banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Act with audacity and a lofty spirit": advice for President Bush from Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world between his accession to the throne of Macedonia in 336 BC and his death in 323. Alexander faced an insurgency in Greece in 335 that has several parallels to the situation facing President Bush in Iraq as he contemplates a change in American policy there.

In 338, a coalition of Greek city states led by Athens went to war with Alexander's father, Philip, and was decisively defeated at the battle of Chaeronea. Philip was assassinated in 336, and in 335 the city of Thebes, with the backing of Athens, rebelled against Alexander, the new king of Macedonia. Alexander's advisers ( I can imagine a Macedonian version of the Iraq Study Group) suggested that he withdraw from Greece and treat the rebellious tribes on Macedonia's northern borders mildly and by offering them concessions lure them back into allegiance. The Roman historian Plutarch describes Alexander's response:

Alexander was only twenty years old when he inherited his kingdom, which at that moment was beset by formidable jealousies and feuds, and external dangers on every side. The neighbouring barbarian tribes were eager to throw off the Macedonian yoke and longed for the rule of their native kings: as for the Greek states, although Philip had defeated them in battle, he had not had time to subdue them or accustom them to his authority. He had swept away the existing governments, and then, having prepared their peoples for drastic changes, had left them in turmoil and confusion, because he had created a situation which was completely unfamiliar to them. Alexander’s Macedonian advisers feared that a crisis was at hand and urged the young king to leave the Greek states to their own devices and refrain from using any force against them. As for the barbarian tribes, they considered that he should try to win them back to their allegiance by using milder methods, and forestall the first signs of revolt by offering them concessions. Alexander, however, chose precisely the opposite course, and decided that the only way to make his kingdom safe was to act with audacity and a lofty spirit, for he was certain that if he were seen to yield even a fraction of his authority, all his enemies would attack him at once. He swiftly crushed the uprisings among the barbarians by advancing with his army as far as the Danube, where he overcame Syrmus, the king of the Triballi, in a great battle.

Then when the news reached him that the Thebans had revolted and were being supported by the Athenians, he immediately marched south through the pass of Thermopylae. ‘Demosthenes’, he said, ‘called me a boy while I was in Illyria and among the Triballi, and a youth when I was marching through Thessaly; I will show him I am a man by the time I reach the walls of Athens.’When he arrived before Thebes, he wished to give the citizens the opportunity to repent of their actions, and so he merely demanded the surrender of their leaders Phoenix and Prothytes, and offered an amnesty to all the rest if they would some over to his side. The Thebans countered by demanding the surrender of [Macedonian generals] Philotas and Antipater and appealing to all who wished to liberate Greece to range themselves on their side, and at this Alexander ordered his troops to prepare for battle. The Thebans, although greatly outnumbered, fought with a superhuman courage and spirit, but when the Macedonian garrison which had been posted in the citadel of the Cadmeia made a sortie and fell upon them from the rear, the greater part of their army was encircled, they were slaughtered where they stood, and the city was stormed, plundered and razed to the ground. Alexander’s principal object in permitting the sack of Thebes was to frighten the rest of the Greeks into submission by making a terrible example. But he also put forward the excuse that he was redressing the wrongs done to his allies, for the Plataeans and Phocians had both complained of the actions of the Thebans against them. As for the population of Thebes, he singled out the priests , a few citizens who had friendly connections with Macedonia, the descendants of the poet Pindar, and those who had opposed the revolt to be spared: all the rest were publicly sold into slavery to the number of twenty thousand. Those who were killed in the battle numbered more than six thousand ....

After this Alexander came to terms with the Athenians, in spite of their open sympathy with the sufferings of the Thebans.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gay marriage: a reply to the Canada Family Action Coalition

A free vote on gay marriage is to be held in the House of Commons tomorrow on whether or not to re-visit the federal legislation that extended civil marriage to gay couples in 2005. The opponents of gay marriage are mustering their troops for a last stand on Thursday, led by Dr. Charles McVety and the Canada Family Action Coalition. They took out a full-page ad in today’s National Post outlining their position; in the interest of open-minded debate, I would like to reply to Dr. McVety and once again make the case for leaving the legislation as it is.

The headline states (ad copy in italics): "Does Your Member of Parliament Care About:"

  • Freedom of Speech: Should it be against the law to publicly express your views on morality? Of course not. We live in a democracy, and freedom of speech is a cornerstone of that democracy. No one should be punished by the state for expressing opinions on an issue. However, freedom of speech is circumscribed by laws and traditions against slander and libel, so lets keep the debate civil and factual. When opponents of gay marriage frame the debate with derogatory insults about homosexuals, as David Warren did recently in the Western Standard (Oct. 23, 2006) saying, among other things, that "the Devil has control of the media, the courts, the bureaucracy and the education system", and "the systematic attack on our common law is part of a larger attack on all norms of public decency", then it’s hard to take the freedom of speech argument seriously. When the "Reverend" Fred Phelps in the US pickets funerals with placards saying "God Hates Fags", the principle of freedom of speech may allow him to do so, but Members of Congress should be free to ignore him.
  • Freedom of Religion: Should clergy be protected from being forced to perform same sex marriages? Should marriage commissioners continue to lose their jobs? Should places of worship be protected? As far as clergy and places of worship are concerned, they should absolutely be protected from performing gay marriages if their doctrine forbids it. After all, membership in a church is voluntary, and if one doesn’t agree with the church’s position, one is usually free to leave. However, this right does not extend to civil marriage commissioners: their job is to uphold the law of the land, and if the law says that gays can marry, then that is the end of the discussion. No-one is forced to be a marriage commissioner - if you can’t in good conscience obey the law, then the decent thing is to resign your commission. Unlike membership in a church, citizenship is not voluntary; we cannot pick and choose which laws we will obey and which ones we will not, be it the criminal code or the federal marriage statutes.
  • Children’s Rights? Should children lose their rights to a mother and a father? This is a common argument against gay marriage, but to me it is a non sequitur. Let’s face it - gay couples cannot have children on their own, so how does allowing gay couples to marry somehow deprive children of heterosexual parents? This may be an argument against gay couples adopting children, which is a totally separate issue from gay marriage, but gay couples don’t get married to split up existing family units. Furthermore, many gay households already include children (the figure in the US is 27%), usually the biological children of one member of the couple. Should these children be denied the right to live with married parents, even if they are the same sex? While we’re on the subject, the biggest reason for children growing up without a male and female parent is divorce, not gay marriage. Is Dr. McVety advocating changing Canada’s divorce laws as well?
  • Teachers' and Parents' Rights? Should teachers be forced by law to teach same-sex relations to children? Should parents lose their authority over sexual curriculum taught to their children? See comment on marriage commissioners, above. If a teacher works in a public school, then he or she is obligated to follow the rules and regulations that govern the school system as determined by the democratically elected authorities who administer it. We cannot choose which laws we will obey and which ones we will not. Teachers who cannot in good conscience follow the law should get out of the profession or find employment in the private system. As far as parents are concerned, if you send your kids to a public school, you shouldn’t expect them to be treated differently from any other student. Again, we cannot pick and choose the laws we want to follow, and like it or not, provincial school curricula are the law of the land. If you cannot accept the moral tone of a public school, then work to change the tone through democratic channels, or send your children to a private school or home-school them. Of course, all parents have the right to instill whatever moral values they want in the privacy of their own homes and churches - it should be possible to teach your children private moral values while still sending them to an "immoral" public school, shouldn’t it?
  • The Social Impact of Re-defining Marriage? Should Parliament study the impact of redefining marriage? France did, why not Canada? Well, let’s leave aside the argument that Canada should look to France for guidance on how to run a country. This debate has already happened in Canada, and the legislature has spoken. One can probably argue that the debate was perfunctory in 2005 and there is not yet enough evidence to assess the impact of the change, but the fact is that the law has been re-written and over 10 000 gay Canadians have been legally married since then. The social impact of changing the policy now may be worse - are we suddenly going to tell these couples that the legal partnerships they entered into in good faith are now null and void? If we allow currently married gay couples to stay married but forbid gay marriages in the future, that sets up an intolerable situation where the state gives privileges to some gay citizens but denies them to others. What signal does this send to society at large, that legally binding social contracts can be nullified by an emotional vote in Parliament?
  • Serving Constituents? 64% of Canadians want Parliament to review existing legislation, according to a National Post/Institute for Canadian Values/ COMPAS poll. Will MP s vote according to their constituents or special interest? Well, we should always take poll results with a huge grain of salt. The Strategic Council did a poll this week that reported that only 38% of Canadians want the law changed to return marriage to its "traditional" definition. Anyway, we don’t make laws in this country by referendum - we elect Members of Parliament to vote in the legislature on our behalf, and that is a good thing - as English Prime Minister Robert Walpole said in 1738, "Are all desires proper to be gratified? Is an inflamed populace to give laws to the legislature?" Lets face it - one of the purposes of having an elected legislature pass laws rather than holding a referendum every time is to remove emotion and mob rule from the legislative process. This is one of those situations - there are emotional irrational arguments flying around on both sides of the debate, and Parliament should decide the issue in a free vote. MP s must take into account many aspects of the big picture nationally, including but not limited to the wishes of their local constituents, and for better or worse, we should let them make the decision. The proper time to pressure them is during an election - if enough people are unhappy with the direction of Parliament, then MP s get voted out. Dr. McVety and the Canadian Family Action Coalition tried unsuccessfully to target pro-gay-marriage MP s during the last election and failed. Try again next time, but let Parliament do its job now.

