Archive for the ‘Freedom’ Category

I recently watched two mini-series from when I was a teen-ager, and from watching them and remembering other series that I have watched during and since then, I have the imprerssion that the eighties was a special era. There were three shows that stood out for me:

  • Roots
  • Shogun
  • Masada

There are of course a number of factors that contribute to this feeling. First, I was young, and while rather more well read than most of my friends in school I wasn’t all that worldly. And while I had read about some of the issues in the shows, they readings didn’t really have a visceral impact. Second, all three series were dramatic, with strong and sympathetic characters. Third, the characters tended to be multifaceted, with good and bad qualities. Fourth, most of the three were so powerful that they changed the viewpoints, and in some cases the behaviour, of significant portions of hte viewing audience.

First consider Roots. It originated in a major bestseller written by Arthur Hailey about his own family. It was the third highest rated show in history, and 85% of the viewing audience in the United States saw part or all of the series. People who had seen the opening told their friends, and by the finale most of the country was watching it. It brought awareness of the reality of slavery home in a personal way, while showing how the white “masters” were human and compassionate intelligent people, while at the same time having a blindness to the humanity of their slaves. The impact on the white U.S., especially my generation, was huge. It also made an amazing number of people interested in their family history, and the geneology craze continues today.

Shogun also came from a hit bestseller of the same name, written by James Clavell. It is also the only 1200 page paperback that I managed to read at one sitting! The mini-series covered a critical period in the history of Japan, when Europeans started arriving. It was also the end of a long period of warfare, and ended in the Tokugawa Shogunate of 1600, which eventually drove Western influences out of the country until the Meiji restoration in 1867. It also froze the culture of Japan and prevented any large scale warfare. Basically, the series covers the arrival of Dutch and British influence during the lead-up to the Shogunate, with battles, intrigues, and characters that are fairly close to the real players during the era. The major character, Pilot-Major John Blackthorne, is based on William Adams, who became a confidant of Tokugawa aswell as the first western Samurai and Hatamoto. After arriving there among the last surviving ship of a fleet of five, he never left Japan, but had a major influence on the culture.

Like Roots, more and more people stayed by their TV’s as the week went on. For many, it was the first conprehensive view of the Japanese culture (at least in an earlier incarnation), and it covered one of the most important events in Japan in the last thousand years (of which few westerners had the first clue). It was filmed entirely in Japan, and only two of the Japanese cast spoke English. In fact, the female lead Yoko Shimada didn’t speak English and had a voice coast. She still won a Golden Globe as best actress in a TV drama. I learned more about the culture, and especially how it looked and people behaved, than I had out of a dozen books. The book was great, but the series kept the spirit of the book and brought this world to life.

One important aspect was the way the audience viewed the events from Chamberlain’s point of view, as an Englishman thrown into a new world, unable to speak the language, and liable to die at any time because he didn’t understand the culture. Also, the Japanese dialogue didn’t include English sub-titles, but the great acting allowed you to understand an amazing amount, causing you to see these interactions from the viewpoint of Blackthorne. I also learned some basic Japanese from the series, including the meaning of wakarimas, wakarimaska, and wakarimasen.

Some say that sushi bars and Japanese restaurants became popular after the showing. It also made samurai, ninjas, and other characters tiresomely prevalent for a few decades after.

Masada had a more specific goal. It was about a branch of the Jewish Zealots, who after the fall of Jerusalem retreated to the mountain fortress of Masada, created by Herod in the Negev desert. This site is where modern Israeli soldiers were sworn into military service, and the symbolism of the place is due the the Zealots refusal to surrender to the Romans. You see, the Romans laid seige to Masada, and after several hellish and grueling years managed to storm the fortress via a giant ramp up the side of the mountain. When they arrived, the Zealots, as well as their wives and children, had suicided rather than be captured.

