Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pictues as lies

Richard Cohen makes a great point about that picture of some young adults sitting on the Brooklyn shore on Sept 11. He writes:

It has been interpreted as yet another example of indifference or the compulsion to return to normal even though, as anyone can see, there is nothing normal about what is happening. It is the emblematic photo of our times.

Photography, of course, is often a lie, and this photo is no exception. It captured a moment, a second or less, when one of the subjects said something and the other four turned toward him and away from the plumes of smoke, so they seemed not to care. This photo, like all photos, lacked context -- what went before and what went after -- and the interpretation of insouciance has been challenged by no less than some of the people in it. They insist they were intensely aware and horrified by what happened.

Exactly. I'm glad someone is standing up for those kids. I'm sure, during that day (I was in DC), there were plenty of moments where I smiled at something, or did something other than look horrified and shocked (which I was). Hell, I went for a drink with my roommate and some friends. There would have been thousands of opportunities to take a picture of us to say that we were being insufficiently sensitive.

But it is the delight we take in taking things out of context, in cherry-picking our quotes, in not understanding the context. So much easier never to scratch the surface than to actually stop and think.

We've become our enemies

As some might know, before my legal days I was on track to be an academic in German military history (my master's dissertation was on German troop morale in the First World War). I've spent a lot of time reading about both wars. Nothing has ever shaken my belief that in the Second, we (the Western allies at least) were the good guys, and that, unlike virtually every other war ever fought, the Second was a true struggle of good against evil.

When you compare our armed forces' conduct to theirs, the contrast is staggering.

When you compare our governments' conduct to theirs, the contrast is staggering.

When you compare how we treated prisoners of war, the contrast is staggering.

We didn't torture. We treated prisoners humanely (aside: the Germans did the same, for the most part, to us, precisely because of the Geneva Conventions. They did not to the Russians, because the Russians were not signatories. Just sayin'.)

And now what? Now, we torture. Now, treat prisoners inhumanely. Now, we lock people up in undisclosed locations on the slightest whiff of suspicion, in some gulag archipelago of secret prisons with no access to law or court. We disucuss suspending the writ of Habeas Corpus.

That was how our enemies behaved. It's not how we should be now.

And I'm sure I'll hear that it's a different kind of war with a different kind of enemy. Fine. We're still the good guys, and the good guys behave differently.

Monday, September 25, 2006


A great little song, to the tune of God Save the Queen

An example verse:

Are we all so repressed
That one small glimpse of breast
Must be taboo?
One Janet Jackson boob
Botched up what's on the tube
Bend over, we're not using lube

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bush wants a vaguer definition of torture, not clearer

Bush keeps harping on about how he needs clarity and more precision in the definition of cruel treatment and torture under the Geneva Convention's common article 3. But as Rosa Brooks points out, he's worried that it's not vague enough.

Exactly. How is it that for quite a long time, we've had no problem following the Geneva Convention, and suddenly it's a pressing need?

For all the perversion of language that Bush has been using ("alternative techniques," "stress positions," "dietary modification"), what we're debating is whether or not we can torture someone, plain and simple.

What rational, civilized country would ever have that debate? What country which holds itself out as some kind of beacon of civilization and progress could actually discuss that?

What Bush wants isn't clarity, though. He wants a free pass--something saying that things that any rational, decent person would call torture isn't torture at all.

Shame on us that we even talk about this.

And for anyone who says that being horrified by this debate and by Bush is anti-American, I say this: Bush is anti-American. Being American, I thought, meant setting a higher standard. It meant belief in the rule of law. It meant being truthful.

Instead, under Bush's watch, we've tortured people at Guantanamo. We've whisked people off to foreign lands to be tortured. We maintain secret prisons around the world. We've argued that anyone captured by us can't even see a lawyer or get a hearing.

If that's not anti-American, I don't know what is.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

America is safer for not having gay soldiers

This is truly awesome. From the Daily Show, where some nutjob claims that a) we homos have a habit of drinking each others urine (er . . .) and b) the country is safer for having kicked out an arabic crypto-linguist at a time when there is a desperate shortage of . . arabic linguists.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coups in Thailand

This coup in Thailand is a really bad idea, and it's even worse that the King is endorsing it.

