Monday, October 29, 2007

More Boerishbwoy FAQ's

Here at Boerishbwoy we strive to serve our vast readership with quick and efficient responses to the many queries we receive. Lately, we have fallen behind on our FAQ's for which we would apologize, but that would mean acknowledging a mistake of some kind. As you may or may not be aware, we at Boerishbwoy do not make mistakes.

~ What the devil kind of name is Boerishbwoy, anyway?
The name Boerishbwoy is a title that has absolutely nothing to do with the occult. In fact, we at Boerishbwoy are consistently opposed to the devil and his activities.

~ In his early posts, John made a lot of references to a bad fingernail which annoyed him. Whatever happened to those enlightening posts?
John has chosen to remain sullenly silent on the issue of his fingernail(s) until such a time as the affliction is solved.

~ What? It still isn't solved?
Please re-read the previous answer. If the question still remain unanswered in your mind then we'll offer you this: some mysteries are better left unexplained.

~ Seriously, what does the name Boerishbwoy mean?
At the time he created this blog, John made five attempts at clever moniker for himself. It was only on the fifth try that he came up with a name that no one had taken. As you may be aware, John's last name is "den Boer" which means "the farmer" in Dutch. Boorish is the adjective form of the word Boor which, according to the online etymology dictionary is derived the following way:
13c., from O.Fr. bovier "herdsman," from L. bovis, gen. of bos "cow, ox." Later re-borrowed (1581) from Du. boer, from M.Du. gheboer "fellow dweller," from P.Gmc. base *bu- "dwell" (cf. second element of neighbor). Original meaning was "peasant farmer" (cf. Ger. Bauer, Du. boer, Dan. bonde), and in Eng. it was at first applied to agricultural laborers in or from other lands, as opposed to the native yeoman; negative connotation first attested 1562 (in boorish), from notion of clownish rustics.
Thus, boerish refers to John's heritage and clumsy clownishness and is an ironic contrast to his status as a city boy.
Bwoy, is a word which the online Jamaican patois dictionary defines in the following way:
Thus, bwoy refers to John's fondness for reggae, his status as a male, and his immaturity.

~ Is it really an ironic contrast to his status as a city boy?
We at boerishbwoy are in the generation of people whose minds were at a critical stage of neural development when Alanis Morissette's song Ironic came out. Between that and the short stories of O. Henry, we therefore have only a tenuous idea of what true irony is. We apologize if we have in any way slandered the definition of true irony.

~ I really like that map that shows where blog hits come from, could you please elaborate on that?
We at boerishbwoy are pretty thrilled with the clustrmap. However, the map only seems to register a fraction of the millions of readers who peruse this blog daily. We are not complaining as we understand the difficulty computers can have with counting so high using those weird binary codes. Seeing the wide array of international hits is very interesting. Still, we'll only be satisfied as soon as we have a hit from Mongolia. MONGOLIA!

~ Why did you type Mongolia in capital letters with an exclamation mark?
Our hope is that by cyber-shouting, a Mongolian searching through google using the word "Mongolia" will come across this site near the top of the pile.

~ Why don't you just put Mongolia in the post label?
We were going to do that too.

~ You could also put the name "Nominjin", she's a popular Mongolian singer.
Duly noted.

~ Where is the plumber who was supposed to arrive at John's house at 1:00 pm to fix the plugged kitchen sink?
We are not sure how you knew this information as John has not posted on this particular issue. However, putting that issue of creepy insider information aside, we have no idea and are rather perplexed and perturbed.

~ Do you belie--ieve in love after love after love after love?
We can feel something inside us say that we really don't think you're strong enough, no.

~ Why do the FAQs include a question which is certain to put a mindbogglingly bad song into the heads of innocent readers?
We have to post all of the questions that we are frequently asked.

~ Are you frequently asked about the plumber coming to fix John's sink?
No, but sometimes we allow questions of grave import to be included with the questions which we are frequently asked.

~ Your blog sucks.
This is not question but a statement that merely displays an astounding lack of taste. We at Boerishbwoy, like the recording industry, understand that there are many people in this world who lack good taste. Unlike the recording industry, we have failed to capitalize on this ... yet.

