Ink & Paper

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A thought....

South Africa's highest court has ruled in favour of same-sex marriages, which are banned under current legislation.

The Constitutional Court ordered that parliament amend marriage laws to allow gay weddings within a year.

The constitution outlaws discrimination against gays and lesbians, but social attitudes remain more conservative.

The court ordered that the definition of marriage be changed from a "union between a man and a woman" to a "union between two persons".

Last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal had ruled in a case brought by a lesbian couple that the current law discriminated against homosexuals.

I find it rather interesting that a country that as recently as 1990 had an apartheid system in place has, in the space of 15 years, moved so far ahead of other "more advanced" countries in terms of equality for all. While the battle for same-sex rights in South Africa is far from over, especially with regards to the societal views of it, the courts hves taken a major step forward in accepting that old beliefs are always open to change.

Perhaps it is the apartheid system and the dismantling of it that allowed SA to move forward towards inclusion of gays and lesbians in legal weddings. After all, having seen what the extremes of exclusion can wrought on a populace, perhaps the legalizing of same-sex marriages isn't such a big deal after all. Perhaps it is nothing more than another step towards equality in the wake of apartheid.

If one accepts that gay people are born that way, is the exclusion of their lifestyle not tatamount to discrimmination based upon something they cannot change? Like the color of ones skin? I have written this before, but I think it bears repeating: In 20-30 years, we will look back on this debate over same-sex marriages much like we currently look back upon segregation in the southern US, or perhaps how we look upon South Africa's apartheid system.

I know there are many other issues, one of which is the slow acknkowledgment of the HIV/AIDS crisis, that still cause South Africa to lag behind other more developed nations. But in the arena of equal human rights and the non-issue of sexual orientation before the courts, South Africa has taken a prominent step forward, one that I applaud.

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Rhetoric versus Reality

President Bush gave an unflinching defense of his war strategy on Wednesday, refusing to set a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawals and asserting that once-shaky Iraqi troops are proving increasingly capable. Democrats dismissed his words as a stay-the-course speech with no real strategy for success.

Bush recalled that some Iraqi security forces once ran from battle, and he said their performance "is still uneven in some parts." But he also said improvements have been made in training and Iraqi units are growing more independent and controlling more territory.

"This will take time and patience," said Bush, who is under intense political pressure as U.S. military deaths in the war rise beyond 2,100 and his popularity sits at the lowest point of his presidency.

Bush's speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, the first of at least three he'll give between now and the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections, did not outline a new strategy for the nearly three-year-old war. Rather, it was intended as a comprehensive answer to mounting criticism and questions. Billed as a major address, it brought together in a single package the administration's arguments for the war and assertions of progress on military, economic and political tracks.

The address was accompanied by the release of a White House document titled "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" a report that House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi dismissed as "35 pages of rhetoric on old sound bites." Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., called Bush's speech "lipstick" on a failed Iraqi strategy. "If things on the ground in Iraq are as rosy as the picture the president painted today, then we should be able to begin to bring our troops home in 2006," he said.

Bush spoke to a friendly audience of midshipmen. They welcomed the president by singing him the Navy fight song. At the end, they chanted in unison, 'Fire it up!' 'Fire it up!'

The president said the U.S. military's role in Iraq will shift from providing security and fighting the enemy nationwide to more specialized operations targeted at the most dangerous terrorists. "We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate and conduct fewer patrols and convoys," the president said.

Still, Bush remained steadfastly opposed to imposing a deadline for leaving Iraq.

"Many advocating an artificial timetable for withdrawing our troops are sincere but I believe they're sincerely wrong," Bush said. "Pulling our troops out before they've achieved their purpose is not a plan for victory."

Versus realist Juan Cole

I have heard from contacts in Iraq that the soldiers in the new army often don't get their paychecks, and aren't properly equipped, and sometimes are reduced to selling their bullets on the black market. Guess who buys them?

