Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Oh Dear God!

Via Huffington Post: Theocracy Now!.

Watch the video, and listen closely to the vile crap being spewed by these people.

If they weren't so serious, these people might almost qualify as funny.

Executions for gays and blasphemers; "Islamofascists", and goodness knows what else. Oh yes, did you hear that being gay is a "gender identity confusion"? (Or at least so Lou Sheldon claims)

Dobson's spewage at the end is exceptionally hideous, followed only by someone as obscene as Newt Gingrich.

The term "values vote" means this: voting for violence, war and discrimination against minorities. I can't even call that "conservative", it's downright regressive.

*Bleah*

Patience and All Things Will Come To You

... Even if you try to outrun them.

A couple of years ago the Portus Hedge Fund collapsed into the quagmire of bankruptcy and ... to no great surprise, corruption.

I didn't really have a clue how persistent the bankruptcy trustees are until in the early 1990s I discovered that KPMG still had Abacus Cities on the books as an active bankruptcy - for a company which had collapsed over a decade earlier.

Well, it would seem that the long arm of something far more persistent than the law has caught up with Boaz Manor, who fled to Israel shortly after Portus collapsed.

Mr. Manor was barred from leaving Israel under a court order, but the travel ban was lifted recently by the Israeli District Court, which imposed stringent requirements on his travel. He will be accompanied to the airport in Israel by his lawyer and a lawyer for KPMG, and KPMG's lawyer will accompany him on the flight.

“We are extremely pleased with the reported decision as it ensures that Mr. Manor will face justice in Canada while ensuring that the rights of the investors to recover assets from him are preserved,” KPMG senior vice-president Robert Rusko said in a statement.


Perhaps the more distressing part of this is the impact of Manor and his companions on the assets of investors:

Also Tuesday, KPMG said it has made an interim payment to Portus customers who lost money when the company collapsed. The initial payment of 15 cents on the dollar of proven claims will go to more than 16,000 customers. The cheques were mailed on Oct. 22, the receiver said.


Yes, any investment has a risk to it. I appreciate that. But to lose 85 cents on every dollar - especially when Portus was talking about a "buy-in" amount that was around $10,000 minimum, that $10,000 translated into an $8500 loss. Ouch! (Even more ouch for investors who played more money into it)

I look forward to Portus' leadership facing justice. I was more than a little bit upset to learn that Manor had "skipped town".

Interesting ...

I'm a little surprised to hear Lougheed taking a public stand on the Oil Royalties.

Lougheed's assessment seems to align with my own initial thoughts - namely that it can't be all bad if none of the lobbying stakeholders is happy:

Speaking of his own experiences, he said: "When you make a major announcement and you've got both extremes distressed with you, you say to yourself, 'Maybe we got this right.' "


Not that this means I'm likely to vote for Stelmach - I still believe the province needs a major amount of change in Edmonton.

Monday, October 29, 2007

George W. Bush is Today's Churchill?

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. When we start seeing drivel like Rachel Marsden's column in the Toronto Sun, you know that we are dredging the bottom of the intellectual swamp.

For Bush's critics to have to admit that his vision has even caught on in France would likely be too much to take.

George W. Bush is the Winston Churchill of our time. Don't see it? Keep an eye on that rear-view mirror.


Myopia and simplistic ideology are absolutely the two easiest political stances to adopt. George Bush represents both in spades.

However, it isn't the end of Marsden's column that is so pathetic, it is her rabid defense of right-wing extremism in politics (especially US politics) that is particularly revolting:

Poor GOP Senator Joe McCarthy was persecuted and vilified for audaciously suggesting the U.S. government was rife with communist spies at its highest level. Now that the VENONA Project has successfully decoded encrypted Soviet communications, we know his assessment was bang-on.


Yes, let's consider McCarthy for a moment. It was his "investigations that created an era of fear and oppression the waves of which are still rippling through society today. Just as the US no doubt had its "moles" lurking in the Kremlin doing their business, most sane people would have expected the USSR to have moles in the Washington D.C. corridors as well. Investigating such prospects is admirable and valid. Using that same supposition to vilify people (McCarthy went after homosexuals with a unique degree of paranoia and viciousness) is not admirable or valid.

Ronald Reagan hit a 42% approval rating in 1983, as unemployment peaked prior to his visionary Reaganomics policy kicking in. When he died, you'd think the previously critical liberal media had spent a lifetime partying with the guy.


Yes, trickle-down economics was such a smashing success, wasn't it. While I realize that the neocon crowd idolize both Thatcher and Reagan, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are above reproach. Reagan's economic policies were a disaster for people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Reagan's policies were also the beginning of the explicit undermining and devaluing of publicly-funded education in the United States. The price of that is only just becoming apparent with now a full generation reaching adulthood with significant deficits in their education.

She goes on to snidely dismiss Jimmy Carter's Nobel Peace Laureate as follows:

Even president Jimmy Carter -- who let American hostages rot in Iran for 444 days and was drop-kicked from office with a 39% approval rating that year -- went on to win a Nobel Prize for his, um, efforts.


Of course, she ignores Carter's ongoing activity after his presidency, as well as the fact that he actually did rather more constructive foreign policy work than most presidents do.

She claims that the events which will make "Dubya" great in history are things like executing Saddam Hussein, and other events in Iraq:

Sammon, a registered Independent who brings the usually foreign concept of fairness to journalism, also suggests that events like the execution of Saddam Hussein and the capture of al-Qaida's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- the man largely responsible for triggering sectarian violence in Iraq -- will eventually loom larger in retrospect than, for example, Dick Cheney shooting his pal during a hunting trip.


I disagree. Cheney shooting his friend during a hunting trip is perhaps the perfect metaphor for the Bush Administration. In their desperate desire to rush into an unnecessary, and arguably illegal war in Iraq the Bush Administration shot the American people with their own gun. The ongoing costs of that war have resulted in the biggest deficits a US government has ever experienced, and now threaten not only to devalue the US dollar further, but could easily provoke an economic collapse.

As important as history is, you do not run a country by looking backwards, any more than you drive a car through the rearview mirror. Bush has done both, and worse, has repeated the mistakes of the past - the world is just waiting for the off-screen sound of crashing bits.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Exaggerating Bullying ... Or Minimizing Its Reality

Some genius in the UK figures that bullying is "normal" behaviour among children.

To a degree, he has a point. There are stages in life where children are learning social rules and interactions, and we would expect a certain amount of cruelty in those interactions.

If that were all that bullying was, it would not be the problem that it is today.

Most people can deal with one or two harshly worded interactions with others and shrug it off. But those are not by any means "bullying" in their own right. Bullying is more appropriately described as a pattern of hostile behaviour, often focused on an individual. It is often over a protracted period of time, and will involve a mixture of verbal abuse, threats and physical abuse. No one incident constitutes bullying, but when there is a pattern, there is a price.

I had my share of experiences with bullying while I was growing up, and I've witnessed it in the workplace as an adult. It has an undeniable price for its victims. Self esteem is the first thing to be diminished (not surprising when some two bit thug is busy denigrating you to your face day after day), people will disengage from a situation they are forced to contend with regularly, and eventually a form of hopelessness sets in.

Getting out of the situation is the first and most important thing to do - the pattern has to be broken.

The timing of this article is interesting to me - a friend of mine recently discovered that their son was being regularly harassed at school. Previously an "A" student in key subjects, the child had stopped handing in assignments and was now doing poorly on tests. Fortunately for this child, teachers noticed the change and investigated what was happening and took steps to remediate the situation. A similar situation a few years earlier had resulted in the school denying that there was a bullying problem. (I've heard that before)

What is the line between schoolyard taunting and bullying? It's hard to say - everybody has different tolerances. If you can establish a pattern, and the target of that pattern is showing signs of changed behaviour, then action should be taken.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Contraceptives Make You Wanton

... or at least so Michael Coren seems to think:

If it's true, however, it's extremely disturbing. And if it's true the solution is to stop the girls having sex, not to make it easier for the others to join in. Otherwise it's like assuming that by ignoring the poor we'll prevent poverty.


Dear god this man is clinically insane. While I realize that it's one thing to encourage sexual activity between a twelve year old and adults. Then there's Coren's solution to treat normal sexual experimentation as "criminal":

The boys involved should be charged, the parents of the girls investigated and, perhaps, the abused children taken into care, because this is illegal and it certainly is abuse.


No, Michael - teenagers have been experimenting sexually since the dawn of time. Arbitrary laws and criminalization of that behaviour are stupid in the most extreme, resulting in cases like this one.

While I may have some reservations about making hormonal birth control available to twelve year olds, I think Mr. Coren's position is derived from a moral ideal that neither exists nor has it ever existed.

