Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christie Blatchford cockeyed on Aleppo (too) !

   No, I am not obsessed with Christie Blatchford: I swear!  It's just that it so happened as I was busy with my Czech blog since summer, that she is the focus of my writing here back-to-back.  Something caught my eye in her writing on Friday, and I think I need to make a few points. 

   We live in parallel universes. It seems more and more self-evident. The amount of  irreducible moral values that we share has shrunk to almost nothing; critical thought has been has been banished out of almost any discourse; to demand balanced view of anything in the social or political sphere, you may as well admit that you are "in the other camp".  This is because we operate increasingly in a binary world of white against black, and most people (starting with generation  X-ers, but even more so with the millenials) no longer process the world based on what they digest by scavenging information from various sources, but simply plugging into ONE virtual reality that obsesses with a selection of real and imaginary outrages against THEM and THOSE who declare themselves believers in that virtual reality out of sense of kinship.  No dissent is allowed. If you have doubts about the basic tenets of the belief system  you are an agent of EVIL, or at best you are still in denial.

   There is no way you can convince the batshit crazy feminist troopers on campus that there is no world-wide male conspiracy against women or a culture of rape that every dick knows and lies about. There is no way one can reason with them and increasingly no way one can reason with the academia administrators who - if not in sympathy - are plainly intimidated by them. No way the famous Rolling Stone campus false rape accusation (there was a number of less-publicized similar cases before) would convince any of the troopers of the need to tone down the inane rhetoric if not to spend their creativity and energy in more useful social projects.

   Similarly, you cannot convince anti-Putin fanatics to drop their idiotic narrative in which he is a murderer of domestic political opponents, invader and oppressor of foreign countries, and a commander in chief of a grand army of hackers.  There is always the insane pitch that will sooner or later arrive in any of these virtual reality information channels.  In the campus statistical follies, it has arrived with the conviction that one in four women on campus has been sexually violated.  On the other front, this past week we learned that Putin was "personally" involved in the hacks. It could not have been otherwise; no-one in Russia could have ordered the hacks but Putin. But what is this saying?  People who don't know anything about Russia - let alone about Putin's Russia - automatically assume that this axiom must hold even though it should obvious to any modestly smart intelligence officer that someone high up might have (just might have) want to protect the boss and order the hacks to curry favours because he knew (or thought he knew) that Putin would be pleased with that sort of activity. It also would give him a way out - it's called "plausible deniability". That is a possibility, right?  But by the pedestrian logic deployed here, it must have Nicholas who ordered the assassination of Rasputin. No-one in Russia, the theory goes,  would have had the nerve to take bake cakes with potassium cyanide at the court without the express permission of the Tsar. Would he ? Vozmozhno?   But interestingly this childish assertion about Putin masterminding anything nefarious in Russia, has become a blood sport.  Kovtun and Lugovoy, the murderers of the former KGB agent Litvinenko in London in 2006 likely had had a clearance from Putin, Lord Owen concluded in a pathetic inquiry into the death of the émigré.  This of course opens the door for someone like Terence McKenna to claim there is no doubt Putin did it, and that he did it cover his tracks in the murder of Politkovskaya which Litvinenko alleged.  Our journalistic standards at work.

      With Christie Blatchford, it astonishes me to learn that she is willing to lap up much of the mainstream media garbage that one reads about Syria in general and Aleppo in particular.  It is very clear that she has no alternative source of information about the place and what is going on in there.

She excuses herself at the start of her National Post piece (Aleppo Needs Us, 16/12/2016) saying she is "certainly no foreign policy wonk".

