Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Order of the Liberator San Martin: Recognition, Remembrance, And Solidarity

This is a story about honour and internationalism.

Thirty years ago, a workers' blockade in New Brunswick stopped the Argentinian dictatorship from bringing a nuclear reactor online. The longshoremen of Saint John refused to load a $120-million cargo of heavy water bound for Argentina. The blockade also shone an international spotlight on Argentina's tyranny and its political prisoners, and helped force the release of 11 jailed trade unionists. Argentina's democratic government is now honouring the Saint John longshoremen with the highest award it can give them.

Which reminds me.

When I was a strappy young labour reporter, the New Brunswicker Tommy McGrath (a tiny bit about him here, .pdf) was president of Local 400 of the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway, Transport and General Workers, on the Vancouver waterfront. With Tommy on the docks, no ship that dropped anchor in Vancouver harbour would be allowed to leave if it was owned by any shipping company, anywhere in the world, that was breaking a strike or had skipped someplace without paying its workers' wages. The ship would stay tied up in Vancouver until its owners made good.

In those days, no matter who you were, no matter what seedy Third World backwater port you worked in, if you'd been stiffed by some international shipping company you could call Tommy, and Tommy would come through for you. It could take days or years, but Tommy would come through. All he'd ask in return was the keepsake of your port's pennant or your ship's flag. In his tiny, cramped office at the old Maritime Union hall down in the Eastside, the walls were festooned with these little flags.

Tommy first drew blood in the Canadian Seamen's Union strike in South Africa in 1949. When the CSU was busted up and taken over by the American seafarers' union, Tommy and his comrades refused to buckle, and they set up the democratic West Coast Seamen's Union. In 1958, following the deaths of 19 workers in the collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge (now called the Ironworkers' Memorial Bridge) Tommy was fired by the American bridge and ironworkers' union for refusing to order his members back to work. So he and his mates got together and organized the democratic Canadian Ironworkers, Local No. 1.

We became fast friends over the years, he the elder and me the kid with all the questions. He went on to become president of the Canadian Merchant Navy Association, and died in 1996. I can still remember the stinging pain from the moment I heard the news he was dead.

But Tommy lives. In Iran, where workers are in rebellion against Mamoud Ahmadinejad's boss unions, at this very moment the underground trade union movement is rallying its members from all over the country to an illegal May Day demonstration in Tehran, at Laleh Park, in Abnama Square.

Which reminds me. I've written a May Day column that will appear tomorrow in the Tyee, and it will touch on subjects related to our obligations of solidarity with Iranian, Palestinian, Israeli and Afghan workers. I'll be noticing that the betrayal of those obligations is now the rule, rather than the exception, within Canada's labour bureaucracy, as it is within the "Left" establishment in this country. There's even a funny story in it about my recent and nasty personal encounter with Press TV.

I'll put up a post when the column appears.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Addendum To Rash Sentiments Expressed By A Persona

On Monday, I wrote a post here calling attention to the latest issue of Outdoor Canada magazine, which contains my very lengthy interrogation of the latest developments in conservation, science and salmon in the North Pacific. As it happens, this particular issue of Outdoor Canada also contains a tremendous volume of useful and supplementary information about fishing rods and bird guns and whatnot.

The last paragraph of that very lengthy blog post poked fun at certain unnamed people who sometimes write and say things I consider unserious and unintentionally funny, so I wrote this: "I could be wrong, of course, in which case I'd dispense with the ritual of offering a last cigarette and blindfold and go with Bailey's 'best bolt-action rifle' pick, Sako's 85 Bavarian. A handsome rifle, with walnut stock and a Schnaebel fore-end. The Bavarian offers a choice of six calibres."

For anyone and everyone who found that sentence to be unintentionally unfunny, a few points of necessary clarification.

1. I would have thought that straight away, nobody would think I am someone you would turn to for advice about bolt-action rifles, or any other kind of rifles. It turns out I was wrong. So, to be clear, I am not that sort of person. Wouldn't have a clue.

2. I also would have thought that nobody would seriously think that what was a fanciful little eruption from a persona who purports to counsel sensible choices in bolt-action rifles was actually, you know, me talking. It appears I may have been quite wrong about that, too. So, to be clear, I am not that sort of person, either. I am not that person.

3. Of more immediate concern, it appears I was also wrong to assume that nobody would seriously think that I was counseling or condoning violence against any unnamed person or persons that I may have had in mind, even obliquely, even in the most jocular and "high irony" sort of way. To be clear, it certainly was not my intention. Not even close. I would have thought it should go without saying, but to be clear, I'm not that sort of person, either. Not even close.

