Thursday, July 31, 2008

One step closer to re-criminalizing birth control and abortion

The Bush Administration is pandering to the Religious Right wingnuts by proposing to redefine the most popular and accessible means of birth control, the Pill, as abortion.
They're pretending that the regulation is an innocuous human rights protection -- just a way to help all those poor beleaguered doctors and pharmacists who are now being forced by mean state governments to do their jobs against their moral code, you know.
But actually what will happen, of course, is that anti-abortion activists will now have a new focus for their activism -- they will launch intensive pressure campaigns against local doctors and pharmacists and hospitals to stop prescribing birth control pills and the morning after pill altogether, and to stop insurance companies from covering the costs.
Even the Wall Street Journal grasps the larger implications:
With its expansive definitions, the draft bolsters a key goal of the religious right: to give single-cell fertilized eggs full rights by defining them as legal people -- or, as some activists put it, "the tiniest boys and girls."
As long as Roe v. Wade remains in effect and abortion remains legal, that goal can't be fully realized. But in recent years, abortion opponents have scored notable successes. For instance: Several states now define a fertilized egg as a legal person -- an "unborn child" -- for purposes of fetal homicide laws, which allow criminal prosecution when a woman miscarries as a result of an assault . . .
Even if the draft is never implemented, activists on both sides consider it a potential momentum shift.
"You keep striking away and framing the issue the way you want to frame it," said David DeWolf, a law professor at Gonzaga University who has advised anti-abortion groups. "That's the political strategy."
Gee, sorta reminds me of the debate around our very own proposal for an Unborn Victims of Crime Act -- which, we are assured, has absolutely nothing to do with trying to re-criminalize abortion and birth control, no, of course not ...

What a dolt

Well, this just made trips to the bookstore a little easier.
I will never want to read anything by Orson Scott Card ever again.

These precious days

Lance Mannion has been blogging about his family vacation.
He's obviously been enjoying himself, and doing so consciously, too.
"Consciously"? Here's what I mean:
One perfect fall Sunday several years ago, when both my children were still living at home and my husband and I were getting Sunday dinner ready, I said to myself, remember this! Remember this day and how everyone you love is here and with you, and they are happy and you are happy too!
Because there will be days to come when one or more of the people you love will be away or gone or unhappy or ill. There will be a time when you will need a happy memory to look back on. So make this day that memory.
So I have consciously held that precious happy day in a bell jar in my memory ever since.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

They made him

Chet at The Vanity Press provides some fine coverage of the Knoxville church shootings:
American conservatism is not merely, or even primarily, a set of principles; it's a culture, and at the grassroots one of its main rhetorical and motivating features is a carefully cultivated hatred -- a seething, white-hot hatred -- of the shadowy Other that it labels "liberals." It has cultivated this aspect of itself through talk radio, blogs, speeches, all sorts of communications media, and it has done so for decades . . . . The same loathing of "liberals" that has raised cash and gotten out the vote for Republicans, the same feelings of inchoate anger that have convinced millions to vote against their own interests in the name of screwing some nameless Other that they hate and blame, are what moved this man to walk into a liberal church and start gunning people down. His actions were a straightforward fulfillment of some of the conservative movement's most powerful words, and of the feelings of impotence and rage that those words continually evoke.
Until and unless American conservatism actually expunges the anti-"liberal" hatred from its rhetoric and motivations, I see no reason to let the movement disown this guy who shares and is clearly motivated by that same hatred. They made him, whether they like it or not.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Purple-shirted flatulence

I have been following the blog of Times religion reporter Ruth Gledhill and the StandFirm website for news about the Lambeth Conference -- where the bishops of the Anglican Church are trying to figure out how appease their homophobic and misogynistic right-wingers.
Of course, as they are discovering, it can't be done.
First they tried to float some kind of "compromise" on ordination of women so that churches could somehow avoid having to deal with a woman bishop. Of course, this was a silly idea that was rightfully voted down.
Now they have come up with another plan, called a Pastoral Forum, which they think will somehow force Canadian Anglican churches to stop blessing same-sex marriages, and will force US episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, to resign, while also tossing a bone to the librulls by stopping conservative African bishops from poaching US and Canadian congregations.
One commenter called this idea "purple-shirted flatulence".
And it ain't gonna work -- the conservative Anglican churches have already set up their own organization and they won't be stopped in their march backward.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Great line of the day

Dr. Dawg writes about that new poll showing 35 per cent of Canadians are mad about something but aren't doing anything about it:
... the realization that more than a third of my fellow citizens might be in the "quiet person who kept himself to himself before opening fire on a bus" category has me concerned, but only, I'll admit, to a certain extent. Thank goodness we're taught good manners in this country. The very thought of cleaning up afterwards is probably enough of a deterrent for most.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Laying the trap

The cynicism of this is beyond belief.
The Globe is reporting that the United States has made a "key offer" in World Trade Organization talks that to allow more foreign professionals to work in the States:
“When it comes to temporary entry of business professionals we signalled that we are ready to have that conversation in the context of the Doha round,” U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told reporters.
“But obviously it has to be in conjunction with our consultations with Congress,” she said after a session on services at the World Trade Organization.
The issue of granting temporary business visas to skilled foreign workers is controversial as many politicians consider it an immigration issue that should not be included in trade pacts.
Yeah. So after seven years of fruitless talks, stymied because of disputes about agricultural subsidies, now -- in an election year -- the Bush administration says it wants to move ahead? And so it is going to ask Obama and the Democrats in Congress to approve allowing more foreign workers to come into the US? Yeah, that'll happen, I'm sure.
Pardon me for suspecting that Obama and the Democrats are being set up to be blamed when these WTO talks collapse.

Friday, July 25, 2008

AECL Employee of the Month

Power plant kept in the dark about missing reactor part

Waving American flags?

As my son pointed out, "They were waving American flags? In Germany?"
The average American may not realize -- or may not want to realize -- how amazing Obama 's trip has been, particularly in regard to rehabilitating America's reputation in the world.
Meanwhile, the best McCain can do is Ich Bin Ein Piggly-Wigglyer. The contrast is painfully pathetic.
The bloggers were saying last week what a bad week McCain had had. Now they're saying it again this week.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I love this video -- four million people have watched it on YouTube. The full story is here: Christian, the lion who lived in my London living room

Roger DeBris lives!

Reading about the right wing reaction to Obama's speech -- Conservatives Project Their Fascist Fantasies Onto Obama in Berlin -- reminded me of one of my favorite lines:
Did you know, I never knew that the Third Reich meant Germany. I mean it's just drenched with historical goodies like that... But we've got to do something about that third act - they're losing the war! Its too depressing!"
I couldn't find this clip on YouTube, but here's another great one:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What Digby says

about banning tasers:
I've written many times about tasers. I honestly don't understand why people are so complacent about the fact that we are allowing the police to torture citizens into compliance, completely based on their own judgment and with no threat of sanction. Even if you kill someone with one, the authorities defend you.
This is a barbaric practice that should be ended. I know they can be a useful tool if used correctly. But they've been out there for years, there has been ample evidence of abuse and torture with them, and nothing gets done. At this point the police have lost the benefit of the doubt --- they refuse to adhere to strict guidelines and always rush to defend the psychos who happen to get caught using them for no good reason. They've left no choice but to ban them.

