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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada's Good Ol' Girls: For Shame!

All that stress relieved. Amazing. The win for Canada's women's ice hockey team at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics was a huge stress reliever for the girls. And don't you just know it, girls will be girls. Thinking little of the fall-out of their not recognizing the decorum anticipated by onlookers like stiff-shirted Olympic Games types. Instead of going out in style what did the women's hockey team do? They brought everlasting shame to the games and to Canada.

They might have gone into their locker rooms, changed from their Team Canada hockey uniforms into chaste little dresses and nice little winter boots, shrugged on their Hudson Bay winter coats and gone out, arm in arm, to one of the very classy and extremely classic tea bars in the area nicely behaving the way women are expected to comport themselves. What might have come over them? How could they possibly have lost their sense of who they are and whom they represent?

How could they do this to us! Still wearing their game-winning gold medals and their red-and-white team outfits they chose to embarrass themselves, Team Canada and the country. By gasp! behaving like, uh, men. Beer cans in hand, cigars dangling for their feminine lips these beautiful athletes who just demonstrated they are the world's best at their chosen sport, emulated what men always do.

In their celebratory mood, anticipating some fun to go along with the games they posed and kidded one another, and went back onto the ice in the post-game, fan-empty arena to pose for a few impromptu photos each would snap of the other. Well, they hadn't, obviously, counted on prudish Gilbert Felli, executive director of the Olympic Games, had they? And he most certainly hadn't anticipated the scandal that their behaviour would represent.

"It is not what we want to see. I don't think it's a good promotion of sport values. If they celebrate in the changing room, that's one thing, but not in public. We will investigate." Just investigate? How much should the girls grovel and apologize and promise they will never, ever be so injudicious in their youthful cheeriness at winning the impossible, never again?

How cretinous is that behaviour, that of the OIC official whose natural, sparkling sense of humour must make him a pleasure to live with, let alone to work with. But Hockey Canada is taking this very seriously indeed. Mea Culpa; we did not remember to leash our women's hockey team members sufficiently expeditiously to ensure such an insult to decorum would not occur.

"The members of Team Canada apologize if their on-ice celebrations, after fans had left the building, have offended anyone", went the humble message from the team. Humble? Not likely, it has that 'up yours' little addendum lisping its saucy comeback at the wet blanket that meant to squelch their little ol' party.

Read more »

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Canada's "Fake Farmers"

So what's a fake farmer? Well, it's a complex situation. But basically a fake farmer is one who applies for a license to grow tobacco; someone say who has a full time job, is an urban dweller, but whose father or uncle for example, owns a farm formerly growing tobacco crops but sworn off because they took advantage of a government offer they couldn't resist.

So the license-taker owns the license, and the father or uncle with the farm uses that license to grow crops he took a buy-out of a quarter-million dollars or more to ensure he would plant other crops.

The Government of Canada was successful, with its anti-smoking efforts in a bid to convince Canadians that the state of their health was important to the government, and since nicotine is known to have truly dreadful effects on the human body, it made good sense to swear off tobacco.

Smoking cessation became another industry. So did the importation of overseas raw tobacco and contraband cigarettes that bypassed government taxation.

In the goodness of their governing hearts government decided to assist farmers to shift to different crops and initiated a buy-out program in recognition of the debt loads many farmers were stifling under. After the federal government reached its settlement with the country's largest tobacco companies over smuggling charges, $400-million in fines were reaped and government decided to plough that money into buy-outs to tobacco farmers.

Of the 1,084 tobacco quota holders a mere 18 were hold-outs, the others taking the payments, through the government's Tobacco Transition Program with some farmers receiving up to $1-million, as incentive to look elsewhere for labouring remuneration. In total the program cost the treasury $286-million.

As a promising 'exit' from the tobacco-growing industry it looked like a win for both government and tobacco farmers.

Those who accepted the buy-out, according to government documents, would not re-enter tobacco production, simple as that. "This program is available to help producers exit the industry, transition to other crops or find new opportunities outside agriculture", went the promotion line by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley.

Something, however, went awry on the way to achieving full success.

There were enough holes discovered by diligent pokers to permit tobacco farmers who accepted the buyout to continue with the business they knew so well. Encouraged by a growing demand from cigarette manufacturers, as matters now stand more tobacco may be harvested in the season to come than the year before, and a whole lot of it coming from farms owned and operated by recipients of buy-out payments.

"The reality of the situation is that tobacco is grown on a tobacco farm and there were no new tobacco farms miraculously created. People who took the buyout are left with farmland that needs something to do, stranded equipment, perhaps stranded debt ... and in this economy they've got to feed their family." This explanation courtesy of the chairman of the Ontario Flue-cured Tobacco Marketing Board.

A spokesman for Agriculture and Agri-food Canada also had something to say about this unfortunate misunderstanding, that the marketing board was expected to implement the licensing regime, the government will conduct audits of buyout recipients, and "Program participants who are found in breach of their commitment will have to repay the assistance, plus interest."

One would think.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Charged, But Guilty?

Israel's diplomats have been called on the rug to respond to allegations of murder without a shred of evidence that Israel was involved in the Dubai assassination of a Hamas terrorist with a record of inviting attention from a country whose people he has murdered and whom his terrorist group relied upon to further furnish them with destructive weapons of murder to be used against the Jewish nation.

It might seem obvious that Israel's Mossad would be involved in the assassination, following a tradition of such events. But it is also generally recognized that the Mossad organization is a highly skilled one, and its history of intelligence gathering and acting surreptitiously undercover on behalf of the state has been one of vaunted, highly admired delicate finesse, not blundering clumsiness.

Does it really seem reasonable then, that it would take a dozen to two dozen operatives to achieve the goal of a relatively simple mission? And that identifying clues might be left here and there to be discovered by any security agency halfway capable of interpreting them? Mossad's use of precise and cutting-edge technology, the skill of its operatives belie the accusations.

Moreover, Israel long ago, in the 1950s, recognized the imperative to act in a manner that would not imperil its people through the activities of Israeli agents. A vital statement of principle was agreed to between the nation's executive administration and its security and intelligence agencies, that those organizations would never make use of local Jews or local Jewish organizations lest they be placed in peril of revenge.

When the use of saboteurs or skilled intelligence agents, or commandos were required, they came from a discrete, well trained, intellectually capable cadre of whom very little trace would be left once an initiative was undertaken. In very few instances were these initiatives apprehended, and fewer yet when the operatives involved were discovered, but when they were, their lives were recognizably forfeit.

Now Dubai investigative authorities insist that a total of 26 operatives were involved in a fairly straightforward dispatch of a target. With individuals holding counterfeit passports reflecting British, Irish, German, Austrian, Australian, French and who knows, by the time they're finished with their theories, what other countries.

Israeli heads of mission have been called in to these nations' foreign affairs departments to be questioned, obviously held accountable for a breach of trust in carelessly making use of these countries' valuable passports for the purpose of carrying out an internationally scandalous act of elimination - a terrorist act, in fact.

Is it likely that a country like Israel, which dearly needs all the friends it can get, is about to deliberately imperil its relations with those countries which have been supportive of her? According to Dubai authorities, "The new list of suspects includes people who offered prior logistical support and preparations to facilitate the crime, and others who played a central role".

Really? The use of credit cards to book hotel rooms, pay for air travel and other incidentals, leaving a trail in other words as the 'team' purportedly flew in from Zurich,Rome, Paris and Frankfurt; then leaving the scene of the crime within minutes, according to Dubai police. Who claim that stolen identities resulted in the 'cloning' of passports.

The thing of it is, many of those 'stolen identities' belong to people living in Israel, and they are speechless with dismay: "I am shocked, it's identity theft - simply unbelievable". And they're right, it is simply unbelievable. Unbelievable that a sophisticated, highly successful, secretive and professional intelligence agency would resort to such schlock methods.

Unbelievable that a state which had recognized soon after its formation that it must never imperil the safety and security of others to achieve their goals, would now undertake to do just that. Unbelievable that a country under siege from its neighbours, suffering existential angst, and hoping to secure the support of Western countries, would deliberately throw all that overboard to achieve a single hit.

There is nothing particularly logical in all of this. Unless one imagines a not-too-clever but sufficiently resourceful group undertaking to emulate what they imagine Israel's Mossad might embark upon and how it might do so, to undermine the legitimacy of the state and cause it embarrassment on the world stage.

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Amazing Medal Work

Aren't Canadian women athletes something? Don't we ache with pride for their accomplishments? And haven't they abundantly demonstrated that women are capable of excelling in arduous, extreme athletic disciplines, every bit as much as men. In their own way. And not to take anything away from men's accomplishments which are themselves astonishing in proving what the human body is capable of doing in the exertion of training the body to obey the mind.

