Monday, December 21, 2009

I've been replaced by an iPhone app!

As an anthropologist who has taught about the cultural impacts of new technologies, I am a bit stunned by the news of the new iPhone ethnography app. I can't decide if the new research tool is good or bad for anthropologists.

On the one hand, it's further evidence that the value of ethnography is being recognized beyond the discipline. The fact that "ethnography", a somewhat unknown research methodology, is being associated with what might be the most popular gadget in the history of time, means that my work as an anthropologist is becoming more publicly recognized. Not to mention that the app might be quite useful in the field. As someone who has recently begun ethnographic consulting for business, I think these are all very good things.

On the other hand, it means that any moron with an iPhone can call themselves an ethnographer.

The application is currently selling for £ 6.99 in the UK (about $11.00 USD). What this says about the value of my PhD (which cost a bit more than that), I'm not sure.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Understanding Seven Jewish Children’s Complicated Mess

When does artistic expression become racist propaganda? Can something be antisemitic if it is said by a committed Jew? Does the protection of free speech merit the propagation of hate? Is an attack against the Jewish State an attack against the Jewish people as a whole? At the heart of the debate about Caryl Churchill’s play, Seven Jewish Children, is the difficult problem of where to draw the line between antisemitism and legitimate critique of Israel. The time has come to put politics aside and begin to engage with these questions in a rigorous and scholarly way.

Seven Jewish Children elicits a similar debate in each community where it is staged: While critics have denounced the play for what is seen to be blatant antisemitism, others have countered that the production is nothing more than legitimate criticism of Israel. The 10-minute piece is a meditation on how we transmit cultural narratives to our children. Beginning with the Holocaust and tracing a historical line through the creation of the State of Israel to the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the piece highlights the ways that adults choose to discuss difficult topics with children.

The play is clearly not intended to be balanced; its subtitle is “A Play for Gaza”, not “A Play for Peace”. The story it tells begins with the horrors of the Holocaust and ends with an inversion of sorts, where the characters seem to be lamenting the tragic yet inevitable process of victims becoming perpetrators. Does this inversion mean that the play is antisemitic? Possibly, but not necessarily. Is it uncomfortable to hear? Certainly. But whether the piece is or is not antisemitic, the fact that so many people regard it as such is significant and prevents us from simply dismissing these accusations out of hand. Seven Jewish Children touches a nerve and raises difficult – even painful – questions about the nature of Jewish identity and the relationship between antisemitism and legitimate critique of Israel.

Yet these are the very questions that have been fueling fears and debates about several current anti-Israel initiatives; the growing momentum of Israeli Apartheid Week (the international movement on university campuses), the legitimacy of Durban II, and the boycott of Israeli academics, just to name a few. In these endless games of Who’s The Victim?, accusations of antisemitism are countered with the anti-racist declarations of the Politically Correct, and Free Speech is being tossed around like a Get Out Of Jail Free card. Clearly what is needed is a better understanding of just exactly what contemporary antisemitism is and how it relates to criticism of Israel.

Former Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky’s 3D test of antisemitism (demonization, delegitimization, and double standards) is often cited as a tool to determine whether or not criticism of Israel crosses the line. However, the nature and experience of antisemitism as it relates to criticism of Israel is a profoundly emotional issue, and far too complex for such a simple litmus test to master.

Unfortunately, much of the current work on contemporary antisemitism is characterized by a kind of passionate and politicized argumentation that lacks the strength of academic scholarship. The small amount of scholarly research that does exist is rarely conducted in a Canadian context. Research institutes in the U.S., Europe, and Israel provide rigorous scholarly material that is used to inform policy around antisemitism and racism in general. Canada has yet to create a similar institute.

Whether or not one believes that anti-Zionism is the same as antisemitism, there is no doubt that communities are struggling to make sense of this question, and painful rifts are being created in the process. If we are to unravel the complicated mess that is presented by Seven Jewish Children, if we are going to be able to hear what it has to say and learn from it, we must move beyond politics towards a better understanding of what antisemitism is today.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Keeping Calm and Carrying On

For the past several days I have been vacationing in Arizona. Since arriving here, I have encountered reproductions of the British WW2 war poster, “Keep Calm and Carry On”, in at least four different stores, in the form of postcards, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and key chains. In the face of a fearsome economic downturn, a housing crisis and staggering job losses, it's no wonder that Americans are telling themselves to calm down. As a Canadian visiting America, it’s extremely clear that people here are feeling very uneasy, and that this level of discomfort is being felt in all aspects of daily life.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I came across a woman in the produce section who was angrily bemoaning the fact that too many of the fruits and veggies were not “made in America”. “Why should those Mexicans get our money, when people here need the work?”, she irritably hissed. I quietly wondered to myself if she understood how expensive and limited her shopping experience would be if it was restricted to items that were “made in America”.

That same day, 60 illegal workers were rounded-up in an immigration raid in downtown Phoenix. In the face of what President Obama has recently called a “full-blown crisis”, it seems that the folks here in Phoenix aren’t feeling all that generous to outsiders these days.

It’s worth noting that this anxious cultural mood is not unique to Phoenix, or even to the United States. The German word “zeitgeist”, literally meaning “spirit of the age”, is a philosophical term used to describe the political, moral, intellectual and cultural climate of any particular historical time. With hardly a country untouched by this economic crisis, it’s fair to say that the current global zeitgeist is one of fear and anxiety. But America is a powerful country; its response to this financial crisis will no doubt influence the actions of nations across the globe.

So, will Americans be able to take their own advice, to keep calm and carry on? Or does the American zeitgeist reflect the attitude of the woman I encountered in the grocery store – anxious and fearful, and hateful as a result?

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

So Much for the Invisible Hand

The economist Adam Smith used the metaphor of the invisible hand to theorize how a free market – one which allows individuals to maximize their profit potentials – can benefit all the individual members of a community. Intended as an argument against protectionist government regulations, this theory basically says that as social creatures, we are driven by self-interest, but that this drive is ultimately good for society as a whole. Based on essentially the same principle as Darwin’s notion of natural selection, the logic behind Smith’s theory dictates that just like disadvantageous traits in plants, animals, and humans, inefficient business models will cease to exist.

Which brings us to the current context of global economic downturn and bagazillion dollar bailouts. It would appear that when the shit hits the fan, even free-market enthusiasts get cold feet. America, once a champion of free trade, is set to pass a $900 billion dollar stimulus plan that includes a (somewhat softened) “Buy America” provision. Similarly, in an attempt to stave off the inevitable, the dinosaur-like North American automotive industry is being rescued from extinction.

And in Canada last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s budget passed with an $85 billion dollar deficit. This, despite the fact that until now, Harper’s political identity was firmly rooted in free-market economics. His master’s thesis, written in 1991, demonstrated that government interventions in the market served political, rather than economic interests. Clearly, Harper knows that if he had applied his free-market ideologies to last week’s budget, he’d likely be out of a job before the next election.

Which leads me back to Smith’s invisible hand. Smith’s entire thesis rests on the notion that as social creatures, we are driven by self- interest. Based on the recent Canadian example, one must conclude that he is correct. Although it seems that in this instance, the self-interest of a political leader trumped the imperative to allow self-interest to govern the market. For better or worse, it would seem that Smith’s invisible hand has been shackled.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Symbol of America's Redemption

Today, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. I believe that the inauguration of President Obama is the symbolic equivalent of America’s redemption in the eyes of the world. Although not a descendant of slavery, Obama is a representation of America’s emancipation from its own sordid history of slavery and racial discrimination. Barack Obama offers a hope for change and a chance for America to shed its identity as a global villain. Obama stands for The Good, and Americans are ready for The Good President.

