Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year’s Wishes: a Lump of Coal in your Stocking?

A Seasonal Missive from the CrazyComposer
Cartoons © by Ben Heine
A recent comment to submitted to this blog (posted here only recently due to a moderation error) asked my opinion on the content of a particular website relating to “a Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East conflict”. I have neglected to respond to the question, though the intervening time has given me a great deal to think about. Before addressing the issues raised in the website, however, there are some other things that I would like to say (well, it is my blog): The end of the year is always a time that arouses mixed feelings for me as I reflect on the things that have been accomplished, the many things that have not been done (for whatever reason), and the numerous other things that have been added to the list of things that I now want to do at some point in time. This is also the time that is used to reflect upon the events that have taken place in the world; what news has emerged as the most significant of the year, what individual(s) have had the most influence on our world … for better or worse.

Thus, the question regarding my thoughts on a website relating to Jewish/Palestinian relations seemed more than appropriate as it fit in perfectly with the seasonal reflections that my mind has been making; near existential musings, perhaps, on the state of our species and its ability to drag itself out of the mud and mire in which it is so firmly entrenched. The discussion of politics and political issues is one that can become deeply frustrating for me (quite quickly, at times, as it would seem my patience for the level of human idiocy is growing shorter and shorter with the passing of days), particularly when those involved refuse to allow themselves to see any other side of an issue merely because it represents an ideology that is foreign to their own political beliefs. This is especially apparent when it comes to the issues surrounding the “Jewish” state, also known as Israel, and the “Palestinian” question … or the “occupied territories”, or whatever other term has been used from time to time.

Let me be quite blunt about my position relating to Israel from the beginning, before even referring to the site in question and anyone else’s comments: if you are incapable of living in peace next to someone who is not of the same ethnic background, religion or political persuasion, you should move to another continent, shave all of your body hair off, cover yourself in honey and roll around in a nest of fire-ants. You should only dress in pink taffeta, and have the word “idiot loser” tattooed upon your forehead. The idea that we are unable to live next to people that are different from us, today – in the 21st century – is beyond anachronistic; it is a reflection of the most closed-minded, racist, bigoted, xenophobic idiocy that has ever inhabited this planet. If this is a description of a Jewish Israeli, too bad; if it describes a Palestinian, tough: when you point a finger at one person there are several pointing back towards you, so there are NO innocents in this conflict when people pre-judge their neighbours.

Ignorance kills; period. End of statement. While ignorance is near the top of that list, nationalism that is allowed to overrun an individual’s ability to reason is another thing that leads to death; such vehement belief systems are found within the supporters of Zionism and the fundamentalist supporters of the Palestinian movement. If this seems extreme, that is too bad; I’ve been listening to stories about the “war” going on in Israel since I was born, since the Israelis captured Jerusalem in 1968. If anyone honestly believes that this can be resolved by anything less than a fundamental shift in human behaviour. In order to promote such a change I propose a United Nations Joint Resolution: Be it resolved that all parties in Israel/Palestine shall live peacefully or they shall be deported to Albania (I hear it is lovely at this time of year … not). Any use of force or violence of any kind will result in an immediate deportation and fines against the government of no less than $1,000,000 (U.S. funds), to be paid to the families of victims/survivors.

I certainly doubt there would be too many “repeat offenders”.

The main premise of the author’s comments, from what I have gleaned from the reading, is that the peace process is doomed to failure, essentially, for the simple reason that the Zionist cause is honourable and just while the Arabs (also known as the Palestinians in this little saga) are completely untrustworthy, inherently dishonest, and predisposed to being deceptive when it comes to matters relating to negotiations.

From the outset the author has established that they do not believe that a lasting peace between the Jews and Palestinians (though he stubbornly refers to them as “Arabs” or, on rare occasions, “Palestinian Arabs” throughout the text) is not only impossible, it is “unusual, immoral, and illegal”. The only thing unusual about the author’s comments is that they so thinly veil the racism and hatred that the author possesses for the non-Jewish individuals making claims on the “Holy Land”. When reading things like “Peace process is highly unusual … illegal … immoral …” amongst many other completely meaningless straw-man arguments that are based on the acrimony aroused by generations of stubbornness making communication and reconciliation impossible.

