Thursday, September 23, 2004

FREE SPEECH AT McGILL

Reported from The McGill Tribune

Apparently, since June, a man identifying himself as Lloyd A. Davidson has been demonstrating outside McGill University's Roddick Gates displaying a rotating array of signs with misoginyst and anti-semetic slogans on them such as, "Christianity is the true Jewish religion."

Student's who have become frustrated with the inability of McGill Security or Montreal police to do anything about the situation have taken action into their own hands in the best way possible: by organizing counter-protests.

Jamie Ormond, U3 Political Science, took action on Wednesday in part because it was the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Ormond had visited businesses along avenue McGill College and called Jewish organizations, but was disappointed by the response. Staging her own protest, she said, proved more effective.
"One day of action produces more results than hundreds of phone calls," she said.
...
"Today he's had a really bad day," Ormond said Wednesday. "He's been spoken to by many, many disgruntled university students who want their campus free of negative speech."
[Fellow student Kelly]Graham agreed.
"It's hate. He shouldn't be allowed to walk around promoting hate," she said. "If enough people cause him problems, then maybe he'll change his sign."

Exactly.

We don't need excessive laws banning what people can and cannot say. The best defence against expressions you dissaprove of is to counter them with your own. By organizing counter demonstrations the student's of McGill indicate that Mr. Davidson's opinions are unwelcome at the gates of the school, and if enough of them show up and make their voices heard Davidson will be marginalized or silenced.

Democracy requires participation. Rights have to be earned, every day. The creation of the society we want will only come by responsible citizens actively exercising those rights.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:34 PM :: (0) comments

I'M JUST SAYIN'

International aid organization CARE has put out a request for $ 3 million in emergency aid for storm ravaged Haiti, where thousands of people have died and thousands more have been left homeless.

Meanwhile...

The new release of the Star Wars Trilogy DVD and video game made $115 million in its first day of sales.

Posted by Matthew @ 7:21 PM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

EXAGERATIONS, OLD AND NEW

Paul Wells gives a reality check to anyone who thought the recent health-care agreement was anything other than standard Canadian federalism at work.

I think it is simply inherent to the nature of Canadians to forsee the collapse of our country around every corner, and who can blame us? As I have said before, Canada is a combination of paradoxes, that, when examined rationally would lead one to believe that the country should have ceased to exist years ago. The entire history of our country is filled with declinists who have predicted the nation's inevitable demise.

So when Andrew Coyne or Warren Kinsella or whomever worry about the end of federalism, or even Canada, as a result of the first ministers recent agreement, I suppose they can be excused. Greater men have predicted similar results in response to less significant conditions.

By the way, the practical joke that Wells makes reference to but can't remember the details of originates with Jonathan Swift convincing Londoners that John Partridge had died. One of the all time great hoaxes.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:38 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, September 20, 2004

NOCTURANAL

My sleeping habits, which for the past four years could be charitably described as unusaul, have finally come completely unhinged. Normally, I sleep sometime between the hours of 03:00 and 11:00. However, yesterday morning I did not wake up until 13:30 and it is now 05:36 the next day and I still don't feel like sleeping.

Hmmm.

Either way some type of drastic action is going to be required. I am going to have to go with some level of sleep deprivation today, either now or later tonight, or going the other way, become nocturnal.

For now, there's nothing to do but check the morning (or is it evening) headlines.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:39 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, September 16, 2004

WOULD GOODALE ACCEPT MY MASTER-CARD?

Current price of gas: $0.80 per litre.

Current share price: $61.65.

Total value of stock: $3.04 billion.

Selling off a crown corporation to cover the expense of a new health-care deal: Priceless.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:30 PM :: (0) comments

TODAY'S READS

Stuff I read today that I liked, for one reason or another, all culled from the links to the right. Check them out:

Ian Welsh examines an evaluation of the Canadian military and considers the ramifications for Canada-U.S relations. It's a tad alarmist but then perhaps military planning should be.