Simple answers to simple questions

Christie Blatchford asks In the end, will the price we pay in Afghanistan be worth it?
This has been another edition of simple answers to simple questions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Eat what you want

I agree with this article -- Go ahead, kids, eat your cake first.
My husband and I came from the usual post-depression era food nazi families, and we have dealt with being overweight our entire adult lives.
For my kids, I decided to serve them healthy meals and a daily multivitamin, and let them decide what and how much they wanted to eat -- no pressure, no pestering, no "you have to try it" rules, no cajoling, we didn't focus on their food intake at all, and we never adopted the "your mother worked hard to cook this meal so you'd better eat it" attitude. We adopted the philosophy that their bodies were their own, to eat as they wished. And if they wanted something to eat before dinner, sure -- have some carrot sticks or a cracker or whatever. If they didn't like what I cooked, fine, have a sandwich instead.
Neither of my kids had allergies, so we didn't have to worry about monitoring food intake due to this -- though I think my son may have had a dairy sensitivity, but he stopped drinking milk when he was a toddler so he grew out of it I think.
They each went through food phases -- at one point my daughter wanted kraft dinner all the time; my son called himself a "meat-atarian" when he was a teenager -- but today they are both normal weight, they keep in shape, they both love salads and don't particularly like desserts, and they can both cook.
So, the kids are alright. And as a side benefit, this approach also saved my husband and I a lot of needless stress -- parents already have a long list of things we must argue about with our children, so why add food to the list?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum

Over at Corrente, in a comment to Lambert's post about how Obama is already in control, bringiton describes the new reality in American foreign policy:
There has been a vacuum in American foreign policy and international relations for some time now. . . the rest of the world is heartily sick of it and has stopped talking to George and Dick. At the last several international conferences, our President has been shunned publically; there are photo after photo showing him sitting alone staring off while all around him other leaders are engaged with each other in conversation.
That smart-ass simpering cocaine and alcohol addled inarticulate dime store cowboy embarrassment that we’ve all grown to loath is not an act; that is GeeW, right out front and real, and nobody wants to put up with him anymore. Even Maliki, the tenuous prime minister whose status in office, and indeed his very life, depends on the continued support and good will of 150,000 of the most dangerous military troops on Earth who are occupying his country, jumped at the chance to defy and rebuke both Bush and McCain at the first opportunity for a face-to-face sit down with Obama. . . .
Since the outcome of the Democratic primary became clear, Maliki has stood up to Bush on the oil contracts, on the status of forces agreement, on insisting that a “time horizon” be negotiated, and has now embraced Obama’s proposal for a major forces troop exit at 16 months . . . The negotiations for the future of Iraq are now being conducted between the Prime Minister and a US Senator, who is not even his party’s official nominee as a candidate for the presidency.
The same thing with Karzai in Kabul . . . For years Karzai has called for more troops, more reconstruction, more infrastructure advancement, and those calls have been echoed by every military commander in country and every UN and NGO relief organization on the ground. Bush has done nothing but make one mistake after another in Afghanistan, again perhaps deliberately and perhaps not, but the net result is another disaster. Karzai is also now talking directly to and openly negotiating with Obama, another head of state in another critical situation who has abandoned any pretense of wanting to deal any more with the actual President of The United States. . . .
In the longer term . . . it is not a good thing on principle for anyone other than the Chief Executive or his delegate to be making these kinds of agreements – and agreements they are. . . .
In the short term it is beyond horrific that the sitting President has so completely alienated the entire world and all of its leaders . . . Obama has stepped into the void left Bush and Cheney to seize the power representing America in both Afghanistan and Iraq. So far, and I say this with fingers crossed, he has succeeded in negotiating agreements with Maliki and Karzai that conform to what needs doing, get out of Iraq and clean up Afghanistan. Sounds good, but then one never knows what will actually happen once he is in office. Still, it seems to me that having an adult take charge is probably better than simply leaving a void. The Plutocrats handed the remote control for the Imperial Unitary President Monster to Bush, an untreated coke-head alcoholic, and Cheney, a victim of multiple strokes in the last stages of cardiac failure; the boys lost it, big surprise, and now Obama has picked it up.
. . . Just to be sure we have this in perspective; Obama is not the first non-President to assume such a role. Ronald Reagan was conducting secret, unauthorized foreign policy negotiations, in direct contrast to the best interests of America and American citizen hostages, while he was running for the office. Obama, at least, is being open about it and thus far appears to be moving things in the direction any sane person would want. Woodrow Wilson’s second wife, Edith, took on the role of gatekeeper for him after his stroke and kept him isolated from the Vice President and his Cabinet, selecting what issues were presented to him and relaying his decisions to others; or at least her interpretation of his wishes. Obama, at least, is an elected United States Senator.
This isn’t a good deal for anyone, but it isn’t entirely unprecedented either.
The only thing that bringiton missed was that our very own Yo Harper is still BFF with GeeW. Isn't that special?

Great line of the day

skdadl puts her finger on the problem with Obama's more-troops-for-Afghanistan pledge -- The unbearable inevitability of U.S. foreign policy:
Obama is more socially enlightened than the other guy. He is many other good things domestically more than the other guy. But in international affairs he will be sitting atop an unstoppable tragic juggernaut that is already controlling him more than he will ever control it. Well: they are unstoppable internationally until the rest of the world finds the sense and the courage to stop them.

Duck rescues

I love stories like this one and this one and this one.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Obama makes a 3-point shot

One of the things that made me a Hillary supporter was when she had the guts to take that shot of whiskey -- can you imagine what would have been said if she had choked on it?
Now in front of American troops, Obama takes a 3-point shot and makes it -- can you imagine what would have been said if he had missed?
I know this is trivial and essentially meaningless in the larger scheme of things, but I'm glad he did it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

New links

I fiddled around with my Blogroll again and added some interesting new links. Check them out.

Great line of the day

From Chet at Vanity Press But But But the Libruls!!!:
. . . this is what drives me nuts about [the Harper] government: seeing everything through their own partisan lenses is all they ever seem to do. As far as I can see, they have never, except nominally, settled into being the Government of Canada; they are always and only the Conservative Party, and all they seem to care about is hating the Liberal Party . . . At this point, I'd just like to see an actual government, please.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Seven stages of shame

Bit by bit, the United States is edging toward the realization that they are wrong.
Not wrong like the Democratic Party was "wrong" when it didn't nominate Edwards or Dean. Not wrong like Karl Rove when he didn't show up to testify before Congress.
Nope, I mean wrong like Nazi Germany was wrong, wrong like the KKK was wrong. Wrong morally and legally and strategically and in every other way. The conduct of the Bush administration in their so-called War on Terror, and the complicity of their political and military leadership, is finally triggering a gag reflex.
We've been reading about this stuff in the lefty blogs for years, of course, but now the major US media are starting to publish articles about war crimes and worldwide condemnation of US behaviour. If the seven stages are Disbelief, Denial, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance, I think the US may now be getting closer to Stage Four.


I wanted to note my thanks to Dr. Dawg, Dave, and skdadl for the posts they made to CathiefromCanada while I was away. They are fine bloggers all, and not surprisingly the site visit stats have increased!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bullying Omar

The Omar Khadr interrogation is pretty sad, isn't it. First, they try to get Omar Khadr to implicate himself:
"Let's just be honest with each other this one time," said a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent. . . He urged Mr. Khadr to reveal his role in the deadly battle in Afghanistan, saying the teenager should have run away from the fight.
But Mr. Khadr said that at age 15, he was "too young" to quit the fundamentalist fighters to whom his father — an al-Qaeda suspect — had entrusted him.
That prompted an angry retort from the CSIS agent. "You're not too young; you're a man," he said.
He added: "Your dad dropped you off there for a reason … you think it's fine what you did."
"I didn't do anything," Mr. Khadr replied. "What did I do? I was in a house."
Then they try to get him to implicate his family:
When Mr. Khadr breaks down on tape, a Canadian agent is heard telling him that the solution to his pain is talking. "We can't protect you if we don't know what it is you have to say," he said. The CSIS agent added that if the detainee truly cared about his family he would talk, so that "other members of your family … don't end up as the same situation you are in."
The worst part of the article is this:
The last shots, taken after the Canadian agents left the room, show Omar Khadr putting his head into his hands and weeping.
Ooh, scary, isn't he?
So this is what Canada is reduced to in the War on Terror, trying to bully a teenager. Good thing they weren't interviewing him in Alberta.


