Thursday, May 31, 2007

Is It Desperation?

Evilscientist's ruminations about the Cons latest round of attack/smear ads going after Dion got me thinking.

Is it really desperation on the part of the Cons, or perhaps it's really just the nastiness of this group coming to the surface?

I've argued for years that the most prominent of the Reform/Alliance/CPoC are fundamentally bullies. Guys like Jason Kenney, or Rob Anders. Generally speaking, they'll try to shout or sneer down anyone who dares question their wisdom. When Harper put John Baird into play as the Environment Minister, it was a pretty clear signal - 'Fine, you don't like me doing nothing, so I'll put someone in place who will shout down your criticisms' - which is more or less exactly what Baird's done.

Ultimately, the Conservative "attack ads" are little more than a bullying tactic. As Evilscientist pointed out, it really just tells us that the Cons don't have anything particularly good to tell Canadians about themselves.

As an aside, the Liberal Party youth wing has come up with their own ads which critique the Cons - not personally, but their government: here. (They're clearly aimed at a young crowd, but are an amusing poke at the Cons ... without getting into smear campaigning)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Appointing Partisan Hacks

BushCo's intellectual dishonesty record continues unmarred by honesty with Bush's nominee to replace Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank.

This time, he's selected Condoleezza Rice's lead assistant:

As deputy secretary of state, Mr Zoellick was chief aide to Condoleezza Rice between February 2005 and June last year.

Perhaps a somewhat less corrupt slimeball than Wolfowitz, but it would be nice if, for once, the candidate was nominated for their abilities, rather than their connections to Bush.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Coming Soon: Womb Control

Are you a woman of childbearing age? Well, if the right-wingnuts have their way, it seems that not only can you bear children, you may find yourself obliged to.

In the "only moderately right-wing" rag that Maclean's has become this week, we find the cover showing us a slender, young(ish) woman, with a dashed line for the shape her belly would take if she was pregnant. Inside, we find this piece of journalism aimed at the sloping forehead crowd.

Basically, the argument is that population growth by immigration is somehow a bad thing, and we should be producing all the babies we can here at home. (Goodness knows, we can't have all them unruly immigrants overrun the place don'tcha know? - we won't discuss the fact that Canada is a nation of immigrants to bloody well begin with...)

The fear is that if the population doesn't keep growing (or at least sustaining itself) that our national economies will falter in the years to come. I don't buy those arguments entirely - in North America (and much of Europe) we are watching the biggest measurable generation in history, some from ahead of it, some from behind. It has been, by far, the wealthiest, most affluent generation in our history.

The 'Forced Birth' crowd has been trying to make sure that women bear as many children as possible for some time now - their efforts to outlaw abortion, crush sex ed programs and suppress contraceptives have been strident and loud for a very long time.

Now, we find people starting to wonder how to encourage women to become mothers - whether through coercion, propaganda, or outright bribery. Why? Largely because there are fears that our economy will collapse under the weight of the baby boom generation as it ages and retires. While there is some merit to this kind of concern, I think it is profoundly misguided to believe that the world's economies will collapse because of that.

At the extreme end of things, we find arguments like this ending off the argument:

On the other hand, in Germany, which now has the highest proportion of childless women in Europe, the "mommy wars" are just starting to heat up. Recently, a bestselling book called The Eva Principle: For A New Femininity by Eva Herman, a former TV news reporter, fuelled a national controversy by suggesting that women's emancipation was a horrible miscalculation and that men and women would be happier and society would thrive if women would just shut up, stay home and raise the kids.

I'm sorry, but, the argument that making women legal and political equals of men was "a mistake" is fundamentally flawed, and only the most wingnutty of groups would argue otherwise. Given our current Federal Government in this country, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the more obviously brain damaged ideas implemented in law and policy. (Oh wait - they already started their assault on women's rights and equality.

It seems to me that when society quits punishing women for having children (economically), or not having children (morally), then women will make the most appropriate decision. Public pressure either way is offensive and demeaning. Why do we think that women should "get married and have a family", but nudge and wink approvingly at a "confirmed bachelor"?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Insanity's Leaking North

I see that Ken Ham's unique brand of evangelical insanity is creeping its way out of Kentucky and into Alberta.

For those not familiar with Ham, he started the creationist "Answers in Genesis" website/ministry, and is in process of opening a rather elaborate "Creation Science Museum" somewhere in Kentucky.

A few days ago, I heard part of an article about a "Creation Science" museum somewhere in Alberta being opened. Because I was still in the fog of sleep, I wasn't entirely sure what I'd heard, and left it alone until I had time to investigate further. Today, I was doing a bit of wandering about on the web, and I found that yes, Alberta is busy creating its very own "Creation Science Museum".

The website for them is here, and the Museum itself is somewhere in Big Valley, Alberta - a small town southwest of Red Deer.

Looking through the Alberta museum's claims about the material they are presenting is a glimpse into the fervent insanity of Young Earth Creationism.

Here are some of the more amusing gems:

The interactive bacterial flagellum and DNA displays both provide compelling evidence for creation and refute any unguided, 'natural' processes such as evolution.

Oh yes, resurrecting the already discredited theories of Michael J. Behe and the other ideologues that hang out with William Dembski over at the Discovery Institute. Brilliant, credible science to be referencing.

The "Age of the Earth" display is finished. This beautiful display packs a pile of leading-edge information regarding dating methods, fast fossils, rapid cave formations and Out of Place Artifacts.

Fast Fossils? There's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one. Not to mention "rapid cave formations" - short of the kind of forces that plate tectonics involves (or small thermonuclear devices), caves are geological formations, and "rapid" in geological terms is something you can measure in a few thousand years.

The "Evidence From Geneaology" display, donated by Edgar Nurnberg, is one of the more favourite displays of our visitors. These scrolls from the Lambeth Palace in England trace the geneaology of King Henry the 6th back to Adam and Eve.

Uh-huh. I'll bet that these are just irrefutable evidence of the lineage of King Henry VI. Given the time period, King Henry may have commissioned those scrolls himself either to feed his ego or insanity.

The "Dinosaurs and Humans" display shows considerable evidence that not only did dinosaurs exist recently, but that humans existed with them. This evidence is fatal to the evolutionary dogma which has dinosaurs extinct at least 60 million years before humans evolved.

This is the classic rubric of the "Young Earther" arguments. Essentially, it's like claiming that the Flintstones was a documentary. The claim is, essentially, that Dinosaurs were wiped out in the "Great Flood" described in Genesis chapters 6 and 7.

While a "young earth creation" view may be a valid position of faith, it's a different thing altogether to try and twist the evidence that nearly several centuries of scientific inquiry has found that speaks otherwise.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Harper's Priorities: Military First

Harper seems to think that aggrandizing the military is more important than your civil rights.

At a fundraiser for a local military museum, Harper and O'Connor announced the commitment of $5 million dollars to build a library of military history onto the museum.

The number $5 million is interesting - because that's about the budget of the Court Challenges Program.

Apparently, in Harper's little world, propaganda is more important than your individual rights and freedoms:

"Stories of heroism, camaraderie and sacrifice ... bind us together as a people and define us as a country which stands for human rights," said Harper, who earned applause when he reiterated his government's intention to rebuild the Canadian Forces.

"This is not just about hardware and dollars," he said.

"This is about recognition and respect."

The contribution to the Military Museums helps fund a tangible telling of the sacrifices and successes made by serving men and women for generations to come, he said.

