Sunday, August 31, 2008

On Zombies And Sectarians ("The Left Is Dead")

Some Sunday afternoon reading:

"What does it mean to say, as Platypus does, that “the Left is Dead?”

"It represents the desire for a tabula rasa, for a start from scratch. It is the admission that there is no living tradition, no movement. . . in the form of tiny sectarian groups that have either given themselves to dishonestly cheerleading for the Green and Democratic parties or simply have become antiquarian societies reciting old revolutionary pieties with the mechanical enthusiasm of Hare-Krishna monks; While at the same time the “radicals” and “anarchists” that prescribe dropping out of society by building 'alternative communities' 'outside of capitalism' have rationalized their powerlessness into a lifestyle that poses as politics.

"The Left is dead—and whatever undead elements of it continue to stagger among us deserve to be put down before they demoralize and stupefy a new generation. . . To not be willing to recognize that the Left is dead is to have died with it. As researchers, critics, and historians of the dead Left, which we now put to rest with a deep feeling of gratitude, we hope to be ready to educate a future politics of emancipation."

Dunno about all of it, but some intelligent thought and very careful reflection went into it, all the same.

Brought to my attention by Will.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Guest Post From George Orwell


Leaves of the tulip tree beginning to turn yellow. Sunflowers & gladioli in full bloom. Godetias getting past their best. Mantbretias° coming into full bloom. Elderberries now ripe & bird-shit everywhere deep purple. Purple stains on logs etc. where they have been. Seems difficult to believe that birds digest much of what they eat. The man who keeps the guinea pigs here seems uncertain whether or not they sleep. Says they close their eyes sometimes, but it is uncertain whether they are asleep. First English eating pears today.

George blogs here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Come Back, Salmon (The Theory of Alienation Explained)

The success of fish farming has made traditional salmon fishing obsolete.

The German journalist and philosopher Karl Marx was far too fuzzy: "If the product of labor is alienation, then production itself must be active alienation, the alienation of activity, the activity of alienation. In the estrangement of the objects of labor is summed up the estrangement, the alienation of the laboring activity itself."

Maybe something gets lost in translation there, but my buddy Andrew Struthers, he of First Church of Christ, Filmmaker, explains it perfectly: "This is Dave's boat. This is the bank that owns it now. This is Dave's wife, leaving him. Now, he works in the fish plant, canning the very same salmon that put him out of business. Once, he spent the day looking forward to the blue horizon. Now the only thing he has to look forward to is the next smoke break."

All here, in A Horrific Industrial Accident At A Fish Plant, Circa 1940:

Abie Nathan: Anti-War Activist, Patriot, Humanitarian.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Beloved of the People of Kuz Kunar

In memoriam: Kazuya Ito, 31, kidnapped and murdered by the Taliban. Before his body was found, 500 villagers launched a "massive operation" to try and rescue him.

Ito was an agricultural engineer with the Japanese aid agency Peshawar-kai, which employs 250 Pakistanis and Afghans, and its canal and water supply project in the Dara-e-Noor Valley has turned deserts back into lush green fields, allowing 10,000 people to return to their farms.

Ito was looking forward to the results from the construction of a 14-kilometre canal, which began in 2003.

Peshawar-kai: "Go where others dare not go. Do what others dare not do."

Ito was more precious than ten million of these.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Solidarity With The Baha'i People

"It is our moral obligation to not sit by silently as our fellow brothers and sisters are murdered, imprisoned and denied their rights as citizens due to their personal beliefs."

Good advice:
  • Promote this clip by sharing it with your friends, colleagues, and on social networks.
  • Stay aware of human rights abuses against this innocent minority.
  • Contact your nearest Iranian embassy, expressing your concern over the treatment of Baha’is. We’ve provided a template letter, as well as contact details of embassies worldwide.
  • Learn more about the faith, and be aware that the IRI and officials of other countries like Egypt have launched massive propaganda campaigns against them.
  • Reach out to Baha’is, and keep an open mind.
Thanks to The Archer for bringing this to our attention.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Come All Ye Roman Catholics That Never Went To Mass"

A sordid episode, with a distinctly unpleasant American smell about it, in which Stephane Dion nevertheless handled things honestly, although naively and unconvincingly, and was also wrong: “You see, the Catholics can be relied on to vote Liberal, always, but the Protestants much less so. It’s very difficult to get them to vote for us. I am a Catholic.”

In the last federal election, according to pollster Ipsos Reid, it was only the Protestants who attend to their peculiar rituals every dang week who were demonstrably inclined (64 per cent) to vote Conservative, and the equally preoccupied Roman Catholics were also inclined (42 per cent) to vote Tory, outnumbering the Catholic weekly-mass-goers who voted Liberal (40 per cent).

But even setting aside the foolishly broad sweep of the "Catholics always vote Liberal" assertion, the hubbub raises two points: It illustrates how different we are from the Americans, and it also illustrates how similar we are to Americans in a way that we rarely concede.

Since they started electing their presidents in 1789, the Yanks have elected 43 presidents, allowing only one Roman Catholic (JFK) to do the job, and they killed him. We Canadians have elected 22 prime ministers since Confederation 141 years ago, and nine of them have been Roman Catholics - both Tories and Liberals.

Unlike Americans, Canadians never thought it necessary to erect a constitutional wall of separation between church and state, but generally, we've managed to do at least as good a job of keeping the two apart. Our Catholic prime ministers have tended to be at least nominally anti-clerical (going all the way back to Wilfrid Laurier) and unlike American presidents, all of our Protestant PMs have been, em, normal, until the current bloke. Stephen Harper is the first evangelical prime minister we've ever had, while the Yanks have elected an astonishing assortment of oddballs: Three presidents were from the "Disciples of Christ" church, Richard Nixon was a Quaker, and there was a Jay-Dub in the White House (Eisenhower, who didn't want anyone to know) and Congregationalists as well.

