Archive for December 2008

Uncle Sam: deaf,dumb and blind

December 31, 2008


As of this writing, a fourth  consecutive day of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have killed an estimated 350 Palestinians and injured more than 1,400. According to the UN, at least 51 of the victims were civilians and 8 were children. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has vowed ominously “a war to the bitter end.” 

As Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges said

A war? Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely crowded refugee camps and slums, to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command and control, no army, and calls it a war. It is not a war. It is murder.

Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip are being carried out with F16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and naval gunboats all given to Israel by the United States with our tax dollars. 

From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16’s and more than $100 million worth of helicopter spare parts for its fleet of Apaches. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel and signed a contract to transfer an addition $1.9 billion worth of littoral combat ships to the Israeli navy. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and “bunker buster” missiles. 

Make no mistake about it: Israel ‘s war on the Gaza Strip would not be possible without the jets, helicopters, ships, missiles, and fuel provided by the United States.

Inflation: 1 Israeli=100 Palestinians

December 30, 2008



Around the world growing disgust over Israel’s staggering slaughter in Gaza.

The one journalist(actually there are several you can always count on to speak truth to power id Robert Fisk who writes for London’s Independent.You will find no Canadian columnists who will risk the wrath of the Jewish organizations. What has happened to journalistic courage—brave on economic fronts but dead silent on Israel.

Here’s a few words of Fisk- bracing to the nostrils and encouraging to young writers:

Hamas’s home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.

The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel’s anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas’s anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which … See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and … Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was “under siege” – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.

By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War?

Gaza in flames

December 29, 2008



Watching the news on the shocking murder of so many civilians in Gaza I was struck by the total absence of Palestinian voices in the Canadian news clip.And the predictable US response.It blames Hamas for everything! This is akin to the world blaming the Jews in  the Warsaw Ghetto uprising  for firing bottled Molotov cocktails at the Wehrmacht. Every life is sacred and the those who died at the hands of the pathetic Qassam rockets lodged from Gaza  are as sacred as anybody else. But the disproportionate killing!

Reports like the following (Electronic Intifada) you will not read in the Western press—outside of the UK’s Guardian

I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing.” Those were the words, spoken on Al Jazeera today by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defense official in the Sderot area adjacent to Gaza, as images of Israel’s latest massacres were broadcast around the world.

A short time earlier, US-supplied Israeli F-16 warplanes and Apache helicopters dropped over 100 bombs on dozens of locations in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip killing at least 195 persons and injuring hundreds more. Many of these locations were police stations located, like police stations the world over, in the middle of civilian areas. The US government was one of the first to offer its support for Israel’s attacks, and others will follow.

Reports said that many of the dead were Palestinian police officers. Among those Israel labels “terrorists” were more than a dozen traffic police officers undergoing training. An as yet unknown number of civilians were killed and injured; Al Jazeera showed images of several dead children, and the Israeli attacks came at the time thousands of Palestinian children were in the streets on their way home from school.

Shmerling’s joy has been echoed by Israelis and their supporters around the world; their violence is righteous violence. It is “self-defense” against “terrorists” and therefore justified. Israeli bombing — like American and NATO bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan — is bombing for freedom, peace and democracy.

The Christ child and the Market

December 26, 2008



“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

So says the Ghost in Dicken’s Christmas Carol.

Writing during the period of the first flush of industrial capitalism, Dickens saw the inherent contradictions of the powerful economic system—one which could generate wealth and never has learned to distribute it, one which creates ersatz needs and overproduces them in staggering quantities  yet is unable to meet real human needs; one which spins the lie that maximizing one’s advantage miraculously honours the common good. 

Christmas however  celebrates the birth of a different hope in the world.

Matthew the gospel writer has the kings bring traditional gifts from the east—gold, frankincense and myrrh to a homeless, refugee baby. It is a story of staggering importance—even the poor outside the inn  are royalty. Christianity would insist on this and in the midst of the greatest empire in the world, an empire which sucked the lifeblood from the periphery to the centre of decadence, the Christian message caught on. It changed Western civilization.

