Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Just In Case You Thought It Was Safe

...because you live in Canada.

Recently, I've blogged a fair bit about how various actions in the United States are rolling back civil rights (and society) decades if not more.

One might almost be tempted to look at that, and believe that we're "safe" from this crap because we live in Canada under quite a different legal regime.

Of course, there's lots of reasons to be worried. We know that the CPC has links to Focus on the Family. So, I'm hardly optimistic that the current Parliament is exactly going to be "progressive" when it comes to social matters.

But, we have our own home-grown varieties of wing-nuts - and they are already starting to whine, whinge and squawk about all of the ills that they see in Canada's society - so soon after the first government that philosophically agrees with them is elected, too!

I was poking around the Canoe CNEWS site this morning, when the headline Moms Should Stay Home practically lept off the screen at me. Granted, Michael Coren is much like Paul Jackson - he writes mostly to piss people off. However, along with the Byfields, he's a rather useful barometer of where the Religious Reich in this country is trying to head.

After dancing around the topic of women being "stay-at-home-moms", Coren ends his attempt to waffle around all the issues with this lovely little statement:

We've declared war on motherhood in the name of a better, healthier society and declared war on family in the name of women's liberty.

Notice the subtle bait-and-switch. Last year, he was whining incessantly about how allowing two people of the same gender to marry was going to utterly destroy families. Today, it's women's equality that is the "evil bogeyman" that is destroying families and ruining society.

This merely serves to reinforce my contention that the Religious Reich, in all its wingnutty forms, wants to return to the society we had around 1200 AD - where the men were men, the women were subservient and the sheep were verrry nervous. (Ooops wrong joke)

Of course, what Coren completely fails to understand in his idealization of the era of "nuclear family" is how many of those families were holding together by a thread - creating a fiction that the outside saw as a "happy family". What went on behind closed doors - alcoholism, beatings, belittlement, whatever - was kept carefully secret, mostly "for the sake of the children".

Today, we live in a society where a woman doesn't have to bear those burdens "in silence" - she can speak out, get out if needs be. A dysfunctional family can be stopped before someone winds up in hospital, or worse, the morgue.

A woman doesn't have to give up her career aspirations because she starts a family. (Does this change something - yes, the men suddenly have to take a more active role in raising the children than was the case in the "children should be seen, not heard" era that preceded the women's rights movement). We no longer have employers that all but fire women when they become pregnant.

While some do choose to do the "stay-at-home" parent role, it's not _required_. It used to be that when a teacher became pregnant, she had to quit teaching before the pregnancy became visible, and most didn't return to the classroom later. Today, women have the choice to do as they see fit.

The notion of family has changed in the intervening decades. I see families where both parents work half to 2/3 time, splitting the childcare job up as needed; others where one parent (either male or female) takes a few years hiatus from their career to care for the children, and still others who manage to make it work with both parents holding down full time careers. Women's "lib" has also liberated men - it's no longer seen as strange - or bad - for a man to stay at home and look after the children. The role of "man as provider for the family" has changed, making the man much more than a source of economic security for the woman and her children.

Are we, as a society worse off for it? No. I believe in fact we are better off ultimately. Today we can talk about situations that have gone wrong, we are free to do something about it without carrying an enormous burden of social stigma.

Does society face new challenges today? Yes. But they can be addressed in a forward-looking manner. Looking to an idealized past is a serious mistake.

Monday, February 27, 2006

I am Getting Sick of Hearing

...about "judges making law from the bench".

The much vaunted - and utterly wasteful "public hearing" interview of a candidate for the Supreme Court of Canada.

Of course, CPC and BQ MPs had to ask the obvious loaded questions around "judicial activism", and the "notwithstanding clause". To Rothstein's credit he was fairly adept at sidestepping these blatantly obvious attempts to politicize the discussion.

I must confess that I am getting heartily sick of the CPC and its kin bleating away about "judicial activism". Unlike the United States, our judiciary is not elected along partisan lines, and for the most part Prime Ministers in the past have tried to select candidates based on their ability to interpret law, not their partisan alignment.

Anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence and a few minutes to read a ruling or two will soon realize that the court works very hard to interpret Canadian law carefully and consistently. Even when the court stands up and overturns a piece of legislation as inconsistent with the rest of the laws upon which it rests, it is not being "activist" - the reasoning is sound (if obscure in the usual way of lawyers), and they state quite clearly the premises upon which they have based their ruling.

This is NOT making law

The CPC is getting terminally irritating on this topic. Apparently not a one of them has actually bothered to read and understand the work of the Supreme Court - because like a good bunch of sheep, they keep making the same damnably stupid assertions.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Returning to the Idiocy of Extremism

In a rush to moralize over abortions, South Dakota's ultra-conservative legislature has made it their life mission to re-open the landmark Roe-v-Wade decision in the United States.

As usual, there are those whose writing on the subject makes the point far better than I can as to why the South Dakota legislation is so utterly misguided.

What makes me truly sad is how extremist politics in the United States has taken precedence over rational reason.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Skepticism is Fine in Science

While skepticism is an important, and long held tradition in science, we should not confuse legitimate skeptically derived criticism of a theory with utter nonsense.

Canadian scientists are signing a Discovery Institute petition.

I'm not going to go into an argument about whether or not Evolution as a Theory is complete, or explains all aspects of life as we know it today - there are others who have done so much better than I can.

However, a brief review of the people in Tom Blackwell's article shows me a few factoids:

1) Most of the scientists mentioned are not biologists. To me, this is little different than an accountant trying to practice law - no matter how good the accountant is, law is not accounting.

2) There are two biologists mentioned, and they both point out the same fundamental issue with Evolution Theory - namely that it doesn't explain absolute origins.

