Thursday, January 31, 2008


Somebody else has been tracking Harper's lies and recording them.

It's long past time to hold Harper to account for being terminally dishonest with the Canadian people.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Remember Justice Gomery?

He's the guy that wrote this report after the now notorious "sponsorship scandal".

For those asleep at the time, Stephen Harper got himself elected by promising to implement much of what Justice Gomery recommended (not all, granted, but a good deal of it).

Well, it seems that Gomery just became another thorn in Harper's side:

The overall goal was to reverse a growing trend — decades in the making — toward centralization of power in the hands of the prime minister and his inner circle, a situation that critics saw as an invitation to the abuse of power.

It was a goal that Mr. Harper appeared to share when he was in opposition, says Mr. Gomery. But since he took power “there's more concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office than we've ever had before, which is quite remarkable in a minority government, but he's pulled it off.”

Mr. Gomery also points to the Tory failure to revamp the Access to Information Act to make it easier for journalists and other citizens to pry documentation from the bureaucracy.

“The government was saying at the time (of the report) that transparency was very important and that they wanted to improve transparency. In practice it's been an exact reverse.”

It's good to see Justice Gomery calling Harper's bunch out for their blatant hypocrisy since taking power. (and not doing what they claimed they were all about)

Secretive Stephen

Now Harper doesn't want to play "Dear Leader In Chief" any more. He wants the Military to do his dirty work for him - primarily so he can blame the bureaucrats when the political temperature gets too high.

“These are operational matters of the Canadian military,” Mr. Harper said as opposition MPs hammered the government for a second day in Question Period with accusations of excessive secrecy and mismanagement of the Afghan mission.

Of course, he was perfectly willing to brag about how we were turning detainees over to Afghan authorities for "justice". Then it became public knowledge just what that "justice" entailed.

The agreements with the Afghan government are political agreements - they don't just magically happen at some obscure level of the bureaucracy - the cabinet knows about them as they play across multiple government departments, and have the potential for some pretty serious consequences if mishandled.

The phrase "Operational Matters", like its equally mealy-mouthed sibling "Matters of National Security" is nothing more than an attempt to put up a political smokescreen. On a day by day basis, the disposition of captives is an operational matter. The policy around it is NOT - especially when even the US government is being more open about their handling of captives than our own is.

The government has been running about claiming that talking about such matters "puts troops in danger". Bull. The troops are already in danger - they are the foreign occupying force in another nation. Being secretive only gives space for rumours to grow and fester - here and in Afghanistan.

Once again, we learn a little more about how thin-skinned Harper really is, and how unwilling he is to own up to when he screwed up or a policy turned out to be truly wrong-headed.

We can guess just how forthcoming the DND will be about this matter - with the HarperCon$ having quite the track record for firing anyone they perceive to be a political liability, saying anything on record could be career-ending. (and yes, I think Linda Keen should sue this government's ass off - the treatment she has received at the hands of the Con$ is reprehensible)

This has been another installment in the "Truly Awful Government" file.

You Figure?

After a spate of reported fatalities involving the use of "Tasers", some went and tried to reproduce the phenomenon experimentally.

The team of doctors and scientists at the trauma centre in Chicago's Cook County hospital stunned 11 pigs with Taser guns in 2006, hitting their chests with 40-second jolts of electricity, pausing for 10 to 15 seconds, then hitting them for 40 more seconds.

When the jolts ended, every animal was left with heart rhythm problems, the researchers said. Two of the animals died from cardiac arrest, one three minutes after receiving a shock.

The findings call into question safety claims made by Taser International, the Arizona company that makes the stun guns, which are used by dozens of police departments across Canada.

According to Taser International's website, "independent medical and scientific experts have determined Taser devices to be among the safest use-of-force options available."

This doesn't come as any big surprise to me - we use several forms of electrical stimulation in medical circumstances to regulate the heart or to prod it into moving. It shouldn't be "news" that nailing the body with 50,000V (at near zero amperage) is going to have some kind of effects.

It has always struck me that saying the Taser is "safe" is misleading at best. Disrupting the body's nervous system has all sorts of interesting potential consequences.

As I said in an earlier post on the subject, the protocol around using Taser-like devices should be as stringent as that involved in the use of firearms. I can appreciate that there is a "time and place" for any tool, but recent months have shown us too many cases where the device has been used far too casually.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Chalk River Fallout

Linda Keen testified today before the Natural Resources Committee. After the ridiculous amount of spin coming from both the PMO and minister Lunn, it was refreshing to hear someone speak out on the fundamental point behind all of this horsing about:

Ms. Keen said the risk of a nuclear accident without the backup system in place stood at one in a thousand –1,000 times higher than the international standard of one in a million, she said.
“Some have suggested that the chance of a nuclear accident was low and that the reactor was safe enough. Well, with respect, safe enough is simply not good enough,” said Ms. Keen, suggesting safety standards should be no different than those met by the Space Shuttle or a jumbo jet.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again - you do NOT play games with safety systems. EVER.

“Under the law, the commission did not have the authority to take the issue of isotopes into consideration,” Ms. Keen testified Tuesday, noting her mandate was solely to protect Canadians from a nuclear incident.

“Independence in regulating nuclear facilities matters. It matters because nuclear reactors are in communities where Canadians live,” she said. “They need to know that the commission will make its decision based on what's right.”

Sadly for the HarperCon$, Ms. Keen is right, the legislation that binds the scope of the CNSC does not provide the commission with the authority to consider topics such as the implications of the shutdown itself.

Three days later, she said, Mr. Lunn called again and told her what action to take.

Mr. Lunn has denied telling the independent commission what to do, but Ms. Keen was adamant: “There is no doubt we were being told what to do and when to do it.”

Lunn's denials don't square with the letter that Keen sent to Mr. Lunn in December. Somehow, in light of the number of times the HarperCon$ have been caught in outright lies, I think Lunn's denials are past their useful shelf life.

Ms. Keen said Parliament is supreme and its decision was not easy but “one appropriately made by the elected representatives of Canadians.”

Which, I've said repeatedly that Bill C-38 was in fact appropriate under the circumstances. (even though I disagree with restarting the reactor without completing the safety work that the license required 17 months or more previously)

Pope Ratz - Time Should Go Backwards

I'm sure that if the current Pope had a "time machine" in some vault underneath the Vatican, he'd happily use it to dial humanity back in time a few centuries.

While I think Gwynne Dyer has an interesting perspective on this Pope and his philosophical stance, I find it increasingly difficult to grant any merit to the Pope's utterances when he makes statements like "Man is not the fruit of chance or a bundle of convergences, determinisms or physical and chemical reactions".

The Pope reiterated a plea, made in many speeches since his election in 2005, for mankind to be "respected as the centre of creation" and not relegated by more short-term interests.

Uh? By what unholy arrogance would we possibly grant ourselves status as "center of the universe"? Not only have such statements of faith been demonstrably false every time they are made, there is considerable evidence to the contrary with respect to man's place within the biosphere of our little world. While we might well be the dominant species in terms of affecting our environs, the consequences of our manipulations keeps showing up in all sorts of ways.

Given our unique ability to change our environment to suit our needs, it should come as little surprise that we hold an increased responsibility to conduct ourselves in a measured way.

Scientific investigation should be accompanied by "research into anthropology, philosophy and theology" to give insight into "man's own mystery, because no science can say who man is, where he comes from or where he is going", the Pope said.

Dear lord, who does this man think he is? While individual researchers may be deeply focused in their fields, it's not like they are unaware of other disciplines and their relevance. What few scientists do is try to mix theology with science, however. Usually because it results in getting swatted around for sloppy reasoning (at the very least).

I'm amazed at the blunt thickness that this pope continues to exhibit. His perspective on all matters harkens back to the era when the R/C church still held sway over the leaders of the world's major powers.

Pope Benedict XVI has done more to attempt to dismiss the relevance of science than any of his predecessors in my memory. His image of science in general is deeply flawed and largely based upon supposition rather than actual understanding of the tension that exists by nature between faith and the school of rational thought that permeates much of scientific endeavor these days.

While one might claim that matters of faith are about "Truth"(™), there is a significant difference between a spiritual "truth" and the kind of "truth" that scientific research seeks. Sadly, this Pope seems more interested in repeating the monumental errors of the Church in centuries past.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Of Credibility and Agendas

I've said for a very long time that Harper's agenda isn't what he says it is publicly. In fact, it's pretty clear that he'll go to great lengths not to say what he plans. But, as Evilscientist points out, when the media start discounting the truthiness of your statements, you've got a serious problem:

Some news organizations gave little prominence to her remarks because they simply assumed them to be untrue. But at least one newspaper quoted her in a front-page news story.

