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)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Justin Trudeau's Senate gong show

Apparently Justin Trudeau got up this morning, drank his latté, and without consulting anyone involved, decided to abolish the Liberal Party's caucus in the Senate. He's being cautiously hailed by the confused punditry for his "bold move" that "seizes the agenda" on Senate reform. Really? Has he thought this out, or does he just make things up as he goes along?

This move has serious implications that I fear have not been considered. Who is now the opposition to the Tories in the Senate? Who is the Opposition Leader? What happens to the budget for the Senate Opposition? Who sits on Senate Committees? I'm not a fan of the Liberal Party, but Trudeau has just abdicated his responsibility to provide principled opposition, debate and criticism in the upper chamber - now the Tories are virtually unopposed there. This is an agenda?

Senate reform is a necessary and serious business. It has to be done by consultations with the provinces and regions that the Senate is supposed to provide with a counterbalance to the domination of large populations in the House of Commons. Various proposals have been put forward for the reform or abolition of the Senate which have to be carefully considered before embarking on the long and difficult process of amending the Constitution. Changing the Senate is difficult on purpose - it forces politicians and political parties to articulate a plan and sell its merits to the voters, then seek compromise to achieve a new model that is acceptable to the House of Commons, the Senate and the majority of people in the majority of provinces with the majority of the population. Senate reform should NOT be done on the whim of a single person who happens to be the leader of the Third Party when he has a light-bulb-over-the-head moment while staring at himself in the mirror one morning.

Trudeau's proposal is idiotic. However, it may serve a greater purpose. I think the best Conservative strategy for dealing with the Liberals from now until the next election is to let Justin be Justin. The more he preens in front of press scrums in the Commons lobby and theatrically tosses out poorly-thought-out policies off the top of his head, the more even his star-struck fans will realize what an airhead he is. The Tory campaign attack ads will practically write themselves. Since he's been leader he has only articulated two major policy proposals - legalizing marijuana and firing Liberal Senators. The best is yet to come, folks - stay tuned.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection - Jeep's Blues by Duke Ellington. This song was prominently featured in an important scene in the new movie American Hustle where the characters played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams meet for the first time. It's a fantastic movie, by the way - especially if you grew up in the 1970s like I did.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Deep thoughts from Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau was interviewed by Calgary Metro News recently, and produced this answer when asked how he would deal with requests from municipalities for help in public transit funding:
Remove a lot of the politics from it. … There’s a lot of politicking around perception and short-term advantage but not necessarily a larger plan of what’s actually going to serve, not just in the short-term in terms of construction jobs, but in the long-term in terms of what a growing city is going to need. So, very much an approach that looks at facts, data, best practices, and a real vision for the next decades rather than just the next electoral cycle.
Good grief - Wilfrid Laurier must be spinning in his grave. I can't wait for Trudeau to go mano a mano with Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair in the leadership debates in 2015 - it's going to be a train wreck.

Harper's Knesset heckler becomes leftist celebrity in Canada

A story from the Jerusalem Post  features one of the Arab members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) who heckled Prime Minister Harper during his speech this week:
MK Ahmed Tibi became an overnight celebrity in Canada this week after he heckled Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his address to the Knesset.
Since heckling Harper on Monday, Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) has given 15 interviews to Canadian media outlets and has been invited to speak at universities in multiple provinces.
Tibi said he would go to Canada in the spring to lecture and give more interviews.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to Mr. Tibi's heckling on his Facebook page:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu boasted on his Facebook page that Harper’s heckling was proof of the vibrancy of Israeli democracy.
Netanyahu’s speech before Harper’s at the Knesset was also heckled by Tibi, who shouted that Abu Arar had no electricity and water in his village.
Netanyahu then posted a picture of Abu Arar’s three-story home on his Facebook page with proof that it has both electricity and water. Tibi responded on Netanyahu’s Facebook page that posting the picture was childish and intended to hide Israel’s embarrassment over the state of unrecognized Beduin villages.
I'm sure Mr. Tibi will be greeted with open arms at Canadian universities, which are after all celebrated bastions of free speech. Recall that PM Netanyahu was prevented from speaking at Montreal's Concordia University in 2002 when an antisemitic mob rioted at the campus venue where he was to speak, assaulted some members of the audience and vandalized the building.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Canada steps up & condemns Nigerian anti-gay law

