Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius


Halloween is Hell

Some Christian fundamentalists have wrestled with the idea of Halloween for a long time. Too much Satanism. Too much witchcraft. Too pagan. Too much money for candy. The solution? Instead of handing out chocolate and gumballs, build a Godly House of Horrors that takes the wee darlings STRAIGHT TO HELL. These "Hell Houses" are seen in some Christian circles as an attractive alternative to Halloween's all-out devilry. And in this case, a hilariously funny example of Art imitating Life, a pastor plays Satan.
"YOU HAVE DIED AND GONE STRAIGHT TO HELL!" a tall man wearing a long, black, hooded cloak bellowed over a bullhorn Sunday night as the first busload of about 30 teens and a handful of parents were herded through dark corridors lined in black plastic.

The group moved from room to room, witnessing scenes depicting what the church says are the consequences of "bad decisions involving violence, sex and drugs."

In one scene, a girl was lying on a gurney where a masked man in surgical scrubs pretended to perform an abortion. A toilet was sitting nearby apparently to collect the aborted fetus.

A fenced-in cell housed a few denizens of "hell," including a pedophile trolling the Internet for a young victim, a meditating Buddhist, and two mincing young men wearing body glitter who were supposed to be homosexuals.

Personally, I'll take the chocolate.

Obfuscation and Spin: Our Federal Government in Action

The mighty dynamic machinery that is our federal government sprung into action today in response to global climate change, and decided to take a pass. Ottawa has chosen, apparently, on an entirely new approach to climate change: study the thing 95 ways to Sunday, parse, dissect, analyse the options, strike a Royal Commission, review, review again, dissemble, and finally (it's expected) proclaim the whole business unfit for human consumption.

How else to explain this reaction?

The federal government will seek a "comprehensive review" of the 1997 treaty when negotiators from 165 countries meet in Nairobi, Kenya, federal officials told a background briefing Monday. Canada wants to focus on "the longer term," said officials, who cannot be identified under the rules of the briefing.

The Nairobi Conference on Climate Change is set to begin next week. Canada is setting a delegation of 40, excluding oddly enough, environmental groups whose expertise might serve the government in a positive way. "Longer term" means, in Tory-speak, 44 years, the length of time it will take to do a comprehensive review.

That boat is already sailed, or to use a Peterborough County vulgarism, the federal government is pissing in the wind of global opinion. One of the purposes of the Nairobi conference is to kick start negotiations for designing a successor to Kyoto, to reduce further greenhouse gas emissions. A "comprehensive review" of the whole process will not be on the table. Or shouldn't be: it will be interesting to see if the federal government, in concert with other anti-Kyoto governments, attempts to sabotage further negotiations.

Meanwhile the Glorious Leader has drawn "comfort from the Stern report, noting it is frequently critical of progress under the Kyoto Protocol." A lovely sentiment, but pure unmitigated spin. Stern does argue the Kyoto Protocol doesn't go far enough. But he also says "The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol embody the core principles of a multilateral response to climate change." (p. 454) For a government repudiating the principles of Kyoto --- well, words like "cynical", "hypocrisy", "piles of manure" come to mind.


The 1% Solution

Among the salient points of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is the estimated cost to stabilize and perhaps reverse its effects. Nicholas Stern shows costs will rise to 1% of world GDP by 2050, an enormous sum in aggregate, but one which he thinks is entirely feasible and necessary. In the first place, Stern argues that the costs of doing nothing, including a general economic decline and possible world depression, far out weigh the costs of implementing controls on greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, the world economy will grow by approximately 200% in industrialized countries ad by 400% in developing countries by 2050, and, as Stern puts it, an "annual cost rising to 1% of GDP by 2050 poses little threat to standards of living." Moreover, Stern points out that costs of acting on controlling carbon-based emissions will increase over time, or as he says, "are likely to rise significantly as mitigation efforts become more ambitious or sudden, suggesting that efforts to reduce emissions rapidly are likely to be very costly." In other words, it's better to act now, and let the cumulative effects of technological advancement pay for themselves, than wait and try to do too little too late at a staggering cost.

There is a an enormous sense of urgency about addressing the problems of climate change. In responding to the the Stern report, British Prime Minister Tony Blair got it --- and directed a truly earned slap at recalcitrant governments, like the U.S., China, Canada and Australia:

What is not in doubt is that the scientific evidence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is now overwhelming. It is not in doubt that if the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous . . .This disaster is not set to happen in some science fiction future many years ahead, but in our lifetime. Unless we act now . . . these consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible. There is nothing more serious, more urgent, more demanding of leadership - - - here, of course, but most importantly in the global community. [Many thanks to Politique Vert for tracking down the quote.]

Unfortunately at this juncture in history, the doubters club --- among them the most important and dynamic economies in the world --- lack any sense of urgency or leadership at all, beholden to entrenched interests, domestic political or ecomomic concerns and an ideology which obfuscates the scientific evidence. In the race to the bottom in tax regimes, it's hard to see any nation stepping up to the plate and imposing a 1% cost on the economy. Fiscal conservatives will object to any new taxes on principle, and especially for a cause they reject as ideologically inspired. In any case, they will intone with a ponderous gravity suited for the high church of finance, the market is the cure. ("Climate change," says Stern, "presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest example of market failure we have ever seen.") Stephen Harper might be (from our point of view) the most egregious example of denial and whitewash, but he's hardly the only one.

The irony is that Canada is in one of the best positions of any nation, economically, to act. The Canadian GDP in 2005 was $1.023 trillion, and the budget surplus last year was $13.2 billion, which works out to be 1.35% of GDP. As a nation, we have the cash to act on global climate change. There really is no excuse for our shameful "green" plan. Do we have the will? If Margaret Wente is representative, probably not. In one of the most dumb-ass things ever said by a Globe and Mail columnist ---- and that's a very long history --- she stated

Who knew the fate of Earth was up to us? And though it pains me to say this, it's not. Canada accounts for half of 1 per cent of the world's population and 2 per cent of its emissions . . . We could shut down all of Canada tomorrow, and the impact on climate change would be wholly undetectable.

Morals, ethics, responsibility, those values conservatives constantly remind the Left they're lacking, have nothing to do with it. Sad to say, this represents the attitude of our elites, or a least a significant portion of them: it won't effect us. They're right, in a way. They have a shield of power and money, just as Canada has in relation to, say, Lesotho. The trick is persuading those in power that ultimately a little altruism and leadership --- 1% to be precise --- is necessary for the safety of us all.


Batman Bush Saves the US from Dora the Exploradora, Robin Harper Gawks in Awe

It was quite sad watching Mr. Harper stand alongside presidente-elect Calderón last Thursday, mumbling a few words about how Canada sympathizes with Mexico on Washington's new plan to build a 1200 km stretch of barbed wire fencing to keep all those nasty wetbacks out of God's country (or what was Mexico) but stressing how Canada's situation is really different from Mexico's. It is sad for two reasons: first it shows how Ottawa doesn't have a clue about empathy in Latin American relations; second, it became blatantly obvious that powers-that-be in Ottawa are like bunch of frogs in steamy water, unaware that they're soon to be cooked. They just don't want to admit that Canada is only a step behind their other North American neighbour.

According to Washington, all America wants is to be safe from drug smugglers, terrorists, illegal immigrants and other riff-raft. As George Bush said "[w]e have a responsibility to secure our borders... We take this responsibility seriously." If that is the case, it won't be long wait for the Great Wall of the United States (a gimmicky version of the Chinese original to be sure) separating the Middle Earth from the barbarians across the 49th.

The Thin Edge of the Wedge

But admit it Mr. Bush, you're not worried about the grape and lettuce pickers slipping across the border. After all, they help your neighbours clean scrub on their ranches! Fess up, you're worried about Dora the Explorer, the toddler phenomena par excellence. You're worried about her Spanglish, her charming mejicana smile, her catchy songs and how the US is becoming more and more latino by the minute.