Don't make the mistake of assuming I'm anti-military - I'm not, nor do I think it's unreasonable to fund museums - although Harper's spending cuts have also slashed funding to non-military oriented museums which leaves me deeply suspicious of his motives.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Grim Reaper Harper

I wondered why Harper had gone to Afghanistan this past week. Usually there's some political game he's playing.

It seems it was a trip to "see the troops off" to get killed in an offensive. One of the classic stunts in the "support the troops meme".

Fundamentally, Harper goes over to Afghanistan for one of two reasons - he thinks he can get a boost in the polls, or he wants to take "credit" for sending more of our troops off to die in battle. It might qualify as amusing if it wasn't so damn depressing.

Recently, I've found myself musing aloud about whether we have any right to be in Afghanistan today. Superficially, there is a moral obligation to help the country pick up the pieces and rebuild, but that must be weighed against whether we can in fact be useful in that regard, or like the Soviets in the 1980s, are we merely propping up something that cannot sustain itself?

The notion of Afghanistan as a nation is somewhat suspect to begin with - the region's geography tends to reinforce and encourage the tribalism that is pervasive through much of the Middle East to begin with, and I suspect that optimistically, you might achieve some kind of loose tribal coalition, but it would never be a "government" in the sense that we understand it.

The second question in my head is the moral/ethical imperative surrounding the kind of government being propped up in Afghanistan. Do we have any right to impose our style of government (with all of its cultural assumptions) on Afghanistan? I fail to see how Afghanistan itself poses (or ever posed) any real threat to Canada. Let's face it, originally the goal was to find Bin Laden in the days following 9/11/01 - a goal that Bush soon abandoned when he decided that Iraq looked much more exciting to play in.

Looking at the situation today, it's quite apparent that "The Taliban" (tm) is no more a discrete enemy than "al Quaeda"(tm) ever was. It's part of the local social and political fabric - which renders it next to impossible to "defeat" in any real sense. It may go to ground only to rise up again when opportunity knocks.

There are no "easy" or "pat" answers, but at the moment, I'm not happy with a Prime Minister who is using Afghanistan to further his political ambitions, and I am less than convinced that Canada has a compelling story to be there.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I Wonder How Stevie Will Pull This Off

It seems that George has made himself King ... if he can provoke a "national emergency", at any rate.

The implications are disturbing to say the least, but one wonders just how Stevie's Jr. Rethuglicans are going to try and emulate the same thing here in Canada. (So far, you have to admit, Harper's been pretty obviously following the Rethuglican Playbook(tm) from Washington)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

More From The "Family Values" Crowd

Dick Dewert, founder of Alberta's own fundie televangical station, The Miracle Channel, has resigned having been caught out in an extra-marital affair.

I'll give this clown slightly more credit than the terminally dishonest Ted Haggard - he at least has admitted that he 'dunnit' without lying to the public repeatedly.

However, these same clowns are the people who repeatedly argue against equality rights for minorities and decry the "immorality" of the rest of us "unsaved" heathens.

There is a word for people like that - and it is "Hypocrite". No amount of self-effacement and begging forgiveness changes the utter hypocrisy of these "leaders" of the Religious Reich. They rail against many "social evils" that they see in the world, and yet they themselves are so often caught "in the act" it's not even funny. It is not the act itself they should be ashamed of, it is the very hypocrisy of their own lives contradicting what they claim to represent.

Stevie's At It Again!

I see PMSH is flexing his flaccid muscles in Afghanistan again.

"Yes, there remain challenges," the prime minister said as Karzai looked on. "But our determination is strong. We are not daunted by shadows because we carry the light that defines them — the light of freedom of human rights and the rule of law."

Ummm...challenges - that's a euphemism, right? I'm sure the troops over there being shelled by Taliban forces, or having navigate around IED's on the roads consider their position "challenging".

Of course, Harper denies that this trip has anything at all to do with covering up his crappy government's plunging fortunes:

The prime minister dismissed suggestions his trip was in response to waning support of the Afghan mission at home, telling reporters: "I'm not here because of the polls. I'm here because it's the right thing to do."

The only reason this clown gets any kind of boost in the polls afterwards is that most people think "isn't that nice, we're "helping" the Afghans defeat the evil Taliban". Newsflash - in case nobody has notice the Taliban ARE Afghani - which means even if they go to ground and make it look like they are defeated, they will just resurface after occupying troops withdraw. (Anybody else remember just how successfully the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan?)

Harper's testosterone-laden foreign policy takes its cues from George W. Bush - and that is enough to condemn it to the dustbin of history as a monumental f**k-up. (Is anybody else wondering why Harper's doing this trip, while our MIA Foreign Affairs Minister MacKay is strangely silent?)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Update: Anders Nomination

Just to give us further insight into how anti-democracy Harper's Tories are, we have the latest update on the squabbles over Rob Anders' nomination in Calgary West.

The Cons are trying to rig the court-ordered nomination by imposing arbitrary rules on who is allowed to vote in the nomination meeting:

An unprecedented move by the party's national council to deny voting rights to new members in Calgary West is curtailing any potential challenges to Anders in a court-ordered second nomination battle.

"The secret, as everyone knows, to winning a nomination is to be able to sell your supporters memberships and get them out to vote," said John Knox, one of 11 disgruntled Tories who have fought the party's unwavering loyalty to Anders from courtroom to courtroom since last August.

The rule - which gives ballots only to those who were party members in the middle of August last year - contrasts with every other Tory riding in Canada, where anyone who has held a membership for more than three weeks can vote at a party nomination.

I can't say that I'm surprised. The HarperCons have done everything they can to subvert and damage the very notion of democracy. Considering the grassroots populist nature of the Reform/Alliance incarnations of this party, it is both disappointing and ironic.

That the Calgary West CPOC constituency association feels it necessary to manipulate and twist the nominations process (with the collaboration of "head office") in a city where a Conservative candidate is practically a shoo-in tells us a great deal about just how dishonest and internally corrupt the Cons really are. (I'm beginning to wonder just what kind of "material" Anders has sitting in a desk drawer somewhere for Harper's crowd to protect his nomination so fiercely...)

H/T: Canadian Cynic

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Distorting Reality ... Further

My semi-regular traipse through the religious right-wing blogs and news aggregators turned up a particularly ridiculous piece about Boston Children's Hospital opening a pediatric gender clinic.

To read the Lifesite article, one would think that they were proposing to offer young children all sorts of things that children shouldn't need to deal with:

Dr. Spack’s interest in transgender issues has included association with bondage and sadomasochistic groups—he presented a workshop at the Transcending Boundaries conference in Worcester last November, organized by PFLAG and co-sponsored by the New England Leather Alliance.

Of course, one might rightly wonder if there is a moral justification for trying to force a child to be dishonest with themselves, as it is not unusual for transgender people to report that they "knew" by the time they were old enough to understand that boys and girls are different.

I find it particularly amusing that Lifesite tries to tie Dr. Spack's work back to both the Gay and Lesbian world as well as to the BDSM. While an interest in human sexuality is going to lead (eventually) to contact with transgender people, inferring a relationship between gender identity and BDSM is laughably irrational.

Certainly, in recent months, there have been stories in the news about young transsexuals receiving treatment that have caused a stir among the "social conservatives" who seem utterly incapable of empathizing with anybody.

