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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Four Stars!

Let's hear it for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, a dedicated group of Muslim women who are attempting to help other Muslim women bridge the gap between what they feel their faith requires of them and how to match that with their responsibility toward their place in Canadian life.

Many Canadian women not of the Muslim faith have questioned the lack of willingness of Muslim women to become engaged with the larger population of Canadians, to express their desire to be viewed as Canadians espousing Canadian values, and to undertake an acknowledge of the understanding of basic Canadian values.

People who meet in public who are strangers to one another still have a common bond. We are all human beings, we require similar circumstances in life to flourish; we harbour human emotions not the least of which is the requirement to be accepted as we are. Canada's values give that assurance. Pluralism, tolerance, equality, freedom of expression and religion are extended to all its citizens, by law.

The opportunity for economic advancement, for formal education at all levels , for social acceptance into the wider sphere of Canadian life is extended to all who enter this country. Immigrants are extended additional supports to help them adjust to Canadian society, to learn the languages of the country, to become comfortable in its environment.

That immigrants too have responsibilities remains fairly unspoken. Earlier immigrants to Canada realized that they had to work hard to move their personal agendas forward, with no assistance from government. Yet these immigrants gladly adopted Canadian values which were so often widely divergent from those their home countries provided.

Now a group called Interfaith Ottawa also has become involved to an effort to assist Muslims in their adaptation to Canadian values and societal mores. Yasmeen Loubani, writing in an Ottawa newspaper feels that the obviously political decision by some Muslim women to impose their wearing of niqab and the burka in public on their fellow Canadians is purposely divisive, and so do most other Canadians.

One has no wish to share good feelings or greetings or an exchange of information with one who will not permit herself to be seen as an open-minded human being. While most people realize that to harbour ill feelings toward someone who takes to deliberate physical coverings as a means by which separation can be realized is wrong, the natural inclination is to treat an niqab-covered woman as invisible, for such she is.

Canadians are not given to flaunting their differences in ethnic and cultural origins; rather they generously share those differences, demonstrating to the others around them the value of their traditions, while accepting the newly-accepted values of their host country.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

To Serve and Protest

What is it about the police? They're supposed to protect society, right? Against the criminal advances of the underworld, against crooked activities, against threat of personal violence, against even traffic violations. Right? Well, they do. That is, we've simply got to believe that a goodly proportion of those whom society entrusts to secure our rights and freedoms, our bodies and our belongings take their jobs seriously and perform their duties to the best of their considerable abilities.

That's the upside. And then there's the downside. Who can forget the O.J. Simpson trial; a man whom the world at large knew to be guilty of the heinous crime of murdering the mother of his children and a male friend, in a truly horrendous manner. It was the clumsy and illegal manoeuvring of a police detective brought to light that secured a release for this murderer, in a well-publicized backlash. Now the murderer just doesn't want to go away and fade into the twilight; he twinkles his guilt merrily at us; thank you officer.

There's a sensational story of a 91-year-old woman in Atlanta who brought death upon herself by firing deadly rounds at drug enforcement agents converging on her drug house in search of confiscatory materials and dealers. These old babes are really tough; only one way to deal with them, shoot 'em dead. Oh dear, the story the media reported was twisted - say it isn't so! The police lied, nothing of the sort happened; they just shot dead a frightened old woman in a botched operation. Too bad, the old lady is a long time dead.

Wait: here's another one. A young black man out with his friends to enjoy a last night of bachelorhood before his oncoming marriage scheduled for the following day. Exiting a club, some mayhem ensues. A lot of people have imbibed, there are loud voices, accusations, people trying to separate themselves from a scene of chaotic police intervention. And oh darn! there's another one dead. Good thing Mayor Bloomberg is on top of things, conducting an investigation, so rest easy.

Which brings to mind just exactly what it is that separates and differentiates law enforcement officers from that element of society that thrives on criminality, that thrills to defying society's defences against crime. Both sides, the law enforcers and the law breakers appear to respond happily to large doses of testosterone; they each love physical challenges. One operates against the law, the other with the law, and both manage to contrive similar outcomes.

Let's count the ways:
  • Well, there's the instances of tough physical abuse on occasion when police officers are busily engaged taking suspects into custody;
  • How about severely assaulting suspects while they're in the lock-up?
  • Plundering confiscated items from drugs to weapons;
  • Accepting "gifts" and financial rewards for turning a blind eye;
  • Actively dealing in drugs, the avails of prostitution, stolen property.
I suppose there's plenty more instances, but I'm a distant onlooker, merely exercising my imagination on the basis of specific and many instances of which I've read, tut-tut.

Society needs to ride herd on her malefactors and to do likewise with her defenders. There appears to be an awfully thin line between the criminal element and those engaged to uphold public safety and security; sometimes dimly perceived in practise.

Interesting Development

So we learn through the news media that an English-language newspaper published specifically for Palestinians is set to make its debut. Good on them. The purpose of the publication, it is stated, is to ensure that the Palestinian viewpoint is available to both Palestinians at large and to the world.

Heretofore Palestinian issues have been seen through the lens of Western reporters. Interesting observation that; I've read far more news reportage through various sources in the West which displayed an obvious bias on behalf of the Palestinians than for Israel. It would therefore seem to me that the Palestinian point of view is more than adequately aired.

One wonders about the content of such a newspaper, under these observed circumstances. Will this be a sincere attempt at neutrality? Or will it continue to be a skewed type of reportage, reflective of most Arab news media. Skewed? Well, that's rather a kind descriptive of what generally turns out to be rabidly anti-Semitic, anti-"Zionist", anti-Israel venom reported for internal Arab delectation, watered down somewhat in English-language versions for the world at large.

Al-Jazeera, which claims to practise neutral, objective journalism, generally does a relatively fair job of their reportage, but they don't see anything amiss in printing articles by rabid anti-Semites, as though these too demonstrate sound and legitimate news reporting. To the present time, Al-Jazeera, viewed throughout the Middle East, including Israel, and beamed to Europe and North America represents the most balanced type of reporting coming from the Middle East.

Will this new printed news outlet make any attempt at fairness? It's interesting to note that the new paper already has secured permission to distribute within Israel. One wonders, do any of its English-language Israeli counterparts have like permission to distribute in any Arab countries? Doubt it. If we're looking at even-handed reporting, and most observers of the passing scene are agreed that this is what history-in-the-making requires, the brand-spanking-new newspaper could attempt to emulate its Israeli counterparts.

Which would be to criticize where criticism is due. To bring to light all matters, favourable and unfavourable to their cause. All in the interests of fair play, a display of journalistic ethics, and shining the light of truth into dark corners. Israeli news media have never been particularly loathe to bring their country's politicians to task when this is just due. Wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air to see an Arab-published newspaper produce even a modicum of fairness in reportage?

Won't be long now, before we can begin to judge for ourselves. Intriguing, is it not?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pity the Orphan

It is so dreadfully sad, is it not, when truly the disaffected among us, convinced of their disadvantage continually gripe and bitch about their lot in life. They have burdensome needs that no one else must grapple with. Life has been so unfair to them. They live in a continual state of want and insufficiency. Yet they have pride, and why shouldn't they?

They are imbued, despite their bitter aspect, with beauty (although grace continues to elude them) and culture (deriding everyone else's lack of same) and tradition (despite a bitter history not of their making) and a mellifluous language (effectively negating the need for another, universally-used one). The ill-will they bear toward others within their own family tries the patience of even the most family-dedicated member of the extended family.

Their continual carping and whining wears thin the cheerful acceptance that other family members and friends of the family send their way in hopes that eventually, this sad case will outgrow its whining adolescence and finally mature into a fully-functioning, accepting part of its own family. Hope springs eternal. Blandishments and sincere apologies from those whom they claim have wronged them in the past are shrugged aside. They will not be placated. The fire of their anger consumes them.

Do you recognize the entity behind the smouldering resentment and obdurate sense of righteous entitlement? Certainly you do. Quebec, the cranky petulant child of the Canadian family. The jealous, bad-tempered child who moans that someone else got a larger marshmallow and they demand equity. The larger marshmallow is accepted grudgingly, then a further demand: assymetrical benefits.

Yes, one big happy family. The parents of this family are determined that each of their beloved children will benefit equally from having been born into this family; their children are equally loved, equally valued, equally endowed albeit in their own inimitable ways. The diversity of character expressed in each of these children, their various concerns mark them as somewhat different one from another, but basically they have long imbibed identical values and despite occasional family quarrels they are comfortable together.

Oops. Have I yet mentioned Quebec? Oh yes, of course I have. The one who charges its parents that its siblings are better loved and cared for. You'll be sorry, the tempestuous pouting child warns darkly. You'll regret abandoning me, insisting that I be treated just like the others. I'm not! I'm not like them! I'm different, I'm my own self! Yes, yes, say the parents soothingly, we know, we know. We love you for what you are.

The child sulks and skulks away to a dark corner, dreaming about its parents' grief when they discover its lifeless body. I'll kill myself! That'll teach them! It will be all their fault. How could they do this to me? I'm precious, they tell me, yet they treat me just like all the others. How precious can I be to them then?

