Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Treating Muslims like children, tyrants like revolutionaries, far-rightists like friends

I looked at the heckler at the Labour meeting and imagined his life in an instant. As a man of the 1968 generation there must have been sit-ins and marches, along with vicarious thrills at the triumphs of communists from Cambodia to Cuba. I guessed that with communism dead he would have no difficulty in endorsing the new threat to the status quo from the radical right. I wasn’t disappointed.

Only rich Iranians wanted democracy, he declared. The true voice of the masses, the tribune of the people we must attend to and negotiate with, was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I have become so used to hearing leftists defending reactionaries I am no longer shocked. But my ‘68er surprised me with a form of bad faith I had never seen in the flesh before. Alongside me on the platform were three liberals from Muslim backgrounds: Ed Husain, who renounced the jihad lovers of Hizb ut-Tahrir and joined the Labour party; Shiv Malik, a secular left-wing journalist; and Rokhsana Fiaz, whose Change Institute works to diminish cultural tensions.

They shared the principles he professed to hold. But he looked through them. . .

- from Nick Cohen's latest, here. More about Nick here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chavez Vows Inquiry Into 200-year-old Conspiracy, Cover-up, In Bolivar "Murder"

History records that Simón Bolívar, the great liberator whose memory Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has usurped and transformed into a fetish, died of tuberculosis in 1830. Now, Chavez has decreed that Bolivar was the victim of a murder conspiracy so nefarious that in the two centuries since Bolívar's death, nobody's even noticed.

Chavez provides no evidence, but insists that that his own private investigation has concluded that there was both a conspiracy and cover-up, and he vows to "move heaven and earth" to win this grand historical revision. He's calling on scientists and historians to open an inquiry. To which he might invite some Klansmen, say, to participate, following the example of his good friend Mad Mahmoud, that great defender of scientific inquiry, champion of Holocaust revisionism, and doubter of the "official story" about what happened on a certain September morning a few years back.

Of course, to get away with this kind of oil-fuelled jackboot craziness and conspiracy-mongering he'll want to carry through with his campaign to crush what little remains of a free press in Venezuela, in which Ahmedinejad has also developed much expertise. Recent developments there:

Amnesty International today issued an urgent appeal for Maryam Hosseinkhah, a journalist and women's rights defender, who was arrested on 18 November in Iran. She has reportedly been accused of "disturbing public opinion", "propaganda against the system" and "publication of lies" in connection with articles posted on websites she edits. Meanwhile, Adnan Hassanpours’s death sentence has been upheld by Iran's Supreme Court.

What is it with these guys? Why would the "socialist" Bolivarians cozy up to Iran, one of the world's most repressive regimes, where "workers have no right to set up trade unions, to go on strike or elect their genuine representatives; women are second class citizens with half the legal rights of men; young people are forced to abide by a medieval ideology down to the smallest details of their lives; national minorities are deprived of their most basic rights; the whole population is robbed of genuine democratic rights and free elections."

Before anyone starts raving about "right-wing propaganda," note that the previous paragraph is drawn straight from an appeal to Venezuelan socialists issued by the Iranian Revolutionary Socialists League. And if you think Venezuela is about to become a some kind of socialist paradise if the upcoming referendum succeeds, think again. Go ask Stalin.

In the newly revised history that arises from this sort of thing, there always seems to be one easy answer to newly-posed questions, like Who killed Bolivar? Who's behind all this holocaust business? Who was behind 9-11?

Starts with J.

UPDATE: Well, this astonishing. Turns out Chavez was already implicating Jews in connection with his Bolivar-Was-Murdered fantasy almost two years ago. So life imitates art, or something.

Thanks to Graeme for bringing this to my attention.

UPDATE II: A subtle pattern begins to emerge. Hugo says "those towers could have been dynamited. . .A building never collapses like that, unless it’s with an implosion. . . The hypothesis that is gaining strength. . . is that it was the same U.S. imperial power that planned and carried out this terrible terrorist attack."


