Republicans in Arizona are Bat***t Crazy Human Rights Abusers

I’m sorry for the foul language–exceptionally rare on this blog–but how on earth do you justify the withholding of food to people for no other reason than that they’re gay? And to do this in the name of Jesus, the one who said to a polyamorous woman, “come to the water.” The Jesus who said of a woman arrested for prostitution, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” The Jesus who said that many would be judged by himself in the final judgment since, “I was hungry, and you did not give me food.” The same Jesus who said, “love your neighbour”–and then told a story of how your neighbour might be your bitterest enemy and rival.

I suppose it’s too much to ask those self-professed followers to Jesus to do as he did or as he asked in expecting them to feed the hungry out of their own pockets, but I am surprised that US Republican lawmakers in Arizona think that restauranteurs should be allowed to deny people the right to buy food. Just because they are gay. Two men holding hands? Don’t eat here.

Memo to Arizona restauranteurs: you have a license to make a profit selling food and customer service. You’ve got no business deciding whether or not someone’s sexual preferences make you happy.

It beggars belief that this odious, abominable, thoughtless proposition should be allowed to become law. This piece of mob rule is of the same piece as the legislation in Uganda which would condemn gays to life in prison, condemn those who know gay people without reporting them to prison, and condemn to prison those who even discuss homosexuality without condemning them. And it should come as no surpise that fundamentalist Christians in the United States bankrolled and supported this law.

These two bills–each awaiting the signatures of the President of Uganda in the one case and the Governor of Arizona in the other, are vulgar, vile attacks on empathy, on love, on respect for one’s fellow human beings, on humanism. They are also against the very spirit of the best of the various religious traditions. These “lawmakers” are committing the worst blasphemy when they attempt to make God (whatever the hell that is) in the likeness of homophobic human beings who need to know and control the sexuality, the bodies, and even the thoughts of others.

Anyone who tries to justify the withholding of food or freedom to gay women and men should come out of the Stone Age and into the twenty-first century. Come to think about it, that comparison does violence to our cave-dwelling ancestors.

But back to Arizona. This is a bad–no, make that a truly evil–bill. This legislation opens up the opportunity for the truly malevolent to create and enforce anti-gay laws that rob men and women of life, liberty, and love. This example of utter stupidity, which fills me with rage, in Arizona will reverberate around the globe with the worst repercussions to fall on those least able to bear the homophobia of others–those in the developing world. And the excuse will be that America did it first.

While I’m on the subject, America is really slipping backwards. There’s no respect for Roe vs. Wade anymore, and it’s expected that soon there will be only eight clinics that can provide women with access to abortion in the entire state of Texas

Posted in American and Foreign, Current Issues, Politics, Religion & Philosophy | Comments Off

How I came to be a NY Times Subscriber

I’ve been reading the New York Times on my cell phone en route to and from work for months, now. My first beginnings of familiarity with the New York Times actually occurred during my politically-conservative years when I used to read the Wall Street Journal. I remember seeing James Taranto excoriating Paul Krugman for the fact that he was at one time employed by Enron–even though he did no wrong there at all and was in no way part of the evil that took place there. I remember seeing Maureen Dowd put down, sometimes in terms that I perceived as misogynist. After a while, it seemed to me that the free online WSJ pages were essentially bullying in tone.

Eventually, I was put off by the opinion pages of the WSJ, but it wasn’t until many years later that I would begin reading the New York Times. For many weeks, now, I’ve been an avid daily reader–deleting the cache and history and cookies so that I could read twenty articles a day or more, rather than the “allowed” ten per month.

In that time, I’ve come to consider the columnists almost as family. My favourite is Charles M. Blow: earnest, sincere, and very humble, even though he has so much to teach others. But I also very much enjoy Gail Collins, who can write in an affected high school essay manner that communicates her insights on US federal and state politics with biting, but hilarious, satire. (This is affected only–she does write in other styles.) And the Nobel Economics winner Paul Krugman–who always writes with so much empathy for the working poor on the nature of wealth inequality–inspires me. Then there are Thomas L. Friedman and Roger Cohen, who write on the Middle East and other regions with fairness, balance, and integrity. Maureen Dowd writes on many issues with fairness and good insight. And then there’s Nicholas Kristof.

