Monday, January 30, 2006

Of Parrots and Hamas


"I've asked why nobody saw it coming. It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."
- CONDOLEEZZA RICE, on Hamas's victory in Palestinian elections.

Can you believe this? I mean, where do I start? Nobody saw it coming? Nobody? Baby, that’s not even a weak pulse, that’s absolutely no pulse at all. That parrot is dead. Finished. Deceased. The only reason anyone could be fooled into thinking that American foreign intelligence is still alive would be because you’ve nailed its f*cking feet to the perch!

For those of you not paying attention, this is big stuff. Around the world Hamas is generally considered to be a terrorist organization sworn to Israel's destruction. As the NY Times put it “…an election victory by the militant group Hamas … has reduced to tatters crucial assumptions underlying American policies and hopes in the Middle East.”

There were all sorts of interesting sub-plots leading up to this election, including the US Administration backing of the Fatah Party, including American led “assistance” to the Palestinians totaling over a billion dollars per year. Recently, Israel called for the US to boycott the elections if Hamas was allowed to run as an “armed” party. The US decided to back the elections anyway, placing their faith in the credo that democracy always leads to a just end.

Unfortunately for the US, it turns out that happiness isn’t the only thing money can’t buy. It seems that it can’t buy an election in the Middle East, either. But the million dollar question still remains: With all of their foreign intelligence and military expertise, why didn’t anybody in the US administration see this coming?

To provide some insight, perhaps it would be useful to look back into the not too distant past, to a time when American foreign policy also had US troops occupying a hostile nation? There have been plenty of comparisons made between the Iraq and Vietnam “wars” in current media. Perhaps there were some “lessons learned” back then that could help with the world the US faces today?

Now admittedly, I don’t actually remember the Vietnam War. My closest memory is of my parents not letting me out of the car on one of our family holidays to the Canadian west coast because there were “draft dodging hippies” on the beach. Hence, I’m not a very reliable historical resource. But thanks to a recent documentary film, the information is out there for all to see, if we care to take the time to watch.

I’m referring to the film “The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara”. It’s a remarkable film in that the narration is provided by McNamara himself. Who better to tell it like it was? He uses the events that occurred while he was Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to outline eleven rules that he feels are essential to preventing similar events from ever occurring again.

It’s not very far into the movie that he reveals the crucial point:
Movie lesson number 1 - Empathize with your enemy. He’s not saying sympathize, as in feel sorry for, but empathize, meaning to understand. It’s not a difficult concept. Know your enemy. We’ve all heard it before. However, it is apparently a very difficult concept to apply. He feels that a lack of understanding of the Vietnamese people led to very inappropriate decisions by him and his administrations. The results were, as we all know, horrific.

Years later history repeats itself. America wonders why the people of Iraq aren’t more appreciative of US efforts to bring freedom and democracy to their Middle Eastern nation. And now, the Palestinians unexpectedly elect a militant group that stands to destroy everything that America has been working to accomplish in the Middle East. The Bush administration is left to scratch their collective heads.

Condoleezza Rice suggests it came as a surprise because they did not understand the hostilities the Palestinian people had towards their previous leaders. I suspect they didn’t bother to try and understand the Palestinians, preferring to place confidence in the rather naïve ideology that “democracy wins over evil every time”.

In “The Fog of War”, McNamara is unwilling to outright apologize for the events that took place in Vietnam and Japan, yet he is obviously haunted by the role he played in their unfolding. I’m not sure if it has occurred to those in the Bush administration just what sort of legacy they are in the process of leaving behind. The more they choose to ignore the lessons learned in the past, the easier it must be for them to forge on, blindly following their own ideals.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Conservative Blues

It’s two days after the big federal election here in Canada, and as the dust settles, some voting patterns are starting to emerge. Most of them are pretty standard stuff, like the majority of seats in Quebec went to separatists (oops, I mean sovereigntists – that really sounds so much less confrontational), and the party based in Alberta swept Alberta. But, the pattern making most of the headlines in Canada, and dominating water cooler conversations everywhere, is this – the right wing conservative party (that won a minority government) didn’t win a single seat in any of Canada’s three largest cities. That’s right, no Conservatives in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.

So, what does this mean? I’ve heard all sorts of theories, from “city folk are too intellectual to be suckered in by the Conservatives and their hidden agenda”, to “only people in small communities are naïve enough to buy in to the GST reduction scheme.”

I have a different theory, and it goes something like this: Canada is not all that different from the USA. We Canadians like to wallow in our smug state of condescendence as we gaze to the south and claim cerebral superiority over our neighbors. Well guess what folks? It ain’t so.

We all laughed at the map of the US, with all that red in the middle and a strip of blue down either side. We sent around copies of the front page from England’s Daily Mirror with a headline asking “How could 90 some-odd million Americans be so stupid?” It was all great fun.

