Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Of Separating Church and State...

Recently, a couple of articles appeared in the mass media out of our neighbors to the south that raise a particularly disturbing picture of the blurring of the distinction between religious faith and the state.

The first about a divorce decree in Indiana where a judge prohibited the parents from exposing their son to their religion - Wicca - following their divorce.

The second of these is a tale of some loose cannon judge in Kentucky who is using Church attendance as an "alternative" sentence option.

Besides the obvious problems with judicial imposition of the specific faith beliefs of the judge directly upon those appearing in their courts, these particular events are signs of a blurring of the line between the secular courts of law and religious law in the United States. I doubt very much that this causes anyone in the White House today any difficulty, although pluralists who believe in more than a monochromatic "Christianity" should be wary of these events. Even with my pidgin knowledge of the US Constitution, these rulings are significant and serious breaches of the guarantees of freedom of religion.

How does this play into the political discussion in Canada? With so-called "Christian Activists" apparently rising to gain control over the public face of the Conservative party; troubling efforts by Muslim clerics in Canada to legitimize so-called "Sharia Law" (done so successfully in Ontario, and failed in Quebec), Canadians must become aware of these "imported" issues.

Enabling Sharia Law - even in Canada's Civil Court system is potentially suspect. There are many aspects of that law as it has been practiced elsewhere in the world that run afoul of guarantees of equality held in the Canadian Constitution. It will take a long time, and a great deal of visible change in the cultural communities involved before the practice of Sharia Law would align readily with the precepts nad assumptions of the greater body of our legal system. The experiment in Ontario has yet to bear significant fruit, only time will tell if it works out in the positive. There is a definite worry in my mind in the application of a legal structure that derives heavily - and directly - from the interpretation of a religious document outside of the practice of that religion.

Christian "Activism" as we are seeing in Canada is taking its cues from the playbook of their counterparts in the United States. Given the Conservative predeliction for wanting to emulate whatever is done in the United States, it is deeply concerning to observe the American judiciary making rulings that are based on the specific personal leanings of the judge.

As I have pointed out before, Freedom of Religion is a very personal thing, and with the multitude of belief systems that are in the world today such guarantees in any constitution mean that the laws and the enforcement of them must become purely secular.

Monday, May 30, 2005

France Votes Non ... Pour quoi?

So, France has voted against the proposed EU constitution.

Since I haven't been following the debate in the french media all that closely, I'm not entirely clear as to the arguments on both sides of the debate. Like most political debates, the situation in France is filled with innuendo and supposition.

The sketchy coverage on the various news sites around the world aren't terribly informative as to the nature of the arguments. The Oui side seemed to be speaking mostly in terms of advancing the EU, and playing off France's central role in that body. The Non side seems to be playing off different arguments depending on whether the roots are on the left or right wings of the political spectrum. A combination of factors ranging from xenophobia, to a belief that the proposed constitution is "too pro-business" seem to have been raised.

Given France's unique history of governmental philosophy, I'm not entirely surprised by this. France has never bought into the notion of unbridled capitalism. If the EU constitution left the "average" voter with the impression of Thatcher-era England, then I can see quite easily why it was rejected.

I can also see the French Nationalist argument coming to the surface. The French have always been jealously protective of their particular form and structure of government. If there was even the slightest whiff of that being "eroded" by the legal structures of the EU, voters would no doubt run the other way.

Complexity is no doubt another factor. The EU is a complex beast - even in its former incarnation as the EEC, it was complex and confusing. As a political entity, it has become even more more so, with no sign of simplification.

Add to that, a cranky electorate in France that is spoiling for an opportunity to give President Chirac a "spanking", and it's perhaps not such a big leap to understand what drove the french voters to vote Non.

This will doubtless have enormous repercussions on both the European stage, as well as on the world stage. Economically, Europe constitutes one of the world's largest economies, second only to the USA, and rivalled by a China growing by leaps and bounds. A politically unified Europe could easily have become a positive counter-weight to the American dominance in the world. As it stands now, it is quite likely that China will become that counter weight in the next decade, likely plunging the world into another Cold War like state, as political forces in America manipulate the irrational fears of their people.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Theo-Conservatives in Canada

Recently, in the Globe and Mail, there have been a few articles that once again raise the question of the Theo-Cons and their role within the Conservative Party of Canada. Rather specifically, it is the apparent rise in visibility, where people who are known Theo-Cons are achieving prominence through the candidate nomination process. A recent Leger poll makes it quite clear that many people are decidedly uncomfortable with the amount of influence that the Theo-Cons seem to have with Stephen Harper and his advisors.

When affiliations with Focus on the Family Canada emerge, Canadians must become somewhat suspicious of the motives of these people. Dobson's "Focus on the Family" organization is hardly "Christian" any more. It has become a political entity designed to propogate Dobson's unique ideas about how society should function. Their presence in Canada, and apparent involvement in Canadian politics is essentially an export of American politics. No big surprise here. The Conservative positions on so many issues sound disturbingly like a "mimic-the-Americans" stance - whether that is health care, human rights, justice, foreign affairs or whatever else you can think of. To hear US-style Theo-Cons making their arguments.

I remember an article that then-newly minted MP Jason Kenney wrote for community newsletters in his riding. In it, Mr. Kenney quoted precepts and concepts that have their roots in American law, and the American Constitution as if they applied in Canada.

The blind assumption that "Canada's Just Like The US" appears to similarly afflict the Theo Cons now trying to assert control over the Canadian Conservative party. The assumption that the legal constructs in Canada are the same as they are in the United States is deeply flawed. The Canadian Constitution is a document that is new and unique in the world. In spite of a few words in its preamble, it makes no assertion of a foundation in any one faith, and further goes so far as to protect the rights of all, regardless of their faith. Further, subtleties in the wording of various "lists" in the document make it quite clear that those lists are not to be interpreted exclusively, but rather inclusively.

It is the elasticity of those clauses that causes the Theo-Cons a great deal of distress. It is virtually impossible to create sustainable legislation of the nature that they demand. Legislation that would marginalize or limit the rights of anyone would indeed be difficult to write (and applying the "Notwithstanding Clause" would be unwise indeed - for that merely defers the debate a few short years).

Unlike the United States which was forged from the fires of revolution and civil war, Canada was formed by consensus and compromise. The 1983 Constitution similarly is the result of consensus and compromise as well, and makes compromise and consensus much stronger than mere will of the majority, but also ensures that the minority groups in the country must also be protected at the same time.


The current black-and-white world view of the Theo-Cons in this country is doomed to the reality of a constitutional framework that demands compromise. Until they learn to quit playing absolutes, Theo-Cons are doomed to frustration in Canada.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Fractures in the Conservative Party?

Yesterday, in my travels through the web, I found an article on the Toronto Star website which was talking about Stephen Harper's leadership. It characterized him as "Intelligent, but Cold" - probably a fairly accurate comment on how Harper comes across on the public stage. Most interesting were the following comments from a couple of members of the so-called "Calgary School" group that influenced Harper's political beliefs:

Bercuson, however, complains that Harper has made too many concessions to the social conservatives and instead has compromised what he calls the far more important economic and constitutional agenda.
...
But what may be most telling from the musings of Bercuson and Cooper is that even they — who are Harper's intellectual bedfellows and long-time associates — don't have much of a personal relationship with the Conservative leader and, in fact, rarely speak to him.