Cole also mentions this point, which I feel will have a far longer term effect on the Iraqi state, or the lack thereof:

A further step in the break-up of Iraq: according to the LA Times, the Kurdish regional confederacy is giving a Norwegian oil company the right to develop new oil fields in its area without consulting the federal government in Baghdad. The Kurds and Norwegians maintain that this is legal according to the new Iraqi constitution, which devolves control over natural resources discovered in the future to the provinces or provincial confederacies. Next the Shiites in the South will do the same thing. Baghdad will be starved of these new revenue streams, and the provinces will have their own source of income. I don't see how the country stays together this way, or how the centragovernmentnt ever amounts to anything.

The northernr part of Iraq is largely Kurdish and full of oil, a resource that was (under Saddam) shipped straight south into the pockets of Baghdad, with very little re-invested in the north. Unless you count chemical attacks on Kurdish villages by Saddam as re-investment. Thus, with Saddam gone, the Kurds have moved quickly to establish their right to the oil under their land. Notably, the Kurdish portions of the country have remained (relatively) calm compared to the chaos of Baghdad.

The southern part of Iraq is largely Shite Muslim (the most populous of the religious divisions in Iraq) and is also quite comfortably set for oil and also boasts the only access to the ocean shipping routes of the Persian Gulf. Add to that the fact that the new Iraqi government and constitution is largely Shite Muslim, and you have a solid little power base from which to direct your affairs.

The Sunnis, the smallest religious group in Iraq, are also the ex-leaders and government officials (Saddam is a Sunni) and have, in the matter of a few years, been knocked down to the bottom of the pecking order. While they may have the know-how to launch successful attacks against US forces, they do not have numbers that the Kurds and Shia's have, nor do they have access to the oil or the shipping. In fact, the middle of the country, which includes Baghdad, is largely Sunni, but largely without any resources or strategic importance. Hence why Cole suggests a central and largely Kurdish and Shia government, based out of Baghdad will be concerned with their own "areas" of the country, effectively ghetto-izing the middle of the country.

The Iraq state could very easily cease to exist in a matter of a few years, possibly after a pronounced civil war. The most likelyof this scenario will see an independent north and an independent south, with a sort of no-man's land serving as a buffer between them. This is one possibly, I left you another at the bottom of this post to consider as well.

Neither scenario iparticularityly rosy. And I haven't even gotten started on the influence of Shia-dominated (90%) next door neighbour Iran, who would most assuredly love a strong Shia counterpart in the Middle East, after having been at odds with Saddam's Sunni government for so long.

Onward. Two points that caused me to feel a little less depressed about Iraq. Number one is that it is nice to see that the Democrats are sticking it to bush and his administration on this issue of Iraqi army unpreparedness in the face of looming US troop withdrawls. I had almost forgotten that the Democrats were allowed to speak out against bush. About time.

Number two point is that I am glad to see the US media finally getting their shit together and doing their job of critiquing bush's plans. He had a free ride in the media for far too long and I hope the LA Times is a sign of things to come. Again, about time.

In other Iraqi news, I am not the least bit surprised to see the inhuman chuckles that come about while arguing semantics.

More than 2 1/2 years into the Iraq war, Donald H. Rumsfeld has decided the enemy are not insurgents.

"This is a group of people who don't merit the word `insurgency,' I think," Rumsfeld said Tuesday at a Pentagon news conference. He said the thought had come to him suddenly over the Thanksgiving weekend.

"It was an epiphany."

Rumsfeld's comments drew chuckles but had a serious side.

"I think that you can have a legitimate insurgency in a country that has popular support and has a cohesiveness and has a legitimate gripe," he said. "These people don't have a legitimate gripe." Still, he acknowledged that his point may not be supported by the standard definition of `insurgent.' He promised to look it up.

Webster's New World College Dictionary defines the term "insurgent" as "rising up against established authority."

Even Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who stood beside Rumsfeld at the news conference, found it impossible to describe the fighting in Iraq without twice using the term `insurgent.'

After the word slipped out the first time, Pace looked sheepishly at Rumsfeld and quipped apologetically, "I have to use the word `insurgent' because I can't think of a better word right now."

Without missing a beat, Rumsfeld replied with a wide grin: "Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government. How's that?"

You're a funny guy Mr. Rumsfeld. I'm sure the thousands of people in Iraq that continue to eek out an existence without electricity, running water, peace, etc etc are rolling on the floors, holding their stomachs, laughing at your quip about "enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government."

