Happy Canada Day!
Singer. Songwriter. Activist. Canadian.
1. How long does Walt have to live?
2. Will he face justice at the hands of Hank or an untimely demise at the hands of Jesse or both?
3. Will Jesse testify against Walt or, overcome by guilt, just turn himself in?
4. What random character will die? Walt Jr?
5. How is it that Breaking Bad so effortlessly sprints towards the finish while Dexter limps?
Despite the 48-hour ultimatum given by the Egyptian military to President Morsi a couple of days ago, I still can’t believe what we’ve witnessed today.
I don’t want to get too far into speculation about what it all means just yet because clearly things are happening so rapidly. I also couldn’t analyze the situation any better than the Crisis Group has.
One thought though:
This whole debate in the media and western political and academic circles about whether this was indeed a coup d’etat is silly. For better or for worse, the military unseated a sitting president, which fundamentally is what a coup d’etat is, regardless of the generals’ intention to relinquish power to the people or whether they in fact represented popular will through their actions.
Underneath this, however, is really a debate about legitimacy. As it goes, on one hand, Morsi won Egypt’s presidential election last year so he had a legitimate right to govern; therefore, the military committed a coup d’etat. On the other hand, Morsi systematically excluded the secular opposition while ramming an Islamist constitution through the Egyptian Parliament; therefore, the military’s action was legitimate and thus not constitutive of a coup d’etat.
Of course, neither is right.
Political legitimacy isn’t won in one democratic election, let alone the first in a country’s history. It also isn’t necessarily conjured up the moment millions of people take to the streets. Legitimacy is earned, and born out of a lengthy democratic process.
Morsi certainly started all this by choosing to exclude the opposition, but now the opposition will have to prove that it is nobler by inviting the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the political transition to come—that is, if they haven’t already given up on the idea of democracy.
In any event, let’s just hope widespread violence is not what comes next.
These days in Canada the number 90,000 is synonomous with corruption and scandal. Meanwhile, the disaster in Syria—which our foreign minister John Baird has repeatedly called “the greatest crisis of the 21st century”—has crossed that threshold in the most devastating of respects, while our government continues to dither in the face of calls for more action to help alleviate the suffering.
From the BBC:
At least 93,000 people have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict, according to latest United Nations figures.
This represents a rise of more than 30,000 since the UN last issued figures covering the period to November 2012.
At least 5,000 people have been dying in Syria every month since last July, the UN’s human rights body says.
But it says these statistics are an underestimate as it believes many deaths have not been reported.
Over 80% of those killed were men, but the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it has also documented the deaths of more than 1,700 children under the age of 10.
There were “cases of individual children being tortured and executed, and entire families, including babies, being massacred - which, along with this devastatingly high death toll, is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become,” said OHCHR head Navi Pillay.
The revised toll came the day after a separate global UN report called the number of deaths among Syrian children “unbearable”.
The study said government forces and rebels were using boys and girls as “suicide bombers or human shields”.
Children in Syria were suffering “maybe the heaviest toll” of anywhere in the world, said UN special representative Leila Zerrougui, who presented the findings .
"They are killed, they are maimed, they are recruited, they are detained, they are tortured", she told journalists in New York.
Notwithstanding the $80 million Canada has already contributed towards international efforts to address the crisis—$50 million of which has been earmarked for refugee relief—along with the additional $20 million that Baird is expected to announce next week, Canada still must contribute more. We should also be lobbying hard at the international level to ensure that other nations fulfill their aid commitments, which altogether amount to over $1.5 billion (though I’ve read that it will actually take closer to $5 billion to provide adequate support to the millions of refugees and internally displaced).
We should also immediately join the dozens of other countries that have called on the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court in order to bring justice to those on both sides of the conflict that are responsible for grave human rights violations, and to spur more high level defections from the Assad regime.
Finally, Canada’s shameful indifference with respect to family reunification in our country must be reversed. As has been reported, Syrian refugees are basically barred from Canada in yet another misguided example of the Conservative government’s ridiculous refugee policy.
All we can hope is that there is nothing even close to another 90,000 deaths before these and other critical actions are taken by Canada and the international community.
It always ends too soon after it begins.
SPOILER ALERT. NERD ALERT.
