Germany, Rwanda, Kosovo, Syria – what do these places have in common? They were and are the sites of some of the worst atrocities in our history.

On April 7, 2017 the Orange-Gasbag President of the US authorized military strikes against Syria. The attack was allegedly precipitated by the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Though the Syrian government, led by president Bashar al-Assad, has denied responsibility for the chemical attacks, the insurgents he is fighting not only lacked the means to commit them, but the targets consisted of the rebel-held town of Khan-Sheikhan, and one of the medical clinics treating victims of the ongoing civil war.

This article is not about the US President’s hypocrisy, as he blames Obama for the situation in Syria and yet in 2013 tweeted:

It is not about the fact that the US military strike hit an almost empty airbase that had little impact on Assad’s reign of terror, or the fact that the Orange Blowhard’s administration has clearly seen the film Wag the Dog.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it features a President on the brink of scandal whose advisors fabricate a war to win back support from the American people. With the evidence of treason against the Cheeto Administration mounting, it should be no surprise that they’ve thrown themselves into a war against a hugely unpopular world leader, especially given that said world leader is backed by Russia, the very state accused of hacking the American election. With evidence mounting that Russia was warned about the US airstrike, this move by Orange Administration is clearly just for PR purposes.

This article is about Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes.

With refugees being turned away by xenophobic politicians in primarily white countries and military leaders breaking every rule in International Law, it’s high time we looked at how the world defines these crimes.

For this article, I’m going to use the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court and has been in force since 2002.

The International Criminal Court, based in The Netherlands, is a permanent court that investigates and tries individuals charged with crimes against humanity. Their goal is to put an end to impunity for atrocities and acts complementary to existing criminal justice systems.

The Rome Statute, in describing the role of the International Criminal Court, provides detailed definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Genocide is defined as any of the following acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”:

  • Killing members of that group
  • Causing serious physical or mental harm to members of said group
  • “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”
  • Imposing measures to prevent births within that group
  • Forcibly transmitting the children of said group into that of another group

Crimes against humanity are defined by the Rome Statute as acts committed as part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population with knowledge of the attack.” That means that for an act to be considered a crime against humanity, it has to be part of a widespread deliberate attack against civilians that includes one or all of the following acts:

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Enslavement
  • Deportation or forcible transfer of the population
  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, or forced sterilization or any other serious sexual violence
  • “Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender” or other grounds
  • Enforced disappearances
  • Apartheid
  • “Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”

Unfortunately, the Rome Statute’s definition gender is binary, recognizing only male and female despite evidence that gender goes beyond the two.

War Crimes are defined as breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which establish a set of rules for humanitarian treatment in war. Article 8 of the Rome Statute has a sort of abridged version of the definition of war crimes, which include:

  1. Willful killing
  2. Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments
  3. Willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health
  4. Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly
  5. Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power
  6. Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of a fair and regular trial
  7. Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement
  8. Taking of hostages

The Statute lists other offenses as war crimes, including intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects even when they’re not military objectives.

Though it goes without saying that war crimes and crimes against humanity are indeed taking place in Syria, prosecuting war crimes is always a problem. As Larry May, Professor of Philosophy and author of the book Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Study once wrote:

“We cannot prosecute on the basis of moral outrage alone.”

It is for this reason that rules on how to prosecute atrocities were established. However, in order to successfully do so, you need a certain degree of consent from the country the crimes took place in, as state sovereignty and the right to self-determination is the rule in our international system. There are no overarching laws to force countries to hand over their war criminals if they don’t want to subject them to international justice.

The International Criminal Court can only prosecute cases committed in a state that is party to the Rome Statute since 2002. The ICC has no jurisdiction in countries like the USA, China, and Russia who chose not to ratify the treaty, undoubtedly due to concerns about their own statesmen being prosecuted.

In this international crisis we have to remember that we are citizens of the world with a responsibility to shelter and protect the victims of atrocities and punish the perpetrators. At the same time, we must do our best to respect that the people of a country have the right to determine what is best for them. Let’s hope an influential someone in the White House remembers this too.

On September 18, the Scottish nation went to polling stations all around their country to decide whether they would become an independent country or not. Turns out, 55% of those who voted wanted to stay in the United Kingdom (UK).

We have to interpret this result carefully. After all the difference between those who voted yes and those who voted no is about 400 000 people. This is not a small number; it represents 10% of the entire electorate. If you compare this with Quebec’s similar referendum in 1995, where the referendum failed by a mere 1%, you start to see the difference.

