Monday, July 31, 2006

Standing Up For Canada ?

A quick review of our Conservative Government on foreign affairs since they were sworn in:

1) An arbitrary extension of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan.

- Let's see - taking sides in what amounts to a civil war? Not so good.

2) A Softwood Lumber "deal" that effectively commits Canada to paying $1 billion or more in reparations to the United States.

3) Blind support for Israel, even when Canadians are killed by Israeli fire.

- Yeah, that's really standing up for Canada and Canadians, isn't it?

4) Then, we learn today that they are quietly increasing the pay of senior civil servants and crown corporation heads.

- For a party that claims to be "fiscally prudent", it's an odd time to be making such a move - after all, if they had to answer to the House of Commons they might have to do some rather amazing footwork. {especially in light of a record breaking bunch of spending commitments just after the last session of the parliament finished}.

That's the CPoC for you - standing up for Canada by lying down to be the American doormat.

You Are Free to be a Bigot

But that doesn't give you a blanket right to spew whatever crap you want on the public stage without someone calling you out on it.

Almost as if the news reporters were feeling psychic today, we find the next volley in the gay rights debate being lobbed about.

I'll not dwell on the actual content of the websites that Chandler owns - if you want to find them, google "Concerned Christians Canada" or "Freedom Radio Network Canada" - you'll find it fast enough. (His radio "program" is a variation on American-style right-wing talk radio - bombastic, inflammatory and utterly ridiculous - listen to it at your own risk)

There's a few comments in the news article that I wish to explore a little bit though:

On another episode Chandler himself suggests homosexuality is a result of a genetic weakness that could be altered with hormones or steroids.

This is an amazingly farcicle statement, and only serves to underscore the utter ignorance of Mr. Chandler and his crew. There is no evidence that homosexuals are hormonally imbalanced. Worse, there are periods in our history where homosexuality has been "treated" by injections of estrogen. For a brief look at the consequences of that particularly misguided view, I refer readers to Alan Turing's case. After WW II, Turing was convicted of being homosexual, and was given a choice of either hormone treatments or prison. He chose the hormone treatments, which in theory were supposed to reduce his libido, but really only caused him to start growing breasts. There is good reason to believe that this was a major contributing factor to his suicide. When Alan Turing died, the world lost one of its greatest mathematical minds - the mind whose talents were instrumental in breaking the Enigma Machine code.

While there is some evidence that sexual behaviours are somewhat influenced by hormone exposure during gestation, but these are hypothesis at this time, and far from well founded theories. It seems simplistic - and wrong - to suspect that altering someone's hormonal balance in adulthood is going to affect their sexual identity.

Chandler says his sites are protected by freedom of speech and the freedom to express religious beliefs. He says he feels persecuted and that he's the real victim of a hate crime.

This is a relatively recent tactic on the part of the religious right wing - they wrap themselves in the cloak of victimhood, and claim that it is they who are being discriminated against.

The problem is that they are expressing opinions, and they have based their opinions upon points that are politely described as suspect. A quick perusal of "Concerned Christians" website shows that they (Boisson and Chandler) draw their "facts" from sources of such dubious quality as "NARTH", "Traditional Values Coalition", "Grace Magazine", etc. Hardly what most of us would understand to be bastions of good academic practice in conducting the kinds of studies that are necessary to make useful analysis of these kind of topics. (I would imagine that if I cited a "Traditional Values Coalition" as a backing source of evidence for a peer reviewed psychology journal, I'd find my paper roundly trashed unless I had a lot of corroborating evidence from other sources whose biases are less blatant.)

It's rather like a white supremacist asserting that blacks are an inferior race, but in reality there is little - or no - rational evidence to support such a claim. The difference between doing this in private conversation in a coffee shop and in a public broadcast like a radio show is trivially obvious. (e.g. intended scope of impact...) The thinking seems to be that because they are "Christian", they should be free to say anything they want, no matter how ill-informed it may be, and have it protected as "religious expression".

Whether the complaints against Chandler and his websites will get very far remains to be seen. The vagaries of the Canadian Human Rights are somewhat arcane to me.

My guess is that the theo-conservative types will start playing this up, loudly just before the fall sitting of Parliament. Their goal will be to wake up their "base" of support and get them to lobby their MPs so that the SGM marriage debate will be reopened in the parliament.

In the meantime, watching Chandler squirm is its own entertainment. The one time I met the man, he reminded me of the schoolyard thugs that I used to so despise as a child - not something I exactly admire.

Get Over It

I was wandering around the "right-wing blogosphere" this morning, and stumbled across this bit of nonsense talking about the marriage issue. (Which you can expect to resurface in Canada this fall)

Since I'm feeling a little tired of ranting about the childish stupidity going on in the Middle East lately, I thought I'd dismantle the argument with a bit of a critique.

It's an attempt - albeit flawed - to discredit the notion of same gender marriage without resorting to religious argument.

There's two basic points about this guy's argument that summarize it - it's fundamentally a bunch of standard religious talking points that attempt to not refer to scripture; second it's actually much broader than SGM, and basically says that sexuality is evil.

Consider the following premise:

1. The legalization of homosexual “marriages” would enshrine the sexual revolution in law.

Ah - so, all of the changes that have happened in the last 40-50 years should be undone is the underlying assertion here. Not only should sexuality be kept firmly in the closet, but women should be kept barefoot and pregnant as much as possible. Reading a little further, we find the author more or less making that claim, by citing just about every criticism that conservatives have ever made about any change to society's regulation of sexuality:

Experimentation abounded: the so-called “open marriages,” public intercourse,...the magazines that women buy at grocery store checkout lines are as salacious as anything put out by Hugh Hefner in the 1950’s.

Omigod - the women's magazines today are as "salacious" as Hefner's 1950's works? Oh dear, what ever shall we do? (Let's start by being honest, and recognizing that women are sexual creatures too - not just men...)

The author then continues with his button pushing exercise by claiming that child abuse has increased since abortion was legalized:

We were told that the legalization of abortion would lead, paradoxically, to fewer abortions, and fewer instances of child abuse. Instead it led to far more abortions than even the opponents ever imagined, and it so cheapened infant life that child abuse spiked sharply upward. It has remained so high that no one is surprised to hear, on local television, an account a child chained to his bed and allowed to starve in his own filth, or a baby bludgeoned to death by a boyfriend, with the mother as accomplice.

What this has to do with SGM is beyond me - but I don't rattle around in the minds of the truly unhinged.

However, let's address the topic itself - first of all, I can't see how abortion would affect the child abuse rate significantly. It might reduce the child NEGLECT somewhat, but even there I have my doubts. Second, the author completely overlooks the fact that healthier, more honest sexuality has resulted in more open reporting of child sexual abuse in particular. Abuses that would have - in the past - been quietly hushed up and kept in the closet are now being reported and prosecuted. It's not a pretty picture, but I don't think that the consequences of keeping it hidden are good news either.

We were told that the legalization of contraceptive drugs would lead to fewer unwanted children -- certainly to fewer children born out of wedlock. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the human race should have known otherwise. Whatever one may believe about contraception, one must admit the historical fact: by reducing the perceived risk of pregnancy almost to zero, contraception removed from the young woman the most powerful natural weapon in her arsenal against male sexual aggression. She no longer had any pressing reason not to concede to the boyfriend’s wishes. So she agreed; and we now have one of three children born out of wedlock.

