Sunday, July 31, 2005

Why The CPC Should Hang on to Stephen Harper

Regular readers of this space will know that in general, I am not a big fan of Stephen Harper and his party. My reasons for this are largely due to differences in basic philosophy about how this nation works (or should work).

Goodness knows, Stephen Harper has been more successful in accomplishing the gymnastic feat of inserting both feet into his mouth than his predecessors (and considering Stockwell Day's abysmal performance, that's saying something!)

Okay, Stephen takes truly awful pictures, and lord knows it's painfully obvious that he's about as uncomfortable before the media as I would be were I in his position. Having said that, he's also a smart man. Whatever else you say about him, he is obviously intelligent. Naive, perhaps, but intelligent. I think he's learning the hard way the exact same lessons that Preston Manning learned once he reached Ottawa. Coming from a single-party province like Alberta, the cut and thrust of politics in Ottawa is a rude awakening for leadership politicians from Alberta.

I believe that Harper is the best hope the CPC has for future electoral success. Why do I say this?

First, I think Mr. Harper is ultimately intelligent enough to be able to learn from his mistakes. Hopefully, when the House of Commons sits in the fall, we will see a much more refined Stephen Harper heading up Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. (If we don't, I'll consider retracting this entry...) After the very public bruising he took last term, I can only imagine that he will change his presentation and demeanor considerably.

Second, the CPC desperately needs to build some credibility outside of Alberta. The constant pattern of "eating their young" every time they lose an election, or things go "badly" for them in the latest sitting of parliament is disastrous. It suggests to voters that the party is internally deeply fractured, and that breeds mistrust. Yes, voters don't like the Liberals, and view them as corrupt, but the Liberals are seen as "the devil we know". Corrupt, yes, but known.

Third, it will take a couple of elections for the CPC to manage to start convincing voters (outside of Alberta) that they represent something comprehensible - and are more than simply a western protest party.

Lastly, the most rabid of Conservative supporters in Alberta are starting to turn towards Separatist/Firewall movements - frustrated mostly by the fact that they haven't "got their way" in Ottawa this past session of Parliament. (Boo hoo - if they'd learn to look past the end of their noses, they might start to figure out that politics is a lot more than Ralph Klein's idiot edicts - something the rest of the country seems to understand just fine)

Besides - in the meantime, Harper might just learn enough about how Ottawa works to actually advance his party's platform. Of course, in their frustration the most radical elements of the current CPC will slowly dissipate into the ether, returning the party to a moderate stance which will play reasonably well for much of Canada. The various radical elements in the current party just make voters uneasy. The ongoing paranoid fiction spun by the separatist/firewall elements will steadily find their way into political irrelevance. (Just as they did in the early 1980s when the Western Canada Concept and a few other "separatist" protest parties had a brief heyday.)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Is Liberal Democracy Failing?

One of the pet complaints of politicians in Canada is the so-called "Democratic Deficit". The sense that the Federal Liberals have been in power for far too long, and have lost sight of the needs of the nation as a whole is strong and pervasive.

Yet, at the same time, we seem to be starved for alternatives. Emerging parties are held in a stranglehold by a first-past-the-post system of candidate selection that makes elections more about brand recognition than actual policies.

In the United States, the inherent conflict between the various divisions of government seem to be increasingly prominent, and increasingly significant - almost to the point of driving the agenda. An article hinting that Bush may appoint John Bolton as ambassador to the UN while the Congress is recessed this summer is perhaps one of the more disturbing little chestnuts I've seen out of Washington lately. A reporter was recently jailed for refusing to reveal sources for a story she was investigating to a Grand Jury. Along with the renewal of the "Patriot Act", it seems that the very key liberties that make a democracy work are being eroded south of the border.

Ah - but we are in Canada, so what does it matter that the US democracy is crumbling? Directly, it probably doesn't matter a lot. But it does matter. Yesterday's arrest of the leader of the B.C.-based Marijuana Party is troubling if one looks at it as a political event.

Essentially, I see two problems here. First, are the implications of foreign law enforcement officials demanding that Canadian law enforcement conduct arrest and search warrants on their behalf. Especially in areas where our laws don't seem to align very well. (Yes - I am quite aware of the fact that there are legal issues relating to treaties and other international agreements involved) There is a deeply troubling sense that comes to me from having the American "War on Drugs" being waged by the DEA through Canadian proxy.

The second, more worrisome aspect of it, is the political implications of subjecting the leader of a political party to criminal proceedings in a foreign country. One can begin to suspect that we have American policy and law being imposed upon a Canadian Citizen, largely for his political beliefs. (The US has been deeply opposed to any liberalization of the "Pot Laws" in Canada)

Frankly, selling Marijuana seeds - in Canada or the US was a stupid thing to do, and I'm not particularly sympathetic to Emery's plight in that regard. A quick search on Google for "Marijuana Seed" turns up more than a few on-line brokers of pot seeds. Emery is far from the only broker of such seeds. Which leads me to suspect that the US DEA action is at least partially political in its roots. The US wants to make sure that its neighbor doesn't liberalize it's drug laws. (After all, we just slapped the Bushite crowd in the face pretty hard with changes to marriage law - and that's after the millions of dollars that US lobby groups such as "Focus on the Family" pumped into this country over the last year or so.)

So...what do we have - a government in the United States that is doing everything it can to erode the rights of its citizens, is planning to circumvent its own processes because the executive can't get "it's way", and now seems not only determined to drag its policy wars into Canada, but is intent on shutting down a part of Canada's political dialogue.

Worried yet?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Can Conservative Politicians Read?

I found this little gem lurking on the web this morning. Apparently, the Conservatives want to amend the Divorce Act so that it "better reflects the priority of children's rights".

Okay - it's a noble enough thing. All too often, when parents divorce, the children wind up as pawns, caught in the middle of their parents' difficulties. I would have no particular problem with amending the divorce act to give the courts - and law enforcement officials - more tools for dealing with deadbeat parents who don't contribute to the rearing of their children, or that provide for reasonable access.

... MP Jay Hill, has a private member's bill currently before the House of Commons that proposes such changes to the Divorce Act


After reading that little gem, I went and dug up MP Hill's bill, and read it.

The first thing that struck me was that 80% of the bill is redundant - it's already specified in great hoary detail in section 16 of the act. By placing their amendment in section 15, Hill has simply created a situation where the act is logically inconsistent with itself. (Section 16 deals with custody issues, section 15 deals with support obligations)

Looking further at it, the resulting law creates some fairly serious problems into the future for a couple divorcing:

1. The "best interests" of the child are inadequately defined. This leaves it open to the interpretation of the judiciary. Phrases like "best interests" are always worrisome in law.

