Archive for September 2007

SHOULD HARPER MEET THE DALAI LAMA?

September 30, 2007

In a few days Stephen Harper is scheduled to meet officially with the Dalai Lama on government property although this has never happened before. (Paul Martin met with the Dalai Lama for five minutes in 2004 in a church residence). The Chinese government protested bitterly about the Martin meeting and at the time Canadian business leaders warned that such meetings could harm Canadian trade with China, now our fourth-largest export market.

While many Canadians admire the Dalai Lama as an individual, some nevertheless regard the role and teachings of Tibetan religious leaders as anachronisms in the modern era. Tibet was essentailly a feudal society and still manifests feudal practices today.

The Dalai Lama is particularly popular in right-wing circles in the United States – and with the Harper government — where he’s portrayed as a tireless crusader against godless communism.

But is it likely that such ideologically driven actions as Harper meeting with the Dalai Lama will advance the cause of democracy in China or relations between Canada and China?

Should we antagonize China with a meeting that has little or no real substance to it?

Update:  (Oct. 29)

Today, Prime Minister Harper will meet the Dalai Lama on government property, the first Canadian prime minister to do so.

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SHOULD CANADA DROP THE QUEEN?

September 28, 2007

Australia could soon drop Queen Elizabeth as head of state if, as seems likely, Opposition Labour party leader, Kevin Rudd, wins the general election in October. If elected, Rudd will have a referendum to replace the Queen with an elected president.

Wouldn’t this be a good time for Canada to review our monarchical status? The fact that an eighty year-old woman, admirable though she is, theoretically governs us from Buckingham Palace seems a bit of an anomaly in this day and age.

The vast majority of Canadians are not monarchists. And that goes without saying in Quebec. When just the other day the possibility of the Queen coming to help celebrate Quebec’s 450th birthday next summer, the idea was hastily shot down. I guess so.

We would retain our governor-general who could still be nominated by the Prime Minister or could be elected. It would be quite simple to cut the ties with England and become a brand new republic.

We’ve been under the British Crown since 1759. Isn’t it high time to dump this constitutional fiction?

What do you think?

P.S.  I’m off to the President’s Cup on Saturday.  Hope to get close to Tiger.  Neil

IS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH BEING FEMINIZED?

September 28, 2007

As celibate male Catholic priests age, die and disappear, what is happening in the parishes? You may be surprised by the answer. I was.

Today’s reality is that, save for Mass and the other sacraments, most people’s experience of pastoral ministry in the Catholic church is increasingly with a layperson rather than a priest. At the present time there are 31,000 lay ecclesial ministers working in Catholic parishes in the United States (I expect the figures are proportionate for Canada) compared to 29,000 diocesan priests. And this is the kicker. Roughly 80 per cent of lay ecclesial ministers are women.

In some quarters this rapid shift in parochial leadership toward women will exacerbate alarm about the “feminization” of the church. There is also the worry that this state of affairs is a stalking horse for the ordination of women.

Are you alarmed or excited by the increased role of women in the Catholic Church?

Will Catholic men begin to feel they are being discriminated against?

Should the bishops begin to practise a form of “affirmative action” and hire more men?

Is there a good deal less here than meets the eye? After all, these female ecclesial ministers have only the power parish priest gives them.

ARE AMERICANS READY FOR HILLARY?

September 26, 2007

Hillary Clinton is on a very good wicket. Her universal health care plan has been generally well received. (Joe Klein in Time Magazine calls it by far the best health care plan on offer.) Last Sunday morning she went on five talk shows (including Fox) and answered a series of tough questions without turning a hair. Her command of her briefs is astonishing. She has dominated every debate I’ve watched.

In national polls she is ahead of Obama by double digits. (John Edwards is dead in the water). Iowa is close but in New Hampshire Hillary again leads Obama by double digits. The most recent polls indicate she would beat Rudy Guiliani if he turns out to be the Republican candidate.

Still Hillary has a lot of baggage and high negatives. And she is a woman. When Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice-president in 1984 she was ridiculed and put down. A senior politician from Mississippi asked whether she could bake a blueberry muffin. She and Walter Mondale were handily beaten by Ronald Reagan.

