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, December 28, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? performed by King Curtis

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Blues for Christmas Eve

Tonight's selection - Merry Christmas Baby, by Charles Brown and Bonnie Raitt. This one's for Onefineguy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Don't cry for Canada Post

I find it hard to sympathize with the current trials of Canada Post, and the arguments put forward to preserve it in its current form baffle me. I live in a rural community of 1500 people in Eastern Ontario, and I've been living with the mail system that is soon to be imposed on urban Canada for 25 years; life goes on and the sun still rises in the morning.

My mail is delivered to a community post office in the centre of the village where I live. Every weekday I walk the two blocks from my house, in snow or rain or heat or gloom of night, to pick up the half pound of advertising flyers that is stuffed in my mailbox. As far as I know, there has never been home mail delivery in my community, and yet we manage to maintain the trappings of civilization. When I hear critics of the government complain that "the elderly and disabled" will be visited with unimaginable hardships by the loss of daily home delivery, I wonder how the elderly and disabled in my town have managed for so long - they must be made of sterner stuff.

The truth is that Canada Post has outlived its usefulness. Most people don't rely on the mail for important documents like bills and personal communications, and its main functions could be better performed by the private sector. People in urban areas who are shocked by the impending changes should realize that rural Canadians have been subject to that service for decades. The real question is why have city dwellers had such luxurious service for so long?

Canada Post's service is nothing to brag about. Here's a personal anecdote (one of many I could relate) to illustrate why I won't lament the passing of the Post Office. My partner, who lives in a major city, does not drive a car or have a driver's licence. The nearest post office is run out of the local Shopper's Drug Mart, a visit to which requires a lengthy bus trip involving a transfer and two buses. When Canada Post delivers a parcel to his home while he's at work and not there to receive it, he has to go to Shopper's to pick it up. The first time he did this, they asked him for his driver's licence as a form of ID. When he said he didn't have one, they looked at him in amazement and then said they would take a passport. He didn't have a valid passport either (lots of Canadians don't). They eventually let him have his parcel after showing his Health Card and various other cards confirming his identity and address, but they suggested that he get a Government of Ontario photo ID card, which is available for people in his situation without driver's licences. He did so, which involved a trip to a Service Ontario branch and a four week wait.

A year later, he went to the same Canada Post branch after moving to a new house to have his mail forwarded to the new address. He presented his Government of Ontario ID card when asked for ID but was told that Canada Post didn't recognize it as a valid form of ID for mail forwarding. He needed a driver's licence or passport. Infuriated after being told to get the Ontario ID card by the very same office that then told him that they wouldn't recognize it for certain transactions, he went home to get his passport (which he fortunately had renewed recently) and returned after another long bus trip. This time he dealt with a different employee, and as a test presented his Ontario ID, which was accepted without question. Two round-trip bus voyages and many hours later, he had completed this routine two-minute transaction.

Meanwhile, UPS will deliver parcels to a location of your choosing and release them with a simple signature. I think the proposed Canada Post reforms don't go far enough - the Post Office should be privatized immediately.

Margaret Thatcher, revolutionary

We mourned the loss of a great conservative this year with the passing of Margaret Thatcher. Her legacy is brilliantly explained in this documentary, Margaret Thatcher, Death of a Revolutionary from Britain's Channel 4 TV. Thatcher was that rarity in a politician - a leader of conviction who had a coherent ideology and stuck to it. All conservatives should watch this, especially those lining up behind Michael Chong's Democratic Reform Bill. Thatcher was of course unceremonially removed from office, "thrown out by her own toffs", under the exact party leadership system that the bill is proposing. One of the greatest Prime Ministers in British history was unseated by a handful of bitter backbench MPs who didn't like her style and replaced by nonentity John Major. Canadian conservatives should pay attention.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Conservatives should be wary of Michael Chong's "democratic reform"

I left a comment on Joanne's post at Blue Like You about Conservative MP Michael Chong's proposed bill to reform the House of Commons - here it is in slightly expanded form:
I think there are some merits to some of Mr. Chong’s proposals, particularly those that give a greater role to backbench MPs, but triggering a leadership vote with 15% of a party’s caucus goes too far. That would mean that 24 disgruntled Conservative MPs out of a caucus of 160 could trigger a leadership vote. Be careful what you wish for –  Conservative MPs in Britain forced the ouster of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 under exactly the same system that Chong is proposing, and the inept non-entities who replaced her as leader were largely responsible for the subsequent long reign of the Labour Party.
Do we really want a system where 24 MPs can force a leadership vote? The party leader is currently elected by thousands of party members across the country in a democratic process. If the party is unhappy with its leadership, it’s up to the party to do something about it, not a relative handful of unhappy backbenchers. If there are flaws in the party rules for leadership reviews, then it’s up to the party to change them, not Parliament. Under the current system I have a direct voice in leadership contests, not just through my MP (and this would be especially true if I lived in a riding held by an opposition MP). It is up to ALL party members to hold the leader accountable in a leadership review, not on secretive back-room shenanigans in the House of Commons. Ultimately it is up to the voters to cast their judgement on a party leader in a general election. Under the current system it is very difficult to replace a party leader, and that is as it should be; it should not be considered lightly.
I find it curious that the media is jumping on Chong’s bandwagon right now. Where was the howling for “democratic reform” under Jean Chretien, who wielded the exact same powers as Harper in exactly the same way but was just the aw-shucks “little guy from Shawinigan” as far as the press was concerned? For that matter, where was the outrage during Pierre Trudeau’s regime - he who contemptuously referred to his caucus backbench MPs as “nobodies” once they were 50 yards from Parliament Hill?
I think a lot of the problems in the House of Commons could be solved with a few simple rule changes. We should follow the current British example and allow free votes in the House without automatically triggering an election. In Britain, all votes in the House are free votes unless they involve money bills or are specifically designated by all parties as confidence votes. This would allow backbench MPs to vote more often against their own party and follow the wishes of their constituents without forcing an election. In Canada we currently have the exact opposite system – all votes are confidence votes unless specifically designated as a free vote.
Secondly, we could empower backbenchers if we gave more serious attention to Private Members’ Bills. Most of this type of legislation dies on the order paper – with a few simple procedure changes the House could make it much easier for backbench MPs to bring Private Members’ Bills to a final vote in the House and give a much greater role to individual MPs, much as the US Congress does.
Conservatives should be very careful of changing the leadership process just because Thomas Mulcair, Andrew Coyne & Robert Fife can’t stand Stephen Harper.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Polk Salad Annie, sung by Canada's own Dutch Mason - the "Prime Minister of the Blues"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Day 2013

I had the great pleasure of attending the Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa today - the first time I've been able to participate in Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial. Despite the cold and snow, it was a very profound experience.

Temperatures hovered around the freezing point and wet snow was falling as thousands of people gathered at the memorial. When the ceremony started at 10:30 the crowd fell completely silent - the only sound came from the orders being shouted by the parade Sergeant Major and the martial music from the military bands. Every few minutes a cannon boomed on Parliament Hill as the artillery gave a 21-gun salute. The Prime Minister and the Governor General arrived, followed by the Silver Cross mother, whose son had been killed in Afghanistan.

There were no speeches save for the prayers offered by the chaplains, which made the event refreshingly and fittingly apolitical. The hymns sung by the children's choir drifted through the snow as service men and women from the different branches of the Canadian Forces stood at attention in front of the memorial.

At the end of the ceremony after the diplomats had placed their wreaths the military personnel marched off, led by a group of veterans at the head of the parade. Spontaneous and heartfelt applause broke out from the crowd as the veterans went past - many in wheelchairs and in poor health. I realized how frail and elderly the veterans of the Second World War have become - men who in my childhood were young and vital heroes. It won't be long until the last veteran of that conflict appears at the memorial on November 11.

