Archive for December, 2009

??????? Prize for Freedom of Thought

I meant to post this two weeks ago. But better late than never:

Although it’s unlikely it’ll ever gain the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize has become a more credible award. There’s a couple reasons for this. One has to do with the criteria. The Nobel Peace Prize is generally awarded for specific deeds, actions, events, etc. This is in contrast to all the other Nobel Prizes which are essentially lifetime achievement awards. So this means that a person who facilitates a major peace treaty will likely get the award even if he has a highly dubious track record. Henry Kissinger and Yasir Arafat are the two names most often brought up.

The Sakharov Prize on the other hand doesn’t tie itself to particular events. Take for example Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, winner of the 1996 prize. Wei’s big claim to fame is his 1978 essay “The Fifth Modernization” that he posted on Beijing’s Democracy Wall. Wei hasn’t done anything as well publicized since then but he’s never relented in his fight to bring democracy to his country. That’s why he deserves the recognition the Nobel Committee hasn’t given him.

And then we get to the second, more troubling issue surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize. Recently there has been a phenomenon that I like to call “Nobel activism” in which awards are given based not just on the merits of the recipient but also to send a message and influence future events. In the last decade the prize has been awarded to three influential members of the United States Democratic Party: Jimmy Carter in 2002, Al Gore in 2007 and now Barack Obama in 2009. It’s really hard to read this as anything other than a “fuck you” to George W. Bush. And there are much better / less sacred avenues to send that message.

The European Parliament’s award doesn’t get caught up with celebrity recipients. This year’s winner is Memorial (????????), a Russian-based organization that fights for human rights and press freedom in the former Soviet Union. That the Sakharov Prize should go to Memorial is both fitting and troubling. Fitting because Andrei Sakharov himself helped found the organization in 1988. Troubling because while Memorial was formed to fight for democracy in the USSR, nearly two decades after its dissolution, the organization is still as busy as ever.

Wei Jingsheng’s “The Fifth Modernization”
Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament’s official website
RFE/RL article on prize-winner Memorial
Memorial official website

Good Christmas music

So there’s plenty of good Christmas music out there but what about good Christmas music.  Here are seven great songs.  They’ve been selected using one just criterion: I actually listened to them between February and November of this past year.  Thus they qualify as being more than mere novelties.

Song: “Fairytale Of New York”
Artist: The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl
Comment: Probably the best of the bunch.  It’s much more than just a Christmas song which means prevents it from losing relevance year round.

Song: “Gaudete”
Artist: Steeleye Span
Comment: As far as I can tell, the only Latin language song to ever become a hit single.  “Sadeness” was half in French and Chant was an album, not a single.  It works outside the Christmas season because I can’t understand the words.

Song: “Oi to the World!”
Artist: The Vandals
Comment: A humorous tale about Haji, a turban-clad punk, and Trevor, an ostensibly racist skinhead, who, following a bloody fight, make up and enjoy Christmas.  Lyrics about God coming down on Christmas day would be presumably ironic if not for the fact that the song was written by Joe Escalante, who, along with Johnny Ramone, represents the entire conservative punk rock community.

Song: “Christmas Time Is Here (vocal)”
Artist: Vince Guaraldi Trio
Comment: A Charlie Brown Christmas is still my favourite Christmas special and I’m a big fan of Vince Guaraldi’s music so what’s not to like?

Song: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
Artist: Darlene Love
Comment: A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector is a spotty album at times but this song is a stone cold classic.  Darlene Love has much better pipes than Ronnie Spector for whom it was written.  It’s a shame Spector didn’t produce more material for her.

Song: “Father Christmas”
Artist: The Kinks
Comment: Ray Davies can write guitar riffs like no other.

Song: “Jesus Christ”
Artist: Big Star
Comment: This song has always perplexed me.  The odd title and great tune don’t seem congruent with Alex Chilton’s disaffected voice.  Chilton has gone on record stating that he’s not religious so it’s anyone’s guess.  Just one of the many oddities from the shambolic masterpiece that is Third/Sister Lovers.

