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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Living With Ourselves

The former president of the American Psychological Association, a native of Edmonton, Dr. Frank Farley, considers the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which now lists 357 types of psychiatric afflictions to have outgrown itself: "I think it's just gotten out of hand ... How many vote for this, how many vote for that? It's a problem. The science of human behaviour has gone way beyond that."

Normal human behaviours in all their rich and varied manifestations have come under the close scrutiny of a microscopic classification. The better to assess and diagnose us with. We cannot enthusiastically, innocently, incorrectly, eccentrically, adversely behave any longer as we will, for fear of being identified with a troubling pathology.

One which, furthermore, must be attended to medically and chemically. For our own good. And the greater good of society. Oh, and by the way, the growing authority of the psychiatric community of medical professionals. And just incidentally, their partners in this crime of pathologizing human behaviour, the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Farley contends that the DSM seeks to conformalize and abnormalize human behaviour. Anything that remotely resembles non-conformance; extreme reactions are no longer in the realm of normal human behaviour, but instead constitute behaviours seen through the lens of pathology. "So we begin thinking of too many things in terms of sickness. We're going to treat you to make you normal."

Quirks and eccentricities are no longer admirable, nor are extreme reactions, nor insistence in individualism, thrill-seeking, adventure-clinging, discovery-prone attitudes to life. These must be muted, treated, pacified. To be dull, conformist, disinterested, removed, is to be normal. If that state of being cannot be reached by sheer will alone, the psychiatric profession stands ready to step in and rescue the situation.

They will prescribe the proper medication. And if that medication doesn't work, and instead creates troubling physical and mental conditions arising out of their use, why then, other pharmaceuticals can be tried until the correct combination is finally found that will deaden all human sensation and make one comatose to 'being'.

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Gently Rebuked

A little like the wisdom of Solomon. No wonder Parliamentary Speaker of the House Peter Milliken is well respected for balanced impartiality and intelligence. Guess we should add cerebral creativity to that too, now. And a well-deserved bit of chiding going out in both directions. Mostly, to remind all sides in the House of Commons that they are adults with seemingly mature minds, and it's time to put their brains back to work.

They've become addled of late. Slightly more than usual. Chimpanzees gone amok in the mirrored funny-house.

Yes, the opposition opposes, but it also supports, doesn't it? Reasonable government-led initiatives, that is...? And most Conservative-led government initiatives to date have been fairly reasonable, and sometimes verging on excellence. Which is why, one supposes, that in turn, the NDP and the Liberals have seen fit to support the government on occasion.

And which also explains why the Bloc Quebecois, in its Quebec-first-and-only fixation rarely fails to slam the government.

It's a sham of the most blatant order to begin with, to haul Parliament into an uproar of pretentious concern over the purported welfare of apprehended Taliban in the hands of their Afghan confreres. It is simply that any trumped-up allegations of wrong-doing on the part of the government suits the fancy of the opposition.

Principally the Liberals in the instance that if they were governing the situation would have been no different.

And the NDP, who deplore Canada's presence in Afghanistan - in an attempt to overcome the designs of the Taliban, to assist the current Afghan government, corrupt as it is by Western standards, to meet its obligations to its people - insisting on an immediate troop withdrawal, while simultaneously championing Canada's military entering Democratic Republic of Congo conflict, at the UN's behest.

All the parties behaving as though they're collectively in a state of apprehended adolescence, rather than behaving as mature parliamentarians. The Conservative government is unwilling to disclose documentation to the tender mercies of the Liberals anxious to pounce on anything that would leave a scintilla of doubt whether government or the military was aware of 'torture' in Afghanistan's prisons.

Claiming, logically, that under the circumstances, classified documents must be protected in the interests of national security. While Members of Parliament insist that they have the parliamentary right to view all such documents. Of course memory is not that distant of classified documents being left in the possession of unauthorized individuals, resulting in the hasty demotion of a Cabinet Minister.

In this instance, that is not the issue at hand, but the principle of the issue, and Speaker Millikan has done a fine high-wire balancing act respecting his office and his reasoning process. It would be very nice if we had a non-partisan parliament, but we do not. It would be reasonable to anticipate that elected officials see themselves as serious representatives of the public weal; they appear to have problems with that.

They behave as childish caricatures of serious lawmakers, mawkishly insisting that they have the interests of the public in mind, and the reputation of the country to uphold, while they make a mockery of both in their obvious self-interest. All parties descending to the unfortunate level of street-playing, hormonally-maladjusted adolescents.

Thus, giving the belligerents an opportunity to think a trifle more deeply about their disparate positions, and offering his opinion that he has trust in their eventual ability to regain their collective senses and do justice to their elected positions, there is yet hope that reason may prevail.

One supposes.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lacking Synergies

Can't blame a fellow for exploring all opportunities for self-advancement now, can we? Especially when a hitherto cushy employment fell flat because voters clued in on the fact that there was something not quite right about one's commitment to the job at hand...? But where there's a will there's the way appealing to be manipulated in just the right way. All in the family, after all. If one's wife has the inside skinny, why not share the opportunities?
"We realized after a few meeting with Mr. Gillani that our firms were different and didn't have synergies." - Rahim Jaffer on Nazim Gillani.
"Mr. Jaffer seemed to state to this Committee last week that he ended our relationship months ago. This was untrue." - Nazim Gillani on Rahim Jaffer.
Two unprincipled scoundrels. Whom to believe? Well, both and neither.

Mr. Gillani, most inconveniently for Mr. Jaffer produced a copy of a signed contract, ensuring a "finder's fee" would complement energetic insider lobbying successful in helping Mr. Gillani with financing for his business projects. That kind of synergy. Business is business, after all. And landing big ones is the name of this game.

To which end, is utilized such official government-provided appurtenances as make for needed electronic equipment in a Cabinet Minister's office. Handy to use a parliamentary email account with the logo of the Government of Canada and the imprimatur of a Cabinet portfolio on it to entice clients to believe they'll get their money's worth, and more. "Rahim, here."

It's just human nature, after all, isn't it? Got valuable government contacts? Well, use them!
"Mr. Jaffer and I were to travel to China together on April 13, 2010. Yet Mr. Jaffer seemed to state to this Committee last week that he ended our relationship months ago. This was untrue."
"It formalized its services in a contract with my company ... which states that: "The consultant warrants and represents that it is in ongoing dialogue with, and has valuable connections to and with, the Government of Canada and various departments, ministries, and wholly or partially owned entities thereof, all for the purposes of providing participatory and non-participatory government funding (and other incentives) as well as ongoing support for various prospective private sector projects, ventures and initiatives."
Sounds like a well-written document, a prettily made up conceit of parliamentary privilege and entree to any areas of interest conceivable. Anyone see anything wrong with that? Calling in old friends and doing a little bit of prodding here, and suggesting there, and recommending over there...?
"Lobbying isn't the nature of our business and we know the rules." Rahim Jaffer
"I sent the email that referred to Mr. Jaffer as "The Canadian government money accesss point", based on my understanding of what he and Mr. Glemaud did for a living." Nazim Gillani
It truly is unfortunate when people somehow manage to confuse issues and get an entirely erroneous opinion of what you're offering and what's legal and what's somewhat illicit. Just can't figure out why everyone is coming down so hard on poor Mr. Jaffer and his colleague.

"We didn't enter into any contracts with him whatsoever", avowed Mr. Glemaud when he was interviewed by those pestiferous MPs on the committee of enquiry.


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Must We?

Canada must officially do its utmost to help where it can, to ameliorate horrible living conditions for people living in third-world countries. Countries which have never been able to manage to govern themselves well and responsibly, countries dependent on aid from wealthy nations of the West, countries whose tribal traditions leading to suspicion and hatred of others and resulting in incessant warfare has ensured their conditions would never improve.

