Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dear Monster ... er Monsieur... LaBarbera

I'd suggest that you find a subject to write about that you actually know something about, because it's painfully obvious you have no idea about transsexuals, and your good buddy over at "Family Research Council", Mr. Perkins knows even less. As evidenced here.

First of all, the "bathroom bills" aren't about someone getting their jollies. I'm sorry, but someone who gets excited about being in the same room that other people are using to relieve themselves of bodily wastes is not well at all, regardless of their gender.

Second, the issue that those bills address is the legitimate right for someone to "pee in peace". People have been thrown out of buildings, banned from restaurants and goodness knows what else for using what somebody else assumed was the wrong bathroom. Transsexuals are particularly vulnerable to this kind of idiot discrimination.

Okay, someone who is "crossing between genders" can make a lot of people uncomfortable, I get that - especially when they don't fall into the rather narrow category of "attractive". The reality is that as unsettling as those people are to some, they are basically harmless. Someone's gender identity being out of alignment with their body isn't going to turn them into a slavering sexual predator - it doesn't work that way.

Just offhand, I'd suggest that someone who is obviously presenting as female stepping into the "men's room" in most public places is apt to find themselves in a whole pile of trouble...especially given the way that men respond to something they consider to be a "threat". (and I imagine an FTM walking into the ladies' room would be in for a similar amount of objection)

Equating transfolk with sexual predators is not only fundamentally wrong, it simply doesn't make any sense. If there are sexual predators who will go to the extent of cross-dressing to get nearer to their prey, they're already doing it ... and are committing a crime in their predations. If you are worried about predators, I'd suggest paying more attention to Senator Larry 'Wide-Stance' Craig, and numerous other bible beating loons that we keep catching getting their jollies in public places. (and Mr. Craig, as I recall, was definitely caught in the men's room...)

Contrary to the lascivious musings of Mr. LaBarbera and his crowd, transfolk are looking to use the washroom for the same reasons everybody else is, and they pose no threat to anyone.

Apparently Being Christian Means Living in Denial

You almost have to read this to believe it.

While it may seem like everyone believes in global warming and the impending catastrophe it will bring, a group of conservative Christians countered that message Thursday by launching a national campaign to gather one million signatures for a statement that says Christians must not believe in all the hype about global warming.

The “We Get It!” declaration, which currently has nearly 100 signers, is backed by prominent Christians including Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, award-winning radio host Janet Parshall, and U.S. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

In short, if you are a follower of these loons, you are supposed to bury your head in the sand because the leaders of the bible-beating crowd decide that the science is too uncertain:

“How can you create policies on uncertain science?” asked Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“How can you say what it is that needs to be done when you don’t really know and you don’t really have real consensus on the state of the problem or what is causing the problem?”

Wow - suddenly everything's about "concensus" - of course, it is virtually impossible to reconcile rational, evidence-based reasoning with someone who is arguing based on their "article of faith" position. By the time that the "absolute" proof that these loons want from science exists, it will be far, far too late to act upon it at all.

Of course, there is also a huge amount of irony in their whining about setting policy based on "uncertain science". Not only do these same people keep demanding that public policy be set on the basis of biblical scripture, they do so assuming their particular intepretation of scripture ... and as anybody with their eyes open will recognize, there is little or no real concensus in interpreting scripture, much less whether the truth value of any particular interpretation is absolute... talk about uncertainty!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What is it With Conservatives and Delegation?

Jeepers! What is it with today's Con$ervatives and their utter inability to actually delegate anything.

On the Federal level, we have the micromanaging PMSH who is gradually losing control over portfolio after portfolio as things spiral out of control - whether or not he's looking at it.

Provincially, we have the Stelmach government consolidating its grip on all things health related.

Consolidating everything in Edmonton, under an organization that is responsible to the political minister who also has responsibility for the department responsible for oversight and policy is not a good sign. It points to a centralization of authority in our provincial government that is worrisome.

Under Klein, the Conservatives consolidated control over both civic and education related funding - and made a complete hash of it, and it appears that under Stelmach, they are preparing to do what Klein always backed away from with health care.

While the Con$ often speak the language of "smaller government" etc. etc., when it comes down to it, the current varietal in both Edmonton and Ottawa in fact seems to be more about control than anything else. Liepert's vague comments about "unifying" the health system, and making it "seamless" is beginning to worry me a great deal. Such broad, vague terms, and the moves he is making suggest that he is planning to take things down a path that he isn't willing to be open with Albertans about.

Worse, the Alberta voters handed Ed Stelmach a 'bigger-than-ralph' sized majority, and the man hasn't even led the government for a full term. This means that the Alberta Con$ are apt as not to do whatever they want, and they'll do it sooner rather than later on the basis that they'll be hoping that the voters have forgotten what atrocities they commit by the time the next election is due. (Sadly, I suspect that they are right on that last point - Alberta voters don't seem to have any kind of memory, much less long term memory)

Wingnuts - Failing To Comprehend Context

The residents of Lower Wingnuttia apparently have no concept of context.

According the Lifesite, you'd think that a charity had written a piece of explicit erotica for children:

WORTHING, UK, May 28, 2008 ( – A prominent UK charity has been implicated in the production and distribution of a sexually explicit “educational” pamphlet aimed at children as young as seven. The booklet has been removed from one school in West Surrey after complaints from parents, but the charity responsible, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), has defended the material, saying the sexual material is already covered by the national sex education curriculum.

The charity, ChildLine, a branch of the NSPCC, produced a 20-page illustrated booklet in order to help children identify and report instances of abuse, including sexual abuse. ChildLine operates a children’s abuse telephone and internet hotline and helps connect children and families to social services. The NSPCC is the foremost UK charity working in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to, and abuse of, children.

The booklet, titled “In the Know, Keeping Safe and Strong”, includes a quiz in which children are to identify the abusive situation among three scenarios that include “a goodnight cuddle from mum” and a visit to the doctor. The third says, “Your uncle promises you a new MP3 player if you take your knickers off and sit on his lap.”

At first glance, you might think that's a bit over the top, until you take the time to read the actual pamphlet, and you realize that the pamphlet is purposefully direct in its wording throughout. There's good reason for this - it is meant to give children the vocabulary needed to say that something is wrong when it happens - and abuse happens to children of all ages - regardless of their vocabulary.

Contrary to what the wingnuts seem to think, where matters of abuse are concerned, childhood is not a moment of idyllic purity for the abused child. If they have the vocabulary to say what is being done to them that is abusive, then they stand a much better chance of successfully dealing with what has happened to them than if it waits until they are in their adult years.

This is one of those cases where being a little blunt about something has more long term benefit than it does harm. Do I like the fact that such pamphlets are necessary? Not particularly; but I think we are far better off putting things in the open rather than allowing the abusers to get away with it on the trust that children naturally place in the adults in their lives.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

PMSH has got to be hating what's oozing out in the wake of L'Affaire Bernier.

OTTAWA–Officials from the Prime Minister's Office and CSIS agents met early this month to discuss Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's controversial relationship with a woman known to have ties with biker gangs, Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh charged yesterday.

The meeting was held between May 1 and 8, according to Dosanjh. May 8 was the day the first news reports appeared detailing Julie Couillard's past romantic links to members of Quebec biker gangs.

Remember, that when Ms. Couillard had security people sweep her home, they told her they suspected that her bed had been bugged for some period of time.

There's two things that come to mind here - first, if CSIS did in fact bug Couillard's home, the question arises around the authority under which they did that; as well as whether or not they could have simply "acquired" the misplaced documents?

I can think of a myriad of different issues here, but the most unsettling is the idea that the PMO thinks it can justify bugging a private residence - when ostensibly, they have "no interest" in the matter. Do you want the government trying to regulate and monitor your bedroom?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

So, Mr. Harper, How is doing NOTHING realistic?

If there is one thing that infuriates me about PMSH and his glib pronouncements on the world stage, it is how utterly devoid of meaning they are.

This week, we find "Dear Leader" prancing about Europe, further damaging Canada's reputation as a player on the world stage, and reinforcing the idea that Canada is being run from Washington these days.

But Harper this week is going on the offensive, trying to explain to leaders and others that, in his view, climate change policies or programs that protect endangered plant and wildlife species must be based on targets that are affordable, realistic and try to balance any economic costs against environmental gains. It is a pitch he and his environment minister, John Baird, have often made to a domestic audience.

"We have vowed to get past the empty rhetoric and to take real action to require Canadian industry to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," Harper said in a speech in Bonn, Germany, at the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, a meeting attended by delegates from 119 countries.

Meanwhile, at home, Harper has done exactly nothing to rein in some of Canada's worst emissions producing industries. Oh wait, he's putting money into "carbon sequestration" technology - more or less filling salt caverns with which barely exists today, and requires decades of active work to become meaningful. Meanwhile, his government is doing little or nothing to set meaningful standards against which we can measure progress, nor have they set any kind of targets that are even remotely meaningful.

