Sunday, November 30, 2008

Let's Talk About "Democratic" Government, Shall We?

So, now in an effort to save his skin, rumors are flying that Harper may prorogue parliament. (Garth Turner has picked up on the same rumour)

All this to avoid facing a confidence vote that Harper is apt as not to lose.

So desperate to hang on to power, Harper is prepared to suspend the business of Canada's government at a time when our economy is in crisis, even the Harper himself has had to admit that the fundamentals are not as sound as he so proudly proclaimed during this fall's election campaign.

Even in Alberta, where the word conservative is assumed to be synonymous with "infallible", proroguing parliament is apt to be seen as worse than falling to a confidence motion.

However, Mr. Harper may find this little tactic limited indeed, because Her Excellency, the Governor General may refuse to prorogue parliament at this time - on the basis that the session has just begun, and it would be difficult indeed for Harper to argue that the business of the government has been completed.

For a man who prattles on about democracy, Harper continues to prove to Canadians that he is about the least democratic leader this country has ever seen.

[Update]
One additional thought - for the first time I can remember, the leader of a minority parliament is unwilling to face a confidence motion over his government's actions. Where, pray tell, are the vaunted "principles" that Mr. Harper and his ideological allies have talked so much about in the past?
[/Update]

Harper's Hand - Firmly on the Trigger

Harper has his people talking about 'staying the course' and a 'firm hand on the tiller'. Even though the Con$ have blinked in their most recent game of political chicken, Canadians should be wary.

Harper has shown us that he is much more intent on playing for partisan advantage than he is in governing Canada for the benefit of Canadians. The fact that he slipped in several ideological turds into Flaherty's "Fiscal Update"(most ironically, a term that abbreviates to 'F.U.'...) last week tells us that he simply doesn't get it. If he wants to play the 'steady hand on the tiller' card, the first thing he needs to do is start governing rather than acting as though it was all a game of "scoring political points'.

Today, based on what I have seen, Harper's hand is not on the tiller, but on the trigger - and it is aimed at Canada and Canadian democracy. Make no mistake, Harper is an autocrat in the extreme. His fiscal policy is not fiscally responsible, it ideological. He seeks to impose a style of government that is extreme indeed - hard-fisted towards all who dare transgress or defy his ideology.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Arrogance of this PM

Regular readers of this blog already know that I am no fan of Stephen Harper. However, his antics in the last week have taken my opinion of the man to new lows.

Consider his marching orders to the troops:

Mr. Giorno's e-mail stated that MPs must show that the current dispute with opposition parties is merely about the Liberals, NDP and Bloc trying to protect their share of the $27-million in public subsidies and steal power that they failed to win legitimately in the last federal election.

The Tories plan to scrutinize the public reaction to their message over the weekend. If they don't feel they've persuaded Canadians that a change would be disastrous, sources said, they may consider describing in more detail what kind of spending they would be prepared to offer and under what conditions they would pump stimulus into the economy.


Uh huh. Since that little piece of odiousness is off the table (or it was as of yesterday - perhaps the HarperCon$ have put it back on - hard to know), one has to imagine that there's just a little more to the picture than that. Of course, what this really reflects is the HarperCon$ playing more from the Karl Rove book of political dirty tricks than from any coherent sense of doing the right thing for Canada as a nation.

Harper is playing politics while our economy sinks, a Canadian Nero so self absorbed that the only thing that matters to him is his ego.

Harper Needs A Lesson On Canadian Civics

Since I'm hearing this bit of drivel fall from our Prime Minister's lips:

The opposition is entitled to defeat the government as it sees fit, Harper said Friday, but Dion himself does not have the right to take power without an election.


Perhaps it is time to remind Mr. Harper that in fact the Governor General has the right to consider the Leader of the Opposition forming a coalition government if the minority government falls. Such governments have been exceedingly rare in Canada, but that doesn't mean they cannot occur.

Second, to claim that it is 'undemocratic' is completely ridiculous. The last election for the Parliament was only a few short months ago. Canadians sent politicians a message that none of the parties deserves to govern in a majority setting. Therefore, we clearly asked the politicians to find a way to make a minority situation work. Since the leadership of the 'first party' has made it clear that he is unwilling to compromise with other parties, then the other parties have the opportunity to form a coalition - if, of course, they can persuade her Excellency, The Governor General, that such a coalition would have the confidence of the house.

It is, in fact, Mr. Harper who has shown himself to be anything but an advocate for democracy in the last couple of years.

In terms of the political crisis that Harper has just spawned, Jeffrey Simpson has an excellent assessment of the situation, and Harper's behaviour.

Rick Bell over at the Calgary Sun has the grand prize winner for headline: The PM plays politics when the economy is tanking and people are afraid. So how do you spell 'disgraceful?' S-T-E-P-H-E-N-H-A-R-P-E-R.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Undemocratic, You Say?

So, the opposition parties are talking about forming a coalition if they topple the HarperCon$ next week.

Sez the PMO:

The opposition is entitled to defeat the government as it sees fit, Harper said Friday, but Dion himself does not have the right to take power without an election.

"They want to put in place a government led by one party which received its lowest popular vote since Confederation," he said.


Well, the other side of that one is that we are now being governed by a party that didn't exactly overwhelm voters last election either. In fact, a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition would actually represent a plurality of voters in Canada.

Of course, as has been typical of the HarperCon$, instead of actually governing, everything is a game to play for them. In the case of the the "FU" that Flaherty delivered yesterday, the lovely little red herring of party funding is in there. The amount of money involved is relatively small, so it's fiscally irrelevant to the government's books.

If the Con$ got it through, they just weakened their opponents by taking money away from them; if the opposition toppled the government, the Con$ would have had a lovely meme to wave in front of the voters.

I see that in today's news, Harper has dropped that little clause from the FU motion that will be before the house on Monday. Whether that is enough to persuade one of the opposition parties to go along with the Con$ is yet to be seen. I think what is most unfortunate is that Harper and his band of goons still have not understood that a truly successful minority government works by collaborating with the opposition.

If the Con$ do fall on Monday, and a coalition is formed, I imagine that we will be seeing an election before 2009 is out. I will be very surprised indeed if the coalition lasts much past the Liberal leadership selection.