This one's a doozy, and quite an attack on women if you think about it for a moment.

First, I'll take issue with the notion of children born out of wedlock. Again, this is a matter of statistical and social honesty. At one time, such children were called "bastards", and quietly shuffled out of sight, living under names that would not associate them with their male parentage; in the early part of the 20th century, those children either became orphans, or the proverbial "shotgun wedding" was held, and a baby was miraculously born less than 9 months later. Anybody who believes that people weren't having sex outside of wedlock at that time is either blind or stupid, possibly both.

Second, it makes the whole issue of fertility the woman's problem. She either keeps her legs firmly crossed until she's married, or _she_ has a problem. Contraception didn't lead to a social problem, it simply allowed women the freedom to do what had been happening anyways for millenia - just removed the social artifices involved.

Again, this is utterly unrelated to the SGM issue. I think the author is trying to draw a line of "failed" experiments to justify his anti-SGM stance, but instead is merely revealing his ignorance of human behaviour and history.

As near as I can tell, his first point is a basic anti-feminist, anti-sexual revolution screed written in a button-pushing style that would make Jason Kenney proud. The only thing you can derive from the reasoning is the author idealizes the pseudo-Victorian society of the early 20th century.

2. It would, in particular, enshrine in law the principle that sexual intercourse is a matter of personal fulfillment, with which the society has nothing to do.

This one is the classic "it's all about sex" argument. I can't even begin to enumerate the ways that this reasoning is just plain wrong.

First, and foremost, I can think of few relationships - heterosexual or not - that are predicated entirely on sex. Certainly not the long standing ones. Sure, sexuality is part of the picture, but it is far from being the focal point. The focal points tend to be common interests, shared values and a combination of love and friendship that is hard to quantify.

At the true wedding, the elders know that the future belongs to the couple, who in their love that night, or on a night soon to come, will in turn raise up yet another generation. Sexual intercourse is, as a brute biological fact, the act by which we renew mankind. We celebrate the wedding because it betokens our survival, our hope for those to come after us.

Ah yes, the "it's also about procreation" argument. Okay, a homosexual couple isn't likely to produce children per se. However, this is still false reasoning. How many marriages don't have children - either by choice or biology? Plenty - just in my office I can think of half a dozen couples who don't have children, are their marriages invalid because they haven't had children? No. Are their marriages any less loving? No.

Having pushed this button repeatedly, the author moves onto his next point:

And unless man and woman unite -- and, given their differences, it always amazes me that they can -- the culture cannot survive. The women will split away to protect their persons and their relatively few children; the unattached males will pass the dull hours in destruction.

The "omigod, society will crumble" argument. This is a complete crock. First of all, human society has existed with - and without - marriage for millenia. Before the concept of theistic religion emerged, families formed and grew, and they did so without some deity "blessing" the union.

The second point that the author misses here is the fact that if you take the most generous estimates of the size of the G/L population, and a generous percentage of those _wanting_ to get married, you still only have a tiny fraction of the overall population that is actually affected. Those people are already paired off, and changing their legal status to "married" really only affects what's ticked off on their tax returns. Your property values aren't going to change because John and Jim moved in down the block and are legally married.

Lastly, I'd point out the obvious reality that our understanding of human behaviour has changed a great deal in the last 60 years. Psychology has slowly exposed a wealth of human behaviours that are all perfectly normal. Increased awareness of what truly causes harm to people (child abuse, rape, discrimination) has led to more honest reporting of these issues. Personally, I'd much rather have these issues out in the open where we can deal with them constructively, instead of burying them in the closet and hoping they will "go away". We've seen in the last 20 years plenty of evidence of the kind of hurt and suffering that sex abuse survivors experience, we would be remiss to believe that suppression is an improvement.

This isn't about "liberalism" or "freedoms" - it's ultimately about personal honesty. Honesty that has to start with people living genuine, authentic lives that are true to themselves first. The rights and sexual revolutions did not damage society, they in fact made it more honest by stripping away huge numbers of false fronts and exposing humanity to itself.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Blaming the Victims

Today, we learned that Israel killed a large number of Lebanese civilians by bombing an apartment block into a pile of rubble.

The bombing itself makes me furious on a number of levels, but my blood boiled when I heard this:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "great sorrow" for the airstrikes but said Hezbollah was to blame for using the area to attack Israel

This, combined with statements I heard on the radio where Israel was trying to defend its actions by claiming it had warned civilians in the area to "get out" for some time. Of course, what Israel doesn't mention in this is the fact that Israeli aircraft have been bombing roads into non-existence, and attacking civilian cars when they've been spotted on those roads. Makes it a little difficult for civilians to "get out of the area", I should imagine.

The "blame the victim" strategy is beginning to make me very angry. It's like the old rapist's defense - "she was dressed provocatively". It's a complete crock of shit. Israel knows damn good and well that it is bombing civilian populations. Every time they do it, the claim is made that they have "credible intelligence that Hezbollah fighters are present". I'm getting terminally pissed off with Israel making such claims - they have yet to put forward any kind of proof of those allegations, and ultimately civilians are paying the price for Israeli heavy handedness.

Then, in justifying their actions, Israel points to Hezbollah rockets that are being lobbed into Israel. There's an old saying about two wrongs don't make a right. It seems to me that Israel has forgotten that childhood lesson.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hypocrisy 101

While expressing feigned outrage that Israel would think it has "world permission" to bomb the crap out of Lebanon, we have Israel rejecting any kind of ceasefire.

Lebanon has come up with a ceasefire plan that involves Hezbollah - I would guess that Israel will reject it out of hand, and Rice won't really advocate for it either - after all they can't possibly consider this proposal without granting a political legitimacy to Hezbollah.

At the current rate, things will take months, or years to settle down in that region.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rome, Lebanon and Ceasefire Talks

If you expected any real results from this, you are sorely mistaken.

There are several fundamental flaws with the Rome talks:

1) The US and Israel have already stated that they are uninterested in any immediate cessation of activity in Lebanon.

2) Israel was not present.

3) Hezbollah was not present.

Do the math - the two combatant groups - Israel and Hezbollah are not present. There is no useful consequence that come out of talks that do not involve the aggreived parties.

The argument that Hezbollah is not a political power is clearly false, with that organization having been the de facto government in southern Lebanon for the better part of a decade or more. While their paramilitary tactics offend me, so do Israel's - I see no appreciable difference.

The US and Israel can stand on their high horse about "not negotiating with 'terrorists'" all they want, that does not, nor will it, change the simple fact that little is likely to change for Israel until they learn to coexist with their neighbors.

Waiting for that "Collateral Damage" Phrase

So Harper thinks it was an accident. Talk about MISSING THE POINT!

When Israel's army was supposedly in routine contact with that outpost, and it gets bombed, there are only a handful of plausible explanations:

1. It was deliberate.

2. Command incompetence that gave incorrect instructions.

3. Gross ineptitude on the part of the pilot.

I imagine we'll start hearing all sorts of interesting phrases in the next few days about this.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

*This* Is Measured?

Apologists for Israel keep ranting on about how "moderate" Israel has been in its attack on Lebanon; how Lebanon has become a festering home for Hezbollah terrorists, yadda, yadda, yadda.

How "measured" is a response when your army resorts to "human shield" tactics? Or when a clearly marked UN observation post is bombed by your troops?

