Ground Zero, Islamophobia in America, and the Future of the World


There is probably little to say that hasn't already been said in the so-called debate over the Muslim community center to be built near Ground Zero in New York City. Yet unlike so many other storms in a teacup in the blogesphere, this issue is important - and so lending our voice to maelstrom seems like something of a responsibility.

It is important for two principle reasons. The first has to do with the nature of America, and the direction it is going to take. The second is about the nature of the world, and the direction it is going to take. The two are of course related.

Let us start with the nature of the world.  As others have argued at much greater length, and with considerable eloquence, the natavist attack on Muslims over the proposed community center is a propaganda bonanza for the extreme radical Islamic fundamentalists. It plays to their narrative of a holy war between Islam and the West, in which Muslims in America are less than second class citizens with only the illusion of rights and a legitimate place in society. Even without Al Qaeda or anyone else having to raise a finger, the poisonous invective being heaped on Islam by the anti-Mosque crowd is likely to create anger in all Muslims, and to tip some into thinking about seeking out radical movements. To the extent that the anti-Mosque cabal is successful, the greater the potential damage will be.

That in turn, of course, has an impact on the nature of the world, in the sense that the more the so-called "global war on terrorism" morphs into a decades-long conflict between Western anti-terrorist forces and increasingly radicalized Muslim extremists, homegrown and all over the world, the more we risk sliding into a truly new dominant paradigm that will make the Cold War look downright tame and attractive by comparison. We keep turning the screw, increasing the downward spiral, militarizing and radicalizing, responding to terrorism and its threat in ways that play precisely to the terrorists' strategic objectives, and contrary to our long term interests.

The Alternative List


Taste is a funny thing at the best of times, lack of taste even funnier. Not surprisingly, Gamma and I disagree on what makes the top ten. I don't quibble with Bridge over the River Kwai, Das Boot and Apocalypse Now (not the undisciplined Redux reboot). I recognise The Thin Red Line, Dr. Stranglelove, The Deer Hunter and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence for being good movies, even great movies but they wouldn't make my list. They lack something. Patton is terribly over-rated. Henry V doesn't cut it. And Ghandi ain't a war movie no matter how hard you twist it.

I would nominate the following for consideration for elevation to the list of the all-time great war movies:

The Americanization of Emily. This is movie that his slipped off our cultural radar. It is funny, charming and clever. The legendary Paddy Chayefsky's script demonstrates how satire can be subtle and effective, a lesson that Dr. Strangelove might learn. In Emily, James Garner plays a scam artist and self-procalimed coward who revels in his corrupt lifestyle. He falls in love with Julie Andrews, a young war widow and gets caught up in mentally unstable Admiral's scheme to keep the Navy relevant after the war to make the first dead man on Omaha Beach a sailor.

 Battleground. Despite the black and white this is one of the first modern war movies. It presents a realistic account of the 101st Airborne during the Seige of Bastogne. Robert Pirosh, who was a gag writer for the Marx brothers before serving in the Battle of the Bulge himself, wrote a movie that showed a culturally diverse group of American soldiers scared, scheming to go home, cold, critical of authority and only occasionally brave.

 Three Kings. How soon we forget... remember the last time we left Iraq? Set in the savagery of the failed Sunni uprising, an "Iraqi ass map" leads a group of soldiers to a cache of hidden gold. Again, David O. Russel, with a great performance from George Clooney shows that satire does not have to be over the top to be funny.

Stalag 17. Written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski and based on their own experiences as prisoners of war, it is a story that carries particular weight in these paranoid times. Billy Wilder coaxes a brilliant performance from William Holden as Sefton, a cynical, scheming prisoner who always has an angle or odds on anything and everything. He is disliked but necessary to life in the camp. When circumstances reveal that one of the prisoners is a traitor, suspicion falls on Sefton and he is reviled and threatened and must uncover the real traitor before its too late.


