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)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin's got the gay Republican vote sewn up

Check out McCain running-mate Sarah Palin's husband, Todd. He's a commercial fisherman who works in the oil industry on Alaska's North Slope in the off-season, and he's a world champion snowmobile racer. This race just heated up.

UPDATE: Check out Sarah Palin - diva for gay Republicans? from GayPatriot; It's a good day for gay Republicans from Andrew Sullivan; I've hopped the fence from Cake or Death; Oh. My. Gawd. from Right Side of the Rainbow

UPDATE: Todd Palin is a native Inuit. From Ace of Spades:
Her husband, Todd, is a Native Yup'ik Eskimo.[5] Outside the fishing season, Todd works for BP at an oil field on Alaska's North Slope[6] and is a champion snowmobiler, winning the 2000-mile "Iron Dog" race four times.[5] The two eloped shortly after Palin graduated from college; when they learned they needed witnesses for the civil ceremony, they recruited two residents from the old-age home down the street.[5] The Palin family lives in Wasilla, about 40 miles (64 km) north of Anchorage.[7]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Picturesque rural poverty

In today's National Post, musician Hawksley Workman laments the economic development of his beloved Muskoka cottage country. His complaint is an example of an irritating attitude that a lot of urban people have when they visit the quaint countryside; they like it picturesque and poor. Some of us who actually live out here beg to differ.

Mr. Workman reminisces about the good old days in Huntsville, Ontario:

"I remember going to Mc-Donald's when it opened with my grandmother in 1981," he said. "That was the beginning of the commercial boom, of wetlands being paved over for malls and golf courses. When I was kid, people came up to Muskoka for the quiet and to put up your feet and read a book. Now, the motivations to be up there are a lot different. The beauty is quickly fading into it becoming just another urban outpost."

Indeed, the Canadian Tire that the musician sent his friends to visit is located in a mall with a lake view. While Huntsville's main street still boasts a vintage ice cream par-lour, the edges of the town are clotted with drive-throughs and discount stores.

Mr. Workman himself now lives just outside Burks Falls, a town located 25 minutes north of Huntsville. The town has a cafe located in a defunct hydroelectric generating station and a few gift stores, but none on the sprawl that has consumed Muskoka's larger communities. Burks Falls is so small, it has a machine gun in the town park instead of a full-sized cannon.

Mr. Workman is lucky that his career as a musician allows him the luxury of being self-employed in a tiny rural community. Most rural residents don't have that option. Consider this report on rural poverty by the federal government's "Canadian Rural Partnership":

Causes of Rural Poverty

Over the last decade rural Canada’s economic and employment situation has had the most profound negative impact on its residents. While variations exist among provinces, when compared to their urban counterparts, rural residents are known to have lower incomes and fewer employment opportunities. These important causes of poverty encourage and sustain persistent rural-to-urban migration.

Although relatively few studies exist to statistically measure the specific causes of rural poverty, generally speaking many of the same factors are likely contributing to both urban and rural poverty. Where there are differences between urban and rural causes, the depth of the problems may be different within each factor. For example, while being poorly educated and without employment are known to contribute to a poverty outcome, regardless of where one lives, the depth of these problems vary by geography. Compared to their urban residents, rural residents tend to have lower education levels, lower levels of literacy, lower incomes, fewer job opportunities, fewer higher paying job opportunities, more seasonal employment, more housing that is in need of repairs, relatively poorer health, and relatively poorer access to health care services

Rural Poverty Outcomes

Some of the impacts of poverty are similar in both rural and urban regions of Canada. These include impacts on education (not doing well in school, and lack of ability to pay for post secondary school, especially university), risk of homelessness, increased need to use food banks, and shorter life expectancies. However, there are some marked differences in impacts of poverty between rural and urban regions.

