Monday, December 24, 2007

In Bethlehem

From the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, in Ha'aretz:

"A new peace effort was begun these last few weeks. In order for it to succeed, there must be a firm willingness to make peace. Until now, there has been no peace, simply because there has been no willingness to make it: "Peace, peace! they say, though there is no peace" (Jer 6, 14).

The strong party, the one with everything in hand, the one who is imposing occupation on the other, has the obligation to see what is just for everyone and to carry it out courageously. "O God, with your judgment endow the king," with your justice endow our governments so that they can govern your people with justice (Ps 72).

In recent times, there has been some talk about creating "religious" states in this land. But in this land, which is holy for three religions and for two peoples, religious states cannot be established because they would exclude or place in an i
nferior position the believers of the other religions. A state that would exclude or discriminate against the other religions is not suitable for this land made holy by God for all of humanity."

This year's Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem saw a modest recovery in tourism, but life in the Palestinian city has certain unshakable facts.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Proud Islamist Christmas

Of course, such a thing would be a peculiar celebration. Christmas, as celebrated today, has relatively little to do with the teachings of Jesus (peace be upon him), and more to do with the innovations of the Church, or, if you're a more secular type, an orgy of consumerism. Of course, you can use your holiday to do a lot of good things, but that's like any day off.

That said, I don't mind Christmas - in fact I prefer for those people who celebrate it to call it what it is, and not just some random "Winter Holiday." I don't want my Christian or Jewish colleagues to feel uncomfortable if I practice my religion around them, and so I don't feel offended or upset if they practice theirs around me. Merry Christmas.

And now for a little Islamist Grinchitude.

This year, I have been approached on behalf of three separate groups to donate toys to poor children as gifts. Two of them were organizations that I have actively supported. The first two times, I thought a little bit about it, and then hesitantly declined. The third time occurred at a Friday prayer, when an announcement was made asking for donations of toys for Eid-ul-Adha, which happened to fall in late December this year. This time I had no hesitation in rejecting the plea.

I believe that Muslim kids have a right to play just as much as any other kids, but the context put the question into focus.

The problem is that if you know anything about kids, you know that they don't actually need toys to play - they are endlessly imaginative and creative creatures, whose ability to pretend is so much more potent than those of adults. It's not true that children can't grasp abstractions as well as adults can; really they just don't conceive of them as parts of a formal system. Do children today enjoy their play any more than children 50 years ago, or children in poverty-stricken circumstances? Probably no more than adults enjoy themselves more today than in past decades; we have so many more ways to entertain ourselves, but human beings aren't wired to be permanently happy.

Visiting a cemetery in Pakistan (or, as it is poetically known in Urdu, "khabrstan," the "land of the grave") one thing striking contrast with the same in North America is the number of children. I don't mean the unsettling number of 1m x 0.3m graves that one sees crammed into the available spaces, but the number of living children who inhabit the place.

Growing up in a cemetery. What could be more bleak?

But there is very little about these children that could inform the passing observer that they are preoccupied with that aspect of their situation. They beg, sell garlands and flowers, and offer, in exchange for money, to water or plant whatever green piece of life the relatives have brought for the sake of their dead. I can't say I did a detailed study, but these children don't seem depressed. They play, they push, they bully, they steal, they laugh, they cry, and they run about. In short, they do all the things that kids do. The fact that they are urchins might expose them to all kinds of harm and suffering, but their circumstances alone do not destroy their spirit.

Would toys make them happy? Yes, maybe for a little while, but I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that they would make any sort of lasting impression. And if it did, what would the impression be? That one needs material goods to celebrate, to be happy?

So, the Grinch (Al-Gerinich?) has a point, doesn't he? While poverty is a question of equality, and not just material possessions, no underprivileged child in North America is going to benefit from a toy any more than the graveyard gang in Pakistan would. And both have much more pressing concerns.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, December 17, 2007

As usual, they lie.

Or at least, they are very dishonest.

"They" refers to CanWest Global media, who, in their hysterical search for bogeymen for us to spend the Two Minutes Hate - Canadian Edition (it's Orwell week on the TheProudIslamist) with, were beating the drum two weeks ago about Hugo Chavez's impending victory to become Venezuela's Communist-Dictator-for-Life by "extending his term indefinitely." And they seemed so sure he'd win, because, they assumed, he'd fix the results, or the opposition would hold a principled boycott, and nastiness in Venezuela would triumph over the goodness represented by . . . hmmmm. . . oh right, us.

Here is the article that appeared in the Financial Post, the National Post, other CanWest newspapers, and, apparently, the New Zealand Herald. It is sourced to Reuters.

Now here is the article that appeared in most other publications, including on Reuters website.

This interesting little paragraph appears in the CanWest/New Zealand version, but not anywhere else:

"Fuelled by record oil prices, the economy is booming and consumers are flush with cash. But state controls over prices and currency exchange have distorted the free market, causing periodic shortages of basic goods such as milk and eggs."

Funny that Reuters wouldn't want to publish such an important factual observation. After all, everyone knows that it's morally unjustifiable to "distort the free market." Good thing CanWest picked up the slack to avoid embarrassing the wire service. There are other things published in the CanWest version that don't appear anywhere on the the Reuters website, or in any other reproduction thereof, besides the New Zealand one.

Chavez, by the way, lost the referendum. At which point we stopped hearing too much about the supposed communist dictator sitting threateningly perched atop our Venezuelan oil. Good thing too! Who knows what mayhem would be unleashed if a head of state were to run for re-election as many times as he . . . oh.

Even if Reuters ever published something so conveniently trite, CanWest Global have a mottled history when it comes to playing fast-and-loose with wire stories. There was, for instance, this unsettling episode from 2004 when Associated Press's own editors complained that CWG was renaming all the parties in the Middle East as either US, Israel, or Terrorist.

And who could forget the time the National Post didn't even bother with pretending it was a wire story, but essentially invented a hoax about Iran forcing Jews to wear Nazi-style yellow badges. The report was quickly dispelled by Iranian legislator Maurice Motamed, who is himself Jewish.

So next time you read a wire service story in a CanWest newspaper, assume that it has been played with. Or should I say that the editors have taken the liberty to "edit[] for style...editing so that [they] have clear consistent language to describe what's going on in the world."

It's Orwell week alright.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Puzzling Interlude

I like puzzles. Here's an oldie, but a goodie:

Three travelers stop at an inn and ask for a room. The clerk tells them that the rate for a room with 3 beds is $30, so they pay $10 each, and head off to sleep. The clerk realizes that he has made a mistake, and that the actual cost of the room is $25, so he sends up a $5 refund with the bellboy.

Now this bellboy is a bit of a shady character, and thinks to himself: "How are 3 people going to split $5? Wait. I have a solution to this problem!" So he pockets $2 and brings the travelers $1 each, so that each of them has now paid $9.

Now, 3 x $9 = $27

The bellboy took $2.

That's a total of $29. $1 is missing.

Where did it go?

NB: If you are looking for some sort of political allegory, this story is really about 1st-world trade deficits in the post-colonial period.

No it isn't.

Now find that dollar!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, December 14, 2007

Imagine a boot stomping on a human face.

Orwell is overused and much-abused. But there were a lot of things he was right about.

Article in the Washington Post:

If things go as planned, data will beamed to the Biometric Fusion Center to check against more than a million Iraqi fingerprints. Hundreds of Marines are learning how to process a crime scene, "an unheard-of tactic . . . snapping on rubber gloves," Betro said.

The next stage is to miniaturize, create "a backpack lab," so that soldiers who encounter a suspect "could find out within minutes" if he's on a terrorist watch list, Duong said. "A war fighter needs to know one of three things: Do I let him go? Keep him? Or shoot him on the spot? In Vietnam, our guys didn't have this tool."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

A little amateur climatology

Well surprise, surprise: US and Canadian negotiators have rejected the idea of imposing greenhouse gas emissions targets as a part of the Bali negotiations. Cutting GHG emissions means using less energy, and no matter what you say, using less energy means making less money, having less fun, doing less travelling, and buying fewer things. And that would just be cray-zee.

Worse still, in order to curb our baser instincts to do all of those things, government would have to enact policies to make it so. Even if a majority of the population were theoretically on side with that, doing nothing is electorally safer than doing something that could be perceived as a disaster. The notion that individual, average, citizens shouldn't be permitted to pursue self-interest over the global public good is pretty foreign to politics in the United States, and unfortunately, we're losing touch with it in Canada as well. But, as usual, I digress.

