Sunday, October 31, 2004

Okay, the cynic was wrong

The headline news blare out the word that Ralph Klein's mother has passed on. Fair enough - the cynic in me wondered if just maybe Ralph's handlers had gotten ahold of him and convinced him it was time to vanish from the election before his tongue does any more damage to the Conservative campaign. I was apparently mistaken.

We'll have to see if Ralph returns to the campaign trail or not before Nov. 22. (I don't think he'll return much before the end of this week)

Of course, sad as it is, the passing of Ralph's mother doesn't change anything about the PC's under Ralph. Even if Ralph is absent from the campaign trail, we need to take a long, hard look at his government's record, and decide whether they have done what we need them to.


Saturday, October 30, 2004

How convenient, Ralph

Call me cynical if you wish, but I can't help but wonder if Ralph Klein's mother being ill hasn't something to do with the furore over his recent statements about AISH.

Yesterday, he made a somewhat half-baked apology (to be honest, I'm not even sure it got to "half baked"); and today his mother is suddenly so seriously ill that he has to take a "leave" from campaigning. Okay, it's quite possible that his mother is very ill - sickness, especially in old age, doesn't respect deadlines, campaign schedules or much else.

But given the kerfuffle over Ralph's latest attack of 'foot-in-mouth' disease (I wonder sometimes if it is the human equivalent of 'Hoof and Mouth' disease?), the "indefinite" withdrawal from the campaign seems like it might just be a convenient way for the PC's to keep Ralph from bungling anything else on the campaign trail.

Given how loose Ralph's tongue seems to be, one has to wonder if he's lost more than just his "moral compass". (Marbles, common sense, brains - whatever)

Personally, I find the half-baked apology a continuation of the stupidity that brought Ralph to say what he did in the first place. He's lost touch with more than just common sense - he seems to have also lost contact with the people that he's supposed to govern. He doesn't seem to know when he's made such a monumental error that admitting it would look better than these 'pseudo apologies'.

Ralph, you insulted a lot more than just the people who are on AISH. You insulted the intelligence and integrity of every Albertan that ever uses a government program. At this point, I'm not sure I'd be overly impressed by even the most abject of apologies.

I hope that others in this province are looking carefully at what you've said and done over the last decade. There's a pattern emerging, and it's not exactly flattering or pretty.


Friday, October 29, 2004

I can't believe it...

I wonder if it's possible to sue our politicians for medical damages that result from their colossal stupdity. This morning, I'm driving up to the University for a course, and the 6:30 news comes on.

The lead item on the news is more from King Ralph about AISH. I'm sure that my blood pressure went from a nice, normal 120/80 type of number to 220/??? in 10 seconds or less - that can't be good.

Says Ralph to his audience in Grande Prairie:

"I'm sure none of you want to talk to me about AISH, do you? No, because you're normal," Klein then told the crowd. "Severely normal people."
I'm past being just a tad angry with Ralph - now I'm just furious. The arrogance and insensitivity of this buffoon are insulting to my intelligence as a thinking human being.

He then turns around with reporters after his Grande Prairie speech and says "he's had enough of the issue":

Afterwards, he said he's had enough of the issue. "I'm not about to subject myself to providing 15-second sound bites," Klein said.
This voter has had enough of the issue too - enough to know that there is no way short of coercion that I will vote Tory this provincial election.

There are two key reasons for this in my mind:

1. Ralph has made a colossal blunder that is both mean-spirited and reprehensible.

2. Ralph has once again proven that he has no desire whatsoever to deal with his own mistakes. Storming off when you are confronted with something like this is ridiculous and insulting to the public.

It's time to fire Ralph!

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Reasons Ralph _MUST_ Go

I must be getting cranky in my old age or something. It seems that there is less and less in the current crop of politicians that makes me want to keep any of them in power.

This morning, I listened to the news only to hear with absolute horror the comments of Premier Klein about the AISH program.

Says Ralph:

"And they were yipping about AISH payments," Klein said, adding the women were receiving the assistance. "They didn't look severely handicapped to me. I'll tell you that for sure. Both had cigarettes dangling from their mouths, and cowboy hats."
So, infers Ralph:

"We will look at potential and absolute abuse of the system and cut those people off," Klein said.
Now, don't get me wrong, fraud is fraud - wrong no matter how you look at it. If there is in fact fraudulent abuse of the AISH program, let's clamp down on it.

Having said that, Ralph doesn't know what reason these two women were on AISH - the reasons could be invisible injuries, or psychiatric issues that render them unable to work. (I really don't know, nor is that relevant). Unless Ralph's been going to Medical School in his spare time, I don't imagine he's qualified to determine if these women were handicapped or not.

What really bothers me about this is the change in Ralph Klein that these statements reflect. Long gone is the "Bumbling Ralph" that used to be Calgary's mayor - a man whose missteps could often be laughed off. What has replaced him is "Dark Ralph" who has become a nasty piece of work.

