December 28, 2007

Hometown Pride: Walter Gretzky Receives Order of Canada

It's not very often I speak of my hometown of Brantford in a positive manner or actually refer to it by its actual name but seeing Walter Gretzky receive the Order of Canada is a worthy story to smile about. This is long overdue, in my opinion, and there are few that deserve this honour more than him.

Walter has served his community for many years whether it was through volunteerism, speaking engagements, charity work, etc. To Brantford, at least, he is more than just Wayne Gretzky's father but a wonderful citizen and role model who has touched the lives of many children and adults.

The number of stories I have heard from friends and acquaintances about his generousity and out reach to others are too numerous for me to count but always the impression he leaves on them is the same; it's positive and lasting.

Congratulations to Walter for being a recipient of the Order of Canada.

December 20, 2007

Halton Catholic School Board Teaching Students the Wrong Lesson

Almost a month ago I wrote about how a couple Ontario Catholic school boards were doing reviews on Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy due to the atheist ideas contained within them. It's being reported today that the Halton Catholic school board has decided to ban the book from its schools' shelves.

If my past two posts on this subject are any indication, it should come at no surprise that I think the board is making a huge mistake. In fact, so does the book committee that was put together to review the trilogy. The committee's recommendation to the board was to reintroduce the books into school libraries but limit access to them to the intermediate grades.

One of the major themes in this series is about fighting institutional control over information, knowledge, truth, etc. It is very clear the aim is to make some noise with a very centralized institution or church such as Catholicism. However, this alone should not be any reason to effectively ban the books, especially in a publicly funded institution. Even the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given his support to the author and this theme because he worries about dogma being reinforced within Christianity. This is a concern that all believers should have because dogma only harms the message and fundamentals of faith in the end and renders them irrelevant.

The Halton Catholic school board decision to overrule their review committee and ban the books has just given aid to that concern.

The board has argued that the series is not in line with "the Catholic values that we are trying to teach children." But I'm pretty sure that argument can made against the majority of books found in their school libraries. And the offence cannot be that great since both the York and Dufferin-Peel, the latter that also did their own review, have left the books in their own libraries. It would be interesting to see what it is about these particular books that have Halton so anxious.

To ban the books is to admit weakness and fear. Why else would a group restrict access to a critical message? I tend to think the best way to counter someone's argument is to attack it head on and be an example of why your message is the better. The board should lead by example and present their message as a better alternative, or at the very least face the questions some students - though none as reported so far - may have about the hierarchy and bureaucracy of their Church. Attack the problem of so-called dogma within their institutions instead of hiding from the suggestion that it's ripe with it.

One parent that was quoted in The Star said it best, "I'm pretty comfortable in our faith to know that a book won't force them to waver in it." And while most would think that is how these so-called leaders would also feel, it doesn't seem to be playing out that way. You have to wonder what lessons students are ultimately going to learn from the lack of leadership and confidence that has been shown by the school board?

Further Reading:
Catholic Church = Unintentional Good Idea Detector

Palestinian Aid: What are the Terms?

The headline from the BBC a few days ago was Palestinian Aid: Where Will it Go?. The article says that it will go to security forces, essential service costs (sewage treatment, schools, hospitals) and other development projects. These are all extremely important if Palestine is recover from their poor economic situation and move forward with building a better social relationship with Israel and a better quality of life for Palestinians. However, there is one question that wasn't answered, at least by this article or any other I could find, and needs to be examined with great care: What are the terms for Palestine to receive the international financial aid?

The question needs to be asked because there are at least two parties that are entrenched in the process that have a history of attaching strict terms that often have very consequential (and not in any positive sense) results on the recipient nation; These being the U.S. and the World Bank. There is also the issue that since it involves Palestine, it obviously involves Israel. And currently, Israel has issues of its own that concern some of its major companies making billions providing security technology and resources with many having their beginnings by doing this within the context of the Israel-Palestine impasse.

This isn't an anti-American, World Bank, or Israel post. While I have strong opinions against the past and present tales of American foreign policy and actions of the World Bank, they don't always operate so short-sited or in self-interest (but still too often). I also have a very 'middle-of-the-road' view on Israel and Palestine and believe that the root of the current problems lies with both nations, equally.

