Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What She Said!

Every so often, someone makes a comment that just gets it all in perspective. Back here, commenter Stephanie writes:

It's bad enough that Harper is trying to use techniques from the Bush/Rove playbook on fearmongering, but it is even more pathetic that he is trying to use tactics that are several years past their "best before" date.

Thank you, Stephanie! You said it all, and oh-so elegantly!

(I hope you don't mind me taking the liberty of reprinting your comment on the front page)

Law, Terrorism, Civil Liberties and Stephen Harper

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you'll know that MPs voted to allow two unused clauses of Canada's post-9/11 "anti-terrorism" laws to lapse.

Now, we have to start asking the question: Why does Stephen Harper insist that Canadians must "give up" civil liberties such as due process when detained?

"The Liberals chose internal caucus politics over the national security of Canadians," he said Tuesday.

No, actually I'd say Dion and the rest of the opposition MPs made a very principled stand in favour of Canadian civil rights and liberties.

Law enforcement and intelligence in Canada have had 5 full years to demonstrate that such laws are useful tools. They haven't used them, and arguably, do not need them at this time. I don't like the idea of leaving a little turd lying around in law that can be used to lock someone away arbitrarily because the government doesn't like who they're talking to.

Harper is trying to play this as a political smear - something he started last week when he slimed MP Bains in the House of Commons, and had Minister Nitwit post this bit of partisan crap on the "Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness" department website.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Abusing Their Power

It appears that the Conservative government thinks that the resources of the Federal Government are at their disposal for partisan propaganda.

As The Galloping Beaver notes, our "Minister of Public Safety" Stockwell Day has posted the following screed on his department's website:

I'd like to draw your attention to the last paragraph, which reads:

At a time when the Opposition Parties are being soft on security and soft on terrorism, Canada’s New Government remains unwavering in its determination to safeguard national security and is committed to working with all its partners to protect the safety and security of Canadians.”

If I found that screed on the Conservative Party website, I'd look and shrug at it. However, when I see such obviously partisan crap on the Government's website, I get very angry. The Government and its agencies exist at the will and the service of all Canadians, regardless of how we voted. Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition represents a sizable fraction of Canada's voters (a majority in this parliament, actually).

If Harper and crew are so willing to abuse government resources to forward their partisan chicanery now - while they have a razor-thin control over the House of Commons agenda - voters must ask themselves just how ugly are they going to get if they get anything close to a majority in the House of Commons. Harper has already demonstrated that he has little - or no - regard for anyone but his most loyal followers, and will quite cheerfully throw anyone else "under the bus".

Typical of the Bully

Harper's tactics in the House of Commons are like watching someone use a blunderbuss where they need a scalpel - the results are messy and appalling.

Yesterday, he put forth an "all or nothing motion to extend the expiring clauses of Canada's "anti-terrorism" legislation.

After tabling an all-or-nothing motion to extend the two clauses in question, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the day before the vote he is open to suggestions for a compromise on new anti-terror legislation.

"The Senate has proposed a couple of things that are realistic; we want to see something. You know we are open to something, it is important to have anti-terror legislation that is effective," Harper said.

Once again, in the style of the grade school bully, Harper does something utterly ridiculous, and then turns around and tries to belittle the opposition. "Realistic" is Harper-speak for "sufficiently authoritarian to satisfy his BDSM fantasies".

Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion has said that giving only 24 hours to submit a list of about 50 recommendations before the vote is a joke.

It is a joke - but there's a reason for it. Like his idol from Alberta, Ralph Klein, Stephen Harper seems to think that the best way to run a democracy is behind closed doors. If he can't do that, he does everything he can to truncate or eliminate debate entirely.

Liberals in support of letting the laws fade away have argued the two clauses have never been used and therefore won't be missed, since they were merely an understandable reaction to fears about terrorism in the uncertainty immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Which is exactly the point of having a "sunset clause" on them. If they are so blasted important, PMSH can bring forth specific legislation to reinstate them. Frankly, they are the aspects of the post-9/11 legislation that bothered me the most from the beginning, and it's time we let them go.

I would guess that short of a major change in the landscape of the house, that these clauses will quietly expire tonight, and Harper will try to play the "Tough on Crime(tm)" card, attempting to portray the opposition as "soft" on terrorism.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Ignorance and Bigotry

Via Canadian Cynic this morning, I found myself directed to Canada's Right Wing Nut Club, and reading what could possibly be one of the most ignorant bits of screed I've ever read.

While defending his stance that he is "not homophobic", the author brings out just about every cliche and misunderstanding of gay men that I've ever heard of.

Here are 10 more things you should know about most typical heterosexual males:

1. Just because we like art and fine furniture, wash our cars, regularly bathe and brush our teeth, and like nice clothes doesn’t mean we’re latent. What it means is that your team doesn’t have a monopoly on taste or decorum.

2. No, we don’t want highlights in our hair or a manicure/pedicure.

3. We think Vespas are for beautiful girls to ride. Not guys. Harley’s, custom West Coast Choppers, Triumphs, Indians or Von Dutchs = a dude’s bike.

4. We don’t like dogs that have “toy” as a prefix to their name.

5. A hunted wild animal’s gut pile is a glorious and beautiful thing. Long live the hunt and the hunter.

6. Keep your lip gloss; we’ll use our Carmex.

7. We like boots not flip flops.

8. Normal men do not like Celine Dion. If you see us crying during one of her shows, it’s not because she struck a nerve with a ballad; but rather we are lamenting our manhood slowly draining away from us as we sit here, for the eight time, and listen to this chick whine.

9. When we look at a pretty girl, we think “wow” and say, “howdy.” To us, the lovely lady lumps trump a man’s hairy back any day. Call us crazy.

10. We don’t think Adam and Steve is an improvement or alternative to Adam and Eve. But that’s just us.

I could dissect the idiots argument piece by piece - as I often do when someone's stupidity is particularly galling, but I think that list makes it for me. That's one giant collection of stereotypes and ignorance coming out there.

Most social bias comes out in the form of ignorance. That column's author, Doug Giles, has just demonstrated his own ignorance of gay men - I'd have to guess he got most of his "knowledge" from the hallways of his high school, and hasn't updated it since.

Does ignorance of a group equate to hatred of them? Not necessarily, but ignorance tends to generate fear - which can devolve quite rapidly into the kind of loathing and hatred that results in gangs of thugs bashing the tar out of somebody.

What we are talking about is understanding people both for who they are and their cultural/social context. It means stepping back from a thought, and asking yourself if the thought/comment/whatever in your head is based on knowledge of the person or a lack of knowledge of their context.

When you start your argument from stereotypes - whether it is the "effeminate gay male", or the "illiteracy of immigrants" - you are guaranteed to completely misunderstand the situation you face.

It comes down to this - treat the people around you with a modicum of respect and dignity and you will get much further ahead. (Better yet, try to learn a little about them before you decide to judge them)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

1 in 3 Alberta Teens Watch Porn

Yeah, so?...this is a big surprise how?

I'm not defending the porn industry here - I think that the industry itself propogates a huge amount of mythology, none of which is exactly what I'd call a "good thing" myself.

However, while parental strictures against visiting porn sites on the web etc. are of some value, I think the more important thing for us to do as a society is admit that these places exist, and then teach our children about the difference between the fantasy world that is portrayed on screen and reality.

This is not a matter of "moralizing" about the subject, but rather a matter of sitting down and describing the impact of various decisions about sexual activity to teens intelligently. We don't need to use pure fear tactics - personally I think that the knowledge of what happens to the human body as it is attacked by various STI's is probably quite an effective deterrent - without having to "preach".

One of the interesting aspects of the "information era" we live in is that it pulls back the curtains on a lot of 'taboo' subjects - things that used to be "not talked about", and shines a light on them. Sexuality, especially in North America, has been one of those areas. A "don't talk about it" attitude generates all sorts of unhealthy behaviours and beliefs. It is high time that we looked the topic in the eye, and dealt with it honestly. (As opposed to burying our heads in the sand, and wishing that teens learning about sex just wouldn't happen.)

Security Certificates and Law

Now that Canada's Supreme Court has examined the whole "Security Certificate" mechanism and found that it is in violation of basic principles of civil rights, such as due process, it's time to take apart one of the most abusive pieces of law on Canada's books.

