Monday, January 31, 2005

Letters to my MP

Last night, I decided that it was time to take my MP (Jason Kenney - ugh!) to task on the same-gender marriage conversation. Here's what I sent him:

Dear Mr. Kenney,

Having listened to, and considered carefully the issues being discussed in the debate over the legal recognition of same-gender marriage in Canadian Law, I am writing to you as a constituent to request that you consider the following in your decision on how to vote on the much anticipated legislation on this matter:

1) Harm to society. I find it difficult to believe that irreparable harm to Canadian society will result from permitting same-gender marriages to be recognized in law. The understanding of marriage has changed dramatically over the course of the last 100 years or so, and at no time has the foundation of society crumbled as a result of any of those changes. I fail to see how legal recognition of same-gender unions is likely to occur in sufficient numbers to ultimately affect the overall fabric of Canadian society. (Even the most optimistic estimates of the Gay and Lesbian population is somewhere below 5%)

2) Inclusiveness. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is clearly a document which is highly inclusive in form and wording. The authors of the Charter of Rights were clear in their wording that the document shall be interpreted in an inclusive manner. The Gay and Lesbian community in Canada should no more be marginalized than the Chinese living in this country. Our nation is made strongest by including all of our citizens, not relegating small groups to the margins where resentment can fester.

3) Cost. Ultimately, one thing is clear in the civil rights discussion in this country. If Parliament does not move to clarify the legal situation, each law which uses the word Marriage will sooner or later be subject to challenge before the courts. This would be little more than a 'death of a thousand cuts'. The Canadian Taxpayer - of which I am one - is not going to be pleased with the parliamentarians who subject Canada to such a costly waste of their time and money when the outcome is clear.

4) Many have suggested a prohibition backed by invoking the so-called "NotWithstanding" clause in our Charter. Not only is such a prohibition unnecessary, it is going to do no more than defer the subject by 5 years, and force the country to re-open an old wound at that time. Again, this is a very expensive, and generally pointless strategy as it does nothing to resolve the legitimate legal issues that are being challenged.

5) The last point of discussion is that of Religious Freedoms. Those are guaranteed, and protected under the Charter every bit as strongly as the civil rights questions that have been put before the courts. Therefore, it seems unlikely, and unreasonable to allege that there is some impact on Freedom of Religion. In fact, the Supreme Court commentary on the proposed legislation this fall was eminently clear about that. In this regard, I might expect the government's proposed legislation to make some statement about the freedoms of the churches in this regard (although that is bounded by the provincial authority over the solemnization of marriage).
6) Tradition. The argument that we are changing a "tradition" that has not changed in millenia is at best specious. At one time in our not so glorious past, marriage was a property contract between a man and the wife's father. Further, at various times, other societies have engaged in polygamous marriage. The notion of marriage we have been working with has been in use by Western European society for a few thousand years. Prior to that, Greco-Roman civilization had a much different view of it. Therefore, when the argment of "tradition" is brought forward, it seems to me that the counter question is "whose traditions?".

In short, I ask you to treat this as a matter of legal and civil rights, and not as a matter of morality or artificial social tradition. To legislate against legal recognition of these unions simply marginalizes a contributing segment of Canadian society, whilst continuing to burden that segment of society with the expectation that they will contribute to the well-being of this country just like any other citizen.
It will be interesting to see how Mr. Kenney responds to this. Last time I wrote to him on a subject, it resulted in a silent hiatus from the community newspaper for nearly six months. Somehow, I'm not optimistic that I'll see any kind of intelligent response...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraq's First Vote

Today marks the first time in decades that the Iraqi people had something resembling open elections. I say resembling since the situation on the ground in Iraq has been sufficiently violent to render the Iraqi political environment rather opaque.

Of course, the United States (in particular G. W. Bush) are proclaiming this to be some kind of historic event. The outcome has yet to be seen, and will be somewhat suspect anyhow. At least one of the major tribal groups in Iraq has not been fully voiced:

But reports from central Sunni cities, such as Falluja, Samarra and Ramadi, say not all polling stations opened, and there was at best a trickle of voters.
For all that the Sunni are the group that backed Saddam Hussein, no vote which excludes a significant proportion of a nation's populus can be considered valid.

Held against a backdrop of near civil war conditions in Iraq, and a nation under foreign occupation, the world must hold the outcome of this vote with some suspicion. At the same time, the Iraqi people are to be congratulated on what appears to be a high voter turnout, in spite of car bombings and strongarm tactics of various players.

It will be a long road for Iraq to achieve what I understand democracy to be. I suspect that the tribal/regional divisions of the country will ultimately sunder it into three smaller powers before freedoms of speech, press and association manage to become part of the national psyche.

Although Bush and Blair will trumpet this election as validating the "rightness" of their campaign in Iraq, the world - especially the Arab world - will not easily forget that the pretext for invading Iraq was based on what could only be politely be described as a fiction.


Friday, January 28, 2005

Failures to Comprehend...

The English language is a subtle language, filled with sweeping generalities and subtle shadings of meaning. Used well, it can produce some of the finest, most enduring poetry the world has ever known. Used poorly, it merely serves to obfuscate the topic at hand.

In my morning web travels, I read Michael Coren's column in the Sun newspapers. As I would expect, he was off ranting about how "traditional marriage" must be preserved. Ultimately, he pointed to a group, Enshrine Marriage Canada, that wants to amend the Constitution of Canada to specifically define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. I will grant this group that for a change they aren't using the language of Religious Expression to justify their position. I consider that to be a refreshing change. Their basic argument is that society should value heterosexual marriage above all other relationships because of its procreative nature. Their argument is essentially biological in form, and I'll get into that a bit later.

Their proposed amendment reads as follows:

Enshrine Marriage Canada recommends that Section 91(26) of the 1867 Constitution Act, which currently lists "marriage and divorce" as enumerated federal powers, be amended to read, “marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman, and divorce."
Sounds not too bad as amendments go (unlike some I have seen proposed). However, they create their own problem with this. By tying it to the enumeration of Federal powers in the 1867 Constitution Act, Enshrine Marriage Canada's proposal does not in fact define marriage, rather it only defines that aspect of marriage which the Federal Government has authority over. So, if the courts of the land declare that same-gender marriage should be legalized, it then becomes something that has to happen at the level of the provinces individually. Welcome to the slipperiness of the English language.

