Life is Belief & Struggle - Ahmed Shawqi

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Queen’s English

When I was in grade school there was a great deal of emphasis on the ‘Queen’s English’.  As Canadians, we took pride in using the Queen’s English in spelling, grammar and pronunciation. Writing ‘colour’ as ‘color’ was guaranteed you would be given a big red ‘sp’ that ripped across the word and counted as a spelling mistake on your papers or tests. Being able to express yourself in a comprehensible and logical form in the Queen’s English was considered the pinnacle of literacy.   

I think it can be safely suggested the British government no longer officially speaks a comprehensive or logical form of the Queen’s English. Forward:

A new United Kingdom government report showed significant progress being made in combating anti-Semitism.  The “Government Action on Anti-Semitism” report, published Monday by the Department for Communities and Local Government, noted advances despite a surge of incidents this summer during Israel’s military operation in Gaza. In July and August, there were 543 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.K., more than the entire previous year. Incidents included physical assaults, vandalism and graffiti.

If the British government can issue a report on Anti-Semitism and show ‘significant progress being made in combat ant-Semitism’, and still note there was a surge (aka an increase) in anti-Semitic incidents from one year to the next…well, the Queen's English isn't what it use to be.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Once again I am late to the party, but not as late as the Israeli public.

The one positive thing I can say about living in Canada in the winter is that it becomes the best excuse for staying in bed, under the covers, reading.  No one will accuse you of being a slacker for lying around the house reading when the temperature is minus anything. Of course, the sale prices of hard cover non-fiction books during the ‘silly season’, also helps. 

My reading list this year is definitely Israeli-centric. Biographies on Menachem Begin, Rav Kook, and Professor Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” (my Israeli friends have been raving about him for quite some time),  and I finally broke down and bought a of Ari Shavit’s ‘My Promised Land’. I am not far enough into the book to even begin to review it, but just in case the liberal Zionist angst goes over the top of my kumbayah meter, I also picked up The Israeli Solution by Caroline Glick.  

I know Shavit’s book came out November 2013 but my tolerance towards Zionist liberal angst was far too low when everyone else was reading it (or when I thought everyone else was reading it, well, everyone but Israelis).  I will say this, I have been marveling in how readable Shavit’s use of English was - for a non-native “Angleet”…although, given what I learned today, I suspect there was an absolute genius of an editor cleaning up Shavit’s prose. In Tablet, I found an article quoting Shavit on the little oddity of his work not yet published in ‘Hebrew’.
 I asked Shavit why he wrote the book in English if his goal is to revitalize the lackluster Israeli polity, who, last I checked, spoke Hebrew. “A weird thing about Random House,” Shavit laughed, “is that for some reason they like to publish in English.” He went on to say that the book is for now written but unedited in Hebrew and will one day be released.

That quote was from last January 2014, but a column today at Israel Hayom offered up far more plausible scenario. 

Most Israelis know nothing about Ari Shavit's bestselling book, "My Promised Land: The ‎Triumph and Tragedy of Israel." Readers of Haaretz, where he's a columnist, may have seen it ‎mentioned in short articles celebrating Shavit's stateside success. But few Israelis have heard of ‎the book, and I'm guessing that only a handful have actually read it. That is because there is no ‎Hebrew edition.‎
Shavit wrote it in English for an American Jewish audience, upon the suggestion of David ‎Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. Haaretz at first reported that a Hebrew version would appear ‎at the end of 2013, and later that it would be published in the spring of 2014 (by Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir). But ‎while the book has also appeared in Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Polish, there is no ‎sign of a Hebrew edition.‎

So Israelis have no clue that Shavit has added a massacre in the city of Lydda (Lod) to the litany ‎of Israel's alleged crimes in 1948. That's why I felt privileged to take part in a December 4 panel ‎on the conquests of Lydda and Ramla in 1948, sponsored by the Galili Center for Defense ‎Studies. The chairman of the center, Uzi Arad, suggested that I explain and analyze the claims ‎made by Shavit in his book, which I had already done in English for the web magazine Mosaic. (The ‎organizers also invited Shavit, but he was off collecting accolades in south Florida.)‎