In fact, the idea of Mexicans taking over the US one Dora at a time has some people writing their way into a frenzy. As Cinnamon Stillwell wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in April of this year,
Indeed, there's more than one way to conquer territory, and a demographic takeover is often more effective than a military one. Mexican nationalist sentiment in favor of "reconquista" or reclaiming the southwestern United States, otherwise known as Aztlan, is no longer confined to the fringes. It has now become a popular sentiment, intoned by Hispanic politicians, professors, activists and students.
Apparently, enough congressmen, Minutemen, and ordinary American citizens shared the same belief and had the clout to convince Bush that a wall was needed.
Needless to say, the Upper Canadian stands with Diego Armando Maradona and presidente-elect Felipe Calderón Hinojosa in condemning the wall. As Calderón said in Mr. Harper presence,
Es deplorable la decisión del Congreso y de Estados Unidos de ir adelante con la ecisión de construir el Muro. No se resuelve nada con eso.
[The decision taken by Congress and the United States to move ahead with the Wall's construction is deplorable. This will resolve nothing. ]
Just where are your cojones Mr. Harper?

When Torture Isn't

One of the joys of wisdom tooth extraction --- a unique form of torture --- is guiltlessly watching television pap on some really good opiate-based analgesics. Seeing Oprah Winfrey stoned on Percs last Friday was particularly instructive and entertaining. O's very special guest was Bill O'Reilly, self-proclaimed scourge of the secular-humanist-liberal-left, "culture warrior" and relentless cheerleader for the Bush Administration. On narcotics, it was all blah blah gay marriage blah blah ruining Western civilization blah blah traditional values blah blah --- hardly a hackle to be raised.

I opened an eye, though, when O'Reilly started blathering on about torture and Gitmo and waterboarding:
Now on Guantanamo Bay, it's very interesting. I've been there twice now. We need information to save lives. And according to Brian Ross — I think the best investigative reporter in the country right now — they captured Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, one of the 9/11 plotters, and they water boarded him, which means they tied him up and they dunked him in water . . . Now, they dunk Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in the water until Khalid Sheikh Mohamed said, 'Hold it. I'll tell you who my friends are.' They nailed 14 of them and they stopped, according to Brian Ross — not Bill O'Reilly — about a dozen terror plots that would have killed tens of thousands of people.

So you have to make a decision, ladies and gentlemen, whether you waterboard somebody or let 5,000 people die, all right? And that is a tough decision to make. I admit it. But I'm gonna come down . . . [Do] you take the guy's eye out? No. You cut his fingers off? No. You dunk him in water to save 5,000?

I'm dunkin' that guy all day long.


Fortunately O'Reilly doesn't have to worry about Washington's torture vernacular. What's waterboarding and what's dunking? Clearly, they're one and the same. He understands this and so does the audience. Strange, then, that the semantically nuanced American Vice President, Dick Cheney is getting into trouble over this very point.

When asked by a right-wing radio host whether "dunking in water" was an appropriate interrogation technique, Cheney replied, "It's a no-brainer for me."
[B]ut for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President "for torture." We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.

It's a no-brainer that, for most people, the radio host was referring to waterboarding, and Cheney himself was referring to waterboarding. Bill O'Reilly says the two are the same. Not so for the Vice President, whose subtle mind can simultaneously split hairs with a mere glance and count the number of angels on the head of a pin and decide when torture is torture and black is white. No sir. As Cheney later clarified at a newsconference aboard Air Force 2, it was all about the water-dunking: anything else is an unwarranted conflation, because waterboarding is torture and "we don't torture."
Q So it was not about water boarding, even though he asked you about dunking in the water?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn't say anything about water boarding. Those were all his comments. He didn't even use that phrase.

Q He said dunking in the water.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn't say anything, he did
Got that? The upshot is that if it's called waterboarding, it's torture; if it's called dunking, it's a "robust interrogation program". Even though both are exactly the same. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink: ever get the feeling American intelligence policy is being scripted by Tom Clancy?) It's enough to make Orwell rotate out of his grave and into orbit. But just to be perfectly clear, here's a suggested short list of substitute phrases for various kinds of torture (excuse me, "advanced interrogation techniques") so we know when torture isn't torture. Others will suggest themselves to the reader. You just need to call it something else.

Old: waterboarding
New: apple dunking

Old: sleep deprivation
New: all night pillow party

Old: electric shocks to genitals
New: foreplay

Old: sensory deprivation
New: meditation

Old: nail pulling
New: manicure

Old: contortion
New: stretching exercises

You're welcome.


London: 51°30' N. — Labrador City: 52° 54' N.

An article in the Guardian yesterday reported the Gulf Stream, the enormous North Atlantic current responsible for keeping western Europe balmy, shut down, stopped, ceased, what have you, for ten days in 2004.
Researchers are not sure yet what to make of the 10-day hiatus. "We'd never seen anything like that before and we don't understand it. We didn't know it could happen," said Harry Bryden, at the National Oceanography Centre, in Southampton, who presented the findings to a conference in Birmingham on rapid climate change.

Without the Gulf Stream, average European temperatures would be 6C colder than other places at similiar latitudes. But is it leading to the somewhat fanciful doomsday scenario portrayed in The Day After Tomorrow, where thermohaline circulation breaks down completely? Not quite. But still:

Lloyd Keigwin, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, in the US, described the temporary shutdown as "the most abrupt change in the whole [climate] record".

He added: "It only lasted 10 days. But suppose it lasted 30 or 60 days, when do you ring up the prime minister and say let's start stockpiling fuel? How can we rule out a longer one next year?"

One anomoly does not a trend make. But added to the bizarre weather seen over the North Atlantic in the past couple of years --- hurricanes making landfall on the Iberian peninsula, for instance --- as well as other disturbing trends, such as the increase in overall sea surface temperatures and decreasing oceanic salinity, I wonder (in a purely subjective, non-scientific and off-the-cuff way) if something isn't seriously out of whack. How does it all relate to climate change? What's noise and what's signal? Nobody knows really, including the climatologists. Something is up, though. And the science is doggedly struggling to fill in the gaps.


Getting Real on Climate Change

Nick Stern --- Sir Nicholas Stern, to be correct --- is one of those heavy duty British civil servants with a loaded curriculum vitae, and qualifications to match: educated at Oxford and Cambridge, professor at the London School of Economics, Chief Economist and Vice President of the World Bank, and now an advisor to the British government on climate change and development. Not one, you would think, who would be a fly-off-the handle wacko enviromentalist. Yet I will guarantee you that by this time next week he will be thus labelled by certain sections of right wing opinion.

From the Independent yesterday:

Global warming could cost the world's economies up to 20 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) if urgent action is not taken to stop floods, storms and natural catastrophes.

That stark warning was given to Tony Blair and his cabinet yesterday by Sir Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist, and is said to have left cabinet ministers chastened by the magnitude of the threat posed by climate change.

In a preview of a report he is to deliver next Monday, Sir Nicholas told the Cabinet the world would have to pay 1 per cent of its annual GDP to avert catastrophe. But doing nothing could cost 5 to 20 times that amount. He told them: "Business- as-usual will derail growth."

The massive 700-page report - commissioned by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown - was described as "hard-headed" and "frighteningly convincing". It focused on the economic peril now confronting the world, unless action was taken to combat harmful CO2 emissions that contribute to global warming.

"He left no one in any doubt that doing nothing is not an option," said one Whitehall source. "And he stressed that the need for action was urgent."

His review could be a watershed in overcoming scepticism about the existence of global warming. "It was hard-headed," said another source. "It didn't deal in sandals and brown rice. It stuck to the economics."