Further, the principles of the 1982 Constitution which are at play here are designed to be read inclusively. Therefore, if the Constitution were worded as proposed above, it could still be interpreted to include same-gender unions. It's difficult to create a solid exclusion when the framework you are working with is inherently inclusive in nature. (Anyone with a bit of mathematical set theory in their background will understand this almost immediately)

The Globe and Mail's website has a rather interesting article written by a pair of Sikh lawyers that live in Canada. It appears to be a response to the rather sharply worded proscription that Paul Martin was subjected to when he was in India last week. I won't go into a detailed analysis of the article here - they said two things that I believe are particularly noteworthy:

Unfortunately, given the highly emotional nature of the same-sex debate, many people have been misled or have misunderstood the issue. We believe the issue is no longer merely one of religious doctrine or moral values; it is now about the interpretation and application of the Charter.
...
In other words, legalizing same-sex marriage reflects the spirit of the Charter and protects the right of each person to believe and be as they are. Sounds like Sikh philosophy to our ears
These are possibly the two most rational paragraphs I have seen written on the subject since it emerged on the national scene last year.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

So...how about them flames?

Oh - right. There's no hockey season this year...the players and owners are squabbling over - what was it? - oh yes, salaries. Like I care. I haven't seen a hockey game since I won tickets at a company Christmas party some years ago.

I was thinking today that I really should be paying more attention to the so-called elections about to take place in Iraq.

So, I went poking around my favourite web news sites (and a couple like al-Jazeera's english language service as well, just out of curiousity).

What do I find? Very little really:

- The insurgents (resistance, freedom fighters, terrorists - whatever) are busy trying to disrupt the election by bombing everything in sight.

- The Americans are, of course, insisting the elections must go forward.

- The British are musing about pulling out of Iraq

Of course, there's been exactly nothing about the elections themselves. There's a couple of hundred parties running. As far as I can tell, they are divided along religious and ethnic lines (this being derived from a CBC Radio article talking about the Kurdish region of Iraq). What are the issues? As far as I can tell, there either aren't any, or they aren't being covered.

My guess is that the US is pulling all kinds of puppet strings to make it look as though there is a 'valid' election going on. I have a sneaky feeling that this election is a little like the Asterix comic 'Asterix and The Big Fight', where it comes down to a fight with the Romans, no matter what happens in the fight between the two village chiefs (Vitalstatistix and Ceramix). The US has too much invested in Iraq to allow for anything other than a pro-US government to be elected. (In fact, they probably can't afford to...)

When Iraq holds an election without foreign troops in the streets to 'keep the peace', then I'll start believing that the outcome has some validity. In the meantime, it's about as interesting as a provincial election in Alberta...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Mangled Latin...er...Logic

QED
abbr.
Latin. quod erat demonstrandum (hatich was to be demonstrated).
Hmmm...it appears that rational thought has evacuated even the sharpened, legally astute mind of Ezra Levant. In what I can only call the most amazingly mangled bit of illogic and random association I have seen in a long time, Levant manages to pull together same-gender marriage, polygamy, pedophilia, Islam, Sharia Law (civil code applications) and feminism.

Wow - and I thought Bishop Fred Henry's tirade was some kind of record for this kind of nonsense.

First, Mr. Levant's line of reasoning boils down this - it's all one big slippery slope. If we legalize same-gender marriages, the next thing to be legalized would be polygamy. Following the slope further down, we descend into intra-family marriage between brothers and sisters.

Following even further, the fact that Canada has accepted (in some jurisdictions only) the application of limited aspects of "Sharia" law in civil law cases, lends credence (in Levant's diseased little mind) that it is not too big a leap to assume that Muslims will start pushing to have their particular breed of polygamy acknowledged in Canadian law.

Okay, slippery slope arguments are a pretty common line of reasoning in this country lately - Mr. Levant is hardly the first speaker to claim some kind of disastrous consequences as a result of legalizing same-gender marriage.

Let's step back from the precipice of the slope for a moment and examine the relationships that are being asserted.

First, what association exists between same-gender marriage and polygamy? Looking rationally at it there is exactly none. Even to assume that the liberalization of law that would allow same-gender marriage would therefore create a viable argument in favour of polygamous marriage is a weak assumption.

Second, Mr. Levant argues:

If the ban on two men marrying is illegal because it violates the Charter's equality rights provisions, then surely the ban on a man and four women marrying is illegal for exactly the same reason.

Actually, Mr. Levant is missing a key point - the social structures that come with a polygamous marriage are more akin to a tribal hierarchy than a marriage among equals. In other words, such a marriage would inherently violate the rights of the people involved to be equals.

Mr. Levant fears that followers of Islam will begin pushing for recognition of their particular flavour of polygamous marriage. Although I don't pretend to be an expert in Islam, the following article from the Islamonline forum makes a point that underscores my equality notes.
As for the condition, it is the confidence of the man that he can actually be totally just and fair between his wives, otherwise he is not allowed to re-marry. The Qur'an stated: "…but if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one…" (An-Nisa': 3) In addition, the other conditions of any marriage must also be present, such as the ability to provide for the family and the ability to satisfy the sexual needs of the woman.
Notice the wording - the wording here speaks to treating the wives equally, but not of the wives as equals of their husbands. The equality provisions of the Charter of Rights would no more permit a marriage construct to be unequal than it would permit discrimination based on gender.

I won't go into the notion of common-law polygamy already existing. Nor would I ignore the legal debates around it. The presence of a rather obscure Mormon sect in British Columbia makes this a very real legal debate in Canada. For the government to be examining the options for dealing with this obscure group is hardly surprising - it presents significant legal and ethical challenges. While the supposed marriages in Bountiful may be illegal under Canadian law, we cannot simply throw the lot into prison - there are children involved, and legitimate family ties that must be considered. I doubt strongly that the presence of such a colony presents a solid threat to Canadian law, so much as a conundrum that has had our governments baffled for a long time.

Mr. Levant's objections to the application of Sharia law in Ontario are interesting - if a trifle irrelevant. First of all, there are serious equality considerations involved in Sharia - in that I will agree with Mr. Levant's objections. Having said that, Mr. Levant omits a few basic considerations:

  1. The application of Sharia principles can only be done with the consent of all parties.
  2. A contract signed under duress or false pretenses is no contract at all under Canadian legal principles. Therefore, if Sharia is used to arrive at a settlement, there is still an avenue of appeal under the duress provisions.
  3. Sharia principles can only be applied to disputes under the civil code. The criminal code of Canada remains in force.
  4. There are provisions in Canada that permit Jewish peoples to arrive at civil resolutions to disputes using what I believe is called Rabbinical Law. In many respects, this is little different than the Sharia discussion.
While there are aspects about Sharia law that are deeply troubling to a Western mind - especially when one considers the female position, we have to also recognize that safeguards are being put in place to ensure that there are 'safety' valves to (hopefully) ensure that things don't get out of hand.

So - what relationship is there between same-gender marriage and Sharia? None. As a matter of fact, the Islamic view of male homosexuality (in particular) is exceptionally harsh. I don't hear Muslim leaders trumpeting in favour of same-sex marriage, nor do I hear any significant move towards demanding recognition of polygamy echoing around.