In 1894 Ferraro was defined by her sex. Not Mrs. Clinton. Like Margaret Thatcher she is viewed as a politician first and a woman second. Realizing this the formidably disciplined Mrs. Clinton has positioned herself as something of a hawk in her party, risking the wrath of the Left rather than appear weak.

The nagging fear for Democrats is that Hillary will win the nomination (which I also believe) but would lose the election to a Republican candidate with broad appeal. They also fear the perception of 28 years of a Bush or Clinton in the White House.

Do you think Americans are ready for a woman president?

Do you think Hillary could win the Democratic nomination?

Do you think she could win a general election that would put her in the Oval office?

SHOULD CATHOLICS QUIT AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL?

September 26, 2007

The Catholic Peter Berenson founded Amnesty International in 1961 to identify and support prisoners of conscience around the world. Amnesty now has 1.8 million members including many Catholics and numerous bishops.

Up till recently Amnesty maintained a neutral attitude on abortion. But partly in response to thousands of rapes in Darfur (from which many women became pregnant) Amnesty now wants to focus on the prevention of violence against women as one of its main concerns.

A spokeswoman for the group denies this makes Amnesty “pro-abortion”: “Amnesty International’s position is not for abortion as a right but for women’s human rights to be free of fear and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other human rights violations.”

The Catholic periodical The Tablet says this puts Catholic supporters of Amnesty “in an unenviable position, torn between a desire to further Amnesty’s work for prisoners while unable to countenance its position on abortion.” As a result many Catholic bishops in England are quitting the organization.

I seems to me this begs the question: Does restrictive support for abortion (in cases of rape) trump all the good work that Amnesty is doing world-wide for prisoners of conscience like the courageous Aung San Suu Kyi who has just been thrown back into prison in Burma?

Even if the answer to that question is in the affirmative, could not an arrangement be made so that Catholic contributions could be sequestered from any abortion activities.

I find it hard to accept the proposition that Amnesty’s commendable work for prisoners of conscience the world over should be crippled or reduced because the organization supports abortion in case of rape and pregnancy (a position I daresay many Catholics also support.)

What do you think?

SHOULD THE PRESIDENT OF COLUMBIA INSULT THE PRESIDENT OF IRAN?

September 25, 2007

Today, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmandinejad, speaks at the United Nations. Let’s hope he gets a more civil reception than the one he got yesterday at Columbia University.

The fact to remember is that the Iranian president was invited to Columbia by its president, Lee Bollinger, to address the students and faculty. President Bollinger introduced him and began his remarks this way: “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger’s 10 minute remarks went down from there. He accused President Ahmandinejad of being anti free speech, anti women, anti gays, anti students, anti the Holocaust and for the destruction of Israel. He then predicted that the Iranian would not have the intellectual courage to answer the questions put to him.

Now the point is not whether these accusations are true. Most of them are. The question is whether it was appropriate to level them against an invited guest. President Bollinger’s strategy was clear. He was really speaking to the Jewish lobby which had harshly criticized Columbia for inviting the Iranian in the first place.

But President Ahmandinejad was also speaking to a wider audience – the Muslim world. And other Muslims would have been as insulted as he was. I daresay the encounter was a propaganda coup for the Iranian.

When Columbia invites a foreign dignitary to speak, one would have thought the University was confident enough in itself to provide the speaker (even a strong enemy) with the conditions asssociated with free speech. That did not happen at Columbia yesterday. A pity.

DO YOU FAVOUR A FALL ELECTION?

September 24, 2007

Parliament assembles in mid-October for the government’s speech from the throne. Harper’s conservatives need one of the three opposition parties to support the throne speech or else the government would fall on a vote of confidence and this would trigger a general election probably in late November.

Already Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe has asserted five non-negotiable demands before he will support the throne speech. These include elimination of all federal spending powers in provincial jurisdictions; Kyoto Protocol to be respected;  Canadian troops to pull out of Afghanistan when the current mission ends in February, 2009.  I doubt the Tories could accept any of these demands except for the first one.