The most touching moment for me was when the spectators were invited to approach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the memorial and leave their red poppies as a tribute on the grave. People crowded around in complete silence, reverentially removing the poppies from their coats and placing them on the tomb. It was beautiful to watch and be a part of this spontaneous gesture of respect and remembrance.

I came away from the ceremony very moved, and amazed that almost 100 years after the start of the Great War we still come together as a nation to show our respect to those who served and died.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection - St James' Infirmary Blues, sung by Cab Calloway in a surreal 1933 Betty Boop cartoon "Snow White"

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Persian Gulf states to use medical exams to bar gay visitors

I wonder if JLo, Pitbull, Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber will step up and cancel any future appearances in Dubai now that the United Arab Emirates and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have announced plans to submit visitors to the Gulf countries (Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) to medical examinations aimed at keeping out gay visitors:
The routine clinical screening of expatriates coming into the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) might be also used to “detect” homosexuals, a senior Kuwaiti official has said.

A central committee tasked with the status of expatriates will look into the proposal when it convenes on November 11, Yousuf Mindkar, the director of public health at the Kuwaiti health ministry, has said.

“Health centres conduct the routine medical check to assess the health of the expatriates when they come into the GCC countries,” he said. “However, we will take stricter measures that will help us detect gays who will be then barred from entering Kuwait or any of the GCC member states,” he said, quoted by local daily Al Rai on Monday.

Homosexual acts are banned in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the GCC member countries.

In Bahrain, lawmakers, wary of the growing number of gays coming into the country, had pushed for a crackdown, including the adoption of tougher immigration measures and prompt deportations.

In 2011, Bahrain arrested 127 people, mainly gays from the Gulf countries, for holding a “depraved and decadent” party. The revellers hired a sports hall in Hidd, a conservative village on Muharraq island in the north of Bahrain, and organised a fee-paying party that brought together gay men from the Arabian Gulf countries. Most of the attendees were between 18 and 30 years old and one Lebanese and one Syrian were among those arrested following the police bust. 
I know I sound like a broken record on this subject, but once again here's a suggestion for Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and their cheerleader John Greyson, the celebrity Canadian gay leftist recently released from Egyptian jail: stop wasting everyone's time protesting the only country in the Middle East where gays live freely and openly, and make some noise about places like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states where oppression of gays is real and dangerous. By the way, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ottawa is at 201 Sussex Drive, just a short walk from Parliament Hill. Go and protest there - I dare you.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: September Song - sung by Nat King Cole, accompanied by George Shearing

Friday, September 27, 2013

People are upset that Stephen Harper skipped this UN freak show?

The usual suspects have their knickers in a twist about the fact that PM Harper declined to speak at this week's annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, sniffing that he's denying Canada a "place at the table". Some table! Also addressing the UN today was His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya J.J. Jameh, President of the Republic of the Gambia, who took the podium to warn the world that one of the three greatest threats to human existence was homosexuality. The Sheikh Professor Doctor President solemnly intoned that homosexuality was one of three "ungodly attributes" that threatened to destroy the world (the other two being greed and obsession with world domination).

Here's the relevant excerpt from Sheikh Professor Doctor President Jameh's speech:
The biggest threats to human existence are basically three and are a consequence of human behaviour which are ungodly attributes. These are:
1. Excessive greed, and; therefore addiction to gather material wealth by any means necessary mostly through violent or immoral schemes;
2. Obsession with world domination by any means including the resolve to use nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to achieve this fanciful dream;
3. Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah; is being promoted as a human right by some powers.
All these three have nothing to do with climate change and are more deadly than all natural disasters put together.
For the third [threat]; we know for a fact that all living things need to reproduce for posterity. They become extinct when they can no longer reproduce. Therefore, you will all agree with me that any person promoting the end of human reproduction must be promoting human extinction. Could this be called promoting human rights when you advocate for a definitive end to human reproduction and procreation? Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence, it is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behaviour. We want a brighter future for humanity and the continuous existence of humanity on this planet, therefore we will never tolerate any agenda that clearly calls for human extinction.

President Sheikh Professor Doctor Jameh, by the way, is determined to eradicate homosexuality from the Republic of the Gambia. In 2008 he ordered homosexuals to leave the country or face beheading (he later retracted that policy, saying he only wanted them to leave the country).  "Allowing homosexuality means allowing satanic rights. We will not allow gays here," said His Excellency. He also believes that he can cure AIDS with bananas and an herbal body rub, which sounds a little gay if you ask me. In Gambia, incidentally, a homosexual act can be punished by 14 years in prison.

Paul Dewar, the NDP's Foreign Affairs Critic, slammed Harper's no-show in an article in Tuesday's Globe and Mail:
For the second year in a row, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be in New York during the opening ceremonies of the United Nations General Assembly, but will not be joining other heads of government in speaking to the representatives of the world.
It’s embarrassing that the Prime Minister apparently can’t be bothered to show up, stand up, and speak up on behalf of Canada. Sadly, this fits into a pattern of disengagement and withdrawal from the international community – a pattern that has weakened Canada’s reputation and influence abroad. By abandoning the hard work of diplomacy in favour of isolationist grandstanding, the government is harming the very foreign policy goals that it seeks to achieve.
It may be embarrassing to Paul Dewar and his fellow travellers, but I'm pretty happy that Harper didn't dignify that gong show of half-wits and psychopaths with his presence. Keep it up, Prime Minister.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The 9/11 Memorial

This summer I spent some vacation time in New York and had a chance to visit the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. I was skeptical that a memorial could do justice to that immense tragedy without being maudlin or kitsch but I came away from the visit profoundly moved. The memorial and its surrounding park are a magnificent and thought-provoking tribute to the people who died on 9/11.

The neighbourhood around the park is still largely under construction as crews rebuild the area that was devastated by the collapse of the twin towers. It's noisy, hot and dirty and you have to thread your way through hoardings and chain-link fences just to reach the visitor centre to get the free tickets that allow you to visit the site. The enormous skyscraper called One World Trade Center which is nearing completion just north of the site dominates the area.

Once you get your tickets you have to walk a few blocks through the construction to the park entrance where you stand in a long line to pass through security. On a hot July day it was almost unbearable.

When you finally enter the park you cross into a landscaped plaza planted with hundreds of mature oak trees. It's an unusual oasis of green in an otherwise densely built-up area. Hundreds of people mill about laughing and taking snapshots and doing other typical tourist things, which strikes one initially as being a little incongruous given the seriousness of the event that took place here.

In one area of the park is a pear tree from the original World Trade Center plaza that was found badly damaged in the rubble of the collapse and moved to a nursery, coaxed back to health for ten years and then replanted on its original site. Now called the Survivor Tree, it draws reverential crowds.

Gradually you approach the footprints of the vanished twin towers, which have been replaced by two gigantic fountains that outline the exact location of the missing buildings. The white noise of the falling water cancels out all the street noise and conversations and you are left alone with your thoughts as you stare over the lip into the huge holes where the buildings once stood. It's a brilliant idea - memorialize the missing buildings not with a structure but with empty space where the buildings once stood. You are dramatically confronted by their absence in a way that would not be possible with a sculpture or monument.

The water falling over the edges of the void immediately reminds you of the trauma of watching the buildings fall that day in 2001. In the centre there is a dark square opening where the water in the collecting pool falls again and disappears. Gusts of wind occasionally cause the falling water to collect in waves which remind you of the falling debris and the trapped people who leapt to their deaths rather than be burned alive. People standing around the lip stop talking and stare thoughtfully at the falling water.

Around the edge of the fountains is a bronze ledge with the names of the victims of the attacks cut into the metal - the letters form empty spaces in the bronze that reflect the loss of the person named. In a poignant gesture, the names of victims who died together in the same office, fire station or airplane are grouped together. It is very moving. Occasionally spray from the fountain falls on the names of the departed - it can't help but remind you of tears of mourning for the loss of loved ones.

People leave the site quiet and thoughtful, which is an amazingly successful effect for a memorial to have on visitors.

