Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The human cost of Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is going to have an impact on the North American economy. The impact won't stop at the 49th parallel. Canadians are already feeling the pain at the gas pumps, where prices have risen by 20 cents per litre (approximately 75 cents per US gallon) overnight.

And it goes without saying that there has been a direct assault on people's property. I have spent a while sifting through photos at There are photos of smashed houses, washed out highways and bridges, boats carried ashore, a van lifted up onto a fence, streets littered with debris, and downed trees.

But those weren't the photos that grabbed me. Here is a selection of photos that tell the story of the direct human impact of hurricane Katrina; the cost to ordinary men, women and children — families like mine and yours.

The Todd family takes shelter in their laundry room
Meridian, Louisiana (AFP/Getty Images/Marianne Todd)

(no names available)
New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP/File/James Nielsen)

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (AP Photo/Ben Sklar)

Bay St. Louis Emergency Management Agency volunteer crews rescue the Taylor family from the roof of their suburban, which became trapped on US 90 due to flooding.

Yolanda Williams and Patrick and Lonnie Antee
are rescued from their home
New Orleans, Louisiana (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

Alex Curtis, 12
Biloxi, Mississippi (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Evelyn Turner cries alongside the body of her common-law husband, Xavier Bowie, after he died in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Bowie and Turner had decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina when they could not find a way to leave the city. Bowie, who had lung cancer, died when he ran out of oxygen Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pregnant in public

This post was inspired by a pregnant woman I passed as I walked through a local shopping mall earlier today.

She was at least seven months pregnant, and wearing a crop top. It's the bare midriff fashion, writ large.

Was I offended? Certainly not! I think pregnancy is beautiful … even sexy, though the comment may shock some of you.

I have never understood women who fret about their appearance during pregnancy and confuse it with getting fat. Definitely not the same thing.

[more of Kevin Thom's pregnancy portfolio]

Not so long ago, pregnancy was somehow shameful. I suppose that everything connected with reproduction was supposed to be private. So it wasn't good form to be pregnant in public. Instead, upper class women were confined for the duration of their pregnancies:
Historically the question of what women should do during pregnancy was a highly class-based one. Upper- and middle-class European and North American women of previous centuries were kept in confinement and forced leisure. To be visibly pregnant was constituted as a bit of a social shame, and women were discouraged from appearing in public with the evidence of reproduction swelling their bellies (plus, it was kinda tough to fit into those corsets after a few months, although many women tried and subsequently did quite a bit of damage to themselves and the baby). However, being immobilized and enshrined in the house was a luxury not available to the majority of the female population. Most worked at some sort of manual labour right up until their delivery.
[Thanks to Mary P. for alerting me to this practice.]

Even just a few years ago, women were much more discreet about their swollen bellies. Maternity clothes were baggy (and unflattering), but they have evolved, too.

This summer I have noticed a radical change in the fashion: maternity clothes can be form-fitting or sheer. And today, the woman in the crop top, proudly exposing her belly for all of us to celebrate with her.

Pregnant in public. How delightful!

Update on Canada / USA softwood lumber dispute

I have continued to dig for information on this issue, because I do like to get both points of view on any conflict. 49erdweet said he couldn't find anything explaining the American perspective, and I thought we should try to rectify that. In the interests of fair play, here's what I know now.

The USA is relying on a 2004 ruling by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). This is a less authoritative body than the Extraordinary Challenge Committee that inspired my previous post. But it supported the American position, so at least the US Government can honestly say that there is one ruling in the USA's favour.

The decision of the Extraordinary Challenge Committee was on a technical matter that didn't touch on the 2004 ITC ruling. So the ITC ruling hasn't been struck down by a higher court.

Further developments are reported in today's Globe and Mail:
The World Trade Organization has ruled that the United States complied with international law when it imposed billions of dollars of duties on Canadian lumber — a decision that the United States calls vindication and Canada says is a setback.

The WTO panel ruled yesterday that the United States adhered to international law when it issued a revised finding in late 2004 that Canadian softwood lumber imports threatened its mills, said a U.S. trade official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The confidential ruling, confirmed by Canadian officials, further complicates an already tangled web of legal decisions in the long-running trade feud.

Canada has trumpeted a seemingly contradictory North American free trade panel ruling earlier this month as the end of the dispute.

That panel found the U.S. duties, which now total more than $4-billion, illegal under U.S. law, prompting Ottawa to call for their immediate removal.

At a meeting of New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers yesterday, Frank McKenna, Canada's ambassador to the United States, pointed out that one NAFTA panel after another has ruled in Canada's favour. …

Toronto trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said the WTO and NAFTA rulings aren't so much contradictory as "mutually exclusive." NAFTA panels determine whether a country is complying with its own laws, while WTO panels check adherence to international trade laws, he said.
If I understand the last paragraph correctly, the USA is in violation of its domestic laws, but is relying on international law to justify the decision to maintain the duties.

That's got to be the first time that the USA showed such enthusiasm for international law. Meantime, the duties cost Canada approximately $80 million per month.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rock 'n' Roll royalty

I live in a city of barely a million people. It's enough to make us the fourth largest city in Canada, but even so …

when the Rolling Stones come to town it's a big, flippin' deal.

And I didn't go! Tickets were what, $230 each? But the concert created a big stir in this small city, even among people like me who weren't willing to shell out that much money.

I took this photo several hours before the concert. The structure was built just for the Stones. I bet you couldn't get one of those seats, built right over the stage, for $230.

These folks are packing a street overlooking the concert. You had to be in just the right spot to see the screen, but we were hearing the live licks just fine.

I managed to get myself into a position where I could see the screen, and got this washed out but recognizable photo of Keith Richards.

This bottle blonde must have been up near the stage. When she realized the camera was on her, she started fondling her breasts, putting on a show for the boys.

Ho hum. Just another day at the office when you're a rock 'n' roll god.

Here's my best photo of Mick Jagger. The surroundings are well lit (compare it with the photo of the blonde) because of the pyrotechnics going on out of sight of the camera. The Stones were playing "Sympathy for the Devil" at the time, and twice they lit up the whole city with a vast column of fire.

Do you suppose they have any idea that this is a direct reference to the Bible?

The Israelites were led across the desert by a theophany: And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. (Ex. 13:21) And here are the Stones, singing "Sympathy for the devil"; and there's the blasphemous column of fire, right on cue.

If you want to be a Satan-worshiping rock 'n' roll act, you've got to do your theological homework.

The Rolling Stones do Ottawa, Aug. 28, 2005.