No, I don't excuse Hezbollah lobbing rockets at Israeli settlements, either. If the past week has demonstrated anything it is the futility of continuing to respond with aggression. These are no longer "surgical strikes" - it's quite clear that Israel is out for revenge. While Hamas is acting like the taunting brother, Israel is lashing out in irrational anger, throwing whatever ruin it can in the direction of its tormentors.

Neither side of this conversation has a moral leg to stand on at this point. The reality is that Israel is simply creating the next generation of its enemies - hardening the Arab populations near it in their opposition by killing and maiming families. Hamas does no better itself by lobbing missiles at Israel in what I can only assume is an adolescent play for attention.

The greivances that both sides have expressed towards each other are many, and I don't think either is ready (yet) to admit their culpability in recent events. I'm afraid that like a parent with squabbling children, it will be necessary to send both to their rooms for a while before any kind of negotiations are likely to be successful.

I'm afraid that this may have to be a "made in the Middle East" solution this time. While the United States is tied up in Iraq - and can hardly claim to be a disinterested third party, most of the other "traditional" nations that intervene in a peacekeeping role have little or no real credibility with one party or the other. As much as it will horrify the United States, this might be the time for China to step forward onto the stage as a peace broker.

Talk About Fleecing the Flock!

A ponzi scheme to fund building churches - just what the world needs.

And people wonder why I have this long held mistrust of organized religion - apparently, the line between organized religion and organized crime is like that between genius and insanity.

- It's notable that Arther Andersen also makes an appearance in this fiasco.

Citizenship and Residency

Much has been made in the media recently of comments made by MP Garth Turner about evacuating Canadian citizens from Lebanon.

Garth, along with an amazingly vocal bunch of simpletons seems to think that we shouldn't be evacuating Canadian Citizens from Lebanon - based on the reasoning that many of these people *gasp* LIVE in Lebanon full time.

There seem to be two arguments rolling around. The first asserts that these people live abroad, pay taxes elsewhere and are not generally part of the fabric of Canadian society. The second, more irrational and paranoid view, fears that we may be importing a bunch of "terrorists".

First of all, it takes several years of residence in Canada to gain citizenship. Second, Canada does not have "levels" or "grades" of citizenship. A citizen is a citizen - period. This country is not Orwell's "Animal Farm" where "some are more equal than others" - a citizen is a citizen - period. If we extend evacuation to Canadian citizens in a warzone, it's not a conditional "only if you live in Canada" situation.

If you wish to argue about paying taxes and whether these people should be beneficiaries of government services, I'll point out that the Income Tax system obliges a Canadian living abroad to pay taxes in Canada if they retain material assets in the country. (For example, a house, bank accounts etc.) In an emergency such as we have in the Middle East today, it's a little hard to say how many of those people have Canadian assets - and frankly, I don't think it matters.

The argument about importing terrorists is simply fearmongering. The people making that assertion have done no more than buy the George W. Bush line. If any of those people are demonstrably members of illegal organizations, then they can be denied entry into the country, or detained at the border until their circumstances are sorted out. Of course, I suspect that there's no real evidence for most of the evacuees - so like other citizens, we have to assume that they are innocent until proven guilty.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Trashing Talking Points

It appears that the right-wing blogosphere has come up with a bunch of new talking points to justify their blind support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon.

Talking Point #1: If you're so worried about religious government in Canada (e.g. the fundies squirming inside the CPoC - S. Day for example), why are you supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Talking Point #2: Criticizing Israel is implicitly supporting "them bad guys shooting missiles at Israeli civilians".

The first point is a classic tactic of debate I see from CPoC supporters. Basically, the recipe is this:

Take two unrelated topics, blend.
Accuse your opponent of being logically inconsistent.

As far as I am concerned, the first talking point is trivially refuted with the following:

Stockwell Day is to Hezbollah as a fish is to a bicycle.

The second talking point is similarly flawed. First of all, the basic statement infers that criticizing Israel is, by implication, support for Hezbollah. This is patently false. Israel's invasion is much more than merely going after Hezbollah. From the first day, Israel has been attacking civilian targets in Lebanon - starting with bridges, but moving rapidly into highly populated residential areas. Nobody this side of creation can convince me that a high yield explosive knows the difference between a Hezbollah member and a grandmother out with her grandchildren.

The second point many people fail to understand is that Hezbollah is not just a paramilitary organization. They also encompass a significant political voice within Lebanon, and are very well organized on the ground in Southern Lebanon. This means that if you want to disarm them, it is essential that you engage them politically, not just with military force. It took the UK a long time to come to that conclusion, but they did eventually with the IRA.

Third, is the sheer complexity of the history of the region that Israel occupies defies any kind of "black-and-white" analysis. You cannot say "Israel good, Lebanon bad" and have any credible leg to stand on. Even in the 60 odd years since the modern state of Israel was formed, there has been enough over reaction by parties on both sides of the fence to go around. There is no moral high ground here - not today, and not tomorrow.

No matter how you frame it, there is no moral distinction between Hezbollah lobbing missiles at Haifa and Israel bombing civilian population centers. A Lebanese civilian is no different than an Israeli civilian.

Lastly, as was pointed out on CBC's Sunday Edition program yesterday, Hezbollah's missile capability today is a clue to just how ineffective a "buffer zone" strategy is for the long term security of Israel. Even if Israel creates a 50 or 200 mile buffer zone around its borders, it won't be that long before her enemies have weapons that can target _through_ the buffer zone. Although Israel may squelch Hezbollah's military capability for a while, it's only going to be temporary; worse, for Israel, is the fact that they will have further hardened Lebanese civil opinion against themselves - creating a new ground for groups like Hezbollah to thrive in. War creates shadows, it does not remove them.

My criticisms of Israel's invasion of Lebanon do not stem from any support of Hezbollah per se, but rather from a practical recognition that such tactics are ultimately doomed to fail in the long term. Israel will not be "more secure" after the troops pull back - nor will it be more secure if Israel tries to occupy Lebanon for any period of time.

And then we encounter dipwits like Alan Dershowitz who is arguing that there are "degrees" of civilian.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Use of Force

Israel's testosterone-fuelled invasion of Lebanon is doomed to fail. Not just because it is one of the daftest approaches to the situation, but also because it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel has no plan for political engagement.

Some twenty odd years ago, Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon for a brief period of time. The historical note of a previous and unsuccessful occupation in Lebanon is a clue to the likely outcome of this current invasion.

First, the Israeli government clearly has no strategy for engaging Hezbollah or the Lebanese Government on a political level. In my view, this is a close mirror of the situation that the United Kingdom found itself dealing with in Northern Ireland. The fact is that organizations like Hezbollah are both paramilitary and political constructs. If one fails utterly to engage them on the political front, there is little hope that a military engagement will successfully disarm them. These groups are too tightly woven into the society in which they operate - far more so in fact than a "professional army" such as Israel's is capable of.

Second, the notion that bombing the hell out of civilian Lebanon will turn the Lebanese people against Hezbollah is farcicle. The cold, hard reality is that the invaders will always be the group against whom opinion turns. Hezbollah is not seen in Lebanon as a hostile force. You have to be damnably naive to believe that an outside force is going to turn the population against a local political organization - no matter what statements are made on the political stage.

Generally speaking, force doesn't persuade people of anything. Perhaps the best evidence of this exists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both nations are essentially under "foreign occupation", and there is no sign that the occupation is going to end any time soon. Sure enough, both countries have very active, well resourced resistance movements. They may be highly fragmented, but for now they have a common focus for their hostility.