Cooper says he had dinner with Harper in Ottawa a couple of years ago but hasn't talked with him since.

Bercuson says that by talking to the Star openly about his criticisms of the Conservatives, "I'm probably cooking my goose with Harper. But he has to hear this."

In the streets of Calgary, few talk about the Belgian model or Harper's views on Kyoto.


Very interesting - two of the people that should be among Harper's strongest backers are apparently not there any more.

Then, on the Globe and Mail's website this morning, I found this article talking about Conservative riding nominations. The upshot of it? People in the Conservative party with ties to radical "Christian" organizations like "Focus on the Family" out of the United States are winning nominations to run as candidates for the Conservative party in a Federal Election (likely to occur either in the fall or winter of this year).

To me, this is no big surprise. I've said for a long time that I do not believe that the "Christian" right-wing elements in the Conservative party were satisfied with the outcome of the policy convention this spring, nor do I believe that the policies that were adopted do much more than place a veneer of moderation over top of the seething moral outrage of the social conservative set in that party. Outfits like "Concerned Christians Canada, Inc", have been trying to flex their muscles with Harper ever since he was chosen as leader of the party, with tactics that range from outright threats to backroom maneuvering.

Once again, conservative elements in this country are dividing along fiscal and social lines. In spite of the protestations of people like the Byfields, fiscal conservatism is not ideologically compatible with social conservatism. (at least not in the long run)

Then, just to round things out, the following poll was in released today. What does it say? Well, it doesn't that Harper's leadership is a problem for voters (I'd say it is - but that's my opinion, and I'm but one vote). Instead, it suggests that nationally, voters in this country are not particularly comfortable with the social conservative line, and they sense that it is lurking not too far below the surface of the Conservative party. For all that the social conservative set don't want to admit it, Canada is not a socially conservative country by and large - it tends towards a moderate, small-l liberal position overall. Voters (outside of Alberta) won't trust parties that they even suspect of being affiliated with the extremism of organizations like Dobson's "Focus on the Family".

What's that sound I hear? - Oh nothing, just the Conservative party calving off another party.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Media Bias?

For the last several years, conservatives in both Canada and the US have railed on about two things - so-called "Judicial Activism", and the bias of a "lib-left" media.

Yesterday's "good-news/bad-news" revelations for Liberals - the bad news being the latest from the Gomery Commission; the good news being a byelection win in Happy Valley-Goose Bay provides a perfect opportunity to take a look around at various media sources and assess just how "biased" they appear to be.

Target #1 - The CBC

Critics have long charged that the CBC is no more than a Liberal-biased mouthpiece for the Federal Liberal party.

At 7:00 AM this morning, the top 3 headlines on CBC:

Adverse Drug Reaction Database Goes Online
Queen to Wrap Up Canadian Visit
More Murder Charges Against Pickton

Both stories referenced above had already made their way onto the "oh-by-the-way" list below the main headlines. The two stories contained a reasonable amount of descriptive content, and a link to the Kroll report in PDF format was present.

Target #2 - The Sun Newspapers

I've always considered the Sun newspapers "journalism lite". They are mostly a vehicle to sell advertising, and the stories tend to be short, pithy and lacking in sufficient detail to be truly informative.

Across Canada, it's a mixed bag. The Calgary Sun is screaming in outrage over the Kroll report, and scarcely finds space to mention the byelection occurring; the Edmonton Sun's front page is all about the Royal Visit. The headline page on Canoe mentions the byelection and someone from the PMO who is due to testify before Gomery - almost as if the Kroll audit never happened.

As near as I can tell, the Sun newspapers looked at what was going to sell the most copies this morning in their respective markets, and used that to decide what was going to drive their content. (No surprise, when your revenue stream is all about eyeballs and advertisers)

Target #3 - The National Post

Once Conrad Black's favorite toy, now largely controlled by the Aspers through Canwest Global.

Sure enough, the lead headline screams in outrage over the Kroll report. Creditably, there is a secondary article talking about the byelection win. Both stories attempt to provide a reasonable amount of detail. The writing itself clearly contained a certain amount of "editorial lean" to it, but not so much as to be blatantly partisan.

Target #4 - The Globe and Mail

According to conservative pundits, the Globe and Mail is almost as offensive as the CBC is. Their coverage is almost the polar opposite of the The National Post's - visual prominence is given to the by-election (mostly by presenting a photograph as well as the headline).

Both stories are reasonably detailed, and more or less factual. The print edition of the Globe gave more prominence to the Gomery revelations than the electronic edition did.

Conclusions? It's pretty hard for me to claim that there is a pro-liberal or pro-conservative bias really. The nationally oriented news bodies (CBC, National Post, Globe and Mail) all seemed to try to present things in a reasonable and balanced fashion. The Sun Newspapers, along with other "local market" papers I looked at pretty much tried to play to their local market, and what would play well there. The Calgary Sun (as one would expect) was full of righteous outrage, but the Edmonton Sun was clearly more interested in Her Majesty's visit to Alberta.

If there was a bias, it was in the Calgary Sun - and that bias was decidedly partisan indeed. (No surprise there)

I didn't go after editorial content such as columnists. Those are opinion pieces, and are often meant to be provocative. They reflect the writers, and to some degree the editors behind them. As long as the presentation of the facts is reasonably straight-forward, I don't see any point in getting all wound up about individual commentators (at least in terms of claiming "media bias")

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

My, What an Interesting Day

The fallout of today's events will continue to echo throughout the political landscape of this country for quite some time to come.

On one hand, the Liberals won a victory in the Labrador byelection - something of a surprise, actually. Byelections are notorious for going against the governing party in Canada, this is possibly one of the few that I can recall where the incumbent party has actually won.

On the other hand, the release of the Kroll Report - a subtext audit of the Sponsorship Program's monies and cash flow escaped into the public view today. At nearly 200 pages of financial analysis, it's going to take a while to digest. (Yes, I downloaded a copy - whether I'll actually understand all of it is another story) At a glance, this is news that the Liberals didn't need - tacking another $150 million onto the price tag of the Sponsorship Program doesn't exactly look good. On the other hand, in fairness, I haven't read it all yet - and an initial view of things suggests that the advertising execs involved skimmed a heck of a lot more off than they "donated" to the Liberal party. (Of course - that doesn't make what happened right)

How the various parties play what has happened out in the House of Commons in the coming weeks will be very interesting indeed. The Conservatives will have to do a lot more work to persuade people that they are going to push over the government; and the Liberals will have to take some very interesting steps to make it clear that the wrongdoers involved in the Sponsorship Program are being brought to justice (as well as being expunged from the party - rather publicly)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Towards a Common Language of Discourse

Lately, in my travels around the news and other blogs I have noticed that there is a vast gap in the meanings that various factions are ascribing to words.

Whether one's leaning is to the political "left" or "right", there is a significant difference in the meaning that writers are assuming is ascribed to various words.

Lately, a number of Conservative commentators (I use the capitalized word to reference to the partisan affiliation with the Conservative Party, as opposed to a philosophical conservative), have been talking about the idea of the current Martin-led Liberal government as "illegitimate".

