Monday, December 29, 2008

The significance of honour codes

Every time Israel and its enemies go at it, out come the cheerleaders for the combatants.

Generally, I find those that support the Palestinian side are left-leaning liberal types, many of whom are infected with a utopian world-view that posits that all deadly conflicts can be resolved by reasonable people sitting around a table and discussing their differences with a view to honestly trying to resolve them.

Not in their universe are notions of the overweening power of emotions, history, tribalism, clan claims, or religion. Since these people eschew power relationships, it does not register with them that many people in the world view well-meaning attempts at amelioration, negotiation and compromise as weakness – weakness that is not to be rewarded by concessions but by ruthless exploitation.

One of the more interesting books I have read this Christmas holiday is The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. He reviews the popular concept of people succeeding in life by dint of simply working hard and being smart. He demonstrates that there are many external factors that will determine the chances for success that are not controllable and have little to do with individual effort.

In one chapter he discusses the famous family feuds that left a bloody history in the Appalachian mountain region of the United States throughout most of the 19th century and well into the early 20th. He attributes these to the region of the world from which the immigrants who settled Appalachia derived. For the most part they were Scotch-Irish and they came from a culture that for centuries lived by clan codes of honour. Personal insults to these people required acts of revenge, including murder.

He says that modern psychological studies carried out in universities confirm the idea that honour codes are nearly genetic for such people, even today. The point of this chapter was to show how legacy codes, at buried emotional levels, can still impact our behaviours. And this is amongst the rational, reasonable people of North America.

When I read this I reflected on my own life. Like anybody else, I have been subjected to my share of insults from other people. Generally, I am a pretty level-headed sort of fellow. I have been accused of being naïve or of advancing stupid ideas, and a host of other unpleasant things, even being called a racist. But the only one that I was never able to simply laugh off was an insult that impugned my integrity – like one that stated or implied I am a liar, or less than an honourable person. Such an accusation causes me to immediately feel enormous waves of anger. I nearly lost a job because of this reaction.

One of my sons was getting into a lot of fights with other students during his high school years. He would go off the school grounds at lunchtime and square off with somebody, while his classmates egged him on. He won all these fights. I became concerned when I learned about it and had discussions with him to try to persuade him to desist. What I found was perceived honour code violations led him to combat. Worse, he would challenge people who impugned the integrity of his friends.

Gladwell’s stuff made sense to me, because on my father’s side, I am of Scotch-Irish ancestry. My grandfather immigrated to Canada from Belfast.

How does this relate to Israel versus the Arabs?

The Jews are normally considered to be a rational and reasonable people. Much of our modern western culture is derived from Jewish precepts, both moral and legal.

So when Israelis go to war, a certain part of our society thinks that they are acting immorally, that they are betraying the liberal ethos. The reality is that the Israelis are facing enemies comprised of tribal people who live by honour codes and for whom anything insulting requires retaliation. When you add in the notion that power is respected and conciliation is not, and top that off with the religious ideas that the land belongs to the people of one religion and not the other, one can easily see that the conditions for reasonable negotiation of differences simply do not exist.

Israel understands their enemies even if the rest of the world doesn’t.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

One wonders how long it will be before Hezbollah starts mixing it up with Israel. The last dustup with Hamas brought the Lebanon-based “Party of God” into the war within a week. Since the last fight, Hezbollah has been re-building its rocket potential.

Iran pulls the strings for both Hamas and Hezbollah and there is a political power struggle underway in that country. I cannot see it being to the political advantage of the current Iranian president not to unleash Hezbollah on Israel. Iranian clerics have already declared acts of violence against Israel by Muslims to be martyrdom for those who die in the service of Allah.

I always find it interesting how the people in the streets of cities far from the conflict react. Despite the ongoing intentional provocation of Israel by those who would see the Jewish state destroyed, there are never any street protests. It is only when Israel fights back that we see such moral outrage demonstrated by street marches.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The hand of God

I love these kinds of stories. They are the myth-builders and they never seem to get old.

It happens that this much Catholic-praying 55-year old woman got lost in a blizzard and was out in a snowy field in extreme cold for a good period of time. She was found in the nick of time suffering from hypothermia and frostbite, just when everybody expected her to be dead. Well, the explanation given for this is that "God reached down and cradled her."

Nowhere does anyone question why a devout God-fearing woman would have been allowed by such a loving deity to find herself in extremis in the first place. God always seems to be there to rescue someone but is peculiarly absent when the peril presents itself. What a guy!

He should write a book about it. Oh, yeah, I forgot, God doesn't write books.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

God doesn't write books

Boy, that says it all.

Whether you believe in the existence of a deity or not, those who claim some book or other is inspired by or dictated by "he who cannot be seen", to borrow a J. K. Rowling conceit, have a large mountain to climb.

Biblical reseach has cast a serious doubt on whether some itinerant preacher in the Middle East, named Jesus, actually existed. The sources outside the Gospels are scant and the stories of the Gospel, written well after the death of this person, are too cutely arranged to make it appear that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah of the Jews. Too convenient to be merely coincidental.

The existence of Abraham, the father of the three Abrahamic religions is also not a matter of clear existential record. His existence is only found in proseltysing religious texts.

Finally, we have no less than a respected (soon to be reviled and perhaps condemned to death) Islamic scholar questioning the existence of Mohammed. He doesn't deny the existence of a deity, but his comment that "God doesn't write books" should be enshrined as the most notable quote of 2008.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fed up with racism against white males

In my last two postings I lambasted a Toronto Sun editor for trashing white males. Now I see that a senior editor of the The Toronto Star has joined the chorus. Apparently, there is a problem with white males picking the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. There is no explanation of why this is a problem. The writer simply assumes that we all understand it. In short, the mindset of these senior, mainstream and influential journalists is that white males cannot make appropriate political decisions and that their readers buy into that. I wonder what they would have to say if I wrote that it was inappropriate that the leader was picked by, say, black males or by Jews? You could bet there would be outrage. But it is always open season on white males.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In defense of young white men

Here's a thought for Lorrie Goldstein, the journalist who was the subject of yesterdays posting for his trashing of older white male politicos. The discrimination against white males starts early in Canada.

The student union at Carleton University in Ottawa voted to discontinue a longstanding annual charitable fundraiser for cystic fibrosis because it claimed CF is a disease primarily affecting young white males. They wanted to find a more politically correct ("inclusive") disease to combat. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of discontinuance.

It appears that the information that they acted on might have been incorrect.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In defense of older white guys

There was an opinion piece in The London Free Press by Lorrie Goldstein that I found more than a little annoying. The article is entitled, Grits become party of older white guys.

Goldstein comments on the unusual fact that the three contenders for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada are all white privileged sons of diplomats, two of whom are in their 60s. He mocks the party for its self-advertising as the party of diversity with this lineup.

Talk about identity politics.

First, there are no barriers in our political system for women seeking public office. Many do, and succeed. Women have been leaders of political parties, including the provincial Liberal party, as well as federal parties. Second, the same lack of barriers applies to ethnic minorities and visible minorities; Ujjal Singh Dosnajh has been the premier of arguably Canada's most racist province.

Suggesting that it is inappropriate for the Liberal Party to field only older white guys as the leadership contenders is disrespectful to our history, to our liberal-democracy, and to white males generally.

It is almost like saying white fiction writers cannot speak with black or aboriginal voices in their works because they are not black or natives, an argument that ethnic activists occasionally make.

With respect to visible and ethnic minorities, how does Goldstein think they got to this country in the first place? It was an old white guy named John Diefenbaker and the white MPs from the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada that opened the doors to world-wide immigration to Canada. He was a small town prairie firebrand who probably never saw anything but white faces until he got to Ottawa, but that didn’t prevent him from doing the right thing.

I remember Lincoln Alexander, Ontario’s first black Lieutenant-Governor, once saying that he occasionally had to remind some strident voices in the black community that it wasn’t black people who first voted him into office, it was white people.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Queen's, the university my girlfriend tried to persuade me to go to.

When I went to university in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the Vietnam war was raging, not only in southeast Asia, but in the streets of the cities, dorms and academic halls of educational institutions in North America.

Every campus had its left-wing element opposed to the continuing involvement of the American military in that war and they also had conservative students who supported the U.S. position.

In Canada, or at least, in Ontario, where I went to school, there were a number of newly built universities that had a high faculty ratio of American professors. Some of these were clearly men avoiding the draft. The campus sympathy was mainly against the war and the conservative elements were quietly supportive while the opposing left-wingers were much noisier and visible

I always felt that universities, from the 1960s forward were generally left-wing in their political orientation, from the student body up through the faculty. Very little seems to have changed in that respect in the nearly 40 years that I have been absent from campuses.

But what has changed is that the left-wing folk have abandoned the notion that a university is a dispassionate institution dedicated to the discussion and evaluation of ideas. They have become micro-fascist in their approach to debate and controversy. They would rather shut down or censor opposing points of view than meet them head on in open argument and debate.

