Archive for the 'Politics & Policy' Category

Picking the Right Fight

ISIS Ebola

The Prime Minister and Conservative Party are beating the war drums in Ottawa today, offering a motion on the floor of Parliament to have Canada supply warplanes in support of the US mission against ISIS. A vote on the resolution will pass sometime next week, enjoying the support of a broad majority of Canadians. It will commit more than 600 Canadian Forces, six CF-18 fighter-bombers, two CP-140 surveillance planes, one aerial tanker aircraft to a six-month “limited mission” of air combat. The cost of this war has not been estimated; but Canada’s seven-month air war in Libya, which involved similar force and equipment commitments (650 personnel and 7 fighter jets at the mission’s peak) cost Canada $347 million.

ISIS is hardly the only source of bad, scary news these days. The ebola epidemic is on-pace to kill more people than ISIS ever could and has the likelihood of a much broader global calamity.  By all accounts, the international response has been way too small and way to slow. Canada’s contribution to “humanitarian and security interventions” addressing the ebola outbreak total a mere $5 million, although Canada pledged last week to spend up to an additional $30 million. The United Nations and World Health Organization have estimated that it will cost nearly $1 billion over the next six months to fight the spread of the epidemic.

Here’s an idea for Canada: take all the economic and military resources we are so ready to spend in Iraq and Syria and deploy them against the ebola catastrophe. Canada could exercise real leadership in this fight, thereby re-establishing its moral credibility on the global stage and demonstrating that it chooses its international engagements thoughtfully. Continue reading ‘Picking the Right Fight’

Doing History Wrong

Was Gandhi-ji a saint, a devil, neither, or both?

Neoconservative historian Andrew Roberts has written a thoroughly dickish profile of Mahatma Gandhi in the Wall Street Journal, entitled Among the Hagiographers. Under the thin guise of a review of Joseph Lelyveld’s new biography, Great Soul, Mr. Roberts unleashes an unprovoked, relentlessly cruel smear-piece on Gandhi-ji. The essay bristles with the sort of raw enmity one might expect from a man whose professional career has revolved around the lionization of Winston Churchill and who has unreservedly adopted the venomous loathings of the man he idolizes.

The facile way to read Mr. Roberts’s offensively negative presentation is as a smoking condemnation of Gandhi-ji: the father of satyagraha was a creep and a pervert. Indeed, the essay catalogs many of Gandhi-ji’s personal shortcomings and reversals of position; and Mr. Roberts’s project is to spin these into an unflattering portrait of hypocrisy, if not outright depravity. Roberts presents precisely the opposite portrait from that assembled in the usual, beatifying hagiography; and the true object of Roberts’s loathing may be as much the Gandhian canon as Gandhi-ji himself. But, in this detail, I see a shred of subtle value in Mr. Roberts’s malicious piece. It illustrates the absurdity and ruthlessness of a bizarrely one-dimensional mining of the historical record.

Continue reading ‘Doing History Wrong’

The End of an Era in Cleanliness

Shuddham Door-to-Door Watse Collectors

Shuddham, the remarkable volunteer-run NGO doing solid waste management in the heart of Pondicherry’s French Colonial district, has ceased operations, effective 1 January 2011. After eight years of going door-to-door, teaching households and businesses the importance of segregating waste streams into compostables and recyclables at the source – and slowly building compliance to an astonishing 80% among households – Shuddham has fallen victim to the incessant corruption of local officials and the negligence and callous indifference with which the government performs its obligations to the public.

Continue reading ‘The End of an Era in Cleanliness’

The Road to Multiculturalism

CBC Radio 2 Song Quest

Among Canada’s most famous treasures is its endless array of ever-astonishing natural landscapes. So, when CBC Radio 2 launched its second annual Great Canadian Song Quest – in which popular musicians from the 13 provinces and territories were commissioned to compose songs commemorating listener-selected roadways in those places – it was a fair bet that the subjects would largely favor broad vistas and open highways. But in Ontario, where the first Song Quest yielded a brilliant homage to Algonquin National Park by Hawksley Workman (“They Left It Wild”), CBC listeners went in another direction. The stretch of road they chose to celebrate was a street in Toronto called Roncesvalles Avenue.

Roncesvalles Avenue is a “Main Street” slice of urban landscape from a time gone by, characterized by small business and handsome single-family dwellings. The neighborhood became home to the wave of Polish immigrants who settled in Toronto after World War II and, though it shows signs of insurgent trendiness, retains its Polish immigrant character. This Song Quest selection eschews the natural beauty of the province in favor of one of Canada’s other great themes: its ongoing experiment in multiculturalism.

Continue reading ‘The Road to Multiculturalism’

Political Football

North Korean Football Fans

One of the favorite shibboleths about international sporting events like the Olympics and World Cup is that countries temporarily set aside politics and bygones to come together in the pure spirit of sport. This ideal never seems entirely to bear out. Admit it: geopolitical dynamics add to the drama of certain sporting events.

Today’s test case: is there anyone out there that doesn’t want to see Brazil put half-a-dozen goals past North Korea?

******

Schadenfreude Update

Brazil 2 – DPR Korea 1

Dear Leader will be so pleased. Dunga, less so. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we hope in football or geopolitics.

