Monthly Archives: April 2003

Is Toronto Toxic?


The World Health Organization has issued a travel advisory on Toronto as a result of the SARS outbreak.  Toronto is, to say the least, bent out of shape about this, as it affects the tourism industry, business, government and the general populace.

For those who don’t know Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA is about 3 million people in one whacking great city.  It is about the size of Atlanta, all spread out.  Toronto is the media, cultural and financial center of Canada. 

From a media standpoint all news in Canada comes from Toronto, so if a parakeet gets a head cold, there are always five news trucks and a bus full of reporters on hand to report breathlessly about sneezes and wheezes.  Culturally, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver all outrank Toronto, but don’t say that out loud in the GTA. 

Financially, yes, Bay Street is the engine.  You don’t pronounce the second ‘t’ in Toronto by the way.  It is pronounced ‘Tronno’ as a Canadian, or ‘Tor-on-Toe’ if you are not from here.  Toronto is essentially a big American City that actually works.

The rest of Canada, as best I can tell, looks at the SARS outbreak and sums up their feelings with two words: “Fuck ’em.”

There is a hate-hate relationship between Toronto and the rest of the country that is uncharacteristically Not Canadian. 

In perspective, there have been 19 deaths from SARS and about 100 folks who have been quarantined.  The rest of the inhabitants just go about their daily work as if today was another day.  Unlike other cities, where everyone is in masks, gowns, gloves and booties 24-7, Torontonians just shrug and press on.

Toronto is a toxic city from the standpoint of their navel gazing, pomposity, arrogance and swagger, much like New York is not really part of the Continental United States.  There is the US and then there is New York City, just like London and the rest of the UK, or Paris and Nothing Else.  The same holds true of Toronto.

Toronto is not a toxic city from the standpoint of SARS.  To use the WHO criteria, New York City is a hotbed of Hep A, B and C, AIDS, Pneumonia and host of other fascinating and unique diseases, but I don’t see any travel advisories posted about NYC.  Nor should there be any kind of travel sanctions regarding the GTA. 

It would be like putting a travel ban on Pembroke Ontario, because everyone there is drunk and you will get a hellacious hangover just by driving through it on a Saturday night.  Incidentally, Pembroke Ontario is the only town in Ontario that has its per-capita consumption of alcohol decrease when the students go to University.  Kingston Ontario, where most Pembroke youth go to school, has its per-capita alcohol consumption figures skyrocket when the Pembroke kids come to town.  Pembroke bartenders will serve you if you can see over the counter and have money.  I know this to be true, as I lived in Pembroke for five liquid years that I remember many parts of.

Should Toronto be on the World Health Organization list?  No.  Is the whole thing a media circus that is playing because the War in Iraq is winding down?  Yes.  It would seem the networks have invested in all kinds of music and graphics they were going to use for Iraq, but the Baghdad Show fell over too quickly and now they’ve got to use this stuff up. Today’s Media Circus:  SARS. 

Next week:  Zipper Injuries on the Rise.  Are young people not wearing underwear and mutilating their genitals with zippers?  More breathless reporting to come!

SARS


The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak is putting Canada on the front pages outside of Canada.  Not the way we want to be there, but hey, as long as they spell our name right, who cares?

SARS is a variation of the Corona Virus, which is the carrier for the common cold and causes an extreme form of sort-of pneumonia that fills your lungs with fluid and can, untreated, kill you.  The Corona Virus is as common as, well, the common cold.  It transmits, they think, via contact, coughing on people, sneezing in someone’s face, shaking hands, the usual contact kind of stuff.  This isn’t really new, as this is how the Common Cold is transmitted too.  The new part is the virulence of SARS.  It moves damn fast from person to person and is highly contagious.

The symptoms include a low-grade fever, sore muscles and headache.  Just like a cold, or feeling “punky” as my Father-In-Law called it.  Not really sick enough to keep you from going to work, but sick enough to feel off your game.

The cure is quarantine away from people for 10 days.  Fluids, Tylenol, rest and industrial strength hospital care if you develop a cough or trouble breathing.  As best as the experts can tell, quarantine keeps it from spreading.  Except the symptoms are so much like everything else, including the side effects of plenty of prescription medications, that people just ignore it and keep going.

My solution to SARS is simple.  Everyone is sent home for two weeks, except police, fire, water, hydro and medical workers.  You have to stay home.  Don’t go out.  Spend the day reading a book, or online, getting drunk, screwing around, playing video games, or just sitting in a corner weaving macramé owls.  Shut down the continent.  Nobody in the stores, shops, offices, worksites or farms.  Only hospitals can be open.  The rest of us have to play cards, copulate or have a two-week nap.  This would effectively break the SARS chain of transmission. 

