Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The world according to ducks

There's something about watching ducks that I find endlessly amusing. They are nature's comedians. It's said that the subtle difference between a clown and a comedian, is that a clown does funny things, but a comedian does things funny. Meaning, a clown may get a laugh for, say, falling down stairs, while a comedian may get a laugh by how they walk up stairs.
Ducks, therefore, are nature's comedians.

Ducks do everything funny. They swim funny, they talk funny, they walk funny, particularly since the busybody duck seems to take himself so seriously all the time; their incessant quacking puts you in mind of someone who finds fault with their surroundings at every haughty step.
I propose that a careful observer can learn much from frequent study of the ever-present duck: we can learn that constant criticism can win us little sympathy, that lacking of a sense of humor almost invites people to mock you, and that while our problems may seem important to us, we should be wary of assuming they dwarf the challenges faced by others.
Ducks can teach us how to become better human beings... just sit back, watch, and let the smiling begin.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Disco Sarko and Segolene's Second Life: french presidential politics on the web

It's Disco Sarko! Why, this proves that UMP presidential candidate is the right man to lead the nation of France. Just look at those dance moves!

France's presidential candidates are starting to map out some new territory online, and not all of it seems worthy of the leader of a nation with nuclear weapons:

Presidential contenders — led by Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal — are pouring resources and creative-thinking into the Internet on an unprecedented scale, targeting young voters and the many others jaded by politics as usual and hungry for fresh approaches after the 12-year presidency of Jacques Chirac.
The expanded role of "Le Web" in this election race is also playing into concerns that image-management is trumping concrete and coherent debate about the nation's many social and economic problems. ....

Sarkozy's site http://www.discosarko.com is part of an effort to market the interior minister as hip and in-touch with the times and to collect contact details from potential supporters. It asks visitors to leave e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers so they can be reached ahead of the April-May presidential vote.

[I hope that Quebec's inquisitorial Ofice Quebecois de la Langue Francaise is paying attention to the amount of "franglais" the likely leader of France allows at his site. Visitors are urged...

si tu es fan de disco sarko, inscris toi pour tout savoir sur sa life [“if you are a fan of disco sarko, subscribe to learn all about his life”]
Meanwhile, France's Socialist Party presidential candidate, Segolene Royal, is not be outdone online:

Royal's supporters, following an example set by the extreme-right National Front party, this month opened an office in "Second Life," a virtual world where users create avatars, move about, chat, buy land, build homes and do business.
"Come in large numbers and you'll find me there," Royal said in an online video posting to inaugurate the virtual headquarters, which drew a steady stream of visitors last week.

Here is the video of Royal's introduction, from her official website: "I am pleased to inaugurate the 748th Future Dreams committee, on Second Life. I therefore inaugurate this magnificient building that has just been constructed along the Environmental High Quality standards, that is, the same as that of the "Kyoto High School" that I had built in the Poitou-Charentes region, and inside which the same participatory debates, the same debates on the presidential project, will take place. So come in large numbers and you'll find me there!"

Personally, I am having a hard time deciding whether Sarkozy disco dancing is sillier than Segolene Royal bragging that a building made of pixels is meeting Kyoto environmental standards...

Still, virtual world politics is quickly getting as nasty as its real world counterpart, if we are to believe this story of virtual protestors:

The "Second Life" presence of the anti-immigration, ultra-nationalist National Front has prompted protests and even violent virtual clashes between supporters and opponents. One group of players — who call themselves "Second Life Left Unity" — moved in next to the National Front's office and vowed to carry out protests there "until FN go or are ejected."

Virtual campaigning in the only place where Segolene Royal's socialist policies have a chance of working as advertised: an imaginary world.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Seawall civility

Walk past a pedestrian on any city street, and both you and the passersby will tend to studiously avoid eye contact.
Walk past a fellow pedestrian along Vancouver's scenic False Creek seawall, however, and chances are, as happened to me again this weekend, there will be smiles and a cheerful hello.

I notice the same civility on our forest trails, which is one of the many reasons to enjoy them whenever the weather permits, as it sure did this beautiful weekend.

Why is Segolene Royal campaigning in the Caribbean..?

I was in the middle of a post on Segolene Royal's statements during a campaign visit to the Antilles this past weekend, when suddenly the question occured to me: why in the world is a candidate running for the office of President of France, looking for votes in the Caribbean??
In yet another of those humbling moments that the internet can provide the serious scholar each and every painful day, it turns out that there is a story here with which, I readily admit, I was in complete and total ignorance.
Here's the result of a quick study:

It turns out, that the islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe belong to a curious territorial category called "Overseas Regions" ("Région d'outre-mer"), which, according to Wikipedia,

... have similar powers to those of the regions of metropolitan France. They have had these powers since 1982, when France's decentralisation policy dictated that they be given elected regional councils along with other regional powers.
As integral parts of the French Republic, they are represented in the National Assembly, Senate and Economic and Social Council, elect a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), and also use the euro as their currency.

Well, if there's precedent for islands in the Caribbean to be admitted into the European Union, I feel a little silly for having written in the past against Turkey's joining the EU...
The Islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe, visited this past weekend by socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal, have over 400,000 inhabitants apiece. According to Yahoo France (my translation):
"In 2002, the left was not able to mobilize the electorate (approx 630,000 eligeable voters) in the areas which were favorable to them: in Guadeloupe, [2002 Socialist presidential candidate] Lionel Jospin only arrived in third place, behind the PRG ["Parti Radicale de Gauche", Radical Left Party] deputy from French Guiana, Christiane Taubira, and Jacques Chirac."

[Apparently in 2002, over 65.7% of eligeable voters stayed away from the polls during the "premier tour"]

It turns out that French Guiana, home of the historically notorious penal colony, Devil's Island, located on the northern coast of South America, is also in the European Union, and it's currency is also the euro.

Maybe when Sego's verbal gaffes cause her poll numbers to slip the next time, she can arrange to campaign in South America, to sew up the Guianian socialist vote. If she continues to make seriously embarrassing comments, other refuges, er I mean, campaign stops, can include other French overseas departments, such as European Union member Réunion Island, off the coast of Madagascar (she won't have to go through that tiresome travel ritual of changing her currency, since...
...due to varying time zones in the European Union, Réunion was the first region in the world to use the euro, and the first ever purchase using the euro occurred at 12.01 a.m., when regional council president Paul Vergès bought a bag of lychees at a Saint-Denis market...

If her poll numbers drop really low, mme Royal could visit the overseas collectivity of the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland, partly to rekindle the sparks from Canada's fight with France over coastal fishing rights, and also as a symbolic protest for the death penalty, since...

...The only time the guillotine was ever used in North America was in Saint-Pierre in the late 1800s. Joseph Néel was convicted of killing a Mr. Coupard on the "île aux Chiens" on December 30, 1888, and executed by guillotine on August 24, 1889. The guillotine had to be shipped from Martinique and it did not arrive in working order. It was very difficult to get anyone to perform the execution; finally a recent immigrant was coaxed into doing the job.

Note for any socialist party advance staff who read our blog: scratch the planned visit to neighboring Langlade Island, also part of France's overseas collectivities:

Langlade lost its sole year-round inhabitant, Charles Lafitte, when he died in July 2006.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Viscous Assault on Multi-Culturalism in Quebec. Hooray!

We'll probably find out that the villagers in this particular part of Quebec are violent racist Islamophobes. We'll probably find this out from the CBC. We'll hear it at TV news conferences held by concerned citizens against things they find they dislike on moral grounds and so on. Yadda, yadda, yadda. I like this lot so far. It's refreshing to read of some common sense coming out of the West at long last. The president and the Pope can't do this kind of thing, but folks in a small village in Quebec can.

Oh, by the way, you can too.

Saturday 27 January 2007

Quebec village bans stoning of women, veils, and excision

The Quebec village of Hérouxville, 1300 inhabitants, has formally banned this week the stoning of women, face veils, female genital mutilation, or throwing acid at unveiled women’s faces, reports Montreal daily La Presse.