Of course, the entire problem with the global warming argument is that no conclusive proof that it is anthropogenic has ever been presented. I didn't see Al Gore's movie, but I don't think I really need to - even if we were to have 10 Earth-like planets and pump them all full of CO2 over the course of 50 years, and even if they were all to turn into Venus at year 51, the study could still be criticized for having too many confounders - and it would be empirical evidence. Today we're trying to draw conclusions from incomplete observation of one planet. You can never satisfy everyone even with good data - with shaky data the argument that this is "just a phase we're going through" is only strengthened.

But to those who are firmly convinced that human beings aren't changing the climate of this planet, here's a few numbers that I've calculated for you - not to convince you to support any policy or conclusion, but just to make you stop and ask yourself how sure you are of your position.

According to the CIA Factbook, this species consumes roughly 63,180,000 barrels of oil every day (2004 figures - it's gone up since then). So, in 2004 alone, we consumed about 23,060,700,000 barrels of oil. A barrel of Brent Crude, which is an average sort of oil that is found in the North Sea (but like all the rest of the stuff, it's running out), has a volume of about 158L, and, using a density of 0.835kg/L, would have a mass of about 133kg.

So in 2004, we burned 3,061,024,174,616 - or 3 trillion, 61 billion, 24 million, 175 thousand, to round it off - kg of crude oil. Let's be conservative now say that oh, 50% of that mass is pure carbon, and let the rest be impurities, hydrogen, and other elements. So we have about 1.53 trillion kg of carbon. Let's further say that 10% of it doesn't get burned (plastics and what-have-you). So we have 1.38 trillion kg of carbon released into the atmosphere in 2004.

Stay with me now.

So the first question is, where did all that carbon go? Well, the obvious answer is that it was photosynthesized back into virgin Brazilian rainforest, which have been expanding at an alarming rate. Curbing this expansion will be the next great challenge faced by the human race.

Remember I'm just talking about oil here. I haven't said a word about wood, coal, natural gas, or any of the other things that this pyromaniacal species likes to turn into smoke.

But let's stick with oil, and imagine that we did 10 years like 2004 - we've been burning more since, but we burned less per annum in the '90s, and let's pretend that before that, we didn't burn anything at all.

So we have 13.8 trillion kg of carbon. As CO2, that's going to have a mass of about 50.6 trillion kg. Let's convert to tonnes and say 50.6 billion tonnes. The total mass of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 2.9 trillion tonnes. So that's an increase of about 1.7%, attributable to just oil, in just 10 years.

So we've had this party for 10 years, and guess what, it's only changed our atmospheric CO2 by 1.7% (I'm sure you can actually find better figures on the web somewhere). This is, however, a ridiculously conservative estimate, as you'll remember that I left out every other fuel, assumed that only 50% of the barrel was carbon, that only 90% of it wound up the atmosphere, and that 100% of that was cleanly burned into CO2 - instead of the thousands of other worse compounds that pour out of tailpipes and smokestacks.

The second question, however, is: how much longer do we intend to do this? How long until we've really fundamentally changed the composition of the atmosphere? I'm not a climate scientist or a policy wonk - but if anyone tells you that the notion is just an unfounded assertion, you know they're either lying or dumb.

The third question is, do we need to worry about this? After all, the oil is going to run out.

Unless all that brand new Brazilian rainforest gets fossilized in time.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Annapolis - Conventional wisdom finally gets it right.

Because so far, the conventional wisdom all around is that nothing will come of it.

One of those exceedingly lucid writers for Ha'aretz is right that the "experts" on the Middle East, who regale us with their predictions and "analysis" on North American TV sets and in our newspaper oligopoly, tend to get it wrong. I agree. They do tend to get it wrong, mostly because their business is more about telling people what they want to hear than it is about thinking independently about the situation. That, however, is another post.

He is wrong, however, about them on one issue - Annapolis. Everyone knows it's doomed to failure - all the photo-ops of high-level of diplomacy, but no actual diplomacy. As much as everyone wants a negotiated peace, only a complete reversal from one party would make it happen - and it isn't the Palestinians who need to reverse, since no matter what Abbas agrees to give away this time, the fact remains that the Palestinians have nothing left to give and he no longer speaks for them, if he ever did. Hurray. Conventional wisdom finally prevails.

The man who sees most clearly on the Middle East - more clearly than any other British or American journalist I've ever read - is Robert Fisk. He laid Annapolis bare two weeks ago in the UK's The Independent.

Annapolis will not work for all the reason he has laid out and one more: which readers of this blog will have to get used to hearing. Say it with me now, "Two-State Won't Work."

Israel cannot afford to offer the Palestinians a genuine, sovereign, territorially contiguous state, with its own government, own immigration , own trade, own water, own airspace, and own army. Offering the Palestinians any one of those things would completely undermine the economy and security of the entire Zionist enterprise. Offering any two of them would lead to a colonist revolt east of the Green Line, and offering the latter 3 would necessitate moving thousands of them back West of it. And you thought the Gaza withdrawal was hard for the IDF.

On the other hand, not offering all of them means not giving the Palestinians an actual state. Not offering all of them means the occupation goes on; you can't enforce those kinds of restrictions on a nation without resorting to military force. And no matter what Abbas says, they will never accept a trade that has them renounce all moral and legal legitimacy in return for a piece of paper that may as well have been used to buy Manhattan, figuratively speaking.

Olmert sees the writing on the wall, which is what Sharon saw when he made the decision to dismantle the Gaza colonies. Sharon thought, though, that it would give him the excuse to forestall the inevitable in the West Bank, and solidify the zionist position there. Olmert must have known he was wrong, because even Olmert knew what would happen when two-state collapsed:

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished. . . The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us"

Of course, it IS going to collapse, and so Olmert's challenge is now to make the playing cards look like concrete, just long enough to convince the Western media that the house he builds with them is not going to fall, and let the occupation go on.


Just as a side note:

If I were the sort of responsible person who used his time wisely, I wouldn't read the comments at the bottom of Ha'aretz stories. Sometimes though, something lucid is said. One commentor made the observation (and so I can't take credit for it) that Hamas men could have just sold the drugs, and pocketed the cash. Alternatively, the Hamas government could have sold the drugs, and exchanged the cash for guns. They did neither. Dare we hope that it is because they, unlike anyone else in this world, are trying to provide the Palestinians (who elected them) with a real government?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Layers of Meaning

While randomly flipping through, looking for something else.

"The likeness of the life
Of the Present is
As the rain which We
Send down from the skies:
By its mingling arises
The produce of the earth --
Which provides food
For men and animals:
(It grows) till the earth
Is clad with its golden
Ornaments and is decked out
(In beauty): the people to whom
It belongs think they have
All powers of disposal over it:
There reaches it Our command
By night or by day,
And We make it
Like a harvest clean-mown,
As if it had not flourished
Only the day before!
Thus do We explain
The Signs in detail
For those who reflect."

--Qur'an, 10:24. Trans.: A. Yusuf Ali (1938).

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Yay! Iraqi children are saved!

Or should that be "Saved" with a capital S?

In a mood to increase the oatmeal content of my brain, I turned on my ancient TV set and flipped to CNN, where Larry King was interviewing "Real American Heroes." This was the intro piece for the interview I saw.

Americans have finally found a solution to the health and welfare crisis in Iraq that their government created!* Have American soldiers adopt ALL the Iraqi children! As Major Southworth said during the interview, "We came to Iraq not only to replace a democracy with a dictatorship, but to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. And one way of showing how much we love and care about them was to volunteer at that orphanage."

A murderer who only kills on Tuesdays is still a murderer, no matter how many orphans he helps on Mondays and Wednesdays.

*with an almost psychopathic determination and deliberation.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Recognizing The Dubai Trap

I've seen two interesting documentaries in the past two weeks. The first was recommended to me by an acquaintance, and turned out to be by the same director of another favourite documentary of mine. Adam Curtis's "The Trap: What Happened To Our Dream of Freedom," is another BBC production, in his characteristic narrative style. I still have yet to watch parts of it, but essentially it tells a compelling story of how our idea of "freedom" in the West has become narrowed over the last 4 decades, and has become characterized by the freedom to satisfy one's own desires without interference from any other individual or power. The film explores how this idea of freedom came to dominate the West, and how the attempt to force this idea of freedom upon the developing world, particularly the Muslim world, has lead to a violent backlash against the ideas of liberalism and democracy that the West is ostensibly trying to teach them.