4. I am told that there are people who may have been legitimately and sincerely offended or perhaps even alarmed by their reading of that sentence, or their misreading of my intention, which was to poke fun. If this is true, I am very sorry to hear it. Indeed, my intention was to make fun of myself as much as anyone else. That is the sort of person I am.

5. I'm sorry if there are people who might still not get this, and who might remain unsatisfied by these points of clarification, but I sincerely and honestly don't know what else I could possibly say.

That is all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Decide: Sanctimonious drivel or progressive feminism. (You can't have it both ways).

For a study in stark contrasts, read this gibberish (or this) and then compare with this, or this, from our dear comrade Lauryn Oates:

It will be a windy road, but along which some seeds have been planted -- and they must be allowed to grow. As Nick Grono of the International Crisis Group stated, "we shouldn't give up on our strategy of institution building -- the fact is that it's not so much that it has failed, but that we have hardly tried."

Canada's presence in Afghanistan enabled us to send a clear signal to the Afghan government that laws which discriminate against women have no place in our shared goals of justice, human rights and peace. This stands in stark contrast to the Taliban's days of power, when there was nothing but silence coming from the West in response to the regime of gender apartheid under which Afghan women lived. This time, the Afghan government was forced to listen.

A decade ago the Afghan women's movement was in no place to mobilize against the threat of such discrimination. Today, they are doing that -- with ferocity. I was in Kabul at the time the new law was publicly announced and witnessed the flurry of activity which immediately began as women's organizations, parliamentarians, intellectuals, writers and Afghan civil society mobilized. They started a petition, issued statements, made recommendations for repealing the law, met together to plan action, held a press conference, and organized a demonstration against the law. . .

That's Lauryn in the photograph, not really punching a stoppist, but rather hamming it up with her sweetie, Brad, with a piece of (how shall I describe it?) 'found art' that came into my possession by means that are none of your business. Let's just say no innocent animals were harmed in the production of this photograph. Speaking of photographs, the 'how the heck is a guy supposed to get any work done around here' snapshot that appears in the upper right corner of this blog was taken at the very place Lauryn mentions in the op-ed quoted above - the Omid-e-mirmun Orphanage in Kabul.

Also, while cowards flinch and traitors sneer, Brian Platt persists in his honesty, here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The 2008 salmon catch: Equal to a herd of a million buffalo, moving over the plains

This is not the kind of story you’d expect to hear about Pacific salmon. It’s just not supposed to be happening, but it really did happen, last autumn, in the parched bunchgrass and mesquite country along a five-kilometre stretch of the Okanagan River, not an hour’s drive north of the Canada-U.S. border. This is the kind of country where you might encounter rare tiger salamanders or spadefoot toads in the sagebrush and prickly pear, but it’s the last place you’d expect to find sockeye salmon. And yet last year, close to 130,000 sockeye were there, churning up the gravel with their tails, frantically building nests for their eggs and their milt and, finally, writhing in their post-spawn death throes.

Most of the spawning occurred in the last wild stretch of the river, almost all of it within the Osoyoos Indian Reserve, just above the town of Oliver. It was the highest return of sockeye to the Okanagan River in at least six decades. But it wasn’t the only astonishing salmon story last year.

In the North Pacific, the all-species, all-nation commercial catch of salmon was the largest of any year on record. It was bigger than even the gluttonous excesses of the early-20th-century industrial fisheries. And most of the 2008 catch came from relatively healthy stocks. In all, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Canadian and American fishermen pulled just over a million metric tonnes of salmon from the coastal waters of North America and Asia. Imagine a herd of one million buffaloes thundering across the plains and you’ll have an idea of just how much biomass that is.

There are many reasons why these aren’t the sorts of things you’d expect to hear about salmon nowadays. After all, roughly half the world’s surveyed fish species are threatened, while one-third of the world’s fisheries have collapsed and most of the major ones that remain are operating well above their sustainable limits. Hundreds of Pacific salmon runs are extinct, and hundreds more are threatened. As a result, Pacific salmon are now gone from at least half their former North American range, and ever fewer spawners are carrying much of the genetic diversity that remains.

All over the world, species of all kinds are retreating into their shrinking ecological redoubts and vanishing at a rate without parallel since the great Cretaceous die-off 65 million years ago. The planet is warming, and even in B.C.’s cool, cedar-shrouded coastal rivers, water temperatures are now routinely so lethal entire salmon runs come home from the sea only to suffocate and die before spawning. . .

The truth is, B.C.’s vast and splendid diversity of wild salmon is withering, and has been for some decades now. The province’s sockeye are by far the most robust species, but even so, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature placed them on its “red list” of threatened species last October. And because sockeye have been the staple of the province’s commercial salmon fishery, the industry, as you might imagine, is now on death’s door.