I mean, once this pesky little insurgency is redefined, life will no doubt be nothing but rainbows and sunshine for the good people of Iraq.

In fact, if Iraq manages to avoid all-out civil war, it is likely to end up with a government that is fiercely undemocratic - a Shi'ite theocratic dictatorship that rules by terror, torture, and armed might.


A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 8:37 AM ~~ 0 bonsai trees

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Me on Saturday?

Dang, that is an eerie resemblance.

Well at least I'm not the Swedish chef. Goddamn Swedes.

I'm not going to lie to you, I got nothing today. Check the links instead.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 7:30 PM ~~ 2 bonsai trees

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I got my hand stamp to prove it.

Och, 1239am on Tuesday night, technically Wednesday morning, and I just got back from Leaving Juneau's CD release party at the Sidetrack Cafe in Edmonton. Twas a solid show from front to back. I was a litte worried after hearing their debut CD, Get Out of the Weather, which was properly produced and thus sounds polished, that their live show would seem less so, as is often the case with modern day bands. If anyone ever heard the Smashing Pumpkins live as compared to their CD, you'll know what I mean.

Not the case with Leaving Juneau though, as their 7 or 8 song set sounded polished and professional, without sounding exactly like their CD. A fine balance to be struck, but struck it was, and the 70+ people at the Sidetrack responded well to the music, clapping along throughout one song, and consistently applauding each song. Fingers and toes tapping throughout.

The vocals are vastly improved, partially due to the fact that the good folks at the Sidetrack know what they are doing when it comes to the live sound of a band, much more so than the last gig I attended in August. The vocals were clear and varied, the drums and bass quietly supporting the solid guitar, both acoustic and electric. And the band threw in a cello for good mix, which sounded nice.

I know I am partial to the band, but I also like to think that my experienced ear can objectively pick out "good" music. And this was good music, as is their CD. For those of you that will be seeing Jeff in the next few days, hand over $12 and get yourself a CD. It is money well spent not only because you know the lead singer, but because the musicianship of the band delivers a CD that is, like their live show, solid from front to back.

And that's my two cents.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 12:39 AM ~~ 3 bonsai trees

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I really think you should read this article. Why? Because it is a good article and I don't feel much like writing tonight. That's why. Now go to your room.

Oh and this story broke a few days ago. Amazing that I barely even raise an eyebrow when I read this kind of stuff.

A "trophy" video appearing to show security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the internet, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.

The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.

The video, which first appeared on a website that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defence Services, contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars. All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on "route Irish", a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

Security companies awarded contracts by the US administration in Iraq adopt the same rules for opening fire as the American military. US military vehicles carry a sign warning drivers to keep their distance from the vehicle. The warning which appears in both Arabic and English reads "Danger. Keep back. Authorised to use lethal force." A similar warning is also displayed on the rear of vehicles belonging to Aegis.

He said: "When the security companies kill people they just drive away and nothing is done. Sometimes we ring the companies concerned and they deny everything. The families don't get any money or compensation. I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind."

Let freedom reign....

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 5:47 PM ~~ 2 bonsai trees

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Monday, November 28, 2005

The politically smart withdrawl of US troops will go down as follows, according to Juan Cole:

Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh is reporting in the New Yorker that the Bush administration has decided to draw down ground troops in Iraq. Knowledgeable observers strongly suspect that this step would produce a meltdown and possibly even civil war in Iraq (which could become a regional war). Bush's strategy may be to try to control the situation using air power.

If one isn't careful, it would turn into a hot civil war on ethnic grounds (I don't mean 38 dead a day, I mean it would be ten times that). And if the Shiites and Kurds massacre Sunni Arabs in the course of fighting the guerrillas, the Saudi, Jordanian and Sunni Syrian publics are not going to take that lying down and volunteer fighters would flock to Iraq in real numbers.

Readers and colleagues often ask me why a Shiite majority and the Kurdish Peshmergas couldn't just take care of the largely Sunni Arab guerrillas. The answer is that the Sunni Arabs were the officer corps and military intelligence, and the more experienced NCOs, and they know how to do things that the Shiites and Kurds don't know how to do. The Sunni Arabs were also the country's elite and have enormous cultural capital and managerial know-how. Sunni Arab advantages will decline over time, but they are there for this generation, and no one should underestimate the guerrilla leadership.

