Monday, August 31, 2009

The Frivolous Idiocies Of Identity Politics & "Apartheid Israel" Boycotts

On the former idiocy, Walter Benn Michaels:

"In the US, one of the great uses of racism was (and is) to induce poor white people to feel a crucial and entirely specious fellowship with rich white people; one of the great uses of anti-racism is to make poor black people feel a crucial and equally specious fellowship with rich black people. Furthermore, in the form of the celebration of ‘identity’ and ‘ethnic diversity’, it seeks to create a bond between poor black people and rich white ones. So the African-American woman who cleans my office is supposed to feel not so bad about the fact that I make almost ten times as much money as she does because she can be confident that I’m not racist or sexist and that I respect her culture. . ."

Uri Avnery on the latter idiocy, a current mania in 'anti-imperialist' circles:

"The Jews amount to more than 80 per cent of Israel's citizens and constitute a majority of some 60 per cent throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And 99.9 per cent of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel. They will not feel that 'the whole world is with us,' but rather that 'the whole world is against us.'

"In South Africa, the worldwide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite. It would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the 'anti-semitic world.'

"People are not the same everywhere."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Cadillac Stood By The House And The Yanks They Were Within.

The body of an American:

"We welcome the body of our friend."

And as the sunset came to meet the evening on the hill, I told you Id always loved you, I always did and I always will.

"The best of the Irish American heritage -- its passion for justice, its empathy for the excluded, its strong sense of class."

A friend of ours as well.

Friday, August 28, 2009

"They Plunder The Organs of Our Sons."

Bernie Farber, hitting one out of the park:

"The problem with blood libels is not merely the hate in their words but the poisonous and all-too-often lethal violence they encourage in their wake. These lies must be seen as equally repulsive when cast against 'Jews' in the abstract or against the one state in the world that represents Jewish nationalism within a vibrantly multicultural and inclusive society. Aftonbladet's offensive and unsubstantiated story alleging Israeli organ trafficking is the latest shameful addition to an infamous trail of lies, innuendo and fabrications that have historically set the stage for the violent and deadly persecution of the Jewish people."

Bernie lets off the Aftonbladet journalists too lightly, however, when he writes: "Despite the absence of any independent evidence to substantiate these lurid allegations from clearly biased sources, the paper, which is owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, published the article without any research and with no effort at any sort of due diligence. This was not even a matter of facts being contorted to fit a hypothesis; there are no facts here, simply baseless mendacity."

As it turns out, the Aftonbladet appears to have relied on rather less than even "lurid allegations" in order to whore a blood libel as a journalistic "investigation." The Palestinian mother at the centre of the organ-harvesting hubbub never even made the claims in the first place, Khaled Abu Toameh reports. The Swedish photographer whose grisly pictures accompany the Aftonbladet article was in a Palestinian village during a funeral and he managed to take a number of pictures of the body before it was buried. "That was the only time we saw this photographer," said the brother of the dead man. Said a family friend: "Maybe the journalist reached that conclusion on the basis of the stitches he saw on the body."

Why is the Swedish government being so pathetically equivocal about this, anyway? If whoring in dirty innuendo is fair game in Stockholm, then I'll see the Swedes and raise them: Osama bin Laden once asked this rhetorical question, in an attempt to refute the famous assertion by George W. Bush that Al Qaida's problem is that it hates freedom: "If so, then let him explain to us why we don't strike for example – Sweden?" By noticing this, I now invite everyone to infer that the Aftonbladet case offers something of an answer. Why the hell not?

While we're trading one thing for another, here's my good chum Ben Cohen having a go: Let's trade Gilad Atzmon for Gilad Shalit.

Seems fair to me. A soldier for a whore, and of course I mean that in a good way. Here's the great John B. Keane to explain:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

News From Afghanistan: Understatement-ad-Absurdum, Snake Oil and Propaganda

After 15 years toiling for daily newspapers and several more years writing books and working as a freelance writer, I confess to harbouring some occasional cynicism about the journalism trade. When it comes to Afghanistan, in my darker moments I've sometimes wondered whether the Karzai regime would get better press in the rich countries of the world with a simple public relations strategy, along, say, these lines:

1. Incorporate references to the Protocols of Zion in the Afghan constitution. 2. Arrange to have the Afghan parliament sponsor the launching of a few hundred missiles into civilian neighbourhoods in Israel. 3. Sign an oil deal with Hugo Chavez.

Not that Karzai deserves good press, particularly in light of the way his government has so badly banjaxed the country's first Afghan-run presidential elections. But in the news business, the big picture we get about faraway places is made up of stories, and stories are made up of sentences, and my cynicism wasn't exactly tempered today when I read this sentence:

The Taliban had urged citizens to boycott the election.