It's a holding pattern, nothing less. Transferring vast sums of money over the space of decades to countries within the African continent, some of which manages to trickle down usefully to modestly help those in need whose plight is ignored by their own government. But most of which aid funding goes directly into the pockets of corrupt rulers and their corrupt followers.

Funding that should be used for medications, for access to clean water, inoculations against dread illnesses.

The need to help those helpless people who live in unendurable poverty and endemic sickness - whose plight is never alleviated, and where children are unable to grow beyond infancy, their mothers languishing in ill health, if they survive maternity, all of them susceptible to malaria and dreadful water-borne illnesses, culminating in utter human misery - is dire.

Compounded by ongoing internal warfare and the resulting situation where women become prey for tribal vengeance through rape and children are often kidnapped to be trained as foot soldiers in militias who prey on the population. Where the country's own official military treats the vulnerable population in an equal manner to the militias they purportedly battle.

And the United Nations invites Canada to join it in Democratic Republic of Congo, as soon as Canada disengages from Afghanistan, as a peace force. Canadian military to go from battling the Taliban, to overseeing 'peace' in Congo by separating the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda from government forces, joining the UN's MONUC mission set up a decade ago to enforce a ceasefire in the wake of a multi-party civil war that has killed 4 million people.

Join the United Nations in one of their African peace-keeping missions. It is Rwandan Hutu militants primarily preying on Congolese, having fled Rwanda after the genocide they perpetrated there, upon the Tutsi Rwandans. During the genocide taking place in Rwanda, with the UN's mission headed by Lt.Gen. Romeo Dallaire, Rwanda's emissary to the UN was on the Security Council.

Reporting directly to the Hutu genocidaires what the United Nations and its peacekeeping forces in Rwanda were attempting to do, to maintain order, to desperately attempt to forestall ongoing mass murder, attempting to protect Tutsis huddling within the UN compounds with their children, fearful of imminent death. Lt.Gen. Romeo Dallaire, as head of the UN Rwandan mission was forced to stand by and witness the endless slaughter.

No help was forthcoming from anywhere in the world, much less the United Nations which had other, more pressing problems to attend to, elsewhere in the world. This is the same United Nations which implores Canada to become involved in Democratic Republic of Congo. And, in fact, also pleading with Canada to become involved there is none other than now-Senator Romeo Dallaire.

Can we not say thanks, but no thanks...? We've had those experiences. They've been utterly fruitless. We do desperately wish to save lives and save people from the misery of their dreadful existence. But will the additional sacrifice of more of our young men and women in uniform result in that kind of success?

Or is it finally necessary for the African continent to police itself, for the leaders of Africa to turn away from tribalism and vengeance and greed?

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PIGS Trough

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Chinese Proverb.
That hoary old adage of teaching a person to fend for themselves being far superior than supporting that person causing a lack of personal initiative and continued dependence is right. Folk wisdom knows whereof it speaks. Take away the burden of self-responsibility and you kill with kindness, setting the stage for continued lack of responsibility to self. There is a right time to help, and the right time to encourage someone to take the initiative to help himself.

Those whose existence is dependent on the goodwill and charity of others do not recognize the need to help themselves, they feel themselves to be in a comfortable place and simply do not aspire to become independent, even at the price of sacrificing pride in oneself. The cycle becomes one of illusion and delusion. Since help is so readily given, the receiver feels it becomes his due. Effectively, initiative is emasculated.

In Canada there was a seemingly far-sighted, noble experiment to ensure that the entire population of the country wherever they lived within confederation, would be assured a like level of public services and opportunities. A simple enough idea; the federal government would collect taxation from the provinces and re-distribute it through a scheme called provincial equalization. Wealthier provinces would support those less-well-endowed provinces.

The largest beneficiary of this system of generosity were the country's east coast provinces where employment tended to be seasonal. Additional assistance was given by way of unemployment benefits, assured at a higher level in the identified have-not provinces. And the Province of Quebec was singularly entitled to a stupendous share of the entire package. This seemed to work for a while and it made Canadians feel fairly smug about themselves.

Until the realization struck that the 'have' provinces somehow missed having services that the 'have not' provinces were able to mount for their citizens, thanks to the kindness of the self-sacrificing 'have' provinces. What's more, the 'have-not' provinces, having become accustomed to those no-strings-attached transfer payments saw no reason to make an effort to enrich themselves through their own resourcefulness.

Somewhat akin to the situation seen right now unfolding on the world stage where the European Union, patterning itself in a similar manner, to accord special treatment for its less-wealthy members finds itself in a financial and political bind with some of its members: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain, heavily indebted, unable to pay back their loans. Loans granted them, enabling them to live beyond their means.

Except that, since the loans were granted to them by international bankers they had no reason to feel they were living beyond their means; they believed they were entitled to live just the way everyone else does in the states that were better managed and more productive and hadn't built up an impossible debt-load.

It's like the family on welfare looking at the lifestyles of the middle-class and believing they too were entitled to live that way, and in the process misusing their welfare payments then finding them inconveniently finite. Resentment ensues from this, the same kind of anger and bitterness seen in the placards held up by Greek citizens, refusing to face austerity measures.

Little wonder German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country's well-run economic engine has made it one of the more powerfully successful countries in the EU, expresses the anger of German citizens, incensed that they would have to prop up a failing economy in Greece, where people live beyond their means, while German citizens live far more prudently.

At the same time, Greek citizens are resentful that they are in this position, one that they and their government created by their wasteful habits and lack of spending restraints, and they are indulging in a nasty back-lash against Germany, resuscitating old enmities and war-time wounds, accusing Germany of having looted Greek wealth under the Nazi war machine.

The natural human impulse would be to let Greece and the other PIGS flounder. But since financial institutions are now globally intertwined that would result in huge bank collapses, which would benefit no one, bringing down financial ruin on banks having no connection to the ill-considered loans, but dependent on the health of the ruined banks to keep their own solvent.

And the same is true of countries innocent of the ruinous policies of the PIGS nations; well-run and mindful of careful government spending; they too would suffer. As it is, because of the disaster of downgrading government debt to junk status for Greece, and more on the horizon for other countries, world stock markets have been enfeebled and currencies downgraded.

The world cannot afford to bail out these reckless governments, and they cannot also afford to let them flounder into ruination because of the far-flung consequences. It's an instance where banks should have been far more abstemious in their generosity to clients who clearly were living above their means; a mirror image, in a sense, of the U.S. mortgage debacle that initiated the now-recovering global financial collapse.

Countries that have felt complacent in living beyond their means and encouraging their citizens to do the same, have infantalized themselves politically, socially and economically. Yet their feelings of entitlement still exist, and although they are themselves responsible for their financial plight, they blame outside sources.

How very human. How very adolescent. How very irresponsible.

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Politicizing Charity

"Instead of pushing forward in support of an initiative that could benefit millions, we're allowing the potential for hope and opportunity to be swallowed up by a political debate about abortion that is stifling the potential for progress." (signed) CARE Canada, World Vision Canada, Plan Canada, RESULTS Canada, Save the Children Canada and UNICEF Canada; NGOs involved in convincing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take up the cause of third-world maternal and child health.
This is mealy mouthed but yet honourable and explicable:
"We want to make sure our funds are used to save the lives of women and children and are used on the many, many things that are available to us that frankly do not divide the Canadian population. Frankly, there is not enough money to do all the things we want to do, even in those areas. We will concentrate our efforts on areas where the Canadian people are united and want to see progress ... highlighting the wide range of initiatives to be funded: training health-care workers treating and preventing disease such as malaria and pneumonia, screening and treating sexually transmitted diseases, immunization, clean water, sanitation and family planning."

This is inflatedly portentous:
"This is going to produce a major problem in pursuing a comprehensive strategy for women's health and children's health. I think he's made a grave error."

And this is politically, opportunistically divisive:
The government is "in the ridiculous position of failing to defend overseas the rights that Canadian women have here at home."

