Monday, March 31, 2008

Dear Fundagelicals:

If you think you need to self-censor your messages to avoid running afoul of Canada's hate crime statutes, perhaps you might want to rethink what your messages really are?

Of course, Daddy Dobson censoring his "radio show" is no big surprise. He'd claim he was doing that just to perpetuate the meme that hate crime laws are unreasonable. (Of course, none of these clowns will speak out against the violence that GLBT people are subjected to as a result of the fundagelical hostility towards GLBT folk - such as this piece of irrational garbage)

Finally, the reason for “indifference and confusion” is that the Supreme Court has legislated sexual orientation to be a Charter right. This newly coined “right” was “read” into the Charter by Justice Peter Cory in 1995. This new right of equality now conflicts with existing (Charter) rights such as freedom of the press and of religion (

The last point answers at once the question why it is important, indeed necessary, in Canada to resist: our rights as citizens are at stake. This is true not only for Catholics and Evangelicals, but also for the Greek Orthodox, orthodox Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and anyone who holds to a traditional understanding of marriage in natural law, both as individuals and as supporters of such institutions as school, church, synagogue, mosque and temple. ...

Wait a second here - just what rights are we talking about here? Somebody show me where it says that "freedom of religion" gives anyone the right to spew some of the absolute crap that Dobson is so worried about.

There's one of two possibilities here - either they haven't actually read the statutes - especially Sections 318, 319 of the criminal code. In particular, I would draw your attention to S. 319(3), which reads:

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2)

(a) if he establishes that the statements communicated were true;

(b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;

(c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or

(d) if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada.

So, if you are establishing an argument based on religious texts, there is a clear exemption. (Of course, when spewing the propaganda points that such luminaries as Paul Cameron have vomited up, there's little that could be framed in terms of any scripture - bad science is still bad science, even when wrapped in Leviticus).

Thus, one must suspect that the bible thumping crowd that follow Dobson's line either knows damn good and well that their supposed "religious opinions" are well beyond the line and really are hate propaganda, or that they are utterly ignorant of the wording of S319 3(b).

In the first case, it's time to reconsider the messages being published, isn't it?

In the second case, it really is time to start reading the laws before making false claims about it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Terrible Human Price of Conflict

Go, read

I cannot add anything to this except my utter dismay at the cavalier way in which our politicians in both Canada and the US shrug these kinds of events and stories off.

Case Studies In Why HRC's Exist

Today's case study comes to us from none other than The Ezra himself.

Most of his post is his perceptions of a hearing in the Marc Lemire case currently before the federal CHRC. Since I wasn't present at the hearing, I'm not going to comment on Ezra's stated perception of how things went. There's lots of accounts out there if you wish to sift through them all.

However, I'm going to pick on the most fetid part of Levant's posting, where he goes on the attack against one of the tribunal's investigators:

Which brings us to the matter of Steacy himself. He's blind, and he has an assistant help him function -- no doubt a double-expense that the CHRC regards as a source of pride and a symbol of how the rest of society ought to work. I think it's great that Steacy is still working despite his handicap. But being an investigator, especially where the matters investigated are words and symbols and intricate websites, requires eyesight. Keeping a lead investigator who is blind isn't just an act of supreme political correctness, it's an act that so obviously risks the integrity of the commission's work. Again, if it helps, imagine if an investigator hunting real crimes, not thought crimes, were blind. It's inconceivable that any defence lawyer wouldn't immediately object to any of the evidence that such an investigator collected, on the grounds that it was flawed; I can't imagine any criminal judge accepting such evidence -- if it related to anything important, it would simply provide "reasonable doubt" to any charge, and yield an acquittal. It's so ridiculous, it wouldn't even fly in a fictional TV show, even the most politically correct of the Law and Order series just wouldn't be able to have a blind investigator without fans jeering "yeah, right".

Apparently, it's vastly beyond Ezra's ability to imagine that a blind person could do their job effectively. I'm not blind myself, but I went through my undergraduate degree with a blind man in many of my classes. Although there were certainly places where he struggled with things, he was unquestionably smart, and very creative in his solution to the various problems that his visual difficulties presented in dealing with material which often was described in very visual terms. Sorry Ezra, but your inability to imagine someone doing a job or role doesn't mean that they can't do it - period.

Frankly, if anything, this tells us more about Ezra himself and why he hates the HRC process so much. Quite simply, Ezra himself is so filled with his own self-importance that he will do anything possible to continue justifying his stance - including attacking someone for their disability, when he obviously knows somewhere between very little and nothing about how the individual does their job.

I hope nobody with a disability of any sort ever applies to work in Ezra's office - I can hardly imagine a more hostile environment to end up working in. (But then, I suspect that like a 'white supremacist' won't hire a black man, Ezra wouldn't hire someone with disabilities - it would be too laughable for him to imagine that they might be able to do a job at all, much less do so effectively)

While being blind doesn't render someone stupid, it would seem that Ezra's ego renders him blind.

Friday, March 28, 2008

For the TAG File

One more entry in the 'Truly Awful Government' (TAG) file.

Remember last election, when PMSH was up on his hind legs yapping about accountability and open government? Well, once again, we get another illustration of how big of a lie that line really was.

This time, Opposition Members are barred from NATO delegation.

Now, for a moment, you can almost look at this and say "well, being a NATO summit, it's really government business", right? Well yes, but the opposition is part of the government. Traditionally, a certain number of opposition MPs are part of these delegations for the express purpose of ensuring that the governing party is accountable in the House of Commons.

An honest government doesn't have anything to hide at such a summit. PMSH, however, clearly does - as it is far from the first time that he has tried to freeze out Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition from involvement in these affairs.

For a party that talks about "grassroots" democracy, and accountable government, the HarperCon$ continue to repeatedly show us that their idea of "democracy" is closer to autocracy under the Cult of His Odiousness, PMSH.

Stephane, It's Time ...

I like Stephane Dion. I don't have a problem with his English (my French is much, much worse!), generally speaking I like what he has to say and his obvious intelligence.

However, it's becoming more and more clear that he has not been able to heal the rifts in the Liberal party, nor does he appear to have the ability to effectively counter the tactics of the Con$.

I believe he's a good man, and in a different time would be an excellent leader - but Dion's era is not today. The guttersnipes of today's politics are not his natural habitat, and unfortunately he isn't a compelling enough figure in his own right to persuade others to follow him beyond the attraction of his ideas.

Dion has taken some good shots at the Con$, but he's not consistent about it. He doesn't appear to get the idea that in today's world, you have to find a stance and hammer on it. It's not like the HarperCon$ haven't provided more than enough fodder to go after.

Unless I miss my guess, the failure to establish a message and stick to it is a big part of the reason for the continuation of the rifts in the party.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

When Does Religious Practice Become Neglect?

The story itself is tragic for all involved. An 11 year old girl died from undiagnosed diabetes.

Why did it go undiagnosed? Because the parents belong to a church that eschews medical treatment. This differs somewhat from the cases in recent years where youthful Jehovah's witnesses have refused treatments in that the child was never taken to a doctor in the first place, and the option to refuse treatment never existed.

As adults, we are all free to choose for ourselves if we seek treatment for a condition. Our children do not enjoy such a liberty. In fact, as parents, we have a responsibility to our children to ensure that in fact our offspring are looked after to the best of our ability.

Praying for your children is fine, and in its way, admirable. Doing so in hopes of divine intervention when your child is clearly ill, and doing so in place of a trip to the doctor is beyond horrifying. It ignores the old adage - "The Lord helps those who help themselves" to deny your child every chance of survival. We aren't talking about someone who lives in isolation on a mountainside somewhere, but an ordinary family living in an area with access to a doctor.

Religious freedom is a wonderful thing, but it does not grant anybody the unfettered right to neglect their children. If your child is not well, get them to a doctor - regardless of what your faith tells you. In the best case, nothing is seriously wrong; in the worst case, you can at least make an informed decision about treatment. No decision is neglect, no matter what your faith is.

Someone Take Ralph Off The Stage

Jeepers, but Ralph is just an embarrassment to both Alberta and Canada.

He's talking of his "commitment" to francophone culture in Alberta (Ralph's commitment to any form of culture that didn't involve fermenting something is suspect, IMO) and he says this:

The former premier told CBC News the award recognizes his commitment to French culture in Alberta, and shared this family memory: "My uncle was French. He had a son and a daughter.

"Their names were Romeo and Juliet — totally French — and they spoke French all the time and I was so mad at them for speaking French that I used to say, 'For God's sake, speak English.'"

Why do we insist on giving this overblown oaf a public platform upon which to show us his lack of tact?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Harper's World...

It seems that in the world of Stephen Harper and the HarperCon$, citizenship is conditional, and the government's willingness to support its citizens abroad is even more so conditional.