[Update]
I see Harper's now trying for stalling tactics to buy himself time.
[/Update]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Alberta Bill 50 - A License To Harass?

This week, Alberta passed Bill 50 which gives the crown the power to seize and sell assets used in the commission of crime.

On the surface, this sounds fairly reasonable - the government has an agreed upon right to establish the penalties that are associated with crime in general - from fines to incarceration.

However, there are aspects of Bill 50 that are quite troublesome. First of all, the bill does not specify any limits to its application. The powers that the bill asserts can be invoked for just about any offense. The example that has been in the media is the seizure of a car used in transporting drugs. Sure that sounds good, but is this appropriate in other situations? For example, if you are charged with "copyright piracy" under the proposed DMCA-clone the HarperCon$ tried to introduce twice last year, should you find your house forfeit because it was where you copied a handful of MP3's?

More troubling is this set of clauses in S 19.4:
(3) With respect to an application for a restraint order,
(a) it is not necessary for the Minister to establish that any
person has been charged with, found guilty of or
convicted of or otherwise held responsible for any illegal
act in relation to any matter related to the property in
respect of which the application is made, and
(b) the Court may grant a restraint order notwithstanding
that a person has not been charged with, found guilty of
or convicted of or otherwise held responsible for any
officer or a civil enforcement agency;
(c) providing for matters that are ancillary to any direction
given under clause (a) or (b).


In essence, all that the government is obliged to do is assert that property has been used in a "crime", and presto, you could find yourself facing seizure. While there are time limits on the restraining orders involved, it's not hard to see that there is a real risk that an overzealous crown attorney or law enforcement officer could use this mechanism as a tool to harass someone over some slight or another.

Bill 50 strikes me as a piece of legislation that while well intentioned, is poorly thought out - and subject to significant abuse, with few constraints on the government bodies involved.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whipping Girl - Commentary Part I

Whipping Girl is an interesting book that explores the intersection between gender, feminism and transsexuality in some interesting ways. I'm in the midst of reading it, and this post is "part one" of a series that I will be writing as I make my way through this book.

Since this series will be written as I make my way through the book, I will not promise that my commentary in later chapters are entirely consistent with what I write today - I reserve the right to have the author persuade me to agree with her perspective where I disagreed earlier.

Introduction, The Transwoman Manifesto and Chapters 1 - 4

The first thing I really like about this book is the author's wonderfully powerful view of the feminine:

In this book, I break with past attempts in feminism and queer theory to dismiss femininity by characterizing it as "artificial" or "performance". Instead, I argue that certain aspects fo femininity (as well as masculinity) are natural and can both precede socialization and supersede biological sex. ... No form of gender equity can ever truly be achieved until we first work to empower femininity itself. - p. 6


To me, this is a powerful statement - it not only encapsulates what I have always felt is deeply wrong with other social/theoretical models of gender. Second, it also encompasses the transsexual narrative in a constructive way, instead of simply attempting to dismiss it by declaring it invalid.

Julia Serano, the author, is deeply critical of how the media and pop culture present transsexuals. With some good reason:

... While Oprah Winfrey's conversation with Boylan was respectful and serious, the show nonetheless opened with predictable scenes of women putting on eye makeup, lipstick and shoes, and the interview itself was interspersed with "before" pictures of Boylan, as if to constantly remind us that she's really a man underneath it all.

Mass media images of 'biological males' dressing and acting in a feminine manner could potentially challenge mainstream notions of gender, but the way they are generally presented in these feminization scenes ensures tha tthis never happens. The media neutralizes the potential threat that trans femininities pose to the category of "woman" by playing to the audience's subconcious belief that femininity itself is artificial. p. 43


Observationally, I think that Ms. Serano is quite correct in her perception that the media misses the mark quite badly when it comes to portraying transwomen (in particular). However, I do not agree with her attribution of the poor presentation to an implicit malice.

I suspect that it is not malice at all, rather it is in fact ignorance and misunderstanding that is being demonstrated. In general, the media tend to focus on the visual. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that television in particular is completely the wrong media when it comes to presenting transsexual issues for this reason. It is easy to identify and pick up on the physical changes that a transwoman goes through as she makes her way through transition. That said, the physical changes are in many respects a reflection of the inner person that is being revealed through transition. Although a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes a thousand words is greater than any picture will ever be.

While the television producers (or movie producers, for that matter) think they are doing transsexuals a favour with shows like the Oprah episode Serano references, we have to remember that most of the production staff on these shows are not themselves transgender people. That means that they suffer from the basic misunderstandings that most non-transsexual people have about transsexuals. The natural instinct is to gravitate towards those aspects of the journey that are easy to grasp, and quietly ignore the subtle, but vitally important aspects that are difficult to articulate, much less understand. When it can take many transsexuals years to understand themselves, is it any surprise that a fifteen minute segment on Oprah, or the portrayal in a movie, is somehow superficial and limited?

Serano's discussion of the influence and effects of hormone therapy is fascinating. It provides a series of insights into how hormones influence gendered behaviour, and yet also underscores the reality that gender is no more defined by hormones than it is by the shape of one's body, or the interests that one has.

On the other hand, those who are eager to have popular presumptions about hormones confirmed will probably be just as disappointed to hear what has not noticeably changed during my hormonal transition: my sexual orientation; the "types" of women I am attracted to; my tastes in music, movies, or hobbies; my politics; my sense of humor; my levels of aggression, competitiveness, nurturing, creativity, intelligence; and my ability to read maps or do math. While it would be irresponsible for me to say that these human traits are entirely hormone-independent (as it is possible that fetal hormones potentially play some role in predisposing us to such traits), they clearly are not controlled by adult hormone levels to the extent that many people argue or assume. p. 72


To this point in the book, I like where I think the author is going.

My biggest criticism is the degree of hostility or malice that she seems to attribute to the portrayal of transsexuals in general by the media. I suspect that where a sincere effort has been made (e.g. not Jerry Springer), the reality is that the problem is actually a combination of ignorance combined with the limitations of visual media in addressing something the non-visual aspects of human experience - namely that which goes on in our heads.

