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


The Uses of History

Truth is the first casualty of war, and sometimes the last. Or so it would seem. Veterans in Calgary are incensed about a display at the Canadian War Museum which they describe as "offensive" and "hurtful." The curious thing about the display --- part of a series of panels describing Canada's effort during the Second World War --- is that it's essentially true.

The offending panel reads:

The value and morality of the strategic bombing offensive against Germany remains contested. Bombers command aim was to crush civilian morale and force Germany to surrender by destroying its cities and industrial installations. Although bomber command and the American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead and more than 5 million homeless, the raids resulted in only a small reduction in German war production until late in the war.

Untrue, says Art Smith, veteran and former Tory MP. "Our targets were not cities," he says. "They were military objectives . . . such as busting dams or (hitting) munitions factories. The only exception in my 34 tours was Berlin which we were sent out to do as best we could to destroy it because we were getting the same in Britain."

Well perhaps, but the boatloads of archival footage of German cities devastated by Allied bombing show a slightly different picture. Or consider the words of Air Marshal Arthur "Bomber" Harris: "In Bomber Command we have always worked on the principle that bombing anything in Germany is better than bombing nothing."

The objection from veterans seems to be that the display imples Allied bombing of Germany was futile and that veterans were complicit indiscriminate bombing of German civilians. The efficacy of the Allied bombing of Germany has always been a source of heated debate (hence the word "contested".) German war production was scarcely affected by the bombing, and even rose in some instances, but it has been argued that the cumulative affect of the bombing was sufficient in its drain on resources and on civilian morale to hasten Germany's defeat. The morality of killing civilians is, of course, another question. One premise is that in total war, everyone is a combatant. The difference between the civilian who makes the bullet from the soldier who fires it is more apparent than real. It's a premise, I might add, I find repulsive as a general rule of warefare, a justification for mass slaughter.

In context, a couple of points are to be made. As the last veterans of the Second World War die out, there seems to be an effort in popular culture to ensure their legacy. A flurry of documentaries has come out: programming at TVO and the CBC seems to be littered with them. But they all tell a common story: the Second World War was the "last good war," a "necessary war," fought by the "greatest generation" for liberty and democracy. A whole mythology --- coloured by high emotion, sentimentality and notions of duty and sacrifice --- has been created and facts and history be damned. Especially if they are uncomfortable and detract from the myth. In truth, any realistic or accurate appraisal of the Second World War, will have to wait until the last veteran dies.

It probably isn't a coincidence that the legacy-building provides a gloss to the present war on terror, complete with nostalgic pointers to patriotism and solidarity minus the blood, the filth, and the civilian casualties. In an era where we're told that we must fight the good fight on the war on terror, what could be more apt than references to that other good war?

Whitewash included.


Message to the House of Commons: Please Vote and Put Us Out of Our Misery

Justice Minister Vic Toews announced yesterday that just in time for Christmas, the same sex marriage resolution would finally go to a vote in the Commons, where it's expected it will be soundly defeated.

Thank you, Stephen Harper, thank you. Merci beaucoup. I'm breathing a sigh of relief because, frankly, I'm sick of writing about same sex marriage. It's wearing me down, I can't sleep at night and the Norwood liquor store has had to order in extra cases of Graham's Late Bottled Vintage. I can't take it anymore.

I'm sure we're all suffering. The issue is a rash that won't go away. We've marshalled facts, spent countless hours pouring over vile and bigoted websites, watched the machinations of various right-wing fundamentalists, parsed motives of various politicians and even had a few chuckles at our brothers and sisters on the right side of bloggerdom tying themselves in knots over the issue. The only satisfaction, apart from having same sex marriage (please God) settled once and for all, is seeing a sop tossed by the Prime Minister to his social conservative base going down like a tequila shooter at Friday night cocktail hour. But enough is enough already!

There. That's off my chest. Now for the obligatory analysis, one painful word at a time. The government's motives for holding the vote at this particular point in time and space are bit puzzingly, to be sure. Clearly his allies on the religious right want the vote delayed, preferably until the Conservatives get a majority, so they can get another shot at overturning the legislation. (They're the separatists of the Conservative coalition: they're waiting for "winning conditions.") They won't be happy the government is pushing forward. Same sex marriage advocates, on the other hand, with timing and momentum on their side, wanted the vote yesterday. The delicious irony of this situation is that Stephen Harper may well become the happy-faced poster boy for same sex marriage, even as he votes against it.

Maybe, just maybe, the government, eyeing a spring election, has just woken up to a few home truths. Foreign policy is in disarray, and environmental policy is a fiasco. They're trailing in the public opinion against the leaderless, hapless Liberals, and that party is about to anoint a new Chief Scourge. The polling numbers in Ontario and Quebec suck. Maybe the Prime Minster has decided ditching social conservatives and their unappealing policies --- symbolized by the debate over same sex marriage and the ugly rhetoric emanating therefrom --- in order to charm the fat moderate centre without whom he can't get a majority. As for losing the base, well, who else are they going to vote for? It's the classic tactic of successful right-wing politicians: marginalize your captive core supporters to appear more moderate than you really are.

Well enough of that. As I said, writing about same sex marriage now is like pulling teeth, though admittedly the inevitable bigot eruptions from the likes of Bishop Henry and Charles McVedy will make tempting targets. But the agony is about to end. Again, thank you, Steve. You've made life tolerable once more for this blogger, at least. I promise never, ever to mention same sex marriage again after the vote if you do likewise. Is it a deal?


Of Poodles, Creationists, and Anthropological Tourism

Just when you think the wackos can't get any wackier, something comes along to smack you upside the head. Case in point, creationist complaints about about the American National Science Foundation engaging in, um, a little science:
Our tax dollars are “at work”!

Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $2.5 million grant to the New York Hall of Science to develop a “Life changes” program in order to “prepare young children (ages 5–12) to understand the scientific basis of evolution.”

