Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You Know

tears of sadness, and of joy
when you do not know from whence they come
is there anything that you should do?

shouts of pleasure, screams of fear
resound throughout days and nights,
mingling with the soundscapes of civilization
seamlessly becoming a part of life
forcing us apart from life

who really knows what they hear
when a cry for help is answered
with silence …
with the apathy that has been mastered
by this species

we are taught that man is superior than others
accused of being “civilized” and “enlightened”
yet we manage to live
apart from life

sequestered from reality
ensconced within impenetrable cells
protecting us from what may come …
should we be stricken by a moment of consciousness
or conscience

what will happen if that cry for help
answered with silence
is one summoned from deep within ourselves
screams for help … crying out in anguish
alone while surrounded by
countless empty souls

we can’t wait forever
we can’t wait for you to decide
that the cause is worthy – worthy of more than
a headline in your papers
littering the land of the free,
the brave,
the land of the deaf and of the people
who pray to their God
to win their wars
to destroy their enemies … and yet …
is there a prayer left for our children
their cries unheard as they are killed in the streets

murdered with your weapons
bombs you sent to the land
where you refuse to hear
the cries of children as they are torn apart
shredded by the shrapnel
their blood flowing into the sand …

but you know all that
you have been told
by countless appeals and speeches
by diplomats and derelicts
each adding their cries of outrage
to the soundscape of civilised debate
the language of diplomacy
their only weapon … words,
the cries of fear, pain and agony,
falling on deaf ears

what must be done is asked
again and again
a generation of diplomats
replaced by another
but you know
what must be done
as you wash the blood from your hands …
your inheritance and legacy

perhaps one day
you may see
just how it feels
to watch your children
dying before your eyes
counted amongst the
casualties of a “justified” war

when your streets flow with streams of
tiny coffins
will you know what to do
to stop the deaths?

when your streets run with the blood of innocents
will you know what to do
to staunch the flow?

you will know …
you already do

by the CrazyComposer (aka Peter Amsel),
©2006 by Peter Amsel (SOCAN)

Benediction and Indictment:

This poem is dedicated to all the children and innocent victims of wars, especially in the recent conflicts between the Israel, the IDF and Lebanon, with Hezbollah in which the IDF and Israel are fully backed by the United States of America. There is no “right side” in this conflict – there is no winner. Innocents are being slaughtered and nobody with the clout to effect real change has demonstrated the intestinal fortitude to do so. The administration of the U.S. government is jointly culpable for every innocent life taken in this conflict so long as they refuse to condemn the actions of state sponsored terrorism … without even touching on the issue of Iraq (or any other nation that has been “blessed” by the influences of the liberating forces of America).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Reality Check for Canadian Prime Minister

The Right Honourable
Stephen Harper

As it has been in the past, and shall no doubt be again in the future, there is once again an instance where a major political figure (if Canada’s prime minister can be considered that … ok, stop laughing) is in need of a serious reality check. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised … well, to tell the truth, I may have exaggerated, just a tiny bit. Actually, in all honesty I’m not. Quite frankly, it’s taking every bit of self-control for me to not spit-up my coffee all over my keyboard … but it’s good coffee, and I don’t really want to buy a new keyboard at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong though, my exaggeration has absolutely nothing to do with the latest acts of our glorious PM and his seeming ability to walk around in a world of his own (this wouldn’t be too much of a problem save for the fact that his world bears striking little resemblance to the real world which is, alas, the one that everyone else, including his constituents, live). The problem has reared its head through an article published today in a Canadian Press article about the prime ministers trip to Hanoi for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

The headline of the article is actually what caught my attention at first: “Harper declares his government has a gutsier style on the world stage”, but the story itself is well worth reading.

The first thing that jumped out was something that I had heard on the radio while still in bed this morning. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC Radio, and television for that matter, for those non-Canadian’s out there … the equivalent to the U.S. NPR, or the U.K. BBC) news broadcast that I was listening to when I had finally shaken the sleep from my head was covering the APEC summit in great detail (well, our PM is there … it IS news!).

One of the things that I remember having heard was that Prime Minister Harper had met with the Chinese President, but was only able to raise the issue of the case of an imprisoned Chinese-Canadian in Beijing to have the issue dropped without further discussion. The reason? The Chinese government do not acknowledge that this individual, named Huseyin Celil, has a Canadian citizenship, and is therefore protected under any treaties or consular protections offered to other individuals. Since Celil is a naturalized Canadian when he returned to China he was arrested and detained there under Chinese law (which doesn’t recognize “dual citizenship) with the Chinese government ignoring all requests for access from the Canadian consul.

Huseyin Celil
So, the CBC reported that the issue was a dead rock. Not touched. Not broached. What was Harper’s view of things? Not quite the same … not quite at all:
“Harper pointed to a brief, informal meeting he had with Chinese President Hu Jintao at a reception the night before as evidence of his forcefulness. The two leaders were among 21 gathered in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

He said he raised the case of a Chinese-Canadian, Huseyin Celil, imprisoned by Beijing without access to consular assistance. A few days earlier, he had pressed the Vietnamese prime minister on human rights, including press and religious freedoms.

“We've had very frank discussions with a wide range of leaders, including although it was not a very long discussion, a very frank discussion with President Hu of China - a distinct impression, if I may say that, that the Chinese aren't used to that from a Canadian government, but I can't speak for them,” Harper said at the end of the APEC gathering.”
This idea of a Canadian government being more “frank” in their discussions with others is what fed the delusion that Prime Minister Harper’s version of government was “gutsier” than the previous versions. It is this idea that I find not only amusing but, in all honesty, quite frankly, disturbing. It is amusing simply because this “gutsier” government of Prime Minister Harper is a minority government and the PM is well aware of the fact (a fact, mind you, not a theory, not a conjecture; not an hypothesis nor a suggestion, an actual bona fide fact) that there is absolutely nothing that can be accomplished by his “government” without the cooperation of at least one of their political opponents in the House of Parliament.

Prime Minister Harper is also quite cognizant of the fact that the only reason the Liberals haven’t forced a vote of non-confidence in the House is simply because they haven’t had their Leadership Convention, which will take place at the beginning of December, in Montreal. The “grace period” that the Conservatives have been enjoying had been a gift as a result of the resignation of Paul Martin as leader of the party, otherwise it is not likely that this government would have lasted more than ninety days (though the voter backlash for having another election so soon would likely have resulted in a Conservative majority, but that’s another story).

One of the other things, according the prime minister that qualifies as being “gutsier” has to do with his position on other world events:
“The prime minister also alluded to his public statements at previous international gatherings. At the Francophonie Summit in September, Harper insisted that the other leaders acknowledge the plight of not just Lebanese citizens embroiled in the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict, but also of Israeli victims.”
Harper insisted that other leaders acknowledge the plight of the Israeli victims. Now, as you know, I am Jewish, and my father lives in Jerusalem, so I have a vested interest in there being a “peace in the land”. At the same time, I cannot ignore simple facts: one cannot have a victim without having an aggressor. When you answer a stone with a bullet, a bullet with a bomb, an unguided ‘model rocket’ missile with precision munitions and airs strikes that kill 11 members of a family that had nothing to do with anything, you are NOT on the same level with those whom you are fighting.

Israel’s “war against terror” is entirely lopsided. The only way it could be more in favour of the IDF would be if they used tactical nuclear weapons against the Hezbollah rocket sites. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that the United States hasn’t surreptitiously dropped a few MK-33’s into a “care” package addressed to the IDF c/o Olmert and said, “here, guys, be done with it already”. Considering that the U.S. is pathologically incapable of demonstrating the intestinal fortitude necessary to say that Israel’s actions are not acceptable, I don’t understand why giving them a few nukes should be a problem. Where is the ethical dilemma for the nation that started a war against the country that had absolutely nothing to do with the largest terrorist attack to have taken place on their nation’s soil?

