Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bosing Day

Boxing Day, 2007. I took advantage of the commercialism I railed against in my last post and bought a few clothes at The Bay in Edmonton for half price before we left for home.

Weekends at Cynthia and James’s place are wonderful; they’re both excellent cooks and we had the best prime rib and the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. The weather turned balmy for Christmas day and today we drove home on clear, wet highways.

I appreciate your comments on the blog posts. Most of you who do respond choose to do so by email rather than on the blog itself, and that’s OK. Marg in Cambridge Bay is a faithful reader and apropos to my blog on acronyms informs me that the Inuit of Nunavut have more than mastered the art of organizational acronymania, possibly beyond even the UN. She also tells me that Christmas in Cambridge Bay is a relaxing time for them as compared to the troublesome travel arrangements necessary to spend the time “down south.” Friend Allen talks about attending a Protestant wedding in Uruguay on a recent trip and being put-off by the degree to which the wedding mimicked the “commercial” weddings of North America. Thanks for your comments.

Our Thompson “family” got together in Winnipeg a few days before Christmas and via telephone, caroled us across the miles. What a wonderful thing to do. And if you carolers are reading this, thank you so much!

A little tidbit I wanted to share with you all. As you may know, George Bush is a member of the United Methodist faith. On November 9th at a semiannual meeting of United Methodist bishops a resolution urging the immediate and complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq passed almost unanimously. Christian Century says that: “The bishops represent more than 11 million church members in the US and abroad. They urged increased support for war veterans but asked that United Methodists also be ‘peacemakers by word and deed.’” (Christian Century, November 27, 2007. p.15.) It’s heartening when Christians witness to the peaceable kingdom, even when loyalty to a fellow church member might encourage them to be quiet!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone

Merry Christmas everyone!

I decided today that I don’t care for Christmas much. In part, the conclusion came while trying to find appropriate gifts for my wife and daughter. Over the years, I’ve learned that out there in the retail world, there just isn’t anything that does my love for them justice. And even if there were, I probably wouldn’t recognize it.

Adding to the gift shopping blues, of course, is the problem of justifying the frantic activity that precedes the holiday. Simultaneous this year with a Messiah performance, numerous banquets, concerts and parties, etc. we were hosting a virus in our household, a stubborn one that seemed determined to undermine the enjoyment of each event. There just wasn’t time to rest and get well, it seemed.

Why should it be like this? Today I was browsing in the November 27th, 2007 Christian Century. In it, Valerie Weaver-Zercher—in an article entitled Wedding, Inc.—refers to journalist Rebecca Mead[1] as follows: “Although none of the writers [about the commercialization of weddings] is equipped to counsel pastors, all of them detail the way in which commercial interests have stepped into what Mead calls the ‘vacuum of authority’ regarding how people should marry(30).” I think it would be appropriate to surmise that we don’t know how to celebrate Christmas anymore, just like we don’t know how to marry, and that commercial interests have stepped into the “vacuum of authority” and are telling us how it ought to be done. Frankly, I don’t like their agenda for the holidays.

One of the items adding to the busyness of the season was a sermon I promised to deliver on the Sunday before New Year. I’m half done at this point, and will have to work on it while we’re at our daughter’s place in Edmonton over Christmas. What to say that could help people? I’m going to compare our New Year to that of other cultures—briefly—particularly the Jewish Rosh Hashanah, which, according to my sources, is a time of introspection, renewal and celebration, based on the religious notion that God is assessing our individual conduct over the past year and is urging us to evaluate and renew our commitment to him.

Now, suppose we were to scrap—or at least downplay—the Christmas celebration because of it’s ambiguity and its co-option by Santa Clause and his cohorts and replace it with a new New Year. Falling on March 22, it would herald the approach of spring, and would be similar to Rosh Hashanah in that it would be a solemn occasion for introspection, renewal of commitment, and finally, a gigantic day of feasting and celebration, dancing and singing to honour the LORD’s care over the earth and its people and the promise of a good year of sowing and harvest, learning and growing.

How long would it take for the commercial interests to co-opt that? Well, the telling factor would be whether or not we allowed the development of a “vacuum of authority” to invite the secular world to tell us how to celebrate it in a way that would heighten once again the urge to consume with great profligacy.

We’ll get through Christmas again. I sense that there are people around me who don’t feel the disappointment with the season that I do. Perhaps they have filled the vacuum themselves with something meaningful. I hope so.

Meanwhile, we did decide this year to reduce our spending on gifts for one another to a minimum, and instead, we’ve donated what we would tend to spend ordinarily to an MCC Global Family education project in Uganda. I suspect that in the future, we may enlarge on this way of celebrating Christmas, and hopefully fill the vacuum for ourselves that way.

Merry Christmas, everybody. And a Rosh Hashanah New Year

[1] See Mead, Rebecca, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding. Penguin Books

Sunday, December 02, 2007


ARRAPEL (A Reflection Regarding Acronymial Proliferation in the English Language)

Acronym: n. word formed from the first initials of several words (e.g. NASA)

I recently read Stephen Lewis’s Race Against Time, (See ) and was highly impressed by the fervour with which he advocates for the Africans suffering from the ravages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping across that continent. But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

Lewis worked for quite a few years with the United Nations, and the UN with its many departments and sub-departments is a breeding ground for acronyms, those ubiquitous stand-ins for names-of-more-than-one word. He was with UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) and then later with UNAIDS (United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). AIDS, of course, is itself an acronym for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Here are some other acronyms that float around the UN and other international circles:

WHOWorld Health Organization. This one has potential for an Abbott and Costello parody, i.e. Abbott: “I work for the World Health Organization.” Costello: “You work for who?” Abbott: “That’s right.”

PEPFAR – President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. This one has the fortunate outcome of exuding energy; both “pep” and “far” are complimentary to the acronym’s original, although the “far” part could be cynically said to suggest that the president would rather fight AIDS abroad than at home.

SAP – Structural Adjustment Program. This is one of those acronyms that has a homonym which is not complimentary to its original.

NATONorth Atlantic Treaty Organization. Pronounced Naytoe, pretty much everyone knows the acronym while few North Americans know what it actually does. But then, NATO is never sure either what it ought to be and do.