It is my wish that the vote in the House tomorrow is truly a free vote, and that a majority of MP s will decide to not re-open the debate on gay marriage. Stephen Harper can say to his "social conservative base" that he kept his campaign promise, and then drop the issue once and for all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Memo to the left 2: Why we're in Afghanistan

I've posted on this before (here , here , and here ), but it never ceases to amaze me how the left in Canada can't get behind the mission in Afghanistan. The situation there represents a perfect storm of causes that the left traditionally supports: women's rights, gay rights, racism, Third World development - you name the issue and Canadian troops are over there making it better. And yet, Jack Layton (and now apparently Stephane Dion) can't seem to figure out why we're there. Here's a clue:

The gunmen came at night to drag Mohammed Halim away from his home, in front of his crying children and his wife begging for mercy.

The 46-year-old schoolteacher tried to reassure his family that he would return safely. But his life was over, he was part-disembowelled and then torn apart with his arms and legs tied to motorbikes, the remains put on display as a warning to others against defying Taliban orders to stop educating girls.

Mr Halim was one of four teachers killed in rapid succession by the Islamists at Ghazni, a strategic point on the routes from Kabul to the south and east which has become the scene of fierce clashes between the Taliban and US and Afghan forces...

(h/t: GayPatriot )

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ontario's bottle deposit boondoggle

One of the things that irritates me the most about Ontario's Liberal government is its propensity to continually lecture its citizens on civic virtue, with Dalton McGuinty playing the role of stern elementary-school principal to us bad little boys and girls. If we don't shape up, we'll get another serious talking-to by Principal McGuinty. The provincial government is incapable of doing anything about important issues facing us, like our overloaded and inadequate electricity supply or our crumbling infrastructure, but by God they're going to make sure we recycle our wine bottles.

The province has announced that, starting in February 2007, there will be a 10 or 20 cent deposit system on all wine and liquor bottles, and that all containers must be returned to Beer Store outlets for refunds. This will, it is hoped, increase Ontario's recycling rate of these containers by 30 or 40 percent. Being a skeptic by nature, I would like to interrupt the mutual back-slapping and congratulations on this "green" initiative to ask some questions that no-one seems to be asking:
  • There is currently almost no market for recycled glass in Ontario, especially green glass, which most wine bottles are made of. As a result, almost all glass collected in Ontario's current Blue Box program winds up in landfill sites. How is a bottle deposit system going to divert glass from landfills if the Blue Box system failed to do so?
  • The province touts its beer bottle deposit system as a model for the program - almost 90% of beer bottles in the province are returned and re-used. However, this will not be the case for wine and liquor bottles; they will be returned but not re-used, and thus the glass collected will be subject to the same problems that the Blue Box system has. Wineries and distilleries are not set up to re-use bottles, nor are the bottles themselves designed to be re-used. What about imports of wine and spirits from foreign countries - if the province mandates a re-usable bottle system for the industry as its next step, are we still going to be able to buy California or Australian wine, or British Scotch? Will they continue to sell it to us if this system is made a requirement for selling alcohol in Ontario?
  • While we're on the subject, what is so heinous about dumping glass in landfill sites? Glass is absolutely and utterly inert chemically - it is made of the same material that sand is composed of (silicon dioxide). Filling a landfill with glass would have no more effect on the environment or the water table than filling it with gravel. So - why spend $15 million per year diverting it from the waste stream? The money would be better spent diverting truly dangerous or toxic materials, like batteries.

I have a feeling that this is another one of McGuinty's show-piece programs that gets a lot of press but acccomplishes next-to-nothing. It generates good press while making his government look like they're doing something about the environment, and at the same time diverts attention from his policy failures (like the promise to close Ontario's coal-fired electrical generating stations, which the government has admitted that it can't keep). David Suzuki gives him a pat on the back and the chardonnay-swillers in Rosedale feel good about saving the environment, while the net effect of the program is zero.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Anti-Americanism in the locker room

I was at the gym yesterday and eavesdropped on a conversation between two elderly gentlemen about the relative merits of Canada and the U.S. They were apparently oblivious to my University of Wisconsin T-shirt. The exchange illustrates one of the worst and most annoying traits of most Canadians - a reflexive loathing of the United States and a talent for turning our short-comings into virtues.

old guy 1:
"When my father emigrated from Holland, he came to Canada but his brothers went to the U. S. Boy, am I glad it wasn't the other way around."
old guy 2:
"You got that right. Can you imagine living down there? Have you been to their cities? They're basically slums."
old guy 1:
"I know what you mean. You look at American trailer parks compared to Canadian trailer parks - ours are nice little communities. Pretty soon Americans will be coming up here just to live in our trailer parks."
old guy 2:
"Well of course our standard of living is much higher up here, and we have free health care. Lots of people down there are dying because they don't have health insurance."
And so it went. I didn't want to get into it with them for fear of having a barbell dropped on me, but let's examine the facts.
  1. The standard of living in Canada is NOT higher than the U.S. According to the OECD, in 1997 our standard of living based on GDP per capita was 23% less than the U.S.; our labour productivity lagged by 19%, and our workers' output per hour worked was 17% less than American workers. The situation had not improved much by 2001 - Canada then ranked 8th in the world for standard of living (based on GDP per capita), behind Denmark and Iceland. The U.S. ranked second, behind Luxembourg.
  2. Most poor Americans without health insurance do have access to health care via programs like Medicare. Poor people are not dying in droves in the U.S. because they don't have a state-run health care system. By the way, health care in Canada is not "free" - we pay for a poorly-run and inefficient system with exhorbitant taxes.
  3. Their cities are basically slums? Have they been to Jane & Finch in Toronto, or Vancouver's East End, or any number of run-down poor communities in Canada? Or, for that matter, have they been to Vermont, or Oregon, or South Dakota, or mid-town Manhattan? We're myopic when it comes to poverty and hopelessness in the cities and towns of our own country, and we make sweeping generalizations about problems in U.S. cities.
  4. Our trailer parks are nicer? Huh? We're reaching at straws here. U.S. trailer parks are more likely to be hit by tornadoes, but that's about it as far as I can see. I've seen some pretty sad trailer communities not too far from here.

I can't stand this knee-jerk anti-Americanism that pervades Canadian society - it is the main obstacle to our progress as a political and economic entity. Harper's declaration that Quebec is a nation is a moot point if we can't define Canada as a nation without casting it as some kind of anti-America. I would like to talk to old guy 1's uncles and ask them if they're sorry they chose the U.S. over Canada.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ontario students to study climate change in proposed new science curriculum

This was inevitable, I suppose. A draft document released in October by Ontario's Ministry of Education has outlined potential changes to the province's high school science curriculum. Among the changes is the replacement of the existing grade 10 unit on "Weather" with a new unit on "Climate Change". Where the old curriculum focused on weather and climate, the new document concentrates exclusively on global warming. Here are a few of the course expectations for the proposed Grade 10 Academic course:
  • assess the global and regional consequences of climate change
  • analyze, through experimentation, evidence to indentify the factors that influence climate change
  • demonstrate an understanding of the greenhouse effects and its influence on climate change
  • research and propose a course of action related to individual, regional or national initiatives (e.g. community action with industry, non-governmental organizations) to address climate change
  • assess and evaluate different tools used by scientists to make informed decisions on global climate change and evaluate their socio-economic and political impact
  • evaluate the impacts of climate change on human activities (e.g. agriculture, coastal inundation, desertification, famine and disease)
  • test a hypothesis about climate change cause and effect relationships (e.g. the combustion of fossil fuels is responsible for rising global temperatures; the concentration of atmospheric CO2 is responsible for an increase in global temperatures; global temperatures have been on the increase since the Industrial Revolution; and the frequency of cyclones, hurricanes or tornadoes increases as the atmospheric temperatures increase) using a simulated technology and/or data (e.g. Statistics Canada and Environment Canada) that models climate profiles

This will make the folks over at the Suzuki Foundation happy, and I'm sure the teachers of Ontario will deliver this unit with their usual level of objectivity and skepticism. I can't help but think of the Jesuit maxim: "give us a child for his first seven years, and he is ours for life." Good luck, Rona Ambrose.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Breaking free from the clammy grip of the CBC

Since I moved out to the country from Toronto almost 20 years ago, I have gone through a daily morning ritual on the 40 minute drive to work; I turn on the radio to listen to the news and find out what's happened overnight. I have two basic options - the local "Lite Rock" station, which broadcasts a two-minute news update every half hour which is heavy on minor hockey scores, or one of the two CBC radio channels. Out here, you have to listen to CBC radio for any kind of in-depth news reporting, since there are no other options when you live outside radio range of Toronto or Ottawa. Without fail, I would listen to CBC news for a few minutes, blood pressure rising exponentially, until the inevitable story of victimhood or environmental degradation made its appearance, complete with an interview of an expert from the Suzuki Foundation, the Coalition Against Poverty, or Doctors Without Borders. At that point, I punched the off button furiously and continued the drive in silence.

No more. I have gone over to the dark side, and am now the proud owner of a satellite radio. For a modest outlay for the hardware and a $15 monthly subscription fee I now have over 100 channels of music & information at my fingertips, and as God is my witness, I'll never listen to CBC radio again.

I chose XM Radio, since Sirius Canada is partly owned by the CBC itself, and now I can choose between audio feeds of Fox TV News, the BBC World service, CNBC, CNN, Public Radio International, plus Canadian news in either French or English. Imagine that - I now get information from sources that represent a broad spectrum of political opinion, and I can actually hear opposing views on issues that haven't been processed through the filter of the CBC's "consensus".

