Notebook #3

Articles Lists


Those who wind up in prison for a period of time are given plenty of encouragement in their choice of a criminal path by prison conditions which are designed to humiliate and frustrate rather than rehabilitate. Even so, there are those who demand that prisons be even harsher than they presently are. Their conviction is that penitentiaries aren’t bleak enough, aren’t brutal enough, don’t do enough to degrade inmates. They prescribe jails that would be even more efficient in producing hardened and bitter criminals.
The Capital Punishment Debate

Whatever rights one thinks there ought to be, or whatever rights people are said to have, the rights that people actually have are achieved and protected only by struggle. Rights are won. And they can be lost.
Rights and Liberties


Words of Wisdom

  • I take criticism so seriously as to believe that, even in the midst of a battle in which one is unmistakenly on one side against another, there should be criticism, because there must be critical consciousness if there are to be issues, problems, values, even lives to be fought for... Criticism must think of itself as life-enhancing and constitutively opposed to every form of tyranny, domination, and abuse; its social goals are noncoercive knowledge produced in the interests of human freedom.
  • – Edward Said

Favourite Links


The hard-won experiences of the past, the disasters that our ancestors learned from at great cost, are disappearing down the memory hole.
Abandoning the Public Interest

The left has always been attracted to the state the way a moth is attracted to a flame, and the darker it gets, the more it is attracted to statist and nationalist illusions.
Thinking About Self-Determination

Radical Digressions
Ulli Diemer's Notebook #3

Casanova’s sad fate

June 9, 2001 - #

From an article about Casanova in the Globe and Mail: “Eventually, he lost his looks, charm and potency and was forced to spend his final years as a librarian.”

Labels: Career Change, Librarians.

A crisis manufactured by the Harris government

August 22, 2002 - #

Given that the financial crisis affecting the Toronto, Ottawa, and Hamilton schools boards is the result of the unworkable funding formula imposed by the Progressive Conservative government, there is a certain logic to the government taking direct control of the boards.

Why should the elected trustees take the blame for implementing the government’s destructive and dictatorial policies? Let the government do its own dirty work, so it is clear to all who is responsible for the mess the education system is in.

This is a government which openly stated that it intended to create a crisis in education. It has pursued that aim in a manner which can accurately be described as Stalinist: ignoring public input as well as expert advice, moving at breakneck speed to ram through ill-conceived ideologically driven schemes with mindless arrogance.

Along the way, it has plundered the funds raised by the city boards from their own taxpayers, gutted local democracy, and created chaos.

The funding formula is a straightjacket which makes no distinction between the needs of an inner-city classroom where more than 90% of the students don’t speak English, and a classroom in a small town where 100% of the students are Canadian-born and English-speaking. The formula doesn’t even admit that the costs of heating a building built in 1920 are different from the costs of heating a building built in 1995. It is unworkable, and wilfully ignorant.

Rather than admit that its policies are disastrous, the government is instead choosing to impose direct dictatorships over the boards so that it can continue to ignore the parents, teachers, students, and democratically elected trustees who want to protect our schools.

This a government which is not fit to govern.

Labels: Crisis, Educational Restructuring, Neoconservativism.

The law-breaking legislator

31 December 2002 - #

According to Doug Griffiths, the Alberta MLA who plans to break the law by refusing to register his guns, “a firearm is a tool. It’s like a vehicle is a tool, it’s just something you use to get a particular job done.”

So then, is Mr. Griffiths being consistent by refusing to carry a driver’s license or to put a license plate on his car? If not, why not?

Labels: Firearms, Gun Laws/Rights.

The Iraq crisis in context

12 March, 2003 - #

A rogue state, heavily armed with weapons of mass destruction, openly contemptuous of international law and the United Nations, and with a lengthy record of threatening and invading other countries, has plunged the world into crisis.

How should the world respond to this threat? What can we do about the United States and its undisguised imperial ambitions?

While governments, and tens of millions of ordinary citizens around the world, work hard to avert war, the war has in fact already started. U.S. and British planes are bombing Iraqi defences in the no-fly zones on a daily basis to pave the way for their planned invasion. American special forces are already on the ground inside Iraq, poised to take over the oil fields as soon as the invasion begins. U.S. troops are active in the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq – in violation of the UN ceasefire agreement – ripping open the fence along the border to clear the way for U.S. tanks.

