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Monthly Archives: October 2009

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

I believe Obama is dithering, although their may be some truth to the idea of putting pressure on the Mayor of Kabul.

There is a basic conflict at work here: Obama’s decency and humanity versus an American establishment which never hesitates to kill people over pride.

Obama has the weight of the entire military-industrial complex on his back – the half trillion dollar a year industry of professional war-making in the Pentagon, the vast parade of defense contractors who’ve made countless billions from the war – plus the pressure of the Israel Lobby, always in favor of war against Muslims with talk about being soft on terror.

This mission is pointless. You cannot remake the institutions and customs of a nation of about 30 million in a few years.

Imagine invading seventeenth century Spain and telling people that the Holy Inquisition must end, nuns must give up the habit, Moors and Jews must be admitted as full members of society, and women must have equal rights?

Yet that is a close parallel to what the U.S. at least claims it is doing in Afghanistan.

Americans have failed in Iraq and they failed in Afghanistan, just as they failed in Vietnam and Somalia and a number of other places.

You can’t bomb people into democracy or into modernity, but you sure can kill lots of innocent people.

America’s only clear-cut victory goes back to WWII and that required sinking to complete barbarism, using the atomic bomb on civilians.

The basic problem is that ideologue Americans seek the wrong victories.

They are always fighting imagined devils, whether communists or Muslims, instead of dealing in practical terms with the world. And the truth is they don’t really want to fight if it means they suffer real losses. So they bomb. This is a formula for guaranteed failure.

Dropping dollar bills instead of bombs would have been a more sensible policy.

Just dumb.

Now America’s Captain Ahabs risk repeating their insane experience of the killing fields of Cambodia, a neutral country that was secretly bombed and invaded for the same lunatic reasons that Pakistan is now being bombed and driven to kill its own people. With the toppling of a neutral government, Cambodia dropped into the hands of true madmen, and America shares full responsibility for what happened.

But the lessons are never learned by America’s jingo set.

There’s always a new dawn for these ideologues when enough bombing and brutality will get the desired results, even if the poor country on the receiving end is reduced to rubble.

The great irony is, of course, the Taleban never had to America’s enemies. They were not international terrorists, and they attacked no one outside their land. They offered to extradite bin Laden and others if the U.S. just provided some evidence for its claims over 9/11, the normal procedure for extraditions everywhere.

But the U.S. just angrily refused, and it prepared to attack.

The assault on Afghanistan was about absolutely nothing but vengeance. The participation of the UN and NATO was just a diplomatic nicety arranged through the cajoling and threats behind the scenes.

What NATO countries really think of Afghanistan is clear from their response to repeated calls from the U.S. for more forces. The psychology of immediately post-9/11 had been right for governments not to refuse, something they did do a little later with the vast war crime of invading Iraq.

They simply do not regard Afghanistan as a serious threat, and it is not.

But the U.S. is stuck there after getting vengeance – at least 50,000 died just in Kabul from America’s invasion – with no idea of what to do next, and no idea of how to make a graceful exit, and the American establishment’s idea of a graceful exit is what was done to Japan.
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Some interesting statistics on Afghanistan were released the other day.

From one Afghanistan’s own ministries, it was announced that 12 million people, including 3 million children, out of a total population of 30 million, live in serious poverty. so much so that many of the children are malnourished.

My, what an achievement, America, after 8 years of invasion and occupation and tens and tens of billions spent on killing and destruction.

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JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
RESPONSE TO A CBC RADIO ONE PROGRAM ON THE CURRENTYour guest, Leonard Sax, only proved how little genuine scholarship and hard thinking often go into discussions of education.

First he told us of research showing the differences in brain development between boys and girls at a young age – actually pretty fatuous research since the difference is a practical reality that any person of moderate observational powers, having passed through public education at any time over the last century or so, took for granted.

When your interviewer remarked that such research would seem to say that segregated classes might then be necessary in general, we got a cotton-mouth response typical of the education establishment, “No, I wouldn’t go that far in making a generalization.”

Of course, the sad truth is much of what passes for scholarship in education is extremely feeble stuff.

I remember when I was an undergraduate at the University of Toronto reading announcements of PhD theses at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. There was always some genuinely comical stuff, virtual parodies of serious scholarship, Monty Python does educational research. Many professors then at U of T actually objected to the University’s granting degrees for OISE because of its poor standards of scholarship.