It has been a liberating experience, and I have yet to experience a downside. I travelled to New York City last summer and had uninterrupted reception the whole way there. The big upside of course is that technology is making a mockery of organizations like the CRTC that in that annoying paternalistic nanny-state way have erected cultural walls to protect us dumb citizens from hearing things that might challenge the stifling orthodoxy in this country. Bring it on! I do still have one nagging annoyance: I continue to pay for the CBC with my taxes, even though I now never watch or listen to it.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Is democracy suited to municipal government?

Even though I have reservations about democracy as a form of government and have some deeply-rooted discomfort with the concept that every citizen should be allowed to vote, I generally agree with Winston Churchill's quip that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. I take my civic duties seriously and vote in every provincial and federal election. However, try as I might, I cannot work up any interest in municipal politics and will not vote in the upcoming Ontario municipal elections.

I live in a small rural municipality in Eastern Ontario, population 4 000, which consists of a small village of 1500 and a large surrounding rural district. The municipal government collects my trash, maintains and plows my roads, treats my sewage and delivers drinking water to my house. That's about the limit of its impact on my life, and I really can't work up any interest in who manages those functions as long as it is done competently, which it usually is regardless of who sits on the municipal council.

There are a few serious issues that confront this community - a lack of doctors, petty crime and a lack of local policing, unruly teenagers who regularly visit their antisocial behaviour on the citizenry, to name a few. However, the municipal government has little control over these areas - they are dealt with (or not) by the provincial or federal authorities who control the police, the court system and the various laws & policies that direct them.

The real local issue is the economy - the area is depressed, with little economic activity outside agriculture or the service sector. The municipal government seems unable to cope with this problem - it routinely opposes bylaw amendments or zoning changes that would attract light industry, and therefore jobs & economic activity, on the grounds that it would harm the area's bucolic charm. So, people enjoy the bucolic charm through their car windows as they pass through our community on the highway, while our young people move away to urban areas where the jobs are. Our latest municipal scheme to "revitalize" the area amounts to placing quaint planters full of geraniums on the main street of the village, while at the same time denying permits to businesses that want to open a large hog-slaughtering operation and a transport-truck service centre because of concerns over noise pollution.

Well, some would reply, why don't you vote for someone who will change direction? Good idea, I suppose, but the candidates never want to do this. My mailbox is full of pamphlets at election time from nice, well-meaning candidates who have no new ideas. There's Barb, whose claim to fame is that on the last council she got our municipality designated by the province as an "underserviced area" and accessed funding for local tree planting and sits on her church's parish council, or Darlene, who vows to make council meetings more open with fewer sessions that exclude the press, and led the charge to have regular teen dances in the village and helped organize the building of a skateboard park for local youth. Everybody loves the community just the way it is and wants to keep it that way. They are all nice people, and some of them are my neighbours, but is this any way to run a municipality?

I give up. I just can't get interested in local politics. I'll get involved in the next provincial and federal elections, where the real decisions are made, but as long as the water keeps flowing and the sidewalk is kept plowed in the winter, I'll delegate the running of the municipality to the retirees who make up most of the population, and have the time to worry about things like that.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"Buy Locally Owned" - why bother?

Business owners in the city of Belleville, Ontario have an advertising campaign that encourages citizens to "buy locally owned". The bus shelters and billboards of the area are plastered with the slogan, and local radio stations carry irritating commercials (similar to that annoying "Head On - apply directly to the forehead" TV spot) which repeat "buy locally owned" ad nauseam. Most people wouldn’t argue with the sentiment - who wouldn’t want to patronize local mom-and-pop stores to help their owners (and their neighbours) put food on the table? The trouble is, it isn’t mostly the mom-and-pop operators that are behind it.

I checked out the organization’s website to get more information. It has a link to a list of businesses who are backing the ad campaign, and it appears that the group defines "locally owned" rather loosely. Independent mom-and-pop businesses? There are a few, but the list includes lots of franchises like Kwik Kopy and Dairy Queen. Local greasy-spoon restaurants? Try Boston Pizza, Kelsey’s, Montana’s and Tim Horton’s, all of which are not located in the downtown business district but rather out on the four-lane strip near the mall.

OK, so maybe it’s an attempt to pry people out of the mall and the big box stores. Nope- there’s Canadian Tire, which operates a monster big-box store across the street from the biggest mall in the area, and must suck business away from independent hardware stores like a shop-vac. Several business right in the mall are members. Conspicuous by its absence - Walmart, Satan’s Big Box Store, which operates a huge store on the edge of town. Is this a thinly-disguised attempt to fight Walmart?

People have a mistaken idea that businesses run by big multi-national corporations do nothing but take local money out of the community and send it to places like Arkansas and Tokyo. However, the franchise owners of these stores are local people, who pay local taxes and send their kids to local schools. They hire local employees, who also pay taxes and spend their wages in the community. I would hazard a guess that Walmart contributes more to the economy of Belleville than all the downtown businesses combined - I would like to see the figures on that. Economically depressed areas like Eastern Ontario can ill-afford to be antagonistic to any corporation willing to set up shop in their limited markets, and trying to use leftist guilt about evil corporations to drum up business is just a cheap shot. All local businesses are in some sense locally-owned - why differentiate?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gay marriage in Scandinavia - no slippery slope

Dale Carpenter, blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy , has reviewed a book by William Eskridge and Darren Spedale, Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse? What We've Learned From the Evidence (Oxford University Press, 2006). The authors' conclusion?
Seventeen years after recognizing same-sex relationships in Scandinavia there are higher marriage rates for heterosexuals, lower divorce rates, lower rates for out-of-wedlock births, lower STD rates, more stable and durable gay relationships, more monogamy among gay couples, and so far no slippery slope to polygamy, incestuous marriages, or "man-on-dog" unions.

Although Carpenter cautions against drawing the conclusion that there is a direct causal relationship between gay marriage in Scandinavia and these statistics, clearly gay marriage there has not resulted in "the sort of cataclysmic consequences predicted by opponents of gay marriage."

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Suggestions for improvements to Hallowe'en

I would like to make a few suggestions to make Hallowe'en less irritating to crotchety old guys like me. I don't have kids, and I am not a kid myself, so I usually flee the house on Hallowe'en and go into the city for dinner until it's all over. However, if these ideas catch on, maybe I'll start handing out candy again to deserving little urchins.
  1. Let's not let teenagers trick-or-treat anymore. Little kids are cute, but when a 17 year-old shows up at your door at 9:00 pm with no costume save a ball cap on sideways, and when you ask him what he's supposed to be, replies with a snarl "a gangster", the whole process kind of loses its charm. I used to buy some of those nasty molasses kisses to give to kids like this so they wouldn't slit my tires, but I noticed in the paper today that Cadbury has stopped making them, so there goes that strategy. I suggest that we have a collective policy - no trick-or-treating after grade six. As a libertarian, I don't think we need to pass a law to this effect, but certainly we can figure out ways to embarass older kids into stopping.
  2. No more zombies. Dressing up as a zombie is a cop-out - a little white face paint and some dark eyeshadow - you call that a costume? I was in a coffee shop tonight and a couple walked in obviously on the way to a Hallowe'en party dressed as zombies - I couldn't tell the difference between them and the regular thugs and crack whores who hang out in the area. When I was a kid, we dressed my brother up like Yasser Arafat and sent him out - now THAT's a costume.
  3. No costumes at work. I had to go to work today with my boss dressed like a 1920's flapper and another colleague in a Sponge Bob Square Pants outfit. Can't we have a little dignity? The tellers at the bank were dressed like vampires - that sure gave me confidence in the banking system.
  4. Abolish the use of orange garbage bags as home decorations. You know the kind I mean - they have a jack-o-lantern face printed on the front, and people fill them with leaves and leave them lying around the front yard. Who thought this was a good idea - they're supposed to look like pumpkins? To me, they look like garbage.
  5. Stop the inane local news stories that are repeated every year at Hallowe'en. You know the ones - how to trick-or-treat safely, how to apply reflective tape to costumes to protect kids while running around in traffic, long stories about the extravagant vulgarly-decorated houses that look like Las Vegas theme hotels. Enough already. While we're at it, radio stations can stop playing novelty occult-themed songs like Monster Mash all freakin' day.

So, who's with me? Let's start a movement here - if it saves one man's sanity, isn't it worth it?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"Traditional family values" hysteria - in 1943

Skepticism of the need for change is one of the fundamental tenets of conservatism, as is respect for institutions like Parliament, the church, the family, or common law. Admirable though these conservative tendencies may be, they should not be used to imply that change should stop, or that society should remain static like a fly trapped in amber. If that was the case, then we would never have had an end to slavery, or extended universal suffrage to women.

These tendencies in conservative thought have come together in the current over-wrought debate over same-sex marriage. Extending the institution to homosexuals, we are told, will destroy society. David Warren writes in the Oct. 23 issue of The Western Standard that gay marriage "extends the psychic carnage wreaked by the feminist revolution. By decisively separating the concept of 'marriage' from the responsibilities of child-rearing, all of the conventions that hold a society together are turned topsy-turvy. The very connection between biological reality and moral order is severed." I have posted a rebuttal to that article here, but I would like to draw attention to a historical precedent where a heated argument about "family values" was used to try to prevent much needed social change.

