Monday, January 31, 2005

Never Again?

Last week we all turned our eyes to that particular corner of Poland. We marked sixty years since the camp at Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. And yet, as the memory of the holocaust recedes, I fear that we too often dishonour that memory. The phrase that so many associate with the holocaust is "never again." We say that, but just six decades on, it seems tragically empty of meaning. The richest and most powerful nations turned a blind-eye to Rwanda. All we had was talk, pardon my french, but we did f*ck all for the Rwandans. But don't believe me, read Dallaire's book, the West did nothing, at least nothing constructive. The same thing can be said for Darfur. Oh sure, we talk about it, express concern through the appropriate channels, but, save for a few brave NGOs we offer little or nothing. So when we say "never again," what are saying? Are we saying never again to genocide being perpetrated against Jews in central Europe specifically? While I'm sure that, aside from the Ernst Zundels of the world, most everyone could agree that we don't want that again. At the same time, the idealist in me always took "never again" to take on a broader meaning. Never again would the rich and powerful nations of the world just stand around and let genocide occur. Never again, when it was in our power to act, would we stand by and do nothing. Never again would we leave it to the courage of a few Oscar Schindlers, Dietrich Bonhoeffers, or Raoul Wallenbergs to try to counter such horrors. Rather we would step in and act. Yet here we are, all of us (myself included), standing around so impotent in the face of genocide. The conclusion this drives me to is that we honour the victims of monsterous genocide when it is relatively easy for us to do so. Get a few dignitaries, some speakers, perhaps some music. For the machinations of the modern state this is simple. But when honouring the memory of the holocaust when it is difficult, by involving ourselves in preventing another tragedy we shy away. In doing so, we reduce our act of memory to an empty ceremony. It does not sit well with me that we honour the victims of the holocaust one day, but everyday we shamefully dishonour that memory through our indifference to the sad repetition of history.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sunday Photoblogging...

This is Poros:

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Either We All Get Married.... Or No One Does

Once again, the debate is on in Canada about same-sex marriage. There have been several proposals that have been put out there as to how to handle this issue. There are however, only two that strike me as being fair and sensible. Firstly, we extend marriage to gay and lesbian couples. Everyone gets the same rights under the law. I think it's somewhat anachronistic to say that such a proposal upsets the "traditional" definition of marriage for several reasons. Polygamy was practiced widely in the ancient world. The biblical kings, David and Solomon both had multiple wives. What about concubines, that was another common practice in the ancient world, and yet surely today most anyone would consider it grounds for divorce. So the "traditional" definition of marriage is not as deeply rooted as many of its proponents would like to think. In addition, many people do not take marriage to be the serious proposition that it's so-called defenders consider it to be. Drive-thru wedding chapels, open marriages, high divorce rates tell a story that suggest that people on the whole, simply do not consider marriage to be as sacred as some say they should.

Let's be realistic here, in 2005, marriage, in the eyes of the law is little more than a legal arrangement for taxation and benefits purpose. That will sound denigrating of course to couples who really do try to make a marriage work, but nonetheless that's what it is in the eyes of the state. So why deny this piece of tax and contract law to gays and lesbians? Is it the use "m" word that is so scary? Someday I imagine I may very well get married - to a woman no less! I cannot imagine for the life of me, how two men or two women also being married would somehow ruin my own hypothetical marriage. When I am in a relationship, knowing that somewhere in my own city gays and lesbians are also in relationships has not ruined that.

Of course, there has been the "separate but equal" proposal. Gays get "civil unions" that are just like marriages, but not. First of all, I don't think that separate has ever been equal (see Brown v. Board of Education). Secondly, if civil unions are good enough for same sex couples, why not for everyone? This is the second sensible proposal that I have heard. The government should just get out of the marriage business altogether. Let people call it what they want, marriage, long-term pairbonding, whatever, the government just gives you a certificate saying that you have a civil union. That way, one can call something a marriage if one feels that's what it is, but there is no official pronouncement either way. Does it make marriage a subjective term? Yes. But I would hasten to argue that it already is. The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the remarriage of divorcees and there are a number of other situations with other faiths. There is already subjectivity on the matter of what is, and is not, a marriage according to one's faith and convictions.

So there you go, either we all get married, or no one does.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Have A Nice Day...

But not today...

Sigh... How many more months of this winter business anyway?

