Sunday, 10 December 2006

Abject apologies

You can throw rocks; I deserve it.

...I have not died or fallen ill. I decided at the very last minute after much dithering to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. I had been plugging away at sort of pretending to write a novel for quite some time, without making any significant progress. I mean, who has time for writing when you're doing two blogs, reading many others and spending too much time online?

Seeing as I have never been good at juggling obsessions, I plunged into one and abandoned the other. My mother told me I should put up a post to tell people what was up (always listen to your mother) and she was right, but I didn't do it. I was afraid, I guess, that I would get pulled away from the writing... If you throw rocks, I will fully understand.

I'm still contemplating what role this blog is going to play in the future. I do believe I'll start posting again, but probably not as frequently, and I won't have as much time to devote to reading the many excellent ones on my list (see sidebar if you're interested). I have decided that I am going to finish that novel, come hell or high water, and then do all the necessary rewrites and then even try to sell the darn thing.

All in all, NaNoWriMo was a positive experience for me. I needed a kick in the butt and I got it. And now that I've said publicly to so many people that I'm going to finish this novel and try to sell it, I can't back down any more.

So I do apologize for not letting you know what was up. No really good excuse for that.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Don't offend jelly bellies

Political correctness has claimed yet another sacrifice. But this time the affronted victims calling for blood are not a super-sensitive ethnic or religious group, not of the perpetually grieved feminist persuasion, but of a type we don't normally associate with teary-eyed victimhood. This time we are talking about overweight policemen.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, you had better think twice before you offend the delicate feelings of your local jelly-bellied constable on patrol. It could cost you your job. Ask Police Chief Paul Goward.

Goward committed the impardonable sin of addressing a memo entitled "Are you a jelly belly?" to the 80-member police force of Winter Haven, Florida. Although no individual was named or singled out, hurt feelings prevailed and Goward was forced out for exhorting his force to lose their overhanging guts in the interests of better carrying out their jobs. (Remember Will Smith in Men in Black? "I AM half the man you are!") The department became the butt of fat cop and doughnut jokes. And now they can be the butt of weepy, touchy-feely cop jokes too, and they will richly deserve it.

Speaking as a fellow jelly belly, I say, "Suck it up guys!" Better yet, suck it in. Goward is right. You can't carry out your job as well with suburban sprawl creeping over your belt buckle. (In all fairness to the Lakeland police force, they claim Goward was routinely abrasive and this was the straw that broke the camel's back. But still I can't see anything about the memo in question that warranted a response other than a jog around the block.)

And to society in general I say, why on earth are we constantly looking for reasons to be outraged and offended? I am all for treating other people with compassion and respect, but I am sick to death of the prevailing mentality of reading sexist/racist/insensitive/nasty motivations into just about every word spoken in public. And it is about time that courts, governments and bureaucracies stopped enabling these perpetually offended people. I need my outrage for situations that genuinely warrant it (think Darfur and kiddy porn, just for starters) and these people are giving me outrage fatigue. Grow up and get over it and let's use that energy to tackle problems that actually matter.

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Wednesday, 1 November 2006

The fallacy of building self-esteem

Patrick Mascoe owes his first grade teacher a debt of gratitude. He failed him. And little Patrick, who had missed a lot of school because of asthma attacks, got a second chance to learn the fundamentals that were so necessary to ensure his success in future years. Patrick, now a teacher himself, credits that teacher with saving his entire school career. And his frustration is acute as he sees his attempts to do the same stymied by principals and parents who argue that it will damage the children's self-esteem.
He explained to my parents that without mastering the basics I would lag behind. He saw it more as an opportunity for me to learn what I had missed. I can honestly say that had I not repeated Grade 1, I probably would not have graduated from high school. My self-esteem wasn't a concern. My academic development was. Having obtained three university degrees (one in education), in retrospect my Grade 1 teacher did the right thing.

Had I grown up in today's education system, with its tendency to abolish student failure, I would not have been permitted to repeat Grade 1. Today's educational environment believes that failing is taboo. Students don't fail because it's deemed bad for their self-esteem. Feeling good about a subject is now more important than being good at it.

As teachers, we tell our students not to be afraid to ask questions, don't be afraid to make mistakes, and don't be afraid to fail because this is how we learn, but we are being hypocritical because rather than embracing failure as a method of learning, we are now being instructed by administrators to ignore it.

So the students go to the next grade anyway, sometimes with their basic skills years behind the proper levels. Their self-esteem is definitely upheld by being the stupid kid in the class, often being labelled "special needs" when their only special need is to learn discipline and responsibility. They learn the important lesson that effort and accomplishing goals is pointless; they will be rewarded no matter what they do. You can imagine what a useful preparation for the real world that is! They hit the job market full of confidence, knowing that no matter how poor their output, they will be promoted and praised nonetheless.


The foolishness of such an approach is so immense that it makes you wonder what planet the educators who support it come from. But unlike aliens, their existence can easily be demonstrated. They are in charge of the system.

They are undoubtedly the same ones who keep feeding the children the line: "Follow your dreams. Just believe in yourself, and whatever you want to be, you can be." This is nothing short of child abuse, in my mind.

Martin Luther King, Jr.I know I am offending the prevailing dogma here, but you can't sell a product like that without the appropriate warnings. It just ain't true in far too many cases. I personally have watched friends with tin ears and no rhythm convince themselves they can be musicians, squat homely girls dream of being fashion models, and do-nothing students persuade themselves that their future holds lucrative contracts as rap artists. An entire industry has been created to exploit these poor deluded fools and expose them to public ridicule. We all know that American Idol is just as much about mocking the losers - often viciously - as it is about helping the winners. We sell them the dream and then jeer at them as we brutally wake them.

Before you tell your children to pursue their dream, there are some important questions they need to ask themselves. Not only do they need to ask if they have the basic abilities necessary but it is also worth determining if the dream itself is worthy of pursuit. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream worth pursuing. But most of the visions dancing in their heads are taudry affairs, toxic sugarplums of self-aggrandization and ego-inflation, the worship of celebrity rather than the creationof excellence.

If our children are taught to work toward dreams of excellence, not fame, and to cherish the process as much as the result, then they will not be crushed when the shoddy structure of fantasy castles collapses on them. Dreams rooted in reality and a worthy cause are the kind that they devote their lives too, becoming truly rich in the process.

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 29

What is Al-Jazeera up to? The Arabic news channel comes in for some fierce criticism - in the Arab media.
Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Hussein Shobokshi wonders just what Al-Jazeera TV is about.

He notes that the TV channel is right out there condemning Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, but has remarkably little—try nothing—to say about Lebanese imprisoned in Syria. We hear a lot about the US 'occupation of Iraq', but nothing about Iranian occupation of islands in the Persian Gulf claimed by the UAE. To pretend that Al-Jazeera speaks for the Arab world is nonsense, Shobokshi says.
John Burgess has more at Crossroads Arabia.

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The real beginning of the civil rights sit-in movement

This post at Stubborn Facts literally had tears streaming down my cheeks. It tells the story of the true and almost forgotten beginnings of the civil rights movement in the US, when a group of black teenagers, with immense dignity and perseverance, insisted on being served at a drugstore lunch counter. There is a memorial in downtown Wichita, Kansas, with no explanatory plaque.
If there were, that plaque would note that on July 19, 1958, several black teenagers, members of the local NAACP chapter, entered the downtown Dockum Drug Store (then the largest drug store chain in the state) and sat down at the lunch counter. They were ignored. They kept coming back and sitting at the counter, from before lunch through the dinner hour, at least twice a week for the next several weeks. They sat quietly, creating no disturbance, but refusing to leave without being served.