Why do I say nasty? Consider the leap of logic he's made - because these two women were apparently "able-bodied", they must be able to work. Therefore, in Ralph's world, they shouldn't be on AISH. Remember, this is the same brain surgeon that has restructured health care so that physical therapy is purely user pay, yet needed vitally for many injuries after medical intervention. For that matter, under his watch, classes for special needs students were merged with regular classrooms and then the assistants that help the special needs students were cut out.

Does anybody else see a pattern? Here's a man, under whose governance, anyone who is not "able bodied, healthy and self sustaining" has no place in his idea of society. What's next? We start deciding whether a patient should be treated based on their anticipated future economic contribution to society? (I certainly hope not!)


Monday, October 25, 2004

So...yet another election

Given that this is the third election in this year, and the fourth that I feel it necessary to keep track of, I'm not all sure that I'm overly happy with Ralph Klein's decision to call an election for November 22.

Looking back over the last 3 1/2 years (it hasn't quite been four yet...), I find myself wondering if the voters have really kept track of Ralph and his merry band of bandits.

On the plus side, Alberta's economy is rolling in cash - with world oil prices well into the mid-$50 /bbl range, and a general upswing overall, we are making a huge amount of money on oil royalties - even though Alberta's royalty rate is quite a bit lower than Alaska's. I would assert that a chimpanzee could balance a provincial budget with the raw revenues coming in the door.

The question before Albertans now is who is best qualified to manage this province into the future. I think it's time to look back over the record of Ralph Klein and his people and ask ourselves just "how well" they've really done.

Yes, the budget is balanced, our long term financial debt is mostly retired. The books look pretty good - or do they? What about the people side of the equations - I can't be described in "dollars and cents" - I'm a human being dammit!

Consider:

  • $400, 000, 000.00 vanished into the pockets of American-owned meat packing companies during the BSE crisis.
  • $400,000 went to Gary Mar's former "executive assistant" for "consulting" activities that have never been quantified.
  • The province is spending like a drunken sailor on roadways and other infrastructure. (Take a look at the south end of Deerfoot Trail in Calgary) Wonderful - but do I need to point out that this same bunch of politicians has spent the last decade and change pleading poverty on infrastructure, and letting what we had crumble?
  • Property taxes are up, the province controls the purse strings, but insists that individual school boards make contract arrangements with the teachers. (When arbitration hands out raises the government doesn't like, they just refuse to pay the school boards the needed funds???)
  • Health Care is in crisis - a manufactured crisis I might add. One which this government has been in a position to mitigate for most of the last ten years, and has deliberately ignored the needs of Albertans - apparently in the interests of creating conditions to allow various "commercial health care providers" to enter the market.
  • Ralph likes to complain about the billions Alberta contributes in equalization payments. Alberta wasn't always a "have" province. There have been many times in our past where we have been a "have-not". The equalization payments are part of how Canada tries to spread the wealth. Remember, we are part of a larger country. It's time for our leadership to rise above the "us-them" attitude of the 1970s.
  • This is the same government that has established "trade offices" in Washington, Beijing and other locations around the globe. At our expense as taxpayers, I might add:

  1. Asia
  2. Europe
  3. North America
Is this good management, or is it a province sticking its oar into the foreign affairs game when the Federal Government is responsible for it?

So far, this is government record that smacks of arrogance and self-interest, not good management.

On top of all that, we have a premier whose behaviour is embaressing at best, worse than childish much of the time.

On the Federal stage, Ralph Klein is the "senior leader" among the premiers, yet instead of building consensus, and trying to build bridges across this country, he continues to behave as though Pierre Trudeau were still in power in Ottawa. (Sorry, Ralph, but you're not Peter Lougheed, and Paul Martin isn't Trudeau's man either)

I'm disgusted with Ralph's refusal to be a player in the Federal discussions over health care - instead of showing up for the negotiations, he left Gary Mar there to carry the ball, and went gallavanting off to engage in a little pre-election campaigning instead.

Last fall, he conveniently absented himself from the legislature - why because he didn't want to answer a bunch of "stupid, probing questions" that the opposition might ask. This year, to avoid a fall sitting of the legislature, he calls an election?

When his office's expenses are questioned by a public committee, Ralph engages in a bullying 'shout-down' of the questioner. Not only was that horribly inappropriate, it was rude and demeaning to the MLA asking the questions. The Public Accounts Committee is just that - they are public, and they should be open. Ralph's reaction tells me that a serious audit of his government's books would be an interesting exploration.

Really - is this the mark of a man that we can entrust the future management of this province to?

You may ask yourself "who else is ready to do the job"? My reply is that it doesn't matter - Ralph isn't ready to do it, and he's been in power long enough to prove the point.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Rise of Politics in Religious Fundamentalism

In the past few years, there has been a steady rise in the visibility of religious fundamentalists, especially in the realm of politics.

In the United States, we have seen people like Pat Robertson and other "Christian Evangelists" taking runs at the Presidency, largely on the strength of their public name as religious leaders. The current president, G. W. Bush is himself a self-avowed "born-again" Christian.