Anyhow, I went digging to see just how badly Lifesite's pseudo-journalism had mangled reality. A few minutes with Google turned up some much more reasonable information, starting with this news release.

On February 23, a new multidisciplinary clinic at Children's Hospital Boston's saw its first patients with what are called disorders of sexual differentiation (DSD). ... While Children's has long treated the physical manifestations of DSDs, the new clinic is also designed to address psychosocial issues that may arise from genital and gonadal variability. In addition to urologists, endocrinologists and geneticists, the team includes social workers, nurses who have run support groups and a research psychologist.

Okay, now we start to get something resembling a bit of sanity here. We aren't talking about "just" transsexuals, but also intersex children. Knowing that in recent years, the idea of treating intersex cases as some kind of emergency that required immediate surgical intervention has been questioned
, it's not surprising that hospitals would start to offer services which involve the child as well:

In the past, DSDs were regarded as medical emergencies that needed to be addressed immediately. Parents were not always involved in the decision-making process, which varied from center to center. In recent years, however, adult patients have formed national advocacy groups that have changed the thinking about how to manage DSDs, and today, families are intimately involved in the decisions.

"It's more important to make the best decision than to make the fast one," says Norman Spack, MD, of the Endocrinology division at Children's, who co-directs the new clinic with David Diamond, MD, of Urology. "In some cases, it can take weeks to decide what's best for the patient," he says. "It's a team decision now, and no matter what's done, the parents need support and the children need to be followed." Follow-up research will be conducted to determine the efficacy of the approaches taken and patient satisfaction as they enter adult life.

If you are going to deal with the ambiguity of intersex patients, it seems not unreasonable to extend the clinical mandate to include gender identity patients as well, which is what this clinic appears to have done:

Unique in the Western hemisphere, the clinic will also care for children and young adults who present as transgendered—those who have no known anatomic or biochemical disorder, yet feel like a member of the opposite sex. Such feelings can emerge early, even in the preschool years, and can cause considerable psychological distress. For that reason, transgendered young people are often assumed to have a psychiatric disorder and are placed on psychotropic medications. By late adolescence, a high percentage have attempted suicide.

Ah - something considerably more intelligible emerges from the picture. Again, the reality is far from the hysterical screaming of Lifesite's authors, and grounded in a legitimate concern on the part of the practitioners for the well being of the patients. I believe the correct term would be "empathy" - something that the howling nuts at Lifesite have completely lost somewhere along the way.

Of course, The HBIGDA Standards of Care for transgender youth are pretty clear about the caution with which treatment must proceed:

2. The assessment should explore the nature and characteristics of the child’s or adolescent’s gender identity. A complete psychodiagnostic and psychiatric assessment should be performed. A complete assessment should include a family evaluation, because other emotional and behavioral problems are very common, and unresolved issues in the child’s environment are often present.
3. Therapy should focus on ameliorating any comorbid problems in the child’s life, and on reducing distress the child experiences from his or her gender identity problem and other difficulties. The child and family should be supported in making difficult decisions regarding the extent to which to allow the child to assume a gender role consistent with his or her gender identity. ...

Although the Clinic does not state that they are aligning their practice with the long-established SOC guidelines, it seems unlikely to me that they would deviate significantly from them either. Those guidelines have been in use for quite some time now.

The Toronto Star has an interesting article about young transsexuals this morning. (Which reflects the commentary made by the gender clinic above)

Friday, May 18, 2007

CPoC: Undermining Democracy

I'll admit that much of what goes on in our parliament strikes me as badly managed stage play. The antics and shenanigans that go on in our government are often juvenile and stupid.

However, little makes me angrier than a party that sets out to undermine the very processes and structures that allow Parliament to work at all. In this case, Don Martin has published excerpts from the Conservative Party "playbook" for their behaviour in the house, as well as in committee.

The tactics are straight out of the US Rethuglicans.

Coming from a party that crowed about being more open, honest and accountable to the Canadian people, the Harper Cons are quickly showing themselves to be secretive, lying and dishonest to a degree that makes me almost long for Brian Mulroney. These guys aren't about democracy, they're about autocracy - as long as they are in control.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Getting It Wrong...Again

Once again, the Harper government is demonstrating that it has no clue about Canada, our laws, or for that matter the notion of addressing real and material problems.

Yesterday, two events happened to underscore this:

First is our jet-ski riding Minister of Public Safety talking about reintroducing the powers of "preventative arrest" and "compelled testimony" as part of their legislative response to correct the Security Certificates.

If this strikes you as slightly brain damaged, it should. Those powers were "sunset claused" for good reason. Not once in the years since 9/11 have they been necessary, and the presence of such powers would not have prevented Air India either. (Which is turning out to be a veritable comedy of errors)

These powers are a direct abuse of our constitutionally guaranteed rights - they give the police the power to detain and interrogate people beyond the boundaries that are set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, without any reasoned checks and balances. Since they have not proven to be necessary in the last number of years since 9/11, it seems to me quite unreasonable to reintroduce them.

The second was the pin-headed tightening of immigration laws to keep foreign strippers out. While I do not particularly see why a stripper constitutes a "skilled trade" for work visa purposes, I don't especially care when the government's rationale is this:

She said the government was making an effort to protect women from exploitation.

"The previous Liberal government gave blanket exceptions to foreign strippers to work in Canada despite warnings that they were vulnerable to forced prostitution and other exploitation," Finlay told MPs.

Now, think on this for a minute - if we are talking about sexual exploitation, then the problem is not the person coming into the country, but the industry itself. Again, the Harper Government is missing the point entirely, and attacking the wrong problem.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More Tory Crybaby Tactics

Like any child who gets spanked for breaking the rules, the Tories are lashing out in the most childlike way possible - having temper tantrums in Committee. Last week, it was climate change testimony that got the Cons' nose out of joint; this week, it's the languages commissioner.

What it's starting to look like is the Harper Cons don't like being caught in their own lies and ineptitude, so they try to conceal it by throwing temper tantrums.

I seem to remember last election the slogan 'Demand Better' all over Conservative signage - Canadians deserve better than this.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fundamentalist Misogynist

There's good reason to watch the so-called "family values" crowd carefully. Every so often, one of them opens their yap and lets the truth of their "values" spew forth.

In this case, it's a SBC theologian/leader speaking at a "Family Conference". If you didn't listen too closely to him, you'd think he was just spouting the usual "family values" line so often spouted by right wingnut religionists.

It's the little gem came spewing forth in the midst of his tirade that tells us so much:

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson says families need to be concerned that in America, 60% of college students are female. He predicts that in a few years, men will be increasingly underrepresented among "the intelligentsia" and will gradually cede leadership in many areas to women.

Patterson laments that most of the women ascending to these new roles will maintain a major focus on a career, not on the family and on children.

Ummm ... wow. In short - women should not be as educated as men? More importantly, this guy feels that women shouldn't have active careers outside the home?

The undercurrent of this is obscene. Starting with the assertion that educated women is a bad thing (especially if there are more educated women than men, it would seem), and moving into the blatant assault on the very idea that a woman might want to work outside of the home. I know quite a few ladies who have careers and family...and they work amazingly hard to make sure that they look after the kids and their careers. In at least two cases, they have told me to my face that they need their career for perfectly valid human needs.

I won't even go into the utterly vapid comments that are attached to the article. The assumption that there is a "perfect" family model out there is horrifying - especially in light of just how horribly dysfunctional the "ideal" families of so many of my friends grew up in turned out to be in reality. Thanks - I'll take a dozen slightly unusual families that are basically happy over one dysfunctional disaster.