The issue of peace in the middle-east, especially in Israel, always seems to come back to the subject of the land and the myriad issues that arise from the various parties involved. Is it possible to placate every side with one, all encompassing solution, a resolution that will satisfy the Zionist positions while also placating those of the Palestinians? Anyone that believes that it is, that the vitriol of centuries – nay, millennia – may be resolved after some discussions has allowed themselves to become enamoured by the seductive idea that “peace on earth, good will towards man” is something more than a line in a cleverly composed Christmas carol.

There truly is problem with the peace process, but unlike what the author of “We need a respite from peace” has written, it is not about what the Arabs/Palestinians bring to the table; it has everything to do with the process itself and the inherently flawed philosophy that has been invested into the very nature of the Holy Land and its relationship to Jews, Christians and Moslems. Any people proclaiming to be members of any of the aforementioned faiths who then use violence in order to advance their cause are, quite simply, hypocrites; they are anything but what they claim to be, and are certainly not representatives of the three faiths that call that piece of real estate the Holy Land.

We view the three religions as mere labels to apply to people regardless of the actions that are carried out in the names of those religions. Millions have been killed in the name of “God” (or “Allah”) while at the same time it is asserted that “Yahweh is merciful” and “God is love” and “Allah is benevolent” in classes for young believers in each faith. The problem is not that this teaching is flawed (this isn’t a polemic on the primacy of one faith over another, nor will I entertain such questions – my position should be apparent from previous posts), it lies in the fact that fundamentalism breeds fanaticism and fanaticism breeds minds that are perfectly prepared to be taken advantage of by ruthless individuals bent on promoting their own agendas, regardless of the costs in human lives.

I remember when a particularly vicious terrorist attack took place in Israel when I was a child, living in Sudbury. My parents tried to explain the situation to me as best they could, but the savagery of the situation made even their astute comments seem unable to fully explain the situation. It all boiled down to this, my father ultimately said; “how can you stop someone that is prepared to kill themselves in order to advance their cause?” It didn’t seem to matter whether or not you supported the claims of the Palestinians or disagreed with the policies of Israel; could you do so and agree with the tactics of the terrorist elements acting on behalf of the Palestinians?

No; violence does not bolster any position, it undermines the moral grounds of every argument and diminishes the legitimacy of any claim that may have existed. Violence begets violence and breeds mistrust, hatred, and a myriad of other negative things that work in opposition to true peace. More than anything else violence breaks the human spirit which then seeks something else to fill the void created by the legacy of violence.

There is only one way in which the Holy Land can experience the fruits of a genuine peace process, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the pale counterfeit that has been plaguing the region since the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. True peace will only come when the land is forgotten and people are given the priority that they deserve, the dignity that all humans are entitled too, regardless of their race, religion, or creed. When people are able to accept the differences that have driven them apart and decide that they can live beside each other in peace, there will be true peace; until then the process is an utter waste of time.

A recent example of the curse of fundamentalism has been provided through the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The subsequent suicide bombing (by the same deranged individual) left many others dead and injured. Do not forget that there are other places in the world where “peace process” is a concept arousing desperation and acts beyond anything in which any sane individual should be engaged. Can anything profitable ever come out of this sort of violence; is it not possible to imagine that there is at least one qualified individual in all of Pakistan to replace Bhutto as the leader of the PPP?

Who was responsible for this act of ultimate inhumanity? There are some that are already saying that al-Qaeda is to blame, raising the question as to who had the most to gain from this vicious act. In the end, it doesn’t really matter who had the “most” to gain from this and other despicable acts; supposed gains made through violence are rendered as worthless as lead, tainted by the blood shed for them. It is easier to see that everyone loses when violence is used: we lose our dignity as humans, we abdicate our morality, and our spirits are diminished in the process.

