Friday, June 30, 2006

Animal Gulag

Let me note upfront that I am a meat-eater. I love barbecue season. Furthermore, I wear a leather jacket in the wintertime, I have been known to go fishing, and I recently dispatched four live lobsters by the time-honoured boiling-water method (although for the last time).

I have been dimly aware of the goings-on of
PETA (People for the Ethical Treament of Animals), and the Pamela Anderson connection. Some have taken exception to their in-your-face advertising tactics. Animal liberation hasn't really been, however, one of "my issues." Until I read this, now hidden behind a subscriber wall. Here are some highlights:

Mice can feel each other's pain, say Canadian researchers who have been injecting the rodents with acid to make them writhe while their cagemates look on.

The experiments, reported in the journal Science today along with another study that involved amputating ants' legs to see how they would walk, sound macabre. But the researchers say such unpleasantries are needed to understand the creatures' behaviour.

[T]he Montreal mouse experiments indicate mice are capable of empathy, long considered an attribute exclusive to higher primates, such as humans.

The McGill University teams injected weak acetic acid into the bellies of mice for the "writhing test," which makes them twist and squirm for half an hour. They also injected formalin into the rodent's paws to bring on temporary swelling and pain.

It sounds nasty, but Jeffrey Mogil, team leader and pain psychologist, says the tests have been used for years, inflict pain for no more than an hour and mice suffer no long-term harm.

"It hurts them a little bit," says Mr. Mogil. "You can't study pain without inflicting pain. But I guarantee you'd be greatly underwhelmed by the pain depth."

This article really speaks for itself. It reads like bad satire. If empathy up to now was thought to be an essentially human trait, someone obviously forgot to test Mr. Mogil and his team. Perhaps that wouldn't be a half-bad idea, if it were only legal. Take off your shirt and show me your hands, you son-of-a-bitch.

One can hear, Godwin aside, the voice of Dr. Mengele in the background as he performed his experiments on twins. This is science utterly detached from values and morality, the apotheosis, alas, of what science at its best has traditionally been considered to be. Moderate post-modernists like me have argued against the very possibility of value-free science, but this comes perilously close to proving us wrong.

Uncomfortable memories began to surface when I read the article. I did a course in bacteriology at McGill about a million years ago, and one experiment (which I missed) was to inject a guinea pig with tetanus and take note of its symptoms as it died. I Googled "cruelty to monkeys in labs," remembering reading about an experiment in which a female monkey's new babies were removed from her and kept behind glass in her sight for months, while scientists took notes about her frantic anxiety. I found too many citations (250,000) of gut-churning, grisly experiments to find that particular one. Google for yourself, if you have the stomach for it.

But now that it appears that even goldfish share "human" traits, some people are taking a second, if contradictory look. Whole Foods Market will no longer sell live lobsters or crabs, but frozen, pre-cooked crustaceans are still a go. Personally, having watched lobsters writhe as they are boiled alive, that's it for me. "Die instantly?" Uh-huh. But will I eat a cooked one someday? Probably.

Indeed, the contradictions are obvious, and those of us who get these stirrings of concern are clearly vulnerable to serious criticism, not to mention the florid rhetoric of Rex Murphy. In this binary culture, no half-way measures are permitted. You're either a vegan or a carnivore.

But there is middle ground, and I don't mean Peter Singer. Michael Pollan, in an excellent survey of the ethical questions in the New York Times Magazine, begins with a disturbing question:

[C]ould it be... that we will someday come to regard speciesism as an evil comparable to racism? Will history someday judge us as harshly as it judges the Germans who went about their ordinary lives in the shadow of Treblinka? Precisely that question was recently posed by J.M. Coetzee, the South African novelist, in a lecture delivered at Princeton; he answered it in the affirmative. If animal rightists are right, ''a crime of stupefying proportions'' (in Coetzee's words) is going on all around us every day, just beneath our notice.

Pollan shows, conclusively, I believe, that the inherent contradictions that riddle the notion of animal rights cannot be resolved. Indeed, anyone with an interest in ethics knows that purely "good vs. bad" choices are not often available in situations that call for ethical judgements to be made. The universe--including the moral one--is simply not built so conveniently.

Pollan believes that the deliberate infliction of suffering on animals is what is unconscionable, not the quick kill. He considers modern factory farms abominable, for example, but offers alternatives.
He concludes:

The industrialization -- and dehumanization -- of American animal farming is a relatively new, evitable and local phenomenon: no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to do it this way. Tail-docking and sow crates and beak-clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering 400 head of cattle an hour would come to an end. For who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We'd probably eat less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals, we'd eat them with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve.

I've been discussing, so far, the issue of eating animals. But there are also the fields of science, not to mention cosmetology, to consider. Once again, suffering, not death, is the issue before us. But even that is not a clear-cut distinction: many might argue, for example, that some suffering might occasionally be inflicted on an animal to save the lives of humans. Let's set aside that discussion for now: surely we can agree in the meantime that the deliberate infliction of suffering on an animal simply to satisfy curiosity or vanity is way, way out of bounds.

Come to think of it, Margaret Somerville, the "ethicist" who has been in the news recently for her vocal opposition to same-sex marriage, hails from McGill. Not all of her work has centred on the human: she's already done a little thinking on the animal rights issue. So I have a suggestion, Margo: if you can stop publicly insulting gays and lesbians for a minute, why not take a short walk over to Mr. Mogil's research lab?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Grow up, Warren

The ageing punker and tireless self-promoter is at it again. After Warren Kinsella's latest "look at me, look at me" shtick--the risible "I am not afraid" campaign that morphed into something else, leaving him in the dust--he's after Mark Bourrie again. Round Two. Geeze.

A few years ago I was walking near Metcalfe and Sparks in downtown Ottawa, and I saw two middle-aged cabbies going at it. Both were breathing hard, and neither could land a punch. They might as well have been playing extreme checkers. When all is said and done, there's not much difference in what Kinsella would no doubt call "the instant case."

