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)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Ottawa - at this rate, the revolution is going to take awhile

I was in Ottawa on the weekend to attend a concert at the downtown National Arts Centre, so on Saturday afternoon while I was waiting to hobnob with the bourgeoisie I wandered down the block to Confederation Park where the "99%" are camped out to Occupy Ottawa. From what I saw, the revolution is going to be a tough sell.

Confederation Park is located within sight of the Parliament Buildings at the corner of Laurier and Elgin, about a block from the War Memorial and the National Arts Centre. It covers about a city block and fronts onto two of Ottawa's busiest streets. The protesters have set up a tent city on the lawn in one corner of the park.

Ottawa is of course the national capital and is the fourth largest urban area in Canada after Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Including the surrounding suburbs, it has a population approaching 1 150 000 people. You'd think that here at the nexus of the government/urban/military/industrial complex the Occupy Wall Street movement would find a seething cauldron of revolutionary fervor ripe for upheaval, but apparently the message isn't resonating with Ottawa residents; I counted less than a hundred people in the park at 1:00 pm on a beautiful fall day, and most of the ones I talked to were from out of town.

The tent city has maybe 50 tents set up around a forlorn and muddy common area that serves as sort of a main office. Here's a panoramic shot taken from Elgin St:








There's a little soup kitchen with a few people standing around chatting about revolution:
















The residents mill about, hanging up wet bedding and making announcements using their weird call-and-response "human microphone". While I was there I heard someone yell "Mic check" and everyone responded "MIC CHECK". The first person yelled "Is there anyone here from the security committee?" and everyone standing around chanted "IS THERE ANYONE HERE FROM THE SECURITY COMMITTEE?" even though no one in the camp was further than 20 yards from the person asking the question.

































Everyone seems bored and waiting for something to happen. People skateboard and throw frisbees around. There's a permanent smell of pot smoke in the air.




































The usual angry signs are scattered around the park, but it seems a little forced. The messages are mixed to say the least - this sign outlines the broad spectrum of their grievances, which just about covers everything:
















There were several confusing signs referring to the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act which was passed by the US Congress - not sure what that has to do with Ottawa or the Canadian banking system, but the movement is a big tent, apparently.





















I must say, for a group that according to the breathless reporting of the media is about to march on the manor houses with torches and pitchforks, it's the most unthreatening crowd I've ever been in. I've felt more on edge during high school basketball games. They have meetings all the time and there are tons of committees and healthy snacks; they even recycle their garbage. It's like a meeting of an elementary school PTA.









































People are friendly and love to talk; I chatted for a while with these two young men, one from Vancouver via Montreal, and the other from Toronto. The guy on the left smoked pot during the entire conversation while his two pet rats clambered over him; both of them were eager to explain why they were there.
















The guy with the pipe said he had come up from Occupy Montreal because "there were too many rules" in the Montreal camp. Apparently Occupy Ottawa is a lot more libertarian. The guy in black told me he had come from Toronto where he "ran a transportation company" which also has a branch in Ottawa. I asked him who's running the company while he's camped out in Confederation Park: he responded that he "has employees" and that he runs the company from his smart phone, and he really should be home doing invoices. Sounds pretty bourgeois to me.

When I asked them how it was going in the camp, they both said things were generally fine, but they were having problems with homeless people. "They come in at night and eat our food, and a lot of them are drunk" said Pipe Guy. Transportation Guy nodded and said "I support the homeless, but a lot of them are taking advantage. Sometimes they create problems - like one of them assaulted a woman the other day." When I asked him what they do when this kind of thing happens in the camp, he said "we call the police".

Transportation Guy seemed a little frustrated by the lack of focus; "No one's in charge here", he complained. "Isn't that kind of the point?" I politely prodded. "Well, when there are no leaders, nothing gets done" he responded. There you have it - the only thing this anarchist movement needs is leaders.


















