Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Indian Residential Schools: We Can't Have Reconciliation Unless We Tell The Truth

Inspired by South Africa's post-apartheid normalization process, Canada's Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission is about to begin cross-country proceedings. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

But if we're not careful, the Commission's objectives could be easily defeated. In my Tyee column today, I take a good long look at one of the reasons why.

Not long ago, it was the policy of the Government of Canada to "civilize" aboriginal people by taking their children from them, by force if necessary, and interning the children in Indian residential schools, in order to transform them into productive obedient, Christian subjects. By the 1930s, there were 80 Indian residential schools across this country.

The schools, run mainly by the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Churches, were often little better than child-labour camps and vectors for infectious disease, sexual abuse, and brutality. The last of the schools in Canada, the Gordon institution in Saskatchewan, closed its doors in 1996.

Some years ago I co-authored a book about the schools with some of the former inmates of St. Mary's Mission, an institution that opened in the Sto:lo territory, the Fraser Valley, in 1863. St. Mary's closed in 1985.

It is not true that horrible suffering was the lot of every child who attended these schools, but it is true that the schools were often places of unspeakable cruelty. It is also true that the schools' legacy is no minor cause of the dysfunction, the poverty and despair so commonplace in Canada's aboriginal communities.

Three years ago, the Assembly of First Nations, the federal government and the churches that ran the schools reached a $2 billion settlement that included symbolic restitution payments to the schools' former inmates (as of yesterday, more than 90,000 aboriginal people - average age, 60 - had enrolled). But the most important element of the agreement was the provision for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Truth and Reconciliation. Two words. The first is as important as the second.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

News from the high seas, from the eastern front, and from over the hills and far away

In the short term, the prospect of famine looms throughout much of what was once called the Third World. The United Nations' Jean Ziegler, puts it this way: "This is silent mass murder. We have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror. We have to put a stop to this."

In the long term, more food is going to have to come from the sea. That may sound strange, given the way the world's fishing fleets are ravaging the oceans, but it's true, it's achievable, and Taras Grescoe makes the case well, as I argue in today's Globe and Mail.

Grescoe is a fine writer, and he's written a terrific book. Read it alongside this book and you'll know all you need to know about the subject.

If you think the threat of global famine is unrelated to the challenges posed by jihadism, obscurantism and tyranny, you need to get out more. It's one struggle, with many fronts, and a particularly strategic front we need to hold is the one that traverses Afghanistan, as my colleagues Lauryn Oates, Jonathon Narvey and Karim Qayumi make plain in today's National Post. Jonathon's take on it is here.

Nice to see the stoppiste position properly identified as the reactionary pose that it truly is; you don't often see that happen in the mainstream press. Good for Brian Hutchinson, who knows a thing or two about the subject.

Meanwhile, there's a very friendly half-page review of my latest, The Lost and Left Behind, "a thoughtful and engaging book about how the future of the entire biosphere depends on the whims of one species," in this week's Times Literary Supplement. But it's not online. So you'll have to trust me.

And while I'm being vain, the brilliant Norm Geras, author of Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend, and Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind, and several other such invaluable works, has put up a "profile" of yours truly over at his web lodge.

I'm quite serious about Plan 9 From Outer Space. Here are some of the best bits:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Birthday, Lester Pearson

Lester Bowles Pearson, born April 23, 1897, was a participant in the Dumbarton Oaks Conference that led to the United Nations, and was there in San Francisco when the foundation for the UN was laid. As External Affairs Minister, Pearson wrote Prime Minister St. Laurent's speech proposing the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and signed the NATO treaty in 1949. He was head of the Canadian delegation to NATO until 1957, and chairman of the NATO Council (1951-1952). He headed the Canadian delegation to the UN from 1946 to 1956, and served as president of the 7th session of the UN General Assembly in 1952-1953. As chairman of the General Assembly's Special Committee on Palestine, he laid the groundwork for the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947. He's best known for his work in the Suez crisis of 1956, which led to the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force, which evolved into what we know today as "UN Peacekeeping," which won him the Nobel Prize.

Which reminds me (especially from 3:45 in) of something that's "firmly in the tradition of what was fathered by Lester Pearson":

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For Earth Day: "The Planet Will Be Here For A Long, Long Time."

He's wrong in spots. He's right in spots. He's hilarious throughout.

