July 13th, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] Tourism in the Maritimes

In the month of August, vaneramos will be travelling to the Maritimes with his daughters. Fellow Maritimers: Let's see if we can compile a list of must-see attractions for him.

New Brunswick
* Acadian Historic Village
* Acadian Peninsula
* Kings Landing

Nova Scotia
* Minas Basin, Bay of Fundy
* Chéticamp
* Cabot Trail
* Forteresse-de-Louisbourg
* Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

Prince Edward Island
* Charlottetown
* Green Gables
* Prince Edward Island National Park

[BRIEF NOTE] Bombing the TTC

I pass through the Bloor TTC station on a twice-daily basis, one way reporting to work, the other returning. It's very busy station, one of three stations where the Yonge-Universty-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines intersect.

A thought experiment: Let's say that someone bombs these three stations at rush hour. I'm fairly sure that it would be difficult for any Canadian government, regardless of partisan stripes, to follow the sad example of Spain's Popular Party, not only because Canada's relatively uninvolved in US activities but because it would be trivially easy to discover the lies and the old Tories' fate is still fresh in Canadian minds. What else?
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CBC this afternoon suggested that, with humidity, the subjective temperature was in the area of 42 degrees. That it doesn't feel like that to me now owes more to my fan than to the evening's cooling.
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[BRIEF NOTE] One Really, Really Bad Idea

I admit to reading Tech Central Station on a semi-regular basis. I like keeping in touch with what right-wing American corporations want to see published, according to the processes described by Nicholas Confessore described in "Meet the Press" for Washington Monthly in December 2003.

Unlike traditional think tanks, Tech Central Station is organized as a limited liability corporation--that is, a for-profit business. As an LLC, there is little Tech Central Station must publicly disclose about itself save for the names and addresses of its owners, and there is no presumption, legal or otherwise, that it exists to serve the public interest. Likewise, rather than advertisers per se, TCS has what it calls "sponsors," which are thanked prominently in a section one click away from the front page of the site. (AT&T, ExxonMobil, and Microsoft were early supporters; General Motors, Intel, McDonalds, NASDAQ, National Semiconductor, and Qualcomm, as well as the drug industry trade association, PhRMA, joined during the past year.) Each firm pays a sponsorship fee--although neither Glassman nor any of the sponsors would disclose how much--and gets banner advertisements on the site.

Recently, the ever-annoying Stephen Schwartz made an interesting proposal.

During the mass for Saint Josemaría, I pondered an idea I have long considered. Opus Dei is well known for its positive role in reforming the economy of Spain, late in the Franco era, when it acted to energize entrepreneurs as well as to promote transparency and accountability in the Iberian business environment. This modernization was predicated on defense, rather than destruction, of traditional and conservative Spanish Catholic religious culture. Escrivá incited his acolytes to ridicule leftists and secularists for their attachment to 19th century ideas, comparing belief in them to insistence on traveling by stagecoach. Similarly, Opus Dei has become associated with the improvement of Catholic university education, especially schooling in management, in Latin America as well as in Spain.

How would a Muslim equivalent of Opus Dei -- reinforcing a conservative and traditional view of faith while embodying contemporary capitalist principles, modernizing education, and fostering the common good -- affect the world of Islam? The more one examines Opus Dei the more it resembles, in a broad way, a Sufi order; it is a voluntary association of fervent believers who have come together with a common dedication to refinement of their spiritual understanding and strengthening of religious ideals in the public square.

One can leave aside the whole question of whether or not Opus Dei is in fact a dangerous cult within the Roman Catholic Church, while keeping an open mind on whether or not the order's friendliness to the fascist regime of Francisco Franco was forced or not. The order emerged from 1930s Spain to play a decidedly mixed role.

In truth, the context for Opus Dei's creation was as much political as religious. In Spain in the 30s, hostility between the Catholic church and the left was one of the causes of the civil war; Escriva spent the war on the run from leftwing forces. When Franco and the right emerged victorious, Opus Dei survived the bloodletting and paranoia that followed - fighting off allegations that it was a Jewish sect with links to the Freemasons - to work its way steadily into the upper levels of the dictatorship.

This involvement remains a sensitive subject. "Opus Dei is filed under F for Franco," concedes Jack Valero, the organisation's spokesman in Britain. "Some members worked in Franco's Spain, became ministers of his. But Opus Dei people are free to do whatever they wish politically. Other members were against Franco." He cites the dissident Rafael Calvo Serer, who was driven into exile in the early 70s and saw the newspaper he published closed by the government.

Allen confirms that by the latter stages of the Franco era, Opus Dei in Spain was divided "50/50" over the regime. Yet during the same period, Opus Dei was less than critical of other dictatorships. Escriva visited Chile in 1974, only months after Pinochet seized power, at a time when most international figures were staying well away. From Chile to Peru to Venezuela, allegations have followed Opus Dei, as it has recruited across south America, that its members have been senior participants in authoritarian coups and governments.