I asked how long they were preparing to camp in the park; "as long as it takes" was the reply. When I asked if they had ever spent a winter in Ottawa, they said that they were preparing to insulate their tents, and that they would build igloos once the snow was deep enough. "When change comes and the system crashes, we want people to have a place where they can come when it happens." Transportation Guy said that he figured the police would kick them out by Winterlude, the winter carnival that happens in Ottawa in February, since they usually put the ice sculptures in the park. They were negotiating with the local Algonquin natives for permission to camp since "they basically own all the land around here anyway". If the police kick them out for Winterlude, they're planning to move to Parliament Hill.

Later that afternoon we were walking through the Byward Market. Capitalism seems alive and well there - the place was thronged with people buying stuff and enjoying the weather in the sidewalk cafes. Business seems to be good; a far cry from the sad atmosphere up at Confederation Park.

















In the middle of our stroll, we crossed paths with Ottawa's Hallowe'en Zombie Walk. Hundreds of people dressed as zombies were lurching down Dalhousie Street moaning "brains". There was even an appearance by the late Colonel Gaddafi. The zombies outnumbered the protesters at least ten to one, proving that in the historic contest between anarchy and the market, the market usually wins.


























































Later that night on the way back from the concert, we heard music coming from Confederation Park. It was Open Mic Night at Occupy Ottawa, and a kid not much older than twenty was singing half-heartedly to a crowd of about fifty people, while bourgeois corporate types like me watched on in amusement. He was singing Bob Dylan's "The times they are a'changin' " and Neil Young's "After the gold rush" while clouds of pot smoke drifted through the park. That's the image I'll remember of Occupy Ottawa - kids too young to remember the actual sixties trying in vain to recreate them while members of the generation that lived through them look on bemusedly on their way to and from their jobs. This movement is based on hot air, nostalgia and ennui - they'll be out of the park by the time the snow falls.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gay rights & hate crimes

The case of William Whatcott has been heard by the Supreme Court, and the justices have reserved judgement on whether Mr. Whatcott committed a hate crime by distributing home-made pamphlets denouncing homosexual behaviour. They will release a written decision in the near future on whether to overturn the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal's acquittal of his conviction by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal for "hate speech".

The Supreme Court's decision will be scrutinized by both sides in the case; free speech advocates who believe that Mr. Whatcott's right to freely express his religious opinions have been violated, and gay rights groups who see his prosecution as necessary to protect homosexuals from harassment.

Mr. Whatcott's opinions are truly offensive, and I cringe when I read them:
Mr. Whatcott, 43, was judged by a tribunal to have violated Saskatchewan's hate-speech law by distributing pamphlets, beginning 10 years ago, claiming a homosexual conspiracy to corrupt young people in Saskatchewan schools.

"Our children will pay the price in disease, death, abuse and ultimately eternal judgment if we do not say no to the sodomite desire to socialize your children into accepting something that is clearly wrong," said one flyer. In another, he photocopied a classified ad: "I'm 28, 160#, searching for boys/men for penpals, friendship, exchanging video, pics, magazines & anything more. Your age, look & nationality is not so relevant." Above it, he wrote, quoting the Bible, "If you cause one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better that a millstone was tied around your neck and you were cast into the sea."
That being said, I think John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has it exactly right when he writes in an op-ed in the National Post that the right to be rude must be protected in a free democracy, and that no one has the right to not be offended:
After many years - and tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs - the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that Whatcott had not violated the human rights law prohibiting speech which "exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons." The commission appealed to the Supreme Court, which will rule on Whatcott's guilt or innocence, as well as the constitutional validity of this restriction on free speech.

Banning hate speech to protect the vulnerable might be a good idea if anyone could explain the difference between hate and strong dislike. The commission and its allies argued that rude, offensive, unpopular, controversial and hurtful speech is OK, but "hateful" speech is not. According to the commission, Whatcott is fully entitled to express his opinion that homosexual behaviour is sinful and unhealthy, but he must deliver this message in a way that does not come across as "hateful" to any of his listeners. Even the Supreme Court's definition of "hate" in its 1990 decision in Taylor is subjective, depending largely (if not entirely) on the feelings and mindset of the listener, and on unverifiable guesses as to the feelings of the speaker.

