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

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Veneer of the Trivial

Would that it was truly a veneer. Yet it seems that what should be simply a veneer goes much deeper. The trivial now presents itself as the most engrossing, most vital and celebrated preoccupation to impose itself upon our collective consciousness.

We're a culture engrossed with celebrity, with consumerism, with slight conscience and lack of any meaningful commitment. Most certainly, when a situation arises that looms large in the popular imagination, there's a collective outcry and a passion evinced for "doing something" positive.

But the real essence of peoples' lives now appears to be self-absorptive, acquiring wealth and with that wealth, material goods well beyond our practical needs. We're loathe to diminish our assets, and when we tire of them, prefer to sell them a rock bottom prices through the Internet or through grungy little garage sales, rather than profit charitable agencies that can use them for re-sale or provide them gratis to needy families.

We grudgingly pass over a few dollars to charity and feel ourselves to have done our duty. Or prefer not to support charity, and let others do it for us. When volunteers are needed to give support to agencies providing assistance to the under-privileged, or to enhance the lives of community members, we're just too busy and can't become involved.

The concept of social equality and general welfare resonates with us, quite as long as it doesn't disrupt our singular way of life. We're inspired by the lives and lifestyles of celebrities, and we're driven to repeat the excesses of materialism that we see demonstrated through films and television.

We seem somehow to imagine that the lives we see portrayed through fiction are more meaningful than our own pedestrian lives and we fall over ourselves to emulate what we admire on the surface of existence.

As human beings we have such inordinate potential. Cerebrally, mechanically, empathetically, collectively for the good of the community of which we are a part. But it's such a drag, truth to tell. It's much more entertaining and fulfilling to fall into the otherworld of advertising and public relations, to find truths there, rather than to listen to our own inbred sense of emotional needs and priorities.

We're incapable of setting priorities, of recognizing values that have deep meaning. Our most gripping needs are to transcend the boredom of having it all, because no matter how much we have, it is never enough, there's always more that we could/should acquire, and somehow satisfaction still eludes us.

The calamities, natural and man-made, that befall societies whose human-rights quotient are repressed, and whose populations endure on the edge of subsistence, are not our problems to solve, and we make no effort to beleaguer our brains, not waste thought on them.

The hapless, socially disadvantaged, uneducated among us are not our problems, either. The growing homelessness, child abandonment, drug-addled misfits and welfare recipients in our society are there because they deserve no more than they have.

We're a sad and sorry lot.

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Lies and Vicious Calumnies

What is it with the news media in the West, have they been completely suborned by their unspoken pledge to uphold a collective agreement to paint Israel in the most blighted colours possible, throwing truth and reality to the winds? Guess it sells.

The condemnations that accrue and rain down on Israel for its purported inhumane treatment of a neighbour population that outright refuses to relinquish its vendetta against an upstart presence are cringe-inducing to Israelis, seemingly incapable of mustering the resources to deny slanderous accusations.

During the Israel-Hezbollah confrontation that escalated into semi-war proportions in the summer of 2006, the "political wing" of the terrorist organization proved itself adept at providing western news media with photographs showing Israel in a human-rights abusing light, just as the "military wing" of that group laid the theatricals by staging assaults directly from within crowded population centres.

Doctored photographs allied with vicious propaganda were fodder for international condemnation of Israel. As public relations and media manipulation go, Hezbollah proved downright masterful. But they wouldn't have succeeded as spectacularly as they did without the complicity of the news sources eager to avail themselves of these special resources handed over to them by Hezbollah's agents.

And when it came to cynical manipulation of public opinion, leading to outright censure of Israel, no one knows how to twist reality as well as the Arabs do, they've had a long tradition of doing just that. Their blythe arrogance in flying traditional white flags of truce to avoid fire when they ferried about members of their militia placed real refugees from firing zones at risk, but that hardly mattered to the warriors of terror. About as much as deliberately placing civilians at risk by firing assaultive rockets against the IDF from the midst of crowded residential areas.

The thing of it is, even when astute observers, neutral or partisan alike have been able to determine that damning photographs and the narrative that accompanied them were falsified, nothing unravelled the original damage. The apprehension in the public mind of Israel victimizing those whose sole purpose is to destroy that country remains indelibly engraved in the memory and minds of a readily manipulable public. The original story sticks, it will not relinquish fiction to restore reality.

So when a French appeals court recently overturned the libel conviction of Philippe Karsenty who claimed that the France-2 TV report of the death of a young Palestinian boy, huddled beside his helpless father as Israeli troops shot the boy to death, it was a vindication too long in coming. One that will never resonate with the public for the simple reason that it will not receive anything resembling the wide international media coverage that the falsified film footage had.

Mr. Karsenty, as publisher of a media critique website, Media Ratings, stated that a media report aired in September 2000 by France-2 from Netzarim Junction in Gaza, ostensibly showing the shocking killing of an Arab youngster by Israeli soldiers represented a deliberate and vicious fiction. One that the world absorbed and condemned Israel for.

And which Arabs found useful for the purpose of instilling even more hatred of Israel from within the Palestinian population, as well as the broader Arab world. The Arab League found it useful to dedicate October 1 as the Day of Arab Children, honouring the name of the "dead boy". Iran saw fit to name 150 schools after the "dead boy", a symbol of monstrous Israeli inhumanity.

Yet the Arab father and child, feverishly attempting to protect themselves from IDF gunfire were play actors in a deliberate theatre of public relations whose purpose was to smear Israel beyond redemption. And they succeeded admirably.

On the basis of raw film footage that the court viewed that encompassed the production of the film, the court ruled that Mr. Karsenty's allegation that the clip had been staged - was a reasonable conclusion. Thus exonerating him from an earlier libel conviction brought against Mr. Karsenty by France-2, which sued him for libel.

A formal Israeli investigation indicated without a shadow of doubt that it would not have been physically possible for any Israeli soldier to have shot the boy; subsequent independent investigations served to confirm the Israeli findings. Some foreign media outlets came up with similar findings.

Yet none of this was ever reported in the media at large, that same media so eager to leap all over the film that appeared unequivocally to show Israeli inhumanity in a theatre of war. Left-wing, anti-Israeli journalists remain eager to make use of any emotion-inspiring photographs and rumours calumniating Israel.

Locally contracted Palestinian stringers, photographers, cameramen who serve an agenda not entirely commensurate with serving up truth and reality provide the wherewithal for outside news agencies to report on items of mass emotional content, irrespective of lack of truth.

News agencies from Europe to North America routinely use the work of these stringers and cameramen without any questions as to their veracity. Editors don't seem very much interested in establishing that there is no fraud involved. It's been left up to keen-eyed bloggers to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from febrile imagination.

"The Al-Dura lie is an assault on our ability to think, to criticize, to evaluate, and finally to reject information", said Karsenty. "Especially the right to reject information on which we base our most cherished assumptions. One of Europe's most cherished assumptions is that Israel is a vicious Nazi-like entity that deliberately murders Palestinian Arab children.

"Moreover, polls conducted in Europe have identified Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, greater than Iran and North Korea, Pakistan and Syria. The Al-Dura hoax is one of the pillars on which these assumptions rely."

In Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the country's public broadcaster, is funded with an annual budget of over $1-billion, with more in other government grants for independent production companies producing programs for CBC airing. This once-proud media corporation, designed on the template of the British Broadcasting Corporation, has followed the BBC in its left-wing, anti-Israel trajectory through its broadcasting biases.

Canadians were at one time so very proud of their very own CBC, yet it has reached such a pitifully low standing of popularity that its viewership has diminished in lock-step with the lost quality of its programming. Inclusive of news coverage whose bias is painfully evident.

It seems somehow fitting that the CBC's former head of neutral news production has retired to take up a similar position with Al Jazeera.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Volunteers of Faith

Much as it might pain those among the population who profess to no belief in the presence of a spiritual Father, it appears a reality that those who do believe, who value their faith in religion, will also go out of their way to do good deeds, to be charitable and helping and compassionate human beings. Amazing, that we cannot attain to this manner of kindly spiritual status without adhering to religious belief.

Religious groups, it would appear, make up 19% of Canada's 161,000 non-profit and voluntary organizations, according to a 2003 survey by Imagine Canada. The report demonstrates that religious organizations can count on over two million volunteers, and as a result are more likely than other groups "to have mid-sized and large volunteer complements". People respond to societal need, propelled by their belief in the Almighty.

That's powerful stuff. That faith motivates people to give of themselves, where without religious belief people are reliant on their own inbred inheritance of compassion. Does belief in religion then make us more susceptible to understanding and responding to the needs of others? Apparently so. It seems to kick-start our understanding of and willingness to help others in their deep travail.

Catholic charities in the United States are credited with providing food for 6.3 million people, along with a range of health and counselling services to 3.6 million. "People of faith have earned a place at the table by their devoted service... they walk the talk and therefore it would be very odd indeed if their values, which motivate them to do so much good, are marginalized."

Which leads to the incident that erupted into the news recently when Christian Horizons, a charity that operates 180 homes across the province of Ontario, with 2,500 employees serving 1,400 severely disabled residents, fired one of their staff for an unchristian lifestyle. Christian Horizons requires all its employees to sign a statement of moral values. The fired employee, although a devout Christian, became a lesbian.

