Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It Would be Nice to Have a Month Off to Protest

I have, more or less, been working since I had a paper route beginning at age 12. My parents were separated and mom wasn't exactly shelling out the bucks to satisfy the whims of a pre-teenager (soon to be teenager). So, I got a job.

I was a newspaper boy. Then, I worked at McDonalds. I did telephone soliciting and door-to-door sales. I worked as a carpet cleaner. I did shit jobs for money because I needed money to live and to buy the things I wanted. It didn't matter to me how I made the money as long as it was legal.

Which is why the current protests that started in Israel (yes, Israel - if you really want to go back to the roots) and then spread to Wall Street and across North America and Europe kind of annoy me. It's not that I mind protesting or that I don't think there is some validity in the concerns of many of the people attending - it's the endless litany of hapless whining and the chorus of how unfair life is that grates on my nerves.

I have heard numerous interviews with these people. One, an American now living in Canada, complained a bank "conned" him into accepting a $200,000 mortgage that he couldn't afford because he only made $10 an hour. Apparently, he was incapable of doing the math himself. Others, asked about what they're protesting, mumble and stumble throwing around words like equality and justice without exactly identifying the inequalities and injustices of North American life. Another I heard advocated a society without money. We don't need money, she opined, we just need to share everything. And, still others have arrived to blame that age-old world pariah: the Jews.

They call themselves the 99-percenters to differentiate themselves from the wealthy of western society but they don't acknowledge that they are far richer than anyone not from a developed first world nation. Further, leaving riches aside, they have the right to protest and enjoy freedoms many people would gladly trade whatever fortune they have to achieve.

The problems in our current economies were not merely the faults of banks and government agencies, although they certainly played their part. They are also the fault of the millions of people like $10 an hour guy who happily accepted an endless amount of credit with some kind of expectation that it would all work out in the end. And, it did, just not the way they wanted.

I don't know how someone can sit on a street for 30 days demanding this, that or the other thing. How many opportunities at working for a living slipped by in that time for those people? How many left jobs so they could squat in a park with others feeling all self-righteous while accomplishing nothing? How many have never worked at all and have no intention of working because they feel, simply by the virtue of their existence, that the rest of us owe them something?

We have created a society of entitlement and this is the fruit we are being rewarded with. The protests will fizzle out when the cold weather sets in, at least in the northern states and Canada. And, those people will be no better off because they've been playing the role of Aesop's grasshopper while us ants - the true 99 per centers - have been preparing for the less sunny times ahead.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Does "Fuck You" Qualify as an Apology?

As its regressive government completes Turkey's transition from secular democracy to islamic craphole, it took an important step this week - downgrading its relations with Israel and expelling Israeli diplomats from the country.

Any old excuse would do - the Turks are clearly bent on earning their arab street cred and that must include treating Israel as a pariah state. You can't cozy up to the Iranians and their Syrian puppets without a healthy dose of Jew-hating and paranoia infesting your every decision. In this case, however, Turkey seized on the UN report exonerating Israel for last year's unfortunate flotilla incident which left 9 terrorist-wannabes dead. And, when I say unfortunate, I mean in the sense that several Israeli commandos were seriously injured.

Anyway, as most people should know by now, the UN had no recourse but to report that the Gaza blockade is legal. Had they been able to come up with another conclusion, I've no doubt they would have. But, no, the UN admits the running of weapons into Gaza via the sea is an existing and existential threat to Israel and it questioned the motives of the flotilla's "humanitarian organizers". By extension, if the blockade is legal, running it must therefore be illegal. So, it was the flotilla that broke international law, not the Israelis. Further, it was the Turkish government that allowed this farce to occur with, I imagine, the clear intent of embarrassing Israel. They, apparently, did not realize the Israelis are serious about their security.

Luckily for the Turkish government, in the arab world, you can pass anything off as a Jewish, Israeli or Zionist conspiracy, thereby avoiding what really irks them - being humiliated. When your armies are defeated, you claim victory. When a few dozen gunmen are killed, you yell, "massacre and genocide". When your citizens revolt, you blame the Mossad, etc. Hell, last year Egypt blamed Israeli-trained sharks for a spate of biting attacks in one of its tourism areas. And, that was when the Egyptians were still being run by Mubarak, one of the least Israeli-hating of the arab thug leaders.