André Drouin, a municipal counselor in Hérouxville, told La Presse, a document detailing the bans and the cultural norms of the local population was adopted in light of the stormy debate over the “reasonable accomodation” of religious and cultural minorities that has been raging in Quebec media over the last few months and has principally focussed on Montreal’s small ultra-orthodox Jewish community.

The nature of the Hérouxville bans suggests however that local politicians had Quebec Muslims in mind, though not a single Muslim or member of any religious or ethnic minority calls Hérouxville home. But referring to Quebec’s policy of encouraging immigrants to settle outside Montreal, Drouin says it was important to inform potential immigrants of the villages cultural norms: "We must ensure that people who come here want to live as we do", he told La Presse, "The Muslims who wanted to impose Sharia, had they known that we do not stone women here, maybe they would not have come".

Along with the bans, the Hérouxville document states that Christmas trees are a Quebec tradition, that swimming pools are mixed, and that pork meat and beef are displayed on the same shelves. Asked whether he fears being labeled a racist, Drouin answers: “We are not racists, we are explaining our culture".

The Hérouxville document of bans and “norms” was sent to the Ministries of Immigration of Canada and Quebec.

Islam is a fascist poligion, and socialists in Canada are Red Nazis. Long Live Hero City! I want to live in a place like that myself. I want to live in a city where people say things honestly and openly and without fear of terrorism coming from it. Islam is a fascist pseudo-religion. Socialists are arseholes. I'll say it till I'm as blue in the face as the color of my scarf.

Quebec's Quiet Illusion

For decades Quebec's separatists have tried to teach its youth the values of self-rule and the honor of autonomy. Are we now seeing these lessons being applied, unexpectedly, to the socialist model long dominating quebecois political and economic discourse? From the National Post:

Quebec film hits socialiste nerve

Targets unions, state monopolies
MONTREAL - A new disaster movie is playing in Quebec theatres, but this one features no tidal waves or nuclear Armageddon. The nightmare scenario in L'illusion tranquille involves an ageing society living beyond its means, unable to shake the grip of meddlesome government and powerful trade unions. The place is Quebec, and the year is 2007.
The low-budget documentary, made by two novice filmmakers and financed from their own savings, is fuelling debate on a topic considered taboo until recently. Has the so-called "Quebec model" for development, with its emphasis on government intervention in the economy and sweeping social programs, run its course?
"What I concluded is very simple," the film's director, Joanne Marcotte, says through the voice of a narrator as the film opens.
"Quebec is suffocating under the weight of state monopolies and a new union clergy. Our system for redistributing wealth is obsolete. Universality is an illusion, and the glory years of Quebec's union movement are well behind us."
Ms. Marcotte, a former computer scientist, teamed with her husband, financial advisor Denis Julien, to produce the 72-minute film after becoming frustrated that Quebec media were largely ignoring the province's true problems.
After starting her research in 2003, she made the rounds of Quebec production houses with her proposal. She might as well have been pitching a film claiming Maurice Richard was a lousy hockey player. At the Montreal headquarters of the National Film Board, she was a third of the way into her Power Point presentation when she was told to shut it off, she recounted. "He said, 'I'm a child of the Quiet Revolution, and I don't like what you're saying.' " (The film's title is a play on Revolution tranquille, the French term for the 1960s' Quiet Revolution.)

Ms. Marcotte acknowledges that her film's message is hard to swallow. "Quebecers have been told for years that their model is really fantastic, that we are setting ourselves apart," she said in an interview. "It is very important to be different in Quebec. It is more important to be different than for our model to work.... It is not easy to look in the mirror and say it doesn't work well."

L'illusion tranquille does its best to shake people's faith in the status quo. It points out that in 2003, among the 60 American states and Canadian provinces, Quebec ranked 54th in per capita Gross Domestic Product, an indicator of living standards. It was ahead of only the Maritime provinces, Manitoba, West Virginia and Mississippi, making Quebec the poorest industrialized region in North America. …
The documentary argues that Quebec spends money it does not have on such programs as universal daycare at just $7 a day, university tuition fees that are half the national average and electricity rates that are among the lowest in North America. …
Claude Montmarquette, a professor of economics at Universite de Montreal who is featured in the movie, said Quebec has passed the cost of these programs on to others -- either by borrowing money that future generations will have to pay, or through equalization payments that the federal government uses to redistribute wealth from rich provinces to poorer ones.
"It's billions of dollars a year, money that allows Quebec to have social programs that often the provinces that pay cannot afford to have," Mr. Montmarquette said of the equalization payments.
He fears Quebec is one significant economic slowdown away from a crisis. "We have time to correct our aim," he said in an interview, "but we need to act now to avoid hitting the wall."
Alain Dubuc, a newspaper columnist and author of Eloge de la richesse (In Praise of Wealth), published last year, believes Quebecers are not wedded to the social-democratic model; they just need a more effective selling job.

He sees signs that Quebecers are more open to change. "People know things are not going very well, and they know the problem will not solve itself. They know something is going to have to change so it works better," he said. "It's when we come to concrete measures that there is an obstacle. There is a market for someone who can propose a well-packaged agenda for change."

Friday, January 26, 2007

A cure for fear of heights...?

While I was taking this picture over a bridge that I like to visit, I noticed that my usual fear of heights was greatly diminished now that I was "behind" a camera. Normally, my phobia about heights makes me rather nervous when I linger over this bridge; I love the view, and the calm (I never see a soul there), but it's still gut-check time to cross it.
Yet on this occasion, leaning over to take the picture provoked not the slightest effect in me; somehow, the fact that I had a camera between me and the source of anxiety, suddenly cancelled out my lifelong phobia.
Reflecting on this surprise on my long way home, it made me wonder about journalists behind their cameras, and how easy it must be to feel detached and unconnected to the subject matter that falls before their lens. I think as bloggers, we court the same risks sometimes, with the distancing effect that this technological medium has to offer us as we face the emotional issues of our times.

The shield offered by distance can give us the courage to face fears that we might normally continue to cower from, yet it may also provide incentive to put up an apathetic wall between us and the world that we would otherwise connect to, particularly the people that we would otherwise find common cause with.

Sego's Quebec woes continue

More developments on Ségolène Royal, France's socialist presidential candidate, and her encouragement of quebecois seperatism.
(with a grateful hat tip to French Election 2007, a wonderful American site devoted to following the French presidential election, a source quickly becoming one of my favorite places to visit during my morning coffee, and one which I unhesitantly recommend)

Ségolène in Royal pickle over Corsica
A French comedian masquerading as Quebec’s prime minister has added to Ségolène Royal’s growing reputation for gaffes by extracting a politically incorrect remark from the French presidential candidate in a hoax telephone conversation.
Gérald Dahan, who has trapped several French celebrities into telephonic indiscretions, called Ms Royal this week pretending to be Jean Charest, prime minister of Quebec’s premier. Mr Dahan deceived several of Ms Royal’s staff before speaking to the candidate, saying he wanted to discuss some controversial remarks she had made this week about Quebec.
Employing a fake Quebecois accent, Mr Dahan said that Ms Royal’s expression of sympathy for the sovereignty of the Québécois people would be comparable to him coming to France and supporting the idea of Corsican independence.

Laughing, Ms Royal replied: “The French would not be against this by the way. Don’t repeat that. It will create another incident in France. It’s a secret.”

Now, merely reading the translation may not convey the seriousness of the gaffe; listening to her in french, however, let's one recognize her utter tactlessness, her complete lack of anything resembling self-discipline or basic common sense.
Here is a french video clip featuring a phone interview with the quebecois comedian about his exploit, along with the very Sego sound clip on Corsican separatism that has caused all the uproar.
Joker to the end, Dahan pretends as if he has a second interview going on at the same time, so for most of this clip, the crosstalk makes the comedian admittedly hard to understand. The main reason I am including this clip for our english speaking audience, is to let you see the face of the two journalists as they listen to Segolene Royal's outrageously impolitic remark. Royal's sound clip begins at 2:11 of this video; you can tell from the reactions of the two hosts that they are flummoxed by the sheer inapropriateness of Royal's comments. "Mais cet enorme!" is the main host's initial reaction: "This is enormous!" he says, incredulous.
Once the interview with Dahan is over, the depths of the scandal are probed in the final seconds of the video, as the two hosts mention that for the prankster to have reached Sego herself, as he did, it meant he would have succeeded in fooling no less than ten levels of security checks with his impersonation!