The Ontario Human rights Tribunal informed Christian Horizons that they were not in compliance with human rights, for a group that received funding through public taxes. The homes that Christian Horizons operate provide an essential, humane and enormously helpful service to the community. Services that are not provided through any other venue.

The Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Thomas Collins, claims that "Religious-based groups that are created and motivated by people of faith perform an enormous service for our whole community". And he is spot-on. Religious groups are involved in delivering social services from soup kitchens and homeless shelters, addiction programs, senior care and family services.

They deal with domestic violence, immigration, and employment counselling, as well as adoption services. Their mission to help those most vulnerable in society is unparalleled in scope by any kind of government service. They are unique in their purpose and they are devoted to helping those needing help in the most desperate way.

That being the case - and even if they do receive public funding - their own religious values should be respected. They should be free to hire whom they will, those who share their values and their morals, their respect for the tenets of their religion. What they believe in does not detract from the vital services they provide; indeed, they compel these people to devote themselves to service provision unavailable through other auspices.

It's quite simply wrong to impose a sterile, secular public standard on religious institutions. It's a trade-off for a hand-off. And good value, at that.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies. Nor implicate myself. Amazing, isn't it, in the country of the free and the brave, the nation that values its superior system of justice for all, which steadfastly upholds the majesty of its vision of the universal declaration of human rights, it was seen as a compromise to introduce the shameful "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for the U.S. military.

Uncle Sam needs - you - but not if you're homosexual or bisexual. Thanks, but no thanks. Keep your distance. You've no skills required by the military, thank you very much. Unless, perchance, you agree to keep this your deep, dark secret well concealed. Tell.no.one. But then, what if, during the course of your active duties you happen to make enemies, and someone undertakes to cast doubt on your true-blue, red-blooded heterosexuality?

That old bugbear of someone harbouring a deep, dark secret making them vulnerable to blackmail or to dereliction of duty, has turned a new tack. The very institutional policy which permits gays and lesbians to enter the military as long as they don't advertise their gender preferences, renders them vulnerable to someone with a grudge turning them in.

And then, regardless of exemplary and/or long-term service, regardless of distinction under fire, or being singled out for praise of duty under horrendously difficult battle ground circumstances; of a certain and well-earned trajectory up the hierarchy of achievement and placement, it can all collapse into a heap of quiet accusation and hurried dismissal.

What, exactly, does it take to earn the praise and honour one deserves, without the fear that one's private life revealed will effectively destroy a career, a reputation, future aspirations? In the United States of America, no less, experiencing such creative difficulty in coming to terms with gender orientation disapproved of by religious conservatives.

Attitudinally superior to, for example, a repressive theocratic autocracy like Iran, yet the world's highest achieving democracy with its vaunted freedoms and citizen entitlements haunts and prowls on the tracks of homosexuals. And where in Iran homosexuals are hounded, imprisoned, tortured and killed, the process is more subtle in the U.S.

More, shall we say, nuanced, quietly undertaken. In the end, still viciously life-destroying. Modus operandi slightly different: end result bears unfortunate similarities, sans finality.

Take, for example, the case of Major Margaret Witt, having earned a promotion to colonel, less than year from earning a full pension. Then pouffe! a lifetime achievement evaporated. Twenty years as a U.S. Air Force nurse, promoted time and again for her unstinting work in saving the lives of wounded troops.

She was discreet about her private life. She was outstanding as a flight and operating-room nurse. In recognition of her outstanding commitment and sterling work ethic, George W. Bush awarded her a medal in 2003 for service in Afghanistan, giving her high praise for "outstanding medical care" for the injured, and for her "outstanding aerial accomplishments".

Weighed on the scale of accomplishment and justice all her dedication, her skills, her commitment came out lighter, in the military judgement than the heavy weight of her sex-gender transgression against the conservative view of public morality in private spaces. Pity, isn't it, that when the military is badly in need of skilled service people, they see nothing amiss in dismissing courage under fire for purported same-sex misconduct.

Roughly ten thousand service men and women have been dismissed from the American military because of revelations relating to their sexual orientation. Countless more remain with the military, as covert homosexuals, but overtly-capable and dedicated service men and women. They lead a discreet double life; careful and purposeful.

Major Witt's 2007 dismissal may yet see justice. Her eventual success will offer hope to the Service members Legal Defense Network, a representative group dedicated to breaking with American tradition in discriminating and harassing gay and lesbian U.S. military personnel.

As for Major Witt, her purpose in bringing a law suit in challenge of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as a violation of her Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection, was so she could return to active duty. "I want to serve my country."

"Wounded people never asked me about my sexual orientation. They were just glad to see me there."

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Fabrications by Destructive Elements

The government of Burma is well aware that a hostile world watches their every inaction, condemning the ruling junta unfairly for ignoring the needs of hundreds of thousands of Burmese survivors close to perishing from lack of food, water, medicines, shelter.

Rigorously adamant about rejecting desperate pleas from the international community to allow expert rescue teams and medical personnel to enter Burma to assist in relieving the plight of the survivors, Prime Minister Thien Sien and his cohorts remain unmoved.

This is their country to administer as they will, and if the international community considers them to be errant in their duty this is their version of events, not the ruling junta’s. They, after all, rule the country.

They should know, intimately, what the people need, and how to gain their support, not foreigners who have no idea of what the country needs and what the people enthusiastically clamour for, in support of their government.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on a conciliatory-pleading mission to Rangoon, visited the Irrawaddy Delta to see for himself the progress the government is making on rescuing survivors, providing them with aid and encouragement, and generally proving to the Burmese people that their government is concerned for them, and working on their behalf.

Mr. Ban Ki-Moon is also preparing to meet with General Than Shwe, in the country’s new capital. Just to show they can still be friends and colleagues, to demonstrate no hard feelings at the General’s continued refusal to take urgent messages from the Secretary General over the plight of the Burmese people.

Meanwhile, cyclone survivors in Rangoon were being peremptorily ushered out of their temporary shelters for there were other, more important plans afoot for the schools.
“The school will be used as a polling station. We needed people to leave.”

Leave? To go where? To hastily set-up refugee camps, where soldiers forage among the woeful inhabitants, enquiring of the presence of over-18s, to be placed on voter rolls. “The evacuees will do whatever the authorities want if they are given food”, a volunteer explained.

The government is preparing for another vote, to follow the 92.4% “yes” vote with the 99% turn-out of voters the week following the cyclone; this one to formalize their military rule. They’re prepared to accept yet another ringing endorsement by the populace eager to have their heartlessly totalitarian rule in place for the foreseeable future.

Even the dead vote in the Irrawaddy Delta. And those who are starving and suffering from the onset of disease are also eager to get out and do their civic duty, to ensure their well-being at the hands and hearts of the ruling junta. Which selflessly continues to offer them the hope for their futures in their country.

Perhaps also one should consider the hundreds of starving survivors crammed into the monasteries which have themselves been severely beleaguered by the junta; their willingness also to vote for the junta. Even the jailed and tortured monks might be coerced in the kindest possible way.

The official figures released by the Burmese regime claim 78,000 to have been killed and 56,000 missing. Disputed figures by those enemies of the junta: “destructive elements” who ply their evil trade in constructing fabrications to embarrass the junta.

And while survivors have flocked to the village voting stations - in search of scarce food - they’ll be sent packing soon as the vote has been cast.
“If they fall into the habit of getting food from the people they will just become beggars, they won’t go back”, according to one government official.

“Now it is beginning of monsoon and farmers have to grow rice. They have to do what they should be doing.” And the government proudly does what it too should be doing, opening rehabilitation camps to benefit survivors - which the survivors unfortunately have had no success in locating.

They have, however, successfully found bodies remaining in trees, under houses, in the waterways. And their former sources of drinking water remain unpotable. And the hordes of starving people? More fabrications by destructive elements.

The United Nations claims - unfairly according to the shocked regime, amazed at the perfidious untruths - that a mere quarter of the 2.5 million facing disease and starvation have received aid.

Liars, all.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cheap Scoring Political Points

The Government of Ontario recently announced it would implement a new program to cover sex reassignment surgery. Such surgeries were covered at one time, but cancelled by the previous provincial Conservative government.

Ontario was kind of odd-province-out in that regard, since Alberta and other provinces have routinely paid for such operations. Now the Ontario Health Insurance Plan will pick up the tab. Not a very hefty one actually, coming out to approximately $300,000 out of a total $40.2-billion OHIP budget.

But for transsexuals, those individuals whose body doesn't come close to matching their psychological make-up, and who live with the anguish of the mind not fitting the body, this is a life-saving opportunity. It's called gender dysphoria, and is considered by the medical community to be a legitimate psychological malady.

The provincial Liberals' announcement of the change has been heralded by the medical community and those who empathize with the plight for sex-re-assignment as an overdue social commitment.

But the howls of outrage from large segments of the public, aided and abetted by the news media who have grasped the issue as yet another polarizing political-social news event, good for sales, have somewhat damped the enthusiasm of those who most need this medical intervention.