Since Harper came to power, there has been a string of cases where Harper has failed to intervene on behalf of Canadians held in dubious circumstances abroad. Whether we are talking about the Celil case in China, Brenda Martin in Mexico, or Omar Khadr detained in Guantanamo Bay, we have a string of cases where Harper's involvement has been superficial, late and ineffective.

In the case of Omar Khadr, we find the government trying to sidestep providing material to the Khadr defense team. Khadr is charged with some very serious crimes, and worse, Canadian officials have been active participants in interrogating the man (who has been rotting in US custody for six years or so now), and have copies of "evidence" that the US government will only allow access to a highly redacted version of.

Half-baked comments about national security issues are sophistry. The real issue here is whether or not Khadr stands even the faintest chance of a fair trial in Bush's extra-judicial system of show courts set up to handle these detainees. When Bush has gone out of his way to construct a court system that is deliberately stacked against the accused - while still having the ability to avail itself of the most drastic of punishments.

What is at issue here is not national security, but whether or not the HarperCon$ have even the slightest concept of what "fair trial" means, much less just how ludicrous it is to accuse someone of "war crimes" at the age of fifteen - especially in a combat zone! Given the number of attempts that Bush has made at concocting these bogus "courts", he's already in the very questionable game of making criminal law that is retroactive - and that doesn't even address the problems with concurrently claiming and denying military involvement on the part of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

As Canadians, we don't have to like the Khadr family's exploits, but we absolutely should be disgusted and horrified by the cavalier approach that the Harper government has taken towards Canadian citizens held in questionable circumstances abroad.

Score One For The Good Guys

I've said many times before that freedom of religion does not give someone the right to impose their religion upon others, especially not in a context where medical treatment is involved.

In recent years, there have been a spate of Pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions because of their religious beliefs. In one case in 2005, a pharmacist at a Wal Mart refused to fill prescriptions for birth control pills. When he was disciplined by his employer, he turned the whole business into a religous discrimination case. Finally, in Wisconsin's courts ruled against the man.

I did some more digging on the matter, and found this article which states the facts of the case much more clearly:

Before working at this store, the pharmacist provided a written statement to the acting pharmacy supervisor for Wal-Mart, explaining his religious convictions and stating that he would "decline to perform the provision of, or any activity related to the provision of, contraceptive articles," including "complete or partial cooperation with patient care situations which involve the provision of or counsel on contraceptive articles."3

The pharmacy supervisor understood these limitations to mean that the temporary pharmacist would not fill prescriptions for birth control. To accommodate this limitation, the supervisor relieved the pharmacist from "filling prescriptions for birth control, taking orders for birth control from customers or physicians, handing customer's birth control medication, and performing checks on birth control orders." The supervisor also arranged for birth control prescriptions to be sorted into a separate basket so that the pharmacist would not have to touch the items and ensured that someone would be available to fill orders and respond to customer inquiries concerning birth control.

Within a few days, the supervisor realized that these accommodations still did not satisfy the pharmacist because he refused to do anything related to patient care duties if it even remotely involved birth control. For example, when the pharmacist answered the telephone and the caller asked for a refill on a contraceptive prescription, he would put the caller on hold and not tell any other pharmacy personnel that there was a call waiting. When a patient came to the pharmacy counter and asked for a birth control prescription refill or asked for advice about anything related to the use of birth control products, the pharmacist would just walk away and again not inform the other staff that someone was waiting for assistance. He rationalized this behavior, stating that if he had to talk to anyone asking about birth control, he would always counsel against using contraception.

The supervisor then attempted to mollify the pharmacist further by offering to have him assist only individuals who came to the counter who were males or women not of childbearing age. Due to the high volume of telephone traffic, the pharmacist would still have to answer the phone. The pharmacist refused these further attempts of accommodation unless walk-in patients and phone calls were first prescreened by someone else to assure him that he would not have to deal with any birth control inquiries. The supervisor tried to placate the pharmacist by agreeing he would not have to talk to any walk-in patients but he would still have to take phone calls and refer the objectionable ones to someone else.

On the fifth day of employment at this pharmacy, it became clear that the pharmacist would not accept the accommodations proposed by the supervisor. Therefore, the supervisor terminated the pharmacist's employment. But the pharmacist refused to leave the store, and he began to vocally preach to customers in the pharmacy area that Wal-Mart was discriminating against him for his religious beliefs. The police were summoned, and he was physically carried out of the building. Remember the article published in the prior edition of this column? This gentleman was quite familiar with this treatment because he had done the same thing just a few months earlier in a pharmacy in Minnesota where he had worked as a pharmacy intern. In that case, he was charged with (and convicted of) criminal trespass and interference with legal process.

As is so often the case in these matters, it is often portrayed by the person claiming persecution as a singular incident. The reality is that we are often talking about a pattern of behaviour repeated in numerous different ways (a similar example is the case of Chris Kempling in Canada, who found himself on the receiving end of disciplinary actions after a series of events).

However, when we are talking about professions where one's position in the community puts a practitioner into situations where their personal values are at odds with what they are being asked to do, there is a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that the client is in fact looked after whether by the individual practitioner or another practitioner. Outright denial of service, or worse, providing undesired treatment (e.g. substituting a placebo for the desired drug) is plain wrong.

As pharmacists, we have an obligation to provide professional service to our patients and others involved with their care. Walking away from the counter or putting phone callers on hold without asking someone else to provide service or answers is simply not acceptable. It is easy to understand that a conscientious objector might think that helping somebody to find others willing to help them is just as bad as doing the acts they object to. But individual pharmacists cannot pick and choose who they want to assist. The law will protect people who object to certain practices, but if the objectors demand too many concessions from their employers, they should not be surprised when the law will not step in to mandate unreasonable accommodations. Indentured servitude no longer exists in this country, and no one is forced to accept employment where practices they object to go on. The better alternative is to find employment or conditions where you will not be expected to do something unconscionable.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Conservative Government - All Tactics, No Governance

The HarperCon$ are all about the politics of power, not governing Canada for the long term benefit of Canadians.

Today's outrageous statements by Finance Minister Flaherty underscore that point for us.

His comments reflect not the kind of "respectful" relations between the provinces and the Federal government as promised by Stephen Harper when he moved into the PMO, but instead reflect the kind of mean-spirited politics that the HarperCon$ have always played at. They do not even attempt to be constructive - instead they try to make their gains by denigrating others, running them down and generally being offensive.

It seems that the latest target of the HarperCon$ is the current government in Ontario, which does not subscribe to Flaherty's desire to continue the legacy of Ralph Klein and Mike Harris. So far, about the only file this government hasn't royally screwed up is the Washington file - and that's little more than a matter of sucking up to Bush by agreeing to tow whatever line Bush dictates.

Let's consider the Harper government track record for a moment:

Foreign Affairs:

- Let's see - where to start? Israel's invasion of Lebanon; trying to bully China about on human rights; Omar Khadr held without trial or access to a legitimate legal process; Brenda Martin's file in Mexico; or being the most obstructive player at talks on climate change?

Provincial Affairs:

- Besides Alberta, is there a province that Harper hasn't started a pissing match with? Perhaps two - Quebec and B.C. and I don't think B.C. has quite figured out the monumental screwing that the Softwood Lumber "deal" gave them. As for Quebec, Harper's even more desperate for votes in Quebec than he is for Bush Jr's approval.


- The flaws in the Conservative "crime bill" are many and manifest - starting with violations of key aspects of the legal system such as the supposition of innocence.

Human Rights:

- Let's start with defunding every government program that actually monitors the government on such matters, shall we? Not to mention supporting a private member's bill that directly assaults a woman's rights over her own body and her reproductive destiny.

- Little, or no, practical government intervention in cases where Canadian citizens are held in foreign countries without access to any kind of reasonable due process.

Dawkins on Expelled

Here's Richard Dawkins' review of the movie - go read.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Compassionate Conservatism - Harper Style

Like I should be surprised. CTV is reporting that Deputy Minister Helena Guergis went to Mexico in January to deal with the case of Ms. Martin - who has been held in Mexico for two years awaiting trial, and is rumored to be on the edge of emotional collapse.

Apparently the deputy minister decided that it would be a good idea to attend a cocktail party instead of actually trying to investigate Ms. Martin's situation and status:

But now some are wondering why Guergis opted to attend a reception in Guadalajara instead of visiting Martin at the Puente Grande women's prison, about 20 kilometres away.

Two attendees of the private function at the Camino Real Guadalajara hotel on Jan. 29 say Guergis arrived with Canada's ambassador to Mexico and local consular officials after 6 p.m.

About 20 Canadians were already there, said Dan McTavish, a retired Canadian living in Mexico.

"It was just a social gathering so that she could meet some of the retired Canadians living along the north shore of Lake Chapala,'' McTavish said.