CIDA – Canadian International Development Agency. Lewis says Canada’s record in foreign aid is abysmal. The acronym is nice, though, suggesting “see” as if to say that we are watching the world, or “seed” as if we were growing something. Our aid program is withering on the vine, however, and most Canadians don’t “see” that. Duh.

UNIFEM – United Nations Development Fund for Women. Now where did they get that? The acronym is supposed to be made up of the initials of the organization. Letting “fem” stand in for women, we still have to wonder where the “I” comes from? I suppose UNDFW is simply unpronounceable.

Sometimes the name of an organization includes only consonant initials, as in Prairie Spirit School Division. The rule of thumb in such acronyms is that you supply the vowels where they would logically fit. I live in the PSSD and am not particularly enthused about the acronym resulting from “voweling” that organizational abbreviation. An entity like Dominion Rehabilitation Program would become DRP, but the acronym could be pronounced “DRIP” or “DORP,” neither of which has a classical ring to it.

Sometimes the acronym can speak ironically about its original. United Nations Food Emergency Directorate simply won’t ever exist. UNFED would simply be too appropriate! While I was an MCC (Mennonite Central Committee – See below) administrator in Europe, I was present at the formation of a group that would spearhead joint church building efforts in Portugal. When they decided to call themselves the Portugal Interest Group, I suggested that they rethink that. A colleague who liked irony spoke in favour of keeping it; he thought it would be neat to say—whenever a question arose on the work in that particular sphere—“Just ask the PIG!”

But in that vein, the acronyms that would be created by the Canadian Organization of Women, or Saskatchewan Organization of Women, quite a bit less than helpful, knowing the ribald humour that men in this country seem to prefer.

Of course, many acronyms don’t read like words at all. Saskatchewan Government Telephones has always been “S-G-T.” Even adding a vowel to that combination of consonants doesn’t seem to work: “SGIT?” “SGET?” Likewise, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway will do doubt remain “C-N-R” and “C-P-R.”

Probably the most frequently used acronym in my daily life is MCC (Mennonite Central Committee). In fact, the acronym has become its name, as is the case with, say, CBC or DVD. That is, of course, fortunate. Mennonite Central Committee sounds like a branch of the Communist Party, and I don’t understand how the spin doctors and PR people haven’t cottoned on to that a long time ago and campaigned for a better name. But then, we Mennonites aren’t very creative in that department: Mennonite Disaster Service sounds like we service disaster, when we really purport to mitigate its effects. MDS should really be MDMS, Mennonite Disaster Mitigation Service. Also, we now have MCC—Mennonite Central Committee—and MCC—Mennonite Church Canada. With the two organizations being part of one family of Christian churches, the misconstruing of intent is a daily phenomenon, at least in my world. So, MCC (the relief organization), you are now CCM: Committee of Centrist Mennonites. (Or is a CCM still a bicycle?)

I am in search of the perfect acronym. The “word” derived from the initials of the organization would be so appropriate that were I to come across it in Lewis, I wouldn’t have to flip to the glossary to get the drift of the sentence at all.

Please send in your contributions.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It's OUR story!

November 11, 2007

It’s not just coffee!

It’s ­our story; not my story.

What’s on your plate?

We all have AIDS.

I decided to begin today with a series of maxims that recent events have conspired to plant firmly in my brain. The first two are from a sermon delivered this morning by Nadine Ens on the occasion of Remembrance Day. The third is from Duane Guina of earth care, an agricultural conservancy here in Saskatchewan and the last from Race Against Time, the CBC Massey Lectures of 2005 by Stephen Lewis.

Nadine talked about a recent trip to Guatemala with Rosthern Junior College students and some of the things she learned from that trip regarding coffee growing, land clearing, mudslides and poverty. Her central point arose from the idea that we wealthy North Americans love and demand lots of good coffee, that this demand drives the clearing of more and more land for coffee growing, that the clearing of land often results in mudslides that destroy villages and kill people. Hence our coffee habit ends up killing people. Or does it?

She suggested that the stories we hear on the radio and television about the tragedies suffered by the most vulnerable people on earth are our stories, not their stories as opposed to my stories. She was saying the same thing that the final quote is saying: the whole world has AIDS. We are all interconnected in too many ways to be able to say that we don’t share the responsibility for tragedy, or for that matter, that we don’t share the credit for the relief of people’s agony when it comes.

“What’s on your plate?” could also read, “What’s on your back, on your feet, in your home, in your garage or in your backyard?” As consumers, we decide on the parameters that will circumscribe the economic lives of the producers. It makes a difference if our cars are manufactured in the USA, Canada, Japan or Korea. Do we know what the difference is? It makes a difference if we choose to get our Vitamin C from imported grapefruit or from domestically-grown blueberries. Do we know what the difference is? Many corporations have been challenged on the use of cheap labour in order to produce everything from toys to gadgets to clothes. Do we know what effect our demand for NIKE running shoes is doing at the production end? Current estimates are that the average distance our food travels is something like 1500 Km. Transportation consumes non-renewable energy. So it matters “what’s on my plate.” We need to begin schooling ourselves in the intricacies of consumer wisdom. Do we know how to do that, where to go? Send me titles or links that you are aware of and I’ll publish them here.

Race Against Time is subtitled, “Searching for hope in AIDS-ravaged Africa.” I personally am HIV negative, so how is this “our story?” For most of you, the answer will be obvious, as it was to Nadine as she told us to remember that it’s all “our story” because we are all so inextricably linked that the echoes of each event reach all of us in one way or another.

Since hearing Stephen Lewis a week ago, I’m contemplating a poor-person’s dinner at $30.00 a plate to raise some money for “Generations at Risk”, an MCC program to alleviate the suffering caused by AIDS in Africa. I might serve lentil and chickpea soup and South African bread and pass the proceeds on to MCC.

Who wants to join my project?

I’m easily reached at

It’s not just coffee!

It’s ­our story; not my story (or their story).

What’s on your plate?

We all have AIDS.

Winning a war may get all the celebratory attention, but foreseeing and preventing war is a far greater challenge and a far nobler undertaking than the commanding of a victorious army.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Saskatchewan Election - Postlude

Well, it’s over. The results were more or less as predicted: Saskatchewan Party 37, NDP 21, Liberals 0, Green 0. Popular vote: Liberals 8% (down), NDP 37% (down), Saskatchewan Party 51% (way up). Although the Sask Party won a few urban seats, the rural/urban, Conservative/Social Democrat ideological split is relatively intact.

