Sunday, February 28, 2010

Own the Gold

The United States can have all the silver and bronze that it wants. When it comes to gold, Canada owned the podium.

Congratulations to Canada's hockey teams, as well as all of its victorious athletes, and any who were privileged enough to proudly represent their country in the first place

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Frozen Diplomacy

In 1974, while Canada was embroiled in the second of a pair of intense Summit Series against the Soviet Union, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds travelled to China on a national tour of their own, in the style of the many Soviet teams that would tour Canada during the 1970s and '80s.

Playing against a variety of club teams across communist China, the Thunderbirds would encounter a very different atmosphere than that confronted by Canada's teams playing in the Soviet Union. While Canadian players touring the Soviet Union were subjected to late night phone calls and stolen steak, Canadian players touring China were treated to friendship ceremonies and tours of hydroelectric dams.

In the years since the height of the Canada-Soviet rivalry in the 1980s, Soviet hockey became known for the intensity of their training regimens. Originally designed by Anatoli Tarasov and later obsessively perfected by Viktor Tikhonov, Soviet hockey players would be isolated from the outside world, and forced to live around their training schedules.

During the 1970s, the Chinese followed a training regimen even more intense than the Soviet schedule, in some cases being allowed a mere five days' break every two years.

But while the Soviet Union had fewer than 100 artificial ice rinks by the 1990s, China started even further behind, and the state of their hockey in the 1970s -- despite their emulation of Soviet methods -- clearly shows it.

Today, Chinese hockey has come a long way. In 2008, the same year that China hosted the World Women's Hockey Championships, the Chinese National Women's team managed to post a win over the traditionally-dominant University of Alberta Pandas. (In 2003, the tournament was scheduled to be held in Beijing, but was cancelled due to SARS.)

Thunderbirds in China is a stark reminder of the diplomatic power of sport, and a reminder that despite the euphoria of the Canadian wins over the Soviet Union in the 72 Summit Series, and in the 76, 84 and 87 Canada Cups, the greatest benefits of Canada's athetlic competitions with its adversaries have always been diplomatic benefits. (The famed 1987 punch-up in Piestany being a clear exemption.)

The Rabid Hysterics of the Lunatic Left

Antonia Zerbisias loses the tune in her own hysterics

If anything can definitively be said about Antonia Zerbisias, it is this: as far as being a "Living columnist" (whose work tends to appear in the lifestyles section of the Toronto Star) goes, she makes a really poor political commentator.

Among Canada's media commentators, Zerbisias may seem like a bit of an oddity -- a representative of Canada's left-wing lunatic fringe. A darling of this lunatic fringe that adores it just as much as it adores her, the Star has seemingly written her carte blanche to burden it's Lifestyles section with some of the worst attempts at punditry in print.

As Chris Selley of the National Post points out, Zerbisias recently wrote a column fuming over a recent report suggesting that Canada's gender gap is widening.

"We've been going backwards under the theocratic Conservative caucus," Zerbisias seethed. "As a scathing report released Monday by a coalition of feminist and labour groups details, since the Conservatives occupied Parliament Hill in 2006, Canada's standing in the World Economic Forum's annual Gender Gap rankings has nosedived."

"We went from 14th place four years ago to 31st in 2008, with a slight improvement to 25th last year," she complained.

As it turns out, more is laughable about Zerbisias' column than merely her vapid accusation of theocracy -- an epithet lobbed at the Conservative Party by many like Zerbisias, but one for which they can seldom offer a credible defense.

As it turns out, the report excludes any areas in which women enjoy better results than men -- such as, for example, life expectancy, and draws some very curious conclusions regarding topics like post-secondary education.

But the most humiliating slip for Zerbisias is that despite the fact that she insists women have suffered under the Conservative government, Canada's 2009 equality score was actually a miniscule improvement over 2006's.

Moreover, Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond suggests that women have been "going backwards" for a lot longer than the past your years (despite that they seemingly haven't gone backwards over that time period).

"Canadian women have lost a lot of ground in the past 15 years," Hammond said.

So, if Canadian women have been suffering increased rates of inequality, it's been for much longer than the tenure of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In fact, it began shortly into the tenure of Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

Yet somehow the alleged decrease in women's equality has only become a matter of outrage over the past four years.

There's a reason for this bizarre stance: Zerbisias shares with Heather Mallick (her CBC counterpart who has so disgraced herself that she's largely been deemed unpublishable even at those hallowed grounds) an irrational hatred of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party that can be satisfied by no accusation of extremism, no matter how comical or counter-factual.

It's one of the reasons why, as a political pundit, Antonia Zerbisias would make a really good lifestyles columnist -- if only she'd stick to her strong points.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Labour's Election Strategy: Obama!

Labour Party wants to emulate Obama campaign

Looking ahead to what still seems like defeat at the polls in 2010 -- even if the David Cameron Conservative party has slipped in recent months -- the Labour Party seems to have decided to emulate the Barack Obama campaign.

Fresh off a trip to the United States, Labour Party election coordinator Douglas Alexander is ready to hand the wisdom of the Democrat campaign team down to his own troops.