The madness of King George:

Friday, April 18, 2008

STOP PRESS: An American Politician Worth Voting For - Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona

"In the first one-hundred hours of the current 110th session of Congress, Raul supported legislation that reflected the values and priorities of the American people. He demonstrated resolve to serve the working class by ensuring student loan relief, establish a fair minimum wage and provide lower prescription drug costs. In response to deteriorating foreign policy, Raúl supported progressive and open policy by cosponsoring recommendations made by the 9/11 commission on terrorism and helped establish a pathway to energy independence."

What kind of Americans elect this guy?

"The 7th District encompasses parts of Pima, Maricopa, La Paz, Pinal and Santa Cruz counties, along with all of Yuma County. It is the only U.S. Congressional District to represent seven, separate Native American tribes. These tribes include the Tohono O'odham Nation, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Ak-Chin, Gila River, Cocopah, Quechan and Pascua Yaqui.

Brought to my attention via Facebook by the Eustonian New Democrats.

I know, I know: I'm sure there are many other worthwhile American politicians, and I'm sure there are things he favours that I might not, but still. I like this guy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My legions of fans and admirers

Among the many and varied expressions of affection that have come my way in response to a certain essay I wrote in the Vancouver Sun a while back, my favourite is an email I received from an American gentleman by the name of Curtis B. Maynard, an associate of David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Maynard reflected on the growing acceptance of antisemitism at large in the world, and then wished me well in these words: "What it all means is that the time of the Jewish media is at hand. What it is likely to mean for you in a couple of years is - pay back for all those years you've carried the kike torch."

Good news, then. I've got a couple of years left before ill luck comes my way. Today, I see I have more good news, in that at least for now I am to be spared the legal wrath of the fantasist Greg Felton, whose weird theories were tangentially related to the subject of that Vancouver Sun essay. In his latest contribution to "the Canadian Arab News" (which for all I know doesn't even exist), Mr. Felton takes me to task and goes off on another obsessive tangent about the racial origins of the Jews, specifically the Ashkenazi Jews, from whom less than half of the population of Israel can claim descent. If you're at all interested in the black arts of language abuse and obfuscation, you will find Mr. Felton's latest efforts a treat.

If you're at all interested in the story of the Khazars - a fascinating story, sadly ruined by the racist and hysterical purposes to which it has been put - read Steven Plaut's excellent essay, in which he makes the important point: "The greatest irony is that even if the entire Khazar theory of Ashkenazi Jews were correct - and virtually none of it is correct - it would be entirely irrelevant. Judaism has never defined Jews on racial grounds. Anyone from any race is welcome as a convert to Judaism as long as he or she is sincere."

If for some reason you're interested in the racial origins of the Jews - the subject that so captivates Mr. Felton - there is an intriguing explanation of the genetics involved here, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The upshot: "The results support the hypothesis that the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population, and suggest that most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Afghanistan: Do We Stay or Do We Go?

You'd think we'd be well past that sort of question by now, but the organizers of this debate apparently don't think so. At any rate, here's the bumpf:

On Wednesday, April 16, Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee co-founder Lauryn Oates will be debating Stopwar.ca co-chair Derrick O’Keefe. The proposition: “THE CANADIAN MILITARY SHOULD LEAVE AFGHANISTAN AT ONCE”.

This debate is part of the Langara Dialogues series, held at the Vancouver Public Library's central branch.

To all CASC members in or near Vancouver, please come and show your support for the principles of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee.

Lauryn Oates will be there on behalf of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan

WHERE: Alice Mackay Room, Lower Level, Vancouver Public Library, Downtown (Homer & Robson) WHEN: Wednesday, April 16, 2008. 7:30 – 9:00 pm. Doors open at 7:15 pm.

Free admission; seating limited to the first 300.

The debate will be followed by questions from Langara College panelists and a question and answer with the audience.

Meanwhile, a CASC Vancouver press release:

"The Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee (CASC) wishes to warn Vancouver-area "peace activists," particularly students, that a demonstration planned for April 17 at the Canadian Armed Forces Recruitment Centre at 1070 W. Georgia is not an "anti-war" demonstration.

"The demonstration is being organized by the so-called Mobilization Against War and Occupation, an extremist group that has been exposed by Macleans Magazine, the Capilano Courier, the 24 hours daily and the Georgia Straight as a bizarre, cult-like group that recruits mainly on Lower Mainland college and university campuses.