~ The suggestion about Nominjin was not a question either, was it?
No, but we at Boerishbwoy reserve the right to set the rules of the FAQs arbitrarily.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Song of the Moment - Bob Dylan - Most Likely You'll Go Your Way

Bob Dylan has, in the words of Don Mclean, "a voice that came from you and me." According to that song, he also has Elvis' thorny crown and a coat he borrowed from James Dean. Of those three items, the only one that wasn't stolen or borrowed was that unique gravelly voice of his. Dylan's voice may be far from ideal, but I find it highly effective in relaying his poetic words. Dylan's lyrics are often spare and simple, but he has the ability to paint evocative pictures and tackle complicated emotions with those words. I am not one of those serious Dylan fans with the box sets and encyclopaedic knowledge of everything related to him. In fact, until recently one of my favourite Dylan songs was "Stuck in the Middle With You" which is, in reality, a song by Scottish band Stealers Wheel (it's still a great song).
"Most Likely You'll Go My Way (and I'll go Mine)" is a classic Dylan song that has been remixed by musical artist and producer Mark Ronson. The song has a funky vibe which I enjoy and the video has quite a bit of interesting imagery from Dylan's songs and life. From his early days, the motorcycle accident, through to his Christian conversion and beyond, the video goes through the decades of his life. See if you can spot who I think is Wyclef Jean (it would make sense if it were Wyclef, as Dylan appeared in Wyclef's video for "Gone 'Til November.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Today I set out to find out a little more about Afghan politics. Little did I know how difficult it would be to wade through so much information. I have listed a few of the major political parties within Afghanistan. If anyone reads this and finds a mistake, please let me know and I will correct it. I found it a valuable exercise for sorting out some of the political currents in Afghan politics. Unfortunately, it is impossible to give information regarding a party's influence as elections were carried out without party lists.

Hezbe Jamiat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan - The oldest Afghan political party, Jamiat-e Islami fought as a Muhajideen against the Soviets, and then fought against the communist government, and, when they had finally seized power, they fought violently against other Muhajideen factions (over 50,000 people, mainly civilians, died in the civil war). Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of Jamiat-e Islami since 1968, was Afghanistan's president from 1992 to 1996. Most of the members of Jamiat are ethnic Tajiks, the second-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Tajiks number around 4.3 million and are found mainly in northern and western Afghanistan. The political dominance of the Tajiks and the prevalence of warlords inspired the rise of the Taliban. When the Taliban began to invade in 1995 the Jamiat-e Islami fought back with initial success, but were eventually driven from power. With his ouster, Rabbani lost quite a bit of his power base. Putting aside their feuds with the other Muhajideen groups, Jamiat e-Islami helped form the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan better known to Westerners as the Northern Alliance. In the Persian dialect which Tajiks speak Jamiat-e Islami means "Islamic Society." Although the party bases its ideology upon Islamic law, it is still considered moderately progressive. After the capture of Kabul by coalition, Rabbani assumed the presidency for a little over a month until he relinquished control to Hamid Karzai in late December of 2001. Rabbani's son-in-law was appointed as Hamid Karzai's vice president. Rabbani still heads Jamiat-e Islami, but the military wing of the party has since splintered into a Karzai opposition party, Afghanistan e Naween.

Afghanistan e Naween - Led by Burhanudin Rabbani's former ally, Yunis Qanuni, Afghanistan e Naween means New Afghanistan. Yunis Qanuni served as interior minister during Burhanudin Rabbani's reign as president from 1992 to 1996, and as a security advisor to Harmid Karzai during Karzai's interim presidency. In the 2004 elections, upset that his friend and ally, Mohammed Fahim, had been passed over as Karzai's vice-presidential running-mate, Qanuni decided to enter the presidential race himself. During his campaign, Qanuni accused Karzai's supporters of jailing his supporters in several provinces. Qanuni also faced the assassination of one of his key campaign supporters. Nevertheless, Qanuni finished second to Karzai and is currently the speaker of the house. It should be noted, however, that there were wide-scale boycotts of the ballots as the integrity of the electoral process was called into question. Qanuni is often seen as the spokesman for the Tajiks as he is the most prominent Tajik in power. Qanuni is recognized as Karzai's most powerful opposition and leads a 12-party National Reconciliation Front against Karzai.