We are seeing political lobby organization emerge in both Canada and the United States that are clearly rooted in the so-called "Christian Right Wing" (e.g. "Focus on Family", or "Concerned Christians Canada"; in Ontario, there are experiments with allowing Muslims to apply "Sharia Law" in the civil legal system; in various countries in the Middle East and North Africa, we see "Islamic Fundamentalist" governments holding power.

Per se, none of these things particularly bother me, until I encounter the rigid, immovable belief structures that seem to evolve around religions. It is always easier for someone to be "conservative" about something than it is to accept or embrace change. Like it or lump it, that's just the reality of belief systems. So, when the Anglican church brings down a report that is essentially a "verbal spanking" to a Canadian congregation that blessed a 'same-sex union', and the US Episcopalian church for affirming a gay Bishop, it really comes as no real surprise to me.

As I expected, phrases like "incompatible with scripture" and other lofty self-justifications are used. Perhaps it is the "incompatible with scripture" argument that I find most intriguing here. Superficially, it's almost innocuous; but when you dig a bit deeper, I believe it becomes more significant, for just about every "moral" argument that is based on religious belief seems to boil down to this eventually. Whether the issue is abortion, gay marriage, creation versus evolution or even plain gender equality, the religious opposition seems to become remarkably shrill and strident in their condemnation.

It is easy to be dismissive and simply claim that the religious argument is irrelevant and largely hysterical when put in the face of "rational fact". However, that is not the underlying point at all. In fact, I don't want to "dismiss" those arguments, but rather probe the roots of their origins and the shrillness with which their advocates put them forward.

If we look around the world we live in, it becomes pretty clear that a great deal has changed in the last 2500 years or more - empires have risen and fallen; entire nations have emerged and vanished; species found and lost; languages have changed; society has changed most of all.

In the case of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all three religions base their core beliefs on scripture that was penned somewhere between 1500 and 4000 years in the past. (Depending on which set of rubber rulers you use to measure the age of the origianl sources) The most diehard advocates of these religions argue that their scriptures are at least divinely inspired, or possibly that God directly told the authors what to write. Since I have no rational means to demonstrate the validity of this, I am going to assume that at some level, human intellect and will came into play in the authoring of the various books of scripture.

Chances are very good that in writing scripture, very real and human frailties influenced its precise wording. Just as I believe that I live in the best possible society the world has ever seen, so would have the original authors of that scripture have thought of themselves. Therefore, the odds are that they would have recorded values and assumptions relevant to their time and place.

Here we are several millenia later, living in a world where the amount of knowledge and understanding we have about the variety and richness of human experience has changed dramatically. 2000 years ago, we could set bones, and suture wounds - but could we treat cancers? No. That far back, we were still engaging in public animal sacrifices - today such practices are nearly unheard of outside of a few odd pockets of religious practice. Where most "western" societies have long ago adopted the notion of gender equality, the scriptures almost exclusively speak of the woman as if she is subservient to the male.

So - what do we have happening? Society has changed, but scripture hasn't. Worse, those charged with interpreting scripture - the clergy - have failed on the whole to interpret scripture effectively in the light of new knowledge and understanding. I would suggest that in fact the scriptural basis of all three major "monotheistic" religions is in fact encountering very fundamental limitations. Simply put, the cumulative effect of societal change over the last two thousand years alone has rendered it nearly impossible to interpret scripture effectively when confronted with new moral and ethical issues.

For example, consider the notion of stem cell research. Here is a realm of biological research that is rooted in some very exotic, and difficult to understand biology. The fact that it requires 'pre-differentiated' that has to be grown in a petri dish makes it very ethically and morally sensitive. Some argue that as soon as sperm and egg meet, life begins; others view the 'pre-differentiated' blob of cellular matter to be simply a collection of cells. Scripture talks about life, but it does not talk about when life begins, or when you can consider it viable (much less human). Simply put, the line here is so fine, and so indistinct, that there is no chance that anyone 2000+ years ago could possibly have anticipated it and written clearly about it. In fact, I find it hard enough to predict what I'm going to have for dinner tonight, let alone what the world will look like in 2000 years.

For all that it is deeply troubling, especially to the practitioners of these religions, we may well be looking at a period where the major religions in the world begin to wane. Just as the weight of time eventually rendered the "Greco-Roman" pantheon of gods irrelevant, we may be seeing the rise of an era where the singular, inflexible god of monotheistic religions becomes irrelevant. The shrillness with which the 'fundamentalists' oppose various topics may well be simply a symptom of an underlying ailment for these religions. Time and inflexibility have rendered them unable to adapt to the world in which they exist - as with all such things, eventually they die out. (Not always quietly)

I don't believe that any religion is going to vanish overnight, but historians in another millenia may look back at the 'fundamentalist' movements of today and come to see them as the harbingers of the decline of monotheism.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

History Repeats Itself

Once again, in Iraq, we are witness to history repeating itself. Just as the Soviet Union failed miserably to control Afghanistan with overpowering brute force, the United States appears to be taking the same approach with the "insurgents" in Iraq.

