Monday, October 31, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is time to do the Time Warp Again!

In his latest move to ensure that legal and civil status for the citizens of the United States takes a leap backwards only marginally less severe than the Taliban regime inflicted upon Afghanistan, George W. Bush has nominated Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court.

The fact that the same conservative factions that were so opposed to Harriet Miers are positively ecstatic about Mr. Alito is worrisome all by itself. The viciousness of the attacks against Miers smacks of ideological puritanism - the fact that Aulito is being greated with near jubilation makes me suspicious.

A brief perusal of the CNN article doesn't do much to allay my worries:

In 1991, in one of his more well-known decisions, Alito was the only dissenting voice in a 3rd Circuit ruling striking down a Pennsylvania law that required women to notify their husbands if they planned to get an abortion.


Now, I'm not saying that in any reasonable marriage, the natural communication between husband and wife wouldn't include this discussion - however, I know of plenty of completely screwed up situations where even raising the discussion could result in the woman receiving a beating or worse. Even more disturbing is the underlying attitude that this suggests, especially towards a topic as sensitive as abortion.

"Federal judges have the duty to interpret the Constitution and the laws faithfully and fairly, to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans, and to do these things with care and with restraint, always keeping in mind the limited role that the courts play in our constitutional system," he said.


Ah yes, the old canard about "judicial activism" - which is really a code phrase for any ruling that you don't like. I'm not so worried about his statement so much as how beholden he is to the "hard-line" conservative ideology. In other words, is he going to rule "conservatively" not because it's the appropriate thing to do in a given case, but because his ideological masters tell him to?

The Conservative Party in Canada has carped about so-called judicial activism for years - usually every time the Supreme Court makes a ruling that they find distressing. I see court rulings all the time that I disagree with, or that I had hoped for a different outcome on. Not once have I called it "judicial activism", because usually the situation is grounded in a rational interpretation of law. Given that Republicans have held sway in the US Supreme Court for a long time (all but two of the judges in recent years were appointed - and affiliated with - Republicans), I can only imagine what kind of judiciary the hard-liners are seeking.

I might be paranoid, but a guy like Alito, along with Roberts, stand in a position to scale back civil rights across the board. It goes much further than Roe v. Wade, but we also have to remember that there are groups in the United States who demand that one particular religion (theirs) be given a unique status above all others; that there are very powerful groups still agitating to restore segregation and numerous other "civil rights" movements that an ideologically focused Supreme Court may well see fit to quash.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Democracy Relies Upon Balance

Recent history in both Canada and the United States has made it painfully clear that the notion of "liberal democracy" depends heavily upon balance in order to work. When I say balance, I do not mean balance between the execution of powers and duties, but rather balance between the different political ideas that exist within society.

If any one "party" or faction becomes overpoweringly dominant, there is a serious risk that the government itself will come unhinged. In recent weeks, the now embattled Presidency of George W. Bush has suffered from a number of fairly nasty events:

1. Tom Delay has been indicted on a number of charges relating to campaign finance irregularities.

2. "Scooter" Libby has been indicted on charges of perjury in the Plame case.

3. Karl Rove remains under suspicion and investigation.

4. Bush's own bastion of political support ate the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers like a pack of starving hyenas.

In the bigger picture, Bush's presidency is deeply troubled. Iraq remains a military quagmire, with fatalities having passed 2000 Americans recently, an economy now teetering on the edge of several possible disasters - a record breaking deficit; increasing trade deficits and increasing foreign ownership of US government debt. With oil prices hovering at record highs, the spectre of inflation lurks on the horizon.

Hardly a stellar record, by any means. However, what does this have to do with balance? Quite a bit as it turns out. First of all, at the moment one party holds the balance of power in the legislative and executive arms of the US government. As a consequence, we've had the pleasure (dubious it might be) of watching the United States gov't unravel with significant signs of ethical and moral corruption emerging on a near daily basis. I'm not saying that politicians are "more honest" when there is competition, only that when a single party begins to hold absolute sway, the degree and severity of corruption that we witness seems to be that much the more severe.

Canada is no better off. In Alberta, we have had a "Progressive Conservative" government since Peter Lougheed swept to power in 1971. That's over thirty years of a single party running the province. While Lougheed seemed to keep to a relatively even keel, his successors - Don Getty and Ralph Klein have been far less balanced in their approach to government. In the last few years, the Klein-led conservative government has let leak a number of things that smell pretty rotten. Whether it is some $400 million in "aid to ranchers" that seemed to mysteriously land in the pockets of Cargill and Tyson Foods, or a less than honest nomination process in a number of ridings.

Federally, we have had a Liberal government holding tenure since 1993, when Jean Chretien's Liberals trounced the former ruling Conservative party. Since then, we have had a number of examples of political mangling of government funds for partisan interests of one sort or another.

I can't speak to the balance in the United States, but in Canada - both provincially in Alberta and Federally, the imbalance has arose from a lack of credible opposition. The Alberta legislature has been so overwhelmingly "conservative" in its composition, that a mere ten seats have been our "opposition" for a long time. Needless to say, this is hardly an effective opposition in a house with some 80 seats.

