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)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why we're in Afghanistan II

More from the Layeha - the book of 29 rules published by Mullah Mohammed Omar and distributed last year to Taliban militants in Afghanistan. Jack Layton wants to negotiate with these guys?
24) It is forbidden to work as a teacher under the current puppet regime, because this strengthens the system of the infidels. True Muslims should apply to study with a religiously trained teacher and study in a Mosque or similar institution. Textbooks must come from the period of the Jihad or from the Taliban regime.

25) Anyone who works as a teacher for the current puppet regime must recieve a warning. If he nevertheless refuses to give up his job, he must be beaten. If the teacher still continues to instruct contrary to the principles of Islam, the district commander or a group leader must kill him.

26) Those NGOs that come to the country under the rule of the infidels must be treated as the government is treated. They have come under the guise of helping people but in fact are part of the regime. Thus we tolerate none of their activities, whether it be building of streets, bridges, clinics, schools, madrases (schools for Koran study) or other works. If a school fails to heed a warning to close, it must be burned. But all religious books must be secured beforehand.

Why we're in Afghanistan

Another reason to support the Canadian mission in Afghanistan - from Front Page Magazine's article Boys of the Taliban :

Just recently, the Taliban issued a new set of 30 rules to its fighters.

Many of the instructions were to be expected: rule No. 25 commands the murder of teachers if a warning and a beating does not dissuade them from teaching. No. 26 outlines the exquisite delicacy of burning schools and destroying anything that aid organizations might undertake -- such as the building of a new road, school or clinic. The essence of the other rules are easily left to the imagination, basically involving what militant Islam is about: vile hate, death and destruction.

But there is a curious rule that the Western media has typically ignored. Rule No. 19 instructs that Taliban fighters must not take young boys without facial hair into their private quarters.

Right.

(Cough and clearing of the throat).

Aside from the question of what is permitted if a young boy does happen to have facial hair, this new Taliban commandment brings light to a taboo pathology that underlies the structures of militant Islam. And it is crucial to deconstruct the meaning of this rule -- and the horrid reality that it represents -- because it serves as a gateway to understanding the primary causes of Islamic rage and terror.

Rule No. 19 obviously indicates that the sexual abuse of young boys is a prevalent and institutionalized phenomenon among the Taliban and that, for one reason or another, its widespread practice has become a problem.

The fact that Taliban militants’ spare time involves sodomizing young boys should by no means be any kind of surprise or eyebrow raiser. That a mass pathology such as this occurs in a culture which demonizes the female and her sexuality -- and puts her out of mind and sight -- is only to be expected. To be sure, it is a simple given that the religious male fanatic who flies into a violent rage even at the thought of an exposed woman’s ankle will also be, in some other dysfunctional and dark secret compartment of his fractured life, the person who leads some poor helpless young boy into his private chambers.

The key issue here is that the demented sickness that underlies Rule No. 19 is by no means exclusive to the Taliban; it is a widespread phenomenon throughout Islamic-Arab culture and it lies, among other factors, at the root of that culture’s addiction to rage and its lust for violence, terror and suicide.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Republican customers not welcome?

I just got back from a week-long road trip to New England. I loved the spectacular scenery, the friendly people and the great food and beer, but not being able to turn off my political sensibilities, I was mildly irritated by the proud displays of anti-Bush & anti-Republican messages that greeted me as I spent my tourist dollars at various establishments. Although I'm not an American, I would probably be a Republican if I were, and I'm annoyed on their behalf.















Take the state of Maine, for example. I spent several days there and spent a lot of money at various stores, bars & restaurants. I frequently saw "Support the troops - bring 'em back home" posters displayed in store windows. While I respect the sentiment (while disagreeing with it), I don't particularly appreciate being subjected to a visual political lecture when all I want is a beer.

Speaking of beer, while standing at the urinals answering nature's call in various brew-pubs, I inevitably found myself staring at prominently displayed cartoons slamming the president, the Republicans, the war in Iraq, or frequently all three. Cartoons like this were often taped to the cash registers where I forked over my yankee dollars and had a symbolic finger waved metaphorically in my face, free of charge.

