We cannot assess whether something is meaningful, affordable or realistic when it is primarily the CO2 filled air being expelled from Harper's lungs as he speaks. I wasn't impressed much with either Chretien or Martin on their handling (fumbling) of taking steps with regards to Kyoto - Harper's worse on the subject because he speaks out of both sides of his face, and does even less.

Getting rid of Bernier might have been a good start, but replacing him with the ever present face of PMSH the Micromanager is NOT an improvement.

Insight into Conservative Policy

The HarperCon$ have prevaricated repeatedly on the subject of Vancouver's safe injection site (InSite), and as is so typical of the HarperCon$, very closed-mouthed about what their official stance is.

Until Tony Clement opened his yap in the wake of a ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court.

“We disagree with the judgment,” Mr. Clement told reporters in Ottawa.

“Our government believes that the best way to deal with the health issues of drug addicts is to offer treatment and indeed to prevent people from getting on to illicit drugs in the first place.”

Mr. Clement also strongly suggested the Conservative government was opposed to the facility's continued operation.

“We don't consider it the best health outcome to keep people in a position where they continue to use the illicit drugs, to inject the illicit drugs.”

Well, that's a nice objective Tony, but how pray tell do you think that an absolute erasure of narcotics from the streets can be accomplished? Hell, your own micromanaging boss can't even get his foreign affairs minister to keep either his lips or pants zippered - what the heck makes any of us believe that the standard conservative mantra about "getting tough" on drugs - a technique that the United States has tried with astonishing failure.

Meanwhile, the studies of Insite all reflect the success of the program - something the HarperCon$ claim to be "unconvinced of". But, like Pierre Poilievre, I don't think that Tony Clement is about actually solving problems - he's about regulating people whose issues and challenges he cannot understand or cannot be bothered to try understanding.

I cannot imagine the drive of the drug addict to seek out that next fix, and how personally destructive that drive must be - I simply haven't been there. I do know one thing - the techniques the conservatives espouse simply have not worked at all.

Dear Mr. Poilievre:

I'm going to hope that your recent comments regarding Ontario funding GRS were rooted in ignorance, not malice.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre says he wants the federal government to step in and prevent Ontario from funding sex reassignment surgery.

"I will write the minister of finance, Jim Flaherty, to seek assurance that federal health transfers should go only to vital health care treatments and not to the McGuinty sex-change program," said Mr. Poilievre, the MP for Nepean-Carleton.

Aren't the Federal Conservatives all about "less Ottawa intervention in provincial affairs"?; smaller government; etc.? Well - only sort of. It seems that only goes as far as their burning desire to impose their moral values upon others. As soon as they sniff something they deem "immoral", they're off to impose some kind of rule or another to make sure that they are being as obstructive as possible.

As the Editors at the Ottawa Citizen point out, it's not like Mr. Poilievre is actuall taking on a significant group in the population:

Usually politicians looking to score easy points will rail against needle exchange programs, but transgendered people are even more marginalized than drug addicts, so they make an even safer target to beat up on. This is on the same level of cheap politics as whipping up anger because an academic somewhere received a grant to write a thesis on, say, snail reproduction.

This isn't to say that people can't ask whether same-sex operations are medically necessary. This is a fair question. But Mr. Poilievre's smarmy quip about the "McGuinty sex-change program," suggesting that the government is promoting sex reassignment, shows he is simply being opportunistic.

Pardon us if we don't admire his courage for taking on the all-powerful transgendered lobby.

However, the good news is that more informed and intelligent minds than that which resides in Mr. Poilievre have chosen to make themselves heard too:

In my own practice, transgendered patients describe a lifelong, pervasive incongruity between their physical sex and their emotional status. Personally, I can't imagine a much more hellish existence.

Transgendered people exist. Gender reassignment surgery is considered an effective, appropriate therapy for some of these individuals. The withholding of such surgery can lead to severe psychological problems and suicide, as has occurred in my own practice. If we put aside our value judgments, it cannot be argued that gender reassignment surgery is anything but medically necessary. Such surgery can be as lifesaving as a coronary bypass.

Sadly, I think that Mr. Poilievre is unlikely to listen to the doctor who penned that letter - nor are most of his colleagues in the Con$ervative caucus. They have already shown Canadians time and again that they are willing to attack anyone they consider immoral or of lesser social value than themselves. Whether one is a woman, a minority or just plain old "socially unacceptable" to their idealization of 1950s "family values", they don't give a damn, and are quite happy to attack your very existence in the most vicious ways possible.

Pray that they don't decide that a heart attack is a result of a "licentious lifestyle" anytime soon.

Bernier-Couillard: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Bernier's dalliances are turning into quite the story. In this morning's newspaper, we find that Ms. Couillard had those papers for five weeks.

Questions about how secret government documents went missing for five weeks without alarms being raised dogged Stephen Harper's government the day after Maxime Bernier was forced out as foreign affairs minister over the security breach.

The Prime Minister, in Paris on a European tour he began only hours after he announced Mr. Bernier's resignation, essentially declared the affair over – insisting that a Foreign Affairs Department review of the incident is enough, and rejecting an expanded probe.

Superficially that might almost seem reasonable - after all, no harm was really done, right?


This whole business calls into question the continence of the governing part with respect to classified documents. This is not just an "oops, I forgot them overnight" moment - not only did Bernier leave those papers for five weeks, it's pretty clear that he did exactly nothing to retrieve them:

“Why did it take the government five weeks to discover that documents were missing, and why did it take the government five weeks to ask a question either of the member for Beauce, the former minister, or of Madame Couillard?” Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae asked in the Commons.

“Why do you sit on your duffs and do nothing for five weeks?”

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan insisted that the Prime Minister's Office was told about the missing documents only on Monday, “and after being informed of the situation with these documents, the Prime Minister acted.”

During that time, Ms. Couillard could easily have made as many copies as she desired. To dismissively say that "no secrets were breached" misses the point entirely. Those documents were classified for a reason, and both Harper and Bernier have shown us a blatant disregard for those reasons.

Further, it shows us the cracks and weaknesses in Harper's management style. In order to maintain the facade of being competent, Harper has to exact an ever increasing amount of direct control on his people, their actions and the actions of their associates. The question that the Bernier affair opens is not "what was breached?" (although that is a valid question), but rather we should be asking "what's next?".

Try as they might, the PMO cannot effectively control every action of the government and its ministers. Because the PMO has imposed such a strong grip on the ministerial and senior bureaucracy of all departments, you have to know that there's going to be more - it's inevitable. And next time may well be much more serious for Canada.

Canadians should not accept PMSH's blithe attempts to brush this mess off as a "non-issue" - just as AdScam demonstrated that the Chretien-era Liberals had lost sight of their responsibilities to the public, "L'Affaire Bernier" shows us that the HarperCon$ lack the flexibility, judgment and discretion necessary to safeguard Canada's interests.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Moralizing Hypocrites...

As if I needed evidence to support my belief that the HarperCon$ are a bunch of two-faced moralizing hypocrites, but here we go anyhow.

It seems that a bunch of Con$ and related staffers were invited to a screening of a "racy" film. When this becomes public, suddenly they are all denying that they were planning to attend at all:

Tory MPs and their staff are denying they ever planned to watch the film after their names appeared on an RSVP list for a private screening Thursday.

An assistant to Gary Goodyear, the MP for Cambridge, Ont. was even fired after Goodyear's name appeared on an RSVP list when, in fact, she had ordered the ticket for herself.

Tory MPs Patrick Brown and James Lunney also say their names were listed in error and they have no plans to attend.

Remember, these are the same two-faced creeps who want to pick and choose at their discretion what film projects are eligible for tax credits - AFTER the films have been produced of course - so they can decide on its merits based on the final product.

Yet, let them think they can go to a slightly salacious movie unobserved, and they are all over it like a dirty shirt.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Bye bye, Maxime

I hear that Maxime Bernier has resigned as minister of Foreign Affairs.

The excuse for Bernier's resignation seems pretty lame when you consider how fiercely Harper protects his inner circle:

“It is a very serious mistake – regardless of who the minister is, regardless of personal life – to leave classified documents in an unsecured location.”

A source tells The Canadian Press that Mr. Bernier left an extremely sensitive classified document at Ms. Couillard's apartment, and her lawyer notified the Foreign Affairs department about the document on the weekend.

Now, not only do we have the minister demonstrating yet again his incompetence by leaving files lying about, but worse, he leaves them at his girlfriend's apartment? Bernier's conduct on the world stage has been, well, disappointing to say the least - showing us that he has only a marginally better grasp of the subject than his predecessor.