Federally, the Reform/Alliance/Conservative party(ies?) have failed to provide the voters with something to vote for, so votes tend to fall back to "the devil we know".

However, politicians are human. When they spend too long with control over the reins of power, they fall into the patterns of self-enrichment and cronyism. Recent events in both countries are a lesson to all citizens of democracies - not only must we look to the candidates, but we must also learn who surrounds these people. If we fail to learn those lessons, we will no doubt suffer from the consequences.

In a balanced environment, would the clause in the "No Child Left Behind" act that gives the military direct, legislated access to high schools for the purposes of recruiting have been allowed through? A clause that makes funding contingent on that access? Would the Patriot Act have survived a review? (Somehow, I have my doubts)

In Canada, a more balanced legislature might have given Alberta's Auditor General the independance needed to fully investigate where the cattle dollars went, and why. Goodness knows there's a pretty good list of government activities that our auditor should be able to investigate. Of course, the iron grip of Alberta's cabinet upon the legislature guarantees that we won't have anything close to a sensible audit until after we punt the sitting party from power.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harriet Who?

Prior to being nominated by President Bush as a Supreme Court Justice, I had never heard of Harriet Miers. This is probably true for most Canadians. Today she withdrew her name from the nomination.

The viciousness of the attacks against Mrs. Miers didn't surprise me - where it came from did. Generally speaking, anything that has come out of the BushCo White House has been nearly worshipped by the "Conservatives" in the states. Not this time - apparently Mrs. Miers wasn't sufficiently pure in her politics to suit the Conservatives. In her notably vicious style, Ann Coulter spent a great deal of time trashing Mrs. Miers over the last few weeks. (Of course, Ms. Coulter is only fit to bay at the moon most of the time) I merely consider Ms. Coulter to be an ambassador for the ill-informed extreme nut-house of the right wing.

Why the howls of outrage over the Miers nomination? Fundamentally, the hard-line conservatives were all afraid that Miers wasn't "conservative enough".

When political ideology is the reason used to shout down a candidate - before any kind of confirmation hearings can take place - it speaks of a serious problem. The justices of the Supreme Court are not politicians, nor should they be appointed purely based on their political leanings. Their job is to interpret law, and in particular in the context of the laws and constitution. This isn't a matter of politics - it's a matter of law. As much as conservatives desperately want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and other civil rights decisions, they do themselves and their societies a disservice when they focus on the politics of a candidate.

It is notable that Roe v. Wade has withstood numerous challenges over the years, even with the Supreme Court stacked 7-2 in favour of the Republicans. If you stack the court with ideologues, what kind of rulings do you get? Are they solidly grounded in the law and constitution, or are they grounded in the momentary ideology of the day? If Roe v. Wade is overturned in the name of life, perhaps the overly lax interpretation of the "Right To Bear Arms" can be overturned by the same logic. Guns are devices uniquely dedicated to taking life, after all.

How will Conservatives react when their ideological "purity" is turned upon other treasured beliefs they hold that are inconsistent?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The CPC Just Doesn't Get The Concept

If I had any delusions about the Conservative Party of Canada having something resembling common sense.

For the last few weeks, the party has been madly trying to make something out of the David Dingwall Affair. Of course, the whole affair is rapidly fizzling into irrelevance. Audit findings released today make it quite clear that Dingwall wasn't abusing his position as head of the Royal Canadian Mint. I'm no fan of Dingwall - nor the Martin Liberals come to that - but good enough is good enough. An audit has been performed (and before the Conservatives go whinging about the "terms of engagement" or the "independence" of the auditors, I'll point out that the Auditor General was the person who broke open the Sponsorship Scandal - deal with it)

This evening, as I'm driving home, I hear MP Brian Pallister flapping his lips on CBC's "As It Happens". Of course, he's still trying to wring something credible from this whole business. Frankly, he comes off as a complete oaf about things. Not only is he unwilling to accept the auditor's report as having any validity, he continues to try and spin things to make it look as though the Liberals are doing something malfeasant.

Apparently, the CPC hasn't got the message yet from the polls. Canadians aren't interested in being told that the Liberals are corrupt. We know that already. Canadians want to know what to vote for. So far, every time the CPC pops up, they seem to be busy telling us that the Liberals are corrupt. Not what their policies are, not what their vision for Canada is, nothing that would compel me to vote for the party. Voting against the Liberals is not magically a vote for the CPC - there's a plethora of other parties that are giving me a much better sense of their vision and direction.

So far, a scan of the CPC web page for policy shows me little policy snippets, some of which are at odds with known party dogma. The latest gem being some goofy attempt to describe a policy to give people incentives to go into the trades. Lessee - this is the party that is supposedly "stay out of the market", "let business decide" and "less government is better" now wants to stick its oar into the business marketplace? What the heck is that all about? Realistically their "we aren't Liberals" platform is completely unconvincing - the policy bits they release sound awfully similar to classic Liberal party platforms, and yet the rhetoric they spew sounds decidedly "let's emulate the US Republicans". What are you boys? Fish or Fowl?

