Monday, November 29, 2004

So We Are To Be Visited By President Bush

Okay, so President Bush finally decided to acknowledge that his country's largest trading partner, and geographic ally exists. Apparently, he is scheduled to visit this fair land during this current week. This will be the first time that President Bush has come to Canada in an official capacity to discuss issues between our two nations. (at least, superficially)

From my perspective, it appears to be a first sign that the White House is catching onto the reality that their "go-it-alone" approach to things on the world stage just might not be working as planned. Not only is the mess in Iraq remaining stubbornly unresolved, but other aspects of the US relations with the rest of the world aren't going exactly as planned either. (Witness a plummeting US greenback, and distant relations at best with most of the EU; an alienated Middle East; China and Russia bristling at the US "Missile Defense" posture, among other things)

George Bush and Co. really do seem somewhat surprised that the world isn't welcoming their 'Six-Shooter Diplomacy' with adulation. What started in 2001 as "The War on Terror" seems to have been derailed by parties who have more extra-territorial agendas rather than any concrete interest in actually shutting down terrorist organizations.

I won't accuse our government's actions with regards to GWB & Co. these past few years of being particularly well advised. You might think Bush is an idiot (and he certainly isn't the brightest candle I've ever seen), but generally such opinions are best spoken with the inner voice, not verbally. Jean Chretien wasn't exactly very tactful in this regard, and that no doubt alienated Bush and many of his handlers. However, Bush hasn't exactly given Canadians any reason whatsoever to like him - under his tenure, US attitudes towards Canada have been as condescending and rude as I can remember under any President.

Of course, with Dubya visiting, everyone is expected to be on our "best behaviour". No slamming the President - no matter how daft he looks; keep the criticisms of US foreign policy to a minimum; etc. In short - smile and play nicely.

In my travels on the web this morning, I found Peter Worthington's column in the Toronto Sun. In it, Mr. Worthington is going on about all of the faux-pas things that Canada has done in the last few years with regards to the US. About mid-way through his line of reasoning, I went mildly ballistic reading this paragraph:

In fact, what this visit means is a return to square one, and a bid to restore cordial relations between our two countries.

That said, the real burr under Bush's saddle remains Canada's (read, Chretien's) reaction to the war against Saddam Hussein which Bush felt vital in the war against terrorism.

Sorry, Mr. Worthington, Iraq had EXACTLY ZERO TO DO WITH TERRORISM. That was so painfully obvious when Bush starting thumping on his war drums it wasn't even funny. If there was anything to do with terrorism in that invasion, it could have been no more than the thinnest of veneers over the real intentions. Every single justification put forth vis a vis invading Iraq has been disproven time and again. Saddam Hussein did not have any WMD's, he did not have any significant nuclear capabilities, the evidence about relations with al Qaeda is incontrovertibly negative. There can only be a few explanations that make sense - either US "Intelligence" failed miserably; or the Bush administration knew they were trying to sell a pack of lies. (I'd wager on the latter more so than the former - even at its most inept, the CIA has more information available to it than most of us can imagine. Keeping tabs on what a klutz like Hussein is doing isn't that difficult)

But we didn't. We made not joining the war against Saddam a virtue. Chretien (and others) indulged in the absurd notion that we can only go to war if the UN Security Council approves.
Sorry, but here again, I must disagree with the underlying assumption of Mr. Worthington's logic. The assumption being that going to war is something that can be justified even when the apparent threat is even more 'smoke-and-mirrors' than a dot-com era business plan. Not going to war _WAS_ and _IS_ the correct decision. Hussein represented a threat only to those who displeased him within his borders. No evidence beyond that has ever emerged to my knowledge. If making a decision, and standing by it is a bad thing, Mr. Worthington, I suggest to you that Mr. Bush is guilty of the same fault. He made a decision to invade Iraq, even in the face of resistance from around the world.

Canada, for those who forget, sided with France and Germany in their hostility to the war. France's opposition was especially jarring, considering how it (and Russia) profited in the UN's "oil for food" program with Saddam -- as did the UN in agent's fees.
Ah yes. France profiteered from the Oil for Food program. Therefore, anyone who argued against invading Iraq must be sharing in France's questionable politics. Sorry pal - that's the simplest kind of straw man argument I've ever seen. The implicit assumption is FALSE to begin with, and therefore the whole argument is self-contradictory. France's motives in arguing against invading Iraq do not invalidate every other country that is arguing along similar lines. Canada was not (to my knowledge) engaging in any trade to speak of with Iraq, and yet was making similar arguments, as were China and a number of other countries.

No - sorry - if Mr. Worthington wants to go lick GWB's boots in apology, he's free to do so. Perhaps the one major decision that Chretien ever made that I agreed with was to stand his ground and tell the United States that invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do. If GWB doesn't like that, and wants to continue to act the petulant child over it, he has a great deal to learn about relations with other countries. If you truly respect freedom and all that entails, you must respect the right of your closest neighbors and allies to disagree with you in the strongest of terms.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Whither the Future?

We've just been through a total of 4 elections this year, and much of the space in this blog has been devoted to commentary and observations of the various players on the political scenes in both Canada and the United States.

Now that we are past that rather intense cycle of short term speculation and commentary, it's time to turn back towards the future and start asking what's next for the world. Many things have changed, and yet many aspects of our world have changed only negligibly. How the 'chess board' of world affairs is likely to play out now is probably more important than ever before. What follows is highly speculative, and is an interpretation of the world stage as this writer sees it.

Changes:

  1. George W. Bush has been elected to a second term as President. Since he has no mandate to worry about being re-elected, this frees him considerably from whatever constraints he may have felt before.
  2. Condoleezza Rice has been named to succeed Colin Powell as Secretary of State in the US. This will considerably alter the diplomatic face the United States presents on the world stage.
  3. Yasser Arafat has died. If nothing else, this will change the world's perception of the situation in Israel/Palestine.
  4. China is emerging as a major growth hotspot in the world economy, and it is also beginning to flex its muscles as a political power on the world stage.
  5. Saudi Arabia's King remains on the scene, but that doesn't mean that Saudi Arabia is that stable.
Here's my current scenario for what I expect to see unfold over the next few years:

1. Iraq will remain unstable, likely on the verge of civil war for the forseeable future. Recent American/Iraqi military actions in Fallujah have likely moved the resistance elsewhere in the country.

There are many implications to this, but the most important to note is the fact it will keep US military resources tied up in the region for a long time - far longer than I think that GWB and Co. have any concept of.

2. In spite of recent agreements to "cease" aspects of the Nuclear Programs, Iran will continue to develop its nuclear capabilities. It would be naive in the extreme to believe that Iran doesn't already have the basic capability to build and deliver a nuclear warhead or two. Unlike the situation in Iraq after the 1990/91 Gulf War, Iran has been more or less unfettered for the past 10 years, and has been quite active. They are also a significant economic and political force in the Middle East - not a country to be trifled with by any means.

3. Regardless of who is elected to replace Yasser Arafat, the Israeli/Palestinian problem will continue to be a major sore spot. I expect that after the Palestinian elections in January, 2005 there will be a brief honeymoon period where some efforts at peace are made. These will fail for some reason or another after 12-18 months. After that, you can expect to see the Israelis return to their brutal methods of occupation/suppression, and the Palestinians to return to suicide bombings, rocket attacks and whatever else they can think up to make Israel's life difficult.

