Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Strange And Sordid Persecution Of Afghan Reporter Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh

Things are looking grim for Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, the 23-year-old Afghan journalist facing a death sentence for blasphemy. A few hours ago, the Afghan Senate passed a motion supporting the religious-court verdict, and the MP who introduced the motion is Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a key ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Senate also spent some time braying and bleating about how Karzai should not be influenced by un-Islamic outsiders in the matter.

The good news is the senate motion has no legal bearing on the case, Kaambakhsh still has avenues of appeal open to him, Karzai himself is within his constitutional prerogative to intervene, and the international campaign on behalf of Sayed is growing.

The UN, human rights organizations, journalists' associations and diplomats are all urging Karzai to spare the young man's life. Britain's Independent newspaper has itself launched a petition campaign in the UK on the reporter's behalf.

This is where us Canucks come into it.

We should all be flooding Prime Minister Stephen Harper's e-mail inbox ( with letters urging him to take a very hard line on this. We should be writing to Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, too ( It would also be a good idea to write letters of protest to His Excellency Omar Samad, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada ( If you do, keep a civil tongue in your head. You can bet that the ambassador isn't any happier about all this than we are. Besides, he's one of the good guys.

I've already written mine. Now we only need a few thousand more, and if Canadians spend a fraction of the energy on Sayed's predicament as has been wasted bloviating for and against Ezra Levant (whose case is, by comparison, the equivalent of a visit from a health inspector), we just might make a real difference (and here I should concede I've contributed my own fair share of Ezra-bloviation).

Here's a just-published, hurriedly-written account of the whole sordid affair by Sayed's brother Ibrahim (Yacub). It reads like something straight out of Kafka.

Canada is facing some horribly difficult decisions about Afghanistan at the moment, and the Afghan government is intimately aware of the debates underway in this country. Karzai is facing a rising chorus of "U.S. Puppet" jeers from Afghanistan's extreme right, so it's touchy, and Sayed has found himself caught up in this rat's nest of intrigue. But Canada does have some leverage. Ottawa and Kabul need to know that Afghanistan's friends around the world are taking this case very, very seriously.

And speaking of taking things seriously, the U.S. Afghanistan Study Group has just released its findings, which are similar to the conclusions reached by Canada's own report from John Manley's Independent Panel last week. The Yanks reckon that without more troops and a better commitment to reconstruction, Afghanistan could easily revert to the "failed state" conditions that prevailed when the Taliban was in power.

Meanwhile, a suicide bomber blew himself up, killed somebody else and wounded several others in Kabul yesterday, while out in Nuristan the Taliban just beheaded four road-crew workers they'd kidnapped.

And so the stomach turns.

You know what you've just done, don't you?

January 30, 1972. Ivan Cooper, MP, march organizer: "I just want to say this to the British Government... You know what you've just done, don't you? You've destroyed the civil rights movement, and you've given the IRA the biggest victory it will ever have. All over this city tonight, young men... boys will be joining the IRA. and you will reap a whirlwind."

The dead: Paddy Doherty, 31. Gerald Donaghy, 17. Jackie Duddy, 17. Hugh Gilmour, 17. Michael Kelly, 17. Michael McDaid, 20. Kevin McElhinney, 17. Barney McGuigan, 41. Gerald McKinney, 35. Willie McKinney, 26. William Nash, 19. Jim Wray, 22. John Young, 17.

Around the world, the struggle for civil rights continues. Internment without trial persists. My friend Arash asks that today we should remember the student activists imprisoned in Iran over the past few weeks. Here are a few of them:

