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The most moronic, nonsensical — and least surprising — war in history; Russia versus Ukraine

Flag of Ukraine

Flag of Ukraine.

It was a month ago today that Russia invaded Ukraine, the first (as I understand it) inter-state invasion in Europe since the end of the Second World War in 1945, 77 years ago … over three quarters of a century! I am speechless. Europe has been united in order to prevent such a catastrophe from ever breaking out again (“Never again!”), and one madman with a personal agenda based on a twisted understanding of history has changed that.

I really don’t have it in me to try and put together some coherent piece to add to the billions of litres of ink already spilled on this topic, much of it written by people far more erudite (and paid far more) than me, so I’m going to make a few little notes.

“Madman”

That term, “madman”, has been top of mind for me since I saw his speech denying the existence of Ukraine over a month ago. In news coverage I saw a comment by one American Republican senator that vladimir putin “didn’t seem right”, or words to that effect. I thought exactly the same, and several people have made similar comments since. On the other hand, I came across this piece by Joanna Williams in “Spiked”: “The war in Ukraine is not about Putin’s mental health“. To be honest it sounds like something written by a contrarian, but that seems to be Spiked’s raison d’être.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Unlike his Afghan counterpart on 15 August 2021, Zelenskyy stayed the course and stayed in his office in Kyiv. He turned down an American offer to evacuate him and his family with the statement, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” The guy is a fucking hero. As a politician and as a human he is probably loaded with flaws, as are all of us, but as the President of Ukraine and the leader of a country invaded by the biggest country in the world, he has and will continue to have my undying respect. I’ve often said that instead of wars, the leaders of countries should get in a ring with each other and fight until there is a TKO; despite his self-manufactured manly image, putin probably wouldn’t last thirty seconds again Zelenskyy.

Peace talks

These have been a joke since day one. I get it; whatever side you are on, you walk into “talks” asking for the world, and you eventually settle for less. But why are there even peace talks? Don’t you talk first in order to avoid a fight, and only then fight? I suppose the Ukrainians have been talking to the Russians since 2014, when the Russians invaded Crimea and, nudge nudge, wink wink, “didn’t” invade the Donbas, but clearly that talking has gone nowhere in eight years. What little it did result in, the Minsk agreements, weren’t worth the paper they were written on in putin’s mind, and he started his “special military operation” (“war”, or “invasion”, to most of us) against Ukraine anyway. Hindsight is great, but if you can’t sort out a problem in eight years, both sides are probably not trying hard enough.

Not even Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, can be taken seriously. His first condition for Ukraine is to surrender and give the Russians everything they want … which, by the way, they are failing to get by military means.

Refugees

When the war is over, the countries that have taken in refugees should sue Russia for their expenses. Why not? Actually, not that I’m starting to draw up a peace treaty, but the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 was too harsh on Germany (it’s generally accepted) and contributed to the start of World War II. I suppose this will all need to be considered in time.

Russia’s words

I understand that all sides in conflict lie, but the lengths to which Russia has taken this stretch credibility. Starting before the war they accused the West of being “alarmist” and “hysterical” in their warning about a war. I mean, it’s just a joke. Now they claim they’re not targeting civilians, as missile after missile blows up residential blocks of flats, schools and hospitals. And “de-nazification”?! Not even in 1940s Germany was everyone a Nazi! How do you “save” the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine by killing them?!

Western aid to Ukraine

I realise how high the stakes are, but the West has let down Ukraine. The analogy I’ve heard — and analogies do have their limits — is one of a big bully on a playground beating a little kid. The little kid calls out to other kids to ask for help, but they demur, claiming the bully has a knife. Of course, the “knife” in this case is far bigger — nuclear weapons — but we are so far down that path already. I don’t want to suggest that talking isn’t worth it, but the reason that putin has decided that the West is weak is precisely because we have not stood up to him. If we don’t stand up to him now, he will keep pushing. Why wouldn’t he? There are Russian speaking minorities in countries all around Russia’s western border — even more now that Russians are abandoning the country while they can — and those countries will likely suffer the same fate as the Donbas in Ukraine.