Mr Brown believes it could force the oil-dominated White House of George Bush to concede the importance of action to curb climate change. One minister who was present said it destroyed the US government's well known argument that cutting carbon emissions was bad for business.

His report, covering the period up to 2100, warns that climate change could cause the biggest recession since the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression. A downturn of that magnitude would have "catastrophic consequences" around the globe, with the poorest countries hit first and hardest, Sir Nicholas told the Cabinet. Insurance analysts, who submitted their evidence for his report, said they feared insurance claims could exceed the world's GDP.

But, there is some good news, according to the Guardian:

Sir Nicholas will argue that tackling the problem may not prove as economically painful as some experts predict. Investment in low-carbon technologies could stimulate the global economy. Sir David [King, the British government's Chief Scientific Advisor] said: "[Stern's] analysis, I think, will also surprise many people in terms of the relatively small cost of action . . . The massive investment programme that's ahead of us is an opportunity for us to move towards a zero carbon energy system. The investment process is going to act quite possibly in the opposite direction to an economic downturn."

In speaking of the forthcoming report, David King added the following:

"In my view this is the biggest challenge our global political system has ever been faced with. We've never been faced with a decision where collective decision making is required by all major countries . . . Actions being asked of the political system today are only going to play through into mid-century and beyond. So for the first time we are asking a global political system to make decisions around risks to their populations that are well outside the time period of any election process."

Which brings us to the much ballyhooed "balance" of the federal government's new Clean Air Act, the Act which promises to address the challenges and opportunities of global climate change by freeing us all of mold and mildew around the home. A reality check, perhaps?

Given the huge scope of what's required, nationally and globally, do you think the government could have given us --- well, more? More vision, more leadership, more responsibility, a chance to establish Canada in the front rank of nations dealing with climate change and in developing green technologies? Or even seizing opportunities to increase our prosperity?

In fact, isn't this just the "change of attitude" on Canada'a place in the world that Canada's New Government was hoping to generate?

Apparently not. Reality and Conservative Party rhetoric are two different animals, matter and anti-matter, occupying space in parallel universes.

So instead we have half-hearted half-measures --- "real and measurable targets" --- by a government that believes that climate change issue is a matter for PR flummery: mandatory greenhouse gas reductions in 44 years, mysterious "intensity targets" that will actually increase the amount of CO2 emissions, controls on ATVs and appliances, weak auto exhaust standards, and an "historical" three part consultation process with industry, evidently designed to consume a forest the size of Prince Edward Island in paper --- all of which amounts to a mash note to business. The fact that industry --- especially oil producers --- are applauding these measures is telling in itself.

Or maybe the government believes that in the grand scheme of the universe, our greenhouse gas emissions amount to a big bucket of nothing. So we might as well, goes the argument, whoop it up while we can. As Red Tory points out today, "Our collective insignificance is highly interesting."

And that's where the government would have you believe we belong.

Where Do I Sign Up?

Out of the tangled and complicated coverage of CIA rendition flights in Europe comes this extraordinary tidbit:

CIA pilots, sometimes using false identities and whose planes regularly passed through Britain, ran up huge bills in luxury hotels after flying terrorist suspects to secret locations where they were tortured. But they revealed their whereabouts and identities by indiscreet use of mobile phones and allowed outsiders to track their aircraft's flights.

On one occasion, CIA pilots and crew lived it up in Majorca after rendering Benyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian brought up in Notting Hill, west London, to Afghanistan where he was tortured. Benyam was detained in Pakistan early in 2002, and then flown to Morocco, where he says he suffered appalling torture. He is being held at Guantánamo Bay.

I'm sure I don't have to draw a road map between Corruption and its capital city, Torture, but still I wonder if I'm in the right business. A little extraordinary rendition, a little slap-dash waterboarding, then rest and relaxation on the Med, all expenses paid . . . and all for God and Country.

A tough life, that.


Reason No. 2349 to Vote the Beggars Out

Right-wing Christian groups met Tuesday in Ottawa, tested the political winds with their collective fingers and decided having a Parliamentary vote to reopen the same-sex marriage debate maybe wasn't such a good idea after all. According to the Globe and Mail:
Instead, they arrived at the House of Commons yesterday to say they would be happy if politicians would merely study the impact that expanding the institution to gay and lesbian couples has had on Canadian society -- a move they hope will keep the debate in the public domain.

"We wish that they would study it, we wish that they would have proper hearings," Dr. Charles McVety, a senior director of Defend Marriage Canada, said at a news conference.

The act that introduced same-sex marriage "went through without the proper studies and it's impacting our lives. It's impacting people."

Uhuh. For "merely study the impact" read "we're waiting for a Conservative majority government so we can have another kick at the can". You'll get something more closely approximating the truth.

They've realized, evidently, that strategically it makes no sense to remind Canadian voters where the Conservative party base truly lies. The narrow-minded and bitter speechifying that will surely accompany the marriage debate in the Commons will not help Conservative chances in any upcoming election, and will only serve to confirm the impression --- rightly or wrongly --- that the party is populated by bigots. Better to keep the marriage issue under wraps for the time being, and hope for a better outcome in the projected election next spring or summer.

Besides, what a better way to mobilize the base to vote Conservative than on a campaign to rescue "traditional marriage"?

As for "impacting our lives", how so, exactly? Is there a flood of male evangelicals running off to marry the guy of their dreams? And vice versa? Are fundamentalist marriages that flimsy that they can't stand the competition?

Maybe there should be a parliamentary inquiry on the deleterious effects of pointless and inflammatory rhetoric on the body politic, with Charles McVety as the lead witness. It would certainly be more useful.

That Darn Sovereignty Issue

Yesterday's story "U.S. rules limit hiring at Montreal firm" dual citizens barred from certain positions at aerospace services provider CAE Inc." by Daniel LeBlanc of the Globe and Mail certainly had that familiar ring of extra-territoriality imposed through the U.S. Helms-Burton Act.

It's a devil's problem. First, Canadians who hold a second passport from countries considered dangerous by the US cannot be considered for Canadian based positions in sensitive areas according to the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

As the Globe mentions,

The Canadian government is refusing to impose ITAR on its own employees, saying the restrictions violate the Charter of Rights and cannot be enforced in Canada.

Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is prohibited to discriminate against Canadian citizens, irrespective of where they were born or whether they retain citizenship in other countries," said Elizabeth Hodges, a spokeswoman for the Department of National Defence.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Upper Canadian reminds its readers, is not only applicable to the Federal Government. It is the law of the land, applied equally and evenly to all citizens. So why isn't the federal government out protecting the rights of Canadians? Thinking badly, one might come to the conclusion that this might even be a provoked fire: Look! Those darn immigrants with their double nationality hurting Canadian industry! Another reason to make them be real Canadians!

In whatever case, as the Globe failed to point out, there are issues beyond whether or not the Charter is being adhered to (or not) or whether we are witness to a make-believe crisis to strip Canadians of a second citizenship. In a grim multi-billion dollar industry, ITAR is the bane to all wanting and willing to purchase US military material, both outside and inside the USA. Issues of technology transfers are rife, as are the American right to boycott the resale of lesser technologies to third countries perceived as a threat to the national interest and state sovereignty. Others, such as Derek Burney for ambassador the the United States, complain of US protectionism.

Australia, for example, recently chose EADS helicopters over an American equivalent because of ITAR restrictions in computer source codes. Countries are also looking at ways to avoid ITAR altogether. Some Europeans companies, as Defense Weekly pointed out, "already advertise that some of their wares are “ITAR-free” — that is, they are not subjected to the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, a situation that is likely to increase after the US block of C-295 aircraft sales by Spain to Venezuela. Companies proclaiming "ITAR free" are EADS, Alcatel Space (France), Morotta (UK) and Surrey Satellite Technology (UK).