So Canada, the shoe is now firmly on the other foot, and although Stephen Harper is not exactly George Dubya (at least we hope not), there are still some striking similarities. He opposes bans on handguns, he’s against gay marriage and abortion, and there’s that little thing about how if he had been leading the country several short years ago, our troops would be dieing over in Iraq “defending freedom”. At least we know that our governing party would have been praying for them.

About the only difference I see at the moment is that Canada, just to be different, has labeled the left red, and the right blue. So now that map of “The United States of Canada vs. Jesusland” is all screwed up. I suppose we call the left red because it is closer to pinko, as in commie. And I suppose they call the right red because it’s, well, right, and that has a nice ring to it. Either way, if they adopted our color scheme (or we adopted theirs), the result would be the same. Jesusland just got a whole lot bigger!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feedback: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugh!

Well Hallelujah, it finally happened! After months of ramblings and musings on these pages, something has struck a chord with you the readers. Surprising to me, it wasn’t anything about God, natural disasters, politics or even guns. No, it was a piece on people acting ignorantly, and it drew more emotional responses than anything I had written previously. Comments ranged from something on the order of “Right on, high fives and cokes all around!” to an anonymous entry accusing me of being a “self-anointed superior jackass”.

So which is it? In case you didn’t read the piece, or for those too lazy to scroll down and check it out, it was a description of a guided night-time walk down an exquisite beach in Costa Rica to observe leatherback turtles laying eggs. I was struck by how our group seemed completely disinterested in the special and rare experience we were sharing, preferring to blab on and on about unrelated mundane fluff. The final conclusion that I drew was "if you don’t have something of value to add to such a situation, please don’t feel the need to fill the night air with inane chatter." Or something like that...

A bit harsh? Perhaps, but it stems from a rather strongly held belief of mine that as individuals we owe it to ourselves, to our fellow human beings and to the earth itself to wake up and pay attention. I’m not asking a lot, yet imagine if every one of us dedicated a small portion of our thinking, say 10%, to something that matters. If we could just step outside the reality television fast food culture long enough to take stock of what’s going on around us, I’m convinced the world would be a better place. Instead, the bulk of the population chooses to live life with blinders on, unwilling to look beyond their own immediate experience.

Costa Rica provides a classic example of what I mean. It’s a beautiful, fascinating place, full of culture, nature and, of course, surfing. No wonder it is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. However, as more and more foreigners are attracted to the place, many deciding to move there, the result isn’t so much a celebration of Costa Rica as it is an exercise in modern-world mediocrity.

The beachfront of Tamarindo is becoming increasingly crowded with hotels, and the surrounding hillsides are now dotted with condo developments. It’s bound to happen in such a desirable location, and brings much needed money to the local economy. But why is it that it also brings Pizza Hut, Burger King, Subway and the never ending list of usual suspects? These places have all set up shop yet Tamarindo doesn’t even have any paved roads, let alone reliable plumbing and electricity. Don’t people go somewhere exotic to get away from the local strip mall, or do we really need to surround ourselves with the familiar, no matter the locale?

I suppose Tamarindo is turning into a full blown resort and the influx of Wal-Mart et al is inevitable. But come on people, leave the craving for a Big Mac at home, and experience the flavor of another culture!

For those wanting to avoid the crowds of Tamarindo, Nosara is pure nirvana. For many years a remote backpackers destination attracting no one but surfers, Nosara has grown enough to boast a few hotels and some restricted services. Surfing is still the only game in town, but the land is being rapidly snatched up by foreign money. The locals get a kick out of how suddenly the courts are crammed, as gringos contribute modern ideas to their village by attempting to sue the pants off each other. Unfortunately, another trend is appearing, that of foreigners using the courts to push out the locals, whose close proximity apparently lowers the property values.

All of this results from self centeredness and ignorance. We wear blinders so we don’t feel responsible for our actions. Returning to the leatherback turtle scene, I’m struck by the very same attitudes. I wasn’t chastising people for socializing around the pool. People can fill their leisure time with whatever they please. But, strolling along Playa Grande, I was hoping to get just a sense that people in our group were able to recognize the rare beauty that we were sharing, and to understand how endangered it is. Instead, all I saw were people unable or unwilling to leave “Sex In The City” behind for just an hour. And to me, that’s inexcusable.

That’s just my opinion, and that’s why there’s feedback. Keep it coming, regardless of whether you like it, or you think I’m a jackass. I’ll do my best to keep you interested, or furious.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Today's Moment of Zen

In Utah a 13-year-old girl who became pregnant by her 12-year-old boyfriend was ruled a sex offender. The 12-year-old boy was also ruled a sex offender. "It's a paradox," said the girl's attorney.