Poverty in rural areas can lead to a significant out-migration with many residents leaving in search of better employment. Individuals and families leave rural communities to avoid or to escape poverty. As rural areas already have small populations this can have a devastating impact on vital social and health services, which may be forced to close.Many poverty outcomes which include problems associated with attaining quality housing, education and maintaining good health, are also causes of poverty. These intertwined ‘attributes’ of poverty point to a continuous vicious cycle with poverty’s pervasive negative impacts influencing generation after generation of vulnerable population groups including those among rural Canadians.

The "fading beauty" of economic development that is turning places like Huntsville into just another "urban outpost" is actually injecting new life into these communities. For years, rural communities have had few job opportunities for their residents and little economic activity to provide a healthy tax base and support vital infrastructure like hospitals and schools. If they were lucky enough to attract tourists, these towns could scrape out an existence on seasonal jobs that were supported by fickle vacationers. Young people have been fleeing towns like Huntsville for bigger cities for generations just to find employment. Lake views don't employ people; "a mall with a lake view" does.

For the first time some of these rural municipalities are attracting diverse economic activity that can support a vibrant and healthy community. Yes, that means McDonald's restaurants and big box stores that people like Hawksley Workman find so offensive to their artistic sensibilities, but the alternative is turning rural Canada into a vast living-history park where the quaint inhabitants all work for Parks Canada & maintain their old-fashioned folkways for the entertainment of tourists. And if Hawksley Workman wants to help keep Burks Falls free of "the sprawl that has consumed Muskoka's larger communities", he should be living in a condo in downtown Toronto.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Evolution & religion are not mutually exclusive

Great short video from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in response to the recent movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. As Dr. Francis S. Collins of the US National Institutes of Health puts it, "evolution and faith are entirely compatible".

(HT: Little Green Footballs)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hideous Public Art (4)

This week's example comes from Ottawa, the nation's capital, where everything is political including the hideous public art. This eyesore is installed near Ottawa City Hall and is titled "The Dorothy O'Connell Monument to Anti-Poverty Activism".

It consists of a massive block of red granite shaped like a slice of bread (or maybe a muffin) with a house-shaped piece punched out of the centre and lying on the ground nearby.

Engraved in the hole (in both official languages, of course) is the message "Poverty stops equality - equality stops poverty".

I presume that the toast-like shape is meant to symbolize "our daily bread" and the house-shaped hole is a literal reference to homelessness. Admirable sentiments, but as art it's not much more than a really lame visual pun. A better title would be "The French Toast of Poverty Meets the Donut Hole of Homelessness".

I know most art is political, but come on - this monument's Symbolism for Beginners approach to its political message is ridiculous. Plus, its location smack in the middle of Ottawa City Hall's Veteran's Grove - "planted in honour of Canadian War Veterans from the Ottawa-Carleton Region" - is confusing; so many to honour, so little space I suppose. It is also located in front of a beautiful 19th Century limestone convent building which is now part of City Hall, and the combination is visually jarring (perhaps intentionally so).

Ottawa is a city of beautiful public monuments - this certainly isn't one of them. Fortunately it's tucked away out of sight in an area likely to be seen only by the workers at City Hall who inflicted this thing on the public.

By the way, the City of Ottawa spent $25 000 last winter on a fence & other improvements designed to keep homeless panhandlers from sleeping in the Rideau Street pedestrian underpass across from the swank Chateau Laurier Hotel. Ottawa's "panhandler's union" launched a human rights complaint against the city claiming that their rights to "security of the person" had been violated. This puts a new twist on "anti-poverty activism" at City Hall, doesn't it? Perhaps the homeless would be more welcome on the lawns of City Hall itself - they can camp out near the French Toast of Poverty.

Monday, August 18, 2008

John Bolton vs Avi Lewis

Do you ever wonder what the great Avi Lewis is up to these days? Since he famously left the CBC because he found their editorial policies too restrictive, he is now working for Al Jazeera English. In this interview on Al Jazeera's Inside USA, he goes mano a mano with former UN Ambassador John Bolton:

(part two here)

To put it mildly, Lewis comes off the worse for the exchange, and Bolton behaves graciously like a professor mildly scolding a petulant student who isn't used to not getting his way.

