Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Person of the Year - Declined

I'm honoured, really, and I thank everyone who nominated me for this award. I'd like to thank my mother, who was always there for me, my agent and, of course, the Lord, for making me the man I am.

But, with some regret, I'm afraid I must decline Time's nomination of Me as Person of the Year.

I never thought I'd ever feel the need to decline an award. There aren't very many awards, in general, about which I feel so negatively that I'd find it incumbent upon myself to decline them on principle. Since I'm not in line for any knighthoods, I rather assumed the subject would never come up.

First of all, the award is really lame. As cool as all of those youtube.com videos are, I don't think anyone deserves an award for putting content on the Internet. This would be akin to offering every lunatic on the street an award for drooling and hurling invective at passers by. Entertaining? Possibly. Award-winning? Doubtful. I think the threshold for distinction ought to be somewhere a bit beyond "making noise in public".

On to point number two. The mainstream media being as it is, I prefer any number of alternative sources for my news. I also appreciate the power of all of those miniature video cameras out there, showing when the LAPD taser down their latest minority. But really, have all those in the alternative media, all of those bloggers and indies, really managed to affect mainstream opinion in any significant way? What percentage of Americans still think WMD were found in Iraq? What percentage still think Saddam had anything to do with Al Qaida and 9/11? What percentage of Canadians even know that we knocked over a democratic government in Haiti or that the lion's share of our money spent in Afghanistan is spent on destruction rather than construction?

I don't think "we" deserve such an award when we're so clearly failing to reach the public with such simple facts.

The third point is the simplest. Though the people at Time are the ultimate arbiters of who receives their award, it's supposed to go to the single person who has the largest affect on the news. To pretend that all those bloggers out there had more impact on Time Magazine's coverage than Bush, Rumsfeld, Bin Laden or any number of other people is pure pandering.

So, on two counts of "lame" and one count of "not good enough", I'm afraid I must decline Time Magazine's nomination as Person of the Year.

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Answers For God

I was about five years old when the subject of reproduction came up. I didn't really care about the technical details, but I had just learnt that people grow older, that children become adults and that they have children of their own.

That meant that my parents had parents of their own. Turned out that these were the people I'd been calling my grandparents. In fact, it turns out that everybody has a mommy and a daddy. It started to come together. Did my grandparents have mommies and daddies, too? Yes, they did. Indeed!

So it keeps going back like that? Yes. A moment of consideration ... then, "How did it start?"

Turned out that God Did It. He made the first two people, Adam and Even, and they were the mommy and daddy that started it all out.

God? Having established that everybody has a mommy and a daddy, I foolishly decided to ask the blasphemous question "Who were God's mommy and daddy?". When I was told that God didn't have a mommy and daddy, my reply that this was unbelievable (had we not just established the necessity of mommies and daddies?) marked me as hellbound.

Threats of hell didn't help answer the question. I was still stuck with this unreasonable and absurd thing we call "the universe", which somehow exists. Throwing an old man with a white robe and a long beard in to the mix didn't really help. That just gave me one more thing to explain and explaining a thing that could create universes wasn't any better than having to explain the universe.

It used to bug me at night. Why was there any stuff at all? The universe really had no business existing in the first place. I would go to church, obligatorily, every Sunday, and watch all the fine-looking people in their best clothing going through the staid aerobics of a Catholic mass. I would look at those adults and say to myself, "There must be something I'm missing that all these grown ups understand. When I'm older, I'm sure I'll have it all figured out, just like all these people."

And furthermore, the classic fallacy that works so well on children, "Everyone else believe it ..."

It was twelve more years before I realized that none of those adults had a clue, no more than I have a clue today. The absurdity is the existence of the universe. If you want to believe in a God of some kind, go ahead, but you've not reduced the absurdity one iota.

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Liberal Leaders

I watched bits and pieces of the Liberal leadership convention on the weekend. (My television can be configured so that I can play Super Mario Golf on one half while I get broadcast signals on the other half. Handy, that.)

The front runner was a quiet professor named Michael Ignatieff. Well versed in international politics, well travelled, quite intelligent, he seemed to have a lot of the qualities that one would admire in a statesman. Then I read this particular piece: Ignatieff on Iraq

This is Ignatieff going on about the importance of fighting "preventative" wars - wars against enemies which aren't actually a threat but might someday be a threat. He gives the garbage example of Bosnia and Kosovo, where NATO invented a genocide out of non-existent mass graves to justify an invasion of a democratic nation that wouldn't play ball with Wall Street.. He also gives the rationale that "we" have to stay in Iraq until it's better than the way "we" found it.

So: Ignatieff out. I'm glad he lost. He might as well sleep in Harper's bed with attitude.

Next up: Bob Rae. This has to be some kind of joke. This is the man who, intentionally or not, destroyed the NDP in Ontario. He intentionally antagonized his base - the teachers, nurses and public servants. He formed himself in to a caricature of socialism - the ridiculous idea that "everyone is equal" and the only thing preventing a mentally retarded child from becoming a neurosurgeon is the stigma placed on him by those around him. He gave money away like it was going out of style. He "de-streamed" high schools so that the slowest and smartest kids were crammed together in one classroom. He could not possibly have done a better job of setting back socialism if that had been his goal (and maybe it was, I'm not a mind reader).

Now, when the chance comes, he jumps for leadership of the Liberal party? Glad he lost.

Stephane Dion and Gerard Kennedy were rounding out third and fourth place. Kennedy, realizing he could not win, threw his support to Dion, putting Dion over top of the two leaders. Dion was one of Chretien's guys and found himself on the outs when Paul Martin took over as leader of the party. Things shifted and, being as popular as he was in Quebec, he became Minister of the Environment in 2004, a post he held for approximately 18 months before the government fell.

Dion is proclaiming himself as something of an environmentalist. There is some conservative material attempting to blast him for his record as Minister of the Environment, but this material is clearly inaccurate.

I find it hard to believe that Canada's greenhouse emissions actually rose 34.6% in the 18 months Dion was Minister of Environment. More likely, this is the number for the entire increase while the Liberals were in government.

Is he sincere? I have no idea. But he isn't a horse-jumping joke like Bob Rae, and he isn't a pro-Iraq-war bandwagon jumper like Ignatieff. If he actually implements the laws in his 70-page environmental book... if he actually fails to behave like every other politician once in office ... then, yes, he sounds great.

