All posts by meanderer007

After 8 weeks of War


According to UNICEF, whose numbers should be reliable, unlike those emanating from the Hama  officials which I frankly have no reason to believe are true, 5300 civilians and children have died in the Israeli air strikes. 115 children have been dying every day. And things are getting worse! That is what Holy War in the Holy Land looks like, not lmited war!


I also heard more civilians have died than in the near 2-year- war in Ukraine so far.  And Ukraine has been dealing with a ruthless blood-thirsty tyrant. Some have said Russia is the world’s most brutal regime in the world.

Israel, is supported militarily by the western countries like Canada, the United States, and United Kingdom. Canada called for a pause in fighting but not a cease-fire. It got what it asked for. Maybe it should asked for more.

It seems to me Canada might be supporting a war without limits. If that is the case, as some say, Canada is supporting war crimes. That, I think would be a first for Canada. That would not be something to be proud of. That would a a stain on our reputation. When friends see other friends going too far, the good friend would warn the friend. Good friends give each other the truth, even when its hard.  Especially when its hard.


Pinching Zwieback: A review



I know I am biased but my good friend Mitch Toews has written a very good novel. Or is it a very good collection of stories trying to be a novel?  It doesn’t matter. All you have to know is that to read it truly worth the trip.


I first got to know Mitch when we were both on a senior men’s basketball team. I was the mascot. Oddly, two members of that team have become writers.  The other is well-known Dave Bergen. Mitch may soon be just as well known. Sadly, both Mitch and Dave were much better basketball players than I was and also excellent writers. Some guys get all the breaks. Sometimes life is not fair.


Once a week through the thick and thin of winter the team drove to Winnipeg, though some like Dave Bergen lived in Winnipeg so did not have the benefit of participating in those wonderful road trips. On the way back home after a couple of “short ones” from the Nicolett Bar with itsMega Parties” attended by about 3 or 4 customers in addition to our team, I remember Mitch would often regale us with stories.  Sitting in the car with our sweaty socks and smells of stale beer, Mitch would sometimes tell long stories that were told with minute details that gave them the luster of truth, even though they were obviously filled with outrageous lies. Trump-sized lies!  At best they had a whiff of the truth. I knew then, right away, that he was a wordsmith and should write. After all, lies are what fiction is all about. And Mitch was a master liar.

Now Mitch has proved I was right about that with his magnificent book Pinching Zwieback: Made up Stories from the Darp.“ [“Darp” is a small town.]

We have to forgive Mitch for his appropriation of Mennonite culture. He uses a sprinkling of Low-German words to give the book the tang of Mennonite, but he provides a set of definitions so even those unfamiliar with this glorious language will understand the word in the books.  But that is all right, he is allowed to appropriate from his own culture, even if he is an outlier. Or out liar?


I really liked the stories about Died Rich (Diedrich) Deutsch who was obviously modelled after another member of our team mates. Died Rich is befriended by Dr. Rempel who discovers “an infinity-sized loophole” from hell. Lucky guy. He is free to do what he wants. So he tries to start a new religion with Died Rich as his first convert.



  1. My favourite story though is “Without Spot or Wrinkle” in which 2 characters are clearly fictionalized versions of my great uncle Peter and Tante Suzie.  Matt’s father Hart owns a bakery and goes to the Credit Union for a loan. After all the business has one of the “ freshly printed chequebooks that makes money appear as if by magic—or possibly as some claim—in response to prayer.”  Hart notices the desk for the loans officers is “rectilinear and oppressively neat” telling us a lot about the community in which it is located.  As well, there is a plaque “that smells like money” where “A framed dollar bill looks down from the wall like a coat-of-arms.” It is a place with a stern “ Elizabeth Regina overseeing all.” In that image you know all you need to know about this institution. This is a place that only those who are not faint of heart should enter. It reminds me of the line by Bob Dylan, “Jack the Ripper sits at the head of the Chamber of Commerce selling road maps of the soul.”