In a footnote to my visit, while walking out I passed by Zucotti Park which was the location of the Occupy Wall Street protest for a few months in the fall of 2011. Today it has been reclaimed as a public space from the anarchists and nihilists who claimed they were going to stay there until capitalism collapsed. Now people sit on the benches under the trees eating lunch and sipping lattes. I walked by around noon and the park was occupied by hundreds of construction workers from the nearby One World Trade Center site who were eating their lunches and ogling women.

It was a fitting final moment to the visit - the people who tried in their own ways to bring down "the system" were replaced by the workers who were literally rebuilding it. I came away with a smile on my face.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Study: rural gays are happier

A recently-released study by Chris Wienke of Southern Illinois University and Gretchen J. Hill of Arkansas State University goes against the conventional wisdom that gays and lesbians are happier when they move to large metropolitan areas:
There’s a common perception that gays and lesbians who live in rural communities aren’t as happy as their counterparts living in major cities, researchers say. But a new study shows rural gays and lesbians may have a better quality of life by some measurements than those living in the nation's largest metropolitan areas.
Chris Wienke of Southern Illinois University and Gretchen J. Hill of Arkansas State University looked at the well being of gays and lesbians living across the urban-rural continuum – from the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, to midsized cities, suburbs, small cities and rural areas.
What they found contradicts conventional wisdom that large urban areas are better places for gays and lesbians to live.
The authors said the results were somewhat unexpected:
“The finding that gay residents living in the largest cities experience a relatively low level of wellbeing is a bit a surprising. After all, many of the best-known meccas of gay life in the United States are located in major cities, including Greenwich Village in New York, the Castro in San Francisco, West Hollywood in Los Angeles and Boys Town in Chicago.”

The authors theorized that any advantage that comes from living in large cities also comes with a price. “It may be that the benefits of living in extremely large cities are exceeded by the costs,” they wrote. “For gay people, large cities tend to provide more social-networking opportunities, more social and institutional supports and more tolerant social climates. Yet, they also typically have more noise, pollution, traffic, crime and ethnic conflict – stressors that tend to erode wellbeing. Other drawbacks of urban life may include high taxes, inferior public schools, substandard housing and a relatively high cost of living.”
This has generally been my experience. I moved to rural Eastern Ontario 25 years ago from Toronto. I came out relatively late in life (in my late 40s) and in the midst of the emotional turmoil I convinced myself that I could not be gay in a rural area and that I would have to move to a city to be around "my people". When I pulled myself together I decided that my job, my 120 year old Victorian house that I bought for a fraction of what a house in Toronto costs and the beautiful countryside that I lived in were worth sticking around for. I think I'm better for it. I met my partner a few years later - he lives in a city not too far away and we have a fulfilling long-distance relationship that I think combines the best of both worlds. It's turned out pretty well all in all.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Eric Burdon & the Animals cover the Muddy Waters classic Louisiana Blues:

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Rise of the Rainbow Hawks"

Jonathan Kay penned an interesting article in Saturday's National Post on the Conservative Party of Canada's support for gay rights:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper hasn’t just come around to gay rights: He has made the issue a centrepiece of Canada’s foreign policy. His government has fiercely rebuked draconian anti-gay laws in Africa, to the point of infuriating the social-conservative group REAL Women of Canada, which this month publicly denounced Mr. Baird for using his position “to further his own perspective on homosexuality.” The Conservative government has offered protection to persecuted gays in Iran and worked diplomatic channels to convince Russia to scotch plans to ban foreign adoptions by gay couples.
And in an odd twist, the Tories’ hard-line stance against homophobic governments overseas has boomeranged back to powerfully influence the mainstream conservative view of homosexuality here in Canada — a rare example of a foreign-policy posture setting the agenda on an otherwise purely domestic social issue. In the last two decades, support for gay rights in Canada has advanced, particularly compared to historic fights for minority rights, with breathtaking speed, and much of it happening under a Conservative government.
Reality won't change the narrative on the left that the CPC is homophobic and has an anti-gay agenda, but the facts indicate otherwise.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection - New Orleans Blues from the Blues Brothers 2000 movie soundtrack, featuring cameo appearances from a who's who of blues royalty including Dr. John, BB King, Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oh those homophobic Tories ...

Wait, what? Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced on Monday that Canada would look favourably on gay Russian refugees suffering persecution in their homeland and seeking asylum in Canada:
Canada’s refugee board is likely to look favourably on claims of persecution by gay asylum-seekers from Russia, the Immigration Minister says.
Chris Alexander said Monday in Surrey, B.C., that Russia has taken the wrong path in restricting the fundamental rights of its gay community, and that any refugee claims “related to this particular issue will of course be looked at very seriously by our very generous system.” 
Canada accepts gay asylum-seekers in the same way as it accepts members of any other persecuted group, like a religious or ethnic minority. Asylum-seekers can file a claim after they arrive in Canada because they face persecution by their government, or because they are persecuted by others and the government does not offer protection.
Canada also resettles refugees living in camps abroad, and former immigration minister Jason Kenney, now the Employment and Social Development Minister, adopted a policy of trying to resettle gay refugees fleeing Iran and Iraq. Mr. Kenney said in January he “cannot think of a more obvious case of persecution.”
Russia is the subject of world-wide condemnation for the horrific treatment of homosexuals there. Kudos to the Harper government for stepping up to the plate.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Letter to a young Liberal on gay marriage

I had lunch recently with some old friends who introduced me to their daughter's fiancé, a really nice young man who is a graduate student at a big university. He's also a big-L Liberal who is active in the university's Young Liberals club and volunteers for the party in his local riding. He loves to talk politics, as do I, and we engaged in some good-natured banter over lunch.

It turned out that he and I have a lot in common politically; a belief in individual responsibility, small government, low taxes and fiscal discipline. I remarked that I didn't think he was really a Liberal after all, and that he should come over to the Dark Side and set his inner conservative free. He shook his head and said "I could never belong to a party that doesn't support gay marriage or abortion rights."  Ah, there it was - the old bogeymen that Liberals love to frighten children with.

I said to him that the Conservative Party of Canada has bent over backwards to make it clear to Canadians that a Conservative government had no intention of changing any existing laws or policies in these areas, and he replied "Well why was it in the CPC's 2011 election platform?" I answered that I was familiar with the CPC platform and was sure there was no policy to overturn gay marriage or restrict abortion in the document. He insisted there was, so we left it at that.

A little while later I did check the CPC platform (available here ) and sure enough - nothing. I sent my friend an email to gloat a little:
By the way, you can tell your lefty son-in-law to be that I called his bluff and combed through the most recent Conservative Party Platform looking for his alleged anti-gay and anti-abortion policies, and lo-and-behold, couldn't find ANY! I couldn't even find any "pro-family" policies that could be remotely interpreted, even by a Liberal, as anti-gay or pro-life.
Big surprise.
The young man responded and said that it was his mistake; it wasn't actually in the platform, but was in a 2008 policy declaration that was re-affirmed at the 2011 convention, and sent this link. I responded with this email:
Well, hello young Liberal - I suppose you've been waiting for me to "harrumph" in response, so I guess I'd better fire off a reply.

First of all, I can't find the document you linked anywhere on the Conservative Party's public website; it must be part of Harper's Secret Agenda. However, assuming that it was actually CPC policy in 2011, I have a few comments.

First - so what? Many Conservatives (probably a majority) believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I do not share that opinion, and am a firm supporter of gay marriage, but I don't think that people who disagree with me are evil, and I accept that it is OK to believe in traditional marriage in a free democratic society. Lots of religious folks are uncomfortable with gay marriage but would support some sort of civil union that gives gay couples the same legal rights while reserving the religious sacrament of marriage itself to be performed by churches. Libertarians like me believe that the state shouldn't be involved in marriage at all - couples should be free to make their own arrangements without having to have the approval of the government. Incidentally, the CPC position isn't just that of right wing redneck Christians - it is also shared by Jews and Muslims and lots of recent immigrants whom your party is bending over backwards to attract. It is also the opinion held by one of your liberal patron saints Barack Obama, at least it was until his recent deathbed conversion-of-convenience.