George W. Bush is an evangelical Christist, but evangelicalism is by no means an exclusively "right-wing" phenomenon in America. Jimmy Carter was an evangelical too, and he believed in UFOs for good measure. In Canada, Christian influence in politics is neither a recent nor an American trend. The most overt Christian influences in Canadian politics have come as much from the socialist left as the "Christian right," and it goes back aways. Among the founders of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the social-democratic New Democratic Party), there were many Christian socialists and "social gospel" types, like the CCF's founding grandpappy himself, J.S. Woodsworth This tradition has persisted in the NDP, right up to Bill Blaikie, for instance.

Whether it comes from either the left or the right, I'm with Mr. Dedalus, who says to the priest, in James Joyce's Portrait of he Artist as a Young Man: " I'll pay your dues, Father, when you cease turning the House of God into a polling booth."

But then, I would say that. Having grown up in a devoutly Papish household, I share in a healthy aversion to anyone making speeches of any kind from the pulpit, preferring instead a safely half-literate priest engaging in sacramental ugubugu to his heart's delight, flouncing about with incense, mumbling to himself (Latin was the best), performing a weird conjuring trick with vague ritual-cannibalism associations, and otherwise shutting his big yapper. Notwithstanding my deep and abiding respect for Comrade Hitchens, whose antitheism I condone, there is no better cure for a hangover of a Sunday morning, let me tell you.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Art On Water

Out westward the surf washes across the Lord Luckies.
At Sitka the cathedral bells call out their prophecies.

Above these flames, above this crimson beach,
a shadow rises with the updraft: croanq, croanq, croanq -
the black sanctus rising into the morning sky.

- from Charles Lillard's Closing Down Kah Shakes Creek.

I was put in mind of Lillard when the justifiably proud Guujaw, up in Haida Gwaii, was kind enough to email these photos today of the launch of three new ocean-going canoes, yesterday, coinciding with the grand opening of the Haida Heritage Centre at Kaay Llnagaay (Sea Lion Town).


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Alexandre Trudeau's Racism of Low Expectations

"The Pashtun [people] have extremely different values than ours, values we may not agree with in any case, but it's not our business to try and teach them lessons with weapons," says the celebrity hipster Alexandre Trudeau.

Rubbish on both counts.

The latter assertion is too easy to dismiss, but it needs to be dismissed anyway: Canada is not trying to "teach them lessons with weapons." In just the Pashtun-majority province of Kandahar, Canada is rebuilding a hydroelectric dam, funding the construction of a 100-kilometre highway between Spin Boldak and Kandahar City, funding infrastructure and training for the revival of Kandahar's vineyards, pouring millions into job-creation and alternatives to the opium economy, and pouring more millions into the eradication of polio. Already, Canada has put 5,000 students (mostly women) through basic literacy courses, and trained 170 teachers to keep the work underway, and we've begun prenatal and antenatal care program for Afghan mothers. And that's just a tiny, brief sampling of Canada's "business" among the Pashtuns.

As for Trudeau's disgracefully reactionary and defeatist statement "Afghanistan should be left to its own devices," that is not something that any self-respecting liberal would ever say, and it is most certainly not what the Afghan people say, and it is definitely not what the Pashtun people say.

More than a dozen major public opinion polls, national and regional surveys and focus-group studies clearly demonstrate that Trudeau's opinion is hostile and contrary to Afghan opinion. In this poll, perhaps the most extensive of its kind, 83 per cent cent of Afghans reported a favorable view of even the bomb-happy Americans, and 93 per cent gave favourable ratings to the United Nations' efforts in Afghanistan (Canada's military contribution is part of a UN mission, let's not forget).

The Pashtuns do not have "extremely different values" than Canadians, and even if they did, so what? They clearly have "different values" than Alexandre Trudeau's, mind you: Their political values appear to be more progressive, and more liberal. Given a chance to vote, they trounce the Islamist parties at the polls, and come out in droves to vote for the Red Shirts.

If the news media were to leave Alexandre Trudeau to his "own devices," his opinions would count for nothing, because he has no devices of his own. The only reason he gets attention is that he had a famous dad, who is probably rolling in his grave.

More on the Canadian form of the "racism of low expectations" here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The New "Antifascist": Far-Right Weirdo, 911 Truther, Self-Ordained Pope, Putschist

I see in the Georgia Straight (where I toiled for some years as a columnist and feature writer) that tonight there is an interesting lecture at the Maritime Labour Centre: "U.S. antifascist to warn Vancouverites about dangerous global elites."

It's a profile of retired American Air Force colonel Robert Bowman, who has been busy with a summer-long tour of speaking engagements to "wake people up" about the shadowy billionaires that really run American foreign policy, trade policy, and military policy. In Vancouver, Bowman is expected to adumbrate the victimhood of Canada in these intrigues.

What is left unreported in the Straight article is the very thing for which Bowman is actually most famous: Bowman is perhaps America's most high profile member of the "They Let It Happen" sect among 911 Conspiracy theorists. Also strangely unmentionable is that the sponsor of this evening's event is the Vancouver 911 Truth Society. Not noted either is that Bowman's cross-country jamboree is known as the 911 / Patriot Tour. Absent from the reportage as well is that Bowman's Patriot assemblage, which the Straight describes as "an antifascist group," is in fact a far-right 911 Conspiracy outfit.

Also not divulged in the Straight article is any mention of Bowman's peculiar entanglements in the far-right U.S. Reform Party, and similarly unreported is that Bowman, the executive director of something called Christian Support Ministries, claims to be the real pope, owing to the weird little church he founded and its presumption of successorship to the pre-Aggiornamento Catholic Church. Also not in the Georgia Straight, but here, in Bowman's own words, the former fighter pilot exhorts the US military's officer class to usurp the powers of their rogue president by whatever means, up to and including "the detention of executive branch officials."

How too delightfully antifascist of him.