The 10% means that there was, apparently, no chance for the vote to go either way. It indicates a clear decision made on part of the Scottish nation, and it is very important to emphasise this. The referendum was not a victory for the British government, nor a loss for the Scottish government. It was a statement made by a nation in a democratic context.

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At least, that’s what they say.

Using human rights rhetoric, we can say that the victory here belongs to the concept of right to self-determination: the idea that the nations and peoples of this world have the right to decide their own fate. Even if the Scottish nation voted not to become an independent country, the fact that they were able to vote on it sends a clear message to the world: it was their decision.

Assuming that governments are the sole “official” representatives of nations, this is the only definition we can work with.

Thinking within the Western paradigm of countries and governments, this is all very great. Let the people vote and let them decide whether they want to be ruled over by a government of their own peoples, or a government of other peoples. However, we need to realise that the right to self-determination only matters for those who already have power.

Take for instance Crimea and their referendum to choose between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The Crimeans overwhelmingly voted in favour of joining the Russian Federation. This is exactly where the picture gets a bit muddy, when the politicking of people in power is mistaken for the decision of a nation. Was it actually the average Crimean’s desire to become a part of the Russian Federation, or was it ex-President Viktor Yanukovich’s hesitance to say no to Vladimir Putin?

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Propaganda poster from Crimea. “On March 16, we will choose.”

The Crimean referendum happened within the context of a military occupation. Pro-Russian forces were occupying the parliament, when they decided to hold their referendum.

For the average Scottish person, the fact that Scotland will remain a part of the UK does not change much. But for Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, the referendum also means that he has lost the chance of becoming the president of an independent state. And even if Scotland had become independent, Queen Elizabeth II would still remain the queen of Scotland.

Nevertheless, Scotland has made its decision; or more importantly was able to make a decision. There are other nations out there who cannot even get to that stage; let alone discuss the finer implications of the right to self-determination. The Catalonians living in Spain are denied their right to hold a referendum by the Spanish government, and the Kurds in Turkey cannot even openly talk about self-determination.

The world of politics loves to pacify people by making them believe their choices matter. The human rights rhetoric is the most perfect tool of legitimization in the 21st century. Argue that you are doing things to protect the rights of your nation, and for the betterment of the people you represent; and everybody seems to forget that you are in a position of power, and anything you do is technically in order to protect that position.

No, it’s not April 1st, no FTB has not turned into the Onion and yes, you did read the headline correctly. Stephen Harper is to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yes, that Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister responsible for Canada’s unprecedented shift of focus from peacekeeping to full-on militarization. The man whose administration ruined Canada’s reputation internationally and even got us kicked off the UN Security Council.

This is the same Stephen Harper who clearly isn’t interested in bringing any sort of peace or justice to the homefront, either. He’s set out to augment our prison population by increasing sentences for small drug offenses, re-criminalizing sex work and criminalizing acts of dissent like wearing a mask at a protest.

Clearly there are many reasons why he should not win or even be considered for a prize of peace. But, to be fair, let’s look at the reasons for the nomination, in this case put forward by B’nai Brith:

“Moral clarity has been lost across much of the world, with terror, hatred and antisemitism filling the void,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant said in the organization’s press release, “throughout, there has been one leader which has demonstrated international leadership and a clear understanding of the differences between those who would seek to do evil, and their victims. More than any other individual, he has consistently spoken out with resolve regarding the safety of people under threat — such as opposing Russian aggression and annexation of Ukrainian territory — and has worked to ensure that other world leaders truly understand threat of Islamic terrorism facing us today. ”

If you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear  “the differences between those who seek to do evil, and their victims” refers to Harper’s unwavering support of Israel’s humanitarian crisis-inducing assault on Gaza. Now even if your blinders are so thick that you feel this attack is justified, arguing that support for and encouragement of a military action makes someone a man of peace takes a logical leap much greater than the Canadian North, which, by the way, Harper is also trying to militarize.

The same goes for Russia and Ukraine. Even if you think someone is on the right side of a conflict, being on any side instead of working for a solution should automatically disqualify you from winning a peace prize.

War is not peace. Orwell’s 1984 was meant as a warning, not a guide.

So, while Harper clearly shouldn’t win, stranger things have happened. Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before he had a chance to do anything. At least it was for the hope of peace in his campaign speeches and not for his drones.

