Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Creating A Table Contents in Word for Mac . . . .

I just thought I would share this info because it is almost entirely unavailable on the net without extensive searching and your help in Word doesn't actually "help."

Word for Mac is significantly different and, ironically, less user-friendly than Word for Windows. This situation is not helped by the fact that Microsoft is not very forthcoming with information about Word for Mac.

Despite the terrible websites and the lack of information on the subject, creating a Table of contents is very easy on Word for Mac. The key is to make sure that the words you want to be appear in the Table of Contents are specified as "heading" words. This is simple.

 Sometimes you have a document that you have already created and it has become too unwieldy for you to keep track of. This has happened to me on a number of occasions. I have headings for sections but I find that when I want to insert some information it takes me a long time to find the page where I want to insert it. You know, you might have fifty or sixty pages and you know you want to put something in a general area but it is frustrating to work through the whole document to find the spot. Time to create a Table of Contents.

So first go to the words that you have designated section headings, like for example Introduction or Conclusion. Now highlight that word and open up your formatting palette. Open up the "Style" tab and it will give you a bunch of easy options of "Heading" styles. Click on the one that you like and the program will designate this word as a heading. Do this for each of the words that you want to appear as a heading for the table of contents. Once you are finished this, go to the top of you document and click on the "Document Elements" tab. This will then open up options for the style of the Table that you want to create. Simply click on the one you want and, Presto, the table of contents will be created. One tip that is important - make sure that when you do this last step, you have your cursor at the very spot you want the Table to appear (for example on a page right after the Title Page).

I hope this helps anyone who is having the trouble I was having.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rumor Mills and Thought Experiments. . . . .

I think it is interesting that the rumours about Stephen Harper's separation from his wife have finally hit the blogosphere. I heard this rumour quite a while ago from someone here in Ottawa but, despite the fact that this person said it was widely known in media circles, it has gone entirely unreported. I guess that if it is true it has gone unreported because of the simple fact that while there is a de facto separation, only a de jure separation would be something that news directors in Canada would be willing to report given the potential backlash against a reported rumor that the Prime Minister might publicly deny. Very simple observation of the Prime Ministerial couple over the past year or so during their very few public appearances suggests that if they are not de facto separated they have a strangely cold and unresponsive relationship. But really, would anyone in their right mind expect a guy like Stephen Harper to have a warm and affectionate relationship?

Given the strong responses on both sides to the final public outing of this rumor, the whole thing makes an interesting thought experiment. Should we care about such a thing if true? Would it matter to Harper's opponents or, more importantly, to his base?

First, to those who would say that such a thing should in no way be a public or election issue, make no mistake, we know that the current Conservative Party would make it an issue if it were the leader of the opposition were in the same boat. One would have to be hopelessly naive not to understand this. Any party that would create a website with the leader of the opposition being defecated on by a flying Puffin, and attack another for being well educated and teaching at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, would hardly have any moral qualms about making an issue out of the marriage status of a party leader. John Baird and Pierre Poilievre would appear regularly on prime time talking about it, of that there can be little doubt.

Of course, some may object that even if the CPC play rather dirty, that is no excuse for the rest of us to be playing the same game. This is a fair point. The problem with it, however, is two-fold. One, failing to face the CPC with the same tactics that they use has, history has demonstrated, created a fundamental inequity in the political landscape. Unfortunate but true. Second, it is the CPC that has made morality and 'family values' the cornerstone of their politics. If Harper and his wife were in fact separated more than a year ago and if they hid that fact, those, by Harper's own standards are big issues. For more than a generation J. Edgar Hoover, made homosexuality one of the primary targets of his moral crusade. Discovering that he had a long-term homosexual relationship with his assistent surely puts his judgment as well as the legitimacy of his position in considerable doubt. Thus, it must be understood that a coverup of a separation as well as the separation itself are issues in light of Harper's claim to moral superiority.

I don't know for certain whether Harper and his wife are separated, and I don't know whether this, if true, would turn out to be an election issue. One thing is certain, if one carefully observes Harper's body language concerning his wife during their public appearances in the past year or so, their active marriage is a more frightening prospect than their separation. This is true of most of Harper's body language. Any careful observers understand that this is a cold, scheming, deceptive, egomaniacal man who is largely incapable of the most basic human emotions of empathy, compassion, and warmth.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Thought for Christmas

I think intense study of any subject can be an interesting thing. But the deeper one goes into the study of any subject (from Bosonic String Theory to the complex nether-regions of Tibetan Buddhism) the more one must begin to wonder whether one is engaging in study or in initiation. It can take a lifetime to be truly conversant with the most rarified margins of any complex system of thought. Even the best theoretical physicist cannot explain to a layperson the real complexities of loop quantum gravity, and the Dali Llama, despite his brilliance, could not explain the complexities the Tibetan theory of karma without a long period of intense study. Thus any true skeptic (and by that I mean someone who is skeptical not just of non-scientific theories but skeptical of everything) must wonder the degree to which the long term study of any field is as much an initiation into a 'mode of thought' as it is an objective process of learning. Tibetan Llamas are as much convinced of the truth of their world view as are physicists at MIT. And since both spend many years in a process of intense study, being initiated into a certain way of seeing the world, how do we know whether either of the groups is studying the truth behind apparences or simply putting the finer decorations on an ideology?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Some thoughts on efficiency. . . .

I think it is very interesting that one of the primary ‘myths’ on which the Capitalist social and economic system rests is the myth of efficiency. First let me point out in the interest of clarity that the word ‘myth’ has a number of different uses in modern and ancient thought and I am using the word to essentially refer to a socially constructed story which, though it may contain a small kernel of truth, is largely a falsehood, a narrative that greases the wheels, so to speak, of a system or social structure. This particular myth consists of the idea that the success or failure of a particular enterprise rests primarily on a basic, and measurable, level of efficiency of that enterprise and its employees. Of course, even this notion is much more complex than it first appears because while massive failures in efficiency are often obvious, the actual level of efficiency of any enterprise is fairly abstract and difficult if not impossible to measure in many cases. Anyone who appreciates art knows this problem of judgment well: it is often easy to say what is wrong with a work of art but sometimes very difficult to say what is right. Anyway, though very few capitalists will admit it, the success or failure of many enterprises rests not primarily on efficiency but on a myriad of factors. In fact one could say in many cases the success of an enterprise is over-determined, that is to say rests on too many factors to be able to be accurately measure or comprehended. Like anything in life, success may rest entirely on luck. Or it may rest on local or regional factors in production or sales. It may very well rest on the hard work of a small group of people but not always. I have seen people succeed who didn’t work hard but fell ass-backwards into their triumph. If one listens carefully to the discourse of capitalists and business advocates one will realize that in 90% of cases, when they talk about efficiencies the only thing that one can really point to is wages. They like to decorate their discourse with lots of fancy and complex talk but it almost always comes down to who can pay their workers the least in a particular sector are the most efficient, and therefore the most likely to succeed.

Capitalists are desperate to perpetuate their particular myth of efficiency because the cheaper individual units of labour are the more money they can make in the short term and, more importantly, they imagine that the less money a working population makes the easier they are to control and the more vulnerable and the easier they are to manipulate as a group. This myth of efficiency is also important because it is the most often brandished weapon against any the use of social enterprise. Thus capitalists will claim ad nauseum, and without any actual evidence, that the ‘private sector’ is more ‘efficient’ than the public one. This myth is particularly false in sectors in which there are social goals that would not necessarily be improved based on efficiencies in savings like universal education.

The reduction of success to the notion of efficiency is based upon a false modeling of enterprise. If one studies economists, therefore, one will therefore, often hear or see the phrase “all things being equal.” This is part of the effort by economists to create the illusion of a science out of what is simply not scientific. But of course there are no cases in which ‘all things are equal,’ and the idea of two or more enterprises competing in an ideal space of sales and production is simply itself a myth. Thus if a number of enterprises are competing in a sector can suddenly cut wages in half over other enterprise, this saving in ‘efficiency’ will most likely give them a significant advantage but it will not always guarantee success.

But the myth of efficiency must be perpetuated for capitalism to continue because it must continue to be seen as essentially fair and, more importantly, to be seen as a meritocracy lest people begin to question it primacy. It must continue to function as a myth the same way that the myth of the universal benefits of competition must continue to function.

