Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Separating politics and religion

The following is a piece I did up and shopped around to daily newspapers as an op-ed piece. I got no takers, so I thought I would stick it on the blog. Although I am seeing a separation in issues in this case, I would not like readers to assume that I do not think religion is beyond debate and discussion, I certainly feel very strongly that it is not exempt from that -- it's just that in this case, I don't think author Mark Steyn was really writing about the religion.

Canadian journalist and author Mark Steyn has been accused by the Toronto Star of writing an “Islamophobic polemic” in his book, America Alone: the end of the world as we know it. An excerpt from that book was published in Maclean’s magazine and now both parties are under investigation by the CHRC and its British Columbia counterpart. The basis for the complaints, brought by some Muslim students and the Canadian Islamic Congress, is that Muslims are likely to be held in contempt in violation of their right not to be discriminated against on the basis of their religion.

The problem this accusation poses is that Steyn did not write a book about religion. He wrote a book about politics and society.

Suppose Steyn had written a critical examination of socialism and made fun of some of the spokespeople for that socio-economic political spectrum. Would we be surprised to see socialist leaders like Jack Layton and Howard Hampton rushing off to the Canadian Human Rights Commission complaining that Steyn’s words would likely cause socialists everywhere to be held in contempt?

Yes we would, for two reasons.

The first and obvious one is that political criticisms are not grounds for complaints under the Canada Human Rights Act.

The second reason relates to why they are not included as offenses; it is because sharp debate about the principles and methods by which we organize and run our society in the court of public opinion is the lifeblood of our liberal democracy. We regularly argue about the vices and virtues of socialism, capitalism, communism, fascism and almost any political, socio-economic system in between. It is how we test our commonwealth against what it could be and how we find ways to adjust it for the better. We constantly renew ourselves in this fashion.

You certainly would not find Canadians filing complaints about attacks on fascism or communism, two highly discredited socio-economic-political systems. Why would attaching a deity to another political system somehow elevate that ideology into something sacrosanct under human rights legislation and beyond normal public analysis?

Harsh words are spoken in political dialogue. As long as they are not false, and therefore libelous, then the recourse for those who disagree is to write their rebuttals, citing arguments and marshalling evidence or examples in support of their positions. This is normal public political discourse and should always be encouraged rather than being censored.

Nowhere in the text of America Alone does Steyn evaluate and critically discuss the Five Pillars of Islam, the observance of Ramadan, the division of objects into clean or unclean, and any other significant aspect of Islam the religion as a religion. His passing references to some practices of Muslims, like women wearing headgear, or certain moral norms, are mainly cultural and not central to his theme.

One need only compare Steyn’s treatment of Islam with that of fundamentalist Christians, in American author, Chris Hedges’, recent book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, to see the difference. The U.S. Christian right working to create a Christian nation out of a constitutional secular one is something new in American society. His book also deals with how this religion informs politics, but Hedges, who claims to be a moderate Christian, is unsparing in his disdain for the divisive doctrines and misguided scriptural interpretations of the evangelical fundamentalists. Steyn does none of that.

The Judeo-Christian tradition at least recognizes the separation of church and state: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” Islam knows no such distinction and is as much a political ideology as it is a spiritual fountainhead.

Steyn concentrated his arguments on Islam as a political movement intent upon supplanting western liberal democracies with the Sharia as the operative legal system and the possibility of theocracies as the political systems. He doesn’t relish that idea. Few who are inculcated in the secular values of western liberal democracies would.

What these Muslims who are challenging Steyn and Maclean’s are really claiming is that no discussion of the political ramifications of Islamic imperialism is permitted in Canada. But, if the complainants don’t buy into the ideology then why would they not support the exposure of it rather than the censoring of it?

One hopes that if and when this matter ends up in front of a human rights tribunal the members of the panel will be able to distinguish the difference between an attack on a religion and its adherents from an attack on a political ideology, and recognize Steyn’s work as an appropriate discourse in the great tradition of liberal-democratic political debate, in violation of nobody’s human rights.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Cultural jihadism

There is an excellent summary of cultural jihadism in the City Journal, An Anatomy of Surrender: Motivated by fear and multiculturalism, too many Westerners are acquiescing to creeping sharia, at this site.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kudos to the chief and a raspberry to the judge

Now here is a community leader who has his head screwed on the right way and can smell patronization when it wafts through a court room. Poor, confused, liberal-minded white judges should take note of how natives wish to be treated.

Apr 26, 2008 04:30 AM
MONTREAL–The grand chief of a Mohawk reserve near Montreal wants a Quebec court judge to be reprimanded for saying a man's native heritage entitled him to special treatment in court.

Judge Juanita Westmoreland-Traore granted Davin Johnny bail on charges he took part in the riot that followed the Canadiens' series-clinching win over the Boston Bruins on Monday.

In granting bail Thursday, the judge said Johnny's native origins had to be taken into consideration.

Westmoreland-Traore said native Canadians "who sometimes show a high rate of unemployment and dependence on alcohol" are at a disadvantage in society.

Mike Delisle, the grand chief of the Kahnawake reserve, complained Johnny, 32, was given special treatment because of his native background and called it "insulting and embarrassing."

"We're not looking for any type of handout or any less justice to be laid down to First Nations people," he said yesterday. "This person should have been taken to the full measures of the law, like everyone else."

The judge set a number of conditions on Johnny, including restrictions on his movement.


The Canadian Press

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chilling vision of the future for free speech in Canada, from Mark Steyn in Maclean's magazine

Here's a few paragraphs from a recent piece by Mark Steyn in Maclean's magazine regarding the human rights versus free speech debacle in Canada. To read the full column, go here.

"As for "freedom of the press," in her now celebrated decision to dismiss the Canadian Islamic Congress complaint against Maclean's, Barbara Hall of the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission acknowledged that she did not have jurisdiction over magazines. So she ruled that, while she didn't have the power to toss us in the clink, she'd certainly like to and we certainly deserve it. Commissar Hall suggested that if my words had appeared on a sign rather than in a magazine article, she would be free to haul my hatemongerin' ass into the dock. Makes sense to me. So I've now put the offending excerpt from my book on a placard and I'll be in Toronto in the first week of May to drop it off at her office. I look forward to the prosecution. Given that we've already been found guilty, I don't think I've got much to fear from the trial.

