Archive for the 'politics as usual' Category

Grexit

So Greece voted no.  Top economists recommended they do so, and that’s why they’re economists, not politicians.

Worst case scenario, Greece will be forced to leave the Eurozone and the European Union.  Still struggling financially, they’ll be pushed into the arms of their Orthodox brethren in Russia. Greece will degenerate into a nationalist dictatorship.  Maybe they’ll try to annex Cyprus.  Worst case scenario.

Austerity is not fun, but, I don’t know, it’s sort of the price you pay when governments run huge deficits for decades and you the people keep voting such people back into office.  Seriously, just don’t get into debt.  That is just good advice for everyone.  Sometimes debt is unavoidable.  But you should still consider it a personal failure.  The Euro was a dumb idea.  It really was.

“Nobel” laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote that “a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands.”  Mr. Stiglitz seems to be confused. A number of cities, mainly one, in Greece, thousands of years ago, had a strong democratic tradition for men.  There’s some democracy in the modern era, but Greek history has been largely dominated by tyrants, emperors, meddling monarchs and military dictators.

Maybe everything will be alright.  You never know.

Passions

What are one’s passions? That’s a dangerous question for me because they’ve proved in the past to be very fickle. Ten years ago I was convinced I was going to become a computer programmer and that was that. But my math was not up to snuff and ultimately it just became boring.

Next was journalism. I started reading Tom Wolfe and became a big fan of Citizen Kane. When I was passed over for editorship school paper I was devastated. I lost that passion just as quickly as I had gained it.

My attention was then drawn toward fiction. This is where I was at in my final year of high school and thus English Literature was the program I applied for at university.

Three years later (one of which I passed) my enthusiasm for Shakespeare and my pretentious classmates was waning. But in this case, a lot of things had changed in my life. I had found love and then lost it pretty hard. The temple of secularism that was university had driven me to become more spiritually aware. I was heartbroken, academically unsuccessful and had a handful of new mental diagnoses to boot. Yay!

But I payed for my sins – I spent a semester at community college where I took a geography class alongside a young lady who couldn’t India on a world map. After that I jumped headlong into my latest “kick”: religion. Oh yes, forget all that other stuff, I had finally found my calling. And I could legitimately use the word “calling”. I was going to become a pastor.

That dream took a year or two to die but now it’s definitely six feet under. I eventually
realized two things: I hated school (but loved education) and becoming a pastor would
involve a whole lot more of that. Also, my fits of crushing social anxiety are decidedly
impediments to a job that is all about interacting with people. The same thing happened with my dream of voluntary service. There was a SALT placement in Serbia I was looking at. It looked lovely. But as I looked at all the forms and all the requirements and what I had to do and where this might take me my head started swimming. I couldn’t take it. I cashed out, I dumped the forms in my recycle bin where they still lay, taunting me. Maybe someday. But I’m getting old.

My political evolution has been much less haphazard. I can easily see the path I have made and why I made the turns that I did. I was once quite conservative. I think it still would not be inaccurate to describe me as a conservative but that’s only part of the picture. I’ve lost a lot of faith in institutions. That, combined with interest in nonviolence has driven me to look into Christian anarchism. Truthfully though, I’m a Christian democrat. I believe in the concept of a social market economy and I think community is essential. When it comes to others I’m certainly paternalistic.

My politics now are mostly informed by religion. I’m a firm believer in the consistent ethic of life, which for me encompasses opposition to violence, capital punishment, euthanasia and abortion. For the most part I consider these issues to be intimately connected although I realize most do not. That said, I still do approach each of them differently.

My commitment to nonviolence frequently wavers. I do not like war but at the same time I find the idea of asking Syrian rebels to lay down their arms and say “pretty please” to the Assad regime to be stupid and naive. Capital punishment is illegal in Canada and I really don’t foresee it coming back. Euthanasia is still illegal although I find its growing acceptance to be rather disquieting.