Nevertheless, I think it is important to highlight that the power of Obama thus far has been entirely symbolic. Anthropologists have long been interested in the ways that symbols convey meanings and the power that these meanings have over our experiences. A simple example of this is how a small red octagon has the power to govern the movements of billions of people all over the world. However, the thing about the power of a symbol is that it is subject to and limited by the constraints of its physical and material environment. The power of the stop sign is irrelevant if you’re heading towards a busy intersection in a car with faulty brakes.

Which brings me back to Obama. One can’t help but fear that for all the symbolic heroism that has been projected onto this man, he will be unable to fix the political, economic and environmental mess that is today’s global reality. Whether or not Barack Obama proves to be America’s redeemer will remain to be seen. Let’s just hope, for our sake and his, that’s he’s got better luck than the driver of the car without brakes.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Those of you who have read my blog before might remember my father-in-law, the Albertan. Our politics tend to diverge, which makes for lively debates and interesting blog topics. Anyways, my Albertan father-in-law now has his own blog, Ivory Tower Pundit. You should check it out.

In his latest posting, my father-in-law argues that the reason Hamas has continued its war against Israel, despite its obvious underdog position, is that its primary objective is to vilify Israel on the world stage. Images of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli tanks don't do very much for Israel's reputation. He believes that if those opposed to Israel’s actions (i.e. lefty protestors, anti-Zionists, anti-Americans, unions, etc …) truly want the violence to end, they must condemn Hamas and deprive it of the support it needs to continue.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his argument, but think that one must also ask how and why Hamas gained such widespread support in the first place.

Here's the thing- most people naturally root for the underdog. And in a world where politics are governed by optics, the endless suffering of the Palestinian people has solidified their underdog status. This, despite the fact that Israel is despised by its neighbours, some of whom are sworn to its demise.

However, after the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005, there was a window of opportunity where Israel could have transformed itself from the tyrannical oppressor into a helpful ally. Had Israel (and its international allies) taken the necessary steps to strengthen Abbas and the Fatah party, perhaps Hamas would not have won the support of the Palestinians of Gaza. Had Israel and its allies made it their business to ensure the social and economic stability of the Palestinians of Gaza, perhaps the blockades of food and medical supplies might not have been a tragic military necessity.

To this, my father-in-law might reply, “Why should Israel be responsible for the safety and security of the Palestinians?” Well, when Hamas becomes the primary provider of important resources like basic health care and education, it is no surprise that it wins the support of the people. If my father-in-law is correct and Hamas’s primary objective is to demonize the State of Israel, then it makes sense that the well-being of the Palestinians should be a strategic necessity for Israel.

And in a world where optics count, it wouldn’t hurt to look like the good guys for once.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

So Much for Brand Israel

In August of 2008, the Israeli Foreign Ministry embarked on an ambitious PR campaign to re-brand Israel. Toronto’s status as a multicultural centre made it a perfect test site for the “Brand Israel” initiative, which will be launched internationally in the coming years. According to Israeli Consul General Amir Gissin, the marketing mission is to “make Israel relevant and attractive to Canadians and to refocus attention away from the conflict.” By purposely omitting politics from the re-branding agenda, the hope is to shine a positive light on some other aspects of Israel’s identity, such as its role as a medical and technological innovator.

Unfortunately for those involved in the re-branding effort, Israel just doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Five months into the campaign, and Israel goes and has a war with Gaza. So much for trying to avoid the political conflict.

The thing is, Israel’s image problems are nothing but political. It was created as a response to an attempted genocide of the Jewish people. It is surrounded by hostile neighbours, most of whom regularly express their desire to see it destroyed. As a result, Israel’s military is fierce and its 60 year occupation of the Palestinians has been brutal. The current war in Gaza is a tragic outcome of the reality of Israel’s very existence. Until Israel is able to come up with a tenable solution for the Palestinian problem, it will be continually forced to bare its military might. No amount of positive PR will ever change this sad fact.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

What's more disturbing?

Some have called the Annapolis peace summit Bush’s swansong, but I’m not so sure. For years Georgie tried to avoid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but now that he’s experienced (some might say caused…) the pit of despair commonly referred to as Iraq, the messy disaster of Israel-Palestine suddenly doesn’t seem quite so daunting. Either way, the outlook for the Holy Land is bleak.

I mean, what’s more disturbing? The fact that 15,000 right-wing Israeli protesters marched through Jerusalem to the Western Wall to pray that the peace talks would fail, or that Mahmoud Abbas has banned all demonstrations in the West Bank? Or how about the fact that Olmert’s coalition partners (not to mention key members of his own party) will not negotiate any concessions that involve Jerusalem? Olmert has declared that without a two-state solution Israel “is finished”, yet a recent poll has indicated that 83% of respondents believe there will not be a peace agreement in their lifetime. Very depressing, yes, but what about the fact that Hamas (which happens to control Gaza) was able to mobilize 100,000 people to protest the peace effort? What an absurd irony that the Annapolis summit will likely fail (in part) because Hamas, a democratically elected terrorist group* has not been invited to participate in the negotiations.

No matter how you cut it, things are not looking good for the land of the Bible. GWB’s attempt at a legacy in Israel-Palestine has come far too late and will do little more than add to his big Middle East balagan.

* Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by Canada, the United States, the European Union, Israel and Japan.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Human Rights and Hypocrisy

Perhaps the only thing more irritating than stupid politics is hypocritical politics. I shall illustrate with an example.

Last week, the Harper government made a really big deal of announcing that in response to the recent military junta in Burma, Canada would be imposing “the toughest sanctions in the world.” These sanctions are being justified on moral grounds, because according to Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, “[T]he regime in Burma is abhorrent to Canadian values.” Canada’s response includes the use of the Special Economic Measures Act, which will:

• ban all goods exported from Canada to Burma, excepting only the export of humanitarian goods
• ban all goods imported from Burma into Canada
• freeze assets in Canada of any designated Burmese nationals connected with the Burmese State
• prohibit the provision of Canadian financial services to and from Burma
• prohibit the export of any technical data to Burma
• ban new investment in Burma by Canadian persons and companies
• prohibit Canadian-registered ships or aircraft from docking or landing in Burma
• prohibit Burmese-registered ships or aircraft from docking or landing in Canada and passing through Canada.

What a load of crap. These sanctions are a pathetic attempt at feel-good optics for the Conservatives. Canada and Burma have a completely insignificant trade relationship, so these measures are nothing more than a lot of hot air. If the Canadian government truly had a moral interest in international human rights then why is China our second-largest trading partner? China’s record of human rights abuses is at least as (if not more?) morally reprehensible than Burma’s.

According to a U.S. Department of State Fact Sheet, common abuses of rights include:
Arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confession, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, and worker rights, and coercive birth limitation. In 2005, China stepped up monitoring, harassment, intimidation, and arrest of journalists, Internet writers, defense lawyers, religious activists, and political dissidents. The activities of NGOs, especially those relating to the rule of law and expansion of judicial review, have been curtailed. In recent years, China has passed new criminal and civil laws that provide additional safeguards to citizens, but previously debated political and legal reforms--including expanding elections to the township level and reform of the reeducation through labor system--have been put on hold.

Not to compare atrocities (certainly the current military junta in Burma is just the most recent chapter of the very long story of oppression in that country) but clearly for millions and millions of Chinese people the situation is quite dire.

