Thursday, October 25, 2012

Let me warm your feet a bit, it may help you to think!

Aaaahhh, autumn

What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours . . .

From CBC News online:
“Two convicted criminals, one of them still serving time, have been awarded Queen's Diamond Jubilee medals by a Conservative MP.”
    The Conservative MP awarding these medals was my MP, Maurice Vellacott, representing the constituency of Saskatoon-Wanuskewin. The two “criminals” referred to are anti-abortionist activists Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, both of whom have been convicted over the years for disobeying restraining orders prohibiting them from demonstrating at and/or interfering with the normal activities at abortion clinics.
    I didn't know about these medals, nor that MPs each had the privilege of recommending 30 people to receive them. Vellacott's choice has been questioned by the opposition and others inasmuch as the two recipients have demonstrated contempt for the law which MPs are expected to uphold.
    Vellacott's defence was also reported in the article:
Unlike the justice minister, Vellacott was unable to award these medals to the victims of crime, because these baby victims are dead, so instead the award to those 'heroines of humanity' Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons who are trying to protect defenceless, voiceless human beings in the womb from butchery and death, and trying to let vulnerable women know that there are other options and support and adoption possibilities,” Vellacott said in his statement: “It's what you would expect in a caring, compassionate society.
    Vellacott continued, “It's a pretty upside down world when we honour abortionists like Henry Morgentaler for killing over 5,000 babies and imprison precious women, like Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons, who try to save babies from such savagery. They are the real heroes of humanity!”
    I'd be the last to condemn the women for exercising civil disobedience in support of their strongly-held beliefs. Their courage, considering the consequences to themselves, seems clear whether you agree with their stand or not.
    Vellacott's actions in awarding them the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal, however, shows a lack of judgement many of his constituents recognize as being consistent with a chain of missteps. Vellacott needs to decide whether he represents his constituents or a few ideological hot buttons. I know the distinction isn't clear-cut, but the laws regarding abortion must either be upheld or changed by the orderly processes of parliament and the recent rejection by that body of any revival of debate on “when life begins” seems not to have taught Vellacott anything.
    And then there's the language: savagery, killing, butchery in relation to abortion are words that suggest the speaker has lost his objectivity, an objectivity constituents have a right to expect from their representative in Ottawa.
    But then, “orderly processes of democracy” is something the current government doesn't seem to be concerned about: omnibus bills, proroguing parliament to avoid difficulties, announcing controversial decisions at two minutes to midnight, the list goes on and on by now. If Vellacott acts without an understanding of how democracy ought to function and what the role of an MP is in a democratic state, he's in good company with Stephen Harper, Vic Toews, Bev Oda, Peter McKay, John Baird and the rest, all of whom have demonstrated their contempt for parliamentary debate at various times.
    The awarding of a few Queen's Diamond Jubilee medals is not a big thing, and maybe I'm just piqued because I didn't get one. The behaviour of MPs in a democracy is a big thing, however, and I wish my fellow constituents would hold Maurice Vellacott's feet to the fire more often than they do.
    There's no point in my doing so; he won't acknowledge my messages anymore.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

If a child asks for bread, will his father give him a snake?

Near Drake, Saskatchewan

Ditch Bouquet near Lake Blackstrap

The conversation at coffee turned to bullying the other day. Here are some of the comments made there and on other occasions:

  •     “Children need to learn not to be so sensitive.”
  •     “We used to bully each other, but it was never chronic; we knew it would get out and our parents and the parents of the kid we were bullying would know each other well and both would come down on us like a load of bricks.”
  •      “Cyber-bullying would be a criminal offense, like libel and slander, if it was done by adults.”
  •      “Some kids invite bullying.”
  •      “I don’t understand why children are allowed access to a medium that can’t be supervised.”

      There’s a grain of truth and an attempt to find an answer in each of the comments, seems to me, but I hope that Amanda Todd’s suicide leads to something more substantial than speculation. I find the most merit in the last comment; children aren’t allowed to play with guns or drive cars, so why are they given full access to a medium through which they can bully another person to death, be lured into taking off their clothes in front of the webcam for some sexual pervert or be inundated with misinformation, propaganda and worse? We don’t allow children to go physically where we can’t keep an eye on them, so why doesn’t cell phone texting or Facebook dialogue raise bigger inability to protect and guide flags in parents, teachers and lawmakers?
     I learned a long time ago that the immediacy and anonymity of the web distorts the way many people dialogue with one another. As chair of the board of a private high school, I was the recipient of numerous scathing emails from a parent surrounding a decision to expel a son for marijuana use while in attendance. At the same time, all offers to meet with the parent face to face were rejected. In other words, the medium enabled a certain person to bully me in a way that normal conversation wouldn’t. It’s very McLuhanesque, isn’t it? The medium becomes the message, or, at least, controls its content.
     But not every parent can be conversant in the insights of Marshall McLuhan, nor can they be expected to stay fully on top of their teenagers’ every activity, considering how they dive and dodge to avoid adult scrutiny as they explore their independence, scramble about for recognition and influence among their peers. Where parents and teachers can’t protect and guide, therefore, the problem may well become a task for lawmakers who now regulate at what age a person can drink alcohol or drive a car, at what age one may marry without parental consent.
     So here’s a proposal: a law that makes it illegal for a person under the age of 16 to possess or use a cellphone—except for simple audio calling—or the internet, and equally illegal to provide a minor with same.  This may seem draconian to some, but let’s be real here. Given the world-wide web, there is no sure-fire remedy on the horizon against the promulgation of child pornography, no easy way to prevent exploitative connections between pedophiles and children, no means for preventing children from getting caught up in webs of bullying, unless we learn how to deny sexual deviants’ and schoolyard bullies access to our children while monitoring their activities just like we do when we supervise playground play, teach Sunday or regular school classes or take them on travelling vacations.
     There’s more to it than that, of course. Better, more relevant education, for one, responsible and skilled parenting for another. But at the moment, too many children are being damaged by unsupervised internet use. The suicides have to be the tip of an iceberg if logic applies.
      WE are the adults here; for too long we’ve been giving our children matches as playthings, snakes with which to amuse themselves.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Title - Ye must be born all over again