Last time there was a settlement that didn't really have a lot of substance. There was a confidentiality clause, but that one's busted wide open now: I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea whether that means anything, legally speaking. Maybe the Law Society of Upper Canada can figure it out. In any case, the whole world now knows that $1000 and an apology were the ridiculous mouse that emerged from the labouring mountains at the time.

Needless to say, these two have little love lost between them. They've been at it for years, in fact, and it was really only a matter of time before the two of them, locked in what appears to be an almost erotic long-term embrace, would be mud-wrestling again.

As I say, I'm no lawyer, although my previous work acquainted me with some of the essentials. So I'm a little baffled by the facts of the case. It seems that Bourrie obtained from a Library of Parliament clipping service a somewhat unflattering column about Kinsella by that master of anthropophagy, Jan Wong. He reprinted the thing gleefully at his place. (Nope, I'm not going to link to it, modified or no. I'm not having that rabid chihuahua hump my leg, thanks.) Next he knows, the writ is served. It seems that Kinsella was displeased with the piece, and the Globe printed a short note of clarification subsequently--it doesn't look much like a retraction, but thereby hangs this tale.

What confuses me--and admittedly
I get confused on occasion--is this. A clipping service makes a column available to the wide general public on demand: not a peep. Then a blog with considerably less public circulation than the Library of Parliament (sorry, Mark) reprints this freely available piece--and it's "Gotcha!" If there is defamation, why is it ignored in one big public venue and pounced on in a relatively tiny one?

Anyway, not content with this latest salient, Kinsella is also farting in the general direction of a blog called Canadian Observer, which has taken it upon itself to poke the beast with a sharp stick. So far as I know, papers have not been served, nor (at least in this layman's opinion) are they likely to be. He's done this kind of huffing and puffing before.

So the brat is getting what he wants--more attention. Am I, for one, just helping to feed his voracious appetite for it? Oh, probably.
But nobody really cares any more, other than suckers like me who keep rising to the bait. And I suspect that we are not really the audience of his dreams.

UPDATE: (June 29) Mark is counter-suing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

You go, Boo!

Wittgenstein once famously remarked "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." Nonsense, I say. Animals talk to us all the time. Our dog, for example, has a whole series of whimpers, growls, bodily postures and gestures, each of which means something specific, as we have managed to learn--not very quickly, though, much to his evident frustration.

If he wants to go out, he will jump on the bed and stare out the window. If he wants more food, he will slump by his bowl, nose pointed toward it. He even lies: having had his early evening walk, he will howl and whimper if one of us arrives at the house just after he's returned, as though he'd been forgotten. This used to get him a second walk, until we twigged.

Of course we can understand animals, if we care to. But more important, perhaps, they understand us. Animals, from goldfish on up, are bright, know what's going on, and probably have some useful ideas to contribute about security certificates. We underestimate them, and I am beginning to believe that this gives them an evolutionary advantage. Which brings me to the saga of Boo, the young grizzly bear who had been living an uneventful life in the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort near Golden, B.C., until a few weeks ago.

It seems that a female grizzly in heat was wandering around outside the enclosure, and Boo--well, he wasn't "seeking love," as the media kept reporting, he just wanted to get laid, like any teenage male--tunnelled his way out under a fence. He appears to have been successful in his quest, and after three joyous weeks on the prowl was tracked down, tranquillized with a dart and brought home, a course of action that many a worried parent likely considers when the clock strikes one. Boo, you are so grounded.

But matters, alas, did not stop there. The keepers, in their infinite wisdom, decided that his urge to roam could be curbed by--castration. I can hear him now, Wittgenstein be damned. "Hey, what's up with that? That's extreme. Can't you just give me, like, a curfew?" This time, Boo didn't waste time digging a tunnel. Screw that. He went through a 180 kilogram steel door, smashed through two 4-metre-high electric fences, and then climbed over a final 1.2-metre reinforced fence to freedom.

Hey, wouldn't you?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Stephen Harper's paranoia

First, two definitions of paranoia, which I think bracket the issue:

A disorder characterized by a continuing and unwarranted suspiciousness, mistrust of people, and hypersensitivity. It is not a psychosis but those affected have great difficulty with interpersonal relations. They are quite critical of others but virtually unable to accept criticism.

A mental state that includes unreasonable suspicions of people and situations. A person who is paranoid may be suspicious, hostile, feel very important, or may become extremely sensitive to rejection by others.

Up until this morning, I had thought that our Prime Minister's odd and obsessive behaviour could only loosely and popularly be called paranoid--even arch-conservative Robert Fulford has used the p-word to describe it, not to mention disgraced former Alliance MP Larry Spencer. Like "terrorism," the word can mean everything and nothing at the same time. Harper's well-known snits, his "hub-and-spoke" management style with its accompanying micromanagement, and his over-all control freakiness, are all symptoms to be observed in a person who, shall we say, is rather too tightly wrapped. But clinically paranoid?

Then (h/t Jane Taber, "Ottawa Notebook," Globe and Mail print edition), I happened upon this frankly bizarre interview in the Western Standard. With his well-known media savvy, Harper might have imagined that he was only chatting with friends, but he's managed to give the whole world more than a glimpse of his dark side. Some highlights:
  • "They say if I don't do it their way, I'll somehow gain more control over my media relations. Well, I've got more control now."

  • "But of course, the problem was that we were getting our message out and a small number of ideologues didn't like that. So they've now basically forbidden all of their colleagues to ask questions, which I think is a fascinating use of press freedom when a small number of journalists can tell others they can't ask questions at a press conference. But that's the position of the left-wing ideologues who are apparently running the show."