A Warrior’s Salute to Young Peacemakers

Pakistan Defense Blog: Web's Authoritative Source on Pakistani Security & Strategic Affairs

In its brief, brilliant two years of merrymaking, Friends Without Borders attracted attention far and wide. Our projects were covered in every significant newspaper in India and Pakistan, on every major television network, in the major news magazines, on radio, and of course on the web. But, as the project fades into the past, ripples in the media have been fewer and fewer. Sure, we were proud when the Times of India and the Jang Newspaper Group adopted our ideas to form their new Aman ki Asha project; but, as with most ideas lifted by the every-slimy TOI, this sincere form of flattery proceeded without attribution or notice.

But recently FWB received a bit of retrospective acclaim – and from a very unlikely source. To celebrate the 1000th post on the Pakistan Defense blog, which describes itself as the “Web’s Authoritative Source on Pakistani Security & Strategic Affairs”, the site cribbed photos and a bit of explanatory text about our “Love Letter” friendship project. Check it out.

And, after a brief celebration of peace, the blog resumed its bellicose themes. Crazy. But we’ll take it.

The End-Game for American Democracy

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission - Slip Opinion

With its ruling yesterday in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the United States Supreme Court has announced the beginning of the end of America’s noble experiment with democracy. It was beautiful while it lasted.

Experiments with Truth

Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave

“When a thing is true, there is no need to use any arguments to substantiate it,” wrote Vinoba Bhave. Oh really?

Like so many of the wonderful aphorisms spun by Gandhians about the nature of truth (and, principally, by Gandhi-ji himself) this inspiring line from Vinoba-ji is itself true only in the most metaphysical and therefore trivial sense. Truth, it seems, isn’t a requirement for a socially, politically, or spiritually stirring catch-phrase, even when the very subject is truth.

Naturally, we give guys like Gandhi-ji and Vinoba-ji the benefit of the doubt. They were not only among the most brilliant men of the twentieth century, but were impressive in both the purity of their motivations and clarity of their ethics. The moral certitude of the line quoted above would, however, feel quite a bit sketchier were if it were attributed to, say, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or George W. Bush, all of whom might be equally plausible authors.

There are good reasons not to be too hard on Vinoba-ji. Sure, he failed to recognize that almost all the fun lies in the argument and very little of it resides in the ultimate truth of the matter. But fun wasn’t really his big thing. And we must readily acknowledge that it is convenient to be able to offer the occasional pronouncement without having to “show your work”, as though all of life were a high school math exam.

I spew this kind of unsubstantiated crap all the time. Sometimes I get called on it; often, when the things I say have the veneer (if not the deep resonance) of truth, I get away with it. Which brings us back to Vinoba-ji – and to our story.

Continue reading ‘Experiments with Truth’

Understanding the Gift Economy, II

Gift Economy by Manoj Pavithran

When I was preparing to write my piece on the gift economy for the Dictionary of Ethical Politics, I read a few essays by others but quickly abandoned that approach to ensuring that I was fully up-to-speed on the current thinking. As I explained with my customary lack of sensitivity, diplomacy, and fairness:

Unsurprisingly, [the gift economy] is a topic that appeals to well-meaning, good-natured, spiritually curious people. Unfortunately, this results in treatments that are often long on fuzzy-headed feel-good and short on rigor. I’m sure there are some very good essays on the gift economy to be found with a simple Google search; but I really had no stomach for a needle-in-haystack exercise that would subject me to the level of penetrating analysis found in the average Hallmark greeting card.

After I published my synopsis of the gift economy, I received a superb essay from my good friend, Manoj Pavithran, with a very different approach to the subject. Manoj is that rare and spectacular combination of deeply thoughtful and utterly brilliant; and his careful analysis is constructed with the considerable philosophical rigor one might expect from him. It represents a significant contribution to the growing, evolving appreciation of the gift economy.

Manoj is not simply a theorist of the gift economy; he is a practitioner. He lives in Auroville, a community founded, in part, on both collectivist and cooperativist gift economy ideals. He also played a direct and influential role in the gift economization of two significant product initiatives of Upasana Design Studio: the Tsunamika dolls and the Small Steps cloth shopping bags.

With his permission, I offer Manoj’s essay for your consumption and reflection.

Continue reading ‘Understanding the Gift Economy, II’

Care

Face painting at the Vancouver Art Gallery during a Fuse event, October 2009

While America ties itself in knots in a farcical debate whether it will make health care available to all its citizens, here in Canada I am enrolled in the provincial Medical Service Plan, which covers all my basic health needs: emergent, urgent, preventative, and elective care. It costs $48 per month. Paperwork? My doctor’s office simply swipes my Care Card when I arrive, hands it back to me, and we’re done. Ask a Canadian what a deductible or co-pay is; they’ll just look at you with a blank stare.

And lucky thing I’m covered. Just look at that gash on my forehead!

Continue reading ‘Care’


Blasts from the Past

Man Up!
Man up you pussy!

... because the idiocy of manliness is an evergreen topic.

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Talking Turkey
how to cook a perfect turkey in half the time

... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.

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Filial Piety Awareness Day
Kaki Tusler, Mother's Day Celebrant

... because everyday is Mother's Day.

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America Dreaming Small
American Dream

... because the American Dream seems but a distant memory, given the country's dominant ethos of small-mindedness.

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Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year
New Year's Eve at Tibetan Pavillion

... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.

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Incredible Vision
Infinite Vision

... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.

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Expelliarmus! Harry Potter and the Path to Gandhian Nonviolence
Expelliarmus, Potter, Gandhi, Nonviolence

... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.

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India Going Nowhere Fast
Nano in Flames

... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?

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Understanding the Gift Economy
Gift Economy Explained

... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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