Saturday, December 15, 2007

Good for them.

As the hearings conclude,
the professors give a platform to the Muslim group that was absurdly attacked last year because a private commercial establishment wanted their business enough to serve them beans without pork.
Back in March, they were castigated in the populist media for insisting on praying at a Quebec maple-sugar shack and eating pork-free baked beans.

Yesterday, the same Muslims who organized that cultural field trip appeared before the Bouchard-Taylor commission and were gently asked to set the record straight.

Did they demand a change in the traditional menu of pork and beans, and did they force a small party in the next room to can its loud music so they could pray in peace? No, there were no unreasonable demands, just a mutual arrangement with the owner, said Akram Benalia, spokesperson for Astrolabe, the Muslim community association that organized the March 11 trip to the Érablière au Sous Bois, in Mont St. Grégoire.

"It was a commercial agreement that had nothing to do with reasonable accommodations," Benalia said.

"But it shows how people can use this kind of situation to denigrate Muslims and amplify Islamophobia, and that's what really sickened us." The owner of the sugar shack had agreed to make baked beans without pork for the 260 Muslims in the group, in order to meet their dietary restrictions, he said. And it was the owner who asked the party next door to turn off its music for a few minutes while some of the Muslims prayed.

The way it came out in the media, however, the Muslims were portrayed as unwilling to adapt to traditional Quebec customs, "imposing" their values on a Quebec archtype, the end-of-winter outing when families and friends go "sugaring off" in the woods.

Co-chairmen Charles Taylor and Gérard Bouchard sympathized with the group.

"It leaves us speechless - this was a myth which was invented and propagated and which caused a lot of harm," Taylor told the delegation, which included two women wearing hijabs.

"You realize, your generation has the thankless role to play these days," Bouchard told them. "There are some Quebecers who are learning the hard way about diversity - at your expense. And your role is to help us, all of us, to overcome the stereotypes and misunderstandings we have." "We'll do it for Quebec, for our Quebec, so that we can all live in harmony, and that our children can, too - it'll be our pleasure," Benalia replied.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A long way from American Political Thought 2004

Will Baude will be clerking for Chief Justice John Roberts. Congratulations!
I don't intend to make a habit of blogging links to YouTube...

but, via via Angus, this is bizarrely brilliant and highly entertaining for fogies of about my age.
New in the journals:

Michael Frazer, "John Rawls: Between Two Enlightenments," Political Theory December 2007. Persuasive, engaging, and exciting-- not a word that these days springs to mind about articles with "John Rawls" in the title. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I don't think that the faculty- grad student interactions at our department Christmas party yesterday bore much resemblance to this. But then, I would think that, wouldn't I?
A pleasant surprise

The Quebec government's proposed amendment to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, Bill 63, has finally been introduced. Considering that its political purpose was to subordinate religious liberty to gender equality, and that the people supporting it appeared to think that it meant no gender-differentiated religious practice could be protected by religious liberty, I'm more than a bit surprised by its text. It says:

Bill 63


1. The preamble of the Charter of human rights and freedoms (R.S.Q., chapter C-12) is amended by replacing the third paragraph by the following paragraph:

"Whereas respect for the dignity of human beings, equality of women and men, and recognition of their rights and freedoms constitute the foundation of justice, liberty and peace;".

2. The Charter is amended by inserting the following section after section 49.1:

"49.2. The rights and freedoms set forth in this Charter are guaranteed equally to women and men."

3. This Act comes into force on (insert the date of assent to this Act).

Section 49 lies in the section of the charter covering rules of interpretation and construction.

Bill 63 doesn't single out religious liberty, and it doesn't subordinate any other claimed right to gender equality. It states as an interpretive principle something that was surely always true of the Charter, the provisions of which guarantee rights to "every human being" or "every person." It does not say that the rights must be exercised in accordance with gender equality, which is what the initial discussions were all about. There's nothing to object to in it-- which surely means that it won't do what its supporters set out to do.

I wonder what cases anyone thinks this language would change the outcome of. Perhaps the Liberal government, having grabbed hold of this one idea in order to keep up with the anti-accommodationists of the PQ and the ADQ but actually knowing better, has deliberately introduced a minimalist amendment designed not to change anything. But I can't believe they'll get away with it, while Mario Dumont is leader of the opposition.
Plus ca change watch

John McCain:
I was in a town in Iowa, and twenty years ago there were no Hispanics in the town. Then a meatpacking facility was opened up. Now twenty per cent of their population is Hispanic. There were senior citizens there who were—‘concerned’ is not the word. They see this as an assault on their culture, what they view as an impact on what have been their traditions in Iowa, in the small towns in Iowa. So you get questions like ‘Why do I have to punch 1 for English?’ ‘Why can’t they speak English?’ It’s become larger than just the fact that we need to enforce our borders.

The language politics of Quebec last month:
MONTREAL–The English option on automated government telephone menus has become a hot-button issue for some French-language groups in Quebec.

Language activists are decrying the fact that callers to many Quebec government offices are told to "press nine" for English before instructions are delivered in French.

Two hardline language groups are teaming up to launch a campaign calling on the government to put the English selection at the end of the message.

"Asking for the English option to come at the end of a message is not something extremist," Mario Beaulieu, president of Mouvement Montréal français, said yesterday.