But in a way none of this is at all surprising. Little girls have been dressing like hookers, and boys like pimps, for years. The free market appears to care not a damn about morality if it can make a profit, and its usual opponents, the left, seems obsessed with promoting sexual anarchy and abolishing absolutes.


Oh yes, that old saw - it's all the fault of how people dress, and after all we've started to lose some of the social inhibitions that came over with the puritans when this region was settled.

The line that access to birth control makes people "wanton" or irresponsible is a crock. It was a crock a decade or more in the past, and remains a crock today. Teenagers have always experimented as their bodies change. Coren's horror is at the age that some are beginning to become sexually active. What he forgets is that there has been evidence about for years about "precocious puberty" where the process we are used to thinking of as starting at the age of 12 or so starts much earlier, sometimes as young as 8.

Coren also is ignoring - in a classically male fashion - the simple fact that it is the female who carries the burden of "consequences" from sexual activity. He's not going to get pregnant, she is - with all of the implications that carries. The neo-Christian "you should feel guilty about sex" line creates problems - and some of them are even worse than what Coren thinks is a current problem.

Used irresponsibly, it has reduced women to the level of the worst of men and transformed sexuality from a loving coupling of two people to a mere lustful exchange of bodily fluids.


Ah yes, contraceptives make you horny - got it. Sure. When Coren figures out that it has a lot more to do with the human mind, and a soup of hormonal chemistry than something as simple as a condom, he might start to understand why his "criminalize sex" line is doomed to fail.

I'm not saying that you provide unfettered access to sexual information, but rather that parents should lead by example. That doesn't mean not talking about the subject or ignoring it, but rather by being up front and honest with their children. Teach responsible behaviour, understanding of consequences and how to say "no". Access to contraceptives is a safety, and in an era where ignorance can be fatal, I'd much rather my offspring be able to protect themselves...and if that means making contraceptives available when they are teens, so be it. Better that than to learn that a child entering adulthood is doomed from a fatal infection, or is pregnant before they are ready to be a parent because some prude like Coren tried to make them criminals for being human.

Well Duh!

Anybody with their eyes open would have figured out that business isn't going to create daycare spaces because the Con$ wish for them.

The Conservatives came around in the last election babbling about how they were going to use "tax incentives" to get business to create child care spaces.

Just like their piddling $100/child/month (taxed) offering to parents, this actually does little to actually create child care spaces because business in general isn't interested in that domain:

An analysis of the possibility of getting Alberta employers to create child-care spots says: “Discussions with employers, businesses in Alberta, were mainly reflective of what we heard across Canada in terms of child care not being their line of business, shared concern that it would be too costly and complex for small business to consider.”

As for the idea of tax credits, those performing the analysis said: “shareholders are skeptical that a tax credit will create an adequate incentive for employers to create new child care spaces and are concerned it unfairly favours large enterprises.” Nor would tax credits work for non-profit organizations, they say.


That was obvious last election - because childcare, like medicine and a few other domains, are places were the oh-so-benevolent "free market" doesn't work. (Try finding child care spaces in Alberta, where the Con$ got their brilliant ideas from in the first place!)

The Con$ could have saved a lot of taxpayer dollars by simply asking themselves an obvious question - "Why would any business not already in the childcare game get into offering childcare when it's not their core business?" Tax credits aside, it's highly unlikely that any business that isn't a child are business to start with is going to get into the field just because the Federal government offers up a "tax credit".

Friday, October 26, 2007

ConservaPedia - When You Can't Deal With Reality

Apparently, when you can't deal with moderation - as is done with Wikipedia - the conservatives in the US have cooked up their own Conservapedia.

To say that Conservapedia is...well...limited in its depth is an understatement. It appears that its contributors have conveniently failed to actually read relevant material.

Allow me to pick something apart here by doing a "compare-and-contrast" between the Conservapedia article on Gender Identity Disorder and the corresponding Wikipedia Article on the same subject.

To say that the opening description of GID in the Conservapedia article is "lightweight" is something of an understatement:

Gender identity disorder is a medical diagnosis for a mental disorder according to the DSM IV, which indicates a "strong and persistent cross-gender identification."


A couple of points of criticism here: First of all, there are references to the Diagnostic and Statisical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) without actually identifying the DSM correctly or providing appropriate cross-linkage to related material.

Second, a degree of caution should be used around the phrase "medical diagnosis". Although the DSM is a diagnostic tool, my own experience with it says that it is far more of a lexicon used by professionals to describe a client's condition rather than something that triggers a specific path of treatment.

In comparison, the Wikipedia entry starts with the following description:

Gender identity disorder, as identified by psychologists and physicians, is a condition in which a person has been birthed one gender, usually on the basis of their sex at birth (compare intersex disorders), but identifies as belonging to another gender, and feels significant discomfort or being unable to deal with this condition.


And now we come to the first outright factual error in Conservapedia's entry:

A set of International Standards of Care [3] guide most physicians, and therapists around the world in a widely accepted medical process that begins with Reparative Therapy intended to dissuade patients from the permanent and irreversible physical alterations that could seriously damage their mental health.


Although WPATH is an international organization that publishes a Standards of Care protocol document, it is a bit of a reach to suggest that this protocol is universally applied by practitioners working with transgender clients.

The great fallacy here is the idea that anything in the SOC is even vaguely related to the notion of "Reparative Therapy". In fact, a careful reading of the SOC and the protocol that it implies leaves the decision making very much in the hands of the client. While the therapist may to some extent guide, they certainly are not going to attempt to dissuade the client. (negative persuasion is more typical of so-called "gender programs" run by the Clarke Institute in the late 1970s.)

In comparison, the Wikipedia article provides the following abbreviated version of the DSM-IV pages on the subject which are much more complete:

DSM-IV

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has five criteria that must be met before a diagnosis of gender identity disorder (302.85) can be given:[2]

1. There must be evidence of a strong and persistent cross-gender identification.
2. This cross-gender identification must not merely be a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex.
3. There must also be evidence of persistent discomfort about one's assigned sex or a sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.
4. The individual must not have a concurrent physical intersex condition (e.g., androgen insensitivity syndrome or congenital adrenal hyperplasia).
5. There must be evidence of clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.


On the subject of treatment, Wikipedia provides the following comment about dissuasive therapy:

... Today, mohttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifst medical professionals who provide transgender transition services now reject conversion therapies as abusive and dangerous, believing instead what many transgender people have been convinced of: that when able to live out their daily lives with both a physical embodiment and a social expression that most closely matches their internal sense of self, transgender and transsexual individuals live successful, productive lives virtually indistinguishable from anyone else ...


As well as a link to a lengthy article on the WPATH SOC.

The next bit of supposition is just so astoundingly brain damaged that I don't know how to read it:

However, the Kinsey model fails to account for a significant amount of transsexuals, who appear to be attracted to the the gender that they identify as. As a resolution, modern and typically liberal transgender activists have tended to present a model that transsexuals are fundamentally a man or woman trapped in the body of the other, and that their sexual orientation is entirely independent of their gender identity.[4]


The first thing that goes through my mind is that the Kinsey model has exactly nothing to do with gender identity in the first place. Kinsey focused on sexual attraction, not gender identity. The second issue that this paragraph suffers from is that the writers assume that "transgender activists" are "liberal" (often, transgender people are, but political leaning has little to do with one's identity). The last sentence is important, as it contains a subtle inference that is simply not substantiated by the evidence. (Far too many transgender people clearly do find their gender and sexual identities are distinct aspects of their being to ignore).

Critics of this common model for transsexualism, like J. Michael Bailey point out that such a model fails to properly account for the empirically evidence that transsexuals typically lie in two separate and distinct categories: whereas some males are so naturally effeminate and homosexual that it makes more sense for them to be women, than to continue to struggle and/or fail as men.


Okay - around about the time that anybody quotes J. Michael Bailey as a legitimate counterpoint model for transsexuals, they've lost the rhetorical argument. Bailey has already admitted to making unfounded inferences in drawing his conclusions. In my view, that's right up there with the so-called "critics" of evolution - most such critiques are based on amazingly bad science to start with.

Quite frankly, factual and semantic errors aside, Conservapedia is so obviously ideologically biased that it hardly represents any kind of credible source for reference information. Ignoring reality doesn't exactly help either.

Alberta's Petroleum Royalty Changes

It's going to take a while for me to sift through the details of the revised petroleum royalty regime unveiled last night by Premier Ed Stelmach.

Just listening to the news driving into work this morning - which was one long "what don't you like" session from speaker after speaker on differing sides of the fence - I came away with the impression that Stelmach may have hit the perfect political compromise - nobody seems to be overly happy with it.