This past week, the US and its allies have been bombing Fallujah back into the stone age (or before?). Why? For no other reason than the fact that Fallujah happens to be an area where the various 'insurgent/rebel/terrorist/freedom fighter' groups have become relatively entrenched.

This article from BBC today has a few rather interesting quotes:

The people believe they are being targeted because they inflicted heavy casualties on US forces during the siege earlier this year.

They say the Americans are attacking them because of wounded pride. They say they are motivated by revenge.

This is very important, for underlying it is the reality of the Middle Eastern cultures. If you kill someone, you become the sworn enemy of their relatives. Bombs a pretty indiscriminant killers - they kill people, and don't ask about their activities. So, for every insurgent a bomb takes out, it probably kills a half dozen others. Each of whom leaves behind family...

They say Mr Allawi may be a Shia, but this is not why he is at war with Falluja.

They think he simply gives the order to batter Falluja because this is what the Americans want.

This is the second part of things. The American troops are not being seen here as the "peace bringers" or "liberators" at all, but instead appear to be seen as the controllers, and manipulators. Not a good image to have at all.

Unless the American forces (and their allies) can change their image on the ground from being the 'strong arm' people that are manipulating Iraq, they will continue to create more tacit support for the resistance than anything else. In WW II, the German Nazi occupation forces made this mistake, and by doing so gave the peoples of the occupied nations every reason to conspire against their occupiers; similarly, the Soviet Union made the same mistakes in Afghanistan.

Unless there is a dramatic change in both policy and approach towards Iraq, the American forces there are going to find it increasingly difficult to control the situation. They may succeed to a degree by using brute force, but the unique history of occupation in the Middle East suggests that the ultimate result will be failure.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

On Religion, Morality and Professionalism

In my travels across the web yesterday, I found the following article that raised my ire. It took me a while to figure out exactly why this particular pharamacist's tale annoyed me so much. There's the obvious tirade about imposing one's moral values on another person, but somehow that just didn't quite capture the essence of it.

Then I thought back to another article I had read on the weekend that just made me plain furious - and I'm not normally an angry person. Michael Coren is far from my favourite columnist, but I will read him on occasion because he has made points that have been thought provoking.

Both of these two articles are fundamentally about the crossroads between religious freedoms, freedom of expression and individual rights. In both articles, the core subject is basically one where religious freedoms are used to justify marginalizing someone else. Whether it is a gay or transgender person in the workplace being marginalized because of their sexual orientation, or it is because someone - for whatever reason - had unprotected sex and realized they had made a serious mistake.

At first, my reaction to both stories was righteous indignation towards the Pharmacist and Mr. Coren - essentially, 'How dare you impose your personal morality upon others?'. Digging around in the attic of my mind, I find a few interesting tidbits.

First, both the Pharmacist and Mr. Coren make a key fundamental error in arriving at their conclusions. Rather than drawing their boundaries at the points of actual discussion, they instead project beyond the boundaries and begin to incorporate assumptions both about motives and desires that are not relevant.

In the case of the Pharmacist, it is not his job to make a moral judgement about dispensing a medication. A doctor has presumably already made that analysis as part of the decision making process. Does this mean that suddenly a patient with a prescription has to pass a second hurdle when they approach the pharmacy? Consider the case of a male with prostate cancer. Under some conditions, the doctor may prescribe estrogen as part of the treatment. The other common case where a genetic male will take estrogen is to feminize their body as part of gender identity related therapy. Using the basic logic the pharmacist used in refusing to dispense a prescription to the young woman in question, the pharmacist could choose not to dispense the estrogen to the cancer patient on the grounds that it might be used as part of something that he morally disagrees with. Arguably, the pharmacist has made a significant error in professional judgement by projecting his moral framework onto his work as a professional.

Mr. Coren's article is substantially less subtle. It simply reeks of plain ignorance on the part of the author.

Quoth Mr. Coren:
The definition of "gender identity" is "one's internal sense of being male or female." Interesting. If I feel like a woman then I am a woman. What if I feel like a lion, a mouse or the emperor of China?
At a very superficial level, Mr. Coren's secondary questions about 'feeling like a lion' a perhaps mildly humorous. In reality, they demonstrate a distinct lack of understanding of the very valid, and real feelings that a transgender person experiences. While such a cynical, sarcastic style would be considered highly inappropriate by Mr. Coren himself were he talking about the experiences of someone grieving the loss of a loved one, he seems to have no problem with being belittling about it in this context. Why? Likely because he simply has chosen not to learn or understand the human realities of those around him, regardless of the gender and sexual orientation. I had just finished reading "The Sexual Spectrum" by Olive Skene Johnson when I encountered Mr. Coren's article. It is a book that Mr. Coren - and many others who jump to conclusions where issues of sexuality and gender expression are concerned - should read. It does a lovely job of disabusing one of any assumptions about the reality for people who are different. I cannot imagine jumping to any conclusions about someone (moral or otherwise) based on the sexual or gender orientation after reading that book - to do so would be gross disservice to the individual.

