Friday, April 29, 2005

Stephen Harper - Be not too anxious for an election

Surprise, surprise, but it appears that the Conservative party's slavering over the prospect of power might just be making a few "swing" voters uneasy.

To me, this is positively fascinating - the numbers from the poll are pretty much a dead reflection of the last federal election - the Conservatives and Liberals more or less at a tie. The only interesting change appears to be some gains for the NDP and Green Party.

Given some of the comments that I have heard from the Conservative Party MPs - such as Jason Kenney - make it clear that they are positively salivating over the prospect of winning an election, a poll or two that suggest that the Conservative Party is not gaining a lot of credibility as a result of the Liberal Party's problems.

Some of the attitude coming from the Conservatives suggests to me that they want to _RULE_, not _GOVERN_. Given the fact that Jason Kenney in particular has made it painfully clear that he is either unwilling, or unable, to deal with those that question his views, I suspect that they lust after power, and once there will make the worst excesses of either Pierre Trudeau or Brian Mulroney look like a pair of schoolboys. The fact that Jason Kenney's office cannot even be bothered to acknowledge correspondence from a resident of the constituency, I can only surmise that the man is wilfully ignoring the correspondence. Even Ralph Klein's office will at least acknowledge correspondence - and Klein is among the most arrogant of politicians.

Add to this, running around in the background of the Conservative Party is a sizable number of "Theo-Conservatives" - people like Ted Byfield who believe that Stephen Harper owes them a debt of some sort, and will come demanding payment around about the time that Mr. Harper looks like he will become the Prime Minister of this country. I have yet to see anything that convinces me that the party has moderated the influence of these people.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A New Ambassador from Washington

So, the Great Bush is sending a new emissary to convey his messages to the great unwashed masses that live in Canada.

Granted, almost anyone would be an improvement on Paul Cellucci who acted as though it was his duty to dictate to Canadians how we should conduct ourselves.

However, his replacement is hardly someone that I'm optimistic about. David Wilkins is from South Carolina, and apparently knows very little about Canada. I can't imagine this is going to improve relations with Washington.

With the policy coming from the White House still coming from the same testosterone fuelled aggression that has launched two wars in the Middle East, and squandered what little credibility the US has on the world stage, Wilkins will be sorely challenged to put a spin on things that makes Canadians feel more comfortable with his masters in Washington.

On top of that, we get to spend the next four years educating another clueless American from the deep south about the 'Great White North'. Cellucci never bothered to learn anything about Canada - he simply spent his time hectoring us about how we weren't toadying up to Bush's delightful policies.

A Deal With The Devil

That's what Stephen Harper is calling the agreement on the Federal Budget between the Liberals and the NDP.

What Harper expected when he withdrew any practical support for the budget last week, I don't know. Martin had exactly three options at that point:

a) Do nothing, and let the government collapse on the budget vote.
b) Approach the NDP to make a deal that might allow the government to win the budget vote.
c) Approach the Bloc to make a deal.

The odds of reaching a credible deal with Duceppe are approximately zero, and any such deal would be sure to alienate Liberal MPs from Ontario. (If not Ontario voters themselves - it's not as though Duceppe's line plays very well outside of Quebec)

While Harper is whining about a "deal with the devil", I wonder about Mr. Harper's own alliances. On the surface, it appears that the Conservatives have made some kind of arrangement with the Bloc - certainly Duceppe and Harper have been sounding suspiciously similar lately. If I were to look at accusations of "Deals with the Devil", I would have to wonder about the Conservatives getting all cuddly with the very party whose sole purpose in existing is to destroy this nation.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in the Conservative Party ranks, one has to wonder what factions are running around busily reinforcing their positions. Ever since Harper was elected leader, various groups have been acting as though he owes them some kind of debt.

No matter how much the Conservatives and the Bloc are salivating over the prospect of a spring election, now is not the time for it. Yes the polls are showing the Liberals bruised and battered, and I doubt that Justice Gomery's report in a few month's time will be particularly flattering. However, Canadians have been to the polls two, and even three times in the last twelve months. Even those who actually find politics and national affairs interesting are beginning to suffer from fatigue-induced apathy.

I for one am among those who really isn't interested in another 4-6 weeks of campaigning going on this spring. Frankly, I'd much rather dig in my garden and paint my house rather than deal with all of the mass stupidity that is an election campaign.

Just because people are upset with the Liberals doesn't automatically mean that Harper will reap the benefits in an election. There are other parties out there - the NDP, the Green Party and others who will be looking for their "share" of the Liberal carcass. I'm disgusted with the whole Sponsorship Scandal, but I'm also disgusted with the arrogance of my Conservative MP, and equally unimpressed with Harper's performance so far. The Conservatives might just find that there is a cranky, uneasy electorate out there - especially in Ontario where the undercurrents in the Conservative party leave many feeling a bit queasy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

On the evils of "Relativism"

Lately, I have seen a rash of writing from conservative commentators complaining about the preponderance of relativism, and how it is causing society to crumble.

Typically the objection is that relativism is causing a breakdown in the "moral fibre" of society by removing absolute prohibitions against various "evils", and replacing them with what they perceive as "self-gratification" oriented perspectives.

They complain that the relativist position has no respect for the framework of boundaries that society is built upon. In its purest form, the notion of relativism is that everything is measured relative to its context. The conservative complaint is that doing so is fundamentally dangerous because there are no absolute prohibitions. Therefore, they complain, the acts of Clifford Olson (for example), could be condoned in a purely relativistic sense.