During the Second World War, the U.S. faced a daunting task; rebuilding the armed forces after decades of neglect while facing enemies on many fronts, and at the same time repairing an economy destroyed by ten years of depression and putting it on a war footing. Millions of men were drafted into the services at the same time as industrial production was being increased dramatically - the result was a severe labour shortage in industries crucial to the war effort. The government's only option was to recruit women to the labour force by the millions. Many women left their roles as housewives or their traditional jobs in clerical or domestic service jobs to take highly paid jobs in industry.

This new tactic didn't go unchallenged. As Doris Goodwin writes in her biography of Franklin Roosevelt, No Ordinary Time:
The government's vigorous recruitment of women provoked fierce opposition in many quarters. In their lead editorial in April 1943, Catholic World argued that women who maintain jobs outside their homes ... weaken family life, endanger their own marital happiness, rob themselves of man's protective capabilities, and by consequence decrease the number of children. The principal evil in women's work is that it alienates the life of the wife from the life of the husband and gives marriage as much permanence as the room sharing of two freshmen at boarding school."

The phenomenon of working women has undoubtedly changed the nature of the institution of marriage (arguably more so than same-sex marriage will), and the institution has survived. It will survive the inclusion of homosexual couples, in spite of hysterical preditions to the contrary.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A rebuttal to the Western Standard on gay marriage

I am a big fan of Ezra Levant and The Western Standard, and it is refreshing to see a main-stream Canadian magazine finally take positions on governing, human rights and foreign policy that challenges the CBC/Toronto Star/Maclean’s squishy left orthodoxy. In fact, I became a subscriber after Levant took so much heat for publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons. However, David Warren’s "Culture" column in the Oct. 23 issue, "Planning the Counter-Revolution - how can the debate over same-sex marriage be done when its damage to society continues to multiply?" made me grit my teeth in frustration. Warren sounds a little unhinged in this piece, and he only reinforces the negative stereotypes of conservatives that liberals use over and over again to imply that we can’t be trusted to form a national government.

First of all, the language Warren uses is unnecessarily hysterical. He speaks of the same-sex marriage debate in terms of battles, wars, attacks, destruction, carnage, and desecration. How can we take someone seriously who says "To put a sharp point on it, in Canada today, the Devil has control of the media, the courts, the bureaucracy and the education system." Huh? The Devil is behind same-sex marriage? I agree with Warren that the debate is far from over in Canada, but to put one side of the argument on the side of Satan doesn’t invite polite level-headed dialogue.

Warren writes "The systematic attack on our common law is part of a larger attack on all norms of public decency, in what was once a Christian society. Since the ‘straight’ nuclear family was the bedrock of that society, the enemy has invested much in its destruction". As I have posted before, people need to remember that in the eyes of the law, marriage is a civil, not a religious institution. Although all major religious institutions have ceremonies and sacraments that confer blessings and approval on a couple, marital status in Canada is conferred by the state, not the church. Although religious institutions should be protected from performing marriages in situations where their doctrine forbids it, the state has no business enshrining any religious doctrine in civil law. How can the Western Standard express outrage that Ontario once considered allowing Sharia law to be used to adjudicate marital disputes and at the same time be equally outraged that Canada’s marriage policy contravenes someone’s interpretation of the Judeo-Christian roots of common law? All individuals in society are equal - civil institutions must not discriminate. Period.

Warren continues: "The genius of same-sex marriage is not that it creates the spectacle of men marrying men, women marrying women. That is mere show, like gay pride parades. To this day, few homosexuals desire to ape the symbolism of family values. And what is the point of being homosexual, if you do?" I’ll overlook the offensive use of the word "ape" for now. To whom is same-sex marriage a "spectacle"? Do heterosexuals flock to gay weddings like they do to Mardi Gras, to see the "spectacle"? Certainly to gay couples who, like married couples, are celebrating their love and commitment, it would be offensive to label their wedding a "spectacle". Few homosexuals desire to be married? Over 10 000 gay men and women have been married in Canada since the law was changed, and one must remember that this option has only been available to gay Canadians for a very short time. Many gay couples have settled into stable relationships outside of marriage because for years marriage was not an option, and young gay men and women have not grown up feeling that marriage was a possible or even desirable life path. It’s no wonder that gays aren’t rushing to get married when until recently they were told by their governments that it was unnatural for them to want to do so. Give it time. And finally, the line "what is the point of being a homosexual if you do?" Homosexuals want to get married for many of the same reasons straight couples do - to express commitment, to share resources, to provide for old age, to "settle down", and above all else, because they love each other. Why would we want the heavy hand of the state to deny this option to a minority of its citizens?

Warren says "the genius is rather in what same-sex marriage does to society at large. It compels the rewriting of the legal and tax codes to eliminate such concepts as ‘father,’ ‘mother’, ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. It creates doubt and confusion about all social relations... By decisively separating the concept of ‘marriage’ from the responsibility of child rearing, all of the conventions that hold a society together are turned topsy-turvy. The very connection between biological reality and moral order is severed." Yes, gay couples can’t have children - but to use this argument to exclude gays from marriage is illogical. Many married couples are childless. We do not deny marriage to the infertile - in fact, we celebrate marriage in the case of mature couples who find love late in life. If marriage is all about child rearing, then this is an argument about heterosexual marriage, not gay marriage. By this argument, we should only allow fertile couples to marry, and we should legally prevent heterosexuals from having children out of wedlock. We should make divorce and cohabitation illegal to make sure every child is raised by a married heterosexual couple. If Warren is upset about gay couples raising children, he should be arguing against gay couples adopting children, which is a separate issue altogether. And I hate to break it to David Warren, but the concepts of father & mother, husband & wife have not had any legal meaning in Canadian law for quite some time, long before gay marriage was legal. The tax code, the criminal code and property law have long ago ceased to recognize any difference in legal status between male "husband" and female "wife". Is he advocating a return to the good old days when only the husband payed taxes and could legally beat his wife, and women had no legal claim to marital property? If so, this has nothing to do with gay marriage and hints at an underlying unease with the concept of female equality.

"To be fair, few of the nominal supporters of same-sex marriage grasp any of this. They have been told this is just a ‘rights issue’, and they’ve been taught to avoid any form of prudential reasoning" writes Warren. This is just flat-out offensive. Does Warren actually know any homosexuals? Thank you for pointing out that my support of same-sex marriage is because I’ve been brainwashed, and that, like a retarded child I am incapable of making up my own mind on the issue and must be taught to avoid "any form of prudential reasoning". I could also point out that some would say that Warren’s statement that "I’m a Catholic, and therefore sure God is with us" requires an avoidance of prudential reasoning, but that’s another argument.

Finally, Warren states "The prime minister has ... started to appoint supreme and superior court judges who are morally and intellectually sound, though we will have to keep the Liberals and their like out of power for a decade or more to turn that tide". Morally and intellectually sound? In other words, anyone in favour of gay marriage is immoral and intellectually unsound? The last resort of a weak argument is ad hominem attacks on one’s opponents. And this talk of packing the courts with fundamentalist Christian judges is exactly what the left wants to hear - remember Harper’s "secret agenda" in the last election? It is talk like this from people like David Warren that will deny the Conservative Party a majority in the next federal election. Opposition to gay marriage is a millstone around the party’s neck - it’s time to move on and concentrate on serious issues.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Memo to the left: why we're in Afghanistan

This post on GayPatriot recounts a recent interview with Arshad Misbahi, the leading Muslim cleric in Manchester, UK:

Manchester’s leading Imam has confirmed that he thinks the execution of sexually active gay men is justified. Mr. Arshad Misbahi, who is based at the Manchester Central Mosque, confirmed his views in a conversation to Dr John Casson, a local psychotherapist.

Dr Casson said: “I asked him if the execution of gay Muslims in Iran and Iraq was an acceptable punishment in Sharia law, or the result of culture, not religion. He told me that in a true Islamic state, such punishments were part of Islam: if the person had had a trial, at which four witnesses testified that they had seen the actual homosexual acts.”

“I asked him what would be the British Muslim view? He repeated that in an Islamic state these punishments were justified. They might result in the deaths of thousands but if this deterred millions from having sex, and spreading disease, then it was worthwhile to protect the wider community.”

“I checked again that this was not a matter of tradition, culture or local prejudice. ‘No,’ he said, ‘It is part of the central tenets of Islam: that sex outside marriage is forbidden; this is stated in the Koran and the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had stated that these punishments were due to such behaviours.' "

Life in Afghanistan under the Taliban was a nightmarish hell, and the country was used as a base to spread Islamic fundamentalism around the world. At the very least, Canada's presence there is helping to prevent a return to a sadistic regime that persecuted women and exterminated homosexuals. In the broader term, our actions send a message that this kind of thinking is not acceptable in Canada. It may be too late to stop it in some areas of Europe, but it isn't too late here. Jack Layton and fans: time to get with the program.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ontario provides character for the masses

The Liberal government of Ontario has announced that it is introducing mandatory "character education" to all public schools next year. The libertarian in me bristles at things like this. I have an instinctive distrust of government programs that are designed to shape thoughts and personalities, especially in children. History is littered with appalling examples of governments deciding which character traits are desirable and which are deemed antisocial, and while it is facetious to compare Ontario to say, North Korea, it is wise to be skeptical when bureaucrats tinker in social engineering.