The store tried to wait them out by ignoring them. They kept coming back and sitting there, silently, day after day, waiting to be served. On one occasion three police officers tried to coerce and intimidate the teenagers to leave, and succeeded. But they came back, and the police did not return. They were breaking no law, only a store policy, and the store was not willing to challenge them directly.


On August 11, while the early arrivals were sitting at the counter waiting for their friends to show, a white man around 40 walked in and looked at them for several minutes. Then he looked at the store manager, and said, simply, "Serve them. I'm losing too much money." He then walked back out. That man was the owner of the Dockum drug store chain.

That day the lawyer for the local NAACP branch called the store's state offices, and was told by the chain vice-president that "he had instructed all of his managers, clerks, etc., to serve all people without regard to race, creed or color." State-wide. They had won, completely. Their actions inspired others, and the sit-in movement spread to Oklahoma City. By the middle of 1959, the national NAACP was losing disaffected members for refusing to endorse the scattered but spreading sit-in protests, gave in, and sponsored the Greensboro sit-ins.

Nineteen months before the Greensboro sit-ins that have been credited with being the start of the civil rights sit-in movement, it really began at a downtown drug store in Wichita, Kansas. The Dockum sit-ins were largely ignored by the NAACP in their archives, probably out of embarrasment, and were unknown even to many civil rights historians. That error was corrected by the NAACP this summer.
Do go around to Stubborn Facts to read the whole inspiring story. It reminds me yet again that you do not need fame, power, or connections to effect real change.

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Saturday, 28 October 2006

The Amish go to court

The Amish have generated an enormous amount of good will in recent weeks by their immensely dignified and Christ-like response to the massacre of their daughters by a neighbour, Charles Carl Roberts. I personally was enormously impressed by the sacrificial courage of some of the girls themselves and was obliged to revise my admittedly superficial impressions of the Amish as a sect hopelessly mired in legalism at the expense of the greater principles of the Christian faith.

Legalism, for those unfamiliar with the word, is a religious term used to describe the mindset of those who get caught up in the letter of the law as opposed to its spirit, and whose pursuit of holiness and the knowledge of the Holy One gets sidetracked into the pursuit of infractions and endless wrangling about the petty details of what constitutes holiness. The Taliban are probably the most vicious modern examples of this kind of mindset. The Pharisees were the incarnation of legalism in Jesus' time.

So I was greatly heartened to see that the Amish, in their retreat from modern society, had managed to keep the core principles of their faith alive and well, even robustly vigorous,despite the weight of detail of their "thou shalt nots."

But now another Amish man, "John Doe," is intent on demonstrating that though the foundations are solid, some of the construction above ground is shoddy and silly. He is a Canadian who has married an American, "Jane Doe," and is suing the American government over its insistence that he pose for a photograph as part of his application for American citizenship.

"Interpreting the Bible literally, they ... believe that photographs are 'graven images,' the making of which is forbidden by the Second Commandment," reads the lawsuit. Now it is not up to the courts to determine the theological validity of the argument, and I earnestly hope they stay away from that entire aspect, but I am not a court, so I am free to make my pronouncements.

This is not a literal interpretation of the Bible at all. It is an extrapolation, precisely the kind of thing that legalists delight in. Let's take a simple, straightforward law, interpret it widely and spin off a host of regulations based on that interpretation, with which to burden the hapless followers who trust our "wisdom."

The whole point of the second commandment is to avoid the worshipping of material objects, not to avoid the making of images. God himself, subsequent to giving the Ten Commandments to Moses, commanded the making of a bronze serpent, which was destroyed by Gideon generations later, precisely because it had become the object of worship. If the thrust of the Second Commandment had been the sinfulness of making images, he never would have commanded Moses to do such a thing.

So I honestly don't believe they have a theological leg to stand on. And I really wish that John Doe had not undertaken this lawsuit. The court is going to be obliged to either rule on the validity of their theology, or infringe directly on their freedom of religion, both very negative outcomes, in my mind. The other alternative - ruling in their favour - would also be a negative, because it would provide a loophole in national security that could be exploited by various groups who do not possess the gentleness of spirit of the Amish.

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Friday, 27 October 2006

Evaluating Harper: patient wait times

Part five in my evaluation of the Harper government, Conservative priority number five: working with the provinces to establish a Patient Wait Times Guarantee.

Hmm, this won't take too long to comment on. Even the Conservatives are not pretending they have accomplished this yet and wait times have actually lengthened ever so slightly since they have been in office.

Of course, it is always a very tricky thing for the federal government to wade into the whole health care issue, seeing as that is provincial jurisdiction. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop voters from blaming the feds for whatever is happening in health care, so Ottawa is politically obliged to make appropriate noises. Seeing as they do actually contribute to provincial budgets, they have to try to leverage that influence in such a way as to impress voters without enraging provincial governments. It's not surprising that this was the last of their five priorities, as it will probably be the most difficult to implement. I don't know if they'll get a chance to try before the next election.

I'd be somewhat tempted to throw rocks at them for even making promises in this area, but really, this is a case of voters getting what they deserve. We shouldn't be holding the federal government accountable for something under provincial jurisdiction, but we do. This is pretty much a no-win situation for any party.

Havings said that, I would dearly love to see some new dialogue in the whole area of health care in Canada. It is time to start thinking outside the box and getting past old orthodoxies here. I am heartily sick of the "American system" red herring waved around with great mock indignation at every election. Every time a (Conservative) politician makes the obvious observation that we have problems with our health care system, the Liberals and NDP trot out the same hysteria. And it's a (I'm trying to think of a polite way to express this, as I am basically a polite person, but it is truly challenging...) um, logical fallacy. We are not restricted to two choices and two choices only. There are other things in the world besides the Canadian and American systems and even if there weren't, we could invent something new. It's time to get our heads out of the sand and start questioning the way we do things. This is going to be very difficult with so many different players, but somebody should start. This probably would fall to a province with some guts - probably Alberta - to just strike out and do something different and demonstrate that it can work. Alberta is the best candidate, first because they have never felt obliged to kowtow to Ottawa or the other provinces and second, because they have the budget to pull it off without help.

As far as Harper's government is concerned, I'll let them off with a neutral mark. Something to the effect of "not evaluated this term", like I have seen occasionally on my kids' report cards. There is only so much you can expect from a minority government in less than a year. In the somewhat unlikely event that we still have the same government a year from now, I will be less accomodating.

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Thursday, 26 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 26

I've been more than a little bit miffed with Michael J. Fox and his foray into American politics. While I am very sympathetic to his condition, I don't think it justifies killing babies to solve his problem (or any of my medical problems either). Not only that, it's a highly dishonest ad. Embryonic stem cell research has not shown great promise at all, while adult stem cell research has got an enviable track record. The current limitations on embryonic stem cell research do not threaten any of the advances made so far. The Anchoress spells it all out and backs it all up.

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Evaluating Harper: child care

Part four in my evaluation of the Harper government, Conservative priority number four: helping parents with the cost of raising their children.

This is another issue for which I am going to give the Conservatives some points. I really don't think they deserve the flack they've been getting on this one.

