Idol worship: a big mistake

NOBODY IS PERFECT
When you admire a person, you make him/her an idol; a bad mistake. You should know nobody is perfect. We must not make anyone a god. Saints are not gods. Heroes make mistakes.

Recently, some of us are having difficult time understanding the leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. We admired her so much that we gave her Nobel Peace Prize and Honorary Canadian citizenship. Why doesn’t she stop violence against the Muslim minority Rohingya? Should she be stripped of all those honours?

I can list many examples of the same mistakes: Ugandan President Yoweri Moseveni who saved his country from the butcher Idi Amin; Rwandan President Paul Kagame who brought order after the genocide of Tsusis. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who ended the minority white rule in Rhodesia in 1980.

When Mugabe brought in the North Korean 5th Brigade and bombarded and slaughtered the minority Matebele people, we did not condemned him. We said nothing because Mugabe was a hero. We in the west praised those African leaders then, but now they are embarrassment. They were heros, but now they are power hungry dictators. They must not stay on the pedestal. But why didn’t we condemn them, then? We haven’t admitted our mistakes.

When I was a part of the team tackling famine in Ethiopia during the 1980’s, we were criticized by many “progressive” people in the West who supported the independent movement of Eritrea called “EPLA.” It’s now one of the most brutal regimes that produces many refugees who are trying to cross the Mediterranean sea.

We in the western countries do not have all that clean record either. Are we not lucky that King Edward, the Queen’s uncle, abdicated? He loved Nazi Germany and admired Hitler. What if he hadn’t? The controversies about names and statues abound: Father of Confederation John A. MacDonald, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, etc. Now some Oxford University students demand the change of the name “Rhode Scholar” because what Cecil Rhodes did in Africa.

Historian Margaret MacMillan raises an interesting question in her book, “The Uses and abuses of history.” She mentions the Pope apologizing for the Crusade and admitting that Galileo was right; Bill Clinton apologizing for slavery; and Tony Blair for the Irish Famine. And she argues that learning from history is dangerous, but we must learn from it, because no human is perfect.

Middle Class Left – Traitor to the class

Dilemma of Middle Class

When Donald Trump was elected President, I felt lost, was puzzled and upset. Megalomaniacs are always around. There have been some who caused terrible devastations and deaths, like Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. But I thought history gave us good lessons not to repeat it. “Those who can not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

What scares me is not so much the President-elect but it is the fact that so many people voted for him. I am sure there are such people in Canada too. I wonder if we are too conceited to think we have right answers but only failed in communication. Maybe we don’t have answers and don’t want to acknowledge our blindness.

When Ronald Reagan was elected President, I was staying with a friend of mine who was teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. We were appalled by the prospect of the former actor’s presidency. My friend said, “the trouble of self-appointed intellectuals like us is we don’t know the language of people who are edged out of the mainstream society and are angry.”

Once I lived in Cabbage Town in Toronto. I took a street car to downtown. The tram runs between Cabbage Town and Regent Park. The former is a ghetto of the smug middle class living with gentrified early 20th Century brick houses: the latter is the first urban renewal housing project, a.k.a.”’slum.” Occasionally, I had to go to work early, like 6 a.m. Fellow passengers were mainly construction workers, cleaning ladies, and new immigrants. They read the Toronto Sun, a right-wing tabloid featuring crime, sex, and sports. At 8:30 a.m., my usual time, commuters were business people and professionals. They read the Globe and Mails or the New York Times.

The liberal/progressive camp occupied by the middle class has a problem. A friend of mine said, “the problem of the middle class left is: They are traitors to their class.” They claim they work for the cause of the poor but hopefully without sacrificing their comfortable life-style. We must stop talking disdainfully of the people who supported Donald Trump. We should try to understand their hopes and aspirations with respect agreeing to disagree. They must have good reasons to be angry. Come to think of it, back in the day, I was also against Sales Tax and Free Trade proposed by Conservatives.

Dilemma of Middle Class

Dilemma of Middle Class

When Donald Trump was elected President, I felt lost, was puzzled and upset. Megalomaniacs are always around. There have been some who caused terrible devastations and deaths, like Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. But I thought history gave us good lessons not to repeat it. “Those who can not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

What scares me is not so much the President-elect but it is the fact that so many people voted for him. I am sure there are such people in Canada too. I wonder if we are too conceited to think we have right answers but only failed in communication. Maybe we don’t have answers and don’t want to acknowledge our blindness.

When Ronald Reagan was elected President, I was staying with a friend of mine who was teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. We were appalled by the prospect of the former actor’s presidency. My friend said, “the trouble of self-appointed intellectuals like us is we don’t know the language of people who are edged out of the mainstream society and are angry.”

Once I lived in Cabbage Town in Toronto. I took a street car to downtown. The tram runs between Cabbage Town and Regent Park. The former is a ghetto of the smug middle class living with gentrified early 20th Century brick houses: the latter is the first urban renewal housing project, a.k.a.”’slum.” Occasionally, I had to go to work early, like 6 a.m. Fellow passengers were mainly construction workers, cleaning ladies, and new immigrants. They read the Toronto Sun, a right-wing tabloid featuring crime, sex, and sports. At 8:30 a.m., my usual time, commuters were business people and professionals. They read the Globe and Mails or the New York Times.

The liberal/progressive camp occupied by the middle class has a problem. A friend of mine said, “the problem of the middle class left is: They are traitors to their class.” They claim they work for the cause of the poor but hopefully without sacrificing their comfortable life-style. We must stop talking disdainfully of the people who supported Donald Trump. We should try to understand their hopes and aspirations with respect agreeing to disagree. They must have good reasons to be angry. Come to think of it, back in the day, I was also against Sales Tax and Free Trade proposed by Conservatives.

PEOPLE MUST BUILD THEIR OWN DEMOCRACY

Syria is a mess, so are many Middle Eastern and North African countries. The West including Russia, by their intervention, have to take much of responsibility for this mess.

I do believe in democracy. But it is a messy system. It requires informed citizens and their ability to live with difference. Founder of the Fifth French Republic, General de Gaul said, “How can you conceive of one party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheese!” It has taken centuries since Enlightenment for the West to achieve today’s democracy: it has taken millennia since the ancient democratic Athens. Building a democracy takes time. We can not expect it to be successful in a few years.

Even the United States, the most advanced democracy somehow managed to produce Donald Trump; Russian revolution begun by liberal democratic groups was quickly taken over by Bolshevik dictatorship in 1905; Germany. Italy, and Japan democratically elected fascist dictatorships during 1930’s. History is full of failed democracies. Democracy is still work-in-progress; often causing much suffering like the current Middle East.

The mistake the West keeps making is; we assume we can build a democracy for other people: “Just get rid of dictatorship and unleash people power.” It’s not that simple. Once stability is lost, the chaos ensues. Then it is very difficult to bring back order. Chaos produces bloody conflict. This is why China is trying to maintain order and stability at any price; even indulging North Korea. I don’t condone it, but I understand it. I am also critical of the West’s hubris which makes us think that outsiders can create a “people first” political system for them. That’s a delusion.

Democracy can not be imposed. It has to come from people who would build it in their own way and in their own time. The Western allies are proud of the Second World War’s success in creating democracy in Germany and Japan. You have to remember, however, that both countries had thriving democracies during the 1920’s. They were destroyed by right-wing nationalists. Democracy requires people to be informed and have ability to live respectfully with oppositions. It takes time .

It is frustrating to watch people struggle and suffer while working toward democratic society. But intervention from outside rarely help them. Often foreigners make the situation worse.

Don’t forget things that may not be cute

THE ENVIRONMENT AND CUTE-FACTOR

The recent few articles on environment in this newspaper have challenged me to respond.

First, cute-factor: When the annual seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence became an international furor during the ninety- seventies, we, the Canadians who lived in Europe, became pariahs and were made to feel uncomfortable. I think those cute big eyes of seal pups were the cause of so much passion. (Lethbridge Herald August 22 page A9) Cats are also cute; I admit that I am willfully blind when it comes to the cats’ devastating effect on wild birds. (Mclean’s, September 12, P 65)
Because they are cute, Chinese government spends so much efforts to the preservation of pandas . Welfare of majestic elephants, lions, and whales raise more interest than damage made by carbon dioxide. Worms and microbes don’t get much attention, though they are very important for the health of our planet. Survival of spices is closely related to the health of environment. We have to admit and take into account the fact that ideology, aesthetics, personal value, and self-interest prejudice the discourse. (e.g. the guest columns, August 25 and 30)

I am not trying to make frivolity of serious issues. Rather, I am trying to widen the scope of our conversation beyond familiar and recognizable icons. Even some things we think disgusting could be very important because sustainable environment has a lot to do with balance between elements, albeit they may be cute or ugly, big or small, visible or invisible, inconvenient or profitable.

Secondly, that Alberta produces a tiny amount of CO2 is not an excuse to do nothing. Its action is not insignificant though its footprint is small. Fraser Institute’s critique of Alberta NDP government’s environment policy indicates that compare to a devastating effect on economy, its CO2 emission in a global context is negligible. It sounds like an opposite of Charlie Chaplin’s argument. Chaplin ends one movie about a serial wife killer with a quotation from a philosopher Jean Rostand, “If you kill one person, you are a murderer. But if you kill millions, you are a conqueror. If you kill them all, you are god.”

Just like there’s no such condition as “a little bit pregnant,” a small amount of wrong still is wrong. Alberta should not ignore its environmental footprint though it may be relatively small.

Don’t honor terrorists with religious labels

LET US NOT HONOUR TERRORISTS WITH RELIGIOUS DESIGNATION

It is a fact that true and mainstream Muslims never allow terrorists to be designated as Islamic. It is the same with Christians, we must not allow intentional killing of other persons in the name of Christian faith. Therefore, we must not honour murderers with adjectives like “Muslim” terrorists. We don’t call Ku Klux Klan neither Nazis “Christian” though admittedly they were called by that designation in the beginning with official blessing of some mainline churches. Terrorists are sadistic murderers often using religion as an excuse. Religions do not kill. If they do, they are serious apostasy. Let us all be clear about that.

However, I must admit that history is full of officially sanctioned killings with executions and wars. Likewise terrorism was sanctified by the religious authorities. Burning at the stake of heretics and witches; Crusaders killed Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians alike; Hundred Years War between Catholics and Protestants; the bloody partition of India into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. The list goes on and on. Ku Klux Klan began not only as anti-African American, but also as ant-Catholic and Anti-Semitic movement allowing extra-judicial executions by lynching. Even supposedly the most tolerant religion, Buddhism, had legendary professional warrior monks, just like the Templars in Catholic Church.

The problem of religions causing such a deadly apostasy is absolutism and certitude. God is absolute but humanity isn’t. No human knows God. However, in order to assert the superiority of their religion, believers often claim monopoly of absolute truth. We must know we can never be certain that we know God completely. It is like waiving a flashlight in the dark sky. You can not claim all the mosquitoes you see with the flashlight are all mosquitoes that can bite you. That would be ridiculous. What you see is not all, but you can see mosquitoes are there. This is why all religions are called faith: you see only partially and the rest is a mere hypothesis.

Faith is an admission what you know is not total. With such an incomplete knowledge, nobody has the right to judge other to be untrue and destroy them as heresy. Faith by definition has no right to condemn others. This is why no religion can claim the only rights to exist and to exclude others. But religions often do. That’s the problem.

Build a wall between friends not between enemies

WALLS DON’T WORK BETWEEN ENEMIES

Donald Trump wants to build walls between Mexico and the United States and force Mexico to pay for it. Good luck! I just hope and pray that there are enough voters with common sense in the States, so we will never have to worry about that possibility.

Canadian journalist, Marcello di Cintio visited controversial eight walls and wrote a book about them. He, in the introduction, also mentions several historical walls e.g. the Great Wall of China, the Walls built by Roman Emperor Hadrian in Britain, Maginot Line before WW II, and the Berlin Wall during the Cold War. He concludes: “History has not been kind to the old walls. Almost all the historical walls inspire scorn and, when they failed (almost all of them did) ridicule.”

Di Cintio visited and examined more recently built walls, barricades, and fences such as the fence around the Town of Mount Royal in Montreal to keep French speaking people out, the West Bank walls to stop Palestinian terrorists, the one that separates Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, the one between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, and the Western Sahara wall to keep Saharawi out of Morocco.

His conclusion: none of them have been working, nor have produced results as the builders wanted to. Then how come some people still think they are worth the moey? I guess it’s the price you have to pay when you ignore the lessons from the past.

Granted fences can be good: “Mending the fence,” means repairing a damaged relationship. A fence, in this case, means a respect for individual dignity and privacy. So here is what I think: barriers, fences, and walls work for the better where there is already good relationship existing. But if there is hatred between them, barriers exacerbate a bad situation. Then any separation mechanism never works, because resentment leads people to find ways to circumvent it, or even to tear it down. So work on becoming better neighbours first.

Di Cintio quotes Dr. Seus’ book about the wall between Yooks and Zooks: A Yook grandfather tells the need for the wall, ‘It’s high time you know the terrible horrible thing Zooks do. They eat bread with butter side down. We Yooks eat it with butter side up.” Walls can make enemies out of two good peoples. But good neighbours can build a beautiful fence together to celebrate friendship.

Think globally and act locally

METHINKS:

“Take care of homeless veterans rather than Syrian refugees”, you say. It sounds like an excuse for inaction to me. Of course we have to spend more tax money to help those men and women who sacrificed a lot for us. So I ask you, “Name one veteran you helped to get on welfare. At least, did you write to your M.P. about this?” Then I will hear you.

“Charity begins at home.” Of course it has to. More than 50% of public finance is spent on health care in Canada, and Social Assistance on top of it. Many of us rightly demand more. That’s why Canada is on the list of top five happiest countries in the world. I love Canada.

Let’s do a reality check. How much do we spend to help people overseas? In 1968, Prime Minister Lester Pearson aimed at 1% of the GDP. Never achieved. Afterward, for a few decades, 0.7% was the goal. Even that turned out to be too idealistic. We now spend less than 5%. That’s 5 cents of a dollar.

WHO BECOME TERRORISTS?

HOW OUR YOUTHS BECOME TERRORISTS

Re: “Canadians in ISIS files”, March 11, Lethbridge Herald p. A10

The revelation of the ISIS recruits file is very interesting. I have long puzzled about the radicalization of educated middle-class Western terrorists from various ethnic groups volunteering to join ISIS. March 7 issue of the Mclean’s magazine introduces the research done by Diego Gambera and Steffen Hertog. It shows a curious connection of Jihadists and engineers.

The researchers found, “The presence of engineers among the known Islamist extremists is 14 times greater” than average. They are not saying engineers are potential terrorists. I have to make it absolutely clear, that I reject such stereotyping. The research points to the importance of the balanced use of both sides of a brain, and the need for education that ensure that balance.

The left side of the brain makes us think logically and scientifically while the right side more emotionally and spontaneously. A passionate religious believer who ignores what the left side of the brain says can easily become delusional. An excellent engineer insists only on logic, order and purity ignoring human quality of the left side of the brain can easily be persuaded to give to the extremism. The 9/11 master-mind Khalid Sheikh Mohamed was a well trained engineer. Gambera and Hertog mention a few other examples of terrorists who were likewise engineers. They also mention a high concentration of scientists and engineers among Nazis and Salafissts.

Of course, we must not overlook the “lone wolf” misfits who turn to acts of mass-killing and terrorism. They are found, for examples, in such places like the War Memorial in Ottawa, a summer camp in Norway, Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, and market places, schools and theatres in France and the United States. They are often lonely people excluded by peers and society, even bullied. However, the research in question added new food for thought for me.

It warns of the danger of over specialization, the training in narrow and highly specific areas. Though we are born with a certain degree of tendencies one way or another, we have to nurture and develop balanced use of both sides of brain compensating the weaker side. So, mathematicians should be encouraged to read Dalai Lama for example. Likewise a religious believer must at least know what quantum physics is about, and read Stephen Hawking. Smart people can be dangerous without balance.

Change of mind does not mean lack of conviction

CAN YOU CHANGE?

Justin Trudeau promised a review of the electoral system. If we adopt proportional representation or ranked ballot, we will have to radically change the way we think in politics. We will have to learn to compromise and co-operate when we work with people of different opinions. Adversarial style will create gridlocks. It is because there winning is the goal, not the pursuit of what really works. It creates a mind-set, “We got the majority; we have a platform. Don’t confuse me with facts.”

In adversarial style of politics, facts are often twisted or ignored just to oppose the other guy. I think that the dialogue engaged in a civilized manner is very important if you have to co-operate or compromise with other people. Major wars have often produced national coalitions, because the governments have to act quickly in war. But we are all different and disagreements are natural. So the trick is to find how we can work together and carry on without a fight or without being coerced into accepting what we don’t believe.

We need an open mind to listen to different points of view to see if we can live with something which we do not necessarily agree 100%. Arrogance can be not only bad for working relationship but can also be existentially deadly. There is a legend about a nobleman who lived in a small village near Geneva in Switzerland during the 19th Century. His hubris was infamous. He never listened to anyone. He always had his way. He died hit by a train as he lifted the barrier and entered a railroad crossing. For some people their ego is more important than life itself; a stupid but common attitude. “Willful Blindness” by Margaret Heffernan records many such historical disasters because people ignored reality.

It is rare to see anyone changes his/her ideologically and/or religiously based opinion. We don’t change our mind because it’s seen as a sign of weakness or lack of conviction, even betrayal. How can we be honest to admit our fallibility and listen to others? Willful blindness makes us ignore inconvenient truth like climate change or over-dependence on extraction of natural resources, and blame the other guy.

How can we change? Can a zebra change stripes? Maybe not. But snakes shed skins to grow and larvae become butterflies. They stop changing; they are dead.

Balanced budget is a holy cow.

FORGIVE US OUR DEBT?

Justin Trudeau’s victory at the last federal election (October, 2015) was a truly interesting moment in recent history. He offered big deficit spending on infrastructure projects and a big tax hike on the rich. Meanwhile Conservatives and NDP promised a balanced budget. Strange bedfellows! I guess more people were tired of Harper government than those who were concerned about balancing the budget. Perhaps, like me, many didn’t think that a deficit was a taboo. You may say I lack knowledge of economic fundamentals. But I think the question of a balanced versus deficit budget is neutral, not good or bad. It all depends.

Debt used to be a dirty word for conservatives. In my first job, I had a co-worker who was a kindest person I have ever known. She was Bible-centred, conservative and evangelical. She believed that debt was immoral: quoting the Bible, “Owe nobody anything.” She bought even a car with cash. Old prayer books had the Lord’s Prayer with a sentence “Forgive our debt,” not trespass sounding as though debt equalled wickedness. But today, our economy can not be sustained if nobody borrows money. George W. Bush said after 9/11 something like, “If you are patriotic, go out and shop.” He was encouraging consumption; borrowing was a patriotic act. Banks invented sub-prime mortgage – cheap money, and saw the seeds of recession of 2008.

When I was in Southern Africa during the seventies, I became Dean of Students, a job that required lots of travelling. So I applied for a credit card. It was refused because my name must have looked suspiciously non-white. It was during the days of Apartheid. My African colleagues had no credit card. But nowadays, credit cards arrive in the mail without asking for them. Personal debt is good for business. A successful businessman friend of mine said, “the measure of a good business man is how much money he can borrow.”

Buying government bonds ( a tool of deficit financing) can be a patriotic act, like Victory Bonds during the war. No one thought they were enabling the government to commit sin. There are certain things the government can and must do, like responding to crisis, defence, building infrastructure, and maintaining public order. Then we have to let the government borrow necessary funds. It’s a patriotic act.

Democracy requires change

CHANGES ARE NORMAL BUT THEY HAVE TO BE BASED ON THE PAST

After hearing about the unprecedented change of the political landscape in Alberta after the election victory of the NDP, Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice, portrayed the atmosphere of the Federal Conservative caucus as a “morgue.” NDP which held four seats in A;berta Legislature won the power winning 54 seats on May 5, 2015. Changes are difficult for people who value the things that don’t change. Some people get particularly angry at changes in practice of moral ethics, such as abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana. Prayers at public fora and schools is another irritation for the conservatives. Here the “conservative” I speak about are small “c” varieties.

However, changes are inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Sages of yesteryears all agreed on the universality of change: from ancient Hebrew Psalmists to Buddha, Socrates to Jesus, they all said, “Nothing stays the same” in various ways. Then why conservatives insist that nothing should change and what is old is always good. Remember: An organism that does not change is a dead organism, will rot and stink in time. Why then facing with changes, conservatives are often angry and denounce those progressives as evil?

As a person proud of being progressive, I often feel sorry for conservative people. They are always faced with inevitability of change, because it is the universal norm. Nothing stays the same. Everything flows like a river: it’s only a matter of difference in speed. When it is young, it flows rapidly but it is narrow and its volume small. As it reaches plains, it becomes wider, volume abundant, and power enormous. However, it flows constantly changing its outlook and shape. If it stops, in no time it becomes dirty, smelly, often deadly. Water evaporates and remnant kills lives. Change is like breathing: when it stops it means death.

In the meanwhile, I do understand conservatives’ anger with those who insist on change for the sake of change. Changes can be destructive and meaningless. All positive changes must be built on the foundation of the past. In other words, they must be evolutionary and revisionary. The positive changes have to be made on the foundation of the past. Otherwise, it does not move forward, the baseless change can be regressive. Future and past are like two sides of a sheet of paper. One can not exist without the other. Progress without a basis of the past is like a balloon without a string. They may not go anywhere.

Remember history when you vote

HOW WILL WE VOTE, IF WE REMEMBER?

I wonder how people will vote  if they remember the past.  A short term memory is my problem: I reached the bottom of the stairs, I can’t remember why I came to the basement.  But I remember what happened 30  years  ago very well.  The fact is: people forget and politicians benefit.  First Nations and Jewish people keep reminding us of  humanity’s capability to commit acts of  unspeakable cruelty.  Memory should be a lesson not an excuse for vengeance.   Here are a few things I remember:

– When the Parliament invoked the War Measures Act in 1941 and voted to exclude Japanese Canadians from the coast as  “Enemy Aliens,”  only the CCF, which is now the NDP, voted against it.   The action was just but a political suicide for an MP like Angus MacInnis.

– When Canada accepted an unprecedented large number of Vietnamese boat people in 1980, all parties in the Parliament were in favour of it.  Only an organization called “National Citizens Coalition” was against it.   It ran a full page advertisement in major newspapers opposing the acceptance of refugees.  Argument was Asians were family oriented people hence Canada would be flooded by their relations once you let a few of them in.  Mr. Stephen Harper headed that organization before he re-entered the politics.