To be accurate, though, what is being prepared is not a war, but a slaughter. Despite all the rhetoric about Iraq’s weapons, the fact is that Iraq is essentially defenceless against the American juggernaut. According to the U.S., 80% of Iraq’s military capacity was destroyed in the 1991 war. Twelve years of disarmament and sanctions have further reduced that capacity. It is worth remembering that in the 1991 war, when Iraq’s military was far more powerful and better equipped that it is now, Iraq’s entire armed forces were able to kill fewer than 100 American soldiers in combat. The U.S. and its allies, meanwhile, killed some 100,000 Iraqi soldiers, including large numbers who were fleeing or trying to surrender, and including many who were deliberately buried alive by U.S. tanks with ploughs mounted on the front. Gleeful U.S. soldiers referred to their spree of killing defenceless Iraqis as a “turkey shoot”. No wonder that the U.S. insists that its personnel be exempt from the jurisdiction of any international court established to prosecute war crimes.

U.S. plans for this war – that is, for its attack on a country that can’t fight back – call for massive bombing on a scale never seen before.

Read the rest of the story here.

Labels: Iraq, U.S. Imperialism, War, Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Saddam's Alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction

18 March, 2003 - #

Why doesn’t Saddam use his weapons now [March 2003] if he really has them?

The United States justifies its unilateral decision to go to war with the claim that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction which could it use to attack the US.

The US claims that the threat from these weapons is so great, and so imminent, that the inspections process backed by most United Nations members has to be abruptly terminated so the US can launch an immediate attack on Iraq.

Under these circumstances, Saddam Hussein, and the Iraqi leadership, can have no possible illusions about the fact that an American attack is about to begin and that they have little or no chance of surviving it.

If Saddam Hussein really possesses these alleged weapons of mass destruction, would it not be logical, from his point of view, to launch them against the United States right away, today, while he is still alive and still able to use them? Knowing he is about to be annihilated, why would he possibly hold back from using them now?

There is only one logical explanation: that he does not in fact possess the weapons capability that the US claims he does. And if this is so, then many thousands of Iraqi will die because of an utterly unnecessary war, a war launched on a pretext that is clearly false. Such a war would be a crime against humanity.

See also: The Iraq crisis in context

Labels: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Island Airport Insanity

May 21, 2003 - #

It is hard to believe that serious consideration is actually being given to the latest ill-conceived scheme to expand the Toronto Island airport.

The Toronto waterfront, and the neighbourhoods that lie close to it, are densely populated communities. The last thing we need in these neighbourhoods, or in the Island parks, is the noise and pollution produced by a busy airport. Airports don’t belong in the middle of downtown.

What Toronto taxpayers also don’t need is to keep pouring subsidies into this perennially money-losing boondoggle. There have been countless schemes promising to turn the Island Airport into a profitable enterprise. Every one has failed, and in each case the losses have been absorbed by the taxpayers.

This latest scheme, consisting of empty promises swallowed uncritically by irresponsible bureaucrats, would saddle Toronto with noise, pollution, and debt.

We don’t need it, and we don’t want it.

Labels: Toronto Islands, Airports, Airport Noise.

The reliable tyrant

April 8, 2004 - #

The Bush administration is starting to look a bit desperate as it seeks a way out of the mess it created with its invasion and occupation of Iraq. The weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly the reason for the war are nowhere to be found, and the Iraqis are acting anything but grateful for their ‘liberation’.

Fortunately the solution to the whole debacle is within the Americans’ grasp.

All they need do is release Saddam Hussein from custody and put him back in power. Given a second chance, he’ll soon crush the opposition and restore order. He’s got the credentials and the track record for the job, if anybody does. It's true that he’s a truly nasty piece of work, but his methods, including mass murder and torture, didn’t stop the U.S. from supporting him enthusiastically throughout the 1980s, the period of his greatest crimes. It was only when he made the mistake of disobeying the U.S. that he became an enemy.

No doubt a deal could be worked out. Saddam would be happy to return to power in exchange for an undertaking to follow orders. And the U.S. could withdraw its troops, secure in the knowledge that a reliable tyrant will maintain order and keep the oil flowing.

See also: The Iraq crisis in context

Labels: Iraq, Dictatorship, U.S. Imperialism.

Monogamous Voles

June 17, 2004 - #

A Pair of Voles. Happy couple?