Speech that should be banned - such as advocating genocide and counselling a criminal offence - is already prohibited by the Criminal Code. Further restrictions on speech in human rights legislation cast a chill on every citizen's freedom to express opinions on issues important to them. The fact that Maclean's magazine, Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry, Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant and Red Deer pastor Stephen Boissoin were eventually found innocent of violating human rights speech codes is cold comfort to the average citizen. Criminal Code restrictions against certain forms of speech are pretty clear. But citizens have no certainty in knowing what may or may not trigger a human rights prosecution against them.

...

A legal right not to be offended is incompatible with a free and democratic society. The right to express oneself, to participate in democracy, and to seek truth through debate and argument, is a right possessed by all people, regardless of their level of education or their income. Not everyone uses the kind of language that one hears at a dinner party in Rosedale. The issues that matter most to us as citizens are often the issues that produce the most heated and polemical exchanges.

...

The state should criminalize speech that advocates or justifies the use of violence. Beyond that, the state should not be in the business of censoring speech, or choosing victim groups. The Whatcott case presents the Supreme Court with a unique opportunity to reject the vague and subjective language - and the chilling effect on free speech - of human rights laws.
I am offended by Mr. Whatcott's writing and by his implication that because I am gay I am a diseased pedophile and that in the good old days I would have had a millstone tied around my neck and been cast into the sea. But, in a free society we must tolerate all kinds of speech that don't actually incite violence or provoke criminal activity. The best response to offensive speech is to expose it in the public square for what it is. Otherwise, legitimate free speech is stifled and offensive ideas are driven underground, which is even worse. Regulating offensive speech implies that functionaries of the government will decide what type of speech is deemed out-of-bounds and thus prohibited - that to me is a much more offensive proposition.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Give Pizza A Chance

When he was president of the Godfather's Pizza Company, Herman Cain poked fun at that loathsome John Lennon anthem so loved by lefties. Cain is currently leading the polls in the race for Republican nominee for the 2012 U.S. presidential election.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ben & Jerry's Megacorp. Ltd. Supports "Occupy Wall Street"

The Board of Directors of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Inc. has issued a statement of support for the protesters of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement:
We know the media will either ignore you or frame the issue as to who may be getting pepper sprayed rather than addressing the despair and hardships borne by so many, or accurately conveying what this movement is about. All this goes on while corporate profits continue to soar and millionaires whine about paying a bit more in taxes. And we have not even mentioned the environment.

This is priceless coming from a company that, as Ed Driscoll points out, is a division of the British/Dutch multinational corporation Unilever:
Unilever owns more than 400 brands as a result of acquisitions, however, the company focuses on what are called the "billion-dollar brands", 13 brands, each of which achieve annual sales in excess of €1 billion. Unilever's top 25 brands account for more than 70% of sales
I'm sure that goes over well with Naomi Klein and the No Logo crowd. By the way, what does it take to run a socially-conscious politically-correct Ben & Jerry's franchise these days? Here's a helpful guide:
What does it take to become a Ben & Jerry's franchisee?
  • Strong business acumen and knowledge of how to develop and operate a business.
  • Restaurant management, retail management, or business ownership experience in the last 10 years.
  • A full-time commitment to building and developing the Ben & Jerry's franchise business.
  • A minimum net worth of $300,000 (excluding residence), of which $80,000 must be liquid.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions:
  • Average total start-up cost per shop is approximately $250,000.
  • Our franchisee fee is on a sliding scale from $30,000 to $9,000.
  • Royalties are 3% of gross sales; the marketing contribution is 4%.
  • We do not offer financing, but we do have relationships with national lenders who prefer to work with our franchisees. This approval process can be expedited to about 2-3 weeks.
Well, I'm glad the Board of Directors is putting its money where its mouth is, so to speak. Plus, it's apparently good for business - Unilever stock was trading today (on the New York Stock Exchange, oddly enough) at a share price of US$31.87, up $0.09.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Free advice for the Ontario Tories