So that's how we're describing it. In its vicious campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at disrupting Afghanistan's presidential elections, the Taliban threatened Afghans with death and dismemberment if they merely intended to show up at polling stations to cast ballots. In the Christian Science Monitor, this savage terror is reduced to: The Taliban had urged citizens to boycott the election.

Meanwhile, in the Ottawa Sun, columnist Eric Margolis tells us, once again that it's all about oil. I couldn't find a single sentence in that whole column that wasn't either stupid, plain wrong or downright outrageous, but this one really stands out: "The current war in Afghanistan is not about democracy, women's rights, education or nation building. Al-Qaida, the other excuse, barely exists. Its handful of members long ago decamped to Pakistan. The war really is about oil pipeline routes and western domination of the energy-rich Caspian Basin." [Update: Elaboration and background here.]

When it comes to Margolis, it really is about oil. Snake oil.

Margolis is a long-time Taliban enthusiast and an apologist for Hamas. It is curious that Margolis is held in such high esteem by self-proclaimed "anti-war" noisemakers of the leftish type, given that he's a founding editor of the noxious Yankee Pat Buchanan's extreme-right American Conservative magazine, but there we are. The really oily bit is that Margolis is the millionaire majority owner of Jamieson's Laboratories, which makes a tidy profit by bilking gullible cold-sufferers with this stuff.

But quackery persists. Mark Collins explains how it's rubbish: "Nonsense. Afghanistan has no role in the production or transportation of Caspian Basin oil. Most of that oil is in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Azerbaijan has no need for Afghanistan as a pipeline route. Neither does Kazakhstan. Its oil is exported by pipeline via Russia and to China." But some people just can't help themselves. They just can't give up.

Over at The Torch, Damian Brooks has had quite enough of journalists who produce anti-journalism of the sort that results in the sentence The Taliban had urged citizens to boycott the election. "Now, they'll argue they can't take sides and that they can't give one point of view more weight than another. Bullshit. That's like having a broken leg and giving equal credence to the opinions of your doctor and your six year old daughter on the matter: one is credible on the subject, and one isn't."

Aye and aye.

ADDENDUM: A dependable journalist, Rosie DiManno, knows bullshit when she sees it:

"So appalling was the destruction from simultaneous bombings in Kandahar city on Tuesday evening that even the Taliban – who, of course, are always to be taken at their disingenuous word, at least by deranged purveyors of moral equivalency in the West – hastened to deny responsibility.

"Who else, then? Aliens? Or perhaps it was a diabolical CIA plot, as the mutton-headed conspiracy theorists will no doubt assert in blogo-land. . ."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Foreign & General (And Field Marshall) - Moments in Treaty-Making

August 22, 1939:

Officially stated in Berlin that Ribbentropp flies to Moscow tomorrow to sign non-agression pact with U.S.S.R. News later confirmed from Moscow by Tass Agency, in a way that seems to make it clear that pact will go through. Little comment in any of the papers, the news having evidently arrived in the small hours of this morning & the Russian confirmation only in time for the stop press.

August 22, 1922:

Michael Collins, 31, commander-in-chief of the pro-treaty Irish Free State forces, has been assassinated in an ambush at the Mouth of Flowers (Beal na mBlath). He will be remembered as a freedom fighter, the world's first urban guerilla, and a great Irish patriot.

August 22, 2009:

You can tell that reports of some sort of pact are total rubbish when the dispatch contains a sentence like this: "A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said yesterday it was 'monitoring' the situation. . ."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The People Will Win. Long Live Afghanistan.

The spinning on Afghanistan's elections and their meaning will be fast and crazy over the next few days. As things have turned out so far, voting day wasn't anywhere near as calamitous as we'd been warned to expect.

Here's the United Nations' Kai Eide:

"First of all, let me remind you all of what our thinking was and about all the questions I got from you a couple of days ago. Those questions were: With all these security incidents and with this security situation will it be possible to hold elections in Afghanistan? Now, we see that elections have taken place across Afghanistan and I believe that, that is in itself an important achievement.

"There have also been a lot of discussions over the number of poll centres that the election commission will be able to open. Now we know that around 6,200 polling centres were open. The figures are not precise yet. But that is what we believe is the approximate number. That number is equal to the number that was open in 2005. And I must also say that, too, is an achievement."

An understatement, that. Despite the looming threat of dismemberment, mass murder and terror, millions of Afghans voted anyway. The courage of ordinary people is breathtaking:

"I was scared of bombs and suicide bombers when I walked on the street to the polling site, but I had to take the risk and participate in the election," said Sharin Bano, 28, who voted in the provincial capital. "I am telling all my sisters who are at home to participate in this election, too. As women we should use our vote to get change and peace. There are threats and warnings for us to stay in our homes, but if we stay home how can we expect any changes that will lead to peace?"