At various stores selling souvenirs to tourists, there were inevitably prominent displays of anti-Bush paraphenalia, like this charming item in a Portland store:












OK, I understand that Democrats hate Bush. Fine - it's a free country. However, in the 2004 presidential election 45% of the votes cast in Maine, and 51% nationally went to, ahem, George W. Bush. Both of Maine's senators are Republicans. Do the proprietors of this store think it's good business to alienate almost half of their potential clients? Or do they think that Republicans don't travel outside their own redneck inbred villages? By the way, there weren't any anti-Democrat souvenirs in any of these New England stores - no tiny Ted Kennedys driving model cars off little Martha's Vineyard bridges, for example - so it wasn't a case of store owners trying to appeal to all their customers, left and right. Sarcastic souvenirs aimed at the left just don't exist.
I respect the right of these store owners to express their feelings - free speech is, after all, the foundation of a functioning democracy, and no-one takes this more seriously than Americans. However, there is a time and place for everything, and speaking for Republican and Bush-supporting tourists, I don't appreciate the MoveOn.org public service announcement as I hand over my hard-earned dollars for the privilege of visiting your beautiful towns. And before you leave comments about being overly sensitive, try to imagine a Democrat standing at a urinal faced with a poster of Dick Cheney slamming anti-war protesters, or a rude cartoon about Nancy Pelosi. It's a moot point, but I can't imagine Republican store-owners doing such a thing. It isn't good for business.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

9/11 Truther goes nuts

from AFP News :

LONDON (AFP) - A renegade former British spy who was jailed after blowing the whistle on alleged wrongdoing in the intelligence services has claimed to have new-found powers as a mystic.
David Shayler told British cable channel More4 News that he had visited a psychic who he believes channelled the spirit of Mary Magdalene and anointed him as the Messiah.
"Suddenly my whole life made sense," the 41-year-old former officer with Britain's domestic intelligence service MI5 said in an interview broadcast Thursday evening.
"I felt a sense of peace, I suddenly realised why it had been how it had, why I seem to get such a strange deal from the universe, when I seem to be trying to tell the truth about everything."
Shayler told the programme his new powers included the ability to change the weather and that he had helped prevent the attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow in June through meditation.
He also claimed that his favourite football team, English Premiership side Middlesbrough, won a place in the 2006 UEFA cup final against Spanish side Seville because he had "channelled the light". Boro lost.
Shayler was released from prison in in 2002 after serving seven weeks for breaching Britain's Official Secrets Act.
He left MI5 in 1996 and subsequently made a number of allegations, including that Britain's overseas intelligence service, MI6, plotted to assassinate the Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
He has since tried his hand as a novelist and a conspiracy theorist about the September 11, 2001 attacks and planned to run against then prime minister Tony Blair in the 2005 general election on an anti-Iraq war ticket.
When asked by a reporter if he had "lost it", Shayler replied:

"Do I look mentally ill? Do I sound mentally ill?... I'm absolutely convinced, as convinced as I can be, that the universe is changing shape, that humanity has to change, that I'm here to help teach people," he said.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gay marriage & the war on terror

Seems like a non-sequitur? Not to Roger L. Simon. He makes a spirited defence of gay marriage and believes that supporting it is part and parcel of supporting the Enlightenment values of human rights which are under attack by regressive Islamist terrorists worldwide:

Because I am such an adamant adherent of gay rights, women’s rights, human rights – the values that evolved out of the Enlightenment – I have to vote for the candidate I think will best carry forth that war (by whatever means appropriate at the moment) to defend those Enlightenment values. This means, unless I am very lucky, that I will not always love that person in all areas. Indeed, I may have to swallow some very bitter pills, but these are serious times, by far the most serious of my lifetime. And I was born at the end of World War II.

I never cease to be amazed – and perhaps it is my own myopia – that my former colleagues on the Left can be blind to this situation. They act as if the threat is not real and is only a blip caused by a post 9/11 overreaction by George Bush, thus ignoring virtually all of Western history since the year 800, not to mention the overwhelming demographic changes of recent decades. (John Edwards – interestingly an opponent of gay marriage - recently called the “War on Terror” a bumper sticker. At least, he’s consistent.) The very people most threatened by the ideology of Islamism and the institution of Sharia law – gays, women, freethinkers - are often the very people least likely to defend themselves against it. What we have on our Left is a culture of denial equal to, if not exceeding, the German Jews of the 1930s and one that has taken the canard about all politics being local to an almost ludicrous extreme.