Which brings me to my other point about the CPC. I want a party in power that is going to represent Canada - not sell it out to Washington. Martin's made it pretty clear where he stands; so has Jack Layton of the NDP. So where do you stand, Stephen? (or kneel - as the case may be).

The CPC needs to become a few things before it will get any credibility outside of the Alberta voter:

1. Consistency
2. Vision
3. An ability to communicate their vision
4. Passionately Canadian. (and I don't mean "flag waving" either)

The Word of the Day is Hypocrite

I see that Canada was blessed by a brief visit from Condoleezza Rice yesterday.

I won't go off about how this visit is a symbolic slap in the face, since she's visited some 30 odd other countries first - and Canada is the other half of the world's longest unprotected border - that would just get me mad.

No, I'll stick to what she had to say, partly because it's so incredibly stupid, it's beyond reason.

Item #1:

"It is important not to speak in apocalyptic language about this issue. It is a trade dispute. Frankly, I think we'll get through it."


Bullfeathers! You come into my country, and tell me "we should act all nice about this" - and then this woman turns around and comes up with:

When asked how Washington's refusal to accept the NAFTA ruling will affect its credibility in the international community, Rice said the U.S. track record is solid.

"The word of the U.S. has been as good as gold in international dealings and agreements," said Rice.


How clueless is this bunch in Washington? Do they really think the world sees it that way?

The US stance since 2000 on anything that they haven't "got their way" on has been obdurate, intransigent and unreasonable. In the softwood lumber dispute, Canada has appealed to the very processes and rules established within the NAFTA agreement, has in fact won case after case on the topic, and BushCo wants a "negotiated" settlement?

It's a bit past negotiating time.

I'm more than a little peeved with the sense of entitlement that the Bush Administration is walking around with these days:

1. Ambassador Cellucci seemed to think he was "Governer-in-Residence", with every speech he gave being yet another admonition to Canada about how we should run our country.

2. Obdurate ignorance of the very trade agreements that they are party to.

3. Softwood Lumber, Mad Cow and several other assorted trade issues - all of which are basically bogus.

4. Testosterone-laden foreign policy that mostly seems to involve diplomacy implemented at the end of a gun.

Fortunately, Canada's governments in the past few years have had the collective wisdom to recognize that we neither should, nor need to, align ourselves with a government in the United States that is so obviously clueless about anything outside of Crawford, Texas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Gall of The Religious Right

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This disease kills thousands of women every year. Unlike some other cancers I know of, it's relatively treatable - but that doesn't make it any less horrifying for its victims and their families.

However, an anti-abortion group called "Life Canada" is busy trying to hijack October with a billboard campaign that attempts to link breast cancer risk with abortion. Their claim is that there is a link between the two that is being "covered up" (why does everything have to degenerate into a conspiracy???)

The data on this topic is wide ranging, and the results published appear to contradict one another. Of course the religious/anti-abortion crowd has become very attached to the notion that abortion causes breast cancer since it becomes a lever that they can use in their campaigns. More rational literature surveys, like this, point out that what evidence there is suffers from a plethora of problems that call its validity into question.

Once again, we see the political campaigns of the "Religious Right" spinning and mangling legitimate scholarly works towards their own ends. Whether it is Bishop Henry in his incessant tirades about same gender marriage; random school boards in the states claiming that "Intelligent Design" is equivalent to Evolution theory, or this bunch of quackery, it is all rooted in a form of intellectual dishonesty that is galling indeed.

What really irritates me about this recent campaign by the "anti-abortion" crowd is that they are tying two very traumatic experiences together for political gains. Anyone who has lost a relative to cancer will attest to the horrifying experience of watching them go. As for abortions (whether medical or merely miscarriages), the fact that few people talk about them tells me enough about the psychological price they have paid. The cynical abuse of the experiences of these people for no better reason than political gain is offensive in the worst way.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Now I've Heard It All

I'm an avid reader - and I've read more than my share of scifi/fantasy literature over the years. (My current novel-du-jour is Margaret George's "Mary, called Magdalene")

When I read Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", I thought of the fictional "Republic of Gilead" as a slightly disturbing metaphor for religious fundamentalism gone awry. For all that I've wondered aloud about the United States being on the road to becoming a literal realization of that dystopia, I never thought I'd encounter a group actually trying to bring it about. Apparently, an organization called "Christian Exodus" has emerged in the United States with the explicit intent of taking South Carolina out of the Union if they cannot achieve a certain degree of change.

After spending a bit of time roaming about their website, I can only surmise that this is the work of a bunch of loons. Determined loons, but loons nontheless.

These are more of the same people who need to go and read a bit of Bishop John Shelby Spong's works about Christian theology. The sheer vileness of the vitriol that I see coming forth from these neo-fundamentalists is revolting. Where is the "forgiveness" that scripture speaks of? (Oh yes, I forgot - it's conditional - on seeing the world through their perverted perspective - you know the same one that says that women are inferior to men; anyone who is "foreign" is inferior etc.)

*shudder*

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Contrary to the Propaganda

Iraq remains a war zone. In spite of ongoing attempts to install a new government, it's pretty clear that the "on the street" opinion is that Iraq is still a nation under foreign occupation.

