Thursday, June 29, 2006

Peace Process, or Not ...

There are times when I hear the words “peace process” and “middle east” within the same breath and a wave of nausea washes over me. It seems to be a reflex that has developed over years of having heard one thing and then, barely a moment later, being told that the first “something” that I heard is either entirely incorrect, or that the person (or organization) conveying the information is totally irresponsible for making the assertions encapsulated by that “something”. There is also the very real chance that there is something “new” to refute what has barely had a chance to be mulled over, having only been heard a few heartbeats ago.

Introduce the word “Israel” into the mix and I’m likely to fly into a screaming fit with bits of foam coming out of my mouth and other less mentionable things coming out of several other orifices. Don’t confuse this with being “anti-Semitic”, or even “anti-Israel” – neither is the case. I disagree with the policies of the “State” of Israel, and do not for one minute believe that Israel has the right to exist as a “Jewish Only” State. That, by definition, is state enforced racism and is wrong on so many levels a book (a library of books) could be written to explain the wrongness of that concept.

What drives me completely crazy – what drives me to distraction, and beyond – about Israel (and the “peace process”) is the seeming historical ignorance and insensitivity continuously displayed by the people in power in Isael. This is a group of people who, if you know anything about the history of the twentieth century and even the smallest amount about the persecution of the Jews during the decades that preceded the holocaust, you would expect that these leaders would go out of their way to get along with their neighbours.

Knowing what Jews have gone through in history, I would expect that the ones living in Israel (that any, anywhere) would be vocal supporters and advocates of living in peace with all faiths and ethnic groups, because when living under the Third Reich they were selected out of diverse groups and sent to their deaths, along with any others that had been labelled as the untermenschen, the “sub-humans”. The Nazis didn’t only exterminate Jews (despite what the historical revisionists would like us to believe), their proclivities for expressing their mass psychosis meant the deaths of numerous Poles, Soviets and other prisoners of war. The Nazi state also found pleasure in the destruction of the disabled (euthanasia), and the degenerates (the homosexuals), the gypsies and Jehovah's Witnesses. There were others, of course, but this just gives a tiny glimpse of the extreme evil that went into shaping the character of those who survived. Millions of concentration camp prisoners were killed through mistreatment, disease, starvation and overwork.

Killed is a word often used when describing the act of a person losing their life over the course of a conflict; but I believe it is too weak a word to effectively convey what transpired during the holocaust and what is going on today in the middle east. Murder, on the other hand, approaches the flavour of the acts. Genocide … now that word, even more than the previous two, seems more appropriate to generate the requisite outrage for the present situation taking place in Israel.

It would be very easy to post links to dozens of articles that purport to answer the question as to why things are the way they are in Israel, but in the end, I don’t really give a damn. I’m sorry, I really don’t. I don’t care why anyone goes to war; all that means to me is that there has been a failure in our species as we take a step backwards and resort to violence to settle problems that we should be able to settle through other means.

Does it matter to me that Israel is the “Jewish” homeland, and should be indivisible, a land given to the children of Israel by the Lord God Almighty as a fulfilment of Holy Scripture? You’re kidding, right? If it means that everyone can live there in peace, in an eternity of bliss, then absolutely. If it means that the State of Israel is going to fight over dusty tracts in the Negev desert (and other glamorous locals, suitable for postcards masquerading as images from the moon), NO.

Let’s get one thing straight before anyone starts goose-stepping over my burning effigy, I am not sitting here in lederhosen, smacking my lips over the possible demise over the Jewish state; on the contrary, while I do consider myself to be Jewish (on both sides of my family, for as far back as the eye can see), the last thing that I would ever consider myself is a Zionist. The idea that the Jews living in Israel cannot live peacefully with non-Jews only tells me one thing: the lessons of history were wasted.

It is worth noting the interspersed pictures in this post at this point. I will euphemistically call them (just to annoy people) “character building” for Israel, and anyone else who wants to look at history. The Nazis were not especially careful about their segregation of prisoners once they were inside the concentration camps. After the men and women were separated the likelihood of a Jew finding himself interred with a Pole was very likely. Gypsy and Russian. Untermenschen all, and that was the point.

Israel must learn – the world must learn – the lessons that the millions of lives lost gave us in terms that could not be made more eloquent with words: living in peace with your neighbour is a matter of life and death. If we do not get along with our neighbours we desecrate the memories of every life lost in the holocaust, of every child murdered, of every scream silenced by the hand of a cold-blooded killer. This isn’t about the desecration of some piece of cloth with a colourful pattern; it is the revisiting of violence upon those whose lives were extinguished by some of the most horrendous acts of tyranny.

When I was a child my parents taught me that being Jewish was more than being religious. This was a convenient thing since we didn’t go to synagogue (and since, in Sudbury, there wasn’t really much of a Jewish “community”), but that began the lessons on “being” Jewish. Visits to family in New York opened my eyes to the culture of the Jewish people, of the sights and sounds (both good and bad), of the many facets that went into making up the complex texture of the Jewish tapestry.

More than anything else, my readings of the history of what the world had gone through, and what Jews had experienced in particular, began to make me feel a closer connection to the generations of people who had gone before me. History always reminds me of my grandfather, a man who was enamoured with literature and the knowledge that books imparted to us. He would have said something like, “humanity is the pulse of history. In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past we must first become students of the past; we may then understand it and know precisely where the mistakes are that we are to avoid.”

