Archive for April 2013

Earth Day + 2


“We are one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.”

from the Declaration of Interdependence

At this time, we are living through the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction.

“So what is the Sixth Extinction? When is it coming? And what is its cause? “It’s the next annihilation of vast numbers of species. It is happening now, and we, the human race, are its cause,” explains Dr. Richard Leakey, the world’s most famous paleoanthropologist. Every year, between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from our planet, he says. “For the sake of argument, let’s assume the number is 50,000 a year. Whatever way you look at it, we’re destroying the Earth at a rate comparable with the impact of a giant asteroid slamming into the planet, or even a shower of vast heavenly bodies.



Earth Day +1

Spring flowers in the forest

Spring flowers in the forest

“This we know:

We are the earth, through the plants and animals that nourish us.
We are the rains and the oceans that flow through our veins.
We are the breath of the forests of the land, and the plants of the sea.
We are human animals, related to all other life as descendants of the firstborn cell.
We share with these kin a common history, written in our genes.
We share a common present, filled with uncertainty.
And we share a common future, as yet untold.”

 from the Declaration of Interdependence, 1992

For the complete text, visit:

The Paradox of Modern Violence – Jim Taylor



By now, the news video is seared indelibly into our memories. A flash, a boom, a billow of smoke. Runners tumble to the pavement. Emergency personnel race into action. On stretchers, on makeshift carts, sometimes in their arms, they carry injured and maimed victims to medical care.
This was, of course, the Boston marathon, 2013.
For once, the mainly U.S. media showed commendable restraint. They did not rush to blame foreign terrorists, Islamist fanatics, or world-government conspiracies.
Unfortunately, most of them also did not put the Boston bombings into any kind of context. One of the few who did was Erin Niemela of the Common Dreams alternative news network. “Americans will remember Monday, April 15, 2013 as a day in which unspeakable violence took the lives of three people and wounded at least 153 after bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line,” she wrote.

Thousands of miles away, Iraqis will remember this same Monday as a day in which violence claimed the lives of at least 31 people and over 200 injured after multiple car bombs detonated in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, and several other areas. Afghans will remember this Monday as a day in which a ghastly roadside bomb in the Zabul province killed seven and wounded four other human beings.” And these, Niemela concluded, are only the deaths documented by the news media for a single morning.

That’s the paradox of the modern world. The news is filled with what Niemela called “unspeakable violence.” And yet scholars like Stephen Pinker argue that violence is decreasing.
In his 2012 book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Pinker documents exhaustively the likelihood of people dying in violence. Essentially, he argues that in past centuries, the vast majority of humans could expect to die violently — whether from local quarrels, repression by their rulers, or invading armies.
Today, by contrast, most people can expect to die in their beds, of old age or illness.
We may be living, he asserts, in the most peaceful times our species has known.
Now, you may not agree with Pinker’s thesis. Certainly, his book has received some scathing reviews. But it’s hard to challenge over 700 pages of graphs, charts, and statistics.
I think he’s right. When I consider the utterly mindless cruelty perpetrated in past years in the name of God and King (or any regional equivalent to those terms) I consider myself fortunate to live today and not during the centuries when human life was, in the words of philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish, and short.”
In North America, official police statistics tend to support Pinker’s view. The incidence of violent crime has been steadily decreasing.

And yet the crimes themselves become steadily more violent. Think of the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Columbine High in Colorado, Virginia Tech, the theatre in Aurora, Colorado… Think of Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the federal office building in Oklahoma City, or the fiery deaths in Waco, Texas…
What has happened, I suggest, is that even as our cultural reliance on violence has declined, the technology that enables violence has improved.
Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and its successor gelignite, foresaw this possibility. He made explosives safer to handle; he also greatly increased their power. After a French newspaper labelled him “the merchant of death,” Nobel established his Peace Prize as an intellectual counterpoint to his contribution to destruction.
Attila the Hun’s horsemen were legendary for their ruthlessness. But even they could only kill one person at a time. And that person could fight back — sometimes successfully.
Today’s killing technology, by contrast, let an Adam Lanza murder 26 cowering victims with an assault rifle. Timothy McVeigh caused 168 deaths with a single truck bomb. A paranoid Osama bin Laden — if, in fact, he did mastermind the September 11, 2001 attacks — destroyed the World Trade Center and 3000 human lives.
Not even Attila’s hordes achieved the killing capability of ballistic missiles, remotely controlled drones, or nuclear bombs.  Reliable statistics are hard to find, but one group claims that the U.S. has carried out 422 strikes in Pakistan and Yemen alone, the majority by remotely oontrolled drones, resulting in roughly 3,000 deaths.

And that’s what makes modern killing technology — including the bombs at Boston — so terrifying. The victims never know who hit them. Or why. They cannot confront their attackers.
By the time an improvised explosive device detonates, or a drone completes its “surgically precise” mission, the perpetrators could be miles away in the local Starbucks enjoying a cup of coffee.
Car bombs don’t choose who they’re going to maim. Drones have a specific target — we’re told — but have no idea who else may be present. The gunmen in Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and Fort Hood didn’t care who they shot — they killed for the sake of killing.
Did Harry Truman know even one of the 100,000 or so people he incinerated in Hiroshima?
We have all become “collateral damage.”
That’s what makes the Boston bombings (and their more sophisticated kin) so disturbing.