Friday, August 26, 2005

How to attract lots of visitors to your blog

Every blogger wants to attract visitors. The question is, how badly do you want to out-hit your fellow bloggers? Are you willing to pander to people's baser instincts?

You already know a couple of ways to get hits from search engines:
  • use words like "sex", "tits" and "camel toe".

    I discovered the last one by accident; I had no idea it was a reference to something rude. Very rude. I could provide a link, but far be it from me to corrupt the morals of my saintly readers. Only the pure in heart peruse Simply Put.

    Come to think of it, I did a post on Orgasm Day once, and it brings an occasional visitor to the site. Maybe the prurient of heart read me, too.

  • sneak in superfluous references to celebrities.

    I have never done this just to attract visitors, but I get occasional visitors looking for Yoko Ono (or John Lennon), Lord Tennyson, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, or Muskrat Love.

    "Muskrat Love" gets more hits than the other three posts put together. Like the Beatles before them, the Captain and Tennille are bigger than Jesus.

    Of course, if you deliberately exploit the celebrity angle to attract visitors, you won't want to use faded flowers from the 60s and 70s. You'll want to post on the intruder who snuck into Jennifer Aniston's Malibu home, or ask your readers who's hotter, Ricky Martin or Leonardo DiCaprio.
But here's where we get to the good stuff, the stuff you didn't already know. I inadvertently discovered a third way to get hits from search engines. On a lark, I published two posts on bear maulings. Those two posts, published nearly three months ago, still provide about a third of the search engine hits I receive.

So if you want to attract lots of visitors to your blog, here's my advice:  go for guts and gore. Some bloggers have a regular "photo Friday" feature, but nobody cares about that stuff! Institute "macabre Monday" instead!

Another case in point: one time my blog came up in response to the search string, "castrated testicles photographs". How macabre is that?! Who would search for such a thing?! (It's a rhetorical question; I definitely do not want to know.) I couldn't remember posting on such a bizarre and unseemly topic, but sure enough: all three words are present in this post.

So I wasn't joking in the title of this post. Publish nude photos of murdered celebrities, and your server will crash with the volume of traffic to your blog.

Other interesting tidbits gleaned from my "extreme tracking" data:

This makes me feel good, part one:
I recently had a search for "what are swans and wear do they live". This string took the searcher to Several swans a-swimmin'. And that makes me feel good, because it was presumably a child doing a summer project. And the post probably taught them a thing or two, in addition providing photos of pretty birds.

This makes me feel good, part two:
Every couple of weeks, someone searches for "what to say to someone who is grieving" or a similar string. The search takes them to this post, where they will find wise counsel (I hope) derived from a personal experience.

Another happy accident
Here's another good tip:  introduce the occasional misspelling of a key word. Like the tip about guts and gore, I discovered this trick by accident. In my post on the antisemitic First Nation leader, David Ahenakew, I misspelled his name Akenakew twice out of twenty-seven occurrences. This brought me several hits from people who, like me, had difficulty with his name.

Likewise — and more embarrassingly — I once misspelled the name of my home town, Peterburough. (It should be "Peterborough".) I can't remember which post it was. But the misspelling brought me at least one visitor.

Why not deliberately introduce an occasional misspelling? People will think you're an ignoramous, but it's a small price to pay for potential fame and fortune.

I thought the Captain and Tennille were downright awful, but Lord Tennyson eats their dust!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

American government shows contempt for the rule of law

I don't usually indulge myself in anti-American rants. First, I have good relations with several Americans on this blog. Second, I think Canadians and Americans share many common values; we're not as different as Canadians sometimes suppose. Third, I think Canada benefits in many ways from its close relations with the USA.

I disagree with the decision to invade Iraq, but so do lots of Americans. (Probably more than 50% now.) More generally, I don't have a very high opinion of "Dubya"; and again I'm in company with a lot of Americans on that point.

But the USA has really pissed Canadians off this week. The issue is free trade: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

It isn't even the sort of issue I usually care about. I am not a big business type. On the contrary, I'm all about social justice, and I tend to be pretty suspicious of multi-national conglomerates. So NAFTA is someone else's baby, not mine.

But as near as I can figure, the US government has literally stolen $5 billion from the Canadian economy over the past three years. The highest tribunal overseeing NAFTA has said as much.

I don't expect the US government to meekly apologize and return the money — I'm not such a hopeless idealist as that. But I would like the US government to obey the rule of law and stop imposing the tariffs. Instead, the US government intends to continue stealing our money.

Here are the facts, at least according to the Canadian media. From today's Globe and Mail:

U.S. Customs has collected roughly $5-billion in duties since May 2002, when American trade officials concluded Canadian softwood imports were unfairly subsidized.

NAFTA panels have three times concluded that the U.S. failed to prove that Canadian softwood poses a material threat of injury to U.S. producers.

Under trade rules, if Washington can't prove Canadian timber injures or threatens to injure U.S. producers, it is obliged to scrap the duties on Canadian lumber imports.

Canada's latest victory was on Aug. 10, when a NAFTA panel ruled that the U.S. had once again failed to adequately demonstrate injury to U.S. producers. The decision should have put an end to the dispute, but the United States said it had no intention of lifting the duties or returning the money.

In response, the federal government cancelled softwood negotiations scheduled for earlier this month with the U.S.

The men and women who negotiated the original free trade agreement are spitting mad over this. One of them described the conduct of the Americans as "an egregious, shocking, dishonourable breach of their obligations." Another said, "It's the tactic of the schoolyard bully." John Ibbitson, in Saturday's Globe and Mail, writes:

That the very architects of free trade between Canada and the United States should be speaking in such terms is, frankly, shocking.

Even more shocking is that, to a man and woman, they believe Canada should impose retaliatory tariffs, or other restrictive measures. …

There is a palpable sense of personal injury in their comments, which may come from the political irony that lies behind the American rebuke.

In 1987, the free-trade negotiations between Canada and the United States almost collapsed because the Americans refused to accept a binding dispute resolution mechanism, while Canada insisted on one. At almost literally the last possible moment, the Americans accepted the Canadian demand, on the condition that an Extraordinary Challenge Committee, as they called it, be able to review the decisions of all lower panels.

Although the Canadian negotiating team was very reluctant to accept yet another layer of appeal for trade disputes, they finally acquiesced.

It was to that Extraordinary Challenge Committee that the Americans appealed last year, when all other rulings on softwood imports went against them. It was that same committee that ruled last week in Canada's favour. That the Americans would repudiate the verdict of the very tribunal that they insisted must be part of the FTA infuriates those who negotiated the pact.