The biggest "stinker" that I see in it is the government reopening the Syncrude and Suncor contracts that were slated to run until 2016. I have some difficulty with opening contracts that are already in play on little more than government fiat. (That said, if the contract and circumstances weren't amazingly generous to the companies, you might find that the company would be standing at the government door with their hand out looking to reopen the contract.

The wailing from the oilpatch players on CBC this morning tells me that the oilpatch didn't win their lobbying war. (I expect that the PC's are going to see a big drop in their "donations" revenue in the coming fiscal year).

Similarly vocal complaints from the environmental lobby and others who wanted a much more aggressive royalty scheme implemented suggest that Stelmach has tried to hit some kind of "middle ground".

I'll reserve a more detailed analysis of Stelmach's changes for when I have time to sift through the gobbledygook and convoluted equations.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

That was quick

It seems that The Sun pulled Ezra's last column.

I commented on it back here. It's a rare thing for Sun Media to pull a column of any sort - I can guess just how warm some of the letters they were getting must have been.

...and no, that's not "censorship" - it's called calling a bigoted moron out on his suppositions. Clearly a lot more people than just me saw that column for what it really was.

The Bishop Speaketh

I see Bishop Henry is spouting off about marriage again.

Most of Henry's reasoning is the usual drivel, rooted in the usual assumptions:

It is incongruous to grant “marital” status to unions between persons of the same sex. It is opposed, first of all, by the objective impossibility of making the partnership fruitful through the transmission of life. Another obstacle is the absence of the conditions for that interpersonal complementarity between male and female, that communion of life and love at both the physical-biological and the psychological levels.


Of course, Bishop Henry is conveniently ignoring so many realities here it's not even funny. The Bishop for starters is continuing his usual denial that GLBT relationships are any different from heterosexual relationships in their underlying emotional content. This is of course, an assertion that the Bishop can freely make, but can never prove (in fact the rational evidence speaks a very different story).

He's come up with an interesting way to verbally invalidate anything that isn't a church sanctified marriage - the Bishop has begun using the term "de facto union" to describe family units which fall outside of his narrow bounds:

The term, “de facto unions”, not only includes the 0.6% of same-sex coupledom, but a whole series of heterosexual human realities whose common element is that of being forms of cohabitation which are not marriage.

De facto unions are characterized precisely by the fact that they ignore, postpone, or even reject the conjugal commitment.


Stop right there. Because this is the point where the Bishop's entire argument collapses when brought into the secular world of governance and law. (Which is precisely what not only the GLBT rights discussion is about, but also what has driven changes in our government's approach to marriage outside the sanctification of the churches in areas such as common-law households)

Within the body of the Catholic Church - or any other Church, I don't really care how the group chooses to define marriage and what rituals they wrap around it. Whatever "floats your boat".

However, Bishop Henry is missing things quite badly. He proceeds to attempt to demonstrate how non-marital relationships are inferior:

Some other persons who live together justify this choice because of economic reasons or to avoid legal difficulties. The real motives are often much deeper. There is often an underlying mentality
that gives little value to sexuality, influenced more or less by pragmatism and hedonism, as well as by a conception of love detached from any responsibility
.

In other cases, de facto unions are formed by persons who were previously divorced and are thus an alternative to marriage.


Few things annoy me faster than some moron making broad sweeping statements about the motives of people they clearly haven't even tried to interact with. Such is the case with Bishop Henry here. The motives of couples that choose to live "outside" his sanctified notion of marriage are none of his business, nor can he legitimately claim to have any real knowledge of such situations. It's obvious that the Bishop is working from stereotypes that were unrealistic by the 1970s, and has yet to wake up and smell the coffee.

His second point about "love without responsibility" is a classic Catholic guilt line - basically sex not only can have consequences, but you should feel horrendously guilty about them. Marriage does not "sanctify" sexual activity, and goodness knows I've known more than enough couples who are 'married in all but name' and raise families quite successfully. For the Bishop to claim that such relationships are lesser simply because they are not "sanctified" by his faith is pure, unadulterated crap.

It's interesting how the "Family Values" crowd turns out to be outright hypocrites in these matters. They love to parade about and claim that they are "all about the welfare of the children". However, if you look at Bishop Henry's logic today, it's fairly apparent that his position is sufficiently broad that it would also suggest removing recognition for long-term "common-law" relationships as well. The laws were changed in the 1980s to render long-term common-law relationships (those of a duration greater than 1 year) legally equivalent to married - especially where matters such as common property and other legal/economic entanglements are concerned. This was done quite specifically to benefit children who often found themselves destitute when one of the partners kicked the other out.

While I'm sure that Bishop Henry will look at such situations as reinforcing his point about the instability of common-law relationships, he would be ignoring the immense industry that is divorce law in Canada (or the United States), as well as the perfidity of those who within the "sanctified boundaries" of marriage engage in practices ranging from spousal abuse to child neglect or worse. He would also be ignoring the number of completely dysfunctional couples who "stayed married for the children", only to wind up raising children who were psychologically damaged by the constant tensions and conflict in the household. (Oh yes, let's not ignore the cases where one spouse or another simply walked out and never came back)

Now, just in case you think I'm being over the top about interpreting Bishop Henry so broadly, consider the following paragraph:

Furthermore, equality before the law must respect the principle of justice which means treating equals equally, and what is different differently: i.e. to give each one his due in justice.

This principle of justice is violated if “de facto unions” are given a juridical treatment similar or equivalent to the family based on marriage. If the family based on marriage and de facto unions are neither similar nor equivalent in their duties, functions and services in society, then they should not be similar or equivalent in their juridical status.


If the Bishop's position were to be reflected in law, we would step back to an era that existed somewhere in the 1960s (if it was that good). Equality before the law means just that. Why should a couple who has been sharing their lives for fifteen years have a different set of rules when it comes to the legal status of that relationship simply because no cleric ever "blessed" that union.

There are compelling reasons to legally recognize a variety of "atypical" family structures. Those that come to mind include protecting the partners and any children involved from destitution should the relationship break down. This means that common property has to be treated equitably, regardless of whether a sanctified marriage exists or not.

The second point, and this has happened with far greater publicity in the United States than in Canada, is the protection of the wishes of either partner with respect to wills and decisions about end of life medical intervention. In far too many cases a partner's biological family will shut out a long-term partner from the decision making process (especially where it is a same-sex relationship), and will apply to the courts to render any existing will invalid. This behaviour is inhuman at best and despicable is probably a better way to frame it. In these situations, long term partners are not granted any relief by the courts, and wind up grieving alone and sometimes are subjected to immediate poverty as key assets were held in common.

As I say, I don't care what Bishop Henry wants the Catholic Church to do. I do care when Bishop Henry starts trying to dictate that the rest of the world should behave as he believes is proper. In his objections to legal recognition of atypical family structures, I argue that the Bishop is dead wrong in both his suppositions.

Claims about the "needs of the children" with respect to same-gender couples are largely assertion with no corroborating evidence to support them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Understatement of the Year Award

Goes to Condoleezza Rice.

"We have told the Canadian government we do not think this was handled particularly well … and we will try to do better in the future," Rice said while testifying before the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee.


So ... let me get this straight. Rice has admitted that they didn't handle it well, but continues to deny that he was tortured in Syria:

Rice told Delahunt she was "aware of claims" that the engineer, who made his home in Ottawa, was tortured while imprisoned in Syria.


This is possibly the most egregious lie I have ever heard uttered by a politician on either side of the border. Syria's record for treatment of people in custody is well known, and it seems unlikely at best that the United States officials involved in Arar's handover to Syria were unaware of what was in store for Arar.

When pressed further, Rice pulled an Oliver North-esque comment out:

"my memory of some of the details has faded."


If Rice were Pinocchio, her nose would have impaled someone in that room after telling that whopper.

When PMSH Isn't Hardline Enough ...

Loons like Gerry Nicholls come out of the woodwork and whine.

According to Mr. Nicholls, Harper has "sold out" to keep his grip on power - and has become a W.I.M.P.:

This new ideology is seemingly based on four points: Winability, Incrementalism, Moderation and Persistence. I prefer to summarize it by the acronym W.I.M.P.


I agree with Nicholls about this far - I'm pretty sure that HarperCrit and his cronies are fairly salivating over having a more solid grip on political power.

One can only imagine what would have happened had Flanagan advised Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher or Mike Harris.

He likely would have advised Reagan to drop his "scary" conservative ideas and to act more like Jimmy Carter. He likely would have recommended Harris change the "Common Sense Revolution" to something a little less radical sounding, something like the "Common Sense Incrementalism." And no doubt he would have suggested to Thatcher that since Britain was a left-wing country, she should scrap her conservative agenda and give the people what they want: socialism.


Around about here, Nicholls demonstrates that he is part of the "base" that I have suspected for a long time would ultimately undermine any long term effort to maintain political power on the part of the current "Conservative" Party.