I've always argued that in a country like Canada, we have a clear system of due process and law which should take precedence over the fear-mongering paranoia of politicians whose idea of power is nearly authoritarian in nature. A free and democratic society should not need tools as arbitrary as security certificates. If someone has been accused of the kind of criminal activity that warrants detention, then bloody well charge and prosecute them in the open courts. Secretive "you can't see the evidence" processes are abusive, and subject to political manipulation in ways that are simply not acceptable in a civil society.

For those willing to delve into the arcane language of law, the full ruling is already posted here, and it contains some intriguing insights.

From the Chief Justice's commentary (emphasis added):

2 In this case, we are confronted with a statute, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, S.C. 2001, c. 27 (“IRPA”), that attempts to resolve this tension in the immigration context by allowing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (the “Minister”), and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (collectively “the ministers”) to issue a certificate of inadmissibility leading to the detention of a permanent resident or foreign national deemed to be a threat to national security. The certificate and the detention are both subject to review by a judge, in a process that may deprive the person named in the certificate of some or all of the information on the basis of which the certificate was issued or the detention ordered. The question is whether the solution that Parliament has enacted conforms to the Constitution, and in particular the guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protect against unjustifiable intrusions on liberty, equality and the freedom from arbitrary detention and from cruel and unusual treatment.

3 I conclude that the IRPA unjustifiably violates s. 7 of the Charter by allowing the issuance of a certificate of inadmissibility based on secret material without providing for an independent agent at the stage of judicial review to better protect the named person’s interests. I also conclude that some of the time limits in the provisions for continuing detention of a foreign national violate ss. 9 and 10(c) because they are arbitrary. I find that s. 12 has not been shown to be violated since a meaningful detention review process offers relief against the possibility of indefinite detention. Finally, I find that there is no breach of the s. 15 equality right.

This more or less encompasses the fundamental problems that I have expressed (repeatedly) around the subject of detaining people on arbitrary mechanisms like this. I still fundamentally disagree with the whole notion of a secretive process, as it seems to me that it creates serious problems with the transparency and accountability that is essential in the government of an open society.

Harper: The Vile Verbal Thug

Apparently the The Globe and Mail is channeling my thoughts.

Last week I lambasted Harper for his insinuations in the House of Commons about a Liberal MP.

I'd say the G&M's cartoon staff got it right!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Freedom To Read

I'm a bit late out on this - probably because I only heard about it on the drive into work this morning, but it is "Freedom To Read" week.

Often, we hear about censorship in the guise of "Protecting the Children"(tm), often on the grounds of someone or another's religious morality being offended. However, it goes further into the realm of materials aimed at adults in the first place.

Again, most of the time the screaming is over moral issues, but it can be over a variety of things. We have to walk a very fine line to deal with these situations. On one hand, there are books that we may well deem inappropriate for certain school grades (whether it's too explicit, or it presents a radical politic (e.g. white supremacy politics), or whatever), and yet, outright banning a book because you disagree with it or something it represents is a very dangerous thing to do.

We have some laws around the notion of "hate crimes" that encompass some literature, but those cases are few and far between. (Most "hate literature" is quietly self-published somewhere these days, and seldom makes its way into the mainstream of society)

In general, books contain ideas, and when we step into the world of banning this or that book for whatever reason, we step into the land of declaring ideas "dangerous". I won't say that all ideas are "good ideas", but rather the question becomes how does one decide what ideas are "too dangerous" to be heard? The history of the Roman Catholic Church is riddled with the suppression of ideas deemed "dangerous" - for example, Galileo - but to whom were they dangerous? To the power structure of the Church itself, and nobody else it turns out.

Ultimately, it comes down to this:
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Whether we are discussing the law enforcement or censorship.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Some Politicians Use Opportunity - Harper Uses People

I mean this in the sense that Harper will use other people however he can to make a political point or two.

Yesterday, this vile verbal thug stood up in the House of Commons and essentially accused an opposition MP of being indirectly tied to the Air India bombing.

"I'm not sure precisely what remarks he's referring to," Harper said in response to Bains. "If the honourable member denies any particular element in that Vancouver Sun story, I'd be more than happy to accept his word on the matter.

Today, not only does Harper refuse to apologize for his insinuations, but he continues to try and press on his meme about the Liberals trying to "protect their own":

The article noted that if the controversial provisions were not extended, the father-in-law would not have to testify at an investigative hearing.

But Harper, who was accompanied by family members of victims of the Air India bombings into question period Thursday, said he didn't accept the premise of Bains's question. He instead focused on the Liberals' refusal to extend the two controversial provisions.

There's a couple of things here in my view. First, is Harper trotting out the families of the victims of the Air India tragedy. To me, this is like the anti-abortion activist who waves a placard around showing the bloody remains of a fetus. It's a cheap tactic, and one that is ultimately quite degrading to both. I sympathize with the families of the victims, but at this point in time, their presence is purely political, and in this regard, Harper is simply using them in a manner that is wholly inappropriate.

Second, is the inference that extending the "anti terrorism" provisions that allow police to detain and interrogate people outside of due process is somehow necessary. Let's be abundantly clear about one thing - such laws should only be applied in the most dire of circumstances, and the investigation of an event now some twenty years in the past hardly constitutes "dire circumstances", I'm sorry. Like Harper's other "justice reforms", this merely underscores the complete lack of understanding that the Conservatives have of our legal system. Once again, we see a Prime Minister bent on creating legislation that allows the law enforcement to disrupt the fundamental presupposition of innocence and the validity of due process of law as guaranteed in sections 7 through 14 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It has been five years since those provisions came into law, and six years or so since the events of 9/11. In that time, those provisions have not been used once, and as the final chapters of the Arar affair demonstrate, we must not allow our politicians and government bodies to act out of irrational fear. If Canada were the "hotbed of terrorism" that was suggested in the days following 9/11, we would have known by now, and the most we have found are a few amateur loons trying to build a "Timothy McVeigh Bomb"...and that was done without using special powers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Cry of the Screech Harpy

Jeepers, the wingnuts are escalating their cries of "foul" faster and louder than I could have expected.

Today, we are treated to the rantings of Gwen Landolt of Real Women Canada on Lifesite ranting about how the Evil Liberals(tm) have legitimized homosexuality.

She takes it all the way back to 1967 when Trudeau decriminalized sodomy, and proceeds to moan about every change in Canadian law made by a Liberal government that gave legal equality to the GLBT citizens of this country.

Her rantings achieve a unique grade of shrill insanity when she claims:

This amendment to the federal Human Rights Act had the effect of legalizing and protecting homosexual sex acts, notwithstanding their detrimental medical, psychological, and social ramifications.

Obviously, Ms. Landolt is so obsessed with what she supposes gay men do with each other sexually that she has become an expert on it - I'd have to guess that she spends more time obsessing about it than most gay men do. (and much less rationally, I would imagine)

Also, the military, which requires a united fighting unit to protect morale and the effectiveness and cohesion of the unit, was obliged to accept homosexuals.

Omigod - this old saw. It's so old and rusty I doubt it could be salvaged for anything except scrap metal value. Yes, Gwen, I'm sure that accepting gays and lesbians in the military has really hurt unit cohesiveness. Seems to me that any of the people I know in the military couldn't give a damn if the person next to them in the unit is gay or not - as long as they do their job. Unlike you, most of us don't obsess over the sexual inclinations of others.

Nor is homosexuality morally neutral, which is quite different from race, sex, and place of birth. Moreover, for the first time, “behaviour,” rather than unchangeable or immutable characteristics, was given special protection under the federal Human Rights Act.

Hold it a second. Check the evidence, Ms. Landolt. I think you will find that gays and lesbians are generally pretty consistent about their sexuality - oddly enough, just like most straight people. (We won't worry too much about complicating little cases like Rev. Ted Haggard too much, will we - it might cause your little bubble of stupidity to pop)

Justice Minister McLellan’s contribution to the homosexual agenda was to provide family benefits to same-sex partners on an equal basis to those given to heterosexual couples.