If there is one comment the author of “Respite” has made that truly demonstrates the futility of the argument espoused by the Zionist fundamentalists it is the following: “Peace process is highly unusual. Every other nation destroyed whatever aborigines happened to live on the land that nation chose to build a state.” What the writer of those comments forgets, as many of their predecessors have and, alas, as many of those who follow in their footsteps shall inevitably do so as well, is that this is not an intellectual exercise in the realm of theories; we are dealing with real, living people here, people that have not been eliminated through a war of conquering or a subsequent genocide (how terribly inconvenient for Israeli). The people that Israel has to contend with have been living in the land for as long as the land has been promised to the Children of Israel. Is it the fault of the Palestinians that the forefathers of the modern Israelis were incapable of obeying the commands of the Lord?

The Old Testament tells us that the Children of Israel were commanded to “cleanse” the land, before taking possession of it, which they did not do; they decided that their way was better than that of the Lord God Almighty. By deciding to follow their own devices the Children of Israel cut themselves off from the promises of the Lord, opening themselves up to the troubles that have befallen them for the past several thousand years.

What I am saying is that you cannot now decide to commit the genocide that you failed to commit when you were brought to the Promised Land. Above all else we must learn lessons from history, lest we allow ourselves the curse of repeating the mistakes and tragedies of the past. History tells us that there is indeed a tradition of the vanquished peoples of the world becoming enslaved and extinguished, but that is not something that should be exalted, it should be observed with the solemnity that hindsight allows the learned pupil to provide insight and wisdom, that those mistakes need not be repeated by future generations.

By stating that the peace process is “unusual” for the reason that vanquished peoples do not live side by side with those who defeated them is tantamount to endorsing genocide; it is a comment that demonstrates that the Zionist movement has learned nothing from the lessons of history. It demonstrates that the Zionist movement has taken nothing from the ravages of war that nearly led to the vanquishing of the Jews in the middle of the twentieth century; is this the type of history that the Jews should be trying to perpetuate against another people? Should Jews not be fighting to the death to live in peace with others, knowing the awful price that nationalism exacts when taken to extremes.

If anyone should have learned about the importance of setting aside differences in the name of being able to live together in peace it is the survivors of the Holocaust: a people that were nearly wiped off the face of the earth by the xenophobic racial purity theories espoused by the Nazis. What is the difference between the near-genocide perpetrated against the Jews (Slavs, Gypsies, Homosexuals, disabled, and numerous others) and the ongoing atmosphere of apartheid and attempted genocide that has been enacted against the Palestinians over countless years?

I have met survivors of the Camps, both Jew and non-Jew, and there has always been a common denominator amongst these remarkable individuals: they share a desire to see a world without war, a world where everyone can live together in peace. This is something that they would gladly give up their lives to achieve. The violence perpetrated over the “Holy Land” is the worst example of historical ignorance, of a people refusing to learn lessons that cannot afford to be explained more than once. Even little children know that there is nothing to be gained from hatred, when will the Zionists and other fundamentalists grow up and follow their lead?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Trouble with Remembrance

Once again the day that has been set aside for us to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom is upon us and I am left with an uneasy feeling: what, exactly, are we remembering these days?

While it has never fallen upon me to take up arms to defend my country (for which all Canadians should be grateful as my skills are surely best served without things like an M24 in my hands … though it does have an interesting appeal at times) I have always observed Remembrance Day with a sense of solemnity, making a point – wherever possible – to watch the services from the National Memorial which is always broadcast on television.

The thing that has triggered my question this day stems from the modern face of war and the ways in which we have managed to sweep aside the conflicts in the name of political expediency. We do not want to offend our neighbours to the south, I’m sure, so in the service today you won’t hear (I’m quite sure – this is being written before they take place) any condemnations of the “immoral” or “illegal” war that is currently taking place. You won’t hear a single word spoken about the war of “revenge” and “retribution” that has cost now more American lives than the acts of terrorism that, ostensibly, caused them to be started. God forbid we should remember those who have been killed in this unholy war.

When the various ministers pray today we will not hear them plead to God for the nations that posses the wherewithal to intercede in the ongoing genocide taking place in Darfur to extract their heads from their stinking self-interests and begin the job of serving humanity rather than paying lip-service to lobbyists representing the special interest groups that have dictated everything that appears on the government agenda.