True conservative leaders like Reagan or Thatcher used their leadership positions to sell conservatism, to extol the free market system, to talk about the need for more freedom and less government. By contrast, Harper consistently uses the rhetoric of Liberals.


About the time I see the words "True Conservative"(™) together, I'm pretty much positive that I'm hearing from some wingnut base. The phrase itself is meaningless, but tends to come from loudmouth ultra-conservative types like this guy who believe that there are "absolute" truths out there.

Gerry_nicholls@hotmail.com - GerryNichollsisaseniorfellow with the Democracy Institute. This article is adapted from remarks delivered at a recent Fraser Institute-sponsored debate with Tom Flanagan.


Hmmm is that all he is? Lifesite tells us more:

Gerry_nicholls@hotmail.com - GerryNicholls, is a past president of the National Citizens' Coalition and a senior fellow with the Democracy Institute. This article is adapted from remarks delivered at a recent Fraser Institute-sponsored debate with Tom Flanagan and was originally published in the National Post, Oct. 24, 2007.


Oh yes that National Citizens Coalition where Harper spent several years developing his "credentials" as a conservative. Got it.

Cause and Effect: Fundie Style

Via Pam's House Blend, we learn what passes for causal reasoning among the fundies.

The short synopsis - GLBT people made god start the wildfires in California.


... Right! ... and on a more humorous note, I leave you with this take on God's wrath:

Welcome To Harper's Canada: It's A Police State

Jeepers, as if it wasn't evil enough that this bastard Prime Minister wants to undermine key legal principles such as "Presumption of Innocence" by resurrecting what was bill C-27 as part of Bill C-2, we also find Harper insisting that we need to give police the right to detain without charge, as well as an attempt to resurrect the extra-judicial "Security Certificate" process.

In Harper's Canada, if you aren't a Canadian Citizen, you can be locked up without trial, and without recourse because of what someone whispers you might do. I didn't like the Security Certificate system when I first started hearing about it, and after the royal fuck up that was the Maher Arar case, anything that breaks the fundamental, and essential right to contest your detention before a court of law is just plain wrong in my view.

Similarly, five years after originally providing police with broad powers of both detention and the right to compel suspects to testify in terrorism investigations, we find two basic facts:

1) No terrorism investigation required those powers - including the ones that resulted in arrests.
2) By then it was quite clear that allegations that Canada was a hotbed of "terrorist cells" (coming mostly from hysterical American politicians) were obviously a crock.

The basic observation in that five year period has to be that those extraordinary powers are neither necessary, nor are they particularly useful to the people on the ground doing investigations. The first go-round on those clauses was in the wake of 9/11, and in a manner similar to the October Crisis, some overreaction is understandable - if problematic.

In the (hopefully) more rational light of today, it seems to me that we have little or no reason to renew extraordinary powers in any ongoing manner. Powers to detain without charge, and compelling testimony are abusive of fundamental principles of a civil society and subject to even greater abuse if they are actually exercised.

Harper's latest round of "Gettin' Tough" on things is nothing more than a blatant attack on civil liberty at all levels, and typical of what passes for "thinking" among the Con$ these days is based on blithe assumptions that simply are not borne out by reality.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ENDA Should Be As Broad As Possible

Discrimination is wrong - period. When you start treating entire groups of people as second-class citizens because of attributes they have no real control over - whether that is skin colour, sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, you create a subclass of people in your society who are politically and economically disenfranchised.

Bubbling away in the United States recently has been a lot of very loud discussion over a piece of legislation currently before the legislative houses called Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA for short.

ENDA has the right-wingnut fundies in a lather to begin with because it extends protections on the basis of sexual orientation, making it difficult for an employer to fire someone who is gay. A secondary debate has emerged as to whether the wording of ENDA should be expanded in scope to include gender identity - and in particular transsexuals.

My natural inclination is that this is a no-brainer. Make the legislation as broad as possible to prevent unnecessary and unwarranted discrimination - period.

However, the debate in the US is much more heated because the US has a much more patchwork set of laws regarding human rights, with regional and local government often having enacted significant protections for various minorities well ahead of the Federal Government, and ENDA would be Federal legislation covering the entire nation. The religious feel that sexuality is all about "moral failings" in behaviour, and they wish to reserve the right not to have to work with or employ someone who they discover is "immoral".

Even the GLB organizations (who often tack the "T" (for transgender) onto the end of their name as an afterthought) have been known to argue that it doesn't matter if transgender people are included or not.

There's a couple of claims around exclusding transsexuals - the more wingnutty of the right wing claim that transgender people are still protected even if they aren't specifically named (based on a bit of illogic that I can only call convoluted). Or, similar claims are made based on existing sexual discrimination laws. Sadly, both are based on flawed reasoning that fails to examine the legal patchwork - you might be able to work in California and be protected, but if your company moves you to say - Texas - the legal framework changes quite dramatically. Not good news for someone who is part of an often-visible and ill-treated minority population.

What galvanizes my opinion on the current ENDA legislation debate is actually secondary to ENDA itself - it is the revelation of the existence of legislation prohibits treatment for transsexual prisoners in the state of Michigan. We aren't talking about inhibiting someone's otherwise peaceful life here, but rather preventing them from getting treatment for a condition that is very psychologically distressing. (Why anybody would want to attempt gender transition in prison is beyond me - I can't imagine a worse environment, but with the world's highest rate of incarceration, the US is going to have all kinds of situations pop up) If this kind of patchwork discrimination doesn't underscore the problem that ENDA addresses, I don't know what does.

In Canada, the legal picture is quite different. Section 15 of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is quite broadly worded:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.


The "and, in particular" phrase is vitally important to this clause of the Charter as it clearly takes the following list of clauses from being an "exclusive list" (where terms not already written are simply excluded) to be an "inclusive list" in which new forms of discrimination can be "read in" via the courts.

Additionally, because of the peer relationships between provinces, the interpretation of human rights legislation in one province will influence the others. So, for example, where Alberta's Human Rights Act doesn't specifically include transgender people (or homosexuals for that matter), interpretations such as Ontario's are highly influential. (and, as the Vriend case made so clear ommission in Canada is not exclusion:

Alberta's human rights legislation

* Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act

Note: Although it is not expressly stated in the Act, as of April 2, 1998, sexual orientation is "read in" to the Act by the Supreme Court of Canada as a protected ground of discrimination in Alberta.


Sadly, in Canada, such legal protections only extend as far as people who are affected choose to push them. In provinces like Alberta, it's all too easy for someone to be fired for being transgender and the legal battles that ensue are lengthy and costly. The only subtle bit of hope was shed when the Provincial Government took intervenor status in recent hearings regarding the complaint against Stephen Boissoin and stated that there are boundaries to freedom of speech.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ezra Opens His Mouth ...

[Update: 23/10/07]:
Over at bigcitylib, you can find video that includes what Ezra claims is "vision obscuring headwear". (Which amusingly, bears little or no resemblance to the muslim styles that Ezra was ranting off about)

...and yes, Richard over at "no-libs" apparently doesn't see where Ezra's leap - and subsequent tirade - is such obvious bigotry.
[/Update]

and shows us just how ugly he really is.

According to Ezra, he figures that the bus driver in last week's tragic collision with a gravel truck, was impaired because she was wearing a traditional Islamic headdress - specifically, headwear that would impinge on her peripheral vision.

I won't speak to whether a niqab or hijab can (or did) obstruct the driver's vision. I'll leave that to the police investigators who are trying to sort out what happened.

However, Ezra's argument is fundamentally full of crap to begin with. I've driven the stretch of road where the collision occurred too many times to buy the "it could have been averted if she could see" argument. The road speed along that stretch is 80 km/h, and she was driving the visual equivalent of a 1 ton cube van. Trust me, "peripheral vision" doesn't matter on a relatively straight chunk of road where you would have had ample time to see the truck parked on the side of the road; and by the time that "peripheral vision" would have mattered, it was far, far too late given the size and inertia of the vehicle involved.

I agree with Levant only insofar as obstructed vision in a motor vehicle is a hazard - but by that measure some of the latest "styles" in glasses should be outlawed for those very reasons - the great thick arms are broad enough to completely obscure your peripheral vision. But then again, the number of drivers who tool around oblivious to their surroundings that it's a bigger hazard than someone driving with limited peripheral vision.

Of course, Ezra's real purpose is to try and illustrate to us how "privileged" those muslims are in our society:

I think it's obvious why these questions were not asked: because it is politically incorrect to question a religious veil -- or even anything that looks like one -- for fear of being regarded as politically incorrect.

Maybe the woman wasn't Muslim. Maybe it was just a scarf to stay warm.

Why didn't a single reporter even ask?