Character building. The idea that you would have to go through the holocaust in order to be able to live with your neighbour in peace is an insane idea, or at least it should be … or is it? My question becomes, how can someone who survived such horrors support an overtly racist political system in Israel? Consider that in Israel today they are putting in place a system modelled after the former apartheid state of South Africa (modelled after the Canadian treatment of our Indigenous peoples population), which includes a wall that divides the land.

Does that sound like the action of someone who has learned the lessons of history? Someone that has had a character developed by hearing the words of their elders, recounting family histories, folk tales, anything that might convey a sense of morality?

Apparently not … and that makes me ask the question that I really don’t want to ask (it grieves me to ask, but to not do so would be irresponsible): I have to ask whether it is possible for a Jew to truly be a Jew while practising hatred of their fellow man; while denying the rights of others, and denying the opportunity of others to live in homes peacefully, without fear. People that have historically been disenfranchised, dispossessed, deported and exterminated should, more than anyone else, be willing to live in peace with their neighbours – regardless of their race or religion.

That is the real problem here: in Israel today the fight isn’t over anything as concrete as land, it is over something far more basic and fundamental in its importance to all involved: the conflict in Israel is over something that will never be resolved while man walks upon the face of the earth. The conflict is over religion.

Vladimir Lenin, born Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the leader of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution said, “religion was the opiate of the people”. It is very easy to see the truth of this statement is a time when people use religion as the reason for any number of atrocities, all in the name of a “merciful, loving, compassionate, peaceful” God. Of course, with 99 attributes for Allah alone, it is easy to see why religion can be such a divisive issue.

There is an opportunity in Israel for different people to show the world that peace is possible, that there is a different way than war. All they have to do is want it more than what they have right now. That may sound naïve, but it really isn’t as obtuse as it sounds. First, within the Israeli Defence Forces there have been incidences of soldiers and pilots refusing to follow orders when they feel morally opposed to what they have been commanded to do. This is proof that free will trumps the chain of command.

No more will we have to hear the defence, “I was just following orders.” If an officer orders a soldier to do something that the soldier recognizes to be inhumane, they are morally obliged to refuse to follow through. Similarly, the “neighbours” must do all that they can to ensure that the peace lasts from their perspective. This means that there has to be an absolute zero tolerance for any and all violence.

Nobody can go around blowing things up. Kids cannot go around throwing rocks at the IDF, and the IDF cannot fire bullets back when it is not a “proportional” response.

If they cannot live in peace, side by side, then they shouldn’t be living there at all. Period. I don’t care if they believe it is their homeland. That’s just a pile of crap: if you want to spill your blood on a pile of dust in a desert because of what the Bible/Torah/Qur’an says, then cut your wrist and get it over with quickly.

If you really want to satisfy God, live next to your neighbour and love them as yourself. If your neighbour’s house burns down, feed and cloth them, help them get back on their feet. Don’t be a neighbour, be a friend … you’ll find it’s very difficult to hate the neighbour that you know by name. In so doing you will both honour your God, and the memory of those who were murdered because of their faith. Israel can be a true memorial.

However, if your intent is to blindly follow the path of a religion that dictates to you that the “Holy Land” is the place for you and your people (alone) to live, then do the world a favour and remove yourself from it.

Throughout the history of the human race has there been a single example of where competing religions have helped resolve significant social issues? I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but of course I haven’t extensively studied this topic … and yet, would I be at all surprised if the answer was a resounding no?

Would it surprise me if the ultimate truth ends up being that religion is, like opium, a toxic poison to the system, and subsequently something that should be avoided at all costs? Not in the least. If religion gets people to see the land as something to share in peace, while they support each other in their daily lives, Hallelujah. Otherwise, no thanks, I’m not interested.

That is all I have to say for now … I’m sure I could go on, but it all boils down to one thing … a joke, in a way, that I told someone a while ago: how do you solve the problems in the middle east?
… no problem. Thus, “could this be where we are headed?”

Monday, June 26, 2006

The First Amendment, When Convenient

The right to free speech, the greatest of all freedoms (next to the right to posses a firearm so you can blow away your neighbor [sic]) is the latest freedom that the Bush administration wants to degrade in the name of National Security.

After the New York Times reported that the government was using financial records to search for terrorist activities last week the President and Vice President waited several days – yes, days, to respond, stating that the Times had made the “war on terrorism more difficult”.

Other republican mouthpieces stated that the editors, reporters and publishers of the Times should be charged for treason under the National Secrecy Act, and some other acts that they were sputtering about (it was all quite amusing).

In a way, the whole story would be quite amusing, if it weren’t true … and actually quite disturbing. It is almost as though the Bush administration is suffering from some sort of collective form of Alzheimer’s, forgetting that they were supposed to respond to the initial report by the New York Times. That was, by the way, last week. This is a new week … the week, by coincidence, that the Congress is going to start debating a flag burning amendment … now that should get the defenders of the constitution and Bill of Rights up in arms.

Good grief.

In Honour of Celia Franca

There are some people who cross your path and leave an impression unlike anything else. Celia Franca is that type of person. The founder of the National Ballet of Canada, Ms. Franca remains a fixture of the Canadian artistic community and a great supporter of the arts. She celebrated a milestone birthday on the 25th of October, and while it isn’t supposed to be polite to mention a ladies’ age, the press announced that Ms. Franca had turned 85 and would be honoured at the National Arts Centre this evening.

Any honours that they may decide to bestow upon her are inadequate. Celia Franca is a national treasure, and I am honoured to have met her on several occasions, and to have known her late husband, Professor James Morton (former first clarinet of the NAC Orchestra and professor at the University of Ottawa).

