Nukes!

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In my novel, Defining Diana, I refer to a brief war that left the Korean peninsula a radioactive ruin. While science fiction writers are sometimes believed to be prescient (though their success is vastly overrated), this is one area where I hope my inadvertent prediction proves wrong.

I suspect it likely will.

Clearly North Korea intends to become (has already become) a nuclear power, capable of raining death down on all its perceived enemies, the real question is: what can be done about it?

Not much it seems. Officially there are seven members of the nuclear club – USA, Russia, China, England, France, India and Pakistan – with North Korea getting ready to join. Most strategic experts are certain that Israel also has the bomb, and South Africa used to have six—but got rid of them (some good news at least) though presumably they still have the technology. Five NATO countries have nukes on their soil and while former soviet republics gave up their bombs and signed on to monitoring, not every warhead is accounted for. And let’s not forget Iran. And South Korea may be rethinking their own no-nukes policy. So much for non-proliferation efforts of the last fifty years.

The good news is that while lots of people have the bomb and the means to deliver it to targets far and wide (almost as difficult a feat as building the bomb itself), no one actually has, since the Americans dropped two of them on Japan in 1945.

That’s really quite remarkable. Since India and Pakistan both developed the weapons, they’ve actually been to war a couple of times. If Israel has nukes (they tend to be cagey about it), they must have at least been tempted to use them once or twice during their interminable conflicts with the Arab world. Yet both showed restraint.

China and India are currently engaged in an increasingly tense border dispute yet no one seriously thinks Delhi and Beijing are going to go up in flames.

Historically we’ve often been closer to nuclear war than we are right now – during the Cuban missile crisis and at the height of the Star Wars threats of Reagan and the response of the USSR to those threats. But missiles never flew.

Why does North Korea worry us so much? Well, they are highly militarized and are led by a narcissistic leader who believes in making his nation great. That should worry everyone.

But this has actually been true in North Korea for some time. Their military is huge and well-armed, thanks to the ability of the world’s arms industry to largely avoid sanctions by the UN. China hasn’t helped, using N Korea as a useful tool to make themselves look reasonable while they practice economic and, to a lesser extent, military imperialism. Many think China will eventually clamp down on Kim Jong Un if he gets out of hand.

But it may not be so easy. In the sixties, the great powers kept a firm hand on the military and nationalistic ambitions of their client states. But with the proliferation of conventional weapons – which kill as many every year as the nukes did in Japan—client states are no longer so compliant.

Still, everyone knows, even madmen (and it is not clear that N Korea’s leaders are any madder or more power hungry than those leading a dozen other national governments), that there is no profit—however you define that—in a dead world. I guess as long as we never have a world leader who thinks they have a role in bringing about the prophesied end of the world we should be okay.

And that’s ten minutes.

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Je Suis Tout

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The world is once again reeling form a series of terrorist attacks: Ivory Coast, Turkey (both Ankara and Istanbul) and now Brussels. That doesn’t even count the numerous slaughters carried out in the half dozen countries that bear the brunt of these atrocities – Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq – which John Kerry, in typical American hyperbole, has called genocide.

Some have noted that the attacks in Europe generate headlines in North America while attacks elsewhere are barely covered. I guess it depends on which news sources you rely on. I don’t seek these things out but I certainly see them on the front pages of the papers I read and on the radio stations I listen to. I don’t regularly watch TV news so I can’t speak to that. Whether you see it in social media, I think, probably is a reflection of who is in your circle of contacts.

To the extent that we do focus more on Europe, there is undoubtedly a lot of factors at play. Racism may be involved: it has long been noted that the news seems to consider one American (or Canadian) death to be twenty times as important as the death of a foreigner. Anytime there is a plane crash, they always lead with the number of local citizens who died. This may be more a case of nativism – I expect in China, they report Chinese deaths ahead of anyone else.

It may be that we focus on Europe both because they are more like us – mostly, though hardly exclusively, white with shared cultures and languages – but also because they are close to us physically. Lots of North Americans have been to Europe; lots of us have friends and family there. You can’t say the same for Africa, the Middle East or even South America – though obviously it’s true for those of our citizens whose families came from there. I suspect – though I never want to find out – that a terrorist attack in Mexico would generate massive news coverage in the United States.

