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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)

Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell to Dalton McGuinty

I've often wondered how people who go absolutely apoplectic at the mere mention of Prime Minister Harper's name (Justin Trudeau and Warren Kinsella come to mind) can maintain their calm equanimity when faced with the antics of Ontario's soon-to-be-ex-Premier Dalton McGuinty. Surely it has nothing to do with party affiliation - why that would be narrow-minded and biased, wouldn't it? Rex Murphy nailed this phenomenon in Saturday's National Post, where he awarded Mr. McGuinty the title of "worst politician of the year":
The year past, much like the years before it, has been marked by frequent lamentations that democracy is at peril in Canada, that the federal government in particular is increasingly remote, unresponsive, and in certain areas even reaching towards the imperious.
Those whose calling it is to savage the Harper government agree almost to a phrase that its failings and the Prime Minister’s are “contempt” for democracy, a highhanded “American-style” of governance, and a brutal unresponsiveness to critics or citizens.
There is more than a little truth to elements of these charges. But as is the case with matters Harper, those who oppose him do so with an intensity in excess of its object. Much Harper criticism has long since gone Pavlonian — say his name and the barking begins.
If we are to look for an unresponsive government in Canada, one which really has taken off the reins of democratic accountability, that has — at times — mocked or ignored the citizens’ most basic rights, one which has erased the line between what is good for the party and what is good for the people, let me nominate the soon to be history Liberal administration of the now departing Dalton McGuinty.

It’s quite wonderful Mr. McGuinty arranged the public affairs of Ontario so purely in harmony with the affairs of the Ontario Liberal Party. After his last election, denied a majority, unable to win in a byelection, he promptly shut down the legislature.
After all, if the Liberal party is not in a majority, what is the point of a legislature anyway? Surely it’s not a place to highlight Conservatives or the NDP? Shutting it down spares Emperor McGuinty Question Period, scrums and inquiries. It’s like an extended holiday from the myriad hassles of democracy itself.
Of course it also works for the convenience of the Liberal party in another way. Since Mr. McGuinty announced his plan to retire at the end of January, the party has been free to loose all its second-tier talents in a race to replace him. They are relieved of cabinet responsibility and are free to wander the landscape fantasizing about their leadership. Who’s running the government while a political party takes care of its business? As wonderful and engaging as leadership races are, they should not supersede the legislative responsibilities of democratic government.
Further, Mr. McGuinty avoids answering some huge questions, principal of which is what on Earth or in Hades was going on when he cancelled construction of a gas-fired power plant during — let us emphasize that — during the last election campaign. That little piece of Liberal election politics will cost Ontarians somewhere between $200-million and a billion dollars. Any other government who played politics with such numbers would be in some hall of infamy.
Finally, as Mr. McGuinty organizes the public affairs of Ontario entirely for his and his party’s convenience, have a look at what news keeps rolling in. GM decides to stop building the Camaro in Ontario, and thus the billions thrown to GM to keep its operations in Canada are now a bust. His fatuous and wild decision to “green” Ontario’s energy production throws up new failures and costs every day. In the early days of this hollow fascination he forbade municipal governments from assessing or interfering with his projects. He virtually shut down one whole order of government. Democracy? Green was imposed; local objections be damned. Mr. McGuinty might also, in the light of the current aboriginal protests, offer his electors some accounting of how he handled, or non-handed, the wretched Caledonia affair. There was democracy in action.
Mr. McGuinty is about to leave Ontario with its finances in jeopardy, a pale and nervous version of exhausted California to the south, with the unions that once fawned over him now in open, angry revolt. I pity the victim who wins the job of Ontario’s next Liberal leader, and with it, the premier’s office. This undemocratic administration will cast its cold and unforgiving shadow over whoever takes the reins, and the Liberals will pay for this at the ballot box.
I'd like to think that the Liberals will be punished at the ballot box come the next election, but I'm not hopeful. McGuinty was elected three times despite a wretched record while in office, and the provincial Tories under Tim Hudak are hapless and inept. The same voters who wail and gnash their teeth every morning that Stephen Harper wakes up, puts on his jackboots and goose-steps to the Langevin Block fawn over Dalton McGuinty and his cabinet acolytes like they're the thin red line protecting us from annihilation. Ontario politics is a fetid swamp of hypocrisy, and there isn't much chance of draining it any time soon.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Postal workers of the world unite!

Denis Lemelin, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), recently released a letter to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who is on a hunger strike on Ottawa's Victoria Island. The letter goes way beyond support for Chief Spence, and expresses barely concealed contempt for Canada's "morally bankrupt government and system": 
Chief Theresa Spence,

