The United Nations: beacon of hope, or cesspool on the East River?

Must-reads: John Ibbitson on the boomers’ lament; Rosie DiManno on Afghanistan’s disabled; Colby Cosh on “food miles”; Janet Bagnall on Plan B; Thomas Walkom on Ontario’s industrial future.

Stand by for yet another national embarrassment
Should we give a damn about the UN Security Council?

The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson takes note of all the reasons Canada is unlikely to win a temporary seat on the UN Security Council. Some of them are new (the Harperites’ “right-or-wrong policy” on Israel, “coolness toward Beijing,” the perception of less interest in Africa, and a general antipathy towards the UN), and some of them are of a Liberal pedigree (the Kyoto debacle, opposing more permanent members on the Security Council). “Still,” Simpson insists, Canada has a shot at it if the government puts up a decent campaign, which it should, and it would be “highly embarrassing” if it didn’t. At no point does he explain why we should so desperately want to take our place on a body that currently includes Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica and Panama. (No foolin’-Costa Rica and Panama!)

Indeed, the National Post‘s Jonathan Kay suggests we shouldn’t care, because “everything of significance that the [Security Council] does is controlled by the five permanent members”-and after Moscow and Beijing deploy their vetoes, it actually does precious little. “Liberal-era foreign policy careerists” and others whose “status and livelihoods revolve around the empty formalities of Turtle Bay” will object, of course, and insist that tolerating certain UN members’ strident anti-Israeli rhetoric is the price one pays for being a good global citizen. Kay sneers: “If only Stephen Harper had the maturity of Paul Heinbecker”-whose recent statements he takes to task-“he’d know that such toxins must be swallowed so that Maple Leaf-festooned backpackers can bask in warm smiles as they traipse through Europe and the Middle East.”

The boomers throw a tantrum
“Claiming that sexism is an evil equal to or even greater than racism equates the metaphorical ghetto with the real ghetto, drudgery with slavery, suffrage with lynching, glass ceilings with Jim Crow,” the Globe‘s John Ibbitson argues in a hum-dinger of a column looking at the bitter and longstanding battle between the black and female wings of the civil rights movement. (Fans of mortifying quotations from historical heroes will enjoy the following, from Susan B. Anthony: “If you will not give the whole load of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first.”) The idea that misogyny led the Democrats to back a “black freshman senator from Illinois” is “laughable,” Ibbitson says, but it’s not surprising to see some of Hillary Clinton’s supporters furiously espousing it. They are, after all, baby boomers. And this is the first time they haven’t gotten their way in a long, long time.

So how did Team Clinton manage to bugger this up? Three ways, L. Ian MacDonald argues in the Montreal Gazette: by accepting her own “inevitability,” by running “as the candidate of experience in a time of change,” and by having no game plan past Super Tuesday, by which point she assumed she’d have already been coronated.

News from the provinces
The Toronto Star‘s Thomas Walkom suggests Ontario’s apparent long-term economic strategy-to eventually accept the demise of the manufacturing sector and focus on “biotechnology (drug-related things) and digital information (computer-related things)”-might be a bit premature, if not totally wrong-headed. If oil prices keep soaring, he argues, “the entire global division of labour will have to be rethought.” Heavy goods may have to be manufactured ever closer to home, in other words, while information will only get easier and cheaper to transmit between, say, Toronto and Bangalore.

In 2000, the Vancouver Sun‘s Vaughn Palmer notes, Arthur Griffiths stepped down as head of the 2010 Olympic bid, citing the “almost constant personal scrutiny” the position entailed. And now, he’s going to run for the provincial Liberals. For this quote and for many other reasons, including his proud record of losing “the family sports empire-hockey team, basketball team, stadium-to Seattle billionaire John McCaw,” Palmer suggests Griffiths might not be the sort of “star candidate” Gordon Campbell was looking for. Luckily, he seems to have very little chance of winning.

The “Plan B” emergency contraceptive could prevent thousands of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, Janet Bagnall argues in the Gazette. It’s also perfectly safe (though useless) for already-pregnant women, and it has been shown not to promote promiscuity—and even if it did, she notes, Quebec would be an odd place for such an “obnoxious” argument to prevent unfettered access to the drug. It is time, she maintains, for the government to make the drug available over the counter to anyone who wants it—just like in the rest of Canada.

Department of human misery
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner explains why human beings are generally indifferent to a phrase like “eight million starving in Ethiopia,” but can be moved to tears (and charitable donations) by the image of a single Ethiopian with a distended stomach and “sad eyes.” In short, it’s because our unconscious mind “has no use for reason and its handling of numbers is no better than that of a rat’s or a dolphin’s.”

The Star‘s Rosie DiManno, meanwhile, takes stock of the huge number of disabled people in Afghanistan—and especially in Kabul, where the destitute have a better chance of attracting the kindness of strangers. “It is doubtful whether any place on Earth has a larger proportion of disabled and often discarded citizens, eking out an existence on the margins of charity,” she suggests, from the “keening woman with empty eye sockets, her palms upturned, squatting at the edge of traffic,” to the “little boy with deformed and useless limbs scuttling across a bridge like a crab, wrapping his thin arms around a passerby’s ankle, unwilling to let go, begging for change.” Progress is being made on “integrat[ing] the handicapped into the community,” she notes, but with “so many urgent problems” facing the country, it “has not been a priority for the government.”

Duly noted
On the Post‘s Full Comment blog, Colby Cosh argues that the theory behind “food miles”—i.e., obsessively eating local products, on the basic theory that they will have entailed less carbon emissions—is hopelessly oversimplified. “Locally-grown food will save on transport emissions, but the true green aspirant would factor in the ecological cost of water, fertilizer, and energy consumption,” he writes, which is insanely complicated. (In the same vein, he notes, Denver caterers scrambling to satisfy the Democratic Convention’s strict granola requirements are considering flying in “compostable cornstarch cutlery” from Asia.) More fundamentally, he argues, commercial food producers have all sorts of economic incentives to be ruthlessly efficient with their energy use. We wouldn’t presume to “smelt our own steel in backyard furnaces” more efficiently than Stelco, so why do we think we can do it for food?

The Toronto Sun‘s Peter Worthington indulges his well-known affinity for cute-and-cuddly animals and declares that while the science behind polar bears being declared a threatened species was suspect, it’s worth it to save these “magnificent” creatures from beastly hunters.

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