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.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Political Animals

They're different, those who seek public office; they're not like you and me. On the other hand, perhaps they do reflect what we are like, only more so. Self-interest taken to extremes. So why is it? I often wonder that the best and brightest in society are not drawn to the political arena. Why is it that those who have acquired knowledge and have a suitable balance of personality and character and are capable of careful judgement, do not put themselves forward as those with whom we might enjoy some confidence in performance for the public weal?

Instead, we are faced with countless people who somehow imagine that they have been called to the public stage to enhance their roles in life, a calling they feel they are responding to. Out of their need, or their resolute belief that they are needed by us as our political representatives, to do the just and good thing for a trusting public? Why do we see these poseurs, these attention-seekers, these quacks-with-a-mission come forward and advertise themselves as the solutions to all our public woes? We can recognize their striving for self-aggrandizement, can't we?

Attaining high public office, assuming the confidence of the electorate, representing one's country at the very highest levels can be a real aphrodisiac. It's a power trip. When wealth and good fortune pall and another goal beckons, it's that of being in the position of power; to make decisions that will affect the lives of countless other people; to represent your country on the world stage; to garner respect and admiration - or alternately, scorn and derision. But if you're in for the elected period, who cares, you've made it!

Are we truly deserving of them? Yes, certainly there are those individuals who are forthright, honest and believe they can add to the debate and do run for public office. Too bad; if they're not photogenic, quick on their mental feet, charismatic, crowd-and-baby-pleasers, they don't get past square one. They quickly learn that it isn't strictly politic to express exactly what you mean, how you feel, the manner in which you would act, but to cloak everything in a foggy screen that allows for many interpretations, making backtracking rather simple, explanations feasible and understandable.

It's true that the voting public doesn't always want to hear the truth, won't recognize its legitimacy when it's placed before them for consideration. The quick and easy solutions are always the best, even when they don't work. Mention personal sacrifices, higher taxes, conservation of energy, responsible governance, more aid to the needy domestically, an increase in foreign aid, and you're a goner, so skirt away from the issues, dance around the problems, promise to take good care of everything.

And when sufficiently elevated status is achieved then practise all the partisan politics your heart desires; the public expects it. Dole out political patronage to friends and supporters; appoint family members, close friends, financial supporters to posts of prestige. Accountability may come, but it will take four, five years when the electorate can make another selection.

Do we really care if our leaders shrug off accountability? If the merit principle goes by the wayside? Would we be impressed if they brought on board independent advisers of good repute and high ethical standards representing the interests of all the voters and tax-payers?

Do we dream in technicolour?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

To The Polls!

It's that time, municipal voting time in Ontario. Choices, choices. Look at the candidates, what they have on offer, what their backgrounds have delivered, and make your choices. It's an often-difficult proposition, to feel comfortable in the knowledge that you're aware of the issues, the candidates' past performance, the level of their dedication to the tasks before them, and most of all what would really satisfy you, that you've voted for the best possible candidate to tackle the issues at this level of governance that most concern you as a voter, as a taxpayer.

And then there's that issue that no one really wants to discuss: that so few people are all that interested in, involved with, municipal politics. The level of participation in voting is always abysmally low, the lowest of all three gradients, and that's fairly universal in nature. Why that is is somewhat puzzling, given the fact that of all three levels of government, the municipal government is that which is closest to where we live in the very real sense of decision-making that affects us most personally and on a daily basis.

Here in Ottawa there are three main candidates, with others considered to be fringe candidates, those who cannot hope to attract more than a sparse minimum of interest and votes. And the three main candidates represent the political triumvirate of left, right and centre, although in municipal politics, unlike those of their provincial and federal cousins, we don't identify party affiliations, just proferred political/administrative qualities thought to be most useful for the city.

In Ottawa the incumbent, Bob Chiarelli, a former MPP representing the Liberal party and with the additional baggage/background of regional chairman (Ottawa-Carleton) at a time when that station of office was a reality is running on his record and on his aspirations for this national capital, and pushing hard for a very expensive and questionably-viable light-rail system to ease the growing problems of traffic/transit for the burgeoning population.

Then there is a newcomer to politics,Larry O'Brien; so new he has never run for public office before, despite which he claims his acclaimed business success is more than ample assurance that he knows how to run this city of over a million residents, encompassing a huge geographic area, including urban, suburban, rural and farming communities with all the headaches those varied and various constituents bring to the table. He represents a Conservative agenda and has gained surprising momentum of late.