As to the question of how to deal with the counter-revolutionary bandits who persist in inflicting bloodshed and mayhem upon the Afghan masses, I'm inclined to this policy. The old bastard did have a few good ideas. You've got to grant him that.

But here is a contrary position, currently being promoted by the pseudo-left sect that runs the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Toronto Stop The War Coalition: "The Taliban is the resistance in Afghanistan and we must support it, critically, but unreservedly. . . There is no fundamental difference between the liberation theology movements in South America and the popular Islamist resistance movements in the Middle East and Asia, movements such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban. . . .Every U.S. and NATO tank that the Taliban destroy, every Karzai-appointed stooge they assassinate and every town or village they liberate is a victory for our side and a grievous blow to U.S. imperialism."

A victory for our side, if you don't mind.

This is lurid, reactionary filth, all dressed up as "anti-imperialism." Its adherents and apologists, and every last one of you who would tolerate it, make excuses for it, or give it sanctuary by alleging that to merely notice it is to "smear the peace movement," will rot with it in history's dustbin. And while you weep and gnash your teeth at every tiny revolutionary victory, Afghanistan's long and bloody democratic revolution, for which so many Canadians have given their lives, will surely triumph. Slow and steady, the people will win.

Long live Afghanistan.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Paddy Beatnik Art Fillum.

Starring Ronnie Drew.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Canadian Journalist Is On Trial in Tehran. What Is Ottawa Doing About It?

The following is a guest essay by my friend Simon Ardizzone, who has collaborated as an editor with Maziar Bahari over the past two years, making five films with him. Simon is the director/producer of Hacking Democracy.

Last week, Bill Clinton went to North Korea to plead for the release of two American journalists who had entered the country illegally. The trip was a success and a fine example of a country insisting that its citizens be treated with due respect to their human rights. How different things are in Canada. For detained Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was reporting completely legally from Tehran for Newsweek Magazine, there have been only some polite diplomatic manoeuvres and the odd generic denunciation from the government.

It’s time things changed.

Maziar Bahari was reporting on the Iranian elections. On June 21, at 7 a.m., there came the classic knock at the door. Unidentified agents of the security services took Maziar into custody and pitched him into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Since that morning, Maziar has been allowed one visit by his mother. His six-months pregnant wife hasn’t been allowed to speak to him. The authorities haven’t even allowed him to see a lawyer. Last Saturday, Maziar was one of about 100 or so opposition leaders brought into court on vague charges of inciting a ‘velvet revolution’. No defence lawyers were present at the court hearings and independent journalists weren’t allowed in either. You can see an impassioned denunciation of the ‘Stalinist show trials’ and a plea for Maziar by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria at the Free Maziar Bahari website.

So what is Canada doing? Well, I’m assured that there has been some behind-the-scenes action. The Canadian government has demanded access to a consul for Maziar, and representations have been made to the Iranian ambassador in Ottawa. But it’s hardly Bill Clinton turning up, is it?

The irony in all of this is that Maziar isn’t just any journalist, he’s that rare creature - an impassioned, objective insider. Just after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Maziar made the difficult decision to become an exile, embarking on a lonely journey via Pakistan to arrive in Canada in his late teens, where he subsequently took up Canadian citizenship. Over the past ten years, Maziar has made countless trips back to his mother country as a filmmaker and journalist to report, reflect and act as a bridge between Iran and the West.

According to Maziar’s Newsweek editor, Nisid Hajari: “Maziar’s great value as our correspondent is that he’s always been able to see the world through Iranian eyes, and to translate that perspective for readers in America and around the world. He is the epitome of a balanced journalist—as evidenced by the fact that the Iranian press ministry has approved his credentials every year for 10 years.”

Maziar is also an award winning documentary filmmaker who has brought Iranian society and politics to life for a world-wide audience. Examples of Maziar’s work include the touchingly intimate portrayal of Grand Ayatollah Sanei and his ministry, made for Al Jazeera, which can be viewed here. For Maziar’s commissioning editor at Al Jazeera English, Flora Gregory:“It is a charming, insightful film about Iran, where modern preoccupations meet Islamic theology, and which goes beyond stereotyped clichés.”

More recently he produced a series of historical documentaries for the BBC that covered the 1953 CIA coup in Iran and the subsequent reign and ultimate fall of The Shah. This is important work, explaining how Iran has got to where it is, going beyond the usual images of turbaned mullahs and women in chadors to show a diverse, complex and vibrant society that is surprisingly progressive and eager to engage with modernity and the world. At the tender age of 40 and in homage to his extraordinary career, Maziar was invited to curate a season of his favourite films at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

Canada and the West need brave journalists like Maziar. So does Iran. But we’re not going to have Maziar with us by being polite, by just following protocol. We need to see the political will, the political imagination from Canada that says ‘this man is important to us and to the world – let him go free’. We need to see Maziar’s name raised in the United Nations, we need to see the Canadian government defending its own and defending the right of free speech.

