This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Faith of This Man

One wonders how many serenely yet passionately religious individuals believe that it is their particular brand of faith, and theirs only which has legitimacy in the eyes of God. There are those religious, both laypeople and clergy, who hold to what one might like to think of as a universal truth of religion - given that the great preponderance of people on this globe believe in a Higher Spirit of divine goodness - as a universal God. Approached in various ways by different branches of humanity, but recognized as one universal Deity.

To believe in that way must strike anyone as giving legitimacy to the belief in the Almighty; a singular Spirit of love and protection, and who asks of believers that they practise what He preaches; tolerance for all, moderation in our emotional approaches to any and all situations, and an overarching regard for His unknowable and all-knowing presence, along with the commands with which He instructs followers.

It can certainly be understood that in an earlier age, while the various manifestations of spiritual observance were evolving into the present time, religious groups were jealous of their direct lineage on earth to an only God, one responsive only to their entreaties, and to whose demands and commands only they were privy.

Living in the modern world with a new awareness of the neighbourliness of the globe, a knowledge of various religious orders and a religious-humanistic view of a collectivity worshipping a Great Being, one would think it now a given that disparate religions worship in their particular way, the same God.

Temporal matters are increasingly left now in the hands of governments elected to act at the behest of those who placed them in administrative-legislative positions, while matters of the spirit continue to be held in the hands of representatives of the Divine. Politics is of the mundane issues of everyday life; religion represents the needs of the spiritual, the soul. At least that is how we now recognize the separation of church and state in our modern, politically-secular world.

Having said which, is it possible to admire and trust the faith of a personage of such elevated religious state as the Pope, when he harks back to an earlier, more fractious time in church history, reminding the faithful that there is but one true faith, and that is the faith of Roman Catholicism. For, as he has recently averred, Protestant churches are defective in their religious nature; not to be considered as "full" churches, as represented by the Catholic Church.

In this way he purports to serve his God and His emissary, Christ. How blessed are the unbelievers; how uncomplicated their lives.

He has placed under investigation one of his own flock, an obviously thoughtful and certainly thought-provoking theologian who has dared to concede that non-Christian religions have a role to play in salvation. Presumably, that might include non-religious environmentalists whose devout homage to Nature and damning of human interference in Her great, evolving plan for all She surveys is slowly unravelling due to the nature-blasphemous interference of negligent and energy- and resource-ravenous mankind.

Or, perhaps not to place too cute a spin on it: Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Baha'i, and even Buddhism. Let us not forget secular humanism, those for whom certain values remain sacred, like observing the Golden Mean, or practising kind consideration for all others who inhabit this increasingly-crowded planet. Cripes! did I forget Judaism, the monotheistic well-spring from which sprang Christianity and Islam? All of these faiths are to be considered pale imitations, slender shams of the original and singularly true faith?

Pope Benedict XVI, when he was yet Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II's "bulldog" claimed: "To have a clear faith...is often styled a fundamentalism. Meanwhile relativism, meaning allowing oneself to be carried away 'here and there by any wind of doctrine', appears as the only attitude to modern times. What's being construed is a dictatorship of relativism, which recognizes nothing as definite, and that regards one's self and one's own desires as the final measure."

Ah, clearly this is a measure of comfort for fanatical believers. Dare we include the likes of the Taliban? Al-Qaeda? For their faith is exceedingly clear to themselves and their ardent followers who flock to their military camps in the name of holy war, in abject submission to what they claim are the demands of Allah. Is that definite enough for his holiness? And finally, is not mankind made in the visage of God? Do we not reflect His desires as the final measure, since He has delivered unto humankind everything; desires, emotions, inclinations, determination.

Theologians must not engage in acts designed to bring relief to suffering mankind, becoming activist as social-religious deniers of dictatorial authority injurious to their people. Liberation theology is seen not as a good, but a denial of the divine purpose of God. Theologians are urged to "think with the Church". And this church, under Pope Benedict has no problems linking humane interests and behaviours with the work of the devil, evidently. For it compromises the lordship of Christ.

Setting theologians up competitively as salvationists, when that role owes its being to one long-ago soul whose agonizingly-long re-appearance is sought and longed for. Much, one dares say, like a fervid believer such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (whose ravening lunacy is most certainly not to be compared with the intellectual confusion of Pope Benedict) longing for the appearance of the Mahdi, to bring closure to the world as it is, and open the celestial gates for believers.

Oh, bloody hell!


Friday, September 28, 2007

Ancient Witness - To What?

Amazing, just amazing. The lengths - including absorbing the potential of danger to one's self - that committed scientists will go in their scholarly efforts to search out clues in their ongoing efforts to understand the world around us.

Like the sublime courage in the name of scientific enquiry exhibited by two researchers, American Dale Anderson from the Centre for the Study of Life in the Universe (now that's a sobering, highly ambitious study) and New Zealander Ian Hawes from the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere, undertaking a highly dangerous exploit in their search for answers.

Part of an international team, they undertook their mission at Ward Hunt Lake, in Canada's far northern reaches. The purpose of which was to document, find evidence and research and interpret their findings to understand an environmental transformation which will continue to have an impact on all of us. The lake is North America's most northerly, close to Ellesmere Island.

Imperviously frozen like the region it is located in, it has been in a slowly-evolving altering stage for the last several hundred years. A change so profound that scientists consider it to be unprecedented in over 8,000 geological years on earth. "It's one more warning light from the Arctic that has begun to flash, and it's something we should be taking very seriously" claimed polar scientist Warwick Vincent of Universite Laval.

"This is a lake that we would expect to really resist change", said Mr. Vincent. Surrounded as it is by glaciers and ice shelves; all blanketed in four metres of year-round ice. But now the lake has a 10- to 15- metre-wide area of water open around the shoreline, for a few weeks each summer. Imagine the severity of the glacial atmosphere, the bone-crackling sheer ice-white environment, the inviolability of the frozen aspect.

Yet Mr. Anderson and Mr. Hawes pulled on scuba outfits and submerged into that frigid inhospitality through a hole they cut into that 4-metre ice surface to reach bottom and drill a 18-centimetre-long core of sediments dating into the distant past 8,450 years. On examination, the deepest and most ancient layers indicate limited symptoms of aquatic life other than simple algae.

That portion equating to the past 200 years, the top two centrimetres of sediment demonstrate sudden alterations in the lake's algae production, with chlorophyll A increased by a factor of 500. The evidence as parsed by Dermot Antoiniades, another team member from Laval, appeared to suggest the low concentration in the older sediments to be indicative of the permanently frozen past.

And, they conclude, although they cannot prove it, the higher incidence of chlorophyll A and algae of a particular type coincide with human-induced climate change dating to the last several hundred years.

Which seems, to my untutored understanding, quite a stretch to reach a conclusion. Since the Industrial Revolution was in its infancy at that time, and it hardly seems feasible that the fall-out of the introduction of steam and coal and mechanization could have so immediately impacted on the far-flung environment as they suggest.

Rather, the global warming and climate change we see so indelibly in our environment, linked to carbon dioxide and heat-trapping gases rise could also be linked to normal, cyclical and evidence-explicable changes in the earth's natural environmental patterns of warming and cooling. Which have left us with little ice-ages in the past, and eventual warmings, on a revolving basis.

While the impact of humankind's disturbingly careless misuse of fossil fuels, and our over-reliance on non-renewable energy sources in our wasteful rush to experience more gratifying lifestyles and economic advances at the expense of our environment cannot be denied, it doesn't seem all that likely that man-made interference in nature's balance is the only game in town.

Our familiar, reliable ecosystems are altering. Alarmingly, in too many instances. With the dire threat of species extinction accelerating as habitats degrade. We most certainly do have an obligation to ourselves and to future generations, to instill in ourselves a more prudent attitude toward our resources, along with a more immediate sense of responsibility to the atmosphere.

The changes do not seem to bode well for the future of the planet. Cataclysmic upheavals, the cause/s of which are still being debated in academic/scientific circles have occurred in the past, and for all we know are destined to continue ad infinitum. The history of human presence on this globe is a relatively short one. Shorter still is the presence of written, documented observations of change.

The truth is, no one knows what the future holds in store for us, long term. Yet it's true that our short-term obligations are clear and clearly demanding of attention. So do we see collective agreement and eager co-operation on the world stage? Right.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Three Gorges Catastrophe

Away back when China, a hitherto-closed society, opened itself for investment and development assistance to the world at large, Scandinavian entrepreneurs, corporations and technological whizzes saw a good opportunity and betook themselves and their considerable expertise where it was needed and wanted, and where, just incidentally, they got in on the ground floor of enterprising rewards.