  • "The key journalists causing the problem are from CBC, but strictly the ones in Ottawa."
This is precisely the sort of stuff that right-wing, um, ideologues lap up and regurgitate, of course, delusional though it clearly is. The frenzied claim in those quarters is that the evil "MSM" (mainstream media) are in the grip of the Left. It's completely pointless to raise the obvious objections: the Sun chain? CanWest? Quebecor? The talk-show circuit? CTV? Who but the Toronto Star on a good day is left, no pun intended? Fingers in ears, the response is usually some version of, "Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah, I can't hear you, I can't hear you!" As for the hapless CBC, currently being run into the ground by a combination of government strangulation and top-level incompetence, the notion of their reporters controlling all of those other hard-bitten folks up on the Hill is frankly hallucinatory.

What is happening, of course, is a reaction on the part of the Parliamentary Press Gallery to the PM's insistence that only a favoured few will be placed on a list and permitted to ask questions. Their struggle against this obvious attack on freedom of the press is being portrayed by the usual suspects as the very opposite.

Our Prime Minister, not to put too fine a point upon it, is beginning to sound a bit like Captain Queeg. Or Al "I'm in control here" Haig. The insecurity, sense of persecution and simultaneous feelings of self-importance glare from the text. This is exactly the kind of thing you see in psychiatrists' notebooks.


Meanwhile, the PM continues to dodge the hardball questions. Somehow those who want to pose them don't find themselves on The List. The latest example was his refusal to account for his disgraceful snub of the 16th annual International AIDS Conference in Toronto.

This is the man who's bucking for a majority government. Oh, Canada. At least insist on a clinical evaluation first.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Root causes redux

It's official: terrorism is not a motiveless evil that erupts without warning or reason.

In a story that hasn't exactly shrieked down the greased rails of the blogosphere, James Gordon of the Ottawa Citizen reports:

Staying out of the war in Iraq and the absence of a "colonialist" history have reduced the threat of terrorism in Canada, the country's spy service says.

Internal Canadian Security Intelligence Service reports point out extremist Islamic groups and "homegrown terrorists" are still a danger, but apparently it isn't all gloom and doom.

"Some factors have mitigated this threat: the lack of colonialist history, our non-participation in the Iraq conflict, a generally moderate foreign foreign policy and our relative success in accommodating new immigrants to Canada," the document says.

The briefing letter--marked "secret" but obtained under the Access to Information Act--was prepared by CSIS director Jim Judd for new Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day in February.

The article goes on to state:

This isn't the first time CSIS has waded into the controversial debate over Iraq and its ultimate contribution to the fight against terrorism. Documents obtained last summer first revealed--and Mr. Judd subsequently confirmed--that the service believes the conflict is, in fact, creating more terrorists.

But all is not quiet on the Western front:

While Canada may benefit from avoiding Iraq, CSIS has also argued the country's activities in Afghanistan have made it a "high profile" extremist target.

Mr. Judd was somewhat less detailed more recently, giving the impression that the reduced threat was the result of better cooperation with other agencies:

CSIS, the RCMP, other police forces, the Department of National Defence and other national security agencies are working together effectively in contrast to some other countries that have seen turf battles, he said. "My impression is we are doing a better job than other jurisdictions in working together."

But his bottom line was the same:

In his first appearance before a parliamentary committee since the arrest of 17 terrorist suspects in Southern Ontario three weeks ago, the soft-spoken Mr. Judd delivered a calm, reassuring message, saying Canadians generally need to be more aware of the risks of a major terrorist attack, but "I do not recommend that they toss and turn at night."

Mr. Judd said it's possible Canada will be spared major terrorist attacks like those that have hit other Western countries in recent years....

[I]t's unlikely that the underlying causes of global terrorism are going to disappear quickly, Mr. Judd added.

Will Mr. Judd and his agency be denounced by right-wing caricatures like David Warren as "terrorist stooges" and "bed-wetters of the left?" We await with anticipation. In the meantime, for that hardy band who continue to insist that terrorism is an effect with observable geopolitical causes, not a satanic plot against all that Christians hold dear--what a friend we have in CSIS. We'll take our strange bedfellows where we can find them, thanks: it's legal, at least until the Fall.

Sleep tight.


This one sort of snuck up on me. It's been just over a whole year (first post: June 18, 2005; first combox contributor: Kathy Shaidle) since I began this Dawg's Blawg project. As the frog says, "Time's fun when you're having flies."

I don't want to talk about the flies, but I'll say a few words about the project.

I'm a returning student at the moment, exploring the field of anthropology, and my studies so far have robbed me of the last vestiges of orthodoxy. Attentive readers, and I have been blessed with a few of those, might see a progression in my thinking, a growing uncertainty. It's the postmodern condition. I'm on the Left, make no mistake, comrades, although some days I'm not sure what that means. The notion of "progress" itself is a huge, contested one, so when I call myself a "progressive," I'm
referring these days to that constellation of values and principles that has been historically associated with the Left. I think I'll leave that one vague for now. Precision in these things leads to countless false trails and metaphysical divagations. I really have very little idea, at the moment, of What Is To Be Done, at least in the long term. Putting Harper back in the bottle, though, strikes me as a good short-term goal.

My blog gives me a chance to explore ideas, and to write: it's much-needed discipline. I have little patience with the kind of blogging that consists
essentially of getting up early, scouring Google News and other blogsites, and posting links to articles with brief bolded quotes from them. Well, let me be entirely honest: sometimes such bloggers do provide interesting paths to follow. It's like having research assistants, only cheaper. Thank you. You know who you are.

I'm a proud member, and now a moderator, of Progressive Bloggers, a huge tent that extends from the right (Nav Purewal, who calls Margaret Wente "Sister") to, well, my trusty benchmark leftist over at La Revue Gauche, Eugene Plawiuk. The place is chock-full of Liberals, but that's just the way it is, and I've learned to accept it, if not always graciously. I'm a card-carrying NDP member (sometimes I have no idea why), but consider myself non-aligned enough to join James Bow's blogroll with a clear conscience. I've managed to annoy that dreadful brat Warren Kinsella, and I've chatted with both Antonia Zerbisias and Rondi Adamson about our mutual love of dogs.
I whistle along with the Dust My Broom folks when Darcey puts up his Friday night blues set. Sometimes, at least, "there is no right wing or left wing... there is only up wing an' down wing."