And then there’s abortion: it’s a topic I’ve blogged about before but rarely ever spoken of in public because that’s a conversation that usually doesn’t end well. I’m still thoroughly opposed to the practice but I have an almost equal amount of disdain for the pro?life movement which seems to think that shaming women for their past “indiscretions” is somehow an effective way to lower abortion rates. I’ll admit my own attitude in the past has at times been rather callous. There also seems to be a weird connection between pro?life and anti–same?sex marriage groups. That’s like having a group that’s anti?war and anti?vegetables: the two issues are utterly unrelated. There’s an Israeli charity, Efrat, that focuses more on support for the mothers but I don’t think it goes far enough. I wish there was a group whose principle mandate was financial, social and mental support for mothers along with education on the adoption option. That would be good.

But for now I’m most interested in copyright reform. When’s that going to happen?

Bikini Kirill: Pussy Riot and Civil Disobedience

Why are you arresting me, I’m practising civil disobedience?!

During this age of latte liberals we’ve forgotten the actual purpose of civil disobedience.  It’s not because you have anything particularly interesting to say.  Anyone can say “fuck the system.”  True courage lies in being willing to give up your own freedom for something you believe in.  In fact I’d go so far as to say civil disobedience is pointless if you don’t get arrested or otherwise persecuted.  No one would read How I Didn’t Get Sent to the Gulag by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov’s I’m Still a Well Respected Physicist Working for a System I Abhor.  And so now that three members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison what are we to make of it all?

I’ll admit, it took me a little while to warm up to Pussy Riot.  First, their name is absolutely ridiculous (though I must say it’s amusing to hear so many straight-laced newsreaders being forced to pronounce it, like a modern day “Deep Throat”).  Second, I’ve never really “gotten” the whole riot grrrl movement.  There seems to be more emphasis on anger than song structure (although I do quite enjoy latter day Sleater-Kinney).  In general I just don’t like angry people.  It’s possible to combat injustice while keeping a cool head.

But Pussy Riot is a bit different.  They aren’t really a proper band per se.  They haven’t released any albums and their public performances are not so much concerts as they are political theatre.  And that’s what their performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was: theatre.  It was horribly offensive and incredibly attention-grabbing.  It got the job done… sort of.  The thing is now everybody seems to be focused solely on Pussy Riot rather then the message they were trying to convey.  And their current message is protesting the close relationship between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the latter of which is currently being led by a less-than-saintly man named Kirill.

Oh, Patriarch Kirill.  He is a man that values mammon over God, he has KGB skeletons in his closet, he’s BFF with Putin and a supporter of Lukashenko.  He sees himself as the leader of all Eastern Orthodox Christians and has schemed with Turkey to limit the power of the communion’s real primus inter pares, Patriarch Bartholomew.  He’s also a magician, known for his famous disappearing watch trick.  Swell guy, really.  And the Russian Orthodox Church has always had a far too close relationship with the government.  The only time it wasn’t close was during the Soviet era when it was more or less illegal.  Even then during World War II the church had close ties with Stalin who used it as a tool to drum up nationalism.  So asking for a little separation isn’t unreasonable.

It would appear the band members are not Christians, which is unfortunate.  I mean, I don’t care what they personally believe it but it would lend more legitimacy.  It’s like when veterans criticize war, you always take it more seriously.  But it seems they have plenty of Orthodox followers, including one of their lawyers, and they are certainly no strangers to the Bible.  Their closing statements at the trial are riddled with biblical quotations and other religious allusions.  My favourite was Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s reference of yurodstvo, which is the concept of performing foolish and outrageous actions for the love of Christ.  Seriously, the statements, although long, are well worth the read.

So does that mean I think they should be released?  Not necessarily.  What they did was still offensive (although they have apologized for that part) and even here in the free world they would have at least received a fine.  But more importantly is the issue of media coverage.  I think they should stay in prison because that way at least the issue has a chance to stay in the headlines for a bit longer.  If they are released it will all be forgotten.  Make no mistake, it will be forgotten eventually, regardless.  After all, when was the last time you heard anything about Mikhail Khordokovsky?  He’s still in jail and the government that put him there is still in power.  So I’m not really concerned that Maria Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are in prison.  I’m more concerned that Vladimir Putin isn’t.