Unless Harper does a complete about-face on most of his policies real soon, I think it’s important that we let the Nobel people know that Harper is in no way a man of peace and completely undeserving of this award. Looks like others feel the same way. There’s already a petition asking the Nobel committee to reject Harper’s nomination.

This is great, but maybe we should go one step further and think of our own Canadian nominees for the prize. It shouldn’t be that hard to find someone more deserving of a peace prize than Harper. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments, or, at the very least, sign the petition.

We shouldn’t let our national embarrassment of a warmongering Prime Minister be celebrated as a man of peace. Even the very suggestion of such an accolade needs to be stopped and quickly.

The month of March 1871 French society was rocked by two astonishing events; first the crushing of the French army at the hands of the Prussians, which resulted in the fall of the regime of Napoleon II and consequently the armed uprising of the laborious classes of Paris against a French political elite that had failed them, and a German invading elite that would oppress them.

Fast forward to February 2014 Ukraine, more specifically Kiev was the epicentre of what appeared to be a repeat of the Orange pro-western, pro-Europe, pro-NATO revolution. Things didn’t go according to plan after this, and within a matter of weeks the “revolution” was hijacked by neo-Nazi, fascistic elements which had been it’s brute force and backbone since its onset. In response to this, several towns (notoriously Donetsk) declared themselves autonomous communes or people’s republics, not to be ruled by the pro-Russian oligarchy that had failed them or by the hollow promises of the pro-Western elites with their fascist tendencies.

Unfortunately media coverage for the most part is oblivious or willingly hides this aspect and paints the Ukrainian conflict in an antiquated mini Cold-War proxy war scenario between the evil Russians and the Free World, A.K.A. the West.

But these popular revolutions are the most interesting development within the Ukrainian conflict and they are the true un-manipulated essence of the Maidan revolt. Very quickly a popular revolt against austerity measures, the over-concentration of wealth and power, economic inequality and social injustice was turned into a pro-Western revolt, to serve the interests of a European Union that were searching for a diversion from the quagmire of austerity.

The main reason why the western media outlets have made no mention of these uprising is obvious: it’s because of the labouring masses of Donetsk. Throughout eastern Ukraine, people are fighting the same fight as are millions of unemployed, battered and toiled western workers. They wouldn’t want to give them ideas, now would they…

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Within the first weeks of the “pro-Russian” uprisings, as the main media outlets like to label them, the citizens of the newly founded Communes took immediate action to bring under their management the main industries that were now within their jurisdiction. On the other hand the newly elected government in Kiev with the sanction of the Ukrainian oligarchs of which the tycoon Rinat Akhmetov — a billionaire that made his fortune through the exploitation of the miners of the Donbass — called on the “occupying” miners to put an end to their illegal “strike” and self-determination or suffer the consequences.

During that time, neo-Nazi elements of the Ukrainian nationalistic extreme right started their campaign of intimidation and consolidation of power, targeting organized labor and ‘communists,’ taking control of several important portfolios within the newly established Kiev government. The culminating point of this vast campaign of terror was the infamous burning of the trade union house of Odessa that resulted in the death of 23 people. The Ukrainian fascist community was in ebullition, celebrating the deaths of the “Russian terrorists.” The international community – the West – was silent.

For the past few months, the Ukrainian government has been on the offensive against its own people, declaring an all out war on the people’s republics that have sprung-up throughout the east of Ukraine. With diplomatic and tactical support from the West, the region has been carpet-bombed resulting in the death of hundreds of innocent civilians.

In another context, lets say the Balkans in the 1990s, this would have pushed the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union to condemn and take action either on the ground or through economical sanctions against the Kiev regime for their violation of human rights and their blatant disrespect of the people of eastern Ukraine’s right to self-determination. Then again, self-determination is only acceptable when it serves the purposes of neo-liberalism and the will of the free-markets.

Through this context though the idea of self-determination has been put to test and is being shaped little by little, self-determination becomes more than just a right tied to a people through an ethnic or cultural link. It mutates and becomes an undeniable right for every human being to be able to control the means of production of their well-being, thus making the industry revolve around the will of the people instead of the bestial urge of profit.

Many parallels have been drawn since the dawn of the Ukrainian conflict with the horrors of WWII and some with the one-hundredth anniversary of the WWI. In reality the conflict that is in motion before us isn’t between great powers, it is a conflict that stems from uncontrolled, unbridled capitalism that generates poverty, conflict and chaos. It is a struggle to tame the flow of capital, to domesticate and subdue, rendering it a fertilizer for the whole of humanity.