Hezbe Wahdat e Islami-ye Mardum-e Afghanistan - The largest Shia political group in Afghanistan, the Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan is mainly supported by Hazara people. Hailing from the mountainous central region of Afghanistan, many Hazaras claim lineage from Genghis Khan himself. Hazaras are thought to number a little over one million in Afghanistan, although it is difficult to get a proper estimate. Hezbe Wahdat was formed in 1990 out of a coalition of nine Shia Mujahideen groups based in Tehran. Iran has close ties to the Hezbe Wahdat and has done much to try to ensure it receives a fair role in the Afghan government. During Burhanuddin Rabbani's reign as president from 1992 to 1996, Hezbe Wahdat was denied a place in the government despite their help in defeating the Soviets and communists. Hezbe Wahdat served in the transitional government after the fall of the Taliban, but split into two groups (see below). The leader of Hezbe Wahdat, Haji Muhammed Mohaqiq, finished third in the presidential elections behind Karzai and Qanuni. Mohaqiq is a member of Qanuni's coalition against Karzai.

Hezbe Wahdat Islami-ye Afghanistan - Mohammed Karim Khalili leads the original Hezbe Wahdat Islami-ye Afghanistan, the Islamic Unity Party of Afghanistan (as opposed to the Islamic Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan). The party fractured after Khalili began to collaborate with the Taliban during their reign. Khalili currently serves as Karzai's second vice-president, and is seen as the candidate for Hazaras who support Hamid Karzai. Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq was Karim Khalili's deputy before the party split.

Afghan Mellat - Afghan Nation is led by Anwar Al-Haq Ahadi and finds most of its support among some of the Pashtun people of Afghanistan (Hamid Karzai is also a Pashtun). Numbering 10 million in Afghanistan, there are also about 14 million Pashtuns in Northern Pakistan. Most Pashtuns live in the southern arch-shaped belt of Afghanistan running along the Pakistani border in the east to the Iranian border in the west. Afghan Nation was formerly known as the Afghan Social Democratic Party. The party was formerly highly nationalist and favoured an extension of Afghanistan into Pashtun-dominated areas of northern Pakistan. The party has now distanced itself from these expressions, although it does favour increased Pashtun rights and the promotion of the Pashto language. Afghan Mellat supports the Karzai regime and Ahadi serves as Karzai's finance minister.

Hezbe Islami Afghanistan - Meaning Islamic Party of Afghanistan, Hezbe Islami is also a Pashtun based party. Like the other political parties, Hezbe Islami fought against the Soviets. The notorious founder of the group, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, fought alongside Hezbe Wahdat against Jamiat until 1996 when a power-sharing agreement was reached in which Hekmatyar became Prime Minister under Burhanuddin Rabbani. When the Taliban rose to power, Hekmatyar fled to Iran where he continued to lead his party. When the coalition forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Hekmatyar voiced his violent opposition to the invasion. Hekmatyar has allegedly allied himself with his erstwhile enemies, the remnants of the Taliban, in order to expel the Americans from Afghanistan. However, just prior to the 2004 elections 150 members of Hezbe Islami defected to Karzai's government, where they lead the non-violent faction of Hezbe Islami under Khaled Farooqi. They have denounced terrorism, narcotics, and weapons trafficking and declared their support for the national army and police force. It is unclear, however, how much support this group has among the population.

Hezbe Kongra e Mili Afghanistan - Although it appears their website has not been updated since late 2001, the National Congress Party of Afghanistan did, in fact, participate in the 2004 election. Hezbe Kongra is lead by Dr. Latif Pedram, an ethnic Tajik and intellectual. Dr. Pedram was an early supporter of the Communists, but later became very critical of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Pedram was forced into exile by the coming of the Taliban. Refreshingly, Dr. Pedram promotes his party as multi-ethnic and nonreligious. However, he has very little support among Afghanistan's Pashtun majority. Pedram is a strong supporter of federalism and secularism, insisting on the importance of voices from every group within Afghanistan being heard. Pedram opposes both Islamic fundamentalism and the American occupation of Afghanistan, and has been critical of the participation of ex-Taliban members in the current government.

Hezbe Nuzhat e Mili Afghanistan - The National Movement of Afghanistan is led by Ahmad Wali Mas'ud, the youngest brother of slain Tajik hero Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. Ahmad Shah Mas'ud played a pivotal role in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan and was known as the "Lion of Panjshir." Afterwards, he led the Northern Alliance against the Taliban who assassinated him in September of 2001. Buoyed by the popularity of his brother, Ahmad Wail Mas'ud set up Hezbe Nuzhat as an ethnic Tajik alternative to Hamid Karzai. Karzai cleverly deflated this possibility by appointing Zia Mas'ud, Ahmad Shah Masud's other brother, as his vice president (who is, you will recall, also the son-in-law of Burhanuddin Rabbani). The National Movement offers Tajiks a strong alternative against Qanuni.

