Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Gay Marriage

On conservative lists, I've engaged plenty of people on the issue of gay marriage. I'm surprised at just how animated I get when it comes to this issue. It would be a good idea, I think, to put all of the various arguments under a heading or category, and to deal with them as best I can. So consider this a sort of running post on the various things people find troubling about gay marriage, and how I respond to them.

To be clear: I support gay marriage.

On to the arguments.

Origination versus perpetuation

The argument against gay marriage goes like this: The institution of marriage began for reason X. Gay marriage is not X, or violates X. It follows that we cannot allow gay marriage. To give this more content: The institution of marriage was founded or started to provide a secure context within which children can be raised. Gay people cannot have children. Since the institution of marriage is for children, gay people should not be allowed to get married.

I will leave aside whether or not, at some point in the future, technology can make it possible for gays to procreate. There are reasons to oppose this use of technology, so it would muddle the waters to consider this here.

There is an explanation for why something started, and one for why it continues. The two are not always the same, even if they might be in a large number of cases.

Just because the primary function, and original intention, behind, say, an orange peeler is to peel oranges, that does not mean that, should it prove to be excellent at opening cans of prunes, say, we ought not use it for that reason. It's fine, in my opinion, to use it for the opening of cans of prunes, even if very few people will find it useful for this purpose, or only a handful of people ever do use it for this reason, and so on.

Other than raising children, is marriage useful or good for other things? Sure it is. Since we like to partner up for reasons of mutual comfort, maybe as a form of insurance, and so on, marriage seems like a great sort of institution to formalize those things. Some couples, for instance, choose not to have children. Others find that they cannot, through infertility. Some of these continue to see the benefits of marriage, outside of the procreative function.

Thus procreation, though hardly irrelevent, is not the sole function of marriage, even if it may be said to have been the reason for its founding.


One possible objection is to suggest that by emphasizing the non-procreative functions of marriage, we might destroy the institution for that (procreative) function. This is plausible. If, for instance, the orange-peeler begins to be used more frequently for opening cans of prunes, or it becomes more obvious to people that that's what it's best for, then we might shift emphasis and use it for the latter purpose, rather than the former.

I don't, however, see how this might come about. Since homosexuals comprise, at best, three or four per cent of the population (I don't buy the ten per cent figure...), and those couples without children will persist in minority status, I cannot see how marriage might lose its tight association with having children. Of course, if those concerned with marriage continue to stammer on about gay marriage, we might begin to think that the only people who get married are gays. But I don't think that's likely.

Constraints versus Licence

I'm surprised by the following argument: Gay marriage is about licence. It is about the desire to pursue our individual preferences without constraint. It is individualism run wild. Marriage, however, is really about constraint. We ought not to allow gay marriage because supporters of gay marriage talk about it as though it were a sort of licence to do as we please. I'll cite an example of this, because I think, to most, this will come as a really bizarre sort of argument.

It gets everything exactly backwards. As I wrote in a response to that post by Angry:
"I am utterly confused about the equating of gay marriage with the sort of individual rights that you sneer at. Gays have said that they, too, would like to enter into long-term contracts with their significant others to (rationally) constrain immediate benefits for greater gains over time.

"Right now gays have no bonds or 'official' commitments recognized by their communities. Right now is when they can go ahead and screw anything that walks, should it please them. It looks to me like they are looking for communal constraints on just this sort of behaviour. They appear to me to be looking, and asking for, constraints!"

Rational Choice?

Speaking of rational constraints: Is marriage consonant with, or in opposition to, rational choice theory, and the view that human beings are preference-optimizers/maximizers? The answer here should in no way suggest that marriage actually *is* a sort of rational choice decision where we weigh benefits and burdens and decide to chase after it. Whatever the actual fact of the matter, rational choice is a plausible explanation of it as well. That is, marriage is rational.

Why is it rational? If we view rational choice not as the attempt to maximize our preferences at every instance, but over time, then constraints on current pleasures, or on pleasures of a certain sort or kind, can yield greater utility/pleasure (whatever) over time, or utility/pleasure (whatever) of a certain sort or kind which we prefer. Of course, rational choice is precisely about this sort of behaviour--maximizing preference satisfaction given our own preferences and our own time horizon (or preference over when we want to be satisfied).

I have to admit that I can't quite see how or why viewing marriage as a constraint on immediate gains is offered as an argument against gay marriage, but I assure you that it is.

Monday, June 20, 2005

London eye

London eye
Originally uploaded by piotrek.
London has been a bit rough on three of my buddies. The second week I was here, my friend Noah was jumped by a couple of girls and some fellows while I was busy finding somewhere to pee. I don't have a photo of that.