So, rather than make amends to Israel for essentially underwriting an attack on a country that had been mostly an ally, the Turks demanded an apology from Israel. Israel, having already publicly expressed deep regret at the loss of life (one imagines the reaction inside the halls of power was somewhat less sympathetic), refused. The Turks have decided this is cause to end a diplomatic and business relationship that has been one of the few anywhere in the Middle East built on mutual accommodation. It is Recep Tayyip Erdogan's plan to continue Turkey's move to an islamic state and it goes hand in hand with purging the army of its secular leaders and becoming ever-more chummy with Iran.

Israel, being Israel, will likely take this slight and put on its normal face of regretting the Turkish actions, calling for reconciliation and refusing to issue any other public apologies, hoping all the while the Turks eventually come to their senses. Sadly, I have my doubts. If I were Israel, I'd be very tempted to take two diplomatic steps of my own: 1) publicly recognize the Armenian genocide and 2) call for an independent Kurdish homeland. Sometimes, when you're in the sandbox, you have to toss a handful back at your tormenter.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Just a Little Off the Sides

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we attended a Lamaze class. During the course of the sessions, the issue of circumcision arose. I don't remember the circumstances - whether it was part of the actual program or just a question raised by one of the other three couples attending.

I was aghast when one of the couples began having an actual argument over the issue. He, a Canadian, was insistent that any male child would be circumcised; she, from Britain - where the practice is not nearly as prevalent as in North America - was equally convinced otherwise. After about five minutes of uncomfortable squirming, I suggested perhaps it would just be best if they had a girl. Which they did. They also divorced a couple of years later.

Lately, it seems the circumcision issue is getting a lot of media play. An initiative to ban it completely in San Francisco failed. My daily newspaper recently had a two-page spread on whether it was a responsible act or not. Howard Stern, who I listen to almost daily, regularly speaks out against it, one of the few things I'm in complete disagreement with him on.

The arguments against circumcision seem to be: 1) it's unnecessary, 2) it's mutilation, 3) it causes psychological harm to the baby and 4) it lessens the man's pleasure during sex.

Of these, 1) is largely correct. There is no specific reason to circumcise a baby. But studies have shown circumcision reduces the rate of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, and it reduces the potential for other infections. It also removes the potential for requiring a circumcision later in life - an occasional and, reportedly, very painful prospect indeed for an adult male. And, yes, there are rare complications but those exist with vaccinations and other common medical procedures (generally with much more serious medical consequences). 2) depends entirely on your point of view. Young girls (and boys) often get piercings before they are of adult age and it, too, is mutilation but I don't hear anyone calling for it to be illegal. Ditto tattoos which are sported by teens on a regular basis these days. 3) is utter, complete and absolute bunk. I had both my boys circumcised. I held them while it was being done, without anaesthetic, by a mohel (a Jewish doctor specifically trained in both the medical and religious aspects of the process). In both cases, a single cry was emitted and that was pretty much it. The idea that this causes some deep scars to the baby's psyche is the type of ridiculous babble regularly touted by those who feel that we've all been scarred and are incapable of overcoming even the most minor - or in this case, completely unmemorable - events in our lives. 4) I can only say that if I am foregoing, let's say, 10 per cent of the pleasure I would otherwise get from intercourse, then it's a sacrifice I am willing to make both for myself and my wife. Feeling too little pleasure is not a problem in my world. And, as far as pleasure goes, my wife reveals that on the one occasion she was involved with a non-circumcised man, she found it, delicately speaking, off-putting.

In reality, what drives the anti-circumcision crowd is they are convinced they are right and will use whatever means at their disposal - whether supporting evidence exists or not - to advance their argument. You do not hear anyone call for all babies to be circumcised because the reasoned view from that perspective is that it's a choice parents make based on their own convictions.

