Happiest Places on Earth


"In the second century of the Christian era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind."

"...During a happy period (A.D. 98-180) of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines...."

Edward Gibbon, 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.'

Life is full of mysteries and ironies. For instance, to Gibbon human civilization was at its apex in the late 1st century. Don't tell this to left-wing revisionists who are repulsed by the idea of Empire. Their world view seems to find solace in the Book of Revelations. According to the apocalyptic book, the Romans will be on the side of the dark forces in the final battle.

More ironies? Sure, why not? Canada is ranked 10th (the U.S. is 23rd). Yet, yet the nation is fractured along linquistic and regional lines. Go figure. Not a day doesn't go by with some part of the country complaining about the Feds. This in the most decentralized Federal state in the world. Some people can't be pleased. Who knew that whining is bliss?

Negro Leagues: A part of Americana; Chasing Records

It was significant that the Baseball Hall of Fame recognized and inducted several former Negro League players along with Bruce Suter yesterday.

America is endowed with a rich multi-layered history and the Negro Leagues is only a part of that heritage. With teams like the Baltimore Black Sox, Birmingham Black Barons and New York Cubans the league was also home to legends in the names of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Cool Papa Bell and Don Newcombe. Between 1927 and 1939, the New York Yankees were a baseball dynasty. So were the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues who were led by notable stars like Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. It would have been interesting to have seen a Crawfords vs. Yankees showdown.

With the legacy left behind, the Negro Leagues are an integral part of baseball folklore. A sport that cherishes its myths and legends could do nothing but honor their past and contributions.

-Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies has hit safely in 31 straight games now. We've seen quite a few of these streaks over the years but none came close to 44 let alone 56. While the idea of hitting safely in consecutive games is an exotic one, is it really as important a record as we think? Is it more of a romantic chase made famous by Joe DiMaggio during a time when baseball was its innocent apex? Let's put in statistical terms since baseball is a game that worships stats. All things being equal, let's say a player goes 1 for 4 for 162 straight games. What does this imply? Well, that the player hit .250 and got 162 hits. Mediocre numbers. Going 2 for 3 is implausible since it would mean a .667 BA (not to mention 324 hits) for the season. In any case, does this record rank among what we regard as the greatest of feats?


Civil Liberties and Security can Temporarily Coexist

What will it take for people to grasp that laws are human constructs from the minds of human beings based on humanity's experiences? We frame laws as we go along and learn. In this way, humans have learned to be rather realistic and pragmatic when it comes to legislating, formulating and changing laws. It is a highly flexible human endeavour because humans are in an ever constant state of change and progress. Laws enacted in the 19th century don't always make sense to a contemporary mind and we have no issues with amending the law.

Since 9/11, have civil libertarians learned to adjust? They see any measures to secure the American people as an overreaction. Is it? History will show that the problem with surprise attacks is that it is borne out of the fact that we underestimate what enemies plot.

9/11 was an act of war by a camouflaged enemy that has made clear they will strike again - an enemy that skillfully uses the concept of freedom against the people. They walk among us all. It only takes one. The precedent has been set.

Where is the overreaction in this? It seems to me that the government of the United States is progressing prudently in this matter. What did people expect: That all begins and ends with intelligence? That the cops and various public security officials somehow figure out who the enemy is with their thumbs stuck up their noses?

Time and again democracies have proven to be remarkably considerate when it comes to balancing liberties and security. That doesn't mean that we haven't been wrong or indeed have not overreacted in the past. Civil liberties can be curtailed temporarily if security is threatened. They may not comprehend that the terrorist threat is real but the American government and a significant portion of its people think it is. Why would any government go through the trouble of such measures if they did not feel the threat was real?

In any event, those civil liberties lost in times of war are usually restored in a democracy.

That's the beauty of law. It knows it is not about values. People value their security before they do their freedom. Freedom is a precious commodity that must be protected. No pain, no gain.

Enter the fabulously, fanatical Gordon Johnson and his flippant case against the people who run Raymond James Stadium -home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his mind, because a security guard dutifully does his job to check his bag, his civil liberties are infringed. In normal times, he would be right. I myself tend to trust the individual over government. If I had to choose between the two that is. I understand what libertarians are saying in its abstract form but Mr.Johnson's grievance seems a little much.

However, in a world that is still trying to figure out the new rules of the international system, he is wrong and he must be outright dismissed. It can also be put forth that he is immoral. He is not thinking about the collective benefit rewards of security but rather is hiding behind a document to push an individual motive. Suppose there is an attack on that very stadium? Let us suppose further that tens of thousands die but he survives? What was the price of freedom? What was it worth to him?

In both Canada with the Charter and the United States with the Constitution we have allowed these documents - however enlightened or important - to consume our notions of what defines us. We no longer strive towards a free-flowing society in search of a just path while using these documents as mere guides along the way. Rather, we allow them to define our national DNA. With it a whole pack of myths and empty promises we can't possibly hold. By adhering to a strict and inflexible code and stringent application of that code to benefit the individual, all we do is warp our collective common sense. Government should not be our sole tour guide to a just society.

If rules are meant to be broken then laws are meant to be changed. There is a plausible argument to be made that most people will tolerate some cuts in personal freedom to protect themselves. It's happened before in history and it will surely happen again in the future.

In the meantime, why take the chance? The 1950s are long gone.


The Decline of Ideas


"Originality is undetected plagiarism." William Inge.

Let's say someone compares your work to a famous author, musician or artist you never read or listened to. Does that mean you are not original? If it came straight from your mind and onto a sheet of paper with artistic and creative competence is this not original work?

Editors will say 'that's been done' but what they won't say is that many writers succeed and exist on re-evaluating and re-interpreting 'what's been done.' Artists steal, outright or in conniving fashion, from each other all the time. How many columnists are truly 'original?' Some of the most popular writers out there are plain awful (Maureen Dowd for example.)

Everything we see follows a previous standard. I don't believe anyone has original ideas in Hollywood. You can tell who the cliques are in Hollywood as they are likely to collaborate on various projects. We see this especially in comedy. Often the result is hilarious and sometimes a disgusting showcase in pompous excess. There's easy money and then there's easy money to the point of sin.

If originality escapes us, we can revolutionize or reintroduce lost forms of techniques or interpret old ideas and inventions for a modern sensibility. For the most part, many do great work in this realm. It does not make the work any less valuable. Sometimes it falls in the genius category of human work.

I remember David Foster once demanding American Idols contestants to bring something 'original' to the table. I had no idea what that meant especially considering Foster is hardly an innovator. The successful artist will demand 'originality' of aspiring people. Yet, a lot that's on TV, on the radio or at the movies is recycled stuff. Originality has no friends in the mass produced world of corporate art. Being an original, not always but usually, means people won't understand you and that in turns suggests you will not profit from it immediately. Can't have that. Foster knows the game. He's certainly talented and is a successful pop musician but is he an original?

It's like the interview process. Experience only matters when the interviewer doesn't know you. At which point, you can bleed on the table and you'll probably not impress anyone.

I'm not surprised by this article. It does, however beg a few questions: Is there a dearth of talent out there? If so, is it because Hollywood is way to difficult to penetrate? Why is it so hard for artists? Something tells me there is talent out there but the environment and structure for artists in our age is not conducive to nurturing that talent. Hollywood is both a product and a form of art at the same time. It's also a terrible waste of talent and time.

Thank the Lord for HBO.

If anybody needs me, I do have a few original works to propose and present.

Dodger Blue is now my heart

After the Expos were sent packing, the question was asked 'will you pull for the new, naturalized Nationals?' Given the petty, pathetic, paltry amount of Expo fans that remained to begin with, I doubt the Montrealers migrated their support to Washington. Besides, it's not like the National organization showed any class in remembering their roots so screw them. I myself became a baseball atheist. I pulled for no one that is.

Until today. I thought about many teams. How can one not admire the New York Yankees and their tradition of excellence? As a Montreal Canadiens fan this should be a natural fit but for some reason I couldn't make the jump. The Boston Red Sox were tempting for their rebel image and history and I have been to Fenway but again I wasn't sure. Though I did pull for them in 2004. In both cases, both cities happen to be on my favorite list and both are superb sports towns. The St.Louis Cardinals were also under consideration. Another great sports city with great fans and possibly the best baseball fans - not to mention a winning baseball heritage. But the Cards were Expos killers in the 1980s. Cubs? Tigers? A's? Reds? All legitimate candidates. In fact, I wouldn't mind if any of them were to win the WS.

Then it hit me. The Los Angeles Dodgers. If one traces back the lineage of the forgotten Expos it all leads to the Dodgers organization. The Montreal Royals were the farm team for the Brookyln Dodgers back in the 40s and 50s. I have always felt there was a special bond between Brooklyn and Montreal as baseball towns. Both were hard luck baseball towns in that there always was a team in their way - Yankees, Cards and Braves. Ebbett's Filed was not that different fro DeLorimier or Jarry Park in some ways in terms of fan and player interaction. I'm not crazy about the city itself but I have been and loved Dodger Stadium. It's a great place to watch baseball. Dodgers fans rank, in my opinion, just as high as Yankees, Reds, Cubs, Red Sox and Cardinals fans.

History binds the two. Which leaves me with one thing to say: Go Dodgers!


Dunga Named Brazil's Head Coach. The Samba is Silent: Race and the Montreal Canadiens

Dunga was a hard tackling, defensive midfielder who was the antithesis of the Brazilian philosophy of free, improvised soccer. He was one of the first players to claim way back in the mid-1990s that demands by fans to expect Brazil to continue in the tradition of Ademir, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Leonidas, Tostao and Pele were possibly no longer tenable.