Last summer I read all 5 books of George R.R. Martin’s Ice and Fire after watching seasons 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones, and book 3, A Storm of Swords was a highlight. Indeed, one of the best reading experiences of my life, partly because I was surpassing the timeline of the show for the first time, but more so because of 7 showstopping scenes that had me on perma-jaw-drop.
Jaime’s Sleight of Hand
Remember when Jaime threw Bran out a window? Oh, the act that started it all. Now those days seem like forever ago. Back then we despised Jaime; now we’re starting to like him. All because he lost a hand. It was a classic literary move, though for the life of me I still haven’t been able to put my finger on an appropriate comparison—pun intended. You know, where a character undergoes a dramatic shift after losing some part of himself, physically or otherwise.
For some reason, however, the showrunners decided not to have Jaime’s mutilator be the sick slobbering, lisping Vargo Hoat from the novel, instead replacing him with some made-up character named “Locke”. Usually I get why they make changes from the books—whether for budgetary reasons, to manage the web of hundreds of characters, or to focus in each season on specific arcs, etc.—but in this case I didn’t get it. Vargo is a fan-favourite, a very distinctive character, and still could have been introduced this season despite being kept out of season 2 (kind of like how the Reed children were withheld until season 3 despite entering in book 2). In doing so, the showrunners skipped the intricate politics of Vargo, Tywin Lannister, and Roose Bolton, for whom Vargo betrays Tywin only to later regret it once he senses Roose may betray the Starks and join the Lannisters (which of course he does). So Vargo lops off Jaime’s hand to keep them at odds. I found all this pretty fascinating.
Of course the real story, however, is Jaime’s transformation after losing the source of his pride: his sword hand. The bath scene with Brienne—famous from the books—was executed on the show with such tragic sensitivity. Loved it.
Jaime’s journey from here on out is one of my favourite aspects of the story.
Dany Kicks Slaver Ass
C’mon, who didn’t love this? Dany revealing that she’s fluent in High Valyrian, double-crossing the Astaporian slave-master Kraznyz, and then putting him to the torch courtesy of Drogon? It’s as delicious as it is predictable.
While show-watchers are probably wondering why Dany hasn’t high-tailed it back to Westeros already, I personally enjoy watching her evolve as a leader of men.
I hope you’ve all recovered by now; gotten over the shock, the anger, the confusion. The Red Wedding will surely go down as one of the most stunning scenes in television history and it was no less breathtaking while reading. The amazing thing about it was that I actually knew beforehand that Robb Stark dies, having accidentally come across the information while googling for something else—and still, I was just as shocked as everyone else. Truthfully, I thought Robb would die later on maybe heroically in some battle and I never thought Cat would get axed as well.
Such is the brilliance of the whole setup. As soon as Ned Stark is killed and Robb calls forth his bannermen, we’re all under the impression that Game of Thrones is essentially a revenge story—the son seeking justice for his father. Not so.
The key to the utter blindside is the pre-massacre tension, then release. As soon as the Starks and the Tullys arrive at the Twins, Lord Walder—prickly as ever—appears to get out his bitterness at Robb for breaking their marriage pact before the banquet even begins. Or so we think. While some tension carries into the wedding itself, all is well once it’s revealed that Roslin Frey is actually beautiful, thus disarming Edmure, his family members, and us! A lavish party follows, and we begin to believe that all will be well and Robb will soon be back on his revenge kick, more powerful than ever.
What made the massacre all the more horrific on television was the inclusion of Robb’s wife, who, in the book, never attends the wedding and thus survives (though with little consequence). Further, they made up this whole bit about her being pregnant—with “little Ned Stark”! I quickly realized that she was going to be axed along with everyone else as that alteration certainly couldn’t come to pass.
And my god, the brutality; it was like watching a horror movie. Even knowing what was about to happen, I still had a sick feeling in my stomach and was left speechless when it all cut to black. Then last night, the conclusion, with the slaughter of Robb’s army outside the Frey castle and Grey Wind’s head being sewn onto his corpse in one final degrading humiliation. Just crazy to see it all on screen.
But while many fans are surely wondering how the story could go on without such key characters, I’ll wager that most will eventually come to see how necessary the event was for the advancement of the story, and will come to love it for all its awesomeness.