I was happy to have a chance to introduce a couple of Charles' videos to my colleagues at Flares.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Animal Rights?

Here is the latest news on the heroic frontier busting of our gnostic elites:
Maneesha Deckha is doing what no one else in B.C. has done before.

The University of Victoria law professor is teaching a seminar about Canadian justice and animal rights to upper-year law students.

The seminar, which she created, began this month and will continue until April. It looks at the relationship between culture and law, and how our cultural attitudes toward animals have shaped legal protection -- or the lack thereof -- for them.

"I ask students to think about the cultural dimension, to think about what the law says, and to think about the property status of animals and how that might be a problem," Deckha said in a phone interview Tuesday.

"But if they're not property, what would be an alternative to that? Should they have rights? Or if not rights, should there be some legal provision for stewardship or guardianship?"

Previous federal Liberal governments had proposed amending cruelty-to-animal provisions within the federal Criminal Code so animals would no longer be regarded as property.

Such amendments would have allowed prosecutors greater scope in pursuing cruelty cases involving animals.

But those proposals were subsequently rejected both by senators and the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
(Oh that dastardly Harper, gettin' in the way of progress... the guy probably eats hot dogs.)
Students in the course study different cultural approaches to animals and how those approaches have affected legal protection for them.

They also look at parallels between the historical denial of legal rights for women and indigenous peoples with the current denial of legal rights for animals, and how the same kind of thinking that informed restrictions on women's and minority rights now informs restrictions on animal rights.

Asked if the course was expressly an "animal rights course," Deckha said no, but the course "discusses animal rights and the reasons for them, and the critiques of them."
Toronto animal-rights lawyer Leslie Bisgould also praised Deckha, saying her students "have been dynamite on animal rights issues."

Faculty of law dean and former NDP attorney-general Andrew Petter said despite the small enrolment, the establishment of the course was driven mainly by students.

He also said it is "wonderful" to have a course that focuses on law and animals.

"One of the great things about having a law faculty is that one gets to explore issues like this that one doesn't get to explore elsewhere," Petter said.

"These are current issues, and this is an opportunity for students to study them with a teacher who is extraordinarily dynamic."
Well, not only am I willingly to take Petter's word that Prof. Deckha is as dynamic as, well, a cheetah in some totemic cult, I'm willing to bet she loves animals just as much as we do here at Covenant Zone, at least some of us. We should most definitely have laws against unnecessary cruelty to animals. But we should also have laws against lawyers who would deny the realities of the world to grow their own power in society (by playing the victim card) at the expense of our national covenant, a covenant that only persons with language can join, given the very nature of our reality and rights.

Let me try to put it simply: there can be no such thing as an animal right, because rights are not something accorded from on high by the powerful or progressive to those suffering masses or minorities on whom they wish to bestow some grace. History, pace pretty much every university professor today, has never been a conspiracy of the powerful against the weak, transformed in our enlightened times into a progressive struggle against the powerful on behalf of the weak. Rather, history is a process by which a human community as a whole, taking the form of its historically specific compacts, periodically transcends its internal tensions by creating new representations of rights and wrongs, new compacts in order to expand (hopefully) the degrees of freedom possible within that community or compact, so as to increase the overall survivability of that compact in relation to its own internal tensions (that always threaten to rip it apart) and in relation to its external others (who might go to war over our resources).

The first compact took shape around the first sign of language. Human symbolic language is quite unlike animal communications systems, and it is what fundamentally distinguishes us from our animal cousins. The first and any sign of language must be shared equally by all members of a community for it to have the effect that language has in bonding people. In order for a word - i.e. an arbitrarily-chosen collection of sounds having a symbolic meaning and historically determined reference that can be grasped by all who come together to witness its emergence and role - to be meaningful, its meaning must be shared equally among the members of the language community. We are all potential speakers and listeners, not just one or the other.

The community of language gives us the basis for our intuition of human equality whatever the many social differences that have evolved via the unequal distribution of material, professional, and status resources. It is this intuition of human equality, in tandem with the necessity of freedom that comes with the use of language and our need continually to renew the purpose or effects of languagein the community, that is the basis for our conception of human rights.

A right is nothing to me if it is not something I can claim and encourage or force, through political and linguistic means, others to recognize.

Now as I say, I am all for laws against unnecessary cruelty to animals. So why should I get pissed off by a professor who, while not seemingly understanding the anthropology that gives us the conception of a right, and so not knowing that there can be no such thing as an "animal right", will nonetheless work to convince people that there can be such a thing, so that one day we may pass laws in which lawyers and organizations like the SPCA will become the advocates for animals, defending their "rights"?

Well, let us take as an analogy to "animal rights", the concept of "gay marriage". "Gay marriage" transforms the previous institution of marriage, in which marriage was by its very nature discriminatory, necessarily a special privilege or license accorded to some people by kin and society, and not accorded to many other kinds of partnerships. "Gay marriage" takes for itself the word "marriage" when what it is really being instituted by "gay marriage" is not marriage, a form of discrimination as traditionally practiced or understood, but a new kind of contractual partnership between consenting adults, freed from social or kinship norms, a contract that has little in common with the anthropology of marriage and its discriminatory regulation of sexuality and reproduction, as practiced historically the world over.

Similarly, "animal rights" creates something that cannot logically or realistically exist as long as we hold to any traditional or true anthropological understanding of "rights". Thus to create "animals rights" transforms our very understanding of "rights" and compromises that traditional understanding and the vision of reality that goes with it. Instead of making a right something essential to the covenant by which all human beings (taken, in the final analysis, as fundamental equals) negotiate their differences and bond themselves together to re-present and hence transcend the shared and competing (i.e. linguistically-mediated) desires that threaten to rip their community apart, a "right" becomes something accorded by legal experts to those (animals) who don't (because they can't) negotiate the terms of their right.

Whereas many animals are presently considered private property and as such are one of the means by which we engage in the human exchange that is fundamental to maintaining the order of society, "animal rights" advocates would question this. As with all bureaucratic attempts to reduce the power that accords to property ownership, this is an attempt to increase the power of the bureaucratic state at the expense of ordinary citizens. Not only does it work to undermine an anthropological understanding of our covenant and our rights within it, the covenant by which we can hope to rule ourselves and have the bureaucrats working for the people and not in their own self-interest, it also undermines the property rights which are fundamental to maintaining many of our human rights.

I doubt whether Prof. Deckha and her type understand much of this. University professors are so often convinced by the gnostic religions, with their fantastic visions of expert-led liberation from the woes of this world, that underwrite their "progressive" ideologies. She is no doubt well meaning and genuinely cares for animals. But she, like so many professors, has apparently taken some of the magic kool-aid and believes it is the role of experts and their lucky few students to liberate and to expand the order of rights. But what is a "right" that someone on high gives me and that I do not demand and negotiate with my equals? It is a way of imposing a relationship on me.

True freedom is something only humans can know or enjoy because freedom is something that can only be experienced and expanded within a system of language and the material exchange it allows. And the more we have bureaucratic elites dominating the terms of this exchange, the less the rest of us have a role in (expanding) this exchange. Ultimately human freedom and self-rule are at odds with any conception of "animal rights", though the consequences may or may not be great in any attempt at redefining reality to make possible an "animal right". After all, gnostics can only impose on reality so much before it bites back.