We are talking, of course, about the Universal Child Care Benefit, the $100 monthly given for each child under 6 to be spent on popcorn and beer - er, child care. Those who oppose the Conservatives say that first of all, $100 is nowhere near enough to pay for child care. Of course, it isn't. So? It will relieve the burden by $100, and that's not a bad thing. Why should the government fund daycare 100% anyway? Putting the same amount of money into subsidized day care spots would make a big difference for a very small number of people. For most people it would be no help at all. And the people doing the screaming never do address the issue that the $100 also goes to parents who take care of their own children, who really do appreciate getting a little positive recognition for a change.

The reason the opponents don't address this issue is because it would make them look really bad. They'd have to admit they don't care about those parents because they are - gasp! - taking their lives in their own hands instead of asking government to do it for them and that makes them highly suspect.

There is a fundamental difference of philosophy at play here. One mentality says it is the responsibility of government to solve all my problems and to make sure that I bear the weight of my own decisions as little as possible. The other mentality just asks for basic justice (read - protection from criminal abuse) and security from government and the freedom to make their own way in life. I come down pretty squarely on the second side. I dealt with some severely abused people some years ago and it became very clear to me that an attitude of victimhood effectively blocked any possibility of healing and moving on.

So I have completely lost patience with victimology. And screaming that the government isn't doing enough to make my life easier is just another form of it. Get over it. I raised five children without subsidized daycare. Yes, it meant I sacrificed a possible career or two, and yes, it meant that we lived at a much lower income than we would have with a smaller family. I didn't whine or complain about that. I figured the children were more important than a fancy house and a status symbol vehicle. And not one of those five kids believes that anybody owes them a handout. Of course, they'll take help if it's offered - I did too - but they won't complain if it isn't. They actually believe they should be prepared to make sacrifices to succeed. Somehow, I think that's a more meaningful contribution to society than most careers would have been.

You can see all this as a digression if you will, but I don't think it is. I'm not getting a cent out of the Conservatives' policies for helping families, and I agree that the help is more symbolic than substantial, but that's OK. I kind of appreciate the gesture anyway. It's refreshing to have the government help out more than one kind of family and give a little recognition to those families that have been overlooked in the past.

And I am one of those who think that popcorn and beer comment was very revealing, although it wasn't news. The message was loud and clear: We know how to run your life better than you do and we are going to make sure you do it our way.

If the Conservatives help start to turn that kind of mentality around, it may yet have been worth voting for them. I'll confess to being a little cynical about the possibility, but one can always hope. I can't see that anybody else is even going to try.

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Sunday, 22 October 2006

Evaluating Harper: crime

Vic ToewsPart three in my evaluation of the Harper government, Conservative priority number three: making our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime.

Well, I've got to start out with a horrific confession. This whole topic rather bores me. *Yawn* I don't see that crime has really got that much worse in recent years and the chances of any government doing anything truly effective to lower the levels we've got seem to be too small to matter. I don't even get excited about the gun registry, either keeping or scrapping it. Sorry. Although if they're going to keep it, they had better get costs under control. The cost/benefit analysis is practically enough to doom the programme all on its own.

But I can't avoid the topic altogether. Other than revulsion at Liberal corruption, the whole law and order question was probably the biggest trump card the Conservatives had in the last election. But as far as I'm concerned, the Liberals were not awful and the Conservatives are not wonderful in this portfolio. And vice versa.

Having said that, I rather like the recent "three strikes you're out" initiative. Under the proposed legislation,
a three-time repeat violent and sexual offender would have to convince a judge why he or she is not a dangerous offender -- a status that carries an indefinite prison sentence with no parole eligibility for seven years.

It's currently the Crown's task to prove repeat offenders are dangerous.

I just don't buy the slippery slope hysteria. I am personally a fierce defender of the "presumption of innocence", because it is at the base of an enlightened legal system. But the presumption of innocence is worn to tatters by the time someone has worked his way up to the third horrific offence, and I don't find it at unreasonable to say that at that point it is the offender who should bear the burden of proof. Protection of society should also be a major goal of the judicial system. I would like to hear opponents of this bill cite concrete cases of where the proposed bill would have brought about an abortion of justice.
Jason Gratl, of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, argued the justice system should be extremely cautious in how it asks for indeterminate sentences.

"We should bear in mind that an indefinite sentence is the nuclear bomb of the sentencing arsenal," he told CTV News last week.

"We don't have anything more harsh. We don't sentence people to death in this country, and we should be sparing in how we apply our most severe sentences."
Please, Mr. Gratl, get specific. I find it very hard to imagine how waiting until an offender has proven himself excessively nasty three times is not applying the most severe sentence sparingly. To get a real grasp of this issue we need two lists: first, a list of all the people who would have been prevented from committing further crimes if this provision had been in force, and the second, a list of all those who committed three horrific crimes, were convicted of them, and then turned into productive, law-abiding citizens without any further ado.

Please keep in mind, that three strikes you're out does not mean an inevitable designation as a dangerous offender. It just shifts the burden of proof, and in those conditions, I find it a very reasonable shifting. I would love to hear from anyone who can demonstrate (not argue) that I am wrong.

So even though this is not a portfolio that inflames me much one way or the other, I give the Conservatives a decent passing mark in this subject. Please feel free to enlighten my ignorance if you find that unreasonable.

Dealing with media bias

The BBC admitted behind closed doors to a strong liberal and anti-Christian bias. Rats! Somebody went and leaked the information, but I'm willing to bet the BBC will find a way to avoid dealing with it. Which is a shame.

I am becoming convinced that the only way to avoid media bias is to mix things up in the newsroom and on the editorial board. If your columnists or reporters have varied political and cultural leanings and are allowed to refute each other publicly, something approaching objectivity and a genuine search for the truth just might come out of the mix. And by allowing rants from different sides, you hold on to your partisan readership or audience. They tend to avoid moderate, balanced opinions, so giving them strong flavours from opposite ends of the spectrum should keep them coming back.

I offer as an example the Ottawa Citizen which has columnists ranging from the extreme right to unabashedly left and most of the spectrum inbetween. I just wish they'd argue with each other a little more often. It's fun and often informative. I'd also even out the weighting a bit more, but still, they're on the right track.

I do appreciate the dilemma the media face. Calm, objective, rational approaches aren't popular. If you don't believe me, take a look at the most popular blogs. They are almost all highly partisan and quite often nastily so. They rant. They rave. They demonize. They fling insults around with self-satsified abandon. And they always know what to say about every story the instant it breaks, which says to me that they are not great fans of research or deep thought. (There are a few exceptions, thank goodness, but they still tend to be openly partisan. They're just more reasonable about it and will tolerate dissent without getting apoplectic.)

So to all the newspaper editors and network executives who eagerly hang on my every word and are just dying for my advice on how to attain objectivity without alienating their partisan readers/audience, I would highly recommend diversifying the backgrounds of your journalists and let them have at each other.

No need to thank me. That's the freebie. Next time you pay.

Hat tip to Stubborn Facts.

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Been too busy to blog

It's been a hectic weekend as the real world insisted on infringing on the virtual one. But I have managed finally to shake myself free from the confines of reality and should be back up to virtual speed shortly.

Oh, you didn't notice I was gone??


Thursday, 19 October 2006

Good news chronicles, Oct. 19

Spending too much time thinking about politicians, world leaders, and various international problems can get depressing.

So here is my good news antidote.

A Jewish youth organization in Israel, the Kavod Foundation, feeds needy Muslims at Eid, Christians at Christmas and Jews at Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot. They work all year round to provide food at religious holidays. Hat tip to City of Brass.

Kazakhstan discovers a sense of humour and invites Borat to come see the real Kazakhstan.
Rakhat Aliyev said in an interview with Kazakhstan Today that while he understands the anger he thinks the country "must have a sense of humor and respect other people's freedom of creativity."