I will freely accept the argument that we likely should be looking at explanations beyond evolution theory to explain the root origins of life. In fact, if any of these people actually have a rational hypothesis that they wish to put forward, I'd love to hear it. (Of course, I expect any such hypothesis to actually be rationally testable - arguments involving mysterious "prime mover" beings will be laughed at and then shredded)

Of course, we have to acknowledge that Discovery Institute is little more than a front for what amounts to "Theological Science" - and after the rather round spanking that Michael Behe and other DI morons got this year at the Dover ID trial, should be viewed with deep suspicion by those who would understand the universe around us in rational terms.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Iraq - Descent into Civil War

It was painfully clear that this day was coming as soon as George W. Bush sent the tanks into Iraq. Sooner or later, the tribal and faith-aligned divisions of Iraq had to surface - and sure enough, it has come to the surface with a vengeance.

Starting with a bombing of an important mosque, things have rapidly spiralled out of control since then with over a hundred people killed in the last day or so.

You would have to have been completely oblivious to reality to believe that once Saddam Hussein was overthrown that Iraq would peacefully move towards a western-style democracy. There are too many tribal divisions in the Middle East, and most of the "national" divisions in the region are artificial borders and do not actually reflect a "real" sense of nationalism for many of the peoples in that region.

Democracy, at least as we understand the term in North America and much of Europe emerged gradually, its current form being a reflection not just of changes in the politics of a nation over time but also the reflection of society in those same politics. Change is a gradual process, one which can take several centuries at the very least.

Imposed at gunpoint by a foreign occupying power, democracy is doomed to fail. I imagine it will be only a matter of months before the United States army either loses control over much of Iraq's urban areas, or the "interim" government collapses as its ability to keep a coherent face on the rule of law and the enforcement of law in the streets.

If the United States Republicans still think they received a "black eye" when Iran's revolutionaries took their embassy staff hostage, they will feel positively violated by what is to come in Iraq. {which will descend into a vicious civil war, with its combatants only uniting to drive out the occupying forces if things are not brought under control in very short order}

Bible Thumpers Turn To Women's Health

Apparently bored for now with trying to beat down the much ballyhooed, and largely mythical "gay agenda", the hard-liners in the United States have turned their attention to women's rights - in particular abortion.

The South Dakota legislature has just passed a bill that is designed to make abortion all but illegal - unless the mother's life is endangered.

Apparently, women are supposed to be happy about getting pregnant - no matter the circumstances. A speaker from South Dakota that was on CBC's "As It Happens" when I got home was blatantly ecstatic about launching another confrontation in the courts over the matter, arguing that with two new justices in the US Supreme Court that have been appointed by the Conservative president, George W. Bush.

I shudder at the thought that women are once again being pushed into a situation where they are not able to make their own decisions about their bodies and when they will have children. In a perfect world where rape and domestic violence and men actually respected the wishes of their mates, perhaps the restrictions that South Dakota is proposing might be less odious.

Adult human beings make life decisions every day. Sometimes we regret those decisions; perhaps we may even grieve over what we felt we had to do in an earlier time in our lives. Women are perfectly capable of making those decisions themselves - and that includes the decision over whether or not to end a pregnancy. I can only imagine the horror of a rape survivor that finds herself pregnant as a result. If abortion causes trauma in its aftermath, what about a pregnancy foisted upon a woman by a stranger with a psychotic need for power?

The legislation that is being created in numerous states (South Dakota is the first of several to come) in the United States is about one thing - reinforcing patriarchial control over women. Anti-abortion laws subjugate women to the whims of men, and often to the whims of the worst sort of men - those so twisted by their own misunderstanding of sexuality that it becomes a weapon for them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Supreme Court, Judges and The Law

Lately, the mantra coming out of the CPC has been a really irritating rehash of a line that we hear in the United States about judges "legislating from the bench". (AKA "activist judiciary")

The claim is either that the court (especially the Supreme Court) is stacked with Liberal appointees, and is therefore acting in concert with the Liberal party's wishes, or that the courts are trying to undermine the democratic will of Parliament:

"I think it's a typical hidden agenda of the Liberal party... They had the courts do it for them, they put the judges in they wanted, then they failed to appeal -- failed to fight the case in court... I think the federal government deliberately lost this case in court and got the change to the law done through the back door."

- Stephen Harper, attacking the Liberals on same-sex marriage by claiming a conspiracy, News Hound, September 7th 2003.

Of course, what the CPC - and other pseudo-informed critics of the Supreme Court of Canada - forget is that ultimately, the job of the court is to interpret the laws of the land as legislated by the Parliament. This includes - to nobody's great surprise - the Constitution. What the CPC keeps overlooking is that it is entirely conceivable that legislators might just write something that is at odds with some aspect or another of another law - and when that law is the Constitution, it's a might bit more difficult to "work around" than simply inserting a legislative amendment. (As the Meech Lake and Charlottetown experiences pointed out, changing the Constitution itself is much more difficult)

Politicizing our judicial selection process by subjecting candidates to a public grilling on their opinions does nothing to assess the ability of the candidate to interpret law.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Setting the Stage?

In my previous post, I referred to this little piece of utter illogic, in which Bush now asserts that:

Bush, who has yet to veto a bill during his administration, warned that the United States is sending "mixed signals" by attacking a Middle Eastern company after the American ports were run by a British firm for several years.

Mixed signals? Let's see if I've got this straight - you go running around invading or threatening half of the Arab world, and then doing business with a UAE government-owned company - this isn't mixed signals?? When the UAE was "uncooperative" in the early days following 9/11, you turn around a claim that today the UAE is a safe base of operations? Hmmm

Lessee - we are talking about some of the biggest port facilities in the United States. Does it not occur to you that just possibly there might be a few people in this company who have an axe to grind with the US? Just as Arab countries might justifiably be worried about the United States army taking up residence on their borders, you might exercise a similar bit of caution.


Just maybe the administration is opening the door for the often-predicted "follow-up" attack. With Republican fortunes weakening in the polls, and Bush running up to the "mid-term elections", another attack on US soil would scare enough of the population into voting for "good, strong Republican government" to maintain the Republican control over the legislative and executive functions of government.

