Saturday, December 31, 2005

Earth To Pope Benedict XVI

... Message Follows ...

Please go and invent that time machine that you so clearly want and zap yourself back to the 10th Century AD or so. While you're at it, please take these nitwits with you.

In his year end address Pope Benedict once again has demonstrated a rigidity of thought and philosophy that can only be called shameful.

At his first "Te Deum" service of year-end thanksgiving, Benedict praised deepening dialogue with those of other faiths but he restated his concern that the traditional Christian family was in crisis.

The 78-year-old German-born Pope recalled a June 6 speech in which he condemned same-sex unions as fake and expressions of "anarchic freedom" that threatened the future of the family.

He had also condemned divorce, artificial birth control and trial marriages.


I hate to point out the painfully obvious, but there is nothing about any of these issues that "puts the family in crisis". The only crisis is manufactured in the calcified minds of people who want to write the rules for the rest of the world. (Notably, by his vows, the pope is a non-participant in marriage, family rearing etc...)

Of course, by condemning divorce and birth control, the Pope has signalled that he'd be very happy to return to his idealized 10th century world - where women were chattels, and birth control was restricted mostly to herbal creations, and "rhythm methods". Of course, the genius that wrote this piece of intellectual manure is similarly out of touch with the reality of the modern world (not to mention basic biology).

In case the Pope hasn't noticed, the world's population is in serious danger of outstripping the available resources - if it hasn't already done so.

I am not entirely sure what he means by "trial marriages" - I assume he refers to what is better known in Canada as a "common law" marriage. If that's the case, I hate to point out the obvious to him, but it's been happening a lot longer than he's been alive - not unlike pre-marital sex (anyone else care to explain the bride that amazingly produces the first offspring in less than 9 months from the date of marriage?).

I'm sure that people like James Dobson must be positively in love with Pope Benedict XVI - after all, they seem to be similarly inclined to ignore the realities of the world, clinging to social fantasies that never have existed.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Swatting the Idiocy

Poking around the web today, I ran across this little gem from the ironically named Citizen's Center For Freedom and Democracy.

Those unfamiliar with the CCFD will likely recognize Link Byfield - a man who has been front and center in the radical right "Christian" movement in Canada.

A number of years ago, I read a particularly noxious column in my community newsletter from MP Jason Kenney which was a lovely example of button pushing and tying together completely unrelated topics. I spent quite a bit of time trashing his commentary. It would appear that Link Byfield needs a similar upbraiding.

First, Mr. Byfield claims:
Canada adopted U.S.-style constitutional rights with Pierre Trudeau’s “Charter of Rights and Freedoms” in 1982.


Huh? US-style? I can practically hear Pierre Elliot Trudeau turning in his grave over that assertion. To say that the Canadian Constitution is "US-style" is a serious misrepresentation of the reality. Trudeau, and the other authors of the constitution took their cues from democratic countries around the world - including the United Kingdom, France and others. The Charter of Rights is unique in the world, and emulated by many emerging democracies far more than the US constitution is.

Then he goes on to claim:
The Charter codified our traditional rights (freedom of speech, belief and assembly, the right to vote, etc.)*, and let judges rather than elected representatives decide what these rights mean, when they apply and when they don’t.

*Footnote: The only major right missing from the Charter is the right to property, which still exists, at least in theory, in ordinary statute and common law.

Unfortunately, judges are not always judicious.


Ye gods - the classic "judicial activism" saw. Apparently Mr. Byfield hasn't read a legal decision in the last 20 odd years. I have not seen a single ruling from the Supreme Court (which is where most Charter issues land up) that has not been incredibly well-reasoned - even if I disagree with it in some dimension or another. The justices on the Supreme Court have done an amazing job of interpreting a Charter of Rights that is deceptively simple in its wording.

As an example, Byfield points out
Since the Charter took effect 23 years ago, Canadian judges have given the criminally accused and convicted even more rights than American criminals, and we have become one of the most liberal criminal law jurisdictions in the world.

For example, a 1990 Charter ruling (under section 11) about timely trials led to the dropping of 43,000 criminal charges in Ontario, including murder, manslaughter and sexual assault. They just let them go.

Other cases -- and whole categories of cases -- have been thrown out when a single judge decided to invoke the Charter to change rules about arrest warrants, collection of evidence, use of informers, and burden of proof.


Apparently, Mr. Byfield doesn't understand the very checks and balances that keep the government from incarcerating people indefinitely without charge - like BushCo has done to this individual (for example). Oh yes, and it is necessary to have such limits on governments - otherwise we degenerate into a police state very quickly. (In theory, similar protections exist in the United States - but they seem to be on hiatus these days.

These are the same constraints that keep our government from using torture confessions as evidence in the courts (I hope!), and lord knows how many other abuses that can occur to civil rights and liberties without some kind of balance.

And then we get to the crux of Mr. Byfield's angst:
Under the Charter judges have become increasingly high-handed and unaccountable. The Supreme Court invented for itself a power to rewrite legislation (“reading in”). It has invented new aboriginal rights, immigration rights, and sexual rights.

...

There is no sign of this ending. The next big issues for judges to decide will likely be lowering the age of sexual consent and setting new limits on religious free speech.


Ah - now the truth comes out. In other words, Mr. Byfield doesn't like the morality of some rulings of the court. It's a sad statement that Mr. Byfield thinks that his views and values are the only ones in Canada. Goodness knows that it's his God Given Right to spew whatever uninformed, nasty opinions against Aboriginal citizens, immigrants, women or sexual minority populations that he wants.

I have no idea how the age of consent would ever become a constitutional rights issue in the first place. Last time I looked, it was defined rather carefully in the Criminal Code of Canada.

As for the issue of "religious free speech", I think Mr. Byfield needs to review a couple of points. First, freedom of religion and freedom of expression are guaranteed in Section 2 of the Charter. Second, he seems to forget that his freedom is an individual freedom. It might offend him to learn that I don't share his particular sense of religion - or appropriate religious "speech". (Most of the so-called religious free speech issue tends to break down to an excuse to publicly vilify sexual minority populations based on what twits like Byfield think goes on, or spout completely bogus "research" coming out of the Religious Right in the US)

Byfield's remedy for this?:

We should amend Charter section 33 to state that in those rare but important cases when courts and politicians disagree about what the Charter means, the question will be settled by a public referendum in the next general election.


Uh-huh. In other words, let's conveniently ignore the fact that the Constitution is written to protect the rights of both the minority and majority of the population and return to the blind notion of mob rule. Besides being a monumentally stupid thing to do, I think Mr. Byfield might be a little surprised to realize that his own rights as a religious person might suddenly find themselves constrained by the same "mob" that he wants to leverage to impose his will upon the nation.

I don't know if Link Byfield has Jason Kenney's ear - or that of anyone else in the CPC, but given that he has appeared at events organized by Craig Chandler, and there's evidence of Chandler having some influence over Jason Kenney, I think I'll assume this patent idiocy of Link Byfield's has been bandied about the CPC at fairly high levels - even if Harper's not really talking about it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Martin's Liberals Have Had A Bad Week

Martin's week started out with having to speak on a shooting in Toronto. Unfortunately, he didn't exactly manage to play that card particularly effectively.

Then, The Income Trust issue became a criminal investigation. While I understand that Martin needs guys like Goodale behind him - solid supporters that have been a positive force in Martin's quest for the leadership, it's not a wise thing at the moment to come out as Goodale's supporter. Martin would look much better if he insisted that Goodale stand aside as Minister for now - at least until the RCMP investigation is complete.

Along with Mike Klander's blog, Martin's going to have a tough slog in January. He needs to come across as decisive - willing to make the tough decisions with his inner circle as well as former Chretien Liberals. The party as a whole needs to focus on the giant question marks that the Conservative Party policy announcements have raised.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reason, Logic and the Concept of Necessity

In the last little while, the world has been presented with the spectacle of various "fundamentalist Christian" sects attempting to impose their will upon others. This has taken a particularly nasty direction when it has come to a couple of topics - gay rights, and perplexingly, evolution theory.

