Friday, June 30, 2006

Talk About Twisting The Facts

The Bible Thumpers are at it again - this time, badly distorting research on the patterns of occurance for male homosexuality.

According to the idiots a LifeSite, this research suggests that if there are biological factors, then homosexuality is therefore abnormal:

If correct the theories would thus show the opposite of the normalcy of homosexuality, which the mainstream media are attempting to posit with the coverage of the study. "I was born abnormal, and therefore I'm normal is not good logic," concluded Dr. Shea.


The monumental stupidity of this misrepresentation is astonishing. Where the heck do you get "abnormal" from - the enormous variety of human physiology and psychology makes it painfully obvious that people vary enormously between each other, both physically and mentally. Using Dr. Shea's logic, one can similarly conclude that such a small percentage of the population is left-handed that being left-handed is "abnormal" {oh - wait - for centuries, left-handed people were considered "evil", touched by the devil, etc. }

Earlier this month Focus on the Family blamed the higher suicide rate among gay teens on "pro gay activism" - a twist of logic that I can only call astonishing - I would have to guess that those suicides have more to do with other factors - like a society that is often outwardly hostile to these people, and teenagers of all people are among our most vulnerable people as they are just beginning to understand themselves as adult human beings.

What really annoys me is that in both of these situations, we have perfectly reasonable research that is being actively distorted by the religious for their political ends. Neither study provides enough information to draw concrete conclusions, yet the religious reich insists upon doing so, twisting the evidence and outcomes of these studies until it matches their insane ideas.

It occurs to me that if a "purely genetic" explanation were to emerge tomorrow, that would do little more than confirm my belief in the infinite variety of humanity. (and it would do little to convince me that the blind prejudice of the religious lobby is justified, either)

Just to give a little more perspective, LifeSite published these two articles last week:

Harper's better than the liberals
But he's not pro-life enough

Good grief! How far off the deep end do these nut bars want to go? (I can guess - and it's not a pretty place).

I'm beginning to think that rather than expending resources on trying to figure out why some people's sexuality is "outside the bell curve", perhaps we should start studying what the psychological factors are that cause some people to turn into amazingly hostile religious bigots - it might be more useful to achieving some kind of peace in this world.

Of Agendas, Hidden And Otherwise

Go read Heather Mallick's column.

This is the face of the lobbyists that have the ear of Stephen Harper's party.

Perhaps more worrisome is the "Pro-Life Caucus" that has taken shape on Parliament Hill. Take a look at the list of names - especially from the CPC. There are some very influential people listed there, and conspicuously no cabinet members. (Of course not - Harper's smart enough - and strict enough - to make sure his Cabinet isn't visible on that front, but when Parliamentary Secretary (to the Prime Minister, no less) Jason Kenney is part of the caucus, you know the influence is there. (How long would it take to connect someone on that list with this bunch - I'd wager not so very long)

I've said it ever since last November - Harper's got an agenda, and it's not what he's saying it is. Yes, he's rigidly sticking to his talking points from the last election - but that's part of the point. He's not talking about anything else, and when we see little glimpses of it (e.g. buying "strategic lift" capability for the military), it tends to mirror GWB's crowd in the US. Harper's talking points from last election are a facade, and behind it is something that he really doesn't want us to see. (Those of us who've lived in Alberta for a while have seen it, up close and personal - and it's ugly - very ugly)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

What is the Vatican Up To?

There's been an amazing amount of press around the Vatican recently - and in particular Pope Benedict XVI.

Earlier this week, I found myself reading an article in the National Post which was talking about the direction that Pope Benedict XVI wants to take the Catholic practice of the Liturgy. Sadly, I cannot find that article online, but its gist is this:

1. A return to the Mass in Latin
2. A move away from contemporary music as part of the Liturgy

From the perspective of an observer, this is an interesting development. Pope Benedict XVI has made it quite clear from the start that he's what we might euphemistically call a traditionalist. More and more, it appears that he desires a return to the Church of the High Middle Ages. It provokes an interesting question - why?

Then, poking around the Calgary Sun's editorial pages, I found the latest ranting from Bishop Fred Henry - Calgary's own "mini-Ratz". Once again, he is making all sorts of irrational assertions about same-gender marriage (SGM) which have exactly nothing to do with any reality. (Starting with trying to link it to some Hindu woman who married a snake in India - he gets less rational from there)

This morning, we start hearing the fears the RC Church has about being sued over their opinions about SGM, stem cell research and a host of other topics. Considering that the church has yet to take any real steps to deal with pedophiles in the priesthood, I find that worry on the Vatican's part both suspect and somewhat outrageous.

From a precedent standpoint, there's certainly risk that members of the clergy could find themselves in some serious hot water if they don't learn to couch their statements about things in terms of the scripture. Bishop Henry has already been the subject of a couple of complaints before the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, and there's probably going to be more if this most recent column of his is any indication.

A couple of things are becoming quite clear to me. First, the Pope is clearly bent on being far more politically active than any of his predecessors in recent memory. Second, is that the word is clearly being sent down the hierarchy for the ordained priesthood to become much more politically active. (Yes, Bishop Henry has a much longer track record of political activism than Pope Ratz, but I think we can look forward to seeing an awful lot of the RC clergy trying to inject themselves into the political dialogue of the land)

Why?

I suspect that the Pope has been watching the rise of conservative fundamentalism in the United States, and perceives that the world is "ripe" for a reintegration of church and state. From his point of view, the Church will be far more effective working from the top - the heads of state - down. Then he doesn't have to persuade the general population of his beliefs, but only a handful of legislators.

Chalk 1 Up For The Right Thing

I've said for a long time that the BushCo treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is wrong - morally and ethically, and the so-called "tribunals" that were to be used as substitutes for legal trials were at best a sad imitation of their predecessors.

It seems that the US Supreme Court at least agreed somewhat with that by blocking the BushCo administration's desire to start their kangaroo court processes up.

They also argued that the government's charge of conspiracy against Hamdan is not allowed under international standards of law for prisoners of war, and that earlier federal courts had rejected that standard as well, since it was too broadly defined.


As I've argued before, the low road approach of ignoring international standards (as minimalist as they might be) is not acceptable, either.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tax Cuts? What Frigging Tax Cuts?

In the department of the terminally buffaloed, we have people asking about the "tax savings" due to cut in July 1 (specifically a 1% GST cut). This isn't a real tax savings - it's imaginary mostly. Low income Canadians raising families will pay more - because of the taxability of the "childcare allowance" that HarperCrit came up with in his last budget.

In another signal of the Conservative party's view of government (which mysteriously seems to parallel the neocon fundamentalism of the United States), we have Flaherty telling provinces to "fend for themselves" instead of "relying on Ottawa's equalization program". Fascinating - so it's a waste of money in their books to use tax dollars to ensure a degree of equality of opportunity and access to programs across the country? How delightfully neo-con of you. This is precisely the brain-damaged thinking that has resulted in a crumbling public education system in the United States. The Federal government retreats from funding anything "public", downloading it entirely to the lower levels of government. The problem with such an approach are fairly obvious - Alberta is rolling in surplus dollars right now, and could probably afford to build new schools on every block and still have money left over; meanwhile, Atlantic Canada is still reeling from the gradual decline and collapse of the fishery. Atlantic Canada is rebuilding itself, and slowly becoming a force in other sectors, but it will be decades before that process is complete. Why should Atlantic Canadians suffer lesser degrees of service than Albertans?

