Tuesday, July 31, 2007

City Council Elections 2007

Calgary, along with other Alberta municipalities has council elections this fall.

While I'm far from a fan of this past city council, there are things shaping up on the electoral front that are a whole lot worrisome.

A few years ago, Ric McIver was elected as Alderman. I don't like McIver - I didn't like him when he ran against Sue Higgins in 1998, and his performance on council has not improved my opinion of him. He's a pugilistic sort who tries to cast himself as "David fighting Goliath" every time there is a disagreement between him and the rest of council.

He's one of Chandler's creatures as well, which doesn't exactly fill me with enthusiasm.

More recently, I learned that another of Chandler's friends, Steve Chapman is running for Alderman in Ward 8. As usual, we find Chapman getting all sorts of backing from Paul Jackson, and making such wonderfully absolutist statements as this:

One would figure fighting crime would have been the ward's alderman's top priority.

Obviously, what we need is a tough law-and-order representative on council from that ward.

"I spent three years on police patrol in the inner city, so I know what the problems are, and I know how to solve them," says Chapman, now a very successful entrepreneur.

Steve, I'll bet you do.

Typical of Alberta's extreme right wing - not only do they think they know all the answers (like teenagers seem to), they are also amazingly arrogant about it. Lovely, just the kind of partisan crap that we don't need on city council.

Third on the list, we come to Richard Evans throwing his hat in the ring. Although Evans is not one of Chandler's creatures (yet), I see Chandler is offering "support" to him. Evans is probably better known in the blogosphere than in the general population. He's generally obnoxious when he does pop up, and his own blog pretty much sets the tone with broad sweeping generalizations like Leftists Hate Talk Radio, or referring to bloggers he disagrees with as "The Looney Bin".

Meanwhile, he links to a variety of neo-American, hard-right wing blogs/sites. I'll let you figure out what that means. (Hint: he calls his blog domain "no-libs.com")

Calgary's civic elections this year deserve a much higher degree of scrutiny than normal. Not only do we have some hardline ideological candidates coming forward, and if McIver is any indication, these people will result in a city council divided along ideological lines, and unable to function without every issue turning into a battle over ideology.

Speculating On O'Connor's Future...

I think O'Connor has a very limited "shelf life" as Canada's Minister of Defense.

There's been rumours for a long time that Hillier and O'Connor disagree with each other quite a bit.

Now, Harper has been very quick to protect his cabinet ministers, no matter how inept. However, he's not going to shelter someone whose actions have a political cost. When the warning of that comes from one of his "old mentors" in the Calgary School, it no doubt carries a little more weight:

“Afghanistan has got to be very high on the list of problems he [Mr. Harper] has to fix,” said David Bercuson, director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, as the Tories prepare for a caucus in Charlottetown this week to plot their fall political agenda.

Mr. Bercuson and other military and political experts said that there are too many voices speaking out on the Afghan military mission.

This is actually a very revealing tidbit. First, it tells us a little more about Harper's slightly irrational seeming micromanagement of his government's public face. His "mentors" at the University of Calgary no doubt spent a great deal of time and effort drilling home the idea that message is everything. (What Harper misses, in his relative inexperience as a leader, is that a good leader not only delegates, but unites his team)

The second piece of interest is the behind the scenes relationship between Harper and Gen. Hillier. Hillier has been given an amazingly free voice in the public arena - and it's obviously politicized. If Hillier is clashing with O'Connor, the only way that he would be getting that kind of freedom is if Harper was authorizing it. (Remember, everything goes through the PMO these days) In fact, Hillier's public profile is at odds with other senior bureaucrats in high profile departments who have been silenced quite harshly.

As a combination, Hillier's public profile, and the very public clashes with O'Connor spells a very short shelf life for Gordon O'Connor as Canada's Minister of Defense.

While disposing of O'Connor would be an improvement, it's not enough to salvage the Harper's government. (Especially if Harper doesn't wake up and start delegating to his team)

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The World _OWES_ The US?!?

Well, according to newly minted UK PM Gordon Brown, we do. Apparently, it's for all the grand things the US has done in it's "war on terror"

"And we should acknowledge the debt the world owes to the United States for its leadership in this fight against international terrorism," he added.

Let us consider this "leadership" for a moment, shall we? After deciding that a heavy armor invasion of Afghanistan was going to help find Osama Bin Laden. Instead of finishing the job in Afghanistan, not only did Bin Laden become Bin Forgotten, the US redirected its ire at Iraq, leaving the mess in Afghanistan to the rest of the world to mop up.

Then, the case for invading Iraq is made based on "evidence" that would only have made writers like L. Ron Hubbard happy. So far not a single allegation that was used to justify invading Iraq has been substantiated. (Beyond "Saddam Hussein's a nasty man", that is) In the meantime, thousands have died in Iraq - both military and civilian casualties; the chaos of a country that has been invaded by a foreign power has only served to provide more opportunities for the terrorists to gain traction.

About the only thing the US government has succeeded in doing in the "War on Terror" is creating an atmosphere of paranoia. When taking a lighter on an aircraft is considered a lesser threat than a bottle of shampoo, you have to know that things are way out of whack.

When people find themselves denied freedom of mobility and transit because their name (or one like it) appears on a "list" in some hidden government bureaucracy, it seems to me that the paranoia has taken firm root and has become a tool of control rather than having anything to do with "security".

We owe the US government something for this? How about a liberally applied does of common sense?

As for Prime Minister Brown, why doesn't he just get on his knees right off the bat and get it over with?

Friday, July 27, 2007


Via Calgary Grit, we learn just how "new" the 'Canada's New Government' meme really is...

And we thought it was just getting old because Harper's been using it for nearly 2 years...

Fifteen Years Later...

And we're still hearing the fallout from Mulroney's shenanigans during the Airbus Affair.

Goodness knows who's really telling any truth here at this point. It seems to me that the old saw about "no honor among thieves" should be applied. Mulroney has fought tooth and nail anything that might have opened the books on the Airbus mess since he left office, which has long left the smell of rot in the air.

Schreiber fairs little better in this, as he made those payments (bribes perhaps?) to Mulroney. It isn't hard for this to seem like it is two thieves squabbling over the proceeds of a heist.

Frankly, if Harper wanted to do something that would actually be "open, honest and accountable" - he'd hold that long demanded public inquiry into the Airbus affair and get the whole thing on the table. Of course, he won't do that because Mulroney is one of Harper's key advisors.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Putting Some Humanity Into The Picture

When I was doing some research for yesterday's tirade, I found a blog that was just a little off the beaten path, but the postings are intelligent, articulate and show transgender/transsexual people as real human beings, not the archetypes that Lifesite and other "christianist" publications like to demonize.

Especially after reading posts like Finding The Balance, or Trans Scholars, it's hard to walk away from the reality that these are written by people who are very emphatically human, and not the maniacally depraved people so often portrayed as stereotypical by the religious propaganda machine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Distorting Reality...

There are times where the way that the christianist right wing distorts and abuses languages is truly offensive. (Especially to those of us who have taken the time and energy required to understand the language correct)

Today's 'offender du jour' comes to us in the form of Lifesite News with some of the most amazingly dense screed I've ever encountered.

Apparently, they are all upset because the Spanish government is going to introduce some education curriculum into the schools that is supposed to be what they (Lifesite) call "gay-friendly":

The new Education to Citizenship subject, set by the Ministry of Education, will include training in acceptance of the new realities of "gay marriage.

The curriculum will teach children to accept "diverse family situations" and include training in "overcoming homophobic prejudice," and rejection of "discrimination" with regard to gender.

Okay, so far this sounds pretty good to me - actually teaching people that discrimination and bigotry against people is a bad thing sounds like a great start.

However, Lifesite's writer descends into the swamp of proving to us precisely how illiterate they really are:

In the parlance of the international pan-sexual movement, that encompasses radical feminism and homosexual identity politics, "gender" is an almost infinitely malleable social construct, having little to do with biology or reproduction. Groups at United Nations conferences have proposed such recognition for up to eleven "genders" including male homosexual, lesbian, bi-sexual, male-to-female "transgendered," asexual, hermaphrodite, and transvestite.

Let's start off with the amazing abuse of language here.

Pan-Sexual: Pan-sexuality is a variation on the term Bisexual, and merely refers to individuals who have a particularly fluid sense of sexual identity. It has exactly nothing per se to do with "radical feminism", "homosexual identity politics", or "gender identity".

Radical Feminism: I don't even know where this one gets into the mix here. As near as I can tell, Lifesite and other christianists throw this one in whenever they want to rant about societies "deterioration". It sounds good, but is quite unrelated sexuality issues. {although it might overlap somewhat with gender identity issues - but only peripherally}

Then they really make Alphabet Puree out of the whole thing by confusing a mixture of gender and sexual identites as "gender identities":

eleven "genders" including male homosexual, lesbian, bi-sexual, male-to-female "transgendered," asexual, hermaphrodite, and transvestite.

