Friday, February 27, 2009

Stephen Harper: Not Getting It

No, Stephen, it's not "soft on crime", it's about being effective in addressing the issues the crime presents.

Says Steve:

"The truth of the matter is, those who say that the tougher penalties on perpetrators will not work don’t want them to work because they don’t believe in his kind of approach," he told reporters.

"We know that we’re going to hear these critics, and we know that we’re going to hear the opposition parrot some of these critics because they all believe in soft-on-crime policies."

No, you moron. As I point out back here, what the Conservatives are proposing is fundamentally unable to address the real issues that lead to gang violence. At most, you're going to fill up our jails with petty thugs, meanwhile the serious criminals - the ones who run the illegitimate 'businesses' that these gangs are the front lines of, continue to get away with it unchallenged.

Michael Chettleburgh, a criminal justice analyst and author of Young Thugs, which chronicles the rise of Canada's homegrown gang culture, said the Tories' measures won't add much clarity to how ill-equipped the justice system is to handle gang violence in Canada.

"Right now we are navigating in the fog around the gang issue," he told CBC News from Toronto.

"For many gang members, tougher laws doesn't matter. They don't pay attention to tougher laws."

He said Canada is lagging behind compared to the recent changes made in the United States, such as allowing the testimony of witnesses against gangs to be entered into court records without the witness having to stand before the court.

This legislation, like just about every other "major" piece of legislation I've seen come out since 2006 is barely window dressing - and in this case, it's less than that.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bishop: Diversity Is Fine ...

Unless it conflicts with church dogma.

Following Misericordia University's decision to host a homosexualist speaker, Bishop Martino has called on the school to dissolve the "Diversity Institute" that sponsored the event.

I don't even know where to begin with this class of stupidity. A group that exists on Campus to explore the issues of diversity brings in a speaker from a community that the Roman Catholic church disagrees with, so now they should be disbanded?

So much for the concept of University as a place of intellectual discourse and reasoned investigation.

"The Bishop's rationale is that students should learn respect for all races and cultures, but that viewpoints that are in direct opposition to Catholic teaching should not be presented under the guise of 'diversity.' Doing so within a formal structure sanctioned by the institution gives the impression that these viewpoints are acceptable, or that all morality is relative."

How about a revolutionary idea, Bishop. If the school is truly a university, let it be. If someone wants their worldview blinkered the way you describe, they can attend a seminary.

Frankly, if bringing in a GLBT speaker is that threatening to the Bishop, I think he would benefit from precisely the kind of program that the Diversity Institute represents.

More "Get Tough On Crime" Nonsense

Innovative problem solving this isn't. When faced with a need to confront a growing gang problem, Harper reaches into the bag of standard conservative dogma and pulls out the hoary old saw about "getting tough on crime".

"Drugs are an intimate part of what gangs and organized crime are involved with in this country. We recognize they go hand in hand," he said.

According to reports, the bills will seek to make any gang-related homicide a first-degree murder charge and attach mandatory sentences for serious drug crimes.

Good luck with that. While we can mentally associate certain murders with gang activity, proving that association in a court of law is going to be a might bit more difficult. First of all, proving that someone is a member of a criminal gang is difficult enough. Laws in Canada in the past have tried to penalize members of "biker gangs" like the Hell's Angels. They have only met with limited success - in part because it's extremely difficult to prove that someone is a member of such an organization. The second problem becomes one of demonstrating that the motive for a killing was in fact gang related. The reason more First Degree murder charges aren't laid in the first place is the raw difficulty in establishing the perpetrator's motives adequately in court.

As for "mandatory minimum sentences" for whatever the Conservatives call a "serious drug crime", that's just plain bad policy. Throwing people in jail for ever increasing lengths of time is unlikely to have any significant impact on these youthful fools. The majority of what the police will pick up are the twenty-somethings who are running around on the street selling the stuff. At that age, they don't typically think overly clearly, and if they do think, it tends to be along the lines of "I'm invincible" - a ten or even twenty year sentence attached to dealing a bit of dope isn't going to deter them.

Worse, it does nothing to enable our law enforcement officials to go after the leaders of these organizations. The string pullers who keep themselves just far enough removed from the day to day violence of their "businesses" that they are difficult to charge with anything significantly criminal. (Remember, Al Capone didn't go to prison for murder or anything else - he was imprisoned for tax evasion. Thugs are a dime a dozen - and they are just that - thugs. They aren't the brains of the operation, nor is incarcerating all of them going to get rid of the gang problem.

I'll wait and see what they actually table in the House of Commons, but I'm guessing that it will be fundamentally pointless, as it will not address the root problems that give gangs the environment in which they operate, nor will these laws provide additional tools to law enforcement to go after the real problem.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Apparently, Big Daddy Doesn't Want GG To Talk

At all.

Canadians would think that even a pathologically mute government, whose relations with the country's surrogate head of state are tepid at best, could answer the question: Did President Barack Obama invite Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean to Washington?

But no.

The Prime Minister's Office for three days has refused to respond to queries about a Saturday report published in several Ontario newspapers that the President, on his recent visit to Ottawa, invited Ms. Jean to the U.S. capital to talk about the politics and economy of her native Haiti.

Ms. Jean's spokeswoman, Marthe Blouin, who was quoted in the published reports as saying the President told the Governor-General he “would love to see her in Washington,” has since issued an e-mail statement saying: “I have nothing to say regarding the … article on Saturday.”

What is it with this lot of Conservatives? Harper seems to have such a limited repertoire of communication available to him that he can't even deal with a simple question - and worse, it appears that the PMO is insisting that the GG's office can't comment either!

Canadians have learned more about what happened when Obama came to Ottawa through the US press and the White House than we have from our own government.

This is disgraceful. Prime Minister Harper should be ashamed of himself. His disrespect for Canada, Canadians and our head of state is beyond appalling for a man who is the head of the sitting government.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Word For This Is Harrassment

I see that local wingnut Bill Whatcott is at it again.

This time, he's decided that his target of choice if Darren Lund.

Calgary police are investigating a self-described “Christian activist” who’s been distributing flyers showing a local university professor’s face superimposed on a graphic sexual photo.

Darren Lund, an education professor at the University of Calgary, says the material being distributed into Calgary mailboxes is difficult for his family. “My children were quite upset by this particular flyer,” says Lund. “My daughter remarked that this kind of bullying is completely inappropriate in a junior high school setting, but it’s especially unfair coming from an adult.”

Frankly, I don't know what's rattling loose in Whatcott's festering imagination - and I don't really care. No matter how I look at this, Whatcott's behaviour is inappropriate, juvenile and stupid. The man has moved from being an extremist to being a caricature - and in doing so has become a public nuisance.

“I told him I had the right to tell the truth about homosexuality and academic homofascism.”

Whatcott is an extreme, but he is an example of the kind of blind hatred that can be spawned on the basis of misplaced faith and willful ignorance. He's a sorry excuse for a human being - and it's clear that he long ago misunderstood the core messages that scripture has for humanity.

The Evidence For Transsexuals

Down in Australia, blogger Zoe has posted an excellent summary of the medical evidence to date that points to underlying biological causes for transsexualism.