Then, in a seeming contradiction, we have the CPC spending heavily on military upgrades. I'm not against funding the army adequately, but I'd like us to articulate just what it is we expect our army to be as a nation. Then I'll think about just how we should fund it. Yesterday, the announcement was new supply ships, today its new trucks - later this week, we should see the aircraft announcements come trickling in.

What does this mean? It means, as I've suspected for a long time, that the CPC doesn't think people matter - except as a source of votes. Bulking up the military looks good in their minds because they think - like George Bush - in terms of confrontation and conflict. Getting "tough on crime" similarly looks good for them - not because it has any real effect, but because in their confrontational minds, it's all about "getting even", not protecting the public by addressing the factors that drive people to crime.

Tax cuts are a nostrum. They mean little, and do even less. If you are "wealthy", then there's some benefit, but those on the lower end of the income spectrum are left to fend for themselves in the name of "equality".

Monday, June 26, 2006

Caught With Hand In Cookie Jar

That's what has happened to Dubya...and he's none too pleased about it.

Of course, coming from an administration that has wilfully abrogated its citizens' rights to reasonable privacy with broad wiretapping programs and other forms of dubious surveillance, this should come as no surprise.

Let's take a closer look at Georgie's outrage, shall we?

“For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America,” Mr. Bush said, jabbing his finger for emphasis. He said the disclosure of the program “makes it harder to win this war on terror.”


Oh dear, he's all upset - look he's jabbing his finger. I hope he doesn't injure himself on the podium, or the next thing we know, we'll have a war on podiums.

Using broad government subpoenas, the program allows U.S. counterterrorism analysts to obtain financial information from a vast database maintained by a company based in Belgium. It routes about 11 million financial transactions daily among 7,800 banks and other financial institutions in 200 countries.


I see - more or less, this boils down this - if I have financial dealings that cross borders, no matter how above board they are, the United States not only has access to that data, but apparently believes it has the right to hold it against me. This is without any evidence that I am engaging in some kind of malfeasance. Like the telephone tapping business, this is a giant fishing expedition, one that violates not only the rights of US citizens, but also of non-US citizens around the world.

Meanwhile, the administration said it has informed major allies that the secret program has adequate privacy safeguards and will continue.


Since it's not secret any more, why don't you tell us what some of those safeguards are? As far as I am concerned, the fact of the program's existence is enough to suggest strongly that those "safeguards" are neither adequate nor real.

Of course, all of this bluster is followed by crap like this:

The note to readers was published the same day Rep. Peter King urged the Bush administration to prosecute the paper.

“We're at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous,” the New York Republican told The Associated Press.


First, I will point out that this so-called "War on Terror" has no declaration of war, no coherent enemy, and no real validity. At best, it has been a pretext for invading two sovereign nations and deposing their governments; optimistically, it is a hunt for an elusive criminal - Osama bin Laden (who bin Forgotten).

Fundamentally, George Bush got caught with his hands in the cookie jar of civil rights, and is now crying the blues because the jar got slammed shut on him.

Musings

What follows is highly speculative - I'm basically following a somewhat random line of thought that started on the weekend. It's not fact, it's speculation based on the shape of affairs in the world today

I'm beginning to suspect that the world's political structure is in the early stages of a significant upheaval - the out come of which I'm not at all sure what it will be.

First, consider the gradual, subtle alterations to the notion of sovereignty and the concept of the Nation-State.

Arguably, the events of the 1990s - whether we are talking about Bosnia, Rwanda, or Kuwait have resulted in the international community taking a much more interventionist view of affairs in other nations. Rwanda in particular posed a nasty little conundrum, as the the problems were clearly internal to the country, and yet the world community felt obliged to take steps to moderate the situation (however unsuccessfully). The ethical conflict that emerged was that of respecting national sovereignty versus protecting the civilian population from a vicious tribal war. The UN resolutions more recently have reflected a "Duty to Protect" philosophy that considerably alters the notion of what sovereignty means.

Then, we have the emerging political and economic blocs in the world - the European Union being the poster child for efforts at political and economic unification in North America, and similar economic treaties being discussed in Asia these days. The EU has proceeded down the path of unifying both political and trade matters - with "open" borders, common currency and a central legislative body. NAFTA is a bit more insidious, undermining the concept of nationality by purely "trade" topics - whether it is provisions that permit foreign companies to sue governments for "loss of potential revenue", or governments trying to dictate internal policy to each other through trade disputes (e.g. softwood lumber). These cross border "treaties" create a sense of "entitlement" on the part of various entities to intervene directly in the affairs of another nation.

Just to add to the fun, let's throw into the mix the transnational corporation. Directly, or indirectly, these behemoths span the globe and international borders. A series of court rulings in various countries has created a legal environment where these businesses (some of which have budgets bigger than many governments in the world), live in a space where they are neither bound by the laws of the countries in which they operate (or, only to a limited degree) nor do they feel bound by those national interests. The amount of money that these companies represent also means that they have a fair bit of lobbying clout with individual governments.

These factors alone, in my opinion, suggest that the notion of Nation-State is beginning to break down. It seems to be in the process of being undermined in particular by matters of trade, and the influence of trade upon government policy.

Then, in North America, {although I imagine the same issues exist elsewhere} we have significant signs of breakdown in our political systems. Election campaigns have become about "big money" and who can raise the most of it. Even with "campaign finance reforms", we find people trying to subvert the rules - or at least the spirit of them. In the United States, there are significant concerns over the use of "electronic voting" machines, and the potential for vote fraud. Early signs of trouble emerged in Florida in the 2000 Presidential vote - a sore spot for many on all sides, with accusations still flying about today. Arguments in Canada over the role and structure of the Senate have been ongoing for decades, with no end in sight - "democratic reforms" of one sort or another are being discussed all over the place.

The legislative attempts to address problems that have emerged in our democracies have been tepid at best, since the power players involved are the ones that would be harmed the most by these changes. The loopholes and escape clauses that appear in such legislation are fascinating not only for their existence, but for what they represent - the vested interest that politicians have in the power structure that brought them in.

Add to that a population that is feeling increasingly disengaged from the politics of the nation, and the emergence of "issue group" mobilization which has moved the political dialogue in both Canada and the United States into the realm of shrieking stupidity, and you have an environment where the political and national structures that we are accustomed to appear to be headed for radical change.

What will emerge - in two or three generations' time - I do not know, but I am starting to suspect that we are witnessing the "twilight years" of the Nation-State as it emerged from the ashes of the British Empire and WWI. Democracy, at least as it is practiced in North America, is likely to undergo significant change as a result. It's current form depends heavily upon the notion of the Nation-State, and if that notion breaks down too far, the shape of government will be forced to change.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Business(?), Religion _and_ Politics

...all in one place.

Poking around the news this morning, I stumbled across this little gem, and got curious. The name DeVos sounded awfully familiar, so I asked a few questions, and did a little bit of digging.

