Saturday, 23 September 2006

Even-handed coverage of tragedies

An interesting discussion of religious stereotyping going on over at Crossroads Arabia, in reference to the Dawson College shooting. (Yes, I'm involved. What did you think?)

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When Pakistani eyes are smiling

Bush is too easily impressed with his ability to read other men's souls...
Appearing with Bush at an East Room news conference after their session, Musharraf said he assured the U.S. president that the pact was intended to rein in extremist violence. "There will be no al-Qaeda activity in our tribal [area] or across the border in Afghanistan," Musharraf said. "There will be no Taliban activity. . . . There will be no Talibanization."

Bush said he was satisfied with those assurances. "When the president looks me in the eye and says the tribal deal is intended to reject the Talibanization of the people, and that there won't be a Taliban and won't be al-Qaeda, I believe him," he said.

Let's see. Wasn't the last time with Putin?
"I looked the man in the eye," Mr. Bush said of Putin after their meeting in Slovenia in June (2001), adding, "I was able to get a sense of his soul."
You'd think after that experience, he'd be a little more careful about looking foreign leaders in the eye.

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The untold story of Iraq

Callimachus (I always wonder which Callimachus he named himself after) of Done With Mirrors has nothing but contempt for NYT reporter Dexter Filkins and his reports of grave danger in Iraq, but he expresses it much more effectively by letting Kat tell her story. Kat is 5 feet tall, 89 pounds and worked for two years for a contractor in Iraq without the elaborate security precautions Filkins talks about and lived to tell the tale with nary a hair-raising experience to show.
All in all, I'm really thankful that Dexter was able to share his experience with the rest of the press. It's difficult to live in a hardened bunker, not going out to do your job, and relying on others not too skillfully chosen to do your job for you. I can almost taste the fear as he describes it, and my first response is certainly to slap him and his co-hibernators on the back for their selfless display of courage, innovation, and integrity in doing their job.

I'm sure that Dexter will remember me and all of the other contractors and civilians who worked in Iraq slightly shorted of all the elaborate defence mechanisms dedicated to those in his profession. I'm sure he could appreciate the depth to which one of my rather small size five appendages could install itself within his and his cohort's posterior sections. It would be pleasurable to me at any time to let him accompany myself on one of our less important or threatening rides to a place of little or no interest to anyone but ourselves. Thank goodness for the New York Times.

Kat had appeared before at Done With Mirrors to talk about her work in Iraq. Must reads if you want a different perspective on what is really going on over there.

Friday, 22 September 2006

Big day in Ottawa

It was a busy day in the nation's capital.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed a joint session of Parliament, thanking Canada for its military presence in Afghanistan and specifically thanking the families of fallen soldiers. In response to a reporter's question, he also made it clear that Canadians were welcome to stay even beyond their present mandate. (This in stark contrast to the highly deceptive spin put on some of his remarks taken out of context on the NDP website.) In his speech to Parliament, he presented in concrete terms the progress that has been made in Afghanistan. And, without naming names, he ascribed his country's problems to abandonment by the international community after the Soviet withdrawal.

He later laid a wreath at the National War Monument, and reacted to a protester's curses by smiling and waving his hat. The man definitely has class.

I don't know if he stuck around to see it, but at noon there was a large rally (8-10,000 people, which is huge by Canadian standards) on Parliament Hill in support of Canadian troops. There have been conflicting polls in Canada lately on whether the majority of Canadians support the Afghan mission, but it is clear that the supporters are more willing to stand up and be counted in public. Prime Minister Harper addressed the enthusiastic crowd.

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Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 22

Steve Janke at Angry in the Great White North is on a bit of a roll today. He has caught the NDP in a flagrant misprepresentation of President Karzai's opinion of Canadian military operations in Afghanistan, which they have ironically titled Reality Check. This one is downright slimy.

The Anchoress assesses the Day of Rage that ended with more of a whimper than a bang and sees some cause for hope.

Steve Janke at Angry in the Great White North posts about a "scary native leader," and commenter Sandra informs him that Chief Louie is not at all uncommon in British Columbia.

John Burgess at Crossroads Arabia links to one of the thoughtful Muslim responses to Pope Benedict's recent lecture in Regensburg. Amir Taheri first takes issue with the violent reactions to the speech and then takes issue with the speech itself, debating its points in an academic manner.