That's Christian of you, Christie!  But what do you think you have to contribute here other than repeating the revolting and insane lies, which equate the bad things wrought by Assad  (and his friend Putin) to the monstrosities of people who massacre and terrorize civilians on grand scale.  Isn't the narrative that you and the Western media propagate the very guarantee of more death, destruction and misery, that Syria's people presently suffer?  Did you do some sanity check on some of the things you allege the government side does?  Like "chemical weapons" ?  You know that the evil Assad gave those up three years ago?  Don't you ?   (You evidently missed the Seymour Hersh's piece that no major outlet would initially publish in the U.S.) At any rate, you should know, that the only undisputed use of chemical weapons in the five-year war came from the rebel side. Very few people would argue with this on the basis of facts.  As for barrel bombs, well it's a brutal weapon and it was used by Assad, although I am still missing evidence that it was used "on civilian population" indiscriminately.  I am pretty sure that the Syrian dictator would be less generous in providing warning that hell is going to rain down on houses with people in them than the Israeli's were in Gaza.  But that the use of barrel bombs seems to have been limited to places (like the vicinity of Damascus or Homs) from which rockets were fired on civilian areas under government control.  Now, if you went as far as listening to Assad himself talking about his tactics in trying to dislodge the fanatics from heavily populated areas toward open spaces, you might have learned something. The Evil Man  has actually won a great deal of popularity in Syria as a "protector"  and in the internal dislocations over 80% of the displaced population migrates to the government-controlled areas. Now if you asked , "how much relief do these people  (over four million of them) get from the UN" you would be asking the right question.  But you are not asking that. Actually you are not asking anything (like Robert Fisk is, e.g.) You come to lecture, and lecture about something you personally have no background in, either as a first-hand experience or in absorbing some credible in-depth information on the conflict.  I am talking about judicious weighing of the alternatives, not the phoney ceasefires, peace proposals which by now everyone knows are just a smoke screen for the continued license to wage war on Syria. Boris Johnson has no solution for Syria. After he said that Russia could be guilty of war crimes in Syria, someone retorted that only "an idiot" would see the two sides of the conflict in terms of moral equivalence. And there are only two sides! The non-jihadi militants have never been a factor in the fighting!  Now what about the sudden surge of ISIS in eastern Syria after the Iraqis and the allies opened up a corridor for thousands of fighters to escape through, and the sudden reversal of Obama in signing an arms waiver for the rebels?  Any connection there, you think?

 So I would forget about getting rid of Assad!  It's not anyone's call to make but the Syrians'.  If one wants to help one should diversify a bit one's reading and seeing: try Eva Bartlett or Vanessa Beeley.  Too bad that in the English-speaking world I have not found a writer like  Tereza Spencerova who sends dispatches to the Czech weekly Literary News.  She has a great sense of what is going on on the ground and a way to make the landscape speak out in a way that is both believable and touching without melodrama. Here is an interesting excerpt from one of her blogs (translated from Czech): 

"I had the opportunity to visit one of the improvised refugee camps a few kilometers from Aleppo, on the grounds of a former textile factory. There was a  flood of women covered in black; some had their faces covered as well, except eyes. The eyes were empty. No mourning, no celebrating. One man from the Red Crescent tried to convince them over a bullhorn from a warehouse ramp that it is not against Allah's will to allow their children to be vaccinated against all manner of diseases.  Al-Qaeda forbade this as a conspiracy of the West to uproot Islam. In the meantime their men fought over unleavened bread Syrian soldiers were distributing from trucks. It was a view of human beings who have no idea what is going on around them, or what will be, humans with a single desire to survive the present, which in the shock from any radically new situation is, well, an automatic reflex.
    I tried to find out - in vain it turned out - if people from East Aleppo were more inclined to practice a very conservative form of Islam before the war or if they accepted the new ways as a part of their "Stockholm syndrome" from their captors, al-Qaeda. In any case, it was a horrific scene. In the middle of (relatively) cosmopolitan and civilized Syria, suddenly materializes a scene from Middle Ages - a Kandahar.   
    But the West does not care about these people any more - they were of interest only when they were under Russian or Syrian bombardments, and until anyone knew who they were. Now, when they are out - in the daylight, so to speak - no one can pretend they represent the masses struggling for democracy in Syria, and hence the Western humanitarian and other organizations lost their interest...but is anyone surprised?"

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Team Women Rocks Means Team Men Sucks?