For more Truther news in the Georgia Straight, see last week's "Calls for Domestic Probe Into 911", or "Councillors Draw Blank on 911 Conference", or my personal favourite: "It’s official. Mayor Sam Sullivan and all 10 city councillors have received invitations and free tickets to the 9/11 Truth Conference."

Make of this what you will. The advice from these guys is to "push them down a flight of stairs":

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"The Lurch Will Have To Be Leftward"

Paul Berman, in TNR:

"American foreign policy since 1989 has rested in significant degree on one large proposition: the notion that America's interest and the progress of liberal democracy around the world are, in the long run, the same. This proposition has always had its critics within the United States. The critics will now multiply. And yet, if America, in listening to those criticisms, lurches in a traditionally conservative direction--if America comes to rely on a policy of conservative realpolitik, meaning, a courting of dictators--a more stable Eastern Europe will still not emerge, nor a more stable Middle East. A conservative lurch by America will only weaken the democrats in other parts of the world--therefore, it will weaken the prospects of America's only dependable friends. A weakening of America's commitment to democratic solidarity will also enfeeble Europe's, and the echo effect will set in. And yet, unless someone offers a vigorous argument in favor of democratic solidarity, a realpolitik conservatism is certain to grow."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

It's All About Oil. Or Something like that.

Consistent with the delusional embarassment that went up at Tyee last week, here's the latest version of the delerium, where the demented logic works in this fashion:

a) "Washington has long promoted a gas pipeline south from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. It would pass through Kandahar."

b) "Realistic or not, construction is planned to start in 2010, and Canadian Forces are committed until December 2011." Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said that if the Taliban attack a pipeline and our troops are still there, "then yes we will play a role."

c) The United States identifies one of its goals in Afghanistan as stabilizing the country, and that includes assisting with energy links through South and Central Asia. Therefore - drum roll, please - we come to. . .

d) "Unwittingly or willingly, Canadian forces are supporting American goals."


There's a second shell game at work in the essay as well:

a) "U.S. strategic thinking is to get other NATO countries involved in guarding the world's oil and gas supplies."

b) Prime Minister Harper says energy security requires "unprecedented international co-operation [in] protecting and maintaining the world's energy supply system."

c) Therefore, "Canada is in danger of being drawn into long-term military commitments relating to energy," which means. . .

d) "Militarizing energy is a long-term recipe for disaster."

Okay then. Let's not. (Sound of crickets).

I do agree with Foster here: "Energy geopolitics are worthy of public discussion."

The problem is that Foster's essay does nothing to contribute to anything even vaguely resembling a rational, sane, sensible public discussion.

Congratulations, Rohullah Nikpai !

"Back home, the news sparked applause, wide smiles and laughter in homes, restaurants and ice cream parlors around the country."

Meanwhile, Beijing authorties have sentenced two women in their late 70s to a year of forced-labour "reeducation" for the crime of asking permission to legally protest the treatment they received when their houses were demolished to make way for the Olympics.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Remembering Sergio and all the others

Today marks the fifth aniversary of the murder of Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 other internationals in Baghdad - a castrophe that doomed the United Nations' efforts to supplant the Anglo-American mission in Iraq with a multilateral, UN-led operation.

Today's anniversary comes hard on the heels of last week's Taliban slaughter of humanitarian aid workers Shirley Case, Nicole Dial, Jackie Kirk and Mohammad Aimal. Also today, a suicide bomber slaughtered at least 43 people, mostly young police recruits, in Algeria, where Al Qaeda in the Magreb has massacred more than 170 people over the past 18 months, including the suicide-bomb murder of 17 UN staff at the UN offices in Algiers. Last month, Osman Ali Ahmed, the head of the UN Development Program in Somalia, was murdered as he was leaving a mosque in Mogadishu. And only yesterday, also in Somalia, extremists killed Abdulkadir Diad Mohamed, a senior official with the UN's World Food Program, which is trying to get food to 2.4 million Somalis over the next four months.

After what happened in Baghdad five years ago, and after all the carnage that has claimed the lives of so many humanitarians and innocent civilians ever since, you'd think that one good thing that might have come from all this is the death of a certain kind of delusion. You'd think that it would fairly evident by now that there are some kinds of enemies who will want to kill you no matter whether you're wearing a blue helmet or a brown one, or whether you're just a brave, unarmed woman, trying to help disabled children get an education.

You'd think it would be clear by now that enemies of this kind will want to kill you whether you are an infidel or not, and whether you are a foreigner or not: Case, Kirk, Dial and Aimal were working for the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan, where all but 10 of the IRC's 600 workers are Afghans, and Muslims.

But the delusion persists, as is most vividly demonstrated by the likes of NDP rising star Michael Byers: "In Afghanistan, it's time to move from a combat-oriented approach to one that focuses on negotiation, peacemaking and nation-building. . . It's time to move NATO troops out, and UN peacekeepers in." And this: "NATO troops should be replaced with UN peacekeepers."

And from NDP leader Jack Layton himself: "The first thing is to make clear that we are taking our troops out. No one takes you seriously unless you're willing to take that step."

In fact, the reason nobody takes the NDP seriously on these questions is precisely because its so-called "anti-war" position is delusional. Nevermind that "NATO Out, UN In" ignores the fact that NATO, leading the International Security Assistance Force, is in Afghanistan at the behest of the UN, and nevermind that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, reflecting on the savagery of the Taliban, says this: "Almost more dismaying is the response of some outside Afghanistan, who react by calling for a disengagement or the full withdrawal of international forces. This would be a misjudgment of historic proportions - the repetition of a mistake that has already had terrible consequences."

Remembering Sergio de Mello in the New York Times today, Samantha Power necessarily points out the obvious: "We cannot return to a pre-8/19 world any more than we can return to a pre-9/11 one. Neither the blue flag nor the red cross is enough to protect humanitarians in an age of terror."