At the state level, France foresaw the sovereignty issue and adopted a policy of industrial autonomy so as to avoid Washington's tutorship in its military endeavors. This type of response, as Defense Weekly suggested, keeps American arms peddlers up at night since "...the best way to become ITAR-free is to stop buying American-made parts." Even multinationals find the ITAR regulations cumbersome, as Boeing found out when it tried to declare its 787 plane as "ITAR free" since some carbon fibre components are similar to those found in the B-2 stealth bomber. (Think of that the next time you're in one!)

So where does Canada stand? According to Peter McKay, now settling back into the frat house after a trying trip to the outer rim of the galaxy, ITAR requirements are causing snags in Canadian military procurement. Contrary to popular belief, the country is an important importer of military wares. So why isn't our government --- you know, the one seeking for Canada a new distinctive role in foreign affairs --- creating a policy to buy ITAR free planes, helicopters and other toys of destruction to avoid the extraterritoriality of ITAR? Or better, why isn't it suggesting a consortium of trustworthy ITAR free countries and regions? Making strong industrial policy has never been one of the Canadian government's strengths. But perhaps it is high time to end issues of extraterritoriality and restricted technological transfers by promoting "ITAR free" in Canada's military and defence industries.

In a Narcotic Haze

For those of you wondering, the dearth of posts in the last couple of days has been the result of some major excavations and rootings: I had some wisdom teeth out, and am accordingly living in a Percocet-and-Gravol-induced wonderland. Unlike Coleridge, I haven't been moved to any great effusions of poetry from my opioid use. No Xanadu for this boy. Just a lot of mindless staring at the television, sucking in Dr Phil and Oprah like a parched sponge.

However, it turns out that narcotic euphoria is good for other mindless tasks, like writing HTML code, which general bores me more than even reality television. I've made some significant changes to the format of the Upper Canadian, and would be glad for comments and suggestions on usability. I like the result, but then, I'm walking in a poppy field at the moment.


Short Takes on the Religious Right

While writing a future post on Margaret Somerville and her views on same sex marriage, I had the pleasure over the last couple of days of trolling through some of the darker recesses of the right-wing fundamentalist reality. Here's a few of the golden nuggets dredged up.

He Who Lives By the Sword

James Dobson, the so-called pope of the Religious Right and founder of Focus on the Family (and its Canadian branch plant) isn't feeling the love lately. “I have never seen such hatred in my life. I am being bludgeoned,” he said recently in response to being called the "worst man in America." In the same interview he accused gays and lesbians of "targeting children".

Well, James, I am one person who doesn't hate you. I might think you a blithering idiot for not seeing the connection between your vile rhetoric and a heated response, but I don't hate you.


You know how the religious right whinges on and on about being "demonized"? Our rights are being supressed, they moan, we're being demonized by the left and the mainstream media, and so on, ad nauseam? Here's a case of the supporters of same sex marriage being demonized, literally.

The context is a rewrite by Jon Dykstra of The Screwtape Letters; the topic, how the devil is working to end traditional marriage. (Screwtape is C.S. Lewis's imaginary demon who corresponds with an underling about the snares and devices of Hell.) Screwtape says: "That is what this [legalization of same sex marriage] is ultimately about—yet another skirmish in our ongoing war with the Enemy."

The Enemy, of course, is all good fundamentalist Christians who oppose same sex marriage; supporters are minions of Satan.

I guess I should be buying a turkey baster, because man, I'm gonna be roasting.

Who Me, Partisan?, the media mouthpiece of the Evangelical Christian Fellowship, recently published a report card on Stephen Harper's performance. Do I need to tell you Canada's New Goverment got an A- overall? Some of the praises sung:

"generally competent, focused, and well-disciplined"

"amazingly well skilful and effective"

"deserve high marks"

"marked success"

"done very well"

"much more impressive as prime minister than he was as opposition leader"

"decisive and focused"

"a strong, articulate, energetic, bold, disciplined and visionary leader"

With a miracle or two and maybe some stigmata, Harper will be elevated to sainthood before the end of the parliamentary term. Even criticism discovered in the article is couched in terms like "the attempt was commendable." In short, not a stinging rebuke is to be found.

Curious such obviously partisan puffery is to be found on a website owned by a registered charity, which by definition is supposed to be nonpartisan. Even curiouser, that the author complements the government for its integrity, while the website's owners are effectively subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer.

If Ignatieff were an American living in Canada, dreaming of being president, guess what he'd be doing right now?

Among the many doubts of Michael Ignatieff's bid to become the next Liberal leader, perhaps the most noticeable objection is that he has not physically been in Canada since the late 1970s. Most have taken this aspect fairly lightheartedly; one of my favourite quips on Ignatieff's opportunism comes from Paul Knowles at the New Hamburg Independent:

The fact that the leader in the race to be Liberal leader is Michael Ignatieff, the guy who came back to Canada - after living most of his adult life in the United States and England - purely in order to run for the job of Prime Minister. Most people come to this country because they want a fresh start, or they want to escape tyranny or persecution. They come willing to take whatever job is available, to build a life in Canada. To start from scratch in a country that offers more opportunity than the one they are in. Ignatieff is not an immigrant, of course. He is a bona fide Canadians - even if in his writings he has referred to himself, pronounally speaking, as an American.

But imagine the conversation around Ignatieff's breakfast table, a year or so ago. "Dear, I am thinking of moving back to Canada." "But you have a great job here in the U.S." "Yes, but I think my opportunities will be better in Canada. I do remember the country, somewhat, and I want to be a prime minister or president of something. I can't do that here in the States, because we have a silly rule about being born here. I can't do it in England, because Tony Blair's successor is already standing with his briefcase at the door of 10 Downing. So it's either Canada or Italy, and I know slightly less about Italy."

Funny stuff, indeed. But should we consider that something more serious is at hand? To name our southern neighbour which has considered this possibility, Article II of the US constitution states:
No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.
In my reading of this clause, a candidate needs to have been resident in the US for fourteen years prior to seeking office. Thus, in the hypothetical situation that an expatriate American decided to return home to seek the presidency--a situation that I cannot recall having occurred-- he would automatically be disqualified.

How long has Ignatieff been in Canada? Ten months and counting? How long will he stay if he doesn't win?


Folla't a la dreta

Aiming at the heart and souls of Catalan youth, Joves d'Esquerra Verda [Green-Left Youth] of Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds [Catalan Green Initiative] recently distributed election campaign material which consisted of condoms and the slogan 'Folla't a la dreta' or 'Fuck the right.' The Catalan Greens have since withdrawn the material and have apologized to those whom may have been offended.

Iniciativa retira su campaña 'Fóllate a la derecha' y pide disculpas
Joan Saura - ICV-EUiA

Moral Clarity

On the heels of George W. Bush signing into law the Military Commissions Act, the BBC released this morning a survey of 27, 000 people in 25 countries which asked if any degree of torture was acceptable in the fight against terror in order to save innocent lives.

Canada ranked third (74%) in those polled who thought torture was unacceptable in any circumstance, behind Italy (81%) and France/Australia (tied at 75%). In the United States a bare majority of 58% thought torture was wrong against 36% who believed "some degree" of torture was permissible. Contrast this against those places with more dubious human rights records, such as Turkey (62%/24%) and Egypt (75%/25%).

Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal, it's still a bit astonishing to think that in the beacon of the free world, 42% of the population either supports torture or is indifferent to its use. Interesting too, that that 58/42 split nearly mirrors, perhaps not coincidentally, the polarized nature of American politics at the moment.

