Thursday, 31 January 2008

Actually Not - Al Gore

Click image to enlarge

Today’s editorial cartoon in the Ottawa Citizen may not have been intended to be taken seriously but only meant as a lighthearted comment on the current "cold spell" but it still reinforces the stereotype that there is a good side to global warming.

The truth is global warming is ruining Canadian winters. I grew up in Northern Ontario. I know what a Canadian winter is supposed to be like - cold with lots of snow. It only became abnormally cold when it hit 40 below and then you just added more layers and went out to play.

The fact is global warming is wreaking havoc with our winters, ruining our fun and costing us money and lives. Recent years have seen a change from winters of primarily cold and snow to a predominance of up and down temperatures, with rain and freezing rain and drizzle rather than snow. I remember a couple of years in a row when almost every week early in the week we would get nice snowfalls and look forward to a weekend of cross-country skiing only to have it rain on Friday ruining the weekend.

But the excessive amounts of rain and freezing rain due to global warming not only ruins our fun but costs us money and lives. These conditions require the use of much more road salt that we pay for once as taxpayers and a second time as drivers as our cars rust out faster. It also costs us in automobile damages as accident rates increase, not to mention the injuries and lives lost from those accidents.

And, of course, growing up in Northern Ontario before global warming we never had “ice storms” that are becoming much more frequent with economic costs and more lost lives.

There is no good side to global warming. Al Gore would not be amused.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Are Americans Ready to Make History

John Edwards departure from the Democratic Party race means that Americans will have to make history and elect the first black man or the first white woman as President if a Democrat is to become President. Are they ready for that.

The other question is whether the front runners, now even more focussed on each other, are going to fight the Republican Party's campaign for them. Certainly if I was running the Republican election machine I would already be preparing to use the losing Democrat's words against the winning one. I foresee a whole series of Republican Party ads featuring Clinton or Obama telling the American people why the other Democrat is not fit to be President.

It's the American system and after studying Political Science and working for the House of Commons for over thirty years I still do not really understand it, though I do enjoy watching it from a distance.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Cult of Personality Without The Personality

A cult of personality or personality cult arises when a country's leader uses mass media to create a larger-than-life public image through unquestioning flattery and praise. Cults of personality are often found in dictatorships but can be found in some democracies as well.

A cult of personality is similar to general hero worship except that it is specifically built around political leaders. However, the term may be applied by analogy to refer to adulation of non-political leaders.
I have been in the government and opposition lobbies of the House of Commons a few times, all prior to the Harper government, and while I do recall seeing portraits and photographs of politicians, including the party leaders of the time as well as former Prime Ministers, they were all of a more formal or historical nature and did not dominate the walls. It was certainly nothing like the description provided by Elizabeth May, which strike me as being campaign type photos.
What may have been the most fascinating part of the afternoon was my time in the Government Lobby. Behind the curtains that run along the last row of benches on both sides of the House, are doors to long skinny living room areas. One is called the Opposition Lobby; the other the Government Lobby. In my pre-Green Party leader life, I have spent a lot of time in both. The Government Lobby was a frequent work space when I was Senior Policy Advisor to the federal Minister of Environment back in the mid-1980s. And I frequented both lobbies when I was with Sierra Club of Canada from 1987-2006. It did not strike me until I walked into the Government Lobby to await my turn as Speaker that I had not been in there since Stephen Harper became Prime Minister.

It used to have some paintings on the wall. Past prime ministers, certainly a formal portrait of the Queen. Landscapes. I know there was the occasional photo of current Prime Ministers, but when I walked in this time, I felt chilled to the bone. Every available wall space had a large colour photo of Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper at Alert. Stephen Harper in fire fighter gear. Stephen Harper at his desk. Stephen Harper meeting the Dalai Lama. Even the photo of the Queen showed her in the company of Stephen Harper. None were great photos. None were more than enlarged snapshots in colour. They didn’t feel like art.
This is, of course, “Canada’s New Government” led by the new Conservative Party without a past.