Actions speak louder than words any day. Harper's actions scream at us that what he says and what he does are two very, very different things. In today's Herald, we find this little gem on Harper's stance on the death penalty:

The difficulty for Harper is that he leads a party that counts on a core group of supporters for whom reinstating the death penalty remains an important goal.

Gerry Nicholls, former president of the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative think-tank, says Harper is deliberately using the issue of clemency to send a message to this conservative base, without ever intending to bring the death penalty back to Canada.

"The whole capital punishment issue is a strong appeal to the populist wing of the Conservative party - mostly old Reformers," says Nicholls.

"The Conservative government has let conservatives down in a lot of areas and has not acted in true conservative fashion. Many of Harper's policies seem very Liberal, and this is causing some discontent in party ranks.

Ah - the "base" is getting restless. They do not crave power beyond its ability to enable them to impose their agenda upon the rest of Canada.

McTeague says whether Harper is simply sending a message to a wing of his party, or whether he's actually testing the water for a return of the death penalty in Canada under a majority Conservative regime, the party's equivocation on the execution of Canadian citizens is now clear for all to see.

"The proverbial horse had bolted the barn," he says. "The Conservatives have now said they accept capital punishment in certain circumstances."

"It casts a very dark shadow on the Conservative party. And it's another headache Mr. Harper will have to deal with in 2008."

There's a point here for the opposition parties to play on - not only is Harper's government dishonest, its actions speak to an agenda unspoken. Harper and team have lied to Canadians repeatedly - in words and deed, and Canadians are paying for it!

To borrow from the Conservative campaign slogan last election - Canadians Deserve Better Than This.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Stelmach Has Trouble Brewing...

When party stalwarts like Don Braid are telling you "don't do it", you know it's got to be bad.

Granted, Stelmach's PC's have had little to smile about in recent months. A series of spending and policy announcements seem to be falling on deaf ears in the last couple of weeks. While I agree with Stelmach on some decisions he's made, I'm far from "won over" by his overall performance.

The all-too-recent debacles over party nominations in Calgary Egmont and Calgary Montrose do little to suggest to Albertans that the PC's have a clue what they are about, further reinforcing the perception that they are essentially rudderless right now.

Recent polling results in Calgary are hinting loudly at the prospect of major changes coming from the city, and Edmonton doesn't seem too far behind either. While that may not be enough to topple the PC's as the governing party, Stelmach is in the awkward position of leading the party into an election where they are sure to come away with a diminished standing in the Legislature.

Party leaders that lose seats tend not to be very long lived. I don't imagine that Stelmach will fare that well once the election has been concluded - the knives will come out, as the power mandarins in the party will not be pleased if they don't have an overwhelming majority like they got used to with Ralph Klein.

Of course, Albertans stand to gain the most from this situation. It will be healthy for us to have more than one party in the legislature, and the governing party (whoever it may be) held accountable by an opposition that is nearly the same size. That is the kind of environment where our style of democracy works best. Regardless of your opinions about Ralph Klein, his era was not good for the state of democracy in Alberta.

More From the Truly Awful Government (TAG) File

Not only is Stephen Harper's government outright dishonest, they won't even own up to their screw-ups when it slaps them in the face.

"If the leader of the Opposition knows, you can be sure the government does," Dion said.

Dion would only say that "Canadian officials" told them about the change in policy but asked that they not make the information public.

Dion said he didn't agree that the information should be kept secret, but said he would not speak about it.

"We said this is information that Canadians have a right to have but they should hear that from the government because we don't have a right to disclose that information directly."

The government's disclosure that it no longer hands over detainees prompted accusations of a coverup from opposition parties. But the government has denied the allegations, saying it was up to the Canadian army to disclose matters related to military operations.

Amazing how the HarperCon$ try to slither out from under the dungload that their own mishandling of the Afghanistan file has dropped on them. Instead of treating it as a serious mission, with significant costs and consequences, they have used it as a propaganda tool for photo-ops.

Further, the drip that is current the Minister for National Defense, Peter Mackay, makes the following attempt to make it all the Liberals' fault:

Dion pointed out Friday that Defence Minister Peter Mackay was in Afghanistan when the policy on detainees changed. When questioned on the issue, MacKay refused to answer and criticized Dion instead.

"What Mr. Dion is doing, if he wants to be irresponsible and talk about briefings that he received, that's a decision for him. I am not going to put Canadian soldiers or the people that they're there to protect in harm's way by talking about operational details or what takes place in the theatre."

Hmmm...handover of prisoners is an "operational detail"? I don't think so, Peter. That doesn't even qualify as a bad excuse. You, sir, are the minister responsible, and you are similarly repsonsible for conveying that same information to the PMO and to the public.

Ms. Buckler's recent foul-up was either the result of a direct lie, or a massive miscommunication within the HarperCon government. In either case, it's appalling that you think it is "reasonable" to try and blame your screw up on the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. You are a disgrace to Canada and to Canadian democracy.

[Update 17:10]:
Just to further reinforce my point about the Harper Government being secretive and fundamentally dishonest, The Globe and Mail makes a few observations:

At a Tory caucus retreat Saturday, Tory House Leader Peter Van Loan and Quebec MP Christian Paradis issued identical statements in defence of their boss's spokeswoman.

“She's very credible,” Mr. Van Loan told a news conference.

“If everybody on the Hill who misspoke themselves once in their life had to resign, none of you would be here, I wouldn't be here, nobody would be here on Parliament Hill.”

Mr. Paradis later came out and repeated the line that if everybody who “misspoke” were forced to reign, the empty corridors on Parliament Hill would echo with the sound of silence.

But one telephone receiver was shaking with the sound of screaming as a livid Department of National Defence official vented his fury at the Prime Minister's Office.

The military official said his colleagues are incensed by the insinuation that they would be incompetent enough to withhold key details on a politically charged file from their civilian bosses.

In short, the HarperCon$ are exacerbating Buckler's lies with still more lies - again blaming "The Bureaucracy" in order to cover up their incompetence, just as they did when they blew it on the veiled voters question, or the Chalk River situation. Most governments need a couple of sessions before they start lying noticeably - it's taken the HarperCon$ less than two years to reach that point.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

From The Truly Awful Government (TAG) File

It's no secret that I consider Stephen Harper's government to represent a new low in Canadian governments.

Today, the news is particularly depressing on this front.

(1) Afghanistan Prisoner Transfers

The decision to do this was made not by Ottawa, but by mission command on the ground. In short, the Harper Conservatives would have quite cheerfully allowed transfers to continue, and intend to resume the practice as soon as they can get away with it.

(2) France asks the US to drop charges against Omar Khadr

Does it not strike you as the greatest of ironies when a foreign power is intervening on behalf of Canadian citizens who are being held in questionable circumstances? Especially while our own government is sitting on its thumbs on the matter. The Harper government has shown itself less interested in the welfare and well-being of our citizens held in foreign prisons than any I can remember.

(3) Gary Lunn's inept handling of the Chalk River situation

As more and more information comes out, it is increasingly clear that the "crisis" here was not a matter of public health, but instead has more to do with the Conservatives looking to make a partisan point. Firing Ms. Keen in the middle of the night was the act of a coward looking to silence a critic, not a minister with a legitimate reason to terminate an official.

Canada Stops Prisoner Transfers ... Sort of

Over the last several months, there has been quite a bit of concern expressed over the treatment of prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers after they hand them over to the Afghanistan government.

As recently as this fall, the government was claiming that there was "no credible evidence" to support those claims. (What constitutes "credible" in circumstances such as what we find in Afghanistan is a good question in itself)

However, it seems that after the reports about an inmate being tortured, the transfers of detainees stopped.

Of course, the Harper Cons also want to make it clear that this is only temporary:

"Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations," it read.

Wait a second here. Let's be honest with ourselves - if we are handing over prisoners and we believe that there is a probability that they will be tortured, then we are no better than the torturers themselves. Plausibly deniable is not acceptable here.

Granted, the other side of the prisoners issue then becomes what to do with people captured in battlefield situations. If Canada starts setting up prison camps of some sort, we become the de facto jailers ourselves, and that is potentially even more dangerous because then the "alien occupiers" become the jailers - a perception that would further make our troops the focus of violence.