And another factor is surveillance. Europe and, to a lesser extent, North America, is rife with CTV cameras. They are everywhere and watching everything. Whether they actually are effective in stopping crime is an open question, but they are excellent at reporting it. So much of the footage on the Brussels attacks came from those cameras or from the ubiquitous cell phone cameras that almost everyone in the west now has available. And it is not simply the availability of those cameras; it is the ease with which we can upload those images and videos to hundreds of web-sites. In other countries – where governments actually block such uploads and others have limited connectivity – those images are not available.

No images, no panicked faces, no ready access to tears equals diminished coverage. As they say: if it bleeds, it leads. When we do get coverage of attacks elsewhere, the predominant image is of bleeding bodies.

There is a certain irony I suppose. Our fear leads to surveillance; our freedom leads to the ready dispersal of news – both contribute to the impression that we only care about our own. And maybe that impression is true but even if it is not, it is hurtful. So, for today, I will try to think of all the people, on all sides of every conflict, who have been and will be innocent victims of senseless war.

#jesuistout.

And that’s ten minutes.

Monday Musings

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It’s Monday. I should be working. I’ve got to get to the office. Then I have to come home to my other office and work some more. Instead, I’m typing for ten minutes for your pleasure and elucidation. I trust you appreciate it. Even as I write, the items on my list of things to do are having a sexy morning. Honestly I can see them procreating.

Guns from Canada have fallen into the wrong hands! Apparently guns sold to our good friends, the despicable Saudis, to use against the rebels in Yemen have somehow gotten into the hands of the very same Yemeni rebels. People are shocked. Government officials – when confronted with the facts – say the ‘when they become aware of such things’ (duh) they will work with exporters to make sure it doesn’t happen again. So, exactly how are you going to do that? Every army in the Middle East have gotten their hands on weapons the international community says they shouldn’t have. How could that happen? Ask any gangbanger in Detroit and he’ll give you a hint. They ‘stole’ them or bought them on the black market or took them from the dead hands of their enemies. Sell guns to anyone and you better expect some or most of them will wind up in the wrong hands. It is, after all, the American way.

Bernie Sanders apparently was an active participant in the civil rights struggle according to a picture that has recently emerged. Emerged? Like a sword being lifted out of a pond by a watery witch. Despite his left-wing credentials, Clinton can still say that Bernie wasn’t a Democrat – even if he is a democratic socialist. Meanwhile right wingers in the Republican Party can’t decide if Donald Trump is more of a fascist than Barrack Obama. No really that is a discussion they actually have. Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it – the rest of us are doomed to suffer from the repetition.

I’ve decided that I’ve pretty much had it with winter. Next year, I plan to spend as much time in southern climes as I can afford. When the money runs out, I guess I’ll have to drown myself. At least the water will be warm.

I’m currently reading novels for possible publication. This is the good part of my job. Before I could read the novels I had to read all the submissions. That, I hate to tell you, is not as pleasant. Most people are not bad writers or even lousy story-tellers; most of them are mediocre. Sorry but it’s true. After four hours of reading slush, I usually get a brain freeze, not unlike eating cheap ice cream too fast on a hot day.

One last thought on guns – isn’t refusing to do mental health checks on people who want to own guns a crazy idea? Especially since recent studies suggest that the majority of people who gun down their families have a history of severe mental illness.

Well, that’s it, the buzzer has gone and I can get back to my list. I swear it’s twice as long as when I started this blog. Where is Planned Parenthood when you need them? Right, busy being lied about by Republicans.

And that really is ten minutes.

Bombs Away

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The latest controversy – of sorts – to surround the new Canadian government is the decision to bring home our 6 F-18s from the mission to combat Daesh in the Middle East. Canada will no longer drop bombs though they will provide refueling and targeting support. Instead of dropping bombs, Canada will triple the number of trainers working with front-line troops and expand humanitarian aid.

Some members of the media say they don’t understand the rationale behind this decision. The Conservative party calls it shameful, perhaps because they still can’t quite accept the reality of their recent defeat and the repudiation of most of their policies. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, which is the undisputed leader of this mission, welcomes the new Canadian approach. They even referred to it as ‘forward looking.’

The reason for ending the bombing mission is simple: it was what the new government said it would do in the election campaign. While Canadians didn’t specifically vote for that policy (or for any particular policy), they did vote for the whole package. If Trudeau had reversed himself, how long would it take the media to criticize him for a promise broken? The NDP certainly would have howled and even the Conservatives, who have recently shown themselves as masters of the hypocritical reversal, would have complained.