Premier Dalton McGuinty, who has always reminded me of a hectoring Presbyterian Sunday-school teacher, says "What [character education] is a matter of doing is taking shared values that are in the background and bringing these to the foreground .... It turns out that there is a strong correlation between schools which integrate character education into their curriculum and the reduction in absenteeism, a reduction in misbehaviour, increases in academic success - all those are related to a tone of civility that is brought to our schools." The premier apparently rejected comments that the program would, according to the National Post, "mould a citizenry that accepts the status quo and does not question authority."

The program is being coordinated by Avis Glaze, former Director of the Peterborough-area Kawartha-Pine Ridge District School Board, who is now the Ontario government’s "chief student achievement officer". When she was in Peterborough, she instituted a mandatory character education program that may be the model for what is to come in Ontario. After much consultation with "stakeholders"in the school system, the board came up with a "vision statement" that said "Character education is a deliberate effort to nurture universal attributes that transcend racial, religious, socio-economic and cultural lines. It is a whole school effort to create a community that promotes the highest ideas of student discipline and citizenship. The skill and expectations are nurtured in an explicit, focused and intentional manner." Subsequently, ten character traits were identified as being the focus of each school’s character education program: respect, responsibility, honesty, integrity, empathy, fairness, initiative, perseverence, courage and optimism. These "ten commandments" were then put on laminated plaques and displayed prominently in the lobbies of every school in the board.

Who could argue with these goals? Well, I suppose no-one who wants to turn out model citizens who all get along and don’t make waves. However, there are some traits that are conspicuous by their absence. How about individualism, or self-reliance, or patriotism, or delaying gratification? Speaking as a self-professed eccentric crank, where do the budding young eccentric cranks fit into this system? The problem is that the traits that are considered "shared values" are the ones that the majority share; this puts a lot of pressure on the minority of perfectly happy citizens who may have characteristics that are deemed unacceptable, like being crabby, or Dalton-forbid, inability to work in groups.

When I read about policies like this, I can’t help but think of George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm. In chapter 2, after the animals have taken over Manor Farm and re-named it Animal Farm, the pigs call a meeting of the other animals:

They explained that by their studies of the past three months the pigs had succeeded in reducing the principles of Animalism to Seven Commandments. These Seven Commandments would now be inscribed on the wall; they would form an unalterable law by which all the animals on Animal Farm must live for ever after... The Commandments were written on the tarred wall in great white letters that could be read thirty yards away. They ran thus:

The Seven Commandments
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.

All the animals nodded in complete agreement, and the cleverer ones at once began to learn the commandments by heart.... When they had once got it by heart, the sheep developed a great liking for [one] maxim, and often as they lay in the field they would all start bleating "Four legs good, two legs bad! Four legs good, two legs bad!" and keep it up for hours on end, never growing tired of it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Casual Fridays and the collapse of civilization

My workplace has instituted a "Dress Down on Fridays for Charity" program, which means that everyone dresses like a slob on Fridays and wears a conspicuous tag that says "I'm dressed down for (insert name of charity here)". I have several problems with this. First of all, my colleagues dress like slobs every day of the week, so there is no discernible difference in attire on Fridays that I can tell. Secondly, walking around advertising that you are contributing to charity seems to defeat the purpose of charity: doing good works should be a private act and should be done without trying to announce the fact to the community. Lastly, dressing casually on Fridays seems to imply that business done on that day is not as important as that done on Monday to Thursday, and this seems to me to be a symptom of the general lax attitude we have to the conventions that once contributed to the smooth and efficient functioning of society. With the barbarians at the gates, we give up these traditions at our peril.

Take banking as an example. It used to be that banks were imposing structures built like Roman temples with vast vaulted lobbies furnished in marble and mahogany. When you made a transaction, you were treated formally by conservatively-dressed tellers with elaborate paperwork and rituals. You got the feeling that your money was important and the transaction was like a church sacrament. Now banks are indistinguishable from convenience stores, and tellers are dressed like Avril Lavigne. Who knows what they do with your money once you leave? Do they care? At Hallowe'en the tellers in my bank dress in costumes - how does that make me feel to have my mortgage handled by someone dressed, literally, like a clown?

When I was young, the male teachers at my high school all wore jackets and ties, and the female staff wore dresses, never pants. Learning was serious business - you could tell by the way they were dressed. Now, if you walk into a typical school, the teachers are indistinguishable from the students. Teachers take professional development training to learn how to handle discipline in their classes, and then go to work dressed like skateboarders.

The October 11 Financial Post had an article about a lawyer in St. Louis who gave up her practice to start a business training young lawyers how to behave professionally. She hit on the idea when a young law student showed up for a job interview dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops. Her business is booming, and all she does is teach bright young lawyers how to use an iron, tie a Windsor knot, cover up their tattoos and not embarass themselves in a restaurant. What is the world coming to when law firms have to train their associates not to go to court with their boxer shorts sticking out above their pants?

So, I have started my own personal rebellion against Casual Fridays. I donate to charities privately without advertising the fact, and I deliberately dress more formally on Fridays. I wear a tie every day of the week (I'm one of the few men at my workplace that still does), but on Fridays I now wear shirts with French cuffs and cufflinks. I haven't yet worn a tag that proclaims "I'm wearing French cuffs for civilization", but it may come to that. "French Cuff Fridays" - it has a nice ring to it. Maybe when France next does something stupid, we can switch the name to "Freedom Cuffs".

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why gay marriage is good conservative policy

Once again, the Conservative Party of Canada is in the throes of an existential debate about gay marriage. Despite indications that most Canadians do not want to revisit the issue, trial balloons are floating around Ottawa suggesting that the CPC will introduce a Defence of Religion Act if a motion to re-open the marriage debate fails to pass in the House of Commons. Much has been written about the issue, but I would like to present the argument that supporting gay marriage is in fact a sound conservative policy, and one that members of the CPC can feel comfortable with for traditional conservative reasons.

First of all, let us recognize that this is a very polarizing issue. Proponents of both sides feel strongly about gay marriage for very legitimate reasons, and it does not advance the debate to demonize or belittle those with whom we disagree. Opponents of same-sex marriage are mostly decent people who are not necessarily bigots, and those in favour are not by definition depraved sexual libertines who are hell-bent on destroying the ancient pillars of society. It should be possible to have a civilized argument about this without name-calling and mud-slinging.

That being said, let’s examine the conservative arguments for gay marriage. I’m not going to outline anything here that hasn’t already been written by more eloquent and talented writers than me; rather I would like to summarize some of the points made by writers who are in the midst of the same debate in the US. I think their arguments make sense to Canadian libertarian conservatives.

Author Jonathan Rauch identifies three main purposes of marriage: the raising of children, the stabilizing and settling of the young (especially young men) and the provision of reliable caregivers. Opponents of gay marriage tend to focus on the first of these as an argument to exclude homosexuals from the institution of marriage, but the last two reasons are equally applicable to both gay and straight couples. He argues that marriage, and even the prospect of marriage, is a great domesticator and is a stabilizing influence in society, especially on unstable young men. "If you hope to get married, and if your friends and peers hope to get married, you will socialize and date more carefully... you will reach for respectability. You will devote yourself to work, try to build status, and earn money to make yourself more marriageable... Because you aspire to marry, you prepare to marry. You make yourself what people used to call marriage material". This is a very conservative pro-marriage argument, and is equally valid for homosexual couples, who have until recently have never had this outcome to strive for.

The argument about caregiving is also a very conservative one. As Rauch points out, "from society’s point of view, an unattached person is an accident waiting to happen. The burdens of contingency are likely to fall, immediately and sometimes crushingly, on people - relatives, friends, neighbours - who have enough problems of their own, and then on charities and welfare agencies. We all suffer periods of illness, sadness, distress, fury. What happens to us, and what happens to the people around us, when we desperately need a hand but find none to hold? If marriage has any meaning at all, it is that when you collapse from a stroke, there will be another person whose ‘job’ it is to drop everything and come to your aid. Or that when you come home after being fired, there will be someone to talk you out of committing a massacre or killing yourself. To be married is to know there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line". Denying this option to gay couples places this burden of care on the state - how is this good conservative policy?

The argument is frequently made that marriage should be about raising children in a stable man-woman family unit and thus gays should be denied access to marriage because they are by definition unable to produce children. This line of reasoning in itself has logical inconsistencies. We do not deny civil marriage to infertile or elderly couples, or to post-menopausal women. We do not impose a fertility test as a requirement for a marriage licence, or force shot-gun marriages on unwed mothers. Paul Varnell argues that, if anything, this is an argument for forcing heterosexuals to marry if they want to have children, and for making divorce and cohabitation more difficult. "In short, it is an argument about what heterosexual parents should do, not about gay couples who do not and by themselves cannot have children." Furthermore, according to the 2000 US census, 27% of American households headed by same-sex couples contain children - there is no reason to believe that the figures are radically different in Canada. Is it good conservative policy to prevent these children from living in a household with married parents?

One can certainly make the argument that there are valid religious reasons for opposing same-sex marriage, and I won’t dispute this. However, I would point out that marriage is legally a civil institution, not a religious one. Churches, mosques and synagogues have religious ceremonies that confer spiritual blessings and approval on a married couple, but as far as the law is concerned married status is conferred by the state, not the church. The state should allow religious institutions the right to opt out of performing same-sex marriage ceremonies for theological reasons, but a blanket ban on civil marriage for gays makes no sense. The Roman Catholic church is opposed to remarriage after divorce, but most Catholics are not seeking to make it illegal for everyone to obtain a civil divorce or to remarry. The state has no business enshrining religious doctrine in civil law. After all, it is not illegal to be gay in Canada. As Andrew Sullivan has written, "Can you think of any other legal, non-criminal minority in society toward which social conservatives have nothing but negative social policy? What other group in society do conservatives believe should be kept outside integrating social institutions? On what other issue do conservatives favour separatism over integration?"

