Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Much Shorter Robert Sibley - 2 for 1

Robert Sibley is chief editor of the Condescending Pretension bureau at the loony bin of the CanWest-Global media empire.

His blog's subheader reads

Behind most every contemporary political act, policy decision and social value is an idea (usually from some dead white European male, like it or not). Senior writer Robert Sibley considers ideas that shape - or misshape, as the case may be - our world.
With sentiments like that, it's unsurprising that Sibley's blog was abandoned in September. Evidently, even Citizen readers did not find his ideas to be particularly consequential.

Nevertheless, that doesn't deter him from having them:

Article: The Decade when the face of Canada changed.
Canada should keep the darkies out.
Article: The Decade of Disorder
Many political theorists agree that if Westerners don't give themselves more credit for civilizing the savage peoples of the world, the terrorists win.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Where is Harper taking us? And why is Lewis MacKenzie helping?

Lewis Mackenzie is widely considered to be a Canadian military hero, having been decorated for his meritorious service in keeping the Sarajevo airport open to humanitarian aid as Serb militias shelled the city. He is a member of the Order of Canada, and is widely seen as a national icon. For those who have followed his career, however, the meritoriousness of his conduct has not always been so clear.

Ever since Richard Colvin's testimony to the Commons Committee on the mission in Afghanistan, the Konservatives have been revving their propaganda machine into full gear, summoning every minion they have in the media (and they have many) to deny, obfuscate, and deflect any query for information that might verify Colvin's main revelation: that Canadian soldiers knowingly delivered their captives into torture.

Colvin himself is not a "whistleblower" - he did not take his information to the media. He was invited to testify to the committee, and so he did. As Scott Taylor wrote over at Embassy Magazine:

On the other side of the playing field, the Conservatives claim there was no foul committed by them against diplomat Richard Colvin, even when the game tape clearly shows them—and their appointed cheerleaders—mercilessly putting the boots to him. It was Colvin who first began sounding the alarm bell of possible detainee abuse in Afghanistan in 2006.

Once Colvin testified before the parliamentary committee, alleging that military brass and political leadership had ignored his warnings, the gloves came off and knives were drawn. First into the fray were Defence Minister MacKay and his loyal parliamentary secretary, Laurie Hawn, who both launched attacks against Colvin's credibility. MacKay went so far as to suggest Colvin was a Taliban dupe, and Hawn attempted to undermine Colvin by saying it was easy for the diplomat to make wild allegations from the safe confines of North America.

This was a theme that was quickly seized and repeated by retired major-general Lewis Mackenzie. During an appearance on CTV, Mackenzie claimed to have heard "from a very reliable source, that [Colvin] was not permitted outside the wire in Kandahar probably once and not more than once." As such, Mackenzie opined that Colvin's research was therefore limited to second-hand sources via phone and emails. . . .

. . . As reported last week in the Ottawa Citizen, this information spread by Mackenzie and Blatchford on behalf of their DND source(s) is patently false. It was confirmed that Colvin left the base on at least six occasions to venture—at great personal risk—into the centre of Kandahar.

Mackenzie's political colours have not been much in doubt since 1997, when he first ran federally as a Progressive Conservative. They became even less in doubt when he signed on with Harper's much more right-leaning Conservatives. But his record in the Bosnian war was never spotless; as far as many of those on the Bosnian side were concerned, his negligence cost them dearly.

In the late Bosnian President's memoir, Alija Izetbegovic wrote of Mackenzie

On 13 July 1992 the State Commission for the Exchange of Prisoners submitted to UNPROFOR commander Lewis McKenzie [sic] a list of 42 camps that had by then been registered in Bosnia and Herzegovina. McKenzie publicly denied the existence of the camps, and instead of forwarding the letter giving details of the camps to the United Nations, he held on to it.

On 8 August 1992, the Sarajevo daily Oslobodenje published a list of 94 concentration camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the famous photograph taken at Omarska camp, broadcast by CNN. It was only then that the world, albeit unwillingly, began to face up to the horrific truth.

