Friday, June 30, 2006

Witty Church signs (1)

Seen today outside St. John's Norway Anglican Church in Toronto:

"If God has a refrigerator, he has your picture posted on the door."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lawsuits and political debates...

The Toronto Port Authority has sued a local lobby group called “Community Air” for defamation. The Port Authority operates a small container terminal, a marina, and a reliever airport on the Toronto waterfront. “Community Air” has dedicated itself to closing the airport and moving air transport operations, together with the attendant air and noise pollution, to the north-west corner of Toronto.

“Community Air” claims to speak for the whole community, but in fact, they speak for wealthy, articulate, and highly privileged downtown residents. They certainly do not represent the people of Toronto who live near Pearson International Airport. In fact, despite their progressive sounding title, “Community Air” actively promotes environmental injustice.

“Community Air” has a history of making inaccurate claims. In a recent effort to stop a new airline opening at Toronto City Centre Airport, they claimed the airport did not meet appropriate safety standards, and strongly insinuated that the Port Authority had compromised the safety of the traveling public. Most of the claims made by “Community Air” about the safety of the airport have proved either wrong or misleading.

So should the Toronto Port Authority sue or not? That question pits two principles against one another. On one hand, I do not believe that public bodies, or even corporations, should use the courts to influence public debate. On the other hand, any public body that provides a transportation service, such as an airport, depends on skilled professionals, including engineers and managers. For these people, their reputations constitute an important personal asset. If a lobby group has an unlimited license to engage in personal and professional defamation, they can make it difficult, if not impossible for an agency such as the Port Authority to carry out is mandate.

In other words, this lawsuit pits two cherished rights and principles against each other: the right of people to do their jobs and serve the public, free from coercion, against the right of citizens to engage in a free-wheeling debate.

In the long run, the solution to this dilemma lies in two directions: an honest discussion of Toronto’s transportation needs, and the most cost-effective and environmentally fair way to meet them, and an application of simple civility. As long as the debate over transport policy in this city remains driven by local groups contending for nothing more than their own interests, we will continue to have ugly debates. When these debates cross the line and defame people with a serious investment in their reputations, it should surprise nobody when lawsuits result. A healthy public debate, on this topic, depends on the political leaders and the citizens showing some willingness to engage in principled debate.

Who I am and how I will contribute to this blog

John Spragge, my dear husband, invited me to join him in this blog. Thank-you, John!

I am an art historian specializing in nineteenth-century French art, and I also have a keen interest in art and architecture of all eras. I am forty-something and an independent scholar.

Although I am new to blogging and hence, I wish to keep my future contributions somewhat open-ended, I expect I may contribute some of the following to this blog:

1) reviews of art exhibitions and of new architecture in Toronto and further afield;
2) reports from my travels;
3) news about wonderful and amazing sites that I find on the web, as well as the, um, er, opposite;
4) book reviews, musings about middle-aged life, and who knows, maybe even the odd recipe.

I am less philosophical and abstract than my husband. I am an INFJ and John is an INTP. 'Nuff said.

Now I have errands and the Toronto traffic may or may not release me for future blog notes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Introducing myself (John Spragge)

I have a small business doing programming and systems design in Toronto Ontario Canada. I have volunteered in the past with Frontier College, the Canadian literacy institution, with a telephone help and befriending line, and with various peace and justice groups. I currently do a lot of work with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

My interests include the criminal justice system (I did prison literacy tutoring for eight years), Aboriginal justice work, peace (as in the presence of justice, not just the absence of violence), and freedom and personal responsibility. I have a personal and professional interest in meta-politics, looking at the way people form and discuss political ideas, and how we build communities (on the Internet, as well as in real life). I also have a pilot's license, so I write about aviation issues from time to time.

I do not promise to post (or refrain from posting) on any particular issue. I do not claim to tell the truth any more often than anyone else, or even to know the truth very well. I make only one effort: to try to post according to my understanding, whether or not the truth (as I see it) delights my enemies and infuriates my friends.