So what do we do? Do we implement the no-fly zone that Ukraine has asked for? NATO says they will not, but do they really think that they can stay out of this fight forever? If the Baltic states suffer in the same way the Donbas has, will NATO really turn a blind eye? They can’t. It will be blatantly obvious that Russia will have launched a proxy attack on one or more of those NATO countries, and NATO will be treaty-bound to step in. And then what? You guessed it, we’re a shaky trigger finger away from nukes. I hope you’re practising to kiss your arse goodbye.

Poland has offered their old MiG-29s to the Ukrainian Air Force. Predictably, Russia claims they will consider this a provocation on the part of NATO, completely ignoring the fact that they have used Belarusian territory to launce their invasion. If they can use Belarus, why can the Ukrainians not use Poland? Sadly, the U.S. [rejected] Poland’s offer of fighter jets for Ukraine, calling it “untenable”. It’s at this point that you look at NATO and wonder if the alliance has somehow managed to paint themselves into a corner. It brings to mind the not-so-old adage, “Too big to fail.” Well, maybe NATO is too big to be useful if their own founding documents tie their own hands behind their back. But what’s the solution, or a better situation? I don’t really know, but the status quo is not working. As Zelenskyy himself asks, “How many civilians have to be killed before NATO will take the situation seriously?” (to paraphrase). He’s not wrong to ask the question, and it points out what I asked above: “Does NATO really think that they can stay out of this fight forever?”

Plain speaking from two former Irish presidents

Both Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, former Irish presidents, has some rather undiplomatic and non-neutral words for putin. (“Former presidents united in condemnation of Ukrainian invasion.“) McAleese:

She described the Russian President as “demagogic”, “moronic” and an “appalling anti-human man” who she hoped the Russian people would one day find it “within their power to neutralise”.

On whether the Russian people could rebel and prove their own President’s downfall, Ms McAleese said she thought this was “the best hope”.

“It wouldn’t be the first time the Russians have done this… they have the courage, now they have to find it” she said.

“I’ve never been a person who ever had contempt for another human being, I’ve never been contemptuous. But I certainly am now.”
— The Late Late Show (@RTELateLateShow) March 11, 2022

Ms Robinson said: “There is no doubt that Putin is very well protected, until suddenly maybe he is not.”

Robinson puts it well: It may only be someone within his circle that will set putin straight, but according to other reports he has “coup proofed” himself over the last twenty years. This is to the disadvantage of Russia, and it may well result in the downfall of human civilisation. All because he doesn’t want to hear any truth spoken to him.

The BBC is geographically challenged

Several times (not just once) in the early days of the war … sorry, “special military operation” … the BBC stated that Poland was “directly east of Ukraine”. (See screenshot.) I have no words for that level of stupidity. Ironically, though, that’s where I go for most of my international news.

BBC says Poland is east of Ukraine (crop)

BBC says Poland is east of Ukraine.

Slava Ukraini!

A note about the “mainstream media”

What does “mainstream” mean? Here’s the definition according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary:

mainstream
n. (the mainstream) normal or conventional ideas, attitudes, or activities.
adj. belonging to or characteristic of the mainstream.

Here’s an example: Bob and Sue have a disagreement over something. They have 20 mutual friends, and 15 of them agree with Sue and 5 agree with Bob. The “mainstream” of their mutual friends agree with Sue, but under the logic of the anti-vaxxers Bob is right because the “mainstream” can’t be trusted!

This is the logic under which the anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers and anti-mandates people operate, when they call for everything from the de-funding of the “mainstream media” (MSM) to their execution.

I get it. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I have a mob of reporters banging on my door for one reason or another, but the media does have a job to do. Part of that job, sadly, is to bang on certain peoples’ doors! Do they make mistakes? Sure they do, and one would hope that they would own up to those mistakes when they make them. There are ways to (at least) try and hold the media responsible for their mistakes.

I know that the media is biased. Everyone on this planet is biased, and it’s nigh on impossible to create an organisation that is one hundred percent neutral. As long as you’re aware of the biases of where you’re getting your news, you can read that news through that filter, and get the story from other sources as well and then decided for yourself where the truth likely lies. I’ve read stories from different sources that describe the same event in very different terms. But it’s up to me (and you) to seek out other reliable news sources and collate that information to determine what you believe to be the most likely version of the truth. However, those sources need to be reliable, and the Twitter feed of some left- or right-wing nut — or even my blog! — is not a reliable news source.