Canadians – according to the polls – support the fight against Daesh but they will likely support a boots on the ground mission as much as they support the current bombing one.

But there is more to the change in plans than that. Bombing is a fine holding tactic. It limits the growth and expansion of Daesh but does little to eliminate it. When errors are made, such as when hospitals, wedding parties and busy markets are ‘accidentally’ shelled, it serves as a fine recruitment video for the terrorists.

You may recall that the Nazis determined to bomb the fighting spirit out of the English during the Blitz. How did that work out for them? In the 60s, American generals promised to bomb the Viet Cong back to the Stone Age; a few years later they were fleeing Saigon. Even the ‘shock and awe’ campaign of the Iraq war was followed by 10 bloody years on the ground to accomplish what? A lot of dead Iraquis and Americans and the expenditure of trillions of dollars. Oh, yeah and the rise of Daesh.

Conservatives like bombing missions, especially against an enemy without an effective air defense. No body bags coming home to remind the public of the real cost of war. You may also remember how hard the Harper government tried to hide that sight from public eyes until they were forced to reverse course. No wounded or traumatized soldier either – except it turns out that the men and women who push the buttons do suffer trauma when the results are factored. Unlike some of their political bosses, they are capable of empathy and are troubled by their actions.

In the end it comes down to resources (we’ll spend even more on training and humanitarian aid than on bombing) and their effective use. If bombing isn’t going to stop Daesh, we need to find something that will. Maybe regional coalitions and a more humane face for the west is that something.

And that’s ten minutes.

Arms Dealers

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2016 certainly started with a bang, with North Korea claiming to have detonated a hydrogen bomb – for purely defensive purposes, of course. Whether they actually did is a matter of some dispute but there can be no doubt that the belligerent and somewhat bizarre little state is making significant progress in its quest to be a nuclear power. One might wonder where an impoverished country like that could get the resources for an arms program (they probably got the technology from Pakistan) but poverty has never stopped countries from arming up.

And there are plenty of countries willing to supply the tools and even the finished products – at least for more conventional weapons. The number one arms dealer in the world – with a bullet – is the United States. They supply roughly 31% of known arms exports (the black market is probably small and mainly in small arms). Russia is not far behind with 27%. The next four – China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – are relative pikers, shipping only about 19% of weapons between them. Do you notice how the five permanent members of the Security Council are doing their bit to increase world security? Yeah, right.

Of course, they each have their own favoured customers, preferring not to sell arms to countries that might eventually use the weapons against them (but with secondary sales who can say? ISIS mostly uses American guns). However, they have no difficulty in supplying arms to both sides of potential future conflicts. Russia is the main drug, I mean, arms dealer to both India (the largest importer) and China – two countries that have never been on the best of terms and will, in future, fight over influence in the same backyard.

Canada is a bit player in this drama, ranking 13th in the arms trade. We supply less than 1% of total arms sales, though that’s not bad for such a small country. We specialize in small arms and provide nearly 13% of the weapons imported by, guess who? Our number one trading partner – the United States.

And of course, we also have a $15 billion contract to supply armoured cars to Saudi Arabia. Some think we should never have signed such a deal and I agree. We really shouldn’t be fuelling the conflicts in other places by ensuring they have the weapons to wage serious war. Unserious war is bad enough.

That doesn’t mean I think the new government should cancel the deal. I’ve never been a big fan of governments canceling contracts made by previous administrations, unless they can demonstrate a serious reason for doing so – like corrupt practices or violation of international treaties. While governments come and go, The Government has a continuous existence that exceeds political parties. Countries that cancel contracts whenever the government changes soon find their customers go away or, at the very least, incorporate punitive penalties into the deals. Think of it this way: suppose the current government signed a deal with the provinces on health care – should the next government cancel it for no other reason than their political enemies made it.

Going forward, however, we need to think more carefully about the whole business of arms sales and what role a so-called peace-loving country should play in that. We could ask Sweden I suppose – except they rank number 11 in shipping weapons.

And that’s ten minutes.

Religious Violence

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Is religion inherently violent? Certainly there are those who will say it is. Or rather they will say Islam is. You can find those claims if you like – usually made by people who have an outside’s view of that religion. There are others who will tell you that all religions are inherently violent. That faith itself is the basis of violent behavior.