"CASC would also like to point out that all informed observers recognize that demands for a withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan – demands described by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon as a "misjudgment of historic proportions" - would lead to a civil war on a scale far worse than the violence currently underway in Afghanistan's southern provinces.

"The only honest "anti-war" position is to support Canada’s military engagement in Afghanistan, undertaken with the consent of the Afghan government, in cooperation with military forces from nearly 40 countries , in a manner consistent with the international doctrine of the "responsibility to protect."

"The demands of withdrawal issued by MAWO and similar groups are simplistic, ignorant, and morally disgraceful.

"CASC members come from a broad diversity of affiliations and perspectives. We are people from the Left, and people from across the political spectrum, New Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, and people of no particular political affiliation; Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists. We are authors, journalists, academics, gay rights activists, student activists, Afghan-Canadians, and feminists. We come affiliated with a variety of different organizations and all kinds of professions. We are united under the premise that we must honour our obligations to the cause of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan.

"MAWO's position is isolationist, anti-internationalist and objectively favourable to the aims of the enemies of the Afghan people, specifically the Taliban, which is rooted in an ideology of fascism, extremism, misogyny and hatred. Every poll and survey conducted in Afghanistan over the last four years confirms that, in contrast to MAWO's goals the Afghan people support the multilateral security mission Canada is participating in, and look forward to the growth of democracy, development and most importantly, human rights.

"Student activists should not be fooled: MAWO uses "left-wing" language, but its politics represent an affront to the values of the left. For those of us in CASC who identify with the political Left, MAWO does not speak for us. "

For more information, please contact:

Jonathon Narvey, CASC Founding Member Tel: 604.230.2638 or

Lauryn Oates, CASC Founding Member Tel: 604-781-3151


I also notice that the latest disinformation the Vancouver Stopwar people have been spreading is about negotiations with the Taliban (which, of course, it favours) and the questions that never seem to occur to them on this matter are the most obvious ones: Why would the Taliban negotiate with anyone if the NATO-led ISAF forces were simply withdrawn from Afghanistan? Who would the Taliban negotiate with if ISAF troops hadn't secured the election of an internationally-recognized Afghan government in the first place?

Stopwar has also misrepresented the CASC position on negotiations. That position can be found in its submission to the Manley panel, here, as in:

"Much has been made of the prospects for negotiating with the Taliban as a new and imaginative approach to peace in Afghanistan. That prospect must be situated in its factual and historical context.

"Firstly, although the Canadian Forces may negotiate the surrender of armed criminals our soldiers happen to engage, Canada is not entitled to trespass on the sovereignty of Afghanistan by negotiating with illegal armed groups in the absence of Afghan government direction.

"Secondly, the Afghan government, with the assistance of Canada and other of its partners in a United Nations initiative, had already negotiated the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of roughly 56,000 former combatants well before the idea of negotiating with the Taliban came into vogue.

"Thirdly, Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been clear from the outset of his term of office that he is prepared to negotiate with any armed group that is prepared to lay down its weapons. Indeed, President Karzai has engaged representatives of illegal armed groups directly in discussions.

"Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, while there is scant evidence that the Taliban's hard-core jihadist leadership is interested in any such entreaties, Canada can and should demand that the Government of Afghanistan should not under any circumstances contravene its international commitments by "negotiating out" the rights of women in any talks with the Taliban, or in the establishment of any power-sharing agreement."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Anteater Research: A Wasted Life

Friday, April 11, 2008

Nick Cohen On The Idiocies At Large On The Left

From Vänster om, höger om ("Left turn, Right turn"), in the Swedish magazine Axess, English version here:

"In the past conservatives made excuses for fascism because they mistakenly saw it as a continuation of democratic right-wing ideas, while left-wingers condemned it without equivocation. Now in Europe and North America leftists excuse fascistic and reactionary movements and ignore their victims, even when the victims share left wing ideals.

"Their native far-right parties are an exception. As long as racists are white, they have no difficulty in opposing them in a manner that would have been recognizable to the traditional left. But give them a foreign far-right movement that is anti-Western and they treat it as at best a distraction and at worst an ally.

"If the worst side of the old left was its failure to confront communism, the best was its camaraderie. European socialists supported strangers who shared their values. Today an Iranian feminist, an Iraqi democrat or a Kurdish socialist is highly unlikely to receive solidarity from Europeans who call themselves left wing, particularly if the supposed leftists are middle class intellectuals. At best they will be ignored. At worst they will be denigrated. . ."