Salmon anglers, meanwhile, are facing unprecedented closures, bag-limit reductions and no-catch rules. Last year on the Fraser River—long known as the greatest salmon river in the world—federal fisheries officials closed almost all the sockeye fisheries in the river’s approach areas, and left the Fraser Basin’s aboriginal communities, which make up half the Indian bands in B.C., to ration the remnants among themselves. Even with constitutionally protected fishing rights, these communities are increasingly going without the salmon that have sustained them from time immemorial.

The farther south you go, the worse it gets. Declines in salmon abundance have been most dramatic in the recreational fishermen’s preferred quarry of chinook and coho. Cross the border into Washington and Oregon, and you’d think it’s doomsday. The litany for all this sorrow and loss is well known: overfishing, habitat destruction, hydroelectric dams, dysfunctional government agencies and, lately, global climate change.

But as the story of the Okanagan salmon reveals, there is hope. . .

That's just the opening bits of a rather expansive interrogation of the state of salmon in the North Pacific - and changing currents and controversies in conservationist thinking and in science - that I've just written for Outdoor Canada magazine. You'll have to pick it up at the newsstands if you want to read it, or (better idea) subscribe. The beautiful photo up above is actually the work of my old colleague Nick Didlick, from the website A River Never Sleeps, which he produces with another old pal of mine, Mark Hume.

It's an especially good issue of Outdoor Canada, with several interesting articles, and I see that in Top Gear tips, Ken Bailey 's recommendation for best pump-action shotgun of the year is the Remington Model 87 Nitro-mag 12-gauge.

It was the very thing I had in mind today, being of humane disposition (if you take my meaning), when I was reading a certain addled columnist in the Tyee, just after having read the usual idiocies from the "" project of the Rideau Institute. As far as I can tell, the former is one of those ageing hippies in the early stages of dementia whose wealthier fellow out-patients the latter is solely designed to bilk of tax-deductible contributions.

I could be wrong, of course, in which case I'd dispense with the ritual of offering a last cigarette and blindfold and go with Bailey's "best bolt-action rifle" pick, Sako's 85 Bavarian. A handsome rifle, with walnut stock and a Schnaebel fore-end. The Bavarian offers a choice of six calibres.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Great George Galloway Hoax of 2009, Lab Test Result: Jawbone of Orang-Utang

Macleans Magazine: "Why is a self-described free speech hawk banning George Galloway from Canada?"

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney: "He’s not. I reject the premise of your question. Mr. Galloway received a preliminary notice of determination by the Canadian Border Services Agency that he might be inadmissible to Canada, I gather based in large part on his public admission that he provided funds to Hamas, a banned illegal terrorist organization, which would seem–on the face of it–to constitute grounds for inadmissibility under Section 34(1)f of the Immigration Refugee Protection Act. He was invited to provide submissions to the CBSA to inform their consideration of his potential application to enter Canada. He never provided them with any such submissions and he never presented himself to a point of entry where he would have had, at that point, a final decision on his admissibility, and had he been determined to be inadmissible by an officer at a port of entry he would have been able to apply for an inadmissibility hearing. So there’s a whole process that we have under our law to make determinations independently of politicians about admissibility. I simply said publicly that I would not use my extraordinary ministerial power to effectively overrule a decision of a CBSA officer on his admissibility. Why? Because I didn’t see any compelling reason. And by the way, this had nothing to do with freedom of speech, he exercised his speech in Canada, volubly, as he does everywhere. That was never the issue. The issue was not about what he might do or say in Canada, it’s what he did in making financial contributions to an organization that uses money to buy explosives and strap them to teenagers and send them into school buses and discos."

Told you so. Sorry, but even "by means of a telescope of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle," it would still be impossible to say, without repeating a lie, that George Galloway was banned from Canada, or barred from Canada, or denied entry to Canada. Paul McCartney is not dead, Charlies Manson never auditioned for the Monkees, and sorry, Olivia, but George Galloway is not an "international expert" on Afghanistan. Thank you, Martin, for pointing out that Elvis has left the building. Sorry, Canadian Peace Alliance, but your evidence for "dawn man" turns out to be merely the jawbone of an orang-utang. Sorry, delicate ladies of the bourgeoisie, but your prince is a toad.

And I won't be having any backchat along the lines of 'Well, Kenney would say that, wouldn't he?' or 'So, shilling for the Conservatives now, is it?' or 'That's just your opinion.' Because this is not a matter of opinion. These are matters of fact. Facts matter. This is about things that did not happen, and things that did happen, and to paraphrase George Orwell, "they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late."

George Galloway is a fascist gasbag. A walking farrago of lies (Update: a 911 Truther, too?).