It turns out that "Dick" DeVos is the son of Rich DeVos, one of the founders of Amway. Hmmm...Amway...that's not an ecouraging start.

Sure enough, a quick trip to his campaign website turns up more or less what I would expect - a massive focus on cutting taxes - especially "business taxes", and a light dusting of social issues.

Of course, his opponents and critics are some what less enthusiastic, and considerably more skeptical.

Amway's business model - multi-level marketing - is controversial at best, and its ethical status is debatable at the best of times. While I may cynically say that the ethics of politics aren't necessarily all that far removed from Amway's practices, that doesn't exactly reassure me about DeVos.

To add to the unease that this guy should be generating in the voters, are numerous links to both Christian Fundamentalism, and big money Republicans like Abramoff.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

There Are No Absolutes

I don't generally like to make this space linkage to other opinion pieces, but there are exceptions. Like this piece on the "other side" of the abortion discussion. Mostly because it underscores the two points that I have always felt are misrepresented:

1) That abortions are done strictly out of convenience. Along with the classical "conservative" argument about poverty being a "get a real job" problem, this is a broad, sweeping generalization with little recognition of the reality of the human condition.

2) That a woman - and her doctor - cannot make a "morally correct" decision about a pregnancy, therefore, it has to be legislated. This is perhaps the most offensive assumption in my view, as it is rooted in the utterly vacant reasoning that women are somehow less able to reason than men - especially where reproductive issues are concerned.

In the Land of the Irrational

Remember James Loney? The Christian Peacemaker that was kidnapped in Iraq and eventually released unharmed.

Apparently, the Knights of Columbus have decided that anything he touched in the past now has cooties. The KofC have cancelled a summer camp that Loney once worked at.

In what I can only call one of the most idiotic maneuvers I've ever heard come out of any religious community, the KofC worry that having had Loney work at the camp somehow makes the camp itself a "promoter of the 'homosexual lifestyle'".

Besides doing nothing more than depriving children of what has been (in the past), an apparently positive camp experience, the KofC has done little more than demonstrate just how irrational they are when it comes to sexuality.

We aren't talking about a situation where Loney has been accused of pedophilia, nor are we talking about past campers coming forward with stories of abuse - no, Loney merely worked for the camp, so now it's suddenly "morally dangerous" to run it? Give me a break. They didn't know that Loney was gay when he worked for them, and it wasn't a problem then, so why is it a problem now?

And goodness knows, better burn the whole place down, he might have gay cooties around...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Too Good To Pass Up

I have no idea how you could possibly have missed the furor over Ann Coulter's latest fish wrapper, but here's one of the best dismissals of it I've seen. I think the best part of it is how the author goes out of his way not to repeat most of Ms. Coulter's misguided lies.

The Logic Escapes Me

The headlines on The Globe and Mail suggest that HarperCrit is is "considering" cutting CPP premiums.

I'm apparently missing something. For years, the hue and cry has been that the CPP has a $500 Billion unfunded liability. The Alberta government, in one of its many snits with Ottawa has complained loudly about the issue and unfair burden it represents. More recent reports from The Fraser Institute don't exactly suggest that the CPP is out of the woods, in spite of legislative changes in 1998 that were intended to address the shortfall.

Even if the government took every plug nickel of surplus it received in the last few years, the total amount doesn't come anywhere near $500 billion, and even the most optimistic view of investment gains to be had in the since 1998 doesn't come close to covering a $500 Billion shortfall.

So, given that The Conservatives claim to support the CPP, then why is it that Harper is now trying to undermine it?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The New Right Wing Talking Points

It would appear that we have a new rash of talking points escaping from the right wing:

Back here, I dissected what has to be one of the most meaningless "polls" ever released. I had thought that the idiocy would have died out, but no, we find ourselves having to listen to yet another idiot commentator talking about this poll as if it were some kind of gospel truth.

There used to be a book entitled "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics", but this is as close as I could find.

The next talking point that is being run around is the "multiculturalism doesn't work" saw, being dredged up in light of the recent arrests in Toronto. Before you make such a broad, sweeping generalization, we have to also look at the alternatives:

Attempting to achieve some kind of genetic/cultural purity? - oh yeah - it's been tried before. Remember the "National Socialist" party in Germany a few years back? Started something called WWII? Oh, and in case you missed it, that nasty little business in Rwanda more recently. Not only impractical, but fundamentally doomed to fail from the start.

The Melting Pot - unofficially the name for US cultural assimilation policy. How effective is it? Well - the 9/11 terrorists trained and lived in the United States; and Timothy McVeigh was about as "all American" as they come - I guess that doesn't make so much difference either.

Multiculturalism - Neither better nor worse than the melting pot notion. Canada's had it's dances with the loonier side of things a few times (say, the FLQ, for one example); and the UK has had its own experiences - whether you refer to last year's train bombing, or the actions of the IRA through a very long period of time.

The argument that multiculturalism simply causes subgroups of society to isolate themselves from one another, weakening the overall notion of nationhood. Quite frankly, this is a load of crap. It takes two or three generations for new immigrants to "merge" with the predominant culture in a new land - no matter what the "philosophy" in place might be.

The cry that "multiculturalism has failed" is a misguided attempt to justify a xenophobic direction in Canada's foreign and immigration policies. We have already seen the first shadows of such policy coming forth from the Harper government, and it apalls me.

Monday, June 19, 2006

In Yet Another Meaningless Gesture...

It appears that Stephen Harper's government is set to introduce legislation to abolish the "long gun registry".

*Rolls Eyes* Yeah - whatever.

Frankly, I don't distinguish between long guns, short guns, wide guns and narrow guns. A gun is a gun is a gun. Period. Given the destructive capability of these things, I see absolutely nothing wrong with insisting that they be registered - regardless of their size/shape or intended usage. The argument that it doesn't stop criminals is bogus in the first place. The whole notion of the gun registry goes back to the incident at Ecole Polytechnic in Montreal in the late 1980s. It has more to do with stemming domestic violence than anything else. Street thugs are street thugs - even if we had perfect gun control that prevented criminals from getting guns at all, we'd simply find that the criminals would take to manufacturing their own. (It's not terribly complicated to do)

However, HarperCrit's playing to his base in Alberta - that's all this is.

BTW - this legislation will likely pass sometime during this parliament - mostly because Harper will start throwing around the "I'll treat it as a confidence matter" card, and neither the Liberals nor the NDP want an election right now.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Reconciling Contradictions

Surely, Stephen Harper is smart enough to actually come up with real policy that doesn't mirror this guy.

Sadly, at every turn, Stephen seems bound and determined not merely to harmonize with BushCo, but to sing exactly the same verses.

They include improved luggage and cargo screening for air passengers, upgraded marine security and improved background checks for transportation workers, said Harper, who spoke at a cargo plane facility near Toronto's Pearson International Airport.


Didn't we go through this exercise already? Say about five years ago?

What really galled me was this farcicle notion:

When asked if the government was considering placing air marshals on planes, Harper said the idea was under consideration.