So what are we remembering this November 11th? Those soldiers who were killed in the great war of royal insanity; a war triggered by the assassination of an insignificant member of a family significant only for the fact that democracy had not visited itself upon the “empire”. The fact that this sparked a conflagration that sucked in virtually the entire world is testament to the fact that humanity is virtually incapable of standing idly by when a good fight is taking place.

Are we remembering the 69th anniversary of Krystalnacht (Nov. 9th), the millions of Jews, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, homosexuals, disabled people and other “untermenschen” that the Nazis murdered in the concentration camps, or are we only remembering the soldiers? Frankly, I have never been able to remember the one without the other: the great sacrifice paid by the soldiers must be remembered, to be sure, but dare we forget the victims of what began as a democratically elected government?

The “police action” of Korea – a war that, to this day, technically has not officially ended (a cease fire doth not a treaty make).

Which (if we exclude Vietnam which Canada didn’t “officially” participate in) brings us to the “current” conflicts. The peace keeping efforts in which Canadians have died are numerous and, alas, truly worth remembering.

It has always made me smile (and proud to be Canadian) when I think that those blue-bereted UN Peacekeepers exist because of a Canadian proposal and that Canadians have served in virtually every peacekeeping mission since the inception of the force in 1956, at the suggestion of then diplomat and future Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Pearson.

Our nation has a proud one of being there when it counts, when we are outnumbered and outgunned; but time and again Canadian soldiers have fought with tremendous courage and valour that belies the size of the forces deployed. Not willing to be the sacrificial lambs tossed into the waiting jaws of death, Canadian servicemen consistently demonstrated that they were more than “up to the task” of dealing with the enemies that were laying in wait for them. The roles played by Canadians in WWI and WWII, in which a combined number of over 100,000 died, is a terrible reminder of the costs of war.

Perhaps on this Remembrance Day it would have been fitting for the Chaplin to have summoned the courage to speak words that truly reflect the gravitas of the times in which we live rather than serving up the piece of ecumenical pap that was broadcast across this great nation. In closing I am now going to do something that I do not normally do in this blog – I am going to openly pray. If this is offensive to you, scroll down to the end of the post to see the final pictures of the poppies (my own photos) that are included in this post.

Heavenly Father, we gather here today
to remember those who paid
the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live in this land
with the freedoms that we enjoy on a daily basis.
Lord, we ask you to forgive us;
for we have squandered the great price
that these brave young men and women
offered through the letting of their own blood,
just as we often squander the gifts that
You have given to us when do not live
in peace with our neighbours.

We pray, Lord, that even while we remember
those who have fallen in past conflicts
You would raise up a force that would prevent
the further loss of life in places like Darfur, and that
You would put an end to the meaningless conflict
that is being fought in Iraq.

We pray for our Peacekeepers, Oh Lord,
not only in Afghanistan but wherever
their services may be needed,
even unto the ends of the earth.
Above all else, we pray for peace
in every corner of the world;
in all of Africa and Asia,
in all nations that see each other as enemy
rather than brother and sister,
and within each nation as well,
that every conflict may be settled by
the simple word of love.
This I pray in the precious name of Jesus,
Y’shua HaMoshiach; Amen.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Going Out on a Limb

I’ve been giving the subject of health care a great deal of thought lately. That is not only an introductory statement, it is a reflective comment regarding my current state of mind … a state of mind that has been heavily influenced by the circumstances that our system has been exerting upon one particular hospital in the Ottawa area.

It has always been my intention for there not to be any secrets here. That is one of the main reasons why I decided to fully disclose the fact that I am living with a mental illness: bi-polar affective disorder. There is a great difference between living with a mental illness and suffering from a disease; while there is no doubt that this illness has a powerful influence upon my life, it does not define me nor does it prevent me from pursuing the crafting of prose and the sculpting of sound with music.

This post, however, is not about my struggles to live with this illness; it has to do with the way the health care system has decided to deal with the people, like me, who have been diagnosed with treatable illnesses … illnesses that can be treated through out-patient programs that can, when all parties involved cooperate and participate, help to prevent the need for costly hospitalizations. I know that sounds like a fantastic claim, but it really isn’t – it all has to do with a very simple concept called Psychiatric Rehabilitation, or PSR for short.