I find this an interesting event for a couple of reasons. First, the attack took place nearly a month ago. We're just hearing about it now? Why? Probably because the propaganda machine wanted to keep it "quiet" in the run up to the constitutional referendum in Iraq.

Second, it's a reminder that in spite of the fact that "major military" operations in Iraq have "ended", there are clearly those in Iraq who see things quite differently. Although "major operations" are over, it appears that US forces still have their hands rather full.

Apparently, the Bush/Blair duo are still oblivious to the fact that they have yet to finish the job in Iraq, since they are once again rattling their collective sabres at other countries.

I can't believe that they are this stupid. I don't know what the status of Britain's economy is, but the American economy is playing in some amazingly dangerous spaces. A third war, whether in Iran or Syria would likely break the back of the US economy as the Bush Administration finds it more and more expensive to borrow to finance their ego stroking exercises in the Middle East.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Democracy - is it the 'will of the majority'?

Advocates of direct democracy tend to argue that laws should be formed by the will of the majority of the voters. Since we elect representatives to sit in our legislative houses, they own the job of reflecting that will.

Therefore, they argue, it is quite legitimate for the rights of minority groups to be circumscribed in law. After all, if a majority of people "were like _that_", then it wouldn't be an issue, would it?

However, life is seldom so 'black-and-white'. Our legislators are bound by the foundation laws that our nation is built upon - in Canada's case, the Constitution, but backed up by a broad range of supporting law that draws the boundaries between a myriad of different topics.

All of these things become factors in how our legislators must define their works. Canada's Constitution is relatively young by Western standards. Signed into being in 1982, and in full force by 1985, it's only had a little over 20 years as the foundation upon which laws are written, and only 20 years of case law based upon it.

Fortunately for Canada's population, the authors of our Constitution, and in particular the Charter of Rights, wrote in guarantees of some very fundamental rights that all Canadian citizens enjoy. These includes rights to freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination, mobility, and many other key rights that now form the bedrock against which new laws must be tested.

The danger that emerges is that the 'will of the majority' can be subverted by very small minority groups. Where pure majority rule can result in the "Tyranny of the Majority", a counter position is that the "Tyranny of the Minorities" can take over. Essentially, we swing from a situation where the rights of the minorities could be compromised at the hands of an uncomprehending - or unaware - majority to one where the legitimate rights and will of the majority are thwarted entirely by the rights of the minority.

It's hard to disagree with the voiced concern that minority rights are overriding the "common sense" of the greater body politic in our land. At times, it's very easy to say that - after all, the list of issues is as long as your arm - whether it is the issue of allowing turbans to be part of the RCMP uniform or pension benefits for same gender couples, it seems as though an issue that affects a very small percentage of the population is taking precedence over the traditions and beliefs of the so-called "majority".

However, I would be remiss in failing to point out that the Constitution was authored by the elected leaders of that time. In other words, the very principals that "direct democracy" advocates demand be obeyed are in fact being obeyed. When the courts strike a law down as being "unconstitutional", it means that the law in question has failed to meet the test of being sustainable in the light of that foundational law. Although the "will of the majority" may lean one way or another on a given day, constitutional laws tend to remain relatively constant. Wording may be interpreted differently from time to time, but not substantially.

In any reasonably sophisticated society, democracy cannot be simply the will of the majority. The fact is that there are far too many considerations in our world that preclude such a simplistic view. Laws must not only apply "equally to all", but there is a subtle second test to be added - that of ensuring that the laws of our land are examined and applied in a manner that protects not just the majority, but all of our citizens.

That makes the task of authoring laws a difficult, and complex task. Not only must laws reflect the democratic will of the people, but the words cannot abrogate the rights that individuals hold either.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Softwood Lumber - and US Trade

Apparently, reality is starting to trickle its way into some of the calcified echelons of some US politicians.

A couple of weeks ago, Paul Martin delivered a hard-edged speech to an industry leader audience in New York. In it, he lambasted the current US government for ignoring trade ruling after trade ruling in the softwood lumber dispute.

Former president Clinton spoke in favour of Paul Martin's hard line approach to the US on the softwood lumber dispute yesterday. I don't suppose this is overly suprising - I'd be very shocked if Clinton had stood up and said he agreed with what the Republicans are doing. The other thing that came to light were statements by Senator Hatch about Canada, and in particular, Alberta's oil production. Considering the fact that Hatch is normally a pretty hard-line Republican, the observation is both chilling and encouraging.

If Canada is becoming the "800lb Gorilla" of oil trade that Hatch suggests, then it's about time that the US start treating that 800lb Gorilla with a bit of respect. While critics like Paul Jackson cringe and moan about how Canada is about to upset it's biggest trading partner, Paul Martin is actually doing something useful - it may mean breaking a few rules to do it, but putting the US on notice that non-cooperation on softwood lumber might just mean non-cooperation on other issues of trade that are much more important to them.

In the meantime, Canada's industry sectors would do well to begin growing their visibility and market presence outside of the US.

Bishop Henry Should Check His Sources

Silly me - I should know better than to go past the Calgary Sun's website - I inevitably make the mistake of looking through the editorials, and I found Bishop Henry has posted another one of his misinformed diatribes about the evils of affording sexual minorities rights.

