Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Vancouver Review: The Archeology of Metrotown

The Age Of Flags
. . .Then everything started to fall apart. The militia was sent to Steveston to put down a fishermen’s insurrection. There were cavalry charges against the strikers at Fraser Mills. From the villages of Jubilee, McKay and the rest, 1,200 men set off to fight for Empire, and while they were in Europe poverty moved like a night fog through the streets. There was a general strike in Vancouver, a general strike in Winnipeg, and an uprising of railroad crews that made the countryside from Hope to Kamloops a workers’ republic.

Out of the smoke and ash arose the young Socialist Party orator William Pritchard. He’d been jailed for seditious conspiracy in 1919, but you could still find him signing up members at the old Federated Labour Party Hall, at Jubilee, in 1927. The hall burned down in 1935, so a new one was built that year, and that new hall was the mysterious building at the top of my street when I was a kid. It’s still there, right by Synergy Computers. It’s the Elks Lodge at 6884 Jubilee Avenue, for the Burnaby Elks Royal Purple # 260 and South Burnaby Elks # 497. The Burnaby Floral Arts Society meets there the second Monday of every month.

Another of the buildings from that lost city, the warehouse on Telford with the CG Co-op sign, has also survived. It’s now the Burnaby Store-All. The sign above the loading dock is gone, and the letters, CG, occur only in the cartography of memory and archival records. They stand for the Army of the Common Good, which set out to build a new economy from the ashes of capitalism, which collapsed, thoroughly and utterly, in 1929.

The Army’s soldiers toiled in their common fields, raised hundreds of tons of produce, and logged Burnaby Mountain and built furniture. They arose from the overflowing ranks of the destitute of Burnaby’s Ward 6, which is now Metrotown. They even printed their own money. Their notes were called labour units, but most people called them lulus.

Times got harder. Window-smashings were attributed to “red elements,” almost a third of Burnaby’s residents were on the dole, and close to half the landowners were unable to pay their taxes. The people started marching on Burnaby’s municipal hall on Kingsway, down by Edmonds, and they all sang The Red Flag. Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, they sang, we’ll keep the red flag flying here.

By then, Pritchard was the mayor. He put the jobless to work. He paid them well, from municipal funds and credit and loans, and they built the great north-south thoroughfares of Willingdon and Sperling and Cariboo Road. On it went like this, then the money ran out. Years later, after everything that had happened, after the provincial government took Burnaby’s municipal charter away and imposed direct rule, Pritchard accounted for himself by saying:

I would do the same thing again. I had neighbours, and I could see their children’s faces becoming more drawn.

But the world moved on. The Digney family built the Oak Theatre in 1937, and in 1938, the Ford Assembly Plant arose from the land the settlers lost because they couldn’t pay their taxes. Then there was another war in Europe, and the vines engulfed the tumuli once again.
That's from my cover essay in the current issue of Vancouver Review, now on newstands, and not on-line, so go out and look for one and if your bookstore doesn't sell the magazine tell them they should. Here's some places where you can pick it up.
This issue look especially great, with a new look, all jazzy like. My pal Grant Buday has a hilarious take on short-dictator syndrome, featuring Kim "Well Madame Choi What Do You Think Of My Physique?" Jong-Il. Mette "Not That Kind Of Girl" Bach has a tremendous piece on the weird landscape of memory and sunken bulldozers and peat forest in Burns Bog. George Bowering, famous poet and literary bigshot, has a peculiar work of fiction in it titled A Night Downtown. Plus there's Lyle Neff and Paul Delaney and Tim Carlson and Gudrun Will and John Moore and others.
Better yet, buy a sub.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Terrorism as Anti-Globalization Culture-Jamming

By the time of 9/11, decades of countercultural politics had conditioned many people to see just about every major political problem as a consequence of mass society. Since the sixties, the left has been committed to the idea that a repressive and hegemonic System -- variously understood as Capitalism, Empire or Patriarchy -- is the single greatest threat to global freedom. This led to the widespread adoption of a "jihad versus McWorld" intellectual template, which explained the attacks of 9/11 as a natural and somewhat justifiable reaction to globalization. Its greatest folly was that Islamic terrorism, while deplored, was interpreted as an extreme form of culture jamming, with suicide bombers being merely the most committed members of the anti-globalization movement. The left followed a similar path of thought when it came to understanding the American desire to topple Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in Iraq: the invasion was immediately linked with a dystopian narrative of suburban excess -- it was about providing a steady and cheap supply of oil to fuel the gas-guzzling SUVs that symbolize all that is odious about American consumer comfort.