The simple fact really seems to be that circumcision is a procedure that has some benefits but not necessarily enough to compel the medical community to recommend it universally. And, that's how it should be left. Parents are given the appropriate information to make their own decision. It is not an issue that requires the intervention of the nanny-staters - but, then, I suppose that comprises the vast majority of their issues in this ever-increasing atmosphere of regulation and taking decisions away from the only people who should rightfully be making them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Tale of Two Riots

Following four or so days of intense rioting in Britain a couple of weeks ago, the police, courts and politicians have acted aggressively, already combining to send a number of people to jail for periods that, in some cases, far outweigh the generally accepted severity of the crime.

This, of course, has sent the usual suspects into great spasms of righteousness as they cry to the heavens about the lack of justice and assert that on appeal these sentences will be overturned. They don't get it: British society, or at least those in charge of keeping some kind of order, seem to have decided enough is enough and that a) even if the sentences are overturned the jail time those individuals are now serving will far exceed previous such penalties and b) it could possibly act as a powerful incentive to others inclined to do the same stupid things to maybe just have another beer instead and pass out peacefully.

Having never been there, I don't know what Britain is really like but I've read enough about its societal make up and recent history to be pretty sure it's not a place I'd feel particularly comfortable living as I am opposed to endemic anti-Semitism, appeasement-oriented multiculturalism and cradle-to-grave entitlements with no effort to instill any sense of responsibility in those receiving said benefits.

However, I generally applaud the British reaction to rioters and wish I could say the same for the actions of the equivalent parties here in British Columbia. Because, apparently, we need a couple of more serious riots before we learn the lesson.

It turns out that more than two months after a very damaging riot in downtown Vancouver following the loss of the Stanley Cup final, not only has there not been a single conviction, there has yet to be even a single charge laid. This despite the fact that many of the rioters were captured on video and camera and that many of the people involved were even stupid enough to post of their exploits on social media sites. This despite the fact the police and the government promised swift and serious action after the second hockey related riot in the city's history. This despite the fact the public outcry was both loud and direct: prosecute the people responsible for damaging property and sullying our city's reputation.

It has been posited that the cry for swift action was borne of the same mob mentality that led to the riots and that the emotion would ebb as quickly. I disagree wholeheartedly. Two months later and I, for one, still want those responsible held responsible. I want the clowns who burned cars and threw stones at police and broke windows and looted stores jailed, for at least a short period of time. I want those who participated in less violent or damaging ways to suffer the embarrassment of being hauled before the courts and made to, at least, undertake public service to pay us back for their actions.

I'm extremely irked that there has been no action here and that the police are still yapping about having to compile more evidence. If they don't have enough evidence to convict some of these people, then our governments need to address the definition of evidence so that those who post pictures of themselves on Facebook breaking laws in a significant way are deemed to have provided sufficient evidence, not withstanding whatever other evidence may exist.

I want an end to the bullshit before British Columbia looks like the British Isles. Justice delayed is justice denied and, in this case, it is society that is being denied.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Time to End the Tea Party

It is supremely stupid that the US election cycle seems to be never-ending. Congressmen, restricted to their two year terms, are campaigning virtually all the time. The President's office isn't much more secure, usually by the time the four-year term is half over, people on the opposite side are lining up to take a run as are people from the ruling party, if the president is in his final term.

Sadly, Republicans seem intent on making sure that people from both sides will be lining up for the 2016 election. They do not seem to have a single candidate who is electable to the actual office of president.

We have seen this before, or at least Canadians have. After the Conservatives were handed a monumental ass-kicking in 1993, the party split in two. One half became the Reform Party - headed by evangelical Christian Preston Manning. The other continued to hold itself to the party's more centrist leaning faction. Predictably, they split the right of centre vote during several elections, handing easy victories to Jean Chretien and his Liberal Party. It was only after common sense prevailed and the right reunited under the capable stewardship of Stephen Harper in the early half of the last decade that they were able to challenge and eventually defeat the long-governing Liberals.

Manning, it must be said, wasn't a complete knuckle dragger but he did have knuckle dragging tendencies. I don't think he denied evolution but he would have denied you an abortion or a same-sex marriage. On the general scale of mixing religion with politics, he'd rate about a 7.5.