In my observations, Brazil hasn't come close to playing anywhere near its legendary reputation for quite some time. As I pointed out in earlier posts during the World Cup, Brazil plays much more defensively now. Cafu, Emerson, Zé Roberto, Lucio and Adriano are more in the European mold than anything.

In 1994, they were a talented squad but hardly dominating. They needed penalty kicks to beat Italy. In 1998, more of the same only the cracks were more evident. France outshone Brazil at their own game. As did the Netherlands in the semis who also lost on - you guessed it - penalty kicks. Brazil won in 2002 in spite of themselves and a poor competitive field thanks in part to poor officiating that prevented Brazil being tested by Italy or Spain.

In 2006, soccer insiders and fans new (I picked them to progress no further than the quarters) it was the end of the line this time. While Brazil still produces outstanding talents like Ronaldinho and Kaka, they are more the exceptions than the rule. The rest of the squad play in the tradition of European soccer. Whether this is a good thing or not is up for debate. It does point to is that the Brazilian soccer system and development program has been under going changes. If people want beautiful soccer interpreted by a South America look no further than to Argentina. Often overlooked, Argentina has been a consistent purveyor of powerful and prolific soccer.

The notion of beautiful Brazilian soccer was based more on romanticism and marketing; more on myth than fact. Only interloping soccer fans who crawl out of hibernation every four years bought into this. It has become tiresome to listen to such fans (and journalists) who only watch (and write) who accord themselves expert status when offering their short-sighted opinions. Just to give you an idea, these 'fans' still thought Brazil played well in 2006.

The appointment of Dunga confirms that this trend will continue. Previous head coach Parreira employed realist tactics and was aware that you don't win points or win games for looking pretty. The Brazilian national press and fans were also attentive.

- The French-Canadian press in Montreal have been quite vocal in their discussions to have more French-Canadian players playing for the Habs. The question is often asked, "Should the Canadiens make more of an effort to have more Quebec born players in their line up?"

In theory, the answer is yes. In reality, it's simply not possible.

First, the Habs do not benefit from the territorial draft any longer along with master practitioners like Sam Pollock ensuring that the Canadiens drafted the right players. The Richard, Beliveau, Lafleur lineage has ended. It should have continued with Mario Lemieux but it didn't.

The landscape is different now. Second, and more interesting, Quebec born players are reluctant to play for Montreal. Everything from language and pressure makes this place less attractive. While Toronto born players want to play in Ontario the opposite is happening with Quebec. It's a strange phenomena. Third, do the Yankees only draft players from New York? The Packers from Green Bay? Lakers from Los Angeles? What's more important is to develop and strengthen your farm system. In segregating yourself you only limit your options. The French media needs to come to terms with the fact that a) the Habs don't even draft well and have not been strong in identifying French players and b) no nationality holds a monopoly on talent.

The only sport that has teams that exist along nationalist lines is soccer. In Spain in particular, you have teams like Athletico Bilbao that will only draft and play Basque players. The price of course is eternal mediocrity. That's the choice they made and their fans accept it. Here in Montreal, we're a little less realistic. We want French players and we want to win.

A more practical model to follow is Barcelona. Barcelona is a Catalan-based soccer powerhouse but they go after the best players in the world as they did when they signed Gianluca Zambrotta from Italy and Lillian Thuram from France. Barcelona is an example of a squad keeping its identity but maintaining its standards of excellence by rooting itself in the modern realities of the sport.

The Montreal Canadiens operate in a similar environment only within a North American context. Habs management understand this but do the media and fans? Most do but bringing up the question is counter-productive and pointless. I can't think of any pro North American team that presently considers race when building their teams.

Harper Continues to Lead

It's tight but a slim majority of Canadians support Prime Ministers Harper's position on the Israel/Lebanon crisis. Harper is supporting Israel's right to defend itself. Not surprisingly, Quebecers are less than enthusiastic. If there is one thing Quebecers have remained consistent on is their steadfast refusal to partake in any war. In a way, they are right. If there is no direct interest to Quebec or Canada why fight?

Here's the thing. It's an important issue. It's an international issue. We are part of the international system. We want to play a role in that system - especially if we want to project Canadian 'values' whatever they may be. I'm not sure staying neutral for the sake of staying neutral is an honorable thing.

Everything in Canada comes down to votes and what Quebec thinks. That's what happens when you ignore your international role and remained focused on domestic issues - you become small minded and narrow in your intellectual scope.

With Harper, while this strategy remains, at least he is leading the country and has taken a refreshing stand. For 15 years we were a backward, bankrupted bunch of buffoons. Now some integrity has been restored.

Stephen Harper is a different leader Canadians were accustomed to - he's an economist rather than a lawyer. We may disagree with him and his party on certain if not many issues but it is nice to see Canada becoming a medium player again.


The Fleeting Face of a Farce

Has anyone been catching CNN's soupe du jour Syria's Ambassador to the United States Imad Mustapha? Every time I flick to CNN the good PhD diplomat always seems to be on. He's out there working hard to soften the image of Syria for us all.

Operation Soften Syria is in full flight. Another diplomat that will fade into the Arabian night I am sure.

The question I have is who does this guy think he's kidding? Doesn't he know he's talking to an audience with a sophisticated sense of humour?

Consider some of these comments (and I paraphrase) he repeats often:

On the ceasefire: "...we are more than willing to engage..."

About Israel and America's role: "....they must seek comprehensive solutions..."

On describing Syria as "....peaceful..."

And Syria's position on what ails the Middle East: "...the core issue of regarding the occupation has to be addressed..."

Aw, gee? Is that it?

Seriously, are the cameramen laughing in the background? Does he break into uncontrollable giggles himself when the cameras are off? When has Syria ever been willing to engage? The only language Syria understands is force. Ask Turkey. Forget Zionist and American propaganda for a sec, Syria has had multiple opportunities to 'engage' and take the initiative over the years. They chose not to and now they and Iran have made Lebanon pay the ultimate price.

As for comprehensive solutions. It seems to me massive concessions were made as an initial step to normalizing the region under Bill Clinton. Israel and her people were in a giving mood in the early to mid 90s and Arafat ditched the whole effort. The truth is that it's hard to please a cynical population that is so vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

And this ties into his contention that Syria is peaceful and that all is about the occupation. Syria occupies Lebanon. So you can't complain about another country when your own government are doing the same thing. It does affect your credibility.

In any event, I am not prepared to concede the complex issues that confront the Mid-East all boil down to the occupation. It started well before this. The notion that all would dance in the streets of Galilee and swim in the Red Sea in peace without the occupation is pure fiction. It's an Arab fantasy. I did, come to think of it, enjoy Arab literature in school; like Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves for example.

This soupe du jour is turning cold....fast.


The Final Stake in the Hearts of Montreal Expos Fans

Just when Montreal Expos fans thought they saw it all out comes this. It really is sad how MLB has gone out of its way to ignore that it once had a franchise in Montreal. True, Montrealers forgot about the Expos towards the end but how can the memories of the Expos be erased so callously? It was, despite the sad, waning years of the late 90s, a pretty decent franchise over all. It had its heritage and fine moments.

To see Brian Schneider and Livan Hernandez named in the all-time Expos-National Top 5 list was shocking to say the least. No Dawson. No Raines. No Rogers. How credible can this list possibly be? Chalk this in the 'fans can't be trusted to make real decisions' file. How can this be possibly rationalized? Do these hams realize how good the Expos were from '78 to '88? Carter and Staub made the list. Staub was more of a romantic figure. Guerrero passes him by a mile.

The all-time Expos list would HAVE to include - Raines, Dawson, Carter and Rogers. The fifth spot is up for debate. But any of Dennis Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wallach, Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero, Grissom, Alou, Parrish, Galarraga, Reardon, Cromartie, Walker, Wetteland would rank ahead of Schneider and Hernandez. And these are just guys off the top of my head. I wanted to get the 80s and 90s edition of the Epxos in to show how dumb this list really is.

As I have said before, let us Montrealers wallow in our 2nd rate sports city by ourselves.


FIFA: Moral equivalency alive and well

So in the politically correct world of FIFA punishing both Zinadine Zidane and Marco Materazzi was a justified ruling today. In the sports world, this is moral relativism at its regressive apex. Zidane gets three matches plus a paltry 7500 EURO fine, while Materazzi gets 5000 euros and a two match ban (2/3 the penalty as a friend pointed out. Ridiculous indeed).

"It's scandalous to ban a player for having said something." former Italian and AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini.

"It was intelligent, measured and reasonable. It shows knowledge of the world of football." President of the French soccer Federation Jean-Pierre Escalettes told AP.

Besides this gibberish, would France have accepted if the tables were reversed? Would they have cared had they won? Absolutely not. How is this stupid ruling remotely 'intelligent?' Because it shafts Italy and essentially leaves France off the hook?

Ok, a few things need to be pointed out here.

1) Italy gets the short-end of the stick. France complains and manage to equate the physical actions of a selfish player to the lousy words of another.

2) Those who called that the only fair solution was to fine both and are happy with this only show their selective stupidity. First, there were no rules in place for such offenses to begin with. Second, this sets an automatic precedence without any legitimate laws to govern them.

As if FIFA does not always have enough on its plate regarding officiating. Are officials going to carry tape recorders on the field now? How will they handle every cry baby that comes up to them complaining about what was said to them about their mother? Will they be provided with proper resources to deal with this? Chances are the answer is no.

As I said before, I wonder if the French would ever accept such a blatantly unjust ruling. What FIFA should have done was let Materazzi go unpunished (since trash talking is not illegal. Or at the very least send a strong message that they would not tolerate acts of buffoonery) and warn all teams and officials that they were no longer going to tolerate this sort of behaviour moving forward. Seems to me this would be a fairer way to approach this. I go back to Francesco Totti versus Poulsen 2004. There, the Italians had no hope of getting a fair hearing from Sepp Blatter.