The proposed G8 health-care initiative to address the horror of preventable maternal deaths and infant mortality in developing countries due to lack of nutrition, clean water, medicines, health services, education, hygiene and sanitation proposed by the Government of Canada is a noble and needed one. That this government finds itself uncomfortable with providing funding for access to abortions abroad as part of the package is unfortunate.

It does not, however, devalue or degrade the larger move to alter the dreadful statistics on maternal mortality and child deaths that substantially as to account for the opposition parties in Parliament mounting a vociferous assault on the government. This divisive parliament owes its current status to the ongoing attempts by the opposition to diminish the Conservative-led government's accomplishments and status in public opinion.

For the very clear and unfortunate need to burnish their own, sadly lacking in originality and initiative and, truth to tell, honesty. The proposed move to commit to pursuing this agenda within the G8 for the greater good of humanity is one that morally and ethically should be supported without reservations from the opposition benches. The trouble is that the leaders of the opposition parties are so busy opposing everything they've lost their grip on ethical behaviour.

Michael Ignatieff desperately attempts to ingratiate himself with women voters by insisting the government "respect a woman's right to choose", in a situation where the women involved desperately need basic, fundamental, functioning health care. Safe abortion procedures do not exist in Africa; they may begin to, with the assistance of such a program, but it will be funded (how to keep it separate?) by other G8 countries.

Mr. Ignatieff's stertorous condemnations of the government are misplaced and under the circumstances, illogical - compellingly self-interested. This is nasty mischief writ large. Even members of his own party do not agree with him on this issue. As for Mr. Layton; he never did see an opposition band wagon he would hesitate to scramble on.

What do they make of the coercion involved in the United Nations and signal NGOs tying medical and humanitarian aid to contraception use? It may seem like a good idea, but it does impinge upon what cultural groups may very well feel is their right-of-reproduction. If we're going to be ultra-sensitive to all nuances, include that one.

The initiative as it stands, regardless of Canada's position on abortion funding is one welcomed by aid agencies and certainly by the others in the G8, all of which applaud it for the greater good of its intended purpose. The efforts of the opposition, and particularly those of Michael Ignatieff to sully and divert attention from the main project; a rescue mission, are deplorable.

Politics muck-raking compassionate efforts to ameliorate third-world horror scenarios. Shameful!

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Maternal Mortality Reduction Program

The Government of Canada has assumed its global responsibilities in leading the G-8 to a reflection of the needs of under-developed countries in ensuring the needs of its most vulnerable will be reckoned with. To aid development in those countries to further the health and longevity of children and their mothers. A concerted effort on the part of the advanced, wealthy countries of the world to put their aid dollars to good use by establishing facilities to offer potable water and sanitation, good nutrition and health care for women and their children.

Women offered the opportunity to educate themselves about family planning and conception, about the intelligent spacing of pregnancies and limiting of same through educational health clinics will be empowered to at least partially reserve for themselves the ability to choose when, whether and how to have children. Exposure to good family planning techniques, to decent hygiene, to healthy food choices for themselves and their children should translate to a healthier population.

That Canada has chosen officially to bypass funding abortion as one of many tools in the workbox of women's childbearing health is unfortunate. Of course, those countries that criticize Canada for that decision, like the United States, talk a good line but internally access to state-paid abortion procedures is politically resisted. Canada's firm decision on refusing to fund abortions abroad is not, however, helpful.

The total package of health-care opportunities offered to poor women in under-developed countries should include abortion. On the other hand, there will be other countries within the G-8 who will fund this option. Still, it's disappointing that the Conservative-led Canadian government, while seemingly complacent about not raising the divisive issue about abortion access within Canada, yet still chooses to resist offering to fund it abroad. Despite what the government asserts, this is not what most Canadians want.

But then, there's an interesting revelation, in connection with this needed assistance to help third-world women overcome maternal morbidity and mortality resulting from lack of proper obstetrics services, overall sanitary conditions, health-required nutrition, safe water and health care. And that is the unspoken-of agenda emanating from sources within the United Nations and NGOs toward population control.

It does make good sense to control the number of births per family to help ensure that mothers are not overburdened by children they cannot attend to adequately, nor afford to raise. That UN and NGO-affiliated programs are linking maternal health programs with safer childbearing, plus population control is interesting.

It can certainly be advantageous to the target community and also to the world at large, diminishing steadily rising population numbers while at the same time ensuring that those births that do occur, are well maintained and the resulting children given the opportunity to grow to maturity. But this exchange of help through availability of funding for maternal health programs, aligned with acceptance of contraception in societies unwilling to accept one for the other, is coercive.

Maternal- and child-health care programs should come without strings attached. If an additional feature of such programs is to convince the target society and the mothers within, that fewer children would make their lives easier, safer, healthier, then such an educational program should be launched, separate and apart from the health-provision aspect.

Fertility reduction and ensuring that maternal health is improved are both laudable goals. They are not mutually exclusive. But both require separate educational programs to succeed in each direction. One need not be tied to the other.

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Multiculturalism's Failures

Canada needs immigrants. Emigrants need Canada. A match made in heaven. But it's not. Partly Canada's fault, partly not.

It seems, increasingly, that the visa- and immigration-screening process to ensure suitability of would-be visitors and immigrants could use a little re-designing. Because it has become abundantly clear over the past decade or so that Canada has admitted some citizenship candidates who should have undergone screening with a finer tooth-comb to ascertain suitability.

People with an investment in ongoing friction between various groups, imported from the country of origin, would not seem to represent the makings of a future Canadian interested in joining a society of immigrants; fundamentally a pluralist society based on equality of opportunity and egalitarianism under the law enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Basically, all Canadians have a right to personal security and an exchange of respect and tolerance.

We have freedoms that make us comfortable with our place in the country as individuals and as members of a larger society. We should also have great expectations that those who transfer their selves and their families to Canada will also be prepared to transfer their allegiance to the country and markedly to the overall social values of the country, its customs and traditions.

Official Canada is at fault, however, for encouraging immigrants to believe that they need not adapt themselves to the country's rules and regulations and social customs and values. Encouraging them instead to think of Canada as merely an extension of the country they have left. To feel free to live within religious and ethnic, cultural and heritage enclaves, excluding the larger society.

Which is fine, to a point. The fine point in all of this is that extremists, living amongst the moderates of any given immigrant group setting themselves apart from the greater community, conspire to evoke in their compatriots values inimical to Canada and even to their ethnic groups' security. From ehtnic Sri Lankan Tamils supporting the Tamil Tigers terror group, to Sikh fundamentalists raging about secessionist "Khalistan"; violence is the unifying ticket.

Sikhs eager and willing to visit violence on others who decry their penchant for violence and wish to live peaceful lives as Canadians, sully their ethnic group and present as an intolerable problem for Canada to solve. Somalian families who fled that war-torn country who now find their children undisciplined and easy recruits for foreign jihad or dealing drugs must exert a firmer grip on their young.

Muslim extremists who bring their vibrant brand of tribal antipathy toward non-Muslims and above all, the Jewish State of Israel for its purported intolerable presence in the Middle East, and fomenting to violence and incessant hateful slander in Canada, do violence to the normative expectations of Canadians by spewing and spreading campaigns based on hatred.

When a community can be terrorized by a Sri Lankan terror group's affiliates in Canada demanding 'donations' to fund the activities of a listed terror group, multiculturalism has failed. When a group of Canadian Sikh separatist fanatics can conspire to blow up an airliner and murder hundreds of Canadians, multiculturalism has failed.

When a long-established ethnic group within Canada begins to fear a recurrence of bigotry and racism because of the introduction of another, opposing ethnic group, multiculturalism has failed. Canada is a huge, underpopulated country, with great natural resources and huge opportunities to advance peoples' aspirations.

Canada is not a country to be used as a convenient spring-board for launching hate campaigns, threats of violence and parochial extensions of incendiary slanders leading to violence echoing situations in countries far from our shores.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Another Human Rights Case

Mortify a mother by telling her that her young child is behaving in a barbarous manner and you're identifying yourself as a philistine, a social moron. Who else would take a mother aside and inform her that a seven-year-old boy, from a culture not quite consonant with Canada's polite dinner-table conventions, is behaving boorishly as evidenced from his table habits.