Last, certainly not least, is the youngest of the candidates; well-seasoned as a long-serving municipal councillor, Alex Munter, who has always been able to make news in the past as a tilter-at-windmills. Still, a dedicated New Democrat whose interest in the nitty-gritty of effective governance has never been questioned. He has championed not-always-popular causes, but populist causes nevertheless. And in a fairly conservative, high-energy, highly-educated, highly-remunerated workforce he has seen a great deal of acceptance as a gay activist.

The city of Ottawa is concerned with many issues, including how to deal with the homeless, to achieve greater housing opportunities for the underprivileged, the provision of breakfasts for underprivileged schoolchildren, infrastructure development, fighting crime, municipal garbage collection, traffic congestion, transit development, to name but a few of the most urgent issues. There are additional issues which should be seen as urgent, but act as nuisance-events to candidates like Mr. O'Brien, such as that of the banning of pesticide use in the city; supported by both Mr. Chiarelli and Mr. Munter.

Ottawa has seen statistics lately which give proof that there has been a citywide increase in crime, but the total, inclusive of crimes of violence, property crimes, other criminal code offences, traffic offences come in at a modest 1% over a five-year tracking period; an increase that can be lived with, although everyone would be happier with a decrease. But at the overall crime rate for 2005 at 5,785 offences per 100,000 people, Ottawa is considered to be one of the crime-safe cities in Canada.

Mayor Chiarelli is running hard and playing fast-ball, promising more soccer fields, bike paths, police officers in schools to crack down on drugs, tougher sentences for young offenders and more city money for school breakfast programs. He has promised to keep property taxes down, and so does Larry O'Brien, but who wants more cuts to already-lean municipal services? But this is the same mayor who insists on foisting a costly and inadequate light-rail system on the city which will in the end have the effect of boosting taxes.

What is interesting in this contest is that the electorate appears to have determined we've had enough of Mayor Chiarelli; time to retire, move on to something new, and give someone else the opportunity to either deliver more services better - and represent what the city's taxpayers really want, rather than the pursuit of someone else's vision - or make the usual hash of things. Larry OBrien has turned out to be a surprisingly strong contender and he appeals to many in the community.

But what is truly amazing is that baby-faced Alex Munter who championed Gay Pride parades and worked overtime to bring to legality same-sex marriage, (neither of which brings me great joy) looks to have outdistanced both other candidates in popular opinion, and he stands a good chance of taking on the mayorship of Ottawa. He brings a sense of balance, determination and humanity to the task at hand and he has experienced years of active participation in municipal council affairs.

Looks as though there are enough people who believe he's served the apprenticeship and deserves the opportunity. Why not? And good on us!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Where Lies Responsibility to Protect?

It's long been acknowledged that affiliated groups, groups with similar backgrounds, states within a geographic area, political groups, professional groups, find it politic to overlook instances of deplorable, sometimes vicious, often unprofessional conduct practised by group members. Take the well-known instance of doctors refusing to testify in court cases against other doctors. Closed-shop mentalities abound. If you're an insider an blind eye is turned to excess; outsiders beware.

The African Union is a very particular instance of the worst type of acceptance of the most egregious affronts to human dignity and human rights. The government of Sudan, because of its association with the African Union is permitted by default to continue its miserable policies of human rights abuses, effectively using its unofficial militia, the Arab Janjaweed, to murder thousands of black Sudanese in a territorial dispute. The African Union may not find comfort in its position, but there is also no will to protect the Sudanese, and the AU's ragtag militia put in place to protect the Sudanese because of international concern, international censure, international pressure, is a disgrace; underfunded, incapable, utterly toothless.

And then there's the instance of Zimbabwe, once the proud breadbasket of Africa. Instead of embracing 20th century realities as South Africa did when tearing down the walls of apartheid, Robert Mugabe, another one of Africa's many dictatorial murderers determined to disinherit and disenfranchise the white farmers whose agricultural successes guaranteed the country's well-being. One after another, white farmers were wrenched from their former land, their countless farm workers left bereft of jobs and income, the land turned over to cronies of Mugabe's, and left to moulder.

Mugabe's brutal dictatorship has largely been directed against poor Zimbabweans, the homeless, the most vulnerable in his society, made all the more so as a result of his policies which have placed arable land into the hands of those who feel entitled to them but who make no effort to produce crops to feed the country. Greater numbers face starvation and privation and when those in the countryside gravitate to the cities to try to find work, settling into vast shantytowns, Mugabe designates them as undesirables and orders his troops to destroy the shanties while banishing the starving indigents from the cities.