But does anybody believe politicians anymore?

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Remembering Peace

Every year, around Remembrance Day, I usually write a piece about peace.

When I learnt about Remembrance Day, as a child, there were always two important lessons.

The first is that a lot of people - millions, in fact - had sacrificed their lives or had their lives sacrificed, in the name of protecting the freedoms we have today. We have a duty to remember those people. While there is a debate as to which wars were really fought for noble causes, this does not detract from the sacrifice these people intended to make.

The second lesson always was this: never again. This is a lesson we can learn whatever it is that we believe about the real causes of the World Wars and all the wars since. This is a lesson taught directly from the butchery of all those sacrificed on all of the false altars that lead us to war. Whether that altar is called the "Fatherland" or the "Queen" or "democracy", we are supposed to have learnt by now that any resort to war is a failure on our part. It is failure on the part of us, the human beings living on this planet, to properly honour and remember those who have suffered the horrors of all previous wars.

We've been slaughtering each other for millennia. With the advent of civilization, we were supposed to smarten up and stop this nonsense. Somehow, though, we fail. We let every manner of thing steer us to violence against one other.

Sometimes it's religion. Sometimes it's a crucial resource. Sometimes it's patriotism. It's almost always someone with a lot of power wanting more, whether that person be priest, nationalist or power baron.

We the people, however, have an obligation to see through the lies. The people of Germany had an obligation to realize that Poland wasn't amassing an army to attack them, and certainly an obligation to realize the lie afterwards when it took but three days to conquer that country. The people of Israel and Palestine have an obligation to realize that four thousand year old bloody histories don't entitle them to each other's land. The people of Canada and the United States have an obligation to realize when their patriotism is being manipulated to seize the oil, land and cheap labour of other nations.

That, to me, is the meaning of Remembrance Day: the obligation to remember the horror of war and to see through the lies that caused it in the past so as to prevent them in the future.

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American Election

(from Nov 9, 2006)

On Tuesday, the Americans held an election. Their system of government, mildly more complicated (and considerably more influenced by lobbying cash), held two important levels of election.

The Senate, a law-making body of 100 senators, elected one third of its members. The House of Representatives, with considerably more members, flushed itself clean and elected some 435 members. Both of these levels of government were controlled by the party of George Bush, the party that calls itself Republican. Both of these levels of government are now in the control of the Democrats, the part they call "left wing" in the United States, but would be called "right wing" anywhere else in the world. It only appears "left" relative to what we in Canada would call the "extreme right" of the Republicans.

What does this mean? Technically speaking, it's going to make things harder for Bush. Where before the Republican House and Senate would vote on laws and Bush would sign them, those two bodies will now produce "left-leaning" Democratic legislation, which the President can always veto (requiring a larger majority to override the veto). So we should all dance in the streets, right? No more unilateral invasions of random countries? No more Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan? We'll have less combative policies out of the U.S. regarding North Korea, Iran? We'll have fewer wars over hydrocarbons?


Left and right are all matters of degree. In Canada, we have Conservatives, whom we expect to represent the interests of fairly rich people and corporations. We have Liberals, whom we expect to represent the middle class workers, but who increasingly represent rich people as well. We have the NDP, whom we expect to represent the working class. In the U.S., it's not the same. The Republican party represents the extraordinarily rich, the CEOs - the richest of the rich whom George Bush calls his "base". The Democrats represent, actually, almost the exact same people, all they do get the support of trade unions and other organizations on the basis that they're not quite as bad as the Republicans.

But look at the facts: most Democrats voted for the war in Iraq; no Democrat has come out against it; when Clinton was president, he maintained the debilitating, starving sanctions in Iraq and approved the invasion of Kosovo. If you're expecting massive change, don't look here. Don't expect any attempt to disengage the North American mouth from the Middle Eastern oil teat. Don't expect to see all those permanent bases in Iraq pull up stakes. Oh, there'll be a bone thrown to the poor - an increase in the minimum wage. There'll be some window dressing regarding 9/11. But will the black site prisons in Eastern Europe be shut down? Will the prisoners in Gitmo get their trials? Will the torture stop at Abu Ghraib? Will the "Oil Exploration" welfare be diverted to research in to solar and wind power?

Of course not. The two parties in the United States are owned by, basically, the same groups of people - oil barons and arms manufacturers. The Democrats won't be as bad, but don't expect massive change.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Beating Our Chests


The DTK, much like the Canadian military, is stuck on the subject of Afghanistan.

General Fraser on the subject of Afghanistan.

It's hard to find polite words to describe what I think of this particular Canadian General. "On his way out, fortunately" only covers some of my feelings.

He claims that (quoting the article) more Canadian soldiers will be killed but the cost in blood must be paid in Afghanistan unless Canadians want to fight Islamic jihadists at home. "I don't want my sons to be doing what I'm doing here on the shores of Canada", he said. Really? Do you really believe that we'll have Islamic radicals landing en masse in Vancouver if we pull our troops out of Afghanistan? Perhaps he's speaking figuratively.

I can't see any reason for the fanatical members of the religion of Islam to hate Canada or Canadians. Well, wait a minute. I can think of one reason: we keep killing hordes of their civilians in Afghanistan. Bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, then, isn't it? What he really means to say, in that case, is, "We'd better *continue* killing their civilians here, or they'll get their act together and come get us." Doesn't have the same fiery rhetorical punch, though, does it?

How about this line: "Canadians should actually do something very un-Canadian-like and pound their chests and be proud and tell everyone, because all the other nations down here are talking about Canada."

Um, yeah. Look, Brigadier-General David Fraser, I don't know what part of Canada you're from, but we really don't do the "our military is awesome" chest beating thing around here. We're proud of a lot of things, nation wide, and our military certainly has a proud history in many theatres of operations. But we aren't the "chest-beating" types. You may be thinking of some other country - perhaps with envy. But even our Americans neighbours had to fire Jay Garner when he made the same "let's beat our chests" comment with respect to killing lots of people in Iraq.

I can only hope that the same fate awaits David Fraser. The last thing we need in the Canadian military are generals making public statements about how proud they are to kill people. Yes, it's your job. Yes, you should be proud of your work. But you also have to acknowledge that killing people is nothing to beat your chest about and really indicates that somewhere, someone has royally screwed up.

