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"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

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"The decline of marriage isn't the fault of gays"

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal wonders why opponents of the recent legalization of gay marriage in New York aren't also up in arms about a law passed last August instituting "no-fault divorce" in the state. After all, isn't it all about defending traditional marriage?
Last August, to far less public attention, lawmakers in Albany enacted legislation making New York the final state to institute no-fault divorce, thereby abolishing even the pretense that marriage is a lifetime commitment under the law. Under this regime, marriage is a lifetime commitment only until one spouse decides otherwise.

As a Bloomberg report noted at the time, the Legislature took this step for a good practical reason, "to reduce long, cutthroat court battles over who's to blame when marriages fail":
"There is a human cost and a financial cost" to a system demanding fault-finding, Robert Ross, supervising judge of the matrimonial division in Nassau County, New York, on Long Island, said before the bill became law. "It's hard to know what impact a new law will have, but we do know that a grounds trial, and the expense and delay associated with it, is not a good thing."
New York's previous fault-based divorce system was out of step not only with the laws of the other 49 states but also with a culture in which divorce is commonplace and marriage for life is no longer the norm. This state of affairs has multiple and mutually reinforcing causes: female careerism, which reduces the value of the traditional male provider; the social acceptability of nonmarital sex (still quaintly termed "premarital"), made possible by the easy availability of contraception and abortion; and welfare and child-support laws that create incentives for childbearing outside marriage.

None of these developments have anything to do with homosexuality. Deroy Murdock made a good point some years back when he observed, in a column posted at NRO, that "social conservatives who blow their stacks over homosexual matrimony's supposed threat to traditional marriage tomorrow should focus on the far greater damage that heterosexuals are wreaking on that venerable institution today."
Edward Morrissey at The Week makes a similar point:
Part of the decline of families that began in the 1960s can be blamed on cultural changes and rebellion against older social paradigms, and some on government interventions, such as welfare regulations that undermined marriage specifically. It also resulted from liberalized divorce laws, especially so-called no-fault divorce. While divorce was never illegal, until the latter half of the twentieth century, government treated marriage as an actual contract whose abrogation carried substantial civil liabilities. To obtain a divorce, a spouse needed actual grounds for termination of the marital contract, and courts, at least theoretically, issued property and custody settlements on the basis of fault. At the least, this approach made divorce costly and potentially ruinous, which may have left unhappy marriages in effect, but also solidified the stability that social conservatives seek.

After no-fault divorce and its equivalents prevailed, there were no substantial penalties for abrogating the marital contract. The original intent of no-fault divorce was to make the process easier and get courts less involved, and on those counts, it succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination. One spouse can end a marriage and end up with half the property and custody merely by walking out on the other. It’s the only kind of legal partnership in which one party can opt out with little consequence just because he might find another potential partner a little more attractive, or has unilaterally tired of the other partner.

American marriage didn’t get devalued because New York’s legislature followed that of New Hampshire and Vermont in legalizing same-gender marriage. It got devalued when we began treating marriages as less important and less binding than business partnerships.
Morrissey's solution is to get the state out of marriage altogether:
Instead of demanding that states define and enforce marriage in a narrow sense, conservatives should demand that government stay out of defining and performing marriages at all. Couples that want to form partnerships should create a legal relationship based on existing contract law that is neutral to issues of gender and sexual preference. When one partner wants to end a partnership, then the terms of the contract should be enforced by courts. That will not only get rid of government as a spiritual arbiter in marriage, a role for which it has repeatedly proven unsuitable, it would encourage couples wishing to marry to discuss and agree in great detail the terms of their relationship up front. That kind of preparation — and the knowledge that a court will enforce a partnership agreement — will produce better and longer-lasting partnerships, in part by discouraging impulsive decisions to leap into marriage in the first place.

Essentially, we would replace government-defined marriage with civil unions, or domestic partnerships. What would happen to marriage? Those who want to enter into a marriage relationship would have to go to the places better equipped to deal with sanctification: churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. Will that mean that some churches have different definitions of marriage? Possibly. Some churches may decide to marry same-gender couples, others may not.

However, when government gets out of the marriage business, it won’t be anyone else’s business, and it will end government definitions that end up being seen as endorsements of certain lifestyles or denunciations of others. At the least, it would save the people who fought to get government to define marriage from the regret of watching how it gets defined as tradition wanes.
I think it is hypocritical for people who oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it amounts to a "war on the family" to remain silent about no-fault divorce and extending the legal rights of marriage to common-law partners, both of which have had far more impact on families than gay marriage ever will. Morrissey's suggestion makes sense to me: let churches define what the religious sacrament of marriage means, but extend the secular legal and contractual benefits of partnership to gays and straights alike.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New ice age imminent?