Anyone who protests Mugabe's rule is arrested, tortured and often murdered. It's estimated that up to a million people may have been abused and tortured in Mugabe's prisons. The atrocities this dictator visits upon his people are well know, are decried, but no practical steps have been taken to assist the country out of the morass Mugabe has led them into. Zimbabean human rights activities are now turning to the international community, the Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council and the Commonwealth (which delivered a verbal slap on the wrist to Mugabe, nothing more) for help.

African countries stick together, as a brotherhood, they say. Zimbabweans cannot wait much longer for some kind of resolution to bring their country out of its crisis, and presumably, Mugabe out of office. The country teeters on the brink of utter collapse, plagued by food and fuel shortages and a failure in foreign exchange. Its economy has shrunk by 50%, inflation is over a thousand percent; unemployment over 70%. About four thousand of its citizens die every week from HIV/AIDS. Zimbabwe is on the brink of famine.

There is no rule of law, there are rampant abuses of human rights, and the country's governance is irredemiably corrupt. This is a country in the total grip of repression. Fear stalks the land. There is no opposition to the present government, for no opposition is brooked and when it rears its tentative head, it is summarily struck down.

Zimbabwe's Congress of Trade Unions tried to bring about peaceful protests against government policy, and its leaders were arrested, beaten and tortured. The government continues to evict white farmers in a continuation of its land re-distribution project. If the land were distributed in an equitable, meaningful way so that it could be farmed by those determined to bring the country out of its food crisis that would make sense, but that's not the case.

In the last six years roughly four thousand of the country's farms have been seized from their former owners, some of whom have been left with nothing after generations of farming and producing agricultural wealth for the country. Some of the white farmers have been murdered in the process. The idea behind redistribution is to redress the past hindrance to black ownership, but the poor have been overlooked consistently in favour of enriching Mugabe's associates and supporters.

Robert Mugabe feels perfectly entitled to rule his country as he sees fit, regardless of the state of desperate need he has brought it to. He and his colleagues live well, while countless poor black citizens reap the bare harvest of need. And the African Union will do nothing, say nothing to raise the ire of this lunatic dictator.

Deliberate Manipulation or the Oversight of Carelessness?

We heard disturbing news first thing yesterday morning through a broadcast by Mother Corp. informing its many trusting listeners that Israeli settlers were interfering with Palestinian farmers' harvesting of crops, and we were, like most listeners, outraged. How dare they? Why visit ill will upon farmers intent on bringing in their harvest?

And being curious, and wanting more clarity, an explanation, some background, some expiation, perhaps, I went on line and looked for the story at Arutz 7, and there it was, thank you very much. Another version entirely, far more detailed and with a background that explained much.

Leaving me to wonder why would the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation air a severely truncated version of an otherwise-unremarkable story of a purported altercation and misunderstanding between neighbours? Surely not to keep the fires burning? Controversial topics do garner interest, and all media sources are keen to increase their audiences, although not all such sources deliver their news with an obvious bias meant to manipulate public opinion. I'd like to think the CBC is not one of those, but past experience leads me to conclude otherwise.

I learned that explicating details describing the situation leading up to the confrontation lends an aura of aha! that the swift tidbit the CBC unleashed missed entirely. Whether by design or by virtue of sloppy news-gathering is left to one's imagination.

It would appear that the IDF, local Jewish residents and Palestinian farmers adjacent to Jewish settlements have an agreement that co-ordination of intent to pursue certain activities is required to ensure no misunderstandings result. In the case of Palestinian farmers living close to Jewish settlements, the idea is that the settlement residents will know in advance when a contingent of Palestinians sets out to harvest crops, and not mistake them for potential attackers.

Indeed, a group of Israelis had been out with Palestinian farmers assisting in bringing in crops, and there had been two weeks of olive harvesting by the farmers in an entirely peaceful atmosphere, before this event occurred.

At the Gilad Farm settlement in Samaria, a large group of Arab villagers of Farata approached the community - and began lobbing rocks at local security officers who had converged to try to determine what was happening, not having been advised that a large presence was anticipated for harvesting activities. A scuffle ensued between the two camps, injuring three Arabs and two Jews.

The whole idea of co-ordination of intended activities is to avoid any such confrontations. To make certain that Arab harvesters not be confused with terrorists who indeed have launched past attacks in that very same community.

Last week a group of Arabs were charged with cutting down 150 pine trees in the community of Beit Haggai, near Hevron. Jewish farmers at Gush Etzion reported fires were being deliberately set, burning wheat crops and trees on their property.