Her perspective on gender as it intersects reality, as well as the theoretical spaces of queer theory and radical feminism aligns well with my own thoughts on the matter - and go a long distance to putting down the claim by some feminists that transsexuals do not perform meaningful analysis of the concepts of gender and equality. (more on this later...)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Free Speech is not an Absolute Right

Following up on yesterday's post about an anti-abortion group at the University of Calgary's fight with University administration, I hear this morning on CBC the meme about how a Charter Right is being abrogated.

Well, that would almost be true - except that CPL's campaign happens to take place on University property. There are some 20,000 students on that campus, plus faculty and staff. The University has to be scrupulously careful about the rights of all of those 20,000 odd denizens of Campus.

If, for example, the student GLBT organization on campus, GLASS, were to put up a campaign of 4' x 8' signage that featured graphic homosexual erotica as its primary imagery, I can only imagine that the CPL organization's members would be at the forefront screaming about how inappropriate and offensive GLASS's campaign is. ... and they'd be quite right.

We already have a pretty good idea what CPL wants to put up, and it is in the same category.

Yes, to a point, they are protected under S2b. of the Charter which reads:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d) freedom of association.


But, just as the example I mentioned above would be considered 'over the line', so are the tactics of many in the so-called "pro life" lobby. The University has always reserved the right to limit student protests that are offensive or otherwise infringe upon the rights of others - including the right to go from point to point on campus without feeling like you have to 'run the gauntlet' - which is certainly how I've felt when I've had to go past CPL's displays before.

I applaud CPL's members for having ideals and speaking out for them. Now it's time that they learned how to speak their piece in a manner that is respectful of the other citizens of the University community.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lines To Remember

"I've read the Bible cover to cover, Bottom line: love beats hate."
Lesley Brighton, Silverton OR resident

Apparently Fred Phelps sent his minions to Silverton, OR to condemn the town for having the temerity to elect a transgender mayor.

A woman pushing a baby jogger past City Hall did a doubletake on her run, backing up to question 16-year-old Victoria Phelps, whose family runs the small Kansas church.

"I'm a Christian," Lesley Brighton said, clearly perplexed by the girl's "God Hates Fags" sign. "This is some kind of joke, right?"

No, it's deadly serious, Phelps replied. Electing a transgender mayor, she said, was an abomination.

"I don't expect for it to sink in but it's our duty to come out here and preach to these people because they're so proud of having a transvestite mayor," Phelps said. "It's disgusting. And where was it? Was it Isaiah? Deuteronomy? About it being an abomination?"


Phelps and crew are a pretty nasty lot to begin with, unhinged being one of the nicer things said about them. I think Ms. Brighton did a lovely job of putting them in their place.

Hyperbolize Much?

So, the University of Calgary won't permit a student 'pro life' organization to display their signage on campus.

Of course, the wingnuts (including the students) are busy squawking about the evil empire's censorship of them.

However, the university is justifying its censorship of the pro-life display because of anonymous complaints, and claims that the display could provoke violent reactions. However, there have been no such incidents on the previous five occasions the display has been shown on campus.

"Banning an event because of the possibility of someone else being violent towards it, is like telling women they are not allowed to walk on campus at night because of the possibility they may be sexually assaulted," stated Leah Halllman, president of CPL.


Well, one can discuss and debate a well reasoned position. Unfortunately, this particular little "campaign" is about comparing abortion to genocide - with large, excessively graphic images is hardly a reasoned position. Claiming that abortion is a form of genocide is hyperbole in the extreme to begin with - almost to the point of being histrionics.

Reinforcing the point with large, graphic images is simply offensive. Abortion is a surgical procedure, and the human body is a surprisingly messy creation to start with. Most people would cringe at the aftermath of any surgery - including oral surgery to remove wisdom teeth. Why would we be surprised that the remains of a surgical procedure are anything but messy?

I would argue that CPL needs to rethink its campaign. If a movie promoter put out images as graphic as that for their latest splatter flick, nobody would post them. What makes them think that anybody wants to look at large, excessively graphic images for their campaign?

It wasn't that long ago that I happened to be on the U of C's campus when CPL had their signage up - it was beyond revolting at the time. The broader community on campus simply stayed away from the area. (and yes, the signage was big enough that it wouldn't be hard for someone to hide around it - making the area a hazard for students passing through in the evening hours) Is CPL willing to pay for the additional costs that the University would incur to have extra security around those signs - especially in off hours? I doubt it.

Lastly, the University has every right to insist on student campaigns having a certain level of decorum about them, as well as a certain level of respect for others on campus. CPL is not demonstrating anything close to that level of respect, nor have they ever done so in the past.

CPL's cries of "censorship" are ridiculous hyperbole, just like the "abortion is genocide" meme. You might try coming up with a civilized position that can be debated - nobody wants to "debate" with screaming loons.

Dear HarperCon$:

So ... a Canadian citizen lies in legal limbo. Held not to face charges in the recognized courts of the country holding him, but rather to be subjected to a questionable, if not outright illegal, tribunal system prepared to accept evidence from such reliable sources as torture.

Never mind that he was a youth when captured. Nor is it significant to the Con$ that it was his father who dragged him over there. Nope. None of that seems to matter here. Neither does the fact that there is essentially no appeal beyond the tribunal itself.

Your stated position on this?

"Mr. Khadr faces very serious charges," Cannon said Thursday from Lima, Peru, where he was attending APEC ministerial meetings.

"He is being held and it's our government's intention to follow and respect the process that's in place and, of course, to respect American sovereignty on this issue."


Of course, throwing Canadians onto the trash heap has been pretty much standard fare for Conservative foreign policy since day one. Khadr is but one of a growing list of Canadians rotting in foreign prisons because the Harper government will not lift a finger to intervene.

Why should they pay any attention to George Bush's little kangaroo courts designed explicitly to get him one conviction in Guano Bay before he leaves office in January? Perhaps because it would be the right thing to do. If Khadr actually should face charges, repatriate him and charge him here - where at least the legal system has a modest degree of transparency and accountability.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kick A Ginger Day - And Other Outrages

[Update: 24/11/08]:
Not only was this widespread, but when one considers the misuse of electronic media for the purpose of bullying it shouldn't be much of a leap to understand how such media can be abused in the propagation of blind hatred.
[/Update]

So, some bunch of teenagers decided that it would be fun to kick the crap out of their red-headed classmates.