I was youngest participant on the panel, and nearly the youngest person in the lecture hall, which ‎was full of veterans of Lydda and many other battles of 1948. These people are not historians, and ‎they do not necessarily know the big picture of how politics and military operations interacted. ‎They were not commanders (the officers are all gone); they were young soldiers in 1948, at the ‎bottom of the chain of command. They have also read a lot and shared recollections over the past ‎‎60-plus years, so you cannot always tell whether what they say about some episode is first-hand or ‎derives from something they read or heard. Finally, time erodes memory, as some are quite ‎prepared to admit.‎
Still, there were some very sharp minds in the audience -- people who know more about the ‎history of the 1948 war than anyone but a handful of expert historians. They know the ‎commanders, the military units, the weaponry, the battles, the geography, the chronology -- and ‎woe unto you if you make a mistake. They won't wait for the Q&A to correct you. The war to ‎establish the State of Israel was the great adventure of their youth, and they wear it as badge of ‎honor.‎

In my opinion, there really is only one plausible explanation for why Shavit’s book has yet to be translated or offered to the Israeli public in Hebrew. There are too many veterans still alive from the War of Independence – and veterans who probably took part in the battle at Lydda (Lod).  And if these veterans are anything like the veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade – they might sue Shavit and Random House into the next century.  Cause when you are actively massaging a potential ‘new improved’ historical narrative; it helps if there are no living peers to challenge or review your effort…

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

There is just something about Israel....

I was in Israel for the high holidays. Every time I go, I end up going somewhere different. This time I was in Ashkelon. The war had ended just a few weeks before. I did not tell my mother I was going, or where I was going to be before I left. Given that I live 1700 miles from my Mother it is relatively easy to get out of Dodge without her knowing. Oddly enough, at my age, I am still a child to my mother. The reason I did not tell her I was going was because she would beg me not to go. I know what she would say, it is what she always says, 'It's too dangerous, there was just another war, wait for peace and then go.' but for me, it is too dangerous not to go, and I will continue to go to Israel whenever the opportunity arises.

There is something truly odd but this place. I have never felt so safe as I do when I am there. When I am in Israel, I know I am home. I just regret that I did not come when I was young, but I did not, only because, when I was young, I listened my mother.

From Rafi at Life at Israel, I saw this clip. Daniel Gordis nails it. Now I really do have to buy his book on Menachem Begin.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Who knew this was what a Palestinian Victory looks like

A man who has a guaranteed free three meals a day, medical and dental care, a bed and a home for the next 40 or so years, claims Hamas won the war against Israel.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A modern form of indentured servitude is a deeply flawed business model, but gee, how it does breed corporate entitlement.

As the outrage builds among Canadians against the Temporary Foreign Workers Program Corporate Canada goes on the offensive.

Restaurant Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses have all issues their threats – businesses will close, Canadians will lose jobs, the government will lose revenue – and the world as we know it will come to an end. Although, I am not sure how much of a revenue stream the government will lose given by placing a moratorium of Temporary Foreign Workers visas, given that I am taxed at a much higher rate than the current corporate tax rates of businesses in Alberta. But I digress.

What appalls me is this sense of entitlement that permeates throughout the business class of this country. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Globe and Mail's poster child of responsible corporate use of Temporary ForeignWorkers:

Uttam Dey, who owns the Green Chili chain of six Indian restaurants in Calgary, said almost all of his 22 cooks are temporary foreign workers – mainly with experience working in New Delhi and Dubai. With plans to open three new locations in the next year, the news that Ottawa is imposing a moratorium on restaurant hires of temporary foreign workers came as a shock.

If I don’t get the visas, how am I going to open?” Mr. Dey said Friday. He said it’s almost impossible to find someone in Canada with skill as an Indian cook who’s not timid around his blisteringly hot 75,000 BTU clay ovens used to make naan bread and kabobs. He understands the concern if there’s abuses in the system, but said he plays by the rules and pays his workers fairly. “I’m not McDonald’s. I’m not Tim Hortons,” Mr. Dey said. “I’ve tried my level best to find Canadian cooks. I can’t find them.”
This is just so much wrong I am at a loss as to where to begin.

Green Chili operates a business in Canada, and allegedly wants Canadian customers to patronage his establishment using their hard earned Canadian wages to purchase his meals, but he is unable to find a single Canadian chef to hire to cook Indian cuisine out of a country of 37 million and must go outside the country to find chefs...who knew that Alberta lacks a single community college with a professional cooking program?

As incredulous as the above sounds, what galls me is the sense that the Canadian government must provide solutions for Mr. Dey's labour issues. It has somehow become the Canadian government's responsibility to ensure Mr. Dey has an adequate supply of his preferred chefs so he can continue to grow his business in the way he sees fit.

