Posts from our progressive community

Still awaiting confirmation that his birth, prophesied by a swallow, ignited a bright star in the sky that immediately changed the season from winter to spring and caused an awe-inspiring double rainbow to appear

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 14:38
There are reasonable responses to a Prime Minister's being unable to attend the Canada Winter Games. And then there's Bal Gosal's reply, which sounds much more like the type of understated message we'd expect from a toady of your neighbourhood megalomaniac dictator:
Speaking at the Otway Nordic Ski Center Saturday, Gosal insisted Harper is "probably the greatest sports fan in our country."

They'll Nip This in the Bud

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 11:50

It's enough to give an oligarch chest pain.  Barely a month in power, popular support for the left-wing, anti-austerity government in Greece is soaring.  Syrzia won the January polls with 36% of the votes.  A few weeks later and there's no sign of buyers' remorse.  Instead the party's support has climbed to almost 48%. Not bad for a movement that came out of nowhere just three years ago.

It's not so much the Greek government digging in its heels on debt repayment and austerity demands that will be infuriating the Euro bankers.  It's the attitude of the Greek people that they'll find unnerving.

On the street, optimism has returned. People worn down by gruelling austerity, on the back of unprecedented recession, are smiling. Government officials have taken to walking through central Athens, instead of ducking into chauffeur-driven cars to avoid protesters. Last week, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis – a maverick to many of his counterparts – was mobbed by appreciative voters as he ambled across Syntagma square.

“They’ve given us our voice back,” said Dimitris Stathokostopoulos, a prominent entrepreneur. “For the first time there’s a feeling that we have a government that is defending our interests. Germany needs to calm down. Austerity hasn’t worked. Wherever it has been applied it has spawned poverty, unemployment, absolute catastrophe.”

If there's one thing the ECB and IMF realize it's that this sort of thing can be contagious.  It can spread.  In other countries those populations are also feeling "worn down by austerity" and saddled with governments that are not defending their interests.
It's already taking hold in Spain.  Italy, Ireland, France and even Britain could be susceptible.  I expect the conservative lenders won't sit by idle.  They need the Greek people back in harness to austerity or, before long, everyone will be kicking over the traces.  Optimism, left unchecked, can be a very, very dangerous thing.

There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 11:28

In a decade or so the government of Canada will be in the market for new submarines for the Royal Canadian Navy.

In the 17-years since the Chretien government snapped up four used British boats, supposedly a bargain, we haven't seen much use out of them.  In fact we've about doubled the purchase price in maintenance bills trying to get the damned things seaworthy.

One of them, just one, has actually fired a torpedo.  That's 68-service years, one torpedo.  But wait, there's news.  HMCS Victoria took some guest journos aboard, sailed out of Esquimalt, dived and demonstrated a simulated torpedo launch.  They flooded one tube with compressed air and "fired" it.  It's sort of like a giant bathtub fart at 60-metres.

Now the navy proclaims that it has three of the four nearly ready to go, even if they all can't fire torpedoes.  Still that qualifies the fleet as operational.

So, why are we investing all this effort and money into these old boats? Advances in submarine technology have overtaken Canada's subs.  They're not remotely approaching what is "state of the art" today.  They don't seem to be particularly reliable and their safety record is pretty extensive - just not in a good way.

Michael Byers has come up with the best explanation.  The RCN is keeping these boats active to keep the door open for the purchase of new subs, real subs, the working kind.  That's around 10-years off so the navy wants to keep the capability alive lest the pols decide we can get by without submarines altogether.

One thing we know is that there'll be no money for new subs anytime soon.  Not since the collapse of the Soviet Union has a navy been allowed to deteriorate as the Canadian navy has under Chairman Harper.  We need provisioning ships. Ain't got'em.  We need air defence destroyers.  Ain't got those either.  We need Arctic patrol vessels - soon, eventually, maybe.  We have a three ocean coastline and we can't put one task force to sea because we're flat out of the necessary ships.

Know who's building ships?  Vlad Putin, that's who.  And he's planning to establish a significant Russian naval presence in the Arctic where seabed rights are contested.   Sure, there's the Law of the Sea and all that but Putin has been giving signs that he might prefer "finders, keepers."

But we've got three submarines to keep Putin at bay, don't we?  Yeah, right.