Then Gene Callahan, another friend, gets mugged back in February over a mobile phone incident. He's looking as handsome as ever now.

Finally, after a study session with the G11 wrecking crew, my buddy, Ben Estep, gets jumped by a pair of folks who take his bag, and cut out his wallet (without cutting him). Poor Ben lost his notes. His eye is still healing, but there is little doubt that he will be handsome soon.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A compendium of covers

The coverage of the Chaoulli trial has now hit fever pitch. I can't keep up with all of the different stories, and will trust that you can find them easily enough.

I have, however, created a slideshow of today's newspaper cover pages. I think the big winner is the Ottawa Citizen. That front page is incredible.

If anyone is able to get these cover pages for me, let me know please. I would like to have them.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


This image is taken from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation which is strongly standing up for options in health care. Tomorrow, I plan on re-joining the CTF on account of it. You should join too.

Meanwhile, for very good analysis, check out the Potent Pew's post on the case. Potent Pew predicted this outcome in the comment section below. To wit, he wrote: "I agree. I think this is going to be huge. I predict a major result. Government loses." Yup, you were right.

My buddy Aaron Lee-Wudrick posts his thoughts here. They're worth a look, especially since Wudrick is now one year into his law degree.

Occam's Carbuncle is a touch more sarcastic about the outcome.

Pro Libertate Veritateque break the ruling down as well, under a post entitled "Chaoulli: The Supreme Court Case of the Decade." Damn straight.

The Ruling

You can read the ruling here.

Holy shit

Supreme Court strikes down Quebec law against private insurance. Doesn't result in cross-Canada legalization of health care acts between consenting adults. Not sure what it all means just yet, the ruling is a little complicated. (4 to 3 ruling: Appeal upheld).

Google News hits for "Chaoulli"
Supreme Court strikes down Quebec medicare law (CTV) (see videos)
Top Court strikes down Quebec private health-care law (CBC... see video)

Quebec ban on private medical care struck down (Globe & Mail)

A little more

*Cue Jeopardy song*

Just a few more hours, and we'll see if Canadians can get the same sort of access to health care that they can get for their dogs and cats.

CTV News has several good things up on the case.
Supreme Court ruling could change health care (Check out videos)
Top court to rule on universal health care case

From a year ago, CTV did a good job as well:
Medicare goes on trial in Supreme Court case (Videos!)
Senator denies arguing for medicare's demise. (There's a video of him as well)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Trial of the Century

(Update below)
(cross-posted at The Shotgun)

Tomorrow, at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Supreme Court of Canada will rule in the case of Chaoulli and Zeliotis v. Government of Quebec. Amongst possible rulings is that the prohibition on private care in Canada contravenes section 7 Charter guarantees to life, liberty, and security of the person.

That is, if Canadians have to wait so long for care--which they do--then their security of the person is violated. They should be free to pursue a private option within Canada should the government prove to be incapable of providing timely care in gov-run hospitals.

In anticipation of the ruling, I'm posting my conversation with Jacques Chaoulli for the Western Standard cover story entitled "Freedom Fighter." You can listen to it by clicking here (it's a WAV file). I do sound like a bit of an idiot in there at parts, but I guess that's forgivable...

The newsmedia is somewhat silent on this issue the day before the ruling. My Google News Alert provides me with three links:
Medicare Future at Stake (National Post)
Medicare's Future on the line (Alaska Highway News)
The Montreal Economic Institute made its presence to the media known in a press release.

Silence before the storm?

What? A Supreme Court case? Quick, where's my keyboard? Ahh... here it is:
Top Court to rule on Medicare Test Case (Globe & Mail) (5:19 p.m. Ahem.)
Labour unions issue a press release as well, noting their intention to be available for comment.

****Back to original post****

And here, for your background reading, are a few links to keep you busy:

WS: Freedom Fighter (Web) (PDF) (2004/10/11)
NY Times: A challenger to Canada's Health Care (2005/05/22)
CBC: Top court to hear private health-care challenge. (2003/05/08)
SC Press release: Case heard before Supreme Court (2004/06/08)
Margaret Wente: The dangerous ideas of Dr. Jacques Chaoulli. (2004/06/08)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Yes, yes, that's what I'll do--I will post some audio links on my blog here that are worth listening to. To listen to them, you can click on the MP3 link, or right-click and download it. Then you can listen to it either on your computer, or transfer it to your favourite MP3 player and listen in later.