But next time someone passes quickly over concepts such as efficiency or the good of competition, stop and take note and think about what they  really mean. There was a time when almost no member of the Aztec society would have questioned the divinity of the Sun because few Aztecs were willing to ask the simple question that should be asked of any prevailing idea that perpetuate power – cui bono – who benefits? 

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Am By Myself . . . .

A brief passage from the essay The Shape of the Inconstruable Question (From the book The Spirit of Utopia) by Ernst Bloch

I am by myself
     Here one finally has to begin.
     But where do I suffer from being not enough? Where am I askew, where have I been corrupted? Where am I secure and genuine? But of course we are neither one nor the other, but rather muddy, tepid and to see us is to want to vomit.
     That is little enough, and almost everything immediately follows from it. Even what is good, because man immediately languishes in weariness, and nothing achieves any color. Only this is finally clear; that we mean little to each other, can pass unsuspectingly by one another. Or when we do know - when the possibility of helping, of becoming another draws near us, while we work, even with ideas - then the nasty way we have of warming our hearts with vanity appears, and the prospect still remains empty. Moreover most people around us, particularly since they have been entangled in a money economy, are so lethargically filthy that none of them, once they are scalded and marked, comes near any more difficult inner stirrings. And the emancipated, intellectual ones decay with all their soul, however elegantly hey may have put talk, sentimental experience, a moral sensibility in the place of action when the other acts, when the other needs help. They are far from feeling: I am at fault, not the others, and if they are dark, then I have not shone enough for them. Instead they split moral life off from itself, contemplate it lifelessly and easily like everything else, and so the collectively inner character of its essence is misrecognized, squandered. It has fallen to the criminals to feel fear, remorse, guilt, the stirring of the germ of the spirit in us, and our hearts stay lethargic.
(Translation by Anthony A. Nassar)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Pleasure of Cancelling . . . .

"Most events that are scheduled would give more pleasure if they canceled. This is just a fact; you learn this as you get older. Performances, lectures, meetings of all kinds, conferences, whatever it is . . . sermons, who knows. They are all planned with best of intentions, and we're very ambitious for things off in the distant future, but as we come closer to them we start to anticipate disappointment based on solid experience. And the day before they are to take place, we can think of three things we would rather do."
                                                                     - Garrison Keillor

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wikileaks, Peace Prizes, and O. Henry . . . .

The more closely one looks at the case of Julian Assange, the more it appears to be one of the most blatant cases of straightforward political persecution for whistle-blowing in memory. Though it is difficult to get clear information regarding the charges against Assange in Sweden, by most accounts it appears that the charges are a bizarre case based upon bizarre laws. It appears that Assange is being accused simply of 'sleeping around' which one woman claims constituted sexual deception - which according to Swedish law constitutes a sex crime. I don't kwon for certain that this is the case because, as I have said, accounts on the internet are sketchy and sometimes contradictory, and the main stream media has entirely failed to report on the issue. What is particularly troubling about the indictment is that the charges were brought against Assange some weeks ago when he was in hot water because of another set of leaks, and then were promptly dropped as the furor over the leaks died down. Then when Assange brought forth his current set of leaks the charges were suddenly reinstated. This makes it difficult to believe that the charges are anything but politically motivated. We know by the tertiary evidence that the pressure coming from US diplomatic circles against Assange are significant. For a mulitnational powerhouse corporation like Visa, which deals with all kinds of dubious and disgusting organizations and is driven by the almighty dollar, to drop its association with Assange is an unprecedented event. It clear to all but the most nieve observers that these kinds of corporate moves against Wikileaks are the result of massive and powerful pressures from Western governments in general and the US government in particular. There is something deeply troubling about the fact that a man like Assange can be so quickly demonized and jailed for such an act of whistle-blowing. As I have said before, the recent leaks of information by Wikileaks are of dubious value and appear to contain few significant revelations about government duplicity. These leaks therefore lack the kind of massive public support that other such revelations like the Pentagon Papers had. However, despite their dubious value in the struggle to make governments more accountable, the political persecution by Western powers is outrageous and sets a dangerous precedent.

Two other events of this week make the persecution of Julian Assange somewhat ironic. One is the report by the Auditor General of Canada on the functioning of the federal watchdog designed to protect and investigate whistle-blowing in Canada. It seems that not only was the Watchdog, a Ms Christiane Ouimet, a petty tyrant who compiled secret information on her employees who she perceived to be overly honest or whistle-blowers themselves, but she failed utterly to investigate a single case of wrong-doing by whistle-blowers or protect them in any way. Now the Harper Government who sang her praises when they nominated her for the appointment were obviously active in their efforts to make sure that Ms Ouimet did not fulfill her mandate, because the Harper government has made it clear time and again that they are fundamentally opposed to any real transparency in government and anyone who is engaged in whistle-blowing or even proper oversight of the Conservative government is quickly fired and discredited. It seems that whistle-blowers are nowhere safe.

The other ironic event took place this morning. It was the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The recipient of the prize could not, of course, attend the ceremony because he is presently in a Chinese prison serving an eleven year term for his political activism. So there are the Scandinavians giving a Nobel Prize to a man who is prison for his political activism, while they are about to imprison a man for . . . . political activism. This is so rich in narrative irony that O. Henry himself couldn't have made it up.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Missing Friends. . . .

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of my very good friend Kevin Coleman. I am certain that not a day has passed in that nineteen years that I have not thought of him. He was the one who first related to me Gramsci's famous quote concerning the need for Optimism of the Will. However, I must admit that since Kevin's death my storehouse of faith has nearly run dry. In the words of Lou Reed, it takes a busload of faith to get by and what I have probably wouldn't fill up a subcompact at this point. Besides loosing loved ones and going through a remarkably dispiriting time living in El Salvador durning the 90s, I have just lost most of my faith in the capacity of our race to move toward a more compassionate and caring society. We are an indescribably sick people and a huge portion of us take genuine pleasure in touting the rabidly violent and despicable parts of our nature. Just go over and read some of the Blogs on Conservative-Bloggers, and you will see what I mean. They are full of vitriolic attacks on anything that smacks of compassion and they are remarkably fond of going after the most vulnerable in our society.

My dad, who has been gone for some eight months now, used to also bemoan the fundamental failures of our race. And though he was remarkably cheerful about the simplest pleasures in life, he knew just how badly we treat each other. He used to say that if one had an even vaguely enlightened view of the world, living in human society is like living among a troop of monkeys. "If you were a self aware monkey," he would say, "or a slightly intelligent cave-dweller, you would still be helpless to stop the rest of them from living in their primitive paradigm." It was that attitude that led my dad to simply try to enjoy the little things in life and not worry about the big picture. Yet, despite his desire to live a carefree life, my dad was always frustrated by the world's injustices and you could sometimes see the sadness in his eyes.

I have always been a socialist. I believe that socialism is the only rationally and ethically defensible socio-economic system. But I have struggled to live through an age when faith in a better, more cooperative world has waned considerably. But we still live in something of a 'mixed' economy and I so have always taken some comfort in our constitutionalism and our democracy. I have always thought that even though we are not moving toward genuine socialism we have some protection from the worst abuses of tyranny. But in recent years and months that comfort has also waned as I have watched the present government of Canada slowly dismantle the constitution, and erode the most basic elements of our democratic system. Even our provincial government here in Ontario has essentially torn up the Charter of Rights, violated civil liberties on a grand scale, and few people seem to care and no one will do anything about it.

I miss my departed friend Kevin Coleman and I wish he were here to share a drink, a movie and a few laughs. But I would hate to see his saddened heart at recent events. And I miss my dad with a profound depth that mear language could never convey. But I am glad he doesn't have to see how sad I have become and at what a low ebb my faith has come.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

R.I.P. Charter of Rights and Freedoms. . . .