I continue to temper the optimism that some of this evidence will engender with the cautious view that the evidence is persuasive, but not at this point conclusive. What we have is a series of pointers that are leading us towards an understanding of a series of factors that appear to influence the emergence of transsexualism. However, we should also be just a little wary of falling into the trap of assuming that coincidence equals causality.

That said, I am very happy with the research work that has been done, and what that work is beginning to reveal.

Oh, Woe is my Poor Conscience

Okay, abortion is a contentious subject. I get that.

Not all doctors are going to be willing to provide that service. I get that too.

Leaving patients twisting in the breeze because "your conscience won't allow you to participate"? That I don't get.

Consider the following:

The present regulations say doctors must ensure pregnant women are "offered access to information or assistance" to help them make informed decisions on their options, including possible termination.

Under the proposed changes, physicians must make sure patients who are considering terminating their pregnancies are offered access to information to make an informed decision as well as "access to available medical options."

Okay - in essence, that creates a practice obligation that if a doctor is not willing to participate, then they are obliged to provide an appropriate referral to someone who will.

This is not an unreasonable statement at all when one considers that our family physicians are most people's primary source of meaningful information and connection into our health care system.

Of course, for the "conscience crowd", this is too much pain:

"This (proposed) clause removes my ability to be a conscientious physician," said Dr. Joan Johnston, an Edmonton family physician who opposes abortion.

Speaking as someone who has had to access the medical system for reasons that some moralizing types would consider controversial, the doctor's comments are whining. Basically, what she's demanding is the right not just to be a non-participant, but to in fact be an obstacle to her patients accessing those services. This is morally and ethically reprehensible.

It is difficult enough to gain access to the correct services within the medical system without having physicians demanding that patients live under the physician's personal moral code. If you don't want to perform some procedure, that's just fine - but you need to provide your patients with access to the doctors who are willing to be involved. There is little more frustrating in life than to be facing a need for treatment, and to have various people closing the doors on you without at least having the grace to point one in the direction of someone who can be of assistance.

Yes, I'm sure that Dr. Johnston has very legitimate concerns about "not perpetrating evil" (or whatever her particular objections are). The fact is that she is not being obliged to do anything except ensure that her patients have access to the correct resources to make an informed decision, rather than just providing them with a closed door.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

CanWest Slipping Towards Bankruptcy

As CanWest's financial troubles become more dire, it's beginning to look like Bankruptcy is a very real possibility in the coming weeks.

Potential investors including Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. want the Asper family to give up control of the Winnipeg, Manitoba-based company in return for a cash infusion, the newspaper said today, citing unidentified people.

At least one investor said that Chief Executive Officer Leonard Asper must step aside and that he and his siblings must eliminate a dual-class share structure that allows them to control the company, the Globe said.

Certainly, under the direction of the Aspers, CanWest has stripped the former flagships of the Southam newspaper chain of any editorial freedom. The result being a group of newspapers that spout what ever the neoCon talking point of the day is. Writers capable of being intelligent and engaging like Naomi Lakritz have become mouthpieces for right-wing drivel that might as well be written by Gwen Landolt. When the Quebecor controlled Sun Media newspapers have to come to represent a more balanced approach to journalism in comparison, one must conclude that thoughtful, intelligent journalism has truly withered under the Aspers.

I can only hope that whatever rises from the ashes of the Asper family's mismanagement of a media empire is capable of more intelligent and independent thought in its editorial boards than has been permitted from Winnipeg lately.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dear ACTRA: Bugger Off

With ACTRA demanding that we start paying taxes to ACTRA for Canadian Content on the Internet.

This is beyond offensive. Not only do these nitwits fail to understand something - there is a huge amount of Canadian Content on the Internet. This blog is CanCon. I'm a Canadian, I write this blog - do the math.

If ACTRA is going to be on the receiving end of levies (as they are for recordable media - even when it is used purely for data!), I'd like to know just how they plan on funneling some of that money to me? It won't, any more than the levy on recording media funnels down the thousands of independent artists that produce below the radar of big corporate interests.

Frankly, I find ACTRA's high-handed demands are unreasonable, and offensive. Whining because I might watch a YouTube video of a program that somebody posted up there is simply stupid. Demanding that Internet users pay some kind of arbitrary levy simply for using the Internet is wrong. Dead wrong.

ACTRA, along with the recording industry, needs to come up with a new business model - and that business model cannot include picking my pocket on the assumption of what I might or might not be doing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dear Ed: About That Democratic Deficit In Alberta...

You aren't helping the matter at all.

This tells the electorate just how seriously you take democracy. Instead of starting to enact some of his recommendations following last year's election, you turf him. Why? Because he spoke and "embarrassed" the government?

Talk about a thin-skinned sense of entitlement.

On The Oilsand

BigCity Lib has found a very interesting report on the Oil Sands and the trade offs involved from the Rand Corporation.

Go Read ... Now ...

H/T: BigCityLib

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Calgarians Are "Whiners"?

According Ron Liepert we are:

"Damn it all, I'm sick and tired of people whining about not enough health-care facilities in the city," he said.

Since it's been under a PC government that Calgary's health care facilities have gradually been closed and not replaced, one might think that Minister Liepert just might recall that since the late 1980s, we have lost not one, but three hospitals - The Holy Cross, The Calgary General and The Grace.

Two of those hospitals were closed under the watch of Ralph Klein, and one under his predecessor, Don Getty. But, apparently history is lost on Minister Liepert:

Calgary has received its fair share of health-care funding --with $1.5 billion for several projects --Health Minister Ron Liepert said Sunday, responding to criticisms over the expansion at the Peter Lougheed Centre.
Liepert noted the province has funded expansions at all three major hospitals, along with a long-term-care facility and the East Calgary Health Centre, among other projects.

Which might, just barely, get us back to where we were when the Tories started closing our hospitals and not replacing them. Mr. Liepert, it's under the Conservatives that the current deficit situation with respect to health care infrastructure in Calgary started. It's taken you idiots the better part of 15 years to start addressing it in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, Calgary has grown from a city of just over 500,000 to just over a million people. Figure it out.

Liepert said the province, which gave $222 million to fund the expansion in 2005, had never committed to complete all of the floors. That project, he said, would be considered along with all of the other unfunded requests across the province.

We have a term for this kind of evasiveness - "weasel words", Mr. Liepert. It's amazing how something has funding and concrete plans one day, and the next thing we know, the contractors are suddenly being ordered not to finish the job because it's "unfunded work".

Remember, Calgarians, you elected this bunch of morons by not actually voting.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why Is My BS Alarm Going Off?

If you drive, you've probably been scratching your head over gas prices. Crude is trading below $40 a barrel, and yet the cost at the pumps has been escalating. What gives?

Well, last year, when we were seeing prices pushing $2/Liter, we were being told that "tough luck, look at the crude prices" - while being inundated with news conference after news conference where big oil players gloated about ever increasing record profits.

Now, we are being told that they were selling to us at a discount, and they're trying to recover their losses.

Uh huh. This smells like garbage because it is. You can't have it both ways, big oil. If you were making grandiose, record breaking profits last summer, it wasn't because you were making any effort to give the consumer a break. To twist your logic around and justify cranking up pump prices well above what a $40 barrel would ordinarily justify doesn't follow from what you were claiming last year.