Still, human freedom only exists as a mutual exchange - in which a cultural tradition for understanding right and wrong is widely shared and understood by ordinary people (a decentralized understanding and exchange which is necessarily at odds with the claims and self-interest of expert knowledge) - in which we freely impose on each other's freedom and negotiate the differences. Laws against animal cruelty passed by democratically-elected legislatures are in accord with this understanding of human rights and decency. And so is ordinary social bonding and shunning. If I see you torturing an animal, be sure that my first instinct won't be to go to a lawyer for endless expert mediation. Rather, I will take it as a given that I already, by dint of tradition, have some right and responsibility to exercise some righteous freedom, right in your face and with everyone with whom you (would) do business.

Those of us who care about defending the human and national covenant against the imperialism of bureaucracy and expert knowledge meet every Thursday in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, 7-9 pm, in front of Blenz Coffee. We wear blue scarves as identification and in solidarity with the wider blue scarf movement. Please join us if you can, but please leave your pets at home.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Sound of Silence

One of the blessings from having so many forest trails in your city's backyard, is that you get a welcome, and regular, respite from the awful noise that can plague city living.
It's only when you get out into the far corners, that you can actually hear the relaxing sound of silence.

Mind you, a perpetual silence would probably drive me as batty as the constant barrage of noise a big city provides; it's the balance that we appreciate, being able to go from one extreme to the other, as the mood dictates. The constant parade of faces and stories that city-living serves every day can be as invigorating as a solitary walk in the woods on a frosty winter morning.

The war on french women, according to Sego

French socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal, for all her faults, is a blogger's dream come true.
Every time she does or says anything, it lends itself to subject matter for a post!

Thanks to the internet, I played a long interview she had given over the weekend on french television, as background accompaniment to some work I was doing; a few times I had to ask myself, "did I just hear what I thought I heard..?" At the time I simply assumed I was mistaken and continued on with the task at hand.
Come to find out this morning, through this isolated clip, that she did indeed offer the following, startling, statistic on violence against women in France. (ht: Ségogole: Le blog de Ségolène Royal, a french satirical goldmine of info on the preposterous candidacy of France's favorite socialist)
"In France, the media hides the truth from us. This awful truth: in a nation such as France, one woman out of three is killed due to beatings from her spouse."

Hiding the extent of the barbaric urban unrest must have been difficult enough, but kudos to the aplomb of the french media for seemingly pulling off an even more large-scale conspiracy, if they can successfully conceal the murders of so many millions of women from their fellow citizens!

I haven't seen any corrections or clarifications being offered from the socialist party on this statement, and not much reference to it from any quarter, as yet. What does that say about the standards that the french electorate expects from their presidential candidates?
May we suppose the battered voters of France have grown so accustomed to their media and political elite's illusory treatment of daily life, for so long, that they can watch bold statements such as these, and resign themselves with a gallic shrug, that for all they know it may actually be true...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Storm Damage

Our city's beautiful trails still contain lingering scars from the recent wind storms.
Every few feet one can find jagged relics across the paths, a silent testament to the humbling power of nature.

France's socialists stand by their woman on Quebec separatism

Today socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal is saying that she didn't really say what she actually said, yet her comrades are saying that its okay for her to have said what she now says she didn't say.

Translated from Le Figaro:

"Paris cannot, at this time, insert itself into canadian internal affaires", declared Socialist Party secretary general François Hollande [and the father of Sego Royal's four children, in their civil union partnership]. He added that "France maintains a relationship of friendship with Quebec". Earlier on Europe 1, the socialist presidential candidate had tried to calm the game by affirming: "I demonstrated neither interference, nor indifference".

Christine Taubira, deputy for the Radical Left Party ["Parti Radical de Gauche" (PRG)], took to the defense of the socialist candidate by indicating that she "did not see what problem there could be in stating sympathy for a movement".

Similar position for another of Ségolène Royal's allies, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who suggested that she hadn't said anything different on Quebec that general de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac, Philippe Séguin, Alain Juppé and many others [hadn't already said].

That last defense makes me angry: since so many other french politicians have tried to damage our nation repeatedly in the past, we are not to be angered by yet another fresh attempt??
Hey, Jean-Pierre, go read this, on the French political elite's interference in our national unity struggle, and then tell me that Sego's behavior is no big deal. Maybe we can start telling the vandals in Clichy-sous-Bois that we would welcome their sovereignty, since apparently it's okay to have "sympathy for movements"..?

Meanwhile, even if you can't speak french, it's worth watching the actual clip of madame Royal making the initial statement that's causing all the uproar. She positively radiates her lack of forethought...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sego makes a Royal nuisance of herself on Quebec separatism

First a faux pas about Israel, then a contretemps in China, now a diplomatic fracas for Canada; France’s socialist presidiential candidate Segolene Royal has put her foot in her mouth yet again today, after a meeting with Quebec’s separatist Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair in Paris.

PARIS (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest have taken French presidential candidate Segolene Royal to task for saying she sympathizes with the idea of Quebec sovereignty.
The Socialist hopeful was asked about her thoughts on Quebec's national question after a short meeting with Parti Quebecois Leader Andre Boisclair in Paris on Monday. Royal said Quebec and France have common values, including "sovereignty and Quebec's freedom."
Harper issued a statement in which he questioned the wisdom of Royal weighing in on a Canadian debate.
"Experience teaches that it is highly inappropriate for a foreign leader to interfere in the democratic affairs of another country," he said.
"We look forward to marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Canada at Quebec City with the next president of France.
"We expect in turn that the next president will display an understanding of our shared history, and the respect for Canada and Canadians that such an important partnership requires."
Some further strong reactions from more patriotic quebecois such as Federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion:

[Dion] said Royal's comments hurt her credibility.
"She does not understand," he said.
"You do not interfere in the affairs of a friendly country, you do not wish for the dismantling of a friendly country. Canada does not wish for the dismantling of France and France certainly does not wish for the dismantling of Canada."

Meanwhile the damage is done, Quebec's sedition party have their propaganda coup, such as it is:
[Quebec’s separatist Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair] said Royal's comments show she's sympathetic to sovereignty and understands his message. "I think Quebecers will interpret Mrs. Royal's remarks for themselves," he said.
"It would be improper of me to do so but what people have seen is that France, in all circumstances, will be at Quebec's side."
I noticed that neither of these articles actually contained more than a mere couple of words of what it is that she had said. They told me what she said, but without letting me read it for myself.
From Yahoo France, I quickly found what, specifically, she said. Here's my translation, from the original french:
"Questioned by quebecois journalists to discover what her "affinities" might be with Quebec, Ségolène Royal replied:

"They [her affinities] conform to the values which we have in common, that is the sovereignty and the liberty of Quebec. I think that the radiance [influence? "le rayonnement", in the original french] and the place which Quebec occupies in the hearts of the french go in that direction", she added.

Sounds like typical Sego halfway thought-thru fluff; interesting, however, to learn that evidently she considers Quebec to be already sovereign. Or maybe the comment reveals how sovereign she currently considers France to be, within the European Union..?
I don't know how much this will actually influence anything in our national dialog about Quebec; who in Canada takes her seriously? Even if she should win her upcoming presidential election, can anything she says or does carry the same influence as General DeGaulle's "Vive Le Quebec Libre" willful sabotage, from 1967:
The following day de Gaulle arrived in Montreal and was driven up Chemin du Roy to the Hôtel de Ville (where Mayor Jean Drapeau and Premier Johnson waited). The crowd was electrified - excited to see the legendary French leader in person.
...De Gaulle stepped out onto the balcony and gave a short address. The speech appeared to conclude with the words "Vive Montréal! Vive le Québec!" (Long live Montreal! Long live Quebec!), but he then added, "Vive le Québec libre! Vive le Canada Français! Et vive la France!" (Long live free Quebec! Long live French Canada! And long live France!).
...The crowd's reaction to de Gaulle's phrase was powerful, and has been described as a "frenzy". Federalist Canadians, on the other hand, were outraged at the implied threat to Canada's territorial integrity and saw the words as an insult to the thousands of Canadians who fought and died on the battlefields of France during two World Wars. There was much criticism in the Canadian media, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Lester B. Pearson, a soldier who had fought in World War I and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, stated that "Canadians do not need to be liberated."