Further, the conservative will tend to associate (incorrectly), atheism, relativism and rationalism. In making such associations, the conservative - especially the religious conservative - will further assert that people arguing from a relativistic perspective are therefore also amoral.

First, the assumption that a relativist argument is amoral is fundamentally incorrect. Most people have very good moral compasses internally. We try to be courteous to those around us, and generally we don't go trying to do things that would hurt others. There are those whose moral compass doesn't quite work right, and we have a legal system for dealing with those people. In some cases, these people simply behave in a criminal manner, and wind up either in prison, on probation or otherwise supervised for some period of time. The most severe cases are people who suffer mental illness of some sort that inhibits their "moral compass", and thus provokes them into committing horrific acts.

Second, the religious conservative will tend to argue that without some kind of foundation (the Bible for many), you cannot have an adequate moral groundwork upon which to build a society. I will agree that a common understanding is necessary in order to build a successful social structure, but it is not necessarily the case that the understanding be based upon scripture or some mythological foundation. Canadian society grew up under the quasi-puritan influence of early immigrants, and our core laws have always reflected that past. (Remember, it was Pierre Trudeau that removed sodomy from the criminal code in the 1960s) Up to that point, we had a law present that was clearly derived from interpretation of Scripture. Talk to any 20-30 year old person today about bringing such a law back, and most of them will look at you as if you had just sprouted a horn from your forehead.

The conservative critics of relativist arguments worry that the relativist is acting in a purely selfish manner. From the conservative perspective, the problem is that people start doing "what feels right" rather than what is "right for society". The conservative notion is derived from the idea that personal sacrifice betters society.

Further, the conservatives accuse relativism of "bending with the trends". They claim that a relativist creates a problem by adjusting their beliefs as the context and information provided changes. It is true that a relativist will adjust their conclusions and beliefs based on new information. It is perhaps this single aspect of the relativist viewpoint that causes the conservative so much difficulty. Unlike the current conservative crop, a relativist will examine new information and ask themselves if it changes their understanding. The last 100 years have been filled with huge amounts of new information in a plethora of areas. Much of that information has caused people to begin questioning the validity of the assumptions that they have been using - and often concluding that the assumptions derived entirely from scripture are at best suspect.

Of course, we must bear in mind that the conservative is in fact a relativist as well. The very scriptures that the social conservatives of today use as some kind of absolute prohibition are inherently relativistic in nature. They were written by humans at some point in time. The scripture, even if it is divinely inspired, is still written by a human being relative to their momentary context in the world. In the Christian faith, this is painfully obvious in the distinctly different flavours of the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament speaks in highly legalistic terms, and is centered around a wrathful, angry God; the New Testament is much more allegorical in its wording, and speaks much more of forgiveness. There is a huge gap between when the books of the Old Testament were recorded compared to the New Testament. Unsurprisingly, they reflect very different societal needs.

So, the next time a Theo-Con complains about "relativism", it's a good thing to remember that they too are relativists - only working from different assumptions.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Why should Churches Listen to the Secular Masses?

A letter to the editor in today's Calgary Sun led me to Licia Corbella's article on the reaction of many to the selection of Joseph Ratzinger as the new Pope.

In her column, Ms. Corbella made a few arguments, and raised a question that I think actually warrants a bit of consideration. I'll come to the question a bit later on. First, I want to address a few of Ms. Corbella's points about the R/C Church's theology, and in particular areas where the Church is substantially out of step with knowledge the world possesses today.

Argues Ms. Corbella:

These "progressives" are clearly not very deep thinkers. They actually try to make the illogical argument that the reason for the AIDS epidemic in Africa is because Pope John Paul II didn't sanction the use of condoms.

Wrong, Ms. Corbella. The problem is not that the Church is not in the business of distributing condoms. The problem is that the Church(es) run a lot of the hospitals in Africa. They dictate to their physicians that they cannot instruct their patients in the use of condoms. There are several problems with this. First of all, it is the Church sticking its nose into Medical Treatment administered by a physician. The second point is that regardless of whether or not you condone extra-marital sex, it happens. Once someone is infected with HIV, the question is not about their behaviour's morality, but rather how does one take steps to ensure that the infection is not spread further by that person. Recognize the very human failings that we all suffer from, and give the patient the tools to protect those that they are closest to.

In case they didn't notice, he also didn't sanction sex outside of marriage and having more than one sexual partner, which if adhered to would make the use of condoms unnecessary and the spread of AIDs impossible. Yet few appear to be following those edicts, so what makes anyone think they'd follow the condom edict?

Second piece of false logic. AIDS is spread by more than mere sexual contact. Condoms are one part of the issue. Dirty needles from drug use, certain simian species carry the virus in Africa, adding a number of not fully understood vectors of infection to the mix. So what happens? Someone who otherwise follows every edict of the church gets infected by accident, and infects their family. Eventually, they die, and the wife remarries. She's infected, and further spreads the infection. Sorry, Licia, but there is much more to the spread of AIDS than simply acting "morally" by following the Vatican's edicts.

Frankly I don't give a damn about the morality of extra-marital sex. That is not the objective. The objective is to do whatever can be done to contain the most lethal virus to hit humanity in centuries. Why? So the damn thing doesn't get a further chance to mutate and become an airborne pandemic or worse. The clergy is free to make whatever pronouncements they like from the pulpit - that's just fine. To assume that those edicts are sufficient to contain something like HIV is so simple-minded I can scarcely believe anyone would be so naive.