 Boys in Company C. Released in 1978 when the wounds of Vietnam were still festering, this movie presented the war in all its unpleasant, ambivalent, gory detail. This is a movie that was overshadowed by the next generation of Vietnam war movies but stands up favourably to them.

 M*A*S*H  Robert Altman's chaotic corralling of the acting talents of Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, Elliott Gould and Sally Kellerman produced one of the funniest movies of all time. M*A*S*H is the blackest of black comedies about war. doctors, nurses and football and is fresh and funny with every viewing.

The Top 10 War Movies of All Time


Last year we had a debate on the top ten law movies of all time. Despite the sniping, we actually had a fair amount of agreement. So this year, we just offer a straight up list, with commentary but no debate. At the end, we offer our pick for the worst ever for good measure.

But what are the criteria? There are different kinds of war movies, some large in scale, others intimate, some anti-war others glorifying it - how to decide? Our list includes some of all of these, and our approach has been simply to select great movies that have as their subject various aspects of war. It was a very difficult task whittling the list down to 10, and many fantastic movies were left on the cutting room floor.

No. 1. - The Thin Red Line: A surprising choice for many no doubt, but this is a movie that at once captures the horror, the insanity, and pointlessness of war, while at the same time managing to beautifully and subtly explore the deeper philosophical questions of whether war is an aberration of nature, or just another manifestation of it. A brilliant movie, nominated for a best-picture Oscar, which ultimately lost to one of our pics for worst war movies ever.

No. 2. - Apocalypse Now: This really doesn't need much explanation. The brilliant remake of Conrad's Heart of Darkness continues to be a classic, long after the Vietnam war obsession has faded. We'll leave aside the debate over which is better, the original, or Redux.

No. 3. - Dr. Strangelove: Stanley Kubrick's classic Cold War movie, in which Peter Sellers plays three different characters, and George C. Scott (see Patton below), plays the hard-drinking, hard-loving general ready for war with the Ruskies. The movie is a brilliant satire on the logic behind nuclear deterrence and mutual assured destruction, still very relevant today.

Rights and Gay Marriage


As everyone in North America knows by now, a federal district court in California struck down the law banning gay marriage (popularly known as Proposition 8). This is surely to be hailed as an important blow for human rights and the rule of law in the United States, though of course the decision has already been appealed, and will no doubt end in the Supreme Court. Less well known, is that on Thursday the Supreme Court in Mexico also upheld the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in an 8-2 decision. Mexico is the third country, after Canada and Argentina, in the Americas to fully recognize same-sex marriage.

Yet amongst all the debate in the United States there continues to be confusion over the nature of the core issues invoked by the same-sex marriage cases. The New York Times editorial the next day reflected it perfectly, passionately asserting that "marriage is a constitutional right," while inside the paper was analysis of whether the political right to marry constituted a "civil right." Meanwhile on the right there are shrill screams that the Constitution contains no "right to marry," and that this is just more judicial re-writing of the constitution (continued....).

Canada and the U.S. Get Involved in U.A.E. / RIM Negotiation


Earlier this week, I called for western governments to involve themselves in the U.A.E. dispute. When The Radix talks, governments listen.

International Rule of Law Shows Some Teeth


There was a time in this fair land when beating an extradition beef was not so difficult. You could attack the case against you and get the moral high ground.  In recent years that has changed and, if you are in Canada and a foreign government wants you, it's just a matter of time. Nothing short of the death penalty or a shocking abuse of process is required. It doesn't matter how weak the case or how corrupt the government.

In this context, it is interesting to see Justice Christopher Speyer of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice quash the extradition request for Abdullah Khadr. Justice Speyer ruled that the illegal arrest and detention and interrogation of Khadr, a violation of international law,  required the extraordinary remedy of refusing the American request to extradite him.

Khadr is unquestionably a terrorist and member of Al Qaeda. The Americans lose an opportunity to bring him to justice because of their own complete disregard for justice and the rule of law. It ain't pretty but that is how these things are supposed to work. It is the golden thread that runs through societies founded on, and concerned with preserving, the rule of law. And the decision is made by an independent arbiter. The check on their illegal behaviour is public. And, get this, it is made in a duly constituted and constitutionally sound court of law.