So, yes, I am a supporter of gay marriage and undoubtedly will remain so, since it is consistent with my values of long duration. And, yes, I will continue to agitate for it in my writing and elsewhere. But in return I call on my friends on the Left – straight or gay – to help defend that real source of liberalism the Enlightenment, because if we lose and fall under religious law, there not only will be no gay marriage, there will be no women’s rights, no freedom of the press, no basic human rights, not even – as in the case of Iran – any music.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

More on the polygamy slippery slope

Joanne & I have politely disagreed on the subject of polygamy in Canada, and in particular on the point that legalizing gay marriage has disarmed any legal argument for maintaining a ban on polygamy. She has a post up today which quotes from a story in Saturday's National Post : Criminal Act or Religious Right?

Joanne quotes from the article, concluding with the comment "but let's have none of that slippery slope argument!! Pull-eeze."
However, Katherine Young, a professor of religion at McGill University, believes the legalization of same-sex marriages has changed the rules."Once you start to change definitions there can be a whole set of repercussions," she said. "[Now] you're going to have to argue whether there's any substantial reason to restrict marriage to two people. The last argument was whether we have to restrict to two people of different sex, now we have to make an argument why it should be restricted to two. And now we have even weaker grounds for doing it."
I'll repeat my argument again: the problem with polygamy in Canada should not be blamed on legalized gay marriage. There are plenty of reasons, as I have argued here and here, to allow gay marriage while maintaining a ban on polygamy - chiefly that polygamy causes harm to society & individuals (especially women & children), which is a difficult case to make for gay marriage.

I'm not alone in that argument. In the same National Post article, which Joanne uses as evidence to claim that it's "too late to turn back the tide people - let's just cut the crap and admit it", is this opinion by Nicholas Bala, a law professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario:

Nicholas Bala, who is also a law professor at Queen's University and has written extensively about the issue, believes the law should be referred to the courts - and that it will be upheld. He said the fact that Canada's 1892 anti-polygamy law has rarely been used does not mean it does not serve an important purpose.

"Our criminal law is related to our immigration law and our family law, and if the law is struck down we would probably have to change our immigration laws and family laws, as well," he said. "The criminal law sends an important symbolic message. It reflects social values. And I think the vast majority of Canadians do not want to have polygamy in Canada."

Prof. Bala said the polygamy-as-religious-freedom argument has failed in the United States, India and in Europe, but until Canadian courts rule on it, it is impossible to know where it stands. He likened it to the same-sex marriage situation: "It's not a coincidence that we're seeing the issue of polygamy arising now, given the fact that we have changed the traditional definition of marriage on constitutional grounds. It's reasonable to ask should we continue to change it ... I understand the logic behind it, but I don't think it's very persuasive."

I'm with Professor Bala on this one. The polygamy case in Bountiful is problematic not because of gay marriage, but because of a collective failure of will by governments & police to enforce the law. The case should be prosecuted immediately. If the law is challenged in the courts, then its constitutionality will be settled once and for all, and the federal government can then amend the criminal code as necessary. With all due respect to Joanne, it's not too late to turn back the tide on this one, and the gay marriage argument is a needless distraction from the real legal issues in this case.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Banish this cliche

I'm issuing an urgent appeal to all politicians, journalists & bloggers - please stop using the "Wall Street vs Main Street" cliche to illustrate your lame story about corporate interests vs. the little guy. I can't take it anymore. The latest perpetrator: Barack Obama, in his Chicago speech where he referred to "President Stephen Harper":
Asked what he'd do about the North American trade deal, Obama said it needs changes, so he'd "immediately call the president of Mexico (and) the president of Canada."
"Our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street," he told his union audience.
I would also plead for a ban on the Canadian variant - "Bay Street vs. Main Street" [Bay Street being the financial district of Toronto]. Jack Layton loves to use this figure of speech, and back when Ed Broadbent was the leader of the NDP it was actually used as an election campaign slogan, with Broadbent ostentatiously standing under a street sign near Toronto's Main St. & Kingston Rd. Here's an example, taken from an NDP candidate's blog:
While the Liberals continue to focus on how they can deliver kickbacks to friends and avoid an election, Paul and the NDP are talking about how to make all Canadians benefit from prosperity.
For me, Paul’s ideas are like Bay St. meeting Main St. He clearly sees that Canada needs a sensible tax base, he understands the principles of balanced budgets, he does not try to reinvent the wheel.