When challenged on the question of what they meant by legitimacy, the response was a series of largely emotionally driven epithets surrounding the Sponsorship Scandal. In essence, the writer(s) were asserting that the government was illegitimate because in their view the Liberals could not claim any "moral" ground. The actions of Chretien's inner circle in the late-'90s taints the current government.

That's fine, but to me, the notion of illegitimacy has a very specific meaning in terms of Canadian Law. The assertion that the government is no longer legitimate would mean that there is clear reason to ask the Governer General to dissolve parliament immediately. Such grounds would be - traditionally a lost vote of confidence - but could also include substantial evidence of electoral fraud having taken place in the last election.

Given that the current Liberal minority government was elected last June, and to my knowledge, there were no significant voting irregularities reported, it's a bit difficult to claim that the Liberals are in a position where Her Majesty could justifiably dissolve parliament. In as much as the Conservative Leader, Stephen Harper, has not approached the Governer General with such allegations, I would have to suspect that the Conservative Party knows full well that they can only assert that the Government is MORALLY illegitimate.

Given that legislation generally fails miserably in its attempts to describe the fuzzy boundaries of the language of morality, (Even ethics is disturbingly difficult to describe in language, much less in the strict language of law) there is no legal impediment to the Martin Liberals continuing as the government. There were two confidence votes last Thursday in which the Conservatives could have toppled the government. That they did not, and have not petitioned for dissolution of parliament on other grounds lays question to the notion of the allegation of illegitimacy in any legal sense.

However, that is not the point of my writing. The underlying issue in the political dialogue in this country is one of language. The old "left-right" spectrum of politics (which served as a useful metric during the height of the Cold War era) is no longer particularly meaningful. We have a Liberal party that is occupying the philosophical space of the old Progressive Conservative party, a Conservative Party that is dominated not by "conservatives" in the classical sense, but rather by a group that seems to mix libertarianism with puritanism and a form of social Darwinism.

In short, not only has the lay of the political land changed, the language needed for reasonable dialogue has not yet been evolved. Where a Conservative commentator uses the term illegitimate to refer to the Liberal Party's moral position and to me the same term has a rather specific meaning derived from the law and Parliamentary tradition, we have a commonality of terms with a significant disjoin in their assumed meanings.

In fact, this is one of the reasons that Stephen Harper continues to have a serious credibility problem outside of Alberta. He continues to express himself in terms that play well in his home province, but are received very differently in Ontario or Quebec. That he chooses not to explain his intentions and the meaning he puts behind his words make it very hard for voters to blindly trust him. (I don't think that the voters blindly trust Martin, either, but Martin isn't labouring with the baggage associated with the old Reform/Alliance days either - where the current Conservative party managed to get itself branded as being populated by a bunch of redneck rubes from Western Canada) As with any form of persuasion, you must speak the language of those that you would persuade.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A Sigh of Relief

Last night's second reading vote on the bills C-43 and C-48 is far from the last we'll hear about this budget. It now goes to committee where I fully expect the Opposition parties to continue to try to block it at every step.

Why do I say I'm relieved? Because, like most Canadians, I'm suffering from a bit of electoral fatigue. I've had to assess candidates and platforms in 3 elections this past year; and residents of one part of my city had 4 elections after electoral fraud was found during the ballot counting process. Another trip to the polls - with the requisite stupidity that seems to accompany campaigns these days - was not high on my list of "ways I'd like to enjoy my summer".

In fact, a summer vote is guaranteed to be the best time to achieve record low voter turnouts anyways. Most people are far more interested in "sunshine-and-barbeques" than listening to our politicians. (I know I am!)

Once Parliament breaks for the summer, it will be time for all of the parties to reflect upon their respective performances. (And hopefully, pull themselve out of the collective sewer that they seem to be floating in)

As previous posts should have made clear, I am particularly disgusted with Mr. Harper's performance - which has been so badly acted that I think he must be getting acting tips from William Shatner. Duceppe isn't far behind in my books, and Martin's "hang-dog" routine needs to go too. In fact, the only leader on Parliament that's actually shown leadership has been the NDP's Jack Layton. (Whether or not you agree with his amendments to the budget, you have to admire his ability and willingness to seize the moment to advance his position)

Mr. Harper, and his inner circle of advisors need to take their blinkers off. What plays well in their home province of Alberta doesn't necessarily play so well in the rest of Canada. Alberta is wierd beast on the political scene, and politicians from that province need to realize that the rest of the country is wary about it. The most radical of statements can be made with virtual impunity in Alberta - as long as the speaker is running under the Conservative banner. That doesn't make Alberta a great place to cultivate national leadership from. The last one we produced was Joe Clark - and for all that I like Joe Clark, I can't say he was all that successful as a parliamentary leader. (Hell of good Parliamentarian, but not so much a compelling leader...) As one comment made earlier on this BLOG pointed out, a Conservative in Alberta needs the political acumen of a garden slug.

Razor-thin as this vote was, I don't think it was victory for any side, so much as for the voters of this country. The reason we have a minority government is because the overall consensus at the polls was "none-of-the-above". While I think some politicians have figured this out, others have not. This summer would be a good time for them to do some homework and figure out why that might be the case.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Harper, Tactics, Strategy and Tact

I've thought for a while that Mr. Harper, and his inner circle were largely a collection of small, mean people. People whose sneering attitude towards their political opposition largely demonstrated the same kind of small-mindedness that I remember seeing in schoolyards as I grew up. Little cliques forming and looking down their noses at anyone who should be different from them.

Harper's antics these last few weeks have only served to reinforce that - whether it's his "Angry White Guy" routine, shutting down the House of Commons for a few "political points", or whatever else. Harper's failure to hear - and listen - to Martin's promise to put the budget bill to a vote on Thursday this week only served to underscore in my mind that this is a leader who will not listen to the country.

Yesterday, two things happened that confirmed my suspicions about the Conservative party. First, they lost their most visible moderate member to the Liberals. Whatever else you may think of Belinda Stronach, she was unquestionably a social moderate in the party. While I do not know what transpired in caucus sessions, nor what she and Stephen Harper talked about at Stornaway a few short weeks before her defection, it is not difficult to imagine that Harper and his inner circle had made her life pretty uncomfortable for a long time. Losing Stronach is symbolic - it confirms for many doubters the notion that the Conservative party has all but smothered the voice of moderates (such as the former Progressive Conservative Party members).

The second thing that happened yesterday was the publicly voiced reactions of the Conservative party members to Ms. Stronach's departure. Mr. Harper couldn't have sounded more like he'd just eaten a barrel-full of lemons if he tried. He couldn't even muster enough gumption to wish her well in the future. No, instead he had to make it personal, pinning it on her "personal ambitions". Mr. Harper should have pasted a smile on his face, and wished her well - publicly at least.

As for the greater body of his caucus members, I can only sit agog at some of the statements I heard. Bob Runciman is quoted on CBC as saying "She sort of defined herself as something of a dipstick, an attractive one, but still a dipstick...". I don't know what kind of neanderthal this guy is, but he just played one of the most blatantly sexist comments I've heard come off the Hill in years. I'd say he'd get along well with the Byfields and other socially extreme elements in the party.