Moral clarity is a phrase championed by conservatives in the United States and elsewhere that embodies a whole series of values idealizing the actions of the Bush Admininstration as inherently ethical and good as opposed to the "moral confusion' of the administration's opponents and critics. Swing a cat at any conservative blog and you're likely to shake loose this hackneyed slogan. Invading Iraq to foster democracy in the Middle East has moral clarity as it promotes freedom; opposition to the war promotes terrorism, and is the result of an incoherent set of moral values.

I rather suspect the 36% of Americans (and the 22% of Canadians) who approve of torture like the phrase moral clarity. It perfectly describes a proscriptive temperment, a self-perception of clear ethical vision. The question which needs to be posed to supporters of torture is how, exactly, does torture in any embody moral clarity or a strong sense of moral values? How is effacing the inherent dignity and worth of a human being an ethical act? Or is the phrase "moral clarity" just a cover for the immoral use of naked power?

Darth Bush Claims Space for Freedom

We should all give a sigh of relief that the adversaries of freedom will be dissuaded from using space in the future, the BBC reports. While the United States seeks freedom for all in the celestial sphere, the National Space Policy states in no uncertain terms American galactic preminence:

The United States is committed to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity. Consistent with this principle, “peaceful purposes” allow U.S. defense and intelligence-related activities in pursuit ofnational interests . . .

In this new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not. Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power. In order to increase knowledge, discovery, economic prosperity, and to enhance the national security, the United States must have robust, effective, and efficient space capabilities . . .

The United States considers space capabilities -- including the ground and space segments and supporting links -- vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests. . ..

The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests . . .

How bad can this be? On the surface, all this looks like the United States is seeking the free use of space for all (commercial, for example, is cited in the document no less that 29 times) as well as looking for its demilitarization. Yet, the National Space Policy's underlying essence stresses the need to maintain, if not increase, American defences beyond the stratosphere. One then has to wonder how this statement is being taken in Moscow, Brussels and Beijing. Is this the sign of future arms races in space? Is it then time for an international summit of space use?

BBC NEWS Americas US adopts tough new space policy

Other blogs posting on this subject:

No BMD, eh?

Daily Revolution


Standing on Guard for Thee

Appearing in yesterday's Gazette (via CanWest News Service) was this headline: Hastily trained Afghan teens to stand guard for Canadians, by Renata D'Alieso.

According to D'Alieso, as a result of six recent deaths, NATO has decided that it is better to use local teenagers to police and defend a particularly dangerous stretch of road in Kandahar being rebuilt by the Canadian battle group. Arming these youths with Kalashnikovs and training them for 9 to 10 days will apparently help lessen the insecurity in the region. As NATO's regional police adviser, Canadian Forces Colonel Gary Stafford explained, "The Afghan government requested that we expedite and get [Afghan] individuals into high-risk areas."

Technically this is an auxiliary police force under the command of the regular Afgani police. Still, the links with the Canadian Forces are clear. As D'Alieson reported, NATO (read: Canada) complied with the Afghan government's request to train, arm and supervise this new police force. Moreover, supporting law-enforcement appears to be in line with Ottawa's general strategy of pacifying the region. Gordon O'Conner, the Minister of National Defences thinks policing is the key for success in the region. Speaking last September, O'Conner theorized that the secret in defeating the Taliban "insurgency" is "about developing effective Afghan national police forces and an Afghan national army" to establish order.

Yet, training a professional army and police force is a far cry from giving AK-47s to kids after a ten day training session. The end result is that NATO/Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are enlisting under-aged, ill-trained teen-aged boys destined to be cannon fodder. And the proof is in the pudding: "Most, if not all, were asleep at their posts when Canadian soldiers recently dropped by to inspect. When they were awake, some had errantly fired their rifles in the direction of the Canadians", reported the Gazette.

Does the Government think the use of sticky-palmed teenagers in a war zone is appropriate policy? Here's a clue: "Police salaries are low, about $80 a month, far less than the wages foreign organizations pay skilled local workers. The job is also risky, particularly in southern Afghanistan." So risky, in fact, that near-children are being recruited into doing a job adults won't do. Is the state of affairs in Kandahar so desperate?

From this particular pedestal, one sincerely hopes that the Government is adhering to the spirit, if not the letter of the Geneva Conventions:
The Parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years the Parties to the conflict shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest." (Protocol I, Art. 77, Sec.2.)
One can also hope that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter McKay (apparently still on special assignment in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri) can clarify if the Canadian government has violated the terms of Article 77. Meanwhile, Members of Parliament should consider the morality of sending boy-soldiers into harm's way.


The Potluck Solution

So what is it with white middle-aged males protesting the trivial? Guilt? Impotence? Decline of reality television as a viable form of cultural expression? Realization that after half a lifetime they've made absolutely no mark in the world?

I wondered about this mystery this past weekend, after Gary McHale's "March for Peace" in Caledonia last weekend, which was clearly intended to be a rumble with the Six Nations protesters occupying the Douglas Creek lands. Fortunately McHale's Army --- the thousands of counter-protesters he predicted would take up arms against "government duplicity" --- didn't show, leaving him and his merry band of supporters facing off against a potluck dinner organized by the Haudenosaunee protestors.

Only in Canada would a volatile situation with a potential for violence and bloodshed be diffused by tuna casserole and nanaimo bars. Makes you proud, eh?

Here at The Upper Canadian we put on our fancy thinkin' chapeaux and came up with this idea. Since the Foreign Minister, Peter McKay, is on secret assignment in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri by orders of the PMO, maybe Stephen Harper can start a bold new direction in Canadian foreign policy: call it the Potluck Dinner Initiative. Imagine the fun and hi-jinks! George brings the (halal) ribs and Osama brings the tabouli. A massive sit-down along the Demilitarized Zone. Sweet-and-sour meatballs for all! Ditto for Darfur and Somalia and Iraq: Nine Layer Dip works wonders to heal animosities. If it works for the United Church, where the potlucks have resolved many a bitter and vicious theological dispute, surely it will contain larger conflicts on the world stage. The indigestion alone will incapacitate nearly everyone.

Besides it would be truly amazing to have finally a real made-in-Canada foreign policy, reflecting true Canadian values and culture. The Prime Minister could definitively answer his critics who say his foreign policy is a Washington franchise. For what could be more Canadian than eating tortiere and potato salad off a paper plate with people you don't really like?


Rona Ambrose: Super Brain or Mere Prop?

According to a Hill Times article this morning, Rona Ambrose, Minister of the Environment, has not been briefed on the science of global climate change.

Steven Guilbeault, [states the article] a climate change campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said normally one of the first things a new Environment minister would do is receive a number of briefings. "Once they've been appointed they would have briefings on various portfolios or various files within their portfolios, you know, clean air, toxics, nature, climate change. This is an absolute minimum," he said, adding that he suspects that the minister has chosennot to be briefed by her Department's scientists.
The Upper Canadian's astonishment that the central issue of this minister's portfolio, the issue driving Canada's New Improved Government's enviromental policy, has somehow escaped the Minister's attention, leads us to formulate several theories to account for this apparent lapse:

A) Rona Ambrose has a computer-like superhuman brain, assimilating facts and theories at will, thus eliminating the redundant prattling of scientists whose intelligence pales before Her Mighty Cerebrum. (This is the meme Conservative party apologists are promulgating, along with Stephen Harper: Party Animal and All Around Fun Guy)

B) She doesn't care. (Climate change is boring and I'll be dead anyway.)

C) She thinks winter getaways on Great Slave Lake are a good idea. (I have 50 acres of waterfront 80 kilometers east of Yellowknife.)

She's been too busy, what with the the new environmental policy, and Clean Air Act and . . .

Oh right. Doesn't global warming have something to do with that? The
Prime Minister appears to think so:

"[The Clean Air Act] will set in motion Canada's first comprehensive and integrated approach to tackle air pollution and greenhouse gases and in doing so deliver better air quality and address climate change . . . Canada's Clean Air Act wasn't developed on the fly at a press conference. It wasn't written at an international meeting held in an exotic location. And we're certainly not going to hire a comedian to promote it."