Here's another example, from the website of the Chartered Accountants of Ontario:
According to a recent online survey, the need for legal liability reform is indeed as big an issue on “Main Street” as it is on “Bay Street”.

OK - you get the idea. The great H.W. Fowler, in his 1911 classic Dictionary of Modern English Usage, had this advice for writers tempted to use such annoying phrases:
Cliche - a French name for such hackneyed phrases as, not being the simple or natural way of expressing what is to be expressed, have served when first used as real improvements on that in some particular context, but have acquired an unfortunate popularity & come into general use even where they are not more but less suitable to the context than plain speech.
...
The hackneyed phrases are counted by the hundred.... Each of them comes to each of us at some moment in life with, for him, the freshness of novelty upon it; on that occasion it is a delight, & the wish to pass on that delight is amiable; but we forget that of any hundred persons for whom we attempt this good office, though there may be one to whom our phrase is new & bright, it is a stale offence to the ninety & nine.
The purpose with which these phrases are introduced is for the most part that of giving a fillip to a passage that might be humdrum without them; they do serve this purpose with some readers - the less discerning -, though with the other kind they more effectually disserve it; but their true use when they come into the writer's mind is as danger-signals; he should take warning that when they suggest themselves it is because what he is writing is bad stuff, or it would not need such help; let him see to the substance of his cake instead of decorating with sugarplums.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Organic food & global warming

This is great. First we hear that walking produces more carbon dioxide than driving a car - now we learn that growing organic food is worse for the environment than conventional farming using genetically-modified crops and no-tillage agriculture. It won't be long before global warming alarmists are so paralyzed with indecision that they won't be able to leave their dark, plumbing-free huts:

The organic food industry proudly states double digit increases in sales each of the last few years. However the world is not black and white and research has demonstrated there are significant environmental consequences of this success.

Organic farming practices generate significantly greater CO2 emissions while producing less than conventional agriculture. On the other hand, growing genetically modified crops allow the farmer to reduce CO2 emissions while maintaining yields.

Research has demonstrated soil and water conservation benefits of genetically modified HT crops. It is now clear that these products of modern biotechnology can also help farmers reduce agriculture based CO2 emissions.

The public is calling for "greener" options in every industry. But when it comes to agricultural CO2 emissions, the "greener" option may not be what people think.

A World Civilisation or a Clash of Civilisations?


I came across this video today of a speech by Douglas Murray, a contributor to the magazine New Criterion, who was speaking at a conference in London on Jan. 20 2007 called World Civilisation or Clash of Civilisations. Murray gives one of the most eloquent defences of western values in the face of Muslim fundamentalism that I've ever heard.

The conference was hosted by "Red Ken" Livingston, the Mayor of London, and included several British Muslim activists. I've transcribed some of the best parts of Murray's speech, but watch the whole thing.

If all of the problems of the jihad are our [the West's] fault, why are there currently (and have been for a long time) Muslims slaughtering Hindus in India? Why are they slaughtering (and have been for a long time) Buddhists in Thailand and Indonesia? Why are they murdering animists in south Sudan? Are we going to lay that one at the fascist feet of Bush and Blair as well?

...

I suggest that Mr. Livingston might look at his opposite number in Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, who was stabbed by a Muslim fundamentalist in 2002 and very nearly murdered. That Muslim fundamentalist stabbed the Mayor of Paris because he's gay. And one of the very good friends of that man said "Well, we're all homophobic here because it's not natural - it's against Islam".

...