Bishop Henry quoted a "study" (more of an essay, really), by an organization calling itself "American College of Pediatricians". This study is what Bishop Henry uses to justify yet another multi-layered, irrational tirade.

Quoth the Good Bishop:

In January 2004, The American College of Pediatricians concluded: "The research literature on child- rearing by homosexual parents is limited.

"The environment in which children are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, neither by adoption, foster care, or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available science."(Human Parenting: Is It Time for Change?)



Hmmm...thinks I - I should go take a look at this so-called study - it's conclusions run at considerable odds to results that have been rattling around in the psychological and psychiatric literature for quite some years. Superficially, the report appears to be fairly well researched - there's some 30-odd footnotes at the end - not bad for a few hundred words of material.

I will agree with one statement out of the conclusions - "The research literature on child- rearing by homosexual parents is limited." When you are talking about a minority group that is only documented at 3% - 5% of the population (based on census data), any research in that sub-population is going to be challenged to find a sufficiently large sample size upon which to base results. That is valid criticism of the literature - however, it does not invalidate the existing body.

However, upon further digging, you start to realize that the people that they are quoting from are people like J. Michael Bailey, a man whose writings are politely described as controversial, and often are arguably flawed. The report also vastly mangles the conclusions and observations of other papers that they have referenced.

A random sampling of the authors of the papers referred to turned up the following:

Robert Lerner, PhD. - Works in association with U.S. Government (read - BushCo)
Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandfeur - Authors of a book about the evils of single parenting that are often quoted by the pro-marriage/pro-family crowd.
P. Morgan - published by the "Christian Institute" - need I say more?

I wasn't able to check all of the papers referenced conveniently - I found enough dubious research in the survey to become suspicious of the conclusions drawn.

Looking around the website further, it suddenly becomes clear why something was ringingly wrong:

The American College of Pediatricians is a national medical association of pediatricians and other healthcare providers who specialize in the care of infants, children, and adolescents. Formed in 2002, the College was born out of genuine concern for the welfare of children and for the preservation of their natural families. The College recognizes that contemporary societal forces have placed children at great risk emotionally and physically. In seeking to protect the child, the College will develop sound policy based upon quality research to influence parents and society in the endeavor of childrearing.

Furthermore, the College recognizes the inherent value of both a father and a mother, united in marriage, rearing the child and will advocate for this optimal developmental setting. Realizing that disruption of the family is an unfortunate reality and that every child is unique and valuable, the College pledges to support all children, regardless of their circumstances. The Mission, Value and Vision statements reflect the conviction and concern of the American College of Pediatricians.


Ah - we come to the crux of it. This is a splinter organization formed (possibly) from members of the much older American Academy of Pediatrics organization. A much older, more classical medical college, the AAP was formed in 1930. Since the AAP and the American Psychiatric Association weren't making the appropriately conservative "pro-family statements", a bunch of Pediatricians went off to start their own little conservative organization. (Frankly, if I had a pediatrician that was affiliated with this new group, I'd be looking for another one fast - the last thing I need is a doctor moralizing at me over my family life)

Really, Bishop Henry is an intelligent man. He should know better than to quote sources that are so obviously partisan. It's kind of like using Michael Behe to provide a reasoned critique of Evolution Theory. You know what you're going to get, and it's mostly crap.

When political or religious ideology drives research, the conclusions are guaranteed to be suspect. But, of course, the Religious Reich doesn't worry too much about facts when they can conjure conclusions out of thin air.

The rest of Bishop Henry's column degenerated into the usual "Link Byfield-inspired paranoia" that religious freedoms are being trampled by gay rights activism. While I don't agree with every action that the gay rights activists have taken, the results have yet to constitute something that strikes me as an infringement upon individual religious freedoms.

Bishop Henry is slowly descending into the land of the blatantly political. I see the good Bishop is getting involved with this lovely little fundraiser, being done on behalf of Concerned Christians and it's former head Stephen Boisson. In a way it's rather sad to see Bishop Henry falling in with the kind of nastiness that is the worst side of the so-called "Christian Right Wing" (hmmm - a bird with only a right wing could only turn left...). I'm beginning to suspect that Bishop Henry is apt to make a run for political office in the future - probably with this goon as his campaign mangler. (I've met this man once - and trust me, goon is an apt description)

I'm not asking that the Bishop go and get his PhD. in Psychiatry or anything like that - but I am getting increasingly annoyed with his continued insistance on taking a position on a topic based on such obviously suspect sources. Even a pidgin bit of research can turn up a wide range of material in the topics that the Bishop has been writing on lately. Like the "Intelligent Design" advocates, the Bishop is being wilfully ignorant of positions and evidence that he doesn't like - or that Rome tells him he doesn't like.

This wouldn't irritate me so much but for the fact that the Bishop is a man with a very high public profile, and with rather direct influence over a lot of people's beliefs.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Civil Rights, Equality Rights

One of my pet topics is that of equality and civil rights. Recently, there has been a certain amount of emerging tension between the rights of sexual minority groups and religious groups.