And this is exactly the point Piketty misses within his most recent work Capital in the 21st century. Unfortunately we have gotten to a point of no return, where inequality is too great to be tamed with a globalized tax on financial transactions, as long as neo-liberalism prevails many more Ukraines are on the horizon.

PS: This article is dedicated to all of the Ukrainians that have lost their lives in the fight against fascism and that have fought to have a dignified life.

A luta continua.

Yesterday footage of Kossac militia in Sochi beating and actually whipping members of the now-infamous political punk group Pussy Riot while they were performing in protest of the Olympics made its way around the mediasphere and the web. While it’s astonishing that a country already struggling with bad press would allow its police to use such archaic yet brutal means of repression in front of the world media, I find it more astonishing and impressive that the group went right back into the belly of the beast just a short time after some of their members were released from jail after being incarcerated for doing a similar type of performance/protest.

I’m equally impressed with their ability to get the music video they were filming guerilla-style when the whip-yielding cops busted in out so quickly…and presto, here it is, their video for Putin will teach you how to love, shot outside of the Sochi Olympic Games, with an English translation of the lyrics below the video:

50 billion and a gay-driven rainbow,
Rodnina and Kabaeva will pass you those flames
In prison they will teach you how to obey
Salut to all bosses, hail, duce!

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Sochi is blocked – Olympic surveillance
Special forces, weapons, crowds of cops
FSB is an argument, the police is an argumentState tv will run your applause.

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Spring to Russia comes suddenly
Hello to the messiah as a shot from Avrora
The prosecutor will put you down
Give him some reaction and not those pretty eyes

A cage for the protests, vodka, matrioshka
Prison for May 6, more vodka and caviar
The Constitution is lynched, Vitishko’s in prison
Stability, the prison meal, the fence and the watchtower

For TV Rain they’ve shut down the airwaves
They took gay pride down the washroom
A two-ass toilet – a priority
Sentence to Russia, medium security, 6 years

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

The motherland
The motherland
The motherland

This past Saturday, Greenpeace Canada held vigils in Toronto and Montreal in order to draw attention to the fact that two Canadians, Alexandre Paul and Paul Ruzycki, are rotting in a Russian jail cell awaiting their show trial for protesting against drilling for oil in the Arctic by Gazprom, Russia’s massive transnational energy corporation. The charges against them you ask? PIRACY!!!

That’s right. According to the authoritarian logic of the Putin regime, these eco-activists’ peaceful protest was actually an act of criminality and violence against the state of Russia on the high seas. And they are no less guilty then such memorable pirates as Captain Blackbeard or the Somalis behind the hijacking of Maersk Alabama.

Piracy under international law (unlike so much else in that area) is one of the oldest and most well-defined crimes. Basically the International Convention on the Law of the Sea holds that piracy is act of robbery or criminal violence, at sea, land or air. Seeing as none of these folks were armed, it’s hard to understand where the Russian authorities are coming from in this case. Conversely, the Russian commandos that seized their ship (the Arctic Sunrise) and captured the crew, were armed to the teeth.

Meanwhile, the Australian Liberal Government (actually they’re conservatives, how confusing is that?) has publicly denounced the detention of their nationals by the Russian government on the pretext of piracy. Their foreign minister has already registered her concern with her Russian counterpart about the treatment of their nationals who were involved in the incident. Greenpeace claims that Colin Russel is stuck in a cell 23 hours a day and has not been able to contact his wife or family, in violation of his human rights.

In Ottawa, however, barely a word about the matter from Stephen Harper and our Foreign Minister John Baird, beyond the standard promise, by a flak for the Foreign Affairs Department, of “consular services” for our Canadians being detained indefinitely by a judicial system that notoriously disregards universally recognized principles of international law and basic human rights. Don’t take my word for it, just watch the HBO documentary on the Kafkaesque trial of Pussy Riot (Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer).

I guess this is yet another example of Harper’s indifference towards anyone who doesn’t share his well-documented love affair with the oil industry (ironically, Russia is Canada’s rival in extracting oil and gas reserves in the Arctic sea) even when the people in question are Canadian citizens with rights he is sworn to protect.

Following a weekend where two female Russian athletes kissed on the podium and a Swedish high jumper painted her fingernails the colours of the rainbow flag (she has since been forced to repaint them), both seemingly protesting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law (though one of the relay kissers has since denied it), a new video has surfaced, well, actually, it has resurfaced. This video of a flying dildo interrupting a Russian press conference was originally posted in 2008, so it can’t be seen as a protest against the new law, just maybe against the climate that led to the draconian bill in the first place.