We woke up this morning to an inch or two of snow. Harbinger?

Agnes and I manned the hospital poll where we accommodated three voters and sat restlessly for four hours. I read a chapter in Stephen Lewis’s Race Against Time (The Massey Lectures of 2005), poked around in the recesses of the hospital to see what goes on in the kitchen, the labour room, the recovery rooms, the physical therapy unit, etc., drank hospital coffee and kibitzed with the nurses and doctors.

An elderly gentleman from Beardy’s-Okemasis Reserve was wheeled into our voting area by a nurse and we accommodated him as best we could. I took his declaration and gave him a ballot, showing him the space where he was to write in the name of either the party for whom he would like to vote, or the name of the candidate. He said, “I vote NDP,” and at that point, I gave up all pretense of secrecy, gave him a pencil and an open ballot on the table and in a very shaky hand, he put down what approximated the three letters well enough to be read.

We took the poll to a room where a just-admitted sweet old lady wanted to exercise her franchise and was surprised when the nurse told her she didn’t even have to sit up to vote. After voting she said, “Thank you, this was fun. I didn’t know voting could be this easy!”

In Rosthern-Shellbrook constituency, a lot of the right people would have to stay home for the sense of urgency in voting to return. The Conservative (Sask Party) candidate won by a hefty majority. In Martensville Constituency to the south of us, Nancy Heppner had 80% of the popular vote the last time I checked last night. The three hospital votes we garnered did something for the voters, possibly. They did nothing for the results, I expect.

Our premier elect is of Mennonite Brethren background, I’m told. A camera and microphone followed him as he plowed through the jubilant crowd at his victory celebration and I overheard an exchange in Low German: “Na Brad, wo jeet et?” Answer: “Gout. Nu ha wie Licht von Boven!” (“How’s it going, Brad,” Answer: “Great, now we have light from above.”) Light from above. In his speech, Brad Wall kept repeating the phrase, “Hope beats Fear,” The audience was chanting it with him at the end. I’m sure that poignant phrase will go down in history alongside “I have a dream . . .” and “Ask not what your country can do for you. . . .” But I shouldn’t descend into sarcasm; that genre is best employed before the election but after the same, sounds like sour grapes.

But my grapes are a bit sour this morning. Lorne Calvert was very gracious in losing, almost jubilant in fact, and I sensed that he was relieved that he was going to get a break from being blamed for every civil servant who goes astray, every pothole on every road and every venture that turned out to be less than hoped for. If you must lose, losing an election is not the worst scenario. Office carries a burden; I think it was Allan Blakeney who said that governing is an uphill climb, and every year in office adds another stone to the backpack. I think the NDP are going to relish a few years of their opponents taking it on the chin for a change.

Anyway, life goes on. This morning, I will spend half an hour cleaning bathrooms, etc in the library, I’ll go for coffee with my cronies and try to be polite when the election comes up, prepare for an evening meeting of the Rosthern Writers Group where we’ll discuss a great short essay by another member and a novel chapter of mine.

I’ll have to watch out at the corners today; riding a bike can be hazardous on ice and snow.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Saskatchewna Election Chapter 3

I'm sitting at my desk, where I'm supposed to be until 10:00 PM because it's revision day for enumerators. This is the day we make any last minute additions and corrections to the voters' lists and the returning office will phone us with any changes that come in to their hands. Naturally, it's a beautiful day out; I am allowed to enjoy the sunshine and blue sky through my window.
The leaders' debate was a debacle with three men in suits talking simultaneously and loudly much of the hour, and very little information actually being promulgated. I think it was water under the bridge in any case: the latest polls have the Sask Party 20 points ahead of the NDP in popular support with the Liberals way behind. It led to mixed feelings last night as I listened to a lecture by my favourite New Democrat in the world - Stephen Lewis - and realized that the fervent idealism and social conscience that characterizes him used to characterize the Saskatchewan CCF/NDP movement. I hope it will again, but that will have to be under new leadership. Lorne Calvert has lost the confidence of many party members and electors, and a dehorned bull can only bellow and kick up dust; he can no longer gore.
So what do we have to look forward to, here in the heart of medicare? Well I think the future will resemble what we would have seen federally had that other Stephen won a majority two years ago: lower taxes, trimming of arts and social programs funding, corporation stroking, law and order emphasis, etc. And likely deficit budgets despite the strong economy. And highways. The Sask Party backbenchers like highway construction and every secondary road in the province will be crying for money.
Stephen Lewis was magnificent. About 800 or so people gathered in the Great Salon at TCU Place in Saskatoon to hear him. His talk was about the scourge of inequality and he was a guest of the Saskatchewan Law Society. He talked about the AIDS/HIV situation world wide, about the UNs attempts to pass human rights conventions to protect children, women and the disabled and gave us an interesting statistic on this last convention. To be adopted as an international commitment by UN members, 20 countries have to ratify it. Only 7 have. Canada is not one of them. On the convention on children, all to the worlds governments have ratified it except Somalia and - you guessed it - the USA.
A further statistic was even more troubling. Lester Pearson once talked the developed world into adopting a goal of .7 % of GDP for foreign aid. All the G8 countries are moving closer to this target except Canada. Canada's contribution to foreign aid is actually declining by this measure.
Lewis said that the most troubling issue currently facing the world generally is the inequality of women and men. He told horrific stories of the abuse and rape of women in several African countries, particularly Congo, and said that in many parts of the world, the protection of women and children - even in countries that have ratified the UN conventions designed to protect them - the conditions for women and children are actually deteriorating. The UN has known about the problem in Congo and chooses to do nothing. It seems the Security Council can only think in terms of national security of borders and security against terrorism these days. There is little interest in women and children suffering in that august body.
And now, Saskatchewan is going to join the rest of the country in choosing "free enterprise" governance, where the major emphasis will always be the growth of the economy and may the devil take the hindmost. In that, we are more and more similar to our G8 friends and the World Bank.
By the way, did you know that the World Bank stipulated some time ago that countries borrowing money would only be granted loans if they applied user fees to health and education services? All across Africa, as a result, millions of children are not in school and cannot get appropriate medical treatment because they don't have the money to pay the user fees. I thought Lewis was on the verge of apoplexy when he told us this. Apparently the World Bank has been appropriately shamed into reversing this policy, but much of the damage has been done, and in one country, the sudden arrival of over a million students in school has created a major facilities and personnel crisis.
Well, that's not exactly about the Saskatchewan election, but then, it's all of a piece, isn't it?
In passing, Lewis divulged - tongue in cheek - his favourite election campaign strategy. He suggested that people favouring, say, an NDP candidate should go door to door after midnight, wake up the households and announce at each that they were campaigning for the Saskatchewan Party or the Liberals.
In four days we vote. I have revised my prediction: Sask Party 42, NDP 18, Liberals 0, Green Party 0.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Saskatchewn election Chapter 2