3) Zidane is retired. 3 games for what exactly? Whereas, Materazzi is still on the national team. This is simply unfair on the part of FIFA. If I'm the Italian soccer federation I file an appeal immediately. Remember, these two teams meet in September.

4) Materazzi deserves an outright apology. French players went out of their way to make Italy look like the bad guys? As it turns out, Zidane admitted no racial slur was hurled his way. Every single person who went on chat rooms, message boards and the like to insult Italy and Materazzi are eating their words for speaking out before the facts came in.

As for Chirac, let's just say I agree with The Economist he deserves a 'red card' for his overall uselessness. What the hell is a leader of a supposed world power doing sticking his brie infested fingers on such an infantile issue?

Well maybe it's not so childish. Get this, a lawyer in Marseille is going through with a motion to have the game annuled. How are we to interpret this as anything but France being poor losers? All this unfortunately over shadows Italy's victory.


A Terribly Designed Tragedy: Israel, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria and Iran. Dancing with the Devil.

Jews and Arabs truly do really get along when removed from the sinister ploys of their leaders. Specifically, I single out Arab governance which is an affront to all what mankind has attempted to avoid regarding civility.

Thousands of miles away here in Canada, the Lebanese community is prosperous and educated. I myself have Lebanese-Christian friends and family. In fact, close friends of ours happen to be a happily married couple of Jewish and Lebanese heritage. I imagine it's the same thing in the United States. The following is just a personal essay. It by no means pretend to be anything more than that.

While there is an international backlash (though Arab states have remained quiet) against Israel*, the case against the Muslim world is easier to make. The reason is twofold: a) the ascendancy of Arab Muslim militancy through the use of terror to spoil any agreements they do not approve of and b) the inverted flow of Arab history. By this I mean while many societies progress, the Arab world regresses.

It is tough and easy to ponder the Mid-East at the same time. Standing strictly on our soil, they look insane. When removed from it and we place ourselves in their mindset we see the direction they are coming from - it is by no means less acceptable. Islam and politics are one and the same making understanding the layers of complexities that much harder to grasp and follow.

In a simpler form and far more plausible angle, the Arab world is constrained to the point of self-destruction with resistance. A form of jihad against what is perceived to imperialism. They have believed this since the Reconquest of Spain and fall of the Ottoman Empire.

I pulled this quote from an article in the 'Weekly Standard.' "The Roman empire did not last forever. There is no reason to believe that Israel will. It should have never existed to begin with, and all Arabs believe that it will be wiped out."

What more do we need to understand about the contemporary Arab mindset? Remove the past which many use to push their own agenda look at the present. Such a statement completely rules out the deep rooted cultural existence of Jews in the region. When one examines the history of the region (aside from its convoluted nature) everyone has a right to that small, specific piece of land. Even though Arabic peoples and nomads roamed around the area without much more claim to it in the 20th century. Arabs do not see politics, government and war as the West does.

It is when Israel was granted this parcel of land Arabs took issue. Ever since that day, they have been performing a self-genocide.

Lebanon has journeyed into the inferno during their Civil War during the 70s and 80s. Once one of the most beautiful and friendly societies in the Middle-East, it was reduced to nothing but dust and blood. It was hard to imagine that a place where the Phoenicians inhabited was sinking into nothingness. But, as their Phoenician ancestors did before them, they rebuilt the country. They showed a persistence not usually attributed to recent Arab culture. The Arab mindset we are accustomed to is the destructive one.

Enter Hezbollah and its degenerate brethren like Hamas. These are not people that care for Arab or Palestinian peace and harmony. They are political parasites that operate in a confused vacuum. They are immoral profiteers who act as deterrents to progress. They are to history what steroids is to the body. They inject their followers with rhetoric that is incredibly intoxicating based on dubious logic so as to pump up their prestige. When the rhetoric is not fed, its effectiveness has a terribly negative impact on the psyche of the people - just like steroids does to the muscles and organs when a person does not inject his or herself with it. Who laughs along with them besides the devil and his army? They do not know God or Allah because they are incapable of understanding God.

Some may say that they are legitimate elected officials. This is true. In fact, democracy does not guarantee the right people will be voted into power. I suspect we will be seeing more of this until citizens actual learn the ropes of democracy. For now, religious clerics will take advantage of power being auctioned off at a discount. This is why news organizations like Al-jazeera can be instrumental in making this transition - provided they do not wallow in the same bacterial crud that afflicts their leaders.

The Arabs are fighting for something that can't be won. 1948 is done. What legitimate grievances they may have had is now spent. It feels as though no one knows for sure what has happened. It literally is a surreal circle of confusion. Long memories without looking into the future only serves to destroy the present. They have been sold a bag of worthless goods and the only people who benefit are religious fanatics. They are quite fortunate they discovered oil or else we would not be talking about them right now.

Ah the oil. The gem that has made a tiny percentage of Arabs very rich; and their masses very unhappy. The wealth stayed at the top. The Americans and the Jews keep the people poor. So goes to conspiracy theory. One person suggested we hit them where it hurts most: the wallet. But this will take vision and planning for the West to reduce dependence on oil. Oil IS the economy.

So, they provoke with a stick and wonder why they get slapped back. When a person is punched in the face in what corridor of life do we deny that persons right to defend themselves?

The plight of Arab history and its people reminds me of the gambler. The gambler sets out to seek easy fortunes only to discover that the laws of probabilities hinder his chances. Once in a hole, he seeks other ways to fund his habits. He is convinced he can dig himself out of that hole. So he mortgages his home and so on. He is hopeful if not seductively swayed he will prevail. Why not? Does God not love him too? Arabs have been digging their own graves for decades, if not centuries now.

As far as I can see, Lebanon is being used as a bloody battle ground by external forces. Syria, a bankrupt entity, needs to be held to account for their actions once and for all. Hezbollah, an extension of Iranian madness, for its part must be utterly reconfigured. Easier said than done? Perhaps but it can be done nonetheless. Or they should come to realize its sins and moderate its position. Which ever comes first.

Who will be the big players? Perhaps it is time for Italy to step up to the plate. They not only have friendly relations with both Israel and the Arab world they are free of an imperial past that other countries may have.

Perhaps Israel's response is disproportionate (and this can be debated. There is some truth that Hezbollah's actions was a state to state act of war) to the provocation but Hezbollah knew what they were doing. It is unsavoury that Israel is unleashing its deadly acumen on one of the more hospitable places in the region. Still, anyone who believes Israel's response is based on such a short term action are ignoring history. This is the response of a country that has been kept on a leash. The question is why did Israel take the bait? Why do Arabs insist on provoking Israel? It would take all of the world's greatest historians, psychologists and sociologists to disentangle this.

The problem in dealing with Arabs - particularly militant Muslims - is that their idea of compromise - if it exists at all - is different from our own. Dare I say they do not see life through the same prisms we do? It makes for negotiating with them very difficult and deadly. They will issue a fatwa at the slightest hint of weakness shown by their opponents.

It is an ugly scene to watch children die. I still await for the day Arabs recognize that they are killing themselves. You can't provoke and not expect a reaction. Who behaves this way? It's not enough to post pictures of Israeli atrocities inflicted upon Arabs as if to depict them as animals. The day I see this will be the day I will single out Israel. What do Arabs have to lose?

If it is true that Israel is the real source of instability it will only be exposed if Arabs come to terms with the fact that terrorist outfits such as Hezbollah are a guarantor of utter destruction. Hamas is not a proper response but rather a malignant one. If the Arab world had enlightened leadership there would be no need of violent organizations to defend their rights. Blaming Israel and America for their ills is now a dead game. Clean up your mess. Show the world that you are serious. If you do and Israel continues to cause you grief it will only strengthen your hand. Alas, this is not the case. Right?

This has gone on for too long. Reign in the religious fanatics. Time to go and slaughter the Medussa's head. This is no time for cold feet. This is the only real route to lasting freedom, peace and prosperity. Only then will Act I close. Act II will once and for all reveal that hatred does not enslave their hearts.

*The curious thing is that many feel that Israel is protected in the media. Yet, on the other hand world governments through the UN consistently vote against Israel.


The Source of All Our Great Meals

We were over at my parents tonight for a typical meal of fresh garden vegetables, homemade bread, strawberries, grilled zucchini's topped with basil and garlic, risotto ai funghi (mushroom) and stracciatella (egg) soup. All brought to its delicious melodic height with wine.

Growing up, everything was made from scratch in my house. Everything. Each girlfriend, friend, confidante, colleague etc. I ever brought were always stunned at the dedication my mother - 2nd generation Canadian - and a few of her entourage (aunts, friends etc.) had towards food. Our house was the place to be.

In a way, while this was incredibly healthy and tasty, it did create a rather critical eater. Very few restaurants make the grade with me. My younger brother and sister are far more lenient than either myself or our oldest sister. Yes, your math is accurate, we're four in total. But we are all in agreement that women of a certain generation are a dying breed. Who has time for this sort of stuff anymore? Once upon a time we took it for granted. Now we are all clamouring to get a hold of the magic and secrets on how to make, for example, a proper bruschetta.

If a restaurant sells itself as 'authentic Italian' they'd better damn well be. Not only was I spoiled, I actually read up on the history of Italian food and learnt quite a bit about it while visiting the Old Country. 95% of the time - my own figures - Italian restaurants cater to local tastes and as such are not authentic. Not even close. It's made me impossible to be around at times. A silent hush would alway follow the question, "Hey Commentator, what do you think of the food?"