Anyway, the miserable child weeps, they can't be my real parents. I was given to the wrong parents. Someone else got my real parents. Someone else has taken my place as a royal princess. And that's simply intolerable! My real parents would love me, give me everything I want. I don't belong here!

Was I adopted? the child asks its parents. That would explain so much. No, the parents respond, eyeing their demanding child warily, you were not. You are our very own child, an integral part of this family. We love you, your brothers and sisters love and admire you. What more can we say to prove it to you?

Even if I'm not adopted, the child screams hysterically, I'm different, I'm special! So there!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Beware - and be Aware

Warning! This common consumer device should be handled with care. In the wrong hands (too young, too old, too ill, too irresponsible) its use can be deadly. Every time we purchase a tool or device, hand-cranked or electrical, the manufacturer includes a warning. The warning consisting of the most elemental common-sense cautions when using any item that might conceivably pose a danger when used.

Don't immerse this radio in water when using. Do not place the plastic wrapped around this item on your head; you may experience difficulty breathing. It's not that the manufacturers consider the general public to be idiots - not exactly; they're just taking sensible precautions to cover their asses. We do live in litigious times. Times when, just coincidentally, people feel entitled to anything and everything, and feel no personal responsibility for choices which they themselves make.

So perhaps on second thought people do have an inborn tendency to idiocy, if we can equate idiocy with an insouciant disregard for cause and effect, for self-determination, for the others with whom we are surrounded and with whom we share living space, be it in large households or cities with teeming roadways of vehicles making their way through suburb to city and back again.

People are living in good times in much of the world, where resources are shared nicely to a good extent, and medical science has greatly advanced the quality and length of lifespans. And wouldn't you think that a corollary to growing older would also mean growing wiser? In the sense that one's experiences through a life long lived in fairly good conditions propels one to feel a sense of gratitude in time and place?

Where is it written that individuals past the ripe age of three-score and ten have the right to drive their personal vehicles on public roadways untroubled by the certain knowledge that age has conferred a number of additional qualities upon them, none of which they have deliberately sought, but with which they have been saddled. Shorter attention spans, slower response times. Compromised eyesight, propensity to wandering minds, less limber limbs and extremities.

Older and wiser, health-impaired individuals should have gained sufficient knowledge over the course of their years to acknowledge the need to haul themselves out of their personal vehicles, off the roads and highways. To put a halt to practising the vain conceit that driving is a right, not a privilege; a necessity, not a selfish convenience; a familiar, comforting habit, not a deleterious deceit of old age inimical to driver and society at large.

Yes, there are additional tests required periodically of older people to ensure they are capable of driving and reacting well on the road. Somehow, too many incapable drivers seem to slip through, regardless. I'm a senior citizen, not yet a senior-senior citizen and I am appalled at the crumbling physical condition of aged drivers; creased and grey, barely able to haul themselves out of their vehicles and locomote.

They're white and trembling, overweight to morbidly obese, barely capable of walking a few steps unassisted yet they're behind the wheels of cars, vans and SUVs; the latter ensuring they survive in a crash while others be damned. Why don't concerned family members along with the family doctors break the news to granny and granpa that they've had their time behind the wheel and it's time to let go...?

Afraid of being written out of the will perhaps? Concern for the beloved elder's state of mind should this last vestige of past mobility-enhanced lifestyle and the independence it asserts be taken from them, leaving them more vulnerable to depression? Are they willing to take upon themselves the responsibility of their aged relatives' lack of responsiveness in critical situations?

Here's a nice one: a newspaper item, discreet but there all the same, with a photograph of a nice old geezer, 86 years of age and missing. Last seen several days earlier at his home: eyeglasses, balding grey hair, he drives a grey 1998 Buick Century with veterans' license plates. He suffers from Alzheimer's disease and numerous other physical conditions, the news item further revealed.

That Buick is a nice heavy car, he'll come out of a collision all right one guesses.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Step Right Up, Ladies and Gentlemen - Take Your Pick

How many corners have we? Contenders aplenty, but corners there are four. We will, therefore, adjust our vision to the four sufficiently elevated in public opinion, support and anticipation to give them precedence over the others. Martha Hall Findlay, forgive us, but you don't quite qualify. Don't be so belligerent, my dear, you haven't, despite your protestations, a chance. Experience? none. Background? to those who love you. Potential? Why not, just not this time. You know that old dispiriting line that newly-schooled job-seekers always hear: We need someone with experience.

Well yes, you're right, of course you are. There is exerience and then there is experience. We're talking here quality of experience, not merely experience. You know how it is. Be a good girl now and just go away. The Liberal party is not ready for a woman. It's questionable whether the country is ready for a woman. We've had a female Prime Minister. Well now that was a real quirk. She was highly intelligent, brash and decisive too, but lacking experience; why else would she tell the truth?

All right now. Let's see, who is on first? We'll take it by percentage attributes through pollwork, all right?
  1. In this corner is: Michael Ignatieff! A heavy contender some would say, and they're certainly right. He has impressed a lot of people. And disappointed a whole lot more. For a highly intelligent individual he has a sorry habit of letting his mind guide his voice. Rashly, having later to pick up the pieces. We can't afford ambivalent back-tracking in our first minister. He's quoted as having said: "I'm not only not perfect, I'm very fallible". Yes, he is, he certainly is. His considered opinion should be left in his cranium at such critical times. He leaves caution to the winds. "It's about making very careful judgements about what's in the interest of the country, and trying to get Canadians to agree with you on what the interests of your country are," he has said. Trouble is, his judgement has been found wanting, and he has exercised it questionably in trying to get a certain segment of the Canadian voters to agree with him. In criticizing Prime Minister Harper he claims: "He plays politics with everything", which is exactly my point: not that Mr. Harper is seen to be doing just that, but Mr. Ignatieff himself. Witness Iraq and Afghanistan, China and Israel. Vote for this man if you will. Should make for some interesting verbal jousting and pyrotechnical illuminations in the House of Commons.
  2. And in this corner we have Bob Rae! Political animal extraordinaire, from an extinguished political family, Mr. Rae has had extensive experience in governance. Ontario will never forgive him. Bob Rae has learned a great deal since his unfortunate stint as NDP Premier of Ontario. Trouble is, he experimented with the Ontario legislature, business and labour, the people of Ontario, their well-being - and failed miserably, while he was gaining his experience. Now re-born as a Liberal, he lacks somewhat in the trust department. Canadians just rescued ourselves from the Liberal governments of Chretien and Martin, both inept, both inefficient, both corrupt. Bob Rae is the inheritor of Jean Chretien's vision of Canada, with all the background Chretien machinations supporting his candidacy. Vote for this man? Go right ahead, make Stephen Harper's job even easier and more secure.
  3. Who is that over there? Ah, Stephane Dion! A nice man, a very nice man. Earnest, eager to do the right thing. A champion of Canada, a unified, undivided Canada. Aren't they all? Aren't we all? In his favour: The chair-switch game of French alternating with English, a discredited, absurd formula for ascension to the Prime Ministership. He has intelligence, toughness and passion, but so have I, perhaps not in the same generous proportions, but I'm not running for PM and he is. His campaign chair is who? Don Boudria? tell me you're kidding. I like the man, I really do. I just cannot see this man as Prime Ministerial material - even though he has qualities that Jean Chretien should have had, but did not.
  4. That's a dim corner over there; can hardly see - ah, Gerard Kennedy! Another good-hearted person. Canada needs more of them. Mind, how he ended up with the Liberals rather than the NDP is beyond me. He certainly has a vision. One has to automatically respect someone who views his life's work as being the manager of a food bank - two food banks yet. But look here, he looked beyond that and realized he could do more, much more for the people of Canada. Could he but persuade sufficient numbers of his sterling qualities and qualifications. Both of which appear somewhat dimly realized. And unfortunately, a unilingual Canadian for the highest office in the land is a non-starter. You cannot learn on the job.
Kennedy supporters will not move over to Ignatieff, but may move to Rae; could move to Dion; if they share his vision - they're too left for Ignatieff. Ignatieff supporters might view Rae as anathema, could move to Dion, but both he and Kennedy are too leftish for the more right-learning Ignatieff. Dion (despite his disavowal of Ignatieff's "nation" support) supporters might find common cause with Ignatieff because of his "nationhood" recognition for Quebec, while shunning Rae for the opposite reason. Rae supporters might move to Kennedy or Dion but likely not Ignatieff; there's no love lost between the two groups now, reflecting the lost friendship between the two candidates. Hey, all those candidates may just scatter helter-skelter and there goes logic!

And the winning candidate? Martha Hall Findlay!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Agreements and Definitions

There it is, said. Quebecois represent the ideal of a nation. Have we got a deal? Not bloody likely, more's the pity. Bend over backwards and get your ass kicked. Sensible people will be satisfied. The defensively-entitled (offensive by definition) whom nothing will ever satisfy will scream bloody murder and try to edge ever closer to fragmenting this country that is Canada.
  1. Nation: A distinct race or people with a common descent, language, history of political institutions. (We can add to that the unifying principles of) culture, traditions and values.
  2. Country: Region or territory of a nation. Land of birth. Land in which one holds citizenship. The father- or motherland.
  3. State: Organized civil government. Politicial community with government recognized by the people. Federal republic. Commonwealth.
Fairly clear distinctions.