That leaves the other two opposition parties.   Stephane Dion says the Liberals want the government to promise an early 2009 exit from Afghanistan and the re-introduction of clean-air legislation.  That leaves the NDP and Jack Layton has said he does not see how his party could support a Tory throne speech.

If all three opposition parties gang up on the Tories we would be in for a late fall election costing about $250 million dollars.  Chances are the Liberals and the Bloc would lose seats.  The NDP could win a few more.  So could the Conservatives but it is still difficult to see how they would achieve a majority.

So we would end up pretty much the same as we are now with a Harper minority government.

Would you favour a late fall election with that kind of result?

TORONTO OR MONTREAL

September 22, 2007

I’ve lived a number of years in Toronto and a number of years in Montreal, having come here in 1972 to begin a career in broadcasting.

How do you compare the two cities? With difficulty but let’s give it a shot. In Montreal, if you go out for lunch your friend will offer you a glass of wine. In Toronto, if you go out to lunch your friend will ask you how your stocks did that morning.

Perhaps you remember Barney Panofsky, the hard-drinking TV producer in Mordecai Richler’s last book, Barney’s Version. Panofsky flies to Toronto see his mistress, Miriam. They go for a walk and spot a small park.

“I thought we might rest a while on one of its benches,” Barney tells us, “but the gate was padlocked and a sign screwed into the railing read:

NO EATING

NO DRINKING

NO MUSIC

NO DOGS

“Squeezing Miriam’s hand, I said, “Sometimes I think that what inspires this city, its very mainspring, is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

‘Nuff said?”

“I WANT YOU TO KNOW NO ONE HAD LESS TO DO WITH THIS THAN JESUS”

September 22, 2007

When she accepted an Emmy earlier this month, comedienne Kathy Griffin (a Catholic) said the following: “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for their award. I want you to know no one had less to do with this award than Jesus.”

Pretty straighforward and I would say theologically sound. If Kathy Griffin had thanked Jesus for helping, then we should inquire what is the relationship of Jesus to the other nominees who lost?

Straightforward? Apparently not. All hell broke loose, many critics charging Griffin with blasphemy. And that’s not all. A Christian theater troupe in Tennesee coughed up $90,440 for a one page ad in U.S.A. Today excoriating Griffin and proclaiming “We at the Miracle Theater consider it an honor to stand for Jesus today.”

What in God’s name is going on here? I am aware that many fundamentalist Christians are angry but are they devoid of humour too? As Kathy Griffin said: “Am I the only Catholic left with a sense of humour.”

Do you think what Kathy Griffin said is blasphemous?

Does the knee-jerk reaction of the Miracle Theater group tend to bring religion into disrepute?

IS AMERICA RACIST?

September 21, 2007

Yesterday, in the first civil rights demonstration of this century, 20,000 people (mostly black) marched in the small Louisiana town of Jena (mostly white) to protest the treatment of the Jelna Six.

The genesis of the demonstration is as follows. Some months ago a black teen-ager at the Jelna High School was given permission by his principal to sit under a large tree on campus that was traditionally reserved for whites only to sit under. Subsequently three white teen agers hung nooses from the “whites only tree.” Then six black teen-agers (the Jelna Six) attacked a group of white students leaving one of them bruised and bloody. He was taken to the local hospital but he was released in a few hours and attended a school function the same day.

Blacks in Jelna demanded the whites who rigged up the nooses (reminiscent of the KKK, vigilantes and stringing up blacks in the segregated south), be prosecuted for a hate crime. They were not prosecuted. Instead the Jelna Six were arrested and charged with attempted murder, a charge later reduced to assault and battery. Yesterday’s peaceful march was a protest against what appeared to be disriminatory justice.

Blacks in Jelna claim the whole thing is racial. They say more blacks are unemployed, more are arrested and in jail and more have no health insurance than the comparable white group in the town. They also note the white barber in Jelna refuses to cut blacks’ hair. The barber admits this but says he is not a racist. He claims he would lose all his white clientele who do not want their hair cut by untensils that have cut black heads. The blacks say the racial discrimination in Jelna can be extrapolated throughout the rest of the country.

Some black leaders in yesterday’s march claimed that, in many respects, the United States is still a racist country.

Is it?