-- Inescapable Questions, Alija Izetbegovic

In a piece in 2005, however, MacKenzie attempts to shift blame for the famous 1995 Srebrenica massacre onto Bosnian Muslim soldiers, suggesting even that some of the deaths may have been attributable to "three years of intense fighting in the area." There may even be some truth to what he says, but it is interesting that he felt strongly enough about the difference between 2,000 deaths and 8,000 deaths to argue the point. When it comes to Srebrenica, MacKenzie seems happy to play the role that anti-semites have with respect to Auschwitz; because 6 million bodies were never found, the genocide must have been exaggerated.

While Mackenzie was on CTV during the 1999 Kosovo conflict as an expert commentator, he was one of the "journalists" whom Belgrade didn't expel. As CBC reporter Carol Off wrote in her book The Lion, the Fox, and the Eagle,

What the audience didn't know was that MacKenzie was in Belgrade as a guest of the Yugoslav government. According to MacKenzie, he obtained a visa for himself and the CTV crew after discussions with the embassy in Ottawa and with Yugoslavian ministers concerning what he might be able to do to help them out. . . . When the indicted war criminal (and soon to be murdered warlord) Arkan encountered MacKenzie in a hotel lobby, he greeted him warmly.
Of the numerous critics of the bombing of Yugoslavia, MacKenzie stands out as one of a select group who are not equally critical of any Western venture into the Muslim world. It is difficult to conclude from the above that MacKenzie's politics are informed by any particular prejudice, but it is hard not to consider the possibility, given the company he finds himself in.

In the light of this, it becomes less surprising that MacKenzie finds fellow-travellers in the likes of Stephen Harper, Peter MacKay, or even Jason Kenney. More than any government in Canadian history, the political agenda they have pursued is slowly transforming Canada from a country identified internationally for its values of tolerance and compassion and the country whose flag American travellers would sew to their backpacks, into a neoconservative bastion whose leaders think little about handing human beings over to a fate of certain torture.

The denials and smear have worn thin. What we must fear now is the next logical line that the Conservatives will fall back on - after obfuscation comes rationalization. The only thing worse than denying that we abetted torture is admitting it and claiming that we were justified.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

God Bless You, Guillaume Morand. . .

. . . regardless of what your religious beliefs are.

From AFP: Swiss businessman builds minaret in protest

BUSSIGNY, Switzerland — A Swiss businessman appalled by his fellow countrymen's decision to ban minarets has extended a chimney above his company building into a minaret in protest.

"It was scandalous that the Swiss voted for the ban. Now we have the support of all the far-right parties across Europe. This is shameful," Guillaume Morand, who owns a chain of shoe stores, told AFP.

The businessman, who is not a Muslim, explained that the he had constructed the mock minaret at his building near western Switzerland's city of Lausanne in protest, and at the same time, to "send a message of peace."

More than 57 percent of voters upset opinion polls and defied their government by approving the right wing motion to ban minarets -- the turrets or towers on mosques from which Muslims are called to prayer.

The outcome of the referendum brought by members of the hard-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) and other right wing groups was also hailed by anti-immigrant party leaders elsewhere in Europe.

Morand blamed other political parties in Switzerland for not having campaigned against the far-right motion ahead of the referendum.

"They were all against it but they did not explain the issue clearly to the country," he said, pointing out that only the SVP's controversial poster campaign was visible.

The SVP had sought support for the ban through a poster campaign depicting a burqa-clad woman against a background of a Swiss flag upon which several minarets resembling missiles are erected.

Morand said he viewed the ban was all the more "scandalous" given that Switzerland actively encourages Arabs to "visit the country and to spend their money here."

The minaret, which has been in place since Tuesday, has "generated a lot of interest," he said, adding that he will wait and see before deciding if further action was needed to push his point.

The fearmongers out there will doubtless retort "Try putting up a steeple in Saudi Arabia!" as they are wont to do. This tells us something about them, however, which is that they aspire to no greater example of religious pluralism than what is set by the ibn Saud.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Canada's Likud Government

We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations like for example, the Canadian Arab Federation, whose leadership apologized for terrorism or extremism, or who promote hatred, in particular anti-Semitism.

We have ended government contact with like-minded organizations like the Canadian Islamic Congress, whose President notoriously said that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for assassination. We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott. And we’re receiving a lot of criticism for these decisions. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been sued for some of the decisions that we have taken, but we believe that we’ve done these things for the right reasons and we stand by these decisions.

-- Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Dec. 16, 2009, text from the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee

And so it continues . . . Not content with its boycott of the Canadian Arab Federation for its criticism of the government's policies (a move that mainly hurt people looking for ESL training), or its banning of British anti-Occupation firebrand George Galloway from entering the country, Harper's government is at it again. As usual his henchman Jason Kenney is at the forefront, this time crowing to an overwhelmingly Jewish, 100% Zionist audience at having once again moved to stifle criticism of Israel using the oldest trick in the book - scream anti-Semitism.

Even one blogger for the National Post, that insolvent anti-Canadian CanWest rag, sees some inconsistencies in the Kenney's position, as the Honourable Minister attempted to straighten out his story in the Toronto Star:
I did not accuse KAIROS of being anti-Semitic. What I said was that KAIROS has taken "a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (against Israel)." While I disagree with the nature of KAIROS's militant stance toward the Jewish homeland, that is not the reason their request for taxpayer funding was denied. International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda – not me – is responsible for the Canada International Development Agency. And she has been clear that a cost-sharing program with KAIROS was not approved because it did not meet CIDA's current priorities, such as increased food aid.
He didn't accuse them of anti-Semitism, he just mentioned them in the same breath as other organizations whom he had accused of the same thing.

I don't see anything wrong with an international boycott of Israeli goods - that was what ended the apartheid in South Africa, and Israel is no less dependent on international trade. Is, however, KAIROS even advocating that? A 2002 document released by the group answers the question explicitly:
The final step of the Board-mandated process is this paper, which sets out a range of options to enable the members of KAIROS to contribute, each out of their own faith tradition, to their common quest for a just peace in Israel and Palestine. The paper also contains recommendations for KAIROS actions that would support member initiatives. Finally, section 6 of the paper also makes clear that KAIROS is not advocating sanctions against Israel nor a boycott of products from Israel.
(emphasis from KAIROS)
A further reading of the document shows that KAIROS supports "Morally Responsible Investment" and not the more forthright "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions" campaign. Their "economic advocacy" is ill-defined, but examples provided include moves from other Church groups to divest from companies providing equipment for the construction of infrastruction used by the Occupation, such as the Wall, and requiring the labelling of products made in Jewish colonies in the West Bank.

None of this, however, actually matters to Jason Kenney, or to Stephen Harper. What matters to them is that God gave the Holy Land to the Jewish people in the Bible, and the nasty infidel Muslim Arabs (and in the minds of Mssrs Harper and Kenney, there is no other kind) are standing in the way.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wishing all my Christian friends a Merry Christmas. . .

. . .and reminding them of the plight of the people of Bethlehem today:

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The "Islamist" Montazeri

If you pay much attention to the news, you would know that Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri passed away on Sunday. As an outspoken critic of the Khamenei regime and the dubious re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Montazeri had been getting a lot of favourable coverage from Western news outlets.

What's interesting is that no story that I have read or heard on the subject in print, online, or radio journalism has ever referred to Montazeri as an "Islamist." This is odd, given that Montazeri was himself one of the architects of the Islamic Revolution and very much one of Khomeini's fellow travellers. If Khomeini was the archetypal Islamist, then why not Montazeri?

The answer is that this week, we like Montazeri, and so he cannot, therefore, be an Islamist, no matter how religiously-motivated his political activism was.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's all been photosynthesized back into virgin Brazilian rainforest

As I've said before on this blog, two facts about the Earth's climate should be beyond doubt for any reasonable person, regardless of their scientific acumen. They are:

1) We have changed the Earth's atmosphere.
2) The Earth is getting warmer.

I don't know anyone who seriously questions 1). Being highly conservative in one's assumptions, it should still be obvious that we have burned billions and billions of metric tons of material including everything from fossil fuels to plant life since the start of the industrial age, and that not all of that could have been photosynthesized, refossilized, and liquefied back into light sweet crude over the last century or two.

Fact 2) is disputed, but only by very stupid people, who make arguments like "if the Earth is getting colder, then why's it snowing in Texas? Huh? Huh? Gotcha!"