The descendants of the original French settlers of Quebec form a nation by the defining commonality of descent, language, history of political institutions, culture, traditions and values. This distinct nation would also include those descendants who have migrated elsewhere within Canada.

This would not, by definition, include those many immigrants who have settled within Quebec to become citizens of Canada and residents of Quebec who originally hail from other countries, and who have brought with them their own unique culture, original history, traditions and who now adjust to a recognition of the political culture within Canada, their adopted country.

However, whether we speak of Quebecois recognized as comprising a nation, or the many other citizens of Quebec who do not fit into that category, these are all resident-citizens of the Province of Quebec, and by further definition - since Quebec is a province within Canada - Canadians.

Canada officially recognizes over one hundred and sixty separate First Nations. We are a country of disparate nations come together to form a unitary country. A multinational country if you will. Canada has been blessed in its growth and prosperity with the vigour brought to it by people dispersed from around the world and welcomed to Canada.

Canada is as much a country of immigrants as it is a country of three original founding nations: English, French and a vast multitude of aboriginal first-Canadians.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Long Wait

Took long enough. Canadians are a tough lot, we don't give up, and we keep hoping. So what did we get for our patient slogging and fairly tolerant anticipations? Well, one dud after another, one disappointment following on another. We had high hopes because we are after all, gullible and naive, traits most humans share to one degree or another.

But look here, in the most improbable of sources we finally appear to have achieved something. By default, to be sure, but it's there anyway: A country's fondest hope realized - a leader. A man of courage, decisiveness, a pragmatic thinker, a moral leader. Oh we've been there before.

We thought we had a leader with all those attributes, and more. History may still champion that man, but at this juncture his good points look dimmer and the thorny issues around his governance still prick us. Yes, it's still early in the governance of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but the man has grasped so many initiatives, taken charge of so many troubling issues - given us pause to reflect that he may, after all, be the man we Canadians deserve.

Not the kind of "deserve" as when we flagellate ourselves over having voted in yet another dud, and state with group wisdom that a country gets the governance it deserves when it deserves no better than what it inadvertently voted into power. This election was a squeaker, most people had their very lively doubts, and little wonder. We are not a Conservative nation by nature. On the other hand, we may be coming close to discovering that we are this kind of conservative nation.

We're learning to appreciate a leader who acts on the strengths of his convictions. A leader who isn't paralyzed by his personal incapacity to discern solutions to the country's problems, a man who is resolute, intelligent and embraces commitment. Ah, a man of uncommon common sense. Above all, a reasonable man and a man for all seasons.

Yes, he has much to learn, but we too have much to learn, mostly about this man's character and why it is that he is capable of solutions that appear to elude so many other seemingly capable men.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Older and Wiser?

What's that funny old line? "We get too soon old and too late smart". How about that other one "older and wiser"? Well, somehow there's a general feeling in society at large that people as they age become wiser. Presumably because they've lived longer and experienced more. Presumably because they've been given the opportunity to learn by witnessing events, by behaving in a manner acceptable to their culture, social standing, religion.

So what on earth can you say about a woman, mature in years, who seeks to murder to avenge what she perceives as a wrong against her culture, her religion? Is this cultural relativism at work? Or is this a kind of prehistoric tribal madness? Actually, there was a story out of Atlanta today too, that of a 92-year-old woman shot dead by narcotics police who had advanced on the building in which she lived for the purpose of making a drug arrest in a run-down area of the city.

Weren't they surprised when they were shot at, and three police wounded. Perhaps not surprised, since law-breakers like those who feel selling narcotics is a business whose pursuit shouldn't be interfered with by policing and law agencies are often armed and lethal. Their real surprise came when they entered the building, were shot at, shot back, then discovered they'd shot a 92-year-old woman wielding a very lethal instrument of death. So much for age and wisdom going hand in hand.

Well, what I'm writing about is a different story, no less shocking, but rather more so, in that this was a 57-year-old Palestinian woman who set out to become a martyr for her cause in avenging the IDF's accidental bombing of 18 Gazans in Beit Hanoun in response to rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Logic there is none. Reasoning absent. Hatred aplenty.

This exemplary Palestinian mother of nine children, grandmother of 41 approached Israeli soldiers near her village carrying an explosive device. She blew herself up, managing for her efforts to lightly wound three Israeli soldiers. It took several minutes before the armed wing of Hamas took ownership of the event. Exulting that Fatima Omar Mahmud al-Najar carried out her "martyr operation" on behalf of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

There was the obligatory taped video message shown on television stations, with this hate-filled grandmother in a Hamas bandana and a white veil, cradling a Kalashnikov. From babies of her own to cradling grandchildren, to babying a Kalashnikov, the better to murder someone else's children with. She "sacrificed" herself, she stated for god, the nation the Al-Aqsa mosque. Her relatives glow with pride. Relatives converged on the family home to congratulate the woman's children.

So wisdom may come to some, but severely elude others. It's a culture thing, one supposes, where an older woman can find salvation and joy in the deliberate murder of other human beings, convinced that she will be rewarded by her god for the deed done on his behalf. She has left her family pleased and proud.

Top that one.

The Idea of Self

One has an idea, a vision of one's self. What you would like to be, whether this concerns health, wealth, position in society or the far more meaningful essence of self as an ethical, moral, perceptive and compassionate human being. Whereas the latter instruments of being prepare us for the potential of realizing ourselves as responsible and caring individuals, the former are mere wishful appendages to a human lifestyle.

Inherited values within a culture, early exposure through example, informs the inner self. Choices, subliminal and obviously aware, are made and the self becomes autonomous. Always within the framework of the larger society, its pervasive social mores and customs. Human beings require, for their greatest comfort, approval of others, we have an ingrained need to belong to like groups. We also revel in the opportunity for social, cultural, educational and personal advancement.

Absent those critical advantages there is a crossroad of choices. To remain an individual and to cultivate those elements of personality and achievement which nature and nurture have endowed, or to cringe in lonely abandonment and submit to a life of emotional and practical deprivation. Very few people deliberately choose the lives of outcasts, most cling to a recognizable group whose traditions and values reflect one's own.

Self reflects the affiliated group's shared history, traditions, mores - augmented by realization of where the individual can comfortably fit into the whole. Progress in realization of self can be made where relative freedom to exposure to education, meaningful work opportunities can be available. Those opportunities are plentiful within societies which practise gender equality and acceptance of those not from within the dominant culture.

Pity those individuals, children, men and women whose life performance and ability to advance in thinking, education, lifestyle choice has been severely strictured by a society held fast to a tradition which owes its culture and mores to a restrictive and mind-deadening religion, one which continues to have its sacred texts interpreted in a reflection of its ancient past.

Self is contained, religion is paramount, public life is heavily structured toward continuation of a strict code which in and of itself precludes the introduction of any kind of social, scientific, medical and civil advances. Private life becomes a refuge without personal growth and satisfaction.

The idea of self then becomes what respected elders or religious interpreters permit one to believe and to act out; total repression.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If Not Syria, Then Who?

Here we go again. Never enough deaths, never sufficient in the way of political assassinations. It is the tribal way, it is the manner in which, through millennia, tribes competing for territory and resources, recognition of their place in the hierarchy of religious sectarianism have solved their problems. It is unending, enduring.

Lebanon can have no peace. Both from within and without. Historically its neighbours have looked at its beautiful natural resources with envy, hoping to incorporate that wealth into their own grasp, much as was done historically with Palestinian lands, considered potential booty by avaricious Arab rulers. When an uneasy peace settles in and the population feels relatively secure then those who have other plans for the country pluck the peace to pieces and leave chaos in their wake.

The irony here is that the country's external enemies and their proxies were in any event on the verge of leading the country to civil war. Hezbollah, through Hassan Nasrallah claiming it had the support to undertake a larger portion of government in leading the country, spoke determinedly of its intentions to go to the street, to foment demonstrations to bring the government down. The intent of which is to initiate a civil war, one they feel confident of winning, and securing the government for themselves.

Themselves? As puppets of Syria, since Syrian domination of Lebanon fit so comfortably and Syria is beside itself with grief at its ouster by the Cedar Revolution, that poor uneasy alliance of temporary reprieve. Now Hezbollah claims rather ingenuously that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, just the latest in a string of political opposition murders: "There is no doubt at all that those who carried out this crime want to push Lebanon into chaos ... and civil war". Right, they should, after all, know.

Lebanese cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel, whose father Amin Gemayel is a former president of Lebanon - and whose uncle Bashir Gemayel was the same age, 34, when he was assassinated in 1982, just days before he was to be sworn in as president of the country - is the fifth member of his family to die a violent political death. A member of the Christian Phalange party, Pierre Gemayel was a stringent critic of Hezbollah, of Syrian influence in Lebanon. Phalangist leaders have, in the past, worked toward expelling PLO supporters from Lebanon, in the process intimating support for peaceful relations with Israel.