Re: Could Voles Help Create The Perfect Husband? (article in the Globe and Mail, June 17, 2004):

If only a tiny minority of mammals are monogamous, then presumably non-monogamous behaviour offers an evolutionary advantage.

In that case, instead of searching for a genetic fix to make promiscuous humans monogamous, wouldn’t it be more useful if the researchers at Emory University tried to find a way to cure the minority who suffer from monogamous tendencies?

Labels: Mammals, Monogamy, Non-monogamy.

Taking the helicopter to the cottage

April 2005 - #

Hydro One CEO Tom Parkinson repeatedly commandeers a corporate helicopter, paid for by the public, to have himself flown to and from his cottage, and all Ontario Energy Minister Dwight Duncan can say is that "these things are always difficult to explain to people."

Not so difficult, really. Mr. Parkinson is guilty of misappropriating corporate resources for personal use. Lower-ranking employees guilty of misappropriation on a comparable scale would undoubtedly be fired.

If Hydro One’s board of directors approved these misappropriations, they have failed to properly carry out their responsibility to protect the interests of their shareholders: the public. Instead of expressing his confidence in these board members, the minister should be moving expeditiously to replace them.

Labels: Corporate Ethics.

Flatly outrageous

April 15, 2005 - #

P. L. Reid’s outrageous claim, in his April 15 letter to the Globe and Mail, that the Fraser Institute is the 21st-century equivalent of the Flat Earth Society cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

To be sure, there is a superficial similarity, in that both organizations cling to obsolete world-views in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

But the Flat Earth Society has never tried to destroy medicare, undermine public education, wreck social programs, nor sell Canada out to the United States. There is no call to sully its reputation by comparing its harmless notions to the far less benign ideology of the Fraser Institute.

Labels: Fundamentalism, Ideology, Neoconservatism.

A moment on Church Street

- #

Church Street at Maitland in downtown Toronto. I’m on my bicycle, headed west on Maitland, waiting to cross Church Street. Beside me, a man and a small dog are also waiting, and while they wait, they are working out their relationship.
“Sit,” the man commands. The dog ignores him.
“Sit.” The dog looks at him.
More forcefully: “Sit!!” No response.
Louder still: “Sit!!” The dog continues to ignore him.
“OK, fine!” the man says. “Don’t sit!”
The light changes, and we all cross.

Neocon con game: First deprive public institutions of their ability to act, then blame them for not acting

September 11, 2005 - #

Manhole Cover - Photo by Ulli Diemer

The classic definition of chutzpah cites the man who kills both his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. An updated example of chutzpah is provided by ideologues like Margaret Wente (Bureaucracy Kills, Globe and Mail, September 10) who, day after day, year after year, devote their energies to badmouthing public institutions and demanding they be stripped of resources and denied the ability to act, and who then have the gall to point to the deliberately engineered impotence of these agencies as proof that public institutions don’t work.

The New Orleans post-hurricane Katrina catastrophe, like the poisoning of Walkerton's water, were events whose likelihood was repeatedly predicted by experts working for public agencies. In each instance, these experts’ well-substantiated warnings were ignored by administrations pursuing an ideologically driven agenda of starving and crippling the public sector.

The Bush administration, like Mike Harris’s in Ontario before it, followed a deliberate policy of slashing funding to agencies responsible for public safety, silencing or driving out the dedicated professionals who are the heart and soul of those agencies, and appointing incompetent political hacks to run them.

And now the very people, like Margaret Wente, who advocated and cheered for those policies, have the nerve to claim that the debacles caused by these policies are proof that we need more of the same. Chutzpah indeed!

Labels: Fundamentalism, Ideology, Hurricanes, Media Bias, Neoconservatism.

Mr. Bush and the truth

November 16, 2005 - #

Apparently Globe columnist Marcus Gee’s delicate sensibilities are offended by the fact that more than half the public believes that George W. Bush is dishonest and untrustworthy (Mr. Bush is not a liar – Globe and Mail, November 16). Would Mr. Gee feel better if instead of characterizing Mr. Bush as a ‘liar’, we were to say that Mr. Bush ‘frequently and habitually makes statements which are the exact opposite of the truth?’

