Thursday, March 31, 2005

One Chapter Ends

The tug-of-war between Michael Schiavo and Terri Schiavo's parents over Terri's fate is over. This is a relief in a way - at least she can no longer be an emotional pawn in the media, and nobody can take further actions that could impact on her condition.

I am deeply troubled by the nature of this case - somehow condemning someone to a slow death, no matter how grave their injuries may be is deeply troubling to me. In many respects, I view this as purely a moral issue, not one that should ever have involved the courts. (And oddly, for once, I actually find my own feelings landing much closer to the positions expressed by the various religious groups that weighed into the debate)

Given that this whole saga has unfolded in the United States, I find myself wondering if Terri's parents will launch a 'wrongful death' suit against Michael Schiavo. Given the way the US legal system seems to work in such cases, they may well be able to argue that Michael Schiavo's actions very deliberately precipitated Terri's demise, and therefore he bears at least a civil responsibility for that act.

Given the bitterness of the feud between the Schiavo and Schindler families right now, I would not be at all surprised to see such a lawsuit brought to bear.

This will be interesting indeed

In January, Calgary Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry had the following "pastoral letter" read out to the congregations within the diocese (and I imagine, quite a number of other dioceses followed suit).

Sure enough, Bishop Henry's letter has resulted in a human rights complaint in Alberta.

To see how this plays out will indeed be interesting, for it will be one of those rare cases that actually tests the boundaries between the fundamental freedoms (in particular, Religion (2a) and Expression (2b) in section 2 of the Charter of Rights, Equality Rights (section 15), and the boundaries laid out in the 'hate propaganda' section of the Criminal Code. (No, this isn't a criminal complaint per se, but you can be sure that sections 318, 319 of the criminal code will be part of the discussion.

The article on CTV suggests that the complaint against Bishop Henry takes issue with the aspects of Bishop Henry's article that associate homosexuality with evil, pornography etc, and call upon the government to suppress homosexuality through law.

Given that Calgary is overwhelming represented by Conservative MPs in Ottawa, it's unlikely that any of the political representatives would object to the content of Bishop Henry's letter.

I dissected Bishop Henry's letter in a rant earlier this year, and I don't see any point in rehashing it. At the moment, the Bishop is busy lapping up all of the media attention he is attracting. In a few months, when this issue actually gets into real discussion, that's when the good Bishop may find it necessary to eat a little "humble pie". (Of course, Alberta's human rights tribunal doesn't exactly have a stellar track record...)

While I respect Bishop Henry's right to express his opinions, and his obligation to represent the Roman Catholic Church's position on these and other issues, there must also be boundaries to what is said. Bishop Henry's letter certainly was an illogical rant, but whether it stepped into the realm of inciting discriminatory behaviour is open to some discussion. I can understand the reasoning of the complaint raised, but at the same time, it's far from clear that Bishop Henry has necessarily overstepped his bounds either.

In several dimensions, this complaint may be as important as the Delwin Vriend case a few years ago. (Of course, the amount of howling out of the Klein government over that one doesn't make me overly optimistic for the future of this case.

More cynically, I'm beginning to suspect that Bishop Henry is playing his cards to raise his public profile with an eye to eventually running for public office.

[Update]:


Something to consider looking at the Bishop's letter. What if his pastoral letter had been talking about Jewish people, or Asians? If Bishop Henry had asserted that the coercive power of the government should be used to suppress these peoples, what would the reaction be?

A quote I saw a long time ago read "Your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins". Does the Bishop's letter cross that line? Much food for thought...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Legality versus Morality and this Blog

One of my friends, and a regular reader of this space, recently commented that I tend towards arguments that are weighted in the legal aspects of the topics.

I don't perceive that as a criticism, so much as a valid observation. There's a number of reasons for this. First, recent discussions and debates in this country have caused me to go and read the laws of the land in some detail, and I have begun to find this particular domain rather intriguing. Second, I find that many of the issues involve the application of law in domains that are heavily coloured by moral issues. In order to discuss those issues without descending into arguments that are founded on moral assumptions that may not be shared beyond my own inner dialogues, I find it useful to frame my observations in the context of law. I will also often argue that more subtle moral issues should not in fact be legislated at all for the simple reason that such legislation is simply unenforceable, and presupposes values which may not be commonly held in a society as varied as Canada's.

An excellent example of this appeared in a column on The Western Standard, Ezra Levant's attempt to resurrect the old "Alberta Report" magazine. What led me to this column was a series of comments in other parts of the Canadian political blogosphere talking about a campaign against the Charter of Rights going on in the Conservative party. Basically, there's a lot of sneering and snickering at the Charter right now because the Conservatives don't like how it is being applied in a number of domains.

In this column is a beautiful example of how an assumption of shared values can be so problematic:

Here’s what the charter really says, in its very first line: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law . . . ” Here’s what it says immediately afterward: “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

You might remember that these are the same “reasonable limits” that allow the government to limit gun ownership and ban certain types of speech that it finds offensive. Yet, somehow, whenever it comes to Liberal causes--gay marriage, voting rights for prisoners--limits are deemed unreasonable.


First of all, the obvious comment would be "whose God"??? The Conservatives seem to conveniently desire to assume a quasi-Old Testament version of God, but what about Allah, the various dieties of the Hindu religion(s), Asian spirituality, etc. All of which are valid and perceived to be equal under section 2 of that same charter.

The complaint over Bill C-250 (an amendment to the hate crimes section of the Canadian Criminal Code) is possibly subject to challenge under the Charter. Those that are screaming so loudly about their "rights" to spew hatred against an identifiable minority group should take their challenge and put it to the courts as a legal case. If the law as written is in fact unreasonably constraining religious freedoms around that topic, there should be a fairly clear case to challenge the content of those provisions.

Of course, the author of the rant in Western Standard goes on to argue:

It’s obvious by the way Prime Minister Paul Martin has been trash-talking the charter’s Section 33 lately, that he doesn’t really consider the charter to be that sacrosanct after all. Just the parts that he likes. In fact, the notwithstanding clause is as valid a section of the charter as any other.


The Conservatives have long argued that Section 33 of the Charter should be invoked to suppress the same-gender marriage issue. It certainly could be done that way, but I question the wisdom of such an approach. All that Section 33's invocation would do is defer the issue for 5 years, and reopen the wounds all over at that time. Hardly what I would call "dealing with" the issue at all. Since Section 33 has only ever been used in Quebec, and it has been used in a manner that suppresses legitimate rights of non-francophone Quebecers, I find the notion of using in the marriage context to be deeply troubling. What's next? Laws that suppress freedoms of speech, association and belief with Section 33 invoked to "prop up public decency"?

Or would the 1950s "censorship boards" come back to life, their actions sanctioned by laws that could only be supported by invoking Section 33?

(If the Conservatives want to claim false associations between same-gender marriage, bestiality and polygamy, why can't I assert that they want to resurrect a bunch of dead government institutions for the "public good"???)

As Quixote has commented in his Blog, many of the so-called "Conservatives" are impossible to argue with rationally. Their positions are pre-assigned to them, and carefully filtered through the lens of their particular brand of Faith. It is important to make the counterpoint arguments heard. Knowledge is not the enemy of Faith (in spite of what some believe), ignorance is the enemy of liberty and justice.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Touching...