Whatever Mr. Harper's goals may be - he seems to have no idea how to achieve them. His antics the last few weeks show a leader whose tactics are 'moment by moment', and strategy completely eludes him. (As evidenced by how soundly he has been out-maneuvered by an embattled Paul Martin)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Is Harper Gnawing Off His Own Leg?

Stephen Harper's guidance of the Conservative Party is truly a sad spectacle to behold these days.

Last week, he grossly overplayed his hand by moving to adjourn Parliament for three days in succession, a move which is truly irritating to many Canadians.

Also, not helping Mr. Harper's cause so much these days are a number of MPs from the Maritime provinces who are getting a bit of hostile feedback from their constituencies over the Atlantic Accord. (Ah yes, the joys of minority governments - when all but the most secure of MPs actually have to listen to the feedback from their voters - all of them!)

This week, when Prime Minister Martin is asking - legitimately - for a return to civility in the proceedings of the House of Commons, the Conservatives release a new batch of so-called "Attack Ads" for Canadians to endure on their television screens. Brillian move, boys. Just what were you thinking? Canadians are already annoyed with both your rhetoric and hijinx in the House of Commons, and you think we want to listen/watch you attempt to slag the Liberals on TV? Give me a break. (Besides - I think the Liberals are doing a good enough job of slagging themselves lately)

Then, to add to the mess, I see in this morning's headlines that Belinda Stronach has crossed the floor to sit as a Liberal MP. You could argue that it is mere "sour grapes" because Ms. Stronach lost to Stephen Harper in the Conservative leadership campaign. Or, just maybe, it is an indictment of Harper's leadership of late. Ms. Stronach is not stupid, and just might be a little less than comfortable with Harper's overdone "Angry White Man" routine - which seems to be failing entirely to resonate with anyone outside of Alberta. (and even in Alberta, there seems to be an amazing degree of antipathy towards his tactics of late).

For people like me, Stronach represented a more moderate aspect of the Conservative party - one with a good business sense, and at the same time enough understanding of people issues to strike a balance. That she has crossed the floor raises once again the question of just what the forces behind the scenes in the Conservative Party are playing for. I know that the Theo-Cons in the party are crying out for the repayment of a political debt. One can only imagine the machinations going on in the back rooms these days.

The Conservatives - no matter which incarnation you look at - are notorious for "eating their own young" when things don't go their way, but I must admit, this is the first time I've seen the leadership of the party so desperate in their lust for power that they would actually chew off their own legs.

[UPDATE: 17/05/05 14:00]:

It appears that the grapes are a bit sour...this just in from Mr. Harper...

As a programmer, Harper's actions translate to the following:

WHILE ( Self.Foot_Still_Attached() == TRUE )
{
Self.Shoot( FOOT ) ;
}

Sunday, May 15, 2005

How about a little honesty?

What is it with the Bush Administration. Do they actually believe the crap they spew or is it just the blind assumption that the world is populated by idiots?

Secretary of State Rice lands in Iraq and in her speech makes the following claim:

"The United States, along with the rest of the free world, believed somehow for a number of years that people in this region didn't care about freedom," she said. "We cared about stability. And what we got was neither. We got a malignancy that was growing that came to haunt us on the fine September day" in 2001.


I'm sorry, Ms. Rice, but the events of 9/11/2001 do not serve as to absolve the Bush Administration's deeds universally. You can make a reasonably solid case for invading Afghanistan as a result of 9/11, but it's a might bit of a reach to make the same claim about Iraq. The story justifying Iraq has changed so many times that one has to presume that any such story is largely a fiction concocted based on what you think well "sell" in the media.

Since then, the world has been subjected to the tawdry spectacles of Abu Ghraib, Maher Arar's Extradition to Syria, and the shadowy accusations being made about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Is it any wonder that the Muslim world grabs onto claims of desecration of the Qu'ran? True or false, those allegations are taking on a life of their own in the Middle East, and may well become widely held "truth", regardless of the facts.

After the complete failure of American forces to find anything like "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq, it is extremely difficult to believe any assertion that Iraq has anything to do with the so-called "War on Terror" (Originally dubbed a Crusade by Dubya - before his handlers got ahold of it)

I agree with recent commentators on Iraq about one thing - the rightness or wrongness of the invasion is not the issue of the moment. The issue now is how will the United States extricate itself from the mess in that country, and leave the Iraqi people to their own destinies? On the other hand, the actions of the US government into the forseeable future have to be weighed in light of past actions. The world is understandably nervous about the actions of the US, given both past actions and the continued insistence on justifying every action - no matter how noxious - in terms of 9/11 is past its "sell before" date.

A little intellectual honesty from the Bush Administration would go a long ways to beginning to rebuild the image of the United States on the world stage.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Gross Misunderstandings...

Every so often, one runs into a line of reasoning or argument that is so riddled by non-sequiturs that it is impossible to make logical sense of it.

Scanning the Calgary Sun website, I wound up reading Link Byfield's latest column.

In it, Link argues that one cannot be a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Apparently, in Link Byfield's world, it is inconceivable that one could support the notion of the free market, and at the same time be a social liberal. After all, being a social liberal means that you must allow the government unfettered control over society.

I think Mr. Byfield, along with a good fraction of the so-called Conservatives need to take a long, hard look at their belief systems then. If less government is a good thing, and it is necessary that the government retract itself from as much of life as possible, then why is it acceptable to them for government to define in law the notion of marriage at all? Is it not a non-sequitur for them to argue that the government should not permit stem cell research on the basis of their theological and moral worries?

The reality, Mr. Byfield, is that there is no contradiction between being a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. Expecting the government to utilize the monies we cede to it wisely is no big leap, nor is it particularly difficult to accept the notions of the market economy. Strangely, that same acceptance also means acceptance of your fellow human beings as full participants in the system. The market economy does not have room in it for discrimination, hatred and bigotry. (After all, if it's really all about money, money has neither morals nor ethics - remember Enron?)

From what I've been able to deduce, if you are truly a fiscal conservative, then the notion of same-gender marriage is a non-issue. In fact, the whole notion of marriage is moot, and should not even be defined in legislation at all. I will point out to Mr. Byfield that when Pierre Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality in the 1960s, he actually reduced the government's involvement in society.

Of course, a similar variety of denial and ignorance justified slavery too at one time. The fact is that societies change, as do the laws. If Mr. Byfield looks around himself, he might just surprise himself with a realization that humanity is amazing in its diversity, and that there is an entire generation that is looking at the current idiotic debate over marriage and are asking themselves "what's the fuss?".

If, as Mr. Byfield argues, it's about "much more" than same-gender marriage, then I can only presume that it's about his right to continue to treat parts of our society as less than full citizens, less than equal before the law.

I feel sorry for Mr. Byfield, for he is unable to see the very non-sequitur of his position.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Dear Mr. Harper

Last election, the Canadian public saw fit to return to the house not 1 dominant party, but 4 major parties all with the capability of forming the government in alliance with others.

That was less than six months ago. In the intervening time, we have been subjected to you and Gilles Duceppe engaging in whining, grandstanding crying games at every opportunity.

