Prime Minister Harper: Bush lite?

The Globe and Mail changed its format last week. Presumably it’s no coincidence that they also published a series of provocative front-page columns:  columns which have created a political crisis for Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative government.

The Globe alleges that Canada is indirectly responsible for torture in Afghanistan:

A Globe investigation, based on 30 face-to-face interviews with men recently captured in Kandahar province, uncovered a range of horrific stories and a clear pattern of abuse by Afghan authorities who work closely with Canadian troops.

Some of the allegations were made by four men, whose names were published, and who were originally detained by Canadian forces.

None of the abuse was inflicted by Canadians, and most Afghans captured — even Taliban sympathizers — praised the Canadian soldiers for their politeness, their gentle handling of captives and conditions in their detention facility.

At worst, then, Canada is indirectly responsible for torture. Our soldiers detain people and turn them over to the Afghan government; there is evidence that the Afghan authorities torture some of those detainees.

Prime Minister Harper continues to deny that there is any “specific evidence” of torture, saying, “Even the commissioner in Afghanistan said he had only heard rumours.”

But day after day the Globe and Mail has undermined the government’s credibility on this issue. In particular, they called attention to a report written by Canadian diplomats in Afghanistan. The report stated,

Extra judicial executions, disappearances, torture and detention without trial are all too common.

The government first claimed, in writing, “no such report on human-rights performance in other countries exists”. Next, the Globe and Mail obtained the (non-existent) report under an access-to-information request.

The report was heavily censored, but the Globe obtained another, uncensored copy of it. Here’s an excerpt from Wednesday’s lead article, revealing what’s under the blacked out bits (click to enlarge):

censored reportCanada’s Information Commissioner is going to investigate the censor- ship of this document. The Government is allowed to censor documents only where national security is at stake. In this instance, the censorship seems to have been motivated by political concerns. The Globe reported:

The government has eradicated every single reference to torture and abuse in prison ….

It leaves untouched paragraphs such as those beginning “one positive development” or “there are some bright spots.” But heavy dark blocks obliterate sentences such as “the overall human rights situation in Afghanistan deteriorated in 2006.”

Clearly such censorship goes beyond a concern for national security.

The Globe‘s allegations could be very damaging to the Conservatives. Prime Minister Harper has long been accused of modelling his government after that of George Bush. The Globe‘s allegations fit that paradigm.

The Bush administration has a well-known policy of “rendition”, under which detainees are turned over to other governments to be tortured. No one is saying that the Conservatives are deliberately arranging for Canada’s detainees to be tortured. Still, that’s the taint that this allegation will leave on the Harper administration.

The censorship issue compounds Harper’s problem (although the Conservatives are blaming it on bureaucrats). The Bush administration is frequently accused of lying, or at least obfuscating about its most controversial policies, not least those related to torture. Here Harper and his Ministers seem to be playing the same sort of shell game with the Canadian public.

Is Stephen Harper “Bush lite”? The label may be unjustified, but even people who support the war in Afghanistan — as I do — will be put off by last week’s allegations. Kudos to the Globe for outstanding journalism.

Male blogger, female blogger

Have you ever heard of the Gender Genie? If you’re a writer (as all bloggers are!), this is a fun exercise. The Gender Genie analyses the words you use and deduces whether you are male or female.

I experimented with my post on quadriforms because the Gender Genie prefers passages of 500 words or more. Click on the image to see a full size version of the results.
Here is the bottom line:

Words: 769
Female Score: 494
Male Score: 1292
The Gender Genie thinks the author of this passage is: male!

And the Gender Genie — just give me a second here —
[undoes pants, takes a look]
And the Gender Genie is correct! [much whistling, applause, general laughter]

OK, it’s a roundabout way of determining your sex. But the interesting part is the language analysis. Key words are isolated and identified as masculine or feminine. Each key word is assigned a value. For example, “with” is a feminine word and each use is valued at 52 points; “to” is a masculine word and each use is valued at only 2 points.

In some cases, I can follow the Gender Genie’s reasoning. “Your”, “her”, “we” and “myself” are all feminine words. “The” and “a” are both masculine words. The assumption is, women tend to discuss interpersonal matters relatively often; men discuss objects more often.