Happily, beginning on July 1, under Ontario's "human rights" reforms, Commissar Hall will have far greater powers to initiate prosecutions against all and sundry. Under the new proposals, " 'hate incident' means any act or omission, whether criminal or not, that expresses bias, prejudice, bigotry or contempt toward a vulnerable or disadvantaged community or its members." "Act or omission"? Of course. The act of not acting in an insufficiently non-hateful way can itself be hateful. Whether or not the incident is a non-incident is incidental. I quote from "Concepts Of Race And Racism And Implications For OHRC Policy" as published on the OHRC website:
"The denial of racism used by so many whites in positions of authority ranging from the supervisor in a work place to the chief of Police and ministers of government must be understood for what it is: an example of White hegemonic power over those considered 'other.' "

Got that? Your denial of racism merely confirms your racism — because simply by being a "White hegemon" (like Barbara Hall or Jennifer Lynch) you wield racist power. The author, Frances Henry, cites the thinking of "modern neo-Marxist theorists" as if these are serious views that persons of influence in Canada's "human rights" establishment ought to be taking into account, rather than just the latest variant of an ideology that's led to the deaths of millions in Russia, China and everywhere else it's been put into practice. Yet, underneath the blather about "omissions" and "denial" of racism is the bleak acknowledgement that, alas, Canadians just aren't hateful enough to justify the cozy sinecure of taxpayer-funded hate police. "I would say that for a province as large and as diverse as Ontario, to have 2,500 formal complaints a year, that that's a very low level," Commissar Hall said. C'mon, you Ontario deadbeats, can't you hate a little more? Or complain a little more? To modify Brecht, we need to elect a new people, if only to file more "human rights" complaints...

I don't have as low an opinion of Canadians as Barbara Hall and Jennifer Lynch do. I don't believe your liberty is the conditional discretionary gift of hack bureaucrats advised by Marxist theorists. You defeat bad ideas — whether Nazism, Marxism, jihadism, Steynism or Trudeaupian pseudo-"human rights" mumbo-jumbo — in the bracing air and light of day, in vigorous open debate, not in the fetid corridors of power policed by ahistorical nitwits."

Wisdom from Woody Allen

"In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people's home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm. I rest my case."

The pictorial guide to Canadian Human Rights and Free Speech

This is the best explanation of the current battle over free speech and human rights I have seen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Immigration

This is by columnist Greg Weston in today's Toronto Sun.

In the realm of mass misperceptions in this country, it is hard to find an area of government, public policy or politics more muddied by misinformation than the wonderful world of immigration.

Unfortunately, a population already infused with bad data is the perfect dupe for the kind of exaggerated claims being made by all sides in the current debate over the Conservative government's proposed immigration reforms.

The government isn't helping. For instance, the immigration department couldn't provide a simple demographic breakdown of the 900,000 people the government claims are in line to get into Canada.

In an effort to inject some cold reality to the increasingly heated debate about Canada's ethnic mosaic, herein some of the more popular immigration myths, and some inconvenient truths. Most of the latest available government stats are for 2006, and based on averages.

Myth: Visible minorities now make up about half the Canadian population.
Fact: The figure is about 16%, although that number is obviously higher in Toronto and Vancouver.

Myth: The largest number of newcomers are arriving from predominantly Muslim countries.
Fact: Chinese immigrants have outnumbered all other nationalities every year for the past decade, accounting for roughly 13% of all new permanent residents, followed by those from India (12%), PhiIippines (7%), Pakistan (5%) and the U.S. (4%).

Myth: The largest numbers of seasonal workers andtemporary immigrants come from Mexico and the Caribbean.
Fact: The biggest source of temporary labour in this country is from the U.S., almost 25,000 of them in 2006, followed by the Philippines (think nannies and the seasonal hospitality biz). Mexico is a distant third.

STUDENTS

Myth: The largest numbers of foreign students enrolling in Canadian colleges and universities come from the U.S. and China.
Fact: There are almost 170,000 foreign students currently in the country on temporary visas to study at Canadian colleges and universities, with an annual turnover rate of about 60,000. In all but one year out of the past decade, by far the largest incoming group of students has come from -- drum roll, please -- Korea, accounting for about a quarter of all the foreign faces in our classrooms today.

Myth: Among the roughly 90,000 so-called "humanitarian" immigrants allowed into Canada annually, mostly to be reunited with family members already here, the largest numbers come from India, Pakistan or Africa.
Fact: The biggest group of humanitarian immigrants allowed into Canada in 2006 came from Mexico, almost 12,000 of them or about 13% of the total in that category.

Myth: Among the 80,000 refugee claimants currently in the country awaiting a decision on their fate, the largest numbers showed up at the border from either Africa or predominantly Muslim countries.
Fact: In 2006, the largest number of refugee claimants by a mile were Mexicans, followed by the Chinese and Pakistanis.

Myth: Once a married person gains permanent residence in Canada, the spouse and kids will be allowed in almost on the next plane.
Fact: It currently takes eight to 10 months to process applications by spouses and children to join their loved ones here.

DOCTORS ON CALL

Myth: Professionals and other skilled workers get into Canada faster than any other category of immigrants.
Fact: A fully trained foreign doctor will wait an average 68 months to enter Canada, roughly three times longer than a grandmother reuniting with family.

Myth: The fastest way to become a permanent resident of Canada is to show up at the border and claim refugee status.
Fact: The fastest way is to show up at the border with $400,000 to invest in your new homeland. The cheque will barely have time to clear the bank before the immigration department throws down the welcome mat. In total, roughly 2,500 newcomers buy their way into this country each year, about 60% of them Chinese.

Democracy equates with strong legislatures

A couple of American academics, Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig, have completed a study ranking the power of 158 national legislatures globally. The strength of legislatures was measured using four factors: influence over the executive, autonomy, vested powers and the capacity to do things (like hiring staff). The correlation is that countries with strong legislatures have more resilient democracies. Weak legislatures cannot keep executives in check. The United States was outranked by 40 other countries. I have no information where Canada stood, but based on the criteria, I would think that Canada would rate higher, which, prior to this study, I would have found surprising.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The fine art of parsing in politics and religion










Parsing refers to breaking down words in a sentence into grammatical components, distinguishing each from the whole. In grammer there are rules about this, but apparently not so in politics and religion. For some reason, western societies have a hard time parsing aspects of religion, particularly as they relate to politics.