I guess we're going to have to start burning fossil fuels like mad & pumping as much CO2 into the atmosphere as we can while we have the chance. This item from the website Peak Oil suggests that the Sun is entering a prolonged period of quiescence like that last seen in the 17th century during the so-called "Little Ice Age". Al Gore is going to explode when he reads this:
The sun is most likely going into hibernation as the latest unusual solar readings, including fading sunspots and weakening magnetic activity near the poles suggest that we are headed towards a solar event that hasn’t happened in hundreds of years, according to new data released Tuesday at the annual meeting of the solar physics division of the American Astronomical Society in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Even though the Sun has been active recently as it heads towards solar maximum in 2013, there are three lines of evidence including a missing jet stream in the solar interior, fading sunspots on the sun’s visible surface, and changes in the corona and near the poles suggest that the next 11-year-long solar cycle will be far quieter than the current one or it may not even happen.

There are some scientists at the conference who said the current findings from the studies mean that we are at the beginning of a Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period that began around 1645 when hardly any sunspots were observed.

This decline in sunspots coincided with below-normal temperatures, in a climate period known as the Little Ice Age that struck Europe and North America, where temperatures dropped by 1.8 to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1-1.5 degrees Celsius).
However, don't get excited all you climate change deniers:
But scientists warn that the temperature change due to a decline in sunspot activity would likely be minimal and not enough to compensate for global warming.
Sure, pal. Whatever you say. I don't believe any of you anymore.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mayor Ford: I won't be at the Pride parade either

Since I'm one of a tiny group of gay conservative bloggers, my eight regular readers sometimes expect me to weigh in from the right side of the rainbow on gay issues in the news. This week's outrage is the revelation that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will not be attending the city's Gay Pride parade on the Canada Day long weekend. Good for you, Mayor Ford - I won't be there either.

The Pride Parade is not my cup of tea. I think its over-the-top displays of hedonism and sexuality perpetuate some of the worst stereotypes about gay people. It sends a message to straight people that we're shallow, image-obsessed, licentious and horny all the time. When I finally came out to my mother a few years ago, after a good cry she said to me "Well, as long as you're happy I'm OK with it, but I have to tell you that I have a problem with Gay Pride parades". I assured her that she would never turn on the six o'clock news and see me marching down Church Street in assless leather chaps.

However, the parade is important to a lot of gay people who have in many cases suffered real pain and alienation as a result of their sexual orientation. Attending a Pride parade is an important rite of passage for many newly-out gays and lesbians who find for the first time an opportunity to be open and honest in a supportive environment.

My problem with the Pride parade is the political baggage that now clings to it like barnacles on a whale. Should it be publicly funded? Should Queers Against Israeli Apartheid be allowed to march in it or not? What politicians are marching and which ones are conspicuous by their absence?

In the old Soviet Union there was a huge May Day parade every year in Moscow and members of the Politburo appeared on the top of Lenin's Tomb to watch it. Pundits pored over the pictures to see who was there and who was standing where to glean some kind of insight into the secretive inner workings of the Kremlin. The Pride parade now serves the same purpose; elected politicians now feel obliged to attend to publicly prove their tolerance and open-mindedness. It has become a Canadian political litmus test into which people read all kinds of ulterior motives whether they are intended or not.

The so-called Gay Community is not monolithic; the only thing we all have in common is our sexual orientation. Our Venn Diagrams overlap in only this one area of our lives. We are urban and rural, old and young, professional and blue-collar, single and married, parents or childless, and - believe it or not - left wing and right wing. Marching in a parade should not be a yardstick by which politicians are judged when they have such divergent policies on the real issues that affect gay lives; mundane things like taxes, snow removal, garbage collection and policing.

Chris Selley wrote in today's National Post:
Is Mr. Ford homophobic? A few moronic outbursts notwithstanding, I see no reason to think so. His reputation as a sort of minorleague all-purpose bigot is baffling when compared with his record as a municipal politician: He obsessively solves people's problems, no matter who they are. This is a man who wouldn't hang up on a dude trying to score OxyContin. So the idea that riding a float at Pride would change anyone's mind about Mr. Ford is laughable in the first place. Many of the people professing "disappointment" at his decision this week were clearly overjoyed to have an opportunity to hate him even more.
So Mayor Ford would rather spend the weekend at the cottage than attend the Gay Pride Parade. So what? I agree with Chris that there is no evidence that this makes him homophobic or that he cares less about this segment of his constituency than any other. Did he march in the St Patrick's Day Parade, and did the Irish community wail and gnash their teeth about it? Is his attendance at Caribana now mandatory to demonstrate his support for Caribbean immigrants? He should be judged by his actions at City Hall, not by superficial photo ops at festivals.