Oh yes, Mr. Levant moves further along to manage to add pedophilia to the picture:

Today polygamy is illegal, a crime under the Criminal Code. But then again, so was sex with minors, until an activist court lowered the age of consent to 14.

Ah yes, the great bogeyman of the "activist judiciary". Of course, it adds the spectre of pedophilia back to the discussion - even if only as a shadow. I believe that the ruling that Mr. Levant is referring to was related to laws that effectively criminalized many teenagers for doing what comes decidedly naturally at that age. (Whether this is good judgement or not on the part of the participants is another question - one which this author is no longer qualified to speak on)

In short, Mr. Levant's tirade is a beautiful collection of completely unrelated topics - all of which are parts of a valid political discussion, but none of which are reasonably related to each other.

Where Mr. Levant claims that the prospect of legalized polygamy is sufficient reason to ban same-gender marriage, he suggests some kind of "QED" statement has been made.

Descartes is quoted as having said "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). Perhaps in Mr. Levant's case "Cogito ergo spud" (I think, therefore potato) is more appropriate.


Monday, January 24, 2005

The Crux of the Debate

I was poking around the web this morning, when I stumbled across this article from Father Raymond deSouza that had appeared in the National Post in November.

The article itself doesn't say anything particularly enlightening, but its headline hit the nail on the head "Don't Drain Politics of Moral Questions".

Therein lies the root - and crux - of the same-sex marriage debate. In large part, those who oppose same-sex marriage do so on what are largely moral / religious grounds. The classic reaction of "_that's_just_wrong_" accompanied by a facial expression that suggests the speaker was just force-fed a lemon coming forth most visibly in the recent tirades by Bishop Fred Henry, and the Archbishop in Toronto.

Those who seem to be at least nominally supportive of same-sex marriage appear to have moved beyond the notion of homosexuality as a moral issue. They are looking at the current discussion as primarily a legal and ethical issue, rather than as a moral issue.

The churches continue to stand in opposition based on theology that presumes that sexual identity is a matter of personal choice, and therefore is primarily a matter of "moral fortitude". On the other side are those that recognize (implicitly or otherwise) that sexual identity is amazingly unresponsive to attempts to change it, and therefore is likely to have more subtle roots than can be explained by simple "moral choice".

As is so often the case, the two sides are shouting at each other from very different plateaus - they aren't even on the same mountain.

Recent comments by Stephen Harper trying to link same-gender marriage to legalizing polygamy simply underscore the gap. I can't even begin to imagine the correlation in Harper's mind - other than some kind of cheesy "slippery-slope" argument. Like many other random associations thrown out to justify opposition to same-gender marriages, there's no relationship with the topic at hand - not even a tenuous one. However, if you view sexual orientation purely as a matter of choice, one can start to see how the opposition feels justified in tying the issues together.

No matter what the outcome of the upcoming debate is, both sides need to recognize that the world isn't going to end. The sun will still rise in the east the next day; society isn't going to magically collapse into anarchy. Will it change? Yes - maybe not today, but it will change.

The proposed legislation - should it become law - doesn't appear to obligate the various religions to recognize same-gender couples (nor should it), it merely obligates the government to recognize those couples in the legal arenas where that recognition is demanded by the very wording of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That's a very important thing to realize here - the very protections that guarantee freedom of religion, extend to others in ways that the authors of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms couldn't have possibly imagined.

The root of all of these issues is really one of establishing boundaries. The wording of the Constitution is very broad, and deliberately inclusive. As a result, what we are really dealing with today is an open question as to what constitute reasonable limits. Does legalizing same-gender marriage cause some kind of societal harm that would justify limiting rights in that area? Clearly, there are those who argue that such is the case. Their challenge is to make a compelling argument that such is the case. ( I have yet to see any such argument made ).

Friday, January 21, 2005

Four more years...

Of war, lies and idiocy.

On January 25, 2005 George W. Bush was sworn into his second term as President of the United States.

If George's inauguration speech was an indicator of what he has planned for the next four years, the world has little to be optimistic about. Unlike his first inauguration, where Bush basically claimed he was going to focus on domestic issues, this one made it abundantly clear that the US will continue to "export" democracy.

For a half a century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical. And then there came a day of fire.

We have seen our vulnerability and we have seen its deepest source.

For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny, prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder, violence will gather and multiply in destructive power and cross the most defended borders and raise a mortal threat.

We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.

Uh-huh. Right. Signal #1 that GWB and his cronies are most interested in one thing - continuing to prosecute wars in foreign lands - on the faulty assumption that if you attack someone in their own country, they can't return the favour. Nice idea - except terrorists don't obey the same rules as countries.
America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal, instead, is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom and make their own way.
Yeah - we know what kind of governments the US installs in countries - they usually make whatever they replaced look like a Sunday School class. (Remember Pinochet in Chile; or the Military Junta in Argentina; the Shah in Iran?)

If it wasn't bad enough that the US is committed on two fronts right now (Iraq and Afghanistan), there are emerging signs of American designs on Iran. If the US thinks that they will be able to withdraw from Iraq after the coming elections, they are badly mistaken. The odds are distinctly against that - whatever government emerges in Iraq will desperately need American military intervention to support it - otherwise the natural tribal divisions of that land will simply tear the government apart - leaving a mess that will make the Somalia screw up look pretty mild.

Bush's speech avoided talking about local policy - but then again, the last election was won on fear, not on policy.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Taking yourself too seriously?

It seems that conservatives in the US might well be. They're now seeing gays in children's videos.

I think one quote says it all:
WAFF spokesman Mark Barondeso told the newspaper that anyone who thought the video promoted homosexuality "needs to visit their doctor and get their medication increased".
Good Grief - I've heard of silliness, but this really does take the cake!

P.S - I just finished reading some of Bush's inaugural speech. I'll rant about it tomorrow...

Define: Irrelevance

Irrelevance: (n)
formally:
  1. The quality or state of being unrelated to a matter being considered.
  2. Something unrelated to a matter being considered.
informally:
Roman Catholic Church

Late last week, Bishop Henry weighs in on same-sex marriage with a tirade of illogical discourse rooted primarily in fear-mongering and demonization.

Then, a few days later, the ArchBishop in Toronto opens his flap, and more or less echoes Bishop Henry.

Fast forward, and the Church in Spain comes out with what seemed to be a surprisingly enlightened ruling, only to fold like a deck of cards after (no doubt) receiving significant pressure from the Vatican.