Take Islam, as an example. It has two major components: Islam the religion and Islam the political ideology. Whenever conflict in society occurs one needs to examine whether it is Islam the religion or Islam the political ideology that is informing public debate. The former should command the equal measure of respect that other religions are accorded. The latter need receive no regard and no respect in western liberal democracies, since the essence of political Islam is to replace the foundations of these democracies with Islamic rule and Islamic law.

Over the past couple of years, some of the following events have sparked debate. In Minneapolis, Muslim cab drivers started refusing to pick fares at the airport who were carrying liquor bottles (consumption of alcohol is forbidden by Islam); in England, people in retail checkout lines holding liquor bottles have similarly been refused service by Muslim clerks; a dentist insists that all his patients, Muslim or otherwise wear a headscarf; employees in government offices were asked to remove personal paraphernalia from their desks that had pigs as the theme because Islam declares pigs unclean; Muslim visitors to hospitals refuse to wash their hands with the anti-infectious liquid soap provided because it contains alcohol;cab drivers refuse blind fares with seeing-eyes dogs because dogs are considered unclean; employees in a hospital were asked not to eat their lunches in the cafeteria because the Muslim staff were observing the fasting rituals of Ramadan; non Muslim women in Muslim dominant towns in England must wear headscarves to avoid harrassment; politicians in some areas are told by Muslim spokespeople that they may not enter those areas to speak to their consitutents; universities in the United States retrofitted bathrooms to provide footbaths for Muslims who must wash their feet before prayer; college swimming pools insitituted separate swimming hours to accommodate only female Muslim students; airports are expected to build separate chapels for Muslims instead of the standard non-denominational ones.

Aside from these we are also treated to the antics of the British government under Brown. At first government employees were forbidden ever to use the words "terrorism" and "Muslim" together. This has now gone a step further: official reports or comments on acts of terrorism committed by Muslims shall be labelled as "anti-Islamic."

Here's how I think these break down using my Islamic parsing guide:

Pig emblem removals, guide dogs refusals, dentist chairs rules, cafeteria lunch eating bans, liquor bottle shunning by clerks and cabbies, non hand washing in hospitals, no go areas, forced headscarves, and separate airport chapels are all wrong. These are manifestation of Islam the political ideology. Each one is a case where the larger non Muslim society is expected to change its rules and habits to conform Islamic tastes. Screw off.

Swimming pool hours and footbathing facilities are simple reasonable accommodation for a religion and not objectionable.

Since acts of terrorism performed by Muslim in the name of Islam are manifestations of Islam the political ideology and therefore should be censured because it is an anathemic ideology. It is unclear what valuable purpose could be served by pretending that these acts have nothing to do with Islam. Put another way, are we really saying that all Muslims support these terrorist acts, tacitly if not openly -- only then would it make sense to try to pretend they are something they are not. Otherwise, one can assume that right-minded Muslims (those who see only Islam as a religion -- a spiritual fountainhead) would want no part of these actions by the extremists and would want them identified as Islamic ideologues to distinguish them from the right-minded Muslims.

Post Script: I should have included Canada, where Muslim university students demand to take over editorial control of general newsmagazines. This is Islam the ideology at work. Macleans magazine has just published a comprehensive statement of its defense to charges of promulgating Islamophobia. See here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Buy guns to bring about world peace






Want to know why world peace is not going to break out anytime soon? Look at this Foreign Policy magazine photo essay. Note the irony in the text under the last picture about anti-terrorism capabilities -- apparently nobody can make a connection between selling armaments and terrorism. Also, don't you think that is a sweet young thing sighting down the barrel of that machine gun in the photo above?

Willful Blindness, what an apt title

I start this blogpost with a biography from the website of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

"Andrew C. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor and a Contributor at National Review Online. From 1993 through 1996, while an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he led the prosecution against the jihad organization of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, in which a dozen Islamic militants were convicted of conducting a war of urban terrorism against the United States that included the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a plot to bomb New York City landmarks. Mr. McCarthy also made major contributions to the prosecutions of the bombers of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Millennium plot attack Los Angeles International Airport.

Following the September 11 attacks, Mr. McCarthy supervised the U.S. Attorney's Anti-Terrorism Command Post in New York City, coordinating investigative and preventive efforts with numerous federal and state law enforcement and intelligence agencies. From 1999 through 2003, he was the Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District's satellite office, responsible for federal law enforcement in six counties north of New York City.

Mr. McCarthy is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Justice Department's highest honors: the Attorney General's Exceptional Service Award (1996) and Distinguished Service Award (1988). He has served as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and as an Associate Independent Counsel in the investigation of a former cabinet official. He has also been an Adjunct Professor of Law both at the Fordham University School of Law and at New York Law School.

He writes extensively on a variety of legal, social and political issues for National Review and Commentary, among other publications, as well as providing commentary for various television and radio broadcasts."


I wanted to qualify the credentials of this man. He has just published a book: Willful Blindness: A memoir of the Jihad.

In an interview in National Review Online, Mr. McCarthy made this point:

They are a religious ideology reveling in a mission for which, far from making any apologies for their brutality, they exude a zeal found only in people convinced they are both right and justified. You won’t ever hear from them the slightest misgiving —no careful references to Infidelo-fascists so as not to offend all the wonderful moderate infidels out there.

We, on the contrary, are an odd combination of diffidence, self-loathing, and arrogance: doubtful we are worth the trouble to defend; apt to figure that if people hate us, we must deserve it; and sure that it is within our power to satisfy their grievances — even though we didn’t cause them — by dialogue, political processes, sensitivity-training, and, of course, buying them off — which simply confirms them in their suspicion that we don’t have the stomach for the fight.

Remember when the Israelis built their security fence and reduced Palestinian suicide bombings by about 95 percent? Prompted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the U.N.’s Court of International Justice promptly pronounced the fence — a passive, life-saving defense measure — to be a shameful violation of international law. In a nutshell, that’s where we’re headed: Ruled by a delusion that, in a world full of lawless savages abetted by rogue regimes, legal processes will save rather than enervate us.


And in case you are in any doubt about who the "they" is that he is referring to, then consider this recent sermon by a Hamas imam and member of the Palestinian parliament:

Hamas Cleric Predicts 'Rome Will Be Conquered by Islam'

Monday, April 14, 2008

A sermon last Friday by a prominent Muslim cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament openly declared that "the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital," would soon be conquered by Islam.