Shorter New Yorker cover controversy:
We don't understand why all you lefties don't get the joke. If we had drawn Obama eating watermelon and Michelle wearing an Aunt Jemima headscarf, that would have been simply hilarious, too!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What I learned on my summer vacation

We haven't done much travelling really, not outside North America.
Now that I have spent ten days in London and four in Edinburgh, speaking to numerous cab drivers in both cities, I am an expert on all things United Kingdom -- or at least just as much of an expert as most journalists think they are following similar trips!
What I found reassuring was how much we are all alike -- the pervasive worldwide American culture, with Starbucks on every corner everywhere -- but also our newspapers are full of basically the same concerns, politics and jobs and kids and crime and the economy and celebrity scandals and Bradjolina's babies. And the people were all just as busy as we are with working and raising families and shopping and walking the dog.
I also treasured the uniqueness and differences -- absolutely expert fearless drivers, department stores that are a maze of interconnected rooms, paving-stone sidewalks, news-agent greengrocers, delicious pastries, decorative flourishes on just about every building, streets created out of alleys, tiny neighbourhood pubs, "private" parks, statues everywhere, light switches that flicked down for on and up for off . . . and just the sheer age of it all, compared to Saskatoon (where the very oldest house is just 125 years old).
So, I don't have any great insights or philosophies, but it will take me a long time to absorb it all. I guess that's what travel is all about.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Home sweet home

After 24 hours in transit, I am shouting "home at last, home at last, thank God Almighty we're home at last."
I have concluded that these large airports, like Heathrow and Pearson, are just beyond any human scale now.
There should be a sign above their entrances, Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.
Sweating thousands clump along endless corridors toward their mythical airline gate, now harassed by airline staff at desks in the hallways who demand to see boarding passes or passports or both, then emerging into another vast hall of chaos where serpentine lines must funnel through yet another security checkpoint - sometimes shoes off, sometimes laptops in a basket, sometimes not -- then up another escalator and down yet another grey corridor.
The tedium is relieved only by muttered complaints about people who ignore the "stand on the right, walk on the left" convention.
As we were pell-melling through Heathrow to make our flight, I found myself pushing a 12-year-old boy who had stopped at the end of an moving sidewalk to look at something interesting. "You can't stop, you have to keep moving!" -- sort of a motto for today's airport, I guess.
We experienced the usual airport horror stories, culminating in this one -- when another pell-mell effort finally got us to the gate for our last Air Canada connection, from Toronto to Saskatoon, we were told our seats had already been cancelled because our luggage could not possibly have made it.
So we sat in Pearson for the next three hours waiting for the next flight.
And of course, our luggage was waiting for us when we finally arrived in Saskatoon.

The sin of pride

A nun makes a choice--about somebody's else's Order of Canada medal.

In the same spirit, I hereby freely renounce former Canadian citizen Conrad Black's Order of Canada, and would swiftly return his medal to Rideau Hall were it to come into my possession. And the old robber-baron isn't even dead yet. I'm not certain, however, that I would do more than post a short entry here about it. I enjoy the odd bout of self-righteousness, as some of my more ardent critics (and, privately, even some of my friends) might be quick to agree. But there are limits. No press conference, no op-ed piece. The gesture itself tells, I would think, the entire story.

Those who have read
Murder in the Cathedral might already know where I'm going with this. Archbishop Thomas Becket is facing imminent martyrdom. The most difficult question with which he must wrestle is whether pride, rather than devotion to God, is motivating his decision to remain in Canterbury to be killed. Does the Archbishop covet his martyrdom, and the ensuing devotion that will be paid him?

Sister Suzanne Stubbs, it seems to me, has not grappled sufficiently with this question. She might, after all, simply have returned the medal, even if it wasn't hers. But she chose, instead, to accompany this dubious act of sacrifice with an article in the
National Post and a press conference at Michaëlle Jean's place.

The article fairly reeks of prissy self-satisfaction. And, of course, not only are we called upon to admire the Sister's spotless conscience, we must also hold in high regard the sheer courage it took:

We knew we were taking a risk. We could expect some nasty feedback from friends and strangers. We certainly would be labelled in some way: right, left, pro, anti. We might be made to look foolish. I might even feel foolish at some point. Still, I made a choice to go to Ottawa.

To a gathering of media, the Sister claims, "We had no agenda except to perform a symbolic gesture. That is, we made a statement about what we believe to be true." In the full glare, of course, of as much publicity as she and her fellows could drum up in order to put their virtue on public display.

And how she drones on:

In my work at a Catholic organization, I try to help people know that they matter, too. It is a blessed work, and it gives me peace. In the work of our group, we spend time listening to people. We try to pay attention to them and be concerned for their concerns. We try not to give handouts in our charity work without befriending the person in need.

Yes, she feels their pain:

In my personal work, I've listened to the anguish of women who have suffered abortions. I have listened to the questions of the young who want to inform their consciences about abortion. In some cases, our friends are helped to consider and choose other options than destroying life. I guess my heart has taken in a lot of the pain of the others.

Now the point is not that she isn't sincere about all this. I have no reason to suppose that Sister Stubbs is a hypocrite. But there is something mildly disturbing about the apparent hunger for publicity that accompanied her grand gesture of renunciation. Was
her trip to Ottawa simply an opportunity to bear witness against the award of the Order of Canada to a person anathematized by her Church? Or was it, as Catholics might put it, an "occasion for sin"--in this case the cardinal sin of hubris?

(Crossposted from Dawg's Blawg.)

The truth about global warming

H/t commenter Kobra, at Pharyngula

(Crossposted from Dawg's Blawg.)

Nothing hides incompetency like a war

There are a few people who use it with skill while others fumble about trying to locate the formula used by so-called Great Leaders in history.

George W. Bush, essentially a useful idiot for a much larger force, continually tried to shift the focus of Americans from his repeated acts of incompetency by deflecting their gaze in the general direction of war. He declared himself a "war president", even after he told Americans the best thing they could do was to "go shopping".

Surprisingly, the current US antagonist isn't in much better shape. In fact he could be worse. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has made an incredible mess of the place and despite public sabre-rattling, may be more unpopular with his electorate than Bush is with his.

Thomas P.M. Barnett illuminates the conditions which make war for two people in particular very appealing.

One is US presidential hopeful John McCain who, without an elevated level of fear among Americans, doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of actually winning.

The other is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who, without a war with the US or Israel, is almost certainly going to find himself on the unemployment roles and trying to survive in an economy which he is personally responsible for wrecking.
Looming behind the most crucial dynamics is the possible presidency of Barack Obama, suggesting that war may become inevitable due to the fear of peace. [...]

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency has been a disaster for the Iranian people. Despite all the oil wealth, inflation is raging and the economy goes nowhere. Add in a stunning birth dearth, the world's worst brain drain, plus Iranian prostitutes headlining European brothels, and this is clearly a society in a death spiral. With restless students chanting in public for Ahmadinejad's death, little wonder the man pines for a splendid little war.

Ahmadinejad's one popular success has been to champion Iran's brazen reach for nuclear capacity, an effort cleverly designed to emphasize the strategic dangers of attempted regime change by outsiders. [...] But Ahmadinejad's time grows short. A bevy of candidates seeks to oust him next year, and his opponents now head the parliament, the crucial Assembly of Experts and Tehran's city hall. With Obama currently leading decisively polls for the U.S. presidency, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, faces the prospect of losing his most useful -- for internal politics, that is -- external enemy, reducing Ahmadinejad's utility as frontman.
You really do need to read the whole column. For even more though, Barnett provide even more clarification on his blog.