Frankly, it appalls me to no end that these people keep fetishizing a social structure that never really existed - largely to create a pretext for making second class citizens out of women.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Conservatives: Corrupt, Dishonest and Lousy Liars

In the ongoing story of Crooked Cons in Government, we have more from the profligate spending of our Labour Minister.

After Peter Van Loan claimed that the Conservative Labour Minister spent less than his Liberal predecessor:

"The fact is, the expenses of the Conservative labour minister during 2006 were less than the comparable expenses for the Liberal minister during 2005,'' Peter Van Loan, the Conservative House leader, told the Commons last Monday after an Access to Information request by the NDP turned up Blackburn's hidden air travel.

Along comes reality today, and slaps both Van Loan and Blackburn upside the head:

acques Saada, the former Liberal minister for Quebec regional economic development, spent $66,000 on charter flights in 2005 and publicly posted every flight and its cost. The link to those "proactive disclosures'' is found on the same government web page as Blackburn's current expenses, which failed to disclose a penny of almost $150,000 in charter flights for 2006.

Saada's 2005 expense reports fire a pair of missiles into last week's Tory defence of Blackburn.

Next up - Peter Van Loan tries to convince us that he's honest because the Liberals must have all been corrupt.

Is Micro$oft The Next SCO?

It would appear that Microsoft thinks that the FOSS world that spawned Linux suddenly owes Micro$oft a huge amount of patent monies because so much of "Microsoft's innovations" have been "stolen".

Amazingly, Ballmer is not specific about which M$ patents have been violated (which is starting to sound amazingly like the infamous SCO Lawsuit).

While this is mostly a reiteration of various threats that M$ has made against Linux in recent years, should Microsoft actually attempt to litigate this they would turn themselves into the next SCO lawsuit. As SCO has proven, alleging infringement and actually proving it are two very different things - and so far SCO hasn't been very successful.

As for Microsoft demanding license fees for the "infringed upon patents", well, they'd have to identify who did the infringing, and then sue them in court - that could be a rather difficult proposition when FOSS developers tend to be all over the place, and not just within the United States.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Conservatives: About To Attack Liberty ... Again

It seems that our brilliant lot in Ottawa are creating an American-styled "no-fly list".

Superficially, one might almost be sympathetic to having such a list. After all, we don't want some loon getting on a plane and hijacking it or blowing it out of the sky with a bomb, do we?

Hang on a second here. Just who's on this list, how did they get on it, and why? The government is talking about having an "office of reconsideration" to appeal to if they are denied boarding access to a flight.

There's two problems I have with this list. First, it is supremely abusable. With no transparency, no accountability, your name can land on this list for no real reason other than someone not liking the way that you looked at them one day, or perhaps you wrote something that a high government official decided looked suspicious (or didn't like).

The American "no-fly" list has been used to restrict the mobility of people for no real reason other than their name, or in some cases, no apparent reason at all. Is there an avenue of appeal? Only sort of. You have no access to the reasons that your name landed on that list. Instead, an arbitrary list exists with your name on it somewhere, and presto, suddenly you can't get on a plane.

I would assert that in light of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, as well as recent rulings on "Security Certificates, that Harper's latest little secretive list is in fact illegal in Canada.

The Charter provides for several key rights that are being unreasonably subjected to arbitrary restriction by the government:

1. The Charter specifically guarantees mobility rights to Canadians. In this context, I would argue that those rights are being arbitrarily abrogated on the supposition of a threat.

2. The Charter specifically guarantees specific legal rights with respect to being accused of an illegal (and therefore punishable) offense before the law. Among them, we are guaranteed due process, timely trial and others. Here, we have the government stepping in and abrogating those rights, going from suspicion to punishment without even so much as evidence coming into the mix. Essentially, they are making some faceless bureaucrat judge, jury and executioner with no process whatsoever.

You might argue that the Conservatives are just "protecting law abiding citizens", but I must respond to that argument as follows:

1) Where and when is the government obliged to notify someone that they are on the no-fly list? As far as I can see, notification happens when you are denied a boarding pass - which effectively exacts a monetary punishment as well as the denial of service immediately. In most cases, you will find the cost of the plane ticket forfeit.

2) There is no transparent process to review the list. It is held "hush-hush/secret", out of the eyes of the public.

3) The proposed "reconsideration" office does not give you any guarantee of a hearing that is fair and impartial. Nor does it appear that you would have access to the evidence or accusations that landed you on the list in the first place.

4) Since PMSH and crew are so fond of emulating all things American, I suspect that the process of getting your name off that list will be at least as ambiguous as it is in the United States. Meaning that your right to go somewhere in Canada is arbitrarily restricted without reasonable recourse.

In short, this is another Conservative attack upon Canadians, and like their amendments to criminal law, one that unreasonably breaches key aspects of the Canadian Constitution and the freedoms enshrined therein.

Using Religion As An Excuse To Bully

I've been very disturbed by the actions of various religious lobbyists on the political stages of the world in recent years.

Whether we are talking about the Pope denying communion to "pro-choice" politicians, or the insane howlings of lobbyists like Peter LaBarbera, there is a fundamental underlying behaviour here - that of the bully.

Bullying depends upon the existence of a threat, occasionally reinforced by some kind of implementation of that threat in some way. Bullying depends upon a degree of public humiliation in order to be effective.

When clergy stand up and publicly talk about denial of communion to politicians who fail to tow the line put forth by the clergy, they put on the public stage two threats. The first threat is to the "immortal soul" of that politician. For some, this will be a significant threat by itself, but the more important aspect is the threat of public humiliation that is carried by making the declaration so publicly. The threat is in fact twofold, and is designed to coerce people to a particular line of action regardless of the political and legal realities.

While the Pope may worry about "relativism", one has to question the validity of any argument put forth but supported primarily by means of forceful coercion.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

What's That Squirming Sound?

PMSH's "base" is getting antsy. Apparently prominent "conservatives" like Link Byfield are getting upset that Harper's not sufficiently right wing now that he's in government.

When the Conservatives were elected in January, 2006, the former Reformers were jubilant at the thought of finally having a voice in Ottawa. But after a series of centrist decisions by Mr. Harper, they are again lamenting their disenfranchisement.

Wow - we get the most right-wingnut government Canada's ever seen, and these guys aren't happy? Harper's already begun attacking social programs, civil rights, the presumption of innocence in our courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms - how much more do you clowns want? (I can guess)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bishop Robinson: Well Said!

Bishop Gene Robinson has summed up the whole GLBT rights issue beautifully:

"We need to separate the civil rights from the religious rites"

Well said, Bishop, Well said indeed!

Compassionate Conservatism - Alberta Style

Alberta's government just told us everything we need to know about the Stelmach version of the Tories.

First, they passed a "housing bill" that does little to limit rent gouging going on in Calgary these days. They've made some lofty promises of putting money into the pockets of landlords to develop "new" rental properties, but if you are one of the tenants of an Alberta rental property, your rents are subject to the whim of the landlord - once a year perhaps, but at whim nonetheless.

Meanwhile, on the obverse side of that same coin, we find out from the Parkland Institute that Alberta's government is frittering away our future to appease the all powerful industry.

So, in Alberta, what passes for "compassion" is a half-baked government policy that that does nothing to protect people on the low end of the income spectrum, and similarly half-baked policy that further enriches the already vastly wealthy at the expense of average Albertans.