But then again, how much depth in foreign affairs does Harper need when he takes his orders from the current occupant of the White House - a man whose idea of foreign affairs involves talking to California.

Somehow, handing the portfolio to David Emerson isn't exactly reassuring either - he's the man who handed $1 billion of Canada's money to the White House as part of Harper's vaunted "gettin' things done" softwood lumber agreement.

Dear Mr. Coren:

Just. Shut. The. F***. Up.

We already know you're clinically insane, but your weekend tirade simply adds a whole new dimension to the phrase 'cognitive dissonance'.

In one column, you go from condemning a man just diagnosed with brain cancer for an event decades in the past to whining about school violence, funding for gender surgery and punishing poverty.

Regardless of Senator Kennedy's past, and what he did or didn't do in the past, your comments about him are inexcusable and callous. The man has just been shown the form of how he will leave this world, and you berate him for what? Where's that much vaunted sense of compassion that conservative christians like you keep spouting off about? (Oh wait - that vanished decades ago when political christianity became more about trying to regulate everybody else's life than anything else)

Much as it may please a kid being beaten half to death to know that his attacker is marginalized or may not enjoy full equity, the solution to gang violence, murderous teenagers and the mass decay of inner city public education is, for a start, to dismantle school boards that issue absurd and pointless press releases.

Ah yes, typical conservative thinking. Instead of addressing the problems, you'd punish those who identify the problems. Brilliant thinking Mr. Coren. Perhaps you'd like to try again.

Or perhaps your concept of "christianity" is far too rooted in punishment and retribution? Ah, I see it is:

More importantly, punish rather than reward irresponsible behaviour. Just as an example, cut off welfare payments to women who have several children by several men before they've reached 20 years of age.

Oh yes, punish those who are already in poverty. Brilliant, just brilliant, Coren. After all, we all know that those young girls who have multiple children when they are young did so deliberately, and their fathers were merely seduced by their feminine wiles. If the suppositions in your accusation weren't so laughably predictable, they are certainly derived from the standard biblical fundamentalist stance that women are somehow inherently evil and devious creatures. (Makes me wonder how Coren's wife can stand him, if his writing is a reflection of what he says and does at home...)

Also in Ontario the Health Ministry decided to restore full funding for sex change surgery, after having not fulfilled its election promise to finance special and crucial education to autistic children. If only those annoying autistic youngsters could prove that they were born in a body of the wrong gender!

There's so many problems here - and it's a pity that Coren manages to mangle all of them.

First of all, I doubt that the Ontario Ministry of Health made any promises in the last election, much less anything to do with providing specialized education for autistic children.

Second, I would expect that the Ontario Government provides services for the education of autistic children through whatever ministry is responsible for children, youth and education. A few minutes with Google turns up this press release from 2006, and there seems to be more in subsequent months. Once again, Coren mangles the facts.

Lastly, his sniping at gender transition related surgery simply shows us all just how clueless the man really is. The number of such surgeries requested in a year is a handful, and for the psychological well-being of those who request it, it is important. But then, Mr. Coren has shown us just what "christian compassion" really means in his mind so many times in the past that his christianity is filled with hostility and retribution.

At a national level no Canadian labour union or left-wing church called for a boycott of either China or Iran, after it was exposed that these two countries alone account for the vast majority of the world's executions and torture.

I don't know where that aside came from, but in typical pseudo-con style these days, it's a classic linking of unrelated topics. Yes, Michael, it's amazingly important to the world that Canadian organizations squawk about topics in other countries - when we have our very own variety of loon here at home to deal with.

Intellectual Dishonesty - Fraser Institute Style

According to The Fraser Institute, Canadians are in debt to the tune of an aggregate $150,000 each as a result of government borrowing.

However, the Fraser Institute's calculus is deeply flawed, as that $150,000 number includes "future cost" items from an assortment of government programs:

The net increase in total liabilities over this period was $243.9 billion. The growth in obligations under programs such as the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans, the Old Age Security, and the Medicare system has been a focus of this debt study for many years. Specifically, the concern lies in the size of these obligations and what this implies for the future health of these programs.

This is so intellectually dishonest it's not even funny. Those numbers are not debt at all, but instead are future expenditures that the Fraser Institute is ASSUMING will result in borrowing on the part of the various levels of government.

This is rather akin to looking at the fact that I spend $X on groceries every month, and therefore, in ten years, I will 120 * X in the hole as a result. It completely ignores that I fund my groceries out of current day income. Worse, it assumes that my ability to be creative about my food purchases is non-existent.

In my most charitable interpretation, the Fraser Institute's assessment is simply cynical manipulation of statistics to create the impression that our collective government's fiscal house is in worse shape than it really is.

More bluntly, it's downright dishonest to treat debt that has a probability of occurring as if it has already occurred. When calculating my net worth, I don't go rolling in the probable debt I will incur from some major purchase down the road - it simply doesn't make sense. I may state at the time of calculation that I have an intent to spend some amount of money that I anticipate borrowing to fund - but at most, that is a probable debt - one which I expect I will incur, but circumstances may arise that make the incurred debt less or none. (For example, I had initially planned to do my kitchen renovation by borrowing a few thousand on a line of credit - however, when I came to make the actual purchases, I was able to do it out of existing funds. Was there a probable debt? Yes; but it never actualized)

Programs such as health care, CPP etc are not cheap, but they also produce a huge return on investment - something the denizens of the Fraser Institute simply ignore. They view them simply as expenditures, rather than as investments in people. (But they are all too willing to consider PMSH's insane military expenditures as a "good thing" - regardless of the duplication of effort or the subversion of open bid purchasing to hand money to their pre-chosen favourites.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Talk About Denial...

A while back, one of my routine stumblings through the internet dredged up Stephen Boissoin's personal website, and I commented on it. It seems that Mr. Boissoin has decided to try and put some additional content in since I last looked.

There's two basic themes on his website now.

The first being his take on the "evil homosexual agenda", after all, we couldn't possibly tolerate having GLBT folk going into schools and talking with students about how they have families, loves and lives, now could we? After all, in doing so, they might be recruiting, right? (If it wasn't so laughably awful reasoning, it would be worth my time to dissect it)

Suffice it to say, what Boissoin seems to think is the "evil agenda" that's going to "ruin young minds" is no more than the exposure to a broad range of different peoples and lives that I got when I was in grade school. People of dramatically different faiths, cultures and backgrounds were often brought into our classrooms to talk about their lives - which mysteriously came out sounding little different than our own rather middle class Canadian lives. The effect? Well, a basic understanding that even if someone speaks a different language or dresses differently from you, they are still people.

The second theme in Boissoin's space is a combination of whining about how Dr. Lund "libelled" him, and how the uproar over his "innocent" letter isn't his fault.

I will point out that the libel suit that Boissoin filed against Lund didn't go very far - Boissoin uses the phrase that 'Lund should be thankful that we agreed to settle. ', while an article says that Boissoin dropped it. In either case it didn't go very far.

My letter was far from a baseless rant, it was intentional. Actually, I had no way of knowing if it would be published and less than two months after it was, I was served with a AHRC complaint submitted by Dr. Darren Lund, a pro-gay activist and now University of Calgary faculty member.

Like I said in my 2002 letter, "War has been declared."2 Cor 10:4

If I get this straight, Boissoin wrote the letter, sent it to his newspaper as a "letter to the editor", and didn't hope or expect it would be published? - what a mealy-mouthed attempt at "I didn't do it". I've hear more coherent excuses from grade school children. The fact is that he did write it, and it was published. If you didn't want it published, or didn't think it would be, why the heck did you send it to the newspaper in the first place?

Frankly it doesn't matter, as it boils down to part of Boissoin's pattern of whining and refusing to take responsibility for his own actions and the consequences of them. I respect the old saw 'we are all the heroes of our own stories', but do we not also have a responsibility to ourselves to accept and acknowledge our own role in the events that have unfolded around us?

There's a great irony in Boissoin's position with respect to GLBT people. On one hand, he decries being held accountable for the expression of his religious views - complaining that to do so is a violation of his protected rights. Yet, his argument rests upon the validity of protecting religious freedoms. Much of his moralizing arguments about GLBT people rest upon his supposition that sexual or gender identity are purely matters of choice when they fall outside of the "normal" spectrum - and therefore, those people do not deserve human rights protections in law. Yet, there can be few who would argue that religious belief and practice is anything other than a matter of choice.

If something that is such a matter of human choice as religious practice can be acknowledged as a valid and protected domain in the concept of human rights, then why is it so difficult to accept that someone's gender or sexual identity should be granted protection from discrimination and hostility?