Further reasoning goes like this:

"We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one's own ego and one's own desires," the 78-year-old said.

The new pope nailed it. As the belief in absolutes diminishes, our society stumbles. People increasingly think that you determine what is right by what FEELS good. Only problem is, for Clifford Olson, that means raping children and driving nails into their skulls. For others, it's shooting drugs into their veins, and for others its stealing your car.

Again, Ms. Corbella's logic is flawed. The claim here is essentially that relativism demands lawlessness. This is incorrect. Most people that argue from a relativistic perspective do not accept anarchy as an option. Instead, they ask whether or not a given action causes harm to others. There is no question that Clifford Olson caused a great deal of harm to others, and few would argue that he should be allowed to do his thing unfettered. On the other hand, how quick would the Church be to apologize for someone getting beaten to death when the defendant argues that his priest told him that such people are evil? If the response to the "pedophile priests" cases in the last few years is any clue, the church might think about an apology long after the victims and their relatives are long dead. Since the Church has claimed that homosexual acts (and by inference for many, homosexuals) are evil, it is not inconceivable that some nut bar will decide that they are being told to excise evil from the world around them. I won't argue that the church is in fact culpable in such an instance any more than I can argue that relativism is responsible for Clifford Olson's acts.

Getting to her opening question:

"So, what's it to you?" I asked. "Why should the Catholic church listen to the likes of you?"

Quite a bit. My argument is that by ignoring the knowledge gained in the last few hundred years, the Church is in fact making decisions and policy that are indeed quite harmful to others outside of the Roman Catholic faith. In other words, regardless of their perceived role as "shepherds" of the people, the Church has entered into areas such as running hospitals. By doing so, and then dictating standards of medical practice to the doctors based not on medical science but on theology they are in fact doing much more than acting as moral shepherds to the people.

Adapting to knowledge gained is not "bending with the trends", it is a recognition that our understanding of the world around us is changing and growing, and with it our grasp on the subtleties of the human condition. For the Church to continue to act as if we live in a world identical to the era in which Scripture was originally written is equivalent to an ostrich putting its head in the sand. If the Churches do not learn to adapt, then they will simply calcify and become more and more irrelevant to the world.

So - why should the Church listen to the masses beyond their clergy? It seems pretty simple to me - like Darwin's model suggests - adapt, or die. Of all Churches, the Roman Catholic Church is uniquely positioned to know that, and to be able to learn from its own past. Sadly, in the last 50 years or so, the "conservatives" have taken over the upper echelons of the Church and appear bound and determined to avoid any meaningful change. The secular world is not ignorant, nor is it blindly relativistic. We understand things about humanity today that were not even conceived of 2000+ years ago when the Scriptures were written. It is the height of idiocy to assume that one can only interpret the scripture without considering the secular reality of the world.

This isn't about condoms, gay rights, women's lib or anything else - it's about whether or not the secular world is going to embrace the church or continue to shun it as an irrelevant artifact of an era long past. A living artifact perhaps, but an artifact nontheless.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Thoughts on a new Pope

With Canada's Parliament on the verge of self-destructing amid the allegations of the Gomery Commission, it seems an odd time to be reflecting on something as remote as the election of a new Pope. However, in the midst of Canada's governmental upheaval, events in the Vatican have gone ahead oblivious to our more local crisis. Last week, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elevated to the Papacy by his peers in the College of Cardinals.

I'm not a Roman Catholic, so it's not as though I feel any personal "bond" to the Pope. Frankly, I've often viewed the Papacy as substantially irrelevant to me. The edicts from the Vatican in Rome have often left me feeling that the Church leadership was so out of touch with my reality that it was largely irrelevant. However, the Roman Catholic Church holds an enormous political weight on the world stage, and the Pope is the man who sets the policy of the church, and directs its Cardinals, Bishops and Arch-Bishops who act as its representatives on the rest of the world. The Vatican's status in the United Nations as an Observer State gives it a political weight on the world stage, and one that influences all of us, Catholic or not.

Pope John Paul II did wonders for the Roman Catholic Church among the youth of the world. He was an eminently capable "show man" who seemed able to establish a connection with the youth generation. However, at the same time, it was under his direction that the Church policy hindered a great many otherwise positive movements in the world. The policy of pushing abstinence in Africa, and denying people in those countries the knowledge of how condoms could help prevent the spread of AIDS is one of the more glaring misuses of scriptural teaching in the context of the human price to be paid. Cardinal Ratzinger authored the following Letter about AIDS in his capacity of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, oversaw the very body that has its roots in what used to be the Inquisition. If there was ever a body created by the Roman Catholic Church that abused its position and authority, it was the Inquisition. The never-ending search for "heresy" led the church to dispossess people of their lives, livelihoods, and worldly goods on the word of others whose self-interest was either preservation or aggrandizment. Although redefined and reconstituted many times over the centuries, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is hardly a body that stands tall in the Church's accomplishments. In University, I spent a good deal of time learning about the Inquisition and its work. After that experience, I came to the personal conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church owes the world an apology for its conduct during this period. (An apology that has never been made)

As the man responsible for "the purity of the faith", Cardinal Ratzinger has written many documents over the years that speak loudly to where he is going to lead the church. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger has held perhaps the most inherently conservative part of the Church hierarchy. If past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, then the world is in for a rocky period with Ratzinger in the Papacy.