Sure, the government may have not been great, and maybe corrupt, but it was still elected. If corruption and waste and incompetence alone were grounds for the military to step in, well, I can think of lots of western countries that deserve a bit of military rule.

But that's not how democracy--and the rule of law--work. Democracy means that sometimes you elect bad leaders. But in a democracy where the rule of law prevails, you endure and wait for a chance to vote the bastard out.

If, tomorrow, General Hillier decided to be done with Harper, even if he were bumbling and useless, the correct thing for the Governor General or the Queen to do would be to instantly demand the restoration of Harper and his government--namely, to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. That's the crown's job.

But what Rama IX has done simply is to say, sure, I'm okay with going around the constitution and the rule of law and endorsing blatantly illegal acts by the army, no matter how salutary the result.

Once the King approves of that, where's the limit? Sure, Thaksin wasn't a great PM, but he wasn't a dictator, and wasn't engaging in the sort of behaviour that might justify the army stepping in. He was elected. If you make a mistake and elect a loser, you don't get a deus ex machina to bail you out--you have to pay for your mistake and vote for someone better the next time. But now the Thai military can say, any time they don't like the government, hey, he was ineffective, so we're going to remove him.

As the Post notes:

The distaste for Thaksin may have colored the tepid U.S. response. "Nobody wants to go to bat for Thaksin. He's just an odious figure," said Michael A. McFaul, director of Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. "But there's the problem -- democracy's not about picking winners and losers, it's about defending institutions."

Lorne W. Craner, former assistant secretary of state under Bush and now director of the International Republican Institute, agreed that U.S. concerns with Thaksin did not justify a coup. "You can't sanction a coup just because you don't like the guy if you're going to stand up for democracy," he said. "It's unconstitutional."
Democracy and the rule of law died a little in Asia this week. Australia is right to point out that it thought Asia had moved beyond that.

Coups are never okay in a democracy, and Canada, which advertises itself as a great promoter of the rule of law, should come out strongly and insist that Thaksin be restored, no matter how bad a PM he was.

The rule of law demands nothing less.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Let me bring my coffee on board!

This is a great post from Wonkette. It quotes a report from a British expert, who points out:

"This story has been blown out of all proportion. The liquids would need to be carefully distilled at freezing temperatures to extract the required chemicals, which are very difficult to obtain in the purities needed."
Once the fluids have been extracted, the process of mixing them produces significant amounts of heat and vile fumes. "The resulting liquid then needs some hours at room temperature for the white crystals that are the explosive to develop." The whole process, which can take between 12 and 36 hours, is "very dangerous, even in a lab, and can lead to premature detonation," said Lt. Col. Wylde.

If there was a conspiracy, he added, "it did not involve manufacturing the explosives in the loo," as this simply "could not have worked." The process would be quickly and easily detected. The fumes of the chemicals in the toilet "would be smelt by anybody in the area." They would also inevitably "cause the alarms in the toilet and in the air change system in the aircraft to be triggered. The pilot has the ability to dump all the air from an aircraft as a fire-fighting measure, leaving people to use oxygen masks. All this means the planned attack would be detected long before the queues outside the loo had grown to enormous lengths."

So instead, because someone somewhere is getting quite paranoid, we now can't bring on water, we can't bring on baby formula, no lip gloss, no makeup, no deodorant. We have longer waits at baggage check because those of us who carry on normally now no longer can (unless we want to buy new products every time we fly). Ridiculous.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Memo to Muslim world: Get over it

And grow the hell up.

Okay, the Pope quoted some dead Byzantine emperor who said that Islam only brought "evil and inhuman" things to the world.

And what happens? They all go out and DO evil and inhuman things in the world. Like firebomb churches. And burn effigies. And riot. (Sidebar: Can you imagine what would happen if Christians and Jews were seen to be burning effigies of Mohammed? I mean, we can't even make a cartoon, let alone a model, let alone burn a model!)