– Conservatives and Liberals did not stop civil servants who prevented other boat peoples to come into Canada different times in the 20th Century.  They were boatful of Sikh, Japanese, and Jewish people who were turned back to the sea.  Many of those Jews perished in death camps.

– In 1984, we were invited to meet with an all party coalition of some Parliamentarians headed by Conservative Heath MacQuarrie and Robert Stanfield.  They encouraged the churches to be involved in helping Palestinians refugees.  Marcel Prud’ homme, Liberal, and Derek Blackburn, NDP were there also. Canadian churches had just joined in the program to help Palestinians.

– Opposing the white South African racial policy, Conservatives were more active than Liberals.  John Diefenbaker and Brian Mulroney were very supportive of anti-Apartheid movement.

We all make mistakes; the question is if we admit it as the mistake and change or overlook it as just politics.

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

LET THERE BE PEACE – FOR ISRAEL TO SURVIVE

I CRY FOR ISRAEL

I am looking at a picture of my two grand daughters: Hana, 12 years old, brilliant, hard working, competitive, and serious like her Dad, and Miki, eight, a clown, a fun-loving joker, and affectionate and warm hearted somewhat like her uncle Kenny.  I love them so very dearly; I can give my life for them.  They both have names that are good both in Hebrew and Japanese languages.  Yes, they are Canadians of both Japanese and Jewish ancestry.  They are the reason why I feel passionately protective of the State of Israel.  Hana and Miki have a safe home to go back to, just in one in million chances when such a necessity presents itself .  I know it could never happen.  But that was how Japanese Canadians felt: “we are not enemies, we are Canadians.”  But all of them were given ID cards as “Enemy Aliens” and were rounded up and were kept in cattle stalls at the Pacific National Exhibition, Vancouver, in 1942.

Anyone who saw the Academy Award winning Italian movie “Life is Beautiful” understands why I feel like this.  Even a seven year old child could have been gassed in a Nazi death camp because he had a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, like Hana and Miki.  I shiver in horror by a thought of it.  Of course it will never happen.  But what about the massacre in Paris just this year in 2015?

This is why I am totally committed to the survival of the State of Israel as a home for all the Jews in the world.  We, of the Japanese origine in Canada, will never have to experience again what happened in 1942 – 49 in Canada.  You think?  I still have a copy of  the letter the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town wrote to me in 1975.  “As a Canadian of non-European origine” (exact words) one must honour the laws of the host country where he is a guest.”  He was explaining to me why I was expelled from South Africa.

The record of the Canadian diplomatic representatives overseas in protection of  “Canadian of non-European origine” is not so spectacular.  Do I feel at home in Canada?  Yes 100%, but….  How come people still ask me where I come from.  “Quebec,” I answer.  It was where I last lived and worked for ten years.  No that’s not what they were asking.  Before that?  Toronto, Geneva in Switzerland, Lesotho in Africa, or Vancouver?  Not that’s not the answer they expect from me.  Now that Harper government is thinking a creation of two tier category of Canadian citizenship, so that the government will have a power to stripe citizenship.

With such a backdrop, do you blame me in the very back of my mind to find a life-line of notion, “I have a home to go to just in case.”  Jews now have a home, Israel,  just in case in million chance.  Do you blame them after millennia of persecution?  I understand.

The Holocaust happened seventy years ago.  But Christians had persecuted and murdered Jews for two millennia everywhere in Europe.  Such a memory lingers for a long time.  No matter how the State of Israel was established (can any country claim totally morally squeaky clean beginning?), I firmly believe that it has to remain the home for all the Jews in the world.  All the civilized countries have duty to defend its existence.  Israel has the right to exist absolutely.

That is the very reason why I firmly believe the Occupation of Palestine by Israel must end.   The occupation  and the way the Palestinians are treated by the state of Israel in their own home must cease.  It is the first step to ensure the existence of the State of Israel.  If it has to continue to exists, it is absolutely necessary to be friends with the Arab neighbours.   And the peaceful co-existence of two states, Israel and Palestine, is the utmost importance.  Otherwise, th region will be, if it may not already be, in a perpetual state of hostility like the Balkans.  The U.S. may not afford to pay for the protection of Israel for ever.  America is the only country paying for the defence of Israel.  Would  I feel secure with such a singlehanded guarantee?  No.

They have to begin rapprochement now.  Unfortunately, the current relation between two peoples is worsening.  Hatred between peoples are palpable.  Just listen to people talk about the other people on the streets in Tel Aviv and Ramallah: racist on both sides.  Perpetual state of oppression is not the way to nurture friendship.  Neither can rockets and cluster bombs force people to love each other.  What does it take for a six years old boy to carry stones in his pocket just in case he spots a lone Jesh (Israel soldier) looking  the other way: decades of hostility.  He is bred in bones to hate the neighbour.

When I came back to Canada from African and Switzerland, where my preoccupation was to fight Apartheid, I was employed by the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC).  The first Ecumenical gathering I was assigned to attend was a meeting on Palestinian refugees held in Beirut, Lebanon organized by the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).  That was in 1979.  I thought I was hearing stories from Apartheid South Africa.  The Committee on Development and Service of the CCC appointed me to be the permanent representative for five churches, Anglican, Disciples, Presbyterian, Quakers, and United, for this MECC programme.  It was easy to understand what was happening.  Similarity between Palestine and South Africa was uncanny.  No wonder Desmond Tutu understood that too.  I don’t think many people know that Tutu is a persona-none-grata in Israel for many years. Thus my annual journey to Palestine began to continue until 1985 when I was seconded to the WCC and relocated to Geneva.

For 15 years, I had been exposed to daily frustration and humiliation of my Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank and Gaza.  My friends were elite.  People’s experience is much worse.  Daily humiliation was accelerating their hatred, and obvious economic disparity between two peoples were driving people to desperation.  If the State of Israel is to continue, the relationship has to begin to move towards opposite direction: towards reconciliation, friendship and good will.  It may be too late.  During the early stage of the second Intifada in the 1990’s, some Israeli left leaning pundits already started to predict “One State” solution in despair.  They predicted that such a state will result in the end of Jewish state.  Demography always shows that less wealthy group eventually takes over the more wealthy one eventually.  It’s an “apartheid” system that never succeeds.

When I began my annual trip to Israel-Palestine during the eighties, Jewish settlements still had a population of less than 100,000.  However many people said that when the settlers’ number exceeded 100,000, it would be a de-facto annexation.  Now the settler population is about 300,000.  Only a determined denier hopes for a bright future for the Jewish State.  I cry for Israel.

Respectable language is more effective than insult

RESPECTABLE LANGUAGE IS MORE EFFECTIVE

Print media are in a survival mode under the onslaught of digital technology.  So I am happy to see its participatory nature of the page called “Roasted and Toasted” of the Lethbridge Herald. People write a few lines anonymously about their appreciations and complains.  It is popular.   However, I don’t like anonymous rude comments made of others.  It is not only aggravating but also useless.  When an offensive word is thrown at me, my immediate reaction is to stop hearing.   Rudeness stokes resentment and entrenches resolve.

 

Words have become cheaper nowadays, even meaningless.  But they could be deadly: verbal insults provoked men to kill each other in duels; heretics were burnt at stake because their language did not conform to the doctrine.  Prohibiting their language, Canada nearly destroyed First Nations by rejecting their identity and dignity.  Language represents not only culture and tradition but also the person’s identity.  Hence, words can destroy people.  Then why some of us are so quick to call names?  We can learn a lot from societies that are still in a state before the age of advanced technology and ubiquitous advertisement.  They may be backward in technology, but could be more civilized in humanity.

When I was doing double-duty as Dean of Students while teaching at an university in Africa, I came face to face with a culture that still recognized the importance of civility in language.  Once a student verbally insulted a woman behind the counter of the university cafeteria.  He was taken to the village court called Khotla.  The chief gave him a month in Jail.  So, he didn’t graduate that year.  Meanwhile, another student had a fight and stabbed a local boy with a non-life threatening injury.  The same chief sentenced him merely to six lashes.  Verbal Insult on an older person is a serious offence worse than a physical attack in Basotho culture.  An aging beggar is still addressed “Ntate” – “Sir.”

Today, words are even cheaper because of social media.   Law makers are the worst role models in language use.  I wish political parties stop personal attack-ads.  They don’t change minds: they only fortify already held prejudices.  Can we not be more civilized in what we say?   There are ways to be critical without being nasty or rude: respectful words could be more effective in communicating messages.

Difficulty of being conservative

CHANGES ARE NORMAL BUT THEY HAVE TO BE BASED ON THE PAST

After hearing about the unprecedented change of the political landscape in Alberta after the election victory of the NDP, Peter MacKay, Minister of Justice, portrayed the atmosphere of the Federal Conservative caucus as a “morgue.”  NDP which held four seats in A;berta Legislature won the power winning 54 seats on May 5, 2015.  Changes are difficult for people who value the things that don’t change.  Some people get particularly angry at changes in practice of moral ethics, such as abortion, homosexuality, and marijuana.   Prayers at public fora and schools is another irritation for the conservatives.  Here the “conservative” I speak about are small “c” varieties.

However, changes are inevitable.  Nothing stays the same.  Sages of yesteryears all agreed on the universality of change: from ancient Hebrew Psalmists to Buddha, Socrates to Jesus, they all said, “Nothing stays the same” in various ways.  Then why conservatives insist that nothing should change and what is old is always good.  Remember:  An organism that does not change is a dead organism, will rot and stink in time.  Why then facing with changes, conservatives are often angry and denounce those progressives as evil?

As a person proud of being progressive, I often feel sorry for conservative people.  They are always faced with inevitability of change, because it is the universal norm.  Nothing stays the same.  Everything flows like a river: it’s only a matter of difference in speed.  When it is young, it flows rapidly but it is narrow and its volume small.  As it reaches plains, it becomes wider, volume abundant, and power enormous.  However, it flows constantly changing its outlook and shape.  If it stops, in no time it becomes dirty, smelly, often deadly.  Water evaporates and remnant kills lives.  Change is like breathing: when it stops it means death.

In the meanwhile, I do understand conservatives’ anger with those who insist on change for the sake of change.  Changes can be destructive and meaningless.  All positive changes must be built on the foundation of the past.  In other words, they must be evolutionary and revisionary.  The positive changes have to be made on the foundation of the past.  Otherwise, it does not move forward, the baseless change can be regressive.  Future and past are like two sides of a sheet of paper.  One can not exist without the other.  Progress without a basis of the past is like a balloon without a string.  They may not go anywhere.

IS CANADA A DIFFERENT COUNTRY?

I WANT MY CANADA BACK.

I have never completely understood the notion of the “West” even after living in Lethbridge for fourteen years.  I love it here and am very comfortable.   Nobody has tried to run me out of town yet.  I think Alberta is changing.  Wealth is making it more urbanized and libertarian male chauvinism has become an embarrassment.  Wild Rose Rick Strankman had to apologize and withdraw his  “bring your wife’s pie” invitation tot a fund-raiser.  And the same party would not sign Russ Kuykendall’s nomination paper for his stand against Gay Pride function. (Herald, April17, p.A2)  Alberta is no longer the frontiers nor a Bible belt.  Yet how come Mr. Harper is still chasing the tired old myth of the West and trying to reshape the whole country.

During the World War II, I was a child  in Japan.  I remember a disparaging image of Canada caricatured in political cartoons.  Pudgy little boy MacKenzie King in short pants fighting to join the big bully boys club of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin.  They were rudely throwing at boy King nasty scrap jobs like disastrous landing of Dieppe and hopeless defence of Hong Kong.

However, when I applied for visa to come to Canada in 1957, Canada had a different image.

It was shaped by Pearsonian idealism of a middle power confidently making a unique contribution to the cause of human rights and peace with a creative use of armed forces.  I lived in Switzerland during the seventies and eighties when young backpackers were hitch-hiking everywhere.  Many kids  including Americans had Canadian Maple Leaf sewn on their backpacks.  A few radical leftist attacked anything American.  Americans were frightened.  The reason was the Viet Nam War.  It was the same in Lebanon in 1982 where I worked briefly.  I felt lucky to be Canadian as Danish, Dutch, and Swedish did, free to go anywhere.  Americans, Britons, and French persons were told to stay inside in Beirut.  Canada was neutral on both fronts.

Now, it seems we live in a different Canada.  At her investiture into the Order of Canada,  film maker Bonnie Klein was quoted as saying,”Today’s Canada is not the country we chose.” (The Walrus, Page 52, April issue, 2015)  She is mother of Naomi Klein, who is Stephen Lewis’  daughter-in-law.  For me, Klein/Lewis family represents the best of Canada.  Where art thou my beloved Canada?

Terrorism – over used word lost its meaning

WHO IS A TERRORIST?

A CBC correspondent Neil McDonald once said that he would not use the word “terrorism.”  He said that the word had been so abused often for political reason that he didn’t know what it meant any more.  And yet, the danger is that the word is so poisonous that it scares people and drives them to irrational actions.   Franklin Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – unjustified terror which paralyses…”

The word “terrorism” is so ubiquitous nowadays.  Mr. Harper and his colleagues love to use it and are gaining ground in public support because of it.  People are scared.  The word has been abused to demonize political enemies avoiding the real issue.  Examples:

Two former Israeli Prime Ministers, Yitzhak Shamir and Manachem Begin were hunted by the British Army as terrorists.  The guerrilla group they belonged bombed King David Hotel in Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine, killing hundreds of British soldiers.  I know two of the survivors of that attack, one lives in Lethbridge.  Late President of the South Africa, Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years for terrorism.  Russian President Vladimir Putin loves to call his political enemies “terrorists.”  A Canadian journalist of Al Jezeera is charged for terrorism because he belongs to a news organization that is critical of the Egyptian Military regime.  List goes on.

I was detained in solitary for three days and expelled from the Republic of South Africa under the provisions of the racist Apartheid law to combat “terrorism” in 1971.  I didn’t do or say anything (I am too cowardly to do such a thing).  The reason was my friends; guilt by association.  I didn’t know Desmond Tutu was such a dangerous man.  He and I were hired together by the same university to teach.  Canadian government was no help.  “A Canadian of Non-European origin must honour the laws of the land where he is a guest” was the expression the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy wrote in the letter to me.    I guess it was a bad time for Canada because of the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec.

This is why I think it is dangerous for Harper government to use the word “terrorism or terrorist” for political expedience.  The real problem remain unresolved and innocent people get hurt.

Re: Radical Islamists added Japan on their list of enemies

A pacifist reporter KENJI GOTO beheaded by Islamists in January, 2015

My sister in Tokyo was furious in her recent email about the brutal execution of two Japanese men by ISIS.  Of course, she did not spare any word in condemnation of the ISIS.  However, an interesting thing about it is a double-edge nature of her anger.  She is more angry with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was using the brutal death of those men to stir up public opinion urging them to accept a more advanced role of the Japanese military in alliance with the West, particularly with the U.S.

Mr. Goto was a member of an United Church in Japan, my sister’s neighbouring church, whose pacifist stand was well known.  The United Church of Christ in Japan has been working hard for a long time, albeit an almost lost cause, for protection of the Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution which prohibits Japanese military involvement in a war other than for self defence.  It therefore can not participate in the conflict in a third country even with an alliance partner like the U.S.  The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is a right leaning conservative who want to militarize the country by amending the Constitution, which requires a two-third majority in the Lower House.  He didn’t get it at the last election.  So the propaganda war is fierce.  What is lost is that the Constitution was drafted by the U.S. occupation force.

Kenji Goto, a well-known war correspondent, quite naively believing that Japan was still accepted as non-alliance country, went to Syria to negotiate the release of another Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa.  He didn’t realize that Mr. Abe’s hawkish pronouncements in support of the American led coalition had already been known and changed the mind of the ISIS leadership about Japan.  By the way, Mr. Abe represents the segment of the population on the right which denies the culpability of Japanese Imperial Army in the Nanjing massacre and rape, kidnapping of thousands of Korean women as sex slaves, and other war crimes during the Second World War. If denying Holocaust is a crime here, why in Japan the Prime Minister gets away denying war crimes?.  I don’t understand the double standard.

It is a tragic irony that the death of the pacifist correspondent is used by a warmongering politicians to advance the cause of militarization.  Of course, the brutality of ISIS is despicable.  But shouldn’t Prime Minister Abe also take some responsibility in Kenji Goto’s death?

Limit to Freedon of Expression

Preamble:

In the month of January, 2015, three radical Islamists attacked the office of French Cartoon magazine “Charlie Hebdo” anf killed more than dozen people including the editor-in-chief as well as a few cartoonists.because they mockingly depicted Prophet Mohammed..  Reaction to such savage attack on them was immediate world-wide.  A few days later several media outlets, both electronic and print, reproduced the pictures in question.  The following is my January 23, 2015 letter to the editor of the Lethbridge Herald which re-printed the cartoon previous week.

NO HUMAN IS INFALLIBLE

I admire the courage of all media organizations that decided to reproduce the cartoons from the French magazine “Charlie Hebdo.”  (Lethbridge Herald, January 9, 2015, Page B1) It also shows that they have faith in the efficiency of the security apparatus which hopefully guarantee their safety.  However, I take the side of those media which, as a principle, try not to offend what is held sacred by anyone.  I don’t accept the accusation that they were acting in fear.

How far can “freedom of expression” go?  It is a tricky question.  The Americans tend to believe there should be no limit; likewise do the French people.  Canadians believe otherwise; we have anti-hate crime legislation restricting use of a certain language, for example.  I don’t believe that insulting or offending other people in the name of freedom of expression is a civilized human behaviour.  I am a Japanese-Canadian: I have a double dose of politeness in my DNA.  And I think it is a good thing in a situation like the one we are facing today.

I belong to the spiritual tradition that traces its origin from Abraham: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.  We are monotheists, a belief in one Divine Being.   Therefore we follow the dictum prohibiting any representation of the Divine which we term as idiolatry: the Second Commandment.  It is an admission of human limitation and of our inability to know and understand what is absolute and perfect.  It means any human has no right to decide the ultimate demise of another human based on belief, because nobody knows for sure the absolute truth and its demand.  This is why I believe there should be no killing of other humans in the name of religion.

I am condemning the recent murderous acts by Islamic extremists.  Christianity does not have  pristine history either.  Deaths were ordered by the Catholic Church for heresy.  Protestant history is not any better: Jean Calvin ordered burning at stake of Michael Servetus. Remember also Thirty Year War?   Eight million were killed in the war that began as a fight between Catholics and Protestants.  When those humans and human institutions rooted in the faith of Abraham claim the god-given right to kill, they become idol worshippers: they are making themselves gods.  To say, “God said so” is a lie.  Because nobody knows God’s will for sure.

 

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN? – CHRISTMAS 2014

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

I know it is a festive season, and we all should look at the bright side of life.    But this whole business of ISIS depresses me.  We, I mean the West, is doing it all over again.  When will we ever learn?  (Sorry, Bob Dylan, for the paraphrase.)  According to Imam Soharwardy, who spoke at the SACPA luncheon lecture recently, in the rush to organize credible fighting forces against the regime in Syria, the West asked Saudi Arabia to help, which obliged by pouring in money and weapons to create a Sunni fighting force.  That is the origin of the ISIS.  It’s the case of applying “enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic.  And it turned out they were no friends of ours.

In order to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Americans invited Muslim extremists, armed them and showered them with money to expel Soviets.  There is a Hollywood movie about it called “Charlie’s War.”  That was how al Qaida and Taliban were born.  They turned out to be no friends of America after the Soviets were defeated and left.  They turned out to be deadly against us.  Remember 9/11?

Likewise, Sadam Husein was a friend of ours when he was fighting Iran.  Donald Rumsfelt shook hands with Sadam.  I saw the same kid of things with Israel vis a vis Hamas in Gaza during the 1980’s.  I was there when Islamic radicals in collusion with Israeli forces attacked the PLO leadership and burned down the building of the Red Crescent Society.  Again the enemies (Hamas) of the enemies (secular PLO) turned out to be more deadly to Israel.  Our histories are full of the same old mistakes.  Violence begets violence.  When will we ever learn?

We really should think deeply about what we mean when we celebrate the birth of Prince of Peace.  Peace is not cowardly nor sissy.  Do we have to keep killing such an idea like PEACE?  It’s not a new idea.  All religions believe in it.  I wish you all, Shalom!  Salaam!  Peace!

The system does not adequately deal with sexual harassement.

SYSTEM VICTIMISES THE VICTIMS

I can relate to Justin Trudeau’s conundrum.  Did he rush into an action too fast by suspending two M.P’s in the latest sex scandal?  I made the same mistake.  When a woman comes to you reporting sexual harassment, you want to do the right thing quickly, but can end up overlooking the due process.  Is it your mistake or is the system faulty?

During the early 1990’s I sat on an administrative position of the United Church in Ottawa and Montreal region.  One of the terms of reference of the job was to facilitate the disciplinary process of church employees including clergy.  It was the time when sexual abuse by clergymen was in the media.  It was also the time the whole outrage of “Indian Residential School” came into open.  We in the church administration were scrambling to do the right thing fast.

In two separate cases, women reported to me that they took complaints of sexual harassment by their ministers to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.  We wanted to do the right thing as quickly as possible; so not waiting for the decision of the Commission, we suspended them from their pastorates.  Those ministers took the church administration to the civil court.  It took two years, and the church lost.  We had to reinstate them and pay the cost.

The court decided that the church did not diligently follow the procedure prescribed in “the United Church Manual.”  We were too eager not to repeat the past mistakes: lack of transparency and a long, arduous and adversarial process that punished the victims further.  Also, if the truth be told, we wanted to be seen to be sympathetic to women.

We did have a legal advisor.  But the system that requires presumption of innocence, adversarial disciplinary proceedings, and worst of all, the time consuming process did not work for the already traumatized victims.  Media frenzy traumatize the victims further.  No wonder those NDP M.P.’s wanted to stay anonymous.

The Parliament, incredibly, does not have a process.  But even the existing processes of other organizations do not work because the systems often victimise the victims.  Criminal proceedings are worse because they are extremely adversarial and brutal.  There’s got to be one that enables a quick and decisive yet humane action to deal with the offence against the vulnerable.

Should Doctor-assisted-suicide be legally allowed?

ASSISTED SUICIDE AND EUTHANASIA

What is the issue?  Does the Bible provide any help to resolve the dilemma?