Dickens captured this—the common welfare not the Market is God’s business.

God is waiting

December 24, 2008

   Christmas 2008


Advent: It is God who is waiting


The Third Sunday of Advent brings on the stage the Third Isaianic prophet,

the one who speaks as Israel  returns from exile  circa 515 BCE (Ch 56-66).

The words are often recalled as the ones Jesus used in his inaugural sermon

in Luke 4: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me 

because the Lord has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed

to bind up the broken hearted. 61:1,2

The Jewish prophet actually quotes from the scroll in his native synagogue

in Nazareth: he is to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.

Advent then is the waiting period—the time it takes his followers

to understand that discipleship means we do the same.

Why then Bruce Cockburn asks, does history take such a long time?

The fact is : it is God who is waiting for us individually and collectively

to internalize this lure of liberation as the very heart of biblical religion.

God is waiting for us to comprehend that “I the Lord love justice.” Isaiah 61:8 

Remembering Fintan on the solstice

December 22, 2008

Fintan the Unforgettablefintan1

On the morning of the winter solstice , the darkest night of the year,Fintan Kilbride slipped peacefully away in the palliative unit of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. The quiet man who had brought so much light and hope into the lives of the young here and abroad left behind a legacy of such overwhelming goodness that its bountiful overflow will be felt for decades to come.

Raised in Tipperary with his seven siblings two of whom joined him in the priesthood, Fintan joined the Holy Ghost Fathers where he spent the next twenty-nine years teaching in Trinidad and building schools and hospitals in eastern Nigeria. Expelled  in 1970 he worked in New York where he met  and married Kenise Murphy in 1973. Moving to Toronto Fintan began his teaching career at Neil McNeil High school in 1975. It was here that many of us came to know and love the quiet Irishman with the sly and gentle  humour and the passionate love for the poor which burned like a white incandescent flame beneath the unflappable exterior.

It was during these years that we saw another side of Fintan. simply stated he was one of the greatest athletes any of us had ever encountered. As Fr. Mick Doyle said in his eulogy,”Any sport that required a bat and a small moving object, Fintan mastered.” An outstanding hurler in Ireland, an incredible tennis player and golfer, Fintan was world class at racquet sports, squash and racket ball. 

His wife Kenise used to tell the story of two friends who were at the 19th hole of a golf course in Ireland, talking to the bartender.

“No one ever beats par on the 16th hole,” he said, “except the pro here. Well, there was, once, one man who did, a young priest from Nigeria.”

Choosing to concentrate on racket ball, several times he won the North American Seniors’  championship defeating men years younger than himself. Finding little competition at his own age level, he would drop down and  defeat those in the next age bracket-until the Kilbride rule, still in tact, was invoked. You can only compete in one division. Inevitably coming home with the silver trophy, we would have to pry it out of him that he had indeed won again. “I did OK,” was all he would say.

While at Neil McNeil  Fintan started Students Crossing Borders an international cooperative education program which  introduce students to the realities of the Third world  and their responsibilities as privileged brothers and sisters. It was in this context that Fintan touched the lives of the Kielberger brothers,Mark and Craig who counted him as a direct inspiration in their own work in Free the Children.

As well Fintan was active in Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ), a group of teachers in the then Separate School Board whose very creation (1978) and existence proved how comfortable teachers had become in their middle class lives. TSJ had been formed to remind  colleagues that teaching under the banner of the Cross was a vocation and not a job; that it entailed consistent risks for those on the margins here and elsewhere. Fin was not only an enthusiastic member but he embodied for us what the world’s’ bishops had stated in 1971, that “justice was constitutive element of the gospel.In 1979, Fintan was one of the founders of the (Now) Ecumenical Stations of the Cross, Toronto’s ongoing attempt to insist that Good Friday is not sentimental nostalgia but a continuous fact in our city and our world.

In the 80s Fin became an active and enthusiastic member of Catholic reform groups recognizing that the Church under the John Paul ll pontificate had  begun to default on the promises of Vatican ll. The restoration severely disappointed him particularly in its failure to come to grips with the decline of priests all over the world. He was a very forceful spokesman for Corpus, the organization of resigned priests who challenged the mandatory celibacy role  and wanted the priesthood open to women.