"I'd like to invite Cohen here," he said. "He can discover a lot of things. Women drive cars, wine is made of grapes and Jews are free to go to synagogues."

Got good news you want to tell the world about? Email it to me at thewalrussaid(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 19

Rafique Tucker at Liberal War Journal is bemoaning the use of "Rovian" tactics by lefty blogger Mike Rogers, who is busy "outing" Republican congressmen. OK, one Republican congressman. Rafique says the tactic smacks of McCarthyism.

Reader_iam at Done with Mirrors tells a kafkaesque tale of the limits of free speech on campuses, which is unfortunately becoming all too common. It appears classrooms are free speech zones, but office doors aren't. Dave Barry is verboten, a truly offensive subversive.

Will Garth Turner go Green? Devon Rowcliffe has an interesting and well-researched post on the topic.

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Access to Information Act needs mending

The Toronto Star ran an excellent editorial on problems with the Access to Information Act.
This is one file the Prime Minister should promptly take under his wing. He campaigned on open and accountable government.

The Access to Information Act should be amended to include tight and protective restrictions on sharing the names of people who make requests for information under the law. And there must be stiff penalties for anyone who breaches it.

The public's right to know must not be subverted by protective bureaucrats, politicians and spin doctors who would prefer controversial issues to remain out of sight. Canadians own the information government vaults contain. Openness must be the order of the day.

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American power: the view from Germany

With all the flap over Iraq, North Korea and Iran, Russia's latest shenanigans have been largely flying under the North American radar. Not so in Europe. Putin has been pressing for a free trade pact with the European Union, making politely threatening comments about how it supplies most of Europe's petroleum. Theodore Roosevelt would recognize the tactic.

Stefan KorneliusIn an editorial entitled "The Decline of America" (in German) Stefan Kornelius at the Süddeutsche Zeitung bemoans the loss of American power as an effective counterweight and contends that the loss of American prestige and influence has made the world a much more dangerous place. "Be careful what you wish for, you may get it," he comments. Now they've got a less powerful America, they don't much like it. But don't think that makes Kornelius a Bush fan - far from it!

Here is a summary.

Why Washington's influence is diminishing, and why this is becoming a problem for the entire world

On September 20, 2002, the White House unveiled its National Security Strategy. This testimony to American hubris came when America was at the height of its greatness. Six months later, the Iraq war began, which would lead to the end of American omnipotence. Now, four years later, the American Secretary of State travels the world, running into the limits of American power and influence everywhere she goes. America's weakness is a problem for the entire world, actually making it more difficult to build multipolar alliances. An autocratic Russia is flexing its muscles as a petroleum imperialist and China is recognized as a superpower, even as it pulls its head into its shell before its northern nuclear neighbour.

Lack of leadership Two of the three "axis of evil" members are showing how confrontation with the US can spread terror, and up their market value at the same time. This new multipolar world came into being faster than the most vehement Bush critics could ever have hoped - and centrifugal forces are tearing apart the world's stability as a result of America's inability to form effective coalitions. The epicentre of this wave of destruction lies in Iraq, with repercussions in the entire region. A Camp David initiative for Lebanon or Palestine is now unthinkable. And now North Korea has found a new raison d'être in its nuclear provocation of the US. Only the possible sale of nuclear technology to terrorists prevents us from dismissing Kim Jong Il out of hand. Nobody seems able to stop the man, giving hope to a half dozen other nuclear wannabes.

Bush's administration did not create these problems, but has greatly furthered them through its policies. Bush's imperial hubris will not be forgiven him in his two remaining years in office; quite the contrary, opposition will grow ever shriller, even at home. But when the Schadenfreude has dissipated, there will be wide recognition that this lack of power has not been good for the world. The European Union must be conscious of its own weakness; its influence is too weak to trade a couple of democratic values for Russia's gas.

Cooperation with China Europe is also too weak to pressure China or to stabilize Afghanistan or the Middle East. Condoleezza Rice should use the North Korean situation as an opportunity to reassert American influence, showing a new openness and willingness to bargain. Working with China, it should be possible to lure North Korea out of its isolation and come to some kind of new non-proliferation agreement. Because only when America makes new deposits into the security account, can it expect to be able to make withdrawals.

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Wednesday, 18 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 18

Alan at Maverick Views presents a very good argument why the Democrats' rising star Barack Obama should NOT aim for the presidency in 2008.

Greg at Sippican Cottage is holding forth on the follies committed in the name of business. He has administrators nailed cold.
These gentlemen thought that the building of large and complicated things out in the landscape from Canada to Florida and Martha's Vineyard to Sausalito existed simply to give them figures to Rubik around on their desktop. They did not realize that they existed to support the actual operation. They thought they were the actual operation. Everyone in the government makes this same mistake, 25 hours a day, 11 days a week, by the way. A quarter of a billion dollars was going through that business a year. Very few of my colleagues had ever seen one bit of it generated.

John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia has an interesting round-up of opinions and reactions to the veil debate currently going on in the UK, as a result of Jack Straw's remarks.

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A glimmer of hope in Palestine

Mahmoud AbbasMahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, has come up with an idea that might actually have some potential for positive change in Palestine: a transitional Cabinet of technocrats.
The idea was endorsed earlier Tuesday by a group of academics, politicians and professionals representing all walks of life in Palestinian society, who called for the establishment of a transitional government consisting of independent figures to resolve the crisis between Fatah and Hamas.

The call, which was made at a press conference that was held in Ramallah under the title "Appeal for the Sake of Palestine," comes amid growing fears that the Fatah-Hamas dispute could spill over into civil war.

Hamas, not surprisingly, is cool to the idea.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have said more than once that the only hope of the Palestinians is to turn away from both Hamas and Fatah, and look to a third option. Although there are real obstacles to this particular proposal's success, it nonetheless shows that rationality not only exists in Palestine, but is starting to find a voice. We'll take our comfort where we can find it.

Palestinians would also have to reject their deeply ingrained culture of hatred. This is not easily done, but is not without historic precedent. Entire populations have been known to experience a mass movement of revulsion against their former excesses. Think of post-Nazi Germany, revolutionary France, and 18th century Salem. I'm not sure Palestinians are quite ripe for a thorough-going renunciation of their ideologies. Hopefully a full-fledged civil war will not be necessary to bring them to that point. But it might be.

Hat tip to the Captain's Quarters.

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Evaluating Harper: taxes

Part two in my evaluation of the Harper government, looking at campaign priority number two: providing real tax relief to working families by cutting the GST.

Now seeing as they promised to cut the GST by 1% immediately and by a further 1% within five years, we can fairly say they've come through on this one. Whether it provides "real" tax relief is quite another question and one that is, quite frankly, over my head AND excruciatingly boring to me. Please feel free to rant on this point all on your own.

I always saw this promise as a purely political move and a particularly brilliant piece of politics it was too. I will confess to chuckling in malicious glee the first time I heard it. Unlike most tax policies, it was blissfully simple, the effects - although very small - immediately apparent, and the Liberals could not possibly argue against it without reminding every voter with a memory that they had loudly promised to completely abolish this self-same tax and never lifted a finger to do so. It also made the Conservatives look prudent and non-radical because it was a gradual, measured approach that would not disrupt government coffers too severely. My admiration of this tactic had little to do with policy, being very similar to the awe a die-hard sports fan feels when they have seen a particularly lovely play. You have to admire it, no matter who you're cheering for.