Instead, the filmmakers posit, people are drawn to an idea of freedom that defines itself by the ability of the individual to play a positive role in the future of his community - it is the idea that freedom does not have inherent value, but that freedom is for something, and that for it to really benefit mankind, it must have a purpose. The first episode of the movie is available on Google Video.

Shortly after starting into The Trap, I also watched Dubai: Miracle or Mirage? This documentary examines the history of the tiny sheikhdom, and what its successes and challenges have been.

I've flown through Dubai a few times, but never had much of a chance to see the city. The airport is gaudy and overdone, a massive shopping mall with airplanes parked outside, and cheezy decorations inside, epitomized by the concrete palm trees that crop up in sections. One thing that does catch the eye, however, are the newspapers, whose sole purpose is to glorify the the Maktoum family who run the place, and have turned the backwater port into a hub of commerce and the Las Vegas of real-estate speculation.

And now I come to the point that inspired this post, which was made by an Emirati political scientist who was interviewed for the film. Responding to a question about how locals have reacted to the growth of Dubai's nightlife, which includes racy night-clubs and a booming sex trade, he replied something to the effect of "If people want to do these things, that's their business. You don't have to go there. If you don't want to be involved in them, then there are plenty of mosques and places of prayer where people can go and spend time, if they wish. . . We have developed an Islam that is compatible with modernity, that is tolerant and forward-looking, and that we would like to see exported as the model for other Muslim countries to follow."

My non-Muslim readers probably think that this is quite a nice sentiment. I revile it. This sort of practice of Islam is so divorced from the principles of the Qur'an and the practice of the Prophets (peace be upon them all) that it gives me a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach to think that this is the model that the Muslim world should follow.

The suggestion is that religion can be separated from day-to-day life - that it is something that is only witnessed in masajid and mussullahs, not on the street where the prostitutes solicit. This is the trap! For what good is Islam if it doesn't change the life of the community, and fails to empower all individuals to have some influence on the society that surrounds them? Dubai is good at making money. Aside from providing very comfortable travel and accommodations, it hasn't proven, as a society, that it is good at much else.

Now, I don't say that Muslims need to be in the streets, declaring that all the prostitutes be stoned. I do, however, long for a world where they are the first to weep that disenfranchised women must resort to such a profession, and the first to explore and find solutions to the problem, instead of crawling back into their Mosques, oblivious to the purpose of freedom.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, November 25, 2007

How to boost your hit count:

Mention "Lockheed Martin" in a post.

And who is trolling the internets looking for mention of Lockheed Martin?

Why, Lockheed Martin, of course.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, November 22, 2007


"It is not righteousness
That ye turn your faces
Towards East or West;
But it is righteousness -
To believe in God,
And the Last Day,
And the Angels,
And the Book,
And the Messengers;
To spend of your substance,
Out of love for Him,
For your kin,
For orphans,
For the needy,
For the wayfarer,
For those who ask,
And for the ransom of slaves;
To be steadfast in prayer,
And practise regular charity;
To fulfill the contracts
Which ye have made;
And to be firm and patient,
In pain
And adversity,
And throughout all periods of panic.
Such are the people
Of truth, the God-fearing."

-Qur'an: SII v177, trans. A. Yusuf Ali.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, November 19, 2007

Somalia - The Logical Move

Somali insurgents are directing new attacks against Ugandan forces who are operating under under the AU mandate

African stories rarely receive the coverage they deserve - witness the ongoing war crimes in Darfur, or the civil conflict in the DR Congo - and I suspect that this is, sadly, because the people involved are black, and whose virtues, vices, victories, and victimhood do not carry the same inherent worth as anybody else's.

On the face of it, decontextualized from the last 2 years of conflict in Somalia, this sounds like an evil move, especially to those of us here in Canada who get the warm fuzzies every time the word "peacekeeper" is mentioned.

The fact is though, that this is the logical move, because the AU forces declared themselves the enemies of the ICU long before the ICU made war on anyone who didn't richly deserve it. More progress was achieved by the Islamic Courts Union in six months in Somalia than the provisional "government" (I use the term loosely) had managed in 10 years, holed up as it was in Baidoa, desperate for foreign assistance, powerless to govern the capital of Mogadishu while thuggish warlords divided up the city into an array of personal fiefdoms and protection rackets. It was certainly NOT the UN or the AU who kicked them out, united the city, and imposed something called "the rule of law." It certainly wasn't the US. And it certainly wasn't the Ethiopians, whose invasion of Somalia both the US and the AU openly supported.

And that's the rub - the ICU is still a more legitimate government than the Ethiopians, with more local support and a better chance of being interested in Somalia, as opposed to maintaining a the integrity of the Ethiopian state, which is probably the main concern (to be charitable) in Addis Ababa. By entering Somalia, the Ugandans under the AU are providing stability to an order that is inherently unstable, and propping up the power of an aggressor instead of helping a popular, egalitarian Somali political movement to govern Somalia.

I don't claim that the ICU is an ideal government - but they had a chance to give Somalia something it desperately needed: a real government, as opposed to a feudal, radically libertarian paradise where laws and public authority were completely unheard of. The Ugandans are doing the opposite - they are protecting the rule of the Ethiopians, through both brute military force and a totally dependent regime that went from being a pathetic, if sincere, attempt at a government to an outright puppet of foreign interests.

Now, one could argue that armed resistance, from a practical standpoint, might not bring any good to Somalia, and might prolong a conflict that might have been otherwise solved. That might be a valid claim. If, however, the Ugandans want to enforce Ethiopian rule by force of arms, and if the ICU is going to commit itself to the removal of the Ethiopians by the same methods, then targeting the Ugandans is, unfortunately, the logical move.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Unconditional Revulsion

What an evil government! What an un-Islamic nation! What disgusting, repulsive, merciless, debauched, sinful, cruel, malicious, pernicious, treacherous, wasteful, quisling state - that commits some of the most vile injustices imaginable in the name of Islam, and then turns around and begs the common enemies of the Muslim world for protection and support. Chauvanism of every kind in a state with so little to be proud of. It isn't "Saudi Arabia." It is "the land of the perversions of the ibn Saud."

But what if it isn't true? Newspapers in liberal "Western" countries report hoaxes as fact with the same audacity as media in tyrannical states - the major difference being that the lies are more subtle, and the population more unsuspecting. Editors with an agenda, and lazy, unscrupulous journalists are global phenomena.

In this case, though, it doesn't matter. The problem is that it is so believable - even if this were a lie, its untruth would never make up for the crimes of the ibn Saud, for the system they invented that makes this sort of thing even conceivable, all the while getting fatter and fatter as if the good Lord had put the oil in the ground just for their pleasure, and as if their monarchy was some sort of inherent good, as opposed to the anti-Islamic crime that it is. As the recent OPEC summit shows, they will do anything to keep themselves under the shade of Uncle Sam's wing, their only concern being lining their own pockets. The whims of some chauvanistic men - themselves to ignorant or too morally compromised to oppose the regime - are what passes for "justice."

God will bring them down, sooner or later, as He does with everyone. Until then, the only thing that the Proud Islamist can feel for the ibn Saud, who make such a thing even thinkable, is pure revulsion.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Some November 11th Poetry

When I was a teenager, I discovered a small hardcover book, dating back to my mother's school days, entitled "Palgrave's Golden Treasury." In it, I found some of the most spectacular poetry of the English language that I have ever encountered - written by men and women (mostly men, of the dead, white variety, I think) who could communicate abstract, complex ideas while maintaining the highest standards of rhythm and rhyme (not so much of this lazy, upstart "free verse" stuff that seems to dominate today).

This is probably not the most moving or descriptive poem ever written on the subject of war, but it illustrates something about humanity and inhumanity that I think applies more and more to people in non-military professions. It remains one of my favourites. Reed himself didn't see combat during his service in WWII, and so this isn't a way to remember people who give their lives for strangers. . . but anyways, here it is.

b. 1914
To Alan Michell

Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine gloria

LESSON II: Judging Distances:

Not only how far away, but the way that you say it
Is very important. Perhaps You may never get
The knack of judging a distance, but at least you know
How to report on a landscape: the central sector,
The right of the arc and that, which we had last Tuesday,
And at least you know

That maps are of time, not place, so far as the army
Happens to be concerned-- the reason being,
Is one which need not delay us. Again, you know
There are three kinds of tree, three only, the fir and the poplar,
And those which have bushy tops to; and lastly
That things only seem to be things.