Not Always Nastiness

In March, I wrote extensively about the cases of Susan/Steven Stanton and Julie Nemecek. Both of these cases were about transsexuals making their journey public and encountering the ugly side of so-called "Christianity". Those stories made headlines throughout much of North America. To me, if they represent anything, it is the smallness of some people in their dealings with others. Neither of these people had done anything criminal or disreputable to justify their firings, and yet fired they were.

A week or so ago, another similar story emerged, this one about sports writer Christine Daniels who disclosed that after some 20 odd years writing sports as a man, she was transitioning and would henceforth be writing under the name Christine. I decided to sit back and see how the story unfolded - was it going to turn into another Julie Nemecek case, or would we see something positive for a change?

Aside from some stupidity from the usual suspects, the story has been a 'good news' story for a change. Her employer has been supportive, going as far as providing space for her to blog about her transition experiences (which is an intriguing publicity angle). As Christine says here, most of the correspondence she has received is positive, and I think she has a lovely response to a Bible bigot that tries to tell her that her "actions are not Biblically acceptable":

I don’t know what Bible you’re using, but you might want to check the pull-date on that one. My Bible is the same one used by my pastor, who has counseled me throughout the early stages of my transition, helping me to stay on track and continue moving forward, because that is the plan God has for me.

Since the news is so often "bad news", I thought it was time to bring forward a bit of good news from someone's life. It starts to restore your faith in humanity a little.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Abstinence Education meet Reality

Normally, Sun Media columnists have an amazing ability to annoy me. For once, I see a column that I agree with. Mindelle Jacobs writes compellingly on the reasons why "abstinence only" programs that teach an idealized notion of marital fidelity are doomed to fail - sadly at the price of a lot of people's lives.

Will This Ever Stop?

In today's news, we find yet another CONservative cabinet minister trying to hide his expenditures of taxpayer monies.

Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon made regular use of a government executive jet last year while keeping the trips off his travel expenses, documents show.

He's the second minister this week to have his travel habits exposed using government documents obtained by the NDP through an Access to Information Act request.

It's an embarrassing lapse of transparency for a government in the midst of trumpeting new accountability legislation in the House of Commons.

Transport Canada's aircraft flight log shows at least six trips taken by Cannon in 2006 aboard a sleek Citation C-550 executive jet that do not appear in his ministerial expenses posted on the department's website, as mandated by the federal Treasury Board.

Again, it's not necessarily the amount of money that we need to take issue with.

It is the sheer, and blatant, hypocrisy of the Conservatives that keeps coming up time and again. They ran a campaign last election based on being "more open and accountable". Hiding expenses incurred by burying them in "other budgets" or in other places that require a "Access to Information" request is plain dishonesty of a magnitude that the Cons would have screamed blue murder about prior to last election.

That's two in one week - from a party that complained bitterly about the Liberals' sense of "entitlement"...

Oh, Please!

Don't take away our preview screenings Mr. Warner, it'd kill us.

I see that the Movie industry has taken the same approach that the big dollar recording industry has - punish the consumers of their products for "piracy". A month or so ago, it was Fox threatening to "delay" releases in Canada; this month we find Warner Bros. taking away our "preview screenings".

The argument is that "most" movies are pirated in Canada by people going into the theater with a camcorder and recording it. Apparently, recording things in a movie house is not "criminal", and therefore won't get you thrown out of the theater - at least in Canada. The movie studios want us to implement harsher laws a la what exists in the States. (Such as the DMCA - one of the most brain damaged pieces of legislation ever promulgated by congress...)

Personally, I've seen one or two of the bootlegs made via camcorder. The quality generally is pretty shoddy. Frankly, a movie buff isn't going to be happy with the quality, and the people who are happy with it probably don't care enough about movies to bother going to the theater at all.

As for the "street market vendor" selling bootleg DVD's in China or other countries with a very different idea of "intellectual property", they'll just find a different source for their wares; or live with the fact that their "supplier" will be delayed somewhat.

So-called "Piracy" of entertainment products is pervasive - it's been around as long as consumer recording media has existed. The recording and movie industries (among others) that peddle their wares in the consumer market need to learn to make "piracy" their ally, not their sworn enemy. In a game of "spy vs. spy", the other guy can always come up with a new way to bootleg things.

Warner Bros., Fox, Universal and others need to come to the realization that for the most part, pirate versions represent phantom sales that they would not have had in any event. Simply put, the movie buff isn't going to give up their theater screening, and the consumer of the pirate versions probably never go to the theater in the first place.

If Warner Bros wants to undermine the pirates, quietly pre-release a low quality "bootleg" version of their movies in a viral marketing campaign within hours of the first screenings. Stick a few ads into it if you "must" make revenue from it, and see what happens. It won't kill the serious commercial pirates, but I'll bet that it will be more successful than trying to punish your customers on the assumption they are pirates.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Conservatives: Avoiding Doing Anything

In their efforts to numb the public with their incessant lip-flapping about the "Green Plan", the Conservatives have tried to slip yet another exception under the radar.

Okay, I can accept the notion that you don't want to flatten industry by over-regulating it. I cannot, however, accept the notion that the oil sands industry is so fragile that it has to be exempted from making meaningful changes to the emissions it produces.

Rabid Alberta isolationists will argue that anything that inhibits the unfettered growth and activity of the oilsands will crush our economy in another NEP-like crash. The fact is that the real risk to Alberta's economy is the increasing shakiness showing in the US economy - where the housing bubble is continuing to collapse, leaving an increasing number of people with massive debt loads and no cash.

Alberta's economy is more endangered by the US economy's condition than it will ever be by reasonable environmental policy. Exempting entire industry segments is not good policy.

$tandards Don't Apply Redux

In this morning's paper, we find Mr. Jean-Pierre Blackburn complaining about how essential his $150K worth of aircraft time is.

Typical conservative. Gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and then whines about how unfair it is that the very standards of transparency and accountability that his party has made such a noise about are actually applied to the governing party.

Sorry, Blackburn, but complaining:

he can't do his job “by bicycle” but could not explain why his ministerial travel expenses failed to disclose a penny of almost $150,000 worth of charter flights last year.

Is completely missing the point. It's not the money. It's the fact that you have tried to cover up your expenditures under some whitewashing scheme you cooked up.

And in the Conservative's latest attempt, we see the accounting described as follows:

According to Mr. Blackburn's officials, the cost of some flights was stated as “$0” because the rental expense was accounted for elsewhere in government records.

It would be “double dipping” for Mr. Blackburn to have then also recorded those costs in his proactive disclosure, said spokeswoman Emma Welford.

Ummm...bull$h!t. You buried the expenses elsewhere in the books so that most people wouldn't see it. Saying that the cost of those flights shouldn't have been in the ministerial expenses is a dodge - rather like saying that my car payments should show as zero on my monthly expenses, because the monies come out of a different bank account.

This is little more than a sleazy, amateurish attempt to conceal questionable expenditures of taxpayer's money - on the part of the government.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Our $tandard$ Don't Apply To U$ ...

If Corcoran's article in the Financial Post is any indication, Harper's base is beginning squirm under thumb a bit - feeling that they are sacrificing ideology too much in the pursuit of power.