I spent the election campaign waiting expectantly for Tim Hudak to give me a good reason to vote for the Progressive Conservatives. After the most inept and underwhelming campaign in recent memory, I finally decided to hold my nose and vote for them anyway. It's a sad state of affairs when a life-long Tory supporter like myself ends up voting against the Liberals rather than for the Conservatives. This state of affairs in Ontario has to change or the Liberals will be in power for a generation. Herewith, after much reflection, are my suggestions for Tim Hudak.

Stake out your place on the political spectrum

Stop trying to compete with the Liberals for the mushy political middle. You're a conservative: start acting like one. The right side of the ideological divide is completely empty in Ontario and there are four big-government interventionist parties competing for voters in the centre-left. People are yearning for a clear political choice - if your platform is indistinguishable from that of your opponents, why would anyone vote for you? We need a party that relentlessly advocates small government, fiscal discipline, low taxes, free-market economics and personal responsibility. The Conservatives need to be the party of the right and abandon the left to the Liberals and the NDP.

Social conservatism is a dead end

Sorry to all the socons who may be reading this, but policies aimed at social conservatives alienate the centrists and libertarians that the party needs to win elections. Hudak tossed out some policies aimed at the socon wing of the party (chain gangs for prison inmates, public sex-offender registries, "foreign workers", sex education) and walked right into the same trap that snared John Tory when he proposed tax credits for religious schools. Policies like this make the PCs look mean and narrow-minded and are political poison to a lot of voters. Matters of morality are best left to individuals and families, and heavy-handed law and order policies, especially in a time of declining crime rates, make conservatives seem heartless. Give it up.

Stop running away from Mike Harris

Hudak spent a lot of time running away from his past as a member of Mike Harris' government and laughed nervously every time the issue was raised. Huh? Lots of conservatives still support many of Harris' policies and believe that Ontario's dire financial situation needs a dose of the same medicine. Going out of your way to distance yourself from a man who won two consecutive majority governments for the PCs alienates your supporters and confirms to independent voters that you're not that different from the Liberals. Stop apologizing for the Harris legacy - explain it, own it, and be proud of it.

The media are not your friends

The established media are hostile to conservatives and have a vested interest in electing a Liberal government - don't count on them to get your message out. Ignore the CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star and concentrate on grass-roots politicking. Trying to suck up to the main-stream media is pointless.

Go negative

I was begging for someone, anyone, in the PC party to attack McGuinty on his abysmal record of lies, failed policies, fraud and outright chicanery, and all we got was the "sneaky eco-tax" commercial with McGuinty intoning "some things will cost more". The word "Caledonia" was, to my knowledge, not mentioned once in the entire election. Dalton McGuinty is a dishonest charlatan - it's time the PCs get personal and go for the jugular. There's a lot of anger out there and people are frustrated. Tap into it!

Don't try to be hip

I can sum up the inept PC campaign in one word - "changebook". Seriously? That's the name of your policy document? I assume the brain trust that came up with that one was trying to tap into the zeitgeist and show that the PCs are down with the hip urban Facebook crowd. Look - Hudak has a Twitter feed! Look at all the "likes" he has on his Facebook page! Word to Tim Hudak - an election is not a high school cafeteria and no one except the CBC gives a damn if you've embraced social media, especially if you don't have any policies worth a tweet that are actually going to change anything. Fire your media consultants, figure out what the hell you stand for, and give people like me who are desperate for real change in Ontario something worth voting for.

The PC party did not deserve to win this election, and I hope that four years in opposition will focus the minds of the people who run the party. I'm not hopeful, though - it didn't happen after Ernie Eves or John Tory lost their respective elections, so why would it happen now?