4. Although the China/Taiwan situation continues to evolve, the fact that China needs access to western technologies to develop means that China will be relatively unwilling to engage in outright military action. China will, however, be quite willing to engage in economic and diplomatic persuasion. (China apparently holds an awful lot of US Treasury bill debt - in fact the number is rumored to surprisingly close to the size of this year's US deficit...)

Now that I've laid out some broad aspects of the global picture, especially where the Middle East and China are concerned, consider the following:

i) With Colin Powell out of the Secretary of State role, there is nobody in GWB's cabinet with any real-world experience in the lines of combat and military operations. Further, Powell has acted as a moderating influence both within the Bush cabinet, but also on the world stage - often soothing fears/discomfort of many world leaders. Neither Bush, nor Rice have ever shown so much as an ounce of sense when it comes to pushing their hard-line agenda forward. I expect tact to be about the last thing emerging from the White House.

ii) With Bush unfettered by worries about being re-elected, I expect he will become much more aggressive, buoyed by his apparent success playing "cowboy justice" on the world stage. Rice will not be an effective moderating influence in this regard. This likely means that US efforts to control Iraq will become more militaristic, and ultimately totalitarian - making any form of election in that country a sham at best, and a pretext for open civil war at worst.

iii) These two factors make it quite likely that Iraq will teeter on, or descend into civil war over the next few years. American and British forces will be pulled into the fray whether they like it or not.

iv) China and Iran are making significant economic deals, which will ultimately make China a player in the Middle East mix as well. Given that the Chinese economy is on the rise, and the US economy is in the doldrums, that positions China to emerge as something of a power broker in the region.

v) While Iran may be actively funding some of the Iraqi resistance (I can neither prove nor disprove this assertion, but it seems quite reasonable that some of the resistance is being backed tacitly from Tehran), it may find that it is in Tehran's interests to destabilize Saudi Arabia further. This may be accomplished by simply waiting for the current King to die of old age, and then encouraging the factional lines to become more polarized in the aftermath of his death. Regardless, I fully expect the veneer of stability in Saudi Arabia to crumble fairly soon. If the resulting government in Saudi Arabia winds up being more sympathetic to Iran than to the US, overt moves may be made against an "occupied" Iraq to push the US out of the region.

vi) What of China? you may ask. My guess is that when Iran starts to flex its local muscles, the US will start harassing the Iranian LNG shipments to China, on the pretext of some kind of economic sanctions. (Nuclear threat will be the most probable allegation)

These Chinese will respond to this by calling in the monies loaned to the US in the form of Treasury bills. In doing so, China will put the US in the position of "pay up or your credit rating goes to hell).

vii) The factions in the US administration that happen to believe in an apocalypse prefaced by war in Israel will continue to pursue policies that are quite aggressive in the region simply because they believe it will fulfil some prophecy or another.

On the whole, I expect the next four years to be extremely messy on the world stage. A Bush unfettered by worries about re-election will be quite willing to engage in a very hard-line policy on the world stage. This will alienate a lot of nations, and will leave the Middle East a region further bound by tribalism, civil wars and foreign occupation. China will emerge (possibly with Russia?) as an economic power with the clout to keep the US from spreading its aggression elsewhere in the world, but because of Chinese reliance on access to US technology, their ability to act as a moderating influence on the US will be limited. I fully expect the Iraq situation to continue to fester for the forseeable future, and if the US is foolish enough to open a conflict on a second major front (e.g. Iran), we will see the American military machine in serious trouble - to a degree that will likely make Vietnam look like a walk in the park.

More optimistically, Ms. Rice could surprise me and turn out to be a moderating influence on Bush and the other bellicose brutes that surround him. (But I personally give that a very small chance of being the case - slightly better than my odds of winning Lotto 6/49)


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Kinsey was a what???

Sometimes, the attitude of people just plain puzzles me. Normally, I don't bother reading anything by members of the Byfield family - their publication "Alberta Report" did a lovely job of demonstrating that they have little or no interest in real journalism. For the most part, they seem to be interested only in pushing forward their own unique interpretation of the "Christian Reich-Wing Dogma" du jour.

Scanning through the columnist page on Canoe (the Sun Media website), and I found Ted Byfield's latest article. The topic du jour - possibly one of the most incoherent rants I've ever seen unleashed from the Byfields (either Ted or Link), aimed squarely at the recently released movie about Alfred Kinsey.

First of all, I must confess, I had no idea that someone had made a movie about Alfred Kinsey. Second, I'm actually a little baffled as to why someone would do that - the man was an intellectual and an academic - not exactly someone whose life story typically makes for gripping big-screen drama.

However, perhaps more surprising and a little perplexing is the vehemence of Byfield's attack on the movie, and then the man.

Given also that (a) the movie was made before the election, (b) a great phalanx of Hollywood luminaries publicly castigated Bush, and (c) sexual libertinism has been the Hollywood way of life ever since there's been a Hollywood, what's so odd about it?
Ah yes, Hollywood - the land of the debauched (or so some would have us believe); the land whose many minions had the unmitigated gall to speak against GWB during this past US presidential election. The first part of Mr. Byfield's sense of rancor becomes clearer - Kinsey was talking about a taboo subject - sex - or more correctly sexuality.

He then goes on to obliquely attack Kinsey's methods of gathering information as follows:

Thus Hollywood's version of the Scopes case was in fact legendary and we can expect its take on Kinsey will be the same.

Will it disclose, for instance, that Kinsey was not a psychologist, nor a medical doctor, but an entomologist; he studied bugs.

That is, he had no professional background to study sex.

Another prof at the University of Chicago recalls Kinsey's memo, recruiting students to participate in his sex survey.

He passed the memo to his own students, and later asked how many of them had agreed to do this. He found that none had.

So he wondered whose sexual conduct Kinsey had actually surveyed.

He discovered that Kinsey's subjects consisted almost entirely of prison inmates, prostitutes and homosexuals.

No one else would talk to him.

I won't even begin to get into an analysis of Kinsey's methods - I'm not sure I could make any terribly useful observations that others haven't made before me. As for qualifications, Kinsey's first work came out only a few short years (with a war in between) after Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung redefined psychology in the first place - I don't think you could say that there were a plethora of qualified Psychologists/Psychiatrists running around in those days. (There were some, but the discipline as we know it today was quite immature). Besides, as is often the case with inspired people, they are just outside of the area where they make their biggest contributions. (Einstein was a Patent Clerk when he developed the first parts of what became Relativity Theory - what made him qualified to work in the area of Physics???)

So what if Kinsey's subjects were prison inmates, prostitutes and homosexuals? Does that invalidate much of what he found? Not really. The fact is that the Kinsey Institute today continues to engage in valid, and useful research - long after Mr. Kinsey himself has died. (On an aside - I would point out that bugs have sex too - so why would being an entomologist disqualify Kinsey from studying human sexuality is beyond my meagre ability to understand.)