A biography of Ms. Franca can be found here.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Not Really Silent

The thought of posting something occurred to me at one point this weekend; then I realized that I had nothing to say (though I’ve noticed that this doesn’t seem to be an impediment to many bloggers). Thus began the struggle: what should I post on my blog?

Without actually posting something I discovered just how much time you could spend fooling around with “all things blog”, in the vain effort to make your blog as functionally perfect as possible (short of it doing the laundry, or cooking). What I found out is that it can be a time-sucking black hole, without end … if you let it.

The problem stems from that old saying, “keeping up with the Jones’s”, or, in this case, every one else in the world who happens to have a blog.

These “services” are mostly offered to the perspective blogger for free, and they are added to blogs (or websites) as enhancements of the pages. Of course, that is where the problems begin: as you surf the web (or blogsphere) and see these different “enhancements” you begin to burn with jealousy … you cannot face the fact that someone has something on their blog that you don’t have … (ok, I may be exaggerating, but this has to be interesting). Thus begins your search for how to add whatever the latest thingy is to your blog.

The latest enhancement; the latest bell, whistle, java-script, … well, you get the idea.

In a way, it is a bit like collecting badges as a boy scout: there is a competition to have more than the nerdy boy that lives down the street (note: I was never a boy scout. A cub scout, yes, but only for a short period of time, and I don’t recall if I had any badges). Some pages have so many “badges” you can’t figure out if they actually have articles on them, but they are fun to look through (and drive the jealousy factor through the roof).

So, I may not have been posting, but I’ve been … tweaking. Technorati and Flurl are but two of the new “thingy’s” that have become part of this blog (have I got them working? Right …). As the saying goes, more will be added as time goes on … stay tuned.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Other Walt Disney

Cartoons that were banned for being "too extreme" are still with us, reminding us that the rejection of the fascist message went beyond fighting the war in Europe. The ideology was recognized as an intellectual train-wreck on the road to one of the darkest periods in human history.

This is a dark cartoon, but it is something that is well worth watching.

Hitlers Children-Walt Disney cartoon (Banned)

This second video is funnier (oy!) but the message is still 100% there, and impossible to miss - Daffy at his best!

Another Wall to tear Down

Just as the debate of the wall in Israel is hitting a boiling point, the United States is deciding to expand the new feature between Mexico and the "land of the free, the home of the brave." The wall is designed to keep the unwanted out, but as Lewis Black points out, walls have their problems.

World Cup Picks: 22-06-2006

I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert when it comes to sports, or soccer, but it is a game I enjoy watching (and can honestly say I’m totally inept at playing it, but running isn’t much of my things anyway). The four games taking place on Thursday, June 22, feature the last games for the Group E & F teams. The following predictions were also e-mailed to DesertPeace at 1230h, just so you can be sure that this was written before the games took place.

If it turns out that I was wrong, I will not remove this post … it shall remain as a lasting reminder of my genius (if correct, as unlikely as that may be), or my folly (for thinking I could write something relevant about sports. The only follow-up that I will make to this article is to post the final scores, which I will post as a comment.

Czech Republic v Italy: While the Czech's have been scoreless, this final match (against the team that has to win to maintain it's first place standing in the group, which will enable them to avoid facing Brazil in the round of 16) will feature the Czech's first goal of the World Cup finals, but also their last. Look for Italy to win - my score Czech Republic 1 v 3 Italy

Ghana v U.S.A.: The only thing amazing about the way the United States has performed in Germany is how badly the team has played. In order to prevent Ghana from advancing (and assuming I'm correct about Italy and the Czech Republic), the United States will have to defeat the surprise from Ghana: but they won't. Their play thus far has not given any indication of a team with any "reserve" to draw on when they "really need it". This is the World Cup; you need "it" from the very first day. Look for Ghana to be the most excited African nation as they prepare to face first place Brazil in the next round (at which time they will be slaughtered by the Brazilians, who do have more to bring). My score: Ghana 5 v 2 U.S.A. (early American goals and ejections will cause the tides to turn).

Japan v Brazil: This one is so easy, it is almost too easy. Japan has the potential, but their focus has been suspect. Unfortunately, even if they managed to upset the favourites, it wouldn't help their cause. Japan is out of the tournament ... which makes them dangerous. Brazil, on the other hand, wants to shut the mouths of all the critics and arm-chair coaches. They are a great team with talent only limited by gravity and the laws governing the universe ... though there have been times .... My score, not that it matters: Japan 0 v 7 Brazil (it seems unheard of, but Brazil wants to end this part of the finals with an exclamation point).

Croatia v Australia: Desperation may be the key here as Croatia is acutely aware that they advance to the next round (and a possible date with Italy) if they win. To do so, however, will require something that they haven't had as yet: goals. Can they outplay the boys from Down Under? Yes, but will they ... that is the key question. In what may be (if it happens) the greatest upset of the tournament, Croatia will defeat Australia. My score: Croatia 2 v 1 Australia. One Aussie goal will raise the spirits, but alas, too little, too late.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Marketing Soccer to the World

There is a problem with soccer, one that must be addressed before it can be fully embraced by the part of the world it is desperate to break into: the game must be made more accessible to the action-addicted west. It isn't that soccer is not already a tremendously popular sport, it is. The estimates for the number of people that will watch the televised matches, around the world, exceeds 20 billion people, about five times the population of the world. No, soccer is not in trouble, and it certainly doesn't need to become more popular in North America, but it wants that popularity. The simple fact is that while the United States (and Canada) may only represent about 350 million people combined, the amount of wealth controlled by North America is substantial. By not being a success in North America, soccer is missing out on an opportunity to significantly increase the size of their coffers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm watching the Fifa World Cup and am enjoying every (most every) minute of this, the beautiful game. At the same time I can't help but wish that Canada, a country of thirty million people could have managed to field a team for these finals. After all, Trinidad & Tobago, with about one million people, managed to qualify. Why is that? Do we not have the athletic talent in this country?