The escalation of available weapon systems on the world market guarantees that Israel's opposition will always be able to "fire through" whatever Israel's "security zone" happens to be - whether it is 500 meters, or 500 kilometers.

Whether or not anyone wishes to acknowledge it, Israel will be unlikely to find any material security of note until they find a means to engage their opposition on both political and military fronts.

Although Northern Ireland is far from a "resolved matter", it demonstrates my point perfectly. No significant progress was made until the UK found a means to engage the IRA on the political stage.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Peter Mackay to Press...

Don't tell any stories we don't like or we'll cry about it.

On thursday we learned via the Globe and Mail that the PMO was trying to play secretive games with the Lebanon crisis.

Apparently, that column struck a nerve or two with our political masters, as we find Mr. Mackay crying in his beer. After the Conservative government's hissy fit with the press earlier this year, it appears that they still don't get it, and are bound and determined to have the press as their worst political enemy.

Nothing in Mackay's letter refutes the micromanagement coming out of the PMO in this incident, nor does his whining about resources convince me of his position. I'm fully aware that Canada's resources are limited in that region, but I'm not daft enough to believe for a minute that this is anything more than the result of a micromanagement style that was overly focused on making political points, and completely lost sight of the big picture - such as contingencies and logistics, the very things that departments should be given the license to take care of, with only minimal direction from the PMO.

Mangled Language

When I saw this headline, I just about choked.

"Limited Incursion" - what kind of mealy-mouthed crap language is that. Right up there with "collateral damage", it attempts to minimize the brutal reality of what has happened.

More correctly, Israel has INVADED Lebanon. Let us not mince around the words - just as the United States invaded Iraq a few years ago, Israel has unequivocally invaded a sovereign nation - Lebanon.

Yes, I know that Hezbollah has been a thorn in Israel's side for years, and that the Lebanese government has not been successful in bringing Hezbollah to heel. You can "justify" it in any way you wish. In my opinion, Israel has moved beyond the realm of defending itself, and is now engaged in an war - one where the civilian population pays the price.

I'm becoming very much of the opinion that the reality of this situation is very similar to the mess in Northern Ireland that went on for decades. Regardless of what hard-nosed views each side takes, until they honestly choose to become mutually engaged in a political discourse, there is very little chance that any "peace initiative" will in fact succeed.

In the meantime, language that "softens" what the participants are engaging in should be tossed in the linguistic manure pile.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blundering Into Foreign Affairs

Watching HarperCrit run around and completely screw up Canada's foreign affairs is almost too painful to watch these days.

First, we have Harper walking in lock step with Washington in regards to Israel's brutalization of Lebanon and the Gaza in recent days.

This is problematic for a few reasons. First, Canada has historically taken a relatively neutral stance regarding affairs in the Middle East. This has served us well, building credibility as an "honest broker" between the various factions. For Canada to come out and take an amazingly polarized position is very damaging not only to that credibility, but also, ultimately to Canada's interests as a nation.

If we are seen as "the 51st state" by other nations, then any action that Washington takes will reflect upon Canada by implication. We've already seen this happen with the United Kingdom and Blair's toadying sycophancy towards BushCo. In many places, it has become quite obvious that 10 Downing St. is seen as an extension of the White House. As I've said before, Canada's best interests are seldom served by aligning ourselves too closely with US policy on anything.

The second thing that is utterly painful is the utter cock-up of evacuating Canadian Citizens from Lebanon. In a sleazy attempt to gain some political points, Harper redirects the government aircraft to Cypress to pick up 100 or so evacuees. Other than being an amazingly blatant attempt at a photo-op, this is also one of those moments where Lebanese - and Arab - Canadians have to be wondering just what kind of credibility Harper really has. On one hand, we have Harper blindly defending Israel without so much as a hint of critical thought involved; and on the other hand, he's busy trying to make himself out to be "the hero" by "rescuing" a few evacuees.

Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail is busy researching just what was going on with organizing the evacuation of our citizens from the mess that is now Lebanon. Sure enough, we are once again introduced to the spectacle of the micro-manager. Apparently every major decision was being vetted through the PMO, often with painfully slow turnaround times on decisions.

Mr. Harper, evacuating Canadian Citizens from a WAR ZONE is not about your political image, you fuckwit! Micro-managing the issues from Ottawa merely screws things up even more - and explains the utterly farcicle delays and screw ups that we are hearing about.

When we do get rid of this incompetent boob as PM (and his henchmen), it's going to take decades to clean up the damage they will have done to this nation.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

When The Religious and Ignorant Try To Grok Research

Few things irritate me more than the functionally illiterate passing judgement on science that they obviously do not understand.

One of my favourite fun reads lately has been a blog called Pharyngula, written by a Minnesota biologist named P.Z. Meyers. Mostly, I enjoy his writing for its editorializing - the man's tongue is downright acidic with what he considers idiocy.

The topic of the day was Embryonic Stem Cell research, and in particular the amazingly irrational arguments that keep getting put forth to stop research on embryonic stem cells by the so-called "pro-life" crowd. (which I'm beginning to think is in fact the "pro-ignorance" crowd)

Somewhere in the comments on Meyer's blog, a commenter/troll by the name of "Jason" wrote something to the effect of Embryonic Stem Cell Research is the modern equivalent of Alchemists trying to turn lead into gold. A little further digging turned up a second blog this genius has started to "expose" all of the things he thinks PZ Meyers has screwed up. Most of it is inanely childish, but the odd rant almost manages to stay on topic.

Two things got me writing about this - one "Jason" doesn't have comments turned on for his little "PZ Meyers Exposed" echo chamber, and second, his little analogy annoyed me to no end.

Research is an ambiguous field. We spend time and effort digging into a line of thought that we think will turn up some specific result. Sometimes, the researcher actually had a pretty good idea of what they'd find and the results reflect that, other times, they don't. In modern times, an excellent example is Aspirin - a basic analgesic used initially to relieve headache pain, but has come to be used as a low grade blood thinner, and is known to have other properties that we do not yet fully comprehend. In other words, we set out to find a pain killer, and found something with many more properties.

The half-baked analogy of saying that ESCR (Embryonic Stem Cell Research) is as futile as the oft-sought goal of Alchemy to transmute lead into gold is an utter farce. It starts from the false assumption that researchers know what they are going to find when they start out. It is a rare day indeed when the researcher "finds" what they set out to find. Robert Boyle was an alchemist, and if weren't for his pursuit of alchemy, he might never have written "The Skeptical Chemist", the book that ultimately became the foundation of modern chemistry.

Did the often discussed pursuit of turning "lead-into-gold" prove fruitful? Yes, just not in the way people like Robert Fludd expected. I'm sure that Boyle didn't set out to found modern chemistry, instead his inquiries as an alchemist simply led him to write a book which became a foundation document. I doubt that he himself would have guessed at the time he published it that "The Skeptical Chemist" would have been as important as it turned out to be.

The argument that ECSR has yet to produce the kind of results that Adult Stem Cell Research has, and therefore ECSR is somehow an invalid path of inquiry is inherently false. First, legislation in the United States has severely limited ECSR activity, making the likelihood of useful results much smaller. Second, the actual applications of any results are ambiguous. It's like arguing that the study of the human genome is fruitless because it has not turned up the gene that causes left-handedness. The objective may have been to find that gene in the first place, but the end result was instead an overall map of the genome itself. While the results are perhaps not what we expected, that knowledge can be applied in other ways that we had not expected. It is foolish indeed for us to assume that because we don't know the outcomes of a path of inquiry that we should not pursue it.