What it did for me was to develop an inkling of what it means to Jews to have their home back after two millenia, and an idea of the Israeli Defence Force mentality. The meaning is especially strong for those who remember the Holocaust, and those who fought for nationhood before the 1967 Six-day War. Finally, it also gives some insight into how people can become fanatics, or at least viewed as such.

As a story, it gave me a better insight into the time of the Zealots and the fall of Jerusalem, it had one of the best performances by Peter O’Toole, and Roman legions at war, especially when they are fighting with wierd and wonderful contraptions, is fun to watch. It was a great drama, and taught me about Jews before the Diaspora, and about Israelis of modern times.

I think the main reasons these series were so great included the following:

  • they all addressed meaningful, substantive issues, and these issues tended to resonate with large segments of those watching,
  • being miniseries, significant character development was much more likely than with a regular series,
  • you learned a lot while being entertained,
  • they were really well done, with good to great actors. For example, Richard Chamberlain, Peter O’Toole, Maya Angelou, Toshiru Mifune, Anthony Quayle, …
  • in the early eighties, you either had movies, which couldn’t cover these subjects in great depth, regular TV series, which usually used uncennected episodes with no real development of a topic over a series of episodes, or fairly dry documentaries. The idea of a miniseries, which covered a topic on consecutive nights and which reached a conclusion in an organic manner, was new, entertaining, and refreshing. Combined with great and meaningful stories, this recipe drew in many people.

Today, of course, pretty well everyone thinks they have a good understanding of Japanese culture, and with the best electronics and cars which started to come out of Japan in the 70s and 80s there was at least a grudging respect for them. Regarding slavery in the U.S., it seems that many have accepted separate but equal cultures along with mutual accomodation, and of course the popular geneology bug popularised by Roots continues almost unabated (i.e. a good friend is really into it). With regards to Israel and the proud independance of the Sabras versus the Diaspora Jews just after the Second World War, very few gentiles care anymore. The State of Israel and the way it treats Palestinians has pretty well eliminated much of the sympathy for their plight during the Holocaust and the pograms going back through history, and the admiration of the Western world in the state they made in the 50s and early 60s. So today Masada’s symbolism matters not to the West, and to the some of the Palestinians and some other Muslims it might be argued that a repeat of that era might be a good thing.

I learned much that was new to me, or looked at it from a different perspective, by watch these three events. And I had a lot of fun doing it. It would be nice to have more shows like this, but in the internet culture, and with the decrease in viewership of the major networks, it’s not likely that we’ll see much to match the 80s.

Or maybe I’m just prejudiced towards what I liked as a teenager.


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A few weeks ago I took a two hour cruise (therefore no Gilligan-type problems) on a ketch that turned out to be more colourful than usual. We sailed from Lunenburg Harbour out to the Ovens and back (this is on the Southwestern Shore of Nova Scotia). The wind was light but steady, and we made fairly good time.

It reminded me of how much I like sailing. Maybe I’ll get a boat.

Romantic Sunset
Two retirees enjoying the light.

Heat Shimmers
Sailing Dory reaching back into the harbour.

Cirrus Streamers

Captains Courageous
Sailing as far into the wind as possible in order to round the lighthouse.

Clearing Battery Point
Clearing Battery Point on the return leg.

Final Run
Sailing towards the berth.

Wake of the ship and the Moon.

Twilit Silhouette

a quickr pickr post

Master of all she surveys.

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Bonfire night in Newfoundland, on November 5, was one of the most enjoyable holidays for pre-teens. People would gather everything flammable that was of no practical use, pile it up, and then set fire to it. Depending on the size of it you could roast hot dogs, cook marshmallows, and dance and race around the fire; when the fire had burned down enough many of us would take running jumps over it (with adult supervision and plenty of water around).

For my family it was an easy event to arrange. There was a large potato and vegetable plot in our back yard, and usually plenty of scrap material because Dad did a lot of woodwork and construction around the house. The ashes and nitrates would help enrich the nutrients in the field, along with the capelin added every summer. The kids from the Lane would join us, and there was always some hot chocolate from Mom.