Two weeks earlier, an Arab man was apprehended in the hilltop community of Mitzpeh Yitzhar as he was sighted attempting to set fire to a home there. He explained to the IDF that all was not as it appeared; he was really on his way to initiate some harvesting activities. The IDF reminded him to ensure the proper co-ordination was conducted beforehand.

Misunderstandings obviously can result in neighbours behaving in a less than neighbourly manner toward one another; sometimes bordering on criminal intent. Co-operation isn't too much to ask for in order to forestall such events.

Suffice it to say there is much suspicion, a background of bloodletting and anger and distaste, from neighbour to neighbour the sad order of the day. Settlers are antagonistic toward the farmers, and farmers return the compliment. Truly bad behaviour visited one upon the other is deplorable, but not a rare occurrence.

There's enough nastiness in the world and in the Middle East in particular, without ostensibly responsible news media spreading suspicion and hatred abroad.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Uh Oh, Initiative or Inertia?

Hard to tell. Is it just too difficult to determine to govern responsibly? How is it to anyone's advantage other than the pharmaceutical companies to extend their market protection? Consumers already pay an enormous sum for needed drugs. Now that The New Government of Canada (talk about self-branding!) has decided, quietly, to unveil new regulations that will extend market protection for drugs produced by name-brand companies we'll see fewer generic drugs available for a longer period of time.

Pharmaceutical companies, already making profits hand-over-fist, and advertising shamelessly to entice greater numbers of consumers to buy their brand, have received a most kindly gift from The New Government of Canada. Where name-brand protection was formerly guaranteed for a five-year period, it has now been extended to eight years. This is a change that will affect fully 25% of manufactured drugs that are not protected by the usual 20-year patents for pharmaceuticals.

So generic pharmaceutical producers will now have to wait an additional three years before being able to reproduce that significant proportion of drugs formerly accessible after a five-year profit-bearing period for the original manufacturers. Some of the drugs which will be affected include Zoloft, Pravachol, Wellbutrin an Celexa; popularly-prescribed medications which garner hefty profits for the big-name pharmaceutical producers.

As though the health care system isn't sufficiently strained as it is, with the cost of drugs creating an ever-increasing dollar load to our public system of universal coverage.

Who exactly is supposed to benefit from this? We know that the pharmaceutical companies and their supporters always bring on that tired old mantra of needing healthy profits to enable further research and development. But there should be a reasonable limit to exclusivity in the market and the five years previously recognized should have been sufficient to ensure that such funds would be available for investment in R&D.

Is it just too much trouble to bring in regulations that will be useful to the provinces already groaning under a difficult burden, and the Canadian taxpayers who deserve better from their federal government?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Climate Change; The New Government of Canada Way

Well, whatever way it is, it better be taken seriously. Because this is serious business. To say that much depends upon the will and dedication of all the countries of the world to take the inevitability, the clear and present danger to this orb and those upon seriously is to understate the matter. The former Liberal government of Canada bought into Kyoto, made solemn promises and did exactly nothing. It undertook no initiatives, but it talk a good line.

Although we had pledged to do our part and committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels, we increased those emissions by 27% above 1990 levels. Not very encouraging. At the same time, the United States, which refused to sign the Kyoto agreement, lowered its greenhouse gas emissions substantially within that same period. We're doing something very wrong.

Now here is the (he-he) New Government of Canada (all capital letters, please) swearing to bring in their own made-in-Canada solution, focussing on clean air. Let's hear it for clean air, we all need more of it. From what we've been able to see to date about Canada's New Prime Minister (oops, did we really need all caps there?) Stephen Harper, he is a man of his word, someone to be respected on that account alone, even discounting the strong and principled stand he has taken on other matters.

Yet, and yet. During the election campaign the environment wasn't one of the key issues mentioned, not seen as a high priority. Why did we buy into that? Why didn't we demand to know the reason this vital problem wasn't identified as a key pillar in any government of Canada's platform for a better world? Climate change is a reality. It is happening at this very moment, and sending very clear messages in the way of melting ice caps and glaciers, warmer temperatures, floods, torrential rains, hurricanes of ferocious intensity; rising sea levels, threatening coastal habitation.

Hello out there! This is earth calling, something is happening and we don't like it very much. It's beyond troubling, it's frightening.

Vague promises won't cut it any more. We need solutions, we need a stiff dedication to address the very real problems we face right now, let alone into the near future and beyond. We cannot have workable solutions without a well-thought-out plan to remediate and forestall weather catastrophes from becoming an even worse reality than we've already been faced with.