The Royal Ottawa Hospital, now called the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care Centre, has had a PSR Program for over twenty years … had is the operative word. Unfortunately the vision of the hospital has changed for the reason that has been invoked across this land: the almighty dollar. While our health care system is being praised in films, documentaries and politicians around the world we know the truth: if there aren’t serious changes made, and soon, the “universal care” that is offered to our citizens will not be worth the health cards that we carry in our pockets.

If the Royal Ottawa resists the urge to judge the value of a program by its operating cost it has the opportunity to become an exemplary provider of mental health care. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the road that the visionless Board has deemed worthy of following. The acronym “ROMHCC” could very well come to mean the following (unless there are some radical changes – for the better – in the near future):
R – Relentlessly reckless in its feckless quest to dismantle a once Royal institution
O – Obsessively obtuse as staff with PSR experience are forced out
M – Managerially Machiavellian approach to the “bottom line”
H – Hilarious incompetence displayed as essential services are handed over to inadequately funded (or non-existent) community programs
C – Consumer oriented services that purport to protect the rights of patients bit in the end results in a systematic subjugation of those rights
C – Consummately courteous as they ask you to bend over …!

For more information on Psychiatric Rehabilitation at the Royal Ottawa, please read this article.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cyber-Censorship or Cyber-Sensible?

Some readers out there in the nebulous ether may have wondered at some point as to why the comments they submitted to this blog have not appeared. The answers are not difficult to understand, but after a long absence from the blogesphere I find that this issue has provided me with an opportunity – and the requisite inspiration – to return to the matter blogging after my prolonged absence. By way of offering an explanation to the missing comments I would like to offer an abridged history of my personal relationship with this grand experiment called the Internet, to provide some element of context for my feelings on this matter.

My first experiences with the Internet came long before the word “blog” entered our vocabulary; I spent many an hour reading the Usenet groups, posting to “threads” and, at times, getting “flamed” by the ubiquitous “trolls” that took great delight in preying on anyone they perceived to be susceptible to their venomous attacks. At the time it was the best that I could access through my FreeNet connection, but I wasn’t complaining … the operative word, after all, was that my Internet access was free. The drawbacks associated with this type of access, however, were quick to become evident to anyone who frequented the Usenet groups with any regularity: the “trolls” were not, as previously believed, completely toothless, nor were they the mindless evil creeps that many believed them to be … they were far more insidious than had been imagined, as well as being quite creative in their viciousness and irrational desire to destroy their online targets.

As in the real world, the Internet is populated with a wide variety of individuals, many of whom seem to not be guided by the same moral codes that the rest of us chose to live by; it is a world where bullies exist in reality, where their avatars seek to wreck havoc on susceptible targets in the unseen world of faceless anonymity. While the emerging architecture of the Internet was being celebrated as the ultimate expression of free speech at its best there were already signs that this “freedom” was going to be followed by several asterisks, signs delineating the necessary comments on the ways in which “free speech” has been used – and abused – by the finest American lawyers in order to protect the purveyors of hatred, racism, misogyny and other things that quickly found a home in the darkest depths of the Internet.

The borderless nature of this international community that can be called the “Net” implies a citizenry as diverse as the planet itself, and yet, real borders do exist. As much as we would like to imagine that the Internet is some wonderful egalitarian force working for the good of all, it is not; while it may have originated as an academic tool it has subsequently been usurped by the purveyors of the worst kinds of hatred, by exploitative materials, and by an endless stream of misinformation on virtually every imaginable topic. History is casually rewritten and posted with impunity as revisionists use any available opportunity to bolster their indefensible positions; the truth, as represented by the “Net”, should now be accompanied by disclaimers that what they are reading may not have anything to do with the truth. Of course, anyone who disagrees can simply post their own opinion, replete with their “version” of the truth someplace else. Thus the new definition for the Theory of Relativity that included the relativity of truth – anything could be seen as being “somewhat” true, so long as the person making the claims shouted loud enough (protested enough, or had enough similarly convinced cohorts who shared their misguided leader’s view). Whether or not something was actually true or not, however, was not as important as the slickness of the message being presented.