The fiery sermon, delivered by Yunis al-Astal and aired on Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, predicted that Rome would become "an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe."

"Allah has chosen you for Himself and for His religion," al-Astal preached, "so that you will serve as the engine pulling this nation to the phase of succession, security and consolidation of power, and even to conquests through da'wa and military conquests of the capitals of the entire world.

"Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad," he added.

Al-Astal last June preached how it was the duty of Palestinian women to martyr themselves by becoming homicide bombers.

"The most exalted form of jihad is fighting for the sake of Allah, which means sacrificing one's soul by fighting the enemies head-on, even if it leads to martyrdom," he said in a June 23, 2007 interview.

"When jihad becomes an individual duty, it applies to women too, because women do not differ from men when it comes to individual duties," he said, calling Jews "the brothers of apes and pigs" who should "taste the bitterness of death."

Friday's rant repeated that theme: "Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam.

"I believe that our children, or our grandchildren, will inherit our jihad and our sacrifices, and, Allah willing, the commanders of the conquest will come from among them.

"Today, we instill these good tidings in their souls – and by means of the mosques and the Koran books, and the history of our Prophets, his companions, and the great leaders, we prepare them for the mission of saving humanity from the hellfire at whose brink they stand."

In case you are not sure who the Palestinians are, they are the ones that American Presidents are always urging the Israelis to make peace with.

Keystone Kops and Canadian security services

The Keystone Kops were a famous Hollywood "short film" troop that made purely slapstick comedy on celluloid in the early days of silent film. Their successors can be found in a series of "Police Academy" films made in the 1980s and the current comedy channel spoof "Reno 911".

It is also a slang term applied to groups or entities that demonstrate ineptness in their handling of their enterprises.

When the news broke a couple of years ago that 18 Muslim men and teenagers had been arrested under Canada's post 9/11 terrorist laws for plotting to blow up public buildings and behead the Prime Minister, I had an uneasy feeling from the statements made at the police press conference that the 18 were not really terrorists, but some Islamic version of the Keystone Kops. Yesterday, the 7th member of this group was released without prosecution, after spending 17 months in custody. This guy had been virtually identified as the ringleader at the time of his arrest.

It is now beginning to look like our security and police services are the Keystone Kops in this affair.

This is the second black eye for our public guardians. The previous big profile detention for suspicious terrorist activity involved 19 Pakistani students who were taking flying lessons, some of which took them over the nearby nuclear plant. They were eventually deported for immigration irregularities that became evident after their arrest, but nothing more insidious turned up.

If prosecutors cannot secure convictions in this case then it is high time we had a public enquiry into our public safety and security; something the lawyers for the defendents are calling for as well. This police drama that starts off with a bang and ends with a whimper only discredits the authorities in the mind of the public and may lessen alertness in an age of peril. The public needs to be confident that the best people are on the job.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The scary United Nations

Here's a column by Paul Schneidereit appearing in the Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald, April 15, 2008:

"THE war on free speech in the West goes on, from both outside and within, unabated. That’s not to say that we’re losing. But it’s not clear we’re winning, either.

There are, at the heart of this matter, two very different ideas of what free speech is all about. One, the traditional Western concept, holds that, short of libel, slander or the direct incitement to violence, people should be free to pretty much say what they think. The other, now being pushed by a group of Islamic nations in the UN – and aided by na├»ve, appeasing bureaucrats in our own nation – believes that certain topics, like sharp criticism of religion, should be taboo.

In the last month, the UN’s Human Rights Council has passed several resolutions that in essence seek to criminalize criticism of Islam around the world. Now, the council spends very little if any time on real human rights abuses in the many countries where they occur, as its days are almost exclusively spent on the task of painting Israel as a monster. That, of course, is related to the fact that a majority on the world’s so-called human rights council are either Islamic nations hostile to Israel or regimes run by brutal autocrats who want to ensure there is no criticism of their own flagrant human rights abuses. But I digress.

In late March, the Orwellian-named council passed a motion condemning the "defamation" of religions, especially Islam, and calling on all member states to move to make such criticism of religion illegal in their countries. The motion passed, 24 to 10.

Can you defame a religion? If so, wouldn’t criticism of the Vatican’s nonsensical rules on birth control be out of line, too? Watch your footing; we’re on the slipperiest of slopes here.

Early this month, the UN human rights body passed another resolution – this time by a 32 to 0 vote – directing the UN’s own special rapporteur on free speech to report on individuals or media outlets that publicly make negative comments about Islam.

As other observers have noted, this seeks to turn a supposed promoter of free speech into a censor."


To read the full column, go to this site. Thanks to SteynOnLine for the link.

Amen, brother

Here's a quote from an article on Salman Rushdie in the U.K. Spectator, April 9, 2008:

We have to get thicker-skinned. If we end up going on being this thin-skinned, we’re going to kill each other. So we need to have the ability to hear unpalatable stuff. What would a “respectful” cartoon look like? The form itself requires disrespect — so you either have the form, or you don’t… I think we’re being extremely wimpish at the level of ideas. People must be protected from prejudice against their person. But people cannot be protected from prejudice against their ideas — because otherwise we’re all done.’

Monday, April 14, 2008

Political Correctness ( who knew?) How to apologize

A few weeks ago a Toronto city councillor rose in the council chamber and gave a speech praising the work ethic of oriental people. Among other things, he said, "This is why they are slowly taking over." He stirred up a shit storm and eventually was forced into an apology.

Apparently, his alleged mistake was referring to people from east and southeast Asia as "Orientals" instead of "Asians". It was the first time anyone I know, including me, had heard that the term oriental is politically incorrect. So, presumably, if he had said, "This why Asians are slowly taking over", that would have been ok? I think not. There is more to this than simple political incorrectness.

It is ok to praise a work ethic, just not ok to suggest it might actually lead those who are practicing it somewhere. The oriental people who protested said that his speech had shades of the prejudice that used to manifest itself in Canada as references to the "yellow peril" and that the councillor was an anachronism.

I happen to believe that people who work hard do succeed and eventually "take over", and I don't think there is anything wrong with that. It is one of the chief arguments against a socialistic welfare state. These people I guess want to take over without anyone noticing it, so they have to shut up a guy who is publicly paying them a compliment. Bizarre.