You need soldiers, in other words. Even if the NDP is sincerely and honestly ignorant of that fact and of so many other plain facts of recent history, the vast majority of the Afghan people are not, as the journalist-humanitarian Sarak Chayes, writing from Kandahar, patiently explains to readers of the Globe and Mail last week. The enemy we're up against will hang a 16-year old boy for the crime of working as an apprentice to a driver of a truck that carries humanitarian wheat to Kandahar, for starters. "The Afghans do not support this so-called insurgency. They are its primary targets, Chayes writes.

"Neither the forces fighting the Afghan government, nor ordinary people, make any distinction between international humanitarian workers, the Afghan government, and international military forces. All are seen as part of the same system," Chayes writes. "The vast majority of regular folk desire the presence of these interlocking groups. Anti-government forces, however, are just as hostile to aid workers as they are to soldiers or government officials. The only place as dangerous to be as a NATO military convoy is a clearly marked humanitarian vehicle."

Why, then, does the delusion persist?

In a recent interview, Democratiya editor Alan Johnson put the question to Paul Berman, in this way: "Why do liberals insist on treating pathological mass movements as normal rational political movements with grievances that can be negotiated?"

Read Berman's answer to that and other questions here.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Heading up with my son Conall to the Workers' Republic of Cumberland and then to the Anglers' Paradise of Campbell River, we espied this hearty sentiment:

Dropped off Conall at the Cumberland Time Out festival (best acts - Matisyahu and Delhi 2 Dublin), leaving him in the care of my old chums Mary Alice, wee Levon, and poppa Grant Shilling:

Proceeded to Campbell River, where I gave the keynote address at the three-day Roderick Haig-Brown Centenary Commemorations. I spent a proper splendid time with Her Honour, plus I got to stay at Haig Brown's House, now owned by the Heritage Branch, with David Anderson and my pal Vicky Husband. Here's the house, and Vicky on the porch:

Then Back to Cumberland, and as is my custom there I paid my respects at the grave of socialist martyr Ginger Goodwin, whose murder sparked Canada's first general strike:

And reflected on the world that Goodwin and all the other brothers and sisters of his time made for us. More than 250 workers died in the Cumberland mines. Now, here's my Conall, just 14, learning how to use those stilt things:

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Special Kind of Pathology

Supporting the "heroic resistance". . .

From the United States, word comes that the Russian invasion of Georgia is George Bush's fault. From the UK, we learn that it's about NATO's aggression, and Israel is vaguely responsible, too. Here in Canada, it turns out that the humanitarians slaughtered earlier this week in Afghanistan were really working for some sort of CIA outfit, leading to the logical conclusion: "I don't care if the entire insurgency is led by and equal to the Taliban. The Afghan people fighting against Canada and the U.S. and NATO enjoy my unqualified support, no matter what ideas they have floating around in their heads, and no matter how they treat each other. Any 'condition' put on that is support for Bush and Harper."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Comrades On Campus

A group of students at the University of British Columbia has come together to establish a campus chapter of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.

Motto: "For a responsible Canadian foreign policy and solidarity with the oppressed."

Basis of Unity: "The rebuilding of Afghanistan is a noble and justified cause, consistent with our broad Canadian values of democracy and human rights. We recognize the military aspect is a vital, but not sufficient, component of this mission."

Blog: Here.

"Yeh Hum Naheen": A United Stand Against Terrorism

After the heartbreak of this act of savagery, it's encouraging to know that while the Taliban's barbarism has spread across their country, more than 60 million Pakistanis have signed a petition against terrorism. More precisely, at last count: 62, 809,427 signatures. As with this, and this, hope lies in the proles:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First, A Brave Soldier's Story. Then, We Examine A Delusion.

My decision to deploy to Afghanistan was, more than any other reason, made after learning about the country’s almost incomprehensible infant, child, and maternal mortality rates. 

Approximately 1,900 mothers die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth per 100,000 live births – second only to Sierra Leone for the worst maternal mortality ratio in the world.

In an Afghan woman’s lifetime, she has a one-in-eight chance of dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. . .

Read it all here. It's a heartbreaking but hopeful report from Tylere Couture, one of the bravest and best of my comrades in the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee. Be warned, though. It really is heartbreaking.

I should probably also warn you in advance before reading this, in Tyee (an online daily for which I'm still officially a columnist, although I've had cause to stay away for a while) that you'll want a strong stomach, especially if you know some basic facts about Afghanistan (it is not a country in the Middle East, for instance).

I was reminded of the Tyee piece by Tylere's essay, not just because of the dramatic contrast in clarity, honesty, competence and tone, but also by Tylere's conclusion: "I hope that in Canada we will begin to discuss more issues like this, as opposed to so many debates on the value of our presence in Afghanistan becoming plagued with partisan arguments on false extremes."

I hope so too. "Partisan arguments on false extremes" would be a charitable way to describe the Tyee column, which is so bad that I have to confess that I feel a sincere sympathy for its author, Murray Dobbin. I can't remember the last time I witnessed anyone so absurdly thrashing about, so painfully far out of his depth on a subject. Reading it is almost like watching a grown man drown in a child's inflatable play-pool, and I couldn't help wincing in embarrassment for him. It is as though the Tyee site was hacked by some especially witty right-wing smart-alec who left behind a parody of an "anti-war" polemic. It is that bad.

Dobbin's column sets out to argue that the Afghan mission may have transformed Canada in some dramatic, historic, way. Maybe so, but Dobbin never actually gets around to presenting any factual evidence to support this claim. You can't say there's anything really factual about Canada's "massive increases in military spending, completely distorting the role of government," because in fact, Canada's current military spending is 1.1 per cent of GDP, about an eighth of what it was in the 1950s, and a smaller GDP share than even the early 1990s. You know who spends almost twice as much on their military, per capita, as Canada? The tiny wee precious Netherlands.