On the question of assisted suicide and euthanasia, the only Biblical reference I can think of is the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  (Exodus 20:13)   It is the most important dictum to define the justifiable homicide, that is an act to end another human life legally.  Homicide is a loaded word, because it is used most often in relation to crime.  I use it to show my instinctive dislike of any act of destruction of life.  In the ideal world, there should be no homicide in any situation, any time, any where.  It affirms the fundamental principle of sanctity of life as a gift of God in creation.  However, the fact is, throughout history this commandment has been ignored selectively, never obeyed universally nor unconditionally.  In other words, the principle of justifiable homicide has often been applied to exempt certain number of situations.

War, capital punishment, self-defence, protection of property, use of lethal force to maintain public order are used to justify killing people.  The number of countries that have death penalty in the statute book, however, is decreasing in the industrialised countries.  Recently, *physician assisted suicide (PAS) and euthanasia have been added to the list of justifiable homicide in certain number of countries, a province and states: Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Quebec, Oregon, Vermont, Montana, and Washington.  And public support for it is increasing.  The primary argument for PAS is horrible quality of life such as incurable disease, chronic and unbearable pain and suffering.  For those sufferers life has become unbearable.

* Assisted suicide and euthanasia present two separate issues.  But I am not going into technicality here, as this is a paper for the Bible Study not a legal exercise.

However, we must remind ourselves that this issue has arisen because of positive developments in the quality of care for life in respect for creation.  We should rejoice in that.  Because of the rapid development of medical science and technology, and of other disciplines such as better understanding of psychological and sociological conditions, life on earth is safer and longer, and increasingly with compassion.  We can prolong life as long as we had ever imagined possible.  Life with pain and suffering are often the result of unprecedented longevity.  We have never lived so long until such side-effects appeared.  But the fact that we managed to prolong life as much as we have, does not mean anyone has the right to terminate it.  In the ideal world no homicide does not have to be justified.  Meanwhile in reality, pain and suffering do exist.  It is natural that a compassionate person wishes to help suffering persons to have their wish.  PAS is justified as an interim measure until the Kingdom comes.

We should all be working toward creation of an utopian society where everyone lives out their natural life without pain and suffering.  It means the universal palliative facilities and end-of-life hospice care for all allowing those with chronic pain, to live out their lives in comfort.  In the Bible, Second Isaiah dreamed about such a world and called it “New Jerusalem.”. (Isaiah 65: 20)

How has Christian view on suicide evolved?

SUICIDE

The view of the Christian Church – a work in progress

The following is a preliminary to the question of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.

The Bible mentions three suicides.  Judges 16:28-30 tells the story of Samson killing the enemy of Israel by killing himself and became a sort of first suicide bomber.  Samson is a national hero.  1 Samuel 31:4 describes King Saul falling on his sword in stead of a life of shame after being defeated by the Philistines.  He redeemed himself in the eyes of Israelites by committing suicide.  Acts 1:18 reports Judas Iscariot hung himself out of guilt for betraying his master and teach Jesus.  I also found four passages which mention writers’ death wish.  Job 3: 20 – 22, Jonah 4:8, Acts 16:28, Philippians1:23.

Job lost all children who were killed in a natural calamity, lost all wealth and possessions by marauding brigands.  Afterward, he suffered skin disease which caused unbearable incessant itch.  Seeing his suffering his wife said, “Curse God and die.”  His friends assumed he commited grievous sins that brought to him such misery.  Job cursed the day he was born and wanted to die.  Jonah couldn’t stand the heat of the Sun without a shade and wanted to die: the most frivolous excuse!  In the Acts, a jail guard in Philippi was going to kill himself when he found that all his prisoners escaped.  As for Paul, students of the Bible have suspected him of chronic health problem that bothered him for a long time.  In the letter to the Philippians, he said death and being with Christ would be preferable than life of suffering.  They all preferred death to horrible quality of life.   They had no good reason to live on in such agony, guilt, misery, pain, or shame.    Death seemed to be a better option than mere longevity.

The Bible dose not say explicitly that suicide as such is a sinful act.  Then, where does the concept that suicide is an unforgivable sin comes from?  Suicide was a crime until recently in the Christian West.  As recently as 1970’s, at the university where I taught for eight years, there was a piece of land consecrated as the burial ground.  The Catholic Church sold the university to the government at the time of independence, but the cemetery remained under the control of the church.  One time, a faculty member committed suicide, but the church did not allowed him to be buried in the cemetery, even though the dead man was a devote Catholic.  In the United Church, I remember the controversy in B.C., during the sixties, of a couple of respected former missionaries who killed themselves in the garage instead of watching his wife dying slowly of cancer.  In this case, the argument for compassion and understanding for the tortured souls won rather than condemnation.

In Japan, the notion of honourable suicide has been a long held tradition.   The Japanese Protestant churches did not follow the western dictum of equating suicide to murder,  and didn’t refused funerals for those who killed themselves.  In fact, my first funeral in Tokyo after being designated as a Deacon was for a friend who committed suicide.  He opted for death rather than telling his newly wedded wife that he lost his job.  This is why I never had trouble accepting suicide as a tragic but inevitable way of dying for some people.  Where, then, does the prohibition of suicide come from?  Thomas Kennedy in the “Christianity Today” traces the origin of the doctrine that suicide was unforgivable sin to St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. They influenced the doctrine of the Catholic Church, not the Bible.  Protestant Martin Luther and John Calvin down-graded it a notch by making it forgivable nevertheless “sin”.

The Bible was not the source of the doctrine of suicide as sin: the Church was.  It seems the whole notion against suicide comes from the ten commandments and for the respect for God’s creation.  It is absolutely right to accept the sanctity of life as the gift of God, thus prohibiting its willful destruction.  The sixth commandment “Thou shalt not kill” should be universally adhered to.   However I have trouble equating suicide with murder.  Furthermore, the Church has never observed the sixth commandment unconditionally.  There have always been “justifiable homicides” both in the church and the state.  I am happy that the progress in understanding of human conditions is nudging us toward the idea that suicide is a tragedy that should not happen, but definitely is not sin.  We are almost in agreement about the need to work towards a society where such a tragedy does not happen.

BARBARIC RELIGIONS

DEMISE OF RELIGION WAS HIGHLY EXAGERATED

That’s too bad

The recent resurgence of passionate, often barbaric, dedication to a religion, such as ISIS ( Islamic State), among the youths took me by a complete surprise.  Why do middle class educated young Canadians frock to the cause of an extreme religious fanaticism?  Today, I thought it was cool among the youths to be atheists and to predict a demise of organized religions.  They point to the diminishing size of many Christian congregations as a proof.   But religious fanatics who don’t mind dying for the cause?  What is happening?

Demise of traditional religions has been predicted for a long time.  Already during the 1940’s, Dietrich Bonheoffer, who was executed by Adolf Hitler predicted that:  “As science advances, the space God had occupied is getting smaller.”   This is why some of us were hoping that such a wake-up call would motivate us to a more vigorous search for a true mission of the authentic religions.

Violence and barbarism by religious people are nothing new.  Officially blessed by a respectable denomination in the Southern U.S., the violently anti-Black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic movement Ku Klux Klan went on to killing rampage in the United States only several decades ago.  There were many bloody conflicts among Buddhist denominations in Japan for many centuries too.   Warrior monks were legends I grew up hearing about.  Crusaders like Knights Templars were officially glorified for mass killing of Muslims.  Intolerance to differences that led to the burning at stake of many heretics is another crime committed by the organized religion.  Even the supposedly most tolerant Hinduism had a recent history of violence against other religions for the cause of Hindu-nationalism.  But I thought those were passing or the thing of the past.

Why do religions drive some people to such violent inhuman acts?  I think that the basic mistake they make is confusing faith from knowledge.  Religion is a matter of belief.  Belief is not knowledge.  Faith, by definition, always acknowledges possibilities of error.  Hence, no one has the right to cause death of another person in the name of faith.  This is why I am happy to put religions to a rigorous test.  That is the only way to keep religions honest and away from delusions, fanaticism, and superstitions.  This is why I am sad that religious fanaticism and fundamentalism are thwarting the journey of religions towards their true mission.

 

 

 

PLIGHT OF PALESTINIAN CHRISTIANS IN THE HOLY LAND

SOME CHRISTIANS ARE PERSECUTED FROM MANY SIDES

I usually like what Gwynne Dyer says, but I take exception to his emphasis on Islamicpressures in Sudan, Iraq, and other Arab countries causing demise of Christians. However, in other parts of the world other factors are also responsible.

One example I know well is in the Holy Land.  There are more Palestinian Christians living in Canada and the U.S. today than those who still live in Israel and Palestine because of their exodus.  Traditionally close to 20% of Palestinians were Christians.  I don’t know the statistics today, but I know there are fewer than a few thousand still living in Jerusalem.  Christians have lived in the Holy Land for millennia but they are leaving in droves.  Leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem have been appealing to the Worldwide Christian community for help drawing attention to the demise of Christian population in the Holy Land.  Many of them go back a long way: their history is older than any Christian church in the world.  Some of them can go back their family histories to the original Christians of Jewish converts at the time of Jesus and his brother James.  I know personally at least two such families in Gaza.

Pressure on the Christians comes from many sides, not just from Muslim community.  Israel is suspicious of them because they are Palestinians and support the P.L.O’s position on a secular state, which goes against the notion of the Jewish State.  Of course, there are pressures coming from Muslims too.  The Christians are the target of suspicion from them because of the activities of some American Evangelical Christians, who are the most enthusiastic supporters of the State of Israel.  Some of us call them “Christian Zionists.”   Thus they are seen with suspicion by both sides.  They are like Orthodox Christians who had lived in the Holy Land at the time of Crusade.  Crusaders did not distinguish different peoples who had lived there.  So they killed Muslims, as well as Orthodox Christians and Jews in order to gain Christian control of the Holy Land.  This is why the Palestinian Christians leave the land where their faith tradition began.

Let us think seriously about the persecution on religions as a human rights issue, not a political football.

Tad Mitsui

 

HATE EVIL NOT PEOPLE

HAZARD OF HUMILIATING PROUD PEOPLE

Russian President Vladimir Putin is apparently very popular in his country.  Russians believe Putin’s incredible lie that, against all evidences, the Ukrainians government forces shot down Malaysian Airlines MH17, not the Russian supported separatists.   However, of course, all evidences point to the separatists as culprits.  It is very dangerous to humiliate a proud people: they believe anything that gives them back the pride they lost.  This is why humiliation helped Adolf Hitler to be elected to lead the nation to a total disaster in order to recover the sense of greatness as people which they lost during the First World War and its aftermath.

When Japan was recovering from devastation of the World War II, the many captains of major Japanese industries that led the incredible economic recovery between 1950’s and 60’s were officers of the Japanese Imperial Forces.  I knew many of them personally.  The motto I heard often during those days was, “We were beaten in military, but we will beat them in economy.”  That’s the one of the reasons Japan became the second largest economy in a short time until they were overtaken recently by China.  Free competitive market is a constructive place to choose for revenge, but their motive gave me a chill.   It is dangerous to humiliate proud people.   Desire for revenge kills humanity and truth.   Hatred and self-deception make all of us beasts.  When we remind ourselves about the greatness of Russian culture; art, literature, music, and science, it is understandable that people love Mr. Putin who is helping them recover the pride they had lost after the fall of the Soviet empire.

I am in no way justifying the evil paths German, Japanese, and Russian people had followed during the 20th Century.  But I am warning about the danger of humiliating people.  Gwyn Dyer traces the almost intractable problems facing the Middle East to the humiliation of the Arabs and the Jewish people.  They were both great people in culture, science, and spiritual traditions.  And yet they had been utterly humiliated by the West throughout the recent history.  Have we done the same to the First Nations?

We must never humiliate people.  Like the cliché has it,  ”Hate evil not people.”

August 5, 2014

Are we the only stupid animals kill each other for ideas?

ARE WE REALLY THE MOST ADVANCED SPECIES?

 Do you remember the movie?   “Stop the world.  I want to get off!”   If I shut out all the news from my eyes and ears, I should be happy in this beautiful summer in the most beautiful country in the world.  Ongoing civil war in Syria that already killed a few hundred thousand people, 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airliner with 400 people on board, the ISIS take over of Northern Iraq, missing bodies of three murdered people in Alberta, another Malaysian Airliner shot down by Ukrainian rebels, and conflict between Hamas and Israel.  It goes on and on.  I want to get off.  The worst thing is: we soon forget and move on to the next exciting tragedy.

Humans are the only species that kill each other by the thousands.  Do you still think we are the most superior living organisms?  Matthew White is a historian and loves to count numbers.  He counted the number of people killed by fellow humans en mass in history.  He published a book listing 100 worst mass killings in the known human history since 5th Century B.C.E.

The first goes to the Second World War that killed 66 million people in four years.  (20 million soldiers and 46 million civilians including 6 million Jews)  Next comes Chinggis Khan who killed 40 million people to conquer a large portion of Asia and Europe during the Thirteenth Century.  Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin were both mass murderers, causing the deaths of 40 Million and 20 million respectively during their life time.  Religious conflict kills too, big time.  Crusade in three hundred years killed 3 million, and Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants during the Seventeenth Century killed 7.5 million.

Other animals kill each other too, but in the much smaller scale and never deliberately.  They fight for food, sex, and territory.  But they never fight like humans over differences in ideologies and theologies.  We boast that we are superior being than other animals because we think on a higher level than basic biological level.  Really?

Historian Arnold Toynbee thought bees and ants survive humans.  Cockroaches had  existed millions of years before dinosaurs and they are still with us.  They may outlive us if we continue to be so stupid fighting each other over ideologies, territories, and religions.

July 20, 2014

REDEFINING ECONOMICS

ECONOMY SHOULD NOT BE JUST ABOUT MONEY

In June 6, 2014, Canadian Prime Minister stood before the media defiantly declared that he would never risk Canadian economy and jobs for the sake of environment.  He had his soul mate Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on his side to stand up against Barak Obama’s bold move to curb the carbon emission.  Meanwhile, on June 10 in the Lethbridge Herald, there was a glossy special insert, which was all about business in Lethbridge.   And I said to myself: There is something missing in the notion of economics from what I think it should be part of.

I thought economy meant more than capital, finance, productivity, profit, and the like.  In my “ECONOMICS 101” class sixty some years ago, I heard that the word economy came from a Greek word “OIKONOMIA ”  and that it meant the management of  a home (OIKOS).  I don’t like the way people defined the word OIKONOMIA into something too narrow and yet too complicated.  They say, economy is bigger than a household.  It’s about “macro economics”: It’s about a city, or a country, or even the world.  And it’s all about money.   I don’t buy that.  What about welfare of people?

Economy, to me, should also be about fairness and other warm and fuzzy stuff like happiness and compassion.    Without those qualities I will not be a sucess in the management of my family household.  I hope that such a notion of economy is applied on the macro level as well.  Warm and fuzziness should extend to towns and cities and countries not just my home.  If you apply a narrowly defined meaning of economy, you can call China most successful.   But where is freedom?

Of course, it’s about money too.  You need money to have basics to be sure.  Without money you suffer humiliation and indignity.  But on the other hand, when the CEO on the top is compensated three hundred times more than what an average worker of the same company, and it is considered to be normal, there is something wrong with this notion of economy.   Where is fairness?  If it is about maintaining that kind of system, I don’t want to be any part of it.  We need oil; we need gas to run my car; yes, we need money for sure.  But that should not be the bottom line of the story of economy.

 

FREEDOM OF LABOUR MARKET OR PRESERVATION OF TRADITIONAL VALUES

Temporary Foreign Workers

Conservative movements always seem to have the same quandary. Industries say that unrestricted free labour market is essential to stay competitive.  But the libertarian base wants none of it: the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) brings in too many non-European faces.    Jason Kenny is caught between two camps among the Conservatives over the TFWP.  He tried to appease the base by tightening up the TFWP, which in turn angers the industries.  History proves that xenophobia of the libertarian variety destroys competitive edge of any economy.  So Mr. Kenny somehow must find the way to please the Conservative rich friends, while hanging on to the support from the libertarian (Reform Party or Wild Rose) base.

I have observed the same catch-22 in other times and places.   The Dunsmuir Collieries brought in cheap Japanese labour to the coal mines on the Vancouver Island during the late 19th Century.  It angered the conservative base and the racists in B.C.  It made them turned against the Eastern establishment and the Federal Government.  When fishermen on the B.C. coast struck against the processing plants demanding higher price for their salmon catch, the industry brought in Japanese fishermen as scabs to break the strike in 1901, it angered both the labour left and the racist right.  Resentment festered until the racist riot in Vancouver in 1907 against Chinese and Japanese.

Apartheid in South Africa was introduced to appease the Calvinist Afrikaners who felt that it was their mission to establish Christian European country in Africa. But the industries were unhappy because it created an expensive skilled labour pool: it was reserved only to whites.  Apartheid economy was unsustainable in the global market.  That was why big money like the Oppenheimer and the De Beer were supporting the Liberal Party of South Africa against Apartheid.

Now a tighter TFWP is threatening Mr. Harper’s pride and joy, Free Trade with India.  India’s IT sector demands free flow of highly-skilled IT workers between Canada and India.  What is the Harper government going to do?

It is just like an in-fight within the same GOP in the United States between the Republican Party main stream and the Tea Party libertarians over undocumented immigrants.

I believe that the immigration policy open equally to everyone is a key to a successful economy.  Everyone should have equal rights in Canada: a key to a successful country.

 

 

Whale is not a part of the traditional diet in Japan

Oil and whale

While I was in Tokyo for family emergency in the beginning of April, the judgement was rendered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague regarding whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.  It found what Japanese so-called “scientific whale hunting” unjustifiable as science, in effect banning the whale hunt in the Antarctic.  I had expected a big roar of protest from the public.   It didn’t happen.   There was only a shrug among the people on the streets.  The government and the industry made a big noise in the media crying “unfair,” sounding as though theirs was the authentic voice of common people.  It wasn’t.

The whole outcry about the ICJ judgement was industry driven in collusion with the Japanese government.  People didn’t care all that much about the ban because its impact on their daily life is negligible.  Very few people eat whale contrary to the claim that whale is an important part of traditional diet.  There are only few high-end restaurants that serve whale meat, like selling Kangaroo meat in Canada.  I never ate whale in my twenty years of youth in Japan, neither did I see it in the market, never at home, mine nor others.  I first tasted whale meat in Vancouver during the 1960’s offered at a Japanese trading company representative.  He was trying to sell it to Canada.  The effort obviously wasn’t a roaring success.

The industrial scale whaling is an import from Norway and the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, hardly traditional.  Japan before the industrialization until the end of 19th century did not possess ocean-going boat.  “Traditional diet?”  It’s a spin by the industrial scale fishing industry, a party line toed faithfully by the government, which has supported the industry with the billions of yens for years.

I could not help but to compare the whale situation with the whole discourse about resource extraction in Canada: the controversy about benefit to the Canadian economy from gas and oil extraction by fracking, tar sand, pipelines, etc.  It looks like there is connivance between the oil industry and the government trying to make resource extraction essential to the welfare of nation.  Is it?  A policy span by the industry/government complex does not necessarily represent interest of people nor truth.  I saw unravelling of such deception in Japan.

Roots of Homophobia

ROOTS OF HOMOPHOBIA

Three cheers to the 2014 Olympic athletes!  They performed magnificently.  I am so proud of them! Also I am happy that there was no ugliness like act of terrorism nor homophobic incident.  The gay bar was not shut down in Sochi.  I wonder if the media hype made Russia nervous, hence didn’t act against homosexuality.  I want to celebrate the steps of progress made in this regard.

Imagine, the Deputy Mayor of Vancouver city, Tim Stevens, who went to Sochi representing the former host city of Winter Olympics is the first openly gay man ordained into the United Church ministry: the issue that spilt the church and nearly destroyed it in 1988.  I am amazed how fast homosexuality has become a litmus test of a progressive society around the world, though it is still dangerous for gay persons to come out in many places.  Nevertheless, I think there has been some progress towards inclusiveness.

As I was preparing for a Bible study it dawned on me that there was no prohibition of lesbian acts in the Bible.  It’s all about against male homosexuality.  The argument is; homosexuality is against nature therefore against God’s will.  But this is a gender specific commandment applied only to men.  From this, I hypothesized that it was about preservation of the species, the race, the family name and the tribe.  Infant deaths were ubiquitous in those days.  Therefore the norm was: “It’s important to make many babies.  Seeds were invaluable gifts from God: Don’t waste them.”

Those days are long gone. Thank God.  In my last pastorate before retirement, during the five years of ministry in a community of about 2,000 people, I had never buried an infant, not one.  Children rarely die these days and people live longer and longer.  It’s a good thing.  But some people are worried about population explosion.  How to feed several billions is a serious concern.  Maybe we should make waste of food a sin.  Times change, so do ethics.

Homosexuality is unnatural?  Even an amateur like me have seen homosexuality among animals.  Many times.

I think it all comes down to the question of accepting situation ethics, or not.  We don’t stone a child to death who speak against parents any more.  Those days are long gone.  Times change.  It can be uncomfortable.  But things change with time.  So we change too,

Some inprovements make things worse

SCHLEMMBESSERUNG

Improvement that makes things worse

Cenovus CEO, Brian Ferguson contradicted himself.  (Lethbridge Herald, Jan. 16, page B1) He said in response to the criticisms by celebrities about oil-sand development, “In Hollywood, a land of make-belief, everything is black and white.  But a real world does not work that way.”  He means that things are not always clear-cut right or wrong but ambiguous grey.  He is right there. However, a few sentences later, he condemned the critics, “Those accusations are absolutely baseless.”  If it is not clear “black and white”, why use the “absolute” word?   Is everybody wrong except Mr. Brian Ferguson?

Neil Postman, a professor at the University of New York in his book “Technopoly,” makes a point that humans lose something important every time a new technology is introduced.  Progress is always accompanied by negative effects as well as positive outcomes.  In this regard, I like the German expression “Schimmbesserung.”  I understand that the word means an improvement that makes things worse.   There are many so-called new developments that are touted as improvements on human conditions.  They are not always.   Many are changes for the sake of change to make more profits, not necessarily for the better.  Like Ferguson says, it’s not the question of black or white.  Changes can be Schlimmbesserung; may be good but could also be worse.

I don’t accept any argument which claims to be absolutely correct.  I am tired of hearing absolute language, be it from a point of view of a particular ideology, or from the religious fundamentalism.  They exercise willful blindness and use science selectively to suit their purpose.  Recently a decision was made by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) to recommend the Northern Gateway Pipeline project to go ahead.  A law suit against the project points out the gaps CEAA ignored.  It is a good example of willful blindness on the part of the conservatice government.  The governments shut up researchers or make scientists to sell themselves to the highest bidder like prostitutes.  They tire me and make me cynical.