If Canada is going to wind up being "complicit" in handing over prisoners to a regime that is going to mistreat them, then we will wear the price of doing so. This is one of many ethical and moral dilemmas that surround our involvement in Afghanistan. (Clearly the popular "Taliban bad, Karzai good" line in media is deeply flawed)

If it sounds like I am holding up an almost "unreasonable", or even impossible, standard here, it is to underscore the deficiencies in the Manley Whitewash document released earlier this week. Afghanistan is not a simple situation, and we do ourselves no favours to ignore the moral and ethical considerations of being active participants in what could arguably be seen as a civil war. I, for one, am less than thrilled with the prospect of having Canada's name associated with propping up a government that does engage in torture in its prisons, or for that matter, with Canada's role as part of what is arguably an army of occupation.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Expectations Weren't All That High

... and The Manley Report still failed to meet them.

Honestly, I didn't expect Manley & crew to do much other than glorify the wonderful things that Canadian troops are doing in Afghanistan, and trivialize the plethora of moral and ethical considerations that really should be talked about.

Manley did worse than trivialize them, he completely ignored them. Instead, his report focused upon the military statistics - which sound good until one looks just behind the curtains that they create. Numbers serve little real use when we wish to understand the real human aspects of the situation.

However, perhaps most appalling about Manley's report is it appears that he wrote most of the conclusions for an earlier article, and then went seeking the evidence to back it up. (h/t: The Galloping Beaver for bringing this point out)

The depressing thing is how much Canadian taxpayers paid for a piece of absolute drivel.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why Choice Is Important

Since today is Blogging for Choice day, it seems as good a time as any to review my own thoughts on the subject of abortion.

The argument is often made that abortion is wrong, that it is effectively "killing" another human being. I disagree with that stance for a couple of reasons.

First off, pregnancy is a biological process that carries with it significant risks for the woman. If you take the position that terminating a pregnancy is "killing the child", then the corollary stance to that is that you must hold the child responsible for the mother should something catastrophic happen during childbirth.

Obviously, such a stance is fraught with ethical and moral issues throughout, as it presupposes a degree of intent on the child's part; and it further dehumanizes the woman by treating her as a mere vessel once she becomes pregnant - ignoring her status as a thinking, intelligent human being.

The second point I wish to raise extends from the basic recognition that a woman does not give up her faculties and abilities as a human being the moment she becomes pregnant. In no respect is her judgment impaired, or her capacity to reason diminished. To me, this is quite clear, and it means that the woman is ultimately capable of making her own moral and ethical decisions regarding a pregnancy. While we may wish to provide a certain moral framework in which society would want her to frame that decision, it is unquestionably her decision first and foremost.

The last part that I wish to address is the prickly issue of medical abortion itself. Fundamentally, it is a medical procedure, and a relatively recent one at that. While it is a medical procedure, and correctly governed from within the medical profession, we must not lose sight of its origins. For as long as humanity has been around, women have sought to control their fertility - whether it be through abstinence or the use of a variety of techniques to ensure that they avoid becoming pregnant (or ending that pregnancy)

In the years prior to the Roe v Wade decision, safe abortion was available only to those with money. If you weren't sufficiently wealthy and needed an abortion for whatever reason, you fell prey to the questionable ethics of underground operators whose practices ranged from acceptable to downright criminal. While a handful of such operations no doubt still exist, they are relatively rare, and most women have access to relatively safe procedures. (I do not claim that any surgical procedure is inherently "safe" - they all carry some kind of risk, but so does being alive)

In speaking up for a woman's right to choose in these matters, I speak in favour of ensuring that abortion remains accessible and safe. I also speak from the perspective that a woman being pregnant does not alter her intellectual capacity. If we claim that safe abortion (or any other surgical procedure) should be denied to her simply because she is pregnant (and not because of some inherent risk that pregnancy would introduce), we are essentially saying, as a society, that in fact her reasoning capacity is diminished - a claim for which there is no reasonable evidence.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Merger Or Takeover?

It's hard to say just what really was going on with this weekend's merging of Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Parties. Did the Alliance simply subsume Link Byfield's latest pet project? Or was the Alliance so troubled internally that the Wildrose Party's backers were able to grasp control of the larger entity and the money that it has?

There are, of course, other possible reasons for this weekend's marriage of far right wing and farther right wing parties. I've never been overly impressed with the Alberta Alliance - the party always struck me as little more than a provincial knock-off of the old Reform party. As for the Wildrose thing, there's no secret about what kind of "conservatism" the Byfield patriarchs represent, and it's a pretty hardline view on a lot of topics.

For quite some time, I've been hearing grumblings that the PC's aren't "conservative enough" from various corners, which no doubt fuels the spawning of parties like either the Alliance or Wildrose, but only seems to represent a fairly sparse minority of the province.
[Correction 21/1/08]:
The original version of this post incorrectly attributed a comment to Jane Greydanus from Daveberta's blog. I have removed the incorrect attribution, and extend my apologies to Ms. Greydanus.
There's just enough to get a party started, but they seem to be of the ideological ilk that doesn't quite understand why their views aren't more broadly held by the electorate .

I do not begrudge the existence of these parties - it gives an ideological home to the far right, and lets the rest of us recognize the hardliners for what they are. But the history in Alberta (and much of Canada, really) is that such parties seldom last long enough to gain any real traction.

However, in Alberta today, you need to get a significant amount of traction with the voters in the urban areas - especially Calgary and Edmonton, but Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie all have a fair bit of weight now. Both Calgary and Edmonton have experienced huge population growth in recent years (with Calgary cresting over 1 million residents - somewhere on order of a 10%-15% change since last election). No matter how you look at it, that has the potential to substantially change the character of the electorate.

Had the Ralph Klein resigned in the 1990s, and the Alberta Alliance visible at that time, they might have gained significant electoral traction. Alberta today is nowhere near the same province that it was back then. Today, they represent a tiny fraction of voters, and the Wildrose an even tinier fraction.

Ask yourself this - if the Alberta Alliance was the natural home for "conservative" voters disaffected with the PC's, why did Link Byfield go starting the Wildrose Party a year or so back? He couldn't find a home in the Alberta Alliance? It had already drifted too far left for him?

I suspect that this "merged party" will quietly fade into the political background in Alberta after an election expected this spring.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

So, Mr. Bernier, Is WaterBoarding Torture or not?

So, a manual which lists Guano Bay as a potential site of torture is "wrong" according to Maxime Bernier?

Really? So, just what is "waterboarding" if it is not torture, Maxime?

Or are you adopting the insane perspective of Rachel Marsden and other Bush apologists? (Notably, Marsden's writings are so clinically insane that The Sun Media group dropped her like a hot potato)

As if I really needed more reason to believe that Harper and his gang are taking their orders from the Whitehouse.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I've Seen This Pattern Before

Chandler's nothing if not consistent. It seems that Chandler tried to run a slate of candidates for the executive of the newly merged "Wildrose Alliance" party (Formerly the Alberta Alliance and Link Byfield's Wildrose Party.

We've seen this pattern before - he used more or less the same tactics when he went after the PC nomination in Calgary Egmont. He tried to get enough of "his people" (e.g. David Crutcher) to take on high profile/controlling positions in the board, and then went after the nomination

What it tells me is that Craig and his band of allies (mostly "senior" members of PGIB) don't actually have much traction within Alberta's political parties, as they flit from party to party trying to find a place where they can be in control. Perhaps in a few years they'll learn the base concept of party politics - namely that it is a game of compromise.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Theology, Hospitals and Gender Identity

The whole business about a Catholic hospital refusing a transsexual access to surgical services has been rattling around in my head for some time.

So, I decided to go see if I could find some kind of reasonably intelligible, biblically-centered argument that could have led the hospital in question to the conclusion it arrived at.

As the old saying goes, seek and ye shall find. The article itself appears to be moderately old - likely from somewhere in the early to mid-1990s. However, it serves as a fairly decent jumping off point for my analysis, as it is fairly coherent, and tries to root itself in the concepts of scripture to make the case.

Looking at the paper in its entirety, it makes several very fundamental errors of reasoning that I need to point out.

First, the author makes the claim that because there are some number of stories of transfolk who have transitioned and then backed away when they "found Jesus" that one must thusly conclude that similar paths will work in the broader population of transsexuals. This is, of course, a deeply flawed attempt at a proof by induction. Even in the world of mathematics, proof by induction is fairly difficult. When people are being described, inductive proof is virtually impossible. Come to that, it's not terribly hard to find transsexuals who are in fact Christians.

The second error of reasoning that the author makes involves making the supposition that religious conversion is equivalent to psychotherapy, or if one takes certain statements of the author's at face value, possibly even higher value than psychotherapy. First, it is arrogant to outright dismiss the value of a discipline simply because it suits one's ideological goals. Second, because the author chooses not to cite either the DSM or the HBIGDA Standards of Care, it is quite clear that he is deriving his conclusions regarding psychotherapy based on supposition regarding the treatment and management of transsexual clients. This is argument by assertion, with only limited useful evidence to back it up.