By the way, as an historical aside (and since it gives me a chance to talk about nukes – which I NEVER get to do), here is a small bit about TNA shells. Tactical nuclear artillery shells were designed by the United States as early as 1953, for deployment in against the “Western Front”, the likely incursion point in Europe where the “Red Menace” would make its move against the free peoples of the western democracies on “this side” of the iron curtain. Several models were developed over the decades, though thankfully they were never been (in one dark historical blemish Richard Nixon considered their use against the North Vietnamese in 1969, but someone had the presence of mind to convince him that this wasn’t the best way to make a name for himself in the history books … I guess he wanted to be the second American president to commit mass murder … oh well, he had his chance … so, in order to make a name for himself he turned to larceny).

The fact that these used to be in the hands of second level field commanders during the Cold War is a chilling fact indeed, especially when you consider the potential yield of these weapons. The very first model produced, which bore the moniker “W-9” began its production in 1953 and had a yield of 15 Kilo tonnes of TNT, which happens to be the same yield as the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

Hiroshima, after "Little Boy"
Now, think about this for a moment: in 1945 it took the USAF’s most powerful aircraft, the B-29 Superfortress, to deliver the first atomic “devices” to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These first bombs were so heavy that they had to strip all of the “extras” out of the B-29’s … things like the extra defensive guns and such, nothing too important. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima, “Little Boy”, weighed in at a mere 8,900 pounds while the bomb that was delivered to the residents of Nagasaki, “Fat Man” was a plutonium device and weighed in at an impressive 10,300 pounds.

The W-9 only weighs about 800 pounds and could deliver the same punch as the bomb weighing 8,900 pounds, and yet this is dwarfed by the latest in American advancements in the art of mass destruction.

The W-79 (the "neutron bomb)
The W-79, which is stockpiled today (there are 550 in storage … somewhere) has two variants, one of which is called the “pure fission” mode, or “enhanced radiation”, otherwise known as the “neutron bomb” – something that Israel would be particularly interested in as it would only kill the people without harming the structures (for a change). This is also a perfect weapon for Israel as it has variable yields. It can be “dialled back” to 100 tonnes of TNT to as much as 1.1 kilo tonnes. A blast the size of Hiroshima in Israel would probably not go over too well, but this shell could solve all of their problems, real quick.

You see, it is this kind of delusional thinking that gets people into trouble. The very idea that the use of tactical nuclear weapons is something should be even remotely considered is tantamount to having committed mass murder yourself; it doesn’t really matter if you have personally murdered anyone, just having conceived an idea as heinous as that is tantamount to committing the act. There is no way in the world that we can solve problems with the use of these weapons and the fact that the United States is still maintaining a stockpile of them indicates that they aren’t really as interested in creating an atmosphere of “world peace” as they are of maintaining an attitude of intimidation by acting like the school-yard bully, walking around with a .44 Magnum in their back pocket.

The fact that Canada’s prime minister doesn’t have the guts to stand up and say that Israel has been killing innocent civilians is indicative of the fact that the headline to the Canadian Press article was a journalistic play on words: this government is gutless. They are afraid of doing anything that may, God forbid, cause a controversy, or lose them some of their precious donations. Harper knows that if he is critical of Israel he will lose the support of the “pro-Israel” groups in Canada. What he doesn’t realize is that he would gain the support of all the “anti-Israel” groups (who likely outnumber the former by quite a few).

Quite frankly, I hope he doesn’t figure this out for himself; I’d rather not see him get elected – again. As the rest of the Canadian Press article continued to unfold there were more and more examples of how this man exists in a world that seems to have no relationship with the realities that the rest of us experience (is this a prerequisite for political life?).

What the Canadian Press story continued to report regarding the interactions between Prime Minister Harper and the Chinese President Hu Jintao is quite telling on its own, and is enough to prove it all: Harper had previously said that he hoped for a bilateral meeting with the Chinese president, but while travelling to Hanoi he said that the Chinese had withdrawn the offer to meet.

As CP reports it there is a slightly different “spin”, as they say:
“[But] Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters earlier Sunday that they had never planned such a meeting. Hu met with at least six other leaders in the 30-to-60 minute one-on-ones. A Hong-Kong based reporter tried to ask Harper a question about being snubbed by China, but he walked away.”
So, one man’s perception of an event is that there was to be a meeting – one in which I’m sure tremendous things would have occurred, and yet, according to several others, no such meeting was planned. How can this be true? Is it some grand conspiracy to make an intelligent, wise international diplomat appear the fool? Well, one would first have to be a wise, international diplomat … and a fool hath not to be made what he already is, though practice doth make perfect ones craft.

“There is something rotten in Denmark,” the Bard would have said, though in this case it is in Hanoi.

If our prime minister can attend a conference with other world leaders and not know whom he has spoke with, and what the topics of discussion were covered, how on earth can he be trusted with the running of the government, something that takes the full faculties of an individual (ok, a questionable statement, but one hopes).

The best came at the end of the article, where our prime minister once again demonstrated his disdain for the Fifth estate … that damn media and the rights of the citizenry to know what their elected officials are up to whilst traipsing about the world:
Harper's staff also blocked Canadian journalists from attending all but the first of Harper's public activities, even while foreign media were present or invited.

“I think if you're going to have frank discussions with other leaders, then you know, except obviously for the broad objectives you're trying to pursue, I think the details of those discussions have to be private,” Harper said. “If you run out of private discussions every 10 minutes and give a play-by-play of everything that was said, nobody will have a frank discussion with you.””
Well, that says it all, doesn’t it: if your government, and its practices have to be transparent, there is no way it will be able to function … and others won’t want to work with you either. It is a statement about our prime minister, but also of those “others” and the nations that they represent.

God bless democracy and the freedom it has granted us all.

Thank you for reading

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Duty of a Citizen

Contemporary society has developed into one in which expectations run high: we expect a great deal from a vast number of things, especially when it comes to things relating to our governments and what they are supposed to do for us, but what about what we are supposed to do - what are the duties, if any, of a citizen? What of the famous words uttered by John F. Kennedy, when he said, “ask not what your country can do for you– ask what you can do for your country.” These words were spoken on January 21, 1961 during his inaugural address, as he became the 35th president of the United States. They are words that still resonate after nearly forty-five years, but are actually listening to what was said?

If we are to believe that the words spoken after what is described as the bloodiest period in American history, the Civil War, by president Abraham Lincoln hold any meaning and have passed down a lesson to the present generations it is also to say that those who died, the dead that Lincoln is invoking in his text, are still being honored by the fact that a lesson learned means there is something gained. At the dedication to the cemetery at Gettysburg Lincoln closed his short comments with the following lines: “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”

The words have, obviously, made an impression on western society in general, which is why we hear such terms as "civic duty" tossed around. Ultimately, however, we must look at our status as citizens – individually – and understand exactly where we stand in the grand scheme of things.

On the rare occasion that the government deigns us worthy to interact with us, such as having open hearings or some other such event, the people that end up attending are usually the press and a selection of special interest groups who are in attendance to ensure that none of their pet-projects (client's projects) are being risked. How many ordinary people would go to Senate Committee Hearings ... on any issue? I confess that while living in the capital city of Canada and having the government right at my fingertips I have not availed myself of the opportunity to explore the inner machinations of what the “suits” do while the rest of the world earns a living. Part of the reason is simple procrastination; I keep meaning to go, and put it off for another day.

The one time that the "average Joe" is given an active voice, however, is when an election is called and we suddenly become something that the politicians need; citizens of the nation are called upon by a suddenly sociable group of politicians that are solely interested in where we place the mark on our ballots on Election Day. With ballot in hand, a citizen wields the most powerful tool of democracy: the vote. This is the position I found myself in on Monday, November 13 as I voted in our Municipal Elections.

While this election didn't have the same energy attached to as the recent Midterm Elections south of the border, it was a necessary function of democracy, and it resulted in my thinking a great deal about the issue of what it meant to be a citizen.