When Hart admits to the account manager  he doesn’t attend church he knows his chance of getting the loan are sunk. When “Elizabeth Regina looks down, a savage smile on her green lips,” you know that smile is for Hart and he knows all he needs to know. When the account manager “closes the ledger with a soft thud…the neat rows of numbers seem to protest—the zeros calling out in open -mouthed desperation.” To no avail of course.


Fortunately, he finds a much more friendly banker down the street. Mr. Heid, no doubt modelled after kindly old T.G. Smith, ‘with a green-stained baseball” on his desk you which lets you know his chances are much better here. Hart has landed at a kinder, gentler, and smarter lender. Heid fortunately is not one of the so-called Christians. As Matt’s friend Peter Vogel said, “He has a firm hand on the idea of being fair—helping his neighbours no matter who or what he is. Not a church man that Heid, but he acts more like one than some others.”  Vogel has sharp words for the newer lenders like those at the Credit Union that “forget the old ways, those guys with their fine suits.”


I always knew Mitch would be a good writer. I just didn’t know how good. The stories whisper words of wisdom. The best kind of wisdom in a world in which we get too much of the other kind.  All of you should get out and buy this book. Immediately. This guy can write, a heck-of-a-lot better than he ever played basketball.


No Limits No Soul


A Statesperson, to warrant the title, must recognize, that even in war, there are limits and those limits must not be breached. In the heat of battle this is sometimes difficult. But whoever said the job of the Statesperson was easy? If it was easy we would have many statespersons.

According to John Rawls the American philosopher analyzing the decision the American president Truman made in Japan in World War II, this is what Truman said


“Truman once described the Japanese as beasts and to be treated as such; yet how foolish it sounds now to call the Germans or the Japanese barbarians and beasts! Of the Nazis and Tojo militarists, yes, but they are not the German and the Japanese people. Churchill later granted that he carried the bombing too far, led by passion and the intensity of the conflict. A duty of statesmanship is not to allow such feelings, natural and inevitable as they may be, to alter the course a democratic people should best follow in striving for peace. The statesman understands that relations with the present enemy have special importance: for as I have said, war must be openly and publicly conducted in ways that make a lasting and amicable peace possible with a defeated enemy, and prepares its people for how they may be expected to be treated. Their present fears of being subjected to acts of revenge and retaliation must be put to rest; present enemies must be seen as associates in a shared and just future peace “

These words are equally applicable to Netanyahu. The statesperson recognizes limits. Truman failed to do that. So has Netanyahu. I have not seem him recognize any limits. Hea will destroy Hama no matter what the costs.

Limits in war are more than just moral imperatives. As David French wrote to the Israeli’s in the New York Times, “Don’t lose your soul.”  No limits no soul.


Resist the Lure of Extremists


Although the numbers of causalities are at best estimate,  it has been estimated that the number casualties of  the American bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki it has been estimated  that 69,000 people were killed and 65,000 injured in the bombing of Hiroshima  and 39,000 killed and 25,000 injured in bombing of Nagasaki. Those are big numbers. John Rawls argued that the bombing was not justified.


I would like to add something here to what John Rawls said in his analysis of America’s bombing of those two Japanese cities. The statesperson must be someone who can resist the lure of the extremists. This is not easy to do. Particularly in times of war when feelings were running high. In fact, in the Middle East this has proved impossible. But it is not impossible. Look at Martin  Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. And there are others. These are men and women who found there is another way. A way that rejects violence and rejects extremism. That is the only way forward in the furnace of the Middle East. That is the way of non-violence. It is almost the only thing that has never been tried.


The statesman or woman is not on offer in the Middle East. Not on any side, at least as far as I can see. Hamas embeds its soldiers among hospitals and schools to  make it necessary for Israeli’s to kill the civilians if they want to kill Hamas.  It is certainly not offered by Netanyahu. He is the exact opposite of the statesman. He is always willing to turn to the extremists, even if it means the death of Israel. Rawls is much wiser than Netanyahu. He suggests this:


Statesmen need not be selfless and may have their own interests when they hold office, yet they must be selfless in their judgments and assessments of society’s interests and not be swayed, especially in war and crisis, by passions of revenge and retaliation against the enemy.