A barn is not called a barn, to put it more plainly,
Or a field in the distance, where sheep may be safely grazing.
You must never be over-sure. You must say, when reporting:
At five o'clock in the central sector is a dozen
Of what appear to be animals; whatever you do,
Don't call the bleeders sheep.

I am sure that's quite clear; and suppose, for the sake of example,
The one at the end, asleep, endeavors to tell us
What he sees over there to the west, and how far away,
After first having come to attention. There to the west,
Of the fields of the summer sun and the shadows bestow
Vestments of purple and gold.

The white dwellings are like a mirage in the heat,
And under the swaying elms a man and a woman
Lie gently together. Which is, perhaps, only to say
That there is a row of houses to the left of the arc,
And that under some poplars a pair of what appear to be humans
Appear to be loving.

Well that, for an answer, is what we rightly call
Moderately satisfactory only, the reason being,
Is that two things have been omitted, and those are very important.
The human beings, now: in what direction are they,
And how far away, would you say? And do not forget
There may be dead ground in between.

There may be dead ground in between; and I may not have got
The knack of judging a distance; I will only venture
A guess that perhaps between me and the apparent lovers,
(Who, incidentally, appear by now to have finished,)
At seven o'clock from the houses, is roughly a distance
Of about one year and a half.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Mainly because the targets are getting smaller

I was going through some old magazines, and came across this one that appeared in the 20th September 2006 Jane's Defense Weekly, on the back cover. I'm not a subscriber to JDW, but I do like to read it when I have the chance - the content bias aside, it's no worse a source for international news than the Economist, which is the fashionable magazine for Canadian university students and profs who like to feel well-informed. It should be retitled Am. J. Conventional Wisdom.

But I digress.

The SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pod is a device that allows warplanes to clearly view, track, and identify distant targets, and can be configured to supply information in tandem with radar and satellite to all J-series ordnance. And, like the ad says, "Sniper is the only targeting pod that exceeds USAF ATP requirements. Sniper ATP. Battle proven. Best value."

"LOCKHEED MARTIN. We never forget who we're working for."

Awww! They're so sweet!

The ad, does, however, contain a grain of truth. As far as the USAF is concerned, the targets ARE getting smaller (the stakes are NOT getting higher, but understatement doesn't move merchandise) . While the US has to periodically contend with national governments who have actual armies, with ships and tanks and bases, the bulk of its fighting today is against people who travel in cars, on donkeys, or on foot. This is Vietnam, minus the jungle and the NVA. The power differential is huge - militarily, the US Army, Air Force, and Navy are unstoppable - victory for the US in any conventional war is assumed - Iraq in 1991 had the world's 4th largest army, and one that was battle-hardened over 8-years against Iran, yet it collapsed in 4 days. The Chinese might put up a fight, but that's purely hypothetical.

Today, however, the US finds itself struggling against an enemy that is without air power, without artillery, without fire-control systems, satellite intelligence, real-time battlefield management, and billions and billions and billions of dollars to sink into every project imaginable to squeeze every marginal advantage out of a combat situation.

So are they winning?

In military terms, the answer is yes. They take fewer casualties, control more territory, and have greater freedom of movement by air, land, and sea. Their operations have a much higher success rate than those of their adversaries.

That would only matter, though, if military victory mattered. As Hezbollah showed last summer, military victory doesn't matter - where everybody assumes that defeat is a foregone conclusion, being seen to have survived against the obviously superior opponent is victory in itself. It's amazing how few people learned that lesson from Vietnam.

Without making a moral judgment on the entire Western enterprise in the Muslim world (which I promise to do some other day), maybe the people reading these ads should ask themselves if Sniper ATP actually does provide the "Best value."

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Where "Truth to Power" is no cliche

Pakistan has been in crisis ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan, limping along between insurgencies, inept military rule, and natural disasters. I wonder how those judges that took oath under the PCO rationalize their actions. 10 years from now, when all of this is history, how will they be able to look their colleagues in the eye?

For anyone out there who is fond of lawyer jokes, here's something to hold your tongue about:

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Flander's Fields - Time for a little iconoclasm

. . . Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw the torch
Be yours, to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep
Though poppies grow in Flander's Fields

Remembrance Day in Canada is fast approaching, and all across the country the poem of a Canadian officer in His Majesty's army will be recited and sung, set to a multitude of different tunes. I have sung it so many times that I know it by heart, and can sing it two different ways. I never really thought much about it - I have been a member of a couple of different amateur choirs, and it had little meaning to me. I didn't care much about the "Great War," but I liked the music well enough.

I was rehearsing it again this year, when I thought a little deeper about that verse. What exactly does it mean, anyways?

Take up our quarrel with the foe

Not to be trite, but why? This is a song about the first "World War." What exactly was our quarrel with the foe? The French Canadians who stayed home, those who refused to rush over to Belgium so that a British nobleman could tell them which machine gun they were to run in front, had the right idea. It wasn't cowardice - why would anyone want to deliberately involve themselves in a meaningless, brutal, badly fought clash of imperialist forces on the other side of the Atlantic? The presence of the Canadians, for all our self-flattery about Vimy ridge, was not going to settle it either way. If anything, our only motivation for laying down our lives was a slavish devotion to a global empire that had its own well-documented reputation for brutality and barbarism.

Of course, that's not how it would have been seen at the time, and maybe there is something to be said for alliances and sovereignty and all those noble ideals that are trotted out every time we are asked to go to war on someone else's behalf. So that's not actually my problem with Flander's Fields.

This, however, is:

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep

This is the kind of primitive thinking that I object to, but which is still so frequently used to justify the perpetuation of mindless killing. I'm not a vegetarian, and I believe that some killing of human beings can be morally justified, if conducted in the proper way with the right intentions. With that said, it makes no sense to do so in such a purely ritualistic fashion, just to please the dead and give meaning to their sacrifice, even if it was, in the end, entirely without purpose. Some torches ought to be dropped.

The mentality that underlies Flander's Fields is the same mentality that has driven powerful people, both before and since, to argue that wars should be continued, not because they serve morality, or protect the interests of those on whose behalf they are fought (which can also be evil, but can at least form the basis for a rational debate) but for the sake of those who have already fallen. It's the mentality that caused Gen. MacArthur to advocate, not for a negotiated end to the intractable and soul-numbingly brutal Korean War, but for the use of nuclear weapons against China. Why? Because no man of his was going to "die for a tie." Turn on the TV today, and you hear the same excuse being given.

But I'll probably still sing it anyways. . .

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Whereas you are full of crap . . .

I started out somewhat sympathetic towards Musharraf. He took power in 1999 in a bloodless coup, promising to be the only politician who wasn't on the take, after the sitting Prime Minister tried to force him out of the country. From September 2001 onwards, he was trying to run a country with two guns placed against either side of his head. I didn't really see it then - that Pakistan's army was still, as it has been before, a power junkie whose dealers sat either in Washington or in the country's pulpits. The junkie often bought from both at the same time. The junkie would never be strong enough to kick the habit on its own - Musharraf, and his banker friend Aziz never intended to stand up to the forces of illiteracy and backwardness when and where it counted, but contented themselves with bombing their own population at Uncle Sam's behest.

In the Supreme Court, however, the people of Pakistan found a glimmer of hope - Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry had the strength to stand on principle, and on the rule of law against the military. So when today, the Supreme Court declared that Musharraf did not have the constitutional right to re-elect himself from legislatures whose term was expired, the response was sadly predictable, especially to those who saw the truckloads of troops entering Islamabad earlier this week. The boldness of the nonsensical, ludicrously vindictive "Proclamation" of a "Provisional Constitutional Order" (translation: what Musharraf says, goes!) today, is also, sadly, not out of keeping.

"Whereas some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive and
legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the nation's resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace"

It wasn't the Judiciary that made war on Pakistan. It wasn't the Judiciary that spent months appeasing the clerics of the Lal Masjid. It wasn't the Judiciary that neglected the country's public education system, letting government schools be abandoned as the defense budget grew to 25% of total federal spending. It wasn't the Judiciary that ran an army whose soldiers and field officers surrender en masse when confronted by Muslim insurgents, knowing that their masters are just not worth fighting for.

The failure has been entirely Musharraf's. This latest treason is just the icing on the already bloodied cake.

I ended my last post about Pakistan by saying,

"Now that Musharraf has put down this idiotic little rebellion, the country must now confront the next greatest threat to the rule of law:

Musharraf himself."

Whatever evil end this man meets he has brought it squarely upon himself.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, November 2, 2007

Gloomy, eh?