It's not very often that I find another writer has captured the essence of my own thoughts so well. Licia Corbella's article on Terri Schiavo cuts to the heart of my own feelings on this tragic situation.

I think she captures my own misgivings about the actions of Michael Schiavo and the US Court system in this matter quite nicely.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Misunderstanding Freedom of Speech

I find the way that the hard-line right-wing commentators twist things around time and again, often misrepresenting facts to suit their own distorted perceptions about how the world works.

In the Saturday edition of the Calgary Sun, I was treated to 2/3 of a page dedicated to a tirade by American commentator Ann Coulter. Ms. Coulter is notorious for manufacturing facts where convenient, and ignoring reality every bit as much.

Today, I was catching up on some of the columnists that normally write columns for the Sun Newspaper chain in Canada.

An interesting pattern is emerging - not merely misunderstanding, but outright distortion of the facts.

Columnist Link Byfield complains that freedom of speech is being suppressed. Why? Because University of Calgary officials didn't want a campus anti-abortion group to put up posters that tried to draw analogy between abortion and the holocaust. I think anyone with even a half a brain could figure out that the comparison is invalid at best, and offensive in the worst way to the memory of those that perished in those dark days.

His father, Ted Byfield is busy whining because the Conservative party didn't swing far enough to the right to suit his "Social Conservative" sensibilities. His complaint? Apparently the debate over abortion was "suppressed". (Read, the resolution didn't go the way he wanted it to, so he's going to sulk now) Similarly, Columnist Janet L. Jackson is whinging about the abortion issue. According to her, there is some massive conspiracy to start performing late term (9th month) abortions that the Liberal party is propogating. News to me, and nothing I've been able to dig up even hints that such a thing is part of the Liberal party policy agenda. (Oh - wait - they are changing the rules on the "morning-after" pill, aren't they? Of course, RU-486 won't do much good after the first 72 hours - but the rabid pro-life movement seems to view that as a late-term abortion.)

The complaints are consistent - whether the topic is abortion rights, same-gender marriage, divorce law, hate crimes law, or turbans in the RCMP. Basically, these people complain that a policy they dislike is "being shoved down their throats", or that their "freedom of speech" is being curtailed. Why? Usually because the changes in law that are taking place happen to constrain their ability to impose a particular moral code on others are being suppressed.

Omigosh - their right to spew unfounded vitriol against homosexuals is being curtailed - my goodness - they might actually have to found their irrational arguments in actual fact. What a horrifying concept!

Ted Byfield might have to explain, in rational terms, why a woman who has been raped should carry the resulting child to term.

Or - horror of horrors, they might have to actually come up with why allowing a couple to marry is going to cause the irreparable harm to society that they claim it will.

I will point out that none of these geniuses has put their money where their mouth is and actually challenged the laws in question before the courts. Why? Because they know full well that their position is not sustainable in the harsh light of legal scrutiny.

I do not want to take from them the right to express their opinions, I don't think that would be appropriate. I do want them to put their opinions forward with supporting evidence that is verifiable. If you want to assert that the society will crumble because of a marriage, that's fine, but I expect you to back that up with some kind of intelligible evidence.

Similarly, if you believe that a group of people should be marginalized, you darned well better have some pretty solid reasoning. Those that squawked about bill C-250 as an assault on their freedom of religion should step back and ask themselves just how a law that insists that their language not incite violence against people is contrary to their freedom of religion.

While I disagree with many of their suppositions, these people do have a legitimate voice in the discourse of the nation. It would be far more useful if they approached that discourse in the spirit of intelligent debate rather than the shrill, unfounded positions they continue to assert.

Shades of Hogan's Heroes

As soon as I read this article, I couldn't help but think of the comparisons to the old TV show "Hogan's Heroes"

So - we have the following ingredients:

1 x Tunnel (rather large) leading out of the camp
0 x Prisoners Missing

Somehow, I think there's a bunch of people sniggering their heads off right now in that camp.

Any nominations for Col. Klink and Sgt. Schultz ?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Politicization of Religion

The following is a quote left on this blog by another reader:

Power is amazing corrupter. Agreed. I recall that one guy got killed about 2000 years ago cuz he was talkin nice about everyone. The people in charge didn't dig it.

I find politics in the church a bit ridiculous, but there is something we all gotta get down with: It is the institutions that have made it so ugly - the big guy isn't a real-estate agent for the middle east, or a talkin head on CBSFOXABCPBS.

Just for kicks, take a moment to seperate your perceptions of this "god' thing from those of us that are screwing it up so badly.



The first thought that I had was WTF? Until I sat back and thought about it a little bit.

First of all, the underlying point of my commentary was that as religions codify their beliefs into absolute terms, they are guaranteed to fracture themselves as different factions emerge.

Second, in the Middle East, it's fairly apparent that religious bodies hold significant sway in the political arena; and more recently the Evangelical Christians have gained significant political sway in the United States.

The issue isn't my personal perceptions or beliefs with respect to the notion of "God". The fact is that my personal notion of "God" is likely to differ substantially from George Bush's, the Pope or just about anyone else.

The issue that I was addressing, and will continue to address, is the ongoing attempts of various religious institutions to impose their particular view of the universe on the peoples of a country. I was very troubled when George Bush referred to the pursuit of those who planned and sponsored 9/11/2001 as a "Crusade". I don't believe that was a "slip of the tongue", but really is reflected in the ongoing foreign policy of the Bush administration.

In countries like Canada and the United States which have the concept of "Freedom of Religion" embedded in their legal foundations, religion driving legislation is very worrisome. Freedom _of_ Religion also includes Freedom _FROM_ Religion - that is to say not only do you have the right to believe as you wish, but similarly, I have the freedom to believe otherwise. This creates a serious tension legislatively. Legislation must be codified in such a manner that it reflects rational consideration of the topic in a manner that is fundamentally secular. (Please note, that secularism does not preclude morality, but rather requires one to ask if the morality of an act is reflected in the notion of harm to individuals or society)

Friday, March 25, 2005

On Religion and Rigidity

I'm listening to CBC's "The Current" this morning, and one of the topics is a debate over the women leading a mixed-gender prayer session.

I won't profess to understand a great deal of the Q'ran and the other bits of cultural history that have driven Islam, and in particular the practice of Islam that has been described in many Arabic countries. In fact the topic of the debate was rather interesting for its commonalities with the rise of radical feminism in the 1960s and through the 1970s.

The traditionalist on the CBC interview was arguing that Islam does provide for equality of the sexes, but it does so by assigning different roles to the genders. It is rather interesting to note that similar arguments were made both during the sufferance movement in the early 20th century, and again later in the 1960s to continue to justify the existing social structure.

No surprise, the argument from the other side is along the lines of "extreme needs, demand extreme changes". This is very typically North American view of things. It will be very interesting to see whether the greater body of Islam simply rejects its North American followers it will find that a new form of Islam will simply emerge.

