Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chillin'

The May Long Weekend. The first official unofficial weekend of summer.

There's nothing quite like it.

It's hard to describe, somehow it always feels a little more special, being the first weekend that beckons of what lies ahead.

So, here I sit, having just finished a bbq, musing about the afternoon I spent with the girls. It's funny how, if you tried to plan this stuff, it wouldn't work. But when you least expect it? Yeah, that's when it happens.

The Kit Kat is still, in many ways, a Tomboy. And yet, at 14, she has also entered the teenage world in way too many ways. But still, a Tomboy.

So I was more than a little surprised when, after I forced her to try on an old pair of her sister's shorts to see if they might fit her, she declared that she liked her legs. Okay. We were up on my room and lay on the bed chatting and laughing for awhile until I finally decided I had to get something done.

At which point she disappeared, reappearing in a different pair of shorts and a very nice black form fitting t-shirt (with a colourful zebra on the front, nice but hard to describe) and hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looks really good with her hair pulled back but she rarely does it. After considering her it for a while, I told her that she had a dancer's body. She seemed to like that.

Then it was jewelry (this is so not a jewelry type of girl), various bracelets which she tried on while I painted her toenails. Well, she asked. Insisted actually. But the Kit Kat and painted toenails, not so much.

But her grad dance (for middle school) will be next month and as much as she despises shopping for clothes, I hear her musing about what she needs to buy for the dance. I know she won't get too dressed up (I will be thrilled if I can get her out of jeans) but still ... when she said she would like a manicure (another first), I suggested that I might just be willing to pay for both a mani and a pedi if she would wear something to the dance that actually showed off her toes ie) not sneakers. Not sure how much luck I will have there but I did plant the seed.

So it's been a nice weekend (so far, almost one-third of it gone). Yeah, I had a long list of things "to do" for this long weekend but I am much more inclined to just chill at the moment and spend some time with my girls, who are growing up much too fast.

Play station, anyone?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A 'Long Telegram' From a Little to the Left

Hey, how cool is this ... I have my very first guest post?!

A real world friend of mine (yeah, I know, how astonishing is that?) ... actually, a close friend who is one of my few regular blog readers, sent me a private email with his thoughts on the "Passing Me By" post, below. I suggested that he place them in the comments section, but, alas, they were a little too long - much more deserving of their own post.

Now Jimmy James and I have been good friends for many a year and I suspect he fears that I have slipped somewhat to the right in some of my thinking over the past few years. Perhaps he is right. Or not. At any rate, his comments post speaks for itself.

With no further ado, I give you ...

With all due respect to those brave men and women of the Canadian Forces who are still in-theatre and to those unfortunate souls soon to join the dead, it might be a good idea to ask why the Canadian Forces are in Afghanistan in the first place ?? How did we get sucked into an American war ?? What specific Canadian national security interest is at stake in Afghanistan ?? What was the original mission we were tasked by the Americans to undertake ?? Has the nature of the Canadian Forces mission changed since their arrival, and if so, why ?? If the mission has changed, why did the mission change ?? Are the Canadian Forces well equipped to perform their "new" mission ?? When we pull-out at the end of 2011, what will they have died for ??

Here are a few of my own answers to those most fundamental questions:

First of all, I want to go on record as saying that I totally support the brave young men and women in the Canadian Forces 110 percent!! They answer the call to duty without hesitation and (aside from the Somalia Affair), they do an outstanding world-class job wherever they go. But I do not support the specific mission Canadian troops were asked to undertake in Afghanistan beginning in February 2006, nor do I support the decision of the politicians who sent them there.

There is a very real difference between supporting, in the broadest sense, Canadian troops serving at home or abroad, and supporting this specific mission they have been called upon to undertake in Afghanistan. Wars can sometimes achieve important national objectives but, sadly, this is not the case as it relates to Canada's current role in Afghanistan. Those who may argue that if you don't support the mission, you don't really support the troops. I would respond by saying that argument is based on a false choice, most likely designed to coerce the Canadian people into supporting this specific mission.

In my opinion, the only reason Canadian troops were sent to Afghanistan by Paul Martin in February 2006 was to appease the Americans, who were very angry when PM Chr├ętien politely declined the American request to send Canadian Forces to Iraq in 2003. I strongly believe that Chr├ętien's decision was the correct decision -- why should Canadian soldiers be sent to Afghanistan to fight (and to die) in an "American" war which has little to do with Canada's national security interests ??