And thanks to Pierre Poilievre, Member of Parliament for Nepean-Carleton, this disaffected group has a voice in the federal parliament, threatening to cut off health fund transfers for provincial funding of health services.

Talk about kicking a weakly dysfunctional being in the head when what the issue really needs is a warm hug of reassurance from the population at large, those great majority of us who have never suffered the misery of confusion about what gender our minds and bodies represent.

And here's an interesting thought: we've been quick to embrace the singularity of gays and lesbians and the transgendered, and to accept they're due the same respect and human rights as heterosexuals. Yet we seem to think it's quite all right to jump all over those who suffer until they've undergone sex re-assignment surgery.

It doesn't cost the public purse all that much, folks. In fact, without that life-saving SRS, the mental state of the individual involved will only fester and plummet, and the cost of their psychiatric care will far overshadow the cost of surgery. That make a whole lot of sense?

If that argument doesn't work, how about this one: repressive, totalitarian, thuggish, theocratic, gay-punishing Iran sees fit to fund sex re-assignment surgery for its population of transsexuals. Sex change operations have been legal in Iran for "diagnosed transsexuals for 25 years.

No less a personage than the gloweringly autocratic, fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini, he of the Iranian Revolution, passed a religious edict authorizing such surgery.

And, as a result, in a country where homosexuality can be cured by death, there are more sex change operations carried out than in any other nation on earth, with the exception of...Thailand. Moreover, government coffers provide up to half the cost for those needful of financial help.

"Islam has a cure for people suffering from this problem. If they want to change their gender, the path is open", according to the religious cleric responsible for gender assignment in Iran.

And we, in our liberal democracy, our enlightened social system, our Western Judeo-Christian sensibilities are shrilly cavilling at opening up OHIP to assist in the needs of transsexuals?

Whoa, give us a break...!

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Government Getting It Right

When it comes to making good legislation, the Conservative government in Canada is quietly going about its efficient business of enacting new rules and regulations whose end result protects the health and welfare of Canadians.

Long past due, these responsible initiatives. When the world began to worry about the quality and trustworthiness of food and hygiene products, as well as toys and jewellery coming out of China, contaminated with people-averse chemicals, we knew we had a problem.

Well, it's not just lead-based paints on children's toys, and lead used in the manufacture of inexpensive jewellery, and rat poison in dog and cat food, and toothpaste laced with cancer-causing ingredients, but a whole raft of other issues as well.

Issues by no means emanating solely from Chinese imports. Rather, manufacturers of products based in Canada and elsewhere who have been taking short-cuts, who have seen little amiss in risking the health of the consuming public to enhance their bottom line.

So the government initiated tough new rules for toy product recalls, heavier penalties for shoddy manufacturing of common goods, and increased safety inspection protocols in defence of the consuming public.

Yet another
initiative taken by the current government to identify and label as toxic chemicals elements commonly used in products such as chewing gum, cosmetics, hygiene products, and even silicone breast implants.

Eleven such chemicals (out of thousands used in various products) have been isolated, including Vinyl acetate, a carcinogen used as a base in chewing gum. Cancer-causing agents heedlessly included in products used on a daily basis by people unaware of their potentially harmful effects.

Additionally, there are some synthetic chemicals whose use may be eliminated entirely because of their potentially harmful effects on the environment. These are synthetic chemicals used in the preparation of cleaning compounds, cosmetics and shampoos, creams, lotions and antiperspirants. All in the name of protecting the Canadian consumer.

And when retailers became aware that the government was on the verge of banning polycarbonate-containing baby bottles and water bottles, the big box retailers took the initiative themselves of clearing their shelves of such potentially harmful wares. From Wal Mart to Canadian Tire, from Mountain Equipment Co-op to small retailers, these containers quickly disappeared.

Bisphenol A, linked to developmental problems in young children, will no longer be permitted in items produced for children.

And then there's the latest, long-awaited and long-overdue move to ensure that goods and products labelled "Made in Canada" really are just that. It's not just food products, but all manner of consumer goods, from clothing to household goods. If they were packaged in Canada, but produced elsewhere, or one small addition made to the product added in Canada, the "Made in Canada" label might be there.

Consumers selecting "Made in Canada" products on trust were not really deep-thinking when they bought food items with that label when the country wasn't capable of growing those products. Canada doesn't grow olives, we don't harvest cocoa beans. As Prime Minister Harper pointed out when making his announcement: "The truth is that products marked "Product of Canada" or "Made in Canada" may not be very Canadian at all.

"A bottle of apple juice could have a 'Made in Canada' label on it and be made from apples from China. Chocolate may say 'Product of Canada', but the cocoa beans come from the Ivory Coast. You may even find a 'Product of Canada' label on a box of salmon from Russia." Or China, as the case may be.

Fact is, if goods are shipped loose, then packaged here, there was no regulation that stipulated country of origin had to be stated at all. Now it's full Canadian content before that label can be slapped on, under new legislation.

Under these new regulations products are required to be domestically grown or produced to qualify for a "Product of Canada" label. A disclaimer clearly stating that some of the contents are imported must appear on products with foreign materials included, relating to goods bearing the "Made in Canada" label.

At least the public will be informed, and will be able to make choices based on information provided. It's empowering, and about time. The same holds true for Canadian producers, who will now benefit from the fact that the consuming public more eager now than ever before to buy home-grown and/or produced products will see an increase in their product demand.

About time, and thank you very much.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Middle East Refugees: Cause/Effect

So now that Palestinian Gazans have their very own representative protectors whom they have themselves, in a democratic show-down voted into power, are they out of their minds with satisfaction and happiness?

Hamas, after all, counts its strong-hold in the area of public opinion in the Gaza Strip. Support also in the West Bank, but more as a back-lash to the abject tradition of failure through Fatah. Fed up with corruption among their legislative body, Hamas seemed like the answer; unswervingly straight-up, supportive of the needs of the Palestinians.

They say what they mean and they mean what they say. And when the Hamas hierarchy declares unequivocally that their first order of business is the restoration of Palestinian land from the illegal occupiers through the destruction of the State of Israel, they mean it.

And this, most Palestinians seem more than a little comfortable with. Of course, even the Palestinian Authority's ruling Fatah have pledged themselves similarly, albeit covertly. For Palestinian indulgence, not to be divulged internationally. It is too, too inconvenient, and would portray the Palestinians and their cause in a manner other than what they continually seek to construe it as.

The Palestinians as pitiable victims of brutal Jewish conquest in a land that Islam has dedicated to Muslims, where interlopers, foreign "others", infidels and Crusaders and friends of Crusaders have no legal place other than as a fractured and slighted minority.

So, if Palestinian Gazans are so comforted by the presence of Hamas why is it that they are leaving in virtual droves? Some 50,000, confirmed by the PA prime minister, since Hamas took possession of the Gaza Strip.

Estimating also that far greater numbers would eagerly join them if they had but the required financial wherewithal. The sharp drop in international aid to Gaza as a response to the Hamas take-over has had its unfortunate impact on an already economically-marginalized population.

The religious ruling issued by the Mufti of Jerusalem for the PA, banning emigration from "the land of Palestine" has done nothing whatever to dissuade Gazans who can, from emigrating. The ruling was brought down in an attempt to hold back the flood of young Palestinians converging on foreign embassies in their desperate bid to escape the dire conditions brought upon Gaza by their Hamas saviours.

There is an odd air of familiarity about this. History re-visited. While there remains a great deal of disagreement with respect to the original flight of Palestinians from the land in 1948 after Israel's declaration of statehood, members of the Palestinian Authority have begun themselves to look history straight in the eye, rather than resorting as they've always done to the claim that they were forced out of the region, as refugees.

Refugees they did indeed become, but when they fled they harboured the belief that it would be for a brief interregnum, before returning to a liberated Palestine; the fledgling State of Israel reduced to simmering ruins, and its people dispersed. A senior PA journalist whose article was published in the PA daily Al-Ayyam has written:

"The Arabs who became refugees in 1948 were not expelled by Israel but left on their own to facilitate the destruction of Israel. This plan to leave Israel was initiated by the Arab states fighting Israel, who promised the people they would be able to return to their homes in a few days once Israel was defeated."

By no means was Israel entirely innocent of taking its own steps to persuade Palestinians to leave their land, for in some instances this was done. Sometimes by force, and sometimes by insinuating life would be very difficult for them if they remained. Yet many Palestinians, despite the severely unsettled atmosphere, stood their ground, stayed with their land, and became citizens of Israel.

Those who maintain a keen eye on the Arab media have noted, however, an increasing move on the part of Palestinians to openly recognize the part that Arab states and not Israel, played in fomenting fear, and encouraging the Palestinians to leave. The refugees who for so long remained a useful propaganda tool against Israel have outlived their usefulness, as the claims that Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 belies historical reality.