On one hand, we might look upon this as "just a bunch of kids funnin'", but I think it warrants a much more sober examination in the context of other aspects of the Canadian political discourse.

It wasn't so long ago that it was common "sport" for a group of young thugs to get together and go 'roll a queer'. Usually such events took place after a few too many drinks, and the collective intelligence of the group fell. The 'kick a ginger' thing is in the same category - it relies heavily on identifying someone by a distinguishing characteristic, and then attacking them. The difference here, is that instead of things being organized over a few beer in a bar, the "event" was plotted and planned using Facebook.

Meanwhile, we have a group of people in Canada - headed by the oh-so-enlightened Ezra Levant, Kathy Shaidle and Mark Steyn who are busy trying to remove Section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights code (or, in the case of the oh-so-rational Ezra, dismantling the entire mechanism because it offends his sensibilities).

Collectively, their thesis is that "words can't hurt":

And yeah, I guess if you're a wimp, words can hurt. So man up. But we all know that "manning up" isn't an option in our metrosexual p.c. society...


Right. Let's consider this for a moment or two - a group of people were just posting words on Facebook. Those words enabled some people to give themselves permission to kick the tar out of someone for what they looked like. Now, I recognize that the three individuals I just mentioned don't understand the concept of civility to begin with - they collectively specialize in making their point by being as noxious as possible.

I wonder if Ezra has clued in that people who would do him a lot more harm simply for his ancestry are fairly salivating over the prospect of S. 13 going away (look for a post entitled "Folks on Stormfront Giddy With Excitement; Conservative Party Might Want to Take Notice of Who Their Supporters Are" - Nov 17/08).

I have always argued that the problem with Boissoin's hate filled letter of 2002 was that in essence it could give some people the license to go beat the crap out of GLBT people.

But, here we have a more direct example where electronic means were used to organize attacks on a group of individuals for no better reason than their hair colour. Now, tell me again how "words can't hurt"? I'd argue that there's a bunch of red-headed teens around right now that stand as proof to the contrary.

Our country's lawmakers had better think long and hard before they try to enact the CPoC policy to repeal S.13 of our human rights law.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How Absolutism Breeds Insecurity

Religion in the modern era is turning out to be something of a 'social petri dish' these days for studying what happens when any one ideology starts to think that they have 'all the answers'.

For your consideration, Malaysia has outlawed yoga for Muslims:

Malaysia's National Fatwa Council said it goes further than that and that elements of the Indian religion are inherent in yoga.

Announcing the decision, the council chairman Abdul Shukor Husin said practices like chanting and what he called worshipping were inappropriate and they could "destroy the faith of a Muslim".

The ruling is not legally binding but many of Malaysia's Muslims abide by fatwas.


But, before you go off thinking this is a unique to a country ruled by Islam, let me show you the Christian side of the same debate:

From Westminster's Exorcist: Yoga is equivalent to soft drugs and worse:

"The thin end of the wedge (soft drugs, yoga for relaxation, horoscopes just for fun and so on) is more dangerous than the thick end because it is more deceptive - an evil spirit tries to make his entry as unobtrusively as possible."


Our friends over at Wingnut Daily have been hard at work on the subject as well. They are also "documenting" the spiritual dangers of the practice.

What does this all boil down to? Fear. Not really fear of the activity itself, but rather a fear of losing control over the members of the religion. Instead of looking at it in a practical, rational sense, we see all sorts of oogedy-boogedy accusations made:

...America has more than 70,000 yoga teachers working in 20,000 locations. Although viewed primarily as fitness instructors, these trainers are in reality the leading missionaries of eastern religion in the west.


Ummm...no...not so much. Most people who practice yoga do so for the exercise benefits - if it has any other benefits for them, they are more in the 'head clearing' that good exercise brings to all of us. Perhaps that is one thing Hinduism has right - you cannot look after your mind and spirit adequately if you are not also looking after your body at the same time.

But both fundamentalist Christianity and Islam appear to have missed a key point in their responses to Yoga - namely the challenge of adapting to something new. Christianity in particular spent most of its first centuries absorbing and adapting the customs of the cultures it encountered, making it easier for them to accept Christianity as equivalent to their faith. In this case, it is time to absorb some aspects of Yoga.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hard Times? Attack The Vulnerable

Public policy is a difficult balance at the best of times, when things get bad, then the uglier side of people comes out.

Such is the case with Concered Christians Canada's latest lobbying effort.

Apparently, they don't like the idea that some of the funding for Calgary Sexual Health Center comes from the City of Calgary through the Family and Community Support Services programs.

Their complaint?

the CBCA a group promoting abortion and the homosexual lifestyle.


In essence, because they have programs intended to address homophobia in schools, and birth control, this is some kind of wicked organization out to undermine society. (Oh yes, and they have the nerve to mention the a-word when talking about pregnancy)

Anyone else notice who this really attacks? Women first off - and in particular women's health and sexual health; and sexual minorities. You'll notice that they aren't offering any constructive solutions, they merely want to remove options from people - making information harder to get.

But then again, coming from a group that published one of the most pathetic straw-man arguments about feminism that I've ever seen, I don't suppose I should be surprised. These people still live in a headspace where information about sexuality is a bad thing - instead of admitting that people make better decisions with full knowledge than when knowledge is denied.

A Bitter Pill...

Via The Galloping Beaver: Chinese Companies Might Buy GM and Chrysler

If the speculation is correct, GM may well find itself owned by one of China's automakers - that's really going to upset the "buy American" crowd, but it might be one of the few practical outcomes for the Big 3 that would result in the kind of dramatic changes in the companies that I've talked about before.

On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be among the senior management of the acquired company. Cross-cultural management is difficult at the best of times, and when the company that has been bought is in need of dramatic overhaul, it's apt to turn into a messy situation for the workers.

If US lawmakers approve a bailout to prevent such a buyout from happening then they will actually be making an even bigger mistake than they did with the banking industry.

