Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gay is the Word

I was in the gym tonight when Toronto Archbishop Tom Collins came on the television.  The Ontario government is currently fine tuning proposed anti-bullying legislation, which of course affects catholic schools.  The legislation would allow students to form anti-bullying, anti-homophobic groups, sometimes known as Gay-Straight Alliances.  The issue right now seems to be the use of the word gay in the groups name.  I had a hard time understanding this at first, but that's it. (Well, that and the existence of the groups themselves.) The government wants to head off the obvious tactic of the local catholic boards disallowing students to use the word gay in their group name. Ironically, such a rule would in itself be a form of bullying.

Collins struck me as glib and narcissistic. He claims these groups and their name amounts to religious persecution. Perhaps he should read some of Amnesty International's reports to put his suffering in better context. The Cardinal thinks the word gay is a distraction in the process of stopping the bullying of gay teens. I don't think they're even trying any more to sound logical.

Collins was followed by a female trustee with a spacey smile who informed us that we can't very well accept the title Gay Straight Alliance because it is a political movement which seeks to inject politics in a political way. We know how much Catholics hate that kind of thing.  Out Heroding Herod, she added that it was an American political thing.

At that point I had had enough and walked away from the television.  I spent the rest of the night thinking thoughts that would most certainly constitute persecution of the Cardinal's religious liberty.  I couldn't help it.

Collins, many trustees, and some Conservative MPPs maintain that the local boards should be able to deal with this on their own.  I think this legislation would be an obvious sign that this has not, or will not happen.  It would have been nice if the Southern American States had desegregated themselves without the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and  fairly aggressive enforcement by federal law agencies.  In retrospect that collision was inevitable.  It's not an entirely unfair comparison.

As far as Alberta goes, i'm pretty sure this controversy is coming our way.  And in the past the PC Party Government has sided with religious groups against those who are being discriminated against.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shen Yung And Not Your Father's PC Party

The Shen Young Performing Arts troupe recently had their Alberta 2013 performance dates thrown into question when the Alberta Government revoked an agreement to use the Jubilee Auditoriums in Edmonton and Calgary.

The troupe celebrates Chinese Culture in a spectacular show of music and dance.  In their own words:

Based in New York, Shen Yun Performing Arts was established in 2006 with the mission of reviving 5,000 years of divinely inspired Chinese culture.After more than 60 years of Communist rule in China, and especially after the Cultural Revolution, Chinese traditional culture has been all but completely demolished. However, the deeper spiritual core of the ancient culture, with its values of benevolence, honor, propriety, wisdom, and sincerity, as well as a reverence for the gods and the heavens, cannot be destroyed.

The troupe held sold out shows in Calgary in April 2012 but were unhappy because of some problems they had with the facility.  When they couldn't get their issues resolved they sent out a media release explaining their concerns.  What happened next, behind the scenes is fairly obvious, and the result was the government cancelling the agreement to allow the troupe's shows in 2013.  Alberta's Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk wrote a letter to the group informing them of the cancellation.  It was not written in all caps.

Shen Yung is connected with Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa), a religious group banned and persecuted in China.  Falun Gong is loosely based in Chinese Buddhism, and by most objective accounts is quite harmless.  There are Falun Gong societies everywhere in the West where there are Chinese Communities, including Calgary and Edmonton.  Religious freedom and freedom of conscience is a Charter Right in Canada, which extends even into Alberta.

The problem here is the very serious allegation being made by the group that the Chinese Government has pressured the Alberta Government into these punitive actions against Shen Yung.  The CBC and Canadian Press have been reporting on this. For example, Travel Alberta suddenly pulled out of a sponsorship deal that would have involved some mutual promotion.  Also, Tourism Calgary withdrew from a White Hat ceremony. Classy.

It becomes apparent through various comments and emails that the Chinese Consulate has been intervening with Calgary City Council and Alberta Governments against the group.  Sadly at this point, it is not economically feasible for Alberta to alienate Chinese business interests. Floor painter meet corner.

The key issue here is freedom of expression and not allowing foreign governments to interfere in Alberta's cultural activities.  The other issue is transparency.  The Auditoriums are Government owned.  These are really nice facilities, and it's rather objectionable that they are the centre of a campaign to bully and repress a cultural events.

Yes, this is not your father's PC Party.  Our father's generation knew a thing or two about fascism.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Draw Mohammed Day 2012

I forgot today was the third annual  Draw Mohammed Day, a popular internet movement born out of frustration with violent reactions to simple parodies such as cartoons.  While I had mixed feelings about it, on the whole I think these kind of movements are quite appropriate.  Islam is one of the last ideologies in the world where thought crimes, even by non-adherents can result in rather violent over-reactions.

People are right to insist on an unfettered right to make fun of something as a form of free speech or conscience. In our western tradition we have quite a long history of satire and mockery.  We finally got to a point in our civilization where we (mostly) no longer persecute people for mocking the sacred or important. Partly because of the spread of democracy and the corresponding individual rights it contains, but also because authoritarianism and intimidation never worked as way to change people's minds. Everyone knows it doesn't work.

