Goodbye April

I haven’t had the opportunity to post here, however I hadn’t realized that it was over a month since posting something substantial. I wouldn’t say that there’s anything different going on in my life, so much as that, upon reflection, perhaps I’m spending a bit more time seeking comfort where I need it.

I got back into a martial art that I started before the pandemic, called baguazhang, or simply bagua (pron. bahg-wah). It’s a little idiosyncratic compared to more mainstream forms like karate, taekwondo or BJJ. I’d say it’s somewhere between what we in the West call “kung fu” (external) and tai chi (internal). Let’s just say there’s a lot of walking in circles. That said, I needed something that allowed me to move/train my body in a way that was different than going to the gym or distance running, which can feel static. Bagua is anything but static. Also, crucially, the very place that teaches it is literally across the street from my office in Chinatown. It centres me and its choreography is demanding enough without the more wild kung fu-style kicks etc. It’s also nice to do this with other people — something I was also sorely needing (ie a form of socializing that wasn’t chatting with someone at a pub)

I also started Book Four (I know, I know), which is coming along. I can’t really say much about it because it’s very early, however I’m liking its shape. What’s funny is that my previous long-form entry here was about not wanting to be stuck with Author/Psychotherapist in publicity material…and yet the protagonist of Book Four is exactly that. It’s also nice working on a book where the protagonist is a woman. Radioland had two protagonists — male and female — and The Society of Experience had an intermittent female narrative in the form of Seneca’s diaries, however I’m looking forward to keeping things female this time around. Book Three is in revision-mode now, for the last round I think.

I’m trying to keep myself informed of what’s going on in the world, but the world is too big and there’s too much. I think the curse of social media is that there are so many perspectives on so many things that it can be paralyzing to even log-in some days, so currently I’m not. I’m very thankful that I re-subscribed to the London Review of Books this past summer because their coverage of what’s happening in Gaza is extensive and authoritative, without the self-censorship or bad faith arguments that have poisoned coverage of this conflict in much of the mainstream media. I’m not a prolific magazine subscriber, however I can’t help but think of how lucky I felt when I happened to subscribe to Harper’s just prior to the towers falling on 9/11, the drums beating towards a disastrous war. Reading informed, well-written arguments isn’t going to stop the worst of humanity from manifesting, but at least I can form my opinion from a source that isn’t compromised by a fear of spooking advertisers or an editor casting a dark shadow over someone’s shoulder.

Yes, and reading. Lots of reading. Let’s see…Labyrinths (a collection of Jorge Luis Borges stories and essays), Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World (which is fabulous), The Rigor of Angels by William Egginton and Audit Culture: How Indicators and Rankings are Reshaping the World by Cris Shore and Susan Wright.

I hope this finds you well.


All That Glitters Isn’t Oranje

It should come as no surprise that my postings have been less frequent, in proportion to the success or lack thereof of the Dutch at the World Cup, which has just (mercifully) ended.

First: I’m happy we made it to the Final.

Second: I’m happy we lost (even though I wanted us to win at the time).

Allow me to explain: I will always support Oranje, but that doesn’t mean I have to suspend my critical faculties while doing so. It also doesn’t mean I am living in a nostalgic cloudbank in which Holland must either play soccer like the Kirov ballerinas dance or else they are “cynical” – a word bandied about by once-every-four-years-I-pay-attention-to-soccer pundits.

In case I haven’t beaten this point enough, my Oranje is the team of 1998. It always will be. They were beautiful to watch (take a look at my Ryeberg essay if you haven’t already) and most aficionados consider that squad the greatest team of the competition, regardless that they lost to Brazil in the semi-finals. The thing is, if you accept that, then you must also accept they were the very same team who flamed-out against Italy in Euro 2000 in the quarters, in perhaps one of the most humiliating games I’ve seen us play: same squad, folks. How’s that for beauty?

The toughest question in the world if you are a Dutch international soccer player: What can you do when the public, the pundits, the former stars from the Golden Age all want to see you play ballet if playing ballet doesn’t win anything? Don’t get me wrong: I like the Oranje ballet – I am one of those people who can walk away from a loss, still chuffed that we played “as we should”. I do side with author David Winner’s thoughts about Dutch soccer philosophy, as laid out in his (brilliant) book, Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer. But inevitably you want to win something, and the only silverware the Dutch have is the Euro title in 1988.