But that gets back to a root point - Kinsey was mucking about in an area that Ted Byfield and his ilk consider to be 'taboo' - sexuality. Just as much of Freud's theoretical models of psychological conditions were long ago dismantled and invalidated (what woman truly suffers from "penis envy"???), that doesn't invalidate the valuable purpose that the study served. Kinsey's work provoked thought, conversation and research in the area of sexuality. Is that a bad thing? Is understanding humanity in its infinite diversity something "evil"? I don't think so.

The vehemence of Byfield's attack on a mere movie about Alfred Kinsey suggests to me that a nerve has been touched - and not one that is truly offended by the problems in Kinsey's early works, but rather one that has yet to figure out that sooner or later the world was going to move beyond the moral strictures of Victorian era thought. Kinsey served a purpose far more valuable than any one of his research findings - he made people talk and think about a subject that is far too often pushed into a corner and ignored.

*Sigh*

I suppose it's not all bad - at least this time when the legislature reconvenes, there will be enough people sitting in the opposition benches to at least be heard.

My most optimistic guess for last night's provincial election was that Ralph winding up with a minority government. (Which would have made me positively ecstatic) However, a 20 seat opposition is a good start.

I was very pleased to see Calgary send back something other than a Conservative last night. We've done ourselves no favours by voting blindly for the "obvious winners", and it was pleasing to see a few non-PC seats go back. It should serve as a reminder to the PCs that you don't get to take the voters for granted.

Scanning the results across the province, it appears that the "rural/urban" split in this province is likely to grow ever more pronounced. It looks as though the support base for the Liberals and NDP is strictly in the major urban centres of Edmonton and Calgary. Outside of those two areas, much of the province appears to have voted steadfastly for the PCs, with the Alberta Alliance coming up second in a few ridings.

Thoughts into the future?

1) The Liberals (and NDP) need to focus their efforts on building their support base in the urban centres up for a while yet. Thirty odd years of PC rule has given the PC's deep roots indeed.

2) If they continue to hold together as a party, the Alberta Alliance will likely focus more intensely on the rural ridings to build support. (Although, after the amount of money they just spent on this election - over $1 Million, I gather - they may find themselves well hobbled by debt when the next election rolls around.)

3) Note to the Alberta Liberals: Pay off your debt, and next election be ready in advance! You were so 'flat-footed' in the southeast Calgary ridings it wasn't even funny. Still, considering your campaigns sputtered until the last week, your candidates pulled off some pretty amazing showings.

As for Ralph - okay pal, you have your "last hurrah" mandate. Now do us all a favour, and instead of playing the thin-skinned, petulant little brat that you've been acting like lately, let's try for the 'Elder Statesman' role where you make some real and lasting contributions to this province and the country it is part of.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Collective Lunacy

A few weeks ago - in the early days of the provincial election - a door hanger was left on my home's front door as part of the bi-weekly deluge of bird cage liner that festoons my doorstep. I don't mind the advertising flyers arriving - they save me a trip to the purchase a Calgary Sun every so often to keep my bird's cage relatively easy to clean.

Anyhow, this particular doorhanger was written by one of the class of people I call 'B-Grade Loons' - they don't quite qualify as 'A-Grade Loons' in so far as they apparently function in society to some limited degree.

Obviously, the author is one of that group of people that routinely has problems with authority figures - in this case, particularly law enforcement officials such as judges. The flyer starts off with
"Thousands of people like you have been burned (or screwed, if you like) by police, judges, lawyers, prosecutors or other government employees."
It pointed to a couple of websites - the now-defunct 'patriotsonguard.org', and 'exposeacrook.org'. More or less, filled with fairly typical rantings from the same kind of people that claim that Auschwitz never happened, or some such. {In fact, the 'patriots on guard' website was closed down by order of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. (I do note that the 'exposeacrook' site seems to be surprisingly unavailable at the moment - I can hope that it has met a similar fate...if nothing else, by asking for the home addresses of certain law enforcement officials, the site was making veiled threats)

This led me on a rather interesting journey across the web, looking at the seamy white underbelly of these nut-cases. Following the trail of names and associations between them (it's amazing how these clowns quote each other as if they are somehow authorities on these things)

I eventually ran across the 'Detax Canada' website. I'll leave it to you to go read the content of this site - if nothing else, it's a lovely exercise in modern applications of medieval logic - if you can see beyond the obvious ranting going on.

However, my explorations beyond that site, turned up this lovely article in CA magazine. It's rather amusing reading, as it dismantles the Detax Canada arguments rather methodically, with just enough humour to make it enjoyable.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Tomorrow is voting day in Alberta

Tomorrow, the campaigning stops, and the voters of Alberta head to the polls to give their verdict on what should follow Ralph Klein's last four years.

I'm not exactly among those that Ralph could call "backer" - I've got a stack of grievances with the man longer than a repeat offender's criminal record.

In the Calgary Sun today appears this article in which Ralph claims:

"A positive campaign is often a quiet campaign -- you know, I've never bad-mouthed the opposition members the way they've bad-mouthed me," he said.
Sure, Ralph. It's hard to bad-mouth your opposition when they are all relatively new, and you're running from campaigning instead of doing it. Besides, you reserved your sneering attitude for those that need the government's assistance. (Don't think I've forgotten about your less-than-charitable comments on AISH)

In the same article, Ralph further claims that he's happy with the way the campaign has gone:
Klein also said he's been happy with the way the campaign has gone: Even if a little quiet.
Maybe it's the conspiracy theory freak in me coming forward, but I think that this campaign has taken the quiet path for some deliberate reasons:

  1. Ralph's candidates tried staying out of any of the all-candidates debates.
  2. Ralph was on hiatus from the campaign for two major blocks of time - at the very beginning, and after the first week.
  3. Voter fatigue - this is the fourth election that we've had to endure this year - Federal, Civic and now Provincial, and additionally, a lot of people were following the US Presidential election. - that's 4 major campaigns in one year, one of which has been running for most of the last 18 months.
  4. A conservative platform that is more retrospective than forward looking, and a Premier who has made it clear that he doesn't want to talk about the issues.
I'd have to guess that Ralph and his cronies figure that a fatigued voter will simply put their 'X' beside the PC candidate out of habit. Cynical, I know, but probably more correct than I'd really like to know.

The optimist in me wants to believe that there are enough people who are upset with Ralph's Reign that the apathy lands purely in the Conservative camp - giving those who want a change of government in Alberta the chance to send back a loud, clear message. The perverse logic Alberta voters says that the optimistic best we can hope for is a Conservative Minority. (In my perfect fantasy world, we rise up as an electorate and turf the tories out on their over-paid, arrogant butts) Realistically, I'd be moderately happy if we sent back a 25-30 seat opposition. (Ralph's no longer a benevolent dictator, he's just a dictator - period)


Friday, November 19, 2004

How interesting...

For some random reason, my travels on the web this morning brought me to this little 'human interest' article on CNN.

After reading it, I sat back and mused to myself how utterly mundane the content of the article itself really is. Okay, a bunch of newlyweds are happily revelling in their new status as married. Small things, like checking off the 'married' box on a government form bring a certain novelty to them. This is all fine and dandy, I remember going through similar things when I got married. In fact, if it wasn't for the genders of the members of each couple, I don't think this article would have been written.

It's a nice little reminder to all of us that for all that we may not understand all of the people around us, and the emotional drives that lead them to various places in life, we are all human, and humanity is amazingly diverse.