Considering how well Canada has performed internationally in other sporting events it is easy to believe that there is an abundance of talent in this country. Take the recent Olympic Winter Games in Torino: At one-tenth the population of the United States, for example, Canada won 24 medals, while the United States won 25. Considering our size, that is an amazing finish, but it also demonstrates that there is more than enough athletic talent in this country to field a team of any sport. All that is required is the training, and the desire.

What is needed, however, is a game that the west will find more palatable. At the moment, from what I can see, the main thing that is standing in the way of soccer becoming the true "football" here is the attention span of the average American (& Canadian). With a soccer match having two, 45 minute halves, it would seem like the perfect game, but therein lies the problem. Each half is played without stoppage, save for the few pauses here and there where the referee gives out a card, or if a player needs to be treated for injury. Either way, if the game starts at 4:00pm, it's a pretty good bet that by 4:50pm the half is over.

Can you imagine the main commercial networks sitting there, not running a single commercial for fifty minutes? No commercials, no revenue. No revenue, no profit. No profit? Fat chance. But the solution is quite easy to see, and it would introduce an interesting element into the game as well: I would suggest that the game change so there are three "intervals" rather than two "halves"... (or periods, or even four fifteen-minute quarters). A thirty-minute interval followed by an intermission, with two "thirds" to go. Very much like the national sport of hockey.

The real issue remains that of revenue. Advertising is the lifeblood of television in the west, and with anywhere up to 22 minutes of commercials broadcast every hour, even this new version of soccer would fail to satisfy the major networks (which is why in hockey the play is interrupted in order for television to insert their beer-plugs, while the players skate around and the fans scream themselves silly trying to figure out why nobody is playing).

The solution for soccer is easy: embedded advertisements, which may sound something like this:

"Welcome to this National Soccer League game between the Labatts Suds and the Michelob Mists. It should be an exciting game today, here in Microsoft Washington Stadium.

"The action has begun. The Suds quickly take control of the Nikon Prismatic Ball, driving it towards the Boeing Michelob net, but they're turned back by a solid Trojan defense. Mists' player, Johnson "Pepsi" Williams heads the Polaroid Colourfast Ball towards the Suds' end.

"Oh, goalie Marko "Marlboro Man" McGee waits in front of the Lougheed Labatts net. The Yahoo Ball is passed over to Roja, who passes to Simpson and it's intercepted by "Pepsi" who heads the Hotmail ball into the Boeing Michelob net ... it's a Coca-Cola Goal!"

On second thought, maybe it's a good thing that soccer hasn't broken into the west the way it has elsewhere. It is called the beautiful game for a reason: no need to change something perfect. Or is there?

[Edited on 25/06/06. Text of fantasy soccer game changed. -p]

These kids from the Ivory Coast emulate their heros, playing in Germany '06.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


An article that DesertPeace posted on his blog resulted in the following reply, which I decided to post here. At the end of the next paragraph it mentions a poem that it reminded me of, which I wrote back in 2002. This is posted at the end of the message. Please go read the article at DP by clicking here (it will open in a new window). The article is about Israel covering-up the real cause of the deaths on a Gaza beach.

I am not sure what is sadder about this entire scenario: that the world (read: west) seems so apathetic to what is happening outside of its immediate sphere of influence that it doesn't want to know the truth, or that upon hearing the truth (on those rare occasions that it happens to trickle out one way or another), they find it too inconvenient to pay attention to (reminds me of a poem I wrote).

It would seem that if something is going to interfere with their enjoyment of their double-no-fat-frappachino with soy, not milk, well, that just won't do. That's the problem with the becoming aware of the ills of the world: it doesn't do you much good unless you try and do something about it. We find it very easy (here in the west) to turn a blind eye to what is happening in the middle east because we don't believe it will have a direct effect upon us.

The flipside of that is what happened five years ago. In a way, what Osama bin Laden and his friends did was to galvanize the world's focus on the middle east. I can guarantee that a single day won't go by without every western leader receiving a full and detailed briefing about what has happened in every major nation of the middle east (especially Israel, Iran and Iraq ... and Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon ... and ... well, you get the idea).

This is one of the main reasons that we need to strengthen the cry for a boycott of Israel and Israeli products. If you begin to have an effect on the economy while saying it's because of their policies towards the "Palestinian Question" (with due deference Marx), perhaps that's when Israel will be forced to look at what they are doing from a different perspective.

Some people say you can't force people to live as neighbours, I don't accept that at all. What we have to understand is that it isn't a race issue at all, nor is it an issue about land. It is an issue of ignorance and misunderstanding: what you do not know you are afraid of, and what you fear, you lash out at. Can you feel animosity towards the person living next to you after they have helped you carry your groceries or some other mundane act? It is the isolation we maintain as individuals (communication being made so available by this nice sterile environment called the internet) that we don't interact with the people living right next to us.