Canadian companies too have been in China for a considerable length of time. Offering expert services in feasibility studies, technical and infrastructure studies. Handing out bribes here, there and everywhere. Anxious to get established, to get their own kick at that promisingly-rewarding cat. Eager to get their expertise and equipment; telecommunications, natural gas, propane technology; as many personnel as needed through the crack in the door.

No direct Canadian government involvement to be sure, because of the potential public fall-out given China's abysmal human-rights record. But encouragement to Canadian business, and funds set aside to be slurped up when the time was right. Kind of funny, really; Canadian firms offering their services, the government of China with no disposable funds to pay for them, so loans could be arranged through government of Canada resources.

All for the purpose of aiding and abetting Canadian corporations' eager bids to get in on the ground floor. Those loans might even be interest-free, with pay back far into the future. Or at truly preferential rates, sub-prime. Even so, bribes were required to make any headway. Because China knew if they couldn't get what they wanted on their own terms from Canada, they could turn to Europe or the Scandinavian countries; they represented on the world economic stage, a "spoiled market".

Kind of like the spoiled kid who whines and tantrums and gets what he wants. Because he represents the future. Much as burgeoning China had yet to aspire to its true economic status, but the world could see the writing on the wall. And everyone was eager to be as much a part of that booming economic future as possible. The economic spill-over was just that alluring.

That economic juggernaut is on its way to approaching world economic domination. In good time, it will. With its immense and immensely skilled population, little wonder. An enterprising, hard-working, highly intelligent people, deserving of an eminent place in the world economy. But oh, that government; the very enormity of the population made it possible to view much of it as dispensable, disposable.

Need land for a project? Confiscate property. Forcibly remove the residents, with promises to re-locate, re-settle, reimburse. But no effort to fulfill those promises, no obligation to commit to doing so. The government just had too much on its mind and on its to-do list. Leaving millions to their own desperate devices. Displacing small subsistence farmers, swelling the hordes of dispossessed small-acreage owners.

Left to roam at random, seeking refuge, victims of a remorseless government wedded to economic success at any cost. Begging, looking for work in the shadows of Beijing and Shanghai. Where turgid, unclean air full of chemicals and metallic particulates imperil everyone's health. To the extent that traffic police in Beijing with their constant exposure earn a life expectancy of 40 years.

Coal-fired furnaces and individual belching smokestacks are everywhere. Each manufactory, every public building has its own smokestack befouling the atmosphere. But there is an ever-growing middle class now. Consumer goods available to greater numbers of people, affordably. Hand-drawn, oxen-pulled carts, bicycles traditionally used are slowly giving way to automobiles. Millions of trucks and cars clogging up the roads. More environmental tainting effluent.

Yet China is not oblivious to the impact her single-minded trajectory toward economic pre-eminence has had on her environment. That the health of the population suffers. That too much has been attempted too quickly without adequate controls. Concern for the environment has been evidenced latterly, and all the more so since the eyes of the world have turned on China because of next year's Olympics.

Causing the government to frantically attempt to turn back the tide of deadly smog and dirty fog that assails its immense cities. Now, head of the office in charge of building the Three Gorges Dam has publicly expressed a very special concern: "We absolutely cannot sacrifice our environment in exchange for temporary economic prosperity" according to Wang Xiaofeng as reported by China's official news agency.

Mr. Wang is warning of catastrophic aftermaths from the construction of the dam. None of which should have been surprising to his listeners. For after all, even Canadian companies were involved in the production of feasibility and environmental studies before construction commenced. The project has always been controversial. Its vast expense, its displacement of 1.3 million Chinese, the flooding of 116 towns.

Now the spectre of soil erosion, landslides and contamination of nearby rivers, impacting on the potable water for tens of thousands of people living in the area is causing Premier Wen Jiabao and his cabinet to realize that dealing with the problems which have resulted and are continue to surface must become a priority. At least as much a priority as the perceived need to build the dam, to begin with.

It is the largest hydroelectric project in the world. Conceived as a monumental source of electric energy for a power-hungry country. Providing flood protection for immense cities like Nanjing and Shanghai, both representing engines of prosperity in China's booming economy. The dam is not yet fully completed. Completion is slated for early 2009. Meanwhile, the fall-out of its presence is constantly being monitored. And the consequences don't auger well for the future.

"We absolutely cannot relax our guard against ecological and environmental security problems sparked by the Three Gorges project." Right. Well, how to solve this gigantic headache? The stupid undertakings that mankind strives toward tend to outlive their perceived usefulness while impacting negatively on the very society they were intended to benefit.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Value for Values

Nice to know that the Canadian dollar has finally seen its full strength in relation to the American greenback. It's been a long time since Canadians have had pride in the purchasing power of their dollar in comparison to that of the U.S. Little did we imagine thirty years ago that our dollar would begin a long descent to devaluation, although it remained strong latterly on the international money market.

But now, hey, we're on par with the U.S. dollar, and that's kind of nice. In a way. Should we wish to travel to the United States, we do so with a healthier Canadian dollar. Unfortunately, those American tourists who once enjoyed visiting Canada, who were not frightened away by the events of 9-11, are now discouraged by the fallen value of their own dollar; parity isn't all that attractive to them.

The evening-out of the cost of consumer goods hasn't presented itself as a reality, however, and that's a bit of a bugbear with Canadian consumers who cannot quite comprehend why that should be so. Obviously, part of that is a grudging unwillingness of merchants to pass on some of their newfound profits to the consuming public.

Using the lame excuse of inventory purchased at higher prices having to go through the system. Or the higher purchasing power of bulk-buying for a much larger population. Actually who cares all that much other than people for whom shopping is both an avocation and a beloved form of recreational entertainment.

Companies have always, on the free market, charged what they believe the market will bear, and what's new about their continuing that quaint custom? Agonizing over price differentials and the power of bulk purchasing and a X-10 population base is an academic exercise in book keeping, singularly unattractive to most wage-earner purchasers.

The fact of the matter is there will always be regional pricing differences. It's a market thing. If there's a captive market prices will rise. When shoppers are faced with an array of sources each attempting to outsell the other, it's a shopper's market and they take full advantage of those benefits.

Truth is many years ago it seemed that all consumables were more available, more attractive and less dear in the United States than in Canada. That is no longer so. If meat, chicken, eggs, milk products are less expensive in the U.S. we can thank our Canadian marketing boards for our higher prices. And I for one don't begrudge our primary producers on the land; they too deserve a working wage for their prodigious efforts.

On the other hand, paper products, sugar, flour, fruits and vegetables are often more costly in the United States than they are in Canada. Apparel of all kinds roughly approximate in cost whether in Canada or the United States. It's childish to cavil over the percentile differences. and to go off on shopping trips to the U.S. with the excuse that one saves money.

Gas is cheaper there, but you expend energy to get there. The cross-border shopping excursion is an expedition of recreational enterprise for the shopping-addicted. Spending four hundred dollars to "save" $30 dollars is not a prudent use of time, energy, attention and funds; it is, instead, a waste of all those resources. Since if those items were really an urgent requirement they would have been purchased at home to begin with.

They represent add-ons, extras, unneeded goods, and as such nothing to crow in triumph about their acquisition at a "saving". The saving would be represented by not venturing out to begin with on that cross-border shopping extravaganza.

To each his/her own. Eh?

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Travesty of Values

Gawd, who would've ever thought I for one would applaud anything coming out of the mouth of Hugo Chavez. That unmitigated blowhard. Throwing his weight around, claiming to care for his people's well-being; prepared, he says, to haul them all up, the Venezuelan population, into prosperity.

Making some attempts, to be sure, but spending more time, money and effort on making a place for himself in the annals of South American history as a saviour both of his people and his neighbours.

Leading the fray, as it were, in denouncing, decrying and demeaning the United States. He does have an occasional point, but wherever he points at an instance of social injustice a similar instance can be found in his own country, led by none other than himself, the great modifier of inequality.

And the company he keeps! Enough to make any sane person shudder. Friendly relations with some of the worst human-rights abusers on the planet, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Little more need be said.

So imagine, he's expressing concern about an emerging trend in Argentina where young girls are gifted on their 15th birthday coming-outs with personal transformations. Breast implants for emerging nubile beauties. Is that really necessary? Much as Chavez rails against American values, their culture and politics, he has a case of adverse-values clutching his own population.

And that is so bloody sad. It's an abomination that young girls are led to believe their natural endowments are not good enough. That they are encouraged to undergo plastic surgery to enhance their natural beauty. That to disfigure their bodies with abnormal proportions not in keeping with their natural selves might have great social value to them, attracting the attention of avid women-watching men.

Most of all, that impressionable young women are being taught by social, cultural mores emerging within Argentinian society that they are not good enough as they are. That they require improvement by artificial, surgical means. In the process imperilling both their health and their positive self-image.