Finally, it was great to have a holiday only five days after Halloween.

We didn’t realise the significance of the holiday, as well as the almost unique fact that we celebrated both Halloween and Bonfire Night. You see, the original name for Bonfire Night was Guy Fawkes Night, a major British Holiday celebrating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Up until recently Halloween was not a British holiday, and in most of Ireland Guy Fawkes Night was both irrelevant as a foreign political holiday and abhorrent as a celebration of the suppression of Catholic rights and freedoms in England. Back in the bad old days, if you were Catholic and/or Irish, you didn’t tend to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, and if you were British and Protestant, you didn’t celebrate the Papist All Hallows Eve.
The historic source for the holiday was an attempt by Catholics being persecuted under the rule of James I to blow up the Houses of Parliament while the King was addressing both Houses in Westminster Palace . Guy Fawkes and other conspirators brought numerous barrels of gunpowder and stored them in the cellars under the building. They were betrayed and captured before they could set off the explosives, and Fawkes was hanged, drawn and quartered. If you don’t know what this punishment for treason is, I refer you to the movie Braveheart.

Ever since the event occurred on November 5, 1605, the British have been celebrating the foiling of the plot, and until recently their victory against the Papists. More recently the memories of the European Wars of Religion have faded, and both Protestants and Catholics celebrate it without thinking about nor emphasising the religious issues. The aspects relating to protest against oppression and fighting back against unjust rule are still appreciated by many regardless of religious bent. The viewpoint of regarding Fawkes as a terrorist bomber is also appreciated by most. Not the simplest moral knot to untangle.

The way they celebrate it in England varies a bit, but usually includes parading around a stuffed effigy of a man hanging from a noose called the Guy, and then burning the effigy on a bonfire. Fireworks and fireworks contests have become common, and the main piece of doggerel chanted on this night goes like this:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,’twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!

In the old days this chant would end with

A penny loaf to feed ol’Pope,
A farthing cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down,
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar,’
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head,
Then we’ll say: ol’Pope is dead.

This stanza has mostly disappeared from the festivities.


The symbols, lessons, and implications of the Gunpowder Plot have spread throughout the English-speaking cultures of the Commonwealth, and still continue to be used in modern arts and pop culture. Here are a few links, associations, and other linkages that I found somewhat intriguing:

  • Fawkes from Harry Potter: this is Professor Dumbledore’s Phoenix, who periodically bursts into flame, then arises renewed from the ashes. There is obvious symbolism here regarding martyrdom.
  • Newfoundland Bonfire Night: here there is basically no link to the politics of the Plot, there is no effigy, and I had never heard “remember, remember, the Fifth of November” until I talked to a British Scout Leader when I was thirteen. Our celebration has no link to the Religious Wars, and children celebrate it without benefit of clergy of any persuasion.
  • V for Vendetta: This is both a graphic novel by Alan Moore, and a movie based on the novel (both have been well reviewed and are popular). The main character, named V, styles himself after Guy Fawkes. He is promoting the downfall of a fascist regime ruling England, using guerrilla techniques, assassination, and not a few bombs and fireworks. He utilises the symbolism and feelings of the public regarding Fawkes both subtly and blatantly. The movie had a proposed release date of November 5, 2005, the 400th anniversary of the Plot, but it was delayed until the following March. Some argue that the 2005 bombings in London were related to this decision.
  • The Wake by Neil Gaiman: This is one of Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels. On page 160-161 William Shakespeare and Ben Johnson try to come up with a rhyme to help people remember the Gunpowder Plot. They come up with the rhyme above, and Will thinks people may still remember it a hundred years later. He was right.
  • A Man For All Seasons: When I think of Guy Fawkes, I think about religious persecution, which makes me think of Henry VIII for some reason, and this leads me to one of my favourite movies of the 1960’s. A man for All Seasons was both a play by Robert Bold and a movie starring Paul Scofield. It talks about how Sir Thomas More tried his best to render to Caesar that which was Caesar’s without compromising his own religious beliefs. He almost managed it, but was too important a political figure to be allowed to stay silent on the issue of Harry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, nor to keep himself silent on the directly related issue of the King’s leadership of the English Church. He was perjured against, and then expressed his personal beliefs and was executed without recanting those beliefs. Given those beliefs and the importance of Henry renouncing papal authority, More was canonised. But for me it was not More’s Catholicism that was appealing; it was his integrity and his valiant and ofttimes brilliant attempt to live within his world without compromising . It was a really wonderful movie.
  • John Lennon wrote a song called Remember, which was about the Gunpowder Plot and forgiveness.
  • Guy: according to that omniscient and refutable source of information, Wikipedia, Guy Fawkes has changed our language. He originated the usage of the word “guy” in the English language. The effigy that is burnt is called a guy, which came to mean “a man of grotesque appearance”. This evolved to the current meaning of fellow, bloke, or chap.
  • Guy Fawkes’s influence on medicine after 400 years: This was too weird to pass up. Someone was worried about using guy to describe a patient as being impolite, so he went on an etymological survey.
  • Guido Fawkes: This refers to a subversive blogger giving political commentary on British Politics. His verbiage is supposed to be dynamite. 😉