Honestly, I think abolishing the GST altogether in an incremental fashion is probably a good idea. It's far from a comprehensive tax policy, but on its own, I think it's a good thing. Of course, I do hail from the school of thinking that believes that anything beyond very moderate taxes kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. I also tend to believe that most changes are better brought about incrementally, because abrupt change - however needed - tends to create enough disruption to cancel out any positive impact. I know, it's boring, but it works.

So on the very small point of the GST, I will give the Conservatives full marks. On the question of real tax relief, I reserve judgement. As far as I can see, they haven't done anything dramatic, just something visible.

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Tuesday, 17 October 2006

NK's Kim living on borrowed time

It looks like my recommendation to Kim Jong Il to be a little paranoid about the Chinese was right on the money. Ed Morrissey tells us they are now openly debating the merits of regime change in Pyongyang as their protégé has become more of a liability than an asset. It looks like Kim has overplayed his hand and will be forced to leave the game with no more chips to his name.

I am trying very hard to feel a twinge of sympathy for the guy, but it's just not working. When a man starves his own people, indulges in brutal political and religious persecution, it's hard to feel too compassionate when he's down on his luck. And the hairdo definitely doesn't help.

Perhaps I am counting my chicks before they're hatched, but I believe we are about to see the end of a dynasty in the near future.

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Evaluating Harper: accountability and transparency

Part one in my evaluation of the Harper government, looking at campaign priority number one: cleaning up government by passing the Federal Accountability Act. And I'm going to throw in the whole concept of transparency in government as well, because you can't have proper accountability if you don't have transparency.

The Conservatives came to power largely on a wave of revulsion. Enough Liberal supporters were fed up enough to take their vote elsewhere and the scary boogie man campaign strategy just wasn't flying anymore. Even the press was mainly Conservative-friendly, something we have been seeing more of in recent years. (I'm old enough that it still surprises me when I come across a pro-Conservative bias in the media.) I remember thinking after the election that if the Conservatives actually succeeded in passing some ground-breaking legislation in this area, that alone would justify their term in office and make it all worthwhile.

Well, they're passing an Accountability Act, alright, but it sure doesn't look like the one we were promised. Here is the Conservative Party's detailed look at the issue. The Senate has been studying it ad nauseum, the Auditor General is defending it, others have said that the whistleblower provisions are useless at best. John Geddes of Maclean's perhaps does the best job of summing it up:
But the charged atmosphere around accountability is now giving way to a jaded suspicion that some things might never change -- sparking a minor revolt within Tory backbench ranks. Not that there hasn't been some serious action. Harper made good on his vow to reform the way Ottawa operates -- up to a point -- only three months after winning power. The federal accountability act was, as promised, his very first piece of legislation. The omnibus bill, which is now in the hands of a Senate committee, is sprawling, encompassing dozens of measures that will require changes to about 100 existing laws. Some of its steps will reverberate heavily in party and bureaucratic circles: the maximum allowed individual political donation will be cut to $1,000 from $5,000, and union and company donations will be banned outright; meetings between lobbyists and top government officials will be disclosed on a public registry; and former ministers, ministerial aides, and senior mandarins will face a five-year cooling-off period before they can lobby government.

Yet Harper is at risk of forfeiting much of the credit for this and more by not moving to make government less secretive. His apparent fixation on controlling his message -- he demands strict discipline over what his cabinet ministers say, and shows obvious suspicion of the news media -- suggests a Prime Minister ill at ease with a free flow of information. There is more at stake, though, than the matter of his personal style. When the accountability act was tabled last spring, it failed to include most of the Tory campaign promises designed to beef up the access to information rules. Instead, a House committee was assigned to study possible changes to the law in the indefinite future. Critics accuse the Conservatives of trying to postpone and, ultimately, smother their own promised reforms under endless evaluation of the options. "It's absolutely a death-by-committee tactic," said NDP MP Pat Martin. "They chickened out. Their officials and senior bureaucrats got to them."
Of eight promises in the Tory election platform, only their pledge to broaden the access law to cover more Crown corporations and other arms of government was included in the accountability act. Among the commitments left to an uncertain fate: giving the federal information commissioner the power to order documents to be released, obliging public officials to keep records of their actions and decisions, and making the public interest paramount over any possible justification for keeping information secret.

There's a lot of good stuff in that article, but I will resist the temptation to reproduce the whole thing here. Suffice it to say that I too am bitterly disappointed.

I fully expected to be let down by the Conservatives on a lot of points. I have a healthy cynical side. But the idealistic part of me couldn't help hoping they would come through on at least this.

Instead, we've seen John Baird happily adopting the Liberal's strategy to bypass the Access to Information Act, Gordon O'Connor allowing DND bureaucrats and top brass to classify even anodine information that has been published and in the public domain for years, and Foreign Affairs is rivalling them in dangerous foolishness.

I feel sick. My only hope is that a significant number of Tory backbenchers are equally unhappy. It's not a great hope, but it's there. Or perhaps that the Senate would actually fulfill its function by not just delaying this bill, but by sending it back to the House of Commons with a stern message to fix it. Or Michaëlle Jean could do the same. But I rather doubt they've got the gumption. Where's Ed Schreyer when you need him?

My evaluation on this point is definitely not good. The Tories had a chance to do the entire country an invaluable service and they blew it. Admittedly, they aren't worse than the Liberals here, but hey! We expected more and we're not really getting it.

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Monday, 16 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 16

Dave Schuler at the Glittering Eye explains, facts and statistics in hand, why he thinks it will make little difference whether the Democrats or the Republicans take control in November's elections. He compares the historical results of Democratic or Republican dominance.
It didn’t make a bit of difference. Taxes went down during periods of complete Democratic control. Taxes went up during periods of complete Democratic control. Taxes went down during periods of complete Republican control. And up. We’ve been to war, expanded entitlements and civil rights, had booms and busts under both Democrats and Republicans.

Media distortions seem to be hitting all sides. Vues d'ici tells us (in English) how Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff has had his words twisted by removing the context.

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Evaluating Harper's government

Stephen HarperI am planning on starting a bit of a series here, evaluating the Harper government on its famous five priorities and throwing in an extra two priorities - the environment and foreign affairs - seeing as they have come to have at least as much importance as the originally stated five. So the seven points I will be looking at are (the first five are word for word from the Conservatives' website):

1. Clean up government by passing the Federal Accountability Act
2. Provide real tax relief to working families by cutting the GST
3. Make our streets and communities safer by cracking down on crime
4. Help parents with the cost of raising their children
5. Work with the provinces to establish a Patient Wait Times Guarantee
6. Effective action on the environment
7. Foreign affairs

In the interests of disclosure, I voted Conservative last election. The reasons for that were relatively simple; the Liberals had disgusted and alienated me on so many issues I couldn't even keep track any more. And that was BEFORE the sponsorship scandal. Think Talisman Energy, Shawinigate, and a slew of broken promises. There's more, but that gives you an idea. They had dug a hole so deep I couldn't - and can't - imagine it getting filled back in until they've spent a few years in the political wilderness and done a major overhaul job.

The Conservatives had a few ideas I liked, and had spent enough years mouldering in opposition to effect a real purging. The Mulroney cronies were gone and the band of neophytes and lightly seasoned MP's they were could not possible learn the levers of corruption as well as the Liberals in a mere single term, especially the short term of a minority government. So it is quite likely that I will vote Conservative again, although not necessarily with any great enthusiasm. That could yet change.

The NDP? Well, honestly, while I occasionally agree with some of their concerns, I almost invariably think that they choose the worst possible method of trying to address them. And that's when I agree...