Game of Thrones: Season 4 and Beyond
The Red Wedding fundamentally alters the balance of power in Westeros, with House Bolton unseating the Starks in the North and the Freys unseating the Tullys in the Riverlands. Bolton’s betrayal in particular shows his true colours as more of a subtly sinister version of Tywin. Oh, and finally I can talk about his bastard Ramsay, named in the finale. To all those who hate Joffrey, Ramsay is ten times as sadistic and it will be a guilty pleasure watching him rise to power.
But much of book 3 still remains to be shown, including 4 more showstopping scenes. I won’t spoil them, but one involves Oberyn of House Martell from Dorne, who will likely be introduced at the outset of season 4 before the royal wedding of Joffrey and Margaery. And with other awesome twists ahead, it will surely be another strong season.
Interestingly, however, there have already been articles put out about the future of the show, which will soon encounter the problem facing all bookreaders: the books don’t come out quickly enough. So far, 5 of 7 are out, with book 6 likely to come out around 2015 and book 7 probably not until after the Roaring 20s begin.
The show, meanwhile, is likely looking at 10 seasons (assuming they don’t suddenly start slashing subplots): season 4 will show the rest of book 3; seasons 5-7 will cover books 4 and 5—book 5 is as long as book 3 so another split will be in order—with content being reshuffled to show things chronologically (books 4 and 5 happen concurrently, divided by the geographical position of viewpoint characters); and then books 6 and 7—both rumoured to be long as well—will span seasons 8-10.
Given all of these assumptions, it’s going to be tight; book 7 would have to be out by 2020 at the latest to keep things rolling. Hopefully Martin can get it done and we all live full healthy lives until then.
So for those who haven’t heard, 24 is coming back next year for somewhat of a bizarre 12-episode run (for a show called 24). Despite the high fantasy in which the show is set, it was always hard to turn off, what with Jack yelling “WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!” every 5 minutes. Now the whole series is on Netflix making it even easier to re-binge watch. It’s a problem, and surely I’ll end up watching the reboot when it airs next year.
But more problematic was always how seriously people took 24. In the post 9/11 world in which the show thrived, millions of viewers were led to believe that art imitated life. Even 2008 Republican nominee for president John McCain cited Jack Bauer as someone he relates to, though it was Tom Tancredo, another Republican candidate, who openly called for Jack’s signature “enhanced” interrogations to disrupt the plots of real-life terrorists.
Indeed, there was a widespread outbreak of misconceptions, all together known as Jack Bauer Syndrome.
For instance, counterterrorism is only conducted in ticking time-bomb situations. Since everything in the 24 universe had to occur within 24-hour windows, including office romances, familial drama, and so on, of course there was no time for police investigation, long term intelligence operations, political oversight, etc.
Also, torture always works. Kiefer Sutherland once said in an interview that the show always made sure that Jack acquired key information from those he tortured so that the audience wouldn’t feel so bad about it—because those tortured were obviously guilty and, ipso facto, got what they deserved. Except this only reinforced the wrong message that torture works, not to mention the issue of how due process is portrayed as an annoyance—as a waste of time because Jack is always right. And how could anyone think otherwise? The situation was always such that there was a ticking time-bomb, incontrovertible proof that a suspect knew what Jack needed to know in order to stop said bomb, and doing so was just a matter of torturing the suspect into giving it up.
However, the show didn’t always cater to conservatives’ fantasies.
In the seventh season, Jack Bauer is pitted against African warlords bent on terrorizing the US in order to force the president to think twice about intervening in the genocide they’re committing in their home country. The show’s creators reportedly modelled the season’s story arc on Rwanda, suggesting that the outcome there could’ve been different if only the outside world had stepped in with their militaries.
In the show, the president ordered a humanitarian intervention in the made-up African country against the wishes of her advisors, at the risk of significant political harm, without any international partners to share the load, for no geostrategic objective, and, at one point, even in the face of Americans dying as the result of terrorist attacks against the homeland. Why? Because it was within America’s power and was its moral responsibility to stop a genocide, anywhere. It was a wholly and shamelessly idealistic premise for a show seemingly cultivated in conservative fantasyland—and yet, they might have had a point.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the most powerful militaries existed for no other purpose than to protect people? Or if humanitarian interventions could be carried out purely for humanitarian reasons? Unfortunately, as we’re witnessing with the case of Syria, intervention only seems to occur when it suits the intervenors.