The grant application made it clear that this four-year research project will study those evolutionary concepts most likely to resonate with young children. (By the way, NSF’s annual budget is over $5.5 billion—virtually all of it comes from your tax dollars.)

Drawing upon educational development psychologists, biologists, and museum personnel, this research project will result in a 1,000-square-foot traveling exhibit. And it will have tie-ins to the University of California–Berkeley’s “Understanding Evolution” website (another NSF grant recipient—more of your tax dollars being spent).

This traveling “science” exhibit is designed to indoctrinate young children across America in a morally bankrupt faith-based belief system: the evolution of man from non-living matter! But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Faithful, closed-minded scientists / earnest educators worldwide are preparing myriad such evolutionary indoctrination exhibits and programs to coincide with the 2009 celebration of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday (and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his infamous book, On the Origin of Species). And these exhibits seem to be particularly targeted at young children—they will ardently market the idea of evolution as if it were fact!
Remember folks, there's an evolutionary biologist lurking under every bed and behind every bush, waiting to prey on the innocent minds of our young people. Won't someone, oh someone please think of the children?

Meanwhile the fundamentalist organization issuing these jeremiads on evidence-based science has much bigger agenda: a "creationist" museum (surprisingly called The Creation Museum), purpose-built to expose the manifest errors of Darwin. The 50, 000 sq foot building, located in prime Bible-belt country in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, "will counter evolutionary natural history museums that turn countless minds against Christ and Scripture." The museum will show us, interspersed with such displays as "Noah's Workshop" and demonstrations of Cain knocking Abel on the head, exactly how dinosaurs and humans co-existed. "Other surprises are just around the corner," reads the promotional website. "Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God’s Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There’s no room for compromise."

All this and dinosaurs too!

According to a Guardian article, it's the "weirdest museum on earth." And also some pretty weird attitudes, as if the creationist clap-trap wasn't enough. On the mention of the difficulties posed to creationism by those paleolithic remains of protohumans, this strangely unchristian answer is given: "There are no such things. Humans are basically as you see them today. Those skeletons they've found, what's the word? ... they could have been deformed, diseased or something. I've seen people like that running round the streets of New York." (One wonders what New Yorkers think about that. Not to mention the coded racism.) Or take the museum director's odd obsession with poodles: his office is stocked with the stuffed variety. "Poodles are degenerate mutants of dogs," he explains. "I say that in my lectures and people present them to me as gifts."

The Creation Museum is at great pains to point out it's within easy driving distance of us Canadians living in southern Ontario and Quebec: we're victims all, apparently, of Darwinist propaganda. But don't visit it for the worthless science. The Creation Museum suggests new possibilities for the jaded tourist, tired of the mere splendours of Versailles or Angor Wat. Rounded with visits, say, to Graceland, Disney World, Civil War battle sites and Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcating Network, with frequent stops at Waffle Houses along the interstate, such a road trip would provide priceless insights into American social anthropology. What more could you want?

The Upper Canadian and the BBC: Close Working Partners, Specifics of Contract Soon to be Announced

Last Friday the BBC published "African bloggers verdict on al-Jazeera" on bloggerdom's response to al-Jazeera International in which our piece "English al Jazeera Disappoints" was extensively quoted.

Needless to say, we, at the Upper Canadian, are pleased as punch that our comments found their way onto the front page of BBC Africa and into the international news.

Now only if the New York Times and the Guardian would take our calls. . .


Rice Lake Merlot 2037 VQA

An interesting, older piece from RealClimate on the relationship between climate change and viticulture: it seems England is getting a leg up on winemaking, and incidentally makes the point that past instances of global warming have absolutely nothing to do to with the present technical debate on climate change:

For the sake of argument, let's accept that medieval times were as warm in England as they are today, and even that global temperatures were similar (that's a much bigger leap, but no mind). What would that imply for our attribution of current climate changes to human causes? ....... Nothing. Nowt. Zero. Zip.

Why? Well, warm periods have occured in the past, and if not the medieval period, then probably the last interglacial (120,000 years ago), certainly the Pliocene (3 million years ago), without question the (Eocene 50 million years), and in particular the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (55 million years ago), and so on. Current theories of climate change do not rely on whether today's temperatures are 'unprecedented'. Instead they examine the physical causes of climate change and match up what we know about their physical effects and time history and see which of the multiple drivers or combination can best explain the observations. For the last few decades, that is quite clearly the rise in greenhouse gases, punctuated by the occasional volcano and mitigated slightly by the concomittant rise in particulate pollution.

Meanwhile, in the backwoods of Upper Canada, viticulture is getting a toehold in some unconventional places, driven by the relentless mechanics of climate change. Even here in the Kawarthas, which lays entirely on the wrong side of the Oak Ridge Moraine, and thus is deprived of the balming influence of Lake Ontario, a few hardy horticulturalists are experimenting with vinifera grapes with some success. With a little effort, one can envisage in 20 or 30 years tidy rows of Reisling grapes crawling up and the down the drumlins, boutique ice wine shops on Queen Street, Lakefield, and perhaps in a few sheltered locations, Pinot Noir crowding out the ticky-tack cottages on Chemong Lake or Stoney. Land speculation for prime terroir in Peterborough County is only a matter of time. Oil company executives will be unloading soon-to-be worthless stock; next we'll see Hollywood-types will be cruising the back concessions in Hummers, scouting out winery sites. It's a boom waiting to happen, the next big thing. Really.

I have a few acres of gravelly south-facing slopes, perfect for low-yield, high quality produce. Call me. I mean it.