So I'm well-anchored in the blogosphere, if that isn't too mixed a metaphor, and I'm liable to stick around. I should probably be spending much more time on Useful Pursuits, but, like "losing a few pounds," this may be a fond and foolish dream. I hope the next year will be as much fun as this last one has been, and thanks to everyone who helped to make it that way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Your afternoon smile

Liberal principles in action. Are these tears in my eyes due to a sense of betrayal, or from helpless laughter?

OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberals won't support an NDP motion before the Commons environment committee calling for the resignation of Environment Minister Rona Ambrose.

The decision will avoid the risk of a fall election, since Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated he would consider the motion a matter of confidence. Liberal environment critic John Godfrey said the Liberals on the committee will abstain, ensuring that the motion will die when it voted on later today.

Godfrey denied that the Liberals are abstaining because they fear an early election.

He agrees with the NDP that Ambrose is incompetent, but said he wants to give her time to
demonstrate her incompetence more fully.

Celebrating Aboriginal Day, Conservative style

Canada under its new Conservative leadership is making mischief on the world stage again, standing up this time in bold opposition to indigenous rights. Along with three other settler states--New Zealand, Australia and the U.S.--Canada is celebrating National Aboriginal Day by announcing its intention to scuttle a UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that has been twenty years in the making. This will be our first official act as a member nation of the new United Nations Human Rights Council.

Hard on the heels of the shelving of the Kelowna Accord, Indian Agent Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, who did not provide details to justify his astounding claims, has announced that the wording of the draft Declaration will contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution Act, and, perhaps more to the point,
"It's quite inconsistent with land-claims policies under which Canada negotiates claims."

We shall have to wait for the flesh to be put on these bones, but in the meantime it would be permissible, I think, to speculate. In Canada, Aboriginal rights have to be negotiated. Just ask the Lubicon how the process can work. The proposed UN Declaration might get in the way:

Article 7: Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

Article 10: Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

So much for negotiation. Our First Nations would simply have their rights. What a concept!

The passage of this Declaration might, for example, be welcome not only to the Lubicon but also to the Inuit of Nunavut. Their original land claims agreement envisaged a transition to Inuit control of their own territory. Take, for example, Article 23 of the Agreement:

Article 23.2.1: The objective of this article is to increase Inuit participation in government employment in the Nunavut Settlement Area to a representative level.

That was in 1993. Today, 45% of the Nunavut public service is Inuit, a number achieved early on, Inuit filling primarily the low-level positions. Inuit are 85% of the population. The language of government is--English.

No wonder the Cons are up in arms. One can imagine how, if it were taken seriously, the passage of the UN Declaration might kick quite a hole in the Indian Affairs department. (Not to mention causing a light sweat to break out on the brows of some of our favourite anti-Aboriginal blogagandists.) The Liberals, whose record is every bit as dismal on Aboriginal issues as that of the party in power, supported the Declaration in a parliamentary committee earlier this month. But--forgive my cynicism--this may not be the issue that takes us back to the polls.

Not much strategic sense, these Harper folks. Why not just do what we (and other countries I could name) have always done--sign on and ignore it? How many divisions does the UN have?

Happy Aboriginal Day, everyone. O Canada, our home on native land.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stuff you won't see in the MSM on the starboard side of the blogosphere

George W. Bush and his spouse Laura have separated. She's taken a room in a hotel because she's fed up with Dubya doing the nasty with Condi. (Who says that Bush "doesn't care about Black people?" Kanye, eat your words.) An ex-CIA agent broke this story on June 1, and since when does the CIA ever get things wrong?

Ms. Rice, according to an unimpeachable authority, has "sexual problems" (read: lesbian). But was this before or after the White House Stud-Muffin introduced her to the horizontal Texas Two-Step? Move over, Bill Clinton, and for goodness sake take that cigar with you. There's a real man in the Oval Office now, and everybody who counts has nothing but praise for him and his senior staff.

(But it gets even juicier, possums. Bush, it seems, has a lavender skeleton in his closet, where he's currently spending his time. Yup, this tireless opponent of same-sex marriage and peerless defender of "traditional family values" took a bit of a walk on the wild side back in 1984. See you on Pride Day, Georgie--but leave the cut-out leathers at home this year, OK?)

Just don't expect to see any mention of this huge story over at Small Dead Animals, Relapsed Catholic or Angry's place. Forget The Shotgun and Andrew Coyne. Nothing at Celestial Junk. Not a word from Mark Steyn. Two weeks the George-Laura split has been in the news, and not a peep out of any of them.

It's a cover-up, nothing less. We are reliably informed (June 2) that two mainstream media sources have already confirmed the matter. And I read all about it in the Globe. Come on, Woodward and Bernstein wannabes! Come on, Helen Thomas! Only the MSM has the courage, it seems, to tell the truth--the truth that right-wing bloggers stubbornly refuse to reveal.

h/t Newshounds, Wonkette

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Honours for homophobe confirmed

As noted in an earlier post, Carleton University is planning to honour a local homophobe, Rabbi Reuven Bulka, with an honorary doctorate on June 13.

Protests have been pouring in, with this result:

Further to your recent e-mail, I wish to advise that at its meeting of June 1, 2006, the Senate of the University considered the recommendation that Rabbi Bulka receive an Honorary degree from Carleton University. After a careful and thorough examination of the issue, it determined that the University will confer the degree upon Rabbi Bulka at its spring Convocation to recognize his outstanding career as a community leader and scholar.

All universities welcome debate and respect diverging opinions. Carleton has always demonstrated tolerance for such discourse and as such respects the views of those who might not agree with some of Dr. Bulka's positions and statements. We strongly believe that tolerance and diversity is applicable to all groups who might have conflicting views on a single issue.