Have I enjoyed myself with all this? Yes, thanks, I have.

Ulster Death Toll Reaches 5,000; British Army Blocks Aid To 100,000 Starving Irish

April 23, 2009 - A desperate humanitarian crisis is facing Northern Ireland, where over 100,000 civilians remain trapped in the crossfire between government forces and the Irish Republican Army. Since fighting intensified in mid-January 2009, available reports suggest 5,000 civilians, including at least 500 children, have died, and more than 10,000 have been injured. Despite reports that tens of thousands have managed to escape over the past few days, information from the ground suggests that more than 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the region.

That's what happens when you take this International Crisis Group assessment and replace 'Sri Lanka's northeastern region' with 'Northern Ireland' and 'Tamil Tigers' with 'Irish Republican Army.' I've done this as a kind of thought experiment, to tentatively speculate what Ottawa would look like right now if it were 30,000 Irishmen descending upon Ottawa after months of peaceful mass protests in several Canadian cities for the purpose of urging a more full-throated Canadian response to the crisis.

Coming from an Irish Catholic immigrant family, I feel sufficiently confident to imagine that, by now, unlike the Tamil protesters, my crowd would not be taking pains to put away our offensive banners or limiting our sauciness to the wearing of green jackets, after the fashion of the protesting Tamils. I am more inclined to think that, by now, Parliament Hill would be more likely a smouldering heap of ash and cinders, and there would not be a lamp post from the Byward Market to McKellar Heights without a Canadian politician hanging from it.

I point this out as a way of noticing Canada's good fortune to count among its citizens the largest population of the Tamil disaspora on earth, and also to notice that Canada would have a lot more to bitch about than longer than usual lineups at Tim Horton's lavatories if Paddy's laments were met with the same degree of indifference that has greeted the agony of Canada's Tamils.

That is all. Well not quite all. . .

My chum Jonathon Narvey conducts a similar sort of thought experiment. What if Canadian pollsters started asking the right questions about Afghanistan? And while we're on the subject of the people and what they think, what happens when pollsters ask the right questions of our Palestinian and Israeli comrades? This is what happens: Overwhelming majorities among Palestinians and Israelis say they want a peaceful, negotiated solution, and overwhelming majorities of both Palestinians and Israelis say they want a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, living in peace.

UPDATE: This is now in the National Post, where Kelly McParland gave it the headline: If The Tamils Were Irish, Would We Be Slow To Help? To all the commenters who got the point, thankyou. To the few commenters who are morally incapable of getting the point, and who just don't get what Canada has always been about, let me be clear. These are our people, and these are my people:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nick Cohen. Do Not Mess With.

In his cups a bit and the more erudite for it, my good comrade Nick Cohen, on a panel at this year's Orwell Prize awards, gives out at the toffs about the award jury's dubious decision to shortlist the likes of Peter Hitchens and Peter Obourne, and proper salty language with it: "I'm from Manchester. I'm a grammar school boy. I instinctively despise people like that. . . For fuck's sake, these people make a hundred grand a year. They've never risked anything in their lives. They're the people who always made prefect in your schools."
Some necessary background here.

Read. Learn.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yom Hashoah

Monday, April 20, 2009

In Vancouver Review: Taqunya In Kabul - The People, Coming From The Shadows.

There are seven gates that lead into the narrow and winding passageways of the Murad Khane, the 18th-century walled quarter within the old city of Kabul. It is hidden away inside a hive of narrow streets and alleys bustling with fruit and vegetable sellers, blacksmiths, silversmiths, and jewelers holding aloft glistening strands of lapis lazuli. There are naan bakers and gem cutters, potters and leathermakers, seamstresses, tailors, almond hawkers and spice merchants. There’s one long and winding alleyway taken up entirely by peddlers selling caged songbirds.

Down the Murad Khane’s busy flagstone passageways you will still find old, richly filigreed window frames, door screens and facades in the Nuristani and Kabuli styles. There are still “hammams,” the old domed-roof bath houses, and relics of ornate Simgili plasterwork in walls that surround cool and quiet courtyards. Some of the old houses still tilt and groan against elaborately-carved Kandankari verandah posts, and there are still faint echoes of the grand Mughal style in the great serai, the central gathering place.

Not for nothing was Kabul once called the Paris of the East.

There, the grand home of a long-forgotten khan. Here, the remains of several buildings demolished by bombs, their ancient timbers plundered for firewood during the Mujahedeen wars. There, at least 20 structures that collapsed during an earthquake in 2006. And here, from this rooftop, look, you can see the old king’s place, and the famous brick bridge across the Kabul River. From just about any of the flat roofs of the Murad Khane you can also see the ugly concrete office and apartment blocks that steadily encroached upon the neighbourhood during the Soviet era.

