Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

In 1982 Roberta and I were married the same weekend that a now iconic movie came out. But that’s not the movie I want to talk about-I’ve said enough about that movie already*. However, that same year another movie was released that also became something of an legend. It was a fairly low budget piece about an Vietnam vet and Green Beret who runs afoul of a corrupt local sheriff, and in a haze resulting from what would now be called post traumatic stress, goes on a rampage piling up body bags filled with local law enforcement. The movie was First Blood, the actor was Sylvester Stallone and the character was John Rambo.

Kawkawa Bridge banner

A banner goes up on the Kawkawa Bridge marking the end of an icon.

So why do I bring this up? Well this week, in the town of Hope B.C. where the movie was shot, they are tearing down the bridge on which Rambo was first arrested by Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy). It has been a tourist spot for nearly 30 years but the creosote coated timbers are finally becoming unsafe and an environmental hazard; so, down it comes.

In my opinion First Blood was the best of the Rambo movies for a couple of reasons. First, as much fun as some of the others were, First Blood is the only plot that is remotely probable. There are no fortresses to be taken down, no armies of trained soldiers, just a lot of local deputies and state troopers up against a man that the U.S. Military turned into a killing machine – a killing machine gone over the deep end.

The second reason I like the first Rambo over all the others is that it is the only one that comes close to properly addressing the real problem of the Vietnam vet and many veterans in general. What do you do with a person whose one life skill is the ability to end a life, in a variety of extremely effective ways? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real injury that many vets face. Most of them don’t go on killing rampages in mountain towns but they are certainly just as dysfunctional in a society that has no use for them any longer.

Which makes the timing of this event in B.C. interesting; because as this bridge comes down Canadian troops are coming home, and many of them will be facing PTSD themselves. And what will their fate be? Will they get the help that they need to deal with the after effects of their ten year mission? I hope so; because historically the Canadian government, like so many in the western world, have spent most of their time trying to shift the blame for a soldier’s trauma to something other than combat. And that is a national shame.

Throughout our history it seems that Canadian soldiers serving overseas have won the respect and admiration of everyone except their own government; and it doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power. Through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan, local populations have come to love and cherish the memories of what our men and women in uniform have done for them. They fully comprehend the value of the sacrifice that has been made on their behalf by people with no reason to be there other than the cause of freedom. Meanwhile, back home, those same soldiers have to battle the government that sent them to war for the basic necessities of life, and for help to deal with the after effects of their time in service.

Some research suggests, but has not yet fully confirmed, that a contributing factor in PTSD can be an uncertainty about the value of the mission the soldier has just been through. When victory is clear and well defined, trauma is lessened; when the victory is less certain, symptoms of PTSD increase.

If that’s true then this might well be one of the toughest missions Canadian troops have ever faced. Unlike WW1 & WW2 the success of the Afghanistan mission is not so clear. The Taliban is still a clear and present danger and the future of community projects started by Canadians is uncertain. One hopes the Americans will be able to continue the work that we have started, keeping schools open and encouraging women to take control of their own destinies, but with the economic crisis currently being faced by the Obama government nothing is guaranteed.

What is certain however, is that like those who came before them, our troops have done their country proud. By all reports, many people are grateful for the efforts our men and women have made. A friend of mine who returned from Afghanistan just a few weeks ago tells many encouraging stories about the difference we have made in that country and the regret expressed by local people at the departure of our troops. Much of it is because the ill equipped troops that first arrived ten years ago (they actually were sent on a desert mission with green forest camouflage gear)  have since been properly re-equipped and given a wide range of modern, high-tech equipment and supplies enabling them to perform beyond expectations.

The support from home has also been encouraging. From the shipping of care packages to our bases in Kandahar and the famed ‘Highway of Heroes‘, Canadians have shown their troops the support they need as they continue to build bridges between Canada and struggling communities around the world.

Now let’s hope and pray that the Harper government will give them the tools they need to deal with their personal struggles as enthusiastically as they equipped them for combat.

Until next time… Shalom.