Newly-recognized and -published witness accounts brought to the PA media in support of these claims of Arab conspiracy to displace the Palestinians and leave them as abject refugees, a seeping wound with which to denounce Israel in the world at large, have been emerging. As with the statement by a PA journalist in Jordan, Jawad al Bashiti, writing in Al-Ayyam on 13 May, 2008:

"Remind me of one real cause from all the factors that have caused the Palestinian Catastrophe [the establishment of Israel and the creation of the refugee problem], and I will remind you that it still exists... The reasons for the Palestinian Catastrophe are the same reasons that have produced and are still producing our catastrophes today.

"During the Little Catastrophe, meaning the Palestinian Catastrophe, the following happened: the first war between Arabs and Israel had started and the "Arab Salvation Army" came and told the Palestinians: 'We have come to you in order to liquidate the Zionists and their state. Leave your houses and villages, you will return to them in a few days safely. Leave them so we can fulfill our mission in the best way and so you won't be hurt."

And wrote Mahmoud al-Habbash, another PA journalist, in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: "...The leaders and the elites promised us at the beginning of the Catastrophe in 1948, that the duration of the exile will not be long, and that it will not last more than a few days or months, and afterwards the refugees will return to their homes, which most of them did not leave only until they put their trust in those promises made by the leaders and the political elites. Afterwards, days passed, months, years and decades, and the promises were lost with the strain of the succession of events..."

And this description from a woman, Asmaa Jabir Balasimah, who also fled in 1948: "We heard sounds of explosions and of gunfire at the beginning of the summer in the year of the Catastrophe. They told us: The Jews attacked our region and it is better to evacuate the village and return, after the battle is over. And indeed there were among us those who left a fire burning under the pot, those who left their flock and those who left their money and gold behind, based on the assumption that we would return after a few hours."

Again, a Palestinian viewer contacted PA Television, to say his father had told him that in 1948 the Arab district officer ordered all Arabs to leave Palestine or be labeled traitors. An Arab Member of the Knesset, hearing this, cursed those leaders.

To which the viewer continued: "Mr. Ibrahim Sarsur, I address you as a Muslim. My father and grandfather told me that during the Catastrophe our district officer issued an order that whoever stays in Palestine is a traitor, he is a traitor.

To which MK Ibrahim Sarsur (then head of the Islamic Movement in Israel) responded: "The one who gave the order forbidding them to stay there bears guilt for this, in this life and the afterlife, throughout history until Resurrection Day."

That was then, this is now. The seven hundred thousand refugees from 1948, now numbering in the millions insist on the right of return to a land they dispossessed themselves of under utterly false pretences. Joining them today are hundreds of thousands more.

The Arab countries that convinced them through whatever means to flee, had no intention of aiding and assisting them beyond the failure of their initial, then period onslaughts of Israel. Nor had they any intention at any time of absorbing them, settling them within the confines of their own borders, having implemented a failed strategy that made hapless refugees of the Palestinians.

Added to that perfidy was the brutal ouster of 900,000 Jews from Arab lands where they had resided for millennia. The once-tolerated Jews had become the 'enemy', ensuring their homes and belongings were forfeit, and they made homeless. Those Jews made their way to Israel, where they were absorbed and became Israeli citizens. They have never been acknowledged, never recompensed.

So where lies the moral responsibility of re-settlement and making amends?

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Joining The Club

It's seen by so many as a prestigious club, those nations who have obtained nuclear status. A sign of coming-of-age, of arrival, of ostentatiously demonstrating one has the wherewithal; financial and cerebral to attain to that explosive status.

It begins with the aspiration to provide scarce energy for needful civil purposes; expands toward inspiration that builds upon the civil structure, expanding into dual-nuclear technology supporting nuclear armaments.

All nations seem to be drawn to military advantage. As a means of securing in the most definite way possible, respect from neighbours who might conceivably harbour the inconvenient notion of invasion, war and occupation.

Uneasy relations between neighbours become ever more fidgety with the introduction of nuclear weapons, and in many instances neighbours maintain their scrupulous borders through the reality of nuclear deterrence.

That is to say most countries headed by reasonably sane administrations value their live presence on this earth sufficiently to acknowledge that white-hot anger leading to the temptation to unleash nuclear Armageddon would end up harming them as much as their purported enemy.

On the other hand, if the leaders of some nations have a theocratically frenetic belief in salvation through death, deterrence is a moot condition.

So here is a tinder-box geography with neighbouring states in the Middle East traditionally disgruntled with one another; each attempting over generations of history to ascend to a position of hierarchy over the lesser, less-advantaged states.

Their continual game of rhetorical bombast, hegemonic moves, religious superiority and sectarian aggression is par for the course. And then, suddenly, the singular Muslim-not-Arab state comes perilously close to nuclear ownership, with full disclosure not on the horizon until uranium enrichment leads inevitably to the final step.

This is a situation that has caused a domino-effect of nervous twitches throughout the area. And allied with it, those countries whose natural endowment of oil riches enable them to aspire, initiating their own baby-steps toward civil nuclear programs.

The "civil" in the equation makes it legal and above-board. While the agenda has much greater depth. No fewer than thirteen nations have now embarked on their own nuclear energy projects in the Middle East, somewhat emulating Iran. Civil for the time being; long-range plans an entirely other story.

Iran, whose threatening presence on the world stage, presents a more imminent threat to her neighbours, has many imitators, but scant few admirers in the Middle East.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Three Days of Mourning

China has declared three days of official mourning for its dead. The country has mustered hundreds of thousands of emergency relief workers, experts in various fields of disaster relief, medical personnel, and soldiers of the Peoples' Army in a gargantuan effort to respond to the dreadful earthquake disaster which befell Sichuan Province.

Apart from the dire emergency involved in rescue attempts, caring for the sick and the injured, there are ongoing repeat shocks. Adding to the potential for further disaster, from displaced earth in great slides, from cracked dams and damaged nuclear plants. From threats posed by the after-effects of the upheaval; polluted water, flood potential, water- and insect-borne disease; real threats of potential health epidemics.

But China has responded to its peoples' dire travails. In a manner to equal and even outdistance that seen by other governments whose resources, experience and material wealth should have advantaged them. Despotic, dictatorial, totalitarian China; human-rights-abusing China, capable, eager and determined to demonstrate its own humanity.

Virtually absent in Burma's governing junta. Burma, Myanmar, also declared three days of mourning for its victims of the devastating cyclone that slammed into the Irrawaddy Delta. It has finally, reluctantly, assented to an international aid effort put forward by its Southeast Asian neighbours.

Almost three weeks post-Cyclone Nargis, junta leader Than Shwe is on his second tour of the disaster zone. Lest anyone have doubted that the members of the junta survived the disaster. In that country, an estimated 133,000 have been identified as dead - or missing. Still, a full-scale international relief operation is simply out of the question.

The compromise with ASEAN, Burma's neighbours - so anxious about the state of Burmese citizens coping with their struggle to survive - will permit of the immediate entry of medical teams from that source, none others. Other, eager-to-help international disaster aid workers still to be kept at arms-length.

That, despite that an estimated 2.4 million Burmese remain in desperate need of help. India, Bangladesh and China will also be permitted to send in aid workers. All those countries distressed and anxious to help the people of devastated Burma, while their leaders remain content to leave the survivors to their own desperate devices.

Those observers who have managed to elude Burmese authority report an unbelievable situation of dire need. Hunger and thirst haunt the survivors. Corpses are rotting everywhere, contaminating the area, laying the potential for dread and deathly disease among the survivors. If they don't starve first, typhoid or cholera may take them out of their misery.

A despicable regime whose flagrant incapacity to aid its desperate people, and whose unwillingness to permit other countries entry to its closed borders to undertake the responsibility they have eschewed, requires some kind of international intervention - sovereign determinism be damned.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

It's Called Xenophobia

Amazing, isn't it, that the South African government which steadfastly refuses to turn on its old ally in Zimbabwe, even with the certain knowledge that thousands upon thousands of Zimbabweans are suffering from malnutrition, insecurity, political assaults, mass unemployment, runaway inflation, scarce commodities as long as Robert Mugabe remains in power, now must turn its attention to mobs of marauding South African youth victimizing Zimbabwean immigrants.

The world did get a comforting view of South African dock workers refusing to unload the Chinese registered ship An Yue Jiang, when it prepared to dock there with a hold full of armaments. that kind of compassionate solidarity expressed by workers on behalf of their unfortunate brethren in Zimbabwe was heart-warmingly welcome.

Unfortunately, a way can always be found to carry out the will of a seriously repressive state. with the callous collusion of similarly-minded people and rights-oppressive states elsewhere. One complicit turn obligates the receiver to future returns should the need arise. And that same ship, docked in Angola, was cleared of its bombs, grenades and bullets and the armaments flown on to Zimbabwe.

Where the winner of the Zimbabwe election has been unable to return to the country from his journeys across the region in pursuit of elusive support from neighbouring states to prepare for the run-off second-round poll slated for June because of an attempt by the army and the police in Zimbabwe to assassinate him. Their ongoing concern for their own security is highly dependent on the current regime's longevity.

Morgan Tsvangerai and his Movement for Democratic Change have been lobbying the Southern African Development Community to send peacekeepers to Zimbabwe, to ensure a fair run-off, and a peaceful transition of power to the winner. Government thugs loyal to Robert Mugabe have been roaming those areas supportive of the MDC, terrorizing people to "soften them up" for the vote.