Here’s the thing. I’m not an activist, and I’m not saying that Canada should necessarily cut ties with China. What I am saying is that Harper’s big show against human rights abuses in Burma is little more than a cheap attempt at looking like one of the good guys.

Monday, August 13, 2007


As council announces a typhoon of service cuts, Torontonians rejoice in the knowledge that they will not be facing tax increases any time soon. Councilors who voted down Mayor David Miller’s proposed tax increases are pleased that they have spared their constituents the hardships of an increased tax burden that would have seriously impacted quality of life in the city. Dodging the dreaded tax bullet will ensure that Toronto will not have to succumb to the same improvements in amenities that other world-class cities have had to endure. With the closing of pools, community centres, and cut-backs in litter collection, children frolic in potholes and sort garbage in parks for summertime fun! Yay Toronto City Council- you guys are the best!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Toronto the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Oy Toronto.

So, my Albertan father-in-law loves to gripe about Toronto. Whether or not his complaints are legitimate or relate to the fact that his son no longer calls Alberta home is up for debate. The point however, is that for the past several years I’ve found myself in the position of having to defend the city that I call home.

And usually this is not too difficult a task. Toronto is a multicultural mecca; from food to entertainment, there’s very little you can’t find here. And for a city its size, it’s pretty clean, safe and affordable.

Unfortunately however, Toronto is headed for disaster. It seems that the city has $100 million dollar budget shortfall, and the Mayor’s proposed solution – an increase in property and vehicle registration taxes – was defeated yesterday at city council. So now the city has to find $100 million dollars in savings elsewhere, i.e. in massive cuts to public services. Plans to shut down the Sheppard subway line (which Mel shelled out a billion to build...”nobody” else would be that stupid…), a $30 million cut in police, fire and ambulance services; cuts to libraries, community and recreation centres; cancellation of proposed climate change plans, Nathan Phillips Square and city hall renovations, and a hiring freeze.

Bottom line – because of council’s desire not to tax the citizens, the citizens are going to lose all the amenities that any self-respecting city should offer. Colossally stupid, in my humble opinion. So it won’t cost any more to register my car or sell my house, but the roads I drive on will be crappy, and my neighbourhood services will be non-existent (which will probably lower my property value…)

It’s quite well-known that most Canadians dislike Torontonians at least a little bit. Perhaps it’s because we like to delude ourselves into believing we live in the best city in the world. Once the service cuts are implemented and we Torontonians become aware of how shitty this city actually is, will that mean that other Canadians will like us more? If so, maybe my father-in-law the Albertan will visit more often.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pondering pot and patrol fleets

I think it’s fair to say that Canada isn’t one of the world’s winningest countries. With a couple of exceptions (hockey and Olympic fourth-place showings) we tend to suck when it comes to international competitions. However, it now appears that Canadians have a new record to be proud of. According to a report in today’s Globe and Mail, Canadians use marijuana 4 times more than any other developed country, with 16.8 per cent of 15-64 year-olds having smoked in 2006. The world average for that same stat is 3.8 per cent.

Now, I don’t actually smoke pot myself – I think I hit my lifetime quota sometime in university, or at least that's what severe paranoia led me to believe – but it seems to me that the smartest thing that Canada could do would be to profit off our nation’s predilection for puffing. If marijuana was legalized, it could then be regulated (and taxed) like other intoxicating/toxic substances – alcohol and tobacco to be specific. That butts and booze are potentially more dangerous than pot is a very easy argument to make. One could even argue that maintaining pot’s illegal status is a bit like closing the barn doors after all the animals are chain-smoking alcoholics. Why not let them get high as well?

And just think of all the goodies that federal pot revenues could buy: Harper could fix health care, make university free, pay off the Taliban... and all because Canadians like to get baked.

On a related note- also in today’s Globe is a report about Harper’s plans to protect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic by spending $3.1 billion for a patrol fleet capable of operating in metre-thick ice. Add to this an additional $4.3 billion to build and maintain the ships over their lifespan, and apparently we will be safe from the evil Danes who apparently pose some sort of threat to our nation. Move over Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s a new territorial dispute in town. If Canadians knew that this 7 billion-dollar venture were to be paid for with pot revenues, perhaps it wouldn’t seem like such a colossally stupid waste of money.
It's been a while

I apologize for my lengthy absence. The past six months have been a tad busy- since my last post I completed the draft of my PhD dissertation and had a baby girl. Now that the draft is in and the little miss is somewhat under control, I shall return to my regular rantings about stupid shit that makes me laugh.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Finally- A Land Without People for a People Without Land

This famous saying – “a land without people for a people without land” – is a well-known Zionist slogan. Coined by Lord Shaftesbury in 1839 (a British Christian supporter of Jewish settlement in Palestine), the slogan played a large role in the creation of the early Zionist ethos. The idea was that Palestine (a barren wasteland of a country that was inhabited by no one) should be settled the Jews of Europe (a pariah people that the Europeans were dying to get rid of). This idea informed much of the early Zionist efforts.

Today of course, we’re all well aware that prior to the first wave of Zionist immigration to Palestine (it was not called Israel until 1948), the land was inhabited by…Palestinians, of course! (Though at the time they were not officially called Palestinians…but that’s a whole other discussion…)

Fast forward to 2007, and guess what? My tribe has gone and found themselves an actual land without people! (For real this time!) This week the Globe and Mail reported that Israelis are buying up lunar land “faster than anyone else on the planet.” Apparently, 12 000 Israelis already own more than 4000 square kilometres of lunar land.

And who can blame them, really? After all- it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the Israeli-Arab conflict is likely beyond repair. I mean, shit- the Chief of Staff of the IDF just resigned, for Christ’s sake!

And so what if there’s no water or air- these are the people who made the desert bloom, dammit! Mark my words- in a few decades, Israelis will be making the moon thrive…cooperative moon-farms with cutting edge agriculture, technology and cultural sectors booming…and the best damned chocolate milk in the galaxy. But, if history is any indicator, the Israeli moon-makeover will likely bring with it those who think the Zionists don’t deserve to be there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hu’s on first- and Galloway is an unfit ump.

Opening Caveat: Despite my naturally left-leaning inclinations, this particular entry is going to seem a tad right-ish. I can’t help it. Imbecilic hypocrisy deserves to be ridiculed, no matter what side of the political spectrum it’s found. The only thing more annoying than imbecilic hypocrisy is the fact that people ignore it due to their political leanings. That said, brace yourself- I’m about to say nice things about Stephen Harper.

So, Stephen Harper is in Hanoi for the APEC summit. As you may know, Harpy and president Hu of China have had quite a confusing time trying to set up a meeting together. (For some reason, images of communist baseball players come to mind…) First they were supposed to meet, then Hu cancels due to Canada’s critical attitude towards China’s human rights issues. There was some back and forth between the two sides, and eventually the two leaders met for a brief chat.