Nicholas Kristof recently dared to write a column giving a voice to Dylan Farrow, the survivor of sexual abuse. In doing so, he put his career at risk, in some ways. I thought that bold and courageous stand, which encapsulates for me the very best of what the New York Times is, deserved support.

Accordingly, I purchased my subscription today.

There are only three things I dislike about the New York Times. First, it’s not Canadian. I wish it was! With Margaret Wente at the Globe and Mail, Canada’s once-distinguished “national newspaper” has become an embarrassment–a kind of Wall Street Journal North, if you will. Second, it’s not free, but then I couldn’t possibly expect it to be. Third, the NYTimes has consistently come out against the Keystone pipeline. I support the Keystone, mostly because I hope that the federal government in Ottawa–if it gets Keystone approval–will feel less pressured to build the Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast. The potential environmental devastation in the ocean from increased tanker traffic looms far worse than a potential spill on land in a land-locked region, and I have more faith in TransCanada than I do in Enbridge. But of course, these three drawbacks are more than outweighed by the positives. But I still wish there were a Canadian New York Times.

Posted in American and Foreign, Current Issues, Politics, Reading journal (general) | Comments Off

On Woody Allen and Margaret Wente

I just read Margaret Wente’s piece in the Globe and Mail on Woody Allen. Ms. Wente, of course, was responding to the now (in)famous Nicholas Kristof article in the New York Times.

Ms. Wente, who writes in what is often termed “Canada’s national newspaper” is a right-wing climate-change denier and political wing-nut who never met a “conservative” cause she couldn’t support. (For non-Canadian readers: Ms. Wente’s voice is balanced by other regular columnists of considerably more sense.) Wente routinely praises men and maleness, for instance, often uncritically. I’m inclined to take her article here as embodying both of these unfortunate tendencies.

I had expected her stance on this sad episode to have been taken apart in the comments, but when I read them, I was surprised to read that all the top-rated comments were supportive of her and of Allen. I submitted my own comment, and was surprised to see a message from the Globe and Mail website indicating that my comment was awaiting moderation. That being the case, I am publishing it here now:

I can’t believe that none of the top-rated comments mentioned one of the main points in the original NY Times article:

“There were charges and countercharges. A panel of psychiatrists sided with Allen, a judge more with Dylan and her mother. A Connecticut prosecutor said that there was enough evidence for a criminal case against Allen but that he was dropping criminal proceedings to spare Dylan.”

Some commenters have suggested that if Woody Allen had been considered to have been guilty, he would not have been allowed to adopt his children.* This ignores the basic facts of human nature, demonstrated, for example, in the scandal of the Catholic church: bishops simply moving child-abusing priests from one parish to another. Furthermore, governments can’t necessarily remove people’s rights on mere suspicion.

I most certainly do not know if Woody Allen is guilty or not, but I do know that too many people are more than willing to forgive known sexual abusers of children when the abusers are entertainment celebrities–and in any case, since no one knows his accuser is lying, having the lead spokespeople of a powerful industry mocking his accuser not only looks wrong, it is wrong.

Update: I had noticed right away that Ms. Wente seemed to be attacking Mia Farrow’s credibility in her article–using Mia as a proxy for Dylan, which I thought unusual and strange. I do not believe that she was being original, here. Jessica Winter’s Slate article systematically demolishes a writer who takes very much the same approach that Ms. Wente would subsequently take.

Update 2: for an overall summary, see this other other Jessica Winter article.

I won’t say here what I think of Allen, but it’s not good.

UPDATE 3: I think it’s only fair to link to Dylan Farrow’s own words.

*Actually, the commenters who have said this have no grasp of the basic chronology of the case.

Posted in Current Issues | 2 Comments

Pre-Socratics Journal, Part 2: Xenophanes, My Hero

Of all the Pre-Socratics that I have read so far, Xenophanes impresses me the most because of his distinction between accurate knowledge and belief–an opposition that reminded me very much of my favourite sophist Gorgias’ own opposition of “fact” to “opinion.” Consider these verses attributed to Xenophanes by Sextus Empiricus in the latter’s work Against the Mathematicians:

And the clear truth no man has seen nor will anyone know concerning the gods and about all the things of which I speak;
for even if he should actually manage to say what is the case,
nevertheless he himself does not know it; but belief is found over all.