With respect to the so-called Freedom/Trucker Convoy, the fact that they bash the media, don’t invite them to their so-called press conferences, and walk out of said press conferences without answering any of the questions they would find difficult, is clear evidence to me that they don’t have the courage of their convictions.

A summary of where I stand

I unintentionally did a series of posts last weekend, prompted by the idiots occupying Ottawa, so I suppose I should come clean on why I think they are idiots.

I’m all for disagreement, but all sides must be willing to take in all of the facts and then make the clear choice on the correct course of action. Now, this is easier said than done, I get it, especially on issues where choices are made and positions are set based on different guiding principles. (The abortion debate is a very clear example.) But under the pandemic there seems to be this undercurrent of denialism of science prevalent among a certain segment of the population. I’ve never seen any information from these people that stands up to scrutiny, whereas the information I’ve seen espoused by health and disease professionals — i.e., trained professionals, people who have studied the science for decades — is very persuasive to me. Combine misinformation with fatigue and you have a recipe for disaster, as people latch onto examples of misinformation that appeal to their biases and personal experiences, not to mention their wanting to get rid of the cause of their fatigue.

Further combine this with information siloing and you have a fatal combination. It’s the bane of our time. The likes of Facebook, Instagram (both owned by the same company) and Twitter won’t make money if you move off of their platforms — i.e., go to work, go to bed, have dinner, leave the computer or put down your phone — and while you’re on their platforms they make more money if they can keep you clicking. As has been made abundantly clear recently, as if it was hard to figure out intuitively, negative news results in more clicking and more sharing, and bigger profits for the likes of Facebook. And all of the Internet giants want you to feel good — it’s ironic that feeling angry apparently makes people feel good, but that’s a psychological debate for another day — and so if you show them that you love conspiracy theories, guess what? They’re going to feed you more conspiracy theories! Before you know it, you’re down the rabbit hole, getting all of your biases and prejudices confirmed, and the next thing you know you’re claiming that vaccines (which have been around for centuries) actually kill people. I have received a dozen or a couple of dozen vaccines against various diseases in my life, and none of them have killed me!

So that’s why, I believe, many people have succumbed to the false beliefs they now hold. These beliefs are complete and utter bullshit:

  • Vaccines will kill you.
  • All of us “sheep” — i.e., those of us who believe science and scientists — are all part of a huge conspiracy.
  • Cooperating with others in society to attempt to reduce the spread of disease is an abridgement of my “freedom”.
  • Trump won the 2020 US election.

I know the names of some of these idiots, and you might too: Jason Kenney, Scott Moe, Pierre Poilievre, Candice Bergen and Andrew Scheer … among others. I don’t actually know if these five believe the four points above specifically — I actually don’t believe they would — but they have sided with people who believe these things. Kenney in particular looked recently like he couldn’t comply with the truckers’ demands fast enough, falling all over himself to ignore the scientists advising him, to straddle the fence in a way that would hurt if he had any balls; Moe looked like a frightened or cowed child with his deer-in-the-headlights look as he started rolling back “mandates” as quickly as he could! As for Poilievre, Bergen and Scheer, well, the Conservative Party is so desperate right now to look relevant that they’d try anything, and that included (before they reversed course) supporting the occupation of Ottawa by anti-vaxxers and -maskers who do believe the above lies.

I’d suggest that the Ottawa Police Service better get their shit together by Friday.

It’s past time for electoral reform in Canada

I don’t want to draw too long a bow here, but the current protests in Canada highlight the fact that our electoral system is broken. The current government is in power despite not winning a majority of the votes in the last (2021) election. The Liberal Party won only 32.62% of the vote, while the Conservative Party won 34.34% of the vote. (And while the New Democratic Party won 15.98% of the vote, they won only 25 seats, while the Bloc Québécois [who only run for seats in one province!] won 32 seats with only 7.63% of the vote, less than half as many votes!) Anyone with a brain would tell you that a system which produces these numbers is flat out broken!

So while the majority of Canadians have been vaccinated, and understand short-term pain for long-term gain, it’s not rocket science to figure out how the noisy band of malcontents that have descended on Ottawa, Coutts, Emerson and Windsor (among a number of provincial capitals) have managed to attract such a following. I still believe that the majority of Canadians do not support them, and I also still believe that these protests are being driven by right-wing extremists from both Canada and the United States, but this doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of Canadians, 67.38%, did not vote for the party currently in power.