The document you sent me also contains the following phrase - "The Conservative Party believes that Parliament, through a free vote, and not the courts should determine the definition of marriage." In 2006 the Conservatives introduced a resolution in the House asking members to decide in just such a free vote whether to re-open the debate on gay marriage. The resolution was resoundingly defeated, and many Conservative MPs (including a few Cabinet ministers) voted against it. There has been no further attempt to raise the issue by the Conservatives or anyone else in the House.

By the way, the document you linked to is not the platform that the CPC ran on in the 2011 election, which made no mention of gay marriage or abortion. So, I would have to conclude that the party does not want to change the existing laws in these areas. Stephen Harper has had a majority government for over 2 years now and controls the House of Commons, the Senate and Rideau Hall and will soon be able to pack the Supreme Court with Conservatives - surely if the CPC wanted to abolish gay marriage or restrict abortion they would have done it by now. In fact, Harper has ruthlessly clamped down on backbenchers who dare to even bring up these issues, much to the chagrin of some social conservatives. I believe Harper when he says (as he has many times) that the CPC has no intention of re-opening these issues and that he considers them settled in Canada.

And anyway, what is the cutoff date for outrage over past policies? 2011? 2006? 1945?  It seems to me that your party has had some dubious achievements in the past - for example, Jean Chretien promising to abolish the GST and then reneging, and cancelling the EH 101 helicopter contract at great public expense. Let's not even get started on the Sponsorship Scandal. If you want to go back far enough, who was responsible for imprisoning Japanese Canadian citizens during WW II or refusing to allow Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to immigrate? Hint - it wasn't the Conservatives.

By the way, speaking of gay marriage - let's play a little game called NAME THAT HOMOPHOBE! I'll give you an example of homophobia from the not-too-distant past and you identify the politician.

1. Which Canadian politician wrote a policy paper that included the following: "This portion of the paper makes clear the reasons for my objections to those who would force society to regard homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and why I see this as the inevitable result of recklessly (albeit with the best of intentions) adding "sexual orientation", howsoever defined, as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act."
a) Stephen Harper, Conservative PM
b) Brian Mulroney, Conservative PM
c) Tom Wappel, Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest 1988-2008, candidate for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1990

2. Which Canadian politician said "Homosexuality is not natural. It is immoral and it is undermining the inherent rights and values of our Canadian families and it must not and should not be condoned."
a) Stephen Harper, Conservative PM
b) Brian Mulroney, Conservative PM
c) Roseanne Skoke, Liberal MP for Central Nova 1993-1997 and one-time candidate for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party

3. What cabinet minister said "I promised faithfully to the people of Thunder Bay-Superior North that I would defend the traditional definition of marriage" prior to resigning from the Cabinet rather than support legislation legalizing gay marriage in 2005?
a) Deborah Grey, Conservative
b) Vic Toews, Conservative
c) Joe Comuzzi, Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

4. Which MP quit the party in 2005 rather than support its position on gay marriage?
a) Peter Mackay, Conservative
b) Diane Ablonczy, Conservative
c) Pat O'Brien, Liberal MP for London-Fanshawe, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

5. What cabinet minister said "marriage cannot be treated like any other invention or program of government. Marriage serves as the basis for social organization; it is not a consequence of it. Marriage signifies a particular relationship among the many unions that individuals freely enter; it's the one between a man and a woman that has two obvious goals: mutual support and procreation of children (barring a medical anomaly or will). No other type of relationship, by definition, can fulfill both goals without the direct or indirect involvement of a third party ... for most MPs, marriage remains the cornerstone of society, not some government response to the most recent lobby" ?
a) Jim Flaherty, Conservative
b) Tony Clement, Conservative
c) Joe Volpe, Liberal MP for Eglinton-Lawrence, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, senior Minister responsible for Ontario and Toronto

If you guessed the answer was C in each case, you're right! OK, that was ancient history, right? The Liberal party has - what's Obama's word for it - evolved since then.

The point is that your own party has social conservatives in it too, many of whom have objections to same-sex marriage. But I won't hold that against you. I certainly don't think that ALL Liberals should be tainted by the opinions of a few troglodytes, no matter how prominent they may have been in your party.
I think that there are many young people out there who are naturally conservative (or at least libertarian) but will never vote for the Conservative Party because the left has successfully equated the CPC with being homophobic and pro-life. To young people, personal liberty is more important than law-and-order and the idea of the state telling them whom they can or cannot marry or whether or not they can have an abortion is anathema.To them, gay marriage trumps fiscal conservatism. Social conservatives disagree and feel let down by the Harper government for abandoning these bedrock issues, but if  the CPC hopes to attract young voters who have small-c conservative leanings, we have to let sleeping dogs lie. Harper's doing the right thing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Lonely Boy Blues, performed by Duke Robillard accompanied by Jay Geils and Gerry Beaudoin:

Friday, August 09, 2013

Throw Gwen Landolt out of the Big Tent

I've often been told that libertarians and social conservatives have to come together and overlook their differences in order not to fracture the conservative movement and to provide an electable alternative to the Liberals. I generally agree with that strategy and try to look at the big conservative picture, but unless big-C Conservatives repudiate Gwen Landolt and REAL Women, we're inviting criticism which we probably deserve.

Ms Landolt, writing in the capacity of national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, recently posted an editorial on the organization's website criticizing Foreign Minister John Baird for "furthering his own perspective on homosexuality" while publicly condemning the governments of Russia and Uganda for punitive anti-homosexual policies. She writes:
Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, has abused his position as a cabinet minister to impose his own special interests in the foreign countries of Uganda, Kenya and Russia.
He awarded $200,000 of Canadian taxpayers’ money by way of the Department of Foreign Affairs to special interest groups in Uganda and Kenya to further his own perspective on homosexuality. He also insulted the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, at a meeting of the International Parliamentary Union in Quebec City when he criticized Uganda for its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In response, Ms. Kadaga stated that Uganda was a sovereign nation and not a colony of Canada, and no one could tell Ugandans what to do.
Last week, Baird admitted working extensively behind the scenes to prevent Russia from passing legislation designated to protect Russian minors from homosexual propaganda. Baird blasted these laws as hateful, anti-gay and intolerant.
Ms Landolt's problem with Baird's position is that it is a betrayal of "conservative values":
This is the strange, intolerant world Mr. Baird wishes to impose on sovereign countries, despite their own cultures and religion which find this unreasonable and unacceptable.
Gwendolyn Landolt, National Vice-President, stated, “Just who does John Baird think he is, using taxpayers’ money to promote his own personal agenda and endeavouring to set standards of the laws of foreign countries? He argues that homosexual rights are a ‘Canadian value’, but this applies only to himself and his fellow activists and the left-wing elitists. These are not conservative values and that of grass roots Canadians, who after all, pay the bulk of the taxes”.
Mr. Baird’s actions are highly offensive to conservative taxpayers. He cannot and must not undermine other countries’ sovereignty and dignity, rooted in stable family structures and religious faith, in order to impose his own value system on them.
Mr. Baird’s actions are destructive to the conservative base in Canada and causing collateral damage to his party.
Let's focus on the two countries that Ms Landolt thinks should be left alone to enjoy their own cultures. In the case of  Uganda, government ministers have made several attempts to pass draconian anti-gay laws which, among other things, prescribe the death penalty for the crime of "aggravated homosexuality". It doesn't, as Ms Landolt seems to suggest, simply protect the rights of religious people to express their disapproval of the "homosexual lifestyle" or of gay marriage, reducing the whole situation to an issue of free speech. If this were simply the case, I might actually agree with her. In fact the proposed law provides lengthy prison sentences and even death for being gay. Blogger Jim Burroway summarizes the bill's contents:
The current bill reiterates a lifetime imprisonment on conviction of homosexuality, and defines a new category called “aggravated homosexuality” with provisions for the death penalty upon conviction. Among the factors which can lead to “aggravated homosexuality” is if one partner is HIV-positive. This bill would mandate HIV testing to determine eligibility for “aggravated homosexuality.”
Also like the earlier draft, the bill includes a complete ban on all LGBT activities — including blogging — which could be construed as “promoting homosexuality.” This infringement on free speech, peaceful assembly, and redress of grievances marks the elimination of fundamental human rights for LGBT Ugandans. The bill also bans all organizations which advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens and holds their leadership criminally liable with fines and imprisonment for up to seven years.
The bill also retains provisions which require that if someone knows that someone is engaging in homosexuality, that person is to report them to the police within twenty-four hours or face fines and/or up to a three year prison sentence themselves. The bill also extends jurisdiction to acts committed outside Uganda by Ugandan citizens. In other words, if a Ugandan citizen is known to be in a gay relationship outside the country, he will risk lifetime imprisonment (or death, if he’s HIV-positive) upon his return. The bill also provides for the extradition of citizens from abroad.
The bill also voids all treaties and international obligations which violate ” the spirit and provisions enshrined in this Act.”
The new bill adds some additional provisions over the previous draft. This bill adds the category of “attempted homosexuality” and provides a penalty of seven years in prison. For “attempted aggravated homosexuality,” the penalty is lifetime imprisonment. It also provides for compensation for “victims” of homosexuality, a provision in law which is sure to result in consensual partners turning against their partner to not only avoid the draconian legal penalties, but to claim the status of victim and seek compensation.
Further, the bill now adds an explicit ban on same-sex marriage. Anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage, either in Uganda or abroad, will liable for a lifetime imprisonment. New charges of “aiding and abetting homosexuality” and “conspiracy to engage in homosexuality” would carry a prison sentence of seven years. There is also a new charge for operating a brothel, with a definition so broad as to include any hotel owner. That, too, carries a prison sentence of seven years.
Is this really the policy that REAL Women of Canada wants to get behind?  This is what Gwen Landolt is exercised about, worried that John Baird insulted the speaker of Uganda's parliament by speaking out against it and having the effrontery to undermine Uganda's "sovereignty and dignity"? I find her position repugnant.