If anyone wants to consistently keep up to date on what is really going on in Iraq, you must read Juan Cole's blog. He is a history professor with a specialization in the Middle East, and updates on a regualr bais. His thoughts are clear, well informed, and cut through political bias to hammer at the reality. I cannot over-emphasize how much I respect this man. He offers this thought on bush's apparent concern for his political legacy:

Let me finish with a word to W. As for your legacy two decades from now, George, let me clue you in on something--as a historian. In 20 years no Iraqis will have you on their minds one way or another. Do you think anyone in Egypt or Israel is still grateful to Jimmy Carter for helping bring to an end the cycle of Egyptian-Israeli wars? Jimmy Carter powerfully affected the destinies of all Egyptians and Israelis in that key way. Most people in both countries have probably never heard of him, and certainly no one talks about the first Camp David Accords anymore except as a dry historical subject. The US pro-Israel lobby is so ungrateful that they curse Carter roundly for all the help he gave Israel. Human beings don't have good memories for these things, which is why we have to have professional historians, a handful of people who are obsessed with the subject. And I guarantee you, George, that historians are going to be unkind to you. You went into a major war over a non-existent nuclear weapons program. Presidents' reputations don't survive things like that. Historians are creatures of documents and precision. A wild exaggeration with serious consequences is against everything they stand for as a profession. So forget about history and destiny and the divine will. You are at the helm of the Exxon Valdez and it is headed for the shoals. You can't afford to daydream about future decades.

"Historians are creatures of documents and precision."

I think a fair bit about how history will portray this particular era of chaos. One wonders what our grandchildren will think of us as they read through their social studies textbooks, which will hopefully pull no punches with regards to documentation. But it is worth thinking about the fact that we in the west have digested and accepted a certain "version" of history, be it the idea of Manifest Destiny in the USA, or the glossing over of the Japanese internment camps that were a part of World War II British Columbia. The very notion of the Thanksgiving holiday neglects to mention the eradication of aborignal peoples or their centuries long marginalization is yet another example, as is the fact that we rarely hear of the atrocities committed by Allied forces during WWI or II.

These things happened, but as it has been said, "history is written by the victors." Is whitewash too strong a word? Many countries idolize their histories, often for political reasons, and while our history is at least open to debate, it certainly is not the pinnacle of unbiased reportage that we envision it to be.

Nor do I think that the situation regarding historical accuracy is getting any better, particularily south of the 49th parallel, where bi-partisan politics seem to skew almost everything. Where one Congressman calls the Iraq war "an invasion" another calls it "a liberation." I know that history is not supposed to be subjective, but as events fade into a misty past and professors fail to (or refuse to) acknowledge their personal biases, one wonders if a certain 'revisionist' version of Iraq/War on Terror events will emerge, at least in some circles.

Furthermore, I want you to think about the focus of your social studies curriculum over your schooling years. If memory serves me correctly, we were repeatedly drilled on Canadian history, which is intertwined with Europeon (especially France and British) history. Occasionally we would get some unit on Brazil or Japan or (at least in my day) the good ole USSR. Our focus was remarkably North American or Euro-centric, leaving some significant gaps in terms of geographical coverage. I don't think that the schools should be required to cover every historical oddity that occurred in Ghana in 1934, but I think that as the world becomes figurtively smaller, the scope of historical analysis in our schools and society should continue to reflect and evolve in response.

History, at least when diseminated to the masses, often in junior and senior high, is often a watered-down version of events, and when students become adults, the factual accuracy of historical events, or even modern day occurrences, often is at the mercy of today's media, who often have their own mandate. Indeed, the National Post has a motto something to the effect of "It's not just the story, it's how you tell it." How the media tells a story, which has effectively supplanted your social studies curriculum, directly affects and alters our perspective on the issue, a perspective that may stay with our collective societal memory for decades, thus effectively shaping the way historical events are recorded in our collective conscious, effectively editing history.