Half a century ago, who knew things would turn out so weird?

UPDATE: Here's Nick in the Guardian today, on how Britain's approach to wealthy despots is to slobber on their slippers.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sid Marty's "The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek" is as good as nature writing gets

Sid Marty is a fourth-generation Albertan, a singer-songwriter, a former park warden, a widely-published poet, and an eminent journalist and conservationist. His 1978 Men for the Mountains remains a necessary title in any respectable collection of Canadian nature writing. It belongs on the same shelf with Susanna Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush and Roderick Haig-Brown's Measure of the Year.

Marty's latest, The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek, is a work of poetic genius. Written in the form of a non-fiction novel, the book combines the best of hard and serious investigative reporting with the narrative power of the finest literary journalism. It moves along at the clip of a detective story.

It's also a daring work of the imagination – much of the action in The Black Grizzly unfolds from the perspective of a bear. This is an ambitious, almost reckless idea, but Marty actually carries it off. It's not just because he' such a skilled and methodical craftsman. It's also because Marty understands bears. He knows bears better than most people know their cats.

This is a book about bears and people, their respective customs and habits, and their ancient and elaborate relationships. It's also about the complexities involved in managing contemporary human-bear interactions.

But it's also a forensic reconstruction of a series of singular, horrific events that occurred in a particular place, at a particular time, and it's about a very specific and especially dangerous bear, in a place that came to be known as "the most dangerous place in Banff National Park," during a year that was singularly cruel for both bears and the people they came in contact with throughout the western half of North America. . .

That's from a review of mine in the latest Canadian Geographic magazine, but the review isn't on-line, so go out and buy the magazine, or read some of what it offers on-line here, or better yet, go out and buy Marty's book.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Global Capitalism And The Corporate Food System: Raj Patel's "Stuffed and Starved"

The dust jacket describes Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System as a book written “in the style of No Logo”, Naomi Klein’s 2000 anticorporate manifesto, and so it is. And this is its strength and its weakness. I've written a brief review here.

What I found most useful about Raj Patel's overview is the clear sense he makes of of the weird hourglass shape the global capitalist food system has taken on, with so much money and power concentrated in the wholesale corporate bottleneck, which leaves the rest of us, the masses of producers and consumers, relegated to the margins. Patel should be congratulated for paying such close attention to the problem of food production, distribution and consumption, and you can keep an eye on his tracking of developments here.

It's the precariousness of the global food system that I find most worrisome. Not that there aren't lots of other things to worry about, but when the price of rice jumps by 30 per cent across Asia all of a sudden, you know something's wrong.

In this month's Vanity Fair, there's an investigation of some of the darker aspects of corporate monopoly control of food production, and the Institute for Food and Development Policy presents an interesting insight into the contradictions between "slow food" and "food sovereignty" here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Excellent News This Way Comes: Mahmoud Salehi Free

April 6, 2008- According to the Committee in Defense of Mahmoud Salehi, Mahmoud Salehi, a well known and one of the most courageous labour leaders in Iran, was finally released today, Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 3:00 PM from the City of Sanandaj‘s central prison, where he had finished one-year jail term for his labour activities on March 23, 2008 but the authorities had refused to release him until today.

Congratulation and many thanks to all labour, progressive and human rights’ organizations and activists who have supported Salehi and called for his freedom and that of other jailed labour activists.

More updates to follow soon.

Keep an eye out here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Can't explain something? Blame the Jews.

How to account for “poor Canada’s plight”? How to explain the New Democratic Party’s ambiguations about Durban II? The Liberal Party’s poor showing? Our dead soldiers in Afghanistan?

Zionist poison, according to a report from Al Ahram out of the latest Canada-UK “anti-war” note-swapping with Islamist reactionaries in Cairo, which arises from the strain of politics I was on about here this week. Some background on the author of the Al Ahram report here.

If you are unwilling to acknowledge this for the fascist degeneracy that it is, then you are my enemy, and the enemy of everyone I love.