Back to Sego's french kiss for Quebec. Again, translated from today's Yahoo France:

Journalists and canadian observers tried to find out Monday if Ségolène Royal’s declarations translated into a position from mature reflection or [through] simple improvisation. As she is president of the Poitou-Charentes region, Ségolène Royal recently signed a cooperative agreement with the Délégation générale of Quebec in Paris. When she was minister of Education, she had attended, along with Louise Beaudoin, the premiere of the musical comedie "Notre-Dame de Paris". She is not known for any particular preferences on the quebec question, even if she doesn’t ask for more than becoming a "québécophile" and to visit Quebec, as she indicated Monday to the La Presse Canadian agency.

[She asks to visit Quebec? Hmm.... then how to explain this: ]

...Speaking in Montreal Monday, [Quebec Premier Jean] Charest said he invited Royal to Quebec after she became head of the French Socialists but that she turned him down.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

My Favorite Place

This is where I spent my afternoon today. It takes quite a while to get to, but is always worth the time and trouble. I consider it a "thinking place", meaning for me a place I head to when I have some serious thinking to do.
No ipods, no cel phones, sometimes a book, but usually just peace and quiet to lead me into thoughtful, and incredibly re-energizing, meditation. It's rarely more crowded than it is in this picture, taken earlier today. Even in the summer; there's just so much else to see, that even scenic spots like this one fall to the competition, and dreamers like myself can usually find an hour or two to ourselves to just plain think.
I used to take it for granted that everyone enjoyed their own version of going to a "thinking place", to invest spare time to sort through the week that was, or the imminent week that could be; to reflect on books read, conversations partaken of, debates won and lost, lessons learned from work or, calmed by the majestic surroundings, the chance to place problems in greater perspective and not feel so hobbled by their weight.
To my chagrin I met a young lady the other day who had yet to ever undertake such therapeutic wanderings, despite having lived here for so many months. No curiosity to go looking, as I did, for all the beauty that could be found within less than an hour from the city.

She was a city person, who only liked city things, such as night clubs and clothing stores. And the internet, where she spent most of her life, chatting away her youth. By the end of our chance conversation, I couldn't imagine her life, just as, I suppose, she couldn't imagine mine.
To never have tasted the heady brew of sitting or laying on one's back, glancing at the clouds going by, listening to the wind rattling the branches of nearby trees... the occasional colorful bird zipping through the scene... cities may be a great achievement, but they seemed to have cost humans something in the exchange, if it results in people having the opportunity to savor views like this one, yet not feeling the slightest inclination to take them.

(To be honest, it was too frightfully cold and wet to do much sitting around today! I had to settle for a standing meditation this week...)

liberal shadows

Liberal leader Stephane Dion has announced his shadow cabinet.

For Canadian voters who held their nose and voted Conservative in the last election, there are other Liberal shadows that might still be of greater concern...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Equal education for unequal students equals uneducated students?

Charles Murray has an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal today, mentioning in passing a subject that's very dear to me, and which I've written upon from time to time: the value of genuine Humility, and the role it plays in one's accumulation of wisdom. In fact, his piece touches on so many points that we have talked about in our posts here at Covenant Zone, in our weekly meetings, and through correspondance with readers via email, I felt that it would serve as an effective candle for our one-year anniversary... meeting every week since January of last year:

Aztecs vs Greeks

...The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.

We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist.

And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one's own intellectual limits and fallibilities--in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today's education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, "I can't do this." Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall, just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them.

That level of demand cannot fairly be imposed on a classroom that includes children who do not have the ability to respond. The gifted need to have some classes with each other not to be coddled, but because that is the only setting in which their feet can be held to the fire.

The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.
The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good.
The encouragement of wisdom requires an advanced knowledge of history. Never has the aphorism about the fate of those who ignore history been more true.

All of the above are antithetical to the mindset that prevails in today's schools at every level. The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.

In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did.

Speaking for myself, attending Covenant Zone's Blue Revolution meetings for an entire year has been a tremendous education for me, as I've been tested and challenged like never before by my fellow blue scarf covenanters. I emerge with many new facts and figures, but most importantly, I look back and see a way to become a better person, in the ways that matter most: through strengthening of character.
It all comes back to character, that mysterious uniqueness separating us so gloriously from the other living things with which we share our world.
Having knowledge is one thing, but how you use it, the things you choose to do and especially, the things you choose not to do: this is the difference that schools are at pains to teach its students. Is it even their business? Probably not, for the decisions we make as growing and changing human beings, on subjects that matter the most, Family, Faith, and Fortune, must come from teachers whose credentials are the lives they themselves have lived... credentials no "school" can match.
Entering these three arenas, we approach their individual challenges recognizing the confounding mystery that surrounds each of them, that no school can fully resolve for us. These three puzzles require a lifetime of experiences, relived again and again by those around us, to even begin to be understood. Therefore the more we compare our notes with our fellow gladiators in the arena, generation after generation, nation after nation, covenant to covenant, the more we can dare to believe that we continue to march towards further penetration of their mystery.
The nearer we get, the more we realize: all three are, somehow, all the same thing.

I read Charles Murray's editorial today through the eyes of a student of a year's worth of blue scarf gatherings, and I discover I am seeing a different article than one I would have read had I never gathered the nerve to attend that first meeting so long ago. The degree of difference I perceive in myself, between then and today, is due to two gifted teachers, who never made their pupil feel like he wore a dunce cap no matter how unequal his status may have been.

Happy Anniversary, fellow blue revolutionaries!

Who Belongs with us?

Reflections on Faith and Culture: Just Testing ...

Gil Bailie raises the question of whether the Canadian covenant is soon to exclude children with Down's syndrome:
In my post on Tuesday of this week, I said: "Evil overtakes us in small, seeming innocuous ways, each incremental development merely the logical extension of a state of affairs to which everyone has previously grown accustomed."

Here is one of the little baby steps (if you'll pardon the irony) toward the Brave New World of 21st century Eugenics -- so seemingly kinder and gentler and incremental than the old-fashioned Nazi sort, but, for that reason, far less likely to provoke a moral reaction. Reported by Lifesite:
In the same month, both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) are recommending that all pregnant women, not just those over 35, should be screened, including with invasive procedures such as amniocentesis, to discover whether they have a risk of bearing a child with Down’s Syndrome.
What precisely is the reason for the test? What can be done with the information the test provides? Only two things: nothing and abortion. Since the former option (nothing) is what will happen without the test, the test only exists to favor the latter option. Anyone who thinks that this is merely science is not paying attention.
While the ACOG media release does not directly mention abortion as the usual fate of the “screened” babies, a SOGC official readily admits that the Canadian recommendation was specifically intended to give women the option to abort a child with Down’s Syndrome.
“Yes, it's going to lead to more termination, but it's going to be fair to these women who are 24 who say, 'How come I have to raise an infant with Down's syndrome, whereas my cousin who was 35 didn't have to?’” Dr. Andre Lalonde, the executive vice president of the SOGC, told the National Post.
The Canadian society of obstetricians and gynaecologists recommends that all women be "given" amniocentesis, and that women over 40 should "automatically be given" amniocentesis. One wonders what the word "automatically" means here. Is there a distinction between being given amniocentesis and being automatically given amniocentesis? If so, what is it? Whatever it is, you can be sure of the direction in which the eugenic screws are turning.

A few years after this regime is in place, a parent walking down the street with a Down's syndrome child will not only be a rare sight, but it will no longer invite the sympathy and even admiration of onlookers. Rather, we will have learned to regard the bringing of Down's syndrome children into the world as an act of social irresponsibility. Eventually, social disincentives will be deemed necessary to discourage this from happening: the withdrawal of social services for those reckless enough ("heartlessness" will no doubt be the catch-phrase) to allow a Down's syndrome child to be born, and so on.
Have a look at that link above to Gil's Tuesday post; it returns to an issue Dag earlier raised - the creation of embryos in fertility clinics to "parental" specs. Blonde and blue eyed, for some; sperm from a Ph.D. for others; deafness or dwarfism for deaf and short "parents". To my mind, this is not the spirit of true covenanting, in which anyone can take the place of anyone else. (However much we know that some people will not be up to certain tasks as they grow, it is not our role to determine, by eugenic or other design, the birth attributes that make for a suitable member of our covenantal reciprocity.) It is selfish self-absorption and a refusal to join with others in mutual recognition of, and a humble sharing in, this world's uncertainties.