Copyright © 2013 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Posted April 21, 2013 by allanbaker in Canadian society, Politics

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Democracy in Canada

How does one define “democracy”?

The Green Party here in Canada has sent me a note which illustrates the trend towards less democracy, as I know it, here in Canada. The letter from the Greens, in part, reads:

“Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline runs straight through major Canadian cities, including Sarnia, the GTA and Montreal, passing 9.1 million people, and nearly 100 towns and cities.

“Installed in the mid-1970s, this aging pipe system is set to be modified. A proposal is in place to reverse the flow of this pipeline and expand its carrying capacity.

“But if you are one of the millions of Canadians along its route who wish to communicate legitimate concerns about this project to the National Energy Board (NEB), you will have to apply for permission to do so.

“New rules implemented due to the rewriting of federal environmental assessment law in omnibus bill C-38 last spring mean Canadians are required to submit a 10 page application, including a resume and references within a two week deadline, just to ask permission from the NEB to submit a letter of comment on pipeline proposals.

“Permission will only be granted to those deemed “directly affected” by the NEB, which has restricted public comment even further by adding its own deadlines.”

Is this the “democratic process” that Canadians dream of? Do we want a “democracy” where citizens are:

“required to submit a 10 page application, including a resume and references within a two week deadline, just to ask permission from the NEB to submit a letter of comment on pipeline proposals.”

Each of us has an important patch on the quilt of creation. We are all directly affected by decisions on pipelines, pollution of the air and water, and econotheism.

Who gets to decide which citizens can participate in making the pattern for us, and the next generations? Is this the new “democracy”, or is it doublespeak?

Easter economics 4

Chicago in April 2011 027“For all of us, social justice is about how to think and act with others to support conditions where one’s own and others’ well-being are simultaneously possible.”

Marilyn J. Legge – Emmanuel College Newsletter, Winter, 2007

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Jesus – Luke 6: 31 (NRSV)

Easter economics 3

In Toronto, Canada, there is a proposal to establish a large casino in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, most of the debate is based on “economics”, rather than the more fundamental moral issue of what gambling does to the soul. That being said, an inter-faith group has recently asked the citizens of Toronto to consider the question of gambling as a moral issue.

In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King, an English professor at the University of Guelph writes (page 179) about casinos and “gaming” on reservations – such as “Casino Rama” here in Ontario:

“I’m not particularly happy about gambling as a fiscal base for Native people. That kind of money generally brings out the worst in folks, Native as well as non-Native. But after several centuries of economic oppression, and given the lack of alternatives, professional gaming, for many tribes, holds the most potential for the least effort. Still, apart from raw cash and jobs, industrial strength gambling contributes little of value to the world.”

I offer the words above, from Thomas King, for your reflections.

  • Does gambling bring out the best in people, or the worst?

  • Are there economic alternatives to build a better city here in Toronto?

  • Apart from “raw cash and jobs”, what contribution would “industrial strength gambling” make to life in our city?

Wisdom for life

Coffee mug wisdom

Coffee mug wisdom

Posted April 13, 2013 by allanbaker in Inspiration

Tagged with , ,

RBC and job theft

In Canada this week the curtain has been briefly pulled aside, revealing the fact that RBC, and many other corporations, have been using the Harper government’s Temporary Foreign Worker program to take jobs away from Canadians. As Haroon Siddiqui wrote in The Toronto Star,

The scandalous RBC case is one twist in a complicated labour scam…”

Outsourcing, offshoring and the Temporary Foreign Worker program are all examples of how corporations, and their business-friendly governments, put profits before people. It seems that there is no sense of social responsibility among corporations, as the case with RBC illustrates.

Thomas Walkom wrote about the neo-liberal worldview of the economy in his column about the death of Margaret Thatcher.

” Margaret Thatcher is dead. Views differ on how to mark her passing. But the more important story is that Thatcherism — the hard-nosed approach to economic policy that still carries the former British prime minister’s name — is also dead.”

Graffiti referring to the death of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, on the Falls Road in West Belfast, sums up some of the many emotions that boiled over at the news of her death.

CATHAL MCNAUGHTON / REUTERS Graffiti referring to the death of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, on the Falls Road in West Belfast, sums up some of the many emotions that boiled over at the news of her death.

Walkom’s analysis brought this home to Canada …

“In Canada, it is still worshipped by a generation of conservative politicians who see themselves as Thatcher’s children — people such as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, federal Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.”

For the full column by Thomas Walkom,

Faith leaders say “ENOUGH”, by Jim Wallis

More Than 3,300 Gun Deaths Since Newtown; Faith Leaders Say ‘Enough’

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Today, on the National Mall, I stood with fellow faith leaders, including clergy from Newtown, to remember lives lost at Sandy Hook elementary school and the 3,364 gun deaths that have happened since.