"They provided hors d'oeuvres and drinks were served -- everything from soft drinks to anything you wanted, including a good bottle of Corona. It wasn't particularly fancy; it was very low-key, actually.''

Oh, isn't that nice - they put on a little soiree for the deputy minister.

Meanwhile, back at the prison, we learn the following:

Martin says it felt like ages.

She waited all day with close friend Debra Tieleman to hear from Guergis's aide, Axelle Pellerin, who accompanied the junior minister on the trip.

Early that morning, Pellerin sent Tieleman an e-mail, obtained by The Canadian Press, saying she and Guergis would arrive in Guadalajara at 2 p.m. and planned to stay for four hours.

"I have been told that there has been an extra meeting added to tomorrow afternoon,'' Pellerin wrote. "I will try to see how much time we have. I will at least try to arrange a phone call for you.''

Cellphone reception is spotty in the prison, so Tieleman left Martin around 4:30 p.m. to wait outside for Pellerin's call.

"Brenda called me and called me and called me and called me, saying 'Have you heard from them? Have you heard from them? What's going on?''' Tieleman said.

She said Pellerin e-mailed just after 6 p.m. saying she'd try to call "once we finish this one meeting.'' But Tieleman says she didn't hear from Pellerin until the next day.

So, not only was this soiree scheduled to follow a four hour visit with Martin at the prison, Guergis couldn't even both to show up!

Frankly, I don't care what Martin is charged with, the Harper government's conduct in this matter is yet another case study in a government that neither understands foreign affairs, nor do they give a damn about Canadians. The message here - if you are a Canadian travelling abroad, you're on your own. The HarperCon$ aren't interested in you, or the maltreatment you may receive at the hands of foreign governments.

Could this government get any more small-minded and mean-spirited without actually going out of its way?

The Canadian Taxpayers did NOT pay for Guergis to go to a cocktail party in Mexico. We paid for her trip to Mexico to engage in, and resolve a situation where a Canadian is being held under questionable circumstances. Did she do her job? NO. Instead of dealing with the matter at hand, she went to a "low key cocktail party" (well la de dah!). Not only should Guergis be fired, Canadians should, and must, fire Harper at the next election.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ha Ha Ha Ha !

Over at Pharyngula, we find out that blog owner PZ Myers tried to attend a screening of the movie Expelled, which is supposed to show us all of the evils of Evolution theory. Prof. Myers was denied entry to see the movie.

I can only imagine how truly awful Expelled really is, but you really do have to chuckle at the reality that its producers are so thin-skinned that they have a list of people that they don't want to see the movie.

Oh - I see that the New York Times has a story on this.

It doesn't say much for the "argument" that the movie is making when they are so afraid of someone poking holes in it (and thus making it look bad) that they specifically ban that person from the movie. Granted, Myers is sometimes less than gentle in his critiques, but that's the blogosphere - it's not necessarily the most genteel of places. (and I've seen my own share of the kind of unreasoning hostility that some are quite happy to dish out)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Consider The Messages...

Apparently in Outer Wingnuttia, it's big news that GLBT people are more likely to consult with doctors and mental health practitioners. Of course, what Lifesite and the geniuses over at Daddy Dobson's mouth organ want you to think is how awfully sick these people must be.

But, let us stop and consider the messages that GLBT people are subjected to on a near daily basis at the hands of so-called "Christians" for a moment:

Gay rights are destroying society, Gays are linked to pedophilia, GLBT folk don't deserve legal protection, Gays are "recruiting" in schools, You're so sick we don't even know what you are suffering from.

Or, for that matter, politicians publicly comparing GLBT people to terrorists:

You know, it’s not a lifestyle that is good for this nation. Matter of fact, studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. So it’s the death knell for this country. I honestly think it’s the biggest threat even, that our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat, okay.

(and then we hear the screams of outrage when upset GLBT people lose it - hmmm big surprise there. Note: I do not condone threats or physical violence)

On a near daily basis these stories come out it seems. Each and every time, the idiot uttering these statements claims to be doing so "as a Good Christian(™)". So, is it any wonder at all that GLBT people might consult with mental health practitioners to help them find coping strategies and to overcome the stress that these messages induce in their lives? No, it isn't.

Perhaps even more laughable is the fact that in the minds of these people, consulting a mental health professional is a bad thing - especially if you are man.

They jump with glee when the APA says that we do not know why people are gay, because it allows them to self-justify the meme that the christianists want to propogate that sexual identity is all about "choice" and "behaviour" (they carefully ignore the APA's wording which makes it clear that multiple interacting factors are likely involved) - which it isn't, and never has been. The christianist wants to self-justify abusive "therapies" and their "right" to dictate to the rest of the world how we should live (and no, heterosexual couples are not exempt from the ire of the moralizing christianist).

Is it any wonder at all that GLBT people face more mental health challenges than the "rest of the population"? I don't think so - a lifetime spent being told that one is "abnormal" (or worse) is bound to exact a price from those who are on the receiving end of that message. (Oddly, the very social pressures to conform are the first thing that GLBT people must shed - with it would come the fear associated with the mental health world - and that probably means that they are far more in touch with their feelings and emotional state than most people would be, a reality that means that they will be more willing to listen to a therapist as part of sorting out their feelings.)

They do not wish to admit that if people are allowed to live their lives openly and honestly, that the incidence of serious secondary mental health concerns drops off dramatically. In short, if we apply the old adage about "live and let live", there's generally going to be a lot less problems.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Digital Worlds and Academic Misconduct

I've been watching the case of a Ryerson University student who was accused of cheating for running a study group on Facebook. That student has been handed a harsh punishment, but not as severe as could have been the case.

My initial reaction was that Ryerson faculty had overreacted to the situation, after all students share notes all the time - it's a time honored tradition in university, and it can be a valuable way for students to learn from each other.

Then I started to think about it by reflecting on my own experience in University, and life since then.

I didn't do the "study group" thing much in University. I used to see people huddled around the table in the undergrad workroom, trying to come up with solutions to assignments, but for the most part, I preferred to solve things my own way - regardless of what "the herd" was doing. It made little sense to me to try and process other people's misunderstandings of the material - my own were confusing enough.

Today, I understand better the value that others get out of the collaboration process and how it plays into their learning styles.

However, there's quite a difference between a bunch of people whacking things around at a table and a Facebook page or other online facility.

Where the verbal exchange of ideas and understanding at a table is constructive at a certain level, it also requires each individual to actively process the information they are receiving - and make their own notes on the matter, the online experience does not require the same level of critical thought - and many will simply cut-and-paste the posted answer without actually bothering to understand it. (I know I've done similar things).

The second point I'd like to put forth is an observation from a series of experiments I did at work a few years ago. I was seeking feedback on a software design I was working on, but it was complex enough that the formal design document could easily "gloss over" things and they would be missed.

So, I published three versions of the design and distributed them randomly around my department. The first version had copies of hand sketches inserted into it where visual aids were needed; the second used simple line art (a la what the MS Office "drawing" capability can produce) and the third had very polished diagrams produced in Visio.

What I found is this:

a) The people who received the hand-sketch diagrams felt the most freedom to critique the design, and I got some wonderfully creative feedback from that stream.

b) The people who reviewed the "line art" version were somewhat less critical in their analysis, and missed several key design flaws that I knew were present. {but hadn't entirely solved at that point}

c) Those who received the most polished diagrams gave me very little feedback.

When I started polling my reviewers, what I found is that the "more polished" something looked, the less willing people were to criticize it. In essence, fewer people were willing to examine carefully the more polished looking works.

So, turning back to the use of environments like Facebook, I find myself wondering if this isn't closer to the "buy-a-paper" ghost writing services of the 1990s than it is to the study room experience. People posting "their solutions" will be putting up material that will appear to be complete - even if it is deeply wrong. The ability to simply cut-and-paste that material means that there is no action required to transcribe it that really involves the mind.

Digital representations tend to look finished, and people are less willing to criticize something that looks complete. At this point, we don't have a digital equivalent to pen-and-paper freehand (at least not that's terribly useful). Consequently, the kind of critical thought and analysis that university assignments should be provoking is actually much harder to do in a digital forum, and I would argue that it would be a small minority that would actively use the online forum appropriately.

I'm not saying that study groups in these environments cannot work, but rather that the student using such tools has a personal obligation NOT to simply cut-and-paste results into their own works. The reason is simple enough - University exists as a vehicle to teach people to think for themselves. Using "cut-and-paste" from your web browser is short changing the learning experience in so many dimensions, and the person who is short changed is not the instructor, but the student who doesn't do their own work.

In the Ryerson case, we also have to respect the fact that the instructor specifically asked for independent work to be done by the students. If the students were sharing solutions via Facebook, they were arguably not fulfilling the instructors directions for that assignment, and thus not achieving the learning objectives that underly those directions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Did Dion See His Shadow?