(Oh yes - while Mr. Boissoin would like you to believe that NARTH has some kind of "proof" that being GLBT is purely a matter of choice, what they really have is a series of dubious assertions, and little or no concrete data to back them up. It is notable, and significant, that few of NARTH's spokespeople and quoted sources publish in respected peer-reviewed forums)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Michael Coren - Loon Extradordinaire

Michael Coren is a loon, of that there is no doubt in my mind. He may even be among the most irrational of an already irrational crowd. His latest column for the Sun makes a few leaps of logic that are noteworthy in their utter stupidity.

The Liberals may be desperate, but Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier certainly isn't. He seems to have done very well for himself with the delectable Julie Couillard, a former girlfriend who once dated an undesirable in a biker gang. Biker chick or not, it's all rather irrelevant unless, of course, you have a leather fetish and want to know where the photos are.

I'll come back to Michael's stupidity about the appearance of Maxime Bernier's SO later - that deserves its own special beating.

Here's his first mistake regarding Mr. Bernier - frankly few of us really give a damn about his girlfriend or her background. That's not the issue. The issue is that our country's Minister of Foreign Affairs isn't doing his job. Nor is his S.O./G.F./whatever conducting herself appropriately when she's 'on stage'. There are protocols and a certain level of decorum that should be observed, especially when you are in foreign lands. One does not, for example, show up in a deeply conservative, religious country and wear a dress that's styled for the Montreal nightclub circuit.

Second, Bernier's commentary on so many topics has been offensive to many of the people that he is in fact responsible for developing constructive relationships with.

However, I'm being all too rational about this, because Michael desperately wants to ride his hobby horse - regulating everybody else's sexuality:

There are, by the way, numerous stories of other Canadian politicians -- some revered -- who are notoriously promiscuous. One of them is a leading champion of women's rights but is known to cheat on his wife on a regular basis. Various gay MPs, Liberal as well as Tory, have their private lives respected as well. And to a certain extent this is as it should be.

Wow - that almost sounds reasonable...then Michael falls off the wagon:

One Canadian judge who ruled on several gay marriage cases was challenged because his daughter was in a lesbian union.

It was alleged that this prevented him from being objective and it was argued that a judge in the U.S. in a similar situation excused himself from such hearings. Not this judge. Not in Canada.

There is also the wider issue of what private indiscretion and immorality says about someone's ability to lead, govern and decide. If a man is prepared to deceive and lie to his wife -- the person he has sworn to regard above all others -- he will betray and lie to people he has never met without a second thought.

Ah...really? Then why is Michael not calling for a purge within the various churches to rid the clergy of child molesters and supposedly celibate priests that have fathered children out of wedlock? Or perhaps he'd like to consider his statements in light of the miraculously "cured" Ted Haggard?

No, of course, Michael wants us to think that conservatives never have these kinds of "moral" lapses that he is so concerned about. (and his past columns reflect that is is more worried about the 'morality' of others than any of us really wish to think about too hard)

With the Clinton case it led to the deaths of many innocent people after the president instigated a drive-by shooting in the Balkans to distract attention from his sexual antics with an intern. Serbs died because Bill couldn't keep his pants on.

Right...Clinton is personally responsible for the civil/ethnic war in the Balkans? Horsefeathers. If one looks further at it, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia started under the tenure of George H. W. Bush, not Bill Clinton. Second, NATO intervention in Bosnia happened under Clinton's tenure - but only after the "ethnic cleansing" atrocities became known to the world.

Claiming that Clinton started a war in Bosnia as a distraction from the Lewinsky affair is laughable logic, and seemingly typical of conservatives who are so desperate to have absolute power these days - linking utterly unrelated topics together.

Put in perspective - Clinton got caught with his pants down. Bush Jr. started not one but two foreign wars in his first term in office. Clinton certainly lied about the Lewinsky affair, but nobody died as a result of that event.

In contrast, uber-conservative Bush Jr. lied about the reasons for starting the Iraq war, and arguably has hardly pursued the public reasons for invading Afghanistan (capturing one Osama bin Laden - remember him?) with any particular vigor. How many casualties have there been in Iraq and Afghanistan - it's in the thousands...

Returning to Coren's stupidity, his last paragraph brings me back to something I wanted to address earlier:

that the Liberals have lost their way and, good lord, that the poor fools don't even know a handsome woman when they see one!

Okay, Bernier has hooked up with the proverbial "trophy wife" that the knuckle-dragger crowd likes to idolize. Sure, she's attractive. As I've already pointed out, that's quite irrelevant to the criticisms of Bernier in the Foreign Affairs portfolio. Second, were I in her shoes, I'd be more than a little miffed at a bald-headed, slightly paunchy middle-aged goon slobbering over my appearance. (Yes, I know it happens, but women typically have brains too - something Mr. Coren seems to have forgotten in his testosterone-addled ravings).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Expelled: Stopped Before It Enters Canada

Before the abominable waste of film called Expelled makes its way into Canada it's been stalled because they didn't license some of their soundtrack.

Somehow, given the intellectual dishonesty of the movie, it doesn't surprise me that they think that copyright law doesn't apply to them.

Nature Abhors A Vacuum

So, Harper's left hand is stepping aside. I've never been a fan of Mr. Brodie - but then I'm not a fan of most political operatives anyhow.

However, it's his expected replacement that worries me: Guy Giorno

According to the Toronto Star, Mr. Giorno is one of Mike Harris' key advisors - and we all know just how well Mr. Harris ran Ontario (in a word - badly).

Brodie, Harper's right-hand man since the Conservatives took office in February 2006, is to be replaced by Guy Giorno, who served as chief of staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris, effective July 1, the Star confirmed last night.

Somehow, having the Harrisites gaining ever more prominence in the Federal Con$ is just enough to tell me that this government is heading down a particularly evil little path that most Canadians won't like.

Giorno, a long-time political operative, did not support Harper in the 2004 Conservative leadership contest. Instead, he followed Harris, backing Belinda Stronach, who later defected to the Liberals. Giorno remains friends with Health Minister Tony Clement, who also ran against Harper and Stronach in that race.

Giorno is also friends with Environment Minister John Baird, government House leader Peter Van Loan and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty from their provincial Conservative party days.

At Queen's Park, Giorno was known as a hard-working taskmaster, the cerebral power behind Harris's populist throne.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Is This Really A Surprise?

If I'm supposed to be surprised by CBC's report on how easy it is to launder money through a casino, they missed.

Casinos exist primarily to exercise that most human of vices - greed. As an environment, they are intended to encourage people to part with vast sums of money - voluntarily. That means that large amounts of cash are being used all the time.

Why would it surprise me that the criminal world has figured out that a casino is going to be a natural place to quietly launder money. It's one of the few places where a person can go in, play a bunch of money and walk out with a cashier's cheque - all quite anonymously.

Like any "retail" business, casinos thrive when there is activity. Regulars throwing around money is good for casinos - thus creating the catalyst for the tacit acceptance of money laundering by casinos - what sane business is going to toss out the very activity that draws in others?

I imagine that the most blatant attempts at money laundering get called out, but when a group of people, each armed with a (relatively) small amount of cash comes in and plays some of it and then cashes out, who's to gainsay that?

Even if you suspect that those people are money laundering, it's going to be next to impossible to prove from within the confines of the casino facility - you'd have to follow those people elsewhere to find out where the raw capital is coming from. The casino has "plausible deniability" from the start.

How many private casino owners are knowingly complicit in the activities going on in the confines of their casinos is a more interesting question. Are they merely turning a blind eye, or are they being encouraged by the criminal organizations to do so - by either bribery or other forms of persuasion?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Consolidation versus Regional Control

I've been letting Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert's reorganization of the Regional Health Authorities into a single minister-controlled monolith stew since it was announced last week.

Initially, I didn't have any real reaction to it, as structurally it's really a return to what we experienced during the 1980s before Ralph Klein came thundering in and shook things up.

Since the mid-1990s when the regional structure was put in place, the issues have not been with the operations of the individual authority organizations. Yes, there have been some moments where problems have emerged, but overall, I don't have any substantial evidence that shows the structure as being problematic.

The real issue has been distinctly related to a lack of action on the part of the government with respect to funding badly needed infrastructure. Over the years, Calgary has experienced numerous hospital shutdowns - the Holy Cross, the General and the Grace come to mind, with very little done to replace the lost capacity. Yes, I'm quite aware of the expansion of the Rockyview, and renovations at the Foothills, but those are quite recent and haven't come close to restoring the available services in Calgary - much less meeting the needs of our growing city today.

Inaction on the part of politicians in Edmonton has created some very embarrassing moments for the government, especially when a regionally focused board has stood up and called the government to task for its failure to provide the funding and other resources necessary for the board to fulfill its mandate.