The multicultural paradise which we've heard talked about this morning doesn't sound quite so nice when you have people believing it is acceptable to attack and kill gay men and women, or Muslim women who will not submit to their tribal, backward law.

...

Multiculturalism in the way it has been practiced here [Britain] has been a disaster. The rule of law in the British state is not up for negotiation. And if you think that multiculturalism is something which somehow is going to be a universal world civilisation, I would ask you a simple question: how is multiculturalism going in Saudi Arabia right now?

...

Nobody believes that the IRA came to the table for any reason other than that they were defeated - operationally incapable. That is how to defeat an enemy - not by inviting them to tea, not by rolling out red carpets.

Hamas bans music in Gaza

According to the BBC, Hamas has banned the playing of all musical instruments that are not mentioned in the Koran, including violins, pianos & flutes. That leaves ... drums. Musicians in Gaza who used to play traditional Palestinian music are now unemployed, and a musician who played recently at a Fatah function was beaten by Hamas thugs. (Guess where he was taken for treatment? Israel.) Here is the BBC's interview with Salaheddin, 50, a musician in Gaza City:
I lead a group of 26 musicians - we play traditional Palestinian music. But for the last two months we haven't been able to work.
Hamas have already beaten one of my singers for singing for Fatah.
This group, Hamas, believe they are the leaders of Islam. The violin, piano, flute, all these instruments are banned. Only the drum is allowed. They say any other instrument is not mentioned in the Koran.
I did get some salary last month; I work for the PA on the staff of a TV station, so we were paid through banks in Gaza.
Electricity is a problem. For the past two years, the Ramallah government has paid the electricity bill charged by the Israelis.
Now, Hamas is going from house to house asking people to pay for their own electricity. One thousand shekels to get the electricity back on. And people cannot afford it.
We have only five hours of electricity a day for domestic use in my part of town. We have five children.
Hamas have already beaten one of my singers for singing for Fatah. He was attacked at the wedding where he went to perform. We had to send him to Israel for hospital treatment.
We have to keep our traditional music because it is Palestinian. People without traditions are not civilised, they are nothing.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Tree ring data says global cooling is on the way

This story is from The Astute Blogger: scientists studying 7000 years-worth of tree ring patterns in Scandinavia have concluded that the present warming trend is within the limits of normal fluctuations in the Earth's climate, and furthermore patterns in the data may indicate a coming period of global cooling:
Some new proxy data has recently emerged from studies of tree rings in Northern Scandinavia. In part because of the cold temperatures there, wood residues from the last 7,000 years have been well preserved at the bottom of muddy lakes. From that, Finnish researchers have been able to reconstuct a temperature record covering that period.

The results of the study are set out via many good graphics in a PDF here so I will depart from my usual practice and refer readers to the site concerned rather than reproducing the material here.You will see that the temperature record over the period is one of alternating ups and downs with the present situation being well within the range of normal fluctuations. See particularly their figure 6 for that.

Figure 7 is also interesting. The researchers have looked at the cycles in their data and have plotted a projection into the future of where those cycles are leading us. You will see that, based on past climate cycles, we are headed for some global cooling soon.

The right to disagree

There's a thought-provoking post over at Classical Values called When Good People Can't Talk. The author's premise is that identity politics & "group-think" are stifling political discourse to the point where it is almost impossible for people with different political opinions to meet socially without a rapid degeneration into ad hominem attacks & anti-social behaviour:
Identity politics (which Goldstein and others have called "identitarianism") has spread to include even people who don't belong to any special group, but who nonetheless wear their political views as badges to such an extreme that disagreement becomes a personal affront. When I was in high school, I remember not liking someone's favorite rock group could be taken as a personal insult, but this is much worse. I'm often hesitant to say what I think in public lest it be taken as a personal attack on someone who might disagree.

Yes, people are that delicate. Speculating about why the war in Iraq might have been justified can trigger instantaneous, reflexive anger, and very awkward social situations. So can questioning the need for alarmism over anthropogenic global warming.
...
The more the underpinnings of the right to disagree are removed in this way, the more disagreement becomes akin to discrimination, and thus, is seen as quasi-criminal in nature -- something requiring immediate moral condemnation, in the shrillest possible terms. (Similarly, supporting the war in Iraq can lead to a charge of criminal culpability, and disagreeing with anthropogenic global warming theory is like Holocaust Denial.)

