Friday, February 29, 2008

Harper, Bribery and Dying MPs

Up to this point, I've been somewhat cautious about the allegations of an attempt by the HarperCon$ to bribe MP Chuck Cadman in the months just before he died.

However, over at Benediction Blogs On is a very good summary of the story that ties together enough threads to seriously call into question the events just before Cadman's vote propped up the Martin government just a bit longer.

Up to this point, I've been willing to give Harper the "benefit of the doubt", reading the situation as not much more than the shenanigans I would expect to have seen going on on Parliament Hill at the time. However, there's enough that doesn't pass the smell test here to make the allegations not only serious, but it calls into question the moral and ethical integrity of the current government.

Voter Apathy and Alberta

Alberta is notorious for low voter turnout at the best of times. Thirty seven years of rule by one party has created an environment where many feel that their vote doesn't matter at all. Even leaders like Don Getty managed to get re-elected with sizable majorities. On the street, it seems like it's a rare thing to meet someone who is an active supporter of one of the other parties.

While I expect that the electoral boundaries for this election ensure that the PC's will win on the rural vote, I'm not at all sure that it will be a convincing win for Stelmach.

Albertans are tired - after 37 years of single party rule, many are simply sick of seeing the same thing year after year. Although apathy tends to favour the status quo, I think this election may in fact belong to whoever manages to get their vote out on Monday. The PCs are so used to winning, even when the apathy levels in their own party are high that they in fact face the greatest challenges to getting their voters out to the polls. Voters backing parties and candidates other than the PCs have already decided they want to see change, and will be out at the polls. The question is whether the PCs are able to get the 'habitual' voters out or not.

More Social Conservatism By The Back Door

[Update 29/2/08]
Via Canadian Cynic, we learn that the wingnuts are bragging that this is their accomplishment.

Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said his lobbying efforts included discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and "numerous" meetings with officials in the Prime Minister's Office.

"We're thankful that someone's finally listening," he said yesterday. "It's fitting with conservative values, and I think that's why Canadians voted for a Conservative government."


McVety...McVety ... that name's familiar... oh yes this would be the same Charles McVety that popped up in the Walrus article entitled "Harper and the Theocons" in October 2006.

I said it last election, and I stand by my statement - Harper has an agenda that he doesn't dare talk about, but he's enacting.
[/Update]

So, our elected officials now think themselves the ultimate arbiters of good art?

In 2006, the HarperCon$ signalled that they were going to impose their unique brand of social conservatism by the back door - by fiat rather than by open, honest policy that can be debated.

What's next? I have to show them gym and grocery receipts to demonstrate that I'm doing my bit to stay healthy before medicare dollars will apply to my case? Or perhaps I'll be expected to show my moral purity before they'll fund treatment of something.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Latest Religious Attacks On Minority Populations

Few things get my dander up more than someone attempting to justify treating someone as a lesser person because that person is "sinful" according to some religious dogma or another.

Recently, as right wingnuttia has gradually found themselves losing case after case in attacking gay and lesbian rights, they have turned their attentions to the "T" in GLBT - transgender people.

While I am far from surprised by the outright stupidity of the arguments that Wingnut Daily spews forth, I tend to expect somewhat better than that from a publication like Christianity Today. Sadly, when they published this bit of illogical drivel, they proved me quite wrong in my expectations of a more sane treatment of the subject.

Optimistically, I would have hoped that they would, in the process of doing their research, talk to more than just supposedly "christian" therapists. Instead, they restricted themselves to sources known for their overt hostility to anyone who professes an identity other than emphatically straight such as Exodus International or "Family Research Council". As close as they come to a "reasonable" source that isn't directly affiliated with the anti-gay lobby is Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist whose practice and theory is heavily focused on religious values to begin with. (although, to Throckmorton's credit, he at least claims to work with his client's religious values rather than imposing his own)

Quoting "Concerned Woman", Matt Barber:

Matt Barber, policy director for cultural issues for Concerned Women for America (CWA). Barber points out that the American Psychiatric Association, which declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, still classifies the condition of transgender as a disorder. Barber says the political left wing is facilitating more gender confusion by counseling the afflicted to feel good about themselves rather than find a treatment for this disorder. ...


I won't go into the irony of a man like Matt Barber being the public voice for an organization called "Concerned Women for America" - I think that speaks for itself. However, Barber is making the same mistake that a lot of people make - assuming that because a condition exists as an "Axis I" diagnosis in the DSM IV, that it is therefore "bad" or a "serious mental illness". Yes, transsexuality is serious and needs to be handled carefully from a clinician's perspective. However, given the medical interventions that are required, there is also a legitimate need to have a clinical understanding of the condition that can be readily communicated between professionals.

Barber's claim that the psychological world hasn't sought treatment for transsexuals, and instead chooses to facilitate them is actually quite false. From the time that Harry Benjamin to present, mental health professionals have explored transsexualism quite actively. However, as is observed in The Uninvited Dilemma, and other books on the subject, attempts to dissuade transsexuals from their journeys simply are not terribly effective in the long term.

They then go on to start quoting from Jerry Leach of Reality Resources - a man who is to transsexualism what Peter LaBarbera is to homosexuality:

Jerry Leach, director of Reality Resources, a ministry in Lexington, Kentucky, to people dealing with gender confusion, shares Chambers's point of view. Leach says, "Rather than cutting tissue by invasive surgery and starting a new life, which for the most part doesn't work, people need to find help psychiatrically."


Leach is a self-professed "ex-transsexual" who turned away from his gender identity when he found religion. Okay, I don't take anything away from him - if that direction has made him happy, that's great for him - it is a logical fallacy to assume that his path applies to all who are transsexual.

With the exception of Throckmorton, who has never really spoken significantly about transsexuals (and I question whether he has the appropriate background to do so effectively), every source the article went to works from the primary assumption that transsexuality is about sex, and is therefore, sinful in the "Christian" ethic somehow.

Had the article's author bothered to take the time to interview a few therapists who deal with transitioning transsexuals (and other members of the broader transgender population), I think they would have come away with a far different picture than that presented by people like Leach or Alan Chambers portray. In fact, the APA's "quick sheet" about Transgender people brings out a key point about the condition that is overlooked in the article:

... People generally experience gender identity and sexual orientation as two different things. Sexual orientation refers to one’s sexual attraction to men, women, both,or neither, whereas gender identity refers to one’s sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender.


In some respects, this is a key point in understanding the problem with the Christianity Today article - it continues to confuse sexuality with gender, and equates the two subjects when they are in fact distinct.

The article ends off with this line:

The challenge before conservative evangelicals is persuading transgendered people, their families, and faith-based advocates that gender identity disorder is not beyond the reach of God's grace, compassionate church-based care, and professional help.


I dare say that given the painfully obvious bias of the Christianity Today article, the message of "compassion" above presupposes a "conversion" view of the subject and is based on deeply flawed premises and reasoning. In the meantime, ignorance and fear continues to foster murders and other acts of violence against those who transgress gender norms.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Musings On The Budget

Yesterday, Flaherty tabled his third budget.

There's a red flag that goes up in this for me. For the last couple of years, we've been hearing about a lot of big ticket military expenditures - new tanks, helicopters, ships etc. Every one of these major purchases has been announced while Parliament is not sitting, meaning that the vehicle of 'Order in Council' has likely been used to make the required legislative commitments.

My guess is that this budget is merely "window dressing", with far more going on "Order in Council" that the public doesn't get to see. It would be consistent with Harper's general secretiveness, and it also fits in with Ralph Klein's behaviour.

The budget announcements themselves were designed to be pretty innocuous in their own right, although given the current economic climate, I'm surprised to see virtually nothing going to the business and manufacturing sectors.

I'll make more commentary on the budget once I've had a chance to finish reading some more of it

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Capping Insurance Payouts

I realize that lawsuits can, and do, get out of hand at times. However, legislated caps on what insurance companies have to pay out to injured parties in an accident doesn't cut it.

With the Stelmach government was trying to breathe life into the dead $4000 cap this past week, I thought it worthwhile to put the "cap" in perspective.

If you are like most Albertans, you spend several thousand a year just on insurance for yourself and your car(s). If one of the cars is damaged in an accident, even a minor bumper ding is going to run you over $1000 to repair these days, and you'll be over $4000 pretty quickly if any body damage is incurred. Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a minor accident (nobody was actually hurt) that cost over $8000 to repair my vehicle.