Especially not when among the big players, the majority have divisions at all levels of the equation. Whether they are technically different companies or not is irrelevant. You can't tell me that the different divisions don't collaborate.

If you are going to whine and moan about how rough your life is now, then perhaps you shouldn't have been gloating over the profits last year, hmmm?

So ... Where Are The Free Speech Advocates?

I'm finding it quite suspicious how silent the so-called advocates of 'Free Speech' are being over Ottawa Transit's decision not to allow Bus advertisements with atheist themes to be be run.

After the hue and cry over Campus Pro Life in Calgary, or perhaps Ezra LeRant's ongoing screeching, one might think that some of these people might speak out about this - which is really little different than what they've been complaining about in many respects.

Of course, if they were being honest with us, they'd admit that they really aren't about 'free speech' - they're about 'freedom of their speech', without regard to anybody else. This is the very crux of the matter that I have addressed in numerous articles on this blog - freedom of speech has limits and boundaries.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How UnSurprising

Right on cue, the idiots in Edmonton start cutting health care spending at the first sign of financial trouble.

Anyone who lived through the horror that was Ralph Klein's years already knows that the Alberta NeoCon$ will use Health Care as the whipping boy for all of their difficulties balancing the books. Never mind that it's one of the most valuable public services Canada - and in particular Alberta has.

For those not thinking that it works to our advantage, consider that health insurance premiums south of the border can easily approach 100% of a middle income earner's salary. When employers have to foot that bill, suddenly the cost per employee goes skyrocketing over the salary plus payroll taxes and lease space.

Calgary has seen the brunt of the Klein-era cutbacks, and has only recently been starting to recover from the damage that slash-and-burn funding did to health care in our city.

Now, we see the parsimonious bunch of twits in Edmonton going after Health Care - after prostituting themselves to big oil in recent weeks.

According to the AHS's website, the unfunded units include transplant, lab, mental health, emergency and hemodialysis services.

I see. So, a health care system that is already starved for space for emergency care, and has never even come close to adequate space for serious acute mental health issues (ever since they went to "in community care" sometime in the late 1980s) is about to be constrained even further. I don't doubt that hemodialysis is similarly shorted on available service times.

Stelmach once again shows us that like his predecessor, he's all about big oil money, and not so much big on doing things for the people who live in this province. I can hardly wait to see what will be visited upon the citizens of Alberta when the budget is unveiled.


So much for that NeoCon talking point about how the "Free Market" should be left entirely to its own devices. The HarperCon$ just threw it out the window:

"Regulation" and "oversight" will be among the summit's buzzwords, with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney likely to stress that each country needs to establish stronger domestic regulation as a necessary first step toward international co-ordination on banking rules.

Canada's financial system has proven more resilient than most during the global economic crisis.

The country has been sheltered by capital rules – the base capital that banks need to have to make loans – that are more stringent than the international standard, as well as a cap on how much debt banks can take on.

Considering how the Con$ squealed when Canada's banks were told by then Finance Minister Martin to take a hike on the subject of deregulating and allowing them to merge in fifteen different ways with other Canadian banks and foreign banks, there's a perverse irony to them now spouting off how wonderfully well our regulatory system has worked...a regulatory system that they have fought tooth and nail against for years.

One has to wonder how spinmeisters like Tom Flanagan will try to assimilate that into their next joint and smoke it? (Should produce something nice and acrid, I'm sure)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Harper: Bad For Canada

I swear that Harper has to be the most clueless PM that I have ever seen - especially when it comes to dealing with anything remotely divisive.

In speaking about a re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, we find Harper's infallible instinct to poke someone in the eye coming to the surface:

"What I know is this: For most Canadians and most Quebecers, that battle is an important event but it is an historical battle," the prime minister said to a burst of applause from workers at Montreal's CAE plant when he repeated the remarks in English.

He said the Bloc Quebecois "want to keep fighting today."

"Most Canadians have moved beyond this. We're not fighting battles across the country in workplaces like this. English-and French-Canadians work together and we're going to continue to keep this country together forever."

Can this blockhead be any thicker? Has he ever studied the french perspective on that battle? I doubt it - otherwise he might be just a little more reserved in his words on the subject.

Instead, what he does is come along, and try to make yet another partisan poke at Quebec. Obviously he either is downright malicious when it comes to Quebec, or he has absolutely no clue about that province.

I'm not saying that you handle Quebec "with kid gloves", but rather you handle it with respect. Harper is not being respectful, he's being cold, high-handed and arrogant about the matter. Re-enacting that battle will inflame separatist sentiment in the province.

I don't suppose I should be particularly surprised by this. Harper has made it clear that he is mendacious, petty and vengeful...and Quebec hasn't exactly rewarded his overtures with support at the polls.

However, that said, Canadians - and Quebeckers are Canadians - deserve to be treated with a degree of respect by their Prime Minister. Instead, what we see is the inflammatory rhetoric that is divisive and destructive. Canada has enough problems right now, without its Prime Minister trying to reignite the flames of Quebec separatism.

Do I really need to point out that Quebec's separatists have had their greatest political gains made during times of economic downturn?) Rene Levesque came to power in 1976 - just as we were digging out of the oil-embargo induced recession of the early 1970s; and Parizeau came into power as the downturn of the early 1990s came to an end. Do the math - poor economic times are when the separatists gain support as people look for alternatives. What does our Prime Minister do? Drive people to them.

Contrary to what many from Alberta seem to think, Canada would be a much poorer place without Quebec as part of it; and I suggest Quebec would not benefit from detachment from the rest of Canada either. (as infuriating as the Quebec separatists can be)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ignatieff Differentiating Himself

As a political leader, Ignatieff is starting to sound very interesting. Of particular interest is this article from the Globe and Mail yesterday.

And in contrast to Mr. Harper, the new Liberal Leader, who is well-travelled and well-known in Britain and the United States, even has an advantage when it comes to Mr. Obama, who is visiting Ottawa next week.

"I just pick up the phone to some of my friends in his administration ...," Mr. Ignatieff said on CTV's Question Period earlier this year when discussing how close his ties are with the Obama White House.

Well, Harper used to brag about his connection with Bush II. I'm not sure that this means much in terms of relations with the White House under Obama, really.

Ignatieff's profile on the world stage is almost guaranteed to be better than Harper's. Harper was an unknown on the world stage until 2006, and since then he's done little more than demonstrate that he's a puppet for the neoCons in the Bush Whitehouse.

And while Mr. Ignatieff says he can pick up the phone to call the White House, his senior staffers say that his MPs can pick up the phone to call him. In fact, about 300 Liberal staffers, MPs and senators showed up to partake of Canadian wine and cheese at his office Tuesday night where he thanked them for being the "real guts of the organization."

By far, this is the more important aspect of the distinction between Ignatieff and other political leaders in Canada lately. He's clearly reaching out to the membership of his party and making himself accessible. How much that contact will influence his decisions and direction is hard to say, but from an organizational culture standpoint, it's a very interesting aspect of his leadership, and it will result in a much more cohesive party in the long run.