However, poor misunderstood Syria heatedly denies it had any hand in this murder. "This charade of blaming Syria for every malicious event in Lebanon has been exposed a long time ago and is simply losing all credibility" went an official statement from Syria. "Syria is outraged by this terrible act." Oddly enough, the world waits to be convinced.

The UN Security Council, at the urgent request of Lebanon's current governing body and its president, Mr. Siniora, has endorsed an international tribunal for the purpose of bringing suspects in former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination to trial and justice. Like Mr. Gemayel, the highly regarded Mr. Hariri was a strong opponent of Syria's highjacking of Lebanon's sovereignty, the raping of its resources. UN probes thus far have uncovered evidence validating claims of Syria's involvement in Mr. Hariri's murder.

Lebanese protestors, outraged at yet another political assassination of Lebanese patriots blame Syria, its Lebanese supporter Michel Aoun, the Shia Hezbollah, itself the proxy army within Lebanon of Iran, anxious to consolidate its Shia hegemony in the country. Even Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations fear a nightmare expansion of Shia Muslim power. The trajectory is clear to them: from Iran to Iraq, to Lebanon, and from there an inexorable spread to the Persian Gulf.

Bashar Assad has proven to be his father's son, a worthy successor to an autocratic trouble-maker within the Arab world. Syria has much to answer for.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Human Shields, and Proud of it!

What could we have been thinking? Pointing a finger of shame at Hezbollah, at Hamas, for their nasty proclivities in exposing civilians to harm by installing themselves among dense civilian populations, the better to launch rockets at Israel? Why did the West think that this manouevre, the use of which had several obvious purposes, was a matter of shame to Muslim Arabs? Did we consider the practicality of so doing to the Islamist terrorists?

That they would benefit from sheltering themselves among crowds of civilians to avoid detection? That should their presence be known to the enemy, the crowded civilian environs would ensure they would not draw fire? That they could and most certainly would benefit from firing off rockets with the intent of drawing retaliatory fire from those they attack, so they could demonstrate to the waiting world how monstrous the Israelis are for hitting civilians? This is quite the technique, and it has been brought to perfection by Muslim terrorists.

Of course these are not the only perfidious tricks in their arsenal of terrorist warfare. These terrorists also co-opt the use of ambulances for discreet cover, to convey munitions and Islamists, and then to cry foul to the world when their ruse is discovered and they're bombed. Failing the bombing, they haven't been averse to claiming to have been bombed presenting fabricated evidence, and that always gets world opinion boiling.

Now that we're thinking of the various ways in which convention has been turned on its head, decency buried deep in the sands of Arabia, how about that old standby of a white flag signifying surrender, peace, cease-fire, a search for safety? That white flag too, to deter enemy fire, has been use to great avail by Hezbollah terrorists, and most successfully; they're drunk with the ecstasy of their success.

Things have become a little clearer now. They've gone from denying their use of human shields to overtly and loudly demanding their human shields do their duty to the larger good of the community of terror. Now a call for civilian shields can be launched from rooftops for all to hear, from mosques for the faithful to assemble and arrange themselves as soft targets for incoming missiles.

Of course, they do know their enemy. They do very well know that Israeli soldiers somehow don't fancy targeting and hitting civilians, men, women or children. That in the face of what the Palestinian community considers to be defiance against the oppressor, the community becomes complicit in the outrageous acts of barbarism by the terrorists among them.

Those same groups of innocent civilians protecting their heroes who consider the lives of Israeli civilians fodder for their campaign of terror, could, should they so wish, inform the terrorists among them that their behaviour is unacceptable to civilized communities. But they do not. They agree to the declarations, terms and conditions that the terrorists among them place on their compliance.

These champions of Palestinian justice who are so eager to claim as many innocent civilian lives among Israelis as they possibly can are to be protected. Does that then render the civilians complicit in the deaths of Israeli citizens? Do they even think that far ahead?

And should they do so, do they care?

Give it Back

Interesting story that. Most certainly it is. That large sections of West Bank settlements are legally owned by private owners. Palestinians who have never been compensated for their ancestral properties - if, indeed, they even would be willing to part with the land. Data compiled for the government of Israel itself indicates that fully forty percent of the land currently used by Israel is privately owned. This data comes from a 2004 study of the Civil Administration controlling Israel's presence in the West Bank.

The Israeli group Peace Now, advocating on behalf of Palestinian self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza strip plans to make the data public, and advanced a copy of the data to The New York Times. The data, including maps indicating the government's registry was surreptitiously obtained by Peace Now by means of an official within the Civil Administration. The situation represents violations of private Palestinian property rights by the Israeli government and by settlers.

Officials advise that a committee struck to solve the problem has been investigating the outstanding issues for several years, but the problem is under ongoing investigation. They state also that some Palestinians hesitate to sell their land to Israelis fearing retribution as collaborators, and that most certainly is a legitimate fear, given the propensity of Palestinian "activists" to seal their disapproval with murder.

Some of the lands in dispute, about 54%, is considered to represent "state land", or land that has no specific designation, which may represent agricultural land that had been expropriated by the state. Whatever the situation with investigation into legal ownership of the lands in question, the fact remains that there is a great deal of land in the West Bank that the State of Israel intends to maintain.

There should be a high priority placed on bringing this overdue matter to a close.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ambitious Hezbollah

Once again Lebanon is in crisis. When is Lebanon not in crisis? Occasionally, when everyone thinks they've solved the most immediate problems and the Sunnis, the Christians and the Shi'ites are living together in an uneasy understanding of co-operation. At those times things seem good; expatriate Lebanese visit, see the quiet and order and think it might be possible to re-locate, come back to Lebanon, the beloved country of birth.

But then, there's Hezbollah. And then, there's Syria. And let's not forget Iran. The devil's triumvirate. Where would Hezbollah be without its sponsors, after all? Where would Syria be without its never-ending hopes to once again control Lebanon. Where would Iran's bolder aspirations to recognition of titular head of the Muslim world be without its tentacles here and there and everywhere; funding and training Hezbollah, reaching out to do the same with Hamas.

For the time being, a local focus on Lebanon. Sheik Nasrallah is doing his masters' bidding in engineering the hoped-for collapse of the current government of Lebanon, a working coalition representative of all its citizens; Druze, Christians, Sunnis, Shias. Terror-king Nasrallah, basking in his newfound fame, feels fairly cocky, calling on the Arab street for support.

What comes first in importance? Dealing in terror, mass murder, population annihilation? Or murky political one-upsmanship? Well, Sheik Nasrallah deals both equally. Thumbing his nose at the UN-mandated ceasefire obligations, Hezbollah will not only not be disarmed, it continues to build on its deadly armaments.

The better to attack you with once again, dear Israel.

In the meanwhile, Lebanon's government will crumble, Hezbollah will kindly take up the slack to deliver the country once more into Syria's greedy hands, and Iran will declare its satisfaction with its planned trajectory - right on target.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

His Mother's Son

Why on earth is the news media giving space to that tedious little bore? Why must we be insulted by articles quoting this twittish son of a famous man? Who among us really wants to be made aware of his insubstantial musings, his uninformed intellect-lite opinions? Let alone be confronted with his quasi-modest admissions of born-to-greatness reluctance?

Justin Trudeau, give it a rest. Go home to your nice little wife, adore her and get on with life. Your private life. Kindly do not continue to inflict yourself on an obviously reluctant public. You needn't grow into the name you were born with. It's abundantly obvious you already have; it's all there to be seen. You may continue to feel weighted down with your lot in life, if you so please, simply cease and desist from weighing us down with your considered opinion.

It seems, alas, you have inherited little from your father's vaunted intellect. It is your obvious misfortune to have inherited a tad fewer genes from him than from your mother, so given to public hysterics, a thespian born. Your puerile need for public attention so closely reflects your mother's - that truly is a great pity. Learn to live with it while being aware of it, and do your best to override those truly stupid impulses.

Do something with your life beyond irritating the hell out of Canadians, some of whom recall your father with pride and affection; others who most definitely do not. We have moved on. Time for you to also.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Global Hero

Truly a hero for our times. Most particularly at this time when wars, civil unrest, nations beleaguered by interior and exterior threats struggle to maintain themselves. Here is the life's work of a modest man, a good Muslim activist for change, one who has devoted himself to alleviating the plight of the poor where he can. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded this year of 2006 to one who is truly deserving of that recognition, quite unlike some of the past recipients to whom this world renowned prize has been given.

Muhammad Yunus launched his vision, a concept of providing meagre loans to very poor people in underprivileged settings, within newly-developing economies. Economies which, in reflection of all capitalist economies awards loans to those whom it deems will pay back loans with healthy interest, conventionally excluding the poor.

It is not just in third-world economies that the poor cannot find the relatively few dollars they need to pull themselves out of their dire living conditions, but in developed countries as well. His theories and his practical solutions will spread, contrary to received wisdom, to enrich and potentialize the lives of those in the developed world.

It has always been easy to discriminate against the poor, because they are poor and they have no one willing to trust their innate abilities, their need to better themselves, their desire to provide the material wherewithal for their families; their potential to prosper. Mr. Yunus is that rarest of people, an economist with a clear and undiluted vision, the recognition that all people are imbued with similar needs and poverty should not be the end of the story.

