Saturday, February 20, 2021

No, Conservatives, Texas Power Grid Collapse Wasn't Because Of Wind Turbine Failures

 Texas had a record breaking cold snap this past week as a result of the Jet Stream slumping way south of where it normally sits, and allowing a huge mass of arctic air to drop temperatures down into the range of -20C.  For a state that rarely sees 0F, that's shockingly cold.  As you have seen in the news, the power grid in Texas basically collapsed in the face of record cold and snowy conditions.  

In the wake of this, we have had numerous figures blaming this power disaster on renewable energy sources like wind turbines. Factually, even CNN is pointing out that this is utter nonsense.  Anyone who lives in a more wintery climate (like Alberta for example) is used to -20C or colder temperatures not affecting much of anything.  

So, why did the Texas power grid collapse so violently?  DailyKOS published an analysis this week which walks through the combination of policy going back to the days of electrification in the 1930s, ego, greed, and what ultimately is a fundamental failure to safeguard the public interest by Texas politicians. 

Mechanically, the basic statement is that Texas has never bothered to spend the money needed to prepare their infrastructure for winter conditions, even in the wake of a 2011 weather event which resulted in rolling power outages. 

While it would be an enjoyable exercise to talk about the relative ease with which the technical problems could be solved, the politics are much more informative, especially with a conservative disinformation campaign gearing up to discredit "green" energy in the public mind. 

Texas' woes really started when the state decided to "go it alone" by not allowing its grid to interconnect with its neighbours.  This arose out of some conservative paranoia about "federal regulators".  As a result, the Texas power grid basically stands as an island in the North American power grid system.  It has minor interconnects with its neighbours, but none are adequate to do more than the most trivial of load balancing, certainly not enough to hold the grid up if a major collapse starts.  

Isolationism, combined with a deep rooted skepticism about climate change (funded by Texas-based oil companies), meant that a lot of executives in the Texas energy industry decided that taking protective steps to avoid blackouts was an unnecessary expense.  When a 2011 winter storm resulted in recommendations to winterize, those ideas quietly disappeared off the radar after a couple of more normal winters. 

Here in Canada, we are getting fed a steady stream of right wing propaganda that "renewables are unreliable".  Yes, there are days where the wind doesn't blow (although residents of Lethbridge, AB  might contest that); there are overcast days where solar isn't going to be as efficient, and so on.  I think we all know these as "self evident facts".  Yes, you need a range of generation options right now.  Nobody with any sense is saying you don't. 

However, politics being what it is, people with very deep pockets are pouring huge dollars into convincing you that renewable energy isn't the way to go.  Why?  Because their profits depend on burning fossil fuels for as long as possible.  They know, just as well as you and I do when we look at the hard science, that the bill for burning hydrocarbons for energy is coming due. They want to maximize their profits as long as possible. So, they pour money into disinformation spread through PostMedia, Fox News, and wherever else they own control. 

The "right" mix of energy sources is largely going to be a matter of engineering decisions, not political.  Arguments like those being put forth by Danielle Smith and other writers for PostMedia do us no favours by choosing to lie about the reality of what happened in Texas.  


Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Alberta's Administrative Penalties Act: Justice More Expedient, or Justice Denied?

 In July 2020, Alberta passed a bill which makes sweeping changes to what it euphemistically calls "Administrative Penalties" (basically anything you might get a ticket for) and the way that they are handled. Bill 21, The Administrative Penalties Act, dramatically changes the scope of what police or other enforcement officials can do when they hand out tickets.  

First of all, a ticket is no longer a "summons" to appear in court.  It becomes an "administrative penalty", which is extremely broadly defined:  

Definition of Administrative Penalty

So, basically, this is just about anything up to, but not including being imprisoned. When you start considering that can include impounding your vehicle, seizure of property, imposing restrictions on your driver's license, etc., that's a lot of potential consequences. 

This legislation is a lot more slippery than merely giving police enormous powers over your life. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Twisting the Night Away ...

 I won’t waste much time directly addressing the attempted coup that took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday this past week. Others have already covered it in considerable depth, and the fallout will no doubt take months or more to sort out.  

However, Maclean’s decided to publish something today that I think deserves to be smacked around for continuing exactly the patterns that I have become increasingly critical of conservatism in Canada for following. 