David W. Atkinson
President and Vice-Chancellor

Dr. Atkinson's sinuous and mendacious reasoning, not to mention the reaffirmation of the award by the Carleton University Senate in the full knowledge of what it was doing, will tarnish the reputation of a university hitherto well-known for its openness and diversity. The notion that homophobia is itself to be accommodated under the rubric of diversity represents a perversion of the very notion of diversity. The same argument could be advanced to award degrees to racists: after all, we should be tolerant, says Dr. Atkinson, of "all groups who might have conflicting views on a single issue."

Now, I don't happen to like the word "tolerance
" very much--it sounds too much like "putting up with." However, I will defend a notion of inclusiveness that doesn't self-destruct by being made to include those who hate the very notion of inclusiveness and who are activists in that respect. People like Rabbi Bulka, who thinks that homosexuality is a disease to be cured, and who sits on the so-called "Scientific Advisory Committee" of a wingnut organization that's going around peddling such views.

Those who share my outrage at the patent rationalizations presented here by Dr. Atkinson to excuse the actions of the Carleton Senate should drop him a line:

UPDATE: (June 13) A decorous and very Canadian protest took place outside the convocation hall at Carleton today. A leaflet, rolled up to look like a diploma, was handed to attendees by a small handful of us. My partner had the privilege of giving one to Dr. Bulka himself. (One person in his entourage took a look at the rainbow scarf of a leafletter and said, "No, I don't think so." The rest, however, seeing him accept one, took them as well.)

Here are some excerpts from the leaflet. Note that the award of this degree directly contravenes Carleton University policy.

Part IV.3 of the Carleton University Statement on Conduct and Human Rights is the Sexual Orientation Equality Policy. It advocates that:

The University recognizes that a harmonious climate in relation to sexual orientation is essential to the academic, professional and personal development of all of its members.

It also says that:

The University does not tolerate or condone heterosexism or negative stereotyping on the basis of sexual orientation.

Recognizing that awarding this honorary degree compromises the maintenance of a "harmonious climate in relation to sexual orientation" for many students and that NARTH is a heterosexist and institutionally homophobic organization, the CUSA [Carleton University Students' Association] GBLTQ Centre has launched this information campaign.

This campaign is not against Rabbi Bulka; he is entitled to freedom of expression and association, as are all Canadians. This campaign is in response to the decision of the University Senate to confer an honorary degree to an individual who has membership in an organization that is heterosexist and institutionally homophobic. The GLBTQ Centre advocates that membership in organizations that violate our University's Human Rights Policies should not be overlooked in the process of considering a nominee for an honorary degree, regardless of who the individual may be....

We are therefore lobbying for the following

1. That all nominees undergo a thorough background check of their credentials, experience, qualifications and qualities
2. That no nominee may proceed if they are in violation of any of the clauses of the Carleton University Human Rights Policy and Procedures
3. That a list of nominees be posted publicly so that all faculty, staff and students may submit any objections

4. That all award nominees are presented with the Human Rights policy and sign an agreement that states that they agree with all of its policies

...[W]e also suggest writing a letter of support for the campaign to the Senate via its clerk, Brian Mortimer at and to the GLBTQ Centre at

I have to congratulate these students on their strategic savvy: rather than simply protesting a done deal, they are looking to the future and trying to improve the process that led to this travesty. Transparency in government? Then transparency in the Carleton University Senate.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one unfortunate incident earlier in the week. Ottawa's well-known vulgarian, Lowell Green, decided to go after the students on his radio talk show. He referred to them as "fascists." One woman who phoned in told me she had been called a "superior c--t," the last word bleeped on the show itself. (Did he kiss his mother with that mouth?) I was informed that he also threatened a male student who telephoned, stating, "We know how to take care of you." So much for trying to uphold minimal standards of human rights, not to mention their own institution's stated policies.

Bravo, in any case, to the kids, for running a decent, strategic protest campaign. Apparently they have some faculty support. Will the Carleton Univerity administration, which disgraced itself on this occasion, engage in a little sober second thought?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Regulatory hormonization

I am writing this in honour of my friend, the late Richard Lloyd. He was an adventurer and environmental activist who died a few years back, after he had waged, largely from behind the scenes, what he thought was a successful war against Bovine Growth Hormone.

To re-cap, the huge international agricultural biotech company, Monsanto, developed a synthetic hormone (recombinant bovine somatotropin) that substantially increases milk production in cattle. This genetic tinkering, however, is not without its risks: serious threats to both human and animal health have been reported. But Monsanto has a lot of weight to throw around, and it is not hesitant in doing so.

In the US, the matter approached comic-opera status when two reporters (Steve Wilson and Jane Akre) were fired by a Fox News affiliate for refusing to bow to Monsanto's pressure and lie about the dangers of BGH. Their firing was upheld by a higher court, which ruled that the two did not enjoy legal whistleblower protection, and that, besides, there was no law that prevented the station from compelling its reporters to lie. Faux News, indeed.

Here at home, senior Health Canada bureaucrats happily went to bat on Monsanto's behalf as well, gagging and disciplining their own scientists who dared to resist pressure to approve the controversial homone. The public outcry was such, however, that it was finally banned in 1999--as a danger to the health of cattle.

But these stories have a way of generating sequels. Buried in a back-page article in today's Ottawa Citizen, we discover the following:

Canada banned using growth hormones in dairy cows in 1999...but we have harmonized our regulations with those of the United States, allowing U.S. milk into Canada. And American dairy farmers can use growth hormones.

According to Samuel Epstein, a medical professor at the University of Illinois who specializes in environmental and occupational medicine,

Such hormone treatments may allow some of the drug itself to enter the milk....But it also tends to cause ill effects in the cattle, which then need more antibiotics--drugs that can also enter the milk. "Apart from all the other crap in milk, you'll find opus [sic, and yuck] cells and antibiotics," he said.

He said the combination raises the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers.

It ain't over till it's over, indeed. Another victory for trade liberalization, although a quieter one than the successful corporate lawsuit by Ethyl Corp. against the Canadian government, which forced the recension of a ban on a dangerous additive in gasoline.