So, one has to wonder just what Liepert's game really is. I'm going to go out on a bit of a limb here, but I suspect what is really afoot here is Liepert trying to implement something that Ralph Klein always backed away from - mixed public/private health care delivery, with a much greater role for private organizations.

Consider the picture. First off, he has put himself in direct control over both the political/policy side of things in the form of his control as minister of Alberta Health; second he has just made the new "uber-board" that looks after health care delivery directly responsible to him - not to the legislature; not to an arm of the ministry, but to the minister.

This smells like Liepert is setting things up so that he can do whatever he wants with a minimum amount of consultation and protest from the stakeholders until it's too late. It also bears the hallmarks of Stephen Harper's typically secretive, micro-managing approach to things - an aspect of the situation that makes me even more suspicious of the Alberta Government's motives.

I don't know what's next in Liepert's mind, but I suspect it's going to be ugly.

Making Us More Secure...

In the wake of 9/11, governments in both Canada and the United States have gone to great lengths to make our respective countries "more secure". For the most part, these have been window dressing activities, intended to buffalo the public into believing that the politicians are doing something.

One of Canada's more amusing moves was to create a "border snitch line" where people could call in and identify possible threats.

As we might expect, most of what gets called into this line is vindictive or tin foil hat crazy. How surprising. After all, most people wouldn't recognize a terrorist threat if it bit them, and come to that, most terrorists are going to be pretty closed-mouthed about their intentions until it's too late. (Ya figure?)

Besides, isn't that what the police have telephone numbers for in the first place?

Lifesite Gets It Wrong ... Again

If there's one thing that gets my dander up, it's got to be moronic arguments that are founded entirely upon someone's mythology without a single droplet of fact in the argument.

Such is the case with Lifesite's recent commentary on Ontario providing funding of GRS for transsexuals under the provincial health plan.

For the most part, Lifesite's commentary is the standard religious right wingnut screed, and I would have shrugged it off. Then I read this statement:

Smitherman, appointed Health Minister in 2003 by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, is an openly active homosexual, infamous for advancing sexually permissive social policies.

Talk about being dead wrong about the subject. First of all, in spite of the unfortunate use of the term "transsexual", transition (of which GRS is but one step) has very, very little to do with sex at all.

Yes, changes are made to an individual's sexual characteristics, but ironically, those have relatively little to do with the overall process. The actual process of transition is more about changing someone's "social gender" than anything else. In other words, the physical changes involved are intended to provide either gender-appropriate visual cues to the world at large (e.g. a feminine silhouette as a result of hormones), or to improve the patient's sense of themselves.

However, the biggest changes take place between the ears. As the transsexual progresses, they assimilate into the social world of their chosen gender. By far, this process of learning to socialize as their chosen gender is the biggest part of the journey, and one that not all make successfully.

Of course, Lifesite goes on to quote Dr. Paul McHugh's tirades against transsexualism and the treatment of it.

“Women psychiatrists whom I sent to talk with them would intuitively see through the disguise and the exaggerated postures. ‘Gals know gals,’ one said to me, ‘and that's a guy.’”

Following his extensive research into the “sex-change” phenomena, McHugh ended “sex-change” operations at John Hopkins and has encouraged other facilities to do the same.

“I concluded that Hopkins was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness. We psychiatrists, I thought, would do better to concentrate on trying to fix their minds and not their genitalia.”

A quick note: Lynne Conway has a wonderful analysis of McHugh's hostility on her website.

Yes, McHugh has a very prestigious post, and no doubt an enormous amount of political influence. However, that doesn't make him automatically an expert on transsexualism as a subject. In fact, the only thing it makes him is a political force in the realm of psychiatry.

If he had paid attention to the stories of transsexuals that are told time and again, he might have realized that they are not only amazingly diverse, but also surprisingly in consistent in key respects. However, McHugh subscribes to the Michael Bailey school of reasoning which discards anything he doesn't want to accept as the patient "lying".

The real hang-up for these people is the fact that gender transition can involve surgery that alters the form of the genitalia. From this, they derive the conclusion that transsexualism is all about sexual activity.

When you consider that an average married couple has sex once a week, for at most about 30 minutes, it seems a trifle odd that someone would go through the entire transition process for that brief period of time. There is 10080 minutes in a week, and 30 minutes is just barely 0.3% of that sum.

Think about that - nobody is going to turn their entire existence upside down for 0.3% of the time involved - and that's assuming they find a partner. One has to imagine that there is a lot more at play here than sexual behaviour, and unsurprisingly, that is born out by the transgender narrative which repeats the themes of a much deeper sense of well-being post-transition than mere physical sexuality brings.

I swear these people spend more time thinking about sex than your average hormone-addled teenager does. Disappointingly, they seem to be more worried about the sex lives of everybody except themselves.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Holding Up The Mirror

Sometimes a political leader says something so boldly daft that you just have to hold up the mirror of their words in front of them. Such is the case with Bush's speech in Israel yesterday.

Quoth the Bush (Jr):

In his speech to Israel's Knesset, Bush said: “Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals.”

“We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler all this might have been avoided'.”

“We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Yes, and how many lies did BushCo propagate to "justify" their invasion of Iraq? Many - possibly more than any of us want to think about. Was anyone going to be able to "appease him"? Not a snowball's chance - Bush was hell-bent on finding an excuse to invade Iraq, and his shifting lies about the subject made the point for me.

Further, we can see from the progress in Iraq (or lack of it...) just how successful Bush's "six-shooter diplomacy" has been. His actions have further polarized the world and have done little to stabilize anything. Arguably, Bush's pugilistic approach to world affairs has done little more than guarantee that organizations like Hezbollah and al Qaeda will continue to find more fertile grounds in which to put down their roots - for they thrive in the shadows and rubble of conflict.

Or perhaps, when Bush moralizes about the evils that Hezbollah and others perpetrate, we should reflect upon his support of torture - done by either his people or others; the legal limbo of "not-quite-POWs" he's created; pseudo-courts rigged to achieve a political outcome rather than justice; or the myriad international treaties he has blithely ignored in the prosecution of his wars.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Half Wit Meets Wit

Apparently, Jason Kenney really doesn't know when to stop digging.

In questions he put to Senator Dallaire about the Conservative Government's mishandling of Omar Khadr's case, Dallaire handed Kenney's ass back to him:

Kenney pointed to a number of al-Qaeda actions, including an incident in which the group allegedly outfitted mentally challenged young girls with explosive belts and sent them to their deaths in a Baghdad animal market.

"Is it your testimony that al-Qaeda strapping up a 14-year-old girl with Down Syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country?" asked Kenney.

"If you want a black and white [response] … I am only too prepared to give it to you: absolutely," said Dallaire. "You are either with the law or you are against the law. You're either a child soldier or you're not. You're either guilty or you're not."

Canada must be ready to deal with similar situations in the future, Dallaire said.

"If you think this is the last one, then we're really smoking dope because in this era, we're going to face similar scenarios and we've got to be prepared in this multi-ethnic country to handle it," he said.

Canada must protect all of its citizens, "whether we like them and their beliefs or not. That is irrelevant," he said.

Dallaire's comment makes the point I've been making since day one with the Harper government's blindly partisan approach to foreign affairs - namely that they are all too selective about just who they are willing to deign to intervene on behalf of. (Or, if the political cost becomes too high - as in Brenda Martin's case)

Bush The Peace Broker

So, I see the oh-so-insightful "Dubya" has decided to set foot in the Middle East to promote his ideas as to how to achieve peace in the region.

Off the top, he's made two mistakes that are apt to be fatal to any hopes of making real progress before the end of 2008.

First is starting his Middle East visit in Israel. While I'm sure the Israeli government loves it, with the United States still prosecuting war in Iraq, Afghanistan and threatening same to Iran, one might imagine that the Arab states that are so crucial to any peace agreement in the region might look upon this as a signal of Bush's intentions.

The second comes out of a speech he gave in Israel:

“Our two nations both faced great challenges when they were founded,” Bush said in remarks at Ben Gurion International Airport. “And our two nations have both relied on the same principles to help us succeed. We built strong democracies to protect the freedoms given to us by an almighty God ... and we built an enduring alliance to confront terrorists and tyrants.”

Religion and faith are very important in that part of the world - but they are also extremely polarizing topics. It is unwise indeed to walk into the region as an obvious outsider and then start making grandiose pronouncements about supposedly shared aspects of faith with any one party.

There is no party in the Arab-Israeli dispute that is either blameless or noble in their conduct.

The Palestinians have responded to Israel with riots, suicide bombers and random rocket attacks from within their "territories". Hardly a happy moment for the Israelis.

On the other hand, trying to "wall in" the Palestinians and use highly restrictive border zones with them is divisive and many liken the situation on the West Bank to a seige of days past - not exactly a situation which is going to make the Palestinians and their Arab allies happy either.