This brings us to the present. Sadly. Sadly, because for the most part Oranje did not live up to the philosophy we had come to World Cup 2010 expecting. Under the direction of Bert van Marwijk, they took a detour: individual beauty, sure, when necessary, but collectively less a ballet than an assembly line with a very narrow directive: win, above all else. And they did. They were rusty at first and their games, outside of pockets of that ol’ Clockwork Oranje we hoped to see, were not pretty, but they won, and continued to win. Lord, I wanted them to win, too – I was a willing enabler.

When the final against Spain came, I was a nervous wreck. I can only imagine how it must have been in Holland, for those making their way to the Museum Square in Amsterdam where the games were shown for the public. They had come so far, had been through so much, for so many years: 1974, 1978, the glimmer of 1998, the disappointment of missing 2002. So much baggage that you wanted them to win just to shake off the voodoo of the past.

But as I got prepared that morning I visualized what it would be like if we won, if for the first time ever we won the Cup. Instead of tears of joy, I have to tell you, I saw that it would have felt as if we had cheated. As if in winning, we had not done so as ourselves but as a cunning machine, as if someone had invented a “Dutch Soccer Team” to take our place. I cannot describe how difficult it was to deal with that: to stare at a historic vindication within reach of your fingertips, knowing simultaneously there was something inherently inauthentic about it. In fact, had we won, I fear the “victory” would have irrevocably punctured the heart of Dutch soccer, as opposed to the bittersweet reality I live with now: we lost, Dutch soccer is merely dented. Coach van Marwijk’s corporatist approach has been repudiated, that is for sure. What I don’t know is who or what, philosophically speaking, has been vindicated, since we are bridesmaids once again.

Perhaps it is our souls? I can’t speak for yours, but mine is in a better if not exactly comfortable place right now.


I’ll Show You Stupid

Possibly the worst tactical mistake you can make, politically, is to make fun of an opponent’s lack of intelligence. I say this because not only is there an influx of politically active people on the world stage who fall under the category of “lacking intelligence”, but there is an absence of memory about how publicly scorning such people only empowers them (and, most importantly, voters).

It’s hard. When someone says something completely false – and stupid – the well-educated person’s knee-jerk instinct is to say “You’re an idiot”. Fair enough. But, it’s the taunting that backfires. For example, look at Sarah Palin. I think she represents a necessary evil in American politics: a self-elected Voice of The People who campaigns on the rather wispy argument that the US is run by a bunch of elitists who don’t understand “real Americans”. It’s all a bunch of crap (by elite, do you mean they have an education? don’t you want the people running your country to have an education? to have seen something beyond the borders of your own country for sake of perspective? who the hell are ‘real Americans’? does this imply ‘false Americans’?), but it serves its purpose. And what do her critics – who, to be fair, constitute most of the people on the Earth – do? They make fun of her.

She’s an idiot. A moron.

The problem is, she’s a moron who appeals to a growing number of disenfranchised people who are looking for a proud, politically and morally uncomplicated banner to wave proudly over their heads. And yes, we can argue about why this is and who the supporters are, but – not to say that history is a 1:1 reflection of the future, because it’s not – history has shown that history doesn’t give a shit about those questions. Reflection happens in the future – that is, after we politely chortle to ourselves at all the nonsense of Palin, her “Tea Party”, and her scads of uncivilized minions. That is, after they take the next election.

The elitist/commoner non-argument (it’s a ploy, really) is as old as politics itself. We’ve had something very similar (and thankfully, tamer) happen in Canada. Our current government is a coalition of reformer factions who merged in the late 90s/early 00s to take over the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party (this would be the same as if the current “Tea Party” took over the Republican Party). They removed the word Progressive from the name and lead the country as a minority government. They too campaigned (and still do, whilst in power no less) as the party of the People, as an alternative to whomever stands against their policies (aka “the elites”). It’s old hat.