Canada's female athletes have displayed their precise techniques, their ability to perform under great duress - all the more so given the absurd "Own the Podium" determination of VANOC to illustrate what Canada's best can accomplish and in the process placing a dreadful burden on already-overburdened athletes - in strength, control and finesse managing through sheer force of will to break their own previous records.

Men's sports are geared to men's greater physical strength and endurance, and it has been pointed out that fewer seconds pass between the three medal winners in men's competition than in women's in illustration of the fine calibration and the closer competition between men than that which exists between women where the competition is seen in tens of seconds rather than in divisions of single seconds.

Women rejoice in their freedom to be themselves, female competitors involved in extreme athletic competitions, earning the privilege of representing their countries by dint of their dedication to practise and sacrifice of personal lifestyles to achieve their dreams of Olympics glory. Where once men dominated the games and women sat on the sidelines but for a relative few events they were permitted, women, competing against other women, shine.

Perhaps there is truth in the fact that Canada's commitment to equality of the genders has produced equal funding and encouragement for both sexes, resulting in women pulling ahead in their game, leaving men struggling to achieve the medals totals that women appear to be piling up, while men's success languishes.

Whatever the reason, it is remarkable and marvellous that young men and women whose personal agility, strength, facility and brilliance in athletic performance encourage one another and find sponsors willing to assist them in achieving their goals of achieving elite status as national sports figures.

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Another Slap-Down?

The U.S. President-Obama-led administration demonstrates its belief in the rationality of all humankind by appointing an ambassador to Syria, refreshing diplomatic relationships with the country halted by the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, for whose death in a 2005 bomb blast Syria was blamed.

Now appears to be a good time to re-engage, so President Obama announced last week a new U.S. Ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford.
This is, after all, a new administration and a new president who has held out both an olive branch and an open hand to the Muslim world. The olive branch has been disdained as a Western trick and the open hand smacked down, repeatedly.

Hard-working, tough-talking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has returned to Washington from Damascus where she spoke earnestly and sweetly with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about restoring relations, moving toward a peace agreement with Israel, and moving away - far away, from current close relationships with Iran.

And with Hezbollah. And with Hamas. And hands off Lebanon. That kind of good advice coming from a source with Syria's best interests at heart.

It's gob-smacking amazing that President Assad is so ungraciously and so consciously an ingrate. Denying that his government does anything more than give moral support to Hezbollah and Hamas, and friends, after all, are friends; hard to come by and dear to the heart of peace-loving peoples of the world.

And in a response that resonated throughout the Middle East and the West as well, Syria's president along with that of Iran, had a friendly confab with one another. The nerve of the Great Satan, to think it could dictate to proud Islamic countries whom they may consort with, plan with, enjoy the power of subtle warnings to the world at large, with.

"We need to further reinforce relations if the true objective is stability. We do not want others to give us lessons on our region, our history", huffed President Assad from the joint news conference shared by his partner-in-peace, President Ahmadinejad. With mutual friend and ally Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah standing by for good measure.

"I am surprised how they can talk about stability and peace in the Middle East and call on two countries to distance themselves from one another", went the arch statement of disbelief at American encouragement to "begin to move away" from one another; utterly absurd given their common interests, common goals.

As for his part, President Ahmadinejad took great pleasure in inviting the United States to "pack up and leave the region", for nothing and no power could distance Syria and Iran from one another. And if the Little Satan does not settle down and sit back as it should and await its mushroom-cloud disintegration courtesy of Iran, then it will invite a more speedy dispatch.

"If the Zionist entity wants to repeat its past errors, its death will be inevitable", went the genial promise.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Demented Demonizing

B'nai Brith Canada's annual report of anti-Semitic attacks, another gloomy audit of rising events hitting communities across the country is being criticized for its scatter-gun approach of appraising all incidents, lesser or larger, as equal in moment. Well, what qualifies for disqualification as an anti-Semitic attack against Jews? Insults and slanders are not to be taken as seriously as, say, physical attacks, armed threats, gravestones overturned?

Seriously? Don't slanders, unchecked, encourage racists to move on to bigger and better, as in more atrocious - events unleashing their rants into riots? Isn't that the way it usually works? Start small, aspire to bigger things? After all, the past has more than adequately proven that desensitizing a population begins by de-legitimizing others' rights, paving a path for disinterest in the general population of upholding human rights for those who have none.

Claims of increasing acts of blatant anti-Semitism seem tedious, tiresome and unnecessary in a country which prides itself on inclusiveness and kindly feelings toward others. Canadians are an inoffensive lot, by and large. But when societies become so complacent that they won't take steps to smack down attacks on the human dignity and rights of minorities among them they lay themselves open to increases in such attacks.

No one segment of society is immune to the disease of racism; it permeates society at many levels and discreet displays of discrimination can be found anywhere. Which does not mean they should be tolerated; once tolerated they become more commonplace because there is no censure, and perspective becomes skewed. And, as a simple matter of fact, intolerance is on the rise in Canada.

We see rising incidents of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Israel diatribes increasingly, in the elite ranks of public unions, within academia, among left-wing groups. And nowhere is that symptom of pathological detestation for an ethnic, religious, social group more evident than in universities across Canada who have allowed a hateful event isolating Israel and extending to Jewish students than the yearly ritual of "Israeli Apartheid Week".

From Gay and Lesbian groups, to the Canadian Arab Federation and its offshoots, to student and teachers' unions, the daggers are sharpened and ready to plunge. There are no labour unions, no carefree and proud gay and lesbian groups in Arab countries, but they do exist in the Jewish State. Isn't that peculiar? Within Israel, religious minorities have protected rights, where they do not in Arab countries.

Yet Protestant groups and left-leaning groups like the United Church who consider themselves social progressives tend to point a finger of blame at Israel while overlooking the terrorist activities of Palestinians in their 'resistance' against their 'occupiers' who 'occupy' so that they may protect themselves from the 'resistance' in the guise of violent attacks against their civilian populations.

And so, Israeli Apartheid Week is proudly supported, a symptom of a mass incident of cognitive dissonance led by an intransigently visceral racism called anti-Semitism. Deliberate social blinkers are donned, and various groups in solidarity with the 'plight' of the Palestinians go about their putrid pathology and their peculiar partnerships.

The true apartheid being practised, needless to say, is the separating of Jews from other segments of the population, to hold them apart as repugnant practitioners of duplicity and avariciousness, carefully separating their diseased presence from the rest of ordinary, respectable society so they may better be reviled.

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Really, Now...

Equalization as a levelling of wealth and opportunities across Canada's provinces, where the well-off provinces would render through taxation to the Federal government, funding to be distributed to the have-not provinces was once heralded as a great Canadian bonding experience. Equalization was introduced in 1957 in an effort to promote comparable public services in all of Canada's ten provinces, where federal tax dollars were re-distributed to provinces with low per-capita revenues.

Now a report titled The Real Have-Nots in Confederation: Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia: How Canada's equalization program creates generous programs and large governments in have-not provinces, finally confronts the truth of the situation. That equalization, rather than proudly exemplifying unity between the provinces, has become a resounding dud. This was a universal national program whose concept once made Canadians feel proud.

But it's been quite a while since that feeling of national pride gave way to one of puzzled introspection, when some Canadians began to notice that they were paying for elite services available to populations in purportedly 'have-not' provinces not available to themselves, living in the 'wealthy' provinces. The Province of Quebec comes readily to mind, as the outstanding province with affordable day-care, free dental care, and low university tuition.

"The current system is broken", the report produced by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy concludes, "and the equalization program should be abolished or dramatically reformed to reduce the adverse, unintended consequences that the equalization program creates." Finally, the experts have deduced what ordinary Canadians have long ago suspected by merely keeping their ears and eyes open. Does it really take a genius to come to that conclusion?

And is any government going to be willing to yank that comfort blanket away from a province like Quebec which - though perennially complaining that its needs are overlooked, inclusive of its need to exit confederation for sovereignty, amid aggrieved claims that it gives more in taxation, culture and social awareness to the country than it receives in return - insists on ever more of the diminishing pie.

Quebec's equalization payments have grown by 74% in the last four fiscal years alone. It receives the lions' share of equalization payments, as almost $8.4-billion will be transferred to Quebec's coffers out of a total of $14.2-billion for the six receiving provinces. Which just about reflects the average share that Quebec receives of any money pot spread out among the provinces for any purpose.

Any political party in Canada hoping to receive a majority electoral vote would never dare propose devising a plan whereby Quebec would receive less than it now does. Quebec votes have traditionally been seen as majority-makers or -breakers, and the province has always been carefully and assiduously courted by politicians hoping to sway a brittle electorate to their ballot.