    Final Thoughts:

So I started with a simple holiday that, at least in Newfoundland, teaches no bad lessons about politics nor condones religious intolerance. The actual history made me ponder the morality and ethics surrounding the acts and events preceding, during, and following the Gunpowder Plot. There were other things I learned, both less serious and more fun, regarding things that developed from those dark days.

Now we’re in a society that for the most part is non-sectarian, and where children have no clue about where these rituals originated. We’ve added our own meaning of fun and play to the rituals. And so we are one of the few places where Bonfire Night and Halloween are both celebrated without any sectarian blemish.

Burning issues. Enjoy Bonfire Night, and don’t get scorched, guys.

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This is an important and moving movie about one of the post-war trials at Nuremberg, the site of massive rallies held by the Nazis during World War II. It followed the trial held for the judges who enforced the discriminatory and rascist laws promulgated before and during the war within the Third Reich. There was one passage from the court decision in the movie that had particular impact on me, and is the single aspect of those hellish times that both fascinates and horrifies me the most. I still can’t fully understant it.

A copy of the speech is at American Rhetoric. The following excerpt regards defendent Janning, who (in the movie) was Minister of Justice in the Third Reich during the war years. This man had the reputation of being a supreme jurist who was recognised and respected around the world, and he was a great student and teacher of the law. For patriotic reasons he tried to work within the system to mitigate the abuses of the administration and other jurists, but in the process condoned unjust decisions and crimes against humanity. His great reputation and prestige gave tacit support to others to commit similar or worse acts.

This is from Justice Haywood’s decision (highlighted text was chosen by me):

Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe. But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary — even able and extraordinary — men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat at through trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen.

There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” — of “survival.” A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient — to look the other way.

Well, the answer to that is “survival as what?” A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!

Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.

-from American Rhetoric

The message is clear. Without a clear sense of morality and justice, and the courage to follow the precepts of both, the best people in the best country in the world can slip into doing unjust and inhumane acts. The end does not justify the means, rather the means will determine the end. It has happened since World War II, and it is still going on.

I strongly recommend watching the movie and studying the court decision.

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Earlier this year the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other such facilities were entitled to the rights spelled out in Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. They also ruled that the detainees had the right of habeas corpus. Without this right a person can be detained indefinitely without any recourse to the court system to determine the legality of the detainment.

Article 3 states the following:

Article 3

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(b) Taking of hostages;

(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.

The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.

The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.