Before they came into power, they – as the Alliance Party – tried very hard to unseat the ruling Liberal government (tangent: can you imagine if the US had a party called the Liberal Party?). Their leader was a man named Stockwell Day, who rode onto the scene (quite literally) on a Sea Doo. He was all charisma and commonality. But as time wore on, people found that his reformist ideas weren’t very deep and a lot of the people in his party were either yahoos or – elitists? – began distancing themselves away from him. The chrome on his veneer began to chip away and the man became a running gag; the Prime Minister of the day, Jean Chretien, joked openly that he preferred having Day in opposition (as to suggest his chances were that much better to win elections against the Alliance). Long story short, all it took was a few years, a “unite the right” movement, and a new leader who could streamline (that is, squelch) internal strife and you had a winner. That is to say, the toppling of a government.

I suppose what I’m saying is this: making fun of people like Sarah Palin because she doesn’t come across as polished, or sophisticated, or well-educated is ineffective. All you manage to do is inflame the passions of people – many of whom may have been too lethargic or apathetic to vote in the first place – so that they start creating local campaign offices. There is nothing like being intellectually offended to raise someone’s ire – anyone’s, no matter where or how they were raised. Raise the ire, that is, so as to make them active agents on behalf of those scorned by the “elites”. Agents of “change”.

George W. Bush was publicly derided by intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike in almost every conceivable medium and venue, yet he served two four-year terms as President of the US. If you want to take down the likes of Palin, take her down as you would take down Reagan or Thatcher – that is, as an opponent worthy of debate, worthy of your concern. To do less would be to knot your own noose.


The Sky is Falling (Very Slowly), or, Will The Real Science Please Stand Up

The problem with having a belief in something which happens to be provocative (and by provocative, I mean something which is not embraced by the whole and which may be a bit thorny for some) is that, like in most aspects of life, all it takes is a few zealots to make you look like a fool by ideological proximity.

As I pointed out many moons ago (December of 2006!) when it comes to climate change (as opposed to the slightly misleading term global warming), outside of blind ignorance our greatest liability are people who jab an accusatory finger at every natural disaster and scream “You see! It’s global warming! Climate change caused this! If we don’t do something NOW we are doomed as a species!”. For me, it started with Hurricane Katrina, when people (a fantastic percentage of whom had no scientific accreditation) began to suggest that it simply wasn’t an old-school “act of nature”, but rather something to be blamed upon worldwide environmental collapse (as if New Orleans didn’t have enough problems to contend with). It fed into a grand conspiracy theory which gave certain people a quixotic reason to exist: that mankind was the chief culprit all along, and that it was only a question of years to fix it. Cue epilogue of Planet Of The Apes.

On the other (self-evident to the point where I wonder whether it’s worth mentioning) end of the spectrum are the usual assortment of deep-pocketed corporate “carbon monoxide is good for you” state polluters, and knee-jerk libertarian radio hosts who feel that idling their cars is akin to patriotism (and, as an aside, the whole libertarian-patriot thing seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?).

The thing is this, panic aside: I do believe in climate change. All that shit turning to water north of us (that would be the Arctic ice) is a sign. Much less lachrymose is all that science, provided by all those scientists, which pretty much confirms that, yes, climate change is real, and that, yes, human industry is a variable in its occurrence. The issue of how the future is looking as a result of climate change is less clear. The problem is this: remember those largely non-scientific people blaming Hurricane Katrina on climate change? The ones telling us that if we don’t do something NOW then the world’s a goner? They got a lot of attention; the cameras kept rolling. This was probably just a knee-jerk reaction of mass media which was (and is) delighted to scare the public any chance they get (it keeps ratings up). Well guess what: some scientists found that if they used the same sort of seismic analogies and kept the ticking clock of doom just a few minutes away, not only would they get attention, but they could get funding.

Inevitably, it had to end – the speculative bubble that is. You can only say that we have five more years to change the world for five years until people start asking why societies haven’t collapsed like the finale of an Irwin Allen movie. And then someone or some group hacked into the records of some climate scientists and found that some of them were acting like jerks, that some of them didn’t want to play nice with their facts (unlike all those journalists and columnists we read). To me, this was heart-breaking, because it allowed both honest sceptics and partisan political hacks alike to pull a j’accuse and call it Climategate (seriously, I look forward to a world without the silly and dated gate suffix) and call the science itself into question, as opposed to the questionable actions of a few. Some have hinted that the bad publicity fall-out could set climate science back by a decade if increased public persecution gets worse. However, I feel this is as likely as, well, the world ending in five years.