Think about it - a foreign owned company running the biggest container ports in the United States. It's not terribly difficult to imagine how that kind of control would make it reasonably easy for something nasty to be smuggled in across a few containers.

Of course, the administration would claim that it was all the evil terrorists, but would it really be? (or are the terrorists closer to home than any have imagined?)

[Update 22/2/2006] Just in case you had any doubt that some hideousness wasn't involved at the White House: There's this little gem tying things together for us. This doesn't confirm my theory above, but it once again makes me wonder about the honesty of those who lust after power.

Furthering the Paranoia of the Reich Wing

There are some people that just have no business being in Cabinet, and Stockwell Day is one of them. Over here, we learn that while Mr. Day wants to scrap the Gun Registry, he would dearly love to create what amounts to a People Registry.

Why is it that I can just see an era coming where we will be stopped at random on the street by guys in trenchcoats asking to see our "papers"? Whilst I am not completely opposed to the notion of an ID card, I'd like to know its purpose first. My driver's license has a purpose, as does my passport - for what good reason would I need another ID card (national or no)?

If it's being spawned in the name of the bogeyman of "security", then I think we can be pretty sure that its declared purpose is spurious. While the Bushies spout off about security and the like (and Canadian "conservatives" spew much the same drek), we get the following brilliant piece of decision making - what's this - handing over control over major shipping ports to a foreign company - one that's specifically owned by a foreign GOVERNMENT for goodness sake? There's stupid, then there's this.

Second, any "ID" program is going to prone to fraud on a scale that will make the overspending on the gun registry look like small potatoes. As a taxpayer, I believe that not only must Mr. Day justify this expenditure of monies to the public, he also had damned well be prepared to control the costs and the uses of the resultant data in very precise terms. Identity theft is a huge risk today, and the risk will only increase with time - any scheme that is vulnerable to such attacks must be carefully controlled and it's purpose must be carefully considered before it is implemented.

Of course, such consideration on the part of Stockwell "Doris" Day is unlikely.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Stephen Harper - Emulator of All Things American

In what is probably his second step towards cuddling up with the BushCo administration, Prime Minister Harper announced today that that Supreme Court Nominees would be subject to public questioning by MPs.

This is the first step in politicizing the process of appointing the Judiciary of this country, and another step towards making Canada look more and more American.

Conservatives in particular have been exceptionally vocal about their dislike for the way that the Supreme Court has ruled in the last few years - especially on matters of Charter interpretation. What it really amounts to is the conservatives don't like some of the rulings they have seen, and want to be able to gauge the way that a given judge will approach a topic. (Which will ultimately create a spectacle not unlike we have seen this past year in the United States)

The rulings that the CPC has chafed at so much have been rulings that are politically inconvenient to them. Anyone who has read the Supreme Court's rulings in the last decade will realize that the court has done precisely what the CPC claims they desire - interpreted the law. I don't have to like the rulings to respect the fact that when it comes down to it, the Justices on the Supreme Court have done precisely what they were appointed to do. The rulings are not political, they are pragmatic.

We are best served by a judiciary who is focused upon interpreting the law, not the political alliances that put them onto the bench. Making a spectacle out of the nomination process by putting the candidate before the cameras and legislators is nothing particularly productive - it is at best symbolic, and at worst it creates the illusion of "democratization" without actually doing anything truly useful.

In my opinion, this is little more than a symbolic gesture towards the United States by Harper - it says "See, we'll do it _your_ way" to BushCo.

Friday, February 17, 2006

There's only one word for this


On Alternet - Real Dolls ... Real Creepy.

Okay - I've heard of inflatable sex dolls before, and goodness knows there's a plethora of sex toys on the market these days for both sexes. But there's something slightly disturbing about purchasing a 100lbs or so of silicone shaped like a person.

It gets even creepier when you follow a link or two like this and find pictures of people treating these things as "dates".

Yes, I can understand all of the "loneliness" and other arguments in favour of these things, but for me it still comes down to just downright creepy.

I think in many respects its the notion that underlies the whole thing - that a relationship with a romantic partner is all about sexuality - is what really disturbs me. To reduce the notion of a partner to an inanimate object seems to me a reinforcement of the old feminist complaint about men "objectifying" women. Yes, men are horrendously visual creatures, and parts of their brain are clearly wired to find the female form pleasing. But when someone reduces their needs for companionship and human contact to a silicone doll, it seems to almost be 'reductio ad absurdium'. Frankly, these dolls are a sad statement, more than anything else.

The only good news about these dolls, is they are probably the most accurate creep detector in the world. (anyone who has spent US$ 6500 or so on one is a certifiable creepy case)

[Update 19/02/06]: While slightly off-topic, it's strange little situations like this that make me so uneasy with the social implications of what the "RealDoll" represents. I can't believe that someone would write a "contract" up to describe the behaviour they expect of their spouse. - especially in terms that are so blatantly juvenile. (The connection to the RealDoll story is merely temporal coincidence, but both make me shudder)

A Rising Dark Age, Indeed

I've suggested before that Western civilization - in particular the United States - is about to enter a new intellectual Dark Age.

To date, this has been driven by dolts like the current denizens of the White House, and these guys who seem to think that actual rational thought and exploration isn't essential to understanding the world around us.

Then I stumbled across Richard Cohen's recent column in the Washington Post and just about fell out of my chair. I couldn't believe that this moron would actually write that mathematics is unimportant.

Perhaps Mr. Cohen hasn't sat down and solved a single variable algebra equation since high school - I don't know - nor do I care. High school algebra isn't that complicated. As PZ Meyers points out, algebra isn't about solving pithy little word problems, it's about abstract symbolic reasoning.

In a world that is being flooded with data every moment of every day, success is built on one's ability to see patterns in the information flowing past your eyes; to synthesize that into something that has meaning for you. Otherwise, you wind up being an idle lump of organic matter on the sofa - staring mindlessly at the pap spewed forth by big money media and obediently purchasing whatever gewgaw they are trying to foist upon you.