The Quebec government's language watchdog – the Office québécois de la langue française – recently issued a pamphlet reminding agencies it is official policy to include the English option only after the French message has been delivered in its entirety.

For what it's worth: of all the discourtesies and worse involved in automated telephone menus, I can't see getting agitated about any arrangement here. Allowing a language decision moment early on-- whether that's an opt-out-of-the-following as in the Quebec case, or a choose-which-branch-to-follow as in the Iowa case-- seems efficient to me, even though it means that local majoritarian sensibilities may be offended by the reminder that there are other languages in the system. One sign of a less-badly-designed automated menu is that callers spend a bit less time listening to irrelevant-to-them possibilities, and it's only inefficient to insist on a long spiel in one language before allowing opting out into the caller's language.

But if listening to 45 seconds of French at the beginning of the call is the worst thing that happens to me on one of these phone calls, I'll count myself lucky. (I do try to interact in French in person, but feel no urge to select French options on automated menus or websites.)

While I'm here, might as well note that the Taylor-Bouchard commission hearings are nearing their rousing conclusion.

Limits should be put on religious clothing and symbols in Quebec, but not if they're part of Quebec's heritage, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe said yesterday.

"We should have restrictions for reasons of hygiene - in operating rooms, for example," Duceppe told reporters after presenting a brief at the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodations of religious minorities.

"Also for reasons of safety - on construction sites" where hard hats must be worn, he added.

"And in functions that represent the neutrality of the state - the police, for example, or judges."

But Catholic symbols that are part of Quebec history and heritage - the cross on Mount Royal, for example, or roadside crosses - should be exempt from such restrictions, the Bloc leader added.

"We shouldn't turn ourselves into the Taliban and demolish all the Buddhas of Quebec," he said.

"We're not going to stop listening to Mozart's Requiem because it was written for a mass. All that is part of the heritage of humanity of Quebec."

In other words, yet again: any visible sign of any non-Catholic religion is too much; no visible sign of Catholicism can be too much.

(I can convince myself not to mind the cross on Mont Royal. It's was built on church property, and only entered the city's ownership on a trust agreement to keep it intact. I wish the city hadn't taken ownership, but I don't think the city should break its agreement to keep it. But it's tacky, lit up year-round. It's no Requiem or Buddha of Bamiyan. Not every bit of local kitsch becomes "heritage" through sheer venerability.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Who's new

The McGill Reporter has a feature on new faculty this week, including profiles of political philosopher Iwao Hirose and political theorist Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli.
Granite memories

Since, for the first time in my life, I'm spending the presidential primary season outside the U.S., I've been a bit too detached from it for my customary New Hampshire primary nostalgia. (Lived there until 18, and then summers until 20; stayed registered to vote there all through grad school.) But this Ana Marie Cox vlog about important New Hampshire facts for outsider politicos (e.g. "Dunkin Donuts. Get used to it" and "third-largest legislature in the [English-speaking] world") brought it all back for me.

The disproportionately high number of vets she mentions-- which was especially disproportionately high in my hometown of Portsmouth, which during the Cold War was home to a major air force base in addition to the major naval base it's hosted for 200+ years-- was a major feature of the social and political world in which I grew up. It's been one of the most striking changes between life in New Hampshire and life in academia (excepting, of course, my year at the Australian Defense Force Academy). Almost the only vets younger than 70 I know in the academy are Israeli.

The Manchester nickname "Manch Vegas", which postdates my New Hampshire years, is, as the yankees call it, "humah."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

I've mentioned my skepticism

about this set of projections before, and there's added reason for skepticism when there's institutional self-interest and lobbying at stake. But noted for the record:

OTTAWA -- Universities need to increase their masters and doctoral students by 35 per cent in the next decade if Canada wants to avoid a crippling shortage in highly educated employees, including professors, warns a national post-secondary education group.

To that end, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is lobbying the federal government for $319 million in new scholarship money annually, to be phased in over three years, to lure more masters and doctoral students from home and abroad.

Institutions are also increasing efforts to market Canada as an enticing destination for international students in hopes that if more come to study they will elect to stay in the country and join the high end of the labour force.

he association, representing 92 colleges and universities, recently made its pitch to the House of Commons finance committee as it hears submissions in preparation for the 2008-2009 federal budget.

"We're way, way, short. We need to produce more masters-trained and more PhD-trained students for the Canadian economy," Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University and chairman of the association, said in an interview. "It's not a huge problem now, but it will be in 10 years."

Universities must turn out 500,000 new graduate students in the next decade -- 150,000 more than current projections -- if Canada is to keep pace internationally in the knowledge economy at a time when the country faces "a massive demographic problem" of an aging workforce, said Traves.

Not only are half the country's 40,000 professors on the retirement track and need to be replaced with other academics, the government and the private sector are also seeking more highly educated employees, said Traves.

Universities are pressing the government to create 2,500 scholarships for international students, which would cost $70-million annually when fully subscribed in three years.

On the domestic front, universities want Ottawa to pitch in another $105 million annually to entice students to pursue their masters and PhD's in Canada and another $144 million per year in scholarships for research.

On top of the scholarship funding, universities want another $50 million annually toward sponsoring new masters and doctoral graduates in work placements.