Of course, it doesn't matter if the woman was Muslim or not, or it if was a religious hijab or just a winter scarf. Or an Eastern European baboushka.


What pisses me off about this is not Ezra speaking out and raising the question, but rather the way in which he goes about it. It's so blatantly obvious what his position is - even though he doesn't know what charges are pending himself.

Frankly, given Levant's past track record of showing us exactly how narrow-minded a bigot he can really be, I think it's pretty safe to assume that underlying his latest tirade is nothing more than simple bigotry with only a superficial veneer of "broader concern".

It's Just A Story People...

Okay, last week, author J. K. Rowling told the world that one of her characters, Dumbledore, is gay.

I figured I'd leave the story alone, and wait until the raving lunatics of the far right started shrieking. Sure enough, The Peter™ comes out with opens his yap right on cue.

Young children, adolescents, and even many adults fall victim to the specious syllogistic reasoning that goes something like 1. Kindness is good, 2. Homosexuals are kind, 3. Therefore, homosexuality is good. It is clearly a faulty syllogism, and yet it’s wildly successful.


Of course, LaBarbera conveniently ignores the equally invalid syllogism of his entire organization:

1. The Bible Says Homosexuality is Evil
2. The Bible is the inerrant word of God
Therefore...
3. Society should outlaw gay people

But, like picking at an scab over an infected wound, The Peter™ goes on to try and conjure up some connection to the oh-so-evil "gay agenda":

The “gay” manifesto After the Ball written in 1989 describes a number of strategies to be used to transform cultural views of homosexuality, one of which is “conversion” (how very darkly ironic). The authors Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen write that “In Conversion, we mimic the natural process of stereotype learning, with the following effect: we take the bigot’s good feelings about all-right guys, and attach them to the label ‘gay,’ either weakening or, eventually, replacing his bad feelings toward the label and the prior stereotype.” Whether Rowling is aware of this process or not, she is employing it.

This is one of the most significant problems with repeated exposure to positive portrayals of homosexuals in films, television show, plays, novels, textbooks, and speakers. Unsophisticated thinkers come to believe that somehow good behaviors or traits are inherently exculpatory in regard to others. But we should no more say that the sin of homosexuality is effaced by a homosexual’s compassion, generosity, or good humor than we would say that a polygamist’s sin is effaced my his compassion, generosity, or good humor.


The short synopsis - normalizing someone being gay is a bad thing - why? Well...ummm...gee - it might lead to other bad things like polygamy. Sorry Peter, but you'll have to better than a slippery slope argument to convince this audience. Recognizing that people who are different as normal people is not a bad thing.

Nor should we be burning books because we don't like them. In the case of Harry Potter - it's fiction, deal with it.

Of Government Accountable and Open...

Remember last election, when Stephen Harper was then running up and down the country slamming the Liberals for dishonesty, and being secretive? Remember him promising that under his leadership, Canadians would have more open, honest and accountable government?

That was all fiction.

But a comparison of the flow of information between the 2005-06 fiscal year, which was mostly under Liberal rule, and the 2006-07 fiscal year, which was fully under the Conservative regime, shows the system has been slowing down.

Under the Access to Information Act, all Canadians can ask the government to provide documents on specific issues for an initial payment of $5. The information is supposed to be released within 30 days, but the government can extend the deadline for a number of reasons. It can also use exemptions to black out some of the information that is released.

In 2005-06, the government's access-to-information officers cleared 77.5 per cent of all requests within 60 days. Under the Conservatives, that number dropped almost three points to 74.7 per cent.

The percentage of requests that were met with a full disclosure of information stood at 28.4 per cent in 2005-06. The following year, however, the government started using a greater number of exemptions to censor information. In 2006-07, only 23.1 per cent of requests resulted in the release of unexpurgated documents - a drop of more than five points.


It's pretty hard to deny those numbers people. The Con$ have restricted your access to the government, and are continuing to do so.

Hiding information and making it hard to get is the act of someone who doesn't want you to see something.

However, when the Con$ervative platform last election read:

"The Liberal government has consistently rejected attempts to provide Canadians with better access to government information. The present Information Commissioner has gone to court several times to force the government to open its windows," the Conservative platform said.


The numbers themselves tell us that the Con$ were talking out both sides of their face.

Shorter PMSH: You Dare Defy Me?

This is getting interesting. After booting MP Bill Casey from caucus for daring to vote against the budget; and subsequently cutting a side deal with Nova Scotia, we find Harper playing hardline dictator within his own party.

Late last week, Casey's riding executive stepped forward in support of Casey - essentially looking for a reconciliation between the MP and government caucus. Instead of internally (and quietly) backing down, we find Harper suspending the riding executive from their duties as well.

Yes, I realize that party discipline is important - but that doesn't make the party leader its dictator either. Good leadership knows when to back down and quietly accept that it made a mistake. Harper doesn't.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

So Much For That Author

I've never been a big fan of Orson Scott Card. While I enjoyed 'Ender's Game', I can't say that the rest of his books have been overly compelling reading.

However, as PZ Myers points out, Mr. Card has apparently persuaded himself of the "rightness" of one religion's right to impose itself on the rest of us.

We all have an ugly side lurking somewhere - often a part of ourselves that we deem "only fit to howl at the moon" - it's always a little sad when someone lets that side become public knowledge.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dear Jack - The Target's Further Right ...

I have no idea just what Jack Layton thinks he's doing.

Instead of focusing his attacks on Stephen Harper's utterly destructive government, he instead plays into Harper's game by critiquing Stephane Dion:

Mr. Dion cannot have it both ways. He cannot in good conscience complain about the negative effects of Mr. Harper's agenda one day and then see to it that it passes in Parliament the next. Increasingly, this is what is wrong with politics. More and more Canadians are seeing that this is what is wrong with the Liberal party.


I hate to point this out to Mr. Layton, but the issue at hand is not Mr. Dion - it's the dishonesty of the current occupant of the PMO and his antics. Every time Layton opens his mouth these days, there's a "half hearted critique" of the government, followed by a long winded attack directed at the Liberals.

Perhaps Mr. Layton thinks he's going to make some political points this way, but ultimately all he is doing is selling out to Harper's tactics of political thuggery and confrontation.

What Layton continually misses, and fails to focus on is how "Canada's Gnu Government" under PMSH is selling us down the river and turning us into a vassal state to George Bush's America.

A while ago on a friend's blog, I criticized Layton for supporting Harper and was asked what I meant - this is precisely what I mean. Layton is not being an effective opposition, he is being Harper's ally by playing to Harper's tactics. He doesn't attack Harper for making everything before the house a confrontation; he hasn't been going after Harper's government for writing laws that breach fundamental tenets of our justice system; he hasn't held Harper to account for liquidating the very government programs that hold the government accountable for its own programs.

If I was an active NDP supporter, I'd be a might bit pissed with Mr. Layton's tacit endorsement of PMSH's governance.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thinking About Intellectual Property

In my previous post on Intellectual Property I criticized the IP laws in both Canada and the United States as being fundamentally broken.

I've since had the opportunity to throw around some additional ideas about IP that form the basis of an interesting model that is neither copyright nor patent. Given that my own personal background is firmly rooted in software, this model reflects the flexibility and ambiguity of the software world, but I suspect that many aspects of it can be applied in other domains.

Additionally, one of my mental goals is to neuter so-called "Patent Shark" companies that exist primarily to sue others, or the RIAA which seems to exist to perpetuate its own lawsuits.

Principles:

(1) Recognition and Protection of Innovation

There is a legitimacy to the notion that innovation has a legitimate commercial value, and should be provided a reasonable degree of protection from predation.

This is balanced by a recognition that protection cannot be an eternal absolute, as that will be as damaging to the long term viability of creative processes.

(2) Fair Use

There are legitimate cases where the use of an innovation or solution bears no commercial value per se, or that an innovation has passed into the greater body of "common knowledge". Such uses should not be punished.

(3) Timeliness

Because so much of what is called "intellectual property" is the result of independent thought and creativity, there are legitimate times when two or more independent efforts achieve very similar results. Any system of IP management must recognize the validity of such situations.

Implementing The Principles

(1) Providing Protection

The expression of an idea or method whether it is an abstraction such as an algorithm, or something more concrete such as a mechanical contrivance such as a printing press shall be afforded some degree of protection from unfair duplication without permission.

(1a) Degree of Protection
The more abstract that a concept or method is in its description, the degree of protection provided is reduced. For example, a generic method such as "Method to Record Information On Magnetic Disk" that describes the concept would receive a lesser degree of protection than one which described in detail the implementation necessary.

(1b) Compensation
The owner of a protected work shall be afforded the right to recoup compensation from infringing works at a "royalty rate" commensurate with the degree of protection provided. In other words, a vague "concept" would receive a smaller royalty rate (say 2% of commercial value), where the more concrete would perhaps be eligible for a higher royalty rate (say 5% or more).