We have been witness to Israeli leaders being shut out of speaking engagements, Islamic critics being shouted down by halls packed with Muslim students, pro-life advocates being banned from student events and denied funding from student fees that other advocacy groups obtain.

Given the attitude of revered left-winger icons like Al Gore and David Suzuki who show no shame in attempts to silence those who oppose their environmental opinions, it is not surprising that this tactic has insinuated itself into the politics of our campuses. Censorship decisions by our human rights agencies have also provided fallow ground for the notion that you simply shut up the opponents, or discredit them, rather than out-debate them.

The latest controversy in this field comes to us from a university not otherwise noted for left-leanings, namely, Queens, in Kingston, Ontario. Long considered an establishment bastion, it now appears the university has employed student eavesdroppers, who are paid to insert themselves into conversations between other students “to foster a safe environment in which all students can speak with assurance, and where differences of opinion will be worked through in civil debate”, in the words of Patrick Deane, Vice-Prinicipal, in a letter to alumni. He assures us that “…it is not true that facilitators will in any way seek to censor, censure or discipline their peers.”

This is his justification:

"The Intergroup Dialogue program is not disciplinary but educational in nature, and more than anything else it resembles peer mentoring, long an established part of university life across Canada. It does not exist to force or even encourage consensus on any issue, except one: that freedom of speech and thought is impossible without respect, consideration, and a commitment to mutual understanding. It is difficult to see how we could claim to be educating global leaders if this commitment were not a cornerstone of our institutional life."

Methinks it should be called the Interloper Dialogue program. Has Mr. Deane never heard that eavesdropping is still considered to be bad manners and disrespectful by most of the civilized world?

What defines “respect, consideration and a commitment to mutual understanding”? If two students are sitting around a common room and discussing how the Sharia law discriminates against women, or whether gays should not be married, what does the interloper say to them if he/she is not to impose his or her views or censor their conversation?

Surely, if the intervener is to have any role to play it would be to say that gays deserve equal consideration and that Sharia law is a perfectly respectable body of law for Muslims to follow, or that such subjects should not be discussed because they might be deemed disrespectful.

Once you say anything like that, then you are imposing a view, a politically correct one.

If the role of the interloper is to tell them tone down the conversation because there might be gays or Muslims within earshot, then you are imposing the black specter of censorship.

And as for “mutual understanding”, if ever there were a killer phrase rubbing out good, honest, knock-down debate, this has to be the one. It says be nice, at all costs.

We are told it is all voluntary, so it is okay. This conveniently ignores the fact that these student stooges are paid by the university to “guide” otherwise free conversations amongst other students. I could think of fewer things more disrespectful to the student body than this misguided program.

Mr. Deane says it is a one-year pilot project that will be evaluated for its usefulness.

How will usefulness be measured – by the lack of controversial conversations amongst the students?

When a Queen’s University institutionalizes political correctness in its student body heaven help my grandchildren who have to live under the leaders that come out of this “educational” experience.

Someone should remind Mr. Deane that the main objects of a university education are to instruct students in the skills of critical thinking and to imbue them with a passion for new learning and knowledge. Causing students to be fearful or concerned that their opinions are not meeting some authority’s standard for acceptability is not the path to engender critical thinking.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Religion versus free speech versus the faithful versus free speech

Our good Islamic apologist, Haroon Siddiqui, has penned an ambiguous column in the Toronto Star about free speech versus religion. He says he is agnostic, not in the sense of a person who claims that he does not know whether God exists or not, but in the meaning that he is undecided about whether free speech trumps the sacred when it comes to religion; i.e., whether religion should be off-limits for critical analysis.

He lives in a secular state that nominally stands for free speech. He is most concerned with alleged Islamophobia, being cognizant that free speech advocates are very vocal and visible when it is Islamists that try to shut down free speech, but invisible when it is others attacking Islam.

In the normal course, one would expect this where the majority religion, as in this country, is Christian and the minority religion, by a long shot, is Islam. But he is right on the scales of fairness and justice, this is not right. What is sauce for the goose must also apply to the gander.

What is convoluting the problem, in my view, is that many people (and I think Mr. Siddiqui is one of them) fail to distinguish between a religion and the people who adhere to the religion. Islam is the religion and Muslims are the people who follow the religion.

In our society, you are perfectly free to be a Muslim (however you define Muslimism). Nobody is entitled to criticize you for your choice of belief system, and would be considered a bigot if they did so. But that is not the same as saying that your religion is exempt from scrutiny. I can say anything I like about Islam and you, as a Muslim, have nothing to complain about (at least in Canada). I don’t think that Muslims understand that because it is an axiom of Islam that the religion is beyond criticism.

Likewise, you can criticize religions such as Christianity and Judaism, but you cannot criticize Christians and Jews; i.e., the people who have chosen their paths of belief. This is the problem that the Khalid mosque experienced; it did not criticize Judaism, it attacked Jews.

This is a free country, and that is what it means – you can believe any nonsense that strikes your fancy. It doesn’t mean that the fancy that strikes you is beyond analysis and criticism.

Here is the difficulty: if you say a religion is nuts, then you are, by implication, however unintended, saying a person who believes the dogma of that religion is nuts. The belief system and its tenets are wrapped up in the psyche of the individual believer. They cannot distinguish between an intellectual dissection of their belief system and their own self-worth.

This is the underpinning of the problem with section 13 of the Canada Human Rights Act. Muslims have taken the language that protects them from criticism and attempted to stop criticism of Islam. Neo-Nazis rain contempt on Jews, not on Judaism. Mark Steyn criticizes the political aspect of Islam and its political activists, not Muslims as a whole – there is a difference.

In a rational society dedicated to reason and skeptical argument it should be perfectly acceptable to question a belief system without personalizing it for those who accept it.

We seem to be a long way from being a rational society. But we should not make the mistake that is implicit in the resolutions of the United Nations to make the scrutiny of religion off-limits. I don’t how Mr. Siddiqui could be ambivalent about that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Coming soon to an Ontario neighbourhood near you -- prohibition

The Liberals are at it again, doing what they do best, being the moral arbiters deciding what is in our best interests. They are proposing amendments to the Highway Traffic Act to discriminate further against young drivers.

The drinking age in this province is 19. When I was young, it used to be 21. Then it was amended to 18, but after protests that such an age meant alcohol would show up in high school students, it was bumped to 19.

The new legislation will require, as a condition of holding a driver's license, that there be zero alcohol in the blood stream of any driver under 21 years of age. If you are 21 or older, you can have up to .049 as a level without consequence. This zero tolerance is itself an extension of the rule that has applied since the last age discriminatory amendment when the holder of the first temporary permit was obligated to be alcohol free.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (“MADD”) has been in the forefront of making accidents caused by excessive alcohol use a serious social and legal issue, and it is to be commended for that service.

But now it has turned into the old Women’s Temperance Union, the organization in our great-grandmothers’ days that lobbied furiously to have alcohol declared a prohibited substance. That was the law for a while here and more famously in the United States where it was uniformly ignored and led to the enormous rise of organized criminal associations that plague us to this day.

It will not be very long before MADD, which has been lobbying governments to lower alcohol level thresholds, will convince the government to make zero tolerance the standard for all drivers. In fact, I first heard about the changes on the radio, and the DJ was advocating it be applied to all drivers.

The government constantly justifies its intrusions by reminding us that driving is a privilege not a right. Yet, at the same time, it has overseen and approved the development of an economy that is totally dependent on driving and it is in the business of importing, wholesaling and retailing liquor.

A lot of our economy revolves around the socially accepted practice of drinking alcohol. The Ontario government sold $4.1 billion worth at last count, up about 10% overall. This contributed a net $1.5 billion to Ontario’s public coffers.

Studies have indicated that alcohol stays in the bloodstream for 24 hours.

Zero tolerance will mean no more stopping off at the bar for a drink before heading home, no more after hours business receptions, no more drinking at home and then driving to the mall the next morning, or to church, or to work the next day if you drank at night during the work week, no more dropping or picking the kids up at school, the hockey rink, or playground (take your pick) if you had a drink within the previous 24 hours, and on and on.

That would be a serious intrusion into our lives, and would effectively accomplish through the back door what MADD cannot do through the front door – ban alcohol altogether – or it would have the effect it had in the United States where everybody winked at criminality and scorned the authorities since the government made everybody criminals,

Monday, November 17, 2008

A response to Melanie Phillips and her anti-secularist views

Melanie Phillips is a popular columnist in England's Daily Mail and a blogger in the Spectator. A month ago she wrote a column in the Jewish Chronicle bashing secularists and Richard Dawkins. I have reproduced her column and made my comments in bold italics.

The false faith of scientific reason

Jewish Chronicle, 17 October 2008

It is an article of faith (except, of course, among those who actually have a faith) that the dethronement of God by the apostles of secularism has ushered in an age of reason. Belief in the Almighty is now widely held to be a priori evidence of primitive stupidity.

The age of reason was introduced by two revolutions, the American and the French, more than two centuries ago. The Americans deliberately protected themselves in their constitution from the predatory aspects of religion, having experienced life under a regime with a national religion, and the French revolution was aimed at the church first and foremost, and only secondarily the noble class. Louis XVI might not have lost his head except he was unmasked as being on side with the church. This tells you as much as you need to know about the defenders of the faith as practiced by the elites of the day.