Ah, the continuing joys of deep integration.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Jeffrey Baldwin's right to life

The sadistic low-life killers of little Jeffrey Baldwin have now received their sentences: it's 20 years for Norman Kidman and 22 years for Elva Bottineau before they are eligible for parole.

These two didn't merely kill a child. They starved him to death over several years, until he died, at the age of six, weighing all of 21 pounds--less than he did when he was one. They kept him, and his sister, locked in an unheated room, forced him to drink from the toilet, and to find scraps of food in the garbage. The kids were a great source of government money, which was the only reason the two grandparents took them in.

How, we might ask, did these two monsters acquire this child?

Ask the Catholic Children's Aid Society, as a public inquiry will shortly be doing. That was the agency that sent the kid to his death. An agency whose duty is was to protect children. An agency that stubbornly refused to cooperate with the homicide investigation, as reported by CTV:

Homicide investigator Mike Davis expressed frustration with the CCAS outside the courthouse Friday. He said the agency provided "little - if any - cooperation" during the investigation of Jeffrey's death.

Davis said there are "policies and procedures" for organizations such as police and the CCAS, "and at no time did I see any cooperation whatsoever with the Catholic Children's Aid Society."

"This is something that only a public inquiry can look into and look into the systemic issues that are underlying with [sic] the Catholic Children's Aid Society," Davis said.


After last month's guilty verdict, Ontario's chief coroner announced an inquest will be held, which will look into how the system failed to protect Jeffrey and the involvement of the CCAS.

It is alleged the CCAS did not do a background check on the grandparents prior to the placement. Each of them has previous child abuse convictions.

The matter of the background check is more, in fact, than an allegation. The information about the grandparents' prior record of child abuse was in the CCAS files all along, but somehow no one connected the dots, and so the kids were sent off to their own hell on earth.

Various so-called "pro-life" organizations have been vocal over the past few years on the matter of the right to life. So I thought I'd look for what was certain to be their outraged comments over the slow torturing to death of a little boy. I was wrong.

I checked

103,000 hits on "abortion." 0 for "Jeffrey Baldwin."

The Catholic Civil Rights League?

20 results for "abortion"; 0 for "Jeffrey Baldwin."

REAL Women of Canada?

111 results for "abortion." 0 for "Jeffrey Baldwin."

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops?

26 hits on "abortion." 0 for "Jeffrey Baldwin."

And so I find myself asking, and others should, too: precisely what "life" are these people "pro?" Why does life suddenly become so much less important after birth? Where is the outrage, the moral concern, the thundering of bishops?

The public inquiry into the workings of CCAS is long overdue. But, in the meantime, it would be nice if the "pro-life" crowd were to break their unaccountable silence.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Mr. Ahenakew and Dr. Bulka

I've written about David Ahenakew before, but given the reversal on appeal of his conviction for hate speech, it seems timely to compare his fate with that of homophobe and soon-to-be Carleton University laureate Dr. Reuven Bulka.

Let me put all of my cards on the table.
I am obviously not in sympathy either with Ahenakew's words or with his evident opinions. His spasm of anger caused him to say vile and hateful things. And those words led, in turn, to his abject humiliation before his own people and Canadians as a whole, as well as to his conviction as a common criminal. But as none other than Ed Morgan, President of the Canadian Jewish Congress, generously puts it, "Sometimes one overspeaks. I can understand that. You react to a reporter and you might overspeak."

I wonder how many of us, at one time or another, fuelled by alcohol or anger or piss-poor judgement, have said vile and hateful things that have not been reported in the media, caused us the loss of our standing in the community, or put us before the courts.

In any case, the man lost it, paid dearly for it, and the lengthy process continues. I wish he'd chosen a sweeter-smelling lawyer than Doug Christie, that noted mouthpiece for hate-mongers and Holocaust-deniers. But good judgement, as we all know, is not one of Ahenakew's virtues.

Now let us turn to the strange case of Dr. Reuven Bulka. The Ottawa Citizen has a lengthy article about this today, hidden unfortunately behind a subscriber wall. Confronted with his association with NARTH, a wingy anti-gay "therapy" outfit, you could feel the man squirm. He confirmed that he was indeed a NARTH member, but "very inactive," and he attended only two of its conventions, over ten years ago. He remains, nonetheless, on that organization's "Scientific Advisory Committee."

Sure, NARTH says (and Bulka agrees) that homosexuality is not a "healthy, natural alternative to heterosexuality." This is proven, he goes on to say, by the fact that many gays want to be heterosexual. "But that is no more bigoted a statement," he says, "than a man saying he wished he were a woman." Transgender politics aside, this is an odd comment from someone who thinks that homosexuality is a disorder to be cured by "reparative therapy."

Bulka's book, One Man, One Woman, One Lifetime, was also raised in the article. He there described homosexuality as "abnormal." Now, he says, he would write the book differently.

The President of Carleton, Dr. David Atkinson, was impressed by the secret Carleton Senate meeting that took place on June 1, confirming the honarary degree for Dr. Bulka. "People were really wrestling with fundamental issues of what universities are about...I came away from it feeling very good about the university and what we stood for."

What, precisely, Carleton now stands for is less clear by the minute. I posted earlier about the President's flabby and mendacious reasoning in an email to those who are appalled by the University's actions, in which he effectively claimed that homophobia should be accommodated inside the big tent of diversity.

But let us set that all aside for a moment.

Here we have two individuals, both of whom had legitimately earned standing and prestige in their respective communities. One, David Ahenakew, blurted out some bigoted words in what both an appeal judge and the President of the Canadian Jewish Congress seem to agree was the heat of the moment. He has been publicly pilloried, his honours stripped, and has been humiliated before his own community and the wider public. The other, Reuven Bulka, has written a book about the "abnormality" of gays and lesbians, and continues to sit on an advisory committee of an organization that, in Canada, would likely fall afoul of current hate legislation. No heat of the moment there. He is lauded as a scholar and a pillar of his community, and is about to be awarded an honorary doctorate.