*** The numbers here are arbitrary - imagined more than anything.

Note: The notion of "punitive damages" as is common in today's courts is intended to be replaced primarily by the use of a royalty scheme for the most part. The use of "punitive damages" shall be restricted to those egregious situations where outright theft for profit has been demonstrated in a criminal court.

(1c) Finiteness

Protections are of limited duration.

In general, nothing has an "infinite" protection. A software algorithm (for example) may be protected for 10 to 15 years, after which time it is presumed to pass into the "common knowledge" of the discipline.

While "lifetime" protections may be assigned to individuals, they are not considered transferable to other entities such as their estates or to corporations. Once transferred to a corporate entity, the timer starts ticking.

Further, corporate entities which hold IP rights are constrained to specified, finite periods of ownership. After those rights have expired, new rights may be applied for, which shall be adjusted to reflect evolution of the IP involved, as well as its growing pervasiveness due to age and widespread use.

(2) Fair Use

The concept of fair use must apply to individual copies made for personal use, and non-commercial gain.

While it is reasonable to insist in such cases that the copied work be acknowledged in some way, we should not be punishing individuals for what is essentially personal activity.

This does not mean that commercial infringement, where the infringer is achieving economic gain as a result of the infringement is beyond reach. In fact, it is in those cases that compensation shall be due. (One note here: As with telephone systems, we should view ISPs as "common carriers", and not specifically liable for the information which passes through their equipment)

(3) Timeliness

As the concurrent works of Alonzo Church and Alan Turing demonstrated in the 1930's we cannot simply expect that the day of "release" immediately closes the gates on all others. There shall be a reasonable period of time to allow for equivalent, parallel work to emerge and both shall be granted equal protections in law and shall legitimately coexist.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Really, this is just a few random thoughts at this time - intended to record some ideas that will no doubt get refined over time.

Intellectual Property and the RIAA

One of my regular readers brought two little tidbits to my attention regarding the RIAA's ham-fisted lawsuits.

The first is their ongoing attempts to sue anyone who dares download a file off the web.

The second is a lawsuit filed against UseNet.com in an apparent effort to shutdown one of the oldest discussion forums in the Internet - Usenet. Whether you find Usenet useful is open to discussion. I don't particularly, but that's not the point at all here.

The RIAA is perhaps the most illustrative case of how badly broken the legal notion of Intellectual Property has become. Yes, an organization has a legitimate right to protect its "IP" - but doesn't there seem to be something fundamentally broken when you start running around suing people left right and center - starting with your paying customers????

Sure, some people will pirate stuff all the time. That's neither new, nor particularly surprising. It's gone on for years - whether that's people tapping cable TV illegally, pirate satellite dishes or whatever.

For the most part, the claim that each pirate copy represents lost revenue is a crock. 99% of those copies are going to be sales you never had in the first place - and never will have. Let's face it, only a small fraction of music makes it onto the radio - and an even smaller fraction is something that any one individual is going to be willing to purchase. If the radio played one song an hour that I would want to own a copy of, I'd be surprised.

When you go after the very people you wish to market your product to, you've already lost. Not only will you lose your customers, you'll eventually run out of cash flow to. (I'm beginning to suspect that the RIAA's cash flow is looking bleak given the way that they are thrashing about) Worse, real piracy (the ones you should care about - those who bootleg to make money off it) is going to flourish because the serious pirates live on the "thrill of the chase" - the ever escalating war of copy protection and tools to break it will never cease. The idea you might be sued is mostly a lark to them - added danger if you will.

IP law in both Canada and the United States is badly broken. A series of legal rulings have all but destroyed the notion of "fair use", and our legislators have been unwilling to address the problems. The digital era has made it easier to make copies of material than ever before, and neither the concepts of copyright or patent really work very well in protecting the interests of those who create (or invent) new works.

The emergence of companies who exist solely to acquire patents and sue other companies is perhaps a bellweather of how broken things really are. Those companies exist to make money by exploiting a broken system.

A good example are so-called "software patents". At some level, I can agree that something truly new and innovative warrants protection. Broadly written patents that describe concepts rather than actual practical implementations are completely asinine (and they happen!). Implementation is too specific, and covered by the concept of copyright (sort of).

We need a new, and more flexible notion of IP to be brought into action. It must recognize the distinction between legitimate "fair use" of a material, and malicious infringement or piracy. We need to have a series of legal and/or review processes in place that consider the legitimacy of a request for IP recognition that considers the application and the context of the field in which it exists to decide the degree of "protection" that will be provided.

For example, our existing patent laws exist to protect physical inventions (mechanical devices, etc), and the law reflects that fairly well. The digital media world doesn't quite map into that notion of patent - it's too easy for different people to achieve similar results through recognizably different processes.

Current RIAA practices are in fact arguably damaging to key freedoms that are part and parcel of the democratic process - such as freedom of expression and communication. It's difficult to see how there is any freedom when someone is sniffing every IP packet that crosses a router.

"Einstein Was Wrong" ???

Via Pharyngula, we learn of the latest in a long line of crackpots - this one trying to make a film to debunk Einstein's science:

I have spent over 13 years trying to show the scientific community what I have found, but they refuse to listen. During this same time, everyone who has no emotional or financial ties to the idea that Einstein's theory of relativity is wrong, have all turned into healthy skeptics after being exposed to what I have discovered. This film's goal is to do the same on a global scale.

Ask yourself this: would your life change if Einstein's theory of relativity were wrong? The answer is yes, but not only because of what you would lose - the wasteful spending of billions of dollars on deadend experiments - but for what the world stands to gain without relativity blocking the way."
--David de Hilster
Director


Sort of smacks of the standard creationist line, doesn't it?

The funny bit is that science already recognizes that aspects of Einstein's works have their limits - so does Newtonian mechanics. But it's quite a leap to claim that because Einstein's theories have limitations, which is why physicists have been exploring String Theory and other areas in an effort to achieve a more unified set of physics. It does not, by any means, demonstrate that Einstein was "wrong".

You might start off by claiming that this is a movie, and thus primarily a matter of fiction. Except that the director is claiming that this is a documentary - which implies that he takes himself seriously - even if he is making unintentional comedy. While it's possible that this director has actually found something of interest that refutes Einstein, but somehow I have my doubts - his website just reeks of the usual neo-religious lines about science - and rational thought in general.

Along with "Creation Museums" and other attempts to debunk perfectly good science, this movie strikes me more as further evidence of a rising dark age in Western cultures - especially North America.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Denial - Not Just A River in Egypt

Apparently the howling screech monkies over at Concerned Women for America haven't figured out that there's more vectors for AIDS transmission than sexual activity between two men or IV drug use.

According to their most recent shrieking insanity, only a small number of people can get AIDS - and they all live in those nasty high risk groups - like IV drug users or gay men who have unprotected sex.

Perhaps the most depressing statement is this bit of denial:

Thus, women are better protected against the virus. Dirty needles bypass the skin barrier of addicts; likewise, a nursing infant of an infected mother is directly vulnerable to the virus. The healthy vagina, however, has a strong lining that is infection resistant, and under normal circumstances, its tremendous elasticity minimizes the risk of tears and abrasions so that the HIV virus, barring a weakening of the system, has great difficulty breeching its natural barriers.


Unfortunately, CWFA has confused the notion that a woman has some degree of natural protection with the blind notion that such protection is somehow adequate in the face of a virus like HIV. Sadly, it's not - and it's far too late when you find out that it's not.

Additionally, CWFA has also forgotten the cold hard reality that a variety of vectors such as blood products can also result in viral transmission.

I am routinely amazed by these people - they seem to actually believe that things like HIV give a damn about their notions of "sinfulness" and "wickedness".

An Intriguing Tactic

If you paid any attention at all to the machinations of PMSH in recent weeks, especially with regards to the throne speech it has all been structured around Harper's attempts to create a situation where he has a series of clubs with which to beat the Liberals in an election.

Most - if not all - of it has been focused on creating a situation where Harper can accuse the Liberals of being inconsistent, arguments along the lines of "Well, you voted for the throne speech, so why are you objecting to it now?". This is typical of a man whose thinking is so clearly absolutist. (Win/Lose, there is no such thing as "compromise" in Harper's mind)

Well, at least on the Throne Speech, it appears that Dion came up with an absolutely appropriate counter move:

Instead, Dion said, he would introduce amendments to the speech. If those are rejected, the party would abstain, allowing the throne speech to pass.


Dion's response is a bit passive-aggressive in its nature - abstaining from a vote neither endorses nor condemns the throne speech, which does free Dion to go after Harper hard and fast on issues without the Con$ being able to resort to their usual tactics.