Much ink has been spilled on the assertion that the only ones to gain from a change in the electoral system to one that includes some form of proportional representation would be the NDP and the Greens. There’s no doubt about that, but (a) opposing electoral reform for that reason is short-sighted (and mean), and (b) that doesn’t imply that the two major parties (Liberals and Conservatives) can’t benefit themselves.

I also believe that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals don’t want to enact electoral reform, not because it would help the NDP and the Greens, but because they see how fractured the Conservative Party is, and that allowing proportional representation would allow the Conservative Party to split (the People’s Party of Canada already did), yet ultimately form government because two or more conservative-leaning parties could easily win a majority (or at least the biggest bloc of seats) and form a coalition government. So ironically, if the Conservative Party would just take their collective heads out of their ass and stop parroting the Liberal line that they can’t do electoral reform, they might actually gain from it … and significantly!

The beginning of civil war in Canada?

I’m not trying to be alarmist with this title, but the actions of a minority of Canadians are having very negative effects on their fellow Canadians. Some have gone as far as to refer to it as “terrorism”, and if you’re in Ottawa in the middle of it and you can’t sleep at night because of the blaring of horns, that adjective is all too real to you. It’s a classic torture technique to deprive your captive of sleep, and the residents of Ottawa in the vicinity of the occupiers of the city are indeed captives, as are the people being laid off because their employers can’t receive the deliveries they’re expecting across our borders.

So if your actions go beyond simple “peaceful” protest and start very negatively affecting the lives of your follow citizens — whether that effect is death or something slightly less drastic, like depriving them of sleep and income — how is that fundamentally different from an actual shooting civil war? The protestors make the point that if they don’t have this great an effect their point will be ignored. Well, they may be right. However, if you’re such a small minority and your demands are so great — as seems to be the case here — then your point, your demands, should be ignored! Every single one of us in a civilised society has to live within the confines of behaviour accepted by the majority. Anyone who has ever read Lord of the Flies learnt the alternative in high school!

How did we get here? As I said in my last post, this ostensibly started out as a trucker protest by people who opposed “vaccine mandates”. However, it has clearly morphed. The thousands of participants are clearly not the 10-15% of truckers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Others have glommed onto their protest. Who are the others? That seems to be the biggest unanswered question here, and I sure don’t have the answer. The current federal government is a minority government, which means that most Canadians didn’t vote for them, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. Personally speaking I am one of them, but as much as Justin Trudeau irks me, and as much as I have written against him and his leadership on my blog, I support his stance against this array of yobbos, and I think their calls for him to be jailed are abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous.

But why do these people honestly think that they can make this demand? Because they’re extremists who all talk to each other in their own little social-media bubbles. People on both sides of the political spectrum make this mistake and come to different extremist conclusions. In addition to coming to the conclusion that they can call for the overthrow of a duly elected government before the next scheduled election, they advocate for the jailing and execution of the politicians, and the “lying media”, the “fake news”. It’s just bizarre. No matter what beliefs you hold, you cannot reasonably come to the conclusion that you can effectively segregate the population and eliminate every last person who disagrees with you. That guy standing next to you on the protest line likely has a slightly different position to you on any number of issues, so should he/she be executed too? If you answer “yes”, who will be left standing next to you?! Nobody, that’s who.

I used to think that America was on the verge of civil war, and we reasonable people in Canada would be watching the refugees streaming across the border into our civilised country. However, it’s becoming clear that many Americans, mainstream politicians (e.g., Trump, Cruz) and underground right-wing extremists, are treating Canada as the fifty-first state. And we may actually be! The people behind the protests are the sheep of the American right-wing movement (and they even carry their flags!), and they are blindly (and very rapidly!) importing American civil-war politics into a country that simply doesn’t need that garbage!

The supply chain is falling, the supply chain is falling!

With apologies to Chicken Little.