Nestruck continues his grudging defence of the TIFF's showing of Causistry: The Art of Killing a Cat. Hear, hear, for freedom of expression! Previous post in defence is here.

Alan has some ideas for the Stanley Cup now that NHL hockey is postponed indefinitely. Hey, if it allows McGill and Queen's to play for it, that would be awesome.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:08 PM :: (0) comments

GET OFF THE PITCH

As a soccer referee I often have to postpone or cancell games because of the threat of lightning. The OSA guidlines on adverse weather conditions require the field to be evacuated if lighting is sighted, and games cannot be resumed until 30 minutes has elapsed without lighting being sighted or thunder heard.

Occasionally, players and coaches find these rules excessive. They are axious to play, the game is important, and they have travelled long distances to play it. It is not unusaul to feel an intense amount of pressure from about 100 players, coaches, and spectators to get on with the game. "Come on, it was one flash of lighting five miles away. This is a cup game that we drove three hours to play, lets get it going," they complain to me.

Every time, I try to explain to the teams that tragic stories like this happen more often than they think.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:09 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH HEALTH CARE?

Seriously. Because I don't know.

Over the last several years and particularly in the past two weeks I have read dozens of arguments about the health-care system. From Romanow to Kirby to journalists and academics, I've heard the following things, and more, about the Canadian health-care system:

There should be more privatization.
There should be less privatization.
There is enough privatization.
There aren't enough doctors.
There aren't enough nurses.
Doctors and nurses aren't the problem.
The high cost of drugs is the problem.
The high cost of drugs is not the problem.
Waiting lists are too long.
No, waiting *times* are too long.
We need national standards.
We need to let each province do its own thing.
The system needs more funding.
The problems are Ottawa's fault.
The problems are the province's fault.
Health-care is un-sustainable.
The problems are actaully more a matter of perception.

This is not to mention all of the numbers bandied about regarding how much money is spent on health care: Total dollars spent, as a percentage of GDP, relative to ten years ago, twenty years ago, relative to other jurisdictions, the percentage paid by Ottawa, the percentage paid by the provinces, the percentage paid from private sources. And, all of these numbers change depending on whose numbers are used.

Almost all of the things I have read have seemed well argued, well reasoned, and at one time or another I have been persuaded by all of them. The result is that I have no idea what the problems with health care are, if there even are that many problems, and if so, how they might be solved. The system seems simply too big and complex.

I have no idea what arguments should determine our health-care policy, so I really hope that the premiers and the PM do.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:47 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

CANADIAN CULTURE

As previously mentioned, I attended The Tragically Hip concert here in Kingston on Sunday. It was a great day filled with great music. It was an event that got people talking, got people singing, got people excited and most importantly brought people together for a shared experience. And this type of community event that happens everyday across this country.

Whether the event is large or small, whether its a concert or a poetry reading, a political rally or lecture, a stage performance or a sporting competition, or a conversation about any of the above in a living room or a coffee shop, Canadian culture is alive and well from coast to caost.

On Sunday there was no anti-Americanism, no perceived self-loathing, no mention of health-care and even very few references to hockey. Yet the music of the Hip, Matthew Good, The Trews and all the other bands and the event itself, held on the grounds of the RMC, was unmistakably Canadian.

All of the above mentioned stereotypes may be part of our culture, for better or worse, but none of them define our culture; Canada is much more than not-America, health-care and hockey. Our only limit is those who think that this is all that we are.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:41 AM :: (0) comments

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

There's one born every minute: that's suckers and bloggers both, and there may be a remarkable correlation between the two.

But recently two of my good friends have jumped on the blogging bandwagon. Both are B.Sc graduates, of Queen's University no less, but despite this they still have some writing talent in them. (Yeah, that's a very backhanded compliment).

Calvin has set up at The View From In Here. So far his entries have covered daily experiences with some interesting insights intermingled. I know from expeirence though that Calvin can hold his own and more in a good political or philisophical debate. I'm anxious to see how his blog develops.