"They said this is about to peer-to-peer communication – the internet just gives you new ways of having that conversation," Alexander recounted. "What people on the ground said to one another was just as important, if not more important, than what Obama said himself. We could not put a price on it — regular people briefing Obama's message to their neighbours, serving as our ambassadors, block by block, throughout the battleground states."

This means that the Labour Party will have to use communications technology in a way they never have before.

"Historically Labour has used tech­nology as a form of control," Alexander continued. "We would use ­pagers and faxes to send out ­messages telling people what line to take. The key learning from the Obama campaign is to use technology to empower your supporters."

But Labour will have to battle about an impending cynicism in the electorate just as much as against their Tory rivals.

They'll also strive to find new ways to by-pass what Alexander refers to as the "filer point" of British households -- the methods that British families use to keep unwanted messages outside of their home.

"Our judgment is the collapse in trust to the political class means the bar of ­credibility and authenticity is higher than in previous campaigns, so some of the ­traditional methods of communication are just inappropriate."

This clearly places a premium on Labour's message being spread from person to person, as opposed to relying on traditional forms of messaging to get the word out -- not that Obama didn't do this very well.

"Obama also had lots and lots of money. He bought a 15 minute commercial in the Superbowl. He was also a charismatic rock star on which people projected their hopes for the future."

And therein lies the rub for the Labour Party: whatever one may consider him to be, he unequivocally is not a rock star. He's not even close. In fact, GQ Magazine named Brown its worst-dressed man of 2009 (not that such things should carry much import).

Barack Obama was able to become a centralizing force around a broad variety of left-wing policy points -- so much so that he never had to make any concrete promises on many of them in order to excite the devotion of advocates for those policies.

If Obama could be described as a "blank screen", Brown has been described by many as an "empty shell". His lack of vision makes it difficult for many among his target demographic to invest a surplus of faith in him.

He seen as an individual who is as likely to intimidate his staff as to inspire his followers.

If Douglas Alexander and the Labour Party want to run an Obama-styled campaign, they may need to run a Trudeau-esque campaign with the leader in deep recluse.

It's about the only way they're likely to pull off such a feat. It helps that Alexander seems to speak the language.

"Change is a process: future is a destination," Alexander said. "People want a sense of hope, possibility and pride about Britain."

Then again, it doesn't help the Labour campaign if their election coordinator can speak the language if their leader can't.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Coalition, Coalition, Over and Over Again

Some pipe dreams never die

Writing in an open letter to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP leader Jack Layton and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, political scientists Philip Resnick and Reg Whitaker make two things very clear: they don't like Prime Minister Stephen Harper very much, and they like the idea of a coalition very much.

"The split in opposition to the Conservatives ... plays beautifully into Stephen Harper's hands," the letter reads.

Resnick and Whitaker insist that the defeat of the Harper government is necessary "for a whole variety of reasons -- its contempt for Parliament and for an independent civil service, its poor environmental policy, its gutting of cultural programs, its weakening of Canada's international position as a respected middle power."

(Somehow the detail that the previous Liberal government politicized the civil service, ignored the Kyoto commitments, and largely earned Canada a reputation as an international do-nothing state escapes Resnick and Whitaker.)

The two note that between a majority of Canadians who (allegedly) cast their votes for centre-left candidates and parties, a semi-consistent 10% vote in favour of the Green Party, and a resurgence of the NDP, they feel that the stage has been set for a victory by a coalition of left-wing parties, wherein each party would run platforms centred around a core of common policies.

But Whitaker's and Resnick's plan is found wanting on a number of points. First off, it falsely assumes that the NDP and Green Party would have a reliable progressive partner in the Liberal Party. Most Canadians should remember full well what happened the last time the Liberals came to power during a recession -- billions of dollars in cuts to health care, education, and the download of federal debt onto the provinces through cuts to transfer payments.

Secondly, it falsely assumes that the Liberal Party's own considerable conservative wing would willingly cast ballots for the NDP or Green Party. It's much more likely that supporters of Liberals like Tom Wappel -- just to name only one -- would vote for their local Conservative candidate long before voting for the Greens or New Democrats.

Even the spectre of a coalition would almost certainly cause them to think twice avout voting in favour of the arrangement.

Thirdly, it falsely assumes that NDP and Green supporters would vote for a Liberal candidate. Considering that such voters will remember full well what the Liberals did in 1993, that isn't likely to happen -- or, at the very least, shouldn't be.

In any coalition government, the lion's share of the power will be held by the largest partner. In the arrangement that Resnick and Whitaker recommend, that will certainly be the Liberal Party -- a party with a well-known history of waffling on its expressed left-wing principles.

About the only thing that Resnick and Whitaker actually have right is the idea of omitting the Bloc Quebecois from the arrangement: a Liberal/NDP/Green coalition won't earn the trust of Canadians if they're willing to mortgage the government to separatists in order to gain power.

If Reg Whitaker's and Philip Resnick's open letter establishes much of anything in terms of an idea, it's that individuals like themselves -- whether out of ideological rigidity, pure naivete, or (most likely) a combination of the two -- simply won't let this idea of a coalition government go.

It's a fantasy -- a pipe dream -- but one wouldn't know it from how stridently they advocate it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Marilyn Waring's Shadow Economics

Marilyn Waring is a former New Zealand MP who is a known advocate for "female human rights".

Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics is a film that outlines Waring's views on economics, outlining what could be considered an early version of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

In fact, Waring's description of disaster economics sound a great deal like Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) from the Fifth Element.

In the film, Zorg -- a weapons dealer -- insists that his business actually facilitates the creation of life. He notes that when something is destroyed, it creates work for thousands of people, and creates a use for millions of dollars in capital.

How he imagines he would profit from the destruction of planet Earth by the Shadow entity.

Early in Who's Counting, Waring notes that the economic consequences of many disasters -- such as the wreck of the Exxon Valdez -- are generally assessed by how much productivity they produce. Certainly, the environmental consequences are considered separately, but they aren't tabulated against the Gross Domestic Product of the country in which such disasters occur.

Moreover, it's ideas like this that lend themselves to considering those responsible for operating nuclear aresenals -- perhaps as close as the world today offers to the Fifth Element's Shadow entity -- as economically active.

If GDP alone is used to decide what the economic value of a particular country is, externalities such as those imposed by the Valdez disaster, simply do not count economically.

It's ideas such as this that lend themselves so effectively to Klein's shock doctrine -- the argument that free-market capitalists have helped provoke disasters so that they may benefit from the results, both in terms of profit-making opportunities, and in terms of political influence.

Klein argues that because the externalities of such acts -- environmental, human, and social costs -- aren't counted against GDP, those who provoke such crises (or simply take advantage of them) can often argue that their policies have been an overwhelming success.

(On some occasions, they very clearly have not been able to make such claims.)

Waring argues that the prime currency of economics shouldn't be dollars, yen, or pounds sterling, but rather time. Her argument doesn't really answer the question of how, precisely, one could assign value to time.

But, then again, this is a hurdle that such an argument may not even necessarily need to answer. After all, economics doesn't necessarily give objective value to anything. Instead, the value of goods, services, and even time is judged by the value it can attract in the open market.

In other words, value is determined by whatever the market is willing to pay -- which, in and of itself, is a subjective value statement.

In that particular sense, the economic value of the Exxon Valdez (unless one considers the environmental and human costs of the disaster) was determined according to what those involved were willing to pay to clean it up. Likewise, the economic value of the recent earthquake in Haiti is determined by how much the rest of the world is willing to spend to repair the damage.

When the damage that would result from such events is total (as with the arrival of the Shadow entity, or global nuclear war), one should certainly reconsider the assessed economic value of such activities.

Economics seems to have yet to do this.

This certainly makes economics a cold and hard social science. Whether Waring's conception of using time as a currency would make a difference is difficult to determine. (After all, they say time is money.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

They're Just Out of Touch With Canadians

Joyce Arthur perplexed by rejection of abortion-centred controversy-mongering

Writing on the arch-leftist website Straight Goods, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada director Joyce Arthur just doesn't seem to understand why so many Canadians would object to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's attempt to stir up abortion-centred controversy in the face of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's call for a global maternal health care strategy.

"A bewildering firestorm of media controversy has erupted over Michael Ignatieff's strong and principled statements about women's reproductive rights overseas," Arthur complains. "The Liberal Opposition Leader has been urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper not to exclude abortion and contraception from his surprising plan to become a champion of maternal and child health in developing countries."

Arthur does go so far as to admit that Ignatieff is simply playing dirty politics, but then goes on the demonstrate that she doesn't understand even the idea of "maternal and child health".

"Ignatieff is a politician, and bringing up abortion is no doubt a political strategy in part — but it's also the absolutely right thing for him to do," Arthur insists. "It is impossible to tackle maternal health without addressing unsafe abortion, which is a leading cause of maternal death in most developing countries."

Harper recently called for the wealthy countries of the world to impliment a maternal and child health strategy, aimed at reducing the infant mortality rate in developing countries. (For the record, criticisms that the Canadian government isn't doing enough to reduce the infant mortality rates in aboriginal communities is entirely legitimate.)

A maternal health strategy implies that the women involved are mothers. A child health strategy suggests that those involved are children.

Therein lies the rub for Canada's pro-abortion lobby, of which Arthur is a central leader. After all, it's the disinformation tactic of the pro-abortion lobby that a woman is not a mother until after she has given birth, and that a child is not a child until after it has been born.

If Arthur wants to insist that abortion should be part of Harper's maternal and child health strategy, then perhaps it's time for her and her cohorts to admit that pregnant women are mothers even before giving birth, and that unborn children are more than simply "a clump of cells".

Moreover, Harper and company are only doing what Arthur and her cohorts have long suggested that they do -- focusing on the already born.

Take, for example, the woman pictured left. From the look on her face, one can tell that she thinks she's being quite clever.

But it's simply astounding how quickly the pro-abortion movement's talking points can shift once they think that government policy isn't doing enough to impliment their ideological agenda, then suddenly the government is not supposed to focus on those who have already been born.

Suddenly, they're supposed to focus on those who have not been born, and impliment a global health strategy that would make it easier for their mothers to abort them.

Moreover, Arthur doesn't seem to understand one basic truth about Canadians: their preference that their government pursue foreign policies that are constructive rather than destructive.

Canadians would much prefer that their government impliment a strategy that will care for human life, rather than aid in the termination of it.