The interesting thing is that the revolutionaries did not necessarily believe there was no God, only that the priest class did not speak for such a being.

None of this “enlightenment” through revolution had very much to do with science; it was political in its nature, aimed at power relationships amongst the people of the nation states. Science benefited from these revolutions, but did not lead them.

The idea that belief in the Almighty is evidence of primitive stupidity is not widely held. Quite the contrary. Considering the nations where the Abrahamic god prevails, the vast majority claim to believe in such a supernatural being.

It is a small, but growing number of people, who believe that there is little or no convincing evidence for a supreme being. In Canada, during the last census, about 16% of the population espoused no religious belief (although that is not the same as denying the existence of a god). Recent surveys have indicated that number is closer to 23% and amongst those under 35, it is about a third of the population. In the United States, those claiming no religion are about 8%.

In fact, we are living in a deeply irrational age, where millions are putting their faith in such mumbo-jumbo as astrology, parapsychology, paganism, witchcraft or conspiracies between sinister groups and extra-terrestrial forces. All of which goes to prove the truth of the old adage that when people stop believing in God, they will believe in anything.

A secularist can make exactly the same argument: “We are now living in a deeply irrational age, where millions are putting their faith in such mumbo-jumbo as an invisible sky god, who knows everything about you and, not only can create and maintain the universe, but has time to answer your individual prayers about your little problems, and who communicates with Earthlings through burning bushes and flapping angels blowing trumpets, provided you are a scientifically ignorant, sandal-wearing desert dweller living in the Bronze Age. Although he/she/it is supposed to be all powerful and all knowing, one of the angels was able to foment a revolution in heaven (wherever that is).”

I could go on for pages about the ridiculous myths and logical contradictions of the Abrahamic religions to prove that belief in them is quite irrational, but I will spare the reader.

The only things in Ms. Philips list that are of fairly recent origin is parapsychology and the belief in extra-terrestrial beings. The rest are as old as the religions themselves, so why does she attribute them to the modern world? One also wonders why a person who believes in miracles (suspension of the laws of physics) and celestial voices giving behavioural instructions would be bashing parapsychology and UFO-ology.

What would be the contradiction between witchcraft and religion that relegates the former to the world of secularism – the history of witchcraft is very much tied to the history of religion. Sarah Palin, recent candidate for the office of vice-president of the United States, a deeply religious person of the Protestant faith, favourably received the prophesies of an African priest who believes in witches.

Nevertheless, the belief has taken hold that religious faith is inimical to reason, as defined and exemplified by the scientific mind. Such belief expresses itself in the near God-like status afforded to Professor Richard Dawkins — the Savonarola of atheism — on the basis of his aggressive contention that evolution accounts for the origin of life, and that anyone who believes the world had a creator and a purpose should be exiled altogether from intelligent discourse.

The secular belief is that religion fails to explain the world as we have come to know it through scientific discovery. It is because of the irreconcilable differences between the two “truths”, one empirically determined and one the subject of unprovable revelation that the doubt about the existence of a supreme being has begun to flourish. Darwin’s evolutionary theory is only part of the argument. And the idea that science now seriously conflicts with scripture predates Dawkins (Scopes Monkey Trial).

Dawkins maintains that when those who adhere to religious explanations speak they have nothing useful to say about science, whereas the reverse is not true. Science has turned it lights on religion and, each and every time it does so, what it discovers makes the rationale for carrying on with religious beliefs more and more dubious. Dawkins does not deny the possibility of a god, just that the probability for his existence is very low.

Interestingly, over the past few months Dawkins has been meeting his match in a remarkable Oxford mathematics professor called John Lennox, who argues for the existence of a creator on the basis of science — and demonstrates that, on his own scientific terms, Dawkins’s arguments fail the test of reason.

Next week, the two of them will slug it out in a debate freighted with historic resonance at Oxford’s Natural History Museum — the very place where, in 1860, Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, tried to pour scorn on Darwin’s Origin of Species, only to be savaged by ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ TH Huxley. I wouldn’t put money on the same outcome this time.

There is a bundle to be had by betting with Philips. Lennox, despite his mathematics background and other academic credentials is, at heart, simply another Jesus loving Bible-thumper. He brings no new light to the argument, despite Ms. Philips sincere marketing efforts. If he did, she would have told us about it. On balance, there is little point in debates between atheists and believers; neither side will persuade the other and the audience hears what it wants to hear. There are no great conversions walking out of a hall after such a debate.

The fact that secularism has taken on the characteristics of religious fanaticism, in espousing dogma inimical to human flourishing and punishing dissenters in order to slam the lid on debate, is explored in a timely monograph by Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, the influential American think-tank.

This institute is a front-line combatant in America’s culture wars, in which it seeks to defend the values of western civilization against the onslaught from those trying to destroy it. In his book, America’s Secular Challenge: The Rise of a New National Religion, London argues that the rise of secularism has so hollowed out Western society that it has left it acutely vulnerable to the predations of radical Islam.

Wow! Secularism is like religious fanaticism and because of that we have become vulnerable to radical Islam. How does that work, exactly? I thought it was the weakness inherent in moral relativism that is the problem in western society in confronting the religious fanaticism of the Islamists, not an equally powerful fanatical secularism that is holding the fort. If what Philips says about secularism is true, I am much more comforted that we can meet and overcome Islamism.

The decay of religion, he says, has given rise to moral relativism, which regards all beliefs and principles as being of equal value and truth as a relative concept. This has given rise to multiculturalism, which masquerades as the promotion of equal rights but is actually a disguised form of cultural and national self-loathing.

Note the appropiate use of the word “decay”. This implies that religion has imploded, not as a result of an attack from outside.

Nothing new here, but I am not sure what any of it has to do with secularism. There is no reason to suppose that those who advocate the separation of church and state are responsible for moral relativism. This argument is like the one where you tote up all the evil things in the world that you disagree with and then blame them all on the atheists because you see atheists as evil people.

This in turn lies behind the idea that nations are illegitimate or passé, and that the world’s problems can all be solved by everyone on the planet coming together to harness the power of reason to arrive at a solution. But, in robbing people of their national identity and capacity to believe in anything except the fiction that reason trumps all, this is an essentially irrational negation of self-interest.

Again, there is no relationship between this argument and secularism.

No less irrational is the overreach of science which, as London writes, has been hijacked by secular fundamentalists who want to supplant religion by asserting that only in science can truths be found.

Secular fundamentalists? What are they? Being a secularist is like being pregnant, you can’t be a pregnant fundamentalist, either you are pregnant or you are not. If we are talking about the physical world, then indeed, only science can find the truth. If we are talking about morality, then religion does have something to say (not all of it good or worthwhile, however) and secularism has something to say on that score as well (not awfully different from the decent stuff found in religion).

Such ’scientism’ — as this overreach is termed — goes beyond the ability of science to explain the nature of the world around us and claims to tell us how life began. Yet the assumption that science provides a complete theory of knowledge is itself fundamentally unscientific.

The only people who assert that science purports to provide a complete theory of knowledge are religious people who know very little about science. No respectable scientist would hold such a position.

Science generates more questions than it can answer. The more science unravels the mysteries of the world for us, the more mysterious it becomes. And, as the many scientists who are also religious believers demonstrate, there is no inherent conflict between religion and science.

Good for science. If it is generating more questions than it can answer then it is doing its proper job.

No, Ms. Philips, the only thing that noting there are scientists who are religious believers proves is that there is no conflict between science as a profession and the holding of a religious faith. There is an insolvable contradiction between science and religion, however, and it is up to those scientists who believe in a faith to rationalize these contradictions for themselves – they will never do it to the satisfaction of the broader scientific community.

The dogma that science provides the answer to every question and so supplants religion has led to a junking of the moral codes deriving from Judaism and Christianity that underpin western society.

This is drivel! Only a person who knows very little about the scientific method could make such a fallacious cause and effect argument. Western societies’ moral codes have evolved somewhat from their religious roots, but they have not been overthrown.

This loss of cultural nerve has created an unwitting collusion between secular zealots and the Islamists who have declared war upon western civilization, and who believe — correctly — that a secular west will be unable to resist them.

Science, rationality and the pursuit of truth are intimately related to the religious traditions of the west. If those traditions are not defended from within against the threat from without, this will be how the west was lost.

Jesus Christ and General Jackson, what is this??? First we are told that secular zealots are in collusion with Islamists to destroy western civilization. Then we are told that science and rationality (the secular realm) are part of western civilization’s traditions, along with religion, and we have to defend them. Well. which is it? Are we to scorn secularism or are we to defend it?

This is not some argument out of whole cloth. I have read more compelling versions of it than Ms. Phillips outing here, but it always leaves me wondering two things.

The first is that religious folk are in the majority, so why don’t they just get active and put some fire into their beliefs instead of sitting back and playing the blame game, pointing at secularists as the cause of all their decay. Secularism is the result of religious decay, not the cause of it.