Arash Paknejad (m), Mozandaran University; Saeid Habibi (m), as member of student’s human rights reporters; Anoshe Azadbar (f), Tehran University; Elinaz Jamshidi (f), Azad University of central Tehran student of communication; Mehdi Gerilo (m), Tehran geophysics center; Nader Ahseni (m), Mazandaran University; Behroz karimizade (m), Tehran University; Nasim Soltan-beigi (f), Alame Communication University; Ali Sa`lem (m), Polytechnic University, student of Master degree in polymer; Mohsen Qanim (m), Polytechnic University; Rozbeh Saf-Shekan (m), Tehran University; Yaser (Sadra) Pirhaiaty (m), Shahed University; Saeid Aqam-Ali (m), Yazd University; Ali Kolaee` (m), Azad University of Shahriar City; Amir Mehrzad (m), (high School Student); Hadi Salary (m), Rajaey University; Farshid Ahangaran(m), Rajaey University; Amir Aqai (m), Rajaey University; Milad Omrani (m), Rajaey University; Keivan Amir Eliasy (m), Master of industrial engineer; Soroush Hashem-poor (m), Ahvaz University; Farshad Doosti-poor (m); Sohrab Karimi (m); Javad Alizade (m); Mohammad Salleh Auman (m); Mehdi al-lahyari (m), Sharif industrial University, student of master degree; Rozbehan Amiri (m), Tehran University, Student of computer sciences; Bahram Shojaee (m), Tehran-south Azad University, Student of Chemistry engineer; Saied Aqakhani (m) ;Majid Ashraf Nejad (m); Peiman Piran (m), by other student report about him; Aabed Tavanche (m), Polytechnic University; Soroosh Dastestany (m); Amin Qazaei (m); Bijan Sabaq (m), Mazandaran University; Anahita hosini (f), Tehran University; Morteza Khedmatlo (m); Mohamad Pour Abdol-lah (m), Tehran University; Bita Samimi-zad (f), Polytechnic University; Behzad Baqery (m), Mazandaran University; Soroosh Sabet (m), Sharif University; Morteza Eslahchi (m), Allame University; Mostafa Shirvani (m).

“There is no doubt winter will have an end, And the post of spring will come to our land."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Free Speech For The Taliban!

In his recent Toronto Sun column, Eric Margolis, darling of the anti-war set, wonders aloud: "When did we last see a report filed from the side of the Taliban and its growing number of allies?"

Tell you when I last saw a report filed from the Taliban side. It was that same column written by Eric Margolis. It's the same dirty propaganda he's been dishing out for more than a decade, but this time there's a twist. Turns out the Canadian Forces have been turning captives over to communist torture-prisons in Kabul. Who knew?

To Margolis, the Taliban are not "a terrorist group." They're just poor, misguided, backwards hillbillies. They're "no worse than other Afghans." And it's precisely because of this claptrap that he has emerged as one of the most beloved and most-often-cited authorities of Canada's "anti-war" left. Toronto pseudo-left icon James Laxer considers Margolis a "clear-eyed" foreign policy analyst. Elsewhere he turns up as a "Middle East authority."

Which just goes to show, I guess, that if you stumble blindly leftwards far enough you're bound to find yourself slobbering on the slippers of the extreme right, which is the only way to describe Margolis, an arch-conservative American millionaire, the majority owner of Jamieson's Laboratories, and a founding editor of Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine.

Why Canada's Sun newspapers persist in providing him a platform for his dirty propaganda is a mystery to me.

Monday, January 28, 2008


"In this article I outline the patterns of use for dude, and its functions and meanings in interaction. I provide some explanations for its rise in use, particularly among young men, in the early 1980s, and for its continued popularity since then."

Scott F. Kiesling's paper, published American Speech, Vol. 79, No. 3, Fall 2004, pp. 281-305, is here. The Dude Corpus, with assignment instructions, coding sheet, survey, survey instrument, and links, is here.


It takes one to know one

Over here, we have a self-described True Blue Tory making a convincing case that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his inner circle are "anti-military and, at the very best, weak sisters when it comes to the Afghanistan mission."

Harper and his cronies have worked overtime to undermine General Rick Hillier, says the brave Tory (E.R. Campbell, veteran). He goes on to say the reason Harper has handled the Afghanistan file so badly is "he only considers the mission as a partisan political device that he can use to sow dissention in the ranks of the Liberal Party of Canada. . . his only concern is the next election."

I'd add that the other federal party leaders also seem to care far more about partisan advantage than the well-being of the Afghan people or the Canadian soldiers in their country. But if Campbell's right - and I suspect he's at least pretty close, because I've never seen any evidence that Harper is truly and morally committed to the mission - then there are a number of important implications. Here are two.

1. All the Harper-haters who persist in slagging off General Hillier - who is as decent and honourable a man as Newfoundland ever gave us, which is saying something - are saps, and they've been playing Harper's game for him from the get-go.

2. Not only is it stupid and wrong to call the Afghan mission "George Bush's war," it isn't "Stephen Harper's war" either. I'm with Mark Collins. It's Ban Ki-Moon's war (the argument is advanced here).

And I'm with Ban Ki-Moon.