There is also this observation, which astounds in its cool rationality:

Not at first did the gods reveal all things to mortals,
But in time, by inquiring, they [i.e. humans] make better discoveries.

I absolutely love this quote, preserved in Stobaeus. First, there’s the admission that humans lack knowledge of all things, but then there’s a contrast between what has been commonly believed to be divinely revealed vs. “better discoveries” made by people using “inquiries” in a careful and scientific manner–and these discoveries continue to occur. This approach is central to the scientific method and the Socratic method, too: in short, we learn more and best when we inquire, not when we accept what has been “revealed.” In my opinion, this is at the heart of what is wrong with religion: it deadens people’s brains, basically. And thus we have rape, murder, torture, and theft all justified with references to holy books, not just “in the name of” religion, but as a direct consequence of what religion is. Religion, when in power, has no place for inquiry. That comes to us from the Greek thinkers of old, and from the Enlightenment. Far better to inquire and make better discoveries!

There is another wonderful quote from Xenophanes, preserved in Sextus Empiricus:

Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods everything
which among men is shameful and blameworthy–
theft and adultery, and mutual deception.

For me, this is not just a theological wish for a deity to be without human flaws; it’s a bold statement of the reality that from the dawn of time, humans have made their gods in their own image. And just in case you wanted the statement even more clearly, consider these words of Xenophanes preserved in Clement:

But if cows and horses or lions had hands
and drew with their hands and made the things men make,
then horses would draw the forms of gods like horses,
cows like cows,
and each would make their bodies
similar in shape to his own.

This insight–beautifully and poetically put–is breathtaking in its modernity, and yet it was made in the sixth century B.C.E. Again, I could draw numerous comparisons to the writers of the Hebrew Bible, who were busy setting us up for all the damage wrought by Christianity and Islam, and I regret very much that the so-called Abrahamic religions have had as much influence as they had.

Xenophanes did permit himself to speculate on the nature of god, though. For him,

There is one god, greatest among gods and men,
similar to mortals neither in shape nor in thought

Xenophanes considered this god–sometimes stated to be limitless and motionless and spherical–to be his principle (αρχη, see under the term in the previous post), and argued that this god:

reposes in the same state, moving not at all….
But far from toil he governs everything by thought.

Xenophanes’ speculations are interesting, but far more interesting is this statement by Simplicius that:

[Xenophanes] agrees that an account of his views [on god] belongs to a different inquiry from the study of nature.

This is humility in the face of lack of knowledge, and it boldly goes where until then no one had yet gone–out of so-called revelation and into inquiry.

Moving from philosophy to science, l love this little couplet describing a rainbow–it’s every bit as good as the very best haiku of the Japanese master poet Basho:

What they call Rainbow, that too is a cloud,
Purple and scarlet and green to see

The couplet is beautiful in its language, syntax, and imagery, but beautiful also because it represents a courageous and insightful rebellion against the popular ideas that rainbows were divine in origin (as with Iris, a messenger of the gods in Greek mythology, or the idea that they were “signs” that God would not permit another large flood, as in the Hebrew Bible). This rebellion against the established religious ideas was playfully mocked by Aristophanes in his play Clouds, but the play does bear witness to the idea that Socrates, like the other educated people of the day, sought naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena.

Finally, Hippolytus preserves remarks attributed to Xenophanes on the nature of fossils–their existence and causation.

My last word on Xenophanes is one of love, admiration, and wonder, but in the vernacular: WOW!

My index of my posts on Greek literature and philosophy can be found here.

Posted in Classics & Ancient Near East, Gorgias Journal, Pre-Socratics Journal, Xenonphanes Journal | Comments Off

Pre-Socratics Journal, Part 1: Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Alcmaeon, and Heraclitus

Thales of Miletus
One of the “Seven Sages” of ancient Greek lore, Thales of Miletus is attested through none of his own works, for none survived. (The ancients differed on whether he wrote anything at all.) He is mentioned in Herodotus in the context of an account of an eclipse, and Thales seems in fact to have been more interested in what we would now call science rather than what we term philosophy.