To call on the Canadian government to step up its support of Maziar, please sign the petition here and join the Free Maziar Bahari Now! Facebook page.

Maziar has friends all over the world, but ordinary Canadians are uiiquely positionedi to come to his aid. Write Prime Minister Harper, who has stated his intention to have Maziar released ( ), and be sure to write "Maziar Bahari" in the subject line. Remember, the Prime Minister's office needs encouragement on this file, not browbeating. The same goes for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon ( ). You should also contact your local MP and ask that Maziar's case be raised in Question Period ( find your local MP's contact info here). - TG

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who's Sorry Now?

When I was a kid, I used to envy Protestants. Especially the United Church kind. They seemed to have things so easy. They drove nicer cars, they had sunnier dispositions, they got better jobs. They were always so cheery and laid back about everything, and not particularly snobby about it, either.

To envy Protestants was wrong, of course. First, envy is bad, as any priest worth his socks would tell you. Second, it was irrational, because after all, Protestants had put themselves at a distinct disadvantage in the sanctifying-grace sweepstakes by denying themselves the sacraments and setting up their own little churches outside the magisterium of Rome and always giving backchat about the contents of some book they called "the bible" and what have you.

Best to do the rational thing, then, and trundle off with one's own crowd every Sunday and every holy day of obligation to participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the ecclesiastical term for squeezing into the pews of a candle-lit and cavernous place thick with the smoke of frankincense while some scary auld vestment-draped geezer ritually conjured to life a Jew who was nailed to a tree in Palestine 2,000 years ago, and then queueing up to the altar to ritually eat the dead Jew, in accordance with the instructions he'd left.

There were specific variations in the ordinaries and litanies through Pentacost and so on but it always ended with P.: Go, The Mass is Ended; R.: Thanks Be to God. And thanks be to God indeed, you might say, because while our crowd was at that, the United Church people were down the road sitting around in their socks listening to old Joan Baez records, drinking orange juice and discussing the unfairnesses endured by the Indochinese and the striking Calfornia grape pickers and speculating thoughtfully about what Jesus would say, and perhaps even reflecting on their good fortune to be allowed to use contraceptives. The lucky, sweet, earnest Protestant bastards.

They were spiritual. We were religious. They were Christians. We were Papists. They voted on points of theological controversy. We left those things up to the Italians to sort out, at the Vatican, which issued edicts that could be safely ignored. They expected their ministers to be social-justice activists, while we expected our priests to visit the sick, bury the dead, administer the sacraments and otherwise keep their big yappers shut. We were cursed with the mark of original sin, which we sometimes displayed on our sooty foreheads on Ash Wednesdays. They were the blessed, the peacemakers. But they don't seem to be so lucky now.

The United Church of Canada is currently busy with its triennial symposium, I think they call it, and church delegates are considering a motion which initially contained some gruesome and antique insinuations about dual Jewish loyalties and bribes and such like, and while the uglier bits were erased so as not to give anyone offence the motion still calls upon churchgoers to Renounce Israel And All Her Works.

My pal Bernie Farber is understandably annoyed by all of this. I'm thinking it could be a lot worse, even if the Jewish Tribune doesn't seem to think so. But there's something else, and it's much meaner than what's been publicly reported. By calling for a "boycott of Israeli products and companies supporting the Zionist policies of Israel," the motion would oblige the members of the United Church to specifically refrain (see page 78, pdf) from buying the products and services of:

"Ambi Pur, AOL Time Warner, Aoste, Apax Partners & Co. Ltd., Aramis, Arsenal FC, Auchan, Bali, Ball Park, Biotherm, Banana Republic, Bryan, Buitoni, Café Pilāo, Calvin Klein, Carnation, Carrefour, Caterpillar, Champion, Clinique, CNN, Coca-Cola, Danone, Delta Galil, Dim, Disney, Donna Karan, DYNK, Estée Lauder, Express, Expo Design Center, Evian, Fruitopia, Gap, Garnier, General Electric, Georgia Lighting, Giorgio Armani, Gossard, HarperCollins, Hanes, Helen Rubinstein, Henri Bendel, Hema, Hillshire Farms, The Home Depot, Huggies, Hugo Boss, ICQ, IBM, Intel, Intimate brands, J. Crew, JC Penney, Jimmy Dean, Johnson & Johnson, Jo Malone, Just My Size, Kimberley-Clark, Kia Ora, Kiwi, Kleenex, Kotex, Lancôme, La Roche-Posay, Lea-Perrin, L’eggs, Lerner New York, Lewis Trust Group Ltd., Libby’s, Lilt, The Limited Inc., Lindex, L’Oreal, Loveable, MAC Cosmetics, Maggi, Maison Café, Marks & Spencer, MAST Industries, Inc., Matrix, Maybelline, McDonald’s, Nestlé, News Corporation, News of the World, New York & Company, New York Post, Nokia, Nur Die, Nursery World, Outerbanks, Origins, Perrier, Pickwick, Playtex, Prescriptives, Pryca, Ralph Lauren, Redken, Revlon, River Island, Santex, Sara Lee, Schweppes, Selfridges, Sky, Starbucks, Structure, The Sun, Sunkist, Superior Coffee, Tchibo, Timberland, Time, Tommy Hilfiger, Twentieth Century Fox, Vichy Laboratories, Victoria’s Secret, Villager’s Hardware, Vittel, The White Barn Candle Co., and Wonderbra."