If you know your neighbours, know their hopes and dreams, know what their children want to be when they grow up (likely not Intifadah members or martyrs, but doctors, soccer players and rock stars ... just like anywhere else in the world), then you develop into something with them, regardless of whether you pray the same way: you become part of a community, and a community is about unity, not strife.

the poem ...

(In)Convenient Knowledge

With a single touch
great forces are harnessed
giving life to the devices
we take for granted

one person is carried
from one floor to another
by a machine – gears and pulleys
hydraulics — thousands upon
thousands of parts and pieces
coming together to carry us
when we are weary —
or cannot go any further — but —

on the other side of the button
there is a price
for such convenience
how often do we
allow ourselves to ask
the difficult questions?
or do we care — are we
unconcerned with the
cost of convenience —
the price that others pay
is so easy to push to the
back of the mind
(to study in obscure courses
in university that nobody really
pays attention to — do they?)

The people movers —
the Jumbo Jets and other planes
spewing out pollutants
to rescue those who can
afford to pay
from the drudgeries of
seasonal changes
(why have winter when you can
bask in the sun on a distant beach?)

— just make sure you
don't leave the resort and
explore the city —
see where the people who work in the hotels live
know where your money is going —
(and don't drink the water)
(what do they make the ice cubes from, anyway?)

You don't want to know�
really —
you don't
the price is too high
the ransom too great —
we cannot afford to pay
another day —
but we will
with blood money and
consciences seared by

Still another day will pass
without the hard questions being asked

Copyright 2002 / 2006 by Peter Amsel (SOCAN)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Yet Another Lie

Who cares about the environment? Do governments really have the best interests of their people at heart or are they trying to prepare for that time when they re-enter the "public sector", after their political careers have ended? Sadly, it would seem that this isn't as cynical as it would sound. Watch the video and be disgusted (not because it is gross, but because it is disgusting).

Thursday, June 15, 2006


WWJD - in the world of Christianity these four letters are used to represent the question "What would Jesus do?" Well, I'm not so sure, but I have a feeling he'd have likely drawn the line somewhere closer to the other side of this ... but, as they say, it's all good (or not).

Atmospheric Confusion

The Fifa World Cup is providing some great entertainment, and one of the only times that I watch sports (save for the other four-year sporting events, the Olympics). Ecuador just defeated Costa Rica by a score of 3-0, which in football is a thrashing — but what has compelled me to post something (it would have to be something really triggering if you know me, otherwise, the CrazyComposer writing about sports? right, not) was a comment that came from a BBC commentator before the beginning of the game, and then from one of the commentators after the game.

These brilliant analysts, who know far more about football than I do (which really isn't very much), came out with the comment that, "it would be difficult for Ecuador to win here in Germany, away from the rarefied atmosphere of Quito." At the end of the match the Ecuadorians had availed themselves with great aplomb, and consummate skill, and then another commentator said, "before the tournament began we dismissed as a team that could not win away from the 9,000 ft altitude of Quito, they've proven us wrong."

So, why am I writing? What could drive me to such distraction? Stupid people. I hear stupid people. When there are sporting events in locations that are at higher altitudes what happens to the human body? It doesn�t function as effectively. Why? As a result of the rarefied atmosphere, there isn't as much oxygen in the blood. Why should that be a problem? Well, it isn't much of a problem save for that oxygen is one of the key components necessary for our cells to keep running. The process is called aerobic respiration, and it is the foundation of life.

In rarefied atmospheres athletes will perform below the level that they trained at normally. To remedy this, elite athletes will train, at altitude, before the event in order to acclimatize their bodies to the altitude. Consider the difficulties that athletes had at the 1968 Olympic Summer Games in Mexico City. At only 7,349 ft above sea level these were the highest games in history, and they posed severe problems for the athletes. Those who took the time to train at altitude excelled, those who didn't, sucked wind (or tried).

Since the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City were at 4,226 ft above sea level some athletes went to train in high altitude areas, including the Alps, to gain an advantage over their opponents. They did this to improve their overall form and in order to work on their stamina so that they would be able to better metabolise the oxygen at the lower altitude. Others went to greater extremes.

At 9,000 ft above sea level Quito is one of the extremes in human geography, but knowing what we know about the Sherpas who regularly trek up Mount Everest and live in the rarefied atmosphere of Nepal, there are physiological differences in the peoples of extreme altitudes. In order to survive at such heights the human body adapts to metabolise the rarefied oxygen more efficiently, which prevents Sherpas from falling off the mountains as they traverse the trails.

As you go down the mountain, the atmosphere becomes denser and the availability of oxygen becomes greater. This means it becomes easier for the people of high altitude to get the building blocks of energy into their system — it takes them less energy to get moving.

The moment I heard that Ecuador was playing Poland, last Friday I knew they would thrash them. While I cannot say I'm a "fan" of Ecuador (in the sense that I don�t have team posters on the wall), if they win the World Cup I'd be thrilled — especially after being summarily dismissed by the "experts". This morning's game was the clincher: while watching these guys play it was amazing, they seemed to have boundless energy while the Costa Ricans (sea level) were whipped — I wonder why (you want football fans? here, these are real football fans - PG13, some ... well, see for yourself ... some enthusiastic young women).

Considering that the commentators have been going on and on about the heat at this World Cup (the poor British, they drank about 17 litres during their first game and lost about ten pounds each), you would think that they would have made the connection between the guys from Quito and the possibility that their abilities might just be enhanced by the thicker air of Deutschland.

