Kissing Cousin

When I was about seven years old, about 43 years ago, my mother took me to her nation of birth, Holland, for a visit. It was around Christmas time, celebrated earlier in Holland than in Canada, and at one of the family gatherings I was persuaded to dance with my cousin, Willy. I think we were urged to kiss by my other cousins, so as we danced in circles around the small living room floor, we kissed several times, on the lips. My uncle Wim filmed the occasion with an 8mm camera and he pans left to show the bemused faces of my older cousins and the other adults laughing.

I met Willy again in 1977 while I was traveling through Europe as a temporary college drop-out. I traveled to the small town of Roekanje where she lived and she and her sister Nelltje took me on a long walk on a cold, cloudy afternoon and chatted uneasily. There was a bit of a cultural divide. I felt like part of a generation of rebellious teenagers who were out to remake the world. I think I was bit full of myself– I was immersing myself in sophisticated European culture, after all. Didn’t my cousin find that admirable?

Willy struck me as aloof, as if she weren’t interested or concerned. I didn’t feel that we connected, really. I have never seen her since.

Like me, she is now married.

There must have been music playing while we danced– the old 8mm cameras didn’t capture sound, of course. Pity.

My uncle Wim bought me a beautiful M.A.Rklin train set for Christmas, which I still have, in a box in my basement.

The image is a little jarring to me, but I remember that I always liked girls, even when I was very young, even Dutch cousins. Here I am above with my Uncle Wim’s binoculars, looking at the harbour in Rotterdam. My uncle never married. On this occasion, he took his sister and nephew and niece on an outing. I remember it fondly, though I also remember Holland as being mostly cloudy and wet and cold.  Well, it was early December.

For my mother, at about the age of 42 or so, it must have been some trip. She had immigrated to Canada with my dad in 1951, with five children. They had three more in Canada. It was hard to make a living, to pay the bills and put food on the table and keep eight children under 10 years old from harm. So here she is in Holland with just her youngest, visiting her brother, to whom I believe she was closest in her family, enjoying what must have been a respite.

Copyright © 2006 Bill Van Dyk All rights reserved. February 27, 2006

Free Speech in Austria: David Irving

I was perplexed to read that historian David Irving was just sentenced to three years in prison in Austria for denying the holocaust. Even as I read the headline of the article at the CBC online, I expected to read in absentia. But there he is, wearing handcuffs, being hauled away to prison. In fact, he even sounded contrite, apparently. Because if he hadn’t he might have gotten 10 years instead of 3.

The law under which Irving was convicted is not about preventing another holocaust. It’s about preventing anyone from thinking that the Austrians would approve of another holocaust. The Austrians are so against holocausts, you see, that they have made it illegal to even discuss whether there has ever already been one. There has. We insist.

I wonder if there is a similar law against denying incest. After all, surely there is incest, so it should be illegal to deny it. Otherwise, people might begin to think that the Austrians secretly approve of incest. What about the shape of the globe? Should it be legal for people to think the Austrians think there is any controversy about the earth not being flat, or about the fact that it revolves around the sun instead of vice versa?

Is this idea of outlawing stupidity going to catch on any time soon? I’m not sure if the U.S. is ready to make it illegal to believe in evolution or to believe in intelligent design. It would put a lot of peoples’ minds to rest if they would just make it illegal to think wrongly about it, either way.

Tony Blair Bans Military Parades, Medals, and War Movies

According to the CBC, Tony Blair is finally going to do something I can agree with. He is going to ban the glorification of terrorism. From now on, it will be illegal to “glorify”– that’s the word they use: “glorification”– acts of terrorism.

First of all, let’s describe terrorism. Acts of violence with the aim of achieving a political or social objective? Violence directed at civilians? Violence used to further a religious cause? Let’s get the definition straight, because we don’t want the British occupation of the Middle East at the close of World War II to be classified as terrorism, because then, I suppose, we would have to ban “Lawrence of Arabia”, or “Cast a Giant Shadow”. And we don’t want the first American gulf war to be classified as terrorism, just because

What about violence for the purpose of obtaining material benefits or economic power? Like the U.S. inspired coup in Guatemala in 1956? And does this mean that General Pinochet of Chile will really be arrested and held the next time he visits Britain? Is it unsafe for Mr. Henry Kissinger to spend a weekend frolicking in London? “In Flanders Fields” glorifies acts of violence by British and Canadian conscripts in World War I. What was so different about those acts of violence, to further the aims of the British government of the day? That they were deceived by an elected government into believing that killing Germans had some kind of divine purpose?