Waltzing into the region and starting off by not only flaunting the close relationship with the White House that Israel enjoys, but also a faith tradition that is seen by many in the Arab world as being at odds with their values puts Bush into a position of having little or no real credibility with the key power brokers outside of Israel.

Having Israel "on side" is unquestionably important, but failing to have the various power brokers on the other side of the discussion feeling that you respect them as well puts Bush into a position of having no practical ability to effect change or even the most basic of consensus.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's That Accountability Thing...

As if anybody aware of their surroundings believes that there was even a grain of truth in Stephen Harper's pronouncements about government accountability in the last election, he keeps taking steps to prove that he lied - and continues to lie to the public about anything to do with the workings of government.

In a major case over the scope of the law, Mr. Harper's government is defending former Liberal prime minister Jean Chr├ętien's refusal to hand over portions of his agendas that were requested by the Canadian Alliance, a predecessor party of the governing Conservatives.

Oh really? So, Harper's party asked for information and it was refused, and now they are continuing to refuse to provide it?

In his report into the sponsorship scandal, judge John Gomery recommended that the law be clarified so it is clear that it applies to ministers' offices. Mr. Harper's Conservatives promised to do just that in their 2006 election platform, but have not.

In short, Harper lied in the 2006 election. Period.

Now, consider that under Harper, not only has the government's workings become more opaque, but there has been an even greater consolidation of control and decision making in the PMO, and he keeps putting forth legislation (e.g. Bill C-10) that gives arbitrary powers of discretion to ministers (carefully leashed by the PMO in Harper's world, of course).

PMSH - Lowering The Standard of Government Accountability.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Speaking of Religious Bigots...

One of my 'bots that trawls for news dug up the following story: ‘Sex-change’ treatment for ‘transgender’ kids? Hospital clinic draw moral criticism. It appears that the Bible bleaters are at it again - and still getting the story dead wrong.

These patients are called “transgender,” a term coined by homosexual activists pushing the idea that “gender” is a changeable psychological notion divorced from biology. The American Psychiatric Association calls the condition Gender Identity Disorder.

First of all, the term 'transgender' is not an invention of "homosexual activists" - it is a term with a specific meaning intended to describe a particular group of people.

Transgender people will argue that psychological gender is distinct from biological sex for very good reasons. I'll come back to addressing those reasons a bit later, once I've finished demonstrating the sheer lunacy of the rest of the article.

The family eventually turned to Spack, who prescribed testosterone, which stopped menstruation and gave Holly facial hair and a deeper voice. Holly bound her breasts to conceal them until she could have a double mastectomy, which was carried out at another hospital.

Holly had her name legally changed to Hal. As of last year, Hal was considering a hysterectomy in the future, and was now “presenting” as a male.

“This is cooperating with psychosis,” commented moral theologian Father Anthony Mastroeni of Patterson, N.J. Father Mastroeni, who has taught at Franciscan University of Steubenville and Christendom College, has written extensively to refute the notion that sex-change surgery might be morally justified.

Father Father Anthony Mastroeni is a Professor of Theology, not a psychiatrist or psychologist. I doubt very much that he has the appropriate psychological training, or personal experience with transgender people to make such a sweeping statement. (actually, it's a sweeping statement that sounds a lot like one Dr. McHugh's writings on the subject:

With these facts in hand I concluded that Hopkins was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness. We psychiatrists, I thought, would do better to concentrate on trying to fix their minds and not their genitalia.

Please note that McHugh publishes his anti-transgender material in forums that are primarily religious, and seems to studiously avoid actually addressing the issues in a more scholarly environment where he might have to back up his claims with facts. However, it's this statement that really slays me:

“It does nothing but increase human misery,” he said in an interview. “There’s no scientific evidence that anyone is born with gender dysphoria.”

Oh really? No evidence? Clearly the man has neither looked, nor chosen to consider the evidence that has been gathered. One of the most common parts of the transsexual's narrative are memories of 'being wrong' that go back to their first memories. While that doesn't empirically "prove" anything, it's an amazingly strong clue.

Additionally, some transsexuals will point to some small post-mortem studies of the BSTc region of the brain which suggests that transsexuals often have "chosen gender"-normal attributes in that region. (E.g. A MTF TS will have a BSTc region that is size and structurally typical for a female) I consider these to be somewhat weak evidence because of the small size of the studies, and the fact we have little ability to study the structure as it develops at the moment. (The BSTc studies were done on deceased people for a reason)

I've often said before that coincidence does not equality causality, and in this case I stand by that statement. I believe that from a theoretical perspective, the evidence suggests quite strongly that someone's gender identity is in fact set quite early in life - certainly by the time early memories start to form.

There are legitimate medical problems, such as ambiguous genitalia, that doctors can correct, he said. “But when there’s nothing to suggest that these kids have a genetic anomaly, something in their background is dysfunctional. The evidence shows that in a boy, he’s over-identified with his mother or other female to the extent that his ego boundaries are blurred. With a girl, usually her mother was seen as ineffective and she identified with a dominant father figure.”

Allow me the pleasure of tearing this bit of amazingly bad analysis apart - piece by piece.

First off, doctors cannot "fix" ambiguous genitalia. They can, in a manner analogous to the surgical procedures for transsexuals, construct gender-appropriate looking structures. Second, as the Organisation Intersex International and other groups have lobbied for deferring such surgery until the individual is able to express their desires with respect to gender, simply assigning a gender doesn't always work. (similarly, Dr. Money's unfortunate work with David Reimer also demonstrates that you cannot simply assign a gender to someone by surgery and hope that socialization does the rest.)

The second claim is little more than an awful bit of bad psychoanalytics. Essentially, if someone isn't physically "deformed" (in Fr. Mastroeni's view), it must be something dysfunctional in the family environment. Superficially, that might almost seem reasonable. Except for the fact that the vast majority of transsexuals come from perfectly normal family settings. The "distant father" or "overbearing mother" theories of causation were discarded decades ago - because they don't describe any more than a small fraction of cases.

To Fr. Mastroeni, and others who think he's right, I must pose the following question:

If someone can be born with ambiguous genitalia or chromosomal variations (there are people out there who have both XY and XX chromosomes and still others with XXY or other variations), what is to say that someone cannot be born with a "female brain" in a male body (or vice versa)?

Father Mastroeni placed the scenario in a societal context. “We’re living in an age of narcissism, of flight from struggling or pain, with an obsessive-compulsive focus on pleasure. Children become confirmed in their narcissism when they watch self-absorbed parents. So they insist they want to ‘free themselves’ from this dysfunctional idea they have of themselves. That grown people would sanction feeding this neurosis is even sadder.”

Anyone with the vaguest notion of the inner struggles that transsexuals face and deal with will know that narcissism is far from even being related to the picture. The ideal of "noble suffering" is positively offensive here. We are all called to struggle with some aspect of ourselves in life, I do not believe that scripture calls upon anyone to struggle without hope and relief. For a transsexual, transition is that relief, and it is necessary.

The Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000 issued a document that authoritatively concluded “sex-change” operations are invalid — they do not change a person’s sex, according to a Catholic News Service report reprinted in

Frankly, if the relgious organizations wish to nitpick about whether they believe GRS does what they think its name suggests, that's their problem. Gender transition isn't about the surgery - that's just what the ill-informed and clueless think.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

And The Official Position Slithers Out

I see that the Harper government's official position on human rights came slithering out the other day.

Addressing the annual gathering of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) in Calgary, Jason Kenney, a Cabinet member and Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, labelled "dangerous" the "illiberal tactics" employed by some activists in the name of tolerance.

I'd say Mr. Kenney has been listening to Ezra Levant too much recently. The wording is subtle, but given how much of a weasel Kenney has always been, I'm not surprised by it's vagueness.

"There is a large and growing debate about freedom of expression and the role of the human rights commission, and organizations that seek to use these commissions to deal with what they believe constitutes thoughts or opinions reflective of hatred or xenophobia," Mr. Kenney said. "I would also hope that we think long and hard about the central role, the foundational role, of such values as freedom of expression in our constitutional framework, and that we do not lightly undermine those constitutional values in our efforts to combat racism or hatred." There's the tidbit I was looking for. I could have plucked nearly the same quote out of a dozen different places - this is the echo of the classic cry of the loudmouths who complain so vocally about the human rights commissions in Canada - "but I was just expressing an opinion".

Of course, we already know what the Harper Con$ think about such abstract subjects as equality, and accountability.

So, it comes as no surprise that we would hear Jason Kenney standing up and in effect saying that the loudmouths like Boissoin, Steyn or Levant shouldn't be held accountable for their actions. I am really beginning to despise the conservative notion of accountability - it seems more and more to be 'accountability' for everyone except them.