Prime Minister Harper, of the New Government of Canada, do you have the political will?

The New Government of Canada

Sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it? "The New Government of Canada"; not the Government of Canada; not the Canadian Government. Is this an ego-driven bit of nomenclature or is it not? What an incredible conceit; we, the New Conservative party won a successful bid for government, albeit a minority government. Therefore, we must distinguish ourselves from the former governing party, which was a Liberal-governed Government of Canada.

They were so errant, so egregiously on the wrong side of everything, the Conservative New Government of Canada seeks to ensure it is viewed as completely different, completely separate, than the former Liberal government. What does it take us for? Complete idiots? Don't we know the difference? After all, the parties struggling to differentiate themselves one from the other make their individual platforms quite clear.

Canadians, voting citizens, can and do recognize the differences between the parties whom they vote for. From the environment perspective of the Green Party, to the sadly newly-discredited platforms of the New Democratic Party, from the failed governance of the too-frequent-governing Liberal Party, to the earnestly ambitious platform of the New Conservative (shining amalgam of Reform-Alliance-Progressive Conservative, no less!) Party, we know the differences.

We know and we appreciate. What we do not appreciate is this childish manipulation of nomenclature. It is insulting to the electorate, to the citizens of Canada. It is unworthy of a mature governing party to use such a ridiculous verbal ploy as indication of notable difference in orientation and governance.

For heaven's sake, grow up!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Imperious Troglodytes

These are truly dangerous creatures. They are a rare presence, but dangerous in their pursuits and intents. They appear as deformed versions of mankind, their minds as twisted as their bodies. Yet they appear also to have great powers of persuasion among their followers. They manipulate by instilling fear in others, of creating an aura of powerlessness among their detractors, and by using their powers to eliminate dissent.

Despite their lack of social attributes and a physical appearance so much at odds with the charisma of amiability and physical perfection that is most admired in society, they are able to flourish, to build a veritable army of dedicated supporters ready to do their every bidding - to salute that individual as their leader-without-peer.
Charles VIII of France crossed the Alps in 1494 like a conquerer of ancient times. His white standards with the lily and crown waved in the soft September wind, displaying the proud inscription Voluntas Dei: Missus a Deo. The rattle of giant drums heralded his entry into Asti in September. His infantry came marching through the streets, seventeen thousand strong - archers and crossbowmen, spearmen and halberdiers, with short padded doublets, wearing the king's colours, and Swiss footsoldiers with their short partisans. The cannon were borne on heavy carriages - thirty-seven bronze cannon, together with culverins and falconets - an artillery force such as the Italians had never before seen assembled. The wagons were followed by a deafening tramp of horses; seven thousand troopers rode past, a glittering and seemingly endless procession.
Flute players heralded the aproach of the royal guards, eight hundred horsemen in full armour of steel or gilded bronze, with tufts of ostrich feathers that nodded above the shining helmets like bright palm fronds as the heavy horses pranced past. After this visible and impressive evidence of the king's power came the king himself, riding on his famous black horse Savoia, under a golden canopy between two files of velvet-clad pages and attendants, who thrust back the gaping crowd.
Even without the golden canopy and the attendants in double file, the king was recognizable at once by his glittering crown. It was fastened securely on his white hat, between black ostrich feathers, and held in place by a wide band passing under his chin. His long, flowing blue velvet cloak lent an appearance of massive dignity to his slight figure and concealed his thin,rickety legs; his breastplate under a doublet of gold brocade arched his sunken breast. His huge head, with its unhandsome, irregular features and long wry nose sat close on his artificially broadened shoulders; his bulging eyes shone with an expression of self-satisfaction that was seconded by the inanely rapturous smile on his big twisted mouth; between that glance and grin the face looked as if it were covered with mucus.
It was a strange campaign. He was leading a powerful army which fought no battles: every city opened its doors to it; it marched unopposed and conquered unimperilled. Piero de'Medici hastened of his own accord to meet Charles and offer him the keys of his fortresses, and while the republicans of Florence swept away the hated Medici regime Savanarola in his pulpit acclaimed Charles as the Sword of God, the new Cyrus and the new Redeemer. (The Tragic Pursuit of Perfection by Antonina Vallentin, c.1938)
Today we have an inherited realm in North Korea led by another of Nature's little secret jokes; a short, fat, self-adoring, tousled-haired, platform-shoed dictator. Ah, but one beloved of his people whose sycophantic choruses of mass adoration resound throughout the land. Or so he believes, or so we are led to believe. One thing is clear: North Koreans, like so many other peoples of the world are a close ethnic, tribal group who value themselves highly and exude a national pride blinding them to the direction in which their Dear Leader has taken them.