For reasons that I can only describe as brain-damaged, the Roman Catholic Church has always proscribed contraceptives. However, in an era where AIDS is wiping out an entire generation (or more) in Africa, and condoms are known to _stop_ the spread of AIDS, I simply cannot accept the morality of the Church's position. When the majority of STDs were treatable and controllable via conventional medicine, I could get by with simple disgust at the suffering that the Church is indirectly inflicting upon its followers. AIDS is unlike other STD's - it is only marginally treatable, and it is inevitably lethal.

Yes, I know that the Church's official position is abstinence until married, and monogamously married for life. However, human beings are not so perfect as the Church would like to believe - they have multiple partners over their lifespans, and it is necessary to be realistic about this.

I don't object to the Church adopting whatever dogma they wish - however, when they turn around and attempt to impose that same dogma upon me and mine, I get very, very annoyed. The same Charter freedoms that guarantee that you are free to practice whatever faith you wish leave me equally free to _not_ practice that same religion.

The more that I see, the more convinced I become that Churches object to things like birth control, gay marriage, divorce and lord knows what else for no better reason than to propogate their control over people's lives.

It's not about morals, or doing "the right thing(tm)" - no, it's about power and control. No more, no less. How is letting an entire generation die "the right thing"? When Churches (any organized religion actually) have instigated wars, self-justified child-abuse on the part of their clergy, fought against other churches for no better reason than differences of opinion, they quickly lose their right to assert that they hold some moral high ground.

They are human institutions, run by human beings, and flawed like all of us. It's time that their teachings started to reflect reality, rather than dogma that is thousands of years old.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Putting it all in Perspective

Look around the world today - it's not a pretty picture.

In Iraq, kidnappings and bombings are the activities of the day.

In Israel, the Israelis are continuing to blame the Palestinians for all the violence taking place in that region. (Of course, none of this could have _anything_ to do with armed occupation and subjugation of the Palestinians, could it?)

Yesterday, it came out that the US may be actively engaging in setting the stage for invading Iran. (A little behind schedule, based on what I've speculated in the past)

Southeast Asia is digging out from a Tsunami that killed 150,000 in a matter of minutes.

In countries like Nigeria, religiously driven laws are being used to sentence women to death - for no better reason than getting pregnant outside of a marriage.

So, why, in Canada, are people getting all tied in knots over the notion of two people in love getting married? It somehow seems so trivial.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Set Theory: Which of these is not like the others?

So, according to a letter authored by Bishop Fred Henry, and read to Catholic Parishoners across southern Alberta at the end of Sunday Mass, Catholics are supposed to take up arms (figuratively) against gay marriage.

Okay, Bishop Henry is perfectly entitled to his opinions - just as I am entitled to disagree with him. Personally, I found Henry's letter rather revealing - both in the line of reasoning applied, but also in terms of what it ultimately represents.

The most glaring error is a classical grouping of words which implies a non-existant relationship between the issues:

Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family,...
Allow me to dissect this, a piece at a time:

1. Pornography - first and foremost is a choice. A person _chooses_ to partake of smut. Just as a person chooses to smoke. There are lines of reasoning that discuss the harm that pornography can do in the context of a family, but that is another topic for another day. The creation of pornographic material is arguably abusive to the people involved, but again, there are clearly issues of consent and adulthood involved.

2. Prostitution - called the oldest profession in the world. The reality of prostitution is once again one of choices. The "johns" who purchase a prostitute's services are, again, making a choice. The impact of that choice on their families is highly subjective - it can range anything from emotional trauma to STDs. The "john" is the consumer here, and is making a distinct choice. Nothing is compelling them. (I won't go into the plight of the prostitutes themselves - that's another story, and like pornography, filled with many complex tales that I can't do justice to here).

3. Adultery - okay - you got married, so now you're screwing around. Brilliant move. And again, a choice. Your marriage may not be happy, but you made some choices, and something went awry. Is there impact on families - absolutely. Again, a matter of choices.

4. Homosexuality. First and foremost, sexual orientation is _not_ a choice. No credible research has ever turned up even the slightest glimmer of the notion that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. Whether homosexual or heterosexual, that seems to be immutable, and stubbornly resistant to any attempt to "change" it on the part of the individual. The so-called "ex-gay" movements (such as Exodus International) claim that orientation is mutable. I have yet to see a paper that backs up these claims without resorting to specious argument.

Bishop Henry's points on the issues of pornography, adultery and prostitution are well taken. They all represent poor choices, especially for someone who is a member of a family. However, to lump homosexuality into that same list is to make the false assumption that homosexuals choose their status. Of course, by claiming that homosexuality is a "choice", the Christian Conservative (and others of similar mind) can then argue that it is a matter of self discipline that results in someone acting on those feelings. (Nothing a good dose of "The Fear of God (tm)" can't cure...)

The second assumption on Bishop Henry's part is that homosexuals do not form families. That is simply false. There are plenty of Gay and Lesbian people who are active parents. How they got to be parents is irrelevant to this discussion. The underlying point is that they are parents, and therefore, unquestionably part of a family unit of some kind. It is incorrect - even dangerous - logic indeed to immediately exclude someone from the pool of "family members" based on their sexual orientation. Further, the psychological evidence does not suggest that children of homosexual parents have any increased incidence of psychological problems. (Validly, prostitutes and pornographers also have families - but that isn't key to my point here)

Not only has the good bishop mangled matters of personal choice (and actions that can do serious harm to the participants) with matters that are not of personal choice, he has further muddied the waters by claiming that homosexuals who are parents are not in fact participating in the concept of family.

The Bishop's argument, when put before a figurative mirror is rather interesting. Bishop Henry further argues:
The principal objective in seeking same-sex “marriage”is not really even about equality rights. The goal is to acquire a powerful psychological weapon to change society’s rejection of homosexual activity and lifestyle into gradual, even if reluctant, acceptance.
So, putting this in front of the "mirror", and staring at it, it becomes painfully clear that the Bishop is not in fact worried about legal same-sex marriage as such, but rather he is worried that his "right" to discriminate against people for their sexual and romantic orientation might be eroded further. In other words, the Church - with it's long history of sodomy and pedophilia (has anyone else forgotten about the "Pedophile Priests" a few years ago, or the various orphanage and residential school scandals????) wishes to continue its right to marginalize people at their moral whim.

Just as the Church spent most of its time in the middle ages hunting "witches" - marginalizing old women, and those who were visibly weak in society, it has turned its sights on homosexuals, demonizing them by falsely associating them with pornography, adultery and other social issues. It is sad to see Bishop Henry making such foolish associations in his arguments. He is an intelligent man capable of a great deal of insight and compassion. I remain disappointed at his obdurate inflexibility to see beyond his own dearly held right to persecute people on this matter.