I decided to do some more digging around on the subject of gay marriage - mostly out of curiousity given the outcome of several 'ballot initiatives' in the recent US federal elections.

For the most part, I found the usual collection of pro- and anti- sites, each brandishing their rhetoric like rusty swords. I won't even bother to reference them - largely because that's not what caught my real attention.

Following linkage from site to site, I eventually tripped across the website for a group called 'NARTH'. Perusing their website is possibly one of the most disturbing, alien experiences I have ever had. Here is an organization of 'Mental Health Professionals' that are claiming that they can make gay people straight.

More or less, their position seems to be largely religious in its foundations, and couched in secular pseudo-science. The usual "it isn't natural" kind of tones emenate forth from the various papers on the website, along with an assortment of assertions that no one would ever think of making towards the heterosexual population. (For example, I don't remember "choosing" my sexuality, so much as I became aware of it. If I didn't choose mine, why on earth would I believe that someone else _chose_ theirs?)

On the surface, much of what NARTH's site says almost sounds reasonable - unless you have a little bit of background in psychology. Reading their articles reminded me of the reactions to Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods". Superficially much of what he asserts sounds reasonable, until you dig a bit deeper and find that he's got something completely wrong in an area. (Chariots of the Gods made quite a stir in Archeology circles when it came out, and it took a few years apparently for a bunch of specialists in various areas to point out the problems with his theory - it's still a fun read)

I found a few websites speaking "for and against" the ex-gay support groups/ministries whatever. The consensus seemed perfectly split - the ex-gay ministries all pointed to NARTH to provide secular, "scientific" justification for the direction; the sites critical of 'ex-gay' pointed to some of the American Psychological Association's commentary on so-called "reparative therapy" techniques - which more or less state that there is no evidence it works, and worse, it can do significant harm to the patient. (Which would make me very suspicious that any therapist who is a member of NARTH may well be operating in violation of a great many ethical standards - particularly those about doing harm to their patients.)

On the subject of families, NARTH makes the following blunt statement:

5. Same-Sex Marriage

Social science evidence supports the traditional model of man-woman marriage as the ideal family form for fostering a child's healthy development.

Okay - seems almost reasonable. Just for fun, I decided to see what the APA had on the subject:

Psychological research provides no evidence to justify discrimination against same-sex couples and families. Accordingly, it is the longstanding policy of the American Psychological Association (APA) to deplore “all public and private discrimination in such areas as employment, housing, public accommodation, and licensing” against gay men and lesbians, as stated in a 1975 policy resolution of the Council of Representatives. The Association more recently stated its support for the “provision to same-sex couples of the legal benefits that typically accrue as a result of marriage to same-sex couples who desire and seek the legal benefits” in a 1998 Council resolution. Psychological research and association policy are not consistent with legislation proposed at the federal and state levels that would amend the U.S. Constitution or state constitutions, respectively, to prohibit marriage between same-sex couples.
The document was much longer, and much more detailed than this conclusion - it's actually a rather enlightening read. Some of what it asserts is contrary to what I would call "common wisdom", but the APA does try to couch its assessment in terms of research findings which should substantiate their assertions with some degree of "concrete" information.

Perhaps most disturbing about the NARTH website were two things:

1. The President of NARTH's page

2. The absolute absence of e-mail addresses for contacting NARTH - except for one associated with the membership page - and it directed to an e-mail address kept on yahoo.com.

If NARTH was bona fide, and legitimate, I would expect that it would be possible to contact them through e-mail or other means. The cloak of anonymity they try to create leaves one suspicious that they are fully aware that they are skating on the dangerous edge of things, especially where their members are engaging in this kind of therapy.

However, tying back to what started this commentary, I find myself looking at the Massacheusetts experience with Gay Marriage, and asking - "did the world end?" No, it did not. Further, it seems that those who are now married under those laws are experiencing the same happiness and validation that I did when I got married. Why would I deny someone that experience?

As for people's issues with gay sexuality - remember the words of Pierre Elliott Trudeau:

"The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation."


Remember, the human race is infinitely variable, infinitely diverse. We are all different, and it does society no good to marginalize someone for being different.

This article on CNN was brought to my attention yesterday. The article itself seems relatively innocuous, except for the fact that it is a denial. My first rule of thumb is that when any government agency, much less one as secretive as the CIA, starts denying that something was said/done/intended is that the polar opposite is true. (Consider the AdScam controversy bubbling around Canada right now...)

However, this article led to a couple of other articles of interest. The first, discusses a series of resignations from top posts in the CIA; the second talks about some firings that have occurred since Porter Goss took over the reigns of the organization.

At first blush, one looks and says - okay, the top player in the organization has changed, and there is going to be a series of changes as people decide whether or not they want to work for the new head.

On the other hand, there seems to be a somewhat ominous tone to the goings-on that make me suspect that there's much more going on here than a simple bit of organizational shake-up. The directorate of the CIA has changed many times in the past, without any major news stories emerging.

If I take the first article, and assume the polar opposite, it suggests that the original memo that is being denied did in fact make stipulations about "backing" Bush - at the very least tacitly. The tone of the statements in the second memo is much more in line with what I would expect the CIA and other similar agencies to do.

The second and third articles piqued my curiousity. At best, I don't trust the players




Thursday, November 18, 2004

Okay Ms. Parrish, we get your point of view

Carolyn Parrish is a loon - she has to be - most people have all sorts of internal checks-and-balances that help them know when to open their mouths and when not to. Apparently Ms. Parrish doesn't. On CBC's "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" comedy program, she apparently stomps on a George Bush doll.

Granted, the show is a comedy revue, but given her past behaviour what she did was simply stupid. At worst, I'd call it tasteless; at best I'd accuse her of having exceptionally poor judgement.

Carolyn - we all get the point - you don't like GWB, and how the American Government has been acting lately. Trust me, most Canadians agree with you. Now shut up and get on with the business of representing your constituents - please.

Of course, this little flap has made its way onto the front pages of that delightedly Conservative mouthpiece paper, The National Post. Of course, the first thing they start off with in their article is a bunch of bleating from the Conservative/Alliance/Reform/Whatever party:

Incensed Conservative MPs demanded that Ms. Parrish -- who last year referred to Americans as "bastards" and more recently likened the U.S. war effort in Iraq to "a coalition of the idiots" -- be banished from the Liberal caucus for her anti-American outburst.
What the Conservatives have missed - badly - is that most Canadians _don't_ worship at Washington's doorsteps. For all that we may think that Ms. Parrish is a dolt, there's a lot of quiet applause going off for her saying what many of us are thinking.

Should Ms. Parrish be banished from the Liberal Caucus? No. Remember 'freedom of speech' - it doesn't have any clause about "good taste" in it, and I've seen other politicians make far worse comments than Parrish has on a variety of subjects. (Let's start with some of what various members of the Conservative party have been heard to say about homosexuality for example ...)




Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Would Somebody Please Define "Election" ???

I grew up in Canada - and I grew up with the idea that an Election was when the existing government officially dissolved, and the various parties went to the public looking for a mandate to govern.