Most of the talking points that Arthur covers in her article don't in any way apply to a maternal and child health program. But Arthur is precisely right about one thing: the destructive influence of illegal abortions -- often referred to as back-alley abortions. This would be much more welcome within a more general women's health care strategy -- something that the Canadian government should pursue if they can impliment a successful maternal and child health strategy.

But Joyce Arthur's obsession with the topic of abortion seems to demand that the government impliment her pro-abortion agenda in all quarters, and at all costs.

While the majority of Canadians continue to favour legalized abortion, only Arthur and her cronies truly believe that abortion should be outright promoted.

That is what demonstrates that they're out of touch with Canadians.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Gold Medal in Hysteria

Heather Mallick comes spectacularly unhinged

Over time, Heather Mallick has become something of the Jerry Springer of Canadian political commentary: one simply never knows what she's about to do next.

A recent op/ed published on the UTV website is Mallick at her lunatic best. It's so incoherent that one's almost shocked it never made it onto the CBC website.

This time, it seems the provoking factor for Mallick's insanity is none other than the Olympic games. It's driven her into hysterics over Stephen Harper:
"Whenever Stephen Harper's big boxy grey-lidded head appeared on screen, with its wet smile (note on his hand: Try to grin like normal human), I would rant at anyone within hearing, ie, no one. 'He's Bush with a mean streak, he's a Slytherin , we only gave him a minority government in a prolonged fit of pique.' (Then I'd say it in French, out of bilingual idealism.)"
Over trees:
"The event gave the impression that Canadians spent their time posing on pointy mountains, paddling navy blue lakes and staring at evergreens (anti-deciduous to an extent that verged on the racist, I say), surrounded by snow snow snow, more snow than air. And we honour the wisdom of our aboriginal peoples, whose land we, well, stole but they have forgiven us and dance at our Olympic ceremonies."
And nature in general, and aboriginal affairs:
"The event gave the impression that Canadians spent their time posing on pointy mountains, paddling navy blue lakes and staring at evergreens (anti-deciduous to an extent that verged on the racist, I say), surrounded by snow snow snow, more snow than air. And we honour the wisdom of our aboriginal peoples, whose land we, well, stole but they have forgiven us and dance at our Olympic ceremonies."
Apparently, it's unthinkable to Mallick that the Olympic opening ceremonies should feature an appearance by the Prime Minister, the wrong type of trees, and aboriginals who don't hold historical grudges.

Apparently, the presence of these things made for a terrible opening ceremonies.

"I spent it sobbing," Mallick writes. "Thanks, Olympic organisers!"

Mallick then goes on to implore the organizers of the London 2012 Olympics to do better.

One can't help but wonder what Mallick would have preferred that the ceremony be wrought with comparisons of Sarah Palin to porn stars. Perhaps she'd have liked to see the Prime Minister covered in green slime as a follow-up.

Considering that Heather Mallick so prefers Britain that she now publishes her embarrassing attempts at political commentary there, one can only hope that she'll enjoy the London 2012 opening ceremonies enough that she'll decide to stay and frighten small children there as opposed to doing it here in Canada.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February 2010 Book Cub Slection: Gretzky to Lemieux, Ed Willes

Remembering one of Canada's greatest sporting triumphs

With Canada set to begin its quest for Olympic gold in men's hockey, it seems entirely fitting that February's Nexus of Assholery book club selection is Grezky to Lemieux: The Story of the 1987 Canada Cup.

The 1987 Canada Cup is remembered by many to be among the best hockey ever played. It featured a star-laden Team Canada line-up, led by Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mark Messier, confronting the famed KLM line of Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov.

The tournament boiled down to a nail-biting three-game showdown between Canada and the Soviet Union, with two of the games going to overtime, including an epic double-overtime game two.

The '87 Canada Cup wasn't simply a triumph of Canadian hockey over its once-dominant Soviet counterpart: it was also the nail in the coffin of Soviet dominance. By late 1987, the futility of the Soviet squad at Piestany, Czechoslovakia, signal the rise of a new era of international parity, with countries like Sweden, Finland and the United States establishing themselves as legitimate hockey powers on the world stage.

The '87 Canada Cup was a game-breaker for international hockey. Now, in order to regain Olympic gold, Canada will need to re-capture the inspiration harnessed by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in order to triumph against not one or two, but three other strong contenders for Olympic primacy.

No, Joe, You Did That Yourself

Joe Wurzelbacher blames John McCain for his "screwed up" life

Many of those following the 2008 Presidential Election found themselves resigned to sheer annoyance every time the spectre of "Joe the Plumber" popped up in the discussion.

Joe the Plumber, whose real name is Joe Wurzelbacher, was picked out of a debate audience by John McCain.

Following that brief brush with greatness, Joe the Plumber simply refused to go away quietly, becoming something of a conservative media darling, despite the fact that he repeatedly showed himself to have nothing to contribute.

Apparently, all the attention has made Wurzelbacher's life somewhat uncomfortable, and he blames McCain for it.

“I don’t owe him shit. He really screwed my life up, is how I look at it,” Wurzelbacher complained. “McCain was trying to use me. I happened to be the face of middle Americans. It was a ploy.”

The thing that Wurzelbacher seems to forget to mention is that he wasn't the "face of middle Americans" until McCain elevated him into the national spotlight.