The Saskatchewan election, 2007, got more interesting when an actual candidate rang my doorbell on Saturday. It was Ron Blocka, running for the NDP, and he gave me his card and asked if I had any questions. I said, “Not really, I’ll check your platform on your website,” and speeded him on his way, assuring him that he had my vote, and, of course, that was really all he wanted to know. In provincial elections, the NDP is my default position, unless strategic voting makes sense, which it seldom does. I live in a rural riding, and rural Saskatchewan tends to be Conservative on election day. I counted ballots in the rural poll in the last federal election and the proportion of the votes was roughly 20 to 7 to 4 (Conservative, NDP, Liberal). Voting Liberal or Green or NDP here reminds one of that old saw: It appears to be the right time for a futile gesture!

Agnes and I will do the hospital poll, which means we’ll sit in the nurses’ room for five hours and accommodate maybe 5 people who would be unable to exercise their franchises without us. Fortunately, I have a few good books on the go right now, one being Where War Lives by photojournalist, Paul Watson. I’ll review that on the other blog ( in a few days.

Last time we did the hospital poll, I came to the conclusion that democracy is a very clumsy, costly and time-wasting affair, what with enumeration school, enumeration, deputy returning officers’ and poll clerks’ school, and then, of course, the election day itself, when numerous people have to be hired again to man the many polls in the province. There are reasons for all the paper work, obviously, most of which have to do with protecting the integrity of the electors’ choice. I can’t argue with that, but I mean to come up with a new system that doesn’t require so much bureaucracy, and if you have any ideas, I’d like to hear them.

A Colombian-Canadian Rosthernite told me the other day that in Colombia, every voter has a card that entitles him/her to vote, and that the card is punched when voting, an act that is mandatory. If you are later asked to show your card and it’s not punched, you are subject to penalty: a fine, I think.

It’s interesting that Ontario’s electorate turned down the idea of a proportional representation electoral process. I doubt that they understood it. It’s not easy to explain in a few minutes, but I believe its time has already come and gone, and still we cling to the archaic old British system as if it were the very definition of democracy.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the parties seemed to have shelved the notion that the actual legislation and governance of the country’s affairs is what they’re there for, and the jockeying to determine the most propitious date for another election seems to be uppermost on everyone’s mind. Don’t they ever feel just a little bit silly when they ponder what they’re doing?

I can hardly wait for the leaders’ debate tomorrow at 6:30 on CBC Saskatchewan. Brad Wall against Lorne Calvert with David Karwacki trying really hard to be more than a fifth wheel (third wheel?). Mostly these debates turn out to be almost too embarrassing to watch, with three men spouting platitudes and hurling asinine accusations at each other simultaneously. I hope they regulate the spectacle better than they have in the past.

I have to watch them, though. I think it’s akin to picking at a scab, or running to see a fire. I can’t help myself.

Here’s my prediction of the outcome: Saskatchewan Party 35, NDP 22, Liberal 1.

(P.S. Let me revise that slightly since the Saskatchewan Party has had to fire one of its candidates after the nomination deadline for uttering slurs against certain races, women and others: SP 34, NDP 23, Lib. 1)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Saskatchewn election

It’s election time in Saskatchewan, and election work here often falls to seniors, retired people who don’t have to punch a clock. In the 2003 election, I took on the enumeration of the electors in the Rosthern Rural Poll, #4, and so I was asked to do that again. I didn’t hesitate. I enjoyed driving through the country and meeting my rural neighbours then, and I enjoyed it last week.

Dogs and muddy roads are the worst hazards. Country folk need dogs for security, to announce the arrival of strangers like me, or escapees from the Prince Albert Penitentiary, or coyotes come to bother the chickens. Only once did I stay in the car for fear of dogs; mostly they were big, fluffy brutes that wagged their tails and beckoned me to alight and scratch behind their ears. A few times I feared that I’d be licked to death, but mostly they lay on the front porches and observed me with mild interest.

The countryside around Rosthern has changed. I’m sure well over half of the occupied homes are now acreages, with dilapidated outbuildings in many cases and tenants who are either retired farm couples renting their land to someone else or people employed in town who have acquired a place in the country because they love the rural scene. I visited only a handful of farms where domestic animals were still kept. In fact, I found few people home during the day because they were at places of employment in Rosthern, Prince Albert or Saskatoon.

The family farm is apparently on its last legs. I recently visited friends in Blaine Lake who live on a pleasant farmstead where she paints and he does what retired teachers do. They told me that the entire township in which they live is now owned by three corporate farms, and as we drove home, we passed a field where four identical combines were parked in a field, waiting for the weather to clear. The future of rural Saskatchewan is being inexorably reshaped; there will be no going back.

Elections have changed as well. It seems nearly all the campaigning is done with posters and flyers, and messages from the leaders on radio and television. One candidate’s campaign manager phoned me with three requests: would I vote for his candidate, would I consider going door to door for him and would I be prepared to post a campaign sign on my lawn. I said no to the latter two requests, partly because I’m not sure support for this candidate is unanimous in my house.

We’re probably going to see a change from the NDP to the Saskatchewan Party this time around. As in much of the west, there’s a decided split between the two major parties around the rural/urban axis, and it looks like there’s too much tiredness in the NDP to inspire their traditional support. The Liberals, I’m afraid, are going to run in the shadows again.