Jumbish-e Mili Islami Afghanistan - The National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan is an Uzbek political party. Uzbeks are Sunni Muslims and are known as skilled artisans and businessmen. Approximately 1.3 million Uzbek people live alongside the Tajik people in the northern plains of Afghanistan. The amount of support for the party and the number of Uzbeks in Afghanistan roughly correspond. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who currently holds the ceremonial post of chief of staff to the commander in chief of the Afghan armed forces, was the founder of the party. Dostum supported the communist government, but in 1992 he revolted. Alongside Ahmad Shah Mas'ud he overthrew the government of President Najiballah. In 1994, Dostum switched sides, allying himself with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar against Ahmad Shah Mas'ud and President Burhanuddin Rabbani. In 1996, after the rise of the Taliban, Dostum allied with Rabbani and helped form the Northern Alliance. Forced to flee during the reign of the Taliban, Dostum returned when the coalition forces arrived. Dostum wields a great deal of power in the Uzbek dominated areas of northern Afghanistan and some Afghans fear the strength of his military forces. The current leader of the party is Sayid Nurullah, although Dostum still retains control.

Tanzim- Diwat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan - Afghanistan's Islamic Mission Organization, led by Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, is probably Afghanistan's most conservative Islamist party. The party is generally supportive of Karzai, but seeks to push Afghanistan along a more conservative agenda. The following of this party is small, but Sayyaf is said to receive substantial financial backing from contacts throughout the Arab states.

The United National Front - Formed in March 2007, the United National Front is a coalition led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and made up of the grandson of Afghanistan's former king Mustafa Zahir, New Afghanistan Party leader Yunus Qanuni, Uzbek leader Abdul Dostum, two former communist generals, and several former Muhajideen leaders. The coalition claims to have the support of 40 per cent of the parliament, but it seems unlikely that such a diverse group of people could hold themselves together for very long---especially since many of them have fought on opposite sides of the battlefield. Some commentators believe that the coalition was formed out of fears of renewed calls for an investigation of war crimes committed during the Afghan civil war. It seems unlikely that anything else could bring together such an ideologically diverse group of people.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This account of the meeting of Leopold II, the king of the Belgians, and Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer, was done for a history class. I have taken a few liberties with history. Of course, the author was not present and can only guess what was said at that historic meeting. The meeting did take place and great effort was taken to ensure that the words which emerge from the mouths of both men are words that they would, in fact, have likely believed and known. Still, it should be noted that Leopold’s instructions at this time were not likely to have been as detailed as the story portrays. Italics signify phrases which they either wrote themselves or were reported to have said. Enjoy.

“The other day . . . I watched a fox which wanted to cross a stream unobserved: first of all he dipped a paw carefully to see how deep it was, and then, with a thousand precautions, very slowly made his way across. That is Leopold’s way!” - Leopold I, of Belgium, referring to his eldest son, the future Leopold II.

June 10, 1878:
Leopold absently stroked his long greying beard as he carefully examined the map laid out on his desk. His long index finger carefully traced pencilled-in route of Henry Morton Stanley. Leopold had meticulously followed the progress of Stanley’s trek through the heart of Africa in London’s Daily Telegraph and traced the route himself. He removed his finger from the page as his gaze wandered from Stanley’s route to the great empty continent of Africa. Leopold read the familiar names of the colonized territories along the edge of Africa’s coast. The British held Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, Lagos, and South Africa; the French held Algeria, Gambia, and Gabon, while the Portuguese held Angola and Mozambique. Leopold’s eyes lighted on Stanley’s route again. No one, he smiled, no one country held that territory along that great dark Congo river.

Leopold pushed himself away from his desk and paced over to the office window of the palace. He stared out over the well-kept gardens and his smile broadened. Albert, the heir to the throne, had once said that his uncle’s expansive building projects and vast greenhouses were turning Laeken into a “little Versailles.” Leopold dreamed on a grand scale and had huffed, “Little?” Belgium, he was sure, could be a world power. All that Belgium needed was a beautiful capital, increased strength and colonies. Yes, colonies would put Belgium on the map.