I don’t accept the argument that same-sex marriage cheapens or belittles heterosexual marriage, either. Gay couples are not cheap or flawed versions of straight couples, and it is ridiculous to think that a straight couple would refuse to get married if they were so inclined just because a gay couple in their community is also married. Jonathan Rauch points out that what cheapens the institution of marriage is denying it to committed couples who want it. Liberal-minded citizens are going to recoil from participating in an institution that is discriminatory. Benton County, Oregon has stopped issuing marriage licences because officials do not want any part of a legal institution that discriminates. Recently Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced that they would not get married until homosexuals could also legally marry in the US. I’m not suggesting that we make policy based on the public musings of Hollywood celebrities (that’s more of a Paul Martin thing), but the institution of marriage may become tainted by political incorrectness as long as it is perceived to discriminate against a minority. This is not good for marriage, and certainly doesn’t strike me as good conservative policy.

The most serious aspect of this debate to conservatives is the damage it does to the image of the CPC. It is the one issue that opponents seize on to argue that the Conservative Party is in thrall to religious zealots and homophobic bigots and can’t be trusted with power. More than the perfectly defensible positions on the war in Afghanistan, the gun registry or the Kyoto Accord, the attempt to repeal the gay marriage law sends a message to centrist voters that a CPC majority would open up all sorts of social policy areas that are now considered settled in Canada. Over 10 000 gay Canadian citizens have been married since the Liberals changed the law - the negative fallout from a change now would outweigh any perceived benefits and doom the CPC to opposition status.

Andrew Sullivan wrote in 2003 in Time Magazine: "Like most other homosexuals, I grew up in a heterosexual family and tried to imagine how I too could one day be a full part of the family I loved. But I figured then that I had no such future. I could never have a marriage, never have a family, never be a full and equal part of the weddings and relationships and holidays that give families structure and meaning. When I looked forward, I saw nothing but emptiness and loneliness. No wonder it was hard to connect sex with love and commitment. No wonder it was hard to feel at home in what was, in fact, my home." Most heterosexuals don’t realize how insulting and humiliating it is for homosexuals to be told by their own government that they are not worthy of the legal benefits and responsibilities of civil marriage. Marriage policy is not a zero-sum game: extending civil marriage to gays in no way takes anything away from heterosexual married couples, so other than saying to gays that they are not fit to be married, what legitimate social policy objective can be achieved by banning gay marriage?

How can it be good conservative policy to advocate excluding homosexuals from the benefits and responsibilities of this institution? Allowing gay citizens to marry will stabilize and enrich gay relationships while benefitting society and strengthening the institution of marriage. It will respect individual rights while minimizing the oppressive intrusion of the state into the lives of a minority of its citizens. Above all, it will treat all Canadian citizens as equal under the law. All of these values are deeply rooted in the conservative movement and appeal to gays and straights alike. Stephen Harper promised in the last election that he would allow a free vote in the House on gay marriage, and there is every indication that a motion to re-open the debate will be soundly defeated. Many Conservative M.P.s are in favour of gay marriage. Harper should introduce the motion in the House, and when it is defeated, drop the issue once and for all.


Rauch, Jonathan. Gay marriage - why it is good for gays, good for straights and good for America. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 2004

Rauch, Jonathan. On gay marriage, conservatives betray conservatism. The Public Interest: Summer 2004

Sullivan, Andrew. The conservative case for gay marriage. Time: June 22, 2003

Sullivan, Andrew. If it’s not a crime to be gay, why can’t we get married? The Wall Street Journal: Oct. 8 2003

Varnell, Paul. The failed case against gay marriage. The Chicago Free Press: Sep. 17 2003.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Questions about the Mark Foley scandal

First - Congressman Mark Foley is a creep, and deserves whatever happens to him as a result of an impending FBI probe into his e-mail exchanges with underage Capitol Hill pages. However, something smells fishy about the whole thing. Some bloggers in the U.S. are wondering if Foley has been a target of a sting operation by Democrats who may have known about Foley but sat on the evidence until they could unleash an "October Surprise" on the Republicans one month before the mid-term election.

I read a complete transcript of the e-mails, and they are very disturbing. Foley is deservedly in serious trouble, and his defence that he is an alcoholic and was abused by a clergyman as a teenager is pathetic. In addition to his abuse of his position of authority over children and the damage he may have done to his victims, he has reinforced the misconception that gay men are all pedophiles and are unsuited to public office or professions which will put them in contact with children. The fact that a large majority of pedophiles are heterosexual men preying on young girls will be lost on most people. His behaviour also makes it more difficult for gay Republicans to come out the closet.

Some people are wondering, though, if Foley was targeted by Democrats who knew of his problematic behaviour and then set him up. Here's a sample e-mail that makes me wonder:
Foley: "To be honest, I am a little too interested in you. So that's why I need to back off a little."
Page: "Ya, slow things down a little I'm still young - like under 18. Don't want to do anything illegal - I'm not 18."
This doesn't sound like a teenager talking - it sounds like someone trying to get it in writing that Foley was harassing an underage boy. What teenager would say "Don't want to do anything illegal - I'm not 18"? This doesn't excuse Foley's behaviour, but it raises some questions:
Who leaked the e-mails to ABC news? How did they come into that person's posession? When did that person become aware of Foley's e-mail exchange, and how long did they sit on the story before it was released, coincidentally just weeks before a crucial election that will determine which party controls Congress?

House Speaker Dennis Hastert is taking serious heat over allegations that he was informed about the Foley problem as early as 2003 and did nothing about it. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are baying for Republican blood. However, I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that Democrats also had early knowledge of the problem and waited to do something about it until it had its maximum political effect. If this is true, then it is equally despicable.

I'll leave the last word to Andrew Tobias, a gay American writer (and treasurer of the Democratic National Committee):

“As somebody who has met Mark Foley personally and has mutual friends, I am sad for Mark and I hope he doesn’t go to jail. The last time I saw Mark, he was 19
years into a relationship. That was sad that it had to be hidden.
“I hope the Republican Party continues to evolve so it’s not so difficult to be an openly gay Republican.”

For more on this issue, check out GayPatriot, Gateway Pundit, and the Right Side of the Rainbow

Monday, October 02, 2006

In the Google dimension

The internet is a weird place. Occasionally out of curiosity I go into my Sitemeter account to see who is reading my blog - I don't have that many readers so it's easy to do. My favourite part of doing this is checking the search words that have directed someone to my blog while doing a Google blog search.

A while ago I did a post on Katie Couric's debut on the CBS Evening News. Apparently there are a lot of obsessed Katie Couric fans out there; I have had several hits using the search words "Katie Couric tight pants". That same post, which mentioned BBC World News anchor Katty Kay got a hit for "Katty Kay escort". For all you hookers out there who look like Katty Kay - business may be looking up, so practice your British accent.

Because I identify myself as gay in my profile, I get a few hits every week using the search words "gay sex" or "gay escorts" or various other combinations. Oddly enough, several of them have been from Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Malaysia - this is kind of sad or disturbing, depending on who is doing the searching. They must be a little surprised when they click on my link.

I frequently get hits to a post I did on the CBC's new show Canada's Greatest Inventions. I can imagine the poor elementary school kids googling their class project on Canadian Inventors and then landing on a post that rips the CBC and compares Canada unfavourably to the U.S. - school teachers all over the land will be filtering that one.

Thank goodness for search engines - if it wasn't for people landing randomly here via Google, I wouldn't have any readers at all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cruel and unusual punishment

According to the Winnipeg Sun, the CIA reportedly used the music of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to torture a confession out of an al-Qaida terrorist.

Surely this warrants an investigation by the criminal court at the Hague - this has got to be worse than waterboarding. I suppose it could have been worse - they didn't use the thermonuclear device of music torture: Celine Dion.

(h/t: Right Side of the Rainbow)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

They don't make liberals like this anymore

I'm reading a great biography of Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt - No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin. In it, she describes a speech FDR gave to the Pan American Scientific Congress on May 10 1940 - the day Germany invaded Holland and Belgium:

"We come here tonight with heavy hearts," he began, looking out at the packed auditorium. "This very day, the tenth of May, three more independent nations have been cruelly invaded by forces of arms .... I am glad that we are shocked and angered by the tragic news." Declaring that it was no accident that this scientific meeting was taking place in the New World, since elsewhere war and politics had compelled teachers and scholars to leave their callings and become agents of destruction, Roosevelt warned against an undue sense of security based on the false teachings of geography: in terms of the moving of men and guns and planes and bombs, he argued, every acre of American territory was closer to Europe than was ever the case before. "In modern times it is a shorter distance from Europe to San Francisco, California, than it was for the ships and legions of Julius Caesar to move from Rome to Spain ..."

"I am a pacifist, " he concluded, winding up with a pledge that was greeted by a great burst of cheers and applause, "but I believe that by overwhelming majorities ... you and I, in the long run if it need be necessary, will act together to protect and defend by every means at our command our science, our culture, our American freedom and our civilization."