Reader_iam at Done With Mirrors highlights the case of a Bangladeshi journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who may soon pay with his life for his calls for tolerance and understanding between different faiths, most notably with Jews. She is particularly incensed that no one in the West seems to be picking up his cause.

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Truly frightening

I am depressed. And this is why.
The McCain-Graham-Warner proposal concerning military commissions was, from the beginning, an awful bill that was quite radical in its own right. As but one example, the senators' proposal strips all detainees in American custody of the right of habeas corpus, meaning that detainees are denied the right to challenge in court either the validity of their detention (e.g., by proving that they are not terrorists) or the legality of their treatment (e.g., by demonstrating that they have been tortured).

This denial-of-judicial-access provision means, as Yale law professor Jack Balkin explained, that the military can imprison, and torture, a detainee forever without ever bringing the detainee before a military commission, and the detainee has no means at all to challenge his detention or the treatment to which he is subjected. It is difficult to imagine a more radical power to vest in our government than the power to detain people (including legal residents in the U.S.) forever, and to torture them, while expressly denying a detainee all legal recourse. Yet that is exactly what the McCain-Graham-Warner proposal (and the White House's proposal) provides.

I would desperately love to hear that this is a serious distortion of the facts, that fundamental principles of justice have not been violated, and that the United States has not just taken the first great step towards becoming a police state.

Being something of a neophyte in American politics, I don't know if Glenn Greenwald is considered a loony lefty. I'm not sure it matters; I've never been overly impressed with ad hominem arguments and the mistaken impression that affixing a label trumps an argument. What I want to know from supporters of this bill is this: is this depiction accurate? Is it truly possible for an innocent to be trapped with no recourse? And if so, how can you support it? If not, please demonstrate. I would love to know that this is not actually reality. Because this kind of reality is truly frightening.

[Update] The Washington Post is also not impressed.
The bad news is that Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation. Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to U.S. courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated U.S. law against war crimes.

[[Update]] Do read the comment thread. There's a good, constructive discussion going on.

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Thursday, 21 September 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 21

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters tells of a Swiss organization that wants to expand access to assisted suicide (permissible in Switzerland for the terminally ill), arguing it should be made available to the chronically depressed. They say that "we should see in principle suicide as a marvellous possibility given to human beings because they have a conscience." It's a horrifying example of the slippery slope at work.

Harper gives speech to Economic Club

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a speech before the Economic Club of New York last night, and it looks like he hit a lot of right notes, both with Canadians and with his audience, who applauded him roundly.

Some highlights:
  • He drew attention to the fact that Canada is the only stable and growing producer of oil, and the importance of this for continental security has been under-appreciated.
  • He reminded his audience of the great efforts Canada has made in fighting terrorism since 9/11.
  • Concerning border issues: "'Our border must not be seen as a fence where one country's national security stops and the other's begins. It's not like that in the real world,' he said in a prepared remarks released before the speech."
  • He appealed to the prominent businessmen he was addressing to help improve poorly thought out and poorly implemented border security measures. "'And you in the American business community, who know what border disruptions could mean for business and tourist travel or for closely integrated supply chains, will be crucial in ensuring that (the measures) are implemented only in a pragmatic manner and on a realistic timetable.'''
  • Canada is in Afghanistan for the right reasons and will remain until the mission is accomplished.
  • On Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic: "We will defend our sovereignty over all our territory — including over the islands, waterways and resources of the High Arctic — even if that conflicts with American claims."
  • Canada will continue to pay down its debt and cut taxes.

It is refreshing to see a Canadian prime minister address differences with the US without belligerence, and without giving these differences undue weight.

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Leahy calls border fence bone-headed

An American Senator with more than passing knowledge of Canadian/American relations has no patience for the idea of a fence along the Americans' northern border.
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said the proposed wall would alienate one of America's staunchest allies and potentially cripple trade between the two nations.

"Have we gone blind? It is clear that those who want to build this have no clue about the character, the history and the day-to-day commercial importance of the northern border and the needs of the states and the communities being affected," said Leahy. "It would be best to nip this foolishness in the bud before Congress wastes more tax dollars on another boneheaded stunt. America can do better than this."