Let's get a couple of things straight:

Sexual identities, like homosexual include gay, lesbian and bisexual (bisexual is a grey zone between heterosexual and homosexual). The concept of asexuality is relatively new, and refers more to a lack of sexual interest than anything else.

Intersex (or more classically, Hermaphrodite) refers quite specifically to people born with ambiguous genitalia, and does not speak to either the sexual or gender identity of the individual. It is long formally recognized, although only relatively recently have such people begun exercising demands for some say in how they are to be treated.

The last category that they have incorrectly lumped into their list are gender identity issues:

male-to-female : Refers to a transsexual that is transitioning from male to female. It is not a "gender" per se, rather it is descriptive of the actions someone is taking to resolve a conflict between their body and mind.

Transvestite: Refers to the practice of cross-dressing. This is a bit of a slippery concept when applied to transsexuals, as they will often - and legitimately - claim that the early stages of their transition were not "cross-dressing" at all. To the best of my knowledge, this does not constitute a discrete "gender" - at least not in the sense that Lifesite uses the term, but rather refers to someone whose gender expression is at times different from their physical sex.

Transgender: Is a very broad term that encompasses a wide range of people from cross-dressers to transsexuals - it simply refers to someone whose gender identity and body are at odds with each other to some degree. The degree to which someone expresses their cross-gender identity may place them into specific subgroups.

Amusingly, Lifesite tries to claim that these are all "genders" - or that they have been put forth as "genders". This is in fact an amazing abuse of language. These are all identifiable subgroups of the population, to be sure. But they are not discrete genders per se. (Ironically, I think you would find a great many transsexuals in particular would argue rather strongly that they are not a "special gender" at all, rather they wish to conform to the social gender norms - of their chosen gender) It would seem that Lifesite's writers have forgotten a basic rule of using language - namely if you don't know what something means, look it up!

Politically all of the groups that the article lists have asked for specific protections in law to alleviate the discrimination and hostility that they face from a variety of people (but especially extreme christianists) who do not comprehend the unique human traits that these people possess.

I for one applaud the Spanish government for having the courage to do what the Harper government has not - actively move to alleviate the discrimination and hostility that a clearly identifiable group is subjected to on a daily basis.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dear Abbey:

Back here, semi-anonymous commenter "Abbey" writes a real doozy which deserves its own treatment.

Writes Abbey:

You all profoundly misunderstand the Christian position.

Christianity does not preach hatred for LGBT people.

What you call 'orientation' we call temptation.

What you all see as an identity, we see as a behavior.

We are ALL sinners. Homosexual acts are just one sin among thousands - if not millions of others. The fact that many people suffer from this particular temptation is NOT an indication that the 'rules' should be changed.

Note to anonymous: In ancient Greece it was typical for a man to have a wife for procreation and a boy for 'recreation' (pederasty).

Since one of the goals of homosexual activists is to eliminate age of consent laws I can only conclude we are not emerging from the 'dark ages' we are returning to them...

This is so rich in the "getting it wrong" department that it deserves to be taken apart, piece by piece...

Christianity does not preach hatred for LGBT people.

Funny. I keep hearing that, then we get cases like Boissoin, Whatcott or Chandler's Freedom Radio Network popping up after ostensible "Christians" come out and make what amount to "calls to arms" against GLBT people - effectively inciting violence against them. While Christianity may not preach hatred, there is an amazing amount of vile hatred that is committed in the name of Christ. Or perhaps, you'd like to consider the case of Julie Nemecek who was fired from her job ... for being transsexual. Why? Because the so-called "Christians" running her place of employment decided they couldn't control her life adequately. How "loving" and "compassionate" of them.

What you call 'orientation' we call temptation.

What you all see as an identity, we see as a behavior.

Go take some clinical psychology courses on these topics. It's obvious that you think that someone can "just pray away the gay" because it's nothing more than "temptation" and "behaviour" - meanwhile you conveniently ignore all of the evidence that demonstrates that what you claim is "behaviour" (which suggests mutability) does not in fact respond well to therapies designed to provoke change. (Including the often proposed notion of "reparative therapy" as proposed by organizations like NARTH and Exodus).

As Naomi Lakritz's column pointed out, GLBT people no more sat down and "chose" to be what they are any more than you did (I presume that you are quite emphatically heterosexual). In fact, consider the social prejudice that these people face daily, and one would have to suspect that someone would only tread such a path out of a deeply seated necessity. (Certainly, this is true of Transsexuals, and I presume it to be true to a large degree for GLB people as well)

We are ALL sinners. Homosexual acts are just one sin among thousands - if not millions of others. The fact that many people suffer from this particular temptation is NOT an indication that the 'rules' should be changed.

Nice claim, but it neither addresses, nor justifies the topic at hand. Lakritz's column was going after the christianists like Boissoin and others whose acts against GLBT people are outright vicious, and arguably incite others to engage in beatings and worse against GLBT people. The notion of "sin" belongs within a church and a faith community. Why should your notion of "sin" be used to judge and demonize others?

As for "changing the rules", your dogma on this topic merely demonstrates an ongoing lack of understanding (and willingness to understand) the reality that the rational evidence makes clear: GLBT people are still human beings, and generally honest, decent citizens - quite undeserving of the kind of vitriolic attack that Boissoin has made.

Note to anonymous: In ancient Greece it was typical for a man to have a wife for procreation and a boy for 'recreation' (pederasty).

Since one of the goals of homosexual activists is to eliminate age of consent laws I can only conclude we are not emerging from the 'dark ages' we are returning to them...

Let me be amazingly clear about something here. Homosexuality refers to someone being attracted to members of the same physical sex. Pedophilia implies attraction to children. These are not synonyms, and you grossly distort reality when you try to claim that homosexuals are pedophiles. (which is the implication of what you a blathering about)

The claim that homosexual activists want to "eliminate age of consent" laws is patently false, a myth perpetrated by the christianist right in an effort to continue demonizing a group of people.

Not Adding Up

In the wake of the "Shampoo Bomber" plot in the UK last year, the world's airports and airlines banned taking such amazingly dangerous materials as shampoo, conditioner etc. - along with such potential weapons as safety razors.

Now, we find the US is allowing lighters back on aircraft.

Explosives remain the most significant threat to aviation," said TSA administrator Kip Hawley. "By enabling our officers to focus on the greatest threats, we are using our officers' time and energy more effectively and increasing security for passengers."

Ummm...hello? Is anybody home in there?! Butane, last I checked is flammable, and anything that's _that_ flammable _is_ a potential explosive...if you have enough of it...

Of course, reality intrudes, and we discover that it's all about money:

Lighters are the leading item seized at airport checkpoints, an average of more than 22,000 a day. It costs TSA $4 million a year to dispose of them because they contain hazardous materials.

Oh yes, and for all those potential terrorist mothers out there that want to feed their children breast milk (but use a bottle for whatever reason):

The other rule change on August 4 applies to mothers -- or anyone -- wanting to bring more than 3 ounces of breast milk onto an airplane. Under current rules, the passenger carrying the milk must be accompanied by an infant, but the new rules drop that requirement. The liquid will still have to be declared to screeners who might request additional inspection.

"This rule has been a pain for working mothers who pumped breast milk while on a business trip without their child and wanted to carry more than three ounces home with them." said TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe. "They had to throw larger amounts in the trash and that was not only wasteful but emotionally charged."

The US government - making the skies safer for you by allowing flammables on airplanes, but keeping bottles of shampoo and breast milk off...I feel so much safer, don't you?

City Hall Gets This One Right

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't been impressed with Calgary's City Council these past few years. One local columnist has dubbed them "Silly Hall", and on the overall measure, I'd have to say he's right.

When Alderman Ric McIver put forward a motion to slap "support the troops" decals on city vehicles last week (and again this week!), a lot of people looked and wondered what the heck was going on. (Cynically, I think McIver was trying to make some cheezy political points for the coming fall election - and there's one Alderman that's worth replacing!)

Anyhow, it seems that the Office of the Aldermen must have been deluged with e-mails similar to what I sent my Alderman yesterday (and posted a slightly longer version on my blog.), as they collectively slapped McIver's plan into the Bow River.

For once, Bronconnier came up with the most constructive suggestion of the night:

But Mayor Dave Bronconnier said using the stickers would give little tangible support to troops overseas and the city should do something more rather than just a symbolic gesture.

"I don't think the best way to support troops is putting a decal on the back of a garbage truck," he said.

"I think that what we should do to support the troops, the men and women that are fighting for Canada, is to support their families, support the family resource centre."