Or is it six more months of Tory Winter?

The by-election results across Canada last night weren't exactly terribly convincing of anything for the Liberals. But then again, as much as I like Dion for his intellect, he hasn't exactly convinced me of much in recent months.

Perhaps Dion wants an election on "ideas" (and as someone who desperately wants a better grade of politician in the House, I'd love to see it), but the fact is that we need someone who is willing to throw Harper's BS back in his face - as hard and as fast as he can produce it.

You don't "play nice guy" with bullies and thugs - they don't get it. Harper has assembled a government that reminds me far too much of the roving band of thugs that came from a nearby Junior High school when we first moved into the neighborhood I grew up in. That was the year that I learned that thugs neither understand nor respect intelligence. The only thing they understand is a bigger club - preferably one that delivers a wallop to them that they'll never forget.

Dion's going to have to become a whole lot scrappier in the public arena if he wants to bring Harper down a peg or ten - something that so far I haven't seen any evidence of.

Meanwhile, my erstwhile MP, Jason Kenney, finally deigned to send out one of his infrequent communications to the constituency - this time in the form of a "do you support Bill C-2" questionnaire. As usual, the "questionnaire" is a one question "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" special - surprisingly typical for the HarperCon$, and utterly meaningless drivel, bragging about the "strong leadership" of the HarperCon$ - *hurk!*

The materials out there to take the Con$ down with - it's up to Dion and the other opposition leaders to actually use it. (and yes, that includes Jack Layton - who has been far too busy sniping at the Liberals to bother worrying about the ineptitude of the HarperCon$)

NARTH - Bad Science Masquerading

When an article appeared on NARTH's website entitled "Transsexuality Explained", I braced myself for some pretty awful reasoning ... I wasn't disappointed.

Just as NARTH wants people to believe that homosexuality is "abnormal" and "curable", they would dearly like us all to believe that transsexualism is somehow invalid. (Go ask a transsexual sometime how they feel about someone else declaring their entire life experience "invalid")

The author of this boldly titled paper is Sander J. Breiner - a man who's involvement in sexuality appears to start and end with NARTH, most of his online CV is in domains well outside the domain, much less focused on the highly specialized field of gender identity. This gap in Breiner's background is significant because it influences his analysis of evidence that he cites.

I'll scroll to the end of Breiner's argument to start with because it contains an important gem that reveals his assumptions:

However, when an adult who is normal in appearance and functioning believes there is something ugly or defective in their appearance that needs to be changed, it is clear that there is a psychological problem of some significance.

The more pervasive and extensive is this misperception of himself, the more significant is the psychological problem. The more the patient is willing to do extensive surgical intervention (especially when it is destructive), the more serious is the psychological problem.

Superficially, Breiner is almost sounding reasonable here. However, in making this claim, he is confusing two distinct diagnostic categories. He is claiming (quite incorrectly) that Gender Identity Disorder as a variation of Body Dismorphic Disorder.

Let's consider the key criteria for both for a moment:

Body Dismorphic Disorder:

A. Preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance. If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person's concern is markedly excessive.

B. The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

C. The preoccupation is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., dissatisfaction with body shape and size in Anorexia Nervosa).

Gender Identity Disorder:

A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex). In children, the disturbance is manifested by four (or more) of the following:

(1) repeatedly stated desire to be, or insistence that he or she is, the other sex
(2) in boys, preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; in girls, insistence on wearing only stereotypical masculine clothing
(3) strong and persistent preferences for cross-sex roles in make-believe play or persistent fantasies of being the other sex
(4) intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex
(5) strong preference for playmates of the other sex. In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as a stated desire to be the other sex, frequent passing as the other sex, desire to live or be treated as the other sex, or the conviction that he or she has the typical feelings and reactions of the other sex.

B. Persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex. In children, the disturbance is manifested by any of the following: in boys, assertion that his penis or testes are disgusting or will disappear or assertion that it would be better not to have a penis, or aversion toward rough-and-tumble play and rejection of male stereotypical toys, games, and activities; in girls, rejection of urinating in a sitting position, assertion that she has or will grow a penis, or assertion that she does not want to grow breasts or menstruate, or marked aversion toward normative feminine clothing. In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as preoccupation with getting rid of primary and secondary sex characteristics (e.g., request for hormones, surgery, or other procedures to physically alter sexual characteristics to simulate the other sex) or belief that he or she was born the wrong sex.

C. The disturbance is not concurrent with a physical intersex condition.

D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

What I'd like to draw your attention to is the fact that the emphasis NOT upon the physiology, but in fact upon the social role associated with a given gender:

A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex).

B. Persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.

Which is dramatically at odds with Body Dismorphic Disorder, where the focus is very much upon the physical manifestation of the body:

A. Preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance. If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person's concern is markedly excessive.

The point I'm trying to get to here is that when we are talking about transsexualism, we are talking more about the social role which an individual lives in far more than the physical changes that are associated with the condition, and that is such a key distinction that it calls into question a great deal of Dr. Breiner's analysis.

Individually, the topics that Breiner attempts to string together to arrive at his conclusion that in fact a transsexual is not a transsexual suffer from some basic logical errors, and inferences that simply do not hold up to scrutiny.

The transsexual male, who was not part of a university/medical school treatment program, will often take hormone treatment (self-prescribed and administered); and play a feminine role with unsuspecting heterosexual males (often as a prostitute). They will play the part as if they are a passive feminine object. Their approach has many masochistic behavioral qualities. However, their thinking about how they are tricking, fooling and using others has a clearly sadistic dynamic. Their histories almost invariably demonstrate a mother figure who is at least domineering, manipulative and controlling.

This is quite amusing, as it is filled with a series of completely invalid assumptions and associations.

1. Inference: Many transsexuals are prostitutes. Although there are sex-trade workers who are transsexual, they are often in that world out of economic necessity, rather than out of any real choice.

2. Claim: Transsexuals come from dysfunctional backgrounds. This is so blatantly false it isn't even funny. By far the majority come from perfectly normal family backgrounds. Although some percentage may well have bad family histories, such sweeping generalizations simply don't hold together when you explore the stories of these people more rationally.

3. In emphasizing a specific subgroup of the overall population of transsexuals, Breiner is creating the false association between gender identity and sexual identity - suggesting by inference that there is an enormous physical, sexual component to the psychological motivations involved. Again, as with Michael Bailey's thinking, Breiner has made the very fundamental error of inferring that this is very fundamental to the picture when it is not.

Breiner goes on to discuss "his experiences" with a gender identity program at Wayne State University, which I can find no trace of either the program nor of Breiner's participation in it. (If any readers out there are familiar with this program, please feel free to pass on what you know - if you have references to it, that would be great!)

My clinical experience in participating with the Wayne State University program has been corroborated by others at the University as well as at Johns Hopkins University, a medical school even larger and with a longer-lasting program.

Of course, what Breiner isn't telling us here is that most of the formalized "Gender Clinic" programs run by University and hospital organizations gradually closed down over the late 1980s and early 1990s. Why? In part because they had run their course as useful constructs for both transsexual patients and the legitimate need to have a more rigorous understanding of the condition itself. This doesn't mean that treatment doesn't exist, but that it has taken on a more flexible form with the individual patient an active participant in the progression.

However, let us move on to examining Breiner's observations about the outcomes of those formalized programs, shall we?

He is a well spoken and reasonable, dependable historian; well spoken and seemingly reasonable in all areas -- except how he feels about himself in terms of his gender and his body image. He describes himself as somehow feeling that something inside is trying to come out -- that somehow or other -- the real self is being restricted and limited.

This is actually a surprisingly reasonable statement in itself. It is hardly surprising given the social taboos that wrap around the often conjoined subjects of gender and sexuality that an adult will present a cautiously worded, almost hesitant sounding description of themselves and their emotional state. That there would be room for "doubts" to be examined is easily understood as a perfectly rational response to a lifetime spent avoiding themselves.

All tests by psychologists and psychiatrists in testing his judgment of reality (except in his body image) is within normal limits. There is no evidence of psychosis or any significant problems in any other area than his body image (related to gender only). He is cooperative and patient and helpful in his manner. His only area of insistence is concerning his belief about his body and the need to become a woman. He is not afraid of psychological and psychiatric evaluation. However, he is not interested in intensive psychoanalytic/psychotherapy for a period of months or years. He firmly believes that his problem is not psychological but that it is truly on an organic basis.