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*No, I’m not naming it. Have fun figuring it out.

Horns of a Dilemma

Posted: June 16, 2011 in Politics
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As I listen to the rhetoric start to ramp up as we slowly careen toward the provincial election in October, I find myself once again torn on the subject of who to throw my vote away on.  Do I sound cynical? Well, that’s likely because more and more I find politics so generally reprehensible that elections are starting to resemble the process where the prisoner gets to choose their mode of execution; one way or the other, you’re still dead.

My dilemma largely starts with the fact that I can’t define myself neatly on either the left or the right politically. While I have a number of conservative tendencies, I also support many policies traditionally associated with the left. The result is I’m not allowed the luxury of being able to stamp my forehead with a party logo and lock myself mindlessly in step with whatever drivel drools out of the party leader’s mouth. I am forced to examine the evidence, consider all the ramifications and try to come to a rational decision as to which political entity is least likely to cause Canada, or in this case Ontario, to follow the same course as say, Greece.

Let’s take Dalton’s tax record for example. Tim Hudak and the PC Party of Ontario love to point out that Dalton promised not to raise taxes and then promptly introduced the Health Premium; essentially a tax to help pay for health care in Ontario. As a recent cancer survivor I find myself less upset about this lie than I used to be.

In the last nine months I have had 4 CT scans, 3 x-rays, 2 MRIs, 36 radiation treatments, 2 surgeries, 1 colonoscopy and 26 office appointments with a GP, an ear/nose and throat specialist, two surgeons, an oncologist, and a GI specialist and throughout it all the only cash I had to fork out personally was cab fare.  I have no idea how much all of that costs. I’m not even sure I’d like to know as I am sure it’s a frightening figure; but if you were to tell me that the reason none of that cost had to come out of my own pocket was Dalton’s Health Premium, I wouldn’t quibble with you for a second.  MRIs and CT scans and Radiation machines are expensive and the money has to come from somewhere and asking me to pony up my share is entirely reasonable.

But lying about it isn’t. According to the CQCO (Cancer Quality Council of Ontario) if you are diagnosed with cancer in Ontario you have “one of the best chances of survival anywhere in the world.” [ref] And the billions we spend on health care here is the reason why; not to mention the millions raised by events such as the Ride to Conquer Cancer.  This is something we should be proud of and celebrate, but our leaders still find it hard to just be open about it and say, “Look, it costs billions to make health care happen and taxes are the main source of that money.” Then make sure you taxation strategy is fair and balanced.

But when you lie about it and try to hide it and obfuscate the details so that people who disagree with you are more likely to vote for you it does not inspire any level of confidence even if the result is largely positive. Give the public some credit and simply tell us how much stuff costs and how you’re going to pay for stuff up front. So while I understand the need for the tax, lying about it does not increase my willingness to vote Liberal.

That said, I’m also sure there’s a big slice of those billions are being pissed away paying consultants and contractors and others way too much to do things that have been done before and accomplish very little that actually results in more people getting colonoscopies, surgeries, and visits to the doctor’s office.  I’m sure of this because I know from experience that’s the way far too many bureaucracies work (remember eHealth), and b) that’s the way far too many consultants manage to stay in business (again eHealth).

I am also fairly sure there are savings to be found on the front lines as well. I used to work security for one of the hospitals in Guelph and was curious as to why the guy mowing the lawn got paid as much as the orderlies did. One of the staff in the administration office told me it was because “of the extra training and skills required to do the job in a sterile hospital environment.” I will never forget that line.  Mow the Lawn? In a sterile hospital environment? Really?? 

And yet, while I’m sure cutting health care costs is on Hudak’s agenda, most of what he has said so far leaves me convinced that I can’t trust him to be selective enough in his cutting to do any real good. Rather than separate the wheat from the chaff, I can easily picture him just burning the whole field; leaving me unable to confidently vote PC either.

So you see my dilemma, no matter which option I choose I’m fairly certain the end result will be a horn up my butt. And not just with health care. A similar each-one-is-as-bad-as-the-other scenario can be demonstrated for just about every aspect of my existence.  My only hope seems to be that somewhere in the next hundred days one or the other of them will screw up so bad the decision will be made for me.

