Friday, May 30, 2008

Conversations with Al

At the warehouse job I'm temping at, there's a fellow by the name of Al. My Newfoundlander boss turned to me soon after meeting him and said, "I wonders if he take them droogs or somethin'." I don't think he takes drugs but I'm beginning to think he's a functional autistic. He's a tall reedy fellow with a bit of a hunch and an almost constant look of bemusement. His eyes look out intently at you when he speaks to you and his brows furrow as soon as you utter a statement which he doesn't understand or agree with. Here's a sample of some of our conversations:

* * *

"Do you know what happened to the rubber ball in my truck?" Al asked me, staring at me carefully.

"Oh, yeah." I answered, "I must have accidentally kicked it out of the truck when you dropped me off. Don't worry, I put it in my bag."

"You put it in your bag?" he asked suspiciously.

"Yeah, I saw it rolling down the street so I picked it up and put in my bag."

"Why didn't you give it to me?" he queried.

"You were already gone."

"Oh, because I thought you stole it," he said, still gazing at me suspiciously.

A little while later he returned to me, "I remember that I stopped at a red light. Why didn't you catch up and return the ball to me?"

"I didn't see you."

"I don't know. I think maybe you just took it," Al seemed fairly sure of himself.

"No, I don't steal," I replied.

"Everyone says that. No one says, 'yes, I steal things,'" he laughed.

He had a point, but I was a little taken aback at being accused of the theft of a stupid little rubber ball. I just shook my head and walked away. At break time, I took the ball from my bag and gave it to him.

After bouncing his ball around for a while and then returning to work, Al walked over to me.

"Have you seen my ball?" he asked fervently.


"It's cool how it lights up, don't you think?" he asked.


"I put it somewhere where I would know where it was but no one would see it and take it."

He looked around for a bit more, "I think someone stole it." He spent the better part of ten minutes looking for his bouncy rubber ball until, at last, he held it aloft triumphantly, "here it is."

Later, while he was dropping me off he said, "Try not to take anything this time."

I laughed, looking down at the floor where he had strategically placed the ball, "I'll try not to."

His eyes lit up as if he had caught me, "You mean, you'll try not to steal it again?"

I frowned, "No, I'll try not to kick it out of the door again."

He didn't say anything, but the look he gave me almost made me feel guilty for a crime I didn't commit.

* * *

The manager of the plant came to check on us one day and asked why we weren't working. As soon as I told him we were on lunch he apologized and, in a friendly manner, told us to enjoy ourselves.

After the manager left, Al turned to me and said, "He's not very strict, is he?"

"No," I agreed, "he's a nice guy."

"How do you know he's a nice guy? You've only known him for a week," Al frowned at me as he scratched his long aquiline nose.

"From what I know, he's a nice guy," I replied.

"You're quick to judge people, aren't you?" he commented.

"I give them the benefit of the doubt."

"You judge people fast."

Being accused of being a swift judge of people, I thought back to a previous conversation.

"What do you think of the Chinese?" Al had queried as he had taken another of his many sudden breaks from his labours.

"I like Chinese people," I had answered.

"Really? Don't you find that they're all thieves?" Al had asked earnestly.

"No, they've never stolen from me."

"Do you know that in China they take pills and mark them as Viagra pills and sell them for cheaper than the real Viagra pills and they make a big profit off of that?" Al had pointed out.

"So you're willing to generalize about 1.5 billion people based on the actions of a few?" I had not been sure if there were 1.5 billion Chinese people but it had sounded right.

"Yes. Don't you find that generalizing about people is good? Then you know what to expect when you meet them," Al had frowned intently at me.

"No, I don't."

* * *

On finding out that someone had vacationed in Malaysia:

"Why would you want to go there?" Al asked.

"It's a beautiful place and the people are really nice," the person answered.

"Yeah, but what is there to do?" Al queried, biting his nail and furrowing his brow.

"There's great scenery, resorts, and wonderful friendly people to meet," came the answer.

Al's frown grew, he opened his mouth and then just shook his head, frowning in absolute befuddlement.

* * *

On seeing me drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola that I had requested from the daily drink run:

"Why didn't you order a Dr. Pepper?" he asked, as if Dr. Pepper were clearly a far superior drink.

"I like Coke," I replied.

"You don't like Dr. Pepper?" he frowned.

"Yeah, I like it."

"So why didn't you get one?" he asked.

"Because I like Coke more."

"Oh," he still seem perplexed by my answer.

* * *

When I made the mistake of saying that I thought the plant had air conditioning (I meant a ventilation fan keeping the air circulating in the plant).

"Why would you say something like that? Why would you say that?" He seemed genuinely alarmed that I could possibly say that.

"I meant a fan, you know, circulating the air."