Recently, we have been subjected to the spectacle of the Dover "Intelligent Design Trial", Kansas adding "ID" to their school curriculum, President Bush (hardly one of the world's leading intellectual lights) comes out in favour of "ID" theory and numerous other indications of a particularly obstinant resolve to impose unvalidated (and unvalidatable) theory upon students (who, at the level of high school do not have the intellectual framework established to reasonably, and completely analyze the problems and data of multiple and conflicting interpretations of data, much less the differences between rational analysis of data and theology.

Then I ran into this little irrational analysis comparing ID proponents to Galileo. According to the author, "The people Galileo challenged in his writings were not ignorant men defending ignorance. They were educated, intelligent men defending the scientific status quo. ".

While I won't argue that Galileo's accusers were ignorant men, or stupid, they were not scientists. They were, I believe, men of the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo's works didn't challenge "scientific status quo", they challenged Church Dogma of the day - no more, no less. That is to say, they challenged an article of faith, derived from scripture and theology. While Terra-centric models of the universe could be made to work to a point, they eventually posed intractable intellectual problems.

The author then goes on to argue "The people in our age who truly bear the closest resemblance to Galileo's opponents are those who defend Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian evolution in spite of the growing accumulation of evidence that suggests that evolution is, biochemically speaking, impossible.". To which, I would ask but one very easy, rational question - "what evidence?". As near as I can tell, Behe, and the rest of the Discovery Institute's mouthpieces basically argue against Evolution Theory on the basis that it defies their credulity. They cannot - or will not - accept the probability of an enormous number of seemingly random biological events coming together to form the current life we know today from past life forms. Credulity is not evidence.

While I would accept the argument that Evolution is not necessarily true, I would not accept the notion that Intelligent Design is a reasonable counter hypothesis. Why? Because an argument that is based on someone's credulity - or lack of it does not add anything new to the discussion. If Behe and The Discovery Institute want to convince me that ID is in fact grounded in science, they are going to have to show actual evidence for what they are postulating.

However, people backing things like ID are looking for black-and-white answers. They are uncomfortable with the concept of theoretical completeness - arguing that a single exception is enough to discount a theoretical model. They fail to understand that Evolution theory in particular has proven time and again to be remarkably adaptable to "exceptions", and the exceptions gradually assimilated into the theory as new information and evidence comes to light. When a problem emerges that renders evolution intractable, then you will see a new theory emerge to replace it - such is the elegance of rational thought and what is commonly called the "scientific method".

Science is the first domain to recognize its own failings. Read any reasonable study of a topic, and the authors will freely admit to areas that they haven't fully explored or explained, issues that their research brings to bear (even when it does call into question the commonly held working models). This is true for any domain where rational thought is brought to bear. As soon as you assume that you have "all the answers", you wind up with black-and-white thinking. People who will assert unreasonably that X is TRUE (or FALSE, depending on their position), and will not accept the prospect that their assertion is neither necessarily true or false.

Research scientists are generally very unwilling to speak in terms of absolutes when they are exploring new areas. Just as Einstein's Relativity solved a number of problems that Newtonian Mechanics could not solve, and more recently String Theory has emerged to bridge the gaps between Relativity and Quantum Physics, no model is guaranteed to stand for all time. The difference is that well done science stands on its own merits. It will be criticized relentlessly - as Big Bang Theory, but its proponents didn't go running around claiming that the opposing theory is wrong - instead, they carefully and rationally addressed each objection in turn - refining their model until it works and is reasonably complete given the known evidence. Michael Behe and his cohorts might be "serious scientists", but instead of addressing their critics objections rationally and in turn, they fall back repeatedly on credulity arguments.

The extreme right-wing of the "Religious Conservative" world wants absolute answers. They want their world spelled out in the nice elegant black-and-white of the printer's ink upon the page. Sadly, in doing so, their arguments fail to grasp the subtle concept of "necessarily true". Observational evidence is just that - observation. What we observe is the basis for interpretation of the world around us. The fact that I cannot see the constellations of the night sky during the day does mean that the stars vanish at sunrise - it only means that I cannot observe them in full daylight. It may escape my credulity entirely that the stars themselves are the same as the Sun, only at vast distances from Earth. But that doesn't make a theory that the blue cloak that surrounds the rising sun covers the stars believable or correct. In the absence of other data, it may be as good a theory as the first, but that doesn't make either theory "necessarily" correct until there is evidence either way.

Rational thought has a way of making people uncomfortable - it requires you to look at your assumptions from time to time and throw them away. Worse, it forces you to accept that there aren't always absolute answers for questions.

Dear Mr. Harper...

Has it dawned on you - or your advisors - that policy is a lot more than merely standing up making spending announcements every time you turn around?

Every time we turn around, Conservatives are talking about more spending on the military.

Consider the following record:

Harper Calls for Boost to Canadian Forces - Increasing spending $1.8 Billion over estimated 2010 expenditures (of course, the estimate ignores the capital cost of new air fleets and other points of raised in this release.

Arctic Sovereignty, in which Harper thinks it will cost a mere couple of billion to build military bases and new ice breaker craft to patrol the arctic. (I don't know who is doing the cost estimating for the CPC, but I can guarantee that a base and fleet for the arctic is a little bit more than a couple of billion dollars to purchase - much less operate)

Urban Bases, in which Harper promises to restore a military presence in the larger Canadian cities. Frankly, I don't think that urban centers need military bases. Although Canada's military is uniquely well trained to deal with civilian populations, the monies that would be required to restore and operate the bases we had in Calgary and other urban centers would be far better spent beefing up our police forces and other emergency services.

- and this is just from a brief perusal of news releases in the last few weeks - hardly an exhaustive examination of the CPC's spending announcements. (Yes - I know the Liberals haven't been much different - that's another topic)

The Canadian Military has suffered from a significant funding shortfall since the Federal Government started to slash at the deficit and debt that had been accumulated during the Mulroney years. I think most Canadians recognize this, but I don't think that the CPC has the foggiest idea how expensive it is to grow a military organization. It's not just a matter of capital spending on bases and ships, but you need to train and maintain crews for those pieces. Yes, bases look good - people can see and touch them, but that doesn't make them good military policy.

Also, given the CPC's proclivity for wanting deeper integration with the United States, adding military bases to urban centers is a very worrisome prospect. Much of what has been coming out of the Bush Administration lately - illegal wiretapping for example, shows a distinct disrespect for the privacy and civil rights of people. An urban military presence raises some serious questions about the intentions for such a presence.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Of Shootings, Teenagers and Politicians

Yesterday, Toronto was once again rocked by gunfire, this time killing a 15 year old girl, and wounding six or so other bystanders.

The culprits were in their late teens and early twenties - no surprise there.

Of course, both Stephen Harper and Paul Martin had to make their obligatory statements about the tragedy. From Stephen Harper, we get yet another example of how utterly clueless he can be about real issues:


Harper said Martin's call for a ban on handguns is not the answer, and that the government should be enforcing laws already on the books.


Like a great many politicians, Mr. Harper seems to be completely oblivious to the problems involved in "enforcing" some of the laws on the books. Our police forces have limited resources, as do our customs and immigration officials. Between the fact that guns are readily disassembled into individual parts, and handguns can be remarkably small, it's not difficult to see how they flow into Canada through ports of entry. It would be relatively trivial to move a batch of gun barrels as part of a shipment of machinery parts for manufacturing equipment, and most people would never notice them, or think anything odd of it.

The cold, hard reality is that we have to recognize that our border with the United States is porous in both directions, and that the American "gun culture" will seep through to some degree, regardless of existing laws. While I have no objection to stiff penalties for people who use guns in a criminal way, the fact is that we cannot practically do much to prevent criminals from getting guns. Short of turning our nation into a police state, criminals will find ways to acquire firearms, and those that do are not likely to consider "the law" to be a deterrent. (at the age of 20, most people think that they have all the answers, and they are invulnerable)

Of course, after a recent incident in Calgary where a young girl's father tried to fire a handgun at her at point-blank range because he didn't like her current boyfriend, I'm still an advocate for gun controls. She had the foresight to empty the gun of its ammunition - an act which no doubt saved her life. Her father was stupid enough to keep the gun "at hand" in the family living room, and chose to use it in a fit of anger. Even if he had engaged in the most basic precautions for firearms storage (weapons lockers, unloaded, ammunition in a separate locker etc.), he probably would have cooled off enough by the time he put it all together to stay his hand. (If he didn't, he would have had time to form intent, which would have made a fatal result 1st degree murder)

Mr. Harper - and Mr. Martin for that matter - need to step back from talk of "tougher laws" and "stronger enforcement", and take a long look at the social conditions that make gang life appealing to the teenagers in our larger cities. Law enforcement is necessary, but it will only be effective if we pair it with sensible approaches that address the root problems that are involved.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Apparently, Stupidity Doesn't Stop For Christmas

I can only shake my head after reading this little gem. It seems that some of the Vatican's Cardinals have been "warning" women against marrying into Islam. Besides the jaw-dropping stupidity of such a statement, it goes still further in reinforcing my long-held mistrust of institutional religion. Once again, the Catholic Church has opened its mouth and revealed a seething mass of festering bigotry lurking beneath the surface. Along with this gem of illogic recently unleashed, one can only wonder at what must pass for logic in the rarefied atmosphere of the Vatican's inner circles.