I am amazed by the relative silence on the blogoshere concerning the Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin's report concerning events at the G20. This is an amazing report. I have never seen anything like it in Canadian politics. Not only did Mr. Marin say that the law used by the Government to control the population is illegal but he said that this led to the most extensive violation of human rights in Canadian history! This is huge! The Government of Ontario secretly enacted an illegal and unconstitutional law which in Marin's exact words lead to "a massive compromise in civil liberties." What was particularly disturbing was the suggestion that the Toronto Police were so out of control that the OPP and the RCMP were attempting to distance themselves from them. Really! A police force so full of violent impulses that the RCMP is afraid of them??!! That is truly frightening. This report and the failure of any level of government to respond to it,  clearly demonstrates that we are caught in a police state and that the charter has been so dramatically compromised that it has lost all meaning. Of course this report will lead to billions of dollars lost for the Ontario government for false arrest, violations of civil liberties, and for wonton violations of the constitution. But that is years away.

The federal justice minister should immediately issue warrants for the arrest of Bill Blair, Mr. McGuinty and several of his cabinet ministers but the government should also convene a federal judicial panal of important jurists and human rights activists   to make recommendations to the federal government on how the Charter of Rights can be redeemed after such a violent and outrageous compromise. This is really it folks. Unless unique and unprecedented steps are taken now to arrest those responsible and enact some federal laws to ensure that such an event could not happen again we might as all well just all move to Burma for all that our civil rights will be worth. If you don't realize now that you live in a police state and that you can be arrested at anytime without charge or without the protection of the Great Writ, then you are foolish and nieve.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Julian Assange; Evil criminal or whistleblower.. . .?

I find the persecution of Julian Assange remarkable and depressing. They are all over this guy from accusing him to sex crimes talk of political assassination. The entire force of Western power is arrayed against this guy and we can be fairly sure that they will either get him or he will meet with an 'unfortunate' accident.

The worst part is that if Assange's efforts had all been directed at, say, Cuba, China, and Venezuela, not only would the West not be persecuting him, but he would be a hero who would receive offeres from Yale to be a quest lecturer. You would have to be hopelessly naive or just a lier to not admit this. Whistleblowers are fine as long as they are blowing the whistle on the other guy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Best people. . . .

Only the very best people lose sleep worrying about how bad they've been.
                                                                - Panos Ironicus

Power corrupts, and absolute power is even better. . . .

One thing that the Wikileaks document drop has provided is even more clear evidence that the Western nations, including Canada are once again propping up a profoundly corrupt, undemocratic centralized state. Not that any mildly conscious political observer really needed extra proof to demonstrate what we all already knew, but it is a bitter-sweet pill to see in print that despite what Stephen Harper and Barak Obama's spin doctors tell us, the military escape in Afghanistan is another in a long like of ridiculous military follies the net result of which is billions of dollars spent propping up another corrupt dictatorship with local politicians lining Cayman Islands bank accounts with money taken directly from the hands of working-class taxpayers in the West. Meanwhile the untold story is that Western corporations also line their pockets with military and infrastructural development contracts and so they are more than happy to siphon off parts of their profits to the hands of the local corrupt officials. And so the whole project becomes a profit making collusion between Western Corporate Carpetbaggers and despicable Afghani warlords and officials many of whom have received proper English educations from which they learned the very best lessons in colonial exploitation. And the Conservative spin machine goes merrily along wrapping up the profit making war machine in the flag of patriotism or altruism, safe in the knowledge that most Canadians are easily swayed by the evocative discourse or just so profoundly ignorant of what is really going on that the neo-colonial effort in control and profit will not face significant challenges from the domestic population. And if genuine opposition does begin to take shape they will just ramp up the discourse of fear, their primary weapon in this colonial-like effort, and tell us all how our good-natured heroic men and women in uniform are making the ultimate sacrifice to make the world safe for democracy while they actively defend tyranny to line the pockets of others and polster the political currency of politicians at home.

So it goes. . . . .

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Grand Diversion of Wikileaks. . . . . .

Voltaire once said "If God didn't exist it would be necessary to invent him." And given the recent dump of tens of thousands of documents from Wikileaks, I am beginning to think that we can adapt Voltaire's famous quote to our contemporary situation by saying "If Wikileaks didn't exist it would be necessary for the US Government to invent it." The truth is that Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, has done a terrible diservice to future generations. By realeasing thousands of documents which amount to little more than diplomatic gossip, Wikileaks has done something that will potentially have several negative effects. The first negative impact is that this will give governments a significant excuse to make access to information more difficult in the future. Now if the leaks presented in the past week were significant to the degree, say, that The Pentagon Papers were, then this might be a worthwhile price to pay. Instead, even though there has not been a genuinely meaningful release of information concerning the nefarious actions of governments, they now have a pre-made excuse to raise a stink about the dangers of government leaks and make such leaks more difficult. But perhaps more importantly, by creating an international media spectacle around what are actually just a bunch of titillating exchanges between diplomats (most of which any astute observer would have already figured was going on), Wikileaks has created the impression that these are the worst kinds of things that our Governments have been doing. This creates a kind of apathy in people by giving them the idea that not much nefarious stuff is actually going on. So the fact that international organizations like Amnesty are continually reporting on very real and significant human rights abuses being perpetrated in many cases by Western Governments, as well as significant collusion between Western Governments and seriously questionable regiems, these things recede in people's minds as they get wrapped up in the Wikileak spectacle.  It is not unlike a child telling their parent about some minor infraction in behaviour in order to reflect attention away from a more significant event. It is a pretty simple and standard political strategy which recent right-wing governments like that of George Bush and Stephen Harper have used extensively to great effect. And even though I don't suspect Wikileaks of any collusion here, Western Governments could not have invented a more effective diversionary event.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By-Elections by the book. . . . .

People like to analys elections. They like to put various kinds of spin on the events that have to do with the perceived context of the events, the strengths or weaknesses of various leaders and/or candidates, the particular moment in the economic picture, these are the kinds of things that people talk about on the day after an election. But sometimes I just like to remember a basic principle; voters are simply wrong a lot of the time. We can recall countless occasions when voters have just elected the wrong people, period. From one extreme to another, bad, dishonest, cruel, self-interested, even evil people have sometimes been intensely popular and often they've been elected with landslide support. The reasons for this phenomenon are sometimes complex at the local and contextual level, and sometime painfully simple at the wider distal level. Many people are habitually misinformed about specific issues and an even higher number of people simply don't understand the basic economic and social relations of the society in which they live. In many cases people are simply duped by a socio-economic ideology that they think favours their interests but really favours the interests of a small elite. In other cases people are just bad themselves; they lack basic compassion and concern for others so they elect people that they think reflect their own harsh world-view.

People like Mussolini and Hitler are electable because negative, destructive policies always have an advantage. Just as it is easier to destroy than to create, it is often a simpler matter to sell fear and anger, to scapegoat the poor and the vulnerable, than it is to promote a positive long-term approach to building a better society. Moreover, people are so indoctrinated by basic elements of capitalist hegemony that they have trouble imagining a different kind of society. They have been told so often from early childhood that poor people are shiftless and lazy that these idea are steeped into their subconscious mind and they cannot think in a different paradigm.

And so it will continue for the foreseeable future. People will vote for bad people because many of them are bad and profoundly ignorant. And until circumstances change drastically or people decide that they want a more compassionate, more educated, and more widely prosperous world, they will only face the future kicking and screaming.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Missing My Father. . . . .

As the holidays draw near I find my disposition growing more melancholy as I face my first Christmas without my father. I endeavour to keep my spirits up but it is difficult. My father was one of the most generous and well-intentioned man I have ever known. Though he had his failings, as we all do, he was always quick to confess them to others and never ignored a chance to improve himself. My father knew that the real demons in the world are the ones inside of our own hearts and tried hard to forgive others for their weaknesses as well as forgive himself.

In the eight months or so since he has passed I have grappled with a depth of sadness that I have never known. Since I was quite young my dad tried to remind me that when he finally was gone it was important not to dwell in sadness. He would remind me of one of his favorite poems, Remember by Christina Rossetti. The last few lines are the ones that my dad was always quick to remind me of.

If you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had, 
Better far that you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad. 

As important as this sentiment is, it is difficult to adopt in one's actions. For, each time I think of these lines, they remind me of my father's generous spirit and the importance that my own happiness played in the thoughts of my father, and that itself makes me sadder than I can express. Fortunately, the irony of this would not be lost on my father.

Not a single day has passed in the preceding eight months that I have not wept like a child; and a child I am.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Police Violence goes Merrily on. . . . .