That's from Andrew Potter's column in Maclean's magazine, which sets out his take on the Euston Manifesto and its implications. I wrote my take on it all in the Globe and Mail last month.

Potter is one of the more interesting writers out there these days (his weblog is one of most interesting around, too). Although I'm a regular contributor to Adbusters, I'm nonetheless a big fan of Rebel Sell, the book Potter co-authored with the Joseph Heath, which subjects the Adbusters' umwelt to a fierce critical analysis. Heath's another guy whose ideas I find pretty interesting. Heath's book, The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets, is one of those rare books that invite a housecleaning of one's assumptions.

Potter's Maclean's essay reminded me that I should really get around to outing the Canadian Eustonians I'm aware of. I haven't been keeping track in any meticulous fashion, so the following list is almost certainly shy of several names, but as it is, it's fine company to be keeping, I think. In no particular order:

Nav Purewal, writer, activist, University of Toronto.

Jim Monk, Ontario union & gay rights activist.

Martin Deck, Windsor, Ontario.

Robert Harlow, novelist.

Mark Unger, B.C. union activist.

Jack Cunningham, writer, Inuvik.

Daniel Dale, York University student activist.

Paul Franks, associate professor (philosophy), University of Toronto.

Simon Harvey, Vancouver punk critic, "neurotictext" blogger.

Axel van den Berg, McGill sociology professor.

Nadia Khouri, Dawson College humanities professor.

Marc Angenot, language and literature professor, McGill.

Morton Weinfeld, sociology professor, McGill.

David Pariser, art education professor, Concordia.

Stanley Sadava, psychology professor, Brock University.

David Ross Mann, New Democratic Party, Brantford.

Mark D. Watson, University Of Saskatchewan, computer science.

Rod Weatherbie, Toronto artist.

Michael Collinge, Western Birds (a terrific grunge band)

Mark Fournier, Ottawa.

Bob Lane, Nanaimo.

Bruce Lyth, Vancouver Liberal, Iggyist.

Brooks Gray, CHUM-TV writer.

Rose deShaw, Kingston Raging Granny.

Frank O'Hara, Toronto new-media whiz.

Alan Revich, Toronto negotiator/mediator.

Daniel Stewart, associate psychology professor, Sir William Grenfell College

Stephen Reeves, Toronto.

I reckoned I'd set out these names after reading Jack Cunningham's post yesterday:

A great Italian novelist and exponent of democratic socialism, Ignazio Silone, penned an essay entitled “The Choice of Comrades”, a choice he regarded as among the most significant and revealing one can make. The signatories of the Euston Manifesto are as fine an army of comrades as one could find, and I am honoured to stand under their banner.

Speaking of joint efforts, here's one Jack's just joined. And give Nav a hand with this.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Letters, Walls & Lebanon: Whose Side Are We On?

A full month after I wrote this Chronicles column, complaints are still appearing on the letters page. The latest, from Vancouver's James Lindfield, makes some good points that are not directly related to what I wrote. Setting aside his other observations, and his complaints about what I didn't write, Lindfield asserts that "two minutes of research" would have shown me the absurdity of referring to "the massive concrete wall erected by Israel on Palestinian land" as a "fence."

Well, I don't know about that, Jim. I referred to the "wall" by writing "almost all of [it] is actually a wire fence that follows a tortured path in and around the West Bank," and I actually spent a heck of a lot more than two minutes deciding to characterize the thing that way.

The Washington Post says it is "a massive complex of walls, fences and trenches," and also "fences, walls, concertina wire and patrol roads." The Israel Virtual Library notes: "Only a tiny fraction of the total length of the barrier (less than 3% or about 10 miles) is actually a 30 foot high concrete wall, and that is being built in three areas where it will prevent Palestinian snipers. . . from shooting at cars" And Wikipedia: "Most of the barrier (over 95% of total length) consists of a wire fence with an exclusion area on each side, often including an anti-vehicle trench, and averaging approximately 60 m in width. Some sections (less than 5% of total length) are constructed as a wall made up of concrete slabs up to 8 m in height and 3 m in width." And that's just a smattering of the sources I consulted, all saying more or less the same thing.