On another football note —

Oh well — perhaps my expectations are too high. Even so, the British are about to face off against Trinidad & Tobago, the team that has to win the "Heart" award after their 0-0 tie with Sweden on June 10. As the final whistle was blown the players of Sweden acted as though they had just lost the final game of the World Cup rather than the first while the players from Trinidad & Tobago were celebrating as though they had just won the final.

That is what this game is about: Heart. A team that is not given a prayer to win, a team ranked 47th that is making its debut in the World Cup. They are so thrilled to be at the tournament that to not lose their first game is a victory. Watching the game was a joy for the simple reason that it reminded me of when I was very young and used to watch hockey on an old black & white television in my bedroom.

At the end of the careers of Ken Dryden and Guy Lafleur, and the beginning of the Gretzky dynasty watching Hockey Night in Canada meant you could see a game, not a fight with some skating. I gave up watching hockey when there was more blood on the ice than the red line, and players began keeping track of penalty minutes like a badge of honour.

Trinidad & Tobago returned me to that time where the game was played out of passion — "for the love of the game", as they say. Hopefully this will be the case when England is the opponent — I certainly hope so. Oh well — at the half it is a scoreless tie. Enough already — I'm ending here.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

This is amazing - after posting the previous thing I went back to IFilm and look what I found. Old Dubya, singing his heart out, though I'm not so sure Bono would be all that impressed.

The performance lacks the wailing guitar solo provided by the Edge, but, with Dubya providing the vocals I guess you can't be picky. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

New Feature: Video

In an effort to keep things exciting, and to give everyone an excuse to keep checking back here as often as possible (and to feed the delusion that there are actually people that regularly read what I'm writing and posting here ... besides my mother, when she's not home, and a few others who shall remain nameless but well loved), a new feature has been added to this blog: videos! Yes, you read correctly, there are now mini-movies available, for free, at the bottom of any main-page of this blog. It is called "IFilm" which offers free videos from their site, and from their nifty little applet as well (there - I used the word "nifty" and "applet" in the same sentence ... I'm officially a computer nerd).

On this occasion I have posted the applet here, but it is also permanently embedded into the bottom of the page.

So, when you return (who says I�m not optimistic?) please scroll down to the bottom of the page to start watching the videos (there are less posts on the page to make scrolling easier as well).

Y'all come back now, ye'hear!

What Price Peace?

Since the world witnessed the massacre of innocent civilians in villages during the war in Vietnam, war has had a flavour that has inexorably changed the way the west wields its power. One would hope that this would mean that any war fought after Vietnam would have been careful to avoid the inclusion of the civilian population, particularly if a western nation was involved and they were interested in public opinion supporting their efforts. But that is not what happened. We just have more colourful language to describe what happens to the poor bastards who are unfortunate to find themselves (or their family/property/etc.) in the paths of the instruments of destruction used by the war mongers as they fulfil their megalomaniacal plans.

Collateral Damage� is the euphemism favoured by the Hawks who are so pleased by the �pinpoint accuracy� offered by modern munitions, launched from weapons platforms that cost as much as the what some third world nations spend on health care � for the year.

Israel targeted two men with missiles. While this may have been a legitimate target (the fact that they attacked them during the day, in a residential area, shows an incredible lack of insight and contempt for human life � but that�s another point for another time), the attitude is appalling: Yes, the targets were successfully eradicated, but at what cost? With over thirty civilian wounded and eleven deaths, with the possibility of more to come, this is difficult to look at as anything less than a criminal act.

Given there are witnesses stating that a second missile was fired after the destruction of the target, when a crowd had begun forming around the wreckage � including people involved in attempting to offer rescue assistance, it seems difficult to believe that the second missile was fired to ensure that the vehicle carrying the targets was destroyed (there isn�t a single weapon carried by the F-15 [the mainstay of the IDF] that, when fired at a vehicle, wouldn�t destroy it completely if it hits it � including the Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick infrared-guided missiles or the M-61A1 20mm Gatling gun installed in the right wing root, which can fire between 4,000 and 6,000 shots per minute).

A second missile could only have been fired for one reason: to inflict damage (unless the pilot was under the influence of some mind-altering substance, in which case it is unlikely that they would have been able to fly the jet). If that is the case, there is only one thing that should happen: the pilot that fired the second missile as well as the commanding officer that ordered the firing should be brought before a War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

This isn�t a matter of being �anti-Israeli� or �anti-Semitic� � it is about being fair. One of the news reports you linked to described people having bullet fired back at them after throwing rocks. That isn�t a reasonable response to violence; it is an escalation, especially when you know the people with the guns have �less-lethal� ammunition available to them (though that doesn�t question the wisdom of throwing rocks at armed individuals, but that is another issue).

If Israel is going to continue to insist that it cannot live as a multicultural land they will have to become honest about their intent to ethnically cleanse the land of the Palestinians, for that, it seems, is what they are doing. We are not talking about subtle acts here, but rather the broad handed strokes of a sword-wielding hand as it beheads an innocent victim.

How many more heads must roll before the world has enough, before the sand runs red with the blood of the innocents?

Enough is enough.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More than Bad Aim

Now I know why I don�t like watching the news. There never seems to be something that is guaranteed to raise my blood pressure more than a few points (I�m talking enough points to make the blood vessels on my head begin to throb painfully here, folks, really seriously nasty stuff). It would seem that today was no exception � I knew I shouldn�t have looked, but the World Cup (oh, sorry, the FIFA World Cup) is on, and I wanted to see if there were any interesting headlines relating to this wonderful event.