Sources:
The Economist: The Pussy Riot verdict: An amazing piece of political theatre
The Economist: Turkey and Russia: Old rivals, new partners
BBC News: Russian Orthodox Church defiant over Pussy Riot trial
The New York Times: In Russia, a Watch Vanishes Up Kirill’s Sleeve
n+1: Pussy Riot Closing Statements
YouTube: Pussy Riot-Punk Prayer.mp4

Throw the Irish to the dogs

I strongly disagree with the EU bailing out Ireland in this time of crisis.  It is because I am reminded of another crisis in European history, a much, much more serious one in which Ireland turned its back on its continental brethren.

On July 17, 1941, continuing from a conversation started the previous day, TD James Dillon (possibly the greatest Irishman of the 20th century) gave an impassioned speech to the Dáil Committee on Finance.  Appealing to the deeply Christian nature of the Irish nation he, among other things said the following:

I say to-day that the German Nazi Axis seeks to enforce on every small nation in Europe the same beastly tyranny that we successfully fought 700 years to prevent the British Empire imposing on this country. I say—and I say it on the authority of Our Holy Father the Pope—that Germany in every small country which she has conquered has sought, not only to establish political domination, but to impose on the conquered peoples an atheist church which derides Christianity and which forbids the people of those States to serve God according to their consciences. I say—and here again I claim the authority of the Holy Father for the statement—that the Nazi domination, in every small State in Europe where it has been established, imposes upon the Christian peoples of those countries the obligation to choose between the Reich and Christ, and that statement is quoted further from the Pastoral Letter from the German Bishops to their own people.
Naval and air bases are required in this country by the United States of America and Great Britain.

The immediate response from deputy Andrew Fogarty summed up the views of every other Irish politician on the threat posed by Nazi Germany: I say the Deputy should be removed out of the House. I will put him out—quick, the corner-boy. If he does not shut his —mouth we will shut it for him.

In reality, I do believe aid should be given to the Irish but I think it should be accompanied with a formal condemnation of their actions, past and present, of moral relativism.  Neutrality is a war crime unto itself.

Multiculturalism Is Doomed to Fail

Meant to post this awhile ago…

Much ado has been made about Chancellor Merkel’s comments in regards to multiculturalism in Germany, that it has “utterly failed.”  At least they tried.  Certain former leaders of Germany were decidedly against multicultarism.

But frankly, I’m not surprised.  Multiculturalism is doomed to fail because too many immigrants are stuck in their ways, unwilling to integrate themselves into their new home.  This is partly why the whole idea of emigration has always baffled me.  Here you have people who are so proud of their country that they decide to leave it.  Huh?  Sure, many countries are poorer but if you truly loved your country you would stay there and try to build it into something great.  Of course the receiving nations’s national pride often evolves into xenophobia which is never a good thing but is worse if your country is the kind of place people like to immigrate to.

Of course it goes without saying that this doesn’t apply to refugees.  Refugees are those that leave their homes due to persecution: they don’t have a choice.  I love refugees, but said love has little to do with the people themselves.  I love refugees because I jump at any and every chance to ridicule foreign states possessing subpar human rights records.

Now here comes the twist: none of this applies to Canada, and to a lesser extent, Australia.  Founded by British subjects and populated with an assortment of European immigrants, our two countries were forged in the fire of the two world wars.  Since then it has become increasingly evident that our national identities are fairly shallow.

The Canadian nation began to die after the fall of the Diefenbaker government and we’ve been constitutionally multicultural since 1982.  As for down under, after the demise of White Australia their proximity to Asia and it’s plethora of unpleasant regimes made mass immigration inevitable.  With each passing year the Anzac legend dies a little bit more. Canada is beyond hope but republicanism could still save Australia, provided they want to be saved.

And it is only here, in countries void of a strong central identity, that multiculturalism can truly flourish.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee Redeems Itself… Somewhat

On the 8th of October it was revealed that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  Since the award was first given out in 1901, China has undergone massive change.  Widespread unrest led to the overthrow of the 2000+ year old empire and the institution of a republican government.  The ensuing power vaccuum led to the rise of warlords and the country was only unified in 1928.  Soon after that civil war broke out, followed by Japanese invasion, followed by more civil war resulting in communist takeover of the country. The Nationalists retreat to Taiwan ultimately introducing democracy in the 1990s.