Around about this point, Breiner starts to go awry, and either has misunderstood or misrepresented his clients. I suspect that a lot of patients have never really considered the origins of their condition when they present for treatment. However, it is also quite understandable that many would assume that feelings that had followed them since early childhood would be seen as having some very fundamental cause. What Breiner should be taking away from this observation is the fact that transsexuals often present with feelings that they have struggled with ever since they were very young. Feelings which have caused them a great deal of anxiety and distress, and that no matter what the patient has tried have resurfaced some time later.

Further, by the time the patient is asking for clinical help, what the client believes to be the "origins" of their state is quite immaterial.

Initially, there is less tension and discomfort psychologically experienced by the patient. He begins to feel better about himself and hopeful about his future as a woman. Despite the physical, social and economic discomforts, he is positive and cooperative in every way in the program. ...Between six months to two years following the completion and healing of the surgery the surgeons begin to request more evaluations from the psychiatric division of this program. The surgeons do not understand what is transpiring because the patient is now asking for more surgery.

This is an interesting pattern that Breiner is putting forward. It feels a little too anecdotal to me. Although there are some number of patients who do pursue additional surgery to address various physical issues that they feel make them 'less than ideal' in their chosen gender, Breiner merely gives us the anecdote without really putting forth any concrete evidence that measures the frequency of such occurrances, nor does he address what the psychiatric evaluations he alludes to found.

I think Breiner would be wise to consider the intense pressure that society exerts upon women to be "beautiful" by often arbitrary standards. Given that a Male to Female transsexual comes to life in the world of women with a few "handicaps" by the common measures of beauty, it should come as little surprise that some will resort to drastic measures to conform. Looking more rationally, it's hardly as if genetic women don't engage in similar practices.

Having presented us with an anecdotal "pattern", Breiner brings us to his grand revelation about transsexuality:

At this point in the process, I, along with other psychoanalyst colleagues concluded that the disturbed body image was not an organic at all, but was strictly a psychological problem. It could not be solved by organic manipulation [surgery, hormones], no matter how well intentioned or brilliantly successful it was done.

Rationally speaking, current medical interventions intended to assist transsexuals are limited in scope and the outcomes are necessarily imperfect. Whether the root cause of transsexualism is organic (e.g. a genetic variation or a difference in brain structure) is almost irrelevant, in my view. If the cause is "purely psychological", that doesn't invalidate the basic path of treatment - especially in the absence of any reasonable alternatives in treatment.

But the significance of the psychological difficulty should not be minimized by a patient's seeming success socially and professionally in other areas. This principle of isolated significant psychopathology indicating serious psychological problems (despite their ability to function in all other areas of life) is well known psychiatrically, historically, and by the judiciary.

This conclusion became so well established at Wayne State University that the program was eventually discontinued. The much larger and more extensive program at Johns Hopkins University and medical school in Baltimore, Maryland was discontinued for the same reason.

In short, Breiner would like us not to provide relief to transsexuals because he believes that there is some "underlying, unknown" psychopathology that has not yet been identified. We know that that transsexuals aren't delusional in any clinical sense, nor by his own experience, has there been any significant evidence of other serious psychological problems - just the distress that results from a lifetime spent feeling as though one should be living in a different gender role.

While Breiner's hypothesis that there is some "deep underlying psychopathology" involved that is driving the patient, his claim is just that - a claim. Since Christine Jorgensen became a public figure in the 1950s, we have the work of a great many people that do not provide evidence of "hidden" psychological issues.

In fact, Breiner is violating the principles of Occam's Razor by supposing some unknown pathology. Most of what he is raising as points to suggest that transsexualism isn't real are readily explained in terms of the social and societal pressures that shape the lives of every person in this world, and are hardly surprising or necessarily unique to transsexuals.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fort McMurray Is All Upset

Apparently the PC riding association in Fort McMurray is all upset because Guy Boutellier was dropped from Cabinet.

On CBC this morning, they had the riding association president on, and after listening to this woman, I was actually quite annoyed by her assertions.

(1) Fort McMurray is experiencing _all_ of the pain that the current oil boom is creating.

This is so utterly absurd it's almost funny. Anyone who has tried looking for moderately priced housing in Calgary or Edmonton knows this. Fort McMurray certainly started experiencing that crunch well before Calgary or Edmonton.

(2) People in "The South"(™) have access to all the infrastructure in the world

No. Not even close. From where I live, the nearest hospital is close to a half hour drive; and as anyone who tried driving through Calgary's rush hour will attest to, our road system is badly overburdened. I'm not saying that Fort McMurray doesn't have these problems too, but when the claim is made that it's "all good" in Calgary, or that nobody except Fort McMurray feels this pain is made, it's a suspect claim at best.

(3) The 60% of Alberta Voters that didn't bother to vote endorsed the PC's

This couldn't be a more erroneous statement. If the PC's are going to govern as if 80% of the voters spoke in favor of them, we are in for a long, dark period in Alberta's history. Given the voter turnout last election, if I was the PC's I'd be looking at running as if it was a minority government. Just over 20% of voters spoke in favor of the PCs - nearly 60% couldn't be bothered to engage - think on it PCs, you have no idea what that 60% are really thinking.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dear Stephane,

It's time to grow a spine and bring down the HarperCon$ - on their track record for transparency and honesty.

Not only have you stood by while Bill C-484 was before the house for first reading; but you have also allowed a crime bill so deeply flawed to pass with barely a comment. Now, we find the Con$ sliding significant changes to the immigration act into the budget implementation legislation.

This is happening to subvert democracy, to stifle debate. Like Harper's "SLAPP" lawsuit over the Cadman affair, it is simply another example of how the Conservatives lack the fundamental honesty and openness to govern. It is time to bring them down - allowing Harper to govern one day longer than absolutely necessary is bad for Canada and Canadians.

... not that I'm holding my breath that Dion will actually do something...

Druh Farrell Hits The Flouride Panic Button

This story popped up last week, and I had the rather annoying experience of listening to Alderman Farrell breathlessly describe the "horrible" consequences of over consumption of fluoride, and how we can't "control" the dosage our children receive if they drink water that has been fluoridated.

There's a couple of issues that I have with Alderman Farrell's hitting the panic button as she has done.

First, neither her website, nor any of the articles on the subject actually cite the studies that she is referring to. Second, while talking about "over dosage", she clearly doesn't know what that means, nor does she state what the dosage that the Calgary is using in the water supply. (Unless I miss my guess, it's a close relative of what the CDC recommends).

Additionally, she was claiming that the studies identified correlations between fluoridation and a number of conditions such as osteoporosis, and numerous other issues. The problem with such correlations is that they quietly ignore the fact that correlation is not equivalent to causation. While I have no real problem with the criticism that too much Fluoride can cause serious problems. But when we look at the levels the CDC and EPA talk about - 0.7-1.2 ppm (0.7 - 1.2 mg/L) - Calgary's standards for water govern Fluoride at the range 0.59-0.77 mg/L, with an upper limit of 1.5 mg/L, which is quite conservative.

Toxicity ranges talk in terms of 20-40mg/day, presumably over a prolonged period of time. Turning back to the numbers above, an individual would have to consume some 20-40 Litres of water PER DAY. I dare say that few people drink that much water at all! Even if one looks at the much higher concentrations in toothpaste, most people use a few millilitres of toothpaste a day, nowhere near a full Litre. (which would probably be somewhat toxic for reasons other than the Fluoride dose, I suspect).

When I started writing this article, I expected to find a sizable body of persuasive evidence indicating severe consequences from fluoridation, instead, what I find is that the bulk of credible research is reflected in the CDC, including evaluations of risks and toxicity.

Intriguingly, even the National Acadamies of Sciences report (which may be what Alderman Farrell is blathering on about makes several interesting comments in their conclusions:

The committee did not evaluate the risks or benefits of the lower fluoride concentrations (0.7 to 1.2 mg/L) used in water fluoridation. Therefore, the committee’s conclusions regarding the potential for adverse effects from fluoride at 2 to 4 mg/L in drinking water do not apply at the lower water fluoride levels commonly experienced by most U.S. citizens.

In other words, unless you are consuming water with excessively high levels of flouride (some well water perhaps) for an extended period of time, the "risks" that Alderman Farrell is freaking out about are minimal, meanwhile there are benefits in other areas. (The CDC's statistics suggest that for every dollar spent annually on Fluoridation, we save over $50 in reduced dental problems) {Oh yes, before anyone starts making the claim that the hazards of fluoridation have not been adequately studied, the CDC has over fifty years worth of raw data - think about it}

The evidence against fluoridation is talking about much greater volumes of Fluoride in the water than is typically being dealt with in the municipal water supply - even with fluoridation in place.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Shorter Barbara Kay: Feminists are SOOOO awful

It appears that the National Post wants to descend below the intellectual depths that Wingnut Daily currently occupies.

Besides doing a "wingnuts on parade" editorial sequence drawing from such intellectual luminaries as Kathy Shaidle, we have the latest bit of near-psychotic stupidity from Barbara Kay published on Wednesday.