Perhaps it can be seen as a fulfilment of the idea proposed by Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan when he stated that “the medium is the message”, elevating the Internet itself to the level of messenger for a new age … the only caveat being that when trust is lost in that medium what are we left with? The truth of the matter is that the Internet is only a tool; it shall only continue to survive and thrive if we can be certain that we can have some level of confidence in the materials that we are accessing. There is no point using the Internet for research if everything found is of questionable value or comes from dubious sources. Trust is precious and is something that must be earned.

While some people might call this the ultimate “democracy” of the Internet there are some who believe there is a need to have Internet regulated. That isn’t what I’m interested in, at this point; I’m only concerned (in a small sense) with what is directly relating to my own contact with the “Net”, which happens to be this blog. Thanks to the advances in connectivity, computer speed, and the development of the “Net” itself (advances that have been made, by the way, largely due to the porn industry) connecting to the ether is far easier than it was in the days of the 56.6 modems.

Having a blog is, in a way, like having a diary that you leave open on a table for anyone to read (if they want to read it) … they can also write things in the margins if they so choose … that’s why I decided to have a comments section. That said, it hasn’t always been the most enjoyable thing … that isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed the writing – that was why I started, I enjoy writing. While I enjoy writing posts for this blog I don’t allow it to interfere with “life”; having the comments section is nice as it has allowed me to know when people read and enjoy what has been posted. Unfortunately there are not always bright sides to every story, and this one isn’t so bright … in fact, it is downright nasty.

When I began this blog the comments section was totally un-moderated, reflective of my faith in the ability of my reader’s to self-edit and, dare I say, self-censer. Alas, it didn’t take very long for the modern Internet “trolls” to rear their heads, posting everything from advertisements for drugs that promised to enhance the size of certain male body parts to some rather uncreative attacks that had absolutely nothing to do with what had been written.

Moderation began and the issue seemed to be solved … or so I thought. Lately there have been several submissions that are totally obscene, have absolutely nothing to do with the post to which they were attached, and are completely inappropriate for my blog. I have never posted anything along the lines of an “acceptable comments” post, and I am reluctant to do so for a number of reasons, but I will say the following to those individuals who may be of the opinion that my (potential) rejection of their comments is a violation of one of their constitutionally entrenched rights: get over it.

If you believe that you have the “right” to post absolutely anything to someone’s personal blog, you are deluded. First of all, I live in Canada, not the United States; Canada is not encumbered by the “First Amendment” that grants the “Freedom of Speech” (or “Freedom of Expression”) which is used to protect every American’s right to spout hatred from any soapbox they can find. In Canada you can be prosecuted for using language that incites hatred (see Ernst Zundel who was prosecuted under Section 181 of the Criminal Code of Canada for “knowingly publishing false news”).

Of course, in Canada we do have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which entrenches our "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication", however, the ruling of the Supreme Court was that section 181 violated the guarantee of freedom entrenched by the Charter. Zundel lost his legal battle in the end for the simple reason that the truth cannot be suppressed without its light shining through eventually. Not even the loudest revisionists can make their lies reach out to persuade those who are able to filter out the obfuscations and straw-man arguments that are passed off as their versions of the truth.

This may raise the question as to whether or not I really believe in free speech, or if I believe in censorship; I would argue that the first is as rarefied as the idea of true democracy and the second is as common as governmental corruption (particularly in the land where "free speech" is spoken of with such reverence). We are free to express ourselves as we desire, so long as we do not use that freedom to impinge upon the rights of others … oh, but that’s not the way this “freedom” is supposed to work, is it? Therein the true problem lies: one person’s freedom cannot become another’s shackles.

You will not see any comments published to this blog that violates the following code: sorry … there isn’t an “acceptable comments code”, and there isn’t going to be one – I am rejecting comments that are abusive, racist, misogynistic, hateful, and otherwise inappropriate. Does that sound too vague? Too bad; this isn’t a democracy either, it’s my blog. People are allowed to post anonymously, they just can’t post material that contains hateful comments.