What a joke. I don't think the US "air marshal" program has exactly done anything other than put a goon with a gun on the planes - as near as I can see, doing that doesn't do much more than security guards do in a store - they stop a certain kind of petty crime, but stopping a determined criminal is another thing altogether. This is little more than a show of force maneuver, not terribly effective.

(Do I really need to point out how many hijackings have occurred since 9/11 - around the world?)

Please, Stephen, show a little more imagination than that. Of course, he fails utterly to do so, and comes up with the following rather silly statement:

"This is how the fight against terrorism will be won," said Harper. "By thinking one step ahead of the agents of hate and terror."


If you need to "think ahead" of the terrorists, you better start thinking, pal, not mirroring the United States.

Then, in other news, we find Harper claiming he isn't George BushCo's puppet. Really, Stephen? Could have fooled me. So far, I have yet to see anything come out of your mouth that hasn't been a talking point out of the White House since 9/11.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Effective Tactics?

A few days ago, the United States was busy running about bragging that it had "dealt a serious blow" to the Iraqi "insurgency" by killing al-Zarqawi with a few bombs.

This morning, we learn who has emerged to replace al-Zarqawi. No surprise, anybody who believed that killing al-Zarqawi was anything more than symbolic has to be blind.

A mere couple of days after Bush does a surprise inspection of his Iraqi client state, this little factoid emerges. How convenient.

There's a couple of things that come to mind here - and they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

First, it seems more than probable that the insurgency in Iraq has multiple leadership figures. They may - or may not - be aware of each other depending upon the structure that has emerged in the last year or two. The relentless pace of car bombings and disruption in the country makes it quite clear that killing one leader isn't removing the head of the organization per se - any more than chopping one head off the legendary Hydra killed it off.

Second, having killed off al-Zarqawi, the United States government created a problem for itself. They no longer had an identifiable "enemy" that they could build up and blame for anything that goes awry in the country. By releasing the name and pictures of this other person, they have once again put fuel into the fires of the propaganda machine that is keeping support for occupying Iraq alive. Once again, they can "blame" a person for all the ills that the occupation is experiencing. A person is easy for people to comprehend - shadowy concepts like "insurgency" are much harder to pin down. Knocking off someone that has been built up in western media as a villain buys not only credibility, but a false sense of progress.

Is the United States "making progress" in Iraq? I'd say that's a matter of perspective. If one measures progress in political terms, it seems unlikely. The government there is fragile, and Talabani's influence doesn't seem to extend much beyond the "Green Zone" in Baghdad. In military terms, one might suppose that the United States has Iraq under control in more or less the same fashion that Germany held France during WWII. It may have been titularly under their control, but that doesn't mean that the people were directly supportive of the occupiers.

Bush's recent "show visit" to Iraq was nothing more than a cheesy photo-op, intended to reinforce the Republicans as the United States moves into "mid-term elections" mode. It creates the false impression that Iraq is making progress towards civil society, while the picture outside of the heavily fortified green zone continues to be one of bombings and bloodshed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Polling Morality

A couple of days ago, a Leger Marketing poll on "morality" was released. It's findings weren't terribly exciting - pedophilia registered as "immoral" by 81% of respondents, and divorce rattled out at the bottom of the list, considered "immoral" by less than 20% of respondents.

Inevitably, the alarmists started crying that nearly 20% of Canadians obviously must think that Pedophilia is morally acceptable. Clearly, Canada must be on the road to hell.

Skeptical of such inferences, I went digging and found the poll results on Leger's website. The document itself is here. Since Leger doesn't share their raw data, we are stuck with examining the results of their analysis and the raw questions used in the survey.

The 81% number, is naturally a very broad average number, applied to the entire population from a tiny sample (~1500 respondents). As Leger's report points out, there are a lot of subtle variations on this:

As shown in the following table, Canadians view pedophilia as the most immoral type of behaviour. It is condemned by women (84%) more than men (78%), by 45 to 54 year olds (88%) more than 18 to 24 year olds (74%), by Quebeckers (91%) more than respondents from all other provinces combined (80%), by high income earners (86%) more than low income earners (66%) and more by professionals (89%) more than students (70%).


Consider, 45 to 54 year olds (88%) more than 18 to 24 year olds (74%) - 45 year old people are far more likely to have children of their own, and perhaps have given some thought to protecting their children from predation, than someone in the 18-24 year old bracket. In other words, someone between 18 and 24 may simply have not even thought about the issue yet, much less come to any clear conclusions in their minds about its moral status.

The next question we must examine is how did Leger frame the questions? It turns out that they didn't do much at all to frame their questions.

The entire survey consisted of the following style of question:

PC2. Do you consider the following behaviour as IMMORAL?
a) ... Contraception?
Yes...................................................................................1
No....................................................................................2
DNK/Refusal......................................................................9


The first thing that becomes glaringly apparent is that Leger's results do not indicate if they distinguished between negative and "Don't Know or Refusal" responses in their analysis. A reader is left to presume that the latter two categories were lumped together. Here, we encounter the first problem with the alarmist cry that 19% of Canadians think that pedophilia is "morally acceptable". We simply cannot make such an inference - topics such as what are contained in Leger's poll are very sensitive subjects for some people, and the question itself may well cause a lot of people to refuse to respond simply because they are so polarized by the subject that even a question about its moral status throws them off guard.

The second point is the assumed commonality of definition in the terms used. While some questions are centered around concepts that are fairly clear - for example divorce or contraception, others are less so. The yes/no/don't know model of responses doesn't provide any room for "grey zones" or subtle responses. For example, while I don't necessarily have a problem with either contraception or abortion per se, I may well have a moral objection to someone using abortion instead of contraceptives repeatedly.

Of course, a ten question questionnaire does not leave any room for such subtleties. I think it's important to recognize that morality is quite different from a survey about shopping preferences. (Sadly - the surveys I've encountered have provided more room for nuanced responses to my preferences for breakfast cereal than Leger's Morality poll does) Morality is a complex subject, often coloured by individual experiences. For example, theft is immoral (in my mind), but is theft "immoral" if I am stealing from the thief that stole from me previously? The Catholic Church teaches that contraception is immoral, and yet is it immoral to protect myself and a partner from disease by using a condom? The world is filled with conundrums like this, shades of gray where black is not black, nor is white actually white.

Even the term "immoral" is dangerously loaded from an interpretative standpoint. Many people rely upon religious teachings to guide their morality, yet few religions agree on the moral status of any two topics, and when you throw into the mix those who are atheistic in their worldview, it seems unlikely that there is any clear codification of "morality" that we could agree upon. (A reality that has led Canada's Supreme Court towards a "measurement of harm" approach to many "moral" topics in their deliberations)

Further, the way that Leger has weighted and analyzed the data (and the lack of raw distribution data in their report), it is very difficult, if not impossible, to derive any serious conclusions from it. Being generous, I would suggest that Leger's poll might give a broad sense of how Canadians see various moral topics, but that's like expecting a 2" paint chip from the hardware store to give you a clear idea what the paint will look like through an entire house.