My mother is no better. She's naturally suspicious. It's hilarious to watch 'The Food Network' with her. While she does have her favorites she respects, her unimpressed look of boredom makes us laugh every time. Yet, she watches and owns every recipe book offered by the people she watches. Hey, she gives people a shot.

We've always wanted to market my mother's cooking but it never happened. She's built herself a stellar reputation. I remember meeting some relatives from Connecticut and the conversation quickly moved to 'Filomena's talent'.

Good for us. Anyway, this was just a build up to what I wanted to say. I walked into the kitchen later on in the night and my mother was holding a newspaper that was obviously kind of old. When she got up and left and I walked over to catch a glimpse of what she was reading.

Some American recipe about apple pies going back to 1982! She kept the darn thing. Right then and there I knew the source of her greatness. Love and dedication - not to mention memory and organizational skills.

The Last Comic Standing Proud

One of the engines that drives human accomplishment is the fact that humans want to be in the presence of excellence. This in itself drives the human spirit to reach for greatness. Now, the environment (PC, government etc.) has a lot to say about whether a society can produce great figures but for the purpose of this post it's sufficient to use the human element alone. Call it the "Wow! A human did that?" factor.

It always blows me away to watch a person with disabilities rise above their affliction to face life head on. To spit in the 'face of these badlands,' as Springsteen put it.

I was flipping channels and stumbled on 'The Last Comic Standing' and caught one Josh Blue. The last time I saw a comic with a disability on TV was that girl on 'The Facts of Life.' Aside from the difficulty of getting up there and making people laugh, these people have an added strike against them. I got the shivers watching him. I know people with handicaps want to be treated equally but it's hard not to be impressed - because they are not equal in any Constitutional or Charter way. This cuts above a piece of document. In some ways, they are better.

We want (grave?) greatness. We want to see how far humans can push the envelope, but at times it's not just about seeking greatness. We can be forgiven for assuming the odds are against anybody becoming the next Rodney Dangerfield - "I told my dentist my teeth were yellow. He told me to wear a brown neck tie" - but human greatness evidently has many different dimensions. With this beacon shining bright, he's already won.

At least he won't be on the 'Facts of Life.' I really didn't enjoy that show.


Where Bing Crosby and Syria Meet

While having a fine, typically argumentative Latin afternoon lunch, I caught the finely silver-haired and groomed Wolf Blitzer interviewing the Syrian ambassador to the United States. I observed once more a reoccurring theme that has become a learned intellectual pathology for what apparently ails the Middle-East.

That being it's all about the occupation stupid! Never mind that the trends of a faltering Arab civilization had long been in progress. The wheels, as it turns, had already been turning before Israel's democratic birth. The good man from Syria, with a stern but sincere straight face told Wolf that all these aggressions and killings all came down to one thing- the occupation. Now, the irony of course is that Syria itself occupies Lebabon. Yes, Israel have made mistakes (e.g. the settlements) but...Is this not like, say, Bing Crosby singing and preaching against family physical abuse?


It's War?

So Hezbollah wants a war, eh? Against Israel? I can't think of any example in world history where a society has been consistently and irresponsibly duped and dragged into the mud by unreasonable pseudo-leaders like the Arabs have in the 20th century. They literally live in a separate dimension from the rest of us.

At this point and juncture in human civilization, it is beyond any normal conceptualization of normalcy how they continue to destroy their own existence. Is there anything left in the Arab soul? How do they survive as a cultural species? Indeed, it is impressive that they do so given the madmen that lurk among them. As I have said, there is no parallel in Western culture to match the suicidal (or self-genocide?) of an entire culture and religion.

I'm 0/2 now. First, I could not come up with anything that came remotely close to what Zidane did in the world of sports (just hypothetical. I have heard good ones such as Roger Clemens hitting a batter on purpose with the base loaded in a World Series match. Or Cal Ripken smashing his bat on a player prior to breaking his consecutive game streak. Or Tom Brady jumping over the center to punch an opponent in the Super Bowl. Or my personal invention, a goalie cross checking a player in the face while his team is on a 5 on 3 power play in a Game 7 situation. They still don't match what he did). Second, I have been stumped by the Middle East. Evidently, even our best and brightest are too. Not a good week.

The Shortcomings of Multiculturalism

Let's be frank here. Multiculturalism betrays the Canadian identity. In an effort to reflect the changing demographics of Canada, the concept of multiculturalism has been a work in progress that stretches back 30 years. During that time, it has become normal for Canadians to accept multiculturalism as a Canadian value.

Multiculturalism (similar to peacekeeping and public health) has proven to be somewhat of a misleading value. Yes, I realize that nationalists and Canadians who enjoy these images of Canada will dismiss my comments. I do not, to my conscious knowledge anyway, adhere to any special ideology. Rather these are my personal observations.

In high school I stood up and proclaimed that the UN was impractical and in need of a makeover and that multiculturalism would prove to be the final nail in the death of Canadian identity - whatever was left of it anyway. My teacher, naturally, was stunned. Only one other guy agreed with me and he was French-Canadian - you take your allies where you can find them. George Grant lamented that Canada was already gone way back in 1965 and it seems as though the next crop of Canadian leaders set to prove him wrong. Namely under the leadership of Pearson and later Trudeau who began to reinvent the country. It is under the direction of these men Canada sat at the table of great nations with an earned respect not seen since 1945.

Post- 1945, peacekeeping, public health, bilingualism, multiculturalism made up the core, indeed the heartbeat, of a renewed Canadian spirit. It has proven to be mere band aid and temporary repose to a deeper malaise. A sense that Canada never really nailed down its identity and purpose in the world. With it a society that slowly lost a sense of its independence as subsidies, unions and taxes - someone has to pay for these values - only served to make Canadians rely on government more to solve our problems. Did all this in fact erode our spirit? Is what's left just superficial pride rooted in empty rhetoric?

That's how the Conservative led by Mulroney came in and took yet another stance as defined by a closer integration with the United States. It also unleashed a second round of Quebec's independence movement and the birth of the Bloc Québecois.

During the World Cup people were calling in complaining that no one carries the Canadian flag. That Canada indeed is secondary in the minds of ethnic communities. These are justified questions only they were asked at the wrong time. Everyone runs to his or her heritage during a soccer tournament because Canada is not represented. I'll take it step further and single the CSA for its corruption and never selecting players that reflects the demographics of the country. Until recently the squad always brought burly, English- Canadians from Ontario and Western Canada that played an outdated brand of soccer. No commitment, no vision, no resources and no philosophy rarely say yes to success.

What are sports fans to do? If you're a car racing fan chances are you'll go Ferrari which hails from Italy. Same with cycling, the Olympics and so on. At least other countries are committed to excellence. Here in Canada it can be plausibly argued that it is not the case. After all, there's more to sports than just hockey.

In any event, the callers should point their complaints to our government. The ones who are sad that Canada Day celebrations are tame and unpatriotic affairs are the same people who cherish multiculturalism as some sort of tolerant progressive ideal. Yet, they act surprised when no one carries the flag. Dual allegiance is a tough gig. It is the country of Canada that encourages this act through policy. If anything, it is remarkable that I see any Canadian flags at all. There is no doubt communities across Canada believe in Canada so long as Canada does not interfere with them. When push comes to shove every other nation comes first.

In America, the melting pot theory is the secret of their success in integrating immigrants. Everyone that landed at the feet of the Statue of Liberty wanted to shed his or her Old World roots and start fresh. Such was the attraction and respect America commanded. Roosevelt once said that being an American is not about race, blood or creed but a matter of the heart and mind. American pride is real and it is deep. Italian-Americans may have celebrated the World Cup victory but the very next day they were Americans.

Another issue is the failure of Canada to brand itself in the eyes of Canadians. For example, the inability for it to develop its own indigenous economy with distinct and vibrant economic sectors. We complain that GM shuts down here never realizing it was never ours in the first place. Financials and resources are not enough. It's semi-diversified and it is saying we do things half-assed. Sure, there are several examples of Canadians making a splash on the international stage here or there or independent artisans that are sought after worldwide but this is fragmented in its nature. Canada has not bound together this fact, marketed it and taken advantage of it. We still often hear "She's from Canada?" or "A Canadian invented that?"

Some will smartly suggest we create a unified Canadian education system. The problem is that education falls under provincial jurisdiction and the provinces are in no mood to give back any bones given to them. The provinces are not interested in the greater good for all Canadians.
Plan B? Culture is not above marketing. I'm not referring to propaganda or illusionary Canadian content rules that prop up our culture. I'm talking good old-fashioned salesmanship. Canada has to figure out a way to connect culture to business.

A good start is to scrap multiculturalism, stop framing laws and policy on the basis of protecting one culture at the expense of others and refute all mediocre intellectual ideas that consider parochial and short-term angles. Time to revamp the civil service to produce an educated and enlightened special intellectual force similar to those that once existed in China and France. The civil service is the government's soul that reflects its people's culture. If they are not up to the task then, it should not surprise that neither will the people. Then again, one may astutely point out that it's the people who drive the nation and not the other way around.

Alas, we have to first purge and sweep the rot of ideas that exists in government first. Where's my mop?


World Cup: A Way to Help Referees

When FIFA President Sepp Blatter threw one of his own referees under the bus following the Portugal/Netherlands debacle, I thought to myself a) this guy has to go and b) soccer needs a small overhaul. Especially considering it was Mr. Blatter who ordered his refs to flash more yellow and red cards. He sent a mixed message.

Why shouldn't soccer - God only knows how many times in the past I have said this - consider video replay as an option?