Such shocking innovation in the great white north. - Beta

Circling the Idiot Wagons in Canada


So, my libertarian vertebrae are slightly bothered by the threat to individual liberty for failing to fill out the long-form census. I'll admit it. Surely, the remedy for that is to create financial incentives or disincentives and removing the power to imprison. Hell, I bet there are twenty better things to do than simply sending the form out and hoping for the best in the face of unified cries of protest that this will produce bad data.

But in a dazzling burst of self-defeating logic and sheer idiocy, Stockwell Day, the President of the Treasury Board (and what is that?...see here) today tried to make sense of the census in the face of a barrage of pointed questions by reporters.  In doing so he argued that the extra data obtained from the long-form census was not necessary. Then, in what he took to be an unrelated issue, in order to justify the costs of building more prisons, he claimed that the statistics showing the crime rate in decline are not reliable. And that he has access to statistics that show that the rate of unreported crime has been increasing at "alarming" rates. Which means that the rates of people reporting that they are not reporting crime is increasing?

So, the current data on crime is false and misleading. Therefore, the thing to do is sabotage the long-form census to ensure that all of the data we rely on to make decisions is bad.  Oh, and don't worry, the government is keeping its own secret data that just happens to support its otherwise inexplicable decision making. Got it?

And these dudes lead in the polls. - Beta

Rights in Motion


Yesterday, I wrote about how the failure of governments to directly advance the extension of political rights as part of their globalisation agenda left trans-national corporations to make side deals with corrupt or oppressive governments. In this article in the Globe and Mail, some of those deals are discussed. Do you really want R.I.M. and the Indian government deciding your rights for you? Don't you want a seat at that table? - Beta

Million Dollar Idea # 1: Free for the Taking


As digital books sales overtake and surpass the sale of actual...uh... analog (?) books, there is much lamentation and gnashing of teeth. One of the common themes is that you won't be able to see what people are reading on the subway, the park bench or even on their bookshelf. Slate's Mark Oppenheimer has a nice little piece here on how this will lead to geeky guys getting even less action.

Like every thing else in our world, this is a problem only because there isn't an app for it yet. Come on book nerds, pull your head out of Quicksilver and get working on the code for the new bluetooth broadcasting "What Am I Reading" App.

It should have three settings: one, what I'm actually reading; two, what I want you to think I'm reading (you could hide the Star Trek novels and broadcast your love of Anne-Marie MacDonald); and, three, access to my entire digital library. Suddenly a subway ride can become a bluetooth enabled geek lovefest.

And then sell it to Amazon to bundle with book purchases. Buy two new titles get the app for free.

Now leave me alone, I have to find the dust jacket of The Bell Jar that I slip over my iPad on the subway. - Beta

Ban U.A.E.


I have been a proponent of global trade and integrated global institutions for some time. Not only did it serve my self-interest - I want to live in a wealthy stable democracy. But it also served a broader interest - economic freedoms tend to force political freedoms, political freedoms produce democracies and democracies tend not to fight wars with other democracies. I'll admit it: I want peace in our time.

The news yesterday that the United Arab Emirates is going to ban the use of email and texting on Blackberry phones forces a bit of a rethink. As with the case of Google in China, we're seeing developing countries looking to have their cake and eat it too. They want some of the benefits of economic freedoms but look to control or limit the associated technology the can support the exercise of political freedoms.

Governments who want to continue to sell global integration both in the economic and security matters have been become lax about linking their actions with the clear moral purpose of furthering the growth of political freedoms. They've been content to let individual companies negotiate their own side deals with oppressive regimes. It's time that this changes. The leaders of the west and of the globalisation ideology need to explicitly align their diplomatic and economic force with the narrow interests of a few companies to support this broader purpose. (Continued...)


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