I do have to say, I agree with the Senator. Canada and the US have a relationship that is unprecedented in world history, on both cultural and economic levels. The proposal for a northern fence is poorly conceived, poorly researched, and displays a dismaying lack of knowledge both of the degree of the supposed danger and the very real damage that it would create.
Leahy, though, said a fence would do more to disrupt trade than protect the U.S. from harm.

"Heavens to Betsy. Most of us who live up there go back and forth all the time. We are visiting our relatives," said Leahy, who said his wife's family lives in Canada. "You know, these are not terrorists. I have heard some cockamamie ideas during my time in the Senate, but this rises to the top."

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Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 20

Steve Janke at Angry in the Great White North is advancing the argument that tolerance is not a good thing. He says it is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself, and then ties the whole thing in to the current kerfuffle over the Pope's comments. A thought-provoking read.

Jared at Total Depravity gives us a wonderful description of a movie theatre full of enraptured children. He reminds me of Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage for his ability to find the wonder and poetry of everyday life. Both are like balm to a hectic soul.

And Alan Stewart Carl at Maverick Views has concluded that there is no vital centre, nothing to pull the middle together between the right and the left. He's not saying that there can't be, just that there isn't. His distinction between centrists and moderates is interesting and even useful.

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Christian Arguments Against Torture

That bastion of left-wing ideology, the magazine Christianity Today (founded by Billy Graham), came out in February in no uncertain terms against the legitimizing of torture in the war against terrorism. The article "5 Reasons Torture is Always Wrong" is available online, as well as a longer version on the website of the author, David Gushee.

In the article, Gushee lays out the moral problem, and the question of the definition of torture. He dismisses the idea that 9/11 justifies a modification of the long-standing American opposition to torture and outlines his five reasons, which I shall recap briefly here.

1. Torture violates the dignity of the human being.

2. Torture mistreats the vulnerable and violates the demands of justice.

3. Authorizing torture trusts government too much.

4. Torture dehumanizes the torturer.

5. Torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures.

And his conclusion:
We are tempted to follow the logic of a July 11, 2005, Time magazine cover story that said, "In the war on terrorism, the personal dignity of a fanatic trained for mass murder may be an inevitable casualty."

Yet we are queasy enough about this "inevitable casualty" that we do not want to call torture what it is. We do not want to expose our policies, our prisons, or our prisoners to public view. We deny that we are torturing, or we deny that our prisoners are really prisoners. When pushed against the wall, we remind one another how evil the enemy is. We give every evidence of the kind of self-deception that is characteristic of a descent into sin.

It is past time for evangelical Christians to remind our government and our society of perennial moral values, which also happen to be international and domestic laws. As Christians, we care about moral values, and we vote on the basis of such values. We care deeply about human-rights violations around the world. Now it is time to raise our voice and say an unequivocal no to torture, a practice that has no place in our society and violates our most cherished moral convictions.

I would urge any religious person (or non-religious person, for that matter) who thinks there is a justification for torture to read this article carefully. It is vitally important that we as Christians do not fall prey to moral seduction and betray Biblical standards.

Further Christian arguments against torture can be found in the post Truth About Torture on Ochuk's Blog, in which he summarizes and links to a Christian symposium on ethics that addressed the issue of torture.

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Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 19

Aisha at Eteraz has a very interesting post on the opposition to terrorism in the Middle East, fatwas against it by Muslim clerics, and the not-so-powerful voice of Sharia law. A definite read if you were labouring under the impression that Muslims have not been speaking up against terrorism.

Paul D. Kretkowski at Beacon comments on China's generosity toward its neighbours. China is apparently building infrastructure in neighbouring countries. Kretkowski suggests that accepting this generosity could come back to bite them in the butt. Maybe sometimes it's a better idea to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Steve Janke at Angry in the Great White North is arguing, somewhat humorously, that the Harper government is not firing Guy Fournier as head of the CBC after some rather bizarre and unprofessional behaviour, precisely because it suits their purposes to have the CBC discredited. Sometimes I think the Conservatives are taking deviousness to new levels, but I am more often amused than horrified. Hoist 'em on their own petard!
[Update] Guy Fournier has now resigned.

Iraqi blogger Mohammed at Iraq the Model is bemoaning the violent reaction of Muslims to the Pope's speech and outlines Islam's history of spreading the faith by the sword. He puts the blame squarely on Muslim clerics.
Some accuse the pope of bad timing but I wonder what is going to be the best time to accept criticism and accept questions? Next year? a decade from now? When?