If I hear another news story about the failing supply chain I’m going to scream. It seems that the term “supply chain” is the latest buzzword. I suppose the pandemic, global weather events and/or inflation have not helped things, but society seems to be coming to grips with the fact that we can’t have everything we want at our fingertips all of the time. The attitude that we should is what has lead us into overusing and abusing the planet’s resources, which leads to destruction of the environment, which leads to the aforementioned global weather events … and so the vicious circle goes.

But really, I didn’t have a reason to write about this until the 10% of Canadian truckers who are not vaccinated against COVID got bees in their bonnets, and decided to drive from Vancouver to Ottawa.

It’s clear that this protest is no longer really led by the truckers, and has been co-opted by right-wing extremists who want another “January 6th” (a reference to the lame insurrection attempt in Washington DC in the United States), but this time in Canada. I haven’t personally seen the rhetoric apparently calling for the overthrow of the Canadian government (but it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to know it exists), but I did see an idiot who claimed that they want every single member of parliament to resign and for all COVID-related mandates to be immediately rescinded.

*sigh*

News flash buddy: the federal government has no jurisdiction over COVID mandates, which are a health-care issue; those are mandated by the provincial and territorial governments! Secondly, I don’t know who you want governing the country after all of the MPs resign, but I sure don’t want it to be you and your “F🍁CK TRUDEAU” flag wavers! If you become prime minister that will surely get me off my couch!

The truckers got bees in their bonnets over the fact that the Canadian government now requires all cross-border truckers to be vaccinated. They seem to be too dense to understand that the Americans have the same requirement, and so even if the Canadian government folds tomorrow and rescinds the requirement, it won’t make one iota of difference!

If this isn’t an example of a minority (10%) holding a majority (90%) hostage, I don’t know what is. As for all of the flag wavers coming out along the route (and swelling occupations on weekends), it’s not a surprise that a population of about 40 million people has more than its fair share of idiots. Sadly, there is no IQ test required to vote but, if you believe the 10%, that voting requirement is surely in the works.

As a former trans-border trucker myself, I know that many of these guys have been supping with their American counterparts, guys (mostly) who are gun-rights champions and various other wackos. Enough said about that, except that the last thing we need in Canada is the left-right, my-way-or-the-highway, extremist divide that they suffer from down there. Not all trucking needs to cross the international border with the United States, so if you don’t want to take a vaccine that has a very high chance of preventing you from dying of a very transmissible airborne disease, then work a domestic route. It’s not rocket science dude.

I’ve had this piece sitting on my computer for the last week or two, and things have evolved since then. I’m just going to publish this as is — because none of it is no longer correct — and I’m going to write something more cogent and current.

Bizarre British “news” website: Eminetra

2-year-ol woman ... died in circumcision failure

2-year-old woman … died in circumcision failure.

We all know that the World Wide Web is not a bastion of excellence in spelling and grammar. John Walker (of Autodesk and AutoCAD fame) has a very interesting essay on his website entitled, “Strike Out: Reading Unedited Text“, where he gives examples of texts that are a complete waste of time to read because of spelling and grammatical errors.

But I think even he would be gobsmacked by the atrocious quality of the writing at a news website I recently discovered: Eminetra (https://eminetra.co.uk/about-us/). I’ve linked only to their “About Us” page where you can read one of their better-written pieces of text, but my god, just look at the screenshot of a link to just one article on their website! I did actually read the article, and contrary to the headline it’s not about the circumcision of a “2-year-old woman” (yes, a “2-year-old woman“, not girl), it’s about the circumcision of young boys. However, I’m not going into the topic of circumcision, male or female.

In the first article I read the author continually referred to the female subject of the article as “he”, and parts were written in the first person as if it was the subject of the article who was writing the article! In another article they couldn’t even get a quotation right (I could tell, as there was a picture of a handwritten journal from which they had quoted) and they misspelled a three-letter word in an organisation’s name! Several articles used words that seemed so out of context that I thought the text must have been machine-translated into another language, and then machine-translated back into English. (Try it sometime.) On top of that there are technical/HTML errors everywhere, likely caused by automated import of articles from the news feeds of other websites.

As if I was a rubber-necker at a train wreck, I read a few more articles. The website seems to be somehow connected to the British tabloid the “Daily Mail“. The major difference is that Eminetra seems to have been written by a child whose first language is not English. Whoever is writing the articles clearly has no command of any kind of thought process that would communicate to the reader the gist of a story, as each “article” (if you can even call them that) seems to be nothing more than a series of disjointed sentences.