So once again the Ottawa Police are under a cloud and an investigation begins into the violent conduct of some of the officers. It seems that almost every couple of weeks in this country there is another video or revelation about the violent acts of police officers. Why is that? Well, I contest that there are simply too many incidents for this to be a few bad apples in the bin. The officers are so often violent because there is a terrible culture of violence in the police departments in this country. And this culture goes to the very heart of the departments, with chiefs and recruiters, whether knowingly or not, promoting this culture. It is rooted in the kinds of people that departments recruit and the kinds of policing that they practice. And the culture is perpetuated by the fact that there are almost never consequences for officers who are caught practicing outrageously violent behaviour. There is no real independent investigations of police violence in the entire country and the police almost never come down on their own. And to make the situation much worse there is a prevailing perception among many citizens that when police are caught on tape practicing political oppression and violence, the victims of the violence 'probably deserve it.' So there is really no public pressure to change the culture of violence. Just this week the Police have been cleared of wrong-doing in the G20 incidents. This is much like the government of Burma clearing their military for the wholesale killing of Buddhist monks. We all know that the G20 is another typical example of the operation of a police state, but like all police states they will not blush or flinch about their outrageous oppression, wrongful arrests, wrongful incarcerations, and total suspension of civil rights. And I know that there will be people out there who simply reject the comparisons, sure in their beliefs that everything is different here. That is just naivety and the blind belief (surprisingly common in even the worst police states) that one's country could never be guilty of oppression. Even at the height of his madness, Stalin had a remarkable number of genuine supporters. The road to dictatorship is often gradual enough that many simply fail to notice and it is usually accompanied by a shift in ideology that justifies the worst abuses in many peoples' minds.

It is time for a federal law that mandates genuine arms-length investigations into cases of police violence as well as community input into processes of recruitment. A good friend of mine who had been in trouble with the police once visited me when I was living in Leeds in Yorkshire. We stopped to ask a police officer for directions to somewhere and my friend was genuinely shocked at how friendly, personable and helpful the Bobby was to us. It was a completely different experience than he had ever had here in Canada. I told him it was because most of the English police departments practiced community policing efforts which radically effected the kinds of recuits they got and the ways in which they interacted with the public. The British police can, or course, be as brutal and violent as other police forces, but efforts at community policing is a very good start to undermining the police-state on the ground where most people live.

Make no mistake, if the power of the state to trample civil rights goes unchecked, eventually none of us will be safe - even the ones who think they are good, law-abiding citizens.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Coming Soon. . . public executions. . . . .

It's always the same story isn't it? Politicians, particularly right-wing ones, talk about a devotion to principles like democracy, accountability, and transparency, and then they get elected. Then they demonstrate over an over again that they have no interest in any of these things. Instead they are interested in their own power and in pushing through their agenda regardless of any principe whatsoever. The truth is, of course, that the right has no interest in democracy or any valuable part of it. They are interested in money and power.

Harper was against an appointed senate but was happy to stack it with his cronies. But even if this move were somehow justifiable based upon the fairly simple fact that anyone who understood the Canadian political system knew all along that one could not simply eliminate or significantly change the Senate without the general agreement of the provinces, and you just aren't going to get that in the present situation, the blatant use of the Senate to completely undermine the will of the House is not justifiable on any standard, least of all the claims of principle that Harper has made in the past.

But watch carefully, no Conservatives will come to the defence of democracy. And they never do unless they are in opposition. This is how we know that the right has a bankrupt ideology. Democracy never comes into their minds as long as they are getting what they want. Harper could instruct the police and army to round up opposition leaders and put them to death in public hangings and the Blogging Tories would barely register the event. Instead we would see Pierre Poilievre on CTV saying "I have seen no evidence of public executions. But if such events are taking place you can be sure that the Liberals are behind it."

And, by the way, I have no doubt that as long as the Police were only executing NDP and Bloc opposition members, Ignatieff would quietly let the whole thing pass.

So it goes.

Freedom and Opportunity. . . .

Please excuse the length of this post. I hope it is worth it.

I was listening to the right-wing radio station this morning, as I sometimes do in order to keep a sense of the pulse of the ideological twists and turns of the capitalists, and was amazed once again by the simplicity and, frankly, stupidity of the arguments I found there. They had some guest, another in a long line of such guests, who was chimping for his book about how terrible the welfare state is. And of course, to hide the basic weaknesses in his argument, he applied, as such sophists always do, evocative words that are meant to sway people based upon nothing but rhetoric. This particular sophist was suggesting that we have moved away from a society of “freedom” to, what he called . . . . wait for it. . . . . a “handicapped” model of society. And, predictably, he attacked the Scandinavian model as the ultimate “handicapped” society.

What such people, and I will not call them ‘thinkers’ or ‘theoreticians,’ depend upon is that their evocative rhetoric will be so powerful that it will rob their listeners of their most basic levels of common sense. This is precisely why that great radical Thomas Paine, the first modern radical, by the way, who really hinted at the modern social democratic state, titled his most famous book “Common Sense;” because he saw so little of it in the Tory reaction of his age. Of course one need not be particularly bright or even informed to understand the remarkable absurdity of this bizarre contrast between a model of “freedom” and a model of “handicapped” societies. This is because the so-called “handicapped” societies are, on any international standards, the most prosperous and best ones to live in. Countries like Norway and Sweden have the highest standards of living, the lowest poverty rates, the highest rates of literacy, some of the longest life expectancies, the highest rates of education, etc etc. And the application of more so-called ‘free-market’ standards consistently lowers these living standards whenever they are applied.

But of course we do in fact have a model of freedom that these rhetoric-loving capitalists can point to if they wish. The “freest” society in the world at the moment is Somalia. This East-African nation has no operating government. There are no taxes, no environment or labour laws, in fact, no restrictions on business whatsoever. And, of course, like all countries that have adopted a real model of ‘freedom,’ it is a life of absolute chaos, poverty, and desperation. But these lovers of freedoms, these people who want us to give up all our social system, never talk about such realities of ‘freedom.’ This is indeed their Rubicon.

But if one does engage in an argument with such sophists they will, of course, attempt to get out of their theoretical double-blind by quickly suggesting that the market that they treasure so much does in fact require that the state fulfill one particular function, and this function involves policing, justice, and incarceration. Here is the best irony of all! The first place that their model of freedom breaks down is at its very opposite – incarcerating people who don’t adhere to the proper model of economy. One really has to abandon common sense not to understand that this application of ‘control’ on the ideal ‘freedom’ model is just an arbitrary application meant to maintain the wealth of those who have the most. As Derrida’s great standard of deconstruction demonstrates, the argument quickly falls prey to it very first contra example. If the presence of tens of thousands of police, thousands of judges, and countless prison cells are not a “handicap” on their freedom model, then what is? Well, of course, feeding poor people or preventing mulit-national corporations from putting red-dye five in your food – this is where the handicapping begins in this bizarre model. Because when these people talk about the strong and the weak they don’t really mean it. Their model is not about the strong, it is about the economically privileged.

The truth is, of course, that the entire notion of “freedom” versus “handicapping” is an absurd rhetorical device that has nothing to do with reality. Time and time again, and it is demonstrably simple, what leads to general prosperity are various forms of wealth distribution that ensure high levels of generalized education, access to medical care for everyone, and these are predicated not on freedom but on legislative standards concerning housing, labour, and commodity production and sales.

At a very basic level, capitalists and right-wingers usually misrepresent the very notion of freedom. If freedom was only about ‘doing whatever you want’ it would be a very empty concept indeed. This is because in fact the only possible outcome of such an ideology is chaos and violence. At some level of course, right-wingers know this and so they construct an elaborate defense of what is in fact a tightly controlled system that favors not the ‘strongest’ but the most economically advantaged. The result has nothing to do with generalized freedom or prosperity but is system whereby those who can exercise the greatest degree of control over the monetary unit have the freedom to control others. For the concept of freedom to be meaningful at a social level it must surely be guided by the promotion of ‘the greatest degree of opportunity to be fulfilled for the greatest number of people possible given the social wealth existing at any given time.’ Freedom, in other words, from this perspective is a social concept, because to have real meaning it must have a general application. A system that simply allows the strongest, whether physical or financial, to prevail will inevitably result in the extreme freedom of a few and the general subjugation of the many. This is demonstrably so from its application in 19th century British industrialism and colonialism to the state of Somalia today.