According to Mr. Cohen, Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note -- or reason even a little bit..

Truisms mostly. Without Mathematics, Archimedes would not have deduced that the world is round; Galileo would not have been able to describe the basic form of our Solar System; Newton the mechanics of terrestrial physics and a plethora of other topics. Without mathematics (and some pretty advanced math at that), the very computers that "can do most math" wouldn't exist. (Come to that, we'd likely be living under a Nazi jackboot right now, because Alan Turing and colleagues wouldn't have cracked the "Enigma" machine codes in WWII)

It's the underlying assertion that Cohen makes that irritates me so much - that one doesn't _need_ mathematics to get by in the world. Mathematics by itself is of limited intrinsic value to most people, but along with History, Literature and Writing, it forms a foundation for young minds to understand the world in which we live.

Telling a high school student that it's "Okay" to fail at mathematics because it isn't "directly meaningful" merely demonstrates the writer's utter lack of ability to comprehend anything beyond their own (apparently) limited intellect. It's not "Okay" to flunk out on maths. In our world it's a seriously life limiting thing - unless your career aspirations don't go beyond working the front counter at McDonald's or standing at the front door of the local Wal*Mart.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

And Following Up On Iraq

George Bush's grand success story continues.

Back here, we have still more horrors oozing forth from the cesspool of Iraq's occupation.

What kind of arrogance does it take to believe that you can impose democracy and civil freedom on a society at gunpoint? A brief examination of British history shows that there is a long period of societal adaptation required for "western style" democracy to emerge.

In 1215, The Magna Carta was signed by King John, limiting the powers of the Monarchy considerably.

Still, over the next few hundred years, the Parliament remained more of an advisory board to the throne, rather than holding the reins of power. The notion of Parliamentary Sovereignty didn't take hold in Britain for several centuries after the signing of the Magna Carta.

What in the world makes BushCo think that they can impose democracy upon a society that clearly isn't ready for it? More to the point, it is the height of arrogance to assume that democracy in the Middle East should take on "the same form" as the United States or Britain implements. Governments exist as a reflection of the cultural norms in which they occur. Looking around the Middle East, we see a few "budding democracies" starting to emerge. There are also significant numbers of monarchies and dictatorships. While I am not going to say that the latter are necessarily benevolent, it is incumbent upon any observer to recognize that the society which these structures govern may well not be ready for the kind of civil law and rights regime that democracy requires in order to flourish.

Oh Oh ... Trouble's Afoot

On the CBC news this morning, it was pointed out that there is an 'inverted yield curve' in the bond return rates, a clue that a recession is a distinct risk right now.

What is an "Inverted Yield Curve"? Basically, it means that there is a point in the bond interest rates where the premium for borrowing money for longer drops below the rate for shorter term borrowing. Sure enough, the US bond rate drops between 2 and 3 year bonds (4 basis points - a small amount, but present nonetheless.

Timing wise, it means that the US economy is apt to start looking ugly just around the time that George W. Bush leaves office. Whoever follows Mr. Bush II is going to have a particularly hideous little job to do cleaning up the economic mess that results from BushCo's lovely little wars.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Revolting, but...

If people want something to riot in the streets about, it should be this.

While a bunch of editorial cartoons may be tasteless, and even disrespectful of the Muslim faith, these pictures are far, far worse. If they are in fact authentic, then much more serious action needs to be taken to reign in the actions of the US Military leaders that are running detention facilities around the world.

Clearly, there's much more wrong than a few "bad apples" in the enlisted ranks. (Not that I bought that premise in the first place) The US complaining that those pictures "should not have been released" is at best farcical. What senior command in the Pentagon should be asking themselves is just who issued what orders (or lack of orders) that allowed those events to take place at all, much less be recorded by cameras.

I'm not one to advocate for violence in the streets, but I can certainly understand how these images would be considered gravely offensive by Iraqis in particular, and the citizens of the Middle East as a whole.

When Freedoms Ignore Repsonsibility

I've said it before, and I'll no doubt say it again. Every right guaranteed in the Charter of Rights in Canada brings with it a responsibility to exercise that right responsibly.

Back here, I discuss my disgust with Ezra Levant's publication of the now infamous Danish cartoons.

Today, we learn that another of Western Standard's writers gets the magazine into yet more hot water, this time over printing comments made - allegedly - by Klein's advisors about his wife.

As Licia Corbella points out, there's something called editorial judgement that needs to be exercised. While I'm all in favour of "free speech", I can't say that I'm overly impressed with Levant's exercise of his rights lately. Although he hasn't actually done anything criminal, he certainly has stepped over the bounds of what I politely call "good taste".

His publication has become, like its ideological predecessor "Alberta Report", a mouthpiece for button pushing pseudo-journalism that is design not to inform and provoke discussion, but rather to inflame situations.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Democracy is Required ...

... but you must elect the right sort of government, or the US will topple it...

While I haven't been able to find much to back up what CTV's article suggests, it hardly comes as a huge surprise that Israel and the US would be conspiring to topple the Hamas gov't recently elected in Palestine.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Oh My ... They Don't Often Leave Openings Like This

Quoth one Ezra Levant on CBC's "As It Happens" tonight:

In this country we have diversity

Oh thank-you Ezra. You do realize that the diversity argument applies to a lot more than your recent grandstanding actions over a bunch of vastly overrated editorial cartoons.

Next time Ezra and his band pseudo-NeoCons that write for the Western Standard start opening their mouths about suppressing the rights and freedoms of others - no matter their stripe - Mr. Le(r)ant is going to get deservedly swatted with his own words.

Of course, he says this after dismissing the leader of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mohamed Elmasry's complaints about his actions by saying that Elmasry had "threatened" Jewish people in Israel. Ah - so Elmasry's wrong justifies you acting like a complete prick, does it Ezra?

...what an arrogant prig that man sounds like on the radio.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Stirring The Pot

Apparently, The Western Standard and the Jewish Free Press in Calgary think it serves some kind of purpose to reprint the cartoons that have been at the center of controversy for the last couple of weeks.

