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, September 29, 2007

Saudi divorce

A man in Saudi Arabia has divorced his wife for being alone with a male who was not related to her. Why is this newsworthy? Because the male in question was a TV host and the woman was watching him on TV in her home:

A Saudi man divorced his wife for watching alone a television programme presented by a male, an act he deemed immoral, the Al Shams newspaper reported on Saturday.

The man, whom the paper did not identify, ended his marriage on the grounds his wife was effectively alone with an unrelated man, which is forbidden under the strict Islamic law enforced in the ultra-conservative kingdom, the paper said.

Men in Saudi Arabia have the authority to divorce their wives without resort to the courts.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The ROM Crystal - ugliest building in Toronto

I feel like the little kid in the fairy tale who yelled out "the Emperor has no clothes!" at the big parade while everyone else was ooo-ing and ahh-ing. After recently visiting the Royal Ontario Museum's much-hyped Daniel Libeskind addition, known as the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, I can confidently state that the Crystal is now officially Toronto's ugliest building - a position formerly held by the University of Toronto's Robarts Library (below).

First, let's get something straight. I'm not one of those traditionalists who hates every structure built after the death of Queen Victoria. There are some remarkable modern buildings in Toronto: the Toronto Dominion Centre, Toronto City Hall, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, BCE Place to name a few. So, I had high hopes when I went to check out Toronto's own Libeskind building. I came out thinking "what a mess".

The marriage of the old ROM building with the Crystal is not so much a marriage as an assault. The two structures appear jarring & non-sensical together, and the Crystal wrapped around the old building reminds me of the kind of giant temporary scaffolding you would put up during a renovation - only this scaffolding isn't coming down when the renovation is complete.

The old ROM's theatrical entrance on the Queen's Park side - where you used to go up the big flight of granite steps through the gigantic wooden doors into the massive domed rotunda - is now locked and unused. You now have to walk around the building from the Museum subway station to the Bloor St. side and poke around for the new entrance, which looks like temporary access through a construction-site hoarding.

Once inside, you are faced with a maze of huge empty spaces & corridors to nowhere. It is impossible to navigate through the collections, and the floor-plan in the brochure bears no resemblance to the frustrating reality of the building. I frequently found myself trapped in a dead-end part of the Crystal that had no apparent connection to the rest of the building, and several times had to retrace my steps to the main lobby to start again. It is impossible to view the collections in any kind of logical sequence without a GPS locating system. Several times I asked staff for directions, and even then couldn't find the Greek & Roman gallery. More than once I found myself accidentally deposited in the Chinese wing, which apparently has no exits. The whole experience was maddening.

The famous stairwells remind me of the concrete stairwells in a parking garage. In fact, having parked my car at the Fairview Mall & taken the subway downtown, I had a distinct sense of Libeskind-ian deja vu when I returned to pick up my car at the mall. The stairwells in the Crystal are rough unfinished concrete, the walls are clad in drywall, and the doors on each floor resemble industrial steel fire doors and often open into empty spaces and blind alleys. The only things missing are the panhandlers and the smell of urine.

Speaking of the collection, most of the Crystal is still empty and the top two floors have signs saying "Installation in Progress", so the much hyped opening of the new building seems a little premature. The installation of the new exhibits has forced the closure of many of the old galleries - if your kids are bugging you to take them to see the dinosaur skeletons, good luck with that. However, even when the new building is complete, it will have so disrupted the floor plan & traffic flow of the entire museum that I would advise you to hire Sherpas to take you through it.

Now a word about Daniel Libeskind. I'm going to be labelled a Philistine for this, but I think Mr. World-famous Architect has had one good idea in his career and he's been milking it for years by selling it to gullible cities like Toronto. Here's his Jewish Museum in Berlin. Look familiar?

Here's the Denver Museum of Art. Hmm. Starting to sense a pattern.

Here's his Graduate Centre at London's Metropolitan University. You get the idea.

Yes, I know that architects have signature styles, but this is ridiculous. Frank Lloyd Wright had a signature style, but every one of his important buildings is unique, and uniquely suited to its function. Can you say the same about a Libeskind "masterpiece"? (By the way, I feel the same way about Frank Gehry's crumpled tin-foil buildings, one of which is about to open in Toronto when the Art Gallery of Ontario's renovation is complete).

Time will tell if the ROM Crystal is indeed a masterpiece of modern architecture, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the good burghers of Toronto have been had.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dear Hollywood - re: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

"Dirty Harry" over at Libertas has written a letter to Hollywood with a movie pitch that can't get a sympathetic ear:

Dear Hollywood:

... we both know the massive losses that come with these love letters to al-Queda can’t go on forever. So, here’s my pitch… Here’s how you hold onto your liberal credentials and still make money. Ready? You’re gonna love it. Two words: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Say it with me. Let it roll off your tongue: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Think about it. He’s today’s Hitler: Anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic.. Worse than Hitler, he’s a theocrat. You guys hate theocrats. Plus he’s got that little man’s complex and dresses like a man in desperate need of some homosexuals in his country.