So now this report validates the reality that demonstrates that the recipient provinces enjoy larger government; more civil servants, nurses, doctors, teachers and long-term care beds per capita as opposed to the three major fiscal contributors to the national GDP. College and University tuition is higher, day-care spaces and long-term care beds are decidedly fewer in the privileged 'have' provinces.

How's that for justice, fairness and balance? "Unbelievably, the Government of Canada has never undertaken a serious study of the consequences of shifting $40- to $50-billion each year from high-productivity jurisdictions to those with low productivity and economies dominated by massive inefficiency in their public sectors", said David MacKinnon, a former senior bureaucrat.

Right on. And now, which government is it that would undertake to yank the comfort out from under those bloated provincial governments who misdirect funds they don't themselves internally acquire, with the risk looming large of losing votes come election time?

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Policy-Fractious NDP

Every political party has its passionately-engaged members whose beliefs, values and struggles on behalf of ideals they hold dear set them apart from the larger group who tend to be more balanced and moderate in their stance, whether their politics stands to the left, the right, or the middle of the political spectrum.

Canadians tend as a population, to be left-leaning, but not all that much so. We have, in the past, chosen to place our trust in the 'middle' more often than in the hard 'left' or the equally stiff 'right'.

Lately, those divisions have softened considerably, so that we see evidence that the left has become rigidly 'right-leaning' in some areas, and the right has become middle-of-the-road, and the middle has become, well somewhat redundant. Where the Liberals were once the party of choice, to be thrown out as the scoundrels they became with entitled reign, the NDP were always bridesmaids, and the Conservatives occasionally rated the ceremony of ascent to the alter.

Most governments, and Canada no less than most, look primarily as they should, to advantage their constituency within the country. Good governance is constituted by law and order, a system of justice, educational opportunities, encouragement of open business climate leading to full employment, and the smooth functioning of civic infrastructure from mail delivery to federal policing agencies, immigration, prison system, employment insurance, pension, armed forces, for example.

But then there is the international aspect of governing, as part of a global system of nations and intersecting trade, human rights, emigration, mutual defence and other interests. And the New Democratic Party takes some of those issues seriously indeed. So much so that it becomes surprising that its members at either end of the spectrum with respect to one foreign country alone - Israel - takes them at direct odds with one another.

Now that Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP, is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, two deputy leaders have been delegated to work closely together to ensure that the party is not rudderless. One, Thomas Mulcair, subscribes to an agenda that feels that New Democrats should be supportive of the State of Israel, seen as unmistakably pro-Israel, and definitely anti-Hamas.

The second of the two deputy leaders is far better known, her exploits having hit front page news from time to time, as when she visited Gaza last year as a passionate supporter of the Palestinian 'cause' for statehood, and a supporter as well of Hamas, accusing Israel of dastardly war crimes, in attempting to protect itself from the deadly incursions of Hamas 'militants' in their desire to wipe Israel from the MidEast map.

When, last year the Conservative-led government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it known that Canada would be boycotting Durban 2, held in Geneva as the UN Conference on Racism, (also known as an anti-Israel international rant) MPs Thomas Mulcair, Judy Wasylcia-Leis and Pat Martin led a revolt in the caucus after Mr. Layton and the NDP roundly criticized the government for its action.

Leading party activist Matt Godwin to launch a group called Progressive Caucus for Peace to lend a more balanced approach to the NDP internal dialogue and public statements with respect to the two-state solution. Hoping that their reasonableness might result in the juvenile fashion of wearing Palestinian solidarity scarves and the spewing of anti-Israel rhetoric being stifled.

The radical left personified by CUPE Ontario's Sid Ryan, who struggled to effect a ban on Israeli academics visiting Canadian universities, and Trent University professor Michael Neumann who likens the State of Israel to illegitimacy incarnate as an evil presence on the world stage whose mandate it is to visit a "kinder gentler genocide" upon Palestinians, has become an embarrassment to the NDP.

With Mr. Layton's temporary withdrawal from actively working toward keeping the two factions from one another's throats and advertising the dysfunctionality of the NDP to a wider audience, it's anyone's guess what might finally result when the dust of disagreement and calls for moderation settles.

One can only hope that those who find it difficult to stifle their single-minded vilifications of Israel while deifying the Palestinian cause may finally be shunted aside, and reason prevail. The NDP might conceivably through that process, regain some of its sadly lost respect within the larger population, resulting in an increase in voter support.

Dream on.

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Have a Heart, Canada!

David Barlagne, his wife Sophie and his daughter Rachel have suffered a miserable disappointment; their application for permanent residency in Canada has been rejected. Rachel, suffering from cerebral palsy has been deemed by immigration officials as being "medically inadmissible".

The reason, reflecting documents filed in Federal Court in Montreal is the "excessive burden" she would impose on Canada's social welfare system, since they appear to fear an imposition on society of $5,200 annually in special education costs for her. A paltry sum that her father who operates a computer software business is well able to pay.

Mr. Barlagne moved his family from the French island of Guadeloupe in 2005 on a work permit when a Canadian embassy staffer in Paris informed him that Montreal was just waiting for his entrepreneurial spirit. His wife volunteers, teaching French to immigrants in the city.

He was informed before moving to Montreal that he had no need to worry about Rachel's condition, the family would have no difficulty becoming permanent residents.

Mr. Barlagne had made it clear to the Canadian embassy staff in Paris that his daughter had cerebral palsy, a congenital neurological disorder that would accompany her throughout life. The family's immigration lawyers point out that Mr.Barlagne's ability to pay for his daughter's future care hadn't been adequately assessed, leading to the refusal of their application.

The case has been made public, appearing in newspapers for the purpose of alerting the Canadian public to a humanitarian crisis for this family. Canada's current Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, is well recognized and admired for his knowledgeability, his professionalism in his portfolio and his understanding of immigration issues.

Members of the public who are concerned about the well-being of this family, and particularly the future of Rachel Barlagne, might wish to communicate their concern for a humanitarian compassionate response to their dilemma.

They are encouraged to alert Minister Kenney to their feelings on this issue by emailing him at: kennej@parl.gc.ca.

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Your Choice, Danny

"Only a few surgeons do a high volume of repairs. An average surgeon in North America does ten mitral valve procedures in a year. I do 10 to 15 times this number." So said Dr. Thierry Mesana, chief of cardiac surgery at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, one of the recognized experts in mitral valve repair. Aren't Canadians fortunate that they have the capable expertise of someone like Dr. Mesana to rely upon in this type of surgery?

Well, Newfoundland's perennially irate premier thought otherwise. "I was warned by my staff that this could be an issue. But this is my heart. It's my health and it's my choice", he said, referring to his controversial (outside Newfoundland; on the Rock Danny Williams still rocks, he can do no wrong) decision to exit Canada for surgery when he was diagnosed with a leaky heart valve.

So what's all the controversy about? This is a robustly-fulminating, Island paranoiac Newfie-first zillionaire after all, who can spend his money wherever he likes. It's his money, his health, his mitral valve-regurgitating heart, isn't it? Um, yes, it most certainly is, and the hypocrisy that accompanies his support of universal health care paid for by tax dollars is just a Canadian fact of life.

So did he do well for himself in making that choice, which he claims his Newfoundland-based heart specialists urged him to take? (And isn't it amazing that Danny couldn't predict the firestorm of opinions ranging from support to outrage over his decision; that his aids would have to point out to him delicately his 'choice' might prove to be an issue?)

Well, Danny's choice (don't mind if we call him Danny, do we?) was to undergo less invasive, less involved surgery, a procedure that involved armpit incisions close by the breast area, rather than choose to go the road of a more traditional surgery involving opening the sternum. He made that choice, he said, to enable himself to get back to the rigours of defending Newfoundland from Canada more expeditiously.

So what does one of Canada's reigning experts on the procedure have to say about Danny's choice? Well, he mentioned a survey published by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons just this past January which cautioned that the procedure "is not recommended for complex mitral valve repair and that the rate of complications (strokes in particular) is higher" with that procedure.
Well, what do they know, anyway?

And what about Dr. Mesana? "It is a much more complex and surgically challenging operation to repair a valve instead of replacing it." He would know, his record boasts a 98% success rate for the thousand or so mitral valve surgeries he has completed. "...there are a few advantages in terms of length of hospital stay, transfusion or post-operative arrythmias.

"The only real benefit is cosmetic. Many world-renowned experts do not advocate it. It is done in Canada, but again, with caution. I propose it only for cosmetic reasons in a young woman who dislikes the idea of having a scar." Eeuu! a scar.