When the Liberal party introduced a budget that was almost as hard-line right wing as I have come to expect from Ralph Klein's tories, it should have made you happy. There were a lot of concessions in that budget, and had you been so inclined (as Jack Layton was), you could easily have pressed for more and succeeded.

Instead, you saw opportunity in the Liberal party slide in the polls, and withdrew your support for the budget. Since then, you - and Gilles Duceppe - have done everything in your power to disrupt the business of a sitting Parliament.

Speaking as a voter, a minority government means one thing - the Canadian public doesn't trust any of the parties at this time. We gave you - and Mr. Layton, Mr. Harper and Mr. Duceppe - a mandate to work together. Compromise, make deals - whatever it takes - but make it work. Frankly, I don't give a damn how difficult it is for you to put aside your ego. Learn to do so.

On the radio this morning, I got to hear you crying about "How Canadian Parliamentary Democracy has to be restored". Mr. Harper, I submit that you look at the reason for the current situation every day in the mirror. Instead of working towards deals, and making things happen, you lust after the keys to 24 Sussex. You spend your time staring at polls, wondering when the best time to force an election is.

Two leaders in the house have figured out the notion of cooperating to make things happen - Mr. Layton, and Mr. Martin. It may be an odd pairing, and you may not like it - too bad. Canadians expect and demand better of their leadership than you have demonstrated recently.

Let me enumerate what I've seen from you in the last six months:

1. Over-acting on a Shatneresque level.
2. Rigidity and an inability to compromise.
3. Enough policy "me toos" over topics such as child care to make me wonder.
4. A caucus of MPs who ignore their constituencies.
5. An alliance with the BQ whilst you accuse the Liberals of a "deal with the devil" - please, give me a break!

What have I not seen?

1. Compromise. Are your views so rigid, so inflexible that you cannot compromise?
2. Platform. Why do you want to govern? What do you represent?
3. Vision. The conservatives haven't tabled anything in this house except motions to shut down the government.

It's a minority parliament - both the Conservatives and BQ are ideally positioned to move their agendas forward by tabling legislation and arm twisting the government.

In short, a summer election, as likely as it is, seems to me a waste of taxpayer dollars. Take some ownership, show some leadership. Just maybe, you'll find that things work out. Quit staring at polls every time you turn around, and start focusing on the job at hand. We, the electorate, gave you and the other leaders a difficult job to do. Damned well do it!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thoughts on the Shenanigans in Ottawa

So, the Conservatives and their newly found allies, the Bloc Quebecois, have decided to shut down any useful business taking place in the House of Commons. (Is there ever such a thing as useful politics?)

In what must count as one of Harper's longer, and more vile speeches, he accused Prime Minister of "slaying democracy". That's quite an accusation coming from Harper, who has made his contempt for the voting public rather clear on numerous occasions in the past.

I'm not sure that Martin is slaying democracy so much as Harper and Duceppe are busy making a mockery of it.

One has to wonder just how well Harper's antics will play outside of Alberta (where a shaved chimpanzee could run as a Conservative and win a seat). The ridiculous spectacle of the leader of the opposition in the house the last few days must surely be making a few people look in askance.

We have a minority government, and instead of using his position as king maker, Harper has instead chosen to abdicate that and hand the crown to Jack Layton of the NDP. The history shows that minority governments can - and do - succeed, but only when there is a spirit of negotiation and compromise.

Harper and Duceppe have shown themselves for the drooling horrors that they are. Harper is lusting after the coveted 24 Sussex Dr. address; Duceppe is anxiously anticipating a sweep in an outraged Quebec. Neither man has shown the requesite maturity to make agreements that advance their agenda. The only two people in Ottawa doing that are Harper and Martin.

Makes one think for a moment. If Harper manages to get the keys to the PMO, will he have the maturity to make compromises? Will he have the wisdom to look beyond his ideology and contempt for the voters?

After some of his hysterics in the last election, I feared that Layton was going to demonstrate yet again why the NDP is forever relegated to "third party" status in the House. After what I've seen lately, I have to think that Layton is not only far more shrewed than he's been given credit for, but just maybe he deserves a more prominent role in the next parliament.

Some of the noises about the Gomery Commission that Conservative MPs have been making make it quite clear that they want to shut it down. Either they want to hide something, or they know very well that by the time all the facts come out, things will not be the "black-and-white" that they are claiming. (Not to mention that by November, most of the public interest in the Gomery Commission will have long waned, meaning that an election would have to be held on actual issues and policy. Instead of degenerating into a referendum guaging public outrage over Chretien's last years in office.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Diversity, Trust and Organized Religion

I was scanning through the Calgary Sun this morning and stumbled across Janet L. Jackson's latest column. In it, she is busily going on about some wondrous prayer day that is being organized - okay, fine - whatever. It was the paragraph at the very end of the column that caught my attention:

It has been my observation over the years that the more a church evolves away from reliance on the Bible, the more the Church's pews empty over time. Change begins within each of us and what many seeking tolerance rather than absolutes don't realize is, "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty." (II Cor. 3:17)


I thought about this for a few minutes, and it occurred to me that unwittingly Ms. Jackson has hit upon the very problem that organized religion presents for many people - myself among them.

While many individual churches and pastors are truly lovely people, and no doubt work very hard to contribute to their communities in meaningful ways, history gives us many reasons to be skeptical of the church hierarchy.

Most religions start out as small movements, often addressing legitimate social ills in their society. Sooner or later, they seem to organize themselves into quasi-coherent bodies. In a localized sense, the individual churches can - and do - serve a very real purpose. They have provided a social structure for people to organize themselves around, refuge for people in need and a host of other services.

However, sooner or later, it seems that those purposes morph, and the Church becomes about politics and power. The more people that are "under your sway", the more influence one can exert on the government. Ideally, the Church manages to make itself so indispensible that the highest levels of the government that leaders have Church advisors at their sides.

Usually around this time, the teachings of the now formalized Church begin to take on the trappings of power and politics. The interpretation of the Church beliefs (whether that is scripture, or reading the entrails of a chicken) form themselves around the political and power ambitions of the senior clerics.

Consider - in ancient Rome, one of the Augurs was responsible for taking the "auspices" (reading the entrails of a freshly killed chicken) before a meeting of the College of Pontifexes (priests). The Augur would often interpret the auspices based on whether the meeting was in their political interests. (Of course, the religious leaders and the government's leadership were deeply entwined at the time, so political power was important to the priesthood)

The history of the Christian faith is hardly inspiring in this regard - especially if one looks at the Medieval and Renaissance era church.

- Witch hunts were sanctioned by the Church. Having read the Malleus Maleficarum, I can only conclude that those were more about the acquisition of wealth and power than about saving people's souls.

- The "Crusades" were driven by several popes, and constituted little more than a bloody attempt to not only invade and control the Middle East, but also to impose a religion upon the occupied.

- Where the Church could have acted to preserve the broad literacy of the Romanized peoples during and after the collapse of the empire, it instead seized opportunity to hoard literacy within its walls. Insisting instead that only the priests could commune with God, and "ordinary people" couldn't possibly understand scripture. For nearly a thousand years, the Church managed to keep control over people's spiritual existence by keeping the scripture in Latin, a language that was effectively moribund outside of the church itself.