The column, entitled “Let’s Not Waste This Crisis in American Democracy”, and is written by former Harper-era communications guy Andrew MacDougall.  Please, go and read it.  When you are done reading it, I’ll explain just how twisted it really is. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Today's CPC Is Nothing Like Yesterday's PC Party

Today’s conservatives do not represent what used to be understood as conservative. Especially not anyone who grew up in the 60s and 70s, when the political movement was considerably left of where it is today. Leaders like Diefenbaker and Clark were considerably left of today’s party. In this essay, I will explore how that shift took place, and some of its implications for voters today.

Monday, December 28, 2020

When Is A Person A TERF?

The short answer is "when they are using TERF arguments to argue against transgender rights and/or treatment issues.  

The longer answer is more interesting.  I got tagged into a Twitter discussion with a former UCP candidate in Calgary whose candidacy ended when some very racist statements she made (and claims were taken out of context) came to light.  

While I am fairly certain that Ms. Ford would argue that she is absolutely not a TERF, her choice of arguments and sources are decidedly classic for TERFs.  Allow me to explain.


Note right off the top that she starts with trying to defend a statement which clearly misrepresents the treatment and management of gender non-conformity in children with a "no, you're misinterpreting me", while at the same time repeating the same allegation with different words. Ms. Ford is nothing if not very good at being evasive about what she really believes, but over the course of the conversation it comes out.  


Right here is where the veil drops.  Three of the graphs she refers to are from the UK and are purported to show a massive increase in girls being referred to the NHS gender clinics.  (The stacked bar graph references Canada, but I'm not familiar with the source).  The claim made by TERFs is that this is massively disproportionate, and affects girls in particular.  

"Why is this?" they ask. Sure enough, a few tweets later, we get the Littman paper (which I analyze in depth here) brought up:



Now, instead of addressing the points I raise about the validity of the paper and the conclusions it draws, what do I get in response?  A completely off-base shifting of responsibility: 


Again, this is a fairly classic technique used to sidestep taking ownership of the problems in her position.  Instead, she shifts to demanding that I provide an alternate explanation for whatever she thinks is the problem that the Littman paper addresses.  (The Littman paper is a classic case of designing a study to find the conclusions that you already have in mind).  

However, that isn't all of it by any means.  In fact, the remainder of the discussion (and there were quite a few people involved).  Participants were subjected to a litany of "what ifs", and "look how bad this is" articles from the UK.



Every time, the general response was the same.  When someone would point out the errors and misconceptions in what she was arguing, she would shut up and throw another random counterpoint on the table.  

She also had a propensity for referring to news articles in pop culture sources to back up her positions.  Articles written by Jesse Singal were a particular favourite.  For those unfamiliar with Singal, he has been writing very long screeds attacking transgender people and treatment for some years. He has become something of a favourite among the TERF crowd, largely because his articles are often so lengthy that refuting them is a significant effort on its own. 


Whether Ms Ford sees herself as a TERF, or even as a member of the so-called "Gender Critical" community (there's little between them, in my experience), is irrelevant. Her actions in general suggest that she is strongly influenced by these same people and their arguments. 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Contextualizing Racism

During the 2019 Alberta Election, a number of UCP candidates were tagged by opposition as having track records of peddling hate.  Several of these candidates ended up stepping aside during the election as a result.  One of these was Caylan Ford.  At the time, I pretty much shrugged and thought to myself "that's par for the course, so long to bad rubbish".  Usually when this happens, the candidate disappears for several years until the heat has gone off and they decide it's time to take another run at elected office. 

Then this week rolled around, and I started seeing Ms. Ford's name rolling around on Twitter as a result of the following National Post article:  Howard Anglin: The Smear Campaign That Took Down A Promising Politician. To be fair, Anglin is a conservative partisan, so I didn't expect him to do much more than bitch and moan about "cancel culture" (which is basically what he does).  