This is in extreme contrast to the iron-fisted, top-down style that we've seen from Harper. As I have expressed before, Harper's style has distinct limitations that we should not ignore - micromanagement doesn't scale well to large numbers of issues; and there have long been signs of various factions within the Conservatives squirming to make themselves heard. This is not exactly unifying the Conservative party.

Perhaps most telling is the Conservative party's lack of reaction to Ignatieff:

"Canadians are concerned about the economy right now, they don't want to see politicians playing political games at the moment," the Prime Minister's communications director, Kory Teneycke, said, explaining why they haven't done to Mr. Ignatieff what they did to Mr. Dion. "But we're not focused on politics right now. We're not planning to go to a campaign right now."

I'd have to suspect that it also boils down to the fact that Ignatieff has already shown that he will not be bullied about by Mr. Harper's tactics. That simply doesn't give the Con$ the kind of easy target that Dion made.

Ignatieff's much stronger presentation in the House of Commons also flies in the face of the kind of slime throwing that the standard attack ad tactic relies on, and I think people are picking up on that as well. (Not to mention the stunning crash of Rovian style campaigning in the United States has got to have made the Con$ a whole bunch more cautious)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More on the Lawrence King Murder

Almost a year ago, Larry King was murdered by a classmate.

For most of the last year, we've seen a steady stream of 'blame the victim' coming out from those who think it's just fine to blow someone's brains out if they are GLBT.

Today, the Prosecution filed a brief in court that paints a bit more of the picture - and it's not pretty:

McInerney was the aggressor, teasing the effeminate King for weeks and vowing to "get a gun and shoot" him, according to a prosecution brief. Multiple students provided accounts of a growing hostility between the two boys, the document shows.

Lovely ... and it gets worse, as the prosecution's brief also paints a little more of the picture:

In her statement of facts, Fox contends that King and McInerney had an acrimonious relationship for months prior to the shooting. They sparred with "typical 8th grade, back-and-forth insults; some sexual, some not," she wrote.

Witnesses said King was usually not the aggressor. But after months of teasing by McInerney and other male students who called him "faggot," he had began to retort, according to prosecutors.
A few minutes later, prosecutors allege, McInerney told one of King's friends: "Say goodbye to your friend Larry because you're never going to see him again."

Ugh! What a nasty little piece of work. I remember kids like that when I was in Jr. High - they made my life decidedly unpleasant when I came into their sights. Fortunately, the chances of any of them being able to lay hands on a firearm were pretty much nil. Larry King wasn't so fortunate.

The prosecution brief also reveals for the first time that McInerney was familiar with firearms, and that he had used that particular weapon in the past during target shooting with his family.

Investigators found a training video in his possession titled "Shooting in Realistic Environments," as well as skinhead and neo-Nazi books and similar writings from the Internet, prosecutors wrote.

Delightful. Not only was the accused your basic garden variety middle school thug, but he's also shown us that he had fantasies about being a neo-nazi. This isn't exactly a poster child for upstanding citizen, is it?

Regardless of whatever may have happened in the school hallways, there is nothing that redeems the accused's decision to go get a gun, and pull the trigger twice. There is a degree of intent and premeditation being described here that is absolutely chilling - especially when it is coming from a thirteen or fourteen year old boy.

H/T: Trans Group Blog

Harper Ignores Khadr ... Still

Even with the US government putting the world on notice that the Guantanamo Bay prison that Omar Khadr is being held in will be closed down in the next twelve months, I see that Harper is continuing his 'head-in-sand' approach to the whole business.

Despite the plea, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper reaffirmed there will be no change in policy regarding Khadr unless the U.S. changes its position and dismissed the plan as a "PR stunt and nothing more."

"We are not interested in what Mr. Khadr's lawyers have to say or opposition leaders or, frankly, the media," Kory Teneycke told the Canadian Press.

The arrogance of this position is beyond belief. The only thing about it we can take away is that the HarperCon$ are nothing if not consistent. So far, the Harper government has dragged its feet for months (and longer) on every case where a Canadian citizen is held in questionable circumstances abroad.

Like it or not, Khadr is a Canadian Citizen - he was born here. Canada has a responsibility to its citizens, and the Harper government refuses to carry out its responsibilities in this area.

If Khadr really did something criminal, then bring him home and make him stand trial. The sham courts of the 'military tribunals' are not legal courts, and President Obama has already made it quite clear that they are about to come to a grinding halt.

What I think of the Khadr family is immaterial here. This is, like the Brenda Martin situation, a matter of rescuing a Canadian citizen who is being held illegally by a foreign power.

Ideology cannot be allowed to trump responsibility in our government.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Crumbling PMO Organization?

There's been quite a flurry of departures from the PMO in recent weeks, and even The National Post is commenting on it.

But strange things are happening in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's close-knit office. A senior advisor and at least one strategist are moving on, which has some Conservative observers concerned about internal morale and questioning the operation's top official.

This is interesting all by itself. When senior advisors start jumping ship, one of two things is wrong. Either the ship is sinking, or the captain is coming unglued.

Harper is a micromanager in the extreme, and micromanagers tend to fall apart when the number of issues that they have to deal with exceeds their ability to get a grasp on each and every one individually.

When a country is blasted by the kind of economic storm currently blowing around the world, the number of issues goes up dramatically. It can come as little surprise that things are rapidly exceeding Harper's ability to manage.

MPs confide there's a darkening mood in the big guy himself, hardly surprising given the stormy economic challenge Mr. Harper faces. One source says there was a blowup between a furious Prime Minister and key players last week. And PMO chief of staff Guy Giorno is now plotting the second major internal shuffle in eight months.

Uh huh. In short, Harper's losing his cool because things aren't going his way. Hardly the mark of strong leadership.

My counter-argument to saddling the Conservatives with the crumbling economy is that none of the other federal leaders would have managed affairs much differently if confronted and confounded by an imported global recession shedding jobs and creating bankruptcies at such a horrific speed.

Here's where I disagree with columnist Don Martin. All of the other parties were running the flag up the pole last fall, while Mr. Harper was blithely promising Canadians that the "fundamentals of our economy are solid". Anyone with their eyes open could see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, although few would have guessed the pervasiveness and severity of them.

Second, Mr. Harper has not managed this situation well at all. Instead of managing things to the benefit of Canadians, he has tried to turn it into another weapon in his constant, ongoing partisan warfare. The November FU was nothing more than a bunch of vacuous statements, followed with actions designed to inflame the situation - mere weeks after he was reluctantly re-elected by a Canadian public forced to choose between three marginal leaders.

Then he suspended the management of Canada's affairs for almost two months in order to draw up a budget that just might be passed by the House of Commons - if he didn't try to poke another stick in the opposition's eyes.

Harper hasn't managed a damn thing yet. He has, however, overseen the most vicious partisan warfare I've ever witnessed in this country; and now is poised - like his predecessor, Brian Mulroney, to plunge Canada still deeper into debt. (and, I wonder, just what kind of accountability the HarperCon$ will be demanding of those who are the beneficiaries of the government's sudden largesse?)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Learning Moments

University is about learning. Make no mistake about it - for those who choose to spend four or more years of their lives toiling away writing an endless stream of exams, term papers and assignments, University is a place where much is learned.