"That's horrible. It's the ultimate degeneration" Hugo Chavez is quoted as having delivered his opinion on the growing phenomenon. I'm with him on this one. What half-intelligent person with decent values wouldn't be?

"I am calling on your conscience, fathers of this country, mothers of this country, they are our sons, they are our daughters", he implored.

Right on, Hugo, right on. (Otherwise you're an idiot.)

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Aquisitional Aspirations

Wow, weren't the Russians absolute dogs to try to undercut Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and the U.S. in their bid to establish ownership of the Arctic seabed. So what, after all, if any of the others wouldn't do the same, given the opportunity. Well, the opportunity is there, but the Russians made an investment in money, research and adventure and successfully placed their symbol at the bottom of the seabed. Who ever thought they could? So there.

It isn't a done deal, though. Since Canada and others strenuously object to the Russian claims that their geography stretches via their continental shelf under the visible shoreline. All they've got to do is persuade, with scientific proof, the United Nations body tasked with conferring ownership on proof of geography/geology that what they claim is indeed true and consequently theirs to mine at their happy leisure.

But didn't the other countries huff and puff with indignation over this challenge to their purported sovereignty? While forgetting to politely congratulate Russia on her derring-do and enterprise. An amazing success in the face of the great unknown and the unplumbed depths of the ocean. And all for a paltry nation's ransom-worth of minerals and fossil fuels! The UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf is awaiting Canada's oppositional entry.

How gauche.

Hey, look here! The former world champion of empire-building has taken a lesson from resurgently-determined Russia. How novel, how quaint, how like a former colonial power. Bad enough Britain steadfastly refuses to recognize the logicality of geographic consanguinity and hand over the Malvinas back to Argentina. Now Britain has ignited another diplomatic hooferaw.

Preparing, no less, to submit a bid to the United Nations to prove that thousands of kilometres of the ocean floor surrounding the Falklands are linked geologically and as such, part of the islands. Which they claim to own. And which they belligerently and some might even aver, hyper-criminally fought back from Argentina in the recent past, sacrificing too many lives in the process of triumphalist ownership.

Argentina, understandably, is less than thrilled. They are aggrieved that Britain has steadfastly ignored their pleas to begin talks about the future of the Malvinas/Falklands. "We are completely opposed to this proposition of the U.K. government to extend its territories."

No kidding!

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Vatican Lectures in Economic Morality

Well, let's face it, the Pope is absolutely correct in decrying the selfish greed of humanity. The proclivity of people to embrace as much wealth unto themselves as they can possibly achieve in a single lifetime. The better to prepare for the future, needless to say.

Who says you can't take it with you? Heaven forfend that after a life's work of careful accumulation of wealth it be left behind to be squandered by worthless descendants, or worse, put to bad use by charitable enterprises.

So, we miserable human beings squirrel it away for a rainy day. And let's face it, any day is a rainy day. Or has the potential for erupting upon our gleeful, money-grubbing horizon as a rainy day. Why, there could be a recession, a disaster on Wall Street, our wealth could collapse like so much worthless printed paper; irrelevant and irrecoverable. And then, what?

Well, invest in real estate. That's a solid, intelligent investment. Ask Duddy Kravitz; his Zayde told him so, and he believes it. We do need to be reminded from time to time, though, that the acquisition of wealth is not the only thing in the world of value. The jealous guarding of the wealth that we've spent all the hours of our dreary lives secreting away, while ignoring the quality of loving relationships and helping others translates to a life wasted.

The bible as much as tells us so, for after all, the rich man cannot pass through the eye of a needle. Nor can the thread I fumblingly attempt, time and again to bring successfully through the orifice of a slender steel pin which I propose to utilize for the simple purpose of mending a garment, thus practising the fiscal prudence that the Vatican preaches. But I digress, a stunt I practise with amazing regularity.

In its zeal to haul in wherewithal from the pockets of the faithful devotees of the late-lamented John Paul II, is admirers have cleverly sundered a garment worn by that soon-to-be sainted man, offering all one hundred thousand pieces (egad, that must've been some size garment, yes indeed) for sale to the first of the faithful to succumb to the lure of owning a piece of something that actually touched that human form with the soul of a divine.

This is a scheme hatched by the Vicariate of Rome, tasked with promoting sainthood for John Paul. With the purchase of said minuscule slice of garment comes a "holy card" containing a prayer with which to "obtain graces through the intercession of John Paul II". One can only wonder from whom this group took lessons in group gullibility. It does hearken back to times medieval. But I digress, do I not?

Now let's see, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic church exhibit a demonstrable tentacle-reach of real estate ownership of immense proportions, all over the world. They own priceless works of art placing them right up there with any resourceful, asset-craving international corporate entity. They are, moreover, the largest landlord in Rome.

A sample of their benign style of landlord-tenant relations is exemplified by their recent decision to unilaterally abrogate a rental agreement with modestly-financed renters of their properties. Successfully moving these unfortunately economically-unendowed people from an affordable $1-thousand a month rent to the "market rate" of $4,400 per month.

By-by, renters. Sorry you're so upset, and chained to your unfortunate income. We're not.

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Monday, September 24, 2007


There it is again, an unfortunately done deal, discussed in secrecy and agreed to against the wishes of Canadian society. An agreement reached in stealth and infamy. An outcome of the latest Security and Prosperity Partnership, where a single North American regimen of authority for regulating industrial chemicals has been agreed upon.

As though our world hasn't been sufficiently chemically altered with the incautious use of chemicals whose future impact cannot really be known yet. What we do know, however, is that we've altered our fragile environment in the most hormonally unstable ways. Sacrificing animal and aquatic life in the process. Including our own. Impacting on our health and that of our children and future generations as well.

Instead of enacting more stringent legislation in the use of common chemicals known for their hormonally disruptive fall-out, and even greater health implications, we have agreed to a compromise which will no doubt result in our lowering of standards to match those of the United States. As the largest, more populous, wealthiest and politically more strident of the three countries on this continent, they have the most to say and the power to prove it.

Or the compelling arguments of their national CEOs of corporations do. The agreement, contained in
Regulatory Co-operation in the Area of Chemicals sets out the intent, that American, Canadian and Mexican officials "have been discussing the potential for strengthening regulatory co-operation among our countries in the area of chemicals". Harmonization. Equal deleterious hormonizing of our atmosphere and environment.

Iron out the differences, smooth out the trajectory of testing, research, information gathering, assessment and risk-management actions, so that there are fewer obstacles in the way of bringing new chemicals to use and using them to the lowest possible standards. This is vitally important for the bottom line, if not for the health of North Americans and our already-stressed environment.

The SPP document compels Canada and the United States to work bilaterally "in the establishment of principles, priorities and processes for developing approaches, specific objectives and time-frames". To speak together, with a single voice of authority; that of the U.S. Fact of the matter is a trilateral group of CEOs recommended harmonization of hazardous industrial chemicals.

It's truly a nuisance for manufacturers to have to put up with the fact that chemicals listed in Canada's Domestic Substances List and the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act seem to differ, having the undesirable effect of preventing some U.S. products from entering and being sold within Canada. These industry CEOs are all clamouring for less trenchantly-nuisance government interference in their industry.

Most chemicals haven't seen that much government regulation in fact. It was only relatively recently that the government of Canada ordered an exhaustive assessment of 23,000 chemical substances, 85% of which were thought to have low risk, with another 4,300 set aside as requiring further exploration as a result of their suspected toxicity. All to be undone, if history has taught us anything in bilateral trading relations with the U.S.

This new initiative hasn't exactly found resounding approval in the scientific community within the U.S. either, as it happens, most encouragingly. A year ago nine thousand EPA scientists publicly criticized the U.S. chemicals regulatory agency for approving a line of pesticides regardless of the knowledge they harm the central nervous systems of fetuses and babies.

Any more stringently responsible approaches to the regulation of chemicals and their use, such as the European system are unacceptable to the U.S. administration which has characterized these more cautious approaches as an "illegal barrier to trade".

Ugh, and heaven help us all.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Getting Royally Screwed

Canada's newfound economic wealth owes much to the Alberta oilpatch. All of a sudden, in this newer atmosphere of stratospheric prices for oil in an energy-anxious world, the oil tar sands' extraction process isn't as costly and onerous as once thought. The extraction process is costly in other ways; its extravagent waste of water and gas, but it continues now apace. U.S. investors and oil conglomerates were delighted with this new source.

And the province of Alberta's coffers are bursting with oil revenue, leaving it the hands-down wealthiest province in the country, now leading Canada's resource-based economy into new heights of swaggering sufficiency. The province is operating its resource economy like a business, so why not look for efficiencies at the same time one looks to see whether the pay-back reflects the value and quality of the product?

Normal business practise.