According to Ms. Kay's slightly rancid reasoning, anyone who objects to Bill C-484 is engaging in "hysterics".

nderstood as irrational emotional flailing about whenever public discussion touches on a woman's fruitful uterus, Hippocrates' neologism is spot on. Try to say out loud in this country that what's in a woman's pregnant belly is a human being, not a blob of tissue, and hysteria emerges in three interesting variations.

She then goes into a series of utterly brain dead defenses of Bill C-484 - such as the following:

Until now, a woman and her fetus have been treated as a single legal person. By laying two criminal charges in a pregnant woman's murder, C-484 will validate the unborn baby's existential human uniqueness.

Now, either Ms. Kay's lost her ability to grasp the very complex issues that Bill C-484 opens, or she's choosing to blithely ignore them. First of all, Bill C-484 infers a degree of "personhood" upon a fetus still growing in the womb. The first question that I would have to ask is at what point in pregnancy does that recognition take effect? Biology understand the process of gestation pretty well, but the process itself is somewhat imprecise. Law requires a fair degree of precision in such matters, and I find it hard to believe that it's anywhere near so simple.

Second, the moment we confer a discrete notion of "person" to the still-biologically dependent fetus, our legal system confers a series of rights and obligations. In such a situation, we have in effect taken a pregnant woman's autonomy over her body, and the pregnancy itself away from her. At what point is the "unborn child" (to borrow Ms. Kay's somewhat noxious terminology) a "tenant" in the mother's womb? What are the mother's legal obligations in such a situation? What are the fetus' obligations? If this starts to sound a little ridiculous, it's because it is. Bill C-484 confers a status upon an entity that cannot exercise its apparent legal status as a distinct entity from its mother.

An Environomics poll suggests that 75% of Canadian women approve of the bill. As Suzanne Fortin of the Family Coalition Party of Ontario (herself pregnant) wrote in these pages Monday, "Bill C-484 is a common-sense bill that would address the true nature of a woman's relationship with her fetus."

I call bullshit on that claim. Bill C-484 is not "common sense", it is a direct and blatant attack not merely upon those who would do harm by intent to a pregnant woman (a pretty vile creature to begin with), but further it is a direct attack upon the a woman's right to make her own moral and ethical decisions with respect to her pregnancy. The provision of that legal status as "distinct", this bill creates a legal pretext under which a woman could be detained in custody on the grounds that she intended to harm the fetus she was carrying. (No Bill C-484 doesn't say this explicitly, but once you create the notion that a fetus which is biologically dependent upon its mother is distinct from its mother, the door to such moves has certainly been opened.)

But wait: Women were not "legal persons" until 1929. That didn't mean that before 1929 their husbands had the right to kill them.

Here's where Kay tips her hand about the real intent of Bill C-484. The comparison with women's suffrage in the early 20th century is utterly bogus. While a fetus is unable to exercise or express its rights as a distinct being from its mother until after it has been born, a woman is an adult human being and is physiologically distinct from her husband. Also, Ms. Kay might want to consider that men certainly did have the right to beat their wives (quite legally, actually) up until relatively recently. (and sadly, far too many went well beyond slapping someone - and some still do).

Bill C-484 is in fact about restricting a woman's access to abortion - largely on the assertion that a pregnant woman is not capable of making a rational, moral decision on her own.

that mother and fetus are one person because their biological systems operate symbiotically -- well, the same is true of Siamese twins, indisputably two human beings. If one is murdered, and the other dies in consequence, should only one charge be laid?

Again, this is a false comparison. Not only legally, but biologically, we recognize conjoined twins as distinct beings for good reason. Short of major surgery, the co-dependency of such twins simply cannot be resolved - it is a lifelong condition - literally. This is quite distinct from the biological process of gestation which has a discrete end point called birth, at which point the fetus becomes a distinct individual separate from its mother, and able to begin to express itself - and thus exercise the rights that legal recognition as a distinct entity provides in law.

In spite of the weakly phrased provisos in Bill C-484, the bill does not protect medical professionals from investigation and charge under that law. All that someone has to do is come up with an argument that the doctor is "attacking" the woman (thus committing a crime of sorts) in any situation where some kind of medical intervention is involved in the pregnancy. (e.g. in-utero surgery where the fetus dies comes to mind as an example). If you think it's hard finding an ob-gyn today, just wait for C-484 to become law.

The intellectual cupboards of the no-abortion-constraints crowd are bare. Their fallback position has become ever more unworthy of enlightened democrats: censorship, personal attack and scare-mongering. Such is their logical desperation, they prefer to advocate that murderers escape justice rather than admit that an unborn child is a human being.

Incorrect, Barbara. What today's feminists will not tolerate is a return to the deadly era of "back alley" abortions, or of male-dominated medical panels evaluating whether or not they should be "granted permission" to end a pregnancy. Ill-worded, poorly conceived legislation that underneath it all is nothing more than an attempt to return us to that era is unacceptable - Bill C-484 is so poorly thought out that it didn't (and doesn't) deserve to have passed first reading in the House of Commons.

If Bill C-484 was written to exact greater punishments if a criminal attack disrupted the gestation process, that would be a much different thing, as the bill itself would then be framed correctly in terms of the mother carrying the fetus. Instead, it grants a status to the fetus that is not logically tenable unless your long term objective is to guarantee that the moment a woman becomes pregnant that she is nothing more than Herbert-esque Axlotl Tank. (If you haven't read Herbert's "Dune" saga, go read it - followed by reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale if you want some idea of just how horribly wrong-headed Bill C-484 is in its implications.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

So, PMSH, Who's Paying For This ?

So, Harper's gone ahead with his lawsuit against the Liberals over the Cadman affair.

The first thing I'd like to know is just who is paying Mr. Harper's legal expenses here. It better damned well not be the taxpayers of this nation.

Second, I'd like to point out that considering the kind of crap that his bunch have thrown about in their 'attack ads' aimed at Dion, I wonder how much of those ads counts as libelous using the kind of farcical sophistry that Dear Leader has adopted to justify his lawsuit against the Liberals. I can only imagine.

Not only is it extremely rare for the PM to sue anyone while sitting in office, it's beyond rare to sue the opposition in a sitting parliament.

From where I sit, this looks like still more thuggery from a two bit PM who has shown repeatedly that he can't handle one bit of criticism aimed his way. As Canadians, we should be worried about this lawsuit, as it tells us not only something about the character of the current government, but it also is nothing more than an attempt to ensure that an issue related to this government is not discussed openly in the public eye.

Wingnut Daily - The Vox Day Edition

I made the mistake of wandering through Wingnut Daily's columns today. Bad, bad mistake. I tripped over a column that oozed its way out of the fetid imagination of Vox Day (yes, for those who understand a bit of latin his pen name is a bad pun).

His column, entitled The real assault on science descends below the depths of irrationality I thought were reserved for Michael Coren.

First of Vox Day blathers on about how the "primarily Christian" United States produces "more science" than a lot of other secular nations. Well, true enough - sort of. What Day is likely unaware of is how much ground the US has lost in the 'science and innovation' department in the last few years - especially as the rabid religious groups have been horrendously disruptive in a number of key areas of the biosciences (and we won't ignore the other export of Christian Wingnuttia - "Intelligent Design".

After blithely claiming that religion doesn't stand in the way of science at all (a statement written more in hubris than any sense of reality), he then turns to what he thinks is truly a threat to science - feminism:

But this is not to say there is not a genuine threat to all three aspects of science today. Unsurprisingly, it comes from the same force that is the primary threat to the survival of Western civilization: female equalitarianism.

Okay...let's see where Vox derives that from, shall we?

despite the fact that women already earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees, 59 percent of master's degrees and a majority of doctorates.

I see - so women are becoming more educated, and somehow this is a threat to science?

The bizarre propositions of equalitarianism always sound harmless and amusing at first because they are so absurd. What the rational observer often fails to understand, however, is that these propositions don't sound the least bit absurd to the equalitarian proponent because the average equalitarian is fundamentally an intellectual cave-dweller with no more interest in reason or capacity for logical thought than a hungry kitten.

So, first off he wants you to dismiss the notions of what he misnames "equalitarianism" because he thinks that the advocates for it are largely irrational. Classic - you can't address the actual arguments, so you attack whoever is putting the argument forward. It's usually a good clue that what follows next will be filled with assertions that are jaw-droppingly ridiculous - and Vox doesn't let us down...

