Tuesday, March 03, 2009

2009: Q1 Recap

While my blog has been silent the last three months, the Catholic world has not been:

1) In January, the Vatican proved the indispensibility of a Google search.

2) In February, the Legion of Christ showed us what a wolf in sheep's clothing looks like and how some Catholic ecclesial leaders still haven't learned any lessons from the 2002 sexual abuse scandal.

3) In March, Obama has shown us that he thinks appointing a notoriously pro-abortion Catholic to the USA's top healthcare position is in harmony with his pledge to 'lower the number of abortions'.

And to top it all off, the Catholic world will be blessed with another Poodle puppy, sometime around the middle of October.


Blogging is a lot like marriage: Without commitment, it's worthless. These last 3 months I've been the unfaithful spouse of my blog, finding stimulation and pleasure outside of my blogarital promises.

Hopefully that changes now.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus - RIP

Between work, traveling to work, traveling from work, and taking care of my now 1 year old son, there isn't much time for posting. Which is a shame since a lot has changed over the last few months:

The biggest news, for me, of 2009 is the passing of Richard Neuhaus. Neuhaus is one of my most favourite polemicists, apologists, evangelists, and political commentators. During my long walk back to the Church from spiritual apathy and marxism, Neuhaus and his First Things were required reading. I gobbled up every edition I could get my hands on - although I never read it back to front, like some many others apparently did. Via him I was introduced into the realm of serious Catholic intellectual thought and spirituality (albeit of a very conservative bend) that I never knew existed in all my previous 23 years as a nominal Catholic. To say that Neuhaus was a major influence in my spiritual and intellectual life as a young adult is an understatement. May his soul rest in peace.

The reaction of his colleagues in the media and press has been interesting to say the least. There have been many moving tributes given by friends, bizarre recollections given by people who wish they were his friend, and even more bizarre comments from people who made styled themselves as his enemy. I speak there of one Damon Linker, a fellow who wrote a shallow, alarmist tale of Neuhaus' influence and political project after serving as an editor on First Things for five years. His remarks were selfish, banal and completely out of line. When you write an obituary that mentions that is completely self-referential and self-serving, it says a lot about you. It says you are a shithead.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Avery Dulles & Advent

Avery Cardinal Dulles has died. Requiesat in pace.

Advent is nearly over and my son is now a year old and changing by the minute.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Stephane Dion & the Giant Peach

Stephane Dion should stop talking about elections. No sooner than his leadership was shown to be an unmitigated disaster, he is back on the scene threatening to force another election. Now you might say that this is a fair response to Stephen Harper's claim that his government will treat every bill as a measure of confidence, and you'd be right. But the problem is that the Conservatives have come very close to a majority, increased their share of the urban vote, have a competent leader, and enjoy comparatively lots of cash to spend. In short, Harper can afford to be bullish, and Dion can't.

I can't help but wonder whether or not Dion's rediscovery of his courage has something to do with the American election. There's a strange meme floating about that Canadians will vote left when our American cousins do the same. So then, the logic follows that it would be in the best interests of the NDP and the left of left faction in the Liberal Party to push for an election with Canada is basking in the post-election euphoria (that I will now call Obamarama). I'm guessing that people are looking at the Chretien years that coincided with the Clinton years. But what about the Chretien/Martin years that coincided with the Bush years? Chretien spent 7 years in power with Clinton in office, and Chretien/Martin had 5 years with Bush in office. Moreover, Chretien's 7 years came as the conservative movement imploded and ceased to be a significant political force. It wasn't until 2006, when anti-Bush and anti-conservatism was at it's heyday, that the Conservatives managed to make some progress in Canada. So yea, there's a lot wrong there.

Dion should really be focused nursing the Liberal Party back to health. The Liberals are broke and are facing another bitter leadership race. The most palatable and centrist candidates, John Manley and Frank McKenna, have dropped out. This leaves Bob Rae and his NDP ghosts and Michael Ignatieff and his advocacy of torture as the remainging two choices with the suitable national exposure for an effective leadership. Gerald Kennedy will probably take this time to rebuild his image, and Ujjal Donsanjh, who barely won his riding, has perhaps the worst political history of anyone in Canada. And then there's the question of money, which the Liberals don't have.

Back in business.

Finally! Two important things in my life have ended this week: The nauseatingly-long American election and the nauseatingly-long move to a new home. I am happy for the conclusion of both.