So, what say we make him the bad guy once in a while? Not all the time, but here and there. Instead of these money-draining attacks on our troops and illiberal criticisms of our desire to liberate millions — which is so 2006 — let’s make Mahmoud the whipping boy — the common enemy — the target of some brutal onscreen butt-kicking. What do you say?

Me? I’m excited. I think we got something here: A win-win. If I knew the words I’d sing Kumbaya. Look at us, Hollywood. You and I, arm in– What? No? You’re telling me, no? You got a guy killing gays and building nukes to exterminate the “Jooooz!” and you’re telling me, no? You’re telling me that you’re still gonna go after Bush and America? I don’t understand, I thought… I thought we… Okay. Well, thanks for listening.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad takes stand-up routine on the road

After addressing the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, Iranian President Ahmadinejad held a press conference where he elaborated on a point he raised during his Columbia University speech claiming that there are no homosexuals in Iran:

Ahmadinejad later reiterated that he knows of no homosexuals in Iran - but wouldn't mind knowing where they are. "Give me an address so we are also aware of what happens in Iran," he said during a news conference after his speech.
I'm assuming that this was an attempt at a joke. Hilarious, coming from the president of a country that executes homosexuals.

I would like to know if anyone in the audience laughed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"No homosexuals in Iran" - Ahmadinejad

During Iranian President Ahmadinejad's controversial address at Columbia University today, he was asked about Iran's persecution of homosexuals:

When asked about the death penalty Iran imposed on homosexuals, Ahmadinejad discussed the death sentence for drug smugglers. When pushed by moderator and acting dean of the School of International and Public Affairs John Coatsworth, the Iranian president said: "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who has told you we have that."

Well, I'm sure that position is Iran's best-case scenario, since it has a long history of harassing and even executing homosexuals (including teenagers). Soon the President of Iran will be able to certify his country homosexual-free once a few more "degenerates" are strung up in Tehran.

So, what was the reaction to this outrage today at Columbia? Are gay Columbia students storming the Iranian consulates and taking hostages? Well, here's a sample:

"Despite differences in the use of certain Western terms and potential errors in translation, he clearly knew what was being asked and what was going on," said Crystal Gonzalez, 20, an economics major and spokeswoman for the Columbia Queer Alliance.
"At first I wasn't sure about what I thought about him coming, but I think it was a good thing that he did and could spark a debate. … He is clearly a master of avoiding questions," she said, adding, "we disapprove and condemn much of what he said."
Whoa - strong words there, Crystal. That's telling him. How about this:

"There is no doubt that the current government is disrespectful of human rights, but war is not an answer," said David Trilling, 29, speaking on behalf of the Iranian students at the School for International and Public Affairs, which hosted the event. "Nearly all of us," he said, "do not accept the comments of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Give 'em hell, David! Then there's this:

Other students saved criticism for [Columbia President] Bollinger, who condemned many of the Iranian leader's earlier comments in his opening statement. "Yes, he skirted some of the issues," said senior statistics and political science major Max Bulinski of the Iranian leader, "but I believe he believed much of what he said."
"I think it was a mistake for Bollinger to attack him before he was given a chance to speak. Ahmadinejad was right to say he should have been given the chance to let people form their own opinions."
That's it, Max - go for the jugular.
I respect free speech, and I agree with Columbia's decision to invite Ahmadinejad to speak where he could be held accountable for his outrages in a forum which would not be permitted in his own country. I was impressed with President Bollinger's verbal attack on Ahmadinejad. What bothers me is the inability of the left to stand up and be counted on issues that leftists traditionally support: women's equality and gay rights. Why is this? Because that would put them on the same side as the United States and President Bush:

The Iranian president's presence invited comparisons to President Bush by a number of activist organizations, which used the opportunity not to protest against Ahmadinejad's human rights record but against the war in Iraq. "Ahmadinejad's speech comes at a time the U.S. is proposing war in Iran," said Sunsara Taylor of Revolution Newspaper before a large crowd of reporters. "Bush is using Ahmadinejad's record and the crimes of his regime as an excuse. Bush has propped up plenty of Islamic terror regimes -- look at the Taliban and Saudi Arabia."
Sickening. If the West collapses, it will be because of the rot within, not attacks from outside.
UPDATE: from GayPatriot:
Any gay or lesbian American that still denies Islamists are targeting gays, and instead thinks President Bush is the enemy, demonstrates the true definition of a "self-loathing homosexual."

UPDATE: Well, thanks for clearing this up: statement from Columbia's Queer Studies Department (via Classical Values)

....we would like to strongly caution media and campus organizations against the use of such words as "gay", "lesbian", or "homosexual" to describe people in Iran who engage in same-sex practices and feel same-sex desire. The construction of sexual orientation as a social and political identity and all of the vocabulary therein is a Western cultural idiom. As such, scholars of sexuality in the Middle East generally use the terms "same-sex practices" and "same-sex desire" in recognition of the inadequacy of Western terminology. President Ahmadinejad's presence on campus has provided an impetus for us all to examine a number of issues, but most relevant to our concerns are the complexities of how sexual identity is constructed and understood in different parts of the world.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Should conservatives be wary of MMP?