The good news is that the world hasn’t ended; neither our world, nor the world of science. If anything, reading today’s op-ed by Margaret Wente in the G&M, even people who previously took every opportunity to deny the existence of climate change are now looking at things plainly: no pro trumped-up worries about imminent global catastrophe, and no con lefty/green/hippy bullshit stereotypes. If anything, perhaps bringing those few scientists into the spotlight has, post whatever-gate, calmed everyone down a notch. Perhaps enough so that we will be able to parse our language into something which does not use fear as a means of persuasion. Perhaps so that we won’t dilute the meaning of words like green and sustainable to homeopathic degrees.

I believe (or at least I hope) we can find an entry-point where we can use science and research rather than propaganda and fear to motivate ourselves to improve our prospects (that is, both human prospects and business prospects, two things which have not always shared mutually fulfilling goals). It is heartening to see that there may be an X-Prize for fuel/energy production, similar to what was done for sub-orbital exploration. I’d also like it if we could reboot the message of environmentalism with a good ‘ol back-to-basics mantra of: use less (as in packaging, unnecessary products, natural resources). I will be happy, even if it is all a hopelessly lost cause, that we go down working on something together as opposed to a Purgatory of scoring political points against ourselves.


Happy New Year (he says)

I tried making a list of notable things about 2008, but it just felt like a Grade 8 writing assignment (you know, the sort that teachers give out so that they can finish their homework while the students are placated). In short, it’s not me nor is it my style to dwell (publicly at least) on events which transpired over an arbitrary period of time. When you do this, you sort of miss the greater (dare I use the word “holistic”) scheme of things.

Beauty and Tragedy happen on their own schedule; they do not pay attention to calenders. A handful of countries are currently pummelling the shit out of each other – fa la-la-la-laaa, la la la laaa – without regard for newspaper editors’ deadlines for concise and snappy end-of-the-year roundups. It continues into 2009, as do you and I.

Uncertainty is a necessary cloud upon us; we choose to see it, but often – as we get caught up in living our lives – we are oblivious to it. We try to contain our lives and achievements in temporal measuring cups because…well, time matters to us. Days matter, as do months. And so, being the end of another year, we feel we have earned a spot of detached reflection.

“So there!” we say to life during this artificial pause.

Life does not respond, and we are reminded that, when we reflect we reflect alone. Given more reflection (and ideally some solace, perhaps with a jazz radio station playing in the background and some dark roasted coffee), we realize the awesome power of reflection.

Use it well. And may the new year (and all of the ones to come) be enlightening and fulfilling for you and those dear to you.


It’s a start…

[yes, the artsy, philosophizing, photo blog has been getting political lately. I will try to balance this out with unnecessary essays on Camus -ed.]

The news just broke that the UN has approved (up to) 26,000 peace keepers to be sent to Darfur. From the Globe and Mail:

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to authorize up to 26,000 troops and police in an effort to stop attacks on millions of displaced civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Expected to cost more than $2-billion in the first year, the combined United Nations-African Union operation aims to quell violence in Darfur, where more than 2.1 million people have been driven into camps and an estimated 200,000 have died over the last four years.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the resolution as “historic” and urged member states to offer “capable” troops quickly.

The resolution, number 1769, invokes Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, under which the United Nations can authorize force. The measure allows the use of force to be used for self defence, to ensure the free movement of humanitarian workers and to protect civilians under attack.

But the resolution, which has been watered down several times, no longer allows the new force to seize and dispose of illegal arms. Now they can only monitor such weapons.

Gone also is a threat of future sanctions, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned on Tuesday that “if any party blocks progress and the killings continue, I and others will redouble our efforts to impose further sanctions.”

“The plan for Darfur from now on is to achieve a cease-fire, including an end to aerial bombings of civilians; drive forward peace talks … and, as peace is established, offer to begin to invest in recovery and reconstruction,” he said on a visit to the United Nations.

Some (perhaps rightly) are comparing this to Rwanda – not the existing massacre, mind you (that’s been done quite well already), but the handcuffing of UN peace keepers. As the article says, UN soldiers can only fight back in self-defence. I can only hope, and call me a blind idealist, that the lessons of Rwanda will have been learnt.

Like the title says, it’s a start. Two hundred thousand civilians have already been killed in Darfur. At this point, anything more than a diplomatic gesture is a sign of hope.