I've also been a fan of Hillier from the minute he got himself into trouble for calling the Taliban "scumbags and murderers." I like people who use the language of common speech to make their points. I'm rather less impressed with the all the people who protested that Hillier's comment would give "offence" to Muslims. You'd have to have a horribly low opinion of Muslims to think something like that.

Here's Hillier today.

As always, regards to Le Tendence Torchiste.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Story of Larry Kwong: Bellhop, Shipyard Worker, Grocer, Hockey Player, Hero.

Sixty year ago, on March 13, 1948, in the cramped visitors dressing room at the old Montreal Forum, he slipped a blue sweater over his thin frame, the number 11 on its back, the letters RANGERS spilling across the chest.

Little Larry Kwong, who had been born in Vernon, B.C., one of 15 children, who fell in love with hockey by listening to the radio in the apartment above the family's grocery store, who, in fact, carried the name of the store - Kwong Hing Lung (Abundant Prosperity) - rather than the venerable family name of Eng, was about to make his National Hockey League debut.

He spent the entire first period at the end of the bench. He spent the entire second period at the end of the bench.

He spent most of the third period at the end of the bench.

Finally, coach Frank Boucher gave the signal. Mr. Kwong leaped over the boards. His shift lasted about a minute. He returned to the bench.

The first player of Asian ancestry to skate in the National Hockey League had launched - and, though he did not yet know it, ended - his major league career.

He never got another chance, not even to sit on the bench.

That's from Tom Hawthorn's most recent column in the Globe and Mail. And it got me to thinking about a couple of things.

The first was that these are the kinds of stories you sometimes encounter if you spend any time hanging around with Todd Wong, and I'm kicking myself because I'm not going to be able to make it to see Todd once again transform himself into Toddish McWong tomorrow night in Vancouver at the 10th anniversary of the Gung Haggis Fat Choy Chinese New Year - Robbie Burns Night celebration, a tradition with roots in Vancouver's Chinatown Robbie Burns Day, which goes back to the 1920s.

I won't be able to avail myself of the specially-ordered Guinness or the Johnny Walker Red. I will miss stomping my feet to this great band. There will be no haggis su-mei or Scotland The Brave singalongs for me. I'll just have to wait to hear eyewitness reports of what this wild man got up to.

But I'm told there may still be tickets available, so if anyone reading this is going to be anywhere near Vancouver on Sunday and has any sense at all they will get their tickets here now, and go.

But the main thing Tom Hawthorn's Globe column about Larry Kwong got me to thinking about was Tom Hawthorn. We were out for pints with some mates the other night and Tom and I got to talking about the great Jimmy Breslin, and I'd forgotten just how much Tom admired Breslin. I'd forgotten how much I'd admired Breslin. I wondered what had become of him, and Tom brought this story to my attention, from last week's New York Times.

Then it occurred to me.

Let's say by some magic Tom Hawthorn and Jimmy Breslin had been free agents floating around the universe and the Gods had traded them differently. Let's say Hawthorn had been plunked down to begin his vocation as a copyboy in New York 60 years ago. And Breslin had started out as some teenage kid in the late 1970s, in student newspapers and weeklies in Canada.

I'd have been out for pints with some mates the other night, and I'd have ended up talking about great writers - really solid reporters - with Breslin. And he'd have said, you know, that Tom Hawthorn. What an inspiration, that guy. Hell of a writer.

Have a read of some of Hawthorn's more recent stories here.

You'll see what I mean.

Friday, January 25, 2008

About "a piece of paper on which it was written that I had been sentenced to death."

A young Afghan journalist is now facing the death penalty for blasphemy, and it's just the latest incident in an ongoing campaign of intimidation against journalists in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh was sentenced to death in a closed trial in a lower court in the northern region of Balkh. He was allowed no legal counsel. He wasn't even allowed to speak.

“It was about four p.m. when guards brought me into a room where there were three judges and an attorney sitting behind their desks. There was no one else,” Kambakhsh told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

“The death sentence had already been written. I wanted to say something, but they would not let me speak. They too said nothing. They just handed me a piece of paper on which it was written that I had been sentenced to death. Then armed guards came and took me out of the room, and brought me back to the prison.”

Kaambakhsh, a third-year journalism student at Balkh University, reports for the Jahan-e-Naw newspaper in Mazar-e-Sharif. He was arrested last October on charges of distributing "anti-Islamic propaganda" in the form of an article that originated in Iran that questioned the legitimacy of the Koran's unequal treatment of men and women.

But Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Kaambakhsh’s brother, says even that isn't true. Ibrahim, a law student at Balkh University, is also a journalist. He's a staff reporter for IWPR.

Observers say it may well be that the Afghan clerics who sentenced Kaambakhsh are in fact attempting to silence Ibrahimi, who has written critically of regional warlords and government officials. A recent report co-authored by Ibrahimi makes the case that after six years of slow but steady progress on the free-speech front in Afghanistan, 2007 turned out to be the worst year for the suppression of the press since the 2002 liberation.

Padraig Reidy, from Index on Censorship, has written a report here.

Kaambakhsh's case is at least getting some global attention now that the lower court verdict is in, but it certainly would be nice to hear some Canadian voices, particularly Stephen Harper's and those of the Opposition leaders, raised in protest. Our soldiers are not dying in that country to safeguard this kind of tyranny.

I first raised Kaambakhsh's case almost two weeks ago, to provide some context for all the hyperbole surrounding Ezra Levant's troubles, about which Alan Borovoy has now had more than a few intelligent things to say.

I'm a great admirer of Borovoy, with whom I notoriously share a nostaligia for "the memory of North America’s tough-minded democratic Left" as well as an antipathy to the hard-line, conservative approach to refugee claimants - an approach that casts such a wide net in the effort to keep Canada free of terrorists that it also excludes "asylum seekers who are legitimate freedom fighters from totalitarian regimes."

I'm still not 100 per cent convinced by his position on free-speech, though. I'm more inclined to the slightly different position set out here. Context is everything. But for now, at least, I'm going with Borovoy regardless. He's way, way smarter that I am.

Speaking of the proper context in which to place hyperbole about "state persecution" in Canada, can we please at least bear a thought or two next Wednesday for the dozens of student activists the thug regime in Iran has jailed in recent weeks?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

UN's Ban Ki-Moon Says Troops-Out Stance "Almost More Dismaying" Than Taliban

To my knowledge, this is unprecedented.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in an essay about Afghanistan written specially for the Toronto Globe and Mail, has quite properly called the bring-the-troops-home position as "almost more dismaying" than the opportunism of the fascist thugs preying upon on the people of Afghanistan. The troops-out position is a "misjudgment of historic proportions," he writes.

Mark Collins noticed it first. It follows from this.

It's not the first time the UN Secretary-General has appealled to NATO-ISAF countries to maintain their combat-troop levels in Afghanistan to ensure the country doesn't revert to “a host for terrorist and extremist groups.” But this latest appeal was far more frank, candid, plain-spoken and stern than anything he's said to date, that I'm aware of.

After the Secretary-General's blistering rebuke, is it really possible to continue to take anyone seriously who says things like "It's time to move NATO troops out, and UN peacekeepers in"? (Mark C. was also early in noticing the peculiarity of that).

How many more UN resolutions on the subject do we need?

Are we really going to be such suckers as to allow ourselves to be convinced that we should just ignore everything that's really going on here and instead engage in ridiculous word-search exercises to determine how many sentences of the Independent Panel Report John Manley "plagiarized from himself" in his own earlier writings?

How many days will it be before videos start showing up on Youtube with grim music and grainy pictures of Manley and his fellow panelists and images of the pyramid on the U.S. $1 bill and a blackened hole in the side of the Pentagon, closing with a Star of David superimposed upon the UN flag?

Meanwhile, this is very encouraging. Like I said here: There's still hope.

UPDATE: What Ian King said.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

John Manley's Afghanistan Panel Report And The Historic Mission of The Left

From my column today in The Tyee:

. . . The Afghan people want democracy, they want to control their own destiny, and they want peace, security, and jobs. They're fed up to the teeth with all the savage misogynists and gunmen and religious fanatics who persist in terrorizing them. They don't want the Taliban back. And they want us to stay until we've finished our work there.

Inconveniently, this completely contradicts the fashionable caricature of the Afghan people as incorrigibly reactionary and irredeemably priest-ridden basketcases who want nothing of democracy or modernity and want Canadian soldiers the hell out, fast.

It's something that Manley's panelists also noticed. "Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do," the panel report states, "there was never any hesitation: `We want you to stay; we need you to stay.' ”

This is terribly inconvenient for all the "troops-out" polemicists and their similarly isolationist paleoconservative chums who have so effectively framed Canada's public discourse about Afghanistan to date.