Actually, what you do is hire a telegenic minister to act as a prop to your policy announcements which were apparently formulated on a serviette in the Chateau Laurier coffeeshop, and you need something, anything to feed the media hounds nipping at your heels. Because the science of global climate change is the artifice of the devil, destroying capitalism as we know it, and depressing the Calgary real estate market besides.

Which leads us to the theory that the Upper Canadian favours: Rona Ambrose is actually a cleverly constructed cardboard cutout, programmed to suitably appear over Stephen Harper's right shoulder as needed and controlled by a secret electronic device located somewhere in the PMO. This accounts for the briefings, or lack of them. Cardboard cutouts don't need briefings. They don't need to speak at all.


Mr Ignatieff whistles for wind

In the days of schooners and rigging and foremasts, sailors held close numerous superstitions. Don't have priests or women on board. Don't kill albatrosses. And especially, don't raise the wind by whistling. Michael Ignatieff has whistled, and conjured a hurricane. In doing so, he may well have scuttled his leadership ambitions when, on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle, he suggested that the 30 July Israeli bombing of Qana was a "war crime."

Qana, for those who don't remember, is a small town in southern Lebanon which was targeted for attack on 30 July, leaving 28 women and children dead during Israel's ill-advised Lebanese summer adventure. It is also generally accepted that something terrible had happened there. Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator called the attack "indiscriminate and excessive" despite Hezbollah's morally questionable use of the civilian areas for refuge. Kenneth Roth, of Human Rights Watch put it in even clearer terms by saying that "such consistent failure [by Israel] to distinguish combatants and civilians is a war crime".

Such is also the opinion of honorary Upper Canadians such as Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Howard Zinn, Ken Loach, John Berger and Arundhati Roy who recently declared in the Guardian that Israel's actions in Lebanon were indeed criminal:
The US-backed Israeli assault on Lebanon has left the country numb, smouldering
and angry. The massacre in Qana and the loss of life is not simply "disproportionate". It is, according to existing international laws, a war crime. (The full statement can be found here.)
Despite the validation that something calamitous had indeed happened, justifications of Israel's actions in Qana have emerged, mostly in the US media like the Wall St. Journal. The crux of their argument is that Israel, acting on a a tit-for-tat manner, is less to blame than Hezbollah for starting the whole mess. What these finger wagging arguments also do (perhaps inadvertently) is lower the State of Israel down to Hezbollah's level; indeed with a bit of sobriety a good case could be made that one group of armed thugs attacked another group of armed thugs which, in turn, responded with even bigger bombs and guns, killing innocents along the way. Even using that optic, both groups are equally to blame.

Whatever the case, the attacks on Ignatieff have already begun. Susan Kadis, Ignatieff's Toronto campaign co-chair and MP from Thornhill resigned over the affair suggesting that Ignatieff doesn't understand Middle East affairs and argued that the attacks were just. As the Toronto Star reported, Kadis "found Ignatieff’s 'unprovoked comments very troubling,' given that Israel’s attack on Qana was a response to the 'brazen kidnapping' of Israeli soldiers and missile attacks by Lebanese-based Hezbollah guerrillas."

Equally important, Shimon Fogel, chief executive of the Canada-Israel Committee also seems to think that Ignatieff is being unreasonable for suggesting that killing civilians isn't kosher and chastised Ignatieff for even thinking out loud that last summer's Israeli adventure was a mistaken and blood wrought:
For somebody as well-informed and experienced as Mr. Ignatieff, he should know that is not a reasonable charge to level against Israel...What he ought to be preoccupied withis the kind of intolerance that gave rise to the conflict to begin with and the extent to which there are efforts to have it leach into Canadian society. (Quoted in the National Post.)
And Mr. Ignatieff only spoke of Qana. He did not speak of the Lebanese deaths during the war. Nor of the Canadian or UN casualties. He did not speak of the systematic destruction of infrastructure built up since the last Israeli invasion of Lebanon. And he did not speak of more than 350,000 cluster bombs dropped on southern Lebanon after Resolution 1701 was passed. (These charming devices turn into active land mines which, as the Times reports, continue to maim the innocent.) Moreover, he did not suggest that most of the civilized world (and all of the barbarians, evidently) thinks that Israel crossed the line.

All said, while I dearly hope that Ms. Kandis is not speaking for the Liberal party, let alone the people of Canada, she does have a right to have a perspective, however naive. The opinion of Mr. Fogel's organization, however, smacks of censure from an international lobby group, using the anti-Semitic card to trump criticism. In the Canada- Israel Committee's ideal world, we should all shut up, because we just don't understand. Because of the risk of being, in Mr Fogel's words, intolerant. But Mr. Fogel misplaces the origins of intolerance; he should understand that patience runs thin with war and blood, no matter the creed.

So Mr. Ignatieff is at a crossroads. He can either stand alongside his beliefs and intellectual counterparts or buckling under to the pressure from a questionable lobby. For the Upper Canadian the choice is clear: kill an albatross or two, let a woman onboard and weather the inevitable typhoon.


The Reign of Cynicism

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times have this staggering story on Iraqi civilian deaths:
A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq's government

It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.

The surveyors said they found a steady increase in mortality since the invasion, with a steeper rise in the last year that appears to reflect a worsening of violence as reported by the U.S. military, the news media and civilian groups. In the year ending in June, the team calculated Iraq's mortality rate to be roughly four times what it was the year before the war.

Of the total 655,000 estimated "excess deaths," 601,000 resulted from violence and the rest from disease and other causes, according to the study. This is about 500 unexpected violent deaths per day throughout the country. (
Washington Post)

The figures, of course, are being challenged (here, for example, and here), viewed through the lens of ideology. A small tempest is in the making. What strikes me as surreal about this particular dust-up is whether you're talking about 50 000 or 655 000 casualties, the figure is still monstrous and appalling. Remember we're talking about human beings here, innocent or hard core jihadis, mothers, fathers, brothers sisters, aunt, uncles, grandparents, all of whom were loved and treasured.

I'm not being mawkish. I merely point out two things: first, these dead were as fully human as your own children, and second, having your mother numbered among the dead by insurgents, or as "collateral damage" by U.S. forces, or simply as the victim of petty crime because the chaos is uncontrollable will generate anger and hatred.

Is it any wonder the United States is facing a full-blown insurgency?

Stalin once proposed that one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. Strange and ironic some in the West adopt a similarly callous and cynical attitude towards the Iraqi dead. I guess Arabs don't count in the scheme of things. Or don't fit into the "culture of life" so valued by conservatives. Or something.

How many civilian casualties is acceptable? Is it worth 50 000 or 655 000 lives to bring democracy to the Middle East? Are 500 deaths a day a reasonable price for Iraqis to expiate the sin of 9/11? Or to fulfil the hubris of the Bush Administration?

Making Kim Pay

I will tell you exactly what will happen to North Korea in consequence of exploding an atomic bomb:

Goose egg. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Zippo. Absolutely sweet dick-all.

"And this could have been stopped, if the West had had the courage to stand up to both North Korea and China. It did not. And Seoul, or Tokyo, or even Los Angeles, will pay the price one day," moans one blogger, meaning to give a damning indictment of the West's moral and political failures, but unintentionally pointing the finger at the real source of decay.

Ever since claiming the moral leadership of the free world and naming North Korea as one of the most evilest nations in the Axis of Evil, George W. has essentially sat on his hands on the nuke issue. It dropped on his to-do list --- the evil apparently having lessened with time --- to somewhere between water appropriations in North Dakota and global warming. At the same time it appears about 97.3% of his attention has been drawn to the sectarian strife terrorism civil war disaster in Iraq and related sideshows in the war on terror. Remember Bush cutting the legs from under John Kerry two years ago for Kerry's sucky position on North Korean nukes? He had a plan, right? He was going knock Chinese and Korean heads together to fix this thing, the so-called six party talks. In retrospect, the sucky position would probably have been better than this triumph of American diplomacy.