In both cases, these individuals are making moral judgements, largely based on assumptions that are at best incorrect, at worst, so badly flawed that they invalidate the reasoning that follows from those assumptions. Observationally, both Coren and the Pharmacist are relying on absolutes as laid out in scripture. Given that Christian scripture is between 2000 and 4000 years of age (depending on what section you are examining), it seems to me that the moral proscriptions made in those scriptures are reflective of society and human knowledge of that era. (The same applies to the Q'ran or the Torah (Talmud? - I get confused in the names)) The world has changed vastly since then in both the structure of the world, as well as the knowledge that we possess. Those that choose to continue to interpret the world in terms of 2000+ year old assumptions will continue to find their world view at odds with current reality. To blindly apply that logic, as the Pharmacist did; or to use it to self-justify belittling other people, as Coren has done, serves no useful purpose other than to demonstrate to the world how irrelevant such positions have become.



Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Defeat Terrorism???

The notion of defeating terrorism has always left me somewhat baffled. This past weekend, the discussion once again came to the surface in the US Presidential campaign. On CNN, this article quotes Kerry as wanting to "reduce terrorism to the level of prostitution" - essentially a nuisance. Of course, Bush has to come along and insist that terrorism must be "defeated".

Terrorism is like body odor - you can't quite eliminate it, but you can control to some degree. In other words, you make it very difficult for terrorists to carry out their business, but you don't necessarily speak in terms of win/lose - the picture is far too vague for that. (The British experience in Northern Ireland, or the Spanish experience with the Basque separatists makes this pretty clear to me) The reality is that terrorist organizations are not monolithic in nature, but instead are highly organic, and integrate into the background of the societies in which they operate.

We know from experience that totalitarian regimes which try to control every movement of their citizens tend to ultimately fail, so you can strike the notion of making a police state as being terribly workable. Second, conventional wartime strategy and tactics (invading other countries) don't work when the enemy is not geographically cohesive. Third, we can't get away with sending mixed signals around the world - letting one country actively engage in "anti-social" behaviour while clobbering another for the same behaviour makes it abundantly clear that the motives expressed should never be trusted.

So...my point? The so-called "War on Terror" cannot be won per se. There will be no day of armistice to look forward to. The Terrorists don't care about such things - they have their political agenda in mind, and aren't interested in the politics of win/loss in war. In this regard, I believe that Kerry has the right of the picture. The goal is realistically to reduce terrorism to the level of background noise. If you can disrupt the power structures of these organizations, then all you have is a few crackpots making pipe-bombs in their basements. They become "common criminals" and are relatively easily dealt with. (If they survive their own stupidity)

For Bush to stand up and claim that terrorism can be defeated is disengenuous at best. What are the conditions of victory, Mr. Bush? How will you know you've won? Will it be after 5 years where nobody bombs a building or nightclub? Or will it be because your forces have caught up to Osama bin Laden? (By now, I dare say that capturing him would be symbolic at best, there's probably a goodly number of people lined up to fill his shoes anyhow.) The fact is that Bush and Cheney couldn't define the victory conditions if they wanted to (and I don't think they do).

Friday, October 08, 2004

And so the silliness goes

Sure enough, the counter arguments against 'gay marriage' pretty much landed where I thought they would:

From an article on CBC's website:

"The state's interest is the sexual relationship," he said, "because it produces the children."

Err - I hate to point out the obvious here, but does the genius that made this argument have any idea how many children are being raised by single parents? How many children are being raised by gay parents? There's a lot out there - not a majority, but a lot. Reality check - people will still reproduce. Recognizing gay marriage won't stop that - any more than outlawing homosexuality stopped homosexuality from occurring.

Robert Leurer argued on behalf of Alberta that marriage is a social institution. "Law didn't create marriage, but instead attached legal consequences to marriage," he told the court.

He's correct, law didn't create marriage - humanity created marriage - but they also created law. As I recall, someone once said 'the law is an ass'. Think about it.

In the Sun, I find this gem:

Robert Leurer, arguing on behalf of Alberta, said the federal government cannot simply change the constitutional definition of marriage to allow same-sex unions.

Perhaps I'm blind, but I didn't see anything in either the 1867 Constitution act, nor in the 1982 that formally defined the term marriage. The word is used (in only a few places), but it is not defined per se. Strikes me that this is a straw man argument then.


Church groups said they'd be marginalized and could face suits if they were to preach or teach against such marriages.

Huh? Where does this idiotic logic spring from? Even Bill C-250 (the hate crimes amendment) is quite explicit in its provisions regarding scriptural study and discussion. Recognition of the legal entity of a same-sex marriage has exactly _nothing_ to do with the spiritual/religious recognition of it. Therefore, I fail to see how this marginalizes any church group. Could they face lawsuits? Civil suits perhaps, but I really doubt it would be terribly frequent - if at all.