The Niqab and I

"Many women find it difficult to breathe or see in niqab when they first start wearing it." --- How to Hijab: Your Comprehensive Guide to the Islamic Dress Code for Women and Men

Like most people I feel fairly conflicted about the niqab, the full face covering worn by some Muslim women, and about the practice of hijab, the veiling or covering of Muslim women in general. On one hand, my civil libertarian instincts tell me people can wear whatever they like, as long as they don't frighten the horses. On the other, the hijab is a powerful symbol for Westerners of the religious and cultural subjugation of women, even if some Muslim women wearing hijab deny any oppression at all. We all have seen the pictures of the Taliban beating women wearing burqas; we were all horrified by reports of Saudi religious police forcing panicked schoolgirls back into a burning dormitory because they weren't appropriately covered.

The reality of hijab?

The hijab also raises some troubling issues, especially for those of us on the progressive side of things who support multiculturalism, questions that the Left is sometimes reluctant to address. Hijab poses the dilemma of wanting to be culturally sensitive and inclusive while at the same time supporting the rights of women. The central question: is it possible to support the practice of hijab and critique it at the same time? I would argue that yes, we can argue for cultural inclusivity and tolerance (as opposed to to the utterances of Jack Straw and the Archbishop of York). At the same time we should challenge the religious basis of hijab --- religion being a fancy justification for oppression. We should insist that hijab be seen it its proper cultural and social context, not as divine revelation, even if we risk accusations of religious intolerance and offending cultural sensitivities.

We can't deny, though, the religious importance of wearing hijab, based on a verse from the Quran: "Oh Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and wives and daughters of the believers, to extend their outer garments around themselves, so that they would be distinguished and not molested. And God is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful." (Qur'an, 33:59) The verse refers to Mohammed's immediate family; later, traditional interpretations extended this command to all Muslim women in varying degrees from a complete veiling covering all parts of the women's body save for one eye to an injuction to dress "modestly". God provided this command for several reasons: to "protect" women from the gaze of men, to encourage women to be modest and focus their thoughts on God and their families, to demonstate Islamic "separateness" from the unfaithful and as a reminder to the faithful that women should be honored. A fairly representative passage from one of many webpages on the hijab summarizes it thus:
Other . . . reasons [for hijab] include the requirement for modesty in both men and women. Both will then be evaluated for intelligence and skills instead of looks and sexuality. An Iranian school girl is quoted as saying, "We want to stop men from treating us like sex objects, as they have always done. We want them to ignore our appearance and to be attentive to our personalities and mind. We want them to take us seriously and treat us as equals and not just chase us around for our bodies and physical looks."

A Muslim woman who covers her head is making a statement about her identity. Anyone who sees her will know that she is a Muslim and has a good moral character. Many Muslim women who cover are filled with dignity and self esteem; they are pleased to be identified as a Muslim woman. As a chaste, modest, pure woman, she does not want her sexuality to enter into interactions with men in the smallest degree. A woman who covers herself is concealing her sexuality but allowing her femininity to be brought out.
Sincere, perhaps, but one gets a whiff of Pollyanna, of a romanticized version of Islam-as-ideal against the reality of Islam-as-practiced. As Irshad Manji says, we need to "dare the romance of the moment" (The Trouble with Islam Today, p. 213) by asking hard questions, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

A few questions of my own:

Question 1: If the Quran allows "no compulsion in religion," then why are women compelled to veil by law ---secular or shari'a --- in the majority of Muslim-majority states? One of the abiding ironies of the hijab/niqab debate that only in the West Muslim women have the relative freedom to choose their dress. Why is this so? The standard argument seems to be that the more extreme forms of hijab (and views on gender relations in general) are "cultural" phenomenon. But can you actually parse culture and religion so easily, especially when the trend, abetted by Saudi funding, is to adopt Wahhabi-style norms in far flung outposts of the Islamic world?

Question 2: To what degree is the hijab a product of social norms of 6th century Arabia and the eastern Mediterranean? Evidence suggests that veiling women was common in this era and locality, and was restricted to women of elevated station. How was Mohammed influenced by his culture?

Question 3: What's the role of class in wearing hijab? A couple of small anecdotes to illustrate. A few weeks ago CBC news broadcast a debate, of sorts, between three women on hajib. Two of the women wore a form of hajib, one of them covered completely, including the niqab. All of them were "professional women" of one kind or another. Meanwhile, when I go to Toronto, I often stop at a mom-and-pop Muslim-owned Middle Eastern deli on Lawrence Avenue, which possibly makes the best chicken schwarma in the Western hemisphere. Mom wears a headscarf only, has bare arms and chats warmly with her male customers while manning the grill. I won't belabour the point.

Question 4: What's the implicit message of the hijab --- especially the stricter versions --- for Westerners, particularly non-Muslim women? If we are to take at face value claims that hijab is for modest, pure, God-fearing women, are non-Muslim women then impure, immodest and destined for hell? And what about children? Even more disturbing are the implications of veiling young girls.

Question 5: How does wearing the hajib --- again in its rigid version --- affect relations between the sexes and in the larger community? Does it create unnecessary barriers? Is this a good thing? A writer on a Saudi Arabian dissident website makes the following observation on the new sartorial discipline:
When you see your dear aunt or sister after a long absence you expect them to run to you with overt joy and open arms to kiss you and hug you with her bare hands and uncovered head. Now, she meets you coolly with her head tightly wrapped in a scarf and hands tucked in black gloves and she barely shakes hands with you. Funny jokes and joyful laughs have completely disappeared, replaced by austere religious formulas and clichés, as if every minute of our lives should be used solely and exclusively preparing our souls for the grave and life after death.

You no longer see women walking down the streets, only moving bodies completely draped in black. You call your friend on the phone and if one of his women folk answer you on the other end you no longer hear the polite niceties and sweat utterances used by ladies in the past – only harsh barking and rough answers because it is no longer permissible for women to be nice and polite with men.

What is happening to us?
(I would strongly encourage readers to read the entire article.)