Secondly, what do they think religion brings to the table in combating the religious fanaticism of Islam? How does jumping up for Jesus beat Mohammed? They never tell us the battle plan.

Same deeds, different treatment

Something that I find most annoying is the general deference paid to religion. There is the government deference; i.e., maintaining the Lord’s Prayer in the Ontario legislature, and the blind eye intervening human rights agencies have with respect to divisive religious commentary (unless, of course it is aimed at homosexuals), and then there is the tip-toeing one religion does around another one.

Islam has some very nasty things to say about Jews, a result of Mohammed massacring Jews after they failed to accept him as a prophet. You can find these unpleasant commentaries on various Islamic websites.

The Khalid mosque in Toronto that was mentioned in my last blog posting was contacted by the Canadian Jewish Congress to remove some anti-Jewish material from its website. Apparently, the mosque complied with the request.

But this is the same CJC that has been in the forefront of eroding our right to freedom of speech by diligently prosecuting wing-nut basement neo-Nazis through the mechanism of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Why the different treatment? Islam is a vibrant and growing religion, whereas Nazism is a clapped-out ideology with a miniscule following in Canada.

Isn’t that kind of ass-backwards? If you were a community upset about the bad things another community was saying about you, wouldn’t you be more concerned that the powerful community be brought to heel, legally and effectively, rather than bothering yourself about a handful of nutbars that have no traction in the larger society?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Western conundrums for Islam

The next time persons claiming to be Muslims wish to launch actions with human rights agencies in Canada, claiming discriminatory practices or that they are offended by some artistic expression, perhaps the officials should pause before pouncing on the complaints and remind them that Muslims are forbidden to submit disputes to human rights commissions. These bodies, as they are constituted in Western societies, are considered evil by Islamic scholars because they purport to grant rights (such as homosexual rights) that are forbidden under Sharia law.

Muslim disputes are supposed to be satisfied in Sharia courts, which are the only pure tribunals, and which is a bit of a problem if the other party doesn’t agree to submit the issue to the Islamic judges.

Muslims would seem to have little choice, if they want to abide by Islamic law, but to suck it up.

In October, 2007, the National Post carried a story about a Toronto mosque advising Muslims to shun non-Muslim holidays and to dissociate themselves from non-Muslims. Recently, the Toronto Star wrote about the same mosque continuing this nasty advice. These statements, which equated non-Muslims with evil and wickedness, were referenced on the mosque's website through links to Islamic rulings.

I further noticed, in scanning Muslim websites, the frequent use of the term “kaffir” or “kafir” and its plural “kuffar” used to describe non-Muslims. Since 1934, western societies have decried the use of this expression because it is considered a racial slur, the equivalent of the more familiar “nigger.”

I find such a reference to people like me objectionable, and I don’t know why I should be tolerant of a religion that writes horrible things about me on the Internet, that names me by one of the worst racial slurs in our culture, attributes evil to me, causes Muslims to hold me in contempt, and instructs the faithful to avoid befriending me.

I also wonder why Canadian human rights investigators sit on their thumbs when such hateful information is only a few keystrokes away and has twice in 13 months been brought to their attention through major newspapers.. They certainly don’t waste any time when somebody has something to say about homosexuals. And, they don’t even have to resort to their favourite pro-active entrapment procedures, like they do with basement Nazis, by pretending to be Muslims and posting their own contemptible thoughts on Islamic sites.

I could send in a human rights complaint about this myself, but, unfortunately, I happen to believe that Muslims have a perfect right to say these terrible things about me and I don’t believe in the human rights agencies either. In my way, I am as pure as the Muslims and, despite their contempt for me, we do agree on the inappropriateness of such a forum to deal with these matters.

But, frankly, if Muslims expect to be embraced by western societies without reservation, they need to clean up their act and stop calling non-Muslims contemptuous names.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why Canada has the "soundest" banking system in the world

The current world-wide economic crisis started with a meltdown in the financial sector which prompted governments to rush in and save banks from collapsing by putting their liabilities on the backs of taxpayers. This was for a time, save and except for Canadian banks, since Canada has the world’s best banking system and our banks were generally immune to the problems plaguing so many other countries.

Several central banks around the globe have been lowering interest rates charged to commercial banks by several points almost every two weeks to stimulate lending and borrowing. The Bank of England is even considering a zero interest rate policy.

All of this government interference has now caused Canadian banks to “appear” to be at a competitive disadvantage in borrowing money from other government-backed banks, according to Canada’s finance minister, so the Canadian government has stepped in to guarantee bank borrowing to the tune of $218 billion dollars. According to the minister, this will have no “fiscal consequence”, which in layman’s parlance means it supposedly will not cost the taxpayers a dime.

Well, maybe, as long as no bank finds itself having to draw down on the guarantee.

Earlier, the Canadian government committed $25 billion to buy up crappy mortgages (of which there are not that many in Canada). Since the vast majority of mortgages are held by Canadian banks, this was yet another taxpayer hand-out to the banking sector. It is noteworthy that although the share prices of many publicly-traded corporations in Canada have sunk to nearly record lows, Canadian bank stocks maintain their full value.

In the ensuing weeks since the credit crisis began, consumer confidence has dropped faster than the Hindenburg fell out of the sky. This means that the world’s economies are in recession. What is needed is a stimulus to consumers to encourage spending.

So what do Canadian banks do as their part in reviving the economy, now that the consumer-taxpayers have made sure that the banks are OK? Well, they screw consumers by raising interest rates and lowering payback thresholds, just as the Christmas shopping period launches. Next they will be advising the governments to give consumers a tax holiday on federal and provincial sales taxes in order that borrowers will have enough cash to pay banks these exorbitant credit card interest rates.

Thus ladies and gentlemen, we come to the end of our lecture on why Canada has the soundest banking system in the world.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A British journalist's view of Canada

This has been around for a while, but it was recently sent to me again by acorrespondent and I thought it was worth another blog posting, since we are just past Remembrance Day. It is from the Sunday Telegraph. Since it was written Canada has lost 97 soldiers and one diplomat in the Afghan conflict, safeguarding the Sharia law in that country.

The country the world forgot - again

By Kevin Myers
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 21/04/2002

UNTIL the deaths last week of four Canadian soldiers accidentally killed by a US warplane in Afghanistan, probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops were deployed in the region. And as always, Canada will now bury its dead, just as the rest of the world as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does.

It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored. Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

That is the price which Canada pays for sharing the North American Continent with the US, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: it seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

advertisementYet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10 per cent of Canada's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular memory as somehow or other the work of the "British". The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone. Canada finished the war with the third largest navy and the fourth largest air force in the world.

The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time. Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign which the US had clearly not participated - a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.

So it is a general rule that actors and film-makers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality - unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer British. It is as if in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakeably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that 1 per cent of the world's population has provided 10 per cent of the world's peace-keeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peace-keepers on earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peace-keeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.

Yet the only foreign engagement which has entered the popular non-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace - a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit.

So who today in the US knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost.

This weekend four shrouds, red with blood and maple leaf, head homewards; and four more grieving Canadian families know that cost all too tragically well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day spoilers

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. It coincides with the official end of WW1 on November the eleventh, 1918. All across the country, wreaths are laid at cenotaphs, in cities towns and villages, and ceremonies are conducting honouring those who fell while defending us in Canada's wars.

There is one city in this country, however, where the war dead are not honoured. It is Disneyland on the Rideau, otherwise known as Ottawa, the nation's capital, which just happens to have one the grandest memorials to the war dead I have seen. Here it is cachet to be a public servant, say the head of a human rights commission, and lay a wreath to honour the 60th anniversary of the U.N. universal declaration of human rights, which has nearly no connection to Canada at war, and diverts attention from the real purpose of Remembrance Day.

As Mark Steyn points out in his incisive dissection of this sacriligious nonsense, it would be nice if the Canadian human rights commission would actually adopt the standards set out in the U.N. declaration it is making a show of publicly honouring.

Some people make you embarrassed to be called a Canadian.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

George Jonas's take on Obama's election and democracy

The ever interesting George Jonas has a thought-provoking column in today's National Post.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Sarah Palin factor

Many conservative pundits are blaming the MSM for John McCain's loss of the presidential race to Barack Obama. There is no doubt that the MSM picked Obama very early on when he became a real contender against Hillary Clinton and paved his way to the White House with largely uncritical and unexamined coverage. I have seen the same sort of thing happen in Canada, notably with the media cornation of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

It is a tribute to the discernment of the American voters that Obama only won by 5% of the popular vote, although he swept the electoral college vote. Obama outspent McCain by a much larger margin than the results would warrant, about $10 per vote versus $6 per vote. Additionally, McCain's campaign was a bit of a shambles, seeming to lurch all over the place with no clear message about what he would do to fix the U.S. On the other side, Obama's campaign came off as flawlessly as a space shuttle launch. His only flub was when he let his guard down and referred to people in the northern midwest as losers "clinging to their guns and their religion." But even in those states he did well.