Compare and contrast with Howard Dean's 2004 "take back the White House" outburst, or John Kerry's "reporting for duty" address at the Democratic National Convention. Yikes.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The 4-way stop as Canadian metaphor

Twice a day, on my way to and from work, I pass through an intersection with a four-way stop. Invariably the experience leaves me dumbfounded at the behaviour of fellow motorists at the intersection - no one seems to know what to do when more than one car arrives. Then it dawned on me: the four-way stop is the perfect metaphor for the Canadian psyche. As evidenced by our often lamentable behaviour as a country, Canadians hate to go first.

David Brin used the four-way stop to illustrate human behaviour as it applies to dispute resolution:

If you want to see clues about our future, step away from your computer screen. Go outside and stand near a four-way intersection that’s regulated only by stop signs.

Watch for a while as drivers take turns, not-quite-stopping while they gauge each others’ intentions, negotiating rapid deals with nods and flashes of eye-contact. You’ll spot some rudeness, certainly. But exceptions seldom rattle this silent dance of brief courtesies and tacit bargains -- a strange mixture of competition and cooperation.

The four-way stop doesn’t work in some cultures, and it’s hard to picture anything like it functioning in times past, when mostly-illiterate humans lived in steep social hierarchies and “right-of-way” was a matter of status, not fair play. Nor would robots, adhering to rigid laws, handle traffic half so well as the drivers I see, dealing with a myriad fuzzy situations, making up micro-rules and exceptions on the spot, even as they talk on cell phones or quell squabbles among kids riding in the back seat. This phenomenon visibly illustrates how simple rules can be used by sophisticated autonomous systems (e.g. modern citizens) to solve intricate problems without any authority figures present to enforce obedience.

Since I've been paying attention to this, I've noticed that when I am at a four-way stop people ignore the rule that the first car at the intersection has the right of way, but instead wave at you to go first, or sit politely waiting to go last. In frustration I sometimes take the initiative and enter the intersection when it isn't my turn just to stop the insane politeness that seems to compel people to give up their right of way. According to Brin's theory, Canadians are apparently unable to "solve intricate problems without any authority figures to enforce obedience".

It isn't just in cars that Canadians exhibit this bizarre behaviour - our pathological politeness and deference is inevitably exhibited when we hold doors open for each other. We apparently believe it is a civic virtue to make a theatrical display of opening doors for others so that we can go last. I have been in situations where someone has seen me approaching from fifty yards away and has stood there holding the door open for what seems like minutes while I mosey on up to the entrance. People do acrobatic contortions to hold a door open behind them after they have already passed through it in order to let someone go through the door first. I was once at a coffee shop with a vestibule with two double doors. Two people, one leaving the shop and one entering at the same time, stood frozen holding the doors open for each other, neither one wanting to go through first. I came up from behind and walked past both of them, still standing there motionless.

I think this Four Way Stop Syndrome explains a lot about our country. It explains why we feel incapable of doing anything on the international stage unless it is already sanctioned by the UN, or France. It explains why we hate to put our troops in combat situations where we might have to take some strategic initiative and kill people instead of digging wells and sand-bagging swollen rivers. It explains why we have this knee-jerk distaste of the US: we hate people who just barge in and do things. An American would never be paralyzed with indecision at a four-way stop (well, maybe in Minnesota).

For the record, folks: the first car into a four-way stop is the first car to proceed through the intersection. If two or more cars arrive simultaneously, the one on the right goes first. If four cars arrive at the same time - God help us. The UN would have to sort it out.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A dilemma for left-wing greens

This will have the Suzuki Foundation's collective knickers in a twist: the World Health Organization is recommending that DDT be used to fight malaria in the third world. Left-wing greens will be chasing their tails trying to figure out which is more important: supporting the UN or fighting the use of the most political of industrial pesticides.
"We must take a position based on the science and the data," said Dr. Arata Kochi, the WHO's malaria chief. "One of the best tools we have against malaria is indoor residual house spraying. Of the dozen insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house spraying, the most effective is DDT." "It's a big change," said biologist Amir Attaran of Canada's University of Ottawa, who has long pushed for the guidelines and described a recent draft. "There has been a lot of resistance to using insecticides to control malaria, and one insecticide especially. … That will have to be re-evaluated by a lot of people."

That's putting it mildly. Malaria is one of the most serious obstacles to development in the Third World, and DDT is the most effective method of fighting it. In fact, the use of DDT has eradicated malaria in parts of the developed world like Singapore where it was once endemic. Unfortunately, ill-informed political opposition to DDT has prevented its use in the developing world, and has resulted in the deaths of millions of people and the consignment of millions of others to a life of misery. This short-sighted attitude continues in spite of the WHO's recommendation:
While some well-known environmental groups have signed on to WHO's decision, it has generated some concern from groups like the Pesticide Action Network, which says there are questions about its effects on developing children.
I would hazard a guess that it's also pretty hard for children to develop when they're dying of malaria. Somewhere Rachel Carson is turning over in her grave.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Did you have a "safe summer"?

School is back in session, Labour Day has come and gone, and finally the annoying messages on signs in front of schools, churches and some businesses reminding you to "Have a safe summer" have been replaced. Several local schools had "Have a safe summer" displayed out front for the entire months of July and August. One school went further and said "Have a safe summer and don't drink and drive." A church down the road told us to "Have a blessed and safe summer".

When did this become so common? What happened to "Have a fun summer", or an "enjoyable" or "relaxing" one? I don't like being reminded that, if I'm not constantly vigilant, my vacation might kill me. This is, to me, a manifestation of an unfortunate Canadian tendency to always see the dark lining in every silver cloud. We are always looking for reasons to not do things, not take risks, not to be different. And as for summer, just to be on the safe side, don't have fun. Stay out of that swimming pool - it's full of E. coli. By the way, do you know how many Canadians are maimed every year in drunk barbecuing accidents?

Our attitude to our government is a more complex example of this same phenomenon. Let's not get involved - we're Canadians, we don't want anyone hurt. Lets get the government to regulate all risky behaviour to save us from taking personal responsibility for our own safety. How many times have we been told by some level of government that we have to make sacrifices or do inconvenient or unpleasant things as a society because the alternative is not safe, and anyway, if it saves one life, it's worth it? Mandatory bicycle helmets are a good example, or banning perfume in public buildings, or prohibiting peanuts in schools.

We might as well put signs up that say "Don't get too cocky, it could all go to hell at any moment." If I had a sign in front of my house, every summer I'd say "It's only warm in this country for three months of the year - loosen your tie and have a beer, for crying out loud."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Great road-trip songs

Now that summer is over and vacations road-trips are just dim memories, here's a nostalgia exercise: what are the greatest road-trip songs of all time? To me, road-trip songs are the kind that somehow insinuate themselves into the crocodilian part of the brain while you're driving down a highway with your arm out the window. They have some kind of primeval rhythm or some intangible quality that makes you bob your head in time with the music, and before you know it you're driving 30 mph over the speed limit. I grew up in the seventies, so my list reflects the music of my adolescence. The top road-trip song of all time for me is Radar Love, by Golden Earring. That song is indelibly marked in my mind as a summer camp anthem - we listened to it at YMCA camp on Georgian Bay on CHUM AM from a crappy transistor radio. Rounding out the top ten:

Sympathy for the Devil - the Rolling Stones
The Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin
Oye Como Va - Santana
Young Americans - David Bowie
Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry
American Woman - the Guess Who
Black Dog - Led Zeppelin
La Grange - ZZ Top
Locomotive Breath - Jethro Tull

So, to all ten of my readers: leave a comment and let me know your top road-trip song of all time. If there's a story behind it, all the better.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Poutine: Canada's Greatest Invention?

The CBC is currently in production for a series called The Greatest Canadian Inventions. Brought to you by the same team that gave us Tommy Douglas: the Greatest Canadian, the producers have narrowed Canada's contribution to the world of technological innovation to 50 "great inventions.", and audience votes will determine the winner. I can't help but cringe when I read the list. The ardox nail? The caulking gun? How about the green plastic garbage bag, or the retractable beer carton handle? The paint roller? There are the obligatory sports contributions: lacrosse, basketball, five-pin bowling and the hockey goalie mask (although to be contrarian, basketball was actually invented in Boston, Mass. by Canadian James Naismith, and lacrosse existed before Canada did as a nation). There are a couple of entries to the culinary world that raise eyebrows: instant mashed potatoes, for instance, or poutine - both of which I think should be banned by the Geneva Conventions.

Granted, there are some significant inventions that we can be truly proud of: insulin, the electron microscope, the snowmobile, or my personal favourite - the Robertson screwdriver. Of course the Canadarm on the U.S. space shuttle is included, as it is everytime NASA does something spectacular, as if the entire U.S. space program wouldn't exist without this piece of Canadian hardware.

But compare our list to one compiled by the Encylopaedia Britannica : there, the monolithic domination by American inventors is apparent. Of over 320 inventions listed, 157 are American and only four are Canadian (the quartz clock, the personal watercraft, the snowmobile, and insulin). America's contibutions include the engine-powered airplane, the motion picture, the atomic bomb, the personal computer, genetic engineering, the electric motor, the microwave oven, the skyscraper, the steamboat, the transistor, Prozac and Viagra.

Yes, yes, the U.S. has ten times our population. But if Canada has four entries on this list, shouldn't the U.S. then have around 40, not 157? The imbalance is startling. America has a culture that encourages innovation and entrepeneurship, and the rewards are potentially immense. Canada's culture smothers innovation in its crib. Canadian inventors depend on government coddling and handouts, and real innovators depart quickly for the promised land south of the border. Name three famous Canadian inventors (and I don't mean guys like James Naismith or Alexander Graham Bell, who did most of their work in the US) - Frederick Banting, maybe? Can you think of two more? Now do a similar exercise for American inventors: Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Jonas Salk, Enrico Fermi, Henry Ford, Bill Gates - I could go on and on.