I realize that cross-cultural marriage is a high risk venture - one can never be sure what the outcome will be, but then again, no marriage is a sure thing. (if it was, divorce and anullments would never happen, right?)

Then, in traipsing through the various news sources I inspect from time to time, I found the following "letter to the editor" on the National Post:

National Post

Published: Monday, December 26, 2005

Re: The 'Ethnics' Of Gay Marriage (II), letter to the editor, Dec. 21.

William Mitchell writes, "A very immoral and insidious force in our society is the continuing hatred and persecution of homosexual people."

It would help the public debate considerably if Mr. Mitchell and those who share his opinion would look in a dictionary for the proper meaning of those words. Reasoned debate around the homosexual marriage question isn't even possible if its proponents resort to hysterical accusations every time they don't get their way. Most Canadians are tired of their Orwellian attempts to redefine words such as "hatred," "persecution" and "marriage."

S.R. Hamilton, Calgary.


I have no idea who S.R. Hamilton is, nor do I care frankly. When he starts talking about "resorting to hysterical accusations when they don't get their way", I thought "look in the mirror, pal". Remember, it's the vaunted Stephen Harper who said he'd hold yet another vote on marriage.

This person should go read Section 15(1) of the Charter of Rights:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.


I think this section of the charter is quite clear indeed. As I have stated before, the government does not define the spiritual notion of marriage, it defines the legal definition of it. I don't much care what churches do internally - that's a matter of theology, and while I may think it phenomenally stupid, I respect their right to believe it. The government does not have such a luxury in the realm of law. Rulings around common-law marriage, CPP survivor benefits - and others - have made the discrimination case quite clear.

S.R. Hamilton goes on to worry that the gay rights movement is redefining the terms "hatred" and "persecution". This is spoken by someone who has never experienced - or witnessed - the narrow-minded idiocy of the civil rights opposition movement. When groups like Concerned Christians Canada Ltd. complain about a few flags on 17th Ave within a mere few days of the Gay Pride parade, that's a clue to the kind of narrow-minded bigotry that is often levelled at a minority population to keep them "in their place".

And I thought this was the season of charity - silly me.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Can They Even Read?

Following up on The Problem With Legislating Morality column, I found this on LifeSite.

Among the logical flaws, they immediately tie it into the age of consent issues (which are quite unrelated), as the clubs in question are "adult only". A 14 year old, no matter whether they are legally able to consent sexually, is not a legal adult in Canada.

However, what got me was this little gem, which demonstrates that the authors hadn't even bothered to skim the Labaye ruling:

In general, case law has defined an indecent act as that behavior which either offends the community or has the potential to cause harm to the community in some way.


Contained within Labaye is the following:

21 The shift to a harm-based rationale was completed by this Court’s decisions in R. v. Butler, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 452, and Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v. Canada (Minister of Justice), [2000] 2 S.C.R. 1120, 2000 SCC 69. In Butler, the two-part test for obscenity of Towne Cinema was resolved into a single test, in which the community standard of tolerance was determined by reference to the risk of harm entailed by the conduct:


The courts must determine as best they can what the community would tolerate others being exposed to on the basis of the degree of harm that may flow from such exposure. Harm in this context means that it predisposes persons to act in an anti-social manner as, for example, the physical or mental mistreatment of women by men, or, what is perhaps debatable, the reverse. Anti-social conduct for this purpose is conduct which society formally recognizes as incompatible with its proper functioning. The stronger the inference of a risk of harm the lesser the likelihood of tolerance. [Emphasis added; p. 485, per Sopinka J.]


Further, the court goes on to state:

22 The Court in Little Sisters confirmed that harm is an essential ingredient of obscenity. As Binnie J. pointed out, “the phrase ‘degrading and dehumanizing’ in Butler is qualified immediately by the words ‘if the risk of harm is substantial’. ... This makes it clear that not all sexually explicit erotica depicting adults engaged in conduct which is considered to be degrading or dehumanizing is obscene. The material must also create a substantial risk of harm which exceeds the community’s tolerance”(emphasis added, at para. 60).
...
24 Grounding criminal indecency in harm represents an important advance in this difficult area of the law. Harm or significant risk of harm is easier to prove than a community standard. Moreover, the requirement of a risk of harm incompatible with the proper functioning of society brings this area of the law into step with the vast majority of criminal offences, which are based on the need to protect society from harm.


In other words, the court has distanced itself from the ambiguous notion of offense, and tried to root its rulings in the notion of harm done to participants or others as a result of the actions in question.

There are good reasons behind the analysis. Not the least of which is a recognition on the part of the judges that the notion of indecency is vague, and applying arbitrary tests which are based on abstract notions has proven to be a very troublesome thing.

Of course, the alarmists will continue to complain of "judicial activism", and they will continue to tie unrelated issues together in an effort to get the public riled up about the issue.

Stephen Harper - Minority Prime Minister ?

In today's Globe and Mail, I find Stephen Harper saying that a Conservative minority government won't enter into a coalition with anyone. Instead, they'll form alliances issue by issue.

Other than a recognition that the CPC has no natural allies in the house, this statement of Harper's once again reflects an utterly clueless party. The closest to a prospective ally would be the Bloc Quebecois, but that would only be on matters of devolving powers to the provinces.

I have a great deal of difficulty with Harper's stance on the matter of allowing Quebec more autonomy in foreign affairs - doing this simply dilutes the Canadian voice on the world stage, and worse, would give further justification to Alberta's so-called trade offices where King Ralph is essentially engaging in foreign affairs conduct - a topic which should be carefully orchestrated with the Federal Government.

Harper's recent comments about "reopening" the Constitution - ostensibly - in the context of getting Quebec to sign it also suggest his strategy with regards to the Conservative position on Marriage. Harper has insisted that he wouldn't need to invoke the notwithstanding clause to "protect" marriage.

Basically, the only other way he could do this would be to reword sections of the Constitution and the Charter of Rights with specific wording on the topic of marriage. Of course, this is far from simple to accomplish, since the Constitution's Amending Formula requires not just the Federal Government, but a 2/3 majority of the provincial legislatures, representing a minimum of 50% of the population to pass ratifying motions as well. If the horrendously flawed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords are any indication of the kind of agreement that Harper would pursue, I suspect that getting provincial assent could be extremely difficult.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Problem With Legislating Morality

Once again, the Supreme Court has been dragged into the issues where law and morality overlap. This time, it was over "Swingers" Clubs.

In these two cases (and there are two separate rulings: R. v. Kouri and R. v. Labaye - it would be easy to draw the conclusion from the media coverage that there was only one ruling).

Apparently, the charges laid in both cases were "keeping a common bawdy house - section 210 of the Criminal Code". Once again, in setting out the definitions (see section 197), the word "indecency" appears. While the term Prostitution is reasonably well defined in law, indecency has never been well defined. Like the word "obscene", it can mean whatever an individual wants it to mean.

Interestingly, the court majority opinion (the dissenting opinions are also contained in the ruling) on the test for indecency reads "As more fully discussed in the companion case of Labaye, Canadian law does not reduce indecency to what a judge views as morally corrupt. ". In fact, section 4.1.1 of the Labaye ruling is lengthy and details considerably the problems with applying the notion of "indecency" in law.