For the record, I too am relaxing on "Pride Weekend" with my partner over beer and barbecue, miles away from the parade. I'll raise a toast to Mayor Ford while I'm at it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

James Delingpole on the IPCC

James Delingpole vents at the Telegraph, prompted by the recently-revealed collusion between Greenpeace and the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change:
The Man Made Global Warming industry is a crock, a scam on an epic scale, fed by the world’s biggest outbreak of mass hysteria, stoked by politicians dying for an excuse to impose more tax and regulation on us while being seen to “care” about an issue of pressing urgency, fuelled by the shrill lies and tear-jerking propaganda of activists possessed of no understanding of the real world other than a chippy instinctive hatred of capitalism, given a veneer of scientific respectability by post-normal scientists who believe their job is to behave like politicians rather than dispassionate seekers-after-truth, cheered on by rent-seeking businesses, financed by the EU, the UN and the charitable foundations of the guilt-ridden rich, and promoted at every turn by schoolteachers, college lecturers, organic muesli packets, Walkers crisps, the BBC, CNBC, Al Gore, the Prince Of Wales, David Suzuki, the British Antarctic Survey, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Knut – the late, dyslexic-challenging, baby polar bear, formerly of Berlin Zoo.

And you really don’t need to be a contrarian or an out-there conspiracy theorist or a hard-core libertarian or a rampant free-market capitalist or a dyed in the wool conservative to think this way any more. This is reality. This is how it is. This is where all the overwhelming evidence points. So what kind of a bizarro, warped, intellectually challenged, cognitively dissonant, eco-fascistic nutcase would you have to be to think otherwise?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ban the hammer

The government of Australia should perhaps follow Canada's example and establish a National Hammer Registry after a Supreme Court judge in Brisbane suggested making carrying a hammer a criminal offence:
In the Supreme Court in Brisbane, Justice Ros Atkinson was taking submissions on the second day of a hearing in which eight men are being sentenced for the bashing death of rugby league star Jonathan Thurston's uncle Richard Saunders.

Prosecutor Todd Fuller, SC, and defence lawyers for the four men and four juveniles completed their submissions on sentence today.

Mr Fuller asked for sentences ranging from 10 years, with an automatic serious violent offence classification meaning eight years must be served, to five years detention with an immediate release order after time served.

Justice Atkinson will sentence all eight on Thursday.

During submissions for a juvenile offender, Justice Atkinson noted that while he was not the one to use the hammer in the attack the juvenile had been carrying a hammer before the events of the night.

"It is such a dangerous thing to do and it is almost inevitable that somebody would be hurt," she said.

Justice Atkinson asked Mr Fuller if there should be legislative reform to make carrying a hammer in such circumstances an offence.

Maybe they could compromise and just register claw hammers or hammers capable of driving nails larger than three inches. After all, if it saves one life ...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Inside the Liberal hive-mind

Liberal Party of Canada president Alfred Apps gave a speech on June 9 in which he outlined his vision of the future. If anyone needed further proof of the ideological bankruptcy of the former Natural Governing Party, they should look no further.

Mr. Apps begins with a description of the party's roots in the classical liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries:
The Liberal Party of Canada's core assumptions in politics are about power. We believe that the inexorable progress of mankind, the constant expansion of freedom, demands the ever more democratic disbursal of power. That the primary ongoing role of the state should be to transfer power from the powerful to the less powerful. And because we believe in the primacy of the individual, we think of that power being placed in the hands of individuals to the maximum extent possible.
He then proceeds to negate that very freedom that classical liberalism stands for. Are free individuals really the fundamental units of Canadian society? Not so much, according to Apps. Individuals are important insomuch as they are members of various "marginalized and ignored" groups, which he suggests should be the focus of future Liberal policy:
Just as we need to bring Liberals who have been marginalized and ignored back into the life of our party with a massive outreach exercise, we need to bring Canadians whose agenda has been marginalized and ignored by the current government back into the centre of our political life. This means our aboriginal population, especially the young. Women, especially single mothers and working women with families. New Canadians. The urban poor. Rural and remote Canadians. Those who are fighting for a clean environment and against climate change. People suffering from mental health issues. Volunteer caregivers. All Canadians who believe that Canada's international mission can no longer be undermined by its reputation abroad for how its treats the poorest of citizens within its own borders.
What policies, then, would the future Liberal Party enact to reach out to the powerless? Well, amending the Constitution to include "positive rights" in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for starters:
Two hundred years after the American Revolution, and more than a century after Confederation, under prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Canada followed the American example and, in 1982, engrafted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Canadian Constitution. Some of these new rights were positive rights -the right to minority language schooling, for example. In order to more properly empower Canadians, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be amended to include more positive rights for economic, cultural and social freedom.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men." He proposed, but was never able to enact, a bill of rights that would have a guaranteed all Americans' health care, education, housing, and income and retirement security. Roosevelt died a year after making this revolutionary proposal, and the plan died with him.