Question 6 (and last): What's the relation between the hijab, feminism and traditional Islam's view of sexuality? A complex and difficult question, to be sure. Assuredly traditional Islam (and I use the term carefully) has a poor dim view of modern Western feminism (not unlike, one might add, the opinions of conservative Protestants and Catholics) and a "separate but equal" notion of gender identity. Is the wearing of hijab really a rearguard action against inevitable modernism and modernization of Islamic thought? In the West, it is a patriarchal culture's attempt to maintain control over women?

As progressives we need to respect choices --- religious, sexual, political or otherwise --- but respect, I think, does not mean silence or acquiescence, especially when those choices challenge our fundamental beliefs. Fair enough that Muslims demand respect from us, but respect in my definition does not mean the end of debate, and unthinking acceptance would be disastrous. A kind of cultural and social negotiation is going on in Canada and in other places in the West. The fact is that Islam is a major religion in Canada, and Canadians need to adapt to that reality while --- let me stress --- remaining faithful to its liberal principles.

If Islamic dress codes are a kind of cloaked (!) form of repression towards women, it has no place in society, and we should be vociferous in our objections. Yet it's important to remember positions are hardening on both sides of the debate, and that the issue of the niqab and hijab is a surrogate for the right to attack multiculturalism in general. Still, we need to speak up. We are not doing ourselves --- or Muslim women --- any favours by shutting up.


In Defence of Rona Ambrose. Sort of.

Rona Ambrose is having the bad hair week from hell. (Okay, tacky reference to her coiffure. I know it's wrong. Very wrong. And sexist. Sorry.) First she's viciously ambushed at Nairobi by those snaky Liberals and ingrates from the Quebec delegation, then she's late, then she's sliced and diced by various U.N. functionaries, and if that isn't enough, gives a speech resembling the post-prandial wanderings of the Peterborough County Senior Euchre Club Awards Banquet. And that's only in three days. It's enough to make any girl cry.

Though Ambrose has been thoroughly pilloried (here and here and here, and also here, here, and here) including by your humble ob't servant, repeatedly, I have to wonder: how much of the blame does she really deserve?

Before you fall out of your seats in fits of excessive jocularity, consider this: in days of yore, traditional constititutional theory held, a la Bagehot that the Prime Minister was primus inter pares, first among equals. In practice, in the Canadian polity, this hasn't been true for some decades, as successive prime ministers have concentrated power in the Prime Minister's Office, the first and last resort of government policy. Stephen Harper's New Government is just the last extreme example of this tendency. Ministers of the Crown, holders of the great offices of state are reduced to a brigade of brainless barking seals, unable to pee without express authorization from the PMO. It isn't coincidental that when the Glorious Leader trots out some new initiative, the minister actually responsible is carefully placed in the backdrop as some vacant-eyed golem, ready to spring into life at the word of some PMO flunky.

Which brings me back the the tribulations of Rona Ambrose. The Conservative green plan and the subsequent fiasco at Nairobi was orchestrated not by the scientists and advisors within Environment Canada --- who in any case weren't included in decision-making process --- but by those whip-like minds in the PMO. Unfortunately for Rona Ambrose, she now has to weather the volleys of horse fruit from the likes of me, importuned by a policy she had virtually no voice in creating. Because she's the minister responsible.

Stephen Harper, keen politico that he is, will let Ambrose twist slowly in the wind as the symbol of government incompetence and have her take the fall for the policy he ultimately approved. Then he'll sack her. No mud will stick on him. In such ways are teflon politicians made. If we let them.


English Al Jazeera Disappoints

Having my curiosity piqued by all of the ballyhoo, I spent much of this evening watching al Jazeera's English channel debut via the Eutelsat-Hotbird satellite. While expecting new insights, different perspectives and a view from the Gulf, I can honestly report that I am neither excited nor impressed: it was just another ho-hum international news station full of BBC World, ITN and Sky News broadcasters.

To be fair, al Jazeera is trying to build a reputation as being a moderate news station: remember, al Jazeera's reputation is such that, amongst Americans at least, it is thought to be Bin Laden's official soapbox, a perception that drove George Bush to consider bombing the news-station's Doha headquarters during the Iraq War. Obviously, English al Jazeera is meant to be a kind and familiar face to western viewers design to improve the general opinion of the Qatar network.

Yet, the end result of such middle of the road tactics is mush. In the few spare minutes between the ads, tonight's offering had a small piece on the elections Congo, civilian deaths in Iraq and Darfur, a pickled interview favouring an American, and a live report from Gaza which had the (bad) luck of having an Israeli bomb of going off in the background. My favourite for the evening was 48, a Lonely Planet TV styled video travelogue of an attractive blond Australian, Amanda Palmer based on the concept of spending 48 hours in off the beaten track cities like Damascus.

The new and sexy Al Jazeera

It is not that it was bad journalism or even bad travel TV, it was just not what I had hoped for. Clearly, Ms. Palmer is intelligent and insightful; maybe--probably-- someone I'd ask out for a date, if the possibility arose. But she speaks no Arabic and spent half an hour of my time wandering around Damascus like any other traveller/tourist might. Which is of course fine for Lonely Planet TV. As a contrast, at the same time BBC World was broadcasting a detailed analysis of the Nairobi Conference. Now you be the judge: which one would you watch?

But that is only a tell-tale of why al Jazeera doesn't work. If you travel to most Arabic countries, Al Jazeera is the standard television diet. In Tangiers, satellite dishes hang practically off of every building and the network blares in most tea houses, a scene repeated across the Arab world. If a pan-Arabic movement were ever to take hold, al Jazeera would be its glue.

What al Jazeera failed to realize about the power of broadcasting in English is that it transcends borders and cultures and that is what a good international broadcast should reflect. Yet, while choosing its staff, Al Jazeera has hired a small band of primarily British and British sounding journalists who have no special knowledge of the Middle East, no special understanding of Arabic culture or language or Islam, with the exceptional Arab who makes it onto the screen. The nightly newscast, for example, was hosted by ex-BBC broadcaster and great guy Stephen Cole, in London. In fact, the whole broadcast felt distinctly British, in a provincial kind of way, complete with western prejudices, Australian weather and a penchant for the quick soundbite. Instead of getting an alternative view of world news from Doha see from they eyes of the people in the Middle East, we get London in Qatar. Ugggh.