Friday, November 23, 2007

From The Recent Drawbridge: On The Moral Duty of Raiding Abandoned Orchards

The close proximity of utility and beauty that people find in the functions of non-human life is a netherworld that E.O. Wilson, the "father of biodiversity," has spent some time navigating. In his "biophilia" hypothesis, Wilson makes the case that human beings, over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, have developed an "innately emotional affiliation" with other living organisms. The utilitarian and the aesthetic are inextricably linked, Wilson says, because "passion is inseverably linked to reason" in our comprehension of other life forms. Emotion is "not just a perturbation of reason but a vital part of it."

The most fragrant and dazzling flowering plants attract the greatest number of pollinators, including bees, birds, fruit bats, moths, as well as such primates as humans. An evolutionary side effect of the beauty of flowers was the dispersal of enormous amounts of sugar and protein throughout the world. And the abundance of herbivorous food energy, of precisely the kind found in apples, is one of the key factors that allowed for the rise and diffusion of large, warm-blooded mammal species, such as humans.

The case of the Kauai alula is one of my favourite examples of the lengths people will go. The alula is a peculiar and extraordinarily beautiful succulent and one of the world's rarest flowers. At the beginning of this century, there were just 20 left in the wild, confined to the Na Pali sea cliffs on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, 1,000 metres above the crashing surf. It had come to its perilous condition because of the extinction of its only known pollinator, a moth. To keep the alulas alive, botanists were lowering themselves down the cliff face by rope every year to pollinate the flowers by hand.

It is hard to make the case that these people were behaving merely out of rational self-interest, or that they were concerned only with the potential utilitarian value of the alula. Say what you like about how horrible the human species is, appropriating 40 per cent of the planet's primary productivity all to itself and chopping down all those forests. Human beings also do this.

. . .That's an excerpt in the British quarterly The Drawbridge from An Apple is a Kind of Rose, an essay from my book The Lost and Left Behind: Stories from the Age of Extinctions (Saqi). The latest edition just arrived in the mail today; I didn't realize its contents were also on-line. But the print version is gorgeous. The Guardian describes The Drawbridge this way: "A quarterly printed on a parchment whose girth commuters haven't encountered since Pooter was sauntering down the Holloway Road, it's a journal that thinks bigger than most, and in more ways than one. Boasting a ready-scribbled-on Sudoku grid, artwork by Joel Sternfield and David Shrigley and writing from Gerry Adams, Noam Chomsky and John Berger, there's intellectual meat here but no paucity of visual and verbal wit either."

Odd, the reception The Lost and Left Behind is getting in the UK. It's like its found a second home among readers of a wholly different kind than have come to the Canadian version (Waiting for the Macaws) or the American version (The Sixth Extinction).

That handy little Amazon.com function ("Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought") shows that American readers of The Sixth Extinction also bought books like David Sloan Wilson's Evolution for Everyone, Bill McKibben's The Deep Economy, Thomas Homer-Dixon's The Upside of Down, E.O. Wilson's The Future of Life and so on, suggesting a readership niche that accords with my sense of the kind of reader Waiting for the Macaws attracts in Canada.

On the UK Amazon site, a different readership is involved, with interests in a different genre. People who buy The Lost and Left Behind also buy such books as Nick Cohen's What's Left?, Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Oliver Kamm's Anti-Totalitarianism, Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, Benson and Stangroom's Why Truth Matters, and that sort of thing.

I'm slightly more inclined to the titles on the latter bookshelf. But I'm grateful to find my books on either.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Xeni'gwetin title is "a simple, straightforward acknowledgment of an historical fact."

Very close to my heart: Yesterday's court ruling in the case filed by the Nemiah Valley Tsilhqot'in, arguing for recognition of their rights and title to their homelands.

The long struggle of the Xeni people, which began in the tragedy that came to be called the "Chilcotin War" of 1864, was the subject of a book I wrote in collaboration with elders of the 400-member community (and with the photographers Rick Blacklaws, Gary Fiegehen and Vance Hanna). I spent several months living out in Nemiah, off and on. There are no better storytellers than those old people. It was one of the happiest times of my life.

There's a great deal of hype about the court decision, its meaning and its implications.

I'm with Les Leyne:

Their lawyers billed $18.2 million to the federal and provincial governments for the work that went into the argument. B.C. and Canada's representation cost another $11 million.

That's $30 million in taxpayers' money that resulted in another plaintive cry from the bench to keep these sorts of issues out of the courts.