The USA's new ambassador to Canada has further infuriated Canadians by taking a completely patronizing tone with us. From another article in Saturday's Globe and Mail:

It is positively grating to hear the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, patronizingly advise Canadian officials to tone down their rhetoric in response to that flouting of American treaty obligations. "The one thing that is for sure is that the more we escalate this and the more we have emotional press conferences about it, the less chance we've got to resolve it," he said in an interview this week, adding that negotiators from the two nations should simply get back to the bargaining table.

And what should they talk about? The fact that, for more than three years, the United States has slapped countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canada's softwood exports, collecting almost $5-billion? The fact that Canada has won repeated skirmishes over softwood at both the World Trade Organization and at NAFTA dispute panels, all to no avail? …

That bad situation has been made even worse by the U.S. Byrd amendment, which effectively allows U.S. lumber firms to benefit doubly from their allegations of damage. Under that 2000 change to the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930, anti-dumping and countervailing duties are put in the kitty — and actually distributed to U.S. complainants, instead of the U.S. Treasury, when litigation is completed. So U.S. firms get to watch as their Canadian competitors are hit with duties — which makes them less competitive — with the added prospect of divvying up those huge duties among themselves.

It is a powerful incentive to keep complaining.

So I'm ranting, even though I usually don't bash Americans, and even though I usually don't give NAFTA a second thought. Am I wrong about this, or has the US government just demonstrated its contempt for the rule of law?

I am reminded of the Robert Frost line, "Good fences make good neighbors." The free trade agreement was the dismantling of a wall. And we've benefited from it in many ways, I have no doubt. But maybe I'd like this neighborhood better if the wall were still solidly in place.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Most overrated virtue

I watched a celebrity interview the other day, and one of the questions struck me as interesting. The question was, "What is the most overrated virtue?"

My answer is, extroversion. I realize that extroversion is not usually thought of as a virtue, but Western society rewards extroverts over introverts virtually every time. People respond to it as a great virtue even if they haven't explicitly thought of it in those terms.

I think introverts have a great deal to contribute to society, though I am not saying that introverts are better than extroverts. As in most areas, I think balance is a healthy ideal … and I think our society is unbalanced in favour of extroverts.

What's your answer to the question? Which virtue would you say is the most overrated?

Or, if you prefer to tackle the question the other way around, feel free to tell me which is the most underappreciated virtue, instead.

If you need a list of virtues to get you started, here is a classical list (with their opposites, to clarify the definitions):

Capital VirtuesCapital Sins
brotherly loveenvy

And here's a site, the Virtues Project, where dozens of others are listed.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Word verification

I received 15 spam messages this afternoon, so I've initiated the "word verification" function before you can post a comment.

I prefer to allow anonymous comments, so I've left that option open, at least for now.

Sorry for the small inconvenience. And thanks for the tip, Jack.

If you want to use word verification on your blog, go to
change settings

where you can enable word verification.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Cuddle parties

What's a cuddle party, you ask? Let's start with the fact that it's strictly non-sexual. The Globe and Mail recently assigned a crack investigative journalist to infiltrate one such party:

Loving Spoonfuls

August 6, 2005
by Mike Miner

Cuddle parties are exactly what they sound like. Men and women just like you or me, heading out for an evening of pyjama-clad embraces with whoever needs a hug.

The result looks like a rewriting of a Roman orgy for the purpose of teaching boundaries and manners to preschoolers. It's adults lounging across pillows and each other, but it's all please and thank you.

And it's raising equal parts contempt and fascination from L.A. to the U.K. In The Times of London, columnist Julie Burchill called it "a hideous American invention," saying the "set-up allows affluent Americans to pay $30 each to some sort of prissy procurer in order to use their apartment for a three-hour, strictly non-sexual grope-fest.

Oops, let's pause for a moment. Note the price tag: $30/hour. And note that most of these people are strangers to one another:  they pay a "procurer" to assemble the requisite number of people. I imagine most of them arrive with a friend, but everyone else in the room will be a first-time acquaintance.

[Source for the photo, where you can read another report of the phenomenon.]

The rules are laid out at length at the beginning of each three-hour snuggle session. You must ask and receive permission before even the slightest contact. From there, it moves into more complex issues like hygiene (a must) and dry humping (verboten). Giggling and crying are encouraged, and consensual smooching is fine.

"The rules are worth going over because they work," says Cecilia Moorcroft, a Toronto-based cuddle party facilitator. "Everybody knows what goes and what doesn't. And this creates the safe environment we want."

There's no hard and fast rule about erections. According to cuddle party philosophy, erections just happen and aren't unusual in a cuddling situation. Just ignore it, no dry humping, and it will go away eventually. This was gone over at length at the party Moorcroft held last week, which was a special treat for me, the only man in the room.

What's that? The Globe and Mail reporter was the only man in the room?! I wonder whether this is typical. Does the cuddle-party concept appeal primarily to women? (The article doesn't say.)

Doesn't that make it soft-core homoeroticism? Not that I care one way or the other; it's just that I assume the majority of these women are heterosexual outside of the cuddle party context.

So maybe the participants aren't after a sexual experience, merely a sensual one. The coordinator of the Toronto party places the emphasis on affection:

Moorcroft attended her first cuddle party in New York, after seeing an item on TV. "It spoke to what I'd already been feeling, which was a lack of affection."

She was initially "terrified," she says. "Most of my concerns are fairly typical cuddle party worries. What if nobody wants to cuddle with me? What if only ugly people show up?"

But the experience met her expectations. "When I first lay down to cuddle with somebody, my body let out this sigh. I left feeling totally blissed out. I've never been that high."

She signed up for a training course in Los Angeles, went back for more in Alabama, and returned to Canada a certified cuddle party facilitator.

The phrase "certified cuddle party facilitator" sounds silly, but I imagine the training is a good idea. It must require some skill to manage the group dynamics, especially if some of the participants start to get carried away.

Some parties throw stuffed toys or musical instruments into the mix. But at last week's party, it was mostly small talk and spooning. Everyone had a chance to set their boundaries. One woman didn't want to be touched on her ears and feet, because that was strictly the domain of her significant other. Others patrolled the perimeter and dove in only occasionally. …

The evening wrapped up with a puppy pile, where all the attendees stack on top of one another. My friend and I made our exit before that could happen, but the others were beaming and clearly in their element.

I suppose this is just another fad that will quickly run its course. But I wonder whether it responds to a legitimate need in our society.