The idea of biology classes being taught by lesbian professors who believe that heterosexual procreation is a myth or calculus courses being taught by women who can't do long division may sound impossible today

Since I'm quite sure that there are plenty of lesbians in the biological sciences, and I very much doubt that any of them question the science of procreation, I'd suggest Vox's first claim is crap. The second claim is built up on the utterly bogus social stereotype that women find maths hard to deal with. But, I don't you to entirely reject Vox's hypothesis on the basis of two silly assertions.

but tell that to any software developer, and he'll be able to provide you with plenty of current examples of computer science engineers, some with advanced CS degrees, who have no idea how to even begin writing a computer program.

Oh please. Every software engineer out there thinks that they have a lock on "the correct" way to write software - and that all other developers are idiots. Of course, Day wants to infer that in particular women are exceptionally bad at it. The reality is that women are just as capable in that field as men are.

Women love education; it's the actual application they don't particularly like. Whereas the first thought of a woman who enjoys the idea of painting is to take an art appreciation class, a similarly interested man is more likely to just pick up a paintbrush and paint something – usually a naked woman. I don't even know where to begin with this. I'm tempted to hand that claim around the office here and see just what is said. This is a variation on the rather silly claim that because there are more men labelled "genius" than there are women that women are somehow less creative. Of course, anyone who has travelled through either the arts or the sciences will have long ago realized that men have no lock on creativity, wisdom or genius.

Between 1988 and 2004, Title IX caused the elimination of 239 NCAA Division One men's teams and the addition of 682 women's teams.

Ah, so sports is a barometer for intellectual success? Not. Oh wait, that's not Vox's point - he's really complaining because a system that was set up on 19th century assumptions is being changed to reflect modern realities - in short Vox doesn't like the fact that women are demanding to be treated as social equals.

Because they are the intellectual driving force of humanity, men will be fine.

That's quite a bold assertion - one that is rooted in a misunderstanding of history. Vox is no doubt looking through history and claiming that all of the "great discoveries" were made by men. While credit for those discoveries may well lie with men, we have to reflect on the cold hard reality that most of recorded history comes from patriarchy-based social structures, and the "credit" for a lot of discoveries may rest with men, but in doing so we ignore the fact that women were often held in subjugation until fairly recently, or that men simply assumed ownership of any contributions women made.

It is written that "women ruin everything"; having destroyed the liberal arts, the classics and the pseudo-sciences, it is now abundantly clear that the more rigorous sciences are next on the equalitarians' destructive agenda.

I don't even know where to go with that little bit of utter stupidity. It's pure assertion, derived from other assertions. I can only imagine that if Mr. Beale is in fact married that his wife is living in a new kind of hell - fortunately, I can't find any evidence that he is married - and few enough women would want anything to do with a clod who is so obviously misogynistic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stelmach's Slightly New(er) Cabinet

So, "Steady Eddie" has declared his new Cabinet today.

The first things that I noticed were this:

1) Holy bloated cabinet! - 24 ministers. Yikes - that's right up there with Ralph at his largest.
2) Ten "Parliamentary Assistants" to help out those oh-so-earnest cabinet ministers.

Essentially, Ed has made just about half of his party caucus - can any body else hear the pork barrels being cracked open?

There's a few random bits about the individual assignments in the cabinet:

(1) Ron Stevens - International and Intergovernmental Affairs

While I can understand that there is a need to coordinate between governments, I have something of a problem with the fact that Alberta's government seems to think it needs what amounts to a foreign affairs department.

(2) Alison Redford - Attorney General / Justice

We've just handed one of the highest profile positions in Cabinet to a neophyte MLA - what gives? That smacks of almost being a patronage appointment - although I suppose he could have handed the portfolio to Ted Morton, and it doesn't take much imagining to guess what rancid direction he'd like to go.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's a Sin Unless A Priest Does It...

Apparently the Vatican is trying to redefine its list of deadly sins.

Amusingly, we find this little tidbit in the midst of it all:

He also named abortion and paedophilia as two of the greatest sins of our times. The archbishop brushed off cases of sexual violence against minors committed by priests as "exaggerations by the mass media aimed at discrediting the Church".

So, being a pedophile is a mortal sin...unless of course you happen to be a Priest, in which case it's all okay?

This has been your daily dose of hypocrisy inspired irony...

Further Musings On Alberta's Election Results

I've been doing quite a bit of musing about last week's very disappointing election in Alberta.

Just over 40% of Albertans voted - and half of those voted for the status quo. This speaks volumes to me. It explains why after the previous election I couldn't find anyone who would admit to voting for the incumbent - they didn't, in fact, they didn't bother to vote period!

Similarly, I suspect I'll find the same thing in a year or so - nobody will remember voting for Ed Stelmach either. After all, if the PC's took 53% of the popular vote, and that "popular vote" number was based on 40% of the electorate, I've got better than a 75% chance that any random person didn't actually vote for the government.

Numbers are easy though, and I can bitch and whine about how brain dead it is that 53% of the popular vote translates into 86% of the seats all I want, but that doesn't address the real issue - that over half of Albertans can't even be bothered to take an hour out of their oil-boom addled day and actually put an "X" on a slip of paper. I think I'd be a lot less bothered by the results had 80% or more of the electorate actually turned out to vote.

In fact, tinkering with the system in small ways isn't going to address the fundamental problem - even something as dramatic as a Proportional Representation system isn't going to solve anything on its own.

Alberta's voters simply can't find a way to engage in the politics of the province. There's a good reason for this - after thirty some years of single party rule, and since Lougheed stepped down, steadily declining voter turnouts. It's completely understandable when votes for anything other than the PC's seldom result in a victory for anything other than a PC - only the hardiest are going to stick to their guns and continue to vote against the apparent tide.

Worse, as we have scraped away at the situation, we find that the riding distribution is borderline on what in the US would be called "gerrymandering", providing a disproportionate weight to votes in rural ridings. (The last re-evaluation of riding boundaries was done just before new census data was published, forcing the use of data that is now over a decade old. Then it comes out in the election that the Premier's office has been taking an overly active hand in selecting the Returning Officers. This latter issue should have caused more of an uproar than it did, as it calls into question the objectiveness of supposedly non-partisan people.

It seems to me that this issue needs to be addressed on multiple fronts.

Problem #1: Disengagement

Let's be honest with ourselves - Alberta's voters are seriously disengaged. In many ways to the point that they simply can't be bothered to either vote or even think about the issues.

Fair enough, I can get this - when day to day life is stressful enough - and Alberta's boom has made this one of the highest stress locations to live - there's precious little time to think about the "big picture". Far too many people I've talked to don't vote simply because they cannot see how the different levels of government affect their daily lives.

Problem #2: Peer Pressure

One thing that surprised the heck out of me this past election was the amazing amount of peer pressure to vote for the governing party. The reasoning went one of two ways - either voting "conservative" was just not done; or "why would you throw a vote away?".

This is a huge problem, as it says that we are not celebrating the diversity of opinion that makes the democratic process work.

Problem #3: Systemic Bias

As the riding boundaries and the selection of Returning Officers issues suggest, the PC's have become entrenched both politically and bureaucratically - and they don't see anything wrong with this. The perception of bias will tend to further yield to the "my vote doesn't matter" problem.

Problem #4: Lack of Understanding

I would venture to guess that "civic literacy" (understanding of electoral and government processes) is at an all time low in Alberta these days. I would imagine that serious understanding of how things are intended to work exists primarily in the hands of academics and political junkies like this writer. Most people simply can't be bothered to figure it out. (Granted, reading legalese isn't something most people do for fun, either!)

There are solutions, but they have to exist and function on multiple levels, and are not short term "quick fixes" that politicians like.

(1) Education

The politics of our country must become a central part of the educational system. We have steadily eroded the amount of time spent on the subject of government over the last thirty years, and today's high school graduates often have little or no understanding of the political environment we have or how it works.

If we make a conscious effort to make our government important for our youth, they will become active and engaged voters as adults.

(2) Electoral Reform

I don't think that this is strictly necessary per se - a higher level of voter engagement would produce a satisfactory result in the existing system. However, the education subject is one that will be a minimum of a decade in producing measurable changes in voter habits, and the level of disengagement in Alberta is such that the optics around the current model are so poor that a re-design is called for.

(2)a. Take The Politicians Out Of Riding Boundaries

I'm unimpressed (to say the least) with the mucking about that our politicians have done trying to manage riding boundaries. Anyone currently sitting as an MLA is going to be unwilling to change their riding boundaries much unless there are specific areas that are hostile to them. As far as I'm concerned, the riding boundaries must be established by a commission whose members are given a mandate to equitably define the riding boundaries on strict guidelines.

(2)b. Remove Elections Alberta From The Control of the Premier's Office

Whether or not the returning officers did anything wrong is immaterial here. The Returning Officer job has to become something that is seen to be non-partisan. If that means making the R/O jobs in each riding a random selection process similar to Jury duty, then so be it.