No fear, when Danny Williams kicks the dust it'll be a result of apoplexy blowing his stack, not his breast.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Changing Climate, Changing World

Ottawa, Canada's capital, is often described as the coldest, snowiest capital in the world. After Ulan Bator in Mongolia, that is. Coyly mentioned with a hearty chuckle.

Well, Ottawa, Canada's capital does receive snow aplenty and the residents of that capital city groan under the weight of the snow that requires constant shovelling as they go about their business of living within the kindly confines of an economically and technologically advanced democracy in a country blessed with a plethora of natural resources and geographical anomalies.

And then there is the winter of 2010, which belies that title of 'most snowy', 'coldest' that Ottawans both abhor and take rough pride in. Whatever happened to all the snow Ottawa normally receives? And the cold; it did make a brief appearance then got lost somewhere, along with the snow. Oh yes, we know where the cold and the snow went; to places that normally do not see that level of both; say Washington D.C. and Boston, Mass.

While Ottawa hasn't had to do much shovelling, those great American cities which do not have municipal equipment to cope with all that snow, have been somehow ... coping. And the real snowiest, coldest capital in the world, how is it managing this winter? Not that Mongolia is Canada, mind; it is not. It is a struggling country hoping to advance into the 20th Century with an emerging economy and hopes for the future.

But for now it is suffering a dreadful dilemma. Caused by, what else? too much snow, and too much frigid weather. Genghis Khan's nomadic warriors who conquered China, Tibet and most of Central Asia are now humble herdsmen whose nomadic lifestyle has been hard hit of late. Ten years ago miserably unkind weather conditions caused snow-stranded nomads to die along with millions of heads of livestock.

Today similar weather conditions are plaguing the country with its record-breaking cold winter. They would be hard put to believe in a man-made phenomenon called Global Warming. The capital city of Ulan Bator has seen animmense increase in its residents, as tent cities have sprung up of late, with desperate herders moving there, their livestock having perished.

But Mongolia is a country rich in natural resources, not very much of which has been tapped nor extraction processes developed. It has huge untapped reserves of coal, copper, gold and uranium. It is currently a country with no disposable wealth, extremely aware of the unrelieved needs of its people.

"It is a very bad crisis. the cold we are experiencing now is a record low for the last 37 years and 90% of the country is covered in snow", according to Mongolia's Prime Minister Sukhbaatariin Batbold. Mongolia's difficulties arose latterly; with the collapse of the USSR, facing new Russian export restrictions making herders' livelihoods more difficult than ever without the Soviet-organized collectives and stable prices.

Even without the extreme cold conditions where this year so far two million head of livestock have died from exposure, the country's infertile land is not capable of adequately feeding them. A summer drought had struck fodder supplies and large numbers of animals are starving. "Only about 20% of the herders are successful ... More than 50% of their herds have been lost."

The government, facing a huge fiscal debt, along with their dire humanitarian problem of desperately needful urban refugees, will have to turn to exploiting their natural resource wealth. "You have to have revenues coming from somewhere and that is going to come from mining" according to country manager Arshad Sayed, with the World Bank.

But foreign mining firms, accustomed to moving right in and taking over, and permitting developing countries to retain a relatively minuscule share of the mining profits are holding back from investments in Mongolia. Because the Mongolian government shrewdly insists on majority local ownership for large projects, augmented by a tax on mining profits.

This is now. Experts in capital investment properties predict Mongolia will soon see its economy growing, gradually overtaking countries like Angola and Azerbaijan as quickly-growing economies. That would be a nice rescue for a country whose capital is the coldest, snowiest in the world.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Reasonable, Fair and Just

When is it not feasible that a woman can anticipate joining a female-only fitness club? Why, when a male, planning at some future date to transform himself from his biological gender to the alternative decides it is in his very best interests to share the physical intimacy of a female-only fitness club. Doesn't that make sense? Of course it does. It does because the Ontario Human Rights Commission feels it does.

Strangely enough the Ontario Human Rights Code recognizes the need for facilities to serve a single sex, citing public decency. It gives its permission to such facilities because it feels that this does not constitute discrimination otherwise seen as illegal. Of course there are facilities that serve both genders, and these are co-ed types of facilities. Large enough to offer the genders separate change rooms and bathroom facilities.

But when the owner of St.Catharines Downtown Health Club for Women was targeted by a series of men-in-transition-to-female and he balked at the idea of exposing his female clients to fully-hung male guests, he was set up for extortion. He could have settled 'out of court', so to speak, by paying a hefty tithe to the complainant who would then rescind his complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

John Fulton, however, chose not to submit to something that reeked of extortion. And for his troubles he has been left with a $150,000 legal bill, reflecting his need to defend himself against the accusations launched against him by a man who had dressed as a woman but confided to him while applying for membership that "I'm really a guy". Planning, he claimed, to undergo a sex-change operation.

Oddly, within a week of that introduction, two more 'men in transition' also applied to join the women-only health club. In instant fad.

A new scam is born. And, despite the fact that the original gender-confused gentleman ultimately withdrew his human rights complaint, Mr. Fulton has been left holding the $150,000 bag. When his lawyer suggested to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that it was within their power to process an award for costs of these legal fees, the tribunal yawned with disinterest. Mr. Fulton, as far as they were concerned, could pay his own legal fees.

While the scam-artist who accused him of inhumanely flouting his right to join a women-only athletic club was able to manipulate this horribly flawed system so that taxpayers picked up the legal costs involved, the ultimately-unsuccessful shakedown artist withdrew the complaint when it became clear he would be paid nothing. The man who had to defend himself was stuck with costs imposed upon him.

The complainant is under no obligation to prove anything; his complaint is the focus of attention, taken seriously by the human rights group, despite the obvious absurdity, even illegality of the claim, and the accused is in nowhere-land, damned if he did or did not. He did defend himself, he did not succumb to clear extortion, where it was made abundantly clear he could pay the mediated penalty for 'hurt feelings' or a far larger sum for believing in himself.

How reasonable, fair and just is that?

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Canada's Olympics Podium

Hey, what's all the fuss? Canadian athletes are doing really well. They're out there performing to the very best of their abilities. Making those who support them proud as all hell. The very fact that they've honed their skills to the degree they have, to enable them to perform to the extent they do is important in and of itself. So, congratulations to all of Canada's elite winter-sports athletes. We're bloody well proud of them.

Now, about that fairly costly $118-million "Own the Podium" gambit, what genius thought that one up? Don't our competing athletes with their superlative skills, determination and dedication feel under sufficient stress to score high, without that unneeded weight of public expectations? And isn't it just stupidly juvenile to think that these athletes can be psyched into gold, silver and bronze? With the emphasis on gold, needless to say.

Why was it seen as imperative that Canada build itself into a frenzy of podium ownership, as delusional an expectation as any ever heard of, given the competition. That being other countries investing in the athletic prowess of their young and gifted. The most successful scoring country is the United States. It has a population ten times that of Canada's. If Canada wins ten medals, then logically the U.S. should comparatively win 100. Has that happened? Will it?

As it is, Canada stands in fourth position in medals thus far, with only Norway, Germany and the United States scoring higher. Not a bad position to be in, with countries like South Korea, Austria, Russia, France, Switzerland Sweden behind, in that descending order. So where's China with it's 1.3-billion people and its government sponsored selection of promising athletic children forced to live their sports to achieve excellence?

And where is Great Britain, whose press has gone completely lunatic, reporting on their impression of the many and unforgivable failures of the 2012 Vancouver Winter Olympics to live up to expectations? Has Britain gone up to the podium even once during these games? Is England planning to 'own' the podium their turn around? The Canadian press, I'll warrant, will be far kinder in their compassionate understanding for another competing country's efforts.

And isn't it kind of nice to see Canadians invested in enthusiasm for their competing athletes, their scintillating enthusiasm shining the light of approval on all of them, irrespective of rankings? If we're going to blow the piggy bank and damn the consequences, when we should be spending a little more wisely, then we might as well enjoy it and admire and appreciate the talents Canadians have.

Not degrade them by higher expectations than are possible to achieve. Our gold medal winners, silver and bronze deserve their $20,000, $15,000 and $10,000 encouragements, and Canada deserves the immense satisfaction that these peerless athletes bring to the country.

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A (Gasp!) Bullying Culture

Poor old Gordon Brown. No one is enthusiastic about Gordon Brown the man. He just doesn't push anyone's enthusiasm button, it seems. Stolid, earnest, hard-working doesn't make it, you've got to have the kind of pushy charisma that his predecessor was possessed with to make any inroads on public opinion. And he inherited tenure at 10 Downing Street at a most distressingly inconvenient time in world financial history, so that hasn't helped him one iota.