The alternative would be, of course, seeking out journalists from Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, India, Morocco or dozens of other countries from the Middle East and around the world who are told to report the news as they see it. Doing this might achieve the reputation of a genuine news alternative, as its Arabic-language sister has done. More importantly, it might have created a network to rival CNN, the BBC or FOX in the Third World and Europe. This, of course, won't happen as long as al Jazeera (English) remains a poor copy of BBC World.

Pity, that.

The Smoking Gun on Torture?

The American Civil Liberties Union today issued a press release on two as-yet unseen documents related to the CIA's practice of extraordinary rendition --- the practice of detaining and "interrogating" prisoners in third countries. These two documents, thus far embargoed, apparently authorized the CIA to engage in this practice, which has been internationally condemned and has caused political headaches in several European capitals. According to the ACLU, the directive was issued right from the top:
The two documents in question are a directive signed by President Bush granting the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees, and a Justice Department legal analysis specifying interrogation methods that the CIA may use against top Al-Qaeda members.

In legal papers previously filed before the court, the CIA claimed that national security would be gravely injured if the CIA were compelled to admit or deny even an "interest" in interrogating detainees. But in a letter to the ACLU dated November 10, the CIA reversed course and acknowledged that the Justice Department memorandum and presidential directive exist. The CIA continues to withhold the documents.
A smoking gun? Maybe. Interesting that in an apparently unrelated move, the new U.S. Senate will open investigations on extraodinary rendition. The new chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Carl Levin, has indicated that he's "not comfortable" with current CIA practice. Said Senator Levin: "I think that there's been some significant abuses which have not made us more secure but have made us less secure and have also, perhaps, cost us some real allies, as well as not producing useful information. So I think the system needs a thorough review and, as the military would say, a thorough scrubbing."

Clearly these two documents will play a prominent role in any proceedings. The bipartisan honeymoon --- such as it was --- between the newly elected Democrats and the Bush administration is clearly over, barely a week after the election.

Update: Great minds blog alike. Liberal Catnip posted on the very same subject at the exact same time; her take is well worth reading.

Miscellaneous Quotes from the Nairobi Conference on Climate Change

Andy Atkins, of Tearfund, a U.K. relief agency:

“There is a scandalous lack of urgency about these talks. There is widespread agreement around the world that climate change is one of the most serious threats facing humanity, but you would not know that listening to some of the debates here in Nairobi. It is like being in a small sinking boat and everyone is debating when we should start seriously bailing out the water. We are seeing a shocking lack of urgency.”

“We need a major investment of political will this week, with more effort from nations on different sides of negotiations to reach agreement. We are calling on the British Secretary of State for the Environment David Miliband and fellow ministers from around the world who arrive midweek, to ensure that this climate change summit does not go down as one that failed millions of poor people around the world whose lives and livelihoods are already being adversely affected."

Kofi Annan:

"The Nairobi Conference must send a clear signal that the world's political leaders must take climate change seriously. There remains a frightening lack of leadership."

Rona Ambrose on Canada's Role:

"Canada's here to be constructive, to show progress. Our delegation is doing a fantastic job on the ground, making progress and working with other countries on the key issues.

Rona Ambrose on Canada meeting its Kyoto Targets:

"Canada is on track to meet all of our Kyoto obligations except for our target."

Steven Guilbeault, Greenpeace:

"[O]ne of the first things her government did when they came to power was abolish pretty much anything that existed in terms of implementation measures."

Rona Ambrose on Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change:

"As you know, Yvo de Boer himself said he recognized the challenge Canada is facing."

Yvo de Boer on Rona Ambrose:

"It's not that Canada hasn't committed to the 2012 levels they signed up to in the Kyoto Protocol. My understanding is that the Canadian prime minister and the minister of the environment indicated that the Kyoto targets are unachievable. I'm very much looking forward to Madame Ambrose arriving so I can ask her what the implications of that announcement are."

Lucienne Robillard on Rona Ambrose's performance as president of the climate change talks:

"(She) is missing so many meetings that her international colleagues are thinking about putting her face on a milk carton."



Nairobi Fiddles While the World Burns

There's been a barrage of reports pelting the delegates at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change, none of them with good news: before the conference even opened, there was the Stern Review, then a report that atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by a half a percentage in 2005 alone, then a report on the widespread extinction birds face , a depressing report on the impacts on subsaharan Africa, increased outbreaks of disease, melting icecaps at both poles and so on, all calamitous singly, and apocalyptic in their totality. And there's news today about a U.N. report to be released in February that will significantly "strengthen"(!) the scientific argument on the veracity of global climate change, and which the one of the authors hopes "might provide just the right impetus to get the negotiations going in a more purposeful way."

Fat chance, if this week's festivities in Nairobi are any gauge. Given the importance of the outcome for our future --- a Green Irish MP compared it, without much exaggeration, to the negotiations at Versailles following the First World War --- progress has been astonishingly slow. Actually reducing carbon emissions after Kyoto expires in 2012 seems to a zero-sum game for the various delegations; developed nations are refusing to commit to post-Kyoto targets unless developing nations start to come on board, which of course, they are refusing to do.

And then there's the Canadian news coverage of the conference, which in contrast to the real news is appallingly shallow, being focussed on the state of Rona Ambrose's hair and the (justified) public flogging she received at the hands of Opposition MPs and the Quebec delegation.

(I have to admit a bit of schadenfreude here: having provincial delegations conduct foreign policy always seemed to me to be one of sillier initiatives of the Conservative government, and one they would live to sorely regret; seeing the Government hoisted by its own petard always gives a particular thrill. The Government, of course, is reacting with shock and outrage. "Highly inappropriate," sniffed Ambrose's spokesman."The minister invited them to come over here, so the fact that they're going out and doing that is only going to undermine Canada's position here. It's not helpful at all." But what do you expect when you give the car keys to the kids?. But I digress.)