However, it did prompt me to go back and review what had happened, and in particular what she had allegedly written.  The Press Progress article about it "UCP Candidate Who Complained 'White Supremacist Terrorists' Are Treated Unfairly, Leaked Messages Show", as well as her post-resignation essay on the matter: "Apologia" (which is some 30 pages of extemporaneous recollection of the conversation that Press Progress referred to). 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

More Anti-Trans Nonsense - This Time From Discovery Institute

 So, Discovery Institute's blog "Evolution News" has published a lengthy series of essays on transgender people, and the diagnosis and treatment of transgender youth in particular.  It's 7 or so essays, each one probably a good 1,000 words or more.  I'm not going to dissect each essay in detail.  There is so much twisting of both the science and the realities of how treatment progresses that I only need to take one apart to give you a flavour for how bad these really are.  The following essay has been selected in part because it seems representative of the level of twisting going on.  

Evolution News: Some Effects of Transgenderism

Let's get started, shall we?

Lie #1:  

In 2019, psychologists Richard Bränström and John Pachankis published a study of 9,747,324 Swedes. The goal was to determine whether “gender-affirming [cross-sex] hormone and surgical treatment” improved the mental health of people with gender incongruence.

Bränström and Pachankis found no evidence of improvement from cross-sex hormones. But they concluded that the evidence “lends support to the decision to provide gender-affirming surgeries to transgender individuals who seek them.” Critics objected that this conclusion was not warranted by the data. So the authors revised their article. The journal editor published a correction, stating that “the results demonstrated no advantage of surgery.”

First of all, the study itself is extremely broad, and it starts off asking the question whether someone who has had gender affirming treatment has less need for mental health treatment.  That's an extremely broad question with so many confounding factors in it, I'm surprised the authors even proceeded with it.  Gender affirming treatment relieves anxiety specifically about one's gender and physical sex. It has very little to do with anything else.  

When I mentioned confounds, there are a whole bunch of things that can cause the statistics to skew. First, having experience with mental health practitioners means that transgender people are more likely to access those services when they are having difficulties.  Second, we should not underestimate the consequences of minority stress on transgender people, and the long term anxieties that can emerge as a result of trying to function in society that is generally unsupportive of transgender people.

To be clear, I am not saying that the study is invalid, rather I am cautioning anyone reading it to recognize that there are enormous question marks that the study is unable to adequately explore and address.  Therefore, drawing absolute conclusions about gender-affirming treatment from it is hugely problematic. 

Lie #2:

A 2020 study surveyed 20,619 transgender Americans between 18 and 36. They were asked if they had ever wanted puberty blockers as adolescents. About 17 percent said yes. Of these, only 2.5 percent actually received the medication. The goal of the study was to compare “adult mental health outcomes” of those who received puberty blockers with those who wanted them but didn’t get them. The authors adjusted the data to account for age, biological sex, and household income, among other things. They concluded that giving puberty blockers to teens who want them reduces the risk of suicidal thoughts.

The journal that published the 2020 study also published some comments about it. One comment, by pediatricians Scott Field and Den Trumbull, was very critical. They pointed out that the data were collected by survey. So “there is no way of knowing how many would-be participants in either group actually succumbed to suicide.”

Again, it's important to recognize some of the confounding factors at play here.  First of all, the transgender community is notoriously hard to get people to participate in studies.  That in itself is a confounding factor.  That the sample size is over 20,000 for this study is impressive.  Surveys are also known to be problematic for a variety of reasons, including respondents being self selecting, and potentially telling the researchers what they think the researcher wants to hear.  

Again, the lesson here is that drawing conclusions from a study like this is probably not ideal.  It makes observations that are interesting, but much more rigorous studies need to be conducted to draw any kind of conclusions.  Of course, the writer of the essay on Evolution News wants us to conclude that puberty blockers are ineffective in treating gender dysphoria.  I would be very cautious about drawing such a conclusion. 

Lie #3:

A total of 6,793 people visited the gender clinic of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam from 1972 to 2015. A 2018 study reviewed their medical records for regrets about having “bottom surgery.” About 0.6 percent of the males regretted having their testicles removed. About 0.3 percent of the females regretted having their ovaries removed.

This evidence seems to suggest that regret is rare. But the evidence comes only from medical records kept by the professionals who recommended and performed the sex reassignments. How likely is it that sex-reassigned people would later report their regrets to those professionals? We don’t know. How much follow-up did those records include? We don’t know. So the quantitative evidence pertaining to regret is quite thin.

Yet there is growing anecdotal evidence for it.

Now we get into the whoppers.  The evidence cited clearly doesn't show what the author wants to show - namely that "a lot of people experience regret" after surgery, so he throws in at the end a snipe about anecdotal evidence.  