Why? Consider the following list of writings, all of which are Ratzinger's own:

Dominus Iesus

This is a long document, but it essentially argues that "salvation" can only occur in the greater context of the Roman Catholic Church. Although Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of "listening" to the world, but it hardly makes it seem likely that the Roman Catholic Church under this Pope will make positive progress in its relationships with other faiths. If Pope Benedict XVI believes as Cardinal Ratzinger believed that other Churches are essentially "wayward children", there is little or no chance of any meaningful theological reconciliation between the different branches of the Christian faith, much less with practitioners of Islam.

Pastoral Letter on Homosexual Persons

This document refers to homosexual acts as "evil". It references back to documents that were written in the Church in the mid-1970s and earlier. Although the letter very cautiously hedges around the notion of "evil", claiming that homosexual acts are "evil" simply guarantees that most readers will read into it that homosexuals themselves are evil, and therefore should be persecuted/marginalized etc. (As Bishop Fred Henry has argued in the very recent past)

The letter I referenced earlier about AIDS is another example of how the good Cardinal has taken stances which are completely out of touch with the realities of the human experience.

You will observe, quite correctly, that these letters are quite old, dating back to the mid-1980s. Therefore, one could argue that perhaps Cardinal Ratzinger has moderated his views on the road that has led to his elevation to the Papacy. In response, I refer you to two more recent publications that bear his name:

1) A "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World"
2) "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons"

Cardinal Ratzinger is also known to have spoken out very strongly against "moral relativism", continuing the Church's ongoing stance of absolute "right and wrong" in the world. Unfortunately, the Church's absolutism is precisely the reason that there is a problem today. The Church continues to assert positions and believes based on archaic and disproven assumptions. It defends those positions on the basis of scripture and ignores the cold reality of the world that we live in today. A thousand years ago, it was a rare thing for someone from Europe to travel into the Middle East. Today, a journey like that is a plane ticket and a mere few hours away. The Internet allows people all around the world to communicate more readily than ever before, further reducing barriers. It is only in regions where the leadership actively supresses such open communication that the rigid belief systems of the Church continue to truly flourish in the day to day lives of the people.

Unless there is a serious change of heart happening as he settles into his new role as Pope Benedict XVI, the world is likely to be subjected to an ongoing, and ever more rigid interpretation of Catholic faith. The special status of Vatican State as an observer nation in the UN gives it a voice in the political and secular world of government. That voice is very troublesome. The Roman Catholic Church will continue to attempt to assert political sway over the laws and policies of the governments of the world. Religion has all too often served as a justification for war, aggression and abuse of people. To characterize people as evil, as the Roman Catholic Church has done repeatedly in the past (recent and distant) is not just troubling, but frustrating indeed.

I will refrain from the "Darth Ratzinger" gags that have been rippling about ever since he was elevated to Pope, however, I will watch his acts as Pope very carefully. I can hope that this man is capable of growing beyond what he has expressed this past year, but I have my doubts. Non-Catholics as well as Catholics have a legitimate reason to watch the leadership of the Catholic Church carefully.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Martin Attempts to Rally

Earlier this week, Canadians were treated to the sight of Paul Martin asking for the time to wait for the Gomery Inquiry to complete its report this fall before an election.

I must confess to some mixed feelings on the matter. I am quite disgusted with the obvious corruption that riddled the upper echelons of the Liberal party at that time - some of it at least borderline criminal in severity.

On the other hand, one thing that has become quite clear to me lately is that Paul Martin wasn't the man at the helm at the time, and Jean Chretien appears to have done his level best to exclude Martin from a lot of things. The vagaries of party politics and name meant that Chretien had to give Martin a fairly prominent post in the cabinet; it did not mean that he had to involve Martin in his pet projects.

A serious criticism of the Chretien government was the concentration of political power in the Prime Minister's Office ("the PMO"). Legitimately, I think much of what went on under the Sponsorship Program was done without any real knowledge on Martin's part.

The Opposition Parties are salivating at the notion of a spring election - seeing Liberal fortunes in the polls fall to lows not seen since the days before Mulroney's election.

This voter is unconvinced that any of the Opposition Leaders is anywhere near ready to lead this nation.

I had high hopes for Jack Layton, and he may yet grow into the role, but his antics during the last election don't leave me feeling overly optimistic. He's persistent and consistent in his positions, which I admire, but his theatrics are over the top, and lose credibility very quickly.

Gilles Duceppe, for all that he is well spoken, simply should never be at the helm of this country. He represents a vision of Canada that I think few really believe in - a Canada without Quebec. I am not a Quebecer, but I believe that both of Canada's infamous "two solitudes" are the richer for their association with one another.

As for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, he is a man at the helm of a party that I simply do not trust. The howls of "a debt owed" by people like the Byfields make me suspect that the religious wing-nut faction of the party is still a major influence in the back rooms; their fiscal arithmetic last election was laughably bad.

I am old enough to appreciate just how awful Brian Mulroney was as Prime Minister of this country; Harper worships at Mulroney's altar - hardly a sign of something that makes me hopeful. Harper has been pretty clear that he would cowtow to American policy demands, turning us effectively into a vassal state to US paranoia and aggression. It was the latter years of Mulroney's era that bought us the debt and deficit that the Liberals spent the 1990s erasing.

I think the Liberals need a good, solid, spanking at the polls - but none of the mainstream parties have my confidence either in their policies or leaders. Martin doesn't strike me as a bad man, nor do I believe that he was a major player in the rot that pervaded Chretien's inner circles.