In the West, where individual autonomy is a core value, we're more isolated than human beings have ever been in history. And I think our isolation is exacerbated by technology. We bloggers appreciate the interaction we have with one another, but of course it's a poor substitute for face to face — or body to body — contact.

When Ms. Moorcroft speaks of a lack of affection, that's what I hear. I have also heard the phrase, "skin hunger", in reference to someone who had gone too long without being touched.

(Guess what sex the person was. A guy wouldn't have said, "skin hunger", he would have just said "horny". But I think guys experience skin hunger too, even if they fail to distinguish it from the other.)

What do you think? Is there any merit in the cuddle party concept? If "it's raising equal parts contempt and fascination", which camp are you in?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Karen Armstrong's Muhammad, part 2

I'm picking things up in the middle here … if you feel lost, please see the previous post. (I have cleverly named it "part 1".)

3. Integration of religion and politics

By the end of Armstrong's book, it was this subject which troubled me most.

The separation of church and state is one of the core principles of modern governance, and with good reason. Much harm results when church and state are integrated. There can be no individual freedom of conscience and religion. Women and other groups may be relegated to second-class status, or no social status whatsoever. Criminal law may be excessively punitive and pitiless. Scientific inquiry is closed off at certain points, where received "truths" may not be questioned. And the stage is set for continuous warfare in the name of God, as each nation tries to impose its religious norms on its neighbours (or uses religion as a pretext to pursue war for other, less "noble" reasons).

The separation of church and state also provides an important check on state power. For example, as Hitler was consolidating power, the Church was one of a handful of social institutions that might have opposed him. Within six months, other potential sources of opposition — journalists, political parties, universities, labour unions — had been co-opted or forcibly silenced. But the Protestant Church briefly maintained a stubborn independence. Hitler responded by demanding the consolidation of the twenty-eight main Protestant denominations, and installing a bishop of his choosing:
Every church in Germany was to be decorated with Nazi flags and a proclamation read from the pulpit, stating that "all those who are concerned … feel deeply thankful that the state should have assumed, in addition to all its tremendous tasks, the great load and burden of reorganizing the church." [Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict]
If this unexpected trip to Nazi Germany seems like a digression, it's only to make the point that the separation of church and state is not such a bad idea. Among Christians (and conservatives in general) the principle is facing a lot of criticism recently. In my view, the Church is properly positioned when it is independent of government.

But this is a modern ideal, and one which most Muslim nations have yet to embrace. Turkey is the exception that proves the rule.

The integration of church and state is thoroughly entrenched in Islam, dating back even to the lifetime of Muhammad. Muhammad was a warrior and a ruler, more like King David than Jesus.

(David was a spiritual man, known for his Psalms, but he was also a warrior-king. He wanted to build God's Temple, but God forbade it because of the blood David had shed in the preceding years; 1 Chr. 22:7-8. Jesus, on the other hand, was a pacifist who meekly accepted death at the hands of his enemies. See, for example, John 18:10-11. The passage is of doubtful historicity but representative of a tradition which is consistent throughout the Gospels.)

Armstrong says that Muhammad did not plan to become a political leader. During the early part of his career, he was only a prophet; others wielded political power. The political role was thrust upon him because the nomadic, tribal society which was traditional in Arabia was disintegrating.

Eventually the warring tribes embraced Islam, and Muhammad united the Arab people under his spiritual-political leadership. To some extent, Muhammad maintained a distinction between "church" and state. Vanquished foes were forced to submit to Muhammad as a political leader, but they were not forced to submit to Islam. But the distinction was hardly watertight.

When opposition to Islam was still strong, Muhammad's military success was viewed as a confirmation of God's approval. The battle of Badr, when Muhammad's comrades were victorious against all rational expectation, was a crucial development:
Suddenly [Muhammad] emerged as a good military tactician. He had lined them up in close formation and they began by bombarding the enemy with arrows, drawing their swords for hand-to-hand fighting only at the last moment. By midday the Quraysh, who had expected only to have to make a show of force, panicked and fled in disarray. …

The moral effect of Badr cannot be overestimated. For years Muhammad had been the butt of scorn and insults, but after this spectacular and unsought success everybody in Arabia would have to take him seriously. … After the victory the Qu'ran depicted him and his companions as God's agents: 'You did not slay them, but God slew them.'
To this day, Muslims fast during Ramadan to commemorate the battle of Badr, when God endorsed Islam.

Muhammad was a remarkable man. He was a prophet, a military tactician, and a shrewd governor of his people:
When Muhammad had made the hijra [exodus from his hostile tribe] in 622 the little Islamic community had taken its first step forward to political power:  ten years later it dominated almost the whole of Arabia and had laid the foundations for a new Arab polity which would enable Muslims to govern a huge empire for over a thousand years.
Military success followed soon after the revelation of the Qur'an, and continued even after Muhammad's death. The connection was forged in Muslim minds:  submission to the true religion results in political success. And why not? Surely it is God's will for human society to be conformed to the pattern revealed to Muhammad:
Unlike so many of the earlier prophets, Muhammad had not only brought individual men and women a new personal vision of hope, but he had undertaken the task of redeeming human history and creating a just society which would enable men and women to fulfil their true potential. … Muslim jurists developed a theology of the jihad to meet the new conditions.
Re the word jihad:  though it is commonly translated "holy war", its basic meaning is "struggle" or simply "exertion". It can refer to a spiritual struggle:  e.g., against sin. In this context, however, it plainly refers to a military struggle against non-Muslim enemies. Islamic jurists
taught that, because there was only one God, the whole world should be united in one polity and it was the duty of all Muslims to engage in a continued struggle to make the world accept the divine principles and create a just society.
Armstrong portrays this interpretation of jihad as a passing phase in Islam's history:
This martial theology was laid aside in practice and became a dead letter once it was clear that the Islamic empire had reached the limits of its expansion about a hundred years after Muhammad's death.
But Armstrong's assertion seems to be contradicted by current events. Some Islamic fundamentalists are carrying out a war against Western nations. Armstrong says this militancy is a recent development. Its cause:  Muslims do not know how to respond to the overwhelming success of Western secularism:
Muslims continued to respond creatively to the challenge of modernity until relatively recently. They were able to respond to catastrophes like the Mongol devastations in the thirteenth century and rise again to new power and achievement. …

During the eighteenth century, the Islamic empire began to decline, and this time it found it particularly difficult to rise again to new life. … This has not just been a political humiliation but has touched the core of the Muslim identity. If Islam is, for the first time in its history, no longer successful how can its claims be true? …

It has produced a religious crisis in the Islamic world similar in gravity to that experienced in Europe when the scientific discoveries of Lyell and Darwin seemed to undermine the foundations of the Christian faith.
It is the crisis within Islam that brings us to our current geo-political crisis.