Not just in the classroom though. University is the place where many young men and women also learn to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Whether it is the choice to attend a lecture (or not), or to work during the school year to pay for sundries like food, choices and trade-offs must be made. Sometimes, one gets it right; other times, well, it's a miss; and hopefully, the misses aren't too disastrous.

Such is the case today for Campus Pro Life.

They made their choices, and now the consequences are coming home to roost. They chose to be confrontational and uncompromising. Now they are facing consequences from all sides - the UofC itself has asked that trespass charges be laid; and the Student's Union has now voted to sanction the group as well.

I'm not feeling overly sympathetic to Campus Pro Life's position in this matter. Not because I disagree with their philosophy, but because they chose this path in the full knowledge that it could have serious implications for them.

They now collectively find themselves on the receiving end of quite a life lesson - I hope that they learn it well.

Microsoft and R&D Spending

I'm far from being the world's biggest fan of Microsoft, but when shareholders are whining about R&D spending, I tend to sit up and take a bit of notice.

At $8 billion per year, Microsoft's R&D budget is enormous - especially when their revenues are $60 billion - that's about 13% of revenues. A lot by any measurement.

However, the investment community is being a bit silly here. Consider the following logic:

"During 2007, Apple spent $782 million on R&D, Oracle spent $85 million while Microsoft spent about $7.5 billion. In 2007, Apple annual revenue amounted to $24 billion and net income totaled $3.5 billion," says Montgomery. "According to 2008 annual report, Apple increased revenue to $32 billion and net income to $4.8 billion. During the same period Microsoft spent $8 billion on R&D and increased revenue from $51 billion to $60 billion. Therefore, Apple has a R&D budget that equates to approximately 10% of Microsoft’s; however, during this period Apple increased revenue by $8 billion and Microsoft increased revenue by $9 billion."

Let's get a couple of things straight here. R&D produces two things. Ideas, and product. (How much of Microsoft's $8 billion is upkeep on existing software? - who knows) However, neither of those equates to market share gains. R&D groups don't typically do a lot of marketing themselves.

Business growth is the responsibility of the marketing and sales arms of the organization - not R&D. Much of what an R&D organization does (especially in software) may not pay dividends for years - if ever. If Microsoft needs to be criticized by its shareholders, it's not on the subject of R&D spending, it's on the utterly clumsy marketing job they've done since about the mid-point of Windows XP's lifecycle.

Vista was a turkey beyond all turkeys. The packaging for it was awful - I still haven't figured out which version of Vista I would recommend for someone buying a new PC. Whoever came up with that marketing strategy should be fired - what a disaster!

Quite frankly, more recent offerings of the Office platform haven't won them any friends either. Lots of change, but nothing compelling enough to justify the cost of an upgrade; and completely new licenses are abusively expensive. Which leaves people looking at alternatives like OpenOffice.

If Microsoft has a problem, it's not R&D - it's in their marketing and image machine. Whoever's running that show just doesn't get it.

Debunking Dr. Paul McHugh

One of the most infuriating things I run across all too often are arguments from religious conservatives that try to bash transsexuals based on the utterances of one Dr. Paul McHugh.

In particular, they like to cite a paper that McHugh wrote in 2004 for the NeoCon magazine "First Things". His article in "First Things" is a doozy - drawing conclusions that are astonishingly subjective.

Those I met after surgery would tell me that the surgery and hormone treatments that had made them “women” had also made them happy and contented. None of these encounters were persuasive, however. The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women.

The short comment here is that in McHugh's view, transsexuals didn't measure up to his idea of beauty. For a supposed professional, working in mental health, McHugh should have long ago discarded such idiotic believes from his practice.

First, they spent an unusual amount of time thinking and talking about sex and their sexual experiences; their sexual hungers and adventures seemed to preoccupy them. Second, discussion of babies or children provoked little interest from them; indeed, they seemed indifferent to children. But third, and most remarkable, many of these men-who-claimed-to-be-women reported that they found women sexually attractive and that they saw themselves as “lesbians.” There's more assumptions in that one paragraph than a pharmacy has pills. Starting off with the idea that transsexuals are sex-obsessed. In reality it doesn't work that way. Transsexuals have varying levels of interest in sex - and it's all over the map. Perhaps McHugh only remembers the conversations about sex because they piqued his curiousity. As for children, not everybody is cut out to be a parent; and some, are so distressed by their situation that the idea of creating the emotional space to care for a child isn't even a point of discussion. (I know several ladies who have no desire whatsoever to raise a family - period) As for his astonishment that someone might transition and identify as a lesbian, it only goes to underscore Dr. McHugh's limited understanding of the diversity of human sexuality.

He [sic. Meyer] found that most of the patients he tracked down some years after their surgery were contented with what they had done and that only a few regretted it. But in every other respect, they were little changed in their psychological condition. They had much the same problems with relationships, work, and emotions as before. The hope that they would emerge now from their emotional difficulties to flourish psychologically had not been fulfilled.

Transition doesn't cure any problems that a person is dealing with besides the gender identity issues. To assume that it would is foolish and shortsighted indeed. I'll address how deeply flawed Meyer's study is later.

One group consisted of conflicted and guilt-ridden homosexual men who saw a sex-change as a way to resolve their conflicts over homosexuality by allowing them to behave sexually as females with men. The other group, mostly older men, consisted of heterosexual (and some bisexual) males who found intense sexual arousal in cross-dressing as females.

So the idiocy that is J. Michael Bailey starts even earlier than I thought. Unfortunately for McHugh, there are a surprising number of transsexuals who don't fit into either category that he has so narrowly described.

Yes, it is reasonable to assume that a transsexual exploring the idea of transition would be curious about the sexual experience as a woman, and may well find that notion arousing. What is unreasonable is to claim that the arousal indicates a primary motivation for transition. Among other things, taking cross-sex hormones does all sorts of things to an individual's patterns of arousal.

Having looked at the Reiner and Meyer studies, we in the Johns Hopkins Psychiatry Department eventually concluded that human sexual identity is mostly built into our constitution by the genes we inherit and the embryogenesis we undergo. Male hormones sexualize the brain and the mind. Sexual dysphoria — a sense of disquiet in one’s sexual role — naturally occurs amongst those rare males who are raised as females in an effort to correct an infantile genital structural problem. A seemingly similar disquiet can be socially induced in apparently constitutionally normal males, in association with (and presumably prompted by) serious behavioral aberrations, amongst which are conflicted homosexual orientations and the remarkable male deviation now called autogynephilia.

More or less, McHugh is drawing conclusions from a deeply flawed follow-up study on transsexuals and from a second study which is based on reassignment of Intersex infants. What he completely fails to draw from the Reiner study that he refers to is the logical corollary to the study's findings - namely that a person's gender identity is wired at some fundamental level of the brain, and does not readily shape itself based on social cues. This is in fact the underlying persistence of the transsexual narrative in the first place. Why McHugh fails to see this reality is simply a clue to his view of the world. (and I would feel very sorry for anyone who had to deal with him as a therapist for gender issues)

While I agree that there is evidence that suggests parallels between transsexualism and various Intersex conditions, I think it is important to point out that for the most part, Intersex people do not seem to describe the kind of psychological distress about gender that transsexuals do. Although some experience something similar if they are inappropriately assigned a gender as infants, in general this does not appear to be the case among IS people.