So whoops, what's this? Conventional oil and gas royalties and taxes in the United States average out at 67%, but they stand at 50% in Alberta. Heavy oil royalties in Cold Lake, Alberta are 50%, compared with Norway's offshore royalties of 76% and California's heavy-oil royalties and taxes of 67.5% and Venezuela's of 72%.

Alberta, the new engine of the Canadian economy, is getting shafted. And we along with it. The traditional hewers of wood and carriers of water. Resource-based Canada, so heavily reliant on the natural goodies we've been blessed with, and so generously and reliably anxious to share those same resources with the world. At a price, mind.

But a bargain-basement price? An industry spokesperson, headquartered in the U.S., claims that Alberta is adequately recompensed. An increased percentage would drive away investment. Not bloody likely. If they want out and won't pay a fair percentage, others would be more than glad to fill the gap.

One industry elite has concluded that Canadian governments are revenue-grabbers. Er, just want what's due, chum. Dennis Gartman is scuttling back to the U.S., says he's exiting Canada.

One U.S. analyst speaks of the province as "Albertastan". Seems they're so accustomed to draining Canada of its resources, so used to seeing Canada roll over in gratitude at having all that messy oil taken off our hands, they just can't get used to a newly assertive demand for fair return.

Oil is a compelling asset. As a national resource in this energy-hungry world of highly competitive bidders. Walk away from it now, it will only increase in value. And the soreheads become sore losers.

Act in haste, repent at leisure. Ta-dum!


Saturday, September 22, 2007

We're Doing All Right

For all the things we're messing up in our usual haplessly fruitless attempts to get them right as a society, it's nice to know there are some things we're getting right. (We're not doing so badly on the home front with our record of inclusiveness and equality under our laws of universality.) However timidly and carefully. Standing by our principles, our standards of ethics and moral values. As part of the world community, doing our best to carefully pick our way around the landmines inherent in errors of judgement.

Canada has of late been a trifle more careful in its relations with our great good neighbour to our south, the United States. We're cordial and relatively co-operative - to a point. While at the same time optioning our sovereignty, in contrast to speedy agreement when points of contention arise, as they so often do in the political arena. Not doing so well, unfortunately, on the economic-partnering agenda, but that'll come, too. One can only hope.

Relations have been re-balanced slightly with China, that great economic juggernaut whose products are everywhere, relentlessly unavoidable. For which condition we have no one, alas, to blame but ourselves. Good for China that her huge and skilled labour force has upended traditional manufacturing in other areas of the world, beggaring their work force while economically enabling hers.

But while we embrace ongoing trade relations with China, we also reserve the right to observe and comment on modes of internal conduct unbecoming a responsible government which too often overlooks the basics in human-rights entitlements. Which is to say any country has the right to reserve the scope of its future contact with another on the basis of its responsiveness to its peoples needs.

And when a country, in its haste to extend its economic embrace stands down from its international obligations to use all the diplomatic means at its considerable disposal to entreat or encourage its allies to observe basic human rights for its population (think Sudan, Iran, for example) that country sometimes requires a little nudge to recall its international obligations.
Canada stands as guilty of those occasional lapses as any country it singles out for same.

But look, here is Canada's newest prime minister, readying to officially greet the Dalai Lama, that very outstanding individual of huge repute and renown shut out of Tibet by China's One China policy. China's longstanding argument of ownership of Tibet, has led to its brutally shutting down dissent and jailing Tibetan dissidents. This act of solidarity with the head of another country under great political and social duress will not go down kindly with China.

Canada is preparing to serve notice within the United Nations that Iran's behaviour is counter to its obligations as a member-state that requires it to embrace and to adhere to human-rights-obligatory conduct. Conduct becoming any official entity representing a great nation, but shrugged off by Iran as it pursues an agenda inimical to human rights, both internally and externally.

Canada has been sympathetic to Taiwan's aspirations to achieve neutral severance from Greater China. Under China's unrelenting drive to achieve its One China policy, and world wide recognition of its greatness as an immense and strong nation, it has forbidden Taiwan on pain of violent upheaval (invasion and war) to continue its struggle for full independence and final sovereignty. Canada's surreptitious diplomatic exchanges with Taiwan will not further endear her to China.

And now, what's Canada up to? Aggravating Greece and Canada's own tens of thousands of Greek-Canadians by agreeing to formally recognize the naming of Macedonia, the country neighbour to Greece. Greece complains it has a province thus named (who knew Philip of Macedonia came from Greek Macedonia?) and strenuously objects to Canada's venture into empathy with one party while angering another ally.

That Canada finally also took the required steps to ally itself unswervingly with Israel as a member-democracy, in support of that country's need of recognition of its untenable position vis-a-vis her neighbours' aggrieved posturing bordering on overt hostility is also a matter of deep satisfaction. Recognizing terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah for their violent purpose and labelling them as such adds to the treasury of Canada's human-rights obligations fulfilled.

It's tough work being a member-state of the world. There are so many fractious enmities and distractions of one kind or another. You do the best you can. And we're doing all right.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Good On Her

Isn't it long past time for people living in that great social experiment called the United States of America to be assured that they are each and every one of them as valuable to the state as the next one? Which is to say everyone has a vested interest in the quality of life in a country that prides itself on being the wealthiest, most influential, justice-ensured country on the globe. This is what Americans believe of themselves; their social and intellectual and values-driven superiority.

This is the American Dream, to be domiciled in a country that offers the opportunity to succeed, to advance one's own interests while similarly, or in the process, advancing that of the country as a whole. Americans are, without doubt, high achievers. They are innovative, creative, and capable. Which is why, the assets of national geography and primary resources aside, they are a great country. And with greatness comes responsibility.

America is a country of conscience. They express great empathy for others. While at the same time believing themselves to be a bastion of enterprise and capability, faith and intellectual probity. Which is why, in a sense, it is so surprising and disappointing that they still embrace the "I'm all right, Jack" individualism, that tendency to look after themselves while leaving the more unfortunate or deprived among them to look after themselves. Which they cannot effectively do, since they are deprived of theeconomic means to do so.

Hilary Clinton already attempted once to propose a plan for America that would ensure no family, no individual, would be without health coverage through a social system set up to embrace all Americans. The horror that greeted that attempt, with accusations that she was flirting with a socialist ideal to transform the American ideal of self-sufficiency is legendary. Now, as a presidential hopeful, not merely the president's wife, she is once again attempting to persuade Americans they have an obligation to self and to those unable to speak for themselves.

Over 47 million Americans have no health insurance. Health problems go unaddressed because people simply cannot afford to seek treatment, nor to pay for the pharmaceuticals that illness or disease require in a healing protocol of treatment. Why does it cause such a collective shudder of distaste when a political candidate for office offers a socially progressive alternative to the current situation which beggars the middle class and victimizes the poor?

Even the plan Mrs. Clinton espouses doesn't completely address the problem, since with it would come the need to advance insurance premiums. And those too poor to be enabled to adequately house themselves and purchase nutritional foods will be shut out of this system too, incapable of paying for health insurance premiums. Still, the plan is to make it mandatory for allAmericans to have health insurance. Of course, it's mandatory for all drivers to have accident insurance, and many don't. But it's a start.

Medicaid would be expanded, employers would have greater obligations to their employees in the provision of health insurance coverage. Insurance companies would not have the option of denying coverage to individuals withpre -existing medical conditions. "Here in America people are dying because they couldn't get the care they needed when they were sick", she observed. "We can no longer tolerate the injustice of a system that shuts out nearly one in six Americans".

And good on her. About time.

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Boredom Cure

That's an interesting proposal by Gabriele Paull, championing disposal marriage (civil) licenses in her bid to become elected as the head of Bavaria's Christian Social Union. Kind of surprising, coming from a source such as that, which is to say such a liberal attitude toward the sanctity of the tradition of marriage expressed and espoused by someone aspiring to head a German political party.

It's the "Christian" in the name of the party, but given the rest of the name, "social union", it becomes more understandable.

Marriage is, after all, a compact, a social union between two people. Between two people and the state, actually. And sometimes the third party, their religious affiliation. It is in the state's interest that traditional marriages remain the status quo. Ensuring that a man and a woman succumb to the idea of a life-long partnership and in the process of solidifying that partnership, produce as many children as conceivable to enrich the state with future workers/taxpayers.

But as a social contract, a union of two diverse personalities, not to mention differently anchored genders, things often go awry. Which is to say, past the glow of the initial infatuation, once the contract has been signed, sealed and delivered and sex is no longer the vital attraction it once was, this man and this woman may discover they've erred in their choice. Not only that the initial mystique has evaporated but in essence the personality of the other isn't a neat twin for their own.

Values and backgrounds, imperatives and priorities which should, with reasoning adults, have been carefully explored for like expression suddenly rear themselves as compelling reasons why the match fails. And then, given how fickle human beings are, and self-centered as well, boredom sets in, the fire ebbs and attention wanders. At which time to the husband other women appear more attractive than his own, and to the wife other men seem more manly and capable than her own.