It would also let the economy settle down for a bit, as everyone would have to buy supplies before the two-week rest.  Then, when the quarantine is over, the economy gets a jumpstart.  All the micromanagement of tiny little business minutiae would be recognized for what it is:  Bullshit.  Life will go on just fine.  The polloi will have a nice rest and maybe even reconnect with their family members over the crokinole board or cribbage. 

On second thought, reconnected families?  Perhaps there is a downside in this…

Reflections And Dog Collars


I took some time to read back over the postings since the beginning of Fun In Baghdad.  Fortunately I have been wrong on many fronts, especially predicting the resistance of the Iraqi Army or the potentialities of Weapons of Mass Destruction use.

The Iraqi Army, the various Republican Guard variants, Secret Police goons and Guerrillas all dissipated faster than a Nun Fart in a wind tunnel. The WMD nightmares have not played out and that is one that I am really happy I got wrong. 

The reason the Iraq military just ran away is an understandable one: Confronted with a highly technical enemy who prefers to fight at night and enjoys dropping very accurate ordinance on your forces, while all you have is artillery and some AK rounds, means you are essentially screwed.  If you were drafted at the point of a gun, you haven’t been paid, haven’t had rations, have seen your buddies executed by the Secret Police just for giggles and the Commander In Chief says Die for Me, your response would probably be a simple:  Hell, No.  I can appreciate that.  It’s sensible.

The WMD deal is more problematic.  The entire conflict was based on two factors:  One, Saddam Hussein has poison gas and nerve agents, with a high likelihood he either has nukes, or is so close to having nukes as to make no never mind.  Two: Saddam Hussein is so insane and brutal that Hussein having anything like biological or nuclear weapons is worse than an unmediated pyromaniac at the Zippo lighter factory in Bradford, Pennsylvania.

So, we’ve solved Factor Two.  Hussein is off the statue plinth.  He’s probably at Allah’s door, saying, “Uhhh, sorry, dude”  Factor One is difficult.  Until we see a hollowed out mountain full of nerve agents and nuclear material, like in 007’s Goldfinger, we might not be convinced.  The arms caches in schools, hospitals and mosques are seedy and disgusting, but not the outrageous over-the-top madness we were expecting.

Will the American people accept that maybe Factor One didn’t pan out like they said it would?  Intelligence sources told Bush and Powell that there were nukes and nerve gas piled four deep in the streets, a wild-eyed Republican Guard sitting on the top of it with a Bic just waiting for the word to blow everything up. 

If the Intelligence Sources are wrong, or misguided, or couldn’t interpret a Xerox of their own ass, then Bush has some hard choices.  The CIA, NSA, DIA, NIA, FBI and a bunch of other guys have some very serious explaining to do.

I’m not going to let George and Colin off the hook, as their chairs are the places where the final decisions are made.  Reality dictates that their decisions are made on the basis of the information provided to them.  As honourable men, George and Colin should make it public that they were wrong and take the public kicking they will deserve.  Resignation is about the only route available. 

Now, on to the purveyors of the data:  The security analysts. 

History has shown that those who give bad data or styled data, or groomed data and get caught, usually wind up at government think-tanks, or Bechtel, or Brown and Root, or SAIC, or EC&C.  Surf up those names on the web and you find sizeable companies with long traditions of government contracts in areas that are not the regular run-of-the-mill jobs.  Scope out the careers sections at some of those companies and you’ll see requirements for all kinds of “analysts”  These places are where the spooks go when they don’t want to, or can’t, play in the government any more.

If (and this is a big if, compounded on some other assumptions) the data that George W. and Colin were given was reality-modified, then those responsible should be not merely demoted, private-sectored, or left to retire early. 

My vote is to strip them naked and take them out into the Rose Garden at noon for a televised public flogging.  Make them wear a ball-gag, dog collar and Size 12 Butt Plug for a week, paraded up and down the Washington Mall, on hands and knees for anyone to piss on, beat up, or violate in every way possible.  Head of the line treatment for the families of any soldier wounded or killed in the war.  The rule is you can’t kill the guilty ones, but imagine your sickest, most emotionally scarring, violent, humiliating nightmares, double it up and make it real for these bastards.  If that includes Rosie O’Donnell and Bea Arthur, then so be it.       

I’m 98% certain that it will turn out that there are sizeable stashes of nerves and nukes in Iraq.  I’m 98% certain that the information that George and Colin got was accurate as neither person impresses me as someone who would take a decision as big as going to war without double and triple checking. 