The Christian Church is a perfect example to examine. Time and again, when the greater body of the church has become too rigid, it has cracked and a new group has splintered off from the body of the church. Whether it is King Henry VIII's formation of the Anglican church, the emergance of the Lutheran church, or the relatively recent rise of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

In the United States, the ascension of so-called Evangelical Christians to political power has shown the early signs of calcification. Through a combination of policy and law, these people are codifying a particularly harsh, rigid interpretation of biblical scripture. In many ways, steps are being taken to undermine the various civil rights gains made since the 1950s - whether that is re-introducing segregation in schools in some southern states or the nomination of hard-line "conservatives" to the senior courts.

This codification of a religiously centered, rigid policy threatens to fracture the entire body of North American politics along religious lines.

Similarly, Islam, particularly in the form that often is expressed from the various Middle Eastern countries, suggests a rigidity of thought and belief that is going to have a great deal of difficulty with the notion of a westernized notion of gender equality coming to bear. It seems to me quite possible that Islam will see a new "tribe" emerge in North America that is a fusion of Western European cultural values with Islamic scripture. This will mean the shedding of a great deal of cultural baggage that is currently bound up with Islam.

Ultimately, no religion can be rigidly codified. As soon as that happens, the religion is guaranteed to rapidly become irrelevant to all be the most fervent of its followers. The argument can be made that the Roman Catholic Church refutes my assertion. I disagree. At the level of individual congregations, the Church remains a useful social anchor for a lot of people. The hierarchy of that Church, as it becomes more remote, and bound to the edicts of the Vatican in Rome, is increasingly irrelevant to the average follower. (Consider how many Roman Catholics actually pay attention to the Church's prohibitions on birth control)

The more rigid the system of beliefs, the more likely that the rigidity is driven not by honest spirituality, but rather by a need to maintain either political or economic power. When faith becomes twisted around power, it goes horribly wrong.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Next!

Apparently the Bush Administration in the United States has learned a couple of things from their first ham-handed four years on the world stage. This time around, they seem to be taking a more subtle approach to staging their agenda.

They are playing issues off against each other - in this case, North Korea, Iran and Syria. Recent appointments to the UN and the World Bank of hard-liners from the Bush Administration don't exactly speak to a cooperative policy coming from the White House.

This week, Secretary of State Rice began rattling sabres towards North Korea, perhaps to a degree that almost seems comical. In spite of a degree of muscle flexing, it's not exactly news to anyone that the US military is pretty well tied up in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Serious military action against North Korea seems a trifle unrealistic at the moment. (Although I'm not exactly an expert on military deployment, it just doesn't seem realistic to believe that the US military can successfully launch a third war in a region geographically disparate from the Middle East.

However, what if the sabre rattling in the general direction of North Korea is a red herring? The recent posturing towards Syria quickly became moot when Syria quickly agreed to pull out of Lebanon. Although I still suspect Syria is on Washington's radar as a target, it would be very difficult for the Americans (or Israelis) to justify invading Syria in the short term. Even if the Americans were to have concrete proof that Syria was supplying or training the insurgents in Iraq, it would be perceived that they were simply looking for a pretext to invade Syria.

However, America is not standing still. Far from it. Little signs of the United States digging in for a long haul presence in the Middle East are emerging. Lurking in the back pages of BBC's website is this little gem talking about an old Soviet airbase in Afghanistan. Hmmm - lessee - on one side, it's highly unlikely that the US will pull out of Iraq anytime soon, and undertaking repair and rebuilding operations on old Soviet facilities doesn't sound much like rebuilding the country, so much as settling in for a long term garrison presence. Shindand is suspicously close to the Iranian border, and no doubt within striking range of Iran's nuclear facilities.

Taking Iran from the Iraq side would involve traversing mountainous terrain that almost isolates Iran from Iraq as well as the mountains of Afghanistan isolate that nation from its neighbors. The mountains between Iran and Afghanistan are nowhere near as large as those that are on the Iraq border.

Also, on a few "not-so-mainstream" news sites that focus on "security" issues, I'm starting to see articles on Iran emerging that suggest that Iran is building up its military capabilities. (Remember, a key aspect of the so-called "Wolfowitz Doctrine" is that the US will never allow a power to emerge that rivals its own capabilities) Other parts of the "Global Security" website spend quite an amazing amount of space talking about all of the evils that Iran is engaged in.

It's certainly food for thought...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Convention's Over, Now the Work Begins?

The Conservative party just finished their first policy convention after forming the current party out of a merger between the Reform/Alliance party and the Progressive Conservative party.

I must admit to a certain degree of surprise. Relatively few resolutions seemed to stir any serious debate (it could be that holding the discussion to 4 speakers each pretty much killed any real debate). The most contentious issues landed about where I expected them to - although I was surprised to see the party actually hedge itself on a few issues like abortion rights.

I think we'll have to sit back and watch now to see where things actually go. Historically (e.g. through the late '80s and 1990s), the old Reform/Alliance party would put forward an official position that seemed - almost - reasonable. Of course inevitably, somewhere down the road some malcontent with enough profile to grab headlines would say something to completely negate the reasonableness of the previous position of the party. Whether Harper has enough of a grip on his party and those that get in front of the media is a question as yet unanswered.

I personally remain skeptical of the notion that social and fiscal conservatives can row a boat in the same direction for any real period of time. Chances are that as long as the Gomery inquiry continues to spill Liberal blood on the carpet, the Conservatives will manage to maintain the appearance of unity. I expect that to change rather dramatically after the next election - regardless of who forms the next government.

That they managed to disarm the traditional "mexican firing squad" is potentially good news. Right now, what this country needs is an effective opposition. Perhaps now, Mr. Harper can direct his attentions to being effective in the House of Commons, as opposed to the mysterious vanishing act he's been doing. (I've heard more out of Jack Layton than I have out of Harper - and at least Layton's been on topic)

Caveat Emptor

A while ago, I commented on the sudden collapse of Portus Alternative Asset Management. Well, sure enough, the process of trying to wind up the affairs of this company has begun, and the receiver, KPMG, is finding all sorts of interesting muck.

If it smells wrong, it probably is. Portus didn't seem right from the get-go when I first heard about it - partly it was my advisor's inability to explain just how a hedge fund would operate in the first place, but when I reviewed the marketing literature there was an opaqueness to the company. Once you handed them your money, they pretty much could play with it as they saw fit.

Now we find that the Portus people were doing a number of nasty little things - unsigned deals with other companies, millions paid out to "consulting" firms owned by the principals of Portus, monies funnelled off to banks in the Carribean - and these are what is coming out as KPMG begins the process of figuring out what had been going on with Portus.

When KPMG is having trouble unravelling the network of interactions that make up Portus' books, I can only imagine how complex and twisted the mess must be. Hedge funds themselves are not trivial entities to begin with, and Portus' concept of building a "Fund of Hedge Funds" is fraught with complexity and risk. Hedge Funds themselves are complex and secretive organizations, often playing games with money that most individual investors would simply not comprehend. (I can only barely wrap my meagre mind around the notion of 'selling short') The problem I see with hedge funds is that the lack of transparency means that the fund management can do "whatever they please", and the individual investor has little or no visibility into it. So, if the fund manager decides that he'll get a better rate of return playing the tables in Las Vegas, he can do that, and you have no idea or say in the matter.