“Enfin” he muttered, “enfin la Belgique deviendra une puissance coloniale europĂ©enne.” He shook his head and pursed his lips, imagining the surprise of those Hollanders when Belgium emerged with colonies of her own. Those fat Jews sitting in Amsterdam would tear their hair out. This would be worse, snickered Leopold, than when they had lost South Africa to the British. Aaah, but he admired those plucky Dutch. If a small power like the Netherlands could assert themselves as a world power, so could Belgium. The Netherlands had reaped prestige and wealth from their scattered colonies and this, Leopold grinned, was where he too was headed.

A knock sounded at the door.

“Oui?” Leopold answered, masking his excitement as best he could.
“Henri Morton Stanley, seigneur,” a voice called from behind the door.

“Excellent, laissez-l’entrer,” Leopold strode stiffly towards the door, carefully straightening his regal uniform.

The door swung open and an imperious servant held the door open for the sturdy explorer. A grizzled, anxious-looking man stepped into Leopold’s office. Stanley bowed awkwardly, his steely eyes betraying uncertainty, “C’est un honneure, seigneur.”

Leopold smiled and said in flawless English, “I am also honoured to be in the presence of such a brave man.”

Stanley’s face betrayed relief at the sound of English, “Thank you, sire.”

Leopold nodded in acknowledgement and gestured magnanimously towards some ornate wooden chairs, “Please, my friend, let us take a seat.”

Stanley bobbed his head nervously.

Leopold slunk over to his seat and slowly lowered his lanky body onto his chair as, from the corner of his eye, he watched Stanley awkwardly make his way to his seat, “I trust your trip across the Channel went well, yes?”

Stanley absently ran a finger over his brown mustache as he gingerly lowered himself into his seat, “Yes-yes. I mean it is truly remarkable how fast the steamship is. Progress, sire, is unstoppable.” Stanley’s pronouncement revealed traces of a Welsh background although he deliberately affected an American accent.

“Yes, truly it is,” Leopold nodded, “it is brave men like you who will ensure that man uncovers every corner of this globe and that progress will continue at this remarkable rate.”

Stanley’s posture seemed to straighten slightly at the compliment, “Thank you, sire, it seems that very few people appreciate the great deal of danger the exploration of such savage country exposes one to.”

“Your time in England,” Leopold asked, “how was it?”

“Fine sire,” Stanley hesitated, “Although I must confess that I do not understand Englishmen at all. Either they suspect me of some self-interest, or they do not believe me.

“Please,” the tall king ran a finger over his beak-like nose, “what do you mean?”

“I simply mean that my contributions are not acknowledged,” Stanley’s eyebrows peaked, revealing a strange mix of resolve and pain, “For the relief of Livingstone I was called an impostor; for the crossing of Africa I was called a pirate.”

“Snobbery, I say,” said Leopold, remembering with a certain amount of amusement how one of his English friends had related one of Stanley’s unfortunate adventures in England. Stanley had been the guest of honour at a white-collar dinner attended not only by England’s upper crust, but by the Prince of Wales himself. After Stanley’s speech, all that the Prince had said to Stanley was that he was wearing his medals out of order. The fragile ego of this complex explorer, Leopold thought, was still wounded.

“These Englishmen are merely jealous. I dare say, I should like to see some of those portly English lords try to navigate through the jungle,” Leopold declared; “this is an endeavour that demands the strongest of men.”

“You flatter me, sire,” Stanley beamed.

Leopold smiled to himself; this man was putty in his hands. Leopold was fully aware of the strange mix of raw ambition and woundedness which plagued Stanley. He did not know, however, that Stanley’s pain came from his rough Welsh childhood. Born in the small town of Denbigh, his name on the register was listed as “John Rowlands, Bastard.” After his birth, Stanley’s mother fled in disgrace and left him to the mercy of an abusive grandfather. When Stanley’s grandfather died he bounced from relative to relative until he finally ended up in the St. Asaph Workhouse. At the age of twelve, Stanley finally met his mother, who instead of lovingly embracing her son, coolly regarded him with a critical eye. Not long afterwards she left the workhouse and drove Stanley further into nervous social awkwardness. The melodramatic Stanley would later make great attempts to obscure his humble beginnings in both writing and in speech.

“I try my best to tell the plain truth, as you Americans say,” Leopold crooked his fingers in front of him, “I have little use for flattery.”

“I appreciate your straightforwardness, sire,” Stanley bowed his head.

“You, no doubt, know why I invited you to talk.” Leopold watched Stanley carefully. “I am a man who regards your exploration with great interest. Belgium, as you may know, is a young nation and needs to increase its prestige. My emissaries made an offer to you when you arrived in Marseilles from your great expedition, and I realize now that you were too tired to accept it.”