Perhaps I shall vote Green - their policies are surprisingly mature looking - relatively middle-ground and generally moderate (I'm not so sure that making policy that is environmentally sensitive is a bad idea right now - big business is fighting Kyoto tooth and nail, and I'm just not convinced that there is good reason to do so). I don't know their leader, but maybe its time to consider alternatives that are outside of the current parliament - especially if the slavering idiots in the opposition trigger an election before the Gomery report comes out.

(BTW - even though Gomery is a judge, he is not hearing a trial right now - so his report is unlikely to be the end of the saga, but it should give Canadians a reasonably clear overall picture)

Friday, April 15, 2005

Talk about getting your priorities screwed up...

I'm sitting at home listening to "As It Happens" on CBC. The topic on the radio is an interview with a city official in Boston who is going on about parking costs at Red Sox games.

Listening to this rant, we have this gentleman getting all upset about the cost of parking around the Red Sox ball park. Apparently, some of the parking lot operators are charging in excess of $100 for parking in the vicinity of the baseball field. One of his statements was along the lines of "just because people are willing to pay it doesn't make it right". Followed by something about ensuring that games remain accessible to "average" fans.

Ironic, isn't it. In the land where the so-called "Free Market" reigns supreme, we have civic officials getting bent out of shape about the cost of parking for a sporting event. Meanwhile, the free market is allowed to hurtle out of control in more critical areas such as health care.

I live in Canada - how do I know anything about the US health care system? In terms of costs, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put the pieces together. When it is essential for an average worker to have work-sponsored health insurance in order to afford the cost of a baby's birth, something's wrong. When American border dwellers are finding that it is cheaper to come into Canada to fill their prescriptions, or they order them from Canadian-based Internet Pharmacies, I can only surmise that the costs of these drugs are far beyond what the "free market" is able to pay, much less whether or not those prices are reasonable for seniors on fixed incomes.

It astonishes me that a city will legislate to regulate the costs of parking for a sports event, but the collective legislative bodies in the US haven't got the spine to regulate the health care industry so that the people who need access to it can get that access without fear of being pushed into bankruptcy.

In Canada, it is equally important that we watch our own governments carefully and ensure that whatever structural changes they introduce to the health care system in this country have appropriate checks-and-balances to ensure that those that need access to treatment have timely, appropriate access. The thickness of someone's pocketbook should not dictate their ability to access such critical services.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Looking Forward on the World Stage

In my web travels today, I found the following lurking on Alternet:

Goodbye Uncle Sam, Hello Team Europe

In essence, the author captures much of what I suspect is likely to pass in the next few years - especially if BushCo. continue to hurtle out of control on the world stage.

So Ralph Wants to Help Harper in the Next Election?

The other day, Ralph Klein was quoted as saying that he wanted to campaign actively for the Conservatives in the anticipated early election.

I can't help but think to myself that the best thing Ralph can do for Harper's campaign is shut up and possibly put gags on the more vocal wing-nut members of the Conservative party.

Given the growing level of disgust with the Liberals over the Sponsorship Scandal, and enough wing-nuts in the Conservative camp to make Ontario voters uneasy perhaps we are looking at either the NDP or the Green Party forming the next government.

(Neither of which would be necessarily a bad thing - I'm frankly tired of the antics of both the Liberals and the Conservatives) Maybe if our voters summon a bit of courage, and get out of the "gotta vote for a winner" mindset, we just might get beyond the logjam of two party dominance.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A Victory Strategy?

What the heck is this? Now Rumsfeld is telling troops mired in Iraq that they don't have an "exit strategy", but a "victory strategy".

To me that sounds like a euphemism for a really long term occupation of Iraq. Effectively turning Iraq into a launch point for a future US operations in the Middle East.

Although the insurgency in Iraq has fallen off the headlines on US news sites, there seems to be little indication that it has actually diminished in scope and persistence. This gives the US the perfect excuse to continue maintaining an occupying force in Iraq. Ongoing uncertainty in Afghanistan also allows the US to continue staging forces in that country, preparing for what I suspect is a long desired invasion of Iran sometime in the next couple of years.

(I strongly suspect the current bunch of Neo/Theo Cons in the US administration still have a serious grudge with Tehran stemming from the 1979 revolution and US Embassy hostage incidents)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Religious Assault on Rational Thought

This morning, I find myself reading an article from Saturday's Globe and Mail entitled "No Faith in Science". This, combined with listening to a story in the local news about a rally in "support" of Bishop Fred Henry and his so-called Pastoral Letter, leads me to today's topic.

It isn't particularly news that there is an ongoing dispute between science and religion. Whether one talks about the infamous debate of creationism versus evolution; the Roman Catholic Church's treatment of Galileo; Bioethics, Sexuality, whatever the topic, science often seems to come up "at odds" with religious dogma.

Listening to the article about Bishop Henry, it occurred to me that the protesters are fundamentally unwilling to consider the content of the psychological literature on human sexuality. The claim is made that a homosexual couple cannot possible constitute a family. Yet, on the other hand, the number of children being raised by gay couples is surprisingly large. Due to a variety of social pressures or their own desires as people, many homosexual people are active parents raising children. If, as the religious argument goes, marriage is all about procreation and raising children, then I find it difficult to see how you can argue that a same-gender couple raising children is not a family unit.

Of course, in response, the religious turn around and argue that the children of these families are clearly missing the all-important second gender role model. The psychological studies of the social outcomes for children raised by same-gender couples does not show any unusual deviations from the greater population. There is no increased probability that these children will be homosexual themselves, nor is there any unusual behavioural differences. It would appear that a good parent is a good parent - regardless of sexual orientation, skin colour, hair colour, or whatever.