It exceeds the limits of my generosity, I fear, to think that the Opus Dei example is one that should be encouraged in democratizing countries trying to modernize socially and economically. Secretive religious groups as a rule tend not to have the mixed results of Spain's Opus Dei--a 50/50 division between supporters and opponents of Franco's order doesn't exactly suggest a strong commitment to the ideals of democracy or social pluralism. If they saw what happened to Spain by the early 21st century, I suspect that the order would have turned out to be massively opposed to democracy. After all, souls lie in the balance.
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[BRIEF NOTE] Why are Canadian fertility rates so low?

The Winnipeg Sun is one paper of many that picks up on the fact that the main reason for Canada's declining fertility rate is the enfranchisement of women.

Carrie Werschler waited 36 years to have her first baby, a girl she named Morgan.

Her second baby, Lucas, was born a little more than five years later, when the St. Vital mom was 42 years old.

"My career was very important to me before and waiting to have my children put me in a better financial position to stay home," said Werschler.

Werschler is glad she travelled the world, developed a career and experienced many things as an adult before settling down with a baby.

"I think I have a lot of practical intelligence from my experience and have a lot to offer my children," she said.

The mature mom is among a growing population of women who are waiting longer before having their first baby.

In 2003, nearly one-half of the women in Canada who gave birth were age 30 or older, according to a recent Statistics Canada report.

This reinforces a long-term trend among Canadian women who are waiting longer to have their first baby.

The average age of first-time moms in Canada was 29.6 years in 2003. Two decades ago, the average age was 26.9 years.

CTV notes that, increasingly, people want to wait before they establish families of their own.

"Increasingly, people are waiting a few years before they make these big life altering changes," Bob Glossop the Vanier Institute of the Family told Canada AM.

"People want to feel relatively secure financially. They want to have a fair number of the sort of creature comforts that we associate with family life."

The study also found a slight gain in the fertility rate, though most families continue to remain much smaller than they were in our grandmothers' generation.

"In 2003, (the rate) increased slightly to 1.53 children per woman, up from 1.50 in 2002,'' the agency said. "The lowest fertility rate for Canada was set in 2000, at 1.49 children per woman.''

Nunavut continued to have the highest total fertility rate of any province or territory, at 3.1 children per woman, followed by the Northwest Territories, at 2.0 children per woman.

Newfoundland and Labrador recorded the lowest total fertility rate, 1.3 children per woman in 2003.

The total fertility rate estimates the average number of children that women aged 15 to 49 will have in their lifetime.

The lowest fertility rate in Canada was set in 2000, at 1.48 children per woman.

"The real significant consequence of this decision, this private decision taken in the bedrooms of the nation, as it were, is that if you wait until you're 30 to have your first child, you're not likely to have many. They don't have them any long to replace the population," says Glossop.

Glossop's last remark can be qualified by noting that new reproductive technologies could well extend the average reproductive lifetime, but his central points are unquestionable. People, especially women, only want to become parents when it's convenient for them. Hectoring people about their patriotic duty isn't going to do it.
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[BRIEF NOTE] Bucking the trend? Israel and the Diaspora

Amiram Bakrat, writing for Ha'aretz, reports.

The 2005 assessment report by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute predicts that Israel will represent an increasing share of the Jewish people: by 2020, Israel's Jewish population will grow by about a million, while the number of Diaspora Jews will shrink by around half a million. The global Jewish population will increase from today's 13 million to 13.5 million.

The JPPPI report, which will be presented at the next cabinet meeting, indicates that Diaspora communities are continuing to dwindle as a result of low birth rates and intermarriage rates of more than 50 percent. The report's authors do not anticipate mass immigration to Israel in the foreseeable future and note that 90 percent of the world's Jews reside in developed countries and enjoy a standard of living similar or higher than Israel's.

Bakrat writes elsewhere that even without much immigration, Jewish communities in the Diaspora will shrink, often dramatically.

The Jerusalem-based institute predicts that there will be 6.25 million Jews in Israel in 2020, compared to 5.25 million Jews today. In North America the number of Jews is expected to remain stable, at about 5.5 million. The number of Jews in Europe is expected to drop from 1.25 million to 1 million. In the former Soviet Union, the number of Jews is expected to shrink from 380,000 to 180,000.

The rate of assimilation is expected to be slightly less than 50 percent in the U.S., 60 percent in Germany and Hungary, and 80 percent in the former Soviet Union.

So far as I know, Israel is unique in bucking the trend of diaspora-founded nation-states to see their populations decline relative to their diasporas. Armenia, Lebanon, and Haiti, to name but a few diasporic homelands, have remained countries of net emigration, the tendency to leave if anything growing over time. For Jews, assimilation and intermarriage play a role in the growth of Israel, but only a partial role; if anything, they bolster numbers by creating an extended Jewish population. Even so, the centre of gravity of Judaism continues its inexorable shift towards Israel.