So why wouldn't it make good sense to legally ensure through sound legislation that the original marriage certificate have a best-before date; seven years for example, as recommended by Ms. Paull. At which time the duo have the choice, if they still bear love toward one another, to extend their contract for another 7 years - or, alternately, sever their relationship and allow the contract to lapse gracefully.

It might save a whole lot of angst over how to proceed when love has flown the matrimonial coop. Of course there's the issue of issue. Should children be involved the choice becomes infinitely more problematical. And in fact, if the brace of lovers remains uncertain whether their feelings can mature they might feel constrained not to bear children. Potential legislation then, with emotional-practical value to individuals, but bad news for the state.

For those who really do believe in the 7-year itch. Scratch.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Welcome Back, Maher Arar

It's good to know that the unfortunate Maher Arar has re-discovered himself. That he has managed, with the help of his indomitable and loyal wife, Monia Mazigh, to shed the nightmares that tormented him in the aftermath of his incarceration and torture in Syria. That the government of Canada saw its responsibility in admitting its agencies were at fault in the tragedy that befell this family must have helped the healing process.

We could do no less. Having done too little at such a critical time for the man and his family.

Explicable, in a sense. In that the time in question represented a period of confusion and fear-mongering. Mr. Arar presented a profile currently under great suspicion and little tolerance. His innocent and unfortunate acquaintance with other individuals also under suspicion by Canada's intelligence and police agencies conspired to make of him an unwilling but defenceless victim of circumstances.

It could happen to anyone. If the conditions are right. If they happen to fall into a category representing a type that elicited public suspicion in a backlash of a violently cataclysmic event in our otherwise-stable lives.

His puzzled hurt had the effect of accentuating his victimhood. His wife's strong response of non-acceptance of the situation, mustering all her strength of character to enlist and enroll the assistance of human-rights activists brought justice to an instance of grave injustice.

Now here they are, out in public and speaking loudly and confidently of what they know to be right and just. Encouraging others to become involved and responsible. Their exteriors are placid, but not resigned; there is an outer confidence in the wake of their dreadful experience. What they still feel on the inside is another matter, and one they will deal with for the rest of their lives.

But it is good to see them, at a remove, for what they represent, and what they in truth, are. Resolute and strong.

Adversity does make people of character stronger. Invited to speak before first-year students of law at University of Ottawa, Maher Arar urges those students to "make pro bono a part of your career from the beginning". Thus will social justice be achieved, making the justice system available to those who cannot afford expensive law fees.

And with the courage of her convictions and the confidence of her daunting experiences, Monia Mazigh also spoke with the purpose at hand of imbuing her audience with the understanding that they too are responsible to make a difference in the society they are a part of: "Create your own difference. It is a matter of looking deep in your soul."

And so it would seem with Maher Arar and Monia Mazigh. Welcome back.

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Victimizing Victims of Economic Need

You've got to wonder sometimes just how low human scum can dip into the misery of other people to achieve their goal of personal enrichment, without feeling any kind of compassion for those in need whom they further dupe into hopelessness.

Human beings have always migrated from their places of origin to other geographic areas near and far, in the search for economic advantage. Often enough it's to escape an environment which offers them no hope for their future and that of their children, to escape endemic and often life-threatening poverty.

Yet because these people represent, by and large, the poverty-stricken, underprivileged of the world, they are not seen as desirable immigrants to the countries they aspire to remove to. They are largely uneducated, unskilled workers, with little in the short-term to offer the countries of their emigration-choice. They are often encumbered with too many children, with elderly dependents who will be perceived to be a burden to the receiving country.

Then there are also the refugees from war situations, of whom by convention wealthy countries are obligated to accept significant numbers, albeit through a system of independent choice for each country. There are legal means of migration, making application from without, to a country for acceptance as landed immigrants in the hopes of some day becoming a full-fledged citizen of the country with all the attendant rights of citizenship.

And there are burgeoning numbers of illegal immigrants flooding to the shores and boundaries of countries who may or may not wish to accommodate their hopes of acceptance. Desperate people who use any means possible to clandestinely enter a country of choice, in the hope that they may be able to somehow merge with the indigent population, unnoticed. An underground network of illegal employment ensues with the illegals facing dire exploitation.

Amnesties are sometimes occasioned within a country realizing the vulnerability of illegal immigrants in their midst, out of purely humanitarian impulses. To protect them from being employed as virtual slaves with little recompense and the threat of revealing their status always hanging over their heads. These illegals are not entitled to any of the normal social programmes available to the rest of the population, the result being their lives are misery incarnate, unable to advance their fortunes.

So here we have a situation where unscrupulous and uncharitable people are spreading rumours of Canada having an open welcome policy for economic migrants, and offering, for a considerable sum of money, to bring hopeful immigrants to the country, surreptitiously. Too late the migrants realize there is no such welcome for them. Too late the country realizes it has been saddled with a confused medley of duped would-be immigrants and must support their needs while at the same time taking steps to deport them.

Refugee organizations and public service charities are strained to the utmost to cope with the influx of hopeful people, fleeing economic depression and political repression. This week the Canadian Council for Refugees whose mandate is the protection of refugees, issued a warning of the situation whereby thousands of refugee claimants are flooding into the country in the mistaken belief they will find welcome, having paid "immigration consultants" hundreds of dollars in fees representing the only funds they have to support themselves.

Thousands of economic migrants from Mexico, illegally in the United States and facing a government crackdown and the prospect of deportation back to poverty in Mexico have paid unscrupulous "consultants" to convey them to Canada. Thousands of refugees from Haiti also having secured a presence illegally in the United States have heeded the myth of asylum in Canada and together these groups have launched within Canada a situation of pandemonium where aid agencies are attempting to find adequate housing and support for them.

Most of these people will not be accommodated as refugee migrants. Roughly ten percent of the Mexicans may find their applications accepted, and a larger proportion of Haitians; who, because of the unsettled violence in their country fit into the refugee category. And while Canadian troops remain stationed in Haiti, attempting to assist the country in attaining a stable political and social atmosphere, it's unlikely the Haitians will be returned any time soon.

More reminders of what an unstable and unfortunate life too many people face in this unequal and turbulent world we all share.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Hornet's Nest in Tranquil Switzerland?

Who might've guessed that the world's champion non-involved, neutral and wealthy country has its problems with stridently right-wing parties? The world's arbitrator, the very essence of going along to get along, where neutrality is always and ever the order of the day. Where private fortunes can be legally squirrelled away out of mind and sight of overseers. Where social mores and convention are the order of the day, and everyone just gets along.

One of the few countries of the world without a standing army. For what use have they of a military force, since they make enemies of none, and therefore have no need to defend themselves? Their quaintly garbed Vatican Swiss Guard seems to be the only concession to the aptitude of most countries to form protective vanguards of the young and testosterone-laden, trained and armed in the protection of sovereignty.

Now, we learn all is not sweetness and light. Well certainly we know that in a sense it is difficult to live in that country that speaks French, Italian, German and Romansh in its various corners and cantons. Difficult in an economic way, since everything appears to be inordinately expensive there, from home ownership to food, services, and consumer goods. The incidence of crime, however, has been low, making for a nice trade-off, along with sublime geography.

But crime is steadily on the increase. And some have it linked to the relatively high resident aliens fraction of the population. And therein lies a problem, one seen reflected across much of Europe, in fact. Switzerland's rigidly right-wing party, the Swiss People's Party headed by a billionaire chemical industrialist has been causing more than one person's share of indignant backlash.

Having been accused of attempting to circumvent Swiss law on battling organized crime and money laundering through the Swiss banking system; somewhat of an embarrassment to the administration of the country. This Swiss political tough guy, Christoph Blocher, currently the justice minister, is puzzlingly popular in the country at large, despite an ongoing parliamentary probe of his probity.

But it's his party's campaign, ostensibly for the protection of "traditional Swiss values" that is the real crux of the upheaval now being seen in Switzerland's traditional social character. The party is suspicious of multiculturalism, Islam, and troublingly enough "working women". The SVP has been sufficiently assured of its position and popularity to boast of election posters insultingly inflammatory and racist in their burden.

One of which illustrates a black sheep being thrown out of the country by three happy-faced white sheep. Underlining the message is the slogan "for more security". The country's president, Micheline Calmy-Rey has rightly enough characterized the demonizing of immigrants and the slur to their reputations as "disgusting".

Even other right-wing parties in the country are taking steps to position themselves well away from that of the SVP, considering these tactics reminiscent of Italian fascism, derogatory beyond contempt. Up until now the various political parties have been accustomed to giving one another room to proclaim their positions, and tolerance has been the order of the day.