You know, there was a time when companies would think nothing of starting an apprenticeship program so that their business needs would always be met rather than relying on the government. Obviously, that is just old school thinking and is now completely without merit.

Mr. Dey claims he treats his Temporary foreign workers decently and pays them well, but fair treatment and decent pay are the kind of terms, which in my experience, are rather fluid by definition as in a beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder kind of way. 22 Chefs, and since, they have such a unique skill set, what's the going rate for decent pay?

Of course, if Mr. Dey, were to get sick or injured, he would probably thinking nothing of going to a local Canadian hospital and be treated by doctors licensed in Canada. And if, he had to get a prescription for medicine, he would expect to be able to go to a local drug store and buy medicine which was unexpired and duly regulated for sale in Canada by Health Canada. If a thief tried to rob his business, he would probably call 911 and expect Canadian police to attend his premises, and eventually prosecute the thief in the Canadian court system, but to hire a Canadian chef to cook in his restaurant...well, no.

We simply aren't up to his standards, and probably utterly untrainable besides. After all, it's our work ethics – not his.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cognitive Dissonance and the Globe and Mail.

The Globe and Mail editorial board weighs in on Temporary Foreign workers program and it has to be one of the most scattered editorials I have ever read. It occurred to me that this was the most blatant examples of cognitive dissonance in print that I have read in the last ten years.

It starts off fairly strong, and underscores the most recent C.D. How Institute study to add moral heft to the beginning, and I quote the G& M's own words on thestudy:
A study released this week by the C.D. Howe Institute, titled “Temporary Foreign Workers: Are They Really Filling Labour Shortages?,” concludes that they aren’t, and the program actually raised unemployment levels in the two provinces examined, Alberta and British Columbia. The author, Simon Fraser University public policy professor Dominique M. Gross, also found that the steady ramping up of the program over the past decade occurred “even though there was little empirical evidence of shortages in many occupations.”
But the dissonance comes at the end:
There are economic reasons to rethink and scale back Canada’s temporary foreign worker program. But there’s also the question of the kind of society we want. Do we want a class of working strangers who come here, do our dirty work and then are forced to leave? Canada has always wanted something else: immigrants. People who cross the seas to become our neighbours and our fellow citizens. We don’t just want them to work for us. We want them to join us, as Canadians.

No, actually, I don't believe we want them to join as as Canadians. I would have thought the entire point of bringing in temporary foreign workers is to have them leave, which is why they are brought into the country under a temporary visa rather than as legal landed immigrants.

In fact, I would wage that most of the half million temporary foreign workers currently in this country do not even come close to matching the skill set necessary to enter Canada through the normal immigration channels. Given the destruction of manufacturing and factory in this country through free trade agreements and globalization; the last thing the country needs, is an influx of more unskilled workers – we have plenty of our own homegrown ones, and if the C.D. Howe study is to believed, the presence of these temporary foreign workers act only to suppress wages and keep our own citizens poor and unemployed.

The jobs Canadians won't do

There is a lie I hear over and over again. It has been repeated so often, and in so different venues, by some many different people that it is now taken for a bold-faced fact, when it is a nothing more than a bold-faced lie. In it's simplest form it is expressed as 'the jobs Canadians won't do'.

I am a Canadian, and there are very few jobs I haven't done at one time or another, based on the simplest of economic principle; need. I have been a waitress at a truck stop, chambermaid, retail sales clerk, and lumber broker – even if I was a disaster as a lumber broker – collections clerk, bindery manager, ballet dancer, bookkeeper, secretary, law clerk, project coordinator, writer, painter, but the point is, whatever I did, I gave it my best try. I showed for work every day, and I worked, often very hard, very long, and more often than I care to remember, for very little pay.

I never thought a job was beneath me when it came to paying my bills. After 50 odd years, I know very few Canadians who won't do the same. My oldest son, has been getting up every Saturday morning to be at work by 4:30am and stays on his feet until 6pm, and he has been doing it since he was 14. He's 21 now. My youngest son, works at a movie theatre, and often does closings – well after 1am – and that on school nights. My daughter is a neuro-scientist, who has spent the last 18 months working as a receptionist because she could not get a job in her field. Now she found a job in her field, so she gets up and leaves the house by 6:00 am so she can be in the operating room at 7am. Just a regular family of Canadian slackers are we.

I am sure we can all find the odd Canadian soul, who refuses to work, there is hardly a culture in the world that does have a few of those kicking around, scamming the system or running a con. But by and large, Canadians do work, and work hard. So when I read things like, well, what Doug Sanders wrote on the Temporary foreign worker program, my craw is crossed.