That too, is something you need to read.

Problem right now is how many sides would welcome war. "U.S. Plays Down Military Showdown" is a couple of quotes from Gates and an Undersecretary of State, meaning two counties heard from but hardly the "U.S." that matters right now on this subject (Bush-Cheney). Both, in my mind, have no problem with an Israeli strike on their watch that could easily suck us into combat. Time is short.
Of course, you'll want a bottle of something after all of that. 151 over-proof should work for a short time.

Cross posted from The Galloping Beaver

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Always wanted a pony? General Natynczyk will give you a pony.

The Harper government and the senior leadership of the Canadian Forces have been roundly criticized in the past for failing to communicate the truth about conditions in Afghanistan. Boris pointed out that when the senior leadership of government downplay the indicators which suggest that serious problems exist, it is intellectual dishonesty and done with a clear intent to hide the truth from the public.

There was some speculation that, as Rick Hillier stepped down and General Walter Natynczyk took over as Chief of Defence Staff, that there might be a chance to provide unsanitized information surrounding the Afghanistan mission. Well, the speculation is over and it looks like the same Harper standard is to be maintained as General Natynczyk took the opportunity to blow sunshine up everybody's ass in the face of data which makes his statement worth nothing. (Emphasis mine)
The new head of Canada's military has completed a five-day visit to Afghanistan and offered a uniquely cheerful assessment of the security situation that contrasts sharply with the grim data.

The upbeat prognosis from Canada's new chief of defence staff that the violence is holding steady in Kandahar province this year flies in the face of independent analysis documenting a 77 per cent surge in Taliban attacks.

That increased violence was underscored Sunday in a pair of devastating insurgent strikes.

Nine U.S. soldiers were reported killed as militants launched a fiery assault on a remote outpost, and 24 Afghans died in a separate suicide blast on a police checkpoint in the province next to Kandahar.

The comparatively sunny estimation from Gen. Walter Natynczyk after his tour of Afghanistan was also at odds with the increasingly bleak portrait being painted by Canada's allies.

The Pentagon has cited a 40 per cent increase in insurgent attacks in eastern areas of Afghanistan where U.S. forces operate, and notes that it is now losing more soldiers here than in Iraq.

Anyone else want to weigh in?
Britain's defence secretary calls Afghanistan a generational struggle that will require a foreign troop presence for many years.

Local businesspeople say they're increasingly discouraged about the security situation in their city, and fear that economic gains made after 2001 are being wiped away.

As Ottawa continues to be a font of "good news" Afghanistan is spinning into oblivion. Natynczyk has plenty of experience in Afghanistan so he would be fully aware of how things are actually going. That makes this even more curious.
"We're generally along the same lines as we have been the past few years," Natynczyk told a news conference at Kandahar Airfield.

"Looking at the statistics, we're just a slight notch - indeed an insignificant notch - above where we were last year."

Yeah?! I wonder if Natynczyk was in the right country because everyone else in Afghanistan is seeing something completely different.
According to a prominent security firm that compiles insurgent incidents reported by NATO and local security forces, that insignificant notch is actually a 77 per cent increase in attacks from 2007.

Statistician Sami Kovanen at Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan says the number of assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, suicide strikes, mine explosions, and mortar assaults by pro-Taliban insurgents through July 6 was 532 incidents this year, compared to only 300 last year.

That coincides with what the United Nations is reporting.

So what do Canadian defence officials have to say when they are shown the numbers? (Hang on to your ass, this gets really good.)

They note that the economy has grown since 2001, far more children are going to school, and human rights have expanded exponentially since the days of the Taliban.

But when asked about security, their optimism appears based on anecdotal evidence; some locals have tipped them off about the location of a roadside bomb, they've seen a traffic jam - a sure sign of activity in Kandahar city, a bazaar has reopened and there are new businesses.

Rrrriiiight! A bazaar opens and a traffic jam happens therefore the economy is expanding. And as for talking to the locals, perhaps those Canadian defence officials should have done a little more of that to see how their observations stacked up.
A well-known Kandahar businessman offers some anecdotal evidence of his own.

"I don't see businesses opening," says the restaurateur, shaking his head when asked if things are getting better in the city.

"All I see are businesses closing."

And as for the exponential increase in human rights, Canadian defence officials and the new Chief of Defence Staff should talk to a few of the organizations that have compiled statistics which tell a completely different story.

From Womankind Worldwide:

Seven years after the US and the UK ‘freed’ Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, our report proves that life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases. Maternal mortality rates ? one in six women dies in childbirth ? are the highest in the world alongside Sierra Leone. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with a higher suicide rate among women than men.
You can read the juicy details in this (pdf) report. Terri Judd of the Independent read it and reported under the title Women's lives are worse than ever:
The statistics in the report from Womankind, Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On, make shocking reading. Violent attacks against females, usually domestic, are at epidemic proportions with 87 per cent of females complaining of such abuse – half of it sexual. More than 60 per cent of marriages are forced.
A more recent report from the New England Journal of Medicine this past May paints the same picture: An increase in self-immolation among women because nothing in their lives is improving.

Then this from Canada's new CDS:

The defence chief says he's encouraged that the Taliban no longer even bother trying to muster up forces for conventional battlefield fights because they are crushed every time.

"They are not 10 feet tall," Natynczyk said of the enemy.

"They know that if they take us on directly, they'll either lose or they'll have to flee."

Now there's a dangerous metric. One would expect a full general to be a little more careful tossing that kind of statement around.

The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese never won one major engagement in head-to-head combat with US forces. Not one. Shall we discuss the results?

Mushrooms. Natynczyk is feeding the mushrooms.

Cross posted from The Galloping Beaver

The black hole

First the video (h/t, and a further h/t for stimulating this post):

My initial reaction was the same as that of my friend Red Tory. At the very margins of political correctness. Beyond silly. A black hole is so named because its gravity is so intense that no light can escape from it. You can't go around calling it a "white hole" or a "pink hole."

But the man in the video actually raises an interesting point. With the exception of "in the black," popular usages of the word tend to connote something negative. "
Black arts," "black hearts," "black look," "black book," "blackout," "black sheep," "blackguard," etc., etc.

No wonder the Irish refer in their language to "blue people" rather than "black people." ("An fear dubh" means "the Devil," literally, "the black man." Hence, out of respect, "an fear gorm" is used for Blacks.)

It's no coincidence that colonialists called Kipling's "lesser breeds without the Law" "black." It accorded with the connotations the word already had. Ditto "white." When did we start calling ourselves "white," anyway? Quite late during the Age of Discovery, as it happens (scroll down to n.35 in the link). Why is someone half-white and half-black "black? instead of "white?" Because the notion of blackness has been made equivalent to sin: maculate vs. immaculate, the staining of purity. "Whiteness," of course, is an ever-shifting category.

The connotations of both "white" and "black" are far too deeply embedded, in any case, to be overcome simply by watching one's words. But there is a solution.

I've never seen a black person, just people in various delightful hues ranging from ebony (actually a very dark brown) to light tan. Instead of internalizing centuries of white racism, perhaps Blacks (who adopted that nomenclature in the 'sixties as a form of political defiance, much as the word "queer" was reclaimed by gays) might want to consider referring to themselves as brown, or umber, or bronze. And we non-Blacks should follow suit, of course. Speaking as a pinkish kind of person, it seems to me that this would be a far less arduous cultural hill to climb.

Any takers?

(Crossposted from Dawg's Blawg.)

Oggi in Italia: il risorgimento Fascista

Is anyone paying attention to the rapid lurch of Italy into full-blown Fascism these days?