Sweet Jesus Christ on a horse, one might reasonably exclaim. The motion proposes that as Christians, they should shun all that stuff as somehow trafe. This is rather more dismal and austere than giving up the drink for Lent and having to go without fish on Fridays, it seems to me.

The poor, sweet, suffering, condom-having, Mary-ignoring, earnest Protestant bastards.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Barbarism of Chavismo: Populism, Military Uniforms, Homophobia & Antisemitism

In Boston Review, Claudio Lomnitz and Rafael Sánchez present a brutal analysis of Hugo Chavez and the descent of his "Bolivarian revolution" into reactionary depravity. It is now impossible to openly discuss the class and race divisions that gave rise to Venezuela's radical politics in the first place, and indeed the Chavistas' politics "extinguishes the possibility of open dialogue on practically any delicate issue." It's not just that Venezuela's Jews must now bear the burden of the caudillo's incitements, but "all oppositional discourse is banished to the terrain of the foreign and the treasonous."

For their trouble, Lomnitz and Sánchez have been subjected to the usual slander and innuendo, and Chavismo's defenders have trotted out all the standard apologetics. Lomnitz and Sánchez answer their critics point by point, here concluding: "In a Humpty Dumpty world, when Christ killers and Jews are mentioned in the same breath, the referent is merely the oligarchy; in any other world, expressions have histories, and denotation cannot shake off ideological connotation. Not even Commander Hugo Chávez can make words mean only what he opportunistically wants them to mean."

But that isn't stopping him from trying.

Just last week, after the Chavez government shuttered 34 radio and television stations across the country, Reporters Without Borders asked: “Is it still possible to publicly express any criticism at all of President Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian” government? This massive closure of mainly opposition media is a dangerous for the future of democratic debate in Venezuela and is motivated by the government’s desire to silence dissent. It will just exacerbate social divisions.”

The crackdown followed fast on the heels of a series of dissent-crushing measures Chavez has adopted in recent weeks. Television and radio advertisements critical of government measures were ordered off the air, cable stations have been told they will soon be required to broadcast Chavez's speeches live, and radio stations have been warned that they will not be allowed to pool their programming in order extend news coverage throughout the country. On July 30, a new "media crimes" bill was introduced, setting out prison sentences of up to four years for printing or broadcasting "false" information that would "harm the interests of the state."

Says José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch: "What we are witnessing is the most comprehensive assault on free speech in Venezuela since Chavez came to power."

According to Marino Alvarado, of the human rights group Provea: "The criminalization of protests has become a state policy, They are trying to instill fear so people don't protest."

Over the past four years, more than 2,200 Venezuelans, including dozens of trade unionists, have been indicted on criminal charges stemming from their participation in anti-government protests.

Unsolicited Advice Is Often Useful Advice.

The unacknowledged irony in the New Democratic Party's trivial conniptions about whether it should start calling itself simply the Democratic Party is the implicit recognition that the party is incapable of living up to its billing. As it seeks to remake itself, it cannot be a "new" party, and we shouldn't expect that to be the outcome; to be a party worthy of its name is simply out of the question, apparently. So the nomenklatura counsel the cadres to keep watching the southern skies, as they wait and hope for some sign of John Frum.

In the meantime, Kelly McParland has a go.

I'm for No. 2, Set Free The Crazies, although not because "the fringers have nowhere else to go anyway," but because sensible New Democrats should be obliged to fight the crazies with the utmost ruthlessness and drive them out once and for all. This would improve the party enormously. If the crazies win in a fight like that, then the NDP will die, and will deserve to die.

I'm especially for No. 5, Get A Foreign Policy: "The NDP treats every military conflict like a replay of Vietnam, and persists in pretending the United Nations can end vicious confrontations by sending in a few peacekeepers and promoting dialogue." Aye and aye. Reactionary scum are not "misguided freedom fighters," comrades. Killing fascists is no vice.

No. 3 is good, in this way: "Quit pretending the NDP alone cares about social policy and craft some proposals that fit the Canada that exists" - reference to the size of "the cheque" is a distraction.