Whatever happened to nice old staid Switzerland? Gone the way of too many other European countries in attempting to accommodate their changing demographics with the incursion of immigrants from other societies and cultures. Exacerbated no end by the tarnishing of the image of those same immigrants by associating them indelibly with the scourge of modern politics, Islamist fascists.

A temporary set-back, we can only hope, in this bastion of conservative values and old-world courtesies.

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The Election Agendas, Ontario Style

First off, demonstrate to the ordinary folk, the backbone of society, the rural dwellers, the country people, the farmers of this great country that you're with them in spirit, if you're a candidate for election; and sometimes with them also in your entire corporeal essence. When a special attraction draws people together from a good part of eastern Ontario, you run with the opportunity to make your presence known.

And since Premier Dalton McGuilty is in fact from eastern Ontario (guilty of ignoring the needs of the very geography from whence he comes) it makes good sense he would show up at the International Plowing Competition, along with his political competitors. An event, by the way, that draws interested participants and viewers from a much larger swath than merely eastern Ontario.

Toronto-born and bred John Tory has been swinging through Ottawa, taking every opportunity to point out to this city's voters how ignored their needs have been by this current Liberal government, busy burnishing its safe Toronto image. What Mr. Tory has been reminding Ottawans of has particular resonance in the area, since we always seem to be last-in-mind with this government.

And the leader of the provincial NDP hasn't exactly been a slacker, either. Howard Hampton has been reminding voters of such matters as principle and the recognition of priorities, and acting upon them. Unless and until proved otherwise, he is a man of resolute integrity. Both he and the Conservatives promise to phase out the retrograde health (tax) premiums. To place greater emphasis on the state of our crumbling but still vibrant health care system.

They've also had some assistance from that creature of legend who lived to rue the day he told untruths, Pinocchio, courtesy of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation whose "truth in taxes" mascot has been shadowing the premier wherever he turns up, to the crass ingratitude of his handlers one of whom was overheard to threaten "Stay away or I'll break your nose"; quietly, but insufficiently so.

One voter present at the event whose autistic child's plight led him to complain of the inadequacy of the provincially funded programme for children with autism went away frustrated for his efforts. He along with countless other parents of autistic children have been campaigning fruitlessly for more consideration from the provincial government. He ignored the premier's outstretched hand, claiming later for the media that respect has to be earned, not given.

Eastern Ontario's own firebrand agricultural representative, defiant of provincial government rulings that control how he operates his farm, and now putting his loudly aggrieved temperament to good use running for the Conservative Party, occasioned some embarrassed moments for Mr. Tory whose version of the Tories is that of a restrained, reasonable, moderate party.

All the candidates pulled out all their stops in courting those present at the plowing match, which, incidentally, in a three-way match for accuracy in plowing a straight furrow, our heroic NDP leader, Howard Hampton, won. Mr. Hampton pledged $300-million annually to assist farmers with rising costs and decreasing revenues; to make up the difference between production costs and sales.

So let's hear it for the redoubtable NDP! We need our farmers, in good-to-reasonable financial shape, to encourage them to keep ploughing and furrowing, growing and harvesting; the backbone of any community. To encourage greater use of locally grown food, the Conservatives would take steps to ensure that public institutions use Ontario-grown produce to the maximum possible.

Everyone has solutions to the problems that beset the province. Theory and promises make for good public relations on the campaign trail. It's what we get once we've committed our vote to engaging the winning candidate for the next four years that has us concerned. We've had plenty of experience with the aftermath of election campaigns, and nothing too much seems to change.

Ain't that the way of it?

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Election Ontario

There goes Premier Dalton McGuinty again, the original disingenuous political specimen, earnestly claiming to be engaged in matters that relate to the deepest interests of all the voters, and most particularly the educational and social welfare of voters' children, the province's most essential human resource demographic. He's incapable of noticing the unsightly smear of egg on his face.

He implores Ontarians to understand his deep commitment to the education needs of the province's children, that it be acknowledged that quality educational opportunities be available to all under the canopy of an acknowledged curriculum in a secular system. The only proviso to the current situation where education funding is to be denied by his government to religion- and private-based schools is the status quo.

The status quo being, needless to say, government funding of secular-oriented public schools, along with full government funding of schools in the Catholic school system, both primary-elementary and secondary. Last time we heard, Catholicism is a religion, but this one and only religion is being funded, and none others. Because of legal and constitutional precedent, ostensibly.

Which other provinces, most notably Quebec, have enacted their own legislation to overturn. Not Ontario under Premier McGuinty, however. Nothing personal in this, mind. His father, it's true, was fundamentally instrumental in persuading the-then Conservative government of kindly old Bill Harris to extend funding to Catholic secondary schools. Hugely benefiting his own children.

The premier's own children have had the taxpayer extend payment out of public funds to their private religious education. The premier's wife teaches in the Catholic school system. Yet this man is adamant that extending public funding to other religious schools would overturn strides being made in offering quality education and funding through and to our secular school system.

While at the same time placing children beyond the social functionality of learning together and appreciating our diversity. His political adversary is determined to extend public funding to other faith-based schools. Which elicits condemnation from the premier and the statement: "If you're going to lob a grenade into the education debate, you better know where you're going to be taking us."

Right. And when NDP leader Howard Hampton suggests in the interests of fairness that government stop funding Catholic schools, that too is fundamentally flawed. That merits the statement that "We're not going back to cuts. And we're not going back to conflict." Which kind of sounds like everyone should be prepared to do it his way or no way. His way is to continue funding the province's education as it currently exists.

Fact of the matter is the historical and constitutional reasons for the current situation is no longer sufficient reason to continue what is certainly an unfair advantage to parents who wish their children to be educated in a religion-based institution that is Catholic, while other parents who have similar perceived needs for their children must pay through their own pocketbooks.

He has the unmitigated gall to claim: "For me, the overriding principle here is an ethical one". Except for the fact that his ethics are rather threadbare, the statement has a nice ring to it. He denies his opponents' claim that his position is one of self-interest, motivated by his personal cleaving to the Catholic religion: "My Catholicism, my faith, does not determine my position", he claims.

"My responsibility to the public interest does." Oh. Hard to figure that one out. How can this man convince himself so delusionally that what he preaches and what he practises are at critical odds?

Cease funding all private and religion-based schools and have done with it.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sanctity of Cultural Oppression

Islam seems to have been a perfect fit for a tribal culture. A culture truly primal in its masculine hierarchy of warmongering, revenge, the subordination of those outside the tribe, and above all, its ownership of womankind.

Although official Islam is clearly not as officiously derogatory and contemptuous of women as the cultures which have embraced it while adhering to their original customs, the status of women in Muslim countries remains fraught with inequality and danger.

Women are castigated if they demur and dare to assert themselves, so most do not. It is far easier to succumb and submit to the conditions imposed upon them by a hateful ideology of women-as-chattels. Having said which, they still have it better in some ways, than both men and women whose gender orientation has been confused by their gene-inspired "choice" of same-sex attraction.

Women are not imprisoned, tortured and murdered simply because they are women. This becomes their fate if they become intemperate enough to deny the demands custom and tradition places upon them to be heard on bare tolerance and certainly not seen. For gays and lesbians the line has been crossed once they become sufficiently incautious to betray their orientation.

The oppression of women begins with separating the girl children from the boy children and assigning them their definite places in society. The torture begins with clitoral-vaginal cutting, to the mandatory wearing of the burka and the niqab. And from the Arab world, to Africa and the Indian sub-continent the threat of disobedience becomes truly dire with the honour killings of indecorous, misbehaving women for whom the slightest whiff of dalliance means death.

The tradition of familial killing of women is bound to family honour. A slight to the honour of the family's good name merits death. To restore familial honour. There is nothing dishonourable or criminal in murdering one's own daughter, sister, niece, or wife. To overlook the act of ultimate defiance, the spurning of one's ancestors' demands on the place of women in society is to deliberately court death.

In the primitive culture that prevails, ostensibly through the faith of Islam, you cannot take the honour out of the killing. The restoration of honour can be achieved only through the death of the malefactor. This fine old tradition has been exported, has carried itself proudly into other countries to which Muslims migrate, including countries in North America. Where honour killings occur from time to time.

Pre-marital affairs also merit death, even if the affair took place before marriage with the very man whom the woman later married. While the husband might not have betrayed his wife, if his wife's family acquires knowledge of the affair, a family council will reach the determination that the outrage to their honour requires the death of the offending family member.

A country like Jordan, felt to be the most civilized of the Arab nations, recently enacted laws making honour killings a criminal offense, punishable by law. Which hasn't deterred the incidence of such killings. A woman fearful of her family's intent in the wake of her having behaved in a manner inconsistent with the requirements of a good Muslim woman may contact the authorities.