You may have gathered that ethics in government is a major point for me. You gathered correctly.

I am not a political expert and I don't intend to spend hours and hours (a couple maybe) researching each point, so your input will be highly valued. Cheap insults won't be welcome, mind you, but thoughtful, factual input, however passionate and whether in favour or opposed, is definitely what I'm hoping to see.

If you're interested in participating, please bookmark this blog or this post (I will link the entire series back to this post) and come back to weigh in. All viewpoints are welcome, as long as they're expressed respectfully. Some of the topics plan on widening to the general principles behind them, not necessarily the very narrow focus of the stated priorities. And extra points could get added, if they seem to warrant the attention.

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Sunday, 15 October 2006

Who is really responsible for stick thin models?

In today's Ottawa Citizen, journalist Shelley Page tells the story (subscription required) of the modelling career that put her through journalism school and ruined her eating habits for years. She was pressured to take her healthy, athletic frame and reduce it to a size 6. It wasn't easy. Now, 20 years later, size 0 is the norm, and some models have literally died trying to attain and maintain it. Shelley is not buying the fashion industry's excuses.
In the two decades since I modelled, the young women have been forced from the sought-after size 6 to achieve nothingness. The size 0 standard almost negates their very existence.

Who are these women-hating designers who create clothes that only look good on women who are half-dead? Who are the idiots who sit stupidly in the audience during Fashion Week and applaud the ridiculous fashions draped over these dead-eyed girls? And who are these young women who are turning into zeroes?
And who are the every-day women who are complicit?

Let's face it, the fashion industry would not survive for two weeks if women didn't support it. Not just the "high" society sitting in the front rows around the catwalks, but the thousands upon thousands of women who buy fashion magazines and the celebrity tabloids with their breathless descriptions of the gowns at the Oscars. It is women themselves who are financing some of the most malicious exploitation of women that occurs in the Western world.

So what are you going to do about it?

Update: I've blogged about a powerful photographic exhibit dealing with eating disorders here.

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Saturday, 14 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 14

Islamic scholars are taking up the Pope's challenge and engaging in interfaith dialogue, reports Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters. Their response to the Pope will be delivered Sunday, but it is already available online. It's a small start, but it's a start. As you can read in the Bible, "Do not despise the day of small beginnings."

Continuing the Islamic theme, John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia tells us the Saudi government has set up an English/Arabic website with the express purpose of combatting Muslim extremism.

A moderate Muslim journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, is literally running for his life in Bangladesh. Reader_iam at Done With Mirrors brings us up-to-date on his situation, with more than a note of despair.

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I have been carnivalized

That's carnivalized, not caramelized. And for the very first time, too.

EterazAli Eteraz is hosting the current Carnival of Islam in the West, and saw fit to include my earlier post on the Muslim moles in the Toronto terrorist cell. Thanks, Ali. If the uneasy relationship between Islam and the West interests you, and you'd like a glimpse of it through (mostly) Muslim eyes, click on over and browse through the articles he offers.

And for those who haven't encountered the term before, a blog carnival is a catalogue of selected recent posts on a specific topic, compiled by enthusiasts, and usually hosted on different blogs on a rotating basis.

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Friday, 13 October 2006

Second Muslim mole helped foil bomb plot

Mubin ShaikhWe now find out that there was not one, but two Muslim moles working within the terrorist cell that was planning attacks in Toronto. The first, Mubin Shaikh, seen at fight, came to public attention about a month after the arrests.

The existence of the second, who is now in a witness protection programme and whose identity will not be revealed, was reported today by the CBC.
However, the CBC has learned that he played a key role in the investigation that led to dramatic raids in the Toronto area in June.

"He really felt, as a loyal Muslim Canadian, like he owed Canada something, to give back to it," said a close friend and former business associate who, for security reasons, can't be named. "And it's not surprising to see that he did that for the cause of Canada."
The mole, a young agricultural engineer, apparently provided key evidence to investigators and will be an important Crown witness when the matter comes to trial.

This is exactly what many Canadians have been calling for: members of the Muslim community who will put their loyalty to Canada and the protection of innocents ahead of any sympathies with misguided co-religionists. I suppose it won't carry much weight with those who are determined to hate all Muslims and to see them all as terrorists, but it should. These men didn't just talk the talk, they walked the walk.

And if terrorism is to be defeated in the West, this is the kind of collaboration that is absolutely essential. The Muslim community itself is our first line of defence.

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North Korea by night

Rumsfeld's second favourite photo or no, this picture was too striking not to pass on. North Korea shuts off the lights - and all electricity - at 9:00 pm. That one little dot of light is Pyongyang where the Beloved Leader lives. From the Daily Mail.

Great place to be an amateur astronomer, presuming any of them can afford telescopes.

North Korea's nuclear explosion in doubt

No airborne radioactive particles have been found by either American or Chinese monitors.
The U.S. government remains uncertain of the nature of the underground explosion, although the air sampling tends to reinforce earlier doubts about whether the test blast was entirely successful, officials said. Data from seismic sensors indicated the explosion was smaller than expected.
This makes it highly unlikely that North Korea actually carried out a successful nuclear detonation. (Hat tip to my friends at Stubborn Facts.)

Although I have posted briefly on the North Korean nuclear situation here and here, I have been unable to really get into panic mode over the whole affair, in large part because the smallness of the seismic signature of the detonation inspired doubt from the very start. Those doubts now seem to be vindicated.

The world has been given a grace period to do something about North Korea before it starts selling nuclear technology to every terrorist group with sufficient financial backing. This was the clear danger from the very start, as not even Kim Jong Il is crazy enough to provoke a nuclear war with either its neighbours or the US. There are disheartening signs, such as Russia and China's pressure in the UN to keep reaction low-key in favour of diplomatic solutions, which has too often been UN-speak for accomplishing nothing whatsoever and giving tyrants a free hand.

On the other hand, Shinzo Abe, Japan's new right-wing, nationalist prime minister made his first foreign visit to China last week, just before the test and got along famously with his hosts (remember the saying: Only Nixon could go to China?) with one of their main points of agreement being the necessity of keeping North Korea in line. I find it encouraging that the first impulse has not been to start an antagonistic military build-up in the Far East between the two great regional powers.

So while the situation in North Korea is still a subject of grave concern, there is not yet any need to panic. Indeed, Kim may have done us all a favour by making it very difficult to ignore his shenanigans and galvanizing world opinion enough to accomplish something before critical mass is obtained. That's a bit optimistic on my part, I know.

[Read the comments.]

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Muhammad Yunus and practical feminism

Now this is the kind of feminism I can really get behind!

Muhammad YunusBangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank are sharing a Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering and implementing the practice of micro-loans.
Yunus' notion -- today, known as microcredit -- has spread around the globe in the past three decades and is said to have helped more than 100 million people take their first steps to rise out of poverty.

Some bought diary cows, others egg-laying hens. In recent years, money for a single cell phone has been enough to start thriving enterprises in isolated villages without phone lines from East Asia to West Africa.

''Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty,'' the Nobel Committee said in its citation in Oslo, Norway. ''Microcredit is one such means. Development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights.''

A large number of the beneficiaries of microcredit have been women, which is why I made the link to feminism.
''I can't express in words how happy I am,'' said Gulbadan Nesa, 40, who five years ago used $90 from the Grameen Bank to buy chickens so she could sell eggs. She's since taken more loans and expanded into selling building materials.