This collection of letters from CBC give an interesting cross section of public reaction. The reactions published range from very positive to very negative (no surprise). As with any topic involving sexuality, our society is split along a variety of lines - be they religious, moral or simple incomprehension. (I must admit that I can't get myself into a head space where I would want to engage in "swinging" or "partner swapping" - whatever it's called).

The key point that legislators need to awaken to is the notion of defining terms like 'indecency' in law. Like the now-notorious "obscenity trials" in the 1970s when there was a tussle over so-called "adult" magazines in stores. There were numerous attempts to define the word "obscene" in law, and inevitably, a perfectly legitimate exception could always be found. Too broad a definition, and you wind up with a law that can be used to outlaw legitimate artworks and literature, too narrow a definition and it's easy to create something that most people _would_ consider obscene but slides between the cracks in the law.

It's not an easy problem to solve. At least one of the objections in the CBC letters reads "It's another example of the stupidity of a legal system which so narrowly defines things according to a charter that is fundamentally flawed.". Another objector claims "To be sure, Judge Made Laws, such as these, are yet another reason why people are turned off by the Liberal/NDP alliance, since these Parties obviously lack Moral Direction and would, in all likelyhood, agree to the Court's interpretation. ".

Sadly, blaming the charter is simply to miss the point altogether. This case isn't a Charter issue - it's a matter of interpretation of legislation - in this case, the Criminal Code of Canada. It isn't judicial activism either - after reading section 4.1.1 of the Labaye decision, it's quite clear to me that the court was quite comprehensive in its evaluation of the law and its application. The failure here (if there is a failure) is upon the legislators of our nation to adequately define the terminology and use of these terms. The second, common failing among our legislators is a failure to understand how their proposed laws will interact with fundamentals as laid out in the Constitution. They could be forgiven for a failure to understand a centuries old body of case law, but fundamentals such as our Constitution and it's Charter of Rights should be required study for any prospective legislator in this country.

Generally, when I see vague terms like "indecency" or "obscenity" appearing in legislation, my mental alarms go off. What did the legislator intend for that word to mean? Does the current public notion of the concept make sense? (for example, returning to the 1970s "obscenity" cases, at the time "Playboy" was considered 'shocking' by some, today the Victorias Secret catalog is more suggestive than Playboy back then.)

An interesting observation - the so-called "adult" magazines aren't really in the corner stores any more. They've migrated into "adult stores" for the most part, and it doesn't seem to be a problem. Perhaps, we need to realize that we don't need to legislate the morality per se, but rather we need to recognize that society tends to self-regulate to some degree. We do need to have appropriate legislation in place to protect children for example, but when vague, virtually undefinable terms are appearing in the legislation we perhaps need to ask the question whether this is in fact necessary legislation.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

This should get the hard-core creationists going...

PA Judge Rules on Dover Intelligent Design Case

From the judge's ruling:

In his ruling, Jones said that while intelligent design, or ID, arguments "may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science." Among other things, the judge said intelligent design "violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation"; it relies on "flawed and illogical" arguments; and its attacks on evolution "have been refuted by the scientific community."


It's nice to see rationality appear in the judiciary every so often.

Sure enough, the Discovery Institute has accused the judge of being "activist" and "attempting to censor science education".

Which goes to reinforce my long held assertion that the phrase "Judicial Activism" really stands for "I didn't like the decision, and I can't attack the legalities of it - so I'll attack the judge instead".

Monday, December 19, 2005

This is Very Troubling

In my morning browse through the headlines, I ran across this article about Abdullah Khadr being arrested in Canada. Within a week of this man being returned to Canada from a year in Pakistani custody, the United States brings forth two charges:

1) possession and use of a destructive device to further a crime of violence
2) conspiracy to murder a U.S. national outside the United States.


The history of the Khadr family has hardly been a shining example of a successful immigration into Canada. However, what bothers me is the principles that are being applied in the charges the United States is bringing forth.

The first concern I have is the second charge itself. It is the extraterritorial nature of the charge that is deeply disturbing. The United States is asking the world to hand over people it accuses of 'conspiracy', but not merely conspiracy to commit a crime on American soil, but conspiracy to commit a crime against an American outside of American territory.

Consider the implications - essentially, it asserts a principle similar to the notion of an Embassy which is considered to be 'national soil' even though it is in another country but applies the principle to each individual person. We are not even talking about the actual comission of a crime, but rather conspiring to commit one. Further, the Americans have essentially attempted to assert that their laws are not only to be applied within the boundaries of the United States and its protectorates, but also elsewhere in the world.

While the specifics of the charges will no doubt attempt to play on the Khadr family's links to al-Qaeda, I am not at all comfortable with the United States demanding his extradition on the basis of crimes allegedly committed in another country altogether. Like the situation involving marijuana activist Marc Emery, it strikes me as being not only extraterritorial, but somewhat unwarranted as well.

With the Bush administration continually denying the validity of due process in the so-called "war on terror". With the situations (numerous) that indicate that the United States is not applying its own laws appropriately, any extradition request must be viewed with considerable caution. Canada must insist upon both clear evidence of a crime, but also we need guarantees from the United States that they will act within due process of law in all situations regarding the suspect involved. No presidential fiat, no holding people indefinitely without charge (Jose Padilla, for example). If the United States is not willing to provide such guarantees, Canada should be correspondingly unwilling to extradite suspects to the United States.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Would the *Real* Stephen Harper Please Stand Up?

Stephen Harper's speeches are painting a picture that's more "Where's Waldo?" than actually clarifying either CPC policy or his own personal stance.

Consider the following:

In a 1997 Speech, Mr. Harper makes it no great secret that he would quite cheerfully merge Canada with the US Republican Party, singing the praises of the United States, and roundly criticizing much of what differentiates Canada from it's neighbor to the south.

Then, in 2003, Mr. Harper wrote this article for the now-defunct Report magazine. In this article, Mr. Harper reinforces his socially conservative views, and again argues strongly for a much closer alignment of Canada with a growing conservative movement in the United States.

In researching this article, I found the following chronology of Harper - which again reinforces the idea that Mr. Harper is both deeply socially conservative, but also strongly in favour of alignment with the United States in quite a number of dimensions - to the extent that his statements to date would suggest that he is quite in favour of dismantling a lot of the public social infrastructure that is so deeply a part of the cultural fabric of Canada - from public education to medicare.

At the beginning of this election campaign, Harper re-opened the can of worms that is same-gender marriage - signalling that a Conservative government would tacitly lean much more towards a socially conservative agenda. (and reopening the Canadian government to a 'death by a thousand cuts' with repeated challenges of various laws by groups agitating for equal rights.

Which leads me to this comment from Harper regarding the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with the United States:

"I think if NAFTA is to move forward, to realize its full potential, we're going to have to get a satisfactory resolution of this dispute, otherwise I think we've probably gone as far in our trading relationship with the Americans as we can."


Along with some of the rather half-baked attempts to distance himself from the G. W. Bush Neo/TheoConservatism recently, Harper is sending out a very mixed message overall. A few months ago, Harper was making motions in the House of Commons demanding that "all necessary steps be taken" to stop same-gender marriage from being legalized. Today, we find him saying that the Section 33 NotWithStanding clause would not be used? Like all of the leaders, he has promised billions in spending and "tax cuts", but for a supposedly "fiscally conservative" party, this is something of a non-sequitur - the amounts being promised don't sound that big, but like the pennies I keep in a shoebox, they add up to a fair chunk of money over time.

He isn't saying anything that eschews speeches and articles written in the past, yet he is sounding rather contradictory to much of his "past works legacy" at the same time. While I can't entirely blame Harper for skirting around these issues, it remains decidedly ambiguous for voters just what the man - and his party - really stand for. Is he simply saying what he thinks will get him elected - only to fall back into old patterns when he is officially "in power"? Is he lusting after power, or is he actually interested in governing? The behaviour of certain long-time Conservative MPs such as Kenney and Anders make me suspect strongly that there are those in that party who lust after power for its own sake, and would wield a frightening amount of influence in a CPC government.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The "Culture Wars"???

Ford has announced that it will advertise in GLBT publications. Okay, after sitting down with advocates on both sides of the 'argument', Ford has decided that GLBT money is as green as anyone else's - fair enough, they are a business.