And, as a new Canadian, he is expected to use cutlery to tackle his food in a circumscribed, 'Canadian' manner. This is honesty, brutal frankness. No, it is not.

It is crude and unmannerly interference with the comfort and good feelings of a child. Reflecting a total lack of critical, empathetic values. A child uses a fork to cut up his food, then moves the result onto a spoon which he then raises to his mouth; a formulaic manner of eating that is common in the Philippines. Does this make the child a threat to society in some peculiar way?

Good grief, get a grip. A mother told her son is eating "like a pig". Well, who wouldn't take umbrage at that absurdly unfeeling insult? Adding insult to injury it was not just the lunch-time monitor who made comment but the insensitively crude principal of the Montreal school who recommended to the mother that her son should eat "like a Canadian". What the hell?

It seems clear that those involved weren't getting through to one another. Gratuitous insults should be recognized for what they are, and those issuing the insults should apologize. People on the receiving end of cultural slights are justified in feeling aggrieved. They should stand their ground and insist on their right to be respected.

Making an official case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission? Surely there are other avenues open for hurt feelings to be ameliorated by a reasonable exchange of opinion.

What if this had happened to someone born in Canada of a 2nd-generation mother who simply saw no need to teach her children social table manners? Wouldn't that mother have a case too? Would she threaten to bring a case before a human rights commission? She'd likely tell the principal to shove off.

You go to the school and raise hell. Demand an interview with the principal, with the teacher, with the offensive monitor, and if you're not satisfied with that outcome, then enlist the support and assistance of the school board's administrators. They do respond. They do bring balance to the issues involved, and there is satisfaction to be derived from a civil exchange.

Stupid insensitivity needs to be brought up short. It doesn't, as in this case, merit a $17,000 fine, nor does it merit international censure and hard feelings all around. What also works is to apply social pressure by informing the local newspaper of the absurd situation where a school principal is involved with humiliating a child because of his 'unorthodox' eating habits.

It's a far better way of getting to the heart of the matter, and of seeing that public opinion is on side, simply because this represented an inflated incident of insensitivity, inexcusable because it was directed toward a vulnerable child whose mother had every right to be incensed and demand the matter be addressed.

Respect, after all, is a two-way street. Courtesy cannot be legislated, and hauling the matter before a quasi-legal court of appeal is overstating the case and ends up creating additional, unnecessary social barriers. Such insignificant differences need never create divisions between people if they're reasonable individuals.

A mother's irritation at her child's ill treatment should have made those responsible shamefaced, and readily apologetic. And there the story should have ended. A child's exposure to different ways of public behaviour is easily transferable and adopted; he would of his own accord have been "Canadianized'.

And if not, so what?

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Beware the Psychiatric Pharmaceutical Complex

If business is slow, do something about it. Create a market. One that might not have existed before. It's called entrepreneurial marketing. And in some markets the potential for expansion is quite simply amazing. Take, for example, the human mind. Take, for example, people, individuals, each and every one spectacularly unique. Like snowflakes, each one formed by ice crystals in various wonderful shapes - no two, we are informed by those who know, alike its neighbour.

Something like people, come to think of it. We are all so different from one another. We've our inherited genetic qualities, and then there are learned behaviours resulting from exposure to various situations and experiences combining with our inherent character to create, all together, a completely individualistic personality. All of us are distinctly ourselves, with the things in life that we value and others that we shrink from.

We are moderate, well-balanced, socialized creatures for the most part, but we can also be people-averse, phobic cranks. And, of course, everything in between. In some areas of the world people who behave truly oddly are simply labelled eccentrics and they are not only tolerated, but often admired as well, for their different responses to life's experiences. The great mass of people, however, prefer to be like everyone else, and thus unnoticed.

But then there are those who are flamboyant, ecstatic about life and its possibilities, energetically seeking opportunities others would far rather bypass. And, of course, the sociopathic element of any society who are emotionally detached and soured by life, unwilling to share with society and often enough given to unethical, sometimes violent responses to societal norms. We have them all. In some dire instances, control is imperative.

And psychiatry is busy labelling everything, placing characteristics and phobias and confusions and antipathies into neat categories. All of which, once studied and filed neatly into separate and distinct types can be labelled mental illnesses which should be treated by those very psychiatrists whose business it is to identify, quantify, qualify and prescribe.

The public is more aware than ever that there is a steadily growing categorization of human attributes and behaviours and pathologies. Some of which never quite existed before, and which are now recognized as needful of close scrutiny and control. A former American wartime general and later president of his country mouthed a cautionary "beware the military-industrial complex". We can neatly paraphrase it as "beware the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex".

The latest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has been drafted for publication. This is a manual used world-wide by psychiatrists whose interest in treating patients fitting into its neat classifications has enabled the profession to grow in lock-step with the steadily growing identification of newly-recognized mental illnesses plaguing society. This manual now lists 357 human mental disorders.

Everything from diagnoses of attention-deficit disorders; hyperactivity, autism and childhood bipolar disorder (manic depression) in children - for they're never too young to be recognized as being in some way abnormal by their obstreperous and disorderly behaviour that was once seen as normal, if irritating - requiring costly and time-consuming professional treatment along with appropriate medication.

And there are other criteria and classifications newly recognized and coined, like children with persistent "negative mood" and frequent temper tantrums; this new illness is labelled "temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria". Right, and there's "behavioural addictions" where we recognize problem gamblers. Soon to be joined by Internet and sex addictions.

Behaviours that are seen as socially deviant; pornographers, sexual predators, hypersexuality. These are mental conditions, not instances of human beings losing touch with rational and decent decision-making, succumbing to the allure of the societally (and morally) forbidden, edging into the realm of indecency and outright violations of human rights - of others, of course.

It is unfortunate that some of these potent pharmaceuticals now being prescribed for these unfortunate conditions have other, inimical effects on the human system, but that's life. Fix one thing and another thing goes awry. Nature, it would appear, has done a half-assed job in her production of the human spirit and psyche, and our emotions and hormones simply carry us away into morbid insanity.

Begin with new mental-disease classifications that are diagnosed by readily recognizable symptoms listed in the new manual, and suddenly there's an epidemic of people suffering from disorders society never knew existed, and had always attributed to anti-social or undisciplined behaviour. The underlying reason is much more sinister; mental illness, and not merely apprehended psycho-social maturity.

Identify the problem, assure the patient (and often the law enforcement agencies) and begin treatment. Last year alone, the burden on the country's universal health care system was huge, and it is steadily growing. Pharmaceuticals are taking up an increasingly-large share of the health-care budget. Last year in Canada pharmacies dispensed 61.2 million prescriptions.

Canada has a population of 33 million souls. Are we all mad?

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Holy Vendettas

Do we need them, do we really need them? Yes, we do, it would appear. Kinda. Canada needs immigrants to beef up its population base. Home-grown couples simply aren't that fixated on having big families. If two people aren't committed to reproducing themselves, we have a population base in stasis. That's no way to grow an economy. So, we continue the long-hailed immigration route, and it's done us in good stead, for the most part.

But then, all of a sudden, Canada can boast it enjoys the largest expatriate number of Sri Lankans and a little problem raises its antsy head. Canadians of Sri Lankan Tamil heritage begin to fund - or are coerced into doing so - the Tamil Tigers. Canadian Tamils, with their great ethnic numbers presenting as juicy bloc-vote potentials, are noticed and followed and flattered by Canadian politicians. Who appear to see no evil.

Even when conventions Canadian politicians attend to curry favour espouse Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka, and photos of Tamil Tiger guerrillas are given full honours, and the flag is hoisted high; one country of refuge allowing violence-supporting immigrants to celebrate and to fund a vicious separatist-terror group against another country; very poor optics indeed.