When I arrived at my polling station (Bay Ward, Poll 7, in case you care) I was absolutely thrilled to see a rainbow of humanity represented. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I live in a neighborhood that is richly diverse ethnically: well, it is great to know that there doesn't seem to be a racial barrier to voting.

All of these people from all over the world who had one thing in common: they had made Canada their adopted country, and were now participating in the democratic process of their new homeland. It reminded me of the scripture in the New Testament, from one of the letters that Paul wrote in his epistle to the Galatians, “These is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28,KJV) The message is beyond simple: we are all the same.

Seeing all those people voting made me think about my own citizenship here in Canada. By virtue of my birth, having been born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, I am a Canadian citizen, and this can never be taken away from me. I love Canada and being Canadian, and on the occasions that I have traveled, upon returning home that is the overwhelming feeling that I experienced: I was home. I have also been told that, because my parents were both born and raised in the United States and have never gone through the act of officially denouncing their citizenships, if I desire, I can apply for U.S. citizenship.

Save for a rather strong yearning to vote in the 2008 Presidential race, I have no other desire to seek dual citizenship, but this raises a third issue relating to citizenship and my life; the "right of return". By virtue of my background, having Jewish ancestors on both sides of my family for as far back as we know, I know that I can get onto an airplane and go to Israel and become a citizen as soon as I arrive as a result of the "Right of Return".

Why wouldn't I want to do this, you may ask? The answer is simplicity itself: I could never accept citizenship in a nation where my blood brother cannot. The son of my father, whose mother is not the same as mine, is not considered to be a Jew, so he has been told that he does not have the "Right of Return".

How can this be? One brother a Jew, welcomed to return to their “homeland”, yet the other is, for all intents and purposes, a pariah, even though our father is the same man – a man who is the father of all Jews, the patriarch of all Israel.

If being a citizen means the betrayal of my brother, my own blood, it is a price that I cannot bear to pay, and will not pay.

Having considered this issue I was reminded by the way citizenship was dealt with in a novel by the late sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein. The novel, which was published in 1959, was made into a movie in 1997 which was probably seen by more people than had read the book (I confess, I have not read the book – yet – though I was, at least, aware that Heinlein had written it when the movie came out). In the movie “Starship Troopers” we learn that it is through “voluntary Federal Service” that someone earns their full rights as a citizen, those rights including the ability to vote and hold public office. Of course, “voluntary Federal Service” involved going to war against vicious, man-eating bugs that were intent on the eradication of every human being in the universe, but that seemed to be a minor point to the hundreds of thousands who were volunteering to be the next ones to become members of the Mobile Infantry.

Is this the price of citizenship? What brought Heinlein’s concept to mind was what would happen if I did decide to seek Israeli citizenship, and the moments afterward. While I can’t actually imagine that anyone with any semblance of sense would hand me any sort of weapon that was loaded, the idea that citizenship in Israel comes with automatic membership in the IDF or the reserves (depending on physical ability and age, of course) only adds to the reasons to reject the offer.

Israel has, without trying, turned Robert A. Heinlein into something of a prophet. Without meaning to, Israel has managed to become the “federation” battling a war that seems to have no end while constantly saying, “we want peace”, even as they perfect new ways to kill their enemy.

You cannot have peace with your neighbour when you are excluding your own blood from returning to the homes from which you have driven them. We, as citizens of whatever country we happen to be in, are blessed by the fact that there are laws in place to protect our rights. What of the rights of all people, oh Israel? What of my brother? When will he and his family be allowed to return to the land of his father; the land of our forefathers?

To deny the children of Abraham their inheritance is nothing short of an abomination before the Lord, and you, oh Israel, shall pay the price, for you have crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed. You have murdered the innocent in the name of national security; in the name of self-defense you have wiped out entire families and then had the audacity to say, “it was an accident”. Allowing Zionist fascists to have any control of a government is an accident; slaughtering innocent civilians is murder.

By birth I am a Canadian and a Jew. Being a Jew is something that transcends the issue of race; it is a cultural identity that can never be removed from who I am even if I have never attended a service in a Synagogue (save for one I once led). By choice I am a Christian, and as we all are, I am a human. Under the surface there is no difference, neither between Jews nor Greeks, nor any other races. What we are distinguished by, as citizens, is our actions. When we have an opportunity to exercise our right to vote – a right that has been paid for with the blood of some of our finest, and youngest, citizens through the wars that sought to strip us of those rights – when we exercise those rights we are committing an act that celebrates all that is good in the democratic system.

Whether the candidate that I voted for wins or not is really not the important issue, the issue is that the true freedom here, in a country where it doesn’t matter what your background is in order for you to become a citizen, is the exercising of the right to vote. To exercise your vote is to make your voice be heard and effect change, without the need for violence and any innocent lives being eradicated in the process.

When the Zionist fascists in Israel wake up to the fact that the people they are denying the “right of return” to are the blood of their blood, perhaps they will have a change of heart … of course, that would be contingent upon their having hearts in the first place, and that’s another issue for another time. Until them, I remain as ever, proudly Canadian.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Zionist fascists vs. Gay Pride

An article on DesertPeace’s blog has inspired me to write something beyond a reply. What started as a short comment, well, as you can see, an article was born and it all began with a Gay march scheduled to be taking place in Jerusalem this day. This will be the third year in a row for the parade in the Jerusalem, and, as in the history of the parade in many cities around the world, there has been a tremendous amount of acrimony from the community. Public demonstrations have been numerous and nearly convinced the local government to cancel the parade, but it seems to have survived the religious fanatics best attempts at thwarting their efforts to kill it.

DesertPeace posted an article by Efrat Weiss discussing the actions being taken by followers of the late Meir Kahane (referred to by some as a Rabbi). You may read the Weiss article, and DesertPeace’s full post (a post well worth perusing) here. Weiss wrote another article that pointed out the true insanity of the hatred being spread by some people in the name of God: they have gone so far as to say that the police who will be guarding the parade are being sinful.

After the Kahaneites celebrating the actions of Yishai Schlissel, who was sentenced to 12 years in jail after stabbing a man at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem last year, of course they don’t want the police at the parade, it will stop them from being able to attack anyone else with impunity.

Once again, this is the bastardisation of religion; the attempt at the usurpation of power through intimidation and what should be considered a reckless misinterpretation of scripture. To read without comprehending is a mirror of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.” (Isaiah, 6:9b, NKJV)

The followers of Kahane (I will not defile the honorific “Rabbi” by attaching it to a man who stood for hatred and everything contrary to the beauty of the teaching of YHWH) have demonstrated why Israel has been experiencing the issues that they have been since the nation was reborn (unjustly) in 1947: disobedience breeds contempt. Contempt for the law, both of man and of God has shaped every aspect of the society that has been built in that land. You cannot reconcile your nation to the “laws of God” through the violence that was proscribed centuries ago – millennia ago. Those instructions were, as the Word says, for a time, or, more precisely, a season. That season has passed.

The opportunity to cleanse the Promised Land of all the inhabitants that were considered undesirable came and went when the Israelites decided to disobey the command of YHWH to do so before taking possession of the land that they had been lead to after their time in the desert. That decision may be seen as some as a decision that should be lauded as merciful: the Israelites showed mercy on the inhabitants of the land that were there before them and decided to live amongst them instead of committing an act of genocide.

Now it is too late to go back and change their minds. Genocide is no longer an option. Cleansing the land of the “unwanted”, the “unclean”, or the “undesirables” is no longer something that any true Rabbi would ever support. An enlightened student of the teachings of YHWH should recognize that there was a time, and is now a time, and the two are far from being the same.

Zionist fascism has become the oppression mirroring the experience that was visited upon the Jews barely a few generations ago. I have met survivors of the holocaust, have seen the tattoos on arms that have been wrinkled with old age and have heard stories from those who managed – above all odds – to escape with their lives (and nothing else) from such places as Dachau, Treblinka and, once, even Auschwitz.