Groups like the so-called 'Traditional Values Coalition' protest loudly the idea of even studying human sexuality. In response to a sociologist studying the behaviours of truck-stop prostitutes and truckers, the TVC wrote a particularly vicious letter to a congressman referring to the prostitutes as "lot lizards" and other slang. According to the "TVC", studying AIDS is "questionable" use of taxpayer funds. I for one cannot believe that understanding the disease that is currently wiping out an entire generation in Africa is a bad thing.

Of course, the TVC, along with Ted Byfield, believe that everyone should turn to prayer whenever they are "tempted" by something as "evil" as sexuality. Of course, this merely reflects the ages-old misunderstanding of humanity that has been reflected time and again by scripture, with a uniquely misogynistic attitude towards women.

Under George Bush, the various religious groups are dictating the membership of the committees that are supposed to guide the regulation of ethics in the practice of science and medicine. Anyone who is even marginally "liberal" in their positions is being removed from these organizations. Policy is coming out that is largely derived from those that misunderstand the rationalism of science as somehow in direct conflict with their particular faith.

Science is not inherently anti-religious. In general, it tends to pursue explanations of the world around us. Those explanations may call into question current religiously-derived belief, but they are not inherently anti-religious per se. For example, if one reads either Darwin or Galileo carefully, you will find that their writings very carefully make it quite clear that they are not challenging theology itself. Their writings may well question beliefs derived from certain interpretations of scripture, but certainly do not preclude the scripture itself. (This sounds almost contradictory, until you classify scriptural interpretation into two views - literal and allegorical. Because of its age, it is necessary today to start treating scripture in a more allegorical fashion. Otherwise, we find ourselves trapped in a situation where most of the world is so much at odds with what was written over 2000 years ago that there is no solace to be found in the scripture itself)

Those who believe that rational thought has a place in the world have a very tough challenge before them. The extreme groups of the Religious Reich are now organized with substantial funding behind them. Their propaganda campaigns are something that need to be countered. I am not entirely sure how to go about countering these organizations - certainly not "head on". As others have pointed out before, arguing with a fanatic is like mud wrestling with a pig - sooner or later you will start to figure out that the pig is enjoying it. The "faith" argument is very powerful for many people because it provides solace in the form of redemption. Science, and knowledge in general, is a bit cold in this regard. For many, this makes rationalism unappealing.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Renewal? Ralph's Tories?!

The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will hold its "AGM" convention this weekend.

In theory, one of the topics of discussion will be 'renewing' the party in the aftermath of last fall's election.

Somehow, I suspect that the most effective renewal of the Alberta PC's would be finding a leader with the vision and capability of Peter Lougheed. So far, we have had too many leaders (premiers) who have been mere politicians.

Replacing Ralph is the first step, but it is important that whoever replaces Ralph not be too closely associated with Ralph's regime. Why do I say this? Because I suspect strongly that once the current bunch are swept out from power, that we will find a nest of political corruption in Edmonton that will make the $200 Million dollar idiocy of the Sponsorship program look like a walk in the park.

I am deeply suspicious of how long the Alberta PCs have been in power without someone at the helm who is able to reign in the more extreme desires of those that seek power and wealth within the political system. With 30 years of straight majorities under their belt, the party infrastructure has become a self-fulfilling bureaucracy in its own right. If a decade of power results in the Gomery Inquiry, one can only imagine what three times that long has given rise to.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Publication Bans, Inquiries and Blogs

Recently, a blog out of the United States has started posting what is supposedly testimony currently under a publication ban in Canada.

Granted, publication bans don't cross international boundaries, but common courtesy and respect for the legal rights of others does. The testimony in question is from individuals who are currently facing criminal prosecution for their involvement in the AdScam scandal. Crooked or not, no matter how egregious their offenses, these people have a right to a fair trial.

The Gomery Inquiry is about getting to the bottom of the Sponsorship Program, and just how it was run. It is not a criminal investigation, rather it is a review of the operations of government at a particular moment in time. The justice heading up the inquiry has imposed a publication ban specifically to protect the rights of the accused to a fair trial.

The Blogger in the US is quoted on his blog as saying "Publication Bans are Futile". I disagree. In his case, it is a matter of morals and ethics. If the Gomery Inquiry were going on in the United States, and a publication ban were in place, the blogger would no doubt find himself standing in front of a judge explaining his actions today. However, both Canada and the United States purport to be free, open countries with transparent justice systems. Part of that transparency is equality before the courts, and the right not to self-incriminate. Our American friend perhaps needs to step back and consider whether he would want his testimony before a public inquiry to be published prior to a criminal trial on the same matter.

Just as the Canadian media has often respected publication bans originating in the United States, the reverse should also be true. Due process exists for a reason, and respect for that process must go "both ways" across our borders.

Technically, bloggers are not journalists, and therefore are not subject to the same kind of scrutiny. However, we are citizens of nations, and responsible for our actions as such. Attempting to undermine the right of an accused to a fair trial is a serious enough offense that our government should consider demanding the blogger's extradition to Canada to face legal consequences for his actions.