Conclusion: These guys obviously have more money than sense. One of the articles even ended just like this!

NEWS FLASH! Justin Trudeau is a hypocrite!

Justin Trudeau on a beach with surfboards.

Justin Trudeau on a beach with surfboards.

The same prime minister who gaslighted his female minister of justice and attorney general has once again shown his stupendous level of hypocrisy on this, Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day (aka Orange Shirt Day), to jet off to the west coast of Canada, Tofino, to holiday during this “non-holiday”. This is after he was apparently invited by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc to participate in ceremonies today in Kamloops, BC, but neither he nor his office even gave the courtesy of a reply!

Non-fungible tokens, and other news

So Jack Dorsey’s selling of his first tweet came to my attention recently. Huh. I’ve just loaded it in my browser (you can too, by clicking the link), without paying anyone $2.5 million, or whatever it’s up to today. I can take a screenshot of it, print it on paper or to PDF, put a laurel of gold leaves around it, save it to my hard drive … and never look at it again.

On the other hand, if I had a few hundred million dollars I might buy the Mona Lisa, hang it on my wall, and impress my friends.

Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy already, but I get the latter, but not the former. I do own art in various forms — paintings (originals, not prints), sculptures, books, photographs, etc. — but just because you can (theoretically) make something digital “artificially scarce” doesn’t mean a damned thing to me. If you buy Jack’s tweet, how is that better than the screenshot I just took? How does it make you better than me, or perhaps how does it just make you better? Or ultimately, how does it make the world better? That last question is a question that more people should ask themselves more often.

Bizarre organisational names

The domain humana.org came to my attention today. No particular reason. But the organisation’s full name on their extended validation certificate caught my eye. “The Fed. for Ass. conn. to the I…”. See for yourself.

Humana SSL certificate

Humana SSL certificate.

This is apparently short for “The Federation for Associations connected to the International Humana People to People Movement”. (There’s probably a single German word for that, which would make sense seeing as they’re in Switzerland.) The abbreviation “ass” for the long word “association” (or “assemblies” in the case of “Assemblies of God”, or “Ass. of God” as you see on signs all over parts of Africa) always gets my puerile mind’s attention!

Anyway, my point is more about the long and involved name rather than the connection I make to someone’s buttocks.

Vaccines in Canada

Justin Trudeau is still, laughably, sticking to his “every Canadian will be vaccinated by the end of September” dog-and-pony routine, while others involved have finally admitted that they “hope” to have all of us vaccinated by Canada Day, July 1st. (Hey, three days before the Americans!) I’ll believe it when I see it, as at this point both the Americans and the Canadians seem to be tossing numbers in the air like crazed jugglers, for the amusement of the crazed public watching them on TV.

Royal wankers

Seemingly everyone and their donkey are talking about Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey recently. To me that’s a very good reason not to talk about it, but here we go anyway.

First, if one was actually able to talk to the couple as real people, they’re probably decent human beings, don’t get me wrong.

However, they are two of the most privileged people in the entire fucking world. I don’t care that Markle is female and half black — two of the traits that apparently make you less privileged — but she is more privileged than I will ever be in my life. And yet she married into the British Royal Family and is … surprised (?!) … that her life is not turning out like the Disney version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”?! Give me a fucking break!

I have endless sympathy for Harry and what he lost when his mother was, essentially, murdered by the press, who are an extension of everyone who has ever bought a copy of a rag with lurid headlines. And I sure wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of their headlines and despicable behaviour, as Markle has been. However, she chose to be in that position. Yes, she did it for love, but some things aren’t worth love … or some love isn’t worth some things, however you want to regard it.

I don’t care if “The Firm” folds tomorrow and disappears. However, Harry and Markle are world class whiners who used up their fifteen minutes of fame long ago, and don’t deserve another second. I don’t care who apparently speculated on the hue of their first kid’s skin and their motivation; it is something to wonder about in a mixed-race union that produces children! It’s something that more than one cheating wife or girlfriend has had to be concerned about in the history of humanity! But their going on TV and complaining about how terrible their lives are — to the point of contemplating suicide — is an absolute joke. Other people have had to suffer far worse lives than those two, and someone should apprise them of that fact.