Retirement was not a word in the Kilbride lexicon. Forced to leave teaching in 1992, Fintan took his passion for the Third World into supply teaching , exposing countless students to  the hopes and dreams of the poor in Jamaica and Haiti. He was always on the road driving medicines and hospital supplies from Detroit to Miami where they would be shipped to Central America. At 78 and thirteen years officially retired, he was named the top Catholic teacher in Ontario and received the Marion Tyrrrel award for his social justice work. Shortly after receiving the award in 2005,Fin fell ill with a then undiagnosed illness With his well known iron will he continued to attend his Saturday morning Craic (Irish,good conversation) sessions with like-minded cronies in a coffee house in the the Beach.

Inevitably as the cancer drained him he was taken to the palliative unit at Princess Margaret. Sitting by his bedside a week before he died, his tremendously supportive wife Kenise remarked to me what a privilege it had been to spend the last thirty 33 years with this good man. We who knew him as a close and loving  friend can only utter our silent amens. The quote from Francis of Assisi on Fintan’s mass card perfectly summed up his rich life.” Go teach all nations-if necessary use words.”

Trevor, Mats and Sportsworld

December 20, 2008

Gary Mason has written a perceptive column in Saturday’s Globe (Dec 20).

Vancouver hockey hero Trevor Linden retired in a rapturous blaze of appreciation—jersey retirement, 32 page supplements in both papers etc. Obviously an outstanding individual but as  Mason says “people who cure diseases don’t get that kind of treatment.”

Then he moves on to Mats Sundin who will now play a truncated schedule $5 million to play 40 games.The town is all excited. Mats is here and Brian Burke the Toronto GM asks the locals not to boo Mats when he comes to Toronto to play.

Mason provides the necessary context—unavailable from all sports writer up until the market and jobs went south—hey just a minute ”forestry workers are being thrown out of work and retail clerks are being laid off in the hundreds…and we’re supposed to be grateful that Mats Sundin signed for less than he could have.”

“We all are now realizing out of whack things got including our value system.”

Well, welcome to Sportsworld, a self-enclosed bubble, a literal sandbox in the muck and mire called life.

Pro athletes have always been given a free pass here. Many are decent folks but you will never find any who move from charity to justice issues and the reason is simple. It takes time to analyze society and its many contradictions,Particularly when it’’s been in the grip of Alan Greenspan and the other Ayn Rand disciple Milton Friedman.

Athletes become so fixated on their careers that few ever graduate  to the point that they will challenge the system which rewards them well beyond what they contribute to the world.

Eisenhower not Rick Hillier

December 19, 2008


images2He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.

 Albert Einstein

Toronto Star’s Bob Hepburn in  his nomination (Dec 17)  of “winners of 2008” nominated Canada’s ex-top general Rick Hillier. This only shows the inversion of values in our increasingly militarized culture. Now that Hiller has gone to his corporate reward on the lucrative lecture circuit and employment with TD Bank “to develop leadership training”, we can only lament his noxious presence on our culture.

Recall those awful TV ads for the Canadian forces.Replete with visuals of soldiers jumping out of planes and breaking down doors with the word “Fight” emblazoned everywhere. Those ads shown in prime time at Televised sporting events they are probably responsible for sad, undereducated kids signing up as cannon fodder and looking for “adventure”. All this nonsense  on Hillier’s watch,turning a formerly respected Canadian forces into occupiers  in Afghanistan, a pathetic sop to the USA for our refusal to engage in Iraq. We remember Hillier’s Bush-like warnings that the forces were going t rout out “scumbags” and “kill them.” The man has no understanding of Afghanistan’s history at all.

Closer to the truth was Horace Hinds’ letter to the Globe in early December.

Unlike Hillier, Hinds had actually been in a war (Korea) and then tossed his medals for “bravery “in the garbage.I am deeply dismayed that the role of Canada has been ratcheted up from peacekeeper to warrior….” He likens “politicians and military brass as boys playing in a sandbox without a care glorifying and glamorizing the war game.”