He realized that very small (micro) loans would be sufficient for people who had absolutely no credit, no money, to enable them to initiate very small beginnings. A penny made is a penny saved, and poor people living in critically insecure situations began to feel empowered by these scant funds made available to them - for the purchase of livestock (one hen, then another, eventually a flock), an earning device (sewing machine, one garment produced, another client assured).

Mr. Yunus began to experience his expectations. The poor people to whom life-saving loans were granted when no other avenue was open to them, slowly but surely paid back their loans with interest. And they were thus able to establish a good credit rating, enabling them to make additional loans whereby they were able to grow their small businesses. And his bank made a modest profit, and the idea grew as the people began to prosper.

Now he is also pioneering the placement of suitably small but efficient banks situated within villages which the people living there can make direct contact with. These same banks are the outreach of his original idea of microcredit. Mr. Yunus has restored ability and capability and pride among an indigent population which, because of lack of opportunity stayed poor with all the attendant woes that brings upon people; lack of shelter and food and medical treatment. Lack of hope.

This is a revolution in thought and action.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Parliamentary Civil Debate

There is debate which accomplishes worthwhile initiatives, which leads to understanding of dire and inimical situations at hand. Debate which may not reach total agreement of solution, but debate nonetheless which has a purpose and a meaning, that of bringing people together in a common cause. When that cause leads to peace after long and gruelling debate meant to bring people together, to smooth the creases of suspicion and misunderstanding, there is meaning, and the purpose is clear: to foster a climate of trust.

For debate to succeed some grudging element of trust must be held by opposing sides of any argument, else why bother? If one group impresses upon itself the need to listen carefully, to solidify opinion post-discussion in the hopes that a spark of goodwill may lead to cautious co-operation, it helps immeasurably. If the opposing group comes to the discussions with inalienable grievances which brook no expiating explanations, intent simply on assigning blame, then it appears obvious that the two will remain islands of bitterness and ongoing conflict.

The following transcript published in yesterday's on-line edition of Arutz-Sheva - Israel National News is instructive and at the same time depressing to any who might hope there might be avenues opened between Jew and Arab in the ongoing battles for survival:

Deputy Defense Minister Sneh (Labor) evoked a storm of protest from Arab MKs by saying, "If we kill civilians, we accept blame, but when you kill civilians, you take credit; it's a cultural thing."
Yesterday's stormy Knesset session began when Arab MK Honeh Soueid (Hadash) delivered a speech, harshly condemning Israel for what he constantly called the "massacre and slaughter" of 20 Arabs in Beit Hanoun last week. The incident occurred when IDF artillery fire designed to thwart ongoing Kassam rocket fire in Gaza accidentally hit a residential building.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh then took the stand, beginning by thanking MK Soueid "for bringing up the issue so that I can straighten out the story accurately." Excerpts from the session:

Soueid: People were killed and you want to be accurate...?

Sneh: You think that if you interrupt me, I won't say what I want to say? ... I can promise you one thing: You won't like 90% of what I have to say... Why did we start the military offensive in Beit Hanoun? To protect the citizens of Israel, to attack those who fire Kassams and who store up war material to use it against us. This was the objective; there is nothing more legitimate than that.

Arab MK Muhammed Barakeh: Little children [who were killed] are terrorists?! [screaming wildly] It's a shame and a disgrace! [continues to scream out at Sneh]

MK Moshe Sharoni [Pensioners Party]: You just want to get your picture in Al Jazeera.

Barakeh: Shut your mouth, stupid!

[more screaming, Barakeh is finally ordered to leave by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik]

Barakeh to Sharoni: Shut your mouth!

Sharoni [in Arabic, apparently a bit taken aback by Barakeh's furious hostility]: Out! Out!

[This exchange is repeated several times, until finally Barakeh is taken out, while continuing to yell]

Speaker Itzik [with a sigh]: Then they talk about the 'image of the Knesset' and that we 'have to come towards...' You heard [that exchange], MK Gal'on [of the radical left-wing Meretz party]?

MK Gal'on: I didn't see you 'come towards' when Barakeh was talking...

Itzik: Oh, really? OK, OK... Deputy Minister Sneh, please continue.

[Arab MK Ahmed Tibi starts screaming...]

Deputy Minister Sneh resumes speaking: "On Nov. 7, from an orchard on the outskirts of Beit Hanoun, rockets were fired towards Ashkelon. On the next morning, we received warning that it would happen again, and therefore two artillery volleys were fired [by the IDF] to that spot. As a result of a technical fault in the second volley, tens of innocent people were hit. We see this as a grave issue, a catastrophe, and a failure. I assume that those who fired the rocket on Ashkelon, if they would have hit dozens of innocent people, they would have seen it as a success.

MK Tibi screams: You're just clearing yourself! [unintelligible]

Sneh: No, no, Tibi - that's the difference of our cultures; that's the whole thing; that's the difference in our values.

[Tibi and other Arab MKs start yelling wildly]

Sneh: I promised you that you wouldn't like what I had to say. ... You cannot evade the point that when we hit civilians, we see it as a failure, but those who shoot at us see it as a success; that's the difference, you cannot evade that! [more screaming] I came to speak here in order to respond [to the charges of slaughter] and there is a limit to what we are willing to hear. [Tibi and others keep screaming]

Sneh: ...After the extent of the catastrophe became known, we enacted a series of urgent humanitarian measures. The worst of the injured were taken to hospitals in Israel, and even though it was a battle zone, we allowed in trucks of medical supplies, we opened the Rafah crossing, and we did whatever possible to alleviate the unjustified suffering of these people.

Tibi: And then these Palestinians didn't even say thank you, what nerve of them!

Sneh: We didn't expect a thank you, we did what we thought we had to do.

[more interruptions]

Sneh: We didn't expect a thank you, I don't think we even deserved it. I think that we were responsible militarily, and we did what we had to do.

[Tibi continues screaming, Speaker Itzik threatens to remove him]

Sneh: Now that I have said what I wanted to say regarding military responsibility, I will discuss the moral responsibility. [raising his voice] Those who turned Gaza into a launching ground of Kassam rockets against a civilian populace, are responsible for those who were killed. Last September, we left Gaza, and we didn't leave a single thing - not a house or even a guard booth. What justification is there for what you are doing?! [Quiet] Why are the Rafah and Karni crossings half-closed?! Because the people sent by the terror organizations always want to blow up these places, the arteries that provide life to Gaza! They build a 600-meter tunnel - what are they thinking when they dig them?! Who will benefit if they blow up the Karni Crossing and Israelis and Palestinians are killed? And then later they'll complain that there's no milk or flour... What are they thinking? [quiet] Who destroyed Erez [Industrial Zone], where 5,000 Palestinians worked and made a living? Who destroyed it? The terrorists!

Tibi: And that's why you fire at Beit Hanoun?

Sneh: We fire at Beit Hanoun, Tibi, because they turned it into a base of rockets and missiles against Ashkelon and Sderot. There is no country in the world that would tolerate such a thing! Take this account to Islamic Jihad and to Hamas, and tell them this - give your ethical speeches to them, not to us.

When the debate finally ended, though the Arab MKs favored a formal Knesset debate on the Beit Hanoun incident at a future date, the Knesset voted to accept Sneh's proposal to remove it from the agenda.
There you have it, an intelligent discourse between rational parliamentarians, Jews and Arabs. So then, why not address why it is that when Israel is responsible for the deaths of Palestinian civilians they feel remorse and shame and beg for understanding of the circumstances. And why is it that when Palestinians succeed in deliberately murdering Israeli civilians there is jubilation and a feeling of accomplishment.

Hysteria from Palestinians and Arabs at large when civilians die as a result of misadventure, due to situations which Arabs have themselves engineered - and genuine regret from Israelis who deplore the inadvertent deaths. The reverse simply does not happen; Israelis are deliberately targeted for death for no reason other than that they are Jews, dispensable for the larger cause of Palestinian liberation, and the more the better to push the cause along.

Ah, communication. Setting aside deadly antagonisms for the prospect of mutual co-operation leading to peace between the two communities does not appear to be a viable option in the Arab mind. And why might this be? The Arab MKs felt it more expedient to flare into violent expressions of accusation, not to listen to rational, reasonable explanations.

Kassam rockets continue to slam into Israeli soil, toward towns and kibbutzim whose residents live in daily expectation of death. Yesterday one such rocket slammed down in a Kibbutz beside a children's nursery. Today another Kassam hit the town of Sderot, its deadly shrapnel wildly seeking soft targets, succeeding in hitting two people. A 57-year-old mother of two died; a 24-year-old man, both legs amputated. The rocket hit close to the home of Israel's Defense Minister.

What other country in the Middle East enables the election to public office of those within its borders who seek its destruction?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gay Pride Parades - Rainbow Games

No one begrudges gays, lesbians, transvestites their health and happiness, their pride in their sexual orientation. Society has finally accepted alternatives to what have always been considered the norm in gender roles. Respect for alternative gender lifestyles is fairly well guaranteed, given most peoples' heightened sensitivities to the rights and freedoms guaranteed all people in secular Democratic societies.