Doug Sanders is a journalist, and that allegedly makes him my intellectual superior and moral better, and he believes we there are jobs Canadians won't do, and that's why we have the Temporary Foreign Workers program in the first place - so we can import 500,000 million Nannies and Tim Horton's coffee servers/cashiers. If he just ended it there, I wouldn't be writing,but he just couldn't stop himself. He had to go on and suggest there should be a fast-track to citizenship for TFWs in Canada since they should be rewarded for all the pain and suffering they endure being separated from their families in order to pick up Canadian dirty laundry and pass out the Timmie's cups.

He does not bother to read reports his own paper published on abuses to the TFW program or even the most recent report from C.D. Howe Institute which suggested the TFW program actually worked to lower or suppressed wages, and helped increase unemployment in the two provinces the institute studied.

Sander's is living in a la-la-land where big lies live. How this program actually plays out is more like this:
The Alberta Federation of Labour is taking aim at the federal government, after Today discovered that 270 Canadian workers had been replaced with temporary foreign workers at Husky Energy’s Sunrise site.

The site – located 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray – is the workplace for more than 1,500 people, however, the AFL estimates that less than one-third of those workers are Canadian citizens.

...In an exclusive article published Tuesday, Today discovered that the non-union Italian construction firm Saipem gave Toronto-based and unionized firm Black & MacDonald contracts to complete the project’s first phase. Husky says construction on the project was finishing, and Black & MacDonald reduced their workforce. However, Saipem replaced those workers with temporary foreign workers from Mexico, Italy, Portugal and Ireland to begin work on other projects. Many Canadian workers were told there shift was abruptly coming to an end during the Labour Day long weekend.

And not a single Nanny on sight at Husky Energy's Sunrise sit. Think this is a one-off? Think again.

Despite promises to rehire Canadians who were replaced by foreign workers last week, Pacer Promec Joint Venture still has not offered the affected workers their jobs back. According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, the company has not contacted any of the 65 ironworkers who were unceremoniously replaced with temporary foreign workers - mostly recruited from Croatia - on Feb. 4. The ironworkers were working at Imperial Oil’s Kearl Lake project north of Fort McMurray and were not given any prior warnings or notice. 

So what do North Calgary Massage Works, RC Contracting Roofing, Acess Taxi, Fas Gas, Cabon Construction Inc, Cardinal Coachlines -First Student Canada, Cavabien Hair Studio & Day Spa Ltd., CB Brothers Transportation Ltd, Continental Auto Body 1998 Ltd, D.R. Painting, Fraser Construction, Cassady Welding Services, Canadian Freight Solutions Ltd, Canyon Creek Toyota, SAM Associates Tax Consultants Inc, Divine Hair Salon, Saipem Construction Canada Inc., all have in common?

They all received positive Market Opinions (LMO) from the Integrity Division, Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. There is a pdf found here of a report run June 20, 2012 by the government. The report runs 475 pages and details every company in Alberta which started the process to import TFWs into Canada. I am not saying these companies did  bring in foreign workers, but they did begin the process. Tim Hortons, McDonalds, Wendy's Family Restaurants, are all there as well, but iron workers, welders, construction workers, tax consultants, hair stylists, truckers, roofers, commercial paintings and drywallers, taxi drivers, school bus drivers, auto body workers, and massage therapists are all jobs Canadians won't do? I don't believe it for a moment.

The point Sander's does not get it is twofold. Temporary Foreign Workers brought into this country do not meet the bench markets for legal immigration to Canada which is why they are brought into this country under the TFW visa program. One good recession, and they would become a burden on the already over-burdened Canadian tax payers. Furthermore, there is simply no guarantee if you fast-tracked the TFW into citizenship they would be able to keep their jobs. If your employer's deeply flawed business model relies on labour based on a modern form of indentured servitude, well, your former TFW would simply be SOL - just like the rest of us Canadians.

You know what would be nice to see? A Canadian journalist really start to dig into this story and ask these companies why they did not go to places of high unemployment in Canada to recruit workers, but instead, chose to raid every third world banana republic that spans the globe. Now that's a story I would even pay to read.