I've read a lot of conservative bloggers' support for the mixed-member proportional representation system ( MMP) in the upcoming Ontario referendum. I have a nagging doubt about it which no one has been able to address - I would welcome some discussion on this issue.

The MMP system's combination of 90 MPs elected by ridings in a "first past the post" system with 39 "list" candidates selected by the parties is an attempt to address the perceived problem that representation in the legislature rarely reflects the popular vote. In fact, we haven't had a government in Ontario with greater than 50% of the popular vote since the 1930s. The new system will ensure that the number of each party's seats in the legislature approximates its percentage of the popular vote. OK, fine - seems fair.

Here's the problem I have with it. With the current party system in Ontario, it is rare for any of the big three parties (the PCs, the Liberals and the NDP) to get more than 50% of the popular vote. Under MMP, this would practically guarantee a minority government after every election. Let's take a look at the popular vote results from the 2003 election:
  • Liberals - 46.4%
  • Progressive Conservatives - 34.6%
  • NDP - 14.7%
  • Green Party - 2.8%
  • Family Coalition - 0.8%
  • Freedom Party - 0.2%

Since there is a 3% threshold in the new proposal, only the big three parties would have representation in an MMP legislature, and the 129 seats would break down approximately like this:

  • Liberals - 62 seats
  • Progressive conservatives - 47 seats
  • NDP - 20 seats

Clearly the Liberals won the 2003 election, but only with a plurality of the vote, not a majority. In the legislature, they would not have had enough seats to form a majority (65 seats) and could only govern with the support of another party, likely the NDP since they are fellow travellers on the left-centre side of the political spectrum. Even if the Greens had won enough votes to be represented, they would likely support the Liberals.

And here is where I have a problem. In a system which would almost always produce minority governments, it could be very difficult for the Progressive Conservatives to form a government. If the PCs won a plurality of the vote, they would still be a minority in the legislature, and would face a left-centre opposition with a majority of seats which could block every item of a Conservative legislative agenda.

It is even conceivable that the PCs could win a plurality of seats in an election and STILL not form the government. Again, take the 2003 results. Let's assume, for a moment, that the Liberal and the PC support was reversed, and the PCs had 62 seats in the legislature vs the Liberals' 47. If the liberals formed a coalition with the NDP, that would give them a voting block of 67 seats in the legislature, which is a clear majority. Since in parliamentary tradition the government must command the confidence of the legislature, it is conceivable that a Liberal/NDP coalition could form the government even though the Conservatives had the largest party in the legislature.

That's democracy, you might say - the majority rules. However, the Progressive Conservatives are the only party that passes for a centre-right party in Ontario. How would the PCs form a coalition with another party to command a majority in the legislature? Can you picture a PC/NDP coalition? Not likely. How about a PC/Liberal coalition? Yikes - that scenario essentially reduces the province to a one-party state with the two main centrist parties essentially having a monopoly on power in the legislature with no effective opposition at all.

I can't think of any scenario that would allow a stable Conservative government to govern effectively. While that prospect might delight Liberals and other lefties, that isn't a good situation for democracy. We need a system where the voters at least theoretically have the power to sweep a party from office, with at least two major functioning parties capable of forming a government and commanding the confidence of the legislature. Under MMP, Ontario would be doomed to perpetual minority governments, and likely to perpetual Liberal/NDP/Green coalitions. The deck is stacked against right-wing parties under MMP - conservatives should seriously consider the implications of this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"You know what I love about Ontario's Catholic schools? They're separate!"

Dalton McGuinty has laid it on pretty thick in his latest campaign ad (click on the link marked "Public Schools").This one is defendng Ontario's public schools, and Dalton stands in a school stairwell and intones:
You know what I love about Ontario's schools? They're public. Whatever the race or creed of our kids they attend the same schools. Together they learn, play, laugh and sing - together.... Our public schools are what makes Ontario, Ontario.

Well, I'm not sure Mr. McGuinty speaks from personal experience, since he went to a publicly-funded Catholic separate school, and sends his own kids to publicly funded Catholic separate schools, and his wife teaches in a publicly funded Catholic separate school. Forgive me for raining on your parade, Mr. Premier, but Catholic kids in Ontario aren't learning, playing, laughing and singing together with their Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu & atheist neighbours. What exactly is your point?

Tell me again why we can't outlaw polygamy?

I didn't really want to write again about the polygamy/gay marriage debate - that ground has been adequately covered here, here and here. However, I would like to raise a point arising from the ongoing trial of Warren Jeffs in Utah. The Jeffs case is, to me, a clear example of why the Canadian state is fully justified in prohibiting polygamy, in spite of the so-called destabilizing precedent set by the legalization of gay marriage.

Jeffs is the "prophet" of North America's largest polygamist sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which operates in Utah. He is currently standing trial there on two counts of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl by her 19-year-old cousin.

The cousin, Allan Steed, testified yesterday. Steed's story:

Mr. Steed wept on the stand as he talked about how he loved his wife, who CanWest News Service is identifying as Jane Doe to protect her privacy. He denied ever having raped her and that the first time that they had intercourse-- which Doe said was the first time she was raped -- Doe initiated sex.