To my profound regret, No. 1 is probably wise. No. 4, so-so. Economics is a wildly overrated discipline.

Andrew Potter says the NDP should stick with its brand, even though the party has hit a ceiling of support.

Generally, I happen to be of the view that a proper democratic-socialist party would be a grand thing for Canada to muster to the global struggle for the emancipation of women, the advance of democracy and liberty, and the defeat of slavery, obscurantism, poverty and disease. That is what the "left" has always been about, at least in its finest moments. I suspect , however, that the only way such a party might emerge from the New Democrats is if it were the result of a long, bloody, and bitter mutiny, and all the flotsam were heaved over the side.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Simply Too Good To Be True.

I want so desparately for this to prove right:

Three days after a CIA drone strike killed the head of the Taliban in Pakistan, his two most likely successors apparently killed each other when they opened fire at a meeting to decide the next commander, according to initial reports provided to Pakistani intelligence officials.

The sublime symmetry of it. The delicious, perfect justice of it. Too good to be true.

Friday, August 07, 2009

How Terror Make Hostages Of Us All.

The recent murders of Sapper Matthieu Allard and Cpl. Christian Bobbitt bring the number of Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan to 127. Allard and Bobbit were killed by "improvised explosive devices" (IEDs), sometimes called roadside bombs - the method by which most of our soldiers have been murdered. Of the 127, 67 were killed by IEDs. This is more than enough to make you wonder whether there's some lesson Canada's military commanders haven't been learning.

You will wonder about that a lot less if you understand the context. In 2008, IEDs were used in the murder of 172 soldiers with armies affiliated to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, but another 519 Afghan civilians were murdered in this way. Another 1,014 Afghan civilians were wounded, and among the casualties were 98 children.

This report from journalist Dene Moore is quite useful. This analysis, by Mathias Hagstrøms of Roskilde University in Denmark, goes much farther to explain how terror works in the context of IEDs. The dilemma Hagstrøms presents is a case study in the challenge of building an effective and functioning state that is capable of defending itself against terrorism.

It's a bit like a classic hostage-taking.

The objective must be to hand over the responsibility of landmine awareness and mine-risk education (MRE) to the Afghan government, but this will potentially "politicize" the work, to "blur the line between military and humanitarian operations," as Hagstrøms puts it, which could imperil the effectiveness of such programs.

Keeping MRE initiatives in the hands of "neutral" United Nations agencies might actually save lives, at least in the short term. But to do so also plays into the hands of Taliban, which is intent upon undermining every aspect of the embryonic Afghan state and its authority.

If Afghan authorities can't handle their own affairs, they will require foreign military assistance. So long as our soldiers are there, the Taliban will continue to murder them, or at least keep trying. But if we leave, we'll clear the field for the Taliban to slaughter and bully as many Afghans as they like.

We are all hostages.

More from Hagstrøms here, and background on his landmine awareness study here (pdf).

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Personally, I Think The Freemasons Did It.

Earlier Thursday, delegates voted unanimously in favor of a resolution that holds Israel fully responsible for the death of Yasser Arafat. The man behind the resolution was Nasser al-Qidweh, a senior Fatah official and nephew of Arafat, who also demanded a commission of inquiry into the case.

The spokesman, Amr, said that the case of Arafat's "mysterious" death would remain open until the Palestinians reveal the whole truth.

"We have been in contact with some countries that have information about his death," Amr said. "We are determined to find out everything about this case and we will announce the results in public."

- "Fatah Delegates Beaten For Allegedly Disrupting Talks."

I mean, really. Isn't it obvious? Just take one look at them:

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Compare and Contrast: Hassan Diab in Ottawa; Mahmoud El-Qemany in Cairo.

Carleton University's refusal to hire a professor who is under strict bail conditions while he awaits charges related to the hate crime of a Paris synagogue-bombing that resulted in four deaths has earned the administration a shrill scolding from 30 of its anthropology and sociology professors. Replacing Hassan Diab is "an attack on widely held democratic values. . . a bleak chapter in the story of injustice and discrimination in the dark shadow of 9/11" and proof that the 'war on terror' has gone too far. It's all about basic freedoms, the unseemly influence of Jewish advocacy organizations, George W. Bush, a dangerous lesson about a bigger picture, and so on.

Professor Ian Lee offers a dissenting view, calling the uproar over Diab's non-hiring "nonsense on stilts." Diab's departmental supporters are clueless, Lee writes: "To retain an instructor in the classroom charged with such profoundly serious crimes would express a callous contempt for our students and their parents."