[Update 20/07/06 14:10]
I was just following up on the comments thread on the original post that spawned this thing, and found this gem of irrelevance from "jason": {A friend of mine shares that name - fortunately he's much, much smarter}

But just to share some thoughts:

Do you all consider the people who oppose medical testing on animals to be against all medical testing? By your logic (or lack thereof), you must. If not, you're hypocrites.

Do you, like me, consider the Nazis' experiments on Jews to be wrong? According to the Nazis, the Jews weren't human - they were animals. Who's going to step up and claim that the Nazis were wrong - that it was a black and white issue (since you're so fond of inventing "grey areas")? And if you oppose these tests on the Jews, wouldn't that make you - by your own [il]logic - against any and all medical tests?

Jeepers, not only has Godwin's Law been demonstrated, he's also pulled the classic right-wing sneer routine of "it's really you that has the problem".

Ignoring the bogus suggestion that stem cell research bears even the slightest resemblance to the activities of Josef Mengele and others of the 3rd Reich, let's just dissect "jason"'s arguments a little:

1) Assertion: You must believe that people who oppose medical testing on animals are opposed to all medical testing, otherwise you are being a hypocrite.

Response: Bullshit. Once again we encounter the lovely broad brush approach to arguments. Apparently, in "jason"'s bubble, you must be all-or-nothing on subjects.

2) Assertion: If you disagreed with Nazi experiments on Jews in WWII, you must be opposed to all medical testing.

Response: Again, bullshit. Yes, the Nazis claimed that Jewish people were animals, but the observational evidence available at the time clearly refutes that assertion. Second, Nazi treatment of anybody is hardly a measurement that I would use to measure logical consistency.

This one has a secondary, unstated, assertion in it - namely that Embryonic Stem Cells come from a fully actualized human being. They don't - the come from an early stage called a Blastocyst. If you will - a blob of cells with the potential to become a viable fetus in the womb. It should be noted that the Blastocyst contains both the cells that will form the fetus, as well as the placenta - should it succeed in bonding with the uterine wall.

Once again, we get to behold the spectacle of argument by wilfull ignorance being put forth. The facts and evidence don't matter to these people - nor do they intelligibly engage the actual issues involved. Anything that contradicts their position does not get listened to.

On Marriage and Divorce

On my travels through the web this morning, I found this post which was bemoaning all of the "damage" that has been done to the institution of marriage. Apparently what set him off was a lawyer advertising low cost divorce filings in Toronto.

However, the author seems to feel that divorce is damaging to the notion of marriage:

I am against divorce, unless it is under the most extraordinary circumstances – such as if a man abuses his wife or a woman commits adultery.

Around about here, my willingness to accept the author's premise went flying out the window. Marriages are complex relationships, and outside of the couple themselves, nobody will ever fully understand what goes on in the privacy of that relationship.

Abuse and adultery are but two of many reasons that couples decide to go their separate ways. Sometimes, people simply grow apart as a result of experiences in life.

While adultery is relatively absolute, even it resides in many shades of grey - is a spouse who spends a lot of time with a close friend having an affair? Perhaps; perhaps not - it may be no more than a close friendship, yet a spouse may perceive it as an affair either because they are jealous, or perhaps because they simply do not understand.

Abuse sounds easy, doesn't it? Just look for the bruises, right? Wrong. As we have learned, abuse can take many forms that don't leave bruises. It can range from slapping someone around to psychological abuse and near hostage situations. What I consider to be abusive isn't what someone else will consider abuse.

Marriages that are held together "for the children" or the "what will the neighbors think?" are inevitably some of the most screwed up relationships I've ever seen. The impact on the children can be as damaging (or worse) as a divorce.

The author goes on to argue:

I do think the government should regulate it, so that it is harder for couples to split, force them to go through counseling, and fairly assign fault to one party when possible. At least then, there would be fewer divorces.

We've been there before. That was the divorce law regimen up until sometime in the 1960s (or was it the early '70s? - whatever - over 30 years ago).

1) Fault divorce (adultery, abuse, etc.) created a horrendously nasty environment where a separating couple wound up creating a fiction of one or the other having an affair, or having "abused" the other. A whole industry emerged of people taking staged pictures, and signing false affidavits to "substantiate" a fiction. The result? Divorces still took place, but at the price of someone's reputation being unnecessarily besmirched in the courts (and possibly the press).

2) Counselling only succeeds when both parties are willing to be brutally honest with themselves. It requires a degree of introspection as well as communication that few people are able to engage in; and even fewer will be successful at.

3) An amazing number of couples simply separated and lived apart - separate lives and identities in that time. The cost and adversarial nature of the divorce laws was such that they simply went underground and lived their lives quietly apart from their spouse. Even if they were not divorced "in law", in practical terms they were.

The current "no fault" approach works well for a number of reasons:

1) By taking the "blame" out of the picture in most cases, it makes it much easier for the separating couple to begin to heal both individually and as a pair of people. Whether or not we like it, when children or mutual friends are involved, a divorced couple still has some kind of relationship - direct or indirect. The door is now open to heal that relationship and form a new relationship that is positive.

2) Where children are involved, the process can be much less acrimonious (and therefore, less harmful to the children). A degree of honesty can come to the foreground with both parents that is ultimately much healthier for all parties - including the children - than a festering marriage filled with conflict. While it might be "best" for children to have both loving parents living in harmony, having both parents living with each other in disharmony is even more damaging to them.

- Contrary to popular mythology, the courts are pushing very heavily on shared custody/shared parenting arrangements when a couple with children splits. The days of "the mother gets custody" are slowly waning, replaced by a shared parenting model that ensures that both parents remain an active part of the child's life.

3) It is a rare situation where the "fault" for a failed relationship can be laid at the feet of one spouse or the other.

4) Honesty - pure and simple. I would much rather be honest with myself and divorced than living in a marriage filled with resentment because I felt "trapped" by the laws and social pressures. (I hate to imagine what sort of person I would become)

The notion that "marriage is in trouble" or "under attack" is a complete crock. Marriage is a social construct, no more and no less. The human animal is hard-wired to form social groupings like couples and families. Those groupings are not perfect, and rigid, but rather tend to be very fluid. Human laws have tried to codify those relationships for various reasons, but the reality is that codification is just words on a page - relationships happen between people and in their minds and hearts, a much more dynamic environment than law provides for.

If you don't "agree with divorce", then don't get divorced - but don't think for one moment that you know enough to even begin to guess at someone else's circumstances in this regard.

Harper, You Lying ...

Remember Harper's comments in April about how the families of military had "asked" that the media be kept away from the loved ones' bodies arrival in Canada?

Well, unsurprisingly, HE LIED about that. That order came from his government.

Anything else you want to 'fess up to there, Stephen?

I'm not naive enough to believe that politicians are naturally truthful creatures, however, if you're going to tell an outright lie, you better make sure that it's unverifiable. For me politicians come somewhere lower on the scale than a used car salesman - I don't typically trust their words or motives. Car salesman are easy - the motive is money - everything else is rooted around that.

Canadians should be utterly furious with Harper on this issue - it's a minor point to be sure, but given how early it in his government it is, what else is he trying not to tell us?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Citizens - Your Safety Does Not Matter

Or, apparently, so the State Department believes.