European countries are not increasing their defense budgets in proportion to overall spending, resulting in a reduced demand for weapons contracts.

You might think that was a good thing.

That's because you're not an arms contractor!

Otherwise, you would be concerned about the "Gloomy Outlook for Europe."

It's funny how being immersed in a particular work environment can warp your perception of good and bad. Whoever wrote that title almost certainly didn't think there was anything odd about it.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Masculinity, Chivalry, and Caring

I don't have any solid support for what I'm about to say - consider it the musings of someone who has been gathering some very anecdotal evidence. I'm sure this has been studied in greater depth, and maybe I've been shown to be wrong, but it's been on my mind, so here it is.

Most of the service organizations I see are run by women. In my high school, the environmentalist club, the two youth chapters of the local service clubs, both the Christian and the Muslim clubs, and basically everything that was community-oriented was run by girls. This pattern has followed me through life - of every club, project, program, and service organization I know of, the majority are either run by girls, or their operations are vastly more dependent on their female membership than their male membership. Males seem generally unlikely to run an organization that they won't personally benefit from.

Men don't seem to care, in the broadest sense of the term - we (the reader may have already determined that I am, myself, of the not-so-fair sex) don't take leadership positions in matters of community service, we aren't passionate about issues. Those are vast generalizations, but from personal experience, the number of girls who will speak passionately to me about some social problem or another vastly outnumbers the men I know who would do the same thing. Political office seems to be the exception, but, I suspect, for the wrong reasons.

Has it always been that way? I don't know. Maybe men have always been more self-interested creatures. Maybe we are more interested in power as an end in itself than we are in morality, in altruism, in effecting change. Maybe that's why we write such great histories about one another, and let the heroines of history go unsung.

I think though, that there have been subtle changes in the way we in Canada view gender, and the way in which gender roles are presented. To care seems synonymous with empathy, with an emotional attachment to the cause or to the subject. People who care don't seem to be people who are characterized by aggression, ego, power, competition, detachment, and insensitivity. I don't say that those are all desirable qualities, and yet if you asked people to rate each of those qualities as being masculine or feminine, they would probably each come out as being masculine.

Now, this is going to seem very old-fashioned, but stand on the porch with me and don't let my rocking-chair distract you: I believe that men and women have, in the aggregate, different ways of looking at the world, and that these differences are so entrenched in any civilization that we can conceive of that they may as well be biological. Those bad qualities I just mentioned, the ones that are masculine, for most adult males they are probably hardwired. That's not to say that all men are inherently overbearing, aggressive, detached, self-interested animals, or that there are no women who exhibit all those traits. I am talking about the averages, in relation to one another.

So when we are asked to care about an issue, we are presented with what seems like a feminine proposition. To most men, it seems almost like a homosexual tendency. I don't mean that in a necessarily pejorative sense - I just mean that "caring" doesn't seem to fit in with their perception of themselves, doesn't interest them, and doesn't seem sustainable in the long term.

Yet male heroes who strove for the sake of the community are not hard to find in history. As a Muslim, I am charged with understanding and emulating the immense legacy of several such men. In both the West and the East, however, we have invented this idea of chivalry - a historical concept that we have, in the age of feminism and women's equality, relegated to the mists of time. Maybe it never really existed. Maybe we really did invent it, just to paper over the faults of barbaric eras gone past.

Even if that is the case, though, chivalry did represent caring as a masculine quality. The knight, the mujahid, the Confucian Noble Man each expressed an understanding that his interests were subordinate to that of the collective, and a uniquely masculine sense of responsibility for those more vulnerable than him. Chivalry is not incompatible with ego, power, aggression, detachment, and insensitivity - it just forces their application into different spheres of life.

Men today do not value chivalry. In the Muslim world, what was once chivalry has been, in the darker corners, twisted into a self-interested excuse for misogyny, a way to blame women for failings that belong entirely to men. In the West, chivalry seems quaint, predicated on the notion that women are fragile and vulnerable, when everyone is supposed to believe that men and women are absolutely equal in all spheres of life, and that "femininity" and "masculinity" are outdated, harmful, unfairly prejudicial concepts.

This is all so much hand-waving, based on nothing more than my own biased perception of the world. Maybe more women are self-absorbed hedonists, and more men are devoted to altruistic causes than I give credit for. The reverse has, unfortunately, been my experience. I think if we truly want to mobilize young men to be involved in issues facing their communities, and facing our species as a whole, we need to rekindle a uniquely masculine ethic that will motivate them.

We need to rediscover a masculine way to care.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What was I saying. . . ? (MMP)

Yet again the pace of life hasn't really given me time to type out all the posts I compose in my head when I'm doing more tedious things. I hope to get to some of that stuff this week. Where was I before this hiatus? Right. . . MMP. It probably won't matter again for at least another 4 years, but for what it's worth, I voted Yes to MMP.

Read a little (or a lot) about the proposal here:

Unfortunately, the referendum didn't pass - probably because most Ontarians didn't understand it, and not because they thought it was a bad thing. Yet another reason why high voter turnout isn't always desirable. There was an organized campaign against it - with certain interest groups playing on the public's misplaced mistrust of politicians to cynically manipulate public perception of the system ("does Ontario really need even more politicians? Do you want party bosses choosing your candidate?"). On the other hand, there was basically no one advocating for, or even explaining MMP. I'm usually a pretty up-to-date guy. I had no idea of what MMP was until an acquaintance of mine, shocked that I didn't know about a referendum that was happening right around me, e-mailed the information. The result of the referendum would have been predictable just from that.

A slightly more intelligent critique of the proposal, entitled MMP - An Exercise in Dumb was posted by the wise old man at Atlas Hugged. He's a pretty articulate guy, and if even he couldn't put together a convincing argument against MMP, then I doubt there is one. "MPP for life by MMP?" Well if people don't like you, they don't have to vote for your party. It does cut two ways.

No, I voted for MMP for the same reason I created this blog - to enhance the diversity of voices. Under MMP, it would take 3% of the popular vote to get a seat in the legislature. Under MMP, the Greens, a party I do not support, would already have more than one seat.

So, why is that good?

Democracy, especially Canadian democracy, thrives on a climate in which people have choices in how they are governed. Unfortunately, people have to understand a new option before they will feel comfortable deciding in favour of it, and people can't understand what the new option represents unless it is already established in the legislature. Not being in the legislature makes you a fringe party.

Canadian democracy differs from American democracy in this way, but not enough for my liking. I feel we are slowly tending towards the situation that they have in the United States, where the two parties may propose different policies, but seem to view the world from essentially the same perspective. The Republican party is homogenous - their least conservative candidate feels that American should always be run by a Christian. The Democratic party, faced with the zero-sum game of the Presidential election, will always lean towards the Centrist candidate - not the one they believe is right, but the one who has the greatest appeal to people who would have otherwise voted for Mr. Christian Nation. Watching the Democratic debates, the only people with interesting things to say are the people at the edges of the stage, the ones who get the least TV time. Why? Because they tell a large segment of the population something it does not want to hear. And that's not how you win the Presidency. The idea of a Malcolm X arising as a political force in today's America seems bizarre. Outside of the Christian organizations, America has lost its radicals.

In Canada we have managed to maintain multiple parties, and so we've a modicum more of democracy - but that is always under threat. The Liberals, eager to become Canada's Democrats, complain of nothing more than the NDP, which eats into what they see as their share of the vote. At the provincial level, the Tories march together - either towards the centre (Ontario and the Atlantic provinces today), towards the far right (the Harris Tories), or towards perpetual government (Alberta). At the federal level the question on the right is moot, thanks to the treacherous scoundrel who is our current Minister of Defense.

So do I care that a "Party Boss" will pick the list of candidates on the proportional list? Not one bit. If I don't like the candidates, I don't have to vote for the party. Ain't that a revolutionary idea? If it means that the madmen and the sane people can speak clearly from the same podium, I'm all for it.

After all, the point of democracy is that it's up to us to tell the difference.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How The Proud Islamist Voted

Now that I'm sure my Ontario readers have had their fill of Ontario election coverage, here would be my take on the subject.

Voter Turnout

The fact that it was low has been adequately lamented in the mainstream press - apparently the turnout was at a record low of 52.6% of eligible voters. I've always been confused as to why everyone is so certain that this is a bad thing. Clearly, 47.4 of eligible voters in Ontario either don't know enough or don't care enough to vote in the provincial election. Do we want our government to chosen by apathetic, uninformed individuals? Now, the extent of apathy or political ignorance (it's not clear if either was by itself the culprit) isn't ideal, and of course one would hope that the entire populace would take an active, intelligent role in the political process. . . but raising the voter turnout is by no means a reliable indicator that that has happened.

