Ink & Paper

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing.

He concludes by saying: "Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" the President exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 4:27 PM ~~ 1 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Liberty, Fraternity, Equality- The Rioting in France

Ongoing for the past two weeks now, albeit less in recent days, the rioting in Paris' suburbs has grown from a minor blip on the news radar to a full-fledged European soul searching as many struggle to understand what they are reading about day after day in their morning papers.

By now most of you should know the following facts about the riots:

-The unrest was sparked by the deaths in the run-down Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois of two youths, who were accidentally electrocuted at an electricity sub-station. Locals said they were fleeing police, but the police deny this. (BBC)

-The rioters consist of a small portion of the largely disenfranchised Northern African, Arabic, and Black populations that live in the suburbs of Paris. The suburbs of Paris, unlike in North American cities, are effectively slums, with high unemployment, racial tensions, and such social issues as drug use, illiteracy, and violence.

-Unemployment among people of French origin is 9.2%. Among those of foreign origin, the figure is 14% - even after adjusting for educational qualifications. (BBC)

-French Islam is made up of the following:

  • Five million Muslims (estimate)
  • 35% Algerian origin (estimate)
  • 25% Moroccan origin (estimate)
  • 10% Tunisian origin (estimate)
  • BBC

A few things have popped into my mind as I have watched this disorder emerge and flourish. First, I have been heartened to see that the blame for the rioting isn't landing solely at the feet of Muslims in France. Instead, the violence has caused France to look at itself, including their immigration policies, social structures, and marginalization of minorities. It would have been easy (and probably accepted in today's world) to paint the entire Muslim faith in France as the culprit, but instead self-examination has led to the unveiling of an ugly but important issue in France. One wonders what color the Muslim faith would have been painted had this violence occurred in the US.

Secondly, this rioting has truly broken down what I guess I will call the "3rd world barrier." By that I mean that this rioting has brought the conditions of some 3rd world countries (i.e. instability, violence, etc) to the front doorstep of a 1st world country. That isn't to say that these riots are in any way comparable to, say, the crisis in Darfur, but by watching these riots emerge on the European continent, France and other EU countries have been slapped in the face by the reality that exists in countries that are often ignored or shuffled to the back pages of the newspapers. Suddenly the peace and security of a 1st world country doesn't seem so impenetrable anymore, a needed wake up call. Although not directly connected, one could also point to the bombings in Jordan, a relatively peaceful and stable middle eastern country, as an indication that all the military might and prosperity in the world cannot stop one or two individuals, or a small group, bent on destruction.

Thirdly, I have been somewhat interested in the inability of France to get a handle on the violence. Despite increased police and military manpower, the implementation of a curfew law first drafted in 1955 to quell an Algerian uprising, and pretty much the entire focus of the French government, the rioting has continued largely unabated for over two weeks now. It speaks volumes for the thin-veil of social control that our institutions have over the populace. I am sure that other EU countries, especially Germany which also has a large immigrant population, have been re-evaluating their policies and tactics.

In addition, I found a good quote that I feel deserves some attention.

"There are many other factors involved," Jeffrey Reitz, a University of Toronto sociology professor who studies ethnicity and immigration, told CBC News Online. "It's not the immigrants, but their children, who are a very different group of people."

Reitz says that, in general, when immigrants compare their situation in their adopted country to the life they left behind, they usually find things are better, even if they are discriminated against. And if things don't improve, they often have the option of returning home. "The second generation can't go back as easily and have been told in school they should be treated equally. When it doesn't happen, there's disappointment," says Reitz.

Indeed, I experienced a similar situation whilst in Kuwait. My travel agent, Nidal, had been in Kuwait for the past fifteen years, save for a year or so when he was kicked out for being Palestinian, as Yassar Arafat supported Saddam in the invasion of Kuwait, subsequently earning many of the Palestinians working in Kuwait an exit visa until well after the first Gulf War had ended.