While the media has been wringing its hands about whether or not Stephen Harper is getting too cozy with Israel, the Canadian government's condemnation of Nigeria's persecution of gays has barely been noticed. The Harper government deserves praise and support for its stance, especially from the gay community.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan recently signed a bill into law which criminalized gay marriage, "belonging to gay groups" and "public displays of same-sex relationships":
Under the terms of the law, anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil union can be sentenced to 14 years in prison while any such partnerships entered into abroad are deemed "void".

It also warns that anyone who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or who directly or indirectly makes a public show of a same-sex relationship will break the law. Punishment is up to 10 years in prison, it adds.
Let that sink in for a minute. Nigeria didn't just outlaw gay marriage; it criminalized "public shows of a same-sex relationship." Gay Nigerians can be sentenced to 10 years in prison for going to a gay bar or holding hands in public. Predictably, the police in Bauchi province were rounding up homosexuals within days of the bill's passage:
 In Bauchi state, police entrapped four gay men and tortured them into naming others, Aken’Ova said. She said the police have drawn up a list of 168 wanted gay men, of whom 38 have been arrested in recent weeks.
She said the arrests began during the Christmas holidays and blamed “all the noise that was going on surrounding the (same sex marriage prohibition) bill.”
The chairman of Bauchi state Shariah Commission, Mustapha Baba Ilela, told the AP that 11 men have been arrested in the past two weeks and charged with belonging to a gay organization. He denied anyone had been tortured and said all 11 – 10 Muslims and a non-Muslim – signed confessions that they belonged to a gay organization but that some of them retracted the statements when they were charged by a judge.
Bauchi state, by the way, has enshrined Sharia law in its criminal law system. Soon one of the arrested men was flogged for his transgression. He was lucky he wasn't sentenced to death by stoning:
A Nigerian man has received 20 lashes after an Islamic court in the northern city of Bauchi convicted him of homosexual offences.
Under Islamic law, courts can punish homosexual acts by stoning to death.
But the judge said he took into account that the Muslim man, Mubarak Ibrahim, 20, carried out the acts seven years ago, and had stopped the practice.
In Nigeria, homosexual acts are illegal under both Islamic and secular law and restrictions have been tightened.
Earlier this month, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill which bans same-sex marriages, gay groups and shows of same-sex public affection.
The new legislation applies throughout Nigeria.
Most states in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria have adopted Islamic law, known as Sharia, since the end of military rule in 1999.
Along with Mr Ibrahim, 11 other Muslims and a Christian man were arrested last month accused by the authorities of being homosexuals.