The reality is more often than not neither black or white: right or wrong: good or evil.  Often it is somewhere in-between.  Therefore, let us not speak of the ultimately correct solution in absolute terms.  There is no such thing.  You lose your credibility by referring too often to the absolute, as though you are a god.  No body will take you seriously.

I can be quite wrong, and I am happy.

I AM HAPPY  I WAS WRONG

Recently I made in a letter to the editor of the Lethbridge Herald,  two predictions, and I was wrong on both accounts.  And this manifestation of my fallibility  makes me happy.

I thought that Pope Francis could not do all that much to change the Catholic Church, because of the power of Curia (Vatican bureaucracy).  Boy, was I wrong!  He is changing the agenda of the church.  I also predicted that the public would forget the Senate spending scandals by this time.  I was wrong there too.  It is still a big news in the media.  I hope that the public is following the story and continued to complain about the sorry state of the Senate, and the lack of transparency on the part of Prime Minister.  It seems prorogation is not changing the situation.  The supporters of the Mr. Harper must urge him to come clean fast and cut the loss.

I was wrong many times in my life.

When I was kicked out of South Africa in 1971, I never thought that the Black rule would ever come to Southern Africa in my life-time.  The Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, said, “Majority rule will never come in my life time.”  I had agreed.  Then “puff!”  Robert Mugabe was elected Prime Minister in 1980.  My life did not end.  Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1989 and became President by popular vote in 1994.  I was happy I was so wrong.

By the way, about Mugabe, I had had a suspicion about him.  As soon as he was elected, he brought in the North Korean 50th Brigade, and bombarded the Matebeleland, the base of his opposition Mr Joshua Nkhomo, and killed hundreds of his supporters.  We didn’t condemn the atrocity, because we were still caught in the rhetoric of the politically correct idea of “Black rule means free Africa.”  We were punch-drunk and refused to see evil behind Robert Mugabe’s facade.

Lessons learned.  No.1: It’s O.K. to be sceptical but leave a window open for optimism: humans are not always stupid.  We do the right thing from time to time. Lesson.  No. 2: Don’t get caught in the ideology and rhetoric.  Rigid dogmatism and fundamentalism must always be questioned in politics and religion.  Mr. Mugabe must have been condemned for atrocity then, even though he was a celebrated hero for freedom.

NOT ASKING WHY CAN COST YOU DEARLY

WHAT’S WRONG WITH ASKING WHY?

Notes for people who are not familiar with events happened in Canada in early summer of 2013:

At the end of June, two events shook Canadians.  The train with 70 tankers loaded with crude oil started to go down a hill, derailed and exploded in downtown Lac-Megontic in Quebec destroying downtown core and about 50 people were instantly incinerated.  The whole train was operated by one engineer who left it unattended for the night.  Another event was the flood in Calgary and nearby smaller bed-room community of High River, and their vicinity.  After a torrential rain whole region was flooded causing billions dollars of damage.  A similar calamity happened in 2005 in the same region, a cabinet minister from Calgary, commented that it had nothing to do with climate change.  Such an extraordinary weather happens once in a century.

 

 

A question “why” is annoying, but ignoring it will be very costly.

Brand new cabinet  Minister Pierre Poilievre was quoted as saying, “The root cause of terrorism is terrorists” responding to Justin Trudeau after the Boston bombing.  That cheeky comment echoes Mr. Harper’s angry reaction to Liberal Leader’s comment about the importance of asking why terrorists do what they do.  Catching terrorists is most urgent not asking why, he said.  Why is “why” question annoys people?  Why they considered it cheeky and inappropriate?

Every parent including me knows a child who says “why?” to everything.  You must know how you respond to the annoying kid distinguishes stupid parents from good ones.  “Go ask your Mom, I’m busy!”; says I.   Woe is she who gets brushed aside like that!  She may not want to speak to you again, ever.

If you want to avoid the repetition of a horrendous tragedy like the one caused by a runaway train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, you have to ask,  “How can such a tragedy happen?”  Isn’t it most logical to pick a systemic problem as the cause: allowing the train of 70 tankers loaded with explosive or toxic materials to be left unattended?  Isn’t it obvious that the law should not allow it?  Conductor was disposable for the sake of profit and 50 people were incinerated..

Minister Jason Kenny was annoyed when asked why an unusual weather event like flood happened, in 2005.  He said that it was the exceptional event that happens only once in a hundred years; nothing to do with climate change.  But the flood came again, a more serious one, after eight years.  Why is it so wrong to ask about the root causes?

When I heard about climate change thirty years ago, we had already been warned that the consequences of the continuous release of carbon-dioxide into atmosphere would be extreme weather.  I think it’s here.  And it’s costing us a lot of money: a half a billion dollars for the Alberta provincial government alone as an initial cost of recovery.  Even wealthy Alberta can not afford it if it comes a few more times.  And what about the cost to the individuals such as devalued real estate and damages and loss not covered by insurance?

So what’s so wrong about asking, “why?”  Not doing so is more expensive, I should think.

RAPE IS NOT FUNNY

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

–  TEENAGER SUICIDE, BOSTON BOMBING, WOMEN RESCUED AFTER A DECADE –

For a few weeks in April and May in 2013, a succession of tragic events hit the headlines.  The deaths of teenage girls who committed suicide both in Canada and the United States, were everywhere in the news media.  They were sexually assaulted and bullied on social media.  Public was outraged and the coverage relentless.  Then the bombing in Boston happened: the attention has been shifted to the terrorism.  The tragic deaths of abused victims simply disappeared from the media and from the mind of the public.  Arrests of two Al Qaida saboteurs in Canada, then the dramatic rescue of three women after a decade in captivity in Cleveland rapidly followed.  A busy time for media.  Tragedies have come and gone in people’s mind in rapid succession.  Media wait for next big headline event to stay on top of the rating competition.

I remember in 1994 in Africa.  I was in South Africa as a member of the team of  international observers of the first democratic election which elevated a former political prisoner to the president of the Republic.  Daily press conference was a massive event.  An huge theatre was packed by the international press.  Then one day, before the final result was yet to be announced, suddenly the theatre was nearly empty.  Genocide in Rwanda was unfolding.  International press corps were ordered to fly to Rwanda.  Genocide was more exciting than the historic democratic election, I suppose.  Am I being crass?

Neil Postman published in 1985, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”  He was a professor of Communication at the New York University.  He laments that news has become show business.

We live in an age of information deluge.  Our nerves are numb; nothing is serious anymore.   Too much information is making dramatic events meaningless.  It is impossible to make its flow stop or slowdown.  But rape is not funny, neither is terrorist bombing.  What can we do about this problem?

Gun control in America – Won’t happen.

GUN CONTROL IN THE UNITED STATES

President Obama has been trying so hard to pass some kind of gun control measures in the Congress, and has failed so far.  I don’t think this is only because of a powerful gun lobby.  I think there is a much deeper reason.  It is in the genes of the American culture: that is a deeply rooted distrust of institutions.

Switzerland, where I lived for six years, is a country that has as many guns per household as the United States, if not more.  It has the citizen’s military.  Every adult male is a soldier and has a government issued weapon at home, ready to be mobilized in fifteen minutes.  Yet, homicides committed with those guns are extremely rare.  There are incidents involving firearms less than a few times a year .  When it happens, it is a huge headline news.  People almost never think of using them for personal reasons, because of their bred-in-the-bones respect for the Federal institutions.  Likewise, Canadians confer a great respect to the institutions.  We still expect the police to protect us in stead of going out to buy a gun.

The United States of America is founded basically on the distrust of institutions and the belief in total freedom of individuals.  People who founded the republic fought hard for freedom from the tyranny of the monarchy, the organized religions, and other oppressive institutions.  Nothing stops them now. That is what makes the United States an exciting and great country.  This is why Americans are so innovative, because nothing stops them trying new things.   Americans hate to be controlled and restricted.  That’s why the number of Nobel Prize won by Americans are more than any other nationalities.  This is also why entrepreneurs from all over the world flock to America..

The flip side of this is: the United States is inherently violent.  Each individual feels strongly that it is his/her responsibility to defend oneself.   It is more difficult to make a fundamental change of this deep seated attitude than to pass a legislation.  But that’s what should happen, if daily carnage should stop.  In the meantime, Americans keep on killing each other at a rate any terrorist can only dream of.  It is because they feel it’s their constitutional right and responsibility to defend themselves.  And the guns symbolize this attitude.

IS IT TOO EMBARRASSING TO REMEMBER IRAQ WAR?

A view of  Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 2003

A view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives 2003

R001-008

10th ANNIVERSARY OF THE INVASION OF IRAQ

It has been exactly ten years since President G. W. Bush, ordered the invasion of Iraq. I am surprised how little attention is paid to the anniversary.  Perhaps it was such a colossal fiasco that nobody wants to remember.  It cost more than $ 1 trillion which could be an origine of today’s economic woes.  How can it not be: It’s a lot of money.  It killed thousands of American and British soldiers not counting hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  Canada didn’t join the coalition.  I am happy Mr. Harper was not the Prime Minister then?  He accused Mr. Chretien of betraying the best friend by refusing to join.

In March, 2003, when the invasion began, I was ready to get on a plane to fly to Tel Aviv for a several months’ assignment.  It was the World Council of Churches’ human rights watch program.  But I couldn’t leave as scheduled because the insurance company charged an exorbitant premium for war coverage.  Remember Saddam’s Scud missiles?  The church could not afford it.  Eventually a reasonable insurance policy was found.  Still there was a  problem: the insurance covered Israel but not the West Bank and Gaza.  By then I was already there.  So I had to be pulled back from West Bank to Jerusalem to wait until the policy that covered the Palestinian territories was found.  It was strange because suicide-bombers struck in Israel, not in the Palestinian territories.  I was safe in Palestine.

Another irony was that the result of the war in Iraq was a Shia government in Baghdad.  Shia is a religion of Iran, an enemy of Israel and America.  When in the Middle East, you can’t help but see the major divide in Islam.  It is the division between Sunni and Shia.  It  is as deep and old split as Protestants and Catholics divide.  It is the Shi’ites from Iran who support Hezbolah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to fight Israel through terrorist surrogates.  But Mr. Bush’s Iraq war gave the power to a Shi’ite government.

Our policy makers often don’t know the subtlety of Middle Eastern politics.  Neither do insurance companies. Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you don’t get there.”  It’s good we got rid of the murderous butcher, Saddam Hussein.  But did we get where we wanted to go?

ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH WILL NOT CHANGE IF CURIA DOES NOT CHANGE

POPES COME AND GO, BUT CURIA STAYS.

I can not help comparing what’s happening in the Catholic Church today, as the Cardinals gather in Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope, with Canadian politics.  Here is how my scattered brain sees two situations: a totally unprofessional view.

Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Stephen Harper knows he has to change bureaucracy, hopefully judiciary as well, if he wants to effect a fundamental change of Canada radically towards the direction of libertarian conservatism.  He must secretly admire the Catholic Church.  When the first Pope John Paul died after only a week on the St. Peter’s throne, Le Monde commented, “Popes come and go, but Curia stays.”  Nothing will change until the Vatican administration called Curia changes.  Mr. Harper knows that he has to paint whole Ottawa Curia blue.  (In Canada, the colour of the Liberal Party is red, Conservative blue, and Socialist New Democratic Party orange.)

When Bev Oda, Minister in charge of foreign aid, changed the content of  a letter to KAIROS (the ecumenical coalition for international and social justice) with an addition of the hand-written script “not”, the whole CIDA civil servants’ weeks of work was thrown out of window.  It changed the message of the letter entirely.  The civil service lost a small battle.  War continues: death by a thousand little cuts.  When Pope John XXIII convene the Second Vatical Council to change the church in tune with time, Curia must have been dismayed.  When John Paul II and Benedict slowed down the transformation, Curia could not have been unhappy.  The job of bureaucracy is to keep things unchanged.  And there is no other conservative institution firmly entrenched and long lasting in the world as Vatican is: Mr. Harper’s dream.

But remember this: Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reagan started a free market revolution during the eighties with a massive deregulations in the United States and the United Kingdom.  In Canada however, both Progressive Conservatives and Liberals kept regulations for the banking sector intact thus avoided the 2008 world-wide catastrophic economic melt-down.  Thanks a little to the former Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin, but the main credit should go to the Ottawa Curia.

People are saying that the Roman Catholic Church will not change much because the next Pope will be elected by many Cardinals who were appointed by John Paul II and Benedict.  Progressive Catholics wishing for a change probably are in for a disappointment.  However, in Ottawa letting a bunch of 30-something running things at the Prime Minister’s Office has its risks too.  The whole Harper revolution could fail by a thousand little missteps: sometimes a giant one like Tom Flanagan.  Meanwhile Ottawa Curia knows history and nuance of language, ignore it at own risk.

We fight when we are too close, look alike, eat the same stuff. Stupid, eh?

WHY NEIGHBOURS HATE EACH OTHER?

Again and again catastrophes caused by religious fanatics were on the headlines:  the home-grown alleged “Islamist terrorists” in Ottawa and the aborted Qur’an burning day in Gainsville in Florida, etc. etc.  It seems that where proximity and similarity exist, there is more possibility of hostility.  We must remember that Christianity and Islam are very similar in many ways.  It seems that similarity brings out a difference into focus and becomes an irritation.

I have often been asked if I could tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese.  Yes sometimes, but not always.  When I was in South Africa during the 1970’s, Japanese were classified as “Honorary White” because of the trade links with Japan, but Chinses were not.  A bus driver was taken to court because he forced a Japanese business man off the whites only bus.   He thought he saw a Chinese.  The bus driver won the case, because even the judge could not tell the difference Chinese and Japanese.  And yet, both nationalities have been traditional enemies for millenia.

Often enemies are neighbours.  Irish and English, Chinese and Japanese, Basque and Spanish, Hutu and Tutsi, Israeli and Palestinian.  The same problem of being too close exists between religions:  Christianity and Islam, for example.  Both are the branches of one root, Judaism: we are all children of Abraham and Sarah.   And yet, some of my co-religionists speak of the cousins-in-faith as though they were arch-enemies, calling them some such names as devils or Satan.

I think that the trouble is we are close enough to understand them partly but refuse to see the whole, because they are too close for comfort.  So we fight over small stuff, even kill each other from time to time, because we don’t  try to understand little difference.  What a stupidity!  Why can’t we try to see the other side and understand it?  After all, we differ only on minor points; easy to bridge the gap.  Isn’t a refusal to do this the root causes of many troubles today?

We have to learn the art of compromise, and see good things in different ideas.  Therein is a solution to the current political dilemma in Canada too.  When there does not seem to be a possibility of a majority government, a coalition is a good possibility.  There is already one in the U.K., and another in Australia.  Why not in Canada?  Our politicians have to stop speaking of the other parties as though they were enemies.

St. Jude will hear us even in Alberta – Reflection on 2008 election

St. Jude will hear us, eventually.

The 2008 Alberta election was devastating to many of us. Despite many predictions by political pundits to the contrary, it was a Tory landslide. I already heard on the election night a few staunch NDP supporters talking about realignment of political parties in Alberta. I keep saying to myself, “St. Jude (the patron saint of hopeless causes) will hear us some day.” I’m sure the same sentiment is felt among the Greens and perhaps the Wildroses. This is not good for democracy in Alberta.

If you think of some of the best things in Canada we are proud of, you realize many of them were advocated by people who rarely got into power. I know that politics is about power, and any political party which has no possibility to form a government is not credible. But a good idea can influence the course of history with a sheer force of its wisdom. Siddartha Gautama, founder of Buddhism, left a position of power and wealth to pursue the way of absolute wisdom (Nirvana). Isn’t an art of governing also about compassion and justice, not just pursuit of power?

Some of the most respected Canadian politicians didn’t form a government very often. And yet, Stanley Knowles, Tommy Douglas, Robert Standfield, for example, are all respected figures. Their influence still is enormous. When Angus MacInnes, an original CCFer, stood in the Parliament to speak passionately for the rights of Japanese-Canadians during and immediately after the WW II, he was alone; everybody thought he was committing political suicide. He eventually caused a change of the government’s policy and mass deportation of Japanese-Canadian, which was already in progress, was halted.

I am not in despair. I carry on, continue to be committed to the cause I believe in. I hope you never stop. St. Jude will hear us someday.

Violence in South Africa

Re: Violence in South Africa (Gwynne Dyer, Page A8 of the Lethbridge Herald, May 25, 2008)

We just came back this weekend from one month trip to Lesotho, Southern Africa, where I taught at a university for seven and a half years during the seventies, and South Africa, which kicked me out forty years ago. I wanted to look up former colleagues and students and old friends. (Desmond Tutu and Njaburo Ndebele now Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, amongst others. I could not see them because there were too busy understandably.) They and many others have done so much for the country and are well respected. South Africa is a success story. Transformation is remarkable. I could not recognize Soweto, for example.

Because the country’s economy is thriving, many foreigners are pouring in. And the government is very generous and does no stop them. Many VIP’s are remembering the days when all African countries accepted all South African refugees during the Apartheid days. Industries love them too, keeping the wages down. The cook of the guest house we stayed in Johannesburg was from Malawi, and the guide who took us around Soweto was a former priest from Congo, etc. They are about four million people in a country of 47 million. They make poor South Africans angry, because they think they rob them of government funded housing and welfare money. But the country itself and industries are not unhappy with them. This is why Thabo Mbeki, President, apologized to the foreigners last Friday. Doesn’t it sound familiar in many other well-to-do countries?

It is true that HIV-AIDS scourge is serious. But unlike our media bias letting us to think that the government is avoiding the issue, the campaign against the pandemic is very vigorous. All in all, South Africa is a success story. I’d love to go back.

May 25, 2008

Lethbridge, Alberta

ARE COCKROACHES MORE INTELLIGENT THAN US?

ARE COCKROACHES MORE INTELLIGENT THAN US?

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Poor Rona Ambrose, who just followed Mr. Harper’s order. He at last seems to have realized that the environment is the most important issue today. But she got demoted instead. Where is justice? Where is the famous Harper intelligence? Or is he just a puppy dog of industries, just like the scientists who prostitute themselves to deny global warming? I should hope not.

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Speaking about intelligence, many people believe that human being was created in God’s image, thus we are more intelligent than other forms of life. But reflecting on the way we are killing each other in wars and destroy ourselves by devastating the life-sustaining environment, I wonder if this is the case. Maybe it is just a wishful thinking on our part and created a myth about "Image of God." I will accept that we could be wiser than cockroaches, if we are doing the right thing that enables us to survive as a species longer than those disagreeable insects. When I was visiting Montreal’s insect museum, I was very surprised to find that cockroaches had existed several hundred millions years on this planet, long before and after dinosaurs. How long have we as a species existed in the present form? Not even a few million years. We are not even a hiccup in the history of the universe.

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Surely one of the most important measurements of intelligence is an ability to let its owner to survive as long as possible as an individual and as a species. The nineteenth century philosopher Arnold Toynbee said that judging by the way humans were killing each other in wars, over doctrines and wealth, ants and bees had a better chance of survival long after human race disappeared from the earth. True: other forms of life on this planet does not possess our technology. But what is science, technology, or wealth, if it is helping us to annihilate ourselves more efficiently and faster? It is not a sign of intelligence. Is it?

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JANUARY 6, 2007

LESSONS FROM DISASTERS

LESSONS FROM DISASTERS

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Tad Mitsui

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A major disaster is still unfolding before our eyes in the media daily. But this time it is in a developed rich country – the United States of America, as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Even the richest country in the world is not spared from the fury of nature. What do we learn from disasters?

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The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in South East Asia is the worst known natural disaster in human history. The number of confirmed deaths is estimated to be roughly 310,000 – 220,000 in Indonesia alone. >From my experience working as the coordinator of famine relief for the World Council of Churches (WCC) during the African famine caused by unprecedented drought in the 1980s, I would like to list some lessons learned from the Tsunami tragedy, which might also be applicable in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In the ’80s, I was based in Geneva, Switzerland and was trying to put some order into the relief work being done by the churches around the world. I traveled extensively in 23 African countries that were experiencing food shortage as a result of the drought. From this perspective, I came up with the following list of lessons I learned about disaster relief.

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1. People are basically good and willing to help when and where there is a need. Amid all the calamities of death and strife, there is hope in the world. Outpouring of goodwill and sympathy through monetary donations and gifts in-kind were overwhelming. Shortage of money is not a problem. For example, in 1984 the WCC initially set $100 million as the target for fund-raising. By the time the church agencies got together in Dakar, Senegal in 1986 for an interim review, the WCC community had raised more than $500 million in two years.

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2. Natural disasters are not exactly "acts of God," as the insurance industry terms them. It is not correct to term natural disasters ‘beyond our control.’ Money still helps to diminish their effects. Jesus did say, "God the Father makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." Rains fall on the poor and the rich alike. But the rich have umbrellas. In other words, the rich can afford to pay for the prevention of disasters and recovery from destruction. But poor people cannot afford these things. For example, the North Pacific has a Tsunami warning system, because it touches two of the richest countries in the world – Japan and the United States. Poor countries in the South Pacific cannot afford to spend billions of dollars for something that may or may not happen for decades. Even in a rich country like the United States, the poor, mostly African Americans, are the ones who were left behind without food and water and many of whom died, because they could not afford to evacuate to a safe place. Three decades ago, a devastating earthquake struck the Southern United States and Central America. In Nicaragua alone, several thousand people died. The same earthquake with the same ferocity struck the San Fernando Valley in California, where only several persons were killed, because of better-built housing and a better preparedness system.

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3. Money is always better than gifts-in-kind as a response to disaster. Money is flexible and thus more efficient and, in the end, cheaper. Best of all, it encourages local economy through the purchase of local products. It delivers more appropriate goods, thus bringing about a quicker recovery and return to self-sufficiency. The United States could easily have provided emergency food and other non-food necessities in Louisiana had infrastructure and organization been in place. Gifts in-kind such as food, medicine, and clothes or volunteers cost money in transportation and other administrative procedures. Gifts in-kind are good for the economy of donor countries, while monetary gifts enable self-help. Monetary gifts help maintain the dignity of victims. We forget that receiving charity is humiliating. External help should always enable and facilitate self-help programs for the victims.

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4. Competent relief organizations require money to maintain their staff and infrastructure. People often demand that their donation go directly to the victims, but it is unrealistic to demand delivery of 100% of your gifts to the victims. While you demand delivery of the donation without overhead, you want your gifts administered competently. It is totally unrealistic to expect unpaid volunteers to run an organization and pay for medical doctors, accountants, logistics officers, technicians and engineers, and the means of transportation such as boats, planes, and trucks. Good organizations always have excellent and skilled experts on the staff. We must eliminate the myth about not spending money for overhead. Of the funds raised for relief, we must expect 25 – 30 % to be budgeted for overhead.