On CBC Radio earlier today, I was treated to the sound of Ezra Levant, publisher of the Western Standard cloaking himself in the language of "Freedom of the Press". While such freedoms are clearly presented in the Charter of Rights, he may well find it to be a something of a hair shirt to wear as it is bounded by this clause, and publishing those cartoons could be viewed as having little informative value now, and therefore justifiably subject to review either in the context of a human rights complaint, or more seriously as a violation of the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Levant himself appears to be setting up what he thinks will be a "precedent" case in the courts. In doing so, he may well put Stephen Harper's government in a very awkward place quite quickly. Consider this little pickle - if a Muslim group complains about the publication, Harper is obliged to prosecute it to the full extent of the law. Why? If he does not, his political opponents will point to it as an example of Conservative Party "racism". However, if he does prosecute Levant, Levant will accuse the government of attempting to suppress freedom of speech as guaranteed in the constitution. Also, we mustn't forget that the CPC did make statements during the election about 'getting tough on crime', and 'enforcing the laws that are on the books'.

I don't think Levant himself appreciates just how sticky things are going to get. Of course, Levant could be hoping to provoke a long term challenge of the Hate Crimes provisions of the Criminal Code - which have become strangely inconvenient since they were amended recently to contain the following words:

(4) In this section, “identifiable group” means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

In either case, things are about to get very ugly for Stephen Harper's new government in Ottawa. (and I'll be curious to see just how the Conservative party manages to wriggle through this collection of contradictions - hopefully a bit less hypocritcally than has happened with the Emerson affair? - I don't like the pickings to be too easy when trashing the illogic of a government)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My, my, my...

I've asserted that the CPC in general has far too many ties to extreme Religious Conservative groups in the United States before.

We have our first signs of an emboldened invasion of Canada's political space from these goons out of the United States appearing this week:

Focus on the Family (Canada) is being augmented by Chief Rotting Cryptkeeper James Dobson with a "Think Tank" called Institute of Marriage and Family Canada.

If you thought the Fraser Institute was blindly ideological, these guys are likely to make the Fraser Institute look like a bunch of open-minded college students by comparison. Where the Fraser Institute is mostly focused on economic issues, this bunch is focused on doing everything in their power to suppress people. I've spent enough time perusing Dobson's website, and the so-called "facts" he likes to spout, to be quite sure that these people will be pushing a lot of pseudo science to justify their extremist positions. (For example the utterly indefensible work of Paul Cameron's Family Research Institute (I just love how these people are trying to cloak their narrow-minded hypocrisy in the language of "research")

I find the timing of this bunch appearing decidedly suspicious - mere weeks after an election in Canada that elected a "conservative" government.

Friday, February 10, 2006

I'm beginning to wonder...

If just maybe there's more to Harper's cabinet choices than mere bungling.

Harper could be solidifying his grip on the party.

1) Ferret out anyone that isn't absolutely loyal to him. (Or at least smart enough to keep their disagreements well behind the scenes).
2) Make a few "disciplinary examples" for the rest of caucus to contemplate. (It would appear that Mr. Turner is due to be the first)
3) Exhaust people - observers in particular - so that when he goes to legislate something controversial he doesn't get the trashing that he so richly deserves.
4) Set a low bar of expectations among the voters - especially the wingnuts. That way he comes out looking like a hero in the next election no matter how little he does.

Harper's reputation is that of an autocrat - he doesn't like criticism particularly, and isn't exactly known to be overly adaptable. So, if I were to look between the lines a bit at current events over cabinet ministers and "parliamentary secretaries", I have to wonder if Harper isn't thinking of something fairly cynical in an effort to guarantee that he gets re-elected in a subsequent election. (which we all know will happen in the next couple of years)

Bigotry in all its spiteful glory

I have always been a proponent of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular because of the subtle grace of the wording in that document. Until this morning, I'm not entirely sure I fully appreciated just how much impact the charter has on Canadian law.

Then, a blog I read from time to time had this article on it which points to a piece of legislation that has been proposed (I can't quite figure out if this piece has been put before the Ohio legislature yet or not).

House Bill 515 is a modification to the legislation in Ohio around adoption and foster parenting laws. At least, on the surface.

However, a brief perusal of this law shows that it is a diatribe of legalized bigotry:

(B) An individual may not adopt if the court in which the petition for adoption is filed determines that any of the following apply:

(1) The individual is a homosexual, bisexual, or transgender individual.

(2) The individual is a step-parent of the child to be adopted and is a homosexual, bisexual, or transgender individual.

(3) The individual resides with an individual who the court determines is a homosexual, bisexual, or transgender individual.

The law goes on to attempt to define their use of the terms homosexual, bisexual or transgender:

(C) As used in this section:

(1) "Bisexual" means an individual who engages in sexual activity with members of both sexes.

(2) "Homosexual" means an individual who engages in sexual activity with another individual of the same sex.

(3) "Transgender" means an individual who may be classified according to an accepted nosology, such as the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, as having a gender identity disorder, or characterized by either of the following:

(a) A strong and persistent cross-gender identification;

(b) Persistent discomfort with that individual's sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.

The jaw-dropping stupidity of such a law is amazing. First of all, there is no compelling evidence that parenting by any of the three groups mentioned has any adverse impact on the children. Second, and perhaps laughably, the law on one hand ignores studies by organizations like the APA, and defers to work favored by NARTH such as this inconclusive muddle of gibberish or the pseudo-science of Paul Cameron and his Family Research Institute. (Notably, Paul Cameron was booted from the APA in 1983 for violating their ethics guidelines). Then, in the later parts of the law, the lawmakers fall back on the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) to reinforce their position. So what is it people - the APA's DSM is useful because it's convenient, but their studies are inconvenient? The science behind one is good, and the same science standards applied to the other are somehow "bad science"?

However, the logical fallacies of Ohio's legislators are far from my point. That they would even dream of writing a piece of legislation that was so obviously a throwback to the kind of mentality that believed that "blacks are inferior" back in the slavery-era days is stunning.