When Paul Martin agreed to send Canadian troops to Afghanistan in February 2006, the mission was very clearly defined as "humanitarian assistance & reconstruction," with only a minor combat role for operational security on the ground. Within weeks of their arrival, however, Canadian troops were savagely attacked by the Taliban and their supporters. As a result, the Canadian mission as it was originally conceived, was thrown into a cocked hat. Canadian troops were compelled by circumstance to shift their entire strategy to offensive military operations against the Taliban. By the Summer of 2006, the Canadian death-toll very gradually started to rise. Also, the original mission-statement called for a Canadian presence lasting two-years at the most. But once Stephen Harper was elected in January 2007, the Conservative government has decided to extend the mission beyond it's original two-year mandate.

From my perspective, there is one inescapable analogy between this war and the US war in Vietnam: brave young Canadian men and women in uniform are being sent to the other side of the world by our political leaders to serve, to fight (and to die) in the wrong war, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. I think it is a tragedy of epic proportions that our Canadian Armed Forces are fighting a war in Afghanistan which they can never win -- no one can "win" this kind of war. Afghanistan has a very long history of fighting and eventually defeating every foreign power that ever set foot in their country (the Mongols, the Brits, the Russians, the Americans, and now the Canadians). Not even Alexander The Great could defeat the warrior-tribes of Afghanistan -- sure, the Afghani's take a royal ass-kicking but they keep on ticking, and they never give up. NEVER...

I hope my words don't upset you -- I can assure you that is not my intent. I am simply sharing my point of view on this very important subject. Call me whatever pejorative epithet you wish to use, but I strongly feel that it's criminal for our political leaders to send our young men and women into harm's way unless they have a clearly-defined mission which is achievable, and Canada's national security interests are directly threatened. This is clearly not the case in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is actually the American's fight, not ours, and the only reason Canadian troops were sent to Afghanistan in the first place was to "make-nice" with George W. Bush after we angered him by not sending our troops to Iraq in 2003. Plus, it was never supposed to be a combat mission; it was designed to be a mission of "humanitarian assistance and reconstruction."

It is a "false choice" and intellectually dishonest for others to say, "if you don't support the mission, you don't support the troops." Pshaw!! The opposite is true -- it is precisely because I DO support the Canadian Armed Forces one-hundred percent that I oppose sending them on a combat mission which has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding, and which does not directly affect Canada's national security interests. Coalition casualties have increased dramatically over the past several years, and the Taliban are once again massing on the outskirts of the Capital of Kabul. Sounds kinda like the North Vietnamese Army as they gradually advanced toward Saigon in 1973-74. The US could not possibly win the war in Vietnam, no matter how many American soldiers they sent or how many tons of bombs they dropped. Over 58,000 US Service Personnel died in that war, and for what? Because Lyndon Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff mistakenly believed that a Communist takeover in South Vietnam would threaten US national security interests all over the world. Well, in the Spring of 1975 the Communist North Vietnamese Army did take over South Vietnam, and drove the Americans out. And less that 25-years later, the US and Vietnam re-established diplomatic relations, and Vietnam is a great tourist destination for American travellers.

It is painful in the extreme for the families of those brave Canadian men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to even consider the possibility that their loved ones may have died in vein. But that is the case, and I hold our political leaders responsible for the four-plus years of needless Canadian deaths in Afghanistan we have born witness to. Ask yourself the fundamental questions outlined above, and then read just a few paragraphs about the history, the people, and the political culture of Afghanistan on Wikipedia. When we look back twenty years from now on Canada's mission in Afghanistan, will the Canadian people regard it as a "Just War" that was worth fighting, or as a colossal strategic blunder ?? It may change your thinking on whether this mission has been worth the sacrifice in blood and treasure or not...

Peace & Love,

Jimmy James


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Passing Me By ...

I haven't been blogging anywhere near as much as usual for quite a while now. And that's a problem for me on various levels.

Not the least of which is the fact that I still find stuff I want to blog about. And that stuff tends to pile up on my computer desk. Until, current events no longer being current, it gets dumped (with no small amount of guilt) into the recycle bin.

For example, the 100th anniversary of Canada's Navy. Halifax, being more or less a Navy town, it has special significance here.



But before I got my sorry butt around to commenting on that, the Canadian Navy experienced another significant first, this one much less happy.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Blake was the 143rd member of the Canadian military to be killed in Afghanistan, but the first sailor. The navy clearance diver, who was based in Halifax, was sent to Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal operator. And it was after disarming an improvised explosive device that he was, ironically enough, killed by an IED while walking back to camp.