It reminded me, however, of some famous apologies.

I read about some broadcaster years ago (I can't recall the guy, but it was somebody famous). Anyway, like everybody else in the business, he started out young at small town radio station. One December he was commenting on air about how everybody was getting into the Christmas spirit and that the neighbourhood YMCA was even painting the cockroaches red and green. He got a blistering rebuke from the YMCA. So the next day, he mentioned his faux pas and said he was sorry about the mistake, adding "apparently the YMCA is not painting their cockroaches red and green this Christmas."

There was also a very famous English barrister, who, having his cross-examination of a witness interrupted once too often by the interfering judge, said, "I am sorry, my lord. Of course you are right, and I am wrong, as your lordship usually is."

But this whole political correctness thing is too complicated for simple folk to follow. In an earlier blogpost, I mentioned being surprised by a talk show host correcting his guest who had said the word "Jew" and telling him he ought to have used "Jewish" instead. Jews call themselves Jews for pity sake. It depends on how you are using it. If you want to say "he Jewed me" or "don't let him Jew you", then I think it is fair to assume it's being used in a pejorative sense. Otherwise, it's a perfectly acceptable word.

How about the evolution of the word "nigger". When I was a boy, my mother taught me that this was one of the worst words anyone could utter. And to this day, I still cringe when I hear it. The problem is that I hear it too often, it's everywhere.

In the 20th century it went from negro, to nigger, to coloured people, to people of colour, to African-Americans, to blacks and now back to niggers. Although, as a white person, it is still not ok for me to use that term, even if I were inclined.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I found an interesting website that tracks political correctness. So you can always be on top of this and avoid those funny looks at cocktail parties when you open your mouth and lose that job promotion.

This website suggests that the anachronistic city councillor is a man firmly planted in the early 90's. By the middle 90's the term oriental was verboten.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice...

Below is a list of all the venues for the summer Olympic games since the first one in 1896. Notice, with two exceptions, something common about them? Except for the Berlin games of 1936, and the Moscow games of 1980, they were all awarded to cities situated in countries that are democracies. 2008 is only the third time the games have gone to a city run by a brutal dictatorship.

The Berlin games, after more than 70 years, still remain the most contoversial of all of them. They were saved from international embarrassment only by the sterling performance of black American sprinter, Jesse Owens, who won 4 gold medals and put the lie to the Nazi boast of Aryan superiority. I doubt the ordinary person in the street, if asked, could name any Olympic gold medal runner since, but would have no difficulty in recognizing Jesse Owens' name.

The Moscow games were boycotted by many western nations because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan a year before the games.

The Beijing games are shaping up to be as internationally embarrassing as the Berlin and Moscow games. Do you think the people who award these events will read this history and learn something from it when they next sit down to consider the applications from competing cities?

Olympic Summer Games:
Athens 1896
Paris 1900
St Louis 1904
London 1908
Stockholm 1912
Antwerp 1920
Paris 1924
Amsterdam 1928
Los Angeles 1932
Berlin 1936
London 1948
Helsinki 1952
Melbourne / Stockholm 1956
Rome 1960
Tokyo 1964
Mexico 1968
Munich 1972
Montreal 1976
Moscow 1980
Los Angeles 1984
Seoul 1988
Barcelona 1992
Atlanta 1996
Sydney 2000
Athens 2004


http://www.thestar.com/News/Ideas/article/413768

Friday, April 11, 2008

Dangerous conspiracy theories

I am behind the 8-ball on this one, and the fault lies with too many books to read and too little time to do it in. I just got to the Richard A. Clarke book, Against All Enemies, published in 2004. Clarke was the chief anti-terrorism expert in the White House under Clinton and George Bush, Jr. He had also worked at more junior levels but in similar work for the Reagan adminstration and George Bush, Sr. He quit his post over the obsession by the Bush administration blaming Iraq for the work of Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

He reveals that Paul Wolfowitz was convinced that Iraq was responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre. Wolfowitz, as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, was instrumental in persuading George Bush and his cabinet that Iraq was the true culprit in 9/11, not just al Qaeda. He was not alone. Richard Perle, another neo-con and the Chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee under George Bush, also bought into the Iraq version of events.

But where did this conviction come from? It turns out they were infatuated with a discredited conspiracy theory put out by author Laurie Mylroie. You can read the full tale of her involvement in shaping U.S. foreign policy here.

It is sad to consider how many people have died, Americans and Iraqis, and what a mess the Middle East has become since the invasion of Iraq, and worse, that it may have all been started by a false conspiracy theory.

And here is somebody else that doesn't get it

A few days ago columnist Mindelle Jacobs in the Edmonton Sun newspaper wrote about the polygamy issue in Bountiful, B.C. She quoted an Alberta human rights lawyer, Vaughan Marshall, who seems to think a 1994 Supreme Court of Canada decision expanding the notion of religion and declaring that ajudicating claims of dogma is not the purview of the courts is a problem. In that case, the court ruled that one did not have to exhibit an accepted dogma to successfully maintain the right to claim freedom in the practice of religion. The only two things that mattered were the sincerity of the religious person in the pursuit of his or her beliefs and whether or not they caused harm to others.

Mr. Vaughan thinks that one must apply a test of reasonableness to determine whether one is practising religion, i.e., the religious practice must be a reasonable one.

In what respect is religion reasonable? It is reasonable for people to believe something, whatever it might be, but there is no way in which reason, as we understand that term, could be applied to religion. The essence of religion is faith, and faith is belief in a truth for which there is no reasonable evidence supporting such belief. Faith is the antithesis of reason and to practice religion is to practice non reason.

They just don't get it

All the HRCs in Canada are presently under attack by virtually everybody in the journalistic or pubishing business in Canada because of the uproard caused by the complaints brought by some Muslims against Ezra Levant, Mark Steyn and MacLeans Magazine. In Ottawa there is even some thought being given to abolishing these institutions, although the provinces would have to deal with the provincial ones.

Early on, the Ontario HRC said it would not deal with the complaints because it was too backlogged with other business. But a couple of days ago it issued a statement saying that it would not take on the complaint because it did not have jurisdiction. If it had left it at that it would have been enough. But it was not enough for the OHRC. Without having heard the merits of the complaints, or the defense of Steyn and MacLeans to the accusations, without, in short hearing a shred of evidence one way or another, it decided that MacLeans was guilty of inflaming Islamophobia, and by inference, guilty of violating somebody's human rights.