Furthermore, McCain didn't force Wurzelbacher into his ill-fated role with Pajamas Media, in which he demonstrated precisely how ill-suited to journalism he is.

If Joe Wurzelbacher's life has been screwed up by his public prominence as Joe the Plumber, it's Wurzelbacher himself who screwed it up. He certainly did more than enough to embarrass himself since being hoisted into the media spotlight.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stephen Harper's Senate Master Plan

Harper may democratize Senate by making it more controversial than ever

As any political thinker who has ventured anywhere near the topic of the Senate knows, Senate reform is an extremely tumultuous topic in Canada.

With Prime Minister Stephen Harper's governing Conservative Party finally taking control of the Senate, it's about to get much worse.

Part of the increased controversy will have to do with Senate committees, and how Harper may intend to use them. Where these committees were once obstacles to Senate reform, for example, they will now become tools of it -- at least according to Tom Flanagan.

"When the two reform bills are reintroduced –- one to limit senatorial terms to eight years, the other to provide for consultative elections –- the government doesn't have to worry about the bills being held up in committees," Flanagan wrote in a recent op/ed in the Globe and Mail.

Flanagan notes that Harper could even appoint four to eight additional Senators (the Constitution actually allows for this) in order to claim an outright majority in the upper chamber, as opposed to a slim plurality.

Flanagan was optimistically cautious about this potential move.

"Invoking Section 26 would be risky, because the opposition would paint it as another tricky power play," Flanagan warned. "But it would also showcase Mr Harper at his strategic best – using power politics not just to confound the opposition but to democratize the Canadian Constitution."

Flanagan's plan also involves something mused about by Chantal Hebert: legislating from the Senate, even on the matter of Senate reform.

Harper could legislate on almost any matter from the Senate -- exempting financial matters.

"In the future, Harper will also have the leisure to use the Senate as a safe launching pad for legislative initiatives that might be dead on arrival with the opposition majority in the Commons," Hebert wrote in a recent op/ed in the Toronto Star. "Both houses would still have to concur for those to become law but it could be good politics to use the more hospitable Senate to showcase them, especially in the lead-up to an election."

Nothing would provoke Harper's critics to declare his use of the Senate to be undemocratic -- using the appointed Senate to legislate, and transforming the elected House of Commons into a chamber of sober second thought.

But Harper's answer to those charges would be simple: if the Senate is undemocratic, then let us democratize it.

After all, in an elected Senate -- even one elected through "consultative" elections -- majorities would prove just as elusive as in the House of Commons.

"A look at the fractured federal political landscape suggests that, far from acquiring more control over the legislative destiny of its agenda, the Conservative government would almost certainly have had to give some up," Hebert wrote. "Sheer logic dictates that achieving a government majority in an elected Senate would be no easier than securing one in the Commons, and certainly harder than crafting one through patronage appointments."

If the amount of power that Harper himself would surrender, as well as the influence that could be lost by Western Canada, is at all dissuasive to Harper, he doesn't seem to be showing it. He continues to promise Senate reform.

Then again, the key part of promising such reforms is delivering on them. If Stephen Harper's Master Senate Plan is anything like that hinted at by Tom Flanagan and Chantal Hebert, the proof will be in the pudding -- and Canadians won't taste it until it's delivered.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Religious Intolerance is Not Leadership

Giving in to bigotry is a failure of leadership

Writing in the Metropolitan, Dan Delmar calls out many of the leaders in Canada who have opposed a ban on the burqa, the controversial garment worn by many Muslim women.

"The burqa (or niqab) is possibly the most offensive garment on the face of the earth: A head-to-toe covering worn by women who practice an extremist and some say perverted form of Islam," Delmar writes. "It is a symbol of repression, misogyny and, as French president Nicholas Sarkozy said last year, 'debasement.' It should not be tolerated in any civilized society."

Whether or not a woman wears the burqa voluntarily doesn't seem to matter much to Delmar.

"We have somehow become a nation of nations, and as such, it is difficult to find common ground, shared values," Delmar continues. "Only a small minority of Muslim women in this country may be forced by their husbands to drape themselves in these sheets; some are coerced by family; some, at the very least, have been raised with a warped sense of obligation to a tyrannical subculture. But are we being true to ourselves as Canadians if we accept this type of behavior? Do we see these tragic figures and look the other way out of indifference or a misplaced commitment to multiculturalism?"

Delmar notes that rejection of a burqa ban is one of the issues that Conservative and Liberal politicians alike reject.

"Canadian women have the right, if they want, to wear a burka," said Liberal MP Marlene Jennings. "As a woman, clearly it makes me a little uncomfortable. But then there are other practices that are perfectly legal and acceptable that make people uncomfortable."

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has also outright rejected the very notion of a burqa ban.

Delmar doesn't like this -- he insists that it's a dereliction of leadership.

"Montreal Liberal Marlene Jennings was one of the first MPs to rebuff calls for a burqa ban, saying that it would not survive a constitutional challenge though she herself – as a feminist – finds it offensive," Delmar continues. "Her leader, Michael Ignatieff, was also quick to abandon the idea of new legislation, as was Conservative Justice Minister Rob Nicholson."