Even in an era where we think that there is enough regulatory structure in place to keep these funds "honest", there's always someone who will find a new way to sell snake oil. I guess that Portus is a reminder to the individual investor to keep their wits about them.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I am apalled

Apparently a judge has ordered Terri Schiavo's feeding tube to be removed.

To say that I am unimpressed with this decision is an understatement. In taking this step, the judge has condemn Ms. Schiavo to a slow death by starvation and dehydration. Even the most heinous serial killer is given a more human exit from the world than this.

Her husband hold personal culpability in this death - it is by his actions in the courts that her tube is to be removed. Her parents have offered numerous times to take custody of their daughter, and he has refused to allow that to happen. His claim being that "she wouldn't want to be kept alive by artificial means". Perhaps that is true, but I don't believe that gives him the moral right to condemn her to a slow, painful death by starvation.

Over the last fifteen or so, there has been an emerging amount of evidence that suggests that 'persistent vegetative states' may well not indicate a complete lack of awareness of their surroundings and situation.

I find it disturbing that Michael Schiavo would not divorce his wife and allow her parents to take over. It leaves me deeply suspicious that he is after one thing - the money that he would collect from an insurance policy were Terri to die. If it were a matter of mere minutes after disconnection that she would die, I don't think I'd be anywhere near as upset. However, it will take days for Terri Schiavo to die, and those will be pain filled days for her - a death that would be considered "cruel and unusual punishment" if it was meted out to a condemned killer.

There's something seriously wrong with the rationale that allows people to play games like this and claim that this is the patients "expressed wishes". With nothing in writing, that seems to me to be a questionable call. Keeping Terri alive is no doubt expensive, and heart-breaking, but I don't believe that a 'do not resuscitate directive' gives Michael Schiavo the right to condemn his wife to a slow, painful death either.

Like the abortion issue, the lines that the Schiavo case draws are profoundly disturbing and at best arbitrary. I have a great deal of trouble with the notion of putting someone into a situation where they will suffer. Death doesn't bother me, but suffering really does. Starvation is up there with burning as one of the most painful ways for someone to die.

I think that the courts have missed this reality, and have condemned an innocent woman to a horrible, slow death. Michael Schiavo should be ashamed of his actions. He had many other exits from this situation that would have been much less objectionable than the one he chose.

Friday, March 18, 2005

What's Next - Legislated Hem Lengths for Skirts?

Sometimes, politicians waste far too much public time on the utterly pointless. "Sexually Suggestive Cheerleading"??? What kind of nonsense is that? What's suggestive? The fact that the girls are wearing leotards? That they are pretty? The gymnastics they are doing? Somehow, I suspect the good senator has calluses on his knuckles from walking.

Oh yes, and just who decides what's "suggestive"? Some old fossil who forgot what it's like to be a teenager the moment they turned 20 - and that was at least 40 years ago?

While the conservative elements will accuse me of moral turpitude simply for suggesting that they take their assumptions and stow them elsewhere, I think that just maybe it's time for them to come out of their freaking shell a bit and realize that there's a world around them - and it's not necessarily as idealized as they'd like.

There are operas with scenes that make anything a high school cheerleading squad think up look positively harmless. If anyone thinks that banning "suggestive" moves from cheerleading is going to have any useful effect, I strongly urge them to recall their own childhood - how much did they do that they thought that their parents "would have frowned upon"?

What's next - regulating the dress of young men and women because it's "too suggestive" (perhaps the good senator would like to see women wandering around in Burqas instead) Or would he like to return to the era when all the furniture had to be draped in fabric - as the turn of a fine wood leg might be too much of a turn on for a male guest?

Don't get me wrong - it's not that I don't believe we should have moral standards in society - but I simply don't accept the notion that trivial stuff should be legislated. Typically legislating how people should behave tends to backfire.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Argh!

I made the mistake of listening to the news on the way home today. In it, I hear King Ralph pronouncing on same-gender marriage again.

Quoth Ralph:

"Caucus did not buy that. They bought the political argument that even if it is moot, and even if it can't be used, we ought to leave it as it is. That is, to leave it in the legislation and wait and see what the feds do," Klein said.
So, Ralph, not only do you believe that you have the right to create law, you apparently also believe that the Conservative government in Alberta is NOT subject to law as well.

It's time for the citizens of this province to wake up and smell the coffee. These idiots have been in power so long that they actually believe their own special brand of crap.

Frankly, I don't care if Klein likes same-gender marriages or not - that's not the point. In fact, the whole issue is not the point. The point is that Ralph Klein and his band of mean-spirited morons now seem to think that they are no longer subject to the laws of the country.

I believed it was time to lose these low-lifes years ago, now I'm convinced that Alberta's government has descended into the realm of the same tin-pot despots that theoretically George Bush wants to depose in the Middle East.

Ralph - quit waving your flaccid muscles about, and get on with the real business of governing this province. Or better yet, get out and let the electorate put someone in that actually respects more than their own over-inflated sense of self-importance.

....Grrrrr

The Distinction Between Justice and Revenge

Yesterday, a verdict was handed down in the Air India trial, bringing to a close one of the longest trials and investigations in Canadian history. After 19 months of testimony, the judge found the defendants not guilty.

Of course, the victims families are unhappy, for the very human need to see "something done" to the perpetrators of the Air India bombing remains for them. That's human, and understandable. But justice is seldom about being human and understandable - it's about law, which at best can be humane.

Stephen Harper has been quoted as follows on the subject, putting his voice to calls for a public inquiry into why the investigation and trial failed to achieve a conviction:

"If we do not have a successful prosecution in the end, I believe it is essential we have a public inquiry."

"I'm not in a position to hand down a verdict … I can't challenge the verdict. I can simply say because of more than 300 dead Canadians, justice has not been done."
Actually, I must disagree with Mr. Harper on both assertions. First of all, it is not a prerequisite that the prosecution's case be upheld by the courts in order for justice to have been done. A case in point would be the David Milgaard case. For a variety of reasons, Milgaard was successfully prosecuted even though he was - as we have recently determined - innocent of the crimes he was accused of. In fact, his original conviction was clearly a serious miscarriage of justice - a failure to do justice.

Second, in reviewing the verdict documents themselves from the Air India case, it seems quite clear that the judge found the Crown's case lacking credibility. The witnesses on the stand were for a variety of reasons less than believable in the judge's view. It seems quite clear to me that the judge felt that a conviction under such circumstances could potentially be a serious miscarriage of justice. With little evidence to corroborate the stories of the various witnesses (most of whom seemed to know about the situation "second-hand"), and witnesses whose stories have mutated over the intervening years, I can understand the judge's reluctance to issue a conviction.

Was justice done? Yes, it was. The judge did not claim that the accused did not commit the acts that they were accused of. He simply asserted that the Crown failed to demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the accused had _IN_FACT_ committed those acts. A statement of that nature is pretty clear to me - the very safeguards that are intended to protect our rights and liberties as citizens of a free country triggered and have protected the accused from spending further time in prison with respect to acts that they may not have in fact committed.