Still, it could be a good indication of the kind of guerilla protest to come in Russia leading up to the Sochi games. Regardless, it’s gutsy and funny to watch:

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin passed anti-gay legislation, the free world has responded with outrage. Organizations such as Pride House International have demanded boycotting the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and restaurants and nightclubs owners have poured Russian vodka down the drain in solidarity with the LGBT community. Meanwhile, US-Russian relations have sunk to their worst levels since the relationship between Kennedy and Khrushchev, which culminated in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Recently Obama announced he may not attend the next major summit with Russia. Though this mainly theatrical move is designed to protest Russia granting America’s most sought after spy, Edward Snowden, temporary asylum, it also addresses a series of cold winds blowing in from Moscow, the incarceration of female punk trio Pussy Riot, Putin arming Syrian rebels and the anti-LGBT law among them.

Putin Pussy Riot portrait.

Obama may have miscalculated. Despite America’s own deficiencies upholding LGBT rights, the US represents the most powerful state partner of LGBT communities. Severing dialogue with Russia will not resolve the issues.

Russia is a global superpower. Its government operates with near impunity, is heavy-handed in subverting dissent from its citizens and censoring and suppressing free media. This perpetuates Russia’s tyranny indefinitely. Therefore, without US dialogue, there is no negotiation or solution. Russia’s LGBT community would be voiceless.

Unless the world boycotts the Sochi games (no country has done so officially yet), asking individual athletes to sacrifice their place to compete would be asking them to sacrifice the prime of their youths. Like governments ending diplomacy, individual athletes not appearing at the games to protest would end the conversation. Olympic coverage of the issue would drift or be silenced, like Tibet’s protests at Beijing 2011.

Economic sanctions and cutting US tourism to Russia is also insufficient. Though Russia’s economy is export-based, many countries rely on its iron umbrella to support their own illiberal regimes and even Ukraine, its staunch Soviet-era opponent, depends on Russian oil.

Putin would have also anticipated lost tourism revenues from Americans due to the LGBT ban. However, China is expected to surpass America in global travelers and is likely to boost Russia’s tourism industry. Xi Jinping’s first foreign visit as China’s new leader was to Russia, renewing relations between former Cold War allies.

Obama and Putin meeting.

The US will need to negotiate with Russia if it truly stands behind LGBT rights. For this to happen, Obama’s LGBT base will need to apply pressure on a presidency in its last term.

Since both Russia and the US remain on frosty terms, mediation between the two giants could work with a neutral third party acting as a buffer. A UN mediator either from a neutral state or the private sector could facilitate talks. The US and Russia could even send representatives instead of Obama and Putin themselves.

Canada, with its longer history of LGBT rights and the US’ closest ally, historically and geographically, could be an influential middleman. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Obama’s relations are lukewarm. This would have to change by whatever legal means necessary.

Putin anti-gay ban protest in Netherlands.

Ultimately, to safeguard Russia’s LGBT community, the US must give in to Putin in some areas. Unless the global community boycotts and ceases economic trade with Russia completely, the talks will have a secondary effect, perhaps one affecting the Syrian rebels.

If this doesn’t work, Obama’s reputation as the Lincoln of LGBT civil rights movement will be tarnished. Even worse, Russia’s LGBT community will suffer through its longest winter yet.

Some of you, I’d like to think most of you, would have heard about the Russian feminist punk-rock collective Pussy Riot. A year ago, on February 21st, 5 members of the Pussy Riot collective did an impromptu performance on the solace of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The performance of the song Punk Prayer – Mother of God Chase Putin Away was to protest against Vladimir Putin’s government and the links between him and leaders of the Orthodox Church during his election campaign.

As a result of the guerilla performance, 3 members of the group were arrested and sentenced to two years in jail on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. The government emphasized that the group was anti-religion to get the support from the people, as religion is sacred in Russia. Pussy Riot has repeatedly said that the performance wasn’t against Church and that the lyrics Holy Shit in their song were an evaluation of the situation in their country, an opinion, not a blasphemy.

This video amongst others by the group are being ruled extremist in Russia and might soon be banned from the Russian internet!

Now a year after, one of the 3 members was released early but two of them, Maria Alyokhina (24) and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (23) are still in prison. Both are young mothers and have requested their sentences to be delayed until their children are teenagers but were refused. They are serving their sentence in remote prison camps.