"A medieval and, in certain cases, abusive practice adopted by a small minority of Muslims without reason should not be shielded from scrutiny by the religious freedom defense. What is needed are leaders, apart from Quebec sovereignists, who have the courage to test the elasticity of the Charter and, in so doing, uphold Canadian values and plainly decent behaviour."

Unfortuantely for Dan Delmar's argument, religious freedom is a Canadian value, and it is plainly decent.

Religious intolerance isn't leadership, and abusing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to this end isn't the act of a leader.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Backwards, Just Fundamentally Different

Paradise Found is, in many respects, a remarkable film.

Made mere days after the 7/7 bombings in London, the spectre of Islamic terrorism is clearly on the mind of the film's producer, but he decides to make the film regardless of the episode, choosing to set aside the antagonisms between the western world and the Islamic world.

One of the most intriguing things discussed in the film is that of a Muslim-produced map. At first, the map actually looks like something one would find printed inside the cover of a fantasy novel; it looks more to the Western eye as a fictional construct than the real world.

Yet when the map is turned upside-down, it becomes evident that the map is, in fact, that of the world as we know it.

If there is any greater metaphor for the way that many see the global relationship between the western world and the Islamic world, one would be significantly challenged to find it.

Dichotomous thinking regarding the predominantly-Christian (now actually multicultural) and Islamic (now slowly secularizing) Islamic world permeates theories such as Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. Such theories have treated the Islamic world as a threat to the western world and its values.

Meanwhile, the theories of various Muslim thinkers also treat the world as dichotomous. In this vein of thought, the western world is decadent and immoral, and this threatens to leach into Islamic society through close contact between the two.

In the western world, a distressingly popular meme is to think of the Islamic world as backward and barbarous.

But the beauty of Islamic art should put the lie to this idea. While an unfortunate degree of ugliness has sprung forth from the Islamic world, an equally degree of ugliness has emerged within the psyche of the western world as well.

The Islamic world is not backward, but it is fundamentally different. It's a failure to respect these differences for what they are that has led so many people from each world to view the other as menacing.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Yup, They All Needed a Feinting Couch Over This...

Although some petulant cry-babies would likely beg to differ, Hunter at Climbing Out of the Dark got the Tim Tebow Superbowl ad unequivocally right.

The sheer scope of the whining that preceded the Tim Tebow anti-abortion ad during the Super Bowl would have had a great many people expecting something truly virulent.

Instead, what was delivered was an entirely benign and civil ad in which Tebow's mother Pam recounted the challenges she faced during her pregnancy.

"I can remember so many times when I almost lost him," she said. "It was so hard. You know, with everything our family's been through, you have to be tough."

At which point Pam is suddenly tackled to the ground by her son, whom she admonishes.

"Timmy! I'm trying to tell our story, here."

At which point Tebow apologizes and hugs his mother.

And that is what the pro-abortion movement has been freaking out over all this time.

One can say whatever they wish about Focus on the Family -- and following Pat Robertson's vile comments regarding the earthquake in Haiti, many of them can be justified.

But the Tebow ad is clearly a stroke of genius on their part. For years, the pro-abortion movement have portrayed the anti-abortion movement as virulent and oppressive. Many of the more authoritarian elements of the pro-abortion movement have attempted to deny the anti-abortion movement any opportunity to voice its views (part of the faux-outrage over the Tebow ad).

Focus on the Family seems to have exploited this meme brilliantly. By producing an ad as civil and benign as the Tebow ad, they have effectively counter-branded these hysteric elements of the pro-abortion movement for precisely what they are: authoritarians who can broach no public opposition whatsoever regarding the topic of abortion.

Institutional Censorship of the Pro-Abortion Movement

Banning anti-abortion groups violates civil liberties

Across Canada, anti-abortion groups on various University campuses have been under fire.

Where pro-abortion groups fail and students' unions decline to run pro-abortion groups off campus, they settle for simply disrupting any events they disagree with.

In the latter case, it's censorship by deeply-institutionalized means.

Fortunately, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is prepared to take a stand on the matter, they're preparing to intervene in a case involving the University of Victoria Student Society and an anti-abortion group by the name of Youth Protecting Youth.

The argument is that anti-abortion activism "inherently discriminates" against women.

It shouldn't be thought that the BCCLA necessarily agrees with Youth Protecting Youth -- they merely believe that their freedom of expression should be protected.

"We're pro-choice nuts over at the civil liberties association," explained BCCLA spokesman John Dixon. "We would like to persuade the university students society to relent -- that's the course we're pursuing for now."

"This is a public institution and an organ of the government of British Columbia. Students are forced to pay fees to fund the Students Society."

It's on that note that the members of Youth Protecting Youth pay funds to an organization that has acted to deny them the freedom to express themselves because pro-abortion busybodies like Joyce Arthur -- who is representing pro-abortion group Students for Choice in this matter -- believe that expression "inherently" oppresses them.

Dixon insists that the U Vic Students' Society is wrong to attempt to censor the group. He quite rightly notes that silencing Youth Protecting Youth doesn't in any way settle the abortion issue.

"They can't punish, denounce, discipline a group who, in a very civil way ... try to persuade people not to have abortions. It isn't as though the entire Western world has settled all these bioethical questions about the beginning of life and end of life -- they're live issues."