Anyway, I had asked Nidal why it was he had stayed in Kuwait so long and his response caused me some reflection. He said that, compared with his birth-country of Palestine, Kuwait offered more opportunity and a better standard of living. He was a first generation immigrant to Kuwait and as such had a good memory of Palestine and could pick out advantages to living in Kuwait. I am sure he saw the gap between Kuwaitis and other Arabic peoples in Kuwait, but chose to live with it instead of returning to Palestine.

I do not know if Nidal had kids or not, but I suspect that second generation immigrant children in Kuwait may experience some sense of dismay with the gap that exists between the rich (largely composed of Kuwaiti nationals) and the middle class, made up mainly of Arabic immigrants from such countries as Palestine, Syria, or Lebanon. As such, one could predict unrest similar to what has been happening in France, where second generation youth start to wonder why they are living below the "norm."

My last point stems from the headlines I am reading on this Saturday morning. A collection of points from a BBC article:

Thousands of police are patrolling the French capital, Paris, to enforce a ban on all public meetings likely to provoke disturbances....

Police say they intercepted e-mails and text messages calling for "violent acts" in the city on Saturday....

The capital city has been largely spared the violence that has affected its suburbs and the rest of the country....

The threat of violence in Paris was "not a rumour", national police chief Michel Gaudin said....

The Eiffel Tower and the famed Champs-Elysees avenue were among sites that could be potential targets, he said.....

The reason I have focused on this, besides it being the most up to date information, is the fact that I think it speaks volumes about how far France still has to go when it comes to dealing with the violence. As I have pointed out, the violence has stemmed from and (largely) remained contained within the poor suburbs of Paris. Yet now that there has been a credible threat against Paris proper, including the landmark tourist attractions, the reaction has seemingly been more intensive.

As is the case with the ghettos in most 1st world cities, we offer limited support if trouble emerges. This support is often seen as adequate by the public. However, if the trouble is to spread to the more prosperous areas of the city in question, the response and the alarm raised by the public is often drastically increased. I need only compare the response to the water crisis in Kasheshewan, the northern Ontario native reserve that has been on a boil-water advisory for the past two years, to a similar response if such a situation were to occur in Airdrie or Sherwood Park.

These riots may subside in the next few days, or they may not. We have a belief, perhaps false, that such incidents eventually will come under the control of the police and the government. There is no guarantee that this will happen, of course. But if and when it does, France will be left wondering how to prevent similar unrest from occurring again. The real question, when the rubber meets the road, is if the French government and the French people will work actively to fix the social ills that led to the rioting. Often promises are made in the short term, yet fail to materialize once the stories have faded from the headlines. Perhaps the greatest challenge now facing France is not the ongoing rioting but instead is the need to address and resolve the issues that are no longer hidden away in the grimy suburbs of Paris.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 10:26 AM ~~ 5 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Friday, November 11, 2005

Thanks to Mr. T (The Glorious) for the following link:

A confidential memo circulating among senior Republican leaders suggests that a new attack by terrorists on U.S. soil could reverse the sagging fortunes of President George W. Bush as well as the GOP and "restore his image as a leader of the American people."

The odd things is that I think Todd and I talked about this scenario at some point in the past. I'm not saying that we are gods though.

Demi-gods maybe, but not gods.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 6:59 PM ~~ 1 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

- John McCrae

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 11:00 AM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Thursday, November 10, 2005

How do you spend you Thursday nights before a long weekend?

a. Drinking?

b. Whoring?

c. Nerding?

I'll take Nerding for $1000 Alexis.

Alexis doesn't exist.

She does now.

I just named my bonsai tree Alexis.

She's low maintenance. A bit of a drinker though.

I'll take Nerding for $1000.


A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 8:29 PM ~~ 2 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


I use too many commas.

I was on the way home from Whitecourt today, the miles humming under me as the barren northern trees flash by, the occasional deer rolling the highway dice just to keep life interesting, when I get passed by a truck.

Not just any truck. No sir, this truck had a full bed of meat.

Yep, meat.

Fresh meat too. Big hunks of what could have been deer or moose. Or elephant for all I know.

The point of this dumb entry is that there was a whole whack of meat laying in the back of this mid-80s Chevy pickup. Open to the air too.