I object to the notion that a high voter turnout is always desirable, especially when the criteria for eligibility are so expansive. It's always struck me as fairly bizarre that we won't let an 18 year old drive on a four lane highway without subjecting him to 2 years probation and 3 separate exams, but that we will let any Joe or Jane with a functioning brain and a sufficiently old birthdate to choose our elected representatives - as if we were so certain that bad government was less dangerous than bad driving.


Of the handful of readers who know me well, ZERO will be surprised. Of those who only know me slightly, more probably would be. I'm not going to go through every aspect of policy, but social justice is probably my number 1 priority when I vote in an election, and since foreign policy isn't really at play in provincial elections, all of my decisions tend to rest on economic policy.

But let's take the minimum wage, to highlight the point. From January 1995 to February of 2007, we've seen an increase from $6.85 to $8.00, for a boost of 16.8%. From 1995 to 2007, Canadian real GDP has gone up by 22.8%, and since Ontario is one of Canada's economic overachievers, we can expect that it would be even higher in Ontario. Those GDP figures are, however, adjusted in price and purchasing-power parity to 2002 US dollars and prices. The minimum wage figures are not adjusted for inflation. The net result of adjusting for inflation? Minimum wage workers in Ontario haven't actually had a wage increase in over 10 years, since the total cost of a basket of goods an services has since gone up by 27%.

In other words, Ontario has been robbing from the poor to give to . . . someone else. Other data tend to suggest that it isn't the middle class. Of the 3 provincial parties, the NDP platform is the most aggressive on this issue - too aggressive, says McGuinty, who says that raising the wage would be a shock to small business.

Now I'm not one of those poverty activists who claims that it is impossible to live on minimum wage. It actually is, if you're a single person, working lots of hours, living in low cost housing and mooching off friends and relatives for as much as possible. One thing is, however, obvious - minimum wage earners aren't savers - they're spenders. They have to be - new shoes for a job interview are always going to be higher on their priority list than an RRSP. Your patronisingly-named "sandwich artist" will probably be more likely to himself patronize the store he works for if a meal won't cost him an hour and a half of work. Here, we're talking about service industries, the main employer of unskilled labour in the province, so the argument that it would precipitate an inflationary spiral is more bogus than usual. I would go so far as to challenge anyone to show me a single instance where an increase in the minimum wage actually hurt the economy.

Of course, I am an Islamist (didn't you notice?), and consequently my beliefs on the regular redistribution of wealth are informed by Islam and an inherent sense of fairness. As Muslim philosopher and poet Allama Iqbal once wrote:

Ut ho mere dunya ke ghareebon ko jagaa dho
Jis kathe se milthi nahiin dhekhan ko hai roti
Us kathe ko har goshe gundum ko jelaa dho!

Stand up, everyone, and make way for the poor!
If there is a field that does not give bread to the field worker,
Then burn every grain, in every corner of that field.

More to follow on MMP.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ramadhan's End

From Pakistan to Palestine, MMP to MPP's, there's been a lot on my mind recently. . .

I didn't title this post "Eid Mubarak" because sadly, it isn't Eid for all the Muslims. It isn't quite Eid for me - my conscience wants it to be on Saturday, as the Fiqh Council said, but then my conscience wants a lot of things that it can't get, for the time being. The Muslim world is back to its usual vice of the unpredictable calendar. Today at the Masjid a proponent of today's Eid-by-Meccan-moonsighting and apparent expert on all the "scientific wonders" of Islam told me that he wished the Muslim world could find some unity, and that if we could only agree on the calendar, then we would be a force to be reckoned with.

I think we are already a force to be reckoned with, we just haven't yet reckoned with ourselves. I replied by saying that in order to have a calendar, you need to know what the dates are going to be in advance. "With modern technology. . . ." he began. Sigh. How can you hope to achieve all that storied grandeur if you can't schedule a meeting for Wednesday the 15th of Shawwal, because you don't know whether it will be a Wednesday or not? With modern technology indeed. . . A complex, resource-intensive solution to an artificial problem. Not that I think we need any more grandeur. It's a love of grandeur that's gotten us into this mess to begin with. . . but that's another story.

I miss Ramzaan already. I know that a few weeks from now, the days will feel . . . normal, mundane. I have a couple of fasts to make-up, but they aren't the same. They won't have the same potential. They will be a punctuation in the rhythm of daily life - not a new rhythm unto themselves. There will be no more standing at length at night, letting my mind expand and contract as the sound of the Qur'an hits the chords of my soul, wandering away and then focusing sharply on the task at hand once it realizes the gravity of what I'm doing, and Whom I stand before.

And so, here we are at Eid. We've made it one more year. Was I forgiven? Was my failure over the last year to control my selfish desires forgiven? Were they even tamed? Will Ramzaan be just a platitude, a lip service to the ideals of Islam, which justifies and excuses the failings of another year? Will I remember that on an average Ramadan day, my food intake is what some people consider a feast? But then again, I am asking these questions as if I have no control over the outcome, as if it were environment that controls my actions, as if God had given me no say in the matter.

Was I angry when I heard that so many Masjids here in Canada had declared today as Eid? No, but I was disappointed. Disappointed about Eid. Astaghfirullah. I'm not disappointed about Eid anymore - practicality forces me to embrace it, and I also have to be sure that my ego is subjugated to my faith. With Ramzaan, with fasting, with Eid, and with everything else, next year, we will try to do better.

If we are still here next year, that is.

So if you're celebrating, Eid Mubarak! If you went with the FCNA's courageous decision, then mubarak to you too!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, October 1, 2007

I don't know much about Myanmar but . . .

neither really does anyone else around here.

So far, I buy that the Burmese military has launched a brutal crackdown against oppositional supporters and Buddhist monks. HRW says so, and they have yet to steer me wrong. Their take on the situation makes sense, given that the Burmese military has been a great customer on the international arms market, including and especially with the "good guys," according to this article from March 2000, ostensibly from Jane's Intelligence Review.

(As an aside, Jane's Defense Weekly is probably happy about that, given the fact that the publication runs on weapons advertisements.


Unlike HRW, FOX, CNN, and the National Post aren't, as far as I've seen, giving the story prominence, but then I haven't had much time to keep track.

As soon as they do, I will start to get suspicious.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, September 29, 2007

There's always a price

Jane Goodall probably knows that we burn too much fuel. That's why she's speaking against the biofuel industry, and its growing appetite for rainforest lands.

We are desperately searching for a source of energy that will sustain our extravagance. We think that the 2-car family is ok so long as they're both hybrids. We think we've done the environment a favour when our disposable plates are made from recyclable paper. Someone once suggested to me that "Earthwater" was a good alternative to commercial bottled water. The water is trucked thousands of kilometers from glaciers in BC and Alberta to Canadian cities that already have clean sources of public water

The system is something like this : The Iraqi refugees flee their country => the Iraqi "government" relinquishes oil concessions in the country => the oil goes from their country to the world market => the gas prices stay down in our country => we buy the Earthwater => Earthwater donates a portion to UNHCR => and then the money goes to help the Iraqi refugees who've had to flee their country.

We in the "developed" nations don't seem to have much of a concept of just how extravagantly we live. More importantly, we don't seem to have concept of just how it is being paid for, and just who is paying for it. If we find a more efficient way to use our energy, the impulse is to start using more of it. If we find a new source of energy, the impulse is to breath a sigh of relief, and carry on.

Biofuel's gotta come from somewhere.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

The Jews Who Love Ahmadinejad

It usually can't be stressed enough that Judaism and Zionism are separate belief systems. Judaism is both a belief system and an ethnic identity that is thousands of years old, that enjoins good action on its followers, flowing from the same fundamental proposition that form the basis of Islam - that there is only one Almighty (Al-Mighty?) and that service to that Almighty is the definition of good. Zionism is a political agenda that seeks to consolidate already inhabited land under the control of political movement conceived by and for European Jews.