Bronconnier said the donated stickers should be sold to the public at city facilities for $5 or $10 with the proceeds handed over to the Military Family Resource Centre.

Apparently, like most Bitter Reformer types, McIver didn't like being told "no" (amazing for a man who has been dubbed "Dr. No" by the rest of Council and the media):

While council unanimously backed the mayor's amendment, the debate became heated when a second attempt to use the decals on city vehicles was raised.

Council shot down the move 11-4, with some fearing it's not the city's role to become entangled with Canada's foreign policy by showing any public support.

So...someone proposes a compromise (and one that actually I don't mind at all), and McIver decides to push it further because it's not his grandiose idea of patriotism.

Whines McIver:
The decision left McIver displeased with the lack of resolve on the part of his colleagues.

"There was just four people courageous enough to put their names on city vehicles," he said.

"I would hope the citizens of Calgary engage the mayor and aldermen to be more courageous."

Argh! There are definitely times where I'd be oh-so-happy to slap McIver upside the head. As I pointed out, and obviously others did as well, the "Support the Troops" slogan has been abused by Canada's right wing to imply support for the mission in Afghanistan. Not everybody feels that they can morally (or ethically) make such a statement - and Calgary's city fleet is not a rolling billboard for McIver's personal politics.

As if to make my point that McIver is really grandstanding:

It remains unclear, McIver said, whether the donation, which had been intended only to be used on city vehicles, will still be available to be sold to raise the funds for military families.

Okay, so the supplier (no doubt one of Ric's good buddies through this bunch of "Chandler's Friends"), is willing to donate a bunch of material to a grandstanding effort, but when it is turned to real charity, not so much? Says a great deal, doesn't it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Paranoibia: When You Think They're Out To Get You

According to our friendly loons over at Wingnut Daily, the Harry Potter books are a source of "anti-Christian bigotry".

Our kids hear every day in public schools about the perils of "intolerance" and "homophobia." They are cautioned frequently to "separate church and state," because not to do so would result in vague, unspecified horrors. And merely raising an eyebrow at evolutionary theory can unleash pent-up fury over Christian beliefs.

Wow, that's quite an opener. We start out with a claim that the world is out to beat up on their poor little "Christian" sensibilities. After all, why wouldn't we all subscribe to their absolutist view of the world, right?

Only occasionally do the wizards pull back the curtain to reveal to Muggles what's really going on, and it's usually more than these one-dimensional creatures can handle. Denial is one response; dying of fright is another.

Why yes, that would seem to be analogous to the christianist response to the reality that GLBT people are not only real, but amazingly also productive members of society. (In spite of the discrimination and abuse faced on a near daily basis)

In fact, Uncle Vernon's attitude toward Harry is classic bigotry:

"Now, you listen here, boy," he snarled. "I accept there's something strange about you, probably nothing a good beating wouldn't have cured. …" (page 56, "Sorcerer's Stone")

The message that screams from these pages for children to absorb is that these despicable people who object to "magic" are worthy of the worst scorn. And that's mostly what they receive throughout the Potter books.

Or, one might just turn it on its ear and derive that Rowling is in fact railing against the irrational bigotry that the "Others" in any society face daily. Whether we are talking about GBLT people, or Western European people living in the Middle East. In fact, I'd say that if Rowling had christianist wingnuts in mind when she wrote about the "Muggles", it was little more than holding a mirror up to them.

In the Potter books, it's OK to hold such people in thorough contempt and sometimes openly mock them. Harry's school nemesis, wizard Draco Malfoy, shows undisguised bias against Muggles or those with mixed Muggle and wizard "blood," and his nasty attitude is politically incorrect by the school's standards. But Malfoy just expresses what the others secretly think.

Whoa there! There isn't a shred of evidence in any of the Potter books to back this claim up. Malfoy is the classic schoolyard bully - no more, no less. He's arrogant, abusive, and apparently just charismatic enough to attract a couple of boot-licking cronies to do his thuggery for him.

What astounds me here is the notion that because someone "secretly thinks" something that it is somehow "right". It wasn't so long ago that the "majority" thought that women weren't rational enough to have a legitimate voice in politics. (and in some regions of the world, they still do not) Does that make the belief that women are "too irrational" for a political voice correct? No, of course not.

Similarly, the belief that Evolution theory is wrong because the Bible says differently doesn't factually alter the reality that to date, Evolution theory has been able to encompass all the evidence available.

So next time you hear your kids dish out scorn for Christians and /or Christian beliefs, maybe it's time to take an inventory of their favorite books and movies.

What will another Potter tale add to the mix? Rowling could decide to have Harry repent of his open rebellion against God through sorcery. Maybe she will cease dishonoring traditional "non-magic" beliefs. And, pigs could also start flying.

Until this happens, Christian families need to protect their kids from Harry Potter's clever seduction.

Ah - so censorship to support christianist views is okay? All books we read must be devoutly "christian". {Oh my, could I write some dark stuff centered around the Inquisition...or perhaps the conniving of the oh-so-moral "church leaders" who rail against homosexuality from the pulpit, and engage in it in seedy back alleys.

Sane parents will have long ago realized that Harry Potter (or the Oz books for that matter) are good basic children's literature. They are no more "pro", or 'anti' Christian than my sofa. The only offense in those books is in the mind of the truly paranoid.

Frankly, I think the author of that article on Wingnut Daily forgot to take their anti-paranoia medications ... or they decided somebody was messing with them.

*Note: I use the term "christianist" to refer to these people because they have twisted their faith so far beyond recognition that I can't bring myself to tar faithful Christians with the brush of christianist extremism.

Dear Alderman McIver:

No, slapping those obnoxious 'I support the troops' stickers all over city vehicles is NOT a good idea.

I don't know where you got that idea, but I'd suggest returning it to its owner and leaving it there.

Here's the problem I have with it. Fundamentally, it's a political statement. City vehicles have no business whatsoever bearing the latest in political slogans.

Stephen Harper and his band of ideologues have corrupted "supporting the troops" to mean "supporting occupation in Afghanistan". It's sort of like having a bumper sticker on there that reads "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?". Not all Calgarians agree with our current Federal government on the matter of Afghanistan, nor should they feel that they have to.

City of Calgary vehicles do not exist for you, or anyone else at City Hall to turn into rolling billboards for your latest in political campaign slogans. You might claim that those "support the troops" stickers are not political, but the reality is that Stephen Harper's own "talking-points only" approach to communication has made it a political statement.

Additionally, not only is it a political statement, the phrase itself is meaningless. How is slapping a cheezy little graphic on the back of a vehicle "supporting" the troops?

The issue is quite simple. All of Calgary taxpayers foot the bill here, regardless of our individual political stripe. What's next? I'm going to find myself denied service or sent to the back of the line at a city facility because I don't have the requisite "support the troops" sticker on my vehicle?

Even our lot of lunks in Ottawa are smart enough to leave political sloganeering off the official government vehicles.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harper's Neo-Totalitarian Government

Few among us could look upon Stephen Harper's government and wonder just how different this man is from any of a dozen military-backed strongmen that the world has seen in the last 50 years.

Over the last few months, many things have happened that Canadians should stand up and question.

Whether that is Gen. Hillier stepping in and clamping down on public access to information about prisoners in Afghanistan; a government making billions of dollars of purchases without the normal tender process; a "no fly" list that breaks more fundamentals of law in Canada than I care to enumerate or laws that violate key precepts such as the presumption of innocence.

But, perhaps the most chilling is the story of Steven Staples, whom the military placed under surveillance. Why? Because Mr. Staples had the "nerve" to be a vocal critic of Afghanistan, invading Iraq and Bush II's "missile defense". Placing your critics under surveillance is the act not of a democratic government, but smacks of the tactics of totalitarian regimes around the world.

In a democracy, criticism of the government or one of its agencies is not an adequate excuse to place someone under surveillance - in fact, arguably, one might go as far as arguing that the government unjustly invaded this man's privacy.

As I have speculated before, this government's "no-fly list" could easily become a tool of political retribution all too easily. The military's leader has been unusually vocal in his backing of Harper's policies, routinely making political statements in the public arena. Remember, this is the man who gives the troops orders. Who is to say that this man won't give his troops the order to "shut down" opposition?

Harper has made it clear that it's his way or the highway in this government. Canadians should be looking closely at Harper's governance to date and give themselves a good shake. This is a government that is becoming increasingly secretive and heavy handed.

Canada as "Honest Broker"

Canada has historically played the role of "honest broker" on the world stage - especially as a counterpoint to what is often seen as an overly heavy-handed US government.

This past week, we've been witness to PMSH playing the same card in Latin America.