In Canada, we have a Charter of Rights embedded in our Constitution that makes the notion of equality very, very clear. Just as I will support the Church's right to speak it's mind on these matters - I would never advocate taking away Bishop Henry's voice, I must also stand in opposition to what that voice represents in this matter. So far, the arguments have all boiled down to one thing - the Church wants to keep it's right to continue marginalizing people in society.

If the notion of same-sex marriage is so intractable to the Churches, then I suggest that they propose a legal construct that would permit a same-sex couple the same rights and protections under law that a married couple has. The word marriage is sprinkled throughout our body of laws in this land, and the result is that in many circumstances, life partners of people are shut out from protections that would be provided to any heterosexual spouse simply on the basis of their relative gender to their partner's. (This affects taxes, pensions, insurance coverage, medical treatment (although doctors have come a huge distance in recent years))

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Non Sequitur

So...according to George Bush, the fact that he was re-elected last November means that there is no need to hold people accountable for their actions in Iraq.

There's a non-sequitur here. Bush can freely look upon his recent election victory as an endorsement of his actions. Frankly, I wouldn't blame him for doing so.

However, there's a few things that need to be questioned in any sane assessment of Bush's "policy" on Iraq.

1. Where are the WMDs? Bush and his cohorts claimed rather stridently that Saddam Hussein had all kinds of nasty weapons in reserve. Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations in February 2003 perpetuated that myth. Earlier this month, the US stopped searching for those weapons in Iraq.

Applying a little bit of 'Occam's Razor' to this, there's a limited number of possible explanations:

  1. There never were any WMDs in Iraq
  2. The search was conducted incompetently
  3. Bush, Powell and others knowing lied to the American public, and the world at large.
The simplest explanation is #3. Tell a lie, and repeat it - sooner or later it becomes "truth".

2. Where is the command accountability for what happened at Abu Ghraib? We are seeing lots of highly publicized trials of the low level troops involved, but nobody has made any public attempt to pursue the command issues that are at the root of the problem.

So, while Charles Graner, and others, serve their sentences in military prisons, the interactions between the military, the intelligence people and other players in the Abu Ghraib scandal remain unquestioned and unchallenged.

It is hard to imagine any military command structure allowing events like Abu Ghraib to happen without (at least) tacit approval of the officers in charge.

Yes, in war, ugly things happen. I cannot imagine anyone who would call the Abu Ghraib events "acceptable" behaviour on the part of any military. (I believe the United States is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, and has not (yet) renounced them)

3. What ever happened to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay? The United States continues to detain several hundred people at the Guantanamo Bay facility with no access to due process. Whatever intelligence value these people had is long past relevant, and the US continues to hold them without charge and access to legal counsel and trial.

4. For all of the troops currently occupying Iraq, why is it that the US seems unable to begin to stabilize that country? (I think the reasons for this are obvious - the question is somewhat rhetorical) The recent attack on Fallujah to "root out" the militants had exactly the expected effect - none. All that attack did was create more recruits for those that oppose the American presence in Iraq.

Mr. Bush - you say there is no reason to hold people accountable for your Iraq policy? I think history will judge differently. Under your watch, people have died needlessly; lies have been used to justify an invasion of a foreign land; prisoners of war are being held outside of the established conventions - for a country that purports to be the "leader of the free world", that's a pretty sad indictment.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Under The Radar

I've noticed for quite some time that while the media's attention is focused on Iraq, Tsunamis and other distractions, that the legislators in the US start putting forth some of the more noxious legislation that they want to push through.

If you dig around a little bit (usually on the "back of the news"), you start to find nasty little bits of legislation that quietly take away civil rights or criminalize behaviour for no better reason than the legislator didn't happen to "like" something.

A case in point is a nasty little law in Texas that requires parental consent before a clinic can give birth control advice to a minor, and parental "notification" is required if a minor requests an abortion. Per se, this doesn't sound too bad until you think on it a bit. First of all, even as a teenager, your relationship with your doctor is _privileged_. This legislation not only breaks that privacy, it means that discussion of sexual issues with your physician becomes taboo while the patient is a teen. The motives of the law are valid - to a point. In a perfect world, teenagers would get decent sexual information from their parents. Sadly, because of the quasi-puritan part of the world we live in, most parents are desperately uncomfortable talking about sexuality at all - much less with their own children.

Teenagers, as a rule, don't listen to their parents very well - if at all. On top of that, teenagers are naturally exploring themselves as they mature into adults - that includes sexual activity. Like it or not - it happens - as is evidenced by the fact that women in their teens get pregnant every year. (And no, that's not a failing of "lapsed morals" - it's perfectly natural human behaviour) So, between a sex-ed program in Texas that only teaches Abstinence, and a law that guarantees that teenagers won't talk to their doctors about contraception and STDs, we have a lovely recipe for a bloom in both the teenage pregnancy rates, and the number of people dying of some pretty nasty diseases - like AIDS.

I'm not sure that sex education belongs as a mandatory part of the public school curriculum per se, but I do have problems with legislation that renders it effectively useless.

However, much of that is old news. Ever since G. W. Bush got into the White House various conservative political forces have been looking to him to take actions that would dismantle the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. The other day, I received the following two links in my e-mail - to little pieces of legislation introduced in the Virginia legislature at the end of 2004:

http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?051+sum+HB1677
http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?051+sum+HB1524

These two pieces of legislation are a rather insidious assault on the rights of a mother. The first case places an obligation on the mother, or her attending physician, to report the death of a fetus within 12 hours.

When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman's responsibility to report the death to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of which the delivery occurs within 12 hours after the delivery. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

This is problematic for a few reasons that I can see. First of all, it subjects the unfortunate mother to a criminal investigation over the loss of an unborn child. Miscarriages are perfectly natural, and happen. Should the mother be held criminally responsible if this happens? I don't think so. Second, in the case of an abortion, that's a medical procedure. By mandating a report of it to law enforcement officials, not only is patient privacy being violated, the unusual step has been taken of effectively rendering each occurance as the possible subject of criminal investigation - for no good reason.

The second piece of legislation requires a physician to administer anaesthesia to the fetus prior to performing an abortion. The wording here is rather interesting:

A. For the purpose of this section a fetus is a member of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until birth and the term "reasonably clinical judgment" means a medical judgment that would be made by a reasonably prudent physician, knowledgeable about the case and the treatment possibilities with respect to the medical condition involved.

Once of the key goals of the anti-abortion movement has been to get the unborn child declared a 'person'. Here, the law proposed is making the statement "fetus is a member of the species homo sapiens" This is very dangerous wording. First of all, it makes an assertion that essentially strips a woman's rights away the moment she becomes pregnant. If you assert that an unborn child is independent of its mother, you effectively turn the woman into an object - a vessel whose purpose is solely to provide the unborn with a safe place to grow until it is viable on its own.