Secondly, Chris, who just started Med school has titled his One finger in the throat and one in the rectum. I'm still waiting for a post explaining that title; it has to be good. Regardless, the blog is still in its infancy but it looks like the content will be quite good. I especially enjoyed the post that used one of my favourite board games as a template for examining the health care summit. This type of quick, creative, expository opinion is just the type of blog reading I like.

That's two new voices to add to the cacophony.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:45 AM :: (0) comments

Monday, September 13, 2004

SIGHTED

Yesterday at The Tragically Hip concert 'Across the Causeway' in Kingston. Best T-Shirt ever:

The back of the shirt depicted a Soviet hammer and sickle inside a red star. Around the symbol were the words: 'This Party is Over.'

Ha!

The concert, by the way, was great. A friend whom I went with has a review.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:34 AM :: (0) comments

Sunday, September 12, 2004

ON THE EVE OF TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE

Its the health-care summit to end all health-care summits. Let the word go forth from this time and this place that Paul Martin shall never surrender Canadian health care. I'm so eager with anticipation I... can... hardly... ugh.

The hype and subsequent retreats prior to this conference have made the idea so ridiculous it stymies sarcasm.

Three possible outcomes of the upcoming first ministers meeting:

The Miracle: After two days of intense lively debate spurred on by the knowledge that the people of Canada are watching (in real time) the PM and premiers reach a creative and effective agreement that, while not fixing health-care for a generation, is good enough to let the country focus on something else for a while.

The Status Quo: This meeting turns out to be much like all the first-ministers meeting on health for the past decade. They haggle and squabble without really touching the few very fundamental issues and they come to a mediocre agreement that really doesn't change the health-care situation in Canada.

The Train Wreck: Martin over/under plays his hand with Klein and/or Charest and gets surprised by Doer/Lord and/or McGuinty. No deal is reached, the conference ends in acrimony and it all looks like PM's fault.

Given Paul Wells' first rule of Canadian politics, look for option no.2 to occur, although option no.3 would be a lot of fun to watch. As for option no.1, Martin has spent the last nine months proving he doesn't have the imagination and will required to pull something like this off.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:09 PM :: (0) comments

Friday, September 10, 2004

THAT'S NOT THE WAY IT WORKS

Citing a world wide poll conducted by GlobeScan Inc. and the University of Maryland, the BBC reports that the"World Wants Kerry as President." Unfortunately for Kerry, Europe doesn't get any Electoral College votes.

This type of survey is the natural result of the position the United States holds in the world. As long as no one starts thinking that Europe SHOULD have Electoral Callege votes there's nothing wrong with it. Indeed, its interesting to note in what foreign countries the President scores well.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:16 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, September 09, 2004

OPPOSITION SETS THE TONE

The three opposition parties today released a joint proposal to reform the day to day operations of Parliament.

Stephen Harper said their plan, "will make Parliament a more meaningful place for debating and deciding issues and it will make the government more accountable between elections."

Their ideas, in principle, seem like good ones. We'll have to wait and see if 1) they are enacted, 2) they actually become effective.

The quote to remember from Stephen Harper in The Star: "I think we have put forward here some changes that are reasonable. These are things we would be prepared to live with if we were in government."

Write that one down.

What is telling is that the opposition parties are taking more initiative than the government on addressing one of PM PMs primary election promises (i.e. the 'democratic deficit'). Opposition parties that put forward concrete proposals and show that they are ready to govern don't stay in opposition for long. Of course, the three parties may not be able to show this type of unity for very long either.

Therein, I think, lie the essential characteristics of the upcoming parliament. If the opposition parties can collectively keep the pressure on the government, Martin is likely headed to defeat, to the benefit of all three other parties, but mostly the Conservatives. If the Liberals can keep the opposition divided, they'll govern longer and have a better chance at coming back with a majority.

Lets get this Parliamentary show on the road. Why are we waiting until October?