I always thought that Obama was a good-looking guy, in a $1,500 suit, with a great speaking voice and a good command of English, who was overly ambitious, given his thin credentials. If he had a counterpart in Canada, who publicly reeks personal ambition, it would be Jack Layton, leader of the NDP.

His record of public service in government was very slight and not without question marks. Some of the people he was associated with were dubious characters and I thought his remark about his grandmother's racism when she was still alive to hear it was disgraceful.

It remains to be seen whether his presidency can match his rhetoric. For the sake of the United States and the world, I sincerely hope so.

For my part, I thought the turning point in the election was McCain bringing in Sarah Palin as the VP candidate. After initially giving a shot of adrenaline to the GOP campaign, she quickly became an albatross. It was the Katie Couric interview that caused many people to say, "She said what?"

Up to that point McCain had a clear edge in putting himself forward as a much more experienced guy than Obama, and his age was not then telling against him. Once Palin entered the picture, people began to think about his age and the chance that he might not finish his term in office and (shudder)Palin might be the decision maker. She effectively removed Obama's Achilles' heel, the inexperience factor, and replaced it with the ageism concern.

It was not the MSM that created Sarah Palin, she sank the GOP campaign all on her own, with her lack of general knowlege, her inarticulate syntax, and her country bumpkin colloquialisms and saucy little winks. Simply by pronouncing the "g" on the words ending in "ing" would have gone a long way to boost her apparent intelligence factor.

If she was supposed to appeal to the Christian right wing with her "end of days" beliefs, why didn't McCain pick Mike Huckabee, a very credible candidate from that end of the political spectrum, and equally as folksy and likeable, but without the "how dumb can she be" question hanging over his head?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mysteries of nature

There is a story in the Boston Globe about mysterious waves striking Boothbay harbour, Maine. At low tide the waves swept in and raised the water levels 12 feet, causing some damage in the harbour. They are mysterious because there was no record of seismic activity on the seabed and no offshore storm to account for them. A similar thing happened at Daytona Beach in Florida about 15 years ago and several people were injured and cars were damaged.

The story says that there have been unexplained rogue waves occurring in the Great Lakes. I can confirm that.

A few years ago, I was sailing out of Toronto harbour, south of the islands, in a 27-foot Catalina sailboat, at about 6:30 p.m. on a fine summer evening, during the middle of the week. I was the only boat in sight. The water was quite calm with only a steady ripple of wind disturbing its surface. I was dawdling along at about 3knots, admiring the clouds, when I happened to turn my gaze to the southwest towards Hamilton, 25 miles distant.

I immediately sat bolt upright. Bearing down on my beam, not more than 5 boat-lengths away, were three very large waves. They were not the 12 to 20 feet kind that hit Boothbay and Daytona, but they were large enough to throw my boat on its beam ends and probably throw me out of the cockpit into the water had they hit me broadside, undetected.

I immediately, turned my boat into them, and no sooner had I done so, than the first wave lifted my bow, and then, passing the boat, dropped it into the second wave. That one swept over the bow, up the deck, over my cabin top, into my open cabin, and swamped my cockpit. Then I was dropped into the third wave with the same result.

After I had attended to boat chores to clean up the mess, I scanned the horizon with my binoculars to see what might have caused these waves. It was clear of any large vessels. In fact, it was clear of any boat traffic.

I suppose it is possible that a lake freighter, heavily laden and moving at high speed, crossing from Hamilton to Port Weller, to access the Welland Canal to get to Lake Erie, might have been responsible, but since there was hardly any wind over all of western Lake Ontario, it is hard to imagine these waves could have sustained the energy to travel that distance to my boat.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I swear, you couldn't make this up if you tried

Most people in this nation do not object to paying taxes when they can see a return for their money in the form of public infrastructure and public programs that benefit society generally, even if they may not be directly beneficial to the individual taxpayer. It is when you see your taxes squandered to pay salaries to people to think up things like the following that you start to cheer on the revolutionaries and the anarchists.

The Toronto District School Board has issued guidelines (invented and written by bureaucrats) to its teachers cautioning about the problems associated with Halloween. First Christmas, now every child's favourite day, Halloween. Unless you are a dentist, who knew there were problems with Halloween? Here is the TDSB's advice:

1. Halloween is a religious day of significance for Wiccans and therefore should be treated respectfully.

2. Peer and social/media consumer pressures target all children and their families as consumers of costumes, makeup, food products, etc. Many students and their families can feel this socio-economic marginalization keenly.

3. The images and icons associated with consumer-oriented Halloween can come into conflict with some students' and their families' religious beliefs.

4. The food products that are marketed heavily during the Halloween period can come into conflict with students' and their families' dietary habits.

5. Some students have had first-hand traumatic experiences of violence that make talking about death, ghosts, etc., extremely alienating.

6. Many recently arrived students in our schools share no background cultural knowledge of trick-or-treating or the commercialization of death as 'fun.'

A few comments on the foregoing.

1. Wicca is a modern panthestic religion that started up in the 1950s and that borrows from earlier pagan ideas (all modern religions are derivative). Wicca is associated with magic and witchcraft. Halloween was a pagan celtic celebration intended to ward off evil spirits that would harm agriculture, and had nothing to do with witchcraft. The only link between Wicca and Halloween is this connection to paganism and a witch costume being a popular choice for Halloween.

There might be approximately 15,000 Wiccans in Canada (extrapolating from U.S. statistics). Their numbers are so few that they do not even rate a separate religious category in the Canadian census statistics.

2. What does the school have to do with the commercial marketing of products and costumes associated with Halloween, anymore than it has to do with the marketing of crappy sugar laden breakfast cereals and expensive plastic action figures on children's television programming? Dealing with these things is the purview of the family. Halloween costumes can be very cheaply put together from most stuff found around the home.

3. Public schools are supposed to be secular. It is the parents who should decide how they should explain social/religious conflicts (including Halloween) to their children.

4. Why do teachers need to be told about candies and diets, are they presumed to be brain dead by their employers?

5. What does violence have to do with Halloween -- it is not a celebration of violence -- Easter and Passover fill that bill nicely. It is a good thing to talk about ghosts and death in the classroom, because any child that reacts in the way the TDSB thinks they will, obviously should be earmarked for trauma counselling.

6. Isn't the whole point of Canadian schooling to teach children about Canada's culture, heritage, history and traditions? Are we not trying to integrate newcomers into our society? How do we do that if we do not tell them about the things we celebrate.

At least give TDSB credit for finally remembering in its last edict that the point of Halloween is that children can dress up in silly costumes and have some FUN. You remember FUN, the birthright of every child before the politically correct bureaucrats and politicians took over the running of the asylum?

Apparently, some schools have jumped on this and started to call Halloween "Black and Orange Day".


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Justice in the new Afghanistan

The following was picked up from the Dhimmi Watch website. This is what happens when religion gets to determine the boundaries of free expression. Apparently, we are committed until 2011 to keep on fighting and dying for this Muslim country.

Kabul, 21 Oct. (AKI) - A journalism student who downloaded and distributed an article on women's rights from the Internet has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Afghanistan.

Seyyed Parwiz Kambakhsh, arrested a year ago, was sentenced to death by a court in Balkh. But a Kabul appeals court on Tuesday reduced the sentence to 20 years in prison.

"This is an unjust sentence," defence lawyer, Mohammad Afzal Nourestani, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"We will appeal to the Supreme Court. During the hearing they did not consider that my client is not the author of the article, that it was downloaded from an Iranian site and he had to ask several friends to read it."

During the appeals process, Parwiz Kambakhsh was tortured and mistreated.
"My client says he was tortured in Balkh prison and during interrogation was forced to admit to being the author of the article that appeared to be the work of an Iranian blogger."

On 28 November Seyyed Parwiz Kambakhsh will receive the Information, Safety & Freedom watchdog's Press Freedom award in Siena.

Last year the award was given to Iranian Kurdish journalists, Adnan Hassanpour and Hiwa Boutimar, both of whom have been sentenced to death by an Iranian court.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ah, religion, what would the world do without it; Chapter 3: Divisiveness in a pluralistic country

There was a story in the Toronto Star yesterday that parents in Quebec have revolted over a new course that has been unveiled in the public school system, comparative religions. The course is intended to broaden the students's minds and knowledge concerning the world's religions. It is a course for which parents can require exemptions for their children. In one school, out of 800 students, 700 were exempted.

"How can they teach them about other religions when they don't even know their own", is a common theme. "Religion is not a menu in a fast food restaurant", was another. "Give them a good grounding (meaning indocrination) in their own faith first, before introducing them to other ideas." "If they are offered too much choice, they might become (horror of horrors) atheists."

Education is all about broadening students' intellectual horizons and inspiring them to seek out new knowledge. Religion is concerned with closing minds to other ideas, but from historical and cultural aspects it is important that students learn how other religions stultify enquiry and discourage open learning just as much as the one their parents chose for them. The Quebec government should be congratulated for its pioneering effort and let us hope it is adopted as a standard in other educational jurisdictions across the country.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Generation Gap

I belong to a voluntary organization that promotes science, reason and secular principles. My job is to write up position papers. Last night we held a meeting to discuss some of these positions. There were 8 people at the meeting, including me. All of the others were in their 20s, freshly minted university grads, at the beginning of their careers. It was a meeting of generations, me and all the rest.