Many point to the case of John Reimer as an example, and his case is neither about transsexualism or intersex conditions - and in many respects proves the notion that there is something about gender identity that is profoundly fundamental to us as individuals - and is not subject to being "changed" by our social environment.

One might expect that those who claim that sexual identity has no biological or physical basis would bring forth more evidence to persuade others. But as I’ve learned, there is a deep prejudice in favor of the idea that nature is totally malleable.

I think if McHugh were to park his assumptions that sex equals gender and gender is sexuality for a while, he might come to the realization that just maybe the transsexual is in fact reinforcing a kind of essentialism about gender that he claims the transsexual narrative violates.

McHugh likes to stand up and brag about how he had the Gender Clinic program at Johns Hopkins shut down in the late 1970s because he didn't think that transsexuals benefited from surgery (or transition, probably) at all.

McHugh's position flies in the face of research spanning close to twenty years before his decision to close the clinic at Johns Hopkins. It relies upon a single paper, which is deeply flawed:

Because this publication is cited frequently by the professional and lay literature it seems important to us to demonstrate extensively why the results of this work are not very enlightening and cannot support the conclusions derived from them.

The scoring system used by the authors is undifferentiated because it is, for example, not evident if an arrest happened because of cross-dressing or for real crimes; if the partnerships classified as gender-appropriate, resp., as nongender-appropriate were partnerships of operated that existed over the time period of the operation or they were entered into post-surgically; if they are living partnerships or sexual partnerships; if the surgical results permitted to have sexual intercourse or not and if the psychiatric contacts, resp., inpatient treatments, came about exclusively because of the persistent pursuit of the goal sex reassignment or happened because of other psychiatric illnesses. One does not learn, for example, if also the routine contacts to the care-providing psychiatrist are counted or not.

The valuing done by the authors is absurd because, for example, the gender of the partner with whom a patient lived was evaluated pre-, resp., post-surgically as opposite. A single who possibly was not capable of having a long-term relationship and not maintain it received a better score (0) than an MFT who had lived for years with a female friend (and had an intimate relationship?) and did this past the time period of the operation, but whose relation after the operation was evaluated as nongender-appropriate (-1). An inpatient psychiatric treatment was evaluated more negatively (-3) than a jail term (-2). The professional of plumber (Hollingshead job level 4) counted exactly as much as post-surgical "gender-appropriate marriage" (+2).
The tables and figures shared by the authors do not seem serious because after the scoring table a maximum of only eight minus and five plus points can be achieved, but in the results table (p. 1014) a range from -18 to +19 points is given. How these figures came about remains totally in the dark. The presumption made by Fleming et al. (1980) that every category could be scored multiple times, is negated by the following thought: It is imaginable that with a multiple evaluation a number of 18 minus points can come about - by three stationary psychiatric admittances (3 times -3) plus three jail terms (3 times -2) plus three "nongender-appropriate partnerships" (3 times -1). It is unfathomable, however, how 19 plus points can be achieved with the scoring system,unless by, for example, five gender appropriate marriages (5 times +2) plus three different academic professions (3 times +3) within a follow-up study period.
One asks the question how it came about that a renowned professional publication published such opaque figure material. Meyer & Reter considered the shared data for the, in a sense, most objective data of their sampling and left out as good as all subjective statements of the follow-up study. It is possible that there was more to be learned from them.

Not without a problem is also the use of the not-operated as a control group, especially because 40% (14 of 35) of the not-operated had surgery in the course of the follow-up study and the other 21, even if not very decided, further pursued the goal to be operated. If the operated, in the course of the follow-up study, were counted in the partial sample right away of the operated, the average follow-up study period would have been shortened. How the other results could have been changed by this cannot be fathomed; the authors do not have any comments or calculations for this (comp. the remarks to the publication by Edgertom & Meyer [1973] and the critiques by Fleming et al. [1980], Lothstein [1982] and Abramowitz [1986]).

In short, McHugh's conclusions are based on even more limited data about transsexuals than normal, and it is based on what are clearly very flawed methods for gathering and quantifying the raw data.

Meanwhile, by far the majority of follow up studies (at least up to 1990/91) draw very different conclusions than does McHugh.

Worse yet, by McHugh's own admission, he wasn't going to look at anything to do with transsexualism objectively. His decision was already made by 1975.

This interrelationship of cultural antinomianism and a
psychiatric misplaced emphasis is seen at its grimmest in the
practice known as sex-reassignment surgery. I happen to know about
this because Johns Hopkins was one of the places in the United
States where this practice was given its start. It was part of my
intention, when I arrived in Baltimore in 1975, to help end it.

This is not someone whose opinion is objective at all. He had already drawn his conclusions, and no doubt directives to Dr. Meyer's team resulted in a study that fails the 'null hypothesis' test and is deeply flawed. In short, McHugh set out to find evidence to support his position, and didn't actually give one whit to the fact that his position was at odds with the conclusions of a lot of other researchers.

Monday, February 09, 2009

This Comes As No Surprise

Sure enough, on the heels of Alberta appointing a new Chief Commissioner, we find the wingnuts out screeching immediately because he might recommend that sexual orientation be added to the legislation:

Blackett indicated that one of the priorities for the new commissioner is to work toward writing sexual orientation protection into Alberta human-rights legislation.

"But that's something that's up to caucus - we would need to vote on that together. It’s probably not prudent for me to comment on what I would do personally, because it’s not up to me," said the minister in a Calgary Sun report.

Hmmm...gee you think ten years after the Vriend case was resolved in courts, that just maybe it's time for the Alberta government to drag its legislative arse into the twentieth century?

The other point here is that the Commissioner cannot change the legislation either - that has to happen in the Legislature. I think it's a very sad statement that Blackett's comments restrict that discussion to the Cabinet table.

Janet Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation, said, "The Alberta HRC seems to have taken a real nosedive, starting in the '90s," and suffers from "low profile and poor reputation." She recommended in the report that, apart from making the commission "more user friendly and offering legal assistance to both defendant and complainant," the government should repeal Section 3 of Alberta's Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act which deals with "statements or publications likely to expose people to hatred or contempt" in order to better protect freedom of speech.

Uh huh. Of course, if you go and read the actual report from the Sheldon Chumir Foundation, you will find something a little different:

First, section 3 – which makes it possible to file complaints on the basis of statements or publications which may “expose” people to “hatred or contempt” – presents an unacceptable limitation on free expression. This section must be amended as soon as possible. We recommend that it be amended so as to read as
it did prior to amendments made in 1996 which unwisely expanded the scope of the section.

That's quite a different thing from repealing the section, which is what Lifesite's writers are claiming.

Personally, I think that stepping back to the 1996 wording would be quite problematic in today's world. In 1996, digital media was still very much being born, and really we are only just learning today how easily it can be used by some for less than desirable purposes, such as spreading lies, slander and hatred of entire populations - often on the basis of ignorance, rather than informed thought.

More realistically, while right-wingnuttia have been focusing on that one comment in the Chumir Foundation's report, the report itself is in many respects an outright condemnation of the Ralph Klein Tories' approach to human rights in Alberta.