Why yes she did. Only after a long series of court battles finally forced the government to acknowledge that their own programs were discriminatory.

In contrast, the National Assembly in France, in its report in January 2006, rejected same-sex marriage, mainly because of its detrimental effects on children. The French report also seriously criticized the studies on same-sex parenting that claimed that such parenting carried no ill effects for children. The report noted the lack of scientific rigor, inadequate samplings and the flagrant lack of objectivity in these studies.

Yet, Mr. Cotler was prepared to throw Canadian children to the wolves in order to legalize same-sex marriage in Canada.

Yes, two men or two women getting married is going to cause children all kinds of harm - in her little fantasy world. The rational evidence is quite clear on the subject, with groups like the APA (that actually do real research) coming out quite squarely in favour of allowing gays and lesbians to continue to act as parents to their offspring:

Yes. Studies comparing groups of children raised by homosexual and by heterosexual parents find no developmental differences between the two groups of children in four critical areas: their intelligence, psychological adjustment, social adjustment, and popularity with friends. It is also important to realize that a parent's sexual orientation does not dictate his or her children's.

Another myth about homosexuality is the mistaken belief that gay men have more of a tendency than heterosexual men to sexually molest children. There is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to molest children.

I don't know what colour the sky is in Ms. Landolt's little world, but I suspect it's not the same colour I see every day when I look up. Whatever she gets paid for (whether it's political ranting or bad comedy, I'm not sure), it's clearly too much - she actually seems to take herself seriously.

...this has been another entry in the "Omigod, There's a Rights Crisis" campaign watch

Stephen Harper: A Man Without Grace

There are few things that upset me more than a leader who has no grace and no tact.

Stephen Harper has proven that he has neither today.

In question period, Harper's comments about a media report that a member of the Liberal caucus was a "son-in-law" of someone interviewed in the Air India bombing case.

The inference is clear, the Liberals must be "protecting" one of their own - after all, his father-in-law was clearly involved in the Air India bombing.

As far as I'm concerned, Harper has just demonstrated that he is nothing more than a low grade politician seeking to make cheap points - even if it means engaging in a blatant smear of someone else's character.

Underlying the whole thing is a not so subtle layer of borderline racism, as well as the obviously ridiculous assertion that someone who was "interviewed" about the bombing is somehow provably linked to it. It's a rather astonishing assertion. Surely he realizes full well that in an investigation as broad as the Air India investigation, hundreds of people were no doubt interviewed but not because they are criminally responsible.

Of course, in Harper's mind, it's okay because the man he's just slagged is one of them dark-skinned swarthy characters he saw on CNN with the label "terrorist" on the screen.

Statistics 101: Coincidence Is Not Causality

According to this bit of drivel, being born under the sign of Libra makes you a bad driver. don't think so.

This is one of those wonderful cases where two statistical phenomena happen to coincide, and the person doing the analysis has chosen to claim a link between the two.

I can think of a dozen or so other factors that would have to be lined up to draw the conclusion that this study derives. (Starting with the obvious question about distribution of birthdates in the sample - was there a "bubble" in the September/October time? - for one obvious point)

Could You Be Any More Blatant?

Over here we have Charest likely to call an election in Quebec.

Okay, whatever - no big deal.

Until you notice that Flaherty's March 19 budget falls awfully close to that election date, and is expected to pander heavily to Quebec interests. (Not to mention the huge whack of money that has been promised Quebec in recent months between the Boeing military contracts, "clean air funding" etc.

Seldom have I seen a Federal government so intent on the politics of power, but I think Harper's lust for power is beginning to break new records for me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dear Bishop Henry: You Don't Play The Game...

... You Don't Make The Rules.

Via Lifesite, we find that Bishop Henry has once again started writing for the Calgary Sun after a hiatus of nearly four months.

This week's column from the good Bishop is a return to his usual tirades about sexuality.

This week, his target of choice is Gardasil, a vaccine that protects people - especially women - from Human Papillomavirus - which causes cancer - cervical cancer in particular. (Yes there are a few cancers that this can cause in males as well, but the incidence rate of these is extremely low)

The Bishop starts off by decrying the use of Condoms - after all, they aren't effective against everything, ya know:

Did he know that although the correct, consistent use of condoms offers a degree of protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) transmitted by fluids, condoms do not prevent the spread of the two most common STDs, human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital herpes? Did he care?

Well, no kidding Bishop. I hate to point this out, but condoms were intended to prevent pregnancy first - its a happy coincidence that a condom happens to be an effective barrier against quite a range of STI's - including HPV, by the way - by a significant 70% reduction.

No, apparently an improvement isn't good enough for the Bishop - he wants it to be 100% effective, or he's going to complain that it's "inadequate".

The Bishop then goes on to whine about the cost of the vaccinations:

Furthermore, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization says females aged 14 to 26 should also be vaccinated against human papillomavirus even if already sexually active because they may not have yet been infected.

Seemingly, the big question now is who will pay? Girls must receive the injection three times for it to be effective totalling a cost of $405 per patient.

Yes, it would be such a waste of money to take preventive measures to ensure that our young women don't get cervical cancer from HPV, after all the ones who do must clearly have been immoral, promiscuous little things, mustn't they? Of course, the Bishop conveniently ignores the fact that MALES can carry HPV too, although usually without health consequences. Which leads me to the obvious point - how many thousands would we save treating cancer patients if we didn't spend that $400 / patient?

Rather than ask "who should pay?" we'd be further ahead to address the primary behaviour that predisposes individuals to sexually acquired infections.

Parents, physicians, educators, and governing bodies should adopt an approach that addresses sexual attitudes and behaviours recommending delayed genital sexual activity and partner reduction.

Oh yes, the oh-so "effective" abstinence programs. You know - the ones that have resulted in an increase in teenage pregnancies and STI transmission rates in the United States - especially in the "bible belt" regions.

Yes, Bishop, it is important to teach our children good moral and ethical behaviour. As parents and adults, we are also equally remiss if we fail to teach our children the realities and facts. Sooner or later, our children leave our nests and become adults in their own right. I'd personally be a lot happier if more of them actually understood their sexuality honestly, and knew enough to ask their physicians to help them protect themselves.

I'll tell you what Bishop - when you figure out a way to cure the cancers that HPV causes, then I'll consider your arguments against Gardasil and contraception in general. In the meantime, I'll take a flawed, but at least somewhat practical approach forward. (One that acknowledges the cold, hard realities of our world)

From The Right Wingnuts

I've been tracking how the right wingnuts are busy trying to make a case for how "religious freedoms" are being "suppressed" in Canada for quite some time.

For the most part the effort to date has basically been a bunch of loudmouths standing up and recycling long dead talking points. (Guys, flogging a dead horse is one thing, digging it out of the grave and flogging it some more is just starting to get a little morbid)

Our latest entry in the "Omigod There's A Crisis" brigade comes from Canada Family Action Coalition - an effort run by Brian Rushfeldt and Charles McVety. (Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, MP Rob Anders has spent time working on their behalf as well.)

On the front page of their website today, we find CFAC rolling out a whole whack of stories about the evils of the Charter of Rights. (God forbid that rights would apply to anybody who doesn't subscribe to their "christian" beliefs).

And their headlines section is filled with stories about the court system, rights issues etc.:

Most of what they have put forward is recycles and recopies of articles from news sources such the National Post and a couple of John Ibbitson's columns from
The Globe and Mail
. (Hmmm ... I wonder if those two papers realize that this website is reproducing their articles - in their entirety?)

One of the more imaginative screeds is If you're a Christian charity after public money - God help you, ripped from The Daily Telegraph, wherein the author somehow manages to make the claim that all sorts of "good charitable works" are being refused funding because they are Christian. (Of course, the reality is that if they want public funds, they probably need to drop the proselytizing that they tend to roll in with their charity work.

They couldn't possibly leave it at that, no, they have to dredge up this crap about how "Christians are under attack":

Consider the long list of anti-Christian books that have been published in recent months. Here are just a few samples of more than thirty similar titles, all from mainstream publishers:

* "American Fascists: the Christian right and the war on America.”
* "The baptizing of America: the religious right's plans for the rest of us."
* “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason”
* "Piety & politics: the right-wing assault on religious freedom."
* "Atheist universe: the thinking person's answer to Christian fundamentalism."
* "Thy kingdom come: how the religious right distorts the faith and threatens America.
* "Religion gone bad: the hidden dangers of the Christian right."