''Not long ago I was almost begging for money to feed my family,'' she said from Bishnurampur, her village in northern Bangladesh. ''Today, I've got my own house and enough money to feed my children and send them to school.''

This is the kind of feminism that gets me excited. It seems innocuous when you first look at it, but this is the kind of empowerment that has profound, lasting results. Families are lifted out of poverty, women gain dignity and independence, all through a very simple mechanism. And it is downright insidious and apolitical, with only lunatics like the Taliban likely to oppose it. No, I have no official statement from them along those lines. Seeing as they routinely firebomb schools teaching women skills for microbusinesses, I think it only likely they would oppose this kind of initiative as well. Most third world countries smile benignly and allow this kind of activity, which may ultimately prove to be positively seditious, both in terms of women's rights and in terms of political power.

And - dare I say it? - it is also capitalism at its finest. While I am very worried about some of the extremes of capitalism (think huge multi-nationals), this kind of capitalism dignifies and enables individuals and through them their families and the entire society, bit by bit.

I think the Nobel Committee chose very wisely this year.

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Thursday, 12 October 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Oct. 12

Both Spook86 and Steve Janke are explaining why Japan's trading sanctions against North Korea are a much more devastating move than is generally known.

It sounds like education is getting a profound and welcome makeover in Saudi Arabia. John Burgess tells us about it at Crossroads Arabia and warns it will not be without controversy.

Ed Morrissey is singing the same tune as I am when it comes to Palestine:
The Palestinians can't blame Israel for this. Shootings such as the one that took Rafiq Siam have their origins in a divide that war alone can address now. In the end, neither side can win, because both are essentially nihilistic and will not stop. The Palestinians have created a death cult in two different flavors, and both sides value martyrdom so much that both will fight until everyone is dead in order to keep power in their own hands, once the fighting starts.

Eventually the Palestinian people will have to demand an end to their misery and jettison both factions from their polity. An all-out civil war might wake them from their political coma and shock some sense into them. Siam's father tells the Guardian that he's "sick of both sides because they can't control the situation." This realization that they have failed to produce a rational ruling class might finally force the Palestinians to generate one before the terrorists kill them all.

I got a bit of a surprise from this article by Larry Elder, in which he trots out economic and ethical statistics in favour of the Republicans over the Democrats. It almost sounds too good to be true. It certainly isn't the whole story, but interesting nonetheless. Hat tip Booker Rising.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Blog glossary = bloglossary?

Are you confused about some strange term you've seen on a blog? And you don't want to seem uncool by asking what it means? Well, you don't have to.

Some enterprising souls in the UK took it upon themselves to create a blog glossary.

Of course, so has Wikipedia.


If you can't find it somewhere in there, it's probably not worth knowing.

In my ongoing selfless service to the blogosphere - ahem! - I've put a link in my sidebar, where you'll be able to access this reference at all times. Just look under the walrus and the carpenter.

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The ongoing saga of YouTube pornography

"Rev." Billy Bob Gisher is very satisfied with the results of his crusade against YouTube pornography.
Take a look at the number of major advertisers we caught mired in YouTube smut, that have pulled their ads, and headed for the hills. With the exception of the extremely belligerent conglomerate of Cingular, the word was most definitely on the street. This rapid attempt on the behalf of YouTube to leap into the loving arms of Google, was inevitable as after all, how could they stay afloat without major advertisers?
This is not mere bluster. If you take a look at the blow-by-blow accounts of advertisers contacted by Gisher and their responses, you will find the battle and its results well documented. I'm not in a position to evaluate how much it figured into YouTube's decision to sell but1.6 billion dollars is not a bad consolation prize.

Gisher has no intention of breathing a sigh of satisfaction and letting matters drop. He and his crony, King Bastard, are retrenching before the next phase of battle.
For a few days we will be gearing up for the larger battle against adult content which is served with little or no regard for the easy access that children have to the material. We are also gearing up to follow up on several surprise issues that came out of our investigation on YouTube.

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Violent elephants

African elephantThe New York Times magazine has an impressive article, "An Elephant Crackup?", on strange new behaviours emerging among elephant populations. While individual elephants have shown signs of trauma before, entire groups are behaving in violent, dysfunctional ways, sometimes terrorizing nearby human villages. Researchers have drawn striking parallels between these behaviours and those of traumatized, disrupted human populations.
This fabric of elephant society, Bradshaw and her colleagues concluded, had effectively been frayed by years of habitat loss and poaching, along with systematic culling by government agencies to control elephant numbers and translocations of herds to different habitats. The number of older matriarchs and female caregivers (or ‘‘allomothers’’) had drastically fallen, as had the number of elder bulls, who play a significant role in keeping younger males in line. In parts of Zambia and Tanzania, a number of the elephant groups studied contained no adult females whatsoever. In Uganda, herds were often found to be ‘‘semipermanent aggregations,’’ as a paper written by Bradshaw describes them, with many females between the ages of 15 and 25 having no familial associations.

As a result of such social upheaval, calves are now being born to and raised by ever younger and inexperienced mothers. Young orphaned elephants, meanwhile, that have witnessed the death of a parent at the hands of poachers are coming of age in the absence of the support system that defines traditional elephant life. ‘‘The loss of elephant elders,’’ Bradshaw told me, ‘‘and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.’’

The article is fascinating, often depressing, and sometimes profoundly moving.
Okello said that after the man’s killing [Note: by an enraged elephant], the elephant herd buried him as it would one of its own, carefully covering the body with earth and brush and then standing vigil over it.
When a group of villagers from Katwe went out to reclaim the man’s body for his family’s funeral rites, the elephants refused to budge. Human remains, a number of researchers have observed, are the only other ones that elephants will treat as they do their own.

Hat tip to Amba at Ambivablog

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One thing the SWC has done for me

Glaze my eyes over with endless bureaucratese, without giving me any solid information to chew on.

Status of Women CanadaMy SWC meme hasn't exactly been a riproaring success, for three reasons. First of all, this blog is still pretty obscure, so most people are probably still unaware of it. Second, those who are aware of it don't have a clue what to say about Status of Women Canada if they aren't allowed knee-jerk, partisan generalities. And third, I haven't tagged anybody specific.

Well, there's not much I can do about the first, at least not quickly.

As for the second, I sympathize. I had nothing to say off the top of my head either, positive or negative. Research wasn't very helpful. The government documents were full of meaningless flow charts, bureaucratese that must be designed to thoroughly discourage anybody trying to find real information, and page after page of vague generalities. After a couple of hours, my brain was numb and I was no closer to finding out what programmes were actually funded by SWC, nor what practical difference they made to anybody. I am still therefore basically without an opinion, although my suspicions have been raised. One of their main emphases is GBA - Gender Based Analysis - which seems to be a programme to make sure there isn't any gender bias in the public service. In a 2002 document they said it was too early to have any concrete results, but they should be able to say something more precise in a couple of years. In 2005, they were saying much the same thing. This has all the earmarks of a government sinkhole, money being spent on endless, perpetual studies that never make recommendations or even come to any kind of conclusion. What I really want to find is a list of organizations that SWC has sponsored, how much money they were each given, and what they accomplished with it. If anybody can help me, I would love to know where to find it.

As for the third reason, I will try to put together a politically diverse list of both genders and see if that gets the ball rolling better. In the meanwhile, I would like to hear from you: what difference has the SWC made in your life, for better or worse? You can comment here or at the original post, email me (make the necessary changes to the address), or post on your own blog and link back or let me know.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Pressuring North Korea

Kim Jong IlThe absolute best post on how to handle North Korea, and I've read quite a few, trust me. In From the Cold is a blog written by a former spy who drips expertise in every post.