Of the 600 residents, about a third are from the old families, the people who have been here for countless generations. There are roughly 120 children in the school. Average depth of the garbage and detritus removed to excavate the courtyards and passageways down to street level – two meters. Number of dump truck loads it took to haul it all away – 12,000. The restoration project’s largest backer - the Canadian International Development Agency, with $3 million over four years. Number of buildings identified for special protection or restoration - 65. Carpenters and other tradesmen are now busy working on 22 of them.

Civilization springs from the people themselves, and from the cities. Rebuild its wellspring, and civilization will flourish and triumph across the land. When you turn to Kabul for this, and to Kabulis themselves, you will find yourself in the old city.

In the Murad Khane, you turn to the dwindling brigades of Afghanistan’s traditional master craftsmen, and what was only recently a decrepit slum is now an emerging centre of art and learning and commerce. The place is now alive with seasoned artisans and young apprentices, carpenters, ceramicists, calligraphers, sculptors, plasterers and jewelers. There are literacy courses and embroidery classes and the clattering and clunking of hammers and chisels in the work of rebuilding old guest houses for visiting scholars.

All of this unfolds down Murad Khane’s alleyways in the shadow of the Abul Fazl minaret, a defiant testament to all those things that for so long had been forced to hide here from the angry world outside. The “hidden places” where certain stories, prayers and songs are sung are known as taqunya. This is an idea in the Islamic tradition, a word in the Dari language, and in the Murad Khane it is a tradition that came to mean those places that only the local people know, where customs might persist without hindrance, where toleration and everyday decency might thrive. . .

That's from my essay in the current issue of Vancouver Review, on newsstands right about now. Better yet, treat yourself to a subscription.

Elsewhere, a fine report in the Globe and Mail about the way prominent Canadian women think about recent developments on the women's rights front in Afghanistan, with the views of the brave Sally Armstrong, Margaret Atwood, Farah Mohamed, and Margaret MacMillan. There is one completely wrong and point-missing anomaly, and it comes from Judy Rebick, former head of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Rebick actually said life is worse for women now than during the Taliban era. Then there is this worthless piety: “Never have women achieved equality by somebody coming in and giving it to them. We can't bomb our way into equality.” Rather than sending in troops to intervene in a society “that doesn't want them,” Rebick says Canada should instead support (the completely irrelevant and now sadly ridiculous) Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. “We should never have gone into Afghanistan in the first place, and we should leave.”

As the Afghan progressives Nader Nadery and Haseeb Humayoon patiently explained to New York Times readers yesterday: "These assumptions are wrong. In our first democratic elections, in October 2004, 11 million Afghans — 41 percent of them women — registered to vote. In a 2008 survey by the Asia Foundation, 76 percent of Afghans responded that democracy was the best form of government. . .As for women’s rights, the troubles that brewed in Afghanistan during the 1990s — civil war, followed by the Taliban’s totalitarianism and harboring of Al Qaeda — were in great part the result of the female half of our population being deprived of social and political participation. Like everyone else, Afghans crave security, justice, accountability, educational and employment opportunities, and a promise of a future."

Meanwhile, Habibi Sorabi, Governor of Bamiyan Province, states the obvious: Despite setbacks, women's rights are steadily improving in Afghanistan. She cited last week's women's protest in Kabul against an Iranian-inspired marriage law, aimed at keeping Afghan Shia women in their place.

Also, Mohammed Esan Zia: "The tide is still in favour of our people. This is my strong belief. It is based upon what I see in rural Afghanistan where the population speaks confidently about tomorrow and does not think the war is lost."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I Vow To Resist The Urge To Cash The Cheque And Head Straight For The Track

It won't be easy, let me tell you. So, to balance things out, I will not resist the urge to be completely insufferable about it, mindful of course that my good fortune comes mainly from having merely noticed that culture and nature, human aspiration, natural beauty, language, history and social justice are inextricably intertwined.

I'm chuffed that my peers would also seem to agree that there is virtue in seeing that the voices of the proletariat are still heard in the land, and that writers of non-fiction should be recognized along with those involved in the production of poems and novels. It's mainly in those related trades that you'll find my predecessors: Gary Geddes. Patrick Lane. Jack Hodgins. Robert Bringhurst. P.K Page.

Damn fine company, and do notice: We are all islanders. Plus, at the event I get to sit beside the logger, rig slinger, Sto:lo grand chief and judge, Stephen Point, my commander in chief.

Jury Statement here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Robert Fisk, Snowblind in Mukluks, Again.