This is the government that decided using Canada’s official colours of red and white on the government websites just had to go because red is also the colour of the Liberal Party. So now we have blue dominated government websites, because blue is the colour of the Conservative Party. If only it was just a symbolic change, but we see so many examples off the new Conservative government’s attempt to politicize the Public Service, as well as independent public agencies.

This is also the government that wants to control how the press does it’s job covering the government and its actions and in particular Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This is a party without a past, or at least with a past that it does not want to remind people of. It certainly does not want people to be reminded of it’s extreme right wing roots in the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance, and at the same time it does not want to be associated with those “progressive” elements in the old Progressive Conservative Party. In fact better not to have people think about party at all, but rather about a strong charismatic leader.

Stephen Harper is no Pierre Trudeau, and neither is he a John Diefenbaker. So what to do when you do not have a strong charismatic leader. How do you build a cult of personality without a personality. Images. But why the government lobby of the House of Commons when only insiders will see the images. The press of, course, also gets to see them but they apparently did not notice until it was drawn to their attention by Elizabeth May. Is support for Stephen Harper so wishy washy within his own party that they need to inundate Conservative Members of Parliament with photos of “The Leader”.

Perhaps it is all innocent and they are simply using caucus members as a “focus group” for the next election’s campaign images.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Sick and Comfortable

Do you ever have one of those days you feel so sick and miserable you just call in sick, spend the day in your warm bed in your nice warm house and just wait till you feel better. Whenever I feel like that I feel so thankful that I can do that. Most people in the world do not live in modern industrialized countries with so very comfortable living conditions and the ability to take time off work when they are sick. Most people live in much harsher living conditions than we do and have to continue with the drudgery of life no matter how sick they feel, unless of course their illness makes them physically unable to continue to function, in which case they usually end up in even worse poverty than their normal poor living conditions. Sometimes I am just thankful that I can be "sick and comfortable".

Friday, 25 January 2008

Global Warming and Common Sense

At a time when the climate is changing, in large part because of excessive and wasteful use of energy, why would anyone want to do this, when they could use this.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

My Scanning Project Progresses

My scanning project is progressing. I have scanned over 500 slides so far. These photos, taken with my Konica Autoreflex T3, are also from the Gatineau Park. They were taken in September 1978, almost exactly a year later than the last posted images.

Click on the photos to see larger images.











Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The Contradictions of Religion and Religious Tolerance

One can understand the birth of religion at a time before the age of reason and science, when people were looking for simple explanations of the world around them. The biggest contradiction of religion is why it has remained so dominant in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries when we actually understand the origin of the universe and how man evolved.

Of course the answer is simple. Religious belief defies logic because it excludes logic. Religion does not try to convince you that god exists based on science or logic. In fact religion suspends logic and science and asks you to believe on the basis of faith - to just decide to believe.

So how do people choose a religion. In most cases they do not actually choose, they inherit their religion from their parents or the cultural community they live in. And how do they decide what to believe. Again they do not decide, they are told what to believe by religious leaders, who follow teachings developed thousands of years ago and passed on or modified dependent on the intricacies of the politics of their particular religion. In the cases of some newer religions the “theology” is simply the figment of the imagination of a charismatic leader.

The next big contradiction of religion is it’s responsibility for good and evil. I do not need to go through the history of religion to point out the evil done in it’s name by believers, except to point out that most genocides are justified by religious beliefs, as interpreted by the religious leaders of the time.

But, on the other hand, much good has been done by religious people, from the abolitionists movement and the underground railroad to Canadian medicare, made possible by a Baptist minister from Saskatchewan. And indeed many good people credit their “goodness” to their religious beliefs.

But reason tells us that one can be a good person without religion. What religion enables, is good people to do evil things because they have been convinced, usually by charismatic leaders, that it is the will of god. There is no greater evil than good people doing evil things because god told them to.

The latest contradiction with religion is the development of the concept of religious tolerance. Religious tolerance teaches that other people are not unworthy or evil because they belong to the wrong religion. Religious tolerance removes the justification for evil, such as genocides, perpetrated in the name of god.