There will no be such time for our clerics who derive their power from this history, and to them, questioning or criticizing this history is a threat to their holiness and power.

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Defending the indefensible

I normally rather enjoy Thomas Sowell's columns when I happen to come across them. Not today. Torture is indefensible, but he defends it. Glenn Greenwald has done a thorough and excellent job of tearing his arguments to pieces, so I won't run through them all. I will add this though. When you start using torture in the name of defending yourself against terrorism, you have stopped fighting terrorists. You have joined them.

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Arar has no rights in the US

It would appear that the American judicial system reserves the right to commit injustice against non-citizens. From Jurist Legal News and Research:
In 2004 Arar filed a lawsuit in US federal court challenging US extraordinary rendition practices under the Torture Victim Protection Act. Arar's lawyers argued the Act provides the US court with jurisdiction over cases involving civil rights abuses committed abroad, including Arar's case, but US District Judge David G. Trager dismissed the case in February of this year, citing "the national security and foreign policy considerations at stake" and holding that Arar, as a non-citizen, could not raise a constitutional right to due process. Arar is appealing that decision. (Emphasis mine)

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding Trager, but it sure seems to me like he's saying the US government has carte blanche to commit civil rights abuses against non-citizens. Can selective application of justice be understood to be justice at all?

In the meanwhile, O'Connor is urging the Canadian government to "register 'a formal objection' with both the United States and Syria concerning their treatment of Arar."

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Monday, 18 September 2006

Maher Arar vindicated by inquiry

Justice Dennis O'Connor has concluded that Arar was an innocent victim and was not involved in al-Qaeda activities in any way, as U.S. officials had alleged.

O'Connor criticizes the RCMP for supplying misleading, inaccurate information to their American counterparts, for releasing information without reviewing it first, and for trying to whitewash their role in the affair.

The government too comes in for censure:
But O'Connor said reports were prepared by government officials after Arar's release that had the "effect of downplaying the mistreatment or torture to which Mr. Arar had been subjected."

He also slammed Canadian officials for leaking "confidential and sometimes inaccurate information about the case to the media for the purpose of damaging Mr. Arar's reputation or protecting their self-interests or government's interests."

In my mind, the most important thing now is for the government to put measures in place to ensure that this never happens again. The Anti-terrorist Act in particular needs a major overhaul.

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Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 18

Glenn Greenwald attacks Presidential Infallibility Syndrome at Unclaimed Territory.
This principle is just axiomatic -- the fact that someone is accused by the Bush administration of being a terrorist or suspected by the administration of working with terrorists does not, in fact, mean that they are a "terrorist." There is a distinction between (a) being accused or suspected by the Bush administration of working with Al Qaeda and (b) actually being in cahoots with Al Qaeda and being a "terrorist."
Presumption of innocence and the right to a fair and open trial are values that can not be compromised. They underpin our entire society and must be protected.

Flee the village...

"The Canadians are coming! Armed with plastic knives and forks!"

The comedian (whose name I forget) was on stage at Montreal's Just For Laughs festival, and the audience was bent double in laughter. If there were any soldiers in the audience, they were bent double too.

Canadians like to laugh at themselves, and this is probably why we have a disproportionate presence in the comedy world, by which I mean American entertainment. Other reasons have been put forward for the uncanny number of Canadians in American comedy, but I think they miss the mark. Canadians rule comedy because we are so good at laughing at ourselves.

This extends right up to the highest levels. Years before Al Gore thought to appear on Saturday Night Live, Canadian politicians - including sitting prime ministers - were appearing on political satire shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, not to mock their opponents, but to joyfully skewer themselves and occasionally the satirists for not caricaturizing them well enough.

But it's not only the famous that we have enjoyed mocking. One of my favourite episodes of Corner Gas - gotta love any comedy set in Saskatchewan! - features a bemused American tourist who ends up in "Dog River" by mistake. The "ugly American" proves himself to be consistently well-informed, respectful and courteous, while his Canadian hosts (especially Hank) are prejudiced, obnoxious, and self-righteous. There were no outraged letters to the editor, no dip in ratings, no protests about the attack on the Canadian identity. We just enjoyed the inversion of stereotypes and laughed heartily at ourselves. It remains one of my favourite episodes.