Now, think about that. We don't put caps on how much we'll pour into the vehicle itself. If it takes $10,000 to fix it, it can be arranged - at least as long as the "market value" of the vehicle is high enough. But, the Alberta government wants to cap what an individual can be paid for certain types of injury.

Soft tissue injuries tend to last a long time, and often correlate with the onset of long term conditions like tendonitis and arthritis. What value do we place on the lost work time that someone with these consequences? A mere $4000? That's less than we're willing to pay out to repair someone's car!

The insurance industry is all about protecting their profit margins in this matter. It's time for some real leadership from our politicians. I don't care if it's a "Public Insurer" a la ICBC or a regulatory environment that strictly controls the insurance companies operating in Alberta.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Federal Election Possibilities

Right now, there are three possibilities that could trigger a Federal election in Canada in the next few weeks.

Option 1) The Afghanistan Motion

While I'm pretty sure that Harper would dearly love to run his election on this issue, I don't think the Liberals are going to hand him this option.

While the Liberals could easily counter the Conservative party's fairly obvious propaganda campaign in a number of interesting ways, I just don't think the Liberals are interested in fighting this particular battle.

Option 2) The Budget

Tomorrow is budget day in Ottawa. It's not a good time to be bringing in a Budget either - not only has Conservative spending been profligate in the last two years, but the economy in North America has entered one of those periods of significant "unsettledness", with the US economy reeling from the 'subprime hangover', and likely to start discovering just how expensive Iraq's really becoming in the next year or so.

I'm having a hard time reading what Dion's intentions here are. His actions in recent weeks suggest that he's not too interested in an election today, even if the budget is the "classic" time to collapse a minority government. Personally, I think the fiscal issues are things that the Liberals could capitalize on quite well - it's not like the Conservatives have exactly been, well, conservative in their spending habits.

Option 3) The Senate Fails to Pass Harper's "Get Tough On Crime" Law This Week

Yes, the Liberals walked out on this vote - and rightly so. The motion itself was ridiculous and really showed us all just how little appreciation Stephen Harper and his merry band of thugs have for parliamentary process. Harper may well collapse the government on this one so he doesn't have to stand on his budget or on the Afghanistan motion specifically.

This is amusing though. If Harper does collapse the government on this, he is handing the Liberals not one, but all three clubs to bash him with. Harper will try to play it as a "Senate Reform" issue, but the Liberals are free to play it as what it is - bullying on Harper's part. Harper's own behaviour in this matter is precisely the reason that we need bodies like the Senate in this country. Otherwise a bad government can become an outright disaster.

However, the play for the opposition parties on this one is pretty good. Not only do they get to play on the "Harper the thug" line, but they can accuse him of knowing that his crime bill is all about show, and is really bad legislation. Collapsing the government on this matter would make it the second time that Harper has taken actions that have killed this legislation while it was still "in process".

Friday, February 22, 2008

That Would Be General (S)Hillier, I Presume?

I see that once again General Hillier is sticking his foot into Canada's political debate over Afghanistan.

"Because we are, in the eyes of the Taliban, in a window of extreme vulnerability," he said. "And the longer we go without that clarity, with the issue in doubt, the more the Taliban will target us as a perceived weak link.

"I'm not going to stand here and tell you that the suicide bombings of this past week have been related to the debate back here in Canada. But I also cannot stand here and say that they are not.


It's amazing how he pops up making statements like this every time Harper wants to babble on about extending the Afghanistan mission, or when the public becomes concerned about troops coming home in pine boxes.

As usual, the line seems to be that if you dare speak out against the Afghanistan mission, you aren't "supporting the troops".

You know what? If we cannot openly discuss the moral and ethical implications of the Afghanistan mission, then there is no debate. General Hillier's responsibility lies with his men, not with the politics of his orders. If, as Hillier hints, this debate is raising the "danger" level in Afghanistan, then he should focus his energies upon ensuring the well-being of his troops - not attempt to tell Canadians that we should not debate the mission.

The Stupid ... It Burns ...

Remember this bit about a loon wanting to bring back forced sterilization - this time for criminals?

Well, he's just reposted the same basic stupidity.

His justification?

It would be hard to regulate a new Act, and proposing it could be (figuratively) land-mine territory for politicians, but if it leads to one saved life because of an unborn criminal, I'd say it would all be worth it.


Apparently Mr. Csillag didn't figure out what was wrong with eugenics the first time around. His rationalization about curing a bunch of social ailments by "preventing" criminals from reproducing is right up there with the brain damaged logic that says "if I carry a gun, I can defend myself against armed criminals" - only his is even worse because it presupposes that the offspring of a criminal is going to be another criminal.

So, I wonder if Mr. Csillag would want to apply retroactive birth control where a criminal who already has children is involved. After all, by his reasoning, they're damaged goods to start with.

This is yet one more example of "compassionate conservatism" at its logical best.

Well...That Was Unhelpful

Last night's Leader's Debate in Alberta was less than impressive.

If I were an undecided voter, what was in that "debate" didn't help make any decisions.

Frankly, the debate itself was no debate. The leaders were all so carefully scripted that they avoided saying anything of value at all. The entire event was more of an excuse to trot out and reiterate the broad, and relatively dull statements that one can find in any of the party's websites.

There was no point and counterpoint in that debate, it was almost exclusively talking points.

Worse, in my view, was the fact that all four of them were constantly trying to talk overtop of the others. If Albertans want to see grown men shouting at each other, we'll watch Question Period.

These aren't debates in any meaningful sense of the word, and I wonder if we wouldn't do just as well to have a set of speeches for that hour and a half instead of a four-way argument that's less coherent than you usually find at 2 am in the bars.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Escalation Is Not A Solution

I realize that a series of campus shootings have people in the United States a little spooked - that's only natural.

What isn't smart is allowing students to carry concealed weapons as a response.

The simple reality is that carrying a gun is not protection against the guy who has his gun out and pointed at you. Except in the worst of the spaghetti westerns the odds are very much against you being able to pull your gun and shoot them first.

Carrying guns isn't going to protect you, or anyone else, against someone who has come "unglued". All that it will mean is that you have a lot more people carrying guns - most of whom will have little or no idea how to actually use one properly.

This is not an environment which will reduce violence on campuses, but will only serve to escalate it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The HarperCon$ ... Out Of Step With Canada

The list of people, players and regions that the Harper government is out of step with continues to grow.

Not satisified with alienating Newfoundland/Labrador, and likely a good number of the rest of the Maritimes, or Canada's environment-conscious citizens, women and minorities, or the general public with Afghanistan, now Harper is obviously in the process of pissing off Ontario.

The Premier complained, as he has before, that Ontario workers are cheated of Employment Insurance benefits and that Ottawa is handicapping the province by refusing to invest in infrastructure. As well, he decried the Conservatives' "ideological aversion" to working with business to help deal with the rising Canadian dollar and global competition.

Above all, he singled out federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and thus joined in what promises to be one of the great pissing matches of the year.


Brilliant - just brilliant. I'm beginning to think the only people that they haven't completely pissed off are the Stelmach PC's in Alberta - and that's hardly reassuring.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Promoting a Comment Thread

I don't normally bump things out of comment threads, but Roger's last comment back here deserves a more thorough commentary than I think is appropriate in a comment.

What follows is my own thinking on Roger's comment:

I think the reality that behavioural science will arrive at has been quite elegantly expressed in The Sexual Spectrum: Exploring Human Diversity. (although heavily anecdotal, the author puts forward a rather well reasoned model)

Reality is this - human behavioural attributes exist along a continuum for any "attribute pair" you wish to describe Heck, I'm left handed - mostly, but there's some things I do right handed (and when it comes to throwing a ball, I'm basically hopeless), so even there, it's not an absolute - I have some degree of ambidexterity.

Where sexual identity is involved, it's likely a bimodal distribution, with a huge weight towards heterosexual behaviour at one end of the spectrum, and a smaller, but significant bump on the homosexual end of the scale. In between you find a small percentage of people who express some significant degree of bisexual behaviour. (Please note, I'm working heavily from inference here, and there's probably several lifetimes worth of hard research to confirm my suspicions)

My strong suspicion is that most people are "tethered" to some point along the spectrum, and although they may be able to express themselves differently to some degree or another, someone who is "firmly" heterosexual, or firmly homosexual just won't get very far trying "the other field" so to speak.