Disagreement with some people becomes more than disagreement. If you're in a group of people who disagree with you, it can become self indictment. I've always had friends who disagree with me, but things are getting a little ridiculous where it comes to meeting new people. When I meet new people, I often wonder about the advisability of telling them what I think, especially if they show signs of being in kneejerk group agreement on a given issue.

So why bother? Even disagreeing in the most diplomatic manner can require an enormous expenditure of energy, which is pointless when you're dealing with a drunken pack of people you know disagree with you 100% and can't wait to pounce.

Is there a duty to publicly disagree when that can turn an otherwise enjoyable social event into an ordeal?
I have experienced this phenomenon a few times recently. I occasionally get a chance to attend social events in Toronto with a group of well-educated, wealthy & successful gay men. We'll be in a fantastic downtown condo somewhere swilling pinot noir, and the topic of politics eventually comes up. The default assumption by every single person in the room is that everyone else is a liberal (or at least a Liberal) - at that point, I usually just stop talking & head for the buffet - contributing my opinion would cause a shocked hush to descend on the room. It would be more socially acceptable for me to fart loudly. Gay people, who have fought long & hard for tolerance, can be a remarkably intolerant group to people who don't share the group political identity.

One of the comments left at this post made an interesting point:

While it is certainly true that this kind of insanity spans the political spectrum, I do think that right now it is more prevalent on the Left in America. There are several reasons for this.

First, the Left is just more invested psychologically in politics. It is, after all, one of their fundamental tenets that social/political change is the way to the Good. (As opposed to, e.g. Christian conservatives, who would say that Christ rather than Caesar is the way, or libertarians who would say politics is an obstacle to the Good.) So it is harder for a Leftist to not think politics is all-important.

Second, the modern Left is highly invested in group identity. They scarcely consider anyone as an individual. You are your race, your sex, your economic class, and your political party. Those are what define you. That's one reason Leftists are so especially vicious about conservatives who are women, black, or gay -- they've slipped out of their assigned category!

Finally, the Left is currently more invested in dissatisfaction than the Right. After all, if you are a Progressive, looking for wrongs to right and social injustice to correct, society must be riddled with wrongs and injustice. The conservative is more ready to be more or less content with how things are. The leftist is inherently discontented, and thus angry.

Experimental test: go to a social gathering of conservatives (say, an NRA turkey shoot) and make some pointedly liberal remarks. You may get some friendly argument, but you're more likely to get laughed at. Try the reverse at, say YearlyKos, and I guarantee you'll get screaming, eye-popping, vein-bulging vituperation.

Again, I'm not saying everyone on the left is this way, nor am I saying it's unknown on the right. But if I had to make a wild-ass estimate, I'd say twice as many leftists are brittle and hostile the way you've described.

The author at Classical Values takes comfort in his blog - he can say anything he wants without ruining a social occasion, and his critics are limited in their responses to WRITING LIKE THIS, WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS, and "the loudly opinionated boors are reduced to inferior-looking lines of text".

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Open the pod bay doors, Hal

Eric Scheie at Classical Values is troubled by this development: a car being produced by Nissan with an on-board computer complete with "alcohol odour sensors" which will detect whether or not any of the occupants - including the passengers - have been drinking:

Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. has revealed a new concept car featuring multiple preventative features designed to help reduce drunk driving. Presently integrated on-board a production model Fuga sedan, the various technologies are designed to detect the driver's state of sobriety and to activate a range of preventive measures including immobilization of the vehicle.

Alcohol Odor Sensors
1. A hi-sensitivity alcohol odor sensor is built into the transmission shift knob, which is able to detect the presence of alcohol in the perspiration of the driver's palm as he or she attempts to start driving. When the alcohol-level detected is above the pre-determined threshold, the system automatically locks the transmission, immobilizing the car. A "drunk driving" voice alert is also issued via the car navigation system.

2. Additional alcohol odor sensors are also incorporated into the driver's and passenger seats to detect the presence of alcohol in the air inside the vehicle cabin. When alcohol is detected, the system issues both a voice alert and a message alert on the navigation system monitor.