Herodotus claims that Thales foretold the eclipse, which may be apocryphal. What is far more interesting is the scientifically-correct description of it that is ascribed to Thales in the anonymous Commentary on the Odyssey in one of the Oxyrhynchus papyri:

Thales said that the sun is eclipsed when the moon is in front of it.

There was a problematic description ascribed to Thales after the above sentence, but I have omitted it. Suffice to say, that with his idea that water is the basis of all, or that the earth floats on water, or his ideas about souls, Thales is still far from modern science. But he made a good beginning by being willing to accept rational rather than divine origins for the universe.

Thales is also said to have touched on mathematics and geometry, and he is reported to have expounded upon isosceles triangles, among other things.

More interesting tidbits: in answer to the question “why don’t you have any children,” Thales responded* humbly, “because I love children.” When asked by an adulterer for advice as to the question of whether he should swear that he had not committed adultery, Thales replied “perjury is no worse than adultery.” (Bill Clinton evidently took lessons! I just had to throw that in for humour!) When asked, “what is difficult,” Thales answered, “to know yourself,” and indeed, this famous motto, inscribed on the temple at Delphi–a sort of ancient Greek equivalent to the Vatican in terms of power–is ascribed to Thales first, in this case by Diogenes Laertius.

Anaximander of Miletus
Anaximander was a pupil of Thales, and like him, sought to explain the world (Greek “cosmos: κοσμος) in terms of an unifying, primoeval entity, or “principle” (Greek arche: αρχη). In this case, it was not water, but “the limitless.” Anaximander held that the Earth was “aloft”–not supported by anything, and he held that the world was rounded, “in the shape of a cylinder.” Anaximander is also attributed with the first “map of the inhabited world,” which he drew on a tablet. On a more interesting note, Anaximander is widely held among the ancients to have said that men evolved from fish! In this, he is of course, very close to the truth–certainly closer than his contemporaries who wrote the Hebrew Bible were, when they wrote that God created man from clay. Finally, Anaximander discoursed on the phenomena of rain and evaporation.

Anaximenes of Miletus
I have little to write of Anaximenes. His “principle”–again, his organizing, unifying primoeval element–was not water, as with Thales, nor “the limitless,” as with Anaximander, but was “limitless air.” He also said that souls were “air,” and I find there an echo of the Hebrew idea that God breathed on the first man, and thus made him a living being.

Pythagoras of Samos
First things first, according to Jonathan Barnes, Pythagoras was not the originator of the Pythagorean theorem!

Now that that’s out of the way, I can report that Porphyry said that Pythagoras said that the soul was immortal, and that after a person died, his or her soul would enter that of an animal. Herodotus says that many Greek thinkers (and he pointedly does not name them) put forward this idea as their own, but he says it was actually the Egyptians who invented this idea. Anyway, I remember Pythagoras idea from my grade-school days of memorizing poetry, when I first read the concluding lines in Christopher Marlowe’s play Faustus:

Ah Pythagoras’ metempsychosis! were that true,
This soul should fly from me, and I be chang’d
Unto some brutish beast! All beasts are happy,
For, when they die,
Their souls are soon dissolv’d in elements;
But mine must live, still to be plagu’d in hell.

Alcmaeon was a student of Pythagoras. I have little to say about him, but I very much like this quote, preserved in Diogenes Laertius, in which we can see the beginnings of real science as well as the idea of “God of the gaps”:

About matters invisible the gods possess clear knowledge, but as far as humans may judge, etc.

The “etc.” is the translation of the words of Diogenes Laertius.

Theophrastus’ work “On the Senses” preserves a wonderfully fascinating account of the views of Alcmaeon on human anatomy:

Of those who do not explain perception by similarity, Alcmaeon first determines the difference between men and animals: he says that men differ from other animals because they alone understand, whereas the others perceive but do not understand. (He supposes that thinking and perceiving are distinct, not–like Empedocles–the same thing.)

Then he discusses each of the senses. He says that we hear with our ear because there is an empty space inside them which echoes: the cavity sounds and the air echoes in return. We smell with our noses at the same time as we breathe in, drawing the breath towards the brain. We discriminate flavours with our tongues; for, being warm and soft, they dissolve things with their heat…. The eyes see by way of the water surrounding them….