Stanley cleared his throat and Leopold continued, “As much as you were disappointed by the lack of interest of the British in your exploration, I was overjoyed at their apathy. You see, Mr. Stanley, it was with much interest that I read your accounts of the vast Congo and the potential which lay in that great dark country for the light of European civilization. As you know, my interest in Africa runs deep, I established the Assocation Internationale pour reprimer la traite et ouvrir l’Afrique centrale for reasons which I’m sure the title explains.” The title Leopold had chosen was deliberately vague. When anyone asked what the African International Association was for Leopold would simply recite some vaguely philanthropic aims and leave it at that.

“As you may know, I established this International African Association at the geographical conference I held two years ago, while you were in the dark heart of Africa.” Leopold pointed a bony finger in a general southward direction. “Those of us at the conference agreed at that time to establish hospitable, scientific, and pacification bases for our philanthropic crusade into the heart of Africa.”

Stanley leaned forward, drinking in every word. Leopold paused and finally asked, “What do you say to my offer now, Mr. Stanley? What do you say to my commission?”

Stanley licked his lips, “Sire, I am thrilled that you have the vision to see the potential of this land. You see as I do, sire, that we must civilize this land. We must spread the Gospel to the darkened minds of the savages. We must end the brutal Arab slavery.” Stanley’s Welsh accent was unmistakable in his excitement. “We must develop the full potential of this unused weed-strewn garden.”

Leopold stretched his long legs in front of him, “I wish to civilize this land of barbarians, you understand, yes?”

“I have written on this very subject,” Stanley grinned. “I feel there are still pilgrims among the Europeans who could transform Africa into the new America! This unpeopled country needs the glorious touch of European civilization.”

Leopold cocked his head. “You say ‘unpeopled,’ but there are savages there, no?”

“Yes-yes,” Stanley laughed, “if they indeed count as people. You, sire, must realize that they need to be civilized, and if they aren’t willing we must use force.”

“Some say you are too quick with your gun and feel your exploration parties are too large,” Leopold thrust a calculated barb at Stanley, “but, my friend, I feel the force you use is admirable.”

“These critics don’t seem to understand that often the most convincing instruction you can give a nigger is either the crack of the whip or the sharp retort of the Snider rifle.” Stanley grimaced sternly. “the savages are hostile and the miserable slaves I used as porters are faithless, lying, thievish, indolent knaves.” Stanley sighed, “sometimes I do not think I was made for an African explorer, for I detest the land most heartily.

Leopold observed the reddening complexion of Stanley. This, he thought to himself, was a man with a short temper. He found that passionate men were often easily manipulated. Leopold could not have known the extent of Stanley’s self-centred fury. A white officer who had served under Stanley once complained that the demanding Stanley often fell into “ungovernable fits of rage.”

“I have gained the respect of these savages, however. I’m not sure if you’ve read this, but my porters gave me the name Bula Matari which means ‘stone-breaker.’ This honourable title I received for teaching them how to quarry through rock.” Stanley smiled in satisfaction. This was true, but the natives had attached a double-meaning to Bula Matari — calling Stanley ‘breakstones’ for his relentlessly brutal discipline.

Stanley continued, his eyes lighting up, “Every cordial-face aborigine whom I meet . . . I look upon . . . with much the same regard that an agriculturalist views his strong-limbed child; he is a future recruit to the ranks of soldier-laborers.

Stanley ran his expeditions like a military campaign and had left hundreds of dead natives in the wake of his exploration. Any sign of hostility was taken as an insult by the sensitive Stanley and any perceived insult was settled with bullets. Stanley despised his porters and doled out heavy discipline for anything remotely resembling insubordination. If men were “lazily inclined” they would pay with a vicious tongue-lashing if they were white and a harsh thrashing with a dogwhip if they were black. Any black man caught deserting was lashed one hundred times and placed in chains.

“As a king I must admire a man like yourself who isn’t afraid to use force when necessary.” Leopold stroked his great beard. Many of the white men who had accompanied Stanley on his expeditions had died. Stanley seemed to choose slightly incompetent men for his expeditions so that his own manliness was not outshone. Stanley’s diaries were filled with bitter complaints against the white incompetents, contrasted by embarrassingly sappy melodrama when these same men died.

“Thank you, sire.” Stanley relaxed his clenched fists.