He was also ordered to pay a fine of about $30 (£18).
Mr Ibrahim told the BBC he was relieved that Judge Nuhu Muhammad had been lenient on him and had not sentenced him to death.
The BBC's Ishaq Khalid was in court when Mr Ibrahim was lashed with a whip, made of animal skin smeared with oil.
Mr Ibrahim, who had pleaded guilty to the charge, was ordered to lie on a bench, and an official whipped his back in front of a packed courtroom, our correspondent says.
Mr Ibrahim screamed in pain while being lashed, but was able to walk afterwards, he adds.
The trial of two other men was adjourned to 23 January.
Yesterday in Bauchi a howling mob of thousands of protesters gathered outside the courthouse where the trial of 11 other homosexual men was to take place, hurling stones at the building and demanding the conviction and execution of the men arrested under the new law:
Thousands of protesters threw stones into the Shariah court in a north Nigerian city Wednesday, urging the speedy convictions and executions of 11 men arrested for belonging to gay organizations.
"No one can be sentenced to death until confirmed without a reasonable doubt," Aliyu said in response to calls for the men's execution.Security officials fired into the air to disperse protesters in Bauchi city so the accused men could be safely returned to the prison. Judge El-Yakubu Aliyu closed the court abruptly.
The court was arraigning seven of 11 accused men on Wednesday. Only three had given testimony when the mayhem began.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that President Goodluck Jonathan signed on Jan. 7 has resulted in a frenzy of arrests of gays. The law bans all gay associations, with penalties up to 14 years' imprisonment for marriage.
Bauchi state has both a Western-style penal code and Shariah, or Islamic law, in which sodomy can carry the death sentence with a judge deciding whether it should be done by a public stoning or by lethal injection. Shariah law is implemented to different degrees in nine of Nigeria's 36 states. About half of the country's more than 160 million people are Muslims, the other half Christians.
Canada's Foreign Minister, John Baird, immediately condemned the new law, and apparently an upcoming state visit to Canada by President Johnathan has been cancelled by the Canadian government:
Gay rights activists, human rights activists and even entire nations have voiced out their concern at the harsh law. Canada, on the other hand, may have decided to do more than just talking.
The nation was expected to receive Nigeria’s president on a state visit slated for February but is said to have cancelled the visit in a bid to show its displeasure at the new law.
According to Sahara Reporters:
A state visit being planned by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to Canada for February has been canceled by the Canadian Government.
The cancellation happened in the same week it was revealed the President secretly signed a controversial law banning gays, lesbians, and sexual minorities in Nigeria.
Sources in Abuja told Sahara Reporters that the Nigerian Ambassador to Canada, Ojo Madueke, was told to inform President Jonathan that the state visit to Canada scheduled for February 13 and 14th 2014 has now been canceled.
Bravo. I'm very proud of Minister Baird and the Harper government for taking a public stand on this issue and telling the Nigerian government exactly how heinous this law is. As with Israel,  the government hasn't worried about what CBC viewers in Toronto think about losing our influence in the region and abandoning our so-called traditional (read Liberal) role of "honest brokers" exercising our "soft power".  We've come out strongly and forcefully against a barbaric law that has no place in a country that calls itself modern or civilized instead of worrying about offending a sovereign nation's unique cultural traditions. Thank you.

And to those gay critics of Harper who show up at his public appearances (as I witnessed once during the last election) chanting "Racist, sexist, anti-gay - Stephen Harper go away!" - judge the Tories by their actions and not by a cartoonish stereotype that fits your preconceptions of what motivates redneck Christian conservatives.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Global Warming 1662

From the diary of Samuel Pepys, January 15 1662:
This morning Mr. Berchenshaw came again; and after he had examined me and taught me something in my work, he and I went to breakfast in my chamber, upon a Collar of brawne. And after we had eaten, he asked me whether we have not committed a fault in eating today, telling me that it is a fast-day, ordered by the parliament to pray for more seasonable weather - it having hitherto been some summer weather, that is, both as to warmth and every other thing, just as if it were the middle of May or June, which doth threaten a plague (as all men think) to follow; for so it was almost the last winter and the whole year after hath been a very sickly time.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe it's because of a recent publicity stunt by a delegate from the Philippines to the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw in November 2013, who vowed to fast until the world took action to stop "climate change madness":
With his country grappling with the damage from "hell-storm" Haiyan, a Philippines official launched a hunger strike Tuesday to pressure a U.N. climate change conference for concrete steps to fight global warming.
Naderev Sano, a member of the Philippines Climate Change Commission, said he was fasting "in solidarity with my countrymen who are now struggling for food back home" -- including his own brother, whom Sano said "has been gathering bodies of the dead with his own two hands."
"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness," he said. "Mr. President, we can stop this madness, right here in Warsaw."
Sano's protest prompted Twitter users to begin using the hashtag #fastfortheclimate in support.
The Climate Action Network -- a body of 850 nongovernmental organizations -- later announced that members of "civil society" were joining Sano in fasting, in a move it said is "unprecedented within the history of the climate movement."
Climate Action Network spokeswoman Ria Voorhaar said the protest is spreading "far and wide," with at least 100 people in Warsaw for the conference also fasting.
"A lot of climate-focused youth groups have jumped on it immediately to show solidarity," she said.
Voorhaar said the hunger strikers want the Warsaw conference to take "concrete steps" toward reducing carbon emissions before 2020, enacting an international mechanism for damages and financing efforts to adapt to a warming world.
Well, it worked in London, so maybe the climateers in Warsaw were on to something. Pepys noted in his diary the following year, on August 28 1663:
 At the office betimes (it being cold all night and this morning, and a very great frost they say abroad; which is much, having had no summer at all almost)
Yeah, yeah - weather isn't climate, etc etc. Fast away, people. I wonder if Mr. Sano is eating again.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