I happen to believe in this they are correct - Harper lusts after power above all else these days. However, much of what these guys are talking about should also tell us that CPoC dishonesty goes as far as hiding their agenda - just so they can achieve power.
Hot on the heels of PMSH's unwillingness to disclose how much taxpayers are forking over for his makeup consultant/astrologer, we find another Tory minister trying to conceal profligate spending of taxpayer dollars.

Superficially, you might look at the amount and say "well, he's a minister, that's part of his job". But that is far from the point here:

Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn spent almost $150,000 on rental aircraft flying around Quebec last year but didn't declare any of the flights as a travel expense, documents show.

In fact, the majority of the flights on privately hired planes don't show up anywhere in Blackburn's public disclosure of ministerial travel and were only revealed through an Access to Information request by NDP researchers.

Hold it - so the minister spends like a drunken sailor, tries to cover it up by not declaring it as a travel expense? This is a government who claims to be much more "open, honest and accountable" to the public than its predecessors. It seems to me that Harper's clan has gone from minority to entitlement in record time here:

But many of the new rules appear aimed at Conservative adversaries as much as at general good governance.

An official from the Prime Minister's Office recently followed a journalist off Parliament Hill, then approached the reporter to challenge a story about the PMO's refusal to disclose how Harper's travelling hairdresser is being paid.

The official told the reporter three times that accountability measures are for crooks, not honest people.

It appears to be a theme in the Harper government.

Conservatives, of course, claim that they are in fact being very accountable (in a very Ralph Klein sort of way):

Van Loan says the government remains committed to its accountability agenda and denies there is any lack of transparency on expenses.

"I think overall there's been pretty good disclosure," said the Tory minister. "But there hasn't been a lot for most of us to disclose, because we don't do much in terms of spending and entertaining and travel and all that stuff."

Of course, we shouldn't forget what anybody make Access To Information requests is finding these days:

While stressing the need for clear rules and transparency for others, the cabinet continues to tightly control information, censor documents and only selectively disclose ministerial expenses.

Martin of the NDP has been one of the government's strongest opposition supporters in pushing through its vaunted Accountability Act. He says now he spent a lot of "political capital" backing the Tories and has become seriously disillusioned.

"There is a scheme going on to mislead Canadians about how the Conservatives are spending money," said the Winnipeg MP. "It's contradictory because they have cried bloody murder for years that the Liberals were not transparent and accountable, and now they are doing the same."

Canada's gnu-ish Government - passing from minority through arrogance and into corruption in record time!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Micromanagement in the Media

It seems that the media is starting to clue into the fact that Harper's micromanaging style is setting the Cons up for disaster.

I'm not exactly a fan of Sheila Copps on many topics, but she's got this one dead right, and it's the first time I've seen a columnist in the 'right-wing' of our media sphere (and yes, the Sun Media group is very right wing, IMO)

I've said for some time that Harper is a micromanager, and guaranteed to implode sooner or later. Ms. Copps observes similarly:

Harper broke the first rule of politics: Let your ministers take the lead with a clear departmental line of authority.


Save yourself for the big picture. Getting bogged down in minutia only hurts. Because there is no clear departmental lead, no one will assume responsibility when the going gets tough.

She cuts through Harper's bungling of the Afghanistan prisoners affair beautifully, pointing out the fundamental problem with how Harper has handled this affair:

But Harper's own vision is so tied to the military that he has paid little attention to the balance needed in government. There is a reason Foreign Affairs leads on international agreements involving multilateral treaties and conventions. It is their job to canvass the views of all relevant departments and come to a balanced conclusion about Canada's responsibilities abroad. The military has another job, to defend territorial integrity, to fight insurgents or terrorists and to execute the orders of their civilian bosses.

By putting the military in charge of prisoner transfer, Harper and Martin should have known they were courting trouble. These enemy prisoners are the same people who have blown up innocent people and taken out dozens of Canadian soldiers and a diplomat. They are the "scumbags" that Hillier warned about.

Asking the military to negotiate Taliban transfer is like asking the police to sentence the criminals they catch. The general may have wanted to be judge, jury and executioner but the prime minister should have insisted that Foreign Affairs take the lead.

Of Theism and aTheism

Long time readers of this space will have long ago figured out that I don't subscribe to any particular religious faith. Perhaps equally important is to recognize that I am neither wholly theist or atheist. I do not reject the notion of a higher power that is unknowable in this life, but I do not accept that anyone on this world has a "correct" understanding of such a power either.

If you will, I do not accept that any religion "has it right" in our world. Frankly, I am suspicious of those who claim that they "got it" - as they almost inevitably don't "have" anything but a mass of what I perceive to be old legends which they are claiming has some higher truth value.

This morning, I was listening to The Sunday Edition, and I happened to catch a bit of listener feedback that made me absolutely furious. Last week's program had a group of professed atheists on discussing their views, so necessarily the religious had to respond.

Two arguments were put forth that were disturbing in the underlying falsehoods that they suppose to be true:

1. Since atheism has no "absolutes" outside of the knowable, an atheist cannot possibly know when they are being moral beings.

2. Look at what "atheist" regimes like the Soviet Union or Pol Pot's Cambodia did - they killed millions. Atheism is immoral!

First, the discussion of being a "moral person" is profoundly disturbing, as it assumes that because an atheist rejects the notion of a particular god (and therefore the truth value of scripture attributed to that god), that there is no foundation upon which to understand if one's acts are "good" or not.

The reasoning here is deeply flawed indeed. Moral reasoning is highly contextual, and the notion of "right and wrong" changes gradually over time. In historical terms, it was only relatively recently that our notions of right and wrong changed sufficiently to reject the notion of slavery. Few in the Western world today would argue that there is a moral case for enslavement today, and yet the scripture of the Christian Bible very much talks in terms of slavery and the trade in human beings as a social norm, and by its very words scripture asserts a certain moral validity to slavery. In other parts of the world, Slavery is still actively practiced - a thought that should make us all shudder.

How do I "know" that I am behaving in a "moral" fashion if I do not subscribe to a particular faith? Quite simply by asking if what I am doing seems "right". In other words, can I frame my behaviour within the framework I have learned over my life, and find that I am still doing "the right thing". I was born with a pretty good moral compass, and my parents encouraged me to use it. I feel no need to frame my own life and actions in the context of stories now old enough to qualify not merely as legend, but now ancient legend indeed. Conservatives often use the language of personal responsibility, and in this regard, I actually agree with them. I am personally responsible for my acts in this world, and I bear the consequences as best as I am able. I don't run around firebombing, or spray painting cats - I try my best to do what I believe is the "best" possible at the time.

Simply put, I believe that morality is a matter of a personal and social construct - it exists at a moment in time and space, and cannot reasonably be measured with respect to previous times or supposed futures.

When religionists argue that atheism is "bankrupt" based upon the despotic governments like that of Pol Pot's Cambodia, they are engaging in a strawman argument of a kind. They put forth something horrific, and then attempt to claim that it is representative of the whole. Frankly, it is little different than looking at one priest convicted of being a pedophile and claiming that all priests are pedophiles. Pol Pot was a despot. The fact that he was a despot that ran an "atheist" government tells us little about atheism in general - the same way that a single pedophile priest tells us little about the faith that priest belongs to.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ted Byfield: Being Nice is a Bad Thing

I've always considered Ted Byfield to be a basically unpleasant sort of person. His writing has an irritating tendency to come off as sneering, Alberta Report (and its various spawn) engaged primarily in the politics of spitefulness. His attitudes are echoed by Ezra Levant, Ted Morton and Stephen Harper - not exactly a crowd I hold in high esteem.