More to the point, perhaps, is what the Conservative government intends to do in relation to Kyoto. The Government's policy is a shambles. Ambrose has indicated she intends to "listen" to critics and adjust the Government's policy accordingly. This we can safely read that this minister has no ideas except a thoroughly discredited and internationally condemned "green" policy that even the Government appears to disbelieve. Ambose, putting on her brave face, insists Canada is making a "productive" contribution to the talks. How, exactly? By being the world's scapegoat and public whipping boy?

Meanwhile, the dance part of the program, the meeting of ministerial types in Nairobi, begins today. There's some faint hope that a consensus will emerge. Frustration is being expressed even at the ambassadorial level. Reports the Irish Times:
Japanese ambassador Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, described climate change as a deadly serious business and said if countries were unwilling to discuss the stabilisation of emissions at this summit, he wanted to know when they would do so.

"Our job starts by looking at a global long-term vision and whether it is aspirational or otherwise," Mr Nishimura told fellow delegates.

"I will go home unless we are willing to send a global message to the world that the UN is moving to achieve stabilisation of the climate," he added.
In the delicate, subtle language of diplomacy, this is the equivalent of a slap in the face. Let's hope all the delegations at Nairobi get the message.


The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Gets Tactical

After polling MPs, The Toronto Star found a largish number of them --- 141, to be exact --- would vote against the reopening the same-sex marriage debate in Parliament. Not quite a majority (60 MPs failed to reply to the survey), but probably enough to cast the issue into the oblivion it so richly deserves. And so on and so forth.

Sometimes though, the most interesting parts of newspaper articles come in the 23rd para (or in this case, the 51st), somewhat distantly "below the fold." Here we get Janet Epp Buckingham's take on a "compromise" position on same-sex marriage, one that avoids having to use the dreaded notwithstanding clause:

But it might be possible, Epp Buckingham says, to revert to the "one man-one woman" definition of marriage so long as gay and lesbian partnerships are legally recognized with civil-union status or some other designation.

Eh? What's that? Janet Epp Buckingham, of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada endorsing "civil union" status for gay and lesbian citizens? Aren't gays and lesbians aren't part of some demonic conspiracy to corrupt children and banish shag carpet from the homes of the nation?

My head is spinning. But wait: maybe Epp Buckingham is doing a little spinning on her own. The fact is the EFC, which she represents, has consistantly opposed each and every piece of legislation advancing the rights of gays and lesbians for the past decade from addition of sexual orientation to the federal human rights code to the extension of spousal benefits to same sex couples.

And: aside from the fact that the civil union bus has long left the station and is now in the vicinity of Iqualuit, Epp Buckingham's remarks just after the marriage bill was introduced to Parliament in 2005 revealed the nuclear option for the religious right: she believed then that the best course of action was to introduce a Federal Marriage Amendment to the Charter of Rights to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying, thus avoiding all that nastiness and bad press with the notwithstanding clause and denying citizens civil rights. Similiar amendments in American state constitutions have been framed in such a way not only to prohibit marriage, but to prevent gay and lesbian couples from obtaining survivor and inheritance rights, benefits, and to force children from their parents.

Colour me skeptical, but I doubt that Epp Buckingham has had a Damascene conversion to the cause of gay rights. Claiming now to support "civil unions" has the smell of a tactical retreat --- like the current proposal from the evangelical right for Parliament to "study" same sex marriage. The true purpose is to provide camoflage for what the EFC and their fellow-travellers really want from a putative Conservative parliamentary majority. In our heated pre-election period, one suspects a message has been passed from the Conservative Party bunker: tone down the rhetoric. Be nice. Don't attack gays as much as you think they're Satan's spawn. We'll treat you well once we get the majority.

Bush's Slow Road To Impeachment: A Reflection

It would seem that the world sighed in relief with the knowledge that the centre of power took two steps to the left last week. At the same President Bush, obviously shaken by the turn of events, seemed nervous throughout his various public utterances on the shift in American politics, repeating how he sees the need to get over partisan politics and even praised the Democratic win.

Just what is in the air? Is it that Rumsfeld has been shown the door? Does this mean that Bush is relieved that he (likely) won't be able to follow through with plans of world domination? Or is it that Bush is worried that an embittered Democratic Party will be seeking revenge for the last fifteen years of public humiliation and stolen elections?

Now that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has the reigns, all hell could break loose. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in the Telegraph:
After snatching the House with the closest thing to a crushing mandate ever likely in a system biased in favour of the incumbents, the Democrats now have their hands on the investigative machinery of Capitol Hill. They can hire lawyers and detectives; they can subpoena documents and compel witnesses to testify under oath; they can mount show trials - or indeed real trials - subjecting their enemies to torment under the glaring klieg lights of the world media.

This is a powerful weapon, as Bill Clinton learned when Newt Gringrich stormed the House in 1994, breaking the half-century stranglehold of the Democrats. Newt’s Republicans did not rest until they had impeached the president for perjury and abuse of office in the Paula Jonnes/Lewinsky saga - even if the meaker Senate later opted for acquittal...

If the top echelons of the Bush administration have done anything wrong over the last six years in power, they can now expect to see every vile detail exposed in one of those menacing wood-panelled chambers on the Hill.

Already there are signs that crimal investigations into the Bush administration will be the faire du jour for the next 24 months. The Washignton Post has run an op-ed by Ahmed Rashid calling for the impeachment of Rumsfeld:
The first and most important act for a newly elected U.S. House and Senate is to impeach Donald Rumsfeld. The defense secretary waged incompetent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, undermined the U.S. military, introduced torture, destroyed U.S. credibility worldwide, lied to theAmerican people, caused the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, failed to catch the perpetrators of 9/11 despite access to unlimited funds and caused the U.S. to enter a long period of isolation from the world.