Until next time… Shalom

Well at least that’s what United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood would have us believe. He made the following announcement in his blog yesterday…

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.
We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:
  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Go beyond minimum design standards.
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

(Emphasis mine.  Here’s the link to the rest of the article…  DOT Website)

It’s an impressive list, and one I would heartily endorse. In fact I would love it if Canadian Minister of Transportation John Baird would issue a similar statement. To be fair, he may well have done so, but a search of Transport Canada’s website has yet to reveal a national policy on the integration of human-powered transportation into provincial and municipal infrastructure.  If anyone out there knows where to find it, please send me a link.

In the meantime, if LaHood does succeed in his stated desire to end the conflict between cars, bicycles and pedestrians, it will hold out some hope for a healthier, more environmentally friendly future.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27 ESV)

There’s a story by Maggie Michael of the Associated Press in today’s Toronto Sun that seems to fly in the face of James’ definition of true religion.   It appears that a 75 year old widow in Saudi Arabia asked her late husband’s nephew and his business partner to save her a trip to the market and bring 5 loaves of bread around for her.  Seems like a reasonable request to us, but the Saudi religious police arrested the trio after the bread was delivered and charged the woman with “illegal mingling” with men who are not close relatives.

The 75 year old Syrian woman (her late husband was Saudi) was convicted as a result of “citizen information” (she was ratted out by her late husband’s brother) and her conviction was confirmed because “she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi.”  She has been sentenced to 40 lashes, followed by 4 months in jail to be followed by deportation back to Syria.  The two men also were sentenced to lashes and jail time.  Her lawyer will appeal.

Now I will be the first to admit I’m no expert on Islam or Mohammed. I’ve only read the Koran once and that was some time ago. But I really have a hard time believing that lashing a 75 year old widow for “corrupting the morals of young men” because they did her the favour of delivering bread was what the Prophet had in mind. And to be sure it would seem that even in the Muslim world this level of fundamentalism is pretty much restricted to Saudi Arabia and is garnering criticism even from Muslim quarters.  But this post is not about the horrors of fundamentalist Islam.

It’s about Christian fundamentalism and the separation of church and state.

As I mentioned in my review of ‘Nine Parts of Desire‘ (see book list) whenever I read about Muslim abuses I find myself thinking about the sordid history of my own religion.  Since the days of Constantine whenever the church has found itself in the role of Head of State it has inevitably led to abuse of the general populace.  It has been said that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and it would seem the church is even more susceptible to this since they feel they have a direct link to the source of absolution. (pun intended)

And it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference what flavour of Christian you may claim to be.  The Reformationists in Europe where fully justified in throwing off the ‘shackles of Rome’ because of the corruption that had found it’s way into the papal system; however, once in power their persecution and execution of ‘heretics’ for such infractions as baptizing an adult soon came close to making the Spanish Inquisition look like a sleepless night a Guantanamo.

It’s no wonder that the Anabaptists started pushing for separation of church and state. Even though the idea appears to fly in the face of Old Testament theocracy, given the predisposition to tyranny displayed by so called Christian governments, it does seem to be the better option. Of course this too was opposed with many European monarchs, such as Austria, effectively declaring open season on anyone even suspected of being a “separatist”.

Which brings us to the present day. The lines being drawn in the U.S. and Canada between believers and humanists, conservatives and liberals, and the barrage of rhetoric being lobbed back and forth between them lead me to believe that a “Christian” party in power in a modern democracy would be no less tyrannical then their neo-Roman predecessors; only the manifestation of that tyranny would differ.  This has led me to the conclusion that ‘Christian politics’ is just not a great idea.

Not that I think Christians shouldn’t hold politicians accountable on moral issues, we are certainly called to be the collective conscience of the nation. And the best way we can do that is at the ballot box voting out those whose professed neutrality actually leans more to the dark side.  But when I hear talk of ‘Christian government’ it makes me cringe just as much as the idea of Saudi religious police. The greatest ‘real and present danger’ we face is when we try to translate personal morality into government policy. People being people, I just don’t think it can ever work.