In the Sun publications, Ted Byfield's latest column decries the notion of being nice.

Sez Ted:

"Niceness," in other words, is not the same as "goodness."

You could make a point of being "nice" to somebody, while bilking him of every nickel he possessed.

In the classic straw-man argument style that the right-wingnut crowd so often relies upon, Ted puts forward a completely invalid set of suppositions, and then knocks it down with this:

By contrast, the guy who told you that you drank too much last night and made an ass of yourself certainly wasn't being nice to you.

But maybe he was being good to you, by telling you exactly what you needed to hear.

In fact, niceness could be a mask for wickedness.

Coming from a man who has argued for the death penalty, going to war in Iraq and vehemently against civil rights for people, I think Ted needs to re-examine his lexicon.

Someone who creates a facade of being "nice" about something and then does something malicious is _NOT_ being nice - they are being, politely, shysters.

However, Ted Byfield doesn't see this. Instead, he argues that being a generally miserable, unpleasant person towards others is in fact "doing others a favour" - and coming from the conservative side of the spectrum as he does, this shouldn't come as a surprise. It strikes me that as Dana over at The Galloping Beaver observes, there is an underlying nastiness in today's "conservative" world that few have come to fully appreciate.

Ted Byfield railing against "niceness" only serves to underscore that suspicion.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Hypocrisy of Neo/Theo-Conservatives

I was thinking about the squawking over hate crimes legislation in the United States, and how the right wingnuts are crying that it's an unreasonable infringement on their rights to spew forth vengeful, spiteful ignorance and promote marginalization and discrimination against GLBT citizens.

Meanwhile, these same people applaud laws that allow for detention without charge, kangaroo court trials and the like if you're one of those swarthy, dark skinned types that happen to worship Allah instead of Christ.

(Of course, they conveniently don't call people like Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh or Theodore Kaczynski terrorists - no, they are dubbed "insane", "deluded" or possibly "bomber", but only rarely does someone attach the word terrorist to their acts.)

Instead, they capture and imprison people like Omar Khadr for the simple crime of being in a war zone, and charge him (after multiple years of detention without charge) with being an "illegal combatant". (Or, if you are Vic Toews, you want to throw people in prison for simply being accused of a crime - especially if you ever were caught before...)

When it comes to giving the government unrestrained powers of detention, arrest and surveillance, these people dredge up some bogeyman and tell us that if we don't comply with their demands, that some vast evil is going to happen to us. They tell us that they need to suspend basic rights, such as habeas corpus, or that the government has to be able to monitor our telecommunications, just to make sure we aren't being seditious.

Meanwhile, ask them to treat fellow, law-abiding citizens with respect and dignity, and they howl that their precious "freedom of religion" is being stepped on. I won't go into the theological contortions that their arguments rest upon here - suffice it to say that I think the arguments themselves are fundamentally based upon false premises.

But, we must ask what is the greater infringement and danger to the body of society. Is it truly that unreasonable to ask those of a faith community to keep their beliefs within that community? Must they foist them upon the rest of society whether we subscribe to them or not?

Or, perhaps the greater harm is done when we allow our politicians to break the very social contracts that formed the foundation of what is now called Western Democracy? Is there ever a valid reason to turn over to the government the unfettered right not only to monitor and oversee our lives, but to detain innocent people based solely upon their name, or some unprovable "suspicion" that they may act in malice towards others?

I argue that the latter is far more dangerous to our collective freedoms. Not only have we turned over to the government the right to detain citizens without trial, but without charge too. We have handed the government the right to invade our lives by monitoring our communications. I do not argue against law and order, but rather I argue that law and order must exist to ameliorate the lot of all citizens, not to restrict it at the whim of some politician who fears that we may figure out how inept they really are.

While complaining about laws which protect an otherwise law abiding part of the population from the predations of those who turn to the language of hatred and discrimination (the same legal foundations that protect others on the basis of race, gender or religion), the Neo/Theo-Con crowd turns about and accepts a degree of government invasion into every citizen's lives (including their own) that would make George Orwell shudder.

It Took Canada Nearly 10 Years pass legislation that included GLBT citizens as recognizable targets of Hate Crimes.

A similar piece of legislation just passed through the House of Representatives in the States. Just as quickly, we see the oh-so-wise leader of the nation to our south Threaten to veto it if it reaches his desk.

The White House says there is no need for the expanded bill because state and local laws already cover the crimes it addresses, and there is no need for federal enforcement.

This is about the flimsiest rationale possible. Non-Federal law in the United States is highly fragmented, with some acts being offenses in one county, and perfectly legal in the next. Why should GLBT citizens have to worry about whether they are in a locale that has protections for them or not?

I'm pretty sure that Bush's rationalization here is just enough to keep his opponents from criticizing him for breaking the Church/State separation mandated by the US Constitution, and at the same time play to his base of religious hardliners who claim that such a bill will unreasonably constrain their "freedom of speech". (How the heck anyone can justify promoting hatred as "freedom of speech" is beyond my meagre ability to comprehend)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Harper and Mulroney

On tonight's news, there was considerable discussion about today's testimony at the Air India Inquiry. The inquiry, about an event now 25 years in the past, seems somewhat irrelevant today. However, the discussion about negligence and other topics related to some of the going's on led me to wonder just who was Canada's Prime Minister at the time. Turns out it was Brian Mulroney's first term.

Okay, big deal - but reading the Wikipedia article's discussion of Mulroney's First Term made an interesting observation:

On paper, Mulroney entered office in a very formidable position. No other party crossed the fifty-seat mark, and he could have theoretically taken Canada in any direction he wanted. His position was far more precarious than his parlimentary majority would suggest. His support was based on a "grand coalition" of socially conservative populists from the West, Quebec nationalists, and fiscal conservatives from Ontario and the Maritimes.

Not surprisingly, such diverse interests became difficult for Mulroney to juggle. He attempted to appeal to the western provinces, whose earlier support had been critical to his electoral success, by cancelling the National Energy Program and including a large number of Westerners in his Cabinet (including Clark as minister of external affairs). However, he was not completely successful, even aside from economic and constitutional policy. For example, he moved CF-18 servicing from Manitoba to Quebec in 1986, even though the Manitoba bid was lower and the company was better rated,[10] and received death threats for exerting pressure on Manitoba over French language rights.[11]

Intriguingly, it reflects significant aspects of Stephen Harper's support today. His party is substantially supported from the West by "Social Conservatives", and it is not at all clear that he enjoys a great deal of support outside of that very narrow group in the West - how much support does Harper enjoy in Central Canada, or the Maritimes? The polls to date suggest that his support is shakey at best, and possibly in trouble as his government continues to fumble key issues for Canadians.

Although Harper regularly consults with Mulroney for guidance, and invokes his gravelly ghost quite frequently, I suspect that he only hears "what he wants to hear", and ignores the more important and awkward advice that he may receive.

One can only hope that Canadians will wake up to the reality that Harper is neither able, or ready to lead a majority government competently. He is more likely to do so in a small, spiteful way.

While I don't especially care for Danny Williams' grandstanding performances, he's got a few things right:

Williams broadened his assault on Harper, and reminded the businesspeople in his audience of recent issues that have dogged the Conservatives.

"Over the last month, I have cautioned the Canadian people about the trustworthiness of this government, and their propensity to provide misleading and inaccurate information to further their own interests," Williams said.