Barry Cooper has often theorized about what he calls the "embedded state". He describes the embedded state as politicized institutions that operate for the preservation of its own powers, often in support of partisan or ideological interests.

The behaviour of the students unions that rush to run anti-abortion groups off their campuses demonstrate that the embedded state is alive and well on university campuses across Canada.

These organizations have given themselves the power to censor student groups on their campus in direct contravention of civil liberties. It's entirely understandable that zealots like Joyce Arthur either do not understand this or simply don't care.

Fortunately, the BCCLA seems to be prepared to stand up to these organizations -- at least within the province of BC. The time is long overdue that civil liberties groups in other provinces take a similar stand.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Faith in Desperate Post-Apocalyptic Times

Book of Eli an intriguing religious opus

With films like Avatar and Serenity finding such a broad audience, it's become clear that the western -- a film genre once considered to be largely dead -- has been reborn within the science fiction genre.

The Book of Eli is sci-fi's most recent take on the western. It addresses many of the themes that the psychological westerns of the 1950s and 60s addressed -- how religious people maintain their faith in a hostile environment.

In The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington plays a character who spends most of the film never so much as speaking his own name (he's identified only by a nametag found in his backpack -- and it could very well not be his real name).

Washington's Eli starkly reminds one of Clint Eastwood's character from High Plains Drifter -- wandering seemingly aimlessly (actually spurned on by the visitation of religious voices) until his progress is interrupted by Carnegie (Gary Oldman) a Mussoli-admiring tyrant who keeps control over a ramshackle post-apocalyptic town by force of the gang of gun-wielding toughs whose loyalty he seems to maintain through his wealth, and by restricting control of the written word.

Eli, as it turns out, is carrying the one prize that Carnegie (Gary Oldman) desires above all others: a copy of the Holy Bible.

Eli has been charged to carry that Bible west. He firmly believes that the book's destiny is to be used in a place where it will be safe, and is desperately needed.

Carnegie, however, only desires it out of the cynical belief that it can grant him power over other people, and win their unquestioning obedience. He insists that the Bible is nothing more than a weapon, and he intends to use it as such; he frequently speaks of his plans to expand his settlement.

Eli, meanwhile, knows well the danger of religion being used as a weapon. He speaks of the times before "the flash" (probably the flash of a nuclear weapon) and speaks of a Equilibrium-esque crackdown on religion as either part of the conflict that led to nuclear war, or even as the cause of it.

Eli repeatedly demonstrates his will to kill in defense of the book. Oddly enough, he also demonstrates his extreme reluctance to intervene in defense of the helpless; this doesn't change until he meets Solara (Mila Kulis) who eventually becomes his apostle.

Solara, although only recently acquainted with the Bible, knows full well that Carnegie cannot be allowed to have it. She joins Eli in a trek across the cannibal-inhabited outlands, his bid to protect the book from any who would harm it.

Reducing religion to a mere means to control others undeniably harms it.

One of what may well be recognized as one of the defining films of the postmodern sci-fi western, The Book of Eli recognizes the danger of this, and sends the message loud and clear.

Why Jack Layton Must Survive

Layton's fate will become rhetorical signal for health care

Canadian politics was shaken recently by the news that Jack Layton has been struck with prostrate cancer.

Speaking testaments to the strength and resolve of his character, he has announced his intention to remain on as the leader of the NDP even while receiving treatment for the illness. He has, however, admitted that the illness will slow him down -- at least temporarily.

His father successfully fought the same disease, and doctors report that it has been diagnosed with enough time to (hopefully) successfully treat it.

But even as Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams venturing south of the border for a heart procedure, Layton has reportedly opted to remain in Canada to receive treatment for his ailment.

And even beyond the basic human reason why Layton must survive -- that he is a human being who, despite any disagreement regarding politics, is owed the same consideration as any other morally worthy human being -- this makes Layton's survival crucial.

As the health care debate continues to rage in the United States, events like Williams' plans to be treated in the United States have been dropped into the rhetorical arsenal of those opposing universal health care. The argument is that if Canadian health care can't provide treatment for the head of one of the country's governments, then it isn't a model that the United States should emulate.

This has been troubling enough for supporters of Canada's health care system -- even among many of those who urge the need for some necessary reforms -- if Layton were to die of prostate cancer while in the care of the Canadian public health care system, it would be that much worse.

Fairly or unfairly, Layton's fate will be used to rhetorically judge the Canadian health care system. A successful recovery from what seems to be a comparably routine illness will serve as vindication for Canadian health care. His passing, in turn, would be used to condemn it.

For Jack Layton -- a lifetime advocate of Canada's health care system (some may even suggest that he has often been an apologist for its deficiencies) -- to be used to rhetorically undermine the credibility of Canada's public health care system would be a fate much worse than the death itself.

Whatever becomes of Layton, he deserves much, much better than that.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Glen Pearson - "Collective Mortality"

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Messiahs & Martyrs in American Politics

In part one of The Trojan Horse, a scenario is presented in which Canada is politically merged into the United States under constitutionally unfeasible and politically unlikely circumstances.

In part two of the mini-series (also the concluding chapter), a more persistent theme in American politics is explored: that of the relationship between political martyrdom and an assassin's bullet.

There's a rare and hallowed place in the pantheon of American political history for many of those slain by an assassin's bullet.