As noted here, that press release states:

The Department of State reminds American citizens that the U.S. government does not provide no-cost transportation but does have the authority to provide repatriation loans to those in financial need. For the portion of your trip directly handled by the U.S. Government we will ask you to sign a promissory note and we will bill you at a later date.

Could the government in Washington be any more heartless?? It's own citizens - civilians - are caught in a warzone not of their own making, and these bastards are going to charge them money to evacuate to safety? Or is this Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism" at work?

It's bad enough that Bush is an utter embarrassment on the world stage, but you'd think that he might actually take an interest in the safety and well-being of American Citizens.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Harper - Bush's Second Poodle

While Tony Blair has been called "Bush's Poodle", it seems that Stephen Harper is now in line to be the next White House poodle.

Since the whole mess in Israel blew up last week, we have watched Harper and his right nut, Peter Mackay, act so busy playing the Bush line with respect to Israel, that they have dragged their feet getting Canadians out of Lebanon.

NDP Foreign Affairs Critic, Alexa McDonough, has got it right - HarperCrit has completely failed to represent Canada's best interests while he plays junior sycophant to George W. Bush. (Stupid question, but where are the Liberals on this latest fubar of Harper's?)

Just what is it that Harper thinks is acceptable about Israeli attacks killing Canadian civilians in Lebanon? Just as I find the Hezbollah use of rockets to attack Israeli civilian targets, I cannot comprehend for one minute how our government can condone actions that are resulting in the death of civilians who are also Canadian citizens. No convention on warfare in the world considers civilians and prisoners legitimate targets.

At this point, Israel is vastly out of line in its response to the kidnapping of two soldiers. Destroying the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon is not punishing Hezbollah, and has simply escalated the situation. While I agree that a nation that has been attacked has a right to defend itself, I also believe that right is subject to the same measure of proportionality that would be applied between individuals. If someone attacks me with their fists, I don't have the right to shoot them - that would generally be deemed disproportionate force.

Just to add to the mix of things muddying the picture, we have more musings about Iran's involvement in this latest uproar.

Bush Attempts "Nuance"

... and fails miserably.

Apparently not expecting an open mike to pick up his remarks, Bush told Blair: "See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."

Wow, it must be so nice to live in a bubble. Clearly reality doesn't register or matter - it's all conveniently black-and-white, isn't it?

Israel good, Hezbollah bad. Syria sponsors Hezbollah, so Syria must control them, right? Wrong.

Meanwhile HarperCrit is getting all mealy mouthed around condemning Israel for attacks that have killed Canadian Citizens in Lebanon. I'm sure that if Canadians had died at the hands of the Syrians, the condemnations would be delivered quickly, instead, we find Harper standing up for Canada by cowering behind the US position. I'm disgusted.

[Update 14:25]: I just found this piece of tripe wherein Harper basically says that Canadian citizens being killed doesn't matter.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Musings on Conflict in The Middle East

The Middle East is - to Western eyes - a perplexing place. It is seemingly in a state of perpetual war, with periodic outbreaks of peacefulness to disturb the normal pattern.

Superficially, the nations of the Middle East appear to suffer from the imposition of a Western European notion of "the nation state" in the post-WWI era. When the borders were drawn up by the European powers after WWI ended, entire nations were created without regard to the natural divisions between regions that had emerged. Iraq, it turns out, is an excellent case study - with three major ethnic groups slammed together into a single "nation", but they perceive themselves as having very distinct traditions and contexts socially and culturally.

In today's era, we find "negotiations" taking place between the various "heads of state", but they seldom seem to come to any lasting peace. Well, perhaps that's a little more comprehensible when we recognize that the combatant factions do not recognize the heads of state as representative of their interests.

For example, I think that the Kurdish peoples in northern Iraq would have argued that the Baghdad government under Saddam Hussein was not "their legitimate government" for a variety of reasons.

Some of Israel's opponents - groups like Hezbollah for example - are both military and political organizations that are the de facto government in some regions. They not only control a geographic region, but go as far, in some cases, as to provide traditional government services such as education, welfare, police etc. (I'm not making any qualitative assessment of their behaviour in this regard, merely the fact of its existance). Meanwhile, the "negotiation" process ignores this reality, focusing instead upon "official" leaders that have little or no real influence.

For a world that depends upon the hydrocarbon resources lying under the soils of much of the "Middle East", this presents a serious conundrum. Not only are negotiations with the "governments" of the region somewhat suspect, but negotiating with groups like Hamas or Hezbollah grants them a political legitimacy that we would prefer not to grant them. Yet, failing to recognize the political realities on the ground in these areas simply continues the current pattern of tit-for-tat conflict.

I do not know what solutions might apply to this mess - at the very least, I fully expect that the region will remain a quagmire of conflict until the political borders begin to reflect whatever remains of the "traditional" tribal/ethnic history of the people that live there. The current presence of groups like Hamas is a reflection - in part - of the fact that the current borders and political artifices have rendered significant voices in the region impotent in the political dialogue of the region.

In practical terms, I suspect that traditional "western" powers will ultimately find themselves irrelevant to the political dialogue. I suspect the most practical model in the short term is the approach that Baghdad had been taking with the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq - namely that of allowing the region to develop autonomy in a relatively quiet fashion. It may have been imperfect, but it is notable that Kurdish Iraq has been far more prosperous and peaceful than much of the rest of the country. A clue perhaps?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

WhackJobs Awaken!

With recent events in Israel looking distinctly like that region is about to descend into open war again, the "Waiting for Rapture" whackjobs are practically having orgasms.

Sometime last year, I started writing that BushCo was far too interested in the biblical apocalypse for us to assume that their foreign policy was either mere American self-interest or benign indifference. Needless to say, the American response to recent events in Israel could hardly be called "conciliatory" - or helpful.

Just for giggles, I started yesterday with BushCo complaining about the "slow pace" of diplomacy with Iran - well, more or less on schedule, we get Israeli Intelligence claiming that Iran is providing direct military assistance to Hezbollah. This may or may not be true - since it's coming out of the secretive intelligence world, I'm going to be a little cynical and suspect that this is being made public for political reasons.

Whether the current eruption of violence in the Middle East is the prophesied "end times" is a matter of perspective. Celebrating war is something altogether different - and something that is just plain creepy.

[Update 14:00]:
It appears that the link to Rapture Ready has been excised by the admins. If you want an idea how nutty these people are, check out some of the topics here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The American Beach Burqa

Via Feministe, we get a preview of what swimwear for women will look like if the puritans have their way.

Besides being hideously ugly, these things are a drowning hazard. Few people are strong enough swimmers to be able to handle the extra layers of fabric that this suit is adding, much less the restricted mobility that arm coverings are going to add - even if the bodysuit part is made of nylon lycra fabrics.

While I realize that a lot of women - and men - are uncomfortable with some of the 'barely there' fashion swimwear out there, this is going the other way.

Dear god - better cover up those ankles dear, you don't want some man getting aroused by it. (Does anybody else see a return to the "Her dress was provocative" rape defense?)

The double standard here is ridiculous - women are expected to wear shapeless garments that hide their bodies, meanwhile men don't? What's with that? Are men such mindless animals that they couldn't possibly exercise a little self restraint when an attractive woman walks past?