Soccer fans are way too subjective when it comes to the sport. They are not above arguing the most idiotic and insignificant of things. This is why odd debates that sometimes enrage fans and countries take place. The sport needs a good dose of objectivity injected into it. There is indeed very little objectivity. Though statistics are kept, they remain irrelevant or at the very least open to selective interpretation. Having ball possession, for example, may please the interloping fan but an astute fan will not be impressed if nothing concrete is done with the ball. It may seem on the surface a team is dominant but it means very little (see France versus Italy as a recent example). You don't win titles by looking pretty.

For years I have said that FIFA needs to modernize. Video replay would help the refs (not to mention return their dignity) and restore some fairness to the game. I would not be surprised if the game is vastly improved in terms of quality and goals if this happens. It may never narrow the gap between countries with high standards of officiating such as in England Italy and the rest of the world but it will most certainly narrow it.* They need to also strongly consider bringing nothing but the best refs regardless of where they are from. 'France Football' put it best in their July 11 issue, "Le football doit travailler sérieusement å l'amélioration de son "objectivité" et å la diminution de sa "subjectivité." Translation: soccer has to work hard to seriously improve the game by greatly reducing the subjective factor and greatly increase the objective factor.

I could not agree more and I am glad that finally a major soccer magazine is at least opening the debate.

*Team Canada in hockey and Team USA in basketball have often justifiably complained about international officiating. They have learnt to adjust while the officiating has improved greatly. However, a clear difference on how different federations interpret their respective sports remains. The same grievance is found with Italy and England in soccer.

World Cup: A Headbutt To The Heart of the Matter

Here are some quotes from Marco Materazzi and Zinedine Zidane:

"He won it for what he did on the pitch," Materazzi told the Gazzetta dello Sport. "He was the best."

"I didn't say anything to him about racism, religion or politics," Materazzi said. "I didn't talk about his mother, either. I lost my mother when I was 15 and even now I still get emotional talking about her."

Zidane, who retired after his 108th appearance for France, stressed that he felt no regret about his outburst "because that would mean (Materazzi) was right to say all that."

"My act is not forgivable," Zidane said. "But they must also punish the true guilty party, and the guilty party is the one who provokes."

"Je n'excuse pas, mais je comprend." (I do not excuse but I understand) French soccer commentator.

"....Il dit qu'il condamnable. Il faut aussi lui dire qu'il est pardonnable." (He admits he is condemnedable. But we must also tell him we pardon him) Michel Hidalgo.

"Des excuses, pas de regrets," (Some excuses, no regrets) Headline in sports magazine L'´Equipe.

For those who want an in-depth story about the World Cup I point you to the excellent French sports magazine 'L'équipe.' They did a good job of explaining the whole thing. Just translate the pages off google. Incidentally, they don't buy the excuse. In fact, I have spoken to friends and family in Switzerland and France and the country is literally divided on the issue. The silver lining in this? At least 50% of people are getting it right. Please allow me to indulge myself the rest of the way.

I ask: As a French lawyer seeks to annul the match, who are the classless here? The reason why I am pushing this is because it astounds me how Materazzi has been made to be the only bad guy. While Mr. Materazzi may be far from innocent, the bottom line is that Zidane lost his cool - which wouldn't be the first time. If there is any sympathizing to be thrown his way it's through the fact that the weight and pressure on his shoulders were impossible to manage as a nation demanded he bring home the cup. Not because he was called names on a pitch. If a racial slur was spewed, this is symptom of a bigger problem for FIFA as this is a widespread problem in Europe.

Depending on the nature of the attack and the setting the response must be appropriate. In this instance, he was in a major match that may have cost his team. That was the consequence of his actions. I guess he never heard of the term 'revenge is a dish best served cold?' This was the ultimate act of self-indulgent vigilantism. The act was not justified given the context. He was better off slide tackling him and getting a yellow card.

Observing how France has spun the story, it reminds how contemporary France has yet to come to terms that they are second rate power now. England has realized it, Germany remains lost and Italy, in their eternal indifferent and cynical realism, gave up long ago.

Someone told me in jest it is easy to target Italy because they are immodest. Maybe. Don't know if an 'immodest index' exists but that's the perception for some and sometimes (if not often) perception drives the reality. In any event are they more so than other countries?

Americans know this all too well.

France has skillfully pulled one of the great Houdini acts of the 20th century (thanks in part to American tolerance) when they fooled everyone into believing they remained a relevant power despite any last remnants of military greatness died in 1918. Machiavelli would be proud - sorta.

The French, as I have pointed out, are a society that quarrels and theorizes. It's no coincidence they, produced many great 'philosophes' during the Enlightenment. What works for them works for them.

This is why it's such a big story out there - they are over thinking the actions of Zidane. Again as I mentioned elsewhere, this is the great French PR machine at work.

What we are witnessing is one country taking the moral high ground to protect a tarnished star and another not even bothering to play the game because each has decided their place in the world.

All this because of a headbutt? Yup, all this because of a headbutt. Such is soccer.


Article of Interest: Sports: World Cup


Why Israel is rooting for Italy at the World Cup.

Article of Interest: Sports: World Cup


Sour grapes? Aren't the French pushing this a little too far? Someone should sit them down in their tantrums and tell them sternly that they are not the victims. Sure, annul the match. What if you don't like the result again? What other loophole will you find then? This can go on and on. Absurd especially considering that this can open a can of worms. I can just see other countries lining up for past indiscretions. Italy should counter sue for 2002 (why not? Sue everybody!) and 2000 when the French benefited from generous added time given by the referee.

I Reject: Zidane's action has no excuse

That didn't take long did it? Hey, I said I could not resist.

As two great cultures are embroiled in a childish small 'c' controversy, there are many ways to look at the Zinadine 'The Rhino' Zidane assault - but only one right answer. To North Americans, we are familiar with the cult of trash talkers and most would agree what Zidane did was an act of mental fragility. One British person on a soccer thread put it best; "Materazzi played. Zidane got played."

Ty Cobb, Claude Lemieux, Pete Rose, Michael Jordan etc. All were examples of athletes who did what they could to tried to take their opponents out of focus. Some want athletes of this genre on their team, others do not. It is what it is.

People will construct ways to look at this and after reading and watching many French media outlets, no matter how you dice it Zidane was wrong - slick French PR notwithstanding. Wow, imagine if Materazzi - a player who's best friend is black - did this do Zidane? What would Zidane's mother - an elderly lady who demanded poor Materazzi's balls on a platter - ask for then? Who would the French go after? Armstrong or Materazzi? Don't they have their hands full chastising American foreign policy?

Another way is to study how the Italian players reacted. Not one of them sought to turn this into a brawl. Fabio Cannavaro, a true class player, looked at Zidane as if he was insane. Gattuso, Buffon and Zambrotta are all friends of Zidane and they too looked on with perplexity. Buffon himself attempted to offer comfort to Zidane following his deserved expulsion. To be sure, as the days move along we will begin to see fools on both sides take this a step too far before it settles down.

In a larger social context, it importantly points to a fascinating malaise in modern society; that of blaming the victim at all cost. It was an opulent orgy of sick self-victimization watching the French defend the indefensible. Some described it as Zidane defending 'the honor of his family' and the 'scourge of Islamophobia.' (What about the honor of the French soccer Federation?) Even though there is no proof Materazzi called Zidane a terrorist.

As Zidane spoke on a popular French program as his head butt played over and over, the reaction was less "Oh, Zidane!" and more "Well, he insulted his family. What was he supposed to do? He had to defend the honor of his family! Of France!" Maybe, afterall Yosemite Sam did not like being told his mother wore army boots by Bugs Bunny. But ole Sam was not playing in a championship match with 10 minutes to go.

Rubbish indeed.

Remember 9/11 and how people began to rationalize that heinous crime against humanity? We sought elusive 'root causes' for years. Ultimately, the general consensus was that American foreign policy was at fault - though never being clearly spelled out how. It just was. Let's blame Bush and move on.

On a much less serious and in some ways incomparable level, there is a similar logical pattern here. I have heard all I needed to hear. I reject Zidane's hollow apology and the people of France for immorally defending him.

Hey, the two sides meet on September 6 for Euro qualifications. Wonder if Materazzi will play.


Note to Readers

So ends my World Cup escapades. It was a little out of the norm but I enjoyed doing it. Though something tells me this Zidane thing will continue to suck me in. For now, we return to our regular scheduled freeform nonsense. We begin with an autism piece.

Learning Alongside Autism

School can often be an intimidating place for just about anybody. But it is on the playgrounds and classrooms of our schools where we learn many life skills. Part of life's journey is learning how to cope with the unfamiliar.

One of the most daunting issues for children with autism is how to interact with classmates - unfamiliar territory that can prove overwhelming for all involved. While public awareness for autism has increased, understanding autism on a human level remains a work in progress.

Autism is a neurological disorder with a wide range of symptoms that often leaves educators and parents alike confused by its mysterious nature. Understanding the nature of autism can go a long way to alleviating some of the frustration felt. Despite efforts, it isn't always easy.

There's nothing worse than getting a phone call from a school teacher asking you to go pick up your child because they were out of control. Many times I felt helpless. I often cried myself to sleep thinking I failed him," explained Mary DeMauro, whose son lives with the disorder. Eventually Matthew was prescribed Ritalin to help him keep focused in class, but this did not solve his problems. School was still having a negative impact on him. "They bug me a lot on the bus. I know I'm different."

Early diagnosis is crucial to the development of children with autism. If a specialist determines that a child has autism, it is believed that interaction in a normal social setting can go a long way to helping a child open up. Indeed, initiatives have been undertaken to integrate kids with autism in regular classrooms. What have been the results so far?