What confuses the issue are those who fall in the middle. The bisexuals whose "tether" is long enough to allow them to drift towards either a primarily homosexual or primarily heterosexual presentation, and then at some later time to apparently "change" their identity. (What has actually changed is the outward expression of their sexual identity, not the core attribute they are "tethered" to).

Personally, I suspect that most of the "success" stories out of the "reparative therapy" game are precisely such people. Similarly, I suspect that the "failures" are in fact firmly within the "homosexual" side of the spectrum, and are going to find it as difficult to "change" as it would be to convince a solidly heterosexual person to become a practicing homosexual.

Attempting to "change" someone's sexual identity by therapy is unlikely to be successful unless they fall into the category of "bisexual", and there you are not changing their identity so much as their social expression of it. Attempting to force the issue by coercion of any sort is apt to be extremely damaging to the individual in the long term.

By way of example, I'd like to relay an experience I had with a course I took a few years ago.

It was a leadership training course, and quite a good one (or so I thought). Naturally, one of the exercises was a Myers-Briggs personality type test. I scored an amazingly strong "I" (introverted) score on the test. (Not surprising to me - I like little better than a quiet evening with a glass of wine, my parrot and a good novel to read) Several of my classmates were quite shocked by this revelation that I am a strong introvert - apparently they hadn't guessed at all from how I conduct myself at work.

Near the end of the course, the instructor paid me quite a delightful compliment. He told me that although I was a very strong introvert, I had developed some very good ways to manage myself in my day to day work life.

I do not claim that it's easy for me to do that - there are days where my role at work exacts a frighteningly high price from me, and I go home and make like a hermit for a few days.

On the Introvert/Extrovert scale, I'm a strong Introvert, but I can "play" as if I'm an extrovert. Trust me, I don't "get it" where extroverts are concerned. Put me in a room full of people and I just want to escape - I don't get "energized" by the experience - but there are those who certainly do. (and similarly, they don't "get it" where my proclivity to go home and find a good book is concerned!)

My point is this - although I can "act" the part, sooner or later my "tether" gets over stretched, and like a great big bungee cord yanks me back home sooner or later. The further it gets stretched, the more dramatic my reaction when I find myself "pulled back".

(again, this is anecdotal evidence I present here, but it should give you some sense of where I come from when discussing these issues)

Sadly, this leaves the religious "conversion" advocates like Kempling just as high and dry as they are using the more polar model. It still comes down to attempting to "change" something that is simply not responsive to therapy.

Just as you can't turn me into a person energized by a roomful of social interaction, I do not think that one can make a homosexual turn into a heterosexual (or vice versa). They may "act" straight, but like me when I have to play the running extrovert, sooner or later the price for that expression will be paid. It is only those who land in the "bisexual" part of the continuum who are close enough to drift into either side that will "seem" to change.

How Is This "Repairing" Anybody ???

Since the "religious right wing" in this country (and the United States) likes to keep trotting out the same talking points all the time, I figure any opportunity to point out the complete intellectual dishonesty of these claims is worth the time.

Recently Nigel Hannaford and Tristan Emmanuel both trotted out the case of Chris Kempling as an example of "Christian" free speech being "suppressed". I'm going to take this a little further and make a few more harsh claims about Kempling.

As I have pointed out repeatedly in the past, Kempling's case is not so simple as even that of Stephen Boissoin. Kempling did not "merely" write a letter defending "traditional marriage", but rather he wrote a series of letters deeply critical of what he supposed to be the "gay lifestyle":

Kempling had been employed as a teacher and counsellor at a high school in Quesnel, British Columbia since 1990. In 1997 he began to write a series of letters to the editor of a local newspaper, the Quesnel Cariboo Observer, expressing concern over the presentation of homosexuality in school curricula. Among other things, Kempling's letters objected to the British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF), the union that represents teachers in British Columbia, distributing teaching-aid literature which had been produced by the Gay and Lesbian Educators of BC, and which in his view was erroneous. He also cited various studies that he interprets as showing harm caused by what he described as the "homosexual lifestyle". Kempling, an advocate of reparative therapy, wrote:

"Sexual orientations can be changed and the success rate for those who seek help is high. My hope is students who are confused over their sexual orientation will come to see me." [1]


Now, clearly, Kempling's actions go much, much further than simply "writing a letter". (If anyone has the text of Kempling's letters at hand, let me know, I'd be interested in reading them)

Kempling is an advocate of something often referred to as Reparative Therapy, a questionable, and arguably damaging "therapy" intended to make someone be "not gay".

To give some idea just how damaging "reparative therapy" can be, I refer readers to this case in Manitoba:

A minister and former Christian college instructor has been found guilty of sexually assaulting a young man who sought counselling after he feared he was homosexual.
...
In earlier testimony, the alleged victim, now 29, told court he started meeting Lewis for counselling sessions in early 2000 after his parents caught him viewing gay pornography on the family computer.

Lewis — a family friend and minister — confided he had his own sexual identity issues and the two embarked on weekly counselling sessions designed to “assist me to be straight and to live a straight life,” the man said.

The man said Lewis started a program of “touch therapy,” which included the two kissing and fondling each other and engaging in sexual roleplaying.


This is far, far from being the first serious problem with so-called conversion therapies. From many perspectives, "reparative therapy" runs at odds with a lot of good, solid science. Psychologists have long ago realized that sexual identity as a rule is not responsive to therapy techniques intended to "change" them. You might be able to persuade someone to adopt a different political viewpoint, but in general, it's unlikely that you will change their sexual or gender identity meaningfully through any known therapy technique.

This most recent incident in Manitoba is an example of someone in a position of trust exploiting the patient.

While I do not claim that Kempling would engage in the same tactics, we have to view with skepticism and caution the "therapy" that he is advocating for. The simple fact is that there is little, or no, peer reviewed literature that substantiates the claims that are wrapped around the therapy that Kempling advocates, and plenty of evidence of abuse being wrapped in the cloak of "therapy" instead.

Friday, February 15, 2008

There's Crazy, Then There's Just BatSh!t Insanity

[Update]
It seems that Mr. Csillag has decided to withdraw his post. Of course, that's why Google has caches...that remember things for a long time.

It's really quite amusing, since Mr. Csillag doesn't even turn on comments on his blog - obviously he must google himself from time to time...
[/Update]
Via Canadian Cynic, I found one of the most amazing examples of insanity I've seen online (and I've seen my share!).

According to this guy we should use forced sterlization as a way to inhibit criminality.

At first, I might have simply written it off as parody - awful parody, but parody.

Then there's this comment:

The problem with the original act was that it was based on the biologically questionable concept of eugenics. A newer act would be based on making a long-term social investment. The system was not conducted fairly and sterilized a lot of people that shouldn't have been. IQ tests failed those who weren't proficient in the English language.

I don't know if a study has been done to prove or disprove this, but I'm going to suggest that a lot of those contributing to Alberta's escalating crime rate wouldn't have been born had the Sterility Act been kept in place.


Holy questionable assumptions, Batman! You are going to assume that criminal behaviour is hereditary? Wow. Whilst I certainly have my headshaking moments where I wonder just what possessed some people to become parents, this takes the lunacy of the pseudo-science behind eugenics to new depths.

But then, coming from a man who gushes over Ezra Levant and Craig Chandler, I don't suppose I should be terribly surprised.

From another post, he eulogizes Chandler's PC nomination as follows:

when they tossed democratically elected Calgary Egmont MLA candidate Craig Chandler out of his rightful position and arrogantly refused to reimburse campaign expenditures (even though Chandler’s positions were well known prior to his well-deserved election by select party members in Calgary Egmont).


Yes, yes. Poor, persecuted Craig. After all, he did win that first nomination. Let's just ignore the amount of hugely damaging political baggage that he brings with him. Or the party leadership's right to ensure that their candidates aren't a liability on the campaign trail.

Perhaps equally sad is his repetition of Chandler's recently invented meme in the interview column:

due to Mr. Chandler's affiliations with the Concerned Christian Coalition; of which another member published a letter titled Homosexual Agenda Wicked while Chandler was CEO.