The head of the OHRC is a former mayor of Toronto and a lawyer. One would think a lawyer would have more regard for the impropriety of a quasi-judicial body declining jurisdiction, but by media release pronouncing a verdict without a trial. That in itself is shocking, but to have the audacity to perform something as foolish as this in the face of the growing windstorm threatening to blow HRCs out of the water is simply astounding. See this jaw dropping statement here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The new secular religion of environmentalism

From time to time I carry on an e-mail debate with one of the senior editors of one of the Toronto daily newspapers. He is one of the few that spends some time crossing swords with his readers. Many columnists don’t acknowledge you, especially if you have disagreed with their points of view. This guy is different and I enjoy our infrequent interchanges.

Recently, I sent him a commentary on how I saw the new secular religion of environmentalism. He liked it, and said it was the best description of it he’d seen, it was “brilliant”. It is not often one receives such high praise from a hard-boiled newspaper editor, so I thought I would reproduce it below:

“It is now trite to say that environmentalism has become the new secular religion. It has its God (the IPCC), its dogma (curb CO2 at all costs), its high priests (Al Gore and David Suzuki), it has a narrative (human destruction of the planet), it has breakaway sects (the people who advocate non-reproduction of humans), it has apocalyptic predictions about the end of the world (mainly Gore's Inconvenient Truth) and it has a Bible (the Kyoto Protocol), and if one only follows the path, the people on the Earth will be saved.”

That was the paragraph he really liked. I don’t believe he bought into the one that followed:

“When you say you believe in the IPCC (i.e. you believe in God) but not in the literal truth of the Bible (Kyoto), then the fundamentalists attack you for your lack of faith -- you are a mere deist. The funny thing about religions is that you think you are disputing only the actual beliefs and not the people who believe them. But people's egos are so tied to their belief systems that any attack on it cannot be seen as anything but an attack on them.”

Chinese junkets and political disconnect from reality

Barack Obama made a telling comment about politicians in his book The Audacity of Hope. The longer one is in office, he said, "the narrower the scope of your interactions.

"You may fight it with town-hall meetings and listening tours and stops by the old neighbourhood, but your schedule dictates that you move in a different orbit from most of the people you represent."

This comes to mind in the face of the obstinacy of the mayor of Toronto, David Miller, and the Ontario government, insisting on going to China when the rest of the world is rioting every time the Chinese militarily-guarded Olympic flame passes through a new city on its global "good will" tour.

I once was a member of a board of directors of an international organization that held annual meetings in different cities in the world. It was an honour competed for and, like the Olympics, a city applied and was awarded the right to host the event several years in advance. A few months before the meeting was to be held in Beijing, the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred. We switched the venue to another city in Europe on short notice. China put a lot of pressure on us to keep it in Beijing, but we rejected it.

This is a time to seriously consider boycotting the games, not trotting off on junkets that will only be used by the Chinese authorities as evidence that the Tibet business makes no difference to anyone outside China.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Occam's Razor and 9/11

I am known as a person who is a great skeptic of conspiracy theories. Over the past year, three people have spoken to me about the allegations that 9/11 was an inside job. As time has gone on, I find that more and more people are persuaded to this view.

I decided to blog about it and I began to research it on the Internet. My first stop was Wikipedia and I entered “Truthers” in the search box. The conspiracy theorists are known as Truthers.

I was surprised to find that polls indicate 37% of Americans believe that 9/11 was an inside job. Now I don’t know how many Americans also believe that the Roosevelt government suppressed information about Japanese intentions to attack Pearl Harbor in order to force America into WWII, or how many believe that there are aliens in cryonic suspension in some underground vault in Area 51, or how many are still speculating on the identity of the other shooter of JFK on the grassy knoll in Dallas, but if you said 37%, I would not be surprised. What did surprise me was the fact that people I see being more and more persuaded to the inside job theory are Canadians, who, I thought, perhaps somewhat chauvinistically, were a little more level headed about such things.

You might ask why does it matter what Canadians think? Well, if nothing else, Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan at 2.6times the casualty rate of anybody else, including Americans, largely because Canada bought into the American theory that Osama bin Laden, then in Afghanistan, was responsible for 9/11.

There is a tonne of information supporting the Truthers, including books and documentaries (one of which, a seminal one, I have seen, “Loose Change”). There are a large number of organizations pounding the conspiracy keyboards. While there are a lot of questions that have arisen, some of which are very technical and arcane, there are 4 basic ones that started the whole conspiracy theory ball rolling. They are:

1. Why didn't NORAD protect the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, two known terrorist targets?
2. Why did the intelligence and security services fail to prevent the attacks from taking place despite numerous apparent warnings?
3. Why was President Bush allowed to stay in a Florida school classroom for over 10 minutes after being told that America was under attack?
4. No previous steel-framed skyscrapers had ever totally collapsed due to anything except controlled demolition, so why did it happen three times on September 11?

There is another issue. Why would the United States government carry out this attack against its own people?

Let’s start with the fifth one first, and I will come back to it. The question never really appears in a direct form that I can find, but I believe it is answered by the allegation that this was all a show (like Pearl Harbor) to gain widespread public and media support to justify the government attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but may have something to do with controlling oil in the Middle East, protecting Israel in situ, and paying back Saddam Hussein for attempting to take out George Bush senior.

With respect to the first question, there was no protocol established with respect to shooting down domestic airliners with citizens on board. Secondly, this sequence of events equally supports the proposition that NORAD was taken by surprise by the coordinated hijacking of 4 airplanes simultaneously, if not more so, than the supposition that NORAD was deliberately off-line at the time.

With respect to the second question, it was because intelligence and security services need authorization to take action from political leaders. They didn’t get it because their political leaders are, oh, how can I put this diplomatically and delicately, oh yes, I know, they are stupid. How do I know they are stupid – I offer you Iraq as proof. If you need more evidence, read Richard A. Clarke’s searing indictment, Against All Enemies.

What are we going to call those 10 minutes in the Florida classroom? I remember seeing a movie about the Russian Revolution called, Ten Days that Shook the World. So are these going to be the Ten Minutes that Shook the World Trade Center?