Under other circumstances, Harper might have something valid to play, but his track record of slavishly following Washington's edicts on all fronts calls into question his own relative neutrality. Canada's position as a "broker" between the world and Washington is based on the perception that Canada's leadership is not simply marching in step with Washington.

Harper has spent most of what capital Canada has built up by aligning closely with the US on most fronts - from military policy to foreign affairs and economics. (Not to mention amazingly secretive talks about deep integration)

So, when he touts Canada as "an option" for a model alternative to Venezuela, one can only muse that coming from a man who has stated his disdain for what differentiates Canada from the United States, most Latin politicians are going to be somewhat skeptical.

My suspicion is that the Bush II rethuglicans have figured out that they have little or not traction in the Latin Americas, and they gave orders to The Republican Party North to go forth and speak the gospel of "conservatism" to the Latin politicians who are drifting dangerously (to a right-wing government) left in their politics.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Closing Comments On Boissoin Hearing

The closing arguments over Boissoin's letter were heard yesterday.

The arguments were basically of two forms - either focusing upon the content and implied intent of the letter, or focusing upon whether the author has a "right" to write and publish that letter.

Argues Lund:

"A reasonable person would conclude that these statements lay homosexuals open to ridicule, ill feelings, hostility and violence, creating the right conditions for hatred or contempt to flourish," Lund added.

Boissoin's lawyer, Gerald Chipeur, argues something slightly elliptical to Lund's claims:

Boissoin's lawyer, Gerry Chipeur, argued the letter does not fall under hate speech, but under freedom of speech and freedom of religion. He said declaring it hate material would be censorship and hamper free debate.

It was written, he said, in response to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission's website, which said it was funding with public money an initiative to teach school-aged children that homosexuality was "normal, necessary, acceptable and productive."

The purpose of the letter was to "spur political debate and discussion in society" -- not to expose a person or class of person to hatred or contempt, he said.

"And debate was surely created after his letter was published, as many letters to the editor, on all sides of the debate, then appeared in the Red Deer Advocate," said Chipeur. "As is the case when politically volatile issues are debated, Mr. Boissoin's language was highly emotional and rhetorical.

"It was a call to political action catalyzed by Mr. Boissoin's discovery that his tax dollars were funding a particular, ongoing, controversial program that was the subject of intense political debate throughout Canada and in similar free and democratic nations throughout the world."

Having read Boissoin's letter repeatedly, I'm not convinced that it was intended to open any kind of debate. It's language is not that of discussion, but of absolutes. There is no room to negotiate with Boissoin's words. Worse, I think Chipeur is attempting to use a form of argument that is dishonest at best. He chooses not to acknowledge what Boissoin wrote, or that a young gay male in Red Deer was badly beaten within two weeks of Boissoin's letter being published. (Well within the time that the "debate" in the newspaper's "letter section" was no doubt going on) Instead, he claims that Boissoin was attempting to "engage in a debate". Last I checked, debate doesn't include declarations of "war".

I am surprised by the Alberta Government's comments on the matter:

David Kamal, constitutional lawyer for the Alberta Justice Department, an intervenor in the process, said freedom of expression is subject to limitations.

"If people are simply able to hide behind political or religious freedom, it defeats the purpose," Kamal argued.

"It's clear from case law that freedom of political expression and freedom of religious expression is bounded by limitation and protection of public safety, not that freedom of expression trumps any other right."

Considering the years-long arguments over Delwin Vriend's case in Alberta, this is almost a shock to see this kind of statement made by Alberta's Government lawyers. (Not that I believe for one minute that Stelmach is any more enlightened than his predecessor on such matters)

The real issue here is whether Boissoin's letter stepped over a boundary from legitimate discourse into 'promoting hatred'. Boissoin, in my view, stepped well over that line in two key respects. First, he called for "action" against homosexuals. By making it as ambiguous as he did, he clearly left the door open for the more pugilistic in our society to "take action" with their fists. Second, he made repeated and demonstrably false claims about homosexuals as if those claims were rooted in some kind of "fact". {No, Paul Cameron's research doesn't constitute 'fact' - it constitutes bad science}

Hopefully, we'll see a final ruling on this sometime in the fall. (Mid-September at the latest)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harper Not Making Headway

There's an interesting pattern to Harper's polling numbers.

While he isn't being held accountable by the people in Parliament, his fortunes aren't too bad. Put him in Parliament, and the nasty, vicious side of the man comes out in public, and it's on the public record.

The latest polls show that Harper is not making any forward progress - especially not for a sitting Prime Minister. He remains a figure that is deeply divisive to voters. He has a commanding presence among voters over the age of 50, and among male voters. But overall, he's running in a dead heat with the Liberals. (Both holding an overall 31% of the decided voters)

I suppose the other side of the coin is that one could argue that the Liberals' Stephane Dion has not been terribly successful either. However, Dion is not the sitting PM - the next election is Harper's to lose - and PMs lose elections because they have not impressed the voters.

Harper's closed-door approach to government directly and obviously violates his explicit promises to be more open and accountable. A public persona that is best describe as cold, arrogant and pugnacious hardly creates a public image that is going to attract people to him as a person - which means he has to be seen to be clear of vision and direction. Instead, we have a man who drifts rudderless when he runs out of carefully planned script.

The rumblings in Alberta that could shake the provincial PC's to the core don't help Harper much either. Alberta is "home turf" for the Con$, and locally the two parties are seen as deeply linked. If the PC's lose backing, you can bet that will dilute the federal Con$ vote as well.

Naomi Lakritz on the Boissoin Case

Naomi Lakritz has an excellent commentary on the Boissoin hearings in Calgary this week:

There is indeed wickedness that needs reversing here, but it is not on the part of gays and lesbians.

The wickedness arises in the beliefs of those who claim a God-given right to target others for being different.

The human rights commission is the place to take the first steps to reverse it.

I note that Calgary's other newspaper - the Calgary Sun - has been working very hard not to cover it. (But then again, this comes from the same chain that gives voice to Michael Coren, the Byfields and Paul Jackson)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Boissoin's Testimony Yesterday

Is recorded in today's Globe and Mail.

"My opinion then and now is that a man having a romantic love with another man or a woman having romantic love with another woman is wrong," the 40-year-old automotive service centre worker told a panel of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.

"I do not hate the homosexual. I hate the practice," he said, adding that condoning the behaviour in front of children damages society.

Stop right there. At this point, Boissoin has already said he's essentially a bigot. The BS of "love the sinner, hate the sin" is sophistry at best, weaselly at worst.

Mr. Boissoin told the hearing that he stands by the letter, which he said was his small way of getting God's message out to the public.

"I do not speak for God. I felt at peace under God in writing the letter," he said.

When I see this kind of irresponsible drivel, I just want to throw up. Basically Boissoin is trying to tell us that he isn't responsible for his letter, rather his particular notion of "God The Micromanager" made him do it. What absolute crap. Christian fundamentalists (especially evangelicals it seems) are so big on "consequences" and "responsibility" for individual actions - it seems to me that Boissoin is simply trying to dodge responsibility for his own actions and feelings towards other people.

I just cannot believe that in this day and age there are those who continue to use the "God made me do it" defense.

Just to give us a little insight into the thuggish nature of those who have been "supporting" Boissoin, consider this little gem:

Prof. Alderson, who testified on Prof. Lund's behalf, said he received a piece of "hate mail" after he wrote his own letter of concern to the commission last year.

"Sodomites like Kevin Alderson will burn in hell," the one-page handwritten letter said. "Repent or face the judgment of God. Laugh off this note if you wish, but you are being watched."

Now, obviously we don't have the full picture here, but this seems to be much the same sort of bullying tactic that has been used against Lund ever since he filed his complaint. Lund has been the subject of a variety of attacks by Boissoin's supporters since this case was opened - from harrassment campaigns to lawsuits.

It's amazing the lengths that people will go to trying to avoid being held accountable for their actions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Boissoin Hearing Update - What The RightWing Web Says...

First, here's CBC's update for the day, but it's slightly incomplete, and omits a key piece from the news broadcast this afternoon - when the updates appear on CBC's website. (or another site).

I went trundling around the underbelly of the internet to see what the freepi are saying about this.

Over at "Free Dominion", we find the expected silliness.

Up at "Project Alberta", we find our favorite nomination candidate publishing a letter on behalf of Concerned Christians Canada:

Dear Editor:

The media attempts to sway public opinion by hand picking the facts. Stephen Boissoin has been attacked mercilessly for airing the unpopular religious belief that homosexuality is sinful and unhealthy and that the promotion of such behavior is detrimental to some of the most vulnerable and most easily influenced members of our society. Continuing to compare Pastor Boissoin with KKK leader David Duke is slanderous and appalling. Pastor Boissoin took exception to the public education system feeding children an ideology which he felt was clearly not neutral, but rather encourages them to believe in a form of relationship and family that is contrary to God’s plan. If the school system started indoctrinating students in any given religious belief system the homosexual community would be enraged insisting that their tax dollars not be used in such a way. The Calgary Herald owes Pastor Boissoin and apology.