Turkey presents one option:  embrace the Western principle of the separation of church and state. Allow other nations to continue in their secular ways, however contrary they may be to God's will for the ordering of human society.

Militant Islamic fundamentalism presents another option — an option that arguably is rooted in the conduct of Muhammad. In this tradition, Western nations are rivals whose political supremacy is intolerable. The validity of the faith will be suspect until Islam rises, once again, to a place of global dominance.

As I said in part one, a critical reader will likely have reservations about Islam at the end of Muhammad, based on information provided by Armstrong herself. Although the biography sets out to defend Islam against some oft-repeated accusations, legitimate concerns remain.
  • The revelation of the Qur'an
  • As explained in part one, the Qur'an (like other scriptures) is the product of a mixed divine/human initiative. After reading Armstrong's biography, I am left with the impression that the later revelations came more from Muhammad and less from God. Armstrong mentions a few occasions when Muhammad received revelations that conveniently resolved social controversies in a way that directly benefitted him.

    It is the later revelations, received after Muhammad had begun to assume political power, that are quite hostile to the Jews. There were specific Jewish tribes that cooperated with Muhammad's enemies at a juncture when he was very vulnerable. Muhammad's justifiable anger at those political developments has been preserved for perpetuity in the Qur'an.

  • Prescripts with respect to women
  • As explained in part one, the veiling of women is an entrenched practice in Islam. It goes back nearly to the time of Muhammad, and Muslim women face an uphill struggle for full equality with men.

  • Integration of religion and politics
  • It is by no means clear that a majority of Muslim nations will adopt the separation of "church" and state anytime soon. There has never been a time in the history of Islam when the two were entirely distinct. As with the veiling of women, the practice is undeniably orthodox and therefore difficult to discard.
    Thus the battle for the soul of Islam has been joined. After reading Muhammad, my main conclusion is this:  the road to peace in the Middle East and security in the West will be neither short nor easy.

    Hardly a new insight, I know. But now I better understand the history which has brought us to this place.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Karen Armstrong's Muhammad, part 1

    There seemed to be quite a lot of interest in my recent series of posts on Islam. I don't want to dwell on the subject unduly, but I have decided to review and recommend a biography of Muhammad by Karen Armstrong. (Armstrong is the author I quoted on mythos in Sunday's post.)

    Armstrong offers a very sympathetic portrait of Muhammad and Islam. I think it is fair to describe her as an apologist for the faith, though she is not a Muslim herself. She describes herself as a "freelance monotheist". I would call her a syncretist:  someone who attempts to combine teachings and doctrines from different and apparently divergent traditions.

    Personally, I prefer historical studies which view their subjects sympathetically. It is easy to be dismissive of worldviews that are alien to us, and an author should attempt to view things from the perspective of her subject.

    Despite the apologetic orientation of the book, Armstrong is generally even-handed in her presentation of the data. (Sometimes she takes unnecessary pot-shots at Christianity in her zeal to defend Islam against its accusers.) A critical reader will likely have reservations about Islam at the end of the book, based on material provided by Armstrong herself.

    In one of the earlier posts, I discussed Islam's ambivalence about Judaism and Christianity (Fuel for antisemitism in the Qur'an). On that topic, I have picked up one significant piece of information from Armstrong:  Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs were later accepted as People of the Book, in addition to Christians and Jews.

    This post will build on the earlier material by discussing the nature of the revelation to Muhammad, Islam's prescripts with respect to women, and Muhammad's integration of religion and politics.

    1. The revelation of the Qur'an

    I'd like to begin my review with a subject I found particularly interesting:  the agonies Muhammad experienced when the Qur'an was revealed to him. Armstrong writes:
    Revelations continued to come down while he was in the midst of ordinary activities. He used to swoon and perspire heavily, even on a cold day. Other authorities say that he felt a great heaviness, an emotion like grief and that while listening to the divine words, he would lower his head between his knees. …

    Muhammad once said:  'Never once did I receive a revelation without thinking that my soul had been torn away from me.' It was a process of creation that was agonizing. Sometimes, he said, the verbal content was clear enough:  he seemed to see the angel in the form of a man and heard his words. But at other times it was more painful and incoherent:  'Sometimes it comes unto me like the reverberations of a bell, and that is the hardest upon me; the reverberations abate when I am aware of their message.'
    I'm not sure how to interpret this remark about the reverberating bell. I think it means that Muhammad's own body (or psyche?) reverberated with the impact of the spiritual encounter.

    In any event, the image is interesting because it shows that the revelations came partly from outside Muhammad and partly from within him. He had some kind of encounter with a power outside his own psyche which often seized him suddenly and unexpectedly. But the message was not always verbal and linear; sometimes Muhammad had to interpret the experience, almost like decoding a secret message, and put it into words:
    We shall see him turning inwards and searching his own soul for a solution to the problem, rather as a poet listens to the poem that he is gradually hauling to light. The Qu'ran warns him to listen to the inarticulate meaning carefully and with what Wordsworth would call a 'wise passiveness'. He must not rush to put it into words before these had emerged in their own good time.
    In my view, this description illuminates the process of revelation in other religions as well. The specifics of Muhammad's experience may be unique to him. But, at its very best, scripture is still a product of divine and human initiative jumbled together.

    2. Prescripts with respect to women

    Armstrong persuasively argues that Muhammad held women in high esteem. Muhammad's first wife was much older than he was and, in times of crisis, he relied heavily on her guidance and support.

    The first time Muhammad received a revelation, he had no idea what to make of it. He "came to himself in a state of terror and revulsion":
    Unlike Isaiah and Jeremiah, Muhammad had none of the consolations of an established religion to support him and help him to interpret his experience. … In his isolation and terror, he turned instinctively to his wife.

    Crawling on his hands and knees, the whole upper part of his body shaking convulsively, Muhammad flung himself into her lap. 'Cover me! cover me!' he cried, begging her to shield him from this terrifying presence. … Trembling, he waited for the terror to abate, and Khadija held him in her arms, soothing him and trying to take his fear away. All the sources emphasise Muhammad's profound dependence upon Khadija during this crisis.