Once again, I turn to the point that not only do we have multiple faiths in this country, there are also those who do not subscribe to any one faith. Therefore to impose a religiously bound definition upon those people is contrary to the fundamental freedomes described in section 2 of the Charter of Rights.

Second, the Universe tends to be a 'what goes around, comes around' place. I will point out that in regions where a "Church" (or religion) has significant political sway, they tend to be the marginalizers of people such as homosexuals. Look in certain countries where Islam is close to the corridors of power, where homosexuality - especially between males - gets a death sentence! {I'm not saying that Islam is a bad thing here - merely that those who comingle it with political power tend to have done so in a rather brutal fashion} To hear church groups bleating about being "marginalized" is almost laughable to me - look at what has been done in the name of "the Church" in the past, and then tell me how the churches are any different than any other power and wealth seeking organization.




Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Return of the Gay Marriage Debate

Like a really bad movie that doesn't even quite make it on to the "B-grade" list, the Gay Marriage discussion is about to take over the headlines again.

The Globe and Mail, and the National Post both have very similar articles this morning, and there was mention of it on CBC's newscast at 06:00.

Basically, the "reference question" put before the Supreme Court last year sometime is up for consideration when the court sits this fall.

However, yet again, we will get to listen to the bleating of the various religious groups getting all up in arms because they don't want to acknowledge marriage between two men or two women.

So far, the arguments I have seen against gay marriage come down to a relatively small set:

1) Passage XXXX in the Bible (or the Q'ran or whatever) forbids homosexuality. Therefore, my religion doesn't allow me to accept a marriage between two homosexuals.

My point on this is as follows:

a. The passages you are referring to typically seem to refer to the sex act between two men. Ask yourself if your marriage is entirely based on sex - I doubt it is. Most marriages are built on a loving relationship.

b. Last I checked, the discussion at the level of the Federal Government is about the relationship between the state and a married couple. It makes absolutely NO demand whatsoever that a given religion acknowledge any marriage.

c. In the country, we guarantee freedom of religion. That same freedom that guarantees you the right to practice your faith also guarantees me a freedom _
from_ religion. Not all of us are people of faith, and many are married outside of any recognizable church for a variety of reasons. Would you assert that those "civil marriages" are no longer marriages because they didn't follow some article of faith that you do?

2) Marriage is a fundamental structure of society, and shouldn't be tampered with.

Er - I hate to point this out, but society changes - as does the meaning of marriage.

In the last 100 years, we can trace an enormous amount of change in the definition applied to marriage. Prior to the WWII era, marriage often meant that women gave up their rights as individuals and lived under the whim of their husbands. Since that time, huge changes in "civil rights" have dramatically changed that structure. The husband is no longer the assumed head of the household; women often have careers of their own. At the turn of the 20th century in this country, women did not have the right to vote. Those that opposed it then claimed all sorts of "harm" would come to society - after all they saw women as "weaker" than men...I don't think anyone would raise such an argument today.

3) Marriage is about raising a family

Really? What about couples that cannot have children. Are their marriages now invalid? Are they any less a loving couple because of infertility - or choice? Not everyone can, or should be a parent. I will agree that _many_ married couples have children - but not all.

4) This is contributing to the breakdown in society's values

Frankly, this latter argument is a straw man. I could just as easily point to the tripe on television as a contributor to a breakdown in values. (and I'd probably be at least as correct)
5) The preamble to the constitution of Canada reads "Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:"

Ah yes, the preamble. But since section 2 (fundamental freedoms) stipulates "(a) freedom of conscience and religion", I would have to ask you "whose God"? Is it the Christian 'God' as described in the new Testament; the God of the Old Testament; Allah? What about our Hindu and Sikh citizens? And just to add further mud to the waters - what of practitioners of Wicca; or those who do not acknowledge any one God?

Before you go off using that preamble to justify your position, ask yourself how clear that statement really is - especially in light of the fundamental freedoms section.

The simple fact is that at the moment, marriage exists in both a spiritual and civil sense. The Churches own the spiritual definition. If I choose to be married in a church, then I submit myself to the articles of faith that church imposes upon the notion of marriage.

The civil discussion describes two things - the legal definition of marriage as it pertains to the relationship between two people, and the relationship between that couple and the state. There are many places in our laws where particular status is conferred upon a married couple that is not conferred upon a single person. These are the domains in which the Federal Government is forced to act today.

In absolute terms, the Constitution puts the federal government between a rock and a hard place. Either the government rewrites a pile of legislation so that it doesn't confer special privileges to a married couple *or* it acknowledges the possibility of a homosexual union and treats it as legally identical to a heterosexual union. (The equality clauses in the charter are pretty absolute, and I don't believe that invoking the 'notwithstanding' clause is an appropriate tactic - this is not a "dire threat" - it is an issue to be worked through).

Let's get one thing right - this discussion is about the legal, secular notion of marriage. It is not about the religious notion of it.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Since when did the ends justify the means?

I just read Paul Bremer's statements on CNN this morning. Says Mr. Bremer 'Still, Bremer added, ousting Saddam was "the right thing to do."'.