What is wrong with this picture?

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Good grief, here we go.

I'm not going to minimize the seriousness of what appears to be a feckless group of alienated individuals setting out on a murderous mission right here in Canada--a mission which, though, it seems was effectively nipped in the bud two years ago through heavy undercover infiltration. The details of precisely how close this group (largely native-born Canadians) was to achieving its aims remains unclear. But, in the meantime, the right-wing ranters are roaring, their febrile imaginations occupying those spaces as yet uncluttered by facts.

Just listen to this stuff:

All I could say about the recent anti-terror operations in Canada is that these terror suspects are fruits and rotten results of multi-culturalism (read Tribalism) in Canada!

And this:

We continue to talk in abstract terms about a “War on Terror”, when it is in fact a “War on Us” being carried out by Muslims. And finally, we suppress that wee small voice inside, that diminutive primitive germ of an instinct, that is trying to scream aloud and warn us that mortal danger is just over the next hill.

And this:

And, yes, many innocent people will be called in for questioning, have their phones tapped, their internet usage watched. While I would hope this was done as gently as possible getting results before the ammonia nitrate goes off is of greater importance than a touching concern for the civil rights of individuals in Canada on sufferance.

Third, it may be time to say good bye to the Muslim world as a source of immigrants for a few years.

And this:

I know there will be an outcry from the anti-war crowd, the NDP, CAIR, and all the other usual suspects, but the fact of the matter is we need to gut the center of this. We need to destroy the camps and mosques and imams where this poison is coming from before we have a hope of cleaing up our own back yards. And that means Afghanistan. Iraq. Iran. Maybe Indonesia and Pakistan. Line 'em up, we'll knock 'em down. We need to.

And, for God's sake, this:

The thugs are poised to attack, folks. They are here, now....

Re-examine the last traces you may have of all the multi-culti "immigration built this country" pieties you were force fed during your long Trudeaupian education, in the schools, the media, in university, at work. All the charming restaurants and colourful ethnic festivals (that "help the economy") and funky world music on earth are not worth the life of one baby mangled in a subway bombing.

Regardless of whether or not immigration built this country, it may now destroy it.

If you persist in believing all your "Heritage Moment" pieties you are a delusional coward. Female fetuses are being selectively aborted, buildings are targeted for destruction, elected officials are harrassed by "refugee rights" activists, innocent bystanders are being shot by gangs
because we refuse to acknowledge that all cultures are not created equal and not everyone can be allowed into our country....

Liberal guilt and decades of brainwashing has blinded even the best of us. And it will cost you the very culture you so cherish. Dear "socially liberal" conservatives: There will be no "gay marriage" under sharia. All those "cute" exotic cafes will be riddled with bullets. Your daughters will wear burquas. Secular humanism will not save you -- it is in fact the very cause of our problem.

Seeping through every crack in the foundation of our polity is the presumption of guilt, unfettered paranoia, vengefulness, opportunist attacks on more-accessible-than-ever targets of the far Right, and a pure unadulterated hateful raving that beggars description. Add to this unsavoury ooze a call for the return of capital punishment, and bizarre pre-emptive attacks on the defenders of an open society, and we have it all wrapped up in a ball. It's Them versus Us. Darkness versus Light. Pure Evil versus All That We Hold Dear.

Such binary thinking, of course, excludes any middle ground, but middle ground just gets in the way. The helpful thing about what might be called the doctrine of Pure Evil is that it allows us to avoid any kind of practical analysis; in fact, any analysis worthy of the name at all. People who ask questions are dismissed as "root cause theorists." Their motives are automatically suspect. Better the metaphysical than the maddeningly historical. Things are so much simpler that way. Ours is not to reason why. Let's just kill the bastards before they kill us.

The apparent ordinariness of these
(alleged) "home-grown" terrorists has been emphasized over and over, fanning the flames of suspicion. There's plenty of surprise, shock, fear and anger, not to mention less-than-closeted racism, but not much curiosity. Few seem very keen on figuring out the etiology of the suspects' allegiance to violence and fundamentalism. Would that raise uncomfortable questions that could slow the rush to judgement?

Oddly enough, the Right's current anti-icon, Pierre Trudeau, overreacted in much the same way during the October Crisis in 1970, dealing with a couple of small armed gangs as though the entire country was under threat, putting Canada under martial law, throwing hundreds into jail, sneering at "bleeding hearts" who didn't like seeing soldiers in the streets, and strutting around as though he'd been a World War Two front-line hero. But even in those crazy days, no one with any credibility was advancing the notion that French Canadians were all suspects, demanding that their leaders denounce terrorism, claiming that, by God, Charles Lawrence had the right idea, and so on.

No, the current hoarse shouting reminds me more of the first edition of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, that allegory of the McCarthyist anti-Communist witch-hunts in which everyone was a suspect
until proven otherwise. Even the most ordinary-seeming people could have pods in their basements; could be cold-hearted aliens, unable to feel human emotions like compassion and love.

They are among us now. They are evil. No wonder we have to stay involved in wars half a planet away, help out Dubya when we can, and fight terrorism for the next millennium or two.

And so the Fear begins.

UPDATE (June 7): Thomas Walkom cuts the nightmare down to size.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Reading Dawg on that CUPE thing

(I thought I would spare the usual suspects the chore of deconstructing this piece on CUPE Ontario's recent resolution on the Middle East by providing my own handy decoding and rebuttal in square brackets. --DD)


Predictably, assorted growling and snarling attack dogs are piling on to CUPE after its Ontario division recently passed a resolution that (gasp) is critical of Israel.

"critical of Israel" is just code for "anti-Semitism." Other examples include such things as suggesting that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. Just ask Warren Kinsella, who has linked the Toronto Star's prima bloggista Antonia Zerbisias with neo-Nazi David Duke for daring to say such a thing. Those sneaky anti-Semites lurk in the most unlikely places.]

Here, first of all, is CUPE Ontario's resolution, which passed according to some "unanimously" and by others "by an overwhelming majority."