[Note]:

I am absolutely not defending any specific behaviour here - merely pointing out that the Leger poll is very weak in terms of its informational content, and that I am very cautious about inferring anything from the "negative/don't know" response set other than it is there - it's meaning is another thing entirely.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Debunking Ezra LeRant

In his latest rantings in the Calgary Sun, we find Ezra Levant beaking off about Canada's "hate crimes laws".

He now wants them abolished, claiming that they serve no purpose other than "criminalize political dissidents". Wrong, wrong, wrong, Mr. Levant. Those laws exist to provide recourse for people who are victimized by those who believe that discrimination and spreading lies is an appropriate way to forward their agenda.

We won't ignore the fact that Levant finds himself on the wrong side of such allegations these days, either. It's amazing, how a man who in the past has screamed blue murder when something has happened that threatens Israel and Israelis, now finds it politically convenient to demands the laws be repealed when the shoe is on the other foot.

Ezra argues that the laws are being implemented with a double-standard:

Why wasn't the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mohamed Elmasry, charged with a hate crime when he went on TV last year, stating that every adult Jew in Israel -- which would include pregnant women, old men, young folks at a pizza parlour or dance club -- are legitimate targets for Palestinian terrorism?


Well, Ezra, here's the challenge for you - can you demonstrate that such a statement is in fact a hate crime? Is it inciting hatred here in Canada? Is it inciting people to treat Canada's Jewish citizens as second-class members of society? If you can make such a representation, then I suggest you pursue the complaint - being a lawyer (or a former lawyer - I'm not sure which these days), you should be quite capable of putting together a decent brief on the topic.

Canada's hate crime laws exist for a reason - and people like Jim Keegstra, whose denial of the Holocaust in WWII, resulted in his teaching a series of blatant falsehoods about not only documented history, but about both the Jewish people and Nazi Germany. He knowingly did so in contravention of both the school curriculum and Canada's laws at the time.

Using Ezra's logic, Mr. Keegstra is nothing more than a political dissident - persecuted because he was "WASP"ish. This is false, and a decade worth of court cases has demonstrated the falsehood of that assertion repeatedly.

In a sense, one can argue that our Hate Crimes statutes create a class of "thoughtcrime"
, but they provide a legal recourse when someone - as Jim Keegstra or Ernst Zundel did - perpetrates outrageous lies about an entire population, without so much as the slightest foundation in fact. I suspect that the reason that the 17 clowns that were arrested earlier aren't charged with "hate crimes" is because they haven't committed any per se. (Plotting to bomb something isn't a hate crime, but plotting to bomb a Synagogue during prayers because it's full of Jews certainly would be - notice the difference)

Besides - the evidence is hardly all in on the Toronto 17 - at the moment, it could be anything from youthful stupidity speaking to outright organized crime or simply a setup that happened to dupe a bunch of idiots.

Alberta Liberals

Yes, you can put those two words together and not come up with an oxymoron - there actually is such a creature.

The Alberta Liberal Party held their policy convention this past weekend.

From the reports I've found on the blogosphere about it, things went well. I must admit to being impressed with the Liberals under Kevin Taft - they've become much more focused and clear on their objectives and platform than they have been in some time (possibly since Nick Taylor was leader - and that was a long time ago).

Some Details can be found:

At CalgaryGrit and DaveBerta's blogs.

Alberta is - at long last - growing an alternative to the monolith politics its suffered from for so very long.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Bottom of the Rhetoric Barrel

It seems that the Religious Reich is beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to rhetoric.

In response to Garth Turner apparently referring to Charles McVety & Co. as "Call it Defend Marriage Canada. Call it the Taliban. Fleurs du mal.", we find McVety and his clowns bleating:

“Garth Turner’s behaviour is a sharp illustration of the vicious and deep-rooted bigotry lurking just below the surface of the secular-left in our society,” continued Ben-Ami. “People like him claim to be champions of tolerance, but when their own ideas and positions are challenged, they resort to name-calling and fear mongering, laughably invoking the principle of tolerance to justify their bigotry.”


If you act like the Taliban, demanding to legislate your unique brand of morality over the rest of us, I can only say that Garth Turner has at least got the guts to say what a lot of us are actually thinking about the wingnuts.

For more insight into what McVety wants to accomplish, take a gander through some of Garth Turner's blog entries:

This Just In
The T Word

There's more, but reading Garth Turner is a lot more enjoyable than McVety.

When the religious bigots wrap themselves in the cloak of the oppressed, you know that their arguments have truly become empty.

Compare and Contrast

I'm puzzled. On Sunday last week, the RCMP arrested 17 people for planning terrorist acts. In the United States, we have another man arrested for plotting to bomb an abortion clinic.

The Toronto bunch is accused of plotting to create several fertilizer bombs to blow up a variety of targets, including the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill; taking politicians hostage and beheading the Prime Minister. Okay, fine, we have seventeen nutcases who appear to be "religiously inspired" to commit a series of violent, nasty crimes against Canadians. Arguably, their motives are driven by a combination of politics and religion.

Allegedly, they used a farm north of Toronto to "train" themselves - creeping about the woods with paintball guns and occasionally doing target practice with "real" guns. By all accounts I have seen so far, this sounds fairly typical of the schemes that young men in their early 20s can come up with - grandiose, overblown and generally stupid. These plans seldom come to anything of consequence - or if they do, the culprits are readily apprehended.

On the other side of the border, we have a man building a pipe bomb with the intent of blowing up an abortion clinic. Although the symbolism of blowing up an abortion clinic is different, the result is the same - a lot of innocent civilians are going to be hurt by this act. Further, this clown is accused of stealing a handgun for the purpose of shooting the doctors "that provide abortions".

Again, it seems likely that this person's motives were driven by a combination of political and religious drivers. Although he is likely to be "Christian", and the other clowns were "Muslim", there seems to be little difference.

So, how is there any moral difference between what the "gang of 17" were plotting and the "gang of 1"'s plot to blow up an abortion clinic? There isn't. If the label of "terrorist" applies to one, then it applies to both. It seems to me that the term "terrorist" is being used almost exclusively with respect to people of the Muslim faith when they plot crimes of this nature.

Any social or political group will have its share of whackjobs. Fundamentalist Islam has an amazing amount of nutcases who have decided that violence is a way to move their agenda forward; Fundamentalist Christianity is no better - with people running around plotting to bomb medical clinics because of a procedure they disagree with, or demanding the revival of the death penalty for homosexuals.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

An Act of Warfare?

Since when did a prisoner committing suicide become "an act of war"? The logic of such an allegation fairly boggles the mind. Of course, in this situation, perhaps we have a tacit admission that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are in fact Prisoners of War - and at least warrant being treated as human beings, not caged animals.

In the end of what is clearly an act of warfare, an autopsy is being performed on the remains al-Zarqawi. How significant are the details of how al-Zarqawi died, given the circumstances?

It amazes me that the United States can continue to brag about al-Zarqawi, but seems equally unwilling to examine its own treatment of prisoners that it is holding in Guantanamo Bay.

These Guys Were a "Terrorist Threat"?

What a gong show! If these are a "terrorist threat", then I'd say we should be filming their every move - it would better than a Fawlty Towers episode.

Remind me again why we should be panicking over these clowns?