BTW - On the Gomery testimony itself, I don't think it has shown anything yet that is particularly surprsing, and I doubt that the blacked out testimony is all that "earth shattering". The Sponsorship Program will go down in Canadian history as one of the dafter operations of our government, but I do not believe for one minute that any other party would behave any differently. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely - just look at Ralph Klein.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Ugly, Nasty Underside of Rigid Belief

Lurking under the stiff, starched collar of "conservative" propriety is a truly ugly little collection of beasts. In the english language, these creatures have names - Ignorance, Intolerance and Self-Righteousness.

Lately, the so-called "Social Conservatives" have been demonstrating this in spades, and in a number of dimensions. Let's visit the denizens of the bestiary:


At first, this little creature almost appears cute - sort of like a hamster, until you discover that some mad wizard cross-bred the thing with a Komodo Dragon and a salted slug. I do not mean the ignorance of someone who pushes you out of the queue at the coffee shop, but the ignorance that derives from a lack of knowledge.

Bishop Fred Henry has demonstrated this in spades. In his now infamous "Pastoral Letter" railing against same-gender marriage, the good bishop tried to connect homosexuality with pornography, prostitution and adultery. A more amazing piece of illogic I have never seen. Anyone who has even a modicum of background in psychology will recognize that there is no possible link between homosexuality and these other topics. Bishop Henry has demonstrated an obdurate refusal to acknowledge that there is information that renders his assumptions questionable.


Another nasty little beast, the Intolerant masks itself in the chameleon cloak of belief, and the rightness of a belief. Found in the shadows, these creatures are like the animation of the Dust Dragon you find under your bed. Ugly, gross and more air than substance.

Columnist Ted Byfield, and his spawn, Link Byfield, exemplify these creatures. At no time do facts cross their lips unless it is convenient to support their position. The Byfields and their ilk demonstrate their utter intolerance for those that are different from them time and again. They invoke the constitution of this land only when they believe that their "right" to spew vicious epithets against those that are different in thought and belief from them are "attacked". The rest of the time, they heap scorn upon it, claiming that the document is a part of some "Liberal Conspiracy". (If I hear the term "Liberal Conspiracy" from these nut-balls one more time, I'm going to ask them if it is equivalent to the Zionist Conspiracy of Ernst Zundel.

Self Righteousness

These creatures are particularly vicious. The results of some mad priest cross-breeding a harpy with an oak tree, a compost heap and a rhinocerous, these creatures are loud, irritating and very unpleasant to be around - as well as taking up all available verbal space within a few miles of them.

Rigid in their adopted beliefs, these beings perceive the world through a filter that makes them believe that that there are absolute rights and wrongs. These beliefs are usually codified in their unique interpretation of some musty scriptures that were written 2000 years or more in the past, and written by people long dead.

Usually, these people cloak their rigid thinking and unwillingness to consider new ideas in the language of respectable religious belief. Don't be mistaken, religious belief is not in itself rigid or inflexible, but rather these creatures make it such, and then use it as a club to beat others who think differently than they do over the head with it. As I recall, during the debate over Turbans in the RCMP, these creatures were as vehement in their opposition to the Turban as they are acting now over same-gender marriage.

The claim that the world (or society) as we know it will end should the "cause-celebre" of the week come to pass has inevitably turned up false time and again, whether it is women's rights, abortion, divorce, black rights, equality for the ethnically diverse peoples of this nation.

Usually when I start to see these creatures forming around people making argument for some belief or another, I start digging around for the facts - such as they exist, and ask myself if the awful harms to society that they proclaim are probable at all. Usually they are not, and worse, those claiming that world will end in biblical fire do so by co-opting the honest beliefs of people for whom faith is a means to bring a little joy to those around them and using those beliefs for the purposes of asserting political power.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The Irrational Reich

I think it's time for Ted Byfield and his ilk to go join George "Dubya" Bush in Texas. Perhaps between the two of them, they can turn Texas into some kind of Fundamentalist Nirvana based on their uniquely nasty interpretation of Holy Scripture.

In this Sunday's column, Mr. Byfield goes on a rant about how the whole civil rights business that is behind the "gay rights" movement is some kind of Liberal assault on Christianity.

The only reason that the Religious Reich - in particular the Christian Reich - see the gay rights movement as an assault on them is simply because they are slowly losing their right to marginalize people.

Apparently, someone making a human rights complaint about statements that a religious leader made about homosexuality, and how the government should treat homosexuals, this is some kind of assault on Christianity. Bullfeathers! To assert that clergy cannot step over the line from discussion to promotion of discrimination is like asserting that clergy cannot possibly be pedophiles because of their vows to God.

Let's allow the process to do its job, and see what the outcome is. If the Alberta Human Rights Commission gives the complaint before it due consideration, and finds that the Bishop's letter was reasonable, that's fine with me. Equally, if they find that parts of the letter do overstep the bounds of reasonableness, that's fine too. I've studied the Bishop's letter in some detail, and except for a couple of sentences, I don't have any big problems with it. (I disagree with the substance of what he is arguing, but I do not assert that the letter itself is outright hate literature - except for the demand that legislative coercion be used to suppress homosexuality.

Byfield then goes on in his hysterical manner to further suppose that faith itself might be outlawed in this country. Once again, the Religious Reich - in particular loons like Byfield, lose sight of the underlying constitution that guarantees those freedoms. Religion isn't going to be outlawed in Canada. On the other hand, Religion cannot justifiably be used to argue that people should be marginalized either.

The history of organized religion is that it has been used many times over to subjugate, suppress and marginalize people that society as a whole grossly misunderstands. It is time for the religious bodies of the world to come out of their shells, and acknowledge the diversity of humanity in all its forms. Condemning people because of their sexual or gender identity is every bit as false a condemnation as someone's ethnic origins, religious beliefs or cultural past.