The statesperson is the person who avoids doing those things that make it more difficult to achieve peace. For example, Netanyahu has made peace much more difficult, if not impossible by sprinkling the occupied territories with extremist settlers in the occupied West Bank. They are deliberately trying to create what they call “facts on the ground” which will make it harder for Israel to make peace. Apparently, there are now 750,000 of these settlers and they can vote. And Netanyahu knows it. They make peace virtually impossible. Netanyahu was warned over and over against this but he persisted in his folly. Now Israel is paying a big price for that mistake.

As Rawls said,


“… the proclamations of a nation should make clear (the statesman must see to this) that the enemy people are to be granted an autonomous regime of their own and a decent and full life once peace is securely reestablished.Whatever they may be told by their leaders, whatever reprisals they may reasonably fear, they are not to be held as slaves or serfs after surrender, or denied in due course their full liberties; and they may well achieve freedoms they did not enjoy before, as the Germans and the Japanese eventually did. The statesman knows, if others do not, that all descriptions of the enemy people (not their rulers) inconsistent with this are impulsive and false.”



The statesperson must not be like Hitler or Netanyahu. As Rawls described Hitler he could just as well have been talking about Netanyahu:

Yet characteristic of Hitler was that he accepted no possibility at all of a political relationship with his enemies. They were always to be cowed by terror and brutality, and ruled by force. From the beginning the campaign against Russia, for example, was a war of destruction against Slavic peoples, with the original inhabitants remaining, if at all, only as serfs. When Goebbels and others protested that the war could not be won that way, Hitler refused to listen.”


The United States generally, follows the rules of war. But Rawls says they failed in the case of Hiroshima:


“The principles of the conduct of war were always applicable to it. Indeed, in the case of Hiroshima many involved in higher reaches of the government recognized the questionable character of the bombing and that limits were being crossed. Yet during the discussions among allied leaders in June and July 1945, the weight of the practical means-end reasoning carried the day. Under the continuing pressure of war, such moral doubts as there were failed to gain an express and articulated view. As the war progressed, the heavy fire-bombing of civilians in the capitals of Berlin and Tokyo and elsewhere was increasingly accepted on the allied side. Although after the outbreak of war Roosevelt had urged both sides not to commit the inhuman barbarism of bombing civilians, by 1945 allied leaders came to assume that Roosevelt would have used the bomb on Hiroshima. The bombing grew out of what had happened before.”

The Statesperson



John Rawls said that in times of war a country needs a stateman. Now of course, we would add, or stateswoman. In fact, women might very well be better at this than men. Men have a long and spotty record of tawdry statesmanship.

Who is the statesman?

Rawls gives an interesting analysis of who the statesman is.

“There is no office of statesman, as there is of president, or chancellor, or prime minister. The statesman is an ideal, like the ideal of the truthful or virtuous individual. Statesmen are presidents or prime ministers who become statesmen through their exemplary performance and leadership in their office in difficult and trying times and manifest strength, wisdom, and courage. They guide their people through turbulent and dangerous periods for which they are esteemed always, as one of their great statesmen.”


And bluster, and belligerence, and bellicosity are not strength.  Sometimes they manage to hide the weakness. In fact, they are deep manifestations of weakness. Netanyahu is not strong. He sounds tough but is really weak.


As Isaac Asimov said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” This has been demonstrated over and over again in the Middle East. Israelis keep repeating how Palestinians have never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity. I agree. But this is just as true of Israel. The Middle East cries out in its agony for a strong leader like Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. Someone who knows the futility of bloodshed and how violence guarantees failure. It is the extremists who are weak. The strong man (or woman of course) is the one who pursues the avoidance of violence because the violence will inevitably destroy the goal.


John Rawls offers an alternative. That alternative is to be a statesman (or, of course, a stateswoman. What makes the statesman different, you ask. Rawls puts it this way: “”The ideal of the statesman is suggested by the saying: the politician looks to the next election, the statesman to the next generation.”


Netanyahu is not a statesman. The Palestinians don’t seem to have one either. And that’s a pity.

Does the End Justify the Means?