2. It creates a situation where abusive relationships could well be reinforced/continued as a result. (Remember, the child may not be the victim of abuse)

3. The amendment presupposes that it is 'always' in the best interests of the child to have a relationship with both parents. This may not be true for a variety of reasons - not merely child abuse.

4. It constrains the mobility of the custodial parent, possibly unreasonably.

5. Once again, as is the case with other parts of the divorce act, it fails utterly to put in place penalties for non-compliance.

6. Even if both parents agree to a "shared parenting" arrangement as part of the settlement, the amended law makes little or no effective provision to deal with situations where domestic violence has been part of the picture. In fact, wording in the amendment would hamstring the ability of the court to consider such issues.

If there is a problem with respect to the impact of divorce on families today, it is not the divorce itself, nor is it the custody issues per se. It is the utter lack of ability to enforce spousal and child support orders. The so-called "deadbeat parent" routine happens far too often, and the law is virtually toothless about it.

I know of one situation where the child is "co-parented", but one of the parents contributes nothing towards the support of the child - whether it be school fees, food, clothing or daycare. Why? Because the courts have no tools whatsoever to enforce a support order with. (and at this point, the primary custodial parent is so sick of the whole mess, they're just living with it - fortunately, they can make ends meet.)

Instead of mucking around with the divorce law to create some idealized notion of a child with a happy relationship with both parents, the Conservatives would do well to spend a bit of time coming up with ways to allow the courts (and law enforcement) to enforce the support and custody orders.

The Divorce Act already deals with issues of custody and support. The Conservative amendment is little more than a sad attempt at making it harder for a couple to divorce, in the misguided notion that it's "better for the children" if a couple stays together.

If this country elects a Conservative government in the near future, expect to see an attempt to legislate society back to the 1950's idealization of the "nuclear family". At best such a legislative regime would be ill-advised. At worst, it could be very damaging to a lot of people - no matter how noble its goals.

Monday, July 25, 2005

What To Do If...

Your anti-paranoia medication isn't working...

Symptoms: For no rational reason whatsoever, you believe that someone is "out to get you"; A fear of old horrors coming back to life; a complete loss of perspective outside of your little box.

Treatment: Therapy, along with regular doses of reality and appropriate sedatives.

Sample Case: Paul Jackson, Columnist...

When I read Jackson's latest tirade, I could have sworn he was in competition with Bishop Henry for the "Tying Unrelated Issues Together" award.

In his latest column, he manages through some twists of illogic to tie together:

1. Paul Martin's comments about Chuck Cadman
2. Senator Grant Mitchell's recent commentary about Conservative Politicians
3. National Security Issues - especially in light of recent bombings in London
4. Control over Alberta's natural resources (The NEP's coming back, dontcha know)
5. Belinda Stronach at the Stampede. (Hey - at least she didn't manage to do "Cowboy-Business-Fetish Crossover" fashion!)

My goodness - what ties all of these issues together? I don't know - only the most paranoid of thinking can possibly link these things together. It's sort of like the nut-cases in the US that insist that Area 51 is keeping crashed UFOs, and the Government is busy trying to cover it all up. I think Jackson almost out-did Bishop Henry's irrational linkage of unrelated topics earlier this year in his now infamous "pastoral letter".

Somebody get Mr. Jackson a sedative and a nice "I-Love-Me Jacket" - he's apt to injure something (his brain) if he attempts actual rational thought.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Unrest in Iraq, Bombings in Madrid, London and Sharm el Sheikh

There have been a number of commentators lately expressing varying degrees of bewilderment and consernation over the recent spate of bombings.

It seems unlikely to believe that Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, London, Madrid and 9/11 are all related. Certainly, it seems even less likely that there is some "ubermind" bringing it all together.

After all, the bombehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifrs are often from places other than Iraq or Afghanistan - what interest could a Pakistani, or Syrian have in blowing themselves up in a suicide bombing? Reasoning further, the logic then decides that the terrorists that organize these bombings are completely unreasoning, irrational rebels without a clue or cause to speak of.

Even national leaders like Tony Blair change their rationalizations from one day to the next - first claiming that the terrorists hate "our freedoms", then turning to radical Islam as a causal explanation.

It doesn't take a genius to put current events up to the mirror of history. In the wake of World War I, the Treaty of Sevres substantially laid the groundwork for the national borders that we see in maps of the Middle East today. Little in that treaty, or any subsequent alteration of Middle Eastern borders had anything to do with recognizing natural political regions and divisions in the region. (Of course, at the end of the British Colonial era, this is not a big surprise)

However, beyond recognizing that the current geo-political environment has its roots in the early part of the last century. Since then, so-called "western" interests have tacitly and overtly supported some pretty awful regimes in the region - using the Lyndon Johnson "He might be a bastard, but he's our bastard" logic. Great, so for the last 100 years or so (I'll politely ignore pre WWI conquests of the region), foreign powers have propped up corrupt and abusive regimes. (Saddam Hussein, the Shah in Iran, among others)

So, when the United States rolls in to push over the government in Iraq (or Afghanistan, for that matter), do you think that just maybe the Arabs have good reason to be deeply suspicious? I certainly do! Then, just for giggles, we get to add the most recent incidents of abuse that have been either alleged or shown to have happened to prisoners under American control. (Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay - any of these ring any bells??) Factual or fictional, the point is that once out in the wild, these allegations will serve to reinforce Arab mistrust of "Western" interests.

Now, we come to the bombings and civil war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why bomb Sharm el Sheikh? Why bomb the London Subways? Why 9/11? It's pretty simple - instead of just buying oil from the Arabs, foreign powers have decided that they had to control the oil supply. In doing so, they supported governments that abused their people, and broke every principle that America and its allies allegedly stand for. Coordinated or not, it isn't difficult to see where different groups will come up with different ways of lashing out at their perceived oppressors. The Arab isn't stupid - all but a few would realize that they simply haven't got the resources to stand in the face of American heavy armor. So - they resort to tactics they know will disrupt things - suicide bombings, car bombings, whatever. These are all cheap, easily organized operations that can have a devastating impact on the people.

Anyone who is perceived to be an ally of the "enemy" becomes a target. It's not a focused lashing out - that isn't necessary.

Can you negotiate with these people - no. Can we understand them - yes. Will further heavy military intervention in the region have any effect? No - at least not if the desired effect is to stabilize the region.