By some cosmic coincidence, the decision was released the same day five more First Nations arrived at the legislature to watch B.C. begin the ratification process for their treaties.

Five chiefs stood at the bar of the legislature and gave heartfelt, touching speeches about the importance of the new trail they are setting out on.

You couldn't find a more compelling contrast between the essential futility of the court process and the product of honest negotiations if you tried.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

". . .More things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy"

A fearsome fossil claw discovered in Germany belonged to the biggest bug ever known, scientists say. The size of a large crocodile, the 390-million-year-old sea scorpion was the top predator of its day, slicing up fish and cannibalizing its own kind in coastal swamp waters.

Jaekelopterus rhenaniae
measured some 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) long, scientists estimate, based on the length of its 18-inch (46-centimeter), spiked claw.

The find shows that arthropods—animals such as insects, spiders, and crabs, which have hard external skeletons, jointed limbs, and segmented bodies—once grew much larger than previously thought, said paleobiologist Simon Braddy of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

"We have known for some time that the fossil record yields monster millipedes, supersized scorpions, colossal cockroaches, and jumbo dragonflies," he added. "But we never realized, until now, just how big some of these ancient creepy-crawlies were."

Which is to say, jeepers creepers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Socialist Realism in Frisco's Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill: The Art of Bernard Zakheim

That's my attempt at a reasonable photograph of Bernard Zakheim's "The Library," one of the murals in San Francisco's Coit Tower, where I popped in for a look-see the other day. Zakheim was one of 25 New Deal artists who completed the tower's murals in 1934, while the city was in the throes of a violent waterfront strike.
Zakheim was an interesting bloke. That's him in the mural, seated on the upper left, reading a Hebrew text (you'll want to click on the picture to get the details). The guy reaching for Karl Marx just to the right of the window is the socialist artist John Langley Howard.
See those gents reading newspapers on the right? The guy in the upper portion reading about "The Destruction of Rivera's Fresco" is Zakheim's friend Ralph Stackpole. Reading the newspaper with the headline "B. Bufano's St. Francis Just Around The Corner" is the sculptor Beniamino Bufano, a radical who chopped off his trigger finger and mailed it to President Woodrow Wilson to protest the White House decision to participate in the First World War.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chavistas: Reporters Without Borders 'Working for US intelligence, Organizing Coup'

Hugo Chávez now controls a score of radio stations, the sole telecommunications operator (CANTV), the main national daily (Ultimas Noticias), and about 60 local newspapers. All radio and television stations are obliged to broadcast his speeches without interruption. Chávez has invoked this fiat 1,500 times since 1999, for a total of more than 900 broadcast hours. Add to that roughly 1,000 hours of his Sunday programme (record to date: a monologue lasting 7 hours and 43 minutes).

Reporters Without Borders asserts: "Rarely has a president posed so many obstacles to free expression in such a short space of time. President Chávez has used the abortive coup against him of April 2002 - which, it is true, some media supported - as grounds not only for silencing critical and dissident media but also for gradually eliminating all forms of checks and balances and democratic opposition, especially the press.”

"In all of these matters, Reporters Without Borders’ offers of dialogue 'met with the grotesque and baseless claim that our organisation was working for US intelligence and was trying to organise a new coup.' "

Canada has it bad. It's downright unhealthy. But Venezuela is worse, and getting worse still.

UPDATE: The French "left" press isn't fooled by this caudillo: "One thing is rather surprising in the French press: the left and center left are the most vocal critics of Chavez. Liberation, a rational left newspaper, akin to the Guardian of London, was the first newspaper consistently criticizing Chavez. Le Monde, the reference newspaper of France and of a large part of the world started later but has been as much anti Chavez as one could expect. Yet, Le Figaro, the center right paper, to this day is still to write a strong anti Chavez piece."

UPDATE II: Chavez has ordered Venezuela's state prosecutor to investigate CNN on charges of instigating a murder plot against him and engaging in "psychological warfare."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Than Karl Marx or John Stuart Mill: Charles Darwin, The Great Liberator

Westminster Abbey is a Gothic and cavernous place of cloisters, chambers, nooks and crannies that has served as Britain's royal crowning-place and national ossuary since the time of William the Conqueror, a thousand years ago. Adjacent to the House of Commons in London, the abbey, now a UNESCO world heritage site, is filled with statues of generals, monuments to statesmen, poets and martyrs, and the chest-tombs of dead kings and queens.