This isn't just a matter of Canadians not knowing their own history. When the CBC has to pad its list with bogus inventions like the birchbark canoe, the Wonderbra or the Bloody Caesar just to come up with fifty contributions, one can safely say that this country is not a fertile breeding ground for inventors. By the way, if you feel inclined, PLEASE vote for the electron microscope on the CBC's website so we don't have to listen to Rick Mercer extolling the virtues of the zipper.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Katie Couric stops the rot

The BBC World News' Katty Kay did a story today about the debut of Katie Couric, the "first solo female" anchor of a network newscast. It must have been galling for Kay, herself apparently a female, to deliver this news. The (male) BBC reporter covering this non-event said that CBS hoped Couric would "stop the rot" at CBS and bring in new, younger viewers while keeping the advertisers happy. Although I don't normally watch CBS news, I tuned in tonight to see the new improved version.
The lead story was about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Reporter Laura Logan went behind enemy lines complete with cool night-vision cameras - her escorts insisted that she be covered head to toe Taliban-style with only her eyes showing. At one point she asked her guide "Am I allowed to smile?". Back at the US army base, she appeared looking like something from a GAP commercial in an ultra-tight T-shirt and equally tight cargo pants. Aside from anything she reported, Logan's behaviour alone was a lesson in why NATO needs to be there.
Other stories included an interview with Tom Friedman of the New York Times discussing the war on terror, a piece on health problems of first-responders at the World Trade Center attack, the death of Steve Irwin, a rant by Morgan Spurlock (director of Supersize Me) about civil discourse in America, exlusive pictures of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' new baby, and a story about a Wisconsin artist who paints portraits of orphans in third-world countries. You know, basically all the hard-hitting reportage and insightful analysis that was previously lacking at CBS.
As for keeping the advertisers happy - I kept track of the commercials in the half-hour broadcast to try to figure out who their target audience was. From what I can gather, the typical viewer of the CBS Evening News is a middle-aged man with high cholesterol, high blood-pressure, an enlarged prostate, has difficulty sleeping at night and uses an automatic shower cleaner while buttering his bagels with low trans-fat non-dairy spread and wearing gel insoles. Is this the newer, younger, hipper audience that CBS is trying to reach out to?
The conclusion? CBS is still producing the same lame news broadcast aimed at middle-aged middle-class viewers. Younger, hipper consumers will continue to seek alternative sources of news like blogs while the big networks compete for an ever-shrinking slice of the market. Plus, CBS now has Katie Couric's intensely annoying perkiness. If you own shares in CBS - sell now.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Alexander the Great in Lebanon

The Middle East has a history of strife dating back thousands of years, and the current violence and instability is only the most recent episode. When one reads the history of the region in ancient times, one realizes that in many ways the political situation there has not changed much - only the technology of violence has. Alexander the Great invaded the Middle East in the fourth century B.C. and subdued the inhabitants after a relentless and often vicious campaign. Brutal battles at Tyre and Gaza, names infamous today, gave the best army in the world tenuous control over the area at a huge cost in human life. Sound familiar?
Alexander crossed the Hellespont from Macedonia in 336 BC and invaded the Persian Empire in what is now modern Turkey. He met and defeated the Persian army under Darius at the battles of the Granicus River in the spring of 334 and at Issos in November 333. At that point, rather than pursue Darius into Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) leaving a hostile Persian fleet and its mainland allies behind him, he turned south and entered what is now modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. The ensuing Macedonian victories at the sieges of Tyre and Gaza resulted in complete Macedonian domination of the region. By the time of his death at the age of 32 in 323, Alexander ruled most of the known world.
After the surrender of the northern cities of Byblos and Sidon, the king of Tyre, Azemilcus, met Alexander in January 332 and offered to obey his instructions. Alexander told him that he wished to sacrifice to Herakles in the main city temple during the feast of Melqart, the chief city god. The rulers of Tyre considered this an intolerable affront and declined - Alexander then commenced a lengthy siege. The Macedonians built an enormous causeway 200 ft wide from the mainland to the island fortress in the harbour, and rolled out enormous siege engines to batter down the 150 ft thick walls. At the same time the Macedonian fleet blockaded the harbour. At one point in the siege, the Tyrians hauled some Macedonian prisoners onto the battlements and in view of the attacking Macedonian army, cut their throats and threw their bodies into the sea. Eventually the Macedonian army gained control of a section of the wall and the defenders retreated to the shrine of Agenor, the city’s founder. Most of the defenders were slain at the shrine, and the Macedonian army then sacked the city, killing some 8 000 residents. Alexander then had about 2 000 others crucified on the beach as a warning to the inhabitants of the area against further resistance. Another 30 000, including most of the women and children, were sold into slavery.
After the victory at Tyre, Alexander moved down the coast to Gaza. The city was heavily fortified and garrisoned by an army of mercenary Arabs who were well supplied for a lengthy siege. The ruler, Batis, believed that the town was impregnable and refused to surrender. Alexander invested the city in a siege that lasted from September to November 332. The Macedonians used tunnels to undermine the walls and brought the siege engines from Tyre to batter down the fortifications. Alexander was the object of an assassination attempt by a Gazan deserter who surrendered and then attacked him with a concealed sword - an attack which he successfully dodged. Later he suffered a serious wound to the shoulder from a Gazan catapult. After three unsuccessful attempts to force a breach in the wall, the Macedonians entered the city on their fourth try. Every Gazan under arms was slain and the women and children were sold into slavery. Alexander had Batis dragged around the walls behind a chariot in retaliation for the attempted assassination.
From Gaza, Alexander then went on to conquer Egypt, and then turned east to finish off Darius at the battle of Gaugamela in October 331. This victory left Alexander as the ruler of the entire Persian empire - a kingdom which did not survive his death in 323.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The NDP doesn't want us to fight this?

I shake my head when I hear leftists like Jack Layton and the NDP calling for our immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. The mission there is tailor-made for left-wing support: all the NDP shibboleths like women's equality and gay rights are front and centre, and Canadians are the good guys! Why can't leftists get behind this? The NDP believes that all we have to do is sit down with the Taliban and work out our differences. Doesn't anyone in that party remember what Afghanistan was like under the Taliban? Remember this?

Barely two weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the New York Post and Court TV both ran items about the Afghanistan Taliban regime's punishment of two men convicted of homosexuality.
According to those stories, the Taliban's Islamic jurists knew that homosexuality was reprehensible and the sentence should be execution, but they were genuinely puzzled by conflicting Islamic opinion on exactly how the execution should be carried out. "We have a dilemma on this," one Taliban leader explained. "One group of scholars believes you should take these people to the top of the highest building in the city, and hurl them to their deaths. (The other) believes in a different approach. They recommend you dig a pit near a wall somewhere, put these people in it, then topple the wall so that they are buried alive."

So, if the NDP gets its way, Canadian diplomats will be negotiating with a new Taliban government on whether Afghan gays should be crushed to death or thrown off tall buildings. Jack Layton needs to pull his head out of his ass.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

... and they both want the Dixie Chicks in burqas

The stupid comment of the week award goes to Charles Ferguson of the Council on Foreign Relations. During an interview yesterday with Dan Matheson on CTV Newsnet about Iranian Predident Amadinijad's challenge to debate President Bush live on TV, Ferguson had this to say:

"Both of these men have a lot in common - they're both very religious, they don't drink alcohol, and they both feel strongly about their country's place in the world."

And they both want the Israeli tumour wiped off the face of the map. Oops - strike that last one.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

No sympathy for Toronto school boards

In today's National Post: Toronto trustees set to defy deadline to balance budgets

The Toronto public and Catholic school boards are apparently going to ignore an Aug. 31 deadline to balance their budgets. The public board has an $84 million deficit, while the Catholic board's runs to $34.5 million. Trustees have expressed frustration with the Ontario government's funding formula. Public trustee Irene Atkinson said "We were elected to represent our communities, their needs and their aspirations and we are being opposed by an antiquated funding model which inhibits our doing exactly that." Among other things, Toronto public schools may have to terminate school breakfast and lunch programs and close 77 of 80 indoor swimming pools.

Let's set aside for now the issue of school trustees choosing to ignore the law. Let's talk instead of the "needs and aspirations" of parents who send their kids to schools out here in the wilderness of Eastern Ontario, or anywhere in rural Ontario for that matter. School breakfast and lunch programs? We have schools that don't have cafeterias or gymnasiums for crying out loud! INDOOR SWIMMING POOLS? Students out here go to school in ancient crumbling buildings dating to the Korean War. Many of our schools have upwards of half their students being taught in "temporary" portable classrooms that are now so old that they have to be renovated themselves, and are leaky, mold-infested structures that the UN wouldn't tolerate in third world countries. The nearest city to where I live, population 35 000, doesn't have one public indoor swimming pool in the entire community, let alone in any of its schools.

For decades, Toronto schools mined a rich vein of local property taxes to fund extravagant schools complete with pools and concert halls while the rest of the province's schools begged for money. Now that school funding has been removed from the local property tax base, Toronto is feeling the pinch for a change. I'm not saying that every school board should now sink to the lowest common denominator, but the Toronto school board's woes are not getting much sympathy outside the 905 area code.