Netanyahu Has Screwed the Pooch for Israel

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 10:06

Even if the next US president is a Republican, what Netanyahu is doing this week will cost Israel far into the future.  What the Israeli prime minister has somehow failed to grasp is that he is targeting the office of the president.

Even those who wish him luck now will never look on him, or Israel,  the same way again. He's a handy snake to have around - for Republicans, this time - but, afterwards, everyone gets a stick.

There are lines and Netanyahu is crossing one, a big line.  It's the sort of thing that isn't forgotten and even a future Republican president won't readily forgive.

Americans are all about their presidency.  Hell, they campaign for the office for two years.  They crave it and getting it means everything yet here's this Israeli yahoo coming right into their own backyard to undermine it.  Oooh, that leaves scars.

Leonard Nimoy

Cathie from Canada - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 10:05
I don't know where this is, but isn't it great?
It was posted on the #LeonardNimoy thread at Twitter, where William Shatner is doing a tribute.

Saw this a few minutes ago. I involuntarily gasped and had a hard time holding it together. #LeonardNimoy

— Neil Shurley (@ThatNeilGuy) March 1, 2015

I'll See Your Cult and I'll Raise You One

The Disaffected Lib - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 09:59

They're dying to get at each other or at least they would be if only we gave them a chance.  Radical, fundamentalist Islam versus radical, fundamentalist Christianity - the End Times grudge match right there on the floor of the desert of ancient Mesopotamia.

An article in today's Independent explores what there is about ISIS that's drawing so many young Britons to the cause.  It suggests that ISIS is essentially a messianic cult with heavy End Times overtones.  The report identifies two areas in which ISIS has succeeded where others before it failed.

First, it’s come closer than other Salafist organisations to creating a “caliphate”, a geographical location where teachings of the Prophet Mohamed govern every aspect of existence. In that sense, it offers a homeland where disaffected young Muslims can turn their backs on everything they dislike – or have been encouraged to dislike – about the modern world.

Second, it understands the power of slick propaganda videos and wanton destructiveness.

...we are dealing with an eschatological movement of a type that became common in the Middle Ages. You and I may be looking forward to a long and peaceful existence, but these guys are eagerly anticipating the apocalypse.

In November, when the American hostage Abdul-Rahman (formerly Peter) Kassig was about to be murdered, his killers deliberately chose Dabiq as the site for their latest gruesome exhibition. “Here we are, burying the first American Crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive,” the man we now know to be Emwazi says in the propaganda video. It’s tempting to dismiss this as empty rhetoric, but it refers to prophecies that the final showdown between Islam and its enemies will begin in Dabiq; members of Isis are expecting the imminent arrival of the Mahdi, a messianic figure who will lead a Muslim army to victory before the end of the world.

I don’t know whether the story is apocryphal, but, according to some sources, Osama bin Laden was warned in 2008 that the founders of what would become Isis were obsessed with the Mahdi and the end-of-days. He’s supposed to have written to them, saying, “Cut it out.” Sadly, this eschatological movement took no notice.

It has now eclipsed al-Qaeda as the go-to terror organisation of the day, with the added attraction of controlling an area larger than some long-established countries. Running away to join Isis isn’t an attractive option for most of us, but the picture might look different if you believe the world is about to end. People do remarkable things under the influence of millenarian ideology, and Isis is something new in the field: an apocalyptic movement that offers a temporary refuge from the modern world and a last chance to be saved.

Well that sure sounds like a cult to me. Messianic, eschatological, End Times, afterlife stuff laid on pretty thick. But we've got messianic, eschatological, End Times, afterlife (Rapture) folks of our very own only they're Christian. So why not match them up - our cult versus theirs? Something akin to a desert cage match. Two great religions enter the cage, only one will come out. One night, in Dabiq - winner takes all.  The pay TV rights alone should be astonishing.

subway tokens, greek coffee cups, and me: missing nyc

we move to canada - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 08:00
This week I received email from my friend Alan, formerly known in this blog as Alan with one L, or AW1L.
Subject line: Re: 34th Street/Penn Station Just Now

Out-of-Towner [leaning into packed Uptown Express [2 or 3] train]: "Does anybody know if this goes to Times Square?"

About 10 Passengers [as one--all with exactly the same *annoyed* tone]: "Yes!"

It was *excellent*! [I *love* this town!!]I loved this little story! I loved that AW1L thought of me when this happened. It also made me feel homesick and wistful for my old hometown. I replied, in part, "Sometimes I miss my old life. No one I know now would even understand what's so great about this!" I don't know if that's true, but sometimes I'm astonished by how much my life has changed since moving to Canada.