Andrew Potter takes a similar view, noting that Diab's elevation to "something of an anti-imperialist folk hero on a par with Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez" says something rather more about Carleton's anthro-soc department than its profs might like. Department chair Peter Gose put his foot in it with his weird comment about Carleton's "large Muslim student population," and if it's a bigger picture you want to put the Diab hubbub inside, Potter suggests it's "the usual internal force of anti-Israel ideological conformity that infects virtually every department of humanities and social sciences in the country."

Not to be too cynical, but somehow I can't imagine the brave champions of academic freedom that have rallied to the barricades on Diab's behalf will be paying too much mind to the case of Mahmoud El Qemany, who is facing something rather more than an interregnum in his academic engagements at the moment. He's not facing multiple murder charges, either. El Qemany's crime: He recently received the Egyptian State Award for Social Sciences and at the same time is not a koran-thumping lunatic. For this, he is facing death.

Here, in full, is El Qemany's "Appeal to the World's Conscience":

In the context of my academic research and practical work I have been able to provide an important set of motion in the stagnant Egyptian situation. I have attempted to make reforms from the inside and worked on the disarmament of those who exploit Islam politically and make it a source of livelihood at the expense of the simple, good people of Egypt. I have therefore created a secular movement that has imposed its presence, although still at a formative stage.

In a free ballot of Egyptian thinkers, I was granted the State Award for Social Sciences, on June 25th 2009. The hard-line radical militant groups considered that the state has adopted this intellectual secular trend officially, infuriating the mentioned group which called on the State to withdraw the prize with the declaration of my defection from Islam and excommunication which means in our country, I could be slain; any citizen is allowed to kill me and be awarded by God in Paradise.

The following parties have participated in the statements of excommunication (takfir), noting that none of them have read a single word of what I wrote, and have not been able to hold a dialogue to discuss my ideas:

1 – Al-Azhar Scholars Front headed by Yahya Ismail Habloush, which issued the first statement of excommunication on July 10, 2009.

2 – The Islamic Group (condemned terrorist group) issued a statement of excommunication on July 10, 2009.

3 – The Muslim Brotherhood hailed the excommunication, and were represented at the parliament by Hamdi Hassan requesting the withdrawal of the award and the declaration of religious-defection and excommunication on July 7, 2009. The Muslim Brotherhood also declared my excommunication on Mohwar Channel on July 11, 2009 and on Al Faraeen Channel on July 13, 2009.

4 – The Salafi (Fundamentalist) Group (condemned terrorist group) dedicated its Internet site named “The Egyptians” for excommunicating me and incitements to kill me, since the date of obtaining the prize until today.

5 – Al Nas channel, which represents the theoretical side of bloody terrorism which declared excommunication and demanded “all citizens who can” to kill me immediately, on July 24 and 25, 2009.

6 – The Hisbah Sheikh Youssef Al Badri in Egypt declared on the channel “ON TV” on July 3, 2009 that I have cursed God and the Prophet Mohammad in my books even though I have challenged him and others to refer to a single text written by me where such claims were made. Due to this proclamation, he has issued an incitement to kill me.

7 – A member of the Al-Azhar scholars, Sheikh Mohammed El Berry, on Mihwar TV Channel on July 11, 2009 announced my excommunication as he also said that he did not read any of my writings since he does not read “garbage”. He repeated the same words on the channel “ON TV” on July 22, 2009

8 – Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the former Chairman of the “State Religious Affairs Advisory Board”, issued a statement declaring my infidelity and calling for slaying me for “insulting the Prophet of Islam, the God of Islam” on July 24, 2009.

9 – The Sheiks of more than 5,000 mosques on Friday prayers on July 24, 2009 declared the incitement to kill me, especially in my hometown, which led to the rampage against my family and relatives, and that could possibly evolve to some serious consequences in the coming weeks.

Due to the above, I call upon the conscience of all humanity in the free world to come to me and my children’s rescue by providing moral support and the condemnation and denunciation of the radical thinking with quick solutions to save us from the danger that is luring around us. This is a distress call to all bodies and individuals. A call to the consciences of every free individual in the world.

Sayed Mahmoud El Qemany- Researcher

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The United Arab Emirates: "By shades, meaner and darker by the day."

The following post is written by "Wayne Parker," a friend in Dubai. It was prompted by a new and reactionary United Arab Emirates crackdown under which 41 men and women have been arrested so far: "cross-dressing," they call it. It is an offence for a woman to wear pants, or for a man to wear a necklace, a bracelet, or a ring. Punishment can mean a prison term, deportation, or “psychological treatment and social counseling” for women.

For some time now, Dubai has been trading on its reputation as a shining example of Arab tolerance - a rebuke to the proposition that Arab regimes are incapable of being cosmopolitan, modern, and accommodating. But the UAE, Wayne writes - and even Dubai - are "turning, by shades, meaner and darker by the day."