Bush Versus Goering

This morning, I read this article in the Toronto Star (login required). What caught me was the quote attributed to George W. Bush in this exchange:
According to this account, when senior Martin government figures tried to explain the difficulties of convincing Canadians it would be worthwhile for Ottawa to join the new defence system, Bush appeared astonished. Bush "waved his hands and remarked: `I don't understand this. Are you saying that if you got up and said this is necessary for the defence of Canada, it wouldn't be accepted?'" the Post quoted the Canadian official as saying.
Fascinating. Bush apparently expected Martin to be able to just get up and say that missile defence was "necessary for the defence of Canada" and everyone would just go along with that. On one level, I find this remark to be profoundly offensive, that Bush assumes that Canadian citizen (such as myself) are such stupid sheep as to be willing to go along with his idiotic and probably useless missile defence system. But then I remembered, this is what has worked for him as President. Attack Iraq, it's for national security; pass the Patriot Act, it's for national security; vote for me, it's for national security and so it has gone with just about every issue. Defence and security have been Bush's magic words for the past four years, and I guess he finds it unbelievable that it doesn't work quite as well here as it evidently does in the US. His remarks remind me of something that was said by Hermann Goering at his trial in Nuremburg,
Naturally, the common people don't want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who detemine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

Really, the similarity of the sentiment is remarkable. There you have it, Bush works on the same cynicism as a defeated Nazi general.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sunday Photoblogging...

Here's a pic of Allen Gardens in Toronto. I took it after having lunch with my friend Neil.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

In League with Satan!

...apparently so is the whole family!

(Via Yahoo, and Bob Harris)

Billy Corgan

Gets skewered here (with profanity)...

Friday, January 21, 2005


I can't stand the cold, what is today, -20C? That's insanity. Oh well, at least the car started, I can be thankful for that... In the meantime, another culture post: It seems that Daniel Libeskind is being suggested for a possible revision of the Hummingbird Centre in downtown Toronto. The Star's architecture critic, Christopher Hume was discussing this on CBC Radio One with host Andy Barrie this morning and one of them made a useful suggestion: Why not give someone like Libeskind or Gehry or whoever a fresh canvas. It was a really good point. For reasons unknown to me, Toronto's sudden infatuation with architecture seems to be defined by additions or revisions to existing structures. Libeskind's ROM, Alsop's OCAD, Gehry's AGO, why not get a top architect to do something new here? Toronto has plenty of unused, derelict spaces that could stand something new and innovative.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

More Idiocy

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Fall of the Old Republic

Some of you might think I'm talking about Star Wars. The slighty more learned might think I'm on about Rome. But really what I want to talk about is the United States. Now I am not about to equate the United States with either the Galatic or the Roman Empire. That is foolish and inaccurate at this stage. Rather, the point I want to make is this: Rome was a successful, if somewhat expansionist republic for several centuries. Then something happened, starting with Augustus, we start to refer to Rome as an empire and not a republic. Now Augustus did not wake up one day and say, "Right, from here on in, this is an empire, and guess what, I'm the emperor!" In fact, Augustus goes to great lengths in his Res Gestae to claim that what he did was secure republican rule for Rome. He does not take the Ozymandias approach and claim that he is the king of kings, rather he goes to great lengths to explain how he was such a modest guy who really had all his authority thrust on him. Clearly Augustus saw some kind of interest in at least keeping the appearance of a republic. The point here is that republics can be ended in a variety of ways. They can be vanquished in some sort of military conflict, but at the same time, they can slide into empires without anyone realizing it. The Romans never really accepted that they were anything other than an republic, and I think it is safe to say that the same would be true were something like this to happen in, say, the United States. I don't think that Bush is an emperor, I don't think he will be one by the end of his term either. But I do worry that he is continuing the slow distmantling of the American Republic. The cult of personality, the increase in presidental prerogatives, the erosion of civil liberties. If America is not careful, it could one day find itself under the rule of an emperor. Something to consider for the future, that's all.

A Blog is Born...

If you can't get enough of theological/philosophical ramblings, The Brooks has you covered! If you post a comment, make sure to use a lot of profanity, he likes that. A lot.

Just kidding about that last bit... ;)

Iran? Wow, What Won't These Geniuses Think Of?

So now the information that is seeping out everywhere seems to be that Bush is seroiusly thinking about attacking Iran next. Are they serious? Where does he propose to get the troops for this? Have the neocons learned anything from Iraq? This isn't Risk where occupying a few more territories, if even for a turn, nets you some bonus armies. Is Bush going for the Asian continent seven-army bonus? I don't know, but it seems to be about as good a reason as anything that they can officially produce as a rationale.