Is there a solution? Yes - but it involves handling the Arab states as economic partners and leaving them to sort out their own politics. Military invasion is a lousy way to make peace, and an even less effective way to gain trust.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Grow a Sense of Humour

It appears that one of the key attributes Canada's Conservative backers are missing these days is a sense of humour.

Sure enough, after the recently published picture of Stephen Harper at the Calgary Stampede, Conservative writers and bloggers are using this as more fodder to whine about how awful central Canada is to Western Politicians.

Whether it's clueless goofs like Link Byfield, or rants on Conservative Blogs (which are turning into Alberta Separatist blogs lately), the whine is constant - "How awful Central Canada is to the Alberta politician".

Quit taking it so seriously - geez! I'm actually sympathetic to Harper as far as that picture goes - it's awful, and really, about all you can do is laugh about it. Of course, the commentators are using it as another excuse to whinge about how awful Canada is for Western Canadian leaders. After all, Central Canada laughed Stockwell Day down, as well as Joe Clark. (I will point out that Joe Clark stuck it out beyond anyone's expectations, and became one of Canada's most respected parliamentarians)

Conservative supporters have to grow a sense of humour. My goodness, if I got myself tangled in knots over some of the truly awful pictures of me (anyone who has seen my yearbook photos in the past will remember those - I hated school photographs), I'd be a thoroughly dysfunctional collection of neuroses. (I may be, depending on your perspective)

The best thing the Conservatives could do for themselves is take that picture (awful as it is), and instead of whining about the picture and the inevitable jokes about it, use it to start growing a sense of humour. Okay, your leader doesn't take good pictures - get over it. (It's not like Jean Chretien took good pictures either. (But then again is was some brain-boys in the then PC party that tried to play that in an attack ad, wasn't it) Harper's human - that's a good start.

Now he has to learn to politic a little - and that means more than just putting a "good public show" forward. It means also learning to say what you want to say, and leave some room to maneuver later, should it become necessary. Alberta has been electing its provincial PC party for so long, that politicians from Alberta tend to assume that they can say whatever they wish and pay little or no penalty for it. The rest of Canada is a tad bit different. A little bit of humour would go a long ways.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Free Trade? - Get Real!

For the last couple of years, Canadian cattle producers have been shut out from the US market after a single case of BSE was found.

In the last few weeks, an assortment of court rulings in the US have reopened the US border to Canadian cattle. Of course, between RCALF-USA and now the Montana Governer, it seems that our cattle producers are up for more difficulties.

Okay, I respect the fact that any country has the right to protect its own interests, but given the number of years that the Canadian and American cattle industries were intertwined, it stands to pretty good logic that if Canada has BSE, you can pretty much guarantee that the American herd has the same problem lurking somewhere.

As far as I'm concerned, the BSE issue is a manufactured crisis. The actions of various protectionist groups in the US, as well as the US Federal Government have underscored the long-standing sense that I've had that the "Free Trade" agreements that former Prime Minister Mulroney committed Canada are a one way agreement. It's free trade only when American interests are favoured.

The BSE situation is but one more example of the one-way nature of so-called "free trade". If Canada moves to protect its interests, Americans threaten to sue under the NAFTA rules. Meanwhile, America continues to restrict sales of so many Canadian products (softwood lumber, steel to name a few) even when the NAFTA and WTO boards have ruled against them. It's quickly becoming time for Canada to walk away from NAFTA/FTA until the Americans start to honor their responsibilities under those agreements.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Half Facts...

I hear constantly from Conservative backers in Alberta about the "Liberal-biased" media.

In today's Sun, I find the following column from Roy Clancy, who seems to be drinking from the Byfield/Jackson community paranoia coffee pot recently. (and no, their anti-paranoia medication isn't working so well)

Clancy's busy whining about the fact that the Conservatives are once again stuck some 9 percentage points behind the Liberals in a recent national poll.

Among other things, Clancy slags Paul Martin's government as follows:

1. Martin has reneged on promises to fix the democratic deficit.

2. He sold out Canada's economic future with his budget-busting deal with the NDP and an ad-libbed Kyoto strategy that won't make a dent in climate change on a global scale.

3. His promises to fix medicare have fallen flat.

4. His party's cynical sponsorship program has alienated Quebec and almost guaranteed another unity crisis.

4. Leaving other critical issues of the day were untended, his government pushed through gay marriage like it was some kind of national emergency, rushing into legislation that leaves the country badly divided.

Hmmm - lessee:

Two major pieces of legislation wound through the house last sitting - the Budget and bill C-38.

According to Mr. Clancy "other critical issues ... were untended" in the rush to bill C-38. Okay - fair enough - I'm sure that several Conservative hobby horse policy items didn't get dealt with the way they'd like.

The Budget, he claims, was destroyed by the deal that he made with the NDP. Talk about a "Hello, McFly!" moment. The deal with the NDP didn't emerge until the Conservatives rather loudly proclaimed that they were revoking any support for it. In case Clancy hadn't noticed - it's a minority parliament, and Martin did what he could to get his budget through. In this case, it was a deal with the NDP. Perhaps if Mr. Harper hadn't been so eager to show his outrage to the Canadian public, a more "Conservative" version of the budget would have worked through the house. Oh yes, and let's not forget that the 4 billion in spending is funded by rolling back a corporate tax cut. It's not $4 billion of new spending, it's a redirect of spending. (and yes, I would argue that a tax cut is spending)

Of course, we won't remember just how much damager Harper did to his party with the week's worth of constant adjournment motions before the house. All that did was make the Conservatives look petty and small. They were all upset with the Liberal-NDP deal, and they had to have their little public temper tantrum. It didn't look good, it didn't play well, and it sure as heck didn't do a thing to develop credibility for the Conservatives in the minds of Canadian voters.

Oddly, I somewhat agree with Clancy in this couple of statements:
Instead of addressing Liberal inadequacies, the pundits preferred to focus on Harper's shortcomings and faux pas.

He was too conciliatory. Then he was too harsh.

He was far too serious, then he started acting goofy.


Harper made a target out of himself. Every time he opened his trap, he either annoyed hard-liners in his party, or he further alienated voters with his "angry-white-dude" routine. His statements were so absolute in nature, that when the time came to step away from something, Harper couldn't. In sympathy to Mr. Clancy's wounded Conservative pride, we won't mention the whole Gurmant Grewal affair, will we?

The Conservatives have had their share of internal conflict since the Alliance-Progressive Conservative merger.

Since Stephen Harper became leader, they've done a good job -- with one or two notable exceptions -- of keeping their dirty laundry out of public view.