Until finally, another political party in governance put the Tigers where they belonged - on a formal outlaw list.

Canadians of Jewish extraction suffered a dreadfully long period of official and unofficial anti-Semitism until the present era, when the public and the politicians became more sensitized to egalitarianism and equality in a mature society, and official multiculturalism helped to stem that ugly pathology. And then somehow racism seeped back into the picture with the more latterly-occurring wave of Muslims from the Middle East becoming citizens.

Some, like the Sri-Lankan Tamils, brought a foreign conflict and a religious antipathy toward a fellow religion into full play, creating a distance between the two communities and importing glowering blame and bitter rivalries into an entirely different country, far divorced from the Middle East. Using Canadian Jews as fodder for their searing hatred for the State of Israel's hold over territory once in trust for Islam, that pathology spread here too.

All unfortunate enough, but Canada has also absorbed a huge number of emigrants from India. And, among them, hundreds of thousands of Sikhs. Who, like ordinary Sri Lankans and Middle Easterners came to the country to live decent, secure lives, and most of whom have no real motivation nor interest in pursuing the vengeance-filled violence they left behind in their native countries.

(Indira Gandhi was murdered by two of her Sikh guards; her son Rajiv assassinated by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ...)

But for the troubling fact that many of the violently militant Sikh separatists left India to settle in Canada. So that, while the issues leading to violence in the name of Sikh separatism in India have settled in that country, it has seethed and grown in incidence and violence within Canada. Hugely unsettling the Sikh community itself, taken over in large part, by the violent assertions of the fanatic Sikhs who agitate for "Khalistan".

We have that violent aggression to thank for the Air India bombing where 329 people were blown up over Ireland in Canada's first mass and horribly devastating terror attack for which no one has yet been held accountable. Although that issue may yet be re-visited, and re-opened for another trial which may, in the end, be more successful than the failed one. In the meanwhile, Sikh separatists are presenting a danger to the larger Sikh community.

Violence has broken out in many gurdwaras, where the militants are intent on taking over administration of the temples to ensure the installation and control of their extremist views. And which would also afford them the opportunity to administer huge sums of money collected from the faithful. Threats from the militants to the moderates offer a severe affront to Canadian law and security.

Along with the fact that elected members of both provincial and federal parliaments have been directly threatened with violence because of their very vocal criticism of Canada's violence-addicted Sikh separatists. Canada needs to have a serious conversation with itself, about how it will address this issue and those others which have been presenting themselves on the public forum.

The unfortunate thing about all of this is that it is highly likely that official government-led multiculturalism has been involved and in large part responsible for this deleterious situation. Encouraging immigrants to the country to live within Canada as they did elsewhere, instead of insisting those same immigrants leave behind them the unwanted baggage that inspired them to leave their countries of origin to begin with.

Migration is usually undertaken out of necessity. Whether to obtain an upgraded social and financial and career advantage in another country that promises to advance such personal agendas, or to escape civil wars, or oppressive governments, people go elsewhere to find a better life for themselves and their families.

They will not find that better life by degrading the society, the culture, the values and politics of the receiving country.

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Mendacious Politicos

My, my, aren't we getting all hot and bothered over a little bit of innuendo and a whole lot of second-guessing? Well, of course there's substance behind the innuendo and the second-guessing has been nicely ushered along by the clumsy performance of Rahim Jaffer, but he's just an inexperienced past politician, trying to cash in just as all those other cashiered politicians have, before him. It's just that he lacked subtlety, if not imagination.

Add that to his sloppiness in public of a kind that got tongues clacking, and figure in his official helpmeet's official status and very unofficial but officious meltdown bringing her to public scrutiny and you've got the unerringly dubious formula for a closer, much closer look in fairly confined, and inconveniently-subscribed circumstances. There is no public sin quite like narcissism and blatant self-entitlement on the public's dime.

Mind, in much higher echelons of public service many others have done far, far worse and lived to tell the tale, even while the public slavered over its need for revenge. But the experienced brazenly stare down their accusers and the moneyed simply hire clever lawyers, presumably from law firms with elevated reputations that they will themselves join at equally-elevated salaries post-politics.

Take the Right Honourables John Turner, Jean Chretien, and Brian Mulroney, for example. Prime Ministers all in their time, leading Canada into the future as it was then seen, and living the high life in the process. We will excuse Mr. Turner and focus briefly on the remaining brace of exes. Jean Chretien as PM led official teams of Canadian entrepreneurs to China, wined and dined there, and paved the way for his future.

Now he lives high off the same hog, still leading Canadian missions to China, and wiping his plate very clean while padding his bottom line. This was the prime minister of Shawinigate, whose private holdings and business dealings interfered with government agencies, the Right Honourable who tried to strangle a poverty activist who invaded his public space, and for whom Canada can thank for a whole whack of entertainment during "Adscam".

Remember the scheme to make the federal government and specifically the Liberal party of Canada beloved to Quebec, using tax dollars like disposable confetti to promote federalism by way of sponsorship and advertising in Quebec to companies who didn't have to produce anything but which did have to employ Liberal organizers and fundraisers, or alternately, 'donate' funding back to the Liberal Party itself? For some peculiar reason, taxpayers resented this initiative, considering it corrupt. Go figure.

But now Jean Chretien lectures other politicians on the need to go easy on China and its human rights record, and the need to ingratiate ourselves with that huge, enterprising factory floor. Still, Mr. Chretien's motives and actions weren't as universally deplored as those of his predecessor's whom Canadians generally loved to hate. And, come to think of it, Brian Mulroney's smarmy greasiness would have been enough; his corrupt graft-taking was just the muck by the side of the road that signed the temporary death-knell of his party.

A lapse in judgement was all it was, he said gravely, hugely regrettably, at the parliamentary commission interviewing the former Right Honourable (yes, he still does carry that title, unfortunately), and German 'businessman' extraordinaire Karl-Heinz Schreiber was at fault, not Mr. Mulroney, for Mr. Schreiber got his tentacles around the innocent Mulroney and the devil then made him do it. Do it? Do what? What the hell did he do for $300,000?

That was the old Mulroney, the new one now speeds around on a flying carpet, representing Ogilvie Renault, as a partner at that Montreal law firm, doing business in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Mulroney is as thrilled with business opportunities in Saudi Arabia as Mr. Chretien is in the same with China. The thing of it is, China has only destroyed small business-production internationally with its cheaply-produced and sometimes lethal goods.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has exported Wahhabi-type Islamist jihad; both the reverie-type and the violent kind all over the world. Saudi Arabia has funded madrassas with its riches from petroleum resources everywhere it can, and that most certainly includes within Canada. It happens that al-Qaeda was inspired by the same kind of theocratic fundamentalism, even though its leaders abhor the House of Saud.

But according to Mr. Mulroney, in his Globe & Mail op-ed, this Middle East jihad-exporting country represents "a country with a dynamic economy that offers tremendous opportunities for our business and institutions", because both countries reflect a "shared commitment to innovation and education", and are "both poised for continued success", and share the values of "peace and security".

Sell out? Naw. Buy in.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

What Other Options?

There's a tough one. What to do with the sometimes-irritating, sometimes-dangerous incursion of wildlife into geographies once their very own, now overtaken by tract housing. Most people find it amusing and even wonderful when they see small woodland creatures venturing from the presumed comfort of their natural surroundings, to seek comfort elsewhere. Where food may be easier to come by, at bird feeders and where pet food is placed outside and easily accessed.

But then, when clever raccoons continue to come by at night to raid backyard composters, and when equally clever crows rip apart plastic garbage bags set out for waste collection, people become irritated. They become alarmed, however, at the thought, the sight of, and the realization that increasingly some forest creatures are venturing into urban areas and present a real danger by their presence.