The third high level error of reasoning comes in the regular mixing of terminology. Quite routinely the author switches to the term "transvestite", using it in a manner that suggests it has an equivalence to the term "transsexual". This results in the conflation of two similar, but distinct conditions in the reader's mind and implicitly links the two topics. While a transsexual may cross-dress as part of the therapeutic process to determine if transition is the appropriate path for them, they are not transvestites - their motivations for cross-gender presentation are quite different.

The last point of logical error is the author's insistence upon driving back to arguments based on biblical sexuality. Again, had the author made a more complete study of the subject area before leaping in with both feet, he would have recognized that gender is not sex, and sex is not gender. While sexual relations are part of an intimate relationship, they are not the relationship itself, and you find again and again that the rational narratives of transsexuals often has little to do with sexuality itself.

Neither biblical exegesis nor research science gives credibility to the transsexual's insistence that he or she is the opposite sex caught in an opposite sex body.

If one were seeking absolute causal explanations, I might see where this is coming from. However, when we are discussing attributes of someone's personality, seeking absolute causality seems rather pointless indeed. One might as well ask why one person is a pathological liar while their cousin has never been known to tell a lie at all.

What is important, and both the SOC and DSM emphasize this is the persistence and durability of the feelings involved. Those who are experiencing a "passing fancy" are not good candidates for transition at all.

While the author's point that we do not know the causal origins of transsexuality are valid to a degree, it fails to recognize the persistence of feelings that so many transsexuals experience and live with prior to transition.

Jesus Christ had a physical body, Col. 2:9. Clearly, then, the body is good. Biblical anthropology knows nothing of the pagan greek dualism that pits the body against the spirit with the former being evil and the latter good Bodily concerns and health are valid human concerns.

Wait a second, here. The very assertion that we have a soul, and the claim that the soul is eternal, surviving beyond our mortal lifespans is in essence to claim that even in Christian theology there is in fact a duality between body and soul. While the question of one being good, and the other not is perhaps not part of Christian belief, gender identity is neither good nor evil. By focusing upon the physical body, the author is essentially dismissing the very core narrative that is common to most transsexuals.

As I have argued in other writings on matters of identity and sexuality, it is unreasonable to simply dismiss someone else's narrative simply because it is inconvenient. That is poor reasoning at best, and condescending argument at worst.

In fact, I would argue in counterpoint to the author's supposition that in fact the distinction that Christianity makes between "body and soul" opens the door to the possibility that in fact one's "soul" may in fact be a "feminine soul" even in a masculine body. To the best of my knowledge, scripture is quite unclear on whether the soul is "gendered" or not, but it is not unreasonable to suppose that if the soul is the seat of personality that it may well be.

Confusion about gender and gender roles became the norm. God highlighted this issue in His curse on man's rebellion.

Later, God had Moses teach:

A woman shall not wear a man's clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman's clothing, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

Dev. 22:5.

Ah...once again, we fall into the trap of equating transsexualism and transvestism. If one assigns even a limited truth value to the transsexual claim of "being in the wrong body", then in fact the Male to Female (MTF) transsexual is arguably not cross-dressing when she presents in the feminine role. In order for Deuteronomy to be parsable with respect to the phenomenon of transsexuality, one must first demonstrate that the transsexual narrative is utterly invalid. While the paper's author has made the claim that such is the case, he has not by any means provided the reader with any compelling evidence to back up his claim.

(I will point out that many of the writer's claims about gender role and how it is learned rest upon some of Dr. John Money's work. While I admire Money's dedication and desire to contribute positively to our knowledge of gender identity, some of his work had tragic outcomes, and may in fact have demonstrated that his early notions that gender is primarily rooted in socialization to be troublingly false.

The fact that hermaphrodites have few, if any, problems with transsexualism, when one might expect them to have problems if any group of people would, proves that there is no physiological cause. As a group they prove that once a sex gender role have been assigned, children adjust well and experience few problems." Thus, sexual gender roles are largely learned."

Well, actually, people who are Intersex probably have fewer problems with transsexuals in general because they have experienced some of the same challenges that transsexuals experience in finding treatment to help them find their "stable place" in the world. Further, more recent perspectives on the Intersex run quite at odds to what the paper claims, with an increasing demand to allow the intersexed individual to choose their gender role later in life.

"The causative factors in transsexuality appear to be the same as those in transvestism and homosexuality. The transsexualist's mother is typically an unhappy woman, who clutches her son to her bosom - literally or figuratively - entering into an intensely close relationship with him from which the father and other children of the family are excluded".22

This is blatantly false. I have not seen any literature written since I graduated from University that substantiates such a simplistic view of the causality of either homosexuality or cross-gender identity. This is arguably a hangover view in the paper which persists today in the world of people like James Dobson because it is convenient and simple. More recent work such as True Selves are more candid and freely admit that we really do not know. What we do know is that simplistic "it's the parent's fault" explanations tend to fall apart under scrutiny.

The paper then goes on to talk about the "biblical response" to transsexualism:

This supernatural washing, setting apart, and justification are sufficient to put these sinful lifestyles in the past. My friend is evidence of this truth. Perry Desmond is a man who had two sex-reassignments. God's grace truly transforms.34 Surely it is sufficient.

As with my common critique of the "ex-Gay" claim of "healing through conversion", such experiences have limited validity when mapped onto the broader population in question. There are a handful of a small population for whom religious conversion seems to be adequate to enable them to leave their sexual or gender identity issues behind. For those individuals, one must wish them well on their life journey. However, to claim that such an approach is "universally applicable" is flawed indeed. (Just as transition is not the "right path" for every cross-gender identified person, neither is religious conversion going to "work" for everyone)

It is perhaps the attitude the author takes towards Intersex children that is most telling:

While these individuals are not the direct concern of this article, a brief word is necessary. Ethically, you should help the parents take responsibility for surgical-hormonal treatment. As much as is possible, the external genitalia should be brought into conformity with the genetic gender of the child.35

Genetic gender? Huh? What is the "Genetic Gender" for someone who is a genetic mosaic (has both XX and XY chromosome pairs in different cells)? Or, for that matter what about the XXY chromosome pattern of Klinefelter's syndrome - is that person really "genetic female" or "genetic male"? Such absolutist thinking is as dangerously flawed as John Money's hypothesis about gender as primarily a 'socially learned construct'.

You need, also, to point the transsexual to Christ. Once a transsexual is converted, medical care should be given. Since the believer must live according to God's will, he or she must resume his or her created gender.

It gets worse. While I appreciate that my doctor is entitled to his religious views, and so on, the last thing that any patient wants is a sermon when sitting in the doctor's office. I would feel very sorry for any transsexual whose doctor (or therapist) chose to follow the guidance of this paper's author indeed.

While I think I understand better the kind of reasoning that Seton Medical Center used to arrive at their decisions, but I also believe that the reasoning is based not upon sound ethics and research, but instead upon assertion, a lack of research and poor logic - resulting in intolerance of anyone who does not fall within a narrowly prescribed view of the world.

Steady Eddie: Are You Really That Naive?

Apparently the PCs in Alberta haven't figured it out. While Stelmach goes after Alberta Blogger Dave Cournoyer for snatching up the domain name "", it seems that the brain boys in the PC party decided a bit of "turnabout" would be the height of political satire.

A little hint to "Steady Eddie" and his band: Once is funny, after that it's just tacky.

While "Daveberta"s prank was mildly humorous, the PC's attempt at retaliation really just looks bad. It was bad enough when Stelmach sent his lawyers to intimidate, and schoolyard style retaliation just tells us how clueless the PC's are right now.

It's time to quit acting like spoiled children and grow up. I'm sure that if Stelmach had simply "laughed" at Cournoyer's prank and then quietly offered to buy up the domain, the whole issue would have died. Escalating the situation is simply childish.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More From Harper The Authoritarian

I've said for quite some time that Harper embodies the worst of authoritarian leadership and micromanagement.

His handling of a variety of matters, ranging from the recent Chalk River NRU incident to his micromanaging habits or the monumental screw-up of the environment portfolio (Of course, putting John Baird into play merely meant we had a Conservative shouting louder about the issues, not actually dealing with them) has been awful.

Well, we see more of Harper's uncompromising authoritarian streak in his latest exchanges with Danny Williams:

In his Jan. 15 letter, Harper dismissed Williams's claim, and maintained that his government has protected the Atlantic accords signed with the Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia governments.

"The assertion that there is a $10-billion value gap resulting from the impacts of the new equalization formula is simply unfounded," Harper wrote.

I see ... Harper's logic is essentially that used by Creationists about Evolution theory - "I think that you're wrong, therefore your claim is invalid".