Jim Blake
National Chairman
Concerned Christians Canada

Let's just consider this for a moment.

According to Blake, Boissoin is being compared to KKK leader David Duke.

Fact Check:

No, they weren't comparing him to David Duke, they were pointing out that Duke had spoken out in support of Boissoin.

Sorry, but stating a fact is not slanderous - not unless the definition of libel has changed dramatically.

Next, Blake's insane letter reads:

Pastor Boissoin took exception to the public education system feeding children an ideology which he felt was clearly not neutral, but rather encourages them to believe in a form of relationship and family that is contrary to God’s plan.

Ummm...that's only part of the picture. Boissoin's letter made a raft of accusations about GLBT (and gay males in particular) that were patently false. (starting with trying to claim that gays are pedophiles, among others...) Had Boissoin only commented on education materials, that would be a different issue I think.

If the school system started indoctrinating students in any given religious belief system the homosexual community would be enraged insisting that their tax dollars not be used in such a way.

Fact Check: Alberta has a publicly funded Catholic school system, and at least one school division is starting a Christian program this fall.

Oh yes, last fact check - Jim Blake is also Chandler's "communications chair" for his nomination campaign...

Further Thoughts on the Boissoin Hearing

In the comments section to my first post on Boissoin's Letter of 2002, an anonymous commenter has opened a topic that I want to elaborate upon a bit, as it begins to address a key point or two that are important here:

How would we have reacted had Mr. Boissin's letter read that "women are just as immoral as pedophiles", or "the english are just as immoral as pedophiles", or "the jewish are just as immoral as pedophiles", or "blacks are just as immoral as pedophiles"?

I won't begin to presuppose the outcome of the hearings now in progress in Calgary - when I find out about them, I will comment at that time. What follows are my own thoughts with respect to Mr. Boissoin's letter and how it plays in the boundaries of "free speech" and political discourse.

I think most Canadians would be rightly appalled had Mr. Boissoin's letter been phrased as our commenter suggested, for a variety of reasons. In my view, there is a fine line between legitimate political discourse on a topic and the spewage of hate-filled garbage.

Looking more closely at Boissoin's letter he makes some interesting, and virtually impossible to substantiate claims:

These activists are not morally upright citizens, concerned about the best interests of our society. They are perverse, self-centered and morally deprived individuals who are spreading their psychological disease into every area of our lives.

There are several "blanket claims" that could be read from this tirade:

1) GLBT people are "psychologically diseased".

This is perhaps the most egregious claim. No credible mental health professional would agree with such a claim, and I don't even think NARTH uses such language.

2) GLBT people are perverse.
3) GLBT people are morally deprived
4) GLBT people are self-centered

These three claims are moral value statements. Claiming that all members of a population are morally deficient is simply baseless assertion. All I would have to do is find one or two members of that group who do not fit into that classification and the claim crumbles. (The proof is left as an exercise for the reader...)

However, making uninformed claims is not necessarily a problem. Stupidity is not a crime last I checked. Boissoin makes multiple attempts to draw equivalences and shade the picture to suggest otherwise non-existent relationships. (e.g. Gay men are pedophiles):

It is only a matter of time before some of these morally bankrupt individuals such as those involved with NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Lovers Association, will achieve their goal to have sexual relations with children and assert that it is a matter of free choice and claim that we are intolerant bigots not to accept it.

Stupid as such a claim is, it hardly constitutes an act of hate for Boissoin to have written it down. In fact, to this point I might even go as far as to say that Boissoin's words were an ill-chosen attempt to inform people of what he thought was the truth. (Although NAMBLA has tried to align itself with the GLBT world, as far as I know the GLBT world is as deeply uncomfortable with that group as the rest of the population ... for good reason)

No, in order to make its way into the realm of being hateful, Boissoin would have to have made some kind of call to action that others might act upon. And Lo, a brief perusal of his letter turns up this gem:

Come on people, wake up! It's time to stand together and take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness that our lethargy has authorized to spawn. Where homosexuality flourishes, all manner of wickedness abounds.
If you are reading this and think that this is alarmist, then I simply ask you this: how bad do things have to become before you will get involved? It's time to start taking back what the enemy has taken from you. The safety and future of our children is at stake.

Now, this is unquestionably a call to action, and where I believe Boissoin crossed the line from uninformed, blatant stupidity and entered the realm of spreading hatred. {I reiterate, this is purely my own opinion of Boissoin's writings, and not intended to prejudge a hearing process that is ongoing)

The fact that two weeks after this letter was published a gay youth in Red Deer was badly beaten is either a strong coincidence, or an indication of just how inflammatory Boissoin's writing was.

The Religious Right (including groups like Concerned Christians Canada, and individuals like Craig Chandler who started it) will argue up and down that if this is declared to be 'hate literature' that we are witnessing the suppression of free speech, and freedom of religion.

In comparison, Bishop Henry's letter of a 2005 is positively oozing with religious reference and counsel. (I don't particularly agree that it was appropriately couched in the language of Henry's faith - but that's my opinion) Boissoin's letter doesn't even start to enter into the world of ministry as I understand, or have experienced it. It is filled with demonstrably false assertions, and a call to what one could politely call "pugilistic action" instead.

Boissoin's letter (and the bullying tactics that have been used against Dr. Lund since this complaint was filed) is difficult to see objectively as an expression of a reasoned opinion, a religious ministry, or as an invitation to discourse. It takes an absolute line about a topic, and does not even invite the reader to argue against his claims - hardly what one could call "an opinion piece" - especially not when he ends off with a call to arms.

A free and open society depends upon the ability of all parties to conduct themselves in a civilized manner. Boissoin's arguments decidedly less than civil in my view, and sit outside the bounds of "civil discourse". It's one thing to express an opinion about a subject, it's quite another to all but declare war upon another group in the population.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Harper's Double Standards

Remember when Palestinians elected a Hamas government? Almost immediately Harper's government cut off anything to do with the Palestinian Authority. Or when Israel invaded Lebanon, he called it "measured"? Or perhaps his swaggering lecturing of China? Why, yes, I thought you might.

Harper's Washington-led neo-Con agenda was revealed a step or two more today. Harper began trade negotiations with Columbia, a country with a somewhat less than stellar human rights record.

Says PM Stevie:

Answering reporters who quoted human-rights groups critical of such a deal, Harper said it would be "ridiculous" not to pursue a trade relationship with Colombia, especially while the country is making strides towards improving its human rights record.

The hypocrisy of such a statement in light of other comments and actions of Harper's government is obvious. The man's double standards are a deplorable demonstration of the dogmatic rigidity of a neoCon who smells power.

There can only be one reason for this - it fits in with the Washington vision (hallucination?) of a US-led hegemony that penetrates the entire occidental hemisphere of our little world. While the "SPP" is primarily focused on the 3 major North American countries, I don't imagine it would hurt Washington's feelings to have a "buffer" zone of other countries that are "nearby".

The Wheels Turn Slowly At Times

[Update 06:00 17/7/07]
Well, since CBC is so slow updating the Calgary news website, I found what I was looking for on the Globe and Mail website.

Here's a couple of the more interesting tidbits:

Janel Dodd, who worked with the pastor at Red Deer's youth at-risk drop-in centre, testified yesterday on Prof. Lund's behalf. When asked about Mr. Boissoin's intent in writing the letter, she told the chairwoman of the hearing: "God called him to be active with his beliefs."

Ms. Dodd also talked about her outrage after the alleged gay-bashing incident, which involved a youth who frequented the drop-in centre, who was not admonished by Mr. Boissoin, she says. "There was no repercussions for this and the youth was allowed to still come into the organization," she told reporters later.

and ...

Mr. Boissoin has the support of Concerned Christians Canada and the U.S.-based Alliance Defense Fund, which backs legal causes involving freedom of religion.

So...Boissoin has been bankrolled through most of this by none other than Chandler himself, and an American organization that sees fit to inject itself into Canada's legal system. Fascinating.

[Update 18:00 16/7/07]
According to the news on CBC this afternoon, Boissoin's former secretary has claimed that she thought Boissoin wrote that letter "to get attention". {As soon as I find a corroborating print story, I'll post it here}

All I can say is that if this was a "publicity stunt", Boissoin suffers from not mere bigotry, but amazingly bad judgment to boot. (and, I would point out that if you attributed to Jews, or religious groups the evils he claims of GLBT people, there would be no question of the status of his letter)
In 2002, Stephen Boissoin wrote a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate newspaper. I won't reproduce the entirety of the letter's text here, but the following snippet gives the flavor of it:

Come on people, wake up! It's time to stand together and take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness that our lethargy has authorized to spawn. Where homosexuality flourishes, all manner of wickedness abounds.