Beyond his concern over the proper label to apply to Mr. Bush’s truth-deficient claims that Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11 attacks and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Gee’s defense of President Bush is peculiar indeed. He says, well of course there wasn't a shred of truth in what Mr. Bush said, but we shouldn’t single him out for blame because other members of his administration also misled the public, and the Democrats also misled the public, and the compliant media also misled the public.

That’s one way to look at it, perhaps. Another way of looking at it would be to say: they’re all dishonest and untrustworthy. Whether Mr. Gee likes it or not, more than half the American public seems to have come to that conclusion.

See also: The Iraq crisis in context

Labels: Iraq, Lying.

The cost of software piracy

November 16, 2005 - #

It may be the job of the software industry’s PR people to pump out figures designed to make software piracy seem like a huge drain on the economy. But why do the media have to uncritically parrot their highly suspect statistics without scrutinizing them to ask how valid they are?

The enormous dollar amounts the industry throws around in its PR campaigns are purely imaginary. These numbers – $1.1 billion a year is what their latest press release claims – are nothing but guesses, guesses based on absurd – and demonstrably false – assumptions.

In their fantasy world, everyone who ever tries out a piece of software they haven’t bought is depriving the industry of the full retail price of that software. In the real world, people often try out software to see if it’s worth buying. Since the industry has decided, in its greed, to make it impossible to ‘test drive‘ a program without first buying it, and since users know that software is often buggy and doesn’t function as advertised, people understandably circumvent the rules in order to check out the true merits of a particular program. Often what happens is that they try it out, find it doesn't meet their needs, and delete it. How different is that from test driving a car? Does the automobile industry spend its time whining about how much money they lose to ‘car pirates‘ who test drive a car and then decide not to buy it?

Even more ridiculous than the industry’s grossly inflated numbers is their claim that the value of pirated software, whatever the true amount is, is money that is “lost” to “the economy”. The plain fact is that not one cent of it is “lost”. Instead of being spent on software, that money is simply spent on something else. That something else might be a competing product, or it might be rent, or books, or beer. But certainly it is spent on something, and it ends up circulating in the economy in just the same way as money spent on software does. It may be a loss to Bill Gates and his cohorts, but a loss to the economy it isn’t.

Labels: Software Industry, Software Piracy.

The Buzz Hargrove election controversy

December 2005 - #

Straight Goods denounced Buzz Hargrove for saying, during the federal election campaign, that he thought NDP supporters should vote for the NDP in ridings where the NDP has a chance, and Liberal in ridings where the NDP doesn't have a chance, to defeat the Conservatives. Straight Goods asked readers for their opinion; Ulli Diemer submitted this one:

Buzz Hargrove has simply stated the obvious. If you live in a riding where the NDP has a chance of winning, vote NDP. If you live in a riding where the NDP doesn’t have a chance – i.e. most of them – it’s better to hold your nose and vote Liberal to keep out the Conservatives than to waste your ballot on the NDP candidate and watch the Tory get elected.

If the NDP doesn’t like this logic, too bad – they’re the ones who, in their wisdom, decided to team up with the Conservatives and the Bloc to force this unnecessary election.

What was the point of forcing this election now? The most likely outcome is another Liberal minority: in other words, we end up back where we were, except with the Bloc stronger in Quebec. The second-most likely outcome is a Conservative minority, probably supported by the Bloc as it goes about dismantling as many federal programs and institutions as it can. The most likely outcomes after that are either a Liberal majority or a Conservative majority – either way, something much worse than we have now. An NDP government certainly isn’t a possibility.

I don’t get this outrage over what Hargrove said. Is there some sacred duty to always vote NDP, no matter what the circumstances? Is the NDP so wonderful that we’ll lose our souls if we don’t support everything the NDP does, no matter how ill-advised it may be?

Personally, I remember the NDP in government in Ontario, and it wasn't so great. I remember them breaking promises left and right – or more accurately, right and right. I remember them breaking union contracts, imposing wage rollbacks, and ramming through the so-called ‘social contract’. I remember them making plans to bring in workfare. I remember them jumping on the privatization bandwagon. I remember their lack of vision and principles, and their breathtaking incompetence as a government. The best you can say for them is that the Harris Tories were much much worse.

Personally, I’m going to vote NDP because in my riding, it’s a race between the NDP’s Olivia Chow and the Liberal incumbent, Tony Ianno, with the Tories nowhere in sight. But as a socialist, I have no illusions that the NDP are anything more than the lesser evil.