Article 3, and the Supreme Court decision upholding it, limits the methods allowed in interrogations and other questioning by American forces, and further limits the type of evidence allowed to be used in military commissions. It must be understood that the American military commissions follow different practices than that of the US Judicial system, as well as the court martial system used for the military. Both of these systems give people approximately the same rights. The military commissions for Guantanamo give the defendants far fewer rights, and allow evidence to be entered that has been obtained by hearsay, coercion, or torture. There are also limitations on the choice of legal defence, etc. The Supreme Court argued that the military commissions established to try the detainees violate US Law and the Geneva Conventions.

This week the Military Commissions Bill (MCS) of 2006 passed through Congress with a majority in both Houses, and is ready to be signed into law by President Bush. It addresses the issues leading to the Supreme Court’s previous decision by legalising some of the practices addressed by the court decision, by giving the President increased authority to interpret what is acceptable as torture, and by denying the right of habeas corpus in any US court jurisdiction to the detainees, thus allowing them to be detained indefinitely without judicial recourse (there is a military review board, however). In addition, the President has the right to interpret the Geneva Conventions, and the courts have no legal recourse to question his interpretations.

This gives the government more powers and authority than before the earlier Supreme Court decision, and attempts to reduce the jurisdiction of the court system. Some have argued that this is a precedent to reduce the constitutional powers of the judiciary relative to Congress and the Executive Branch.

However, when I heard about this I went surfing for more information and I came upon a very interesting blog entry. It discusses the issue very carefully, and there are some interesting implications and implied contradictions in the new legislation. I would highly recommend that you read it.

The blog is Balkinization. The author is Jack M. Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale University. In particular look at his points regarding the legality of some of the authorised actions in the bill versus the means to bring to account those who choose to choose questionable actions.

Here is a quote from Dr. Balkin’s entry:

Let me repeat what I have just said: The MCA continues to recognize that certain conduct is illegal, but attempts to eliminate all judicial remedies for such violations. That means that if the President violates the MCA, he still fails to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, which is his constitutional duty under Article 2, section 3 of the Constitution.

Well worth reading.

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From September 23-30 is Banned Book Week. I’m going to read either a Banned or Challenged book this week, and I invite you to join in. This type of censorship has annoyed and aggravated me since I was twelve, and anything to fight this movement is a step towards enlightenment.

Here are some of my favourite selections from this genre. Let’s start with the 2005 American Library Association’s List of Banned Books. From the top ten, the only one I have read is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In my own defense many of the others are children’s books from after my time. From those off the list this year but perennially listed I own and have read Of Mice and Men and Huckleberry Finn. The latter is my favourite anti-slavery, anti-racism, and anti-prejudice book of all time; Twain is brilliant, insightful, feeling, and supremely sarcastic.

The American Booksellers for free Expression (ABFFE) have put out a list. From this list I recommend:

  • I know Why the Caged Bird Sang by Maya Angelou
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (they banned THIS?!)
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • The Color Purple
  • Jean Aul’s Earth Series: I found it okay but not great, but I don’t think it should have been banned.
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle; another great favourite of mine. I found it to be one of the most inclusive, non-sectarian, and non-threatening expression of faith and hope I have ever read. So some groups banned it for not expressing their exclusive and rigid beliefs. You can’t win, but L’Engle’s book is an affirmation of why we keep trying.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Growl!)
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (Why?)
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Native Son by Richard Wright
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Sometimes I think the banned list gives a good idea of books you should choose. Given the important classics above, I can almost justify this statement.

If you choose to partake in a good banned book this week, enjoy!


I found my book. It is Beloved by Toni Morrison. She is a Nobel Prize winner for Literature, and the book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Of course it would be banned!

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I was really ambivalent about expressing my thoughts, feelings, and memories of 9/11. Then two good friends, Heather and Vicky, expressed their thoughts and feelings eloquently and with great honesty and sensitivity. So being a better follower than a leader, here are my thoughts.