Now, I don't want to go into all of the nasty little implications here - that's another discussion for another day. What is of interest here is the line of behaviour. The legislation is small, and somewhat below the public radar. It's subtle, but if enough legislation of this nature is written, it creates a body of law upon which more significant actions can be taken. Such as granting a fetus the same civil rights as the rest of us (and in doing so, seriously attacking the rights of women).

There's an insidiousness about this approach, and one that bothers me. It seems not to be rooted in any noble cause per se, but rather is an outright assault on the citizens of a nation, and their freedoms. It criminalizes human behaviour, largely along some pseudo-moral lines. Basically, it appears that conservative legislators are writing legislation that criminalizes people on the basis of the legislator's personal morality.

A clear sense of right and wrong is a wonderful thing - but a blind adherence to it, with no understanding of the realities of human behaviour (such as is the case in Texas) simply creates a situation where things will get worse, not better. To argue that such undesirable behaviours are due to a lapse in morals is false logic at best. To criminalize someone for failing to report a miscarriage is a double assault on their rights. First you strip away their privacy at a traumatic time; and second, you declare them criminally responsible if they don't comply.

What's next? Legislated attendance at Church? (Freedom of Religion - but you must be religious?)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Turd Way?

So, the Ralph has begun his pronouncements on what Health Care in Alberta will look like. In a speech delivered to The Canadian Club, Ralph started talking about a "Third Way" for health care. Of course, when you review the content of Ralph's speech, it glibly ignores any specifics of just what this "Third Way"(tm, pat. pend.) might actually be.

So, off into the land of exploring the Alberta Government's website to try and pin down what this is really about. After a certain amount of poking around, I found a page entitled "New plan for health care in Alberta". The optimist in me looks at this page hoping that it is going to give some clarity to what the government is actually considering. Sadly, all it contains is a vague rehash of Klein's speech, and a few links to things like the Mazankowski report. Notably, it conveniently ignores the Federal Romanow report on Health Care. However, on the whole, it's not too informative.

Until you follow the link that points to a backgrounder on the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR). Here, we get the first couple of clues as to what Ralph may be alluding to."Dispute Resolution Mechanism for the Canada Health Act ". Hmm - so what Ralph is basically signalling is that he is expecting his proposals to break the interpretation of the Canada Health Act. Anybody else braced for another pissing match with Ottawa?

The Alberta "Health and Wellness" department website is slightly more informative. With a page that tries to lay out what appear to be some broad policy direction statements. Per se, I cannot criticize the overall statements made on this page - they are essentially motherhood statements that don't tell you much about the particulars of the government's direction. With Ralph, the issue is seldom with the high level direction so much as what the words used actually mean. For example, there's talk of giving the various regional authorities more autonomy to be "innovative". Innovative is a very vague term. Does it mean that they are going to be tasked with moving medicine forward with innovation in treatment, or does it mean that they are going to be "innovative" with how they deliver treatment? Does innovation mean making existing systems work better, or selling them to the highest bidder?

Sadly, I think Albertans are going to be kept in the dark for quite some time yet.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Ah (F)hollywood!

Technology and the entertainment industries have always had a tenuous, somewhat unhappy relationship - especially when the technology starts to get into the hands of consumers.

For the past few years, various groups in the entertainment industry have been trying to stop people from making "pirate" copies of their works - whether it was complaints over cassette recorders in the 1960's, or Napster in the 1990s.

They have had some limited successes - lawsuits pretty much killed Napster's runaway success in the late 1990s and a similar strategy more or less killed of Kazaa a few years later. (I realize that the companies are still around, but they are much different than they used to be)

The RIAA turned itself into a public pariah after suing a bunch of schoolchildren and senior citizens for downloading music "illegally" a year or two ago. Helloooo - is anybody in there??? Suing your customers is _NOT_ a way to make friends and influence people. PERIOD.

More recently, the MPAA has been going after a number of sites that are "facilitating" downloads of TV shows and movies. The latest "hot" technology in the peer to peer game is BitTorrent - a third generation (at least) of so-called "peer to peer" technologies. Unlike its predecessors, BitTorrent doesn't require a centralized "server" site to be involved. This makes it much more difficult for the RIAA and MPAA to successfully shut it down - even if they kill off a few index sites, they will have a very difficult time finding the individual servers with the actual files.

This whole cat-and-mouse game reminds me of when I was in high school, and software manufacturers were coming up with ever more complex - and ridiculous - copy protection schemes to prevent people from making "illegal" copies of games. The fact was - and still is - that the copiers simply looked upon it as a challenge (how many programs did I see come up with splash screens that boasted "Cracked by so and so"?).

The entertainment industry has a legitimate beef about piracy. They make their money entirely off selling their product, and if someone else is selling the same product for $0, it makes it very difficult for them to make money - or so the logic goes.

However, there's another side to the business argument that the lawyers and entertainment moguls keep missing. (Personally, I think they are intentionally blind to it) That is the question of whether the person who downloaded a show/song/movie/game would have paid money for it in the first place. Often, the answer is no. 95% of all video games out there bore me silly inside of five minutes. Do you think I am going to pay $60+ for a video game that bores me in 5 minutes or less? Not a chance pal! Will I download a copy and try it - perhaps, if it sounded interesting to me. So - if I download a copy and play it for a few minutes before I shell out my $60, and I decide not to shell out my $60, has the industry _really_ lost anything? I would argue not.

Unlike books, which I can sit down in the bookstore and read a few pages before I buy, recorded media such as movies, video games and music are much more awkward to sample. (They are also damnably expensive - I hate forking out money for something only to find I really didn't enjoy much of it, or as is the case with software, it turns out to be partially incompatible with my computer at home - and return policies have gotten ludicrously onerous)

The entertainment industry (videogames/music/movies) needs to sit back and re-evaluate what it's delivering to its consumer. The hardcore pirates will always be there; the average consumer is perfectly happy to pay for a service, as long as they don't feel they are being screwed over. Use the 'underground' market to leverage sales. A bootleg copy of one of the LOTR movies came into my possession a few years ago - that was enough to convince me not only to see that movie in the theatre (*cha-ching* - there goes $30), and purchase the DVD when it came out (*cha-ching - there goes $60 ). So - the entertainment industry made close to $100 off me from a single bootleg copy. Why - because in that case, I felt I was going to get value for my money! (Hint - it's called marketing! Advertising - no matter the medium is part of an effective sales strategy - think about it!)