Coyotes have become a real headache right across the country; prevalent in the countryside, but now increasingly so in the suburbs, and even directly in urban areas. It is not just their presence, but far more a problem is their growing ease with the presence of humans. Once fear of humans has left their consciousness, they view life on the edge of human existence as an opportunity to advantage themselves.

People begin to realize just how advantaged coyotes can make themselves. Farmers could inform them how vulnerable their poultry, and sheep can be at the presence of coyotes. And now, urban dwellers tell their own stories of pets suddenly vanishing. Cats never returning home, and small dogs suddenly absent, even from well-fenced backyards where they're let out at night to relieve themselves.

If the story ended there it would be troublesome enough, but it does not. The lack of aversion to human presence is on the rise, and with it a greater display of audacity on the part of coyotes. There are many people who could readily confuse a coyote for a large dog. Except that some of these people have been confronted by snarling coyotes, sufficiently confident to track them to their front doors.

Very young children have been seen by coyotes as potentially superlative meals. And these young children have been attacked. From British Columbia at one end of the country to Nova Scotia at the other end, coyotes slinking through public parks, startling people, presenting as moderate threats to domesticated animals, and more stark threats, to people, have become a growing confrontational problem.

As for that moaning mea culpa on the part of animal lovers that human beings have been steadily displacing the wild animal populations off their traditional land, that is true to a degree. It is not true to the degree that coyotes now choose to share urbanized land with humans, for they do this entirely to advantage themselves, to be around where the pickings may be easier than living in the wild and having to stalk more alert creatures; their usual prey.

There is a distinct problem associated with human and wildlife contact. Obviously so, in the presence of bears, far less so when confronted with a squirrel. Bears do not normally, if they are in good health, seek out the presence of human beings, but they will most certainly seek out their dumps to avail themselves of anything remotely edible. They do not normally stalk human beings to feast on people.

Now we know that coyotes may do just that very thing. Six months ago a 19-year-old woman, a nature-enthusiast, out for a solitary walk on a popular trail in Nova Scotia, was attacked by a group of coyotes and killed by them. Nova Scotia is now introducing a $20 bounty on dead coyotes in an attempt to decrease their presence, in the hopes of decreasing the presence of potential human predators.

This is a sad and perhaps predictable end to a tragic story. Of course it's no help that wildlife biologists and previous such experiments point out that taking this tack produces no useful results.

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Fervently Fanatic

Imbue people with the belief that they are not individuals but rather part of a grand whole, a cog in an immense mechanism, and they become amenable to accepting that they must act on behalf of the greater good, not through a sense of altruistic morality, but through a sense of inevitable destiny. Fundamental ideologies are like fundamentalist religions; they are rigidly encased in a sense of their own mystery and righteous obligations to a higher order.

Self-abnegation in that sense is to a celestial spirit, a doctrinaire social-political belief, a religious leader whose agenda strays from the accepted norms, or a belief in catastrophic end-of-times brought to us courtesy of religious or environmental or ideological control-pathologies insistent that only by applying their version of strict and onerous ameliorative therapies is it possible to avert the hovering doomsday appearance.

Recruiting people into these byways of purpose and dedication to the construct of what represents right and what represents wrong and the necessity to battle for right against wrong, is not all that difficult in homogeneous societies where strict belief in subjugating oneself to the better interests of the entire group is prevalent. A common heritage, culture, ideological background is the stepping-stone to group-think and -acceptance.

In war-time Japan the actions of kamikaze pilots and the practise of hara-kiri in defeat were thought of as obscenely aberrant human behaviour. We've moved since then to movements where suicide-bombing has become common enough to threaten terror on a worldwide scale. And perhaps it should be no surprise that a totalitarian government like that of North Korea has been able to persuade its military that self-sacrifice is for the greater good.

There's nothing particularly new about self-sacrifice for a greater cause than one's own well-being. It was, in earlier times, equated with honour. And it still is. During conflict situations people are well enough prepared to sacrifice the lives of others to achieve their ultimate goal. It has been a select few that have exhibited courage and bravery in sacrificing their own lives to ensure the longevity of their brothers-at-arms.

And this is where things become murky indeed. Those whose valour during wartime have long been celebrated for their extraordinary devotion to duty, the bemedalled, the memory of whom societies hold sacrosanct for their ability to transcend self for the greater good, are those whom nations name their heroes. At the same time, during wartime, convention had it that the lives of non-combatants must be held in safety, apart from action taken toward combatants.

Honoured more in the breach than in occurrence. But honoured, nonetheless, and international conventions have been written and massively signed onto by virtually all countries of the world, to hold the lives of civilians safe during wartime operations. At least as much as could be managed, absent bombings. In Iraq and Afghanistan civilians are killed, when paramilitary targets are hit; regrettable infractions through the lens of necessity. But they are also killed deliberately, in mass vengeance sectarian slaughter.

There is something almost spontaneous in the manner in which otherwise-normal seeming people can be transformed into a mass, ravening beast intent on annihilating those they believe, and have been schooled to believe, are different than they are, and conspire to harm them. This is when evil raises its head, when political elites undertake a deliberate policy of sub-humanizing another, target group, encouraging their followers to engage in what Rwanda experienced.

In Sri Lanka, a violent separatist group saw fit to sacrifice the lives of their own civilian population, when Tamil Tigers were desperately attempting to safeguard the last remnants of their bastion against the determined onslaught of the national army to finally put the insurgency to rest. Sectarian-tribal violence in the Middle East between rival tribes and religious beliefs become blood baths and there is nothing honourable about that.

But then there is nothing honourable about the mass behaviour of human beings, who may aspire to become greater than they are, but fail abysmally, one test after another. The ongoing slaughters on the African Continent attests to that, in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, DRCongo, fully as much as history has done. Just as fanatical Islamist jihadists strike terror into the minds of their Western targets through the very reality that they can, and have, on notable occasions, slaughtered relentlessly.

Israel discovered at close range just how vulnerable a sole country can be, surrounded by other nations which do not share its very particular religion, politics, and social contract, although they do indeed share some traditions and geographic heritage. In the Middle East, civilians are deliberately targeted if they are Israeli or if they are deemed to be Zionist, or simply Jews living in the diaspora, as symbols of Muslim defiance of a Judaic-(Zionist) presence.

A non-Arab, staunchly Islamist country like Iran could sustain a lengthy no-holds-barred war with its Arab Muslim neighbour Iraq, and in the process find its adolescent, impressionable young males handy cannon fodder on the battlefield, by the hundreds of thousands; convincing young men that they owe their lives to Allah and the Islamist Republic, and to aspire to martyrdom through sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

That remains unchanged, particularly in tribal societies and most particularly in Muslim societies where the call to arms through Koranic prescription to jihad and holy jihad and violent jihad, stimulates and inspires the restive young to prepare themselves for combat and for blessed martyrdom. How does a well-equipped, well-trained professional army battle an religion-obsessed quasi-military prepared to die and take with them as many other lives as possible?

Should we then be surprised to discover that "human torpedoes" are held to be responsible for the sinking of South Korea's naval corvette Cheonan, last month near a disputed sea border between the two Koreas, killing 46 of the 104-man crew? "North Korean submarines are all armed with heavy torpedoes with 200 kilogram warheads. It is the military intelligence assessment that the North attacked with a heavy torpedo."

North Korean defectors helpfully explained their intelligence that the attack involved a unit of 13 specifically trained commandos in semi-submersible 'midget' submarines. Human ingenuity knows no bounds, nor does human emotional unbalance leading to fundamentalist belief in the rightfulness of a vicious ideology, rejecting the moderation surrounding them elsewhere.

And it should be no surprise that rigidly hateful and hate-filled theocracies and ideocracies are those that threaten a much wider sphere than their surrounding neighbours, and bring to the debate the additional incendiary, intolerably intractable problem of nuclear aspirations.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Helping Africa

Everyone wants to help Africa. Every advanced country in the world thinks it's a duty, to help Africa. Africa was colonized by European countries, dividing it into little vassal-dependent states they could extract the natural resources from, spreading their hegemony and presumed international power and prestige. Hold on, it wasn't just Africa now, was it? India suffered under that fate, and Indochina, South and Central America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North America; the list goes on.