"I came home. I was putting in long hours at my job and I was really, really tired," the sturdily-built, soft-spoken Mr. Steed said. "I went to sleep in my work clothes
and as the night progressed, she woke me up and asked me if I cared about her
and I said I loved her. She rolled up close to me and asked me to scratch her
back and one thing led to another."

He said he found himself "guided to her" and they had sex.
He testified that he had been counselled by Doe's stepfather to "take it slowly" with the 14-year-old. One of the few conversations he and his "wife" -- they were not legally married -- had about sex was in relation to having children. Mr. Steed said Doe told him she wanted to wait to have children.

"She said maybe a couple of weeks, couple of months or maybe five years," Mr. Steed said.

"So you took the earliest date," prosecutor Craig Barlow said.

"Wouldn't you?" Mr. Steed replied. "Of course I did. I wanted to have a child. I wanted her to know I loved her. I didn't want her frightened."

The girl has told a different story:

Doe testified that Mr. Steed had undressed her and then himself, laid her on the bed and had sex with her. While she sobbed and begged him to stop, she said Mr. Steed told her "The prophet [Rulon Jeffs, Warren's father] wants us to do this."

Asked by the prosecutor if he recalled Doe bleeding after intercourse, Mr. Steed said he could not. Under cross-examination, Mr. Steed said he could not recall if she cried.

Mr. Barlow asked Mr. Steed if it was his idea of going slowly to have sex within three weeks of his marriage to a 14-year-old who had never been kissed before, never dated, had no idea how babies were created and had told him several times that she hated him and didn't want him touching her.

He said that it had seemed much longer than that to him.

Mr. Steed admitted that a few days or weeks earlier he had exposed his genitals one night in a park. "In my own clumsy way, I tried to make her feel more comfortable to help move things along [sexually]," he said.


Mr. Barlow asked if that was his idea of "courting" his wife.

"I felt like sometime we had to learn to get familiar with each other," Mr. Steed

Mr. Steed also admitted under cross-examination that he does not believe that state laws setting out the legal age are binding on him or the FLDS; he believes only God's law applies and that God guides the hand of the prophet in arranging marriages.

So, what is the official line on plural marriage from the FLDS?

Mr. Steed, who currently doesn't have a wife, agreed that he believes in the FLDS teaching that without several wives he can't get into the highest realm of heaven, and that it is up to Mr. Jeffs to arrange those marriages.

Mr. Steed said that he believed Mr. Jeffs to be infallible and would never ask him
to do anything wrong.

"I believe the Lord would take his life first."

The gay marriage argument goes something like this: once we allow changes to the traditional definition of marriage and allow homosexuals to marry, there is no longer any justification for limiting marriage to two people, since we no longer limit it to a man and a woman. I say that's nonsense.

The state should tread lightly when trying to limit behaviour between consenting adults, but it also has a duty to prohibit activities that cause harm to other people. In the case of polygamy, the harm is done to the women (or in this case girls) who are involved in plural marriage, and young men who cannot marry because of a shortage of available wives and who are expelled from the community. This is all done in the name of the prophet's interpretation of scripture, but I defy anyone to make a convincing case that the women are free to choose this lifestyle even if they claim they consent to it. Ditto for the young men who are ostracized by their families and communities.

I don't care what anyone says - it is nonsensical to make a case that civil marriage (which isn't the same thing as a church's religious sacrament of marriage) between consenting adult homosexuals causes harm to anyone. It is also equally nonsensical to claim that there is no justification for the state to intervene and prevent plural marriage because two gay adults are allowed to marry. Try to make that case to Jane Doe.

Monday, September 17, 2007

School 1977 vs School 2007

A friend sent me this recently - it's been making the e-mail rounds:

Scenario: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.
1977 - Vice principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his own shotgun to show Jack.
2007 - School goes into lockdown, the RCMP are called, Jack is hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors are called in to assist traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1977 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2007 - Police are called, SWAT team arrives and arrests Johnny and Mark. They are charged with assault and both are expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jeffrey won't sit still in class, disrupts other students.
1977 - Jeffrey is sent to the principal's office and given a good paddling. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2007 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra provincial funding because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbour's car and his Dad gives him a spanking with his belt.
1977 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2007 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has an affair with the psychologist.

Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some Aspirin to school.
1977 - Mark shares Aspirin with the school principal as they both have a smoke out on the smoking dock.
2007 - Police are called and Mark is expelled from school for drug violations. His car is searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Pedro fails high-school English.
1977 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.
2007 - Pedro's cause is taken up by local human rights group. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that making English a requirement for graduation is racist. Canadian Civil Liberties Association files class action lawsuit against provincial school system and Pedro's English teacher. English is banned from core curriculum. Pedro is given his diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover Canada Day firecrackers, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up an anthill.
1977 - Ants die.
2007 - Canadian Firearms Centre and the RCMP are called and Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. CSIS investigates parents, siblings are removed from the home, computers are confiscated, and Johnny's dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls during recess and scrapes his knee. His teacher, Mary, finds him crying, and gives him a hug to comfort him.
1977 - Johnny soon feels better and goes back to playing.
2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces three years in Kingston. Johnny undergoes five years of therapy.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

They're eating their pets in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's self-induced death spiral continues. The latest sign of impending collapse - residents are abandoning pets because they can no longer afford to feed them, and some pets are subsequently slaughtered for their meat, according to this story from CNN:

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Pets are being slaughtered for meat in shortage-stricken Zimbabwe and record numbers of animals have been surrendered to shelters or abandoned by owners no longer able to feed them, animal welfare activists say.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it could not feed surrendered animals or find them new homes and was being forced to kill them and destroy the corpses.