And I’m afraid this is a general condition. Even at a world-class institution like Harvard, a prominent member of the education faculty expounds a notion of multiple intelligences, a notion having absolutely no science to it. Many public schools in the U.S. actually have posters in classrooms proclaiming the notion of multiple intelligences as though it were education’s equivalent to Maxwell’s Laws on Electromagnetism.

Of course, for years, education faculties quoted the University of Chicago’s Bruno Bettelheim as though he were an authority – that is, until we discovered the famous child psychologist was a fraud and an abuser of children.

There are endless examples of this sort of thing in education, all tending to point to the fundamental truth that teaching is neither a profession, in the sense that there is a basic body of knowledge and standards, nor a science. It is a skill, and the way to hone a skill is to get on with it, not to talk about it.

Ontario’s public education establishment has done nothing but flip-flop decade after decade, going from one half-considered notion to another.

First, tests were important, then they were not so important. First, plenty of homework was vital, then it was not so vital. First, there was zero tolerance for violence, then not really. First, report cards were important means of summing progress, then they were reduced to bland phrases from a computer. First, failure was an important tool, then everyone passed. First, teachers were authority figures, then they were mere facilitators. One could actually write an embarrassingly long list of such complete nonsense.

Any other institution which behaved in such a wildly erratic manner would become the butt of jokes and would fail utterly.

The only difference for our schools is that no one is allowed to say they are failing, but they are, because Canadians are not genuinely competitive in international comparisons, and, in a globilized world, there really is only a world standard for our children’s future opportunities.

One suspects that all this meaningless arm-flapping represents an ongoing effort by “professional educators” to avoid true responsibilities and the hard realities of education, regularly announcing a new notion as a solution, much like still another new elixir from yet another quick-money quack rolling his travelling road show into town.

Fill the classrooms with competent teachers – there are many, but there are also many incompetents protected by their union.

Give them a reasonable curriculum – the current one in Ontario is also right out of Monty Python – and the resources they require, especially libraries and computers.

Then give them the authority they need – authority against the many politically-correct principals and, importantly, against whining, overly-interfering parents.

Stream kids according to their proven abilities, kids having no talent for academics only clog the classrooms and themselves miss alternate forms of education – e.g., shop – that might excite them and give them something of value for their futures.

Open teaching up to all talented and interested people – retired professionals, artists, musicians, businessmen, and others wishing to teach full or part-time – without the need for that most discreditable of all academic documents, a degree from an education faculty which is a guarantees of no hard knowledge or skill or even affection for teaching kids.

Those and a small number of other measures would increase the effectiveness of our schools immensely. As trite as it sounds, we really do need to emphasize basics.

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

Sorry, but this is a hopeless, go-nowhere idea.

First, Chris Spence, who is a very pleasant man but a truly ineffectual executive, displayed his obsession with boys’ performance – there’s no other word for it than an obsession – for all his years in Hamilton, where his genuine academic achievements were almost non-existent.

Second, every failed school in Chicago – where I grew up and attended a variety of terrible and excellent schools depending on the neighborhood we lived in – was long ago renamed an “academy.” It’s a meaningless gesture, and the schools that were failing are still failing.

Third, this amounts to a back-door approach to the even more meaningless afro-centric school idea. To a great extent, the boys with which this is a concern – that is those dropping out in large numbers – are black Canadians. Something more than a form of segregation is required.

The real problems of these boys could be handled in the existing system, were the School Board to show any genuine thinking or imagination.

Serious research shows that putting failing boys on a treadmill for a vigorous effort in the morning yields maybe three hours of much improved docility and learning. Hyper-active black American boys who could not read actually were able to learn to read doing this.

Something along these lines is one of the real solutions to the problems of failing boys.

Another approach to the same problem would be a soccer league that would see boys spending a little time every morning in a demanding practice.

These approaches must of course also be combined with efficient teaching, using only teachers who have some insight into these problems. A good many of our existing teachers simply would not qualify.

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY JOHANN HARI IN THE INDEPENDENT

Thank you, Johann Hari has told the truth succinctly and accurately.

Of course, the Taleban – never the same thing as al Qaeda, but constantly blurred together in American popular media and by dumb national politicians like John McCain – never attacked anyone.

9/11 was the work of Saudis, and the dead perpetrators were virtually all in the United States on valid visas, almost unquestionably part of a secret CIA training program which backfired. There was an American diplomat at the time who raised the issue of great pressure from the CIA for certain embassies abroad to issue visas expeditiously.

The Taleban never had to be an American enemy. They were even willing to extradite those guilty for 9/11, provided that the U.S. offered some evidence for its extradition request, a normal procedure everywhere in the world, but one with which the United States angrily refused to comply.