Ummm...no, there's far more to Chandler's involvement in the Boissoin affair than just his "involvement" as CEO. There's what he's said on his "Freedom Radio Network" program, his deliberate republishing of Boissoin's letter, belligerence towards Rob Wells, that are all part of the picture. (and frankly it's a pretty unpleasant looking picture)

But then, for someone who doesn't see anything wrong with Chandler or Levant's behaviour, it's not a big leap for them to start assuming that forced sterilization is an appropriate punishment for criminals.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Latest WingNut Meme: Christophobia

Now I start to understand why Harper is trying to trigger an election so hard right now. He needs an election before the wingnut base starts squirming any more visibly.

For reference, I point to this bit of screed from Tristan Emmanuel.

For the most part Emmanuel is criticizing Harper because he hasn't moved to curtail Canada's CHRC. But, there's a few choice little tidbits of note.

Ezra Levant is a very diplomatic and polite man - characteristic of his Canadian upbringing. And from reading his commentary, I think Ezra does sincerely believe and hope that his friends in the Conservative Party of Canada actually do feel very strongly about the issue; that the CHRC is a rogue Gestapo-like agency that needs reining in.


Please note the intentional blurring of lines. The complaint against Ezra Levant had absolutely nothing to do with the Federal CHRC, it was in fact a complaint handled through the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission which is a provincial body. In an earlier post on the subject, a commenter had criticized me for discussing Levant's case in the context of the Federal body, but I believe that this confirms my assertion back then that Levant and his allies were deliberately confusing the issue.

The time for Stephen Harper to have shown "courage" came and went years ago. For example, he could have spoken up when he was the Opposition leader - it might have been politically inexpedient then, but at least we could have called it "courage". He could have shown leadership at that time by coming to the defence of B.C. teacher Chris Kempling who was - and is still being - maliciously persecuted and vilified by his professional association, the B.C. College of Teachers, for writing a letter to the editor in defence of traditional marriage. If Harper had stood up then, it would have been "courage".


I've written about Kempling before, and Emmanuel is simply repeating a talking point that is a gross oversimplification of the situation.

However, it's this little plug for his own book that gets me:

For years I've been writing about the gaping leadership vacuum in Canada's political scene. I even published a book on a related subject called: "Christophobia: The Real Reason Behind Hate Crime Legislation".


It's amazing how the phrase "Christophobia" comes bubbling up from the wingnut-o-sphere, usually whenever a limit on their supposed right to slam and marginalize others whom they deem "sinful" comes to the surface. I don't much like the term "homophobia" either - it fails to describe anything meaningful. I'm not afraid of "christianity", or any other religion - but I don't accept the claim that any faith should have any moral or legal precedence above others in the public arena.

In a nation that does not give prominence to any single religious tradition, the simple reality is that using religion as a club to justify marginalizing others is just wrong. In such a situation, we find that religion becomes largely a personal matter, shared within social contexts, but not used to justify treating someone else as a lesser person before the law - whether it is for what they believe, or their supposed "lifestyle" (which is so often imagined rather than understood).

Equally amusing is the reality that within the broad umbrella of "Christian" are a significant number of branches of the faith that have chosen to be accepting of the very people whom Emmanuel and others condemn so vocally.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dear Ezra: It's Over, So STFU

So, not satisfied with Soharwardy's withdrawal of his complaint, Ezra Levant's out for blood.

"Not only am I going to finish this human rights complaint and win it, but I'm going to launch a lawsuit against Soharwardy for abuse of process," Levant said. "That's basically when you use a government agency — a lawsuit — for frivolous and vexatious purposes to punish someone."


I propose that the next edition of the Canadian Oxford dictionary place a copy of Mr. Levant's picture beside the word "vexatious".

Most people would be quite satisfied that the complaint had been withdrawn - a moral victory of sorts. Instead, Ezra is now threatening to sue Soharwardy for using a legal process.

But then again, Ezra's not exactly known for taking the high road, either. Frankly, this doesn't particularly strike me as any different than the kind of boasting threats that Craig Chandler made on his "Freedom Radio Network" program in reference to Mr. Wells' complaints.

In both cases, we see the words and actions of people accustomed to getting their way, and dealing out retribution to those who stood in the way however they think they can get away with it.

Whack A Policy: The Insurance Edition

So, Stelmach's government will appeal a ruling that struck down the arbitrary $4000 limit on "soft tissue injuries.

I've always had a problem with that limit. It looks too much like a case of 'treating the symptoms not the disease'.

Ostensibly, Ralph put it in place to ward off the ever increasing insurance premiums that Albertans face. Fair enough - there was a very real danger that insurance premiums were going to outstrip the ability of a lot of Albertans to pay them.

But, instead of appropriately regulating an industry that Albertans ARE OBLIGED to do business with (if you want to drive at any rate) by law, the Kleinosaurs put in place a policy that constrains (and arguably punishes) the victims of an accident.

There's something ass backwards about arbitrarily constraining the compensation available to someone because of the class of injury received.

The Insurance companies complain that the payouts for what they trivialize as "soft tissue injury" are getting out of hand. So, instead of an even handed set of policies that legitimately would have constrained lawsuits as well as imposing constraints on just what the insurance industry can do, our government created a policy that constrained the injured party following an automobile accident.

And Stelmach wants to keep this alive? Got it. So, as a consumer in Alberta, I remain obliged to purchase insurance from a privately held, profit-driven insurance company which can yank my rates around using pretty much whatever arbitrary rules they come up with to preserve their oh-so-vital bottom line?

(As a historical note, insurance is supposed to be a form of a cooperative, with the collective pool of policy assets mutually underwriting each other, on the probability that the one or two that have to pay out. The industry didn't become profit driven until relatively recently when someone had the bright idea to make money by investing premium dollars that weren't committed to payouts.)

Automobile insurance is one of those areas where the current "free market" environment is not in fact a free market at all. Why do I say this? Largely because we are obliged to engage the automotive insurance industry by the coercive force of law. If I want to drive, I am unequivocally obliged by law to carry insurance. Period. I cannot, for example, keep "adequate" funds stashed in a bank account as "equivalent to" insurance.

One cannot by legislative fiat create an industry without that same legislation binding that industry against exploitive practices. (and certainly, the automotive insurance game can be criticized as failing to be adequately competitive to reflect any sane notion of an "open market") Similarly, if, by legislative fiat, the government constrains the consumers of that industry's products, then there must be more than a "handshake" agreement in place that constrains the industry. (There can be little doubt that insurance premium changes are pretty arbitrary, and certainly to most consumers make little or no sense much of the time)

Stelmach's dogged insistence on repeating one of King Ralph's bigger policy errors does not make me optimistic about his sense of vision.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Nigel Hannaford: Hacktacular!

What few reservations I had about Nigel Hannaford having become less of a journalist and more of a puppet for the hardline right wing in Canada have just evaporated.

His Saturday tirade is one of the most illogical pieces of reasoning to come forth from him.

In a classic bit of "conservative" reasoning, he tries to tie David Suzuki's statements about climate change to the case of Chris Kempling as a "freedom of speech" issue. A classic "have you stopped beating your wife yet" kind of argument that twists the unreasonable by tying it to something that almost seems rational.

I think Suzuki's statements are laughable, but Hannaford's recount of the Kempling case is utterly brain damaged, and linking the two topics together is simply bad logic.

There's a difference between Suzuki's comments and Kempling - and it's significant. Suzuki is talking about what consequences he feels should apply to politicians who choose to sit on their thumbs with respect to his pet issues.

Kempling is a whole different matter. Among other things, Kempling was in a position of trust with respect to youth, and he was peddling reparative therapy, which is potentially very, very damaging to the client's well-being:

The American Psychiatric Association in its position statement on Psychiatric Treatment and Sexual Orientation states: The potential risks of "reparative therapy" are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone "reparative therapy" relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.

*** In short, you are unlike to succeed in making people something that they aren't

Hannaford's oversight in failing to understand that Kempling's public positions towards the GLBT community placed him in conflict with the very role that he was contracted to do as a teacher and school counsellor. Kempling may well firmly believe that as a "Christian" he was doing the right thing, but in fact his overall demeanor would have left any GLBT student seeking guidance from him in a truly perilous place indeed.

Instead, Hannaford chooses to connect the two matters as though they are comparable, after all, he claims, Kempling was merely on the "wrong side of an argument". Nothing could be farther from reality. Kempling made it very public, and very clear that he was outright hostile to GLBT people, and worse was willing to profit from trying to "cure" their conditions.