But then, there is the matter of sensibilities. All of us has an obligation to the others around us, those who share our public spaces, to honour peoples' right to their own orientation whatever it may be, with due empathy and sensitivity. Matters of sexual orientation should be a private matter between consenting adults, but it has been moved into the very public arena by the very same people to whom the majority have extended the acceptance of understanding.

Most well-adjusted people, be they heterosexual or homosexual or asexual do not advertise or flaunt their preferences and proclivities. Of all things private, sexual orientation is, and certainly should remain a private matter. After all, who really cares? Do your thing and let me do mine. But I'm not all that dreadfully interested in the details of yours and I won't bore you with the details of mine. Deal?

It is my personal opinion that since gender orientation is such a private matter it should be removed entirely from the public sphere - as in the production within the public sphere for public delectation by all of society, of Gay Pride parades and Rainbow Games events. These are private affairs of celebration which should take place in private spaces. Celebrate to your hearts' content, but it is your celebration, not mine. Rent a suitable indoor space and go to it.

In the case of athletics, if they're to take place in a public atmosphere, remember they should be paid for from funds brought forward by the community affected. The Montreal Outgames have rung up a $5.3 million deficit, having relied upon the sale of 35,000 tickets to the public, where a mere 3,000 were sold. The Outgames owes its suppliers, has a huge debt as a result of provincial government loans, yet remains unapologetic and demands bail-outs.

Reality doesn't work that way. Gay Pride parades too have run short of cash and have appealed to municipal and provincial governments for financial assistance. These are special-interest groups that benefit a small segment of society, not to be compared to the needs of children with physical or mental impairment within that same society truly deserving of government support.

There is an utter lack of sensitivity to the sensibilities of the balance of society demonstrated by that relatively small number within the gay community who feel themselves particularly entitled to services and celebrations not on offer to other groups, and why would that be? Because these exhibitionist, juvenile mentalities seek notoriety, want to be noticed? Who really cares? Why should we, and why should taxpayers ante up for something as bizarre as a disaffected societal group intent on nursing old grievances?

Give it a rest.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Oh, Really?

Germany finally saw its way clear to recognizing its moral responsibility to return properties confiscated from Jewish owners during the Second World War. Having done which, Germany now appears to be having second thoughts. Now, why would this be? After all, it is a moral and ethical imperative that one must right a wrong, and there is no dispute that material possessions taken by force from their Jewish owners should be restored to the owners or their descendants.

In many instances, the original owners were dead, either by having had their most precious possessions, their lives and those of their loved ones, taken from them following the confiscation of their mere material possessions, or the years took their toll, and the properties were transferred to heirs. If the original owners were prosperous in their assimilated lives as German Jews, there was no guarantee that their living family members' lives would parallel theirs in wealth.

So, properties were returned to those who could prove they had legal entitlement to artwork and other possessions through family ties. For under German law, items that were parted with under duress must be returned to their owners or their heirs. Now, however, a debate is underway as a result of a predictable situation: heirs seeking to dispose of the valuable objects through remunerative auction.

Well, what exactly is the problem? Legal owners of property of any description have a right to dispose of their property as they see fit. Should they wish to endow a work of art to a public institution they may do that; should they wish to sell a work of art for substantial financial gain they may do that too under the law. Germany, however, appears not to see the obvious in such black and white terms.

While valuable properties were confiscated from Jews under the Third Reich where Jews had no official status other than vermin to themselves be disposed of through mass gassing, there seems to be a bit of a hiccough here in official understanding of what the return of said property means. Ownership confers rights, and those rights are legally constructed as the legal entitlement to do as one wishes with one's legal property.

Did the German government think that by returning confiscated properties to rightful owners, and in the process salving a nation's conscience; more, appearing to the world at large to be behaving honourably, they should also have a say in the disposal/dispersal afterward of property no longer in their hands?

Is this an instance, another instance of mass hypocrisy, or just plain old stupidity/cupidity? Righteousness now? Over what, exactly?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Rabbi Bulka, Have You Forgotten?

Where were you, most esteemed man of letters, undeniable personage of note. We understand, recognize and appreciate your dedication to Judaism, to the furtherance of understanding between peoples. We acknowledge your activism in the name of accommodation toward inclusiveness, in society and with respect to other religions. Your wisdom and empathy have gained you much-deserved admiration and respect. You are a good man.

Dr. Bulka, Rabbi Reuven Bulka, where were you today? We observed the proceedings at the National Memorial, before the beautiful Cenotaph erected to honour Canada's fallen soldiers, those who gave their lives in the battles in which Canada took part to ensure peace and world stability. You are the military chaplain of the Jewish Canadian Military Museum, and it is your presence that we greet at these annual ceremonies representing the face of Canadian Jewry and those Canadians who fought for Canada in the world wars and beyond.

Yes, we know, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day had the misfortune to fall upon the Jewish Sabbath. As an orthodox Jew, as the rabbi of an Orthodox Jewish congregation you are traditionally forbidden to take part in such public events, or so one would assume. You conveyed a formal regret to your Christian counterpart to be read out on your behalf (on behalf of Canadian Jews), indicating that the Sabbath forbade your participation on this signal event.

Rabbi Bulka, you should have been there. Did you forget that you represent the entire Jewish community within Canada on this occasion? Did you overlook the fact that not all Canadian Jews have religious affiliations? Did it slip your mind that many if not most of those Jews who fought for Canada and for our freedom were likely not orthodox Jews, and many of them would have been secular Jews? Jews, withal.

Yours was the privilege, the honour and the duty to represent all of the Jewish community in paying our respects and humble homage to those from among the community who fought on behalf of the community, on behalf of those of our brethren whose lives were forfeit by their geographic circumstances and the murderous intent of a megalomaniac dictator. They fought for us, they fought for Canada, to preserve the freedoms we hold dear.

We are so utterly dismayed at your unfortunate decision.

The good rabbi's response:
Thank you very much for your thoughtful letter.
I too deeply regretted not being there today. Specially with the tenuous, dangerous situation of our dear young soldiers standing on guard for freedom in dangerous places.
My Christian counterpart hopefully delivered not just regret, but also my entire message. The Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, which I have the great honour of serving as Chaplain, fully understand this situation.
The issue is not only the matter of being there. It is of breaching the Sabbath regulations in the way that I participate. We looked at ways of getting around it, but there were none that worked.
It is unfortunate, but please take into account that if I had breached the Sabbath, I would have insulted the many Jewish people today, Orthodox and, even non Orthodox, who still respect the Sabbath protocols. Not to mention the many generations of Jews who died rather than compromise their faith.
In a way, not being there was the greatest affirmation of what our heroic soldiers achieved, namely setting up the parameters of religious freedom that allow practitioners of all faiths to adhere to their principles.
I thank you for feeling free to share your views, to share them in such a sensitive and caring manner, and for your kind comments.
I hope that my response to you alleviates somewhat the upset that you feel.
Be well.
Rabbi R. Bulka

Yes, he is a good man, an honourable man. Do I feel his generous explanation justifies his absence? No.
Do I feel personally placated? No.
This is not a personal affront, it is a symptom of a singular lapse of judgement in an otherwise supremely intelligent and empathetic person.
Does he still have my respect? Yes. There are reservations.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How About That Ralph Klein?

Yep, Yep, that's Ralph Klein all right, always saying the inappropriate, always bringing attention to himself, his brash and somewhat demented take on life and politics. He's one of a kind, all right. And for that, thank heavens for small mercies. He's on his way - out the door, leaving politics and none too soon. On the other hand, while he's leaving active politics, it's not all that likely he'll be leaving the public stage. Gosh darn it, he just enjoys his notoriety too much.

And doesn't he have his admirers, yes indeed. Mostly male, I would hazard a guess. How the hell does his wife put up with him? Because he's cuddly and oh so cute, could that be it? She's willing to overlook his gross stupidities, his lush (oh sorry about that) sense of humour, his bumptious red-necking? Women can be as mysteriously strange in their acceptance of men's godawful predilections, as men can be ignorant of the awe-inspiring effect their lack of civility can have on gentle society.

As though hapless, rich, beautiful and judgement-impaired Belinda Stronach hasn't been sufficiently insulted, here comes Raaalph! How the bloody hell can such a doltish character have risen to such an exalted (just a minute here, while I exhale) public post? Good thing he was presiding over oil wealth in Alberta and not managing the kitty in Quebec or Prince Edward Island. When you've got natural resources of that kind to play around with, how much can go wrong?

Nothing delicate about Ralph Klein's constitution, his robust popularity with the great unwashed and his truly one-of-a-kind sense of humour. Um, one-of-a-kind? perhaps not, since the assembled audience of the "roast" at a charity event in Calgary found it downright amusing when he gave forth, not with a belch, which might more suit his style at dinner, but with a low-down and very common piece of smut directed at another politician.