    Later he would have other visions on the mountainside and each time he would go straight to Khadija and beg her to cradle him and wrap him in his cloak. But Khadija was not just a consoling mother figure; she was also Muhammad's spiritual adviser. It was she who was able to provide the support that other seers and prophets have found in an established religion.
    The Qur'an's prescripts with respect to women must be viewed in historical context. Armstrong writes, "We must remember what life had been like for women in the pre-Islamic period when female infanticide was the norm and when women had no rights at all." For example, Armstrong explains the Qur'an's prescripts on polygamy and divorce:
    There was probably a shortage of men in Arabia, which left a surplus of unmarried women who were often badly exploited. The Qu'ran is most concerned about this problem and resorted to polygamy as a way of dealing with it. This would enable all the girls who had been orphaned to be married, but it insisted that a man could take more than one wife only if he promised to administer their property equitably. It also stipulates that no orphan girl should be married to her guardian against her will, as though she were simply a moveable property.

    The Qu'ran also makes provision for divorce. … In Arabia, it was customary for a man to give a mahl, a dowry, to his bride. This had usually been absorbed by the woman's male relatives, but in Islam the dowry was to be given directly to the woman herself. To this day, women are allowed to do whatever they choose with this money:  give it to charity, build a swimming pool or start a business. But in the event of divorce, a man is not allowed to reclaim the mahl, so a woman's security is assured.
    Westerners are also offended by the veiling of Muslim women. Armstrong explains that veils are not required in the Qur'an itself:
    Muslim women are required, like men, to dress modestly, but women are not told to veil themselves from view, nor to seclude themselves from men in a separate part of the house. These were later developments and did not become widespread in the Islamic empire until three or four generations after the death of Muhammad.
    The veil was originally instituted only for Muhammad's wives:
    Some Muslims liked to approach [Muhammad] through his wives, in the hope of getting his ear. … The hijab was designed to prevent a scandalous situation developing which Muhammad's enemies could use to discredit him. …

    In fact the veil or curtain was not designed to degrade Muhammad's wives but was a symbol of their superior status. … It seems that later other women became jealous of the status of Muhammad's wives and demanded that they should be allowed to wear the veil too. Islamic culture was strongly egalitarian and it seemed incongruous that the Prophet's wives should be distinguished and honoured in this way. Thus many of the Muslim women who first took the veil saw it as a symbol of power and influence, not as a badge of male oppression.
    On the face of it, this is a persuasive argument. However, I do note Armstrong's use of the phrase, "it seems". Do we know that other women were jealous of Muhammad's wives' veils, or is this apologetic speculation?

    I also note Armstrong's comment that the veiling of women was a widespread practice within three or four generations of Muhammad's death. In other words, use of the hijab has been an entrenched practice essentially from the beginning of Islam's history. As such, the practice will not easily be changed, despite the silence of the Qur'an on the subject.

    3. Integration of religion and politics

    By the end of Armstrong's book, it was this subject which troubled me most. But this post is already long enough, so I will address the integration of religion and politics in part 2.

    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    True Lies

    I attended a worship service at my parents' church this weekend. And I was struck anew by certain aspects of the service:  symbolic acts and references to seminal events in Christian history. Actually, what struck me was the solemn stillness of the congregation. The words and rituals possess great meaning for those folks.

    If you're a sceptic, I hope you don't hurry away to the next blog on your blogroll. My parents' church is liberal in its theology:  like you, they're sceptical about many of the things written in the Bible. Nonetheless, the Christian faith still acts as a focal point for them and provides meaning that might otherwise be missing from their lives.

    How can this be? How can someone doubt the accuracy of the biblical text, and yet derive meaning from it? It's a bit like that movie, True Lies. Only, in this case, it would be better to speak of True Myths.

    When we hear the word "myth", we quickly think "not factual" and then "false". But maybe this chain of associations is too facile. Perhaps a myth can be not factual and yet true.

    Allow me to illustrate the point with an example that would offend many Christians:  a sculpture of a female Jesus, naked on the cross. It wouldn't be historically accurate, but perhaps it could still express truth. Here's a charitably sympathetic interpretation from a Salvation Army web site:
    There once was a sculpture exhibited in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, which depicts Jesus, naked, on the cross. Not terribly original, except for the fact that Jesus is here portrayed as a woman.


    This work of art has been labelled both pornographic and blasphemous, a desecration to the image of Christ. It is a shocking piece of art, there is no question, and offensive to many. …

    We can also find paintings depicting Jesus as a black man, as an Asian, as a Native American, and as any other number of races and body types. We generally do not find those images to be blasphemous, but rather representative of the fact that Christ identifies with all people at all times. But Christ as a woman? For many this seems a step too far.

    Is sculpting Jesus as a woman simply an extremist feminist statement? Possibly. But there may be other ways to look at it. The birth, life, and death of Jesus should be seen in the light of God’s radical and total identification with humanity. All of humanity. Jesus does not belong exclusively to any particular sub-section of the human race.

    So perhaps this artist was merely taking seriously the claim that 'in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.' Perhaps she was trying to wake people up to the fact that Christ’s identification with humanity — women included — should very much impact the way women are viewed and treated in the world today.

    When God took on human flesh it made false for all time the idea that the human body should be despised, used, abused, or objectified.
    In this case, "not factual" does not necessarily mean "false". A work of art can be unhistorical and yet meaningful.

    The same may be true of religious rituals. For example, the church service I attended included two baptisms. The minister began that portion of the service by praying, "Bless this water, O Lord, that it may become an instrument of your grace."

    Was the water changed by the prayer? No doubt its chemical composition was the same:  it consisted of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen. But was the water spiritually different after the prayer? What could this phrase, spiritually different water, possibly mean?

    Here we are in the realm of faith and myth. Consider this analysis of the subject from a book by Karen Armstrong:
    The people of the past evolved two ways of thinking, speaking, and acquiring knowledge, which scholars have called mythos and logos. Both were essential; they were regarded as complementary ways of arriving at truth, and each had its special area of competence.

    Myth was regarded as primary; it was concerned with what was thought to be timeless and constant in our existence. Myth looked back to the origins of life, to the foundations of culture, and to the deepest levels of the human mind.

    Myth was not concerned with practical matters, but with meaning. Unless we find some significance in our lives, we mortal men and women fall very easily into despair. The mythos of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal.