So...let's see if I've got this straight:

Say there's a guy on my block. He's a big, ugly brute that nobody likes. He keeps a bunch of nasty dogs in his yard (they might attack the children y'know). Worse, everybody thinks he's been breaking into cars in the area and stealing parts out of them. Many people had complained to the police, but nothing ever seemed to happen. They'd talk to him and go away, but he remained untouched.

So, one day, I get it into my head to 'return the favour' and go break into his house. Mostly just a bit of retribution - repossess the stereo he stole from my truck the week earlier or something. Once inside his house, lo, but I find no sign of any stereo stuff, but I do find in his basement a smallish pot plantation.

In response, I turn him over to the police, who prosecute him for possession with intent to traffick. Cool - I've just removed the nasty guy from the block, and a drug operation to boot! (Of course, there was no evidence at all of the stereo bits that we all _thought_ he had)

So...can I justifiably say that I "did the right thing"? - after all, we did get rid of a bad influence in the neighborhood. Or, was the act of breaking and entering his property every bit as wrong as what he was doing?

If I apply GWB logic, apparently the B&E on this guys house was justified - why - because we _thought_ he was doing something bad. In fact he was (growing pot), but not what he was accused of (stealing car audio bits).

However, reality and the logic of the current American Government are apparently at odds with one another. The fact is, in my fictional scenario above, I committed a crime against this individual (a B&E). Yes, his grow operation was illegal, and wrong, but so was the B&E. Neither is morally (or ethically) justifiable. The fact is, sooner or later, he would have slipped up and we would have noticed something suspicious about his habits or garbage. That should have been reported to the police _then_, and dealt with accordingly.

Now, granted, in the case of the Iraq situation, the UN is hardly "the police" - the UN doesn't have that kind of mandate or authority. However, the UN is a world body. If the evidence of malfeasance in Iraq was compelling enough, it should have been possible to achieve Security Council consensus.

For Bremer, and other officials to pronounce that deposing Saddam Hussein was "the right thing to do" irritates me - it is essentially saying that the ends justify the means. They do not, they cannot and will not. I won't argue that deposing Hussein was "bad" for Iraq - getting rid of despots is seldom "bad" in the long run. But let's be honest about it, and acknowledge that the reality found in Iraq did not match what was alleged. I'm not asking for much, just a bit of honesty. So far, exactly zero WMD's have been found in Iraq. (A couple of bombs made from old Sarin gas shells do not constitute a WMD programme)

Iraq was no threat outside its own borders (certainly, Hussein was a nasty little man when it came to his own people). At worst, he had a few SCUD-B missiles and conventional warheads lying about. So...can we quit trying to justify invading Iraq in terms of 'deposing Saddam Hussein was a Good Thing(tm)'?? The simple fact is that those who disagree with the reasons given for invading Iraq will continue to do so; those that agreed with them will continue to do so, and most of the world really doesn't give a damn any more.

At this point, the job for the United States is to clean up the mess it has made in Iraq, and leave the country in a better place than when they invaded. If the US can do that without it turning into a civil war, there's a chance for a degree of redemption on the world stage. Right now, the country looks like it's on the verge of crumbling into civil war. Will it be easy - no. It may take decades to accomplish - not the few short months that a single president has in their tenure. Whether Bush or Kerry wins this election, either man is doomed to wear the ball and chain of the Iraq conflict. The measure of success will be whether by the end of their term, things are more stable than they were at the start. (Not an easy feat, especially in a region of the world where foreign occupation has a painful history of failure)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The Folly of Subjugation

It occurs to me that Israel and Iraq are rapidly morphing into very similar problems.

Israel continues to suffer under the constant disruption of various Palestinian militant groups; Iraq is suffering under the pain of recurring unrest as various "insurgent" groups try to make it untenable for the US (and allies) to continue occupying the country.

How are these two problems similar? Well, Israel continues to attempt to deal with the Palestinian problem by subjugating and controlling the Palestinian people. Similarly, the United States has put itself into the position of controlling the Iraqi people.

In both cases, when problems arise, the 'controlling' party - be it Israel or the US - responds with massive military might.

In Israel, a Palestinian launched rocket has triggered a massive military operation where the Israeli Army is invading/attacking Palestinian settlements in the Gaza strip. Here we are a few days after that attack, and the violence is simply escalating, possibly hurtling out of control.

In Iraq, there are a number of symptoms emerging:

Kidnappings (especially of non-Iraqis) are escalating
American forces are engaging in "offensive" operations to subdue "insurgents"

While the use of massive, overwhelming force does have a short term desirable effect, it does nothing to engender the social and political stability that is required to actually move forward with such issues.

The simple fact is that anytime a people perceives that they are being held under someone else's thumb, they will find ways to make the "oppressor" (whoever it may be) very uncomfortable. In Israel, the Palestinians have engaged in what amounts to a long standing civil war - variously called "Intifada", "uprising" or whatever. In Iraq, we see kidnappings, suicide bombings, horrifying beheadings published on the web, etc. In truth, the differences aren't that big.