So we knew Conservative attacks against Justin Trudeau were inevitable; I just figured they’d be laughable and quickly dismissed. That is, until my grandmother asked me if I’d heard that Trudeau thought Quebeckers were better than the rest of Canadians…
But even more surprising: I didn’t anticipate the extent to which the attacks would hit on fundamental issues surrounding international politics today. Trudeau’s comments about the events in Boston were the catalyst.
Say what you will about his response, but the gist of it—that despite the lunacy of terrorist acts, the perpetrators have their reasons for committing them—is a legitimate point worth considering. After all, as Trudeau explained, we will never be able to prevent all acts of terror. All we can do is try to stop as many of them as possible by maximizing the effectiveness of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, by pursuing accountability, and—just as important—by determining what, if any, political grievances and/or social conditions might be breeding terrorists.
But no, says Stephen Harper (with reference to the attack in Boston): “When you see this kind of action, when you see this kind of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes. You condemn it categorically and to the extent that you can deal with the perpetrators you deal with them as harshly as possible…”
Leaving aside the issue of how Harper politicized this horrific bombing only hours after it occurred, any prime minister would immediately do, or be urged to do, precisely what he is suggesting. Further, inquiring into the root causes of the action is not equivalent to rationalizing or excusing it.
But the narrative was set. Later, Conservative MP Stella Ambler stood up in the House of Commons, and stated, “There is no root cause and no tension that justifies the killing and maiming of innocent civilians.”
Stella, you’re right. Let’s say it all together: terrorist attacks are not just. They are unequivocally cruel and inhumane, they target innocent people, and they pull at the fabrics of societies. But look at you be all sneaky conflating the determining of one’s motivations with justifying them.
Indeed, the Conservative party wants us to believe that only they are tough enough to stand up to terrorists. This is the exact same attitude they have towards the issue of traditional crime and justice in Canada. They are ‘tough on crime’ so they legislated a host of mandatory minimum prison sentences even when numerous studies have concluded that such penalties don’t deter crime and lead to other societal problems such as prison overcrowding, strains on court systems, and budgetary issues.
And what of prevention? The Conservatives could not be less interested in the notion that socio-economic issues cause crime, instead believing that, since you can’t prevent all crime, you shouldn’t try to prevent any crime; you should just pursue and punish those who do commit crimes as a lesson to those who might do so subsequently, as if would-be criminals would check the Internet beforehand to see how bad the mandatory minimum penalty is…
Apparently it’s all the same for terrorism. In the eyes of the Conservatives, since there are no reasons behind terrorist attacks, trying to explain them is tantamount to excusing them.
Meanwhile, the whole incident has sparked a national debate on terrorism, tracing back to 9/11. Take Robert Sibley who wrote the following in the Ottawa Citizen:
Trudeau, on the other hand, with his concern for the “feelings” of bomb-makers, his fretting over their sense of exclusion, seems to think we can come together to sing We Are The World. He does not apparently understand that modern societies have enemies, whether foreign Islamists or domestic neo-Nazis…who are devoted to destruction of the western world in large part because they hate its progressivist notions of inclusion, toleration and multiculturalism. It is ideas like freedom, democracy and equality that the terrorists, whether Islamist or Aryan, loathe.
So modern societies have enemies—inherently—without having ever done anything to create enmity amongst others. They could be saintly in their interactions with the world, but still others would hate them.
All this logic does is ignore history and allow us to implement whatever foreign policy we want even to the detriment and the dismay of others around the world. After all, it’s not what we do that spawns enemies, but who we are. Hold that thought.
Then there is Andrew Coyne, who normally I agree with, and for the most part defends Trudeau on this. Coyne wrote in the National Post:
… it’s important to remember exactly what made those post-911 comments so objectionable. It wasn’t that people were trying to understand what caused the terrorists to act as they did. It’s that they weren’t. They were simply leaping to conclusions. Worse, the “root causes” they were so quick to assert seemed to coincide, with remarkable frequency, with their own pet causes. If you disliked American foreign policy, you attributed it to American foreign policy. If global poverty was your thing, global poverty was responsible.