The General is also irked that the twenty million that has been spent on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan is being ignored by the media. Well, General, there's a reason for that. It's because the government has stated that the military mission over the next couple of years is going to cost over three *billion* dollars. It's a relative thing. When destruction outspends construction by two orders of magnitude, it tends to take precedence in the news.

Lastly, to rub it all in, we bring in the bit about how we're really "peacekeeping". No, General, we're building an oil pipeline. Your right wing rhetoric notwithstanding.

If you really wanted to keep peace, the first thing to do is stop making war.


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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Canadian Dream

Once upon a time, there was a dream called Canada.

In Canada, the children were taught about a thing called the National Identity.

The first chapter of National Identity was always Counterculture, wherein we tell the children that we often define ourselves as simply being "not American". The next chapter is usually named the "Legacy of Peacekeeping" wherein we tell them that our proud military history contains only victories in protecting the weak from the strong and keeping the peace so as to teach enemies to be friends.

They lied to us.

I don't know when the lying started. I'm pretty sure it was sometime before I was born, but it's hard to tell because the media fall in so well with the lies that it's hard to dig them out. I know, with certainty, that the framework for lying was already well in place when NATO, including Canada, began bombing Serbia. They told us that the Serbs were "ethnically cleansing" Kosovo of all non-Serbians. We were told that there were mass graves containing, in total, perhaps 100 000 Kosovars.

Then Canada, as part of the NATO mission against Serbia, committed terrorism. There was no UN approval. There was no Parliamentary vote. There was no declaration of war. Serbia never attacked us in a way that would activate the NATO alliance. Civilians were bombed and killed for the purpose of changing a government we didn't like.


The Serbs were not ethnically cleansing Kosovo. The Serbs were not expanding beyond their borders. There was never any proof of this, just allegations to trick us in to supporting the war. All that NATO and human rights investigators could later find were normal graves containing about equal numbers of fighting men from both sides - those having been killed in the battles between foreign funded Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas and the government armed forces. General Lewis MacKenzie was upset, as was Canada's former ambassador to Yugoslavia, James Bisset.

General LEWIS MacKENZIE: "Where have all the bodies gone?"

Ambassador James Bisset: "The NATO bombing: an assault on sovereignty"

A New York Times writer had the clever comment "You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too". He was only reflecting, in that sycophantic mainstream media style, the attitudes of the NATO commanders toward the general Serbian population. Here was NATO, promising to bomb the infrastructure of the country until it changed governments. Radio stations were hit. Hospitals were bombed. Finally, Milosevic surrendered. They sent him to the Hague, where they couldn't a thing to pin on him. Eventually he died of some heart ailment. In a fit of irony, it was the invading NATO commanders that accused him of terrorism and invented the term "ethnic cleansing".

We went along with those lies in Serbia. We went along with the lies in Haiti. We're going along with the lies in Afghanistan. I don't know how many other lies we're permitting.

There was a dream that was called Canada and I never once feared that it could be destroyed.

Once, there was a dream called Canada, and I fear it will fade away from the apathy of its citizens.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Overtaxation, Blair and Ignatieff


It's funny how a man's definition of luxury can change over time. At one point, it involved liquor, a tiled dance floor and the phrase "every night is ladies' night". These days, two consecutive nights of uninterrupted sleep clocks in at pretty much the peak of my Epicurean fantasies.

Admittedly, I'm having trouble figuring out what to rant about. Our federal finance minister has declared that "Canadians are taxed too much" and plans to cut our taxes. He claims that people stay on welfare because they pay too much taxes if they go back to work. I'd like to see him substantiate that somehow. It seems to me that people who earn small amounts of money pay very little tax at all. Then he switches to talking about how important it is to cut capital gains taxes and corporate taxes.

Why is it that people who work for a living are expected to pay taxes while people who merely live on the interest and investment of massive amounts of inheritance money somehow believe that they shouldn't have to pay taxes? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't we be rewarding work and productivity over investment? But remember, for all the talk of Bob Rae amassing a deficit in Ontario, Bob Rae did it in a recession. It was our present federal finance minister, when his party was running Ontario's finances, that managed to increase that debt while in an economic boom - all while halving corporate taxes and cutting services like education and health care.

I hate to say "I told you so", but I did. Wait for the federal deficit to replace the surplus.

In other news, British PM Tony Blair was in town to tell us how Canada and the U.K. must forge a new partnership/friendship/relationship. This new association will be based on our mutual efforts in the war on terrorism and our mutual association with the United States.

Uh ... yeah. Good luck with that line of reasoning, Tony. People in Canada are beginning to disapprove of the Afghanistan mission. We find the "war on terror" quite dubious. People in your own country gave up on Iraq a long time ago. Too bad none of us are actually living in democracies. Then we might have peace, and wouldn't that be boring.

Should I mention that ridiculous big deal made over the "anti-Israeli" comments made by Liberal leadership hopeful Michael Ignatieff? Apparently he had the nerve to refer to the relentless cluster-bombing of civilian areas of Lebanon as a "war crime". Goodness. How dare he? Israel is an ally of Western powers and has white skinned, European types running its government. Those sorts of people only cause "regrettable civilian collateral damage". War crimes are committed by other people (terrorists, people we don't like, people who don't play ball with Wall Street, brownish people wearing turbans etc.).

The real crapfest is the fact that Ignatieff appears to be saying one thing to a pro-Lebanon francophone crowd in Quebec while saying something else to an anglophone crowd in Toronto. If that's really what's going on, then he deserves all the splatter off the ventilation he's getting, even if it's misdirected.

Enough ranting.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Conservative Distractions


Distraction is the name of the game. Our troops went in to Haiti, knocked over a government, installed a crazed dictator and destabilized a society to the point where it is estimated that 4000 political murders have taken place and 35000 women and children have been raped in that country. In Afghanistan, the government and the military have admitted that the "reconstruction" aspects of the mission will have to wait until after the "security" situation has stabilized. We're not doing any reconstruction, just killing and getting killed, and even the NDP aren't willing to discuss the elephant in the room - the billions of barrels of oil just sitting there to the north of the country, waiting for a pipeline; waiting for a country "secure" enough to run a pipeline through.