Regarding the need for leadership on protection of human rights in Alberta:

• Alberta is a vibrant, forward-looking province, which is leading the country in many ways. But not everyone living in Alberta has a fair chance at achieving the good life the province has to offer. Discrimination prevents many people from living with full dignity and from getting ahead in very tangible ways.
• Discrimination harms all of us. Therefore, all Albertans will benefit if strong leadership is shown by the provincial government on combating discrimination.
• In the past, Alberta has been a leader in the legal protection of human rights, but this position of leadership has been lost.
• Alberta could lead again in the struggle against discrimination, if the issues facing our human rights protection system are addressed with the seriousness and determination they deserve.

Regarding the stature and structure of the Human Rights and Citizenship Commission:

• The current Commission suffers from low profile and poor reputation, both of which have resulted from years of little support from the provincial government. This lack of political support must be reversed.
• Albertans need a Human Rights Commission which speaks with a strong voice in support of human rights and sets a high moral standard on protection of human rights in the province. The Commission should carry out much more education on Albertans’ rights and responsibilities under our human rights legislation. It should also engage directly with the public when issues of societal significance arise, such as eruptions of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or homophobia.

• To overcome the perception of a weak and politically dependent Commission, the provincial government must create an independent Commission in which the public can have full confidence. To this end, the Human Rights Commissioners should be empowered to function as a Board of Directors for the Commission, setting its overall tone, priorities, and approaches. The people appointed to the Commission should be well-known Albertans with significant experience on human rights issues.
• The Commission must also be made to operate in a transparent fashion so that Albertans can have full confidence in it.
• To enhance the stature of the Commission and its independence, the Alberta Human Rights Commission should report through the Chief Commissioner directly to the Alberta Legislative Assembly, as does, for example, the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner. If such a change is not acceptable to the current government, then the Commission should report to the Minister of Justice.
• Another way to enhance the stature of the Human Rights and Citizenship Commission is to remove the confusion surrounding its name and the name of the statute which governs its activities. The word “multiculturalism” should be dropped from the name of the statute and the word “citizenship” should be deleted from the name of the Commission and from the name of the statute. So, the Commission would be called the “Alberta Human Rights Commission” and the statute the “Alberta Human Rights Act.”

The credibility of the complaints adjudication process must be enhanced:

• As originally created, human rights commissions in Canada have had mandates both to promote protection of human rights and to provide a forum for the adjudication of discrimination complaints. But this two-fold jurisdiction is inherently conflicted. The two functions should be separated in order to ensure the fairness and credibility of the adjudication process. We recommend the creation of a fully independent tribunal for the hearing and decision of human rights complaints.
In order that Albertans be better served by the Commission:

• The Human Rights Commission must become more user-friendly. In particular, Albertans must have better access to the Commission. For example, the Commission must have a meaningful presence throughout the province, not just in
the major cities – Calgary and Edmonton.

This is not, as wingnut pundits like Levant like to proclaim "an organization out of control" - it is a picture of an organization that has been so starved for resources that it simply cannot do its job effectively at all.

Offhand, what I've read of the Chumir Foundation's report is pretty well balanced and makes some interesting points that our legislators should pay attention to. Whether Stelmach can bury enough of his Kleinosaur DNA to do the right thing remains to be seen.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Science and Advocacy in Gender Politics

The discussions recently about gender issues on this blog have raised the topic of what advocates are calling "Harry Benjamin Syndrome".

For those not familiar with the seemingly endless arguments over what should be classified in the DSM, HBS is a synonym for what is more commonly known as transsexualism.

Let me be clear about a couple of points here before I begin my critique of HBS advocacy.

First, I am not hostile to the research being done that HBS advocates have attached their position to. In fact, I am very much supportive of the research and its goals.

Second, while I find that research to be very promising and certainly intriguing indeed, it is far from conclusive. (I will substantiate this in more detail later)

Third, I recognize that regardless of any biological factors, being transsexual poses some unique challenges to the individual that may legitimately require assistance from mental health professionals.

(I) The Research

Much of the advocacy for HBS that I have found tends to rely on documents like this. It's actually quite a good document to read, and it is signed by practitioners with long and respected histories in treating transsexuals.

Where HBS advocacy is very prone to absolute statements such as:

Harry Benjamin's Syndrome (HBS) is a congenital intersexual condition that has a pre-natal developmental origin, and it involves the differentiation of the male and female gender identities in the brain. The estimated incidence of HBS is 1 in 100.000 live births.

Fair enough as a statement, but when one digs a little deeper into the foundational etiology being cited, it's nowhere near as clear as that.

For example, in discussing hormonal effects on the differentiation of the brain, we get the following:

Sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain starts during fetal development and continues after birth (Kawata, 1995; Swaab et. al., 2001). It is hypothesised that in humans, in common with all other mammals studied, hormones significantly influence this dimorphic development although, at present, the exact mechanism is incompletely understood. It is also postulated that these hormonal effects occur at several critical periods of development of the sexual differentiation of the brain during which gender identity is established, initially
during the fetal period, then around the time of birth; and also post-natally.

It's very important to recognize the caution in these statements. The terms "postulated" and "hypothesize" tell us that the researchers suspect that things go in this general direction, but have not yet found the kind of conclusive evidence that would make their suspicions conclusive.

Another piece that is regularly cited is Kruijver et. al. Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus.

Therefore, we determined in 42 subjects the number of somatostatin-expressing neurons in the BSTc in relation to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and past or present hormonal status.

These are interesting results, but the size of 'N' is excessively small (a common problem in studies involving transsexuals to begin with), and does not ask the question of whether this variance happens outside the transgender population with any significant frequency. (Or, for that matter, how common is the variance within the transgender/transsexual population?)

The present findings of somatostatin neuronal sex differences in the BSTc and its sex reversal in the transsexual brain clearly support the paradigm that in transsexuals sexual differentiation of the brain and genitals may go into opposite directions and point to a neurobiological basis of gender identity disorder.

Their conclusions correctly state that the study's findings point to biological basis for transsexuals. Again, there is an appropriate caution expressed in their choice of wording. They are not claiming that they have found proof of cause, rather that they have further evidence that leans towards biological causes. The researcher's wording correctly, and wisely, avoids the logical error of confusing correlation with causation.

Like the recent study out of Australia that identified an interesting variance in the androgen receptor sites in transsexuals, all of these findings suggest strongly, but do not yet prove conclusively that there are biological underpinnings that explain transsexualism.

In fact, much of this evidence - even when aggregated - remains a fairly thin veneer of understanding of a very complex subject. Even if we identify a dozen or so common traits found in transsexuals, it is far from clear that such findings will provide us with anything beyond correlation. Correlation is important, but its not the only vector in understanding these issues.

We understand very little about the biology behind the development of the brain, much less how that biology influences the actual behaviour of the brain.

Unfortunately, the HBS advocacy draws some overly strong conclusions based on what is still very early stage research:

Gender identity is a purely neurological function, with no psychological factors appended.