Now I'll use this email and those wistful feelings as an excuse to post these NYC items. One has been sitting in Blogger drafts for five years!

From 2010: A History of New York in 50 Objects, worth a click, including some comments. Coffee cups, sewing machine, an oyster. But... a Metropass and no token??

From 1904 to 1948 subway riders paid their fare with ordinary coins. But since its introduction in 1953, the token has been an absolutely iconic feature of the City. It was phased out when the Metropass was introduced in 2003. Thumbs down for Metropass-but-no-token on this list!

Also from The New York Times, although much more recently, some features on NYC time travel. If the New York Times is writing about it, you can be sure it's on its way out, but they're good stories just the same: Regilding the Gilded Age in New York, and Five Ways to Time Travel (and Party) in New York.

Here's another bit of New York City time travel, something once iconic, and now seldom seen.

See also: leslie buck, we are happy you served us and, further back, we are happy to serve you.

On The Politics Of Fear

Politics and its Discontents - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 06:30

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed the relative frequency with which I provide links to and samples of Star readers' letters. One of the obvious reasons is that they tend to have the same political sensibilities as all progressive bloggers, i.e., they are acutely aware of the ongoing damage to our country that Mr. Harper and his acolytes are the engineers of. The other reason is the hope that these missives will be disseminated as widely as possible on others' social networks, be they Facebook, Twitter, or whatever. It is only by spreading the word on networks of friends and associates who may not be especially interested in politics that we have a chance of ousting this hateful regime in the upcoming election.

Right now we are living in politically perilous times, of course, owing to the fact that the regime has gotten a boost from people's fear of terrorism, a fear that Harper is exploiting to maximum advantage. Here is what a few readers have to say about this morally reprehensible tactic. You can see the entire set of letters, all excellent, here.)

Re: Leader’s words should strengthen, not scare, the nation, Opinion Feb. 25
Having watched the deplorable performance of Stephen Harper in regard to Bill C-51, culminating in a disgraceful motion to limit debate, I share the following: Wikipedia defines “demagogue” as: a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the lower classes in order to gain power and promote political motives. Demagogues usually oppose deliberation and advocate immediate, violent action to address a national crisis; they accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness. Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, nothing stops the people from giving that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.

Michael Hayes, Victoria, B.C.

I am stunned that over 80 per cent of Canadians would back Bill C-51. Obviously, these Canadians have not studied what is in this bill. Why would we give up close to 150 years of freedoms over two mentally imbalanced people killing three Canadians?

I notice when Robert Pickton was arrested in 2007 for the murder of close to 50 women no laws were forthcoming to protect the aboriginal women or the prostitutes involved. For that matter, Harper still seems to be refusing to do much regarding the safety of aboriginal women or prostitutes.
CSIS actually seems to be doing a good job of infiltrating these cells of disaffected Canadians, so why should we give up any freedoms? I believe Harper should be doing more to help create good jobs for young people instead of taking our freedoms away.

Looking at history, the last group of people who gave up their freedoms were the German people in the 1930s. We all know how that turned out.

Gary Brigden, Toronto

Do we never learn?

Its saddening that the majority of Canadians aren’t even following the recent attempts by the Harper government to pass Bill C-51 without any public debate. However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Prime Minister Harper’s noted stance against freedom of the press. However, this begs the question: considering that a large portion of Canadians came to Canada to avoid oppressive dictatorial regimes elsewhere, why are these same Canadians so eager to go back to such a “nanny state”?

Hussein Mohamedali, Vaughan

The big question I think Canadians deserve answers to is this — why is the Conservative Party afraid to add oversight to its anti-terror bill?

Such oversight will not affect the terms of the bill. It will just give each and every Canadian the assurance that CSIS or the government will not be allowed to break Canadian laws and the terms of our Constitution.

The prime minister and his spokespeople have succeeded in scaring many Canadians; making them fear that the hordes are at the gate and only the CPC and Bill C-51 can save us.
Fear is a great motivator and Stephen Harper trots it out at every opportunity. I don’t care if you are left, right or centre. It is disgraceful conduct on the part of any politician to try to use power through fear.

American president Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He said this in reference to America being struck at Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941. He didn’t tell Americans to be afraid as our government is now telling us we should be. Roosevelt said don’t be afraid.