John Rawls in his analysis of the bombing of Japanese cities by America at the end of the Second World War, turned to another important philosophical principle: the ends must justify the means and if they don’t the means must be discarded in favour of those that do. This was the argument made by another great philosopher this time from Canada and in fact from my university—Arthur Schafer. I hope to go into greater detail on this point in a future post on this issue but will just mention how Rawls deals with it. This is what he said:


“Finally, we note the place of practical means-end reasoning in judging the appropriateness of an action or policy for achieving the aim of war or for not causing more harm than good. This mode of thought—whether carried on by (classical) utilitarian reasoning, or by cost-benefit analysis, or by weighing national interests, or in other ways—must always be framed within and strictly limited by the preceding principles. The norms of the conduct of war set up certain lines that bound just action. War plans and strategies, and the conduct of battles, must lie within their limits (The only exception, I repeat, is in times of extreme crisis.”


In other words, war without genuine limits is never acceptable. Rawls, like Camus, and unlike Lindsey Graham and unlike Hamas, acknowledges there are limits to what one can do in a just war or it ceases to be just. Limits are not just important. Limits are essential to the just war. A war without limits, which so many wars in recent years have become, is not a just war.

Rawls insists that the defensive war must not cause more harm than good. In his view it really is that simple. He might be right.

I heard Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General interviewed by Fareed Zakaria and he pointed out that every year for 7 years he has published a report about children killed in wars. He has complained about countries like Syria, Russia, Israel and the Taliban in the past. None of them were happy with his reports. Until now he said, the most children that were ever killed by one country in such conflicts was 600 in a year. He also said that he did not rely on the numbers of deaths in Gaza presented by Hamas as they were not reliable, but he said,  “it is clear that the number of children killed in a few weeks in Gaza is in the thousands.

Earlier he also said, Gaza had been turned into a graveyard for children.

Does the end justify that means? Thousands of children dead and of course, many more adult civilians, many of them women and old people?

I have a hard time seeing that as doing less harm than good.


Live the Peace you want


The American philosopher John Rawls in his article on the dropping of the Atomic bomb by the US on Japan, made another point: 

“A decent democratic society must respect the human rights of the members of the other side, both civilians and soldiers, for two reasons. One is because they simply have these rights by the law of peoples. The other reason is to teach enemy soldiers and civilians the content of those rights by the example of how they hold in their own case…. This means, as I understand it here, that they can never be attacked directly except in times of extreme crisis…”


This is an interesting idea. Rawls requires the democratic society to do more than go to battle against the aggressor. It must actually teach the non-democratic aggressor what it means to be a democracy. And it must teach by example; not words! The democracy does that, because when the war is over it wants to have one more democratic partner and one less enemy!

Rawls makes another very important argument, very closely aligned to the last one. This is what he said: “just peoples by their actions and proclamations are to foreshadow during war the kind of peace they aim for and the kind of relations they seek between nations

I put it this way: Live the peace you want. Show the peace by your actions because, as we all know, actions speak louder than words.

 As Rawls says, just peoples know in their hearts, that  “present enemies must be seen as associates in a shared and just future peace.Just leaders—statesmen as he calls them,  want to do more than avoiding losing the war. They also want to make sure they don’t lose the peace either!

Even in the midst of war, the democratic state must have its eye on the prize—i.e. the peace that is to follow. It wants to create a partner for the peace; not an enemy for eternity Again, I would submit that both Israel and Hamas are falling down here. Hamas is not democratic so this does not apply. Moreover, its actions have been so horrendous that it is very difficult to conceive of them as a future partner in anything. Israel though is not trying to create the just peace that can make a partner. Israel has voted for extremists at least since Ehud Barak ceased to be Prime Minister. He was followed by Ariel Sharon, and very briefly by Ehud Olmert, another extremist,  and then Benjamin Netanyahu a consistent extremist, and as a result turned from peace to war and in the process it ruined its soul! Israel turned itself into a monster. I know such a statement will hurt my Jewish friends, but I believe it is true. Israel has been provoked by extreme violence, but it has turned itself into Hamas light. I will have more to say on this in subsequent posts. Both sides are creating enemies for eternity. Both sides must deep six their extremist leaders who are leading them into the wilderness.