The thing with Iran is that there is a strong internal reform movement there. Sure they've had temporary setbacks in the last election cycle, but it's only the gerrymandering of the hardliners in certain unelected positions that keep the reformers from holding the balance of power. The fact is, I don't think it's unreasonable at all to expect that the reformist element will continue to be ascendent in Iranian society. The way to strengthen the hardliners would be to introduce a foreign threat. Look what happened in the US post-9/11/01, everyone cleaved to a religious fundamentalist and his hardline conservative henchmen. A foreign threat to Iran will produce the same result.

Of course this would problematic if anyone in the US was actually interested in the spread of democracy. Fortunately, no one is actually interested in that, instead they want pliable client states. The appearance of democracy might play well for the folks at home, but it's far from essential for the aims of Wolfowitz et al. True democracy is something that I don't think the Americans actually wanted. When the citizens of Iraq rose up in 1991 they took control of 15 of the 19 Iraqi provinces, yet the US didn't help then. Why? Because this was a legitmate broad-based uprising, not some posturing by the Allawi-Chalabi axis of avarice. The Americans made the conscious decision that they preferred the devil they knew (Saddam) over the possibility of Iraqis actually choosing their own destiny. They waited instead until well after the popular uprising was crushed and but a distant memory to act themselves. This way, the US ensured that they could dictate the shape of the new Iraqi "democracy."

What they want for Iran is the same thing, a pliable client state that is nominally democratic. If there is any doubt, remember that the CIA already deposed a truly democratic leader in Iran once (in the 1950s) and installed a dictator (The Shah). So if they are stupid enough to do another invasion, I think it is reasonable to expect the result to be equally bad.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dr. King's Legacy

In the US yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day. One of the things that I've found fascinating about the celebrations of Dr. King's life in recent years is the tendency of conservatives to attempt to wear the mantle of Dr. King's legacy. As such, I have seen a few amusing assertions by the likes of Jerry Falwell and various other conservatives that Dr. King would have supported the war in Iraq. They argue that Dr. King would have wanted to spread the light and sunshine of America to the poor benighted peoples of Iraq. Well, for the sake of comparison, what did Dr. King say about the great American war for the liberation of benighted others from the 1960s? (via Bob Harris)

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies... True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just."

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Hmmm, not a ringing endorsement of American policy in Vietnam. Now before anyone gets the urge to insist that Vietnam was totally different, let us clarify. There was no doubt in the minds of those decision makers who went into Vietnam that it was a war of liberation and part of a larger global struggle. In Errol Morris' excellent documentary, The Fog of War, Robert S. McNamara says as much. But I digress... The salient point here is that Dr. King was very much an opponent of so-called wars of liberation prosecuted by global powers. His own words leave no doubt about that.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Has Anyone Seen This?

The craziest ideology ever.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Tax Farming? What is Wrong With These People?

So now it seems that Bush has decided to resurrect another really bad idea. Tax farming. That is to say private firms collecting taxes for the state. Why were tax collectors hated in Jesus' time so much? Well it's not just that they were funding an occupying army, they were also taking a slice off the top for themselves. Tax farming was also practiced in Czarist Russia, but even the czars saw this policy to be exploitive and ended it during the reign of Alexander II. So there you have it, the Bush administration, slightly more regressive than nineteenth century autocrats... Classy.

Edited for additional content on Alexander II

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Deserters...

In the awful wake of World War II, the Nuremburg trials established that "just following orders" wasn't a justification for war crimes. Bush said the same thing to Iraq's soldiers on the eve of his invasion in 2003. Yet the US is so eager to prosecute the young men and women now deserting their forces, many of whom find the conduct of the war unconscionable. It's the same standard that was put to the Nazis and that Bush put to the Iraqis, "following orders" is no defence for committing war crimes. And war crimes is where the occupation is these days. The stories of torture, the proposal to set up death squads - there aren't any better words to describe these things. The Bush administration has got to own up to the reality that these are war crimes. And in the mean time I hope that the Canadian government grants the deserters here refugee status. They are refusing to be involved in war crimes, it's that simple.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Hilarity in Higher Learning

I can't believe that this is an actual university essay, conversely though, I don't know how anyone could have made this up. Apparently the author was using a "herbal suppliment" whilst writing this. (Via Fark)

More of What I'm Reading

In addition to The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, I'm also working my way through The Idiot by Dostoevsky (I can't seem to read only one thing at a time). So far it's been a good read with the usual Dostoevsky cast of radicals, fallen women, minor civil servants, and the like. Having read a few of his books, I've grown accustomed to the ebb and flow of Dostoevsky's work. In his case this is probably an asset, as his work can seem bizarre at times. I remember the appendix to Demons (the deleted chapter, "At Tikhon's") was a real surprise for the degree to which it was disturbing. (This even for what was arguably Dostoevsky's most disturbing novel.) Now as for The Idiot, from what I've read, it asks the question, what if Christ was just a man? At the point I'm at in the book, it's not clear how this theme will fully reveal itself, but it's one of the things that twigged my interest in this book when I picked it up.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Salvadoran Option Redux

This post fleshes out some of the more gruesome info about just what happened in Central America and about what could happen in Iraq. Again, despite my misgivings about the war and despite my fears that it would go badly, I am still astonished that it has come to this. Rumsfeld et al hit the bottom of the barrel and they just kept on going it seems.