Formal organizations like the Tongmenghui (later the Kuomintang) and the Democracy Party; and loose groupings that emerged from the New Culture, May 4, May 30 and Tangwai movements, the Democracy Wall, the Tiananmen square protests, etc. produced many worthy peacemakers.  And so here is the complete list of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureates:

Liu Xiaobo.

…Well, better late than never I suppose.

Some other possibilities/missed opportunities:
Sun Yat?sen
V. K. Wellington Koo
Y. C. James Yen
Elsie Tu
Wei Jingsheng
Shih Ming?teh
Hu Jia

Here’s hoping that this decade of prizes won’t be as terrible as the last one.

“Woman Is the Nigger of the World”

This one is long and disjointed but it’s important.

Woman Is the Nigger of the World” – John Lennon wrote that song in the early ’70s and I only just recalled it when I was part way through this post. Sadly, although there have been many advances, the phrase still rings true today.

There’s also something else I read from this phrase though I’m unsure if Lennon meant it to be seen this way.  We are obsessed with the idea of racism as the king of all evils.  During the apartheid era, due to its treatment of black people as second?class citizens, South Africa was ostracized by the international community, and rightly so.  But yet today, there are dozens of countries in Africa and Asia that treat women as second?class citizens and not only do they escape ostracism but many are recipients of Western aid.

The common justification for all this is “tradition”, which is b?b?b?bullshit.  Tradition is the reason people play the violin on top of buildings, it doesn’t justify the deprivation of basic human rights.

Last year I visited a local mosque, the Waterloo Masjid.  The imam seemed nice enough but there were a few things that really bothered me.  First, there were separate entrances for men and women.  That by itself, would irritate me but I could live with it.  What was completely unacceptable was that there were segregated worship spaces.  Only men were allowed in the main sanctuary and women had the “choice” of praying in an enclosed balcony above or in a separate room where the prayer leader was visible via closed?circuit television.  Now I’ve heard various reasons for why this is done, most of them from non?Muslim sources but really, I don’t care.  What if at my church (which, incidentally has a female pastor) it was decided that all the Asian people would be banished to a little room by themselves.  That would easily make the front page of the local newspaper; the outrage would be legendary.  Sex segregation is common in mosques worldwide.  Ironically one place where men and women worship together: Mecca.

Not to single out the Muslims, many churches, the Roman Catholics in particular, bar women from their most influential positions (e.g. priesthood).  Justification for this stems from an obsession with 1 Timothy 2:12 and a few other select verses, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. It should be noted that none of these passages are present in the four gospels but rather come from the letters of the Apostle Paul who has a reputation for inventing shit that Jesus himself never said.

I realize race and sex are not the same thing.  There are some forms of sex segregation that have proven quite useful, for example, sports and washrooms.  These relate to the biological differences between men and women and not some imaginary social constructs.  As far as washrooms go, I haven’t been in a women’s washroom for quite some time but from what I can recall as toddler, they truly were separate but equal.  I think more should be done to promote women’s sports although it has to be noted that Canada and the U.S. are way ahead of the rest of the world in this regard. Physically speaking, women have a tendency to be smaller and less strong but if need be they should be judged on those individual properties not on the fact that they are female.  If a job involves heavy lifting you would want to hire a strong person, male or female.  You wouldn’t hire a fat guy if the job involves tight spaces.

I could end this thing right here and I probably should but I’m not going to.

Now let me qualify all this.  I regard myself to be a first?wave feminist, albeit with some modern adaptations.  While women in the Western world still have some obstacles to overcome, I believe they are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.  When faced with bride kidnapping, legal spousal rape and female genital mutilation, income inequality somehow doesn’t seem quite as important.  Well I’d prefer not to take such a materialistic world view, the social capital of Western women is often overlooked.  Money, while important, is far from the being only asset needed to get ahead in life.  I have some specific theories but no real hard evidence so I’ll leave them alone for the time being.  But take my family for example: While my father has always earned more than my mother, she has always wielded considerable, arguably more, power over the day?to?day workings of the household.  And I know the modern woman often wants to distance herself from being seen as a homemaker but domestic power should not be overlooked.