According to Tania Piperni, Autism Special Disorder consultant at the English Montreal School Board, it's not the kids from regular classes that have been a source of frustration, but the lack of proper resources. "It has become a normal and learned behavior for students to be helpful with kids with special needs. However, sometimes out resources need to be pooled more towards supporting and assisting the adults such as teachers and educators. Providing them with general information about autism and visual learning styles can be most helpful." Jennifer Youakim, an elementary school teacher from the EMSB, further adds, "Never underestimate the power of empathy and compassion among children. They have a natural sense of understanding when confronted with special circumstances." Ms. Piperni views the experiment in a positive light. "I believe that the results of integration are working nicely for many of our students."

Some educators are not as comfortable with integration, and must therefore be taught strategies on how to deal with special needs students. Parents haven't always been all that accommodating either. "Raising a child with a neurological disorder is difficult enough, but having to face indifferent parents only makes it harder. No amount of explanation will suffice for some, unfortunately. They just don't want their kids in the same classroom with autistic kids," says Maria DeMauro.

Are parents' fears justified? Yes and no. If the proper support and resources are not made available in the class, then it is not effective for anyone - not the teacher, nor the students, and ultimately not the autistic child. In Quebec schools, for example, both trained childcare workers - special education technicians - and attendants with no special training, are simultaneously taking care of autistic children. "Attendants tend to use a 'baby-sitting' approach to their jobs, thus children don't advance as much as they could. In contrast, a special education technician will essentially treat the child as a regular member of the class and encourage independence," says Patrick Lortie, a child-care worker with the English Montreal School Board.

This leads to a lack of consistency from one childcare worker to the next. For instance, it is entirely possible that a child with special needs gets the proper care from a SET one year, and a different exposure with a less trained attendant. With two different approaches and no comprehensive plan it leads to ineffective education. The problem is further compounded when there is a lack of communication between the teacher and childcare worker in the classroom. Mr. Lortie further added how frustrating it can be when a childcare worker is not treated as an equal, but more as, "help in the back of the classroom." This can lead to a strained relationship, which can ultimately affect the child. Everyone has to work together in order to obtain the best approach to meeting the child's needs.

It is only fair to point out that integrated classes are in their infancy stage and growing pains were bound to happen. Still, there are already positive and rewarding signs. "I've seen what integration can do. In an environment with proper collaboration, which I am in this year, two of my autistic students have made advances beyond anyone's expectations. This is incredibly rewarding, above all for the parents." Ms. Youakim agrees. "My students are always quick to help out and offer praise for any successes disadvantaged students have. It really is amazing to witness the wisdom and maturity children can show at times."

"We stuck by Matthew. We ploughed ahead. Now we're beginning to see positive changes in him. He still needs medication for other related problems, but we are all learning to cope with it," as the gleam in Ms. DeMauro's eye lit up. Integrating children with autism in mainstream classes is a challenging and important concept. Once again, as adults get lost in the shuffle of analysis, it is our children that are teaching us precious life lessons. The question is whether we are listening.


Former Concordia Student Linked to Al-Queda

I earned a Major in History from Concordia University and right up until this day I protest its worth.

Not until Concordia, aka L'il Palestine, cleans up its act by purging itself of the rotting militant student body lurking within its walls will I ever treat that school with any respect.

The discovery that an Al-Queda member walked and learned among students in Montreal is sickening but not surprising. To any of us, who had the courage to say it at the time, we understood something was crooked in the school. The behaviour of the Arab student body in the past has been nothing short of grotesque. It is a direct affront to our collective intellectual heritage. They stand for all that stands in opposition to all we have worked for over the centuries.

Of course, we could not say as much as academia is a slave to its own pathetic politically correct post modern ethos.

Again I demand, Concordia University clean yourself up.

The World Cup: Italy Deserved Champions

As Italy captured their 4th World Cup title, (only Brazil has more with five) I was reminded how often life is filled with ironies. For some, life is also governed by the principle of what comes around goes around. Whether history is circular or linear is not the discussion. Rather, it is about France and Italy playing in the 18th FIFA World Cup.

A final that saw Italy win in penalty kicks - a most unfortunate way to determine a final game of this magnitude. But for Italians who have often lost in this manner (1990, 1994, 1998) they will justifiably take it.

Let me first start by saying that personally 1986 remains the greatest final to date. There was something about that final that has yet to be eclipsed by any final since. The soccer was decent in Germany but it was overshadowed by the poor officiating.

As for the game itself, much nonsense and insipid blabbering will take place among partisan fans with selective hearing and minds. This is to be expected and thus ignored.

French experience did have an edge for parts (2nd half and part of the extra-time) of the game over Italian youth. But the Italians were resilient. What else is new for the New England Patriots of soccer? It is easy to mistake the fact that France won many balls in the middle with dominance. Yet, the Italians remained poised at every turn as they limited France's options.

Italy was an undivided team. The only country to have every single one of their players play in Italy. The French failed to take full advantage of their midfield control and were finally neutralized by head coach Domenech and his odd removal of Henry who was spent by the end of the match. Suddenly, France were without Vieira, Henry and soon Zidane; the core of their leadership. When it was over, real scoring chances actually favored Italy who proved more efficient. The Italians did what they had to do and coach Lippi once again showed he is the world's best coach. There is no doubt that when taken as a whole, Italy was tournaments best team either mentally, technically or tactically.

France has nothing to be ashamed of. They deserved to be in the final and were a worthy opponent surprising many with their play in the final. Alas, you can't win 'em all. Against incredible odds of various sorts, Italy for their part refused to buckle all tournament. End of story.

Accusations of the Italian victory being lucky, ugly or without honor are easily refutable. First, Plato once said "the harder you work, the luckier you get." There is no debate that Italy was the hardest working team against great internal and external odds. Was France lucky against Portugal? Germany against Argentina? If there was an uproar regarding those games it was a meek one. Those who make this charge fail to grasp the subtleties of sophisticated soccer. They judge by what they see on the surface. Besides, Italy's all-time record speaks for itself. 4 World cups, 6 finals in 18 World Cups. They also have one Euro cup and a final in their trophy case. Clearly, they play of winning brand of football and not all of it can be attributed to just luck.

As for ugly, recall that Italy was the second most offensive team in the tournament. By extension, their domestic league had the highest goals per game figure of any league. Did Brazil win ugly in 1994? Germany in 1990? If I was to describe Italy's style with historical figures I would say it is a cross between Machiavelli and Michaelangelo: interchanging between cynical and realistic; beautiful and sophisticated soccer when necessary.

Finally, the silly charge that it was without honor. Did Brazil win with honor in 2002 when Rivaldo feigned one of the great injuries in the modern era? Did Korea win with honor in 2002? Would France have won with honor had the scoreline remain 1-0 following Malouda's suspicious dive? The point I am trying to make that it is an incredibly selective stance to take. We can go back in history in any sport and make such frivolous comments. The reality is that it is mostly interloping soccer fans or those with a prejudice stance against Italian soccer who say this. The world football community is united in their conclusion that Italy deserved to be champions.

If one is to present any negative charge about anyone at least be fair about it.

It was interesting to note that the man who eliminated Italy in Euro 2000 was the only man to miss his penalty this time around. It was a tough scene for David Trezeguet fans. Ironic indeed. Yes, France pushed and took the game to the Italians (who seemed emotionally spent after the Germany game) but they must remember that it can be argued that they were outclassed in 1998 and 2000 against the Azzurri. What comes around....?

More ironies? Italy did play more offensively but most of their goals came from their midfield and defense. Those who assert that Italy did it only with defense are partially right. But it must be recalled that Italy played with 2, 3 and sometimes 4 attackers (as they did against Germany). No nation was as confident or played with more tactical versatility. France and England, Portugal by contrast played with lone strikers despite their class up front.

Italy scored 12 goals (from 10 different players) with 1 coming from the penalty spot including 2 against a tough German side. France scored 9 with 2 coming from penalties and 3 in the Spain game alone. Who was more opportunistic? Offensive? You can dance but if you don't have the right moves or timing it means little.

Congratulations Italy. Your victory was well-deserved no matter what naysayers may think. Ignore and enjoy.

FINAL STATS (France Footall July 11):

France 1
Italy 1

France goal on penalty kick.

Italy wins on PK (5-3).

France 16; 7 on target - best chance Zidane header stopped by keeper Buffon.
Italy 7; 6 on target - one crossbar.

France 7
Italy 5

Ball Possession
France 47 min.
Italy 48 min.

World Cup: Zidane oddly wins Golden Ball

Sports is filled with all sorts of eye opening decisions. Soccer has its share that's for sure. FIFA somehow bestowed upon Zinedine Zidane the best player (the Golden Ball) of the entire World Cup. Incredible considering Zidane's spotty play and momentary lapse of reason where he thought he was The Rhino.

Let's consider his performance for a moment. He was invisible against Switzerland and Korea and was suspended for the game against Togo in the first round. He came alive in the game against Spain where he literally carried France on his back. Ditto for the game against Brazil. He was a non factor in his final two games against Portugal and Italy; two goals from the penalty spot notwithstanding. Overall, Zidane played very well in three of the six games he played in - remember he was out for one.

Time to dip into history. In 1998, contrary to prevailing belief, Zidane did not win the World Cup for France. He did score important goals in the final but the victory was a total French effort. From Deshamps to Blanc, everyone played an equal part. He was, incidentally, invisible in the game against Italy that year. In fact, he was also neutralized in the final at the Euro 2000 against the Azzurri.

I was watching Global TV Sports and the host asked the soccer expert if there was anything in Zizou's past that would indicate he could snap as he did. The answer was typical of a media enamoured with Zidane. "No," he insidiously replied. Zidane earned three yellows and a red this tournament. He was a player that once stomped on a player and head butted another. Clearly, there is and was a pattern.