And the skit that triggered this reflection: Royal Canadian Air Farce was portraying Prime Minister Harper and his wife Loreen as stiff, robotic, semi-humans and the children were called in to say good night. Who should appear but the real Harper children!

I can't speak with any expertise on this subject, but I have a hard time imagining an American president lending himself or family members to a political satire show for the express purpose of poking fun at himself. Admittedly, this is not entirely disinterested on the part of Canadian politicians; Preston Manning in particular proved that self-parody will only increase your popularity with the Canadian electorate.

So I ask my American friends in particular and readers of this blog from all parts of the world: how good are you at laughing at yourselves? I don't mean laughing at your opponents, either. Is it common practice for your politicians to mock themselves, and do your comedies skewer your own culture? Or is the mockery generally turned toward the "other"?

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Sunday, 17 September 2006

Border fences

The San Francisco Chronicle blasts border fences as being not only stupid but counter -productive, arguing that the partial fence along the Mexican border has resulted in more, not fewer, illegal immigrants living in the US, in large part because just as many people keep coming north, and fewer of them can get back home.

I applaud this voice of reason. Border fences are colossally expensive and ineffective to boot. The lovers of fences are also militating in favour of building one along the Canadian border, which raises stupidity to stratospheric heights. (The border is 7000 miles long and not known to be a source of illegal immigrants.) Unfortunately the idea seems to have some traction in Congress. The only good I could see coming from it is a lessening the flood of illegal guns into Canada... (That was sarcasm, folks.)

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Citizendium sets itself up to rival Wikipedia

Nicholas Carr at Rough Type is talking about Larry Sanger's announcement of a new rival to Wikipedia. The new online encyclopedia, Citizendium, intends to be a more rigorous version of Wikipedia with experts invited to provide guidance. Sanger was one of the original founders of Wikipedia and obviously is not entirely happy with the direction it's taken, calling it dysfunctional.

The heart of the dysfunction is the debate between deletionists and inclusionists, each of which has its own association(!).

I've witnessed some of the tension between the two camps personally, with one of my sons being a heavy contributor to the French Wikipedia (primarily articles on Canadian history and politics). I've heard him fulminating about the necessity of baby-sitting people twice his age who seem intent on deleting any article that doesn't correspond to their rigorous definition of what is relevant.

Carr concludes that having two online community encyclopedias might be the best resolution of the conflict. Give them each their own sandbox to play in.
The best way forward in this case - the way that creates the least harm - may not be through the process of consensus-building. Trying to find common ground between the deletionists and the inclusionists seems a futile exercise - in fact, those who seek compromise between the two camps are known as "delusionists." The time may have come to form two competing Wikipedias - to "fork" the encyclopedia, as software programmers would say. Let the deletionists and the inclusionists pursue their separate ideals separately - and let users decide which version best suits their needs.

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Bigger than 9/11

Adnan el ShukrijumahThis is the kind of attack Al-Qaeda is threatening against the US, warning all American Muslims to flee New York and Washington. The announcements come from Abu Dawood, the newly appointed commander of the al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, and were obtained by journalist Hamid Mir.

The attacks are to be led by Adnan el Shukrijumah, known as "the Pilot," seen at right.

AT the same time, they are announcing major offensives against NATO forces in Afghanistan during the month of Ramadan.

Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has a tendency of following through on threats.

Read the entire interview.

[Update] 7:12 PM

According to Wikipedia, the Canada Free Press who first published this interview, is not the most reliable of sources. On the other hand, the Wikipedia article itself seems somewhat confused, labelling CFP a far right publication and shortly thereafter talking about how it has frequently supported Liberal and NDP candidates, which would be anathema to any far right organization.

Ultimately what matters most here is the authenticity of the actual interview. This should become clear over the next few days or weeks. I certainly would not mind discovering the whole thing was a hoax. If it isn't, I wouldn't mind discovering that North American intelligence services were privy to the whole plot and will use this announcement as a trigger to move in. And for those who would be tempted to leap to conclusions, drawing attention to this is not the same thing as quaking in fear, any more than telling someone there's a car coming is ceding to panic. In this case, checking out the validity of these announcements is a prudent, not a fearful thing to do.

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Gleanings from the blogosphere, Sept. 17

Michael J. Totten has a very interesting post about the moral (and other) objections to the recent Lebanon war raised by a right-wing Israeli. Now there's a perspective we haven't gotten very often!

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