But religion is supposedly based on the true word of god. How can there be more than one true word of god. There cannot. And the acceptance of religious tolerance is an unstated acceptance that religion is man-made, not god-made.

I have no problem with religions as communities of fellowship with sets of rules to life by and rituals that celebrates the stages of ones life. Just do not try and tell me it is all based on the word of a non-existent god.

I am all for religious tolerance because it can help to end the evil done in the name of religion as well as make the true nature of religion as something man-made not god-made, finally evident to all “true believers” everywhere.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Phasing Out Tobacco

A United States Senator has an interesting idea.

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., has proposed a tobacco-control plan that cuts to the chase and simply orders companies to get fewer people to smoke. With roots in the regulation of power plant emissions and the educational reform act known as No Child Left Behind, Enzi's idea is that government would set performance goals for tobacco companies to meet. Instead of conventional "command and control" regulation -- in which government regulators tell people what to do -- under "outcome-based regulation," government tells them what to achieve.

How would tobacco firms comply? They could raise prices, promote cessation aids, sell nontobacco competitive products or innovate in ways we can't imagine. What to do and how to do it is their decision to make.

Under the senator's plan, tobacco companies would be required to reduce their U.S. customer base by approximately 90 percent over two decades. At the end of that period, our country could be down to an incredibly low smoking rate of about 2 percent, an ambitious target. Companies that failed to meet performance goals would face whopping financial penalties, making it fiscally more attractive for them to lose smokers than to gain new ones.
So is this feasible and how would it be done.

The tobacco industry is very much like the oil and gas industry - it is a dying industry with an addicted customer base that will pay almost anything for the product. In both cases, one for environmental and the other for health reasons, they know they have to phase themselves out. The oil and gas industry also knows it has a limited supply of resources. Virtually every oil and gas company has established an alternative and renewable energy component to eventually replace it’s fossil fuel production, in large part from the revenues from higher gasoline prices that they know their automobile dependant customer base will pay no matter what..

The tobacco industry should do what the oil and gas industry has done - not react to it’s decline but be “pro-active” and plan for it.

The tobacco industry could use additional profits from higher prices that it knows it’s addicted customers will pay to move into moral alternatives to tobacco production and sales. Higher prices will deter new customers which will help it achieve its mandated goal, not to mention the fact that enticing people to become addicted to tobacco is about as immoral as you can get.

Governments should immediately remove tobacco taxation from the general revenue stream (Consolidated Revenue Fund) so as not to be dependent on a tax base that it is attempting to phase out. The funds could be dedicated to a fund to pay for tobacco related health costs that will eventually decline over time. Some of it could also go into incentive payments to tobacco companies that lower their sales faster than the mandated targets.

This would all be in addition to government regulations prohibiting cigarette advertising, sales to minors and smoking in public.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Multiculturalism and Reasonable Accommodation - It’s as Canadian as a Kilt or a Hijab

When you invite friends over do you ever serve food that their religion forbids them to eat. If you go to a wedding of someone of another faith do suggest they should be married in a “Canadian” church. If neighbours invite you to a cultural celebration do you complain about their foreign customs. Of course not, because that would be impolite and certainly not the Canadian way. That is essentially the spirit of “reasonable accommodation” practiced at the personal level.

So why does something that is so natural on a personal level become so controversial on a societal level.

Recent census results indicate that currently there are just over one million aboriginal people in this country. The rest of us are immigrants, or descendants of immigrants. We come from all over the world and we are what makes Canada the wonderful country that it is.

Certainly, due to history, certain groups have become more dominant and certain customs more ingrained in our way of life than others. For example we have a government based on the British Parliamentary system and Christian religious holidays enshrined in statute law. But we are also strengthened by adding the customs of newer Canadian to our way of life.

Canada is a multicultural country that is only strengthened by the many customs and cultures of the people that immigrated to this country to become Canadians. Multiculturalism means that not only do we allow immigrant groups to maintain their customs but also share them with them.