Oh dear, it's Christie Blatchford!  Here is a journalist whom I have long considered the voice of reason among women, one who had her female libido dominandi firmly in check. Well wouldn't you know: somewhere, at some point the FCS (female chauvinist sow) will bubble up even in her.

  To hell with you, Christie! Why does the courageous and successful showing of Canada's women's soccer team have to invite the silly "comparison" with the lack of overall medal production from men?  (Team Women Rocks, Ottawa Sun, 21/8/2016) What is to be gained by that ? It is not even that monumental battle of sexes in tennis in which a top woman professional beat the pants off a male champ, alas, twenty years after his competitive career in which time he turned pudgy and developed a heart condition.  What possible satisfaction can someone derive from the fact that one's women's Olympic team wins close to three out of four medals for the country? It is the greatest female-male disparity among nations of the developed world.  What can women possible gain from the poor showing of their male team-mates?  Another rung on the ladder of pride?

      Before Rio, I never saw Christie write on soccer. From the way she writes about the game, what she focuses on and what exercises her, it seems clear she is out of her depth and does not have a clue of what is going on.  No, the popularity of Marta is not anywhere near that of Neymar in Brazil, even though the two are soccer prodigies. Seasoned soccer fans do not compare compulsively the leading men with women in the sport or, for that matter, whether women are fairly represented among football hooligans. It's like in all other sports: people compare the competitive qualities of players in their own milieu.

       I love watching women's tennis. The idea of comparing Serena Williams with Novak Djokovic does not enter into my mind because I am sane. One heard comparisons between the "quality" of soccer during  women's world championships on US TV networks in the 1990's and the view was that women play soccer better than men. But anyone who knew the style of women's soccer then (and I played it competitively in my youth) would laugh that off.  The women's game was still in its infancy and often resembled unstructured "swarms" such as you would see on a pitch among boys under thirteen. There was no real competition because other than US colleges (under Title IX.) no-one even had a national-level soccer program.  Women's game made enormous leaps since then, and the matches are now great fun to watch even for the connoisseurs. 

    I like the Canadian women's soccer team very much. It has spunk, strong desire to win, and ability to grind out difficult matches. But let's not get carried away: the squad still punches above its weight. In team strategy and tactics, and most players' individual technique, it still has a way to go to catch up with the six top teams in the world.

    As for the men/women disparity in podium production in Rio, Christie Blatchford would do us all a great service if she looked seriously into what I suspect are great disparities in funding between the two genders that promote women's sports over men's in Canada. Google searches for sources of funding consistently find number of programs  specifically for women but none for men. I have heard from several sources that many men coaches in Canada now distinctly prefer to train women because that's where the money is and success guarantees more of it. My hunch is (based on watching CBC commercials) that the corporate sponsors also go for the brownie points in shelling more money to women's athletes.  So it looks, a least based on anecdotal evidence that men athletes chez nous are distinctly second class citizens. And one only needs to recall what Simone de Beauvoir said on the lack of women's intellectual achievements: 'The point to be grasped here is that if you are brought up as an inferior, you will become an inferior'.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

On Cultural Belonging

Whatever it is that the picture to the left seeks to convey it would leave all people in the world clueless and puzzled, save in one country. Among people who grew up there, four out of five would react to the suggested scene with loud, even convulsive laughter.  Why ? 

It is not easy to explain one's attachment to the place to which one was born, and why a child's picture of the world etched in one's soul  for life cannot be torn from that one place one calls home. It is in everyone of us, regardless where we come from. We instinctively deal with the kaleidoscope of the world at large through a prism that was given to us and to which we belong.  We don't know why. It is just the way we humans are and no amount of good-intentioned or hateful preaching will change this.

I saw the picture during my visit to my native Czech Republic in June of last year. I laughed my head off at the ingenious cleverness of its author. But there was distress in that laughter. You will note that the characters to the left are leaving the scene in a hurry.  The village woman runs away from the characters entering from the right in a panic. That much can be read from the picture by anyone, anywhere in the world.  But I will not be able to reproduce that which ignites the neurons in my brain in a way that causes me to go ape momentarily and send spasms to places around my diaphragm. 