See also: Let’s Stop Kidding Ourselves about the NDP

Labels: Elections, New Democratic Party (NDP), Strategic Voting, Voting System.

Food fanatics

February 28, 2006 - #

It’s so tiresome to see food fanatics like Sarah Keating (NOW Magazine, Feb. 23 - Mar 1) spouting their ill-informed nonsense. Keating claims milk "has no place in a healthy diet". So how does she explain all those millions of milk-drinkers walking around in good health?

Moreover, the "facts" she cites in support of her prejudice only demonstrate she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Keating would have us believe all milk is "full of sugar, fat, and cholesterol". In reality, skim milk, which most nutrition guides recommend, contains no fat or cholesterol. And while it contains some sugar, so do fruits and vegetables, which she says are an essential part of a healthy diet.

The fact is that a healthy diet requires balance and moderation in what you eat, not rigid rules. You can be healthy on a diet that includes milk, and on a diet that doesn’t include milk.

What has no place in a healthy lifestyle is ill-informed dogmatism.

Labels: Diet, Food, Food Issues, Milk, Milk/Health Concerns, Nutrition.

Israel’s attack on the UN post in Lebanon

July 28, 2006 - #

The Globe and Mail's editorial (July 27) categorically dismisses the suggestion that Israel deliberately bombed the United Nations outpost in Lebanon. “Why would they do such a thing?”, the editorial asks, “knowing the deaths would provoke outrage around the world?”


Because Israel doesn’t want impartial witnesses to its invasion of Lebanon. Because the Israeli military is angry with UNIFIL for providing independent verification of indiscriminate Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians. Because Israel is furious that UN officials, including Louise Arbour, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights and Jan Egeland, the UN’s top humanitarian official, have warned that Israel is violating international law.

This is by no means the first time Israel has attacked UN positions or the staff of humanitarian agencies. Two days before the attack on the UN observers, Israeli forces attacked a clearly marked Red Cross ambulance, injuring nine ambulance workers. In 1996, during a previous invasion of Lebanon, Israel attacked a UN post in Qana, killing 106 civilians who had sought safety there.

As for world outrage, Israel’s leaders could care less. Israel’s superpower patron, the United States, supports everything Israel does and keeps supplying money and arms, while the U.S. and Canadian media provide uncritical support.

Why would Israel do such a thing? Because they know they’ll get away with it.

See also: The Middle East: Resources for peace, justice and human rights

Labels: Israel, Lebanon, Media Bias, War Crimes.

The Globe’s pro-Israel pronouncements reek of double standards and historical amnesia

August 7, 2006 - #

Israel is praised (Globe and Mail Editorial, August 7) for having “pulled out of Gaza”. Pulled out? Israel has sealed off Gaza’s borders. It is blocking food, medicine and other needed supplies. It has destroyed a large proportion of the infrastructure, including the sole power station, as well as much of the arable land. It bombs, terrorizes and kills as it pleases, on a daily basis. It has killed at least 167 residents of Gaza in the last six weeks, many of them children. The conditions in Gaza resemble nothing so much as the Warsaw ghetto after the German conquest of Poland.

Despite these facts, the Globe claims that Hezbollah’s attack on Israel’s military was unprovoked and that “Israel did nothing to deserve that attack”. Nothing? Committing war crimes in Gaza is “nothing”?

Far from being inexplicable and unprovoked, Hezbollah’s attack on an Israeli military patrol directly followed Israel’s ongoing rampage in Gaza.

Is it wrong to come to the aid of your friends when they are being attacked? Were England, France, and Canada guilty of ‘unprovoked aggression’ when they declared war on Germany in 1939, after Germany attacked Poland? Was Canada guilty of ‘unprovoked aggression’ when it declared war on Japan after Pearl Harbor even though Canada had not been attacked? Were we wrong to come to the aid of our allies? If not, then why is it wrong for Hezbollah to come to the aid of its allies when they are being attacked by Israel?

See also: The Middle East Conflict: Resources for peace, justice, and human rights

Labels: Israel, Lebanon, Media Bias, War Crimes.

Manifestos, Political Statements, Programs, and Visions: A Compilation

November 29, 2006 - #

This is a selection of radical and progressive political manifestos, statements, programs and visions dating from 1649 to the present, compiled by Ulli Diemer. Check them out here

I am therefore I blog.