Canadian opposition MPs have taken this as an opportunity to blast Harper’s diplomatic abilities and criticize the government’s foreign policy. Fine, fair enough- they’re the opposition; it’s their job to nit pick. (Although it’s quite possible that Harper’s posturing with Hu was a brilliant way to allow both leaders to save face while at the same time allowing them to screw human rights and just get down to business.) But then George Galloway enters the picture. Galloway is a British MP and a well-known critic of the war in Iraq who is traveling through Canada on a speaking tour. He’s making several appearances in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, where he is educating Canadians about why we need to get out of Afghanistan, and how we must accept the legitimacy of the Hamas-led Palestinian parliament. Obviously Galloway is no Harpy fan, but I must admit, I was a tad surprised by his take on the whole Harpy/Hu affair. (Again, this just reeks of Abbott and Costello…) According to him, “Harper's foreign policy strategy is a joke and is causing Canada to be hated around the world.” Apparently, Galloway has condemned Canada’s critical attitude towards China’s human rights record, claiming that "the idea of Canada threatening China is absurd…the whole point of politics is to talk to each other, even if you hate each other."

Interesting, but wait…George Galloway is an extremely vocal critic of Israel. Not only does he support the international Israel boycott campaign, he believes Israel is a terrorist state and he is in full support of any and all anti-Israel resistance. As he claims on his website: “I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheik Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.” It’s important to note that Nasrallah’s mission is not to talk through his problems with his neighbour to the south; his mission is to destroy Israel.

And here’s where we get to the part about imbecilic hypocrisy. Galloway is lambasting Harper for his inability to diplomatically deal with China, yet he openly supports the Israel boycott and “glorifies” groups who aim to destroy Israel. Why would political attempts at diplomacy be appropriate when dealing with countries like China (deplorable human rights record, repressive communist regime), but not appropriate for countries like Israel (democracy, vigorous and even activist judiciary)?

I'm the first to admit that Israel is responsible for egregious human rights violations in the occupied territories, and discriminatory practices towards its Israeli Arab citizens. But I would argue that like China, these problems must be dealt with diplomatically. If George Galloway (and for that matter all the lefty, anti-war "peace" activist white folks he represents) does not see the glaring bias implicit in his calls for diplomacy with China, he’s either a fucking moron or a total hypocrite. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Democrats sweep, yet U.S. still very very messy

So, in case you live under a rock, the Democrats have swept both Congress and the Senate. If these results had occurred within a parliamentary system, it would have amounted to a non-confidence vote, and the government would have been thrown out. Instead, Rummy gets the boot (and by “gets the boot” I mean he will likely be taking up a very lucrative position related to either weapons contracts or reconstruction in Iraq; in other words, he will continue to reap the spoils of his oh-so-proficient war efforts.)

That being said, he’s out, and the American people have spoken. They have quite clearly expressed their dissatisfaction with the Bush administration. You’d think a lefty like me would be pleased, yet for some reason, I’m not all that impressed. Perhaps it’s because the Democrat victory is solely based on the misjudgments, miscalculations and ineptitude of the Bush administration. Has anyone heard anything other than politicking and sloganism from any of the successful Democrat candidates? (If you have, by all means, let me know!) Is there a Democrat out there that can provide an intelligent strategy for Iraq? Immigration? Health care? Pensions? One can't help but think that this is a victory by default, and in my opinion, such a victory does not inspire much confidence in the Democrats.

What it comes down to is this: As a result of the Republican disaster in Iraq (which, by the way, many Democrats actually supported in the first place), the Democrats now hold the balance of power, yet it seems unlikely that they have even the slightest inkling as to how to clean up the mess.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Deep Fried Coke Balls

So, I’ve been out for a while. Sorry it’s been so long, but frankly, I’ve not had anything interesting or new to say. Now, you’re probably thinking that this is strange, seeing as though there’s still a whole whack of scary and stupid shit in the news everyday. The war in Iraq, climate change, the upcoming US election, the juicy Foley scandal, North Korea, Iran…yet I’m still uninspired. Maybe I’m just boring.

Anyways, since this blog is listed on my business card, I’ve got to keep it somewhat current. But, what shall I talk about? I know! In the face of serious ennui and when all else fails, make fun of what Americans eat!

In that spirit, perhaps you’ll find this amusing: Deep Fried Coke.

I shit you not.

This is real food being served in America, everyday. It consists of the following:

“…a batter mix made with Coca-Cola syrup, a drizzle of strawberry syrup, and some strawberries. Balls of the batter are then deep-fried, ending up like ping-pong ball sized doughnuts which are then served in a cup, topped with Coca-Cola syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry on the top.”

So, apparently this new “snack” (I use quotes because the term snack implies food, and I’m not sure fried Coke counts), is a huge hit at fairs and festival across the country. It was invented by 34 year-old Texan, Abel Gonzales. Gotta love that creative American spirit of innovation. Apparently, Coca-Cola Co. is thrilled with this new use of their product. Spokesperson Ray Crocket explains:

"We're constantly amazed at the creative ways folks find to enjoy their Coke and make it part of celebrations like fairs and festivals. This one is definitely different!"

Constantly amazed, eh? I guess that makes two of us. God forbid any beleaguered and besieged Iraqis get wind of this…while the Americans continue to fail miserably in Iraq, their fellow countrymen at home are eating themselves to death. Call me a food snob, but this really doesn’t inspire much confidence in the values “feeding” the American war effort.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You heard it here first, folks.

It's been a while, I know. And my apologies in advance for what will be yet another salaciously superficial posting. But I just thought I should take the time to point out that I TOLD YOU SO! (see entry for June 30th)

Condoleeza Rice has just had a "lovely visit" with Canadian Foreign Minister Peter Mackay. I'm sorry, but nobody but a girlfriend goes and spends the weekend in Stellarton, Nova Scotia. Not only that, but Petee introduced her to the fam! In one of many press events the two attended, Condee went on and on about how important family is to her, and then gushed like a little schoolgirl, "And so, Peter, thank you very much also for letting me share some time with your family."

Sounds like the words of a new girlfriend to me. I wonder if he'll take her to the prom...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hezbollah's defeat?

On days when I'm feeling particularly superficial, my analysis of Middle East politics devolves into a very simplistic (naive?) assessment: Is this good for the Jews or bad for the Jews? Today is one of those days.

Despite GWB’s delusional claims, it’s quite clear that Israel lost the war. A ceasefire has been enacted, Hezbollah is still armed, and those kidnapped soldiers are nowhere to be found. After at least 1000 dead Lebanese, and about 150 dead Israelis (not to mention Lebanon’s decimated infrastructure) Israel will now attempt to locate them via diplomatic means. (Images of carts before horses come to mind…)

And this is but one of two failed missions to find kidnapped Israeli soldiers; since June 28th, the Israeli mission in Gaza to free Gilad Shalit has killed 188 people, 44 of them children (

A few years ago I went to hear a well known scholar speak about the Middle East. He argued that Israel was created in such a way that the Jewish State would forever would be at war with its Arab neighbours, and that this action, facilitated by the international community, was an intensely antisemitic undertaking.

Yes, certainly Israel has the right defend itself from its attackers, and yes, I believe that these attackers would very much like to see Israel destroyed. But in this very sad and circular game of means and ends, it's not clear who the real losers are.

*This well known scholar was Noam Chomsky. Despite the common accusation that he is a self-hating Jew, Chomsky's position did not attack the Jews or the State of Israel. To my understanding, his argument was that of a Jew who considered Israel's precarious positioning by the international community as part of the history of antisemitism.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Middle East Meshugaas*

It’s a disaster in the Middle East. Some of you might be wondering why I have yet to post on this most recent phase of horrific events in that region. What can I tell you…What’s to say that isn’t totally obvious and futile and pointless, and that hasn’t been said before 1000 times by people smarter than me?