There are some merits in Fisk's observation that Arab Canadians are not kept safe from the long reach of intelligence agencies from Arab countries, but as usual, it all gets lost in a blizzard of Fiskesque innuendo, paranoia and general weirdness. Pondering why something he'd said during a speech in Ottawa had failed to elicit any applause, Fisk has a kind of epiphanic moment during a "long car journey . . . across the frozen tundra of Canada," by which he appears to mean the two-hour drive to Montreal when there's snow on the ground.

The last time he was in Canada, which he described then as “a country whose tundra wastes are known for their frozen desolation,” he had a similarly epiphanic moment. He was walking around in Toronto and had to take off his pullover because the weather was so strangely warm, thus inducing the insight that global climate change is really about depleted uranium and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which is somehow made plain in the contents of a secret databank said to be locked away at the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment back in Blighty.

Either he should stay at home or get out more often. A list of the planet's tundra ecoregions is here.

Typical street scene in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district, Montreal:


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

La Lutta Continua

Among hundreds of thousands: Safia Amajan, teacher, public servant. Malalai Kakar, armed feminist, public servant. Sitara Achakzai, parliamentarian, feminist. Karine Blais, Canadian, soldier.

You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend.

- Dolores Ibarruri.

UPDATE: From the oppressed women of Iran, a message of solidarity to their Afghan sisters.

UPDATE II: CASC - Now more than ever, Canada must stand up for Afghan freedom.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bank Accounts Frozen, Summons Threatened: George Galloway Blows A Gasket

(UPDATE: Martin Levin is a good man. To my knowledge, apart from Christopher Hitchens - see the note at the bottom of Hitchens' Slate column, here - Martin is the only big-media journalist to publicly allow that there was something of a hoax to what in another universe I might call the "hegemonic narrative" that held big-media journalists in its thrall during what I like to call the Great Galloway Hoax of 2009. By his correction, Martin redeems an important trust that must exist between newspaper journalists and their readers in order for journalism to work properly, and he did so in a gracious and honest way. Which is to say, Martin Levin can be trusted, and he is a good man.)

Upon his return to Britain from "traveling abroad on high profile political business," Stoppist windbag George Galloway found something rather less welcoming than a red carpet waiting for him over the weekend.

Galloway's unopened mail included a warning from officials with the compliance investigations unit of the UK Charity Commission, advising him that they'd lost their patience with him and unless he showed up right quick and ready to answer their questions he'd be hauled before a High Court judge.

Galloway's 'Viva Palestina' Appeal bank accounts have also been frozen.

In predictable fashion, Galloway has responded with a long-winded and vitriolic soliloquy containing wild allegations of dark conspiracies, complaints that the Zionists get all the breaks, and an accusation that the Charity Commission is really motivated by an "obvious prejudice against the Palestinian cause and against Britain's two million-strong Muslim community."

The trouble with all that is the Charity Commission had already been patiently asking Galloway and his crowd to explain their peculiar fundraising activity for several weeks before it first issued notice, way back on March 23, that it was opening an inquiry under the Charities Act. This was just after Galloway had set off for his speaking engagements in the United States. In launching the inquiry, Commission officials explained that they were forced to do so after having become exasperated in repeatedly trying to get straight answers about whether the 'Viva Palestina' funds were really being held for charitable purposes.

In predictable fashion, Galloway responded back then by muttering insinuations about ulterior motives, and he alluded to the Commission's previous failures to pin anything on him, even during his "campaign against sanctions on Iraq." A fair point, in a way, since even the British Parliament gave Galloway at least a minor suspension after parliamentary sleaze police found him guilty of failing to disclose his "charity" links with Saddam Hussein's regime. Galloway then uttered some more dark warnings about strange coincidences. But Galloway's story didn't exactly stand up very well.

His stories rarely do, but in this case, only a couple of weeks before the March 23 inquiry launch, Galloway had given away the game all by himself. In a flight of hubris, while "traveling abroad on high profile political business," in the course of delivering roughly $2 million (Cdn.) in booty to Hamas boss Ismail Haniyeh, Galloway publicly taunted British and European authorities. He dared them to charge him. While handing over the cash to Haniyeh, Galloway said: "Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics." The UK Terrorism Act explicitly prohibits fundraising for proscribed terrorist organizations. In the UK, Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organization.

Around the time of the March 23 inquiry launch, someone in Galloway's parliamentary staff was in conversation with a Canadian High Commission official in London. It was about Galloway's chances of being able to make the speaking engagements he'd arranged in Canada, in light of everything Galloway had been up to. The High Commission's Immigration Program Manager, Robert J. Orr, followed up the conversation with a polite letter suggesting that Galloway's chances didn't look too good. In Canada, like the UK, it is illegal to raise funds for terrorist organizations, and in Canada, like the UK, Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organization. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act contains admissibility requirements for visitors that set a rather high bar for Hamas bagmen.