The extreme-right government of Silvio Berlusconi is now in its second incarnation. It's been in the news recently for rounding up Roma ("Gypsies") for fingerprinting, and threatening to take away their children. Berlusconi himself has hijacked the political process by just passing a law to exempt himself from on-going prosecution on charges of corruption.

Fascism has once again gained a stronghold in Italy. The new mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, a former member of a neo-Fascist youth group, Fronte della Gioventù, (associated with the Fascist political party Movimento Sociale Italiano) was elected a few short weeks ago, to rousing chants of "Duce! Duce!" from his squadristi. Berlusconi welcomed his election, proclaiming, "We are the new Falange."

Meanwhile Berlusconi's Northern League henchman, Umberto Bossi, has already proclaimed, "Non so cosa vuole la sinistra, noi siamo pronti, se vogliono fare gli scontri io ho trecentomila uomini sempre a disposizione." ("I don't know what the Left wants, but if they want to take us on, I've got 300,000 men at my disposal.") And then, getting straight to the point, "I fucili sono sempre caldi." ("Our rifles are always hot.")

A beady gaze had already been cast upon homosexuals under this Mussolini nuovo. Did you know that gays can't drive? Somehow that was never part of the stereotype for me, but a gay man in Italy was forced to re-take his driver's test and then was issued with only a one-year permit, because of his "sexual identity disturbance" ("disturbo del comportamento sessuale"). Both the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Transport were involved. A court in Sicily (the courts have not as yet been purged) has just awarded him €100,000 (about $157,000) in damages.

The European Union passed a strongly-worded resolution with respect to the rounding-up of Roma, but I for one have had my bellyful of strongly-worded resolutions.
What about regime change right here at home? While the eyes of the world are focussed upon Robert Mugabe, a European nation is returning to its Fascist glory days.

And needless to say, our "conservatives" love him. More ideological slippage? Or is Fascism, as I've said before, just conservatism with the gloves off?

Photos from Scotland

There is a bagpiper just outside the hotel who plays from 9 am til night -- it's actually OK now, we're used to it, but that first morning...
Anyway, Edinburgh is a beautiful city and we've enjoyed being here for a few days. Here are some photos:

On the train journey north, we stopped right beside the Queen's train. Apparently she was visiting some military barracks or something.

A view across the city to the firth, from the courtyard of Edinburgh Castle.

The dog's cemetery at the Castle.

Greyfriar's Bobby.

The statues are all very dignified -- except that just about every one we saw had a seagull perched on the head. If there is one sound I will remember from Edinburgh, besides bagpipes, it is the cry of the seagulls.

And it isn't all old and stuffy -- we thought this banana motif at an insurance office was hilarious.

For my earlier posts, see Photos from England 1, Photos from England 2 and Photos from England 3
Home tomorrow!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A nation of sheep

Not long ago I posted a few examples of Canadians' sleepwalking deference to authority. Today's news brings more glaring instances.

In Edmonton, two thuggish cops, both high-ranking, were given wrist-slaps by yet another complaisant judge. These uniformed hoods unlawfully entered a man's house without a warrant, refused to leave, and then broke one of his ribs and doused him with pepper-spray. They walked out of court with six-month conditional discharges (which become absolute discharges at the end of that period), and sixty hours of community service.

The article just linked to reveals a social pathology that should worry anyone genuinely concerned about civil liberties. Defence lawyers wittered on about "impressive community and professional contributions." One of the thugs, we are told, lost 30 pounds and suffered several sleepless nights due to the stress of the trial and attendant publicity.

When the journalist finally moves on, having established to her satisfaction that these suffering boyz in blue were fine upstanding citizens, she get to the nub of the thing:

Ewatski entered the home to speak to him and Dubois shoved him. Ewatski responded by delivering a head-stun. He pushed Dubois to the floor and pepper-sprayed him. Fiorilli pulled back on Dubois's thumb to cause pain.

Almost needless to say, Dubois was charged with assaulting a police officer. The Crown wisely stayed that bogus charge.

And, after all this, as was the case with the cops who killed Robert Dziekanski, it's back to business as usual:

"Chief Mike Boyd has confirmed that there will be no immediate change to the work assignment or status of the officers pending conclusion of the internal investigation," police spokeswoman Dajana Fabjanovich said in a news release.

Does anyone remember the case of Said Jama Jama, a Somalian immigrant badly beaten by a thug named Roy Preston, charged with assault on a police officer, and threatened with deportation? After the whole thing turned out to have been caught on videotape, the judicial system simply threw the book at the officer. He was sentenced to thirty days, to be served on weekends.

It doesn't end there. This was in 2005. The cop actually
appealed this little slap on the hand, but in November 2007, his appeal was dismissed. He appeal again, and only this month was a further appeal dismissed. For most of this time he had remained on full pay by special order of Toronto police chief Bill Blair, who had the discretion, under Ontario's Police Services Act, to suspend Preston without pay after his initial conviction. The Ontario Court of Appeal noted, with breathtaking understatement, that his sentence was "if anything, on the lenient side," and rejected a bizarre argument from Preston's lawyer that he shouldn't be imprisoned because it could affect his career as a police officer.

After two appeals, a sentence of thirty days, to be served on weekends. For assault and battery, attempt to frame his victim, and fabrication of evidence, by a person whose sworn duty it was to uphold the law.

And there are people who think that the greatest threat to our freedoms comes from Human Rights Commissions?


Meanwhile, on the international front, our troops in Afghanistan are set to be issued with so-called "laser dazzlers." These, despite the harmless-sounding name, can be used to blind enemy troops, contrary to a Geneva Convention ban on the use of laser weapons. A spokesman for a company that makes these things admits that they aren't "eye-safe," but offers the following reassurances: "As long as they're employed as they ought to be employed, within the safe operating distance, they will not cause any eye damage."

Well, that's OK, then. After all, our military calls them "warning devices." And the kindly Blackwater folks are using them in Iraq.

Back to sleep, my fellow Canadians. Never mind that "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" stuff. That's for dead Romans and weak-kneed leftist bleeding hearts. Those folks in uniform are our friends, upholding law and liberty here and over there.

Move along. There's nothing to see here. I told you to move along. Do I really have to use this thing?

UPDATE: It occurs to me that this excellent piece by Boris over at Galloping Beaver might have inspired this post. H/t, to be on the safe side. : )

(Crossposted from Dawg's Blawg)

Friday, July 11, 2008

More on leadership

Some time ago I wrote a rather lengthy and perhaps tedious piece on
leadership. Joseph Nye, in today's Globe and Mail, makes my main point rather more succinctly here.

I'm still wrestling with the Stéphane Dion conundrum. I've defended him (sort of) here. But I'm at war with myself. I may have to re-think my position about leadership, prompted in part by the gut-feeling I have every time I see a picture of that man, or listen to him speak.

It's not the craven Liberal capitulation in Parliament over the past several months. That's not just Dion, it's his caucus and the Liberal Party in general. We tend to over-personalize the misbehaviour of an entire group in one individual. (In the case of Harper, that's not entirely wrong-headed. He micromanages to the point of autocracy. But he's an exception to the general rule.) But is that over-personalization
avoidable, even with a radically different notion of leadership?

I think not. Because, while the "big man" warrior-leader decried by Nye is long overdue for a replacement, a leader must, just for the sake of efficiency, be the human face of his or her group. It's a question of communication. We need to see in that person, not super-human qualities, but sincerity. When the leader speaks, we need to be able to connect, to grab what he or she is saying at a visceral level as well as an intellectual one.

Now, check out that picture, above. This is Dion, in Alberta, addressing a gathering of an endangered species known as the Alberta Young Liberals. Never has Stetson sat upon a more unwilling head. And the shirt.... Look how uncomfortable and self-conscious he looks.