But it is a fact, nonetheless. And no less inconvenient for the "anti-war" left is the fact that the Afghan people are waging a liberation struggle. They're fighting imperialism - of an Islamist kind. They're fighting for democracy, for literacy, and for the rule of law, and against barbarism, obscurantism and oppression.

Just ask them.

This truth is especially inconvenient for the left, precisely because this struggle is what used to be called the historic mission of the left.

Was on about all this last night on Rob Breakenridge's World Tonight (Calgary's CHQR) as well.

Here is the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee submission to the Manley panel. The panel report is here.

Here are the founding members of the Solidarity Committee. Any similarity between that list and the Canadians who signed the Euston Manifesto is not purely coincidental.

The submission to the panel from Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan is here.

The Senlis Council response is here.

This is a perfect illustration of the difficulty Afghans are up against (as are Canadians, but in a different way).

In the Toronto Star, Chantel Hebert neatly sums up the predicament facing Canadian voters who care about Afghanistan. The main choice is between "a prime minister whose management of a defining foreign policy file has been found wanting and a leader of the opposition whose plan for its future has been dismissed as half-baked by one of his own elder statesmen."

Here's something for all you conspiracy theorists: The Manley Report Was An Inside Job. I see my old comrade Mike Byers is finding it handy for his purposes, and I'm sure it will provide enormous assistance to all those whose method of avoiding unpleasant facts is to simply change the subject.

Rosie DiManno: No retreat, no surrender. Christie Blatchford: "In other words, this is worth fighting for, and not just in that shattered country over there, but in this one."

I was going say something smartass about the subtle pattern emerging here: women talking sense on the subject and men talking out their arses - with the exception of such men as Mark Collins, who keys in on the guts of the report. But something wrecked it for me, a thing that is also really funny: After warning yesterday that ISAF's "Christian/Crusader heritage" will provoke more jihadist attacks in Afghanistan, today Green Party leader Elizabeth May cautions against characterizing internationalist intervention there as "a clash of civilizations or, worse, religions."

This is completely unrelated, but it also made me laugh.

Required viewing:

Elevating the debate in Canada about our role in Afghanistan will produce a kind of cacophany at first, but bad songs have to be drowned out by good songs. This is not required viewing, but it sure illustrates the point nicely: Play the Marseillaise. Play it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"I'm Happy Tonight. I'm Not Worried About Anything. I'm Not Fearing Any Man..."

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday down there in the United States. It is so because the American working class made it so.

It’s useful to remember that what MLK accomplished, he accomplished in alliance with trade unionists. It is also proper to recall that the reason he was in Memphis that day 40 years ago when he was assassinated was to demonstrate solidarity with striking members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The movement to establish a holiday in MLK’s memory sprang from the labour movement. Its beginnings can be traced to 1969, when a small group of workers at a General Motors plant in New York refused to work on MLK’s birthday, and the bosses backed down when a larger group walked out in solidarity with the GM workers. Hospital workers in New York won MLK’s birthday as a contract holiday later that year, then followed other hospital workers, then 80,000 dressmakers. By 1973, union leader Cleveland Robinson was urging his members to take the day off “regardless of contractual obligations or permissions of employers,” and his union pledged its full resources to any worker punished for doing so.

And so the movement grew. One state after another established Martin Luther King Day as a statutory holiday, and the labour movement’s support for Jimmy Carter’s successful presidential bid in 1976 resulted in the declaration of MLK Day as a federal holiday.


Canada's Future Role In Afghanistan: Independent Panel (Manley) Report Imminent

The Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan, headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, is about to release its report, probably tomorrow. The panel is expected to recommend that Canada's military engagement continue to 2011 - a course of action the National Post suggests could be suicidal for Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

In any event, it is the course of action recommended by the newly formed Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee in
its submission to the panel, which I am proud to say I co-authored. I'm less proud of my inattention to the work of helping to get the Solidarity Committee properly set up. The website is a work in progress. We haven't even issued a news release yet.

But I am certainly very proud of all those people who have committed themselves to the Solidarity Committee's basic position on the question of Canada's role in Afghanistan: "Stay. Human rights are universal. The UN wants us there. A military component is vital and necessary." I'm perhaps especially proud of my friends on the left who have committed themselves to this position, which is heretical and wildly unpopular in many leftist circles these days.