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The churches that are connected to the World Council of Churches have a system called Action of the Churches Together (ACT based in Geneva. ACT is not well known, partly because it does not spend money on advertising. Its approach to relief is to enable the indigenous churches and organizations to do relief. Foreign intervention is limited to a minimum. This is why ACT has very low overhead.

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5. The most important and yet neglected part of disaster relief is persistence. Unfortunately, this is where most of past relief efforts have failed. People forget soon and do not fulfill their commitments or follow up with the necessary course of action. Many pledges are not fulfilled when the interest of the public wanes. Donations fall rapidly after several months, and people soon tire of hearing sad stories of the victims. If we are to help those affected to be prepared for future disasters, follow-up actions in terms of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development are very important. When the public loses interest, governments can afford to renege on their pledges. The disaster of the Bam earthquake in Iran is now long forgotten, and pledges are not even half fulfilled. That was only a few years ago.

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6.The best scenario is that, as a result of external help, the victims will not need outside help in future disasters. India declined external assistance. Normally, rich countries do not ask for foreign disaster relief. It is not only a matter of need fulfilled, but it has to do with our most important values – our dignity. This is why Hurricane Katrina is a great embarrassment and humiliation for the United States. It exposed the Third World nature of the underclass in the richest country in the world. We who live in a rich country do not understand the humiliation of having to receive charity. We must strive to create a world where every human person can help him/herself. That is how God created us.

rn India declined external assistance. Normally, rich countries do not ask for foreign disaster relief. It is not only a matter of need fulfilled, but it has to do with our most important values – our dignity. This is why Hurricane Katrina is a great embarrassment and humiliation for the United States. It exposed the Third World nature of the underclass in the richest country in the world. We who live in a rich country do not understand the humiliation of having to receive charity. We must strive to create a world where every human person can help him/herself. That is how God created us.rn

7.The death toll due to natural disasters is far less than that caused by war. The Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the natural calamity known as the worst in history, killed perhaps at most 310,000 people. But over 200,000 died in a split second as the result of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. All together, according to Wikipedia free encyclopedia, about fifty million people died during the four years of the Second World War, including six million Jews. Thirty millions were non- combatants. Millions have died since in military conflicts, though there has not been another world war. Human being are our own worst enemies, not nature. Yet, how much money do we spend for peace? A pittance. It is shameful. We must spend more energy resolving conflict in the world.

rnThe Tsunami in Southeast Asia, the natural calamity known as the worst in history, killed perhaps at most 310,000 people. But over 200,000 died in a split second as the result of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. All together, according to Wikipedia free encyclopedia, about fifty million people died during the four years of the Second World War, including six million Jews. Thirty million were non- combatants. Millions have died since in military conflicts, though there has not been another world war. Human being are our own worst enemies, not nature. Yet, how much money do we spend for peace? A pittance. It is shameful. We must spend more energy resolving conflict in the world.rn

I am not touching on the question of poverty. I strongly suspect that the death toll from poverty is even more devastating than from war.

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Tad Mitsui is a retired United Church minister living in Lethbridge, Alberta.

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GUN CONTROL WORKS ONLY WHEN WE WANT IT TO

On April 16, 2007, a lone gunman shot 32 people, professors and students, at Virginia Politechical University.  This is what I wrote and was printed in "Lethrbidge Herald" on April 19, 2007.

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IT’S PEOPLE, NOT GUN CONTROL

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A reflection on mass killing at Virginia Tech

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I hate to sound like the NRA, but I believe that any gun control measure will not work in the United States. Gun Control works in a society where people want gun control, and does not work where people do not want it. No law is effective without consent of people. This is why, for example "Prohibition" of the 20”s didn’t work.

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The United States of America is made up of people in the main who do not trust institutions. Their fundamental dictum is "Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness" which is basically individual responsibility. This is why America is such an exciting country where creativity and inventiveness thrive. Count the number of Nobel Prizes won by Americans. But at the same time it is an inherently violent country, because nothing holds them back in pursuit of individual goals (happiness). This is why "Gun Control" will not work even if by some freak of accident it is legislated. I hope I’m wrong.

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In the meanwhile, we in Canada believe in institutions: our happiness can be achieved in "Order and Good Government". It’s a communal project. We try to create institutions that help us achieve our goals. This is why we believe in gun control measures. And they work. We trust police to protect us, for example. If they don’t, we reform them. Switzerland is another such country I know – I lived there for six years. There are more guns relative to population than any country I know. Each adult man has a gun at home supplied by the government, because it is a citizen’s army – every man is a soldier. But very few any gun crime is committed, except suicide. This is another example of a society that believes in institutions.

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I can not offer any suggestion to Americans. But in Canada, I believe that Gun Control is a good thing. Keep it.

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Tad Mitsui

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1264 8th Avenue South, Lethbridge, AB T1J 1R1

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403) 328 6230

FREEDOM WITH RESPONSIBILITY – Are we free to insult other religions?

FREEDOM MUST BE EXERCISED WITH RESPONSIBILITY

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I just don’t understand respectable academics and journalists, in the name of freedom (of expression, press, and/or speech,) insisting on reproducing the images of Mohammed that enrage many Muslims. I would have thought that freedom is the right of every human person, but must be exercised with responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is often illegal and immoral.

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Why should there be ‘Anti-hate laws’ in a free society? Why should there be the law prohibiting denial of "Holocaust"? Why should anyone, in the name of freedom of speech or press, reject a notion of pornographic representation of Christian images like Jesus or Mary? Some may argue that they are not insulted by those images. But I would have thought that what is offensive is defined by those who are offended not by those who offend.

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Tad Mitsui

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403) 328 6230

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1264 8th Avenue South

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Lethbridge, AB T1J 1R1

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YES, WE CAN HELP SOLVE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS.

YES, WE CAN

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– Solve environmental problems –

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Governments only seem to be interested in big-buck, big-scale solutions and often neglect the role ordinary citizens like us can play. Individuals can also solve environmental problems.

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For example, here are some small steps I have taken:

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1. We don’t have a dryer. We are in love with scent of the sun and the chinook wind on our clean clothes and linen. On a snowy or rainy day, we humidify our home with wet laundry hanging in the basement.

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2. We have no dish washer. Our guests have a lot of fun visiting each other while doing dishes together.

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3. I don’t use Kleenex. What’s wrong with a handkerchief?

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4. We have low flush toilets.

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5. We don’t buy incandescent light bulbs anymore.

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6. We have no air conditioner. Ceiling fans do as good a job on the hot days.

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7. We are gradually replacing our lawn with drought resistant plants and local ground covers. We try to grow some of our food and collect rainwater for irrigation. Lawn is foreign to this area and requires a lot of water, though drought resistant prairie grasses do not. We live in a semi-desert, folks. (We also eat our dandelions by the way: which make a lovely salad when mixed with other greens.)

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8. We have one small car.

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9. We always carry cotton tote bags for grocery shopping.

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10. We try as much as possible to buy foods that are grown locally or nearby.

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There must be many more ways. Yes, we can participate in the most important project the whole human race has ever undertaken to save our planet. We should develop profound disdain towards those big fat corporations demanding handouts from our governments every time we ask them to take measures to slow down climate change. "Green Plans" introduced by both Federal and Alberta governments do not offer any incentive to ordinary people like us. They seem to be saying, "Keep on burning fossils, we’ll look after the consequences. It will cost you billions. But trust us." No, we don’t trust you. We do our own things too, thank you very much.

WHY CAN”T WE ASK WHY TERRORISTS DO WHAT THEY DO?

A PERSON OF FAITH MUST ASK "WHY".

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I don’t understand an intelligent and reportedly a religious person like British Prime Minister Tony Blair lashing out people for suggesting that there was a connection between the July 7 London bombing and British involvement in the Iraq war. The target of Mr. Blair’s fury includes the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, Mr. Blair’s former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Gwen Dyer, and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Is it not only legitimate but also imperative to ask why terrorists commit those heinous acts, if terrorism should be stopped?

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After devastating calamities befell on a righteous man like Job, he asked "Why, God?" A "why" question asks for meaning and reason behind events and facts. It is a spiritual quest, which all faith traditions rightly pursue. This is why I believe that religion is basic in our lives. By asking why, we religious people, like Job in the Hebrew Bible, make important contribution to the society by searching for an answer on a deepest level – not just symptoms but root-causes.

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Only a unabashed racist, for example, would speak about a disproportionately large number of Afro-American or First Nations prison inmates without raising the "why" question. When you do, a "why" question leads you to the problem of injustice in our society. Without knowledge of the cause, we will never be able to find the real solution.

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Unfortunately however, when an unspeakably brutal and senseless crime is committed, people who ask the "why" question are often accused of justifying evil. This, of course, is nonsense because analysis does not equals justification. They are not same. Tony Blair made that mistake when he angrily denounce those who made a connection between the London bombing and Britain’s involvement in Iraq War. He called it a "misunderstanding of a catastrophic order." But I believe that real understanding of an issue will expose a true nature of evil thus to a much more forceful rejection of it. Those who seek root causes must not be intimidated by those who accuse them of tolerating evil.

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I, for one, categorically condemn all terrorist acts that cause loss of innocent lives, particularly the suicide bombing that rejects one’s own precious gift of God as well. Meanwhile, I try hard to understand the situation that drives people into such a senseless action, so that a real solution to eradicate violence will be found. I was in Palestine as a member of the WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel in the fall of 2003 living in a village in the occupied West Bank. During the three month stay, there were incidents of five suicide bombings. One of them was a 14 years old boy who blew himself up in a nearby village only a kilometer away, a part of our daily jogging route. I came back from the Middle East more firmly convinced that suicide bombing must be denounced. Those bombers were all deceived by evil minds. Those who encourage young people to become martyrs (euphemism for suicide bombers) were not themselves prepared to die. Neither did they really believe what they told the bomber candidates: that their places were guaranteed in heaven. I believe taking other people’s lives and suicide are against Islam. Suicide bombers are perpetrators of heinous crimes just as much as victims of deception. Child soldiers in Congo or Sierra Leon belong to the same category. Suicide bombing is totally unacceptable because it makes both the innocent and the bomber the victims of the diabolic act. The Sabeel Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem rejects it. "Sabeel" is a Palestinian Christian organization and is a partner of the United Church of Canada through sharing of financial resource from the M & S Fund.

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I heard of similar deception in Japan during the World War II. It’s the brain wash the military inflicted on teenage candidates for Kamikaze mission- suicide bombing by fast boats and/or airplanes. One math teacher in my junior highschool was a former fast boat Kamikaze pilot who came home alive because the end of the war came before his scheduled mission. He told us how the military propaganda machine twisted the minds of the innocent young boys. All the boys in the same group were completely intoxicated by the idealism of self-sacrifice as a highest form of patriotism. But every night, sanity always found its way into his consciousness. He tossed and turned in bed trying very hard to figure out how he could bail out before his boat hit an American warship.

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However, if you spend even a day in some place in the occupied Palestine, you would understand why some naive and young people were easily conned into believing such evil acts as noble. The situation in Gaza, for example, is so bad as some newspaper called it "a cesspool of misery and poverty." If you are a resident of a squalor called refugee camp, which is a result of Israeli occupation, and your daily living is exacerbated by daily humiliation at the border crossings and the check points, you will be so angry and easily be persuaded by a twisted logic justifying indiscriminate killing of innocent Israelis. It is important to understand this background. Otherwise, you will never understand why there is no short of candidates for suicide bombing. Or you will never understand why Hamas, an Islamic extremist group, is increasingly popular among Palestinians. (Hamas made a big gains in the recent municipal elections.) Likewise, we must try to understand why an extreme form of Muslim fundamentalism attracts young Muslims. We need to do a lot more background check and thinking.

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We must also recognize that an extreme and violent form of religious practice, often in a form of fundamentalism, is in all religions. During the bloody civil war in Lebanon in the 1980”s, Jason Burke reports in the Guardian Weekly ( July 22-28, 2005 70% of suicide bombers came from Christian groups. He goes on, "Think of the muscular Christianity of imperial Victorian Britain (or, indeed, of contemporary America) or Hinduism’s lunatic fringe (in India). In Sri Lanka, even smiling, happy Buddhism has exacerbated one of the most vicious civil conflicts of our time." I would continue to ask, "What about the Jewish extremist assassin who killed Israeli Prime Minister Izak Rabin or the one who massacred tens of Muslim worshipers at Abraham’s tomb in Hebron? What about Crusaders’ killing field in Jerusalem?" There were KKK’s, Michigan Militia in the United States, and countless others American home-made terrorists which are often connected to one form of extremist Christianity or another. Many of them commit terrorism in the name of religion. We must try to understand each one of those incidents in context and find out where and how believers got it all so very wrong.

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I don’t know of any major religion that does not prohibit taking of lives of other human persons. However, we must recognize that the scope of prohibition evolved particular to universal. In the earlier writing in the Hebrew Bible, the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" was applied only to the Hebrew nation. The king Saul, for example, was condemned by God for not committing genocide of a ceratin number of non-Hebrew tribes despite the Ten Commandment. However, as the scope of religious ideas expanded from particular to universal, so did the jurisdiction of the religious commandments. Christians applied the prohibition just like the earlier Hebrews, only to the Christians, just like a certain type of fundamentalists among us. Happily most of religions apply basic moral principles universally nowadays. Very few people believe that infidels can be killed. However, this particularism is still very much alive among some rigid ideologues and nationalists. I believe that the time has come to apply all our common basic moral principles, such as prohibition of taking human lives universally. Abolition of capital punishment and renouncement of war should be the most logical conclusion of universalism.

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Towards the end of Apartheid in South Africa, one Christian think tank published a document called , "Road to Damascus." It is a document warning the danger of some of Christian fundamentalism which created an ideology totally opposite to the Gospel. As you recall, Apartheid was justified by many believers of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, and supported by many Christians of the same persuasion in other countries. In this context, it is useful to recall a history of the African National Congress of South Africa, which for a long time had been called a "terrorist organization", and Nelson Mandela a terrorist. When it began, however, the leadership included people like not only Chief Albert Lithuli, but also many members of clergy as well as Communists like Joe Slovo, both black and white. It declared itself to be a non-violent movement. They staged many non-violent and peaceful demonstrations. It was only after massacre of non-violent demonstrators, and the subsequent banning of the organization, the ANC decided to take violent action. Score of demonstrators were shot in the back as they were fleeing the gun-totting police officers. Even after the decision to launch armed struggle, the ANC aimed at properties only. They were always careful to avoid loss of human lives. It was only other groups which followed the ANC, some took violence against human lives. The ANC until the end maintained respect for human lives.

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Politicians rarely admit publicly that they are wrong, even if they know they are wrong in their hearts. Therefore, it is our duty as Christians to honestly search for truth no matter how it hurts. We must ask ourselves why some people hate the West so much. I don’t think it is right for us to let our Muslim sisters and brothers to fend themselves. We don’t have to defend our faith by denouncing Anti-Semitism and racism over and over again. All sane people know that there are difference between regular Christians and the KKK or Nazism. Let us stand side by side, hand in hand, with people of many faiths, condemn violence and search for truth.

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Tad Mitsui

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Lethbridge, Alberta

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July 30, 2005

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STOPE THE WAR – LEBANON, 2006

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STOP THE WAR

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I am certain of one thing. Both Israel and Hezbollah must stop killing civilians immediately. Of course, Israel must defend itself. When Prime Minister Harper affirmed the right of the state of Israel, I would have agreed with him if the action Israel was taking indeed was a "measured response." But it wasn’t and it isn’t. That is the whole problem.

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Last time Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, to drive P L O out, 14,000 Lebanese civilians died in the first three months. Israel still had to keep the occupation of Southern Lebanon for next 18 years. An alarmingly large number of Israeli troops began to die. Alarmed Israelis began to question the war in Lebanon and started the Israeli peace movement with such organizations as Peace Now and Women in Black, Yesh Gvul. But even then, the Israeli death were not even one tenth of the Lebanese.

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During the first Israeli war in Lebanon, I was in Beirut in 1984 to attend a donors’ conference to help Lebanon recover from devastation. I still remember the scene of bombed out crumbled buildings and houses everywhere even in small villages in the mountains, like the ones you see on the TV today. One thing that stuck in my mind was the trees, which used to line the beautiful streets of Beirut, like Champ d’Elysee in Paris. Indeed, Beirut used to called "Paris of the Middle East." All the trees I saw from the airport into downtown had no tops. All of them were still standing but cut down to 20 ft from the ground. It was bizarre. It was the result of the intense naval bombardment. Palestinians lived, in the refugee camps near the airport, in the camp called Sabra and Shatila. But bombardment was aimed at downtown Beirut. I don’t think that the deaths among Palestinians was anywhere as many as that of Lebanese.

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The same thing is happening now. It was reported that the deaths among Lebanese reached the 1000 mark this last week, mostly among civilians. Not as many Hezbollah fighters have died relative to civilian casualties. Yes, the death toll among Israeli civilian is alarmingly large, but it still is less than 10% of the number of Lebanese victims. On the average, the rate of foreign casualties as the result of the Israeli military action has always been about 10 times that of the Israeli casualties.

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The use of a disproportionately overwhelming fire power for a short period of time has always been a norm of the Israeli military strategy since 1967. It was used during the Six Days war 1967, and Yom Kippur war of 1973. They were successful in those two wars. But it failed miserably in Lebanon between 1982 and 2000. IDF was stuck in Southern Lebanon for 18 years and had to withdraw because of mounting casualties. When such a ferocious surgical strike does not achieve its objectives in a week, it is a failure. When a population in general turns against you, no matter how powerful your weapons are, you will eventually lose. The US learned that lesson in Viet Nam, and are learning it now in Iraq. Israel should have learned it between 1982 and 2000. Israel was stuck in the quagmire of Southern Lebanon for 18 years despite military superiority. Hezbollah came into being during this period.

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There is a saying in Japan, "Kyoso neko wo kamu." It means "if you chase a little mouse into a corner, it will bite even a big cat." . Both Hamas and Hezbollah were born as resistance against Israeli occupation, because people were cornered with nowhere to go. I watched people humiliated everyday living in a West Bank village of Jayyous for three months. Though I don’t condone the methods employed by Hezbollah, or by Hamas, I could see why a certain number of hot-heads become extremists and start scheming unorthodox – often criminal – methods to bite back like a cornered mouse. It’s a desperate act, hopeless, and criminal, but its origins are understandable.

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I advocate for the state of Israel within secure borders. My two granddaughters are both half Jewish, as a result of the union between a Japanese artist and a Jewish doctor. Imagine, if they were born 60 years ago, they could have ended up in a gas chamber. I can understand very well what 2000 years, imagine 2000 years, of rejection by the whole Christendom does to a psyche of a whole Jewish people. Israel must exist. But if this is so, then, for God’s sake, start making friends with your Arab neighbors! Let’s stop Arabs and Israelis making the whole Middle East another Balkan. Let’s do our best to help both Lebanese and Israeli to start living peaceful normal lives side by side as friends and neighbors.

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WHO ARE TERRORISTS?

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WHO ARE TERRORISTS?

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Current debate of whether Hezbollah should be de-listed as a terrorist organization reminds me of CBC’s Neil MacDonald’s refusal to use the term, "terrorism" when he was in Israel. "Blood thirsty killers." "Terrorists." "Killers of innocent women and children." I have heard those denunciations from both sides. And they lost meaning to me. It’s all depends which side you belong.

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My friend Peter Davies, an one time lay worker at First United Church in Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, was once talking about people in the Jewish guerrilla groups and called them "Blood thirsty killers". They blew up King David Hotel in Jerusalem before the creation of Israel in1948. It killed many British soldiers including many of Peter’s buddies; Peter was a teenage British soldier. There were ‘some collateral damage’ (meaning deaths among innocent civilians) too. A couple of those "guerrillas" later became Prime Ministers of Israel. One of the terrorists in Africa became the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. A few Canadians journalists called Mr. Mandela a terrorist thirty years ago. They are still being published in Canadian magazines and papers.

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Of course, I condemn indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians: IRA bombings, 9/11, rocket attacks by Hezbollah, and suicide bombing by Palestinians; those are terrorism. However, I remember in the beginning of armed guerrilla uprising by the ANC in South Africa, targetting human lives was prohibited. The targets were properties like hydro power stations. I think that such a rule of engagement separates terrorism from a legitimate fight against oppression. But blood-shed is often unavoidable in violent situations. What do you call a bombing of an apartment building full of civilians, because terrorists also live in it? What distinguishes collateral damage from deliberate killing of innocent civilians? I don’t know.

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That’s why I avoid using the term "terrorism or terrorist". What’s wrong with the word "criminal?"

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August 23, 2006

CANADA AND LEBANON – Has Canada”s role changed for good?

CANADA AND LEBANON

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– Has Canada’s role changed for good? –

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Last time I was in Lebanon, it was in October, 1984. I attended a donors’ conference of the world-wide churches on the invitation of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). During those days, I worked for the Canadian Council of Churches and used to go to Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon regularly representing three Canadian churches, Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches. Visitors were representatives of the churches in Europe and North America. The meeting was held in Beirut. Before the meeting, all of us were invited to participate in field trips of various regions to assess the devastation of war. I was asked to survey Southern Lebanon with Wim Schot of the Dutch Inter-Church Aid,.

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The devastation we saw then was just like the ones we are seeing on the TV in the Hezbollah/Israeli conflict. All of us first met at the apartment, which belonged to General Secretary, Gabby Habib, of MECC, in an elegant district near American University. Americans, British, and French delegates were told that they must not leave the apartment for safety. They stayed there for one week, while the rest of us toured the country.

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Wim and I went to Saida first by a boat owned by Falange Forces (Maronite Christians). It was full of heavily armed men. We sailed early morning from Beirut far into the Mediterranean to avoid Druse shells from the coast. About two hours later, we were stopped by an Israeli gunboat. It took an hour to check all of our ID papers. Wim and I concluded that Israelis were the allies of Maronite Christians. By the time we arrived in Saida, it was evening: a 50 km trip if done by land. We toured Saida, Tyre, Nabatiyeh and the Israeli/Lebanese border region. Each night, we were awakened by the sound of gun-fire. It was the time when there were hostages in captivity including American journalists and a British churchman, Terry Waite. We returned to Beirut by land, because presumably by then it was assumed to be safe. We went through check points manned by many warring factions; Druse, Falange, Sunni, Shi’ites, as well as Israeli Defense Force. Never had we been threatened nor barred by any party.