The United States invaded for vengeance and no other reason, and it got plenty of it with about 50,000 killed just in Kabul.

From the beginning, the United States used propaganda about things like women’s rights to justify its extreme violence, the best propaganda always being based on truth.

The United States only quickly succeeded in its “victory” by using the brutes of the Northern Alliance on the ground fronted by the same kind of carpet bombing it so loved in Vietnam.

It worked, at least dispersing the Taleban, if not producing a genuine victory.

And who were these fine allies in the Northern Alliance?

Brutes like General Dostum, a torturer and mass murderer absolutely. It was likely his troops, under American auspices, who conducted the atrocity of killing 3,000 Taleban prisoners in the early days.

They were put into sealed vans, driven out onto the desert to be suffocated (a la early Nazi experiments with mass killings), then dumped in mass graves – all done while American soldiers watched.

Today, after all those years of occupation and brutal American tactics, outside Kabul virtually all women still wear the burka, and even in Kabul, an estimated half of women wear it.

America’s Potemkin village schools in the countryside for girls are often closed as soon as their photo-op opening is over. The government is unable to fund the schools and pay the teachers, and the local warlords do not want them anymore than the Taleban does.

Imagine going to seventeenth century Spain and trying to force Catholics to give up all their bizarre practices from self-flagellation to nuns’ cumbersome habits or The Inquisition? Ridiculous, of course, but that truly is a parallel for what the U.S. claims it’s doing in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is simply not a country as we are used to thinking of countries. It is collection of tribes living hard-scrabble lives in mountains and deserts, and it is demarcated by arbitrary and historically-meaningless boundaries vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Many people understood the invasion was a mistake before it happened, but the vicious idiots then running the United States ignored them.

The United States spent ten years in Vietnam, killing an estimated 3 million people with their barbaric tactics and throwing Cambodia into instability and “the killing fields” to achieve absolutely nothing.

And that precisely – albeit with a smaller pile of bodies – is America’s achievement to date in Afghanistan.

And note that it is well on its way to de-stabilizing Pakistan with its killer-drones and demands that Pakistan attack its own people, just as it once did Cambodia, and for the same sorry excuse that there occupation troops are affected by activities in the other county.

The real answer is, of course, to swallow its pride and get out.

Note that I only refer to America, and not to NATO or the UN. That is because in the early days after 9/11, the U.S. was able to brow-beat or cajole the appearance of international support for this violent folly. Its influence in these international bodies, heavily financed by the U.S., is great, and it often uses them to cover its unilateral desires.

The reality is that no NATO nation believes that Afghanistan is a genuine threat: we know this from their pitifully small commitments there. Only Captain Ahab America sees Afghanistan as the great white whale that must be killed.

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY CLIVE CROOK IN THE FINANCIAL TIMESI stopped watching Frontline years ago.

There were too many tame programs with no real analysis, the documentary content-equivalent of PBS’s nature specials, as that on apes narrated by Charlie Sheen.

And, several times, more hard-hitting items were removed from their schedule. Shameful.

Since the rise of Newt Gingrich, PBS executives started wetting their pants and reducing the network to fluff. Their anchor news show, the News Hour, was reduced to arguments between political party chairmen saying nothing and tame news coverage.

However the scene you describe, Clive, is strong stuff, and should tell Americans something, but there are none so blind….

Of course, there is the reason why there can be no victory in Afghanistan.

I’m not even sure what the Military-Industrial bureaucrats mean by “victory.” Afghanistan reduced to an Illinois suburb with shopping centers and SUVs in the driveways of homes?

The U.S. went there for vengeance, and that is what it got. It killed tens of thousands, including an estimated 50,000 just in Kabul.

It did this with horrible weapons and carpet bombing, and to minimize American casualties on the ground, it let the nasty people in the Northern Alliance do most of the legwork. It also participated in horrible war crimes against Taleban prisoners, as the 3,000 who disappeared, buried in the desert after having been suffocated in vans, a la early Nazi experiments with mass killings.

Once the U.S. had a technical victory – actually nothing but dispersing the Taleban to the hills – it did not know what to do, and it still does not.

Its troops have used brutal techniques – never likely to be shown on Frontline or any other American television. Years of special forces thugs going from village to village, knocking down doors, holding guns on families, and taking away men from households.

And every time it calls an air strike, civilians die.

Now it is spreading its horror into Pakistan, having quietly intimidated the Pakistan government into cooperating in matters that are not really their interests.