But Lindfield raises another complaint: "Worse, Glavin blithely assures readers that Israel will leave “almost all” of the occupied Palestinian land." What I wrote, specifically, was this:

In fact, CUPE BC’s only condemnation of the “occupation of Palestine” is a five-year-old resolution that refers to Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Since then, Israel has withdrawn its settlements in Gaza, and is making plans to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank. So the term occupation, as it appears in the CUPE Ontario resolution, doesn’t make much sense unless it’s meant to condemn Israel’s existence in what some people prefer to call Palestine.

The problem is, all Lindfield offers by way of contradiction is a notorious opinion uttered two years ago by Israeli "Chief of Staff" Dov Weisglass, a controversial military guy who served a brief and lame stint as Ariel Sharon's spokesman. Lindfield, rather blithely himself, I thought, presents Weisglass's opinion, which was immediately rebuked, as a kind of proof that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, and its plans to withdraw from most of the West Bank, are merely a ruse to "prevent the formation of a Palestinian state."

Last week, also in the Georgia Straight, Gwynne Dyer wrote a rather over-the-top analysis that prompted several more letters of complaint, all of which I found quite interesting, but especially the letter from Shira Macklin of Vancouver, who wraps up this way:

I’m also wondering about the seemingly one-sided coverage of this complicated issue in an otherwise largely local paper.

My editor, Charlie Smith, can answer that complaint without any help from me, but I might observe that the Palestinian view - if it's possible to simplify things that way - is perhaps not so fully represented in, say, Vancouver' s other newspapers. The Georgia Straight has a long tradition of making room for views that are otherwise underrepresented in the dailies. Only this week, Charlie himself wrote a story that might be said to serve that purpose. He even quoted Rafeh Hulays, whose complaints about my column on the CUPE-Ontario Boycott-Israel rumpus appeared a couple of weeks before in the Straight's letters pages.

In that story, Hulays says Israel is now committing war crimes in Lebanon, and that people who support the bombing campaign, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, should be held "personally responsible”. Fair play to Hulays. But let's also remember that elsewhere, Hulays has publicly sided with Hizbollah (scroll down) and describes the Hizbollah kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers - the event that started all this - as being "legal, moral and necessary."

With that said, it's only fair to out myself, too. But I'm afraid it's not going to be all that exciting.

I'm heartbroken about what's happening in Lebanon, and I don't think Israel is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties in its campaign against Hizbollah. I'm for a Palestinian state, but I also know the people of Israel have every right to defend themselves against Hizbollah and Hamas and all the other Jew-haters arrayed against them. Mainly I wish there was a real and relevant "peace movement" in the West - instead of the Blame-Israel-For-Everything and It's-All-About-U.S.-Imperialism crowd - that might more effectively campaign for an honourable two-state solution.

LabourStart's Eric Lee has a very good point to make, I think, which is that if the Left insists on taking sides in all this, it should take Israel's side:

Our view as socialists of Hamas and Hizbollah should be absolutely clear: these are the enemy. We have nothing in common with Islamo-fascism and look forward to it suffering a crushing defeat in battle.
As I write these words, I realize that many friends and comrades will disagree with me. I invite them to respond, to engage in debate, and above all to listen and try to understand. In the end, the important thing is not to say what is popular, what wins friends and gets applause. Our job as socialists is above all to tell the truth.

I'm less inclined to simply take sides, but I do admit to being unapologetically partial to the Eustonian view, ably presented by David Hirsh in The Guardian:

Since before it even existed, Israel has been engaged in two wars with its neighbours. One is a just war, waged by Palestinian Arabs for freedom - which became a demand for Palestinian national independence; the other is a genocidal war that aims to end Jewish life in the Middle East.
The job of the left is to insist on the reality of this distinction and to stand against those who recognise the reality of only one or other of these two separate wars.
Nevertheless, when Israeli tanks are stalking through the crowded streets of Gaza, when Katyusha rockets are slamming into Haifa, when Israeli F16s are blowing up buildings in the suburbs of Beirut and when Israeli soldiers are being held in underground dungeons waiting for their own beheading to be broadcast on al-Jazeera, the distinction seems entirely notional.
. . .The only way out is for cosmopolitan voices and political movements to insist on the reality of both wars - to separate them conceptually and to stand clearly for a Palestinian victory in the fight for freedom and equally clearly for an Israeli victory in the fight against annihilation.