Canada-China prisoner swap

Protest sign calling for the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Protest sign calling for the release of Kovrig and Spavor

It seems bizarre to me to be writing about this kind of medieval or (I suppose) Cold War-type prisoner swap in the 21st century, but it seems that some countries (namely China) are still in that kind of backwards mindset. (This is particularly ironic, given the assertion by the deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department [Zhao Lijian] that other countries [namely the US] suffer from a “Cold-War mentality“! Proof that politicians everywhere talk out of both sides of their mouths.)

I’d like to make clear a few of my assumptions and biases first:

  • I am not under the influence of China or any Chinese pressure groups, and presumably the authors of both of the letters to which I refer below are not either,
  • I travel internationally as much as I can, and although I have travelled to China, I have not (so far) knowingly travelled to any countries where my life or liberty might be in danger,
  • I am a dual citizen.

I have read the letter from the “distinguished Canadians” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (cached copy), and I think it forms a basis on which Canada could move forward. It disgusts me that a reasonably civilised country like Canada should be in this position, but it is; it’s similarly repugnant that a country like China, who would like to present themselves to the world as being civilised (all the while acting the global bully wherever it thinks it can get away with it), would do such a thing. But they have, and here we are. And why have they taken hostages? Well, Meng Wanzhou isn’t some low-life drug trafficker or any other alleged common criminal; she seems to be about as close as you can get to royalty in China in the modern age, just without (obviously) the diplomatic immunity. Quite frankly, their taking hostages is the international equivalent of an unhappy child throwing their toys out of their cot!

Among the objections to this course of action are those of Trudeau himself (and presumably therefore the Government of Canada) and 53 signatories of an opposing letter from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The objections seem to boil down to three primary issues, with a fourth unstated openly by the Canadian government:

  • Principles: A prisoner swap would weaken Canada’s principles. It matters not that two innocent Canadians have been deprived of their liberty for a year and a half (so far), as long as some unarticulated principle is upheld. I’ll address that shortly.
  • Giving in to hostage takers: I see the value in not giving in to the demands of hostage takers, but in my mind there is a significant difference between a hostage taker that also happens to be a state, and a hostage taker that is an individual or a group (e.g., a terrorist organisation), i.e., not a state. Quite frankly, a state that violates the norms of international practice (if not law) and takes hostages, is a pariah state, and one that should be isolated by all states. Of course, I’m no naïf, and I know that a superpower like China can’t and won’t be isolated by all states, but there are measures that Canada, and others, can take. Also more on that shortly.
  • Endangering travelling Canadians: As if Canadians are somehow magically protected when they’re travelling internationally now, the assertion is made that negotiating the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig will result in Canadians abroad being taken hostage with more frequency. I feel that theory holds when we’re talking about hostages taken by the aforementioned individuals or groups, but not when we’re talking about hostages taken by states. If the principles of due process, comity and international law are not strong enough to prevent states from exercising their unlimited power within their own borders to arbitrarily detain random foreigners, does anyone really think that an unspoken “disapproval” of hostage taking is going to achieve the same goal?!
  • Canada’s commitment to lawful extraditions, and in particular to the United States: While there is no doubt that following some sort of process to “free” Chinese citizen Meng Wanzhou from Canada’s legal system will royally piss of the Americans, let’s not lose sight of the fact that her arrest under an extradition request is nothing short of the United States using an extradition treaty to prosecute their global foreign policy (particularly against Iran and China in this case) through a third party (Canada), not enforcing criminal law alleged to have been broken on its own soil by one of its own citizens. Now, I don’t claim any expert knowledge of extrajurisdictionality (especially as the principle applies to international sanctions), but it seems to me that this must be considered differently to cases involving the citizens of one’s own country fleeing to other jurisdictions to avoid prosecution in the home jurisdiction. In my opinion the United States and China — their empires colliding — need to use other means to carry out their mutual attempts to exert international control, in ways that don’t compromise their so-called allies … or in the latter’s case, the country that many of their citizens now call home, and will likely be calling home to a greater extent following Beijing’s crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong.