Wisdom from an old philosopher John Rawls


What is morally justified in War? What is not justified? How does all of this apply to the conflict between Israel and Hamas?

American Senator Lindsey Graham said Israel is justified in doing whatever it wants to do in response to the surprise attack by Hamas. That is an extreme view. He is an extremist. Such views though are common in Israel and the United States. Most of us would say there are limits to what the defending state can do, even in war, and even in a justified war. What are those limits? Unlimited war may unleash unlimited consequences that just are not justified in the combat. War is nothing if it is not complex. War is never simple. And that is why war requires careful thinking, at least when one had time to do the thinking this requires. I acknowledge that there are moments in the heat of battle where this might not be possible.

John Rawls, one of the greatest of America’s political philosophers was given a very difficult task. Fifty years after the event, he was asked to evaluate whether or not the United States was morally justified in dropping an atomic bomb in World II against Japan after it had been attacked by Japan.  Such a bomb would cause massive civilian deaths. But it might prevent massive death on his side. And he had to be impartial. He could not be blinded by bias or hatred or a desire for revenge. What means did the ends justify?  That was the difficult question Rawls tried to answer. Just like it is a difficult question to say what is Israel justified in doing after a horrific surprise attack by Hamas. I just don’t think Lindsay Graham could be right.

Rawls had some interesting things to say on this complicated subject. To begin, he had the benefit of hind sight. He wrote about it 50 years after the fact in 1995.  This is what he said: “I believe that both the fire-bombing of Japanese cities beginning in the spring of 1945 and the later atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 were very great wrongs, and rightly seen as such.”


Why did he say that? He began by pointing out the obvious—namely, that democracies are different from totalitarian states such as Russia, or Nazi Germany. He did not get to experience Hamas or ISIS. The authoritarian countries don’t go by the rules of war. Anything goes. Like Lindsey Graham on steroids.

Rawls pointed out this:


“These peoples have different ends of war than nondemocratic, especially totalitarian, states, such as Germany and Japan, which sought the domination and exploitation of subjected peoples, and in Germany’s case, their enslavement if not extermination.”


And that is quite important. The democratic governments have entirely different goals. They don’t seek enslavement or extermination. So democracies can’t go where the totalitarian states go. They would ruin themselves in the process.

The goals of democratic states are different so their goals must be achieved by different methods. Here Rawls made another very important point: “The aim of a just war waged by a decent democratic society is a just and lasting peace between peoples, especially with its present enemy.” You can’t ruin your enemy, even if you think he deserves it because of what he did to you, because after the war is over, you want to have a lasting peace with him. In my view, both Hamas and Israel have forgotten this. Hamas probably does not care. It is not a democratic state, so it may not have this goal. Israel, if it is a democracy,  must have this goal. If it doesn’t Israel is not a democratic state either. That I think would be Rawls’ view.

Rawls was talking about Japan when he wrote this, but I would submit it would be just as relevant to Hamas which is much farther away from a democracy than Hamas is:


In the conduct of war, a democratic society must carefully distinguish three groups: the state’s leaders and officials, its soldiers, and its civilian population. The reason for these distinctions rests on the principle of responsibility: since the state fought against is not democratic, the civilian members of the society cannot be those who organized and brought on the war. This was done by its leaders and officials assisted by other elites who control and staff the state apparatus. They are responsible, they willed the war, and for doing that, they are criminals. But civilians, often kept in ignorance and swayed by state propaganda, are not. And this is so even if some civilians knew better and were enthusiastic for the war. In a nation’s conduct of war many such marginal cases may exist, but they are irrelevant. As for soldiers, they, just as civilians, and leaving aside the upper ranks of an officer class, are not responsible for the war, but are conscripted or in other ways forced into it, their patriotism often cruelly and cynically exploited. The grounds on which they may be attacked directly are not that they are responsible for the war but that a democratic people cannot defend itself in any other way, and defend itself it must do. About this there is no choice.”