However, the social ideal of freedom is the ideology upon which social democracy was de facto founded. Social democrats didn’t seek to destroy the market per se, but rather to remove market forces from some sectors in order to ensure that, while personal incentives and skills could still have meaning, they would have meaning within a context of the greatest possible degree of generalized opportunity. The result of this ideology is that the absolute freedom to control others wielded by the financially advantaged is reduced in favor of generalized opportunity. The ability for social democracy in Western nations to achieve this goal has been significantly thwarted by globalization and the neo-liberal economic model. But everyone from socialists to social democrats understand that ultimately freedom must be a collective enterprise or it simply will not exist in any meaningful way for the vast majority of people.
The true “handicap” on human society and human endeavor is not social democracy or government welfare programs. Rather it is the power of the economically advantaged to be able to subjugate the majority of the population (at a global level) and, by robbing people of a generalized opportunity, undermine not only freedom but the social and scientific possibilities that would result in increased opportunities for the majority. We are all handicapped by a system that does not ensure opportunities for everyone and thus, in the long run, the greatest freedom for all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A-Type personalities and the death of hope. . . .

It is interesting that yesterday when I wrote a blog on my opposition to the war in Afghanistan, Tony Blair decides to call the war a "Religious Conflict." Tony Blair, a man who seems to have no real idea where he stands, changes his story a great deal to suit the changing situation and the changing evidence. He initially tried to sell Briton's military involvement in the Middle East (Involvement which has been going on for generations of course), with talk of weapons of mass destruction and the evils of Saddam Hussain. This despite the fact that England had been a long time supporter of Hussain and had been supplying Iraq with weapons for generations. So what if the English empire had conquered and subjugated millions of people in the Middle East and elsewhere. So what if British companies had made millions of dollars from the Iraq-Iran war. Suddenly Mr. Blair wanted us to believe that he and his military were a force of altruism. But it is an easy sell. People love war and will buy almost any spin in the pursuit of military adventure. But of course, when the accusations of WMDs turned out to be false (something that many people knew because they simply had to listen to Hans Blix), Blair must sell the war as a religious conflict, curiously throwing his hat in the ring with over a thousand years of Crusading States who, motivated by both religious fervor and the excellent profits of colonial wars, have subjugated the people of the Middle East.

But if you have been paying attention to the long history of oppression and struggle you know that radical organizations find their constituency among the dissatisfied, the oppressed, the hungry, and the hopeless. Radical Islam was not 'created' by us in the West, just as Christian Fundamentalism and Puritanism was not 'created' by oppressive religious laws in England. (Keep in mind that Unitarians did not gain legal status in Briton until the Doctrine of the Trinity Act in 1813, which also effectively legalized Islam too. And Catholics did not gain this status until the Catholic Relief Act of 1829) Radical religious groups are not 'created' by oppression, hunger and hopelessness, but they are fed and maintained by these conditions. Radical Islam would have much less appeal and currency if the West didn't have a long history of carving up the Middle East in its own interest, of supporting dictatorships that are pro-Western, of utterly failing the people of Palestine, and of enforcing their will with military might. But instead of correcting past mistakes Western leaders like Blair continue to support non-democratic processes in the region, invade countries for fabricated reasons, and fail to use their real influence to stop illegal settlements in the occupied territories and create a viable Palestinian state. Tony Blair and those of his ilk are the very best recruiters that radical Islamic organizations could ever have. And talk of a religious war is like a call to arms for many people who watch the West treat the Middle East like its own private playground of colonialism. Meanwhile, frightening ignorance in the West, even among the so-called Left, means that there is very little opposition to these terrible events, and by buying the spin of men like Blair over and over (largely because so many testosterone filled Westerners secretly love war because it feeds their sense of power and superiority) we are condemned to watch as A-type personalities with narcissistic psychosis guarantee that peace is a pipe-dream.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Neo-Colonial Missions continue. . . .

For a number of reasons I have never been a supporter of the Invasion of Afghanistan. The claims that the invasion was about human rights etc. has never been credible. Various Western countries, the US in particular, actively supported the Taliban Government for many years while people in the West complained about the condition of Women’s (and general human) rights in the country. The West largely ignored these issues until it became strategically important for them to talk about them. Furthermore, the West still actively supports countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait which continue to have atrocious records in this regard. The claim that the invasion was about nation building and democracy is similarly incredible.  Besides the fact that the West actively supports other dictatorships in the area, the country of Afghanistan is today significantly more corrupt than it was before the invasion and is de facto no more democratic. Then, of course, there is the old standby claim that the invasion of Afghanistan was somehow about the events surrounding 9/11. This is patently false since everyone who has credible knowledge of the region has said again and again that the real training camps of so-called Islamic terrorists were all in Pakistan anyway. Furthermore, the military invasion has increased regional sympathies toward the Taliban and been a recruiting boon for radical Islamic organizations.

It seems to me that the real reasons behind the war in Afghanistan are related to geo/political power in the oil rich area as well as ratcheting up weapons production which is a remarkably effective way of diverting tax money from the middle-class to the wealthy in the form of lucrative government contracts. The remarkable amount of funds that has been spent on the war could have been much more effectively used in social programming at home and abroad in ways that genuinely could have reduced the appeal of radical Islamic organization worldwide.

Now, as though to confirm that Afghanistan has nothing to do with democracy, the government and the official opposition have made it clear that Canada can extend its mission without regard for the House of Commons. Not that it would matter much anyway since the Conservatives and the present Liberal leadership both adhere to the same paradigm about global power, development, and the role of the government to act as an institution to grease the wheels of corporate predominance.

And so the killing goes merrily on while the builders of light and heavy weapons, military accessories (such as vehicles and parts), the builders of oil pipelines, and other corporate interests, make fortunes and the sons and daughters of the West, whose only crime has been to blindly accept the spin of our governments, toil and die.  

While there is no doubt that a few well intentioned Westerners have been able to do some good in Afghanistan despite the real reasons for the invasion, much more could have been done elsewhere with the same amount of funds while a genuine effort to solve the issue of Palestine would have gone a long way to undercut the constituency of radical Islam.

I often call for Canada to leave Afghanistan but this call is meaningless really since the overall efforts of the Canadian government in support of corporate power and profit goes on unabated and generally unrecognized. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Franzt Fanon lives. . . . .

All this talk of war and remembrance and the overwrought reactions that I have received to my rather unpopular positions has reminded me of the great Frantz Fanon. Fanon was born in Martinique and was trained as a psychiatrist in France. He became an anti-colonial activist and writer whose book The Wretched of the Earth inspired generations of anti-colonial activists and helped to define post-colonial thought. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an introduction for Fanon's famous book and warned his fellow Europeans that the history of colonial and neo-colonial exploitation would eventually give rise to terrible violence if the words of Fanon were not heeded. Well they have not really been heeded, though the Western Powers have done their best to hide the real relations of exploitation.

Read his books. Neo-Colonialism is real and we are part of it. Of course, like real colonialism it comes with its own pre-made excuses about 'goodness' and development, but it is all spin. I once had a CIDA official in San Salvador sit right in front of me and calmly admit that foreign development funding was almost exclusively about developing markets for Western companies. Of course, it wasn't the kind of thing that he would admit to in front of Third World media people but it was the reality that he worked in for many years.

Each generation spins its exploitation and military effort and every war has its own excuse.

Unpopular Positions . . . .

"The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man's right to his body, or woman's right to her soul." -Emma Goldman.

If you have been reading my blog lately you know my thoughts on Remembrance Day and Western Military conflicts. If you feel strongly that I am wrong or crazy - just don't read my blog.

I make no apologies for these opinions despite numerous offensive comments that I have been forced to delete from my blog. That's ok. I don't mind being a voice of practical reason amid a sea of blind patriotism and naivety. Because nieve is what the majority of people are regarding military conflicts. I can't say it enough - most wars are conflicts fought for the most part by working-class people in an effort to secure the money and power for the elite. The elite sells these conflicts through patriotism and false claims of altruism.