For me, the key statement in the Solidarity Committee's position is this one:

We recognize the conflict in Afghanistan as a liberation struggle, waged by the Afghan people and their allies, against oppression, against obscurantism, illiteracy, and the most brutal forms of misogyny. It is a fight for democracy, and for peace, order, and good government. It is also a struggle waged by the sovereign Government of Afghanistan, a member state of the United Nations, against illegal armed groups that seek to overturn the democratic will of the Afghan people. In Afghanistan, the great global struggle for the recognition and protection of basic human rights – universal rights - is being waged with a particular and necessary ferocity. We cannot and must not retreat from that struggle.

Across the board, the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee is fine company to be keeping. Its founding members are:

Zachary Miles Baddorf, Journalist in Vancouver; Colette Belanger, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WA) Board of Directors, Simon Bessette, LL.B candidate, University of New Brunswick; Melaney Black, CW4WA, Victoria; Natalie K Bjorklund, MD, University of Manitoba; Marc-Andre Boivin, researcher, Université du Québec à Montréal Peacekeeping research group member; John Boon, Liberal Party activist; Ken Bryant, Associate Professor, Asian Studies, University of British Columbia; Jennifer Button, CW4WA – Victoria; Iona Campagnolo, PC, CM, OBC, Former Lt. Gov., British Columbia; Dominic Cardy, NGO director, Nepal, New Brunswick New Democratic Party; Mark Collins, Canadian Embassy, Kabul, 1975-77; Natasha Cowan, McGill University, business graduate; Stewart John Cunningham, Sess. Instructor, Historical Studies, U of T Mississauga; Steven Davis, Academics for Higher Education and Development, Montreal; Judith Desautels, Supporter, CW4WA, Amnesty International; Janice Eisenhauer, Executive Director, CW4WA; Lois Edwards, CW4WA, Manitoba; Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims, peace and gender researcher on Afghanistan; L. Chris Fox, Doctoral Candidate, University of Victoria; Paul Franks, Professor, Philosophy, University of Toronto; John Fraser, P.C., O.C., O.B.C., C.D., Q.C., LL.D. (Hon.); Terry Glavin, Author, journalist, adjunct professor, UBC; Stephen Glanzberg, law student; Sanja Golic, MA researcher (Afghanistan education); Robert Gillies, Citizen, Toronto, Ontario; Richard Gordon, MD, Professor, University of Winnipeg (Books with Wings); Robert Harlow, Novelist, British Columbia; Najia Haneefi, Former Executive director, Afghan Women's Education Centre, Kabul; Daniel King, President, Conservative McGill; Ian King, Journalist, Columnist, Vancouver; Robert D. Lane, Res. Associate, Phil. & Religion, Malaspina U College; OJ Lavoie, Environment activist, McGill University; Jill Leslie, CW4WAfghan - Victoria Chapter; Bruce Lyth, British Columbia Young Liberals, vice-president; Flora MacDonald, PC, CC, O. Ont.Chair of CARE Canada; Dave Mann, Brantford, Ontario New Democrat, Euston Canada; Mark Masongsong, Liberal Party activist; Doug McArthur, Professor of Public Policy, SFU; Jim Monk, Ontario gay rights, trade union activist; Gareth Morley, Lawyer, Victoria; Jonathon Narvey, Journalist, editor, copywriter, Vancouver; Lyle Neff, Poet, journalist, critic, Vancouver; Lauryn Oates, Vice-president, CW4WA; Tom O'Neill, Associate Professor, Social Sciences, Brock University; David A. Pariser, Professor, Art Education, Concordia University; Ben Parfitt, Journalist, researcher, Victoria; Stan Persky, Writer, philosophy instructor, Capilano College; Karim Qayumi, Afghan-Canadian community leader, Professor, Director of Excellence for Surgical Education and Innovation, Vancouver; John Richards, Professor, Public Policy Program, SFU; Ferooz Sekandarpoor, Production Manager, Ariana (Afghan) TV, Vancouver; Madeliene Tarasick, CW4WA, Kingston; Beryl Wasjman, Institute for Public Affairs – Montreal; Axel Van Den Berg, Professor, Sociology, McGill University; Morton Weinfeld, Sociology professor, McGill University; Ariana Yaftali, Afghan-Canadian, Manitoba.

Stay tuned. Visit the site from time to time. Join. Open to all Canadians.