Animals, like people, are being hard hit by Zimbabwe's economic meltdown, with official inflation of more than 7,600 percent, the highest in the world. Independent estimates put real inflation closer to 25,000 percent and the International Monetary Fund has forecast it will reach 100,000 percent by the end of the year.

Vets have run out of the drug used to put down the animals and are relying on intermittent donations from neighboring South Africa. One veterinary practice was waiting for supplies to destroy about 20 animals, and on Friday could neither feed them adequately nor fatally inject them.
Animal activists say they have been threatened with arrest for speaking out and SPCA offices were raided by secret police agents of the Central Intelligence Organization on Thursday. SPCA inspectors said they were ordered not to release details of surrendered, abandoned, slain or eaten pets.

Illegally slaughtered meat sells for more than 10 times the government's fixed price on the thriving black market. It comes in plastic bags of 22 pounds and more, containing bone, fat and offal and no indication of types or cuts of meat.

"You're getting brisket, shin, flank, rump and anything else that's available, all lumped together. It's meat, take it or leave it," the animal protection activist said.
"It is not illegal to eat dog meat in this country, but we have laws on how animals must be humanely slaughtered," he said.

A court case is pending in the eastern city of Mutare, where a pet dog was butchered and eaten.

Police and SPCA inspectors were called to a shopping center in Harare earlier this month, where a man was offering frozen dog meat for sale from the back of a pickup truck, activists said.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jane Fonda caused global warming

From the NY Times: Jane Fonda's 1979 movie The China Syndrome, the opening of which was eerily followed twelve days later by the accident at Three Mile Island (T.M.I), caused a nationwide panic which effectively halted the growth of nuclear power in the US. The result: a huge increase in coal-fired electrical generating capacity, which now accounts for 40% of the energy-related CO2 emissions in the US:

The T.M.I. accident was, according to a 1979 President’s Commission report, “initiated by mechanical malfunctions in the plant and made much worse by a combination of human errors.” Although some radiation was released, there was no meltdown through to the other side of the Earth — no “China syndrome” — nor, in fact, did the T.M.I. accident produce any deaths, injuries or significant damage except to the plant itself.

What it did produce, stoked by “The China Syndrome,” was a widespread panic. The nuclear industry, already foundering as a result of economic, regulatory and public pressures, halted plans for further expansion. And so, instead of becoming a nation with clean and cheap nuclear energy, as once seemed inevitable, the United States kept building power plants that burned coal and other fossil fuels. Today such plants account for 40 percent of the country’s energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions.

Anyone hunting for a global-warming villain can’t help blaming those power plants — and can’t help wondering too about the unintended consequences of Jane Fonda.

(ht: Ann Althouse )

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Jihad for Love

Indian filmmaker Parvez Sharma has made a documentary about Islam and homosexuality called A Jihad for Love, which is showing this month at the Toronto International Film Festival. According to Reuters:

"A Jihad For Love," which was six years in the making, follows gay and lesbian Muslims battling racial profiling and harassment after the September 11 attacks and subsequent attacks in London and Madrid.

Indian filmmaker Parvez Sharma filmed gay Muslims in 12 countries and nine languages, including India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and France, and always shot footage in secret to escape the attention of local authorities.

Yup, that's the problem - gay Muslims in France have to fear racial profiling & harassment because of September 11. I hope this film concentrates on the real problem: the appalling treatment of Muslim homosexuals by other Muslims who use the Koran as justification. Like the persecution & execution of homosexuals in Iran or Afghanistan , for instance?

Christopher Hitchens takes a spa vacation

The inimitable Christopher Hitchens has a hilarious article in Vanity Fair - On the limits of self-improvement, in which he describes a spa vacation he took at the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort in Santa Barbara, California. He describes himself before check-in:

Viewed from the front when clothed, the subject resembles a burst horsehair sofa cushion or (in the opinion of one of us) a condom hastily stuffed with an old sock. The side perspective is that of an avocado pear and, on certain mornings, an avocado pear that retains nothing of nutritious value but its tinge of alligator green. (N.B.: The bumps and scales of this famous delicacy are sometimes visible and palpable as well.) Of the rear view, all that need be said is that it conforms to the preceding, though with considerably less excuse as well as with mercifully less fur. Seen from directly above, the subject has a little more protective cover than some males of his age, but this threatens to become a pile of tobacco-colored strands clumsily coated onto an admittedly large skull. At all times, the subject gives off a scent that resembles that of an illegal assembly, either of people or of materials, in the hog wallows of Tennessee or in the more remote and primitive islands of Scotland. He becomes defensive, and sometimes aggressive, when asked about the source of this effluvium. It is considered by me, and by the rest of this committee, and by the subject's few remaining friends and surviving family, a medical mystery that he can still perform what he persists in referring to as his "job."