Is the Islamic world populated by infants? Every time someone says something bad about islam, the islamic world blows up in anger. Things get stoned. Heads get called for. Jihad gets invoked. As Anne Applebaum notes:

Already, angry Palestinian militants have assaulted seven West Bank and Gaza churches, destroying two of them. In Somalia, gunmen shot dead an elderly Italian nun. Radical clerics from Qatar to Qom have called, variously, for a "day of anger" for for worshipers to "hunt down" the pope and his followers.
What sort of outrageous double standard do they live in? We cannot for the lives of us say that "Hm, maybe there's a fault in Islam--or the Islamic world--that people are blowing themselves up in the name of Allah, or are beheading people, or calling for the deaths of infidels" without being accused of being racist or anti-Islam or whatever, but they are free to fulminate against anything we say or do in the West, and use violence as part of their protests. We can't say anything, but they can bomb or burn things.

I'm sorry, but it seems to me that while not all muslims are terrorists, it appears that all terrorists are Muslims, and really, until it is that which is repudiated by the Muslim world--until the Muslim world is more outraged by the atrocities committed in its name than it is outraged by perceived slights from random people--then really, they should all just go into their corners and have a time out.


Michael Ignatieff was interviewed by AMT (Anna-Maria Tremonte) on the CBC's The Current this morning.

On Quebec, and the recent controversy over his vision for national unity, he said that recognizing Quebec as a nation would merely be a symbolic gesture. Then, without any irony, he described his vision of Canada with the expression "community of communities" !  As if Trudeau wasn't spinning in his grave from his previous comments, I'm sure poor PET was downright altering the spin of the planet at this point.

This was followed up with the caveat that he would only re-open the constitutional debate if he was sure it wouldn't be like a painful trip to the dentist. Iggy would only revisit the Constitution if he knew he had the 'winning conditions' to do so successfully. Again, said without any irony.

He's a smart, reasoned and passionate man, sure. But again, where were you for the past 25 years? Oh, right...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

More reasons to pick Dion

In a time when there are fewer and fewer people who actually will stand up and fight for a real Canada (not the Tory "community of communities" or the NDP "leave if you want" approach), Dion stands out as someone who can and does make the argument. This is why he should be the next Liberal leader (with a big important position for Martha Hall Findlay). From this old speech:

It was Fernand Dumont who wrote: "We currently speak of the 'Quebec nation.' This is a mistake, if not a fiction. If our English fellow citizens in Quebec do not feel that they belong to our nation, if many Allophones are repelled by it, if the Aboriginals reject it, can I make them a part of it with some sort of magic vocabulary?" (Raisons communes, 1995, p.63) [translation]. In response to this question, I answer that very few of our fellow citizens are repelled by being Quebecers. It is not belonging to Quebec that is the problem, it is renouncing Canada.

It is not Quebec nationalism that cannot be civic, it is secessionism. You can find many arguments to convince human beings of all origins to become Quebecers. But you will come up short when it is a matter of convincing them to cease to be Canadians as well.
If we had to break up a country because "the others" were more numerous than "we," how could we ask our own minorities to trust us as the majority? In any event, we could not offer them as extensive an autonomy as that which we had deemed to be insufficient for ourselves within Canada, because no one is talking of making an independent Quebec a decentralized federation. Renouncing Canadian solidarity means accepting a principle of rupture and a mistrust of others which run counter to the solidarity among Quebecers.

Secession is an exercise whereby one chooses one's fellow citizens: you choose whom you want to keep and whom you want to transform into foreigners. There is no civic reason for doing so in a democratic country such as Canada. On the contrary, democracy calls upon us to show solidarity toward all our fellow citizens.

Bush is a shrill liar

This is Matt Lauer cornering Bush on terror. It's disgusting. He can't make any articulate defence of his position, other than "We're doing what's in the law." Um, Mr. President: you're not. The Supreme Court has said you're not. The entire civilized world says you're not. John "Torture" Yoo is the "lawyer" who said that what you're doing is okay. No one else believes him.

And how specious is Bush's claim that he can't discuss techniques because the "enemy" will change their tactics. Okay, because terrorists will behave differently if they know interrogation will consist of pulling their fingernails rather than waterboarding them. He can't even defend the waterboarding!

And finally, I'm really over Bush falling back on "we're doing it to protect you and your family" (ahem, the family I'm not allowed to have, btw). As Daliah Lithwick pointed out in Slate,

I am willing to be persuaded, five years later, that provisions of the Patriot Act really do make us safer. But I am not persuaded by assertion alone. How can I balance the security benefits of so-called national-security letters, or the subpoena of my library records, if the government refuses to disclose how that information is used and why? If I am only weighing the curtailment of my civil liberties against the government's bare assertions that such curtailment makes me safer, then there is no real balancing to be done. And if that information is unknowable, am I not just balancing my own subjective sense of freedom against the president's promise that I am safer?