Lewis, of course, doesn't even pretend to be impartial and shows why he is such a good fit at Al Jazeera. Consider this long-winded question to Ambassador Bolton:
You've been very vocal as the tide of public opinion & clearly tides within the administration & the military establishment have turned against pre-emptive military action against Iran over their nuclear program. You have been standing strong & calling for regime change as the first option. Have you not learned anything from the blowback from the Iraq war to still be talking about regime change?
Bolton's response is pithy, but Lewis isn't happy that Bolton's answer doesn't fit his thesis:
So you're just in denial about blowback? You don't think that the whole disaster with the consequences for millions of lives in the region and here was a result of the initial invasion & occupation?
When Lewis suggests that the world yearns for Barack Obama to win the election and put an end to the madness (as evidenced by the response to Obama's speech in Berlin), Bolton replies:
Right now the polls still show a very close election despite the adulation of 200 000 screaming Germans.
Lewis concludes by presenting him with a copy of George Monbiot's "arrest warrant" citing Bolton for war crimes for misleading the world about Saddam Hussein's Niger uranium connection. Bolton chuckles and says:
This is a true nit that fruitcakes have been picking for a long time & I'm sorry to see you picking it now.
Watch the whole video (both parts) to see a masterful performance by Bolton and a juvenile hissy fit from Lewis.

Obama on gay marriage

A lot of digital ink has been spilled, particularly among left-wing gay bloggers, about what a catastrophe a McCain presidency would be for gays in America and gay marriage in particular. However, Senator Obama's official position on gay marriage isn't that different. Ann Althouse noticed this exchange with Obama on the subject during the recent Saddleback Forum:

Obama garbled: "The reason that people believe there needs to be a constitutional amendment, some people believe, is because, uh, of the concern that, uh, uh, about same-sex marriage. I'm not somebody who's [sic] promotes same-sec [sic] marriage, but I do believe in civil unions. I do believe that we should not, um, that that for a gay partners [sic] to want to visit each other in the hospital, for the state to say, you know what, that's all right, I don't think in any way inhibits my core beliefs about what marriage are [sic]." I think all those little glitches, especially the glaring grammatical error "what marriage are," strongly suggest that he is hiding what he really thinks.

What does Obama really think? Does he actually support gay marriage but is dissembling on the campaign trail to appeal to right-wing or religious voters? Or does he hold a position identical to McCain's but is obfuscating to placate his left-wing supporters?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Extra! Politician dissents on global warming orthodoxy

New Jersey State Assemblyman Michael Doherty spoke out recently against the State Legislature's "Global Warming Response Act" with remarkable clarity:
“There are many credible members of the scientific community who have questioned the theory of global warming, and now we have some scientists actually suggesting the earth’s temperatures may be entering a period of dramatic cooling,” said Doherty, R-Warren and Hunterdon. “With this growing level of scientific uncertainty, it makes no sense to enact a new set of economically damaging regulations prompted by the global warming hysteria of recent years.”
Is this the beginning of a trend, or will Assemblyman Doherty be dispatched to a re-education centre for adjustment?

(HT: Classical Values)

Castro's western apologists

The Wall Street Journal has an interview with 72-year-old Cuban dissident Armando Valladares - a former banker who was arrested by Fidel Castro's government in 1959 along with thousands of other "potential conspirators against the revolution". He was imprisoned and tortured for 22 years and eventually released and sent into exile because, according to the Cuban government, "all repressive methods and tactics have failed to force a certain group of counterrevolutionary prisoners into accepting political rehabilitation". Mr. Valladares went on to become a noted poet, artist, diplomat and human rights activist.

Mr. Valladares has some interesting insight into the state of Cuban affairs today. Asked if the new regime under Fidel's brother Raul would produce political and human rights reforms:
His answer is an unequivocal no: "Until Fidel Castro dies, there will be no changes in Cuba. Fidel will not permit it. The terror imposed since 1959 continues today and Raúl will not dare make a single change as long as his older brother is alive."