So what other evidence for Canada's horribly "Americanized" culture does Dobbin offer? Apparently, Canadian soldiers have been observed in attendance at "cultural events." Are we supposed to be sad that there was an official Canadian Forces contingent that marched in the recent Toronto Gay Pride parade? This does not make me sad. It makes me happy, and proud to be a Canadian, and acutely alert to just how unAmericanized we are in this country, in light of the fathomless unlikelihood of any such parade entrants being spotted any time soon, at any civic celebration of any sort, anywhere in Americaland. And what did the CBC do wrong, anyway? Did the CBC broadcast film of these soldiers being warmly welcomed in the parade? Is that a bad thing?

I laughed out loud at the bit about Karzai, the U.S. puppet and narco-president who has no base of support in his country: Karzai was wildly popular when he won the presidency, and as recently as last year his approval rating was 71 per cent (pdf), a miracle even The Lord Our God Obama should never be expected to conjure.

Then the bit about how Afghanistan is "threatening to become an even wider regional conflict involving Pakistan": Where has poor Dobbin been all these years? The Afghan agony has been part of "a wider regional conflict" for decades, and Pakistan has always been a central protagonist and a key predator in that conflict. The Taliban itself was pretty well a creation of Pakistan's intelligence service. Pakistan's ISI funded and armed the initial Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and Pakistan provides the safe havens from which the Taliban mounts its assaults, even now.

The main thrust of Dobbin's effort seems to be to create the illusion of a "real reason" Canada is in Afghanistan that the rest of us are too dumb to have figured out, and these exertions cause him to lose himself utterly in the netherworld of Truther, Illuminati, and Ziocon Conspiracy territory. Apparently, the reason we're in Afghanistan has got nothing to do with the fact that Canada is a member of the United Nations, and is a responsible and wealthy democracy, and is consequently one of the roughly 40 member countries in the UN-sanctioned International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. No, it's nothing to do with all that. It's because of "the American pipeline." That's right, kids. It's all about oil. Always was. It's all about "the pipeline the U.S. has wanted all along."

Just one problem. This Unocal oil pipeline? There is no such pipeline.

It doesn't exist. There are no plans for this pipeline to exist. It never existed, and Karzai never worked for Unocal, either - that's yet another urban legend the Skull and Bones obsessives have been trafficking ever since a single inaccurate and mistranslated sentence (which was immediately refuted) appeared in Le Monde several years ago. It's a bit like that bubble-headed Roswell alien in the Youtube videos. Je suis désolé. Il n'existe pas.

This doesn't stop Dobbin, though. Nevermind the real work that Tylere Couture and so many of his fellow soldiers are really doing in Kandahar. Dobbin says that what Tylere and his fellow soldiers are actually up to is the sordid work of providing "a private protection force for the American pipeline." And who is the unimpeachable authority Dobbin cites to back these weird and outlandish claims? Eric Margolis, for mercy's sake. Margolis is one of Dobbin's favourite authorities - Dobbin quotes him all the time - so it might be helpful to know that this drooling crackpot, probably the closest thing to an all-out neo-fascist writing in the Canadian media these days, is a Taliban-admiring, snake-oil selling, Yankee millionaire lunatic and a founding editor of Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine.

But here's where it gets worse than just funny, and where I almost hurt for Dobbin.

There really are plans for a pipeline. Two, in fact. But neither are oil pipelines - they're proposed natural gas pipelines, and neither are American. One exists on the drawing boards of energy planners working for Ahmadinejad's Iran, if you don't mind. You just can't get any less "American" than that. The Iranians want to sell natural gas to India. The other pipeline exists in the hopes of a consortium involving Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

If either of these pipelines ever gets built - which is a huge "if" to begin with - construction isn't expected to start until at least 2010. Canadian soldiers have no mandate to be in Kandahar beyond 2010. The gas won't be going to American markets, remember. It's Muslim gas from Muslim countries going through Muslim countries in Muslim pipelines, making money for Muslim governments. Ah yes, but a cunning Crusader ploy, Dobbin might ask us to surmise. But why, exactly, are these pipeline projects such bad ideas? Why are we supposed to be so sad?

Either pipeline would generate welcome revenues for the Afghan treasury. Even if it were true that Canadian soldiers just might be called upon to help with security for pipeline construction workers, or to patrol the pipeline right-of-way at some almost impossibly unforeseeable future date, I just can't seem to bring myself to regard this remote possibility as any more distressing than the sight of gay Canadian soldiers turned out in uniform for a parade in Toronto. Sorry. No sale.

I could go on and on, but it's just not worth taking the column that seriously. I'm already starting to feel cruel.

One last thing, though. Say Dobbin's right, and the Afghan mission really has changed Canada in some historic, fundamental way. How will historians look back on these times, and what big shift in the nature of Canada will they see?

It is my fear that the smart historians will notice that it was in Afghanistan that the Canadian Left's progressive internationalism died, and was buried, after autopsies revealed the cause of death as the replacement of international solidarity and socialist polemics with delusional windbaggery and the rote citing of neo-fascist drivel. Maybe we will even look back and remember the Afghan conflict as that critical historical moment when the mainstream "Left" in Canada ceased to be an effective force for progress entirely, and instead became a force of reaction and an irrelevant echo chamber for conspiracy theories and urban legends.

I certainly hope not. But you never know.

Meanwhile, in Kandahar, seeing to the enrolment of just one woman in a maternal and infant-health course is not just a profoundly meaningful and concrete act of solidarity, and it's not just an expression of progressive internationalism, either. It's a revolutionary act.

Over the past nine months, thanks the efforts of soldiers like Tylere Couture and rest of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, Kandahar's Department of Public Health has delivered maternal and infant-health courses to about 800 women. That's 800 little revolutions.

So go right ahead and wring your hands about the Americanization of Canada, and feel free to wet your pants about imaginary pipelines while you're at it. There's work to be done, now, and that's why I'm sticking with people like Tylere Couture: Idealist, progressive, essayist, soldier.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hey. This Reminds Me Of Something.