Basically that direction is a dire social structure, a ripe harvest for death by starvation. Whereas one famine after another has struck the country, North Korea, by official diktat, spends an inordinate amount of its national funds on arming itself against its enemies who, it asserts, want nothing better than to invade and subjugate it. Therefore, its need to arm, and to arm without stint; nuclear weaponry or be damned.

So it is: nuclear weaponry and be damned. This bizarrely irrational, irascible dictator convinced of his mission and his godliness, demonstrating his conviction so convincingly that his million-strong armed forces and his underfed population of twenty-three million sad souls stand squarely behind whatever death-dealing promises he offers.

Kim Jong-Il's flatulently harranguing bombast has borne fruit in the strangest of ways. Bluff does actually work. With it you can manipulate an entire population through the evocation of national pride. We've witnessed its efficacy with Iran's Prime Minister, we recognize its handiwork with Kim's. And it works too on the international scene - recent events of the last decade attest to that.

It works because this kind of blunt aggression takes reason by surprise, suppresses dissent, creates an atmosphere of helpless inevitability difficult to surmount. Reasonable people find it difficult to believe the scenario and the promises that such threats give fruition to. They believe instead that something they have done through oversight has caused this anger directed against them and if only they work unstintingly to undo the harm they have unleashed all will be well.

This egotistical troglodyte whose very present makes pear trees bloom out of season, and whom Nature salutes by sending evidence of his divine presence is not one of a kind, but is the right person in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing to persuade his various audiences that his threats and provocations are not the nightmarish essence of a diseased mind, but rather a legitimate threat to the world.

Well, he is undeniably mortal, and a very sick one, physically and psychically, but able nonetheless to persuade others of his legitimacy. This is the herd mentality we suffer from, and an insecurity that sane and intelligent people when faced with lunacy allied with threat evince in the face of their disbelief. Yes, it is a nightmare, but it won't go away when we wake up.

Kim has glorified militancy, and his military. He has given them free reign, fed them well, promised them glory. They offer their allegiance to this caricature of a human who has caused too many sleepless nights for the populations surrounding his country. What army wouldn't adore and support with their every breath that ruler who will arm them with the latest inventions of warfare, the most deadly threats to their enemies?

While threatening his neighbours and by extension the world at large, Kim has wined and dined his supporters, given them bread and circuses and one can only wonder are these urban North Koreans ignorant of the deathly fate of their rural counterparts? Can North Koreans really believe that their leader has visited sublime glory upon them by successfully detonating a nuclear device and making the world sit up and take notice?

Will the world feel secure in continuing to prop up this bizarre situation by sending food aid unconditionally to the starving rural population of North Korea while standing by and doing nothing concrete to rescue the world at large from the Kim regime?

Will an embargo on the shipment of "luxury goods" and UN-mandated inspections to ensure that nuclear knowledge does not leak from North Korea to other rogue regimes be sufficient unto our future?

Seriously, Mother Corp.!

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, originally patterned after that once-venerable radio broadcasting corporation in Mother Britain, The British Broadcasting Corporation (now known so flatteringly as "The Beeb") is not now what it once was, alas. Once we Canadians felt inordinately proud of our very own CBC, the voice of official Canada, broadcasting across the country, representing every little enclave of the Canadian experience, an antidote to the brash and rude radio broadcasts elsewhere on the dial.

News broadcasts were rendered in beautifully enunciated English (or French, on Radio Canada, the French-language counterpart), cleanly, clearly explaining the matters at hand in a neutral, news-advancing formula, utilizing officially sanctioned vocabulary and phrases; news readers and announcers selected for the well-rounded plum-ness of their oration.

Canadians took pride in our public broadcaster, in the verity of its vision and the delivery of its product. We took pride in the fact that we held such a unifying vision that we would dispense tax dollars in its unkeep, that to dial onto the CBC broadcast was to listen to deliveries of programmes that we paid for ourselves, not through the intrusively-nasty medium of paid advertisements.

Canadians who loved classical music knew that this was the source through which they could satisfy their inner urges to listen to music of unalloyed beauty, celebrated justly over the years for its ability to soothe our senses and clear our minds of the detritus of everyday life, if only for the brief period of its presentation, yet permitting a psychic renewal to each of us.