Interesting Artwork...

Some local Toronto company has taken the wall tile patterns of each TTC subway stop and turned them each into buttons. Surprisingly, it works, at least in my opinion...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

What I'm Reading

Right now I'm reading William Appleman Williams' book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Actually I should say re-reading, because I read it for school a few years back. If you want a good refutation of the idea that America's foreign involvement is generally benevolent and helpful, this is it. It covers the America's foreign policy from the period of the "Open Door Notes" up to Vietnam. The pattern seen is one of consistent desire to open markets to American goods. When attempts at democratization are made, it is only in aid of the general goal of opening markets for American profit. And so it continues...

(With thanks to Andrew Fulford for the idea for this post.)

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Exalted Individual!

Gets a bit of a skewering here.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Deja Vu All Over Again - Yes, It's Come To This

Reagan's dirty wars. The smiling grandfatherly old man, the optimism, "morning in America." In the US, among conservatives, that's how Reagan is remembered. But there are other, darker memories of this man in Central America. In Guatemala, in Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in Honduras, the American government, through the CIA fought a series of "dirty wars." The US trained Central America's right-wing insurgents in torture at the notorious School of the Americas. Fast-forward two decades, and it appears that this is the new solution for Iraq. They are even calling it the "Salvador Option." I suppose we can all sit around and debate the merits of sending out death squads to solve America's problems. Maybe you are some sort of deluded utilitarian who thinks that the deaths of a few priests or nuns along with other assorted innocents is "worth it" to accomplish your strategic goals. But I'm going to reflect on something larger than the relative merits of unleashing death squads on a population. Look at how badly this has all gone! We've gone from the whole liberators-greeted-with-bouquets rhetoric of Paul Wolfowitz et al to this. How many more times are the marines going to have to "pacify" Fallujah or Samarra or whatever town goes bad next? I always had misgivings about this undertaking, but still, we are looking at death squads as a serious option to be pursued by the US government. That is how bad things are.

Friday, January 07, 2005

The Gospels Vs Michael Savage

In Matthew Chapter 8 a Roman centurion entreaties Jesus to save his ailing servant. Jesus takes this opportunity to tell the man that clearly this is a punishment from God for the Roman oppression of God's chosen people. Well not exactly... But the gospel of Michael Savage might tell it a bit differently...

Great Quote Followed By So-So Rant

This was written by a Rabbi about torture:

From the standpoint of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all human beings are created in the image of God.

Torture shatters and defiles that image.

In every shriek of those in unbearable pain, in every crazed nightmare of those who are denied sleep for days and weeks at a time, in every muffled moan of those plunged under water for minutes at a time, trying not to breathe lest they drown, God is broken. God is defiled.

Yet the "godly" president of the US seems set to appoint a pro-torture A-G in Alberto Gonzales. What exactly are the "values" voters looking for from this bunch? What fig-leaf of values can the Bush administration cling to? Tell me, because I am eager to hear this! What exalted values can the Republicans cling to that somehow supersede the death and destruction in Iraq? What values balance out the utter moral depravity of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo? What has Bush's regime done to promote values? From what I can tell they made it harder to say sh*t and f*ck on TV. Big deal, Paul says the Greek equivalent of sh*t in one of his epistles (it gets translated as rubbish usually). Stopped abortions? No, I think they are increasing them. Between not including "morning after pills" (which prevent conception) in their guidelines for dealing with rape victims and by pushing abstinence-only education everywhere, Bushco is more likely to increase the number of unwanted pregnancies. And guess what the correlation will be for that... I suppose they can talk about outlawing abortions again, but really that is just going to lead to the return of the coathanger solution, that way both the mother and the child will die. So what? Where are these moral values? Could it be that all the morals stuff is just posturing?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Those Godly Republicans...

Well, having determined that ethics violations weren't classy enough for him, Tom DeLay decided to say this. Well if that isn't just the classiest thing I've heard... Really though, is this how these dipweeds want to proclaim the resurrected Christ?

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Hilarious Quote

In case you haven't seen this (it was new to me):

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." — H. L. Mencken