As I Please

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Today is not only Earth Day but the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day declared in the US at a time when progressive forces were considerably stronger in that country than they are now. The first Earth Day was in effect the prototype for all subsequent Earth Day celebrations, an occasion for consciousness raising and education of the public regarding environmental concerns and how human beings should cope with them. Back in 1970 the concerns were with pollution and the loss of habitat for wildlife and extinction of select species. Back then the greenhouse effect in Earth's atmosphere and consequent global warming were just theoretical projections instead of the reality they are today. Not even so-called climate change sceptics deny that global climate change is happening after having for so long denied that it was. But as the weight of evidence has gone against them they have moved the goalposts and now assert that while climate change is happening, it is entirely natural, not caused by human action, not allowing for the possibility that even if this is true human action could increase it. But in writing of Earth Day I am not concerned so much with these people even though I think they are wrong. Rather I am concerned with those many well-meaning people who think that in undertaking "acts of green" e.g. recycling, adopting less polluting lifestyles etc. they are helping to "save the planet". But are they?
On the whole the lifestyle changes that Earth Day commemorates are little different from those advocated on the first Earth Day and have been summed up in the three Rs of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle. What difference there is consists in adding to the first R not only reducing waste but also reducing activities that produce the greenhouse gases that have resulted in global warming or as it is also called climate change. But the evidence we see around the world indicates a phenomenon so vast and far-reaching that doing things like recycling paper, glass, and plastic products and buying fluorescent light bulbs while laudable in themselves as actions to reduce waste and therefore pollution of the land, water, and air, will do little to deal with the altering of the world's climate with all the attendant changes such as rising sea levels, increasing drought and desertification.
The threat of terrible harm to human beings and other sentient life from climate change appears to be momentous and yet what we are doing to cope with it seems to me comparable to coping with the threat of fascism in the 1940s by only rationing and collecting scrap. It may well be that the only way to stave off the worst effects of climate change will be a wholesale mobilization of our material and intellectual resources comparable to those which defeated Germany and Japan, only in this case we would not have war but what my favourite philosopher William James called in his essay of the same name "the moral equivalent of war", only it would not be so much to engender the martial virtues of "
fidelity, cohesiveness, tenacity, heroism, conscience, education, inventiveness, economy, wealth, physical health and vigor" which he advocated as it would be to save humankind from catastrophe or rather a series of catastrophes resulting from climate change, and it would not only be the moral equivalent of war but the moral equivalent of total war

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanksgiving in Canada 2008

I posted the following Thanksgiving Day 2006. The excerpt I included from a Toronto Star editorial on that day is if anything more pertinent now.
In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest. The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Canada. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving, and the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in North America. As with Labour Day, Canada was first, but as with that day a set day was not established until relatively recently, in the case of Thanksgiving not until 1957. At least we had the good sense to finally make it a Monday, and so give ourselves a long weekend, unlike with the Americans' fourth Thursday in November (I have yet to find out why it's not a Friday or Monday). While traditionally regarded as a day of giving thanks to God, with its origins as a harvest festival God is incidental.
Thanksgiving is a time of celebrating our good fortune, but in that celebration do we remember the hundreds of thousands in this country who if they are having a turkey dinner at all, are having it in a church basement or soup kitchen? An editorial in today's Toronto Star says what should be taken to heart by all. I wonder how many other newspapers have an editorial like the following? I have dropped the first paragraph, the substance of which can be found in any newspaper editorial:
"For far too many families, dinner will be rice or pasta instead of turkey. To get that meal, thousands of families will have to go to their local food bank simply because they did not have enough money left after paying the rent to buy food. Some 74,500 people, including 28,000 children, in Greater Toronto rely on local food banks each month.Many of the homeless will go without a meal at all today. And breadwinners in working poor families in Canada will struggle on to try to make ends meet just like every other day. A quarter of families using food banks have at least one person working and more than half of them earn at least $10 an hour, still not enough to pay the bills.Many of those struggling are new immigrants in a strange land who have come here with good educations, but cannot put their skills to work.It is important to remember all of them today and do what we can to help because many are merely eking out an existence in this land of plenty.There are multiple reasons for this continuing poverty. Welfare rates in most provinces are lower than they were two decades ago and provide an income that in most cases is less than half the poverty line. Employment Insurance, the first level of the social safety net, is now so full of holes that only 27 per cent of the unemployed in Ontario receive any benefits at all from it, leaving workers who lose their job no recourse except to go on welfare. And despite moves by the Liberal government over the last three years to raise the minimum wage in Ontario, this basic pay rate was frozen under the former Conservative government for nearly eight years and remains below a level that would provide a decent standard of living.On Thanksgiving, one of the best ways to give thanks and show gratitude for what we have is by helping others.Citizens can lobby politicians to finally do something about the working poor. Demand answers to why 5 million people in the country — about one in every six — live below the national poverty line, including 1.2 million children. And push politicians for an answer to why food banks, charities and churches have become so critical in the lives of those who cannot obtain decent jobs and wages.Then take a bag of food to the local fire hall for those who so desperately need it. And take your children to volunteer at the local food bank for a few hours so they too will grow up knowing that not everyone is as lucky as they are and something needs to be done about it.For the United Way's 50th anniversary campaign, write a bigger cheque than in the past to reflect the fact the agency is dealing with larger needs and more diverse problems than ever before.At the end of the day, Thanksgiving should be as much about what we have given back as it is about being thankful for what we have."
It is noteworthy that the editorial advocates political action before the standard exhortation to acts of charity. Hardline conservatives will no doubt agree with the latter and condemn the former, for the fact of growing, seemingly intractable poverty in our midst, is a standing condemnation of their own individualist ideology. They may at least say that we should help the poor, but the most we can justifiably be made to do is provide through our taxes a level of bare subsistence, and some will not condone even that. Thus they reject the most powerful and effective instruments for fighting poverty. While the Star editorial is not calling for socialism it seems to me it is calling for capitalism with a human face.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy Labour Day
I posted this two years ago. I thought that with the decline in the auto-industry and accompanying recession here in Ontario it should be run again.