Not one of these survivors, I believe, would have been able to stomach the violence that is being perpetrated against another innocent civilian population. Before you cry about “self defence” and the “terrorists” firing their rockets I will concede that there is a problem with terrorists, but not ALL Palestinians are terrorists harbouring portable missile sites in their dwellings (as seen when the rubble is dug out and, as in Iraq, no weapons – or WMD’s – are found … big surprise).

There is one sure fire way to guarantee that there will be more Palestinian terrorists in a few years: if Israel keeps on their present course of attacking and killing innocents, the resentment that this foments amongst the young people who are seeing their family and friends being slaughtered around them will make them far more vulnerable to the seductive call of terrorists recruiting new members. Remember, when these terrorists recruit the young and indoctrinate them into their organization it is the kids who are used (by kids I mean younger members of the organization) for the suicide missions.

As usual, the young are expendable.

Kahane was neither a Rabbi, nor was he a Jew. If being born of a Jewish mother is what makes one Jewish is what qualifies you, sure, he was Jewish, but what of the heart? What of the compassion for one’s neighbour and community that the Torah teaches we are supposed to show?
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus, 19:18, NKJV)
Of course, that must have caused much confusion as it came immediately after, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.” (Leviticus, 19:17, NKJV)

To understand where the Kahaneites have taken their warped theology from it is critical to understand where they make their error. The first thing that they do is they only read the first of the two verses that I have presented (the second one quoted, verse seventeen). The second thing they do is haul out the two scriptures relating to homosexuality in the entire Torah. It is written: “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22, NKJV) This is repeated, slightly elaborated, in verse 13 of the twentieth chapter of Leviticus, the book in which the law was given. I find it fascinating that the most significant portion of the Law, that part “written in stone” does not include this most grievous abomination, yet it does include adultery (comes in at #7, right after murder), bearing false witness – otherwise known as perjury – and, of all things, coveting your neighbours wife, or their property (neighbours again … I’m sensing a pattern here …).

Could this mean that the Lord God Almighty places more emphasis on us living together, in peace, without judging but rather loving our neighbours, and focusing on our own problems instead of worrying about what our neighbours are doing when we go to bed at night? In the end, if someone is going to experience the wrath of the Lord for their actions, I don’t want it to be me because I turned my heart into a piece of hardened stone as a result of my judgements of others. Is it not better to try to live in peace with others now and worry about such things as the ultimate judgement for the time when it is really relevant (that would be a few milliseconds after your last heartbeat)? If not, prepare for another generation of war, and many, many more dead … and the cycle will continue.

In Remembrance …

Just days before the observance of Remembrance Day, on November 11th, an article has appeared in the Canadian Press indicating just how out of touch with reality some veterans can be. I have the greatest respect for the veterans who have served our nation, especially in recent peacekeeping missions, but Remembrance Day is most especially about the observance of those who gave their lives in the “Great Wars”, though I bristle at calling the “First World War” anything more than an expression of everything that was wrong with the psychotic Imperialistic and royalist systems that had a stranglehold on world politics at the time.

That the assassination of on idiotic Arch-Duke should lead to the death of millions indicates a sign of a serious problem, not one that can be resolved by war, but one that must be dealt with through other means.

Morality of war notwithstanding, the accepted symbol of Remembrance Day has always been the red poppy, adopted because of the poem by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel, John McCrae (1872-1919), who wrote the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” while serving as a physician during WWI. The poem was written out of the experiences that McCrae witnessed, including having had to bury a friend the day before he wrote the text. In the end, he died from what ended up killing more than the bullets being fired: he succumbed to pneumonia and died in 1919 after a short illness.

So why should a Canadian Press article be of any importance? For the simple reason that it points out the fact that the Canadian Legion is objecting to the fact that a group of people in Edmonton have been selling white poppies with the word “peace” in the centre as a symbol of their love of peace. The red poppy is seen everywhere during the period leading up to November 11th, and everyone in Canada who has been conscious for more than one year knows what it represents, so why should there be a problem with a white poppy that says peace?

It seems to me that the Canadian Legion, the organization that represents those individuals who have witnessed, first hand, the horrors of war, would be willing to do anything to prevent another generation from having to become members of their organization, but instead, the group in Edmonton has encountered intense resistance from Legion officials.
Harvey Shevalier, president of the legion's Alberta-Northwest Territories Command, said the poppy is a registered symbol of the legion and can't be used without permission. "The legion cannot condone it, and we cannot accept any attempt to use this poppy without authority or approval," he said.
Now wait one second … the poppy may be a registered symbol, but that is the RED poppy … these guys didn’t use that one, did they? The Legion went on to say that using Remembrance Day as a “focus for a fundraising project of promotion of an ideal is completely inappropriate and unacceptable”. Now that, my friends, is the height of hypocrisy. For the month of October the Legion has their volunteers out in malls selling poppies to people. Selling; for money. Money, a substance used to pay for things, something that is used to keep organizations running.

The Legion says that this is the wrong time for fundraising, yet they do that for an entire month, and how is their displaying of military regalia at some of their sale sights not a promotion of a specific ideal? Having veterans dressed in their old uniforms with their medals is not what you can call a subtle hint that Remembrance Day is coming and you should buy a poppy from them, if you haven’t done so already.

Thus, what must truly be objectionable to the Legion, which is the most puzzling thing of all, is that they must be opposed to the fact that this group in Edmonton is using their poppies to spread a message of peace, a message that does not have to be delivered with the destruction of life attached.

When I first learned the lines of this immortal poem, as a child in grade school, the imagery that the poem conveyed to me was that of soldiers who had gone to the grave and were making these flowers grow by virtue of what they were contributing to the soil: the blood from their veins, the blood that had, only hours or days before been coursing through living, vital young men. My impression had always been that the poppies were red, blood red, because of the blood that had been spilled so copiously on the battlefield, a battlefield that was bleak with the stink of death that haunted every living thing that dared to enter its environs.

As a physician, a man dedicated to healing lives, not taking them would it be difficult to imagine that Lt. Colonel McCrae would have been offended by the symbolism of the white poppy? I rather think he would find it quite appropriate and more than fitting. The white poppy is not only a legitimate symbol of peace it still a symbol that represents the nearly 117,000 Canadians who died in war.

If all we do is remember those who died in war, Remembrance Day may as well be scratched off of the calendar: we must actively recall the full aspect of what war represents. It isn’t enough to talk about the sacrifices that Canadians made during the war, though this is something we must observe, and our veterans must be lauded and given everything that is due them for the service that they have provided this nation (and, in some cases, humanity). At the same time, when children learn about Remembrance day in school they must learn about the truth about wars, and about what is going on today, and about the forgotten “war” that is being forgotten and covered up by the press in the middle east while attention is focused on Iraq.

While the news services went crazy covering the midterm elections in the United States they had a perfect excuse to ignore the ongoing slaughter of innocent civilians taking place in Israel, all in the name of “self defence”. This is war, and should be observed on Remembrance Day. When I stand for my moment of silence at the 11th hour on the 11th day, this Saturday, my thoughts and prayers will be with those who have lost their families in the war being waged by the Zionist fascists in Israel.

Until every war has ended, until every citizen of the world can go to bed at night without the fear of some psychotic military officer ordering the firing of a few artillery shells at your house because it seemed like a viable target – the day before – until then, Remembrance Day is a day to remember that a lot of soldiers have died. We know that as a result of their sacrifice the Third Reich did not last nearly as long as its architects had planned, but other than that, what is different?

As for the justice offered, or the veneer of peace in which we are supposed to be enjoying, that is all it is, a veneer: while one form of oppression has been replaced by another for many people in the world, the poppies continue to grow, the ground being fed by fresh blood with the passing of each day … and governments close to home continue to profit from war, almost as though it is a national industry.