What is truly alarming is that there are more of these books for sale at your local large book store warning against the perils of fervent Christianity than those warning against the perils of fervent Islam. Does anyone seriously think America is more seriously jeopardized by Christian conservatives than by Islamic zealots? I fear that many Americans believe just that - in the same way that many pre-WWII westerners considered Churchill a bigger threat than Hitler.

While this is an import from the United States, we have to remember that the evangelicals in Canada take their cues from what happens in the US. (Amazingly silent on the whole Ted Haggard affair, aren't they?)

Anyhow, I fully expect the coming months to contain a full-on assault on the Constitution and Charter.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Light Finally Begins to Dawn

I've said from day one that invading Iraq was a bad decision - not just because it seemed so painfully obvious that the case against Hussein was mostly fabrication, but also because of the practical implications of trying to occupy and "tame" a country like Iraq.

It seems that a few politicians in the states are beginning to see the light - or are finally finding the spine necessary to say it, at least.

Says Senator Reid:

"This war is a serious situation. It involves the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

and Senator Hagel:

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who has been one of the war's most outspoken critics, told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January that President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq "represents the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam."

Meanwhile, the bunch currently roosting in the White House continue to assert that war in Iraq is a "Good Thing":

White House spokesman Tony Snow told CNN he disagrees with Reid's characterization.

"In point of fact, it was important to get Saddam Hussein out of power," Snow told "Late Edition."

"Yeah, the war is tough. But the solution is not to get out. It is to provide the kinds of resources and reinforcements our forces need to get the job done, and at the same time say to the Iraqis, 'You guys gotta step up.'"

It was important to get Hussein out of power? Really? Seems to me that the only people who believe that are those who fell for Bush's fabrications about Iraq. I'm not saying that Hussein was a good leader, nor am I defending him - that's not my point at all.

The point is a more serious moral and ethical issue - Under what grounds do foreign powers have the right to intervene in the affairs of another state? When you are the "biggest elephant" in the herd, does the right of intervention change?

Were the now demonstrably false allegations of "WMDs" in Iraq sufficient to suggest that intervention was needed? Was Hussein's human rights record worth invading over? Personally, I don't think so. A decade or more of economic sanctions had pushed the Iraqi economy into a precarious place, and perhaps had isolated the country sufficiently that, like Castro's Cuba, it would be very unlikely to actually pose a significant threat to anybody.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Harper Is (ab)Using Our Troops

Via The Galloping Beaver, we find that Harper has (to no great shock) been using the Afghanistan mission largely for his own political ends.

“Our soldiers, men and women who go over there, know full well when they go over there that not all of them will return.”

While there is a truth value to what Harper has said, he's basically saying that he doesn't give a damn about our troops and what happens to them, as long as it helps fulfill his political ideals.

Meanwhile, we find General Hillier playing partisan politics. While Hillier is certainly entitled to his opinion, he seems to have lost sight of the fact that he is a public servant, not a politician. Instead of being an advocate for his troops, and ensuring that their needs and interests are looked after, we find Hillier playing at partisan sniping:

"Over the past one to two years, we have begun to fully realize the immense, the negative impact of the defence expenditure reductions in 1994 and the lasting, almost negative legacy that they brought into effect that has to be put right," General Rick Hillier told the annual meeting of the Conference of Defence Associations.

I'm sorry General, but I think you've just stepped out of bounds here. I don't object to your opinions, but you are not accountable to the people per se, and therefore should remain very circumspect with regards to your commentary with respect to the policy of governments present or past.

Harper's comments, along with Hillier's are demonstrative of a government that is hell-bent on politicizing just about every aspect of government activity - including institutions that exist to protect the people from the predations of our politicians - the courts and now the military.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Just Plain Loopy

There's garden variety insanity, like this, and then there's the seriously disconnected from reality type, like Fixed Earth.

I still can't quite decide if they are insane, irrational or just yanking people's chains. (It's a little like reading some of the insane screed on some of the more blatantly racist websites out there ... )

Tough Boy Harper

When I read brain dead crap like this, I keep getting visions of Harper and his bunch doing their best imitation of gangsta:

One who willfully promotes and participates in destructive and self-serving culture in an effort to project a particular image of 'toughness' or to make oneself intimidating. Willingness to blatantly and horrifically misuse English is a necessity, as is a low IQ and sub-par education (or at least the appearance thereof).

While Harper's busy getting all excited over his new "tough guy" image - being rooted on by Bush, he further bolsters his ego (which has inflated at a rate exceeding that of his gut), by trying to slag his opponents:

Mr. Dion "is not just soft on crime," Mr. Harper said. "For the first time in history we have a leader of the opposition who is soft on terrorism."

The Liberal Leader, Mr. Harper said, "is being led by extremist elements in his own caucus."

Wow - coming from a man whose knowledge and understanding of our own legal system is dicey at best, that a real slam, isn't it?

Let's talk about parties and extremists for a moment. First, we have Harper being run by the TheoCons ... and the TheoCons are willing to brag about it!

We have a Prime Minister who has admitted that he wants to stack the judiciary with judges who are political allies. (Note that a judge's job is to interpret the law, not to "interpret the law as Stephen Harper would like")

Lurking within his party organization, we have Jason Kenney, Rob Anders, Darrel Reid. This is a man who listens to the insane rantings of Gwendolyn Landolt, and he's accusing Dion of "extremism"?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

More Natural Law and Religious Freedom

Jeepers - I have to quit reading some of these clowns. Today's entry in the howling over how "religious freedom" is being curtailed, we find the National Post's Fr Raymond J. De Souza decrying all of the human rights cases in Canada where "religious freedoms" have been "curtailed":

There have been in the last five years a number of clear-cut religious liberty cases that have ended up in the various provincial human rights tribunals. The proximate issue has usually been homosexuality, and the human rights tribunals have been inclined to limit religious liberty in favour of an emphasis on putative equality claims instead. Eventually, these cases will emerge from the shadowy legal world of the human rights tribunals and be litigated as Charter cases in the courts themselves.

Oh dear, yet another case of Broken Talking Points. In fact, De Souza is so dishonest about it that he refuses to actually name a single case except for that of Bishop Fred Henry in Calgary, choosing instead to allow people to imagine what the cases might be.

He does admit that the cases tend to involve homosexuality, but then goes on to argue:

It will pose a significant challenge to Charter jurisprudence. The tendency of the courts to favour equality claims over fundamental freedoms would seem to indicate that religious liberty would not fare well. That would likely be the outcome if the rights of Christians were at issue; but the issue would be complicated if religious minorities -- Muslims or Sikhs for example -- were to make claims on both religious liberty and equality grounds.

Here he makes two accusations - both of which are astonishing in their dishonesty. First, he is asserting that the courts have given preferential treatment to Section 15 (equality) claims over Section 2 rights. He then claims that additionally, it is Christians in particular who are being denied "their rights".

Now, if the Charter were written in a fashion which suggested that the order in which rights and freedoms are enumerated, then De Souza might have a point, as he seems to be implying that the freedoms laid out in section 2 would have precedence over equality rights in section 15. Fortunately for most Canadians (especially women and minorities), this is not the case. The Charter does not provide precedence for any one right over another, but instead obliges both courts and lawmakers to ensure that a balance is found and maintained.

I'm actually quite disgusted with De Souza's line of reasoning. What is it about the "religious" that makes them believe that it is "their right" to act in a discriminatory fashion when they encounter someone that they believe is gay? How is it that they believe that they can run around and spout whatever they want as "religious belief" and have it protected?

Of course, the reality is that this is another installment in the right wing running about claiming that there is a crisis of religious freedom in the nation. A crisis which does not exist anywhere but in their fevered little minds.

You Keep Using This Term "Natural Law" ...

But I don't think it means what you think it means. The notion of Natural Law has rattled around human thought for centuries - and the conception of it changes over time as well.