Today, in my travels through the web, I encountered the following article on BBC. It seems a couple of thugs took it into their minds to rid the world of another "queer" - the result is another corpse in the morgue waiting for the coroner.

I doubt that the goons who committed this atrocity have either the intellect or desire to understand the notions of equality and rights, much less how they might apply beyond their immediate needs for a beer and a little pugilistic self-gratification.

However, when religious doctrine is prescribed as some kind of absolute truth, it is far too easy for it to be used to justify marginalizing people whose lives are otherwise quite unremarkable. When people like Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary stand up on their hind legs and publish articles like this, this and this, he perpetuates the very mythology that allows the goons mentioned above to feel justified in their actions. Of course, I should point out that for all that I level my sights at the Roman Catholic Church, they are nowhere near as blatantly awful as some so-called fundamentalist churches - such as this, or individuals like Pat Robertson who bring back the deep south segregationist approach to anything and anybody they do not understand. Of course, groups like 'Concerned Christians Canada' have made it their purpose in life to use the schoolyard bully tactics that I remember encountering so many times in my youth to advance their position. They talk in vague terms of "Religious Freedom Under Attack", and the "Homosexual Agenda" (and lord knows how many other things).

Like George W. Bush, they are waging "war" against an "enemy" that they have neither identified nor understood. What is "al Quaeda"? Is it real, or is it a concept? How does a heavy armour war in Iraq fit into shutting down terrorism? In reality, the precepts are the same - based on misinformation, and an assortment of "convictions of faith", a war is being waged.

On a societal level, as long as we deny otherwise peaceful, lawful members of society full participation in our nations, we give the goons the implicit justification for engaging in violence against those citizens.

There is an interesting balance point to be explored here - many fundamentalist Christians believe that homosexuality is a mortal sin, and _deserves_ to be persecuted - if not in law, then by social pressure. They claim that as rights are granted to the sexual minority communities, it is at the expense of their rights to freedom of religion and expression. At some point, that is no doubt true - if the legitimate expression of their faith was being impinged upon by granting rights to other groups, I would agree. So far, as near as I can tell, they are merely trying desperately to conserve their right to regurgitate bigotry of one form or another.

We appear to be going through a phase - in Canada, and likely to a different degree in the United States - where we are learning that freedoms are not freedoms when they continue to promote the isolation and marginalization of others.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Grrrrralph!

The illiterate buffoon that is currently masquerading as Premier of Alberta has once again opened his mouth and demonstrated that he is an intellect on par with the current occupant of the White House he so admires.

Paul Martin is engaging China - and other countries - in talks aimed at opening more foreign trade opportunities for Canada.

Along comes Ralph, with his good buddy Stephen Harper, whinging that Alberta's OIL isn't for Paul Martin to sell. Newsflash to both of these morons - the Federal Government sets foreign policy for Canada - including TRADE POLICY. That means that Paul Martin has every right in the world to be overseas selling the prospect of trading our energy, trees, whatever with foreign countries. (Including the United States)

Given that the current US Government has even less respect for the trade agreements signed in its name than I have for RalphCo (or a cockroach) recently, I would suggest that Paul Martin is in fact acting not only in Canada's best interests by looking afar for markets, but in Alberta's as well. In case nobody has noticed, there is nothing compelling Alberta to sell its oil to the United States - any more than B.C. is obliged to sell their lumber to the United States. The current US government is not interested in the rules of free trade - it doesn't work in their favour all the time.

However, getting back to my original point - once again, Ralph has tried to piddle all over Paul Martin. Why? Because in the Conservative Fantasy Land of Alberta politics, it plays well. Never mind the fact that Paul Martin has just put the US on notice that NAFTA is an endangered species unless they start to play by the rules they agreed to. Never mind what's been painfully obvious to any sentient human being in Canada since 2000 - cuddling up with the US for trade and whatnot is not in Canada's best interests. The US government doesn't see Canada as an equal partner, nor does it even attempt to treat their trading partners reasonably.

Paul Martin, for once in his stumbling career as Prime Minister of Canada has got it right. Ralph, and his bunch of vacuous allies should get behind him and start standing up as Canadians.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Random Irrationality

It appears that the Pope is still considering how to punish Paul Martin for having the audacity to permit gays to get married in Canada.

In the referenced article, the author suggests stripping the Roman Catholic Church of its tax exempt status. Needless to say that has spawned a minor flurry of inane idiocy among religious conservatives. A random troll through the blogosphere turns up the following reactions:

1. They're promoting hatred against Roman Catholics
2. Freedom of Religion for anyone who isn't a Christian
3. The Church is doing the State a favour by accepting tax-exempt status

Needless to say, these are decidedly nutty reactions at best.

1. They're promoting hatred against Roman Catholics

This one is straight out of left field - I have no idea what kind of logic derives that from the notion of stripping a church's tax-exempt status. If a church becomes a political lobby, then they should have to obey the same rules as every other political lobby group - period. (And living in Calgary, where I have front-row seats to watch Bishop Fred Henry's ham-handed attempts to lobby the government this way and that, I think there's possibly some merit to stripping _his_ diocese of its tax-exempt status...)