Do we need a "public inquiry" to figure out what happened to cause such a huge, and expensive investigation to not achieve the desired results? (Namely to capture and punish those responsible for Air India) No, we do not. In the 20 years that have elapsed since that fateful day, much has changed and a public airing of 20 year old laundry from CSIS and the RCMP is hardly going to tell us anything we don't already know.

Mr. Harper, and those who cry for blood as a result of the acquittal need to step back and think carefully about their own liberties and rights as citizens of this land. Further, the notion of justice as opposed to revenge needs to be thought about carefully. Justice is not revenge. Sometimes, justice is served by punishment; other times, it is served by acquittal. Cases like the Milgaard situation make it clear that errors can and do occur in the judicial system. It is good to know in this case that if there are errors, that two men are not rotting in a jail cell as a result of those errors.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What is CCC anyways???

After reading today's column by Mr. Chandler in the Globe and Mail regarding the current leadership of the Conservative party, I decided it was time to sit down and give some more serious analysis to Mr. Chandler's "Concerned Christians" group, and just who they align themselves with.

So going to their "moral links" page, I found the following:

Political Links:

The Conservative Party
The Christian Heritage Party

Media Links:

The Western Standard (anyone else remember "Alberta Report"???)

"Traditional Family" Links: (anti-{abortion/equality/homosexual...})

Canada Family Action Coalition
RealWomen Of Canada
Focus On The Family Canada

Anti-Abortion Links

British Columbia Parents & Teachers For Life
Campaign Life Coalition
Alberta Pro-Life
Birthright

Anti-Sexuality:

Pure Intimacy
NARTH
  • www.hopeforhomosexuals.com - sharing a message of faith, hope, and love.
  • Stephen Bennett Ministries - An organization run by a former homosexual who has "been there, and done that." After eleven years and well over 100 sexual relationships with men, Stephen Bennett was radically changed by the love of Jesus Christ.
  • www.settingcaptivesfree.com - An online course provided by the Georgia-based organization called Setting Captives Free, designed to help homosexuals find redemption from sin and their true purpose in life.
  • www.becomingreal.org - we're here. To talk about same-sex attraction openly, honestly and with a Christian perspective, in a way that will be helpful to you in your journey.
So...lessee what we have here - 3 links to political and media organizations; 3 links to "family values" groups {a euphemism for those that idealize the 1950's "nuclear family" model - and forget all of the problems with that model}; 4 links to anti-abortion groups, and 6 links to groups that want to save homosexuals (and others) from their supposed sins.

Essentially, 10 of the groups that this bunch align with want to dictate how the people of this land conduct themselves sexually. If you add in the 3 "family values" links - which are inevitably shrill in their horror over homosexuality, the vast majority of the linkage are to groups who want to poke their nose in your bedrooms. (Not to mention tell you how you should live an upstanding "Christian(tm)" life).

I am actually rather amazed by this. You would think that they might actually have links that would lead the reader to something persuasive - like scripture perhaps, or to the websites of their various member's churches. No, instead, they are spending all of their space and energy worrying about other people's sexuality.

The purely theological arguments don't bother me - you can pretty much make scripture say whatever's convenient at that time. Do a quick examination some time, and you will find it's relatively easy to find interpretations of biblical scripture that are quite accomodating of sexual variance.

More insidious are groups like NARTH and Birthright which cloak their position in words that attempt to claim a legitimacy of apparent impartiality. (Or at least a degree of "clinical" validity) Birthright does it by careful omission of the term Abortion anywhere in their literature; NARTH by making clinical psychological claims that are virtually impossible to substantiate.

You can look at this and say "so what?". The problem is that these organizations have no interest in rational investigation that would potentially call question to the conclusions they so desperately want to find. (e.g. that sexual orientation is mutable). How many people will they harm irrevocably in their zeal for achieving some social ideal that they've dreamt up based on history and biblical scripture?

How many laws would they demand a hypothetical Conservative government promulgate that would marginalize citizens of this country?

Although I suspect that the narrow-minded thinking of groups like this belongs to a very small percentage of the population, their vocal protestations make them very important to watch - carefully. I suspect the coming policy convention of the Conservative party in Montreal will have serious implications for the party's ongoing viability. How strong is the "social conservative" faction in that party? Are they strong enough to derail the party's move towards a message that will play well outside of Alberta? (Probable - in fact likely)

Will it be enough to cause the party to fracture? Possibly.

The hammer clicks into place...

I was browsing the Globe and Mail website this morning, and stumbled across this lovely little tirade from Craig Chandler of "Concerned Christians Canada".

As I read it, I heard the first gun in the "Firing Squad" I alluded to earlier cock its firing pin.

According to Mr. Chandler:

We social conservatives have been Mr. Harper's loyal soldiers in the former Canadian Alliance party and in the new Conservative Party and we are the reason why Mr. Harper is leader.
Ah? Calling in the debts, are we? Dolt! You call in the debts when the debtor is in a position to do something about it, not before. Welcome to the recycling history of the Conservative Party of Canada, no matter which incarnation it might be.

This is followed by the following gem of rational thought:

In my conversations with Mr. Harper, we would always agree that doing what is right is more important then doing what is popular. We agreed that the objective is getting our conservative principles into power. We agreed that the majority of Canadians are both fiscally and socially conservative and would vote for a leader who would stick to these principles.
I hate to point out the obvious, but if it weren't for the timing of the Sponsorship Scandal, this country would be sitting under another Liberal majority government today. The Conservatives made modest gains in Ontario, but those are very tenuous gains indeed - especially in the urban areas.

Canadians didn't vote for a fiscal and social conservative leader. QED.

Chandler then goes on to argue:

Social conservatives are becoming increasingly disillusioned to the point of staying home at election time, as evidenced by the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history last July. The re-election of U.S. President George W. Bush is a testament to the political activity and clout of evangelical Christians. Conservative leaders such as Mr. Harper should be paying close attention.
Duh. Lessee - that was in the United States, not Canada for a start. I would point out that George Bush enjoys the lowest approval rating of _any_ president in history as far as Canadians are concerned. Strangely enough, I think Mr. Harper has been paying attention to Mr. Bush's popularity - in Canada, where Harper's home turf is.

With guys like Chandler attempting to become the "power behind the scenes" in the Conservative party, we can be assured that the social conservatives will continue to hold sway, just as they did in the Reform/Alliance days. Promulgating policy and direction which is typically narrow-minded, mean-spirited and all around nasty.

If you're not sure about that, go take a long, critical look at the Concerned Christians website - or other websites of a similar ilk - and ask yourself if you really want that kind of philosophy running the country. Ask yourself "who's next?" after they push their "traditional values" agenda through - is it women's rights? is it ethnic equality? what about religious freedom?

Oh yes, and let us not forget that so much of what they would legislate can only be supported by invoking the "Notwithstanding clause".

But getting back to the original point - Chandler's pointing his gun straight at Harper. To hazard a guess, Harper's experiencing exactly what Manning did - he's realized that he needs to play to a much greater audience, and that's getting the social conservatives all bent out of shape, as some of their "pet hobby horse issues" have to be put aside in the interests of making gains outside of Alberta.