As we dissected what I had written as preliminary drafts it became apparent that I occupied a different intellectual space. One of the things I had written was that “…science was the only way in which we could measure and understand reality…” There was universal agreement amongst the others that this should be changed to “...the best way…”, rather than “…the only way...”

I argued for my position, challenging them to identify another way that we could satisfactorily measure and understand reality. I was met with the quick rebuttal that they know very well there is no other way, but they don’t want to say it.

And so it went, with some other phrases I had chosen. Eventually, hoping to embarrass them, I laughed, and said, “You guys are really steeped in relativism – for you there are not absolutes.” They looked at me as if I had just grown a set of horns out of my head and said, “Well, of course”, as if there could be no other way of looking at the world.

This is the same organization that wants to promote the idea that morality is something we derive from the exercise of our conscience, not a divinely inspired gift, and that conscience is a universal quality of all humankind. This only makes sense if the conscience of all humans is the same (barring medical impairments to judgments). What could be more absolute than a universal conscience that informs humanity of the same concepts of right and wrong? But, we don’t want to say that because we will be out of step with modern thinking about relativism and we certainly wouldn’t want to look foolish.

This is going to be a long and difficult gig for me. There are many things that bring the generation gap home to me and this is just another example.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canadian Federal Election Post Mortem

The Conservatives

Stephen Harper ought to get used to governing with a minority government. Canadians are never going to give him a majority. Some of the most productive or well-run governments in Canadian history were minority governments: Lester Pearson’s (federal) and Bill Davis’s (Ontario) tenures come to mind. Harper should shelve his dreams of a majority and try and make his government the best damn minority this country has ever seen.

Conservatives just don’t get Quebec. Making the dinky arts funding cut (1.5% of the overall budget) made the difference between the Tories getting a majority and a minority. That was one of the most expensive funding cuts in history. Politicians are cynics by nature and they underestimate the pride of the people. Quebecers turned away from the federal Liberal party under Paul Martin when they discovered that huge money had been spent in that province on cheap gimmicks, like flags, in the belief that they would forgo their national aspirations. One would have thought that the Liberals’ chief political opponents would have picked up on that pride issue.

The Bloc Quebecoise

It is a shame this happened because, before the Harper blunder, the Bloc Quebecoise looked like it was going down the toilet as an irrelevant political force. If any party deserves to be relegated to the ashcan of history it is the BQ.

The end of climate change

This election also proves that we have turned the corner on climate change as a gathering political force (thankfully). Dion’s carbon tax had no resonance with the voters; the Green Party did not elect a single MP, including its leader, Elizabeth May, despite the fact that she garnered enormous publicity and was a bit of a media darling throughout the campaign. As a percentage of the popular vote, Green garnered no more than 7%. I had looked forward to the Greens bleeding votes from the NDP, but the only party that bled votes was the Liberals to the NDP.

Environmental activist, David Suzuki, has said he looks forward to the day the Green Party disappears from the electoral landscape. I don’t agree with much that Suzuki says, but I do on this point.

The New Democratic Party (God, how I wish it would change its name!)

I have to hand it to Jack Layton. He ran a hell of a campaign for the NDP. I don’t care for Jack and I have twice worked for a Liberal candidate who opposed him even though I am not a Liberal, simply because it was Jack running for office. He picked up additional seats and kept the popular vote at a respectable 18%. Keeping his guns focused on Harper and ignoring Dion, except bringing up the fact that Dion kept Harper alive for so long in Parliament, was a shrewd move.

I was sorry to see that Jack’s wife, Olivia Chow, kept her seat. It was nice to see Tony Ianno’s wife, Christine Innes gave her a scare, however.

Lisa Raitt

Finally, I should give a nod to Lisa Raitt, who knocked off the bumptious Garth Turner (well named, turned from Conservative to Independent to Liberal). I chuckled when I read Lisa’s website, with her “Coal Miner's Daughter" shtick; a gentler, kinder, Sarah Palin. But, unlike Palin, Lisa is very smart and knowledgeable. She is energetic, enthusiastic, and will be a good politician and representative for the Halton riding. I hope she gets a cabinet post – Transport might be right. Harper is thin on talent, so he should take a good look at Lisa.

In my corporate career, I took pride in mentoring people. Several left the corporate nest and have done well for themselves ever since. Whether they recognize it or not their successes have something to do with the opportunities and training I endeavoured to give them in their early years. I recently had lunch with a former protege who is doing good business as a coach and motivational speaker. She had forgotten that she used to be terrified of public speaking until I trained her and put her in charge of projects that required public speaking.

Lisa was another golden find. She had a bright prospect ahead of her as a Bay Street lawyer and was leaning in that direction, but I told her that her career would be better served working in the corporation that I then ran because of the broad experience it would offer, especially the political side of the place. I remember telephoning her in London, England, when she was working at the Inns of Court to make my pitch. She took my advice and now she is a fully-fledged member of Parliament (time to start those French lessons, Lisa, in case you know what).

May she have the wind at her back.

Some day I will have to drop her a line about my favourite federal issue, reforming the odious Section 13 of the Canada Human Rights Act.

I hope somebody in Lisa's entourage takes the time to telephone CTV and inform Lloyd Robertson of the correct pronunciation of Lisa's last name. It isn't as if he never heard of Bonnie Raitt.

Democracy and low voter turnout

Finally, a word about democracy. Much hand wringing goes on at election time over the low voter turnouts. I haven't seen the stats for this election, but I have seen and heard a number of pundits and commentators suggesting that there should be some sort of skills test to license people to vote, or that informed people would have an extra vote. TVO Ontario's The Agenda, with Steve Paikin, devoted some time to this subject last night.

This is all rubbish.

One citizen and one vote is the requirement to be called a democracy in the 21st century. I see the the low voter relative to informed voters in the same light as I see high fuel prices relative to carbon taxes. Why impose carbon taxes when high fuel prices are forcing behavioural changes that a carbon tax is supposed to encourage? Similarly, the people who do not vote are also the people who are not informed about politics, politicians and social issues (otherwise they would vote). The democracy marketplace is self-regulating in that sense and requires no bureaucratic interference. Those who don't vote get to be governed by those who do -- so what is the problem?

Australia has a high turnout (95%) because it is a legal requirement to vote. You are fined $50 if you don't vote. Are the voters in Australia better informed than Canadians who vote? I haven't seen any studies that would suggest so. Is Australia better governed than Canada? I think not.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Editorial on free speech worth reproducing

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has concluded that the excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, America Alone, reproduced in a Maclean's Magazine article did not violate human rights legislation in the province; i.e., it was not hate speech. The editorial in today's National Post about this case is worth reading:

Freedom of speech does not include the right to have one's views published or broadcast. Nor does freedom of the press carry with it an obligation to give space to views opposed to those held by the press' owners or their editors.

Indeed, the only way that a right to have one's views aired could exist is if the government restricted the freedom of the press, forcing media outlets to publish or broadcast material that was deemed otherwise unworthy.

In other words, such a "right" would exist only if the state assumed the power to regulate public discourse, which would be anathema to our democratic ideals.

Apparently, Khurrum Awan doesn't have much respect for those ideals. A recent graduate of Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto, Mr. Awan has put his name to various human-rights complaints against Maclean's magazine and writer Mark Steyn, whom the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) accuses of Islamophobia. Mr. Awan and his coplaintiffs demand that the magazine provide a pro-Islamist writer with space equal to the amount devoted to Mr. Steyn's work.

At a conference over the weekend, Mr. Awan betrayed just how thoroughly he and his fellow travellers misunderstand the concept of freedom of speech. He told the Canadian Arab Federation that Muslims must "demand [the] right to participate" in national media. "And we have to tell them, you know what, if you're not going to allow us to do that, there will be consequences. You will be taken to the human rights commission, you will be taken to the press council, and you know what? If you manage to get rid of the human rights code provisions [on hate speech], we will then take you to the civil courts system. And you know what? Some judge out there might just think that perhaps it's time to have a tort of group defamation, and you might be liable for a few million dollars."

That someone who graduated from law school would issue forth with this hostile jumble of threats is a sad reflection of our rights-mad age. Apparently, Mr. Awan sees freedom of speech and freedom of the press as petty concepts to be brushed aside in the service of identity politics. In his world, the repository of expressive rights is not the individual, but rather ethnic and religious collectives, whose members must bully taxpayers and media owners into disseminating their propaganda.

Look at his insistence that "you're not going to allow us" — Muslim Canadians — to have access to national media. Who, exactly, is stopping them? Indeed, through his vexatious complaints against Maclean's, Mr. Awan has garnered for himself, his cause and the CIC an extraordinary amount of press coverage. Nor is anyone attempting to stop Mr. Awan from starting his own magazine or newspaper — or taking advantage of low-cost Internet alternatives such as blogs and podcasts to get his message out.