The one lesson we need to all take from the words of John McCrae is that there is not one single day for which we should be setting aside a moment to remember what it is we have as a result of the sacrifices of the veterans, and, consequently, what the horrors of war visit upon humanity.
“If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,
though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
By “breaking faith”, could that possibly mean taking for granted the liberties we enjoy? Perhaps it would be a break of that faith to say to another group that using a white poppy with the word “peace” on it was something that was unacceptable at a time when we should be also repeating the words “never again”, and meaning them. No, it is, I fear, the Legion itself that has broken the faith and dropped the torch, having forgotten what the symbolism that McCrae was searching for truly meant.

As you read the poem just try to imagine yourself after Second Battle of Ypres. During an artillery attack a friend of yours is killed, and you, in lieu of a military chaplain bury him and perform the service. Then you write this poem …

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

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.

(Here is a link to a related BBC article, bringing the issue of religion into the debate.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Too few decide for Many

With a population of 300 million people there should be a fairly large voting base in the United States to call on when it comes to deciding who will lead the government, making the decisions that will effect the lives of every member of society, as well as the rest of the world. Unfortunately, in the midterm elections that took place on November 7th there was an astounding turnout that was skimming forty percent.

Does this mean that sixty percent of Americans have given up, surrendering to the Fates? Or, as an alternative, have they decided that it is a good thing to have a small majority of the people decide how the entire country (and, again, the rest of the world through the results of their foreign policy) will live? Either way, it is a pathetic display from a land that declares itself to be – at every possible chance – the ideal model of democracy.

The United States has developed a megalomaniacal obsession with the idea that their version of democracy should be the model that every country in the world aspires to copy. It is what they want to install in Iraq, which is why, having had their own civil war in the darkest part of the Republic’s history (or, what should have been the darkest part … this may be changed soon) there is so much emphasis from the Bush administration on denying that the sectarian violence taking place in Iraq is, in fact, a civil war. Iraq, post-Saddam, is developing into an American-style democracy: there is an abundance of corruption, violence and political impotence to control the situation.

Is it any wonder the Iraqis want something just a little bit better than that? After suffering the ravages of years of war that Saddam waged with Iran and the internal conflicts, not to mention the first Gulf war, one would think that the people of Iraq deserved the best form of government available. This is where America begins to falter in their mission. While military muscle may be impressive, and it is always awe inspiring to know that you are dealing with a nation that can eradicate every living organism on the face of the earth several times over (a truly laudable ability indeed), that doesn’t automatically translate into the ability to create a democracy out of an dictatorship.

After all, we must remember that this is the same country that, in the not-so-recent past removed democratically elected political leaders and installed dictators into their positions. Democracy, for the United States, is something that ends up being quite ephemeral, serving their purpose so long as it is convenient, but never getting into the way of their actual agenda. The recent signing of the Military Commissions Act by George W. Bush is a perfect example of this fact.

With the simple act of signing this Act into Law, the president effectively eradicated the right of habeas corpus. This is a right that is enjoyed in common law countries and is a protection for the citizen from being abused by the judicial system. The Military Commissions Act makes it possible to simply suspend this right, something older than the Constitution of the United States, older than the United States and any other North American nation. Habeas corpus was first used in 1305 during the reign of King Edward I but it wasn’t until the Habeas Corpus Act was passed in 1679 that the rights that it represented were fully codified.

The framers of the Constitution thought so highly of it that they decided it should actually be mentioned, not as a special amendment, but within the body of the document itself. It is codified as a part of the United States’ laws within Article One, section nine. “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

The United States has not been invaded. There has been one attack, five YEARS ago, and then some mailings of anthrax. Nothing else. A fictitious war has killed more Americans than the one attack on American soil that has taken place since Canada crossed the border during the war of 1812 (and whipped their asses). Any suspension, at this point in time, of the “Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus” is, to borrow a term that the Republicans love, an abomination.

It is a perfect representation of the type of democracy that the United States has, and exactly why this is not the democracy that should not be held up as the model for the world. As a model of what not to do, certainly, but as a guide to run a country; only if you want to have a genocide in your nation (slaughtering the indigenous peoples of your nation, or, in lieu of them, a neighbouring nation … or the Jews, they are always a good choice), then you would have to make sure that you craft your foreign policy so that it allows genocides to take place in other nations while you only intervene when it serves your own interests (as the United States did during WWII, allowing the slaughter of the Jews until they began to realize that Hitler was more of a menace than they realized so it was expedient for them to become involved … Pearl Harbour having nothing to do with the decision).

Machinations. Democracy. Two words that should never appear within the same sentence, but, alas, could many times over when discussing the state of the American version of democracy. Whenever government is warped so that it serves those who are in office rather than the people who are supposed to be served by them, there is a problem that is greater than belief. When the vice-president has such a close relation with the company that is making – literally – a fortune from the war, well, how can that be reconciled with anything?

Even so, when all is said and done, the voters, the few that turned out, sent a clear message to the Bush administration: it is time for a change. The Democrats are now in control of the Senate and, pending the result of some races still being counted (one of which looks like a pretty sure Dem. win), they may also have control of the Congress. Many of the gubernatorial races also resulted in Democratic victories, although California decided to stick with the Terminator as their man in Sacramento. There are now 28 Democratic states and 22 Republican states: these are Governors and does not necessarily translate into electoral college votes, though it does represent over 306, which is far more than the 270 needed to become president, but it certainly is promising.

One interesting thing happened, and it probably caught everyone off guard as well: the state of Minnesota elected a Muslim to the Senate. Keith Ellison has become the first Muslim to have ever been elected to the Senate in history (and he’s black … oooh …). The House of Representatives may have to start allowing women in next … oh right … they did that already.

Perhaps, with a sign of such enlightenment – and tolerance – in two years there will be something else truly worth celebrating … so long as the Republicans keep screwing up (something that shouldn’t be too hard given the current situation and the ongoing debacle in Iraq), and if the Democrats don’t do anything too stupid … (a hard thing to ask for, but one can always be optimistic), who knows, it has happened in the past.

In the meantime, we must be relentless in our efforts to change the minds of these elected officials: even if you aren’t a citizen of the United States, you can e-mail elected officials and send them your concerns regarding world issues. I have been on the mailing list of Senator Clinton for over one year and have sent her several messages, including several regarding the United States and Israel. All you have to do is go to the home page for the Senate and find the individual you are interested in (the new House of Representatives reconvenes in January). Their email address is listed (it goes, in all likelihood, to their deputy communications secretary, or someone with a sufficiently stuffy title). While you may not get a personal answer, so long as you are able to send civil, well reasoned messages, you can be sure that it will be brought to their attention – the one thing that politicians do fear is having something come back from the past, like a message, and be told, “well, you were told about this in a message three years ago,” or, “the memo was titled ‘bin Laden intent on …’”.

If we do nothing, believing that our actions will bear no fruit, we have fulfilled our own prophesy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

When did Teenagers turn into Sociopaths?

Whatever happened to the concept of young people, in this case someone who was barely a teenager, from listening to the advice of their elders?

First of all, let's get one thing straight, now that I am 38 I have come to the sober realization that the youth of today see me as being old, and I see some of them as being quite annoying (not unlike the way I viewed my elders in my youth, without the lack of respect part though).

This morning, while taking the bus downtown, I was confronted with the latest situation in a long line of examples that could be tabled as "exhibits for the prosecution". While sitting, reading my book ("Synchronicity" by C.G. Jung), a rather slightly built youth took his place in front of me and began his ride holding onto the strap which was right in front of me instead of taking hold of the pole which was directly in front of where he was standing.

As soon as the bus turned around its first corner the expected happened: the boy bumped into my book (no acknowledgment or apology, of course), and he nearly fell over, bumping into the passenger behind him. Observing this I offered him some advice.

"Why don't you hold onto the pole instead of the strap, the pole doesn't move while the strap does." Having said this he gave me a bemused look, then proceeded to expound upon the merits of the strap, until I interrupted him. "Yes, but you have already hit my book once, as well as other passengers."