Being based in Halifax, Petty Officer Blake returned here yesterday to have his ashes scattered in the Atlantic. The husband and father of two boys was only one week away from his 38th birthday.

But wait, before I could even get to that, yet another Canadian soldier was killed in Afghanistan. 24-year-old Pte. Kevin McKay. # 144.

Which makes me wonder ... is it better if I write about it? Or if I don't?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Over The Edge

I've watched with some degree of bemusement as racism seems to grow into a bigger and bigger issue on almost daily basis in the US. Or, perhaps I should not say so much a bigger and bigger issue as much as more and more the 'call of the day'. The only explanation for everything that happens.

After all, anyone who didn't vote for President Obama must have been a racist, right?

And we are know that the "tea baggers" are nothing but a bunch of racists ... even though the latest polls paint a slightly different picture, revealing that although they were slightly more likely to be employed, male and definitely more conservative, in several other respects, "their age, educational background, employment status, and race -- Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large."

But what do I know? I just find it strange is all.

Not that Canada is that much better.

As just one example, we have the complaints made on behalf of Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal to the Halifax Regional Police and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission about a 2008 cartoon in the Chronicle Herald. The police complaint was apparently made under under Section 318 of the Criminal Code, as "hate propaganda", more commonly known as a "hate crime".

Of course, whether you're default position is racism or some other form of discrimination, the result is really the same. Real racism and real discrimination do occur. But when we find it lurking under every rock or in every bizarre (uncaring, stupid, pick your word) comment someone makes, we are marginalizing the whole concept to the point of meaningless. And that is dangerous.

So why bring this up now?

Yesterday, I thought this story in the Chronicle Herald was a bit odd - two parents were more than a little upset about a comment made by Karen Hilchey, a substitute teacher, to their 12-year-old daughter. The teacher, who was filling in for a music class allegedly pointed at their daughter, who had been adopted from China, and said, "We are all white Christians here, except for you."

The child's mother not only wanted an apology from the school board, but had also contacted the RCMP and the provincial Education Department "seeking an investigation and a guarantee that the teacher will not be in the classroom again".

That was all of the story we had yesterday, no context to even try to explain the comment. Which, admittedly, struck me as more than a little strange and unusual for a teacher to make. What call would a music teacher have to even note such a thing? Yet alone point out the child in front of the whole class?

A stellar example of good teaching practice? Not so much.
Were the parents justified in seeking an explanation? Sure.

But racism?

The headline read "Racist Remark Sparks Outrage". The mother referred to never having experienced any racism before. And the police received a complaint and had visited the school as part of their investigation.

Today, we see the teacher scrambling madly to clarify the "misunderstanding" and give the comment some context. You can read her side of the story for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

I would think that an apology to the child and an explanation to the parents are no doubt in order. Perhaps even some sensitivity training in assisting the teacher with implementing her good intentions in the classroom. Or perhaps not.

But here is what I don't get.

Tait [the mother] said she’s still bewildered about the classroom address. She is pursuing the matter with the RCMP to see if the incident with her daughter can be considered an alleged hate crime.
A hate crime?

Lord, give me strength.

"Every one who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years." [sec. 318, Criminal Code]
Right.

Because a comment that everyone in a room "are all white Christians", with the exception of one student, while it may be more than a little stupid and insensitive for a teacher to make, doesn't quite qualify as "advocating or promoting genocide", does it?

Does it?

I mean you can all but visualize the teacher handing out swords to the other students so they could rid the classroom of this little invader, can't you? [That was sarcasm, by the way. For anyone out there who couldn't tell. Of which I'm thinking there are probably a few.]

So tell me, have we all lost our minds?

Or have I simply went down the rabbit hole? Again?

Update: As pointed out in comments, other potentially relevant Criminal Code sections include s. 319 (1) and (2) ["public incitement of hatred" and "wilful promotion of hatred"].

Although, in my opinion, the singling of a person out as being of a different religion or race, without more, does not qualify as either inciting or promoting hatred, I note that two of the available defences to a charge of willful promotion of hatred are (a) "if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true"; or (b) "if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada". Both of which, I submit, might well apply here assuming the teacher's version of events is true.

But my real point is that so many different things have now been alleged as racist or hate crimes in the media that many some people don't even know what these words mean any more. And that, to me, is scary.