There are those regressive individuals on either side of the Middle East conflict who out of ignorance or arrogance wish to blur this line. Of the former, we have the many millions of Muslims who look upon all Jews as Zionists, and consequently look upon them with suspicion. On the other side, we have those Zionist "professionals" - the PR people, the Likudniks, the American Evangelicals, the Western chauvanists, and the shrewd imperialists who lead all of the former. They wish to link the future of the Jewish people inextricably with that of the future of Zionism, such that a desire to vanquish this vile ideology of greed and racism can be easily portrayed as an attempt to destroy the Jewish people. Of the two, the ones who are more dangerous to Judaism are the later - the Zionists themselves, for their goal is to hold Judaism hostage to a self-interested political agenda, and use innocent Jews as the human shields of the movement.

What's missing from this analysis, however, is the perspective of religious Anti-Zionist Jews themselves, who go further than to simply say that Judaism and Zionism are separate entities; instead, they assert that Judaism and Zionism are mutually exclusive.

This is why when President Ahmadinejad comes to New York, they come out in his support - it's obvious that the push towards war in the Middle East doesn't come from Iran today anymore than it did in 1980, when all the great powers from the US to the USSR and the Arab despots supported Saddam Hussein's invasion.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Democracy is like virginity"

"either you have it, or you don't."

Pakistan is a chaotic place. Anyone who has hurtled down a Karachi thoroughfare without a seat belt could tell you. Ever wonder where all those crippled beggars come from? I have been told by more than one person that they are deliberately crippled by criminal gangs who take a cut of their earnings, usually while this same person was deftly dodging hapless pedestrians and 5-passenger motorcycles. Injuries are South Asia's forgotten epidemic.

While the military is negotiating for the release of over 250 security personnel in the Mehsud tribal lands of Waziristan from militant locals, Benazir Bhutto is busy sacrificing the country's future for the pleasure of the boss in Washington. I'm not going to make the obvious crack that comes to mind, she being a woman, but you can bet that people are. . .

The one-liner that opened this post is due to Pakistani journalist Irfan Hussain. His latest article chronicling the moral descent of General Musharraf is a good read.

From the article:

...In case the Supreme Court does not strike down this grotesque bid, what we will be left with is hardly the ‘transition to democracy’ being pushed by Washington, and so avidly pursued by Benazir Bhutto. It should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that there is no legal, constitutional or ethical grounds for Musharraf to stay and pretend he is heading a democratic set-up.

In her dealings with Musharraf, Ms Bhutto has forgotten that power is never handed over willingly; it has to be seized.

This is true in states where an institutional framework has not evolved to make the peaceful transfer of power possible. With brief democratic interludes disrupted by long military interventions, Pakistan has not been able to grow into a democracy where power rests with the people...

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Glimspes of Iraq

The Iraqi "government" has finally "expelled" private "security firm" Blackwater USA. The reason for the first set of quotes is obvious - Iraq doesn't really have a government. Public utilities are scant, its Army is fully recruited by Washington, its deputies can't leave the Green Zone, and the only military forces in the country that aren't effectively commanded from Washington are under the control of local militias, the largest and most active one being that of Muqtada Al-Sadr's faction, who've announced their intention to withdraw from the, what were we calling it, "government."

The second set of quotes is a result of the first. You want to expel Blackwater? You and which army? The American one whose soldiers have been taking orders from Blackwater employees? The "New Iraqi Army?" Good luck. It collapsed in the first assault on Fallujah, despite the fact that it was the Americans, with an overwhelming advantage, who were doing the bulk of the fighting, and in early 2005, only one of its 90 battalions had any mobility or heavy weaponry to speak of.

Blackwater isn't a security firm any more than Iraqi's recruited to fight for the US can be called an "Iraqi army." We aren't talking about mall guards here. The reason they are being asked to leave is a series of murders of Iraqis by heavily-armed Blackwater personnel, famous for their rampaging armoured vehicles and guns-blazing approach to rush hour traffic.

What never ceases to amaze me is the number of people who still cling to the notion that the American intention is to spread democracy. It is like a religious faith whose prophets sit in the White House, and whose priests are their intellectual apologists in academia and the media. Even the articles I've quoted here both contain some sort of assumption that the invasion was done for the sake of democracy, while the insurgents are fighting because they hate representative government. An examination of the region, however, makes it obvious that Uncle Sam hates democracy more than anyone else. His friends and enablers are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the smaller oily Arab despotisms - each chock-full of American military bases, American military aid dollars, or both. The more democratic a Middle Eastern country was, the less likely it was to provide assistance with the invasion of Iraq.

And yet, even those opponents of the Bush administration still speak under the assumption that the intention was so noble, and all that was wrong was the plan. Why would the US government want to spread "democracy," against all its own interests, in the Middle East? The only evidence we have for that is that Bush said so. And we know that he never lies.

And speaking of American enemies who are shouldering the burden of the humanitarian crisis that the Americans themselves created, this is a sorrowful post from Baghdad burning, the blog of an Iraqi woman who, if you haven't been following, has be agonizing with the decision of whether or not to leave the country for Syria. While the blood and oil-soaked self-appointed royal families of the Arab world had no trouble stomaching the Iraq war, they're refusing to allow Iraqi refugess on their soil, leaving the last Baathist dictatorship and Arab foe of the Americans to pick up the pieces.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Try not to cry

What keeps you and me from throwing stones? Is it wisdom, or cowardice?

Note who the "man in the mirror" is. Very appropriate.

Credit to Sami Yusuf and Outlandish. To much "nasheed" and other "Islamic songs" are popular only amongst those with the puritanical self-discipline to like them on principle. The world needs more contemporary Muslim artistic expression that has inherent worth.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mea Culpa

Well, it appears my thinly veiled vitriol about those currently privileged with the knowledge and position of ulama and their constant moonfighting was a bit ill-thought.

Apparently, two major Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) bodies, one in Europe and the one ISNA goes by, have decided that lunar dates can be calculated ahead of time. That their decision comes a century or two late only adds to the significance of this. I knew that ISNA had made a similar announcement last year, but the continued disjointedness of the Muslim community calendars didn't make it seem all that momentous.

This year's fatwa was announced on the main page of the ISNA website, but that url now returns a 404, a day after I checked it (I don't want to speculate why). A copy of the first half can be found at .

This year, ISNA has adjusted its calculation to use Mecca time, and not Greenwich, as their lunar dateline. Fair enough. This doesn't mean that all the Muslim organizations are on the same page - "ICNA" which has been around a couple of years, with its name that conveniently resembles ISNA, is still clinging to the use of the naked eye. Every community has such people. I'm just happy that we can look forwards to more coordinated community events, starting when it is most important, in Ramadhan. Inshallah.

Which speaking of which, is tomorrow!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What causes AIDS?

Apparently, exports do.

Her data is a tad fishy, but the ideas are intriguing.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ramadhan - it is possible.

The blessed month is fast approaching, but before that we will be treated to the usual bouts of what has been wittily termed "moonfighting." Some authorities will tell us, the lay Muslim masses, that we should wait until the moon is seen by someone in our community. Others will tell us to wait until it is seen in Mecca. Then there will be those of us without such authority who will nevertheless shamelessly argue that the position of the moon in relation to the earth and the sun has followed the same pattern, with insignificant change, probably since before humans were around to argue over it, and definitely since God in the Qur'an said "The Sun and the Moon follow courses exactly computed" (Qur'an 55:5) Still, some people find it charming for their calendar to be full of surprises.

That aside, Ramadhan, or Ramzan, if you're speaking a South Asian language, is my favourite time of the year. Even without the festivities, the food, and the family, the days have a different quality to them. It is said that during Ramadhan, the Shaitan is kept chained, and it certainly feels that way. You get the feeling that you are less influenced by what is around you, that your mistakes are more your own, your good deeds more to your credit. You start to find out who you really are.

More importantly, perhaps, Ramadhan is a time of change. Behavioural change is the greatest challenge in public policy, and the subject of innumerable self-help books. Without changing our behaviour, we can't conserve the environment, we can't stamp out HIV, we can't bring about social justice, we can't end persecution, we can't, we can't, we can't. And yet it is so hard to control ourselves.

Ramadhan is proof that it is possible, if we have the inspiration, to change our behaviour. The late-riser can, for a month, become the early riser. The glutton can eat like a bird. The flirt can control himself. The potty-mouth will watch his language. The miser will give a little more freely. The hermit will give company to his neighbours. Not everyone does, and not everyone will, but for the majority of us its possible, because so many of us find the strength.

Whether we maintain our resolve is another matter - but that is not proof that Ramadhan can't change us. It's just proof that we do have a choice, that our environment does not actually dictate all of our bad actions. It's proof that while so many of us choose wrongly, it is possible to choose right.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Hiatus Ends Today

I've been on the road a lot and so haven't been posting here. Over the last week I settled down, my mind full of things I wanted to talk about, discuss, and write about, but for some reason I delayed coming here. Feels good now, though - it always does, once you get started.