Yes- Israel is currently using an extreme and egregious over-use of force. Something akin to trying to kill a fly with a jackhammer… Yes- the number of Lebanese civilian dead FAR outnumber the number of Israelis…Yes- Israel is clearly the Goliath in this epic yet stupid tale of biblical proportions…but it’s just not that simple.

Israel is at war with Hezbollah, because some of their fighters crossed on to Israeli soil and captured two of their soldiers. Hezbollah is a sworn enemy of Israel, supported by Syria and Iran. Iran’s president has made several public statements this year about his desire to “wipe Israel off the map”. So what’s a country to do? Say, “excuse me, but we’d really like our soldiers back, and please don’t invade our country again”?

And then, like vinegar in a paper cut, Israel goes and bombs a UN post and kills 4 unarmed peacekeepers….talk about shitty optics. Interesting thing is that this particular UN post dates back to 1948- the year that Israel declared its statehood. When I found this out today, I was suddenly struck by the fact that Israel’s been fighting this war not for the past 3 weeks, but for the past 58 years.

Since its inception, Israel’s neighbours have been quite vocal and active about their hopes for its destruction. The country that began as a haven for victims of genocide has had to defend itself from the very beginning. Yes, it’s true that the Zionist dream germinated in a context of European colonialism, but it’s also true that Jews had been victimized and decimated in that very same context. The nation of Jews were to be given a state in their biblical homeland; unfortunately, there happened to be other people living there and the neighbours weren’t too thrilled about the new arrivals. As a result, in order to exist as a sovereign nation, the victims have in many instances become the oppressors. I guess what it comes down to is whether or not one believes Israel has a right to exist, and then, at what cost. So where does that leave us?

Does Israel institute racist and unjust policies? Yes, sometimes.

So if Israel played fair, would the neighbours accept its existence? I kind of doubt it.

Then, is the use of excessive force justified? I don’t know, maybe.

So is it worth it? Who am I to say one way or the other.

* Meshugaas mean craziness in Yiddish. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

World Cup fans feel like a million bucks

So, I’m back on the world cup issue. For those of you who are soccer fans or ardent nationalists, you may not love this entry.

As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I live in Little Portugal, just south of Little Italy. Which means that when either one of these teams wins, I can’t drive for several hours. (If Portugal makes it to the next round and ends up playing Italy, I think the earth might fall off its axis).

Here’s the thing- I don’t get it. What exactly are these people so happy about? So a bunch of Portuguese dudes are better soccer players than the bunch of English guys they just beat. How exactly does this translate to such extreme jubilation for the fans? It’s as if they’ve all been told they’ve won a million dollars. Does anyone else find it strange that these extreme displays of elation are driven by national pride?

If we look to history - WW2 Germany, Maoist China, Soviet Russia - we have many examples of how passion for the nation can have seriously creepy consequences. Call me a soccer grinch, but when I see these rabid fans, I can't help but feel a bit creeped out.

Friday, June 30, 2006

And now for the completely ridiculous...

What a mess in Gaza. It’s a total disaster. You’d think I’d have something insightful (or at the very least obnoxious) to say about it, but I don’t. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent too much time thinking about it in my professional life. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve become so cynical about the whole thing that any opinion seems utterly futile.

Anyways, in lieu of insightful and intelligent commentary on the Middle East, I will instead partake in immature and idle gossip. I want everyone to know that I’m calling it now: within the next 12 months Peter Mackay and Condoleezza Rice will hook up. That’s right folks- you heard it here first. Now that Pete’s all healed up from those nasty Stronach wounds, he’s raring to go. I had my suspicions back in April when Pete first met Condee in Washington…the guy was gushing like a little schoolgirl! After blubbering on about being such a fan, he went on to gush some more about how he’s followed her career for years, and how he’s grateful to have met her… (click here for the whole juicy story)

I’m not saying they’ll be like boyfriend and girlfriend or anything…I’m just saying they’re gonna be doing some hanging out. Mark my words- sure as I predicted the celebrity mullet- we’ll be seeing many more shots like this in the future.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Canadian Multiculturalism- sucking and blowing at the same time.

It’s World Cup time, and one can’t help but think about multiculturalism. We Canadians love to pride ourselves on our multicultural mosaic. Here in Toronto, we have taken to thinking of ourselves as Canada’s multicultural mecca. In many ways, World Cup soccer can be understood as a metaphor for Canadian multiculturalism; dozens of different cultures coming together, tolerant of each other’s differences, exhibiting cosmopolitan sportsman-like behaviour as fans toot their horns and wave their flags in appreciation.

The thing is, we Canadians haven’t been doing so well in the multicultural department of late. Subsequent to the arrests of 17 alleged Muslim terror suspects, our politicians and pundits have been preoccupied with the task of trying to understand what motivated a group of Canadians to do such a thing. Angry Canadians are demanding to know how and why fundamentalist and extremist attitudes have taken root in our society. Funny thing is, the Canadian Islamic Congress has been trying to determine the same thing; three years ago they requested (and were denied) federal funding to answer this very same question. It seems that while we demand that our Canadian multicultural values be adhered to, we don’t care to support the kind of research that might offer insight into why some groups reject this most treasured Canadian value. For all the hot air being spent condemning the alleged terror plot (and the communities who supposedly allow such extremism to foster), the government’s decision not to support the Muslim community’s research proposal seems all the more ironic. As the great philosopher Bart Simpson remarked, “I didn’t think it was possible for something to suck and blow at the same time”.

Which brings me back to soccer and our preoccupation with (the illusion of?) our Canadian multicultural paradise. I live in little Portugal, and it seems that amidst all the jovial celebrations after Sunday’s game (the horns were honking for 6 hours), 30 to 40 of these happy Canadian Portugal fans broke into a massive fight and several people were stabbed.

If indeed World Cup soccer stands as a metaphor for multiculturalism, perhaps Canada is the soccer hooligan. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 28, 2006

KFC's newest delicacy

Famous for what? Being totally disgusting and a sign of everything that's wrong with North American culture? It's a bowl filled with layers of mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, popcorn chicken, then cheese. I'm neither an epicurean nor a health nut, but really, this is just plain nasty.

Apparently, the strategic plan for this new product line of "meals-in-a- bowl" includes plans for an upcoming pre-chewed regurgitated option.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Dubbya's UN double-speak

"I'd like to see a United Nations that's effective, one that joins us in trying to rid the world of tyranny, one that is willing to advance human rights and human dignity at its core, one that's an unabashed organisation..."

This hopeful declaration was uttered yesterday by none other than Dubbya himself at a joint press conference with Tony Blair. The embattled leaders spewed the usual bullcrap, however this quote by Bush is particularly laughable; if indeed the UN is an ineffective organization, surely US non-compliance and unilateralism contribute to the problem! Here are just a few dazzling examples:

- The US invasion of Iraq defies the UN Charter and international law

- The US has rejected important UN treaties, such as the Kyoto protocol and the test ban treaty on nuclear disarmament

- The US has repealed the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty

- The refusal of prisoner rights in Guatanamo Bay is in violation of the Geneva Conventions

- The US owes the UN more than 1 billion dollars in unpaid dues

Perhaps what Dubbya means is that rather than seeing a UN that's effective in ridding the world of tyranny and protecting human rights, he's hoping for a UN that represents American interests on a global scale. If that's the case, someone should tell him to send his CV to the UN- I'm pretty sure that Annan's term is almost up.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Happy Victoria Day

May two-four weekend is upon us once again. I'm not really sure why we Canadians have made a habit of celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday. The fact that the holiday is popularly referred to by a term also used to describe a case of 24 beers indicates that I'm not the only one that fails to see the connection. I mean, she died in 1901- you'd think there'd be more relevant VIP's to commemorate.