The Vocabulary of Conflict: Afghanistan and Iraq

If there are two things I’ve avoided mentioning since the inception of this blog, it is Iraq and Afghanistan. For anyone who has casually surfed a blind selection of blogs in their spare time, I think you can understand why I’ve chosen not to get involved in the often mephitic atmosphere of this debate. It’s chaotic and reflects the lack of clarity in the wars themselves.

Six Canadian soldiers were killed yesterday by a roadside bomb. The media refers to these bombs as IED’s (improvised explosive devices), following the vocabulary of military spokespersons. In response to these latest deaths, here is an excerpt to more effectively demonstrate this vocabulary, from the Globe and Mail:

The Taliban’s increasing use of roadside bombs has also taken a toll on civilians, Brig.-Gen. Grant said. “They have managed to kill six great young Canadians today, which is an absolute tragedy,” he said. “The other part of this is that they’re killing lots of Afghans. They’re attacking the weak, they’re killing women, they’re killing children, they’re killing policemen. These are not the tactics of anything other than terrorists.”


Asked whether this represents an “Iraqization” of the conflict, Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Trudel, who serves as chief of staff for the Canadian headquarters in Kandahar, shook his head.

“Not particularly,” he said. “It indicates a loss of control by the insurgents.”

Canadian troops faced insurgents in the farmland southwest of Kandahar city last year in the largest battles Afghanistan has witnessed since the collapse of the Taliban regime. Those fights have taught the Taliban that it’s fruitless to openly confront the Canadians, Lt.-Col. Trudel said.

“The fact that we’ve lost a lot of soldiers from IED attacks indicates a success, in the sense that our conventional operations have succeeded against the Taliban,” the chief of staff said.

Where to start…

1) These roadside bombs – sorry, IED’s – are not, historically speaking, the “tactics of terrorists”. They are the tactics of guerrillas. Crashing planes into buildings and floating boats laden with explosives into aircraft carriers are tactics of terrorists. There is more than a semantic difference between the two classifications; when you paint civilian-based militias as terrorism you are admitting a loss of control and belying a critical problem with the military operation at-hand. See: Corsica.

2) If by “Iraqization”, the journalists mean “people who were under a tyrant who barely kept a fractious mix of misplaced ethnicities (largely due to Western colonial folly) under control and who now are now occupied by Western forces (yet again) whose motives increasingly speak more about global economics than humanitarianism” then there are some similarities. However, the way in which the term is implied in the article suggests that the “tactics of terrorism” are being imported from Iraq, which itself is an interesting bit of circular logic given that Afghanistan is the only one of the two countries that had anything to do with the destruction of the World Trade towers.

3) To suggest that the killing of six of our soldiers (along with civilians and police) represents a “loss of control” by the insurgents is perhaps one of the more grotesque distortions of military logic I’ve read (recently). Sounds to me as if the insurgents are in control if by their actions they are disrupting the lives of its citizenry and the work of the soldiers who have been put there to resurrect what is becoming the Romantic dream of a post-Taliban Afghanistan.

All things considered, no matter how passionate or well-reasoned your opinion, it simply isn’t enough to oppose either of these wars, at least not anymore. Three or four years ago, perhaps. However, there is a marked difference between the two conflicts. With Afghanistan there was, at the very least, a reason for NATO troops to get involved; it was, after all, the training ground for Al-Qaeda and, considering the devastation of 9/11/01, arguing for a military response was not an irrational (ie. purely emotional) action. Iraq, however, was and is a debacle of historic proportions. It would depress me to recount just how ill-conceived (and corrupted) the decision to invade Iraq was. There are many other sites out there which can do a better job of summing up the horrible negligence of the latter invasion.

One thing I will mention, and I do so on behalf of my countrymen who are stationed in Afghanistan, is that, failing “success” – itself a contentious ideal in any war – the blame for the lack thereof can be directly attributed to two factors:

1) Iraq. If the United States and Britain had not diverted (and thus fragmented) their troops so that they were intervening [or invading, whichever way you wish to see it – I’ll leave the Semantics of Conflict essay for another day] in not only one but two countries, NATO would’ve had the maximum available response in order to accomplish whatever goals there were in the Afghanistan mission. Instead, by pulling troops out of the latter and into the former, they hobbled the efforts of the only justifiable military action of the two and endangered both.