So our government tries to distract us. The Conservatives have decided that they're going to try to pass a "Defence of Religions Act" in order to make sure that the gay marriages can't be thrust upon people who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong. This seems to be reasonable, except that we already have a thing called the Charter of Rights that ensures that no one can force you to be gay.

The purpose of this act, apparently, is to "protect" the free speech of those who criticize homosexuals. Again, this sort of free speech is already protected unless, of course, you're advocating violence against homosexuals, or repeatedly quoting that bit of religious text that says homosexuals should be put to death. Then you're guilty of all sorts of crimes, same as you would be advocating death or violence to any other group. No need for a law here, and we certainly don't want to protect those who commit hate crimes.

The Act is also supposed to protect public servants - not just religious ministers - from having to perform or involve themselves in the technical parts of gay marriages. This would allow, for instance, a Justice of the Peace to refuse to perform the marriage. Maybe, once we actually see the text of the act, it will permit public servants to refuse to process the marriage certificate based on their own religious beliefs. That would be unacceptable. Science teachers have to check their religions at the door. Doctors are expected to handle patients using birth control. Pharmacists are expected to dispense prescription drugs. All of these servants are expected to do their jobs regardless of their religion and civil servants are no different.

But this Act is a distraction, and maybe a bit of pandering to the social Conservative base. It's supposed to distract you from the fact that we are now openly sending our soldiers abroad to prosecute foreign wars, to seize foreign resources and impose our will upon foreign peoples. Every paragraph, every speech, every letter written on the subject of gay marriages is one less moment devoted to noticing the villainy that our government is promoting abroad.


Democracy Now on the Lancet Study in Haiti
CIDA in Afghanistan (note the priorities)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Why not torture?

Maher Arar.


So the whole sordid affair is out where everyone can see it easily. Maher Arar: Canadian citizen; deported to Syria by the United States; tortured in Syria until he confessed to crimes he couldn't actually have committed. If you have any doubt of he details, you can check them pretty much anywhere you like nowadays.

Then there was the inquiry which confirmed that the RCMP and CSIS, our own security organizations, provided the Americans with the information that led them to think Maher Arar was somehow associated with terrorism. The inquiry condemned the actions of those two organizations.

Our media appear to be doing something quite similar - the condemning part, that is - but they're missing the point.

The first thing I see on the news is the bit about the RCMP handing "evidence" over to American officials. The problem, apparently, is that the evidence is circumstantial. The RCMP, you see, had bad info on Arar. The American officials in question took this bad info to heart and sent Arar packing off to Syria. The next information we had was a report to CSIS that Maher Arar had confessed to being a terrorist. CSIS, for some reason that mystified even the inquiry, decided to accept this confession at face value despite Syria's record of human rights abuses and torture.

The crime, as portrayed by the media, was that Arar was tortured because of circumstantial evidence. The crime, as portrayed by the two reports I just saw on television, was that CSIS beleived the report of confession and therefore led the Canadian government to protest less than it should have.

The crime, apparently, was that Maher Arar was the wrong guy to torture.

I would like to submit, for your analysis, the idea that - perhaps - the people who bring us our news have lost their damned minds.

The crime was torture. Whether or not Maher Arar was a criminal; whether or not he attended a camp in Pakistan; whether or not he spoke to Al Qaeda members; whether or not he's even a murderer - none of these things are relevant to the fact that we as a nation acquiesced to his torture.

If you want to be pragmatic about it, you can make a lot of technical points about torture. For one thing, it doesn't work. While torture does illicit confessions from criminals, it elicits confessions from the innocent as well. (Google me this: "witch hunt" "salem".) While torture can get information from terrorists, it also gets completely useless, falsified information from non-terrorists who are just hoping that you'll stop it with the broomstick already if they pretend they know something.

So torture doesn't work? That's the reason we shouldn't do it?

No. The reason we don't torture is because it's a cruel, inhuman thing to do. I'm well aware that we are bound to come across cruel, inhuman people who do horrible things. These people will knock over World Trade Centers, spread depleted uranium all over Iraq, cluster bombs all around southern Lebanon or blow themselves up in a crowded plaza.
The question arises: Do these people deserve to be tortured?

The answer is a very firm "maybe". But it's the wrong question.

The question is: should we torture these people? The emphasis is on the "we". "We" must understand that undertaking to enact cruel punishment on other human beings isn't just bad for them, it's also bad for us. I can't pretend to have any magical power that allows me to decide what other human beings "deserve". Tolkien observed in the Lord of the Rings that "many die who deserve to live while many who live deserve to die". Fair enough, though I have no idea who is really entitled to make such decisions. When "we" decide to torture people, we have surrendered the moral high ground that was supposed to separate "we" from "they".

"We" don't have an infinite fountain of benevolence from which we can draw the right to torture people based on our generally friendly disposition.

Torture is an evil thing to do, even when it's done to an evil person. There is nothing we could gain from torture that could possibly be worth what we lose by doing it ...

... even if it did work.


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Thursday, September 14, 2006

NDP and Afghanistan

Now I've made it clear, on many an occasion, that I believe in progressive ideas. These are ideas that the people in the mainstream media would call "left wing." I believe in universal health care, universal public education, free or very cheap post-secondary education, government controls on this dangerous "free market" thing before which we're apparently supposed to bow.

And so, more often than not, I find myself voting NDP.

Well, just a few days ago the NDP came out with a party resolution stating that it wanted the Canadian troops in Afghanistan to come home and now I have to rethink my support.

It's not that I approve of the mission in Afghanistan. I absolutely do not. The mission in Afghanistan, much like the government there, is a fraud, and I disapprove absolutely of sending soldiers to kill, die and be wounded for a fraud. Hamid Karzai, the "president" of Afghanistan, is an unelected stooge who used to work for an American oil company that wanted to build a pipeline from the small oil-rich nations to the north down to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan. Hamid Karzai, according to local reports, is nothing more than the "mayor of Kabul." Afghanistan is now sucking in more troops and more tanks and more lives. The goal isn't to improve the lives of the locals or drain the terrorist swamp, it's to get access to the oil in the north.

So what's my trouble with the NDP and especially their leader, Jack Layton?