In predictable fashion, Galloway responded by conjuring up another great conspiracy: Canadian politicians were "seeking to ban" him from the country. After failing to get assurances that he would be put above Canadian law and given an advance exemption from Canada's admissibility requirements, he combined with his Canadian fan base to circulate a fanciful story that he had been singled out and barred from entering Canada because of a secret federal plot to silence critics of Canada’s engagements in Afghanistan. It was an outrage against free-speech, and the culprits behind it all? Starts with 'J.'

By and large, because of the gullibility, political illiteracy and in some cases stark-raving idiocy abroad in certain sections of Canada's national press, the conspiracy theory went viral.

But the facts remain. The evidence remains, and it looks like the curtains are starting to come down. That's why George Galloway is blowing another gasket.

This is not about charity. This is about politics.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sitara Achakzai Is Dead.

Gunned down in Kandahar. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

Achakzai, a prominent women's rights activist and Kandahar Provincial Council member, was one of the leaders of a nation-wide women's strike that coincided with International Women's Day last month.

Lauryn Oates of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, and my co-founder with the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee: "(In the Taliban statement) they used the words that she was involved in 'bad things' without elaborating on what exactly that meant. I think we can assume it just meant that she was a woman who worked outside her home and she was involved in politics with the government that they are opposing. So she was a worthy target for that reason."

Achakzai had received several death threats. She was planning to leave for a visit with family and friends in Canada on May 1.

CTV interview with Lauryn here.

A statement from our friends at the Pashtun Peace Forum Canada: "We call on Canadians and others around the world to condemn the killing of Sitara Achakzai by the Taliban. This horrific tragedy is another demonstration the Taliban's fight against the liberation of women in Afghanistan. . . We call upon Canada and the free world to provide support to Pashtuns to counter Taliban. Pashtuns community living in Canada express our sympathies with the families of Achakzai and call upon Canada, UN,US, the regional players, and the international community to ensure that Pakistan halt supporting Taliban immediately."

A blistering rebuke to the Obama Doctrine: There is no such thing as "moderate" Taliban.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gung Hay Matsuri Domhnach Cásca Fat Choy!

In the spirit of the High Holidays, inspired by Comrade Todd Wong's Gung Haggis Fat Choy and by my missus, whose notion of multiculturalism is that if it isn't about finding excuses to get into one another's liquor cabinets then it means nothing, and being myself from good Pikey stock that commemorates Easter by reflecting upon the holiest of all causes — the sanctity of the human soul, the practical brotherhood of the human race. . .

Here are two feature-length documentary films about my own people, and my own home places. The first is Shepherd's Pie and Sushi, Mieko Ouchi's story about her family, beginning with the struggles of her grandfather's generation during the Internment, in the 1940s. The second is Jari Osborne's film Unwanted Soldiers, about her father and his comrades, set mainly in those same years (p.s. a lengthy exploration of my "Chinese roots," as Todd put it, is here.) But do skip the trailers if you like. Feet up:

Shepherd's Pie and Sushi:

Unwanted Soldiers:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Easter 2009: Beannachtaí na Cásca, Eternal Rising.

I have met them at close of day, coming with vivid faces.

Executed leaders of the Easter Rising: Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Padraig Pearse, Edward Daly, Michael O'Hanrahan, William Pearse, Joseph Plunkett, John MacBride, Eamonn Ceannt, Con Colbert, Sean Heuston, Michael Mallin, Thomas Kent, James Connolly, Sean MacDiarmada, Roger Casement.

"The holiest of all causes — the sanctity of the human soul, the practical brotherhood of the human race."
- James Connolly.

Now and in time to be, wherever green is worn.

Because They Were Slaves Under Pharoah In Egypt

Forty years ago. Freedom Seder. Never forget. Chag pesach sameach.

From here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Behold George Galloway! Part Mick Jagger! Part Noam Chomsky!

In today's Toronto Star, boot-polishing, apologetics, conspiracy-theory, the lot: "It was fear of Galloway galvanizing anti-war sentiment in peace-oriented Canadians that prompted Ottawa to brand him a terrorist supporter. . .what exactly does this secretive management committee do, and how might it affect Canada's Muslim and Arab populations?"

A formidable late-entry in the contest called Oooh! He Cuts Such A Dashing Figure In His Uniform, Too, Don’t You Think?

Meanwhile, this just in: "So, how much DID the Zionists pay for him, anyways?" "You mean for this Glavin dude? Or how much did they pay for Galloway to be kept away from Canada? Also, does Minister Kenney accept payment in shekels?" Followed by: "Antisemitism is a pretty harsh accusation, one that's being thrown around a lot by the right wing lately. I certainly hope you can back that accusation up."