Apparently, the concept of politics as the art of compromise is lost on the man.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Obeying Their Rethuglican Masters

According to Peter Mackay, his American counterpart was "quoted out of context" when he said:

An L.A. Times article quotes U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates expressing doubts about NATO countries that have sent large numbers of combat troops to fight in the south.

"I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations,'' the article quoted Gates as saying. "Most of the European forces, NATO forces, are not trained in counterinsurgency."

Uh-huh - like the US Army has some kind of amazing track record dealing with insurgencies in countries they occupy. (anybody else noting the irony of the US bitching about how others deal with an insurgency when Iraq keeps going from bad to worse?)

Of course, instead of standing up for Canada's troops as they keep telling us to do, Mackay rolls over for his masters in Washington:

"His comments were certainly not directed at Canada,'" MacKay told reporters in Ottawa, recounting the conversation he'd had with Gates five minutes earlier.

"He said, 'I specifically made no reference to any country and Canada is the last country I'd make those comments about.'"

Yeah, right. Let me give you a little hint, Peter - snuggling up with BushCo is not something most Canadians are overly thrilled with. Taking your orders so blatantly from the Whitehouse doesn't help much either.

Oh That Was Smart...

So, I see that Harper has fired the head of the CNSC.

Politically speaking, you could see that coming a mile off when Harper first accused the head of the CNSC of being a "Liberal appointee". Besides triggering what I'm sure will be one of the more expensive wrongful dismissal lawsuits that Canada has experienced as a result of politicians playing politics with the bureaucracy, we must consider the implications of this latest action of the Harper government.

Not only has the Harper government violated the arm's length relationship between various agencies of the government and the politicians, but they have sent a very clear message to the bureaucracy: "Do it our way, or be fired".

Think about this for a moment. The CNSC is bound by a series of acts of legislation passed by the House of Commons. Further, the CNSC is responsible to the House of Commons, not merely the minister and the will of the Cabinet.

Yet, here we have a governing party who either by intent or ignorance (and neither is excusable) has chosen to try forcing its political will on a body whose role is quite deliberately designed to operate at some distance from the often mercurial whim of politicians.

Now, let's consider Harper's track record since he took up residence at 24 Sussex Dr. On the subject of the panel struck to oversee reproductive technology contains no domain experts, and I have my suspicions about the connections to the Forced Birth crowd of some of the members. Then there is multi-billion dollar cuts made in 2006 aimed squarely at programs such as Status of Women Canada, or the Court Challenges Program.

Consider what this means for more visible tribunals and commissions in Canada that operate, in theory, at arm's length from the government. If you do not bend to Harper's will, you will be fired/dismantled etc. This is troubling, when the government has a great many agencies it funds that operate at arm's length to the activities of Parliament itself ... for very good reasons.

The Harper government has just shown us once again that it does not operate with any spirit of compromise. When they don't get their way, they lash out looking for revenge. This is not good government, it is government by ideologue.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Huckabee Wants To What?!

If Huckabee is serious, the US will be well on its way to becoming The Republic of Gilead ... and I really don't want to imagine that Margaret Atwood was trying to be prophetic.

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

Yes, I realize that the US is not Canada, and the American Constitution has a much different tone towards religion in general. However, vague and imprecise statements like Huckabee's often are a poor mask for an ugly, unstated direction.

So Much For That Minister

Harper's rapidly running out of cabinet-making material. The latest minister of his to demonstrate their utter cluelessness is Maxine Bernier, who is bungling his trip to Israel.

Uncertainty continued to surround Ottawa's position on a key element in the search for peace in the Middle East, as Bernier wrapped up his first visit to the region.

The confusion on the potentially explosive issue of Israeli settlements arose Sunday when Bernier was twice asked during a West Bank news conference whether Ottawa – which officially opposes new settlement activity by Israel – makes a distinction between housing construction in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Both times, the Canadian minister pointedly ignored the question. The second time it was asked, he abruptly ended the news conference and left the room.

One of two things - either he didn't dare answer the question because he ran out of PMO-approved script, or the minister was not briefed on one of the key issues relating to Israel.

In the first case, Bernier's not being an effective minister, merely a puppet for whatever partisan crap the PMO wants to throw around. In the second case, either the minister or his advisors (or both) completely missed the point in briefings before you go into a politically volatile region.

"Traditionally, there hasn't been any ambiguity in our policy," a Canadian expert on the Middle East told the Star yesterday. "There might be some ambiguity now."

So, after Gary Lunn's massive CNSC bungle, Mr. Bernier making a royal cock-up of his trip to Israel and Helena Guergis' bone-headed comments, it's becoming clear that the Conservatives are in serious need of new wood for cabinet making. Having fired so many of his original frontline ministers, and turfing out of caucus anyone who dares question his all-knowing wisdom, Harper's left scraping the bottom of the barrel for ministers - and hoping that they don't screw up "too badly".

How promising.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Let's Get A Few Things Straight Here

Apparently, some people haven't taken the time to understand the blatant distortion of process that Ezra Levant is propagating.

Let me be abundantly clear about one thing: I am not speaking to the merits of the complaint against Levant - I have my own opinions about that topic, and my own suspicions about Mr. Levant's intention and motives in publishing those cartoons. I have commented on that before on the blog, you can dig it up in the archives. Levant had every right to publish those cartoons, but in doing so, he also stands to bear the consequences of doing so.

When I speak of due process being carried out, the criticism has been raised that Ezra hasn't been allowed to call witnesses, etc. There is in fact a reason for this. Then AHRC processes are specifically designed with a significant weighting towards conciliation as opposed to courtroom-like adversarial proceedings (which are about the last option used)

Based on this flowchart, I would suspect strongly that the complaint in question is currently in the "Investigation" stage, not the formal hearing process as took place this past summer with regards to the Boissoin case.

On that basis, the criticism that Ezra hasn't been able to call witnesses, or engage in cross-examination activities is hardly surprising - in general practice, during the course of an investigation, someone being questioned by the investigator has a right to counsel, but not necessarily to call forth witnesses etc. - that happens in the courtroom - later. (Granted, since I am not directly party to the case, it is possible that the inquiry has been styled a "hearing", but I think procedurally it is in fact an Investigation - if you have clarity to the contrary (from a source other than Mr. Levant), let me know)

With respect to the more formal hearings process, I draw your attention to the following from the Commission Bylaws:

Submissions to Panel

11(1) The party with carriage of a matter shall provide the Commission with any documents or evidentiary matters upon which they intend to rely at the hearing for distribution to the party opposite at least 21 days prior to the hearing. The respondent shall provide responding documentation to the Commission for distribution to the party opposite at least 14 days prior to the hearing.

11(2) The admission of the evidence shall be determined by the panel at the hearing.

11(3) A submission shall state the nature of the order which is sought from the panel and may in addition, include:

1. an acknowledgment of any agreed upon facts,

2. written arguments covering legal points and authorities,

3. affidavit evidence,

4. any documents or exhibits,

5. the names of the witnesses the party intends to call,

6. the estimated time that the party needs before the panel, and

7. any preliminary matters that the party intends to raise, including any questions of jurisdiction.

Now, that sounds a great deal more like the kind of "courtroom hearing" that Ezra claims is being denied to him. More rationally, I suspect it's a matter of the Conciliation process having been tabled and failed for whatever reason.

(I should point out that last summer's hearings in the Boissoin case included witnesses and third party intervenors) Those interested in the boundaries of the AHRC's authority are referred to the legislation: Human Rights, Citizenship
and Multiculturalism Act

There is a process here. It is fairly well defined, and available to the public. Further, the process at play is "quasi-judicial" - not entirely anchored in the rigors of the legal system in some respects, but certainly subject to appeal in the court system. See S. 37 of the act, which reads:


37(1) A party to a proceeding before a human rights panel may appeal an order of the panel to the Court of Queen’s Bench by originating notice filed with the clerk of the Court of the judicial district in which the proceeding was held.

(2) The originating notice under subsection (1) shall be filed with the clerk and served on the Commission and the other parties within 30 days after the date the appellant receives a copy of the order of the human rights panel.

(3) Forthwith after being served with an originating notice under subsection (2), the Commission shall file the following with the clerk of the Court:

(a) the order of the human rights panel, together with reasons;

(b) the complaint;

(c) the evidence taken at the hearing and all exhibits filed.

(4) The Court may

(a) confirm, reverse or vary the order of the human rights panel and make any order that the panel may make under section 32, or

(b) remit the matter back to the panel with directions.

(5) Commencement of an appeal under this section does not operate as a stay of proceedings under the order of the human rights panel unless the Court so orders.