Surprisingly, “was” is feminine while “is” is masculine. Women use the past tense relatively often and men the present tense? Who knew?!

Does it work? Obviously the Gender Genie correctly identified my sex. For a woman’s result, check out MaryP’s blog.

The Tao of Pooh, part 1

book bingeMonday is the last day of MaryP’s book binge. I’m not an official participant, mostly because I knew I wouldn’t impress anyone with the amount of reading I do in a month. Still, here’s my unofficial contribution.

I’ve been reading Richard Kearney’s The God Who May Be, but my progress has been slow. The language is dense, like reading poetry. In fact, Kearney is a poet as well as a philosopher, so the text features a lot of wordplay, theological and philosophical jargon, and terms from Latin, Greek, French and German. It’s not designed to be a quick read; it’s designed to make one think! I wish I could say I’d finished it in April, but no such luck.

Tao of Pooh coverThe Tao of Pooh is a much lighter read, though it too is a theological/ philosophical treatise!

The concept for the book was perhaps suggested by a linguistic coincidence. Here the author imagines himself in dialogue with his protagonist (p. 10):

“One of the most important principles of Taoism was named after you.”

“Really?” Pooh asked, looking hopeful.

“Of course — P’u, the Uncarved Block.”

“I’d forgotten,” said Pooh.

Hoff explains that the “Uncarved Block” refers to things in their natural, unaltered state. Wise individuals are those who understand and accept their true, inner nature. Instead of trying to force reality into some fantastic shape, the wise work with reality.

Hoff can (and does) explain Taoism by quoting Taoist masters; but he also illustrates Taoist principles by using excerpts from Winnie the Pooh stories. For example, this bit of nonsense verse (p. 39):

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie,
A fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.

A fly can’t bird? Hoff interprets:

It’s obvious, isn’t it? And yet, you’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.

Everything has a function and a place in the grand scheme of things — but only if we accept it for what it is. Try to make it into some other thing, and you will only destroy it — that’s the lesson we need to learn. This is one of the great principles of Eastern thought.

Western thought — indebted as it is to Christianity — points in a contrary direction. Christianity is an eschatological religion: that is, transformation is its core principle.

In one metaphor after another, the New Testament expresses the same idea:  rebirth, re-creation, resurrection, transfiguration; put off the old man and put on the new. The book of Revelation looks forward to a day when the heavens and the earth will be destroyed, to be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth.

This is the idée fixe, the bee in the bonnet of the Christian faith. And Western society is saturated in this principle, though we have forgotten its origins in the New Testament. Transformation — progress! — is the ideal that drives us restlessly onward.

The Industrial Revolution is one expression of the ideal. Don’t leave things in a state of nature; master them, improve on them, make them work better for you. Likewise, the scientific revolution is driven by the same ideal.

We certainly enjoy the benefits of this worldview. For example, I’ve been taking antibiotics for the past five days, after realizing that a persistent cold had degenerated into a sinus infection. I slogged my way through each day of most of April, and I suppose I could have kept it up a while longer. But why would I?! Surely it’s better to act, to seek a cure if one is available!

People sometimes suppose that Christianity is a great curse, keeping people in ignorance and slavery. On the contrary, the principle of transformation — the principle underlying both the industrial and the scientific revolutions — was borrowed directly from the Christian worldview.

The principle carries over into the social sphere, too, for those who are able to imagine a better world — improving the lot of the poor, visible minorities, women, homosexuals. In my view, those who work for revolution — those who are impatient with the status quo — they are the true heirs of Jesus and Paul.

That’s why these successive revolutions arose in the West, not the East.

To be sure, the Eastern worldview has a wisdom of its own. It is the wisdom of P’u, the Uncarved Block; accepting that Things Are What They Are; making our peace with reality and, indeed, learning to embrace it.

To give a single example — the principle of transformation, if unrestrained, can do irreparable harm to the environment. Calamity may result, if we don’t learn to respect the rhythms of nature. And that lesson — allowing nature to carry us in its course, instead of diverting it down alien paths — that lesson is best learned from Buddhism, Taoism, or the indigenous peoples of North America.