It is that nagging 2% that will make the next few weeks nerve wracking for the security analysts.

Organizing The Future


With the Iraq War now on a nice simmer, rather than a full boil, we can season the pot for the future.  There is a robust educated class, middle class merchants and the usual smattering of dirt poor, filthy rich, crooks, gangsters, religious zealots, loonies, disenfranchised and just regular strange people.  Sort of like Canada or the US.

As noted in other posts, airlifting a Jeffersonian Democracy into Baghdad for all to use is probably not going to work, as humans always revert to tribal loyalty in times of stress.  But the concept of Iraq being run by the Iraqis is sound.  The US should make sure the lights come on, the water works, the phones ring and the cops are set to keep the gangsters from ripping up everything.  Aside from providing transport to and from the meetings, the US military should keep its mitts off, simply because Iraqis want to run their own show and who can blame them for that.

The danger in the US is lumping Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran and all the other pan-Arabic countries into the same group.  An ‘Arab’ is too broad a definition, often based on physicality, like Caucasian or Black.

For instance:  I am a White Middle Class Canadian Male, For Which I Am Sorry.  This does not mean I burn crosses on lawns, or my ancestors owned slaves, or I go out of my way to trash mosques.  It just means I am a White Guy, prone to baldness and I have the rhythm-recessive gene, which precludes me dancing in public or private.  Politically, I am a Red Tory or a Blue Liberal, Pro Choice, Anglican and Heterosexual. 

Meanwhile, Rob S, a friend of long standing, is also a White Middle Class Canadian Male, For Which I Am Sorry who is also rhythm-impaired, but is Ardently Heterosexual, Politically a Libertarian, Reform Druid, Choice-Neutral and calls the Linux operating system a Weapon of Mass Destruction.  Externally, we could be related and we can finish each others sentences, but we differ on a number of points. (Names obscured to at least try to skirt various slander laws).

Most Middle Eastern people I have met who are not Israeli have a somewhat benign attitude to all mankind.  Live and let live, share what you have and tolerate others as long as they aren’t in your face.  Except to a person they define themselves as Lebanese, or Iranian or Syrian, not always Arab.  Same with us White Folks:  Canadian, American, German, or from Dallas, Texas.  Texas is always a subset.  Don’t ask.

If the US can get over the term ‘Arab’ and worry more about the subsets of Iraqi, then there will be more possibility for success.  There will be endless hours of bickering amongst themselves as this is normal:  Just sit back and let it play out. 

Afghanistan is a reasonable model.  The tribal council, the Loya Jurgha (sp?) acted as a tribal parliament where the tribes came together, all as equals, to figure out their own solution which is working at least OK. 

We can’t hope for much more than OK in the foreseeable future in Iraq, because they have had 30 years of insane dictatorial rule and those who knew anything else are now dead or in exile.  There is a relearning curve that we will have to ride.

The Khaki Police


Soldiers are usually ill-equipped to do police work.  Soldiers are trained to kill people and blow up things, while police are, for the most part, trained to subdue and enforce with a minimum use of force, only escalating to a drawn weapon as a last resort.

Some soldier groups, noticeably Canadian forces, are trained from the beginning to be cops, or peacekeepers who can resort to calling in airstrikes and artillery as need be.  If you remember the Oka occupation by a group of very angry native Canadians, you remember the photo of a young Canadian Soldier going face to face and toe to toe with a masked Oka warrior.  The soldier never looked away and never blinked.  That was training as a peacekeeper and as a security force that helped that soldier keep his cool.

The US forces are trained as war fighters, which they do very, very well.  Peacekeeping is not their forte, but it is the Canadian skill.  Perhaps it is time for Jean Chretien to pull his head out of his ass and offer up our folks, renown as the best, most effective, fairest peacekeeping forces, to do our thing.

As a side note to all American Forces.  It is pronounced “Cash” and is spelled ‘cache’  It is not pronounced ‘cash-eh’.  The word is French and means box or container.  A Brazilian thong bathing suit is a ‘cache-sexe’ or literally translated, sex parts covering or box.  Remember it is pronounced: “cash”.  Thank You.

So What Now?


“I chased the car all the way down the street and I caught it.  I’ve got no thumbs, so I can’t steer.  I haven’t got feet that reach the pedals.  My tail gets in the way, I can’t click off the parking brake, or turn the keys.  There’s nothing to eat in here.  It smells like human asses in the front seats and a dog bum in the back seat.  I can’t open the hood, I can’t tune the radio, I can’t get in the trunk and when I try to adjust the mirror, all I see is the headliner.  Shit, I can’t even open the goddam sunroof.  What the hell was I thinking?”