Dear PMSH: It's Time To Drop It...

Your cheezy little lawsuit has served its purpose (mendacious as it was). It's time to drop it. Changing counsel about is just shuffling the chairs. The tapes you claim were "edited" clearly were not.

Continuing this suit is just demonstrating that you have no intention whatsoever of actually collaborating with the other parties on anything - not as long as you feel you have a club you can swing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Proposition 8 Blowback ... Part ???

I don't agree with the tactics described here or here - both represent a kind of protest that is wholly inappropriate.

That said, when millions of dollars are spent to strip rights from people, or to deny them equal standing in society, one cannot be overly shocked when there is a dramatic backlash. I stated back here that the most public backers of Proposition 8 in California would find themselves bearing the brunt of the outrage many would feel over that proposition's passage - I cannot claim that I'm overly surprised that some would resort to more extreme expressions of their outrage - although I am disappointed.

On a more constructive front, the legal challenges for Proposition 8 are intriguing indeed. Over at Lambda Legal, they have quite an interesting case they are putting forward:

The groups argue that Prop. 8 is invalid because it improperly attempts to undo the constitution's core commitment to equality and deprives the courts of their essential role of protecting the rights of minorities. According to the California Constitution, such a radical change in the way the courts and state government work cannot be decided by a simple ballot measure.


The California Constitution makes clear that a major change in the roles played by the different branches of government cannot be made by a simple majority vote through the initiative process, but at the very least must first go through the state legislature. Changes to the underlying principles of the constitution must be approved by two-thirds of both houses of the legislature before going to voters. That didn't happen with Proposition 8, and that's why it's invalid.


Interesting argument - I'll be very curious to see how far it goes. In the meantime, I sincerely hope that the recent reports of violence and implied violence are no more than the short term outrage of a few, and not a sign of a more extreme backlash - that will do nobody in the argument any good.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No...They're Still TheoCons

Lurking just under the veneer of business-like civility, we find the reality of the Conservative party today:

Consider the resolutions passed: as recorded by Dr. Dawg:

P-202. Support for Charter including notwithstanding clause (wink, wink). Passed.
P-203. Essentially get rid of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Unsurprisingly, passed overwhelmingly.
P-204. Transparency and accountability. Defeated.
P-207. The disguised fetal rights resolution. Passed.
P-208. Cutting back on student loans, but letting kids with rich parents have access to what remains. Passed.
P-210. SSM issue. Defeated on a close vote--because delegates are still hoping that Parliament will define marriage as between and man and a woman.
P-211. SSM again. Defeated, for the same reason.
P-213. Abolish notion of equal pay for work of equal value. Passed.
P-214. Homelessness. Defeated.
P-215. Urban issues. Defeated.
P-216. Mass-marketing fraud. Defeated.
P-217. Wireless telephone industry. Defeated.
P-218. Finger-wagging on "Canadian values." Passed.


(Dr. Dawg has a link to the document with the raw resolutions included, for those sufficiently interested)

The upshot of all of this is that the HarperCon$ are still fundamentally the the worst of what passes for conservatism these days. Not only is it 'everybody for themselves' (so much for any concept of a just society), where they can't get what they want by dismantling government, they'd love to legislate their morality.

They aren't about conserving anything, in fact they are about dismantling things.

The only bright spot (?) is that the current economic maelstrom will no doubt keep the government well occupied with little time to enact some of the nastier bits of their policy platform. (As an aside, is anyone else a little perturbed at the fact that the HarperCon$ are having their policy convention just after an election, instead of before it? (especially when Harper himself triggered the election???)

At The Intersection of the Virtual and Real

A regular reader sent me this story off CNN about a divorce as a result of an affair in Second Life.

This one is interesting because it is in some respects the 'flip side' of couples that meet in cyberspace and eventually get married in reality.

Not only did the couple in question meet and marry in cyberspace, it seems that the events that precipitated the collapse of their relationship in reality also took place in cyberspace.

Obviously, the hurt feelings are real, regardless of what happened to provoke them. But the situation raises some very interesting questions around our expectations in intimate relationships.

Superficially, we might say "well, it's just in cyberspace, so it's all just a game", right? Well, yes and no. In a situation like this, we find a couple whose relationship in fact started in cyberspace and moved into the real world. In such a situation, the virtual has taken on a degree of "real" for the participants that is far beyond what we might expect ordinarily.

Consider, for a moment, the prospect of coming home one day and finding your spouse saying goodbye to someone in a surprisingly affectionate way. Most would be worried that something was going on while we were at work, right?

Now, if one thinks about being in the context of a relationship which had its origins in a virtual space, then we might be similarly worried about our partner's philandering in cyberspace. By the fiat of experience, there is clearly reason to believe that a 'fantasy romance' in cyberspace can become as real as any other.

Now, we have fairly well established (if fuzzy) guidelines around distinguishing between platonic friendships - even when there is a degree of genuine affection involved, and faith-breaking affairs in real life. There are all sorts of bits of information we can stitch together to have an understanding - body language, verbalization, and writing come to mind.

In cyberspace, just what are the boundaries? Is a 'making out session' in cyberspace to be treated the same as we would in the real world? Or do we allow a greater degree of latitude because the cyberspace world is, in essence, a fantasy that we foster? Do we consider cyberspace similar to, for example, the writing of erotica by our partner in real life? What the person writes may well be purely fantasy and quite unrelated to their reality and poses no threat at all to their relationship.

Or, are there acts which can take place in cyberspace that in fact we would consider a violation of the implicit pact of an intimate relationship?

Clearly the fantasy world of cyberspace has an elasticity to it that the real world does not, so one might legitimately presume that there is an elasticity of behaviour as well that goes beyond what we would accept in real life.

What those boundaries should be, are at the moment a matter which each couple will have to sort out for themselves. The concept of virtual interactions, and the reality of them, is still new and it will take a long time for some kind of intelligible guidelines to emerge that are shared by a sizable fraction of society. In this respect, I think of Second Life as something of a social petri dish. Lots of things will emerge from that enterprise in terms of the 'social rules' around virtual lives.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Typically Short Sighted

One of the things that has always irritated me about the modern neoConservative is how utterly myopic their policies and solutions to things are.