And in South Africa, recognized now as the world's most violently crime-ridden country, roaming groups of young thugs in the hundreds have been targeting foreigners who have settled in the country. Machete-and-gun-bearing mobs roam the run-down parts of Johannesburg in search of helpless migrants, killing and maiming those they find.

While South African president Thabo Mbeki has announced the comfort of an investigative panel set up to "look into" the deadly xenophobic attacks, and the South African Red Cross has launched an effort to help displaced people - the estimated three million refugees from Zimbabwe who fled political repression and starvation - the opposition leader deplores the deadly assaults.

"We should be the last people to have this problem of having a negative attitude toward our brothers and sisters who come from outside", he declared, in obvious allusion to the support outlawed ANC members under Apartheid received, sheltered by neighbouring countries in their battle against racism in South Africa.

Doctors Without Borders in Johannesburg described the intensifying violence as gangs of youth raided homes in their search for foreigners. Gangs of one hundred to three hundred youth break into homes and shacks, threatening, assaulting and killing those whom they apprehend. Throwing people from balconies; setting fire to people wrapped in their belongings.

Who might have imagined the violent hatred that could be exuded against a helpless, homeless population by indigenous people who have themselves lived through the rigours of a tenuous existence against decent odds of rising above historical adversity?

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Health-Averse Products

None too soon, the government of Canada has come to a laudable decision which in its prosecution and further development will help Canadians live healthier lives. It's inconceivable to begin with that government health agencies wouldn't be alert to the problems inherent in producing everyday consumer products using chemicals that prove to be inherently harmful to human health and the environment.

People do trust that government agencies tasked with ensuring the health, safety and security of the population take themselves seriously enough to protect Canadians against harmful elements in the manufacture of consumer goods used on a daily basis. We're so trusting as consumers that we take it on blind trust that government agencies oversee such matters routinely.

Yet it has taken an initiative by the current government to identify and label as toxic chemicals elements commonly used in products such as chewing gum, cosmetics, hygiene products, and even silicone breast implants.

Eleven such chemicals (out of thousands used in various products) have been isolated, including Vinyl acetate, a carcinogen used as a base in chewing gum. Cancer-causing agents heedlessly included in products used on a daily basis by people unaware of their potentially harmful effects.

Additionally, there are some synthetic chemicals whose use may be eliminated entirely because of their potentially harmful effects on the environment. These are synthetic chemicals used in the preparation of cleaning compounds, cosmetics and shampoos, creams, lotions and antiperspirants.

Six of the eleven chemicals have been noted as being toxic to human health. Those toxins are Vinyl acetate, used in food additives, paints, sealants and plastics, along with yellow and red pigment dyes, used in paints, dyes, inks and plastics. Others are used in the manufacture of electronic products, insecticides and textiles; others still in rubber and plastic manufacture, coatings and adhesives.

Incredible: a chemical normally used in paints, sealants and plastics also goes into the food we eat, as an additive. Vinyl used in the manufacture of chewing gum. Little wonder our bodies are so unbelievably tainted with toxic chemicals; we ingest them, we breathe them into our systems from our polluted environment, our skin introduces them into our systems.

These toxic chemicals have been used because they offer some identified product enhancement. Making the product more indelible, smoother, more elastic, giving a silkier texture. In other words they offer to the manufacture the ability to produce a given product that exhibits some manner of consumer-favourable trait.

This is a government initiative long overdue. Manufacturers of consumer products should long ago have been placed on alert that their products, not conforming to basic safety standards for the consuming public, would not be permitted entry to the Canadian market either through home-based manufacture, or import.

This is, however, only a start, a beginning. Much more needs to be done. There are, without doubt, other harmful chemicals commonly used in manufacturing consumer goods. The constituents of too many products accepted as safe by the public prove to be anything but.

Government agencies need to be more vigilant, more willing to impose regulations in favour of peoples' health.

But it is a start, and a very welcome one.

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Reasonable Accommodation

People should exercise reason, be reasonable human beings, not expect of others precisely what they expect of themselves. Everyone has their own very particular values, priorities, and code of ethics. It isn't entirely unreasonable to suppose that most people subscribe to the basic code of humanity, to share existence with others by exhibiting at least a modicum of understanding of others. At best compassion, a sense of fairness, a need for a just environment equally entitling all.

These basic human needs may evade some individuals but by and large every human being needs the emotional support, the caring of someone. Excluding those whose basic endowment of human traits have been somehow impaired, leaving them in a permanent state of sociopathic isolation, incapable of empathizing with others, oblivious to the needs of others, unwilling to lend themselves to the human need to support the community.

In Canada, the Bouchard-Taylor commission on "reasonable accommodation" tasked by the province to conduct a series of open hearings, weigh responses, synthesize their findings and recommend solutions for a more workable, trusting environment have just released their report. Which suggests basically that the fairly homogeneous community of francophones in Quebec become a trifle more relaxed about the quite overt cultural differences of immigrants that have invaded their traditional space.

"We think it is possible to reconcile Quebecers - francophones and others - with practices of harmonization, once it has been shown that:
  • these practices respect our society's fundamental values, notably the equality of men and women;
  • they don't aim to create privileges but, rather, equality that is well-understood and that respects everyone's rights;
  • they encourage integration and not marginalization
  • they're framed by guidelines and protected against the effect of spiralling out of control;
  • they're founded on the principle of reciprocity;
  • they don't play the game of fundamentalism; and
  • they don't compromise the gains of the Quiet Revolution."
Completely and unequivocally reasonable. The commission looked not only at the simmering problem of adjustment into society at large of Muslim immigrants, but Sikhs, and the Jewish orthodox as well. The issues of religious symbols; hijab, burkas, niqab; turbans, kirpans; skullcaps, kosher foods. And a distinct distaste emanating from those holding traditional orthodox prohibitions against public display relating to gender.

The problem is that migrating communities of cultural, religious and traditional peoples bring with them social mores and traditions that are often clearly in contradiction of equality between the sexes; infanticide, clitorectomies, polygamy/polygany, honour killings. Immigrants may also often bring with them not only societal conventions that don't work well in liberal democracies that defend human rights and egalitarian balance, but they bring also viral hostilities toward other groups.

Pluralism can and does work, it has in the past and it can continue to do so in the future. In decades past, immigrants saw fit to observe the social norms within the communities they emigrated to. They understood that if they were to succeed in fitting into their new society they would do well to conform to normative behaviours and values in their new country, and to integrate their children.

With the formalization in Canada of multiculturalism there grew an idea that cultures and traditions foreign to the country were equal in value to the native traditions of the country, and all such immigrant cultures and traditions were to be given equal value. This earned a sense of entitlement among immigrants who began to see no need to conform, to integrate, to value the host country's culture.

It isn't just Canada where this has occurred, but obviously other countries of the world. Most notably, Western, liberal democracies who for some incredibly short-sighted and absurd reason began to burnish feelings of guilt associated with centuries-past slights against others through the era of colonialism. An atmosphere of collective atonement encouraged host countries to relax expectations of new immigrants.

In the process the host culture, traditions and values became devalued, shunted aside. Western interests were to be apologized for, and made secondary to having immigrants feel comfortable in their new surroundings. We're only now beginning to understand how we've marginalized our own interests in favour of fostering pride within immigrant populations at our own expense.

It's past time that the base culture turned back into itself, welcoming immigrants to join the mainstream values and traditions of their host countries. Becoming fully integrated, becoming full citizens in every sense.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Quality of Life

In the vast spectrum of human achievements, personal satisfactions, the collective ability to persevere through the ages despite horrendous levels of racist assaults, Jews have proven themselves capable of surmounting all obstacles laid in their path toward advancing themselves within history.

So it's worth looking at the overall presence of life statistics measured and calibrated by world-respected institutions, looking at countries throughout the world, and using the results to view Israel's ranking as a comparative measure of human, social and political achievement expressed through the quality of life of her people.

In the 2006 United Nations Development index, the top one-to-thirty listings of the highest levels of achievement include Israel. In numerical order, one to ten, Norway, Iceland, Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Japan and the United States rank highest. Israel comes in at 22, between Germany and Greece. Nowhere near the top 30 are any of the countries surrounding Israel, within the Middle East.

In the 2005 Quality of Life index compiled by The Economist, the top rankings go to Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark and Spain. Canada is 14th on that list, with the United States 13, and New Zealand 15. And there is Israel, not too near the top, but nowhere near the bottom, at 38.

In contrast, Qatar is 41, Kuwait 55, Bahrain 62, Oman 67, United Emirates 69, Libya 70, Saudi Arabia 72, Jordan 75, Egypt 80, Iran 88, and Syria 97.

For all their vaunted oil wealth, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Libya, the United Emirates and Iran haven't succeeded in improving the lives of their people to any notable degree. Their rankings are testament to this, and the answer can be found in large part to their political system, the kingdoms, the theocracies, the totalitarian aspect of governance.

How could a population such as Israel's be considered as socially well-adjusted, intellectually and technically advanced when they are encircled by hostility, one might wonder. Yet, apart from border towns continually bombarded by deadly missiles, the incursions into farming communities by terror-wielding Arabs, most of the population goes about life "as usual".