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Why am I telling all this? I want to say that I had never felt grateful for being a Canadian. We were not part of an empire, an impartial honest broker and a trusted peace-keeper. I was proud to carry my passport and grateful for my government. My colleagues who had been cooped up in Gabby’s apartment were envious and wished their countries had the same reputation as Canada and Netherland did.

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My question is: can I do the same now in 2006, after the stand Tory government took during and after the month’s war in Lebanon?

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August 30, 2006

SENATE REFORM – A NEED FOR A CHAMBER OF SOBER SECOND THOUGHT

SENATE REFORM?

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DO IT VERY CAREFULLY IF YOU MUST, MR. HARPER

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In 1949, Canadian Senate stopped deportation of thousands of Canadians of Japanese origin. If the Senate didn’t stop it, it would have been another shameful page of the Canadian history. This episode makes a strong case for a chamber of sober second thought. Senate may need to be reformed. But let’s not politicize it a la U.S. Senate.

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When the war of 1940 – 44 ended, the law was enacted in the House of Commons regarding the future of Japanese-Canadians. Those who had been interned or removed from their homes in B.C. were given two options; paid passages to Japan or permanent removal from the B.C. coast. It was where many of them had made homes. The scheme was called "Repatriation". That was a misnomer, because majority of them were Canadian citizens, and Japan for them was a foreign country. It was deportation. Many chose Japan because of intolerable experiences of internment and uncertain futures awaiting in unknown parts of Canada where racism was still strong. By the time Senate halted the deportation process, about two thousand Canadian citizens had already been shipped to a country which was devastated by war and where people were starving.

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There may be a case for senate reform. But let’s do it carefully. The Upper House can become another political instrument, which can be influenced by hysteria. Then who will check the excesses.

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September 13, 2006

ARMED FORCES CAN NOT DO EVERYTHING – Should we be in Afghanistan?

THREE QUESTIONS THAT BOTHER ME ABOUT AFGHANISTAN

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I support our men and women in arms. They are committed, and they are professionals. I love them. That’s why I don’t want them to die for a cause not well defined. They are the kind of young people Canada needs. This is why I want someone to answer following three questions about our involvement in Afghanistan.

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1. If my memory of history serves me right, no outside force ever had military success in Afghanistan: Britain was expelled twice, and Soviet Union retreated despite their overwhelming firepower. Do we really have a chance this time?

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2. This conflict is between conventional armed forces and irregular fighters. The record of success for the conventional army in such a conflict is not all that good. Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, etc. Powerful armies had to leave without success after many deaths of fine young people. Do we not need to employ different kind of methods?

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3. What troubles me more than anything is the fact that the U.S. left the scene to start another war in Iraq. Had the U.S. stayed, there would not have been the current problem of needing more troops. By committing Canadian troops to Afghanistan, we are enabling Mr. Bush to continue a war which was started with a false assumption (a lie).

IN GOD”S COUNTRY EVERYBODY IS A CITIZEN – About dual citizenship

IN GOD’S COUNTRY EVERYBODY IS A CITIZEN – About dual citizenship.

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Hon. Monte Solberg, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, suggested that we re-examined dual citizenship. I think he needs to think a little.

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When I became a Canadian citizen in 1964, I had to renounce Japanese citizenship. I was happy to do that because of the Japanese Canadian experience during the second world war. Their loyalty to Canada was suspect so they were expelled from the B.C. coast and were interned. They were keen to prove that they were true Canadians. Some of them volunteered from internment camps to join the Canadian army to fight Japan. I just followed their standard, happily, when I gave up being a citizen of the country of birth.

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But I was also very happy when dual citizenship became permitted three decades ago. It shows that Canada has come to believe in the universality of rights of citizens and become a better place. It also shows Canada’s aspiration for a world without war. (What happens if a country from which some Canadians also have citizenship declares war against Canada? Like Germany, Italy, and Japan did during the WW II.) Dual citizenship is a good thing. For example, it facilitates the Israeli Law of Return for all children of Jewish mothers no matter where they live and have citizenship, and makes them automatically citizens of Israel. I served overseas for the church for fourteen years without worrying about my citizenship.

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Canada has come a long way. Dual citizenship can work without problem in a world without war. Utopian? Maybe. But we all dream of such a world. Don’t we?

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November 8, 2006

Support the troops but question the wisdom of war

WE MUST SUPPORT THE TROOPS BUT QUESTION THE WISDOM OF THE WAR.

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What distresses me is the fact that those who promote the "Support our Troops" ribbon denounce people like me who question Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan do not support our troops. But I say we can support the troops by questioning the policy of our involvement in Afghanistan. There have been many examples of brave and dedicated soldiers sent into battles, which were politically and strategically unwise and wrong. Sending Australians to Gallipoli, Canadians to Dieppe and Hong Kong were examples of politically and/or strategically unwise and wrong decisions causing enormous number of casualties. We honor their sacrifices and remember them so that we will not make the same mistakes. Isn’t it the best way to support our troops by avoiding abuse of their commitment, dedication, and valor which should be drawn upon fittingly to the cause of peace, security and welfare of our world?

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As for Canada’s current involvement in Afghanistan, I do agree that the Taliban regime had to be overthrown, which had openly supported Al Qaida’s terrorist activities. Also we need to help people of Afghanistan to live normal and peaceful lives. They have suffered far too long mainly because of interference of outsiders. But I do question the wisdom of the use of the conventional and regular armed forces to fight irregular combatants who employ unconventional methods and ignore the rules of war. The record of the use of the armed forces in such a warfare is not good; in fact it is disastrous. Mighty armies of Britain, the USSR and the USA were defeated by ragtag bands of irregular fighters who carried nothing more than AK 47”s and hand-held grenade launchers wearing rubber tire sandals. I am not preaching morality here. I am asking a question of practical wisdom. I have a serious doubt about the use of the conventional armed forces against guerrillas.

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I believe that the main weapons in such a warfare should be diplomatic and intelligence services and police. Al Qaida comes from Saudi Arabis and Talibans come from Pakistan; both are supposed to be Western allies. The conventional armed forces are ineffectual instruments to fight guerrilla warfare.

Peace on Earth – Peace begins with justice

PEACE ON EARTH

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Soon, we Christians will celebrate the birth of Prince of Peace. Meanwhile, we remind ourselves that the Jews greet each other saying "Shalom" and the Muslims saying "Salaam." Both languages mean peace. Then, how come are the believers of those three religions killing each other in the most bloodiest region of the world – in Afghanistan and in the Middle East? Isn’t it ironical that we believe in those religions in the same God of Abraham?

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The reason why peace is not coming soon is: I think, we are acting as though peace can be imposed by applying a superior power, and are forgetting that the notion of peace in the language of those three monotheistic religions mean "justice" also. Justice demands caring and sharing. Justice can not be achieved by mere giving of charity: that’s easy because giving charity does not force us to sacrifice what we have till it hurts. Justice demands more than that.

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Peace can not come by force: that’s oxymoron. Peace comes from justice.

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Peace on Earth!

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December 20, 2006

HUNGER IN THE WORLD – WHY PEOPLE STARVE?

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HUNGER IN THE WORLD

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The reason I claim my expertise to speak about this subject is my experience as the Coordinator of hunger relief for the World Council of Churches during the 1984 – 1989 famine in Africa. About one million people died in Ethiopia alone. It was the result of unprecedented drought that lasted four years.

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The worst natural disaster was the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 which killed about 300,000. But there are two other causes of deaths that are more devastating than any natural disaster. One is the wars: 500 millions in four years, 1941-45 125 million @ year, 34,246 @ day) The other is hunger. 44,000 a day, or 25,000 a day die depending on the way counting is made. That is 100 Jumbo jets crash and kill everyone on board.

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This is quite a contrast to the western statistics that indicate that main causes of death is attributed to over eating or unhealthy eating, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

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Why are we not paying more attention? Firstly, it is overwhelming – we can not handle it. Secondly, it is happening in the poorer parts of the world – Africa mainly, Asia, and Latin America. The solution is quite simple, actually. But we don’t want to deal with it, because it has a lot to do with our life-style and basic idea about life.

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1. We must first of all forget the idea that there is not enough food in the world, therefore the solution is more food – finding ways to make more food or give food to those who have less. It is not the question of us making more food or giving more food to the hungry. The real cause of hunger is poverty. Hungry people are too poor to buy or make food. It is not the problem of availability of food but it is a problem of accessability to it.

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There is plenty of food in the world. The problem is that some people can not buy it, because they can not buy it. People can make food anywhere. The problem is that they are prevented to make food because of economics and politics.

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2. When I first went to look at the feeding camp in Ethiopia, I looked at a few camps in the Northern part of the country, where people were fed to recover strength. Many died, because for them it was too late. When they recover the strength, they were given some grain and seeds, and in many cases implements to start farming. Many died were farmers.

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After inspecting the camps, we were taken to a hotel which stood outside of a feeding camp in Makele in Tigrey Province for lunch. We had a wonderful Italian dishes for lunch. Anyone could eat if they had money.

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3. Africa suffered famine because of drought. But if they were as wealthy as we are, they didn’t have to suffer so much. The last few years of drought in Canadian Prairie was more severe that the drought in Africa. Our country is rich enough to cope with it in terms of loans, and other kinds of financing.

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But African farmers remained poor because they had no saving, nor country had finance. Another factor that exacerbate the problem is the emphasis on cash crop for the country that required foreign currency. They converted food crops into coffee, sugar, peanuts, tobacco, etc. for the country to ean hard cash.

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When Ethiopian farmers were starving, Ethiopia exported more food to Europe. Beef , coffee, and sugar continued to be shipped to Europe. Farmers could not buy it.

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4. When good land was expropriate for cash crop, many men went to work for commercial farms. Production of food crop was left to women. They were not valued and not given credit facilities.

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5. Making people getting out of poverty is the way to feed people. People need dignity to sustain themselves. We do have enough food. New seed variety or fertilizer is not the solution. Also family farms are more efficient that the large scale commercial farms.

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6. I believe in supporting farmers. Japan, Switzerland, etc. We will soon have to pay more attention to water and food. Oil will not be an important factor for our survival.

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Conrad Black comes to Canada

MONEY TALKS – CONRAD BLACK CAME BACK

(The Lethbridge Herald, May 5, B2)

People love money so they respect someone who made lots of it. Now, no matter how you look at it, the ease with which Conrad Black came back into Canada makes one to believe that it was money that talked. I was an immigrant in Canada fifty-five years ago. I swore to be loyal to the Crown to be a Canadian. So I know how hard it can be for some people to come to Canada. Some one with a criminal record? No chance. Forget it.

The church I was settled (‘appointed to’ in United Church terms) had been rife with conflicts for a long time. The root cause was two so-called “pillars of the church” fighting for influence in the church board. One was the best educated man in the community and the other a millionaire. It was a case of two egos in a small congregation tearing it apart. In the end, people got fed up with them and at a AGM, they elected neither of them to the board. During the private discussion that ensued, one person commented about the millionaire,”But he made lots of money,” as though to say that wealth absolved all the griefs he caused. He was ready to forgive the trouble-maker and to bring him back to the board because he was rich. Money talks.

Do you think it’s why the Canadian justice system goes easy on white collar criminals? Americans are tougher. Black would never have had to go to jail in Canada for what he did. And the public don’t think it is a serious problem for white collar criminals walking free on the street. They wear nice clothes and live in a nice house. Even when they get drunk, they do so away from the eyes of the public. The poor who dress shabbily have no chance, especially when they look like they had too much drink. Charlie Chaplin said, “If you kill one person, you are a murderer. If you kill hundreds, you are a hero.” Likewise, if you steal a hundred bucks, you go to jail and can not come to Canada, but if you steal millions you can come back into a mansion in Toronto.

Is the new Criminal Code after the Parliament passed the omnibus bill tougher on financial crime? I don’t think so. You can steal from a widow and stay free. Money still talks.MONEY TALKS – CONRAD BLACK CAME BACK

(The Lethbridge Herald, May 5, B2)

People love money so they respect someone who made lots of it. Now, no matter how you look at it, the ease with which Conrad Black came back into Canada makes one to believe that it was money that talked. I was an immigrant in Canada fifty-five years ago. I swore to be loyal to the Crown to be a Canadian. So I know how hard it can be for some people to come to Canada. Some one with a criminal record? No chance. Forget it.

The church I was settled (‘appointed to’ in United Church terms) had been rife with conflicts for a long time. The root cause was two so-called “pillars of the church” fighting for influence in the church board. One was the best educated man in the community and the other a millionaire. It was a case of two egos in a small congregation tearing it apart. In the end, people got fed up with them and at a AGM, they elected neither of them to the board. During the private discussion that ensued, one person commented about the millionaire,”But he made lots of money,” as though to say that wealth absolved all the griefs he caused. He was ready to forgive the trouble-maker and to bring him back to the board because he was rich. Money talks.

Do you think it’s why the Canadian justice system goes easy on white collar criminals? Americans are tougher. Black would never have had to go to jail in Canada for what he did. And the public don’t think it is a serious problem for white collar criminals walking free on the street. They wear nice clothes and live in a nice house. Even when they get drunk, they do so away from the eyes of the public. The poor who dress shabbily have no chance, especially when they look like they had too much drink. Charlie Chaplin said, “If you kill one person, you are a murderer. If you kill hundreds, you are a hero.” Likewise, if you steal a hundred bucks, you go to jail and can not come to Canada, but if you steal millions you can come back into a mansion in Toronto.

Is the new Criminal Code after the Parliament passed the omnibus bill tougher on financial crime? I don’t think so. You can steal from a widow and stay free. Money still talks.

TERRORIST

“TERRORIST” – AN USELESS WORD

The recent “Canada Reads” contest on CBC One, February, 2012, stirred up a controversy because of one panellist’s use of the word “terrorist” referring to a member of Chilean resistance movement. I think the panellist lost credibility completely because of her blatantly ideological bias. Syrian President al Asaad calls opposition, “terrorists.” I refused to use the word “terrorism or terrorist” ever, because all sides use it hence it does not mean anything any more

A President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned for 27 years for being a terrorist. Two past Israeli Prime Ministers, Manahem Beguin and Izaak Shamir, had belonged to the group termed by the British government as terrorist organization. They participated in the bombing of King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing a hundred or more British soldiers towards the end of the British mandate of Palestine. French resistant fighters Maquis were terrorists and executed by the Nazi. The maquis’ were a vital element responsible for the Allied victory. Even a cowardly little me was expelled from South Africa in 1971 under the Terrorism Act. Was I a bomber? No, I had subversive friends like Desmond Tutu.

I don’t remember who it was, but there was a CBC reporter who declared publicly that he would not use the word “terrorism or terrorist” because the word is so elusive that it does not mean anything. I agree.

Arab Spring – Bad News for some

ARAB SPRING IS NOT NECESSARILY A GOOD NEWS TO SOME

Do not take me wrong. I totally rejoice in the victory of people’s power in the Middle East and North Africa. Those who rose up against tyrants risking their lives are true heroes. However, all is not well to some people. The situation needs a careful handling.

For example, Arab Christians and Israelis are nervous. During my working days, I made many acquaintances in the Orthodox Churches in the Middle East. This is why I know that if I were a Syrian Orthodox Christian, I would be very afraid of a sudden removal of the Assad regime. It has provided a protection to the Syrian Orthodox Church as a safeguard against the majority Sunni Muslims. The situation is the same with the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt. Hosni Mubarak was afraid of Muslim Brotherhood and gave protection to the Christian minority as a safeguard against the powerful Islamic movement. Likewise, if I were an Israeli, I would be very worried about a sudden rise of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood in the region, which has already taken power in Tunisia through a democratic process.

Recent pronouncement by the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, echoed by the Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente (Saturday, January 7), emphasized the importance of raising a serious concern about the rising tide against Christians in the world. Both persons also were concern about the diminishing number of Arab Christians in the Holy Land. It is a problem. Ask any church leader in Palestine. One has to acknowledge, however, the Palestinian Christians had to leave their homeland not because of the pressure from the Muslim compatriots, but because of the intolerable conditions created by the decades of Israeli occupation.

For Christians, the situations in Egypt and Syria, is a reminder of the lessons we should have learned about the dangerous temptation of being coopted by the powers that be. The churches in Japan had to confess their complicity in the crime committed by Japanese military regime during the WW II. There are many similar examples such as in Ethiopia, Germany, etc..

A simplistic analysis is not always correct and just. Swinging a sharp two edge sword indiscriminately cuts down good and evil. Let’s not make a complex situation into a simplistic Christian verses Muslim relationship issue, because often it isn’t.

Prison – school for criminals

Billion dollars for the school of criminals?

Former Deputy Director of the Lethbridge Correctional Centre Mr. James Wright said in an interview with a Lethbridge Herald reporter on August 22, 2011, “Although there were many bad people at the prison, there were a few who managed to turn their life around.” I was a bit taken aback reading such an honest admission; only “a few” turn around and begin a law abiding life-style? He sounds as though those “few” were exceptions. I thought rehabilitation was the main purpose of the correctional institutions not an exception. Isn’t that why we call the whole system “correctional?” Of course, a popular notion that the prison system is to punish “bad” people and isolate them from good people. But that’s not the stated official policy. It is “correction’; turning problem people into healthy ones, like a hospital. Or the word is just an euphemism and does not mean much. We really mean it is to punish the criminals and put them away as long as possible. Do we? I hope not.

Minister of Public Safety, Mr. Vic Toews says that the government will spend a billions dollar to increase the capacity of the prisons in a next few years so that they can keep criminals locked up and not let them walk free on the streets. However, if our prison system is so ineffective in the implementation of its basic goal, it is an awful lot of our tax money being wasted. Furthermore, I often hear the experience of ex-prisoners who say that the prison is a school for criminals: they learn the tricks of criminal trades and/or join the criminal gangs there. So are we building new prison facilities to produce more criminals?

Another problem I have with Mr. Toews plan is the fact that in Canada, particularly in the West, the First Nation people are over represented among the population of the correctional institutions. We all know this. Expanding the capacity of the prisons without tackling racism in our society and addressing the root causes of poverty and other social issues, the whole “tough on crime” strategy is tantamount to a war against the First Nations. That would be unacceptable.

August 23, 2011

Famine in Africa – 2011

HUNGER IN AFRICA, AGAIN

Again today’s famine in Horn of Africa is making it clear that massive hunger is caused by a conflict, not just drought. Between 1984 – 87, I was called up by the Geneva based World Council of Churches to act as the co-ordinator of the world wide churches’ action against the famine in Africa. The main focus of the action was Ethiopia, where an estimated number of deaths was thought to be about one million people. At the time, a serious war was being waged between the forces of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Tigray.

People like me who lived through the World War II in Europe and Japan must remember the hunger during and after the war. When I went to Southern Africa to work in 1968, people still spoke about, “Save the starving people in England” campaign after the WW II. Food was sent from Africa to Europe. The situation is reversed now. I wonder why we don’t speak about absence of peace as the major cause of hunger often enough.

The drought can be dealt with to minimize its effect. Alberta experienced a serious drought a few years back that lasted for a few years. Remember? There was no war here, of course. So drought was dealt with. Though a serious damage was done to farmers’ lives, but no famine. Today, Ethiopia is going through the same serious drought as Somalia. But the hunger is not as serious as it is in Somalia. In Ethiopian, lessons were learned during the 1980’s: how to avoid the effect of natural disaster to the food supply with the measures like the early warning system, a stock-pile of emergency food, etc. That’s why today Ethiopia is being spared of more serious problem like its neighbour’s. Most importantly, there is no war in Ethiopia. I believe the conflict is the major reason for famine in Somalia. Humanitarian aid is a band-aid solution, though essential to save lives in a short term.. Hunger is basically a challenge of politics. Peace is the solution.

Lessons from Japan Triple disaster

WHAT THE TRIPLE DISASTER IN JAPAN TEACHES US.

All animals including us humans learn from disasters, misfortunes, and tragedies. It’s an instinct. Thank God. If they don’t, consequence can be deadly. So what are we learning from the recent Japanese triple disaster?

Here are some examples, with an adequate preparation the damage from earthquakes can be limited to a minimum. Even with the magnitude nine quake, hardly any skyscraper crumbled in Japan. It is remarkable that no-one was killed by the earthquake as such. The buildings were made to withstand even such a severe tremor. Roughly 30,000 deaths were caused by the tsunami that came 40 minutes later, not by the earthquake.

Even for the tsunami, the preparedness was almost good enough to prevent such a large number of deaths. Dikes were built to stop, or limit to a minimum, up to an 8 metre high tsunami at the nuclear power station in Fukushima. What they got was 10 metres high. For those who lived on the coast without dikes, there were tall buildings and hills designated as evacuation sites. The whole of security apparatus was ready to tell people to run for those sites, giving them enough time to escape the wall of water. And they did. More than 150,000 people lost homes but survived the tsunami. When I was there, they were in the temporary shelters. An 80 % survival rate. A good preparedness.

As for those who died, I saw an interesting statistics: 48% of those who died of tsunami were over 65 years old. Most of them were swept away and died because they ignored the warning. According to some survivors, they were ready to run when they heard the warning, but they wanted to finish tidying up the homes before they started to run. Houses were in shambles after the earthquake. So, they were busy putting stuff back to the shelves and sweeping the floor, etc. They thought they had enough time to clean the house, and run for safety. But they didn’t; they were not fast enough.

“Rain falls on the just and the unjust,” says the Bible. But if you have an umbrella, you don’t get wet.

The triple disaster in Japan – March 11, 2011

EARTHQUAKE DID NOT KILL

We can cope with natural disasters to some extent, but we can not resolve the problems we create if we don’t know what we are doing.  We will be able to live with nature if we connect with respect, but we can not solve the problems we create if we don’t exactly know what we have created.  This is why the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power station is more difficult than the earthquake and the tsunami.

When I left Japan on May 15, newspapers reported that there were still close to 150,000 people staying in the temporary evacuation shelters, school gyms and community centres, and other public space.  The figure for the confirmed dead persons was about 14,000 and still missing, after two months, probably all dead in the seas, was about 9,000.  Aside from 4 persons died in the damaged nuclear power plant, most of the deaths occurred due to the tsunami, not by the earthquake itself.  I am saying this because on March 11th, 2011, the earthquake itself hardly killed people, but the tsunami did.  This is a different story from Haiti where most of the deaths happened because of the earthquake.

I started out with the above sentence because what impressed me most as the train went into the triple disaster affected region was the absence of destroyed houses and buildings from the view from the train window.   I wondered where the scenes I used to seeing in Haiti and New Zealand were.  Even in Sendai, which was the closest population centre to the epi-centre of 3/11 earthquake, I didn’t see collapsed buildings except sheets of blue plastic tarpaulin covering houses that lost some ceramic slates from the roofs.