Russia on Monday was pushing thousands of soldiers with dozens of tanks and multiple rocket launchers towards Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. Russia's military is giving priority to Uragan (Hurricane) multiple rocket launchers on the serpentine mountain roads near Buron, just north of the Russian border with South Ossetia, the Reuters reporter said. Dozens of mostly T-72 battle tanks are sliding towards the border with some older T-62 tanks.

A sufficiently correct line is here. Some context for the latest eruption of Russian imperialism may be found in a report I filed for the Ottawa Citizen from the Republic of Buryatia, here. And here's a wee film clip taken by yours truly, while suffering a hangover in Khabarovsk, a while back:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"On The Violence of Multiculturalism"

Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek: Without common, shared customs - what George Orwell called "everyday decency" - and a larger, encompassing community identification that is deeper than our individual and particular identities, then you can't have multiculturalism, and you won't have democracy, either. We should fight for universal values, and a common civility. "This is the lesson the Left has to learn." Here:

On the many ideological problems of what is known as "tolerance," which is in fact "an impossible liberal blackmail":

The Post-Left: An Archeology and a Genealogy

Gabriel Noah Brahm Jr: "Out of the jaws of victory – near-consensus on the superiority of human rights, political freedom, and individual liberty – the post-left sought to snatch defeat. 9/11 was our fault and Islamism was now 'the resistance'. The emergent post-left would thus come to be defined by its willingness to apologise for suicide mass-murderers, misogynist theocrats, and antisemites. When this new ingredient was added to last century's 'leftovers' – postmodernist cultural relativism, post-Marxism, postcolonial theory – the result was something qualitatively 'other' to all canons of traditional leftwing progressivism. All the departures ('post'-this and 'post'-that) had added up. A post-left was born.

"What about previous betrayals of principle on the left, you ask? For sure, Stalin and Mao were hardly pikers in their day, yet this was different. The totalitarians of yore at least kept their agendas for murder somewhat hidden. One could debate the gap between 'means and ends' and be 'surprised' by 'revelations'. Islamists, by contrast, announce their hideous agenda openly; the ends are worse than the means; and the means are a foul new kind of suicide mass-murder terrorism. No. That is not a left by any definition."

More terrific summer reading here. Then back to work:

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Alliance for Workers Liberty: Against Ahmadinejad's Bombs

"The drive by the Iranian regime to acquire nuclear weapons is a drive to achieve the power to inflict mass murder. Any socialist who wants them to acquire that power abandons the ground of socialism entirely and becomes a native or vicarious Iranian or Islamic chauvinist."

The AWL's forthright analysis casts a cold light on a very real problem for the Left in Canada, where the "anti-war" movement was long ago transformed into the primary platform for Iranian and Islamic chauvinism in this country (instead of advocating for real peace initiatives). It's gotten so that you can't even tell the "anti-war" leadership apart from outright Khomeinists. If it isn't Khomeinist Zafar Bangash standing in as a spokesman for the Toronto Stop The War Coalition, it's James Clark of the Canadian Peace Alliance sharing guest-speaker billing with anti-semites at celebrations sponsored by the Iranian theocracy.

Don't be telling me that the AWL is exaggerating, either. It is now commonplace to encounter the proposition, as AWL puts it, that "Iran’s right to have nuclear weapons is an inalienable part of their right to self-determination." Here's how they put it over at "Hands Off Iran": "There is no doubt a sovereign and independent Iran has the right to trade with whatever countries it chooses, to explore possible energy supplies, including nuclear energy, and even to prepare for self-defense with nuclear weapons."

August 6-9, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.

Friday, August 08, 2008

George Orwell begins blogging tomorrow. . .

. . .and will continue blogging for the next four years.

"The entries' four-year span covers the descent of Europe into the Second World War and Orwell's travels in Morocco following the injuries he sustained fighting in the Spanish Civil War."

The blog, established by the people who oversee the Orwell Prize, in association with the Media Standards Trust, the Orwell Trust and Political Quarterly, will appear here.

The Orwell Prize is actually two annual prizes: one's a book prize, and the other is a journalism prize. Visitors to this here web lodge may be familiar with such Orwell book prize winners as Michael Ignatieff, Francis Wheen and Michael Collins, and the journalism prize winners Timothy Garton-Ash, David Aaronovitch, and this year's winner, Johann Hari.

The (almost) complete works of George Orwell are now on-line, here.

UPDATE: I see Max Fawcett has ventured bravely into a "What Would George Say?" sort of speculation, a very risky enterprise, although I can't see all that much to disagree with except for 1) A rather rash assumption that Orwell would have anything less than contempt for the likes of Robert Fisk 2) a dubious characterization of Orwell's colonial service as merely a "rite of passage" common among young men of his generation (Orwell was born in Motihari, after all), and 3) a misreading of Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, owing to a failure to distinguish between Berman on Islam, and Berman on Islamism. Still, good for Max.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

"On The Murder Mile"

"Mention brutal suppression of Chinese workers’ labour rights, appalling working conditions, detention without charge, the absence of an independent judiciary, absence of freedom of assembly, hastily expedited death sentences which feed the organ transplant market … and the occupation of so-called ‘autonomous’ regions such as Tibet, and opponents will focus on Tibet to the exclusion of all other charges. Essentially, the contention is that if one opposes the Chinese military industrial complex’s occupation of Tibet (and let’s not talk about any of those other things you mentioned), then one must necessarily favour restoration of a Lamaist theocracy — as if the only alternatives are dictatorship … or dictatorship. Any criticism of the Chinese dictatorship is part of a ‘racist’ ‘culture war’ and a conscious attempt to strengthen the hand of American imperialism. And besides, Beijing rescued Tibetans from feudalism and slavery — from themselves. In other words, Tibetans are children and cannot be relied upon not to enslave themselves, as any return to self-government must entail. Poor little Tibetans, can’t govern themselves. Just who are the racists here?"

- from the Journal of the Internationalist Workers' Tendency.