I’m sorry, but to so easily dismiss such enormous global issues as ‘pet causes’—as if there is no way they could possibly be linked to transnational terrorism—is a little too politically correct if not cynical for Coyne. To him and Sibley I ask ineloquently: is it so inconceivable that some Western policies could have pissed people off in other parts of the world? This is taboo to discuss, but sometimes it’s necessary.
Coyne implies that American foreign policy has nothing to do with it. Meanwhile, American foreign policy facilitated the oppression of millions of Muslims by propping up and arming the dictators who ruled them for decades. The US has a permanent military presence throughout the Middle East, notably in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and very likely will in Iraq and Afghanistan—all around Muslim holy sites. The US government instituted a culture of torture throughout the immediate post 9/11 era. Oil. The list goes on.
Coyne also says poverty has nothing to do with it. Well, poverty is what drives young unemployed men towards terrorist groups, lured by the promise of money, power, sustenance, a sense of purpose, and religious gratification. And like it or not, global poverty persists to some (big emphasis on some) extent due to western policies, including, again, support for dictators who sifon off resource revenues, massive agricultural subsidies at home, and structural adjustment schemes imposed through the international financial institutions.
Yet just as Coyne predicted I would say: of course none of this justifies the mass killing of innocent people. Nothing does. Except I don’t say it to cover up my desire to discuss my ‘pet causes’; I say it because it’s true.
Here’s the thing: part of looking into the root causes of terrorism involves accepting the possibility that some of our actions have been counterproductive, or just plain wrong. Nevertheless, people like Sibley would have us believe that, in such a grim world, acting selfishly—even if it means compromising the interests of others—is necessary and thus can never be ‘wrong’. I disagree. There are limits and there are consequences—what they call blowback in US government circles. This can manifest itself in terrorism, which is sometimes senselessly its own end, other times the warfare of the weak, but always barbaric and most certainly unjustified.
Since 9/11, we’ve all heard the rumours, read the news reports, watched the documentaries, and witnessed the scandals. Indeed, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made an industry out of alleged American conspiratorial behaviour.
But if there was ever a shred of doubt left about the Bush Administration’s complicity in and outright sanction of torture, 580 pages of evidence should finally lay it to rest.
From the Guardian:
An independent examination of the US rendition programme after 9/11 has concluded that it is “indisputable” that America tortured prisoners, and that the country’s highest officials were responsible.
A 580-page report published on Tuesday by the Constitution Project, a non-partisan Washington-based thinktank, concludes that the programme was unjustified and counterproductive, damaging to the country’s reputation, and has placed US military personnel at risk of mistreatment if they are themselves taken prisoner.
In findings similar to those of a report published two months ago by the New York NGO Open Society Justice Initiative, the study concludes that the US rendition programme enjoyed widespread international co-operation, with the UK, Canada, Italy, Germany and Sweden identified as prominent supporters alongside Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Jordan.
The authors also conclude that the UK-Libyan rendition operations that resulted in the abduction of two dissidents who were taken to Tripoli along with their families in 2004 were intended not to combat international terrorism, but to “gain favour” with the Gaddafi regime.
The report also concludes that the CIA operated secret prisons within three European countries: Poland and Lithuania, which have acknowledged their existence, and Romania, which continues to deny that such a facility existed.
In one of their most damning conclusions, the panel says: “In the course of the nation’s many previous conflicts, there is little doubt that some US personnel committed brutal acts against captives, as have armies and governments throughout history. But there is no evidence there had ever before been the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 11 September, directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”
So not only did the highest levels of the Bush Administration work deliberately and persistently to institutionalize the use of torture, they tried their damnedest to justify it despite being in clear violation of international law, and to prove it wise in the face of fairly wide consensus that it is plainly ineffective (for those ends-justify-the-means’ers keeping score at home). And no Zero Dark Thirty is not proof to the contrary.
This is what precipitated Abu Ghraib—not renegade soldiers. It was a culture of cruelty that permeated every level of the US government and military, leaving an undeniable stain on America’s global reputation.