 After the visit of the affected region, the ecumenical delegation met in a conference room of the Tokyo Christian Centre on the fourth floor for debriefing.  They told me that at 2 P.M. when the quake struck, they were in a meeting.  When the magnitude 5 quake struck Tokyo, the building shook so hard that people had hard time climbing down the stairs to the ground level to evacuate.  But when we met in the same room and were told what happened in the same room, I looked around and saw no crack on the wall neither did I see any broken window pane.  My sister was in the second floor of a supermarket in Tokyo.  The building shook so violently that she had to sit down on the floor until it stopped.  When I went there to shop two months later, the story was the same.  I didn’t see any cracked wall nor broken window.

Buildings and houses in Japan were earthquake proof.  The building code must be very strict.  So the primary disaster, earthquake, destroyed hardly anything, neither killed anyone.  Japan was prepared.  The death and destruction, the secondary disaster, tsunami, could have been far less if it was as estimated 8 metres high wall of waters, max.  Dikes were prepared for that height, and the warning system was in place.  They did not expect 15 metres high tsunami.  There was an extensive tsunami warning.  Deaths occurred because more than 40 % of people thought it was not so imminent.  So they continued cleaning the mess in the houses created by the earthquake which came 40 minutes to 1 hour earlier.  School children knew where to go, the third floor, when the tsunami warning sounded.  All in all, they were even prepared for tsunami, except the estimate was a few metres short.

The only remaining challenge is the nuclear disaster, the third.  It became clear that neither the industry nor the government knew what they were doing.  Only two days before I left Japan, which was a month and two days after the earthquake, did they find out that at the first reactor in the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Station, the fuel core had melted down, and most of the water poured into, about 10,000 tons, to cool the disabled reactor disappeared.  They were not sure where it went, probably seeped into the ground.  That meant the containment vessel must have cracked with the earthquake.  All that radiation contaminated water went, but they still didn’t know where it went.  “Scary stuff!” is an almost unprecedented understatement.

On the day of the second month of the disaster, May 11, the Asahi Shinbun was reporting that of 54 nuclear reactors, 42 have shut down, including the five at the Fukushima Dai-ichi and a few more at the Hama Oka station.  The government ordered it to shut down for extensive anti-tsunami measures renovation/construction.  The nuclear power in Japan supplies close to 30 % of the current energy requirement, of which 10% will shut down for extensive inspection and complete closure like Fukushima.  Popular opinion is moving more and more towards renewable energy, and eventual weaning from nuclear.  The Prime Minister Kan began speaking about the nuclear option as a stop gap measure before the renewable energy option takes over.  This is a complete reversal of the energy policy of the current government party in power.  All this is saying to me that neither the industry nor the government have not known what they were in for when they opted for the nuclear power when it earnestly started to develop it.  All this poses an enormous challenge to the nuclear industry in the world.

The concept of every little car with a small motor, instead of one powerful locomotive pulling the whole train was a Japanese invention.  It began the world wide trend of adopting super speed trains, such as TGV in Europe or “Bullet Train” – “Shinkansen” is Japan.  Many small things collectively are more powerful than one big and powerful thing was a Japanese idea.  Why then it opted for the notion of the big is better than many small things?

Earthquake as such did not kill, because of preparedness.  Even the resultant tsunami can be stopped if the dikes were a few metres higher.  But the nuclear power is more troublesome, because nobody knows what exactly it led us into.

To love another person is to see the face of God

TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD

I have been inundated by phone calls and email asking me about the safety of my family in Japan since the news of earthquakes in Japan broke on Friday last week, March 11, 2011.  It is a truly gratifying experience to live in a not-so-big community like Lethbridge.  People do care. They are concerned about the disasters and respond  very generously to appeals to help the victims be it Haiti, New Zealand, or Japan.  I even heard a person angrily denouncing the countries and governments not caring enough about the courageous rebels in Libya, who are increasingly looking like they are about to be brutally overrun by the planes and guns of Colonel Ghadafi.

However, whenever some people express their concerns about what is happening overseas, inevitably there are others who say things like, “Charity begins at home.”  They sound as though our homes, our community, and our country come first, and the problems overseas are secondary.  Of course, poverty and homelessness are important issues which should be on top of our agenda.  But I happened to believe that both are not mutually exclusive.  One exclusive of the other is not an authentic charity.  Person who claims to be concerned about hunger in Africa but is a horrible neighbour is a liar.  Likewise, if someone says he cares less about HIV/AIDS crisis overseas because he is too busy fighting crimes at home is a fake.  Respect for one must be respect for everyone.

It reminds me of the famous line by Victor Hugo in Les Miserable, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”  

WHY NEIGHBOURS ARE OFTEN ENEMIES?

WHY NEIGHBORS ARE OFTEN ENEMIES?

I applaud Calgarians who elected their new mayor.  Who has made an issue out of his religion before the election?  Nobody, until the national media pointed out that Mr. Nenshi was a Muslim.   Religion is not an issue in politics: Policy is. Why then is there so much suspicion about Islam?  Yes, there are problems with crazy Muslims as well as stupid Christians.  But they are a tiny minority.  We must remember that Christianity and Islam are cousins-in faith.  Both religions have  roots in Judaism: we are all children of Abraham,   How come then there is much hostilities where we are so close?  It seems that closeness brings out small difference into focus and makes it an irritation.

 I have often been asked if I could tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese.  Yes but not always.  When I was in South Africa during the 1970’s, Japanese were classified as “Honorary White” because of the trade links, but Chinese were not.  A bus driver was taken to court because he forced a Japanese business man off the whites only bus.   He was convinced that the man was a Chinese.  The prosecution lost the case because even the judge could not tell the difference.  

Often enemies are neighbors.  Irish and English, Chinese and Japanese, Basque and Spanish, Hutus and Tutsis, Israelis and Palestinians.   I think that the trouble is we are close enough to see them partly but refuse to see the whole.  So we fight over small things, even kill each other from time to time, because we don’t  try to understand the difference.  What a stupidity!  Why can’t we try to see the other side?  We don’t have to agree, but we can understand.  After all, we differ only on minor points; easy to bridge the gap.  Isn’t a refusal to do this the root causes of many troubles today?

We have to learn the art of compromise, and see good things in different ideas.  Therein is a solution to the current political dilemma in Canada too.  There does not seem to be a possibility of a majority government in a foreseeable future.  A coalition is a good possibility.  There is already one in the U.K., and another in Australia.  Most of European governments are coalitions.  Why not in Canada?   Opposition parties are not enemies.  They are “loyal oppositions.” 

Capitalists hit back

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

On August 9, 2010, the Lethbridge Herald published an article titled, “Friedman’s ideas alive and well” by Brett Skinner of an conservative think tank, the Fraser Institute.

Despite the recent meltdown of the global economy and the lingering economic woes, Brett Skinner of the Fraser Institute still touts the gospel according to Milton Friedman with its doctrine of total freedom of market.  I could not believe it.  I thought, “Wow!  Empire strikes back.”  Even Allan Greenspan, the cheerleader-in-chief of capitalism, was shocked by the devastating effects of uncontrolled greed.   Naturally, I have many qualms with Mr. Skinner.

1.   Friedman advocates total economic freedom and antipathy to regulations.  That does not fit Canadian reality.   Skinner says, “a reduction in the burden of regulation” has to be the foundation of the public policy.  Fewer restrictions will “increase economic growth.”  If that is the case, Mr. Stephen Harper must not be proud of Canadian banking system.   Our current Prime Minister is the most free-market-oriented political leader I know hence a disciple of Friedman.   As such, by definition he should be against all regulations restricting the activities of the banks.  But he says he is proud of our banking system.   He says, that Canada’s banks are well regulated unlike that of many other countries.  Regulations saved our banks and Harper is proud of it?  This must be contrary to Friedman’s dictum.   

2.  Friedman preaches, according to Skinner, ”the body of research” shows that “freer economies tend to be more prosperous” and that “economically free societies are also more politically free.”  That’s not the reality.  How can he explain the rapid rise of Chinese economy, for example?  I had never seen an economy that grew so fast and a country that became so prosperous in such a short time as China.  Yet politically, it is one of the most repressive countries in the world.  Another example in the same vein: the most brutal dictator in recent history, Augusto Pinochet was praised most enthusiastically by Margaret Thatcher, a champion of the free market.  She once said famously, “There is no such thing as society, there is only market.”   Political repression helps capitalism too.  

I am not a dogmatic socialist.  I accept that the market economy is good at creating wealth.  But I also believe in justice.  Everybody is entitled to a piece of pie.  “Capitalism produces and socialism distributes.”  Therefore, I believe that there have to be rules.  Greed must be harnessed.  We live in a society, not a jungle.

                                               

Sex scandals in the church

Exposing sexual scandals in the church is good for religion.

Sexual scandals of the Catholic Church unfolding everyday in the media must be extremely distressing to the faithfuls but ultimately I think it is good for religion.  For one thing, it makes clear that religions are human institutions.  I am not saying this because I belong to the United Church and not the Roman Catholic Church.  The churches are all in the same boat together.  All the churches suffer from the loss of credibility.  I was in an administrative position of the United Church during the 1990’s in Quebec, and I can tell you that we had our own share of sexual scandals.  Predators were mostly clergymen (sic) abusing their positions for personal gratification.  On my watch in my jurisdiction alone the United Church lost two court cases arising from the complaints of sexual harassments.  However,  I believe ultimately it is good that the problem is now being exposed.  It is cleansing.  It reveals the truth about human nature: power corrupts all of us.

It is good that those scandals force the churches to examine the power of the clergy and the role of the church hierarchy.  In the final analysis, Christians are supposed to believe that power belongs to God only as we pray, “For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power…”  We also believe that no human has a monopoly on truth.   No human, no clergy nor hierarchy, should have unimpeachable power and the unquestionable knowledge of the ultimate truth; only God does.  Those scandals force us to pull the clergy class and the church hierarchy down from the false pedestal.  We are all humans, good and bad, beautiful and ugly: the clergy class no exception.

Religious people now and then claim an exclusive access to the divine power and truth, and abuse such presumption to exploit others for personal benefit.  No human has such power.  The same rule, by the way, should apply to all job categories where one is given licence to exercise power over others because of their special knowledge; be it a financial adviser, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a politician, or a car-salesman.   Some people may have special gifts for sure, by nature or by training. Even then they must be subjected to checks and balances, because all humans are fallible.

Save tuna

NO MORE SUSHI?

I am a Japanese by origin and love sushi, but reject the nonsensical argument that raw tuna is an essential part of Japanese diet.  Sushi and Sashimi can use other fish like Koi (carp) which is increasing so fast threatening ecology of the Great Lakes.  Equally I reject the argument that whale meat is a traditional Japanese food.  Let CITES ban trade of bluefin tuna.  And stop the carnage of whales.  In Japan, the fishing industries are so powerful that all political parties tremble when they speak.  Thus lies become truth.

Sushi lovers can happily pursue delicious sushi without raw tuna.  I organize a sushi making contest every year in Lethbridge with a bunch of friends, all hedonists who would never allow cheap food on their palates.  Contestants join the competition on the condition that they avoid the use of raw meats.  There are hundreds of possibilities to create delicious and beautiful sushi without using raw fish or uncooked meat.  For example, California Roll is a vegetarian dish.  My favourite is Inarizushi, made of rice and vinegar stuffed in pockets of thin fried tofu.  My mother used to feast us with totally vegetarian  Osaka-style Chirashi Sushi.   Many contestant sushi makers learn those beautiful and delicious sushi on internet.    You can never see the kinds I saw at our Sushi-Off in the restaurants.  They are so beautiful; I wish I can show you the pictures.  Let’s stop using raw tuna and let the species recover.  I hope it isn’t too late.

As for whale, that it is labeled as a traditional Japanese diet is a totally invented myth.  The first time I was offered whale meat, it was by a man working for a Japanese Trading company in Vancouver in 1964.  I could not eat it more than a tiny bite thinking about the intelligent creature murdered and butchered.  I grew up in Japan and came to Canada in 1957.  I had never heard nor seen whale meat as a part of our diet.  It’s a completely different story in the case of seal meat for Inuit.   Let us build up a strong public opinion to completely ban whale hunt, no more nonsense calling killing of hundreds of whales for “scientific research.”

 

The New Earth without us

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS

Whenever I think of the future of our planet, I have to fight encroaching pessimism hard and keep my faith in common sense and wisdom.   But some people just don’t get it even with an overwhelming evidence that we are heading towards a catastrophic disaster.  Ice is melting, many species disappearing, the seas are rising, etc.  If this is not so alarming, why are so many people including Stephen Harper suddenly interested in the Arctic?  Until now Ice is so thick that nobody cared too much about the life-style of the Inuit or the welfare of polar bears.  Now that it is melting and the sea is increasingly wide open, suddenly the mineral rights of the sea bed, the sovereignty of Northwest Passage, etc. have become important issues.   I am dismayed by the mind-set, “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with facts.”  Are the humans basically so stupid and self-destructive?

However,  I heard a sort-of good news in a recent event in February at the University of Lethbridge with Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon who tends to be rather pessimistic on the question of environment.  In a panel discussion with Homer-Dixon, James Byrne, our own Lethbridge environment guru, assured us, “Don’t worry about the planet earth.  It went through many catastrophes, but it recovered and came out differently with new life-forms on it:  dinosaurs disappeared but something else took over, and so on.  The earth always recovers.  Don’t worry about it.”

However, the bad news is: “The newly configured earth likely will not have humans on it and it will probably be a better planet without us,” by Dr. Byrne’s statement.  That might be comforting if you don’t care about welfare of your offspring.  The earth will probably be O.K. until you die and a few decades after.  And those who drown first in rising seas are people who live far away, a place like Kiribati or Tuvalu.  You can worry only about your pension hoping that it lasts till you die, or you can do something fast about the environment if you care about your grand-children’s grand-children.  You choose!

When did Canada become an American lackey?

When asked to define a Canadian, the usual answer used to be, “We are not Americans.”   However, for a while the current government seemed to have changed that notion.  Mr. Harper spoke about “Made in Canada” solutions to the environment issues only a few years ago.  Now the new dictum seems to be the same old, same old, with a variation,  “We are not Americans, but we have to wait for Americans to speak first.”  Again we affirmed ourselves to be a default nation.   “We are what we are not.”

For some time now, we have had a party in power only because the opposition party has been weak.  We have been electing a government by default.  We elected Stephen Harper into power because he was not Stephan Dion.  It was like that during the days when the Liberals were the natural-governing-party.  We had the Liberal government forever because the right of centre was splintered, not necessarily because we agreed with the Liberal party platform.  I think that it is getting worse.  The Conservatives refuse to take a stand on environment and wait for American to say something first.  They say that our economies are so integrated that it would be unrealistic to do anything independently from Americans.

Had we followed that logic, we should have joined Americans in Iraq.  I remember Mr. Harper, in opposition at the time, accused Mr Chretien of “betraying a friend” when he decided to keep Canada out of the coalition.  We could still be waiting for the U.S. Congress to pass the health care reform legislation before we have our own.  Thank goodness, Canada is forty years ahead of the U.S. on that one.  We used to have some good ideas.  We still do.

When I came to Canada in 1957, I often heard an expression from Japanese-Canadian, “We trusted Canadian justice and fair play.”  What happened to that phrase to define Canada?  Did it become obsolete and we moved on to the next favourite colour?

I can not believe Mr. Harper, who is very intelligent and smart, and a committed conservative, just waiting for Mr. Obama, who is a most left-leaning President of the U.S. ever, to speak first.  Or does he have a hidden agenda?  I want him to tell us where he stands?  Sorry, we are Canadians, we follow Americans.  This is not good enough.

Regular Armed forces can not defeat people

We need to find different ways to fight real enemies.

In 1955, I joined a group of university students from all over the world to join an international volunteers work camp.  We were helping a village called Balingbing on the Philippine island of Minadao to recover from the devastation after a severe earthquake.  

It took a long time for me to obtain a visa to enter the Philippines, because the authorities had to make sure my security could be guaranteed.  The anti-Japanese sentiment was still strong, where the atrocity committed against civilian population by Japanese Imperial Army was brutal.  While there, I heard many stories of savageries and massacres.  I completely understood why they hated Japanese so much.

The regular armed forces are organized by the state according to the premise that the opposition is also organized  by the state and are identifiable and visible with uniforms and insignia.  The battles must be fought according to the rule of engagement by the Geneva Convention.  This is why, until such recognition was given to some irregular fighters for their legitimate struggles for freedom, the irregular fighters such as the French maquis or the Philippino Huks were often summarily executed without the due process.

The trouble was those fighters without uniforms are invisible among a crowd of civilians.  In many instances some of them are guerrillas.  This is why many armies who were fighting the guerrillas had troubles distinguishing enemy from civilians.  Therefore, many innocent civilians fall victim of attacks by the regular uniformed soldiers, hence hatred among  population increases.  I saw this in the Philippines and can see this happening in Afghanistan.

Maintaining the regular armed forces are expensive but guerrillas are cheap.  A Vietcong with sandals made of old tires carrying only an AK47 defeated the world’s most powerful U.S. Armed Forces.  The story is the same with the Soviet military in Afghanistan during the eighties.  The regular army can not win the war with irregular fighters who have the support of the population.

The same story is repeated time and again in history since the Helvetic Confederation when a small band of determined fighters fought with sticks and stones and defeated the mighty empire and established the Old Swiss Confederation in the 13th Century.  It’s time we stop sacrificing our magnificent young people in an unwinnable war and find different ways to fight the invisible enemy by finding first the causes of such discontent and hatred.

The Middle East and the United Church of Canada

I have been involved in a movement for peace in the Middle East with Israeli and Palestinian colleagues since 1979.  I was a Canadian representative to the Middle East Council of Church in its program for Palestinian refugees.  I went there every year and once lived in the West Bank in 2003 during the height of Palestinian suicide-bombing.  I was a part of the World Council of Churches’ program called “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel” as a member of the human right watch team.  How many times have I been called an Anti-Semitist?  Countless.  Which is nonsense.  My two grand-daughters are half Jewish.

I feel that the end has come for my church to take a public stand when I heard that a proposal to term Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories “Apartheid” at the United Church’s triennial General Council held in Kelowna in August, 2009.  The recent proposal was the third attempt in the General Council in nine years  only to be quashed again.  Granted the resolution passed did make it quite clear that the United Church believed the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories illegal and that the construction of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the separation barriers  must cease immediately.  However, the church does not make any suggestion about how it should go about to implement the resolution.  I think it’s time to change the course.  The United Church should stop wasting time trying to make a public statement.  It should concentrate in supporting and working with peace activists on both sides.  

There are many Israeli peace activists:  Daniel Barenboim, a famous Israeli symphony orchestra  conductor, who regularly goes to Ramallah to teach at a Palestinian Conservatory, and Justice Richard Goldstone, a respected South African-Jewish jurist, the author of the recent U.N. report on Gaza, and Prof. Ilan Pappe, a respected academic in Haifa, to name a few.  They are all Zionists and love Israel. But they are denounced as self-loathing anti-Israel Jews by Israeli right-wingers.  

I know personally many others like them in the groups like Women in Black, Bat Shalom (Daughters for Peace), Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Gvul (Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in the West Bank and Gaza thus ended up in prison), and B’Tselem, Hamoked (two Israeli Human Rights groups).  And they all have Palestinian counterparts such as “Sabeel” in Jerusalem and Palestinian Christian groups.  Canada has our own too: Naomi Klein and Judy Rebic to name a couple.

My thirty years of work on this issue tell me that trying to make a point  in public statements is futile.   It’s time to start working without publicity in solidarity with both Israeli and Palestinian peace activists.

When fossils run out.

When fossils run out.

Environment is the hot topic of the day.  And the debate is getting hotter. The UN special General Assembly the week before last, G 20 this last week, leading to  the UN Conference on climate in Copenhagen to come to some kind of international agreement to succeed the Kyoto protocol.  The talk is all about reducing the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and subsequent climate change.  Finding a renewable source of energy as an alternative to fossil fuel is the main concern in everybody’s mind, it seems.  I sincerely hope that all these hot air will produce a forceful and positive result.  Happily the climate-change deniers seem to be in retreat.  Even Mr. Stephen Harper, who used to call the climate change scare as a “socialist conspiracy” or some such designation, is on the environment band-wagon albeit reluctantly.  However, it is curious that few people are worried about depletion of fossils and subsequent loss of petro-chemical materials.

I think it is more worrisome to think about the result of burning all the fossils and a possible future without them.  We can find other sources of energy.  But there will be no more  plastic.  Imagine that?   The person who drew my attention to this worrisome future is my step-brother, a son of an United Church minister who founded Japanese United Church in Lethbridge during the WW II.  I met him in 1974 through my mother’s second marriage.  He is a PhD in biochemistry specializing petrochemicals.  He told me already then that burning fossils as a source of energy is absolutely insane.  Plastic is flexible: can be made as hard as steel and can be as soft and elastic as rubber band, and can replace a lot of building materials (with such thing as vinyl) and many other things we use everyday.  For example, 90% of what we wear is all or part plastic.  Just look around and see how much of what we take for granted are petrochemical products.  And it can be recycled like metal.  He said, we could stop a lot of mining operations, and never have to cut trees.  And we are burning this precious irreplaceable resource.  He had worked for many major petrochemical companies; Dow, Du Pont, etc.  He didn’t last long in any of them probably for saying crazy things like that.  I asked Andrew Nikiforuk, a journalist and the author of “Tar Sand,” when he was in Lethbridge, if my step-brother’s argument had any legitimacy.  His answer: “He is right.”

My step-brother spoke like a prophet.  And like many prophets before him, nobody listens to Abraham Kabayama – your hockey coach’s uncle.  I have, and I’m worried.