But I seem to have strayed a long way from the subject of this post — The Tao of Pooh. I’ll return to it in a few days, finish up my thought, and perhaps take a look at a second Taoist principle.

Diamond anniversary celebration

Blogging will be a little slow this week. I’m fighting off a sinus infection, and other priorities are competing for my attention.

Last weekend, the big event was my parents’ diamond wedding anniversary. Which one is that?, the guys are asking. “Diamond” means my parents were married 60 years ago.


My sister, who is a graphic designer, created the invitations. (I’ve marred the symmetry of her design by painting over my parents’ names.)

The occasion was celebrated with an open house at my parents’ church. We planned for 144 people, and I’d say we reached the goal.

I was the MC, so I didn’t have an opportunity to take many photos. But I did snap this one:

anniversary cake

My parents’ wedding in 1947 was very simple:  there was no cake. Sixty years later, my mom got to pick out something suitably impressive.

Next up, my wedding to MaryP on May 21. But it’ll be hard to top a sixty-year success story.

Vista Actually Worth its Salt?

Windows Vista has officially managed to survive the first wave of attacks, apparently. According to this article, the malicious programs have begun to arrive on the scene. But the Vista security did was it was supposed to — it crashed.

Seems kind of silly, I suppose, but when you consider the alternative, it also seems pretty good. Windows 2000 was also supposed to be a big security boost in Windows, but back then it came under a huge amount of fire for many huge lapses in security that in fact made it the least secure Windows OS ever. As Vista came out, there was surely speculation as to whether this time, Microsoft would actually make a secure system, or if XP would stay as the preferable alternative because of its years of being improved via patches.

Well, thus far it seems to have held. I am still skeptical, because, as the article points out, more attempts will be made as the new OS becomes more mainstream. But nonetheless, optimism is abound for those who like the looks of Vista’s new features. Extra security, if it really comes included in the package, would grant a lot of people peace of mind…

Still, for now, I’ll stick to XP! 😉

Globe Strives to Survive

One of the battles that has emerged along with the Web 2.0 is the one that takes place daily between Internet news and the traditional sources of information. It’s no surprise — everyone is plugged into the Web anyways, so why not use it as your source of News? But the problem for corporations rests in the Second Web, where they no longer have exclusive control over this most recent medium.

Once again, we see the conflict between the two worlds — traditional and Webbed. Bloggers and other writers online can give their thoughts on events and summarize occurrences more effectively than any other small-time writers have ever been able. Not only that, but the businesses responsible for the other media are not able to charge for online services if they are to expect to bring in regular readers, because of the fact that free sources are so much more frequent and equally reliable. The News is becoming difficult to quantify, particularly economically. And this has newspapers and other such media shaking in their booties.

The inspiration for this commentary? The Globe and Mail has announced a change of face. It’s only a style change, I know, but one comment to me sums up the fear lurking behind this decision.

Moreover, we had never viewed the Web as competition, but rather as an exciting new means of telling Globe stories to Globe readers. The Wall Street Journal even wrote an article about us as an industry success story.

Still, we didn’t want to fall into the complacency trap. I told the Wall Street Journal reporter that the industry appeared headed for a cliff and being at the back of the line, while better than the front, was of no lasting comfort. Two great questions hung in the air: What was a newspaper about in a digital world and what would the Internet be when it grew up? We needed to think through the onrushing future and how best to serve the three and a half to four million Canadians who read our paper and magazines or visit our websites.

The editor (?) begins by expressing supreme confidence in the newspaper’s recent developments. But to me, the next paragraph suggests strongly that it is more that they have managed to pull away some readers from other papers, rather than competing with the Web. The newspaper industry as a whole has not been reasserting itself so much as the leading newspapers have been shuffling their order.

In short: The Web 2.0 is winning. Paying for the news is becoming obsolete. Earning money via news is not, mind you — advertisement still costs money on online news sites — but the cost is no longer being directed immediately to the audience. A small victory, perhaps, but the change of face of the Globe in Mail bears the markings of a slowly-shifting tide in favour of the World 2.0.

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