Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Very Height of Naivety

A number of pundits and op-ed types have denounced Canada's decision to stay out of the United States' idiotic ballistic missile defence (BMD) program. My opinion on this program has been expounded elsewhere in this blog. That being the case, I'll spare you all the reasons why the whole program is a waste of time, trusting that you can read up on that yourself. Instead I want to discuss why some have come out against Canada's decision. Specifically, they say that Canada is giving up an opportunity to have a "seat at the table." In other words, Canada will not be consulted over the use of the BMD system over Canada's airspace. Perpetual pain-in-the-ass Paul Cellucci has said that Canada is giving up sovereignty over its airspace by opting out of BMD.

Now let me kindly explain why all the above is utter bullshit. Does anyone really think, for even a second, that the Americans would actually care what Canada said even if we were "consulted" at some seat at the BMD table? Do you really think that the manic unilateralists now in charge would have the remotest urge to listen to us? No, they would do what they wanted, regardless of our wishes. Our seat at the table would be nothing more than a symbolic place. Anyone who thinks that Canada's promised so-called seat at the table would give us any say at all is delusional. If anything, by opting out at least we are making it plain that we'd have no say in this system, which is the case regardless of whether Ottawa signed on or not.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Iran is not Iraq? Iraq was not Iraq!

So today I heard Bush say on the radio that "Iran is not Iraq." Now I'm not going to comment on whether this is something that Rove has to tell Bush repeatedly to avoid confusion (oh wait, I just did that, tee hee). What I want to talk about instead is the obvious problem with this statement. The Iraq that the American government talked about in 2002 and 2003 was a place that was bursting at the seems with chemical and biological weapons. It was a place where nukes were under development. Now unless you've been watching Fox "News" you will now know that Iraq had no such weapons and no significant programs for acquiring them. Iraq's military might charitably have been described as a hollow shell by 2002. It was certainly not the superweapon-possessing monster it was made out to be by the US government.

Now fast-forward a few years, Iran is working on nuclear capabilities and active missile programs. This is common knowledge (Iran is more open about these things than American darling Israel ever has been). I think that it's fairly incontrovertible that the Iranians are farther along in their nuclear program now than Saddam ever was (in 1981 when Osirak was bombed, in 1991 before the embargo, or in 2003 on the eve of his ouster). Iraq was not the threat that it was supposed to be, all the post-war evidence supports this.

So what does Bush mean by this statement? Probably that he simply doesn't have the troops to go to Iran, the military is way over-extended, and they need something to keep North Korea believing that the US means business in East Asia too. I'm not sure, I do find it curious that the American President is still trying to paint Iraq as some kind of imminent danger after this claim has been shown to be false so many times over.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Nothing Shocking

But it's interesting nonetheless that Scott Ritter is saying that the US manipulated the election results in Iraq and that Bush has "signed off" on a plan to bomb Iran. Given the history of these sorts of things, I find the election fixing to be no big surprise. This election only happened because Sistani wanted it, the Americans wanted to go with a complex caucus system to choose the government. Such caucuses would no doubt have been far easier to manipulate, but the idea that elections can't be fixed surely only dwells in the hearts of naive school children. Given this administration's track record, I find the idea that they'd attempt something like this entirely in their character.

The other part of this story is also unsuprising. Bush bombing Iran fits his shoot-first mentality and he has forces already in the region. I think that the US would have little trouble hitting Iran. Whether they hit nuclear facilities or just civilian collateral is another question. Most ominous though is the consideration of what Iran would do - if anything - in retaliation. Even if they don't have a nuke, they certainly have the capacity to cause a lot of trouble if they want. Moreover, I want to remind readers of my opinion that Iran, if left alone by the Americans, will most likely continue to reform in a moderate direction. The best way to put the hardliners in charge in Iran is through external threats. The more that the Americans are perceived as an immediate threat, the more Iranians are likely to cleave to the hardliners.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Friday Night...