Once Rumsfeld is in the sights, there is no reason not to go after Bush himself. As Ed Koch, former mayor of New York predicted, there are many who are seeking to topple the president:

I expect that [Rep. John] Conyers as chairman [of the House Judiciary Committee], now with great freedom, will do anything he can to commence such impeachment or investigatory activity, and we'll see whether Pelosi will prevent it.
Pelosi has already signalled, strongly, that any talk of impeachment or prolonged investigation is off the table. But for those who've been on vacation, Bush is on the political agenda and in John Conyers' sights for several reasons: i) constitutional authority was exceeded when he falsified intelligence and lied to Congress and the American people in order to invade Iraq; ii) subverting democracy and the constitution through illegal surveillance of US citizens as well as violating international treaties through "extraordinary renditions", secret prisons and torture. All said, Conyers in his 350 page report The Constitution in Crisis; The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Cover-ups in the Iraq War, and Illegal Domestic Surveillance found that the Bush administration had violated 26 laws and regulations. And that doesn't even begin to touch topic such as Haliburton and corruption.

Whether a Democratic Congress --- its sights already trained on 2008 and the presidential election --- has the stomach, or the testicular fortitude to proceed with large-scale inquiries remains to be seen. All politics aside, if the U.S. is to regain any credibilty among its allies and well-wishers, if it is to restore a healthy, functioning democracy at home, housecleaning is in order. Two kinds of corruption afflict the American body politic today: the banal, everyday steal-from-the-public-purse kind exemplified by war contracts, and a deeper sort manifested by the wholesale abandonment of the founding ideals of liberty and justice in favour of darker principles of cynicism, public manipulation, and police-state tactics. It is the latter corruption that is worrisome. Having watched this corruption in the American republic metastasize for the past 6 years, a thorough purge would be welcome and necessary.

Whatever the outcome, with a large gobblet in hand, the Upper Canadian toasts those who are in a position to right wrongs and persecute the wicked. Let's hope they do so.


Canadian Press Misstates Number of Dual Citizens at 4 Million; Real Number Buried in the Hamilton Spectator

With the issue of Canadians holding dual citizenship becoming the whipping boy for the minority Conservative government, it is not hard to think that this error by the Canadian Press was an error at all.

Hamilton Spectator - News: "The Canadian Press reported incorrectly yesterday that Statistics Canada says four million Canadians have dual citizenship. In fact, the number is 691,310. As well, The Canadian Press had no basis for reporting that the number of dual citizens tripled from 1991 to 2001."


The Missing Minority Report: The Stern Review's Lost Opportunity

In early twentieth century Britain, unremitting poverty was feared to be leading towards severe social unrest, societal breakdown and general revolt. As a result, in 1905 His Majesty's government established a Royal Commission on the Poor Law (1905-09) of which noted Fabian Beatrice Webb was appointed member. As an expression of her disagreement with the Royal Commission, Beatrice Webb, along with her husband, wrote and published a minority report, calling for the abolishment of the Poor Laws and the transfer of responsibility to other groups. The Webbs' argument was that the government should work towards preventing poverty rather than focusing solely on relief efforts. This document is often cited as the impetus of the British welfare state.

One hundred years later, the Labour Government commissioned another LSE academic Nicholas Stern to research and write the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change which considered arguably the most pressing problem of our generation and our children's generation. The fact that environmental issues have returned to the high table cannot be dismissed. Surely, it is commendable that a state as influential as the United Kingdom has brought environmental issues to the forefront.

Sir Nicholas Stern
That crazy tree hugger, Nicholas Stern

Stern's basic premise is that atmospheric and ecological degradation will cost the world economy dearly: by the year 2050, a total decrease of up to 20 per cent of world GDP, bringing economic mayhem to all.

Stern introduced two important concepts on CO2 emissions: stabilization and reductions. As he wrote:

The risks of the worst impacts of climate change can be substantially reduced if greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere can be between 450 and 550ppm CO2 equivalent (CO2e). The current level is 430ppm CO2e today, and it is rising at more than 2ppm each year. in this range would require emissions to be at least 25% below current levels by 2050, and perhaps much more.

Ultimately, stabilisation – at whatever level –requires that annual emissions be brought down to more than 80% below current levels.

Stabilized means several things for Stern, depending on whether a short or long term perspective is taken. As Stern argues, in the immediate future, emissions are unlikely to reach a plateau at 430 ppm, so a an initial top rate should be established at 450 to 550 ppm, which can be achieved through spending 1 per cent of GDP. In other words, Stern reckons we can keep spewing out pollution at rates superior to currents emissions to avoid the worst impacts. Yet, in a near contradictory statement, he admits that by 2050 total emissions need to drop by 60-80 percent, which of course begs the question, how much would an 80 per cent drop in CO2 emission cost?

Stern suggests that an annual 1 per cent GNP investment in green technologies will resolve help this issue. He also suggests, strong policy is needed, where carbon is regulated, low carbon technologies are developed, and barriers to energy efficiency are removed.

All of this, of course, makes perfect sense now and even more sense in the context of the United Nations Climate Change Conference starting today in Nairobi. Indeed, with the release of the Stern review, the British have adroitly positioned themselves to set this week's agenda. From the reaction of think tanks and NGOs throughout Britain we can also expect something of a love-in this week: the British branch of the WWF, which mustered itself to say, like Stern, that "paradigm shift" was needed, while the Tyndall Centre outlined the need for a 60 percent reduction by 2050, one of the possibilities that Stern himself suggested. Undoubtedly, it is nice that a key Western government is returning the environmental agenda to the high table and that Whitehall and the NGOs are singing the same tune. To cite the cheerleader of this review --- the 1 percent solution --- one has to wonder if spending such a sum to establish CO2 emissions at higher than today's levels is a solution at all.