That's a far cry from the kind of silliness that Suzuki may have been advocating, but Suzuki's in no position to cause anyone to be imprisoned. (and I would argue that were such a law to be tabled in the House of Commons that it should not even pass first reading)

Freedom of speech is no luxury, but it is also not unfettered. We all bear a responsibility towards our fellow human beings of civility.

Quick, Grab the Popcorn

If this complaint actually goes anywhere, it's going to be positively grand comic theatre.

It seems that Concerned Christians Canada is going to play puppet for Chandler's threatened human rights complaint:

Concerned Christians Canada says it's going to file a human rights complaint against Premier Ed Stelmach and Progressive Conservatives.
National Chair Jim Blake tells QR77's Dave Rutherford the complaint stems from the premier's decision to replace a couple of tory candidates in Calgary - Craig Chandler and Ron Leech.
The group claims both have been rejected as candidates because of their religious views.


Hrmmm...I have to wonder about how strong this complaint is going to be. Chandler's clearly got his people trying to make it look like a broader issue than just the issue of his nomination, but rather has been systemically applied to other "religious" candidates. Even though Jim Blake is ostensibly independent of Mr. Chandler, he is a long-time associate of Chandler's and has popped up with an amazing predictability speaking in favor of Chandler's position. (Whatever that might happen to have been)

From the perspective of Chandler's specific case, it's pretty hard to make a compelling case that "religious beliefs" are the sole and primary cause of why his nomination was rejected. The final decision in the Boissoin case, and two other related cases which hardly went in Chandler's favour, provide a pretty strong case upon which to base a position that Chandler simply had too much political "baggage" to be a viable candidate. (and certainly, opposition parties would have a field day tying the Boissoin case to the PCs had Chandler's nomination gone forward)

As for Mr. Leech, PC party is claiming that he was rejected due to problems with the nomination process. So, the basis upon which the claim is being made in his case remains to be seen.

Frankly, this little endeavor is likely doomed to failure - not because HRCs are biased against Christians, but because there is relatively little to work with. About the only thing in the mix that I can't adequately account for is the meeting Chandler had with PC party leadership in Red Deer. There might be some fodder in there, but whether that outweighs the other material already in the public domain is hard to guess.

As I said in an earlier post on the subject, I actually am looking forward to this case going through its due process. Regardless of the outcome, it deserves an open hearing.

Rumours From The Alberta Campaign Trail

If I didn't already think that the PC's have been in power in Alberta far longer than they have any right to be, some of what I've been hearing indirectly coming in from various campaigns in Calgary would convince me.

It's fear. We aren't talking about candidates being afraid of anything, but rather individual voters and small business owners are reluctant to "piss off" some long-term MLAs who a running for re-election. By "piss off", I mean even doing something as simple as openly supporting another candidate.

Why the fear? Because there is a perception that the candidate will try to retaliate by acting in a hostile fashion towards those who backed their opponents in this election.

More germane is the amount of peer pressure that exists. There are a lot of people out there who won't allow a campaign sign to be put on their lawn because they are worried about how "others" will react - especially if it isn't "conservative enough".

The fact that there is a perception that retaliation could occur, or even that sign vandalism occurs more frequently for certain parties, is a sign of a serious problem in Alberta. A healthy democracy has a great deal of room in it for all sorts of viewpoints. When only one becomes "acceptable" in the public discourse, it is no longer a healthy democracy.

Calgary Egmont Update

Seen in this morning's Calgary Sun, apparently Chandler is "low on funds":

Now running as an independent and citing an in-house poll, which puts him at the front of other candidates vying for the seat, Chandler says he needs at least another $23,000 in donations to keep the momentum going.


An 'in-house' poll? Credibility-wise, that's right up there with drinking your own kool-aid. Yes, Chandler's got a fair number of signs out on the main roads through a couple of areas, but that likely is a matter of going through the phone list from his nomination campaign.

However, it seems a bit of a stretch to me to suggest that he has a "lead" over anyone other than Jonathan Denis at this early stage. (Personally, I think Denis is a weak candidate at this time, especially with the PC's suffering from what appears to be a weak leadership)

The grand irony here is Chandler complaining about a "lack of funds" after allegedly spending in excess of $127,000 to get the PC nomination last fall. Talk about having your priorities upside down. I doubt that any of the other candidates for nominations spent more than a couple of thousand on the nomination. (Less, I would imagine) And I'd guess that campaign costs for the election will run most candidates somewhere around $30,000.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Harper's Scared of Having To Budget

In the last few days, we've seen so many attempts by the HarperCons to trigger an election before they have to table their second budget.

Attempt number one was the asinine little hissy fit over bill C-2 and the Senate - one which was filled with as many lies and half-truths as the lowest of Mulroney's speeches in his later years in office.

Today, Harper makes a vote on Afghanistan a confidence motion.

Van Loan said Harper presented Dion with an advanced draft of the motion during their meeting on Tuesday, saying the Tories were open to amendments, so long as they fall under the broad parameters of the Manley report. He said Dion did not submit any.


Uh-huh. Meanwhile in the house, we have the HarperCon$ referring to the opposition as "The Taliban Information Service" - hardly the kind of language that encourages any kind of negotiation.

Frankly, bringing the government down on Afghanistan is fine with me. The opposition then has to play hard on the plethora of lies, deceit and arrogance that the HarperCon$ have made their modus operandi during the last 2 years.

Personally, I think Harper is doing everything he can to avoid tabling a budget in the House of Commons, because he can't table anything that is going to look very good - especially with so much of his government's ego tied up in his "Adventures in Foreign Occupation".

Predictable...

You had to know that sooner or later either Chandler or one of his close associates was going to start sniping at Stelmach this election campaign.

Sure enough, we find "Concerned Christian Canada" stepping to the plate:

I stated that in view of the fact that human rights commissions are being used to censor and silence free speech, a Christian politician is being denied his elected position based on his faith and confession of biblical truths, and police and bi-law officers are abusing their authority to deny God given and Charter protected human rights, what did Premier Stelmach intend to do to protect the Charter rights of citizens of Alberta going forward?


Oh please. What an amazing bunch of drivel.

One, anyone with their eyes open and their brain running in something other than neutral has long since figured out that the Human Rights Commissions are in fact doing their jobs quite reasonably.

I'll reserve judgment on Stelmach's handling of Chandler's nomination. If there is a HRC complaint filed, I'll be curious to see the outcome. More realistically, I suspect it boils down to something pretty simple - Chandler's own history had created a situation where he had far too much political baggage as a direct result of his involvement in the whole Boissoin affair, and his conduct towards Rob Wells during that time. Stelmach would be thinking in terms of optics, I'm sure.

It's the last claim that Blake makes that is truly astonishing in its stupidity:

police and bi-law officers are abusing their authority to deny God given and Charter protected human rights


Really? Just what is he referring to? Or, is this in the usual dishonest phrasing I see from political extremes - a really pathetic attempt to link unrelated topics together.

One of these days, these twits will figure out that their "freedom of religion" exists in a state of tension with the rights of others to live in peace.

Tax Credits Don't Equate To Child Care Spaces

This is really quite disappointing. Stelmach rolls out another backwards looking policy - this time he nails families.

The issue here is twofold in my view. First, the tax credits themselves are relatively small - meaning that they will do little in any practical sense for most families. (Not unlike PMSH's $100/month bribe, with tax clawback added for fun)

The second, and more significant point was raised by one of the mothers interviewed:

"OK, he's going to cut our taxes, right, but it still doesn't put a cap on the daycare [fees]," said Sharlene Dolan, who pays $875 a month for her daughter's care. "It can sound really good right now on paper but if the daycare costs go up it doesn't help," she said.


Bingo - there's the key part of the problem. The issue is that this is another, and typically conservative, policy based on the sanctity of the free market - a philosophy that blithely ignores what happens when the supply/demand balance gets out of whack. (and Alberta is out of balance on that curve in so many areas it's not funny)

Nanos Research - Hack Polling

In the past while, I've been getting increasingly skeptical about the quality and slant that Nik Nanos has been putting on his polling.

In the last week, he's published two polls that have struck me as either amazingly slanted or just so vacuous as to be irrelevant.

The first reports how wonderfully Stephen Harper is seen as a "better leader" than the other party leaders. Given the question in the poll, that's not surprising - as it was a single question poll, and one that didn't even start to scratch the surface of how people feel about his policies and conduct.