"But why would you say that? That makes no sense. Why would you say that?" he seemed very agitated that I had misspoken.

* * *

After relating the story of how he had been pulled over and given a ticket for having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle:

"So why are you contesting the ticket if you're guilty?" I asked.

"Because the police officer violated my civil rights," he answered, as if it was obvious.

"How did he violate your civil rights?"

"He searched my vehicle without my permission."

"Yeah, but you had locked the door and that probably made him suspicious."

"No, because he didn't see me do that. I was very sneaky."

"But he tried the door and it was locked, so that probably made him very suspicious, it gave him probable cause."

"He had no right to search my vehicle. He called a tow truck and the tow truck driver took everything out of my truck and the officer gave me a ticket for having an open container of alcohol in my truck. Don't you see how he violated my rights? Most people don't know their rights and that's why cops get away with searching their vehicles. I'm glad I contested the ticket."

"But you're guilty," I said.

"That doesn't matter, he violated my rights."

"You gots open liquor, yer up shit creek, buddy," my boss opined over his shoulder.

Al continued to defend his line of reasoning for the better part of ten minutes.

* * *

"I can't believe the lady at Harvey's yelled at me."

"Why did she yell at you?" I asked.

"I was filling up my drink and she said 'why don't you wait for paying customers to get their drink before you steal it?'" he seemed positively put out at the injustice of it all.

"You stole your drink?"

"I just filled my bottle up at the refill station."

"You didn't pay for it?"

"No, I never pay for soft drinks. It's a waste of money."

"But you can't understand why she might be a little upset at you for that?"

"It's just carbonated water and sugar, it only costs them maybe 7 cents to produce but they charge $1.50 for it."

"So you don't buy it because they profit off of it so much?"

"I would never buy it, it's not really stealing."

It's my turn to frown and look at him in perplexion.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Romeo Dallaire and Jason Kenney Probably Won't Be Meeting Afterwards for Drinks

The Khadr clan is infamous in Canada for its ties to Al Queda. The patriarch, Ahmad Said Al-Khadr became an associate of Osama bin Laden in 1985 and founded 'Human Concern International,' a charity ostensibly for the relief of human suffering. In reality, many of the funds the charity garnered (including over $300,000 from the Canadian government) went towards militant Islamic extremism. In 1995, Ahmad was arrested in Pakistan for funding Al Queda, but the Canadian government interceded, freeing Ahmad to begin another so-called charity in 1996. That same year the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and Ahmad moved there with his wife and six children. Ahmad's oldest daughter, Zaynab, had the dubious honour of having Osama bin Laden himself attend her wedding to a member of Al Queda. She has stated that the September 11th attacks were justified and that she hopes her young daughter will die a martyr. After the American invasion in October 2001, Ahmad went into hiding. Ahmad's oldest son, Abdullah, is still a member of Al Queda and is eluding capture. His second-oldest son, Abdurahman, was captured in November 2001 and not only agreed to cooperate with coalition forces, but renounced his ties to Muslim extremism. Unfortunately, he is the only ray of hope amid his dark-minded family. Ahmad's wife, Maha Elsamnah, took her fourteen-year-old son Omar and enrolled him in an Al-Queda training camp in Pakistan. He was captured in Afghanistan in late July 2002 after allegedly slaying an American soldier. At the time of this crime Khadr was only 15 and he became the youngest soldier to be held in extrajudicial detention in Guantanomo Bay. In October of 2003, there was a firefight between American and Al Queda forces which resulted in the death of Ahmad and the paralysis of his thirteen-year-old son, Abdul Karim.

There are questions as to Omar Khadr's guilt in the slaying of an American soldier. Guilty or not, many Canadians believe that Khadr should be extradited from his legal limbo in Guantonomo to face a fair trial in Canada. They reason that, due to his legal status as a child soldier at the time of the alleged crimes, he should be removed from Guantonomo to face the protection of the law.

When the Khadr fiasco boiled up last year a lot of people compared his treatment to the treatment of Ishmael Beah. Beah wrote A Long Way Gone recounting his horrific experience as a child soldier. In the court of public opinion, there seemed to be a lot more sympathy for Beah than for Khadr. Could it be that the faceless villagers whom Beah slaughtered were more palatable to our imaginations than the young American soldier allegedly killed by Omar Khadr? I would like to think that people don't place value on life that way. I think both young men were victims of the same sort of brainwashing and hateful indoctrination. Nevertheless, Ishmael Beah has been redeemed while Khadr remains damned. If Khadr returns to Canada, he should not be exposed to the hate that his family espouses. However, his time in Guantonomo has, in all likelihood, only hardened his hatred and his commitment to his disgusting ideology.