- Of course, faith, being a human condition turns out to be impractical to actually control. As versions of the bible start to be translated from Latin into the common languages of the day. The Church fought this tooth and nail - with the Roman Catholic Church keeping the Mass strictly in Latin until the 1960's - long after other Christian faiths had switched their services to local languages.

- New knowledge and discoveries become threats to the faith (or - more correctly - to the power of the Church. The most famous example of this is Galileo, although writers such as Copernicus, Bacon and Kepler were astonishingly careful to write in such a way as to apologize to the Church for those areas of their discovery that might bring into question the dogma of the day.

With many churches today standing on interpretations of scripture that ignore modern knowledge and understanding of the world around us, the churches render themselves irrelevant in the social and political discussions of the land. One cannot talk of morality appropriately without accounting for new knowledge and understanding. Just as the Roman Catholic Church was ultimately provably wrong in its insistence on a geocentric universe in Galileo's day, there is much in today's discussions where the Church continues to bury its head in the sand of dogma, rather than examining the broader realities. (AIDS in Africa for one...)

There is an old adage about past behaviour being the best predictor of future behaviour. With the history of blind rigidity that organized religions often demonstrate (it's not just Christian religion, but others as well), it should come as little surprise that Churches are no longer seen by many as inclusive places.

In a country like Canada, where literacy is common, and many people are intellectually engaged in life beyond the day to day struggle to make a living, many people are finding their own paths to spiritual meaning. Whether that is through individual bible study, or contemplating the universe while sitting beside a mountain lake.

For many, the "spirit of the Lord" doesn't reside in a Church any more.

Monday, May 09, 2005

To the polls?

According to the Conservatives, it's time to collapse the Liberal Government in Ottawa.

This would land Canadians at the polls sometime in June.

Frankly, at the moment, I'm thinking it's time to start a party called "None of the Above". Right now, we have a dysfunctional parliament, nominally headed up by the Liberals - whose inner/upper circles appear about as rotten as any I've seen; an opposition fractured across three parties all of which have significant problems - and none of which strike me as "ready" to govern.

Duceppe - well - he's got one thing in mind, and I don't like it. The one piece of good news is that BQ couldn't get a seat outside of Quebec if it tried.

Layton - sigh - he showed so much promise before the last election, but the William-Shatneresque overtones of his campaign speeches didn't exactly make people comfortable with him - and there's still the long standing issue of the NDP getting past the old McArthy-era "better dead than red" associations that still echo in this country.

Harper - just makes me queasy. He's not a particularly compelling speaker, and he hasn't yet managed to convince many that the radical factions that were always the fatal weakness of the Reform/Alliance parties are actually moderated after the merger. (In fact, there's a good deal of evidence to suggest that they aren't)

As for Martin, in his best light, has managed to come out looking like he is the pianist in a brothel - the one who's saying "this is a brothel?" while the place is being raided. At worst, it appears that the rot still pervades his party. A few people I've heard have commented that he is either corrupt or incompetent - talk about a damning indictment. (But sadly for a Prime Minister, bad news at the polls)

Ugh! - what an ugly mess. The polls I've seen lately suggest that many voters feel the same way - the parties aren't moving in the polls all that much - meaning that if we wind up at the polls in June, we might just get no more than another minority government. We might get sufficient general apathy that only the "interest" votes get out, and we get a slim majority government that those groups will then demand their pound of flesh from.

Friday, May 06, 2005

In the department of _NOT_GETTING_IT_

...we have Paul Jackson's latest column.

According to Paul Jackson, we should pity poor Bishop Fred Henry, who now faces an investigation by the Alberta Human Rights Commission. After the Bishop's latest column in which he attempted to back-pedal and wound up sticking his other foot in his mouth, I find it a little hard to overly sympathetic.

Says Mr. Jackson:

Here's a major flaw in the Alberta Human Rights Commission process: Anyone can file a complaint and it doesn't cost them a single penny. Yet, to defend himself, Bishop Henry has had to go to one of Canada's top law firms, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, and get them to prepare an enormous brief.

The costs the diocese will incur could have been spent on any of the charitable and community works performed by the church in our city.


So - let me get this straight. Bishop Henry is using his Diocese's monies to defend himself. Hmmm - those funds come from where - oh yes - the people of the congregations, and whatever investments the church has made over the centuries with tithes etc.

So, those monies cannot be used for "good works"? They could, but the good Bishop was idiot enough to demand that the government "coercively legislate to suppress homosexuality" in his first "Pastoral Letter".

Up to that point, I actually have no problem with Bishop Henry's letter. I disagree with his stance, but I have no problem with the content of what he wrote. Up to that point he was engaging in a perfectly legitimate, theologically-based ministration to his flock.

For me, that line of his letter stepped over a line. He moved from theology and legitimate religious discussion into political advocacy. Worse, the wording he used was so broad that it could - and was - easily read by many to suggest that he sanctioned using the law to marginalize a minority group in society.

Of course, Paul Jackson is standing up on his hind legs and yapping away about the evils of this "Kangaroo Court" (as he calls it) who "persecuting" the Good Bishop(tm) for his religious beliefs. They aren't, they are investigating a complaint that arose from what the Bishop wrote in his Pastoral letter (and reiterated many times in his columns for the Calgary Sun).

The complaint is both serious and legitimate. It is serious in that it is the first real test of the boundaries between freedom of religion, as guaranteed in section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the non-discrimination clauses in section 15. Indeed, the Bishop has truly opened a can of worms with his words.

I don't mind Bishop Fred Henry ranting away from the pulpit - he can pretty much say as he wishes. However, once he starts using his position as a leader of the church to demand that the political system engage in systematic discrimination, he has stepped over the line from legitimate reinforcement of Roman Catholic teaching and has begun to operate as a political lobbyist. As a leader in his church, he is in a position of implicit authority, and further can be accused of using his position to spread hostility against those he chooses to marginalize. (You have to admit, the reading of a Pastoral Letter at Sunday Mass is one heck of a publication and distribution mechanism - beats anything the Aryan Nations have at their disposal!)

As is the case with any leader, the Bishop must be even more sensitive to how his words will be received. I personally think (especially given Bishop Henry's latest diatribe that he knew darn well how his words would be interpreted, and he wrote what he meant to say. Unlike a more skilled political writer, Bishop Henry hasn't yet figured out how to be adequately "ambiguous" so that he can use the "you're just taking it out of context" defense.

Personally, if I were Roman Catholic, I would be seriously upset with the Bishop for putting the Church into the position of wasting its resources defending his political ambitions.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A Critic of Israel is a What???

Driving into work this morning, I happened to catch "Commentary" on CBC's Eyeopener program.

Today's speaker was some lawyer from "The Center of the Universe(tm)" (aka Toronto) who was arguing that modern criticism of the Israeli state is somehow anti-Semitism in a new guise.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and others that are quite loud in their critiques of Israel. However, I don't think the existance of these loons justifies a global assertion that any criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic.

The author on the radio this morning went on to assert that Israel has been unduly maligned on the world stage. After all, where are those critics when it comes to China's treatment of Tibet; Russia's handling of Chechnya, or the ongoing civil war in Sudan?