Whether 1) is the cause of 2) is, I suppose, a place for legitimate debate. Unfortunately, that debate was tremendously muddied last week with the theft of e-mails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which has been a windfall for denialist wingnuts out there. See the previous post but one for an example.

I've gone through a small sampling of the e-mails myself, including some of the most controversial ones and while I can see why they look bad when taken out of context, that only highlights the importance of reading things in context - something that the wingnuts have a propensity not to do.

For a more thorough refutation of the denialist haymaking on this subject, I recommend the Dec 3rd editorial in Nature, the ultra-high-impact life-sciences journal.

Climatologists under pressure

. . . A fair reading of the e-mails reveals nothing to support the denialists' conspiracy theories. In one of the more controversial exchanges, UEA scientists sharply criticized the quality of two papers that question the uniqueness of recent global warming (S. McIntyre and R. McKitrick Energy Environ. 14, 751–771; 2003 and W. Soon and S. Baliunas Clim. Res. 23, 89–110; 2003) and vowed to keep at least the first paper out of the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Whatever the e-mail authors may have said to one another in (supposed) privacy, however, what matters is how they acted. And the fact is that, in the end, neither they nor the IPCC suppressed anything: when the assessment report was published in 2007 it referenced and discussed both papers.

If there are benefits to the e-mail theft, one is to highlight yet again the harassment that denialists inflict on some climate-change researchers, often in the form of endless, time-consuming demands for information under the US and UK Freedom of Information Acts. Governments and institutions need to provide tangible assistance for researchers facing such a burden. . . .

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reflections on an itinerant life

Maybe tomorrow, I'll wanna settle down,
Until tomorrow, I'll just keep movin' on. . .

That song played during the closing credits of The Littlest Hobo, during the show's run on CTV. The premise of the show was that an unnamed dog without an owner would move from town to town, helping people, and then disappear, trotting down a forest trail or hopping aboard a rail car as the credits played, only to show up again next week in a new location for another adventure. Intelligent, fierce, and kindhearted, the Littlest Hobo's virtue hinged on his lack of connection to any place or person. The selflessness of his actions was underscored by the fact that he would never stay to appreciate the gratitude of the people he had helped.

He was a dog, but the archetype is a common one for humans - the travelling sage, the wandering warrior, the itinerant scholar. There is something romantic about being homeless by choice, about roaming around under the open sky. Such characters in history and in fiction are often presented as somehow virtuous - rarely are they presented as evil. From the historical Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, to Marvel Comics' Wolverine character, the wanderer is cast as the the protagonist, and the popular discussion of them consists largely of the extollment of his virtues.

For the past 2 months, I have been trying this lifestyle on for size - moving through five cities, staying in each just long enough to get comfortable before I leave again - and I have to say that the popular conception of it is fictional. There is no great moral virtue in it, and the knowledge one gains is morally neutral - without interpretation and reflection, without time to catch one's breath, the information remains as raw data. It does not translate into wisdom.

This is not to say that travelling can't be fun, or that the adventure of it is worthless, but it isn't a sustainable way to live. Eventually the wanderer has to settle down and find a community. Like everything else, the value of this "community" only becomes clear when you don't have it. What good is virtue if it only comes and goes in the lives of the people you meet? What exactly can you accomplish without a sustained presence?

The obvious rejoinder is: A lot - to pull someone from a burning building, for instance, doesn't require twenty years, and it certainly does make a difference in their life. It does not, however, happen on a daily basis, and if you spend your life waiting for buildings around you to burn, you might be dead before you managed to make any positive contribution. Most of us lack The Littlest Hobo's knack for stumbling over people in distress.

The itinerant life titillates the soul and stimulates the mind, but in a sedentary world I have not found it to provide much by way of spiritual nourishment over the long term, because this requires a community of people to collaborate with, contribute to, and learn from. This something that is hard to sustain "on the road," even in the electronic age.

I have enjoyed these two months immensely, and I intend to do this again someday, but at the moment I can't wait for the opportunity to stay in one place again. Tomorrow, I intend to settle down.

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Shorter David Warren

From the Ottawa Citizen, loony-bin of the CanWest-Global media empire.

Article: Copenhagen

Human beings have never changed the environment, and anybody who tells you otherwise is a Communist.

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