We stood in front of a field of crosses, Stars of David, and other grave markers, and it broke my heart to think that each one stood for a life ended too soon. It doesn’t have to be this way. Commonsense steps to reduce gun violence are within our reach. Just today the Senate voted to begin the debate. But there is much work to do. Lawmakers need to hear from you.

This is one of the clearest examples of a stark democratic choice: the old politics of guns or the morality of the common good. The clergy are here today for the common good.

There are many law abiding and responsible gun owners in this country. And I understand that those who play by the rules might feel like they are being punished for the wrongdoing of others. But no legislation being considered would end gun ownership as we know it. What it would do is begin to make owning a gun look a little more like owning a car. In that process we can make it more expensive and more legally punishing for criminals to get guns and make our streets and our schools safer for all. The gun laws on the table are just common sense; they bring us back to the common good.

The all-too-often reality for many urban pastors in our country is that they find themselves burying kids and comforting parents. While this experience may be far removed from those who live in rural or suburban areas and grow up hunting, part of our moral obligation as Christians is to think through these difficult issues not just from our perspective, but considering the stories and lives of others. When pastors are having painful funerals for young people who have died from gun violence, they are not really not thinking about the Second Amendment. Their hearts are full of tears for the families of those who have lost their beloved children; and their minds are full of frustration for how politics prevents us from finding simple ways to save more lives.

Pastors who have buried teen victims of gun violence today planted crosses on the Mall. It marked the beginning of prayer vigils happening across this country while Congress votes on gun legislation.

And if Congressional leaders care about democracy, they will vote for the commonsense rules on gun sales that a majority of Americans — and a majority of gun owners — now agree with. Public opinion is changing. Yet, today 86 more people will die from gun violence, including 8 more children. When old politics triumphs over common sense, more people die.

I urge the friends and families of those we remember on the Mall today: ask Congress to take just one step forward in making our streets and schools safer.

Today we plant crosses, Stars of David, and other religious symbols. Today we pray. Today we speak to our members of Congress. And one day we will make our country safer — all it takes is coming together together for the common good.

Jim Wallis is CEO of Sojourners. His book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

Posted April 11, 2013 by allanbaker in Christian Faith, Politics

Tagged with , , ,

Easter economics (2)

This was originally posted by Ted Schmidt on his blog: Theology in the Vineyard:

Sport as tool of corporate ideology

by Ted Schmidt


There is one simple reason we have Mayor  Rob Ford and former mayor Mel Lastman and the US had GW Bush and Ronald Reagan  twice. It is advanced capitalism. Never underesimate the power of wealth and advertising to suborn good intentions and decent orientations. On any Saturday in the USA watch the real liturgy—hordes of fans  heading to the stadium to watch their favourite college teams play. Sport obsession is a powerful seducer of dreams, a terrible substitute for authentic living. In the words of the great cultural critic Lewis Mumford, “one of the least effective weapons against the machine.”

Dave Zirin writes below about  March Madness, the annual basketball  tournament to name a number one team. The time and energy which goes into sporting events like this and US pro football is shocking. People phone in to talk radio and with amazing analyses tell you what is wrong with their local teams. It seems to be , given the time expended, of ultimate concern.The sport fanatics are not stupid but as Thomas Frank brilliantly wrote in What’s  the Matter with Kansas: How is it that poor people vote against their own interests? How  do blue collars line up with the corporate bandits of Wall Street and the Republican Party? The manipulation is mindboggling and so very injurious to the common good.


Fantasy sport leagues are treated with utmost seriousness and leach critical time from the needed analyis of our common life.  Time wasted here is time not used to analyze societal ills or cut through the awful propaganda which paints ambitious politicos as friends of the commons when in fact they are tools of corporate ideology.Ronald Reagan was the biggest robber of the common purse in US history, an affable spokesperson for the corporatocracy.

Zirin writes :

You most have to tip your cap: no non-profit does buccaneer profiteering quite like the NCAA. What other institution would see a tibia snap through a 20-year-old’s skin on national television and see dollar signs—Kevin Ware tee shirts  at 24,99 with the meaningless quoation, “Rise to the Occasion”? In accordance with their rules aimed at preserving the sanctity of amateurism, not one dime from these shirts will go to Kevin Ware or his family. Not one dime will go toward Kevin Ware’s medical bills if his rehab ends up beneath the $90,000 deductible necessary to access the NCAA’s catastrophic injury medical coverage.

How sick is the American college system where athletics wag the educational dog?  The coach at Louisville University Rick Pitino makes  $4 million a year. I wonder what the profs make at this elite university.

The point is the sick rule of money, in this case, sport promotion. All of this in the best entertained and least informed nation on earth.

Now in Toronto we are supposed to be hyped about having a winning team with the Blue Jays this year.

But we’ll still have a mayor like Rob Ford.

Both Jesus and Buddha had great advice: Stay awake!”