Monday, March 3, 2014

War and Peace - The Obvious

The UK Guardian:

The US conceded on Sunday that Moscow had “complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula” and announced that the secretary of state, John Kerry, will fly to Kiev in an attempt to halt a further Russian advance into Ukraine.
Senior US officials dismissed claims that Washington is incapable of exerting influence on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, but were forced to admit that Crimea had been successfully invaded by 6,000 airborne and ground troops in what could be the start of a wider invasion. “They are flying in reinforcements and they are settling in,” one senior official said. Another senior official said: “Russian forces now have complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula.”
The real money quote is this bit:
 On Monday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said he had discussed Ukraine with his Chinese counterpart and their views coincided on the situation there. Lavrov said in a statement that the two veto-wielding UN security council members would stay in close contact on the issue.
 The real question is; just how far will Russia go?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

War and Peace, the Sequel, Imperial Russia vs the West.

The Ukraine broke away from the former USSR in 1994. It has had 20 years, untold millions in western aid and political support in order to build a 21st century democratic government, but still, Ukraine cannot rise above governance by kleptocrats. And that is on a good day.

On a bad day, you get Maidan fiasco. Make no mistake Maidan was an unparalleled disaster because no 'good' ending was possible. If the Maidan revolution successfully pulled down the elected government, it was guaranteed to invoke a Russian invasion, and if Maidan failed. Well, good morning marshal law, hello totalitarianism, and welcome to another day in the Ukrainian Banana Republic.

The only thing which surprises me is how long it has taken Russia to act. I had thought the Russians would only make a play for the Crimea, and maybe, the eastern half of the country; if they were feeling particularly confident and cocky. But no, Putin has asked for the right for military intersession in 'Territory of the Ukraine' from the Russian parliament, a phrase that is deliberately vague and potentially wide-ranging.

The UN Security Council is holding an emergency session on the Ukraine. No doubt it makes quite a change from debating Israel. Who'd have thought I would live to see the day Russia gets a taste of what it feels to be the Jew on the UN stage. Of course, Russia will never be a real Jew since she holds a veto over any possible actions/resolutions, as does China. The Chinese, will veto any possible anti-Russian resolutions. The Russians won't even have to hold out a carrot to the Chinese in return for their veto. The Chinese are pragmatic and always keep their own political interests in mind when voting. I am sure even now 'Taiwan' is looming large in Chinese collective thinking.

Like vengeful children, Lithuania and Latvia have demanded an emergency meeting of NATO, probably hoping for a little Serbia-Kosovo type response, but that was another time, when the US still had a full war chest. Frankly, other than offering to put NATO observers on the ground to witness to the Russian invasion, there is very little action NATO can take without risking an all out war with the Russians. And war costs money, and lots of it, which just happens to be one thing no western nation has. Come Monday morning, I expect we will see the price of oil skyrocketing and the Russian singing, 'we are in the money'.

While the Lithuanians and Latvians, are magically thinking of the Russians as a kind of Libyan Rus; no one else in the West does. Russia is not Serbia, and you cannot control the skies over Russia by pounding them into submission with airstrikes. Let us not forget, unlike the Serbians or Libyans, the Russians do have the ability to take fight into our skies and expand the theatre of war far beyond borders of the Ukraine or even Mother Russia.

The EU was scheduled to meet officially on Monday to discuss the Ukrainian crisis, which says suggests the EU was expecting the Americans to do all the heavy lifting so all that would be left come Monday to discuss was the inelegance of American posturing.

But the Americans have foiled the EU, and chose to elect a Community-Activist-turned-Commander-in-Chief, so once again, the EU is stuck and has had to hastily scramble its schedule. No matter, Russia has plenty of time to close down the gas pipeline for 'maintenance issues' on any of the seven EU states (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania) which share a border with Russia if the EU forgets their reality.

All of which brings me to the position my Prime Minister is taking in the Ukraine. In the immortal words of Jacques Chirac, now would be a good time to shut-up, and bring the Canadian mission from Ukraine home instead of sending the Russian ambassador packing for Moscow.

I realized Harper is shamelessly pandering to his western base of Ukrainian-Canadians, but enough is enough. Time to remind them they are Canadians, and they should be thankful that their ancestors left the Ukraine. We need to negotiate with the Russians over the Arctic, and Russian cooperation on issues which directly effect Canada needs to take precedence over propping up the kleptocratic tendencies of any given members of the Ukrainian Banana Republic. 

We are not witnessing the rise of the USSR from the Soviet ashes, but Imperial Mother Russia rising from the steppe to take charge. So it is time for Harper to close the cold war playbook and deal with the new reality on the ground.