“I am interested in your assessment of the Congo.” Leopold leaned his spindly body forward. “What potential do you see in this country?”

“Sire, the possibilities are endless. As I said before Africa could be the new America. Not only will we bring commerce to that dark continent, but we’ll bring civilization. Africa will be a source of minerals, lumber, ivory, rubber, and who knows what other goods,” Stanley gestured, his hands grasping the air; “we will combat slavery, we will bring clothes to the infernal nudes, and we’ll make great gains for science and human knowledge. The Congo River will be the grand highway of commerce to West Central Africa.”

“Yes, this is exactly how I feel.” Leopold leaned back. “Mainly I’m interested in rubber and ivory. You, Mr. Stanley, are the perfect man to aide me in the establishment of that very project. What more could I ask for than a man who knows the territory and has the ruthless leadership necessary for that harsh country? A railway must be built around the unnavigable section of the Congo River, and stations along the river which can be served by steamboat.”

“For now, however,” Leopold continued, “I will be content to hire you as an explorer, and believe me when I say that you will be more than compensated for your efforts.” Leopold had moved carefully, fearing that the outright establishment of a colony would be seen with hostility by the British and his dream of a Belgian colony would never be realized. Leopold knew that even if he consulted the British on his territorial ambitions, they would oppose him. The only solution was a Trojan Horse — sending Stanley to explore in Leopold’s name.

“Sire, I would be honoured to be employed in your service . . .” Stanley bowed his head; “ . . . truly honoured.”

“I have one concern, however, sire.” All signs of weakness had disappeared from Stanley’s stern features. “It is these Dutch merchants — I am concerned with their influence on the planning process. I’m not entirely sure who I’m serving here which is why I demand my pay in advance.”

Leopold was slightly taken aback: Stanley was sharper than he had given him credit for, “Aah, the Dutch House, the African Trading Company!” Leopold hid his surprise well. “These men, Kerdijk and Pincoffs, already have interests in the Congo and have generously offered their help. Free transport to the Congo, on the Congo, not to mention the generous help of his agents, who could say no?”

“It seems too good to be true,” Stanley intoned.

“Yes, it is quite unbelievable,” Leopold nodded; “but these men are quite rich. I have it on authority that Pincoffs controls over twenty million guilders in capital. These Dutchmen are sharp businessmen and I’m sure they know what they’re doing. Besides, I have a quarter of the shares myself, financed by my banker, Lambert.”

“Twenty million guilders is an unheard of amount, but I’ll keep an eye on them.” Stanley’s face was red again. His suspicions were well-founded: Pincoffs saw the African International Association as a chance to wash his hands of his bad African investments. He had merely taken funds from his other successful investments and juggled them into his poorly-performing African investment to make it appear profitable. On the 15 May, 1879 Pincoffs fled to America when his African Trading Company was unable to make payments. He dumped his bankrupt but apparently flourishing African investments into the African International Association. This problem did little to phase the wily Leopold who was now able to take personal charge of the company without any dissenting voices.

“But do not fear, I will pay you in advance 25,000 francs a year for your time in Europe and 50,000 francs a year for your time spent in Africa,” Leopold reassured Stanley.

“Thank you, sire,” Stanley smiled, “I did not doubt your good intentions.”

“When you assert my claim on this land,” Leopold said carefully, “you must remember that it is a question of creating a new State, as big as possible, and of running it. It is clearly understood that in this project there is no question of granting the slightest political power to the negroes. That would be absurd.”

“Of course not, sire,” Stanley agreed. “I feel the best way to make your claim is to buy the land off of the local chiefs, who are splintered into many tribes anyhow, and establish forts along the Congo River. Those chiefs not willing to be convinced can easily be persuaded by force of arms.”

“I must caution you, Mr. Stanley,” Leopold warned, “it is important that you keep my intent in mind. You must ensure that I am seen as a mere sponsor of your next exploration and nothing more.”

“I will make sure that your intentions are not revealed,” Stanley reassured the king.

“Mr. Stanley,” Leopold rose from his seat, “I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made so far.”

Stanley quickly jumped to his feet, “Sire, I am honoured to be working in partnership with you.”

Leopold extended his hand towards the sturdy explorer. “As am I, my friend. We will work out the further details later on. For now, I’m sure you would be happy to prepare for dinner.”

Stanley grasped the Belgian king’s hand. “Thank you sire.”