More (15 minutes later):
Alan draws my attention to one of the opposition suggestion/demands that I somehow missed. "The three leaders also said that they should be consulted by the Governor-General if the Liberals seek the dissolution of the Parliament."

As Alan says, this strikes me as "a wee bit nutty." But he also asks of the G.G: "could she... would she?"

Posted by Matthew @ 11:13 PM :: (0) comments

LABOUR ORGANIZATION AT QUEEN'S

Having written in support of labour unions on Monday, I found myself walking into a labour organization campaign on my new university campus on Tuesday.

Queen's University remains one of the few universities in Onatrio that does not have unionized teaching assistants. However, this is not for a lock of trying on the part of Queen's graduate students. As I have only been a Queen's student for a week I don't yet have all of the details, but this is the situtation as I understand it:

Last year the graduate students of Queen's attempted to form a T.A union under the Canadian Union of Public Employees. A year long campaign of organization and signing up members became bitterly contested with the university administration. As the day of the vote was nearing, the administration promised the T.As a 30 percent increase in pay in an attempt to sway people from voting in favour of unionization.

Hoever, the ballots from the unionization vote where never counted because the university successfully challenged its validity. They claimed that not enough T.As had signed cards based on lists of T.A compiled by the university. The T.As claim that the university's list was incomplete; for example, that it excluded every gradauate student in the department of biochemistry. Such tactics on behalf of management are not uncommon in unionization drives.

Further, the 30 percent pay increase promised by the university was offered in bad faith, as it now appears they never inteded actually increase the amount of money available for graduate students. The money for the pay increase was simply re-allocated from other sources of graduate student funding, meaning that departments actaully have less money to offer students and that those who do not receive T.A positions have less funding available to them.

Nevertheless, the campaign to organize is continuing at Queen's this year. I have already signed my union card and it appears that the history department is a centre of the organization drive. I hope to be able to add a sixth item to my list of things that will hopefully change over the course of my M.A studies: Unionization of Queen's University T.As.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:14 PM :: (0) comments

THE CITIZEN ARMY

Thomas Jefferson said,

"Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state."

Ian Welsh elaborates.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:08 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, September 06, 2004

LABOUR DAY

In a Labour Day opinion piece in the Toronto Star, Amela Karbegovic and Jason Clemens argue for Ontario to adopt greater 'worker choice' laws akin to those enacted in many American 'right to work states.' Essentially Karbegovic and Clemens want to see laws that would allow people to join a unionized workplace or profession but opt-out of financially supporting that union. They employ three common anti-union arguments in making their point, which are futher based on two stereotypically negative underlying assumptions about unions.

The three arguments that are made infavour of worker choice laws and against unionization are the following: 1) that unions hold a monopoly of power in the workplace, 2) that Ontrio's current labour laws deny workers freedom of choice 3) that 'worker choice' laws are preferable in that they transfer more power to the 'ordinary worker.' Lets take a look at these three arguments.

The authors write:

Most Canadians are well aware of the pitfalls of regulated monopolies: no real competition, no choice, less efficiency, and lower quality products and services. It is surprising, then, that our labour relations laws continue to provide unions with monopoly power.

It can hardly be said, however, that unions have a monopoly of power in the Canadian workplace. Later in this very article the authors indicate that currently only 32 percent of the Canadian workforce is unionized. Certainly within particular professions or sectors of the economy unions have a significant degree of power, however, looking at the workplace as a whole, unions hardly hold a monopoly. This argument also assumes that 'unions' are a single monolithic force, which they rarely are. The past several years has seen intense competition for members between unions, particularly the CAW and the United Steel Workers.

Following from their first argument, Karbegovic and Clemens argue that unions and Ontario labour laws deny 'ordinary workers' the freedom of choice they deserve. In comparing Canadian law to American they write, "the Canadian standard requires not only mandatory membership but also the payment of full dues." First, to my knowledge, this is only half true. While membership in the union is not mandatory payment of dues is, which I admit makes the former really just a point of principle without much real consequence.