Kenney's comments come in the context of a speech to a group that addresses racism. Of course, we need to recognize that racism is far from the only context under which people can find themselves encountering hostility and bigotry.

While I do not like seeing HRC's being used as a muzzle arbitrarily, I also recognize the need for some kind of due process when these situations arise - and that the standards of evidence and justice applied may use a "weaker" ruler than expected in a more formal courtroom setting. All of these are legitimate as HRC's have limited powers in the first place.

However, I can imagine that sooner or later, the Harper government is going to deliberately disable these organizations to satisfy their squirming base of religious bigots.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

On Restructuring Government and Term Limits

I get e-mail - and from time to time, a writer takes the time to approach a topic in some detail. What follows is the body of an e-mail I received at the end of last week. I will add my commentary on some of the topics after the writer's e-mail. (Please note, I have edited out references to names and personal context in the e-mail for privacy reasons)

Because I am not sure exactly whether you mean to limit the terms of the legislator or the government I have approached the matter from two aspects. The first is possible if highly unusual, the second should never be possible in a parliamentary system.

a) Lets look at the first, at the possible, if highly unusual situation;

By this method legislation would be needed to limit the length of time a person would be allowed to sit in the legislature. After that time that person would have to step down in favour of another person. From what I know of the make-up of a legislature anywhere, this would be a highly unusual step. Even in the US there seems to be no limit to how long a person may be in office in Congress. The US presidency is a different situation as he is limited to two 4-year terms. A possibility, but not too likely, is for the political party to have this form of limit in its constitution. The best bet would be that the prospective MLA/MP would state in his/her election campaign that they will step down after a fixed period. I have only known of two people to do this in Canada – Frank McKenna, former premier of Nova Scotia and R. Gary Dickson former Liberal MLA for Calgary Buffalo.

b) The second scenario affects the government per se.

I frankly do not believe that this is possible nor should it ever be contemplated under the Westminster style of government that we follow in Canada. Presently governments are elected for a maximum term of five years (certain provinces and the federal government have set fixed election dates – every 4 years) after which an election is called. The obvious problem is that the same bad apples (Alberta?) can be re-elected. That is the risk that the electors face. To state that a governing party must turn the reins of government over to another party goes against the main underpinning of a parliamentary democracy, namely that it is the people who elect the government. In short, a government is elected by the people for the people, at least that is how it is supposed to be. Unfortunately once they get into power they forget that basic principle. Sir Winston S Churchill always stated the he and the other MP's in the UK were elected by “the will of the people”.

So all this begs the question “How do we change the government”. The simple answer is by having a strong opposition party which can make its presence felt both in the legislature and in the media. This requires an electorate which is prepared to be knowledgeable about the platforms of the various parties and to use that knowledge on voting day. Thus a parliamentary democracy always reflects “the will of the people”. Another problem with restricting the term of office is that the province or country could be denied the necessary services of the likes of Peter Lougheed, Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Sir John A. Mac Donald to name but a few. The only way I can think of to rid ourselves of the likes of Rob Anders, Graig Chandler (although he was not elected) is to have strong candidates on the other side coupled with enough voters who will vote for the person not the party.

Many years ago the question was raised as to why do we need a strong opposition. I cannot remember who raised the topic but I came across it when reading “Alberta Premiers of the Twentieth Century”. This book discusses each of the premiers of Alberta from Alexander Cameron Rutherford in 1905 to Ralph Klein. If I remember rightly it came up during the term of office of the UFA in the 1920's or early 1930's. Unfortunately I haven't, since, been able to find the comment. I must re-read that part again sometime. I don't think the question was ever answered but the raising of it points to a flaw in the way Albertans think on matters political.

This fairs quite nicely with some other conversations I've been having with a few other people.

(1) On term limits, the Westminster system of government is designed in such a way that it pretty much precludes term limits in any practical sense - unless we would apply them to all members of the house. The problem with doing that is one of continuity. One of the key premises of either the Westminster or the US Republican style of government is that the legislative houses provide a significant degree of continuity between political leadership and the bureaucracy. This is achieved by permitting individual legislators to sit for protracted periods of time - in effect becoming a part of the system with ties to both the electorate and the bureaucracy.

While I would like to see limits placed on how long someone can hold cabinet posts (including the Premier/Prime Minister), I suspect that doing so may be impractical without harsh changes to the party constitutions.

(2) Democracy depends on the active participation of the public in order to work effectively. The reason for this is simple - even in Alberta, there is quite a wide diversity of political opinion. Unfortunately, several decades of single-party rule have accustomed Alberta voters to a "it doesn't matter" apathy (as the last election demonstrated so well)

What breeds voter apathy? Several things - a lack of knowledge and awareness is key. Far too many people simply have no clue how government policy affects their daily lives. The majority of people I know that do not bother to vote claim that they don't believe that government above the local council (and in Calgary, even that's pretty abstract for most of us) has any direct impact on them.

Apathy is also the spawn of complacency. Alberta is an interesting case study. We have had close to 20 years of comparatively good economic fortunes - quite frankly a shaved chimpanzee could have balanced Alberta's books in the last decade or so. When times are perceived to be "good", people are reluctant to shake things up by changing the government. (A classic case of 'The Goose Who Laid the Golden Egg")

I have come to view education as a vital and key part of making a viable, living democracy. If people are given the intellectual tools with which they can understand the basics of our system of government, they can then influence it more effectively as voters.

Alberta is a unique case for several reasons. First, in the last thirty years, we have had not one, but two very strong personalities occupy the Premier's Office - Peter Lougheed and (choke) Ralph Klein.

The second part of the picture is that conservatives in the province have been very effective in demonizing the very term "liberal" since Pierre Trudeau's ill-fated NEP. This has proven to be an amazingly powerful tool for them to use in reinforcing their grip on power in Alberta.

The third part has been a subtle, but significant campaign on the part of Alberta followers of the neo-conservative movement out of the US to dismantle and handicap the public education system. This started back when Don Getty was the premier. For those who do not remember, it was under Getty that the first rounds of the cutbacks that Ralph took to new heights happened. One of the key areas cut was public education - at all levels. This strongly mirrors attempts by Ronald Reagan to dismantle the US Department of Education during his tenure in the White House.

Besides the usual conservative mantra about "less government", there is a deliberate intent to weakening the public education system. In general, a weak education tends to favour the simplistic talking points and sound bytes that the neoCons like to toss around. If you look back at the 2006 Federal Election, it's pretty clear that Harper said nothing meaningful through the entire campaign.

Without an adequate education that engages people in the political process in their youth, government becomes an abstract, and untouchable notion - something that is easily demonized and that plays into the goals of the neoCons.

The last point I'd like to raise is that of electoral reform. To be polite, I'd claim that Alberta (in particular) has experienced a degree of manipulation of electoral boundaries that has all but undermined the basic principles of Representation by Population that is the theoretical underpinning of our riding system. I believe (and have believed for some time) that the representation system in Alberta is a disaster today. Radical reform is needed to dispel the sense that there is a significant disparity between rural and urban vote "weight" in the government.

Without an educational infrastructure that enables people to understand how government affects them, and how their participation is meaningful, no reform - whether we talk about term limits, riding reform or voter recall will achieve any significant results.

As my writer earlier points out, the Westminster system works best when there is a strong opposition. A strong opposition is not going happen easily in the current environment in Alberta.

Bible Beaters On Psychology

I love it when some loon decides to "take on" a subject they so obviously know nothing about. Such is the case when Selwyn Duke decides to try trashing psychology in The Hard Truth about a Soft Science: Why Psychology Does More Harm Than Good.

Frankly, I have no idea who Selwyn Duke is, but he (and I presume that Selwyn is a masculine name, forgive me if I am mistaken), but it's pretty clear that they are of the "you don't need a psychologist, you just need The Bible" school of dogma.

“It would be an undoubted advantage if we were to leave God out altogether and admit the purely human origins of all the precepts and regulations of civilization.”

In making this statement, Freud weighed in on one of life’s most important questions: What is the nature of right and wrong? Is it real, something existing apart from man, a reflection of Absolute Truth, of God’s will? Or is it, in accordance with the atheist model, merely a product of mortal minds and thus synonymous with consensus opinion? Freud made it clear he believed the latter.

Oh great - the opening gambit is the classic "it springs forth from atheism, it must be bad" line. Like the Fool's Mate in chess, it appears initially devastating, but it is also fairly easy to put aside. In this case, we have to recognize that Freud was recognizing that in order to achieve any kind of scientific credibility, psychology would have to put aside any reliance on explanations that depend on the unknowable and unprovable assertions that religious faith depends upon.

“Nearly three-fourths of Americans say their whole approach to life is based on religion. But only 32 percent of psychiatrists, 33 percent of clinical psychologists and 46 percent of clinical social workers feel the same.”