The only Christian government that will ever succeed in achieving true justice will be the government led by Christ himself in the next age. Until then, as much as I hate to admit it, politics might possibly best be left in the hands of the morally neutral.

Air and Simple Gifts

Posted: January 21, 2009 in Politics
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One of my favourite parts of the Inauguration was this performance of “Air and Simple Gifts“, John Williams’ new “arrangement” for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration, featuring Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet). What strikes me most about the piece is the incorporation of “Lord of the Dance” one of my favorite Celtic Christian melodies. I cannot help but wonder if it is a deliberate connection to Obama’s professed faith, or did Williams simply like the Celtic melody.

Here’s the video from YouTube. I love how much Yo Yo Ma is obviously enjoying the experience.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the piece “Lord of the Dance” was quite popular in contemporary Christian circles in the late sixties/early seventies. It was written by Sydney B. Carter, a freelance British writer and broadcaster. He wrote the lyrics which tell the basic story of the life of Jesus using dance as a metaphor for the gospel message. The lyrics were original written by Carter, but the melody is a variation on a 19th century Shaker tune that Carter adapted for the hymn. He has three other contemporary hymns to his credit.I’ve always liked the piece because of its use of metaphor in representing the Gospel.

Hearing the primary message of Jesus’ ministry presented in other ways has always appealed to me because it causes one to look at the gospel in other ways, helping to broaden and deepen our appreciation of its universal appeal.

Another wonderful example of this is Calvin Miller’s ‘Singer Trilogy.’ in the three volumes Miller presents the story of Jesus as an epic poem telling the story of the Troubadour, who has been called to sing the ancient Star Song, and pays the ultimate price for doing so. The three volumes in the trilogy are ‘The Singer’ which presents the story of the gospels, ‘The Song’ a representation of the Book of Acts, and ‘The Finale’ which explores the imagery of the book of Revelation. I highly recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who appreciate epic poetry and stories.

I present for your consideration as you listen to “Air and Simple Gifts” a second or third time, the lyrics to “Lord of the Dance”

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Refrain Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee,
But they would not dance and they would not follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John;
They came to me and the dance went on.
Refrain

I danced on the sabbath when I cured the lame,
The holy people said it was a shame;
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high;
And they left me there on a cross to die.
Refrain

I danced on a Friday and the sky turned black;
It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back;
They buried my body and they thought I’d gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.
Refrain

They cut me down and I leapt up high,
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me;
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.
Refrain


Presidential Legacy

Posted: January 12, 2009 in Politics
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Okay, this Barack Obama thing is really starting to get a little weird. Check it out..

What does it mean when other countries are getting as excited about the election of an American president as America does? And what does it say for George Bush’s legacy as president when so many around the world are excited about his replacement? How does a person look back on his life or career and walk away knowing no one is sorry to see him go. It reminds me of another world leader I read about once.

And the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the anger of the Philistines and of the Arabians who are near the Ethiopians. And they came up against Judah and invaded it and carried away all the possessions they found that belonged to the king’s house, and also his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, his youngest son. And after all this the Lord struck him in his bowels with an incurable disease. In the course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony. His people made no fire in his honor, like the fires made for his fathers. He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he departed with no one’s regret. They buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. 2 Chronicles 21:16-20 ESV

Jehoram, son of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, was 32 years old when he became King of Judah, and he reigned for 8 years (about 851-843 BC). Jehoram was an evil king. After becoming king, he killed all of his brothers, and many other leaders of Israel and renewed pagan worship in Judah. He constructed idol shrines in Judah, and compelled his people to worship them. Then Elijah the prophet wrote him a letter describing Jehoram’s sins and explaining the punishment that would befall him. He didn’t listen.