For now, you should probably ignore the links until I announce each one. It's likely that I've used them as placeholders, and have it linked to some crazy blog like, say, David Agren's, or Jason Song's.

In time, I will post plenty of my conversations while a reporter at the Western Standard, and some speeches from the annual LSS (which will happen on the August 13, 14 weekend this year. It'll be our fifth year, and it's going to be incredible).

I will also scurry about to find a few interesting podcasts (if I feel like it) and will send you to those pages. Ethan, a fellow graduate student at the University of Waterloo from last year, promises to podcast some interesting talks and other worthy things for graduate students in the humanities, and his first few podcasts are worth checking out. I particularly like Jan Narveson's talk, as well as Colin Farrelly's, although I think the latter is wrong, wrong, wrong. But for reasons I won't get into.

Fun, huh?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Chopping wood

Picture 013
Originally uploaded by piotrek.
There you are then, a picture of me chopping wood in Orono.

I'm posting it as part of a shout-out to the G-11 Exam Crew, of which Ben Estep and Zach Maggio are a part. We'll be chopping up the Public Policy and Morality and Politics exams in the middle of June. Just like that poor log, unaware of the axe headed its way...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Unpublished, but worth a read

Cross-posted here.

The British Labour Party’s third, but significantly reduced, majority was marred by electoral mishaps. British newspapers are full of stories about ghost voters, people receiving duplicate polling cards giving some the chance to vote more than once, and voter fraud by mail occurring during the May 5 vote.

Canadian students studying in England are mixed up in the thick of it.

“I voted Liberal Democrats,” says Patrick Bennett, a Master’s student in Urbanisation and Development at the London School of Economics in London, England. A citizen of Montreal, Quebec, Patrick was as surprised as anyone to find a polling card in his mailbox claiming that he could vote.

“I didn’t really have time to consider how weird it was that I got to vote,” he says, “I just took advantage of the fact that I could.”

James Keirstead, a DPhil student in Geography at Oxford University, also cast his ballot, but not for Labour, he says. “They’ve done some good things, but from a policy perspective they’ve become a bit complacent and haven’t achieved as much as I think they should have given two strong majorities in 1997 and 2001,” explains Keirstead who wouldn’t reveal for whom he voted. Home is Nova Scotia for him, but he’s been living in England, off and on, for four years.

Canadians weren’t the only foreigners able to cast a ballot. All commonwealth countries have the same right. According to Directgov, a government-run service set up to make accessing government easier, there are 54 member countries of the commonwealth, an organization they describe as a “voluntary association of independent states, nearly all of which were once British territories.”

The vagaries of British elections are a result of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which made all British subjects eligible to vote. At the time of passage, Canadians were British subjects, and no one has bothered to amend the Act to exclude us. According to Directgov, to be eligible to vote in British elections non-Britons need to be members of a commonwealth country and meet one of two criteria: Entitled to vote are “[s]tudents who live in Britain in term time or during vacations,” or “[p]eople who have second homes in this area.”

According to Mary Anne Dehler, an officer at the Canadian High Commission in England, the High Commission received only one enquiry about whether or not Canadians can vote in this election from a Canadian. Meanwhile, Christopher Berzins, Political Officer at the Canadian High Commission, explains that he is “neutral” on his right to vote in British elections as a Canadian, and says didn’t mark an ‘X’ in this one.

Jonathan Ezer, a Ph.D. student in Information Systems and Chair of the Canadian Society at the London School of Economics, boosted the Labour vote. He says Labour got the ‘X’ because Tony Blair is an “excellent statesman,” and foreign issues are of greater concern to him than domestic ones.

Ezer thinks granting commonwealth citizens the vote is a great way to invigorate a relationship with Brits, but he doesn’t think the Canadian vote had much of an impact. Most, he says, don’t even know they can vote and those who do, don’t bother.

Either that, or they felt it wasn’t right to cast a ballot in what they consider a foreign country. “The reason I didn’t vote was because I leave the U.K. for good in four months,” says Lauren Rowohlt, a corporate health and fitness instructor in London who hails from Perth, Australia. “I honestly don’t believe I should have a right to vote here since I won’t be affected by the outcome.”

That sentiment is widely shared amongst Britons, who say “bollocks” to the lot of it. Daniel Freedman, a writer with the Wall Street Journal Europe, thinks most Brits would find this electoral fact “distressing.”

“Why should Canadian residents be allowed to vote,” asks Freedman, “and not American or Italian?”

John Blundell, director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a prominent free market think tank based out of London, England, says that this is another sign of the British electoral system’s openness to corruption. Few voters get checked, he says, and while Canadians may have little impact on the election given their numbers, with postal ballots the Brits are “entering a new era of major scandal.”