On a lighter note, it's Friday night. Off for a pint, like. So for the rest of you, some nice music from a fine young woman of my father's tribe:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Night Editor's Poem

by Alden Nowlan

A child is lost near a lake
in the woods outside the city;
a man has been found dead
in a hotel and our reporter knows only
that the detectives have sent out
for sandwiches and coffee which
they're now consuming
in the same room with the corpse and a woman
who may be a suspect,
if there has been a murder, although right now
it looks more like suicide,
in which case our photographer
should get out of there as fast as he can
because nobody remembered to arrange for a picture
of the new officers of the Knights of Pythias.
There is flooding
in the Upper St. John River Valley and a cabbie
has been stabbed in Fredericton, and Trudeau
looks like a shoo-in unless
there's a deal which would mean
we'd have to pull the lead editorial and kill
that display of cuts
on page five, and we should do something
on page one about Vietnam, although all there is
so far is the usual round-up
that nobody reads and,

Martin Luther King has been shot
in Memphis, the extent
of his injuries has not yet
been determined.

I send the kid
for a one column, head and shoulders,
cut, and ask if there've been any deaths
from the floods, because if there haven't been
I can shove that story downpage
and do a two column upper left
display on King unless,

his injuries
are critical

and I push everything down
four inches and send the kid
for a one and one-half columns,
head and shoulders, not much more than three
inches deep,
and there's a call from the hotel
our reporter sounding disappointed
because, sure enough, it was suicide
and that means only three inches
of type on the back page, and
by the time Mac got to the Pythian Castle
they'd gone home but maybe we have a file cut
of the grand chancellor
we can use on provincial; there's a hell of a good
shot of the mother
of the lost child taken when they told her
they'd found the body, one that will stand up
in three columns with everything but her face
cropped out, something good enough
to send out on the wire and,

Martin Luther King
is dead,

and it's too late
for a wirephoto which means
dig out that shot of him being hit
by a stone in Chicago, I think it was,
and have the engraver mask it so
nothing shows except
his body falling, and we'll set the story
in 12-point boldface, 18 ems, under
an all-cap 72-point Headline Gothic
head and splash it across
the top half of page one,
and it's not until later,
hours later,
eating ham and eggs
at an all-night diner,
shrugging my shoulders
to work some of the ache
out of them,
that I pick up the paper
again and understand
that Martin Luther King
is dead
, and that I care.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Anti-Zionism and Anti-War Activism in Canada

In the on-line journal Z-Word today, I've written a lengthy assessment of Canada's "anti-war" movement and its accommodation of a virulent anti-Zionism and and its first cousin, antisemitism. This tendency is part of a larger phenomenon that has subsumed left-wing activism to forces that are arrayed against progressive Muslims - and as always, against the Jews - both in Canada and abroad.

UPDATE: Podcast here.

Whenever I write along these lines, I am routinely accused of attacking the left and smearing the so-called "peace movement." This is not merely untrue. It's infantile. But it's persistent, so let's get a couple of things straight.

First, without any help from me, the "anti-war" leadership has "smeared" real anti-war activism by its practice of putting the "peace movement" to the service of some of the most reactionary and antisemitic elements at large in the world today.

Second, as for attacking the "Left," I don't consider the phenomenon I have tried to document to be in any legitimate way an expression of the politics of the progressive left. The politics the anti-war movement has embraced are anti-worker, mysogynistic, parochial, homopohobic, and reactionary.

A thing that tends to get missed in these inquiries, besides, is that it is from observers on the left itself that you'll find some of the most caustic assessments of the blackshirt politics that have found their most efficient entry into respectibility via "ant-war" activism.

On these and related questions, for Marxists who haven't lost their damn minds, see:

The Alliance for Workers Liberty.

The Hamburg antifascists.

That's just for starters. As for the 1st Cairo conference that I cite in my Z-Word essay as the crucible of contemporary "anti-war" politics, even the Iraqi Communist Party called the affair “a conference of solidarity with Saddam Hussein’s regime.”

For a glimpse of what a real peace movement in the Middle East looks like, have a look here.

For progressive Zionism, see this. And this. And this. For progressive Muslims in Canada, visit these good people.

For antisemitic influences that have crept into certain corners of Trotskyist thinking, see this, and for the wellspring of contemporary pseudo-Trotskyist apologetics for Islamism see this.

For the Nazi affinities of contemporary Islamic antisemitism, pay attention to Matthias Kuntzel - read this, and this. The Islamist politics of the Muslim Brotherhood, its Palestinian wing (Hamas) and Hezbollah would be rotten and reactionary without the Nazi influences that shaped their histories, but those influences shouldn't be overlooked, either. So here's a wee film below.