Further, he asserted that Israel has experienced some 20,000 acts of "Palestinian Terrorism" in the last year. Therefore, Israel's behaviour towards the Palestinians has been quite benign.

First, just because I happen to think that the Israeli government - especially under Sharon - is as much a part of the problem as the terrorist organizations claiming to be fighting "for the Palestinian Cause(tm)" does not make me anti-Semitic. Criticism of the behaviour of governments is legitimate discourse. I may, for example, criticise the Iranian government for its policies towards women. That doesn't make me "anti-Islamic" either.

The second part of the author's complaints were that the world appears to be more inclined to condemn Israel for its practices while other, equally (or more) egregious events are taking place. This is not a legitimate defense of Israel's actions towards the Palestinians. The fact that other nations are engaging in activities that I would politely describe as noxious doesn't absolve Israel of responsibility for its actions vis a vis the Palestinian people.

Expressed concerns about Israel's behaviour are no more "anti-Semitic" than criticism of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq is "pro-terrorism".

The situation in Israel is socially and politically complex, riddled with issues that ripple back throughout history and have never been adequately resolved. Ultimately, it is incumbent upon both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to come to a solution. Both sides have sunk to new lows in human affairs. It is past time for them to put aside their pugilism, and move forward. Extremism, violence and retribution solve nothing, and do little more than create more bodies to be buried.

To say so is neither anti-Arab, nor is it anti-Israeli. It is a legitimate critique of the situation. No more, no less. Those that accuse all critics of being "anti-Semitic" are engaging in hysterical over-generalizations.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A "Hidden Agenda" ?

Right now there are a number of pundits (conservative and not) talking about Stephen Harper's "hidden agenda".

I'll agree with Janet L. Jackson for once - there's very little about Harper's Agenda that is hidden.

Now, on the other side of that coin, there's very little about the Conservative Agenda that I like either. The calculus of their economics makes about as much sense as Reaganomics did in the '80s - cut taxes, spend more on the military.

Harper's stated desired to cozy up with George W. Bush doesn't make me feel very good either. Bush is a moral absolutist with his head so firmly embedded in his bible that I don't think he has a clue about the so-called average man on the street.

With Theo-Cons like Ted Byfield running around claiming that Harper owes them some kind of debt, I can only imagine what kind of regressive legislation could come along, all "backed up" by the 'not-withstanding' clause of the Charter.

Just imagine the possibilities:

- Abortion banned because it's immoral.
- Contraceptives only available with a doctor's prescription. (including condoms)
- Abstinence-only sex education.

- Death Penalty revived a la Texas
- Social service delivery handed over to religious groups. (Mandatory Bible study before a welfare cheque is handed over?)
- Discrimination based on biblical scripture not only condoned, but legislated

- Recriminalization of sexuality
- Equality rights provisions of the charter ignored, return to the WASP dominated rules of the pre-1960's era.

- Fund-it-yourself healthcare and education
- Mandatory Bible Study in schools - even if you aren't Christian.

The list goes on and on. Harper hasn't said any of these things per se, but people like Ted Byfield, Bishop Fred Henry, Paul Jackson and others have at one time or another over the last few years. These are the public figures that ostensibly back Stephen Harper's "Conservatives" - do you really want to know what's in the back rooms?

Is Harper the lesser evil to Martin's Liberals? I don't think so - but then again, I'm think about voting for something else entirely these days. I've had enough of the horse manure from both parties. I actually feel somewhat sorry for Martin - he's paying the political price for Jean Chretien's malfeasance, and Martin doesn't strike me as a "corrupt" man the way the Chretien did.

Until the current 'Conservative' party shows some real signs of moving beyond the Reform/Alliance days, this is not a party that I am comfortable supporting. I'm too familiar with the narrow-minded, self-righteous crap that came out of the Reform/Alliance party, and this country desperately needs to move beyond that.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Why States Must Maintain Faith In A Cautious Balance

At heart, I'm a rationalist, and I always have been. That doesn't mean I don't respect people of faith, merely that I value well considered, rational reasoning above that which is based primarily on "articles of faith".

This morning, while I was perusing the news sites I visit on the Web, I found something on CNN that is deeply disturbing. It appears that constant hectoring from extreme religious groups is causing the state government to once again re-open the can of worms that is the discussion about evolution.

Eighty years after a famed courtroom battle in Tennessee pitted religious beliefs about the origins of life against the theories of British scientist Charles Darwin, Kansas is holding its own hearings on what school children should be taught about how life on Earth began.

The Kansas Board of Education has scheduled six days of courtroom-style hearings to begin Thursday in Topeka. More than two dozen witnesses will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution.


The first thing that goes through my mind is 'What the heck are they thinking?'. Then it turns out that a group called "The Intelligent Design Network" is one of the advocates for this debate:

Irigonegaray's opponent will be attorney John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, a Kansas organization that argues the Earth was created through intentional design rather than random organism evolution.

The group is one of many that have been formed over the last several years to challenge the validity of evolutionary concepts and seek to open the schoolroom door to ideas that humans and other living creatures are too intricately designed to have come about randomly.


Fundamentally, Intelligent Design (ID) is a desperate attempt on the part of creation advocates to hide their theology behind a veneer of apparent rationalism. I've read (among others), Michael J. Behe's "Darwin's Black Box" - one of the better known ID texts out there. My analysis of it is an essay unto itself, and perhaps one day I'll post here (over several days). Suffice it to say that although Dr. Behe is a very smart man, his arguments left me feeling not only were they incomplete, they were deeply flawed from a rational standpoint.

The basic argument that ID advocates make is that the world is far too complex, and far too elegant to have occurred by "mere random chance". Therefore, some "higher power" had to have "designed it". Okay, fine, you've replaced the word "God" with the more abstract "Higher Power", and for a change you are actually arguing without referencing the Scriptural Genesis story. I suppose that's a small improvement. Unfortunately, there is an underlying theism in the argument. That higher power is a deity of some sort - whether it is God, Allah, Odin, Ra or Zeus.

The odd thing is that I actually agree with the Creationists and ID people on one point - Evolution is not "proven" yet. There is compelling evidence in its favour, and of all the explanatory models I have seen, it seems reasonably complete to my eyes. (Granted, I'm not a biologist or anthropologist by training, so there may be more problems I haven't heard about) However, if I apply Occam's Razor to the arguments over evolution versus other theories, evolution has the relative grace of being simple. Simple models (as opposed to simplistic) have this nasty tendency to be correct - even if you don't like the conclusions.

What worries me about the form of this debate in Kansas is the obvious undertones of conservative religious views being brought to bear. Frankly, if the ID argument has enough evidence behind it to stand up to peer review for journal publication, I'd be quite happy to see it in the classrooms alongside evolution. So far, the ID people have claimed that they can't get published in peer reviewed journals because of "discrimination". I'd say it's far more probable that the issue isn't discrimination so much as a lack of compelling evidence presented in their papers on the subject.

If the religious conservatives want to talk about Creation, ID (or our descent from pink chocolate bunnies), let's put that in a class talking about theology in general. Science is science - it is an attempt to study the world objectively. Clouding the issue with a bunch of religious issues doesn't help a 12 year old understand basic chemistry, physics and biology. Science is riddled with theories - models that appear to explain the evidence, but are not provably complete. Evolution is one of those, and is a legitimate part of study. Like democracy, science isn't perfect - but it's the best we've got right now.