But women in much of the third world don’t have these powers.  For example, the withholding of sexual relations, a tactic that dates back at least to ancient Greece, is fairly useless in a society where rape is an accepted practice.  Third?wave feminism was supposed to have broadened its focus to beyond the developed world but it really hasn’t gone far enough.  Action must be taken.  Societies not up to snuff must be penalized.

Again, I probably should have left those last two paragraphs out but that’s just not who I am.

The fun side of diplomacy

The following is an unproven hypothesis that I nevertheless consider to be very likely.  Either that or it was serendipity.

Georgia’s entry to Eurovision 2009 was the most genius diplomatic manœuvre I have ever seen.  Faced with a militarily humiliating (but diplomatically empowering) defeat at Russian hands, Georgia was not too keen to be attending any contests hosted by Russia.  Adding to that is the possibility that should Georgia perform especially poorly on Russian soil would be to add insult to injury.

But at the same time, Georgia wants to take the high road and not look like they’re chickening out.  Enter “We Don’t Wanna Put In”: a song whose political connotations (i.e. “We don’t want a Putin”) are obvious enough to ensure disqualification, but yet subtle enough for Georgia to claim Russian interference.

As for the song itself, it’s not bad but it sounds a lot like “Disco Inferno” by The Trammps.

* * *

Speaking of the Eurovision Song Contest, this year was quite a disappointment.  I found the overall quality of the songs to be much lower.  But I did enjoy the winner, Lena:

Lena Meyer-Landrut

I mean, isn’t she just ridiculously adorable?  Especially with that fucked up faux?English accent that mysteriously disappears whenever she’s speaking German.

But most importantly, thanks to Lena’s victory, her grandfather, a former West German diplomat, now has his own Wikipedia page.

Election in Ukraine

So it’s down to Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych. The gas princess and the thug. Technically speaking you could call Mrs. Tymoshenko the liberal candidate and Mr. Yanukovych the conservative one but such labels are misleading. So are their respective designations as “pro-Western” and “pro-Russian.” Both see EU membership as a goal. Mrs. Tymoshenko has hinted at NATO membership but unlike Georgia, Ukrainians are largely against this and seeing that Mrs. Tymoshenko is a populist above all else it’s unlikely she’ll try to push this issue too forcefully. And, believe it or not, I think it’s actually a good idea.

NATO has an important role to play tempering Russian influence over the former Soviet Union but I foresee Ukraine playing a key role in maintaining security and cooperation in Europe and and joining a U.S.?dominated military alliance would result more in just pissing Russia off than anything constructive. The Ukrainians are strong?willed people—not malleable like the Belarusians—so the danger of Finlandization is really not an issue.

So who’s it going to be? I really have no idea, it’s, as they say, “too close to call.” But my support is behind Yulia Tymoshenko all the way. But my exact reasons for that support are hard to explain. I’ll be the first to admit that part of Mrs. Tymoshenko’s allure is decidedly non?political. She has down pat that whole “Amazonia, Queen of the Slavs” look that intrigues men and empowers women. Not to mention the fact that she counts among her supporters real life Amazon Ruslana. And if I spoke Ukrainian I’d probably be able to also appreciate Mrs. Tymoshenko’s charismatic authority versus Mr. Yanukovych’s clunky turns of phrase. She’s definitely more experienced but that same experience, as prime minister during the recession, may be her downfall.

Honestly I don’t know what I’m going on about. The eastward march of the European Union cannot be stopped. Though corruption in Ukraine is a reality, it still pales in comparison to Central Asia. Either candidate would be good for Ukraine. Maybe they can form a coalition. Everybody will be happy. Well, everybody except Viktor Yushchenko.

Tymoshenko & Yanukovych

I just wanted to point out that despite many already existing Tymoshenko-Yanukovych images, I made this one all by myself, WITH THE MOST RECENT IMAGES. Yup.

??????? 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

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