One conspiracy believer told me that she “read” Bush’s face as he sat there and saw somebody who looked like he was hiding something. I thought he was doing a mental calculation wondering whether it was too late to call for another vote recount and make Al Gore the President. More likely, he was mulling over what he had just been told and wondered whether he should seek clarification on “what did they mean America was being attacked and did this mean he wouldn’t be able to get away for a holiday on the weekend”? I don’t get the impression that George is that quick on his feet, and even slower in a seated position. Maybe he really was interested in seeing how the story of the duck or the donkey, or whatever the kids’ book was, came out.

By comparison, there is a famous story by Albert Speer about Adolph Hitler attending a night at the opera ( Wagner, of course) and being interrupted by an aide whispering in his ear advising him that one of his devious plots had come to fruition – I can’t recall which one – perhaps the takeover of Austria. Speer reports that Hitler could barely hide his glee at the news.

With respect to number 4, here’s a new thought. No steel framed skyscraper has ever been put to the test of having a fully-fueled and loaded jet airliner flown into it and left to burn for an hour or more. So, it’s fair to say that, in the absence of a controlled experiment duplicating the event, one cannot say that this would not happen.

Let’s get back to the objective question and ask this one.

If I were Dick Cheney, along with my sock puppet, George Bush, and I wanted to attack Iraq by blowing up the WTC and I went to the trouble of pre-setting explosive devices to bring the building down in a controlled manner, why would I bother with the airline hijacking scenario? It would be enough to claim Muslim terrorists successfully bombed the buildings from the inside. To “Hollywood” the whole thing up would bring an unacceptable level of possibile foul-up. And, it would be very believable without the airplanes because those same folks tried that very thing in 1993.

Furthermore, why would I put it about that the hijackers were civilian Saudis? I want to attack Iraq. Why wouldn’t I make the phony attackers Iraqis, members of the Iraqi military or security service? And if I didn't want to look like I am declaring war on Islam, why would I even bring the "Muslim" element into it. None of that was necessary to the plot.

All of the “evidence” of the conspiracy theorists is, at best, circumstantial. In the 7 years since 9/11, not one person has come forward with direct evidence of this theory, not anybody who says that they were a part of the fiction – not one careless drunken conversation in a bar, not one careless e-mail, not one official document in a brown envelope dropped off to Seymour Hirsch, not one person trying to sell his story to the newspapers, etc. When you consider how many people would have to have been in on the plot, even if only a small portion of it, it defies our understanding of human nature in the age of the Internet that this could be kept secret for so long. Does Watergate have any resonance? Republican presidents do not have a good track record at coverning up wrongdoing.

One person answered this by saying they were all killed. I remember when Kennedy was killed. There was a series of people (about 5 or 6) who died under apparently mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. That was big news for a long time. To cover up 9/11 in this manner you would have to bump off at least 1,000 people. Has anybody reported them missing?

Finally, why is Osama bin Laden still alive? Of all the people in the world who could confirm the conspiracy theory, he’s the one. Surely, he would have been knocked off by now. But, you know, the people who are chasing him are not as smart as he is.

That brings us full circle. To believe that Arab extremists are not smart enough or organized enough to carry this out suggests that the Bush administration is. One only has to look at the record of the Bush administration to realize that does not add up.

All in all, I would fall back on Occam’s Razor: where there are several explanations for an event or a phenomenon, each with more and more complexity, the simplest one is usually the best.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The evil atheists do is interred with their bones, the good lives on

I received an e-mail invitation the other day to attend a forthcoming seminar on the danger of radical Islam to our society. It came from some Christian church organization and I have no idea how I got on its mailing list. In the message portion the organizers pointed out that radical Islam was an even greater danger to western civilization than “secular atheism”.

Hmmm. Should I be pleased that I am ranked second only to the likes of Osama bin Laden as a threat to western civilization?

A short while later a headline in an on-line conservative newspaper caught my eye. The writer was expanding on the theme that we are being targeted by a conspiracy of liberal leftists, Islamists and atheists. I read the piece and the writer was quite clear in connecting the dots between the intellectual leftists and the Islamists.

This is not new. Other writers have pointed out how the intellectual leftists, who despise capitalism and the power establishments in the west, sought common cause with the Russian communist regime of Stalin. They became, in Lenin’s apt phrase, a legion of “useful idiots” for communist propaganda. With the disgrace of the Stalinist regime and the exposure of its crimes against humanity the left became muted.

Until the Islamists came along and gave them heart: “Now here’s a bunch of guys we can support because they hate all the same things we hate.”

But other than using McCarthy-style “naming” the writer made no attempt to show how atheists fit into this. I suppose the unarticulated code is that they are evil people and would somehow be behind other evil people. Lost on the writer is the fact that Islam calls for the death penalty for atheists.

There was a national poll carried out some time ago in the United States. I think it was by the Pew Research organization. People were asked who they trusted and who they would be prepared to vote into the office of the President. Atheists came dead last. Parents said they would rather see their children marry a person of another faith than an atheist.

It reminded me of an apocryphal story. A religious mother is berating her young son who has come home from college but is not attending church. He finally admits to her that he no longer believes in God. After catching her breath, his mother says she can accept that as long as he doesn’t become an atheist.

And people ask, “Why are these New Atheists, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris so strident?” Gee, I wonder.

Dawkins says that atheists are in the position that homosexuals were 25 years ago and that they should learn some lessons from the “coming out” and “demand for respect” that has advanced the gay community’s stature. Harris says that is a good idea, but he doesn’t think the Atheist Pride Parade will be nearly as colourful as the Gay Pride Parade.

I wish some of these religious people would wake up and realize that our present western civilization would not be as liberal and free as they now enjoy it if atheist thinkers had not had a seminal role in the creation of our modern society.

The list of names of secular humanists and atheists who have contributed something on the path to reason over superstition and magical thinking is a long and honourable one. It includes: the Budda, Confucius, Lucretius, Omar Khayyam, Copernicus, Montaigne, David Hume, Harriet Martineau, Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, John Dewey, Albert Schweitzer, Julian Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Camus, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins and many, many others.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for Chapters-Indigo

For about 10 years the music industry has been going downhill. Part of the problem relates to the product being produced. On the whole, it sucks. And when you produce a product that sucks and try to get about $30 a CD for it from the public you will have a problem.