What really grabbed my attention was this news release from the American Family Association. Particularly baffling to me (being a mere Canadian), was the following statement:

“All we wanted was for Ford to refrain from choosing sides in the cultural war, and supporting groups which promote same-sex marriage is not remaining neutral,” Wildmon stated.


What in hell is "the cultural war"?! - Is it the fight going on in my fridge between two tubs of yogurt that I should have thrown out months ago?

The "Religious Reich" needs to learn a little bit of intellectual honesty here. Civil rights debate and agitation is not war. To call it such is about as distorting as you can get. Of course, calling it something else would mean that they might have to admit that it's about "imposing their 'divinely inspired' will on the rest of the world", and "preserving their right be uninformed bigots". Of course, I doubt that would bring in the donations at nearly the same rate, would it.

What would happen if instead of "homosexual agenda", they were fighting their "war" against the "black agenda", or the "feminine agenda"? How long would it take before someone took them out and slapped them upside the head until they shut up? (Oh - wait - clowns like this would still be writing)

Would the AFA have demanded that Ford not advertise in Ms. Magazine?

The AFA - along with the other wing-nut organizations fighting this so-called war - are no better than than the KKK or other groups that fought against the civil rights movements in the 1950's and 1960's. They stand behind slogans like "tradition" and "family values", but really, they are doing little more than repeating the past.

When Lougheed Speaks, We Should Listen

It's rare for former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed to speak on matters public policy these days - so when he does, I take notice.

Back in early November, The Globe and Mail published a rather lengthy column on water resources {Note: It's a pay to download - but the article's good enough to warrant it} that cautioned Canada to be very wary of the intentions of the US Government when dealing with matters such as water exports. Lougheed has reinforced this concern in a speech this week.

Lougheed's concern is around the notion of large scale resource transfers between Canada (which sits on some 20% or so of the world's fresh water reserves) and the United States. Given the current US Administration's attitude of entitlement, I can understand exactly what his fears are.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Further Reflections on Ambassador Wilkins' Speech

Poor Stephen Harper - the very people that should be his best campaign allies - Ralph Klein, Mike Harris, George Bush et. al. keep turning out to be his biggest liabilities.

While I can't even begin to describe my outrage with the whining from Ambassador Wilkins earlier this week, I also realize that he's the messenger - those words largely came from his masters in Washington, D.C.

Surely, someone among Bush's cadre of advisors would have realized that having your ambassador lecture Canadians about how we treat the White House (especially the most unpopular administration - for Canadians at least - since Richard Nixon, is essentially handing the election over to the very man that you least want to see in power. (Of course, BushCo has repeatedly demonstrated that their idea of foreign affairs involves a Texan talking to a Californian - what happens in other countries is quite beyond them)

Even in Conservative heartland Alberta, people are downright angry with Wilkins for delivering a speech that sounded like a rehash of a standard Paul Celucci special. The first thing this will do is galvanize public opinion against the Bush Administration. The second thing it will do is make voters all the more wary of any politician that speaks in terms of cuddling up with the current US administration.

The White House has just put itself square in the middle of the Canadian political debate, along with Focus on the Family, and the NRA. I fully expect the Liberals (and NDP) will play this for all its worth - not only have we the words of these various organizations, but we also have Stephen Harper in his own words contradicting himself left right and center on US relations.

I hope Stephen likes the feeling of walking around with his feet full of buckshot...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ambassador Wilkins' Address to Canada

I wasn't going to dismantle Ambassador Wilkins' speech yesterday - until I heard the man whining on CBC radio tonight. Then I suddenly got furious.

First, Wilkins was busy whining about how Canada isn't treating the United States with "respect". Newsflash: Mr. Wilkins - Respect is earned, not assumed. Ever since your political master came to power, he has treated Canada with something between blinding ignorance and disdain. Do you really think that Canadians owe you a debt of some kind?

Let's see - Canada was among the first, and most generous responders in the hours and days following 9/11; we stood at your side in Afghanistan; we have helped your country rebuild in the wake of some of the worst hurricane disasters you've experienced - and lord knows how much else we've done alongside Americans - and that's just in the last few years. The response? A President who blatantly ignored Canada's Prime Minister Chretien on the grounds of political philosophy; constant demands for Canada to involve itself in some of the daftest military ventures I have ever had the misfortune to hear about; complaints that we don't do things 'your way'.

On issues of trade and relations - when the United States starts taking NAFTA and International Trade law seriously, Canada might consider a modicum of "respect". How hard has President Bush lobbied in the Republican-controlled legislative houses to get the Softwood Lumber dispute resolved? As near as any of us can tell, here in the Great White North, not very. Let's talk about somewhere between 3-5 Billion Dollars in illegally gathered duties that have not been repaid. How about paying some heed to trade rulings? Hmmm?

As far as topics like Iraq, Missile Defense and god knows what else are concerned - when there is something that resembles truth and honesty, perhaps Canada will consider paying attention to what you say. In the meantime, Mr. Wilkins, don't think for one minute that Canada and Canadians owe you one shred of anything. Canada is not the United States' doormat, nor will Canadians appreciate being treated as such.

With American lobby groups trying to inject themselves into Canada's political dialogue, I suggest that perhaps it is time for the American government to reign in these factions. Canada is not an American State or Protectorate, and a little respect for Canada's political dialogue is called for.

Mr. Wilkins, you are the United States' Ambassador to Canada, not Canada's Governor. I suggest that it is time for you to get your head around Canadian politics (which you admit that you do not understand), and start communicating back to your political bosses in Washington the reality of Canada. Don't waste your breath trying to dictate to Canadians what we can or cannot engage in our political dialogue, or how we should run our country. Your political masters have demonstrated repeatedly a distinct lack of awareness of anything outside of Texas, perhaps it is time that they had their eyes opened to the reality that the rest of the world sees things through very different eyes.

Your Choices for Prime Minister Are...

While we have approximately half a dozen or so party leaders running around trying to sell us on their platforms, only two of them really stand a significant chance of becoming Canada's next Prime Minister. Short of a major disaster for both the CPC and the Liberals, Layton isn't likely to make it to 24 Sussex, and neither is the Green Party leader Jim Harris. That leaves us with Paul "I didn't know about it" Martin, and Stephen "I'm a neo-republican" Harper.

When American conservative commentators start singing Harper's praises, and then Harper replies, I get really bothered. Since Harper's Reply appears as a "letter to the editor" and those pages tend to vanish quickly off the web, I have taken the liberty of reproducing it here:

Stephen Harper, for the record

Patrick Basham of the Cato Institute calls me "pro-free trade, pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative" ("Gift from Canada?" Commentary, Dec. 2). While I certainly consider myself to be a friend of the United States, I am afraid this greatly oversimplifies my positions.

For the record: While, unlike the current Liberal government, I have always supported free trade, there is a deep concern in Canada about the commitment of the current U.S. administration and Congress to free trade. The United States is withholding some $5 billion in duties held from Canadian softwood lumber producers, despite the fact that a NAFTA panel has ruled that these duties are illegal.

In a recent speech, I stated that Canada must determine "the willingness of the United States to strengthen the dispute resolution mechanism and to subordinate domestic political pressures to a shared system of rules" and that "if this is not a direction in which the United States wishes to go, then Canada will have to make other long-term choices in its economic infrastructure," including expanded trade relationships with Asian countries such as India, Japan, and China.

On Iraq, while I support the removal of Saddam Hussein and applaud the efforts to establish democracy and freedom in Iraq, I would not commit Canadian troops to that country. I must admit great disappointment at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.

While I think that the Kyoto Treaty is deeply flawed, I support developing a plan, in coordination with the United States and other countries, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing new technologies and energy conservation.

And while I have promised a free vote in Canada's parliament to reconsider the recent change of law to allow same-sex marriages in Canada, and will vote myself for a return to the traditional definition of marriage, I have said any changes must protect the existing status of same-sex couples who have been legally married. As well, a new Conservative government will not initiate or support any effort to pass legislation restricting abortion in Canada.

Despite my differences on many issues with some American conservative politicians, I look forward to a cooperative, constructive relationship with the United States as our principal trading partner and ally under a new Conservative government.