The darlings of the tea party, people like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, rate about a 9.5 on the knuckle-dragging scale. I'm giving them the half point benefit because, frankly, both of them are too good looking to be complete neanderthals. And, since the tea partiers now seem to hold the balance of power - or at least enthusiasm and probably money - for their chosen candidates, it would seem quite possible one of their beloved seizes the Republican nomination for 2012. If not, it's entirely feasible they will not vote for the Republican candidate and would either forward a third party or independent candidate or just stay home.

Either way, the Democrats win and Barack Obama's confused, meandering presidency gets another four years, including two where - if history is any indicator - he'll be a complete lame duck incapable of getting anything done. This is, by any reasonable standard, absolutely not what the United States needs right now.

It may already be too late. By indulging, or being overrun by, the Tea Party, the Republicans find themselves in a sticky situation. Some tea partiers, no doubt, are very sensible people who really are interested in nothing more than lower taxes/deficit, greater accountability and less intrusion in the average citizen's private life - areas where Obama, as the latest in a growing list of 20th/21st century presidents, has failed badly. But the vast majority seem to reject simple facts like evolution or what should be simple rights like a woman's control over her own body.

There is a split in the United States right now - or, at least it seems so from 15 minutes north of its border - between those who would run the country on semi-theological lines and those who would run it along semi-ideological lines. What is desperately needed is someone interested in running it along practical lines. With an ever-increasing deficit, three wars, a still-stagnant economy and an ungodly mess of a foreign policy, the Obama administration is ripe for the picking.

But, it won't be by Michelle Bachmann or those of her ilk. The Republican party needs a quick adaptation to the realities on the ground and a candidate who can forward a platform to reduce the deficit and bloated government, take a pragmatic, 21st century approach to a range of social issues and produce a cohesive foreign policy.

Sadly, I'm wagering my dashboard Jesus that this won't be happening in 2012. Rather, I think the Republicans are well on their way to turning the campaign into a year-long farce. And, as depressing a thought as that is; the alternative - they nominate and Americans elect someone like Bachmann - is just so opposed to common sense that it causes a small brain such as mine to produce a major headache when even contemplated.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Some Things Never Go Out of Fashion

When I was a child, my mother insisted that I wear oxfords and dress pants to school until I was about 10 or 11. Of course, I hated this. In the 35 years since I have worn denim on at least 90 per cent of the days. Blue jeans, t-shirts, athletic socks and running shoes are my typical daily wear with only slight variations allowed for seasonal considerations. I even managed to wrangle myself employment in a white collar profession but with employers who allow blue collar dress.

All of which goes to say that I have the fashion sense of a colour-blind four-year-old. Furthermore, I daresay I care less about how I dress than that same four-year-old.

Which is why I was so surprised to learn today that fashion designer Johnny Galliano was under so much pressure from his job that he found it necessary to take drugs and alcohol in such quantity that he all of a sudden, presto, change-o, turned into an anti-Semite, like some sort of warped national socialist version of Cinderella. You must take your job pretty seriously when dressing up runway models becomes a reason to start ranting as if you've been possessed by Joseph Goebbels.

According to AP, during his trial for "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity" Galliano doesn't remember any such incidents - although he's standing trial for two such occurrences and at least one other was reported - due to his drug and alcohol addiction. The drugs and alcohol were necessary because of the difficulties experienced by designers in a recession-wracked world. Over-priced and ugly clothing, it seems, just doesn't sell as well when people are defaulting on their mortgages.

Personally, I'm unconvinced that such a small, petty creature should even be on trial. His reputation lies in shreds, like the leftovers from one of his cutting room sessions. His employer, Christian Dior, turfed him immediately, and rightly so. Galliano is entitled to his stupidity but no one is obligated to keep paying him if he conducts himself in an unprofessional manner. It could really have been left at that.

The kicker is, of course, that Galliano is overtly homosexual. The Nazis, their personal indiscretions aside, would not have been impressed. The only fashion he would have been wearing under a Nazi regime would have included a pink triangle.