It comes down to two counts of visible hypocrisy.

One, read this:

It's a critique of the way in which the war is being waged in Afghanistan. Much more could be said on the subject of tactics. How about "No one has conquered this country or defeated its inhabitants in over 2300 years of attempted conquests." So what? Where do we discuss the moral failure that led us in to this swamp? Where do we discuss how very, very wrong it is to occupy a people in order to run an oil pipeline through their country?

Count number two of hypocrisy, and I will bang this drum again and again, is how very differently the NDP are responding to our war in Afghanistan as compared to the invasion of Haiti. Haiti had a democratic government. It had an elected president named Aristide. The election was considered valid by everyone except the American
government. Aristide tried to improve the lives of his people by giving them some semblance of health care, some education and, the ultimate sin, a raise in the minimum wage. That was the last straw. Desperately needed economic aid was withheld until Haiti could be declared a "failed state". Then, just over two years ago Canadian, American and French troops entered the country, threw out the elected government and replaced it with a government made up of wiser, more corporation friendly people. Those people only had the support of 5% of the population in the last election, but that didn't matter.

Did the NDP cry foul then? Did we hear Jack Layton and Alexa McDonough demanding that Prime Minister Martin do something about this? What, indeed, did the NDP do about Canadian soldiers being used to knock over a democracy? Why, they demanded a thorough investigation in to, um, human rights violations... that were happening... to some poor people. Um, what? No mention of our role in these violations? No mention of the fact that our government was training the new regime's police, the same police who wandered in to the poor areas of Haiti and killed hundreds of peaceful protesters who were demanding their president back?

So, yeah, as progressive as I am, I find the NDP call for withdrawal to be self-serving and not at all based on any moral principles that I can see.


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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Atheist Definition

It came up on youtube.com, a purveyor of .... well ... whatever the hell video you upload, that a video called "Atheist" became immensely popular and then suddenly disappeared from the most-viewed list. Conspiracy was presumed but unproven. The video made a couple of simple, but apparently very upsetting statements, regarding atheism. The first was that an atheist is a person who doesn't believe in any gods. There were quotes from the bible, where it is stated that atheists are, by their nature, "fools" and "evil". This was followed by a list with images of nice, smart atheists.

The reply videos were entertaining, if nothing else can be said of them. The best contained the most common of flawed premises: the redefinition of atheism. For some reason, among those who are not atheists, it is more convenient to label an atheist as "one who denies the existence of God".

While these definitions seem similar, there's a glaring gap in the logic between them.

If you flip a coin and hide the result from me, you might ask "Do you believe I flipped heads?". I can answer to this question, "No". You might then state, "Ah, then you believe I flipped tails." I would then say, "No, I don't believe that either."

That is the key difference between the two. The definition that atheists use for atheism is, "I do not believe your proposition that god exists". The believer then says, "Ha, you therefore believe that there is no god. Now prove it!" This always leads to a hearty laugh from the atheist who invites the believer to prove unicorns don't exist. The believer gets offended, because the atheist is being a bit of a prick, and goes off in a huff. The point, however, is that the atheist never claimed to know that god doesn't exist, only that he didn't see any reason to think so.

I'm not sure how this definition problem happens, but I can make some educated guesses.

The first guess is that "the dictionary says so". Various dictionaries have various definitions and the writers of said dictionaries have their own biases. Some have one definition. Some have the other. Mind you, a definition of atheism that says, "denial of god's existence" is rather like an unheard of definition of christianity as, "belief in mythology". It assumes the person being defined to be wrong. Presumably we only do this to atheists on account of atheism being quite in the minority.

The second guess is a matter of logical consistency. When confronted with a demand for evidence of what is gathered from faith, the believer prefers to put the non-believer on the same ground. If an atheist can be defined as a person who says, "there is no god", it can then be demanded of the atheist that he produce evidence. Then we get the prickish bit about the unicorns.

(And no, that's not an agnostic. "Agnostic" means something else entirely and every dictionary I've ever checked agrees at least on that point.)

So, there you go. Atheism just means "not believing", not "believing in the opposite". Come on over. We have lower divorce and incarceration rates, no holy days to get you out of bed on the weekend, and you get a 10% discount on drinks at all casinos and strip joints (when you show your card).

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Milk, Honey and Oil

First off, a little public service announcement:

If the milk is in any way questionable, just throw it out. It's not worth the buck and a half.

Moving on.

So the Hezbollah guerrillas, hiding in their bunkers, managed to push back the Israeli army. This served as notice that Iranian weapons, given sufficiently well-built bunkers to hide in during aerial bombardment, can indeed stop an army equipped with the latest American weaponry. This, in turn, implies that the United States will not soon be attacking Iran, in spite of the whole WMD-script they've been following.

And the price of oil drops. And the price of gas drops. The world is that cynical.

We all breathe a sigh of relief because we're happier when we don't have to think about foreign policy and whom we're antagonizing this week.

I spent a lot of time thinking about it last weekend. It was just after the Brits arrested those potential terrorists in London. These were the ones who, though they had no equipment for doing so, apparently had plans to mix explosives while on board planes and blow them up from there. I was flying back from the Maritimes shortly after those arrests, wondering what level of importance terrorists might attach to blowing up Canadian planes. How do we rate?

Canada was the first country to cut off aid and diplomatic contact with the new Palestinian government. Stephen Harper didn't like the democratic choices that the Palestinian people had made. When Palestinian militias captured an Israeli soldier and the Israeli government responded by laying waste to the Gaza strip, putting over a million under threat of starvation without food, clean water or fuel, Stephen Harper called it "measured and justified." We're also in Afghanistan, perpetuating a war for unknown purposes. We're dancing to the tune of the Bush Administration.

Does that merit, in the eyes of a bomb-mixing terrorist, a one-way ticket on Canjet? Probably not. Not from the East Coast to Ottawa at any rate. Perhaps the commuter flights between Ottawa and Toronto (most foreigners can't figure out which is the capital anyway) might merit more attention. Still, we can't pretend -- no matter the price of gas -- that the things done in our name around the world won't affect our lives here at home.