In World War I (which was quite blatantly a fight of the European powers to jockey for position in the global struggle for colonial territory) the first country to exit from the conflict was Russia and it withdrew ostensibly because the soldiers just started walking off the line. The Communists encouraged the soldiers to leave because they rightly understood that the war was not about freedom or altruism but was about the ruling-classes of Europe securing their wealth and power. It was the first reply to the modern question "what if you held a war and nobody came?"

I come from several generations of socialists on my father's side and I am proud of it. The socialists, trade-unionists, and feminists are the reasons that we enjoy most of the rights we do. They brought about universal suffrage, the forty hour work week, and the legal protections for workers. If it was not for the socialists, trade-unionists, and feminists most workers even here would work under conditions of a third-world maquiladora. If you want to thank anyone for your freedom thank generations of tireless activist who have defended your rights against those who really want to take them away - capitalists and conservatives right here at home.

My father's uncle fought in the First World War. He was an avid socialists and was disgusted by the war and the officers who waged it with workers as cannon fodder. He lived those terrible conditions that so many talk about. He was gassed and suffered from the after effects all his life. Years after the war my great-uncle admitted to my father that he and his fellow soldiers shot and killed their officer. The officer was a Captain who was a public school-boy and came from a very rich family, was brutal and constantly talked a load of rot about the King and greatness of Briton. He treated the men under his command as little more than cattle who were there to do the bidding of the aristocrats who orchestrated the war from well behind the lines. So they shot and killed him, and it was something that happened a lot more than anyone wants to admit.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a pacifist. But neither do I buy the patriotic spin of the colonial wars (and neo-colonial wars) that our governments engage us in.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Reply to Anonymous . . . .

Dear Anonymous – Thank you for your comments.

1. I don't believe I am over thinking it. Rather, I believe that the majority of people are under-thinking it. I would prefer any time to ‘over-think’ an issue than to wallow in blinkered ignorance as so many do.

2. Of course Remembrance Day affords you the opportunity to remember how you wish - in theory. However, a thorough understanding of the nature of hegemony should make it clear that it is only in theory. For one thing, it is difficult for anyone to avoid the full effect of ideology particularly given that the vast majority of Canadians have little comprehension of the history of these events. (It is much like the English who are amazingly unaware that Guy Fawkes Day is the celebration of a man who sought to return Catholicism to Briton.)

3. The charge of Ethno-Centrism is not false. If you think that having many different immigrant groups involved in Remembrance Day necessarily means that the overall event cannot be infected with ethnocentrism, then you really don’t understand ethnocentrism. Though technically the word ethnocentrism is rooted in the concept of “ethnicity,” in its modern usage it often applies to culture in the more general sense. Thus for example, the British Army in imperial India used thousands of native Indians who were educated in the British tradition and stood up for the English Empire. The inclusion of native Indians did not mean that the British rule in the Sub-Continent was not ethnocentric. In the context in which I am speaking of ethnocentrism it refers to way Western powers have engaged in foreign wars in places like Iraq for example and the background ideology of these military conflicts has been distinctly imperialist. The fact that certain minority groups in counties like Canada buy into this ideology does not change the nature of the relations. Many blacks fought for the South in the American Civil War, it doesn’t mean the South was not a racist state.

4. My crisis is not, as you claim, existential at all (though I a will also admit to having certain existential crises). I also admit to having problems that go way beyond the celebration of this particular event. Finally, I admit to being “out of touch” with the majority of Canadians, if by “out of touch” you mean that many of my sentiments and opinions are radically different from most people. As I said, I relish in my historical company. Many of the progressive activists in history have not shared the prevailing ideology. The suffragettes were radically out of touch with the majority of people as were the Abolitionists for centuries. So what? I prefer, in the words of Gandhi to be a ‘majority of one.’ Rather than being ‘existential’ as you say, my issue is a profoundly felt political imperative which objects to centuries of Western militarism and imperialism and its overarching tendency to celebrate military prowess even though it sometimes disguises this celebration behind a curtain of solemnity.

5.Concerning your comment on funding the healthcare of people who have sustained horrendous physical and psychological wounds – by all means. But once again, this is a typical example of our failure as a culture. We are a very rich nation which talks a good story when it comes to running a war but fails time and again to support the veterans who fight the wars. If you look at the history of this phenomenon from, for example, the end of the Napoleonic wars, it should be quite obvious that my contention concerning the wars being largely economically motivated is correct. The French fought to keep the British traders and manufactures out of the continental markets, and the English fought in turn to maintain their markets. When the English soldiers returned from the continent after the various wars with Napoleon, there were suddenly thousands of homeless, poor, out of work men (many who were physically and emotionally scarred) and the English state did almost nothing to help them. Instead many committed suicide or turned to crime. Similarly, more Vietnam vets have committed suicide since the end of the war than died in the conflict. Meanwhile, here in Canada, as a nation we could afford to take care of these men and women through state sponsorship, as Pat Stogran has been pointing out for many months. But he is leaving his post and the Government, though they love to talk about their support for the military, is under a terrible cloud because as he has said they have not supported the veterans. And since our government has the money to alleviate the physical and psychological wounds of the soldiers they have sent into harm’s way but they are simply failing to do so, and since the tens of thousands of civilian victims of our wars abroad usually live in a context in which no one can afford to help them, I prefer to concentrate my efforts there.

6. I am proud to say that I will never simply casually, or without question, accept the hegemony of the certain ideological paradigms. Doubt, challenge, question, these are my bywords, and I celebrate Antonio Gramsci.  And I have spent years studying history as well as political theory to reach the conclusions I have. “Over-think” it? I think not. 

My Problems with Remembrance Day. . . . .

Each year I struggle with the question of whether it is worth expressing my feelings concerning the increasingly fervent attitude which grips the nation surrounding Remembrance Day and my own increasing discomfort not only with the nature of the holiday itself but with the degree to which it has become socially unacceptable to voice any kind of opposition to this frighteningly ideologically driven event. And given the blind fervency with which people engage in this occasion, and the remarkable vitriol with which any kinds of objections are subjected, I have always been hesitant to say anything. My mother, who has never been a particularly political person, is American and lived through the McCarthy Era as well as the activism of the 1960s and the strong objections to the War in Indochina. But when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 she quickly realized that it was so socially frowned upon to voice objections to the War that she simply kept her mouth shut in social situations. The problem is, of course, that when one can no longer object to the actions taken by your government, regardless of whether it is regulated silence or silence brought about by social pressure, we have lost the very essence that our democracy is supposed to represent. And when any ideology becomes so ardent that it brooks no contradiction, that ideology no longer deserves to be defended.

In the post Vietnam era there was a relatively long period in which objections to foreign military enterprises and even the existence of a standing army itself were widely tolerated. This is because the terrible events in Indochina demonstrated fairly clearly to many people the real ideological nature of most international conflict, and people were not so willing to buy government spin concerning the supposed altruistic motivations of military exercises. After the US government had dropped more tonnage of ballistics onto the countries of Indochina than had been used in the entire Second World War, doubt concerning military altruism was easier to come by. This situation has gradually changed and with massive ideological efforts as well as small strategic endeavors such as “embedded Journalists,” doubt concerning the philanthropic motivations of Western military enterprises is on the wane. It appears that an increasing percentage of people, even on the left, are willing to buy into the idea that the West has altruistic goals concerning international relations and that Military efforts are a legitimate way to pursue these goals. Even as far back as the time of radicals such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft there was a growing objection to standing armies and a critical view to the real ideological and imperialistic motivations behind military efforts. And even though Mary Wollstonecraft was writing over two hundred years ago, in our current atmosphere her anti-militarist stance would seem outrageously radical and irreverent to many today. In fact militarism has now become so entrenched in our ideological worldview that any objection to the military is treated not only with derision but as though it were an act of treason.