The Conservatives seem to have no interest in extraditing Omar Khadr from Guantonomo Bay despite the urgings of the Canadian Bar Association, Khadr's military lawyer, UNICEF, and various human rights groups. Recently, at the foreign affairs committee on international human rights Conservative Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, clashed with Senator Romeo Dallaire. Attempting to besmirch Dallaire's seemingly unassailable reputation, Kenney somewhat smugly asked the following question:

"Senator Dallaire - I believe you - correct me if I'm wrong - you said in your testimony that, quotes 'what the United States is doing is exactly what the terrorists are doing' you also said, I believe, that, quotes 'the United States is no better than the other guy.' I assume when you said the other guy you were referring to inter alia terrorists or Al Queda. Is that actually your position?"

Dallaire, unmoved by Kenney's attempt to put words in his mouth, responded calmly:

"My position is is that the minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, and with civil liberties in order to say that you're doing it to protect yourself and you are going against the fundamentals of those rights and conventions you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all. We are slipping down the slope of going down that same route and using the argument that these conventions and these methods are, in fact, preventinig us from protecting ourselves. I would argue that, in the contrary, they are, in fact, a guarantee that we can protect ourselves. It's a matter of us knowing how to use them and to be innovative in trying to provide our protection in this complex era."

Kenney, visibly excited with the thought of having cornered Dallaire, responds:

"So when you said the terrorists, I, you know there are different terrorists from different movements, I presume in the context here you are principly talking about Al Queda style terrorists, Jihadi extremists, those are the terrorists you're referring to?"

Dallaire responds:

"In this case there that's what we're working with, yes."

Kenney now presumes to lecture Dallaire, who has seen humanity in its worst state of depravity, on morality:

"So, would you contest the fact that that category of people are responsible for things such as capturing and beheading innocent civilians, recently for, in one instance, capturing teenage girls with down's syndrome, strapping them with suicide belts, and sending them into a child's pet market in Baghdad, calling for the destruction of all the Jewish people. Would you contest that these are some of the tactics and aspirations of the terrorists to whom you referred?"

Jason Kenney's referral to the case of the women with Down's syndrome who were remotely detonated in a pet market shows a lack of research on his part. The women, in fact, were treated for psychiatric disorders and did not have Down's syndrome. The American military has since backed down from this claim and Kenney's hasty assistant should have been more careful. This does not change the monstrosity of Muslim extremists, but it does show Kenney's willingness to engage in overblown rhetoric. Dallaire responds by attempting to point out that Al Queda's methods of using child soldiers are the same as those used in wars all around the world.

"And I notice that you like to just throw in that last one there to make yourself a whole context. First of all, it is the same as those adults who use child soldiers in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Uganda, Sudan, Darfur, Sri Lanka . . ."

Kenney, impatient with the long list of countries he doesn't really care about, interrupts:

"Is it your testimony that Al Queda- Al Queda - Al Queda -sending a . . ."

Dallaire continues to speak:

"And in so doing that it is a child soldier is being used and we are using illegal means to try . . .

Kenney has no time for Dallaire's entire explanation and eagerly interrupts so he can attempt his next question:


Dallaire continues:

. . . to try them."

Kenney, morally indignant, pounces:

"So, is it your testimony that Al Queda strapping up a 14 year old girl with Down's Syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country, is that your position?"

Dallaire, his temper flaring, made the mistake of falling into Kenney's trap. The first sentence of his response is the sound-byte most news programs went with. The rest of his statement makes sense but betrays Dallaire's flustered state.

"If you want it black and white then I am only too prepared to give it to you, Ab-so-lutely. You're either with the law or you're not with the law. If you wish to fiddle with the law and say, 'well we're going to go a bit this way and we're going to go a bit this way,' then fine. But in the processes of what we're looking for you're either guilty or you're not, you're either a child soldier or you're not. And if you'd like to use sort of the extreme scenarios under which I'm articulating my position which is that you're not allowed to go against those conventions and if you going down the same road as those who absolutely don't believe them at all."

Kenney left the committee in a huff, blustering about how he can't believe that the Liberal Senator would compare Canadian and American authorities to Al Queda. After the fallout, Dallaire gave the following response to the criticism:

"Suffice to say that I in no way intended to equate Canadian or U.S. authorities with the terrorist organization al-Queda. We cannot avoid the point that if we violate international law in our pursuit of the war on terror, we risk reducing ourselves, collectively, to the same level of those we oppose. I stand by my views about the descent into uncertainty and the risk that our nation faces when we fiddle with basic tenants of human rights, international law and conventions and do so in the name of protecting our security."

Dallaire's opinion, from what I understand, is that Canada and the US are great nations but they cannot be in a position of moral superiority if they do not abide by the rule of law. You either obey the law or you don't. If you don't then you're not in the ideal position to bring justice to the world.

Who deh?