From what one reads, in any event, come the next election he's history. Perhaps that grates on him, that the public is one giant ingrate. He has sacrificed much, even questions about his health, about his purportedly-failing eyesight, and lamentably short-vision with respect to his country's direction. Anyway, no improprieties can be levelled at him, sex scandals of any kind. Is that a positive? Perhaps not, in Britain.

If he had a little bit of Silvio Berlusconi in him to titillate the British public, a little bit of Nicholas Sarkozy's boundless energy, a little of Barack Obama's oratorical flights, even some of the zaniness of Hugo Chavez there might be a little affection spared on his behalf by flighty British voters. Allegations of a vicious temper, an unrestrained reaction to adversity, a bit of paranoia, well, that's just not British, is it?

Well, actually it is, isn't it? So what's the problem? Oh, it is unseemly for a British prime minister to snap at underlings, to forget all about that obligatory stiff upper lip stuff. It's just so declasse, actually, to exhibit volatility, abuse of one's dedicated staff, even - horrors (unproven) physical violence. Sorry, the physical violence, there's evidence of that; evidently there are ink-blobs on the seat of his official vehicle where an exasperated Brown stabbed the upholstery.

Interesting is it not, that a man with such a horrendous weight of responsibility finds it difficult at times to repress his agitated state over matters he can do little to ameliorate. And that regardless of what he does, how he reacts, there will be condemnations raining down on his poor bowed head. And he manfully staggers upward and onward, snapping at some poor staffer through sheer frustration.

Some of whom have had their little revenge, it would appear, by telephoning in "three or four" calls within the space of a few months to the National Bullying Helpline. Causing the founder of said helpline to avow that she had spoken personally to at least one of these complainers who spoke of a "bullying culture" and of the "stress" thus caused to staff.

In his defence Lord Mandelson insisted that Prime Minister Brown is most definitely not a bully, the man was rather, 'impatient', and 'demanding' of his staff. Appalling, utterly indefensible.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Open Season: Sue Canada!

Egad, another innocent individual of Middle-East extraction threatening to sue the Government of Canada. The Government of Canada; well that's just about everyone in Canada, since it's tax dollars involved. Seems every time an Arab or a Muslim is affronted because they've received what they interpret as dirty looks, or a government reaction to a personal situation they're dissatisfied with, out comes that threat.

This government is on the hook for millions, and millions, and millions ... Hands out of our pockets, fellas...!

And whoops! here's another one. Former president of ICI Construction Management, Roland Eid, who informed his employees that he was about to depart to Florida for a winter holiday, transferred almost $2-million of company funds - at a time when the company was struggling to pay its suppliers - back home to Lebanon, and then flew there himself. The company is insolvent, has $10-million in debt.

The company has left a number of construction projects dangling, unfinished. Including a $4.2-million contract for a new RCMP administration building in Ottawa. By sheer coincidence bankruptcy trustee Kevin McCart of Surgeson Carson Associates recommended the RCMP investigate Mr. Eid's financial transactions.

"It was the quantum of losses and the fact that just prior to leaving he wire-transferred himself money to an account in Lebanon, to his personal account, which seemed to be not in the normal course of business", explained Mr. McCart. And an RCMP document points out that Mr. Eid "used corporate assets to pay for his lavish lifestyle".

"Witnesses claim that he paid for personal expenses such as his wedding, his son's baptism with over 200 guests, vehicle for the in-laws, child support and renovations of his in-laws' house. ...using ICI Construction Management's money, while the company could not even pay their subcontractors", the document concluded.

But according to Roland Eid, from Lebanon, "It has nothing to do with money. ... It's all political. They're trying to discredit me because they're afraid I'm going to come out with the truth." And out it came, the truth, utterly devastating. Wicked CSIS is at it again, trying to compromise the integrity of an honest businessman for their own dastardly purposes.

And that, precisely, is why the RCMP is after him, protecting CSIS.

For according to Mr. Eid's account, CSIS approached him a decade ago while he worked for McDonald Brothers Construction, urging him to obtain blueprints of the Ukrainian Embassy so they could proceed with implanting bugs and cameras. He was approached, he said, only after his employer, Pat McDonald refused to provide them with blueprints.

When Mr. McDonald was interviewed, he had no recollection of such an event. Moreover, he said that in his decades of experience in the Ottawa construction industry he had never heard of CSIS ever seeking such information in such a manner. Details, details. Mr. Eid also declared that within his company employees were aware of the CSIS connection.

Two former employees questioned about this very fact said they had no knowledge whatever of any such connection, nor did they recall the company ever being engaged in any construction work on embassies, effectively belying their former boss's contention that, "I was given those three missions to do: The information about Hezbollah infrastructure in Lebanon. The drawings and construction of the Syrian Embassy. The drawings and renovation of the Lebanese Embassy."

However, it went against his morals to pass on such information to CSIS, since it would amount to spying on Arab countries. To avoid further pressure, he escaped back to Lebanon. The man's ex-wife denies ever having any information about his supposed involvement with CSIS: "I don't know anything at all. He never mentioned it", she responded to questioning.

Nor did the bankruptcy trustee, Mr. McCart, see any paperwork that might reveal a relationship with CSIS, in his review of ICI's files. None of these contradictions appear to faze Mr. Eid, his story is one he intends to rigidly stick with. "People should know the truth. I'm planning to go back to Canada and sue the government and tell my story."


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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Unfair Play, Game Over!

The Parliament of Canada unanimously agreed to the passage of a new Cracking Down on Tobacco Marketing Aimed at Youth Act. Which would have the effect of prohibiting flavour additions to tobacco products which are designed to market cigarettes and cigarillos to young people. And children, as well, since they are so eminently marketable. The bill's effect will prohibit candy- and fruit-flavoured tobacco products.

Now isn't that a truly dastardly ploy? No, not the Government of Canada's decision to act responsibly to protects its vulnerable youth from the enticement of smoking tobacco masquerading as a fun-product tasting like fruit and candy. The action of a friendly government to imperil the livelihood of God-fearing, lucre-worshipping producers that help make America great. The morality of marketing such products seems not to bother tobacco manufacturers one whit.

And while it's all right to uncover through internal investigations the reality that tobacco manufacturers engage in withholding scientific data inimical to their longevity, even when they know that their products are inimical to the longevity of human beings as a result of their addiction to a fatality-inducing product, that's for the protection of the folks at home. These addictive products find a large audience elsewhere in the world.

But uh-uh, not in Canada, any longer, folks. Recognizing that this is a dangerous product, that those who insist on using it should be adults, consenting with full knowledge of the personal dangers involved - and not kids who tend to ignore any kind of warnings of danger ahead, and to respond to such warnings with an accelerated leap at forbidden products - isn't it amazing that U.S. lawmakers would go out of their way to lobby Canada?

Well, perhaps not if those seven members of Congress are from areas in Kentucky, Virginia and Indiana. Tobacco-producing states of that union of unreconstructed free-marketeers. So now a group of Republicans and Democrats representing their states' free-market interests are chiding Canada for its insistence on saving its own. And resenting what they see as Canadian officials appearing to be "key facilitators" for a group proposing that nations "prohibit or restrict the use of flavouring substances".

Health Canada explains that Canada's purpose is to bar cigarettes with flavours like vanilla, licorice and chocolate. Additions that would hardly appeal to the adult palate, but most definitely would to the sugar-discriminating tastes of children. Entrap Canadian children into a life-time of abusive health practises? Well, why not, in the interests of the bottom line and an expanded network of victims?

But Canada is being charged with "duplicity" and the belief of these American lawmakers that there exists a Canadian-based "rogue" bureaucrats' agenda to eradicate American-style cigarettes from the global market that has them enraged. The larger issue being that Canada's initiative in this area is being considered as a template for the World Health organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

"We believe Canada's approach has gone too far. If your government pushes these provisions through the FCTC process, the result could devastate the burley farmers in our state." Marlboro, Camel and Winston brand cigarettes are blended with burley, a harsh-tasting tobacco, to which 'mild' flavourings are added for greater acceptance. Message: change the losing formula; don't blame those who reject the product.

A product imperilled? Um, tough. Canadian manufacturers of goods must abide by American laws, and the reverse, particularly in this critical health-related-product issue is a fine case in point of what's good for the goose ...

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Mutant Pig, Anyone?

Well perhaps not quite mutant; rather, biologically engineered. Coming to a dinner plate near you. Perhaps your very own home. We're already eating, in Canada, genetically modified grain crops, so it's only a matter of time, logically, that the livestock-product we consume will also undergo biological alterations to endow them with a wide range of positives for human consumption. Creepy, isn't it?

But genetically engineered pigs are on our horizon. Environment Canada is involved, because the University of Guelph bio-engineers have been hard at work to develop a strain of Yorkshire pigs whose waste is less inimical to the environment. Once the hurdles are cleared under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, it will be up to Health Canada to approve an application submitted by University of Guelph.