Whose only recourse to justice, with no evidence to incriminate her family members in a plot to murder her, short of finding her dead body, is to place the woman in custodial safety. Which is to say depriving her of freedom, incarcerating her - for her safety - in prison. Until and unless the situation somehow becomes resolved and fears for her safety no longer prevail.

The wonder of it is that, as has been pointed out by those critical of the left, of the intellectual and political left, of feminists cognizant of the situation, but whose sympathies appear to lie squarely with these very same practitioners of an ancient culture as being 'hands-off' for criticism - they remain complicit in their lack of outcry and demand for change.

So why is this? Cultural relativism is a fairly pathetic excuse for abandoning women to the fate of cultural oppression of this magnitude of order.

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Outrage Reprised

Darn those fellows with the funny bones, the tart intellects, the cartoonish bent. Don't they make us laugh. Aren't those editorial page cartoons worth looking forward to on a daily basis? Don't they sum up the absurdity of human nature? Aren't they cleverly waggish? Don't they make us do a double-take in realization of how lunatic is this world we have fashioned?

And aren't they living dangerously. Think of all those outraged letters-to-the-editor that occasionally blemish the editorial pages, from irate newspaper subscribers, when one of their sacred oxes has been gored. There are options: cease subscribing and thus confronting such excessive outrages that has most other people rolling in the aisles, or just shrug it off.

Unless. Except. If. But.

So here we go again. We have already experienced a paroxysm of fundamentally outraged Islamic revulsion against relatively mild cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad. Not to be trifled with. The affront is too great, and the hysterical backlash becomes downright murderous.

To the unfortunate extent that 50 people died unnecessarily, a country that deserves better suffered grievous economic loss, and the divide between East and West, the secular-democratic world and the dogmatically Muslim world cracked even further apart.
And, sadly, the craven cowardice of many news organizations surrendered to the threat.

We're still smarting at the affront to our civil liberties, to the smothering of freedom of speech and expression. Although it's safe to say we've moved on. At least we thought we had. Denmark certainly has. Lesson learned, so we thought: one does not trifle with Muslim sensibilities. Nor give them too much credit for temperate thought.

Now though, Sweden has recklessly, intemperately stepped up to the pitch. And now it's a Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks - brave and silly man - who has launched a thousand spites down on his greying head. You'd think he'd know better. But no, off he goes and teases the hydra. Cut off one head, another grows to join the other hundred or so heads, all snapping, gnashing their ferocious jaws.

Courageous Defender of Islam, aka leader of the Islamic State in Iraq, that kindly head of that religious charity, is now offering $100,000 for the murder of Mr. Vilks. Oh, with an additional $50,000 thrown in for good will if the murder is well accomplished, which is to say "If he were to be slaughtered like a lamb." However that is.

Whoops, we're not finished, not quite. Another $50,000 for the well-deserved killing of the editor of the newspaper that published the drawing by Lars Vilks of the Prophet sporting the head of a dog. Dog lovers of the world unite! We are outraged at the taking of such unwarranted liberties. Dogs deserve better.

It is mankind that is unclean in its habitude.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Take Your Pick, Ontario

Why is it that the best and the brightest, the most competent, dependable, honestly reliable individuals shy away from politics? So that we're left with the brightly incompetent, dependably unreliable and honestly dim picks waiting to be elevated to candidate status and ultimately their goal - governing us. So do we or do we not get what we deserve?

Suppose so.

For Ontario the next big date with voter destiny and provincial disarray is October 10. An otherwise auspicious date but I'm not divulging. The electioneering, long ago launched, but now apparently in earnest, is tediously reminiscent of all those other, earlier elections when we brought aboard yet another incompetent administration of our provincial affairs. Do we deserve this?

Guess so.

Here's Dalton McGuinty standing doughtily on his record, as befits the consummate politician. If anyone was groomed by familial antecedents and personal attributes it's got to be this guy, a politician born. Greasy, slimy too, but that, alas is the unfortunate picture that forms in any electorate's mind, lazily elaborating on type and forecast.

Premier McGuinty doesn't think much of his main adversary's platform, so he's demeaning and degrading it and in the process making himself look even sleazier than usual, handily dodging his own responsibility in off-putting voters and his responsibilities as far as verbose promises go.

All of a sudden the premier views the public funding of faith-based schools as inimical to the civic and social health of the children of this province. He's the sterling product of a faith-based school, as are his siblings and his children. Ongoing funding of the Roman Catholic Separate School system is in a hands-off position; the status quo remains.

It's all those other obviously undeserving religions clamouring for public funding in the interests of fairness that has him aghast at the very thought of further dividing the populace and churning out greater numbers of people whose parochial religious outlook on life in general and on life in this great province has him huffing and puffing with indignation.


Then there's John Tory, born with the proverbial silver spoon, his mother the doyen of Toronto high society, looking for something to do with himself other than employment as a high-charged, highly paid corporate CEO. He's the one who brought up this whole mess yet again, promising to fund faith-based schools. Little did he know the far-reaching effect his tax-funded generosity would have on his campaign prospects.

But he's also got other and better ideas with which to woo the voters. To undo, for example, some of the disastrous decisions brought forward and placed into law by one of his own colleagues, former Conservative premier Mike Harris (hiss when you say that). Who downloaded provincial responsibilities onto municipalities, forcing them to pay for public services beyond their scope of operation and their ability to fund.

He's also promising to fund public transit across the province to a far greater degree. Again, taking us back to a time that once was, when public transit vehicles proudly bore signage giving due credit to the province for its transit funding. Good stuff out of the mouth of a Tory - John Tory: "I am simply presenting myself as I am. the most important thing you can do is to be true to yourself."


These motherhood statements have a self-serving whiff of indigestible blather about them. Here's Dalton McGuinty's counterpoint: "It's not about strategy. It's what fundamentally you believe is the right thing to do." Yep. Fundamentally you earnestly give your word to the public, then believe the right thing to do is to betray that word. If that's the criteria, it's a winning one. Or at least it was.

Voters appear to be of the opinion that it's time for change. On the other hand, in polls, voters representing a minuscule 6% of the electorate claim that honesty, integrity and trust are among the top three issues for them. Think about it: voters have given up on the possibility that if you're a politician you're honest, display integrity in your behaviour and decision-making and are worthy of trust.

Education through experience. A sad and weary cynicism.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

The Family Compact Doomed?

Statistics Canada has brought out some intriguing new figures illustrating the decline of the nuclear family, the little family grouping of parents and siblings living together in harmony and for the distinct purpose of peopling the nation ad infinitum. This little family compact has been dwindling in numbers. Alarmingly so, in the opinion of many.

What is now in evidence is growing numbers of new and variant ways of living together as a family. Childless couples. Same-sex couples. With and without offspring. Singles. And the steadily-inflating numbers of quasi-committed couples without benefit of clergy and custom. The incidence of common-law pairings is increasing, while that of neat little nuclear families decreases.

Single-head households is on a steady rise, with female heads of household predominating, while male heads of households is also a growing phenomenon. Young adults returning to live at home with their tired old parents. While among the singles can be counted previously marrieds, but now divorced or widowed, a growing number of singles have never been partnered, either through marriage or common-law practise.

Yet everyone aspires to coupledom. Most people appear to harbour a vision of a committed relationship, a partner in life. Yet increasingly, although the desire is present, the actuality eludes. Why might this conceivably be? Well, to hazard a guess, lack of commitment. Lack of understanding that to commit means that something will have to alter to ensure that two disparate individuals can live together in harmony.

Pleasure treasure their individuality, their capability to make their own choices about every conceivable life experience more than they do the potential to have a partner in life if it means they'll have to compromise and give up something seemingly vital yet perhaps trivial. On the balance sheet personal satisfaction appears to rate higher than commitment to making a relationship work.

And that's truly a pity. For many reasons. Not the least of which is that children brought up without the presence of a mother or a father are missing a tangible and highly emotional building block in their early upbringing and experience of love and attachment. Their early childhood has not been well rounded and fully supported as it would be with two parents.

Single mothers bringing up children on their own face an ongoing struggle to accomplish all that life offers to them and their children. There are severely limiting economic disparities between single parents and traditional families. There is the possibility of a childhood fraught with the dangers of school drop-out, drug and alcohol abuse resulting in a lack of opportunity, of the realization of potential.

And people who are willing to give a little to gain a lot, to work toward establishing a rewarding relationship with another person have the reward of sharing life's pains and pleasures with someone close to them, emotionally, supportively. There can be no doubt that there are plenty of individuals around who are willing to sacrifice complete freedom for the opportunity to find a mate.

The unfortunate thing is that the opportunities for diverse personalities to find one another diminishes as people age. The truly unfortunate thing is that people who search desperately for the opportunity to find a life-mate may find themselves exposed unremittingly to others who don't share that intensity of need.