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Beasts Know When To Quit

In the realm of the beasts -- which is to say "mammals, other than humans" -- there is a common way of settling disputes over territory, food and mates. The two enemies will stand over the disputed property and screech at each other in attempts at intimidation. They will flex muscles, display plumage and attempt to frighten their opponents in to surrender. It's understood, in that sort of way that evolution programs us all without our knowledge, that a fight would cost both parties much more than the value of the contested goods. So if we can figure out in advance who will win, it's best to just let the likely victor take the spoils and avoid the damage. It's rather a lot like bribing a man to give up his lunch peacefully by offering not to kill him in return.

Humans aren't always so smart, but in general follow the same principles. Wars only happen when both sides think they can win. When that belief doesn't exist, you'll get a Chamberlain who lets a Hitler take a couple pieces of land here and there while the Allies build up a force that would have a chance against the Germany army.

In Lebanon, over the last month or so, there's been a war. Israel, backed by all of the technology and arms of the United States, selected a grievance involving a pair of captured soldiers and invaded Lebanon. Since the Lebanese guerrillas, a group called Hizbollah (or Hezbollah, depending on who's doing the spelling), had only munitions supplied by the technologically inferior nation of Iran, it was supposed to be an easy victory for Israel.

First came the aerial bombardment. The idea was to eliminate as much of Hizbollah's stash of arms and munitions as possible before the ground attack. Next came the ground attack. The ground attack, so says every source on the ground, failed rather miserably. While the aerial bombardment killed a lot of civilians, it apparently left a lot of Hizbollah alive in their caves and bunkers. Out of the ground they came, defended their cities, and apparently knocked out some thirty or forty invading tanks with Iranian anti-tank weaponry.

On the heels of this comes a leak from the U.S. Administration, via no more trustworthy a source than Seymour Hersh of Deep Throat fame. It turns out, according to this anonymous source, that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was meant (among other things) as a test of American weapons against Iranian defences. No one should be surprised, with the talk of Iranian "Weapons of Mass Destruction," that Iran is shortlisted for invasion. The fact that Hizbollah repelled the Israeli Defence Force -- the fourth most powerful army in the world -- is going to alter the plans of the hawks in the Bush Administration. It's going to put a bit of a crimp in the "birth pangs of the New Middle East" that Condoleeza Rice was going on about.

The thing you have to understand is that the evolutionary rule of the beasts, of surrendering when defeat is likely, simply doesn't apply to everyone. If you are a better fighter than I and you come for my lunch money, I might as well give it to you. But if you come in to my home to kill me, and I am trapped there, then I will fight you regardless of your size. You can't bribe me with my own life if that's what you've come to take.

That is the crucial difference that keeps the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine from giving up when the fight is so asymmetrical and the death toll so unbalanced. They're fighting to defend their homes from people come to take them away. You can't pay someone enough to let that happen.


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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Harper Brays in on Middle East

I am well aware of the fact the previous federal Liberal government had huge corruption and entitlement problems. They'd been in power for twelve years and while they had managed to balance the budget -- even pay off some of the massive PC deficit from the Mulroney years -- they were getting a little generous with blowing our tax dollars.

So I fully realize that it was time to slap them down and ship them out, at least for a little while, so they could clean themselves up.

No question.

But did we have to pick such an illiterate, belligerent jackass as our new Prime Minister?

Without a doubt, the man has finally proved how ignorant he truly is in his comments about the current Israel/Palestine/Lebanon situation.

Harper speaks about Middle East

First, let us examine some straightforward historical facts. There is a group of militants in Palestine called Hamas. There is another called Fatah. Fatah used to be in power in the Palestinian Parliament. Hamas used to call for the destruction of Israel, but grew up and now only demands that Palestine be allowed to exist without the Israeli occupation that has gone on for two generations.

In January 2006, mostly due to the corruption in the Fatah party, the Palestinian people voted Fatah out and Hamas in. Hamas was considered an exclusively terrorist group and the major powers of the world immediately moved to cut aid to the entire country of Palestine based on the Palestinian people's democratic choice. (Democracy only works when you choose the leaders we want you to choose.)


In January 2006, one Israeli died in a terrorist bombing in a marketplace. In February, one more died when a guy went nuts and stabbed several people in a market. Meanwhile in Palestine, at checkpoints and through bombings, 18 Palestinians were killed. In February, it was 29. Does this appear somewhat asymmetrical?

In early June, Hamas and Fatah came together and made a statement that they recognized Israel's right to exist and it appeared that everything was working toward peace. Regardless, Palestinians -- even civilians -- continued to die in numbers much greater numbers than Israelis. Later in June, Palestinian militants used a tunnel they had secretly constructed from Gaza to a place just inside Israel, at a military base. They raided this base, killed two soldiers and captured a third.

This brings us roughly up to date (July 17, at least). We have about 300 Palestinians having been killed, about 20 Israelis having been killed, and one soldier being captured. What is the response from Israel? They bomb and blockade Gaza. The generating plant is knocked out. Fuel oil for portable generators is blockaded. Jets fly over day and night creating sonic booms, indistinguishable from actual bombs. Water is cut. Food is blockaded.

Stephen Harper, taking the hard right line that is so popular in the world these days, refers to Israel's response to the capture of its soldier as "measured and justified." He says that Israel "has a right to defend itself."

Really? So if you occupy a foreign country and members of that foreign country attack your military, then you, the occupying power, have the right to starve the entire occupied country? You have the right to collectively punish the entire civilian population because of one captured soldier?

If this is true, Mr. Harper, then what is the "measured and justified" response of the Palestinians? They've been occupied for 40 years. Their orchards -- their livelihood -- are bulldozed every day. A giant wall prevents many of them from going to their own farms from their houses. Their houses are knocked down for the production of settlements for the exclusive use of their foreign occupiers. Their dead children are considered "collateral damage" when an apartment complex is bombed in an attempt to assassinate their leaders. Their parliamentary representatives are kidnapped. If it's justifiable to starve, bomb and blockade almost a million and a half people because of one captured soldier, what is then justifiable for the Palestinians?

The rest of us agree that killing civilians is unjustified, whether Israel or Palestine is doing it.

Mr. Harper supports violence against civilians, but only when our allies do it. If we are to believe that these are "measured and justified" reactions, then how can wars ever end?