Anyhoo, it seems that (among other things) Vicky's reign was marked by the largest expansion of the British Empire. In fact, under her rule, in 1879 Britain invaded Afghanistan. Funny that as Canada celebrates what would have been her 187th birthday, we are also preparing to extend our military role in Afghanistan. Maybe Vicky isn't all the irrelevent after all.

In honour of the day, I am including here a photo of Arthur and her highness. Happy May two-four everyone!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hi there people. My apologies for the absence. In the past month, I’ve graded 150 papers, written one of my own, and last Friday we moved. Not to mention a fire in the new house the day before it was supposed to close. It’s been a total pain in the ass, and I’ve been very crabby. In the whirlwind of work and moving, taking time out to bitch about world issues was not an option. Fortunately, things are finally starting to slow down and very soon my regular rantings will resume.

In the midst of all this, I nearly forgot that I’m turning 31 in a few days. Which sounds old, but if you knew me, you’d know that someone as irresponsible and immature as me certainly doesn’t act the part. In celebration of not acting one’s age and in the spirit of free time to come, I leave you with this. Make sure you’ve got the volume up, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My apologies for the lack of recent postings. Thing is, it's that time of year in academia when shit just kinda hits the fan. I will most likely be out of the loop for the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, (and in the spirit of Passover) please enjoy this shot of Arthur at the parting of the Red Sea.

Not many people know this, but even back then Charleton Heston had a thing for guns. According to Arthur, under that robe Heston's got a rifle strapped to his ass.

Friday, March 31, 2006

What's the deal, Leah?

Ok. I would like everyone to notice YESTERDAY'S posting. In it, I lambasted Stephen Harper for his poor sense of style and lack of social grace.

Now, I want you to check out Leah McLaren's article in TODAY's Globe and Mail (click here).

So, either Leah and I have some sort of psychic connection, or someone (ie LEAH) is pillaging from my blog!!!!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why the f@!# is Harper wearing a flak jacket?!

This isn't Kandahar- it's Cancun, for Christ's sake! So why is our dorky Prime Minister dressed like he's in a war zone? What possible need does he have for a vest with so many pockets? Is he going fishing after this? Is he being sponsored by Tilley? Did he think they were going on an archeological dig? Doesn't he have anyone on staff in charge of trying to make him seem remotely cool?

Look at George and Vicente in their casual white linens- they seem so relaxed and at ease with each other. Then there's Stephen...prematurely going in for the handshake before his turn. He's like that dorky kid from summer camp who shows up a week late with way too much gear and not many social skills.

I know it's petty to make fun of the Prime Minister's poor sense of style and lack of social grace, but I'm pressed for time and he's an easy target. By the looks of it I think we could both use a Piña Colada.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ontario Budget provides funds for every Ontarian to move to Alberta

Well people, I'm totally swamped with work right now, but I couldn't let something as momentous and exciting as the release of the Ontario budget happen without my commentary.

As many of you know, the Alberta budget was released a couple of days ago. According to Finance Minister McClellan, the new funding strategy will be to provide every Albertan over the age of 3 one million dollars and a set of 24- karat gold steak knives.

Here in Ontario, we're getting a subway to York University. A fucking desolate place that people don't go to unless they absolutely have to.

How'dya like them apples?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Canadian wins popularity contest in Middle East

On the cover of today’s Globe and Mail, the headline, “We Love Canada” is perched over a very large picture of Mark Budzanowski. Budzanowski is the Canadian aid worker who was kidnapped and subsequently released yesterday in Gaza. The kidnappers were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), acting in angry retaliation against the invasion of a Jericho jail by Israeli forces (The new Hamas-lead Palestinian government had threatened to set free several Palestinians who were responsible for the death of an Israeli MK last year, and Israel said "no way"). The PFLP blames the Americans and British for allowing Israel to complete the invasion.

Anyways, when the kidnappers realized that the dude they nabbed was a Canuck, apparently they were more than happy to let him go. Hence the extremely self-congratulatory article in today’s paper.

I must admit, at first I thought nothing of it. I skimmed through the article and felt a fleeting sense of smugness- the same sense of superiority I feel when Canada wins hockey gold at the Olympics, or when we’re not mentioned in scary Bin Laden tapes shown on al-Jazeera.

But then I got a call from a friend who read the article and was pissed. She “took exception” to the fact that the emphasis of the article was Canada’s good name, as opposed to the violence of kidnapping as a means of resistance. I listened to her argument, and despite my fondness for disagreeing with this particular friend, I thought she made a good point.

And it got me thinking…how many other Canadians (like me) read this article and responded to is as if they had just been told by an American that Canada makes a better beer? Because that’s really what this article is about. The story being told in the Globe today is not about the ridiculous and terrifying (not to mention increasingly popular) tactic of attacking innocent aid workers; it’s a smug and narrow-minded piece that celebrates the fact that the kidnappers think we’re cool.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Scary Stephen's downward spiral

In the policy section of the Conservative’s website, there is a section entitled “Strengthen the role of the Ethics Commissioner”. According to this plan, Steven Harper will, among other things, "Give the Ethics Commissioner the power to fine violators; Prevent the Prime Minister from overruling the Ethics Commissioner on whether the Prime Minister, a minister, or an official is in violation of the Conflict of Interest Code; Enshrine the Conflict of Interest Code into law.” (

These bold statements formed much of the basis of Harper’s campaign. Now, for those of you who are not aware, responding to NDP and Liberal complaints, Bernard Shapiro (Canada’s Ethics Commissioner) announced last week that he would be conducting an investigation into the appointment of former Liberal MP David Emerson as Conservative Industry Minister (see blog entry for Tuesday Feb. 7th). The quick and dirty version of this story goes like this: Despite actively campaigning as a Liberal against scary Steven and his cartel of Conservatives, Emerson crossed the floor to accept the Conservative cabinet appointment (Much to the dismay of his constituents, campaign staff, and many Canadians).

So here’s where it gets REALLY juicy. What does scary Stephen do when he hears of the impending investigation? He does what any crooked politician would do- he tells Bernie to mind his own beeswax! Not only does he publicly announce that he will not cooperate with the investigation; he calls up Ed Broadbent and offers him Bernie’s job! According to Harper’s Director of Communications, Sir Stephen “is loathe to cooperate” with a “Liberal appointee”. Which is total bunk, by the way. According to Bill C-4 (the Act that introduced the creation of Office of the Ethics Commissioner), the Commissioner is appointed only after approval by a resolution of the House of Commons (

Bottom line is that our Prime Minister has violated campaign promises and is attempting to prevent the Ethics Commissioner from ascertaining whether or not a conflict of interest has occurred. So, what are we to make of this blatant act of hypocrisy? That’s where you, the readers, come in. I will now put forth a list of possible reasons for scary Stephen’s big fuck-you to the Ethics Commissioner, and you get to choose the one you think is right! Click on the “comment” button at the bottom of the message to inform us of your selection, or submit your own!

Stephen Harper is blatantly acting like a hypocritical jackass because:

a) He’s drunk with power.
b) He thinks the “bad-boy” image of being a callous liar is hot.
c) He’s suffering from amnesia and has no memory of his campaign promises.
d) He’s hoping to get fired so he can run away and join the rodeo.
e) He doesn’t give a shit what the Canadian public thinks.
f) None of the above (if you select this answer, you must write in with an option of your own!)