As for Russia, the issue is a law banning "gay propaganda" recently passed by the federal parliament. The law makes it illegal to "distribute information to minors" promoting homosexuality:
The cornerstone of Mr. Putin’s “War on Gays,” however, is the vaguely defined and definitively antigay Article 6.21 of the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses, which allows the government to fine individuals accused of the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations amongst minors. The federal ban “builds on the success” of regional laws on “propaganda of homosexualism to minors,” passed in 10 regions since 2006. We have yet to see an example of the federal law in action, though we came pretty close when four Dutch citizens were briefly detained in the northern city of Murmansk in July. Regional laws were used several times to fine gay rights activists.
Here is what Article 6.21 actually says:
Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.

If you’re Russian. Individuals engaging in such propaganda can be fined 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (120-150 USD), public officials are subject to fines of 40,000 to 50,000 rubles (1,200-1,500 USD), and registered organizations can be either fined (800,000-1,000,000 rubles or 24,000-30,000 USD) or sanctioned to stop operations for 90 days. If you engage in the said propaganda in the media or on the internet, the sliding scale of fines shifts: for individuals, 50,000 to 100,000 rubles; for public officials, 100,000 to 200,000 rubles, and for organizations, from one million rubles or a 90-day suspension.
If you’re an alien. Foreign citizens or stateless persons engaging in propaganda are subject to a fine of 4,000 to 5,000 rubles, or they can be deported from the Russian Federation and/or serve 15 days in jail. If a foreigner uses the media or the internet to engage in propaganda, the fines increase to 50,000-100,000 rubles or a 15-day detention with subsequent deportation from Russia.
In her editorial Ms Landolt seems to suggest that the Russian law is necessary to protect minors from pedophiles, and who could argue with that? I don't think any sane person would have a problem with a law prohibiting the serious crime of pedophilia - Canada has such laws after all. However, as critics have pointed out, Russia's new law would make it illegal for gay couples to publicly display affection or to show a rainbow pin or flag in public. The law has already been used to arrest Russian gay rights advocates for protesting or attempting to organize parades, and to arrest and deport "pro-gay" foreigners for attempting to film documentaries about or give lectures on gay rights in Russia. For Ms Landolt to suggest that this law is necessary to fight pedophilia (which is already illegal in Russia) is just detached from reality.

National Post columnist Barbara Kay, a social conservative herself, wrote a great editorial in today's paper on the subject of Gwen Landolt's column, which she calls a "stunning moral gaffe". I agree with Ms Kay when she writes:
Ms. Landolt has compromised years of dignified advocacy work, and worse, set at an unbridgeable distance well-wishers and occasional collaborators such as myself. Does she realize the implications of what she has said? And from whose moral-relativist playbook she has drawn this leaf?
Her statement, first of all, offends against Christianity, which teaches that one may hate the sin, but must not hate the sinner. The death penalty for homosexuality — indeed any express form of persecution — is hatred of the sinner. It is not “unwise”; it is unjust, immoral.
More important for most Canadians, any persecution of gays offends against democracy and the ideal of individual rights, on which our freedoms are based. If Ms. Landolt believes it is justifiable to ignore the persecution of people whose beliefs or behaviours she is unsympathetic to, as long as it is happening elsewhere, she has lost the moral authority to criticize persecution in other countries of those whose beliefs and behaviours she is sympathetic to.
Thus, in one fell swoop, she has aligned herself with anti-Semites who shrugged as Jews were persecuted in Russia, self-loathing Westerners who do not criticize the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and feminists who do not censure the disgusting practice of female genital mutilation because it is “their” cultural custom.
It is shocking that Ms. Landolt, a woman of high intelligence, does not see the bright line between her right to express her own private disapproval of homosexuality, and her obligation to respect and support the right of all individuals to live their lives according to their own desires, as long as they are not causing overt harm to others, without fear of judgment or curtailment of their liberties by the state.
I respect the opinions of social conservatives and count many of them as my friends, but this goes beyond social conservatism and into sheer spite. Conservatives who support these policies deserve to be marginalized.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Blues for a Saturday night

Tonight's selection - Luther Allison sings It Hurts Me Too in a live performance at the 1997 Montreal Jazz Festival:

Monday, July 29, 2013

That's great, sweetheart - can we see your boobs now?

You know, nothing gets the point across about our patriarchal society's objectification of women's bodies like showing off your tits on Parliament Hill.

Three Quebec teenagers did just that on Thursday to protest the plight of Nathalie Morin, a Montreal woman trying to get her children out of Saudi Arabia:
The nation’s capital caught a glimpse of the FEMEN movement Thursday as three Quebec teens ripped off their shirts on the steps of Parliament Hill in support of women’s rights.
As a scandalized youth-group leader shepherded her young charges away from the half-nude protesters, the teens shouted “Freedom for women!” and “Free Nathalie Morin!”
Morin is a Montreal woman who says she is trapped in Saudi Arabia. She moved there in 2005 to be with her Saudi husband and now says the Saudi government won’t issue passports to her three children. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has previously told reporters that consulate officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are assisting Morin while respecting the Saudi legal framework.
The topless protesters said the Canadian government should be doing more to bring Morin home and believe that if enough people know about the woman’s plight they will pressure the government to do exactly that.
And how better to raise awareness, they thought, than to have young women bare their breasts in public?
“If we were just three of us there with our shirts on, it wouldn’t do anything,” said 18-year-old protester Julie-Anne Beaulac.
FEMEN is a radical feminist group founded in the Ukraine whose Canadian branch, according to their Facebook page, is trying to "to develop the leadership, intellectual and moral qualities of women in Canada". Well isn't that great. Admittedly, being gay, the sight of a woman's naked breasts in front of the Peace Tower probably doesn't stir the same sense of political outrage in me that it would in a straight man, but really? Displaying your bare breasts in public while shouting "Freedom for Women"?