Fortunately for Canadians, the equality provisions of the Charter would mean that such a law would have to be firmly and soundly rooted in rational facts before it would stand under a section 15 challenge. The use of Section 33 - The Not Withstanding Clause would give such a law a relatively short shelf life - about 5 years. (Unless Canadians were stupid enough to re-elect the same party after they wrote such a noxious law)

On the other side of the coin, with links like these, I can only guess how long it will be before some alleged "back bencher" writes a similarly objectionable (and ill-informed) piece of legislation for one of Harper's so-called "free votes".

This is one of the reasons why Pierre Trudeau's placement of the Charter in Canada's Constitution is a stroke of absolute genius. While an act of Parliament, such as our former "Bill of Rights", may be repealed and modified readily by other "acts of Parliament", modifying the Constitution (and therefore the Charter) is a much more difficult task to undertake.

[Update 11/2/06]: Apparently the bill mentioned above scared even the Republican caucus off in Ohio.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Let's Stir the Fear Pot...

I call BullSh!t.

This is almost as transparently stupid as some of Stephen Harper's recent antics. This comes out now, with the US gearing up for midterm elections - not only is the timing smelly, but the story just emerging now makes it look suspiciously like Mr. Bush has had his creative writing team off cooking the details.

More On Harper's Cabinet and the Notion of Principles

Swirling around the blogosphere is a very loud, raucous debate over two of Harper's cabinet picks: David Emerson and Michael Fortier.

Basically, the gist of it is this - on one side, you have people who are accusing Harper of being no better than his predecessors; and on the other side, CPC supporters saying "so what", and justifying Harper's actions to themselves.

To a certain degree I'm prepared to accept the "what's the big deal" perspective that the CPC supporters are putting forth. After all, Harper hasn't done anything that other Prime Ministers haven't done - whether it be offering cabinet posts to someone for crossing the floor, or appointing from the senate to round out the cabinet when there are regional discrepancies.

However, there's a couple of giant yabbuts lurking in the mix:

1) First, remember all the oaths and epithets sworn by the CPC when Belinda Stronach crossed the floor? How _they_ would never do such a thing, etc.? Comparing Stronach's defection with Emerson is suspect at best - Stronach at least made an effort to sit as part of the CPC caucus for a while before jumping ship. Meanwhile, Emerson has clearly played a game of pure personal gain. No more, and no less. The house hasn't even convened and he jumps ship. I won't speculate on how "talented" Emerson is - I frankly hadn't heard anything of him prior to this (at least not that I paid any attention to) The optics of it stink - Emerson looks like nothing more than an opportunistic, power-hungry fool and Harper looks like a man desperate to make a "balanced looking" cabinet.

2) Repeatedly, Harper and other members of the CPC have railed against "senate appointees" acting as cabinet ministers. Again, this has been something that they would _never_ do. Senate reform has been one of the the Reform/Alliance/CPC hobby horse policies for years now. What's the first thing they do? Appoint a party hack to the Senate - not within weeks or months of being sworn in, but literally within mere minutes. Then, Harper turns around and makes the man a Cabinet Minister?

Unless you are completely blinded by Harper's aura, the optics of this are really bad. Indefensibly bad. Harper has done little more than demonstrate that not only is he dishonest, but also that his vaunted "principles" are as malleable as any other politician's, and possibly far closer to Brian Mulroney's than we might want to know.

The long and short of it is that Harper not only had other options open to him that he chose not to use, but he also showed the country once again what we can expect from his government. Remember, this is the party that campaigned on principles and honest government - the opening gambit looks like neither to me.

How Do You Know...

...When a politician is lying?

They have their mouth open.

Or at least, so goes the old barroom joke.

However, it appears Brian Mulroney may well have perjured himself in his 1996 testimony under oath regarding his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber.

Yes, we are talking about dealings that went on over a decade in the past. In fact, I wouldn't even raise them today but for a few other little tidbits in recent events. First, there have been hints of Mulroney's influence on the transition team that helped install Stephen Harper. Second, former Liberal MP David Emerson's recent defection, with emerging allegations that the Martin government had already made considerable progress towards a deal on softwood lumber.

And then, there's this column from Greg Weston pointing out the connections between Defense Minister O'Connor and the defense industry. (We aren't just talking "past employment" here, but also a career as an active lobbyist for the industry)

Of course, can we ever forget Peter MacKay's less than graceful sell-out to the Alliance mere months after promising not to do just that.

Between walking landmines like Stockwell Day, and Emerson ( a man Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune would have killed by now, on the basis of never trusting a traitor, even when you created them ), having guys like O'Connor in the cabinet should simply turn up more and more Mulroney-esque machinations in the Tory cabinet.

Brian Mulroney is seen by many as the 'patron saint' of the CPC - a saint that has apparently had more influence on the party than any would have imagined, it would seem. (and people wonder why I haven't trusted HarperCo to date?)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

If This is Even Partially True

The Catholic Church is going to have some explaining to do, especially in light of Pope Ratz's recent condemnations.

No doubt, the Pope will twist things in his mind and blame it all on the homosexuals, but what it really speaks to is the inherent dishonesty of denying clergy an existance as sexual beings.

When you insist that people deny themselves entirely the intimate human contact that they need as emotional beings, there will be consequences - and they will likely be very unpleasant.

While I suspect the Church to do everything in its power to squash the lawsuit that has been launched in New York, I think that the underlying assertion of the suit is correct. The Bishops in place need to conceal their sexual identity (largely because of how the Church would treat them otherwise), and in doing so, it places them "over a barrel" where the pedophiles are concerned.