I went to see Sarah Harmer and a bunch of other people play. It was at the Bloor Cinema, which is kind of a weird venue for a concert to my mind, but it was a good show. The only thing that could have made it better was if Sarah played Lodestar. I love that song, it is so good.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

You Lost Already, Give It Up!!!

I had heard of this so-called Politically Incorrect Guide to American History before, and thought that it was the sort of thing that made the rounds of gun shows and Civil War re-enactments. Apparently this silly text is actually selling in considerable numbers. Fortunately there is fairly effective refutation here. The thing that I find fascinating is that this guy accomplishes his re-imagining of all of American history in under 300 pages. The guy writing this thing is from one of these silly organizations that want the South to rise again. So his particular bent on American History is predictable in that sense. What I cannot understand is how these people just cannot let go of their own mythological past. I say mythological because if you read what these people are on about, I think it really resembles myth more than anything. The South was interested in the propagation of slavery. Let's think about that, and examine that. The South wanted to maintain and expand a system that dehumanized an entire race and tore apart the families and communities of a people in the interest of its own economic well-being. The South was very much an agrarian society in the 1860s and that agrarian work was done by slaves. Slavery was the foundation of Southern society, not chivalry or some other nostalgic bullshit that Southerners like to get on about. Now I don't want to tar an entire region with the same brush, so let me say this: I believe that many in the South have renounced the bad old days. But that subset of fools and bigots that cling to it need to grow up. You lost, your society was built on oppression, grow up already.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Light Posting...

I haven't been posting a lot here lately (shame on me). In part it's because I'm trying to write some other stuff, mostly I have an idea for a short story (possibly something longer). In The Idiot Dostoevsky writes a bit about one character's dream and he touches on an aspect of dreams that I've sometimes wondered about. That is, about the profoundness of some dreams. They may be bizarre or dirty or obscure, but every once in a while you have a dream and when you wake up, you have this sense that something really important happened. The dream may have been ridiculous (aren't most dreams) but there is something in there that you feel the need to hold on to. There is some sort of truth in that dream. Not particularly a revelation of something you did not know (like prophecy) but rather all sorts of ideas and emotions crystalize and your truest understanding of them occurs in the allegory of your dream. The idea I have right now is to explore the truths of dreams throught the medium of prose storytelling. So anyway, that's why I have been scarce around here. I may post excerpts of the story here, I'm not sure yet.

Friday, February 11, 2005

NHL is dead for this season

If there is NHL hockey for any of the '04-'05 season, I will grow a barhandle mustache and not shave it until the Stanley Cup is awarded. I just wish that they would have the fortitude to admit that the season is done and stop this 11th hour posturing.

Astonishing Post

Read this. It's astonishing, I think the Bush Administration is pretty much batting 1.000 when it comes to confirming my worst suspicions about them. (via The Poor Man)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Quote of the Day/Week/Whatever

Thanks to Ambassador Joseph Wilson for this one:
I have no reason not to ensure that the truth is told and I am tired of the way in which the Republicans have smeared my family and myself for no reason other than to perpetuate their lies to the American people. I did not like fascists when I fought them as a diplomat for 23 years and I don't like them now in my own country.
This came from an interview posted on DailyKos concerning, among other things, the various smear and manipulation tactics employed by GOP operatives. I find it remarkable that a career diplomat would choose such a strong word as fascism to describe some of the more unseemly things being done by the Bushies. Perhaps I am ill-versed in the ways of the world, but my understanding was always that diplomats tended sheath hard truths in nuanced language. If there is any word that has supremely undiplomatic connotations, I think that "fascism" is that word. For someone like Ambassador Wilson to use it, he must surely mean it. For those of you who are not up on the news, the backstory goes something like this: The administration didn't particularly like how Joseph Wilson was showing the Niger Yellowcake claims were utterly fraudulent. So in revenge, they leaked to Robert Novak (The Daily Show's "Douchebag of Liberty") that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. Thus blowing her cover and breaking federal laws in the process.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Developing World: Some Thoughts...