Canada should take up where he left off, and we have a home-grown example of how to do it. One of the few jurisdictions to have accorded positive economic, social and cultural rights to citizens was Quebec, under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms enacted by the Bourassa provincial Liberal government in 1975. It guaranteed a range of rights including the right to child care, public education and environmental security. This law only has quasi-constitutional status as it is amendable solely by vote of the Quebec National Assembly. Still, it provides a uniquely Canadian benchmark worthy of reinforcement as we push toward a new frontier of Liberalism.
This is a breathtaking suggestion and, coming from someone who purports to believe in the "primacy of the individual", an amazing example of cognitive dissonance.

Adding "positive rights" like child care, environmental security, housing, and income and retirement security to the Constitution is the exact opposite of empowering individuals. Enshrining them in the Charter creates an obligation for the state to provide these benefits. Massive government bureaucracies would by necessity need to be set up to monitor and run gargantuan state programs for universal child care and housing, and all the other rights suddenly guaranteed by the Constitution. This would remove any incentive for individuals to provide these things for themselves, or for corporations to offer them as benefits to their employees.

It would also create the necessity for pervasive income-redistribution schemes to pay for it all, since individuals would have no incentive any more to pay for them. We would truly be living in a cradle-to-grave nanny state where every aspect of a citizen's life is monitored and managed, and income inequalities are taxed away to "empower the powerless", primacy of the individual be damned. What better way to limit the rights of the individual than to take away his income? And yet, Apps suggests that this can all be done with "fiscal prudence within a mixed market economy in a global marketplace". Nonsense. This vision of Canada's future is only possible in a command economy supported by massive government spending and ruinous taxation. I
n other words, we would become like post-war Europe and eventually face the decline and collapse that is now unfolding in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

If this is the party president's vision of the future of Canada, then the Liberal Party of Canada is truly a spent force. A party that still worships Franklin Roosevelt and Pierre Trudeau while at the same time claiming to be the guardian of individual liberty can't be taken very seriously.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"Darwin & the arts"

Raedwald, blogging at Orphans of Liberty, muses on state support of artists:
For years the mediocre, the talentless, the lazy, the deluded and the hubristic have shared in the tax-funds we have pumped into the ‘arts’. The luvvie establishment bought into the trite doctrine of artistic self-definition, as in ‘I’m an artist, therefore anything I create is a work of art’, a doctrine that has filled municipal lobbies, lending libraries, ‘people’s galleries’, redundant churches and scout huts with more artistically worthless, shallow, derivative, clumsy, inept, maladroit, graceless tat and rubbish than a chap on a high mountain could wave a stick at. It’s as if all the anti-talent of Maya Angelou, Jeff Koons and Vladimir Tretchikoff had been marketed by Mohammed Fayed and funded by the Sultan of Brunei.

(HT: David Thompson)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

"Everything you've heard about fossil fuels may be wrong"

Are we living at the beginning of the Age of Fossil Fuels, not its final decades? The very thought goes against everything that politicians and the educated public have been taught to believe in the past generation. According to the conventional wisdom, the U.S. and other industrial nations must undertake a rapid and expensive transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy for three reasons: The imminent depletion of fossil fuels, national security and the danger of global warming.

What if the conventional wisdom about the energy future of America and the world has been completely wrong?

As everyone who follows news about energy knows by now, in the last decade the technique of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," long used in the oil industry, has evolved to permit energy companies to access reserves of previously-unrecoverable “shale gas” or unconventional natural gas. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these advances mean there is at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today as there was a decade ago.

Natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide than coal, can be used in both electricity generation and as a fuel for automobiles.

The implications for energy security are startling. Natural gas may be only the beginning. Fracking also permits the extraction of previously-unrecoverable “tight oil,” thereby postponing the day when the world runs out of petroleum. There is enough coal to produce energy for centuries. And governments, universities and corporations in the U.S., Canada, Japan and other countries are studying ways to obtain energy from gas hydrates, which mix methane with ice in high-density formations under the seafloor. The potential energy in gas hydrates may equal that of all other fossils, including other forms of natural gas, combined.