So what is “reasonable accommodation”. Leonard Stern, writing in The Ottawa Citizen, said it best:

Ode to a sales clerk

Friday, 18 January 2008

Celebrity Success Stories

Well I have been skimming through my wife's People Magazine for the latest news, The big success story seems to be about how a celebrity couple has been able to stay together for so long - "How They Make It Work", a whole year. Another sucess story is of celebrity married couple expecting their first child. File under celebrity oddities for having the marriage before the baby. And the last story is the big news that a certain celebrity wants to lose a whopping five pounds, yes count them, 1,2,3,4,5 pounds. Since when is losing 5 pounds, nevermind wanting to lose 5 pounds, news - only in Celebrityland. Or maybe it was just a slow news week - not enough people checking into, or running away from, rehab this week.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The Two Issues in the Chalk River Nuclear Safety/Radioisotopes Affair

Stephen Harper is starting to remind me of Larry O’Brien. They both seem to have no concept of the role of government and public policy beyond the Do What I Say I’m the Boss School of Leadership.

There are two issues involved in the Chalk River nuclear safety/radioisotopes affair.

The second issue is whether Parliament should have passed legislation requiring restarting of the reactor. What Parliament essentially said was that the shortage of radioisotopes justified lowering the normal safety standards for the reactor. It is Parliament’s role to balance competing interests. While many of us disagreed with the legislation, it was within Parliaments role.

The first issue is whether the government should have attempted to influence and intimidate Linda Keen and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission into not doing their job and then fire her for doing her job.

The government claims she was fired for lack of leadership. If Linda Keen has demonstrated anything it is leadership. The government may not have like the leadership she provided but it is ludicrous to suggest she did not provide leadership.

It is the role of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to set and enforce safety standards in the nuclear industry. That is what they did in the case of the Chalk River reactor. When Atomic Energy of Canada Limited failed to do required safety upgrades the Commission it did it’s job and ordered the reactor shut down. It is not the role of the Commission to let outside factors or interests influence it’s decisions. Indeed it would be derelict in it’s duty if it let outside interests, or political intimidation, influence it’s decision-making.

If anyone lacks leadership it is Stephen Harper who does not understand the difference between leadership and intimidation.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

ELECTION NOW !

It is time for the opposition parties to force an election, and to force the election on the Tory government’s favourite topic - “public safety”. When the Tories talk about “public safety” they are usually talking about crime and what the government has done is indeed a crime against the Canadian people.

It is time for the opposition parties to move, at the first possible opportunity (next available opposition motion day), the following motion:

Whereas the government has:

shown it’s disregard for the safety of Canadians;

disregarded the independence of an arm-length regulatory agency charged with protecting the safety of Canadians;

attempted to intimidate the head of the independent agency to have the agency ignore it’s legislated responsibility to protect Canadians safety;

introduced and passed legislation placing Canadians safety at risk;

put the economic interests of a private corporation before the safety of Canadians;

showed disrespect to a Parliamentary Committee by acting on an issue prior to it’s study by the Committee and interfered with the independence of the Committee by firing the head of an independent regulatory agency immediately prior to her testimony before the Parliamentary Committee;

eliminated the independence of the regulatory agency by putting it under the direct control of the government via an Assistant Deputy Minister;

Be it resolved that this House has lost confidence in the government.
We can only hope that the opposition parties will not let their complicity with the government’s actions prevent them from doing the right thing for the Canadian people.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Starting A New Project

Today I started scanning and uploading my collection of almost 4,000 slides. The photos below were taken in the Gatineau Park in September, 1977. These are some of the first photos taken with my first real single lens reflex camera, a Konica Autoreflex T3.

Click on the photos to see larger images.





