Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Charter will be our Epitaph

If anyone doubted that our Supreme Court acts in accordance with its own political and social sensibilities, they need doubt no more. Today's Supreme Court decision regarding whether French Quebecers can choose to be educated in English was so blatantly politicized so as to make our Supreme court judges virtually indistinguishable from our politicians.

As I understand it, the high court ruled that people who immigrate to Quebec – from both inside and outside Canada – can not be denied the right to have an English education. Nor can non-Francophone Quebecers. However, French people born in Quebec have no constitutional right to an English education.

Please note this point - the Supreme Court has ruled that the people asking for fair treatment have no constitutional right to do so. Oddly, the Court didn't comment on whether the Quebec government has the constitutional right to deny them fair treatment. Hmmmmmmm......

We should all be very concerned with this message from our Supreme Court. But we should also feel a certain measure of empathy for them. After all, as a group of political appointees and social activists posing as judges, they have a tough row to hoe. In this case, for example, they obviously had trouble balancing the need to make a fair, legally sensible decision with the need to appease Quebec’s nationalistic sensibilities and xenophobic language practices.

Call me silly, but I always thought the Charter was supposed to provide equal rights and freedoms to all Canadians, regardless of which province they were born in or which language they speak. Unfortunately, our Supreme court judges have thrown that principle to the wind. According to them, the Quebec government can deny certain educational rights to Francophones born in Quebec, while extending those same rights to Anglophones born in Quebec or anyone born outside Quebec.

However, as concerning as it may be for a government to deny rights to some while giving them to others, there’s something much more insidious going on here. In reality, this ruling makes a very loud and very troubling statement about whose rights the Charter actually protects. You see, I always believed that one function of the Charter is to protect individuals from being discriminated against by the state. I now know that this is a sad and sorry myth. According to this ruling, the Charter is really an instrument for protecting the state from the individuals it is discriminating against.

In other words, the state doesn’t need to prove it isn’t violating the charter by excluding you or discriminating against you. No. Rather, it is you who must prove that the Charter is being violated by your exclusion. Get it? You only have as many rights as the Charter explicitly gives you. The state, on the other hand, has all the rights except those explicitly taken away by the Charter. Talk about a stacked deck.

We have truly reached a sad and sorry period in the history of our Charter-driven, Court-run, faux-democracy when our Charter of Rights and Freedoms is usurped by the state to protect it from having to provide equal treatment to its citizens.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Resistance is Futile

Have you heard about the pageant - the Pakistani/Canadian Beauty pageant? Several of the most beautiful, intelligent and articulate young Pakistani/Canadian girls in our nation are competing. Some people support the pageant. Some don't. Take Shahana Kamil for instance. She's the President of the Islamic Association of Canadian Women. She doesn't like it at all. In fact, she says that pageants like these violate the Islamic code of morality. She also suggested that those who think that these contests are OK here in 21st century Canada are ignorant of the universal principals of Islam.

Now, with respect, I’m not really sure what Ms Kamil expects with respect to sustaining her religion here in secular liberal Canada, but I can remind her how others have fared. For example, my religion - Christianity.

Originally, most immigrants to Canada were Christians. Over the years they tried to protect their children from the onslaught of secular liberal thought. They tried to uphold the Ten Commandments, the sanctity of marriage and their loyalty to the church. They watched Leave it to Beaver and the Partridge Family on TV. They listened to the Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas. STDs and single welfare mothers were rare. People understood what shame and modesty meant.

Years passed and here we are today. Clearly, the world created by the Christians who came to Canada years ago has been swept away by secularism. Vulgarity, immodesty and crass behavior are everywhere. The descendants of Christian Canadians watch Jerry Springer and the Batchelor on TV. They listen to rude, obscene rap music and read Cosmo and Hustler. Pornography is big business. An astounding number of children grow up apart from their biological father. STDs and teenage pregnancy are rampant among young promiscuous Canadians. Today's Canadians have no shared moral standards. Secularism is the new religion. A religion that demands that no one judge themselves or anyone else for any reason whatsoever.

Tell me, If my Christian forefathers were unable to prevent our society from changing into the secular cesspool of superficiality and degradation it is today, how does Ms. Kamil expect to shield her community from it? In all likelihood, it will consume her children just as it will consume mine. However, I suppose some may resist successfully if they fight hard enough. I’m trying my best. And I wish her the best in her efforts as well. However, as history shows, the odds are clearly against us.

Write a Cheque, Feed a Tyrant

You know who Bono is, right? He's the lead singer for the fabulously successful rock band U2. Most of the time he sings. And, boy, is he good at it. However, he also talks a lot. He's good at that too. The last few years he has taken it upon himself to be a sort of spokesperson for the poor nations of the world, asking the Western world to increase aid to them and forgive their debt.