The second poll dropped in my inbox this morning was this little turd.

It does, to its credit point out that Tory support has been steadily dropping since 2002. Then it goes on to make this ridiculous statement:

Intensity of comfort for Harper majority solid but lessens


The numbers of course show a different picture altogether, with 29% saying they are "comfortable" with the idea of a Harper majority. The only way you can spin that in the positive is to roll together the "somewhat comfortable" and "comfortable" numbers.

The fact is that support for the HarperCons has been dropping overall - with the most significant change in opinion being a 6% drop in support in Western Canada over the last couple of years.

Tories Whining About Senate ... Again

Okay, PMSH, you don't like the Senate - probably because you can't control it with the same micromanager's approach you bring to your party's attempts at governance. I think the public get that already.

The latest hissy fit you are throwing about bill C-2 is utterly ridiculous.

First, let's take a look at a couple of things here. The criticism the government is making is that the Senate is "delaying" the bill.

Then there's reality, as shown by the status history of the bill on the House of Commons LegisInfo system:

First reading in the Senate was November 29, 2007.
Second reading in the Senate was December 12, 2007.

According to the Senate's calendar for 2007, the Senate rose for Christmas break on December 21, and resumed January 29, 2008.

The first hearings of the Senate Committee took place on February 6, 2008. Again, one might look at this and wonder what was happening. As it turns out, at the time, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs was working on Bill C-11, which had been referred to the Senate on October 29.

In short, Bill C-2 was "in the queue". The fact that Harper tried to ram it through the House of Commons (and when you consider that the legislation is a rehash of five other very badly worded pieces of law, one might be just a little suspicious of the short time it spent in the House of Commons).

Dion is quite right to say that his members will abstain from voting on this motion. It is little more than a poorly thought out attempt on Harper's part to get his way by bullying. What we are learning here is not that the Senate is the problem, but rather that Harper is incapable of the kind of negotiation and compromise that has long been a key to success in our parliament.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Conservative Economics ...

I've often found myself bemused by the economic logic used to justify ventures like so-called "P3" projects to finance public infrastructure such as schools or hospitals.

Over at Project Alberta, I found the most surprising bit of illogic:

BTW, I see that dear leader Hinman said on Rutherford that he was against P3s for schools because that was like leasing a car instead of buying it. Take him aside and explain the benefits of P3s, and tell him to get off his tractor and head into the big city to find out how many people lease their vehicles. What era is that guy from?


Ever so briefly, I'm going to ignore the obvious problems with comparing a building with a lifespan of 30-50 years or more with a car that has a practical life expectancy of about ten years.

While there are practical and valid reasons to lease cars or places of business, cost savings isn't one of them.

Consider the following scenario: Purchase a car, and drive it for ten years compared with leasing vehicles every 3 years for that same period of time. To simplify things a little, I'm going to assume that in all cases, the amount being financed is about $20,000.

At current interest rates and lending terms, the payments on a $20,000 loan for 4 years is about $450 / month, the lease rate would be pushing around $200/month. (Pulled from an average of several manufacturer's websites)

A little basic arithmetic shows the following:

Payments: $21,600
Lease: $24,000

Not too bad at first blush, until you realize that the "slightly higher" cost of $24,000 is spread over the full ten year period. Meanwhile, the purchaser has 6 years of payment-free driving.

Even if the purchaser saves money at the payment rate of the lease, that's $9600 that they have in the bank ... and, at the end of the ten years, there's still _some_ (probably not much) residual value in the vehicle itself.

If the lessor had chosen to save the $250 per month difference in payments, then they get a little ahead of the game:

120 * 250 = $30,000

And the truly frugal purchaser that socks away the amount of their payments even while they aren't paying it to a bank?

72 * 450 = $32,450

Yes, I know people that lease their vehicles and are quite happy to do so. I'm not one of them because interest bearing payments on a depreciating asset irritate the heck out of me.

When it comes to buildings, P3's bother me in a very fundamental way. Buildings are not "depreciating assets". Basically a P3 means that the public pays not only the capital costs of the building and its upkeep, but also we are putting a certain amount into the "private partner's" pocket in terms of profit as well.

In short, while it perhaps creates the illusion of a savings (just as the lower per-month costs of a vehicle lease do), in the longer run, I'm just not so convinced that it makes sense for public infrastructure such as schools or hospitals. Both kinds of buildings have meaningful lives that long exceed the 20-30 year time period required to finance their construction; and maintenance is just that - maintenance - the public would pay that anyhow - one way or another no matter how the contract is written. ( A few years ago, renting an decent apartment in Calgary was a few hundred dollars a month less than owning a house - just enough to make the apartment superficially appealing, until you realized that at the end of ten years, you had another ten years of rent to look forward to, and the appreciation of the asset you occupied landed squarely in someone else's pocket )

P3's may have their place, but I don't think it's in the world of key public infrastructure. Government offices housing the bureaucracy perhaps, purpose built buildings like schools or hospitals ... not so much.

I certainly wouldn't endorse a P3 on the basis that "a lot of people lease their cars". Just because it is popular doesn't make it good economics.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Supporting The Troops ... Harper Style

Since Harper and his gang of thugs are so big on the "Support the Troops" meme, we should take a moment to consider the Harper government's lack of response when one of our soldiers died in Lebanon.

The report, released Jan. 31, blamed the Israeli Defence Forces for the incident, but also found the Israeli military refused to provide documents other than a summary of its own internal investigation, "which lacked sufficient detail to explore certain issues to their fullest extent." The report said the UN also refused to provide documents requested for the investigation.


Hmmm. I see. At the time, PM "Israel's response is Measured" Harper said this:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said shortly after the attack that he did not believe Israel deliberately targeted the UN post, but would ask Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "for his full co-operation in getting to the bottom of this."


Clearly, Harper hasn't pushed all that hard. In fact, I'd wager that he's hoping that this issue will quietly go away. Of course, when the soldier in question was reporting some not so pleasant things about Israel's actions in Lebanon:

"Obviously they were unhappy with what they were observing. Maybe that post was in the way as well," she said. "I know my husband was reporting war crimes. And I guess they don't want to deal with that."


Uh huh.

Transit Security and The Guardian Angels

My brother and I were discussing the lack of success the Guardian Angels are having in Calgary.

Where the Sun's article on the subject attempts to frame the issue as a matter of public apathy, I think it's more subtle than that.

As our conversation whirled about, two things kept coming to the foreground as issues. The first being the simple fact that the Guardian Angels haven't been very successful in getting their message out to Canadians as to just who and what they are. It's one thing to be "good samaritans", it's something altogether different to formalize an organization around actively being a presence to inhibit malfeasance. Simply put, the Guardian Angels have done little to convince Canadians that they aren't just a group of vigilantes with a hero complex.

The second point that kept bubbling up was that of oversight and transparency. While the group has a website, neither the parent site, or the local chapter's website exactly addresses the issues of oversight and accountability - choosing to focus instead upon a "nice, sunny view" of the group's activities.

I'm not saying that the group doesn't address these issues - merely that the vast majority of people won't have a great deal of visibility into just what the oversight processes look like, or the public accountability. (and yes, by placing themselves where they do, they become part of the public scene as something of an authority figure)

The net result is a perception that the group is essentially a private paramilitary of sorts, and one that is not governed by the same accountability that we demand of our police and other law enforcement agencies that are already charged with maintaining the peace.

Canada is an odd beast when it comes to the public's perception of "private militias". Unlike the United States where such things are a part of the local traditions, Canada's tradition is rooted in highly respected, but large, public organizations. Even with the corruption scandals that have rocked the RCMP in recent years, the fact is that the NWMP and its successor agencies have had the general trust of the people to a degree that has not been the case in the US.

Similarly, the Canadian military is also seen - typically - as a trustworthy organization by most Canadians, and a certain amount of deference is given to someone in uniform almost automatically.

In dramatic contrast, the very foundations of the US Constitution are written around a profound worry that the government might arm itself against its people.

Where the US is psychologically built up around a fundamental mistrust of "public sector" endeavors - even law enforcement or the military, Canada has exactly the opposite experience and mentality. Canadians tend to generally trust the public officials and agencies we have charged with maintaining the peace. {and even when scandals occur, they don't seem to have a lasting effect}

Conversely, private militias are often equated in the public mind with disruptions of the peace, and are generally not well received by Canadians in general. The few occasions where a "private militia" has tried to form in Canada, they are either very, very small - and thus inconsequential, or they reach a size where they are noticeable, and they are seen as a potential threat.