Cloverfield Was An Inside Job

Those lovable, wacky Americans.

The movie hasn't been out for a week yet, and in the judgment of critic Roger Friedman, with the right-wing Fox News: "Cloverfield was truly made by California movie people. No one in New York would ever be this insensitive." Suddenly Fox News cares about hurting people's feelings?

Meantime, over at the fashionably blue-state Salon, the otherwise insightful
Stephanie Zacharek says the film "harnesses the horror of 9/11 - specifically as it was felt in New York - and repackages it as an amusement-park ride. . . Cloverfield takes the trauma of 9/11 and turns it into just another random spectacle at which to point and shoot."

With those bases covered, all that's left to wait for now is a review in ZNet or Counterpunch explaining how the gigantic spider-monster thing that destroys Manhattan is just the latest Zioconazi propaganda effort to further cover up the 9-11 Bu$h-BLiar false flag operation and make everyone so scared they won't vote for Ron Paul.

Maybe my expectations of Hollywood are just too low, but I didn't think the movie was all that bad. It's got scary explosions, mayhem, shoot-em-ups, babes, monstrous enemies - everything American cinema does well.

Save yourselves! Run for your lives!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Eric G. Wilson: In Praise of Melancholy And Against the Happiness of the Status Quo

"Melancholia, far from a mere disease or weakness of will, is an almost miraculous invitation to transcend the banal status quo and imagine the untapped possibilities for existence. Without melancholia, the earth would likely freeze over into a fixed state, as predictable as metal. Only with the help of constant sorrow can this dying world be changed, enlivened, pushed to the new."

So he says, and persuasively. To which I could add that if all you wanted was to be simply "happy" you would have no use for the great Corkman Iarla O Lionaird and what he accomplishes with his sublime rendition of Lament of the Three Marys, accompanied by a small choir of singers who might be Scots, except for Mary Black, who is recognizable, holding the hand of some big fellow in the back. Not for the faint-hearted:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Iran: Death by stoning "a grotesque and unacceptable penalty"

From Amnesty International:

". . .In spite of this gloomy reality, there are grounds to hope that death by stoning will be completely abolished in Iran in the future. Courageous efforts are being made by local human rights defenders in Iran who launched the "Stop Stoning Forever" campaign following the May 2006 stonings in Mashhad. Since they began, their efforts have helped save four women and one man - Hajieh Esmailvand, Soghra Mola’i, Zahra Reza'i, Parisa A and her husband Najaf - from stoning. As well, another woman, Ashraf Kalhori, has had her stoning sentence temporarily stayed.

". . . But these efforts have come at a high price. Campaigners in Iran continue to face harassment and intimidation from the authorities. Asieh Amini, Shadi Sadr and Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, another leading member of "Stop Stoning Forever", were among 33 women arrested while protesting in March 2007 about the trial of five women's rights activists in Tehran."

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ezra Levant Is Not Being Persecuted By The State

I'm not going to bother linking to any of the innumerable cases of derangement and hyperventilation set off by the overnight elevation of Ezra Levant from D-List conservative libertarian to free-speech martyr. Watch his own videos of the event if you like, and join the roughly 200,000 people who have tuned in since last week.

I did, and I'm sorry, but I didn't see a Star Chamber interrogation of a persecuted journalist. I saw a junior civil servant trying to do her job, being harangued and bullied and browbeaten by a lawyer in a nice suit.

I've made it plain that I'm generally against human rights tribunals being used to police reasonable limits on free speech, and I hope and expect Levant will win in his fight with the human rights commission, but I confess that I can't talk myself into becoming a free-speech absolutist. I harbour too much uncertainty about the frontier between the territory where individuals must have a right to say whatever they like, and where the people, by enacting laws, are entitled to tell individuals to shut the hell up. I confess.

Still, I like to think I know the trampling of free speech when I see it, and Ezra's case, prompted by a ludicrous complaint arising from his decision to publish the Motoons in his Western Standard magazine (now a blog), isn't it.

This is a case of a libertarian conservative earning Paypal donations and cult-hero status by successfully going viral in an assault on one of those dreaded tentacles of the state conservative libertarians are always going on about. If it wasn't the Alberta Human Rights Commission it would be the Alberta Labour Relations Board or the Workers Compensation Board. Conservative libertarians are not just against the folly of human rights tribunals trespassing upon free speech questions they have neither the competence nor the jurisdiction to adjudicate. They're against human rights tribunals.