I won't pretend I didn't expect this. There is, everyone must realize, a serious danger in putting religious conservatives in government. In Saudi Arabia, they lock little girls inside a burning school because they aren't wearing clothing appropriate for being outside. In Israel, the right wing wants to turn all of Palestine in to Israel. In Palestine, the right wing wants to "push the Jews in to the sea." In North America, the right wing Christians (that being Bush, Harper, Stockwell Day and God only knows who else) want Israel to succeed so that the second coming of Christ can occur. (Again, I kid you not. This is a view held by far, far too many people in our own country.) And that doesn't even begin to address the power brokers who want to manipulate the price and control of oil.

But we let this buffoon in to our government, and pretty soon we're going to have to kick him out. If, as the right wing is gleefully shouting all over U.S. television, there is going to be a "World War Three", it's pretty damned important that we not have Stephen Harper in charge when it comes down.

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Taking Terrorism Head On

So I finally saw the World Cup Head-butt. I don't see what the big deal is. Italian guy pinches French guy's nipple (an action which, even for those Euro men who occasionally kiss each other, is a bit much), swears at him, gets head butted by the French guy. If it were hockey and you head butted a guy in the face, or while still wearing a helmet, it would be pretty bad. But since it was just a head butt to the chest, in response to some obvious provocation... hmph... five minutes, or maybe a double minor. But I don't see a game misconduct over that.

Now, seriously, the rights to retaliation and self defence are very, very important. When attacked, you have the right to defend yourself. When attacked repeatedly, you have the right to take further action, especially when authority is utterly failing you. I take this as an axiom. Hell ... even Gandhi took it as an axiom that there could be just wars. He'd just never seen one.

And so I turn, with all hopes that I can avoid being called an anti-Semite, to the situation in Israel and Palestine. Israel has been occupying Palestine for almost forty years. Israel has been placing Israeli-only settlements inside those occupied territories, pushing out Palestinians, pretty much ceaselessly for those forty years. Most Israelis realize the settlements are a foolish, provocative idea that does nothing to improve the prospects for peace with any of their neighbours. Most realize the settlements will eventually have to be dismantled, but the government goes on building and expanding them anyway.

Israel and Palestine have been killing each other's people for those forty years. When the Israel military kills a civilian, our media calls it "regrettable collateral damage". When the Palestinian militias kill a civilian, or sometimes even a soldier, it is called "terrorism". The difference is a matter of point of view. One stands assured that it plays differently in Syria and Iran.

To get this straightened out and truly understand what's going on, an easy check is to count dead people. In 2006, the Palestinian dead number almost 300. The Israeli number, much more accurately, at 20 (at the time of this writing). Yet our media go on pretending that the sole guilt and blame lies with the Palestinians because they "support terrorism" and "refuse to recognize Israel", when in actuality "terrorism" is being committed on both sides, though Palestinians are dying in greater numbers and both of the major organizations in Palestine (Hamas and Fatah) have already agreed to recognize Israel.

Terrorism is the killing of civilians for political purposes. It doesn't matter which side you agree with. Right now, the term "terrorism" is being used to mean "violence of which we disapprove" or maybe "violence done by people we don't like."

And so we come back to Zidane and the infamous Head Butt. The question is this: how much is a guy supposed to accept before he fights back? How many nipple pinches and ethnic slurs before we declare the Head Butt appropriate?

On the other side, how many years of occupation should the Palestinians have to endure before we graciously permit them the right to fight back without being called terrorists? What is the expected reaction of the Palestinians? What would you do if all you knew for your entire life was an occupation by an authority that blockaded your roads, blew up your power sources and cut your water at will? If you had a tiny fraction of the military power of your occupier? The original justification for the occupation was that the Palestinians were dangerous terrorists, but all that the occupation has done is to create more danger, more fear and more terror.

Yes, it would be wonderful if one hundred percent of the Palestinians chose utterly peaceful methods of protest, but it's simply not a realistic expectation of large numbers of human beings. As unjustifiable as it is, it is just as predictable as a World Cup Head Butt, when you get right down to it.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why won't they tell us?

I've been doing politics for a while now, and I haven't said anything truly offensive about personal topics in a long time.

Remember when I did that thing where I compared the idea of "paying women less because they might get pregnant and quit" with "men paying higher auto insurance"? Remember all those inflammatory emails I got? Then, right after that, I talked about the stats that showed that, back in 1994, someone did a study of accidents-per-mile-driven and found that women were just as bad, if not worse, than men?

Ah, those were the days. Biggest response to a DTK ever. I think seven people wrote in.

So I started thinking that if that's what you all get excited about, maybe I should toss a little more of that music out there.

Why don't we like to carry your purses? Because it makes us feel gay. Not that there's anything wrong with being gay. But since we aren't, we don't like feeling gay. I'll carry the diaper bag. It's very utilitarian looking: no pink; no baby-blue; lots of square-shaped pockets.

Onward: Why won't women tell us what they want?

I hate to make sweeping generalizations, but a good sweeping generalization is more likely to upset someone and, let's be honest, we all enjoy getting angry about something now and then. I think Plato asked Socrates the self same question: "Forsooth - " (that's how they spoke back then) "- wherefore dost my wife expect things of me but is unwilling to name the things she expecteth?"

(Disclaimer: let's not pretend that I understand women. I understand one of them, whose behaviour makes sense, in hindsight, a little more than half the time. And that's good enough to be getting on with.)

It may come down to conditioning. Unavoidably, we are the products of our environments. If your environment involves gushy romance novels, 90210 and Hollywood fare, you're going to have some pretty unrealistic influences. We men, of course, have our influences as well, but ours are so obviously unrealistic that we never transpose them over real life. You're not getting laid when you deliver a pizza and you won't meet the woman of your dreams by saving her life during an alien invasion, sudden ice age or recovery of the Ark of the Covenant.

The influences that women are hit with on a daily basis, however, seem much more firmly grounded in reality, even while they involve complex scripts. We, as men, have no clue about these scripts because we consciously avoid Cosmopolitan magazine, soap operas and chick flicks (same reason we won't carry your purse).

So, for example, she says something mysterious to him and expects a specific response. Clueless, he says something like, "Did you punch her in the nose?" or "Quit that job already" or, perhaps realizing the love of his life has said something out of character, he uses the old "Hmph" with a concerned grimace, hoping to pull off "strong and silent". None of these fits the bill, and the whole thing collapses.