I'm not sure what the young ladies expect the Canadian government to do about a situation that is the fault of the authorities in Saudi Arabia. To be perfectly blunt about it, how did Nathalie Morin expect to be treated when she married a Saudi man and moved to his homeland - a medieval theocracy where women are not allowed to vote, drive cars or leave the house without being escorted by a male relative, and are not allowed out of the country without their husbands' permission?

I've got a suggestion for Ms Beaulac and her two friends; go protest in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy - it's just down the street from the Parliament Buildings at 201 Sussex Drive. She must be aware that while women in Ontario are legally free to be topless in public, the penalty for "sexual misconduct" in Saudi Arabia is death by stoning. She can have a nice chat about the intellectual and moral qualities of women in Canada with His Excellency the Ambassador.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Bad Bad Feeling, by Kansas City's Trampled Under Foot:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hmmm - was Trayvon Martin a gay basher?

This is awkward - according to Trayvon Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel, Martin may have attacked George Zimmerman because he thought Zimmerman was a "gay rapist". Jeantel, who was on the phone with Martin when the incident occurred, told CNN's Piers Morgan last night that Trayvon was afraid of being raped by "creepy ass cracker" Zimmerman:
She explained to CNN's Piers Morgan how she warned her childhood friend that Zimmerman -- could be a gay rapist!
MORGAN: You felt that there was no doubt in your mind from what Trayvon was telling you on the phone about the creepy ass cracka and so on, that he absolutely believed that George Zimmerman, this man, you didn't know who he was at the time, but this man, was pursuing him?

MORGAN: And he was freaked out by it?

JEANTEL: Yes. Definitely after I say may be a rapist, for every boy, for every man, every -- who's not that kind of way, seeing a grown man following them, would they be creep out?

She continued:
"And people need to understand, he didn't want that creepy ass cracker going to his father or girlfriend's house to go get -- mind you, his little brother was there. You know -- now, mind you, I told you -- I told Trayvon it might have been a rapist."
Well, what a conundrum. Zimmerman, who we are led to believe killed Martin because of racism, was apparently attacked by a homophobe. It's the ultimate liberal dilemma - hate crimes for everyone!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Hey, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid - pull your heads out of your asses and mobilize against THIS!

Robert Mugabe, the loathsome President of Zimbabwe, renewed his attacks on homosexuals in his country and threatened to jail them unless they have children:
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Friday threatened to jail gay and lesbian couples who fail to conceive any offspring as he launched his party’s campaign for this month’s general election.
The Zanu PF leader also attacked bitter rival and coalition partner Morgan Tsvangirai for his bed-hopping habits saying it was inconceivable that such a character could want to lead the country.
Mugabe, a rabid critic of homosexuality returned to the theme as he addressed thousands of supporters in Harare’s Highfield township.
“I should like to shut them-up in some room and see if they get pregnant; if they don’t then its jail because they have claimed they can have children. So, to that kind of rot, we say no, no, no, no!”
Continuously breaking into laughter as he warmed up to his gay bashing, Mugabe further criticized the Anglican Church for blessing homosexual marriages which he said was taboo among Africans.
He dared lesbians who assume the role of the husband in their relationships to prove that they were indeed 'men'.
“Women are also engaged in this vile activity. We have some claiming to be men but what is it that makes you a man?
“Show us your manhood; you want to make other women your wives and you the husband? Well, that is madness; we refuse to accept that,” he said.
Meanwhile in Toronto, the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid fights the real enemy of homosexuals - Israel:
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid formed to work in solidarity with queers in Palestine and Palestine solidarity movements around the world. Today, in response to increasing criticism of its occupation of Palestine, Israel is cultivating an image of itself as an oasis of gay tolerance in the Middle East, a practice that is called pinkwashing. As queers, we recognize that homophobia exists in Israel, Palestine, and across all borders. However, the struggle for sexual rights cannot come at the price of other rights.
Queer Palestinians continue to face the challenge of living under occupation and apartheid, subject to Israeli state violence and control, regardless of liberal laws within Israel that allow gays to serve in the military, or recognize same sex marriage and adoption for Israeli citizens. QuAIA works to fight homophobia, transphobia and gender oppression wherever they exist.

"Wherever they exist"? Alright then - I expect QAIA to be marching in next year's Pride parade in Toronto denouncing Mugabe and mobilizing in solidarity with Zimbabwe's gays and lesbians, who are in real physical danger at the hands of their own government. Come on now, at least issue a press release! [crickets chirping]

How's that Keystone pipeline looking now?

Robert Waite of the Huffington Post, no less, is asking the question - could oil pipelines have prevented the Lac Megantic tragedy?
This weekend's tragic rail disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec, should serve as a reminder that there is no completely safe method of transporting oil, gas and other volatile substances. There are just magnitudes of risk.
Research consistently indicates that rail is statistically safer than tanker truck; pipeline is statistically safer than rail. Even the Washington, D.C.-based Association of American Railways, representing the U.S. rail industry notes that rail accounts for almost three times the number of spills experienced by pipelines. The U.S. State Department noted the same thing in their recent Keystone assessment.
The simple truth is that without increased pipeline capacity from east to west (and from north to south -- Keystone), greater volumes of oil will be moving via rail, be it from North Dakota to Atlantic Canada or from Alberta to elsewhere in Canada and to the U.S. In a report issued April 2 by RBC Capital Markets, it is predicted that failure to build the Keystone Pipeline alone will mean that rail shipments in Canada will rise an additional 42 per cent by 2017. 

Quebec gets the government it deserves

Sometimes it's hard to believe the stories about Quebec politics that one reads in the media - it seems that Quebec's political class is bent on committing harakiri and making the entire province die with honour rather than submit to reality.

How else to explain the strange case of Michel Brulé, who is currently running for mayor of Montreal after the sitting mayor resigned in disgrace and his interim replacement was taken away in handcuffs by the police?  M Brulé is upset by, among other things, the unpleasant English language and Paul McCartney:
He has written extensively in the past about English, which he says is not a nice language. For example, he points to the capitalized first-person singular in English — “I” — as a sign of individualism.
In a recent piece for Le Devoir — titled “For or against Anglo-American cultural imperialism?” — he bemoans the omnipresence of English culture and says the language of Paul McCartney is also the language of the genocide of aboriginal peoples and the Acadian deportations.
Brulé is upset that McCartney, a member of the oppressor class, was allowed to perform on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City in 2008:
“Sir Paul, representative of England — which is responsible for the genocide of 40 million Amerindians, the deportation of the Acadians and the assimilation of French-Canadians after so many demands to ‘Speak White’ — made an amnesiac people dance for a few hours.”
But it is Brulé's opinion of Americans that especially makes one raise one's eyebrow. M Brulé, who is, judging by his picture, not exactly a slim man himself, said in an interview with the newspaper Metro that he considers citizens of our neighbours to the south to be "obese, ignorant, uncultured dummies":
“If I say Americans are a bunch of big, obese, imbecilic, ignorant, uncultured dummies, it’s the truth,” he told the newspaper.
“Of course it’s sure bet that out of 303 million Americans, there are maybe 50 million who aren’t like that. But, collectively, they’re still a bunch of uncultured imbeciles.
Since M Brulé is so enlightened himself, he must be aware that last year almost 21 million US tourists visited Canada, and that in 2011 the tourism industry generated $21.4 billion in tax revenue to the federal and provincial governments (including the government of Quebec). Foreign visitors to Canada (over 25 million visits in 2011) generated $78.8 billion to the Canadian economy  in 2011.