Canadians are good strong people; we are not fearful people and it’s time politicians stopped using fear as a policy.

Joe Spence, KanataRecommend this Post

Sunday Morning Links

accidentaldeliberations - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 06:11
This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan counters the Cons' spin on tax-free savings accounts. And Rob Carrick points out that raising the limit on TFSAs would forfeit billions of desperately-needed dollars to benefit only the wealthiest few in Canada:
TFSAs are Swiss army knives – a financial knife, corkscrew, screwdriver and more. But doubling the annual contribution limit of $5,500 is a bad idea.

Message to the federal government: Please don’t, because we can’t afford it.
A report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer this week says the federal government would lose $14.7-billion a year in revenue by 2060 and the provinces would lose $7.6-billion a year. That’s a tremendous amount of money to forgo in a country with a population aging as quickly as ours.

The latest population estimates from Statistics Canada suggest that seniors will account for 25.5 per cent of the population by 2061, up from 14.4 per cent in 2011. You can imagine what this trend will mean for government spending on health care and income programs such as Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement.

In fact, Ottawa was so concerned about the sustainability of OAS – it’s funded from general government revenue – that it announced that it would gradually increase the age of eligibility to 67 from 65 starting in 2023. Ottawa saved a whack of money doing that. Now, it’s looking at depleting the savings it realized with a higher TFSA contribution limit.- Thomas Walkom offers some suggestions to save Canadian capitalism from its own most destructive impulses. And Don Lenihan discusses another set of big ideas worth considering, while recognizing that none of them will come to pass without a more effective political process.

- Elizabeth Douglass writes that between plunging prices and increasing recognition of safety and climate risks, 2015 is off to a rather rough start for the oil industry. And that's before doctors start highlighting pollution and climate change as serious health issues - which Kyle Plantz reports to be a foreseeable and desirable possibility.

- Meanwhile, Bruce Johnstone reminds us that farmers are still suffering from the Cons' choice to prioritize the use of rail to transport oil.

- Aarian Marshall discusses what the Cons' census vandalism has cost Canada:
Though Peterborough’s situation is particularly difficult, it’s not an anomaly. In 2006, 93.5 percent of Canadians responded to the then-mandatory long-form census. In 2011, 68.6 percent returned the NHS. This is despite the fact that census officials distributed more surveys to compensate for the predicted drop in response rates—to one in three Canadians in 2011 instead of the one in five in 2006. Still, Statistics Canada withheld 2011 NHS data for 1,128 of 4,567 Canadian census subdivisions. “[A]pproximately 25 percent of geographic areas do not have reliable National Household Survey data available for their use,” Canada’s auditor general wrote in a 2014 report.
“Because of the move to the voluntary NHS, Canada is a richer, whiter, more educated country now,” says Ryan Berlin, a Vancouver-based economist and demographer with the non-profit Urban Futures Institute. Berlin is making a joke here, one that’s been making the rounds in Canadian academic conferences for the past few years. But he’s not wrong. Certain populations—low-income residents, immigrants, the disabled, aboriginal peoples, and those without a firm grasp of the English language—were far less likely to return the voluntary census. These are also often the communities most in need of social programs. The question marks are particularly disconcerting in the wake of the worldwide  recession. Where are the needy? Canada isn’t entirely sure.

While statisticians with the Canadian government do have sophisticated mathematical tools to help estimate how many underserved citizens they missed, the 2011 still survey left glaring uncertainties. In one example, the NHS found that Filipinos were the most represented group among immigrants who entered Canada between 2006 and 2011. But a footnote in the Statistics Canada release notes that this result is “not in line with administrative data from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada which provides the number of recent immigrants by their country of birth settling in Canada each year.” Why the gap? It could be sampling errors, it could be response patterns, or it could be an “under or over estimation of certain groups of recent immigrants in the NHS.” Officials say they just can't be certain why they don’t know what they don’t know.
Academics also stress that census data is often used as a benchmark, to check whether other data sets derived from alternative sources are correct. Now there appears to be no universally-acknowledged set of numbers against which to check one’s own work. - Finally, PressProgress points out that the Harper Cons and their mouthpieces seem to be the only people alive - whether in Canada or elsewhere - who don't think the tragic and ongoing history of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada merits a public inquiry. And Stephen Maher highlights the complete disconnect between the Cons and Canada's First Nations who rightly expect far better.