There is also a humble white-marble slab, on the floor of the north side of the nave, near the quire. It's easy to miss because it's in a kind of corner, where it's dark, and it's also almost in the shadow of a garishly splendid monument to Sir Isaac Newton, which tends to hold the visitor's attention. But if you look for it you'll find it easily enough.

Charles Robert Darwin. Born 12 February 1809. Died 19 April 1882.

No stirring elegy. No moving psalm.

Just that.

I'd gone to see that marble slab recently, partly because I just never had, and partly because it had been occurring to me for some while that of all the great thinkers among the Enlightenment's first-born, from John Stuart Mill to Karl Marx, there was no one whose star still shines as bright in the firmament as Darwin's. Of them all, Darwin remains indispensible.

That's how I slide my may way into an essay I wrote for this week's Georgia Straight about the labours of Peter and Rosemary Grant, two evolutionary biologists who won the coveted Balzan Prize in 2005. The prize is equal in prestige to the Nobel, and the Grants, a husband and wife team, won it for their work with Darwin's finches, in the Galapagos Islands.

The Grants put in 35 field seasons to show, by the evidence of voluminous data acquired by painstaking and meticulous labour, what Darwin could only surmise. Evolution by natural selection was indeed "just a theory" in Darwin's day. It isn't anymore. It's demonstrable, proved, tested and revealed.

And so Darwin prevails. Evolution is driven by hybridization, and by sex selection, but the main engine is natural selection. It's how the earth ended up so rich in the diversity and abundance of life. It's evidence against the founding texts of all the world's great religions. It's evidence for life as a phenomenon that is constantly changing, constantly innovating, all on its own.

It's a rational explanation, subject to testable hypotheses. It's free for the asking and available to everyone, regardless of culture or class. It can account for everything from the virulence of diseases to the complexity of the human eye to the origin of humankind itself. No stirring elegy. No moving psalm.

Darwin prevails.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"An Injury to One is an Injury to All" - Organized Labour's Proud Credo Still Inspires

"Inspired by the plight of young girls in Afghanistan, a group of Grade 5 girls from B.C.'s Okanagan Valley has raised enough money to pay the salaries of five Afghan schoolteachers for one year.

"Alaina Podmorow, 10, said she became interested in Afghanistan last year after her mother Jamie took her to a speech by Canadian journalist Sally Armstrong, who has written books and made documentaries on Afghanistan."

If I'm not mistaken, what this means is a group of 18 schoolchildren from British Columbia's hinterland has provided greater solidarity to the people of Afghanistan than all the trade unions, provincial and territorial federations and 136 district labour councils of the three-million-member Canadian Labour Congress, and the half-million students and 80 student unions of the Canadian Federation of Students, combined.

Slavoj Žižek, Marko Attila Hoare, Class War, Peacenik Turks and Some Chess Nazis

"One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.

"Today’s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy."

And so begins Slavoj Žižek, the brilliant, persistently confounding and hilarious Grand Philosopher of Ljublijana, in an essay in the London Review of Books titled Resistance Is Surrender (which I thank Neil for noticing). And what do we find among the variety of ways the Left reacts?

Here's one way: "In today’s triumph of global capitalism, the argument goes, true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state, confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfil, and otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the work of criticism." This is closely related to "the ‘postmodern’ route, shifting the accent from anti-capitalist struggle to the multiple forms of politico-ideological struggle for hegemony, emphasising the importance of discursive re-articulation." Or it retreats even further from reality, opting to "resist state power by withdrawing from its terrain and creating new spaces outside its control."

It reacts in all sorts of ways. But what does Žižek counsel? Stop being impossible, for starters. "The thing to do is, on the contrary, to bombard those in power with strategically well-selected, precise, finite demands," he says.

Marko Attila Hoare argues for a complete abandonment of the paradigm Žižek ponders, in order to heave the Left back on its historic mission, and you start by being clear and conscious and deliberate about where we've arrived: "Through abandonment of the destructive nihilism of ‘anti-capitalism’, ‘anti-Westernism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’, a new, progressive left-wing politics can emerge. There is a great revolution worth fighting for, one that - unlike the failed revolution of the Marxists - is rooted in the real world."