HON. STEPHEN HARPER
House of Commons
Ottawa


What a thinly veiled suck-up job. If I wasn't convinced before that Harper will kowtow to whatever the Bush White House dictates, I am now. Why don't you nominate Bush for Pope, Stephen? Then you'll only have to kiss his ring.

On the other hand, as much as I don't really _trust_ Paul Martin, he has the apparent cajones to call the US government out when they're being completely vacuous idiots. Presumably, he similarly has the requisite smarts to tell Washington's "governor in waiting" to bugger off as well.

So - our choices start to look like this:

A man who at least recognizes that Canada is not a subsidary of BushCo, or a man whose interests lie in cuddling up with one of the most dishonest, inept governments that the United States has seen in decades.

Who ya gonna vote for?

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's GaffeWatch Time!

I don't believe this election. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at the sheer volume of verbal stupidity being spewed forth by candidates and their assistants.

Liberals: Beer-and-popcorn Scott Reid A statement of gross stupidity, but he almost has a point - namely that handing out $1200/child to families each year with no follow-up test to ensure that the money is used for that purpose strikes me as a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars that only those inspired by the "brilliance" of Ralph Klein could possibly dream up.

If Martin was smart, he'd publicly fire Reid - soon - before things really get going in this election. The man could do more damage to Martin than Ralph Klein has done to Harper.

Conservatives:

Where to start?

Within the first 24 hours of the writ being dropped, Stephen Harper tries to resurrect the gay marriage debate.

We've had both Jason Kenney and Rob Anders open their mouths publicly this election. (And that's ignoring the stupidities of both men in past elections and houses of parliament)

Then, Conservative MP Brian Pallister opened his mouth and demonstrated his attitude towards women quite nicely. Ignoramus.

This morning, I tripped over this little gem from B.C. It seems that in Paul Forseth's world, all of the ills afflicting this country (which in the midst of an economic boom are what again?) are a function of legalizing same gender marriage.

Now - can someone actually give me a reason to believe that lurking just under Stephen Harper's immobile hair (is the Conservative Campaign bus hauling around a 45 Gal. drum of the stuff???) is something other than a raging TheoCon? That the party has actually moderated its internal factions?

Is this is Promise?

Klein Threatens to Resign

Apparently, Ralph's going to resign if he doesn't get "enough" support in this spring's leadership review. We wouldn't be foreshadowing anything, now would we Ralph?

(and don't let the door hit you on the way out!)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

A Review of Conservative Policy

I'll give the Conservative Party a little bit of credit this time around - they are actually attempting to put some kind of policy platform forward this time around.

It's rather sad how utterly unimaginitive it really is. What got me going on this was a comment by a CPC candidate on CBC's "Cross Country Checkup" program this afternoon. According to this candidate, the party website had clear statements about giving "tax incentives to developers to build affordable housing".

I have yet to find this mystical declaration - in fact, I can't find anything on "affordable housing" on the CPC's website.

So far, the entire platform seems to consist of tax cuts and tax "incentives" (what I can only assume are another vague synonym for tax cuts).

The problem with this - in my view - is that it relies on the "goodwill" of the free market. The free market is not about goodwill - it's about making money. Period, end of statement. Look around Calgary these days, and try to find reasonable rental accomodations (e.g. something you might actually want to raise your children in) for less than $700-$750/mo. It's not out there. If you are on a limited income in this city, you face a serious problem finding a place to live, let alone worry about food.

Where the CPC is not talking about tax cuts, they are talking about giving money away. (Give them credit for one thing - they've seen how successfully King Ralph has bribed his electorate with their own money) Whether that is a $1200/yr cash handout for 'childcare', or "incentives" to developers it doesn't much matter.

It seems to me that the CPC (supposedly the "business party") doesn't understand the concept of the public's money as something to be invested with an eye to the future. Instead, their short sighted view of public money will see those dollars being frittered away on handouts which may or may not be used appropriately by their recipients, with absolutely no accountability to the public for those dollars, and no means whatsoever to measure the effectiveness of those programs.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb Strike Again

Last week, Jason Kenney made a complete ass of himself, this week, his ideological twin, Rob Anders has followed suit.

In an effort to "help" the Conservative campaign in Richmond B.C., Mr. Anders sent out a classic CPC "have you quit beating your wife yet?" survey. Considering that Mr. Anders is a candidate in Calgary West, I can only imagine his campaign teams reasoning for sending something out to the residents of Richmond might be (at taxpayer's expense, no less!)

Even more embarrassing, the survey was clearly written by someone with only the most tenuous grasp on the english language:

One question appears: "Do you support homosexual sex marriage?".

I can't even parse that one sensibly.

Second, what the heck is a question about marriage doing on a questionnaire about crime? Canada decriminalized sodomy in the late 1960s (and to the best of my knowledge, stereotypical lesbian sexual practices have never been criminalized), so I can only imagine what the authors of this "survey" were thinking.

It's pretty pathetic when an MP's incompetence becomes the key issue for your opponents - I can only hope that Kenney's Liberal opponent, James Ludwar seizes the same opportunity to jump all over Kenney the same way that Pollock is going after the incompetence of Anders.

The mind boggles, doesn't it?

What Does Freedom of Religion Mean?

In Canada's Constitution, Freedom of conscience and religion is listed as a fundamental right in section 2. The full wording is as follows:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

d) freedom of association.


Recently, an assortment of "Christian" organizations have begun to complain that their religious freedoms are under attack by vehicles such as human rights complaints, they complain bitterly when a ruling goes against 'them', accusing the judiciary of being biased.

When outfits like Focus on the Family, the NRA and American Family Association are trying to inject themselves into Canada's political dialogue, either directly or indirectly, I start to get worried.

Why? For several reasons - first, some of these organizations represent a particularly nasty view of the world - one where they are "correct" and the rest of the world must bullied and hectored until they align with the prescribed world view. Oh yes, and if you should dare to buck them, expect to be marginalized. A good example of this is in the recent activities of FOTF and the AFA where they are boycotting companies because they do business with the GLBT community - and in particular with publications that circulate within those subgroups.

At first, this didn't particularly upset me - after all, they are free to object to business practices, just as I am - until I started to think about it a little further. First of all, I sat there and realized that they were essentially complaining about something that is none of their business (literally). Really - what the heck is FOTF doing reading GLBT publications? Why would they care?

Then, as you dig further through their sites and literature, you start to notice a few other patterns:

1) Women should "submit" to their husband's will.
2) Sex - and sexuality - are things to be carefully metered out.
3) If it's in scripture, you should believe it

I could go on, the list is nearly endless. The problem with all of this is that there is no space for reasoned thinking. If the church tells you it is so, it must be so. Wait a minute - if my pastor tells me that the earth is flat, I must believe that to be the case, in spite of the evidence to the contrary? Should the church I attend tell me that I must turn my parrot free because it is "unnatural" to keep pet birds, must I do so - knowing full well that the poor creature would die - he's never had to forage for food, migrate or compete for resources - nor is he adapted to Canada's somewhat frigid winters.

Logic aside, it seems to me that Freedom of Religion, like all other freedoms is a personal freedom. As an individual, or even as a group, we are all free to follow our sense of right and wrong as we see fit. As long as I don't break any laws (e.g. steal from your business, or vandalize your home), it really doesn't matter, does it. Some varieties of "Christians" claim that it is their duty as faithful to proselytize - to bring the word of Christ to the unconverted. Yes and no - if I tell you to 'bugger off' because I'm not interested, then your right to proselytize at my doorstep has just ended. - Period.

The objection that these "Christian" groups raise seems to be that any constraint on their ability to sit in judgement over others is an unreasonable limitation of their "religious freedoms". For them, it is unreasonable to add sexual minorities to Canada's hate crimes statutes (as one example), after all, their interpretation of the Bible is clear that sexual minorities should be "saved from their sins". They view sexual minorities not as otherwise normal people, but as people who are intrinsically disordered.

The freedoms guaranteed in the Canadian Constitution are first and foremost Individual Freedoms. The religious groups need to recognize that although we grant churches a unique position by permitting them tax-exempt status, that unique status does not extend beyond the doors of the church - literally or metaphorically. We live in a society today with a plethora of different faith traditions - many at odds with each other, both in practice and history. The religious right-wing needs to learn to recognize that not all of the society shares their view, and bullying people will not change that reality. In a world with a multitude of faiths, it is clear that there are no "absolutes" of 'the true faith'. Faith groups are free to spread their word within their congregations, and to willing audiences (I'm sure things are said within "Aryan Church" congregations that are little more than thinly disguised racism, but it doesn't make it out into the greater public dialogue). But beyond that, it is not their right, any more than mine, to sit in moral judgement over others.