Much has happened in the world in the last two weeks, and yet it is relatively unchanged. I'll get to some of it later. One thing I did want to comment on was the vibrancy of Turkish democracy.

Yes, Turkey has finally, after every sort of political intrigue, including thinly veiled threats
from the army to once again snatch the reins of power, elected Abdullah Gul President.

For those who haven't been following, Turkey's AK party, known as "Justice and Development" in English, is perhaps the most progressive party to emerge in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal founded the republic. PM Erdogan has pursued a steady path of bringing Turkey towards economic development and social justice, exploring EU accession with more enthusiasm than any of his "secularist" predecessors, and opening up restrictions on Kurdish cultural and political activities.

His foreign minister, who capably kept Turkey out of the Iraq debacle, is, we are told to believe, objectionable. Why? His wife wears a hijab. He is an "Islamist." And so, a scrap of women's clothing and a meaningless political smear are used by the West's genuine Islamophobes to explain to us why an authoritarian, oppressive, bloodthirsty Turkish secularism is preferably to a democracy whose parliament handed the reigns to an "Islamist," whatever that is supposed to mean.

The Turkish press didn't seem so hysterical. Zaman, an English daily, was ardently Pro-Gul. Even those who were not thrilled by his election, however, were more confident in Turkish democracy than they were afraid of Gul's supposed top-secret Shari'ah agenda. A good sampling of Turkish press can be found here from the Beeb.

Over here in the West, however, legions of self-appointed policy gurus have lined up to tell us, once again, that Muslims eat mazzohs made with the blood of gentile childr. . .. oh wait, wrong libel. . . oh yeah . . . that a core tenet of Islam is world domination through bloody conquest and forced conversion.

Mubarak Turkey, Mubarak! You are an example to the entire world.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another reason to be the proud Islamist

Another excellent article from the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz, on how Islam and Muslim identity are being slowly criminalized.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A dark Day, I say.

Dr. Brian Day, president-elect of the CMA today received a standing ovation for his inaugural address, according to CBC radio.

The speech can be read in its entirety here, on the CMA site. It is largely hot air, doublespeak, and straw-men of the proponents of truly universal care. It is infuriating to see the president of the CMA whine about how there is a doctor shortage. . . the cartel has done its part to keep the supply low, and the price high.

Reforming hospital funding to provide "incentives" for excellence sounds good, but how do you define hospital performance? Is the best hospital the one that treats the sickest patients for the longest? Or is it the one that sends its patients home the fastest? These ideas sound good in a speech, but I don't know if Dr. Day has any plan or motive to get them implemented.

More interestingly, Day's own website gives a better indication of what the man truly believes, on his "Health Care Quotes" page. It contains some morally repugnant distortions of the situation, and some indications of how the man feels about his job.

Here are my least favourite two.

"...our noble tradition that no sick person of any age, sex, race or religion whatsoever, shall ever suffer for need of medical care on account of poverty or any other cause...should be based on our willingness to give, and should be construed as an act of our charity. It should not be exploited: nor should it be assumed as a God-given right by way of its beneficiaries. Least of all should it be a right-of-way for needy and penurious governmental and administrative bodies."

- Dr. J.H MacDermot Osler lecture (1939)

Disgustingly arrogant self-righteousness.

Then there's this rubbish:

"In fact, the Canadian health care system is perhaps the most rigid and oppressive (to physicians) within the free world."
- David J. Dandy, Vice President, Royal College of Surgeons of England

Aww, the poor Canadian doctors. My heart goes out to the poor dears. They have to drive Lexuses and Acuras, while their American friends drive Porsches and Benz's. My heart goes out to them, so oppressed and powerless. . . .

Stumble Upon Toolbar

. . . but this IS very interesting

It seems absurd to even consider it. . . the authorities should not behave like this in Canada.

Yet 5 compelling things in this video compellingly suggest that it DID happen. While the Quebec Surete told CBC that they do not do this, the RCMP refused to comment. See if you can spot them.

This is a still that shows something very odd about the "protester"s' footwear.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"A lot of it isn't very interesting."

So says Harper about the SPP.

Well then you wouldn't mind putting it on CPAC, now would you? Honestly, its summer, there's no QP in the House and no committee spectaculars to broadcast.

Despite the fact that all the country's corporate media and the CBC seem to be focussed on the "food-colour dyes" aspect of the agreement, these people think its interesting enough to get out into the streets for on a Monday.

So maybe we are just seeing the usual left-wing freakshow, the same kind that told us that the WTO would result in unfair penalties on developing economies, that occupying Afghanistan would drag us into an endless war of attrition, and that the invasion of Iraq was downright evil.

Even so, the question remains, why the combination of fanfare and secrecy? And why does the Canadian Council of Chief Executives get a seat at the table?

If it is just niggling bureacratic details, those don't require tripartite discussion between heads of state. Customs and DFAIT officials deal with such changes on a day-to-day basis, not requiring even so much as a rubber-stamp from the PM.

On the other hand, who exactly voted for Stephen Harper on the SPP agenda? I don't remember this having been an issue, do you? And yet it's important enough for Filipe Calderon, whose election experiences eerily resemble Bush's 2000 win, to head to Montebello Quebec right before a Category 5 Hurricane hits his country.

Whatever was decided in Montebello, the decision did not involve the will or interests of the Canadian people. If it had, someone would have asked us. The PMO issued a statement yesterday, arguing that since the SPP is not a treaty or agreement, but a "dialogue," parliamentary discussion and input are not required.

This is yet another Bush administration tactic borrowed by Harper - the unilateral declaration that ones decisions are not constitutionally required to be put under oversight from any branch of government. The gap between Western governments and their publics is growing.

I predict that it will get wider.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why "Two-State" Won't Work Part Deux

Christian Knesset Member Azmi Bishara has written a great article that lays out another aspect of the argument against the "Two-State" solution.

The One Clear Solution

Bishara has been run out of his homeland on "treason" charges, but claims that he intends to return. Those on the Zionist right were obviously delighted, since Bishara vocally opposed the national ideology.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

More Firepower, Less Security

So we are "supporting the troops" in Kandahar some more, now with some Leopard 2's that we are, pathetically, leasing from Germany. This won't be a rant on how Canada isn't living up to its military potential, it will be one on how it is misusing what little it has.

Nobody is going to get up and say "Hey we hate troops. Gosh darn it, I want them to run face-first into machine gun fire, buck-naked!." Everybody is going to wave the flag, support our fine young men and women, and swear that our boys (and girls) deserve the best of the best of the best. Somebody, meanwhile, will make a lot of money on the contract, and the debate about why exactly we are sending them to the other side of the world to, paradoxically, defend ourselves, will be conveniently forgotten.

So we got them these new toys.

But according to the men on the ground, the new Leopard won't save many lives from roadside bombs - after all, there are only 20 of them, and they aren't busses. Canadians are still going to be riding around in lighter, less armoured transport vehicles, i.e. the kind that Afghan fighters usually ambush anyways.

On the other hand, according to a tank commander in Kandahar whose soundbyte has been airing ad nauseum on CBC radio and television, what the new weapon system will allow, is more firepower and better accuracy - a "show of force" as one Canadian Press article put it. According to the soldier, the tank's 122mm cannon can place a shell "to within centimetres of the enemy from kilometers away."

That's a 122mm cannon. It might come in handy in a tank battle . . . if the Afghans fighting us actually had tanks.

So what's the other use? As an artillery piece, of course - in WWII terms, 122mm is on the high-end of land-based artillery. So what are we going to be doing with this thing? Lobbing shells at "suspected Taliban positions," as the euphemism goes.

Suspected of being Taliban? Or suspected of being there?

Then, when the shell kills 20 members of a family near one of these "suspected Taliban" positions, GWB and his Canadian Konservative lackeys will wring their hands and say something like:

"Coalition forces operate within the tightest constraints to prevent loss of innocent life. The blame for this lies on the Taliban and their terrorist allies, who were using those people as human shields."

After all, firing high-explosive rounds from a distance into a populated area at an uncertain target in a country on the other side of the world takes a lot of courage. After all, these things are necessary when your enemy is so cowardly.

And when their family members get angry, get guns, and start shooting at the white men who, once again, have brought war to their country, what will we decide to call them?


Stumble Upon Toolbar