As Stanley left the room, Leopold sauntered over to the window and surveyed his gardens. He gazed into the great expanse of southern sky and he whispered to himself, “We must be careful, skillful and ready to act . . .” A flock of blackbirds streaked towards the earth in the distance, as if they were falling from the sky, “to get us a slice of this magnificent African cake.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Out of Ontario at the Wrong Time.

On October 10th, Ontarians head to the polls to vote for their MPPs and, hopefully, for MMP (Mixed Member Plurality). It is a shame that I cannot vote in this important referendum. My wife, who has always been interested in politics, impresses me almost everyday with her political savvy, but remains unconvinced by MMP. She, unfortunately, believes that there is less accountability with MMP. Fortunately, she can't vote in the referendum either. Those around me also seem unconvinced by the arguments in favour of this system, arguing that there is less accountability with MMP.

Au contraire, as they might say on this side of the Ottawa river, MMP actually gives politicians more accountability. Of the 107 politicians in the legislature, 106 are currently unaccountable to you and the one who is may or may not be the one you actually voted for. With MMP you vote not only for the MPP who you want in your riding, but also for the party of your choice and, wonder of wonders, your vote actually counts towards that party.

In first-past-the-post, if 32% of the people vote for the tie-dye party, 17% of the people vote for the polka-dot party, 21% of the people vote for the plaid party, 14% of the people vote for the pinstripe party, and 16% of the people spoil their ballot, the tie-dye party wins that riding. 68% of the people in that imaginary riding have a vote that doesn't count.

In MMP, people vote for the candidate they want in their riding and the person with the most votes would represent that riding. So for the previous imaginary riding, the tie-dye candidate would probably represent that area. People would then cast a second vote for their favoured party and this vote would count towards the percentage of seats for that particular party. In Germany, there is a five per cent clause which helps exclude extremist groups from having representation.

Opponents argue that because the rest of the members of the party in MMP are appointed and not directly elected, these people are somehow going to be unaccountable and irresponsible. This argument does not hold water, in my opinion. Currently, candidates in a riding are nominated by party members. In MMP, party members will also nominate members who will then, depending on the election results, receive the party's proportion of the popular vote.

First-past-the-post is hardly representative of the people's will. For example, in the last federal election, the Bloc Quebecois received 10 % of the popular vote but had 51 seats (that is, 17% of the seats). The NDP, on the other hand, received 17% of the popular voted but had only 29 seats (that is 9% of the seats).

With MMP you still have regional representation (via your local representative), but your second vote will actually count towards the party of your choice. Voters can vote with their conscience for the party that represents their beliefs on issues that range further than their own local area.

The current system is democratic, but favours a two party system. MMP would involve more parties working together to pass legislation. Some proponents of MMP have gone so far as to call the current system of first-past-the-post undemocratic. That is, in my opinion, ridiculous. First-past-the-post is democratic, just less democratic than MMP.

My former Political Science professor, Dr. Koyzis, is quite passionate on this issue. He wrote an article on the issue and responded to the counter-argument on his blog. Both the article and his response can be found here.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Song of the Moment: Let Down - Easy Star All-Stars featuring Toots Hibbert

The Easy Star All-Stars are a reggae group based in New York who created their own label. In 2003 they released Dub Side of the Moon an album covering Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Recently, they released Radiodread a cover of Radiohead's Ok Computer. The following is a cover of Radiohead's Let Down. Let Down is a very sad song which makes its delivery in a bouncing reggae beat a little disorienting for some people. However, reggae has a long history of juxtaposing sad lyrics over happy-sounding rhythms. Reggae, a music from the third world, knows full well the importance of dancing one's sorrows away. The legendary Toots Hibbert does an amazing job of injecting this song with soul and making it his own. The two versions of this song are worlds apart, but each is beautiful in its own way.

Transport, motorways and tramlines
Starting and then stopping
Taking off and landing
The emptiest of feelings
Disappointed people clinging on to bottles
And when it comes it's so so disappointing

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Shell smashed, juices flowing
Wings twitch, legs are going
Don't get sentimental
It always ends up drivel

One day I'm going to grow wings
A chemical reaction
Hysterical and useless
Hysterical and ...

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Let down again
Let down again
Let down again

You know, you know where you are with
You know where you are with
Floor collapsing
Floating, bouncing back
And one day....
I am going to grow wings
A chemical reaction
Hysterical and useless
Hysterical and...

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Who deh?