Regardless of what you hear, the militant homosexual agenda isn't rooted in protecting homosexuals from "gay bashing." The agenda is clearly about homosexual activists that include, teachers, politicians, lawyers, Supreme Court judges, and God forbid, even so-called ministers, who are all determined to gain complete equality in our nation and even worse, our world.

That was in 2002. Shortly afterwards, University of Calgary professor Darren Lund filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission accusing Boissoin of spreading hatred against this province's GLBT citizens.

Today, the first hearings in this case begin. That is some five years after the fact.

At one time, Boissoin was involved with Concerned Christians Canada, one of Craig Chandler's enterprises, and one of Calgary's more outspoken opponents of equal treatment for GLBT citizens - going as far as claiming to be offended by the presence of "Gay Flags" following Pride week in 2005.

At this point in time, I'm not going to guess what the outcome will be. I don't think Boissoin is as articulate and intellectually agile as Bishop Henry - the "you misinterpreted what I said" defense that Bishop Henry used a year or so back probably won't work so well for Boissoin. That said, I'm not privy to what Boissoin's counsel have cooked up either.

I expect that whatever comes out of the next few days' of hearings will be very interesting indeed. I am more than a little disturbed by the fact that it has taken five years or more for this case to even reach hearings. It suggests that either the legal gyrations have been extreme, or that the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has been starved for the resources necessary to bring things to closure in a timely fashion.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Harper As Human Rights Enforcer

While Canada's past history is one of being a leader in the realm of human rights, the world would do well to consider our current Prime Minister as an exception. With Harper running around Latin America this week, we should be graced with more of Harper's pronouncements on human rights - much as he has lectured China on.

Let's consider Harper's record on human rights issues:

- On Israel's invasion of Lebanon, he called it a "measured response" while hundreds and thousands of civilian casualties were inflicted on Lebanese civilians.

- Cut and cancelled Canadian Government programs specifically designed to ensure that Canada's laws reflect key principles of human rights such as equality.

- His government has introduced numerous laws that breach the fundamental principles of a civil justice system - including the assumption of innocence.

- He and his government have consistently voted against equal treatment under law for GLBT people.

- A no-fly list that is arguably illegal and has no due process wrapped around it.

...now, who is this man to tell others about human rights?

Supporting The Troops

With the Van Doos heading over to Afghanistan, I think it's a good time to go after what has to have become "The Most Annoying Meme on the Planet"(™):

"Support The Troops"

Canada's Con$ have implied repeatedly that opposing PMSH's pseudo-Bushian desire to occupy a foreign country is "not supporting the troops".

Supporting the troops - to me - is about a lot of things. Respecting the fact that they do a job that for a variety of reasons I could not do; lobbying for them to have the tools to do their jobs properly; respecting and honoring the sacrifices that some make as a result of the orders they are carrying out.

However, supporting the troops does not have a blessed thing to do with whether I agree with the orders that they have been given by the politicians.

Therein lies the distinction. As the news has come trickling back from Afghanistan, it becomes increasingly clear that we are a long ways from any kind of reconstruction (at least meaningful). The word "peace" can only be applied on a day by day basis in a region where improvised bombs are commonplace, and as a steady stream of coffins shows, only in the most limited sense.

I have no problem with "peacemaking", as we had to do in Bosnia - this isn't peacemaking - this is providing a garrison force in a war zone. That force is not the "interceding" force, it is the target. Afghanistan is going to devolve into a civil war before it starts to achieve any kind of peace.

The real question we must ask ourselves as Canadians is whether or not our troops are in fact engaged in the kind of mission that we think is achievable? If you frame it as "peacemaking" and "rebuilding", that's one thing, when the reality is that we are the primary target as the foreign occupiers (as is seemingly the case in Afghanistan), that's perhaps something that should give pause for thought.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Guilty Lord Black

I'm not going to shed too many tears over Conrad Black being found guilty ... at least on some of the charges.

Don't cheer just yet - Black and his lawyers could draw this out on appeal for years, and he may never actually serve a day in prison. (As a matter of fact, he only has to wait long enough to convince Bush II to grant a pardon, and he gets off with nothing ... and don't think for a moment this isn't on Lord Black's mind) What is going to happen with the myriad appeals to come out of this is anybody's guess - I wouldn't want to speculate. (I wouldn't be too unhappy to see Black spend a few years in a cell - but I haven't exactly liked the man and his attitude since long before the whole Hollinger fiasco blew up)

I'll give the jury credit - it appears that they weighed each charge and defendant carefully, and made their findings carefully. It would have been very easy for the Jury to either throw the book at the lot of them, or throw it all out simply to get the negotiations over with.

Lord Black has, unfortunately, fostered a rather arrogant, distant public image. (Referring to your shareholders as what amounts to fools doesn't help) I think his attitude towards his shareholders is one of entitlement, and one that allowed him to self-justify his actions towards shareholders.

Womb Control: Twisting The Issues

I don't know whether to laugh or cry over the rank stupidity of this article.

It's a classic case of people twisting unrelated arguments together in an effort to suit their own ends - and results in a "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" kind of logic.

The headline of the article is innocuous enough, although it hints at where the writer is going to head:

Contracepting the Environment

Environmentalists Mum on Poisoned Streams

They then proceed to whine about the environmental movements are all but ignoring this catastrophe that is happening under our noses. They start off with the following:

When EPA-funded scientists at the University of Colorado studied fish in a pristine mountain stream known as Boulder Creek two years ago, they were shocked. Randomly netting 123 trout and other fish downstream from the city’s sewer plant, they found that 101 were female, 12 were male, and 10 were strange “intersex” fish with male and female features.

Okay, this is nothing particularly new. Stories have surfaced about unusual mutations in aquatic life where human-created pollution has occurred have been around for years - including "hermaphrodite fish".

They studied the fish and decided the main culprits were estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth control pills and patches, excreted in urine into the city’s sewage system and then into the creek.

Woodling, University of Colorado physiology professor David Norris, and their EPA-study team were among the first scientists in the country to learn that a slurry of hormones, antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is coursing down the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water.

There's two leaps of inference here. First, is the insinuation that this is suddenly, magically affecting our drinking water supply. Which naturally ignores the filtration and treatment processes that already are done to most municipal drinking water long before it reaches your tap. The second, and fairly obvious point is the old cowboy principle of "never drink downstream from the herd". Few, if any municipalities have their water intakes downstream of any effluent discharge if they can help it.

The second leap is a bit of foreshadowing. Notice the use of the phrase "estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth control pills and patches". Like good little pope-bots, they zero in on "birth control pills", and try to blame it all on them:

When asked about the genetically modified fish and the contaminated drinking water, however, he said: “It just has so much competition out there for stuff to work on.”

He told the Boulder Weekly that nobody needed to consider curtailing use of artificial contraceptives out of concern for the creek.

Please note the twist here. The writer is presupposing a solution to the problem - just quit taking those nasty contraceptives, and the problem goes away. Or does it?

Well, not really. The real science points out that there are a lot of different bits of chemistry involved, not just estrogens used in birth control pills. (Among other things, estrogen has valid medical uses beyond oral contraceptives; further, we ingest (and excrete) a variety of other drugs and chemical compounds that play into the picture. {Not to mention the fact that urine is filled with all sorts of waste from the body - including hormone compounds. This is perfectly natural.

The twist is obvious at this point, the author and the publisher, the National Catholic Register, have an agenda. Their church preaches that contraception is evil, and therefore that you shouldn't use it. So, it becomes politically convenient to blame the "hermaphrodite fish" effect on hormone-based contraceptives. (Of course what they conveniently ignore is that hormones are a form of steroid, used in a wide variety of medical treatments. (Talk to someone with Crohn's about the use of steroids in the recovery from the very necessary operations they have to undergo...

Then we get to the "wife beating" accusation:

“If you’re killing mosquitoes to save people from the West Nile virus, you can count on secular environmentalists to lay down in front of the vapor truck, claiming some potential side effect that might result from the spray,” Harden said. “But if birth control deforms fish — backed by the proof of an EPA study — and threatens the drinking supply, mum will be the word.”

What really galls me about this article is the facile, and ridiculously simplistic, linkage drawn between oral contraceptives and what's happening in our rivers and lakes. To derive that the problem is the use of estrogen-based pills, and not inadequate (or perhaps incorrect) treatment of municipal sewage is horrendously dishonest.