This will be about a number of things. First are my feelings and what happened around me at the time of the event. Second is what I hoped would happen versus what actually happened following the attacks. Third is about what this anniversary means, and the future. Given all the intense feelings and viewpoints that have impacted me and everyone else, this outline may change significantly.

September 11-14, 2001

I worked at the weather office in Gander in 2001, and normally I would have been there. But that September I was finishing up a project in Halifax. That morning I was waiting at a bus stop to go to work, and a young lady came up with a quizzical expression on her face.

“I saw something really strange on the TV this morning, as I was scooting out the door. There was some sort of show where a passenger plane hit one of the Twin Towers in New York. But it looked so real…”, she said. There was an expression on her face, half a smile and half an uncertain frown.

We talked about it for a little bit until the bus came, and she really was uncertain about what had happened. I decided to check it out when I got the Oceanography Department at Dalhousie. Some people were working quietly, while a couple of others were listening to a radio. From what they were saying, there was definitely something going on. I went to my office and tried to get CNN online, then CBC, then the Globe and Mail, then the NY Times, etc. Then on a hunch I tried the Jerusalem Post and got in. They summarised the info on the first tower, but the second plane hadn’t hit yet.

I ran out, bought a tiny radio, and listened through the rest of the morning and afternoon as I tried to get work done. I left early that afternoon and saw what had actually happened, including the Pentagon impact. Who had done this? Why? Were the Americans actually going to fire on airliners still in the air? Why was there no news from the president or vice-president? Why did Cheney hide for so many days after the attacks? Most important, how many people were still in the buildings when they collapsed? The normal occupancy was about 50,000, and it was the beginning of a normal working day.

When people started talking about who had done this and what should be done, I remember feeling strangely angry. For most of my adult life I have been and am opposed to the death penalty, and any sort of war except for the purpose of self-defence. But this time I was almost at the point of agreeing that killing the perpetrators was justified. Then I thought about what the citizens of the United States in general, and New York in particular, must be feeling. That was when I started to feel afraid. Were they going to wait long enough to find out who was really responsible, and were they going to make a reasoned response when they did find out? With Bush and Cheney in power, it could get really bad.

The next day I started thinking about what little I could do to help the people in New York, and at our airports. I was living in a small room for the period of the research project, and had no real resources there. I ended up giving the largest monetary donation I had ever done through the American Red Cross, and I donated blood at an emergency blood clinic on campus, hoping it would help some survivors. Two things happened there to affect the value of my gesture; every other potential blood donor in North America had done the same thing (of course), and as it turned out, there was no need for large amounts of blood. This was for a “good” reason and a bad reason. The good reason was that only about 3,000 of the potential 30-50,000 had been in the buildings when they collapsed; the bad was that almost none of the 3,000 had survived.

Meanwhile the day shift at the weather office in Gander were forecasting good weather for Newfoundland and Labrador, and the only concern was a hurricane threatening the Atlantic Provinces. There were also a number of other forecasters in the office doing some training. Not much training was done that day.
Gander had and still has an important role in Atlantic flight operations. The Newfoundland Weather Center at that time was responsible for, among other things, severe weather for the Western Atlantic flight routes, and aviation weather for all but some military airports in Atlantic Canada. Also in Gander is a NavCan centre responsible for air traffic control for all of the Western Atlantic flight routes (i.e. for about 400 planes heading into the U.S. that morning from Europe). It also has some of the largest runways in Canada, due to its role as the major refueling stop for trans-Atlantic flights during World War II and the post-war years. These three aspects made it especially important during 9/11.