Portugal, Belgium, England, Spain, France, Germany and then later the United States all extended their territories by co-opting the geographies of others'. Most countries of the world, once colonial, colonized by imperialist design, have long since matured, become fully independent and more than capable of looking to their interests in good civilized form. It often seems that Africa alone, that great truly dark continent, struggles to find itself in the future.

Famine, and inter-tribal war, along with inter- and intra- country warfare, continue to extract misery from the huge populations in the countries of Africa. Foreign aid keeps pouring into one African country after another; along with a litany of foreign interventions to attempt to halt wars, and worse, genocidal wars where millions of Africans are slaughtered in country after country as wars drag on, all to little avail.

There is a new imperialism slowly leaking its way into Africa, where countries once themselves colonized, now "rent" African agricultural land in countries incapable of feeding their own indigenous population, allowing Chinese and Saudi Arabian, Qatari, Kuwaiti and Abu-Dhabian and Turkish farmers to work the land, export their produce to the renting countries for home consumption.

Chinese farm workers have been known to have torrid little 'love' affairs with trusting young African women, then leave them to care for the children that are produced while they return back to the home country. These women are then un-marriageable, left to the care of their families. And usually those families are poor ones, working a hardscrabble existence in marginal farming.

Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierre Leone, Ghana and other African countries whose people have insufficient food themselves, are renting out arable land to foreign interests. Ethiopia, whose indigenous population struggle to find enough food, has approved no fewer than 815 foreign agricultural projects since 2007; leased for $1 annual, per hectare. Who profits from that? The ruling elite, not the people.

And the truly obscene spectacle here is that countries like Kenya, suffering from drought and food shortages, will not accept food shipped to it, tonnes of corn from a neighbour, South Africa, because it has been genetically-modified. The official reason is fear of contamination of Kenyan soil and crops - and for the 'greater good' of the country, people can starve, but land that is not currently productive will not be 'contaminated'.

Africa has a habit of doing this type of thing. Sudan's ruling elite, thunderously blamed by the international community of indulging in crimes against humanity in Darfur, shut out all international humanitarian aid groups as a kind of revenge against the world, while thousands of Darfurians starve. This is precisely what occurred in Somalia in the early 1990s when aid agencies tried to protect food shipments from armed warlords with the aid of western troops and then all hell broke loose.

And now, Canada is thinking of sending its Afghan-battle-hardened troops to Republic of Congo at the request of the United Nations to aid in peace-keeping there. How can this be possible, when there is no peace in Congo, when both radicalized African-tribal militias and the government forces as well use mass rape as a tool of war, and slaughter thousands upon thousands of tribal people in the Congo?

If Canadians thought Afghanistan to be a medieval-era dysfunctional quagmire of brutally competing warlords, there will be no sigh of relief if, on withdrawing Canadian troops from Afghanistan they are deployed in Congo. There appears to be no universal African will to help itself, one country after the other. Tribal antagonisms of the most virulent kind as witnessed in Rwanda resulting in mass slaughter is the African way.

And past time for Africa to turn itself around, to become a law-abiding, civil place of security, advantaging its people. Outside intervention cannot produce that. Only internal resolve to displace all the tyrants and the oppressors. But then that supposes that honest, dedicated national figures that could be trusted to act on behalf of the people will arise to deliver Africa from its bondage to chaos and mayhem.

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Good Move, McGuinty!

Don't we all want the very best educational environment in the world for all of our children? And it's true, Canadian children, and children living in Ontario in particular, do get a very fine education. They're being exposed to a level of educational opportunities far surpassing what their parents and their grandparents had, and they're quicker and smarter and more attuned to everything that goes on around them in the world they inhabit.

They're computer- and gadget-literate in a way that their elders never were, but then that's fairly explicable, given that all these electronic enticements weren't around a mere several decades earlier, to begin with. Young kids learn things with alacrity that their elders find difficult to cope with. Their minds are more elastic, they're more adaptable to change, they profit hugely from opportunities given them to expand their knowledge base.

They're exposed to Canadian history and world history, to geography on a scale that should prepare them to become more knowledgeable as adults. The level of science and math that really young kids are exposed to, and given basic training in, is mind-boggling, so much so that many parents find themselves incapable of struggling alongside their kids, to help them with their homework; it's beyond parents' capabilities, but not their kids'.

But why in the world would the quick minds at the Ontario legislature at Queens Park and the province's Education Minister and those in the field of education curricula whom they consult feel that kids in grade three would benefit from instruction in homosexuality? They'll learn, all in good time; three is a tad young. And Grade 7 kids learning about anal intercourse, and all these little scholars being sexually sensitized and prepared for the adult world of gender politics?

Give me a break. Give them a break. Grandmothers can ask their grandchildren - as I did not have to do mine, because she expressed her unease, disappointment and unpreparedness to contemplate these topics in their abbreviated, far less specific details presented to her in grade 6, when she told me, fuming at the stupidity of herself having to forge through all of that in class, that she thought it would be far more timely for presentation in grade 8.

This is a kid who is curious about just everything, has a good and enquiring mind, and does not sit in judgement of anyone. On the other hand, our bright minds at Queens Park sit in judgement of the province's children, judging them, in their infancy and adolescence, to be prepared to become educated about the minutiae of sex. That there was blow-back on this item, far more than Premier McGuinty might have anticipated is just fine.

That there was so much controversy and unease expressed from various sources, above all from the Catholic School Board, in this very particulate instance, worked well to the advantage of all Ontario youngsters, when Premier McGuinty decided to "give this a serious rethink".

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Institutionalized Art Fraud

P.T. Barnum had it right, didn't he? You really can fool some of the people, most of the time. Put up a united front and assert whatever you will, do it often enough, with seeming conviction and authority and you cow people into submission; at the very least into believing what it is that is being put forward as being authentic without question, even if they themselves cannot see the value in what is being lauded.

As in non-representational art, abstract art so vague, so obscure and utterly lacking in aesthetic value which "experts" continue to express delight in. And which, if and when sufficiently successful in turning peoples' minds - if not toward satisfaction in creative aesthetic, then for those who can afford it, as an "investment" against future sales. People simply are easily led, and will, in the end, believe what they are told to believe.

Particularly when the world's leading art collectors have bought into the fiction that abstract minimalism has value, that it is expressive, and beautiful, representing the artist at his or her best. In this particular instance, it is the art of a Canadian-born abstract painter, Agnes Martin whose "extremely subtle grid of light grey pencil lines set against a soft beige background of acrylic paint - is expected to sell for between $4 million and $6 million in New York at a Sotheby's auction of contemporary art.

A vanishingly faint depiction of a desert painted in 1965 by the late Saskatchewan-born abstract artist Agnes Martin ...

Well then, judge for yourself. Above is a photograph of the eminent artist alongside her outstandingly exquisite painting of a desert, considered by art experts to represent a "masterpiece" of classical painting. One of Sotheby's knowledgeable curators describes it in the auction catalogue, "Like the sands in the desert landscape dissolving into a hazy horizon, the muted palette of the present work expands in front of the viewer".

"The Desert offers rewards to the viewer who is able to quiet their mind and eliminate distraction; it embodies emotion in an abstract, timeless and unchanging realm." This very painting earlier sold at a Christies auction three years earlier for $4.7 million. I cannot but increase in value as it 'matures' in the minds of those who hail it as an outstanding piece of art. The emotion it brings out in this viewer is simple disgust.

Bringing to mind the National Gallery of Canada's fantastic acquisition in 1989 of the acrylic on canvas painting by American Barnett Newman, Voice of Fire. Ordinary Canadians were outraged that the painting, now in the permanent collection of the Gallery in Ottawa, for which taxpayers of the country forked out a formidable $1.8 million. That exquisite painting
consists only of a red stripe on a blue background.