Presumably M Brulé would be delighted if 21 million US tourists (84% of all our foreign visitors) stopped coming to Canada (and especially Quebec) and fouling the place with their obese, imbecilic, ignorant, uncultured carcasses and throwing their disgusting US dollars around the place. The people of Montreal could enjoy their city in peace and quiet and set up their socialist Utopia free from the distractions of the Anglo-Saxon bourgeoisie and all their money. Maybe the Parti Quebecois could run an independent Quebec at public expense like an exclusive historic theme park for tourists from France. That would be about the only alternative to a functioning economy in Michel Brulé's world. 

Monday, July 01, 2013

Memories of Expo 67

Happy Canada Day. If you're a certain age, you'll watch this video and remember every image vividly; for those of us who were kids in 1967, Centennial Year is etched in our memories.

I was eight years old in 1967, and our elementary school in St Catharines, Ontario was consumed with Centennial madness that year. The entire school was decorated with patriotic displays and Canadian flags. Each class had to prepare a bulletin board display on one of the provinces or territories; my class had Alberta. I thought "Oh please, not Alberta! Why couldn't we have one of the cool provinces, like British Columbia?"  I was jealous of the class across the hall that got the Yukon Territory - now that was a place worthy of a bulletin board. At least we didn't get Saskatchewan, for heaven's sake. My teacher that year, Miss Francechini, wore miniskirts and go-go boots and had a beehive hairdo - I thought she looked like a movie star. My father flirted with her at parent-teacher interviews and I thought "Boy, you're going to be in trouble with Mom when we get home."

We sang  Bobby Gimby's song Canada incessantly that year - it seemed as important as the national anthem, and I had the impression that there was something a little creepy about Bobby Gimby. When we weren't singing Canada, we were singing A Place To Stand, Ontario's official Centennial song with it's nursery-rhyme chorus "Ontari-ari-ari-o".

My parents took us to Montreal to visit Expo 67 that summer along the newly-completed Highway 401 in an epic voyage that seemed to go on forever. We stayed overnight at my aunt & uncle's place in Beaconsfield Quebec, practically throbbing with excitement, and then ventured to St Helen's Island the next morning on the groovy Metro. My mother had been forewarned to carry food and drinks because of the long lineups everywhere, so she lugged around a gigantic purse full of sandwiches and a thermos of Kool Aid.

I don't remember much about Expo 67 except that it was stinking hot and very crowded. I remember riding the futuristic monorail through the US Pavilion, that giant geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller, and thinking that this was what living in the Jetsons' city must be like.

As much as the Centennial hoopla seems corny now, it was a time of great national pride and unabashed patriotism. We could use some of that old-fashioned jingoism right now, I think.

Greens vs fracking

Daniel Hannan, British member of the European Parliament, writes in the Telegraph, "Greens don't like fracking because they don't like prosperity".  An excerpt:
I can just about see what's upsetting the Eurocrats: they don't like capitalism, they don't like fossil fuels and they don't like Britain. Green objections are harder to understand: here is a clean, secure supply of power that will benefit everyone, but will disproportionately benefit the least well off, who spend a higher proportion of their income on energy bills. When I spoke in the European Parliament in support of fracking, most of the negative comments I received did not focus on specific safety concerns. Rather, they complained in general terms that fracking would 'poison the planet' or 'bleed Mother Earth' for no higher cause than 'greed'.
What is meant here by 'greed' is the desire for material improvement that has driven every advance since the old stone age. Someone sees an opportunity to offer a service that other people will pay for and, in consequence, wealth is created where none existed before. What happened with coal in the eighteenth century could happen again now: prices will fall, productivity will increase, and people will be released to new jobs, raising living standards for everyone. 'Greed', in this sense, is why we still have teeth after the age of 30, why women no longer expect to die in childbirth, why we have coffee and computers and cathedrals. 'Greed' is why we have time to listen to Beethoven and go for country walks and play with our children. Cheaper energy, on any measure, improves our quality of life.
But this is precisely what at least some Greens object to. What they want, as they frankly admit, is decarbonisation, deindustrialisation and depopulation. They regard the various advances we've made since the old stone age – the coffee, the computers, the cathedrals – with regret. What society needs, they tell us, is not green consumerism, but less consumerism. Which is, of course, precisely what most Western countries have had since 2008. The crash brought about all the things that eco-warriors had been demanding: lower GDP, less consumption, a decline in international trade. Yet, oddly, when it happened, they didn't seem at all satisfied. There's no pleasing some people.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

tonight's selection: John Mayall performs a Sonny Landreth song, Congo Square:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Bessie Smith's Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out performed by Duane and Gregg Allman

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Baby Please Don't Go in a 1981 live performance by Muddy Waters at Chicago's Checkerboard Lounge. The video features a surprise appearance by the Rolling Stones who were in Chicago on tour and joined Waters on stage.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

PM Harper: he's here all week - try the veal.

Very funny stuff from the PM in this leaked video of him doing impressions during a mike check before a speech. I particularly liked his Preston Manning impersonation.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Voting the straight looks ticket

I know this is shallow, but feast your eyes on Republican Gabriel Gomez, former Navy Seal, father of four, who is running in a special election in Massachusetts to fill John Kerry's vacant Senate seat. Apparently he has a shot at winning.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Tell the Globe and Mail what you think about Rob Ford

The Globe and Mail has a poll on its website asking the question "Should Ontario intervene in the crisis at Toronto city hall?"

Go here to vote.

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: By and By, performed by Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder:

A little perspective, please

The reporting on the Mike Duffy expenses scandal is getting a little melodramatic. Just to give an example: recent headlines from the National Post tell us that "A tectonic shift in Ottawa [is] underfoot" (Michael Den Tandt), "How a $90K cheque became a death warrant for Harper's brand" (Rex Murphy), "Harper government has lost its moral standing" (Den Tandt again), "The next act in the tragedy" (Andrew Coyne), the Harper Conservatives "seem to have lost their way" and "forgotten their values" (John Ivison).

Not to defend Senator Duffy's behaviour or Nigel Wright's bone-headed move to bail him out, but can we get a little perspective here please? Granted, no amount of money is insignificant when fraud at government expense is concerned, but we're talking about $90 000 dollars. Duffy should resign or be fired - period.  However, the scorn heaped on the Prime Minister and his former chief of staff Nigel Wright seems a little excessive. Wright cut Duffy a cheque from his own personal funds to cover the $90 K in question, and he resigned (as he should have), but weeks later CTV's Daniele Hamamdjian was still stalking him at four in the morning as he went for a run in the streets of Ottawa. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP on the opposition benches are rising up in outrage in Question Period like this is the Pacific Scandal all over again.

Compare this to the treatment of former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. In  a blatant attempt to influence the outcome of the last election, he cancelled the contracts for the building of two gas-fired electric generating stations already under construction, costing the public purse somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion (we may never know the exact amount), and then prorogued the legislature to avoid opposition scrutiny and resigned as Premier leaving his successor to clean up the mess. Now THAT's a scandal.

And yet what happened to McGuinty and his Liberal Party? [Crickets chirping]  McGuinty was called to testify at an inquiry, solemnly intoned that "it's never too late to do the right thing" and then went home to finish writing his memoirs. Was Daniele Hamamdjian waiting outside his house at 4:00 am? Was there a "tectonic shift" in Toronto? The NDP could have brought down the minority Liberal Government at a recent budget vote so that the voters could pronounce judgement, but Andrea Horwath said she'd rather "listen to Ontarians" and then voted to support the government in return for a goody bag of pet projects funded by even more public money.

I'm not excusing the federal Tories for their handling of the Mike Duffy affair, but lets save the extreme outrage and pronouncements on the Death of Democracy for behaviour that really deserves it. Dalton McGuinty got off scot free after wasting sums of public money that are orders of magnitude larger than the amount that cost Nigel Wright his job, in a desperate ploy to swing the vote in an election, and yet the Liberals are still in power in Ontario. Where's the real scandal?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

French anti gay marriage protesters have issues

I'm a little surprised by the vehemence of the protests in France that have erupted after the government recently legalized gay marriage. Isn't this the country whose citizens often snootily point out the superiority of their Gallic culture, what with their 35 hour work week, their long summer vacations, the wine, the foie gras and baguettes? Isn't this the country that just elected a socialist government despite warnings that the country was teetering on the brink of economic collapse because they just couldn't accept those Anglo-Saxon limits to their famous joie de vivre? It seems to me that the French, of all people, would be totally cool with gay marriage - it's so cosmopolitan, after all.