While I admire Juan Cole, and wholeheartedly agree with the idea of historians chasing after theprecise and documented truth, I wonder how much of that academic truth ever trickles down into the media, much less gets past the prejudices and blind political allegiances that regular people carry with them. While historians may doggedly pursue accuracy, one only needs to look at the debates raging in Kansas and Pennsylvania over the teaching of intelligent desgin in the classroom to realize that the topics taught to the up and coming generation can be held hostage to ideologies and beliefs, often with the willful and deliberate exclusion of academic consultation.

I am sure that the Iraq war will be as controversial as the Vietnam war was when it comes to historical depiction. Those on the right will spin their version and those on the left will spin theirs. The truth, I suppose, is always in between the extremes, a gray shade of color. The details of any geopolitical issue, as evidenced in Cole's commentary on Shite versus Sunni versus Kurd issues in Iraq, are often complex and difficult to explain. If people are willing to follow their societal acceptances of history without questioning the details or the common views, then what chance does real truth have of ever breaking free of its academic shackles? At best, in the morass of the masses, the truth can only hope to survive in a watered down format, one so bland that its value is weakened and its lessons subject to generic catchphrases and cliches.

Perhaps the greatest threat isn't that people will be taught one version or another, or that history will only remember a watered down, socially acceptable account, but instead is the fact that after being taught one particular version, society cannot even concieve of any other possibility. While historians may be "creatures of documents and precision" the fact is that 99% of people aren't even amateur historians, much less academic ones, and thus are forced to accept what is presented as truth. If the average Canadian isn't a historian, then who is he/she to question an accepted and "documented" truth?

Charles Darrow wrote "chase after truth like hell and you'll free yourself, even though you never touch its coat-tails." Maybe that is the truth that Mr. Cole speaks of, the idea that those willing to look for truth will never know the entire story, yet they will be further ahead than those of us who blindly accept the vague and bland societal truths that have been, and continued to be, fostered upon us. Perhaps this goal, of chasing after truth like hell and still coming up short is, in the long run, pointless when one considers the law of averages and the willingness of the masses to accept an easy answer. But this search for true truth, the desire in a few hearts for a fair balance of understanding, is a noble one and must be applauded even if the audience is small and underappreciated.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 6:57 PM ~~ 2 bonsai trees

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

The impending (again) Canadian federal election will likely kick off this Tuesday, as opposition parties will table a non-confidence vote that will bring the Liberal minority government to a screeching halt, throwing Canada back into another federal election, the second in as many years.

Turnout for the last election was a shade over 60%, the lowest in a very long time (100 or so years if memory serves me correctly). It will be lower this time, probably in the 55-57% range.

The election runup will go as follows:

1. Mild to moderate noise until Christmas.
2. All quiet on the Christmas front.
3. Three weeks of US-style ad campaigns leading up to a January 16 or 23 election. It will be noisy, but people will tune them out.

So what are our options, the 55% or so of us that will actually vote?

The Liberal Party with Paul Martin
The default, anyone but Steven Harper, party. Old, tired, corrupt, and lacking any real vision. Have recently spent a lot of money on military and aboriginal issues, but that will be forgotten come January. AdScam will cost them votes in Quebec.

The Conservative Party with Steven Harper
Will do better this time around, thanks to AdScam, but with Steven "I'm as exciting as a plank of wood" Harper at the helm, will be relegated to the official opposition again. Count on some candidate or Ralph Klein, to make some racially/sexually inappropriate comment.

The NDP with Jack Layton
Socially conscious, but Jack Layton reminds me of your aunt's annoying little ankle-biter dog, yip-yipping around the big dogs. 3rd place.

The Bloc Quebecois with Gilles Duceppe
I can't vote for them, something I find amazing seeing as how they are a "federal" party. Clearly driven by the Quebec sovereignty movement, will do better this time around because of AdScam and it's portrayal of Quebec. May have more seats than the NDP. Maybe.

The Green Party with ???
Beats me. Probably will do better but won't land a candidate in the House of Commons.

There is a small chance that the Conservatives will form a minority government, but the sad reality is that no matter who forms the government, it will be a ineffectual minority and most likely will collapse in another 18 months. Perpetual election anyone?

I'm sure I will write more as this nonsense ramps up.

Time for brunch, mmmmm.

A sovereign thought, delivered to your door at 9:24 AM ~~ 2 bonsai trees

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