2. Freedom of Religion is only applied to those who aren't a Christian

Here's an old saw. It really boils down to "freedom of religion - as long as its my religion". Basically the twits that argue this way are all upset because they aren't succeeding in imposing their divinely inspired will upon the rest of us. Like the term "activist judge", it basically means that something isn't going "their way", so they are going go sulk about the unfairness of the system. (As opposed to actually producing intelligible arguments as to why things should go their way)

3. The Church is doing the State a favour by accepting tax-exempt status

I really had to scratch my head when I ran into this bit of irrational reasoning. Basically, the argument goes something like this: "Because the Church is tax-exempt, it is apart from the regular political constituency. Therefore, the Church doesn't interfere directly in the affairs of state. If it is a tax paying institution, then it suddenly demands more rights and time from our politicians".

The obvious reply to that is - "Bishop Fred Henry". The man's a one-man-lobby group if I've ever seen it. Worse, he uses his position as a member of the clergy to fund his activities, and give him a platform from which to spew his particular view of things.

Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with Bishop Henry (or any other cleric) expressing his opinions. However, that doesn't mean I can't object to his attempts (however clumsy) to use church resources to promulgate those opinions, and in particular to influence our politicians. I would remind readers that Bishop Henry has variously threatened Paul Martin, Jean Chretien and Joe Clark with excommunication, damnation or whatever when the public policy is at odds with his unique form of dogma.

If that isn't engaging in political lobby, I don't know what is. The worst part of it is that Bishop Henry - and other clergy - do so in their capacity as clergy, not as private citizens. (This would be equivalent to me writing to my MP as my Employer's Representative - as opposed to writing as a private citizen "on behalf of my employer's interests".)

Realisitically, I'm not actually in favour of stripping Churches of their charitable status "carte-blanche" - there are far too many Churches that do legitimately "good works" in the community, and it would seem silly to punish them for the idiocy of politically-oriented clergy. However, recent lobby activity undertaken by some churches leads me to suggest that these bodies may have to be held to closer scrutiny - and taxed on those funds/resources that are used for political lobby/engagement. (Little different than the small business owner that keeps an office in the house - they can declare a portion of the mortgage and expenses for the house as being "business expenses", but not the whole enchilada)

The world has changed, and so has Canada. The days of the Churches being "unique focal points" in our lives are long gone, and with senior clergy like Bishop Henry becoming more politically active, it is time for our system of taxation and law to recognize that reality.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Conservative: Code Phrase For Assumed Idiocy?

I'm beginning to think that the political parties in this country that bear the name Conservative in their title are either populated by idiots, or they assume that the electorate are idiots.

First off, we have Ralph Klein using advertising dollars to convince Alberta voters that his "dividend" cheques are a "good thing"(tm)

Like anybody else, I'm not going to scream too loudly when a few hundred dollars that I didn't plan on makes its way into my pocket. However, having said that, Ralph's "buy your vote routine" is past old and into the truly insulting. Wasting more of my money to convince me that "it's a good thing"(tm) is the height of arrogance. I can't quite decide which is stupider - the voters of Alberta for continuously returning this goon to office, or Klein for being so full of his own BS that he seems to actually believe that Alberta voters need "convincing". (hmm - shades of the old Soviet propaganda machine, perhaps?)

Then we have this article that talks about the grip that former Prime Minister Mulroney apparently retains over the Conservative party. Newsflash for Conservatives - when Mulroney left office, he held the unique distinction of the lowest polling numbers of any Prime Minister in history. Really people, don't you learn from your mistakes? Mulroney hasn't exactly grown in stature since he left office - his "greatest achievement" - NAFTA - is in tatters today, and outside of Tory circles, I have yet to hear anyone speak of the man with anything resembling reverence.

What is it with "Conservatives"? Don't they learn from their past mistakes? Or is it that they are so anchored in their past that they cannot recognize the good and bad bits of their past? Trust me boys, you won't win an election based on resurrecting Brian Mulroney from the dead. Worshipping at his altar is just stupid. As for Alberta's Ralph Klein - he's simply turned into a third rate dictator with an idiot problem. It's time for him to step aside.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Return of the Witch Hunts

Apparently, the Roman Catholic Church's leadership is unswerving in its ability to repeat past mistakes.

Just as in the late Middle Ages, they started persecuting "witches" both within their ranks and in the world outside them, now the Vatican appears poised to begin an internal purging of homosexuals from their clergy.

Apparently, this is some kind of response to the now-infamous pedophile priest issues that started to make headlines a few years ago. I won't go into the obvious complicity of the church hierarchy in concealing these incidents over years and decades - that's irrelevant now.

It appears that the church has once again latched onto some spurious logic of their own to justify purging homosexuals from their clergy. Apparently, they believe that the term homosexual is a synonym for pedophile. Therefore, in the logic of the senior clerics of the R/C Church, purging homosexuals from their ranks will solve the pedophile priest problem. This is the logical equivalent of banning cheese from the store shelves because a tomato made someone ill.

Of course, this is coming from the same bunch of geniuses whose position on birth control means that they believe that proscribing the use of condoms in Africa is morally justified. The fact that this very dogma means that thousands of Africans will die of AIDS - due to the most preventable of problems - ignorance.