However, when you are dealing with a man whose tactics are those of a verbal thug, it's quite appropriate to turn the tables by taking the obvious clubs away from the thug.

This appears to be a good tactical maneuver on the part of the Liberals, now the question is whether they can parlay the small advantage they have just gained into something more substantial - by holding Harper accountable for his own lies, deceit and inconsistencies in policy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Just Because You Claim It...

...doesn't make it true.

Apparently the bible-beater crowd thinks that having a PhD makes everything you say correct. In this case, the topic du jour is about gay couples raising children.

The arguments are more or less the usual screed - children need married parents of opposite gender, and children who are raised in same sex households don't get that.

All else being equal, children do best when raised by a married mother and father.
...
First, mother-love and father-love—though equally important—are qualitatively different and produce distinct parent-child attachments.
...
Secondly, children progress through predictable and necessary developmental stages. Some stages require more from a mother, while others require more from a father.
...
Third, boys and girls need an opposite-sexed parent to help them moderate their own gender-linked inclinations.
...
Fourth, same-sex marriage will increase sexual confusion and sexual experimentation by young people.
...
And fifth, if society permits same-sex marriage, it also will have to allow other types of marriage.
...


I'm going to make a couple of opening points here:

First, this is entirely argument by assertion. There isn't a single place where Dr. Hansen actually cites corroborating peer reviewed literature to back up her claims.

Second, she is basically doing little more than raising the usual collection of half-baked ideas that the religious right throws around.

Her first point - which hinges primarily on the reality that men and women tend to socialize with children somewhat differently. While I generally agree that there is a 'naturalness' to this, I do not accept the blind supposition that it is "necessary" for the children. There is evidence that speaks quite to the contrary. Additionally, the APA's basic commentary on gay parenting does not suggest the "socialization" problems that Hansen suggest in points 1 - 3.

Point number four is pure assertion. The claim that a child's sexual orientation - or experimenting is influenced by a parent's sexual orientation is simply an assertion with no evidence to support it.

The last claim - namely that allowing gay marriage will open up the gateway to all sorts of other things is a classic slippery slope argument that fails to examine the differences between gay/lesbian couples who marry and the social context in which (for example, polygamy) exist. To associate one with the other is simply intellectual hackery and fundamentally dishonest.

Additionally, the entire argument rests on some pretty amazing gender stereotypes that just don't hold much water in real life.

In short, even though the author of the article possesses a PhD in a relevant discipline, it's quite clear that she hasn't even done the basic research to substantiate her claims. (of course, when a mere few minutes with Google turns up significant - and impartial - evidence that contradicts her argument, one might imagine that finding corroborating evidence would involve borrowing from Paul Cameron or other researchers who are regarded in a similar light.

[Update 18/10/07]
Over at "The Blend", Pam has posted a well written letter on the matter she received from another psychologist.
[/Update]

A Few Thoughts on the Speech From The Throne

Yesterday evening, Canadians were subjected to El Presidente Prime Minister Stephen Harper's second Speech From The Throne.

Sadly, I wasn't able to listen to it in its entirety myself, so I'll rely a bit on capsule synopsis to hit on the big points.

Harper's bringing another one of his "five priorities" speeches forward - in other words, he's got five scripts prepared and that's it. This time the priorities he's got scripted are:

1. Tax Cuts
2. Afghanistan
3. "Law and Order"
4. Greenhouse Gas Reductions
5. Arctic Sovereignty

The only way that this government can do both tax cuts and some of its ambitious spending programs is on the backs of programs that benefit Canadians who are otherwise marginalized and disadvantaged. (Programs like those clobbered last year in the billion dollar spending cuts that were rammed through by executive fiat)

Extending Afghanistan at this point strikes me as both premature and silly. That Harper wants to do that now is no surprise. Nothing is better for this politician than bad policy rushed forward without consideration. With Afghanistan's deteriorating conditions (especially in Kandahar region), I'd be very cautious about the odds of any productive effort happening to stabilize that region. (and if things in Northern Iraq heat up, it's almost guaranteed to get more unstable yet)

The "Law and Order" legislation is crap. Period. Every one of the Harper government's attempts to "get tough on crime" has violated some very fundamental tenets of our legal system. Those laws failed to complete their journey through parliament because of bad design. The "omnibus bill" he's slated to introduce will be a repackaging of the same crap he tried to impose last fall. I do notice that he's whining that the bills "did not pass", while it was his own decision to prorogue parliament that did them in.

Harper's track record in matters such as the environment is to produce more hot air and delay actual action by decades. Hardly what I'd call "effective government" at the moment, and his stance on Arctic sovereignty is rooted in cold-war era thinking. The approach he's advocating is monumentally expensive in both short and long term costs and will not produce the results that Canada needs. (Unlike Harper, I don't believe that sovereignty is necessarily bolstered by creating a military presence in the Arctic - nor do I believe that a muscle-bound approach is going to win in today's world)

... more later as I have time to think about this infernal speech further and we start to see how the opposition parties are going to respond.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gotcha!

It's amazing the way this works. Like catching a child with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, we find the Con$ervative$ backpedalling furiously in the PMO:

The "Shoe Store Project," as it was dubbed by the Privy Council Office, was a plan to establish a new "dedicated press facility" in a now vacant shoe store adjacent to buildings that house the Prime Minister's Office and his PCO. The project would have supplanted the current National Press Theatre, just a block away.

The decision to shelve the project was "a PCO decision," a spokesperson said yesterday. But it is not clear when that decision was made, by whom, or why.

In response to a request by the Star last October, PCO released a package of documents, received Thursday evening, almost a year later, which showed planning was underway, and the cost estimated to be $2 million.

None of the documents indicated the project had been shelved.

However, Harper's communications director Sandra Buckler said in an email yesterday it was a no-go.

"The government has no plans to pursue this issue. As PCO is the lead, you can contact them for answers to your questions," she wrote.


Please note how Buckler has tried to deflect things from the PMO to the Privy Council Office. While the membership of the Privy Council is quite broad, only four members are required for a meeting to have quorum. It is similarly important to recognize that Government Whip Jay Hill is among the members of the Privy Council - along with a sizable number of Mulroney appointees and one or two that PMSH has added himself...not to mention Harper's current cabinet. (I'm sure finding four sycophants to rubber stamp PMSH's whim here would be easily found)

Sorry, Sandra, but that little bit of deflection doesn't work here. The PMO was in the thick of it - and would be in any event - as the Privy Council Office is ultimately adjunct to the PMO itself.

As if to further reinforce the notion that the HarperCon$ are trying desperately to mangle the message and control all aspects of messaging we find that the party has created their own spin section for supporters to use.

On issues from Arctic sovereignty, health, the environment and law and order, party backers can log on to the official Tory website to get a list of contacts for local newspapers and call-in shows to push the right-wing message.

"Tired of hearing the vested interests of the Liberals and the special interests of the NDP get their messages out via the media?" reads the website. "Call in to a show yourself and fight back with the facts!"

In the last election, Liberals were outed for writing letters to newspapers critical of Conservative policy without identifying themselves as party operatives.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, then the opposition leader, condemned the practice at the time.


What a hypocrite!

The Results Are In

Interesting Civic Election - Bronconnier won the mayor's chair quite handily - albeit with a reduced percentage over the 2004 election.

Of the races last night, Ward 1 seems to have sounded a desire for change in that part of the city - with Jennifer Banks giving Dale Hodges a pretty good run for most of the night. Although Hodges won with a comfortable plurality, Banks has positioned herself as a likely replacement for Dale should he decide to retire after this term. (27 years in one career is a long time!)

Helene Larocque's collapse in Ward 3 is also significant. Larocque had alienated a lot of the community associations in her Ward, and people seem to have heard the message loud and clear. It's a good reminder that at the civic level, community associations are an important part of the political landscape, and even if you don't sit on city council, there is a voice that can be made heard from the community associations.

Ward 4 was won handily by Bob Hawkesworth. A perusal of other wards with one or two challengers suggests that the 20% of the vote that Richard Evans pulled down is about average - reflecting the reality that most of the time there's a percentage of people who are going to be unhappy with whoever is in office - and a campaign that even gets a name out there will garner some of that vote.

In Ward 6, Joe Connelly maintained his lead over incumbent Craig Burrows. I haven't heard much about Burrows that I like, and Connelly came across as basically decent and fairly reasonable in his thinking. (It probably helped Connelly that his competition were either positively loopy sounding like Kohut, or associated with politicians like Rob Anders (Istvanffy)).

Ward 8 went to John Mar, a candidate whose platform didn't sound that different from Steve Chapman's. I suspected that Madeleine King was weak in Ward 8, and her commentary on homeless and affordable housing probably didn't resonate well with voters. I'll reserve judgment where Mar is concerned - I think it's important to note that one of Chandler's allies did not win. We do not need civic politics overrun by the "pseudo-party politics" of ideology - much less the kind of ideology that hard-liners like Chandler tend to promote.