I haven't been impressed with Ralph Klein's "Conservatives" for a long time - in fact I don't think I could be any less impressed. This morning, a picture appears in the Globe and Mail that shows the candidates present at an 'All Candidates Forum' on Health Care. Notably, it appears that every party of note sent a candidate - except for Ralph's Conservatives. Even more appalling, is to find in the Calgary Sun this morning, an article in which Ralph is complaining because his opponents are critical of his parties notable absence from public debates.

I scratched my head for a moment, and thought to myself "what is this?" Campaigning by absence?

Apparently the Conservatives view this election as a "show election". They feel that there is absolutely no danger to them from any of the opposition parties. On the whole, I'd have to agree - there isn't much that resembles a significant opposition party bubbling around right now. The Liberals appear to have been caught flat-footed in Calgary (I haven't seen any signs in my riding, yet I know there's a candidate out there); the NDP is a bit better organized, but there is an irrational fear of the NDP in this province; the Alberta Alliance is making themselves seen and heard - but I don't think they'll do much more than split the vote in a few ridings.

I think the Progressive Conservatives are being horribly disrespectful to the electorate of Alberta. Their whole campaign seems to be focused on "keep your mouths shut, and we get re-elected". Sadly, they're right - short of a miracle occuring.

Ralph's said it on numerous occasions "Re-elect me, and then I'll "consult" with Albertans". What the heck? So an election is not a consultation? If that's the case, then our democracy in this province has a serious problem. Certainly, at the moment, the question is not whether Ralph will be re-elected, but rather the size of the majority which he will have.

I don't like the notion that elections in this province are all but a foregone conclusion. It bothers me for a number of reasons. First, if you talk to people on the street, you quickly discover that there is a plethora of ideas in this province - it is not the political monolith that the 'first-past-the-post' system makes it look like. There are other issues that emerge as well - ideas that should be discussed in the public forum are not; opposition parties become targets of derision rather than respected colleagues.

This is not healthy. 'What can I do?' you may ask yourself. The best you can do is prepare to vote next Monday. Make it an informed vote. Review the record of Ralph Klein the past 10 years or so - both the good and bad bits; examine the policies and proposals of all parties and ask yourself what do you want Alberta to be in 10 years? Is another four years or so of dictatorship going to be "good" for this province, or are we better served by a different government? Is it enough to send a serious opposition back to Edmonton?

My pet rant on this subject is that voting is a right in this land. However, with rights come responsibilities. Alberta's electorate has been remiss in taking its responsibilities to itself seriously.

Inform Yourself:

Party Platforms:

Progressive Conservative
Liberal
NDP
Alberta Alliance
Green Party

For a good backgrounder on Ralph's tenure in power:

Alberta Politics Uncovered - Mark Lisac

* Granted - Lisac appears not to be Mr. Klein's best friend, but there are few people that I have seen undertake a critical review of the policies and approaches of the Klein Tories over their tenure in office.

*[Credit]: WikiPedia.org provided much of the 'informational' background material referenced in this entry. Although not perfect, it is a very useful "quick reference" for a lot of subjects. Kudos to the Wikipedia people for creating a successful, online collaborative effort to gather knowledge.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Energy Deregulation is good for me how???

Driving into work this morning, I hear on the CBC news that across the country, we are all facing energy prices (in particular for heating) that are some 50% higher than last year.

So, under a pricing regime that is set in Chicago - or wherever the 'energy futures' are being traded, I am facing a 50% hike in my month to month energy costs. ( I have no delusion that electricity rates are not going to skyrocket in a similar fashion.)

Would somebody please explain to me how this is a "good" thing? I live in a country that is one of the world's biggest producers of natural gas, and I am being forced to pay what kind of price to heat _my_ home with _my_ country's resources??? I'm sorry, but it does seem a little ludicrous that the price paid here for those resources is set by some futures trader who is all worried about whether or not the US has enough crude oil sitting in its "strategic petroleum reserves".

Under deregulation, I get to live with prices that fluctuate at the whim of futures traders that are so far removed from my reality that it's laughable. If Russia suddenly stops producing natural gas, my heating bills go up? What's with that? On top of that, the local deregulation in Alberta has formed an environment where my various utility bills are populated - better than 50% by various "charges" and "fees" of one sort or another. When you have questions about these fees and billing practices, you are thrust into a morass of pseudo-regulatory crap that is all clearly structured to prevent you from ever getting a straight answer.

Ah, the "Alberta Advantage", only in "Ralph's World (tm)".

Remember, the people running under the Progressive Conservative banner in Alberta are asking once again for us to re-elect them another four years. Do they really deserve it?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

*Yawn* *Snore* ... You mean there's an Election Going On?

The silence in the Alberta Provincial Election Campaign of 2004 is deafening.

On one side, we have the opposition parties trying to be heard, but working with little or no real resources (none of the "opposition" parties have all that much money to play with); on the other side, it's becoming very clear - painfully so - that the word has been put out to the PC candidates "don't say anything" - no door knocking, no public forums - nada, zip, zero, zilch.

Even Ralph has toned it way down. (Granted, after his unfortunate comments about AISH recipients, that was probably wise) Other than a handful of lawn signs for various candidates, you'd scarcely know that there's an election going on. My MLA didn't even have campaign workers deliver her re-election flyer, no it came delivered along with the weekly delivery of crap that comes from ADCO. (Conveniently, it arrived on the same day as ADCO delivered a door hanger written by some white supremacist nutbar)

I've been worried for a long time that the Progressive Conservatives have been in power long enough to start to rot from the inside. Sure enough, I look around a local PC candidate's name is starting to emerge in relation to some voting irregularities in the civic election. Granted, he hasn't been charged with anything yet, nor has he been convicted, but something here starts to smell mighty rotten. Of course, the candidate is denying everything. Can't people smell the rot? - it's worse than a Louisiana Swamp on a hot summer's day. Even the appearance of such a conflict used to be enough to cause a candidate to step aside. Now his own premier backs him up and says "he's a fine upstanding man". You know what? I don't care - there's a small matter of credibility and apparent honesty involved, and I don't think Pham is exactly looking like he cares about either.

More troubling is Ralph and his notion of a "medicare referendum". Ralph, we're in the middle of an election. Perhaps _NOW_ is a good time to put your cards on the table, and let the voters decide. A referendum is something the government can choose to ignore if the results aren't convenient to it. I'm not going to advocate for, or against, your position Ralph - you haven't told me enough of it for me to start believing that there is any correlation. My suspicion is that what you have in mind would get you into serious trouble with the voters, so you're desperately trying to hide it. (Not a difficult leap - I have yet to see Ralph present as much intellectual sophistication as a Harry Potter novel does)

Given Ralph's propensity for privatizing everything in sight, I have to wonder what he's up to. My wild guess is that Klein wants to arrange for more "private delivery" (a euphemism at best) of Health Care - but nowhere do I see Klein and his henchmen musing over how to protect the consumer and taxpayers that will be funding this private delivery. With one of Ralph's candidates musing out loud about making water a 'paid utility' (it already is!), it's not hard to guess the overall direction.

Given some recent incidents that I have become aware of that stem from the deregulation and privatization of our gas and electrical utilities, I can only imagine that the consumer is in for a giant screwing over. In the particular event that I am thinking about, a back bill adjusting someone's energy bill for the past year was delivered, with an immediate demand for several thousand dollars.