Instead, I found that there had been an � unfortunate incident � a euphemism for something really bad � in, where else, Israel.

This shouldn�t really surprise anyone with an IQ above, well, groundwater � but it is nevertheless upsetting. It isn�t upsetting because it is unexpected, but rather because it is so unnecessary. There is no reason for this violence to be taking place.

This most recent situation is a case in which Israel has crossed the line. An air strike against militants driving on a road in Gaza launched a rocket attack that ended up killing seven civilians, two of which were children.

Always looking to justify their actions, the IDF indicated that the militants were going to launch Katyusha rockets against southern Israel, so this was a pre-emptive act. Unfortunately, the witnesses said that several missiles were fired at the car, one of which found its mark. Herein begins the real tragedy � and crime. According to the witnesses, another missile was launched after the initial attack � after the car was hit (the target) � after a crowd had begun to gather around the scene of the attack.

Some of those gathered were medical employees who were on their way to see if they could help in any way. They were killed, as was a father and son. Innocent civilians.

Do I need to say that they were Palestinians? Is that even important? Well, I don�t think it matters � the dead and injured could have all been tourists from China � but we all know it was Gaza; therefore they were Palestinian.

Perhaps someday we will have advanced enough as a species to be able to live together regardless of our differences. Someday.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Changing Thoughts, Changing Minds

I'm trying an experiment with my blog ... so, if you are one of my regular readers (the hundreds of thousands of you waiting with baited breath to read my latest thoughts), I apologize if this isn't what you were expecting. Then again, I doubt that any of my posts would qualify as being anything that anyone "expected" of me ... but that's neither here nor there for now (though I do suspect that some of you are now wondering about whether or not I�m delusional ... well, don�t expect me to tell you!).

The point of this, for now, is to try and present something more - genuine. Something that provides a bit more insight into the phenomenon that I often refer to as my life (for lack of anything better to call it).

Today (the Friday portion) was quite interesting, and tiring. The hospital presented a guest lecturer from the UK who spoke about the use of Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy in the treatment of individuals with Schizophrenia and active psychosis. Dr Turkington (from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England) demonstrated that there was a far higher rate of recovery (and compliance to treatment programs in general) when the people experiencing severe symptoms were treated with a combination of medication and CBT as opposed to relying solely upon the medication.

The most significant thing that seemed to come out of the presentation was something that Dr Turkington said within the first few minutes of his talk. As he described his early training as a psychiatrist he said that (paraphrased), "we were told to ignore what the patients [with schizophrenia] were saying while experiencing their delusions. What I discovered over time, however, was that there seemed to be something about what they were saying and it usually related to what they were experiencing."

In essence, he discovered that it was important to listen to the patient and to not be immediately dismissive of what might be said merely because it is couched in the language of illness. When the core of the delusion or the paranoia is examined, when it is possible to seek the root of the issue, that is when it is possible to take some control over the thoughts and feelings that are causing difficulties.

It is a lesson that is not only relevant to people with serious mental illnesses.

The idea behind Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy is quite simple, which is why it is so helpful to so many people. The essence of CBT focuses on our ability to change the way we think about something. When we have a thought (say, for example, after seeing something) certain things happen. Our brain takes the image as we formulate the thought, then we have a "feeling" about what we have just seen, and our bodies can also have a physiological response (if we see something scary, for example, we may experience a sudden rush of adrenaline as our bodies prepare us to run away from a perceived danger). So, when I saw the woman at the coffee shop my thought was, "she's beautiful", and everything felt all "warm and fuzzy" (get your minds out of the gutter - it's a quick example).

Most important to the idea of Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy is the idea that we can change our thinking. I like to think of it in terms of "short circuiting" a process, or interrupting the thought process that leads us astray.

First we must be cognizant of our thoughts - but this is an easy enough habit to get into - paying particular attention to "hot thoughts", those thoughts and feelings that "trigger" things in us that aren't necessarily things we want to happen. When we notice this, we consciously change our response - we rewrite our internal dialogue to something more appropriate for the time. A good example of this would be my reaction to spiders. I have never liked spiders ... some who know me well would laugh at that, having heard me scream on more than one occasion when I have had the misfortune of encountering one of these eight-legged creatures as its life intersects with mine.

No more. Over the past several years I have managed to train myself to not have that reaction to spiders. It isn't the greatest accomplishment, but it is the result of CBT. Anytime I saw a spider I would say to myself that "it couldn't hurt me, it doesn't want to hurt me, I have nothing to fear, ... and etc." While I'm not about to get myself a pet Tarantula, I can say that it is quite nice not to be so fearful of a little bug - for no good reason.

As powerful as our brains are, we must remember that mental health is a precarious balance. Hearing voices, one of the hallmark symptoms of schizophrenia, is actually experienced by about 20 percent of the population. The difference here is that most people do not find the phenomenon to be a troublesome enough that it interferes with their ability to function. At the same time, scientists have demonstrated that it is possible to induce a psychotic break in an otherwise healthy individual - after only two hours. How? By using a sensory deprivation tank.

The sensory deprivation tank is quite interesting - for the first few minutes, apparently, it is quite relaxing. It seems that our brains are able to expand into the nothingness and find solace, for a time. After that time has ended, however, the bad things started. In the end, after only about two hours, it was discovered that sensory deprivation could precipitate what we would perceive as a mental illness.