On the part of those advocating something more expedient (so to speak) there are the principles of fairness and humanity. It’s not news to most people that communist systems tend to “[override] individual self-interest and [subjugate] the welfare of the general population to achieve [their] goals“, and it’s quite clear to any observer that the “individual self-interest” of the Two Michaels (or their families) is of no interest to the Chinese Government. Then there’s the degree to which Canada’s foreign policy (especially with respect to China) has been hobbled by their inability to speak more bluntly where China continues to abuse its own citizens ([Hong Kong] (whose refugees will shortly be flooding Canada, the UK and other countries), [Tiananmen Square], etc.), its neighbours ([India], [Taiwan], etc.), and others around the world — as they are doing to Canada right now. If a country’s policy in one area or another is hobbled by an identifiable cause, then it certainly is a matter of national interest and perhaps security to take whatever action is necessary to address the problem!

So what’s my suggestion? Glad you asked. I think Canada should negotiate and implement these points:

  • The last thing Canada should do is simply “free” Meng Wanzhou and then “hope” that China reciprocates. That’s just insanity! Even if they do reciprocate, it could still be years before the Two Michaels are released under one mechanism (also trumped up) or another, simply to show who has the power in the relationship, and to give China the ability to claim (falsely of course) that the release of the Michaels was not connected. No, if China has actually gone as far as to tacitly acknowledge that they have apprehended the Michaels on trumped-up espionage charges, then Canada should publicly state to China that we are ready to negotiate a prisoner swap, and move to begin the negotiations. (To quote China: “Zhao Lijian: … we have also seen reports of an interview with Kovrig’s wife on June 23, during which she said that the Canadian justice minister had the authority to stop Meng Wanzhou’s extradition process at any point; such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.“)
  • The prisoner swap must be very public, and televised on live television in both countries. Since Canada and China don’t share a land border, I suggest that a Royal Canadian Navy ship meet with a PLA Navy ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to do the exchange, preferably over a gangplank between the ships. Alternatively, and slightly more practically I suppose, the prisoner exchange could take place on one of China’s land borders, or perhaps in the Korean DMZ.
  • Canada's Hong Kong travel advisory, 2 July 2020.

    Canada’s Hong Kong travel advisory, 2 July 2020

    One of the less obvious unilateral actions that Canada (and actually, all countries) should take in the current international climate is to start negotiating bilateral “non-hostage” treaties with other countries, possibly connected to extradition treaties. How would these work? Well, you simply make a pact with another country that neither of you will take each other’s citizens hostage. Of course, arrests in the course of normal law enforcement would be acceptable, but not arbitrary detentions with no evidence. If Canada doesn’t have such a non-hostage treaty with a country, then the travel advisory for that country would state, in very prominent and unambiguous wording, that a such a treaty does not exist and therefore Canada very strongly warns against travel to that country. (There is currently, as of 10 July 2020, a similar warning on the Government of Canada Hong Kong travel advisory [see screenshot] on the “laws and culture” tab, but it is neither prominent nor strong enough, and there is nothing on the China travel advisory advising against travel there except for COVID-19 reasons.) Without a non-hostage treaty, if a Canadian citizen (for the sake of this example) is arbitrarily detained (taken hostage) then Canada will make attempts to provide consular assistance, but will not try that hard. This is more likely to have a greater effect on dual citizens (of which I am one, I should make clear), especially for those for whom Canadian citizenship is a citizenship of convenience.

I have no doubt that the Government of Canada is indeed “doing” something in the background (as happened in Egypt recently), even if it’s just talking amongst themselves, but to the rest of us beer-swilling plebs in the deserted (at the moment) pubs and stalking the blogosphere, it sure looks like the safety and security of Canadians abroad is not a concern to Canada, contrary to their professions otherwise.

Canada is small potatoes to China, in probably every way you can think of except land mass, coastline and morals, but everyone learns when they are still a child that bullies can be stood up to. This is what Canada and most of the rest of the world must to do to stop, or at least ameliorate, China’s bullying tactics. I don’t in any way suggest that China needs to be stomped down as the “enemy”, but just as happens with individual humans they have become too big for their breeches, and for that there are or need to be consequences. Part of the “problem” with China is not even the fault of the Chinese; it’s the West’s constant obsession with “unlimited growth”. However, that’s a debate for another day.

Collage: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (the Two Michaels).

Collage: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (the Two Michaels)