In some ways he is like a modern day Robin Hood. He demands money from the so-called rich to give to the poor. And the rich give. Sadly, the poor often never see a cent. Rather, the money ends up in the pockets of the third world tyrants and genocidal maniacs that enslave and oppress the very people he wants to help.

Here we have a very wealthy rock singer with a social conscience. He claims to care a lot about the unfortunate in the world. It is not entirely clear, however, how much of his own millions he has given to them. Could be a lot. All I’m saying is, I haven’t seen the receipts.

So, what does this Irish lad do when he isn’t quaffing Guinness or driving in a limousine? Why, he travels around the third world extending a sympathetic ear to dictators and tyrants while bemoaning the lack of help they get from the Western world. Then he visits the Western world, stands on his MTV podium and tells us that we should give more Aid and forgive the debts incurred by these villains. If he’s made any requests for money to the rich Saudi Sheiks, I haven’t heard about it. Sometimes I wonder if the guilt he is selling is for the Western world only.

Does he really believe that, when debts are forgiven for nations like the Congo, Sudan, Cambodia or North Korea, these governments actually use the money they save to help their poor? I’d like to take his word on this but I’d feel better about it if he could show me an audit or something. Till then, I remain skeptical.

Anyway, it seems to me that the debts aren’t incurred by the people of the nations he is trying to help. Rather they are incurred and used by the very rich and very bad men who run the nations. Men who, all too often, use the borrowed money to hire more soldiers, kill more people and build more palaces. Some build nuclear weapons. Why should we believe that they wouldn’t use any forgiven debt windfall to do more of the same?

In North Korea, our good buddy, the benevolent and beloved leader Kim Jong II has a massive army which he arms, clothes and feeds. He uses the army mostly to enslave his people. He lives in Splendor. He holds massive, hugely expensive, celebrations in honor of himself. He claims to be in possession of nuclear missiles. Nuclear programs cost $billions. And, in the meanwhile, most citizens of North Korea live in poverty. Maybe North Korea could afford to feed its poor. Too bad we'll never know. All its money is spent satisfying the megalomaniacal desires of its leader. Meanwhile they beg for aid.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m reaching for my cheque book as I speak. Who do I make this out to – ‘Your Excellency Kim” or “the Omnipotent Deity Kim”? I want to get it right so the cheque won’t bounce. After all, I certainly wouldn’t want him to have to feed his own people with his own money. Better for us to just keep shipping money and food over there so he can use his own precious resources to do stuff that’s really important. – like imprisoning any North Korean who speaks out against him or maybe nuking Tokyo. (And, I wonder, if he does nuke someone, what responsibility will the aid givers have?)

You know, if Bono really wants to help the poor people of the world, maybe he should just use his public stage to draw attention to the dictators and tyrants of the world who are really at fault. Maybe he could try and shame them for what they’ve done instead of us for what we haven’t done. Maybe he could chastise the real villains for a change. Of course this wouldn’t be politically correct. And after all, everything that is wrong with the world is the fault of western capitalist imperialism. It’s an easy horse to flog. And flog it he does.

He could start by visiting Robert Mugabe. After all, that boy really needs a talking to. Then, after straightening things out in Zimbabwe, he could try a few other African Nations. I’m sure that all the leaders he is trying to help will welcome him with open arms, let him do a forensic audit, and then let him redirect money from their country’s armies and ruling class to feed their poor. Can I laugh now? Maybe I'll cry.

Look, I really don’t dislike Bono, in fact I think that he is a tremendously talented musician. (And he's Irish, that's a good thing.) But he is no global-political brainiac. I think he should take a long hard look at what he is doing. He may have the best of intentions, but it can be argued that he is actually doing more harm than good in the long run.

Nations that supply aid to and forgive the debts of countries run by shady leaders and oppressive governments take precious resources away from their own needy homeless, disabled and elderly people. And God knows we've got enough of those. So, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that every cent of foreign aid is used to help the victims, not the criminals. Any aid and debt relief must be accompanied by demands (demands - not requests) that the receiving nation take steps to reform their political and social systems. We work together with other Western countries on other things, why can’t we form a league of nations to provide aid and police the usage of the funds? (Some would say that the UN already serves this purpose. I would argue that if they were actually effective, more progress would have already been made.)

Now, I know that some people believe that we must help the poor and starving of the world regardless of the situation. I can only ask these people if they can measure the value of life against the value of freedom. How many lives can justify the freedom of future generations? Should we never act to free people, if in the course of giving them freedom, some die?

These are tough questions. Here I am, a nobody, living in comfy Canada. I certainly don’t have the right to make such decisions. But, still, they are decisions that have been, and will have to be, made by others. So, we have an obligation to at least think about these things and debate them.