"Have I?"

As he launched into another dissertation on strap-pole qualities (while losing his balance) I returned to my reading, saying, "this isn't a conversation, I was offering an observation and an opinion."

As expected, when he and his friend exited the bus I could hear the derisive laughter of the boys, though I couldn't make out anything past "who does he ..."

Well, that is a question that can be answered, even without having heard it in its entirety. I was merely another passenger on the bus, trying to get to my destination without being accosted by another rider. As soon as this boy got on the bus he was a menace. His over-stuffed bag hit several people, including the driver (I was sitting at the very front and saw him get on), and he dropped it on my knee while putting it down, again without even acknowledging that he may have done something wrong. I'm not writing this because of my knee, however, but rather because of his absolute refusal to accept any offer of an individual's opinion from someone who may just have had a bit more experience than he does.

This is the thing that amazes me the most about these kids: they talk and act as if they know absolutely everything about everything, while, in point of fact, they often end up having "book jacket knowledge". That is the type of knowledge that you can glean from a book by reading the inside and outside covers, without having to waste your time by actually reading the work itself.

During the summer I encountered a perfectly precious example of this while in one of my favourite places to write, the coffee shop near my chiropractor's office (I'm not going to plug the store as the new owner is turning the place into a rather unpleasant place to sit in and spend some time, which is the exact opposite of the previous manager’s philosophy, so I feel no loyalty towards it anymore ... but that's another story for another time). While I was there writing there was a clutch of young people deeply involved in a rather heady discussion regarding various religions and other belief systems. They were also having a discussion, after a time, about the theological differences between the monotheistic faiths, discussing the natures of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, with some forays into some other religions as well.

I wasn't trying to overhear their conversation, but they were sitting right next to me, so it was quite difficult to ignore them, which was why I couldn't help but overhear the errors that they were espousing with such confidence as being factual. For some reason, perhaps because of my upbringing, I seem to be overly sensitive to the presence of misinformation and feel the need to correct the matter if I am able. In the case of the discussion regarding Christianity and Judaism, it seemed that I was able to contribute far more than any of the youths were, and my rudimentary knowledge of Islam (the result of one course in during my undergraduate degree) also dwarfed the self-confessed "expert" of the group who knew nothing of the historical background of the religion.

This group, unlike the boy on the bus this morning, was more than welcoming of my opinions when I made a small comment and ended up joining their conversation. We ended up talking for well over an hour, and in the end I was the one who had to leave due to another engagement. Where one group of teenagers does not feel threatened by listening to the opinions of someone older than they are, another does ... but why?

This morning, when I spoke to the boy on the bus, I was smiling and not yelling, there was nothing at all threatening about what I was saying. The thing that bothers me the most was that he didn't even consider the merit of the idea, while still losing his balance, while still hitting other passengers. Even as he got off the bus he was staggering around, not holding onto anything.

Is this the direction that our society is heading? Given that the adult electorate of our country has elected placed a minority neo-conservative government that is a virtual puppet of the Bush administration, I have to wonder. Then there is the progeny of the United States: a country where the voting public elected a pathological liar to a second term of office even after his lies and deceits were fully, if not wholly, revealed and exposed to the public ... who conveniently decided to ignore the truth and vote according to the fear mongering that was taking place through the Bush administration’s version of the Minister of Propaganda and National Enlightenment, a title borrowed from Herr Goebbels, the ultimate propaganda master. Bush has had his cronies masterfully use the threats of further terror attacks to galvanize the fear of the people into believing that they were only safe with a Republican in the White House, as well as a Republican controlled Senate and Congress.

If the youth of today are unable to listen to the opinions and ideas of their elders, how are they doing in school? Are they listening to their parents at all? What sort of citizens are they turning out to be? Considering that I have seen (also on the bus ... I take the bus, I don't drive) little children acting like maniacs on crack while their mothers (or fathers – or both) sit idly by, talking to their friends, or on their cell phones completely ignoring their children.

Why are these kids acting the way they are? For the simple reason that they are starved for the attention of their parent and, if they cannot get it in a positive manner they will act up until they get punished. I know that sounds crazy, but it is a psychologically proven fact, even negative attention is preferable to a child than none at all.

So, what sort of teenagers will these kids grow up to be? That, alas, is an easy answer to provide: in a word, hoodlums, but that is an oversimplification of what is really happening. We are in danger of losing an entire generation, if not more, of our youth through passive neglect.

I call it passive neglect for the simple reason that these kids are well fed, they have homes and everything that they need, if not more, except for the parental affection that cannot be substituted for with anything else. Passive neglect leads to many things, including the seeking out of gangs, which offer a "family" substitute. It also leads to the use of illicit drugs as kids search for the feelings they never had, but know are supposed to be there, somewhere. It leads to early sexual promiscuity as, again, kids seek substitutes for the affection that they don't know, and worse than ever, it can lead to the development of an anti-social personality which, at its worse, can lead to the most violent type of sociopathic behaviour – the ultimate menace to society.

We know this for simple reasons: the brutality of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal regime, which resulted in thousands of unwanted children being abandoned in orphanages across Romania. These forgotten children were kept in the filthiest of conditions, receiving on the barest essentials for survival. Those charged with their care were so overworked they did not have time (and perhaps the inclination) to go any further in the care of the children ... and if they did, it was too little, too late. These children spent countless hours in their cribs, lying in their filth and crying incessantly for hours without receiving the calming touch of another human at all.

When these children began being adopted by childless couples from North America in the 90's it was soon discovered that their was something very wrong; the fulfilled dreams of these couples came with an unexpected burden that all the love in the world couldn’t seem to repair. Their children were severely scarred by their early childhood experiences, scarred in a place that doesn't heal as easily as the body, scarred in their minds.Many were so severely effected by their ordeals that their adoptions were reversed, the child proved to be too much for what the family had been prepared to provide.

If the parents of today who use their televisions, computers and other forms of electronica as babysitters continue on their course in child rearing their is the very real possibility that the only difference between our children and those brought here from Romania will be that the Canadians (and Americans) will, for the most part, have been better fed and educated, but their social skills will be barely above those of children who have had no socialization at all.

We have to start making the distinction between kids going out and being "social" with each other and actually being able to interact in a social situation without acting like savages amongst other humans. That is one of the most important skills for living, and it is one that will prepare them well for the struggles they will face in the real world once they discover that the artificial world of academia is far more sheltered than they could have imagined. I cannot count the times that I’ve been on the bus in the afternoon going home when there are several teens who get on, having just gotten out of school. Now I understand that everyone is excited about the end of the school day, I remember what that was like, but is it really necessary to scream, at the top of your lungs, while the person that you are talking to is sitting right next to you? Even when I put in earplugs that are very effective, it is still loud. This is not merely a sign of poor socialization; it is an indication that these kids have no idea that there is a proper way to act in public, especially when you are in an enclosed space like a bus (not even mentioning the fact that their actions could have distracted the driver, endangering the lives of everyone on board).

Even as I write this, I can't help but think of the young voters casting their votes in the United States today, and those who have the opportunity to vote in the municipal elections here in Ottawa next Monday. When I was young I looked forward to turning 18 the way some kids looked forward to turning 16. I had no interest in driving (I still don't have a license, and don't want one ... it doesn't do me any good since my Jag died ... right) ... no, I wanted to be able to vote!

It has always been the greatest pleasure to be able to participate in "the process", if only for the reason that I feel it gives me the right to voice my opinion about government without reservation – after all, I helped in the process. It has always amazed me how some people will go crazy talking about politics, but when you ask them if they vote, they quickly say, "I don't vote". Well, what kind of idiocy is that? How can you not vote, yet you want to spend so much energy complaining about things? Hubris, that is the word.