In short, even if hearings in this matter do not go in Ezra's favour, he has the right to appeal the decision into the Court of Queen's Bench in Alberta.

At this stage, following the AHRC investigator's report, there are several possibilities - only one of which results in a Panel Hearing taking place.


Naomi Lakritz summarizes the very reasons I don't especially like PMSH.

Fundamentally, it boils down to trustworthiness, and the HarperCons just aren't trustworthy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Oh The Hypocrisy

There is a grand irony at play here.

Apparently, in the course of 2006/7, The Western Standard magazine received some $132,063 in taxpayer funding. In 2005/6 the amount was $63,366.

Coming from a magazine whose editorial stance constantly complained about the evils of "big government" and the supremacy of the "free market", I can only muse about the irony of learning that Ezra was as firmly attached to the teat of government funding as that.

h/t: Canadian Cynic

Just to be clear about Harper's Foreign Policy

Shorter version: tokhe straav' Willing slave.

For those less familiar with the Star Trek Universe, would someone care to provide another explanation for Maxine Bernier's sudden appearance in Israel so close on the heels of Bush's "where's my legacy" Tour in Israel.

Once again, we are treated to the Harper regime parroting the Bush administration line:

"We will need to see demonstrable progress in (peace) negotiations by both sides, as well as progress in Palestinian democratic reforms," Bernier said after meeting with the Palestinian Authority's foreign minister, Riad Malki.

Fascinating, when Bush met with the Palestinian leadership:

"I am confident, with proper help, the state of Palestine will emerge. I am confident the status quo is unacceptable, Mr. President, and we want to help you."

The White House later said that Bush intends to return to the Middle East "at least once and maybe more" over the next year.

Of course, we don't hear so much as "boo" out of the Harperettes about Israel's conduct, do we?

Of course, I'm sure we'll shortly start hearing out of Ottawa the threat of Iran, after all, Iran's busily arming the Taliban, right? (BTW - somehow, I suspect that trying to start a third war in the region with Iran is not going to lend the aura of success to Bush's efforts to "achieve peace" in the Israel/Palestine conflict - it somewhat undermines any credibility on the part of the United States.

"Willing Slave" - to the whim of the Bush Whitehouse - what a lovely prospect.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

For A Man With an LLB...

Ezra Levant appears to have a shocking of disregard and disrespect for the laws in Canada.

His "opening remarks" to the Alberta Human Rights Commission officer set the tone for Levant's normally noxious behaviour:

I am here at this government interrogation under protest. It is my position that the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violation of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and in this case, religious freedom and the separation of mosque and state. It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights. So I will now call those bureaucrats “the commission” or “the hrc”, since to call the commission a “human rights commission” is to destroy the meaning of those words.
I believe that this commission has no proper authority over me. The commission was meant as a low-level, quasi-judicial body to arbitrate squabbles about housing, employment and other matters, where a complainant felt that their race or sex was the reason they were discriminated against. The commission was meant to deal with deeds, not words or ideas. Now the commission, which is funded by a secular government, from the pockets of taxpayers of all backgrounds, is taking it upon itself to be an enforcer of the views of radical Islam. So much for the separation of mosque and state.

I hate to point out the obvious here, but unless Ezra is now claiming that he is not a citizen of Canada, and is now choosing to reside in another part of the world, he is very much subject to the laws of Canada, and as a resident of Alberta, to the laws of Alberta. Surely his years spent acquiring his oh-so-coveted LLB would have imparted upon the man some comprehension of such trivial matters.

The commission was meant to deal with deeds, not words or ideas.

Really? So publishing those cartoons was not an act? How fascinating. Ezra knew damn good and well that publishing those would provoke a reaction from Canada's Muslim community. They had been bubbling about, and were readily available on the web well before his pet issue of The Western Standard even hit the presses - much less the newsstands.

I have read the past few years’ worth of decisions from this commission, and it is clear that it has become a dump for the junk that gets rejected from the real legal system. I read one case where a male hair salon student complained that he was called a “loser” by the girls in the class. The commission actually had a hearing about this.

* Link added

Oh brilliant reasoning, Ezra. Because you don't see merit in the case it clearly must have none. Ezra fails to note that said case was in fact dismissed as not falling within the bounds of the relevant legislation.

Of course, that isn't in Ezra's interests - he wants to draw a picture of a system "out of control", instead of one where in fact due process (however grindingly slow it may be at times) has its purpose.

The 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights guaranteed, quote

1. “ human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely,

(c) freedom of religion; (d) freedom of speech; (e) freedom of assembly and association; and (f) freedom of the press.

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed, quote:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

Those were even called “fundamental freedoms” – to give them extra importance.

Amazing. Unlike many, at least Ezra took the time to half read the constitutional laws in play. Sadly, what Levant has failed to do is understand that rights do not exist in some arbitrary hierarchy, rather that they exist in relation to each other, in rather a state of mutual tension.

His claim that the Section 2 freedoms bear a "greater legal weight" than, for example, Section 15 is not, in my view, borne out by the case law surrounding the interpretation of the Constitution since 1983. The courts have taken a much more "equal" view of the weighting of individual rights.

Of course, one must take Levant's hypothesis in context - it is coming from a man who has overstepped his bounds repeatedly, leaping to conclusions about a tragic accident, blaming it on the "hijab" he accused the driver of wearing; and slandering former senator Ron Ghitter. He now finds himself faced once again with the consequences of his own actions.

I see that he has published video of his initial hearing on his website (and youtube) - claiming that his "notice" that he reserves the right to publish trumps the commission's right to ask for confidentiality in the hearings. It's grandstanding, along with the rest of Ezra's behaviour in this matter.

I feel sorry for anyone who has to investigate this case - Levant's blustering attempts to declare the whole topic "invalid", from the complaint itself to the investigation, will make it very difficult for anyone involved to see Levant's case as having any merit whatsoever. When you open your comments with "you are invalid", it pretty much guarantees that anything said subsequently will be held in a much different light than if you started perhaps with a modicum of respectfulness. More or less, it's not a lot different than telling a police officer to F--- Off when they come to your door with questions.

Ummm ... There's More To It Than That...

This latest Poll is surprising, as it suggests sagging support in Alberta for the Conservatives.

The pollster tries to sweep it away:

Darrell Bricker, president of Ipsos-Reid, said it appears that most of the Grits jump in support, and subsequent slump for the Tories, is a result of the Conservatives declining a remarkable 23 points in Alberta.

"It's the Stelmach effect. We assume people differentiate between the federal and provincial parties even if they have the same name. I think what we see in Alberta is a branding effect because there is no great incentive to be against the Harper government in that province," said Bricker.

Actually, Bricker is missing something significant in that assessment. Quality of life in Alberta has taken quite a hit in the last few years - especially in the major urban centers. When combined with softening support for Stelmach's PC's, and a series of scandals in Ottawa, you could easily see a drop in the support for the federal Conservatives - the Harper government has been pretty much "taking Alberta for granted" - not a wise thing to do in politics.

(Equally - I don't know that I'd make much of this poll per se - it could well be little more than a "blip")

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Recording Industry Loses One...

It's about bloody time. With the recording industry running about trying to tax everything that could be used for storing a song, one of our courts finally has called bullshit on the ever expanding levies imposed on the assumption that users are all pirating recordings.

Traditionally, levies have been applied to products such as blank tapes in order to compensate the recording industry for any duplicates made on those tapes.

But analysts noted that MP3 players act as both the medium and the playing device and such a levy would be the equivalent of taxing both the blank tape and the tape recorder.

Analysts also noted the levy assumes that people are not paying for the music they store on their devices.

I object to those levies on general principles - starting with the fact I resent the fact that they are essentially a "prepaid speeding ticket". Frankly, punishing or suing your market is a great way to lose markets entirely. It's long past time for the recording industry to "wake up and smell the coffee" - the days of making vast amounts of money by being the "only game in town" for music recording and distribution are past - long past. Time to figure out some new ways to compete in a changing marketplace - like any other business has to do when the competitive environment changes.

Failure To Proofread

Sometimes the era of digital information that we live in makes it all too easy to write something and not proofread it adequately - leaving others who come to read what we've written wondering what the point really was, or laughing at the non-sequiturs that we left out for their enjoyment. (I know I've done it enough times on this space!)

I decided this evening to go see what has been updated on Craig Chandler's website today - thinking that as a provincial election approaches, he'll be gearing up for something.

The changes aren't that dramatic as of today, but there's a couple of gems that come from a failure to "read carefully before posting".

...However, on December 1, 2007 Democracy was denied and Ed Stelmach revealed his true face of intolerance. Infact, Ed Stelmach was involved in influencing votes from the very beginning. See our Democracy denied section for the full detals.