We keep finding Pope Benedict (Ratz) citing "Natural Law" every time we turn around:

For this reason, the Holy Father went on, "there is an urgent need to reflect upon the question of natural law and to rediscover its truth" which "is common to all mankind. ... This law has as its first and most general principle that of 'doing good and avoiding evil'," from which "derive all the other more specific principles that regulate ethical judgements on the rights and duties of everyone."

These include: "the principle of respect for human life from conception to natural end," because "life is not the property of man but a gratuitous gift of God;" and "the duty to seek the truth, a necessary supposition for all authentic human maturation." Another of the principles is human freedom, which since it "is always shared with others, ... can only be found in that which is common to everyone: the truth of human beings, the fundamental message of existence itself, in other words the 'lex naturalis'."

There are flawed assertions in here all over the place - starting with the basic premise that because we exist, some fuzzy cloud being must have had something to do with it. (I have no problem that some believe this, but I must point out the complete irony in attempting to derive some sort of "universal law of ethics/morals" from such an assumption - personally, I have very little problem with the idea that I'm more or less the happy result of a lot of coincidences over a long time)

"What we have said so far has very concrete applications if referred to the family," explained the Pope, "in other words 'the intimate partnership of married life and love established by the Creator and qualified by His laws.'

Uh huh. This wouldn't bother me if every time some religious nutbar wants to make their howling irrational arguments against someone or something justifies it by citing "natural law". Natural Law, such as it is, derives from nature - and presumably from our study thereof to some degree or another. Much of the time, when we hear "natural law" cited, it is in direct contravention of observable evidence.

For example, the Pope often cites "natural law" when talking about gay rights, or abortion. Yet the evidence in nature is incontrovertible - both occur quite naturally, and have always done so as far as recorded history goes.

The more correct assertion is that religious law proscribes those things. No matter how much one protests that scripture is the "divinely inspired" word of some deity or a "prophet", the fact remains that the claims of origin are unprovable, and therefore, one must also rationally consider the prospect that such "law" is nothing more than a human construct.

I'm not arguing that there is no need for moral and ethical discussion of issues, far from it. But rather, I am arguing that the foundations of such arguments must be honestly stated. Claiming that something is "natural law" is a cop-out in my view - a way to claim a validity for an argument which cannot otherwise be defended.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More Hangin' Judges!

Remember the Conservatives trying to "stack the bench"?

Well, today, Stephen Harper has as much as admitted that he is doing just that.

This is no big surprise, coming from a politician that has broken every promise he has ever made about being honest and accountable. He continues to demonstrate that he is a partisan hack that rewards ideology over all else.

In other words, Harper doesn't give a damn about the qualifications of a judge, but rather is only interested in their political leanings.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Difference

While our Federal CPoC government whines about how "impossible" it is to meet targets on climate change, and Alberta's Ed Stelmach complains about not getting enough of Federal funding for climate change, B.C.'s government is pushing hard beyond the kind of targets set in Kyoto.

While Ed Stelmach wanders about Alberta giving speeches about how he won't allow "Eastern Liberal Politicians" to tell us how to manage the oilsands development (linkage to follow when I can find it - there was a bit on CBC as I drove home tonight and its not on the websites yet), we find B.C.'s Liberal government saying that it is going to be quite aggressive on emissions.

To me, this illustrates the difference between the Alberta-style Conservative and the rest of Canada in regards to climate issues. The Alberta Conservative runs around wringing their hands and worrying about how "bad" it would be for Alberta's economy to put any constraints on the oil patch. Others see opportunity for all sorts of new economic activity that can be fostered. There is a necessity to force change to start - business is amazingly resistant to changing direction, and will always complain about how bad it is to divert profits.

The funny bit about it is that while Alberta has the cash flow (and even with oil prices somewhat lower than the lofty $70/barrel heights of a year or so back), it is the best possible time to foster the development of new technologies to begin the process of reducing our impact upon the globe. Will it be cheap? No - at least not initially. But, personally, I'd much rather have the technology developed here and sold into the Alberta oilpatch (and elsewhere in the world) rather than the other way around.

The difference is maturity - the ability to look beyond the here and now, and see a bigger vision of Canada as both an energy producer, and a provider of the technologies that the rest of the world will need to bring their own impact on the globe under control as well.

Of Images and Spin

The spin machine in CPoC headquarters must be turning over faster than the engine of a Formula 1 race car these days.

In a desperate attempt to appear "green", the CPoC has been resurrecting programs they cancelled a few short months ago, and suddenly are promising to spend money (especially in Quebec...) on "environment" programs.

Meanwhile, the squirming mass of TheoCons that Harper's been trying to keep hushed up are flexing their muscles within the party:

Conservative Party of Canada Rejects Nomination Bid of Well Known BC Social Conservative...leads off with:

Harper challenged to stop allowing "outrageous muzzling" of right of social Conservative to participate in process

A couple of days later, we find SoCon Stilwell Now Allowed to Run for Conservative Nomination, Thanks

...just in case you thought that the sudden greening of Harper was something other than the zombie-like rot that a slab of meat takes on after a few days.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Misconstruing Reality: Followup

I don't always get the opportunity to follow up on a story, but a comment posted here resulted in a bit of an e-mail exchange with Jeremiah, the young man who hosted the oh-so-controversial seminar on transgender life at a Maine high school.

He has kept a very close watch on the commentary and reactions from the various wingnut groups that have been screaming about his seminar.

From the Maine Christian Civic League:

Article #1
Article #2
Article #3
Article #4
Article #5

From An Outfit Called "MassResistance": This

From columnist Lee Duigon at "": more spewage

I can only say that the closed minded hostility of these people violates everything I have ever understood Christianity to be about.

Mercifully, the following supportive letter was published in the Kennebec Journal. It seems to me that young Ms. Thurston is far more in touch with reality than the screaming wingnuts...and more rightly can call herself Christian.

Conservative Justice - Stacking The Bench

In perfect lock-step, the Conservative government in Ottawa has shown us once again just how much they will do to placate their "base" of support. Most of the most objectionable actions they have taken have been extra-legislative - where they only really have to face the firestorm after doing the damage. Today, we find out that party connections have been the criteria for someone to sit on the advisory committees that review judicial candidate's qualifications.

Per se, this doesn't exactly come as a huge shock to me. The CPoC has demonstrated repeatedly that they are even more rigidly partisan and exclusionary than any previous governing party that I can remember.

Bye Bye, Bourque

It's been fairly well known for some time that the news aggregator site Bourque sells headline wording rights to his advertisers.

Recently, he's been "taken over" by the CPoC to the point that his headlines have become more or less a farce. I haven't used Bourque much for a long time mostly because I find his site cumbersome and annoying to navigate (not to mention riddled with dead links ... oh wait - that's annoying!).

According to some, Bourque's "headline twisting service" is a legitimate promotional tool, and perhaps from a marketing standpoint it is. However, it crosses the line for me when I see entire party agendas being played out on screen in a manner that only Ted Byfield could love:

Let's take a look through and map today's snapshot against CPoC agenda and "classical positions":

Headline: CMHC Going to Pot

Agenda: As usual, this would fall under the neo-Rethuglican "smaller government" heading. Anything that would give the government an excuse to meddle in an agency that is otherwise working. (and without which, a lot fewer Canadians would be able to own their own homes - especially in areas like Toronto, Vancouver and now Calgary)

Headline: Flaherty Tax Cuts Coming

Agenda: More from the smaller government file. In this case, because the Conservatives have such a woody for having our troops strut their stuff in a war zone, they will pay for the army first, and starve everything else. (Remember a certain billion or so in "spending cuts" that just mysteriously came out of programs that benefit women and minorities?)

Headline: Tories Shake Up Justice Department

Agenda: Get tough on crime. Sounds good, doesn't it? Sadly, the CPoC's notion of "getting tough" tends to mean breaking fundamental tenets of our legal system to start with (such as the presumption of innocence) - not something I particularly think makes for good law.

Headline: Why Top Libs Are Hitting The French Books

Agenda: Slime the opposition at every turn - implying that the Liberals aren't literate in French while the CPoC is (personally I find Harper's french accent godawful to listen to). This is one of the Rob Anders school of stupidity tactics. Imported from the United States, this is a semi-classic marketing play that is really quite annoying - like the "attack ads" just recently released, it's a blatant smear attempt and really not even worth the public's time.