As with many things that we experience throughout our lives there is a great amount to be said about the term “freedom” and what it means to each of us; however, true freedom can only come when we – as individuals – are liberated from the things that have bound us either physically, emotionally, or even intellectually.

Ironically the Dalai Lama was recently feted on an official visit to Ottawa where he had an audience with Prime Minister Harper. I find this ironic for the simple reason that the world loves to call for the “freedom” of Tibet, which is something that I would also agree with, and yet the Dalai Lama proposes a return of the Lama class … essentially the Tibetan version of the Indian caste system (the Dalai Lama being the top Brahman priest) ... or does he? History would tell us that this is the case, but the Internet reveals otherwise with a quick search that turns up a story pointing out the changing views of this world leader in exile.

Is freedom for Tibet the exchange of one oppressive system for another? That, as with many things is a matter for debate, but reasonable people will only be able to arrive at reasonable opinions once they have assessed the relevant materials. Knee-jerk reactions only serve to feed prejudices that feed hatreds that lead to wasted energies.

As always, comments are welcome, but whether they are posted shall be dependent not upon what you say but how it is stated.

Thank you for visiting.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

MLK in DC: 44 Years Later

It seems difficult to imagine that 44 years has passed since the historic demonstration that took place in Washington D.C. where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a massive crowd gathered for the single purpose of promoting civil rights in the United States. There were no distinctions of people at the rally, there were only people; Dr. King managed to bring together people from all walks of life for a common purpose, people who were able to put aside any differences in the quest for something greater. After 44 years the prize seems to have been lost, or at least the goal has been forgotten. Racial strife in the United States has reached a point where political adversaries take the opportunity to attack potential presidential candidates because of the color of their skin, and others are attacked if they are perceived to be weaker because they happen to be a woman. All the talk of advancement and progress that may have taken place cannot make up for the fact that there are more people of colour in U.S. prisons than are represented in the population, something that cannot be reconciled by statistical anomalies higher crime rates committed by “underprivileged minorities”: prosecutorial racism, or institutional racism if you prefer, is a fact of everyday life and it is a sad commentary on this anniversary.

The text of doctor King’s speech is as inspirational today as it was 44 years ago, and it is well worth reading if you have not read the words. Even better than reading the words, however, is hearing the speech as it was delivered by the man himself (and seeing him as he speeks): an opportunity to experience one of the great orators of the twentieth century. Like Cicero commanded his audiences in Roman times, captivating them with his magnificent gift of oratory Dr. Martin Luther King was able to take a great speech and turn it into an event that changed the lives. I was not fortunate enough to be at this rally, it took place five years before my birth, but having read the speech and seen the film as a child it has always felt to me as though I was there in spirit, and that doctor King’s words had a special resonance for me: I share his dream, and I do not want to see another 44 years ago by before the dream is fully realized.

You will find the full text of the speech after the video.

Text of speech:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquillity in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Urban Treasures

Being able to escape from the concrete, noise and heat of the city isn’t always possible, but there are some things that make the heat more tolerable; little gems here and there that brighten the “concrete jungle”, breaking up what would otherwise be a landscape dominated by buildings rather than flora.

Since the end of winter I’ve been collecting pictures of flowers and other sights around the downtown core of the city of Ottawa. For the most part these were all taken while I was on a walk with the intention of taking pictures, so I was specifically looking for things to capture with the camera. Other than that the only thing to say is that I’ve gained a greater appreciation for how beautiful it can be in this city with all of its trees, the wonderful architecture and, of course, the bountiful flowers that seem to grow everywhere. If people want to talk about conspiracies then I will concede this point about Ottawa: there is a conspiracy to keep this city beautiful throughout the spring and summer months by tending the gardens with exceptional care. That is the kind of conspiracy I can live with … I hope you can as well.

All photos copyright © 2007 by Peter Amsel (aka the CrazyComposer). High Resolution prints and dry-mounted images may be ordered by contacting me directly via e-mail.