    Myth could not be demonstrated by rational proof; its insights were more intuitive, similar to those of art, music, poetry, or sculpture. …

    Logos was equally important. Logos was the rational, pragmatic, and scientific thought that enabled men and women to function well in the world. We may have lost the sense of mythos in the West today, but we are very familiar with logos, which is the basis of our society. Unlike myth, logos must relate exactly to facts and correspond to external realities if it is to be effective. It must work efficiently in the mundane world. …

    In the premodern world, both mythos and logos were regarded as indispensable. Each would be impoverished without the other. Yet the two were essentially distinct, and it was held to be dangerous to confuse mythical and rational discourse. …

    You were not supposed to make mythos the basis of a pragmatic policy. If you did, the results could be disastrous, because what worked well in the inner world of the psyche was not readily applicable to the affairs of the external world. …

    Logos had its limitations too. It could not assuage human pain or sorrow. Rational arguments could make no sense of tragedy. Logos could not answer questions about the ultimate value of human life. A scientist could make things work more efficiently and discover wonderful new facts about the physical universe, but he could not explain the meaning of life. That was the preserve of myth and cult.
    Some of you know that I am a Christian but liberal in my beliefs. In my opinion, Armstrong's analysis is insightful.

    I know meaning can be found elsewhere. Snaars and I have discussed this subject as part of a larger dialogue on whether God exists. Even though he is an atheist, Snaars affirms that human existence has meaning; he is able to find meaning in philosophy.

    Thus I do not insist that meaning can be found only in mythos. But I wonder whether my readers can follow me even so far as to agree with my thesis:  i.e., that a myth can be not factual and yet true.

    Over to you. Yes or no; why or why not?

    Friday, August 12, 2005

    Top ten reasons why it is so a beach!

    I'm home, briefly, then I'm heading out of town for a wedding. I'll be back late Sunday. Until my return, I offer more foolishness for your idle amusement.

    This is a response to an amusing post on Jack's blog, in which Jack argued that freshwater beaches are not beaches:
    The Shmata Queen and I have an ongoing debate about whether she grew up near The beach. The premise is based upon the misguided belief that a Great Lake constitutes a beach.

    Technically I suppose that you could try and make the case that a lake offers a beach.

    n. beach (bēch):

    1. The shore of a body of water, especially when sandy or pebbly.

    2. The sand or pebbles on a shore.

    3. The zone above the water line at a shore of a body of water, marked by an accumulation of sand, stone, or gravel that has been deposited by the tide or waves.

    I'd disagree with this and say that you can claim waterfront property, but a real beach needs the ocean. A real beach has sand that is created by the pounding of the Saltwater waves and not those of a sinking ship (Edmund Fitzgerald).
    I didn't respond to Jack's post at the time, but I have just returned from three nights of camping on one of the Great Lakes (Lake Ontario). I offer the following

    Top Ten Reasons Why It Is So A Beach:

    10. Vast quantities of water:
    From my vantage point on the Ontario shore, you could theoretically look across at the state of New York on the other side of the lake. But in practice you run into a small difficulty:  the curvature of the earth. Lake Ontario is that big:  it is not to be mistaken for your neighbour's backyard pool.

    9. Sun-baked sand:

    Sandbanks Provincial Park comes by its name honestly. The sand is baked by the sun until it is bright white in colour, and uncomfortably hot under one's bare feet.

    8. Beach that goes on for miles:

    The picture doesn't do it justice, but you get the idea. I repeat, no one should think we're talking about a backyard pool.

    7. Tides and waves:
    The Great Lakes are large enough to have tides. As for the waves, I concede that you can't surf on them, but they are plenty large enough to entertain swimmers who rise and fall on the swells. (Or to exacerbate the fear of someone who, like me, is always a little anxious in the water.)

    6. Beach activities:
    Sun bathing, swimming, building sand castles, teenagers flirting with one another, and naked toddlers enjoying the sensation of the waves rushing up their pudgy legs — all the traditional beach activites are represented here. Even kite flying:

    5. "Sea" weed and deceased wildlife:
    Two ever-popular beach attractions! One of my daughters scooped up a fistful of weeds and plunked them on her head:  voila, an instant transformation into Ursula the evil sea witch.

    On another occasion, my children complained about the dead carp littering the shoreline. I saw one of them, with its empty eye socket glaring balefully in the general direction of its Creator, and a sea gull impatiently standing by, waiting for the people to clear out so it could do a little snacking.

    4. Sun worshipers as far as the eye can see:
    Sandbanks attracts crowds! Hundreds of people in the water, on the beach, and coming and going from the parking lot.

    3. Jack's dictionary definition:
    Let's not forget, Jack provided a dictionary definition that plainly showed he was wrong. (This is no mere technicality, Jack!) The other items on my Top Ten list are mere window dressing — the matter was decided at the outset.

    And the top two reasons
    why it is so a beach:

    Because there's more to life than books, you know.

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    Buskers' Festival 1

    I'm taking my children camping, so I'll be away from my computer until Thursday or Friday. Since I won't be around to respond to comments, I'll offer some photos for your mindless amusement instead of my usual fare.

    From our local buskers' festival, 2005, I bring you …

    The Amazing Unicyclist

    Meet Jean-Michel Paré, from Quebec. I've been to a few buskers' festivals and I can tell you:  this guy is good.

    An essential part of the busker's art is to draw a large crowd. Fewer people means less money! So the good buskers know how to stall for time. Offer a few amusing tricks and some banter — just enough to keep people engaged while you wait for a crowd to gather. Get the crowd to make some noise so people will think they're missing a really good show.

    M. Paré used a diablo to do the trick. He asked the crowd to say "Ooooooh" when the diablo was ascending, and "Ahhhhhh" when the diablo was returning to earth. Did it work? You be the judge:

    Then he enlisted this volunteer from the crowd:

    … and he couldn't have made a better choice. The kid's name was Jared. After he got Jared to perform a few tricks, M. Paré invited the audience to throw money — not for him, but for Jared to keep. And that might have been the highlight of the show. Jared was thrilled, trying to run in every direction simultaneously, switching direction every time he heard a coin fall.

    It was so entertaining that it went on and on — the crowd kept throwing money just to watch Jared do his thing. And M. Paré started making jokes: "You don't have to go to school any more, kid." "Wait! save some of your money for me!" (which may not have been entirely a joke). "You know he's just going to spend it on crack."

    Here's Jared trying to pick up one last quarter, but every time he reaches for it M. Paré scoots forward on the unicycle as if to run over the kid's fingers:

    Timing is everything with this trick. Your career as a busker comes to an ignominious end if the kid loses a finger. But note the laughter on the faces.

    M. Paré rode three unicycles during the show. This is the mid-sized one, and he skipped rope on it. Note the compression of the wheel:

    And here he is airborne:

    … with the crowd offering some well-deserved applause.