Hitchens concludes after a couple of days of "executive de-stress treatment":

I also had to admit what I have long secretly known, which is that I positively like stress, arrange to inflict it on myself, and sheer awkwardly away from anybody who tries to promise me a more soothed or relaxed existence. Bad habits have brought me this far: why change such a tried-and-true formula?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pornography for plants

American "conceptual artist" Jonathon Keats' latest work is "the world's first porn theater for house plants." According to the Washington Post :
The latest machination of American conceptual artist Jonathon Keats is a live-action exhibit in which plants are subjected to a six-minute video loop of "uncensored pollination." The graphic footage, featuring a promiscuous honeybee engaging in a floral orgy, is shown in a sleazy, porn-video-like black and white. All the while young, impressionable and possibly exploited flowers are held in pots, forced the be present for this depravity. We humans are invited to watch this torture.
Bring it on up to the National Gallery in Ottawa, Mr. Keats - I'm sure there's a Canada Council grant for you somewhere.

How Dalton McGuinty saved Ontario's schools

The Ontario Liberals are in a full-court press over John Tory's faith-based schools proposal. First it was Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne's article in the National Post, Doing Right by Ontario's students, which I commented on here . Today it was Premier McGuinty himself, who unloaded a similar cargo of BS in today's National Post in an article titled My vision for Ontario's schools . I don't know how he can say stuff like this with a straight face.

I would like to comment in particular on a point Premier McGuinty raised:
It seems the Tories still haven't learned. They would pull $500-million -- that's half a billion dollars -- out of publicly funded schools and give this to private, religious schools instead. We don't think that's right and we don't think that's fair. We think every bit of available funding belongs in the public system.
Well, that's a bit of a stretch. I don't agree with Tory's faith-based schools proposal either, but let's not get carried away with the facts. Yes, money would be "pulled" out of the secular school system, or the "publicly funded schools" as Mr. McGuinty calls them. However, those faith-based schools would then also become "publicly funded" and would fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, and would be required to teach the official Ontario curriculum and hire only teachers licenced by the Ontario College of Teachers. Private faith-based schools are currently exempt from this requirement. Students would not be diverted from the "publicly funded schools" - they would move from a secular publicly funded school system to a religious publicly funded school system. ALL of these schools would be publicly funded, so for the Premier to scare us with his claim that $500 million dollars would be lost to the publicly funded schools is an out-and-out lie.

But the most hypocritical part is the Premier's line "We think every bit of available funding belongs in the public system." OK then, Dalton - put your money where your mouth is . I anxiously await your announcement that your government, if re-elected, will ask for an amendment to the constitution which gives you the authority to cut off public funding to the Catholic school system and as soon as possible will put "every bit if available funding" into the SECULAR public schools. After all, isn't the current system of public funding for Catholic schools exactly what John Tory is proposing for schools of other faiths?

Why wouldn't McGuinty do this? Well, for starters, he is a graduate of the publicly funded Catholic school system, he sends his own children to publicly funded Catholic schools, and his wife is a teacher in a publicly funded Catholic school. Dalton McGuinty wants to deny members of other faiths access to the same faith-based publicly funded schooling that his own family takes advantage of in Ontario's Catholic school system. Now that takes balls.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

African Anglican bishop: homosexuals "insane, satanic"

According to this story from UPI, Rt. Rev. Isaac Orama, the Anglican Bishop of Uyo in Nigeria, has stated that homosexuals are "insane, satanic and are not fit to live".

Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Uyo, Sept. 2, 2007 (NAN) The Anglican Bishop of Uyo, Rt. Rev. Isaac Orama, has condemned the activities of homosexuals and lesbians, and described those engaged in them as "insane people''. "It is scaring that any one should be involved in a thing like that and I want to say that they will not escape the wrath of God,'' he said. Orama told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) today in Uyo, that the practice, which has worsened over the years, was "unbiblical and against God's purpose for creating man''. "Homosexuality and lesbianism are inhuman. Those who practice them are insane, satanic and are not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man,'' the Bishop said.

He noted that the Anglican Church in Nigeria had continued to lead the fight against the practice especially in the US where it led the opposition to same sex marriages. "The aim of such fight is to provide a safe place for those who want to remain faithful Anglicans and Biblical Christians,'' he explained.

OK - the Anglican Church has some 'splainin to do. As I wrote in this post, the worldwide Anglican Church is on the verge of a schism over issues like church recognition of gay relationships and ordination of female clergy, with several conservative parishes in the US having broken ties with the American Episcopalian (Anglican) church and joined dioceses in Africa (including Nigeria). Will the Anglican church leadership come down hard on one of its own bishops who is calling for the killing of homosexuals (they are "not fit to live because they are rebels to God's purpose for man")? Is anyone asking if the breakaway US parishes who have joined the Nigerian Anglican church support the killing of homosexuals?