Democracy. One person, one vote. First past the post takes all. I met an elderly lady in the street the other day and we chatted very briefly. She said—with a great deal of conviction, I might add—that it didn’t matter whom we elected; once in office they would be as corrupt as the last guys, and if an honest one should slip through, he’d be driven off the hill in no time! There’s a lot of that kind of cynicism around. It’s obviously not completely earned, but the sentiment is probably strong enough to discourage young people from participating in the process, and like our countryside, our political landscape may be doomed to fall into corporate management hands, characterized by abandoned ideals. A relic. Rickety outbuildings of a barely-remembered past.

Monday, September 24, 2007

As you’ve probably noticed, there’s a campaign being raised in Canada to rally support for the role Canadian Armed Forces are playing in Afghanistan. Rick Hillier—the defacto Minister of Defense at this point, it seems—was on TV the other day applauding what out soldiers are doing there and implying that those of us who are not fully supportive of their efforts are either willfully or circumstantially ignorant.

I was just now reading an article in Prairies North, Fall, 2007 magazine called “Saskatchewan in Uniform,” by Pamela Vallevand. With quotes, narrative and photos, the article introduces the reader to five Saskatchewan people who have chosen to enlist, either in the reserves or in the regular forces. Assuming that the quotes are accurate, I put together a list of them having to do with motivation for their participation in the military:

1. “A lot of it is the camaraderie—you don’t find that so much in civilian life—and the variety of experiences.”

2. “The challenge is another thing that keeps me going. To put myself forward: constant growth.”

3. “There’s a bond you make with the troops when you start with the junior ranks.”

4. “When I signed up, I was young—just out of school—and I planned to stay in for only three years. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the military and serving my country. Now, I can take all of the experiences I’ve had and what I’ve learned over my career and mentor and train the reservists.”

5. “Support your troops. It is easier to fight the enemy when you don’t feel you have a fight gong on at home, too.”

6. “I walked in blind. Now I believe in the importance of the Reserves and I like the opportunities it affords. I can put myself through school and travel [one of his favourite pastimes]. The bonds you develop with the people you work with—going through the things we go through—you can’t find that in any other work.”

7. “It was a good opportunity to see another country, serve my country, and make money to purchase a farm.”

8. “There’s an element of patriotism, definitely, but it’s like a disease you can’t get rid of.”

9. “I like turning heads. Being the only woman, people are like, ‘Wow, that was a girl! And she has a rifle!’ I’m not a feminist, but I liked that feeling of empowerment.”

I don’t know how often I’ve heard the comment recently that the men and women serving in our military in Afghanistan are “the cream of the crop” among our citizenry. It’s time you people who have given your lives to health care, education, farming in difficult times, upholding justice, driving food, goods and people from place to place, etc. recognized that you are second class; the real Canadians wear uniforms and carry guns and fight for their country.

Reread the list of quotes: the important elements in military service mentioned here are self-service, camaraderie, personal empowerment. Soldiering is less about serving people and country than it is about reaching personal goals, apparently. For some, it appears to be a dangerous sport on which they get high. For the majority, references to service are made almost in passing.

One of the soldiers was reported to be an active member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance church; he made no mention of his duty to his God in his comments. Maybe he just wasn’t asked. I would have liked to hear him on that subject.

I found quote 5 ironic. We who don’t support a combat role for Canada in Afghanistan for whatever reasons are urged to “support the troops” so that it will be easier for them to carry out a combat role for Canada in Afghanistan. I remind myself that the military’s strength lies in strategy, not in logic.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bring them home

According to Yahoo News this morning, the family of Christian Duchesne issued a statement in which they said, “We encourage Canadians and Quebecers to continue supporting our soldiers, if only by putting a “Support our Troops” sticker on their vehicles. In our eyes, the best way to honour Christian's memory is to continue the mission with confidence and determination.” Christian Duchesne, 34, of the 5th Field Ambulance, died Wednesday when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck by what was apparently an improvised explosive devise as Canadian troops were driving the Taliban off a strategic hill west of Kandahar.

For those who oppose the war, such pleas from the families of the slain, while fully understandable, are frustrating. I can understand why the death of a young father, husband and son in the performance of his chosen career would raise such strong sentiments. Anything less would constitute acquiescence to the notion that soldiers’ deaths in Afghanistan serve no purpose, and possibly that their putting themselves in danger voluntarily was the consequence of misguided fervour, like a person dying while hang gliding. We honour such deaths (hang gliding, mountain climbing, etc.) by saying that “they died doing what they loved to do, and they knew the risks,” putting aside the fact that responsibilities to family and community were put aside in a selfish pursuit of a private obsession; to do otherwise would hurt too much. Is soldiering like this? I sometimes wonder.

Recently, George W. Bush compared the effort in Iraq to the American involvement in Vietnam, saying that the withdrawal of American troops there left that country to chaos and death, and—I think he said—genocide. Historians quoted on the news said that it was the American involvement in Vietnam in the first place that paved the way for the chaos and bloodshed. We all know the end of that story, of course. The deaths of all those American soldiers was “in vain;” they accomplished nothing of value, and the returning soldiers were not honoured by their fellow citizens, they were neglected, even vilified.

The very concept of making and using machinery designed to kill other people is an abomination. We have to keep reiterating that. War happens because we make and use weapons; the more deadly the weapons, the more deadly the war. Imagine removing all explosives, guns, knives, bombs, land mines, tanks, armoured troop carriers, etc. from Afghanistan. The civil war there (and in Iraq, Darfur, Palestine, I might add) would be over and the boys would be coming home. Conversely, if we sold deadly weapons to high school students, there would be wars raging room to room before the first recess bell. If we armed everyone in a mall, the bargain hunters would shoot at each other over the counters. That old saw of the simplistic thinkers, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” needs to be rewritten. “Guns introduce us to the idea that we can solve our disputes in an easy and permanent manner, and then provide us with the means to follow our imaginations down the road to war, and ultimately, chaos.”

Nobody knows the end of the Afghanistan story yet. We’re at the stage now where our leadership is saying that withdrawal will definitely mean failure, and continuing guarantees nothing except hope. The fact remains that we are in a foreign country with guns, and that can be a recipe for disappointment. If I put a sticker on my car, it will read, “Bring them home.”

One thing is certain: Afghanistan’s future is in Afghani’s hands. No matter how hard we try to remake that country, the people who are at home there will determine their own direction in the end. They may as well get on with it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Summit meetings, conspiracy theories and the public’s right to know.