Whether or not the Guardian Angels are a "force for good" is irrelevant. They simply have not yet convinced the Canadian public (and Calgary in particular) that in fact the organization is worthy of the public's trust, and that it will work effectively with the public organizations already in place to maintain the police. That will be a long and difficult process, as it involves overcoming the cultural assumptions that stand in their way.

Speaking for myself, while I'm all in favor of an increased presence of some kind to help secure our transit system and make it safe for all riders, I'm a little uneasy with the idea of that security being provided in the form of a private, semi-military organization - frankly that's just as unsettling to me as the current situation, but in different ways. I know what the rules are that the police and transit security people operate under are, and I know where and whom to raise concerns with. I can't say the same about the Guardian Angels.

Put Them Out Of Our Misery

So you want to fall on the Afghanistan Sword, Steve? Fine.

It's time to take this government down - hard.

The campaign won't be about Afghanistan. It will be about your abuses - lying about detainees in Afghanistan; mishandling the Chalk River file; Muzzling Environment Canada researchers; Defunding programs that benefit women and minorities; non-policies on major files like the Environment. Oh yes, let's not forget his pledge to make government "more open, honest and accountable" - so far all three attributes have been eroded under PMSH.

There's lots to work with. (Even Sun newspaper columnists are picking up on the dishonesty of the HarperCons)

Harper has tried to make everything odious a "confidence" motion, trying to choose the ground upon which his government will fall.

It's time for the opposition parties to take a stand. Harper has shown us his colours, and its time for Canadians to remove him from power.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Driving Forward Looking Backwards

If that conjures up horrifying images of piling your car into a post, that's what it's supposed to provoke.

I was starting my analysis of the various party platforms for the Alberta Election tonight, and when I went to the Alberta PC's, I was rather, well stunned.

Stelmach's "policy statements" page is entirely backwards looking. It drones on endlessly about the miraculous spending that "Ed the Money Fairy" has been sprinkling about the province in the last few weeks, not so much on the question of just what his party will do for Albertans in the future.

Not an auspicious beginning to an election campaign - especially for an incumbent party.

*Sigh* I'll check back there later when (perhaps) they have actually bothered to try and provide some kind of forward looking vision.

Dear Minister Lunn:

Since two of my regular readers sent me articles on this subject, it's worth pointing out what they have to say.

CBC
CTV

Canada could have avoided the recent medical isotope crisis if supplier MDS Nordion had joined international efforts to co-ordinate global production, a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says.

The article Monday in the journal said MDS Nordion wouldn't co-operate with Europe's two large-scale isotope suppliers — Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group in the Netherlands, and the Institut National des Radioelements in Belgium.


Whoa ... waitasec. So, AECL could have taken steps to mitigate the risks involved, but chose not to? Really?

Why would that be?

"They see themselves as the big dog,'' said Kuperman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas. ''They are not going to share information with the small ones nipping at their heels.''

Kuperman maintained there is plenty of "surplus capacity'' among isotope suppliers but MDS Nordion and AECL didn't want their competitors to pick up the slack when the Chalk River reactor was shut down.


Right. Got it. So for what amounts to a petty commercial reason, the reactor's operator essentially created a supply crisis. Had AECL and MDS Nordion been more collaborative and less worried about their majority market share, the entire situation could have been avoided, and likely would have done more to preserve their market share than what did unfold.

So, Minister Lunn, when are you going to start acting on the Auditor General's report on AECL and give that company the overhaul that it clearly - and desperately needs? The more that comes out, it's clear that the problems that need to be addressed were not occurring in the regulatory body, but in the corporate entity that was responsible for the reactor's operation.

It's time for you to eat a little humble pie, and restore Ms. Keen to her job ... with an apology for your behaviour in this matter.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Thump!

The writ has been dropped in Alberta. On March 3, we go to the polls to elect a new government in this province.

For the first time in my adult life, I see an electoral landscape that is ready to make a major change. I won't pretend that I've liked any of the premiers we've had since Peter Lougheed stepped aside.

Don Getty had been tackled once too often without his helmet on, and did a horrendous amount of damage to this province's education systems; Ralph Klein I endured - to be honest, I never could see what the population saw in the man; and Ed Stelmach just hasn't thrilled me either.

Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome in a few short weeks. My current estimate is (at the very least) a vastly reduced PC government - possibly even a minority if the Wildrose Alliance party manages to split a few rural seats. {I have no idea if they are that coherent yet, but who knows - Alberta's voters are strange beasts}

There's virtually no chance of Stelmach surviving the outcome, either. Even if he is the next premier, the party will be smarting from the lost seats, and the loss of their presumed "right to govern" and the next leadership review will be hotly contested. If he loses, or comes up with a minority, Stelmach will be history - almost overnight. Either way, I doubt that he'll be our Premier by the time 2012 rolls around.

On a more local level, I look forward to watching the show in Calgary Egmont.

The Assault on Civil Society

There's something that bothers me about Keith Martin's motion to Private Member's Motion M-446 in a very fundamental way.

I've already stated why I think Martin's motion is fundamentally a pile of crap that should appear on the House of Commons TP supply, but I haven't quite finished sorting out why that Motion makes me so angry.

The meme has been running about the far right wing-o-sphere for some time that the concept of "hate speech" is little more than blatant censorship, and they (or anyone else) should be "free to speak their minds".

Superficially, I might almost consider agreeing with that precept - but it's far too simplistic. (Like a lot of the jingoism that comes out of Canada's CPC lately)

In many respects, the "hate speech" provisions that exist in Canada's Human Rights (and more recently, Criminal Code) are an artifact of two significant events in the 20th Century. The first is the WWII Holocaust, and the second is a reflection of the impact of the American Civil Rights Movement on Canada.

Provisions like the one that Mr. Martin is seeking to have struck from the legislation exist to constrain the ability of some (hopefully small) groups of society to use propaganda techniques such as those that Joseph Goebbels used so effectively during the Nazi era in Germany. ( I must stress here that I am not claiming that Mr. Martin and his supporters are "Nazis", but rather this is a reflection of the historical context in which Canada's human rights laws have been forged )

Let us consider for a moment the wording of the subject of Mr. Martin's motion - S. 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act:

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.


The key point here seems to be the use of broadcast or electronic media to publish material that constitutes a "hate message". (I'll come back to the question of just what constitutes a "hate message" in a bit). What this basically says is that using "broadcast" media to propagate a hate message is in contravention of the CHR Act. The interpretation notes for S13 make it abundantly clear that internet communications (such as this Blog) fall under that clause.

Intriguingly, this is not really the part of the legislation that would impact cases like Boissoin, or Ezra Levant. In fact, their cases would fall squarely under S12 of the act, which reads:

12. It is a discriminatory practice to publish or display before the public or to cause to be published or displayed before the public any notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that

(a) expresses or implies discrimination or an intention to discriminate, or

(b) incites or is calculated to incite others to discriminate

if the discrimination expressed or implied, intended to be expressed or implied or incited or calculated to be incited would otherwise, if engaged in, be a discriminatory practice described in any of sections 5 to 11 or in section 14.


One can look at both S12 and S13, and think "omigosh, that's quite a limitation on the freedom of expression!". There is, however, a huge "yabbut" to consider here.

The classic tactic of those who run afoul of S12 or S13 is an old one - namely to tell a lie, and repeat it as often as possible. (Sometimes, it is a blatant lie, other times, it may have a slender granule of truth in it - just enough to persuade a casual reader of the veracity of the much broader claims often implied.

Time and again in the 20th Century, it was demonstrated that any broadly available medium - whether it is radio, television or print media can be used as a tool to marginalize or demonize identifiable groups in society.

MP Martin's motion essentially is an attempt to claim that there is "no such thing as hate on the Internet". It is a "head in the sand" claim, indeed. Anyone with access to a search engine and a few minutes can hunt up anything from racial supremacists to anti-gay literature and goodness knows what else. While only a fraction of this material constitutes "hate" material in the formal sense, it is nothing short of breathtakingly naive to assume that it doesn't exist.