Sorry I have not had time to write much lately. But I will be at the Covenant Zone/Blue Scarf meeting tonight in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library, central branch, in front of Blenz Coffee. Hope to see you there, where the meaning of the covenant that can renew all that is best in our nation will be given voice, 7-9 pm (every Thursday).

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Monday, January 15, 2007

US homeschoolers help protect french children

Gratitude and appreciation are on display at the french blog Le Salon Beige, for the US-based Home School Legal Defense Fund's recent assitance in "...convincing legislators in France to withdraw a plan that would have made such home instruction efforts there illegal".

U.S. group lends support to French parents who distrust public schools
"Thank you so much for your calls and e-mails to the French Embassy," an alert from the [HSLDF] organization said. "In an incredible turnaround of events, the sponsor of the restrictive amendments which would have outlawed homeschooling has withdrawn his amendments."

An earlier alert had gone out just a few days ago, noting that a "draconian" plan had been proposed in the French parliament that would shut down homeschooling across the nation.
The specifics would be that "no parent would be allowed to homeschool unless they showed that the health or handicap of their child makes it necessary for him or her to be taught at home."

Even if a family qualified under such restrictions, the HSLDA said the proposal would have required the family to submit to a home visit by a government official each year, and their curriculum would have to come from the "National Center of Correspondent Teaching" or from an approved source.

The plea asked American homeschoolers to contact the French Embassy, because of earlier successful efforts to lobby for homeschool programs in Ireland, the Czech Republic and South Africa, the HSLDA said. In Ireland and the Czech Republic, homeschool limits already had passed one house of parliament, but the grass-roots campaign still was able to halt them, the HSLDA said.

In announcing victory, Senior Counsel Christopher Klicka said he's confident the "international outcry" played a "pivotal role" in the change of plans.
"The French Minister of the Family, Philippe Bas, vocally opposed several articles of this huge bill entitled 'Protection de L'Enfance,' which means for "Protection of the Children,'" Klicka wrote. "He specifically opposed the sections regulating and essentially prohibiting homeschooling, saying in the French parliament: 'As they are, I am not favorable to these amendments [numbers 127 and 128], I find them too restrictive…' "

He said that France "must allow parents who, for instance, have three young children, a mother who is willing to take care of them and if they have decided to teach them to read-write-count – if that is their choice of living – provided that we can verify that the educational job is well done, then that freedom must be preserved."

"French homeschoolers can breathe safely once again," Klicka wrote. "Their freedom remains intact once again."
"We cannot believe that a free country like France would outlaw such a basic right as parents choosing to homeschool their children," the group said. French education officials earlier told lawmakers that 80,000 children start secondary school without really knowing how to read, write or count, and that is one of the main reasons for "parents who decide to homeschool their

A commentor to the story at the french Salon Beige site reminds us all [my translation from his french]: "It is important for us to unite with all the currents of freedom, patriotism and christianity throughout all western nations."

Let us all resolve not let our different languages keep us from recognizing our common bonds, especially our common birthright: the gift of liberty.

Chasing after France's vandals... for their votes

Back in August of last year, I blogged on a story sent to me by a Covenant Zone reader in India, on that nation's political parties increasing tendency to court criminals, and worse, terrorists, to their ranks. One's man's criminal being another man's hero, and magnet for votes. From the article sent to me:

Elections are won and lost on swings of just 1% of the vote, so parties cynically woo every possible vote bank, including those headed by accused robbers and murderers.
Having wooed criminals, the logical next step is for political parties to woo terrorist outfits too. These may also command enough votes to swing some constituencies.

I was reminded of that old story as I read of a similar story tonight, from France. The two front-runners in this year's french presidential election are courting, of all people, the thugs in France's banlieus, since a vote is a vote, and the arsonists may be on the voter rolls for this spring's election:
French suburbs: no-go zones now election targets

VILLENEUVE-LA-GARENNE, France (Reuters) - Young people branded "scum" in 2005 this year offer an electoral prize, as an approaching presidential election draws politicians to France's riot-hit suburbs on the hunt for votes.

Even conservative presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy -- who dismissed angry youths as thugs -- has joined Socialist Segolene Royal in hiring rappers and actors to court young voters from France's poor neighborhoods, the 'banlieues'.
Analysts say Sarkozy and Royal have responded to a recent shift in voters' preferences in adjusting their stance on the suburbs, shifting from tough comments on law and order to an emphasis on the need to boost jobs in difficult neighborhoods.

Voters listed poverty and economic insecurity as key concerns ahead of the 2007 poll in a recent BVA poll, while security ranked only sixth.

Sarkozy, sharply criticized for calling rioting youths "scum" and for vowing in 2005 to "clean out" the suburbs, has adopted a markedly softer tone.
He invited a group of youngsters to his ministry last month, telling them they were "French like any others ... but as you have certain difficulties, we must help you more than others."
Royal too has been rebuked by suburban youths, angered over her tough law-and-order proposals that included a plan to send young troublemakers to military-style boot camps.
Since, she has promised more money for schools in tough neighborhoods and launched a campaign to get out the youth vote, securing the help of popular rapper Cali.

Why not go after the "lost-their-car-in-a-fiery inferno" voting block? Or the "related-to-someone-who-lost-their car" demographic, to gain an even bigger slice? Surely these constituencies, combined, must represent a sizeable share of the population of France by now? Hundreds of thousands of automobiles have been put to the torch, and yet according to the likely future french president, Sarkozy, it is to be the arsonists that are to be helped more than others... the injustice is enough to make you weep.

Trupeers writes often about the follies of the victimary culture that is strangling our present political discourse. Here, from the heart of Western Europe, comes a story that makes the amorality of this culture of victimhood all too apparent. Self-appointed arbiters decide who's pain is real and who's is not; they cry for the arsonists, yet shed no tears for those whose property was destroyed by these barbarians. No matter how individualized each experience and circumstance may be, citizens are lumped into groups, and one group's sufferings are deemed the greater, indeed in this case one group, the street thugs, are bestowed with a monopoly on suffering. The street thugs' acts of violence are neatly re-defined as acts of "social justice", cleansing them of any evil tint; ends justifing means, all sins are forgiven in the march for "equality".

What a depressing report, for the future it foretells for our brothers and sisters in France. Fortunately, all is not lost, because we can still write about our disgust for such cynical vote-buying, our words can be seen by others who share our values, and together we can engage in a search for principled alternatives to rewarding arson.
If we can read about it, we can still do something about it. When the day comes when we're no longer able to even read about the perfidy of the entrenched elites of France, more will be lost than just cars.
The vandals, hand in hand with their enablers in public office, will have burned down our liberty as well.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cairo Rape Victims blog their stories in Egypt

A new development in the mass rape in downtown Cairo, which Truepeers mentioned back in late October.
Let's hope that this can lead to positive change for at least some poor women trapped behind the iron veil of middle east mysoginy:

Assault blog allows Egypt's feminists to let rip
CAIRO -- Three months ago, when the holiday of Eid Al Fitr - the festival marking the end of Islam's holy month of Ramadan - turned into a crazed riot with young men sexually assaulting female bystanders in plain sight, it appeared Egypt had regressed to some far more lawless chapter of its history.

But it now appears those shocking events have galvanized ordinary people to take matters into their own hands. The outrage felt by Egyptian women at the attacks that took place in downtown Cairo last October, as well as at the indifference of authorities in the events' aftermath, has reverberated through the streets - and carried on cyber-waves - sparking a new, uncharted feminist movement in Egypt.