One of the most surprising things I discovered about Dubai, was how very like a Canadian city it was. Anyone used to driving on the 401 in Ontario, and stopping at Tim Horton’s and Wendy’s along the way would feel entirely at home on the six to fourteen lane highways with drive-thru McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts. Where in Canada you would go to a Loblaws, here you go to a Lulus. Instead of Wal-Mart, there’s Carrefour, and while there is no Home Hardware, Ace Hardware does just fine. Sadly, you won’t find a Tim Horton’s anywhere, but Second Cup is easy enough to find, and in both places you will find a multiplicity of cultures, and even bilingual government services.

In the malls, it is hard to walk more than a few feet before bumping into packs of youths who look like they just stepped out of a Black Eyes Peas video - an experience not at all unfamiliar to anyone who has passed through Yorkdale or the Eaton Centre.

One of the ways Dubai differs from Canadian cities is the speed at which you can acquire a parking pass, or apply for a permit. Simply walk into any clean, spacious municipality office, tap a touch screen, grab a ticket, take a seat in a comfortable chair, and wait (a very short time) for your number to be called. For those used to standing in long, sweaty queues that snake through a shifting maze of stanchions and ropes, endless form filling, and the seemingly gleefully vindictive unhelpfulness so commonly found at places like Nathan Phillips Square, the experience is nothing short of a revelation. Even if I do feel nostalgic for the disservice and torpor of home, I only need head on down to the Canadian consulate, where they’re more than happy to mix up your paperwork and turn a deaf ear to your requests.

In short, any visitor here would be forgiven for thinking that Dubai was an entirely modern and westernized place, and mostly it is. When Friday hits, cars and flights from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar flood in to take advantage of the many malls, hotels, resorts, and other amenities available, such as the LCBO-like liquor stores, the prostitutes of every nationality, and soon, franchises of the MGM Grand and the Bellagio.

But there is another side to this story. For Canadians used to notions of compromise, change, and fairness, it can be hard to truly comprehend the deep seated fundamentalist core before which all outward displays of progressivism are but a thin veneer.

As the boom ended, so did Dubai’s easy-going and progressive nature. According to the Melbourne Age, 91 Australians have recently been imprisoned, many without charge. A few weeks ago the government telecom was caught red handed trying to spy on Blackberry users with intrusive spyware used to read private e-mails. And as Dubai based blogger Seabee has reported on his blog Life in Dubai, “the Ministry of Social Affairs has launched a campaign called "Excuse me, I’m a girl" to combat a trend of girls cross-dressing as men.”

Thus far 41 men and women have been arrested for this crime, which carries a sentence of deportation or prison, and the provision of “psychological treatment and social counseling,” for women. In a nutshell, they lock up pants-wearing in the nut house until they learn how to act like “real” girls. Mind you, men aren’t that much better off, since “cross-dressing” can include the wearing of necklaces, bracelets, and rings.

As the UAE has recently managed to launch their first satellite, and has bought a chunk of Virgin Galactic, including stating their intent to develop a space launch facility on UAE soil, this reactionary turn should be very worrisome - a fantastically rich, space faring nation, with cutting edge technology, is turning, by shades, meaner and darker by the day.

The UAE is one of the (very) few Middle Eastern nations that not only educates women, but provides them equal opportunities to work and participate in society. Dubai has long led the way in this regard. It is also one of the few places in the Arab Middle East that has proven that civil society, and the respect for law, can flourish in an Arab state.

As it was with Afghanistan many years ago, it's now, in the early days of the backward slide, that we should start paying attention.


It wasn't until 1924 that Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein figured out that at extremely low temperatures, the wave functions of atoms would overlap and start acting like one big atom. The result would be something new and weird - not a solid, not a liquid and not a gas, either. But "absolute zero" is a bit like the speed of light - nothing can ever go quite that fast. Nothing can ever really get that cold, but you can get close.

It turns out that fifty-billionths of a degree above absolute zero - roughly minus 273 Celsius - will produce something called the Bose-Einstein condensate, a thick glob of atoms condensed into one. It looks like "a translucent cherry made of a glowing cloud of very cold rubidium."

A 2001 Nobel Prize for conjuring this strange thing, which "could never have existed naturally anywhere in the universe," went to Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman. The two physicists were standing on the shoulders of Einstein and Bose, and James Dewar, who almost blew himself up in his laboratory in 1886, and Heike Onnes, who liquefied helium in 1908, and Michael Faraday, who liquefied chlorine in 1823.

Among the results of all these efforts is cryosurgery, the process for recycling old car tires, liquefied natural gas, the rocket fuel that put people on the moon, and air conditioning, which allows modern civilization to flourish in the heat of the summer, from Toronto to Los Angeles and from Miami to Singapore.

And also Bill Streever's Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places, which I review in today's Globe and Mail.

We could use some of that cold right about now, please.