Labour Day was officially established in the U.S. by Pres. Grover Cleveland in 1887 as an alternative to the proposal to celebrate the worker on May 1, which Cleveland feared would be used, as many on the Left openly wanted, to commemorate the May 4 Haymarket riot in Chicago the year before. It was not however an invention of the establishment. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica:
The idea for such a holiday in the United States is attributed to Peter J. McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader who later cofounded the precursor of the AFL-CIO. In 1882 he suggested to the Central Labor Union of New York that a celebration be held to honour the American worker. Acting on this idea, about 10,000 workers paraded in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882, under the sponsorship of the Knights of Labor. The date of the celebration was chosen simply because it filled up the long gap between Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
What the article leaves out is that Mr. McGuire got the idea from Canada. The origins of Labour Day lie in a parade demonstration by workers on 15 April 1872 in Toronto to call for the abolition of then existing laws which decreed that trade unions were criminal conspiracies in restraint of trade. Those laws were finally repealed in that same year after a union parade in Ottawa on September 3 paid a visit to the home of PM John A. MacDonald. The April 15 march became an annual event though of no set date, though the Ottawa event would certainly have been an excellent one to commemorate. Mr. McGuire happened to see it on 22 July 1882 as an invited speaker, being the founder and general secretary of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters which had organized the previous year. The full story can be found
here, with the non-Canadian dimension here. The message to be taken from the origins of Labour Day is clear: it is a day not only to celebrate workers and their achievements and contributions to society but also their rights as workers, above all their right to unionize. This message is clear in the Labour Day most of the world celebrates, but in ours, among those who are not union members, that message has been lost. It is high time we who are not union members, i.e. the vast majority, recovered it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Kind of Socialism IV

G. D. H. (George Douglas Howard) Cole (1889-1959) was perhaps the foremost British representative of what has been called libertarian or decentralist socialism, as opposed to state or centralist socialism. A remarkably prolific writer, he was the author among other distinguished works, of the monumental five-volume History of Socialist Thought (1953-60). At the end of it he states in conclusion what has been called his personal credo with which I would agree to a large extent:

I am neither a Communist nor a Social Democrat, because I regard both as creeds of centralisation and bureaucracy, whereas I feel sure that a Socialist society that is to be true to its equalitarian principles of human brotherhood must rest on the widest possible diffusion of power and responsibility, so as to enlist the active participation of as many as possible of its citizens in the tasks of democratic self-government.

From A History of Socialist Thought, Vol. V: Socialism and Fascism, 1960.

I have only two disagreements. First, with his characterization of social democrats. While Communism as Cole means it here (i.e. Marxist-Leninist) is certainly a creed of "centralisation and bureaucracy" I do not see that that should necessarily be the case with Social Democracy (i.e. moderate socialism), which is centralized and bureaucratic because modern democratic government is centralized and bureaucratic. My second disagreement is not with what he says but with what he means. Cole sees socialist society in near anarchist if not anarchist terms, what is called libertarian socialism, while I believe we should work to achieve democratic self-government through the government institutions we have. He was a utopian (although without utopian expectations), I am not.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Happy Canada Day?