They did? You could have fooled me - or perhaps Mr. Clancy is merely comparing the Conservative party's performance with past performances of the Reform and Alliance incarnations (which - by the way - I don't think the public has completely forgotten yet). Between Grewal and Belinda Stronach's crossing the floor, the dirty laundry of an entire regiment might as well have been strung out on the line. I won't even start to analyze the obvious discord being expressed by the assorted fanatics such as the Byfields, Bishop Henry, and lobby groups like Concerned Christians.

What irritated me at first with Clancy's column were the blatant half facts, as well as the utter inability to recognize that for a minority government to function, it must make deals with other parties. The Conservatives were busy playing some kind of mass bipolar disorder game last sitting, and were not taking any steps to move their agenda forward in the house. As the "second party", they were ideally positioned to morph much of the legislation before the house with deals little different than what the NDP and Liberals cooked up. The fact was, the Conservatives were so busy playing silly buggers with house business that they merely succeeded in annoying the public.

Conservative politicians, to their lasting misfortune, are famous for using the long, hot days to wage uncivil war with each other.


In this, Clancy is more correct than he can possibly imagine. From what I'm seeing, both in the polls, and more informally in the blogosphere, I'd say that whetstones are out and swords are being sharpened while Harper does his "Good Times Tour" in an attempt to change his image. (We won't begin to discuss the business-fetish cowboy outfit in Calgary) I do find it notable that although Harper rode in the Stampede Parade at the beginning of July, the Conservative website doesn't even mention that Harper was in Calgary - perhaps they're feeling embarassed about Harper showing his kinky side off...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Watching The Blogosphere

I tend to reserve this space for ranting about whatever's going on in the politics of our nation and the world around us. As we head into the summer quiet period, I thought I would share a few observations I have made from travelling around other political blogs that are out there. (Primarily Canadian blogs, BTW)

All three of the major parties have significant lists of bloggers who are writing as "supporters" of their respective causes. (I imagine that the Bloc does as well, but my Quebecois is sufficiently rusty that I doubt I could do more than a pidgin parsing of them these days)

Observation #1:

"Left-leaning" blogs (those written by Liberal or NDP supporters) tend to invite conversation in their comments. I've seen some good exchanges take place with a reasonable repartee on both sides of the discussion.

Observation #2:

"Right-leaning" blogs do not invite, nor seem to appreciate counterpoint comments. It's amazing the number of times I've seen a "yabbut" comment to a post get shouted down with a combination of sneering, ad-hominem attacks and just about anything else.

Observation #3:

The most rigid "right-wing" blogs seem to originate out of Alberta, and to a lesser degree, parts of British Columbia. I suppose this is reflective of the western roots of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party. Conservative blogs originating in Central Canada are far less polar about things, and seem to be a little more interested in conversation.

Observation #4:

As it has done in the United States, a particularly "militant" form of Christianity is creeping into this nation's political dialogue. For those of us who do not subscribe to such forms of Christianity, this is a very disturbing shift. The "militant" Christianity does not speak the language of compassion, but rather speaks the language of judgement and condemnation for all that stand at odds with their world view.

Observation #5:

There are an amazing number of people who have confused the "right-wing" end of the political spectrum with being "correct". They somehow assume that their position is automatically correct. Their first approach to any dispute is to tell the other party that they are wrong - essentially a verbal "bully-boy" tactic that puts the other party in the position of justifying themselves.

Observation #6:

Although the left wing is far from being any kind of ideological monolith, the right wing (especially the current Conservatives) are deeply fractured along ideological lines. Even within "conservative" blogs, the divisions between social and fiscal conservatism are pronounced and often degrade into some particularly nasty conversations.

On the Federal scene, I think this is good news - it means that the "united" Conservative party remains seriously weakened by its own internal conflicts, and the perception of it as a "western protest party" in the rest of Canada means that they are unlikely to attain power any time soon.

Observation #7:

Among Alberta bloggers, there appears to be a growing appetite to replace Ralph's Team with something new. Even "died-in-the-wool" PCs in Alberta are starting to make a fairly loud rumbling that all is not well in "Ralph's Country".

Observation #8:

At one time, I had serious reservations about Proportional Representation. I just couldn't quite wrap my mind around how it would be structured so that I would know "who" my representative might be in the legislature. However, the unscientific poll of looking at where various bloggers are writing from - and their respective philosophical alignment - leads me to believe that in Alberta a PR system would in fact be a very positive change in the legislative assembly. Although "Conservative" bloggers from Alberta outnumber Liberal and NDP bloggers, it's not by anywhere near as wide a margin as I would have expected. The result would be - I believe - a much more balanced legislature that would be less prone to the monolithic "super-majority" landslides that Albertans have suffered with through most of this province's history.

Observation #9:

Western alienation is a myth propogated by disgruntled Conservatives who are sour about losing the last election. (and are even less happy about the fact that the Liberals out-maneuvered Stephen Harper & Co. throughout the last sitting of the House of Commons)

With the exception of a few that perceive the opportunity to make a little bit of political capital out of the notion, most Western bloggers - no matter their stripe - are actually quite proud Canadians. That they are vocal in their opinions of how the country should be run says that they believe there is something worth working for in this country.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

So much for an image makeover...



I just found this on Warren Kinsella's Blog from the Stephen Harper's recent stop at the Calgary Stampede during his "image makeover" tour.

(I'm sorry - I had to leave it at the top - my father handed me the same picture "folded" at coffee yesterday AM. I almost exhaled coffee when I got to the facial expression...)

I think the man's got bigger problems than a lack of fashion sense. But in the meantime, Stephen, stick to the "business look" - please!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Third Way - Reprise

Reflecting on the comments that I've seen about Klein's "Third Way" and my own thoughts and impressions of the so-called Mazankowski Report, there's a lot to consider when looking at the topic of health care reform.

The first thought that comes to mind is the overwhelming lack of success we have experienced in Alberta with privatizing and/or deregulating a wide range of industries.

Consider:

Vehicle Registrations - this is all handled by private companies now. It doesn't sound too bad, until you start to realize that we are paying increasing fees for this service(?), meanwhile, we have no transparency or accountability from the registration companies. For example, although their computer systems are linked to Alberta Gov't systems, how do I know that the owners aren't "skimming" data off onto their own servers?