Bottom line: short of outright miltary intervention --- any volunteers for that particular bucket of slop? --- nothing will be done. The Chinese will bluster --- Beijing as a target is a lot closer to Pyongyang than Washington --- and the Americans will wave their hands and the Europeans will make pooh-poohing noises, while Stephen Harper offers sanctions --- against a country with which Canada has no foreign trade, and whose development aid from Ottawa would scarcely carpet Kim's vacation house in broadloom. Denunciations and sanctions against the most isolated country on the planet are laughable and amount to a sorry mass bum-covering exercise on the part of world leaders. They really don't have anything else to offer. In the event, a sanctioned North Korea with nuclear weapons is probably better than the blood-and-gore alternative.

So get used to North Korea having the bomb. But don't worry: building a delivery system for such weapons is at least two or three years off ---- plenty of time for George to fix it.


Hysteria's Peace

While lying in bed this morning, half-awake and somewhat feverish, an unusual and disquieting peace came over me. While Sunday morning does brings a predictable calm with less traffic, the ability to actually hear birds and the choice to forgo rushing about (at least until later), there was something else, something more wearisome was in the air. Decidedly absent was the paradoxical security blanket of anxiousness, that deep rooted feeling that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and the corresponding relief that there is nothing to do about it anyway.

"avian flu" terrorism invasion "global warming"

Statistically, I may not be alone. As you can see in the above chart, search queries on Google the avian flu virus has remarkably dropped off the from the high last year when we were all going to cough and snivel our way to oblivion. Terrorism and global warming get a less than energetic shake of the head and the odd "tsk tsk." This fall's prime candidate, a (rumoured) beating war drum for an invasion of Iran, is perhaps driving more fear into people than the other choices. Even this should be put into perspective of more immediate concerns like Paris Hilton's social agenda:

"paris hilton" iran invasion "global warming"

Where are this season's jitters? Has the Mark Foley scandal tripped up the system in Washington? The Washington Post seems to think that Cheney, at least, is up to old tricks, which is kind of scary in its own right, except for sensation that we've heard it all before, as even Bill Clinton pointed out a few weeks ago. Is it that people have simply becoming immune to scare tactics?

Needless to say, the lack of fear induced tension is kind of worrying, if not stress inducing. First, there is less and less to make sharp coffee house remarks like "did you duct tape your window frames yet for the gas attack?" Worse still is the creeping paranoia that, just maybe, something big in the works. Are UFOs going to invade? Is the Earth going to be sucked into a black hole? Or is it just that North Korea simply going to nuke us to kingdom come? Whatever the outcome, please Mssrs. Spin Doctors give me something to worry about.


Overshoot Day, or How to Ruin Thanksgiving

Recovering from the Thanksgiving bloat? Feeling a little drowsy, perhaps, from all that turkey? Somewhat ironically, as we Canadians gorge ourselves today on pumpkin pie, stuffing, squash and the inevitably dessicated bird, 9/10/06 also marks World Overshoot Day. Today is the day when the human population of the Earth has used up all the biological capacity that can be produced in one year, and begins to to run an "ecological deficit". It's like having income from a trust account, using up the interest before the end of the year, and having to dip into your capital to support yourself. Inevitably you go bankrupt. To put it another way, humanity consumes the biological capacity of 1.3 Earths every year.

Cheerful thought. Even more cheerful is the fact that Overshoot Day creeps up a few more days in the calendar every year. Only nineteen years ago, Overshoot Day was 19/12/87.

It's really about the arrival of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, flying on wings of global warming, resource scarcity, environmental degradation and habitat loss, all nicely calculated and documented. And sunny optimism and personal empowerment tapes ain't going to save you.

I suppose --- I know --- there will be those shilling for various corporate and government interests who will deny all of this as environmentalist propaganda. They will propose that denuding the planet is actually good for us, and back it up by fakery and pseudoscience, or else point to the God of Technology as our saviour.

They will, sadly, be believed by a population in the First World all to ready to defend its impossibly high standard of living, and to salve its conscience by tossing cardboard into the recycling bin. Political will is needed urgently to address this and all environmental issues --- but none is to be found, having rolled off the table and into a pit of greed and deceit, covered by a smokescreen of more pressing matters, like the unending war on terror.

Cynical? Pessimistic? I wonder. But I have a question, one that keeps me up at night and fuels my nightmares: Do we as a species have the knowledge or wisdom to look beyond narrow and selfish short-term interest for the long-term good of all of us?

Thus far the answer is not reassuring.


Apocalypse Fashion

It is awfully good to know that, when in time of need --- like a desert oil war or, say, an outright fin du monde situation of biblical proportions --- French clothing hawker Marithé + François Girbáud will be there to see that you are stylishly and comfortably dressed. For the uncertain autumn/winter 2006-2007 season, new winter apocalypse colours are available: Dubai black, Wadi al Batin brown and Tigris red. Clothing is resistant to random hoodlum attacks and becomes more authentic, wearable and even waterproof with oil fallout stains. With these innovations, one can hardly wait for what the spring/summer 2007 collection will bring us!

Seen in Le Monde, 6 October 2006 (paper edition). Posted by Picasa

The Norwood Fair, and Some Pointless Local History

As I write, a parliament of about 300 Canada geese has settled on the farm pond, and having resolved the same sex marriage issue some time ago, are vigorously debating the best route to Boca. The turkeys are popping Xanax and talking confusedly about "breaking out". Suddenly it's fall, Thanksgiving is upon us, and the yes, the famous Norwood Fair is gearing up this weekend to awe the amateur and professional fairgoer alike.

I've often thought one of the great pleasures of living in Canada are country fairs, and the Norwood Fair is one of the best of them. A fair of this splendour and beauty is hardly to be found elsewhere in Peterborough County, let alone the province. But I warn you: wandering through the giant pumpkins, the preserves and pickles, and the prize pigs is exhausting and not for the faint-hearted; so exhausting in fact, Norwood village pretty well closes up for eleven months afterwards, just to gather up strength for the next time.

For those of you not in the in-crowd, Norwood is a tiny village about 25 km east of Peterborough; for me it's the village, as in, "I'm going to the village for milk/driver's licence/chicken food/to get the dead donkey removed.*" So I confess a little bias. But come on out anyway. Just go east on Highway 7 towards Ottawa, and you'll run right into it. You'll probably see me there Sunday, likely muttering at the sheep.

I also need to mention, in all humility, that there's a link between the the fabulous Norwood Fair and your humble Upper Canadian. I've discovered one of the founders of the fair in 1868 was one Frank Birdsall, whose family owned about 25 acres of the property I now occupy. Now this is a fact, I admit, that isn't likely to draw a gasp of admiration from anyone but me and the blue-rinse gang over at the Asphodel and Norwood Historical Society. But think about it:

Frank Birdsall, Norwood Fair Founder -------->

The Upper Canadian -------->

? Unknown Greatness

On such paths are the roads to glory trod.

*Actual conversation


Defence of Bigots Act

Back in the day, say before the last federal election, the Conservative Party swore up and down there was no secret agenda to impose right-wing fundamentalist values on an open, tolerant society. Now we see this article in the Globe this morning:

The Conservative government is planning measures, including a Defence of Religions Act, to allow public officials, such as Justices of the Peace, to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

The measures are also intended to protect the free-speech rights of religious leaders and others who criticize homosexual behaviour or refuse to do business with gay-rights organizations, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Any legislation would be brought forward only if the government loses the motion this fall to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage. All indications are that the motion, which would authorize the government to introduce legislation to repeal the same-sex marriage law passed by Parliament last year, will be defeated by a combination of Opposition MPs supported by a few Conservatives.