Apparently, when you have scripture, facts and rational thought don't matter.

I didn't like Ratzinger as a Cardinal under Pope John Paul II, as the man starts to "put his mark" on the Roman Catholic Church, he seems hell bent on returning the Church to a mode that makes George W. Bush look positively progressive.

It is particularly chilling to see the Church returning to the kind of medieval hunting for "offenders" that characterized the now infamous "Spanish Inquisition" - and justified by the wonderfully circular "Malleus Maleficarum". I wonder if this particular little exercise will be grounded in the yet to be written "Malleus Sexualis"? What's next - public burnings?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I Will Fear No Evil...

... meet "The Handmaid's Tale"

"The Handmaid's Tale", if you haven't read it, is possibly Margaret Atwood's single most disturbing book. It chronicles a post-bioholocaust USA turned into the 'Republic of Gilead' - a religious republic. However, the book is more about equality rights, feminism and the relationship both topics have with religion.

"I Will Fear No Evil" is one of Robert A. Heinlein's secondary mind-screws. Set in a distant future where urban society has turned into a cross between Orwell's 1984 and what we saw take place in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina blew through.

Both of these books are works of fiction - or so I thought, until I ran across this little gem in my morning travels through the web.

Let me get this straight - lawmakers in Indiana are trying to establish a law that would prohibit anyone who is not married from accessing reproductive technologies (such as in-vitro fertilization). The prohibitions are strict enough that the people would be classified as felons once convicted. In a lot of the United States, a convicted felon is unable to vote. So, in effect, someone will have their voting rights stripped from them if they are convicted - for having a baby!

The attack on women's rights is undeniable and obvious. Who are the most likely to be convicted? - Women - remember, the woman has to carry the baby for 9 months or so - hardly something readily concealed by all but the horrifically obese. Theoretically, the male participant in "assisted reproduction" could be convicted as well, but I doubt that men would be prosecuted very often - if at all.

The legislation talks of "Gestation Certificates" from the courts - a concept that only Robert A. Heinlein's most fevered imaginings could come up with. Of course, the stripping of people's control over their bodies is chilling (and echos "The Handmaid's Tale" all too clearly)

While I doubt that this particular piece of legislative stupidity will ever see the light of day, the fact that it is being discussed at all is deeply worrisome - especially when it would do little more than drive people underground - possibly even into dangerous worlds of "back-alley medicine". When access to basic natal health care is already out of reach for many, it seems foolish in the extreme to write legislation which would result in criminal charges being laid against someone should they seek help.

The legislators are, of course, falling back on studies which claim that "a two parent household" is the best environment to raise children in. That's nice. Anybody checked the studies of outcomes for children raised in households that have same-sex parents, or single parents? Guess what? The outcomes are just fine. Where do problems emerge - usually when issues like poverty come into play.

Instead of legislating morality - it would be nice to see these twits actually try to tackle the problems such as poverty. (and spend a little less time making dystopian fiction reality!)

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Note To Canada's Conservative Party

From the Toronto Star (oh dear - another of the "left-wing-biased-against-the-Conservatives" papers), comes this lovely article outlining why the Conservatives got their proverbial clocks cleaned last sitting of Parliament.

The author, Graham Fox, has done a fairly nice job of rationally explaining what went wrong for the Conservatives in the last session. Put simply, Harper blew it - and his aides didn't help matters.

Going Back in Time

Apparently, Pope Bendedict XVI believes that time can go backwards. If it wasn't for his age, I would have guessed he grew up on a diet of "Back To The Future" movies.

According to the Pope, "Justice cannot exist if "God" is left out of public life". This is a pretty direct swipe at Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose move to legalize same-gender marriage puts him at odds with official church doctrine.

I happen to think that Martin has handled the distinction between his faith and his political activities quite effectively. He has said that he is a practicing Catholic, but that he is not prepared to allow that to get in the way of his secular duties as a politician. This is a realistic and practical approach to faith in a world where there is no uniformity of belief - we have a huge range of faith communities in Canada, and they seldom agree on much beyond the time of day.

What is particularly irritating about the Pope's statements (although unsurprising) is the comment about "justice". Justice cannot exist without God? Whose God pal? Is this the same God that the Church used to justify the Witch Hunts? Is this the same God that gave the Church justification for holding Galileo under house arrest because he wrote something that disagreed with your dogma? Is this the same God that self-justifies prohibiting doctors from teaching about birth control in Africa because "abstinence controls AIDS"? Is this the same God whose words the church uses repeatedly to marginalize people? What about the child-abusing priests who were shuffled about the church hierarchy for years - even decades - to cover up their deeds?

Justice? I'll take it secular, thank you very much. It seems to me that the past behaviour of Churches in general - and the Roman Catholic Church in particular doesn't give me any reason to trust their brand of justice.

You may argue that much of the worst acts of the Catholic Church have taken place hundreds of years in the past, and do not reflect the church today. To some degree, I will agree with you - but we must also recognize that the Church has been decidedly unwilling to admit when it took actions that were questionable, or even downright wrong. This new Pope doesn't seem any more inclined to recognize past failings than his predecessors, and as such is likely to continue to repeat them.