The second blow to the industry is the impact of Internet technology which allows the free downloading of music. Industry revenues have plummeted and the music producers have fought back through the courts in the United States by suing individuals who have downloaded a lot of music. There have been a few successful suits but the downloading and swapping practice continues, the courts are too slow and expensive, and there are just too many people engaged in file sharing of music to make this an effective enforcement vehicle. Meanwhile, retail record stores are beginning to close down. Industry observers are now calling for a halt to the unsuccessful litigation strategy and are urging music companies to develop a new business model.

Music used to be a big part of my life in my younger days, but I have become sort of indifferent to it. So the music industry’s problems are only of academic interest to me.

Not so the publishing industry which looks like the next one about to succumb to the commercial impact of the Internet. I am a book addict and regularly weed out my personal library and replenish it with newer titles. I care about this industry.

Twenty years or so ago, giant bookseller chains built superstores that had cozy reading areas and in-house coffee shops for book browsers. Great for people like me, but they drove all the little “mom and pop” book retailers out of business. The only small bookstores to survive were specialty ones that featured art books or some other arcane category that would not find itself much shelf space in the superstores. Even these can no longer make it (margins are very thin throughout the publishing/retailing industry and getting smaller). A small bookstore in Toronto specializing in books related to architecture just closed its doors after a valiant attempt to stay alive.

Now the superstores are vulnerable. It is considerably cheaper to order a book on-line than to buy it in the store. With the rise of Amazon.com, the big on-line retailer, the superstore chains have been forced to provide their own on-line ordering services, and sell the books cheaper than you can get them in the store. I have ordered books in this manner, but mainly when they were unavailable in the store after checking there first. I used to go to the store order desk and be prepared to wait a week for the book to come in. Then I discovered that I could get the books through the store’s on-line service faster and cheaper than using the order desk in the store.

The problem is that the retailer is competing against itself: the more the Internet sales, the less cost-effective (revenue/cost per unit sold) the retail stores become. With this self-defeating business model there will eventually be a cross-over point where management will decide to go out of the store business and sell only on-line.

The wonderful day of browsing the book aisles and admiring the covers and reading the dust jackets may soon become a mere nostalgic memory. My grandchildren may one day ask me, “What was a bookstore? Did you ever go in one?”

The oldest bookstore in Canada closed in Halifax last week. It had been in continuous operation for 169 years. The owner said he knew the writing was on the wall when a book was delivered by mail to him accidentally. It was a book ordered on-line from Amazon by a tenant in the upstairs apartment over the store. The book was available on the shelf in the store and would have taken the tenant two minutes to come downstairs and buy it.

Today, publisher Harper-Collins announced a new business model. It will no longer pay stores money to place its books on the favourable racks, it will no longer pay authors advances, and, most importantly, it will no longer accept returns from stores.

If you are not familiar with the publishing industry, it is unique. It is the only industry where the manufacturer will accept returns of products unsold in stores after a period of time. The retailer obtains a refund from the publisher for the unsold product. It is one step away from a consignment method of selling.

Harper-Collins intends to concentrate on selling its books on-line. I predict that other publishers will fall in step and the 500-year history of bookstores will come to an abrupt end.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The slippery slope of human rights

There is a flap going on in Canada at the moment over the fact that this country scuttled a German-Spanish U.N. initiative to have access to water become a human right. This has brought out the barking boy-scout one-worlders who have a large presence in Canada. These folks seem to think that anything that runs its course through the great and glorious United Nations somehow acquires by that fact alone a moral authority that exceeds any other force on Earth. We even had a Prime Minister who ceded Canadian sovereignty to the United Nations to decide whether Canada should go to war.

“Well, you know, if the U.N. is fer it, by gum, then we’re fer it too! I reckon.”

However, even Maude Barlow, a well-known Canadian nationalist-socialist, who has challenged water exports to the United States, favoured this resolution. She has some idea that this will prevent the commercialization of water, which, of course, is a big thing with Barlow because the most important human right to her is the one that prevents anybody making EVIL PROFITS.

I would argue the opposite. If you make it a human right, then how can Canada, which has so much water, prevent its water from draining south from the Great Lakes to feed the drought stricken areas of the United States. All the U.S. has to do is refer to Canada’s agreement at the U.N. that water is a basic human right and it has no moral authority to dispute the U.S. right to protect American human rights. This is a very slippery slope, although Barlow calls that notion “fantastical”.

The Americans have been very careless about water use, building cities and communities in deserts, draining aquifers and rivers, and irrigating huge desert areas for crops. In many places they are beginning to run short. Last year there was a drought in Georgia and Florida. Atlanta was reduced at one point to a 90 day reserve of water. Three states entered into negotiations to share water, but those negotiations broke down. There is a great deal of pressure being applied by the politicians from southwest states to their counterparts in Great Lakes states to divert the lake water south.

Human rights traditionally have been circumscribed by the relationship of individuals to their society. We understand the right to liberty, free speech, freedom to practice religion or not, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom to vote in elections and to hold public office. From these we derive other rights; such as, freedom of the press (media), freedom from incarceration without due process of law, equality between men and women.

Once you start to stray from these basic understandings, odd things happen. For example, we have a problem in Canada at the present time because Article 13 in the Canada Human Rights Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada, in a closely divided decision, has legally enshrined the human right of “not being offended.” This has now opened the door to frivolous complaints that are threatening the basic human right of free speech. Such is the uproar this has caused that Parliament must now consider either scrapping Article 13, or scrapping human rights commissions.

This U.N. proposal now wants to extend human rights, not to relationships between individuals and society, but to natural resources. If that were done, you would see the law of unintended consequences flourish in all its grandeur.

For example, why would it not be open to suggest that access to fossil fuels is a human right? After all, the entire planet’s economy is married to energy provided by fossil fuels, and without them there would be an international collapse the likes of which the world has never seen. So if Venezuela’s Mr. Chavez wanted to withhold that country’s petroleum from the world market, or, more specifically the U.S. market, would the United States suffer moral condemnation if it invaded Venezuela as a matter of enforcing “human rights”?

Far fetched, you think? Third world countries have already raised a derivation of this argument in resisting efforts by first world countries to get them to agree to not develop on the back of fossil fuels. Economic development is seen by these countries as a “human right” and we have no business dictating to them how it should be undertaken. One African commentator said, “Do you expect us to run our railroads with solar panels and windmills (when you take full advantage of fossil fuels to run yours)?”