Summit meetings, conspiracy theories and the public’s right to know.

On Tuesday, Aug. 21 2007, Stephen Harper, George W. Bush and Felipe Calderon of Mexico wrapped up a series of discussions at Montebello, Quebec. (CTV news carried the story at The meeting took place under the aegis of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trilateral dialogue initiative under which the three North American countries are supposedly finding ways to harmonize everything from border security to the piracy of intellectual property. In this round of talks, Harper and his guests claimed to reach an understanding on a number of matters including the strategy for preventing and/or responding to a viral pandemic, a joint defense against unsafe imports like Chinese toys and toothpaste, and an agreement to disagree on whether the water between Canada’s Arctic islands is international or is Canadian territory.

The summit concluded with a meeting with the North American Competitiveness Council to discuss ways to harmonize trade practices in order to enhance profitability and competitiveness for North American corporations.

Peter Julian, international trade critic for the NDP, is skeptical about the goals of the SPP, as is the Council of Canadians. Julian is quoted in the CTV story as saying: “The NDP was able to obtain a meeting summary—through a freedom of information request—from a meeting that was held last February with the SPP ministers. Very clearly that document refers to a very deep agenda, a very wide-ranging agenda. And it's an agenda that has, front and centre, the objectives of the North American Competitiveness Council—a group of about 30 un-appointed, unelected company CEOs, who are pushing forward the agendas of their companies.”

Here in Canada, we tend to be skeptical about the Americans’ intentions much of the time. We remember the softwood lumber debacle, the furor over the Canadian Wheat Board and other incidents that seem to show that the USA chooses to exercise “free trade” only as long as it favours them, and unilaterally imposes tariffs whenever Canada or Mexico appear to be gaining a greater slice of the North American market. George Bush conceded in a news conference after the summit that “The United States does not question Canada’s sovereignty of Arctic islands, and the United States supports Canadian investments used to exercise its sovereignty,” meanwhile maintaining that the Northwest Passage is international waters. What’s up with that? I suspect that future access to oil exploration and exploitation may lie at the bottom of that, but then I’m just a skeptical Canadian. (Canadian sovereignty over the islands serves to simplify that future for the USA by cutting out any intrusion from Denmark, Russia or any other claimants, making the exploitation of the North a monopoly of the North American triumvirate.)

The NDP is right in insisting that the discussions of the SPP must be open to the publics of the involved countries. They are also right in maintaining that having the North American Competitiveness Council as the only dialogue partner at such summit meetings is scary, and fosters skepticism.

Stephen Harper vigorously pooh-poohed the alarms raised by Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians and the NDP international trade critic. He led us to believe that the discussions with the North American Competitiveness Council were nothing more than an attempt to facilitate better movement of jelly beans, for instance, and George Bush iterated that criticism of the SPP was borne out of the imaginations of people who deal in conspiracy theories as their modus operandi.

My feeling is that Harper, Bush and Calderon are way too naïve to be throwing any criticism at their critics, certainly not of the sarcastic kind that Harper did at the news conference. The North American economy is being driven by corporate interests. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that the proposed massive arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Israel are much less about security than they are about the arms lobby’s pressing for government-sanctioned sales. And only the really naïve believe that oil companies had nothing to do with the decision to invade Iraq.

Conspiracy theories? Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t prove that no one is following me.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bush gets it wrong - again

"WASHINGTON, July 27 — The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.

The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years."

The above article from today's New York Times may make sense to someone. Not to me. The US is basically setting out to arm the whole Middle East in order to counter threats from Iran. It's like a principal of a school handing out pistols to students so they can protect themselves from bullies, and then allaying the teachers' concerns about their safety by giving them kalashnikovs! Hopefully then the principal will feel safer in his office assuming that the "good students" and the teachers together will deal with any aggression on the playground and in the classrooms, and he'll be much safer in his office. Never mind that it cost the entire library and textbook budget to make it happen!

If you disapprove of this action, I suggest that you open the link below(you may have to copy and paste it into the URL window), identify yourself with your email address and write to the US State Department something like: "I strongly oppose the proposed multi-billion dollar sale of arms to the Middle East. Such an action will only serve to encourage another arms race and will raise tensions in the area. Please reconsider."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Macleans in Afghanistan

The current Maclean’s (July 23rd edition) features a 5 page plea for support for the mission in Afghanistan. It was written by Sean M. Maloney whose bio-clip from his website ( reads as follows:

Sean Maloney currently teaches in the War Studies Programme at the Royal Military College of Canada and is the Strategic Studies Advisor to the Canadian Defence Academy. He served as the historian for 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, the Canadian Army's primary Cold War NATO commitment, after the re-unification of Germany and at the start of Canada's long involvement in the Balkans. Dr. Maloney has held grants from the prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for both doctoral and post-doctoral research. He has also been a consultant to NATO, Canada's Privy Council Office, several directorates in the Department of National Defence, and the Canadian Army. Dr. Maloney has extensive field research experience throughout the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central and South-West Asia.

Maloney’s argument is, of course, predictable given his long association with the Canadian military, NATO, etc. He sums it up in his last paragraph as follows:

Given the improving socio-economic situation in Kandahar province, withdrawing now would be like retreating from the beachhead in Normandy immediately after landing. Canada has sacrificed too much to pull our when those incremental measures we’ve talked about for two years are just starting to have an effect.

Well, no, it would be nothing like retreating from the beachhead in Normandy immediately after landing. But I’m sure that’s what it would look like to the military, for whom the war is, in part, a football game in which “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” The militarism in Maloney’s rhetoric gives this sentiment away when he writes:

The troops are tired, but still pumped from the action this morning and keep a close eye out as they return to base. Officially there are 20 confirmed enemy dead, probably more, but the effects of this operation are greater than the body count.

At the same time as Maloney trumpets the achievements of the occupation of southern Afghanistan by NATO, he lets us in on some of the futility. For instance, even though NATO forces may be able to clear out a sector and kill or chase out all the Taliban fighters, an effective police force to maintain order and security in that sector doesn’t exist, and efforts to train and mobilize such a force are fragmented and unsuccessful. In turn, Maloney says, “[this fact] makes governance difficult.” In other words, “success” has to do mostly with the NATO forces having been able to win battles with the Taliban (compare their firepower; anything less would be laughable) and assist in the construction of some schools and other facilities.