What's the matter with Toronto?

Pardon my insensitivity, but since when is it the responsibility of the taxpayers of Ontario to replace groceries lost during power outages? The Liberal government of Ontario has just announced that it will distribute $450 000 worth of grocery store gift cards to residents outside the GTA to "replace food that spoiled when power went out after the pre-Christmas storm". This is on top of the botched handout of $843 000 worth of cards already handed out to residents of Toronto.

To recap, the provincial government of Ontario has just spent almost $1.3 million to hand out groceries to people who lost power during an ice storm. Some random thoughts:

  • If it's the middle of winter and you lose power, presumably your home would be approximately the temperature of a refrigerator. Not to make light of the problems endured by the people who lived in the affected area, but is lack of refrigeration a huge problem in December? Can't people figure out how to keep food from spoiling in the middle of winter? 
  • Shit happens during natural disasters - that's why people buy insurance. If you lost a bunch of expensive food, make an insurance claim. If you don't have insurance, use the money you saved on premiums to buy your own damned groceries. I didn't expect the government to replace my water pipes when they froze during a cold snap a few years ago - I fixed them myself and had insurance for repairs that were beyond my immediate means. It was a power outage, for heaven's sake - not Hurricane Katrina.
  • I find it reprehensible that Premier Kathleen Wynne used the ice storm as an excuse to grab a little publicity for herself. She and her entourage arrived in the "devastated" area, TV cameras in tow, handing out baskets of food like Good King Wenceslas to carefully pre-screened Liberal-supporting households so that she could be seen acting like a leader on the six o'clock news. Disgraceful.
  • You'd think that the opposition Conservatives would be up in arms about the waste of money in this grocery-card fiasco, but no; they're lining up at the trough with the NDP and the Liberals. PC MPP Lisa McLeod complained that people outside of Toronto didn't have access to "free" groceries: "The political way that this has been handled by Premier Wynne and her cabinet has prevented people from equal access to a program that she initiated", she said. Tory MPP Michael Harris also complained that people in his riding of Kitchener-Conestoga West weren't getting free stuff like everyone in Toronto:  "My office has been bombarded with phone calls recently in terms of how to access this program and they've been getting the runaround. They're questioning really why this program was only available in Toronto and not in their communities when they too went without power for a significant amount of time." Ugh.
  • What's the matter with Toronto? Why aren't people there able to cope with an ice storm without screaming at the Mayor to declare a state of emergency, debating whether or not to call in the army, standing around in front of TV cameras wringing their hands about the slow pace of the cleanup in their suburban neighbourhoods and generally waiting for "the Government" to do something while complaining constantly? In 1998 much of Eastern Ontario was crippled by an epic ice storm which took out electricity for days - people in tiny inaccessible communities pulled together and helped clear each other's laneways, took each other in and generally coped until power was restored. It's what people used to be able to do without being told. And by the way, nobody begged the government for free groceries.
The Toronto ice storm has brought out the worst in people - venal politicians who viewed the event as an opportunity for self-aggrandizing photo ops while throwing around taxpayer's money willy nilly, and helpless dependent citizens who couldn't figure out what to do without a massive bureaucratic swat team to lead them. God help us if a truly serious natural disaster occurs.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: I Put A Spell On You performed by Joss Stone, backed up by Jeff Beck and the Jubilation Gospel Choir in a live American Idol performance.