I will never buy the inevitable mea culpas that flow from the likes of Galliano and Mel Gibson. In wine, truth and all of that. But, really, ho-hum...if we want to get serious about anti-Semitism in this world, Galliano is hardly the starting point. Anti-Semitism isn't haute couture; in fact, as far as irrational hatreds go, it's ubiquitous - like t-shirts and blue jeans. For the garden variety anti-Semite slug, the best approach is a liberal sprinkling of ridicule and a good smack in the pocketbook; they are generally incurable but easily dealt with.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Let Loose the Unicorns of Diplomacy

Yesterday, Barack Obama delivered a lengthy speech on the state of the Middle East. Most of the approximately 45 minutes was used to outline the background of the so-called "Arab Spring" and to detail how the US will support those countries that move towards democracy and enhanced individual freedoms. He called for all the very presidential things that a president should call for: women's rights, minority rights, an end to cronyism, nepotism and rule by decree, etc.

And, then he spent five minutes or so on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is, of course as is always the case where the word "Israel" is found, that portion of the speech which dominated the following commentary and headlines (at least in North America).

I believe Obama should have made such a speech. What is happening in the Middle East is incredibly important to the world - whether the end result is good or bad remains to be seen - and the effort to support those potential leaders who are actually interested in assisting arab countries to lurch into the 21st Century should be a priority. It is a positive sign that he is tying aid to actual reform, although it remains to be seen whether that can be accomplished in a region where tribal and family ties stretch back centuries, where nationhood is a much newer concept and where illiteracy, a lack of women's and minority rights and religious zealotry are major obstacles to progress.

And, Obama's call for roughly 1967 borders is nothing particularly new. It is foolishness to expect Israel to dismantle large towns/small cities in the West Bank but it is certainly feasible to swap land in exchange.

This, however, is where he steers horribly wrong and where pundits - as usual - have missed a central point: the potential borders between Israel and a palestinian state are not the problem. By essentially putting that ahead of all other considerations, Obama is saying one of either two things: a) he remains naive about the realities of palestinian politics or b) he sees no solution to other issues so he will try to patch together a palestinian state and carve himself a permanent place in the history books.

In fact, he essentially acknowledged this in his speech by noting the presence of hamas and its policies and the refusal of palestinian leaders (and, by both extension and appearance, the citizenry) to recognize Israel and its right to exist. But, he didn't stress that for what it really is: the determining factor. It is illogical to expect Israel to make peace with a government whose elements are still bent on its eventual destruction and who are state-sponsors of terrorism before they even have a state.

Until the US - regardless of who is president - puts the emphasis where it belongs, there cannot be peace. Borders are easy to create - in fact, the whole Middle East is full of artificial borders that make no sense (the root cause of much of the sectarian violence seen in countries where nationhood clashes with age-old traditions). And, Israel has shown it will make land concessions and uproot citizens in the pursuit of peace - as it did in Gaza, which resulted in the reward of having thousands of rockets lobbed indiscriminately at its populace.

What you cannot create is a peace partner where none exists. By entering into a power-sharing agreement with hamas, the "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas has torpedoed any such hopes in the short-term. It is a child's fantasy to believe the palestinians are seriously committed to a secure peace and, perhaps, in that fantasy, a hero would ride in on his sage and horned equine companion and save the day. The west has long been wide-eyed at every bedtime story the palestinians have concocted. Thus, it is no surprise Obama handed out his scholarly rhetoric empty of any suggestion of a solution to hamas' presence, etc, skimming over it but without interrupting the tale.

The US - and the world community - does have an opportunity to positively affect events in the Middle East and certainly in those countries experiencing political upheaval. That is important. The last thing the world needs is more nations falling under the sway of radical islamic leaders or just overall sectarian violence, and Egypt is already demonstrating the very real possibility of that kind of reaction.

The I/P conflict can wait. Egyptians, Syrians, Tunisians, Libyans, etc. weren't/aren't out in the streets because of the plight of the palestinians. They're fighting for their own futures. The I/P situation is a sideshow. It doesn't need the US's attention and the US's attention would be much better put to use elsewhere.