This can be a sad, lonely and disappointing life for far too many people.

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THAT Mary!?!

Oh dear, the reincarnation of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. No kidding. If enough people believe in it, who are we to question? Here's a woman who, for about a half century, has been living her life as the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. Catholic, of course. French Canadian, no less.

The Army of Mary cleave to the writings of Marie-Paule Giguere, aka the Virgin Mary. Situated at Lac-Etchemin, Quebec. What! never heard of it?

God, in His wisdom ordained a child be born to a Jewish woman through a divine miracle which declared Mary to be a virgin, yet pregnant with the Messiah. Who are we to question God? And this new Mary asserts that the Lord informed her she, like her purported son, would face a future where she would be 'crucified' by those of her own faith.

Sounds yawningly familiar. When is a cult a religion? When is a religion a cult?

This woman, one of ten siblings living in a Quebec backwater heard voices by the age of 12. That didn't stop her from marrying and bearing five children. No virgin she, evidently. All did not go swimmingly it would appear. Her marriage floundered, and her doctor, priest and social services recommended her children be placed in a boarding school. And she to return to live with her own mother.

Following swiftly was an order from God to set down for posterity the story of her life. Aided by the Virgin Mary who took her carefully under her wing, offering a special course to this woman in spirituality - and then commanding her to act - as the Virgin Mary, it would appear. Talk about having friends in high places. Talk about responsibility. Talk about a severely disturbed mind.

The Catholic Church, it would seem, has enjoyed a rather piquant relationship with this pious group of Catholics. The Church finds it disturbing that some woman can claim to be the Mother of Christ incarnate, and her word accepted by a large following. One wonders why, actually, since the Church itself makes similar claims, to represent the Trinity, expecting its flock to surrender to its authority.

But the Vatican has out-lived its patience with these intransigent believers. And it has excommunicated the Army of Mary. Alas. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ruled that the operations of this arm of Catholicism are illegal, illegitimate, and is in a state of schism with the Catholic Church. Out, out! you blasphemers.

The group is calmly accepting, for this is the "will of God" and these events were foreordained. "In 1958 our foundress received from above, heard from above that she would be crucified by priests and bishops. It's only the realization today of such a message" according to the Superior General of the sons of Mary. "We cannot go against our conscience."

Heaven forfend. After all, Mary, the mother of Jesus is divine, and so is her recent presence. And a leading figure in her church, Father Jean-Pierre Mastropietro who has ordained new priests and who wears a Byzantine crown, himself behaving in the manner of a pope, has insulted the real pope.

Um, of course.


The French Secret Police - Ha!

Wouldn't that be just like the French? To have instituted a system whereby peoples' meanest instincts of jealousy and suspicion are given sufficient credence that a "snitch" system of raising alarm is a recognized mechanism for state security to intervene through the medium of "internal intelligence".

Sounds like a resounding instance of lack of intelligence. On the other hand, the sneak syndrome may tell us more than we would like to know about the French mentality.

Come to think of it, wasn't that an honoured mechanism by which the Stasi in East Germany kept themselves informed? Through the pressure exacted on ordinary people to inform on others. And the information gleaned from people who had an axe to grind, or who suffered from a terminal case of jealousy, or who simply wished harm on others was placed on the record. And from there it was possible to harass, to denigrate, to harm and incarcerate.

It's the preferred mechanism of a police state. It's rather George Orwellish, wouldn't you say? And here we are informed that it's common for national security agencies in France to permit individuals free reign in discrediting others, to leave a stench of suspicion and aggrievement against others and make it an official document harming hapless and unsuspecting individuals.

Anonymous tips, under the French system of intelligence gathering, are given credence, can form the basis for an intelligence search, and blackening the reputation of people who have done no wrong. Quite incredible. However, as this is France we're discussing, perhaps credible, after all. Fraternal in suspicion, equal in stupidity.

Now, none other than newly-elected President Nicolas Sarkozy is set to change all that. Why? It would appear the viper's sting of suspicion levied against him by this time-honoured system has energized him to upend the system. Good on him, and about time.

Does this bespeak a national psychosis? A paranoid society? You've got to wonder. When tax audits and criminal investigations can be launched on the basis of an anonymous tip it's hard to imagine this is a mature, intelligent, liberal democratic country we're talking about and not a severely repressed dictatorship.

The laugh of the matter is that former prime minister Dominique de Villepin's alleged skulduggery in implicating Mr. Sarkozy in a scandal in an attempt to discredit him sufficiently to deter him from ascending to the presidency of the country has led to this alteration of intelligence procedures.

For the rather simple reason that the device of planting suspicion has commonly been utilized by politicians as well. Now it would appear Mr. de Villepin is charging Mr. Sarkozy with malicious denunciation in implicating him in the failed attempt to discredit Mr. Sarkozy himself. Does that give you a headache?

Does this all sound rather childish, obtusely adolescently silly? You bet. But dangerous as all hell, too. There are some legislative, governmental traditions that deserve to be abolished, and some societal mores that need to be discouraged for the sake of blind justice.

Can you believe this? France!?!


Ontario Election

Lots of blarney being tossed about hither and yon. Just in case Ontarians weren't sufficiently aware we're in pre-election mode. Here's the opportunity to toss out an opportunistic and miserable failure of a premier, one who solemnly promised one thing, then casually disdained his promise once in the security of his office.

He dared tamper with health care premiums in a province that should be wealthy enough so that the status quo of no premiums imposed upon the populace would become history. In the process exacting a nasty burden on families in the most underhanded and unnecessary of ways.

We're considered so 'wealthy' in confederation that our funding of transfer payments to less economically viable provinces ensure their populace isn't burdened with health premiums.

And the provincial drug formulary didn't go unnoticed; under his watch and tutelage it too was altered so senior citizens without additional coverage would have to pay through the teeth for significantly higher dispensing fees. There's been a decrease in coverage under the formulary as well, with fewer medicines and tests and protocols being covered.

What's to complain about? Election campaigns encourage would-be achievers to promise the world. Once in office, they are enabled to do the most peculiar things.

While families now pay a burdensome health tax premium, Premier Dalton McGuinty has taken care of MPPs, and hasn't exactly failed himself. He wasted little time in awarding himself an annual raise to the cool tune of $40,000. And why would members of the provincial parliament object, since they too profited by a handsome $22,000 increase.

It might seem to be in the public interest to toss the Liberal government. The alternative, alas for anyone voting NDP or Green Party, appears to be the Conservatives. We'd have to bring in John Tory (yes, it's fuuuuuny!) to oust old Dalton. And what is Mr. Tory working assiduously in aid of? Groan. The pain of it.

Public funding of private religious schools. As though there isn't enough that divides this multicultural society. As though the hope for the future doesn't lie in bringing children of all faiths - and none - together in a mutually-beneficial setting to observe for themselves just how much each of them has in common with one another.

Yes, the pain of it.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Wrong Time and Place

Certain traditions lend themselves to transplantation from one country to another. Others do not. When coming from a basically rural and village environment to that of a more mechanized and motorized society a feel-good group walk in the dark along an urban road can spell disaster. And so it did, for a wedding party in Delta, British Columbia.

The irony of the situation is that this tragedy occurred in an area heavily settled by emigrants from India. Where everyone seems to know everyone else. Because the ties that bind are religious, social, traditional. And when something goes awry it strikes the entire community. That connection is not readily severed, and when some suffer, all tend to in communal compassion.

So when Satinder Kaur Mahil, 50, of Abbotsford, B.C.; Bhupindar Singh Kaler, 26, Rubal Kaur Gill, 21, from Ontario, and 13-year-old Damanpreet Kang of Toronto - some of the guests for the 24 August wedding of Harsiman Kaur Mahil and Robbie Singh Grewal were mown down by a car driven by 71-year-old Bachittar Singh Brar, it was full circle.

A traditional celebratory event transposed from the Indian sub-continent for a Sikh wedding at a Canadian site on a quiet urban-country road among large homes housing the area's Sikh community was tragically disrupted and celebration turned to horror, then sorrow and grief by an accident caused by an elderly Sikh man from that very area, driving his truck through the unseen celebrants.

The officiating Abbotsford temple priest at the funeral of Harjinder Kaur Sanghera counselled all those involved to remain calm and peaceful, not to apportion blame to anyone. Now it is for the community to think deeply whether the traditional jago, where pre-wedding participants wend their way on foot through alleyways and traffic-free lanes in India needs to be set aside in Canada.

"We are living in a different reality", said Jagrup Brar, member of the provincial legislature for Surrey-Panorama Ridge, a politician in attendance at the funeral. Migration from one's country of origin, often does result in the need to surrender familiar and proud traditions, while accepting the reality of another place, another time.


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