2) Although there are 37 countries involved in the NATO/ISAF deployment in Afghanistan, there is a disproportionate amount of Canadian troops on the frontline in the most tumultuous areas (read: Kandahar), despite repeated calls for other participating countries to commit troops for support. Say what you will about the Afghanistan mission (and again, a lot of contentious arguments are to be had), it angers me to see such reluctance on behalf of other participating countries: either you’re there and fight or you should rightfully leave. You simply can’t have it both ways on the battlefield.

Canada has a tragic history of its soldiers being used as gun-fodder in armed struggle, most notably in the trenches of WWI. This perhaps explains why we did not involve ourselves in Vietnam or Iraq; though we have our share of military controversies to deal with (much of it due to financial stagnation and federal meddling), we have generally learnt not to follow into armed conflict when the goals of the coordinating military power (usually the US and/or England) are suspicious. The difference this time is that our public is looking very critically at the war in Afghanistan, asking the right questions, and putting pressure on our politicians to ensure that this latest involvement does not devolve into the sort of pandemonium currently underway in Iraq.

I would be lying if I thought the current plan in Afghanistan was particularly clear or that our politicians (and some of the bureaucratic upper ranks of our Armed Forces) had the best interests of our soldiers, Afghanis, or the reputation of Canada in mind. The former Soviet Union went bankrupt as a result of their involvement in the 80’s, with the U.S. funding, arming, and training the civilian insurgency. The shoe is on the other foot, with Russia and China supplying the insurgency via Iran. Whether we call them terrorists or not, vocabulary alone is not enough to soften the blow of rising casualties in a conflict sorely in need of clarity.


Darfur – A Range of Opinion

You know you’re looking at a real-life problem (as opposed to the more easily-digestible choices portrayed in television dramas…who am I kidding – television news as well) when its tangled complexity clogs the drain of your ability (or desire) to “solve” it.

Take Darfur.

The way in which this conflict is rendered has been a hotly debated topic. A recent analysis showed that, in 2005, the Darfur story was covered for all of 10 minutes on the three major American networks; this would imply that the television-drama ER (in an upcoming episode) will have covered 6 times as much as them…again, in a single episode.

The newsmedia is sometimes the only means a tragedy has of reaching the eyes and senses of those who are too distant to know about them. Speculatively speaking, I have to wonder if some in the newsmedia – the above mentioned networks who all but avoided this situation for years prior – are now reluctant to spotlight it because doing so inherently implicates past apathy. An extreme interpretation, perhaps, but considering the media’s tepid hold on our trust – post 9/11 – this seemingly bizarre behaviour is not without recent precedents.

On the topic of how the situation in Darfur has been rendered in the media,Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele, describes in this bloggish-commentary what he calls the Darfur Disconnect:

Commentators thunder away at the need for sanctions against the regime in Khartoum and denounce western leaders for not authorising Nato to intervene.

Last weekend the outrage took a new turn, with big demonstrations in several American cities, strongly promoted by the Christian right, which sees the Darfur conflict as another case of Islamic fundamentalism on the rampage. They urged Bush to stop shilly-shallying and be tougher with the government of Sudan.

The TV reports are not wrong. They just give a one-sided picture and miss the big story: the talks that the rebels are conducting with the government. The same is true of the commentaries. Why demand military involvement, when western leaders have intervened more productively by pressing both sides to reach a settlement? Over the past few days the US, with British help, has taken over the AU’s mediation role, and done it well. Robert Zoellick, the state department’s number two, and Hilary Benn, Britain’s development secretary, have been in Abuja urging the rebels not to waste the opportunity for peace. Sudan’s government accepted the US-brokered draft agreement last weekend, and it is the rebels who have been risking a collapse.


An interesting, if divisive, point of view. I say divisive because it drags into the debate an almost unnecessary contention that there is some cabal of the (increasingly journalistic cliche) Christian right to portray this as a spectre of Muslim imperialism against Christian Darfurians – the truth of that particular matter is certainly more complex. I can certainly say that the rally I attended in Toronto had no religious overtones or other types of self-investment.