Looking forward to your responses!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Afghanistan blindspot: take 2

It’s been a nasty couple of weeks for Canadian troops in Afghanistan. A road accident, suicide attack, and most recently, a soldier killed by an axe-wielding teenager have caused the Canadian media to ask if Canada needs to re-assess its role in Afghanistan. What I want to know is when did Canada assess this issue in the first place?

In today’s Globe and Mail, Norman Spector argues that the lack of debate about Canada’s role in Afghanistan is to be blamed on the fact that the decision was made without the approval of Parliament.

Great point Norm, but where the f*@# were you 2 months ago when all we were hearing about was daycare-this and GST-that?!

Anna Maria Tremonte and the fine folks at CBC’s The Current dedicated today’s episode to the “question” of Canadian forces in Afghanistan. Well done, but talk about closing the stable doors after the horses have fled. Don’t get me wrong- I’m glad that after a couple shitty weeks at war all our pundits have their shorts in a knot. But why didn’t any of you smart-asses bring this up DURING THE ELECTION?

And here’s where I get to say “I told you so”. Please scroll down the page to the posting from Jan. 17th titled "The Afghanistan Election Blindspot", and notice how I bitched and moaned about the fact that the deployment of 2300 troops to Afghanistan during an election didn’t constitute an election issue. But now the election has come and gone, scary Steven and his cartel of conservatives have us in their clutches, and there’s not much we can do about it, now is there?

* I have been advised by my lawyer/husband to inform my readers that Chief of Defence Staff Hillier did not actually make this statement. Please be advised that this is NOT a quote by Hillier, but rather an example of my unique blend of witty satire and technological savvy.

Friday, February 17, 2006

To all my loyal readers: I will be indisposed for the next week, so my apologies in advance about the lack of new posts. Please check back after the 27th of February for some new wit and wisdom courtesy of moi.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share with you one of Arthur's recent adventure shots. He's just emailed this pic from Anchorage, Alaska, where he and the boys are training for the Iditarod race. (click here to learn more about the most famous dog race in the world). The race starts in two weeks, and the pack is very excited. Here they are, taking a bit of a cat-nap at the end of a hard day of mushing.

Have a good week, everyone!

Thanks for visiting, come again!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I just couldn't help myself. Make sure to turn up the volume on your computer. And above all, enjoy, because shit this stupid doesn't happen every day.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Cartooning for dummies...

So, if you haven't already heard about the Danish cartoon scandal, you either a) live under a rock, b) need to start reading the newspaper, or c) probably live a blissfully ignorant existence. Either way, rather than recount the whole messy incident, let's just say that a Danish paper printed a bunch of rude comics depicting Muslims in pretty nasty ways. Free speech...uproar in the Muslim world...yada yada yada…you know how this story goes.

This is not a funny story. But what is funny, is that today, a leading paper in Iran, the Hamshahri, announced that in retaliation to the dirty Danish doodles, it will be launching its own contest for the best cartoon about the Holocaust. As part of its rationale, the paper asks:

"Does Western free speech allow working on issues like America and Israel's crimes or an incident like the Holocaust or is this freedom of speech only good for insulting the holy values of divine religions?"

So why, you ask, do I find this funny? Well, for many reasons. First, I find it funny that the retaliatory act against a Danish newspaper is to seek cartoons about the Holocaust. How are these two things at all commensurate? After all, it wasn’t a Jewish newspaper that printed cartoons that defamed the Prophet…

The other thing that I find really funny about the contest, is that by construing it as a test of Western free speech, the paper seems to be implying that anti-Semitism and holocaust denial would be outside the norm of its usual messaging. Thing is, it’s no secret that in Iran – and many other countries in the Middle East – anti-Semitism is pretty common, and Jew-hating, Israel-bashing cartoons are a regular part of the public sphere. Let's be honest- they don't need a contest to find the stuff. (Click here for some recent examples.)

Anyways…someone needs to call Art Spiegelman and tell him to forward the fine folks at Hamshahri a copy of Maus. As far as Holocaust cartoons go, I think his is pretty fantastic.

And in other news...

Wanna see some really funny (non-political) cartoons? Go to

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

To the person who recently called me a "pinko commie bastard"
(comment, Feb. 01), this one's for you.

This is one of Arthur's travel pic's from back in 2004. He was in Havana for the big meeting between Castro and Chavez.

Thanks for visiting, come again.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Harping on Harper's hypocrisy

I cannot WAIT to talk to my father-in-law the Albertan. (and by talk, I mean gloat.) Day one of Steven Harper's reign, and wouldn't you know it, he's already giving us quite the show. Our prime minister has picked his cabinet, and surprise! He's successfully wooed a prominent Liberal to the dark side, and contradicted two of his own campaign issues.

To begin with, he has selected Liberal MP David Emerson to be the new Conservative minister of international trade. This really isn't that big of a deal, after all, politicians cross the floor all the time. Why, I remember back in May when Belinda crossed the floor- Mr. Harper (and several other members of the Conservative Party) had some very nasty things to say about her defection to the Liberals. But that's cool- Harper sees something he wants in Emerson and apparently that something trumps his status as a Liberal. I can't help but wonder what all the good folks back in his Vancouver- Kingsway riding have to say about their (former) Liberal candidate.

But here's where it gets reaaallly juicy. So, the dude Harper decides to make minister of public works and government services (the cabinet with the biggest budget), is none other than the UNELECTED Michael Fortier. That's right people, despite campaigning against a) an unelected senate and b) the appointment of unelected ministers, Harper has managed to accomplish both with his appointment of Fortier; in order to jettison the unelected Fortier into a cabinet position, Harper first had to make him a senator. Did I mention that the unelected Fortier also happens to be the co-Chair of the 2006 Conservative campaign? So much for getting rid of cronysm in government, eh?

I'm not sure if Harper's really stupid or really callous, but one thing's certain; on day one of his job as prime minister he's shown the country that lack of accountability and broken promises aren't just maladies suffered by the Liberals. Apparently, hypocrisy is something that all Canadian leaders aspire to. For years my father-in-law the Albertan has been hoping for a conservative government that would exhibit the integrity that the Liberals lacked. Sadly, after day one of the new Conservative government, it looks like his long wait is far from over.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Is Bush telling tales?

Yesterday was a momentous day in America. Coretta Scott King - civil rights icon and wife of Martin Luther King Jr.- died at the age of 78. Last night, George W Bush delivered his address on the state of the American union to a joint session of Congress.

I watched the speech in shock and awe (pun totally intended). From my perspective, the picture he painted of America's role in the world is based on a totally mytholigized account of US history and current geopolitics. It was a fairy tale. Apparently, 30 million Americans tuned in to hear the address. Bush began his speech by confidently asserting that "the state of our union is strong." My question is, how many of those Americans believe his assessment?

The first portion of his speech (26 paragraphs) was dedicated to justifying the War on Terror. Employing mythic concepts of freedom, liberty, and evil, (and downplaying actualities such as loss of life and increased military spending) Bush attempted to boost public opinion for what is clearly a losing battle in Iraq. Bush's lionized description of the reconstruction effort was punctuated by applause led by the very same men who's companies have been hired to carry out the construction contracts.

The next 12 paragraphs were focused on the strength of the American economy. Bush communicated the importance of continuing tax cuts, while at the same time expressed the dire need to address the impending social security crisis. Does anyone else think that these are mutually exclusive and self-defeating actions? Why would the government eliminate tax revenues when it's running out of social security dollars?