The soul-searching that follows an election has always interested me. As anyone who has participated in the democratic process can attest, it is one of the most revealing experiences at the national and individual level. The Democrats, sore losers of the previous two presidential elections, finally have their man in the executive. The Republicans, sore losers of this election, finally can look to close off a two year slide toward electoral defeat.

Sarah Palin returns to Alaska both a nationally reviled and beloved figure. Reviled by her political opponents and the bitterest losers of the McCain camp, beloved by social conservatives and, oddly enough, Lorne Michaels. Of note is the anonymous abuse she's faced since Tuesday from members of McCain's team. Dirty cloaks and rusty daggers I call it, when a faceless and remarkably classless accusation from your own side conveniently finds itself into the national media.

These accusations from McCain's team should surprise no one. Not that these things are uncommon after losing an election - political parties usually act this way -, it's that it is so indicative of the people McCain chose to run his campaign. These folks know, as the rest of conservative movement knows, that they really blew it. Picking an unprepared candidate for VP was one thing: Most people involved in these campaigns spend months (if not years, in Obama's case) getting coached through interviews and buffing up their policy credentials. What really hurts these folks is that after Palin finally wrestled free of their control, she ran a much more effective campaign. Her worst moments came under McCain's tutelage, her best as her own master. To be sure, if Palin chooses to continue on in national politics, she will have to rebrush her image. And that will take some time, which is something that she has in droves.

So it must be curtains for McCain's advisers, I assume. Their mishandling of Palin, Jeremiah Wright, the financial crisis and the Ayers/Acorn scandals made Obama's campaign that much easier. Of course they're eager to push the blame to Palin, which is a shame: Palin was the sole reason the conservative base started to gain interest in the outcome of this election. Most, if not all the failures of the McCain campaign were completely independent of the Alaskan governor. And even if they disagree with that assessment, why on earth should your vice-presidential pick have that much influence on the fortunes of your campaign? Obama chose an equally questionable candidate in Joe Biden, and managed to keep Biden's several gaffes from become a major interference.

For Obama, the time for careful play is now at hand. It should be remembered by my fellow Canadians and Europeans that Obama's election does not represent a social or political shift to the left in America. Blacks and Hispanics, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama, also voted overwhelmingly for the bans on same-sex marriage. In fact, in all newly blue states, the Democratic senators and congressmen campaigned on socially conservative, populist policies. Hence the need for Obama not to politick the way he has and to honour his own 'promise' to develop a more harmonious political environment. There might be little chance of this happening with a Democrat controlled Senate and House of Congress, but it's imperative to the success of his presidency that he does. Soon the energy and euphoria of this election will subside, and the harsh, ruthless knife of modern day mass-politics will come down.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Michael Coren: The Conservatives are the new natural ruling party

Arch-conservative (Darth Vader levels of conservative) Michael Coren says that the Conservatives are now the natural ruling party of Canada. The Liberals have left the stage, the NDP failed to get near it, the Bloq have no interest or business being there, and the Greens, well the Greens no one really cared about to begin with.

I don't find the term 'natural ruling party' very palatable, even when it is used to describe the political party I currently support. It's just so sickeningly Canadian and provincial, maybe anti-democratic. It's a term that could only come from a country with a highly dysfunctional political system and an overabundance of hubris in its politicians. So no, I don't think the Conservatives are the new ruling party of Canada. I hope they never will be either.

Coren points out that the NDP hoped for 50-60 seats, but only grabbed 7 in the end, making this election something of a failure for them. I hadn't realised that the NDP were so serious, but now that Coren mentions it, I did notice a lot more of Jack Layton talking as if he had a chance at winning a majority. But what sort of party expects to win even 50-60 seats with people like Julian West, Andrew McKeever, Dana Larsen and Kirk Tousaw? Now Layton is once again calling for a grand union of left-wing parties to defeat the Conservatives, including the Bloq Quebecois and the unelected and largely insignificant Greens. Which makes me wonder if Layton believes that he alone could lead a left-wing alliance; surely deference to Liberal leader would be too much to bear?

What of the absurdity of Justin Trudeau? No sooner than he been elected in Papineau, he was removing himself as a leadership candidate for the Liberal Party. Did the media not realize that he's not done a thing yet other than ride off the back of his father's political capital? If that's what counts for merit in today's Liberal Party, or to the media, they're both much worse off than I thought.