Maybe there was a secret agenda? Maybe we were lied to? I'm shocked, to be sure.

That this scheme has been commented on extensively here, and here, and here and here and here, and here, and here (among others) shows is indication of the importance of this issue: it's a slippery slope, indeed, to abrogate the inherent rights of one class of citizens for the sake of political expediency. Enough has been said already without me adding a long exposition on the inherent silliness and danger of such a measure.

A key point, however, bears reiteration:

Gay and lesbians are citizens and are entitled to equality under the law according to the Charter of Rights. Period. Allowing civil servants to refuse service to taxpaying citizens on the basis of "conscience" is tantamount to creating two classes of citizenship. And allowing business owners --- which includes everyone from the guy who runs the corner store to a holding company owning thousands of rental properties to Walmart --- to refuse to serve or uphold the law for gay and lesbian customers is enshrining discrimination.

Substitute "black" or "Tamil" or "common-law heterosexual couples" for gay and lesbian and the point becomes plain.

Adding a superfluous bill to protect freedom of speech --- however bigoted --- is one thing. Protecting bigots from the law of the land is another.

UPDATE: The so-called Defence of Religion, it turns out, is dead after all, strangled at birth, apparently by central Canadian Tory MPs nauseated by the pasting the Government was receiving on the issue. Or so says the Minister of Justice Toews: any talk of the bill is now mere "speculation" --- it's all a left-wing, secularist plot. Like Darwin. And global warming. But remember --- repeat after me --- there is no secret agenda.

The Canadian Cynic has a profoundly funny post on this subject here.

It was pointed out to me today that not all evangelicals --- perhaps a large percentage --- are not hate-filled, torture-approving, or war-mongering. Distinctions have to be made. Some evangelicals are actually living their faith have a progressive social agenda and doing some radical things Jesus might actually approve of, like promoting peace and helping the poor. Fair enough, and perhaps the topic of another post.


Focusing on Focus on the Family

The news that a former flunky from the American-import Focus on the Family Canada has materialized as the new Chief of Staff for Rona Ambrose, Environment Minister, shouldn't surprise anyone. Really. I mean, we have a fundamentalist Prime Minister who calls himself an evangelical and a caucus who believes gay men are going straight to Satan's barbeque, and we should be shocked and appalled one of Christ's Army has been recruited into service of Canada's New and Improved ---now with Extra Godliness! --- Government TM?

A couple of observations: one has to wonder what input Darryl Reid, the erstwhile subject of this latest bullfruit explosion, has to offer Environment Canada? A fundamentalist Christian perspective on saving the planet? Remember, this is a Department which (supposedly) inherently works using science --- real science, with lab tubes, methodology and peer-reviewed journals and the rest, as opposed to the public relations "think-pieces" flogged by oil companies and right-wing institutes.

If you believe that the Universe was created 6000 years ago and Fred Flintstone really did play with the dinosaurs, I submit you have an issue with real science. And if you believe that Jesus is coming shortly with a bloody sword to slay the wicked and carry all the good Baptists and Pentacostals to their Heavenly Reward (but probably not the Catholics or Presbyterians, much less the honest members of the United Church, or God forbid, the Unitarians) you probably don't have much use for any long-term planning to deal with global warming. What's the point? Jesus will fix it, after he deals with those doubly naughty unbelievers at the Metropolitan Community Church and Osama Bin Laden.

A slight credibility gap, I think.

Second observation: One has to wonder about the connections between the Conservative Party organization and special interest groups like Focus on the Family Canada, if employees are flitting around like Bible quotes from a preacher's mouth. Darryl Reid has been no slouch in the regard, holding positions in Focus on the Family, as Preston Manning's Chief of Staff, and as federal Conservative candidate.

The problem being is according to its webpage, Focus on the Family Canada is a "charitable organization, built on Christian principles, which supports, encourages and strengthens Canadian families through education and resources." Very lovery and innocuous, but last time I looked the Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency doesn't take kindly to charitable organizations fooling around with partisan politics. It's stealing from taxpayers (in the form of charitable receipts) to finance, in an underhanded way, a political programme. You can, however, advocate all you want, but it's a fine line between advocacy and acting as the Conservative Party's voter outreach program. (I was thinking of a less politic analogy --- like poodle --- but I'm not sure who's poodling who.) Especially when Focus on the Family Canada clearly advocates policies congruent with Conservative Party policies, and leaves the voter with the impression that it's Stephen Harper or Canada as the Devil's amusement park.

Anyone wanting to take odds the CCRA will conduct an investigation?

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It's official, I'm a fuddy-duddy

Dear Bam Magera

I used to think I was a pretty hip guy. You know, I kept abreast (I know, someone who uses the word abreast, isn't, a priori, hip. Or a priori, in italics) of pop culture, knew who was doing who, knew what bands were hot (even if I didn't listen to them). I sort of paid attention to Rock Star: Supernovabut not really. Then I came across your television show, Viva la Bam. I was up late one night in August. I couldn't sleep. It was hot and sticky, I smelled bad and the cats were bugging me. You know what I mean? Anyway, I don't watch a lot of television as rule because I only get four channels here out in the country, so I was flicking between CBC, CTV and Global (TVO was off the air) and there was your show. I watched it for 20 minutes.

And thought: "What the hell is this crap?"

The premise seemed to be that you were doing "cool things" just for the hell of it. This seemed to be involve riding around on ATVs, gratuitous destruction of property, environmental havoc, mocking the uncool as fat and worthless, drinking, making your friends/groupies/hangers-on/homies doing things apparently dangerous to their health and building a casino in a tree. (Why this was necessary when there are perfectly good casinos near where you live, I don't know.)

At first I thought, well, maybe there is some wicked social commentary going on, so I was prepared to give it some time. Then I thought, maybe it was loaded with obscure cultural references which you were attempting to reconcile with your personal world view. I was about to give up, but then after watching 17 commercials in a row, I got it. You're marketing a brand called Bam Margera. And making lots of money doing it. So obvious, because the content is absolute shit.

I'm actually disappointed. This I'm too-cool-for-words-I-do-what-I-want thing is just a revenue-driven persona. And a pretty obnoxious one at that. You're really no different than anybody else shilling for product.

I know you have been voted "Favorite athlete turned TV Star" in a 2005 Teen People Poll, which puts me at risk of being pummelled to death by a gaggle of teenage girls. (I also know this because of your logo --- a "heartagram"* --- a pentagram reworked into a heart shape: so dangerous, yet so reassuring to the set just graduated from My Little Pony.) I know you have so much money from Jackass and Jackass II it makes my pitiable assets look like the penny jar of a part-time Wal-Mart associate.

But dude, I have to tell you this. Your demographic --- those gooey eyed teenaged girls and also alienated white males aged 18-29 --- is getting older by the second. They're all going to marry each other and soon your audience is going to start breeding like so many rabbits. They won't have time for you. In a couple of years your schtick is going to look as dated as Frankie and Annette. In 20 years you entire oeuvre is going to be on the dollar table of a charity bazaar. In a hundred some dorky doctoral student is going to write a thesis about you, and compare you to people who think dwarf-tossing is a worthwhile pastime.

You got talent, bud. Why not do something different? Like something worthwhile and intelligent?

By the way, you should really get your Wikipedia article rewritten by someone who isn't your PR hack. It's, like, really obvious, man.

Also, the "la" in Viva la Bam, sort of implies you're a girl. Kind of funny, when you think of it.

Obviously no longer hip,

The Upper Canadian

P.S. I enclose my Hipster Membership card

*What the hell does this mean anyway? I worship Satan, but I'm capable of love too? Please.