Monday, 14 January 2008

Osama and Katrina as Agents of God

Well, I’ve been doing it again - channel flipping and stopping on the religion channel (VisionTV). Last evening I heard a preacher going on about how Hurricane Katrina and terrorist attacks are god’s punishment for the United States godlessness:

Will the United States continue to experience more Katrina-like hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Will we continue to experience the attacks of terrorism. My friends, history in the Bible has demonstrated over and over that when nations reject the god of creation they will be judged.
At the end of the show I was directed to the website for Tomorrow's World - Magazine and Television program. And what did I find there.

Highlighted at the top of the page was an article entitled: The Plain Truth About Homosexuality. I will not repeat it here except for a short excerpt that struck me as “amusing”.
What do they seek to accomplish? Jesus Christ said, "You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16). What are the actual "fruits"—the results—of the homosexual lifestyle?
Trust me the rest of the article is not amusing, but filled with pseudo science and pure and utter hate propaganda.

There is more interesting stuff to be found on this website, such as references to the mainstream churches this organization shares the channel with:
Martin Luther's earliest New Testament translations include many illustrations picturing the "Whore of Babylon" as the Roman Catholic Church. Describing this widely understood interpretation, Roland Bainton tells us: "Fallen Babylon is plainly Rome" (Here I Stand, p. 258).

Countless Protestant books, pamphlets, and tracts make that same identification today. They brand the Roman Catholic Church as the "great Whore" of Revelation 17.

But, it must be admitted, most Protestant denominational writers have stopped making this identification. After publishing those editions of the Bible, and pamphlets and tracts, they suddenly came to the embarrassing realization that they were telling on themselves!

For the corrupt Roman "mother" church has given birth to harlot daughters! If the clear, consistent principles of scriptural identification are to be honestly applied, the Protestant churches are "harlot daughters" of a paganized, apostate Rome!

They came out of her in protest. But, as we have clearly seen, they retained most of her pagan doctrines and concepts. They are still following Rome's example of mixing in the politics and wars of this world. And we have seen abundant Protestant testimony that they recognize she is their "mother" church!
This program is on Basic Cable. If I want to get basic Canadian Network television as well as Newsworld I have to buy this package and pay for this garbage and this hate.

Why am I forced to pay for the “Superstition Channel” with my Basic Cable, but if I want any of the educational or science channels like Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel or History Channel I have to buy another package.

Does nobody monitor the garbage these religious organizations are promoting. Are there no standards as to who is allowed on the Basic Cable channels that we have to pay for to get Canadian Network television.

I am beginning to think that we really need an investigation into just what is on Vision TV. Even if they keep the worse stuff off the channel and on their websites should these organizations really be given prime space on Basic Cable television.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Yes, It Is True - I Admit It

I do not have a uterus. But, as long as reproduction involves both sexes, men and women will both have a right to express their views on reproductive rights and as long as reproductive rights are a matter of public policy the support of men for the Pro-Choice Movement will be essential.

It is fun to go to war against the other side, but we are never going to win over the “pro-life” activists. The struggle is not won by preaching to the converted, but by reaching out to moderate Canadians, many of whom the other side is also targeting but failing to reach because of the type of tactics and rhetoric that marginalizes them in the minds of moderate Canadians. Many of these people would never consider an abortion for themselves because they consider it to be morally wrong, but they have been convinced by reason that it is wrong to impose their personal views on other women.

Reason is our most effective weapon and it is only weakened by the use of inflammatory rhetoric, no matter how much fun it is to use it.

I have been involved in “the movements”, as well as electoral politics since I was in university. At that time I was heavily involved in student as well as NDP politics. When I moved to Kanata the focus changed to NDP and municipal politics. Then I concentrated heavily on environmental issues, particularly the EMF struggle. After that I took a break from it all and now I am back as an independent progressive commentator.

I intend to continue to call things as I see them and to continue my support for the Pro-Choice movement.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The Ugly Side of Pro-Choice

In yesterdays Fifth Column I made my Pro-Choice position clear. I also made it clear that I deplored the disgusting negative tactics and rhetoric of the so-called “Pro-Life” movement. I believe these tactics have helped marginalize them.