Yet, as with the Webb's minority report on the Poor Laws, a dissenting, if not radical, voice needs to be heard about the current environmental conundrum in the halls of government. For the greener-of-mind, the Stern review leaves a bittersweet sensation that more is needed, now. And this frustration that is only likely to grow stronger as governments seek consensus between science and capital, while avoiding true leadership.


Duly Noted

Being an Irregularly Compiled Post on Irregular News. And Some Stuff Worth Reading.


Mourning the Norwood Co-op

Last I week I learned the Norwood Co-op is closing, a victim of poor sales and the general poor state of the family farm. The Co-op, for those from Toronto, is a combination hardware store, feed depot and general farm supply. The staff know all the locals by their first name, and we theirs. Have a problem with rats and don't want to use poison? The Co-op knows an answer. Need a thingamabob for the barn? The Co-op will have it, or knows where to get it. It's an unfortunate loss for Norwood, and one that is symptomatic of the genteel decline of small towns and villages all over the country.

Like most rural residents, I have a somewhat schizophrenic existance, shuffling between town and country, city and farm. Trips into "town" --- Peterborough, and the "village" --- Norwood, need to be thought out fo maximum efficiency of time and gasoline. Completion of multiple errands at once is always the goal. I was thinking of this making the trek into Peterborough the first time a couple of days ago for chicken feed; previously, always, I had gone to Norwood. I realized driving along Highway 7 I have hardly any reason ever to go into the village. Trips to the Co-op for scratch grain were always accompanied by stops at the hardware store or the grocery or the post office; in Norwood, if need be, you can fax a letter, order the Christmas turkey at the butcher's, buy liquor and get your computer repaired. It's remarkably self-sufficient. But for me at least --- and I suspect many other people --- regular trips into Norwood "to run errands" are about to come to an end, unhinged by the the Co-op's closure. Money spent in the village will now be spent in Peterborough, and businesses will further suffer and close, creating even less reason to go into the village --- the classic vicious circle.

Out of a sense of loyalty --- or guilt --- I will try to go into the village whenever possible. In practical terms, though, my conscious sporadic shopping in the village will hardly outweigh the money I regularly spent there, nor that of others who went into Norwood for the Co-op. In reality too, all the major expenditures of my life are carried out in Peterborough; there I bank, consult my insurance broker, shop for furniture, books, appliances; there I have my dentist and doctor. Norwood has always drawn a only a fraction of my income. But still I will try, and I hope others will too.

Norwood won't exactly dry up and blow away. It's an easy and convenient drive for commuters into Peterborough or even, for the adventurous like me, to the eastern marches of Toronto suburbia. "Heritagification" --- the transformation of the village into a heritage show piece like other villages in the region, like Millbrook or Warkworth seems possible too: Norwood has good bones and a likely location. But an importance piece of the village's identity and economic rationale is gone all the same. In a sense the closure of the Co-op symbolizes the end of a dream for small towns everywhere, of the prosperous family farm, of self-sufficient, snug little communties, the quintessential Ontario towns with red-brick store fronts proud of their history, idiosyncratic, and romantically and helplessly optimistic about their futures. It bespeaks a future of industrial farming, global economics and mass identity and consumption. For those of us who live in rural communties, the loss is incalculable and inconsolable.


Harper Bets on the Wrong Horse, Canada Loses

A possibly apocryphal story has Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications giant, donating oodles of cash to the 1992 campaign to re-elect the senior Bush in the hope of securing millions of dollars of contracts from the U.S. government. Bush lost, of course, but the Clitonistas were mindful of Nortel's treachery and essentially froze the company out of the bidding process for some years afterwards.

Fast forward 14 years, another election, and the Democrats are poised to win back both houses of Congress and create that most pathetic of spectacles, a lame-duck presidency. Canada and Canadian foreign policy are suddenly on the wrong side of political argument, a fact which will not escape the new tenants, as they grapple with contentious issues in Canada-U.S. relations.

In the American constitutional order, it's true that the executive branch is the superior one in the realm of foreign affairs. But in practice, the legislative branch holds a great deal of power. Legislation on border security issues, for instance, or soft-wood lumber need pass congressional scrutiny. The thousand dollar question is how a newly-minted Democratic Congress, bitterly and profoundly hostile to the Bush Administration and all its works, is going to view the sorcerer's apprentice, Stephen Harper?

There is some indications in this regard a meme is already in the making. A story floating around the AP wire this morning explicitly makes the link between the sagging fortunes of Bush and Harper:
Canadian Conservatives who hitched their wagons to the White House are finding their popularity fading with those of their allies in Washington.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives ousted the Liberal Party in January after nearly 13 years in office, pledging to thaw Ottawa’s frozen relations with Washington and ease the country to the right on social and economic issues.

Canadians were eager to try someone new and improve ties with the U.S., though President Bush is widely disliked in this country. Now, with his poll numbers sagging, Harper’s honeymoon appears to be over.

To be honest, the intent of the article is to report on Harper's sagging poll numbers. But it points to the perception among American opinion makers that Harper is a (somewhat) Canadianized clone of Bush. Harper himself makes direct reference to his ideological and political affinities to the Bush Administration, casting himself and the government as the unwavering, loyal friend.

"We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow," said the Victorian statesman, Lord Palmerston. For those who admire this precept, one has to wonder at the appropriateness and wisdom of attaching Canadian policy to the wagon of a foreign government on the basis of ideological, rather than national, interest. This Conservative goverment's unrelenting love affair with the Bush administration will find few admirers in a Democratic-controlled Congress. In the polarized hothouse atmosphere of U.S. politics, Harper will be rightly seen as a partisan flunkie, shilling for a discredited and lame-duck presidency. The damage to Canadian interests could be enormous, and this from a government intent on improving relations with Washington. It will be interesting to watch our New Government try to catch up with the new reality. Maybe daily, compulsary contemplation of Lord Palmerston's maxim will help.