We can but hope that Canada's National Gallery will pass this one by, despite how irresistible it may seem to the gallery's curators, and spend that whopping sum on true art treasures, paintings that gallery-frequenters can truly stand before with admiration. Ms. Martin herself when once asked how viewers should approach her work responded: "You just go there and sit and look".


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The Slow Rot Within

Does the World Need Another 9/11 to Wake Up?
by Derek Cling Wake Up, World

David J. Rusin is a former astrophysicist who is now the director of the Islamist Watch of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based foreign affairs think tank. He recently spoke with Israel National Radio's Tovia Singer about educational work he is doing with Islamist Watch to raise awareness in the United States concerning the internal threat of Radical Islam.

Rusin explains that 9/11 was an eye-opener for him, motivating him to give up astrophysics and pursue a career in combating Islamic Fundamentalism.

He warns about the non-violent manifestations of Radical Islam as perhaps being one of the Western World's biggest threats. "Violent Islamism, terror attacks... are only part of the story," he says, "There's also what you might call a slow-motion, or stealth Jihad, which, rather than trying to blow up the foundations of our country and our civilization, seek to chip away at those foundations slowly from within."

Muslims take on US from inside

He also looks at Radical Islam in Europe and sees another warning sign that the United States and the rest of the world should take seriously. "Many of the problems with radical Islam are more advanced in Europe," Rusin admits. However, "we see radical Muslims working within the system in the United States using the media, the courts, and the government, trying to impose aspects of Islamic law into our system and into our lives. They try to win certain privileges for Muslims and try to shut down criticism of Islam."

Islamist Watch tries to rally the support of moderate Muslims, "who believe in their faith, but who also believe in tenets of freedom and liberty," in order to stand together against the threat of Radical Islam. "There is such an Islamist current in mainstream Muslim organizations in this country," Rusin explains, "that a lot of moderates are starting to step forward and say 'we need to be a little bit more proactive here.' At Islamist watch, one of our chief priorities is to promote these individuals and organizations, and promote their message."

Rusin and his organization are also concerned with governmental support going to the radical Muslim groups, rather than the moderate ones. "When you look at Muslim groups in the United States," he says, "it is the more radical Muslim groups that have risen to the surface. These are the groups, unfortunately, that both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration always seek out when they want to do their outreach to the Muslim community.

'A big negative change'

“There is a long track record, at this point, of the Obama Administration pursuing policies that have been detrimental to our conduct of the war on terror. We're [the U.S. -ed.] not even mentioning radical or extremist Islam in our national security documents. This is a big negative change from previous years where the Bush Administration's defense and national security strategies specifically talked about militant Islam as the number one threat facing this country."

When asked what non-violent threat concerns him most in America, he answers ‘free speech’, which he believes is "under threat like never before on a number of different levels." Some examples of ways in which free speech is under threat, says Rusin, "is the UN Human Rights Council passing resolutions urging member governments to restrict speech that might be deemed offensive to certain religious groups, and one facet of ‘law fare’, the use of predatory lawsuits to try to silence researchers and activists looking into or opposing radical Islam."

An even more ominous threat to free speech, according to Rusin, is something he terms "self censorship - the belief that tolerance and diversity trumps everything and we have to try and make sure that we do not offend anybody, and therefore, we do not say the things that need to be said."

The academic world also seems to be encouraging Radical Islam, he says. "There is a strong Anti-American, Anti-Israel, anti-Capitalist culture prevalent in academia," he explains, "There is also a very strong strain of multi-cultural fundamentalism, the belief that there truly is nothing that separates us from other cultures – no culture is better than any other culture. They are not comfortable speaking out against the atrocities that we see committed in the name of radical Islam and the lack of freedom that we see characterizing societies that are governed by radical Islam."

Campus Watch

Rusin explains that the Middle East Forum is trying to speak out against these concerns with a project called Campus Watch. "It looks at Middle East studies in the United Sates," he explains, "with an eye towards criticizing and improving them." He admits, however, that "the academic world is very, very difficult to combat.

Islamist Watch believes that the mainstream media need to be combated by alternative forms of media. As Rusin relates, "The major media not only distorts the news, but they give you some of it and hold some of it back. There are great innovations that the new media has presented, such as talk radio, cable television, and most importantly, the Internet and the blogosphere. These alternative sources fill in a lot of the cracks that the major media outlets would prefer to go unfilled."

"9/11 opened my eyes”, he concludes. “It made me question what's going on in the world. It made me see that the liberties that are so precious to us are under threat. 9/11 woke a lot of people up, and we remained awake for a year or two, but then we started bickering, and finally, we started forgetting. I hate to say it, but it may take something terrible to happen in order to open many of the eyes that have been closed."

published in Arutz Sheva, 23 April 2010

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Well Earned, Huzzah!

Call it come-uppance, long in coming, but finally arrived. Someone who expresses public contempt for another whom he claims to be an ignoramus incapable of cracking open a book to educate, entertain and lose himself in the wonder of creative literature, feeling himself an exemplar of that creative process is in dire need of a pinprick of critical deflation.

Even though the old saying goes that "those who can, write; those who cannot criticize", there are more commonly now critics who also write, and very well, too. From the perspective of their own creative writing ability they sit in literary consideration of others' creations, and occasionally pronounce their unflattering conclusion.

Yann Martel, who boorishly and loudly seeks public notice for himself as a creative intellectual has long sought to bring scorn raining down on the head of Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his presumed lack of interest in matters literary. Presumptively mailing off condescending notes accompanying Mr. Martel's choice of educational reading material to Mr. Harper.

Mr. Martel may be a skilled writer with a sterling imagination, but he is also a right royal jack-ass. His egotistical search for the limelight, continually slagging Prime Minister Harper, is not one hugely appreciated by everyone. He has managed, in fact, to anger many, and those many are now quite delighted that Mr. Martel's latest publication has received the blessing of many stink-laden literary reviews.

His pretentious literary superiority toward a political figure whose intellect may tower above his own has, dare we hope, been taken down a peg or two. But perhaps not. When his literary credentials were questioned with respect to plagiarism in his highly acclaimed "Life of Pi", he metaphorically shrugged. The startling resemblance of his novel to one written by Brazilian Moacyr Scliar, was no coincidence.

His idea of creativity lacks some authenticity, in fact, since he admitted that Mr. Scliar's novel served as the inspiration for his own. Which novel in fact, he claimed, he had not read, but rather a review of the book. And from there expanded his own version of a quite similar story. "I saw a premise that I liked and I told my own story with it." Ah, but the premise is the story.

Latterly, Mr. Martel was inspired by an oft-told story; the Holocaust. And, realizing how often it has been examined like a fascinating prism with countless highlights, told from a wide variety of perspectives ranging from historical documentation to personal experience, felt he could forge an entirely new perspective, witnessing the horrors from the perspective of animal liberation. And writing in an abstruse, quasi-mystical manner.

So it is intriguing and fairly satisfying to see Mr. Martel's complacent boorishness remarked upon in an entirely other way, through comments such as that from a reviewer intent on speaking his mind because "nobody was willing to call a clear turd out for what it was". Another well-wisher suggesting, "May he move on to smaller topics with larger meanings", and "Reviewers will be puzzled and some will damn with faint praise. Unfortunately they will have good grounds for this response".

To which Mr. Martel responds, "You either want something to be positive or negative. You don't want indifference, because that means you haven't stirred them in any way". Well, Mr. Martel, no one can honestly claim you haven't stirred your critics. They suggest that whopping seven-figure advance owes nothing to this book's content and everything to your previous Life of Pi success.

And come to think of it, consider your statement in the context of your odiously unforgivable hounding of Canada's current prime minister. He is indifferent to your pestiferous advances. You have failed to stir him. He may not even notice your very existence. That seems to trouble you.

Judge not lest ye be judged; perforce, art thou judged.

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