And Shalom Lappin sums up the only way out:

Last year's Cedar revolution in Lebanon saw the tentative emergence of a cross-communal democratic coalition that forced Syrian troops out of the country. In the end, this political movement is the only genuine hope for eliminating Hizbollah's role as a military threat. The chances of its success are far from certain, but it represents the best hope for democracy in Lebanon and security along Israel's border. This movement cannot be supported by large-scale external military action. Until it succeeds, we may have to live with a dangerous, messy standoff along the northern border which can be managed but not fully resolved.

Salaam. Shalom. Síocháin.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Sometimes, A Story Is All In The Telling, I Think

Pacheenaht patriarch Charles Queesto Jones was 111 years old when he told me a story that had been handed down to him from the time of his great-grandfather. It was about a terrible mistake some of the Pacheenahts’ neighbours made after they’d attacked, burned, and sunk an American ship that had put in to trade for sea-otter fur.
Jones’s memory was failing, but the lesson of the story remained perfectly clear to him.

The story was almost certainly an account of the 1803 attack on the American ship Boston near Yuquot. Chief Maquinna, who ordered the assault, spared the life of one of the ship’s crew, John Jewitt, the ship’s armourer. Jewitt lived as Maquinna’s favoured slave until he was ransomed to another American ship in 1805. The event and its consequences became known to the outside world because of Jewitt’s enormously popular memoir, first published in 1815.

In Chief Jones’s telling, the captive was a blacksmith, and the mistake was sparing the man, because of the misfortune that later befell the Nuu-chah-nulth tribes of Vancouver Island’s west coast. Had the crewman been killed with all the rest, the world would never have come to know about what had happened to the ship and its crew.

The lesson of the story, in Chief Jones’s words, was this: “We should have killed all of them.”

That's from my Georgia Straight column this week. I eventually get around to explaining how all this relates to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ugly, divisive, and inflammatory rhetoric in the matter of aboriginal fisheries.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

It Should Go Without Saying, But It Needs Be Said

Ten years have passed since New York University physicist Alan Sokal famously hoaxed North America’s leading academic journal on cultural studies, Social Text, with a dense and deliberately ridiculous paper titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”.

Sokal’s essay was all properly tarted up in the typically incomprehensible and impenetrable jargon of the self-proclaimed academic left, so the journal’s editors published it. They did so even though, or perhaps because, Sokal purported to make the case, more or less, that the real world doesn’t even exist.

The uproar Sokal set off was all very amusing, but, sadly, the absurd and ultimately reactionary forms of postmodernism and relativism that Sokal so effectively hoaxed and exposed in 1996 remain deeply entrenched in the humanities, in literary theory, and, perhaps most noticeably, in the ideas of certain sections of the Euro-American “left” elites. . .

That's from my wee review of Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom (Continuum Books, 196 pp, $30.95, hardcover), a copy of which I extorted from my comrade Will, who sent it all the way from in Edinburgh. Benson and Stangroom run this show.

Related matters are here and here, but if it's an argument you want, there's a ringside seat for Norm and Nick in a scrap with a couple of deadend neo-cons waiting for you right here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

It should be up to the local people, is all I'm saying

An editorial in today's Globe and Mail offers a modest proposal, in the matter of Lofoten whaling:

A whale for a tale

Visitors who pause to admire, say, the reindeer in a facsimile of Santa's workshop might be distressed to hear a loud bang and, on reaching the exit, be invited to purchase venison sandwiches. Similarly, 80 tourists who sailed to Norway's Lofoten Islands this month on the trawler Reine, to see minke whales in their element, watched inhorror as a Norwegian whaling ship har-pooned a minke right before their eyes.