Meanwhile, Afghanis have not been doing their part; they cannot police themselves and they cannot govern themselves. In all likelihood, it’s a matter of will as much as ability. Given the rosy future Maloney seems to think is possible—with enough time—why wouldn’t the Afghani response be an overwhelming enthusiasm for taking their future into their own hands?

Some knowledge of Afghanistan and the Taliban tends to make the long-term prospects for peace and security there a bit clearer. Afghanistan is extremely fragmented culturally and politically, power and control there have always followed religious and ethnic lines, and the economy leans very heavily on the drug trade. Without all of these things changing dramatically, the emergence of a unified, democratic state in Afghanistan is highly unlikely.

And what are the prospects of these changes happening? The Taliban would like to see unity under fundamentalist Islamic governance, and history is on their side: in Afghanistan, the separation of state and religion is a foreign concept. The Taliban come out of the Pashtun (Sunni) majority in the country (Afghanistan is 90% Pashtun, 10% Shiite) and it’s a safe bet that this predominant religious faction will play the major role in any unified country of the future. The force attempting to push the Middle East toward Islamic theocracy and the application of Sharia law is broadly based, as we all know if we read the news. I wouldn’t be prepared to guess at this time what the future of that struggle will be, but it’s certain that the conversion of the Afghan people to Western style democracy will not be achieved by NATO troops or reconstruction efforts of “foreigners,” even if they stay for,say, fifty years.

I would urge readers to explore the history of the Taliban at, for starters. The Taliban fighters are currently based primarily in Pakistan, where they have fought the Pakistani army successfully and are presently enjoying a cease-fire arrangement with Pakistan, one that more-or-less ensures them a base of operations for the foreseeable future. This is also the area where Osama bin Laden and his court are hiding out and managing Al-Qaeda’s affairs. But the Taliban is not “the enemy” in Afghanistan—as Maloney calls them—although it is the enemy of NATO forces there. The Taliban are Afghanis who share a philosophy based on a—probably ill-informed—fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran. Their worldview is widely held although probably not in the majority in other Middle East and North African countries. The Taliban-philosophy will be around and thriving long after NATO forces have left Afghanistan.

I lean on the teachings of my Christian faith regarding the hoped-for peace in Afghanistan and a lasting arrangement by which Islamic states and Western democracies can be good neighbours.

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink (Proverbs 25:21 KJV).

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48 NKJV).

It’s amazing how we fuddle up our Christianity by putting a “yes, but” after its directives and principles, even when they are crystal clear. The West should have made itself a good neighbour to the Islamic world a long time ago. Instead, we have exploited their wealth and resources shamelessly and have prepared ourselves to deal with the fallout from this with military might. The USA’s military budget last year exceeded the military budgets of all the other countries in the world combined last. What does that say? (See:

Maloney and others are preparing the way for the impending failure by asserting in advance that “The only way the Taliban can win is to generate doubt and fear in Canada, and hope for a withdrawal of troops.” Right. When failure comes, it won’t be the fault of the military or those who directed it, we Canadian wimps will bear the blame. It’s the same rhetoric hawks in the USA have repeatedly used regarding the Iraq war, and despite massive expenditures and the “surge of troops,” that effort is failing badly. And it won’t be the “wimps” fault, it will be the fault of monstrously flawed goals and planning of the American administration and the militaries naiveté in taking on a mission that was doomed from the start.

(For a sobering view of the extent of the failure of the USA’s war on terror, see the New York Times story at

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Please pass the butter - a reflection on revisionism and the holocaust

Don’t bother me with the facts, my mind’s already made up (popular saying).

In our age, seems to me, anti-Semitism stands as the universal icon of ethnic prejudice and the holocaust as the historical point of reference. So much so that one begins to feel that questioning the facts of the holocaust, contextualizing it historically, even criticizing the behaviour of the State of Israel in any way is somehow encroaching on holy ground. I’m not arguing for the holocaust revisionists here; I’m simply saying that there appears to be undue alarm raised by any historical research that tends to update details of the holocaust, as if such effort is necessarily an attempt to divert blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

And holocaust revisionists do the latter blatantly. Book titles and websites proclaiming that “gas chambers and extermination plans are myths” are easy to find. But what if it turned out to be true that a lot of the Jews we once believed were killed by NAZIs in Poland were actually killed by Poles? Would it make an appreciable difference? Holocaust-denial websites and historical revisionists imply that such information tends to absolve the NAZIs, and are hard at work pushing this faulty logic on the world.

Ah, logic. We don’t teach it well. A website lists the people in positions of authority in the American media who are also Jewish. That list runs to about a hundred names, and put down on paper that way, it implies a message that simply isn’t there. There are thousands upon thousands of people of non-Jewish origin who would be on this list if ethnicity were not its central criterion. It’s logical that a hundred or so would be Jewish in such a company.

It’s tantamount to listing the names of all the people in Southern Manitoba who own businesses and are Mennonite, then putting a huge exclamation mark after the list. It would imply conspiracy, i.e. that Mennonites are so highly represented in commerce in Southern Manitoba that there’s obviously a plan to exclude non-Mennonites.

People of Chinese origin are massively over-represented in the café business in rural Saskatchewan. Obviously only conspiracy could account for this, and who knows what sinister plot the whole of world-wide Chinasery has cooked up, of which their presence in such unexpected numbers in rural Saskatchewan is an obvious part? It makes every Chinese person suspect. It makes it easier to believe that they’re serving us alley cats as chicken and mice as shrimp.

A lot of people have no training in logic; they have a hard time seeing through such deceptions.