Playing the "Fear" Card Part II of Many

My, my, my - it's amazing how predictable the rigidly simplistic minds in the current government are.

First, we have this poll from CTV/Strategic Counsel that indicates that a majority of Canadians believe that we will be hit by a "terrorist act" in the near future. Then, in a statement that could have been scripted by Dick Cheney, Harper is claiming that the threat is "very real".

“That's why not only is the government acting nationally against terrorism threats, but we're also working globally in Afghanistan and all over the world to deal with this problem.”


For crying out loud, you haven't even defined what the problem is. Just what is a "terrorist", Stephen?

Then, just for giggles, we find out - via Russia, no less - that our government intends to table an "anti-terrorist financing bill". The first question in my mind is this: why are major announcements about Canadian government policy being made by our ministers when they are abroad? Yet another "fear card" element - ooooh - Canada's being used to "launder money for terrorists".

Adding onto all of this, we have the first moves in the dance to lock our borders down tight - yesterday, we heard Senator Hostettler from the US accusing Canada of being a hotbed of terrorist activity and being "in denial". The Conservative government came under fire in the House of Commons for failing to stand up to this crap, and limply responds with Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney "hoping that Hostettler would retract his comments". The third fear card being played here is that our "lax" immigration and border policies will affect trade with the United States.

Most of these items have a seed of fact in them, but as with many things, it's been vastly blown out of proportion.

Abbreviated Stephen Harper:

"I don't understand it, so you're not interested"

Over here, we learn that according to Stephen Harper, "most Canadians" aren't interested in the details of something as complex as the equalization issue.

Wrong again, Stephen. Most Canadians may struggle with understanding it, but that doesn't mean they are not interested in it. As citizens of this nation, and the equalization framework being as important to Canada's egalitarian framework as universal health care is, you better damned well believe we have an "interest" in the topic.

Of course, along with a lot of other things to come out of Harper, it's obvious he's only interested in what he's thought of (and he didn't think of equalization).

In the latest attempt at spin-doctoring his positions through the last year or so (and in particular, the last election), we find HarperCrit claiming that his promises on the equalization formula are now "preferences":

But Harper maintains that situation isn't a violation of one of his campaign promises.

During the last election, Harper promised to remove non-renewable resource money from the equalization formula, a change that would have added hundreds of millions of federal dollars to Saskatchewan's coffers.

However, during an interview with Calgary radio host Dave Rutherford on Friday, Harper described his election pledge as a "preference."


The man's one of two things - a hypocrite or a liar.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Playing the Fear Card

You had to know that in the wake of this past weekend's "terrorist arrests" in Canada that the fear card would be getting played on the political stage.

The opening gambits in this game are being played out on both sides of the Canada - US border:

First, we have Stockwell Day tying auto theft to car bombings. {Reality check: 5 guys exporting cars to Nigeria hardly constitutes much more than organized crime - most car thefts are for purposes other than terrorism}

Then, on CBC this morning, I hear about how "Islamic conferences" are radicalizing youth. Of course, there's no mention of how Christian Fundamentalism is radicalizing our youth, and promoting some pretty nasty bigotry.

Just to play out the marching in step with BushCo routine a bit further, we find Harper resurrecting one of the dafter ideas to come out of any government by reviving a variation on the "wiretap bill" that was before the last parliament. I wasn't impressed with that bill then, and I suspect I'll be even less impressed with it's new incarnation.

Then, we start to see the signs of the Conservatives and Republicans working in concert with each other:

a) Rumsfeld signalling a 'softer stance' towards China
b) Canada wants to "recruit" China in the fight on terrorism

Uh-huh. This is just coincidence, right?

Well perhaps not - we find yet another US lawmaker whining about "Toronto as a hotbed of Islamic extremism". (Which I can guarantee will be played along with a few other bits in the coming weeks to justify a "closed border policy", followed by an immigration system that will be downright hostile to new immigrants.

The argument that Canada has been in "denial" over terrorism is a complete crock. Think about it for a moment - if we were in denial, would these arrests have happened? Canada is not in denial, nor is it necessary to turn this place into a police state over the actions of a few inept clods who thought they were going to "strike a blow for Islam" (or whatever their motives were) with a couple of fertilizer bombs.

[Update: 09/06/06 15:24]: As if it's not enough to try dragging China into the farce that is George W. Bush's "War on Terror, we now find the US warning of "unconfirmed" threats originating in China.

Why do I think this is 80% bullfeathers?
[/Update]

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Plots and Trials

Much innuendo is being made of the actions of the accused "terrorists" and what they are accused of plotting.

The allegations against this bunch are serious, of that there is no doubt. We should be cautious about these accusations, and insist that these people are tried in public. After situations like Maher Arar's "rendition to Syria", and Mohomed Harkat's detention under a "security certificate", it is vitally important that these accused are handled with a transparent, open trial process.

It is far too easy to use "security certificates" and other methods to bury the evidence out of the public's view. The result is a show trial that calls into question the validity of the trial and court process itself. Canadians need to know that the accusations against these people are substantiated by the evidence, and we aren't simply engaging in a pseudo political exercise.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

God Protects ...

There's an old saying that goes "God protects fools and small children" - or something like that.

Apparently, that protection doesn't extend to the patently stupid.

Grrrralph!

Apparently Ralph Klein is just starting to assimilate the spanking his party gave him a few months ago. Like a spoilt child he's lashing out in all directions.

First, we are treated to more whining about resource revenues and equalization. For crying out loud, Ralph, nobody's talking about those revenues being annexed by Ottawa, just factoring them in as part of the provincial government's revenues when calculating equalization.

Then, moving closer to home, education appears set to become the next bugaboo for Ralph's Team. He's all upset with teachers and schoolboards for having the audacity to complain that education funding is not working adequately. Let's think about this - the cost of living in Calgary has been skyrocketing, meaning that the current salary scale for Calgary teachers is inadequate; we have schools that desperately require major amounts of repairs (anybody else remember a certain school roof in Marlborough?); I can only speak for Calgary but the school boards in this city need both new schools built as well as other funding.

Sez Ralph:
Operational funding for education, Klein said, has ratcheted up 84 per cent since 1996, noting there are eight new school projects in the CBE's school district.


Yes, but prior to 1996, your government (and its predecessor) did major cuts to education funding - so don't even try to measure from 1996. That's the same line you use for health care funding, and it's a crock to start with.

Then, we hit what used to be called "Advanced Education" (Universities, Colleges etc.) - where we find out that the government is "falling short" of its goal to have the "most affordable" system in the country. Yeah - well, Don Getty's crew starting abusing the funding of Universities in this province when I was completing my degree. A recent economic boom has done wonders for the University of Calgary (at least last time I was on the campus it seemed to be doing quite well - lots of new buildings and other changes), but tuition/fees and books aren't cheap and the increases to those fees have often exceeded the rate of inflation considerably in recent years. Oddly, this is the first report I've seen out of Ralph's Team that I actually agree with - Alberta, of all places, should be striving to make its advanced education system not only more affordable, but taking it "up a notch or two" in its quality. Perhaps even more astonishing is that it comes out from Denis Herard - a former backbench MLA that has mostly served as a seat warmer in the past.