Two hours: That is how close anyone is to insnity. The time it would take to listen to Beethoven's sixth and ninth symphonies, and then ... madness. Can you imagine that? Of course you can't, it isn't the type of thing we should imagine, and yet we ignore so many of the people who have to live with this every day of their lives, and they can't make it go away just by pretending they are healthy - it doesn't work that way. Similarly, they can't be expected to learn how to apply the techniques of Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy on themselves when they haven't received some guidance from someone who has professional training in this area.

The most impressive thing that Dr Turkington had to offer regarding the success of CBT in the UK had to do with the bottom line, and for this reason alone we should be seeing CBT used as primary treatment option in conjunction with medications. It was shown that when CBT was used, the length of stay in hospital was shorter and there was a greater amount of time between relapse (with shorter hospitalizations after).

With the state of our health care system being what it is today we can ill afford to ignore strategies that has the potential to save the system substantial amounts of money by preventing prolonged inpatient stays. CBT is a treatment that allows a patient to live with dignity as they struggle against their demons, knowing they are not alone and that their fight is one that they don't have to face in isolation.

Now all we need is a government - a Ministry of Health - that is able to see beyond the end of the day and recognize that health care must be an investment - an investment in the people that provide the care and in those who receive it - one that pays out dividends that cannot merely be tallied in a column in some accountants papers.

Just remember, you are only two hours away from madness.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Shadow War

Shadows dance on paths, littered
with the refuse of a forgotten generation.
Laughter�dying as jokes, retold, lose
their humour.
What vicious games they play,
preying on the weak�exploiting
any advantage.

Walking on the back of another as easily
as if it were a garden path.
A generation�without a conscience,
a generation that is barely conscious�.

Waiting for a wake-up call�but it never comes.
You have to want to change �
no one will do it for you �
no one wants to.

The Shadows dance on the cracked
walls of deserted houses�vacated
by the cold of heart and visionless
soldiers and Generals of unending wars.

The Shadows dance upon their graves,
leaving a reminder:
mistakes not remembered
are doomed
to be
repeated �.

� 2006 by Peter Amsel

Boycott not Anti-Semitism

The recent call to boycott the State of Israel by the Ontario leg of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has been called an act of anti-Semitism. Critics of the boycott include the Anti Defamation League and other Jewish organizations, while the official arguments state that Israel has the right to defend itself against the attacks from Palestinian extremists. The only problem with that is that it doesn�t differentiate between defending against an attack and an active policy of apartheid (CBC article here).

Why is it seemingly impossible for Israel to exist in peace with a citizenship of mixed peoples? Could it be possible for people from diverse faiths to live side by side without going to war? It isn�t as though this doesn�t already happen, in the country that is making the headlines. Here in Canada you can walk through any city and see people from Somalia, Egypt, Italy, and a dozen other countries, all living and working together - in peace. Why is that such a difficult thing to duplicate? Is the idea of respecting others, giving people the dignity that we all desire to receive something so difficult to comprehend that we are willing to die in ignorance, watching our friends and family die because of a hate that is older than memory itself?

Apparently some people are. Some people would rather see their world destroyed rather than share it with their enemy. They would rather die than share the land that has been �given to them�, not to share, but to hold onto themselves - even if it costs them their very lives, or the lives of their families. We must ask ourselves the question then, is land worth so much that it is worth giving up countless lives? Is the idea of retaliation becoming such that if one side kills one the other side must kill ten, and destroy the neighbourhood where the enemy came from?

That is not retaliation, it is escalation. The present state of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians treats them no better than the way the minority whites in South Africa treated their black neighbours under the system of apartheid. Is it any wonder that Israel was one of the supporters of the apartheid state? Their visions for the internal pacification of any troublemakers was remarkably similar.

That the call for a boycott of Israel could be called anti-Semitic is laughable when you consider the single most abhorrent move by the State of Israel in recent memory: the wall. During the second world war the Nazis made the Jews of Warsaw build a wall around the ghetto that they had been forced to move into. This intensely despised wall was a focal point for an oppressed population that eventually found the courage to oppose their enemy. Even though their cause was hopeless and there were very few survivours, the lessons should have been universal: it is wrong to imprison a population within a ghetto.

Segregation is wrong. Racism is wrong.

To boycott Israel is to say that you disagree with their actions, not that you are an anti-Semite. To condemn Israel is to condemn the nation, not the people. Just as we know that not every German that lived during the time of the second world war was a Nazi, not every Jewish person is a Zionist. Jews were exterminated regardless of whether or not they went to Synagogue, or kept Kosher: for the Nazis, Jews were defined by the blood that ran through their veins, not only their outward appearances.

After facing annihilation wouldn�t you think that it would be virtually impossible for Jews to have anything to do with racism and racist state policies? I have never understood how we, as a people, could ever consider accepting the way non-Jews are treated in Israel as something even remotely approaching fair. How is it fair that people who work in Jerusalem sometimes cannot get to their places of employment because they aren�t Jewish? People who have to live in certain areas because of their ethnic background - when has that ever been something that is even remotely acceptable in an enlightened society?

If being critical of the way Israel treats the Palestinians is anti-Semitic, then there are going to be plenty of anti-Semitic Jews out there - which just shows how foolish the argument is. By not opposing the actions of the new Apartheid State we share in the complicity of their crimes, as surely as though we had helped build the wall with our own hands.

To tear down the wall, to send a message for peace, we can show Israel that the world is watching and willing to withhold the financial supports that have allowed Israel to become the flower blooming in the desert.

Enough blood has been spilled in the desert, for all generations.