The way I see this situation is that it needs to be thoroughly examined before an opinion should cast. One can only hope that the same mistakes any of these parties have made in the past when it comes to helping a nation financially will not once again be made here and that Israel will be open-minded. That the interest in aiding Palestine is for the sake of Palestinians (and the Israelis) who deserve to be brought out of the poverty and wretched conditions they have been subject to for too long. I honestly believe that one of the best ways to counter a growing fanatical tide is to provide people with real hope and opportunities and way to heal as a society, together. That situation would be best and the where the aid is earmarked to be given is a positive start. The aid cannot be blindly given to multinationals as much as it cannot be blindly given to random, local organizations.

To avoid the problems of the past, this money has to be about more than opening a market for investors or channeling money to private corporations or personal agenda-driven groups. It has to go to the people with strict assurances that it goes to the projects it's intended to fund; a strict grassroots reconstruction that will assist with rebuilding and healing of both their nation and their neighbourhoods. That is why the terms for the money have to be known and understood because otherwise Palestine could end up in a worse position than they already find themselves in. For Israel and other parts of the Middle East that would mean greater issues for them as well. That is something that needs to be avoided. And it is the terms of the aid that will decide which direction this process will head.

December 10, 2007

Smoking in Car Ban Coming to Ontario?

McGuinty open to smoking in car ban - Toronto Star

As I have said many times in the past, I give my full support to banning smoking in cars when children are present. I hope McGuinty gives the go-ahead for this initiative. The health and protection of children overrides any claims to the right of self affliction. Full stop.

See Also:
Hooray For The Nanny State....!?!

Putting Children's Health First

Smoking for the Children

December 03, 2007

Failing to Sell the Lemons

Tories turn to ex-PQ premier for Bali talks

One of the biggest points of contention I have with this Conservative government is that they have spent more time and money trying to sell us a product while not actually having the product in hand. This is especially true when it comes to the environment. When the original Clean-Air Act was out there it was rejected for its lack of substance and action. Then another plan was released less than a year later and... It was severely lacking as well. However, there was one major difference, the presentation, language and optics surrounding it had changed.

What the government learned between the two events was not that climate change is a real threat or that we should make an attempt to act. No. What they had learned was that they needed to sell it differently,

The change was supposed to be the job of Baird who replaced a dismal Ambrose. However, he didn't fair much better than she did and so the job has been mainly left up to Harper, himself. He has gone on a 'tour' recently throwing his weight behind the APPCDC program rather than Kyoto, pushing a plan of intensity targets rather than real targets and trying to make a case for a 'wait and see' rather than acting now. The problem with all of these is that they all contain their own issues in regards to public perception. The APPCDC is seen as the deniers' Kyoto, the intensity target plan has been panned by reviewers and critics and waiting doesn't seem like an option to most people.

Now, with the Conservative government facing criticisms in Quebec over their lack of commitment to Kyoto and Kyoto-2, and with Harper's Commonwealth letdown, they are once again ramping up their giant environment commercial. To assist them they have hired former Quebec PQ Premier, Pierre-Marc Johnson. Johnson's job is to advise Harper on how to act publicly and sell his positions at to Quebec while in Bali for the Kyoto-2 discussions. Johnson will not be advising on how to create a better environmental program but rather on how to package the optics of inaction to a province that has been a target of the Conservatives since they've taken power.

There is a serious problem with this plan, however. The government has yet been able to get people to drink their environmental kool-aid, including those in Quebec. They have pulled out a lot of tricks and so far nothing has convinced the public that this Conservative government is truly concerned over what may come from climate change or that they even believe in the problem itself. Now Harper is in Bali to discuss Kyoto and beyond, though he refused to include any opposition in the delegation. That raised some eyebrows. To counter, he's bringing along a former politician with ties to the PQ. A purely cynical and obvious decision that is as transparent as the air we breathe.

The problem is this: The products that are often sold the best are the ones that have passion, belief and commitment backing them. The sell has to make the consumer feel confident in what they are buying. It's often why the used-car salesmen are the butt of jokes. They didn't build the car, used their creativity to design it or put ideas into it. They're only concern is that it gets sold and the perception is that they will say anything to make that sale, even if the car is a lemon. That is problem the Conservatives are facing when it comes to the environment. They don't believe in it nor do they want to act on it. But since the environment is a major public concern they are trying to sell us something. Unfortunately there is no passion, belief or commitment backing their product and subsequently, they are failing to deliver a plan and the sell.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)