I can't draw so I submit the above stock cartoon as my depiction of the prophet.  If I could draw I would make something subtle and tasteful.  I would make Mohammed a woman.  If the founder of Islam were a woman it would be the greatest irony of history.  It would drop a bomb on the widespread misogyny of religion in general, and Islam in particular.

The other problem is I don't really have a firm opinion on whether Mohammed actually existed or not. Like Jesus, there are a number of possibilities, from being made up completely, to being a composite of a few people, to being a real person obscured wholly by mythology.  So all this outrage could be over someone who didn't exist.

I am an atheist, someone who rejects god and gods, revelation,  and superstitions. As a result it doesn't interest me too much to get overly obsessive about one particular religion.  Among the social media types who argue about religion and culture there is definitely a sub-culture of Islamophobia.   I don't really wish to get involved with that level of hatred.  I think it's okay to hate ideas or ideologies, but not people or groups of people. It's irrational. In Canada nowadays you more than likely have friends, co-workers, and neighbors who are Muslim.  We have to co-exist.

And besides, if you wake up one day and find out you sound just like Mark Steyn or Ezra Levant, it's game over for your brain.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Tory Here, A Tory There.

The new Cabinet appointed today by Premier Redford is both a continuation of the status quo, but also contains a few hints about what to expect. If you view this as change, you need to get out more.

The 17 member cabinet has 7 associate ministers. Salary and size of cabinet are red herrings. The real issue is whether they can function well.  Previous cabinets were plagued by turf wars, empire building, and cross-jurisdictional disputes. I remain skeptical that the new Premier can fix those problems.

Surprisingly there are only 4 women in the cabinet, including the premier. (More conservative than progressive I guess.)  Edmonton and St. Albert have 5 and Calgary has 6 ministers.  The rest are rural members north of Red Deer.  The average age of the cabinet is about 48.  You could say it is more of an urban cabinet.

I was surprised to see Thomas Lukaszuk appointed deputy premier without portfolio.  You can probably guess by this the Premier will probably be spending most of her time on bitumen related issues.  Lukaszuk's job will be to keep the back benches busy, and to keep people with good ideas away from the Premier's office.

Everyone thought Ken Hughes would be the Health Minister.  As long time Redford loyalist  he was rewarded with the Energy portfolio, which is the most important ministry in this Government.  It is by far their highest priority. Hughes will travel around a lot, sort of a bitumen Ambassador.

The Health Ministry was left as is, under the care of Fred Horne.  I fully expect the Alberta Health Care system to continue to go sideways or backwards. It won't really be a priority.

The merger of Finance and the Treasury Board under Doug Horner is interesting.  Traditionally these two roles are separate because they look at spending from two different perspectives.  The merger of these two ministries suggests the Premier wants to start blasting out money without too much friction or dissent.

Jeff Johnson as Education Minister is an unknowable unknown.  Straightaway he will have to deal with the implementation of Bill 4, the relaunching of the failed new education act, and some public protests over prayer in public schools. And also those irritated religious mommy home school bloggers. Good luck with all that. Johnson and Hughes will likely work well together to get industry developed curriculum about the oilsands into the school system.  Or, as the Premier likes to call it, "facts and science".

Doug Griffiths in Municipal Affairs will have the primary challenge of trying to win back municipalities in southern Alberta who turned Wildrose.  What will the strategy be?  Ignore their needs?  Blast cash at them? I think we know by now that intimidation won't work.

What about Heather Klimchuk as Culture Minister you ask?  I don't really know much about her, or even what Alberta Culture does.  I did find a blog post from her that was written entirely in upper case. Something tells me Culture won't be all that important in this government.

This brings us to the new Transportation Minister Ric McIver.  When he was a Calgary City Councillor he postured as a fiscal conservative, got his boots licked repeatedly by Rick Bell, and on one occasion told Mayor Bronconnier that he should be nicer to Ed Stelmach.  Ric's biggest problem will be learning the new culture. In Calgary he was nick-named "Dr. No" for voting against almost every kind of spending.  As an Alberta Tory under Redford he'll certainly have to become known as "Dr. Yes, God Yes",  as they start blasting out money in all different directions. There is the outstanding issue of the South West Calgary Ring Road project, which will involve a new three way agreement between the City of Calgary, The Tsuu T'ina Nation, and the Provincial Government.  There is the more emotional and contentious upgrades to Highway 63.

Good luck to the Opposition Parties.  There is a lot to be skeptical about here.  Redford isn't a game changer or a reformer.  This is status quo politics with the usual emphasis on Party first.