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A new wrinkle in the abortion debate is really very old

Opponents of abortion in South Dakota have taken a new tack, and it apparently has the pro-choice forces at a bit of a loss on how to handle it.
Vote Yes for Life campaign manager Leslee Unruh takes what she calls the pro-life "feminist" approach to the abortion debate.

Instead of discussing how abortion "murders babies" she talks about how abortion exploits women. The campaign headquarters features pictures of women and the slogan, "Abortion Hurts Women."
According to the Times, Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and North and South Dakota, says Unruh's pro-woman, pro-life tactic is "effective" and has thrown her group's campaign "off balance."

"Historically, this debate has been focused on fetal rights, fetal life. We have a lot of language about that," Stoesz told the newspaper. "This adds an element we're not accustomed to. It's a different line of debate... And that is something we struggle with politically."

It is interesting that 19th-century feminists also saw abortion as an exploitation of women issue and were adamantly opposed to it, without exception.
The feminist movement was born more than two hundred years ago when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "A Vindication of the Rights of Women." After decrying the sexual exploitation of women, she condemned those who would "either destroy the embryo in the womb, or cast it off when born." Shortly thereafter, abortion became illegal in Great Britain.

The now revered feminists of the 19th century were also strongly opposed to abortion because of their belief in the worth of all humans. Like many women in developing countries today, they opposed abortion even though they were acutely aware of the damage done to women through constant child-bearing. They opposed abortion despite knowing that half of all children born died before the age of five. They knew that women had virtually no rights within the family or the political sphere. But they did not believe abortion was the answer.

Without known exception, the early American feminists condemned abortion in the strongest possible terms. In Susan B. Anthony's newsletter, The Revolution, abortion was described as "child murder," "infanticide" and "foeticide." Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848 organized the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, classified abortion as a form of infanticide and said, "When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."

Anti-abortion laws enacted in the latter half of the 19th century were a result of advocacy efforts by feminists who worked in an uneasy alliance with the male-dominated medical profession and the mainstream media. The early feminists understood that, much like today, women resorted to abortion because they were abandoned or pressured by boyfriends, husbands and parents and lacked financial resources to have a baby on their own.
From "The Feminist Case Against Abortion."

Questioning dogmas can be a very healthy thing. It is way past time that women questioned the standard dogmas about abortion.

Hat tip to Big Blue Wave.

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Controversy in the Kingdom

Tash Ma TashThere is quite a debate raging in Saudi Arabia. A popular TV show, Tash Ma Tash, lampooned terrorists in a recent episode and they've stirred up quite a hornet's nest. Fundamentalists are praying for the deaths or the repentance of the actors - depending on their degree of rage, I suppose - while others are rushing to their defence.
From condemnation, to qualified support, to clear approval, these reactions demonstrate that the show has achieved its goal of getting people talking about the status of social and cultural issues that are often confusedly seen as "religion".
Something noteworthy: The Saudi government has not taken any action to stop the broadcast of this controversial program.

You can read all about it here and here and here at Crossroads Arabia, where John Burgess, an Arabist of considerable real experience, keeps a daily watch on Saudi Arabia and provides a much more fleshed-out, knowledgeable view than you'll find anywhere in the Western media. Any Westerner who wants to gain some insight into the country at the heart of Islam should make this blog part of their daily reading.

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And you thought SARS was scary...

Europe is fighting its own superbug, drug-resistant tuberculosis. A new Stop TB Partnership has been launched in Europe to try to fight the disease.
Markku Niskala, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the message for EU leaders was: "Wake up, do not delay, do not let this problem get further out of hand."

"The drug resistance that we are seeing now is without doubt the most alarming tuberculosis situation on the continent since World War II," he said.

The WHO has found high levels of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in Baltic countries, Eastern Europe and central Asia.

Le Figaro reports that 70,000 people die of it yearly. OK, so how many SARS deaths did it take for the world to boycott Toronto? I assume TB is a little less contagious, because otherwise this makes no sense at all.

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Monday, 9 October 2006

Muslim super heroes

John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia reports on a Muslim comic book series that has super heroes that impersonate the 99 attributes of God in Islam and has now received crucial financial backing necessary to launch an animated TV series.
It's interesting to note that one of the motivations for Al-Mutawa to create this series was his observation that Hamas was selling stickers of suicide bombers to children. He believed a strong alternative was necessary.

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Train tickets to the Walrus

People sometimes take the strangest routes to end up at The Walrus Said! These people rarely stay long, but their train tickets amuse, bemuse, or sometimes confuse me.

Here are some of the more unusual search terms that lead people to this blog.
  • walrus that have no face (One of the most ignored of minority groups. Stop the conspiracy of silence now!)
  • letter of concern by pastor to absenteeism (No, I have no idea why that pointed in this direction.)
  • the walrus and the carpenter religion (Hey, if they can build religions around Star Wars or Elvis...)
  • walrus kipling (Sorry, sweetie. Kipling didn't write about walruses. But Walrus wrote about Kipling...)
  • Walrus speech (Normally slow and incomprehensible. Except here.)
  • dangers of walrus leather (Another vital issue deliberately ignored by the MSM)
  • reinstate computer to 06 08 06 (Or else!)
  • sociology ethanol (There must be a university course on it somewhere.)
  • said lost (several times and usually by Germans) (Warum also? Das verstehe ich gar nicht.)
  • weird and white and needy (It is absolutely amazing how many people get the title to Weird Al's White and Nerdy wrong. And they all come here.)
  • church of walrus (I am speechless)
  • walrus effect (Google had no idea either)
  • walrus toilet (I really don't want to know)

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Sunday, 8 October 2006

The beginnings of popular dissent in Iran?

Here's a story that has received very little attention in the Western media, but which might be a sign of growing trouble for the regime in Iran.

The earlier story from the Iranian media: Tehran Police Clash With Supporters Of Outspoken Cleric

Hat tip to Ianism! The Sequel for the original heads-up.

Time for an SWC meme

I imagine most Canadian bloggers are aware of the "Five Things Feminism Has Done for me" meme going around, in protest of the Conservatives' reduction of the funding to the Status of Women Canada. I didn't get tagged and didn't offer to participate on my own, because I found the meme irrelevant. Reading some of the many posts entitled "Five Things..." confirmed my impression.

Most bloggers came out with thoughtful, sometimes quite personal meditations on the positive contributions of feminism. Few of them were controversial: the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, the right to own property and the like. You'll get no debate from me on the value of such contributions.

But the meme was a red herring. It's not feminism, particularly not early feminism, that is the issue. It is the value of the work done by Status of Women Canada and to what extent they are representative of the women of Canada.

Now, I could give you my knee-jerk reaction based on a few reports more or less vaguely remembered, but of what value is that? About the same as the majority of the reactions, one way or another. Quite honestly, I know virtually nothing about what the Status of Women has accomplished in concrete terms, or what practical effect it has had. And really, to have an intelligent opinion on the cutting of funding to SWC, you have to know this kind of stuff.

So I want to know, can you name one single thing SWC has done that has impacted your life, positively or negatively? No vague partisan rhetoric, please.

If you are a Canadian blogger, please consider yourself tagged. (I've never participated in a meme before, so please bear with me. I'll probably tag some specific individuals later as well.) And please let me know about your posts, so I can index them here. In the meanwhile, I'm going to go do some research, so I can participate in my own meme. Hopefully we will all come out of this with a better and more informed idea of whether cutting SWC funding is a positive or a negative.

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