Perhaps what truly irks Mr. Awan is that the CIC's position — pro-censorship, pro-Islamist, anti-free speech — has been so roundly disparaged in the mainstream media. He doesn't just want his ideas floated in the general Canadian marketplace of ideas: He wants uncritical acceptance.

Sorry, but that's not the way things work in Canada — or any other democracy: People with bad ideas are mocked, ignored or refuted. You have no "human right" to get your bad ideas taken seriously.

What Mr. Awan and his benefactors at the CIC want is all the power of the press with none of the risk or cost. They want the government to help them leverage someone else's presses for their personal views.

Oh yes, and while they're at it, they would like to silence and punish those who disagree with them by having an activist judge create causes of action with penalties of "a few million dollars."

One of the reasons this newspaper believes that the powers wielded by human-rights tribunals should be scaled back is that Canada has become such a tolerant nation: We have come to accept that our Canadian identity is compatible with immigrant cultures. Now along comes the CIC and Mr. Awan, telling us that this is actually wrong — that we must renounce core Canadian values such as free speech and freedom of the press — at risk of a hysterical multi-million dollar legal campaign launched by Muslim and Arab plaintiffs.

If someone were actively seeking to stir up the worst stereotypes Canadians hold in regard to the repressive political cultures being imported into Canada by Arab and Muslim immigrants, it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Khurrum Awan.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Speechless politicians

I am glad to see that Maureen Dowd in the New York Times feels very much the way I do about having a political leader that consistently cannot voice thoughts in coherent English sentences.

Is it too much to ask that heart surgeons not be suffering from Parkinson’s disease when they perform operations, or airline pilots fly with serious astigmatism, or musicians not be tone deaf and painters not be colour blind? Why oh why would we think it is charming and a positive quality for the highest political office in the land when a person cannot, with any consistency, express clear and concise thoughts.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

American and Canadian political debates

This past Thursday night was political night on television. In the U.S., the Democrat nominee for vice-president, Joe Biden, squared off against the Republican Sarah Palin. And in Canada the leaders of the 4 national parties and the leader of the Bloc Quebecoise did a round table debate with the admirable Steve Paikin as the host.

I watched all of the American debate and the last 30 minutes of the Canadian.

First the Canadians

I have already made my mind up about how I am going to vote and this debate wasn’t going to change it. You would have to be a non-committed voter watching a televised debate to allow that spectacle to sway your thinking. Most non-committed voters are people who don’t really follow politics.

I was glad to see that the Green Party finally got media recognition and invited its leader, Elizabeth May, to the table. This has been overdue for a couple of election cycles and puts an end to the hypocrisy of inviting Gilles Duceppe of the BQ to the English language debate.

The BQ is not a national party; it is a regional one, running candidates only in the Province of Quebec. Its purpose in its creation was to try to pry Quebec loose from Canada and create a sovereign state out of that province. The sympathy for that has mostly died away in Quebec and now the party simply acts as a spoiler for the national parties trying to make inroads into the Quebec constituency. Duceppe has said that if he can’t free Quebec he will take Canada for all he can get for his province. He has been a federal politician long enough (18 years) to collect a handsome pension from Canada when he retires from politics. So I guess he will have achieved part of the second goal.

While I completely understand having Duceppe at the French language debate, he has nothing useful to say to the rest of Canada in the English debate and only wastes air time that could more usefully be employed for the leaders who matter. He is invited because Quebec would scream discrimination if he were left off the roster.

Another case of the French poodle’s tail wagging the English setter.

There were many glowing media reports about Elizabeth May and what a performer she turned out to be. I cannot judge because of the limited time I devoted to watching, but I found her irritating, as every time the Prime Minister tried to make a point she butted in from the sideline trying to talk over him. I was dismayed to find that electoral reform is part of the Green Party’s platform – they want to give us Italy’s government. Thankfully, they appear to be many years away from ever being a possible governing party. I should mention, while I am analyzing them, that they want to make water a “human right”. This is a really stupid idea.

Finally, I did not like the round table format. I have done this on television and it gives you too many opportunities to fiddle with your hands, twitch, look down at your hands, etc. You are never 100% sure which camera is on you and whether you should be looking into the cameras, at the moderator or at any of you fellow panelists. You don’t know whether you are leaning forward too much and looking too aggressive or sitting back and looking too laid back. It is very awkward. I much prefer the format that requires you to stand at a podium. It focuses your attention and helps you to control your body language.

The next day I listened to a radio call-in show and so many callers commented on this or that candidate’s posture or eye-contact (or lack of. None of that should be relevant to the issues– these are not movie or television stars vying for industry performance awards.

Now to the Americans

I had been following the Palin story with much interest and had viewed her dismal television interviews. I knew very little about Joe Biden.

Palin got quite a lot of complimentary coverage the day after her debate. Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal compared her performance in reviving McCain’s campaign as a pair of electric shock paddles used to restart hearts. Cute.

Frankly, I was somewhat appalled by her. She talks in clichés and slogans. She simply refused to answer some straight-forward questions and went back to topics that she felt she was comfortable discussing. This is a tactic I am sure that her handlers taught her and it works well in media interviews, but not in a formal public debate. There were just too many things that were asked that we do know what she thinks about them or whether she even has any thoughts about them.

There was a clumsy attempt to inject a Reaganism into the debate. At one point Palin accused Biden of always looking to the past. Later, when Biden again made a reference to the Bush record, she jumped in with a “there you go again, Joe, lookin’ at the past”, aping Reagan’s famous line that skewered his opponent. I cringed when she threw that one out.

There is a streak of admiration in America for small town or rural folks. We have seen this time and again portrayed in movies and on television: The Beverley Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, The Dukes of Hazard, and the Newhart show: you will recall the sophisticated Bob Newhart running a Vermont country inn and meeting two local characters, “Hi, I’m Daryl and this is 'mah' other brother Daryl”. Americans believe that such folk are genuine, honest and lack guile or evil motives. This is why such movie and television fare always commands a fairly respectable audience.

And, who can say whether that is myth or reality?

However, appealing as such innocent folk might be, do you really want the Duke brothers to be the President and Vice-President of the United States? Or Minnie Pearl, bless her heart and trademark price-stickered straw hat?

Many commentators, including Daily Show comedian, Jon Stewart, have lamented the “dumbing down” of the American voters.

The first time we saw this was when Dan Quayle was the Vice-President. After listening to a few of his Quaylisms everybody prayed for the health of Reagan. My favourite was when he opined that he regretted that he had dropped Latin in high school because he wanted to go to Latin America and be able to talk to the people there.

Then along came George W. Bush. He gave us such classic lines as, “There is a low voter turnout for elections because not as many people are going to out to vote.” We have had 8 years of his folksy bumbling and inarticulate mangling of the English language. And maybe those who like Bush see him as somebody they would sit down with in the local tavern and hoist a few, but, really would you see the guy you do go bowling with and stop off for a couple of quick drafts as the President of the United States?

A problem Americans need to understand is that one of the reasons the U.S. is considered in such a bad light by the rest of the world, aside from considerations of its policies and actions, is the perception that the person holding the highest office and representing the face of America talks like he is a dummy, and, therefore, perhaps he is one. There is hardly a top job in corporate America that would be filled by a person who spoke English as badly as George Bush if merit were the only criteria for the job. Most world leaders in the democracies have a good command of the language, even when their native language is not English.

[Full disclosure: we had our own folksy politico, Jean Chretien, who was not very adept in English, but he wasn’t elected for the same reasons I have attributed to Americans electing such people]

That brings us to Sarah Palin. She talks like a country hick: dropping the “g” off words ending in “ing” and constantly saying “gonna” instead of “going to”. She is full of “goshes” and “darns” and just shy of "gosh darns". This may appeal to America’s common folk and maybe the standards in such remote places as under-populated Alaska don’t require much in the way of sophistication to become Governor, but on the world stage – please.

Americans who think Palin is suitable to be the President are probably scratching their heads over the wildly enthusiastic reception that Barack Obama got on his short European tour. Part of it, of course, was the fact that he represented the possibility of a real change in America’s policies of a kind to which Europeans would be receptive, but part of it also is that he is a beautiful public speaker with a rich command of the language. To Europeans, the proper use of language is a very important cultural identity (French) and a sign of class (England). The gold standard of political language still remains with Winston Churchill. Bush and Palin wouldn’t even have been allowed into the same room with him if it were a public speaking contest.

On the other side of the stage was Joe Biden. He struck me as being not only intelligent, knowledgeable and thoughtful, but also articulate and polished. I could easily picture him representing the United States with dignity and respect. And he would be treated with respect by the rest of the world.

I don’t vote in the United States (although I pay taxes there) but the choice if I had to make it would be clear: an Obama/Biden ticket. And in saying that, I guess I have to take it back that I would not be swayed by a debate. I certainly was in this case.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Thoughts on the impending Canadian national election

So we are having a national election in Canada on October 14. I will put my two cents in about that.