Professionally, I write software for a living. The systems I work on are large and complex - and every so often we run into problems where we sit there and scratch our heads and say "that shouldn't happen". Eventually, after staring at it long enough, we find out that yes it can (obviously - it did), and the piece of code that allowed it to occur simply had an ever so tiny probability of allowing the observed behaviour. In a very microcosmic sense, this underscores to me the likelihood of random chance events actually occuring, no matter how tiny the odds are.

"Millions to one odds happen nine times out of ten"
- paraphrased from Terry Pratchett.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bishop Henry - Politician

At first glance, Bishop Henry's article in the Sun yesterday appears to be his first attempt at political backpedalling. I've suspected for a while that Bishop Henry has his eye on achieving political power in this country. I thought at first that he had made an actual attempt to back pedal from a major case of 'foot-in-mouth'itis that he has been suffering from lately.

First, Bishop Henry reviews one of the most controversial statements in his January Pastoral letter:
In one of my previous pastoral letters, I wrote: "Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."


He then goes on to argue:

The state obviously responds to each of these threats to family life in different ways as it exercises its coercive power.

The government has a solemn obligation to protect, not re-engineer, an institution that is more fundamental to human life than the state.


Okay - so far, so good. He appears to be trying to moderate the intent of his January letter.

Next, we read:

For example, in the case of marriage, federal legislation prohibits people from marrying if they are related linearly or as brother and sister, whether by whole blood, half blood or by adoption.

Specifically, a woman may not marry her grandfather, father, grandson, son or brother. A man may not marry his grandmother, mother, granddaughter, daughter or sister.

The time has come for the government of Canada to use its coercive powers to legislate that a couple being married must be one man and one woman.

This is not a fascist or Hitler-like position, nor even an anti-homosexual stance, but it reflects Christian teaching on the primordial status of marriage and family life.


Ah! Bingo - not only does the Bishop show us that his intentions are no more moderated than they were in January. In fact, he comes around and provides the weakness of his argument as well in that very assumption.

First, regardless of what various people think the preamble to this country's Constitution means, it does not specify a particular notion of God, nor does it sanction Bishop Henry's particular brand of Christian God.

He is correct in raising the issue that the Supreme Court's reference ruling on marriage does not obligate the state to allow same-gender marriage. However, there is a significant body of prior rulings in a variety of areas that demonstrate that the laws of the land are in fact discriminatory to same-gender unions.

These have turned up time and again in areas such as bereavement rights, CCP survivor benefits, "next of kin" issues, criminal law (there are some rules around spouses as witnesses in criminal cases), taxation and a plethora of other situations where the language of the law speaks about spouses and their rights and obligations under law.

As I have argued before, opponents of Same-Gender Marriage object primarily on religious lines, and presuppose either a religious or procreative (or both) role for marriage that is uniquely applicable to a heterosexual relationship. This opposition to the modification of the legal definition of marriage misses the point entirely. There is a clause in the constitution that says that we are all equal before the law.

Under this light, the state has three real choices available to it:

1. Refuse to do anything, and have every piece of legislation that provides specific rights and privileges to a spouse challenged in the courts.

2. Legislate against same-gender marriage explicitly and support it with the "notwithstanding clause". Not only does this continue to subject the country to this debate every 5 years, but it also fails utterly to address the costly prospect of every law on the books being dragged through the courts - at taxpayer expense.

3. Alter the _legal_ definition of marriage and move on.

If you argue that the primary purpose of marriage is procreative, then do you invalidate marriages with no offspring after so many years? Do you prohibit post-menopausal women from remarrying? Of course not.

Looking around, the argument that same-gender unions cannot raise families is simply false logic. There are many same-gender couples raising children. As far as I have been able to determine, the worst that happens to these children is that they might have more open minds as a result.

Even moderated by the language of his interpretation of faith, Bishop Henry continues to demonstrate wilful ignorance of modern knowledge, as well as an amazingly calcified perspective on the legal issues in this discussion.

Further, other writings of the Bishop have railed against the progressive "normalization" of homosexuality in society. Omigosh - if people think its normal, he won't have anyone to hold up as a bastion of immorality. After all, think of all the nasty things that those you don't understand must do! Bishop Henry chooses not to understand a minority group so that he can continue to stand in judgement over them with a clear conscience.

I seem to recall that happening to Jews in Europe for centuries; and before that, the Roman Empire did something very similar to early Christians. Perhaps the good Bishop should stew on that with a side order of law before he goes off writing his next public expose of ignorance.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Cogito, Ergo Rant

... I think, therefore I rant...

Once again, Bishop Fred Henry has opened his obnoxious mouth on the issue of same-gender marriage in a "pastoral letter".

If I can find the full text of the letter, I'll give it a more detailed analysis. Right now, all I can find is the excerpts posted on the Calgary Herald's website.

Don't misunderstand me - I don't want Bishop Henry silenced. His voice is a legitimate part of the discourse in this country. However, Bishop Henry is treading dangerously close, if not over, the line between legitimate religious discourse and political lobby. As a private citizen, Bishop Henry is free to advocate however he should see fit. However, in doing so via pastoral letters, the Bishop is abusing his position as the Bishop by attempting to dictate how his parishoners should behave politically. More pointedly, since he is clearly acting in his official capacity as Bishop, Henry is taking his diocese into the realm of political lobby.

What's wrong with that? you might ask. Per se, nothing - except for a few clauses in the tax law that give Church's and other charitable organizations significant privileges. However, those privileges are bounded, and there are specific rules for political lobby organizations. There has been quite a hue and cry over phone calls to church leaders from CCRA officials warning leaders like Henry that their actions could result in the Church losing their charitable organization status. This is not an attempt to silence Bishop Henry - it's a warning that he is treading dangerously close to a line in the laws of this land. (Like it or not, the law has its boundaries - and some of them are obscure and come along to bite when you least expect them) As he moves towards political activism, and away from scriptural discussion of the issues, leaders like Henry must be more careful to separate their actions as church leaders and as private citizens.

In an era where more and more people are drifting away from the Roman Catholic Church, one can only be agog at the stubborn antics of people like Bishop Henry. His outright hostility towards other human beings is astonishing. His wilfull ignorance of the accrued knowledge since psychology/psychiatry emerged in their modern forms only serves to reinforce the suspicion that many people view churches with. There was a time when churches served a real purpose in the community - today, under the leadership of people like Fred Henry, the Church is becoming a source not of enlightenment and contemplation, but instead a place where real thought is suppressed, and replaced instead by blind obeyance of the church leadership.

Bishop Henry - the challenge to you is simple. Make your case, and make it in terms of legitimate religious discussion. As Bishop, you are beholden to the teachings of your church - that's fine. Your constant demands that the government legislate this way or that based on your scriptural beliefs are offensive to those who do not subscribe to your assumptions. I don't care what you advocate to your parishoners in the realm of spiritual belief. I do care when you choose to disrespect Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and demand that legislation reflective of your dogma be imposed on me.

Your right to swing your fist ends precisely where my nose begins!