Which sums up, from a dog’s perspective, what happens when you chase a car and then catch it.  It is exactly where the US and UK are now regarding Iraq. 

The looting and general anarchy is to be expected for another day or two.  So are the suicide bombers.  The US troops had best learn from the Brits and Israelis on how to run a checkpoint.  The Brits learned in Northern Ireland and the Israelis since Day 1 that checkpoints are now targets, as they offer soldiers staying in one place, not moving around, as great chances to do some damage politically and physically.

Looting is just the population’s way of saying “bite me” to the old regime by stealing all their stuff.  The issue is the return to control.  Cities work because of city workers picking up the garbage, keeping the generators running, the water pumping, firemen putting out fires, hospitals patching up the injured, supermarkets selling bread, dry cleaners cleaning, auto repair places, all the little shops and services that make an infrastructure and an economy.  Until the population feels safe enough to return to work, there will be no work and no working city or economy. 

This was driven home in Somalia when the entire state imploded.  Anyone having any prosperity at all was considered an enemy and would be persecuted by those who had nothing but an empty belly and a gun.  Black markets in food, water, medicine and other basics grew overnight, the coin being salvage materials. 

Mogadishu was essentially stripped of all copper plumbing piping as you could sell the copper for a few coins to buy bread.  All the telephone and electrical cables were pulled up or off the poles, for the metal, for black market food or medicine. 

Therefore, even if you could restore public services, there was no way to get the services, like water, sewer, electrical or phone, to anyone, because the delivery mechanism was missing.  Therefore, as an employee of these organizations, there is no work, no pay and no job.  In order to feed the family, I must now steal stuff to sell to the black market.  It is a big circle.

Post-WWII, the Marshall Plan in Germany put just about everyone to work, rebuilding the economy, clearing the rubble, patching the roads, putting in sewers, hanging the electrical grid and so on.  The same thing was done in postwar Japan.  People were paid, at first by the Allies, then by contractors, to do the work.  It jumpstarts the economy and patches up the infrastructure that has to be there to make the country function. 

We’re not talking political infrastructure either:  Politics are not needed.  A working village, city, town or suburb is.  You should be able to turn a tap and get water or plug in a lamp and get light.  Someone on the block, or a short walk away, should be making bread, or selling vegetables. 

Today, those Iraqi soldiers marching home from the north, should be offered food, water, shelter and some money, in exchange for some manual labour clearing bombed buildings, or filling in trenches.  Think simple, like the Depression, the AlCan Highway, or the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Simple work, some pay, some food.

Offer a weeks’ work.  Some of them might even stay longer, but you get three benefits.  One, you get the holes in the street filled in, or the electrical grid back up.  Two, you make it hard for rebel groups to pop up, promising food for your family in exchange for a suicide bomb run.  Three, you can go through those workers, issuing new IDs, checking for war criminals while finding the individuals who are willing to work to rebuild the country. 

There’s no politics in this.  I would argue that politics should be purposely ignored for the next month or so.  Fix the cities, towns and villages first.  Then start worrying about who is left or right, or effective, or influential, or represents some ‘important’ group.

Screw that noise until you can get the lights back on. 

Reaction To Liberation


Iraqis have the same attitude to great victories as North Americans and Europeans:  They get revenge on inanimate objects. 

Various sports “fans” celebrate by setting fire to postal boxes, tipping over police cars, breaking shop windows and throwing rocks at everyone else.  Looting always figures highly in these celebrations, as if winning, or losing, entitles everyone to steal televisions, office furniture, clothing, rugs and bathroom sinks. 

British Football fans are in a class by themselves, bringing victory rioting to an international level.  Success is measured not in drunkenness, broken windows, or amount of stolen goods, but in deaths and cumulative length of suture materials used.

Iraqi celebrations, although well-intentioned, are simply not up to even the Belgian level.  I think the first Humanitarian Shipment should be some Manchester United Fans and the Detroit Red Wings Booster Club, who can teach the people how to riot effectively.

The second point that really drove home the whole reason Operation Iraqi Freedom existed in the first place, was a video snippet from CNN.  An Iraqi man, not necessarily a wealthy one, ran up to a US Marine and yelled these words, probably the only English he knew::  “Bush Good”

I think that sums up the commonality of all humankind.  Trimmed, waxed, lightly scented, encased in lacy silk, especially if willing and warm to the touch, it is the reason all soldiers fight:  Bush Good.