Below are three logical fallacies from the catalogue that are clearly evident in the arguments of the holocaust deniers and historical revisionists. They are blatant and should be recognizable to every educated person. Obviously, they’re not:

Argumentum ad logicam (argument to logic). This is the fallacy of assuming that something is false simply because a proof or argument that someone has offered for it is invalid; this reasoning is fallacious because there may be another proof or argument that successfully supports the proposition.[1]

Non Sequitur (“It does not follow”). This is the simple fallacy of stating, as a conclusion, something that does not strictly follow from the premises. For example, “Racism is wrong. Therefore, we need affirmative action.” Obviously, there is at least one missing step in this argument, because the wrongness of racism does not imply a need for affirmative action without some additional support. . . . [2]

The argument to logic is applied repeatedly by revisionists. They will attempt to show that the statistics on executions in Auschwitz, for instance, are inaccurate, and will use that as evidence that the holocaust never happened. (They will often follow this up with an Argumentum ad Hominem fallacy, namely, the argument that the researcher of the inaccurate statistics must have falsified the truth and is therefore an evil—or at least untrustworthy—person. This is proof, they say or imply, that the historical record in total and all those who are responsible for it must be dismissed.

The non sequitur fallacy should be recognizable to all of us, but we often fall prey to it. The entire argument that the high number of Jews in the banking business in Germany means that they were responsible for monetary failures in the period before 1933 is a non sequitur, it does not follow in logic, anymore than the argument that the high rate of incarceration of aboriginal people in Western Canada shows unequivocally that aboriginals have criminal tendencies. Much more needs to be shown as evidence for these two things to be logically connected.

There’s nothing wrong with researching matters like the holocaust, and no one should be dissuaded from this by those who might quickly jump to the conclusion that the effort is in support of revisionists and holocaust deniers. The truth is always the truth.

Educating ourselves and our children to recognize the difference between butter and bullshit, however, is essential.

828 words


[2] ibid

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Some flowers and an acknowledgement

Readers of this blog will know that I've spoken very emphatically about the war in Afghanistan and the folly of that effort. Yesterday another half-dozen Canadians and one Afghani were killed by insurgent sabotage of a roadway. Take time to mourn the loss of those lives, or at least to pray for comfort for their families.
I have sent my views to the prime minister and to the minister of defense. Yesterday I got a four page letter from Gordon J O'Conner (Minister of Defense) which was more than a form letter since it addressed some of my concerns directly and was signed by him. It ran to four pages and outlined the reconstruction that is going on, but did not address my skepticism about the democratic nature - or lack thereof - of the Karzai government. O'Conner said that these concerns had been turned over to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter McKay, and I'm awaiting something from him.
Meanwhile, anyone who wants to read O'Conner's letter is welcome to email me at and I'll be happy to send you a copy by return email (pdf format).

This is the best time of year for flower gardeners and I'd like to share some of the wonderful images that nature has prepared for us through a combination of lots of rain, and, this week, heat and sunshine.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Support the Troop -- withdrawal

“Suspected Taliban militants attacked police posts in southern Afghanistan, triggering clashes and NATO air strikes that killed 25 civilians, a senior police officer said Friday (”


“‘It is not a combat mission; it is a reconstruction mission, but to make [reconstruction] possible, we have to fight. It is as simple as that. NATO has to fight.'—NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (”


“Anti-war activists are planning to protest Friday during a Quebec City parade being held to honour the Royal 22nd Regiment before they ship off to Afghanistan (Sympatico msn News June 22, 2007).”


The list of Canadian casualties of the war in Afghanistan complete with their photographs can be found at Be prepared to scroll down for quite a while.



he Royal 22nd Regiment is leaving for Afghanistan and the military is hosting a parade of the regiment today to try to boost flagging Quebec support for the war. Quebecois apparently have more difficulty accepting Canada’s role in Afghanistan than do the residents of other provinces. Where have we seen this before? Think back to WWI, WWII, Korean War, for starters.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato’s Secretary General, said in an interview that now was not the time to debate the whys and why-nots of the war; that it was a time to wish the troops well, etc., etc. That’s a bit like saying that when kissing your family goodbye at the airport, questions of the safety of the airplane would be inappropriate and should be put on hold for another time.

In 1987, I was at a meeting of Quaker, Mennonite and NATO personnel in Brussels and, believe me, NATO people see the world like that. They know all about military strategy, deterrence, mutually-assured destruction, etc., but their eyes glaze over whenever the ethical questions surrounding military conflict are raised. A bit like trying to talk to a professional hockey player about responsible, alternative life styles; if it has nothing to do with pucks and sticks, he probably has no vocabulary to discuss it and furthermore, he just doesn’t give a damn.

I heard one pundit say the other day that our role in Afghanistan was simply an extension of the USA’s decision after 911 to fight terrorism by invading the country that houses them. Was that a good decision? In my view, the attacks of 911 should have been treated as criminal acts, not acts of war. The attack on Afghanistan legitimized al Qaeda; from that moment on, they were a “legitimate” warring party in a conflict with the USA and its allies.

According to de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s role in Afghanistan is not military—it’s reconstructive. If anyone believes that, I would urge that person to avoid used-car lots. NATO is a military, not a reconstruction, organization. We are sending military equipment with our soldiers, not cranes and Bobcats. Our troops are trained in weaponry, not masonry.

One of the protesters at the sendoff for the Royal 22nd Regiment defined the war as a continuing attempt by Western powers to consolidate their control over Middle East petroleum wealth. I think it’s a creditable viewpoint. If the purpose were noble to the degree that de Hoop Scheffer tries to portray it, namely to bring democracy and a better life to Afghanis, why aren’t our soldiers also in Haiti, Kenya, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan or one or more of the dozens of countries around the world where the economic and political realities are a mess, many of them much worse than Afghanistan?

I would urge readers to contact their MP to voice their disapproval of the conflict in Afghanistan. A lasting peace there will only be achieved by the Afghanis themselves, and the sooner we leave, the sooner they may actually realize this. Furthermore, the old adage about a citizenry deserving the government it gets is applicable here. The Taliban will succeed in Afghanistan if the people there allow it; conversely, they will fail if the citizenry rejects them.

It’s not going to be neat, but as in Israel/Palestine, no amount of interference or wishful thinking on our part is going to have the least effect until Israelis and Palestinians start to make nice. So it is in Afghanistan.

Call me naïve. There are reports that some really good reconstruction has been happening. I’m prepared to withhold judgment on whether or not we have a role to play in giving aid and assisting in rebuilding. So far, I haven’t seen any good reports on the actual pick and shovel work Canadian forces have done. As long as we are there with NATO and the allies, however, it’s certain that some of our troops will come home in body bags. There’s no defeating sabotage and improvised chaos militarily, and the Taliban are very, very good at it.

To write to your MP, go to