It's a global, liberal-democratic revolution that Hoare's on about. Nuts to the reactionary left, with its fey "anti-imperialism" and "anti-capitalism": We are for the revolution; they are for the counter-revolution.

Fighting words, so fair play to him, but to be really fair you'd have to concede that there is a "Left" that is anti-capitalist but is still capable of facing the facts Hoare demands we face. For starters, you could read "Against the Anti-Globalization Critiques" or this treatise, "Regional War in the Mid-East Calls for Class Struggle and Solidarity with Israel." Even the "anti-war" movement has clear thinkers: here's an anti-war movement I can really get behind.

But what's the deal with chess, anyway? Sally Feldman surveys the scene, and reports that in Iraq, the Chess Federation defies the mullaocracy and carries on with its tournament, while in the impoverished Russian republic of Kalmykia, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov squanders a fortune on a “Chess City” complex and forces compulsory chess lessons on every every child over six. Damn guy's president of the World Chess Federation, which runs the big contests in a game the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment considered the embodiment of the Age of Reason. Beating a prince at it caused Jean-Jacques Rousseau to boast he'd proved the rights of man over monarchy. "Marx used to drive his wife to distraction by disappearing for days on end to indulge in chess binges," but Lenin was a sore loser, Maxim Gorky wrote, and “grew angry when he lost, even sulking rather childishly.” The Bolsheviks considered chess a perfect illustration of dialectical materialism, "untainted by bourgeois ideology." The Nazis loved it, but the Jews were way better at it than they were. Way better. And IBM’s Deep Blue proved better at chess than the reigning master Garry Kasparov, but Noam Chomsky says that's no big deal. No more a revelation than “the fact that a bulldozer can lift more than some weight lifter.”

Your move.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Just When You Think Online Journalism Is Rubbish, This Comes Along

Stephen Hume is one of Canada's finest essayists. He's also one of Canada's least-appreciated journalists. We were at the Vancouver Sun together, and there he still toils, and here is the result of an odyssey, years in the making, now on-line, about 120,000 words in total, interactive, gorgeous, splendid history, and also great literary journalism in the bargain. If this is the future of journalism, I'm liking it.

Stephen tells me Sun editor Patricia Graham deserves kudos for her unwavering support for this project. So congratulations to Patricia as well, along with condolences, to her and to all my former colleagues there, for the recent unpleasantness.

The combined newsprint circulation of both The Sun and the Province is now roughly where it was 50 years ago, but the troubles are by no means confined to Vancouver. It's happening everywhere. Here's a fine survey and analysis of the phenomenon in the American Journalism Review.

Canada has its own special problems, which my pal Marc Edge has written about extensively. There's a four-part series on that matter, excerpted from Marc's book Asper Nation, which begins today in The Tyee.

Neither the current euphoria over "citizen journalism" or the prospects for "media democracy activism" do much to put a spring in my step, I regret to say (although where there's no free press, as in Burma or Iran, citizen journalism is proving more than adequate to the task of dissent).

New media is making things easier for avocational and amateur journalists, some of whom are proving much better and braver writers than the "professionals." This is good. But journalism is a trade, like any other. It requires some training, a proper apprenticeship, and a hard slog of hands-on experience to produce journeyman work you can reasonably count on to conform with expected standards and practices. It's like any other trade in that way. Do you want those stairs built by some bloke with a hammer, or an experienced union carpenter?

But at least for now we have tradesmen like Stephen Hume around to tide us over into whatever new forms journalism will take once the current weirdness shakes itself out.

Nice work, Stephen.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Malaysia: 40,000 March For Free & Fair Elections

Heartening news:

Saturday's protest witnessed the participation of a large number of members from the opposition, the ethnic Malay-dominated, Islamic PAS party, which apart from running on a clean governance platform would like to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state. But a much broader swath of Malaysian society was represented - activists, ordinary citizens, young, old, Indian, Malay, Chinese.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset ..."