Military parades essentially glorify the capacity of the government to inflict violence upon various enemies of the realm. Good. Let’s ban them, along with “Top Gun”, “Ballad of the Green Berets”, and “The Dirty Dozen”. Can we arrest Oliver North now, since he supported and “glorified” the activities of the Contras in Nicaragua when they were trying to overthrow the Sandinista government?

How about anyone involved in the Reagan administration’s support of — holy cow!– Osama Bin Laden, and the insurgency against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan in the 1980’s?

Bust Margaret Thatcher for her passionate romance with British military might in the Falklands?

It’s a magic bus. Let’s all get on board.

The Cost of the Iraq War

According to Harper’s Magazine, the projected cost of the Iraqi adventure will come out to about $20,000 per U.S. household.

That’s just the financial cost, of course. The cost in lives and limbs is far, far greater.

As with many large human enterprises that end in disaster, the actual costs are never known or described at the time the enterprise is embarked upon, because if they were, no sane person would approve of the plan. If George Bush were running for president this year and he promised to start a war that would cost every household $20,000, I don’t think most people would vote for him.

I’ve heard it argued that most people felt, at the time, that attacking Iraq was the right thing to do. That is why the Democrats– especially Hillary Clinton– sound so anemic right now. They can’t really take Bush to task about this– they voted for it too.

Were there reasonable people around who knew that attacking and occupying Iraq was going to cost so much at the time George Bush set out to do it. The answer is clearly yes. Not George Bush, no. Not anyone on his staff– except, dimly, Colin Powell– no. Not anyone in the Republican party, no. And, it is clear, almost nobody in the Democratic Party, which is why so few Democrats are now able to make hay of the horrible consequences of the stupid decision to invade and occupy Iraq.

But a lot of other people, including Canadians and Europeans knew that it was a bad idea. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien– probably not sure if he was doing the right thing at the time– declined to participate because a large majority of Canadians didn’t think it was a good idea. They were right.

The Americans are in a massive, unholy mess right now in Iraq. Bush keeps on insisting that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but I think that light is coming from a directorship at a large oil company after 2008, or the reflection off Karl Rove’s fleshy forehead.

The Rolling Stones at the Superbowl

Let me get this straight:  the NFL wants to provide a half-time show that will attract the coveted 18-25 demographic– free-spending young adults who like geriatric rock stars, apparently. Would these people like to watch the Olsen Twins? No. Jessica Simpson? Well, all right– the meaning of “wholesome” has changed a bit. I know– we’ll get The Rolling Stones. Hey, aren’t they a bunch of perverts? Of course they are.

While simultaneously announcing that they have booked a filthy, disgusting, perverted band for the half-time show (by their standards, not mine), the promoters, the NFL, assures viewers that the entertainment will be quite wholesome. Suitable for the entire family. You won’t be embarrassed if your kids are watching. But your kids will want to watch.

Is this belated recognition of the fact that any interesting culture in our society seems to come from rebels and outsiders? Why on earth didn’t they book Garth Brooks or Tammy Wynette, if they wanted something wholesome?

How will the promoters ensure that the audience is spared anything shocking or inappropriate? They will have a five-second delay on the broadcast.

And it worked. During “Start Me Up” (the real obscenity here is that “Start Me Up” was sold to Microsoft as the theme for Windows 98 for millions of dollars), Mick Jagger alluded to the fact that this woman of whom he was singing was so sexy that she could cause a dead man to become aroused. But not in so many words. So the microphone went dead and Mick’s lips moved alone and silently.

All right. Everybody’s happy. The kids get to be entertained by the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band, and the adults get to sleep easy knowing that their children are still infused with good, wholesome, Calvinist virtues.

But the Rolling Stones, worried about their credibility with the in crowd, announce that they are disgusted with the censorship. But the NFL announces that if they were so disgusted with the censorship, why did they agree to play in the first place? The Rolling Stones respond, just because we knew about it in advance and agreed to it doesn’t mean we don’t think it’s stupid. Pay us first, then we’ll tell you how stupid it is.

The answer is: all of the above.

There is No War on Terrorism

Today, Oral Hatch, defending the right of the Bush administration to decide for itself when it is or isn’t in compliance with the law, stated this: “We are faced with a war unlike any we have ever been in.”

These words are spoken every day by Republicans and Democrats alike. I think they believe it. It sounds so solemn and important. We are nearly gods, defending innocent Americans in Peoria and Terre Haute from the hordes of invading fanatics. We will spend billions. We will sacrifice thousands of soldiers. We will spy on our own citizens. Because of this war.

There is no war.

There was one spectacular attack, on the World Trade Center, and there is the on-going hatred of fanatics in the Arab world for all things western, but the idea that we are in some kind of “war”, by even the most broad-minded definition of the word, is absurd.