It seems to me that the churches who protest against homosexuals the loudest are the ones where the biggest scandals will fester. Any time you demand that someone feel guilty for who they are, sooner or later the consequences will come to the surface.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Here's a Bit of Paranoid Fun

Okay, Harper's made what appears to be a moderate cabinet. (Moderate is a relative term - compared to handing things over to say - Art Hanger - it's moderate)

But, then I got to thinking about the appointment of Jason Kenney as "Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister", and I found myself wondering just how many other "Parliamentary Secretaries" Mr. Harper has appointed. We know of at least one other - Diane Ablonczy, but there could be quite a few more that simply haven't made the news.

Being the trusting soul that I am, and being cursed with a memory for past events and behaviour, I wonder if Mr. Kenney's appointment isn't a "lead position in the real cabinet. In other words, what's been staged yesterday was the "public face" of the party. Hat tips went to former leaders; long-time, personally popular MPs (e.g. Monte Solberg) and an effort was made to make the cabinet look like it was drawn from across the country.

Lurking behind that facade may be something quite different - not unlike the proverbial "Wizard of Oz", where the "face" of the wizard turns out to be little more than a bit of puppetry. Although I suspect in this case something far less benign.

In watching some of Harper's speeches yesterday, I was left with a distinctly uneasy feeling. His words were conciliatory, but his body language and verbal tone struck me as borderline confrontational. Disjoins like that tend to reinforce my feeling that there is more going on "just below the surface" than has been revealed to date.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More Thoughts On Harper's Cabinet

Driving home, I learned Michael Fortier is not an elected MP, but rather turns out to be Harper's first appointment to the Senate.

Michael Fortier is a long time organizer for the Progressive Conservative Party, and acted as "co-chair" of Harper's campaign this past election.

Please tell me how this is an improvement in democracy and representative accountability? For a party that campaigned on accountability and honesty, this looks an awful lot like a recycle of the Mulroney era to me.

Harper's Cabinet, Harper's Agenda

Harper's first Cabinet has been sworn in.

At first blush, it appears that he has tried to make it appear moderate and national in form. To my surprise, the bulk of the wingnuts appear to have been excluded. Only two of the most notable wingnuts are ministers - Vic Toews and Stockwell Day. (of course, wingnut is a relative term - I suspect many of the other ministers are significantly more hard-line conservative than I would like to see). Although Jason Kenney is not a minister per se, he has been named (obtusely) "parliamentary secretary to the prime minister" - a vague posting which gives grease-boy a seat at the cabinet table without any real accountability. (How surprising)

Interestingly, David Emerson who ran as a Liberal has crossed the floor and been appointed "Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics". I've heard of 'crossing the floor' during a session, but I imagine the CPC will be astonishingly quiet about this one compared to the hullabaloo raised over Belinda Stronach's defection last year. I dare say that Mr. Emerson's constituents might have a thing or two to say about his sudden change of political stripe.

For now, I'll remain somewhat reserved, and mostly paranoid - it's going to take a lot to convince me that the CPC has begun to moderate itself, and I'll be watching the cryptkeepers of the extreme right very carefully as well.

Darwin Award Nominee

So, a guy walks into a bar with an axe and a handgun. He goes up to the bartender and asks "is this a gay bar?", and then starts attacking people. The bad news - he seriously injured 3 people. The good news is that (so far) nobody has died of their injuries.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, he's dead now - and presumably he never had a chance to add his genes to the gene pool. (Making him a contender for a Darwin Award)

While we'll never know for sure what made this idiot tick, I'd have to say that the question he asked the bartender is a pretty good clue. Yes, the perpetrator was "young and stupid" - most people at the age of 18 are.

Incidents like this are among the reasons that I get so annoyed with the half-baked "facts" that organizations like Focus on the Family, American Family Association, NARTH and Lifesite spew. Whether they realize it or not, their "anti-gay" propaganda stirs the pot, and gives knuckle-draggers like Robida the self-justification to commit the crimes they do.

Bigotry, no matter how you look at it, is the ugly underbelly of human society. Right now, three people lie in hospital as a result of his ignorance, a police officer's family grieves the loss of their father and mate, and yet another family grieves the loss of their daughter - all at Robida's hands.

Failing to Grasp The Message

I wasn't planning on any further commentary on the utter stupidity of the protests over these "blasphemous cartoons".

But then, someone had to show up at a rally in London dressed as a Suicide Bomber. Really - how bright was that move? You want to convince me that the most outrageous of the illustrations (the one with Mohammed's turban shown as a bomb) is true? Apparently, this particular rocket scientist said he was trying to underscore "double standards" - apparently he utterly missed his own.

Radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed told Radio 4's Today programme that in Islam, whoever insulted a prophet must be "punished and executed".

"We are not saying ourselves to go there and start to look to him and kill him, we are not talking about that. We are talking about Islamic rules. If anybody insults the prophet, he will have to take a punishment," he said.

Uh-huh. Sure pal. I believe you about as far as I can toss you right now.

Generally speaking, I don't much care what faith group someone belongs to - I'm not likely to taunt them (at least not intentionally). However, start flinging around threats, and I get annoyed. First of all, if you want me to respect your faith, give me a reason to respect it. Tell me about it - calmly and rationally - I don't much care for the irrational chest thumping that seems common among fanatics.

If portraying your prophet is such a heinous act, then explain all of the artwork (much of it rather beautiful) done over the centuries that Muslim Artists have created, please. Especially if you are going to run around burning buildings, and levying threats against those who would "blaspheme" your faith.

(Of course, I don't really expect any of the illiterate goons involved in the riots to do that - I suspect their "outrage" has more to do with opportunity to get away with mayhem than anything genuinely seated in the words and spirit of the Q'ran)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Enough Already - We Heard You The First Time!

Lebanese protesters burn another embassy in their "outrage" over the publication of these cartoons.

When I heard this story on the news this morning (and its been bubbling around all week), I wanted to scream "Enough Already!". Good grief - a few irreverent cartoons get published in a country well outside of the Middle East, and we get riots in the streets in Beirut? Give me a break! (and just to underscore the point that this is an overreaction, here's an archive full of images of Mohammed - many of them done by Islamic artists)

Then I started to think about this a little bit. Riots over a cartoon? Isn't that just a slightly overwrought reaction - even using the most extreme literalist interpretation of the Q'ran. Rationally speaking - if I'm not a practitioner of that faith, why would I feel bound by any interpretation of the Q'ran at all?