Anecdotal evidence is important in research because it helps identify questions that should be asked.  That said, anecdotes are individual stories, not population-wide data.  Sub-1% regrets hardly seems like a huge "put on the brakes" problem.  In fact for most medical treatments, failure rates in that range would be considered beyond fantastically good.  

Lie #4:

In 1983, after 16 years of marriage, Heyer went to see a gender therapist. On his second visit, the therapist gave him a prescription for estrogen. The therapist also gave him an authorization for sex-reassignment surgery. He trusted the therapist, so he divorced his wife and had sex-reassignment surgery soon afterwards. He lived eight years as a woman, but he regretted having transitioned. At the age of fifty he “de-transitioned.”

Okay, speaking of whoppers, every time the subject of "regret" comes up, this guy gets trotted out as the "expert".  Walt Heyer is no expert.  In fact, I think it is far better to view Walt Heyer as a poster child for how not to conduct a gender transition.  For those interested, I wrote a lengthy essay some time ago about Walt Heyer and his story:  Walt Heyer, Detransition, and the WPATH SOC.  

Using Heyer's own autobiography as a source, there is precious little evidence that he actually lived full time as a woman.  Concluding anything from his story is perhaps better seen as an exercise in 

Lie #5:

The idea that the other 0.02 percent should routinely have genital surgery was promoted by sexologist John Money. The idea that “gender” is different from biological sex also owes its popularity to John Money. The idea resulted in tragedy for David Reimer, though Money never publicly admitted it.

This is the last of the whoppers, and it's truly a doozy.   The anti-transgender crowd should really understand that using Dr. Money and David Reimer as cannon fodder for their hatred is utterly stupid. 

First, let me start off by saying that what happened to David Reimer was an utter tragedy, a failure of both professional ethics as well as a deeply flawed understanding of human development.  

There are a number of reasons why using this case to bolster an anti-transgender position is guaranteed to fail:  

1.  Dr. Money's hypothesis

Dr. Money was working from a perspective that can be broadly understood as "tabla rasa" (or blank slate).  His idea was that gender identity is largely based on learned behaviours, and when the David Reimer case came to his attention, he persuaded the family to participate in his experiment, which was to raise David as a girl after a botched circumcision destroyed infant David's penis.  His experiment failed, with tragic results.

2.  David Reimer was not transgender 

Let's be abundantly clear, David Reimer wasn't transgender when a circumcision destroyed his penis.  Nor was he even subject to any known intersex condition.  In other words, we have no evidence that David had anything in common with any transgender child prior to Dr. Money's involvement.  

It is perhaps a bit of an irony that Dr. Money may have _made_ David into a transgender person by having him subjected to GRS as a child, and David proceeded to gravitate towards being masculine even when pressured enormously to be feminine. 

3. The Result of Dr. Money's Experiment 

Although the long term outcome of the David Reimer story is profoundly tragic, from a purely experimental perspective, it actually demonstrates some important points: 

  1. The blank slate hypothesis is fundamentally false. There is more to gender than a series of learned behaviours. This is something which transgender people have argued for years on the basis of their lived experiences. 
  2. There are aspects of gender which are set long before we are able to express them.  
  3. David's persistence that he was not a girl when being raised as one is exactly parallel to the experience of many transgender people.  They know they don't really belong to their birth-assigned sex even as they live that role.

4.  Impact On Transgender Treatment and Research 

Dr. Money's ideas haven't been significantly influential among transgender researchers for decades. The impact of the Reimer case was more keenly felt among the Intersex community who for years were subjected to "corrective" surgeries as a result of the initial reports.  

Citing Money as if he defined how transgender people should be treated is completely missing the point.  There are others whose work was much more influential and important.   

 Conclusion

I'm not going to write a lot here - the underlying point is that like most "anti-transgender" writings, the series of articles on Evolution News is filled with cherry-picked data that appears to support the author's position, until one looks more closely at it. Never assume these people are going to treat data honestly, or even recognize how they are twisting it. 
 

No, Conservatives, Texas Power Grid Collapse Wasn't Because Of Wind Turbine Failures

 Texas had a r ecord breaking cold snap this past week as a result of the Jet Stream slumping way south of where it normally sits, and allo...