Freedman and Blundell don’t get a say in our elections directly, but the Queen does. The position of governor-general, now filled by Adrienne Clarkson, is as an official representative of the Queen. Other than getting a sumptuous 20 million dollar per year budget to traipse around the world with Canadian artists, poets, and Olympians in tow, she also has to sign each piece of legislation that passes the House of Commons. In theory, she can choose not to sign the legislation, and kill a bill.

If ever she were to, that scandal would probably end our monarchist ties.

Blogger Book Tag

I've been simul-tagged by Lanny Cardow, a friend from Queen's who is completing a Master's degree in Political ChicaneryPolitical Management at George Washington University, and Aaron Lee-Wudrick, who is busy completing a law degree at the University of Western (isn't that an omelette? Ha ha).

Number of Books That You Own:

Yikes. I'm a used books fan, and also received the Ontario Libertarian Party's library a while back. My parents also run a book business. All told, I'd say I own about a thousand books or so. That doesn't mean I've read them all, mind you, just that I own them...

Last Book Bought:

I bought two books at one go, so I'll name both: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point). And Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (blah).

Last Book I Read:

Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton. It's a pretty decent account of what makes us nervous and unhappy--namely, status. It begins with an appeal to an apparent paradox: we've gotten dramatically richer in the Western world by almost every conceivable standard (go capitalism!), but, according to surveys, we're no happier (ah shit). Why is that? We're anxious about our status, that's why. De Botton goes through a list of things we can do to help ourselves out of this status trap, and relies on great philosophers, literature, satire, amongst other things, to help us 'get' that we shouldn't feel so anxious. It was pretty good.

I'm cheating, but the same day I finished reading the first installment of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. It chronicles the awful tale of the Beaudelaire orphans who go from one misadventure to another. 'Misadventure' here means 'a really awful adventure punctured by misfortune.' (If you've read the books, you'll understand).

Five Books that mean a lot to me:

This one's tough. I'm sure I'll revise this. Off the top of my head (and so biased by recall):

Concluding Unscientific Postscript, by Soren Kierkegaard. Now, look, I'm not sure exactly what to say about this book, except to point out that it is existential, and that it punctures Hegelian pretenses. I found it to be a great source of all sorts of interesting thoughts.

I'll put Friedrich Nietzsche's On The Genealogy of Morals in the same category as this Kierkegaard book, and for a good reason. Both puncture absolutist, all-embracing philosophies (the World Spirit style philosophy of Hegel, and the Christian philosophy respectively). Both urged a kind of return to individualism, and of a deeper connection with oneself. The point of life, says Kierkegaard, is becoming--which is a constant process and not an end-point or goal--which means 'turning in' or 'becoming subjective.' People read nihilism and anxiety into these. I didn't. I found both to be inspiring and encouraging.

The Fountainhead
, by Ayn Rand. I suppose I have to mention this book, if only because it was so important to me when I was younger. I still think of it every now and then, and consider it very influential. I read this book in about three days, spending one entire day in my pajamas in my living room at 25 Clergy Street, skipping all my classes, stopping only for coffee refills (I think I made myself a sandwich or two that day as well).

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. It really is worth the praise, near as I can tell. I particularly like the existential tone the book strikes. I never liked Count Vronsky and Anna as much as I did Levin. I sympathized throughout the novel with the two lovers, but I was mostly taken by Levin the farmer.

The Heathen's Guide to World Religions, by William Hopper. William is a good friend of mine, and this book, which has had several aborted starts, is one of the funniest I've read. You can't buy it just now (unless you ask me for a copy, then I can lend it your way), but I'm sure William is working on getting another edition published shortly. Of course, I'll let everyone know when that happens.

Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice, by Jan Narveson. I prefer this book to The Libertarian Idea, if only because it covers a lot more material, and gives you a better sense of the depth of this man's philosophical thinking. Jan covers more than plain politics here, wading into environmental issues, business ethics and questions about future generations.

Since I'm a big cheater, I'll also add David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature (Book III Of Morals) to this list. Why? Because, it turns out, David Hume is right on just about everything in this. No, really. Re-read it with an eye for where he's wrong. You'll see that he rarely is.

I'm tagging the following five blogs:

Transformative Change
(David Lizoain in particular)
Zeitgeist Schadenfreude (my man, Jason Song)
Dinner Table Donts (Peter Thurley)
Ahab's Whale (James MacDuff and Mike McNair in particular)
Grumpy Young Crank (a.k.a. Eli Schuster)

Get to it.