Shoving Pieces Into Place

Ostensibly, Israel's incursion into Lebanon is about stopping the Hezbollah kidnappers of Israeli soldiers from transferring their hostages to Iran.

Headlines this morning suggest that Israel is moving into open war in an attempt to squash Hezbollah in Lebanon - an interesting shift from what was being said yesterday.

I suspect that this has a lot to do with Tel Aviv playing into Washington's hands on the world stage. Washington has been looking for a way to drag the UN into backing open conflict with Iran.

Nonetheless, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said it was still unacceptable because it had been overtaken by events in the region — including the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants on Wednesday — and was “unbalanced.”

Meanwhile, a few days ago we get George "The Decider" Bush complaining about the slow speed of diplomacy in regards to North Korea and Iran.

Closer to home, we have our own Stephen Harper doing everything he can to stir up fear and link everything to the Terrorists - if you can't see where this is leading, then I suggest reconsidering the various military purchases the government just committed us to in the context of HarperCrit's words - in the past and present.

[Update 13:30]:
I see the the fires in the Middle East are being stoked up more or less on schedule. In the 'tit-for-tat' between Israel and Hezbollah, we find Hezbollah's leadership trying to raise the stakes.

Meanwhile HarperCrit is trying to downplay his amazingly Bush-like rhetoric recently.

Coming soon: War in the Middle East - From Israel through to Iran...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Harper The Clueless

Well, in this morning's news we get another insight into how utterly clueless the CPoC is on certain issues.

'Let me also be clear,''Harper wrote, after reciting his government's initiatives in areas like tax cuts, crime, and the war on terror. ''In the coming months, we will strike a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River salmon fishery and oppose racially divided fisheries programs.''

While having two commercial fisheries has always struck me as kind of odd, I also remember that the so-called "Indian Fishery" was created as a result of a series of court rulings around the interpretation of the various treaties involved and the management of resources.

Of course, what Harper's doing is the usual conservative approach to any issues around rights. The CPC in its numerous incarnations have always taken a "no special rights" approach - basically any rights issue that provides specific protections to subgroups in the population should be excised. A good example of this philosophy comes in his "GST cut". Superficially, "everybody" benefits from this tax cut - after all, we all have to pay GST - right? Wrong. Those living on the low end of the income spectrum cannot, and do not, pay all that much GST - food and shelter (rent) are GST exempt - when that's the bulk of your income used up, you aren't spending all that much on GST after the fact. The "real" beneficiaries of this are those wealthy enough to have significant amounts of disposable income.

Between this latest attack, and the informal liquidation of the Kelowna Accord which address numerous native issues, I think we are getting a pretty clear idea of how the CPoC views minority rights in Canada.

On another note, in a move that can only be described as stupid, Harper's continuing "show of amity" towards BushCo surfaces in a "call me Steve" comment. If the rest of us call you Stephen, and your friends call you Stephen, then your name is Stephen. It is not a sign of respect when GWB calls you "Steve" - it's a slap in the face - and you're allowing someone else to redefine your identity.

Regardless of whether we elected a CPoC government or not, I doubt most Canadians think highly enough of BushCo to feel overly comfortable with the ongoing "cuddliness" that is being shown towards Washington lately.

Monday, July 10, 2006

So Sayeth The Pope

His words are elliptical, but his meaning isn't. Pope Benedict XVI was in Spain this past week, and as expected has made still more pronouncements upon how families should be.

If there was ever an irony in the world, it is people taking the word of a man who has isolated himself from the world for decades of his life to guide them in how they conduct their family lives.

Consider this:

"This is the best way to counter a widespread hedonism which reduces human relations to banality and empties them of their authentic value and beauty," he said, to waves of applause.

Ah, I see - so a young, heterosexual couple making like rabbits is "cute" and "fulfilling god's will", but a gay couple is "hedonistic". Does anyone else here see a double standard? Oh - waitasec, of course it's not a double standard - the Pope, along with a lot of other people assume that GLB relationships are all focused entirely on sex, and a heterosexual relationship is built on something else.

Or this:

Dressed in green and white vestments, Pope Benedict praised the traditional family, founded on "indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman".

This is a double swipe - the first goes after anyone who lives in a non-traditional family (e.g. Mom, Dad and 2.8 children) - whether that is by adoption, single parents or both parents are same gender. The second swipe is at Spain's recently liberalized divorce laws. Of course, Roman Catholic dogma has always denied divorce - except with the "correct" dispensation from the Vatican...

I find it amazing that the church organization that spent decades concealing child molestation among its clergy, and still believes that the offenders should be "turned over to church authorities" rather than local law enforcement, can spout off about the "hedonism" of others.

Contrary to what the Pope believes, "no fault" divorce laws are a good thing. They bring about a degree of honesty to a process that happens all the time - whether or not the R/C clergy want to admit it. In Canada, not so long ago, there was quite a little industry running about where "Private Investigators" would take staged pictures of a couple engaged in romantic activity - just so that a divorce could be filed for on grounds of "adultery" - with all of the fallout from the resulting fiction.

As I've said before, and I'll continue to state, the Pope - along with a lot of other people are confusing the religious/spiritual notion of marriage and family, defined by whatever scripture you follow, with the legal notion of marriage which is a legal contract between two people and the state. These aren't the same thing, nor should they be.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The "Canadian Connection"

If I hear one more idiot talking head blathering on about a Canadian Connection(tm) in regards to the latest bunch of "Gong Show Terrorist Wannabes" to be arrested, I'm going to scream.

For crying out loud, the fact that one of these inept clowns attended "a Quebec University in the 1990s" doesn't make him Canadian. This is nothing more than fear mongering - an attempt by various people to "scare" Canada into adopting a security policy that is neither necessary, nor justified.

This latest round of arrests - and the claims made along with them - are likely the first of many we will see in the coming months as the US midterm elections race gears up. The Rethuglicans have been very successful playing the fear card, and I suspect strongly that there is some considerable collaboration going on between Ottawa and Washington these days which will cause the "Canada Connection" card to get played repeatedly in the coming months. Of course, this will be "assuaged" by some "promising" policy announcements from a "cooperative" Canadian government - strategically timed to show both countries how "wonderfully" their politicians are protecting them from the "evil buggers".

Just for giggles, I'm going to guess that another "Toronto 17 cell" will be magically uncovered sometime near the November elections - or mere months before Harper's minority government is likely to collapse.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Get a Room - PuhLeez!

The lovefest between Bush and Harper continues. While Harper is perhaps a little less effusive than his Minister of Foreign Affairs, it's quite clear that he's a fan of BushCo.

More seriously, after reading through the text of the press conference, it's intriguing to see what was (or wasn't) said.

Harper attempted to play the 'national interest' card on the matter of changes to the US rules around crossing the border. It's notable that he's playing the card very softly.

Perhaps the most significant "not said" issue was the evasiveness with which Harper responded to this question:

Mr. President, on a serious note, in light of the North Korean missile test, [and] the fact that North Korea could launch another series at any minute, did you ask Canada to consider joining the ballistic missile defence shield, and, Mr. Prime Minister, do you think still it's wrong and not in Canada's interests to join?

Mr. Harper's Reply:

Let me just begin by saying that, first of all, the question was asked earlier, I think, is North Korea a threat. I don't think the issue is whether North Korea's a threat. North Korea clearly wants to be a threat . . .