What's truly sad about all of this is not Ralph's snapping his teeth and barking, but rather it's the fact that with the multi-billion dollar surpluses the government is racking up, it would be utterly trivial to create several large endowment trust funds (a la what backs some of the Ivy League schools in the US) for our Universities that would provide a foundation of stable, growing funding over the decades to come. I don't believe it would cover all of the University funding required, but properly managed, it could go a long ways. Of course, miserly old Ralph can't see beyond the stacks of green that he's been accumulating.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Problem With "Fetal Rights"

Back here, I wrote about a rather obscure bill introduced in Parliament by an equally obscure Alberta back-bencher.

Most troubling in the bill is the use of the term "unborn child". This is a very loaded term, and a misleading term as well. Just what is an "unborn child"?

Consider the biology of mammal gestation processes. Fetal development goes through a bunch of different stages, and it is far from clear to me that the term "unborn child" accurately represents these stages - especially when a woman may not even be aware that she is pregnant during some of the earlier phases.

By using the term "unborn child", the law attempts to side step the rather difficult, thorny issue of actually defining the biological state at which the "unborn child" is recognized in law. At one extreme, we find the argument that says that the rights of the "unborn child" must be recognized immediately upon the moment of conception, at the other end of the spectrum, the argument could equally be made that those rights would only apply if the "unborn child" was mere hours away from being born.

There's a whole range of possibilities in between - stages of development that are well documented and are becoming better and better understood as time goes on.

However, the whole notion of "fetal rights" is troubling. A fetus is unable to express its desires with respect to 'rights', which leaves the enforcement of those rights to arbitrary third parties acting on their behalf. Perhaps even more troubling is the implication of trying to distinguish the fetus from its mother. While that fetus will (barring accidents such as miscarriage or fatal genetic defects) will become an independent creature in its own right, we cannot ignore the absolute dependence of that fetus upon its mother for survival. Short of radical medical intervention, it's quite late in the gestation process that the fetus can survive outside of its mother's body for any length of time.

To attempt to treat that fetus as "distinct" from its mother creates a nasty little situation where arguably, the mother's uterus becomes a "condominium" of sorts that is "leased" to the fetus. Once we do that, we have created a serious legal status problem for the woman who is faced throughout pregnancy with a huge number of moral and ethical decisions at every step - now suddenly we raise the very serious spectre of what legal status is conferred on the child that she must also consider.

At what point does one deem the "rights" of the fetus to override the rights of its mother? How many legal grey zones do we introduce by making such an acknowledgement?

More significantly, in light of the societal pressures that are placed upon pregnant women, are such legal recognitions necessary? Society already places an enormous burden upon young women when they become pregnant, and most go to amazing lengths to protect the child growing within.

While I can appreciate the notion of a crime committed against a pregnant woman carrying a much harsher sentence because of its impact upon both the expecting mother and the child, I would much prefer that the legal structure continue to recognize the unique state of a pregnant woman, rather than attempting to confer legal recognition upon the fetus prior to being born. There are simply far too many ways that such recognition can be warped into what feminist writers in the United States are beginning to call "Womb Control". (E.g. South Dakota's recent ban on abortion).

When we begin to talk about "the rights of the unborn", we open a very complex, and nearly undefinable set of issues. Not only do we have the bubbling challenge of defining what those rights might be, but we have to factor in those rights in the context of the mother's rights. The utter dependence of a fetus upon its mother's support creates a serious, and possibly unresolvable tension in the legal framework. Once you create a legal distinction between a pregnant woman and the child she is carrying, you open up to a world of potentially nasty little issues that may well be intractable.

In fact, Benoit's bill touches upon one of those issues. In the "not a defence" exclusions list we find this: "(b) the accused did not know that the person was pregnant;". Consider this for a moment. Based on this, a woman could be accused herself of assault on her 'unborn child' if she engaged in a risky activity and the child was injured or killed as a result - even if she was not aware of her status as pregnant at that time. Yes, it takes a bit of a twist of logic to make this happen, but it is conceivable that a particularly zealous person (e.g. Calgary's Michael O'Malley) could pursue such a case in an effort to expand the legal recognition of the fetus as a separate and distinct legal entity from its mother.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What Is It With Alberta Politicians ?

There's got to be something in the water in Alberta. Last month, we were subjected Ted Morton's two bit bigotry in the form of his private member's bill, this month, we have yet another Alberta politician demonstrating that he's spent a little too much time out in the prairie sun.

Via Heather Mallick's column on the CBC, we learn that Leon Benoit has introduced private member's bill C-291 which would amend the Criminal Code of Canada so that someone who murders or injures an unborn child guilty of not one crime (attacking the woman), but of two crimes - attacking the woman, and by proxy her child.

Taking a page out of the anti-civil rights movement, Benoit proposes the following wording:

238.1 (1) Every one who injures or causes the death of a child before or during its birth while committing or attempting to commit an offence against the mother who is pregnant with the child is guilty of the offence of which the person would have been guilty had the injury or death occurred to the mother, and is liable to the punishment prescribed for that offence.


Take a close look at that first statement - "...before or during its birth...". By implication, this would make most women who have an abortion (natural occurance or otherwise) guilty of an offense. This is particularly troubling when you consider the notion that the anti-abortion crowd desperately wants abortion to become a crime. Do the math.

Moving a little further down Mr. Benoit's little treatise, we find this:

(2) It is not a defence to a charge under subsection (1) that

(a) the child is not a human being;


Again, we have to read between the lines here a bit. Notice the use of the term "the child". Among other things until a child is born, they are a fetus. The "right to life" crowd wants you to forget this, of course, so they use the much broader term "child", which naturally evokes the image of a toddler running around on the grass.

The danger in a bill like this is multiple - the obvious is the implicit legal distinction it draws between a pregnant woman and the fetus she is carrying. For women, this creates a serious legal dilemma, for suddenly not only are they morally and emotionally responsible for the fetus, but worse, now there is a legal distinction which essentially holds the unborn fetus as equivalent to an independent human being. Consider the ramifications down the road - ten, twenty years later, we discover that the mother's use of Aspirin was the root cause of the child's asthma (for sake of argument), now the criminal code can be used as part of a "wedge case" to argue that the mother's negligence was at fault, and that she should be held accountable for the injury to the child that resulted.

What you have just done, is created an environment where parents can be sued or criminally charged by their own children for events that occurred before they were born. Yikes! That creates a vision that makes the former Soviet KGB look positively benign.

- Oh yes - and if you had any ideas that the CPC has "moderated" itself, don't forget that the back benches are filled with guys like Benoit, Vellacott, Merrifield and goodness knows how many other long-term wingnuts. (The front benches have their share too - starting with Stockwell Day, and moving on through people like Jason Kenney, Vic Toews and a few others...)

Oh Pete's Sake!

What the hell is it with right-wing media nuts and Pierre Elliot Trudeau?

In Today's Editorial, the Calgary Sun is busy whining and beaking about a new book, Young Trudeau: 1919-1944: Son of Quebec, Father of Canada, which talks about some of Trudeau's politics as a young man.