Reasoned voices in the media are heralding a return to the Centre for the Liberals, not a further plunge deeper into the Left, despite the overtures of Elizabeth May and Jack Layton. It makes sense to me: Since the Liberals bore a hard turn toward the policies of the NDP and Bloq Quebecois (sans les separatists!), they have effectively abandoned the Centre to the Conservatives. In the past three elections, the Liberals' traditional centrist base of ethnic minority communities, Catholics and Montrealers slowly eroded into the meager collection of barely won ridings scattered throughout Ontario, the Maritimes and Quebec. As we've now seen, these voters - who often come from Liberal voting families (like mine) - are now voting Conservative. All the while Dion's leadership team was obsessed with bleeding votes to the NDP and the Greens (even though May tried her best to stop that), while the major benefactor of ex-Liberal votes was in fact the Conservative Party.

If reason prevails, a 'blue-ish' Liberal such as Michael Ignatieff or Keith Martin will secure party leadership. But all is not reasonable in the Liberal Party caucus these days. Ujjal Dosanjh, who just barely kept his Vancouver riding against a first time Conservative candidate, has announced his intention to one day seek a leadership nominations. Bob Rae's aspirations are well known. Both of these candidates are ex-NDP premiers and decidedly men of the Left. And each carry much unpleasant baggage with them from their times as premiers in British Columbia and Ontario respectively. A Dosanjh or Rae leadership would be, a la John McCain and George Bush, a repetition of existing policies. We all know how that usually turns out.

Colin Powell: Man of Mystery

I don't know how to respond to the press's response to Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama. Wasn't Powell a hated arch-neo-conservative fascist only a few years ago? Wasn't it Colin Powell who helped start the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Wasn't he a Reagan and Bush Snr., appointee that was parachuted into the White House to watch over that incompetent monkey president? It just goes to show what a timely endorsement can do for one's reputation.

I don't think it's an issue of race, despite what that ignoramus Rush Limbaugh wants people to believe. I think it's an issue of popularity: Nothing hurts a politician more than being out of sync with the nation's mood.

How to win attention and alienate people

Vernunft at the The New Skeptic discusses Christopher Buckley's defection from the 'right' to the 'Obama'. I think Vernunft gets it right enough: Buckley's departure is looking less and less like a serious, political decision and painful exile and more like a self-serving attention grab. Usually it works out like this: person defects, presupposes the hatred of their former comrades, writes book. It amazes me that these brave souls survive the process.

More often than not, these incidents involve someone leaving the Right for the Left, and making a big, big deal about it. Do people leaving the Left for the Right do the same thing? I can only speak of Canadian examples, but when David Emerson did it (he had been elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal MP and then joined the Conservatives a few days later), he played down the entire affair. However when Belinda Stronach left the Conservatives for the Liberals, she made sure it was national news for several days in a row. Emerson made sure not to say anything disparaging about his former colleagues; Stronach made it as if she was being persecuted out of the party. I don't doubt that both switched out of personal gain, but the way each handled their situation couldn't have been more different.

Abp. Chaput says...

... Catholic supporters of Obama should stop kidding themselves. Supporting a candidate who has promised to make his first act in office the repeal of every state-level abortion restriction doesn't square with Catholicism. While his overtures towards poverty alleviation and a potentially less hawkish foreign policy are noble in and of themselves, they are ultimately rendered irrelevant by his hawkish pro-abortion policies.

Catholicism has always considered abortion the unjust and evil taking of an individual's life. In contrast to war, in abortion there is no necessity, no proportionalism, no justice, no self-defense. And heck, American voters have absolutely no guarantee that Obama is going to be suddenly less hawkish than Bush once in office. While it would be in his political interests to avoid extending America's military into new and potentially long term conflicts, there is absolutely no way anyone can know what sort of decisions he will make as president. So while we may or may not turn out to be an authentically anti-war president, we do know how he feels about abortion and what sort of attacks he will launch against the pro-life movement.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Flailing the Greens

I expected the Green Party to at least win one seat this election. No really, I truly did. I don't think that since the late 1980's was there such a strong environmentalist streak within the national political mood. Elizabeth May successfully petitioned to be included in the televised debates. Jim Harris had provided the infrastructure, funding and legitimacy to the party after years of peripheral involvement in the federal square. The time was ripe for the Greens to finally elect their very first Member of Parliament, so what happened?

A lot of things went as planned: The Greens capitalized on the newly refreshed environmentalist movement and increased their take of the overall vote. Almost 1,000,000 Canadians opted for a Green candidate, an increase of 300,000 from the 2006 Federal Election. In fact, they were the only party in Canada to actually increase their total votes. But despite this, the Greens failed to win a single riding, and even lost their lone sitting MP to a Conservative.