After which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will get in on the act. Aren't we well cared for? Should matters progress as planned, the University of Guelph's break-through in producing what is termed the world's first transgenic animal, the 'Enviropig' may result in a new era in livestock production techniques. The animal in question, or the concept leading to it, was created in 1999 from a piece of mouse DNA introduced into the Yorkshire-breed pigs' chromosomes.

The result is pigs that emit low-phosphorus feces. By the creation of a special composite gene enabling digestion of an otherwise-unavailable form of phosphorus, allowing the pigs to produce manure 30% to 65% lower in phosphorus than that of normal pigs. Which have borne the brunt of environmental accusations that they pollute surface and groundwater, raised in intensive livestock operations.

"The university has successfully satisfied the requirements to allow the line of transgenic pigs to be produced and farmed using appropriate containment procedures. So that's the step we're at right now", Steven Liss, associate vice-president for research at University of Guelph, explained.

"As part of an overall goal, I think it's fair to say, yes, absolutely, the university researchers involved were very driven and passionate about addressing an important environment problem at the same time supporting production of food stock and to bring forward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly option to do that."

The approval process may be a long time in bringing the research to the reality of production. Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may get around eventually to approving the technology and its results, but consumers generally may be more than a little standoffish in their attitudes toward accepting the product.

That'll be one huge hurdle. People don't like to actually think about the fact that the meat products they so enjoy consuming does not, in reality, appear, preparation-ready on supermarket freezer shelves without having first come from a purpose-slaughtered animal. This is not something people like to focus their minds on. It takes away from the appetite.

Digesting the information that the meat they're about to consume is the result of an animal scientifically tampered with may result in the unfortunate focus that will propel people away from enjoying their morning bacon and dinner ham steaks.

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Earth's Geology, Our Vulnerabilities

Canada, leading an initiative to be shared by the international scientific community, has undertaken the installation of three seismic stations spaced 50 kilometers apart, in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Their purpose: to detect otherwise-imperceptible tremors and quakes and, of course, larger jolts such as the one that devastated Haiti a mere month earlier.

Those jolts, of a less impressively destructive variety, are still ongoing. One was picked up a quarter-hour after the installation had been switched on.

The three stations were carefully positioned to ensure as little interference as possible with the critical seismic measurements. Each station is valued at $45,000 with the inclusion of a seismic sensor anchored within a concrete paid, along with solar panels for power-provision, and a 1.8-metre-wide satellite dish capable of relaying the data back to the receiving laboratory at Natural Resources Canada.

The team installed at the Geological Survey of Canada stationed in Ottawa, scrutinizes the recovered data, picking up dozens of tremors along the Haiti faultline to attempt to fully understand the ongoing quake threats in a country with a history of violent tremors, to gauge the impact for the country in the future, while it rebuilds itself. Seismic monitors in Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba had picked up data of the cataclysmic quake that shook Haiti.

Placing the three stations at strategic places within the country itself provides a far clearer understanding of what is occurring underground. "We can see about 100 times more events", geologist David McCormack said. Explaining that quakes rupture the surface only when the geological action that leads to them are produced sufficiently close to the surface.

The devastating January 12 earthquake began with a rupture roughly 12 kilometres below surface, resulting in a rupture two kilometres below the surface. That rupture was 40 kilometres long, resulting in two plates bordering the fault sliding a few metres, releasing pressure that had been building for several centuries. Additional strain has been created on the ends of the rupture zone.

And the $64-thousand question now is the future of that added pressure placed on the eastern end of the fault, close to Port-au-Prince. Seismologists now estimate a 50% chance of another major earthquake sometime in the next half-century. The seismic-measurement installations will assist researchers in reading the potential threat and the possible intensity of anticipated quakes.

"The plates keep moving and earthquakes keep happening, that's just the way the world works."

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Great Men, Their Mistakes

Of course that's a matter of opinion. Not that even great men - particularly great men, for who would otherwise take note? - do not make their own errors in judgement, but that Rene Levesque that much-gloried founder of Quebec's Parti Quebecois and anointed by wild enthusiasts the 23rd Premier of Quebec was a great man.

That's an entirely selective superlative reflecting Quebecers' heritage and lugubriously profound sense of both entitlement and bitterness toward Canada.

This was the man - lauded as a great political-ideological-separatist leader even by some deluded Canadians outside the province, who first attempted to negotiate political dependence for Quebec. And whose exploits throughout that attempt and his harangues and his emotionally-wrought resentment of confederation found favour with Quebec's big brother, culminating in the infamous cry of Vive le Quebec libre! by General Charles de Gaulle.

Galling the rest of Canada no end. But the pur laine and separatist-devoted demographic in Quebec hailed their saviour as their - saviour - and his name is forever blessed. All this by way of commenting on former founder of the Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois premier, Lucien Bouchard who has loomed back into public view.

And his most recent pronouncement has not been received favourably by his successors.

Top front of Le Devoir, the considered opinion of Mr. Bouchard, the result of his own personal struggle and that of the parties he has been associated with (no, not the Progressive Conservative party of former PM Brian Mulroney) that "Sovereignty is not achievable". Can we then, lay it to rest? Please...?

Not bloody likely, not as long as a full-blue-blooded French-language-and-tradition patriot still breathes his fiery resentment.

The now-redeemed-and-esteemed (in the writer's personal opinion) Mr. Bouchard informed his Quebec City audience that the Parti Quebecois's sovereignty complex and its compulsion to 'save' Quebec's unique character from the onslaught of dilution by English Canada does not reflect the spirit of its founder. (Could've fooled me with that one, but life is an ongoing learning experience.)

Pauline Marois must have been frothing at the mouth with furious indignation, but prepared to accept Mr. Bouchard at his word as a firm independantist, and that it is with deep sorrow that he voices his conclusion. "This wish for sovereignty can be practised in different ways", she responded.

And most certainly not by allowing the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest to move forward with its preparedness to accommodate ethnic and religious minorities.

"Her former leader, former premier of Quebec, is reminding [Ms. Marois] that it is not a good idea to try to take over from the radicalism of the ADQ in these matters and to resort to demagogy on such an important question", responded Premier Charest.

That 'important question' being proposed alterations to the province's school calendar which would permit private Orthodox Jewish schools to teach on Sundays. Why the PQ would resist such an accommodation is peculiar. Spite? In a spirit of peevish nastiness?

Where once the province was heavily religious as practising Roman Catholics, Sunday is no longer regarded as the traditional 'day of rest', and certainly for Jews it never has been; as for them, Saturday is considered to be the traditional day of rest.

There are those in the know who believe that Mr. Bouchard's resignation from active politics resulted from vital inter-party disagreements. PQ members who saw nothing amiss in overt anti-Semitism; one in particular who helpfully pointed out the unfortunate failure of Jewish neighbourhoods to cast their vote for Quebec sovereignty, thus effectively proving their disloyalty to the province.

Why then, should the province go out of its way for Jews? Or, for that matter, English-speaking Quebecers? Come to think of it, immigrants? For their failure to instantly learn French, for their eagerness to illegally enroll their children in English-language schools, for their yearning to cleave to their own (exotic...foreign) traditions.

Some track Mr. Bouchard's critical comments this past week to the 2008 report by historian Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor on the reasonable accommodation of minorities, a report synthesizing testimony that the duo had heard while conducting province-wide hearings open to all Quebecers.

And where more than a tinge of xenophobia was evident among the greater mass of more tolerant Quebecers.

Whom, of course, the Parti Quebecois does not represent. Really.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Holy Father, We Implore You ...

Pope Benedict is no counterpart to his predecessor. He hasn't quite the humanity, the humility and the gentle kindly presence of Pope John-Paul II. He seems not quite to fully understand the consequences of many of his decisions, the manner in which they impact on the Church itself, nor the ripples of consternation they send out to the world at large.

He is the most highly-recognized religious authority in the world and duly respected as such.

Yet some of his initiatives have caused great alarm both within his own institution and within those of others. In particular, his relationship with the Jewish community has suffered a set-back directly related to a number of steps he has taken in the past several years, from bringing back the traditional Latin mass with its references to Jews, to his rehabilitation of a traditionalist Holocaust-denying bishop.

Yet it is the pope's insistent determination to achieve sainthood for WWII-era Pope Pius XII that is causing the most dismay, and threatening to create an unbridgeable schism between the Catholic and the Jewish communities, taking that relationship back in time to a place where unease and lack of communication marked their perceptions of one another.

All the advances that Pope John-Paul had worked so diligently to achieve will have been undone. Simply because the Vatican refuses to release the historical records that could achieve clarification of Pope Pius's position during the Holocaust years.