I, of course, recall that wonderful achievement of America’s during its pointless holocaust in Vietnam of de-stabilizing the neutral government of Cambodia and helping pave the way for the “killing fields” which it did absolutely nothing to stop.

Indeed, when the brave Vietnamese went in and stopped the horror, American bureaucrats stood, arms folded, saying I told you so, it’s the domino theory at work.

Colonial wars are not legitimate “policy” in the 21st century, and, as good students of history know, wars generally solve nothing.

The great irony is that the Taleban never attacked anyone, had nothing to do with 9/11, yet the U.S. has made them into an enemy.

They are, of course, a major part of the population of Afghanistan, an absurdly poor and backward place, while the U.S. military with all their shiny G.I Joe equipment are occupiers. No one likes occupiers ever, except those who profit by trading with them, as the prostitutes of Paris in 1941.

Afghanistan is a hopeless disaster of America’s own making, and the soldier you describe, Clive, is a perfect symbol of the hopelessness of the entire crusade.

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY TOM FLANAGAN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL
Bloom?

Ed Stelmach?

Flanagan’s use of language is just as poor as the rest of his thinking.

This is another piece of poor analysis, calling into question both the basis on which Canadian university tenure is granted and the Globe’s judgment in publishing academic commentary.

Alberta, in fact, is experiencing two powerful things.

One, Alberta is adjusting to the painful reality of its economic balloon having been pricked, and with that pricking went a lot of pretensions to greatness we heard and read about when oil was $140 a barrel.

Two, Alberta has always been a place of American settlement. A great portion of the early farmers were Americans moving over the border for Crown Land grants.

That process has only continued. The giant capital-intensive projects of the oilsands have brought a steady stream of American money and American executives from ultra-conservative places like Oklahoma and Texas.

This process is helped by having Harper in Ottawa, a politician who makes no effort to diversify investment in Alberta, Indeed, Harper has tried to restrict diversification of investment by countries like China.

Harper has also contributed to a lack of diversifying markets for Alberta hydrocarbons.

The results are what we see: a large faction for which it is almost impossible to be too conservative.

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE ON A COLUMN BY LEWIS MACKENZIE IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

“NATO’s purpose, now long vanished into history, had been to exist as a counter to the WARSAW pact and the threat of Soviet hegemony.

But now the Soviet Union and the WARSAW are gone – and so should NATO have disappeared”

Absolutely.

But NATO has another important purpose, and it is this other purpose that keeps it going.

The U.S. uses NATO as a kind of theatrical costume for events like Afghanistan. Instead of the world’s seeing America acting as lone bomb-dropping lawgiver to the world, it sees the somewhat more benign face of NATO, benign only because the organization carries the suggestion of plausibility with a number of nations agreeing on some objective.

The reality is, of course, America’s NATO allies do not genuinely regard Afghanistan as a serious threat: their relatively small commitments and refusal to expand them effectively are screaming this truth at us.

NATO is also used by American policy to keep Europe from becoming a genuine competitor on the world stage, a role Europe’s economy, the largest in the world, fully justifies.

American policy uses all kinds of subterfuges towards this goal, as for example keeping alive the many decades out-of-date conception of “a special relationship” with Britain, a game, appealing to the feelings of a declined imperial power, which keeps Britain from fully integrating into the Europe which is clearly its destiny.

As for MacKenzie’s silly way of talking about the Taleban, let’s remember they are a major part of the population, not some foreign invader like the United States. And they never attacked anyone in the past. American policies have made them an enemy. Just as American policies are driving Pakistan towards disaster.

Remember what America achieved in Cambodia during its holocaust in Vietnam.

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

Maybe Moses just couldn’t make up his mind how many commandments to chip into the stone?

This is right in line with all the folly and the absurdity of that Book.

Indeed, what do we even mean by “that book”?

The Old Testament? The first five books of the Old Testament? The New Testament? The Apocrypha? The Dead Sea Scrolls?

And which translation? Which revision?

As Mark Twain so aptly said:

“It [the Bible] is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.”

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s not been a pretty history for the Peace Prize.

At least, Obama gave the world something to celebrate and have some hope about.

Does anyone remember that he replaced the most ignorant and vicious man ever to hold the office? The world was morally exhausted after eight years of that cretin.

A man who killed maybe a million people?

The Peace Prize in general has an odd history and is surely the most ambiguous and inconsistent of prizes.

I think Al Gore’s prize was more than a little odd.

Well, then there’s the just plain shameful horrors of the prize.

Henry Kissinger, certified war criminal?