We have four political parties in Canada at the national level: Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Green. There is also a party called the Bloc Quebecois that currently serves no useful purpose and is regional only, being solely interested in the welfare of the province of Quebec, and only running candidates in that province.

The Conservatives have been in power for about 3 years, but they have a minority position, meaning that if a number of the opposition parties combine to vote against them, the government will fall. The Conservatives called this election because they believe the polls that show they have enough national support to be able to form a majority government. We will see. There are two weeks left, and that is a long time in an election campaign.


I have decided to vote for these guys because I think they have given us good governance over the past 3 years, not outstanding government, but good and steady government. They have not proposed anything really radical in that time despite the enormous efforts of their opponents to paint them as dangerous during the last election campaign. They have been fiscally conservative, carrying on the mantle left by the previous governing Liberals, and continue to operate a budget that has been in a surplus position for the past 15 years, making us the only G8 country to financially perform in this fashion. This surplus is used in part to pay down the national debt, which, in a time of a world-wide credit crunch, is no small bonus.

I also like them because they have not bought into the hoax of global warming brought about by human production of CO2. And they understand that as businesses begin to crash because of an impending global recession this is not the time to foist additional taxes on industry – it is the time to relax them.

With respect to their leader, Stephen Harper, I am less enchanted. He strikes me as being a very cold Mackerel and except for the very peculiar circumstances of Canadian politics over the last decade; I don’t think he ever would have been elected as the leader of his party. He strikes me as a guy who would have been a superb Deputy Minister in the government and his manner in governing his political caucus is very reminiscent of how DMs operate.

Mind you, he has some real idiots in his caucus, so keeping a lid on those political embarrassments is actually a testament to his abilities. The media mostly hate him because he is able to stop them from getting the juicy stories from his single digit IQ members.

On the downside of the Conservative current political promises, I think that allowing 14 year-olds to a get life sentences for murder is stupid. However, I don’t think there are many judges in this country who would hand out such a sentence except in the most egregious circumstances. I am also a little concerned about the opening up of Canada for sale to foreign businesses. On the other hand, my concern is tempered by the fact that we have to remain open for business in a deep recession in order to keep our economy alive.


These guys are in freefall at the moment in the polls and may end up not forming the official opposition. I think the leader, Stephane Dion, is receiving the lion’s share of the blame for this. I don’t think it is deserved. It reminds me very much of the days of the Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark who the media ridiculed because he had no chin. We hear that Dion mangles the English language – well, so did Chretien, his predecessor two back, and he was elected to 3 terms in office, and he was a very effective Prime Minister despite that.

What is true about the Liberals, however, is that they have a platform of promising everybody everything. That was exactly the problem that cost the previous leader his job, so they appear not to have learned their lesson. Furthermore, it is clear that two best contenders for Dion’s job have not taken their loss lightly and would not be unhappy to see him get hit in ass by the door on the way out. Not a united party.

Finally, the total cost of their promises amounts to about $80 billion, the most expensive package of all the parties. And their green shift policy simply means more taxes for no apparent results -- it is shifting the green from your pockets to their pockets.

New Democratic Party

For the life of me, I fail to understand why this party continues to use this name. It has been around for more than 40 years so it certainly is not new. And from the many elites in this party I have personally dealt with, it is not any more democratic than the other parties.

I remember when I was first eligible to vote in a national election (1968) when I was an undergraduate in university. One of my English professors, who I admired, was the NDP candidate in the city where I was attending school. I went to hear one of his political speeches. He talked about the working families and getting them a better deal. He talked about all the wonderful spending programs the NDP had in mind for “social justice” (whatever that meant). During the question period he was asked by a member of the audience how the NDP would pay for this: “Why, we will tax the corporations, they have lots of money”, was the response. He didn’t get elected.

Now fast forward to 2008 and listen to the speeches of the current leader, Jack Layton. He could have dusted off the speech of my old English professor from 40 years ago and read it word for word. These guys never learn. They have no sense of how an economy operates.
The last time Ontario fell on its head and elected an NDP government, the government tried to spend its way out of a recession and virtually wrecked the economy of Canada’s most productive province. It took years to recover from that. Elect Jack Layton and the NDP at our peril.


As you may have gathered by now, I am not much taken with the whole global warming thing, but I do believe there are other serious threats to our planet that need to be addressed, such as the rapid loss of biodiversity. I have no issue with a party that wants to filter government programs and spending first through an environmental filter, although, sometimes some of that “what’s good for the environment” can get a bit kooky: like banning chlorine, or not investing in nuclear energy.

I like this party mainly because I think it eats into the constituency base of the NDP, even though it is not strictly speaking a left wing party. I also think the time has come to offer an alternative choice to the voters who have gotten kind of jaded with the big three.

Its leader, Elizabeth May, does not impress me as much as its previous leader, and today I see there is some scuttlebutt running around the Internet that both she and other members of her party may be supporters of Hezbollah. Not good news.

She got herself invited to the all-candidates debate on Thursday and we will see how she performs. I hope somebody calls her on this Hezbollah business and gets that settled up. There is no chance Green will form the government, but I do hope they get a couple of seats and become a presence in the House of Commons.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Does God believe in free speech? And why not discuss religion during elections?

Michael Coren is a Toronto-based broadcaster and journalist. He writes a column in the Toronto Sun and has a talk show about public interest matters on the Christian channel. He claims to be a Roman Catholic.

Last week he had a show on faith and politics. His guests included a Catholic theologian, an Imam and the head of an atheist organization, Justin Trottier. He had another guest, but I did not turn the show on in time to catch his reason for being there. But, clearly they were all religious except for Trottier.

One of the many things I find annoying about Coren is that he is a whiner. According to the last Canadian census on the subject of religion (2001), 72% of Canadians claim to be Christian. They are the majority in this country. Yet time and again Coren tries to paint them as if they were a persecuted minority.

He targets the MSM as being hostile to religion generally and dismissive of Christians particularly. I think it is fair to say that a great majority of Canadians are reluctant to bring matters of faith into the public sphere and I don’t see any conspiracy in that regard from the MSM other than reflecting the perceived will of the marketplace.

Coren brought up the abandonment by Random House of The Jewel of Medina book project in the face of perceived hostility from Muslims and moaned that publishers seem to have no problem publishing anti-Christian material. Trottier responded by reminding him that Catholics engage in book banning, as for example, in the case of the Golden Compass being banned by the Halton Catholic District School Board.

Naturally, Coren took exception to this trying to make a case that the author was an atheist who pointedly said he was attacking the Catholic Church and the church was entitled to eschew the book. Lost in his thoughts were the logical relationship between seller and market. If Catholics can successfully convince the marketplace not buy a book, then that amounts to the same thing as stopping publishers from publishing anti-Catholic books.

I am not clear what Coren’s world view might be. Does he want to stop publishers from publishing anti-Christian literature, or does he want publishers to voluntarily not do this? Fortunately, the Imam brought some religious sanity to the discussion. He said the answer was not to try to stop publishers publishing whatever literature they thought might have a market, but to counter the anti-religious messages with religiously positive literature – to fight ideas and arguments with other ideas and arguments. He gets it.

Later, Trottier brought up an incident that occurred at the University of Calgary where an atheist student organization’s banner was defaced with Christian messages. Coren tried to fluff this off as a flash in the pan, but Trottier’s point was well-taken: had this occurred to a Jewish organization or a Muslim organization, it would have been a front page news story about discrimination against minorities. But because the minority in this case is a bunch of atheists, nobody cares. It will not be recorded by the police as a hate crime and will not show up on hate crime statistics.

At one point Trottier reminded Coren that Coren held free speech to be above all. To which Coren responded that he held God to be above all. This raises an interesting dilemma for our Mr. Coren. He has claimed to believe in free speech, which is why I have difficulty understanding his complaint about the publication of anti-Christian literature, yet he believes in God and, more particularly, a God defined by the Catholic Church.

Question: does God believe in free speech? As a Catholic you would have to say no. After all, why would Protestants be cast into the everlasting fires of hell if free speech reigned in heaven?

Another thing about religion and politics. It is often said that Americans bring politics into their election campaigns and Canadians don't. I don't really think Americans do as much of that as they think they do and Canadians should do it.

For example, if a Catholic political candidate were asked questions about his or her stand on abortion, fornication, adultery, birth control, the death penality, homosexuals, the dispostion of the immortal soul of those who are not Catholics and other matters that are the subject Catholic teaching, there would be one of two answers, or no answer. We would hear that the candidate fully believes in the teachings of the church or that he/she doesn't fully believe. Or the candidate may refuse to answer. All of these would be quite telling on what sort of a person is running for pubic office, and whether we should feel comfortable casting a vote in his/her direction.

Similarly, it would be interesting to hear somebody who claimed to believe Jesus Christ was coming back any day now, that only the virtuous would saved and raptured into heaven before the final conflict, that Israel must be preserved at all costs to fulfill this prophecy and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, finish all of this off with, "Please vote for me."

When we keep a person's religion off limits for discussion and debate we never really know what they truly think. For an interesting view on this, read Sam Harris's take on Sarah Palin in Newsweek.