I cannot claim to know what the solutions are for either Iraq or Israel. The issues in both cases become deeper and more complex with each passing day. To me, the simple fact is that both Israel and the United States appear to be making the same mistake of attempting to achieve peace through subjugation. Especially in today's world, the odds of such an approach working in any long-term sense seems remote. A people that feels themselves to be restricted by someone else's whim will always find ways to subvert the will of their "masters".

In these situations there are no "victors" - only losers. Each side eventually degenerates to the same level of brutality, each self-justifying their actions in terms of the horrors their opponents have imposed on them.

Sadly, the leaders in all of these cases seem unwilling to step aside from their positions and make actual moves towards resolving their collective issues.


Friday, October 01, 2004

The Synchronized News Conference...

What passed for a Presidential Candidate's Debate last night was probably more aptly described as two news conferences in parallel.

A few things stood out for me:

1) Bush's Rigidity

2) Kerry's Underlying Honesty

I've felt for a long time that one of the biggest problems in the current White House administration is an inability to change policy. It's one thing to be a firm leader with a clear direction; it's another thing altogether to be unable to change direction. A good leader is able to do both - change direction when it's needed, and appear to firm and decisive. Several of Bush's comments, especially regarding Iraq, made it abundantly clear that _HE_ is unwilling to change direction. To me, there's a huge distinction between good solid leadership, and blind adherence to a particular dogma/position.

The Bush campaign has tried to portray Kerry as "inconsistent" and a "flip-flopper" on matters of policy. One exchange I heard on the radio this morning was quite interesting. Bush put a question to Kerry about his apparent "changes of position" on Iraq. Kerry's answer was a simple, but eloquent "I made a mistake in how I spoke about the war - my opponent made a mistake in invading Iraq - which is worse?" I think that Kerry handled himself quite deftly, and the answer had a certain candidness about it.

While Kerry may seem somewhat ambiguous on some matters of policy, I suspect he's simply realized that in order to make the best decisions, he has to be somewhat pragmatic. I also got the impression from Kerry that he is willing to acknowledge when he's made a mistake - to me, that's very important. I've seen leaders that cannot acknowledge mistakes in the past, and the results are inevitably disastrous.

What does the world have to look forward to? (Like it or not, who the US elects as President has profound consequences for both the United States and the world at large)

If Bush is elected:
  • Four more years of increasing instability in the Middle East. (Sorry George - but the historical record shows that the chances of stabilizing that region in 4 years are approximately zero)
  • Continuing, blind support for Israel. Yes, suicide bombers are awful, the Palestinian Authority has made a mess of things - but then again, Sharon hasn't exactly been a poster child of good conduct either. His heavy handedness has served to inflame Arab resentment towards Israel. You cannot examine the Middle East without dealing with Israel as well. In the eyes of many nations, GWB's administration has no credibility as an "honest broker" for peace. This factor contributes enormously to the Middle East stability problem.
  • Four more years of legislation and policy in areas such as biotechnology that will leave the US biotech and medical tech. industries behind the rest of the world, not leading it.
  • Tax cuts that benefit the wealthy elite (it's a rare tax cut that does the average joe any real good) and don't create the jobs and opportunity that they should.
  • Social programs cut off due to a lack of funding (it'll all be landing in Military's hands)
  • A debt incurred as a result of the wars in the Middle East that will serve as a millstone around the neck of America's future. This year alone is headed for a deficit that breaks all records - that deficit will become part of America's debt.
  • Four more years of foreign policy that alienates the rest of the world, isolating the United States on the world stage, and leaving it very little 'trust capital' to negotiate with.
If Kerry is elected:
  • Four more years of war in Iraq. No matter what happens, it will take years to restabilize Iraq - Kerry is doomed to that reality. (Of course, with any luck, Kerry won't do something foolish - like invading another country in the meantime)
  • A rebuilding of international cooperation between the United States and the Rest Of The World (ROTW). Kerry made it quite clear that he would be willing to _ask_ the world to help stabilize Iraq.
  • A safer America by making it part of the world community, not an isolated, fortified hold.
  • A debt much smaller than 4 more years of outright aggression is going to create. (Again, no president is going to avoid the debt question any more than they are going to avoid the reality of the Iraq mess)
I can't say that Kerry will be better or worse for the US economy than GWB - that's a crapshoot in many ways. I don't believe that government policy necessarily has the impact on economics today that it once did. The rise of trans-national corporations has done much to change the balance of the world's economy as a whole, and local nation politics don't have the same impact that they once did. Economically, the only thing I 'know' is that what little social safety net exists today will be eroded more and more as the Republicans decide to cut programs as the national debt grows to pay for the war(s) in the Middle East. (It should be noted that Bush has all but promised to invade Iran if he's re-elected. Those precise words haven't been stated, but the themes have all been rattled around enough to convince me that it's a likelihood that should not be ignored)

Of course - this is just what I think is likely to happen - and my crystal ball is cracked...