Certainly, not all of the political figures killed by an assassin are considered central figures in the political mythology or civil religion of the United States. Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley are seldom-considered figures in the big picture of American history.

But Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and John F Kennedy each occupy deeply hallowed positions in American history. Lincoln, of course, is cited for giving his life to preserve the union and free the slaves. King is recalled as the man who led a passionate crusade for the civil rights of racial minorities. Kennedy is remembered as a widely-beloved President struck down in his prime in what history widely regards as a senseless killing.

(The death of Kennedy's assassin at the hands of Jack Ruby has ultimately shrouded the motives for Kennedy's murder in the fog of history.)

In part two of the Trojan Horse, former Canadian Prime Minister (and later Presidential candidate) Tom McLaughlin (Paul Gross) is shot during what appeared to be an assassination attempt. McLaughlin is seen by many to be a potential contender for the Presidency, and thus his assassination attempt is viewed as politically motivated.

(It is, in fact, planned and executed by the international cabal supporting McLaughlin's bid for the Presidency, with his consent and participation.)

McLaughlin takes advantage with a dramatically staged hilltop baptism, and is henceforth treated by many with the hushed and reverent tones with many regard Lincoln, King and Kennedy -- in a manner ever-similar to that in which many religions regard religious martyrs.

In a sense McLaughlin is transformed into a political messiah -- eventually seizing upon the grave missteps of President William Stanfield (Tom Skerritt) in handling the hostage-taking of American schoolchildren in Saudi Arabia in order to win a historic Presidential victory as an independent candidate.

Of course McLaughlin's motivations are far from Christ-like. Having lost his country to the United States, his response is to make the United States more like the Canada it has enveloped -- a prospect threatening only in the context of the cloak-and-dagger tactics by which his Presidency is won.

Tom McLaughlin turns out to actually be a wolf in Messiah's clothing -- clothing donned first in the form of a hospital gown, following what is devised to appear to be a near-martyring.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Michael Ignatieff & The Art of Stop Gap Senate Reform

Ignatieff proposes alternate Senate reform package

With Senate reform predictably becoming a hot topic following the appointment of a new batch of Senators -- as it always does -- Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has offered his own version of Senate reform proposals.

Ignatieff believes that 12-year term limits should be substituted for the proposed 8-year term limits, and that a public service appointment commission should oversee the selection of Senators.

"I'd even go as far as to limit the prime minister's prerogative to appoint senators," Ignatieff suggested. "That is, I'd pass (appointments) through a public service appointment commission, so we scrub it and get the best possible appointees."

At face value, this isn't such a bad idea. There should be some kind of process to vet or confirm any appointment the Prime Minister makes to any position.

The problem for Ignatieff is that his predecessor, Stephane Dion, opposed any "piecemeal" or incremental reforms as irresponsible. He had argued that incremental reforms would have unforeseeable consequences (while evidently overlooking the notion that sweeping reforms would have sweeping unforeseeable consequences).

One wonders what unforeseeable circumstances the establishment of a public service commission to approve the Prime Minister's Senate appointees would have.

But what remains evident is that if the Prime Minister could be compelled to appoint Senators approved by such a commission, he could just as easily be compelled to appoint Senators chosen by citizens via an election.

All that is necessary is for provinces to enact such legislation.

That would be a real reform, as opposed to a mere piecemeal reform. All that is needed is the political will to make this happen.

Monday, February 01, 2010

What Bob Runciman's Appointment Really Means for Tim Hudak

Runciman appointment poses new HST-related trouble for Tory leader

After MPP Bob Runciman was appointed to the Senate, Tim Hudak issued a sparkling statement about Runciman's contributions to the Province of Ontario and to his party.

"Losing one of the most effective and tenacious MPPs in a generation, the Ontario Legislature will be a much quieter place without Bob Runciman," Hudak said. “As a Member of Provincial Parliament, senior cabinet minister and Interim Leader, Bob has been a consistent and determined champion for victims of crime, front-line police officers, the law enforcement community, and hard working Ontario families."

"While his commanding presence will be missed in the Legislature, his many accomplishments including 1,000 new front-line police officers and establishing a Survivor’s Tuition Fund for families of fallen police officers bode very well for advancing the federal government’s initiatives to fight crime and strengthen the young offenders system."

One couldn't expect anything but such a sparkling statement from Runciman's party leader.

But as Hudak continues to face off with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty over the recently-passed HST, he will likely face continuing difficulties over the issue, as his former deputy leader will likely vote to support it in the Senate.

“I’m particularly keen to have a fellow proponent of the HST up on Parliament Hill," noted Premier Dalton McGuinty. "Bob’s been a longtime backer, so it will be great to have him in a position of influence up there."

Although Runciman had previously voiced his support -- in principle -- for the HST, he also criticized the lack of public consulation over the controversial matter.

Runciman isn't the only federal politician to differ with close provincial colleagues over the matter. Christine Elliott and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty are husband and wife, although it hasn't affected their home life.

If Runciman does vote in favour of Harmonizing the GST and Ontario's PST, it will almost certainly take some of the fire out of Hudak's attack on the matter in Queen's Park. This is rather unfortunate, as there are as many reasons to oppose the HST as there are to back it.