If piracy is as rampant as the industry would have you believe, then perhaps that's a clue to the industry that their product is not seen as "valuable". Perhaps the quality of their shows needs to come up a notch or two. Or just maybe there's a market out there for videogames that have a little more depth to them. (Let's face it, when 25000 rat brain cells can operate a flight simulator, there can't be much to the game)

I absolutely refuse to have Cable TV in my home - why? because 99% of what's on TV these days is mindless drivel that I refuse to pay for. When - and if - the Cable TV companies let me pick the channels _I_ want, and perceive value in, I'll consider the notion of adding TV. In the meantime - are they losing anything if I see a show at a friend's home, or borrow a recording once in a while? Not really. I keep "sampling" their wares periodically, and I keep finding them lacking. Would you purchase a car without a test drive? Would you pay for the privilege of doing a test drive? (I wouldn't) Would you purchase a magazine subscription without reading an issue or two first?

Worrying about profit-making piracy is one thing - and that's a valid concern that needs to be tracked and policed. Selling bootlegs is plain theft. On the other hand, punitive expeditions against consumers who download copies is simply pistol-whipping your customer.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Peace in Israel?

Late last week, the Palestinian people elected Mahmoud Abbas to replace Yasser Arafat.

Today, Abbas makes the obligatory "olive branch offering" to Israel, in a vain hope that a long-stalled attempt to achieve peace in Israel can once again lurch forward.

Sadly, even though Arafat has been removed from the picture, we should not be so optimistic about the influence of hard-line players on both sides. Just as the extreme militant Palestinian organizations have declared that they want to "push Israel into the sea", similarly hard-line views exist within the Israeli power structure.

Arial Sharon is hardly a "moderate" on the Israeli side, and without significant external pressure, he is unlikely to be amenable to the kind of "give and take" that will be required to achieve a settlement that the majority of Palestinians will be prepared to accept.

Sharon's official reaction to Abbas' victory:

The main focus at this stage, following [Sunday's] election, should be Palestinian action on terror.

The Palestinians are still not fighting terror and while [Mr Abbas's] declarations in the framework of the election campaign were encouraging, he will be tested by the way he battles terror and acts to dismantle its infrastructure.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

This doesn't sound like someone who's really overly interested in negotiating peace. Hard-line groups on the Palestinian side are unlikely to make any moves without corresponding signs that Israel will be equally cooperative.

One of the great condundrums of Israel is that neither side can claim a "moral high ground" - both sides have engaged in behaviours that are best described as apalling. With Israel standing on one side demanding Abbas exercise control over organizations like Hamas, Palestinian people looking for improvements in their day to day lives, and Hamas looking to Israel for either a sign of weakness or compromise, Abbas is truly caught between a rock and a hard place.

Unless the United States places enormous pressure on the Israelis to move forward, I doubt very much that Abbas will achieve much beyond some modest improvements in the lives of average Palestinians. As much as Israel is trying to make the ball appear to be in Abbas' court, the responsibility falls equally to Sharon and his allies to make some real moves as well.


Friday, January 07, 2005

Say What???

I was listening to the news on CBC as I drove home tonight, and a reporter was commenting on a visit to part of South Asia that our minister of health was visiting. He referred to it as a place where "world leaders" are meeting. To emphasize his point, he listed off a number of world leaders that have visited the region stricken by December's Tsunami. Among the names he listed was Jeb Bush.

Not George Bush, but his brother - who is currently Governor of the State of Florida.

I'm not the brightest genius in around, but it occurred to me that something is afoot. When GWB sent little brother "Jeb" over to Indonesia, he did something significant - he gave his brother a presence on the world stage.

The sun is setting on George W. Bush's presidency even as he stands to be sworn in this month. Under US law, he cannot run for office again in 2008. So - what's the best thing he can do to keep moving his family's agenda forward? Make sure that his younger brother starts to develop a presence on the world stage as an "ad-hoc" representative of the US when George is "too busy" with other matters.

Yes, I am formulating a conspiracy theory of a sort here. I'm basically asserting that there is a very real possibility that Bush's political ambitions have more to do with establishment of a form of dynasty. It seemed to me just a trifle strange that George W. Bush should happen to be the next Republican in the White House after his father in the early 1990's.

It's relatively easy, and facile, to argue that since Bush was preceded by William Jefferson Clinton there is no intention to form a kind of family dynasty at the top of the Republican party. But I think that might be overlooking a few things:

1. George Jr. picked up right where his father left off. His pursuit of Saddam Hussein in Iraq simply doesn't make any sense (to me at least), except as a matter of family honor.

2. Take a look around the senior - unelected - officials behind GWB. Many - if not all - of them were present during his father's tenure in the White House.

3. Sending a state governor abroad to act as the nation's representative is highly unusual. Again, the only reason I can think of for doing such a move is to begin grooming that person for a future role on the federal stage. One of the key mistakes that George Bush had made in his rise was that he was clearly ignorant of states outside of Texas' borders - much less the world at large. Giving Jeb a presence on the world stage makes him that much "more saleable" in an upcoming nomination and election cycle in four years.

Perhaps I'm just paranoid, but I have suspected for a while that the Bush family has long term designs on the Presidency.

Perhaps, what we are seeing is the emergence of a monarchy of sorts. It happened after political and economic corruption started to degrade the Roman Republic - perhaps it is emerging in the US as power and wealth concentrate in the ever fewer hands of the very wealthy - setting the stage for a pseudo-Feudal environment to emerge? When families start to emerge as holders of political power for several generations, one has to start asking...

Another Day Passes

And with it, Alberta's Lieutenant Governor - Lois Hole.

Although the Lieutenant Governor's role is mostly symbolic these days, Lois Hole brought a very human touch to an office that is often remote and most people are only vaguely aware of.

She will be missed.


The Politicization of Post-Tsunami Aid

So, Canada's military is deploying the "DART" team to go help out with recovery in Sri Lanka. I'll grant that the Canadian Government was a bit slow to give DART their orders, but I don't think that's really the significant issue emerging.

More or less on cue, various commentators are squawking about how long it is taking to deploy the DART now that the team has been activated. Aid agencies aren't happy because of the time involved, and the hawkish right-wing commentators aren't happy because Canada's military "clearly isn't muscular enough".

In a recent column, Ezra Levant says:
Our inability to help in the Iraq war proved Canada has no hard power left.

But our inability to help with the tsunami recovery shows we have no soft power either.

Okay, fair enough - I don't think you can argue that Canada's military is in particularly good shape right now. The soldier count is down considerably from where it used to be; many of its assets are in questionable shape, with capital expenditure needs emerging in all divisions of the forces.

Given that is the case, perhaps it's time to stand back and ask ourselves just what our Military _should_ be doing, and equip it accordingly. The DART is equipped to deliver services based on some 50 tonnes worth of gear. That requires some serious heavy lift capacity to get it in the air and on site. Notably, this time the Government has leased access to a couple of Russian heavy-lift transports that dwarf anything Canada has ever owned.