Anglicans should be embarrassed and outraged by the behaviour of this poisonous cleric in their midst, and their leaders should express their unequivocal condemnation immediately. This guy isn't just some Nigerian parishioner shooting off his mouth - he's a BISHOP. If the Anglican Church doesn't do something meaningful about this, its slide into irrelevance will be complete.

UPDATE: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has released this statement on the Orama affair:

From the official spokesman of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has expressed deep shock at remarks said to have been made by the Bishop of Uyo, Nigeria, the Rt Revd Isaac Orama concerning gay and lesbian people.
The Archbishop will be contacting the Archbishop of Nigeria, Dr Peter Akinola, to seek clarification.
Dr Williams said “The safety of people of gay and lesbian sexual orientation is a matter of concern for us all. The Anglican Primates, along with all other official bodies in the Anglican Communion, have consistently called for an end to homophobia, violence and hatred. If these reports are correct I would urge the bishop to apologise. Such comments are unacceptable and profoundly shocking on the lips of any Christian”.

Canon James M Rosenthal

Anglican Communion Office St Andrew’s House Director of Communications

16 Tavistock Crescent, London W11

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ontario Minister of Education: Liberals saved Ontario schools

Ontario's Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne wrote an editorial in today's National Post (Doing right by Ontario's students ) extolling the McGuinty government's supposed rescue of Ontario's schools. I'm used to a certain level of bullshit during an election campaign (cf. yesterday's "Family Day" holiday announcement) and this article doesn't disappoint.

Ms. Wynne starts out with the requisite comparison to the bad old days of the provincial Tories

Teacher morale was low -- and strikes and walkouts cost our kids some 26 million lost learning days. Extracurricular activities were slashed, budgets were cut and student performance was down, too.

She then gives her own government credit for the Renaissance:
Now, just four short years later, things are better. There's a buzz in our publicly funded schools that had been missing for too long. Test scores are up, class sizes are down, crumbling schools are finally getting fixed and there's peace in our classrooms. Things aren't perfect --but they are much, much better.
Well, in a sense she has a point. There has been peace (in other words no labour disruptions) in Ontario classrooms for four years, but that is mainly because the Liberals have basically driven dump-trucks full of money up to the loading docks of the Ontario Teachers Federation and bought labour peace in the form of a four-year contract that essentially gave the teachers unions everything they asked for.

She then proceeds to slam the Conservatives & their plan to fund faith-based schools. Don't get me wrong - I think the Tories are out to lunch on that proposal, and a true Conservative government would propose defunding the Catholic school system rather than creating more separate schools. However, the arguments she uses are ridiculous:

And yet, just as our schools have finally started to turn the corner, the Conservatives want to take $500-million out of public education and divert it to private religious schools.

If the Conservatives are allowed to carry out this scheme, it could spell disaster -- again -- for the schools that over 95% of Ontario families depend upon to provide an excellent education for their kids.

How much would diverting $500-million cost Ontario's publicly funded schools? It could cost 7,000 teachers. Or 4,100 principals.

Huh? The Conservative's proposed faith-based schools would still be publicly funded (as currently are Catholic schools) - the $500 million would still be in the "publicly funded system", and the students at these schools would still be attending "publicly funded schools". The money would not disappear from the education system of Ontario - it would be put in a different "envelope". Students at faith-based schools would still be educated in the Ontario curriculum by teachers licensed by the province. One could argue that religious schools have no place in a public system, which is certainly a valid point, but to argue that it would divert money from "public schools" is a bit rich. 95% of Ontario's families (this figure includes, I presume, Catholic students) would still depend on publicly funded schools. And as to the argument that the money "diversion" would cost the jobs of 7 000 teachers, or 4 100 principals - nonsense. Publicly funded faith-based schools will still require qualified, licenced teachers and principals at levels comparable to existing secular or Catholic schools. Where does she think this money will be diverted to if not mainly to staffing these new schools?

Ms. Wynne then provides a list of accomplishments that her government has achieved in its four years at the helm:
By contrast, our improvements to the publicly funded system are giving kids the opportunity to succeed. Some 5,140 new primary teachers have more than doubled the number of classes with 20 students or fewer, providing our youngest learners more individual attention and support. Elementary students are reading, writing and doing math better than ever before, with most test scores up at least 10% from four years ago. Twelve thousand more high school students are graduating, and 1,925 "Student Success" teachers are in schools focusing on helping kids who are at risk of dropping out. Our publicly funded schools are getting meaningful, measurable results to all students and the new school year will bring even more.
As to the first point: yes, the Liberals can truthfully claim to have hired more than 5000 primary teachers and imposed a cap of 20 students on primary classes. Congratulations. However, this has come at a cost: the cap on primary classes means that many, many classes at the intermediate levels are enormous, since the new resources are aimed exclusively at primary classes and principals are pressed to stretch staff & physical space to take pressure off primary classes at the expense of older kids. It also means that many primary teachers are forced to teach split grades to maintain the 20 student ceiling - surely not an unmitigated success.