I know, some readers will immediately be remembering this:

and this:

Is there a difference, then? I would say yes. The too-tight leather vest has become almost an icon. But I do like Harper's expression in the photograph. This is beyond self-consciousness. He looks irritated, as though he'll have a word with his stylist after the shoot. The second photo, of Harper wearing an ao dai, the national dress of his Vietnamese hosts at the time, captures one of the exceedingly rare occasions in which Harper is utterly disarming. He's so obviously in costume, and just as obviously, he's so aware of how un-Harperish he looks, that he's actually smiling.

Harper was born in a pinstripe and he'll be buried in one. We know that, and so does he. He can survive these moments precisely because he's so unsuccessful at trying to be what he's not. Like him or dislike him, for better or for worse, Harper is always himself. (There are other non-political reasons why he's a very bad leader indeed, but later for that.)

On the other hand, Dion always looks uncomfortable, as though he's playing a role that he hasn't mastered. He's reminds me of the overly self-conscious Sartrean waiter in a cafe:

Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with a recklessness of a tight-rope walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand.

He applies himself to chaining his movements as if they were mechanisms, the one regulating the other; his gestures and even his voice seem to be mechanisms; he gives himself the quickness and pitiless rapidity of things. He is playing, he is amusing himself. But what is he playing? We need not watch long before we can explain it: he is playing at being a waiter in a cafe.

It's not that the Stetson and the shirt don't become him. It's that we have no clear idea of what would.

And the same goes for his words. I'm not referring here to his incomplete grasp of English. (I wish my French were as good as his second language; when I once upon a time did have to deliver speeches in French, I invariably needed a script.) I'm talking, once again, about his tone, his delivery, his sincerity.

We don't expect Harper to be spontaneous. That would be most un-Harperesque. Indeed, lack of sponaneity is part of Harper's tightly-wound personality. He's comfortable with that, or appears to be, which is what matters. But Dion's lack of spontaneity is matched by what invariably appears to be discomfort. Certainly some of that is his difficulty with English. But even in French--well, judge for yourself. Every time the party faithful dutifully applaud, he looks like the professor he is, waiting for the classroom disturbance to end. He even gulps noticeably at one point.

Neither leader connects with his audience in the visceral sense. But Harper at least appears to mean what he says. We listen for precisely that reason. Many of us don't like him, or even actively despise him, but he delivers the message, with confidence and sincerity. And that makes us take the message itself seriously. He doesn't get in the way, one might say. But Dion, on the other hand, nervously delivers Liberal talking-points. We are distracted, to some degree. There's something too-obviously rote about his performances, and he has what appears to be a permanent case of mild stage fright. He reminds me of a kid shakily reciting poetry from the stage on assembly day at a primary school. (Hey, that was me!)

We don't need warrior leaders, "big men," autocrats at a non-existent helm. There is no "ship of state." We need to ditch metaphors like that, recognizing that leadership, paradoxically, is a collective phenomenon, and we need to design new paradigms of leadership more in keeping with the demands of a complex state apparatus, not to mention a society. The old images of leadership are obstacles to be overcome.

But all that being said, the public face of a leader is an essential aspect of the role. He or she needs not only to utter, but to be heard. A leader's apparent belief in his or her own words, a leader's evident confidence, a leader's ability to convey the living ideological to head and heart, is an essential part of the transmittal process. Harper doesn't shine in the latter respect. His public leadership is badly flawed. But regrettably Stéphane Dion, at least in this respect, is not a leader at all.

(Crossposted from Dawg's Blawg)

UPDATE: (July 12) There's a post up at CC's place that reinforces my point, albeit tangentially. What kind of leader feels constrained to boast about his academic credentials?

Taking abortions to the virtual back alley

When Britain passed its more liberalized abortion law in 1967 Northern Ireland was left out of the legislation. Presumably that was to satisfy the predominant Roman Catholic population. That left Northern Ireland with a different statute based on Catholic church standards.

Britain's abortion statute is nothing to rave about. On the face it appears fairly restrictive, although it is sufficiently vague to allow women and their physicians to proceed with a woman's request without being impaired by legal interference.

That leaves Northern Ireland, and many other jurisdictions around the world where abortion services are difficult to acquire or simply do not exist. That traditionally drives abortions into the back alleys.

Now, however, the back alley is a website away.

Some women in countries where abortion is restricted are using the internet to buy medication enabling them to abort a pregnancy at home, the BBC has learned.

Women in Northern Ireland and over 70 countries with restrictions have used one of the main websites, Women on Web.

A British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology review of 400 customers found nearly 11% had needed a surgical procedure after taking the medication.

The website says it can help reduce the problems linked with unsafe abortions.
The Family Planning Association of Northern Ireland describes Women On Web as a reputable site which provides information and medication (Mifepristone or Misoprostal) to women for a non-surgical abortion where the pregnancy is less than 9 weeks along.
Women on Web posts the drugs only to countries where abortion is heavily restricted, and to women who declare they are less than nine weeks' pregnant.
The service is essentially free, although a donation of 70 Euros is requested. Interestingly, if a woman cannot afford to make a donation, the group has the means to acquire one for her using their donation account, Women's Wallet. This particular site appears to have some affiliation with Women on Waves, a Netherlands-based organization which uses a ship to sail to various countries, where abortion is illegal, providing safe, professional early-term abortions.

Audrey Simpson of the Northern Ireland FPA:
"We're really concerned about women accessing the rogue sites - we're hearing about it and we know it's happening.

"There are potentially serious medical complications for women from sites which aren't well managed and this could be the new era of backstreet abortions."

And sure enough, if you go to Women on Waves and scroll down, there's a warning identifying at least one site which is exploiting women by sending medications without adequate consultation and without continuing assistance. And according to WOW, the pills are useless.
That creates a whole other problem. Making abortions illegal through legislation and regulation does not end abortions. It simply drives them into a world of extreme danger. While Women on Web and Women on Waves present safer options for women, the web is starting to sprout back-alley operations.

Of course the fetus fetishists have something to say.
Anti-abortion campaigners said they were appalled by such websites.

Josephine Quintavalle, from the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "This is very worrying indeed. It represents further trivialisation of the value of the unborn child.

"It's like taking abortion into the shadows. These drugs have side-effects and tragedies will increase."

Uh huh! There's that "unborn child" meme again. And whose program is driving abortion into the shadows lady?If a woman's right to choose is not the subject of a law, the shadows disappear.

Bizarre Globe editorial of the month

Shorter Globe and Mail:

Bringing Omar Khadr back to Canada for trial is "unrealistic."

Better he should cop a plea at Gitmo and be "rehabilitated" in a Canadian jail.

Because if he were tried here, he'd get off.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Andrew Coyne fails democracy.

Andrew Coyne has come out with one of the thinnest arguments ever produced for initiating a national political debate on abortion: It's undemocratic to have a country without an abortion law.

Luckily, Dr. Dawg does a complete dissection of Coyne's strange theory and shines some light in corners young Andrew didn't quite cover.

There is something which attracted my attention, however and it is how Coyne views the current situation. That of Dr. Morgentaler being appointed to the Order of Canada.

The furor over Henry Morgentaler's appointment to the Order of Canada, on the other hand, now that is about abortion. There may be some who object out of a disinterested concern for fairness, on the principle that an honour bestowed on behalf of all of the people of Canada should not be given to a man whose life's work is, still, so profoundly upsetting to so many Canadians. But for most people, it's about abortion. In honouring him, we are honouring it, normalizing it, stamping it with the seal of approval.

Or rather not abortion, as such, but the legal void that surrounds it, which Morgentaler did so much to bring about: the extraordinary fact that, 20 years after the Supreme Court ruling that bears his name, this country still has no abortion law of any kind. It isn't that abortion — at any stage of a pregnancy, for any reason, and at public expense — is lawful in Canada. It is merely not unlawful. When it comes to abortion, we are literally a lawless society: the only country in the developed world that does not regulate the practice in any way.