(2)c. Move to a Proportional Representation Model

This may mean redesigning the Legislature, or perhaps creating a "Senate-like" body that is run on a P/R basis. The whole point here is to dramatically change the dynamic that allows a party that gets ~20% of the available vote to take 80% of the seats available.

First Past The Post (FPTP) isn't necessarily that bad, but with a high level of voter disengagement, it develops serious problems where the government sitting in Edmonton does not in fact represent the broader will of Albertans.

I will argue that the optics in the current environment are so bad that a radical change is needed to convince the disengaged voter that it is in fact time to re-engage. Some form of P/R is dramatic enough to catch public attention.

In closing, I do not believe that any one of these will make a significant difference, but these are starting points in a long-range plan to re-energize our electoral system which is currently on the verge of collapsing (if it hasn't already) into the kind of pseudo-democracy that we accuse leaders in other countries of being. Some of this is "window dressing", intended to plant in the public mind the notion that change is happening; other parts are longer term, and will only start to have an impact as the generation that will be born to those now in high school comes of age.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Irony, It Burns!

So, now that a bill that Stephen Harper doesn't like has passed the House of Commons, he is now asking that the Senate squash it.

That would be the same Stephen Harper who just a few weeks ago was threatening to collapse the parliament if the Senate didn't pass his utterly brain dead "get tough on crime" bill, and has been very disrespectful of the Senate.

Harper's been itching to redesign - or replace - the Senate with something created in his own image for years. Of course, anything he does will be very limited unless Harper's willing to attempt a constitutional amendment. (a process which I don't think Canadians are willing to consider at this time, as it would oblige reopening certain discussions around Quebec and the First Nations that are, well, sticky)

However, there is a grand irony that Harper finds himself bound to asking the Senate to put the brakes on a bill that the House of Commons has passed. It wasn't very long ago that he was screaming about the Senate overriding the will of Canada's elected house of parliament.

This in fact underscores my long held point about the Senate - namely that the Con$ don't understand it's existence, history, processes or the balance of powers that are involved. Harper has been so caustic towards the Senate, I'd almost consider passing this bill to be a well delivered slap in the face to PMSH. (Oh yes, and the claim that it would push the government into deficit is an utter falsehood. It would only push the government into deficit if the HarperCon$ government lacks the requisite intelligence to adjust their fiscal budget.

If the Senate is going to be called upon to kill a bill, it will be Bill C-484, which is nothing less than another piece of TheoCon inspired garbage aimed squarely at a woman's right to control over her body and reproductive destiny. (and no doubt has Chuck McVety positively drooling over the prospect of 'putting those uppity feminists back in their place')

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Taking a Meme Apart

Since our ever so persistent commenter "Roger" keeps on putting comments up that deserve a more thorough refutation than I am willing to put into a comment myself, I'm going to take his last comment back here and discuss his talking points on the front page.

Roger writes:

The point that I am asking you to consider is that "gay activists" are attempting, successfully in many cases, to push themselves upon individuals, institutions and organizations that have as their fundamental values, beliefs and or doctrines an opposition to the homosexual lifestyle. They do not want to be subject to it...i.e gays working in religious insitutions, gays using their facilities for their marriages or other gay events etc. These religious institutions especially should be protected as it is their RIGHT or at least was to oppose this lifestyle 'choice'.

Now Roger, if you had been paying attention to the laws, religious institutions are in fact protected in this regard. Please see S 318, Paragraph 3(b) under Defenses in the Criminal Code for an example. Further, in general, within the context of individual houses of faith (Churches), the jurisprudence has long held that the discussion around sexuality within the context of the church are held to be religious discussions and protected under freedom of religion. (This is why the Catholic Church in Canada has never been obliged to ordain a female clergy)

There is no scientific proof that a person is born with a predetermined preference to homosexuality, heterosexuality, beastiality, infidelity etc etc. Ultimately, homosexuality is a choice and many disagee with it and want to have places where they do not have to be subject to it. One who participates in homosexual sex cannot be compared to Jews or Blacks as many attempt to do.

I'm going to take this apart piece by piece, Roger. First of all, there is actually quite a lot of empirical evidence that strongly suggests that sexual orientation is rooted quite deeply in people at a level far more persistent than "mere socialization" would suggest. While you are correct in saying that the causal factors that play into sexual orientation are not by any means conclusively demonstrated, there is strong evidence that suggests that "choice" is far from a primary drive in most people. I will point to two key pieces in regards to this matter. The first is a book The Sexual Spectrum, which while it is a bit 'pop' in its delivery, is a pretty decent overview of the last 35 years of psychological research into sexuality. The second is the rather unfortunate case of David Reimer, whose life story pretty much shoots the theory of gender as primarily a social construct to pieces.

Lastly, sexual identity for many people is NOT responsive to so-called "conversion therapy" techniques. I've already discussed why I think this is the case in a previous discussion. Asking someone to change their sexual orientation is very much like asking a black man to be white.

Let's start with the Vriend case (1998 Surpreme Court of Canada). How will instituions such as King's College in Edmonton, an orthodox, fundamental Christian educational institution have their religious rights protected? Specifically, since the Vriend ruling, how will Christian organizations be permitted to maintain their religious convictions, teachings and doctrines and choose not to employ homosexuals or are they now forced to do so.

All Stop Right There, Roger. The Vriend case was not against King's College at all. It was against the Alberta Human Rights Commission which refused to hear the initial complaint at all because the subject centered on Vriend's homosexuality. The Vriend decision merely obliged the Alberta government to recognize homosexuals as being on the receiving end of discriminatory practices. In fact, had the Vriend case been 'Vriend v. King's College', and heard as such, I doubt you'd even know about it today. Nobody has ever challenged King's College on that matter since.

Are you now going to tell me that because our society has evolved to the point of social acceptance towards homosexuality, everyone who opposes this lifestyle choice has to change their beliefs, re-write their religious texts and allow homosexuals to potentially teach their children in private insitutional settings?

What goes on in a private religious school is up to that school and its host church. The fact that we are having this discussion tells me that there is a sizable chunk of society that has sadly failed to evolve in its understanding of the human condition.

- Dr. Chris Kempling, a teacher and counsellor at a public high school in Quesnel, was cited in May 2001 for “conduct unbecoming a professional”

Jeepers, you really don't pay attention do you? I've already discussed the Kempling case in considerable detail back here. Nice try, but Kempling's case is a lot more complex than you make it out to be. (and given his position on things, I'd feel very sorry for any GLBT youth that wound up with him as a therapist)

- Knights of Columbus of Port Coquitlam, BC, were fined by the BC Human Rights Tribunal in 2005 for refusing the use of their hall for a lesbian “wedding” reception.

You asked for one, I have given you three and could provide many more.

I addressed K of C issue in the same post I addressed Kempling.

In the KofC situation, the issue really boiled down to how the KofC handled themselves once they found out that it was a Lesbian union. The decision was quite clear on that matter, and as I understand it, the KofC has since revised their policies around renting halls out.

Sorry, Roger, you can do better than that. Not one of your cases demonstrates what you claim it does.

Regardless of how a person, a professional, a politician opposes the gay agenda in order to protect their own values, they are all brought before human rights tribunals, fined and even threatened with the possibility of imprisonment etc. If fines are imposed and not paid, imprisonement is the result. How can you agree with this?

Again, this is patently false. Were that the case, MP's like Elsie Wayne, and others would have long ago been threatened. There is a big difference, Roger, between standing up and objecting to something and making a 'call to arms' as Boissoin did. Making false equivalences (eg. homosexuality equals pedophilia) is usually where the trouble starts. Even your own arguments imply a linkage between bestiality and homosexuality. In the context of this discussion, I presume that you are pursuing a "moral equivalence" in your mind. (I would disagree - there's a big difference between what two consenting adults do and something involving an animal)

How can any Christian that believes in the long standing teachings of the Bible, the Catholic & Protestant church, a Muslim, a Jew, Mormon, JW, SDA etc etc...protect their institutions, their teachings, their children and their own opinion if this continues?

As I have stated repeatedly on this blog, faith is a personal freedom. Just because you see someone that you believe is "sinful" doesn't mean that you can demand that they remove themselves from your sight in public. (within a church or your own private property perhaps) Your arguments against homosexuality so far have centered heavily on your perceived right to not be offended, not on any material infringement of your religious liberties. (What is offensive about two people of the same gender walking down the street holding hands is beyond me - but that's up to you to decide why it offends you)

My advocacy is simple in this regard. Live and let live. Frankly, although I think the dogma of many churches on a variety of matters is ludicrous, I don't much care if they believe it. (e.g. The Catholic dogma on female clergy is simply ridiculous, but that's up to the church and its membership, not me)

On the other hand, when the Church starts demanding that their particular dogma dominate in the laws of the land, I take great exception - especially when the advocacy demands that a part of the population be held as second class citizens because of it.