In a time of economic crisis, which may well plunge Canada back into deficit territory, we find Jim Flaherty musing about selling off assets to balance the books.

How utterly short sighted. First off, given the economic situation, nobody's going to be able to borrow the money to purchase those assets. Second, at that point, the only way to sell them will be at fire sale prices, which hardly does justice to the taxpayer's investment, does it?

Lastly, a government, just like an individual, needs a balance of liquid and non-liquid assets. My house is an asset. I use it to my advantage by controlling my cost of living month to month; similarly, there is merit in the government owning a certain amount of 'bricks-and-mortar' to house its operations - in part so that the costs of the governments operations can be kept under some control - not terribly complicated to understand, is it?

Selling off Canada's assets to 'the highest bidder' simply to avoid a deficit is foolish. There are other ways to achieve that goal that do not have the same long term consequences for taxpayers.

Not News: Ezra's Unhinged

Over at Ezra Levant's blog, I see he's getting himself worked into quite a fine snit over the CHRC placing a wreath at the cenotaph in Ottawa. {I won't bother linking to Ezra's bile-laden site, google it if you must}



Okay, that's a pretty normal thing for Better-Than-Thou Ezra to get upset about. He's been utterly unhinged about Canada's human rights law ever since he decided to go playing journalist provocateur while he was running the Western Standard into the ground.



Apparently in Ezra's fantasy world, you don't pay attention to the various underground organizations that spew hatred - often in some pretty amazingly vile ways unless they bubble to the surface. In the festering heat of his delusion he seems to equate the concept of investigation as being equivalent to what the organizations are based on - using that logic, the parts of the police that investigate organized crime are themselves organized criminals.

As for his assessment of how the CHRC actually spends its budget, I suspect that's pure Ezra-style hyperbole - invented solely to fuel his self-righteous anger.



Yeah, he's pretty much unhinged all ways around. He'd probably benefit from talking to a therapist for a while - he's obviously completely lost any sense of perspective. Reality clearly doesn't matter to him so much.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Churches, States and Politics

Church leaders have no right to tell voters how to vote; nor do they have any right to punish voters for how they vote. Period. End of Statement.

But he said his congregants shouldn't take Communion until they do penance for supporting "the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president."


This is a massive abuse of the church's position in society, and a serious breach of the social contract that provides churches with a privileged, tax exempt status.

Just as I took Bishop Henry to task for threatening to withdraw communion for politicians who voted contrary to his church teachings on the gay marriage issue in Canada, this is the same kind of abuse, and it deserves to be called out for what it is.

The church is free to exercise such powers, but as soon as it does so on matters directly related to a voter's individual participation in democracy, it is time to put them on the same legal, social and taxation footing as every other political activist organization. Anything less is to accept once again the clergy dictating to the politicians that govern our respective countries how they should govern. We've been there before, and it wasn't a pretty picture.

Remember Those Cuts?

Remember the HarperCon$ slashing away at program funding in 2006? Remember how those cuts mostly affected women and minority populations in Canada?

Unsurprisingly, the lot of women in Canada has slid since then.

Meeting Low Expectations

Heard on the news tonight:

"aim should not be more government. It should be smarter government."
George W. Bush speaking on the economic crisis


I'd say that the moment he steps aside, that he will have helped the US achieve that one goal - there's little question the government will be a little smarter for his absence.

Consequences...

In the US elections this month, voters in California had before them a ballot item called Proposition 8. Proposition 8 was an amendment to the state constitution that for all intents and purposes banned gay marriage.

The campaign itself was contentious, and particularly notable was the fact that the LDS Church became very publicly involved - sinking millions of dollars into the Pro-Proposition 8 campaign.

As Benediction Blogs On points out, one has to imagine that there will be consequences of some sort for the LDS church, and in particular its members.

There are some legal challenges being raised against Proposition 8 itself, although I have serious doubts as to their viability.

More interesting is this story over at BoxTurtle Bulletin. In terms of smart thinking - you own a business that has a large clientele, it's probably not the best idea in the world to make a public donations to a cause that strips rights away from a big chunk of your clientele.

I imagine that there will be a few businesses in parts of California that will find a big chunk of their clientele picks up and goes elsewhere - especially if the business or its owner is linked to pro-Proposition 8 in some way. Sadly, that may be by no more than simple association with a particular faith - but such is the price that many will pay in response to the very public support their church leadership gave to Proposition 8.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

GM's Liquidity Crisis

General Motors is in a cash crisis that has come to a head in the current credit market crisis.

As a company, GM is a child of the late 19th Century industrial era. It comes from a time when success was determined by size, and it got big. Very big. GM itself is essentially a modest sized economy in its own right.

So...when it runs into difficulties, the US economy is affected. Quite literally, what's good for GM is good for the economy. But, the sheer size of the company has enabled it to become complacent, with a 'weather the storm' attitude. It's been losing money on its automotive operations in North America since 2004.

Think about that - it's been losing money on its core business for four years - that's almost half a decade. Why? Because their offerings have been disappointing at best, and generally give the impression of being shoddily assembled. Except for the Cadillac brand which has been steadily catching up to its competitors, the mainstay of GM's offerings - Chevrolet and Pontiac - have been steadily sliding when compared to Toyota, Honda and even Nissan and Mazda.

The biggest mistake? Little or no meaningful product differentiation. Not only are the cars built on common platforms, the overall dimensions, shape and features are nearly identical. The similarities between a Chevy Cobalt, a Pontiac G5 and a Saturn Ion (mercifully extinct now) are basically nil. They look more or less similar; the features differ minimally, and they all drive about the same. The difference - a bit of trim and a few badges.

GM is a dinosaur. Big, unwieldy and unmaneuverable. Their "product optimization" efforts have hamstrung their offerings badly, and the obvious duplication across product lines is painful. I actually liked Saturn for being different from the rest of GM's line - their vehicles looked different, drove differently and so on - when they rolled out the Ion a few years ago, they essentially killed off the uniqueness of the brand - creating "yet another Chevrolet". (Bringing the Opel Astra over under the Saturn badge was a brilliant move - they need more of those kind of changes to happen)

The current credit market is essentially an extinction event for big, monolithic industry companies like GM. They need to make their various brand divisions independent again - able to move on their own, and with their own unique identity - more than just a marketing brand and a bit of custom shaped plastics. Only when the monolith allows itself to become a collection of more autonomous, smaller companies will it stand a chance of succeeding in today's climate.