Like many Hinds regards Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan as fruitless.There is no reason for any of our soldiers to have been killed or maimed.”


War today is absolutely insane. Canada has traded in its deserved reputation as peacekeepers for “warriors”. Dwight Eisenhower who really saw war put it best:”I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity. 

Compare his wisdom with that of Hiller’s who now has his reward. He is a “winner”. How very sad.

The Beast is dead

December 17, 2008

A cold winter night and the faithful trudged to our final class on the Book of Revelations. We were not spooked by the many symbols of this wild and crazy book, one which has created more delirium and historically irrational movements than we care to remember. And we ignored the bizarre rantings of the Televangelists, literalists who lead folks astray and miss the point of the book.Beasts with horns, falling stars, mysterious horsemen—wonderful cartoon characters.We enjoyed them all and asked the question we always need to address when reading scripture: What do all of these mean?

On the last night 666 was conquered by the Lamb (“King of Kings, and lord of Lords.(Rev19:16) who is 777 (perfection)

The message of Revelations is ongoing.

The temptations are great because Babylon lives in us—as does “Egypt”.(Hebrew Scriptures)

We want to be with the “Merchants of the earth” with their cargoes of “silver, jewels and pearls” (Rev. 18: 12)

The Beast often conquers by sweet seductions like this. Remember the warnings to the 7 churches in the first chapter. The whore language (harlot, the Great whore) is often used in the Jewish Bible to depict those who are not steadfast, who succumb to infidelity.

John merely repeats Jesus warning about wealth when he says “Come out of her my people.”(18:4)

Babylon is in all of us and we often are more comfortable in the court of Pharaoh than on the Exodus march.

Revelations is a call for resistance, steadfastness and fidelity to the Lamb in times of trouble—as in the first century.

The powerful metaphors still ring true.

“The marriage of the Lamb has come” (19.7).We come to Eucharist to re-member. We still are invited to “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

One of the New Testament’s most energizing metaphors is “the new heaven and the new earth” a powerful utopian symbol which is always luring us on and which we see when justice pitches its tent among us.

The saints repaired to the  Paupers  pub and continued in a secular setting to further the wedding feast.

No more worrying about the Second Coming. God as evidenced in Jesus is not violent. A First Coming and the conviction that the incarnation is real and ongoing is enough.

images1Revelations is never about a world destroyed but an earth transformed. it is about prophetic eschatology and not nihilistic apocalyptic eschatology.

Globe and Mail got it wrong

December 16, 2008



How predictable of the Globe and Mail (Dec.16) a4s_shoes121608_49732cto harrumph about  Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi shoe tossing at GW Bush.

Surely not the classiest response we can agree on that.

Deeply Middle Eastern in content.Remember Jesus advising kicking the dust from your sandals when hospitality is spurned. Shoes and sandals collect dirt—hence the insult.

Arabs have a deeply ingrained sense of hospitality and for many this was an embarrassment.

Others saw the act as heroic, expressing the contempt many feel for the U.S. leader they blame for years of bloodshed and chaos. some viewed the incident as a condemnation as well of autocratic Arab leaders whom they have considered slavish followers of Bush’s policies in the Middle East.

“Bush wanted to end his bloody term hearing compliments and welcoming words from his collaborators in the Arab and Islamic world. But a shoe from a real Arab man summed up Bush’s black history and told the entire world that the Arabs hold their head high,” said Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a Palestinian political science professor at the West Bank’s An Najah University,

“The flying shoe speaks more for Arab public opinion than all the despots/puppets that Bush meets with during his travels in the Middle East,” said Asad Abu Khalil, a popular Lebanese-American blogger and professor at Stanislaus University in California.

Hardly reported was Zaidi’s comments as he tossed the shoe—”this is for the dead women and children”.

Would that the Globe had got so worked up about the carnage Bush has unleashed in the Middle East. Hardly comparable to a couple of shoes.

High dudgeon should have been expressed first and foremost over the estimated one million deaths and blood spilled on the orders of this very small and deeply insensitive President.

We never heard this from the Globe.