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Dan Savage and the Economist

A few days ago the Economist magazine ran a short opinion piece on the Dan Savage "bible bullshit" speech and the predictable reaction that followed from the religious right.  A good number of atheist and humanist bloggers that I read were not entirely happy with the Economist's comments.  I think this is because they focused on the opening paragraphs where the writer tries to make an issue of Savage's style, rather than the real issue of substance which is the bullying of Gay youth.

But the last paragraph of the piece really lays it out well:

Mr Savage's apology did not stop the outrage machine. Some seem to have taken particular delight in hurling Mr Savage's epithets—bully and basher (of Christians and Christianity, rather than gays)—back at him. The American Thinker harrumphs, "Evidently, bullying is one of those things that is defined by the 'victim'." Well, yes: in fact it is. Bullying is the strong picking on the weak, not the other way around (the other way around is satire). One could make the argument that in the case of Mr Savage's speech, he was the strong one, and the high-school students were "victims", but that would be weak tea indeed. Mr Savage is one person, not a movement, and of course those students whom he gave the vapours were free to leave. Not everyone has such freedom. Gay teens, not Christian teens, kill themselves at higher rates than the general populace. Nobody calls Christianity an abomination. One blogger accused Mr Savage of "Christian-bashing" for pointing out the Bible's position on slavery. A writer for a Focus on the Family site said that "using profanity to deride the Bible...is obviously a form of bullying and name-calling." In fact it is neither: Mr Savage, however intemperate his language, was arguing, not name-calling. That is a crucial distinction, and one that too often eludes the showily devout. If the Bible is in fact the word of God it can survive a few arguments about context and application.
And then there's a letter writer's acerbic comment about the piece:
The reason the psycho end of the right wing is *really* angry at Dan Savage isn't over the one word "Bullshit". The actual reason the psycho end of the right wing is angry at Dan Savage are the three words he brought into public consciousness: "It Gets Better".
There shouldn't be any doubt as to who the real victims are in this debate.

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Peter Lougheed Wins Again

A 1975 editorial cartoon showing the early foundations
of the  Alberta PC Party's formula for success
Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed has been named the best "Provincial Premier" of the last 40 years.  The poll was conducted by Policy Magazine using a small number of experts and academics.  I was curious as to their methodology, since most of the time Premiers deal with localized issues.  How do you compare premiers and rate them?

Lougheed dealt with two national issues of importance; the Constitution Act of 1982, and the National Energy Program.  Both gave him a national profile.

I don't find it hard to believe that a group of historians would pick Lougheed the winner in such an analysis, however I'm always skeptical about political mythology and idolization which by it's very nature has to completely ignore alternate viewpoints and inconvenient truths.  Lougheeds legacy is not unlike Pierre Trudeau's. It's complicated. It can be polarizing.

And then there's the timing and circumstance of the award:

The exercise was part of the institute's 40th anniversary. Also part of the celebration is a tribute dinner for Peter Lougheed on June 6 in Calgary. The keynote speaker will be Alberta's newly-elected premier, Alison Redford.
What an amazing series of coincidences.  This would be a rather awkward night if they had picked Robert Bourassa.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Shadowy Shadow Cabinet

Wildrose Party experts test a new communication strategy.
Danielle Smith revealed her shadow cabinet today, the people who will make up the official opposition in the Alberta Legislature.

First the demographics.  All of the candidates except one, are from southern Alberta.  There are only two urban members, both in Calgary.   Of the 16 official opposition members, 13 are male, 3 female.  I don't know about their average age, but I don't think anyone will refer to the Wildrose party as a 'brat pack' or 'up and comers'.

Starting with Smith, she will take on the role of representing the official opposition to the cities. It was no secret in the campaign that the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary were less than warm to the idea of a Wildrose victory.  Part of it was the vulgar comments about gays and caucasian power.  But really, it was more about funding, taxes and infrastructure.

Also, Smith will represent the opposition on international, intergovernmental and aboriginal issues.

Rob Anderson will be house leader and Finance and Treasury Board critic.  He will also be in charge of theatrics and insane rhetoric.

Joe Anglin will be the environment critic. He really got under the Stelmach government's skin over rural land owner issues.  But in this Legislature he won't have Luke Ouellette or Mel Knight  to interupt his presentations.  Anglin is a grenade, with a wobbly pin. He may or may not be manageable.

Gary Bickman will be the Advanced Education critic. Bickman believes that city folk just don't get it. Irony is a gift that we should always be thankful for.

As for the rest of the caucus, I'm really not familiar with them, so I won't comment.  I'm sure they will make headlines.

I don't believe that the Wildrose Party planned on sitting in opposition, and probably didn't prepare for it. Also, they probably didn't expect such a small caucus.  It will not take them a long time to figure out that the PC Party micro-manages everything in the Legislature.  I don't know how happy they will be knowing that the opposition parties, in practical terms, don't really exist.

With two conservative parties dominating the Legislature, and the media in Alberta almost universally openly supporting one of the two conservative parties, don't expect any progress on issues that matter to liberals and progressives.

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