Electrical Deregulation - Along with the botched deregulation of the Natural Gas industry in this province, we have seen ever increasing costs, degrading service levels. On top of that the companies selling "contracts" are doing so with exit clauses that are so obviously weighted against the consumer that it would actually negatively impact the ability of some people to move. Instead of an industry motivated to move towards wind generation, I wind up having to pay a premium on my bill to encourage these clowns to make the right investments...

Natural Gas Deregulation - Another of Klein's pet projects. One that has backfired repeatedly - whether it has been skyrocketing gas prices (when there was no real crisis), Ralph bribing the population with "rebates" on the royalty taxes that the government rakes in as the prices rattle out of control.

Education Restructuring - In the early 1990s, Ralph's crew of hack-and-slash budget manglers not only took away the funding needed for the school systems, they seized control over the property taxes which school boards used as a primary funding system. Since then, we have seen the emergence of so-called "Charter Schools" - which are little more than private-interest schools funded by the taxpayer; "follow-me" funding based on where the student is attending, and a steady death-by-starvation of the public and Catholic school boards in the large cities. Ralph and Co. have deliberately starved the public system so that it cannot possibly succeed, thus opening the gates for incubated privatization - at taxpayer's expense, and to the detriment of those at the lower income brackets.

Now, we have Ralph's team wanting to apply the same blind dogma of privatization to health care in this province. It doesn't sound unreasonable at first - why shouldn't someone who can afford it be able to "upgrade" their treatment? (After all, they are paying the cost of the upgrade, right?) Well, that option already exists - the border between Canada and the United States is pretty open, and if you want to purchase "Cadillac Treatment", you're quite free to do so.

However, the underlying assumption of the Mazankowski report, and Ralph's government in general is the notion that "private enterprise" is inherently "more efficient" than public enterprise. In many respects, there are few areas of commerce where public enterprise is actually beneficial. However, Health Care is not a "consumer product".

The first thing that makes me nervous about the privatization bandwagon is the lack of regulatory transparency. We just had an incident where a website setup by the local laboratory services company was showing incorrect data. Who winds up shouldering the burden - the taxpayer via the regional health authority which has to contact all of the affected doctors so they can check with their patients. The website is a good idea - but how secure is it? Who knows - I don't, and I doubt that few people would even be aware of such a site existing, much less the risks involved.

Then we hit the brick wall of profits. Private companies exist for one reason - to make money. They aren't charities; their shareholders put money into the company for one reason alone - to make more than they put in. From a cost efficiency standpoint, private enterprise wants to maximize revenues, and minimize their outlay. In a services domain like Health, that means that ultimately, we pay more for less service so that the investors get their Shakespearean "pound of flesh".

If there was ever an area where private enterprise's involvement must be carefully monitored and managed - it is health care. Not only does the track record of "corporate health providers" in the United States echo this, the disastrous results of other "deregulation and privatization" efforts in Alberta are a red flag that we cannot ignore.

This is not to say that there is no merit in some of what is being proposed, but rather that the public must look upon these proposals with caution and skepticism. The track record of the Klein government has been one of poorly planned, and disastrously executed changes. I see no signs that this endeavor will in fact be any improvement.

The consequences for all of us could be our lives and health - literally.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Klein's "Third Way"

This week, King Ralph (er - Premier Klein) unveiled the first part of his so-called "third way" solution to Health Care reform.

At first glance, it's little more than "if you can pay for it, we'll upgrade your treatment". Ralph tried to carefully side-step the issues of queue jumping, defining anything of the mechanics involved, or for that matter the criteria which would be used to decide what was an "add on" and what was "medically necessary".

Unsatisfied with what I found in the media, I went up to the Alberta Health and Wellness website, and found this page. Although vague overall, there was one statement that I think underscores the intentions of the Klein government: "Alberta is following through on the direction set in the Mazankowski report and we’re determined to finish the job."

For those who haven't read the Mazankowski report, it boils down to this - privatize everything in sight, then privatize more. I found this page which compares Alberta health policy direction with the Romanow report. I think what is interesting about it is this - the tone of the words is typical of what I have found this government doing with anyone that doesn't agree with their "privatize the universe" strategy - it is sneering, ignorant and condescending.

At first blush, I had wondered if Klein's announcement was a "lightweight" version of what he had been threatening for years, or just the "thin edge of the wedge". It appears to be the whole damned wedge!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Crumbling Empire?

According to George Bernard Shaw, "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between".

The events of the last few years since 9/11 have often felt as though the United States under George W. Bush was repeating the pattern of the Roman Empire. What follows is a bit of random thought - a "comparison by analogy" of events between Rome and modern history. Since individual events differ considerably in their details, I will focus more on the effect of those events on either Rome, or the United States as appropriate.

The raw timeline looks like this:






































Modern Event

<-------->

Roman Event

WWI

<-------->

First Punic War

WWII

<-------->

Third Punic War

Korean War

<-------->

Pirate Wars

Iran

<-------->

Roman Asia Province

Iraq

<-------->

Roman Gaul

????

<-------->

Gothic Invasions of Rome


Where the Third Punic War established Rome as a military power in the Mediterranean - and one that could not be ignored - the Second World War pulled the United States onto the world stage as a lead player. The destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima showed the Americans to be capable of ruthless violence when provoked. Just as Cato insisted that Rome completely destroy Carthage, Washington destroyed two Japanese cities before accepting surrender.

Later, both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts showed that the US forces were not invincible. Similarly, although Rome claimed victory over the pirates that were marauding shipping from time to time, the Pirates kept on reappearing later - showing themselves to be an enemy that Rome could not fully quash. (There are also many analogies that compare the Roman-era pirates with modern day terrorist operations - but that's another topic)

Dig still further, and we hit Rome's involvement in Asia Province. Rome's "Asia Province" was never really "conquered", although Rome routinely sent troops and a governer to the region to harvest taxes. In 1979, the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah, and resulted in US embassy staff being taken hostage for a year or so gave the US a pretty good black eye on the world stage. Rome's shakey control over Asia province and the US's loss of influence over Iran's affairs are one more clue in the puzzle. One that demonstrates that for all of the US army's muscle, they cannot control those that do not wish to be controlled.

Iraq and Afghanistan underline a problem. Just as occupying Gaul ultimately proved to be more than Rome could afford to track, Iraq and Afghanistan are proving very difficult places for the United States to impose democracy in. Even though Rome did control Gaul for an extended period of time, it found its resources ever more taxed by the effort, and its ability to pay its troops after service more and more constrained. The US forces are already stretched with active conflict in two major countries.