Thank you, Celebrity Big Brother followers.

Do please read that Toronto Star column. You will see that it articulates exactly the bourgeois-radical consensus that was already entrenched in the matter of the Galloway affair, and which I was so insolent as to merely point out, a full week ago: "To guide us in our deliberations, the usual pundits took pains to affirm the virtue of their own avant-garde tastes and prejudices by condescending to explain that Galloway is really just a flamboyant British philanthropist, and Ottawa was being mean to him because of his humanitarian work among the Palestinians, and well, you know, the Jews were being beastly about it." Now, McQuaig is actually inviting us deeper into conspiracy theory, into Five Dancing Israelis territory.

I rest my case.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Genocide Is Genocide. Say So, And Damn The Consequences.

This falsification has already gone on long enough and has been justified for reasons of state. It is, among other things, precisely "for reasons of state," in other words for the clear and vital announcement that we can't be bought or intimidated, that April 24, 2009, should become remembered as the date when we affirmed the truth and accepted, as truth-telling does, all the consequences.

Friday, April 03, 2009

"Could it be that the battle of ideas is already over and we don’t know it?"

Something is happening in Cuba.

Last Sunday, at the Wifredo Lam Center in Havana, the performance artist Tania Bruguera did something unusual. She offered the microphone to anyone who wanted to speak, for one minute, about anything they wanted. Several Cuban writers and artists got up and spoke their minds.

Yesterday, the official Tenth Biennial Havana Organizing Committee issued a furious denunciation of Bruguera's performance and all those who accepted her invitation to the microphone.

The Committee's declaration alleges the event was deliberately staged to "strike a blow at the Cuban Revolution. . . in the service of the anti-Cuban propaganda machine," and concludes with this stunning example of newspeak: "In spite of these provocations, la Bienal will keep on being a place of anti-hegemonic rebelliousness impregnated with heresy and authentic dissent that defined the success of the Cuban Revolution for the artists of Cuba and for the world."

Among those who took the opportunity to speak from the podium was a young writer with the pen name Octavo Cerco. Her report of the event includes an account of what people had to say for themselves. She said: “One day may we all have all the minutes of the day to say anything we want in front of the microphone. And also, may those who have the opportunity today, take a minute, or even less, to speak the truth.” She then added: "One day, freedom of speech in Cuba won’t be a performance."

The police were called, but everything was over, and there was nothing for them to do. But judging by the Biennial Committee's inflammatory declaration, they may be busy soon. Reuters reports: "Participants were flanked by two actors dressed in olive green fatigues. A white dove was placed on the shoulder of each speaker in an apparent parody of a famous speech by Fidel Castro." I doubt that this will sit well with the boss class.

Reinaldo Escobar, an independent journalist who writes from Havana and also took his minute to speak at the event, raises a couple of questions: "Was there not, that night, among so many people, one party militant or member of the Young Communist Union, or a single prominent member of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, who would have taken the initiative in front of the microphone to “step up and call out” what the committee has called, “a provocation against the Cuban Revolution”? . . .Could it be that the battle of ideas is already over and we don’t know it?"

Reinaldo is the husband of the best known Cuban blogger, the essayist and philologist Yoani Sánchez, who appears to have been the star of the show. Among the things she said: The Internet is becoming a public square for discussion where we Cubans write our opinions. The real Island has started to be a virtual Island. More democratic and more pluralistic. Sadly, these winds of free expression that travel the net with difficulty have been looking out from our monitored reality. Let’s not wait for them to allow us to enter the Internet, have a blog, or write an opinion. Now is the time for us to jump the wall of control.

Her full statement is here. Her account of the event is here. Yoani's writing is astonishing. Like this: It turns out that I don’t exist, because no state entity has me inventoried, because I don’t pay a fee to a union or appear on the list of some workplace cafeteria. Although I walk, sleep, love and even complain, I lack a certificate-of-existence that would give me affiliation to a small—and boring—number of neogovernmental organizations. In practice, I’m a civic ghost, a non-being, someone unable to show the sharp eye of the doorkeeper even the slightest proof of being in the official mechanisms.

Another Cuban writer to watch is Miriam Celeya. Like this meditation on the emergence of parking attendants in Havana in the spaces that parking meters used to be: This is a genuine product of social efficiency, in which the state—always so paternal—has created a separate category of pseudo-employment endorsed in a person to whom a red cap and vest are given, along with credentials that attest to his status as an officially-licensed worker. Thus legalized, the parking attendant provides the state with a tax deducted from the proceeds obtained by his “work.”

Venceremos, companeros y compeneras.