All the senses are somehow connected to the brain. That is why they are incapacitated if it is moved or displaced….

As for touch, he said neither how nor by what means it works.

So much for Alcmaeon’s views.


They say that Euripides gave [Socrates] a copy of Heraclitus’ book and asked him what he thought of it. He replied, “what I understand is splendid;, and so too, I’m sure, is what I don’t understand–but it would take a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it.”–Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers

My Penguin Classics volume informs me that Heraclitus is considered also by modern scholars to be difficult–and that carries through in the translation, too. Nevertheless, I have a few remarks. First, a pithy epigram:

Eternity is a child at play, playing draughts: the kingdom is a child’s.

It might as well be “but a dream.” Incidentally, I’m reminded of Jesus’ remark that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must become “as a child.” That sort of turns the thing on its head. Both remarks are fascinating and pregnant, but Heraclitus’ remark is the more elusive.

It’s not important, but Heraclitus’ “principle,” it appears, was fire.

There are two remarks by Heraclitus that I found interesting. The first:

If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not discover it.

The quote is preserved in a treatise by Clement, who seems to find many parallels to Christian and biblical thought in Heraclitus. That was actually one of the more amusing and interesting aspects of this chapter in my Penguin Classics book.

The second quote–which is actually likely to be a paraphrase–is far more interesting, and comes to us courtesy of Plato:

Heraclitus says somewhere that everything moves and nothing rests; and, comparing what exists to a river, he says that you would not step twice into the same river.


But Heraclitus earns my suspicion and enmity to this statement, in which he criticizes my hero, Xenophanes, (see the next post) in a remark that was justly censured already by Diogenes Laertius, who preserves it:

Much learning does not teach thought–or else it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras, and again Xenophanes and Hacataeus.

So much for Heraclitus’ views!

To sum up, on this second return to the Pre-Socratics, I find them much more interesting than when I read them many months ago while half asleep on public transit; this re-visiting in preparation for this post was a delightful experience. It is so obvious that so much of our modern world is dependent on the scientific advances of these early thinkers, despite many of their child-like explanations (which I mostly have not reported here). But they were Herculean thinkers in the sense that they were proposing a rational inquiry into a cosmos which made sense in terms of cause and effect. We owe them a boundless intellectual debt.

* From now on, I will often say that a given person “said” things rather than saying “was said to have said.” This does not reflect my judgement on whether so-and-so actually said such things. We are in many cases dealing with words or phrases ascribed to the Pre-Socratics by men two hundred years or so later whose works are preserved in manuscripts dated even far after their times. But the question of historicity–while important–can be balanced by a sort of traditional characterization of these early thinkers, and as characters, they continue to exert an influence today.


Posted in Classics & Ancient Near East, Pre-Socratics Journal | Comments Off

Beginning the Pre-Socratics

It has been a very long time since I have done anything with my Classical Greek Literature journal. I think I began the Pre-Socratic “philosophers” in the summer time, but I typically stop reading my books on transit during the sleepier winter months. In any case, I began my reading of the Penguin Classics book “Early Greek Philosophy” (translated and most ably edited by Jonathan Barnes) many months ago, took notes, and put the book down, never to pick it up. Today’s goal is to overcome my reading inertia by catching up on the blogging of what I had been reading, which will then give me the freedom to read more. I don’t like to get too far ahead of the journal, and when this happens, I usually stop reading altogether.

So it is that I shall now, in the immortal word of Lord Voldemort, “Begin.”

Posted in Classics & Ancient Near East, Pre-Socratics Journal | Comments Off

Seokwangsa in Black and White

Seokwangsa in black and white Jan 2014

And now for the customary black and white. I didn’t re-touch these in Silkypix, which I sometimes do when processing black and whites. They are straight out of the camera, and as such, are perhaps better described as “varying shades of grey.” Still, I hope someone finds them interesting.

Seokwangsa Jan 2014 black and white close up main prayer hall

Pagoda in Seokwangsa, in black and white

Seokwangsa grounds in black and white Jan 2014

The final picture above shows the grounds of the temple, lying more or less in a state of nature.