And what about Fidel's health? "He can still terrorize because he has lucid moments," Mr. Valladares says. "But those moments are unpredictable, which is why he cannot be seen in public or on live television, even for a minute." In the meantime, the repression has increased in recent months, he tells me, as those who have participated in his crimes seek to preserve the status quo.

The Castro government has been a killing machine since it took over in 1959. If a truth and reconciliation commission is ever called on to establish accountability, Fidel, Raúl and many of their henchmen whose "hands are stained with blood," according to Mr. Valladares, would not fare well.

Valladares has harsh words for western governments and organizations like Amnesty International who turned their backs on Cuban human rights abuses even though they knew what was going on in Castro's prisons:
When Mrs. Valladares was allowed to leave Cuba in 1972 with her father -- who had also been a political prisoner -- and began an international effort to bring attention to the Cuban prisoners, the brutality of the regime was already well established. But as she found out, the facts weren't much help. "It was very difficult," she tells me, slowly and deliberately with more than a touch of sadness.

As an example, she describes her encounter with Seán MacBride, who was the former Amnesty International Chairman, at a human-rights conference in Venezuela in 1977. "He was very nice to me at first because he didn't realize who I was. But when I tried to speak about the Cuban prisoners of conscience, he began banging on the microphone and screaming, 'Don't translate that! Don't translate that!' The journalists covering the event asked me, 'Why is this man telling you to shut up?'"

The next day in the Venezuelan press there was a story titled "Human rights violated in a human-rights conference." That same year MacBride was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize given by the Soviet Union.

Mr. Valladares says that as amazing as it sounds, it took Amnesty International until 1978 to "discover" that there were political prisoners in Cuba. "Eighteen years after I was jailed! There were already thousands murdered, tortured, Boitel had already died."

Still AI has been downright progressive compared to some European governments. Mr. Valladares says that in 1988 the Spanish government of Felipe González was especially disingenuous, when its foreign minister told Mr. Valladares that Spain had no evidence of human-rights violations in Cuba. Only weeks later, he says, the Spanish embassy in Havana produced a report documenting the atrocities of the Cuban regime, but opted to bury it so as to give cover to Fidel.

Sadly Mr. Valladares doesn't mention Canada's shameful record with regard to Cuba, especially that of Castro's head cheerleader Pierre Trudeau. Canadian tourists who flock to the resorts in the Socialist Utopia on the Caribbean should read this article while sipping their pina coladas.

Friday, August 08, 2008

John Edwards admits affair

So the National Enquirer was right after all - John Edwards was having an affair with Rielle Hunter while his wife battled cancer and he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to ABC News. This confirms it - Edwards is a world-class asshole: a silver-spoon socialist who rants about "Two Americas" from his 20 000 sq ft mansion and screws around on his wife while she's fighting a deadly disease. In Edwards' own words:
"I want to see our party lead on the great moral issues -- yes, me a Democrat using that word — the great moral issues that face our country," Edwards tells the crowd. "If we want to live in a moral, honest just America and if we want to live in a moral and just world, we can't wait for somebody else to do it. We have to do it."
Yes, Senator Edwards: you, a Democrat, using that word.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Greenpeace smackdown over genetically modified crops

Brian Dunning, proprietor of the excellent blog Skeptoid, offers a concise debunking of the arguments used by Greenpeace to try to halt the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by farmers in the third world (plus a nice summary of the immense benefits that the Green Revolution brought to poor countries all over the world):
When we turn our skeptical eye toward the Philippines, we see Greenpeace activists wearing full biohazard spacesuits cutting down GMO crops and disposing of them in sealed containers. By inviting reporters and photographers to document these demonstrations, they very effectively spread terror among the undereducated poor Filipino public. Now, I think any reasonable person agrees that you wouldn't do such a drastic thing without very good reason; so there must indeed be very good evidence that GMO crops are only safely handled by hazmat disposal teams — wouldn't you think?

Dunning goes on to effectively rebut each of Greenpeace's scientific claims about GMOs. He concludes with a quotation from Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner and father of the Green Revolution:
"Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."
Read the whole thing.