I believe that similar rhetoric, that attempts to trivialize pregnancy and the decision facing women considering an abortion, from those that support the Pro-Choice movement, is just as deplorable and does not help the movement in maintaining credibility and broad public support. What I find to be particularly disgusting is the use of the terms “fetus fetishists” and “fetus fetishizers” and I wish to disassociate myself completely from the use of such terms.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Why I Am Pro-Choice

As a male, whether to have an abortion is a decision that I will never be faced with. It is also a decision that I would hope no one would be faced with.

We do have to recognize that a pregnancy is not trivial. A pregnancy that is not terminated will lead to the birth of a human being. There are indeed moral issues involved in deciding whether to have an abortion. However, a fetus is entirely dependant on the woman carrying it and is virtually a part of her body. I do not believe that I, or society, have a right to take control of a woman’s body and force her to continue a pregnancy that she does not wish to.

That is sufficient enough reason for me to be Pro-Choice, but that is not the only reason I am Pro-Choice. As I said, I hope no one would be faced with the decision as to whether to have an abortion. The so-called “Pro-Life” movement way of dealing with it would eliminate women’s need to make that decision by making it for them. I would prefer to deal with it by supporting measures that prevent the need for the decision to be made, measures such as sex education and birth control that the so-called “Pro-Life” movement opposes. If one wants to reduce the number of abortions it only makes sense to support a movement that supports measures that will do that rather than to support a movement that opposes them.

The other reason I oppose the so-called “Pro-Life” movement is because of it’s horrible tactics, negativity and heartlessness. There is nothing more disgusting to me than to put up signs beside a medical clinic run by a holocaust survivor calling it “Canada’s Auschwitz”. Just as disgusting are the tactics of trying to pass off photographs and videos of late term abortions as being typical of the procedure and screaming “please don’t kill your baby” at women who are facing the most difficult decision of their life and calling it “counseling”. How could any caring person be on the same side as these people.

What women facing this decision need is speedy access to counseling and medical help so the decision can be made early in the pregnancy. They need access to information on all the options from carrying and raising a child, to adoption, as well as abortion. We need to provide real counseling options to help women make the right decision for themselves. Screaming at them and trying to take their right to decide away from them is simply unacceptable in a civilized society

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The Border on CBC

I watched the first episode of The Border last night and I was impressed. It was hard to watch because even though you know it’s fictional you know it is also based on reality. The reality in the case of government anti-terrorism activities is that you do not know who the bad guys are. It is hard to cheer for the “good guys” when they may be railroading some innocent Canadian because of ethnicity or religion.

Of course this is television so everything is going to be simplified and exaggerated but nonetheless it was a compelling story with compelling characters. One might question whether the episode’s hero going against his Ottawa bosses was realistic, but then I wake up and read about Linda Keen this morning. These people do exist and they make great real Canadian heroes.

The show ends after vindicating the innocent Canadian by reminding us that real terrorists are out there and we have to fight terrorism while respecting all Canadians civil liberties and human rights.

Now to find out more about the “rogue American agent” in next week’s episode.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Is It Going To Be A Changing Day in Her Life

Is Doctor Phil going to save Britney. Read all about it here and here.

Doctor Phil is on the case. Is he going to save Britney. Of course, Doctor Phil’s usual way of saving people is to tell them to straighten up and then refer them to the “best professional help money can buy”. Apparently embarrassing yourself on network TV is a small price to pay for the kind of help the American health care system only provides to it’s wealthiest citizens.

But, of course, Britney is one of those wealthiest citizens (and apparently loves embarrassing herself in front of the world). Indeed she no doubt has been told to straighten out many times by those that care about her and has had the best professional help money can buy. She has just chosen to ignore them and reject the help provided to her.

But now Doctor Phil is on the case and no doubt he will be asking the hard question about her current lifestyle - “how is that working for you”. Everything else has failed. Perhaps getting counseling where it really counts, on Network TV, will be the solution. Doctor Phil, tell us “it’s going to be a changing day in her life”.