Who will prove to be the "barbarians at the gate" for the American Empire remains to be seen. The echoes of a path long ago paved by the Roman Empire continue to emerge as we watch the whirlwind of the 'War on Terror' continuing.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Bombings in the UK

I've been holding off writing this post for several reasons. First of all, I didn't really think that this space could add much to the initial reaction of the world to such an event; second, I've been wondering just how Bush and his ideological twin, Tony Blair would start to play this event on the political stage; thirdly, there isn't anything I can say about the blasts, or the vicitms that others haven't said far better than I am able to.

So far, both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair's statements have been more or less standard rhetoric. While Mr. Blair's comments have been remarkably reserved, they boil down to the "we will not blink" kind of statement that we've heard repeatedly since the events of 9/11/2001.

President Bush's radio address was perhaps more revealing:

We are now waging a global war on terror -- from the mountains of Afghanistan to the border regions of Pakistan, to the Horn of Africa, to the islands of the Philippines, to the plains of Iraq. We will stay on the offense, fighting the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them at home. We will continue to deny the terrorists safe haven and the support of rogue states. And at the same time, we will spread the universal values of hope and freedom that will overwhelm their ideology of tyranny and hate. The free world did not seek this conflict, yet we will win it.


Lurking on Fox News' website, I found this little gem which starts to point the finger directly at specific "al Qaeda leaders". It seems to me that it's a bit early for any reasonable investigation to have identified any real suspects. Although there is clearly reason to suspect that the London bombings are somehow tied back to the so-called "war on terror", it would be foolish to ignore the prospect of the IRA deciding to "remind" the UK government that they still exist.

The BBC is being decidedly cautious about draing any conclusions yet - most of their articles are focusing on the clean up and finding the missing.

However, I'm going to speculate a little bit based on patterns previously noted:

1) Fox News is blatantly partisan towards the Republicans, and extremely 'pro-War'.
2) When BushCo. invaded Afghanistan, it was on the pretext of going after specific al Qaeda leadership.
3) The official reasons for invading Iraq have been pretty well discredited. (WMDs - found any yet, boys?)
4) Recently, Rumsfeld signalled (heck - he almost declared) that the US was going to pull out of Iraq.
5) Taking over Iran would give the US control over a key supplier of raw energy materials to China.

So...given that Fox is already pointing the finger at specific individuals associated with al Qaeda, and Bush's own address today which sounds decidedly expansive with respect to the scope of the war, I'm going to guess that somehow this will get linked back to Iran.

Possible paths:

1) Sympathetic support from Iran's newly elected President (who just happens to be a hard line character)
2) One or more of the al Qaeda leadership will suddenly be "suspected of having taken up residence in Tehran. (Slipping across the Afghanistan - Iran border is probably not too difficult)
3) Iran supplied the explosives used. (Relatively easy to assert, next to impossible to prove or refute)
4) "Intelligence" will come to light that indicates that London and Madrid were "prototypes" for a "dirty bomb" attack in the US, with Iran's government at the center of the supply chain. (Remember, Iran has been relatively uncooperative with the UN Nuclear inspections...)

The US doesn't think it needs a bullet proof excuse to invade Iran - merely a plausible one. (and that it only has to be plausible in the US...)

Perhaps I'm being overly cynical here, but I do not believe that the London Bombings themselves are that important. What is really important is how the politicians (Especially Bush, but Blair as well) choose to play with these events.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Actions of Others...

So, now David Ahenakew is claiming that his trial on charges of promoting hatred was itself racist.

Hmm - interesting. While I am sympathetic to the plight of the aboriginal peoples of this nation, I find it something of a reach to accept that Ahenakew's comments on Jewish people a couple of years ago is somehow excusable in light of his ancestry and wrongs perpetrated against them by the early settlers of Canada.

I find the Ahenakew case interesting because it is the first prosecution under Canada's hate crimes statutes in the criminal code that has been publicly visible. (Certainly, the first I have heard of recently)

The judges finding seems to set the bar for identifying a 'hate crime' as such fairly high:


In reading his verdict, Irwin said Ahenakew's comments "clearly dehumanize the Jewish people" and were exactly the kind of comments that laws against hate crimes were designed to address.

"To suggest that any human being or group of human beings is a disease is to invite extremists to take action against them," Irwin said.


Certainly, this is one of the rare cases where such laws have been exercised in a situation that wasn't associated with a 'white supremacist' or other similarly obvious target.

Somehow, I doubt that there will be a sudden flurry of 'thought crime' prosecutions taking place as a result of the Ahenakew decision. It seems to me that the bar is set high enough that these sections of the criminal code will only be exercised in rare and egregious situations.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Hypocrisy ... Or Why I Don't Trust Religions

In the early fallout of the Parliamentary debates over bill C-38, we heard no end of worry and complaint from conservative clerics of various churches. They feared that bill C-38, along with other legislation that has provided homosexuals in Canada with explicit legal protections (Bill C-250), would inhibit their right to teach their faith's policies on homosexuality.

Of course, the Roman Catholic Church is moving now to engage in thought-policing of their congregations. Bishop Fabbro has sanctioned MP Joe Comartin for publicly supporting Bill C-38.

Says the Bishop:

“My decision will remain in effect until Mr. Comartin has a change of mind with regard to the moral status of homosexual activity and the use of the word ‘marriage’ with reference to some homosexual unions,” the letter continued. “In the meantime, I would urge Mr. Comartin, other Catholic politicians, and other Catholics who share his views to take the necessary steps to form their consciences correctly on these issues according to the teachings of our Church.”


I see - so what the Bishop is saying - if I may paraphrase: "A Catholic's right to freedom of speech and conscience is limited by what the local Bishop is willing to sanction". Further, if you happen to dissent with the ever wise teachings of the Church publicly, you will be punished by the Church. As this article points out, the Church has already begun to punish members of parliament it is displeased with.

Further, senior clergy in the Catholic Church just brought out this little gem of logic, wherein they basically say that anyone who receives communion, but supports a politician who runs contrary to Church Teaching is in state of mortal sin. Not just sin, but Mortal Sin.

While I freely acknowledge the Church's right to act in accordance with its teachings in many regards, I find it deeply troubling that the Church would essentially state "vote this way (or that), or you will be held as being "in mortal sin"", or as has happened to a few politicians in Canada who voted for Bill C-38, find yourself refused communion. Essentially, the Church is moving itself into the realm of being a political lobby at this point. Not only are they lobbying - and in some respects, threatening - our politicians, but they are also acting to coerce their membership to vote in specific ways. I think the word coerce is very important here - it is not merely an attempt to influence the vote of their congregants by means of persuasion of argument, but there is also an implicit threat to the congregant based on the belief of their 'immortal soul'.