I knew a girl once who told me, as we walked through a flea market full of used books, that every man should read at least one Harlequin romance novel so he can understand what it is that women are expecting. Passing by a newstand with a wide array of glossy magazines, I felt wise when I didn't offer the obvious corollary.

Seven Habits guy wrote that we all come loaded with scripts. Our parents, our siblings and society at large give us these scripts, slipping them quietly in to our brains. We must not allow ourselves to expect other people to fall in to our scripts so neatly. And really, would it be satisfying to have a conversation full of such artificial dialogue? Why not simply state the things that are desired? It might seem less magical, perhaps, but boy wouldn't everybody be happy if they got what they wanted?

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

OECD Advises Canada


The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

It gets a lot of publicity whenever it tries to get governments to do anything. Presumably it's made up a bunch of business-types who are either running corporations right now, or have in the past. Regardless of this bias, however, you can always find the OECD's pronouncements somewhere near the front page of your local newspaper.

We have to allow banks to merge in order to increase productivity!

We have to lower business taxes, raise sales taxes, sell our telecomms to international corporations, let the free market regulate our farms etc. etc.

The funniest part about that last article is that it mentions that, among the nations surveyed by the OECD, Canada has the strongest economy in the world. That's right, even with our "high business taxes", regulated industries and apparently low sales taxes, we have the strongest economy. And yet the OECD says that we have to change ourselves to be more like the other OECD nations.

Other OECD nations? You mean the ones with weaker economies?

This, to me, reeks of dogmatism. They know, beyond any logic or fact reaching them, that the correct thing to do is drop business taxes, raise sales taxes and let the free market run everything. Regardless of how many times this has failed, nor how well things work when nations don't do this, the OECD knows it's the right answer and they'll push it on you whether you have a problem or not.

But there's another more crucial factor here. Certain industries such as banking, agriculture, news agencies, even telcos, have more important obligations than merely being as "productive" as possible. The agricultural industry is responsible for providing us with food, regardless of fluctuations in international markets. The news agencies are supposed to be providing us with accurate information and analysis. The banks safeguard our money. I could go on.

If the banks, as the OECD insists, are to become more "productive", they must be allowed to merge. But is it in the best interest of account holders and mortgagees that the choices are limited to a small number of very large, very powerful banks? What if we allow foreign ownership of our news media? What sort of news does one get from a single, giant news corporation over the whole world? What if we stop regulating the price of food and suddenly our farmers can't compete? The farmers go out of business and we're completely hosed the next time there's a drought in Haiti. Not acceptable.

These industries all have higher obligations than merely "productivity" and "efficiency". Much like setting the minimum wage, the lowest price is not necessarily the best price. That's why we have a government: to regulate that which needs regulating. What this government will do is not clear. It never has been, but if they hold true to form we're going to see lots of deregulation and tax cutting and screw the consequences.


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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Occupation" Caledonia

So the "Occupation" in Caledonia has ended.

By "Occupation", of course, we're referring to the bit where the natives were blocking off bits of the land that we took from them. Their argument was that, though they ceded many of their lands to the Canadian government via treaty, this particular piece of land was still theirs and the city had no business building a subdivision on it.

Acrimony and enmity followed. A bit of miscellaneous violence (how did a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle get hijacked?) ensued. Eventually, with no help from the federal government - which should be handling Indian Affairs, after all - the province bought off the developer while the land dispute issue is being settled. It's an eminently sensible thing to do, given the amount of economic damage the whole blockade was causing. No one has to get shot, or run over, or beaten up. We just handle it like civilized human beings.


I'm usually impressed by the civility of the general Canadian populace when it comes to issues like these. We can accept gay marriage. We'd rather pay for education with taxes than with cash. We're against capital punishment etc. etc. I was pretty shocked, though, when I started reading online commentary about the standoff.

Native Indians are apparently a bunch of lazy welfare bums leeching off our tax dollars. That's not very intelligent. Let's move on to the next post. "There go those liberals again, throwing money at the problem". I see, moving on. "Indians are just a burden on our government. Make them work for our money." Right. "Send in the military and kick these 'warriors' (louts) out of there".

I went along looking for some intelligent response. Something about "land claims" and "treaty violations" or maybe "apartheid", "racism" or "assimilation". I had to wade through 30 ignorant posts before I hit on a guy who pointed out that, perhaps, the Indians had a legitimate claim and were pressing it through the time-honoured democratic tradition of public protest. That poster had, if I may stereotype, a very foreign sounding name. Perhaps he came from a place where people are more aware of their political surroundings. Perhaps he had experienced some form of discrimination.

But ignorance can only be cured with education. So here's some education for all those who wag the "lazy Indian welfare bum" finger. Indians aren't allowed to work. They're allowed to farm. That's it. They could conceivably run 1-900 phone sex lines, IT consultancy and legal firms, and a few other types of businesses. But they're not allowed to manufacture anything on their reserves. The industries that provide the soul of most cities are forbidden. That's part of the Indian Act. If you're going to accuse them of "not working", you'll have to remember that it was us, Canadians, who decided to tell them what type of work we wanted from them and then confine them to lands that wouldn't necessarily support such work.

Agriculture or nothing. That was deal for our Indians. It's 1840. Here's a cow, here's a plough. If you want to do anything else, you'll have to leave the reserve (which was our real goal). Once you've all left the reserve, we can have your land. Meanwhile, we'll let the water get poisoned, move you around at will, and slowly take the land away from you anyway.

This system is broken. Generation after generation of natives are being punished but have committed no crime. They teach their children to treasure the land they still have and so those children cling to it, but we give them no way to maintain that land and have employment, opportunity and dignity. The rules and regulations which we have historically used to deny them their status on the reserve only make the situation worse.

As for the rest of you: if you're going to start levelling accusations at our native population for their laziness and dependency, you'd best start reading the history of the Indian Act. Dependency is a two-way street, and we've done more than just "enable" this situation. Our governments have historically encouraged this misery in order to seize even more of their land.


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Opening Deep Thought Korner

For the many, many fans of the Deep Thought Korner, I've decided to put them in an easy to reach blog. This should also allow people to vent their spleens when they disagree with me (Rare, I know, but it does happen).

The first DTK should be posted this week.

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