When another survey was undertaken to quantify population satisfaction rates of 35 industrial countries, Israelis were found to "appear to love life and hate death more than any other nation". The country's fertility rate is 2.77, while the suicide rate is 6.2 per 100,000 people. As opposed, for example, to the United States with numbers of 2.1 and 11, respectively; France at 1.98 and 18.

It's telling, no doubt, that Israel's neighbours have been wont to boast - at least those who actively seek the Jewish state's annihilation - that they don't fear death; that as much as the Jews love life, they love death. They've institutionalized Thanatos as the spiritual adviser to Allah. Israel has the misfortune to be surrounded by neighbours delighted with the thought that their life-sacrifice as martyrs enables them to attempt the destruction of Israel.

Grade-school children in the Palestinian Authority are taught to aspire to become sacred martyrs, to dedicate their lives to the greater glory of Allah - in whose name their despised neighbour whom they regard as villainous occupiers and mass murderers - who orders the destruction of Israel. And then their patrimony - so long denied them pre-Israel by their own Arab brethren - will be restored to them.

When The Economist worked out their quality of life index they relied on a number of vital signposts of a country's health. They took into account material well-being; health; political stability/security; family life, community life; climate-geography; job security; political freedom; and lastly, gender equality.

In the UN Human Development index, the areas identified as vital clues to the health of a country and its population were life expectancy; education; adult literacy, GDP per capita. In all of these important indices the developed countries of the world with a national conscience guiding them toward providing the best possible social, educational and political environments for their populations came out on top.

Among them is Israel, doing herself and her population proud, despite having to contend with nation-threatening, population-averse threats on a continual basis, on each of her borders with her neighbouring states. Israel struggles to maintain herself and her charges, and in the process provides herself and her people with opportunities and advances matched only by the most humanely-productive and developed countries of the world.

Her neighbours continue to struggle to advance toward agendas beyond bitter enmity one to the other, possible extension of hegemony, tribal animosities, religious strife, tyrannical rule, and their score to settle with the one country in the geography that has managed, despite all ill designs, to set a template ignored by her neighbours.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Life's a Blast

It happens, doesn't it? Life is great, you lead a charmed life. Enjoy privileges denied others because of opportunities that come your way, and which you take full advantage of. It helps if the social-economic strata you come from enables you to confront those opportunities and make the most of them. But then, that's life, isn't it? Some are born to opportunities, some are bereft, throughout their lives, of opportunity.

In the case of a 20-year-old Kenyan, a student by the name of Isaiah Otieno, whose life was that veritable bowl of cherries, life interacted with pure blind bad luck. And who might have thought it possible? Certainly not he. On his way to post a letter, walking along a street in Cranbrook, British Columbia, in a nice residential area, where there could be no hint of anything untoward about to happen. To him.

He had been speaking with his father, Dalmas Otieno, minister of public services in Kenya, only a few hours earlier. Someone just passing by noticed Isaiah as he walked along the street. Happiness and contentment are notable and noticed by onlookers, bystanders perhaps envious, perhaps appreciating. Said this witness to the event: "I thought to myself, now there's a happy-looking guy", said Joe Pierre, a school teacher.

"It was his face. It was his gait. He just looked happy - and then wham! It just happened in that second."

That's it, that's all it takes. The world is your oyster, and suddenly the oyster is engulfed by a huge tidal wave of chemical-infused wastewater, and it expires. In Mr. Otieno's case, a business student attending school in Canada, that tidal wave came in the shape of a helicopter that appeared to be suffering mechanical problems. The helicopter precipitously descended, crashing into that very same residential street that Mr. Otieno was walking along.

That happy and fulfilled youth, full of the promise of a future of opportunity had company in his unfortunate departure from life; the pilot and two B.C. Hydro technicians. Enough pain and sorrow to be shared out, radiating from four families mourning their incomparable loss.

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The Pernicious Cancer of Racial Discrimination

Now here's the Ontario Human Rights Commission doing what they were set up to do. Visiting a complaint of hateful acts against a visible racial minority living in Ontario. In Canada, that bastion of racial tolerance, no less. In Ontario, where people of every colour, every nationality, culture and tradition live together in harmonious equality. Or so the loving legend of Canadians nursing humanely compassionate traits goes.

The very human and utterly evil temptation for some to submit to their baser instincts leading to valuing some ethnic or "racial" minority groups less than others comes up for air on occasion to shock those of us who like to think such discrimination has been finally laid to rest. No such luck. Reality is that xenophobia, bigoted rejection of superficial differences between peoples will always infest society.

It would appear that in what is deemed to be cottage country, not far from Toronto, the locals have taken umbrage at the spectacle of Canadians of Chinese origin invading popular fishing areas to partake of the pleasure of angling. They don't "belong", it would appear. Fishing being a popular activity everywhere, among Chinese-Canadians as much as other Canadians, it seems logical that if the opportunity is available to some, it should be open to others as well.

That one requires a fishing license to be able to lawfully fish at certain times of the year appears to have been the worm that hooked these innocently injudicious anglers. But then, any excuse will do, to exercise hate against others. Local teen-agers along the south shore of Lake Simcoe, among other cottage-country areas in the province, found it an exhilarating pastime to stealthily steal upon day-tripping fisherfolk of Asian background, to threaten and harass them, and occasionally push them into the lake.

That these intruders into the sanctity of white privilege were Chinese only increased the enjoyment of these social xenophobes of redneck persuasion. In one instance a gun was hoisted at an angler in an obvious effort to make certain that the target felt sufficiently threatened. Young people don't act out in this manner unless they've learned from an early age that their parents don't mind hostile actions directed against those different from themselves.

The problem of vicious harassment became so serious last year that plainclothes police posed as anglers to draw out the attackers. And they succeeded, as they were exposed to racial epithets in short order of taking up position. It's more than a little unfortunate that an Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters newsletter sought to advise their members on an purportedly acceptable mode of response to the unwanted presence of Chinese anglers.

The newsletter suggested to its membership that they could approach such fisherfolk and enquire whether they had a license to fish. The article was entitled "Let's All Welcome Our Chinese Anglers", but it might seem that there was a double, nuanced purpose. The article and an accompanying editorial that seems at first glance to be reasonable: "We Caucasians are often appalled at the size and quantities of fish they sometimes have, but we have to realize that nothing is wasted".

Explaining also that in Mainland China licenses to fish are not required, there being no angling regulations. There are accusations that the items present as racially driven incitements to vigilante action. The Ministry of Natural Resources has attempted an educational campaign targeted to teens, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission has wrapped up a 6-month enquiry entitled "Fishing without Fear".

The issue has come to the fore again, since the fishing season has begun once again. And complaints have already surfaced of a number of Chinese fishermen being accosted and attacked. The Commission released its findings indicating that racial profiling played a definite role in assaults that took place across Ontario, the preponderance along Lake Simcoe. Those assaults, the commission took pains to state, led to a "feeling of fear" among Asian-Canadians, "decreasing their enjoyment of a favourite pastime".

Five of the reported and investigated incidents have led to charges being laid by York Regional Police. One enraged local was quoted through a report as complaining that "more and more Asians are raping our lakes". Cottage owners and locals feel their anger is completely justified against out-of-towners (some euphemism, that) indulging themselves and over-fishing. The commission found no evidence of illegal fishing.

Teens, presenting as carefree youths practising to morph into village idiots; not lacking encouragement by their elders.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Aboveboard? Dunno...

There are rules and regulations put in place to ensure fairness in the distribution of government largess. There's a good reason why government is careful about handing out lucrative contracts to the private sector through a process of competitive tendering.

It ensures fairness in giving opportunity to any bidders who have the necessary professional expertise to produce good work on behalf of government, paid by taxpayer-funded contracts. It ensures that insider contacts will not benefit some potential contractors to the detriment of others.

It teaches legislators and others who have some degree of authority in procuring public services through the private sector that there is oversight to ensure that responsible decision-making takes place in the interests of fair distribution of opportunities and competent management.

It speaks of acknowledging the fact that government coffers do not represent an infinite bowl of gold at the end of the rainbow. It ensures accountability. Sad that it's even needed, but it is. All governments, no matter whether they're Liberal-led, Conservative or otherwise, tend to forget, from time to time, the necessity for accountability.

It's just so quick and easy to figure that your contacts, your supporters, your personal acquaintances are capable, and why not offer them opportunities? Easy to convince oneself there's nothing dishonourable about discounting the need to observe process; it's an efficiency.

So here's a parliamentary committee looking into allegations that government ministers are favouring friends, supporters, one-time colleagues in by-passing the competitive process. Tendering contracts to what they deem are suitably capable and reliable sources, because they can.

Doesn't look good. But then the principals involved, those with high enough rank can always claim that it was their staff that erroneously made these decisions. They can invoke, as has been done, the problem of "administrative errors" leading to the awarding of hefty contracts to erstwhile acquaintances.

They can then state, to their interlocutors, "It's clear some administrative functions were not followed. That upsets me." If he's upset, it's because he would himself have assiduously observed the process, not by-passed it as his staff has ostensibly done.