I can explain how the collage has been constructed, and I already did that. I can show you the original plate and you will find it to the right of the text here. I can tell you all that you need to know about the original illustrator and I am going to do that. I can also tell you about the fleeing figures in the collage chosen to replace of the cast in the original. All of that I can do and you probably will get an inkling of what was going on in the mischievous mind of the person who modified the picture. But it will not be enough to create the "cultural shock" that your brain will produce if you are a Czech by birth and grew up in the land and if you as a child (and an adult after) learned how to imagine the world painted by the artist.

The artist's name is Josef Lada and he was famous enough in the world to have had an asteroid named after him. Lada was a naivist painter and prolific illustrator of books for children even though he became best known as the illustrator of Jaroslav Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk.


Dear Farzana

This is an open letter sent to Farzana Hassan at Easter, taking issue with her apologizing for Islamic terror to Christians:

Dear Farzana Hassan,

               I was touched by your Easter/Passover offer of apology for violent jihadism (Ottawa Sun 25/3) though I think it is a rhetorical exercise which does not does not match the value of the regular contributions of yourself, and the likes of Salim Mansur, Tarek Fatah, Raheel Raza, and others. Actually, I believe it is counter-productive to your (and their) posture, for which I am personally grateful, as your perspective gives hope, that maybe, just maybe, we can stay “civilized” without rivers of blood in the streets. Because, I have this terrible hunch, that this is where we are headed.    

So let me say this: You do not represent the larger Muslim religious community by dint of the fact that you are a believer. You cannot possibly have an intelligent reply to a Toronto imam with islamist connections all over the world, who says that. It is as though a German emigré in 1938 Paris wanted to apologize to Jews on behalf of Germans for Kristallnacht unleashed by the Nazis. The sad fact is that the majority of Muslims today are as much led by their Islamist elites (with the same goals, but different methods of a) trying to achieve them, and b) disguising them) as Germans were led wholesale by Hitler in the thirties.  The problem with you speaking “for the Muslim community at large” is that inevitably some clever islamist propagandist (say ‘Reza Aslan’), will come around and say that the fact Raheel Raza does not wear hijab and that you feel ashamed for what ISIS does in the Levant, is a proof positive that women under Islam are free to do as they please.  You know Ben Affleck’s moral indignation about “stereotyping” Islam and Muslims.  You are simply a proof to him that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, but in fact, peace-loving and friendly folk, so much so, that some misguided sisters are even willing to apologize for the homicidal psychos who misread their Koran, and think that when it says “go and cut the heads of the kuffar” that it means one should buy an airplane ticket to Istanbul and then cross by bus to Syria, to do God’s will there by cutting the heads of the kuffar.

You see, I may shock you by saying this, but islamism is only a secondary problem here. The real problem speaks through as the Ben Afflecks, les Belge who lower the threat level forty-eight hours after a jihadi massacre in their capital, and our idiot minister for immigration who sets the limit of refugees to be admitted into Canada in 2016 proportionally to that of Germany’s last year’s million of them, where they overran the social service capacities almost everywhere. John McCallum says we need 300,000 of them this year because our labour force ages.  But we still have over 7% unemployment, and it is 13% among youths. How does mass immigration (at this moment !) help that problem ? What is it that forces that sort of drooling idiocy ?  I am sure it is not pressure from political Islam. 