Then I started to think about the overall picture in the Middle East today, and I came up to a much creepier picture.

Consider the following circumstances:

al Qaeda taunting Bush,
Bush rattling sabres (and other bits) at Iran over an alleged nuclear weapons program,
Hamas elected in Israel - an event which no doubt destabilizes Israel considerably.

On top of that, there are signs that Afghanistan is degenerating into its former state of warlord-controlled mayhem; there are few signs that Iraq is going to settle down anytime soon.

Ever since George W. Bush received the keys to the White House, there has been considerable discussion of his administrations interest/belief in Eschatology. Certainly, Eschatologists seem to back Bush. American Evangelical followers rely heavily on their interpretation of The Book of Revelation to guide them. One interpretation of The Book of Revelation is that a major open war in the Middle East (focused around Israel) would fulfil one of the major end-times prophecies.

So...consider the mess in the Middle East - a mess that has become more and more pronouncedly nasty ever since Bush came to power. (and you would be hard pressed to convince me that Bush has even tried to ameliorate the situation). Now, along comes two events in recent weeks - the first being the election of Hamas by the Palestinians, the second being the publication of a few irreverent cartoons in a country thousands of miles away from the Middle East. The overreaction is beginning to smell of political manipulation, with hoodlums being given "free license" to make a fuss and stir things up.

It seems to me quite possible that the pot is being stirred by people who seek open war in the Middle East - on a scale that the world hasn't seen in over 60 years.

Friday, February 03, 2006

In the Minds of the Terminally Stupid

I was leafing through the The Globe and Mail this morning, and tripped across this little gem of stupidity.

The nutshell synopsis is this - a teacher who is a known lesbian was seen in a lockerroom/washroom facility alone with female student. Someone jumped to the conclusion that "homosexual == pedophile", and accused her of just that - without any evidence whatsoever.

Granted - in an era where sexual predators have become much more visible, and there have been a few successful prosecutions of female predators in recent years, I can understand a certain amount of apprehension on the part of the public about anything that might appear to be unusual. However, after a number of false accusation cases, it seems quite clear that mere suspicion is inadequate, and the consequences of acting on supposition are sufficiently drastic that perhaps some moderation is required.

Oddly, it wasn't the article that got my goat, it was one of the comments some semi-literate moron had submitted just below it: (I've lifted it in its entirety because I don't know how long the Globe and Mail will leave it there).

rftgjh nrtdxfyjhn from toronto, writes: this "lady" was not wrongly done by. the principal did what i would expect him to have done. there have been white men falsely xharged with this sort of thing and have had clouds over their lives and careers forever. no matter their lack of guilt, they are looked at with guarded eyes.

why is it so different for this "lady". imagine the furor if it had been a white male in her place. his career would be over. hers should be n different.

she is waving her homosexuality like a flag. she is using the human rights system like many homosexuals before her tog et something she shouldn't be entitled to.

she and the rest of her kind had better get used to people not wanting homosexuals near their children. i wouldn't either. no amount of legislation will ever change this. you can't legislate belief or make people "like" or trust homosexuals.

Willow had just better get used to it.

The obvious illiteracy of the writer aside, there's a few points to pull out:

1) the principal did what i would expect him to have done.

Two people washing their hands in a washroom does not constitute child predation. It doesn't even reach the level of probable cause. (Which I will note the Police correctly determined) The mistake made here was that someone made the story public long before any substantive investigation had happened.

2) why is it so different for this "lady".

What right do you, or anyone else, have to destroy a person's life and livelihood because of what you infer from what you saw? People have made false accusations against men, and have faced charges for it as a result.

3) she is waving her homosexuality like a flag. she is using the human rights system like many homosexuals before her tog et something she shouldn't be entitled to.

Huh? She's a known lesbian - big deal. She's living her life honestly - why should that subject her to maltreatment? Someone leaped to a completely invalid conclusion because they didn't have the knowledge and understanding of sexuality so it's "okay" to accuse this woman of being something she isn't?

4) she and the rest of her kind had better get used to people not wanting homosexuals near their children.

Ah yes, the "my kind are better than your kind" reasoning - used commonly by the terminally ignorant. So, if in your mind, people with attribute X are inferior to you, it's okay to make false accusations? It wasn't so many years ago that I remember some pretty horrific assumptions being made about people from different parts of the world - simply by the colour of their skin.

The sooner people get it through their heads that homosexual does not imply pedophile, the better. (any more than being black makes someone a thief)

...and to think I was planning on writing about Iran this morning ... oh well - perhaps later on.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

In world filled with irony...

AFA is starting their "Christ in Christmas" campaign - a trifle early it would seem.

The near-paranoid fear that the fundamentalists have over Christmas is somewhat laughable - especially when you realize that the Catholic Church invented the celebration specifically to subvert many pagan celebrations that happened to coincide with the Winter Solstice. Today, Christmas is celebrated by a great many people who are decidedly not "Christian".

Sounds to me a little like just maybe the karma of the universe is rebalancing itself.

Bush, SOTU and other fictional worlds

I don't know precisely what fictional world George W. Bush lives in, but it's clearly not the same as the rest of the world.

While I am unsurprised by it, the level of artificial paranoia in the State of the Union address is disappointing. It signalled two key things in my mind:

1. The Republicans are going to continue their campaign of fear at home.

2. If you think things are protectionist now, it's going to get a whole lot worse.

In light of this little gem of paranoid plotting from the Pentagon, and the scandalous behaviour of many people closely associated with the Bush White House - be it Jack Abramhoff, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby or others - we have to recognize that the United States is turning towards some of the very tactics and policies that they claim to abhor. (Consider illegal wiretaps, a "no-fly" list of somewhere near 80,000 names, prisoners held without due process, Abu Ghraib among others)

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...