Stephen Harper's Fear Card and the Canadian Revolt

Montreal Simon - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 05:23

It's so cold out there, and the ice is so thick in the bay, that the Island ferry has stopped running.

This small police boat was having a hard time getting anywhere yesterday.

And I have to admit that I feel half frozen too eh?

Because I still can't believe that Stephen Harper would use fear and bigotry to try to win himself another bloody majority.
Read more »

When Will They Get Their Act Together?

Northern Reflections - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 03:28


Ralph Surette has had Stephen Harper's number for a long time. He's a veteran journalist. And he knows a charlatan when he sees one. Bill C-51 is a superb example of how his government operates:

Not that the bill doesn't have some good points -- but that's Harper's genius. He starts with a vaguely decent argument, then takes it to extremes -- but only to that precise extreme that can be muffled by the repetition of talking points.

But the bill itself is only the half of it. The deeper, ignored part is that the Harper government can't be trusted with laws of any kind. The omnibus bills delivered on short notice and passed in a whiz to avoid debate, the error-ridden bills passed with flagrant arrogance, the crippling of parliamentary committees and the abuse of parliamentary process at every level, the attack on the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and ultimately the two-faced hypocrisy of running a "law and order" government that abuses the law whenever it suits its ideology -- none of this gets into the talk. Harper is a repeat offender whose previous record is never taken into account.
What really disturbs Surette is that the opposition parties seem incapable of blowing the whistle on the prime minister:

Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair has made himself into an effective prosecutor-style interrogator in the Commons, but 90 per cent of his performance doesn't get past the Ottawa bubble. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau muddles as we await further policy. Neither focuses the big picture. (The Green Party's Elizabeth May, on the other hand, does -- but hers is a small voice). Mulcair and Trudeau are both trapped in the business of scoring points on the 24-hour news cycle. That's Harper's rink, where he stickhandles around them handily. As long as the focus is on the here and now, yesterday's dirty tricks are forgotten.
Harper has given them lots to work with:

It has always baffled me, given the richness of the material, that the opposition leaders didn't do this: keep a crisp little mantra of the Harper record in their coat pocket and recite it every time they speak in order to keep the Harper agenda in view: the electoral fraud, the destruction of environmental and fishery laws, the crippling of the census (done to protect privacy, no less -- no sign of those concerns in the terror bill), the muzzling of scientists, the tax persecution of environmental groups and charities considered unfriendly to Harperism (even a bird-watching group in Ontario that called last summer for a pesticide to be banned had Revenue Canada sicced on them), the veterans, the hundreds of millions of tax dollars wasted to promote the party, the bung-ups in military procurement, the chopping up of the tax system for partisan reasons ...
When are they going to get their act together?

The Harper Regime and the Continuing War on Canadian Veterans

Montreal Simon - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 01:46

The day Stephen Harper finally fired Julian Fantino, and made Erin O'Toole the new Minister of Veterans Affairs, I predicted that nothing would change.

Because the way the Cons have treated our veterans wasn't just a failure to communicate. It was a failure of human decency, and a betrayal of our Canadian values.

And sure enough, I was right. O'Toole turned out to be just another tool of his depraved leader.

And the more things change, the more they stay the same. 
Read more »

José Mujica: The Pauper President Steps Down

Montreal Simon - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 23:17

In a world groaning under the weight of poverty, ignorance, and war, it's hard to imagine how we will ever solve all our problems.

Or even save the planet from destruction.

In a world full of grubby self serving politicians, it's hard to find a political hero.

But I do have one, and his name is José Mujica.
Read more »

Republished: Religion poll is a waste of paper

Terahertz - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 12:20

My second (and last) editorial in The Gateway while at the University of Alberta, salvaged via the Web Archive. The paper had a policy where writers were forbidden from submitting letters or opinion pieces if they were the subject of the news due to perceived conflicts of interest. I called them out at the time for the absurdity of such a policy.

Religion poll a waste of paper

Originally published in The Gateway, 9th October 2008

There’s an election going on at the moment. No—not the Obama/McCain one, and not even the Canadian one that you probably know less about, but affects you more. This one went on with almost no warning and, in the end, will have no positive effect at all.

Perhaps by now you’ve seen a certain campus group’s posters asking you to vote on whether you believe in God. By setting up a booth in CAB, and later SUB, they hope to accomplish what the SU has failed at for far too long—getting students to vote. However, one must immediately question several things regarding this concept.