What he believed as a youth is historically interesting, but hardly significant today. In spite of what the narrow-minded twits that run the Calgary Sun seem to think, it has very little to do with today and today's politics. So what if he explored Marxism as a youth? So what if he toyed with separatist activism? How is that relevant to anything in the here and now?

Beyond an intellectual understanding of how Trudeau became the man he did, it's utterly irrelevant. At best this book is being used in a pathetic attempt to smear his name once again by Conservative politicians who are hoping to blacken the name of the left wing of Canada in a gambit to solidify their grip on power.

Fishy?

On Monday, I took exception to some of CSIS director Hooper's assertions about "terrorist cells" operating in Canada.

Today, I wake up to this batch of arrests being made in Ontario. The investigation - and arrests - at this point appear to largely be the result of due process, and underscore my fundamental point in Monday's posting - namely that we have processes in Canada for handling such cases, and we should be using them.

CBC's coverage includes some comments from this morning's new conference that bother me a bit:

"For various reasons, they appear to have become adherents of a violent ideology inspired by al-Qaeda," said Luc Portelance, Assistant Director of Operations for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).


What bugs me about this is twofold - first is the immediate attempt to associate the business with al Qaeda in the public mind. What we have right now is a group of people who are arrested on allegations of plotting an act of violence. No trials have happened yet, no convictions have been obtained - this is no more than innuendo.

Over here, we have Prime Minister Harper's statement on the matter. Largely a bunch of politicized froth from what I can see.

Now, let's actually put these people on trial and see if due legal process confirms the allegations against them - unlike what was done to these two young men who were caught playing paintball in a Virginia forest, and have been sentenced to life in prison as a result of what I can only politely call a show trial. (which would never have happened if they hadn't been of middle eastern descent I suspect)

I'm not going to speculate on whether there are other groups rattling around in the woodwork - such speculation is pointless and only generates an atmosphere of fear and paranoia that is unnecessary.

Cynically, I fully expect the Harper government to play this up as an excuse to further march in lock-step (goose step?) with BushCo.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Pope To LGBT People - You Don't Deserve Human Rights

Once again, we find ourselves treated to the Vatican's enlightened pronouncements on the human condition. In the presentations of a Vatican delegation to the United Nations, we learn that the Vatican believes that:

In particular, "sexual orientation is not comparable to race or ethnic origin," as the ILGA contends, Msgr. Dimaculangan emphasized. "In spite of its assertions about human rights, this NGO's particular interests fall beyond the scope of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international juridical instruments."


Well, let's just go take a look at The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights for a moment:

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.


Please note in Article 2, it reads "Everyone is entitled ... without distinction of ... or other status". To me that is clearly quite inclusive of the rights of GLBT individuals. It doesn't say "Everyone ... with the exception of ..."

Then, we move along to Article 7, which reads:

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.


Once again, I don't see anything that says "except for group x".

So, returning to the battiness of the Vatican's medieval reasoning, we find the following argument:

Msgr. Dimaculangan added in his letter that the ILGA is seeking not equal rights but special rights: "In other words, what ILGA and its proponents are asking is not for equal rights but special rights; special rights that allow others a leeway for a discreet suppression of moral distinctions in choices and behavior that are of vital concern to the international community and the international order."


Eh? Really - what "special rights" would these be? Recognition as people? Abolition of discrimination?

Oh wait...there's the key phrase "moral distinctions in choices and behaviour". Well, let's just hang on a second here, shall we?

Returning to the UN Declaration, we find the following:

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


Okay, fair enough, let's take a look at the Vatican's position that sexual orientation (when it's anything other than missionary straight) is clearly that it's "a matter of immoral choice". Article 18 specifically extends protections to people of faith. If I'm going to accept the argument that sexuality is a matter of choice (I don't - for details, start reading here), it therefore becomes a matter of conscience, opinion and expression, which is clearly protected by Article 19.

Using the Vatican's own reasoning that homosexuals are arbitrarily harmful:

the Vatican envoy explained to the UN that "Placing the homosexual lifestyle on the level of marriage will have 'a direct impact on society's understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy'."


It's not a huge leap to argue that the religious protections that are extended to religion should not be extended based on a long history of religiously inspired violence and harm done to peoples around the world. Priests that molest young children, holy wars, the massive economic frauds which preachers like Jim Bakker have committed have been nothing if not damaging to the moral and social foundation of those affected - and goodness knows how those acts impacted the ever so impressionable children. Unlike sexuality, it's pretty easy to argue that religion clearly is a matter of choice.

Religions don't have a monopoly on "just, moral behaviour" any more than I or any other human being do.

Further, the Vatican argues:

"Tolerance without standards seeks to create a level playing field offering loopholes for suppressing moral distinctions in choices and behavior which would be tantamount to accepting fake expressions of 'anarchic freedom'," he added.


Of course, the Vatican's position is entirely based upon the notion that sexuality is a matter of conscious choice, and therefore subject to their arbitrary rules of morality. I suspect that the reality of human behaviour is much more subtle and fluid than the polar, rigid view that the Vatican espouses.

If we wish to "protect the family", then perhaps the best thing we can do is quit finding artificial reasons to discriminate against people because of their romantic inclinations. The great fuss over sexuality we make is probably far more damaging to children and families than if we simply allowed people to live their lives peacefully.

Creepy!

This story started bubbling around a few weeks ago. It seems that a few fans of the "Left Behind" series of novels has spawned a videogame.

The irony of a rather violent wargame being spawned from the imaginations of people purporting to be "Christians" is simply mind bending.

Over at Talk To Action, there's a lovely dissection of the game and the problems it implies in the current wave of "Christian Fundamentalism" that is rippling around.

On Fixed Election Dates

Earlier this week, the CPC government put forward a bill to create fixed, regular election date cycles.

Superficially, Bill C-16 is neither good nor bad. When it comes down to it, I'm not particularly impressed with the idea of fixed election dates. I really don't believe that I want to see Canada go through the two year long pseudo-campaign race that takes place in the United States. I think that such a process simply diverts lawmakers from doing their jobs, and diverts public attention from the governance of their nation.

However, I must admit that the following part of the bill kind of caught my eye:

56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.


First of all, it would be damned difficult to change the Governor General's powers in with respect to parliament in the first place:

The Constitution Act (1867) specifically grants that power to the Queen:

50. Every House of Commons shall continue for Five Years from the Day of the Return of the Writs for choosing the House (subject to be sooner dissolved by the Governor General), and no longer. (26)


Regardless of what the rest of the bill says, the following remains true in Canada:

1) The Crown can, at their discretion, dissolve parliament.
2) By convention, the Prime Minister can ask the Crown to dissolve parliament
3) A parliament has a maximum life of 5 years

So, what does Stephen's little "Third Monday in Every Fourth October" rule really do?

Nada - nothing. Zero. It's a cheesy little piece of window dressing that formalizes the notion that our elections are approximately every four years. The reality is that this bill isn't any kind of electoral reform of any consequence. The Prime Minister can still ask the Governer General to dissolve parliament when it's convenient.

There isn't a word in the bill that places any restraint on the Prime Minister in this regard. So, even though Elections Canada now has a "known target date", they really don't.

So - where's the reform?