All of this is happening in the country hosting the winter Olympics in 2014, not a very good example of democracy and freedom if you ask me. Amnesty International has called Maria and Nadezhda prisoners of conscience following the severity of the response by Russian authorities. It is very important to keep supporting what Pussy Riot started and get them out of jail!

Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir organized a 5 à 7 at Divan Orange on February 21st to mark the one year anniversary of Pussy Riot’s performance and incarceration.

The performance included the group’s own version of the Punk Prayer, the lyrics had been put online a few days prior and some of the crowd were singing the whole way through. Most of us sang the chorus Shit! Shit! This is Holy Shit! Pussy Riot’s video of their performance was playing repeatedly on a screen. It was a very powerful experience.

Afterwards, I asked a few questions to Baptiste, the man behind the event.

Q. Why was the event organized?

A. Because I read the lyrics, they are so perfect in supporting Gay pride, feminism, everything I stand for.

Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir is a project that started 4 years ago and has been active for the past year and a half. The idea of the group is to change lyrics of songs while keeping them happy and festive but giving them a deeper message. The song Rainbow in the Sky by Mahalia Jackson was used to talk about gay pride and some of the lyrics were inspired by verses from the Bible.

baron-irreverandIrreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir is based on Gospel. The origins of the Gospel movement were explained during the evening too! Very interesting. The Gospel is there to force people to ask themselves questions about religion – about everything really – the main goal is emancipation, from all your prejudices. Gospel music was born during the period of slavery in the USA. Slaves weren’t allowed to express themselves openly, and had to be docile not showing emotions except on Sundays. On Sundays, they would go to church and be expressive (so long as it was to Jesus). It was a form of liberation. It explains the exuberance you find in Gospel; the crying out, calling and answering. The church goers would scream “Preach” when they heard something the Reverend would say that they agreed with and when it spoke directly to their heart. Allelujah was the word you would hear. Also, since animist drum rituals were obviously banned, the parishioners took to clapping instead. The roots of Gospel are about more than religion, they are about affirmation.

Irreverend James and the Critical Mass Choir is here for the people who say NO! Who refuse to just go with the fallacies that we are sold today. It is here for the free thinkers and to bring back a sense of community.

It is great to see more and more people waking up and saying No, enough is enough!! Keep it up! Free Pussy Riot!!

Find out more and join the Choir at www.irreverendjames.com

As I sit on my couch contemplating what to write in my gently roasting living room, the temperature has reached a balmy 40 degrees Celsius with humidity.   With the sweat leaking from my forehead, despite the fans blowing in my direction, I had a thought: when there is nothing else to say, talk about the weather.

As the summer of 2010 slowly comes to an end, I find it hard to remember a warmer summer than the one we’ve experienced this season.   After the last couple of days of record breaking temperatures I’m about ready to welcome winter with open arms.   Judging by all the heat waves and wildfires we’ve seen this summer in Quebec, Russia, Bolivia and elsewhere, I’d say the rest of the world is ready to welcome winter as well.

I’m not about to chalk up a couple of heat waves to global warming, just as I wouldn’t try to deny global warming because of a snow storm in February, but I get the feeling that the Earth has a fever.   In fact, if the earth was a human head its forehead would be sweating profusely as much as mine.

The two largest countries in the world are both situated in the uppermost part of the northern hemisphere and both have experienced their warmest seasons on record this year.

Mind if I smoke? The Big O drenched in smoke from Quebec wildfires in late May

Canada came off its warmest and driest winter in its history with an average temperature 4 degrees Celsius above normal.   The warm dry weather continued into the late spring causing over fifty different forest fires in Quebec, some of which are still burning.   Fires also affected B.C. and Alberta in July and August.   About 290,000 hectares of forest were burned in British Columbia by August 23rd, about three times more than the average.

In Russia, the hottest summer in their history (an average temperature 5 degrees Celsius above normal) has led to a direr situation.   Starting in late July, twenty-eight regions were under a state of emergency due to crop failures caused by drought and seven regions because of wildfires.   At one point in early August there were more than eight hundred fires burning at a time, many of them around Moscow.   During that same time period an average of seven hundred people were dying everyday from smoke and heat.

A Russian man stands near one of hundreds of forest fires

I’m no scientist; I can’t tell you that this is a definitive sign of global warming, but when two large countries that contain a majority of the North Pole have simultaneous record breaking hot streaks such as these… I have to wonder.