I read a number of opinions about the developing world (ie: the third world, the south, et cetera). The gist of these opinions, as I understand them, is that the problem is, in large part, due to a culture of victimhood. I have heard this all before, I have heard victimhood and a lack of personal responsibility as the reasons behind all sorts of ills. In the case though, I don't really see it applying. In my experience, and in my reading, people in the developing world often lead brutally hard lives composed of much more work for much less pay than anything we would accept here in North America. I have never had to work a 48 hour shift at a sewing machine, I have never had to plant coffee on the side of a mountain. And, I doubt that anyone else who has spent their whole life in Canada has had to do those things either. In these images and in thousands more, I just cannot see laziness or fatalism that is supposed attend all the allegedly benighted peoples of the world. Are there some lazy or fatalistic people there? Undoubtedly, but in the same proportion as they exist in North America or Europe I should imagine.

The real laziness exists in the West. We don't want to do our part to rectify the gross inequality that exists in the world. It's very easy to shrug it off, to say that we just work harder, that we are morally superior in this way. Yet I don't think we are. We are lucky, we won the lottery when we were born. I say this with particular relevance to myself, in infancy I suffered from a medical condition that, while not uncommon, is fatal. Quite simply, if I were born in the developing world, I would have been a statistic, dead before my first birthday. That's right, dead, cold, in the ground. In this sense, I was particularly lucky to have been born in Canada, but everyone born here has really won some kind of lottery. I cannot ascribe my success, or even my very survival to any intrinsic moral fortitude of my own, I was lucky, that's all. It's the same for everyone in the West, we might cast about for some kind of objective indication that we owe our successes to our moral strength, but I doubt that. It was simply a fortuity that England and the Eastern United States had coalfields. Without them, where is the 19th century industrialization that gave those nations power? Going back further, look at where European culture developed early: The Mediterranean. Again, the Greeks were just lucky that they had ample coast line and access to many shipping routes. This is what allowed for the growth of that civilization. Athens lucked out.

In the same way, much of the developing world has been so unlucky on so many counts. And at the same time, our luck and their misfortune, at key moments, has allowed us to compound troubles in many parts of the world. In a colloquial way of speaking, we kicked them when they were down. Just because we could. We demand unequal trade agreements, we dump cheap foodstuffs on many developing nations, we do it all; and we shrug and ascribe it to our moral superiority. What other reason can there be? Europeans, and in turn, North Americans, go lucky, that's it. We are the products of historical luck. It is then, with supreme ease that we can smugly tell others that their "culture of victimhood" is the root of all their troubles. It is too convenient a means with which to absolve ourselves from our naked complicity in the troubles of the developing world. In our "Christian" culture we replace Jesus' standard of whether or not we fed the poor, to whether or not we told them off about being such victims. I find this disconcerting.

Code Words

I've read quite a bit about Egypt being touted as a model for democracy in the Middle East according to Bush's state of the union address. This is, after all, a country that has been run by the same guy (Mubarak) for over two decades under the auspices of "emergency rule." It is not surprising though that the American government would consider Egypt a democracy. Democracy is of course, a wonderfully vague word. It's like saying that a country is "nice," it sounds good but in concrete terms it means almost nothing. Venezuela, whose leader is despised by the US government is, by almost any objective standard, more democratic than Egypt. Yet there is no praise for Venezuelan democracy in official Washington. Perhaps Hugo Chavez is all the more reprehensible to American leaders precisely because he has been democratically elected. Same as it was with Allende or Arbenz. Of course all three of these threatened American economic interests whereas Mubarak does not. As long as he keeps the Suez open and the more violent Islamic militants in check, he is just fine by the Americans. Of course that's not surprising, democracy is, in the lexicon of the American government, simply a word of vague praise for those who are enablers for the interests of American commerce. In only the most egregious instances, such as with Saudi Arabia, can the US not use it's code word for acquiescence - democracy.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What I'm Reading...

