Category Archives: Politics

Sevastopol is Russia’s Faslane

In the last couple of days, Russian troops have moved to occupy Simferapol in the Crimean peninsula.  This may be part of a larger effort to deter the Ukraine from continuing to turn towards Europe for patronage, but a quick glance at the map makes at least part of Russia’s motivation very clear.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Sevastopol.  Ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union there has been tension between Russia and the Ukraine over her continued presence, and Russia’s lease was only extended a few years ago.  The fleet has had it’s home there for two hundred and thirty years.  I cannot imagine that Russia would be willing to lose this critical part of her strategic protection.   And if we look at the map, we see that the only main road to Sevastopol passes through Simferopol, the administrative centre of Crimea.  If Simferopol is secured and under Russian control, the Black Fleet is safe.

The British equivalent might be Faslane Naval base, home of her nuclear fleet.  I cannot imagine the UK countenancing any threat to Faslane, although the demands for Scottish independence must surely be giving the Navy’s senior commanders some serious headaches right now.

But back to the Crimea.  Shocking though it is to see Russia so casually violate the sovereignty of a neighbour, I can only hope that her purpose is merely to defend a key military installation, rather than to forcefully shepherd the entire Ukraine back into a closer union with her former overlords.


The Navy Yard

As soon as I heard about the shooting at Washington Navy Yard on Monday, one question sprang to mind and refused to leave.

We are shocked, and rightly so, at the news of yet another mass shooting.  And yet, for some reason, most of us aren’t particularly shocked about the location of the shootings.  But I can’t help pondering the location of this act of violence, the Washington Navy Yard.  I’d never heard of this place until Monday, so I took the time to read up a little on the site and its history.

The Yard started out more than two centuries ago as the largest shipbuilding facility in the US navy.  By World War II, it was the largest naval ordnance plant in the world. The weapons designed and built there were used in every war in which the United States fought until the 1960s.

To put it another way, this facility has existed,  for two centuries, to create guns, torpedoes, gunboats, frigates and shells.  In short, all the machinery needed for people to kill other people with production-line efficiency.  To be blunt, this site has been in the business of mass-producing death. This is not a value judgment, just a plain statement of fact. Many thousands of human beings have been shot, blown up, burnt or drowned by the output of this facility.

And yet for some reason this doesn’t elicit a strong emotional reaction, or indeed, any comment at all in the coverage of Monday’s tragedy.

Why is that, I wonder?

Secret secrets

The US government commanded the phone company Verizon to secretly collect vast amounts of data about its users activities.

Furthermore, Verizon was banned from admitting the existence of this secret order.

“The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.”

I am very disturbed when anyone is ordered to do something unethical and then required to deny all knowledge of that action.  At this point I truly believe that non-compliance, even if it results in prosecution, is the ethically correct action.  To do anything else is to be complicit in the creation of a privatized secret police.  I would have a huge amount of respect for any executive who stood up in public and said “we have been ordered by the government to spy on our customers and then deny all knowledge of this program, but instead we choose honesty.  We refuse to do this.  We will inform you if we receive further secret orders.  And we will accept the consequences of our honesty if necessary.”

Imagine the power of an executive choosing to go to jail rather than become complicit in large scale espionage.  That would be someone I could respect.


Representing citizens, or representing party whips?

I’m continuing work on my ‘vote visualisation’ tool, because I believe that anything that brings greater transparency to our democratic process is a good idea.  Take it for a spin, and let me know what you think, and what features should be added.

I know I could speed it up by caching the data rather than retrieving it from the government data feed on every request.  But already I think it’s enough to show how obsessively ALL our MPs follow party lines. I still find this disturbing; I’d much rather a representative who cares about what Barrie citizens think more than he cares about what the party whips think.

Living next to a killer

In a windowless office near Las Vegas, Nevada, an American Air Force operator controls one of the deadly Predator drones that fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.    He hunches over his keyboard and joystick, squints at his computer monitors.  He presses some buttons, and on the other side of the world, a few lives are quietly erased.

Then at the end of his shift, he gets into his minivan and drives home to his house in the suburbs.  Perhaps he takes his dog for walk.  Maybe he plays catch with his kids, or has a few friends over for a barbecue.  He waves politely at his neighbour.  On Sunday he goes to church.

What would it feel like to be that guys neighbour?  The thought fills me with a profound disquiet.  I live on a street populated with accountants and software developers and police officers and teachers.  In general they are quiet, friendly people.  I like them.  But I never have to look at them and wonder how many mothers and fathers and children they have killed today.  Would I want such a person living next to me?  Would I let my kids visit their house, knowing that they are capable of taking another human life with little more effort than filling in an Excel spreadsheet?  How would I feel standing next to him in the pew at church at Christmas, singing together about the Prince of Peace, and goodwill to all mankind?

The more I think about our society’s quiet acceptance of death dealing flying robots, the more it worries me, but I worry most of all about the type of person who apply for and perform a job controlling one.

Visualizing Votes

Politicians do not spend a lot of time thinking about the issues they vote on, as I noted yesterday.

I just wrote a little tool to demonstrate this.  Have a look at this visual representation of recent votes in the House of Commons?

Vote Visualisation.

And then ask yourself this – are our representatives carefully considering all the facts before them, and then voting on each issue in a manner that best represents their constituents?

Or are they mindlessly following party orders?votes



A Long Line of Criminals

I have been thinking a lot recently about incarceration.

At its highest levels, the Soviet Union’s gulag system imprisoned 800 people for every 100,000 people in the country.  Today the United States has 743 prisoners for every 100,000 people.  Nearly a quarter of all the prisoners in the world are in United States prisons.

This worries me, and when I read about the Stephen Harper proposing more ‘tough-on-crime’ legislation, I wonder what exactly we are trying to achieve.  But before I delve to deeply into the subject, I first have to recognize how this must be approached.  As a Christian, I belong to a faith tradition that has, frankly, spent quite a lot of time in jail.

  • Joseph was imprisoned for years on trumped up sexual harassment charges.
  • David spent his formative years as an outlaw.
  • Jesus was arrested,  imprisoned, and condemned as a threat to the state.
  • Paul wrote large chunks of the New Testament from a prison cell.
  • William Tyndale was imprisoned and executed by the imperial authorities
  • Martin Luther King wrote his most important work from a Birmingham jail.

I recognise in our society the need for a judicial system, for police officers, magistrates, prison guards and probation workers.

But when we are discussing the criminal justice system, the starting point for those who call themselves Christians needs to be this – our first and primary identity is with the jailed, not the jailer.  As the founder of our movement said, “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”


Sam Hammond wants teachers to break the law

On Wednesday I received a letter from the school board informing me that our local elementary school would be closed due to ‘a day of political protest.’  (The Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario clearly decided not to call it a ‘strike’, because they know they are no longer in a legal strike position.)  Yesterday, I received a phone call reiterating that the school would be closed. Continue reading