No, the West’s problems are deeply internal and its response to political islamism, is but a symptom of an underlying disease which openly invites external catalysts for the destruction of its institutions and values.  It is very interesting to observe how this disease manifests itself. It never ceases to amaze me  how certain points of view – and in my mind those that should be ‘common-sense’ among us - do not make it through the mass media outlets, and if they do, they are immediately “owned” by the elitist pseudo-liberal shibboleths.  Or, how the supposed ‘cures’ of the disease are always dumb and not doable. For example, Trump’s vowing to stop immigration of “Muslims,… until we figure out what is going on ?”  But Donald, how can anybody aspire to be the president of the United States and not have figured out what is going on in the Middle East, ahead of his inauguration ? Pray, tell !  Why is it not obvious to the Donald that this is a stupid idea, and that he should have advocated instead “minimal immigration from the Middle East”, until the civilized world cleans the place up and restores a measure of civility there?  Why is it not obvious to Ted Cruz, that “surveillance of Muslims” is an overkill ? He could have simply said that mosques and political organizations  should be monitored for islamist propaganda, and jihadi advocates thrown out of the country. No ? Why would that not be ‘radical’ and ‘anti-establishment’ enough ?  Perhaps, someone should be asking why some American citizens need to organize themselves in an organization which wants to have “relations” with America based on their religion ?  Isn’t the name “Council on American-Islamic Relations” (CAIR)  a self-described misapprehension how a country like the United States operates ?  You are a bloody American citizen: who the hell gives a damn about what you worship, as long as you behave like an American ?  Duh!

But, as I said, the problem runs much deeper than islamism.   Actually, islamism can only thrive with a severely self-damaged democracy, which agrees to replace the idea of citizenry with equal access to the institutions of governance, by “identity politics” which claim that this is impossible and disadvantages by design their particular group, that is discrimniated against and seeks to create special relations with the state to reverse the perceived historical molestations. Under communism, this practice of differential treatment of individuals based on belonging to a certain social group was known as ‘nomenklatura’.  Needless to say, this system, creates a sense of injustice and oppression in groups that do not rank high or are openly despised and excoriated as the “problem”. In time, nomenklatura, destroys people’s loyalty to the social order, and  causes deep disdain for it. This, in the nutshell, is the secret of Donald Trump’s popularity. 

The problem however runs even deeper than that. The global economy has changed everything.  The one unpreceived effect is the decline of the value-add accelerators of the GDP, vis-à-vis services and above all resources. The US dominated the world economically between the world wars and three decades after because of its unmatched industrial base, highly skilled and well-paid labour, and cheap energy and raw materials. This situation has changed drastically in the last thirty years. Manufacturing has moved out of the US, because of labour costs, and raw materials – oil especially – became relatively expensive, or at any rate, allowed the “resource based” economies, and “low-cost labour” economies to surge ahead and dramatically change the relationships among the major players. The US has become net importer of both manufactured goods and energy. Again, much of the growth of the political clout of Islam is due to the financial clout that the Saudis and Gulf states. They simply have no tradition of a productive industrial economy, (and the social development that goes with it ) or view of manufacturing as the creator of wealth. They are socially backward, but extremely rich, and with the US economy in the boondocks (never mind the Dow Jones Potemkin village) , much of what we observe in the US and Europe as a culturally suicidal policy vis-à-vis the world of Islam, is actually the function of the financial clout of the Sunni Xanadu states, buying political influence in Washington (and through Washington in Brussels). There is no two ways about it.  That the two parties in the US so much resemble each other in foreign policy, may not need explanation other than the king and emirs pay both of them.  Finally, the inequalities in wealth in the US have become simply too great, and resemble more and more the inequality of feudal societies.  This again foists a sense of injustice, distrust and disgust especially among the young, who it seems mostly abandoned the classical dream of American Way of Life. (Note that CAIR is very active in the Social Justice movements, and advertizes Islam as a system with social egalitarian roots – which it hasn’t been since the death of the Prophet.)
So allow me to be skeptical. I am appreciative of your gesture, but it is not from you that one should seek a sense of contrition.  As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that sense helps at all in resolving our problems.  It is not the islamist terrorists that should preoccupy us most. It is my lawyer friend who believes that the problem is a direct consequence of imperialist aggression of the West in the Middle East. When I asked her if she read the 1990 Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her I was talking about us as a culture which can babble about human rights from dawn to dusk but no longer has any idea what that is, a culture which no longer stands for anything, and a culture which has no idea what is going in the world around it.  Someone should apologize for that but I have no idea who that should be.