As was often the case when Israel or Judah ignored God long enough, the Lord stirred up the Philistines and Arabs to attack Jehoram. They did a thorough job carrying away everything of value in the king’s palace, including his sons and his wives. Only his youngest son, Jehoahaz, (Ahaziah), escaped. Shortly after that Jehoram was struck down with the incurable bowel disease. He was dead in two years, and was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the royal cemetary.

Now Israel and Judah both had a lot of bad kings, but Jehoram is the only one about which the Bible says no one cared that he died. It makes one wonder how bad a leader has to be to garnet so little compassion upon his demise.

Now I’m not saying ol’ George W. is as bad as Jehoram. But I do find myself curious about what is going through his mind right now. To be fair, I don’t think he set out to be a bad president. I don’t think he is the evil war monger he’s often painted to be. I’m sure he did what he thought was the right thing and whether any of it was right or not I’ll leave for history and God to judge; it’s not my place and I can’t imagine what I would do in his place. (It’s why i have no political ambitions.)

But I will continue to pray for him, as I will pray for his successor, because it cannot be easy to leave a career, knowing you’ve done the best you thought you could and also knowing what seems like the entire world thinks you screwed up. I’m sure there is a great deal of pain and soul searching in his future. And I do genuinely hope he is able to come to terms with what he discovers about himself. But it will not be easy, and for that reason he has my compassion.

A lot of paranoid people think the world hates them; soon to be former President Bush has no need to be paranoid, the world does.

Until next time…

Shalom

Doing the Right Thing

Posted: November 21, 2006 in Politics
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I want to begin by thanking all of you who signed the petition at the Dominion Institutes’s web site. This afternoon Canada’s Parliament unanimously passed an NDP motion to offer the option of a full state funeral to the family of Canada’s last WWI veteran. With only three veterans of that war still alive and all of them over the age of 105, it was important that this be arranged as quickly as possible. My hope is that this sets a precedent and when the time comes a similar honour will be extended to the last remaing veteran of WWII as well. I also want to thank all the federal parties for putting aside their politics for one hour and doing the right thing. As my friend Ella commented, it proves that they can work together when they want to. It almost gives me hope.

Then just when I’m starting to feel hopeful they go and return to their old (current?) ways. It amazes me that when the opposition can’t find anything else to complain about they will actually criticize the government for doing the right thing.

This week Stephen Harper is under attack for his recent comments concerning China’s human rights record and in particular their imprisonment of Canadian
Huseyin Celil. As you know Celil is accused of being a terrorist by the Chinese government and is being held by them without allowing him access to consular officials. Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan in March while visiting his wife’s family. In June, he was extradited to China, where he could face the death penalty for an alleged involvement in “separatist” activities.

Meanwhile here in Canada all the opposition can do is complain about how Harper’s tough stand on China’s human rights record is jeopardizing Canada’s economic relationship with the Communist country. It would seem that fighting for human rights is okay with interim opposition leader Bill Graham only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of importing cheap electronics and sneakers from China.

All this tells me the Liberals haven’t learned thing from the Maher Arar affair. Are they going to allow another Canadian citizen to be tortured at the hands of a foreign government? Can they not see the total hypocrisy of their position on this?

Or are they sending the message that protecting Canadians accused of terrorism is a priority when doing so will poke a stick in the eye of American president George Bush; but, when doing so interferes with one of their favorite dictatorships it ranks much lower down?

I’m just glad that while the Liberals don’t seem to get the danger of trying to balance human rights and the almighty dollar, at least our Prime Minister does.

“We were very critical of past governments for not vocally defended the interests of Canadian citizens who had been mistreated abroad, and I think when it comes to general human rights I think we have a general obligation to express our values,” Harper said. “But when it comes to the specific case of a Canadian citizen who is being mistreated, we have an absolute moral obligation to defend those citizens and express our views.”

Of course, given the Liberal track record of dealing with dictatorships and human rights abusers around the world, I guess it’s understandable they don’t recognize that what they are criticizing Harper for this time is simply doing his job. Holding other governments accountable for how they treat Canadians is what a government is supposed to do. Let’s hope the Harper government keeps the job long enough to get it done.