Exactly. Whenever George II is questioned, he falls back to "I'm trying to protect you." The ancient refrain of totalitarian regimes everywhere. You can't have free speech because we're protecting you. We must arrest people to protect you. We must torture people to protect you.

I would expect that from Stalin. Not from the American president.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Bloc and a Hard Place

Come on, the title just begged to be blogged.

A few polls have suggested a drop in Quebec support for the Conservatives over the Afghan issue, particularly after the weekend deaths of five soldiers. Harper's quest for a majority would appear to be in jeopardy. Sensing this, the Bloc and the NDP, conventiently holding their convention in Quebec City, have been cranking up the anti-war rhetoric.

However, few elections have been decided over foreign policy. Could the next one be the exception?

Well, today, Gilles Duceppe announced that the Bloc would support the controversial softwood lumber deal. The minority government could have been defeated on this issue. Apparently the BQ is still afraid of a fall election, despite the apparent weakness of the Conservatives.

Either the Bloc doesn't think softwood lumber holds much traction with Quebec voters, or they don't think the Afghan issue will cost the Conservatives much in the way of votes.

Either way, Harper wins.

Some days

I really hate being gay. Do we always have to act like scared schoolgirls when we see a BUG?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

At the end of the rainbow

It's not a pot of gold . . . .

GOD DAMN these yankee cowboy buckaroos who kill our people


Yet again, Yankee incompetence kills one of us.

Yet again, some jackass pilot who's got a hardon for his guns kills a Canadian and wounds 29 more.

Four years ago, some Yankee pilot on speed dropped a bomb on four Canadians, in SPITE of orders not to fire. Did their president say anything, knowing that 29 were wounded and one dead? No:

In Maryland, Bush paid tribute to American military personnel serving abroad during a Labour Day address, but said nothing about the friendly fire incident. By the time he strode to the podium in Piney Point, Md., the U.S. military had confirmed that it was their planes that strafed the NATO troops. That was an eerie echo of the silence from the White House in April 2002, when four Canadian soldiers were killed by Americans in a friendly fire bombing.
Did the world cry for us? No. Did anyone on the planet say, we are sorry, you gentle kind country who for over a century has sent its sons and daughters abroad to die for others and never asked for anything in return and certainly never been granted anything in return? No.

Our people died on the fields of Belgium and France, yet in 1919 who paid attention to us? Per capita, more Canadians died in one day in Flanders than died in the entire Viet Nam war, but who cried for us?

Our people were there from day 1 of the Second World War, we exited the War nearly bankrupt, yet did we find a place of leadership in the world? France, that collaborating nation, was an occupier, yet while its people were gleefully turning over Jews, our people were fighting to liberate them. And their maudit president dared to call for the destruction of our state, while the blood of countless Canadians stains their soil.

And so now, yet again, we will bury our dead, and we will carry on, and the world will not care.

As was said in that great Telegraph article, "Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun."


[A]s always, Canada will now bury its dead, just as the rest of the world as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does. It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored.
And so, as our crimson flag flies at half-mast, as yet another Canadian family grieves the loss of their son, we will be forgotten. Our gentle, kind, just country, thrice-invaded by the Americans, who has never fired its guns in anger save to help others and never for out own interest, now mouns yet another of us, shot down by the cavalier gunslingers who run the republic to our south.

I want to say, leave us alone, world. Let us follow our great vision--the vision of a just, bilingual, polycultural state--without you. Let us remain the stunning rebuke to those who say that every ethnic or religious or linguistic group needs it own state. Let us remain the rebuke to those who would say that equal rights for all will hurt society.

I cannot. Our small country is a force for good. There is no self-interest in our fight in Afghanistan. There was none in Korea. We got nothing from our other wars.

Yet, the world's neglect notwithstanding, the mocking of my own Canadianness I endure daily, the utter disregard for what we as a society have done, all of that aside, we are still Canada, and it is our historic mission to raise high the crimson and white and to fight and die so that others will be free.

But we do not deserve to be slaughtered by those who claim to be our friends.