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.