As for the act itself it was surreal, if not barbaric. It is irrelevant what Materazzi (for hockey fans, he is Ken Linseman and Claude Lemieux rolled into one) said. He is known for that sort of stuff and Zidane knew this. For those of you who claim Materazzi is a racist best to remember his best friend is a Nigerian - O. Martins - who plays with him at Inter Milan. Zidane put himself and his team in a precarious situation.

This is not to belittle his legendary career. Zidane and his sublime wizardry is one of the best players over the last 20 years. He became a legend with Juventus in Italy - where he had his moments of ineffectiveness - and solidified it with Real Madrid in Spain.

However, naming him tournament MVP is a direct insult to not only the game of soccer but to the true MVP: Fabio Cannavaro who was a monster in all 7 of Italy's matches. Zidane wasn't even France's best player. In my estimation, Franck Ribery and Lillian Thuram were.


World Cup: Italy Wins

Life is filled with ironies. For some, life is also governed by the principle of what comes around goes around. Whether history is circular or linear is not the discussion here. Rather, it is about France and Italy playing in the 18th FIFA World Cup. A final that saw Italy win on penalty kicks.

Let me first start by saying that personally 1986 remains the greatest final to date. There was something about that final that has yet to be eclipsed by any final since. The soccer was decent in Germany but it was overshadowed by the poor officiating. On a side note, is it time for Sepp Blatter to step down?

Back to the game. Italy had the better play in the first half. France were fortunate to gain a penalty shot in the 7th minute that was not justified. It was clear that Malouda, who was arguably the best player on the pitch, dove. He was not touched by any Italian defender. That changed the game. Had that not happened it is quite possible France would not score. Italy almost took the lead when Luca Toni hit the crossbar with a header. He later scored but was called back. He appeared to be on-side.

While they dominated midfield play, France did not manage to get too many real chances in close. To their credit, it was France who took the play in the second half to Italy. The Italians did not seem to have an answer to France's solid and stingy defense. Still, real chances remained fairly even.

It is in the overtime period where things took a surreal turn. Zinedine Zidane was red carded in the 110th minute for headbutting Marco Materazzi. It was a jaw dropping display of inexplicable thuggery. I could not believe my eyes. No matter what was said how is he to justify such an act? That he put his team in a precarious situation goes without saying. If I were his press secretary I would have him apologize to save his legacy. If not, Zidane will be remembered for this unfortunate act. For hockey fans, the best way to describe Materazzi is by comparing him to Ken Linseman - only he scores more.

The French raised eyebrows further when head coach Domenech substituted Theirry Henry. Strange as Henry had been playing a strong match up to that point. This notwithstanding, the Italians were not able to capitalize.

The game went into penalty kicks and the hero in the Germany match Fabio Grosso scored the final goal and Italy won their fourth world title. One behind Brazil's five.

Sour grapes will no doubt be the breakfast dish in France. They did not seem to take the loss all that well. Well, now they know how Italians have felt since 1990. I opened this piece writing about irony. Here are a couple:

-While Italy did play a more open style of soccer, the majority of their goals came from their defenders. Notably Materazzi and Grosso.
-In 1998, Italy played slightly better than France only to lose on penalty kicks
-In 2000, the Italians outclassed France only to lose it in the dying moments and on a subsequent golden boot scored by the classy David Trezeguet.
-David Trezeguet was the only player to miss his penalty kick.

There you go. What comes around goes around. It was Italy's turn. The reality is that they have no reason to defend their victory to skeptical fans. They were the best team in the tournament. We've seen this many times in football where the semi-finals are far more enthralling than the final. This happened today in soccer. There was no way Italy was going to match the same emotion displayed against Germany.

Sometimes great teams get outplayed and find a way to win. This is what happened today. Not to mention some sweet historical justice. Enjoy Italia.

Attention all Editors!

I'm now officially very suspicious. How does one determine what is the difference between a coincidence and borrowing in the writing world? One of the major reasons why I switched to freelancing from past work was because I found that many columnists left much to be desired. They were not creative and imaginative enough. One of my strengths is to draw on history and apply them to contemporary settings. I don't mean plucking historical events and pasting them on the present in any adhoc and careless manner so prevalent these days, but in a thoughtful way that respects the past and present.

It's a few articles and queries I send out that get unceremonioulsy rejected. At least I get the "very well-written" or "great idea" and "but does not fit our needs at this time" bit. However, something odd is going on. Last year I sent in a solid and timely piece about Canadian politics to the 'National Post' only to be told that 'it could not be used.' Yet, a couple of days later (2 max) an article with the exact same premise and content was published. My wife and I chalked it up to coincidence. "There are no big or little coincidences. Just coincidences!" Ah, that Seinfeld.

Anyway, as my wife, the educator, has pointed out "imagine if you had the resources what you could do!" Hey, I hang on to every piece of encouragement. Ever since I began to blog many of my posts have been linked to other blogs under various "check this out" and "best of the blogs" monikers. It's a way of measuring your work.

I also have been doing some radio work and this brings me to my next bit of suspicion. I called in to a radio sports show to correct some soccer stats and provide fresh one concerning the Italy/France match. Next thing I know, they are running with it. The stats I used were the sort I have always wondered why they were not used more. I guess it just needed to be put out there. Again, all this does is it shows relevance.

More intriguing is when I opened the sports pages and read a piece about the game this morning. There it was. A journalist from the 'London Telegraph' describing Italian soccer as an uneasy mix between 'beauty and Machiavelli.' I was floored. I wrote the EXACT same comparison on this blog (Italia versus La France). I have been reading about soccer for decades and have never heard anyone begin to describe Italy in this way. Why now? Why not in 2002 or 1998? They always had that split personality. I write about it and suddenly POOF! These are just some selections I have printed. The post is getting too long as it is.

Personally, I have many similar analogies and metaphors I have used for years. At the very least, I have never seen the Montreal Gazette come remotely close to being as creative when it comes to such descriptions about the Azzurri.

Probably just a coincidence but odd nonetheless.


The World Cup: The Diving Epidemic

There they are. Athletes who would earn better marks than Alexandre Despatie or Greg Louganis. Rolling around in agony as though they had been mugged, raped and pillaged all at the same time. It doesn't matter if someone hit you in the leg; some clutch their faces as though Vlad the Impailer had stabbed them. Next, the stretcher comes on and they are whisked to the sidelines where magical liquids and water are sprayed anywhere in the vicinity of the injury and suddenly - Presto! They're back in the game.

You can tell a lot about the difference between North Americans and Europeans when it comes to sports. Take the recent obsession with diving in soccer. There is no question some players and nations try to feign or deceive the referee into turning a call into their favor. It can be an embarrassing thing to watch. Many will counter that this is part of the game but FIFA should crack down on it. Either by adding a second referee on the filed or video replay. As for those who think that it's part of the history of soccer I refute this. While soccer has had its tumultuous and controversial moments, the original intent of the codified laws did not envision this nonsense. Soccer is one of the world's first sports to ask its participants to player with a 'gentleman' ethos.

Europeans tend to tolerate the diving because it is viewed as either a coy tactic or as a cynical acceptance that humans cheat. No referee can ever root or tell the difference so it is an accepted part of the game. It makes up part of the million and one nuances that riddle the sport.

North Americans are a little more cut and dry about it. We tend to like our athletes to stand up and take a punch, inside pitch, flagrant foul, body check or tackle like a warrior. Only go down if you are truly hurt. I'm the same way. I think all athletes, soccer players included, do view it this way too. We are definitely less tolerant of cheats- or divers - and this explains why we use and mix technology into our sports culture. We are always in a search - some say this is futile - to perfect ourselves. Either way, we want to ensure as much as possible that the right calls are made.

Contrary to popular belief, many in the soccer world do dislike the antics of some players. However, I caution people to grasp a few things about soccer before they pass judgment.

Most players do in fact get clipped around the ankles and the slide tackles are so jarring that the shock tends to keep you on the ground. I should know, I tore my ACL playing soccer and I can attest that it can be one rough and tough sport on the legs. Some plays may seem innocuous but don't be fooled. The cleats do sometimes get into your leg, shin or ankles - shin and ankle pads notwithstanding. More often than not, this is the case.

Diving is also a tactic used to waste time and/or rest the players on the field. This sort of thing becomes obvious during an epic marathon and exhaustion begins to set in.

The next thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between diving and embellishment. What's the difference? Diving is an outright lie. Players who do it are basically cheaters. And this problem knows no nationality. They all do it. You see this everywhere. Some more than others but no one are above it. Embellishment is essentially where a player does get hit or clipped but still falls anyway. It's much less offensive but annoying nonetheless.

If someone is to claim that the English dive much less than the Germans, Brazilians, Argentineans or the Italians they may have a point. However, one has to examine how each country approaches the game. In England, where tactics are not necessarily a priority, defenses tend to mark their forwards much less. There is a much more open style and as such you will see tackles but very little in close clippings.

Italy on the other hand is a league built and rooted in tactics. The marking is notoriously tight. Star players in the Italian league are hacked to bits and have become accustomed to falling.

It's similar to Team Canada (or NBA players at the Olympics for that matter) in hockey when Europeans complain about our aggressive play. We respond by saying that it's 'good old fashioned Canadian hockey." Our NHL guys play like NHL players at international tournaments. I don't see any Canadians complain when we win. Exact same thing with Italy or England. Both have a distinct style in their domestic leagues and this is how they play internationally.

In between all this lies the discrepancy on how referees call a game in Italy and England and at the World Cup.

In any event, this is just an observation and I do not wish to expand on this any further. The point being that there is some logic and reasoning behind the madness. However, maybe FIFA should adopt a slight North American ethic when it comes to the scourge known as diving.