1. With Palestine solidarity and human rights organizations, develop an education campaign about the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and the political and economic support of Canada for these practices

2. Support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refigees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

3. Call on CUPE National to commit to research into Canadian involvement in the occupation and call on the CLC to join us in lobbying against the apartheid-like practices of the Israeli state and call for the immediate dismantling of the wall.


The Israeli Apartheid Wall has been condemned and determined illegal under international law. Over 170 Palestinian political parties, unions and other organizations including the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions issued a call in July 2005 for a global campaign of boycotts and divestment against Israel similar to those imposed against South African Apartheid. CUPE BC has firmly and vocally condemned the occupation of Palestine and have initiated an education campaign about the apartheid-like practices of the Israeli state.

Predictably once more, the anti-labour crowd is demanding to know why CUPE is dealing with international issues at all, but that's a stale old discussion, and I'd like to bypass it. Let's cut to the chase, and examine the two most contentious issues raised by the wording of this resolution. First, the word "
apartheid," which some of the critics are claiming is a false moral equivalence.

So why not ask an expert on apartheid?

What is not so understandable, not justified, is what [Israel] did to another people to guarantee its existence. I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about....

Israel will never get true security and safety through oppressing another people. A true peace can ultimately be built only on justice. We condemn the violence of suicide bombers, and we condemn the corruption of young minds taught hatred; but we also condemn the violence of military incursions in the occupied lands, and the inhumanity that won't let ambulances reach the injured.

[Dawg is grasping at straws here. Desmond Tutu is likely just another anti-Semite-- certainly he's no Martin Luther King.]

Here's another individual who seems to know what he's talking about. Israel's plan for Palestine certainly does look like a duck and quack like a duck.

[The man's an obvious self-hater. There are many such. Anyway, what do Nobel laureates and nominees know? They're just the academic version of Hollywood stars.]

Now, secondly, we have that pesky "right of return," which international law dictates, not CUPE. This, of course, is not to be confused with the Law of Return. Let's not have any of those false moral equivalences, now. "This land is our land," as the old song goes. If they let all those people come back, Israel will cease to be a Jewish state.

But you know, there are alternatives less stark. The Palestinians don't all want to move to Tel Aviv, after all. This matter would certainly be the basis of negotiation: an honourable settlement (no pun intended) would not require a mass migration of Palestinians into Israel. But the inconvenient fact remains that, according to international law and numerous conventions, CUPE has a point.

[Well, sure, as a labour activist Dawg will stick up for anything a union does or says. What does Israel owe to these so-called "Palestinians," anyway? Israel won the damned war, and to the victor belongs the spoils.]

The wording of the resolution, then, that some might find inflammatory, conveys a reality, the one that Palestinians today are continuing to live. They are a dispossessed people, their civilian casualty rate in the on-going skirmishes have been far higher than those of Israel, the West Bank settlers in their midst are gulping 80% of the available water, and their participation in democratic elections has resulted in a financial squeeze that threatens to gut their state before it even really begins.

Some people give a damn. Like CUPE. Good on them.

Let's turn now to that smelly red herring, the dark suggestion that the resolution was deliberately brought forward on a Saturday (the Jewish sabbath) to screen out Jews. I for one find that to be a simply outrageous assertion. One wonders how many observant Jews (as opposed to secular or Reform Jews) were actually in the delegation, knowing the dates of the Convention beforehand--and whether their numbers would have turned the tide. That being said, though, it might have been reasonable, in retrospect, for the emergency resolution to come to the floor earlier in the week. If there were other voices to be heard, opportunities should have been accorded them. After all, CUPE has successfully negotiated religious observance provisions in its own collective agreements.

[Aha! Dawg is backpedaling here, leaving alive the suggestion of deliberate planning by the Convention organizers. The rest is just weak rationalization by an anti-Israel fanatic. In fact, his entire article seeks to excuse the inexcusable. CUPE has no business meddling in complex Middle East issues. Human rights only get raised when people want to make Israel a target. What about the suicide bombers? What about Hamas? What about Islamism? What about...]

In alta tende

Over at Small Dead Animals, I found myself involved in a discussion that sprang from an attempted smear of Tommy Douglas as a Hitler-style eugenicist. The combox thread mutated, as they often do, in this case into a demand that I "define" socialism, a fairly Herculean task in my view, and one that others might be better suited to attempt. For my part, I made an equivalent demand: "define" conservatism.

Well, I needn't wait any longer: the definition has been handed to us by a recent incident on Mount Everest.

David Sharp was what modern-day conservatives call a "loser." Briefly, he died of exposure and lack of oxygen as he attempted to reach the summit. More than forty other climbers passed him by on their way to success, including a double amputee. (Anyone can make it if you provide the opportunities. No special treatment, no special rights, no handouts. See? The system works.)

Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary was not impressed with the excuse-making afterwards.
"People have completely lost sight of what is important," he said. "In our expedition, there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die." But what does that stodgy old liberal know about Real Life?

"There is no such thing as society," Augusto Pinochet's close friend, Margaret Thatcher, once intoned in her plummiest la-di-dah accent. And certainly the Iron Lady did her best to ensure that society was abolished (except high society, of course) in Britain, leaving her own mountain of social wreckage behind to prove it. As Prime Minister, she brutally imposed her personal version of the bourgeois conservative meme. You're either a lion or a gazelle, and no matter which you are, you'd better keep running if you want to survive. The person who comes second is only the first of the losers. At last--a nation of individuals pursuing individual interests, no nanny-state, no entitlements (unless you have a title, of course), every man for himself, and dog doesn't really taste that bad once you get used to it. No pain, no gain.

We on the Left can ramble on boringly for hours about the egoism, competition, waste and social atomization that the spirit of capitalism engenders. But the whole thing is summed up perfectly in one image, an image that has achieved instant metaphorical status, and serves as the quintessential definition of conservatism in practice: forty or more climbers in a hurry to reach the heights, passing one of their own, and leaving him to die.