Headline: McGuinty Goes Green

Agenda: Try to discredit anyone who is "fool enough" to believe those uppity climate scientists who have spent their careers studying this stuff, and declare that humans have something to do with the changes we've been witnessing (and measuring) since the mid-20th century)

Headline: Ont. Libs To Run More Females

Agenda: More Anders-style taunting. This particular headline is button pushing at its finest. First, it implies that the Liberal party is gender biased (and the CPoC isn't?), second it is subtly demeaning to women as well.


Agenda: More "look how great our army is" from the party who thinks that foreign policy involves a six shooter and a swagger out of a bad Clint Eastwood western.

However, if that's how Bourque wants to run his site - that's his business. As far as I'm concerned, he's just relegated himself to the dumpster of Canadian news gathering - the same place that ultimately "The Alberta Report" (and later "Report") magazine landed up.

The nature and tone of the headlines demonstrates to me once again why the CPoC really is an immature bunch of clods. (and probably explains why Harper keeps protecting Anders)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Roast Wingnut

I ranted about the wingnut-o-sphere's insane reaction to this story earlier in February. However, in my blog travels this morning, I found something that's even more insane than the usual sources of stupidity I cited in my first post.

According to Kelly Boggs, treatment should be denied to transsexuals because he doesn't think it's a good use of taxpayer dollars:

They need counseling. However, they don’t need a surgeon, especially one provided at taxpayers’ expense. ... Frankly, I think sex reassignment surgery for otherwise healthy individuals should be banned.

Until I read this little bit of insanity, the column was the usual religious wingnut rantings - based in the usual assortment of stupidity. However, at the point I read this, my jaw hit the floor. Not only does this nutbar think that people should be denied treatment, but worse, he thinks it's his damned business what treatment should be available. (No doubt, he'd be quite happy to see a return to widespread use of Electroshock Therapy and lobotomy treatments for what he considers "illnesses")

Yes, Mr. Boggs, perhaps next time you go to the doctor for treatment, you should drag along a couple of your neighbors to see if they agree that your treatment is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

Religious Belief and Civil Service

The case of Orville Nichols is being portrayed as a matter of a conflict between duties and morality. Basically, Mr. Nichols' refusal to marry a gay couple in 2005 has been portrayed as a "I have no problem with xxxx but I won't participate" situation.

Now, in a situation like the solemnization of a marriage one might argue that the couple should simply go find another marriage commissioner that is willing to marry them and get over it. To a certain extent, I might well agree. However, let's be a little cautious in our assessment of how reasonable such a situation might be.

Let's consider, for example, a more serious situation. You find yourself in need of medical treatment (e.g. a blood transfusion) for some reason or another. The doctor looks at you and says "you need a transfusion, but because I am a Jehovah's Witness, my religion forbids me from treating you". Or, the doctor finds out that you are "living in sin" with your partner, and refuses to treat you because their particular sect believes that sex outside of marriage is a mortal sin. In such a situation, if we accept the reasoning of Mr. Nichols, the doctor is perfectly within their rights to make such a claim and leave the scene for someone else to deal with. (Heaven help you if they are the only doctor on shift!)

In a slightly less drastic scenario, let's consider other forms of civil service. For example, making an application at city hall for a business license. Let's assume that a gay couple goes into city hall to apply for a license to operate a coffee shop in the part of town known by many to be "the gay ghetto". Does the clerk processing the application, who happens to be a devout Baptist that believes homosexuality is a mortal sin, have the right to refuse to process their application - which is otherwise perfectly legal?

Or similarly, would emergency services personnel have the right to refuse aid to someone at the scene of an accident or crime on the basis of their individual beliefs? (As happened in the case of Tyra Hunter some years ago)

Nobody is asking Mr. Nichols to "park his beliefs at the door". Far from it in fact. Mr. Nichols is acting as an agent of the government, and as such is bound in that capacity by the rules that bind the government. Yes, as a civil servant, he is obliged to recognize the distinction between the legal obligations of government and his own personal morals and ethics. If Mr. Nichols wishes to have the right to decide which couples he is going to marry on the basis of his personal religious beliefs, then he should become an ordained minister of that faith, and exercise that right within that context. Otherwise, it's a matter of personal faith, and he needs to create his own internal balance between his faith and the obligations of his job as an agent of the government.

As far as I am concerned, Mr. Nichols has acted in more or less the same fashion as Scott Brockie did - and the implications of giving civil servants the right to refuse service to someone based on the servant's personal beliefs is very troubling indeed.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Harper - Slightly More Subtle Than Bush

After China provides a not so subtle warning, we find PMSH opening his yap and trying to return fire.

Says PMSH: (emphasis mine)

"There are those in the opposition who will say, 'You know, China is an important country, so we shouldn't really protest these things … so maybe someday we'll be able to sell more goods there,'" said Harper, who was in Halifax to speak the annual general meeting of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative party.

"I think that's irresponsible. I think the government of Canada, when a Canadian citizen is ill-treated and when the rights of a Canadian citizen need to be defended, I think it's always the obligation of the government of Canada to vocally and publicly stand up for that Canadian citizen.

Now, let's not forget that Mr. Celil is the man whom the Conservatives dropped the ball on last spring, and it wasn't until August that anything so much as moved. They chose to ignore Mr. Celil's case until the heat got high enough that people started to know about it - like the environment portfolio, they wanted to ignore it until the heat got too high for them.

Harper accuses other parties of playing politics, and yet he plays politics with policy and people's lives. Worse, he takes his marching orders from the lip flapping style of George W. Bush. The only good news is that unlike Bush, Harper hasn't exactly got a large army to throw his weight around with.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Turner on Caucus Style Differences

Garth Turner tells us about his first caucus meeting as a member of the Liberal caucus on the hill.

I was immediately invited to sit in on caucus committees debating tax, economic and trade policies. I was swept into a conversation on social policy alternatives. A wise and experienced guy took me aside to discuss the raging, noisy debate on the oil sands and the environment.

What a contrast there was between this room of engaged people, and the dour group meeting at the same time, in the same building, fifty feet away across a corridor. For the better part of a year I came to know caucus every Wednesday morning as a time when Conservative MPs gathered to listen to PMSH give an opening speech and a closing speech, with ministerial statements, threats from the whip and orders from the house leader in between.

Interesting - although I've suspected that Harper was mostly a micromanager for a long time, some of Turner's observations expand the picture considerably - showing us how desperate the CPoC is to hang onto power.

No debate then. No discussion. The contrast with today could not have been more stark. Inside the national Liberal caucus I was struck at how collegial it was, a tone set by Stephane Dion. I was heartened by the ideas I heard flying around and the obvious willingness of people writing legislative changes and policies for the next election, to embrace mine. This bodes well, I thought. This is what caucus should be. This is where concepts and visions gain political life. This is what voters and constituents would expect me to be doing with other MPs. Finally.

I had thought that Dion would bring a much more positive approach to things than PMSH ever could. I've never seen Harper do anything other than appear either a) distant and aloof (he's really not listening to you) or b) Angry. Not exactly the kind of person that invites discussion.

I recognize that Garth has his own axe to grind here - the ultra conformist ranks of the CPoC gave him a pretty rough ride last year, and commenters on his blog are often equally harsh towards him. However, what he is describing here is consistent with what I have been able to guess about Dion from a handful of media exposure moments, and a little bit of experience with watching the Liberal shadow cabinet as it starts to make itself heard.

Dion always struck me as a very classical man - one who views decision making as a matter of discourse (at least up to the point of coming to a decision). In any form of democracy, discussion is vital at all levels.

MPs who do not listen to their constituents (e.g. Jason Kenney) are not representing anyone except themselves. If the leadership invites discussion, then that will be reflected in the behaviour of the lower level MPs as well when they are dealing with their constituents.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

That Would One Serving of Compassionate Conservatism

I cannot believe this ruling.

I don't know what the rules are around refugee claims for someone who is claiming persecution based on sexual orientation, but the following argument from the Immigration Review Board member that heard the case is just amazingly stupid:

But Deborah Lamont, the IRB member who heard his case via video-conference from Calgary, didn't believe Mr. Orozco was gay because he wasn't sexually active during his teen years, and wasn't clear about his sexual orientation when he fled Nicaragua at the age of 12.