That is when I freak people out (a personal hobby ... and it costs nothing). "If you don't vote," I say, "you abdicate your right to complain about the system." That usually leaves people with their mouths hanging open (the word abdicate causes the hang-up, so I oblige them). "Voting is your duty as a citizen and gives you the right to complain about what YOUR government is doing. If you don't vote, they aren't your government."

That does it.

"But, I pay taxes," they sputter, indignant and embarrassed.

"Yes, but why don't you vote? Were you unable to get to the polling station, because if you were, you can call one of the candidates and they will eagerly arrange a ride for you on Election Day? If the day of the election was inconvenient there are several advance polling opportunities, and there is always the proxy vote as a last resort. Voting is what makes a democracy work. If the people can’t be bothered to care enough to get off of their complacency and help decide who their government is going to be, then a small, often narrow minded minority of those eligible to vote will make the decision. The smaller the sample that votes, the less representative it is of the actual views of the electorate. That is why it is so crucial to have as high a turnout at the polls as possible.

Besides, what message does it send to the youth of today when they see such voter apathy in the adults of today? When federal voter turnout skims 70%, what does that say? What would have happened if 100% of registered voters turned out to vote? What would happen if voting was a legal obligation, as it is in the Netherlands and New Zealand, where voter turnout is in the high nineties?

Only then will we see what the term "Democracy in action" truly means. Then, when the youth of North America sees that the adults are being responsible for what is going on around them, perhaps they will be a bit more receptive to what we have to say to them (either that or we have to start beating them ... that could always be a standby option).

This is Your Republican Party

One of the reasons that I try to not watch the news too often is that when I do, after a while, I find myself talking to the television (the more I watch the more the talking becomes yelling, and I’d rather not end up getting evicted, especially as it is getting quite cold out) … it really isn’t the greatest routine for the maintenance of good mental hygiene, but when you are this close to something as important as midterm elections in the United States … well, what’s a little bit of psychosis among friends? Besides, in another two years there will be a new president … if only because of the twenty-second amendment to the constitution that prevents more than two terms of office for the president. Whether that new president will be worth celebrating is another story for another time … though I shall certainly have a great deal to say about the perspective candidates in due time.

The recent Republican bad press has been getting even worse, but this time it isn’t personality issues coming to the surface, it is the actions of the party itself that have been making headlines, and for all the wrong reasons. When I first heard of these antics it didn’t seem like something that sounded so bad, but then I heard another report that expanded on the first … that was when it occurred to me, with president Bush as the leader of the party, what do they expect? Throughout his presidency, and especially since 9/11 when he used the tragic deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans to orchestrate a fake war against a country that had nothing to do with the attack, Bush has demonstrated that he is a pathological liar without a semblance of a conscience.

The reason I say this is that someone with a conscience, having been shown the mistakes that they have made, would have apologized or demonstrated some form of contrition; Bush has not done any of this, ever. Over and over again it has been demonstrated that the cleverly constructed house of lies that he created to fabricate his war against terrorism was, in point of fact, an example of American state sponsored terrorism.

Is it any wonder then that the political party that Mr. Bush is at the helm of is playing with such nasty tactics at the final moments of the campaign running up to the November seventh midterm elections? After all, an organization is only as good as their leader, and when their leader aspires to mediocrity, how can they hope to achieve anything greater? The answer to both questions, sadly, is no.

So, what is it that the RNC has been doing? Well, nothing short of violating federal voting laws regarding interfering with a persons right to vote. In certain areas, where there is a large African-American population (a demographic that, traditionally, votes Democrat, even if Lincoln was a Republican … there’s just no sense of history there), the Republican National Congress has been sending out fliers and making phone calls telling people that they may be arrested if they vote because they have moved (which is untrue), or that their polling district has changed (again, untrue).

In other states, automatic callers are calling Democrat households with negative ads that start off mentioning the name of the Democrat candidate, making it sound like a call from that candidate’s office. The only problem being, it isn’t a call from their office. Hanging up results in more calls until these Democrats are calling the Democratic offices saying that if they receive one more call from “so and so” they won’t even vote for them! Only problem, it was the Republicans making the calls. Other calls are being made by the RNC, also using automatic callers, presenting distorted snippets of misinformation for the person on the receiving end.

There are already movements within the Democratic party to file several lawsuits after the election over these calls, and it isn’t going to be chump-change if it gets to court: there is the possibility of fines of up to $500 per call according to FCC regulations regarding the use of automatic calling and no-call violations. The possibility of bankrupting the Republican National Congress stands as a real possibility given the prolific number of calls they have been making.

Then there is the issue of electronica … again. Normally there is a changeover of about 5% of the apparatus that is used during the electoral process, but for this election there has been an unprecedented 15% changeover, involving woefully under-trained individuals working with technologies that have already been proven to be far from secure. On top of that, in early voting in – of all places, Florida (the Bush King-maker state) several people who voted for Democrat candidates found that the electronic ATM-like machine had changed – and confirmed – their vote as having been cast for the Republicans. I guess if they can’t win by having people vote for them on their own, they can just get the machine to do it for them; isn’t that what the technology was built for?

Well, as they say, morally bankrupt, financially bankrupt … what’s the difference? In the end, no matter who wins after the polls close tonight – it will take a long time before anyone fully trusts the results, and then it will be time to take a very close look at the system and make sure this never happens again. Again. Again.

That’s one of the things I love about Canada: we can still use paper ballots and know who our prime minister is at the end of the evening (if you stay up late enough). Granted, the United States has ten times our population, but it seems to me that once the fancy electronic voting systems show themselves to have serious flaws, it’s time to go back to the tried, tested method – a method that leaves a paper trail because it is paper.

Of course, that is probably far too simple a plan to be followed … it would allow for the dangerous situation of every person’s vote actually being counted for a change, and that can’t be allowed to happen, not in America, right?

Monday, November 06, 2006

What if ...?

With the midterm elections taking place in the United States tomorrow, I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the question “what if”. Now, before anyone gets confused, or upset let me explain: yes, I am Canadian, born and raised, but I am also of the belief that we cannot, as citizens of the world, sit idly by and be unconcerned with what takes place in the nation that singularly controls the most Weapons of Mass Destruction on earth. As a citizen of a neighbouring nation to the United States I believe it is incumbent upon Canadians to be as knowledgeable as possible regarding the U.S. political system for the simple reason that it has a direct bearing on our lives here in Canada. Which brings me to the question of “what if”.

In recent days and weeks the ruling Republican Party has experienced some major political hits as the result of some scandalous revelations. As the political group that yearns to be the moral compass of the country the recent allegations that one of their brightest stars had been an active sexual predator on Capital Hill for the past decade would have been bad enough, considering the actions of their leader, the president. Then, only days ago, an evangelical leader of thirty million conservative Christians resigned his post after admitting that he had purchased crystal methamphetamine from a male prostitute and had engaged him for a massage … but he adamantly denied having had sexual encounters with him, and he said that he threw away the meth, which added to the sorrows of the RNC as they try to maintain their hold on the Senate and Congress.

This minister had regular calls to the White House where he spoke with the President, counselling him on issues and providing other advice. He was also one of the staunchest opponents to gay marriage and any advancement of gay rights. While this certainly isn’t the first time a prominent Christian minister has been publicly “outed” for acting along lines that aren’t exactly considered “clean living”, this is the first occasion that the individual in question had the direct line to the Commander in Chief of the most powerful nation on earth. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the fact that this minister may be gay – 10% of the world is, I’m over it – what I can’t reconcile is the fact that someone that may have been using crystal meth, a drug that you do not use casually, was giving counsel to someone in control of the lives of thousands of soldiers fighting a war … many of whom have been returning home in caskets.

So, what if … What would happen if the “Christian Right” (a group that is not necessarily correct) decided to vote according to what was correct as opposed to one or two single issues that evoke “knee-jerk” responses, mostly because they do not understand the complete implications of those issues. There have been ministers preaching that Christians – true Christians cannot support the Democrats. True Christians cannot support social programs. True Christians must be opposed to all medical research that involves stem cells. True Christians must ….