Stephen "Senate Refooooorm" Harper - Reprise

I'm a few days behind on articles, but when I looked this article on Harper's plans to resurrect his "senate elections" legislation, it was clear that the author has thought about things in considerable depth.

He concludes with the following statement:

There are many arguments in favour of this change, and it might actually make Canadian democracy - and the Prime Minister and his government - more accountable and representative. But again, such a change is too important to be undertaken without a great deal of public discussion.


The IRPP has published a much more detailed analysis - it's worth the time to read it - before Harper starts attempting to dictate a lame-brained "reform" policy without discussing it with the rest of Canada.

Why Non-Discrimination Laws Are Needed - Reason #2,354,931

I've ranted about the kind of nastiness that can be levelled at people for being different many times on this blog. In the last couple of weeks, there has been a surprising amount of vileness in the news: a lesbian couple gets assaulted, another couple is denied housing, and a transwoman was shot to death.

Then we have the latest whining out of Peter Labarbera based on a non-discrimination clause in the Obama transition team hiring application page:

The Obama-Biden Transition Project does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law.


Whines The Peter:

Will big-boned men in dresses and high heels like this fellow be allowed to use women’s restrooms in federal buildings under the Obama Administration? That’s what Obama’s plan to create “rights” based on gender confusion might bring.


I won't even begin to tear apart the errors in LaBarbera's ignorant tirade. Suffice it to say, that it is the insane rantings of people like him that make it abundantly clear that broadly inclusive non-discrimination laws are absolutely necessary. As are harsher remedial laws like S. 318 of the Canadian Criminal Code.

Ironically, religion is so often the root source of discrimination against marginalized groups, and it is one of the first rights to be recognized and protected in law. (and rightly, it should be) As long as people like LaBarbera cloak themselves in religiosity, the good that many faiths do will be masked by the blunt nastiness and ignorance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

As Far As I'm Concerned ...

This dog should be gone.

It's not a matter of the dog's breed, in my view. It's a matter of the dog not being adequately controlled by its owner, and more worrisome, having gotten it into its head that biting is acceptable - and possibly even a way to 'rise in the pack'.

Once a dog starts biting complete strangers, that's it. Game over. Period.

Yes, that's harsh. But far too many people are unwilling to control their animals, and one has to ask who is next? How many times do we allow an inadequately controlled animal to injure children, or for that matter anyone else walking down the street? Once? Twice? Ten times?

If you own a pet, you are responsible for the animal - at all times. That includes while your animal is out in the back yard. If it escapes and attacks someone, then you have failed in your responsibilities - both to your pet and to your neighbors.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Human Rights, Discrimination and Sexual Identity

In itself, this story is the usual story of a gay couple being denied rental accommodations because they are gay.

However, the following reader comment speaks to the degree of ignorance people have about such matters:

Oh Hello?

I think it is their home they have the right to rent to who they want.

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal better have their thinking caps on straight on this one!


This makes me furious beyond belief. The reality is described in considerable clarity in S. 8 of the BC Human Rights Code:

Discrimination in accommodation, service and facility
8. (1) A person must not, without a bona fide and reasonable justification,
(a) deny to a person or class of persons any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public, or
(b) discriminate against a person or class of persons regarding any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person or class of persons.

(2) A person does not contravene this section by discriminating
(a) on the basis of sex, if the discrimination relates to the maintenance of public decency or to the determination of premiums or benefits under contracts of life or health insurance, or
(b) on the basis of physical or mental disability or age, if the discrimination relates to the determination of premiums or benefits under contracts of life or health insurance.


So...once again, someone claims "religious grounds" to justify their discriminatory practices - in the context of a commercial transaction - after having already reached an agreement.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a huge amount of trouble with the fact that the couple renting out their basement suite are Christian. What I take exception to is the seeming demand that their tenants must abide by the moral codes of the landlord. I can just see the next round of "instant martyr, just add persecution" - after all, they were only being 'Good Christians', right?

Interesting Challenge of Guantanamo Bay

I see that six detainees at Guantanamo Bay are challenging their detention in a US court.

The six Algerians were arrested in Bosnia in the weeks following the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and have been held without charge ever since.

They deny government claims that they were planning to travel to Afghanistan to fight with al-Qaeda and the Taleban against US troops.


This is very much at the heart of my long standing objections to the very existence of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Not only have the people being held there been denied basic access to due process, but worse they have been held even in the absence of coherent evidence to support the ostensible reasons for their detention.

I have to imagine that this case is the first of many that will ultimately dismantle some of the more awful aspects of the Bush II legacy. (Like trying to hold people in a legal limbo indefinitely)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

How Will Obama Influence Harper?

I think Lawrence Martin has some interesting points - in particular:

Although Stephen Harper is a conservative who is more at one with the Republican philosophy than Mr. Obama's, officials say the Prime Minister will be most accommodating with the new president. Given Mr. Obama's popularity, he can scarcely afford to be otherwise.


The real question is whether Obama's presence in the White House will sway Canadians in directions that lean away from Mr. Harper's desired direction. It's no secret that the Harper Conservatives are tied into the Bush Republicans in a 'joined at the hip' kind of way. High profile members of the Conservatives routinely attend Republican policy conventions and so on.

Certainly, in the short term, Mr. Harper has to tread somewhat cautiously where President-elect Obama is concerned. Nobody is really sure just how Obama will structure his government, or what is real stance on a lot of topics will be. Harper would be foolish indeed to act precipitously in a manner that could easily run afoul of Obama's direction.

That said, traditionally, even US Democrats tend be comparatively right-wing compared to what Canada will elect under the 'Conservative' banner. Obama may not be so different in his policies than Harper - perhaps somewhat less inclined towards the false glory of war, but I suspect the two may share more ideological ground than a lot of Canadians would like to see.