Now, eighteen Catholic scholars from the United States, Germany and Australia have issued a letter to Pope Benedict, asking him for a more measured process. To pause in the two steps yet remaining; beatification and canonization, preparatory to declaring sainthood for Pope Pius XII.

"Holy Father, we implore you, acting on your wisdom as a renowned scholar, professor and teacher, to be patient with the cause of Pius XII. Currently, existing research leads us to the view that Pope Pius XII did not issue a clearly worded statement, unconditionally condemning the wholesale slaughter and murder of European Jews", the letter states.

"We implore you to ensure that such a historical investigation takes place before proceeding with the [sainthood] cause of Pope Pius XII", pointing out that in their opinion it seemed on the available evidence that Pius represented a "symbol of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism" and that "Proceeding with the cause of Pope Pius XII without an exhaustive study of his action during the Holocaust might harm Jewish-Catholic relations in a way that cannot be overcome in the foreseeable future".

Those who co-signed this cautionary letter represent leading theologians in the Roman Catholic Church, most of whom have intensively studied the Holocaust, and who have become acknowledged experts on Judaism and Jewish relations with the Catholic Church. They take the position of Jewish scholars who have repeatedly requested the Vatican to open its archives for study.

When he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, his ascension to the position of pope caused a mild flurry of concern from within the Jewish community when it became known that as a youth he had been drafted into the Hitler Youth and served as a young man in the German army during the Second world War.

It would be beyond unfortunate if this pope proceeded with his plan to confer sainthood on an earlier pope - whose seeming inability to transcend a tepid concern for a desperate population of European Jews destined for annihilation - when the very people whose plight he ignored now call for a just conclusion to an occurrence that blighted the reputation of the Church.

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Another Triumph For Humanity

What on Earth does the United Nations accomplish, other than wringing its hands with "profound regret" over the world's trouble spots; the outcomes of natural disasters, internecine warfare and other urgent events reflecting their insipid inability to project themselves authoritatively as the world's premier partner for peace and security in the world?

Admittedly, it is difficult to persuade enough member-countries to lend enough of their military to the world body to enable it to enter conflict zones with the intention to provide a buffer between warring factions. And since its charter appears to insist that they will enter troubled zones only by invitation of the very totalitarian miscreants who cause all the misery, they're rather hamstrung.

Burma is one of those truculently dangerous hermit states that oppress their people through their churlishly-vicious military-style governance. It wants the outside world to believe it doesn't exist. It cares little how many of its people perish whether as a result of a natural disaster, or through starvation. It simply insists it must go its own way, and brooks no interference. Its great good friend China, respects that.

The Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Burma exist on the knife-edge of brutal repression and institutionalized privation. Forbidden to own land, requiring permission to marry or to travel, they are prohibited from practising their faith, denied access to public education and to even basic health services.

They are tormented, driven out of their homes, forced to become slave labourers for the Burmese military machine. Their citizenship rights were revoked in 1982, and they are recognized by the United Nations as representing the world's most destitute and persecuted refugees. Perhaps they and the Sudanese Darfurians could take comparative notes in suffering.

They have fled in their hundreds of thousands, hoping for refuge from their living hell, over the border into impoverished Bangladesh. Where they have set up makeshift camps wherever possible, and live there in vastly overcrowded and destitute conditions.

Their squatters' camps earn them the anger of poor Bangladeshis who view the refugees as a challenge to their own miserable hopes for advancement. Roughly a half-million Rohingya have become illegal migrants in Bangladesh.

"They remain trapped in a desperate situation with no future, vulnerable to neglect, abuse and manipulation, and to the kind of intense violent crackdowns they are suffering right now", explained Medecins Sans Frontieres in a news release.

Xenophobic attacks by Bangladeshis - reminiscent of what is occurring in South Africa against desperate refugee Zimbabweans seeking refuge there - has resulted in a surge of beatings, machete wounds and rape. "Malnutrition and mortality rates were past emergency thresholds and people had little access to safe drinking water, sanitation or medical care", reported MSF.

Yet a camp along the Burmese border continues to swell with additional desperate refugees, and there is no hope in sight for these men, women and children. Yet another horrific instance of inhumanity the world looks away from.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Old King Tut

No, he wasn't old, at all, since he was a boy king, thought to have been 19 in 1324, B.C. when he died, having reigned for nine years. That was 3350 years ago, if one can fathom that time-frame, and in that sense it makes him old. But although chronologically he was not old when alive, physically his condition was that of an old man, having to get about with the use of a cane, and suffering severe degenerative conditions, along with a club foot.

He cannot have been too sprightly in the prime of his life, poor Tutankhamen. When his royal tomb was exhumed by Howard Carter in 1922, it was a sensation, because of the condition of the site, the splendour of the items found with him, and the exceedingly beautiful gold-worked death mask that topped his sarcophagus. The find was a sensational one awing the world, mesmerized by the legend of the boy king.

And the mystery of a curse said to have afflicted many in attendance at the excavation made everything surrounding the legend and the reality of King Tutankhamen a thrillingly fascinating discovery. Now, a team of scientists from Egypt, Italy and Germany making use of the most advanced DNA techniques has reached the conclusion that the king's physical disorders weakened his immune system making the health-vulnerable man susceptible to malarial-caused death.

His genetic endowments were grimly inappropriate for a long and healthy life. He is thought, through the tests, to have been the son of Akhenaten, the pharaoh whose paeons to the sun-god made him known to have been the first monotheist, and whose legacy of sacred buildings dedicated to Aten, the disc of the sun, were destroyed by those who followed him. The boy king's parents and grand-parents too have been identified.

Akhenaten was known to suffer from severe genetic problems caused by a disease that damages the body's connective tissues whose symptoms include a short torso, long head, neck, arms, hands and feet; pronounced collarbones, pot belly, heavy thighs and poor muscle tone. The six daughters he had with his wife Nefertiti all exhibited the same physical characteristics as their father. Unusually tall, likely to have weakened aortas easily ruptured leading to death.

Akhenaten never had artists copying his image for posterity alter his physique, and he was proud of the outstanding beauty of his wife Nefertiti. Nefertiti is thought also to have been a very close relative of her husband, further reasons why genetic problems surfaced in their offspring. Brother-sister marriages were common enough in early societies, particularly among royalty. Cleopatra was said to have married her brother.

Consanguinity in marriage does not produce healthy specimens; genetic vigour is irremediably impaired. Even much later, among European royalty throughout the later centuries up until the 18th Century, intermarriage in families was common. Charles Darwin, the great expositor of natural selection might have been thought to know better, but he married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood.

King Tutankhamun's need of assistance in perambulation was verified by the discovery of over 130 walking sticks found in his tomb. The genetic tests recently completed, headed by the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, concluded that his and perhaps four other mummies from his family were infected by a parasite causing an often-deadly form of malaria.Gallery Image
(From front to back) The mummies of King Tut’s mother, King Tut’s grandmother, Queen Tiye, and King Tut’s father, Pharaoh Akhenaten, are displayed during a news conference by the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to announce DNA results meant to reveal the parentage of Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian museum in Cairo on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (REUTERS)
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The mummy of King Tut’s mother is displayed during a news conference by the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to announce DNA results meant to reveal the parentage of Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian museum in Cairo on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (REUTERS)
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King Tut’s grandmother Queen Tiye is displayed during a news conference by the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to announce DNA results meant to reveal the parentage of Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian museum in Cairo on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (REUTERS)
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The mummy of the mother of Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun is displayed during a press conference by the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to announce DNA results meant to reveal the parentage of King Tut at the Egyptian museum in Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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The two mummies of King Tut’s grandmother Queen Tiye, front, and mother, background, seen through a glass case, are displayed for the media during a press conference with Egypt’s top archaeologist Zahi Hawass, unseen, at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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The mummy of King Tut’s mother, seen through a glass case, is displayed for the media during a press conference with Egypt’s top archaeologist Zahi Hawass at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (REUTERS)
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The mummy of King Tut’s mother, seen through a glass case, is displayed for the media during a press conference with Egypt’s top archaeologist Zahi Hawass at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (REUTERS)
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Tourists look at the displayed mummy of King Tut’s grandmother Queen Tiye, seen through a glass case at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (REUTERS)
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General view showing three mummies from left to right, King Tut’s mother, grandmother, and Akhenaten “Tut’s father”, are displayed during a press conference by the head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities to announce DNA results meant to reveal the parentage of Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian museum in Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Gallery Image
The mummy of King Tut’s father Pharaoh Akhenaten, seen through a glass case, is displayed for the media during a press conference with Egypt’s top archaeologist Zahi Hawass at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, on Feb. 17, 2010. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on King Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old mummy and 15 others have provided the cause of death and the firmest family tree yet. (REUTERS)

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Persistent Tragedy

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, visiting Haiti for a two-day trip to have a look at what Canada's 2,000-troop-and-medics-dispatch is up to, travelled there inside a -17 transport aircraft, one of four purchased by the Government of Canada for $1.8-billion. This is Canada thinking big, thinking of exerting its assertive muscle during times of international intimidation and stressors in the world at large.