Germs build character, son.

Someone must have gone hunting, I reckon. With an unregistered gun.

Election in February, that's my bet.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 7:28 PM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


645pm. Whitecourt, Alberta. November 9.

Where is your soul?

On TV, as usual, is the CBC, much like my rural secondary highway radio. I'm watching George Stroumboulopoulos and his show, on at 6oopm Monday thru Friday. It is called The Hour and you should watch it.

Frankly there is a rare time that I see George on TV when I fail to think of him as one of the few saviors of CBC, along with Evan Soloman and Mark Kelly.

Again, he doesn't disappoint and leaves one thinking about how this odd little world works. Within his show he profiles two contradictory issues, one being Ft.McMoney, the Oil Boomtown in northern Alberta, complete with the orgy of money and truck-buying that rules that particular roost. A 2nd year apprentice was on air, proudly boasting that he makes $1600 Cdn a week and that "when you make that kinda money, what else is there to do but party?"

I wouldn't know, I don't make that kind of money. Not for profit, don't you know?

The segment that followed the Ft. McMoney session was a personal interview with Stephen Lewis, who is the UN envoy for AIDS/HIV in Africa. And a Canadian to boot.

A conflicted man with a storied history, including a father who ran the federal NDP in the 1970s. A man dedicated to the betterment of the dark continent, a continent he has watching lurch into chaos as international aid seems to be more about photo ops with Bono than it does seem to be about tangible aid to Africa.

Oiltown vs. Aidstown. Me-first vs. Social Consciousness.

It was such a sudden contrast that one couldn't ignore it, to do so would truly seal one as insular and ignorant.

There is a lot on money in Ft. Mac. I could drive up there and have a well-paying job in a matter of days, as the economy is so hot. And don't think I'm not tempted. I am, I am. Not for profit, remember?

But when I am an old man, and money doesn't matter as much anymore, secondary to my health, my family, and my dogs, I suppose I will reflect upon the life I have led, whether I have left this world a little better than I found it. At this point, I do not know the answer to this future question of whether I made a positive choice or not, but I know that I will have to eventually look into the mirror, into myself, and answer that question.

A friend on mine recently wrote me and said she has had an epiphany in regards to the positive force that education can have on a crushingly poor society. I find it hard to describe that sentiment, that dedication, without the word "admirable", much as I do when it comes to watching socially conscious TV that doesn't mince words.

I spent last night at my Uncle Ken and Aunt Marie's home in Barrhead, Alberta, basically trading Kuwait tales for a place to sleep, feeling like a modern balladeer. And while I still doubt my positive influence on the education of Kuwaiti children, I went to bed thinking about how, in the right situation, one person can make an enormous difference, be it through education or humanitarian work, with any number of organizations from Amnesty International to the SPCA, if they only so choose to do so.

It isn't an easy choice, I would imagine, especially when facing the easy money of northern Alberta oilsands. But I couldn't help but reflect on the last few days, and this particular TV show, and wonder about the state of the world we all live in.

And what a world it is.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 7:15 PM ~~ 4 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Monday, November 07, 2005

Amidst all the noise that is daily life in the city, what with the commute, the cell phones, and people who engage you in cynically empty conversations, there are some things that bring peace and serve as a grounding balance in a world that can seem overwhelmingly shallow and antagonistic.

I took Monday out for her evening walk on Sunday night, maybe around 9pm or so. It had been snowing for about an hour, fairly steady, fat flakes dropping into sight as they passed by the lamposts orange glow. It was cool, not too cold yet, and the town was quiet.

Monday had yet to see snow, having landed in Canada in late April, after the spring thaw. I pressed the garage door opener and as usual, she snuck herself under the door as soon as it was high enough. She padded her way onto the driveway, which was still covered in snow as I have yet to buy a shovel.

Stop. A quirked-to-the-side toss of the head, a lifted front right paw. And in an almost-human like fashion, a quizzical look was directed to said paw, a pup trying to figure out just what in the hell was sticking to her paw, making it cold.