Thanksgiving table centrepiece - arranged by Cynthia

Thanks for nature's bounty - arranged by Cynthia's dad
I suspect that most of us are baffled by the mob demonstrations in the Middle East, responding—at least so we're told—to a You Tube amateur film ridiculing the prophet Muhammad. It's hard to imagine similar demonstrations by Christians in Ottawa, Washington or London in response to an unfavourable depiction of Christ in, say, China or Malaysia. And because we can't imagine the one, we are flummoxed by the other.
            A group of us talked briefly about this a few days ago and I suggested that there must be a continuous, hot resentment brewing just below the surface, waiting for a  trigger that will allow the mix to boil over. It's happened in the Middle East and North Africa before—remember The Satanic Verses?
           Most certainly, there are forces waiting also for the opportunity to foment mob rage, specifically against the United States; the USA was no more implicated in the production of this latest insult than was Iceland but the irrelevance of that fact was successfully propagandized out of the equation by whatever forces were fanning these latest flames, apparently.
            It's unfortunate. The degree to which North Americans equate terrorism with Islam is bound to escalate as a result of these demonstrations; it's already a big problem, particularly for Muslims who have settled in North America and become productive, civic-minded Canadians and Americans. They can protest all they want that the violence is not sanctioned by their faith and is certainly not endorsed by Muslims who have immigrated in order to live a better, safer life in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for human rights. But see one terrorist in a head covering and human nature easily generalizes it to all people wearing similar symbolic clothing.
            The history of civilization as we know it has demonstrated over and over again that human rights progress can be easily undone by a very few events. One has only to recall the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Towers in New York to realize how much freedom of movement and right to privacy have been compromised as a consequence. How much more may Muslim Canadians feel the tightening noose as a result of the current upheavals?
            I've recently kept informal track of the web comments generated by news articles on the current anti-American violence in the Middle East, North Africa, the Philippines and Malaysia. It's not a true test of general opinion, but the anti-Muslim comments outnumber the tolerant comments about 5 – 1. You might well say that the internet attracts bigots, and that's likely mostly true, but the “bigots” writing these vitriolic comments are also walking our streets, waiting—as it were—for the coalescing of a retaliatory mob through which their hatred can be released on the nearest representatives of that which they hate and fear. In North America, that happens to be a highly visible minority.
            Working in Europe in the '80s, we had occasion to spend time in both Irelands and to talk to people there about the “troubles,” which were going full force. “North Americans don't get what's going on here,” they told us. “This is not a Catholic/Protestant conflict at all, it's a pro and anti-colonialism struggle! The independence people—the native Irish—just happen to be mostly Catholic and the pro-Britain faction just happen to be mostly Protestant. Solve the colonialism question and the two religious persuasions will get along just fine!”
            To apply this paradigm to the Middle East holus-bolus might be oversimplifying it; I'm no expert on all the details, but considering that the West has recently sent armies and/or lethal weaponry to enforce its will in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Libya, might it not be reasonable to suggest that there could be deep anti-colonialist resentment driving the outbreaks—and with good reason? It's that curious kind of a world, after all, in which it's perfectly logical that Israel should have nuclear weapons and massive military power to defend itself, while for Iran to possess these capabilities is considered unthinkable.
            Inequality always breeds resentment and factionalism; that's a literal truism by now. Nations that feel equal to their neighbours, and are respected for that fact, don't produce terrorism aimed at these same neighbours. (Local vandalism is a form of domestic terrorism, also identifiable as a response to perceived inequality; it works at all levels.) President Obama seemed to get this at the beginning of his first term when he made some noises to indicate that we might have precipitated some of the resentment that led to 9/11; he very soon learned that American presidents don't admit to error and don't apologize . . . ever.
            John 3:1-21 is a narrative about Jesus' encounter with the pharisee, Nicodemus. At the core of the story is the phrase that has become the centrepiece for the “born again” focus in North American Christianity: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (NIV).” Using metaphors of wind, darkness and light, Jesus tries to explain to Nicodemus that he can't possibly grasp what the Kingdom of God is about until he commits to starting over, this time seeing the world through the “spirit” as opposed to the “flesh.”
            But this proves to be yet another metaphor that Nicodemus has trouble following.
            Can nations be “born again?” Can the Israeli/Palestinian conflict be resolved unless the principals (and their principles) are “born again?”
            It seems unlikely.