After much thrashing about, it turns out that the EUB's regulations give the utilities the right to adjust billing up to a full year old. However, on investigation, you quickly realize that the EUB's mandate is carefully designed to avoid dealing with the end consumer and their issues. Ah, but there's a "consumer advocate" that Ralph's government created - they are supposed to provide that force for consumers. Bzzt - wrong.

On the Utilities Consumer Advocate website, the mandate is described as follows:
The primary goals of the UCA are:

  • To help consumers help themselves;


  • To inform and empower them in Alberta's restructured energy markets;
  • and

  • To facilitate their representation at regulatory hearings and other proceedings.

Well, frankly, if you dig further around their website, you quickly discover that the "consumer advocate" isn't there to help you contact and negotiate with your utility - they have a mandate that pretty much says that they won't get involved directly in a dispute:

You should contact the Utilities Consumer Advocate for help if:
  • You have contacted your utility company to discuss a billing or service concern, but things have not been resolved and you would like advice on how to proceed.

  • You require information or advice regarding an Alberta Energy and Utilities Board regulatory hearing or possible representation at a regulatory hearing.

  • You would like information about Alberta's restructured utilities market and/or your rights and responsibilities as a consumer.

I'm no genius in these matters, but it seems to me that basically says "you get to play David to the Utility Goliath". Most people don't have the time, energy or resources to pursue a fight with a utility company that is back-billing in an apparently arbitrary and capricious manner.

Now - consider that Ralph's government is the architect of the current mess in the utilities, take many of Ralph's random musings about Health Care (and now Water), and put the picture together. It looks worse than I do in the morning!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Lest We Forget...

I started this off as an exploration of the sacrifices made by our forefathers in WW I and WW II that ultimately shaped the world we live in. However, rather than dwell upon the horrors that passed long before I was even born, I thought I'd explore something a little more current.

It seems vaguely appropriate that Yasser Arafat passed away last night, leaving Palestinians to grieve his passing today. For good or bad, no one man has done more to advance the cause of the Palestinian people. Whether or not you liked his methods, there was something to be admired in the man's tenacity and conviction.

In the aftermath of Arafat's death, the Israel - Palestine conflict remains unresolved. Of course, there are the expected calls for a renewed "peace process". President Bush has long been on record that he felt that Arafat was an obstacle to peace, and not a solution. Of course, on the other side of the coin, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is the same man whose actions triggered the current "intifata" uprising in the first place.

From the Israelis (and the Americans as well), we hear all kinds of "conditional" support for starting a peace process. Sharon has been quoted as saying:

reiterating a long-standing demand, Sharon said that progress toward peace would “depend first and foremost on a cessation of terrorism and if they (the Palestinian leaders) wage a war on terror.”
This is like the dysfunctional family where parental approval never happens. "Oh great, you got 90% on your test - now what happened to the other 10%?"

The fact is that both sides have legitimate grievances - the Israelis have every right to be upset with the Palestinians and the constant bombings, and small rocket attacks. Equally, the Palestinians have lived under Israeli military occupation for decades. Military occupation, no matter how "benevolent" it claims to be is oppressive and ultimately counter-productive.

Both sides must put their differences aside and attend the negotiating table in earnest. Neither side can claim a "moral high ground" - and countries like the US that are apt to wind up playing broker in those negotiations must not give either party preferential treatment. Israel's conduct with regards to the Palestinians is as reprehensible as the suicide bombers, the world powers need to recognize this and bring pressure to bear on both sides to find a means to achieve lasting peace.

However, there may be other reasons that peace in Israel is unlikely - reasons that have little to do with either the Israelis or the Palestinians...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

So - Klein Might Break With the Federal Health Care Act

Ralph is once again musing out loud about the prospect that he _might_ decide to do something that breaches the tenets of the Federal legislation that backs our Health Care system.

Of course, once again, we get to see Ralph doing the classic 'float a trial balloon' tactic that he has used so many times in the past.

I'm starting to see a pattern here - and it's a cynical pattern. Raise the issue enough times, and the people opposed to it are going to eventually just go "yeah, Ralph, whatever - we've heard this before". Ralph will then take the silence as acquiesence on the part of the public.

Remember, the Ralph of the 1980s, who was mayor of Calgary through the 1988 Olympics, is long gone. That man would periodically open his flap and make some pretty rude noises (anyone else remember the infamous 'bums-and-creeps' speech?)

I keep asking myself "where's the pod?" every time Ralph opens his trap these days. Gone is the man who could say something mildly foolish and have the people laugh it off. Bumbling Ralph has been replaced by a man whose verbal bumbling is only surpassed by the darkness of the shadow that he casts upon our landscape.

Says Ralph when challenged on privatizing Health Care:

"I'm not saying we're going that way unless the people want me to go that way," he said.
Ralph - do I need to point out this is an election. State your #!%!#@$ direction, and let the population _TELL_ you what they think at the polls. Prevarication and evasiveness is simply disrespectful to the people of this province, and the process of democracy as well.

Don't tell me you are going to "bend to the will of the people". That's the biggest crock I've ever heard. You don't bend to the will of the people unless there is a firestorm of controversey that threatens to burn down the legislature. That is not consulting with the public, nor is it leadership that suggests any kind of useful vision.

A captain of a ship guides the ship to its destination by knowing what the destination is, not by blindly drifting along and changing direction at the whim of the wind and tide. (Those few captains that used to do that usually found themselves walking the plank after the crew mutinied...)

Where Health Care is concerned, along with my vote, I will align my vote with the party that seems to have a vision for health care that extends beyond the current fiscal quarter.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Earth to Ralph...Earth to Ralph...

The arrogance of Ralph Klein came front and center yesterday during the leaders debate.

There's two things that really gall me in reviewing what happened in the leader's debate:

1. His complete disregard for the electoral process and what it means:

"My vision for health care is to have the best health-care system in Canada. How we achieve this is up to Albertans. My plan is to ask the people," Klein, seeking a fourth term, said. "Our plan is to continue the course we have set for the province.

Think on this phrase for a moment - "My plan is to ask the people". Isn't that part of the purpose of an election? I'm sorry, an election is not a symbolic coronation Mr. Klein. An election is all about telling the people what you intend to do as a government, and let the polls speak.

Your "public consultation" process is at best superficial, at worst, it is a way to exclude your opponents from public debate. I notice that the "what should we do with the surplus" results came out as a lovely set of statistics. Of course, there was no opportunity to debate the merits of each path, come to think of it the questions themselves were so badly loaded that I couldn't even find my position and beliefs represented at all! (My, some debate)

2. "I didn't mean to be insensitive"

Klein said he didn't mean to be insensitve, but stood by his promise to weed out anyone abusing the system, which pays those unable to work because of a disability a maximum of $850 a month.
Errm - Ralph - you were insensitive, and so far all the public has received from you are mealy-mouthed half apologies. Are you so cock-sure of yourself and your "perfect image" as a "man of the people" that you think you don't owe the public at large an apology?

I know it's standard neo-conservative dogma that everyone who accesses a government program must be abusing the system somehow or another.