Now that I'm done The Idiot, I picked up Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I've already read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Slowness. So I have a bit of an idea what to expect. I was so thoroughly unsurprised when the novel got around to discussing the "Prague Spring" of 1968. Not that I blame Kundera for it, I mean 1968 must be huge if you're Czech and of a certain age. Look at Jaromir Jagr, why do you think his number is 68? I just find it interesting that Kundera seems to (in what I've read so far) always talk about 1968 directly, and never obliquely or through allegory.

The Idiot

First of all, this post isn't about George W. Bush...

Now that I have the cheap-shot out of the way, what I want to write about is Dostoevsky's novel. I just finished reading The Idiot last night so I figured I write up some thoughts here. First of all, one of the things I want to mention about Dostoevsky generally is that he gets a bum rap for being really depressing and dark all the time. When Belle & Sebastian sing "I'm not as sad as Dostoevsky" I think they are being tongue-in-cheek, but nonetheless, the Dostoevsky of the popular imagination is a very sad fellow indeed. I don't think however, that this does justice to Dostoevsky's prose. His writing full of spastic bursts of comedy and absurdity. You have Kirillov's bizarre manner of speaking in Demons, the comically absurd Polish gentlemen in The Brothers Karamazov, and in The Idiot there's the whole character of Lebedev who I found to be constantly humourous. For an author whose books usually seem to end with suicide, murder, or exile Dostoevsky is full of remarkable comedy.

Friday, February 04, 2005

More Thinking About Democracy

I was thinking more about that post by Kos below, and really voting alone guarantees you very little. There is the mention in that post of Colombia. They have elections, all the time. But a big chunk of that country is under rebel control and in the rest of it, there are right-wing militias all over. Now someone might want to point out that things in Iraq are being "helped" by the Americans. But that perspective ignores the fact that the US has long had an "interest" in Colombia because of the war on drugs. And was America not a functioning democracy when it committed itself to the fratricidal madness of civil war? Elections didn't stop the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland for a quarter of a century. If want the extreme example, let's not forget that Hitler enjoyed certain success through democratic means too. With the creation of the Weimar republic after Kaiser Wilhelm II's abdication, many held the impression that Germany would be all light and sunshine. Those that consider the recent elections to be the beginning of the end of trouble in Iraq do so only by ignoring history. Is democracy better than just about any other human form of government? History suggests the answer is yes. Is it completely foolproof or easy to build? No. Is it possible to backslide into authoritarianism? Look at Putin's Russia. There are no guarantees, at this stage, that the war can be called a success. Perhaps the only way to see it as such is to compare to everything else in Iraq which has been an abysmal failure.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Album of the Moment

That would be The North Sea by Raising the Fawn. I listen to it when I read in bed, goes well with Dostoevsky I guess... This is also part of my accidental apparent strategy to end up owning everything created by anyone somehow connected to Broken Social Scene. I like that "accidental apparent strategy." I am pleased now.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Future Prospects for Iraq

This post on DailyKos captures it pretty well I think. Here's an excerpt:

So best case scenario, you have a cold-war detente between Iraq's three main factions, a restless Turkey, a restless Iran, and a restless US occupation, all bundled up in a low-intensity insurgency in the mold of Northern Ireland. (Back in the rose petal days, the neocons were dreaming of an Israel-friendly Chalabi-led Iraqi regime.)

Mid-case scenario, we have a Middle Eastern Colombia -- a semi-functioning Democracy under siege from a whole host of paramilitary groups. Lots of assasinations, lots of territory outside effective government control, and a government held hostage to the forces of violence.

Worst case, more of the same. 100+ US and allied dead per month (which, incidentally, is approaching the level of casualties suffered by the Soviets during their Afghanistan invasion and occupation). A failed state, breeding ground of future terrorists, and a crucial region destabalized by endless war and religious fanaticism.

That's where it looks like were headed...