Gone. That which was is no more. Yes, there are still quality programmes on the CBC, segments which persist in offering to its appreciative audience sublime music, useful and penetrating interviews and analyses, but these have become the greatly-appreciated exception in the larger sea of inanity. Fact is the CBC administration, not satisfied with its role, reaches out to wider audiences in a bid to outdo the pedestrian programmes of private broadcasters which cast a far wider net, bringing them a greater portion of the listening (and viewing) public.

In the interests of that wider net, the CBC trolls for a younger, more hip audience for whom music is a livelier, more highly audible, crass and decidedly unmusical experience to its traditional audience. What's more, the CBC has embraced paid advertisements in its television broadcasts and muses from time to time about expanding paid advertisements to its audio broadcasts. Calamity upon calamity.

The CBC saw fit to close down local broadcasting operations, where the local element of its broadcasting served the intimate needs of local listeneners. That, perhaps more than any other single decision, left its traditional listeners feeling adrift and cut-off from the comfortable feeling of ownership and pride in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Henceforth, broadcasting would take place in key urban centres and the far reaches of Canadian habitation be damned.

Much worse, though, is the fact that the neutrality once such an integral part of public broadcasting has slowly been eviscerated and what we have instead is news reportage tinged irremediably with a leftist slant. The news is now delivered with a definite note of condemnation when it offends that slant, and a discouraging bent toward tugging its listeners' apprehensions toward the broadcasters' take on events, nicely discrediting its own credibility.

The CBC has lost its way, and that's a huge shame. They've triviliazed their role, and their very reason for existence. For who needs a public broadcaster, still on the taxpayer dime, espousing the self-interest of a political mindset not shared by all taxpayers? And who needs a public broadcaster that will deliver a news story about a dreadful accident and treat the account of the accident as though it had negligable human value?

To wit: Mid-day news on Sunday delivering details of a horrendous highway accident in Toronto where people were killed and others suffered life-threatening injuries. A tractor-trailer hit a van broadside; the van, with a carrying capacity of seven passengers carried ten people. Many of the van's unfortunate passengers were visiting from out of the country. The news reader's delivery was a description of the tractor-trailer "T-boning" the van.

This casual disrespect for the lives of human beings, the lack of gravitas in reportage of a story in the lingua franca of this nature is sad. The chirping young female news reader was delivering her news item to the nation at large ostensibly, but in reality to a hip young crowd which appears to take nothing, even transient human tragedy too seriously.

Mother Corp. - count me out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Islam - the Good and the Bad

In its earlier days when Islam was in its glory, it was truly a beacon unto the world. Islam embraced its own search for knowledge about the world around it. It perfected the most exquisite forms of architecture. It gave the most sublime art to the world, alerting other artists in the West to other artistic expression which were wholeheartedly embraced, along with elements of Islamic architecture. Islam gave birth to one of the earliest academic institutes of learning in the world. The perfection of Islamic poetry was world renowned and of surpassing beauty.

During the Golden Era of the heights of Islamic culture it embraced the presence of other schools of thought and other religions, permitting them with some strictures to remain under its protective wing, and encouraging among them too, by its very outreach in the areas of astronomy, philosophy, mathematics and medicine, to flourish and become an integral part of the era.

So where is Islam now? Its modern interpretors have hesitated to introduce reforms in recognition of a changing world. Islam's outreach has been vast throughout the world, but too many of the countries for whom Islam is a way of life have abandoned all but strict allegiance to the Koran, utterly negating the progress in intellectual and civil life that earlier Islam had pioneered.

Muslims have become increasingly inward-looking, outward-rejecting. Grievances better forgotten have been nursed to a point where a collective angst of lost glory informs a mob convinced that Islam has been forced to take a back seat to the rest of the world; while other countries progress and their citizens take advantage of a kinder way of life, Muslims are allowed to fester in their anger toward the world.

As such they've become ripe pickings for the truly wayward element among them who seek to avenge their perceived slights against Islam on an unprepared world which does not quite understand the level of the deadly hostility directed against it. Dialogue, exchange of opinion, attempts at understanding and acceptance prove fruitless under these circumstances as a result of the depth of the hostility directed against all those deemed to be infidels.

The way to deal with the West has become that of dire threats followed by sinister plots and finally deadly attacks. That no one really benefits from this trajectory of disassociation and violence doesn't appear to have occurred to the jihad-bent Islamists among the Muslim community. But the average Muslim, that person who sees value in the exchange of good will, and is willing and able to live in harmony with others is also threatened.

