Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bureaucracy (from Thunder Bay with love)...

Today, on my vacation in "beautiful" Thunder Bay, I saw most of Peter McKay's speech to the House preceding the debate on extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Though I didn't watch his entire speech (I'm on vacation here), I was touched by his words and his story about the young Afghani girl clutching her colourful backback filled with school supplies by a Canadian child who didn't know her.

And tonight, I remember a cab driver from here in Thunder Bay who I met three years ago while I studied at Lakehead University.

According to him, when Port Arthur and Fort William amalgamated into Thunder Bay, there was a vote for the name of the new city, and it came down to one word: "the."

You see, when Fort William and Port Arthur voted for the new name of their city there were two choices: Thunder Bay, or Lakehead. But the bureaucrats who were biding for the name Thunder Bay gave one more option: The Lakehead.

Smart move on their part. This one word split the vote and Thunder Bay - the name that most people didn't want - became a city.

Bureaucrats make a living with words, not actions. So with that, I congratulate Peter McKay on his wonderful and heart-warming speech about the Afghani plight and our brave, legendary soldiers trying to make a difference in the world (or more likely, a buck.)

But I urge Canadians to look past the words of one man and look at the numbers of the situation.

No, we shouldn't leave Afghanistan. We're there now and we have an obligation to see the war through whether it was a mistake or not. Canada's tenacity and reputation depend on this and despite the debatable reasons for going in we need to stand firm.

We can't fight this war alone. We need help from foreign allies as well as the Afghani people. Reform will never work in a country that doesn't appreciate it. This is the only thing that can hinder Canada's progress in Afghanistan.

This war will go past 2011 no matter what people on the hill predict or say. In one form or another, Canadians will be in Afghanistan for a very long time and we have to accept that. These might be the roughest of times for this generation of our military but unless some great uprising starts and Afghanistan becomes too dangerous for even the hardest militant, we're a long way off from seeing the last Canadian boy or girl step foot on the last chopper out.

Finally, we need to decide if this mission is even about Canada. Did we invade Afghanistan because we're afraid of the Taliban and want to destroy them or are we there to liberate it's people from fascist, religious extremists?

We can do both, but the bureaucrats who represent us can't hold virtue in one hand and vengeance in the other.

Don't listen to Peter McKay or any other politician. Don't listen to people who get emotional about the situation because they had a friend or family member die for something that we might have no business involving ourselves in. Don't listen to me.

Look at the numbers.

Tell people what you think.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


In Journalism class yesterday, our teacher decided to get all philosophical on us. It was rather refreshing. And now for your academic pleasure and curiosity; my notes as copied from the board:

Morality and the role of journalism:

- Information is power.
- Truth and power seldom co-exist.
- Comfort the afflicted & afflict the comfortable.
- Shed light on darkness: Argentina, Pakistan, Russia, China.
- Choice of story/story angle is a moral/political decision.
- Consolidation of media = fewer voices crying in the wilderness.
- Truth implies devotion to individuals rather than causes/collectives/governments/interests.

Your duty:

- Fair and accurate: both sides.
- Honesty with sources/editors/employers.
- Fearlessness/courage.
- Dig deep.
- Don't allow yourself to become co-opted.
- Be true to yourself; fight for your principles.
- Acts of commission/omission.

This whole part of the lecture/discussion was proceeded with the question, "What do you want to die for?"

It's a valid question for those of us who really want to make a difference in the world. According to the Press Freedom Barometer - 2008 on the Reporters Without Borders website, 5 journalists this year felt their story was worth more than their lives. 129 more are imprisoned along with 63 "cyberdissidents" and seven media assistants.

I don't know if those stats make me proud to live in Canada or confirm that western journalists tend to become lazy, trite and safe compared to the rest of the world.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Don't dream it's over...

The ridiculousness of the "war on terror" is equaled only by the amazing fact people are losing this fictional war in their own heads.

Bringing a bottle of cologne on a plane is suspicious; fine.

Multiple specialized identification are required at borders; sure.

But evacuating an oil rig because a 23 year old girl recounted a dream about a bomb is downright scary.

If the girl were to have a dream that Abe Lincoln came to her and told her to run for president, would her co-workers vote for her? No. But a dream about a bomb on the deck of the rig suddenly hits home because the idea that it could happen at any time is fully seeded in the minds of the public.

Our western world is so terrified of everything lately. In those moments between work and rest there's a thought rattling around, seemingly confirming the existence of monsters under the bed. The truly funny part is the monster isn't under the bed at all, it's in the minds of the public. Which doesn't make it any more real, but does make it much more dangerous.

This war on terror has become so embedded in people's heads they're becoming superstitious of each other's mental monsters. What started as one person's dream became the wide-spread fear of premonition. A dream became a story which then became a rumour and suddenly the military is involved, trying to find this poor girl's Id in the form of an explosive device.

All they found was a monster under the bed.

And on top of it all she gets brought in for questioning because of her dreams.

The public has to learn to keep their irrationalities in check. Yes, working on an oil rig is probably boring as hell. So is an office. Or an industrial plant. Or anywhere else for that matter.

Turning your brain off to make a tedious, eight hour shift more manageable is understandable. But remember to turn the damn thing back ON every now and then.

Because the monster in your head is just like every other monster; it loves the dark.