The good weather and the good forecasts kept all critical airports open during the emergency. This made it easier for NavCan to redirect hundreds of flights into a few airports, which they did extremely efficiently. Gander was able to take 38 trans-Atlanticaircraft and a few domestic airliners, and was still able to operate the main runway. It must have been a sight to see so many planes landing so quickly. This visitation increased the local population by about 66% (town population:10,000, visitors:6,595); St John’s accomodated 26 aircraft containing 4,426 visitors; eight aircraft and 1,695 passengers ended up in Stephenville; seven aircraft and 788 passengers went to Goose Bay; 44 aircraft holding a total of 8,800 passengers landed in Halifax; and 10 aircraft carrying 1,847 passengers arrived at the Moncton airport. So the population of Newfoundland increased by about 13,500, with about half of them living in and near Gander.

By late that afternoon all the planes were landed and waiting on the aprons and runways. It was a beautiful warm day, and the planes were shut down, and there were too many aircraft for the portable generators designed to keep the air conditioning and power systems running when the engines were shut down. So it became hot, stuffy, smelly, and crowded. No one was allowed to leave the aircraft except for severe medical emergencies, for obvious security reasons, and because it was difficult to arrange for people to be processed through customs quickly and then get to food and shelter as efficiently as possible. In some locations it took more than 24 hours. Meanwhile people at the local pharmacies in Gander stripped their shelves of useful medications for those in need on the planes.

The strangest thing was how quickly the people there were able to organise, with volunteers jumping in where needed, and everyone having a lot of common sense. One thing that helped was the local mindset; they didn’t think in terms of masses of people; someone would get over to the airport, pick up a family and contact information, and proceed to make them feel at home. For those in gyms, parish halls and school there were things like concerts, bingo (aghh!), and singalongs with passengers and locals exchanging music.

My friends at the weather office did a lot. Many of them welcomed families into their homes, some families with children still had visitors over for meals and showers, other helped with large scale kitchen work, blankets, cots, sleeping bags, etc, etc. One of my friends was letting people get showers and breakfasts, and he remembers waking up one morning, going down the stairs in his houserobe, and passing a young lady he’d never met, dressed only in a towel, heading up from her shower.

I still wish I had been there, and that I might have done something to help. I’m proud of my co-workers, and unlike some people they neither inflated their roles nor did they bore you with their stories. However, they did have a few funny stories, and every day they looked out the windows at the planes, and every night they talked with, helped, and entertained their guests.

The Weeks and Months After

There were many different things to worry and think about. First was the growing despair as all that they found at Ground Zero were remains, and the frustrating uncertainty about who and how many had died. Then there was the dark day it stopped being a rescue operation. There were also the allegations that some of the killers had come through Canada, and tensions about border security. And looming over all this were the worries about what the American Government was finding out, and what they were going to do.

Initially the Americans seemed to be responding rather well. They waited until they had good evidence of al-Quaeda’s culpability, they determined the link with the Afghani Taliban, and they organised a multi-national coalition to root out the Taliban government and the camps in that war-torn area. Then they proceeded to attacke in an intelligent and measured way. I was worried that they would not carry though the campaign to the point where there was a stable government, but things looked good to that point. The Bush administration also made a point of being inclusive with the mainstream followers of Islam in the States and abroad. In general, things were not as bad as I had feared. The great danger was that the United States would attack indiscriminately and then leave the country in a shambles, and create a new wave of disillusioned people with little recourse to revenge through terrorism, the only (albeit two-edged) tool available to them.

The Last Four Years

Into the Night and SnowThen there was the State of the Union Address, where the president declared Iraq, Iran, and Korea as an “Axis of Evil”. Domestically the Patriot Act was being set up, and Homeland Security was getting broad and sweeping search and seizure powers. Muslims were starting to be victims of subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination. Many of those captured during the war on terror were carefully classified so they wouldn’t be subject to the Geneva Conventions, and detention camps including Guantanamo Bay and more secret centers were growing. Other countries were using the American precedent to declare their favourite enemies as “terrorists”; in many cases the smaller side in a civil war or struggle would be named terrorists.

So there were reduced freedoms at home in the name of safety, which often seemed to be more threatened near and before important elections. Meanwhile Afghanistan was allowed to reinstate warlords outside of Kandahar other key areas protected by American and UN forces. Then came the pressure to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, combined with claims that Iraq was supporting Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.