Perhaps the members of the Order's advisory council thought the continuance of this legal void, after so many years, signalled a consensus had formed in its favour. Perhaps they thought, by naming Morgentaler, they could impress one upon the country. Either way, the decision was revealing — as was the reaction. The letters pages of the country's newspapers were filled for days with passionate denunciations. Members of Parliament spoke out against it by the dozen. Several members of the Order returned their pins.

Stop right there, Andrew, old boy.

Firstly, the furor you speak of is a very small group of very loud people. And you're quite right: among them are virulent racists, woman-haters and unrepentant bigots. The problem is that the only people we're hearing from are those people and those who are promoting their favourite religious agenda. The truth is, despite the hyperbole of newspapers filled with letters of protest and "dozens" of members of parliament making their usual flatulent noise, the majority of Canadians are not opposed to Dr. Morgentaler's appointment. Letters to the editor are not representative of public opinion when it's an organized campaign by one side.

Who has returned their decoration to Rideau Hall? A couple of people have said they are going to do it but to date, the Honours and Awards secretariat has reported that none have actually been returned. The initial "return the gong" movement started with a Catholic group announcing they were returning the Order of Canada insignia of the late Catherine de Hueck Doherty.

Guess what, Andrew. When you die, so does your Order of Canada. It doesn't get handed down. The medal itself is a legacy item - not a perpetual honour. Which puts at least one other award supposedly "returned" into the same category. And if you're at all feeling brave you can read LifeSite news (look it up yourself) where they announce that three other previous recipients of the Order of Canada are "returning" their awards but wish to remain anonymous. I'll bet they do too, because they're hoping to play into the emotions of their religious constituency, have this whole thing quickly blow over and then attend the next major cocktail party with that familiar piece of hardware hanging from their neck.

The remainder of your argument, Andrew, is specious at best. Democracy has worked this through, as Dr. Dawg has pointed out, and the result is that we need no law. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms which would supersede any law which imposed the will of a minority on over one-half the population as a form of subjugation.

And that is, whether you choose to recognize it or not, what this is all about. You say the anti-abortion noise machine has been effectively silenced. What utter hogwash. They're noisier today than they ever were in the past and they continue to represent a minority of the population.

What is really interesting though, Andrew, is your take on how all this works. That somehow democracy demands that the government get to work introducing some form of legislation and then we, the unwashed masses, get to hear all sides of an argument, including the loud minority side for whom the legislation was placed in front of us in the first place.

Quaint, but wrong. That is democracy turned on its head. The politicians work for us; not the other way around.

How is it "democracy" when we only get to choose from a menu produced by a political class? Yes, I realize that is the conservative view of democracy, but most of us don't adhere to the dogma of conservative politics. That being, "I will direct you. You will comply. In return I will guarantee to protect you from (fill in the blank)." Honestly, Andrew, the cost of such a deal is just to high. And it still boils down to putting over one-half of the population of this country on trial for the freedoms they are guaranteed.

Politicians are like dogs. They constantly think of their own survival, no matter how comfortable they are. In that we elect them, they are all too aware that inflaming the people with a debate in which they do not want to engage, to satisfy a minority group whose position is borne out of some religious doctrine, would be guaranteed political suicide.

It isn't a brave politician that will start such a debate; it is a stupid one.

Democracy says the people will decide; not the politicians, the pundits or the columnists. The people have decided that there is no need for a law, either way. I know that's a hard pill for a conservative to swallow.

Try not to choke on it.

Cross posted from The Galloping Beaver

Photos from England 3

Westminster Abbey - I didn't take a particularly good photo, but this is a striking memory.

All around Leicester Square are these plaques identifying the "colonies", their capitals, and the distance ceom London. Here is ours.

And here is the Leicester Square statue of Charlie Chaplin -- it was raining too hard to get a shot of the Shakespeare statue. There are a thousand parks and squares and a thousand statues -- on the way back in the cab, we passed by the statues of Sidney Herbert and Florence Nightengale, who reformed British health care after the Crimean War, so I regret not getting the chance to photograph these ones.

On the left is Andre Philippe, our amazing "ripperologist" guide for what turned out to be an amazing "Jack the Ripper Tour" -- I thought it would be sorta silly and it turned out to be absolutely fascinating because our guide has been studying the Ripper for 20 years. He is an historian who lived in the East End so that he could track down the descendents of the Ripper's victims and develop his theory about the man who was very likely the Ripper - Andre makes a compelling case and he is writing a book about it. If any Ripper book deserves to be published, it is his.

For my earlier posts, see Photos from England 1 and Photos from England 2

Andrew Coyne's abortion mischief

Today's Maclean's cover story is a longish argument by Andrew Coyne that we should toss abortion back into the legislative arena. Why? Apparently because it's time.

There is, in fact, something quintessentially, even touchingly, Canadian about Coyne's piece. There's presently a "legal void" with respect to abortion. Despite his impeccable conservative credentials, Coyne, it seems, is hungry for regulation. "When it comes to abortion, we are literally a lawless society," he says, invoking connotations of a Western town before the sheriff rides in.

For him, it's all about process. "This is not about abortion," he begins. "It's about democracy." How did we end up with no abortion law? An accident of history! It wasn't meant to be this way. No other country has no abortion law. We've got to do something! Now!

I'm not trying to caricature Coyne's arguments with all those exclamation marks, but there does seem to be a kind of quiet panic in his words. Abortion is unfinished business. The current Order of Canada controversy proves just that. Time to put our shoulders to the wheel and put abortion back in the Criminal Code. Or, at least, settle that matter democratically.

Abortion is not currently lawful, he says, merely not illegal. In my layman's mind, I assumed that anything not forbidden was permitted. In Singapore, chewing gum is against the law. In Canada, we have no law respecting gum-chewing. Is it lawful to chew gum in Canada, or just not illegal? Enough. I have no idea what point Coyne is trying to make here, other than making an appeal for a legal regime that would hold reproductive freedom in its toils, sorting out lawful abortion from unlawful abortion. You can have an abortion You can't. It's the law.

How does he attempt to make this case? He uses two general approaches. First, as noted, he claims that there was a failure of process two decades ago. Secondly, he argues in effect that there is a split amongst Canadians that can only be healed by dragging the issue back into the legal realm.

On the alleged failure of democratic process, he takes us back to the January 1988 Supreme Court decision that struck down Canada's abortion law. Did the SCC establish a constitutional right to abortion? No. But, as Coyne concedes, "it's say what the Court wanted with any precision." It was a 5-2 decision, with four separate judgements. Clearly, though (he insists), they expected some new Charter-compliant law would replace the restrictive Section 251 of the Criminal Code that they struck down.

The SCC might have held that door open, but, as it turned out, no one wanted to walk through it. The Mulroney government of the day first tried a "pick one" approach, putting on the floor of the House of Commons a three-part motion that offered a selection of pro-choice, "pro-life" and compromise positions. Surprise, surprise there was no majority support for any of the positions. In a classic example of strange bedfellows, in fact, pro-choice and "pro-life" MPs voted against the compromise. But neither faction had enough support to get its own way.

A few months later, the government put its compromise position before the House. It would allow early-stage abortion if a doctor agreed, but restrict access later on in the pregnancy. The proposal didn't fly. Then, the following year, a watered-down version of the previous law, C-43, was put before the House. It passed by the slimmest of margins--140-131--and went to the Senate, where it ultimately failed, on a tied vote.