The writer overlooks several key points:

1. The impact of various farming practices involving livestock.
2. The technology of wastewater treatment is changing (and yes, filtering out hormones is being investigated actively)
3. A variety of compounds can act "like" an estrogen, and many of these are common outputs of a range of industrial activity.

The real goal of this article is to set out a case for banning hormone-based pills - after all they cause fish to mutate! Yet another chapter in the ongoing campaign of the religious right to roll back the clock and return to an idealized era when the evils of the modern world didn't exist.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

One For "Family Values" Crowd

This ought to warm the very hearts of the so-called Family Values crowd.

The Calgary woman gave birth to a child in August 2005 after getting artifically inseminated with an anonymous donor's sperm. Her common-law husband had said he didn't want the parental or financial responsibility of a child.

She and her common-law husband had asked the courts to allow them to enter into a binding, written agreement absolving her husband of parental responsibility under Alberta's Family Law Act.

In February the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled against the agreement, saying the common-law husband would inevitably take on a parental role because he lives with the child.

The so-called family values crowd has long complained that the gradual liberalization of divorce and parental law in this country has made it too easy for people to walk away from their responsibilities as parents.

This ruling is actually quite clear that one's obligations as a parent - even as what amounts to a "step-parent" - are not easily absolved. I think that this is a good thing - while I am absolutely a proponent of broader, more flexible laws with respect to marriage and the recognition of varying forms of Family in law, I do not believe that anyone has the right to "walk away" from their responsibilities towards others, especially children.

I imagine that this ruling will be conveniently ignored by those who bleat so loudly about "activist courts"...

Wow - The Assumptions Just Boggle

Down in Florida, we find a 2-bit bigot who is currently sitting in the Mayor's chair.

Apparently he thinks that a GLBT-oriented library is going to contain all sorts of "hard core porn":

Mayor Naugle told LifeSiteNews.com that he opposed the project for two reasons. "Number one the city needs the space," he said. Secondly, the morning of the vote, it came to his attention that the Stonewall collection contained hard-core pornographic material depicting men committing anal intercourse. He commented, "I fear that we're the first city that has a hard-core porn collection in our public library." In addition, "it is housed in our main children's park."

How typical for the right-wingnut bigot crowd - anything involving the GLBT community must involve huge amounts of immoral, licentious material...or so the logic goes.

Reality intervenes, and we learn by a bit of search engine digging, that this is Stonewall Library, and unsurprisingly, we find quite a lengthy history which maps the organization's past from the early 1970s forward, and a mission statement that hardly sounds like a purveyor of vileness. I'm sure that there is a certain amount of erotic literature in the collection - but then again, anyone who has ever read Terry Goodkind will know that there's plenty of "erotica" in fiction to start with.

Of course, this is the same nitwit who claims:

Mayor Naugle, who voted against the library along with Commissioner Christine Teel, was already under fire for comments he made last week that sparked homosexual activists to a fury. On July 4 the Miami Herald published an interview with the mayor regarding the proposal of a new robotic toilet to be installed along the Florida beaches. The facility would have a security feature limiting occupant time by automatically opening its doors after a certain period. Naugle supported the new idea, saying, "Sometimes (public washrooms) are used for sexual activity-most of it is men meeting men because it's same-sex people in the bathrooms."
Naugle also made the following comment, "I don't use the word 'gay.' I use the word 'homosexual.' Most of them aren't gay. They're unhappy."

What a winner.

Let's See How Far This Goes

It seems that Jordan is asking Prime Minister Harper to listen to the Arab side of the story in the Arab-Israeli dispute that has bubbled about the Middle East for so long.

Bassem Awadallah, the director of the King's office, said King Abdullah hopes to persuade Mr. Harper to not only get “more engaged” in the Middle East peace process, but to take a more balanced position than the staunchly pro-Israeli tack he has adopted so far.

“We'd like Mr. Harper to listen to the other side of the story,” Mr. Awadallah said, adding that Canada's increasingly close relationship with Israel provides it with an opportunity to “leverage” those ties into pressure on the Jewish state to end its 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank. “Friends of Israel can encourage it to do the right thing more than countries that are not friends with Israel.”

This ought to be amusing. As Canadians have had the opportunity to experience, Harper's a little weak in the listening area. Remember, this is the PM whose comment about Israel's temper tantrum invasion of Lebanon last year was that Israel was "acting in a measured fashion". (I'd love to see what this man's idea of a ruler is)

However, Harper's part of the "Israel can do no wrong" crowd. He doesn't dare make such criticisms of Israel - it'll disrupt Bush Jr's fantasies about "The Apocalypse" happening in the Middle East, followed by "The Rapture" - and pissing off his masters in Washington isn't on PMSH's list of things he wants to do.

However, it will be interesting to see how the "Foreign Affairs Lite" time of Harper and Mackay handle the coming visit with Jordan's King coming to Canada for a visit.

Personally, I think Harper should listen very carefully to what Jordan's King has to say - he might be something of an autocrat himself (Kings often are...), but he sounds a lot more tuned into reality than our current government:

In an exclusive interview at his royal complex in the Jordanian capital, the King said Western leaders need to understand that the Palestinian issue is the root of many of the crises plaguing the Middle East – linked to problems as seemingly diverse as the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq, the recent violence in Lebanon and Iran's rise as a regional power – and they should use their influence to solve it in a balanced way.

My guess is that Harper's going to do nothing, and Jordan's visit will be like a hand in a bucket of water - remove it and you'd never know the hand was ever there.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Smells Like ...

There's only two reasons that a story about a "terrorist cell" gets published - either a) it's been shut down and is no longer a viable threat, and thus is not important to any real security work, or b) you're trying to scare the public.

My money's on b), with BushCo looking for a way to bolster sagging Republican fortunes in the polls lately.

If this was any kind of "real" threat, you wouldn't hear about it because that would compromise an investigation - and possibly the lives of people involved in that investigation. (Remember, the really dangerous people aren't on the "no-fly" list - we don't want to "tip them off")

My money is that this is pure propaganda - based on the obvious (namely that underground cells are moving about the world on a daily or weekly basis to begin with). There's always somebody plotting something - that's why covert intelligence gathering is necessary. When it hits the headlines, it's either no longer important, fictional, or someone really screwed up. If they have leaks that big in the US intelligence gathering world, then the various organizations have a big job to do cleaning up their own houses. Otherwise, someone's spinning a yarn for political reasons.

Putting It All In Perspective

Lynn Cockburn takes all the broad-brushing by the wingnuts and puts it nicely back in perspective for us.

The ordinary Iranian is not insane. It's the political leaders in Tehran who are nuts.

I have proof. Of both. Over the past few years, I've taught English to quite a number of new Canadians from Iran. They were all determined to learn English as fast as possible, get jobs in their chosen fields and find out as much as they could about sexual habits prohibited by the Mullahs.

As if to reinforce my long held suspicion that most religious leaders are in it for the power kick they get out of things, Lynn points out:

Another man, an avid swimmer, remarked that one of the many reasons he was glad to be in Canada was that he could swim with his wife and two daughters, something he had never done before.

And one woman, a doctor, said she knew it wouldn't be easy to get her medical licence in Canada and would take any job for now. "I'll drive a bus," she said.

My students were funny, sometimes outrageous, hardworking and open to new ways of living. What they weren't is radical or extreme.

Bingo. That's the real point that we need to focus on. Most people are just that - people. It's the political powerbrokers and religious "leaders" that are the problem - not so different from us when you think about it. Our leaders are just as nutty, our religious leaders (the vocal ones), just as looney - only it's a brand of looney we're used to.

Not so subtly, she has just told Michael Coren and his ilk to Shut Up!

Fundamentalism - Catholic Style

Back here, I was talking about the increasingly vocal actions of religious leaders in the political dialogue of various nations.

One commenter took me somewhat to task for criticizing the Catholic Church's recent revival of the "Tridentine Mass" (Latin) because of its prayers specifically calling for the conversion of Jews.

Although I would not accuse the current Pope of being a biblical literalist, I do accuse him of being a fundamentalist (and likely highly regressive).

Where most Popes since Vatican II have been pretty careful about alienating other faiths outright, we see in Pope Benedict (aka Pope Ratz elsewhere in my writings) a man who is clearly not worried about returning the Church to a pre-Vatican II state - including the feuds with other denominations.

Roman Catholics better Christians, Vatican says:

A 16-page document, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict used to head, described Christian Orthodox churches as true churches that suffer from a "wound" since they do not recognize the primacy of the Pope.

But the document said the "wound is still more profound" in the Protestant denominations – a view likely to further complicate relations with Protestants.

"Despite the fact that this teaching has created no little distress ... it is nevertheless difficult to see how the title of 'Church' could possibly be attributed to them," it said.

The Vatican text, which restates the controversial document Dominus Iesus issued by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2000, said the church wanted to stress this point because some Catholic theologians continue to misunderstand it.