I just want it repeat what the president said. Given that that's a society of the kind of nature it is, I think this should concern us immensely, and the fact that it is prepared to arm itself and prepared to threaten to use such armaments I think is something that we should be gravely concerned about, as was said earlier. Missiles that are fired in the direction of the United States constitute a threat to Canada.

That's one of the reasons why our government renewed on a permanent basis the NORAD treaty. Through NORAD, we have a special relationship on air defence. We share information on these kinds of matters. I think, as you know, to answer your specific question, the government of Canada is not prepared to open the missile defence issue at this time.

But I will say that I think it should be obvious when we look at this kind of threat, why the United States and others would want to have a modern and flexible defence system against this kind of threat. So I think that's something our government at least fully understands.

Charitably, I'd call this an elliptical response. Harper doesn't really address the question of Canada's involvement - he knows that if he comes out and commits Canadians to this particular farce of a program, that it will give his political opponents in Canada ammunition. Consequently, he has tried not to take an explicit position.

When the recent softwood deal is looking more and more like a sellout, with a termination clause that smells pretty rotten to me - it leaves me with the distinct impression that the Americans - whether through their congress or lobby organizations will pull the plug at the first possible opportunity.

Along with a recent - and arbitrary - decision to extend Canada's troop engagement in Afghanistan for two full years, and Canada refusing to censure Israel's heavy handed tactics in the Gaza, I think it's fairly safe to infer that given the opportunity, Stephen Harper would commit Canada wholeheartedly to whatever schemes GWB. came up with.

This is not, in my view, a good thing - not when GWB has shown a distinct propensity for starting wars at the drop of a hat.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

It's All About Priorities

So, in the last day or two, quite a few little tidbits have come to light in the news:

1. North Korea tests short and long range ballistic missiles, and threatens the United States with Nuclear War

2. Iran digs its heels in on a UN deadline

3. CIA shuts down bin Laden search unit

The capsule summary - The war on terror isn't about capturing the terrorists. While a country like North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons, and is actively testing delivery systems that could present a serious threat to the United States and its allies and neighbors, apparently it's much more important to shut down Iran's nuclear research program.

So in short, what is really being said when Bush talks about "The War on Terror"(tm), he's really talking about the war to control Middle Eastern oil reserves; National Security isn't about foreign threats to the United States, it's about securing oil reserves, and suspected criminals like bin Laden are allowed to run free, because without a publicly visible adversary, the whole charade falls flat on its ass.

That Was Then ...

Remember a few short weeks ago when the United States was flashing grisly pictures of al Zarqawi's body around? At the time, this was supposedly a major blow to the insurgency, right?

Today, not so much.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Via Talking Points Memo, we learn that the US Air Force is sinking significant money into trawling through the blogosphere hunting for "credible information".

Okay - the beauty of the internet is the huge dispersion of information, and inevitably some of it is going to become of interest to governments. But the article from defenselink has some disturbing comments in it:

“The fact that the web is a vast source of information is sometimes overlooked by military analysts,” Kokar said. “Our research goal is to provide the warfighter with a kind of information radar to better understand the information battlespace.”

Every industry comes up with its own jargon, but "information battlespace"? Brrr - that's just creepy sounding. If information is a battlespace, then priorities are getting well screwed up.

A good example, he said, is the recent furor in the Muslim world over the publication of cartoons of Mohammad in a Danish newspaper. The original publication wasn’t much noticed in the West, but bloggers discussed this event that possibly contributed to riots worldwide.

Waitasec - this is implying that bloggers commenting on a subject led to rioting? Uh? What's next? The "blog article approvals board"? Just to make sure that bloggers aren't writing something that the military thinks will be inflammatory? Since 9/11, Blogs have been one of the few areas where open critiquing of government policy has taken place. The media conglomerates are either so embedded with the current government - or so scared of being "cut off" that few have done any serious critiquing of the Iraq fiasco, and many other things that BushCo has been doing "quietly under the radar".

Saturday, July 01, 2006

It's Tax Cut Day

When is a tax cut not a tax cut? Apparently when the CPC creates it.

The CPC just took 1% off the GST starting today. Great - at first blush, it's going to cost me less to make a lot of purchases. Or is it?

"Budget 2006 proposes to increase alcohol excise duties to offset the impact of the GST rate reduction," the May 2 budget document said.

So...really what's happened is the government has done a shell game - they've shuffled taxes around so that the 1% GST reduction is simply moved into other taxes that are less visible to the consumer.

Next, how big is a 1% GST cut? They've been floating the $200-$300 savings that are to be had on purchasing an average car. A couple of hundred bucks isn't chicken feed, until you realize that to realize that savings, you have to spend $20,000-$30,000. Waitasec - most of us don't have that kind of disposable income each year. Most people replace their cars every 3-5 years. Assuming it's every 5 years, you suddenly realize that the $300 savings on a $30,000 car works out to the princely sum of $60/year. In Calgary, that's one good meal out at a restaurant.

A quick review of my grocery shopping receipts for the last few months shows that the GST is a very small fraction of my purchases each week. The biggest portion of my food bill are items that are already GST-exempt, and the minor things I do purchase mean that only a tiny fraction of the grocery costs in a month carry GST - so my weekly trips to the grocery store aren't going to save much; and my other shopping habits are fairly frugal - meaning that the 1% tax cut doesn't really add up to much.

Looking through some of the other bits of the conservative budget and its tax cuts, we find the following:

July 1 will also see other changes to the tax rules, including:

A new tax credit on employment income of up to $500 for the last half of 2006, rising to $1,000 in January for the full year of 2007.
The rate on the lowest tax bracket will go to 15.5 per cent on July 1, after the Liberals cut it from 16 per cent to 15 per cent in their fiscal update in November 2005.
The introduction of the annual $1,200 payment for each child under six.
A tax credit on transit passes.

Remember - a "tax credit" merely reduces your taxable income - often by a fraction of the maximum credit. This "employment tax credit" will probably work out to $20 or so a year for someone that pays taxes.

For low income Canadians, the Conservatives have delivered a slap in the face, increasing their marginal tax rate by half a percent. In my view, this is near criminal behaviour on the part of the government.

... and I've discussed Harper's $0.65/hr taxable child care payments before.

More Distortions of Reality

Recently a vaccine that is effective against HPV made its way into the market. HPV is the virus that causes several varieties of both cervical and vaginal cancer.

Now, we find the religious right is getting its facts all mucked up on this issue too. According to this idiot, vaccinating young girls against HPV before they become sexually active is giving them a license to become sexually promiscuous. The makers of the vaccine have been quite clear that the vaccine is most effective if it is used prior to actual exposure to the virus itself. So, apparently, we are supposed to condemn women to dying a horrible death by cancer for possibly being sexual beings. Of course, I don't need to point out that even if the young lady is utterly abstinent before marriage, there's no guarantee that her spouse was - and thus she still may be exposed to this virus - whether or not he realizes he is carrying it.

Meanwhile, they are busy decrying condoms as not terribly effective at stopping HPV. (the quality of that study is another question, but I'll take it at face value for now)

So...using condoms is being condemned because they aren't 100% perfect, and apparently vaccinating women against a life-threatening STD is somehow giving them a license to be promiscuous? Bullfeathers. This is about one thing only - controlling people's sexuality - and specifically, it appears to be about punishing women for being sexual creatures. The message is clear - if you are a woman, and you dare have sexual relations, you deserve whatever happens to you.

I am disgusted and apalled.

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...