You've got to say this for old Ralph, he has the instincts of a natural-born buffoon. His idea of shared humour at a mixed-gender social event for the Calgary Homeless Foundation, will surely not reflect kindly on the host charity. Klein's coarseness is inappropriate in any setting, but particularly insulting at a fund-raising for a charitable enterprise.

Good grief, let's not sully any more newsprint with the lunatic grin on that man's visage, so pleased with himself, so unappealing to civility in public life.

Lewd and crude, that's the Man.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mind Boggling!

I heard it this morning, listening to the radio. From somewhere on the radio waves emanating from an American station. Obviously, a station that loves its pranks, its little practical jokes, its unfortunately successful forays into the idiocy of public opinion. Here's how it went:

A roving reporter, in a public space, querying passers-by at random in a variation of these two questions: 1. What do you think of Barak Obama? 2. Is Barak Obama a threat to the United States?

Seemingly without hesitation the responses shot back with confidence. Men and women, young and old, cultivated voices, rough parlance, they all averred in one way or another that the named was a threat to the United States. Barak Obama, think fast now. Um, sounds kind of like Osama bin Laden. Right!

This person-on-the-street interrogation as a flawless measure of the general state of awareness, involvement and responsiveness of a random sampling of one of the world's strongest, most committed participatory democracies. An informed, well-educated public, after all, is the best guarantee of the democratic principles preserved for posterity...right.

The responses were somewhat varied, sometimes offhand, sometimes expansive, but all, every one of the responders acquiesced to the notion that Barak Obama was a threat to the United States. Oh yes, and to the world at large, another thoughtful respondent added. Some younger voices said they weren't staying up nights sleepless over him, but they didn't trust him, no, not at all.

One woman thoughtfully summed up her opinion by pointing a finger of blame at the U.S. administration, saying that they would like the people to be frightened, to keep them in their place, to enact restrictive anti-privacy, anti-rights legislation, but she could see right through their pretences. He was a threat all right, but so was the administration, in her considered opinion.

It is entirely possible that the sampling heard over the radio, some twenty or so respondents, didn't represent the entire body of responses, that some people questioned might have laughed and said: Barak Obama, are you kidding? He's a United States two-year Senator, highly regarded, being touted in some circles as a contender for the 2008 presidential elections - and definitely for the 2012 elections! What're you trying to pull off?

Wouldn't we like to believe that most people responded in a variation of that tenor, a recollection of who the man is, what he does, the kind of reputation he has among political pundits...?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Imelda who? Oh, Marcos

Hey, former first lady turned entrepreneur, how about that. She is planning on marketing a line of irresistible accessories and sports shoes to appeal to the tastes of young hipsters. Cheap, inexpensive jewellery and sneakers. Imelda knows all about jewellery and she knows all about sneaky. Her personal selections of jewellery and footwear were anything but cheap. Top of the line for Imelda.

Imelda's dictator husband Fernando saw a winner in the beauty queen and hoisted her alongside himself at the helm of the Philippines whose population was as poor then as it is now. Only back then they might have had a chance to lift themselves out of their endemic state of poverty under the tutelage and administration of a wise and caring head of governance, something denied them by power- and money-hungry Fernando, aided and abetted by pleasure- and luxury-loving Imelda.

In their ostentatious twenty years of rule, they managed to loot ten billion dollars from the impoverished nation, and stash it abroad for safekeeping. They took bank deposits, shares, jewellery, art and property before an army-backed popular revolution threw them out of office and out of the country. He, the pompous generalissimo, and she the blushing beauty enamoured of extravagence beyond compare.

While she still faces legal charges of corruption and graft and countless civil suits over billions of dollars in wealth amassed during her husband's rule of the country, as well as illegally transferring millions of U.S. dollars overseas, she remains unperturbed. She may have been transformed from a state of fabled wealth by stealth to but she is determined to once again attain a state of recognition, adulation and self-generated wealth.

This famed beauty, faded to opportunistic booty-seeker will have her own brand of accessories and trinkets to sweep the desires of young people in her country and bring them to fruition through the acquisition of her offerings.
"This is more than about money because money can only buy you food and things like that, but only beauty can feed your soul and your spirit," said Mrs. Marcos.
She walks in beauty like the night, and generously offers the opportunity to achieve the ownership of beauty to those who would part with their meagre earnings. The better to enrich her with, of course. So, the offerings are low-cost, glittering jewellery, bags and trainers. Nothing like her famed collection of 1,500 stiletto, designer footwear, but practical, moneys-worth trainers.

Does Imelda really have, can she really promise gullible young Filipinas anything they would want?

Spector versus Stronach

Once a respected political commentator who still may have the ear of (un)biased and (un)critical readers and observers of the passing scene in the Nation's Capital and elsewhere in Canada, Norman Spector has gone a long, long way to superannuating himself out of the public sphere of political comment. It's truly a shame, but the man has given himself away. He may always have been a lout, but who knew? We read his informed analyses of political events and nodded in agreement or disagreement depending upon one's political orientation and personal take on the event at discussion, but that's past, not present.

At present we see and hear a crotchety old geezer who, in his heart of hearts just cannot get past gender politics. Women, according to Norman Spector should be seen and not heard; and come to think of it seen in the boudoir or at the opera on the arm of some sugar Daddy. Women like Belinda Stronach should heed the voice and conscience and political savvy of men they are attached to. Belinda Stronach had ample opportunity to listen to her Daddy, and she decided nonetheless, the wayward wench, to go her own way.

Another opportunity was presented to this ungrateful wretch, in her much-storied alliance with Conservative Peter McKay, when she was herself a member of that party - oops, that should be the New Conservative Party's Peter McKay. He was elected to the post of leader of the Progressive Conservative Party when in his wisdom he accepted integration with the Alliance/Reform party to give birth to the New Conservative Party. Got that? The New Conservative Party is not the Conservative Party of old. But not to disparage it entirely (how tangential can you get!) for it, and its leader are certainly leading Canada in a manner we deserve.

Back to Belinda: she decided, Jezebel that she is, that she was not a New Conservative at heart, but rather a Liberal, a party whose platforms and ethos more clearly resembled her own. And at a critical time in that party's then-state of governance, and her own private love life, she made a difficult and many would comment, peculiar decision to aid and assist the former and dump the latter. Which has enraged Mr. Spector beyond endurance, poor man.

When he stated on Vancouver radio that Belinda Stronach was a bitch, he knew whereof he spoke, this man of supreme analytical skills and unavowed misogyny. To quote the man:
"Bitch was an appropriate description because he was using a precise word in the English language to characterize the treacherous behaviour that she showed, and that kind of treachery should be known by the Canadian people who she wants to govern as the prime minister of Canada."
Got that? A woman who feels she knows her own mind and prefers to make her own decisions rather than to relegate herself to appendage status of a man and barnacle herself to his decisions is a bitch, clear and simple. A lot of woman might not think too highly of Belinda Stronach's values and decision-making abilities but they will have ample opportunity to indicate how and what they think of her at the ballot box. Men too, for that matter. But to flaunt such nomenclature?

It must be contagious. I feel a slur coming on. Norman Spector, in my considered opinion, is nothing less, alas, nothing more than a sadly frustrated and obviously troubled has-been. Give the man a well-deserved rest and remove him from the public sphere.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Kids on the Block

What the world needs now is a mass demonstration of common sense, a universal willingness to sit back, take a deep breath and engage in a dialogue of disengagement from threats and bullying. So what do we get? The same old story, only more of it, and who needs it? If one kid on block has this new toy, all the other kids want it too. In this instance, not because this glittering new toy promising hours of fun should be available to all, but because the toy of which we speak is a direct threat to everyone and "everyone" sees ownership of the same threat as a possible deterence to utilization.

And so it would be, if one were dealing with civilized, rational beings, but we are not. The Middle East collective mind is an incendiary one, steeped in millennia of tribal warfare, bloodlust and the territorial imperative, made all the more urgent by the Islamic cant of religious intolerance within the geography itself. Interesting scenario: continual nuclear face-offs. With subsequent withdrawals in the interests of self-preservation. Until, inevitably, under the elevating cloud of a holy Armageddon, the trigger is pulled in religious exaltation.

And, it's game over.

Don't even think of it. Yet they are. "They" being, don't you know, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. How do we know this earth-shattering news? It comes from an impeccable source, for a report in The Times of Britain reveals that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed just that.

Iran started the ball rolling, defying international opinion, and the IAEA, and in the process making pretty well everyone nervous; countries near and far. Because just imagine, nuclear technology leading inevitably to the ultimate weapon in the hands of lunatic Islamists proud of their exclusive heritage and eager to export their religion to every reluctant and unwary country within its eventual grasp - or else, fellas. Does that mean that its fellow Muslim states might be immune to its tender blandishments? Hardly, the history of the Middle East should make that abundantly clear.