Yet even this understates the matter. Like so many nowadays, these people’s ideas about faith aren’t the traditional variety. They may pay homage to an ambiguous conception of spirituality and profess a belief in God, but just ask them about morality. More often than not they will tell you that right and wrong is a matter of perspective.

Ah, so because the percentage of "religious" psychologists out there doesn't reflect the "average American", there's no way they could possibly understand the "average", right? Wrong - dead wrong. Science demands that you explain things in terms of the understandable, not in terms of "God did it" - this is why "Intelligent Design" will never be taken seriously as science - it leaves itself the exit to the untestable when it gets into difficulties.

The problem with this is that reality doesn’t yield to preferences, and you cannot improve something’s function if you misunderstand its nature. If psychology’s predominant school of thought is correct and there is no God, no Truth and we have no souls, then, sure, we are simply a few pounds of chemicals and water; hence, organic robots. And this would have some staggering implications.

Ah, now we start to get to the meat of the argument. Psychology doesn't make any claims about the existence of God, some divine "Truth" or souls (at least not today). I've already stated why it doesn't make such claims. Calling us "organic robots" is also a gross oversimplification, and it suggests something that is quite false - namely the implication that we lack any kind of "free will" that stems from the autonomy of the soul. I don't think any psychologist would argue that we are "bio-mechanical automatons" - there's too much variety in our behaviour and expression to assume that we are 'automatons' of any sort.

The issue of "free will" is simply accepted as a norm. In the absence of any compelling explanation, one accepts the ability of a person to think for themselves. However, the underlying mechanism of how our mind functions as a bio-chemical process is definitely important - not in psychology per se, but rather in biology and medicine. However, the author isn't interested in actually understanding any such thing, instead draws some amusing, but horribly flawed, consequences.

For one, morality is then mere opinion, and we can’t expect opinion to govern the operation of the human “machine” any more than it influences the rotation of the Earth. But what if we are spirit as well as flesh?

Welcome to the first mistake the the religious make when they start criticizing the atheism of modern science. The claim goes that if one is an atheist, then where does one's moral code originate from? Of course, it is inadequate for them to accept that moral codes exist within the context of the society an individual lives in - in spite of the obvious differences in moral codes between (for example) China's villages, tribal Afghanistan and Calgary, Alberta.

Even if, as the author claims, we are possibly "spirit and flesh", that clearly makes very little difference to the contextual nature of human moral codes. The variety of those codes, and the shared objective of achieving some kind of "truth" through them suggests strongly that those moral codes are in fact inventions of human society and the interactions that take place in the context of society.

Yet the problem with psychology is not just that those within the field may be peddling a relativistic creed, but that it has provided a specious scientific basis for relativism’s wider embrace.

Ah - specious argument number two. The classic line that if you do not subscribe to a system of beliefs rooted in millennias-old scripture of some sort, you are a "relativist", and thus fundamentally without moral structure. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I may reject the formal practice of "Christianity" as a person, but because of the social context in which I live, there is no doubt that some of my personal moral code is rooted in whatever form of Christianity those most influential in my life followed.

The concept of moral relativism scares the hell out of the devoutly religious because it involves taking each situation on its own merits and evaluating it based upon thought and consideration rather than simply adopting someone else's written code (or worse, someone else's interpretation of a moral code that reflects a society thousands of years in the past). Relativism requires the individual to be actively engaged in their world and willing to consider things they had never thought of before.

For this reason, I might call psychology the science of why we not accountable. Think about it: Everything formerly labeled a sin is now diagnosed as a disease or condition of the brain

Now, here's where he really goes off the rails, and shows us how little he actually understands. Psychology - or perhaps more correctly, Psychotherapy, is in fact all about taking ownership of how one feels and acts. Learning to cope with situations that are often complex and multi-faceted is a long process that beyond all others requires the client to not only be completely honest with themselves, but to then learn to find constructive ways to conduct themselves.

Even in cases where known biochemical problems exist, and there are medications that can be used to treat the symptoms, the patient (or client) still has to learn how to manage those aspects that the medication only mediates.

After all, if we are merely organic robots, at the mercy of our genes (hardware), chemistry and upbringing (software), we have no free will. It then follows that we cannot choose among, well, call them what you will, God’s morals or man’s values, as we are directed by things beyond our control. This reduces us to animals.

Ah yes, argument by "reductio ad absurdium". Of course, the problem with this argument is is that it is based on the slippery slope hypothesis - namely that if "x" is true, then by inference some extreme conclusion must also be true. I don't think anyone - atheist or otherwise - argues that human beings are solely acting on things beyond our control. To argue that we logically reduce to such a simple-minded model of existence is disingenuous, for it ignores our ability to moderate our own responses to stimuli consciously. I may be angered by something, but that doesn't mean I am obliged to act upon that anger, does it? Does this prove in any material sense that I have some divinely-provided soul? No. of course it doesn't.

Thus, insofar as psychology succeeds in convincing us that there is no accountability because there is no free will – no ability to choose sin because there is no sin, only disease – it dehumanizes us.

I've already shown that the claim that psychology tries to remove from us individual accountability is false. The claim that "sin == disease" is similarly a false equivalence. Just as members of different faith communities have very different ideas as to what constitutes "sin", psychology makes no such claims. Further, the author is making the incorrect interpretation that the DSM describes "diseases". The DSM is best seen as a descriptive lexicon. Although it does describe very serious conditions such as schizophrenia that do require medical intervention to control, it also describes a lot of other conditions which are merely descriptive. (For example, it describes tobacco addiction, but someone addicted to tobacco is hardly "mentally ill")

Perhaps this dehumanization is why psychiatry has quite a history of using humans as guinea pigs. There was Benjamin Rush (the father of American psychiatry) and his bloodletting; Nazi experiments; electric shock and lobotomies; our MK ULTRA mind-control program; and Canadian psychiatrist Heinz Lehmann, who illegally used Thorazine on subjects in the 1950s.

While there is some validity to the criticism that psychiatry has made some pretty awful missteps, we should similarly remind ourselves that medicine in general has made similar (and worse) missteps throughout history, and that modern psychology in general is only a little over 100 years old today - making it very much the "baby" of the medical professions.

Frankly, religion has made equally egregious misinterpretations over the years when confronted with new ideas that fall outside of "current dogma", so I am much less than convinced that one can use the biblical notion of "flesh and divine spirit" as a particularly useful guide either. (In fact, there are many aspects of my own reality that in centuries past would have resulted in me being burned at the stake or locked up for most of my life as being "marked by the devil" - for no greater a sin than being born left-handed, for example)

Aside from the obvious lack of compassion inherent in yesterday’s uses of the field, I also have to wonder about today’s. We’re often told that taking people to task for moral lapses, whether the issue is drinking, drug use, perverse behavior or something else, is uncompassionate.

The distinction is in understanding the nature and structure of the various behaviours. Where the religious will often engage prayer to "overcome" some challenge or another, it is hardly definitive that such strategies will work. For example, one must understand that where someone is physically addicted to a substance, that treatment must provide them not only with relief from the cravings that drive the addiction, but also with coping strategies that help them avoid the circumstances under which the addiction manifests itself. Other situations often condemned by religious morals are now understood to be sufficiently core to the person's identity that it is unlikely that any intervention will be effective. While the moral codes of religion may have their place, in such situations one has to re-evaluate whether or not the moral strictures involved are in fact meaningful.

And what happens when the matter of religion is raised? If you’re like many, including someone I know of, you may be told you’re taking your faith too seriously, that such devotion is akin to a mental illness. This isn’t surprising, I suppose. What future could a person have with an “illusion,” even the very attractive one that Freud seemed to believe was the opiate of the masses?

Hmmm...given what I've read of some of the more famous Saints, one could argue that their "divine revelations" would be better described as either hallucinations or other psychological phenomena. (Hey - if you want to believe that St. Francis was divinely inspired, that's fine with me) Most psychologists I know do not dismiss religion as an important coping tool for people; but then again, that doesn't mean that they believe it is "real" either.

Oh yes, it Marx who characterized religion as "the opiate of the masses", not Freud.

Again, the author's dismissiveness of psychology in general appears to stem from his ignorance of the subject as a whole, and his rigid belief that all stems from some divine truth - the nature of which he asserts, but cannot prove - any more than current day psychology (or psychiatry) can actually describe in any detail the causal origins of so many conditions that are part of the human condition.

Simply because something stems from an atheistic tradition (atheism in this case meaning literally "without god" as opposed to an active denial of god), doesn't invalidate it or make it harmful. In fact, many of the issues that people wind up seeing a psychologist about stem not from the issue itself, but in fact from the conflict with arbitrary moral strictures that stem from someone else's religious views.

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...