Leading the charge is a young Egyptian female - preferring to remain anonymous due to the nature of the campaign - who has started an Arab-language feminist blog called Atralnada (morning dew). In a country where Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise, and the status of women a subject of much debate, this young activist has made her struggle public, and her blog is empowering Egyptian women to speak out in turn.

"I wanted to post about my personal experiences of being harassed," she says simply, adding that the events of the last Eid celebration had sparked something inside her, compelling her to begin expressing herself in such a fashion.

Particularly galling to her has been the apparent callousness by Egyptian men regarding the assaults. "I am asking women to speak up and tell their stories since most of the men have denied anything [of this nature ever] happens in this country," she points out.

"[Males] write disgusting comments on blogs telling us that we are using the forum to become famous - even though [posters have to be] anonymous - and ... to attract men," she says incredulously.
Atralnada's popularity also points to the technological revolution slowly taking over the country. No longer do ordinary Egyptians need to rely on the more traditional media for their information. Events such as what occurred at the end of Ramadan last year are now reported on similar online forums and over the Internet in general. Blogging in particular is creating citizen-journalists in Egypt who are now able to compete with print newspapers and television for a viable information niche.

Most importantly perhaps, Faisal argues that blogs such as the newly-created Atralnada can help to shape cultural trends and allow more freedom of expression. "If bloggers are to make a real impact, it is by creating an awareness of [their] community ... and [urging ordinary] people and their governments to stop supporting a regime that inhibits freedom of speech," he stresses.

This is exactly what Atralnada tries to accomplish. With scores of women writing their stories online for others to read, the blog creates a bond within women's circles that makes it acceptable to talk about taboo issues such as sexual harassment.

The online posting site is thus helping to meet a need in Egyptian society, which has, at least from the point-of-view of Atralnada's founder, been too long ignored. "I hope people will no longer be afraid to say what has happened to them and that we, as women, can help stop sexual harassment before it boils over like it did during the Eid holiday," she offers.

"No longer do ordinary Egyptians need to rely on the more traditional media for their information. "

This is something that Canadians have in common with Egyptians, and let's hope that this year more of our fellow citizens come to realize that.

Meeting the figures in the window

While making my video tribute to the courage of France’s Blue Revolution movement, I came across a particular photo from the interminable car-nage plaguing France each and every evening. (Just because it’s not in the news doesn’t mean it has stopped; like mugging and burglary, car-burning has risen to the level of "un-newsworthy news")

This photo haunts me; I find myself continually going back to it to stare, thinking about it so often, that after last night I thought I should organize my emotions into a more intellectual pattern through a post.
While the fiery car is meant to be the focal point of the photograph, I can’t help being fixated on the shadowy figures in the window, looking out at the flames below. How I wish for a thought balloon to be visible above their heads, allowing me access to their honest reaction to the scene below.

The single question that consumes me as suredly as that automobile engulfed in flames: What are these people thinking?

What did they see, how much did they see, beyond the fireman doing his job at the moment the photograph was taken? Were they up there, watching the human debris who set fire to the car in the first place? Did they call the firefighters to the rescue, do they always call them or do they wait, hoping that others will take that initiative for them? Is it their car that is on fire in the street below? Was it their children who actually set the car alight, and are they looking on in shame, or delight?

Is the danger so great, might these witnesses be so isolated within their community, that they feel they must reamin lurking in the window, rather than race down to the street to pitch in and do something? Or, do they feel it’s none of their business, and their role as citizens of a modern nation is to only watch, on the outside of life looking in, even as they are on the inside of their homes looking out? Do they find it virtuous to glance at this act of barbarity in a casual manner, as if the drama below them was just another adventure on their television set? As the photographer captures his photo, are these shadows in the window poised to "change the channel" and go back to other activities inside their rooms?

How many citizens, not just in France but throughout our world, are looking out of windows at the nightmare at their doorstep, feel that they are too few to make a difference, and remain in hiding behind the curtains? How many people have even reached the point where they dare look out the window to see what is causing the disturbance in the street below… do most just resolutely turn the volume on the stereo that much louder, to drown out the folly that their leaders have made of their nation’s modern state, not to mention the folly that they themselves may have contributed to? Do they surf the net seeking parallel worlds that are much more pleasant, in order to more effectively ignore the one collapsing in the streets below?

I look and look at the photo, and wonder these things and more. Of course the photo itself offers no help at all, in satisfying my curiosity. Each time I stare I emerge more curious, to the point where it invades my dreams, waking me in the night. I look out my own window, and seeing only a calm blanket of snow on the cars parked snugly on our street, it’s easy to climb back into a warm bed and eventual slumber. But for how long? Will the day soon be here, when it won’t be dreams of fiery cars and enflamed youth, but flesh and blood phantoms wrecking their destruction down my street, every street. Or are we all dreaming to worry about such things?

I won’t find the answer by myself. No one photo or article or book or news channel can answer that, either.
I have to meet these people in these windows, have them get to know me, trust me when I say my curiosity is genuine, so that they can indeed explain what they sincerely do think. Maybe it takes my question to get them to realize they think some thing in the first place. I don’t know. I won’t know, if I too stay in my room looking out the window. I need to meet my neighbors, I need to talk to these strangers, I need to test my assumptions. I need to act, to take a leap of faith and risk dis-illusioning myself in order to arrive that much closer to the truth.

Throughout France, in Paris, Lille, Lyons, Marseilles, Toulouse, citizens who used to just look out of windows are going into the street, meeting each other and comparing notes on what they see, and what can and should be done about it. They meet and wonder how many others might there be who also see what they saw through windows of their own? How did a modern nation state become so plagued with attacks upon its modernity, who has let this happen, what is being done to stop it, what is it that even can be done?

The firefighter in the street may have an answer or two… but he’s occupied at the moment, his hands full with his job. The people in the windows have to pick up the slack.

In Vancouver we stare out our windows to the world, and we descend into the street to meet and talk about what we see. We meet in the Atrium of the Central Vancouver Public Library every Thursday from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Going to school instead of getting an education

Overheard while out at lunch today: a Canadian college student was discussing football with an American. The subject turned to the CFL, the Canadian Football League. The American was gamely testing his limited knowledge of this country's version of the NFL by attempting to name off all the teams in the league, from having peripherally followed the league over the years. As he ticked them off one by one, he eventually paused; he felt he had neglected one, and was frustrated with not being able to remember it. “That one in southern Ontario”, he said, snapping his fingers, “the city south of Toronto… begins with ‘H’… it’s.. it’s…”

“Oh yeah: Halifax!” says the CANADIAN college student. In dead seriousness. At which point I couldn’t keep out of this conversation any longer, and offered Hamilton as the answer. The AMERICAN was all smiles, agreeing that this was the name he had been trying to remember. I pointed out to the CANADIAN college student that Halifax was considerably further east than Toronto. The CANADIAN sheepishly explained that he had terrible geography teachers all throughout school. So that's why he thinks Halifax is near Niagara Falls!

I wonder what else he "knows"... say, about middle east politics.

With that sad conversation still ringing in my ears, I soon found this study on the literacy of college students, released by the American Institutes for Research, referenced over at my favorite blog on homeschooling, Why Homeschool :

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twenty percent of U.S. college students completing 4-year degrees – and 30 percent of students earning 2-year degrees – have only basic quantitative literacy skills, meaning they are unable to estimate if their car has enough gasoline to get to the next gas station or calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies, according to a new national survey by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The study was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

More than 75 percent of students at 2-year colleges and more than 50 percent of students at 4-year colleges do not score at the proficient level of literacy. This means that they lack the skills to perform complex literacy tasks, such as comparing credit card offers with different interest rates or summarizing the arguments of newspaper editorials.


From our ongoing experience, they may not know how to calculate the total cost of ordering office supplies, but they "know" Israel is bad, bad, bad and that the islamist threat to western civilization is merely the illusory mirage conjured up by oil-hungry neocons working for Halliburton. Why, it was all so carefully explained on the Colbert Report video clips that they were shown during class!

Extra, Extra, Read all about it!

Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing, has his photograph adorning one of the walls in my work-space. Yes, my mother is there somewhere in the background among the crowd, I not being totally unsentimental. Thoth, however, is front and centre. You, dear reader, are also likely happy that he gave us the gift of literacy. But not us at all. No, the gift of literacy was not meant for mere common folks like us, it was reserved for priests, and that until only recently, till the time of Martin Luther, Johan Gutenberg, and especially John Wesley. Most of us don't take seriously the significance of our right to read and write. Most of us have never lived in an obscurantist state of primitive fascists who kill those who question their limited view of reality and the authority they base it on. Read a book; ask a question; get murdered. It ain't the American way. It is the way of fascism, Left, Right, or Muslim. We see the evidence of it in small ways to date in the West, the hatred and violence directed at those who question authority of the powers as they are: in the West we have obscurantists at wikipedia and indymedia and chock-a-block at our universities; there are book-burners lurking everywhere at Stormfront and associated sites, those who would, as Heine points out, begin by burning books, and who would end burning people; and there is Islam. We in the West take for granted that we should be sensitive to the feelings of others in our speech; that we shouldn't read things that might give us bad ideas about some members of our general societies; that we shouldn't read hate sites like-- well, no dhimmitude, for example. We give back to the mystic priests, the gnostics, our right to read, tossing over our gift from Thoth to those who would rule us arbitrarily. We don't do this all of a rush, we do it incrementally, nodding when we hear from others that "hate speech is not free speech." We do so when we listen to those who quote Chomsky and when we say nothing about the drivel they speak. We give up our freedom to read and think about our world and our lives as individuals when we put up with rubbish cliches from dilettante Leftists who shriek: "Give back to the community." I look at Thoth, and I see him wink at me.

Thursday evenings we meet at the Vancouver Public Library in the atrium from 7-9:00 pm to sit and discuss the nature of our relationship to our nations and our course of action to make our lives freer and more fulfilling than they will be if we do nothing more than nothing, allowing the creeping fascism of the Left to continue its work with fascist Islam to curtail and eventually destroy our right to read and to think and to speak freely. To do nothing to resist the fascism of the Left and Islam is to aid them in their quest to destroy our individualist nations, to draw a veil over the minds of the people, to enslave the world and turn all into farm animals tended by the gnostic elites of the dead past still jerking and kicking in our present time. We will be ruled by the dead if we do nothing more than nothing. I read this in the eyes of Thoth.

Plato writes that Socrates said in the Phaedrus that we should not read but that we should rely on our memories to have information and the voices of the far away and the dead in our minds. Socrates, writes Plato, condemns Thoth. He is not the only one; and in our day, more and more join his chorus.

Gutenberg took the books of our world out of the stained hands of the monastic scribes and put them into the hands of the people, most of whom couldn't read. For those who could, who could read English, "Tynedale (sometimes spelled Tindale or Tindall) (circa 1494 - October 6, 1536) was a 16th century religious reformer and scholar who translated the Bible into the Early Modern English of his day. Although numerous partial and complete English translations had been made from the 7th century onward, Tyndale's was the first to take advantage of the new medium of print, which allowed for its wide distribution. In 1535 Tyndale was tried for heresy and treason and then strangled and burnt at the stake," [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tyndale], tried to make available a Bible commoners could read by themselves without intercession by priests. Of course, for his efforts he was murdered. We, to a lesser extent, meeting as we do on Thursday evenings in the public library, face a similar threat. We are nearing our first full year of weekly meetings. We carry on, as did Tynedale. We discuss books and ideas.

We read that the Muslim conquest was a great benefit to the West, one reason being the introduction to Europe of paper. "Although it was the Arabs who introduced paper into Europe in the 8th century (after learning how to manufacture it from the Chinese when they captured Samarkand in 704) they rejected mechanical book printing for centuries because it was an infidel invention unsanctioned by Allah." (Peter Mansfield, The Arabs, p. 117.) Bernard Lewis, an apologist for the Turks, as a rule, writes; "The Turkish printing press, which flourished in the first half of the 18th century, printed in all 17 books...." (Lewis, 2001: p. 140.) He also writes: "Islam's first printing press was introduced in 1728. Started by Ibrahim Muteferrika, a Hungarian seminarist in Turkey." (ibid; p. 28.) Mansfield writes, p.157, that he "Had to close his shop in 1745. Mullahs prohibited printing presses." Why," you ask, dear reader? "Printing presses were banned on the grounds that the word "Allah" could be composed in type that would be cleaned of ink by a brush that could contain pig bristles." (Boorstin, 1985: pp. 543-547.) The printing press came to Egypt in 1798 when Napoleon brought one to Alexandria to use as a propaganda organ. "The first Turkish newspaper, The Monitor, published on May 14, 1832, became almost immediately a government mouthpiece." (Lewis, 2001.)

Thoth tells me this is William Bullock's birthday. Maybe I even read it somewhere. Bullock is one of the many heroes of our Modern world most of us have rightly never heard of or read about. He invented the off-set printing press, an invention that makes possible cheap books for peasants like me. I don't have to be a baron to buy a psalter from the monastery. I don't have to be an illiterate fellah listening to the muezzin shrieking: "Death to Israel! Death to America!" to get my news of the day and my received opinions of the world I live in and my place in it. No, thanks to Thoth and Bullock and numerous others I can sit at the library and discuss with friends the nature of things as I understand them from years of living in a world of free literacy. And I can value this experience from having spent years in places where knowledge is restricted to the elite who guard it so jealously that they murder those who challenge them for its possession.

Books are worthless if there are too few of them and if they're too dear to have. Ideas and opinions are equally worthless if you're afraid to express them and discuss them in public. William Bullock gave us a gift almost as important as that from Thoth. Share it with us, you stingy bastard. Join us at the library, or go to the library near you and invite your friends to discuss the nature of our struggle against jihad and Left dhimmi fascism, two evil forces that will first burn our books and later us as well.
William Bullock (1813–April 12, 1867) was an American inventor whose 1863 invention of the web rotary printing press helped revolutionize the printing industry due to its great speed and efficiency. A few years after his invention, Bullock was accidentally killed by his own web rotary press.

Bullock was born in Greenville, New York in 1813. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by his brother. In his youth, he worked with his brother as a machinist and iron-founder, and his fascination with books led him to acquire much knowledge of mechanics. At age 21, he was running his own machinery shop in Savannah, Georgia. At this time, Bullock invented a shingle-cutting machine, but his business went broke when he was unable to market it.

Bullock returned to New York and designed such devices as a cotton and hay press, a seed planter, and a lathe cutting machine. He also invented a grain drill, which won him a prize from the Franklin Institute in 1849. Shortly after this, he became involved in the newspaper world, and began working as and editor for a Philadelphia newspaper, The Banner of the Union.

The paper later moved to Catskill, New York, and in 1853, he began working on a hand-turned wooding printing press that had a self-feeder, an idea that laid the foundation for his later presses. One of which he designed in 1860 for the national publication Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly.

In 1860 Bullock moved to Pittsburgh, and in a couple of years, perfected a printing press called the web rotary press. Richard March Hoe had invented the rotary press in the 1840s, but Bullock's press was an improvement over Hoe's design. Bullock's press allowed for continuous large rolls of paper to be automatically fed through the rollers, eliminating the laborious hand feeding system of earlier presses. The press was self-adjusting, printed on both sides, folded the paper, and a sharp serrated knife that rarely needed sharpening cut sheets with rapid precision. The press could print up to 12,000 sheets an hour, and later improvement had the figure up to 30,000 sheets an hour.

In a bizarre accident, Bullock was killed by his own invention. On April 3, 1867, he was making adjustments to one of his new presses that was being installed for the Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper. Bullock tried to kick a driving belt onto a pulley, when his leg became caught in the machine. His leg was crushed and broken, and after a few days, gangrene set in. On April 12, 1867, Bullock died during an operation to amputate the leg.


Thursday evening, 7-9:00 pm. VPL atrium. We sit by Blenz coffee bar wearing blue scarves. Join us.