Saturday, May 17, 2008

When I Read The Bible

I remember pretty clearly that I was 17 years old. I had just started university. I had always found Catholic masses really boring so I skipped church the first weekend I was away from home. I met a girl who was Catholic and we were talking. My neighbours in residence overheard and so the subject came up later. They asked me, "Have you ever read the bible?"

"Well, yes, parts of it"

"The parts they read in church?"


"What about the whole book?"

"Ummm ..."

So I grabbed the bible the next time I went home. Then I spent a lot of time reading it. All of it. I didn't immediately read for depth. I was flummoxed by the God doing all of the creating twice at the beginning of Genesis but glided passed that.

I was looking, skimming without realizing it, for the point where the impossible parts I'd always taken as metaphoric (the garden of Eden, Noah's Ark etc.) would be separated from the historical account of Jewish and then Christian history.

There was no such disconnect. The bible counts a direct genealogical linkage from Adam and Eve all the way to Jesus Christ. This floored me.

The Garden of Eden does not literally exist. The bible says that Adam and Eve were expelled and two angels were left guarding its gates so that the couple not return. If there is a gated garden, somewhere in the Middle East, guarded by two angels with flaming swords, someone ought to have noticed. It would be on google maps for one thing.

The fact that all of the "metaphorical" faery tales were joined directly, genetically, to actual history was a deep chink in the armour of my belief. The bible was trying to tell me that there was literally a Noah's Ark, literally a Garden of Eden, literally all of those other impossible stories. I had too much education to believe it, but there it was, a smooth temporal spectrum from Adam and Eve to Jesus Christ.

That made me read in more depth. Now that my belief in this was waning, I started seeing the cruelty, the capriciousness, the random punishment and reward for random acts of people. I began to judge. Everything, including the morality, seemed slapped together to support a framework of obedience to whomever was claiming to be on the side of God in each story. If God was all powerful, why was he creating so many people that apparently needed to be killed in the most awful ways? Why make people with homosexual urges and then call them abominations?

When I read the bible, I started to become an atheist.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Defence's Think Tanks

This must be one of the creepier things I've seen in a while. Information has become public revealing that the Canadian Ministry of Defence employs/fund military think tanks and pays them according to how often they get themselves in the press.

Er, what?

The Conference of Defence Associations has a half million dollar contract to do exactly that and the concern is that the military is using our tax dollars to fund a pro-war organization.

Cruising the CDA's website, you'll find clever distortions of Afghan history that fail to link the "brave and defiant" "Freedom Fighters" that fought off the Soviets with the "brutally repressive" Taliban and Al Qaeda. (Hint: Osama Bin Laden was both.)

You can look around yourself. You'll find the "Cut and Run" insult and a lot of stuff about the need for continued Canadian presence in Afghanistan passed the "unprecedented deadline" set by Parliament.

Fine. If these think tanks want to exist and promote war in the news media, they are entitled to do so. That's how free speech works.

The problem is that they're doing it with our tax dollars, supplied by the military brass.

That's not a democracy works. In a democracy, the civilians control the military. The civilians give orders via the Parliament.

If the military is using tax dollars to promote its own agenda, or sending soldiers in to war zones without permission, then we no longer have a democracy. We have a tax-funded military dictatorship.

All funding from the Ministry of Defence to any of these think tanks must stop immediately if we are maintain even the vaguest of illusions that the Canadian people control the destiny of this country.

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Bush Stopped Golfing

That's touching.

The president stopped playing golf in solidarity with the families of servicemen and servicewomen who had died in Iraq.

I think this president has lost his mind.

I get the feeling Keith Olbermann has had more than enough of his president. Click "play" on the crooksandliars web page above.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Did the NDP call Canadian soldiers "terrorists"?

There is a frequently used conservative tactic that finds its way in to both Canadian and American politics. The debating term is the "straw man". A straw man is an opponent you construct - either completely from your imagination or from a series of misquotes - whom you can easily beat.

An excellent example is that people on the left "hate globalization" and want to "end all trade between nations". It's easy to argue with straw men because they don't exist.

Here's another straw man. The NDP should be disregarded on international issues because they called Canadian soldiers "terrorists". Look, I can prove it with this quote from a resolution from an NDP riding association in B.C.:

In such a situation Canadian troops end up acting like terrorists, destroying communities, killing and maiming innocent people.

How dare they! Now it's easy to argue that we can ignore the NDP because they would dare insult our noble troops this way! Canadian troops aren't terrorists! That's just crazy.

Hm. Would someone really say such a thing? What's this odd wording about "such a situation"? My, it's almost like there's some kind of ... oh ... context ... that's missing.

Oh, wait. Hold on. Here it is:

A combat role in Afghanistan is a no-win situation both for Canada and for the Afghani people. Its only dubious value is to curry favour with the militarist government of George W. Bush. No matter how noble our intentions, such as “bringing democracy” or “enabling peaceful development”, these goals cannot be achieved by violence when the “enemy” cannot be distinguished from ordinary citizens. In such a situation Canadian troops end up acting like terrorists, destroying communities, killing and maiming innocent people.

Oh. You mean the riding association was making the point that we would be sending our troops to a place where - through no fault of their own - their orders might lead to them killing civilians? They were making the point that our government would be effectively ordering our troops to do harm to civilians?

My, that's a bit different from the slap-in-the-face the out of context quote led us to think they were delivering. It's almost like the right wing doesn't want to argue the Afghan mission on its merits, but would rather appeal like scoundrels to our patriotism and national pride.