Looking at Canada realistically, we are 30 Million people (+/- a few) occupying some 10 million square km of land. We are adjacent to the United States, some 293 Million people, occupying nearly 10 million square km of land. Russia is some 143 Million people occupying nearly 17 million square km of land.

As much as we like to compare ourselves to the US, the only comparison is in the amount of land area that we occupy. After that, Canada simply isn't that big of a population. History and resources have allowed us to enjoy a very high standard of living, but when it comes to military capacity, we have to get realistic.

A bit of digging around shows that the UK - a country that we resemble much more closely in terms of population and approximate wealth - is running at 2.4% of GDP spent on the military in 2003. Of course, we need to recognize that the 2.4$ of GDP is during a time of active conflict engagement - the UK tied its fortunes to the US in Iraq. By comparison, Canada spent 1.1% of GDP on its military in 2003, and the US spent 3.3% of GDP.

I'd argue that 1.1% is probably on the low side of what we should be spending on our military services - somewhere around 2% of GDP in peacetime would make more sense. However, the level of spending is almost academic if we have no clear sense of what we want our military to do.

On one hand, Canada's armies have been a key player in the UN Peacekeeper/Peacemaker programs around the world. Their contributions in a number of the world's hotspots over the last 35 odd years are nothing to sneer at. Teams like the DART seem to be consistent with that same involvement.

On the other hand, we have the hawkish commentators out there who want Canada to be able to "play" in the same sandbox as the United States. The chances of a country Canada's size of being able to develop military capability to sustain involvement in conflicts (as opposed to conflict zones) on multiple fronts is approximately zero. That simply is impractical, and wasteful. As much as it might be "fun" to go buying the fancy hardware that goes with that capability, it's mostly just going to sit, collect dust and eventually have to be scrapped.

No, if Canada is going to have a Military presence on the world stage, we need to have a frank and honest discussion about what that means. What role do we want our Military to play? Once we have defined the role, then it becomes reasonable to make capital expenditures to equip it to carry that out.

For example, if we decide that teams like the DART are a key part of a larger peacetime role of stabilizing troubled areas of the world, then let's invest in some serious heavy lift capacity. Our fleet of Hercules transports have served amazingly well, but they are aging. Perhaps a couple of Antonov style craft as well as a few Hercules class craft is an appropriate investment.

Similarly, if we want the ability to occupy another nation under arms (as the US is attempting to do in Iraq), then we would need to make much different investments in ground armor, and the transport capabilities to move it around. Do we spend money on Tanks or APCs?

An army designed for offensive strike capability is quite different than one that is designed to bring order to a conflict-stricken region. An army designed purely to defend our national borders is yet another configuration different from the other two.

Realistically, I think Canada's army needs to be a combination of peacemaking and defense capabilities. The hawkish people that argue we should be able to stand with the Americans in Iraq remind me of 12 year old boys looking at muscle building ads in a comic book. They haven't figured out yet that not everyone is going to be a muscle-bound ape.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Welcome to 2005! - So now what?

I've been wondering what to kick off the new year with for a few days - and to be honest, I've been stumped - the news has been mostly mindless mush as far as political events go - everything has been overshadowed by the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

Not to trivialize those horrible events, but every writer this side of creation has written their two cents about the "horror of it all", and how the "world should chip in and help". That's lovely - and, by the way, I agree with them. But the world doesn't need another writer babbling about helping the peoples of the affected countries.

Instead, I thought I would spend a bit of time thinking about what the coming year might bring with it, and what bears watching.

In Canada, we have a shakey minority Liberal government in Ottawa. If there's anything of interest there, it is the question of when, and why the government will collapse, sending voters back to the polls once again.

On the world stage, Iraq itself becomes something of a background story. I think it's pretty clear by now that George W. Bush's plans for a quick "in-and-out" operation in Iraq have bogged down in a quagmire that only Tolkein's Nindalf (dead marshes) could approximate. The odds of US troops reducing their presence in Iraq in the forseeable future is close to zero.

However, Iraq is a big player in the story - along with Iran, Russia and China. The US economy is just starting to dig itself out of the doldrums that were setting in just as George Bush was elected to his first term in office. However, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused the United States to take on an enormous, and ever growing level of debt as they try to finance the prosecution of George's so-called "war on terror".

Iraq, along with Afghanistan will serve as significant millstones around America's neck on the world stage. Pride alone prevents the current administration from pulling back and letting those countries set their course.

Perhaps more interesting is the Iran/Russia/China triangle. China and Iran are making huge deals with one another for resource and economic exchanges. (Recently, Iran signed a deal worth $100bn with China to supply China with natural gas) China has been propping up the US dollar by buying all kinds of US securities. I doubt that China is going to look too favorable on the US going after Iran - and they now have the raw economic clout with the US to have a considerable influence on their actions.

The second part of the triangle is Russia. With Putin tightening his grasp on the oil sector in that country - not to mention the fact that Russia sits on reserves that rival those of Saudi Arabia, he stands to become a significant thorn in the American side. Not only is Putin an ex-KGB man, but he will soon be in control of sufficient oil wealth to alleviate significantly the EU's dependence on Middle East oil. Potentially this puts a significant hole in the Bush doctrine's plan to prevent any other power from rising to prominence.

With an aging monarchy, Saudi Arabia may not remain a "steadfast" friend of the United States for much longer. I suspect that country will become very unstable when the current king dies. (There are far too many "princes" in that country, and I dare say that more than a few of them covet the throne - and that doesn't even begin to open the conversation around the religious leaders, whose tolerance of the current regime is merely a matter of mutual convenience)

Great - so here I am babbling about all of these large goings-on on the political world stage - how does this affect the US?

To me, the US economy becomes the lead story of the coming year. Everything about the Bush doctrine of 'pre-emption' depends on the US maintaining its military superiority. The only way it can do that is if the US manages to maintain its economic superiority over the rest of the world.

If the dollar were to suddenly free-fall on the world stage because China and other countries stopped buying US securities, how many billions of dollars are going to flock home to the US, leaving the economy in a situation where it has to absorb dollars currently 'lurking in reserve' for other countries? The US already has a massive trade deficit with the rest of the world as it is, with its consumption rate far exceeding its production.

Further, US plans beyond Iraq (e.g. Iran) depend on their ability to stabilize Iraq, and move their military focus elsewhere. With China standing with Iran (China being the fastest growing economy in the world right now), invading Iran just became a lot more complex and costly. Worse (for the US), is that the Chinese government just happens to own huge amounts of US debt right now. That puts them into a position to start dictating to the US...on economic terms.

Right now, everything in Bush's political fortunes rests on the ability of his country to navigate the shallow waters of an economy burdened by mounting debt, and a seemingly intractable foreign policy.