I love Canada because I was overseas

I love Canada more because I went overseas.
    I am not a supporter of Liberal Party, but the Conservative Party’s attack ad on Mr. Michael Ignatieff offends me to no end.  It accuses him of spending too many years overseas thus being not a real Canadian.  I too spent a decade and a half overseas, and I became a more enthusiastic Canadian patriot.  I forgot all the bitching I did about Canada.  When you are outside of Canada, you can not help but notice what a wonderful country Canada is.  I am not just speaking about natural beauty and wealth.  I am also speaking about our social-policy that demonstrates generosity and open-mindedness of ordinary Canadians.  What right does Mr. Harper have to criticize Mr. Ignatieff of being a less Canadian because he spent many years overseas and became an internationally renown scholar?  We should be proud of this Canadian’s achievement.
    When we were  in Africa and in Europe, we always looked for Canada Day parties.  When we could not find it, we organized it.  Every year on Canada Day my daughter sent a “Happy Birthday Canada” card to the Governor General.  Whenever she received the “Thank you” letters from Rideau Hall, she was so proud that she always framed them.  
    I did my best to work for the country where I lived as a Canadian, and hoped that it would enhance the respect for Canada overseas.  Are we not proud of many Canadians who made it big in other countries, even after they became dual citizens?  Are we not proud of Mary Pickford from Cardston, Keifer Southerland, Celine Dion, Peter Jenning, William Shutner to name a few. We claim them as our own?  Don’t we?
    Of course, that doesn’t mean they can automatically make leaders of the government.  We should look for other qualities: their quality in political skills and visions.  The length of their time spent overseas is not a liability. A mean-spirited personal attack is not Canadian.

WHEN CANADIANS GET INTO TROUBLE OVERSEAS, ARE WE TREATED EQUALLY?

ARE CANADIANS OVERSEAS TREATED EQUALLY BY CANADIAN EMBASSY?
Re: “Kenyan nightmare over for Canadian”, August 16,2009, Lethbridge Herald     

I was detained for three days in Johannesburg and was told to leave South Africa in two hours in 1972.   I asked the Canadian Ambassador to find out the reason for my expulsion.  The First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town responded in his letter to my request, “As a guest of the Republic of South Africa, a Canadian of non-European origin is expected to respect the laws of the land.”   I guess the embassy assumed that I did something illegal, like using a “Whites Only” washroom.  

Hearing about the ordeal Suaad Hagi Mohamud in Kenya, and about the other similar incidents, I wonder if there is a pattern.  They are all names of “non-European Canadians.”  Ms Mohamud’s trouble was initiated by the Canadian High Commissioner’s office in Nairobi, who accused her of being an imposter and turned her over to the Kenyan authorities.   It was not the Kenyans who caused Ms Muhamed’s grief, as Mr. Harper alleged.  Or is this an evidence of an unspoken the two tier system of Canadian citizenship?   Ms Muohamud said in a interview with Diana Swain, “If I was a white person, I would not have been accused of being an imposter.”

However, there have been Canadians with Anglo-Saxon names who spent time unjustly in prisons overseas.   William Sampson and Brenda Martin were the names I remember, who, though they were innocent, languished in jails without the help from Canadian consular service.  But the difference between them and the Canadians with African or Arab names is that it was the Canadian authorities who caused their grief.    

In my case, as a result of an enormous pressure from the Church in Canada, Ottawa acted several years later.   In a letter of apology from Mr. Mitchell Sharp, I found the reason for my expulsion.   South Africans didn’t like the company I kept; Desmond Tutu was my teaching colleague in Theology.  I didn’t do or say anything subversive.  I am not that brave.  

I wonder if there are others like Ms Mohamud who have not appeared on the media radar screen.  I hope this is not a new trend because of “War on Terror.”

Canadians overseas

IS THIS A PATTERN?
Re: “Kenyan nightmare over for Canadian”, August 16,2009, Lethbridge Herald – A4

The First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy in Cape Town responded in his letter to my request, “As a guest of the Republic of South Africa, a Canadian of non-European origin is expected to respect the laws of the land.”  I was detained for three days in Johannesburg and was told to leave South Africa in two hours.  I asked the Canadian Ambassador in South Africa to find out the reason for my expulsion.   That was 1972.   I guess the embassy had assumed that I had done something illegal.

Hearing about the ordeal Suaad Hagi Mohamud in Kenya, and about the other recent similar incidents in Sudan and Syria to mention a couple, I wonder if there is a pattern.  They are all names of “non-European Canadians.”  Ms Mohamud’s trouble was initiated by the Canadian High Commissioner’s office in Nairobi, who accused her of being an imposter and turned her over to the Kenyan authorities.   It was not the Kenyans who caused Ms Muhamed’s grief, as Mr. Harper alleged.  Or is this an evidence of an unspoken the two tier system of Canadian citizenship?  If anyone can produce the European sounding names who went through a similar experience recently and prove me wrong, I will be grateful.

As a result of an enormous pressure from the United Church of Canada, Ottawa acted several years later.   In a letter of apology from Mr. Mitchell Sharp, who at the time was Secretary of State for External Affairs, I found out that reason for my expulsion.   South Africans didn’t like the company I kept.   Desmond Tutu was my teaching colleague in the Theology Department, and Steve Biko was a student in the University Christian Movement where I was a Regional Director.  And I knew many other people like them.  I didn’t do or say anything subversive.  I am not that brave.  

 I wonder if  there is a pattern in the civil and diplomatic services to treat some Canadians more equal than others.  I hope not.

Moon Landing – I remember

40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

July, 1969, I was living in a small mountain village called Cana Tyatyaneng in Lesotho, Africa.  I learned the language there.  I remember hearing the news about the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s famous “A small step..” speech on a small battery transistor radio shivering in the winter cold of Southern hemisphere under the cover of a duvet.  I remember the mixed feeling I had.  I still have it.  I don’t want to spoil the excitement, but something stops me being over-joyed about it.

1969 was the third year of drought in Southern Africa, the crop failed again that year and people were starving.  Even my $92 a month missionary stipend was embarrassingly 10 times the average income of a villager.  I don’t know how much money was spent on “Man on the Moon” project.  But I can safely say that it was at least several times more than the annual GDP of the whole country of Lesotho.  I was not angry.  Like most Americans, I was happy about the great achievement.  It was a mixed feeling when you hear about something like that surrounded by poor starving people.

I went back to visit old friends in Lesotho last year.  The situation was not much different.  There was now a road and electricity (which not many people could afford).  There was still only one village communal tap for water.  I know it could be corruption and bad governance that keep people poor.  But I don’t blame them for being angry.   We were angry to hear about an average income of an executive of an investment bank that failed and got bail-out with our tax money.  It is 400 times the income of an ordinary employee of such a bank.

I guess the anniversary of “Moon Landing” calls for a celebration.  But while we promote scientific advancement and celebrate its achievement, we should also spend equal amount of energy and money to find the way to eliminate poverty and alienation.  Maybe there is a good reason to make that a part of “War on Terror.”

Services at the airport need attention

Re: Dziekanski tragedy:  Shouldn’t we be asking more about airport services in general?

RCMP has been on a spotlight for some days now in regards to the tragic death of a Polish
immigrant.  I think this is right: recent events that hit the headlines indicate that RCMP must be
held accountable in more than one way.  However, I think a much more attention should be paid
about the overall services available.  An extremely confused non-English speaking person
wandered around for more than 10 hours without drawing an attention of a single person in the
airport authority.  This is simply unacceptable at an international airport.  Especially in the light
of the upcoming Olympic Game in Vancouver next year, to say, “We have to deal with millions
of travellers,” or “Security is our primary concern,” can not be an excuse.

South Africa is preparing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals.  Our South African travel guide
knew about the Vancouver incident because the infamous video was apparently broadcasted all
over the world.  With the memory of that tragedy still fresh in my mind, I was very anxious about
my non-English speaking sister flying alone from Tokyo to Johannesburg.  She was going to join
us on Safari.  That was exactly one year ago.  So we went to the Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo
Airport very early.  But the guide  reassured us, “A horrible thing like that will never happen
here.”

I was particularly impressed by the services at the airport to the foreigners.  For example, a
passenger with language difficulty was given a 2 inche diameter oval shape badge of South
African flag by an airline agent.  It was to be visible on a chest or a lapel.  All airlines customer
service personnel are to look out for those people who may need extra help.  I was mightily
relieved when I saw this.  My sister safely arrived and we had a good time.   When she left, I was
no longer anxious.  She disappeared beyond the barriers with an airline escort.  She is telling
everybody now she just loved South Africa.

I hope that Vancouver International Airport has something like that and other measures to help
hundreds of thousands of guests coming to the Olympics next year.

Who pays for bail-out?

RE: “Carney calls for Regulator”, the Lethbridge Herald, May 7 – Page B1
 (Carney is the Governor of the Bank of Canada)
 
 The irony of the current recession is that the most die-hard free marketers had to resort to
 drastic government interventions to save capitalism.  George W. Bush had to nationalize banks
 (Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae); Stephen Harper is touting the Canadian banking system as the
 most sound because it is well “regulated”.  Greed turned out to be self-destructive.  And those
 advocates of laissez-faire capitalism are the ones who, against their principles, spent a thus- far-
 unheard-of amount of our tax money to  save it.
 
 In London in March, G20 agreed to pour trillions of dollars into the world’s economy to avoid
 a total disaster.  I’m not an economist, but even I know that money does not grow on a tree.
 Money has to come from somewhere on earth, and it’s  the governments who had to go into a
 huge debt to eke out that money. That means: it is us who have to pay back that debt in taxes.  I
 also heard central bankers talking about “printing money”.  Print money?   It means inflation in
 my dictionary.   It means money will be cheaper, and  my hard won savings will buy less.  I
 don’t want to go there.  If we are paying for it in taxes, we should have more say in how the
 money is going to be spent.  We have to stop our tax money going to the same-old greedy
 people who failed the system and yet are still determined to do the same-old capitalist thing all
 over again. 
 
  We must insist on our rights to have a say on money matters of the government.  The
 governments now own chunks of important industries like car makers, through what
 euphemistically called “bail-out”.   Which is welfare hand-out for the rich in my book.
 Reputation of the advocates of unregulated free market is in the mud, and the idea of
 government intervention came back in.  Obama fired the CEO of the GM, for goodness sakes. 
 If this is not socialism, I don’t know what is.  But socialism didn’t do it.  Capitalism created the
 whole mess.    Let us not give greedy rascals a free hand again.  Let us not be dismissed by
 those people who used to tell us, “Oh, it’s complicated.”  Tell them, “It’s my money!  No more
 ABCP!”

Airport Services – Are they good enough?

       APRIL 27 fifteen years ago – Genocide and Election
                               
                               
In April, 1994, I was staying in Durban, South Africa.  I was one of many election observers to
witness this amazing history unfolding.  Legalized racial discrimination called Apartheid was
officially abolished .   On April 27, every citizen of South Africa regardless of skin colour  was
voting.  Democracy, which I thought would never come in my life time, after so much suffering
and bloodshed, was actually a reality.

It took several days for everyone to vote and all votes to be counted.  With other observers, I
watched a briefing by the Electoral Commission on the TV every night.  The theatre in Pretoria
where it was held was full.  Every media organization in the world was there.  But after a few
days after the voting and the result was not final, suddenly the theatre became almost empty.  On
that day, much of the world’s media attention was shifted to Rwanda from South Africa.  The
journalists covering South African election must have been ordered to move to Rwanda where
genocide was unfolding.  A cynic among us said, “I guess genocide is more exciting than the first
democratic election in South Africa.”    The election of the first South African black President,
Nelson Mandela, was no longer news, even though the last of the result had yet to come in. 

I guess the media organizations had no choice.  They have to get as much exposure as possible
for the maximum rating, otherwise they die.  Newsworthiness and ratings make or break the
media, not necessarily the truth.  In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he worried that the Truth
would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance (by moving to a new excitement one after another. I am
not making Rwandan genocide trivial for sure.):  we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied
with some equivalent of “the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal blumblepuppy.” 
Anything that grabs the public’s attention is the prime target.  News is show business.  It has to
be entertain and excite us.  We ignored Rwanda at first because there was something more
exciting going on.   When that excitement was a few days old, it lost its novelty and we shifted
our focus to genocide.  We need the media whose concern is the truth not the ratings.   That’s
why we need a strong CBC, BBC, or PBS, or whatever, which should not be dictated by
viewership.

April 27

       APRIL 27 fifteen years ago – Genocide and Election
                               
                               
In April, 1994, I was staying in Durban, South Africa.  I was one of many election observers to
witness this amazing history unfolding.  Legalized racial discrimination called Apartheid was
officially abolished .   On April 27, every citizen of South Africa regardless of skin colour  was
voting.  Democracy, which I thought would never come in my life time, after so much suffering
and bloodshed, was actually a reality.

It took several days for everyone to vote and all votes to be counted.  With other observers, I
watched a briefing by the Electoral Commission on the TV every night.  The theatre in Pretoria
where it was held was full.  Every media organization in the world was there.  But after a few
days after the voting and the result was not final, suddenly the theatre became almost empty.  On
that day, much of the world’s media attention was shifted to Rwanda from South Africa.  The
journalists covering South African election must have been ordered to move to Rwanda where
genocide was unfolding.  A cynic among us said, “I guess genocide is more exciting than the first
democratic election in South Africa.”    The election of the first South African black President,
Nelson Mandela, was no longer news, even though the last of the result had yet to come in. 

I guess the media organizations had no choice.  They have to get as much exposure as possible
for the maximum rating, otherwise they die.  Newsworthiness and ratings make or break the
media, not necessarily the truth.  In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, he worried that the Truth
would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance (by moving to a new excitement one after another. I am
not making Rwandan genocide trivial for sure.):  we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied
with some equivalent of “the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal blumblepuppy.” 
Anything that grabs the public’s attention is the prime target.  News is show business.  It has to
be entertain and excite us.  We ignored Rwanda at first because there was something more
exciting going on.   When that excitement was a few days old, it lost its novelty and we shifted
our focus to genocide.  We need the media whose concern is the truth not the ratings.   That’s
why we need a strong CBC, BBC, or PBS, or whatever, which should not be dictated by
viewership.

Racism is cowardly

RACISM IS A COWARDLY FEAR OF DIFFERENCE

 

Re: “Racism talk at U of L”, Page A3, the Lethbridge Herald, March 22, 2009

I am worried about too many references made to ‘ethnic gangs’ in the media. I agree with Prof. Watson: “the very idea of race necessarily leads to racism.” I think basically racism is a primitive fear of unknown, dregs from tribal societies. Instead of appreciating novelty, cowardly people are afraid of difference in other people and form negative opinions about them. Prejudice against disabled people, against homosexuals, and those who dress, look, and speak /think differently is a poison of our society.

A long time ago, I complained once in a letter to the editor of a Japanese magazine about discrimination against Koreans, who were brought to Japan as slave labors and have been discriminated against ever since. The hate mail I received subsequently amazed me. The basic tone of their objections was based on prejudice: “They eat smelly food,” “They have accent,” “They are criminals,” etc. Media played some role creating such an undercurrent by reporting too often about Korean criminal gangs, a large number of Koreans in prisons, etc. It was much like the way Asians, Blacks, First Nations, or Latinos are spoken of today. It used to be Italians, Irish, Jewish in the early twentieth century. (Read Annie Proulx’s “Accordion Crimes.”) They were not “White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant” therefore automatically considered to be suspect in those days. Today, Koreans are the most successful minority group in Japan, just like the Italians, the Irish, and the Jewish descendants in our country.

We have to face the fact that there are still discriminated peoples. When a society spontaneously and systemically treat a certain group of people as outsiders, they have to find some way to survive and defend themselves. Law and society don’t work for them. So they form their own groups. Cultural, religious, and social groups, and sometimes criminal gangs.

I don’t condone criminality. Crime must be dealt with according to the law. But we must understand why they become anti-social. If we don’t, any anti-crime measure is ineffective. If there is no major effort to include different peoples into the main stream of society, any legal measure will fail. Worse still, the problems may increase because it is well known that prisons are often schools for criminals.

Reflection on Naked Jesus

JESUS has no clothes

I was shocked when I first saw Michelangelo’s sculpture of Risen Christ. He was completely naked and his genital completely exposed. The famous David sculpture is the same: naked with the penis visible. Two questions came to my mind about Renaissance religious art:

(1) Why are those nude figures of Biblical personalities all male, none female? Mary shows one breast sometimes, but that’s about the extent of it as far as the undraped Biblical female figures are concerned.

(2) Why none of them is circumcised though they were all Jewish.

I looked at other Renaissance religious arts and ventured to do some speculation. I also looked at paintings by artists like Donatello and Raffael who depicted the Mother and the naked Holy Child. Some of them had baby John the Baptist with them, equally naked.

I came to a conclusion that Renaissance religious arts reflected an official church views that demonstrated male chauvinism and anti-Semitism that prevailed throughout the twenty centuries of Christianity. Happily the church stopped burning at stake and/or torturing of those who go against the official doctrines. But persecution of those who go against the out-dated and persistent views in many churches still exists. Think of the way homosexuals, Muslims (or believers of other religions), and pro-choice women, for example, are treated by fundamentalist Christians.

Some people defend Renaissance artists: that they were merely reviving the Greco-Roman art. At one time, the Greeks believed that female bodies were incomplete hence regarded less perfect esthetically. So for a long time, the Biblical nude figures in Renaissance religious art were all male. They are imitation of Greek art, nothing more, they explain.

I don’t accept this argument. Looking at the many nude figures of Christ and of other Biblical heros like David, I believe that the church, therefore the artists, tried to emphasize their maleness. The church must have tried hard to stamp out all the lingering yeaning for divine female characters. Hence they justified witch-hunts and other acts of misogyny. Lingering discrimination of women in many Christian institutions still exists and is rationalized. The only woman considered to be holy is a virgin and a mother, an impossible feat for a normal woman, therefore doesn’t exist.

The church also tried hard to erase all Jewishness from Biblical figures. It is impossible to pretend ignorance: saying “artists didn’t know how a circumcised penis looked like.” Nonsense! Circumcision is such an important mark of the covenant between God and the Hebrew people in the Bible and is impossible to ignore. Also, people who lived in the Mediterranean Europe during the Renaissance period must have seen circumcised males, be they the North African slaves or the Jews. They could not say they didn’t know how it looked. It shows how anti-Semitism in the Christian Church was deep-rooted. No wonder it took the church two millennia before the Vatican II officially recanted Anti-Semitism.

It is about time all religions abandon doctrinal rigidity and learn to be humble.

Crisis is a dangerous opportunity

DANGEROUS, YES. BUT IT’S AN OPPORTUNITY

Everyday, we are bombarded by bad news about economy. Rapidly falling commodity price, a near collapse of the financial system, the loss of consumer confidence, rising unemployment: the list goes on and on. It’s the most severe economic situation since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Stephen Harper is trying to sound up-beat. But he has had to change tunes so many times, that he is beginning to sound desperate and hollow. It’s tough to be in power in a difficult time.

Yes, these are turbulent times. But the ones who see a silver lining in it will not only survive but thrive. In Japanese language, the word for crisis “kiki” is a combination of two words: ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. This is a dangerous time, but a creative person can take advantage of it as an opportunity. It’s a time of renewal. As Obama says, “It’s the time for change. It’s a time for hope. Yes, we can.”

For example, when the Second World War ended in 1945, Germany and Japan were completely destroyed. There was hardly any infrastructure left intact; most of the factories were utterly destroyed. Industries and people’s lives had to be literally re-built from ground-level. So, they had to start afresh, and were able to build up without worrying about old structures, old equipment, and out-dated organizations and traditions. They had been destroyed and discredited. It is common knowledge that this was the reason for their rapid recovery, and a so-called economic miracle. Of course, the Cold War helped. The West needed strong Germany and Japan as allies and as military bases to fight the Communists. Foreign aid and capital poured in. There was a dire need for creativity. In this situation a crisis turned into an opportunity. Devastation gave people reason to think outside the box.

Yes, times are dire. Banks are shaky. The future of our traditional core industries, like automobile and oil productions are severely questioned. But it’s also time to start thinking creatively. It is time to change the strategy for education to produce people who can think and see visions, rather than people who fit in.

A Coalition Government is not abnormal

A coalition is not abnormal

Re: “West not warming up to coalition,” Lethbridge Herald January 12, 2009

A coalition government is more common in democratic countries than not. I lived in Switzerland for six years, then I worked with organizations in European countries for more than a decade. From that experience, I can tell you that only in the countries with a two- party parliamentary system, is a coalition seen as abnormal. With four serious political parties sitting in the House of Commons, I think the time may have come for Canada to see a coalition as a workable model.

Israel has never had a single party majority government, neither have Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and many others. And they are not unstable countries. For many years, Italian Communist Party had the largest number of seats in the parliament. The coalitions of other parties rarely allowed Communists to get into power. Can you imagine a coalition of Conservatives, N.D.P., and Greens? That’s sort of like what they have in Germany. And the German government is quite stable.

I think that a coalition is a good idea. Parties have to talk to each other constantly, and compromise is a way of life. It creates a complicated but civilized atmosphere to conduct a country’s business, because you never know when you have to go into a coalition with unlikely partners. Granted that changes are difficult. But when a change does happen, it is more enduring than with the two party system. In a two party system, switching back and forth between two ideological poles is the norm and the population is polarized, like in Australia, Canada, and the U.S.

When January 20 comes around and the currently prorogued Parliament returns, we may have to get used to the idea of coalition. I predict it won’t happen this time. But you never know. A virtual coalition of Conservatives and Liberals is a distinct possibility. Michael Ignatief seems ready to go into some kind of working relationship with Stephen Harper – sort of like a coalition. So, let’s stop calling names. Let’s bring civility into Canadian politics.

 

Wars are good for business – the reason for Conservatives” support of the war in Afghanistan.

WARS ARE GOOD FOR BUSINESS

rn

So Mr. Harper wants to fight on in Afghanistan until 2011. (Throne Speech, October 16) I understand that, because wars are always good for business so long as you don’t have to die. I remember 1950”s. I was in Japan which was still dirt poor, and we were all starving. So-called “miracle economic recovery” happened during the fifties thanks to Korean War. Unlike Germany, Japan didn’t have to pay for the guilt of the WW II, because Americans needed Japan as a base and as suppliers.

rn

It’s interesting, isn’t it: often people who advise against wars are military. “Military-Industrial-Complex” is the term invented by Dwight Eisenhower, who spoke about the danger when it began to dictate the policy of the nation. “Whoever contemplates another war in Asia has to have his head examined,” said Douglas MacArthur long before the war in Viet Nam. They were heroes of the Second World War. Collin Powell, who fought in Viet Nam, predicted the likely quagmire in Iraq said, “If you invade Iraq, you own it.” They know what they are talking about: body parts flying everywhere, blackened charred bodies on the streets, women and children die more than soldiers, so on. I was there too (in a war, I mean.) I was a child.

rn

But so long as you are not the ones who are doing the dying, it’s a good news for economy. Business loves it, because it’s an extreme form of consumption. Consumption is always good for economy, so long as other people die. Conservative Party’s ideology is pro-business. So if business likes it, Conservatives advocate it. I understand it. But I disagree. I like economy to thrive, but not at any price.