The mistake was primarily May's decision to develop an uncomfortably close relationship with Stephane Dion, the doomed Liberal leader. May advocated strategic voting, urging Green voters to choose the Liberal candidate rather than the Green candidate. The goal, apparently, was to keep Conservatives from winning seats, rather than increasing Green representation. May also developed a bizarre non-compete agreement with Dion, choosing not to field a candidate in the Liberal leader's home riding. These agreements might have improved May's standing with Dion, but they cost the Green Party itself precious funding in lost votes. It remains to be seen just what May was hoping for. A place in Dion's cabinet perhaps? A cozy job in Ottawa as Minister of the Environment? Whatever one can say about her actions, post-election it is clear that a good deal of her efforts were for the advancement of Elizabeth May the politician, not the Green Party.

We're now hearing some interesting things from depths of the Green Party. One senior Green has come out against May's renewed call for a coalition against Stephen Harper and her strategic voting policy. Another Green has come out and stated that the goal of the Green Party is, amazingly, not to exist as a political entity but to influence other political parties, acting as some sort of publicly funded lobby group. And of course we still have Elizabeth May, simultaneously announcing a party debt of $2,000,000 and her new plan to topple Stephen Harper's government without ever setting foot in the House of Commons. These are the sounds of party suffering from a bad case of indigestion.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I saw Bill Maher on Charlie Rose....

... and I was both impressed and disappointed.

Impressed, because Bill Maher was able to give credit to Rick Warren for being a serious Christian. Maher said he appreciated that Warren was so earnest in his personal journey to be Christ-like, that Warren felt poverty and global warming were serious issues.

Impressed, because Maher will say something so blithely stupid*, piss you off, and then chum up a silly smile and make you forgot he ever offended you at all.

Impressed, because Maher brings North Americans to attention about the problem of Islamism in Europe and secularism's inability to confront it.

because Maher brings North Americans to attention about the problem of Islamism in Europe and secularism's inability to confront it, and then says only secularism can confront it.

Disappointed, because Maher spent a lot of time explaining his self-described fact based, rationalist atheism, and then threw the rationalism out the window when it suited him. In response to Francis Collin's claim that the Gospels are eye-witness accounts, Maher countered that they couldn't be because the earliest written copies didn't appear until several decades after Christ's death. Maher, an educated man I assume, should be aware of the historical veracity of the Gospels and the Jewish oral tradition - two things which make Collins look like the one going by academic consensus, and Maher look like the coo-koo making up stuff.

Disappointed, because Maher speaks highly of Europe's secularism, but doesn't (or chooses not to) realise that secularism is itself a Christian - specifically Catholic - political concept. He lauds Europe's atheism, but fails to see its philosophical and practical limitations.

Disappointed, because Maher makes a point of saying that Europe hasn't collapsed because of atheism and atheistic secularism. Maher must have heard something about World War Two, where the Nazis - who were atheists - killed off over ten million people. And he must have learned about Communism, which is of course atheistic, and has lead to the killing of tens of millions of people since 1917.

Maher would make a lot more sense if he simply sought out irrationalism regardless of whether or not it comes cloaked in religious terms or cloaked in irreligious terms. Atheistic regimes of the last 90 years alone have been more murderous, more anti-science, and more authoritarian than any religious regime so far in history. Yet this intellectual, social and political history is completely ignored or quietly dismissed as aberrations. Maher wants to convince people to join his cause, and like Coke and Pepsi, he just might find new customers in the post-Christian circles of North America and Europe. But to create an honest and serious critique of 'organized religion', he needs to do a lot more than just repeat the talking points of the New Atheist movement and engage the history of anti-religion and atheism.

::postscript:: Maher's co-interviewee, co-producer of Religulous Larry Charles, didn't fare as well. He isn't blessed with the same charisma, or better yet, puppy-dog charm, that lets Maher get away with saying offensive and stupid things.* Charles looked like the type of guy you wouldn't want your children standing near in a Starbucks, and surprise, his answers were equally suspicious and repellent. His was a sidekick effort to Maher's, and the less time he spent talking, the more credible the premise and argument of Religulous remained.

*Maher says that he doesn't believe in vaccinations. Yes, he says that he doesn't believe in vaccinations. So, if we really listened to this herald of rationalism, we'd be much more enlightened toward atheism, but mostly dead or sick as a result.