Monday, March 14, 2005

NAFTA II???

I was going to do a bit of a research piece on the depths of the Religious Reich's misinformation campaigns on the web.

However, that was before I heard this piece on the news while driving home. On CBC's "As It Happens" program, they had a fairly lengthy interview with John Manley (former deputy Prime Minister of Canada) - which the Globe and Mail summarizes in this article.

This evil little discussion is little more than NAFTA being expanded to include defense and immigration policy. To date, the United States hasn't exactly worked with NAFTA, in fact, they have worked very much against it - case in point, the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with Canada. I'm sure there are issues around NAFTA and Mexico vis a vis the United States as well.

So - the first question in my mind is "why?". Good grief. The biggest player in the agreement isn't terribly interested in playing by the agreed upon rules to start with - I can't even begin to fathom the logic that would suggest that expanding cooperation with the US further is going to be "good" for Canada's (or Mexico's) interests.

NAFTA was supposed to make it easier for people to cross the borders for trade purposes. It was supposed to drop idiotic tariffs on products going both directions. Instead, crossing the border in either direction leaves one feeling as though they are a criminal for wanting to do so.

Is a "North America Passport" going to really make a difference? I doubt it. Even if it is possible to clear the no doubt monumental hurdles that US INS is going to put in front of anyone outside of the US getting one of these things, what makes me believe that there's going to a change in attitude on the part of the customs officials?

Does Canada want the US imposing its immigration policy on us? (Or Mexico, for that matter?) The growing degree of xenophobia that has been demonstrated by the US government since 9/11 doesn't exactly make US immigration policy something that I believe Canada should follow.

The further assertion that Mr. Manley made in the CBC interview was that Canadians want to not only cross the border freely, but sell anything in sight to the Americans. Wrongo! More and more, I - for one - find myself believing that it is very much in Canada's vital interests to cultivate our relationships with the Eurpeans, Asians and other emerging trade blocs in the world. The NAFTA experience has not made me believe that the US government is interested in "free trade" per se, rather than America-centric trade. Although Canada does have to recognize that geography guarantees that the US will always be a major trade partner, we have to look out for our own interests abroad.

Why on earth would Canada sign up to every nutty defense scheme that comes out of the Pentagon? The US has consistently maneuvered to dismantle Canadian military armaments production capability. (e.g. the now-infamous deal that killed the Avro Arrow ) Of course, we should sign up to the wonderful hallucination of "missile defense" that the US has been chasing since the end of WWII. Aligning our defense policy with American paranoia doesn't exactly give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Signing an agreement that expands what's already in NAFTA - especially when it gets into realms of unifying immigration and other policy bits, strikes me as a phenomenally bad plan, and one that is not worth Canada's time to pursue. Perhaps, if the US happens to elect a government that is more amenable to actual international cooperation than the current bunch of xenophobes it might be worth considering. But certainly not today, with today's players.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

And The Mexican Firing Squad Moves Into Formation...

I had thought that the Conservatives had almost dodged the Social Issues bullet in their upcoming policy convention.

However, howls of protest from within the party seem to have changed all that - according to this article in the National Post.

Quoting from the last part of the article:

"The reaction on the social-conservative side of things was one of absolute anger. There was complete rage that in a party claiming to be grassroots and democratic, they were doing an end-run around social conservatives," said Craig Chandler, CEO of Concerned Christians Canada, a Calgary-based group focused now on opposition to same-sex marriage legislation.
Remember, Craig Chandler was the dark horse candidate that stepped aside during the introductory speeches at the leadership convention that selected Stephen Harper. As I recall, that particular speech was one of the more hate-filled pieces of vitriol I've ever heard.

If the "social-conservative" side of this party is headed up by goons like Craig Chandler, I think we can be assured of a rather amusing convention next week. (Not rational, amusing)

I imagine that the squawking, screaming and screeching from the bunch of harpies that have traditionally called themselves "social conservatives" (neanderthal throwbacks, IMO) in the previous incarnations of what is now called the Conservative party embody all of the worst attributes of humanity - narrow mindedness, bigotry, inflexibility and a bad attitude to go with it.

From the Wikipedia article on Harpies:
They were agents of punishment who abducted people and tortured them on their way to Tartarus. They were vicious, cruel and violent. They lived on Strophades. They were usually seen as the personifications of the destructive nature of wind.
Not unlike the most vocal of social conservatives - loud, mean, nasty and windy indeed...

I fully expect we'll get to see - once again - the ugly underbelly of misconception, intolerance and bigotry that has infested the Reform and Alliance incarnations of the Conservatives. Whether more moderate views will prevail is moot - the screaming alone should be enough to turn off Quebec voters, and will alienate urban Ontario voters pretty quickly as well.

Of course, we will see lots of publicity about the same-gender marriage (and a huge amount of holier-than-thou religious arguments put forth at that time) Which reminds me - I saw a bumper sticker the other day I rather liked - it read "Straight, but not Narrow".

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Further Thoughts on End-Times and Bush Foreign Policy

I'm not sure which scares me more - some nutbar hijacking a plane, or George Bush and his swaggering six-shooter approach to foreign policy (especially in the Middle East).

In a speech today, Bush is quoted as saying that "By now it should be clear that decades of excusing and accommodating tyranny in the pursuit of stability has only led to injustice and instability and tragedy." (Full text of Bush's speech is here)

Great - so you think that democracy imposed at the end of a gunbarrel is going to be stable? What kind of daft logic is that? Stumbling through over 1500 years of post-Roman Europe, western civilization only achieved the form of democracy we see today in the last 300 years or so (and that's being optimistic) Even if we can get the Middle East countries to adopt structures that are known to work reasonably well, there is a huge assumption about the cultural values and structures in that part of the world that BushCo. is ignoring.

Recent events in Lebanon are no surprise - no nation is going to be overly thrilled with the notion of being occupied by a foreign power. With opportunity knocking, the Lebanese people are rising up to push out the occupiers. That does not mean that the very divisions that led Lebanon into civil war in the 1980s (or was it 1970s - I don't remember) have been resolved or worked through. Democracy in Lebanon may be a very fleeting thing - to be replaced by another strongman power when opportunity knocks. (Nor would I accuse either Afghanistan or Iraq of being "stable" democracies at this time - neither country is stable in its government)

This coming on the heels of yesterday's announcement that Bush appointed John Bolton as the new American ambassador to the United Nations. Great, so you've just made a man whose disdain for the UN is well known America's representative to that body. Logical, hmmm?

BushCo's designs on the Middle East need to be carefully examined for what they are. With a president who seems to think that he is divinely inspired - or possibly even divine? - it's not hard to see where these policies lead. BushCo is putting into place the very people that will allow them to self-justify ignoring or even dissolving the UN, meanwhile, they can carry on their little crusade in the Middle East in a desperate effort to bring about the events forecast in the Book of Revelations.

Between here and there, Bush seems quite unconcerned about how many people will be injured or even killed (after all, doesn't the book of revelations say something about the dead rising up?). If Bush does manage to trigger the prophesied "rapture", he may well find himself alone in the White House. (The Book of Revelations doesn't suggest that God approves of the events of the apocalypse itself, does it?)