"Government's handling of the Afghanistan detainees situation confirms this, as well as the recent words of [climate change activist] Al Gore."


Waitasec...Just Whose Idea of Xtian Are We Talking About?

On CBC this morning, I heard that the Rocky View School District is starting a "Christian Program" this fall.

Presumably, this is, much like the various linguistic immersion programs, an optional program.

However, there are significant differences between linguistic programs such as French or Spanish Immersion and a religiously centered program.

While the argument over which dialect of French should be taught (Quebecois or Parisienne) can be heated enough (it certainly was when I was in school), religion is another thing altogether.

Just whose particular notion of "Christian" is going to be taught in the proposed program? Christianity is hardly a monolith of consistent belief - it is like any other large faith community significantly fractured in regards to the interpretation and practices surrounding scripture. From Catholicism to the United Church, and an assortment of literalist sects in various areas, there is only a limited degree of commonality in how scripture is interpreted. One has to wonder just whose idea of 'Christian' is going to be taught in this program, and what kind of oversight will be in place?

One could imagine that we have teachers spouting Ken Ham's uniquely broken view of Creation? Or teaching some particularly harsh notion of "Christian Values" (whatever that happens to mean to the individual)

... and if we do, how do we deal with it?

Religious community is naturally exclusive of others. It's not intentional, nor is it necessarily malicious. The fact is that faith communities tend to attract "like-minded" individuals to them, and will push away those who differ too much or challenge the "local orthodoxy". I worry that the program being proposed in Rocky View is essentially saying to non-Christian students "go away, we don't want your 'kind' here".

Yes, I recognize that Alberta has a taxpayer-funded Catholic school system, but there are specific historical reasons unique to the constitution of Alberta as a province that put that in place as recognition for the contribution of the Catholic Church during the early stages of settling the region.

As is pointed out, the other options are private schools which are expensive. These do not bother me particularly - if you want such a specialized education, then that's the price you pay. Calgary has a long tradition of private schools that are focused on specific faith communities, and I do not have a big problem with those schools - the parents are paying the bill for something that is specialized to their particular philosophy of life, and that's fine with me. (I suspect I might express some concern over a neo-Nazi private school, but that's a hypothetical scenario)

However, I object on general principle to the use of taxpayer funds to promote a specific faith. Faith, unlike language, is deeply personal for many, and the creation of a publicly funded "faith-based" program like this is deeply unsettling. The sense of "Otherness" that pervades interactions between students attending our Public/Catholic schools is bad enough, without expanding it further. (In some respects, I wonder at times about dismantling the two school systems and rationalizing them - on that basis alone)

Do I argue that there is no place for religion in our public schools? No. I merely argue that such education should be comparative in nature - exposing the students to the breadth of faiths in the world, rather than narrowly focusing upon a single faith, or a single sect of a faith. Like discipline and morality, I believe firmly that faith is a topic that is a primary responsibility for parents to engage their children in a manner that is suitable.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dear General Hillier: STFU

Cripes, the more Hillier opens his yap lately, the more he sounds like a propaganda shill for the Cons.

Today, Canadians were treated to the General lecturing us about how the detainee issue is detracting from "all the good things" the troops are doing.

Allow me to make something very clear - this critic is not annoyed with the job that the troops on the ground are doing. They are carrying out a difficult job in even more difficult circumstances.

Having said that, those troops are carrying out orders and directives created by the General himself, at the behest of his political masters. When those orders and directives cheapen Canada's name on the world stage, it is my duty as a Canadian to stand up and be heard.

While Hillier complains that we aren't "looking at the good bits" of the picture, the fact is that it's not the "good bits" of the story that Canadians should be concerned about. It is policies and agreements signed on our behalf by a General who seems more interested in lecturing us on "supporting the troops" than taking ownership of questionable decisions that he has made, and that the Harper government is ill-disposed to correct.

We, as Canadian citizens, must ask ourselves repeatedly whether this is the kind of government that we want? Do we want one where challenging government policy is frowned upon? A government that actively uses its armed enforcement agencies as propaganda tools, with the implicit threat of force should we have the temerity to disagree with them?

Shorter PMSH: Look ... Over There !

Our Conservative government is engaging in the politics of deflection. Generally, whenever asked a question in the House of Commons, Tory ministers (including PMSH) will slavishly repeat whatever discredited talking point that the PMO has concocted and then turn around and accuse the opposition of being hypocrites.

Yesterday, PMSH decided that rather than deal with the incompetence that riddles his cabinet, he'd attack Stephane Dion for some daft thing that Elizabeth May said in a speech. So, apparently, something said in a speech is more important than a government's policies in PMSH's mind. The "do-nothing" climate plan, a budget that sells Canada's businesses out, or ongoing bungling of our engagement in Afghanistan are not as important as a pithy quote from a party leader who isn't even sitting in the House? I don't think so.

In related news, the Cons are cranking up the propaganda machine. The headlines this morning are riddled with obvious attempts to deflect our attention from the ineptitude in Ottawa:

Hillier takes Stanley Cup, former NHL'ers to Afghanistan

- Gotta make us feel good about sending our young men and women to a war zone, don'cha know!

MacKay will look into spying reports

- Ooooh the menace of the "Other" among us - they must be up to no good!

Meanwhile, our 'gnu Government' hopes we'll ignore things like this:

Backlog, quality concerns plague RCMP DNA testing: AG

(Remember, PMSH tried valiantly to protect the lying scumbag Zaccardelli recently, and is obviously loathe to actually insist that the RCMP clean their house - after all, his new law regime will require more police, and ferreting out the useless and inefficient - or corrupt - would reduce the force somewhat.

Hillier pushed flawed detainee plan

Or perhaps, Gen. Hillier should be reviewed by parliamentary committee? I know that Harper and Hillier seem to get on rather well these days, but one has to question the competence of a military leader that doesn't even seem to consider that Foreign Affairs might be appropriately involved in international negotiations.

However, it does seem that some cracks are appearing in the veneer of Conservative "unity" under Harper, as the letter that Garth Turner published yesterday shows:

But the reason that you seem stalled is that people like me are mortified to tell anyone, even pollsters, that I support you. I just don’t want anyone to think I’m as mean and nasty as all of those who claim to speak for our side.

That last quote is somewhat disturbing as it indicates that the person would still vote for Harper, but when your own rank and file membership are expressing discomfort with the approach and positions you are adopting, that's not good news.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Gee ... This Comes As No Surprise

It appears that our friends in the US State Department have been measuring the levels of "terrorist" activity for some time. Last year terrorist attacks increased overall.

One can only boggle at the Bush Administration's continued "War on Terror"(tm), both in the ridiculous insistence that they are "being effective", and unwillingness to face the cold reality of the situation.

Even if we accept the silly premise that invading Iraq had anything to do at all with "fighting terrorists", one would have to surmise that in fact invading Iraq did nothing to actually engage the terrorists per se. In fact, one might go so far as to argue that war in Iraq - and in Afghanistan - has been the catalyst in the increases in the levels of "terrorist" activity in the world.

And just to tie this back around to our oh-so-snide government in Canada, just how many "friends" do you think we are winning in Afghanistan by turning over detainees to keepers who are engaging in torture?

Frankly, I'm beginning to suspect that the government taking form in Afghanistan is going to turn out to be every bit as despotic as the Taliban - but they'll just be "western supported" despots instead of locally grown.

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...