The only thing that the Klein government appears to understand is numbers (it sure as heck isn't people):

He said his government used the royalties to pay off the $23-billion debt he inherited when he became premier, as well as invest in the infrastructure and sustainability funds.
Again, think on this - and consider the reality of governance includes a lot more than just paying bills. The "other side" of governance includes looking after the social balance sheet as well - making sure that the public is healthy, educated and safe.

Why do I say that ensuring the public health, education and safety is part of the government's job? Simple - the government depends on its population (ultimately) for its revenue stream. It isn't exactly difficult to get the notion that a healthy, educated population that feels safe is going to ultimately be more productive.

This isn't to say that the government has to own all aspects of those domains, but it is incumbent upon the government to make sure that these things are kept in balance. As the current furor over health care should make abundantly clear, throwing money at things is not always the correct answer. Investments need to be made (e.g. like replacing hospitals that have been demolished...), but also day to day issues in delivering and cost managing these areas need to also be undertaken. Health care must be readily accessible to the citizens, without a sudden illness driving the family into bankruptcy.

All of this requires planning and vision. What kind of vision is Ralph proposing? "Re-elect me on blind faith and I'll deign to consult with you" seems to be his platform. Can Alberta afford another 2-4 years of this buffoon?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Pride Goeth Before a Fall(ujah?)

I was listening to CBC's "As It Happens" program, and they were interviewing a US Army Sargent about the current attempt by the US forces to take over the city of Fallujah in Iraq.

From the Sargent's mouth comes the following gem of hubris: "These terrorists are facing the greatest military machine the world has ever seen". Followed by "The outcome is not in doubt, it is only a question of time"

Puhleeze! Give me a break. The American army is no doubt the most technologically advanced army of the day. But then again, look at the overwhelming differences between the Viet Cong and the US army of the 1960s. If technology wins wars, then Vietnam should have folded like a bad poker hand.

Don't misunderstand me - I respect the firepower at the hands of the US military - it is truly quite awesome. But it is the height of arrogance for anyone to believe that because they are "the biggest" that they will prevail.

It doesn't take a genius to see that there is far more going on in Iraq than just resistance in Fallujah. Cities are big - even a relatively small city like Fallujah has thousands of points of entry and exit - and those are just the obvious ones. The insurgents/terrorists/freedom fighters (pick your name for them) in Fallujah can no doubt come and go with far more ease than the Americans think. (Besides - just what does a terrorist look like?)

The troops on the ground in Fallujah are facing the most brutal, difficult type of combat possible - urban warfare. I wish them luck - they are going to need it to come home in one piece. Their political masters will have to answer for their own deeds in the fullness of time - and likely to whatever God they happen to worship eventually. (Given the wrathful God that many 'born-again' Christians like to reference, I'm not sure I'd want to be in their shoes at the time of reckoning...)


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Fodder To Consider

Tomorrow, the leaders of the various parties that are running in Alberta will engage in a debate on the local Global TV affiliate.

Normally, debates like this can be rather interesting and revealing. They are among the few times that we get to hear the leaders express their visions for the future in terms of both policy and perspective.

While the leaders of the "second parties" (the Liberals, NDP and Alberta Alliance) have much to gain from being heard, the PCs have much to lose - especially if someone can get under Ralph's thin skin.

Notably, Ralph has recently tried to 'take the high road' in the campaign - which seems to mean saying as little as possible and hoping like heck that nobody notices. Notice in this article that Ralph is very careful to avoid talking about anything concrete (are political campaigns becoming like software functionality promises - vaporware? - cool - Ralph's standing on a vaporform...hopefully it's like Wile E. Coyote in the clouds...)

Seriously, I urge all Albertans to read the platforms of the different parties - critically, and carefully.

After spending a couple of hours reading the PC "platform" as expressed on their website, and the last couple of years listening to Ralph bully, badger and heckle his way through issues, I'm more than a little worried about 4 more years of this man running the province. The least we can do as Albertans is send back a serious opposition. (E.g. 20-30 seats or so - at least!)

Perhaps most worrisome about the PC platform is the talk about "what they've done", not what they intend to do. To be frank, I don't care what they've done in the past - other than providing fodder for guessing future behaviour, it's largely irrelevant when they are asking us (the voters) for a new mandate. Ralph needs a mandate - but he's not saying "what for" - think about it. The other parties all have platforms that look forward - I don't drive my car by my staring out the rear window while accelerating forward. "Ralph's Team" seems to be looking backward and saying "let us govern again - we did all this for you..." - I'm asking "what will you do next?" Ralph's silent on the subject...

I'm just about finished reading a book that my father pointed me to - "Alberta Politics Uncovered", by Mark Lisac. While it's clear that Lisac has his own axe to grind (as do the authors of most such books), he does an excellent job of making his assertions from a position of clear information. At $10.95, it's cheap reading, and should be mandatory for anyone who plans to vote in the upcoming Alberta provincial election.

An intriguing counter-balance emerges

The UN, and its predecessor League of Nations were based on two key assumptions. First, that "power" was defined in physical and military terms. Second, that more than one major power exists in the world, each acting as a counter balance to the other.

Today, we see ourselves looking at a world where the United States is the sole remaining 'superpower' state. This, along with the fracturing of other power blocs into small, bickering states that seldom agree on the time of day, much less how to counteract the overwhelming clout that the US has emerged with.

At first blush, this seems to be all too worrisome a prospect, and given the hawkish nature of the Whitehouse administration this past 4 years, those that worry about the rise of the American Empire seem well-justified.

However, America's heavy-handedness in the world has come at a price. The US Federal Deficit for the 2004 fiscal year threatens to approach $700 Billion (USD). Deficit at the end of a year rolls into a country's total foreign debt. Even the US, with its mammoth economy cannot afford to extend its international debt indefinitely.

China, now in possession of the world's fastest growing economy, may have just placed the world on notice that it intends to exercise its political clout. It has asked that the Iran "file" not be forwarded to the UN security council yet.

Now, one looks at China, and says - well, they're a developing nation; they have all these social problems etc. However, China has _MONEY_, and lots of it. Recent discussions around China's "Minmetals" state corporation purchasing Noranda, and apparently purchasing interests in Australia speak to a country with some serious cash to throw around.

In several dimensions, this is interesting. China allegedly holds a sizable chunk of the US deficit in the form of US Treasury Bills. The American government is in the position that sooner or later, someone is going to start using the debt held in foreign hands as a club for diplomatic maneuvers. Since few nations pose a serious military threat to the US, the only plausible threat that they will listen to is financial.

Can you imagine the conversation between the American State Department and a foreign Diplomat:

[SD]: If country xxxx doesn't put down its , we'll go in and remove that government.

[FD]: Ah, very good Mr. Secretary. I applaud your resolute desire to ensure the safety of the world.

[SD]: I'm glad you agree.

[FD]: But, if you invade country xxxx, we will be forced to call in $X billions in loans that we hold.

[SD]: You can't stop me from doing what I damn well please!

[FD]: Yes, but if your foreign debt is suddenly subject to demand repayment, where do you think you are going to find the funds to prosecute another war?

[SD]: The American Economy is strong, we can afford it.

[FD]: It might be strong, but the last several years have run up deficit and debt. That suggests an economy living beyond its means.

...


Perhaps, we are moving into an era where cash is the weapon of choice in foreign affairs, not nukes.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

A Rising Dark Age ?