I've posted it to demonstrate that there really is original, critical thinking arising from what we used to call the Marxist Left (as distinguished from the Pseudo-Left) and it's resulting in ideas with which you can actually engage, either in dispute or agreement. As with the anti-dogmatic IWT, the same can be said about the Alliance for Workers Liberty, and as mentioned only yesterday, Platypus.

They are not "degenerates," and they have not "turned into monkeys":

But seriously. . . here's Slavoj Zizek on Marxism & The World Stage (first of four):

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Unbearable Idiocy of Certain American "Foreign Policy" Wonks

Have a glance at Conn Hallinan's "Afghanistan: Not a Good War" in Foreign Policy in Focus and you will be subjected to an almost pornographic illustration of the craven, shallow and moronic habits of mind that prevail within what passes for the intellectual content of American "anti-war" polemics.

All in aid of the case for abandoning the Afghan people by simply assembling the more powerful nation-state powers in the region and cutting a deal with the Taliban, the column begins with a revisionist straw man, ends with a silly and meaningless platitude, and in between, almost every paragraph contains a non-sequitur, a logical fallacy, or an embarrassing, transparent error. It's simply so bad, so shallow, so wrong and so stupid, one wonders where to start.

But one has to start somewhere, so let's go with Hallinan's claim that the Afghan people exhibit a "strong ambivalence about the presence of foreign troops." If you follow his citation, you will see it leads to an Environics poll (pdf) released in Canada last year, which Hallinan misrepresents in this way: "Only 14% [of Afghans] want them out now, but 52% want them out within three to five years. In short, the Afghans don't want a war to the finish."

In fact, that's pretty well exactly the opposite of what the poll actually shows: Forty-three per cent of the Afghan respondents said they want foreign troops to remain in their country "however long it takes" to defeat the Taliban and restore order, while 15 per cent said they want foreign troops to remain for three to five years, 12 per cent said two years, and 11 per cent said foreign troops should remain one more year.

Further contradicting Hallinan's claims that there exists a "strong ambivalence about the presence of foreign troops" among Afghans, is the mere fact of the poll showing that the Afghans who support the presence of foreign troops (a presence Hallinan ridiculously describes as an "occupation," a favourite stoppist canard) actually outnumber those who want foreign troops out immediately by about five to one. In any public opinion poll, in any country, on any issue, results like that are about as far from "ambivalence" as it's possible to get.

But even if you don't know much at all about Afghanistan, you only have to be a person of average intelligence with your wits about you to notice the sleight of hand at work within the essay itself, at its very core. You should be able to see it without checking Hallinan's facts or following his citations at all. (Should I mention that Hallinan, a prevost at the University of California at Santa Cruz, is also a denizen of that swamp that emits its noxious vapours via Counterpunch, the far-right Ayn Rand sect than runs, and is also one of those apples that falls not far from the tree? Oh What, and The, and Hell.)

The "West's story line of the enemy as a tightly disciplined band of fanatics" does not even exist, so it is no wonder Hallinan provides no evidence for it; no one who knows anything about Afghanistan asserts that the country's armed "insurgent" groups, drug-runners, gangsters and thugs (even those we all tend to collectively describe as "the Taliban") are in any way tightly disciplined or united.

And that's where Hallinan's house of cards collapses on account of its own internal idiocy. The Taliban leadership itself is especially and violently disunited on the matter of negotiations, power sharing, and deal making. Yet negotiations, power sharing and deal making constitute the very course Hallinan counsels.

We would all like a negotiated peace to be possible. The Afghans themselves wish this was possible, although accommodating the Taliban is a proposition you could accurately say Afghans really are "ambivalent" about, as the same poll shows. But in order for any deal to work, the main body of belligerent, obscurantist crackpot gangsters would have to agree to put down their guns and knives, accept the Afghan constitution, and be prepared to do such things as run for office, like everyone else. And they haven't, don't and won't agree.

Setting aside the matter of how long a "peace" like that would last and what would have to be conceded in otder to secure it, more to the point is the fact that the Karzai regime, with the assistance of the United Nations and the International Security Assistance Force, has already negotiated the disarming, surrender and rehabilitation of tens of thousands of "insurgents"anyway. Further to that, for good or ill, but certainly to the chagrin of Afghan human rights activists, Karzai persists in inviting Taliban leaders to accords in exchange for what amounts to amnesty and even the control of specific ministries in Kabul.

What these facts betray and reveal about the "Let's Talk With the Taliban!" trope as it's deployed by the likes of Hallinan is the emptiness of its content, which should alert you to the good sense of immediately scrutinizing its function. And when you do that, you notice that its main utility in the so-called "West" is as a polemical gimmick designed to conceal the absence of any emancipatory, progressive, sensible alternatives available within the "anti-war" discourse, while in Afghanistan, its main purpose is as a kind of balustrade for the most enthusiastic supporters of deal-cutting, democracy-crushing and women-betraying - which is to say the most reactionary, misogynist, cynical and corrupt of the Kabul elite.

No wonder then, the plaintive, pride-hurt and oft-heard American refrain: "Why do they hate us?" Here's your answer: You will be hated. You don't get to decide about that. But you do get to decide who will hate you, and who will not. So suck it up and decide, and then you might be better equipped to confront your pride, and your shame.

In the meantime, for particularly sensible Americans of the left, pay attention to Platypus.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Western Imperialists Again Force Afghans To Adopt Our Decadent Customs

In favour of Siar Ahmadi, 16: “I was so surprised and happy to see people skateboarding in Kabul.”

I don't know about you people, but I'm beginning to find it increasingly suspicious that right around the time the Ziocon Hegemony engulfed Afghanistan, the Lahinch Surf School began operations on the West Coast of Ireland.

Coincidence? Or. . .