Eschewing former Canadian administrations' move toward the kindly sounding 'soft power' of taking the world stage as a peace-enabler, the prime minister explained for any who couldn't get the message of having the right equipment to deploy for the right reasons at the right time: "There was a time when that kind of heavy-lift aircraft didn't fit Canada's soft-power policies. "But our government bought them for the hard-power requirements of today's world."

Unspoken but understood is that today's world includes Canada's commitment in Afghanistan where more aggressive military equipment was required to keep our own troops safe from the resurgent Talibans' urgent determination to wipe them off the map of the country. "Now we're using them for relief work. So what is the moral of the story? "To do soft power, you need hard power, you need a full range of capabilities."

That heavy-lift C-17 transport that took Mr. Harper to Haiti also carried water filters, medical and and other desperately needed supplies. For the simple truth of the tragedy is that it is ongoing. Over a million Haitians remain homeless in the wake of that devastating earthquake. They live in squalid camps wherever they happen to be, in the ruins of their country.

The United Nations informs that 272,000 Haitians of the much larger figure of homeless has been provided with materials to afford them shelter against the rainy season. Tarpaulins are what most can anticipate at best, for the near future. The rainy season will accelerate the opportunities for disease transmission when the ground becomes saturated and rivers of raw human feces will run through the camps and into tents.

The scale of the devastation that hit Haiti is still being discussed and measured, and an assessment resulting from a study undertaken by the Inter-American Development Bank states that the earthquake aftermath in Haiti outdistances the destructiveness of the 2004 Asian tsunami that hit Indonesia, and the cyclone that struck Myanmar in 2008.

The report explains that Haiti's earthquake "...caused five times more deaths per million inhabitants than the second-ranking natural killer, the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua". As such, it claims that the cost of reconstructing homes, schools, streets and civil infrastructure in Haiti will come in at around $14-billion.

The number of people killed in the quake, according to Haitian officials was in excess of 217,000, equating to 2.4% of the population of nine million. The country has been slow to pull itself into some semblance of order. A full month after the earthquake struck dead bodies are still being piled into mass graves outside Port-au-Prince.

This natural disaster, hitting the most vulnerable, poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has resulted in crowning the country as the site of the most destructive natural disaster in modern history.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Stay the Course"

The foremost challenger to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the widely-acknowledged corrupt election proceedings that had Western allies throwing up their hands in consternation and disbelief, has admonished Canada that it is in that country's best interests, along with that of Afghanistan itself, to remain skeptical, as they have so far done, of the scurrilously-absurd plans underway to buy the loyalty of infirmly-committed (low-ranking) Taliban.

Former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, far more credible than his adversary who now again leads Afghanistan with his corrupt cronies, credits the Canadian-led Electoral Complaints Commission for managing to prevent a fatal rupture during last year's November presidential election. Canada, cited once again as the honest broker. It was that recount ordered by the commission that highlighted the extent of the election corruption.

What truly alarms Mr. Abdullah, as it should anyone who hasn't their head buried six feet under is the unbelievable depth of the overtures President Karzai is holding out to the Taliban. Going well beyond the NATO-ISAF alliance tentatively accepted thesis that offering payment to uncommitted Taliban underlings might successfully bring them under the banner of the Afghan government, lessening the strength of Taliban troops.

President Karzai has offered a clearly disinterested Taliban leadership welcome into the very government that he leads. Offering to share with key Taliban figures dedicated to the overthrow of his government and the restitution of the governing Taliban, key ministerial posts in a shared administration of the country. Power-sharing that would last as long as a western presence and their troops remain.

Within Afghanistan, Afghan women are aghast at the very suggestion of such an arrangement, visualizing, and with good reason, a return to their former status as helpless and hapless third-class residents of the country, with all their hard-fought rights and equality measures removed. Children will no longer attend school, and women and girls will forfeit all their human rights.

"The Taliban ... say that they want the foreign forces gone. Is this negotiable? Canada has come to bring us democracy. If you leave, I don't know how many days I will have", said a young Afghan MP, Sabrina Saqib. An "exit strategy" would represent a sell-out and speedily reverse all the gains made since the Taliban were driven from power.

"The government is shifting the whole focus to how we should bring the Taliban back. This is very dangerous", warned Mr. Abdullah. Who is himself busily engaged in early stages of putting together a broadly representational political party focusing on political accountability, transparency, and free elections.

Canada was correct in reacting with doubt to the British, French and American buy-in to President Karzai's enthusiastic ideas for buying off Taliban loyalty. And Canada needs to continue to express its skepticism, and to remind its partners in that country that rigidly brutal ideologies cannot be bought off; they fester and they reassert their ardently held beliefs.

As violently and as long as need be to succeed in their mission.

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Here, In Canada?

Surely most Muslims in Canada would blush in shame at the very thought that among them is a group that espouses conspiracy theories so exotically far-fetched that only malignant fantasists could mount them. Yet not too far from Toronto, in a once-small town called Stouffville, now considered to be within the greater Toronto area, there is an Islamic centre which recently hosted a conference titled "Media War on Islam".

Famously, Muslims find it extremely difficult to absorb the fact that coreligionists, albeit of a strenuously rabid variety, comprise the bulk of the world's terrorists. Their agenda is one of a fiercely violent ideology, said to represent the political side of fanatical Islam. Adherents of which still sizzle with frenziedly bitter anguish over the dimming of Islam's bright shining star in a firmament of deceptive and crassly false religious stars.

The program was fittingly initiated with a Koranic prayer sung in Arabic, followed by an English translation, both by young boys with lovely, melodic voices. The prayer's message related to the justly inspired punishment of depraved societies. It most surely heralded what was yet to come in the program.

Within the conference hall of the Islamic Society of York Region mingled some 300 stalwarts, eager to hear the guest speakers invited by event organizer Zafar Bangash, who enlivened the proceedings by lofting a plastic bag filled with what he described were pages of the Koran, burned and rescued from the very protesters who were at that moment in the parking lot. A scurvy lot, no doubt about that for violating a sacred text.

He had, he announced, informed police standing by that should those protesters trespass, "I guarantee nothing". An oblique yet abundantly clear statement well understood by the crowd who broke into chants of "Allahu Akbar". Really. This is what occurred. This is not an urban legend brought to public view, it represents a first-hand account by a reporter, Joseph Brean, who attended said event.

Mr. Brean wrote of the speech by the cultural attache of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who blames media deception for painting a fearful description of Iran hardly representative of reality, forwarding the "false belief that religion is incapable of running a country", which clearly is not borne out by the success of Iran's theocratic politics.

At this conference those in attendance were apprised of certain inalienable truths deliberately kept from public knowledge; that the Christmas Day underwear (failed) bomber was an unwitting element of an Israeli plot; that Barack Obama was actually "Mr. Black Man"; that al-Qaeda represented a "figment of the imagination of the West."

A fully entertaining video was displayed which placed the Muppet Show logo over footage in slow motion of the events of 9/11, with the second plane, the Boeing 767 - Flight 175, crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, audio comprised of screams of terror at the time of mortality-defying impact.

The piece de resistance was brought to the conference by the keynote speaker, Michael Keefer, professor of literary theory at University of Guelph, who characterized 9/11 as a "planned demolition" orchestrated by Americans. Clearly this man is a gifted creative theorist:
The WTC towers didn’t fall down because they were badly built as a consequence of corruption, incompetence, regulatory evasions by the Port Authority, and because they were struck by huge planes loaded with jet fuel. No, they fell because Dick Cheney’s agents methodically planted demolition charges in the preceding days. It was a conspiracy of thousands, all of whom—party to mass murder—have held their tongues ever since.
Because North American media cannot be trusted to reveal the truth about Islamists and their jihadi cadres, Prof. Keefer has joined with Mohamed Elmasry, former national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, (another unreconstructed theorist and Jew-baiter) in establishing their truth-at-all-costs newspaper, The Canadian Charger, having been pissed off by Conrad Black's response to Elmasry's enquiry about the treatment of Islam in his then-owned newspapers.

Lord Black should surely be redeemed in the esteem of many who do not recognize his genius, if only for his response to Mr. Elmasry, which was, it would appear, a handwritten "If you want a newspaper to reflect your opinions, why don't you start one of your own?" Eureka! The truth and nothing but the truth now available to all who really truly care.

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