Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dear Leaders of the World,

Your states need to be entirely secular. Tolerate and protect religious diversity by all means, but your governments should have no official religion, nor should religious affiliation or ideas be involved in any way in the choosing of public officials.

Your laws should be entirely secular and not based on any faith tradition. No religious schools should be publicly funded, nor should religious groups be subsidized, even through tax exemptions.

Do this now and you will have peace. Continue to define your nations by religion, continue to rule with religious doctrine at the centre of your political ideology, continue to make religion the raison d'etre of your nations, and you will have endless hardship.

Don't say I didn't warn you.


A friend at Pettrichor.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Today's Email

Today I got an email urging me to write to Stephen Harper and urge him to change our aggressive policy in Afghanistan. Now, I'm not a supporter of Harper, nor do I believe we should "support our troops" without regard for what those troops are doing.

But I did find it strange that not too long ago I was getting equally impassioned emails telling me to urge our government to do something about the brutal Taliban regime in that very same Afghanistan.

The emailers were right the first time. The Taliban are fundamentalist toughs who by all accounts, brutalized women, suppressed freedom of religion and expression, and deliberately harboured and supported terrorists. They were never recognized by the international community as a legitimate government. And if the west played some role in bringing them to power when they were fighting Soviet occupation, that is all the more reason we should be there to set things right in that region.

The Taliban fighters are not heroes. They are thugs and bullies. And they deserve what they get.

And I'm emailing this to the Prime Minister.

Monday, November 06, 2006

TV Commercial Hall of Shame: First Inductee

I like TV. I like it very much. And like most people I put up with commercials because they are necessary -- they have to pay the bills and all that.

Now as works of art, most TV commercials suck, particularly local commercials featuring spokespeople who forget how to string a sentence together once they are in front of the camera. C'est la vie. But every once in a while, I see a commercial that fills me with moral outrage and I just have to say something about it. And what are blogs for if not to pontificate about modern culture?

I'm talking about ads like the ones the government put out recently to promote work place safety. In one, a harried father is rushing about the kitchen trying to make dinner for one kid and help another kid with homework; but wait, that's not another kid who needs help learning to spell, that's a full grown woman whose been disabled by an injury! Another ad in the same series shows a little girl who clearly does not want to go out in public with her father who needs help to dress himself due to his injury. The message here is that you should watch yourself at work or else you may end up disabled, and, according to the government, disabled people are an embarrassment and burden on their families. Shame!

But those are a bit old, and my aim is to identify ads currently on the air to ad them to my Hall of Shame.

And the first inductee is: Pfizer, maker of the painkiller Celebrex! Current ads for Celebrex show a series of older folks turning to the camera and enjoing the viewer in various earnest ways, to "ask your doctor about it." Now, under Canadian law as I understand it, drug companies can say the name of the drug or what it does, but not both, so the makers of Celebrex are hoping that older Canadians will take their advice and ask their doctors. Fair enough. That's advertising. But here's the kicker: at the end of the ad, a particularly earnest grandmother type, looks right into the lens and says, "Ask your doctor. He's the expert."

Now, it's bad enough that this commercial implies that patients are supposed to do whatever their physicians advise -- after all, what the hell do patients know? This is especially interesting since a Google search of Celebrex brings up plenty of stories about lawsuits that have been filed against Pfizer in connection with the drug. What really makes this ad shameful, though, is the pronoun: "HE's the expert." He? Leave it to Pfizer to tell us that not only are doctors unimpeachable experts, they are all men too. Women have had to fight hard to gain access to the medical profession and the slow progress can be reasonably attributed to the attitude that real medicine is serious business and only suitable for men -- and this is the attitude that Pfizer encourages with ads like this one. Shame on you Pfizer.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The case against varsity athletics

First, let me be clear on a couple of things. Number one, I have nothing against sports in general or athletes. More specifically, I have nothing against any particular varsity athlete at my university.

That said, I've been thinking lately about the wisdom of university athletics in general. And my conclusion lately has been that, on the whole, it's a bad idea.

For one thing there is the tremendous cost of such undertakings, even when they are relatively modest. At my own august institution, for instance, there are only five sports teams, with a total of 79 players. It is rumoured, however, that each of those player is paid some $2000 a year to be on those teams. Those payments alone -- if the rumours are true -- total $158 000. And that's just for players. Each of those teams has a staff of coaches whose salaries must, one would imagine, add up to somewhere in the six figures. Add in transportation, uniforms, whatever costs may be associated with training -- and of course, the extra help that athletes are given with their academics -- and the costs must easily exceed half a million dollars. If anyone has the exact numbers from the university budget, I would be grateful to see them, but in general I am not made privy to such information (a search of my university's web site for "budget" yields no help either).

To put that half million in perspective, it's roughly the amount that would be needed to pay salary of 10 new CBU professors. Or somewhere between 500 and 1000 new library books every year.

Now some would argue that this money is an investment. Sports, after all, get people interested and excited and thus draw positive attention to the university, so the money spent is good for everyone. But in a way, it is the attention paid to varsity athletics that is precisely the problem.

After all, sports, in general, is doing very well in our society. Top athletes make millions, sometimes hundreds of millions in salary and millions more in endorsements. Even amateur hockey draws thousands of fans to arenas and even makes the sports channels, not to mention the evening news. Intellectual pursuits, by contrast, do not fair nearly so well. Only an elite few pay any attention to scholarly matters, and for the most part, that doesn't bother me, since most of it is highly specialized anyway.

But the university is the one place that societies have set aside for the purpose of promoting and celebrating the life of the mind. That's what makes them special. That's what sets the university, as a social institution apart. Or ought to, in any case. Is it, then, too much to ask that university resources not be directed towards the celebration of physical agility rather than mental? Is it right that students who win major international scholarships get only passing mention while we are flooded with news about athletes? Is it right that many deserving students get no funding at all, while their classmates get a big chunk of their tuition paid by virtue of having a a particularly high vertical leap? Is it right that our athletic facilities are being constantly upgraded while our theatre fulls into ruin? And if sports do bring attention, is that really what we want to be known for? If that's the case, maybe close down the academic side altogether and make the school one big sports club.

Don't get me wrong. I like sports. And I stress in my experience, many student athletes are both nice people and good scholars. Moreover, I freely admit that I have enjoyed varsity athletics in the past. But I think I will take a break from attending such events.

Maybe we all should.