I’m not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no big fan of religion. It is a colossal waste of human time and energy. It is sometimes used to oppress people; it is often used to defraud them. The good that religious people do is neither different nor greater than the good done by the irreligious. And make no mistake; people have done great violence in the name of religion. All people, all religions, everywhere.

It’s hard to do violence in the name of atheism but a few people have even managed it. Not Hitler  – he was a self-proclaimed Catholic – but others.

See, that’s the thing. People do violence. And, sometimes they use religion as an excuse. Some may even use it as a motivation. Nobody gets off the hook for that.

Yet, if religion was a cause of violence, we’d be in a lot of trouble. There are literally billions of devoted people in the world. If religion drove them to violence, we’d all soon be dead. Yet, in fact, the world is getting less violent. Don’t take my word for it – there is good solid research to show it is true. The world is also getting more secular but the trend away from violence predates that change.

Why people like the barbarians of Daesh are driven to commit atrocities is unclear. Some of it is based on ideology rooted in what is clearly a misinterpretation of Islam just as Anders Breivik in Norway murdered scores of people because he misunderstood Christianity, just as Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar clearly misunderstand the teachings of Buddha. I could go on – as I said people have committed acts of violence and terrorism for a long time for a lot of reasons.

You might as well ask if politics is inherently violent. Think of all the acts of violence committed in the name of one ideology or the other – right or left, authoritarian or anarchist, they all do it.

People are violent and usually don’t need any reason at all to be that way – except to justify themselves. Violence is a tool to get what you want – money power, sex. We are all wired to respond to violence – a few by fighting, many by fleeing, some by freezing. Frozen people do not resist.

And of course there are causes for violence – which include poverty, powerlessness, fear of the other, fractured economies, criminal tendencies and human venality.

There are those who think that violence must be met with more violence. The evidence for that succeeding is pretty slim. When you look at why the world is becoming less violent, clearly it is not because of more violence. It is because we are also remarkably good at cooperating, at building societies, negotiating ways of living, of talking and working together for a better world.

Because most people don’t like to be hurt. Most people do not like hurting others. Most people believe in the golden rule: do unto others… And you don’t need religion to know that. But it’s surprising how many religions preach it.

And that’s a little more than ten minutes.

Stopping Terrorism

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A number of people have responded to the Paris attacks but calling for more bombs to be dropped in the Middle East. In Canada, Rona Ambrose, interim leader of the Conservative Party, said she would support the government if they decided to reverse their position and keep Canadian jets the coalition attacks. What a surprise – she would support the failed policies of the previous government of which she was a member. Others say we must hold the course.

Dropping more bombs on the cities, villages and deserts of Iraq and Syria will accomplish the same thing as they have for the last two years. They will absolutely prevent terrorists from launching attacks in Beirut and Paris – or maybe not, it seems.

Daesh, which I’m told is a more accurate description of the fanatics who mistakenly identify themselves as Muslims, is an amorphous enemy – organized in classical guerrilla fashion in order to escape detection and defeat – but are not a particular dangerous one. They have launched two attacks on Paris in the last year it is true, terrible, painful attacks – but think of that. Only two – ten months apart. Does that seem like a force that is likely to end western civilization? Well, it will if we resort to the same extreme and authoritarian methods that they embrace.

The real terror occurs not outside of the zone controlled by Daesh but within it where hundreds are killed weekly while thousands more are tortured, raped and enslaved. These fanatics would like to bring on the end of the world perhaps – they seem to think it is coming – but mostly they want to die. Soldiers who mostly want to die are not likely to become your lifelong enemy.

How then can we stop this barbarism? The first thing we need to do is cut off their lifeblood – that which feeds them and arms them – and that is not religion but money and politics. These terrorists are being supported by those who buy their oil, those who buy their stolen ancient artifacts, those who sell them weapons. They are being supported by rich conservative families in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – putative Western allies – while their governments look aside.

They are also feeding on chaos. The civil war in Syria, more than anything else has been responsible for the massive expansion and encouragement of Daesh. This is a war – like many wars in the Middle East and Africa and before that South America – fought as proxy struggles of other, greater, powers. It seems that, finally, most of these powers are realizing that the continuation of this situation is on no one’s interest. A united Syria – at least united against a common foe – will go a long way to cutting the feet from under the so-called caliphate.

Getting the Turks and the Kurds to stop fighting wouldn’t hurt either. But nothing will really change – until and unless those who supply the money and material are stopped. And that’s something we could do.

And that’s ten minutes.