There was one paragraph about immigration and border protection, outlining the need for a "humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty...", whatever that means. Interestingly, Bush forgot to mention the fact that the US House recently passed a bill that will permit the construction of a fence along it southern border, at an estimated cost of $1 million per mile.

There were 2 token paragraphs dedicated to problems in health care. As a Canadian observer, I understand that access to affordable and adequate health care has become a crisis situation for Americans. Corporations that support the backbone of the American economy (such as GM and Ford) are facing record cutbacks, partly due to the fact that on average, 60% of their budgets are spent on employee health care. How can the state of the union be strong when 1 in 6 Americans have no health insurance?

Amazingly, only 2 paragraphs were dedicated to the nightmare that has befallen the residents of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. However, the disastrous relief effort after hurricane Katrina signaled the critical and fatal failings of the Federal Emergency Response Agency. How many thousands of Gulf Coast residents are still homeless? I can't help but wonder what their perspective is on strength of the state of the union.

One could write an entire thesis about the content of Bush's address. Since I'm currently writing a thesis about something else, I must end my analysis here. However, I can't help thinking of Coretta Scott King. She was a woman who, for many, represented the important quest for social justice. She once said that "the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members." If we use this wise woman's words as a standard, how well does Bush's tale about the strength of state of the union measure up?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

(What Would Tommy Do?)

Last week, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein announced that his government will soon be initiating a "third-way" health care system. Under this series of health care reforms, Albertans will be able to buy private insurance for certain procedures, and doctors will be allowed to practice in both the public and private-health systems. Klein seemed to suggest that these and other non-specified reforms may contravene the Canada Health Act. This of course set off a whole slew of rapid-fire editorializing in the media. We Canadians have an extreme emotional attachment to our public health care.

While I consider myself a naturally leftward leaner, some of you may be surprised to find out that I absolutely support the introduction of a Canadian parallel private health care system- with certain caveats, of course. Look- it's clear that our current health care system is not working well. Waiting times for cancer treatments, diagnostics and joint replacements are beyond reasonable limits. Our population is aging and this situation is not going to get better by itself.

Why not amend the Canada Health Act to allow doctors to develop a private system, while at the same time create a quota of hours that doctors must commit to the public system? For example, all doctors would be required to limit private service to 5 0r 10% of total practice time. It's not like we don't already apply limits to doctors; in the province of Ontario there have been many instances of salary caps and even claw-backs for doctors. The people who can afford these services will not exactly be "jumping the queue", but entering another line entirely. Technically, once these spaces are vacated, everyone else gets bumped ahead.

What I'm proposing is not an end to private health care- rather an enhancement. It offers people the opportunity to purchase what may be a life-saving treatment. And I don't think that it's only the super-rich that would partake in the system; thousands of Canadians currently waiting for critical treatments would gladly choose to liquidate their assets rather than be forced to wait (and die) for free service. And yes- of course there are sick people with no assets to liquidate. For these people, there would still be a vibrant public system available.

You might argue that instead of abandoning the public system we should instead focus all our energies on fixing the current one. I agree that there is much that could be done to improve the public system; better federal funding, improved licensing for foreign-trained doctors, etc. These are potential solutions that could take years- even decades to put in place. In the meantime, how many Canadians have to die before we get it right?

"People have to have a sense of the need for change before it comes. I've never believed that social change is brought about by rational thinking on the part of people. They take the next step forward because they have to in order to survive. Man likes to tread the beaten path. Only a great social upheaval can force him to move into some great new uplands of human behaviour."

These wise words were spoken by none other than Tommy Douglas, the father of the Canadian public health care system. I think it's time to ask ourselves if our emotional attachment to public health care is also a rational one. For those Canadians who are currently dying while waiting for treatment, I think it's fair to say that a private health care system might very well be "the next step order to survive".

I wonder what Tommy would think?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Sea of Green

Palestinians have voted, and Hamas has claimed a major victory- 76 seats in parliament, compared to Fatah's 43. Some might find this completely unbelievable, but I don't really think so.

Don't get me wrong- I actually doubt that the majority of Palestinians are religious extremists determined to "obliterate Israel" (the terminology used in the Hamas covenant). I prefer to believe that much like their Israeli neighbours, the majority of Palestinians would simply like to live normal lives, raise their children and make a decent living.

So why, you ask, would they vote for Hamas? Here's what I think: After 48 years, the Fatah party has become inextricably linked to the ineffectual and corrupt Yasser Arafat. While he was squirreling their money away in European banks, the Palestinian people lived like dogs. And who stepped in to provide basic services, like health care and education? That's right- Hamas. The fact Hamas is driven by a religious extremism uncharacteristic of many Palestinians pales in comparison to what they have contributed to Palestinian society.

You might wonder why, now that Arafat is dead, would the Palestinians not continue their support for Abbas, Fatah's current leader. And here's where certain people might get offended- I think that ultimately, Hamas's victory can be understood as a consequence of Israeli unilateralism. Pretty much since the start of Abbas's leadership, Israel has refused to deal with the PA. Claiming they "had no partner for peace", negotiations ceased. The pull-out from Gaza - arguably the single-most significant event since the assassination of Rabin in 1995 - was carried out by the IDF while the Palestinians - and more importantly - the PA watched from the sidelines.

What could be a clearer signal to the Palestinian people that theirs was a useless leader? By refusing to publicly engage Abbas in the turnover of Gaza, Israel emasculated the Chairman and debilitated the party.

So what does this mean? One line of argument is that, much like Fatah's own history, Hamas will be tamed by its entry into the official democratic governing structure. Over the past year we have seen evidence of much internal diversity within the organization, with some leaders quite willing to negotiate with Israel. On the other hand, this could go the other way, as evidenced by Hezbollah in Lebanon. Despite its official status as a political party, Hezbollah is clearly an extremist group that is considered a terrorist organization by many countries, including the US, UK, Canada, The Netherlands, and Australia. Where Hamas will end up, only time will tell.

After yesterday's elections, two things are clear: Israel may no longer be the only democracy in the Middle East, and if they thought Fatah was a shitty partner for peace, they've got a whole other thing coming.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

It's Wednesday, and as usual, I'm in a rush...please enjoy this shot of Arthur at the Grand Canyon. Did I mention that he's really into adventure travel?

Thanks for visiting, come again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Now that the election dust has settled...

Those of you who follow my blog will remember my father-in-law the Albertan. Defined by the politics of geography (I'm from Ontario), our relationship is often marked by dramatic debates about the way this country is run. I'm sure he's tickled pink with last night's outcome.

That being said, now that it's all over, I don't think the Canadian electoral map is all that bad. Like naughty little children, the Liberals are getting their well-deserved time out; the NDP has a stronger voice, the Conservatives are ruling with a much smaller margin than anticipated, and the Greens now have $1,093,750 to play with for next time (better make it count, Jimbo- $1.75 of that came from me). I think it will be a very exciting few years watching the Liberals fight from the other side of the House of Commons. They might actually grow some teeth.

And don't get me wrong- the country's shift to the right certainly signals no such shift in my relationship with my father-in-law. Now I'll get to complain to him about what shitty leaders the Conservatives are. And being from "the city" (his cheeky term for my Torontonian roots), I will take great pleasure in reminding him that not only did the Conservatives get shut out of my hometown, but Vancouver and Montreal as well. I will explain to him that I'm ok with the Harper government- it's time the small-town folks get some representation. We urbane sophisticates know how to handle defeat.