Firstly, you have to ponder the purpose of performing a poll like this yourself instead of hiring a polling company. You would think that a statistically significant poll would be more valuable—but perhaps empirical evidence is a bit too foreign to some believers.

If you want a hint at their results, see if they line up with a Canada Press poll from this past year that found that 23 per cent of Canadians don’t believe in a God, and 36 per cent of Canadians under 25 were non-believers. In a university campus environment, the latter group is quite prevalent.

Next, with polls like these, one has to wonder how the terms have been defined. It’s unclear what they’re talking about when they mention “God.”

Traditionally, big-G God refers to that guy-in-the-sky that Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe in. But some people believe that there’s some universal spirit or force running through the universe, and they call that god.

Others believe in a deity that started the universe and let it go like a wind-up watch. So what definition are they going with?

Then there’s the strangeness of hinging the metaphysical existence of anything on popularity. Humans often believe pretty crazy things. For example, people have believed the earth was the back of a turtle, while others believed that the Milky Way was fluid squirted from a goddess’s breast. So to run a mock election on belief in God makes me wonder what they hope to prove.

There are a countless number of things that the majority of humanity has previously believed without any empirical evidence that later turned out to be false—the earth being flat, the earth being the centre of the universe, the sun being the centre of the universe, humans being utterly disconnected from the rest of the animal kingdom, the existence of witches, and that masturbation will cause hairy palms.

So to ask whether the majority believes in a supernatural being doesn’t lend anything to its existence—we may as well ask if people believe in the Higgs boson. Without doing actual science, we’ll never know an answer about either.

Some will claim that science can’t know everything, and that God can’t be found in a test tube. Well, he can’t be found in a student group-sponsored poll either. And rather than getting their group more believers, they may inadvertently expose how many unbelievers there are on this campus.

Alberta is often seen as the most conservative Christian province in Canada, and election day will demonstrate why. However, when the 2001 census shows that upwards of 25 per cent of Albertans claim “no religion,” second only to British Columbia, there’s clearly more going on than meets the eye.

So take charge, fellow heathens, heretics, humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and skeptics: you are not alone.

Republished: There’s no ‘God’ in graduation

Terahertz - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 11:31

This was the first article I wrote for a student newspaper and in a way it’s somewhat historic. In 2008, the University of Alberta Atheists & Agnostics started campaigning for a secular convocation charge. When our initial request was ignored, I raised the issue with the student newspaper, The Gateway, and they recommend I write an editorial to push the story forward. This is that editorial.

There’s no ‘God’ in graduation

Originally published in The Gateway, 16th September 2008

Upon the gruelling end of a 4-5-6 or even 7 year journey, students embark across a stage for the chance to experience their high school graduation on steroids. This event is known as convocation, and despite the movement toward inclusiveness and tolerance, this is one stage that keeps the flame of intolerance burning bright.

When new graduates cross the stage at their convocation, they are presented with a charge by the University’s Chancellor. He issues an Admission where he states: “I charge you to use them [the powers, rights, and privileges of University degrees] for the glory of God.” It is commonly understood that big-G God here is some variant of the monotheistic Abrahamic God (or the one Jews, Christians and Muslims live in fear of).

A recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey suggests that around 36% of Canadians under 25 do not believe in a god. This means that when the Chancellor issues his charge, he is denying the existence of students who disagree with the idea of living in fear of a deity. He also offends the sense of the majority who believe that a public institution should have no stance on religious issues. This is the idea of separation of church and state, or secularism, that founded the United States, but is exemplified by Canada’s modern governments.

Upon hearing about this issue from several of its members, the University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics drafted a letter which was sent to the President’s Office on July 14. Hope for a quick move to inclusiveness was dashed when nearly a month later we received a brief response stating their office had heard of the issue earlier and decided against doing anything. We were disappointed to hear that this University wishes to remain in its dark-aged roots, however, seeing as we received no reason for their decision not to change the charge, we requested the minutes from the meeting where they decided this. Continuing to drag its feet, the President’s Office has decided this is an issue that requires a FOIPP request.