Ward 11 was won by Brian Pincott. I'm actually looking forward to seeing how he fares on council. Pincott has run in a lot of elections previously at different levels of government, and he has always struck me as fundamentally earnest and intelligent.

Here's hoping that this city council is effective and capable.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Early Election Results

A couple of interesting races are emerging (as of 9:25):

Ward 1:

Jennifer Banks is giving incumbent Dale Hodges a real run for his money:

(4364 - Hodges, 3109 - Banks)

Ward 3:

Larocque is trailing both of her opponents, but the difference is minimal, and only a handful of polls are in yet.

Ward 6:

Craig Burrows has a smaller than expected lead on challenger Joe Connelly. (150 to 103 votes). If one adds it all up, Burrows has barely got a plurality of the votes total in the ward - 51%.

Ward 8:

Although she started with an early lead, Madeleine King is having her lead eroded steadily by Steve Chapman as the evening progresses.

Ward 9:

Al Koenig has gained considerably on Joe Ceci, bringing in a much higher percentage of the vote than I had expected. (55% for Ceci, 41% for Koenig)

Ward 11:

This one's all over the map. The two strongest candidates appear to be Pincott and Whelan.

It's early going yet, and if I'm still awake, I may update this entry as the evening progresses.

[10:00PM Update]
Ward 1: The margin between Banks and Hodges appears to have stabilized at about 10% in favour of Hodges. This is good news for a long-time member of city council - and one of the generally sane voices there.

Ward 3: It would appear that Ms. Larocque is history.

Ward 6: Burrows is now trailing Connelly.

Ward 8: Could go any which way - Chapman, Mar and King are all within fairly close margin of each other. Mar is currently slightly ahead of King.

Ward 9: As with Ward 1, this appears to be settling in with a little over a 10% weighting favoring the incumbent, Joe Ceci. I've always liked Joe, and I appreciate his "treat the problem not the symptoms" approach to social issues. It's the harder path to tread, but in the long run it works better than the simplistic approach of treating the symptoms ... like say trying to run the prostitutes out of town.

Ward 11: Pincott's edging ahead on what I suspect is name recognition vote. He's run in a fair number of elections in the area and the name is fairly recognizable. If elected, he will have a tough job ahead of himself to establish himself as an effective representative for a ward that is quite economically diverse.

Ward 4: Since I spent some time discussing Mr. Evans' candidacy, I'm pleased to note that at this point he's scraped up 20% of the vote - compared to Hawkesworth's 72% take.

I'm somewhat relieved to note that Alnoor Kassam has reeled in only 17% of the mayoral vote. While I don't necessarily like Bronconnier, I remain unconvinced that I could trust Alnoor - there's just too many question marks.
[/Update]

Return of Amway

A few years ago Amway did a massive restructuring, and launched an online e-commerce presence called Quixtar. At the time, you found most Amway reps started to talk about Quixtar and burying the Amway name as if it didn't exist.

To my surprise, not only is Amway coming back, but they're bringing back the usual litigious stance that earned them an awful reputation as a corporate citizen.

Direct-marketing firm Quixtar Inc., a sister company of Amway Corp., has sued 30 people who anonymously posted what it considers disparaging remarks about Quixtar in blogs and online forums and in YouTube.com videos.

In the lawsuit filed this past week in Ottawa County Circuit Court, Quixtar seeks an injunction and damages of more than $25,000 against the posters, identified only as John Does.


Lawsuits against Amway, and brought by Amway against its critics are nothing new, although the concept of Quixtar suing people had seemingly vanished to some extent. It is disappointing to see them resurrecting the Amway name, and returning at the same time to the tactics of old.

Alticor, a $6.3 billion company based in Ada, Mich., announced in June that it will start phasing out the Quixtar name and rebuilding its Amway brand in the U.S. and Canada.


As the old saying goes - "A leopard cannot change its spots"

Dear Mr. Harper:

Quit acting like such a little crybaby over the press. Canada is a democracy, and you are accountable to the people. One of the few paths of accountability we have while you sit in your oh-so-plush PMO is a free press.

In 1965, then Prime Minister Lester Pearson opened the National Press Theatre - a venue that has served as a key part of the communication between our governments and the people ever since.

Today, taxpayers learn that you are spending millions of our dollars to build your own press theatre where your political aides will be in control. That isn't communication with the public, it's propaganda. Period.

When you were elected, it was on a platform of open, accountable government. So far, what we have been subjected to is the most secretive government in Canada's history and a PMO that is so busy trying to control the message that the very actions of the government have become fumbling attempts to enact policy when the message and policy are at odds with each other.

Save the few million that your little "carefully controlled media room" is going to cost taxpayers, and start communicating with the country - using the rules and facilities that taxpayers already fund.

Abbreviated Michael Coren: *WHINE*!!!

I didn't feel like talking about anything serious this morning, so I went reading Michael Coren's weekly drivel, and I wasn't disappointed.

Michael's cause of the week is "hotel room porn" - or the evil of turning on the television in a hotel room and discovering it has a porn channel.

Who is Edwina McCombs and why is she under attack? She's a Tennessee resident who was visiting California in the summer of 2006 when she booked into a Value Lodge motel with her two daughters, aged 8 and 9. Tired after a long journey, she put her little girls in front of the room's television so that they could watch a children's show while she took a quick bath.

Instead of innocent cartoons, they were immediately confronted with hardcore pornography with, according to Ms McCombs, "close-up images of people engaged in various sexual acts." The girls were traumatized and their mother is suing the motel.


Now, if you listen to Coren, it sounds as though the default channel that the television turned on to was a porn channel. This is a bit surprising - anytime I've been in a hotel, there's quite an array of options and services on the television - porn is usually on a secondary channel.

Of course, there's Coren's fantasy world, and then there's reality:

Edwina McCombs used the Value Lodge in Artesia, California on a negligence theory claiming that the motel should have told her that her children could and did view hardcore porno on the motel's television system. The girls, age 8 and 9, were flipping through the channels on the television in the room when their mother was in the bathroom when they channel-surfed for children's programming and encountered "hardcore and graphic pornography" with extreme close-ups of several sexual acts.


So, the mother hands the children the remote, and they are channel surfing. (Read: hitting whatever buttons will get a different channel). How difficult would it be to experimentally flip to the in-house "pay-for-view porn" channel? Not very. While one might reasonably be able to argue that the porn channels are too easy to get to, one should also ask themselves just what the mother was thinking? Where's her responsibility in all this? It's not news these days that there are things on television that you wouldn't want you children watching, why wouldn't she at least select a channel with her children and make sure it was appropriate viewing? (Heck - I've seen stuff on CNN I'd never show to a ten year old)

However, the case itself is merely Coren's jumping off point for a tirade about how the world's going to hell in a handbasket because hotels offer adult channels on their televisions:

It's about a fundamental shift in societal expectations and assumptions, where the freedom of some pathetic soul to play with himself while watching broken, robotic people pretending to enjoy loveless sex is considered more significant than the freedom of a mother to trust that her young children can turn on the TV and not be abused.


Again, I must ask the oh-so-obvious question - where was the mother in the picture? Oh right - having a bath, after having given her kids the remote to "find the childrens programming". What the hell did she think was going to happen - that "Friendly Giant" was going to show up on ever channel?

Added to this is the fact that many men -- yes, it's invariably men -- who take advantage of this rubbish are married and would never watch a porn channel at home. So in that way it's partly a type of adultery and certainly a form of dishonesty


Yep, the world's gonna end because some guy gets his jollies watching a badly acted porn flick. Got it. Probably a better alternative than what used to be the case - where the men would go wandering off to the local brothel to "satisfy" their urges, bringing home all sorts of interesting diseases on the way by.

What is relevant is that the rights of the international sex industry, an entity that exploits women and breaks up families, are being defended by people who seem incredibly angry that a young mother didn't want her vulnerable kids to be exposed to filth.


While I agree that children should not be exposed to this kind of material, I disagree with Coren's oh-so-moralizing stance on this matter. It is not the hotel's responsibility to "protect" the children from what's on television - that's the parent's job. Mrs. McCombs has a responsibility to at least vet what her children are watching before she gets her relaxing bath.

The world is not "going to hell" because hotels are showing porn. My parents were pretty careful to vet what I watched on TV while I was young, and as far as I know, they simply assumed it was their responsibility to do so. There's an even easier solution much of the time - don't turn the TV on unless you are in the room with your children. Sounds pretty simple to me - and much cheaper for all parties involved than a lawsuit because your children were "traumatized" by stumbling across something "objectionable".