For those interested, they pulled the same trick when the former Minister of Defence was being blasted for letting our troops turn prisoners over to the Afghani government that was then torturing those prisoners. The Conservative defence of this relied on no rationale. They merely hid beyond the troops, saying, "How dare you accuse our troops of war crimes?"

We're not accusing the troops.

We're accusing you.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dallaire Again

It's hard to say enough about this guy. As a peacekeeper in Rwanda, he did everything he could - even as everyone tried to ruin peacekeeping by making Rwanda a failure - to save as many lives as he could.

It got so bad in Rwanda that the guy temporarily lost his mind.

And now this: Dallaire speaks on Omar Khadr's return to Canada.

Omar Khadr was a 15 year old boy, a child soldier recruited in to Al Qaeda and manipulated into fighting the invading American army. Khadr is now 21 years old and is still being held in Guantanamo Bay, charged with murder for killing an American serviceman.

Dallaire points out, perfectly reasonably, that a child soldier should be rehabilitated, not punished as an adult. He also points out that, as a Canadian citizen, we should be working to free him.

But the daring bit it this:
“The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties ... you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all,”

As the guy who watched a whole lot of people suffer in Rwanda, basically because the rest of the world refused to send enough help to stop the slaughter, Dallaire's judgment is quite respectable.

He was then put on the spot. Are you saying we're as bad as Al Qaeda? He doesn't back pedal, but puts the hammer down.
"Absolutely. You're either with the law or not with the law. You're either guilty or you're not.”

Moral clarity. Do the right thing. Believe in something and stand up for it. Yes, there is a close moral relationship between torturing a 15 year old boy for 6 years and blowing up civilians to attain political goals.

What can I say? For what he's been through and what he continues to do, I respect him deeply.

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Shifting Focus

It's hard to keep up with all of the nonsense that the Harper government dishes out on a daily basis.

I almost forgot about this one. Yes, we're "shifting focus" in Afghanistan. It turns that, after all, we weren't doing a whole lot of reconstructing in Afghanistan! No, we were actually so busy taking care of the "security situation" that we didn't have time to build anything.

The "security situation" is, naturally, a euphemism for "clearing the way for an oil pipeline". In some senses, I imagine that the people who make these decisions really believe the term "security situation". Once there's oil flowing through the country, the Afghan government will get their pittance of a commission and then there's "security" for everyone.

What it really means is that we've been lied to. Our military wasn't being used to help rebuild Afghanistan. It was being used to suppress the people in Afghanistan who don't want to play ball with the oil companies.

Next up, we have Harper's announcement of "Renewal" of the Canadian military. That sounds exciting and progressive, doesn't it? That word "Renewal"?
If Canada wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, he said, it has to rebuild the military's ability to act decisively at home and globally.
Really? That's interesting. When Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for creating the international institution now called "Peacekeeping", was it because Canada had a lot of military hardware?

When Lloyd Axworthy found a way to skirt the American veto and get almost every other nation in the world to sign a land mine treaty, was it because Canada had a large military?
Mr. Harper said the spending plan will ensure Canada can meet its commitments.
Commitments? What an odd term. What have we committed, and to whom? And a better question yet is this: what the hell are you planning to do with this renewed Canadian Military? Besides a commitment to defend the northern ice floes, I don't see anything in any of his or McKay's statements telling us why, precisely, we need this enlarged military. There's just this telling quote:
"Otherwise, you forfeit your right to be a player," he said. "You are the one chattering on the sidelines that everyone smiles at but nobody listens to."
What is this, a macho thing? Mr. Prime Minister, do you feel the need to be a player?

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Harper on Israel

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave this speech.

Of course, we know that Harper is quite unabashedly on the side of the most aggressive people in both Israel and the United States. When Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, Harper found Israel's response (a massive invasion of Lebanon which led to hundreds of thousands of refugees) to be measured and reasonable.

So we expect Harper to gloss over the indecencies in Israeli foreign and domestic policy and only tell us the good stuff. We are not disappointed. But Harper goes even further. He tells us something about people (like me) who criticize Israeli foreign policy.

Why does Harper think we criticize? Not because there is something to rationally be criticized. Of course not. Not because there's something wrong with occupying someone else's land for 40 years as a "buffer zone". Not because building settlements inside that occupied country, bulldozing the local houses away, is wrong or illegal. Not because controlling their access to water so the settlements have swimming pools while the locals barely have enough to drink is wrong. No, of course not. Harper knows why:
Make no mistake; look beyond the thinly-veiled rationalizations: because they hate Israel, just as they hate the Jewish people.

That's right. You make all the logical, rational statements you want about the occupation of Palestine, the mistreatment of Palestinians, about people like Rachel Corrie getting run over by bulldozers, about illegal and growing settlements, about Hamas being willing to declare peace with Israel.

None of that matters because you, sir, are an anti-Semite if you criticize Israel in any way.

It's a lot worse than that accusation of "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" that goes around whenever someone criticizes American foreign policy. The accusation of anti-Semitism is so much more effective because it carries with it the specter of the Holocaust, which Harper mentions. The sheer density of cruelty causes this to be considered the single worst act in the history of mankind.

What this does is to conflate two things: Hitler and anyone who questions Israel.

Clever and effective. No one wants to look like Hitler and so no one criticizes Israel. Let's see how this argument works ...

You: It's wrong to bulldoze Palestinian homes and olive orchards and build settlements that are only for Israeli settlers.

Me: Well, then, you must want to wipe out the entire Jewish population of the world, you raging anti-Semite! Q.E.D. You are Hitler. I win the argument.

See how easy it is?

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