However, to address the larger point, current Ontario labour laws do not deny anyone a significant degree of choice and they maintain a balance between the rights of already unionized employees and those who may not want to be unionized. First, as I have argued more extensively in a previous post, if a person is adamantly opposed to joining a union and paying dues, he or she simply has to CHOOSE not to join a unionized profession or workplace. With only 32 percent of the Canadian workforce unionized (down from 34 percent in 1987) that leaves a significant portion of the workforce open to choose from. Secondly, if an anti-union person really wants to work at a unionized workplace they have the right to attempt to de-certify the union in that workplace. This seems entirely fair and democratic. There is no reason why a handful of new employees who oppose an already existing union should be allowed to undermine the hard and just organization of long-time employees. However, if a majority of employees choose (there's that word again) that they don't want to be unionized, the de-certification porcess is clearly laid out for them in their workplace (as required by law). It seems to me that one of the cherished principles of our society is that a person cannot simply want something and expect to get it. They have to work for it and achieve it fairly. Union de-certification lives up to these principles.

Thirdly, Karbegovic and Clemens argue that 'worker choice' laws would transfer more power to 'ordinary workers.' Actually, worker choice laws would give more power to employers. Such laws would allow employers (who have monopoly power on hiring) to bring in employees whom are opposed to unionization or simply unaware of the benefits of unionization and thereby undermine the collective strength of the senior unionized employees.

Finally, the underlying assumptions of Karbegovic and Clemens argument are that 1) unions are bad for 'ordinary workers' because they don't represent them, and 2) 'unions' and 'ordinary workers' are separate and opposed entities.

The reality is that unions provide excellent benefits for their membership and that unions are entirely democratically based organizations. On average unionized employees earn higher wages, have greater job security, and hold better health care and pension benifits than non-unionized workers. Unions, from the local level to the upper leadership, are accountable to the 'ordinary workers' through regular elections, open general meetings, and strict financial controls.

Finally, the assumption that the union and the workers are somehow separate bodies is simply not true. The union and its membership are synonymous. Without the support of the 'ordinary worker' there would be no union. The idea that 'union bosses' are elite bullies is simply stereotypical. For three years a teacher from my local high school served as the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. He led negotiations with the province, organized the union, and appeared in the media regularly. When his term was finished he retuned to teaching biology and walking the halls of my school.

Unions are the ordinary workers. They are the united voice of common people, democratically organized, and working hard to represent their own interests.

Today is a celebration of those basic principles and the benefits they have achieved, tempered by a reminder of the work that lies ahead against the likes of Karbegovic and Clemens.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:55 PM :: (0) comments

Sunday, September 05, 2004

FUNNY WITHOUT TRYING TO BE

The other day the Pope gave the new Canadian ambassador a talking to about our nation's movement towards greater legal acceptance of same-sex marriages. First, what's the deal with foreigners telling us how to run our country of late? It began with Paul Cellucci, then it was Ralph Nader and now His Holiness. Do people all of a sudden care about what Canada does?

Secondly, the Pope is always good for a laugh, usually because he's never trying to be funny. Speaking to the new ambassador, Donald Smith, the Pope said, "the institution of marriage necessarily entails the complementarity of husbands and wives who participate in God's creative activity through the raising of children." Now I'm pretty sure, but not positive, that the Pope is talking about sex here, because that's the best euphamism for sex I've ever seen.

Imagine it in conversation:
So what did you do last night?
Well, we went out, I met this girl, we went back to her place, we engaged in some complementarily creative activity...

The Pope went on to say that, "spouses thereby ensure the survival of society and culture, and rightly deserve specific and categorical legal recognition by the State."

I'm continually baffled by the ability of some opponents of same sex marriage to assume that allowing gays to marry will somehow inhibit straight people from marrying or even having sex. As if allowing same-sex marriages will lead to straight people saying to each other: "Eeew, marriage? That's so gay. There's no way I'm getting married."