There's more:
By constantly monitoring the operational behavior of the vehicle (e.g. sensing if the vehicle is veering out of its driving lane), the system can identify signs of inattentiveness or distraction in the driver. When the system detects such behavior, voice and message alerts are issued via the navigation system. The seat-belt alert mechanism is also activated, tightening around the driver to gain immediate attention.
Predictably, MADD wants these devices made mandatory in all new cars. Scheie wonder's where this will lead:
It is one thing to prosecute and punish crime, and when someone has been convicted, I can understand the logic of requiring him to be monitored. But what gives the government the right to step in and require citizens to monitor themselves? What's being discussed here is making it a crime not to use crime prevention devices. Where does it end? Installing monitoring collars and ankle bracelets to keep track of all of us?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Boy arrested in Iran for looking for lost dog

This story comes from the website ADNKronos International:

Tehran, 3 August (AKI) - A young Iranian who was searching for his lost puppy in a Tehran neighborhood has been arrested and ordered to stand trial for 'moral corruption'.

According to the Tehran daily, Etemad Melli, the young man was caught while putting up a notice in which he was promising a reward to anyone who found his dog.

"Looking for a lost dog indicates the spread of a corrupt culture, which indirectly popularises keeping a dog at home, something that is completely foreign to the culture and Isamic tradition," said Tehran police spokesman, Mehdi Ahmadi. "In arresting this young man, we wanted to send a very clear message to our young people, you need to steer away from the corrupt culture imported from the west."

Kevin Bacon caused the Minneapolis bridge collapse

From Frank J. at IMAO :
"The bridge collapse is obviously the fault of Kevin Bacon. This is why:
1. Kevin Bacon starred in Footloose.
2. The movie inspired Americans to rise against the system and dance.
3. This carefree attitude gradually evolved into structural engineers feeling life is too short to properly inspect bridges.
4. Bridge collapses.

I tell you, nothing in this country that goes wrong isn't somehow linked to Kevin Bacon. Someone has to stop him."

The Simpsons Movie - what a missed opportunity

At its best, The Simpsons TV show is brilliantly satirical & lampoons every aspect of American society equally - Republicans & Democrats, religious zealots & atheists, corporate robber-barons & hippies, Hollywood celebrities & lunch-pail-toting working stiffs. I looked forward to the release of the movie - imagine what the writers could do with a 90 minute format instead of a 20 minute story arc. So, off I went & sat in a theatre full of teenagers rather than wait for its release on DVD. That was a mistake. This movie is spectacularly unfunny, and worst of all, it's political humour is uncharacteristically one-sided & heavy-handed.

The plot is no better than a TV episode, which is disappointing considering what they could have done with the time. The familiar elements are there - Homer screws something up, creates a crisis complete with sight-gags, groin-hits & celebrity cameos which threatens the Simpson family and/or the town of Springfield, & eventually his love for his family triumphs & saves the day. However, the political jokes were so ham-fisted and anti-Republican that I think MoveOn.org must have been involved.

Every major political gag in the film is aimed at Republicans or capitalists. Arnold Schwarzenegger (notably not Rainier Wolfcastle, his alter-ego in the TV show) is the President of the US & is too stupid to make decisions without being manipulated by his Cheney-esque advisor. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a billionnaire named Cargill (get it?) who "wants to give something back to America, except money" & runs the EPA to benefit his corporate interests - his company built the dome used to seal off Springfield and the bomb he tries to destroy it with. The National Security Agency runs a gigantic phone-tapping operation which eavesdrops on every phone conversation in America - when they pick up a call by fugitive Marge Simpson, an agent stands up and yells "YES!!! We finally found someone we were looking for!!!". When the Simpsons flee to Alaska, they are met at the border against a backdrop of oil derricks by an official who hands them a thousand dollars and says "We pay everyone in Alaska to let us destroy the environment."