Friday, December 09, 2005

It Appears That We Got BushCo's Attention

The White House if "Furious" Over Martin's Comments At Climate Conference.

So...let's see if I have all of this half straight. The insular thinking in White House goes like this:

"We don't have to listen to the world on matters of peace. Diplomacy is best done with a big gun." ... "If you don't agree with us, we can ignore you".

"On trade issues, we can lose every court case and we'll still ignore you"

"Jean who?" followed by "Paul who?" (even though Canada is their biggest trade partner...

However, apparently criticizing the US at a conference on a climate protocol (that Bush has rejected) is cause for them to sit up and take notice. Apparently Martin's comments are "not being helpful". Yeah, whatever. When you start actually living up to the agreements you've signed, Canadians might take notice. (anyone else remember a certain $5 billion in illegally collected duties on softwood lumber?)

Although the current administration is far too dense to grasp the concept, once the United States quits conduction itself on the world stage like a bunch of complete goons, the world might just lay off criticizing them at every turn.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

More Gun Control?

Paul Martin has introduced a new gun control initiative. I can't say I'm terribly impressed with the proposal, really.

While I don't have any belief that anyone in urban Canada has a need for guns, be they handguns or other forms of firearms, I just don't see this initiative itself having the desired effect. The existing gun registry strikes me as more than adequate to the task of tracking and being aware of the legitimately held weapons in Canada. The majority of guns used in crime are acquired through illegal channels in the first place - whether that is theft, smuggling or whatever. An outright ban on handguns seems rather pointless.

In a similar vein, I would support stronger penalties for those that use guns in the commission of any crime - but I am not fool enough to believe that such changes to the criminal code will do anything to address the problems that have been so visible in Toronto this past year. The penalties of law are seldom good deterrents for those who have nothing else to lose.

If our politicians want to address these problems, they must do so on multiple fronts concurrently:

1. Do what we can to stem the flow of illegal firearms into the country at the border.

2. Enforce the laws against gang violence already in place more aggressively.

3. Address the social and economic betrayals of the poor that make the economics of gang life work.

Sadly, Martin has fallen into the trap of the simplest, easiest to sell solution - ban handguns - a mere bandaid over a festering wound of social ills. Honest government knows that it cannot stamp out crime entirely, but it can do a great deal to address the causes.

Meanwhile, SES Research's night-by-night polling (crack for politics junkies) shows the liberals opening a pre-christmas lead in the polls. Support for the Conservative party is remaining flat at 28%.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Weasel Words, and other intellectual fodder

There are times where the news is pretty dry and tedious, and then there are days where you wonder just what it was that got put into the soil, because all sorts of interesting things a sprouting all over the place.

Let's start with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's "Glad to Work for an American Idiot" tour now proceeding through Europe.

Says Ms. Rice:

“As a matter of U.S. policy,” Ms. Rice said the United Nations Convention against Torture “extends to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the U.S. or outside the U.S.”


Okay - in principle, this means that US Government Personnel (presumably this would include the CIA (extraordinary "rendition"), Military (remember Abu Ghraib?) and other services would be prohibited.

What's not so clear is the "contract security" forces such as Aegis and BlackWater they have on the ground in Iraq. Is a contractor "government personnel", or does the high command in the pentagon view them as "separate from"?

Then Rush Limbaugh claims that the 4 hostages held in Iraq this week might be a hoax. (and the right wing has the gall to claim that any left wing commentator that disagrees with them is a moonbat? - Limbaugh needs some serious medication to deal with those hallucinations he's having. I'm sure his perspective would be different if he was sitting in Iraq with a few loons point Kalashnikovs at him for the last ten days or say - giving you your choice of beheading techniques.

Closer to home, NDP leader Jack Layton made a swing through Quebec and stepped into the minefield of Quebec Separatism by suggesting that voters who had given up on Canada might as well "vote for the Bloc". Methinks he stepped in a fresh one there...

In yet another move that demonstrates a lack of foresight and grounding in reality on the part of the CPC, we have this little gem in which Harper claims that under his government, Canada will assert control over the Grand Banks regions that are outside of Canada's 200 mile territorial limits. Or is he planning to take his cues from his Uncle Bush down in Washington and simply start ignoring treaties and international conventions that Canada is signatory to? (Maritime law being one of the few areas of international 'law' that seems to be somewhat concrete)

The Liberals seem to be doing their level best to take the high road so far by avoiding the mud-slinging aspects of campaigning. Somehow, I expect this to change come the beginning of January. Expect to see a lot of material going after the Conservatives - in particular the unstated aspects of their campaign - or those issues where CPC MPs (esp. Mr. Harper) have written things in the past that are, well, regrettable.

One can only imagine what the world will deliver tomorrow...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Child Care "Grants"

Yesterday, Stephen Harper announced a 'new' child care spending initiative.

Let's take a long look at this program - warts, pimples and all:

First feature: $1200/year/child funding for child care.

Once again, our friends in the Conservative party have resorted to the old saw about "follow-me" funding. More or less, this is a $1200 grant handed to a family for each child that they have.

If you live in an urban area of any real size (Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Toronto...), the cost of daycare is a hell of a lot more than $1200/year. The lucky parents I know pay out between $500-$600 in daycare PER MONTH, PER CHILD - that means that the Conservative's $1200 subsidy vanishes by the end of February in a given year.

Second Feature: $250,000,000 To Fund Employer and Community Child Care Space Creation

First of all, most employers aren't interested in creating child care spaces. They can't afford to. This particular move on the part of the Conservatives puzzles me - the most "pro-business" party out there, and they are thinking that businesses are going to magically find money for building day-cares? Even in booming Alberta, I can't see that happening.

While community child care programs do exist, and could be expanded, the Conservatives have overlooked what it costs to do that expansion. $250M is peanuts when you spread it across the entire nation. Worse, it does nothing to ensure those spaces continue to exist beyond the funding to create them.

The one feature that the Conservatives will argue is in their plan's favour is that it works to the benefit of "stay-at-home" parented families. Ah - the wealthy families - I understand. Most of the people I know (including my professional colleagues) can't afford to do the "single income" thing. The best they can manage is the 1 1/2 incomes where one of the parents scales back to working 3 days a week or something. This is reality for parents living in Canada. These are families with household incomes in excess of $80,000/year - I know plenty who make much less than that!

Of course, you could argue that people are living beyond their means, but doing so makes no sense in a city like Calgary - an "average" house is pushing $300,000 right now; heating and power bills are in the stratosphere; and owning a car (more or less essential in this 'burg) will eat up few hundred more each month. Most people I know have rescaled their lives around their children's needs - the fact of it is that it costs money period.

Conservatives like to whine about how 'traditional families' are being left out by "day-care" funding programs. Economically speaking, making daycare more affordable helps people who are in _need_ of assistance a lot more than a blind grant handed out willy-nilly. People who live on a lot less than $80,000/year need affordable day care - otherwise they wind up on the street. The myth of the "Daddy goes to work, and Mommy stays home to raise the children" family is simply not real for most families in urban Canada. Two incomes are needed just to make ends meet (not to buy the mythical Porsche that some imply the two income families all have in their driveways) Those rare families that can afford to have one parent stay at home only benefit marginally from an extra $1200/year of income. (Hey - hand me an extra $1200 - I'll find something to do with it, I'm sure)

If you take a valuation stance, consider how the CPC is "valuing" the work of parents at home:

An average full-time worker will put in approximately 2000 hours in a year at their workplace. $1200 / 2000 hrs = $0.60 / hr. Heck - a child laborer in a Bangladeshi clothing sweatshop makes better wages than that. The $8.50/hr McDonald's pays works out to nearly $17,000 a year. So not only is the $1200 "allowance" nearly useless for families in real situations, it's actually a slap-in-the-face in terms of valuing "domestic" work.

One last potshot - did anyone else notice the lack of acknowledgement in there about families where the parents are divorced? So who gets the $1200? Especially when the trend these days in divorces is towards "shared custody" arrangements?