So it turns out that some French people aren't cool with it, and they took to the streets to express their displeasure in the tens of thousands. OK, France is a democracy - people are entitled to peaceable assembly. But in France? Protests against gay marriage seem so ... American.

In typical French contrarian fashion, the young men of Lyon fight the power by removing their shirts and donning Phantom of the Opera masks. Really? You want to protest gay marriage by stripping half naked and marching through the streets like you're in a pride parade? That's so ... gay. Vive la difference.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Home, by Marc Broussard

L'affaire Ford

A few years ago, just before the last Toronto municipal election, I was at a cocktail party in downtown Toronto that was sponsored by an organization of gay professionals that I used to belong to. We were on the rooftop patio of a luxury condo building near the Gay Village, and I was surrounded by wealthy successful gay men, most of them thin, fit and impeccably dressed, swilling Cabernet and enjoying the view of the downtown skyline at night.

Inevitably during the conversation when they found out I was from rural Eastern Ontario, they would roll their eyes and dramatically apologize for the spectacle of the mayoral election that was then underway. Rob Ford was battling it out with George Smitherman, the gay former Ontario cabinet minister whom they tended to refer to as "our George". Ford was so embarrassing to these men; they felt the need to apologize to outsiders for his presence in the election lest people think their beautiful world-class green city was no better than Hamilton or Windsor or Cornwall or one of those other blue-collar sinkholes. Smitherman was everything they wanted in their chief executive: gay and married, hip and downtown. Ford was so ... Etobicoke, for god's sake.

I was reminded of that party this week as l'affaire Ford unfolded in Toronto. Two reporters from the Toronto Star in the back seat of a car took a look at a drug-dealer's cell-phone video purporting to show the Mayor smoking crack and suddenly there's blood in the water and everyone's demanding his resignation and a police investigation. Reporters are staking out his office and his home, following him into coffee shops and parking garages, sticking microphones in his face asking when he's going to step down.

Compare and contrast with the last federal election, when news was leaked to the Toronto Sun that NDP leader Jack Layton had been found naked in a whorehouse in 1996 during a police raid. Layton claimed he was there for a "shiatsu" massage, and his wife Olivia Chow stated matter-of-factly that her husband exercised regularly and needed a massage - end of story. And that was it. The press took his lame excuses at face value and in fact tut-tutted that the Sun had had the audacity to publish the information in the middle of an election. The OPP investigated, not Layton's presence in an illegal bawdy house, but the source of the leak. Layton's popularity in the polls actually went UP after the revelation. The CBC made a hagiographic fan movie about him after his death which never mentioned the incident.

The reason for the difference? The cultural and media cognoscenti in downtown Toronto, like my companions at the cocktail party, are embarrassed by the mere existence of Rob Ford. He is the living negation of everything they stand for. In a city whose government is constantly trying to regulate the unhealthy consumption of its citizens by banning junk food in schools and denying permits to big-box stores and street-food vendors, he is the morbidly obese consequence of unfettered free choice. His predecessor, obsessed with making Toronto the world's greenest city, replaced car lanes on arterial roads with bike lanes, banned vehicle idling and dotted the city with green roofs and Bixi rental bicycles; Ford favours industry over the environment and drives an SUV to work. The downtown Smitherman supporters sip skinny decaf fair-trade lattes at independent coffee shops; Ford goes to Tim Horton's. Smitherman lives downtown - Ford lives in a bungalow in a suburb that is as foreign to his critics as Africa was to 19th century missionaries. They mocked Ford mercilessly because he was fat, and then laughed when he went on a public diet, snickering when it failed.

The people howling for Ford's head on a platter are physically and emotionally repulsed by him. They have the same reaction to his presence at City Hall that most people have when they find some loathsome grub under a rock - "eew, kill it!" They cannot accept that this fat slob was democratically elected by the citizens of Toronto, so he must be destroyed. They cannot wait until the next election in 2014 to oust him - he has to go NOW before David Miller's Toronto becomes unhip, so an unprecedented campaign of harassment and vilification has been unleashed on him.

I'm not a big Rob Ford fan - I think he's tactless and impulsive in a job that requires a lot of patience and diplomacy. However, the people of Toronto elected him and the proper thing for his opponents to do is wait for 2014 and try to vote him out of office. The current clamour for his resignation is unseemly and undemocratic.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Jeff Healey covers How Blue Can You Get in a live performance from 2006

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Joe Bonamassa sings Black Night is Falling:

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Big surprise - Gay Stereotype TV can't make money

In Saturday's National Post Tristan Hopper interviewed Brad Danks, Chief Operating Officer of Out TV, a specialty cable channel aimed at the "gay community". Mr. Danks is lobbying the CRTC to loosen its Canadian content requirements for the channel because the current rule requiring 65% CanCon during the day and 50% during prime time is too onerous.

In reponse to the question "What are your main gay Canadian offerings?" Mr. Danks replied:
We’ve picked up CBC shows like Steven and Chris. We’ve got [the talk show] 1 Girl, 5 Gays, which is made for the Logo [network] by MTV Canada. We’ve also got a number of design shows and fashion-type shows that either have gay hosts or iconic gay figures. We have one show with [interior designer] Sarah Richardson, for example, and she really seems to hit the buttons with a lot of the community.
Then there's this exchange:
Do you find yourself needing to stretch the definition of both “gay” and “Canadian?”
Sure, I can think of a few examples. Some of our shows are less “on the nose” gay, but our audience tells us that not every show has to be about drag queens. We play the New Addams Family, for example. It gets good ratings, it’s got a lot of gay characters but it’s not obviously gay.
There’s gay characters in the New Addams Family?
Oh, yeah. There’s all kinds of underpinnings and innuendos. I guess the best way to put it is that it’s a very campy show so it can fill that void — and it’s Canadian content.
Ugh. Couldn't they find a show about lesbians in plaid shirts and short haircuts talking about their Subarus while playing softball? I have absolutely no interest in a channel whose programming contains not much more than the time-worn gay stereotypes of interior decorators, fashion designers and campy comedy characters, all of which are already well represented on existing "straight" channels.

 I have some unsolicited advice for Mr. Danks: there already is content on TV targeted at the gay community - it's called regular TV. Most gay people lead shockingly normal lives. We live in the suburbs and out in the country, not just in swank condos in urban gay villages. We are accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers, civil servants and pro athletes, not just interior decorators and campy drag queens. When we sit down at the end of a long day at work, we like to watch the same news, the same sitcoms, the same hockey games and the same lifestyle channels that straight people do.

In 2006 actor John Stamos starred in a dreadful made-for-TV movie called Wedding Wars. Stamos played (not too convincingly) a gay wedding planner who was arranging his straight brother's wedding. The brother was a speech writer for a Republican governor (played by James Brolin) who had written a speech for his boss opposing gay marriage. Outraged, Stamos led a gay strike in protest, and the rest of the show was about high society grinding to a complete halt as thousands of gay florists, interior decorators, Broadway chorus boys and hair dressers walked off the job in protest. Was there a single gay dentist, electrician, engineer, financial planner or construction worker depicted? No - nothing but flamboyant campy characters who reinforced the worst stereotypes that some straight people have about gays. The show missed a great opportunity to show the true face of today`s gay community.

I'm not surprised that OutTV has gone bankrupt twice before the current owners took charge. They have a business model that relies on tired cliches that are as relevant to the gay community as blackface minstrel shows are to the black community. There's not much need for a gay cable TV channel in today's media universe; most gays are just regular people who like to watch regular TV and not endless reruns of Will and Grace.