Waitasec, I wasn't exactly "sexually active" in my teen years either. That didn't render me a eunuch!

My god, what kind idiotic stereotypes does Ms. Lamont have stuck in her head? That homosexuals behave one way, and the rest of the world behaves completely differently? Somehow, the fact that the child had doubts about his sexuality at the age of 12 (who doesn't have questions at that age?!)

Just in case someone thinks that the young man involved would "just go back to a normal life" in Nicaragua:

In Nicaragua, a 1992 amendment to the penal code criminalized same-sex relationships, and the law is vague enough that individuals campaigning for gay rights or providing sexual health information could also be prosecuted, according to a 2006 Amnesty International report.

Now, if Ms. Lamont had consulted a few mental health professionals that specialize in sexuality, she might have learned a thing or two about human behaviour. As it stands right now, I'd say she needs a new humanity filter installed - hers is clearly clogged with misconceptions and stereotypes.

Creepwatch Update

I periodically follow up on stories I've followed in the past. This morning I was following up on this little gem, and discovered that some things have apparently moved.

At the time complaints had been filed about materials contained on Freedom Radio and a couple of other websites.

It would appear that either Canada's Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of the complaint, or was likely to, because there is a "letter of apology" lurking on the website. (Since I can't find a specific case on the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal website, it's also conceivable that the owner of the website has taken remedial action voluntarily. (Which, given the individual, suggests that legal counsel probably made it abundantly clear that they didn't have a leg to stand on - but that's pure speculation...)

I also noticed that a number of the more obnoxious shows have been expunged from the website:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Garth Turner - Liberal(?)

Okay, by now, it's no secret that Garth Turner is now sitting as a Liberal. Big deal is my first comment. You had to know that he was going to land in some party sooner or later - independent candidates don't usually do all that well in election campaigns.

However, the CPoC supporters are now accusing Garth of being a hypocrite for "crossing the floor". Here's Garth's response.

Perfectly reasonable, IMO - Garth didn't leave a party to join another party - he was ousted by the CPoC, and then sat for a time as an independent MP. This isn't a matter of floor crossing - not in the sense that Stronach, Emerson and Kahn have done it.

If one wishes to whine about "principles", I suggest that we start by questioning the principles of a Prime Minister who appoints an unelected party hack to the Senate _and_ a Cabinet post; an MP who crossed the floor to sit in cabinet before the ballots were fully counted to a senior ministry portfolio; has lied to Canadians, and made government even more secretive and unaccountable than it was under Brian Mulroney.

Now, I'm not calling on Harper to force byelections for the floor crossers that he has managed to attract - frankly, I don't much care. However, if people want to slag Turner, they should look closely at Mr. Harper's own behaviour, especially with regards to the abstract notion of "principles".

Misconstruing Reality

Once again, the geniuses over at Lifesite are picking up on stories without actually checking facts. This time, it's by way of a link to this story about a diversity day seminar at a high school. It seems that one of the workshops presented was about transgender life by a senior/graduate student.

Following a bit of linkage from within the article, I found this thread on the Christian Civic League of Maine website. The gross abuse of reality in this thread is quite astounding.

I was truly disgusted at the Cony High School events that included glorifying transgenderism. What is worse, they use a teenager, barely able to make her own moral decisions, to prove their case?? It is illogical, irresponsible and immoral what happened there on Monday.

If you read the article Lifesite has linked to, you would think that this had something to do with teaching students "how to be transgender" (how one teaches such a thing is a bit of a mystery to me). Of course, reality is a whole other picture, as we find out in a local news story:

Nazarkewycz's compelling story about life as a transgendered person was one of several at the day-long annual event meant to instill Cony students with acceptance and tolerance of people who may be different in one or more ways. It also was a chance for students to learn about other cultures, religions and ways of life.

Oh...reality strikes again. There was a lot more going on than just that one workshop:

Several local religious leaders answered questions about their beliefs in a forum featuring representatives from faiths including: Catholic, Buddhist, Seventh-day Adventist, Mormon, Islam, Methodist, Jewish, Spiritualist, and Apostolic.

Each participant, lined up next to each other on the auditorium stage as students looked on, was asked whether their religion believed in a higher being, where their religion originated, and whether their religion believed in judgment.
Other presentations included Paul and Bob Vachon talking about growing up French in Augusta, Pakistani dance with student Hanna Sher, a presentation on sign language led by three students, and presenters on holistic living, Latin dance, living with autism, sexual harassment, the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and American Field Service with local AFS representative Larry Ralph and students from foreign countries.

Uh huh...suddenly the wingnut crowd starts to look a little silly don't they? So much for their bogeyman of "indoctrination".

The Dishonesty of "Ex-Gay" Therapy

I've ranted about the notion of so-called Reparative Therapy techniques as applied to GLBT people by various religious and pseudo-religious organizations.

Just before Christmas last year, Ted Haggard was forced to step down from his position as pastor for an evangelical congregation after it became newsworthy that he had carried on multi-year affair with Mike Jones.

At the time, the usual list of suspects rallied around Haggard and said they would work to "help him through" his "struggle with homosexuality".

Today, we see Mr. Haggard claiming that he is entirely straight now.

Were his dalliances with Mike Jones a one time thing, I'd almost be inclined to believe Haggard had done little more than "an exploration". I'm sorry to say that a three plus year long affair doesn't exactly sound like a "one time dalliance" to me - it sounds rather like a persistent pattern.

The Rev. Ted Haggard emerged from three weeks of intensive counseling convinced he is "completely heterosexual" and told an oversight board that his sexual contact with men was limited to his accuser.

Now, I'm not saying that there aren't people who benefit from "reparative therapy", or the kind of "intensive" program Haggard has been subjected to, but I suspect that there is more to this picture than meets the eye.

First, I can't imagine how a three week long course of therapy (or even 3 month) is going to significantly change a pattern that has been ongoing for many years. I'm more than a little suspicious of the claim that Haggard's "only" dalliances were with Jones - I would have to guess that he has been "checking out" the guys for a long time, whether he wanted to admit that he found them attractive or not.

Second, if I look at Haggard's past behaviour, his actions are clearly someone who is bisexual - even if his attraction to men is "secondary" (or relatively weak). While he may be able to live primarily a heterosexual life, that does not change the reality. Were he but a teenager, I'd be inclined to guess that it was the fleeting experimentation of youth. Haggard is no teenager, which leads me to suspect that the pattern of behaviour is in fact well-entrenched. Okay, so he only got caught once. If I use the "shoplifter rule", he's probably been at it for quite a while.

I would be much more comfortable if the claim that he felt he "could life in an exclusively heterosexual" relationship. Just because he is attracted to men doesn't make him a homosexual - in fact, the reality that he is also (apparently) happily married to a woman suggests clearly that he is bisexual. (Big deal!).

Instead, the dishonest twits that cook this crap up claim that he is "cured" and has somehow mystically shed his attraction to men.

Sauce For The Goose

In the howling outrage among Social and Theological Conservatives over Same Gender Marriage, the claim is made repeatedly that marriage is all about having children.

Okay, fair enough. In the United States, where the notion of a "ballot measure" can become a lynch pin in initiated legislative or even constitutional change, Gay Marriage activitists have begun the process of putting their own amendment on the books. In this case, have a child within 3 years, or have your marriage declared null and void.

Given the howling over how a gay marriage can't possibly produce children, will the fundies put up and shut up on this one?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Not Walking The Talk

Once again, we find the true colours of the Conservatives coming out in the House of Commons. Most CPoC MPs voted against a motion that the government adopt and respect the objectives of Kyoto.

Apparently, in the glare of a very comprehensive survey of climate science, the Conservatives prefer to get their advice on environmental issues from the Fraser Institute.

Remember, the Conservatives keep telling us how they are are "getting things done" for us...

Quelle Surprise! Procurement By Political Fiat

Via The Galloping Beaver, we learn some more of the details of the government's purchase of "heavy lift" capability for the military.

Last August they signalled that any open, accountable procurement process was going out the window, and sure enough, that's what they've done.