However, I don’t think one must adopt the wholesale rejection of all military conflict nor must one believe that most wars engaged in by the West in the past century have been distinctly imperialistic, in order to have serious problems with the way in which Remembrance Day is currently be celebrated. Increasingly Remembrance Day is becoming an ethno-centric celebration of our own military prowess, rather than a reminder of the horrors of war and need to pursue peace as the real goal. Even if one were to believe that the wars of the past century have all essentially been efforts to “protect our freedoms,” an idea that frankly flies in the face of even the most casual reading of 20th century history, surely one must be concerned with our failure to properly honor those who have died in wars. Even if you believe that you owe the fallen soldiers a debt of freedom, isn’t our debt to them the assurance that we will doggedly pursue peace? But more importantly, given that the victims of wars are overwhelmingly civilians (sometimes at a rate of a hundred to one over soldiers) our Remembrance Day celebrations are in stark contrast to the realities of war. It is simply factually wrong and morally bankrupt to ignore the fact that even if we think the wars we have had have been justified overall, the West has engaged in terrible atrocities such as the fire-bombing of Dresden.

I personally believe that the vast majority of wars in which the Western nations have engaged (like most wars) are aimed at increasing the wealth and power of the economic elite. And I further believe that this position is defensible and demonstrable through rational discourse. However, one needn’t take this radical position to deeply object to the ideological nature that Remembrance Day ceremonies have taken on. Far from ‘remembering’ we have created a ceremony of mass-forgetting. We are forgetting the countless civilians that are dying in war (often at our own hands), we are forgetting the horror felt by the victims of rape and torture and the terrible scars that such events leave at a personal and cultural level, and most ironically we are forgetting the way in which the soldiers are themselves victims of an economic elite who need cannon fodder in their efforts to secure global markets and geo-political power.

Furthermore, I will not apologize for a position that is soundly defensible and I relish in my historical company. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pink Assault Rifles. . . . .

Well here is the AR-15 DPMS Panther Lite Personal Assault Rifle, in the limited edition pink,  just in case you are looking to replace your worn and battered weapon. I don't know the price tag but surely no price is too high for such a chic killing machine.

You know, you can go to counsellors and doctors, you can struggle with personal pain and even take Prozac to attempt to overcome your depression and melancholy. . . . but this will still be there and the professionals will just send you back into the society that made you sick in the first place.

It's worse than you think. .

So it goes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Corporate Agenda rolls merrily on . . . . .

I am amazed that generation after generation of saps buy into the right-wing ideology of theft and abuse. They actually believe what the right-winger tell them while getting their pockets picked for almost nothing in return. War is the most spectacular example of this ideology in action. War is about, and has always been about, money, getting it away from average people into the hands of the rich and powerful.

The war in Iraq is one such war. The whole ordeal was about taking billions from average Americans and putting it in the pockets of huge corporations like Haliburton where it eventually found its way into the hands of rich executives who make million bonuses on top of multi-million dollar salaries. And if you still think it was about democracy then just look at the fact that not only have rich Americans made billions but the ruling class of Iraq also benefits in kind. The legislative house in Iraq has not even sat as a body in two years and hasn’t passed a single piece of legislation, all the while many of the legislators are earning over twenty thousand a month.

The US health care system is another such example. Foolish Tea Party Americans carry signs of Obama as disguised as Hitler and rail against communist conspiracies all the while knowing almost nothing about the actual health-care system. Instead of real knowledge they listen to Fox News hacks who make up information as they go along. And many Americans actually think these Fox News bozos are average folks like themselves who are just interested in ‘protecting their freedoms.’ Poor fools. The people from Fox news are not like them. They are wealthy servants of a multi-national corporation who vacation in the Bahamas and drive hundred thousand dollar luxury cars, all the while fabricating false information for a gullible American public who will believe almost anything they say. And one of their main fictions is to tell Americans that the health-care reforms are socialist plot that will involve mass-executions of elderly people. But all they are really interested in is protecting other multi-national corporations like Pfizer and Kaiser who would stop at nothing to continue to make billions of dollars while millions have no health-care at all. So Fox News keeps telling Americans that any reforms are unnecessary unless it is a reform to ‘open’ the market even more so that their friends can make even more money.

And people keep buying it over an over. They sell them war by wrapping themselves in the flag and creating some spin about altruism. But it is money they are after. But people buy it and send their sons and daughters to defend Wall Street and continue to shift money from average people into the pockets of the rich. And they sell them the rest of the corporate agenda with talk of freedom and market forces while shifting billions into the hands of oil companies etc. So people become willing participants in their own large-scale defrauding. Canadians are no different. Remember when Reform Party Yahoos went to Ottawa with talk of not taking the pensions and having free votes in the House? Conservatives listened to Harper’s spin and now they have the most centralized and centralizing government in Canadian history that is nothing but a secretive cabal who are also busy diverting money from average Canadians to multi-national corporations. And many Canadians wave the flag in their own exploitation.

So in the US, with talk of a grass-roots take back of their government, the fools have elected dozens of right-wing ideologues who are actually funded by wealthy corporatists who really want nothing to do with average people taking back anything. And the Tea Party hacks will further the Corporate agenda with billions in grants and Tax breaks to big corporations and the ramping up of weapons spending, taking money out of the pockets of the very people they were supposed to represent and putting it in the hands of those they pretended they opposed. The Gap between rich and poor will get ever wider, more people will go without health-care, the average people will suffer while a group of them let government further into the nation’s bedrooms and talk about freedom because they can own as many guns as they want. And all they while the executives at Haliburton and General Dynamics will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The corporate agenda rolls merrily on and Dick Cheney fiddles while the people burn. . . . 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Republican...no Democrat . . . no Republican . . . no Democrat.. . .

Americans are protesting against the mess that is their country by returning to power the very party that was the most responsible for creating the mess in the first place. It is a beautiful irony, and a painful one. But even as a devoted left-winger, I certainly cannot blame the Republican party for the entire mess in the US economy and society in general. The timidity of the Democrats is certainly an important part of the equation.

Roy Rogers used to say that he didn't belong to any organized political party, he was a democrat. Though it was a jest, it was a very profound one. Because the real problem in the US political system is that there is no organized political system, just a series of very small, self interested constituencies that elect hundreds of individual representatives who are desperately trying to jockey for position in their small fiefdom by pleasing this or that group while needing, out of absolute necessity, to gain as much corporate money as  possible for their reelection. The problem of money has been made even worse by the fact that the Supreme Court has eliminated the all limits on Corporate funding.

This problem of atomization of political culture in the US is fundamental to the system and makes it almost imposible for major social legislation to take place. For example, even though the majority of Americans are in favor of a government run health care system, such legislation cannot happen because  the Democratic Party does not form policy and then carry that policy forward with any kind of party discipline. In the 1950s my mother, who is not a particularly political person, wrote an essay in high-school about this very problem, and things have just gotten worse since that time.

Of course, this kind of atomization favours a corporate agenda because such an agenda does not happen in a large publicly visible way. Rather, small tax changes, small changes in regulations etc., are the ways that a corporate agenda gets carried forward. Social legislation, on the other hand, requires large public processes.

And the whole problem is made worse by the fact that real change is not even on the radar of the political culture. There is no left-wing in the US. There is only the right-wing and those that the right calls "left" with derision and hyperbole. Any country where major television and radio spokespeople call Barak Obama a marxist can have no significant left-wing movement. There are a few people talking about solutions such as Ariana Huffinton who has argued for public funding of elections as a way of putting an end to the corporate dominance on almost every issue. But for the most part the real problems of the US political system don't appear to be publicly understood by most, let alone talked about. Instead, a certain portion of the US voting public just keep vacillating between one party and the other as if the party that is not in power is suddenly going to change the way that they function in office and fix the problems that they have been perpetuating for generations.

Last June (2009) Kevin Baker wrote an article for the New Yorker which demonstrated that Obama and the Democrats were going to lose because they were being to much like Herbert Hoover; they weren't being bold enough to make the changes necessary to fix what was wrong with the US. He argued that FDR made real and bold changes in how US society worked which lead in part to the great post-war prosperity. Whether this is true or not, or whether post-war boom was even just given the problematic foreign policies of the US, is not something I can address here. But I think it is clear that over a year ago Kevin Baker predicted that Obama was not being nearly bold enough, and time has confirmed that prediction. And tonight we will see the US voters once again voting for the same old thing and they will get the same old result.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Let's Put French Resistance Fighters on Trial. . . .

