Canadian society views as normative, and, in the final analysis, to blend in with the greater society, even while maintaining cultural and traditional values as well. But this takes time and patience and a willingness and commitment on the part of the new immigrants to accept the broader Canadian values.

In the final analysis, there will never be many Muslim women who wear a complete body and head covering. And eventually, even that small number may ultimately disappear, as a temporary anomaly even in Muslim society where most women who adopt distinctive Muslim clothing, prefer to simply wear a headscarf to distinguish themselves as orthodox in their outlook on their religion. Not overlooking the fact that many young women choose to do so, in defiance of the mainstream society in which they live. That too can be a fashion statement. A political one, to be sure.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wealthy China

Pretty amazing. A country of 1.3 billion people, so latterly an impoverished, backward, totalitarian communist country where the people were oppressed in subservience to a Marxist ideology which claimed millions of lives in a paroxysm of a cultural revolution that was insistent on burying the magnificent history, traditions and culture of its past has managed to re-invent itself as one of the most important, wealthiest countries of the world. Its recent past is recent enough and blemished enough to make this all the more sensational.

That Beijing continues to manifest its oppressive hold on minorities within its vast land holdings, and that the country itself wrestles with so many difficulties, from environmental degradation and religious persecution, from manufacturing fall-out of chemical and carbon pollution impacts, and the occasional visitations of stupendously destructive natural disasters, to minority unrest and a host of other situations that require urgent attention, not the least of which is migratory workers and their families living in poverty, along with human rights abuses almost endemic to the society at large, is an unfortunate part of the success story.

Super-booming China has vast human and natural resources, and it now has financial resources it could only dream of, before it opened the country up to Chinese-style free enterprise. New data has been released that demonstrates just how powerfully the new economic system has impacted on the lives of those Chinese fortunate enough to be enterprisingly entrepreneurial and aspirationally forward-looking. While the United States still leads in the number of its billionaires, at 359, China is moving up with 130 of its own billionaires, although it's also estimated that number can be doubled as a result of some Chinese billionaires being shy of revelations.

Moreover, Chinese women make up more than half of the world's richest self-made women, according to the annual Hurun report. Apart from the leading U.S. billionaire-club numbers, China ranks second on the list. There is, of course, a vast differential in population size, with the U.S. having roughly one-third the population of China. But the U.S. free enterprise system has been a long time brewing, and China is new to the game. And here's an interesting statistic; whereas elsewhere in the world ranking billionaires are more elderly than not, in China 94 individuals under the age of 40 made the billionaire list.

Remarkable. For what it's worth.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

By Their Blood Shall Ye Know Them

That's quite the story. The one about two infants languishing in a Roman Catholic orphanage in London in the 1960. The children were known by their given names; no family name was assigned to distinguish them as offspring of their biological parents; most discreet. They were, evidently, extremely physically attractive children. Sufficiently so that they took the attention of a regal and titled woman wishing to raise a family of her own. She re-named the two children; they went from Archibald to Jonathan; Mary to Gesine.

An inspiringly attractive name change, to match the children's beauty and new status, as adopted children of Princess Orietta Pogson Doria Pamphilj and her husband, a former Royal Navy Officer from Kent. She was an aristocrat by birth, he by marriage and perhaps inclination. For the children the transformation from orphanage to life in the 1000-room Palazzo Pamphilj in Rome, represented an astonishing change in life's fortunes, although as infants they little realized that change in their futures. But which child wouldn't take well to being pampered and made much of? With opportunities awaiting them not seen by many.

They stood to inherit their mother's $1.6-billion fortune, the Palazzo Pamphilj, another palace in Genoa, recipient of 14 noble titles. And, oh yes, reputedly one of the greatest art collections in the world, including creations by Renaissance masters such as Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio. First the boy was adopted, and then, a year later, the girl. They were both babies at the time of their adoption. Neither would have any recollection of an earlier, deprived life. Their only memories would be of their life of sumptuous luxury, a life they would of course, take for granted, since it would be the only one they knew.

Jonathan, now middle-aged, enjoys a British civil partnership. Like many practising gays with a permanent alliance, he wished to have a family. And for that purpose he employed the services of a surrogate mother. A business transaction, after which the resulting two children, Emily, three, and Filippo Andrea, two, remained with their father. And, of course, his partner. Life can be such a drag, can't it? His sexual orientation and partnership alliance offends his sister, a staunch Roman Catholic. She, echoing Italian law, does not recognize the children as legitimate heirs to the family fortune.

Her own four children, shared with her husband Massimiliano Floridi, have the great good fortune to have been produced in the age-old traditional manner, representing the fruit of conjugal relations between husband and wife, married within the Church. Those four children are legitimately aspirational inheritors of the family fortune. Princess Gesine has asked an Italian court to rule on the matter of disinheritance of her brother's children: "I don't agree at all with surrogate mothers. OK, people have a right to children but children have a right to parents. It has caused a lot of tension with my brother and our relationship has suffered."

The Princess's concerns revolve about the possibility that this upstart professional mother, this surrogate-for-hire will suddenly, at some future date, declare herself to be a legitimate claimant for a portion of this vast and palatial estate and its accompanying fortune and 650 works of art. "Surrogate mothers don't do this sort of thing out of the kindness of their heart - they do it for money as it is a lucrative business so she could just as easily come along and make a claim here. At first I tried to work something out together with my brother, but it didn't work out so I took it to the courts and now they will have to decide."

One can never be too careful, after all. People can be so devious. There is an ancient noble reputation to protect. The fortune is, after all, finite. Divided four ways seems sensible; six ways, not so much. Of course Princess Gesine must love her brother. Doesn't blood run thicker than water? Oh, of course, they are not related by blood, but by circumstance and familial environment. And the noble blood that runs in their veins; neither by convention nor by birth; it has turned, dourly, stringently, to vinegar.

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