Were I to start a political lobby that suggested that 'accidents' might befall members who do not vote 'my way', I would find myself in a very awkward place indeed. At the very least, I would be defending myself on charges of uttering threats; worse, I would find myself accused by my membership of every unfortunate event that should befall them. How are the actions of the Roman Catholic clergy in Canada any different? They are not.

Essentially, the Roman Catholic Church is arguing that freedom of speech and religion are absolute - only as long you believe as the church fathers assert. The rest of us who dissent for one reason or another shall be held in "mortal sin", or even "excommunicate".

I find it fascinating that Church clergy such as Bishop Henry will complain about how recent legislation impinges upon their freedom of belief/speech/whatever, yet they fail to acknowledge that their own activities and stand fly in the face of the same freedoms held by every other Canadian citizen.

I have seen it argued that in writing in an explicit separation of Church from State, Thomas Jefferson was not merely trying to protect politics from religion, but religion from the pollution of politics. After reviewing some of this page of quotes attributed to Mr. Jefferson, I'm inclined to agree with that analysis. Mr. Jefferson may have been more correct than he had ever imagined. The growing pluralism in the world as immigration breaks down the old geographic isolation of religious beliefs renders it ever more difficult to have a 'fair and just' society where the laws are based on interpretations of a specific religious tradition.

It is time that the religious bodies in this land learned to persuade people, not engage in the kind of bully-boy tactics that raise the spectre of Inquisition as the churches assume that people are errant sheep not thinking human beings.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Compare and Contrast

In my web travels yesterday, I found myself roaming around the websites of two different church bodies - the United Church of Canada and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, Alberta.

Both websites had "pastoral letters" from the leaders of these respective church bodies. My understanding of the notion of a Pastoral Letter is that it is a means for senior clergy to communicate their church's position and teachings on a topic to both local church clergy as well as the congregation. As such, I would expect a certain amount of reference to scripture, or at the very least to other church writings on a topic. Otherwise, such letters essentially become a political manifesto.

I've read and dissected Bishop Henry's "pastoral letters" for their content before, and that is not my intention here. I've picked out the two of Bishop Henry's articles that are obviously intended to be pastoral letters - January 2005, and May 2005.

For contrast, I present Rt. Rev. Peter Short's "Pastoral Letter" from the end of June.

A random search of the web for "Pastoral Letters" turned up this one on a related topic from an American Bishop.

The first thing that struck me was the stark difference in content between Bishop Henry's "Pastoral Letters", and the other two that I have presented. Both Moderator Short and Bishop Thomas Daily speak of scripture and their respective interpretation of it. Bishop Henry's letters may be written from the perspective of Roman Catholic teachings on the subject, but do not speak in terms of those teachings.

Moderator Short's letter is rather interesting in the fact that while it speaks to the secular issues involved, he also addresses the reality of the impact of those issues on congregations. Rev. Short takes on the divisions and concerns of the various congregations in the context of scripture and its interpretation. He is clearly speaking to his church, and doing so in terms of the faith he believes in.

Additionally, Bishop Henry has been republishing his "Pastoral Letters" almost verbatim in the Calgary Sun as his "monthly column" recently.

May 1, 2005 Column for Calgary Sun
May 1 Pastoral Letter

There are other examples, if you are willing to compare his monthly Diocese columns with what has appeared in the Sun - it's not just his Pastoral Letters that are at play here.


To me there's a duplicity here. In principle, a Pastoral Letter is a vehicle for communication within the organization of the church. As such, publishing those letters in any church-owned vehicle is quite legitimate. Further, I would hope that such a document would go some distance in trying to explain the church's position on a topic with respect to the church's teachings. Bishop Henry's writings do not do this - they don't even appear to pay lip service to the topic of the theology behind his arguments. However, when Bishop Henry's "Pastoral Letters" happen to be published in a local newspaper - more or less verbatim - it seems to me that he has stepped out from behind the 'veil' of Church communication, and into the secular "public square". No matter how "based on his faith" those columns are, they are now a fundamentally a part of the public discourse outside of the Church.

It is here that the Bishop finds himself in an awkward place. Not only are his Pastoral Letters being multiply published outside of the Church, they are now subject to scrutiny by bodies that are not bound by the teachings of the Bishop's faith. The stark difference in structure and content between other "Pastoral Letters" and Bishop Henry's is striking. One could argue quite easily that Bishop Henry is in fact writing a political manifesto, not a document of religious doctrine.

It is in this regard, along with some of the words the Bishop's letters have used that complaints now before the Alberta Human Rights Commission will need to be considered. While Bishop Henry will continue to claim that his Charter Right to Freedom of Religion is being impinged upon by the very complaints to the human rights commission in Alberta, there is a considerable argument that Bishop Henry is playing politics while trying to hide behind the veil of his position as a senior member of the clergy.

In comparison, I doubt that one could make any claim against Rev. Short's pastoral letter, no matter how strongly one disagrees with it, as it is clearly intended for consumption within his church. Similarly, Bishop Daily's letter is so clearly written in terms of church teachings that it would be exceedingly difficult to argue that he is doing anything outside of acting in his role as guide to the congregations of his diocese.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Revivals

It would appear that in light of Alberta's current prosperity that the Separatist movement has once again crawled out of its cave, once again sniffing at the prospect of political gains.

In the late 1970s, Doug Christie along with a few similarly disgruntled compatriots brought the "Western Canada Concept" into being. Although the party enjoyed some momentary success in Alberta after the NEP was introduced, it never went very far. It still exists, but it remains further out in the political wilderness than an NDP Candidate in Calgary does.

In the last provincial election, the Separation Party of Alberta ran a handful of candidates. They had even less voter interest than the "Alberta Alliance" party did. (Not surprising, the Alliance was almost solely funded by the Thorsteinson family, and had quite a fat campaign wallet for its size.

Alberta Separatists usually run around arguing along the following lines:

a. We (Alberta) gives too much money to Ottawa
b. Ottawa (and Ontario) are basically a bunch of self-centered bastards
c. Federalism doesn't work for Alberta/Western Canada.