After Desert Storm in 1991, Iraq was basically toothless, and was being constantly searched and intermittently bombed for the next ten years. And everyone knows about the WMD. Regarding Iraq as an Islamic fundamentalist stronghold is a little surreal. Saddam was the head of the Baathist Party, which was Socialist, atheistic, and almost entirely secular. In the 1980’s there had been a number of attempts at assasinating him by religious factions both within Iraq and from neighboring countries. The ruling faction in Iraq was Sunni (usually moderate Islam) throughout his dictatorship. He did express Islamic sentiments near the beginning Desert Storm, but this was widely considered as a pragmatic survival tactic, and possibly part of his position vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians.

Now Iraq had been conquered, Saddam deposed, and the country freed by a surprisingly small army with amazing despatch. The army was too small to hold it, so it has had to increase. Many of the population have become frustrated with how the country has been administered, and see their post-war aspirations for power fading under the constraints the Americans wish to impose. And the Shiite majority in the south started to use guerilla (or terrorist to the American) tactics to win the upcoming civil war. In the meantime the country is becoming a source of bitter young men who hate the United States, so the terrorists are finally starting to appear. And of course this is spreading to other countries in the area.

Finally, the Bush administration’s stand of not having a dialogue nor negotiating with state sponsors of terror has isolated them; in the case of North Korea they have reneged on a path to nuclear disarmament initiated by the Clinton administration, which has alienated the Koreans. The Mid-East is becoming progressively more polarised against the United States in particular, and the west in general. Because they are weak economically and strategically many of the young people become fodder for a retreat to the radical Islamists who argue for suicidal attacks today for a life in paradise tomorrow. Heavan can’t be made in this world, so perform these appalling acts for your positively-absolutely guaranteed place of eternal grace.

A Better Future?

Across the Foggy BridgeInstead of the Us versus Them ideology of the current administration, the government needs to learn how to learn new ways to remove their enemies. One is to deal in good faith and to be pragmatic about what the U.S. can offer to others to get stability. For example, in Libya the government was given some pragmatic concessions, including measures to help their economy, in exchange for throwing out the terrorist training camps in their country and in exchange for their nuclear arms. You don’t hear too much about this precedent today, because it doesn’t support the current doctrine.

Another good measure would be measures to help the economies and education of potentially dangerous countries and groups. Most soldiers/guerillas/terrorists come from marginalised and poor groups. Help them have better lives and you start creating amity as well as removing some of the sources of discontent and anger. If your life is good, why fight?

A third measure is to treat your enemy with fairness and respect, and not to sink to treating them as devils, regardless of how they think of you. If you are a faith-holder, you will be judged by your actions, not by theirs. If you’re not, think of it from their side. They are fighting rich, well-equipped soldiers with much superior firepower. Moreover, the devastation is happening on their land and in their homes. Then the western soldiers dis-respect their beliefs and culture, and treat their fighters like dogs and inhuman criminals. Respect and fair treatment may reduce the animosity and feelings of inferiority held by many of the terrorists.

What I Feel Today

The world almost feels like the Palestinian-Israeli situation grown large. This really scares me, because that conflict has gotten to the point that neither side can think rationally anymore. Each side thinks their list of perceived crimes and abuses is unassailable, and thus there is no will to forget the past and think of a future where they can live in peace. I’m pessimistic about the Middle East and I don’t want that type of situation to spread to my world.

I’m sure you remember the old saying, “Diplomacy is the Art of the Possible”. Rigid and black-and-white stands make “the possible” extremely small. Remember the First and Second World Wars. The Versailles Treaty humiliated and marginalised Germany. The Marshall Plan in Europe and similar practices in Japan created shining examples of what respect and generosity can do to former enemies.

Five years ago the direction of the world changed. My hope is that it can change again.

Thinking of Home

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