This is the same Ezra Levant, let's not forget, who expressed rather less than absolute support for the free speech rights of nutcase Vancouver imam Younus Kathrada not long ago. Not charging Kathadra, who'd been giving out of himself about Jews being related to monkeys and pigs and so on, would be a misguided act of political correctness, Levant wrote. "He should be made an example of, not have excuses made for him. Justice calls for it."

This same Ezra Levant is himself not above bullying when it comes to the free speech rights of people who think he's a jerk. As Warren Kinsella puts it: "The fraud, in this case, is my friend Ezra Levant. He is full of crap, actually."

No matter how the Human Rights Commission rules, Ezra will have full recourse to the courts, and undoubtedly the full support of Canada's national media. If he loses in any way at the commission level, you can bet that the ruling Conservative parties in the province and the country where he is so fortunate to live will come to his aid and his comfort and his cause.

So for all the free speech champions on the right and the left now working themselves into paroxysms about the iron heel of the state in Canada, a question or two.

Where were you when Rafika Tagi and Samira Sadagatogli were sent to jail for publishing the Mohammed cartoons? Did any of you set up a Paypal account for any of the 13 newspapers and magazines shut down for publishing the cartoons in Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia? Have you ever even heard the names Mohammed al-Asadi, Abdulkarim Sabra, or Yehiya al-Abed?

UPDATE: MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Dozens of Afghan journalists and activists on Saturday sought the release of a journalist detained by security officials for allegedly making blasphemous comments. The 23-year-old Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, reporter of Jahan-e Naw daily paper and a journalism student at Balkh University in northern Afghanistan, was detained three months ago. Kambakhsh was accused of mocking Islam and the holy book, the Koran, and for distributing an article which said Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"But if there was hope, it lay in the proles" (Palestinian version):

Support vs. opposition to a peace setttlement with Israel, almost three to one. A two-state or binational state solution vs. a single Palestinian state eliminating Israel, two to one. Voting preference, Hamas: 15 per cent. Main issue of concern is the Israeli occupation: six per cent. Security in Gaza worse since the Hamas takeover: 79 per cent.

And so on. And so on.

"The Lottery. . . was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention."

Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made a living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets. . . But if there was hope, it lay in the proles. You had to cling on to that. When you put it in words it sounded reasonable: it was when you looked at the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of faith.
- Eric Blair covers the primaries.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Blogger-Soldier Andrew Olmsted Speaks From The Grave: "I'm dead. That sucks. . ."

This gives new meaning to the words "Last Post": Major Andrew Olmsted, a regular member of Joe Katzman's crew at Winds of Change, a contributor to Obsidian Wings, and a freelance correspondent of sorts with Colorado's Rocky Mountains News, left a message with friends, to be posted in the event of his death. The U.S Defence Department announced yesterday that Olmsted was killed in Iraq when his unit was attacked by insurgents. Major Olmsted's last post reads, in part:

"I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so."

The torch passes to other hands.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Photograph of the Year, From Israel's 2007 "Local Testimony" Exhibit – Natan Dvir

“Na’im El’iam (36), a Palestinian resident of the Jabalyah Refugee Camp in Gaza, holds the body of his three-month-old son Muhammad. The body is wrapped in blue cloth. On orders of the security forces, Na’im is standing in the parking lot near Erez Checkpoint, which is closed to traffic due to violent confrontations between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza. Na’im El’iam was trying to get home in order to bury his son, who died of a congenital heart defect in Israel’s Tel Hashomer Hospital, after doctors tried to save his life. The Palestinian father arrived at Erez Checkpoint, the main border crossing between Israel and Gaza, just as it was getting dark - a few minutes after a shooting incident between Hamas fighters and Fatah members who were hiding inside the checkpoint. After waiting for the shooting to end and then for his documents and permits to be checked, Na’im El’iam was permitted to cross the checkpoint to the Palestinian side with his son’s body.”

Natan Dvir is a brilliant Israeli photojournalist. His work appears alongside other Israeli artists at the Local Testimony Exhibition, and a gallery provides a glimpse of their work here.

I first encountered Dvir's work via Lisa Goldman, a fine Israeli-Canadian journalist currently under investigation, with two other journalists, under Israel's antique and illogical Prevention of Infiltration law.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 65 journalists and 20 other media workers were killed in direct relation to their work in 2007, the highest death toll in more than a decade.