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers honour Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat for her courageous stand in defense of the land against the moral bankruptcy of the Canadian state.
We recognize the racist and genocidal history of Canada and that the attempts to assimilate and silence Indigenous voices have been rife with failure and abuse. The ongoing theft of Indigenous lands, the refusal to honour agreements made in the name of the British Crown reveal a sadly dishonest and indefensible relationship. It seems nothing is sacred in the eyes of the greedy.
Now this latest government after their so-called "apology" without substance are making another kind of attempt to forever extinguish rights and title to your land while continuing the poverty, illness, homelessness, disappearances of Indigenous women, and imprisonment that it has wrought. Everyone who identifies as "Canadian" should be deeply ashamed of this sad performance but shame is not enough. Our organization will not lend our name to that destruction or defend a morally bankrupt government and system. We will not be a party to traumatizing whole populations and can no longer deny or remain silent over the fact the homes of the settlers were built on the ruins of others.
No re-writing of history will change what we all know. These territories were unjustly seized and exploited while accompanied by ongoing attempts to erase history. We hope that we will learn better to develop customs and practices to guide our relationship. When Indigenous peoples stand to defend the land and Mother Earth it is our duty to stand with them in order to de-colonize ourselves and recognize this complicity of silence that has occurred for generations is not acceptable.
We honour you Chief Spence, driven to this measure, and with humility and gratitude thank you for your courageous defense of the knowledge you have kept alive, for trying to protect places that future generations will enjoy and though it is maybe not your intent, to know that your actions are now speaking for all of us, for everyone who wants and deserves a sustainable way of life in harmony and respect with the earth. We add our name to those who will not stand for taking away sovereignty and the inherent right to land and resources from First Nations peoples in this abusive and indefensible relationship.
In solidarity and gratitude,

Denis Lemelin
National President
 Many Canadians might agree with Brother Lemelin that the relationship between the Canadian state and its aboriginal inhabitants is not working and needs a thorough re-examination, but I think most of us would hesitate to link the issue to a claim that our government is "morally bankrupt", that Canada needs to "de-colonize" itself, or that our "system" needs to be replaced by one more "sustainable" and "in harmony and respect for the earth".

Of course, this is the same union that sent delegates to its 2011 convention to join Occupy Toronto in shutting down the intersection of King and Bay Streets in the heart of Toronto's financial district. Among the many causes CUPW has embraced are the Canadian Peace Alliance (which supports Iraq War deserters from the US military living in Canada), the Palestinian fight with Israel, withdrawal from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting "Islamophobia" following 9/11, and generally anything opposed to war, militarism and globalization.

All of these are perfectly acceptable causes, and in a free democracy everyone has a right to hold these or opposing views, but it makes me wonder if this is a proper role for a union which has as its main function representing postal workers in collective bargaining with Canada Post. Is Doris, the sweet little old lady who works the counter at my rural post office, really concerned about Palestine or replacing our morally bankrupt system? And are the workers of the organization whose main function these days seems to be delivery of unwanted junk mail and pound after pound of advertising flyers for big box stores really interested in a life more in harmony with Mother Earth? If so, I suggest that they stop being hypocritical, quit their jobs as tools of the capitalist bourgeoisie, and see if they can still find an Occupy camp somewhere to help bring down the corrupt system they are currently helping to perpetuate.

Postal workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your satchels!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Newton Day

Today we celebrate another important birthday, that of the great scientist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, who was born on this day in 1642. Newton's book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687, laid the groundwork for the modern study of science. The French mathematician Alexis Clairaut, who translated the Principia into French, wrote of it:
The famous book of mathematical Principles of natural Philosophy marked the epoch of a great revolution in physics. The method followed by its illustrious author Sir Newton, spread the light of mathematics on a science which up to then had remained in the darkness of conjectures and hypotheses.
Newton was undoubtedly the greatest scientist of them all, and the Principia was a flash of genius that marked a turning point in the history of both science and western culture.

When he died he was buried in Westminster Abbey alongside the great and mighty of British history. The epitaph on his elaborate tomb reads:
Here is buried Isaac Newton, Knight, who by a strength of mind almost divine, and mathematical principles peculiarly his own, explored the course and figures of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the sea, the dissimilarities in rays of light, and, what no other scholar has previously imagined, the properties of the colours thus produced. Diligent, sagacious and faithful, in his expositions of nature, antiquity and the holy Scriptures, he vindicated by his philosophy the majesty of God mighty and good, and expressed the simplicity of the Gospel in his manners. Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race! He was born on 25th December 1642, and died on 20th March 1726.
The poet Alexander Pope wrote another epitaph which was not used on his tomb but has become somewhat more famous:
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Christmas Blues, sung by Canada's own Holly Cole.

Is Obama considering a homophobic bigot for Secretary of Defense?

If so, he'll probably get a pass because he's a Democrat and, like the President, he's "evolved" on the issue.

Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is reputedly on the short list to replace Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense. In 1998, Hagel opposed the appointment of James Hormel as Ambassador to Luxembourg because he was "aggressively gay". In an interview with a newspaper at the time, Hagel remarked :
They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay — openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel — to do an effective job.
Fourteen years later, Hagel has conveniently apologized, stating recently
My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive. They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.
Oh, all right then, carry on.

For the record, Ambassador Hormel is not impressed with Hagel's road to Damascus conversion:

... in an interview this afternoon, the target of the 1998 slur, leading gay philanthropist James Hormel, told me he never received an apology from Hagel himself, questioned the sincerity of the apology, and said the incident should still raise questions about whether Hagel is the right man to oversee the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell.

“I have not received an apology,” Hormel, who is a major figure in Democratic politics, told me. “I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part.” Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given “only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.”...


Of Hagel’s comment, Hormel added: “If it were made today, it would be clearly disqualifying.”

I know it's a cliché but try to imagine how this would play out if Hagel and the President considering his appointment were Republicans.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Mavis Staples and the Blind Boys of Alabama sing Nobody's Fault But Mine:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday, December 01, 2012