Congress has authorized President Bush to “use force” to punish the people responsible for 9/11. Instead, he invaded Iraq. The U.S. has never declared war on either Afghanistan or Iraq. It simply announced it was coming. There are good reasons why it never did– most of them having to do with accountability and international obligations. It “justified” the “war” to the UN with lies.

A war is a battle between two or more nations. Who is the other nation? Al Qaeda? “Al Qaeda” sounds pretty cool but it doesn’t really exist, and even the U.S. government, while assuming it’s existence in almost every significant foreign policy statement, has never been able to show that a real international “network” exists. There are terrorists that know each other and sometimes work together. There is money flowing from some Arabs and possibly some Arab governments to some terrorists, but there is no coordinated structure on the scale of the IRA, for example. The U.S. and British governments have knowingly presented an image of this organization to the public that it must know is not true.

If this is a war, the United States has never not been at war. If you go through the history of U.S. involvement overseas from 1945 to the present, you will find that there was never a period when the U.S. was not involved in a bitter conflict of some kind with fanatical followers of this or that ideology (usually Marxism). Hell, if you include the Cold War, there was never a time in which unfettered dictatorial power was more necessary to keep all our Walmarts safe. If the relatively impotent Arab states are such a dire threat that the government is justified in making extraordinary violations of civil rights, then what would the threat of nuclear annihilation by the Soviets have called for? Joseph McCarthy?

The truth is that the U.S. has never been less at war than it is now. America’s fanatical Arab enemies can certainly mount a terrorist attack here and there, and a bombing here and there, but none of this is new or more intense than it was in the 1960’s or 1970’s or 1980’s. No threat to the United States today is more dire and consequential than the threat of the Soviet Union at he height of the cold war. Yet even Ronald Reagan never proposed the abridgement of civil liberties and freedoms that this government enthusiastically and energetically pursues.

The idea that this is “war” is bullshit. It’s a power grab by people with a real and fervent belief in authoritarianism, which they also fervently and bizarrely believe will save “democracy”, which is the election of us.

Copyright © 2006 Bill Van Dyk All rights reserved. January 20, 2006

There was a truly awesome moment at the Senate hearings on the issue. Senator Russ Feingold, one year ago, asked Attorney-General nominee Alberto Gonzales if the president could authorize wire-taps without a warrant. Gonzales solemnly declared that the question was hypothetical even though he knew full well that Bush was, in fact, already doing it. He lied.

From an administration that supposedly prides itself on honesty and integrity, Gonzales provided a mealy-mouthed response that essentially amounted to this: I wasn’t lying because you asked if he could do it in violation of the law. Since whatever Mr. Bush wants to do is legal because he says it is, it wasn’t in violation of the law.

That, of course, is not what Senator Feingold asked. He asked if the President could do it without a warrant, not if he could do it “illegally”.

The Republican majority on the committee prevented Gonzales from being “sworn in”.

Why, if they didn’t think he was going to lie, would they do that?

What exactly is a war?

The Administration keeps insisting that it is only spying on people who mean American harm. Logically, that’s like arguing that it should have the right to conduct summary executions of criminal suspects because they might be murderers.

It’s all beside the point: justice is about proving, in open court, that you have the right guy. The Bush administration has this tone about it— who needs proof? We know who they are. And if they weren’t guilty of what it was we thought they did, they surely thought of doing other things equally deserving of punishment.

Do you think they will ever put Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on trial? Do you think he will ever testify at any trial of any of the many “suspects” he is handing over to the FBI? That would mean he would be subject to cross examination. That would mean defense lawyers could introduce evidence and testimony about Khalid’s background, including his involvement in the Pakistani Military. That might not be very congenial to the Bush administration. Nor would it be useful, to Bush, to have Khalid discuss his torture sessions at the hands of the CIA in court.

The important thing is that you, dear American average citizen in Palos Park, Illinois, are feeling safe tonight.


Televisionization of the World Wide Web

The televisionization of the internet continues. Look at this.

What I think AOL is doing, essentially, is threatening to block business email unless they pay a fee. If they pay a fee, their mail bypasses spam filters. Now there’s a revenue stream I’ll bet you haven’t thought of. Set up a spam filter. Charge people to have their mailbox protected from thousands of annoying spam messages (part of the package of your membership in AOL). Then charge companies to put their mail through anyway.

This idea is even more brilliant than they imagine. In a few years, after you are once again deluged with unwanted e-mail, they can start offering a new service to the user: we will block the unwanted e-mail that we used to filter for an additional monthly fee. But you thought you were paying an additional monthly fee already? That’s like the cable fee you used to pay for commercial-free specialty channels, which are you still paying for, and which now have commercials.