Two Tales of Conservatives

Living where I do, I get the dubious pleasure of listening to not one, but two "Conservative" parties engage in what they think passes for political discourse.

Provincially, we have a "Progressive Conservative" party currently holding the reigns of power. In a series of softball questions from a backbench MLA to the Attorney General, we found out this morning (or yesterday) two things -

1. The Alberta Government is opposed to the legalization of marijuana bill that Ottawa is considering.
2. The government will hold an inquiry into the recent slaying of 4 RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe last week.

First, in the department of "not getting it", the shootings in Mayerthorpe had exactly zero to do with the legalization of Marijuana. The nut-case that did the shooting had serious mental problems, and obviously a more than slightly paranoid view of the RCMP.

In addition to a small scale Marijuana grow-op, he was running a chop shop and was himself possessed of firearms he shouldn't have had and a criminal record long enough for Gilbert and Sullivan's KoKo to use as his "little list". Oh yes, and did I mention the truck that was up for repossession that set this whole business off?

In other words, this guy was looking for a confrontation, and quite unlikely to live "within" the law anyhow. For all intents and purposes, he was a career criminal. No more, no less. If there's anything to be pursued here, it's not the law itself, but instead, let's track down where he got an assault rifle from, and give the SOB that sold him that weapon the 4 life sentences so richly deserved.

In Edmonton, we're talking about an inquiry - this coming from a Government who wastes taxpayer dollars running its own little execu-toy airline, and gets all nervous and twitchy when you question their spending habits... hmmm....

On the federal front, we have Stephen Harper's merry band of "Conservatives" - mostly a group who should call themselves "Republican-Wannabes". The Conservatives will be holding a policy convention this month. Apparently, in a sudden fit of what passes for intelligence, the caucus has put forth a motion on all of the touchy social conservative issues - abortion, gay rights, euthanasia etc. - that says that all of those topics should be matters of conscience for the MPs, and therefore the party should make them 'free votes' in the house. My, my, my - it would appear that in the face of actually have to make a position, the Conservatives are making a dive for the mushy-grounds - in this case trying to evade having to make a policy at all.

It's really quite laughable when you think about it. What it says is that a Conservative MP isn't even going to represent - or discuss - their constituents' beliefs, but instead are going to vote based on "their conscience". Given the stunning silence of Jason Kenney's office to correspondence that might cause Mr. Kenney to re-examine his position on anything, I can only imagine that a Conservative government - should this country ever be fool enough to elect one - will be about as non-responsive as you can get.

Of course, the obvious point is also that the Conservatives in their current form are afraid to tackle real issues head on. Instead, they are going to play the populist card and "defer" to the "conscience" of their MPs. (Just like King Ralph does from his seat in Edmonton) Great, so if I vote for a Conservative MP, what am I voting for? My MP, or the party line? Come to think of it, what would the party line be????

Oh - wait, I think I've got it! I'm voting for my local MP, who will toe the party line. However, if the issue is too touchy for the party to take a real position, my MP will take an arbitrary position and ignore opinions that are inconvenient.

Frankly, at the moment, I'll take Paul "Mr. Dithers" Martin, he's at least willing to take a position on issues and then engage in discussion. Having lived in Alberta under King Ralph - who insists on starting pissing matches with Ottawa over everything - I really don't think I want to see Harper anywhere near 24 Sussex Dr.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Middle East Forecast

Events in the Middle East are like the Weather in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains - it changes minute by minute, with cloud banks forming and dissolving as you watch.

Syria is now making apparent moves to withdraw from Lebanon - or at least from Beirut. Most interesting indeed. It leaves me a little bit puzzled as to what Syria's president is thinking. Clearly, he's not doing the 'thumb you nose' routine that Saddam Hussein did in the months leading up to the American invasion of Iraq. One can only imagine that he is trying to set things up so that when the US decides to invade that the political footing for BushCo. is as flimsy as possible. (On the world stage)

I suspect that President Bashar al-Assad is being relatively compliant where Lebanon is concerned - or at least making the appearance of being compliant - in a gambit to force the American hand with respect to Iraq. The United States has accused Syria of funding/supporting/assisting the Iraq "Insurgency" repeatedly. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon (which has gone more or less ignored for the last decade or more) is about the only card that BushCo. can play that will appear valid on the world stage. The consequences of taking it away are obvious - it further isolates the Americans, setting the stage for a galvanization of the Arab world in the face of an increasingly belligerent BushCo.

Given the current situation (as of this morning), my suspicion is that Syria has deferred an American invasion of his country by a few months by starting to withdraw from Lebanon. No matter what else you say, Syria is just not a big player on the world stage. However, its geographical location with respect to Israel makes it very significant to the 'Rapturists' in Washington. (Far more so than Iraq - although Iraq has served an important strategic purpose) I expect over the coming months that things will unfold more or less along these lines:

  1. The US will continue to paint Iran as some kind of Nuclear-Capable Bogeyman. Iran is prominent enough on the world stage to create the kind of indistinct threat that BushCo. needs to continue justifying his so-called "War on Terror" (more aptly named "Pope Bush's New Crusade" (tm))
  2. Syria will be invaded sometime around late summer. Likely after a particularly gruesome attack in Iraq by the "insurgents". Evidence will come to the surface shortly thereafter liking the insurgents to parties in Syria.
  3. The justification used for invading Syria will be something along the lines of "ensuring the freedom of the Iraqi people, and liberation of the Syrian people from a despotic regime that supports terrorists".
  4. The timing of any invasion of Syria will correspond directly with some kind of ugly legislation being pushed through the US Congress. At the moment it seems likely that would either be a bill re-enabling the Draft, or Bush's vaunted "Social Security Reforms" (You know - the ones that punish the poor for being poor)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Bush, Iraq, Israel and Eschatology

Escha-what??? - No, it's not the study of M.C. Escher's more obscure artworks.

Eschatology is the theological study of "end times". Just about every religion man has invented over the years has some kind of cataclysmic "end of the world" buried in its mythos somewhere. The "popular notion" of Christian Eschatology tends to focus heavily on the interpretation of the Book of Revelations in the New Testament.

George W. Bush has seldom made any bones about his religious convictions and the fact that they play an important role in his thought processes. Ever since Bush came to power in 2000, there has been quite a bit of speculation over how much Bush allows religion to influence his foreign policy.

With events in and around Israel quite central to the content of the Book of Revelations, there is perhaps reason to begin to suspect that various people in the Bush administration view events in the Middle East as potentially fulfilling some of the prophecies of the Bible. With websites springing up dedicated to the whole issue of an apparently pending apocalypse, there is clearly an emerging, near fever pitch, desire for the so-called "rapture" to happen.

Those that believe in a pending apocalypse point to the formation of Israel in 1948, and the growing wars in the Middle East as fulfilment of some of the key "end-times" prophesies in the Bible. In BushCo's foreign policy two things leap immediately to mind as contributing to the 'war in the Middle East' prophecy - first, American military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nobody likes to live under military occupation - it's nasty at the best of times, but the Arab will be particularly horrified by the notion, as it will offend the tribal and family notion of honor. Second is America's unswerving loyalty to the current state of Israel. (For example, BushCo's refusal to deal with Yasser Arafat makes little rational sense when one reviews the actions and behaviour of Ariel Sharon's government towards the Palestinians. The obvious bias of the BushCo. administration in Israel has completely undermined the ability of the United States to act as a peace broker in the region.

