Month: December 2009

This Week in Question Period – December 11th, 2009

By: James Di Fiore

Poor Peter MacKay.

Not since his heartbreaking split with nepotism-soaked heiress Belinda Stronach a few years ago have we seen such a flustered Minister of Defense. Peter McKay faced loud and sometimes obnoxious calls to resign by members of the opposition this week, capping off a week that brought the prisoner abuse scandal to a new level.

After years of steadfast claims that Canada has never acted improperly when handing detainees over to Afghan officials on the battlefield, a field report surfaced that showed one detainee had been photographed with Canadian soldiers before being handed over and subsequently abused at the hands of his Afghan captors. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lambasted both Prime Minister Harper and MacKay after General Walter Natynczyk acknowledged that the military had been aware that transferred prisoners risked being abused. The report contained a note from a Canadian soldier stating the following – “we then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan National Police did assault him, as has happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition.” The field report is dated 2006 and was apparently only discovered on Wednesday morning by General Natynczyk.

The opposition leaders and back-benchers took turns calling for MacKay’s resignation both directly and through the PM.

Coincidentally, MacKay was scheduled to appear in front of a parliamentary committee concerning Afghanistan on Wednesday afternoon, where he once again faced scathing criticism from opposition members. The government has consistently stated they have no credible evidence of detainees being tortured after being in Canadian custody, and attempted to spin the controversy into ‘military bashing’ by the Liberals and other opposition parties.

This desperation tactic may be a watershed moment for the parliament as they head into the holidays. The new developments related to the military police complaints commission’s stated determination to begin hearings in March over Afghan detainees, but many on the Hill feel the Conservative government will not appoint a new commissioner in time. 340, 000 documents currently being reviewed and redacted may thwart the committee’s ability to uncover the underlying issues. The government has stated the redacted material are a matter of “operational safety” for the troops still stationed overseas. Michael Ignatieff sees it differently.

“This is a government that tried to strangle the military police commission from the beginning,” Ingatieff stated. He added, “The risk of putting anybody in operational danger is about zero . . . It’s too ridiculous to discuss.”

Michael Jackson Painting Causing Firestorm

Controversial artwork depicts Jackson as Michelangelo’s David, with a twist

by: James Di Fiore

The last word on Michael Jackson’s controversial relationship with children may be the painting that once adorned his wall at Neverland. Artist David Nordahl’s ‘Michael’ portrays the King of Pop as Michelangelo’s David,  wearing nothing but a white sheaf hanging across his waist and surrounded by Putto angels – Greek mythological, naked child-angels who traditionally appear with gods of love, poetry and music.

There is an aroma of cheap irony in the context of the painting and why it is being released. The work itself is not impressive, a mediocre attempt at presenting the pop icon as immortal and flanked by the precise symbols of his life’s most damaging chapter. Nordahl told the New York Post that Jackson approved the piece. “(he) thought it was great with a little ‘tongue-in-cheek’ flavor,” said Nordahl. Apart from the unlettered play on words in his quote, the overriding consensus is that this is the latest in a long line of commercial vampires looking to cash in on Michael’s death. For some, the art will add to the mystery of Michael’s private lifestyle and outlook on children and himself.

The discussion concerning Jackson’s lifestyle polarizes pop culture, creating two differing camps of perfectly irrational individuals. The first camp consists of dogmatic worshippers, incapable of seeing Jackson as a possible pedophile and determined to set the record straight. They saw him is as a man with arrested development, unable to act like an adult and acting out by having platonic sleepovers with kids. The second group is comprised of pure haters, unable to see Michael Jackson as anything other than an unpunished pedophile, receiving a free ride due to his unparalleled celebrity status. Both think they have a point, and this latest representation of Jackson serves as a tacky, ironic hybrid of both those groups, each battling for an unrivalled position of being the authority over Michael’s overall persona.

Yet the painting was an intentional, commissioned piece financed by Michael himself, possibly one of the most egomaniacal self tributes by an artist not born in ancient times, if you include all of the previous iconic pieces the artist had accumulated over the years. Still, if the piece was intended to show Jackson as a man with an affinity with children, I think he more than missed the mark. If anything, this painting will further erode the King of Pop’s reputation and pit both camps against each other for generations to come.

Atheists Anonymous

by: James Di Fiore

Fact: In the last 15 years, the percentage of people who claim to be Atheists has grown from 8% to 16%, making them the fastest growing minority in North America. Let’s just hope most of them don’t drink heavily.

Recently, after coming to grips with my own possible alcohol problem, I decided to attend a few AA meetings to feel out if I was an addict or just a person who drank a bit too much. Truthfully, I still do not know the answer – but one aspect of attending these meetings stayed with me more than the horrible black coffee served free of charge. The entire AA mantra is built around God.

Now, I was raised Roman Catholic from a scholastic standpoint, but at an early age I dismissed the idea of god as just another fairy tale. It just appeared to be so implausible that i couldn’t bring myself to believe. I suppose you could say that i am a rationalist, but I am more of a left brained thinker and spend little time looking at science and mathematics. Perhaps a good way to describe my religious beliefs is through a term coined by Christopher Hitchens, one of the foremost intellectuals on the subject of religious history and secular rights on the planet. He describes himself as an Anti-theist – a term describing not just a disbelief in a supernatural dictatorship, but a complete contempt for the idea as a whole. If there is a god, Hitchens says, it would be the most disappointing realization I could ever fathom.

So imagine my disappointment when I arrived at my first AA meeting and listened to every last one of the members cite God as their main source of well being. The history of AA reveals that while the founders were staunch Christian fundamentalists, the definition of ‘higher power’ often referenced is apparently flexible enough to be at the discretion of the alcoholic. That sounds great, but when the entire room rises to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the end of each meeting, just before they break out the collection plates a la Sunday Mass, all bets are off.

It left me scrambling for a position regarding both my problem with alcohol and my wonderment as to whether or not an Atheist is able to seek help from AA without actually believing in a higher power. As it currently stands, AA is not a secular organization. It is an organization that, while helpful to many people, leaves Atheists out in the dark, challenging their belief systems in a way that holds their alcoholism hostage until they can readily admit that a God is what they need to get sober. I found the experience to be less helpful and more cult-ish, to be blunt.

In any event, I will continue to explore my own drinking habits and eventually come to a place where i am either completely sober or in control of my drinking. But I will be the first to say that while AA has helped millions of people, they seem to be leaving the fastest growing demographic on the continent high and dry.

Stay tuned on a future post where I explore the political consequences of Atheism.