Now, almost two month’s after the UAAA made a request to make our convocation more tolerant of the diversity of all students, we still don’t have an official reason why the President’s Office won’t respect our wishes. We also have over a hundred signatures of students who are outraged by this break in secular values and the separation of church and state. Finally, we have a Facebook group for people to get more information about this issue. We have had tremendous support not just from atheists and humanists but from students, alumni, and faculty of diverse backgrounds, including people who deeply believe in God but who support the separation of Church and state and recognize that this is a public, not private, university.

This push is also not without precedence. The University of Calgary’s admission is to grant degrees to those who have "earned" them and give them the "rights and privileges, powers and responsibilities pertaining to those degrees."  The University of Toronto secularized its convocation several years ago as well. Cleary the U of A can look to be as progressive as the U of T and U of C.

Many will assume this is a frivolous attempt to push militant atheism. However, we are not requesting the charge to say "use your glory to disprove god and vilify religion", we just want to feel welcome in a ceremony we have all equally earned. Further, members of our group do not wish to define "god" in some way that it makes them happy as some would suggest. We do not arbitrarily interpret words differently to get through the day. Interpreting an F on your transcript as "Fantastic" doesn’t make it so. The University’s charge comes from the charge from Oxford University, which has a clearly Christian foundation.

It shouldn’t be unreasonable for a group of students who pay upwards of $25,000 to get a degree to ask to be included in a celebration of their achievements. The President’s disregard for our wishes is abhorrent and intolerant.  We stand united for a secular convocation at the University of Alberta.

By the end of the school year, we’d managed to win a concession from the university and the convocation charge was changed.

Conservative Does Not Think Conservatives Deserve Majority (Wait til you find out who)

Dammit Janet - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 11:30
Putting this here for people who do not do the Twitter thing or who may have missed it.

Connie Fournier (yes, that Connie Fournier) writes:

Canadian conservatives don't deserve to have a majority government.

There. I said it. I haven't given up on conservatism. Actually, quite the opposite. I have just come to the conclusion that it is not in the interest of conservatism (or liberty or democracy, for that matter) for the Conservative Party to remain in power.
She goes on to excoriate -- very capably but from a conservative's point of view -- this government's abuse of privacy, freedom, and democracy focussing on the Jihadis Under Every Bed Bill, aka Bill C51.

Fourth-last paragraph:
It is obvious that we, as a political movement, do not have the maturity at this time to handle the unlimited power of a majority government. When we, as citizens, are left depending on the NDP and the Green Party to try to stop the Conservatives from stripping us of our rights, it is very, very wrong.
Go read the whole thing.

So, Connie, I guess we can expect to see you at upcoming anti-C51 rallies, eh?

Even Conrad Black Can't Stomach Bill C-51

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 10:47

He knows a thing or two about law enforcement, the judicial process and essential liberties.  All that has Conrad Black incensed at Bill C-51 which he sees as a threat to the freedom of the Canadian people.  He doesn't like the place into which he believes Stephen Harper plans to lead the country.

As presented, Bill C-51 makes a Swiss cheese out of due process, and the three national political parties have approached the problem from distinctly different angles. The government have swaddled themselves in Stephen Harper’s default-toga of protecting the public, aspersing civil liberties concerns, and uttering tired pieties that “the law enforcement agencies are on our side,” presumably referring to their objectives rather than their political preferences. It is easy to be cynical about this and resignedly conclude that Vic Toews and Julian Fantino ride again (itself a terrorizing thought, and thought-terror is assumedly covered in the vast sweep of this bill). The government is responsible for preventing terrorist outrages from happening and it has to be given some licence to protect the country and everyone in it. But it is hard to be overly sanguine about the medieval antics of the government that took the giant leap backwards that was the omnibus crime bill. Nor is it reassuring that Mr. Harper, as is his frequent custom, is imposing a shortened debate on Parliament.

...We have ample proof, from the McDonald Commission’s 1981 report and elsewhere, that the law enforcement agencies in this country, as in others, are capable of outrageous and unfathomably stupid abuses, and anyone who has had anything to do with any arm of the law knows it (although most people in these occupations are reasonably dedicated and honest). Definitions have to be tightened; oversight has to be stringent and prompt and answerable to parliament, and we should be careful of too much reciprocity with foreign governments. Only 10 or 12 other countries have as much respect for human liberties as Canada does and must retain; the United States, with its 99.5% conviction rate and stacked rules — a criminal justice system that is just a conveyer-belt to its bloated and corrupt prison industry — is not one of them. If we go to sleep in Canada, we will wake up in an unrecognizable despotism, like Argentina, Turkey, or Louisiana.