In this country there are one hopes millions of Canadians who remember the old name for our national holiday, Dominion Day, or as it was called in French, Le Jour de la Confederation, "the day of the Confederation" i.e. of Canada, both officially established by statute in 1879. The day was renamed Canada Day on 27 October 1982. Why? Doubtless because it was perceived by the Liberals who made the change as too British. Never mind that the word "dominion" was coined, not by some pooh-bah in London's foreign office but by a Canadian politician, Samuel Leonard Tilley, who took it from Psalm 72:8, "He shall have dominion from sea to sea", as suggestive of the ambition of the Fathers of Confederation, of which he was a member, to extend the new nation to the Pacific Ocean. It was unanimously accepted, and was soon adopted across the British Empire as the term for a self-governing member of the Empire (with autonomy in external as well as internal affairs) that distinction being extended to Australia and New Zealand. But no, some Liberals decided it was too British, too old fashioned, and worst of all might offend French Canadians. Or it was because "dominion" doesn't translate very well into French, never mind that in French it had never been Dominion Day. So on 9 July 1982, a Friday afternoon and the last day of Parliament before summer recess, a private member's bill to replace "Dominion Day" with "Canada Day" was quickly passed. Problem is, only thirteen members were present to pass it, seven short of an official quorum. In short, the change was illegal. We can only imagine what would have happened had the thirteenth Prime Minister of Canada been alive at the time. Likely John Diefenbaker would have thundered against this unconstitutional exercise in rebranding, and might have succeeded in rallying Canadians in protest, in the end preserving the name and the history. But the Chief had died in 1979, and so there was apparently no one willing to defend a vital link to the past. The Liberals could at least have simply anglicized the French term for Dominion Day, but instead chose a name devoid of history, of roots. Luckily we are not legally bound to use that name, and I for one no longer will. Portugal is the only other country I know of that has its national holiday named after the country, and therefore like Canada ignores history (in the Portuguese case the date their national poet Luis Camoes died). Do you think French Canadians would welcome the statutory introduction of "Quebec Day", even if the name it would replace belongs to a figure in the New Testament?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

PM Tony Blair sings The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" !

Well, not really. It's an ingenious edit of Blair's speechifying at his last Labour Party conference. Now he has gone, and good riddance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One Piece of Evidence That There Is No God

Or more precisely that there is no God in the traditional Western sense of being benevolent and all-powerful. This morning I went for a plateletpheresis donation, more than ten years after my first donation in which it turned out that my platelets collected were less than perfect and so rejected, though after several visits to a haemotologist I was assured that this meant no health problems for myself. A few months I was called by Canadian Blood Services and asked to try again, since my platelets may well have come up to the level required for donation. This time within five minutes of the procedure (the last time it was within a week) I was informed that my platelet count was insufficient and that it was pointless to try again at a future date. Even though I had lost a small amount of red cells in the process I would not be able to make another whole blood donation for 56 days.
My point, and I do have one (as Ellen DeGeneres would say) is this: If we assume the existence of a benevolent, all-powerful deity, at any time in the intervening years between my last apheresis attempt and today's, He could have improved my platelets so that I could donate and thereby help the cancer and other patients who have developed an intolerance for whole blood donations. It would not have been considered a miracle and therefore not an event that would have overcome the lack of knowledge of God's existence that, so it is argued, God Himself desires so as to ensure we have the freedom to choose whether or not to believe in His existence. Putting aside the question of why a benevolent, all-powerful God would permit cancer in the first place, what possible purpose could be served by denying me the capacity to help my fellow beings when so enabling me could be done without endangering human free-will? Perhaps one could justify God permitting the actions of the mentally ill murderer at Virginia Tech on the basis of the free-will defence, assuming that that mental illness had no organic causes (is that possible?), but I see no justification for this.
While I have been for the past several years an agnostic, I have also been in relative terms an atheist, relative that is to the existence of a God who is both loving of humankind and omnipotent. Today I have yet another example to confirm my position. To my mind traditional Western theists have never satisfactorily answered the question put over two thousand years ago by the Greek philosopher Epicurus: Either God is willing to take away evil but is unable, then He is not omnipotent; or He is able but unwilling, then He is not benevolent; or He is both able and willing; why then is there evil?