Loved, and were loved:

Cpl. Nathan Hornburg. Maj. Raymond Ruckpaul. Master Warrant Officer Mario Mercier. Master Cpl. Christian Duchesne. Pte. Simon Longtin. Cpl. Jordan Anderson. Cpl. Cole Bartsch. Master Cpl. Colin Bason. Capt. Matthew Johnathan Dawe. Capt. Jefferson Francis. Pte. Lane Watkins. Cpl. Stephen Frederick Bouzane. Sgt. Christos Karigiannis. Pte. Joel Vincent Wiebe. Trooper Darryl Caswell. Master Cpl. Darrell Priede. Cpl. Matthew McCully. Master Cpl. Anthony Klumpenhouwer. Trooper Patrick James Pentland. Master Cpl. Allan Stewart. Pte. David Robert Greenslade. Pte. Kevin Vincent Kennedy. Sgt. Donald Lucas. Cpl. Brent Poland. Cpl. Christopher P. Stannix. Cpl. Aaron E. Williams. Cpl. Kevin Megeney. Chief Warrant Officer Robert Girouard. Cpl. Albert Storm. Sgt. Darcy Tedford. Pte. Blake Williamson. Trooper Mark Andrew Wilson. Sgt. Craig Paul Gillam. Cpl. Robert Thomas James Mitchell. Pte. Josh Klukie. Cpl. Glen Arnold. Pte. David Byers. Cpl. Shane Keating. Cpl. Keith Morley. Pte. Mark Anthony Graham. Pte. William Jonathan James Cushley. Warrant Officer Frank Robert Mellish. Warrant Officer Richard Francis Nolan. Sgt. Shane Stachnik. Cpl. David Braun. Cpl. Andrew James Eykelenboom. Master Cpl. Jeffrey Scott Walsh. Master Cpl. Raymond Arndt. Pte. Kevin Dallaire. Sgt. Vaughn Ingram. Cpl. Bryce Jeffrey Keller. Cpl. Christopher Jonathan Reid. Cpl. Francisco Gomez. Cpl. Jason Patrick Warren. Cpl. Anthony Boneca. Capt. Nichola Goddard. Cpl. Matthew Dinning. Bombardier Myles Mansell. Cpl. Randy Payne. Lt. William Turner. Pte. Robert Costall. Cpl. Paul Davis. Master Cpl. Timothy Wilson. Diplomat Glyn Berry. Pte. Braun Scott Woodfield. Cpl. Jamie Brendan Murphy. Cpl. Robbie Christopher Beerenfenger. Sgt. Robert Alan Short. Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer. Pte. Richard Green. Sgt. Marc D. Leger. Pte. Nathan Smith. Carpenter Mike Frastacky.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Personal, The Political: C'est Problématique

By Todd Wong's reckoning, my recent essay in Vancouver Review, the result of a series of obsessive inquiries I was making that brought me to Guangdong a few weeks ago, was really a search for my "Chinese-Canadian roots." I never thought about it that way. It also never occurred to me at all, while I was researching and writing that piece, that I actually do have Chinese cousins, back in Ireland. Long story.

But that's one of the things about Todd that I like so much. Also known as Toddish McWong, the animateur of the Vancouver Chinese New Year / Robbie Burns Night event known as Gung Haggis Fat Choy (a tradition that goes back to Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1930s), Todd is an unrepentant humanist.

He's the opposite of a misanthrope. And his take on "multiculturalism" - official policy in Canada since 1971, entrenched in Canada's constitution since 1982, and a great worry-wound of the Anglosphere (and much of the Francophonie) these days - is similarly unrepentant, but sadly too uncommon. It's a perspective well worth taking into account.

Multiculuralism should not be about retreating into the cloisters of identity politics. It should not be about segregating ourselves into hierarchies of grievance. It should be about enjoying one another's company, finding ways to fit in without giving up central aspects of our experience, making room for people wholly unlike ourselves, and finding delight and pleasure in one another's distinct heritage - recognizing, all the while, the common basis of our shared humanity, and our citizenship.

The consequences of getting this wrong are enormous, and threaten to wreck the conception of multiculturalism that Canada has decided to make a core foundation of its nationhood. A glimpse of those consequences was amply provided last year by 11 Canadian Muslim intellectuals in their manifesto, published in the Toronto Star, under the headline: Don't be silenced by extremists."