I don't have a problem with reinvesting in our military. However, I want us to define what the purpose of our military is, and to equip it appropriately. I've often heard the snarky "built by the lowest bidder" comment used in reference to military gear, but the fact is that the military is able to specify what its equipment must be able to do. The public tender process exists not only to allow vendors other than the current minister's friends in the door, but also to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used in a prudent, reasonable fashion.

Somehow, the multiple billions on the C-17's doesn't sound so appealing when we could have leased the capability for 20 years at a considerable fraction of the cost. (Especially for the frequency that we seem to wind up needing heavy lift capabilities ... unless of course our Gnu Government has more aggressive plans for Canada's forces that they are keeping quiet about)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Attacking Dion on Kyoto

I had a conversation this morning that wandered down the path of Dion's advocacy for Kyoto, and in particular why Dion has not better articulated his reasons for arguing that we should pursue our Kyoto commitments.

My thoughts on this are as follows:

1) Dion needs to articulate his reasons more clearly, this is true enough. However, the other side of it is that he may well tip his hand too if he does articulate all of his reasoning "too clearly.

2) One thing is painfully obvious - without targets of some sort, there is little or no likelihood that our industries will even consider adjusting their activities. For good or bad, Kyoto at least has some sense of goals and targets, and it has consequences for a lack of activity.

3) I suspect that Dion's "carrot-and-stick" approach will be construed by Alberta conservatives as a resurrection of the NEP. Of course, it isn't - anybody with their eyes open will have long ago realized that without some kind of consequences, the oil patch in Alberta is unlikely to even try to change their behaviour, especially in the Oil Sands region.

4) As I argued here, in order to deal with climate change adequately, we are going to have to retool our economy on a scale not unlike what we had to do during WW II, when our efforts were entirely focused on producing materials to support the war effort itself. The severity of the analysis in the recent UN climate report makes it quite clear that this is not going to be either easy or trivial to do.

Fiction Versus Reality

This story came to my attention a few days ago, and I've been a little too busy to complete the research that has been necessary to frame what I wanted to say.

It started when one of my travels through the swamps of the wingnut-o-sphere turned up this article talking about how a young transsexual is receiving treatment in Germany. Naturally, the even more wingnutty crowd over at "Americans For Truth" had to pop up echoing statements made by the ironically male spokescreep for "Concerned Women for America" here - both of which are suddenly instant experts in the topic of gender identity. (Normally both of these groups claim to be experts on homosexuality, but recently they have begun turning their vitriolic attacks towards transgender/transsexual people as well)

The Lifesite article contains all sorts of the usual hostility towards the young person and the practitioners involved. It starts with placing the word diagnosis in quotes in the headline and more or less heads downhill from there. They pull up a US psychiatrist, Dr. Paul McHugh to heap scorn on the diagnosis of the German therapists involved in the case. (From what I can tell, McHugh is one of several psychiatrists whose work is often cited by groups like NARTH, whose sole objective is to invalidate the life experiences of anyone who doesn't fit into a pretty narrow view of "normal")

A little more digging turns up a much longer, but more reasonable analysis on Speigel's website. The Spiegel article tells us quite a bit about Kim, and she sounds like a pretty typical 14 year old girl to me (even if the chromosomes would say otherwise). Whether intentional or not, the article quite nicely "normalizes" the whole business:

His parents found stories on the Internet about men and women who felt so unhappy in their own bodies as children that they came out as transsexuals and underwent sex-change operations as adults. They weren't all freaks -- there were engineers and lawyers, artists, programmers and teachers -- and it wasn't easy.
The P. family wanted a less complicated future for their Tim, but they've also found reasons for optimism. They've learned that transsexuality has nothing to do with homosexuality. It's not about feather boas and red-light districts so much as identity. Transsexuals aren't "queer birds" -- they want the perfectly normal life of the opposite sex.

Ah, now we start to get a sense that this isn't just "something out of the blue", or even necessarily all that surprising. (Baffling to someone who has not encountered the condition perhaps, but not necessarily surprising in the greater picture of human diversity)

There's a couple of things about the Lifesite (and other wingnut faction) articles that really bothers me. First, is the insinuation that the diagnosis is somehow questionable on the basis of the age of the patient. It also seems to try implying that the diagnosis is somehow an ad-hoc thing.

A dig through my copy of the DSM-IV (TR), turns up a quite a lengthy discussion of the clinical aspects of transsexualism. Lurking in the diagnostic criteria, I find the following bits:

Diagnostic Criteria for Gender Identity Disorder

A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex).

In children, the disturbance is manifested by four (or more) of the following:

(1) repeatedly stated desire to be, or insistence that he or she is, the other sex
(2) In boys, preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; in girls insistence on wearing only stereotypical masculine clothing
(3) strong and persistent preferences for cross-sex roles in make-believe play or persistent fantasies of being the other sex.
(4) intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex.
(5) strong perference for playmates of the other sex

B. Persistent discomfort with is or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.

In children, the disturbance is manifested by any of the following: in boys, assertion that his penis or testes are disgusting or will disappear orassertion that it would be better not to have a penis, or aversion toward rough-and-tumble play and rejection of male stereotypical toys, games, and activities; ...

C. The disturbance is not concurrent with a physical intersex condition.

D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

[DSM IV-TR, P 581]

I've only included the criteria for children, as that is a significant component of what is described in the Spiegel article:

At the age of two, Tim tried on his older sister's clothes, played with Barbies and said, "I'm a girl." Her parents thought it was a phase, but at the age of four Tim was still bawling after every haircut. At last he ran into his room with a pair of scissors and hollered that he wanted to "cut off my thing!" -- and it was clear to his parents that the problem was serious. From then on, at home, Tim went by "Kim."

After studying the DSM, I found myself curious about the guidelines for treatment that might be in play - especially in a tricky situation such as one involving a youth. A bit of searching with Google eventually led me to The World Professional Association For Transgender Health (Formerly the "Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association"), which has what is probably the definitive set of professional guidelines regarding the treatment of transsexuals.

Sure enough, there is a rather lengthy chapter talking about the guidelines around treating the condition in youth. Unsurprisingly, they are also not "absolute" rules, but carefully nuanced in their writing so that a professional will be able to adapt them appropriately to a situation.

For example, when psychological intervention is sought:

Psychological and Social Interventions. The task of the child-specialist mental health professional is to provide assessment and treatment that broadly conforms to the following guidelines:

1. The professional should recognize and accept the gender identity problem. Acceptance and removal of secrecy can bring considerable relief.
2. The assessment should explore the nature and characteristics of the child’s or adolescent’s gender identity. A complete psychodiagnostic and psychiatric assessment should be performed. A complete assessment should include a family evaluation, because other emotional and behavioral problems are very common, and unresolved issues in the child’s environment are often present.
3. Therapy should focus on ameliorating any comorbid problems in the child’s life, and on reducing distress the child experiences from his or her gender identity problem and other difficulties. The child and family should be supported in making difficult decisions regarding the extent to which to allow the child to assume a gender role consistent with his or her gender identity. ...

If you've read this in any detail, it should be quite clear that these guidelines were not drawn up "ad-hoc", but rather are carefully constructed to oblige the professionals involved to be very careful and thorough in their assessment of the situation they are presented with. (I grant, it's rather like reading legalese or other domain specific languages, and most readers will no doubt scan it)

The Wingnuts make it sound like the parents have almost committed child abuse by helping their daughter realize herself. If you read the Spiegel article, and the HBIGDA Standards of Care against each other, it becomes quite clear that although they have certainly chosen the more difficult path as a family, it is certainly not a form of abuse nor does it appear that coercion is involved.

The right-wingnuts have started using the term "gender confusion" lately. It has been derived from the notion of "gender dysphoria" (where dysphoria often referred to a complex set of emotions expressed by transsexual patients as a result of the conflict they felt between their identity and their physical selves). It may seem ironic, but it seems to me that the least confused person is the young lady in question. Lifesite's authors, Peter LaBarbera and "Concerned Women for America" are the people who are really confused.

I received a link to this story - I wonder if it will make it onto the radar scope of Mr. LaBarbera or not?

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...