CanadianSense, one of the great thinkers and logicians of our age, or indeed any age, has deigned to comment on one of my Blog postings. Oh, with what pride I look upon my efforts now that someone of such reason and consistency has stooped to talk to me! Imagine my disappointment at the fact that I am compelled to disagree with CanadianSense, that paragon of . . . . well, sense. But I know that CanadianSense is so devoted to truth, logic, and consistency that he/she would want his/her admirers to point to the inconsistencies to which her/his mind, which usually operates like a steel-trap, has given birth. So here I go, in all humility, to point out the logical conclusion of the thoughts of this great Canadian mind.

CanadianSense, like so many, believe that it is perfectly legitimate to put Omar Khadr on trial based on the fact that he was not, in fact, as they say a "soldier." Presumably this definition of a 'soldier' is based in some sort of institutional legitimacy. In other words, a person, by this definition, is not a soldier if he or she is not a member of some nationally organized armed force with the power of a state apparatus behind it.

Now putting aside that many of the so-called non-combatants (a designation invented by the pentagon to de-legitimize their opponents) in Afghanistan would in fact qualify as soldiers under this very definition, let us look at some other people who might qualify as illegitimate soldiers.

-George Washington. Washington was appointed not by a legitimate government but by a group of self-appointed wealthy landowners to pursue their interests against England. The English, in fact, referred to Washington on more than one occasion as nothing but a terrorist. And if the English had been victorious in the war they surely would have hanged Washington as a non-combatant. (But of course the victor has written history here)

- All the so-called irregulars in the War of American Independence - including Ethan Allen. The self-appointed government of the thirteen colonies knew that they could not afford to muster a large enough regular, paid fighting force against the Crown. They therefore encouraged the use of irregular forces - that is non-paid, non-uniformed fighters who fought for the cause out of devotion rather than institutional legitimacy or money. It is interesting to keep in mind that there were quite a few French irregulars who fought for US independence because of their hatred for the British. Far from being put on trial, these French irregulars were lauded as heroes after the war.

The French Resistance - Thousands of French and non-French people fought in France against the German occupiers. These people had no uniforms, no payment, and usually no central direction. These people were responsible for the deaths of thousands of German soldiers. On the principle of consistency, CanadainSense surely believes that these individuals should be put on trial in Germany and these trials should include 'victim impact statements' from the living German relatives of the victims.

Blackwater Mercenaries - The US fought in the Iraq with the help of thousands of Mercenaries from the Blackwater corporation. They used these fighters specifically because they wanted many fighters who were not subject to US military rules.

I am sure that in the name of sense and consistency, Canadiansense and he/her compatriots would like to see all of these people brought to justice for killing individuals without military and institutional legitimacy.

It is interesting to note that Canadiansense and others attempt to legitimize the trial of Khadr by denying that he was in fact a child soldier. This is based on two claims - one, that since Khadr was not, in fact, a soldier, he could not be, therefore, ipso facto be counted as a "child-soldier." Two, they claim that Khadr was a willing participant. However, both of these claims are problematic. First, the vast majority of child-soldiers are part of irregular forces and international agreements are designed to make no distinction between 'regular' and 'irregular' child-soldiers. Second, international agreements do not distinguish between willing and unwilling participants when it comes to child-soldiers. This is because the global community recognizes that minors are not fit to make the requisite rational decisions concerning war situations.

Of course, the real difference at stake here is that the above individuals and groups represent "our" cause, the Western cause, the "good" cause. But Khadr represents what we believe is the 'wrong' cause, the evil cause, the 'bad' cause. As I said, the victor writes history, and unless we can live by our principles in war as well as in peace then we are the very enemy that we claim to despise. 
How are we to condemn others, in this case a child-soldier, for things that we are deeply guilty of on a grand scale? The US can kill hundreds of thousands of civilians and that is simply a statistic, while Khadr is guilty of killing one and is condemned to prison and torture. This is the very essence of hypocrisy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Khadr and Hypocrisy. . . . .

I find the trial and sentencing hearing of Omar Khadr outrageous. Not only was Khadr a child soldier but he was simply fighting a foreign occupier. Even if you believe the invasion of Afghanistan completely legitimate I can't imagine how one defends putting on trial those who believed that they were defending the country against foreign occupiers. I makes no sense unless you are a total pacifist and believe that all those engaged in war should be put on trial.

I am particularly flabbergasted that they would allow people to make so-called "victim impact statements" in the sentencing portion of the trial. With no disrespect to the widow of the man Khadr supposedly killed, is this not the height of hypocrisy? The US soldiers killed at least one hundred thousand civilians in Iraq (perhaps many hundreds of thousands) and thousands in Afghanistan in the past 10 years. Civilians! The man that Khadr has been accused of killing was a soldier. The victors really do write the history, otherwise we would see tens of thousands of US soldiers on trial for killing civilians (surely a much worse crime than what Khadr is said to have done) and we would be hearing literally millions of 'victim impact statements' from Afghanis and Iraqis for their beloved family members who were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For all the right-wingers out there who are ready to accuse me of 'taliban sympathies,' forget it. This is just basic stuff. If you are going to go to war against people you say are terrible, then you can't go around killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and put child soldiers on trial and then try to pretend that you are better than they. The people who have put a child soldier on trial should be put on trial. And Harper should be put on trial for making no attempt to stop it. In the words of the great Walt Kelly (who was turning the words of Captain Oliver Perry)- "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Sexual Frenzy and the GQ Shoot. . . .

I am amazed at the recent media frenzy around the photo shoot that a few Glee cast members did for GQ magazine. All week Jian Ghomeshi has been reading letters from listeners concerning this explicit shoot, and we have heard various condemnations which, among other things, have included absurd charges of 'child pornography.' The whole thing is remarkable.

Men's magazines like Maxim, GQ, and others routinely contain such photos, some of them more explicit than this. The cast members from Glee are grown adults in their mid-twenties which makes talk of child pornography more than a little bizarre. If people are upset that women in their twenties are being portrayed as sexual beings in a high-school setting I am surprised that people are not radically up in arms about the tv series Hellcats which itself verges on soft-porn. The fact is that women much younger than Lea Michele are routinely portrayed as ultra-sexualized, including many on Family Channel. Young teen girls are often seen on television and in print in a very sexualized way. Yet many of these girls are not legally responsible for their actions and arguably not mature enough to make the judgements concerning the portrayal of their sexuality.  And yet it is the Glee shoot that is causing a stir.

There is,  at the heart of this situation, something strange. A lot of vitriol has been targeted at the Glee cast members. But condemning a woman like Lea Michele  for making her own decisions concerning her sexuality is something I find kind of offensive. Here is a young talented prosperous woman who, though pretty, has actually established her singing career on her genuine artistic ability. She appeared on Broadway as a very young girl long before she was a sexual being. And now that she is in her mid-twenties and a recognized singing talent all over the world, a bunch of people want to come out of nowhere and decide for her whether her actions are proper or not.

The fact is that we certainly haven't reached anything like gender equality in the world and I understand why some people would be troubled by the objectification of women in the media. But there is a flipside of this issue too. When any group that has been historically oppressed or disadvantaged begins to become empowered they, as a group or individuals, may make decisions some of us don't like. But that is what empowerment is all about; the ability to make decisions for yourself and not have them dictated by others. Now unlike many young women in the media, Lea Michele has been genuinely exploring her talent and being recognized for it. She was in musical theatre and not making pop videos at the age of fifteen trying to exploit her sexuality like so many young women have done (or been compelled to do). Now Ms Michele is making her own decisions. You may not like her decisions but they are hers to make. She is not a victim except to the degree that we are all victims of the age and society in which we live, and she is not simply trading on her sexuality as so many people in the media do.

If you don't like the GQ don't buy it. And certainly don't show it to your young daughter. I agree that such images are not healthy for young kids who don't understand the implications of them. And if Lea Michele was your daughter or friend you could engage her in a debate about the pervasiveness of such imagery and the need to change these images. And it is probably a good idea to mention that such the photo shoot was in a "Men's" magazine and the entire episode was probably dreamt up by men with little interested in women's (or anyone else's) empowerment. But let's not loose sight of the fact, as many on the left are wont to do, that freedom and empowerment are about the ability to make decisions and, as with democracy, we may not always like the decisions being made. Furthermore, I for one, can envision a time when we have gender equality and women (as well as men) may continue to play sexual games with imagery and art and yet still be equal and strong. If we can't imagine that then we are selling ourselves short.