The more salient argument in this excerpt is whether, in pushing for military intervention, NATO/UN forces could unknowingly apply the wrong type of pressure and drive the conflict deeper or perhaps fragment it along ethnic/political lines – in this regard, it’s not as if there is a single Darfurian rebel organisation sitting at the negotiation table. There are several – some small, some large, and inevitably one would assume each may have their own agenda.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to spin this into something that it’s not – ie obfuscate the conflict to the point where inaction is seen as an option – but rather, I’m trying to see different points of view because I really don’t feel we’re getting it from the media.

On this note, the CBC is having a Foreign Correspondents Forum on June 1st. They are taking questions from viewers regarding international events/affairs. I’ve taken the liberty of posing some of the questions raised above. If you would like to do the same (about Darfur or any other area of the world), visit this page for more information.


Darfur: Rally to Raise Awareness

Tomorrow (Sunday April 30th) there will be a series of rallies happening around North America to raise awareness of the terrible situation in Darfur, Sudan.

You can find out where in your vicinity this rally is happening here.

It is important that our political leaders, who have all cut back support to this region recently, understand the gravity of the situation: routine killings, rapes, and ethnic cleansing.

Is this the only place in the world (or Africa for that matter) that needs attention – no. It’s easy to say “What about Somalia?” or “What about this other country?”. The thing is, in the absence of a perfect solution to those questions I would rather err on the side of helping than sitting at my desk trying to address an impossibly large problem that satisfies all criteria.

If you live in Toronto, the rally starts tomorrow @ 1pm at Queen’s Park. Info located here.

If you are interested in getting involved, please do.

(for context on this problem, please see this entry in Wikipedia)


"Wild Speculation"

…is the response from the president of the U.S. regarding a recently published report detailing alleged White House/Pentagon preparations to preemptively attack Iran.

In The Iran Plans, published in the latest New Yorker, Seymore M. Hersh outlines conversations with several leading Pentagon advisors and international diplomats privy to the escalation of a military plan to ‘address’ the problem with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Some excerpts:

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for
the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was

premised on a belief that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will

humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and

overthrow the government.” He added, “I was shocked when I heard it,

and asked myself, ‘What are they smoking?’ “

Good question. Although there are politically moderate movements in Iranian society – contrary to the country’s depiction in news snippets – bombing the country would probably do more to antagonize these potential allies.

In the words of a Petagon adviser:

He warned [the administration], as did many others, that bombing Iran could provoke “a chain reaction” of attacks on American facilities and citizens throughout the world: “What will 1.2 billion Muslims think the day we attack Iran?”

I would replace ‘1.2’ with ‘6’ and ‘Muslims’ with ‘people’, otherwise – in the grand scheme – we slide into an ethnocentric us vs. them dialogue.

The Pentagon adviser said that, in the event of an attack, the Air Force intended to strike many hundreds of targets in Iran but that “ninety-nine per cent of them have nothing to do with proliferation. There are people who believe it’s the way to operate”—that the Administration can achieve its policy goals in Iran with a bombing campaign, an idea that has been supported by neoconservatives.

(*cough* like Dresden?)

According to a “government consultant with close ties to civilians in the Pentagon”:

The broader aim […] is to “encourage ethnic tensions” and undermine the regime.

As if “ethnic tensions” can be turned on and off like a switch (furthermore – as if they couldn’t come back, a la bin Laden in Afghanistan, to bite the encourager).

I’ve been debating this report with some associates today. One of them thinks that the US will make a move prior to the elections later this year, in the hope that a refreshed ‘wartime administration’ can survive falling polls and drooping support at home. He argues that if the Republicans lose the power of Congress it will be harder for them to make the offensive possible. I personally think this is a very tall order and that, Congress or no Congress, the current US administration will use any means necessary to justify their interpretation of the foreign affairs.

One thing is for sure – the drip, drip, drip of a complacent American media will help to foment support via the usual techniques: a sense of inevitability, fear, and profound doubt in anyone (ie the IAEA, the UN) being able to offer a better solution.

In related news, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is insisting on visiting Germany to boost Iranian team support at this summer’s World Cup. A bit of trivia: the last time the U.S. met Iran at the World Cup, Iran beat them 2-1. Although both countries qualified for 2006, they are in separate groups and neither will find it particularly easy to progress for a possible re-match. Dare to dream.