Yes, yes - I know - all of these various religions think they have some monopoly on a "higher truth", but you have to admit that it takes some nerve to flaunt it the way that this Pope is.

Perhaps that statement also reflects the Vatican's stance towards Jewish people under the current papacy as well, since the recent revival of the Latin Mass didn't call into question any of the content of the rituals. Regardless, this most recent statement is very telling about the direction of the Roman Catholic Church under the current Pope.

Church modernizers interpreted the Council as a break from the past while conservatives, such as Benedict, see it in continuity with 2,000 years of Catholic tradition.

The document said the Council's opening to other faiths recognized there were "many elements of sanctification and truth" in other Christian denominations, but stressed that only Catholicism has all the elements to be Christ's Church fully.

Even as a Cardinal, this Pope was a hard line conservative, and it seems to me that in his own way, he is a form of fundamentalist. While his fundamentalism is not the biblical literalism that we see commonly held as "fundamentalism" in North America, it is nonetheless every bit as damaging because of its rigidity.

There is little to be gained by balkanizing the world along the lines of faith - we've already been there, done that - and it wasn't a very pretty picture when faiths crossed with each other. (A little reality check - every religion tries to deal with things metaphysical to our world, and as such deal not just in the mystical, but in the ultimately unknowable - a fact which should give us pause anytime one tries to claim a monopoly on "The Truth"(tm))

Now, whilst this may seem like I'm being "critical of the faith", that's not entirely my point. I don't much care what the Catholic (or any other) Church believes - as long as they don't insist that I must believe/conduct myself as they do.

There is a definite pattern in recent years of the Catholic Church attempting to inject itself into the politics of the nation - not in a merely ecclesiastical sense, but in a very direct "exercise of power" sense. (Look, for example, at some of the rantings of Bishop Henry, which have wandered into the realm of outright public threats at times)

Not only does this Pope seem to represent a return to the Church in it's pre-Vatican II form, but his very actions suggest a desire to return the Church to the kind of influence it held when Pope Urban II triggered the first Crusade.

Monday, July 09, 2007

If I Wasn't Convinced Before ...

I'm now absolutely sure that Hillier is a Conservative shill.

According to documents made available to The Globe and Mail, the Strategic Joint Staff, a newly created group that advises Gen. Hillier, has been reviewing all Access to Information requests about detainees since March, shortly after the detainee controversy first erupted.

The Strategic Joint Staff has given strict guidance to National Defence's director of Access to Information, Julie Jansen, on what documents should be withheld. The result is that the flow of documents about detainees has virtually dried up and the department has summarily rejected requests for the same kind of documents it released earlier.

If this doesn't reek of politicking, I don't know what does. Typical of this government, if they can't stand the heat generated by an issue, they try to bury it, stifle discussion of it, etc.

The argument that releasing numbers of detainees and other basic statistical information to Canadians is going to "endanger" the troops doesn't hold water. Even the United States doesn't make such an asinine claim.

Remember, as voters and taxpayers, it's our dollar$ that are financing PMSH's little ego-inflating expedition to Afghanistan. It's also our nation's youth that are being killed by IEDs and other hazards of warfare - and the reasons for our presence are becoming increasingly dubious. Do we not have a right to know just what it is our troops are being ordered to do? Do we not have a right to know what it is our troops are actually doing?

It's time for Hillier to resign and run for public office. If he's going to be a shill for this bunch of bastards in Ottawa, he can damned well be directly accountable to the voters too! (and the sooner we get rid of this bunch of Con$, the better!)

WingNut Christianity and "Terror"ism

Well, that didn't take long, did it. A few short days after a handful of loonies in the UK attempted a series of car bombings, we find the wingnuts out in full force spreading fear.

We begin with whatever oozed out of Michael Coren's fetid imagination this past week:

Commentators were incredulous that people of science sworn to do none harm should apparently act thus. Fools. The doctors' unions in Egypt and Jordan are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, a fascist group that preaches jihad. The second in command of Al Qaida is a pediatrician and one of the founders of Hamas a surgeon.

The idea that poverty and oppression produce psychotic mass murderers has always been a patronizing illusion. Egyptian universities churn out fundamentalist fanatics, the Saudi middle class is riddled with extremism.

The brush used here is so broad as to be borderline racism on Coren's part. More or less, he's arguing that anyone who is a Muslim Arab is dominated by what the fearmongers have dubbed Islamofasism (cue evil sounding music here).

Besides being Coren's usual near-hysteria over Islam, it shows us something of the ugly underbelly of Coren's idea of "Christian". Tolerance and respect for others is based on whether he thinks you are doing the "right things", and doesn't for a moment take into account the long term history of Christians in the Middle East. (and it's not real pretty)

I'm sure that in Coren's mind there's a big difference between Car Bombing a city and Carpet Bombing a country. Apparently, one has a moral justification in his mind.

Then, we turn around and find a slightly more literate form of stupidity over at Mercatornet, the headline blaring at us: FOCUS ON TERROR: Those who cure you will kill you

This piece of insanity proceeds to attempt to convince us that Muslim doctors are inherently bound to the whim of radical Islam:

The oath of a Muslim physician asks Allah to "make us worthy of this favoured station with honour, dignity and piety so that we may devote our lives in serving mankind, poor or rich, literate or illiterate, Muslim or non-Muslim, black or white with patience and tolerance with virtue and reverence, with knowledge and vigilance, with Thy love in our hearts and compassion for Thy servants, Thy most precious creation." And it cites an eloquent verse of the Qu'ran's fifth sura: "Whoever kills an innocent soul, it is as if he killed the whole of mankind. And whoever saves one, it is as if he saved the whole of mankind." Most Muslim doctors abide by these ideals.

Obviously the doctors currently under arrest, who, by all accounts were model citizens -- quiet, friendly and hard-working -- had a blind spot for this ideal. They paid more attention to a verse which follows shortly afterwards: “Those that make war against God and his apostle and spread disorder in the land shall be slain . . .” Their rigid, unforgiving ideology interpreted the Qu'ran to exclude unbelievers and depraved night-clubbers from personhood and therefore from the mercy of the Almighty -- and theirs.

The writer's insane hysteria mirrors Michael Coren in ways that I can only be appalled by. He goes on to try tarring an entire population based on the actions of a few:

Other Muslim doctors have been terrorists. Osama bin Laden's top deputy is Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who trained as a surgeon. Mahmoud Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, is a surgeon. Another leading Hamas figure was Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, a physician and geneticist. He was killed by an Israeli gunship. The founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fathi al-Shikaki, was an Egypt-trained doctor who was assassinated in Malta in 1995. Back when the terrorists were freedom fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan, a number of mujahadeen were doctors and engineers.

The radical insanity of a few over years is supposed to tell us something about the majority? Please.

Of course, being slightly more intellectually sophisticated than Coren, Mercatornet's writer tries to turn things back on the ills of "post Christian" Western Society:

Terrorism clearly violates the traditional Hippocratic Oath. However, few realise how much the Hippocratic Oath has changed. Today nearly every American medical school administers some sort of oath, but heavily bowlderised. Reflecting the confusion of contemporary values, many young doctors swear not to discriminate on the basis of race, nationality, sex, religion or sexual orientation and to protect patients' autonomy and ensure informed consent. Inspiring stuff, but it shines a weak light on what makes a person worthy of life. The original oath invoked Greek gods. A 1993 survey showed that only 11 per cent of US oaths invoked any kind of deity. Nowadays the ancient pledges never to participate in euthanasia and abortion are often omitted. As of 1993, only 14 per cent of US oaths prohibited euthanasia, and only 8 per cent abortion. The original oath forbade sexual relationships with patients, but only 3 per cent of oaths administered by US medical schools did so.

What this demonstrates is the not so much the moral equivalence of terrorism and abortion or euthanasia, but the existence of a shared moral crisis: both the Muslim world and the post-Christian technology-obsessed West have lost sight of what constitutes a person. Muslim extremists regard unbelievers as unpersons, and many doctors and scientists regard human embryos, foetuses, and the terminally ill as unpersons. Muslims, perhaps because of a flawed understanding of God as altogether distinct from reason, and Westerners because of an arrogant reliance on the autonomy of reason.

The twist of logic here is astonishing, and it hardly mitigates the blatant bigotry of either side of the story. Instead, it confirms in my own mind the complacent intolerance and bigotry that runs through the hard-line "Christian" world. (I put the term in quotes, because I believe that these people have so badly distorted the meanings of "Christian" so as to make it unrecognizable).

The arrogance of presupposing that there is some moral justification for invading and occupying a foreign land is amazing. To expect that such actions would not be met with retaliation of some form is simply beyond credulity.

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...