Here’s the bottom line. If we cannot make sure the money we give is being used to benefit the poor, we should at least be honest with ourselves and admit that we are giving mainly to appease our own and Bono’s selfish conscience. Because, until we demand more of the recipient nations, we are just feeding the villains and facilitating the long term enslavement of their innocent subjects. And for that we have nothing to be proud of, regardless of how much we give.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Our Tax System - Obese and Out of Control

I have a problem with our tax system. Yeah, I know - me and about 30 million other Canadians. But with me, it’s different. I really hate it. And not a mild “I hate my ex-wife” type of hate. No. More like when my daughter says “I hate you” when I send her to bed or make her eat her vegetables. Now, that’s a serious kind of hatred. But I just can’t help it. Our tax system brings out those kind of feelings in me. I’m not proud of it, but I cannot deny it either. It is a part of me.

But while I hate the tax system, I cannot bring myself to hate its servants - the tax collectors and assorted professionals who feed and worship this monstrous organism. Was it Jesus who allegedly said – “hate the sin, but love the sinner”? Well with me it’s kind of like that. (Incidentally, whether you believe in Jesus or not - as I understand it, the tax collectors hated him. This, in itself, is enough for me to really, really like him.)

Anyway, I subscribe to Jesus’ philosophy. I don’t hate those who have become priests in the church of the almighty TaxGod and who collect the offerings and perform bloody sacrifices on its Altar. No. Rather, I am bemused by them. They have dedicated their lives to a false god – a man-made god that is obese, staggeringly powerful, utterly consumed with its own self-importance and drunk with authority. What’s the most terrifying word in the English dictionary – “audit”. Displease the TaxGod and he’ll lay an audit on your ass. And you’ll be sorry.

Why do we need a tax system that so few Canadians understand? There are offices in every village, town and city in Canada staffed with people who do nothing but taxes for other people. Fifty years ago there were no such services for the average taxpayer and everyone was able to file their taxes correctly and on time. So why do we need these tax services now? Are Canadians stupider today than they were in years past?

Well, in a way, yes.

We are not stupider math wise, or knowledge wise. No. We are stupider in a far more harmful way. Our brand of stupidity is one where we allow government agencies and services to grow beyond our control. And once such an organism reaches a certain size and influence, it becomes independent and self-sustaining, with its own priorities. And its focus turns inward. It no longer cares about the needs and desires of the citizens that created it and feed it. It only cares about its own ego and cravings. The servant has now become the master. And a harsh master it is. Anyone who does not kneel and present it with its due is severely punished. In fact, tax delinquents are often fined more and imprisoned longer than violent offenders.

So here we are, far more educated a society than we were 50 years ago. And yet, pathetically unable to do something as routine and fundamental as our taxes. Seems to me that taxation is a pretty simple concept. Government collects money from wage earners and then redistributes it as needed. Why, then, have we taken such a seemingly simple concept and turned it into something that your average person cannot understand?

Income tax, sales tax, goods and services tax, excise tax, property tax, estate tax, surtax, liquor tax, hospitality tax, security tax, health care premium tax, gas tax, insurance tax, transport tax, import tax, land transfer tax, capital gains tax, corporate tax, mining tax, the list is endless. So is the one for regulations, interpretations designations, assessments, adjustments, computations, deductions, exemptions, exclusions, exceptions, limitations, presumptions, depreciations, renunciations, allocations, deemed dispositions, interpretations (that’s another kind of interpretation) appropriations, acquisitions, RRSPs, RPPs, DPSPs, RESPs, PAs, ……and on and on and on.

I’m getting dizzy.

Someday, someone with a little common sense will take control of our great nation and have a good, old fashioned book burning. But it won’t be the Bible, the Koran, pornography or Catcher in the Rye that will be thrown on the fire. Oh no. It will be the Income Tax Act and all the insanely incomprehensible documents associated with it.

The fire will burn high and long into the night. And I will dance around it.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Anxiety Industry

How on earth did we ever survive as a species for thousands upon thousands of years without the masses of psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors that we have today? How did humans ever deal with the stress, tension, grief, and depression that they must have felt while living under feudal rule or dying in droves with the plague or fighting in brutal, bloody wars? Surely the problems and difficulties they faced were far greater than any faced by us today. And yet they dealt with it themselves, comforted only by their families, communities and, gasp, their belief in God

Today, we look to the state and a bevy of university trained empathic strangers to help ease our woes.

Some may see this as a good thing - a sign that our society has evolved - an indication that we now have more compassion and take greater responsibility for each other’s well being. But do we, really? Or is it a sign that we are less caring as individuals, less capable of dealing with life’s problems and more willing to allow impersonal state licensed professionals solve our problems for us?