The fury of the Ted Byfields of the world should be directed not at the "gay rights" movement that they seem so afraid of, but instead at the rigid interpretation of 2000+ year old scripture that they have had fed to them for their entire lives. It is not merely homosexuals that are marginalized by church teachings - women are, people of different ethnic origin (remember the Crusades?), etc. Before that, Mr. Byfield's oh-so-righteous Christianity was itself persecuted by the Romans.

Remember, Mr. Byfield, the same constitutional rights that protect people from discrimination, also protect your religious beliefs. There is a middle ground, and it is time that you begin to seek it out.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Pope and Politics

Today, the Roman Catholic Church's leader died.

Pope John Paul II was unquestionably a conservative in the very classic sense of the word. He took firm, absolute positions on many issues that were rooted in the oldest teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Whether the topic was the ordination of women into the priesthood, contraception, divorce, family it didn't seem to matter. This Pope stood by the word and interpretation of the Catechism and Vatican II. Per se, I am not adverse to this, the Pope was doing exactly what I would expect a true conservative to do - preserve the way things are. Within the microcosm of the Roman Catholic Church, that's what he did.

Of course, in the intervening years of his papacy, many events have unfolded that suggest equally that some of that conservatism may have been misguided.

The uncovering of child molesting priests that had been shuttled from diocese to diocese among the most serious of the events to come to light. The Roman Catholic Church's apparent silence and complicity in this matter has deeply damaged the credibility of the moral high ground that the church is in theory supposed to represent.

The outbreak of AIDS in the late 1970s, and its spread into a generation killing pandemic in Africa is another deeply troubling aspect of the practical application of Church doctrine. The refusal to even allow medical practitioners in Roman Catholic sponsored hospitals to talk to patients about the safe use of condoms is reprehensible. It's all fine and dandy to talk about monogamy, abstinance and the like, but when the cultural reality that you are dealing with isn't working from those assumptions, your assumptions need to be reviewed - very carefully. That position alone is costing an entire continent a generation of its people, possibly more.

Combined with a history where the Church has a long record of acting in terms of its own beliefs and self interest without acknowledging where it has gone awry (e.g "forgiving" Galileo some 300 years later), or the condemnation of thousands in Europe to burning for "witchcraft" - a practice that in the cold light of history has more to do with power and the acquisition of wealth, which the Church has been suspiciously silent about.

When those in the Church hierarchy step forward and assert possession of some kind of moral high ground in the affairs of mankind today, I look over the history, and the failure in so many cases of the church to "come clean" - acknowledge both successes and errors - and I cannot help but wonder if those same people are not in fact speaking from a cynical desire for some kind of personal gain - political prominence, media attention, whatever.

In some of the Western democracies, there has been a rising movement to make the Church once again a prominent player in the politics of our nations. To say the least, this is deeply suspect, and highly problematic. The western nations are no longer homogenous (were they ever?) Canada and the US both face a time in the not too distant future where those of Western European descent will become population minorities. It would be the height of arrogance to assume that there is any true unity of belief once one gets beyond certain fundamentals such as freedom of speech and association.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Of Power and Popularity and the Media

But yesterday, Terri Schiavo passed away - ending a life at the center of what could be the defining moment in the civil rights discussion of the 21st Century. No matter where you believed the Schiavo case should have wound up, it is unquestionably a matter of discussion for quite some time.

But, Terri's unfortunate demise is overshadowed, almost in the same day, by a sudden turn for the worse in the health of Pope John Paul II. The Pope is an old man - frail and infirm, suffering through the final stages of old age - an affliction that none of us escapes, even if we survive all of the other things that may kill us sooner. Nobody should be surprised that he is on his deathbed, yet the coverage on the radio has been like a play-by-play of a sporting event.

Most of us pass this world more or less unnoticed by all but our closest friends and family. A few rare people attract a bit more attention when they finally die (for example, Pierre Trudeau)

Yet, at a time when Terri Schiavo has yet to even be buried, the world's attention turns away from her and the plight that was her life. The media is suddenly focusing on the unremarkable passage of the Pope's final hours. It appears that attention in the media is like my parrot's - short lived at best, until something shinier shows up. I realize that the Roman Catholic church is huge, and that they possess the spiritual lives of a lot of this world's people. The death of a Pope is a major event in the scheme of things - and for the next few weeks, we will no doubt hear about all of the good that Pope John Paul II did for the world - repeatedly. For all that I disagreed with the man on many topics, I do admire him for his intellect and what he did contribute to the spiritual community. This is not my point at all. The Pope's death is very average - insignificantly so - he will die as many of us do, ending a long, public life. Does he leave the kind of society shaking questions that Terri's passage did? No.

Instead, we have a situation where the media is attracted not to the real issues of the world, but like a magpie to the shiniest thing in sight. The powerful and popular get the focus. Cases like Terri's quickly become back page news - taking the back seat to ailing Popes, and celebrities like Michael Jackson - who is on trial for behaving like a Priest.

Terri Schiavo's case opens a whole raft of questions about disabled rights, quality of life, wishes of the severely ill, the right to die, rights of family - both by marriage and by blood, the government's involvement in those decisions. The world needs to take these issues seriously.

I can only hope that once the Pope is dead and buried, that the media does the world a service, and once again turns its attention to the issues that Terri Schiavo's life - and death - came to represent.

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...