Menachim Begin, old Irgun terrorist?

Shimon Peres, political father of Israel’s nuclear weapons?

Theodore Roosevelt, imperialist extraordinary?

A few awards in recent decades meant something for sure, as that to Doctors without Borders or that to Jimmy Carter.

But, in general, it’s not a proud history.

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN THE TELEGRAPHPolanski, of course, did not only have sex with a 13-year old girl, what Americans call “statutory rape.”

His lawyers at the time managed to cop a plea for that much lesser charge (plea bargains are an everyday ugly fact of American “justice”), and, still, he ran from justice.

Polanski is a real coward as well as a serious criminal.

A man who drugs a 13-year old girl and rapes her – sodomizing her – clearly deserves jail.

There always was a very dark side to Polanski, perhaps best exhibited in his early film “Repulsion.”

France’s long protection of him from justice has likely hurt a number of people over the years. Violent pedophiles are never reformed. It’s in the genes.

I have been an admirer of Polanski’s work, but the claim that being a creative figure exempts you from punishment for ugly deeds is an extremely dangerous one.

You can be a creative force and a criminal, and Polanski is a perfect example of the fact.

 
JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSES TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

The real question for the world is: when is Israel going to allow inspection of its Dimona nuclear facility?

The answer is, of course, never.

Dimona is a working factory for the production of nuclear weapons components.

Israel doesn’t just have a vague possibility of making nuclear weapons – the charge against Iran – Israel makes and deploys them.

And – unlike Iran which has attacked no one in its entire modern history – Israel has proved to the world, over and over, it is ready to use brutal force whenever it chooses.

It did so twice in Lebanon. It has done so many times in Gaza. It has done so in the West Bank. And it engineered the Six Day War so that it could seize the land of the people it still holds in subjugation more than forty years later.

It deliberately attacked the USS Liberty, an American intelligence ship, in an effort to pull the U.S. into its war. It was a bloody business lasting two hours against a well-marked ship.

Or was that attack – never explained properly – to cover up the war crimes Israel was carrying out in the Sinai, where it is known to have executed hundreds of Egyptian prisoners who had surrendered?

Please, just who is the greater threat to world peace?

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“I have heard no credible argument that a Japanese surrender would have resulted from anything other than a full-scale, D-Day style invasion against the Islands.”

Sorry, this is just ignorant.

The evidence is there for anyone who reads.

The Japanese made a number of backchannel offers of surrender. They had only one proviso of importance, that they be allowed to keep their emperor.

The U.S. just ignored them. It insisted on absolute, unconditional surrender.

So, the U.S. obliterated two non-military target cities, than took the Japanese surrender and allowed the Japanese to keep their emperor.

And, in doing that, it set a terrible example for all time.

All that horror and destruction was for nothing.

It represented the same poor judgment and ugly Puritan attitudes we saw in Vietnam, Iraq, and still see in Afghanistan. We want it our way, or we will obliterate you.

The use of the atomic bombs on Japan also deliberately considered, in the highest councils of the American government, the strategic value of setting a terrible marker against Stalin.

The story of the losses owing to land invasion was just that, a story, planted in a deliberate propaganda effort to white-wash one of the 20th century’s most criminal acts.

Of course, soldiers would have died, but the story leaves out the fact that an invasion was completely unnecessary to get a surrender.

It was all an inexcusable horror, and the United States has no business telling anyone what it may or may not do. It is simply playing God.

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“Our gratitude goes out to John Chuckman for the unrequested, off-topic history lesson on the Japanese surrender and yet another expected anti-Israel rant – neither of which has anything to do with the subject.”

Sorry, Mr Foonman, that too is just ignorant. You have only to scroll through the posts to see reference to America’s use of atomic weapons.

It used them twice, both times on civilians.

So how in God’s name do they have the moral authority to demand Iran behave in this or that way?

Plus, of course, they’ve just killed a million people in Iraq – a next-door neighbor to Iran – in a completely illegal invasion.

Where is their moral authority on such issues?

They have none.

And as far as “rants” about Israel and “anti-Israel” statements, perhaps those are the words you like to use to demonize those with whom you disagree.

It is, after all, a favorite tactic of Israel’s apologists to call everyone who doesn’t agree with them names.

All I’ve done is set out some raw facts.

How can anyone who is rational and not a pathetic propagandist claim that Israel’s illegal nuclear weapons have nothing to do with this issue?

Iran is virtually surrounded by nuclear powers, two of which have very belligerent records of behavior.

Doe it not have the right to look after its defense?