Revelations 9:15-16 talk of releasing four angels bound in the River Euphrates:


Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
Cruelty Injustice
9:15
And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.

Since the Euphrates and it's sister river, Tigris, just happens to run through Iraq, one could also fit the invasion of Iraq into this. Time in the Bible is seldom literal time, so one could argue that the current "insurgency" in Iraq is the angel prepared for a day; Iran, with it's ongoing confrontation with Washington over nuclear weapons the 'angel prepared for a month', and the outrage of the Arab world towards the treatment that Iraq has experienced under American occupation the angel prepared for a year.

With the rise of a particularly strident form of evangelical christianity in the United States, it is not a big leap to see how a large number of people would not find the provocation of war in the Middle East troubling. The black-and-white view of the world presented by many evangelical preachers allows them to easily fit events of the world into the prophecy of end-times in the Bible, and thereby give their followers "answers" that seem clear and absolute to topics that are far from being either clear or absolute.

What's perhaps most worrisome in all this is not that George W. Bush is a deeply religious man, but rather that he is apparently willing to be swayed by those that would form policy around religious doctrine. With Bush trying to move the management of social programs in the US into the hands of churches and related organizations, it's not exactly a huge leap to suspect that his foreign policy objectives are being influenced by religious interests.

I'm no theologian, but there are enough intersections between Bush's foreign policy and a particularly literalist interpretation of the contents of Book of Revelations to suspect strongly that US activity in the Middle East is currently driven by a feverish desire on the part of some people to bring about their biblical apocalypse.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Logical Non-Sequitur of "Missile Defense"

Much has been made lately of Canada's decision to stand aside from BushCo's much vaunted "Missile Defense" program. (It is interesting that they've dropped the Reaganesque "Star Wars" designation...)

It occurs to me that the whole notion of attempting to shoot a ballistic object out of the sky from high altitude is mostly nonsensical.

Technically, anything can be achieved if you throw enough dollars at it. (and I'm sure that there's some really cool technology development in the various projects that are associated with the Missile Defense program) So, the notion of targeting and destroying an inbound missile while it is en-route to its destination is quite conceivable. (Of course, anyone who has been paying attention will have observed that the related technology involved has a very long distance to go before it is anywhere near "ready for prime-time use")

To be sure, the "Spy-versus-Spy" world of arms escalation guarantees the evolution of countermeasures ranging from mixed-warhead delivery to devices that change their trajectory with a last burst of rocket burn, or high altitude release of individual warheads. The point being that weapon systems all have a 'trump' card that can be played against them.

The reality is that the best "missile defense" in the world is to be a good citizen of the world. A country that is feared is a target, a country that is respected is not. Perhaps, BushCo. should do a little reflection about their conduct on the world stage, and ask themselves just why they might be targets - if they answer honestly, they might just surprise themselves with the answers.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bush must be desperate for a new 'enemy'

I have to wonder just how desperate BushCo. is for a new war to prosecute. Earlier this week, American officials revealed that they have "evidence" linking Syria to last week's bombing in Israel; then Bush claims a unity of world opinion vis a vis Syria's presence in Lebanon today. Further, he is now issuing demands that Syria pull out of Lebanon, with implied threats attached.

Considering how messy Iraq has been the last few days, one would be hard-pressed to say that the place is "stable" even in the most optimistic of fantasy worlds. I can only imagine that the sudden zeal to excise Syria from Lebanon has relatively little to do with "liberating" either the Lebanese or Syrian peoples. Those within Bush's administration that believe deeply in the notion of a biblical apocalypse soon to unfold want a war in the Middle East at all costs, thus fulfilling one of the many events prophesied in the Book of Revelations, and hastening (they think), the second coming of Christ.

More realisitically, I have to wonder what the next noxious little legislative trick BushCo. have up their sleeves is. Usually when BushCo. starts rattling their sabres abroad, they are about to unveil something particularly smelly in law.

There's no doubt in my mind that the rather abrupt escalation of rhetoric towards Syria is fishy - very fishy. Something doesn't quite add up.

Missing the Point - Entirely

I was browsing the "Letters to the Editor" of the Calgary Sun this morning and found the following letter:

Sorry to burst Link Byfield's bubble, but one of the distinguishing features of a democracy is to protect rights of minorities and often it comes down to a battle by that minority to obtain those rights through court action. Courts are there by appointment of the government to assure they are not guided by public opinion but instead by their morals, values and conscience. Instead of clouding the issues as Byfield and many detractors do, why not state facts. They are against homosexuals having the right to marry and commit to the person they love and wish to spend their lives with. Discrimination is discrimination. If you substituted "black," "aboriginal," "Jew" or another minority, this would never have been a major issue.

Paul Alberstat

(What makes the court's morals, values and conscience superior to those of the public?)
What I found most interesting wasn't the letter itself, so much as the footnote appended by some half-wit at the newspaper. Contrary to popular misconception in Conservative Alberta, the Courts don't deal in morals, values and conscience per se. They deal in something called LAW.

Governments - and hence, politicians - deal with creating law that reflects morals, values and conscience - within the framework of the Constitution of this country and the body of case law that has been built around that.

Of course, the current crop of "Conservatives" - I personally tend to think of them as "Idealized Regressives" - want to legislate on all sorts of things based largely on pseudo-Christian teachings, and a belief that there was an ideal society somewhere around 1950.

The real error that they often make is around legislated morality. There are many spaces where it is difficult, if not impossible, to codify in law the boundaries. In the late 1970s, there were numerous court challenges against what were then called the "Obscenity Laws". These laws made it illegal to import, distribute or purchase "obscene" materials in Canada. Depending on how one read the word 'obscene', the Sears Catalogue could have been treated under those auspices. The noble intention of those laws was, of course, to keep hard-core pornography out of the country. The error in those same laws was in the failure of the legislators to define the term "obscene" successfully. Time and again, the laws were applied inappropriately - to ban a work of art, while still allowing Playboy to be sold in corner stores. After each failed challenge before the courts, legislators would go back to the drawing board and attempt to refine the wording into a form that the courts could work with - and failed every time.

Thinking back on that era, it occurs to me that the mistake of the legislators was obvious. They completely failed to define the harm that they were trying to prevent. There was a vague understanding among them that something had to be done, after all some pretty awful pornography was crossing the border into this country. If the lawmakers had been able to codify the harm that they wished to prevent with this legislation, then it might have stood the test of time.

The current debate around the legal definition of marriage suffers from the same problem. Amid a great gnashing of teeth, and howls of protest that society will crumble, nobody opposed to same-gender marriages has yet defined in credible terms the harm to society. There is much gesticulating at musty old scriptures and declarations of "wrongness", but no real explanation of harm. Define the "harm" to society, and then you might get something that resembles an intelligible law that will be sustainable before the courts.