We are writing this letter to introduce you to Craig Chandler and to show our deep respect and support for him.

Many feel quite strongly that Craig Chandler is the most qualified candidate for the position of MLA in Calgary Egmont and one that will unify the party.

I have no idea how Chandler thinks he's going "unify" any party when he's running as an independent candidate.

His behaviour since December 1 is hardly that of a man seeking to reconcile any differences - lashing out with lawsuits (or at least threats of), and generally appearing to try to "poison the well" for the PC's where Calgary Egmont is concerned. Real "unifying", that.

The rest is just a recycle of the "letter" that he was dropping in mailboxes throughout much of Calgary Egmont back in July last year.

Dear Mr. Weston: It's the Conservatives Sitting In Power

Sun Media columnist Greg Weston apparently thinks that because the Liberals were sitting in government until 2005 that the Chalk River fiasco is somehow all their fault.

Newsflash for ya Mr. Weston: The Harper Conservatives have been sitting in Ottawa since 2006. Any action, or inaction since the issuance of the current operating license to AECL in Aug of 2006 is unequivocally the very direct responsibility of the HarperCons. They own it - lock, stock and barrel.

Playing politics with topics like health care and nuclear safety is practically begging for things to go "boom"... (oh yes, has anyone else noticed that since the restart of the NRU reactor there have been two seismic events in that region? {albeit fairly minor on the Richter Scale - merely something to think about})

This coming election is not about what the Liberals did or did not do up to 2005, it is about what Harper has done since January 2006.

Is That An Election In The Air?

I see that PMSH has identified his "have you stopped beating your wife yet" club to attach to the next budget. The good news is that this is such a transparent tactic that I think the opposition parties can dodge it quite effectively.

However, the Globe and Mail reports some more bits with respect to the Chalk River NRU incident:

The fact is the minister and government have been aware for some time of the long-term financial and managerial challenges that exist at AECL,” Mr. Harper said. “These are very serious problems that have developed over a very long period of time. There are no short-term solutions.”

Hold it, right there. So, not only did AECL fail to implement safety upgrades it agreed to in 2006 (when the Conservatives were already in power), but clearly the ministry was aware of issues with AECL, and took exactly zero steps to intervene? Really? Instead, the Harper government sits on the whole situation and lets it fester. Today, with egg all over their faces, they now turn and try to blame the whole business on the CNSC because it would not (and could not without breaking laws) be a pliant tool of Conservative desires for a politically expedient solution.

From what I'm hearing in there, it sounds to me more like AECL needs a serious amount of house cleaning, not the CNSC. The government itself needs to stand up and take responsibility for its own inaction through 2006-2007 on this matter, as well as it's clear lack of understanding of the relationship between the House of Commons and regulatory agencies of the government.

Harper's "feel good" announcement, along with his continued attacks on the leadership of the CNSC, are attempts to divert public attention from his own ineptitude in handling serious situations when they get into crisis. Even more pathetic is the fact that his own advisors can't be bothered to actually understand the situation either.

(BTW - Albertans could find themselves facing two concurrent elections. If the Harper government falls on its budget, and Stelmach calls an expected March vote, there is an enormous chance that Albertans will find two electoral campaigns running at the same time)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Harper Still Doesn't Understand

If I hadn't heard about Harper's comments regarding Lunn's actions today, I might have thought the man had figured out when to shut up.

The prime minister took aim at the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission — Linda Keen — saying her decision to shut down the reactor could have “needlessly endangered” the Canadian medical system.

Mr. Harper stressed that members of Parliament overturned Ms. Keen's decision in less than 48 hours and he remains “troubled” by Ms. Keen's recent actions.

Obviously, neither Mr. Harper, Mr. Lunn or their respective advisors have taken the time to actually read the CNSC letter of a day or so ago in response to Mr. Lunn's blatant threats.

Perhaps even worse is the fact that neither Mr. Harper or Mr. Lunn seem to understand the arm's length relationship between the Government of Canada's various regulatory or judicial commissions and the House of Commons.

I suspect that Ms. Keen, in her current capacity, has little or no flexibility with respect to the processes by which the CNSC is obliged to operate - bound quite strictly by the acts of parliament that created and guide the CNSC's existence.

This is far from the first time that Harper has played politics with government bureaucrats - there was the whole uproar over veiled voters last September - and again, Mr. Harper was running around threatening to fire people for daring to disagree with him.

This man doesn't get it. He clearly does not understand Canada's governmental structures and the roles of various bodies which exist adjunct to parliament itself. He seems to think that as soon as the laws that bind these commissions are a problem, that the commissions should simply bend to his will - even if it means that they would have to break the very laws that govern them.

To borrow a phrase from criminal law, "Ignorance of the law is not an excuse, Mr. Harper".

Consider The Implications

It is situations like this that make me a fervent believer in keeping religion and state separated ... quite firmly.

Superficially, one may well look at things and say "so what?" - after all, a Catholic Hospital (and therefore a religious institution) refused to facilitate treatment for someone they would consider "immoral". After all, isn't it really just a matter of freedom of religion, right?

Well, not so much when we tread into the land of medical services, or for that matter government. The situation itself represents a slice of a much larger problem that affects minority populations. (* Yes, I realize that in the United States that medical services are not a government function *)

Consider, for a moment, the standard that the hospital is applying here. On one hand, the hospital provides supporting facilities for breast augmentation surgery - a procedure that one could argue plays to the "sin" of vanity in many situations. But, apparently, as long they don't know that the patient is a transsexual, that's okay.

On the other hand, if the patient is a transsexual, suddenly a second standard is brought out and used:

"God made you a man."

That's what Charlene Hastings said she was told when she called to inquire about breast enlargement surgery at Seton Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Daly City.

So, suddenly, someone's access to services is now dependent upon the criteria that some arbitrary party (the hospital) approving of the prospective patient's past and present moral status.

The implications here are enormous. A huge percentage of surgeries in North America are classified as "elective" (which, contrary to common misconception does not mean "optional", but merely means that the patient will not die immediately without the surgery).

While I do not have a huge amount of difficulty with the concept that a hospital may well not offer services on a variety of ethical or moral grounds, I take considerable exception to offering treatment to one population and denying it to another on moral grounds.

The message is clear to transsexuals - don't come to a "Catholic Hospital" if you need treatment for something, because your past will be held against you in the decisions made about your treatment. (and it's not like it isn't hard enough for transsexuals to access treatment to begin with)

Does this mean that someone who is excommunicate from the Catholic Church is suddenly going to find themselves refused access because of that status? Or is the level of service that a patient can expect suddenly proportional to whether the local bishop decides their "status" within the church?

Churches running hospitals is a fine and noble tradition in the spirit of charity. However, there are a myriad of places where medicine can and does run afoul of church doctrine. (One might, for example, consider what could happen if certain aspects of Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine were to be enforced by a hospital's administration) At some level a hospital that provides services to the general public (and last I checked, there's no requirement at the Seton hospital that patients must be practicing Catholics) is providing a public service that is well outside religious dogma.

It's one thing to say "we don't provide this service because we object to it" (e.g. Abortion) and simply not provide the services at all, it is quite a different thing to say "We provide this service unless you are ...".

Awful ... or is that Offal?

Taking the already cheezy and adding a liberal dollop of additional cheez is guaranteed to create something truly hideous.

In the case below, some bunch of fundamentalists tried to make their own "Star Trek" episode, and the results speak for themselves. The original Star Trek episodes were deliberately cheezy, and few would claim that William Shatner was a great actor. Somehow, the fundies managed to "out cheez" the original Star Trek with a combination of awful acting, truly awful writing and a live audience providing the laugh track. (sadly, I don't think they were shooting for comedy - much less bad farce)

*You may want brain bleach with this or immediately after

Come to think of it, pulling in all of the usual fundagelical talking points about atheists and science and clubbing the audience to death with them probably doesn't help the story much either.

In compensation, I leave you with this sample of what can be done when fans with a bit of talent and dedication decide to "carry on" with the Star Trek theme:

h/t: Pam House Blend

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Uh? Two Sides Of The Same Coin?

I'm not quite sure just what to make of these two stories:

Drug dealer wins partial victory in unique tax case
Woman wins lawsuit against drug dealer

So ... on one hand, monies that the government confiscates in a drug case don't qualify as a legitimate business expense, the failure to report the income from criminal activity is not subject to CRA penalties. The mind boggles.