Coyne finds all of this undemocratic, which I find passing strange. The issue had been hassled about in the House of Commons three times since the old law had been struck down. On the third attempt, a new measure barely passed. The Senate blocked it, a Senate that had just previously been stuffed with Conservative appointments to ensure passage of Mulroney's Free Trade Agreement. But the Senate, unelected, undemocratic, a vestige of another day and age, does not have authority over the House of Commons.

Nothing prevented the Commons from reintroducing the measure. Nothing prevented the Prime Minister from making the same observation that Coyne makes in his article; namely that the acting Speaker of the Senate, who had abstained, was entitled to vote but (Coyne says) didn't realize it. Nothing prevented lobbying behind the scenes to get support from some of the 23 Senators who didn't vote. But the Mulroney government simply saw the writing on the wall, and decided to pursue the matter no further.

That strikes me as Parliamentary democracy in action, warts and all. The government spent an enormous amount of time and energy getting the matter debated, and rising again after each failure to have another go at it. Public lobbying was at a peak. The Canadian Medical Association, various powerful women's groups and much of the general public weighed in on the pro-choice side. What Henry Morgentaler recently called the "usual suspects" put their own considerable resources behind the anti-choice lobby. The result, after all that, was that insufficient consensus existed to have any law at all.

The case for passing a law, it seems to me, should be that a broad public consensus exists that such a law is required. One doesn't pass a law simply for the sake of having a law. But in this case, no one formulation of an abortion law had anything but minority support. If it's democracy that Coyne wants to invoke, the conclusion here is obvious.

But not, it seems, to Coyne. He moves on to discuss why we apparently need to revisit the notion of criminalizing abortion. He acknowledges that public and political opinion has shifted since 1988 in the direction of choice, but dismisses this as based upon "convenient myth." He expresses outrage that the pro-choice forces are sufficiently in the ascendancy to cow even the Harper Conservatives, and that "pro-life" campus groups are being "banned," by which he appears to mean, if Carleton University is any indication, that some of them are being refused subsidies from students' associations. (The Carleton University Students' Association eventually provided that subsidy, after the "pro-life" club in question amended its charter to conform to the CUSA human rights policy.)

Again, this is all democracy in action, rough-and-tumble, not always very nice, but democratic nonetheless. Dissent isn't being squelched, as Coyne insists--it's simply being out-argued and out-lobbied.

Bringing up polls from a few years ago merely underlines this undeniable fact. Public opinion has shifted towards choice--and it continues to shift. Coyne notes, with barely concealed annoyance, that last month's Angus Reid poll showed that nearly half of Canadians--49%--believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances, and another 47% under certain circumstances. That may fall short, as he insists, of a "national consensus in favour of unrestricted abortion," but it falls even shorter of a national consensus for a restrictive abortion law.

If only
Canadians knew, Coyne says, that other countries had abortion laws, even liberal European nations. That would surely affect our public opinion polls. That would make us want legal restrictions on abortion. The legislative regimes of France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy would have a pronounced effect upon us, if only someone would tell us ignorant Canadians what they were. Quick! Toss that man another straw!

At this point, one can see Coyne's argument collapsing. We're alone, he says. Are all those other countries extreme? Are two-thirds of our own public extreme? (That "two-thirds" remark is journalistic legerdemain, and not a very skillful example of it, given that he has just finished conceding that nearly half of Canadians want no legal restrictions on abortion at all.)

All of these other countries have their own histories, and their abortion laws have their own etiologies. As cosmopolitan as Canadians are, I don't think too many people would be bothered to learn that our European cousins have different laws than we do.

But Coyne isn't finished. If we were to pass a law, he says, things wouldn't change that much anyway. If we had a 20-week gestational limit, for example, only one percent of current abortions would be affected. And the national abortion rate is falling. Perhaps, he says--after all this spilled ink--"there are other factors, other ways, than the criminal law" to deal with abortion. If only he had stopped there.

But, confronting the inexorable logic of his own argument, Coyne retreats. He concludes that a law is indeed wanted, and that pro-choicers should support one, because it would "restore the issue to the realm of democratic debate, without which no genuine consensus is possible." I don't think that Coyne is necessarily arguing here for putting the legal cart before the consensual horse, although his words could be read that way. I believe that he is suggesting that he wants a law to be introduced, debated, fashioned by compromise, and passed.

Otherwise, he says, there is no room for compromise or negotiation. In the US, Roe v. Wade made compromise impossible, he says, and abortion a "winner-take-all game of lawyers." It's much the same here in Canada, he states. But with respect to the latter, where are those lawyers? The legal issues (other than access in places like PEI) are settled. In the US, states keep enacting new, restrictive legislation. Some of it gets struck down and some of it has been allowed to stand by the US Supreme Court. It's more a winner-take-all game of politicians. And women suffer as a result.

Indeed, perhaps the most striking thing about Coyne's article is the near-absence of any reference to the rights of women, and the consequences they have historically endured when those rights are denied or restricted. And his next point--that a law would "open the way to assinging a fetus some rights in Canadian law"--leads him into dangerous waters indeed. He gives the example of a glue-sniffing pregnant woman, whom the authorities could not apprehend and prevent from continuing her practice.

The problem with limit-cases like this is the appeal to raw emotion. Certainly, one feels, something should be done to prevent damage to what eventually will become a citizen. His or her future quality of life will doubtless be adversely affected by the woman's addiction. But from a public policy standpoint, where would state intervention end? In various US jurisdictions, as documented in Susan Faludy's Backlash, women have been apprehended for being seen in a bar, for not eating sufficiently nutritious food, and for attempting to leave their place of residence (allegedly to obtain an abortion). I think it's up to the recriminalizers to tell us if and where a line can be drawn before we rush pell-mell into a legal fetal-rights regime.

"Would an abortion debate be so scary?" Coyne concludes with this rhetorical question. One wonders where he's been since 1998: the abortion debate continues, occasionally flaring up, rarely with new arguments presented, but grinding on, and on, and on. Indeed, the debate is what prompted Coyne to write his article in the first place. What he means, however, is a debate focussed upon the notion of a new abortion law. Maybe, he concedes, we'll collectively talk ourselves out of it. But we'll have decided the matter ourselves, rather than having it all happen by accident and a Senate vote.

As already noted, though, it wasn't blind circumstance that brought us to our current situation. The Supreme Court struck down a damaging, humiliating, restrictive criminal law. Parliament, after three stout goes, decided to let the matter rest, although they could have pursued it further. Nearly half of all Canadians today don't want any legal restrictions on abortion. This doesn't sound, to me, like a favourable climate for making abortion a criminal matter once again.

Coyne, not to put too fine a point upon it, is making social mischief with his suggestion. Women's rights, in 2008, cannot be subjected once again to Criminal Code restrictions. If Coyne thinks the country is divided on the abortion issue now--and it assuredly is--he hasn't seen anything like the division that would be created by introducing new abortion legislation. He wants us to have the discussion all over again, but he doesn't seem to realize that a national debate may be only tenuously connected to the political processes that would ultimately decide the question.

Most Canadians thought abortion should be a matter to be decided by a woman and her doctor years before Section 251 was struck down, but the politicians didn't make a move until the Supreme Court forced them to. And then they were unable to come to a conclusion. There is no guarantee that they would now, or, that if they did, their decision would accord with the wishes of the majority of Canadians. If ever there was a case of rolling the dice, it would be on this issue.

Besides which, since when should rights be put to a vote? In 2008, women deserve better than that. In fact we all deserve better than that. Coyne wants to open a Pandora's box and let its contents loose on the population. The social and public policy consequences could be catastrophic, but for him, at least ostensibly, the debate is everything.

Introduce new criminal abortion legislation for the sake of a national discussion? Let's not, Andrew--and say, we did. Three times, over the period 1988-1991, to be exact. Gamble yet again on a woman's right to choose?

No dice.

(Crossposted from Dawg's Blawg)