Once again, the Conservatives have reached into their magic hat and pulled out a bald turkey instead of a cute bunny rabbit.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Weasel Words 101

Lately, I've been dissecting much of what Conservative leader Stephen Harper has said by reading between the lines of what he has said - or by pointing out the obvious omissions that he has made.

Today, we get an object lesson in weasel wording from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she departed for a tour of Europe.

Consider the following:

We must track down terrorists who seek refuge in areas where governments cannot take effective action, including where the terrorists cannot in practice be reached by the ordinary processes of law.


Uh-huh - and that would be where in North America? Please explain this to me. Come to think of it, through any country that has a standing government which ostensibly has a system of law?

The United States, and those countries that share the commitment to defend their citizens, will use every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists. Protecting citizens is the first and oldest duty of any government. Sometimes these efforts are misunderstood. I want to help all of you understand the hard choices involved, and some of the responsibilities that go with them.


I see - so if other countries see the US shuttling prisoners around on secret air flights, we're supposed to turn a blind eye? When that flight is going through non-US airspace? Really - how interesting.

One of the difficult issues in this new kind of conflict is what to do with captured individuals who we know or believe to be terrorists. The individuals come from many countries and are often captured far from their original homes. Among them are those who are effectively stateless, owing allegiance only to the extremist cause of transnational terrorism. Many are extremely dangerous. And some have information that may save lives, perhaps even thousands of lives.

The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We have to adapt. Other governments are now also facing this challenge.


Uh huh - so you hold them in legal limbo in Guantanamo Bay, and deny that they have a right to any form of due process. Or, like Richard Reid or Jose Padilla simply get locked up and the key thrown away.

Frankly, this is biggest load of cow manure I've heard in a long time. This is nothing more than a self-justification of the Bush Administration's disregard for due process and the rule of law.

We consider the captured members of al-Qaida and its affiliates to be unlawful combatants who may be held, in accordance with the law of war, to keep them from killing innocents. We must treat them in accordance with our laws, which reflect the values of the American people.


The "rules of war", I believe, are pretty well spelled out in the Geneva Conventions - which don't describe anything called an "unlawful combatant". This is another Bush-created fiction to justify ignoring the rights Prisoners of War.

Rendition is a vital tool in combating transnational terrorism. Its use is not unique to the United States, or to the current administration. Last year, then Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet recalled that our earlier counterterrorism successes included "the rendition of many dozens of terrorists prior to September 11, 2001."


In any other context, I believe this would actually be called kidnapping. Because government agencies are involved, we find them wrapping it up in a new piece of "BureauSpeak". After recent incidents where Canadian Citizens have been "Renditioned" to Syria, it seems likely to me that prohibitions on torture don't mean a heck of a lot.

-- The United States has respected -- and will continue to respect -- the sovereignty of other countries.


-- The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture.


-- The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured.


-- The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.


Note the careful wording of these sentences. "For the purpose of interrogation using torture" - it doesn't exclude interrogation, and merely requires the destination country to pledge not to use torture. As is well documented, such pledges don't mean a heck of a lot to many governments around the world.

Also, note the careful phrasing of the clauses such that they do not deny allegations of secret flights (undocumented, uncharted etc.) through foreign countries, nor does it deny allegations of secret prisons off US soil.

Clearly, the US government is playing semantic games. They are carefully phrasing their position on things so that they have "plausible deniability". For the average citizen, this is a warning sign. The government knows damn good and well what they are doing is at the very least unpalatable and immoral, and quite possibly illegal. What other changes are they making that are illegal, or infringe upon civil rights and freedoms in the cause of a fictional enemy?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

So, it's really about discrimination, isn't it?

I just caught a brief note on CBC's hourly news mentioning that James Dobson's "Focus on the Family" organization has decided to stop doing business with the Wells Fargo bank.

The reasons? It seems that Dobson's group objects to the fact that Wells Fargo has anything at all to do with the GLBT communities in the markets they serve:

The aim is to give gay and lesbian companies more business, but they don’t stop there. They are also interested in gay youth.

“They also have given money to Gay and Lesbian Youth Center; they’ve given money to Family Pride Coalition, which advocates adoption for same sex couples.”

In 2003 alone, Wells Fargo gave $2.1 million to more than 95 non-profit agencies serving the homosexual community. That brings their total giving since the 1980’s to more than $14 million. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family.


Dear God! How could Wells Fargo be so immoral? I don't know - perhaps because they figured out that doing business visibly with marginalized communities is actually good for business in the long run. Heaven forbid that they might actually do something that might help these people.

Then, Dobson's organization goes on to say:

“We have to do business with some companies because there are no alternatives. All you can do is refuse to do business with those who are most aggressive in terms of promoting that lifestyle.”
Focus on the Family is sympathetic to the homosexual community but opposes the radical agenda by activists. The ministry will be switching all its banking to First National Bank Omaha, described as a family-friendly institution.


I see...once again we are treated to the classic "I have no problem with group X, but..." argument. To which the only response is Bullshit! - all that line of "yabbut" reasoning is doing is attempting to self-justify an otherwise untenable piece of irrational logic.

Like the recent Vatican policy on homosexuality in the Church, Focus on the Family's real intent is to restore the "old order" that puts the "Christian Family" (whatever that really is) above all others in society, and self-justifies their desire to marginalize others who are for one reason or another are "different", whether by gender, ethnic tradition or whatever.

With organizations like FOTF attempting to inject themselves into Canada's political dialogue, it's very important to recognize what they really are, and who they back politically. These are not organizations which look forward, they are organizations that look to the past and idealize it. They like the idea of being able to marginalize people based on their sexuality, gender, ethnicity or whatever other arbitrary criteria they can derive from scripture.

Now - that means if you are not a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Fundamentalist) Male, you can look forward to being marginalized by these clowns. If you are female, gay, black, whatever, you can expect to see your rights to participate fully in society withdrawn either implicitly or explicitly. Do we want a government that is being influenced by such open minds as these? In the current United States government, it's organizations like this that push "abstinence-only" sex education programs; fight tooth and nail against abortion rights (actually, reproductive rights period). Similarly, these organizations also inject themselves into the education system on matters such as science education. Really - do we want to spool the social clock all the way back to the Dark Ages after the collapse of the Roman Empire?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Oh Fer Crying Out Loud!

Stephen Harper demonstrates once again that he has the originality of thought that accompanies a pavlovian-trained dog.

A Conservative government would legislate mandatory minimum prison sentences of at least two years for people convicted of serious drug offences, party leader Stephen Harper said on Saturday.

The terms would apply to people convicted of trafficking, manufacturing or importing hard drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and crystal methamphetamine, Harper said during an election stop in Burnaby, B.C.

His party would also introduce mandatory prison time for anyone convicted of running marijuana grow operations.

He said his party would ban conditional sentences and house arrest for serious and repeat drug offenders.


In yet another example of "let's follow the United States", Harper is proposing harsh "minimum sentence" guidelines for drug offences. Brilliant! How original! Let's duplicate the absolutely brain damaged philosophy of a "war on drugs" that the United States has used with such stunning success. In the United States, there are people sitting in prisons for ten, twenty or life sentences - often for first time drug offences. The US "war on drugs" approach has had no more effect than to increase the size of the US prison population into the millions.

I'm not saying don't enforce the laws, nor am I saying that producers and traffickers shouldn't face serious penalties. However, it is folly to believe that harsher laws will make the issue go away. We need to address drug use not just through criminal sanctions, but also through the social conditions that drive people towards drug use. I will point out that we have been much more successful in dealing with tobacco use and alcohol abuse by education and support programs. (anyone else recall the spectacular failure of the "prohibition era" in constraining alcohol use?)

It amazes me how often the conservative mind seems to lean towards addressing problems with prohibitions. Whether it is "stricter" sentencing for criminal cases, "abstinence" sex-ed plans, or whatever - they seem to default to punishing people rather than actually examining the situation and understanding how those people got there.

Once again, the Conservatives have gone over to the discard pile of wood and pulled another rotting plank out to use in their election platform. This time, it's old, weathered and provably stupid policy. (It's been tried, and aside from being "good electioneering", utterly ineffective)