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Jan. 16, 2014: No Winter in Seokwangsa, a Korean Buddhist Temple in Metro-Vancouver

Seokwangsa Jan 16 2014

Today at eleven o’clock in the morning I put on my shorts and went cycling over the Golden Ears Bridge. My destination was Seokwangsa (사광사 in Korean), a Korean Zen Buddhist temple in Langley, BC. My ride was a very leisurely one as I stopped many times to take pictures of the bridge and other places. It was, in fact, a very lovely day. While on the temple grounds, I saw a beautiful Golden eagle and a Bald eagle. I also chatted with a very pleasant Buddhist monk.

I’m not altogether happy with the above picture; I think I should have used the “natural” colour setting on my camera rather than the standard setting. This is, of course, an excellent excuse to go back soon–though if I do so, it would be good for me to put on a pair of pants and go for the daily service.

The next pictures show details of two painted wooden wall panels, and the one after the small decorative garden immediately adjacent to the main prayer hall. It is a beautiful place.

Seokwangsa Jan 2014 panel detail

Red dragon and lotus flowers, detail of panel at Seokwangsa Buddhist temple in Langley, BC

Seokwangsa Jan 2014 main building and garden

The next image shows the main prayer hall again, from a very low angle:

Seokwangsa from the ground up Jan 2014

On the way back, I actually saw the actual second when my odometer went from 999.99 kms to 1000.00, which means I’ve cycled a thousand kilometers since March 2012, when my dad put new tires on a dormant bicycle that I hadn’t ridden for years. My goal is do much more cycling this next spring and summer–and there was certainly no winter in evidence here today. It worries me, though: winter isn’t supposed to be this warm.

Addendum: here’s a similar image to the one above that I thought was a bit oversaturated. Both, as with the other images here, came straight out of the camera, with no re-touching:

Seokwangsa Jan 2014 main prayer hall version 2

Posted in BC & Vancouver, Buddhist Temples, Photoblogging, Religion & Philosophy | 2 Comments


Lately I have been thinking about my drift left. Sometimes it’s been more of a run than a drift, but it’s a trajectory that has played out in nearly every aspect of my existence–from theology (conservative to liberal to none) to philosophy, to politics and the economy (I’m now firmly in the camp of the left-of-center New Democratic Party, both provincially and federally), to my views on interpersonal relationships and family. I’m even tired of the monarchy and think it’s time for Canada to have its own head of state.

When I was younger, I used to read the newspapers on a daily basis. And I used to think most of them distastefully leftist because I was so conservative. Not for nothing did I once turn in a high school report in support of logging in old growth forest in Clayoquot Sound, write letters to the provincial government in support of teacher-training programs at homophobic Trinity Western University, make speeches to the effect that “Christianity” provided a better worldview than atheism, or pray that my friends would become evangelical Protestants and thereby save themselves from the flames of hell. I was even, for a time, a “hard” Calvinist who believed that many people were born for hell. In fact, it was when I got there that I realized, largely through the careful study of the Bible in its original languages, that I was totally wrong in idolizing the sixty-six books comprising what Christians call the Old and New Testaments. This took a process of about three to four years, and at the same time as my theology was undergoing serious reflection, I was also questioning my other kinds of conservative views.

All that conservatism is gone, now. I prefer The Guardian to The Daily Mail, the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, and the Vancouver Observer to the Vancouver Sun. I’m an ardent supporter of gay rights and a pro-choice advocate. I hate guns. I support legalizing prostitution and I believe in doctors prescribing medication to end patients’ lives at their request. I have the heart of an activist when it comes to preventing Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. I think the idea that humans have to take their morality from a projection they themselves create and then place somewhere “up there” to be ridiculous. I want government to institute proportional fines like in Finland, and try to build a just and fair society that recognizes that we are all of us dependent on each other. In other words, the social safety net should be strengthened and maintained rather than eroded. Companies should be prohibited from overpaying CEO’s. Values–tolerance of and celebration of differences, above all–should be explicitly taught.

None of this means I have no values, or that I think the values that we have gradually acquired over hundreds of years of democratic evolution should be lightly swept aside just because some people (e.g. traditional Islamists) don’t respect those humanistic traditions. No: the Canada I know is worth a noble struggle and it needs that struggle. It’s worth preserving and strengthening in the face of paralyzing cultural equivalence, creeping religiosity, and corporate overreach. And I believe the best place to be in that effort is on the Left.