Song: “White Christmas”
Artist: Bing Crosby
Comment: This one’s kinda obvious.

Victory Over Communism Day 2009: Sing a Song of Suomi

Imagine some Canadian soldiers were transferred from Ottawa to New Brunswick and as a result of these actions Finland declares war on Canada.  Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?  Well, this scenario actually happened, albeit with the two parties swapped…

I’m too tired to finish this thing tonight.  I’ll do it tomorrow.

If you call it the Middle Kingdom, it sounds more poetic and less oppressive

I agree that Stephen Harper’s policy towards China has been poor.  In fact, Canada’s relations with China have been poor since October 13, 1970.  That was the date we broke diplomatic relations with Free China and threw in our lot in with Red China, then led by Mao “What Are Human Rights?” Zedong.  I think it would be great if Mr. Harper were to visit the Free Area of the Republic of China and meet with the esteemed Chinese president, Ma Ying-jeou instead, of that loud-mouthed, unelected usurper Hu Jintao.

Premier Wen Jiabao criticized Mr. Harper for not coming sooner.  Of course Mr. Wen hasn’t been to Canada since 2003, before Harper was even PM.  You see, Canada usually changes it’s leadership more frequently because we have this cRaZy thing called democracy goin’ on.  But we all know democracy is bad news for the Chinese people.  I mean just look at how the poor people of Hong Kong are starving to death while the mainlanders are livin’ off the fatta the lan’.

But we really want to be BFF with Red China apparently.  It’s no coincidence that our former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson just published a book on Norman Bethune this past spring. Bethune, who has been lionized for his field work in the Spanish Civil and Second Sino-Japanese Wars, infamously refused to treat many soldiers who didn’t share his communist beliefs.  We really need to stop worshipping this guy just to suck up to Red China.  But they’ve has gotten to that stage where, like the U.S., they can do whatever they want and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Goliath dispatches David with a flick of the wrist.

But the People’s Republic of China does boast one major “achievement.” They’re behind Iran but ahead of Egypt in their ability to take thousands of years of glorious civilization and turn it into TOTAL FUCKING SHIT.

I think the character of Mao in John Adams’s opera Nixon in China summed it up best:

“We no longer need Confucius. Let him rot” (Act I, scene 2)
“History is a dirty sow: If we by chance escape her maw / She overlies us” (Act I, scene 2)

Europe Endless

Czech president Václav Klaus’s arm finally being twisted into signing it, the Treaty of Lisbon came into force today.  I’m still not completely sure what all is contained within that treaty but I know it furthers the EU’s mission of European integration.  Culturally, economically, spiritually, politically… Europe is far more integrated than any other continent on Earth.  And with the possible exception of South America, no other continent will ever come close.

North America’s problem is obvious: the U.S. is far too dominant in every sphere.  Sure Germany’s 80 million people towers over Luxembourg’s 500,000 but there are plenty of other states in between.  A similar problem exists in Asia with Red China (population, land mass, economy, military), Japan (economy) and India (population, land mass).  Not to mention a whole lot of countries in Asia outright hate each other.  Sure Switzerland is stuck up and Russia’s real smug but that doesn’t compare to the animosity between India and Pakistan or Israel and everybody.  Human rights are also abominable in Asia with Japan and Israel-proper being the only states really up to snuff.

Africa already has the African Union but I’m still not clear as to it’s actual purpose.  I mean they’ve had a few missions in Darfur and Somalia but for the most part it’s been too little too late.  Not to mention shady characters like Mugabe and Gaddafi are still hailed as heroes.  And the goals of the different countries can be so, well, different.  It would appear a disdain for colonialism is not enough to base a regional integration-based intergovernmental organization on.

Australia’s already united.  And it dominates that “continent” known as Oceania.

South America’s the most promising with Unasur, just so long as crazy man Chávez doesn’t hijack it for his personal whims.  I really wish Canada could get in on that but I know our policy on abortion (or lack thereof) has been a roadblock in past discussions with Latin American nations.