Republished: The Christians are coming!

Terahertz - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 10:27

Another old article, this one a review of Marci McDonald’s 2010 expose on the influence of the Christian Right in Canadian politics. Still relevant given that Harper has since gained his majority government and faces another election in October.

The Christians are coming!

Originally published in The Peak, 31st May 2010

He shall have dominion also from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.
Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him,
And His enemies will lick the dust.

Psalm 72: 8-9

From this passage, Marci McDonald begins her argument in The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada that a Christian Dominionist movement has been growing in Canada. She purports to show how this Northern Christian Right has subtly gained an alarming amount of influence in the government in a short span of time.

In the first chapter, McDonald outlines Stephen Harper’s personal religious history, a taboo in the media. After moving to Calgary and joining Preston Manning’s Reform Party, Harper became a born-again Christian. Harper, unlike Manning and his ilk, preferred keeping his faith and politics separate. McDonald notes that it was only later when, as leader of the new Conservative Party, Harper reached out to other evangelicals.

McDonald has some difficulty measuring the level of influence the Christian Right has had on the Harper government. Few socially conservative policy changes have passed. Those that have passed have generally disappointed the very factions McDonald seeks to expose. Harper has repeatedly turned away from the abortion debate. Upon winning his first minority government, he quickly held his promised free vote on same-sex marriage – earlier than many evangelicals had wanted, as it provided them less time to mount a defence. Similarly, by breaking his fixed-election date law in 2008, Harper killed several of his caucus’ private members bills, including an unborn victims’ bill that was called the “first winnable abortion bill” in years.

However, McDonald does point out that perhaps Harper’s greatest success has been in his “incremental” changes, evidenced by his numerous appointments of partisans and born-agains to the courts, the senate, and the civil service. Within the Prime Minister’s Office, Harper counts many evangelical leaders, including the former leader of Focus on the Family Canada, Darrell Reid.

Similarly, Harper has been able to make many changes by the mere stroke of a pen. Harper cut funds to Status of Women Canada and KAIROS, a social justice charity that apparently represented the wrong-type of Christian – a charge levelled against McDonald herself. He has also provided tens of millions of stimulus dollars to Bible colleges and has cut funding to abortions provided as foreign aid.

McDonald also briefly discusses the so-called “Christian Left,” which included Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian medicare. She points out how both former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and the late NDP leader Jack Layton reached out to various faith communities through acts like the revival of the NDP Faith and Social Justice committee.

The Armageddon Factor is an enlightening read, regardless of one’s personal views, but the book strays from objectivity enough that it reads as a bit more than just a who’s who of the Christian Right. I had initially hoped that it could have let the subjects speak for themselves, like the documentary Jesus Camp.

Regardless, the book does shed light on what has been taking place in the dark. No democracy is served by secrecy and backroom lobbying. At the very least, this book will hopefully force Canadians to decide what kind of country we want this to be, because if we do not, there are those who have a scripturally-inspired version of what they think it should be.

"He's Acting Like Someone Who Has Nothing to Lose"

The Disaffected Lib - Sat, 02/28/2015 - 10:27

The editorial board of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz looks at the country's prime minister and sees a one-man wrecking ball winging his way to Washington.  The paper concludes that Israel badly needs a new prime minister.

On the eve of Israel’s election, Netanyahu is insisting on damaging Israel’s most important relationship. His grip on power is shaky, and he’s acting like someone who has nothing to lose.

Instead of respecting the American president and refraining from intervention in his domestic and foreign policy, Netanyahu is insisting on embarrassing Barack Obama in his home court. He will challenge Obama on Capitol Hill and urge the president’s political opponents to disrupt his diplomacy with Iran, just so that he can portray himself as the “savior of the nation” back home and please his master, American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, an avid supporter of both Netanyahu and the Republicans.

...This flawed judgment, which betrays the trust the public reposed in him as a leader and a statesman, bolsters the need to elect a different prime minister. And one of that premier’s first tasks will be to fix what Netanyahu has destroyed.

The past few weeks haven't been kind to Netanyahu.  He's been exposed as a calculating, serial liar and a chronic manipulator.  Video has also emerged of Netanyahu telling friends that he'll commit to agreements like the Oslo Accord without the slightest intention of honouring them.  It's no wonder his last friend on Earth is Stephen Harper.


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