Regardless, Obama will be good for the United States. After 8 years of a regime I can only politely call nasty, Obama represents a more reasoned and thoughtful view of government. One that I can only hope will guide the US out of the quasi-imperialism of the Bush II era in a constructive and meaningful way.

How that will bend Harper remains to be seen. Harper hasn't shown himself to be willing to adapt to compromise to this point, whether the trade balance with the United States is a big enough lever to move Harper remains to be seen. (and, even if it does turn out to be effective, that isn't likely to change the destructiveness of Harper's policies within Canada)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Cost Of Failing To Plan

Calgary has been notoriously short sighted in its budgeting since the 1990s, and when combined with a provincial government which philosophically objects to spending money of any kind, we find ourselves facing quite a deficit on many different fronts.

The budget for Calgary's next three years contains quite the hike in tax revenues.

Just as the costs of building a new hospital in Calgary have exploded in the ten years since the General Hospital was demolished, the immediate costs of expanding our transit system, and other infrastructure have also increased compared to what they would have been had the city invested in its future needs as it grew.

Calgary's tax payers are about to carry the costs of a style of government that has been terminally myopic for almost two decades. I, for one, am less than impressed with this.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Politics of Hope Versus The Mendacity Of Stupid

For the first time in nearly a dozen years, a campaign based on something other than sliming the opponent actually won.

I won't spend a huge amount of time on Obama's victory right now, I merely want to recognize that for a change, the Rethuglican tactics of smearing opponents with lies and attack ads failed. I can only hope this marks the end of the ugly tactics favored by Karl Rove in both the United States and Canada.

The McCain/Palin ticket followed the Rove playbook almost slavishly - Palin in particular turned me off as soon as she started opening her mouth. Much of what she said on a variety of subjects was so obviously false as to be offensive. Political campaigns should be about character and ideas, not character assassination. I was glad to see Obama's victory last night be solid (338 electoral votes to McCain's 163) - even Bush's victory in 2004 wasn't as solid.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Really Hate It When ...

Bad speculative fiction comes out too close to the truth.

In this case, I'm referring to Robocop, and in particular the ED-209.

I'm not saying that the research being done is invalid, but it certainly conjures up visions that I can only characterize as creepy. Dealing with the police on a day to day basis is unsettling enough; dealing with a bunch of robots that are (in theory) controlled by the police - or any other law agency is just going to make the prospect all the more uncomfortable.

As with money, technology itself is inanimate, and has neither ethics nor morals per se. Those only exist in the hands of the humans that are using those tools. Are we ready for autonomous, or even semi-autonomous robots to play a role in our worlds?

Monday, November 03, 2008

That's Reasoned?

I see that Calgary's Bishop Henry continues to faithfully repeat whatever comes out of Rome ... in this case, he's trying to defend his blind opposition to HPV vaccination.

This is particularly galling because the suppositions the Bishop (and the RC Church in general) are operating from are fundamentally flawed - to the point of making the conclusions drawn from those assumptions quite ridiculous.

Besides raising the issue of side effects and questions about long range effectiveness, the Bishop falls into the classic Catholic line about sexuality.

Yes, there are legitimate questions worthy of study in respect to the vaccine's long term effectiveness - and this does warrant ongoing study. Similarly, as with any vaccine, side effects need to be studied and analyzed as the vaccine is put into broader use. However, that doesn't justify being obstructive to the availability of the medication in question - which is precisely what the Bishop has argued for.

We should teach critical thinking skills; provide factual information and guidelines as needed; and teach right from wrong and equip our youth for proper decision-making.


That's almost reasoned enough to make sense - then he proceeds to demonstrate that it is in fact rooted in standard dogma about sexuality (which frankly seems to be more 'ostriching' than anything else):

A school-based approach to vaccination runs the risk of sending at least an implicit message that early sexual intercourse is allowed, as long as one uses "protection."


I cannot even begin to express how outrageously false this claim is. There isn't a shred of rational evidence to support the inference made. It also vastly underestimates how much knowledge and awareness that youth have about sexuality. (It wasn't hard to get when I grew up - and that was long before the easy availability of the Internet)

The "popular" wisdom these days insists that because we can't stop our children from engaging in pre-marital sex, and because such sex can be dangerous and have bad effects, we should do everything we can to protect our youngsters by vaccinating them against the HPV virus.


Well, Bishop, I'd like for you to reflect upon 2,000 odd years of Church history - and then demonstrate to me how the Church's anti-sex dogma has changed a thing in terms of the activities of youth. There's a small, not so trivial aspect of this picture that you are overlooking - namely the impact of those initial flushes of hormones that are manifest at puberty. Teenagers aren't terribly rational creatures at the best of times, and they are infinitely curious about everything - in particular the bodies of those that they have just discovered to be interesting. This hasn't changed since humankind hid in caves, and I don't exactly expect it to change based on the moralizing idiocy that comes from the pulpit.

Respecting the God-given designs for our sexuality and struggling towards sexual self-mastery is one of the great challenges of our age, and probably of every age. Arguments in favour of widespread availability of the HPV vaccine are emblematic of a collective loss of nerve in the face of powerful libertine pressures within our culture.


Would this be the same "God-given designs" that treat women as property? That blame women for being 'barren' when the husband is firing blanks? The same designs that blame women for being unfaithful to their husbands, but celebrate the man who has multiple wives?

Making the HPV vaccine available has nothing to do with a loss of nerve, rather it has to do with a recognition that if we can do something to prevent a cancer that can kill, that just maybe it's worth doing - because we care about our daughters too.

It infuriates me to no end that the churches insist on attempting to regulate people's sexuality - and do so in a manner that not only suppresses information, but ultimately makes it harder, not easier, for people to deal with not only their sexuality, but the consequences of being a sexual human being. Abstinence only works on paper - as a convenient way of shaming people for doing what comes most naturally to every species of life on this planet. For an idea about just how ultimately ineffective abstinence programs are, consider this essay - which points out, more or less that such programs do little, if anything ultimately to curb teenage hormones and curiousity - and worse, can arguably be accused of contributing to not only higher rates of teen pregnancy and the increased transmission of STIs. No matter how I slice it, the biblical reality cheque just bounced.