The way my friend and manifesto co-author Taj Hashmi puts it: "Multiculturalism is a good thing so long as it doesn't inhibit people from integrating." The way my wife Yvette Guigueno puts it, it's about "finding ways to get into each other's liquor cabinets." The way John Ralston Saul puts it, it's all about "reconciliation and coexistence."

It's no fluke that the judges in Delgamuukw Vs. The Queen, the leading aboriginal rights decision in Canadian case law, use those same two words, reconciliation and coexistence, quite liberally in their judgment. Aboriginal rights are not meant to be about division, segregation, and apart-ness. Aboriginal rights law is meant to provide the basis for coexistence between the constitutional rights of aboriginal peoples and the rights of Canada's settler cultures. It's meant to reconcile aboriginal title with Crown sovereignty.

The way Todd Wong has been known to put it (when asked by reporters, `Hey, what's with the kilt? What's all the excitement about Robbie Burns? Do you have some Scottish ancestry in you?') goes like this: "Of course I do. I'm Canadian. All Canadians have Scottish roots."

By which sound and happy logic, I do have Chinese roots.

Todd has been known to be wrong, mind you. For instance: Never, ever attempt to practice the ancient and delicate Japanese art of origami during a session at the pub with your dragon-boat teammates.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Blowing Up Statues Of The Buddha All Over Again

In the shoddy, shallow, squalid and grotesquely politicized "debate" in Canada about Afghanistan and the role of our military there, the one question that matters more than any other is how we can prevent the return of this kind of savagery, still wreaking its havoc just across the border in Pakistan:

Destroying statues of the Buddha. Threatening Christians with death unless they convert to Islam. Burning barber shops. Shutting down a UNICEF polio-vaccination program. Setting fire to stores that sell Indian and western movies. Dispatching suicide bombers to murder soldiers.

Roger Cohen gets it:

The Nazis burned Brecht. The Taliban, then sheltering Osama bin Laden, bombarded the “un-Islamic” Buddhas. The burning presaged war. The destruction presaged 9/11: two Buddhas, two towers.

Heinrich Heine noted that “When they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings.” When Buddhas buckle, people will be crushed.

Mark and the Torchists get it. So did these comrades, all those years ago.

The rest is noise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hillel Neuer: "Nice Canadian," Not Crazy Gunman

A SWAT team take-down in a Massachusetts pizza joint results in embarrassment to police, but also a yarn Hillel will be dining out on for some time to come: Human rights activist Hillel C. Neuer has been all over the world - from South Africa, to Zurich, to Geneva and New York. But Neuer’s day in Needham last week was as unnerving as it was unforgettable.

Gives me an excuse to present this reason why we're so proud of him:

UPDATE: This one I hadn't noticed:

Hillel Neuer should be Canada's Ambassador to the UN.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tehran: Jail Time And The Lash For Delaram Ali

A Tehran appeals court has confirmed a sentence of two and half years in prison and 10 lashes in the case of Iranian women's rights activist Delaram Ali for participating in the June 12, 2006 womens' rights demonstration in Hafte Tir Square.

The demonstration was an inspiration to people around the world. The Tehran regime garnered worldwide condemnation when police attacked participants and beat Delaram severely at the scene, dragging her on the ground, causing her to suffer a broken arm. Several complaints were filed against police by Delaram and several other beating victims. The complaints were dismissed, and instead, the authorities prosecuted Delaram.

A student and a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, Delaram is one of dozens of Iranian women who have recently found themselves facing jail terms for having the impudence to assert their democratic rights of non-violent protest in Iran. Yesterday, the mother of Ronak Safarzadeh, a One-Million-Signatures campaigner in Iranian Kurdistan, was beaten by police when when she went to ask about Ronak's condition. Ronak was arrested at her home three weeks ago.

Iranian women’s rights activists are specifically appealing to the international community to take swift action condemning the unjust ruling in the case of Delaram Ali. Please stay tuned to Kamangir.

UPDATE: An open letter from Delaram: What have you done to us? What have you done that has transformed the ring of the telephone into an alarm of danger? What have you done to transform the sound of the door bell into a fear of the repetition of nightmares of the past?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Iranian Kurdish Canuckistani Rapper In Th' House

"I know that my people will make it through. . ."

He's Dillin Hoox. Discovered at The General's place.

Hands off the People of Kurdistan. Period.