Ah, competing interests. In his recent book
Waiting for the Macaws, Terry Glavin wrote that if Norway discontinued its commercial hunting of the minke, the culture of the Lofoten Island whalers would wither. "Eventually, the old stories would die." A modest proposal, then: The Norwegians end their hunt, the tourists pay good money to stop off on the islands and hear residents young and old retell stories of hunts gone by, and then the tourists board their trawler to see real, live whales cavorting in the ocean, as they should be.

Anyone who knows anything about minke whales would be forgiven for stifling a chuckle about that last line about tourists watching real, live whales cavorting in the ocean. Minke whales don't cavort, and whale-watching tourists who visit the Lofotens don't come to see minke whales. They come for the killer whales, which do cavort, and gambol, and the local minke whalers wouldn't have it any other way. I well remember Ulf Ellingson, manager of the tiny whale processing plant on the island of Skrova, talking about how beautiful killer whales are, and how it would be unspeakably savage to kill a killer whale.

Apart from the absence of necessary context, the Globe editorial is being perfectly reasonable about the matter of "conflicting interests." But do we really want to turn the locals into mere tourist attractions?

More apostacy on the subject, for background, here. More about pushing around the locals here, and here is a case where the locals would rather prefer a more tourist-based economy.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Parades, The Adoring Fans, It’s All So Tiring.

I would have gone if only to hoist a few with my pal Johnny but I was otherwise engaged on the far side of town with herself. Still, it looks like the Mag Awards event was swell, and I won (!) for this essay in the Public Issues category.

I see Mark Steyn lost. My boss Charlie Smith won one, Andrew Struthers won two, and Stephen Osbourne, who edits Geist, got one of those lifetime-achievement prizes. Well deserved, too.

I'm quite pleased with myself because I was up against Gary Bauslaugh’s essay on vote-rigging in America in Humanist Perspectives magazine and two essays by Tyee Bridge in a periodical that I will refer to only as That Other Magazine In Calgary, for reasons explained here.

It’s fine company to be in, being shortlisted is what really counts after all, recognition by one’s peers and all that, the win is just a coin-toss, bla bla bla, you bet I’m keeping the money.

Friday, July 07, 2006

That's The Zionist-Controlled Media For You

For having written this, my Mossad paymasters at the Georgia Straight have allowed Rafeh Hulays to accuse me of failing to do even “some basic research before commenting on the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” and they have also made room for Carel Moiseiwitsch to assert that I am badly informed on the subject, and on the same page a certain Dan Blake describes the column I wrote about the Boycott-Israel rumpus as a “diatribe” against CUPE-Ontario for which I should be punished by being confined to writing about fish.

So when you think about it, it's pretty fair, considering.

I don’t know who Dan Blake is, but I gotta say, it’s funny being challenged on my research by the fact-challenged Rafeh Hulays. And no doubt Carel Moiseiwitsch would simply have been happier with me had I depicted Israelis the way she does.

I'm still unsure what I wrote, exactly, that was so objectionable, unless it was the important and relevant points I attributed to Dr. Michael Elterman of the Canada-Israel Committee.

Which reminds me.

Around the same time my column appeared, Dr. Elterman and Mark Weintraub wrote an important and enlightening essay in The Vancouver Sun, and you should read it, here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Canada disgraces itself at UN Human Rights Council

Last month’s long-awaited birth of a new international human-rights agency out of the ashes of the old, sordid, and discredited United Nations Commission on Human Rights was a proud moment for democrats, progressives, liberals, and humanitarians everywhere.

But on June 29, during an especially important moment that prompted a standing ovation and tears of joy during the very first session of the newly minted UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Canada disgraced itself in front of the whole world.

It was during the vote on one of the UNHRC’s first items of business. It was a declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples, a document that had been the subject of 11 years of debates, arguments, and amendments in various UN commissions and subcommittees.

It came as no surprise that Russia voted against the resolution. Russia is notorious in its treatment of indigenous minorities. Moscow is at war with the Chechens of the Caucasus. It continues to persecute the Meskhetian Turks of Krasnodar, and its abuse of the Finno-Ugric minority of the Mari Republic is causing increasing alarm in Europe.

But Canada voted no too.

That's from my column this week.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

How Do We Win The Planetary Endgame?