The fall-out can be so embarrassing.

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Squelching Freedom of Political Expression

Well, it doesn't have very good optics, and the Liberals seem to have a case when they accuse the prime minister and his parliamentarian cohorts of waging "a fundamental attack on freedom of political expression".

This expression of dismay contained in their statement of defence against the $2.5-million libel suit Stephen Harper has launched as a result of bribery allegations brought against him personally, in the now-forgotten "Chuck Cadman affair" that erupted latterly in the House of Commons.

It's highly unusual, that such a degree of umbrage would be evinced as to persuade a prime minister to resort to what can only be considered a legal stifling of opinion. On the other hand, the web site of the Liberal Party did cast very serious aspersions on the honour, credibility and personal ethics of the Prime Minister of Canada.

That in and of itself is not only a serious breach of parliamentary ethics, but constitutes a legal basis for bringing action in the courts as a result of their defamatory nature of accusation.

And they did have ample opportunity to remove those libellous accusations. The Prime Minister stood in the House and warned them that his reputation - both as an individual who takes pride in his personal code of conduct and as an parliamentarian elected to the highest office of the land - was not to be trifled with in such a manner.

Dion and the Liberal Party officials remained belligerently defiant, and this is what they've brought down upon themselves.

Although there can be some merit in claiming that resorting to the courts in response to slander can have a chilling effect on political discourse, there is also the not-quite trifling matter of political bumptiousness plunging peoples' usual common-sense into the toilet of rank disrespect for the sensibilities and reputations of others they so casually seek to besmirch.

So, perhaps, viewing this particular situation in the round, it's just desserts. Still, however, setting an unsettling precedent.

And there's more, all appearing to emanate from the Conservative Party, currently representing the government of Canada, with reputation-sensitive parliamentarians prickling over representations levied by the opposition members of the House imputing corruption or underhanded dealings by those on the government benches.

Character assassination at any time represents a not-well-tolerated ad-hominen attack in lieu of responsible inter-party legislators' representation of the country's interests.

Even unelected parliamentary staff are now following the example of their members of parliament, with a Liberal MP being sued by a minister's chief of staff. Bravado, intimidation, swagger, discourtesy, irritated sensibilities, outraged apprehensions, all play their part in these latest manifestations of the dysfunction of Canada's current parliament.

Where it might seem reasonable to the voter that all of the parties with members elected to parliament might deem it feasible to act together in good faith for the good of the country, the opposite is the reality. Everyone wanting to score points. Waiting for the opportunity to leap forward with accusations of inadequacy, hypocrisy, self-serving point-making, televised verbal parries and thrusts.

Behaviour more acceptable in a classroom of unruly hormone-addled teen-agers than intelligent and mature individuals priding themselves on their parliamentary entitlement, throwing decorum, common sense and restraint to the winds.

This has been, however, a tight-lipped government, one not willing to communicate well. Either with the press or with the opposition. There are no open lines of communication between the government benches and those of the opposition.

Bafflingly, this is a government which, in so many instances, has demonstrated good judgement, which has performed well on the world stage, which has made credible and honourable decisions on behalf of all Canadians. Yet it appears to view itself as vulnerable and dreadfully put upon. It is suspicious and withdrawn, where it should be open and approachable.

This government has, in effect, set the stage for commensurate and reciprocal treatment by both the opposition parties in parliament, and the press reporting on government activities. It faces hostility from all those sources because it has turned a hostile face to them. There's no particular reason for this government to feel so insecure, yet it does.

The country needs a more co-operative approach between its governing body and other elected lawmakers. Public debate should be civil and pursued in the best interests of the country. Personal attacks against individuals despoil the process and belittle the attackers. Legitimate criticism of the government should be undertaken in an intelligent and mature manner.

Canadians deserve no less, and much more.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Warring Sects and Clan Leaders

Men so proud of their warrior status, so full of the honour of representing Allah, in their Islamist jihad against moderate Muslims. Moderates, people looking to the future, to placing themselves, within Islam, in a context of acceptance and inclusion and forward-seeking advancement within the community of communities that is this world that all of its disparate countries inhabit.

These brave challengers of those willing to live in peaceful co-existence with others are so proud of their status as Islamist warriors that they adopt a uniform geared to promote fear.
They present themselves, well armed and ready for combat, so courageous that they hide their facial features behind masks, revealing only the hostility of avenging, hate-filled orbs, eyes revealing their agenda of jihadist nihilism.

Hezbollah, the army of god, their god, the god that exudes ill will and condemnation of any who cannot find it in their religious or secular landscape to accept the challenge and the power and the deep satisfaction of blood-letting carnage. All generations somehow manage to produce their quota of brutish young men engaged in fixed ideas of force and the brutal efficiency of fear and terror.

It is now the shame of Islam, the state of mind of Islamic values that recognizes the human need of compassion and fairness and just relationships to one another, to be held in ransom by a self-styled army of god, a fascist terror group. The Ayatollahs of Iran are content to manipulate the endless stream of self-absorbed andpsychotically-inclined men who style themselves defenders of the faith.

The dream of a resurgent and even more powerful and widespread caliphate under Iranian Shi'ite rule with the imposition of Sharia Law taking the place of liberal democracies abroad once it has successfully obliterated the incorrect rule of Sunni sultanates, kingdoms and dictatorships, leads Iran's agenda. The legitimate government of Lebanon hardly knows how to react to its loss of face in having to climb down from its initial decision todeclaw an insubordinate Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, the creature of Iran and Syria, will not be subordinate to any other dictates than that which currently satisfy its needs. All this, from permitting Palestinian refugees and their militias, thrown out of Jordan, to settle in southern Lebanon. Lebanon doing a slow disappearing act; the Lebanon of grace and beauty, the holiday destination for the Middle East, with its lush landscape, and cohabiting Sunni, Shia, Christian, Druze. Pride makes way for a heavy fall.

Ancient and bitter sectarianism, aided by renascent Bedouin parochialism and the introduction of Palestinian grievances tipped the balance into civil war, occupation, and ongoing conflict. Interspersed with quiescence, occupation, resentment, and restive attempts at independence from the thrall of Syrian occupation, Iranian decision-making. How humiliating for Lebanese patriots. They denounced, they resisted, they paid with their lives.

Lebanon, poor country that it is, pride smashed, civility in disarray, dissent and dissatisfaction the order of the day, has been utterly humiliated. The country's proxy position as a scapegoat between American and Iranian interests and Arab support, makes it the ultimate victim. Yet it is toward Israel that it points the finger of accusation - the evil manipulator of its lost national fortune.

When and if regime change does occur finally in that poor lost country, circumstances will tip once again, with a string of Iran-supporting countries; Iraq, Syria, Qatar and Lebanon, facing off against the remaining Sunni-majority Middle East. Extremely nervous-making. Should the current government resign, Hezbollah and its allyAmal will have free rein to complete their violence against the Druze and Christian and Sunni militias. The Lebanese army somewhere in between, impotent.

Walid Jumblatt tells the Al-Quds Al-Arabi that the power balance in the Middle East is trembling on the edge of uncertain determination: "Now we are waiting for Hezbollah, Iran and Syria to determine the rules of the game."

The Arab League hardly knows how to respond - other than to term the current destabilization in Lebanon a "domestic issue". They've succumbed to threats. An inter-Arab committee will be launched to hold talks with "all sides in Lebanon". Seems as though Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been backed into an unfortunate, worrying corner.

The Saudis lament that the legitimate Lebanese government cannot be abandoned to Iran and Syria: "We must do everything in our power to end this war and to save Lebanon..." They worry about the very real potential of "Iranian expansion in Arab countries, which are evident in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon".

Photographs released by several news agencies showing Amal and Hezbollah militias setting fire to posters of murdered patriot Rafiq Al-Hariri, and replacing them with posters of Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad tell quite the story.

An editorial reporting on the Arab foreign ministers' meeting criticized "the cowardly Arabs", incapable of determining a united stand between the axis of the radical countries and the bloc of moderate countries. "How long will these countries fear? Now that Beirut has fallen into the hands of Iran, andFouad Al-Siniora's government is under siege, the Arabs have no choice but to confront Iran because they had better know that that which they fear today will happen tomorrow".

The writing is on the wall, but no one seems capable of deciphering it. Instead, that tired old fall-back position of blaming Israel for all the internecine battles in the Arab countries and between the Arab countries and Iran give them all the denials, the needed excuses they seek in place of responsible decision-making. Real diplomacy, true consensus-building, effort-laden missions of responsible action seem beyond them. They resort to what they know best.

The efficacy of blaming outside influences, the baleful, Islam-hating outside world.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Biofuels Boom Gone Bust, Then Boom...!

It might have sounded forward-looking and a good idea a year ago, but a lot can happen in a year. The world community, in thrall to conventional energy sources, in particular fossil fuels, worries about the impact on the environment our dependence on oil has produced. In the search for alternate energy-sourced solutions, an old idea going back to the early years of the 19th Century when Henry Ford consulted with George Washington Carver about the use of soybeans and farm waste converted to energy has been revived.