Monday, August 04, 2008

Worth Celebrating

Today is British Columbia's 150th birthday, but a day off around this time of year was a tradition in these parts long before we called it B.C. Day, owing to a custom begun by James and Amelia Douglas, our first governor and his missus. During the days of the American Civil War, an interregnum that caused Washington's covetous eyes to be occupied with other matters, Douglas made Emancipation Day – the August 1 commemoration of the prohibition of slavery in the British Dominions – a sort of a civic holiday here in the colony that would become a Canadian province in 1871.

James was born in 1803 in the British colony of Berdice, now Guyana, on South America’s Caribbean coast. During his term of office, it was commonplace for posh diarists to refer to him as an "octoroon," since he was born a “free coloured” child of John Douglas, a Scottish trader, and Martha Ann Ritchie, a well-to-do Creole woman from Barbados. Lady Amelia was born in 1812 at Nelson House on the Burntwood River in northern Manitoba, the daughter of William Connolly, a French-speaking North West Company trader from an old Quebec-Irish family, and Miyo Nipy, a woman of the Swampy Cree Nation.

Given British Columbia's disgraceful reputation among Canada's provinces for its distinctly bloody-minded disregard for the rights of First Nations on this side of the Rockies, it is no small irony - and a thing routinely and conveniently forgotten - that the protection of the rights of aboriginal people was a key reason why the Colony of British Columbia was established in the first place.

It was in 1858 (in November, incidentally, not August) that Douglas, then Governor of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island, travelled to Fort Langley, which was then "head office" of the British mercantile interests known collectively as New Caledonia, to formally declare the mainland territory West of the Rockies, south of Russian Alaska, and north of the 49th parallel, to be a new colony, to be known as British Columbia.

It is worth remembering the immediate context, the thing so routinely forgotten: In the weeks preceding Douglas' arrival at Fort Langley, on the lower reaches of the Fraser River, thousands of American gold miners had poured north across the 49th and had immediately begun their grisly habit of slaughtering aboriginal people by the score. The “King George Indians,” as the tribes once proudly called themselves, fought back. In the space of a few days during the summer and fall of 1858, roughly 60 headless American corpses were observed floating down the Fraser River past Fort Langley. The Americans had met rather stiff resistance upriver, among the N'laka'pamux people. Douglas - the highest-ranking colonial official west of Rupert's Land at the time, declined American entreaties for assistance, and outright refused to intervene on their behalf. The Yanks were, after all, murdering British subjects. That's what you get, lads.

It is also worth remembering the historical and geopolitical context: A decade earlier, James and Amelia were among several hundred Hawaiians, Orkney Islanders, Lowland Scots, Iroquois, Métis, and uncounted tribal allies, who were forced to flee north from the Columbia River mouth to Vancouver Island, as a result of a typical British sellout - Westminster had granted America sovereignty over everything from the Lower Columbia to the 49th parallel. As the loyalists fled north, the American bloodbath began: The Cayuse War of 1848, the Klamath and Salmon River Indian Wars of 1855, the Yakima War of 1855, the Nisqually massacres of 1856, and so on.

Another thing worth remembering is the welcome Douglas gave to African-American farmers and merchants (during the U.S. Civil War, a second wave of American miners poured north, bound for the Cariboo country). Douglas saw to it that as soon as the miners disembarked in Victoria, the first thing they noticed was the all-black “African Rifles,” a Victoria militia. Further to his and Amelia's great credit, in 1867, when Canadians were celebrating the birth of their country (which we'd join four years later), the Douglas family was celebrating the first successful aboriginal-rights case in Canada’s history. A Quebec court ruling, when Canada was only a week old, upheld the legitimacy of the marriage of a couple whose vows had been consecrated according to Cree customary law. That couple was William Connolly and Miyo Nipy, Amelia's parents.

So here's a toast to Amelia, whose contentment could be secured by occasional small gifts of bitterroot, camas and buffalo tongue, and to James, later Sir James Douglas, Knight Commander of the Bath, who walked away from the establishment’s Anglican Church in Victoria at the height of the Anglican ascendancy's powers in the colony, and who earned the undying respect of tens of thousands of aboriginal people for the role he played in forcing an end to slavery among the tribes. Here's to both of them, for pulling their daughters from a Catholic convent school when the nuns told the girls they were not permitted to dance.

Slainte, James and Amelia: Your successors, today, are Steven and Gwendolyn Point. Steven is a Grand Chief of the Sto:lo Nation, a former Chief Commissioner with the B.C. Treaty Commission, and a former logger. The year Steven Point was born, Indians weren't even allowed to vote (I've written a profile of Hizzonner Steve coming up in September's Vancouver Magazine).

Recommended reading: John Adams' Old Square Toes and His Lady, for an affectionate biographical portrait of James and Amelia. For an innovative and thorough account of the way the British naval class, American financiers, High Church windbags and other assorted bigots pulled apart the proletarian, mixed-race and democratic society that was emerging in British Columbia at the eclipse of the ancien regime, see Adele Perry's On the Edge of Empire: Gender, Race and the Making of British Columbia.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

On Principle, With Sean Matgamna & The Alliance for Workers' Liberty

Key bits:

We reject and oppose . . .the ahistorical demonisation of Israel and Zionism — and in some cases “the Jews” — that goes with it, and on which it is grounded.

Our views are not, to understate it, popular on the left. We ourselves tend to be demonized for it. Much of the hysteria . . . is a direct manifestation of the prevalent mass hysteria on the left about Israel and the Palestinians. We are “Zionists”. “pro-imperialists”, “racists” even.

I have the honour — and that is how I regard it — of being singled out for special abuse and demonisation (It’s reached the stage that sometimes these days I’m afraid to go into a room alone, lest I perpetrate some “Zionist” atrocity against myself!).

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Free At Last (In A Parallel Universe)

Breaking News: President Ahmadinejad's announcement of a complete shift in government policy, calling for a free Iran where women have equal rights, where student activists can contribute to society, where cultural and religious minorities are not oppressed, and media is no longer censored:

Noticed at The Archer's place.