Posted in Politics, Religion & Philosophy | 4 Comments

Stephen Harper as R.B. Bennett, or Justin Trudeau as Stephen Harper Lite

The thought has occurred to me that Stephen Harper’s role nowadays is analogous to that of R.B. Bennett, Canada’s Prime Minister during the worst years of the Great Depression. Parallels do exist, including the interesting fact that both were born back east, but spent their formative working years in Alberta before they became Conservative Prime Ministers.

Like R.B. Bennett, Mr. Harper seems to be a decent human being whose essential decency does not find its way into moving the economy onto a trajectory towards some kind of social justice and fairness. I remember reading that R.B. Bennett–the same man who did so little to help Canada from a legislative point of view–used to regularly give his own personal money to people who wrote letters to him asking for help. (If only I could be so lucky!)

Mr. Harper, with his penchant for carefully spending large amounts of money on mega-projects in an effort to stimulate the economy, comes across as much the better Prime Minister, to be sure. Nevertheless, the fact remains that thanks to his aggravated enmity towards the environment, his refusal to help Canadians save for their retirements (despite the unanimous agreement of the provinces!), his gutting of CBC Radio 2 and culture in general, his lack of a beautiful, unifying vision to unite the country, and his political hypocrisy vis-à-vis the Senate scandal, he has overstayed his welcome and lost the mandate of the citizenry. He presides over a government whose values are becoming increasingly odious to the public at large.

I feel that many Canadians who hate Harper so personally may not give him the credit he deserves in steering the Canadian economy reasonably well through these tough times. There are others, like me, who do not personally hate him. But we all feel united one one key point: despite being only midway through his mandate as the leader of a majority government, he and his party need to be shown the door as quickly as possible, before he destroys any more of our precious country.

So what’s left? There’s Justin Trudeau. I do believe that Pierre Elliot Trudeau was one of the greatest Canadians to have ever lived or held political office. But the son is not the father. Trudeau Jr. seems to me to be a kind of intellectual lightweight–possibly with a belief in his right to become Prime Minister based solely on dynastic considerations, and he hails from a party that for too long, now, has been characterized just as much by internecine power struggles as by governing from the right after campaigning from the left. Chretien, the man who took the Liberals to three large, consecutive majority governments, was responsible for seeing Canada fall from first in the world on the UN’s standard of living index to a position many places down from that. He misplaced billions of our tax dollars in the HRDC scandal, and hundreds of millions more on Adscam, and never seemed particularly bothered that so much tax money could just disappear. The Liberals under Chretien had the support of the banks and the corporate media, and governed accordingly. They never helped out the middle class. Even moreso than today’s Tories, they contributed to its downfall. Rising income inequality may be associated with today’s conservatives, but it was the Liberals of the 1990′s who helped bring it about the most.

Then, too, there’s the fact that Trudeau’s fellow Liberals and former fellow-leadership contenders Garneau and Findlay are on record as supporting Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. Trudeau has taken a position I agree with–that there should be no pipeline terminating in the most pristine but dangerous waters of coastal BC–and yet he allowed Findlay to call this nation-building.

There’s only one leader who has been consistent in protecting our precious, (some might say “God-given”) environment and in saying no to Enbridge’s pipeline to disaster. There’s only one political leader who wants to kill the house of patronage that masquerades as a Senate. There’s only one leader with a clear, crisp approach to the problems of today–an approach characterized by well-defined values communicated honestly to the public. And that leader is Thomas Mulcair. He and his BC-based deputy Nathan Cullen and the rest of the NDP team will be getting my support in the next election–and that election can’t come fast enough.

Addendum: I actually like Stephen Harper in some ways. I feel he is receptive to many of the concerns I have, and I am grateful for that. In economic terms we are in many ways fortunate to have him. I might even miss him when he’s gone, but I can’t wait for the Conservative Party of Canada to lose its power over the land, air, water, and culture of the nation. When that happens, I want a government that will focus on expanding the middle class rather than than paying it lip-service. I want Scandinavian-style socialism, with its humane approach to education, health, politics, and yes, economics.

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