On the other hand, we have a young woman whose drug habit nearly killed her winning a lawsuit against the dealer who sold her the drugs in the first place. This makes a little bit more sense, but strikes me as a little bit of "no honor amongst thieves" as well. (Does this mean that the local wino can sue the liquor store that sold the wine to him when his liver finally gives out?)

I think I'll go find a quiet corner for a few hours - the world's gone mad.

McCain? You've Gotta Be Kidding

So, McCain came out ahead in New Hampshire?

While McCain is certainly not as completely loopy as Mike Huckabee, I wouldn't exactly call him "good news" as a presidential candidate. McCain has been a staunch supporter of George Bush's grandiose adventures in the Middle East. (Granted, I don't think any of the current lot of Republican candidates see or understand the depth of folly that Bush has committed to in the United States)

At the moment, the more I see of the Republican candidates, the more it becomes apparent that another Republican president will condemn the United States - and the world - to another four years of Bush-inspired war mongering, with possibly the only real difference being that the new occupant of the Whitehouse is likely to be much more articulate than its current denizen.

On the Democrat side, I think that Clinton's win is a good thing. From the polling reports I was hearing about, I was beginning to suspect that she may have "peaked" too soon politically. I'm unsure about both Clinton and Obama as candidates - but that's mostly my limited familiarity with US politics speaking (it's not like we haven't had enough to keep my attentions in Canada lately). A continuing duel between these two candidates will keep the party profile high. A "single candidate" run (e.g. what I suspect may have emerged had Obama won last night would have diverted public attentions away from the Democrats, and effectively hand the "mindshare" over to the Republicans.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Minister Lunn, Mr. Harper, May I Introduce Reality

The fallout of Harper's mishandling of the Chalk River situation is continuing to fester its way along.

Today, the Globe and Mail reports on some correspondence between Minister Lunn and Ms. Keen, head of the CNSC.

The letters are published here, with substantiating documentation.

Mr. Lunn's approach to things is typical of the HarperCon$ - bullying and thuggish. Ms. Keen replies with facts - both the laws governing her role, as well as the details of the Chalk River reactor's prolonged shutdown.

A more detailed analysis will follow - when I have time to make my way through the CNSC's rebuttal of the HarperCon$ allegations. I wanted to make the links to the letters available sooner rather than later.

[Update - Analysis]:
Commenter "BillBC" seems to take exception my characterization of Minister Lunn's behaviour as "Thuggish". Allow me to explain why this is my opinion.

First of all, the letter is little more than a notification of intent to terminate the recipient.

Consider the following paragraphs from the letter:

Under your leadership the Commission did not initiate the process to permit the return to operation of the NRU reactor, despite the issuance on December 10, 2007 of the Directive to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission Regarding the Health of Canadians. ...

These events have cast doubt on whether you possess the fundamental good judgement required by the incumbent of the office of President of the Commission, and whether you are duly executing the requirements of the office. Serious questions have arision about whether the Commission, under your leadership, could have dealt more appropriately with the risk management of the situation.

At first, this sounds like a "verbal spanking". However, we also know that when the issue was first raised, Harper immediately tried to turn it into a matter of partisan politics in the House of Commons.

Second, let us consider the Commission's receipt of the Government's directive:

The first time that I, or anyone at the CNSC became aware of the Directive, was when a copy of the Directive was sent to the CNSC on the morning of December 11, 2007. As you are well aware, the CNSC was not consulted about the Directive before it was drafted and tabled in the House of Commons.

C-38, in turn, was introduced in the House of Commons in the afternoon of December 11, 2007 - only hours after the Directive was tabled in the Hose of Commons by Minister Hearn. Indeed, notice of An Act to permit the resumption and continuation of the generation of the National Research Universal Reactor at Chalk River was included on the Order Paper before the Directive was sent to the CNSC. Clearly, the introduction of C-38 eclipsed the need for CNSC staff or Commission to have regard to the contents of the Directive in respect of that facility after C-38 was passed.

In my view, Mr. Lunn's immediate leap into threatening Ms. Keen's position is typical of the bullying and thuggish behaviours that we have seen the Harper Conservatives engage in ever since they came to office. To put it in simpler terms, when the employee appears to make a serious error, as the "boss", you damn well better make sure that you have the facts on the table and clear before you go into their office on a tirade about their performance.

In a situation where something as risk-laden as nuclear reactors are concerned, there are good reasons to exercise caution when operational conditions arise that result in compromised fail-safe systems.

There's an interesting fact lurking in the CNSC submission that is important too (and one that I hadn't caught in my initial assessment of the situation:

Upon discovering that the NRU reactor was operating outside its licensing framework, the decision to extend the shutown of the NRU reactor at Chalk River in November was made by AECL alone and was entirely voluntary. To be clear, the CNSC did not order or force AECL to shut down, or extend the shutdown, of the NRU reactor. As AECL confirmed in its letter of November 22, 2007, the decision was made by AECL's senior management and the Site Licence Holder.

This is an interesting, and important fact. It was the AECL that specifically made the decisions around shutdown and extending the shutdown.

There are a few notes relating to the engineering and safety principles involved that I think should be taken note of:

The NRU reactor's operating licence required both MHWP P-104 and P-105 to be connected to the Emergency Power Supply ("EPS"). The EPS delivers emergency backup power to the pumps to ensure that they can continue to force coolant into the reactor in the event of an external incident or power interruption. Given the design of the NRU reactor, the uninterrupted delivery of power to P-104 and P-105 is essential for its safe operation. The licence given by CNSC to AECL in 2006 was based, in part, on assurances from AECL that it had connected the pumps to the EPS.

We are talking about a fail-safe design principle here. Fail-sae design is a vital part of safety systems engineering - whether we are talking about reactors, pipelines or electrical networks, you design things so that the opportunity for a bad situation to get worse is minimized. There is one fundamental principle at play here - you don't play "fast and loose" with these matters. Period. The real question that should be getting addressed right now is not the role of CNSC, but rather why the AECL left this task undone in the months since the operating licence was issued in August, 2006.

Further reading of the CNSC President's letter and narrative makes it quite clear that due legal process to which the Commission is bound - by the very act(s) of Parliament that created the Commission and guide its activities.

On December 7, 2007, however, AECL informed me that it wished to pursue the one pump connection option and requested a reply on the process before December 11, 2007. As it is now known, the issuance of the Directive and the introduction of C-38 overtook this option. Following their letter of December 7, 2007, AECL was informed by the CNSC staff that a complete safety case was required to support the licence amendment application and that one had not yet been received.

Following the CNSC letter of December 10, 2007, with respect to the process, there was no specific request from AECL asking the Secretariat to schedule a hearing nor any indication of a completed safety case in support of an amendment application. ...

Sounds to me like due process - both from a legal/judicial perspective as well as from an engineering analysis perspective was being applied quite appropriately by the CNSC.

Meanwhile, we also find that Minister Lunn had been trying to get the CNSC to bend the very rules that are set out in the laws governing its function:

For example, in a telephone call from the Minister of Natural Resources on Saturday, December 8, 2007 to the President of the CNSC, the President was told that she needed to immediately convene a hearing by the Commission that afternoon in order to get the NRU back in operation. The President explained to the Minister that, for a variety of reasons, including the incomplete state of the request by AECL for permission to start the reactor with only one pump rather than two, it would not be possible for the Commission hear and decide the matter in the timframe demanded.

The Minister's message was clear though: he wanted the Commission to approve the startup of the reactor at the NRU with one pump rather than the two required by the licence held at the time by AECL, even though to do so would require a licence amendment; something that can only be dealt with - according to law - by the Commission after conducting an adjuticative process in which the relevant facts and law are considered. But given the Minister's comments, there was no doubt in the mind of the President that he was asking that the CNSC allow AECL permission to restart the NRU irrespective of what the Commission determined would be appropriate given the circumstances of the case. ....

If there's an issue here, it is the panic of the Conservatives who were starting to take some serious heat in the public arena over the issues. In some ways, this is a bit of a no-win situation for them. On one hand, if anything happens to the NRU reactor before the backup power is connected to those pumps, and we will have an all too graphic understanding of what happens when fail-safe designs are not fully implemented. Conversely, allowing the situation to drag on was clearly having serious consequences for health care - not just in Canada, but around the world.

Oddly, Bill C-38 may have been the most appropriate move to make, as it correctly overrode the CNSC by means of an act of Parliament rather than by demanding that the CNSC break the laws that govern it.

However, in their efforts to find someone else to blame, the actions of Harper and his ministers are serving to do little but inflame the situation. Harper's attempts to make this into a partisan matter to score political points is disappointing, as it continues to show us that Harper and his followers are still thinking as if they are opposition politicians - always looking for a way to "pin the blame" on their adversaries, rather than showing us actual leadership.

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...