Thus we see moderate Muslims, attempting to live in peace with their neighbours receiving subtle threats; if not outright fatwahs, then thinly-disguised ones. Anyone impolitic enough to criticize elements of Islam that appear to contradict one another is targetted as an enemy of Islam and must go into hiding. Muslims have allowed themselves to be used as instruments of repression, even those who identify themselves as moderate Muslims. They see value in claiming their religion, their Prophet and their God to be insulted beyond endurance through the incidence of critical review or comment and demonstrate through an incendiary group-mentality that transgressors are fair game for death threats.

In view of which one can only marvel at the courage it must take for a Muslim living in the West, viewing his Christian or Hindu or Jewish neighbours as equal to himself, and unwilling to permit radical Muslims to enact their scenarios of chaos on an unwary population, aids and assists authorities in the detection and apprehension of criminal elements from among his Muslim community.

That there are such brave and high-minded individuals who recognize that harmony is the only way disparate ethnic groups and religions can live together in peace is the saving grace for us all. But only if that single courageous voice is joined by others of like mind among his community.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Expediency of the Poltical Stripe

Too bad, really too bad when he was looking fairly attractive. If intelligence is a boost and academic credentials make it even better, aligned with a background of teaching international law and human rights, and what's better, believing in both, then he's your man. Aspirationally the next Prime Minister of Canada. For the moment, though, first step on the ladder to that achievement: Liberal party leadership candidate for the aspirational role.

Some may question his suitability to such high aspirations, given that he's been absent from Canada for decades, making his international reputation in Britain, then the United States, and viewing Canada from afar. But the political bug bit and evidently bit down hard, so here he is now in Canada, and having successfully run during the last federal election, he has a seat in the House of Commons representing a Toronto riding.

He looks good, he sounds good, he tries hard, he is determined. Not that the other Liberal leadership candidates present all that much of a challenge. Several superannuated former Liberal cabinet ministers in a previous, now-discredited government. Best of all, a former New Democratic Party leader who gave sound proof of his ability to govern as a former Premier of the Province of Ontario. What a line-up.

But they're running and they're serious about it, and running hard. Michael Ignatieff must have been fulminating to himself silently, cursing the day that he seemed to casually dismiss as the bad fortunes of war and happenstance the death of innocent civilians during the Israel-Lebanon war when Qana was bombed by the Israel Defence Force. Certainly his regard was badly soured by Muslims within Canada.

Certainly at the time he could have been assured that his initial reaction was a fairly reasoned one, given his theoretical experience, and his knowledge, even at a remove, of the characteristics of the two opposing groups and the provocations and circumstances which initiated hostilities. The Government of Israel made it clear that their forces faced an adversary who deliberately placed civilians in harm's way by drawing fire directly into densely populated areas. And the IDF had, before responding to the rockets lobbed its way, warned Lebanese civilians to leave the theatre of war.

Furthermore, it was later revealed that much of the carnage that the world viewed through videod footage of the event was staged. Yes, there were innocent civilian victims who died tragically in the attack, and yes that alone was deplorable. But the circumstances were trumped up, and the numbers who died were inflated beyond the truth. And the true facts of the event will always be open to conjecture.

But his response at the time ensured he made no friends among the French-Canadian population either. Bad karma. Quebec is a province that can deliver a lot of Liberal votes, and Quebecers were decidedly unhappy with his initial response. So, Michael, what do you do to woo back undecided voters who hang their alliances bright and bold in Quebec to the extent that they will stage a public and vocal parade of a protest condemning the "unprovoked use of force" by Israel against the poor Lebanese, holding aloft the flags and insignia of Hezbollah?

Why, months later, when you're feeling really, truly desperate to win and win at all costs, you do the politically expedient thing and apologize for the attitude and the words that look to cost you your aspirations. An interview on a popular Quebec talk show is as good a venue as any, and there you can apologize for your much-criticized comment on the state of the way war works, and condemn Israel for a "war crime".
"It was a mistake. I showed a lack of compassion. It was a mistake and when you make a mistake like that, you have to admit it," he told the French-language Radio-Canada program Tout le monde en parle. "I was a professor of human rights and I am also a professor of the laws of war, and what happened in Qana was a war crime, and I should have said that. That's clear."
Actually what is crystal-clear is your desperation to win over the reluctant votes of the Quebec electorate during a federal election. You're doing well now Michael; that was a stroke of brilliant timing. And you've also managed to please the Canadian Islamic Congress. Now Mohamed Elmasry too is taking back his earlier rash words of condemnation urging Liberals to choose anyone but you as their leader. At one stroke you've won back both French and Muslim voters. Nice going.

Ah, Michael, Michael. Such sincerity, Michael. What would your father say?

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