And if we ever need a law to ensure that people keep having complementarily creative activity, then I think that society will be about finished anyway.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:18 PM :: (0) comments

CANADIAN SOCCER

As Canada's national hockey team continued to rock the World Cup competition with an impressive 3-1 victory over Russia last night, another Canadian national team was also in action.

At Edmonton's Commonwealth stadium the Canadian notional soccer team took on Honduras in a World Cup qualifying match. Almost everything about the match indicated the extent to which soccer in Canada and CONCACAF (North America and Caribbean division) lags behind most of the rest of the world.

The Pitch: The field at Commonwealth stadium was in awful condition and really should not have been played on. The atrocious conditions were the result of trying to play soccer on field that is regularly used for (Canadian) football. This simply can not be done. It happens all the time for the amateur games that I officiate but there is no excuse for this occurring at a World Cup qualifyer. Football playing rips apart the well groomed grass that is required for playing world class soccer. Embarassingly, the grounds officials where forced to make last minute repairs prior to the game when the officials announced that the pitch was unsuitable for play. The officials should not have allowed the game to be played on sucha pitch, even after the efforts of the grounds crew. Not until the CSA is embarrassed by having its world class games post-poned and moved are conditions going to change. However, it is not just Canadian fields that fall into such states of disrepair. I have seen other qualifying games played in Jamaica, Honduras and Guatemala over the years in conditions that would be unacceptable in most other parts of the world.

The Play: Uninspiring at best. Both teams showed particular instances of decent movement and ball play but neither were capable of producing even flashes of brilliance. From the outset, Honduras was clearly satisfied with a tie but played to it with none of the grace or finesse that most teams from Europe, South America and Africa are capable of. Like so many CONCACAF qualifying matches I have seen the game degenearted by the end into a frantic scramble, with the Hondurans diving about attempting to run out the clock and the Canadians sucumbing to their level with undisciplined play and penalties, which ultimately cost them the game and likely their entire qualifying campaign.

The Officiating: As a soccer referee who officiates at a fairly competitive level and has intentions of advancing in my qualifications I, like most other referees, am reluctant to ever openly criticize a fellow official, even when I'm a relative nobody and the official in question is FIFA qualified. Nevertheless, the officiating team led by Mexican referee Benito Archundia got off to a bad start by even allowing the game to be played and didn't improve much from there. Archundia called a penalty against Canada late in the game that would have been supremely difficult to construe as a foul from any angle on the pitch. Minutes later the whistle was blown against Canada again just as they were putting the ball in the back of the Honduran net for a harmless bit of contact against a Honduran player. Given that the haphazard play of the last ten minutes had seen pushing, ankle clipping and outright body checks, calling THIS 'foul' was questionable at best.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Canada now facing a near impossible road to qualification.

The cause of all of these problems of course is the lack of interest soccer generates in North America, which in turn leads to the lack of any skilled professional league (the MLS doesn't count). Even in Central America, where soccer is clearly popular, can the professional systems keep up with Europe, South America or even Asia. All of this leads to a lack of development of both world class players and officials.

The hope is that most of the children currently flooding the enrolment lists of local soccer clubs across North America will not lose interest in the sport as they grow up. Given that North America is really only in its first generation of widespread youth soccer participation I think that there is still hope.

Meanwhile, at least the hockey team is still winning.

Posted by Matthew @ 2:05 AM :: (0) comments

Friday, September 03, 2004

KINGSTON

I'm in Kingston: moving my stuff in, getting organized, looking around town, etc. etc. The summer is over and a year of graduate studies is beginning. A year from now I will be finished or finishing my M.A. What are the top five things thigs that will hopefully change in that same time frame?

1. The American president.
2. The Canadian prime minister.
3. Canadian government position on same-sex marriage.
4. Insistence on health care as Canada's 'number-one priority.'
5. The low out-put of this blog.

Too much to hope for? We'll see.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:51 PM :: (0) comments