    Finally, M. Paré got up on the biggest unicycle (you can see all three in this 2004 photo; the eight-foot one is in the background), and he juggled torches for us.

    "Now I'm going to do a trick for you," he said.

    pause while the crowd waits expectantly for something to happen

    "That was a joke. This is a trick:  I'm juggling flaming torches while riding an eight-foot unicycle."

    And now, for my next trick, I will disappear to Sandbanks Provincial Park. Mary P. has promised to keep an eye on my blog while I'm away, so don't get up to any mischief. She cracks a mean whip.

    Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Canadians and Americans:  the same only different

    I began my previous post by stating that it illustrates the different social mores of Canada and the USA. This view, that our countries sharply diverge on social issues, is a truism among Canadians — but arguably it is false.

    Ipsos-Reid recently polled 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Canadians, and found there is a marked convergence between us with respect to social values. Here are some of the survey results, as reported in the May 9 Globe and Mail (available here):
    • Attitudes toward marijuana possession, often cited as a point of divergence, are almost identical. 57 per cent of Americans and 59 per cent of Canadians disagreed with the statement that a conviction for possession always should result in a criminal record.

    • A nearly identical proportion in both populations — 40 per cent of Americans and 41 per cent of Canadians — think the expansion of police powers to fight terrorism has gone too far, and threatens the "fundamental civil rights of all citizens."

    • Overwhelming majorities in both countries — 78 per cent of Americans and 87 per cent of Canadians — agree that the government "has a responsibility to protect the poor."

    • 88 per cent of Americans and 93 per cent of Canadians believe caring for the elderly is a government duty.

    • Asked whether people from different ethnic backgrounds "would be better off if they became like the majority," nearly half of Canadians — 44 per cent — said yes. But only 37 per cent of Americans agreed. ("I think that would stun Canadians," a former US ambassador to Canada is quoted as saying. "They believe themselves to be infinitely more tolerant than Americans.")

    • Similar proportions of Americans and Canadians — 64 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively — say they don't want economic growth to take priority over the environment.

    • Although more Americans than Canadians agree that their faith determines which political candidate they vote for, a solid majority in both countries — 76 per cent of Canadians and 62 per cent of Americans — disagree.
    I must admit, I'm not sure how to account for the results of this poll. There's another side to the story, it seems to me.

    If Canadians had been voting in the last presidential election, John Kerry would have been elected in a landslide. And Iraq was not the sole issue. A majority of Canadians disagree with President Bush's tendency to blur the line between church and state; with his enthusiasm for the death penalty; and with his positions on stem cell research and abortion.

    Our legislature voted in favour of same sex marriage. President Bush has vowed to amend the US Constitution, if necessary, to protect the traditional "one man, one woman" definition of marriage.

    A majority of Canadians are deeply offended by the constitutional right to bear arms, by the exaggerated concern about marijuana use (see the previous post), and by the view of many Americans that children may be scarred for life by the merest glimpse of a woman's nipple.

    (On this last point, I am of course thinking of the hue and cry over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction". In Canada, it is legal for women to walk down the street topless — honest! But I hasten to add that few women avail themselves of the right. I wouldn't want my American readers to plan a vacation in Canada, expecting to see topless women smoking pot at every major intersection.)

    Please enlighten me. How different are Canadians and Americans? Which of the supposed differences are nothing but a myth? Is it possible to reconcile the two streams of data I have outlined?

    When scientific data contradicts people's assumptions, I generally side with the scientific data. But in this case, I admit I am not so sure.

    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    USA reaches north to nab Canadian marijuana activist

    This story illustrates the different social mores of Canada and the USA. It also raises a question about international law enforcement:  for what sort of offences should the American government be able to demand the extradition of a Canadian citizen?

    Marc Emery is the leader of a political party in the province of British Columbia. The primary objective of the Marijuana Party is to change federal laws to decriminalize cannabis.

    Mr. Emery also runs an internet business which sells marijuana seeds, and many of his clients live in the USA. According to American drug enforcement officers, Mr. Emery's business earns up to $3 million per year. The Globe and Mail reports:
    "I've sold about four million seeds," the marijuana mogul boasted in a 2002 media interview. "Unlike most other seed dealers, I use my real name and I'm easy to find."
    Mr. Emery was arrested in Halifax (Canada) on Friday, after a U.S. federal grand jury indicted him on charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. Of course, Canadian law enforcement officers do not take orders directly from a grand jury in the USA; they were acting on a search warrant signed by Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm of the B.C. Supreme Court.

    American officials say they will seek Mr. Emery's extradition to try him in Seattle. Conviction on either of the marijuana charges carries a minimum prison term of 10 years to a maximum of life.

    In Canada, just last week, the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected a two-year jail term for a convicted marijuana grower as excessive. And the Government of Canada has introduced legislation which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use:
    Bill C-38 introduces alternative penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana (under 30 grams). Under this legislation, all possession and cultivation of marijuana remains illegal. Offences relating to the possession of small amounts of marijuana would, however, be prosecuted as a contravention by means of a ticket. This new ticketing regime better reflects the severity of the crime.

    "The Government believes that Canadians should not be saddled with a criminal record for possessing small amounts of marijuana. This is a case where the consequences of being convicted for an offence far outweighed the offence itself." said Ms. Torsney [Chair of the Special Committee on Bill C-38].

    In addition to the alternative penalties for possession, Bill C-38 increases the penalties for those individuals who cultivate large amounts of marijuana.
    [Note:  the Bill was reintroduced in a later session of Parliament and renamed C-17; it still hasn't been passed into law.]

    The Globe and Mail comments:
    The arrests raise the question of how far another country should be allowed to go in trying to influence the way in which Canadian police deal with a substance that many Canadians consider to be an acceptable recreational tool.

    "If Mr. Emery was a person who had been suspected of homicide in the U.S., we wouldn't have any problem with what was done at all," said Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.

    He said Mr. Emery has been able to operate his marijuana seed business for more than a decade in Canada, where pot possession has traditionally not been vigorously policed as a criminal act.

    "For us to send Mr. Emery to the U.S. to face what might be life imprisonment would seem to me to be ceding a certain amount of our sovereignty in terms of how we want to see Canadian citizens treated for certain kinds of behaviour."

    Prof. Boyd said the arrest of a high-profile Canadian marijuana advocate is an indication that the United States is out of step with Britain and other European countries, which have been moving to decriminalize pot possession.
    Over to you, folks. Should Canadian officials extradite Mr. Emery to the USA? Is this a matter of Canadian sovereignty, or an instance of the old adage, "you do the crime, you serve the time"?