A shake of the paw and a shift into reverse, aiming for the relative warmth of the garage. "C'mon ya big baby," says the owner, smiling.

We walked, as we do, through the night, past familiar smells and silent homes, their lights dimmed as people ready themselves for another work week. Me, dressed in tuque and checkered jacket, and my loyal dog. There weren't a lot of cars out on the distant secondary highway as I looked out across the pitch dark prairie fields.

This was the first snow I have seen in a little over a year and a half, something I find odd and perhaps a little sad. I have always associated more with the dark, cold winter months, as I find myself enjoying the relative hardship of freezing temperatures and unpredictable conditions. It makes me feel alive, as much as one can in an era of drive-thru banking and automatic car starters.

I remember talking with Neil, a friend from Kuwait, now in Bangladesh, and his remark that he hadn't seen snow in over two years. This passing winter, I suppose, will make it three. He wasn't upset about it, near as I can recall. But then he never seemed to get too upset about anything, a trait this worrier admires.

But I need the snow, and I was surprised to notice how happy I was to see it falling softly. With the challenge of winter comes a sense of quiet, muffled peace, a sense that this part of the world slows down just a little as we navigate icy roads.

And so, through the darkness, Monday and I strolled. I stopped and bent down, giving my still-exploring dog a scratch behind the ear. I threw snow into her face and she playfully came charging at me, ready for a wrestle, a wrestle I was happy to oblige her with. We both came home covered in snow. It was a good walk.

This has been a hectic couple of months and with less than a month remaining until the wedding, and with Christmas following quickly afterwards, I suspect that the ride isn't quite over yet. But that is life, as we all know. It is just rather comforting to find even a few moments time where I can wander in awe of something so simple as snow.

Peace of mind is a hard thing to come by in today's world. Some chase religion, seeking a clarified explanation of the world. Some shop, assuming that the latest fashions, another $50 t-shirt, will bring them a sense of calm. And some just tune out entirely, lost in the flickering glow of TV's next big thing.

The fact is that peace of mind, a sense of deep-breath calm, only happens infrequently, often when we aren't expecting it to. We are often so absorbed in the things left undone in our lives that we fail to appreciate the small moments of quiet silence and soft beauty.

Maybe I am alone on this one, maybe people are reading this and thinking that I am some kind of winter hippie. I doubt it. I think that people know they are running too hard and are ashamed to slow down or admit that they do see the simplistic beauty in the little things, lest they be labeled soft in this hard world.

I run too, I push myself too hard. I am out of town for two to three nights a week for the next three weeks, something I would rather not have to do as the wedding approaches. But unfortunately that is part of the deal when you buy into this whole system. The trick is to find the little moments that our society allows you, few and far between as they may be, and call them your own.

My walk in the snow with Monday was at the end of a weekend I would have rather not had, a weekend where I walked away from the Catholic church more convinced than ever that whatever shreds of faith I have left fail to fit into doctrine. It was a weekend of tradition versus progression. While the couple in question realized the synchronicity of their beliefs, these beliefs did not fit well within our assigned faith.

As such , come Sunday night, a walk in the snow with a loyal and true companion gave me a sense of balance, a sense of calm not unlike the silent confidence of a falling snowflake, content with who it is at this moment. I had found my time of quiet and had the luck to realize it.

It is now 906pm on Monday night. Time for another walk. I'll see you Friday.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 9:06 PM ~~ 6 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Blogging will continue as usual for a while, no secondary blog, mainly due to lack of time , desire, and impatience with HTML issues.

Perhaps the most tremendous flop start in blogging history.


Marriage Prep was okay, good conversation with Megan coupled with our ideological issues with the Roman Catholic Church. A hint of evangelicalism made for some sideways glances between Meg and I.

But we passed. And Monday got a bath at the kennel, so the weekend ended well. But I'm bagged now, and back to work tomorrow won't help.

Out of town Tuesday thru Thursday, so blogging might be weak.

So, about normal, I guess.

I was reading a Mordecai Richler book in a Roman Catholic mission. Hmmm.


A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 7:38 PM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

shout out out out out out


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