In 1900 Germany Rudolph Diesel built an engine fuelled by peanut oil. "All the world is waiting for a substitute for gasoline", observed Henry Ford. "The day is not far distant when, for every one of those barrels of gasoline, a barrel of alcohol must be substituted." He was a prophet and an enabler, in the era of automobiles emerging to change the way that society would view its habitations, its mode of transport. Recognizing at the same time society's future reliance on a dwindling stock of petrochemicals.

But as much of a visionary he might have been, he couldn't quite have envisioned how much the advance of motor vehicles would change the world, nor could he have fully imagined how reliant the world would become on fossil fuels. More than a century has passed, and his prophecy has taken awhile to become fully realized and appreciated, complicated by our growing awareness of the impact our dedicated and continued use of petrochemicals has had on our environment.

Finally, the world is heeding the warning of those people like Henry Ford, Washington Carver and others who foresaw a growing dependency on a finite energy source would lead to the current state of shortage. Exacerbated by the inordinately-rising expense, and the dilemma that would be faced as a result. Just as the advent of the motor vehicle using fossil fuel as an energy source changed the geography and layout of human settlements, the need to look elsewhere for energy will ultimately impact on what has become so familiar.

The United States, the European Union and Canada, in their desperation to wean themselves from petrochemicals determined to begin a slow withdrawal by setting a standard of a modest 5-6% biofuel mix with conventional gas to operate motor vehicles. In their zeal to open up this new front aimed at battling oil and gas dependence, billions were earmarked for ethanol plants to produce biofuels from crops farmers were now being encouraged to grow for ethanol.

A winning situation for everyone; farmers would now receive a considerably greater pay-back for their agronomic labour-intensive efforts at making a living; the burning of biofuels was seen as a "green" solution, throwing fewer carbon deposits into the atmosphere, and governments would be able to meet their environmental standards targets. Ethanol and biodiesel products were seen as an integral portion of the solution in battling environmental degradation.

Suddenly - although there were those who warned that using food crops to fuel machines rather than people was a disaster in the making - the world became aware that with the rising cost of energy to produce basic crops, a growing demand for those crops, partially as feed for cattle as larger portions of the world's growing middle class demanded meat diets, and catastrophic droughts and crop-destroying hurricanes were causing a world food shortage.

An official with the United Nations labelled biofuels a "crime against humanity" for diverting food from starving people. Senator Hillary Clinton expressed her opinion that farm crop waste - not crops meant for human consumption - should be used for ethanol. The world's poorest can no longer afford to buy over-priced rice, corn and wheat, thanks to sky-rocketing oil prices, higher demands for food grains in China and India, and crop failures in parts of the world facing environmental disasters.

Burma, once an exporter of rice to other parts of the world, has now had its major source of food crops in the Irrawaddy Delta destroyed by a deadly cyclone. Ten thousand farmers have been forced off their land in Australia, as a result of the worst drought the country has experienced in over a century. The "Big Dry" has placed many farmers into bankruptcy; many have committed suicide. Australia has lost a third of its family-operated farms in the last 20 years.

Those farmers growing crops for biofuels and earning a good living for the first time in decades, meeting the growing demand for their wheat and corn crops for biofuel production believe that they're helping, not harming food production. They claim that biofuels result in a less expensive alternative to oil. Biofuels are considered a renewable source of energy, unlike fossil fuels.

The billion litres of ethanol and biodiesel anticipated out of Canadian plants is expected to grow to three billion litres a year to meet the federal target of five percent biofuel in gasoline by 2010 and 2% in diesel and heating oil by 2012. Almost $3-billion in federal and provincial aid is pushing the program along. But there is a better alternative, and it can be explored, to take the place of food crops for ethanol production.

Municipal trash, agricultural waste, and the billions of trees killed by mountain pine beetles in British Columbia and Alberta could feed the upcoming generation of biofuel plants. Meanwhile, the plan is to continue to use farm crops for the next five years. At the very time when the world is undergoing a massive shortage of food crops.

It's short-sighted and just plain wrong. Canada's leading biofuel company, GreenField Ethanol, is ready to turn wheat straw, dead trees, municipal trash into biofuel. The trash would be sorted to extract paper, cloth and materials rich in oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. Cellulosic ethanol is the magic name of this next generation of biofuels. Using corncobs, wheat stalks and organic waste.

With the added benefit of being more efficient in reducing greenhouse gases than biofuels produced from grains, with the propensity to generate greater energy, as well. Lignol Energy Corp. in British Columbia is experimenting with forest waste by stripping away the tough lignin molecules to produce a mash of pure cellulose to which microbial enzymes are added, turning the cellulose into sugars, fermented finally into ethanol.

Meanwhile, plant breeders are hard at work to produce faster-growing, high-starch varieties of wheat crops for biofuel production, increasing the amount of wheat grown per acre. Just what starving people are most in need of. But then there's the politics of the environment, and there's the reality of farmers being offered a steady alternate market for crops, no longer facing low returns.

The world's starving are whole continents away, and it's hard to believe that those situations exist, while in advanced countries of the world there is a medical-health epidemic of obesity, a result of too much available food, and a convoluted manufacture of foodstuffs contorted into taste-tempting, nutrient-devoid and fattening constituents.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Celebratory Contrasts

Russia is indulging herself in a pride parade, reminiscent of her muscle-flexing when she was one of the admitted two power states of the post-WWII world order, during what has been famously named the "Cold War". When the United Soviet Socialist Republic and the United States of America stared down the threat of mutual assured destruction, to deter one another from the unthinkable.

And it was unthinkable, for neither Russia nor the U.S. despite their posturing, seriously sought past contemplation the vast devastation that would result from a pre-emptive strike. The ghoulishly deathly aftermath of pushing a red button impossible to return to its inert potential. They were secure in the belief that strike-back would completely annul any perceived advantage should one or the other take the initiative.

But that didn't stop the bragging, the posturing, the Cold-War antics of bravado, the spying and counter-spying, all of which represented a fine solution to actually committing to war. With all the promise of visiting Armageddon on their own countries, along with those of their neighbours, should the bravado get out of hand. It's the knife-edge game of no-turning-back that grown-up boys like to play to allay boredom in a predicable world.

But here is Russia, revisiting a time in history of pride, purpose and braggadocio so dear to the hearts of powerful men with twisted minds, adhering to their ideologies of superiority. A resurgent Russia, having spent decades swallowing her pride as a broken coalition of "Soviet-equal" states, a spent world force, a beggared nation. Returned now, with newfound wealth back to her assured swagger.

With the completion of formalities to create the illusion that Russia has elected a new governing principal, newly-installed President Dmitri Medvedev stands four-square, tall and proud, beside his mentor, the newly-accepted Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, reviewing the troops. The diminished, but steadily growing Red Army soldiers parading proudly past the reviewing stand.

Victory Day parade, an image refurbished, with a full caparison of troop carriers, tanks, nuclear missile launchers marching through Red Square, with supersonic bombers and a huge transport plane flying overhead. That's just the down payment; the country has embarked on a military build-up from its currently diminished 1.1-million-strong to the four million of yesteryear.

After all, Russia is simply responding in kind to the perceived insults and psychic assaults by NATO and the European Union on Russia's sensibilities. Tensions haven't erupted from nowhere; there's cause and then there's effect. And the effect is an affronted Russia with a real grievance. And remembrance of past heroic military exploits the order of the day.

Whereas in Israel, a similar, although vastly different commemoration has taken place.

With that tiny Jewish State within the Middle East both remembering her war dead and celebrating the official declaration of the existence of the independent State of Israel. In that country Memorial Day represented a quiet time of remembrance and thanksgiving to those who gave their lives so that countless others might live.

A country-wide siren sounded alerting all Israelis to a minute of silence in towns and cities, on communes and on farms. And at the Western Wall, the only vestige of the second Temple of Solomon, politicians, officials, visiting dignitaries, ordinary Israelis paid homage to the fallen.

A day later, a second siren, to bring public activity to a moment of dignified remembrance as ceremonies commenced at the 43 military cemeteries around the country.

Supportive rallies yes, here and there, but official marches of troops in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, no. Nor were there shows of military might, with supersonic and fighter jets, rocket launchers, armoured troop carriers and the like, on show.

Israel does not venerate armed conflict and the machinery of war; it suffers them. The country remembers the tens of thousands who died protecting the country from those who sought to eradicate its presence.

In Russia marching bands played martial music, making ordinary Russians feel proud and comforted. Proud of their history of struggle against conquest, which in fact cost that country tens of millions dead in their struggle against Nazi Germany. Comforted by the evidence that they remained strong and resolute and well armed and a similar attempted invasion would be met with Russian courage and a well-equipped army.

As for Israel, her people see no need to march to martial music played by military brass bands. Israel does not advertise her belligerence on the world stage, nor her preparedness for new onslaughts from her surrounding enemies. She is there to stay, and stay she will. Meeting head on all attempts to vanquish her defenders, to punish her people for their will to live.

She celebrates her existence against all odds, declaring by her very presence, her permanence. The soldiers, the armaments will be in evidence when and where they are required.

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