This would be fine, and expected, but for the fact that hardly anyone on the left is held up to ridicule. There are some mild gags; Hillary Clinton is Vice President to President Itchy in an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon; Lisa Simpson gives a presentation about pollution at Springfield Town Hall called "An Irritating Truth"; but no lefties are satirized the way that Republicans are. Even the celebrity cameos (by Green Day, of American Idiot fame) are handled with kid gloves - they are eventually killed off by toxic waste in Lake Springfield while playing Nearer My God To Thee. Why didn't they give a speech about global warming and then hop in a carbon-spewing Lear jet? Why wasn't Mayor Quimby (an obvious Kennedy Democrat in the TV show) portrayed opposing wind farms near his compound, or eating endangered Chilean sea bass while driving a car full of blonde groupies off a bridge into Lake Springfield?

One thing is true about politics - both ends of the spectrum are equally ripe for satire. The writers of The Simpsons are brilliant at doing this, but one senses after watching this movie that they are conscious of an impending election & definitely have a dog in the fight. It's a pity - this could have been a brilliant movie. I hardly laughed at all the way I usually do during a good TV episode. Neither, for that matter, did the teen-aged audience in the theatre.

RELATED: check out this review by John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard

Thursday, August 02, 2007

BC polygamy & gay marriage

The National Post reported today that the BC prosecutor responsible for determining the Crown's options regarding the prosecution of Mormon polygamists in the community of Bountiful has recommended that charges not be laid. Before "slippery slope" arguments like this flood the blogosphere claiming that this is the inevitable result of Canada's legalization of gay marriage, let's take a deep breath & look at the case.


The legal issue surrounding the Bountiful community in southeastern B.C. should be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal to decide the constitutional question of whether polygamy is illegal in Canada, a special prosecutor has recommended in a decision released yesterday.

Senior Vancouver criminal lawyer Richard Peck, appointed last May 31 as independent special prosecutor to review the previous Crown opinions not to lay charges against individuals living in Bountiful, agreed with four previous Crown prosecutors who reviewed the evidence gathered by the RCMP. Mr. Peck concluded there should be no criminal charges laid in connection with the investigation.


The main legal point in this case is that the various criminal code prohibitions against polygamy may violate the Charter of Rights & Freedoms' guarantee of freedom of religion:



Polygamy has long been illegal in Canada -- it was banned in Canada's first Criminal Code enacted in 1892 -- but prosecutions have been rare. Benjamin Berger, a University of Victoria law professor and constitutional expert in the area of religious freedoms, said the court will have to decide the boundaries of religious freedom -- a right enshrined by Canada's constitution -- and try to balance that with possible harm to members of the community.

"This is a question the courts are going to have to wrangle with," said Prof. Berger, who published an article last year titled Understanding Law and Religion as Culture: Making Room for Meaning in the Public Sphere in the journal Constitutional Forum. The law, he said, has to respect the religions of others and differing world views, but those rights are not absolute. Court decisions involving religious rights have to decide "what kind of activity are we going to tolerate and what kind are we are not going to tolerate," Prof. Berger said.

So, the case is primarily about religious freedom, and Mr. Peck did not use gay marriage as a justification for recommending not laying charges. I find it hard to imagine gay marriage being used as a precedent in a court case pitting religious freedom against polygamy. Marriage is legally a civil institution in Canada, not a religious one, and the government is fully within its constitutional jurisdiction to restrict marriage to two people.

There is a substantial body of evidence that indicates that polygamy is harmful to the community, especially to the women & children involved, and the government is fully justified in criminalizing polygamy on this basis alone. This "harm principle" argument, which is fundamental to western common law, is difficult to make for gay marriage. Legalizing gay marriage did not change the legal requirement restricting marriage to two people - in fact it extended that requirement to include homosexual couples. There are numerous criminal code provisions which the government could use to prosecute polygamists, all of which apply equally to gay & straight marriages.

Let us not confuse a failure of will on the part of government & police to enforce the existing law with moral paralysis brought on by legalized gay marriage. Polygamy is still illegal in Canada, and it is shameful that BC officials refuse to deal with this situation using the legal tools at their disposal. Arrest the perpetrators, and let the courts decide the constitutional issues at a trial, but let's not blame gay marriage for the inept enforcement of the law in BC.

(see also my earlier post on this subject: The polygamy red herring)