So sure, the six aspirants to nuclear technology are nervous too. Some of them can afford to develop the technology, some of them can not, since they've not got oil loot to burn. So why nuclear anyway, when the region is bursting with oil and has sufficient reserves of potential energy production for a long long time to come? For domestic purposes, of course, just like Iran. How could it be otherwise, since the IAEA, in its confirming statement reveals also that they believe these nations are interested in pursuing civilian nuclear energy programs. And in which event the IAEA is prepared to lend support to the projects.
"Some Middle East states, including Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia, have shown initial interest [in using] nuclear power primarily for desalination purposes," said Deputy Director-General of the IAEA Tomihiro Taniguch.
Experts believe that continued Iranian nuclear development was the impetus for the Arab interest in investing in nuclear power. "If Iran was not on the path to a nuclear weapons capability, you would probably not see this sudden rush [in the Arab world]," said Mark Fitzpatrick, a nuclear proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

While the Arab nations claim that they plan to develop civilian nuclear energy, which is allowed under international law, experts speculate that they intend to use the technology to develop nuclear arms. The newly expressed nuclear interest marks a change in Arab policy, which previously had called for a nuclear-free Middle East. Saudi Arabian Prince Saud al-Faisal stated in an interview to The Times several months ago that the Saudis were against nuclear development in the Arab world.
No kidding. Heaven help us all.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

To Niqab...? Or Not

There is no end to the discourse. Europe and the rest of the Western world demonstrates how conflicted it is over the issue of the veil. To veil, or not to veil? This has gone well beyond the particularities of a religion whose conception and rules were written by men and for whom one of the major tenets appears to be beyond the worship of Allah, to subjugate women in perpetuity. That women who have grown into this culture and have accepted it as the burden and blessing of Islam, is one thing.

To have imported it along with all of its political/religious baggage across the borders of Islam into the equality-providing democracies of the West, is quite another. To do so with the pugnacity of entitlement adds yet another dimension, aided and abetted by Western sensibilities which find the practise abhorrent, yet are delicately reluctant to make too great a fuss over it, in the name of political correctness and religious diversity seeking tolerance above all.

When equal-minded, rational politicians, seeking to empower all women in their societies determine to enact laws not permissive of complete body-and-face coverings the public itself is torn between its cherished vision of inclusiveness and that of forcing their values and mores upon adherents of another religion, another culture - without thinking through the obligations of immigrants to absorb those very values and mores which enrich the society, guarantee freedoms unknown in their countries of origin, and the acceptance of the liberation of women to be equal to men under the law.

Muslim women, long subjected to the expectations of the men among whom they live, their fathers, uncles, brothers, Imams, and inured to the rational arguments of the few educated, intellectually liberated and responsible women seeking to bring Islam into the present world, claim to be proud of their perceived need to claim their Muslim heritage by the wearing of the burka and the hijab. One such woman, Canadian Aisha Sherazi, former principal of an Ottawa-based Muslim elementary school writes a regular column for The Ottawa Citizen, as an unabashed apologist for the requirement under Islam to cover women to ensure modesty reigns supreme. In her 4 November 06 column, "Muslim Women Empowered By Niqab) she wrote:

"I always look back at my school tie with a mixture of nostalgia and relief. Nostalgia because I loved my school days and remember them well; my tie reminds me of them. Relief because I do not have to wear the silly thing any more.
"The necktie. A most strange piece of cloth. Tied in a complicated way, it makes it hard to get air into your lungs, and difficult to turn your neck when you wear it. If you're standing near a fan and you're wearing one, it is a health hazard because you could very well be strangled by it. It has almost become a symbol of corporate slavery, power and aloofness. Even though the tie is not what could be described as decorative, many still wear it. The only real purpose it seems to serve is the sense of relief when you get home and take it off. Indeed, I can recall most students tying it around their heads as soon as they left the school gates.
"In our multicultural society, some Muslim women wear the niqab. But when we live in a multicultural society, where the rights and freedoms of all are protected, why is it such an issue when women wish to wear the niqab? Because they are a minority? Don't we protect our minority communities in the West?
"Although wearing the niqab is far from mandatory, a passage in the Koran directs the wives of the Prophet to speak from behind a barrier. Today, some Muslim women adopt the niqab because they wish to emulate the wives of the Prophet."
Obviously, Ms. Sherazi attended a pricy private school, and not an Islamic one, but her heritage speaks louder to her than her exposure to Western-style culture and education and she herself affects a head and body covering and insists on the empowerment of being heard but not seen. Her attempts at puckish humour in her analogies fall rather flat, since there is no comparison between the secular custom of tie-wearing (the separation of those who work with their hands and those who work with their minds) and that of the religious custom of wearing a garment for the specific purpose of hiding women's female characteristics from the eyes of men whose weaker moral underpinnings cannot be relied upon to ensure they respect the presence of women in their midst.

Ms. Sherazi is equally guilty of invoking that chronically-abused defence-cum offensive-claim of racism and discrimination. It's a totally disingenuous argument in a society that bends over backwards and turns itself inside out lest it outrage the sensibilities of easily-bruised Muslim egos. All the more so as the West has learned of late, much to its reluctance to believe that religion could be coupled so readily with irrational, hysterical mayhem, to avoid such encounters at all costs.

Herewith my argument, my response to Ms. Sherazi's response, and those of all those other tedious defenders of the niqab as an empowering element of Islam, in respect of women and their rights:

Muslim women empowered by niqab? Really? Interesting that a 92-year-old Turkish academic, Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, an expert on the Sumerians, a Mesopotamian culture dating to 5,000 b.c. wrote that headscarves were worn by women who worked as prostitutes in temples to differentiate them from women who were priests. How empowering is that? For her troubles, Ms. Cig was charged with insulting Muslim women, linking the first use of headscarves to pre-Islamic sexual rites.
Islam insists that women dress modestly to the point of physical non-existence in complete cover-ups as a religious requirement, and although in many Muslim countries the practise has been discontinued or modified, young Muslim women are beginning to take up the veil where their mothers did not. It's become a symbol of a particular type of political activism. And, in many cases, an exercise in deliberate nose-thumbing at the society in which these young women were raised, a critique and rejection of the social mores and culture in which they have been immersed, and just incidentally also a religious statement of adherence to the dictatorial whims of men.
To paraphrase Aisha Sherazi in her Muslim Women Empowered by Niqab:
The niqab. A most conspicuous piece of cloth. Tied in a particular manner, it makes it hard to get air into your lungs, and difficult to breathe, to communicate, to make yourself heard and understood. If you're standing near a stranger there is indeed no opportunity to acquaint oneself with the other, as the niqab serves the function of stepping well back from social intercourse. It has become a symbol of feminine slavery, disempowerment and helplessness. Even though the niqab is not what could be described as decorative, many still wear it. The only real purpose it seems to serve is the sense of relief when you get home and take it off.

Western society at large looks rather askance at the prospect of encountering another human being in the public sphere and being unable to determine by facial expression the veiled one's intent, or lack of same. Yet this wearing of the niqab appears to be dedicated to the custom in respect of their Imams' direction that it be worn in the interests of preserving modesty and discouraging misinterpretations among the genders. The fact that a minority feel justified in bringing some very particular, very exotic, very easily misunderstood customs to a country which they have selected for its guarantees of freedom, yet choose to remain in thrall to symbols which deny freedom and equality is troubling indeed.
That women continue to eagerly acquiesce in their own subjugation as 2nd-class social creatures to be heard albeit dimly, but not seen, is to place oneself in the arena of children whom adults prefer to see but not hear. Women, adhering to these Koranic-inspired and deciphered dictums conspire with their oppressors, agreeing to cover their physical presence lest they unleash lust in the hearts and minds of blameless men.

Conversely, it is an odd corollary that Muslim men also on occasion accept the utility of covering their faces. So are these men worried that under Islam they too have an obligation not to awaken sexual lust in the minds of helpless women, responding to the presence of men in their midst by an urge they can no longer sublimate? Yet, perhaps not. Perhaps the custom of Arab men covering their faces has yet another connotation; their complete embrace of Islam as death cult. They mask their faces to instil fear, to demonstate their own fearlessness, for they love death, they assert; their own and that which they they bring to others.

The difference, of course, being that their death is seen by Allah as the supreme sacrifice in his blessed name, and they will be amply rewarded through the presence in Paradise by their very own allotted 72 virgins guaranteed to fulfil their every whim as powerful, suicidal, murderous males. As for those they murder in the process of achieving martyrdom, they are inconsequential, either as infidels or failed Muslims. And, if we think things through a little further it may just be that masks, while seeming to these jihadists to be very romantic, marking them for the inhumane murderers that they are, reaping the adulation of onlookers in the Arab street, have another function. That of masking their identity, should they be successful in their ongoing pursuit of murderous rampages against innocent people, yet live to act another day. Their ability to escape identification ensures they will not be detained and incarcerated, thus curtailing their date with destiny. Convoluted reasoning is no stranger to the warped mindset of a jihadist.

But for women, for Arab women, is it not time to embrace the 21st century, the concept of freedom and equality as mature, truly empowered women? There are surely other, less demeaningly-stifling ways to honour one's religion and culture, and celebrate multiculturalism. While they're at it, they could take a closer look at the religion and the culture that so disables their ability to rationally and intelligently determine why they are kept in a state of spiritual, mental and gender bondage.

And that might conceivably lead them to the conclusion that their male jihadist counterparts are doing great harm to their religion, to the potential for a world which can begin to think of living in a state of patient inclusiveness.

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