Wait a second, when did this become an election about religion? Whatever happened to the separation of the Church and State? The reason the framers of the Constitution wanted that separation was quite brilliant: it was to prevent the persecution of people according to their beliefs, as the Pilgrims had been persecuted in their European homes. Instead, they came to the “new world” and began to themselves become the persecutors of the native inhabitants here, looting the properties of the Indians and then killing them when they had the audacity to defend their land. Such laudable Christian practices; it’s hardly believable that the Christian right wouldn’t have any issues with the policies of George Bush.

What drives me to distraction the most is the way there is a wholesale distortion of Christianity and how the United States political system seems to have taken upon itself this distorted view. It is a view that is, in many ways, similar to the way that Islam is blamed for all terrorist acts without looking at what the religion actually says. This incarnation of Christianity bears little resemblance to the teachings of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard … oh, that’s not right, is it? Oral Roberts? Billy Graham? Oh, I know … Pope John Paul II that must be it … no?

Well, I give up.

In all seriousness (I can be serious at times, it just takes more concentration than I prefer to exert), “true Christianity” bears precious little resemblance to what is being shoved down our throats by the “religious Right” (which isn’t necessarily). I have always marvelled at people calling themselves Christians who bless someone with one breath and then call for the death penalty. Some ministries have as their central focus the gaining of wealth: “God wants His people to prosper” they say, without taking into context exactly what wealth means in the Bible. My absolute favourite are the ministers that have the audacity to declare that God has rendered judgement against someone else, and that they are going to go to Hell because of the way they live their lives.

I realize it may seem odd that I haven’t identified specific ministries or individuals when it would be easy to do so; that is not the purpose of this article, nor does it serve any particular purpose to “name names”. I am merely bringing up examples that are well known within the ecclesiastical community and that have been discussed, ad nausea, under different circumstances. Having said that, I do want to expound a bit on some of the electoral issues and how they actually do fit within the Christian paradigm.

It is a fallacy to believe that the Christian faith is one of judgement and condemnation: the truth of Christianity is that it is the liberation from judgement and condemnation. There is one judge, and we are told that to judge others is to call upon ourselves the manner of judgement that we have used against those we have judged. Quite simply, the principal of “judgement” is something that is encountered under the Old Covenant. Jesus, or Yeshua HaMoshiach (Jesus, the Anointed One) promised a New Covenant that fulfilled the old laws, which not only allows us to wear cotton and polyester at the same time (or cotton and silk …), but it means that we do not have to be observant of the 613 laws that are a part of the lives of Jews who practice Judaism.

One of the examples I love to use (and one that tends to annoy people the most) goes like this: which sin is worse … homosexuality or adultery? Well, in the Old Testament it says: “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22, NKJV) This is repeated, slightly elaborated, in verse 13 of the twentieth chapter of Leviticus, the book in which the law was given. Adultery, on the other hand, made the “Top Ten” list of sin, coming in at number 7, just after the one about not murdering and before not bearing false witness against someone … and coveting your neighbour's wife (or their house, field, and etc.).

In other words, adultery seemed to be a fairly prominent issue when it came to laws being “written in stone”. Now, before any Christians start having seizures about the Pauline interdiction on homosexuality, relax, I haven’t forgotten about the ONE verse that Paul dedicates to the issue in his Epistle to the church in Rome. In fact, this is an extremely significant scripture for the singular reason that it is not actually what the contemporary church has made it out to be. Having been taken grossly out of context (as is so often the case), the meaning of the scripture has been warped to mean something that has absolutely nothing to do with what the man was saying when he wrote the epistle (just a word for letter).

The verse, as quoted by the Christian Wrong, is this:
“Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men, committing what is shameful and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” (Rom. 2:27, NKJV)

Now, the problem arises when you take a single verse out of the entire chapter without even making an attempt to give it any semblance of context, and context is critical to this verse. One of the important things to remember about the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is that it wasn’t written with chapters, verses, and all of the punctuation that we are accustomed to in the editions we presently possess. The second “chapter” of the epistle to the Romans is in a place that makes understanding verse 27 more difficult, unless you aren’t hung up over such things as large numbers at the beginning of a sentence. The first verse of the second chapter begins with the word “therefore”, which obviously refers to the previous text.

The previous text, having come after Paul wrote the infamous portion of scripture about “The just shall live by faith” (v. 17) comes before the text in which the issue of men lying with men is contained. If you read carefully, something that is, alas, rarely done when it comes to scripture, it can be seen that Paul is actually writing about the time before the Exodus, before the time of the Law.

Paul wrote:
“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and made birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom. 1:22-25, NKJV)

It is important to note that there is an ending here; Paul uses “Amen” at the end of this portion. Amen literally means, “so be it”, or “let it be” and is generally used at the end of a prayer. That Paul has presented this portion of his epistle and then ended it with “Amen” would seem to indicate that he has heard reports of similar behaviours taking place within the community in which the Roman church existed at the time. There is a great deal of historical evidence demonstrating the prevalence of homosexual activities amongst the Roman militia, while they were within the military. Once they returned to civilian life their sexual behaviour was, mostly, heterosexual.

For this reason, Paul reminded the Romans of the times before the great Old Testament judgements:
“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men, committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgement of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (Rom. 1:26-32 & 2:1, NKJV)

It is the final verse, the first verse of the next chapter, that is the part missed most often. This is the second time in the scriptures that the Christian is told that judgement, particularly the judgement of others, is not within their list of things that they are supposed to be doing. To judge one sin is to assume that we have never done anything wrong, ever. It is a difficult situation to imagine, but that is also one of the things making this so simple in “true Christianity”: as Paul wrote, justification is by faith, not by works. It isn’t about how much money you give, or how many hours you spend in church; it isn’t about how much you own when the game is over. Faith is the foundation of Christianity.

So in the end, it turns out that when Jesus was out walking one day he came across someone who had been tried for a sin against the Lord God Almighty. Those who had judged this individual were well within their rights, under the Law, to carry out the sentence decreed by the Law: death by stoning. But Jesus confronted them and asked them a question that chilled them to their bones, making them abandon their righteous mission. All he said was, “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Not a word was spoken by the men who had been doing the work of God, taking an adulterous women and preparing her for judgement, but when faced with the mirror of their own lives, judgement didn’t look like such a great thing.

Several years ago the evangelical movement introduced t-shirts, bracelets, bumper stickers and other ephemera with “WWJD” printed on them. This was meant to say, “What Would Jesus Do”, and serve as a reminder for young Christians in their daily lives. The only problem with this is that it neglects two important elements, which I believe is why the Republican party has been able to brainwash so many Christians with their lies for so many years.

Instead of just “WWJD”, there should also be “WWJT” and “WWJS”, for what would Jesus think and say respectively. It isn’t enough to do certain things that only serve to put on, in effect, a masque for the public. That is the sort of trap that the evangelical leader who resigned over his meth-buying and alleged gay relationship fell into. Wearing masques comes with the danger of the masque falling off. This is why we must always be aware of our thought lives. It isn’t a question of “practicing what I preach”, it’s a question of “practicing what I think”. The same thing goes with what a person says. This is also taught in the New Testament, where it is said that we aren’t defiled by what we put into our bodies (referring to the dietary laws) but by what comes out of our mouths (Paraphrase of Matthew 15:11).

If the Republicans, before going to the polls, spent some time really studying the New Testament and seeking the truth about what it means to be charitable, loving and forgiving, it seems to me that it would be difficult to vote for people who supported a war that was founded on well constructed lies and deception. Could they vote for people who supported the cutting of social programs, causing hardships for the poor, when Jesus himself told his followers to take care of the poor, to feed the hungry?

Why is it that the richest nation in the world, a nation that proclaims itself to be “one nation, under God” and Christian, has so many children going to bed with empty stomachs?

Is this the Republican dream for America?