Recent events and patterns in the world have led me to start asking a question - is Western Society in the throes of a rising "Dark Age"?

The last "Dark Age" was nominally from the collapse of the Roman Empire through to the Renaissance. During this time, we lost touch with many great teachings; governance became capricious and corrupt; life, in general was short, mean and brutal. The wealthiest had all the money; and power tended to concentrate among the wealthy and spiritually powerful.

Consider the patterns in the world today:

a) The United States has just re-elected a man who has made no bones about his desire to involve the religion in the business of statecraft.

b) Advanced education is becoming progressively more and more expensive, and steadily becoming out of reach for many parts of our society.

c) Governments in Canada and the US have steadily been cutting back on their funding of education at all levels, from primary through to post-secondary.

d) The Bush administration has a track record of modifying scientific study results to suit their political agenda. (Rather than using science to guide their agenda, they have used their agenda to distort science) Consider two key cases - environment (Kyoto), and stem cell research.

e) World leaders (esp. Bush, but others as well), seem to downplay the importance of knowledge and wisdom.

f) A serious imbalance in the market economy is emerging. While consumer demand is dropping for items, the prices are not coming down. Instead, the prices are remaining static or even going up. One theory I have heard postulated is that the stock market (another 'free market' is pushing against the corporations for 'share earnings', and the result is that companies are keeping prices high in order to make their earnings targets.

g) The US economy appears to be headed for a serious decline in the next few years. Energy costs are rising, but the effects of that are not reflected in the 'consumer price index' that they use to measure inflation (see item f above). Consequently the 'Federal Reserve' seems to be blind to what's happening around it. The 'war economy' needed to sustain activity in Iraq is driven primarily by borrowed monies - sooner or later, the lenders are going to start calling their loans in.

h) Rising religious influence in politics. Western civilization is predicated on the notion of separating church and state from one another. Throughout the western world, there are major lobby groups taking center stage that claim that the moral compass of state has been lost because it is no longer guided by 'god's law' {whatever that means}.

i) Intellectual understanding and thought is being denigrated and replaced by emotionalism, fear and arbitrary responses. Some of the comments about Presidential candidate Kerry were rather revealing. He was constantly criticized for being 'too wordy', or 'too intellectual' for people to understand. There was a time when intellectual prowess was the mark of a potential leader - now it is a mark for derision?

j) Statistically, the gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing in our nations, with the middle class not only bearing a higher proportion of the 'public burden', but also being stretched ever thinner as a proportion of the population.

k) Health care is becoming more and more inaccessible unless you have a bank vault full of money. In the United States, there are all sorts of obstacles to accessing health care; in Canada, it seems that the funding is in a perpetual state of crisis. I suspect the pattern repeats elsewhere as well.

There are many pieces to this puzzle - far more than can be adequately explored in one entry in a blog. Mostly what I'm seeing are a number of patterns that individually are likely benign, but they are beginning to align in a way that portends the emergence of a shadow over our civilization. One in which the balances of the 'free market' system get overbalanced, and casts the economic life of our nations into quicksand; the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few will further concentrate political power in those same hands; the cost of advanced education is reaching a point where only the wealthy will be able to afford it.

The net result? A descent into a cultural environment where education is minimal; moral absolutism begins to prevail - for no better reason than it is simple to understand. The economic, legal and political power structures will continue to concentrate power in the hands of a very few.

Of course, this is all very speculative - the optimist in me likes to believe that human kind is capable of rising above these issues. The pessimist however, is far less sure of our collective commitment to doing so.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The groundhog saw his shadow...

It would seem that the groundhog saw his shadow when he poked up yesterday, and the world is doomed to another four years of mindless violence and pointless wars. Why? Just as leopards don't change their spots, I don't really expect GWB to change his blundering approach to foreign policy.

As I drove into work this morning, I found myself wondering why Kerry lost - it wasn't by a lot, so you can't assert that it was a "flip-flopper" message, nor do I think he "alienated" the voters by speaking too loftily.

My thought is that unlike Bush, who was eminently consistent in his message (like it or not), and was able to repeat it constantly in the face of both opposition, and supporters, the Kerry campaign seemed to flail around for a bit, and changed both direction and message a few times.

If Kerry had come out with a simple message like "You were lied to", and hammered at it constantly, he might have come out ahead in a few of the so-called swing states. I suspect that the inconsistent messages (and a less than definite plan for extricating America from Iraq) played against Kerry's overall success.

On the whole, I think Kerry did quite well, especially considering that he was far from the strongest candidate that the Democrats could have put forward.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Like it or not...

It all comes down to this day.

The last 6 months of sniping, attacking each other and trying to convince the public that the other candidate is 'more hopeless' than oneself culminate in voting today for the President of the United States.

Whether or not we like it, the votes of a few hundred million people today will impact the rest of the world for four years, and probably longer than that.

In one corner, George Bush stands pugilistic and defiant. Ready to swing at anything that he doesn't understand or wants to 'make an example of'.

In the other corner, John Kerry stands - what for nobody's sure, but he stands nonetheless.

I've never made any bones about it - I've not been impressed by Bush and his handlers - they strike me as a rather nasty bunch of people bent on success through subjugation. The whole Bush campaign has played on fear and misunderstanding of the world.

The Kerry campaign hasn't been much better - although at least Kerry gives me the impression that he might just think his actions through before jumping into something (like - say a war in Iraq). At the end of it all, I really don't know what Kerry stands for, only that he's the 'Not Bush' candidate.

Rather like the situation here in Alberta, I just plain don't like the incumbent candidates. For a variety of reasons, the stench of rot that comes from the intellectual gangrene that often seems to afflict those in power emenates equally strongly from both Washington and Edmonton these days.

Face it, America, you were lied to about Iraq. Iraq had nothing to do with WMD's, 9/11 or anything else that was put forth. In focusing on Iraq, your armies were distracted from the real threat - Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. (Who, it should be noted, popped up a few days ago on al Jazeera with still more threats.) So - how effective has Bush really been. From an outsider's perspective, he appears to have lost track of the original objective of going into Afghanistan, and left a key head player (bin Laden) free to do whatever he pleases. Is America safer for W's "War on Terror" - I think not.

Will Kerry be any better? No, probably not. But then again, Kerry starts with a relatively clean slate on the world stage. Just maybe he can involve enough other countries to help clean up the mess that is in Iraq. Remember, W's little war is costing billions of dollars each day, and each day of that excursion is adding to the US deficit (and debt). In investment banker's terms - what's the ROI? What is America gaining by prosecuting war in Iraq? Do the rewards make up for the cost? Can you afford that cost? (Can your children??)

Kerry sounds like a hard-core protectionist - a man whose idea of free trade is likely to be even less accomodating than Bush's approach to the subject. Canada and Mexico in particular stand to bear the brunt of his economic policy, and yet certainly the majority of Canadians seem to be firmly behind Kerry - mostly as a reaction to Bush and his pugilistic approach to the world, I suspect.

This election feels a bit like Groundhog day in February. It's either an early spring, or four more years of W, and the shadows of his ill-conceived 'War on Terror'.

Whatever happens, I wish the world luck today, for its future is being decided by a mere few hundred million in one country.