One could make the claim that the Internet, and its child technologies is in fact "the great equalizer", since there is little to prevent someone from a minority group publishing a "counter argument". But then, being heard, or read, on the Internet is not easy. My logs on this blog show a regular readership of some forty or so regular readers, and the odd occasion where I get a brief spike into the hundreds for a day or two if I managed to write something particularly interesting. In a world where countries count their populations in millions or even billions, I have few illusions about how much influence my blog really has. (But I do appreciate the readers and the often thoughtful feedback I receive!)

But, I digress. The flaws in Martin's proposal are many, but what worries me about the proposal itself is the reality underlying it that should the government ever choose to enact in legislation what he suggests, conversations such as those surrounding gay rights or minority religious populations which are barely civil today (anyone who has read either Mark Steyn or Michael Coren will recognize their writing as being filled with a near paranoid level of fear towards certain groups) The legal framework today obliges the most polar of extremes to make their points in a (relatively) reasoned fashion - one that can be challenged much more rationally than the utterly paranoid screeching that comes from groups like the Phelps clan in the United States.

Do we want to give such groups unbridled freedom in Canada?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Brrr...

Anybody with their eye on technology has known that sooner or later, someone was going to make a "real" ED-209.

Sure enough, the US Navy has gone quite some ways down the path.

I have to wonder if the developers are thinking in terms of Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics when they are developing the software systems behind these devices?

On The Role of Government

An oft-heard complaint about politicians is "but they've never run a business", or something to that effect. Largely, the complaint is based on the notion that Government is very similar to business.

In so far as any government is bound by the economic realities in which it exists, this is at least partially true. In general, we don't really want our governments to spend the public into debt unnecessarily. (That isn't to say that debt is inherently a bad thing, but rather that incurring long term debt should be connected to some long term asset or objectives - tangibles such as roads or hospitals come to mind as examples where debt is not necessarily an evil thing)

However, business is all about one thing: making money. No business I can think of does not place making a profit at the top of its list of objectives. However, we must also remember that money is fundamentally amoral - it is bound by no particular morality or ethic. From a "purely business" perspective, there is little difference between a pharmaceutical company and an organized crime gang like the Hell's Angels. At the end of the day, both conduct a form of commerce with the objective of making continued profits.

However, government does not exist purely for the purpose of making money - in fact, I think one could argue that we grant the government extraordinary powers with respect to money because government is about a great deal more than just making money.

Government also has significant responsibilities that cannot be reflected on the fiscal balance sheet. Certainly in western countries, we look to government to provide a framework to protect a variety of "public interests". Topics such as public safety come to mind (I should be able to walk down the street without fear of being mugged or assaulted); national defense; and citizen's rights in general.

It is difficult to measure some of those subjects indeed. In Canada, we have made a decision that topics such as education and health care are at least partially held to be part of the government's purview. Education, or health care are extremely expensive, and when looked at in a purely financial sense sound like bad expenses. The ethos in Alberta, for example, has been largely to starve both financially - to insist that they operate on minimalist budgets, and refuse to fund even basic repairs to infrastructure such as school roofs.

The outcomes of public education systems are measured not by the next quarter, but often decades later. Arguably, the early 1990s harvested the fruits of investments in education made in the late '70s and '80s. Meanwhile, today, we are just beginning to witness the effects of dramatic cuts that started to be made in the late 1980s.

But, it's not just about money. That's really what I'm getting at. The society we live in is shaped dramatically by the structures that governments create (or fail to create). We rise and fall on the ability of our governments to look beyond the short term concerns about money. Overemphasis on one area starves another, with inevitable consequences.

As subjects such as poverty should bring to mind, government's success or failure is measured not merely upon the fiscal balance sheet, but people also must respond to the "social balance sheet". Alberta has been going through an economic boom in recent years, and a parsimonious attitude on the part of the provincial government towards the social balance sheet has created a situation where a lot of people are faced with serious challenges just finding shelter and putting food on the table. Sure there are jobs - lots of them, but inflation has driven to cost of food and shelter up significantly for those who do not own their homes (and the threshold for ownership has moved up - way up).

The consequences of that short-sightedness on the part of Ralph Klein's government is being reflected now in plummeting polling numbers for Ed Stelmach, and a certain degree of "jaded cynicism" being expressed towards a recent round of spending announcements. There are other concerns that are attracting public attention as well - people are becoming skeptical that the Oil Sands developments are being appropriately managed, or that adequate resources are being put into place to ensure that the mining operations can be cleaned up.

Whether politicians wish to admit it, they are measured not merely upon the government's finances, but also upon the kind of society that their government (or predecessors' governments) have forged as a result of their actions.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Squash This Now!

I'd squash this before it goes any further.

(Keith) Martin earned the dubious distinction after giving notice that he plans to introduce a private member's motion calling on the government to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.


Trust me, you don't want your party to be associated with white supremacists and other vile groups:

Victoria MP Keith Martin was praised Friday on stormfront.org, a website that proudly displays the logo "White pride world wide" and links to radio addresses by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.


Of course, Mr. Martin has been hearing from people who have "bought" the bullshit line that Ezra Levant and others that it is an "unjust process":

Martin said constituents first brought to his attention concerns that the human rights act is being abused by people who lodge frivolous complaints about something that offends them, sparking lengthy hearings in which the accused are forced to defend themselves at their own expense.


However, as I pointed out back here, the CHRC rejects a sizable proportion of the complaints that are lodged after initial investigation. In fact, the commission's website clearly states that if they determine that a complaint is in fact specious it will be rejected:

384 or 36% were decisions not to deal with a complaint pursuant to section 40/41 of the Act. In 284 of those cases, complainants were asked to first pursue other redress mechanisms. The remaining 100 cases were out of time, out of jurisdiction, or considered trivial, frivolous or vexatious.


It suggest that Mr. Martin should read the CHRC's annual report in some detail before he goes off on tirades about S.13 being "abused".

[Update]:
As one of my commenters points out, Martin is an ex-Reform MP who crossed to sit as a Liberal.

Clearly, he hasn't exactly grown beyond his history as a reformer on some matters.
[/Update]

Friday, February 01, 2008

It's Time For Harper To Go

Via The Galloping Beaver:


Environment Canada scientists told to toe the line


Environment Canada has "muzzled" its scientists, ordering them to refer all media queries to Ottawa where communications officers will help them respond with "approved lines."

The new policy, which went into force in recent weeks and sent a chill through the department research divisions, is designed to control the department's media message and ensure there are no "surprises" for Environment Minister John Baird and senior management when they open the newspaper or turn on the television, according to documents obtained by Canwest News Service.


Alright - that's enough political interference in government operations. The message is clear enough, and the consequences are potentially frightening. Not only does this call into question the validity of anything that comes out of any arm of the government, it unequivocally demonstrates that Harper's government is utterly unable and unprepared to deal with anything other than a talking point of their own invention.

This is not "accountable" government, it is the political equivalent of what comes out of the back end of a cow.

Whatever reservations I may have about a Federal and a Provincial election running concurrently in Alberta are rapidly being outweighed by the repeated demonstrations of political interference and control being exercised from the PMO.

Yahoo! -> MSN?

I spotted the headline that Microsoft is offering buy Yahoo! up, and just about sprayed my monitor with coffee.

Yahoo!, as a company has been caught in the middle for quite some time - sandwiched between Microsoft (anybody else remember just how badly M$ screwed up what used to be Hotmail?) and Google, and not really making any headway on either front.

Somehow, I suspect that spending $44.6 billion to acquire Yahoo will simply enlarge the already bloated and less than functional MSN media group - and produce little of any real value to the user community.

Interesting

Since late last fall, we've been hearing on and off about the MAPLE Reactors meant to replace the now rather old NRU reactor at Chalk River.

A reader pointed me to this article on CTV which starts to address why the MAPLE program is so far behind schedule:

"There seems to be a fundamental design problem with the MAPLEs. A project cannot last that long -- cannot last eight years -- unless there is a fundamental problem," the insider told CTV News.

One key problem is that when engineers run computer simulations, safety issues arise.

"You shut the reactor down, but the temperature in the core continues to increase," said the insider.


Interesting. So, the MAPLE project is encountering a series of engineering problems - and one of them is clearly quite serious. The good news is that the reactors are not in full production and the engineers are continuing to try and sort out the issues.

This is in fact the same kind of due diligence towards safety that should be applied - and was not being implemented - with the NRU reactor. (Which is my primary concern with Bill C-38's reactivation of the NRU reactor in the absence of completion of key safety system upgrades)