World Cup: Third Place Match Means Something

As Germany and Portugal prepare for their game on Saturday, there's a lot of talk about the idea surrounding the necessity of a third match game at the World Cup. I think part of the problem for the people presenting the debate - or the society at large for that matter - is that finishing first is all that matters in our culture.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in striving to be first to be an important characteristic of humans - unlike the modern ethos and utter nonsense that we are all 'winners' in sports they call it parity - but sometimes it's just not about being number one.

The World Cup is played every four years. It's a rare bird and just participating in it is an accomplishment for some countries. Consider that 207 teams have competed to try and make the cut. Only 78 have had the honour reaching the World Cup. Out of all this, only 11 countries have ever played in a final game.

The process and long road of getting to the tournament is riddled with incredible emotions. It's such a gigantic spectacle that having a match to battle for third seems like the right thing to do. It's tough psychology for the teams involved but there are some people who take pride in such things. And it does add on to the pedigree of a nation. Not all countries can win but a third or fourth place finish on a resume can look pretty good.

Here's a look at the nations who have never won:

The Netherlands and Hungary are considered the greatest teams who never won. Both heavy (and legendary) favorites in the 70s and 50s both failed to lift the Jules Rimet trophy - aka the FIFA World Cup. The Netherlands have two finals appearance and three semis. Hungary have reached the finals twice and the semis twice - same as Czechoslovakia. Sweden have reached the finals once and four semis. Yugoslavia, Austria and Poland never played in a final but each have two semis on their soccer books.

All this is worth something. To real soccer minds who care to know about such things, this matters. It's a part of the soccer heritage. More importantly, it counts.

You can count me as one of those who will be watching the third place match with interest.


World Cup Final Set: Italia versus La France

Just as Germany and Italy pitted two great soccer and cultural giants against one another so too will Sunday's showdown between Italy and France. The pair, cultural and historical leaders of Latin Mediterranean society, shall meet once again on the world stage.

Between these two nations the world has witnessed Rome, The Renaissance, the Venetian Empire, the Risorgimento, the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne, the French Revolution, Napoleon, la belle epoque, and the Enlightenment (not to mention unsurpassed achievements in music, art, beautiful languages and of course culinary - including wine - mastery). Is this enough for you?

But all this is history. It has nothing on this match. Or does it?

While Italy handily leads all-time against France, it is the French who have won the last three major match ups against Italy - the only major soccer nation to do so. They beat defending champions Italy 2-0 in 1986 during the elimination round. A tournament they were favored to win in Mexico only to finish third. For France it was yet another disappointing showing.

They met again in France during the 1998 World Cup where les bleus defeated the azzurri on penalties after a 0-0 draw through overtime.

In 2000, the two sides met again this time in the finals of the European Cup. Italy outplayed France and held a 1-0 until the late moments of the match when they uncharacteristically conceded a goal. France went on to win 2-1 on a Golden Boot (suddent death).

As you can imagine, Italy have revenge on their minds.

For France, it took them some time to join the great footballing nations. 1998 changed all this. In my first post I showed the stats for the Big Four (Brazil, Germany, Italy and Argentina).

France is legitimately pushing to make this the Big Five. Here are their stats and accomplishments. Coming into this World Cup they were 7th all-time behind England and Spain with a 21-16-7 record. As we speak they have moved into 6th spot moving past Spain and lie eight points behind England who do not match France's successes. Consider:

1958- World Cup: 3rd; 1982- World Cup: 4th; 1984- Euro Cup: Champions; 1986- World Cup: 3rd; 1998- World Cup: Champions; 2000- Euro Cup: Champions.

As for Italy, this is their 6th World Cup appearance as they seek their 4th title. Italy has also won the Euro Cup once in 1968. (See Ladies and Gentlemen: The World Cup for details about Italy).

Gallic football has had a famous history but glory had eluded them for decades as Germany and Italy went on to dominate the continent and the world at large.

France was one of the first Europeans soccer federations to embrace the concept of 'beautiful soccer' interpreted by South American sides (notably Uruguay in the 1930s and later Brazil). Adding classical European strategies to this philosophy turned France into a country that played attractive football with little results. Only Argentina has offered a similar interpretation.

Today, Le Centre Technique Nationale Fernand-Sastre established in 1988 has begun to pay dividends as the French classical style from earlier years and the modern development system have finally begun to produce results.

If French soccer is a careful Gallic blend of old classical and South American artistry, Italy is where Niccolo Macchiavelli and Dante Alighieri meet. Sophisticated, poetic, irreverent (to almost comedic levels) and cynical all clash in a conservative and confusing bowl typical of the Italian character.

Either way these two remarkable nations have a date with history, yawn, again. Been there. Done that. Enjoy.


God Bless America and Canada

Saluting our nations and singing the anthems are lost arts. That art and science is in slow steady decline in the West is something to lament. Artisans are not part of our plans in the face of idiotic smart centers. This much I hold in sorrow. I am not a nationalist nor am I a patriot. Nor am I terribly religious as it does not play a major part in my life. However, I respect it enormously. It has, without doubt, a place in our public discourse.

What I am is a citizen in good standing blessed with a strong and honest conscience. A respect of history and the future. I am a person with values and personal morals. I choose to see the good will and the ideals of what we aspire to. I refute all false dissidents and cynical idols. Cynicism is the philosophical outhouse for the lazy. I refuse to acknowledge that fame and science lie in bed. That politics and celebrity now fornicate in the halls of government. I remain firmly unimpressed with modern academia.

I do not believe that America is evil. I believe that Canada is in dire need of a new direction but I do still believe in its existence. Above all, I am not afraid to use the word God. Let us free ourselves into the proper hands that can guide us. We have much work to do.


Electronica: More than just Noise

Count me in as a listener of electronica. It is within the artistic halls of this genre where the intersection of musical styles from around the world meet. For example, some bands like Mambotur create sounds never before imagined as they mesh German techno and South American rhythms that take fans on a Teutonic-Latino musical tour.

Drawing from a diverse blitzkrieg of the French chanson, Italian film soundtracks, Brazilian samba and bassa nova, Argentinian tango, Jamaican dub, psychedelica, Persian melismas, Arabic sounds all the way to Burt Bacharach, as well as using instruments like the Indian sitar and sensual bhangra-induced percussion, electronica soaks and mixes all this up like a delicious and cool martini. It is a deliberate inter musical breeding that harks back to when Rome and the Germanic tribes collided. Its repercussions were everlasting.

Let me cite one band in particular to move this blog entry. S-Tone Inc. of Italy has a song called Limbe.

Electronia is not just about the sound anymore. It has layers of substance attached to its sound. Electronica is the world's hippest music -which is why Montreal has a blossoming electronica community - and within it we find glimpses of the post modern ethos. Enter the lyrics and for our discussion this is what I will focus on.

In the above song, we find the following words:

"The noise of your steps on the round can't be heard. No destination and no intention. Total absence of joy and pain. You come to what you don't know. One is the direction. You've got no answers and not even questions. You come. The goal is unknown, it's instinct. You don't ask yourself if it's good or if it's bad. Like a gliding ghost, that has no longer a gender. Between reality, unconsciousness and dream."

Good stuff. For some reason, it connected me to Aristotle and St. Thomas, Perhaps it was the stark, well-orchestrated surreal phrases. I see a discrepancy between the joy and sense of purpose electronica finds in discovering new sounds and cultures and the lyrics they write. It's much like a punk band who writes anti-establishment lyrics but are millionaires. It doesn't jive.

So to help me I delved into the 'Nicomachean Ethics' of Aristotle. In short, the Aristotelian principle -originally labeled by John Rawls - posits that "human beings with the potential for excellence will usually try to realize that potential..." according to Charles Murray in his book 'Human Accomplishments.' It's what fills us with purpose and enjoyment. That's why many of us do what we do. For instance, I continue to write despite not yet deriving any monies from it and no matter what various internet rankings say. It's what provides me with joy.

Of course, the 20th century and the arrival of post modernism all this came into question with behaviourists like B.F. Skinner and brought to its heights by Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Suddenly, enjoyment was not a natural ally of the human spirit. The pursuit of excellence as a vehicle to personal happiness was dead.

Electronica clearly defies the concept of behaviourism. It wants to seek new adventures. New ideas are to be found in the environment and all around us. It's Renaissance humanism at its finest. Yet, the lyrics are bleak. It's a classic dilemma of sorts for the modern hipster. The neo-beatniks if you will.

Life does not seem to have any pattern or purpose. It is caught in a relative vortex where right is not wrong and vice versa. Where the personal assertion of 'I do what I like' is confused with true intellectual uniqueness and independence. We are roaming the earth like ghosts with no souls and that pain is all we know. In some cases, and this is true of much of modern musical lyrics, a kind of semi-nihilistic ideal takes over.

There seems to be an impression that an intellectual crisis exists. We are no longer sure what certain structures and roles we have defined for ourselves through the centuries mean anymore. Words like 'racism,' 'freedom,' 'personal independence,' rational observations' and 'critical thought' all have lost their meaning under aggressive secularism and affirmative action. In short, we have lost a sense of ourselves and purpose.

Luckily, it's not all stoic relativism. Thankfully, humour does find its way into electronica and this is where St.Thomas enters. While it is still an intellectual faux pas to even suggest theology has a place in the public sphere when discussion social issues, Aquinas taught that faith and reason are one and the same since they were a gift from God. He also mentioned that a life without joy or humour is not a life. The lyrics do serve a purpose in as much as they describe what confronts us as a world community. While universal themes reminds us that we are all in this together, in many ways we still have a lot to iron out on a personal level.

If it looks like this piece can go off into all sorts of mad directions given the inherent contradictions, you are correct. I will content myself with these thoughts. I singled out electronica because I happened to purchase a CD. However, it's a multi-dimensional issue that permeates into all facets of our existence.