Ecological collapse, mass extinction, epidemic disease, global drought, crop failure, desertification, famine.
That’s the global-warming whirlwind that we’re about to reap, a majority of the world’s climate scientists say, unless we act very quickly.
It all seems just so daunting, so unutterably overwhelming, that it’s tempting to succumb to the narcissism of paralysis, panic and despair.
So, if you’re one of those people who are resigned to the prospect of a climate-change apocalypse, here’s what you should do.
1. Shut up. 2. Get out of the way.
As for the rest of you, you can join those people all over the world who have decided that we actually can and will steer this ship of Earth well clear of the shoals ahead. There really are solutions to the crisis, and they’re readily available to all of us. . .

That's from my essay in this month's Adbusters.

Where there's ice and snow & the whalefishes blow

The moratorium was never supposed to be permanent. It was originally intended to give scientists enough time to assess the world's badly depleted whale stocks and determine where sustainable quotas could be justified. And over the years, many whale populations were found to be in perfectly good health.

But the moratorium remained in effect anyway, because that's what certain powerful nations, such as the United States, Britain and Australia, wanted. Whales were "special," and that's all that mattered.

Now the International Whaling Commission is in danger of becoming worse than irrelevant. Even the venerable International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which tracks the world's endangered animals, has called on it to shape up. Otherwise, it said, the world's whaling nations may "leave the IWC behind" and strike out on their own.

The day after the IWC adopted the "normalization" resolution on St. Kitts, the IUCN issued another warning: "More than ever there is a need to seek a form of consensus that will allow IWC to continue its work. Proponents and opponents all claim to support the conservation of whales but to date have failed to find common ground."

But there is often little common ground between the Save the Whales generation and younger conservationists more committed to the sustainable use of renewable resources -- the IWC's dysfunction is already infecting a whole range of international efforts to protect truly endangered species.

"We have to base resource management on science and knowledge, not on myths that some specifically designated animals are different and should not be hunted, regardless of the ecological justification for doing so," says Gro Harlem Brundtland, the ex-Norwegian prime minister who led the historic UN Commission on the Environment and Development. "There is no alternative to the principle of sustainable development. This is necessary and logical."

In the absence of such logic, the moratorium has resulted in perfectly healthy and abundant whale species showing up on the "banned" list of endangered animals maintained by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). For example, North Atlantic minke whales are listed even though neither the IWC nor the IUCN considers them in danger. As a result, the credibility of CITES is undermined, and a pall of doubt has been cast over the status of the truly endangered creatures it wants to protect.

The IWC's blanket ban on a commercial harvest also goes against the basic principles of the UN's 1992 "Rio Declaration," a hard-won consensus affirming that ecosystem health and species protection could be guaranteed only by the sustainable use of renewable resources.

That's from my piece in the Globe and Mail today.

What I left unsaid is that I rejoice in the way human beings are capable of drawing animals within the embrace of their empathy, and I don't think we need to apologize for that or surrender to a cold-blooded, purely scientific approach to the matter of the "sustainable" use of non-human life forms. I have a tremendous respect for Greenpeace, generally, and I like whales, personally. If it were up to me, even the whale-watching industry would be subjected to tighter controls, to deal with those huge speedboats full of tourists roaring among the killer whales around the islands where I live.

We don't have to be perfectly "rational" in these kinds of decisions, either.

But where's the line?

Australians are among the world's most ardent opponents of any and all whaling, and yet they slaughter tens of thousands of kangaroos every year, a practice Americans find so objectionable they've banned kangaroo meat. Hindu brahmins say killing cows is a sacrilege. North Americans recoil at the Southeast Asian custom of eating dogs. And on it goes. But if we're all really serious and sincere about the idea that people should live sustainably upon the renewable resources of the ecosystems within which they live, where do we get off telling Lofoteners they shouldn't be killing whales for a living, or telling Newfoundlanders they shouldn't be hunting seals?

These controversies are central to the contemporary challenges to principles that are universally applicable from practices that are specific to certain national, cultural and "religious" traditions.

Some lines you just don't cross. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for instance. That should apply to every nation state, everywhere, period. No apologies. No exceptions.

Once you allow cultural biases and eccentricities to completely override universal principles - such as the right of peoples to the sustainable use of natural resources, or the right of free speech, or freedom of assembly - then everything starts to collapse like a house of cards.

And that's exactly what's happening to the International Whaling Commission.