Witness a shooting and the state will have a trauma counselor at your door. Lose a loved one and a grief counselor will appear as out of nowhere. Get fired and “poof” an employment counselor is there to help you through this difficult time. Do you have problems with your spouse? Well, go see a marriage counselor. And if that doesn't work, and your spouse leaves you, don't worry. There are thousands of divorce counselors out there to help you.

Are you too fat? Too skinny? Too old and wrinkled? Got pimples? A weakness for booze, drugs, fatty foods? Are you too angry, too mellow, too hostile, too lazy, too active, too rude, too talkative, too shy or too inattentive? Are you having trouble sleeping? Do you lack self esteem? Do you fear open spaces, crowded spaces, the green fuzzy stuff growing on the jello in the back of your fridge? Are you sexually attracted to it? Don't worry, right now there are therapists out there who specialize in your particular disorder. They've got a name for it and a cure for what ails you.

But, do these so-called experts really do any good? Unfortunately, it is nigh on impossible to tell.

Privacy and confidentiality issues prevent these professionals from revealing anything about their clients. In addition, there is no independent mechanism in place in our society to tell what percentage of the people treated resume normal lives or how many continue to have problems after receiving therapy. Most alarmingly, we don't know how many of these people actually get worse as a result of their treatments.

So, the question is – why do we trust these anxiety industry workers when we have no quantifiable proof that they are at all successful at what they do? Oh sure, there's anecdotal evidence. The movie star on Oprah gushing over how her psychiatrist saved her life; or the ubiquitous celebrity advice givers, like Dear Abby, continually telling people to go for counseling. But is this really proof that it works? And even if it does work to some extent, is it really worth giving up your personal emotional atononomy to the care of a total stranger?

When a tragedy occurs at a school – a shooting for example – affected students are provided with mandatory counseling. Now, maybe I’m a bit old fashioned or maybe I just suffer from some psychological disorder that makes me wary of strangers getting inside the heads of my children but, shouldn’t it be my job to comfort my children? Shouldn’t I be the one who hugs them and explains to them that life isn’t fair and sometimes bad things happen to good people? Why do we need state appointed outsiders to perform this simple parental task?

Is it because we are becoming soft, sensitive, emotional weaklings, gazing endlessly at our navels, unable to deal with our own life problems without outside intervention? Are we just too darn comfortable in the life we have created here in the 21st century? It is almost as if we expect life to always be easy. And when it is not, we fold like a soiled bedspread and cry out for the help of strangers. Well, life is not supposed to be easy. Acknowledging this simple reality is a good first step towards being able to deal with your problems yourself.

Sometimes I wonder: which came first, the chicken or the egg. Did the anxiety industry grow in response to a legitimate, widespread need for its services; or did it grow of its own volition until, eventually, it became so large and influential that it was able to convince us that we couldn't live without it? Maybe it was a bit of both.

Whatever the case, the anxiety industry is here to stay. And thank god for that. How could we poor helpless humans ever live without it?

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

I attended a wedding a few months ago. During his speech, the father of the bride offered the following quote as the secret to a happy marriage:

“I never know what I like, until I ask my lovely wife”.

The bridesmaids and most of the women present laughed and gave each other knowing looks. They saw the truth in that saying - happy marriages are ones where the woman changes the man and the man accepts this as the inevitable cost of a happy marriage.

But it has always been that way hasn’t it? Marriage has always been about men changing and women orchestrating those changes. Let’s face it, if men had no women in their lives, they would still be living in caves, emerging just long enough to scratch themselves, kill a rabbit or two and slug each other with clubs. The only reason we have progressed this far, with respect to material possessions and comforts of life, is because of women’s constant desire for something more and man’s innate ability to change his priorities and subjugate his own desires to please his woman. (Ask yourself, how many diamond mines there would be if men didn’t buy their women pretty baubles).

It’s time we celebrated men. They are simple creatures with simple needs who have basically stayed the same these years unless directed otherwise by a woman. Women, on the other hand, have undergone a total and complete transformation these past few decades. They have gone from being housewives and mothers to being well represented in universities and in the workforce as lawyers, doctors, managers, professionals, etc…

Men have had to change tremendously to keep pace. And they have done so, for the most part, with dignity and a certain degree of resignation. After all, men are experienced at undergoing change. Since the dawn of monogamous relationships they have been changing as individuals to suit the expectations of their mates. They have come to accept that personal change is an inevitable outcome of falling in love with a women.

The men who do not allow their wives to change them are the ones who never find true happiness. As for the rest – the happily married men – well, they are the ones who understand that there is one simple rule for being a happy husband: “I never know what I like, until I ask my lovely wife”.