Here, Israel has a tough job. Some would say it has an impossible task. It is fighting an enemy—Hamas—which uses civilians to protect itself. It builds tunnels underneath or next to hospitals to make it difficult or rather, impossible, for Israel to eliminate it without eliminating massive numbers of civilians and hence losing a lot of its support from other nations. But, as Rawls said, we must always recognize and then remember, that the leaders are not the same as the foot soldiers or civilians. That burden is then thrown on the victim of the aggression.

I will continue this analysis in the next post.

The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine


When the war between Hamas and Israel began I decided I must read a book about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  I read such a book quite a few years ago. I certainly needed a refresher. The read certainly was not refreshing however.

As a result, I read the book, The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine by Michael Scott-Baumann. From the blurbs on the cover it seemed to be an impartial view of that conflict. I think I made a good choice. Its a very good book.

What have I learned as a result of reading that book?  One main thing has become absolutely clear to me. That is that I have no idea who started the war or who started the current conflict either for that matter. So I had not learned who is right. But I am sure about one thing I am sure about Iwho is wrong.  Both sides are wrong! And they have been wrong over and over again.

 Mainly, they have been wrong because both sides have repeatedly acquiesced with what their extremists are doing in their name. And the result of that is clear. Turning over “your side” to your extremists is so ensure that peace has no chance. You can’t give peace a chance when you turn your case over to the extremists. And the same goes for the other side. No moderation; no peace. The extremists will make sure of that. Over and over again it seems that is exactly what they extremists want.

And if no side is right then the Buffalo Springfield are right when they sang:


“There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”


American on the Edge of Fascism


I posted about a judge in Colorado evaluating all of the evidence, hearing arguments from both sides and concluding that Donald Trump was engaged in insurrection.  As a result I submitted that it was astonishing to think that Trump supporters  still don’t believe that he was engaged insurrection. To me it seems obvious.

The judge however said she was not sure that this section applied to the presidency so refused to ban Trump from the upcoming presidential ballot in 2024.

The American Constitution, unlike the American people,  takes insurrection very seriously. In s. 3 to the 14th amendment to that constitution it says:

“Section 3

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability”


What does this section mean? Donald Trump’s lawyers argued that this meant the section did not apply to the president. It only applies to every other officer of the United States, the lawyers argue.

In effect if Trump wins this argument then he has absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. Think about that, a former president is arguing in court that he cannot suffer any legal consequence for participating in an insurrection!

Laurence Tribe a well known Harvard Professor of law and constitutional expert said this decision by the Colorado Judge was “bizarre.” I am not that bold because I find the wording in s. 3 perplexing, but Professor Tribe had no such doubt. This is what he said when interviewed by PBS Newshour about this decision:

“it would turn the presidency into a dictatorship. It would basically mean that the revolution that we fought against King George failed, and that the American experiment in constitutional democracy, with no one being above the law, lasted 225 years, and then ended. I don’t want that to happen.”


Now I have to agree with Professor Tribe that this would be bizarre, but frankly I find many aspects of the American Constitution, which so many in America consider Holy Text, to be bizarre. Remember that according to constitution the president  has the authority to pardon anyone from a a criminal offence without giving any reasons or justification. Trump used this last time he was in office to pardon a slew of his corrupt cronies. Some have even argued that the Constitution would allow Trump to pardon himself if he was convicted. What could be more bizarre than that? Sometimes I really wonder if the US can be said to have the rule of law at all. Like so much holy writ, the American Constitution is far from perfect.

We have already heard that Trump will make it his job to destroy all of his enemies if elected. How could he be stopped?

This is what Professor Tribe says about the possibility that Trump’s argument succeeds:

“I think it would be a disaster for the freedom of every one of us to have anybody completely above the law. We have in this case someone who said he would terminate the Constitution. He will make his presidency about vengeance. It’s what fascists do.


That is precisely what fascists do all right, and America seems to be headed in that direction thanks to the undying support of millions of Americans for Donald Trump. No matter what he does they will continue to support him. It doesn’t matter if he engages in insurrection. It doesn’t matter if he shoots someone in Times Square. It doesn’t matter if he sexually abuses a woman in department store, his true believers will continue to believe.