Of course, Western Separatists work from the assumption that Canada can't possibly work. They point to billions of dollars that flow from Alberta to Ottawa, and virtually nothing that flows back. (Hmmm - lessee - Alberta's economy is booming why? oh right - $55+/bbl Oil) While Alberta flourishes in the flow of Oil revenues, we have to realize that Oil is finite, and will run out sooner or later - even the vast reserves of the Oil Sands have their limits, and the energy cost of extraction is very high in the Oil Sands projects. In other words, Alberta's current prosperity is likely to be short lived unless Albertans start seriously diversifying their economy. (I don't mean the piddling little bits that have been happening for the last 15 years or so, I mean serious investment)

To reinforce their sense of 'alienation', they point repeatedly to Pierre Trudeau's NEP as a classic example of how Ottawa doesn't understand Alberta. That was some 25 years in the past - we buried Trudeau in 2000, for crying out loud. There hasn't been a government in Ottawa that has made even a hint of such a monumental blunder since - get over it. Pointing to corruption in Ottawa doesn't mean that corruption doesn't exist in Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg or Victoria. Politicians are like anyone else - tempted by the trappings of wealth and power.

Being upset with the Government is a classic Canadian pastime. What makes the separatists think that Western Canada has a monopoly on feeling put upon? Where the Quebec sovereigntist movement can call upon a sense of "unity" around the notion of a unique francophone culture, Western Separatists have no such foothold in the cultural minds of Canadians.

The last thing that separatists fail to understand is the subtle current of Canadian Patriotism. I can get just as riled up as the next guy about what goes on in Ottawa, and I may well even vote for a party that I believe is going to change Ottawa; but ask me to give up my rights as a Canadian Citizen - no dice pal! When it comes to the crunch - I'm a Canadian first and foremost, and I'm not willing to give that up. I dare say that most Western Canadians are fundamentally similar.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

IBM Doesn't Lose Lawsuits...

In the realm of Intellectual Property (IP), IBM plays to win. Lawsuits are something they don't typically lose.

For the last couple of years, SCO has been trying to claim that IBM "gave" patented code bits to the Linux community illegally.

I've been half following the proceedings for some time, and it seems like every time SCO makes a move to further delay things, IBM counters the move rather smartly. The most recent ruling from the judge appears to put a closure on the "Discovery" phase of the cycle, and sets a trial date for sometime in early 2007.

Ever since this lawsuit came on the scene, it has been the focal point of a lot of really bad jokes (and I'd hate to be SCO's lawyers). The lawsuit itself is important in one key point - its very existence speaks volumes to the ineffectiveness of the current patent and copyright structures when software is brought into the mix.

Hopefully, out of the resultant mess, we will find the lawmakers in both Canada and the United States re-examining the IP domain as a whole with respect to the software world. Right now, we have a significant legal limbo state where a developer can be accused of infringement - even though they have legitimately derived their solution from basic principles. There are enormous problems with applying both patent and copyright laws to software. Patents are too strong a tool, potentially hamstringing future evolution in technology, and copyrights are too weak, providing no adequate means to deal with blatant rip-offs.

In some respects the "look-and-feel" lawsuits of the late '80s were the first clue that something was amiss. Today, multi-million dollar lawsuits are the norm, and patents are being granted on things so fundamental that a programmer theoretically would have to license every line of code written for an application from the respective patent-holders.

I think that a couple of things need to happen here:

1) The software world needs to outline what would be "common knowledge" in fairly broad terms.

2) The copyright and patent systems need to be overhauled for a "soft-patent" model which provides a degree of protection for innovation, but does not grant an absolute exclusivity on a technology to the holder. We need a model that, like software itself, is more elastic than the industrial-era notions of copyright and patent.

Friday, July 01, 2005

And The Truth Comes Out

Every so often, someone makes a "Freudian Slip" in writing. Such is the case with Link Byfield's latest column in the Calgary Sun.

Of course, along with other religious objectors to Same-Gender-Marriage (SGM), Link is now raising the prospect that the Bible might be declared "hate literature" in some future scenario now that the SGM legislation looks to be on its way to becoming law.

Says the great Link:
So how much longer will it be before the Bible is formally condemned as hate literature, because it describes sodomy as worth hating?


Well, Link, this is the same Bible that contains passages in it that infer that women and children are property; that we shouldn't wear clothing of mixed fibres, and that the world was created in 7 days. The Bible doesn't describe sodomy as worth hating - it does in some sections appear to proscribe it - there's a big difference. Besides - is it not the same Bible in which Jesus says something to the effect of "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone"; and God makes noises about "Judgement alone is mine"? In other words Link - live and let live. If God is as real and omnipotent as the Bible says, we'll each find out in the next life, won't we?

I doubt in any real sense that the Bible itself will ever be declared hate literature. It's too ancient a document to qualify for that designation. Of course, people like Mr. Byfield who use its words to justify their own actions which are in one form or another discriminatory or marginalizing may find their actions challenged.

Of course, in his bitter decryal of the events of recent weeks, Mr. Byfield claims:

For a little longer, the fiction will be preserved that gay equality does not conflict with freedom of belief. But then, six years ago, Parliament was insisting gay marriage would never happen. Political fictions outlive their usefulness pretty fast these days.


Rationally, nobody is interested in what Mr. Byfield believes. Frankly, if he wants to believe that the Bible says the moon is made of green cheez that's just fine with me. As long as he is willing to let me believe (as I do) that the moon is a ball of rock hurtling around the earth.

Of course, it becomes a very different thing if Mr. Byfield comes along and starts to demand that those of us who don't believe as he does should not be allowed to teach in the schools because he's worried we might corrupt/subvert/pollute his offspring.

It is unlikely that the Bible itself - or the holy text of any major religion - will ever come to be seen as "hate literature" in the legal sense of it. Of course, actions taken by people may well be hateful, no matter how fervently the actors believe the Bible protects them.

Since the interpretation of the Bible led to the creation of the Malleus Maleficarum, a book used by the Church-sponsored Inquisitions to 'find' witches, it seems to me that even the words of a book now seen as a 'guide' to 'good society' can be twisted into the most evil of actions. The so-called "Aryan Churches" interpret the Bible to justify their own hate-filled view of the world. It is not the Bible that is hateful, it is the actions of those who censure others based that become hateful. (Those not familiar with the "Witch Hunts" in Medieval Europe are encouraged to do some research - it's a fascinating topic, and a gorgeous example of how power can be abused)

The only thing that I will agree with Mr. Byfield on is this - there is a growing tension between Charter clauses guaranteeing freedom of religion and the clauses guaranteeing equality. The debate will no doubt be raucous, but I think it will come down to this - freedom of belief is an individual thing. While Mr. Byfield is free to believe in his peculiar brand of Christianity, I am equally free to believe something quite different.

It is not the Bible that Mr. Byfield needs to worry about - it is his own words and deeds.