Ms. Wynne takes credit for improving test scores in Ontario:
Elementary students are reading, writing and doing math better than ever before,
with most test scores up at least 10% from four years ago .... Our publicly funded schools are getting meaningful, measurable results to all students and the new school year will bring even more.

Well, that's technically true - test scores have been rising. But ask a teacher why - the Liberals have been tinkering with the tests for years, and a comparison between standardized testing done by the Liberal government and that carried out by the previous Conservatives may be difficult to make. Ontario elementary students are tested in math and language in grade 3 and grade 6. Ask any teacher of one of these grades what this is like - a lot is riding on a school's test scores, among them the risk of public scorn and pressure from administrators to improve at all costs. Sounds like a good idea, except that as a result almost the entire curriculum up to grade 6 is geared toward these two tests. Students are coached relentlessly on how to answer standardized test questions, and everything they learn in grades 3 and 6 is taught in the framework of the tests. Teachers and schools have gotten better at preparing kids for standardized tests - this doesn't necessarily mean that they are learning more or getting better instruction. And by the way, the Liberals once campaigned against standardized testing in Ontario schools, but have maintained a system established by Mike Harris. Go figure.

Ms. Wynne is proud of the new education personnel her government has poured into the school system:

Support staff, crucial to successful schools, are growing: Five thousand more education assistants, 770 new custodians and 830 secretaries are just part of the 7,600 new education workers we provided funding for. Two million kids are counting on these professionals to deliver their best, and focus on the classroom instead of contracts.

Well, good for you. This certainly has made teachers' and administrators' jobs a little easier, but I don't think there's convincing evidence that this massive influx of education staff has significantly improved the instruction of the typical student.

One thing Ms. Wynne's government can take credit for - they have restored a measure of stability in Ontario's schools. But this has been done by pouring money into the schools with little accountability, and by pandering to the powerful unions that control workers in the education sector. I'm not sure that's progress.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Drinking at home with your parents is good for you

From the Wall Street Journal - a 2004 study shows that children who were introduced to drinking at home by their parents (for example by drinking wine with dinner) were one-third as likely to binge drink in adolescence:

In societies where children drink with their parents, this typically means giving a kid a small amount of wine or other alcohol, often watered down on special occasions or a family dinner. Many European countries also lower the drinking age for children when they are accompanied by parents. In the United Kingdom, for example, the legal age is 18, but for a family at a restaurant it is 16. In France and Italy, where the legal age is 16, there is no age limit for children drinking with parents.

But what might all of this mean for teen drinking problems in America? Several studies have shown that the younger kids are when they start to drink, the more likely they are to develop severe drinking problems. But the kind of drinking these studies mean--drinking in the woods to get bombed or at unattended homes--is particularly high risk. Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2004 found that adolescents whose parents permitted them to attend unchaperoned parties where drinking occurred had twice the average binge-drinking rate.

But the study also had another, more arresting conclusion: Children whose parents introduced drinking to the children at home were one-third as likely to binge. "It appears that parents who model responsible drinking behaviors have the potential to teach their children the same," noted Kristie Foley, the principal author of the study. While the phrasing was cautious, the implication of the study's finding needs to be highlighted: Parents who do not introduce children to alcohol in a home setting might be setting them up to become binge drinkers later on. You will not likely hear this at your school's parent drug- and alcohol-awareness nights.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Cult of Diana

Roger Kimball on Princess Diana :

All that glitters, vanity vanity, and where were you when Princess Di met her end?

I was up visiting friends in rural Connecticut and was, in fact, the bearer of those sad tidings to the assembled party. It being my habit to rise early, I went to town to retrieve The New York Times, which I still read in those far-off days. By the time I returned, I had absorbed the headlines and sauntered in upon the coffee swillers and egg-and-bacon munchers with what I regarded as news but hardly tragedy.

How I misjudged the event! I won’t say there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. But the reaction, especially on the distaff side, was mild trauma, as if the sticky end for this royal adulteress, aficionado of high colonics, and friend of Sir Elton John was a public bereavement rather than a sordid private calamity and nuisance for the Paris tunnel cleaners. On went the television and we watched, breath-bated, as a teary-eyed, upper-lip-trembling Tony Blair demonstrated his mastery of cheap sentimentality. Then came paroxysms of simulated grief, the mountains of flowers, “Candle in the Wind,” etc., etc., all of Albion contracted in one brow of pseudo-woe.

How to explain it? I won’t endeavor to. For one thing, it is no doubt beyond my powers of explanation. For another, I suspect that the answer is too depressing to broadcast on this pleasant summer morning. Let me just mention one aspect of the phenomenon, four syllables that name a necessary though not sufficient condition for this exhibition of public insanity. I mean “celebrity.” There was no greater celebrity than Diana, Princess of Wales, and absent that nimbus of acclamation, the reaction to her death would have been far different.

Larry Craig & double standards

What's the difference between Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank, Mark Foley & Larry Craig? According to Eric Sheie at Classical Values :
Democrats keep their jobs after drowning women in cars or keeping male brothels, while Republicans are hounded out of office for sex scandals without even the component of sex.
Eric wonders why Republicans "can't even run a proper sex scandal".