I have to disagree with this statement. The evidence is far from being so conclusive about things. It certainly suggests biological underpinnings, but even there researchers are clearly being cautious in their conclusions. It would be premature to claim that there are absolutes here. If we consider the human body rationally for a moment, it's not too hard to recognize that it really is a collection of complex systems which interact with each other. I think that drawing such a hard and fast conclusion at this time is simply far too facile - and really suggests sloppy reasoning rather than honest insight.

As an aside, we know significant amounts about the biological causality related to much more drastic mental health concerns such as schizophrenia. This understanding does not change the validity of mental health practitioners' being involved in the treatment of schizophrenia's consequences - especially with respect to developing appropriate coping skills.

Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome is not an illness or a disorder, and we should not consider it such, but rather as a physiological variation of human sexual formation, as in the case of other Intersex Syndromes. When, on this page, we speak about "suffering" HBS, we refer to the suffering caused by the physical incongruence that people born with this condition experience, and not to a pathological explanation for HBS.

At present, it is not possible to diagnose this condition at the time of birth. Therefore, the children are raised in the gender role opposite to that of the neurological gender identity. This often leads to psychological problems unrelated with the HBS itself.

Unrelated? How can the consequences of prolonged, extreme distress not be seen as related to the source of the distress itself?

The process of adapting to life in a new gender role when one has already grown up in "the wrong one" is not trivial. In fact, some careful guidance and oversight of that process can be an extremely valuable part of the journey. Not all who choose to transition need that kind of guidance, but some will, and in general it is not a bad thing to have objective feedback handed to you during the process of making such major changes in life.

Is being transsexual an illness in the same sense as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? Yes and no. To be sure, the consequences for the individual with the condition can be unquestionably severe - in the extreme. Can one treat the kind of depression that leads to suicide in transsexuals without that treatment addressing the fact of their transsexualism? I think not, and any approach which attempts to isolate one from the other is deeply flawed.

(II) The Politics of Gender

Here is where I take great exception to what is often claimed by HBS advocates. They seem to take a strongly separatist view of things - to the extent of being dismissive of those who do not fit into their narrow view of what is valid.

Consider the following from a comment :

And what similarities exist between a crossdresser and a transsexual? That is a ridiculous claim. They are totally distinct. And to compare the classification of "Intersex" with "transgender" is grasping at straws. Intersex is an objective term.

This is fairly classic of what I've seen in the past - whether it is the old "Primary Transsexual" versus "Secondary Transsexual" debates of years past, or the arbitrary hierarchy that evolved among various transgender groups where one subgroup "looks down on" the others. Transsexuals look down transgenderists, who in turn look down on crossdressers who in turn look down on ... and so on. I agree that each is distinct from the others to some degree (that is to say that a cross dresser certainly doesn't have the same driving need that pushes a transsexual to transition fully), but I also recognize that like the various Intersex conditions are distinct, but at the same time share certain common traits, so do the various cross-gender conditions. We already have an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and body are at odds with each other to some degree or another - 'Transgender'.

However, even among HBS advocates, the narrow, blinkered "we're different" narrative is beginning to be recognized as detrimental:

If you are going to have a HBS support group it should support not denigrate others. Even the Transgendered know that Crossdressers, Transgenderists, Transsexuals, Intersexed and Androgyne are all very different groups with different criteria. That doesn't mean they can't get along. Except for Real Transsexuals and the Intersexed no one else is interested in HBS.

Let me expand on this somewhat. As I discussed earlier, there is a growing body of research that points to biological roots that influence the probability that someone is transsexual. Putting aside, for a moment, my reservations about the completeness of that research or its conclusiveness, let's entertain some inferences based on that research.

Consider for a moment that there are several different bits of evidence that a transsexual's (MTF, at least) brain is 'female-differentiated', additionally, there is also more recent evidence which suggests that a transsexual may not respond to testosterone normally due to changes in the androgen receptor sites in the DNA. Let us further consider the reality that humanity is amazingly diverse - as evidenced by the sheer number of different InterSex conditions that have been identified.

Now, if someone is born with only some of the attributes that differentiate transsexuals from cissexual people, what do we find ourselves facing? Perhaps the individual becomes a crossdresser, or the influences are a little stronger and they choose to live full time, but do not pursue GRS. What combination of factors admits someone to this exclusive club of people with HBS? Is it some of the identifiable markers, or is it only all of them? For those that are arbitrarily excluded, how does one propose to deal with their needs for treatment?

There's a point here - and it is in fact the very issue that makes the term 'Transgender' valid in the first place. There has to be some kind of recognition that cross-gender identification exists on a continuum, and just because someone has 95% of the identified traits, but doesn't have the last 5% doesn't mean that they are not experiencing significant and valid dissonance from their lives.

In using exclusionary rhetoric, the advocates for HBS do themselves and others a significant disservice. They damage their own cause by arbitrarily delineating things along lines that may not actually exist. Even more sad is the fact that this line of advocacy also guarantees that many potential allies in the political world will be alienated and unwilling to advocate on behalf of HBS people - even if the evidence shows that HBS is actually a very broad condition.

Given the overall sparseness of the data being cited, it is all too probable that the condition now being called "Harry Benjamin Syndrome" will turn out to be much more subtle than merely accounting for transitioning transsexuals who pursue surgery.

(III) The Argument For Gender As A Continuum

In many respects, this is a variation on the reasoning about sexual identity that I covered in an earlier series of essays.

Fundamentally, humanity is very diverse in its expression of all things - and gender is no less diverse. Chances are that whatever factors that combine to result in transsexuals combine in different combinations with differing outcomes. Even if we come to complete biological models that explain things, I doubt that they will be as clear cut as "there are real transsexuals and then there's everybody else".

Anecdotaly, I know people who are 'manly men' (in the extreme); 'womanly women'; people who have transitioned across genders; others who discovered that they didn't need to transition after putting their toes in the waters; masculine women; men who were perfectly masculine before transition became perfectly average women post transition and those who fall somewhere in between. I know one lady who transitioned quite successfully after spending a long time identifying as a crossdresser. In short, there is a plethora of perfectly valid experiences.

Within the broad umbrella under the term transgender, it should come as no big surprise that there are many who feel varying degrees of need to transition. Some can get along quite nicely with occasional forays into cross-dressing; others find that they need to transition fully, including GRS. In between, we find all sorts of variations. Just as the kinds of scales that Kinsey created do not reflect the ambiguity of real human sexuality, absolutes do not describe the human experience of gender either.

Philosophically, I argue that logical models that require one to exclude data that is apparently related, without providing solid rational evidence why that data should be excluded are deeply flawed. Observationally, it's a lot more coherent to view human behaviour as analogous to a spectrum - although there are definable bands, the boundaries between the bands are not as clear cut on close inspection as one might first have thought. For example, the colours of light are expressed across a range of wavelengths. Similarly, people express their gender identity in a variety of ways as well. Not all transsexuals transition in their teens or twenties - either because they don't need to, or they are still struggling to find their milieu in the world.

If, for example, you wish to argue that crossdressers have no valid meaning in the world of HBS, then I am going to have to insist that you provide the science to back up that claim. In other words, you will be asked to prove that in general crossdressers possess none of the traits that you claim are key to the manifestation of HBS.

In this respect, I favour models which are broadly defined and generally elastic. This is a key feature of the model of Evolution that Darwin postulated in the 19th century. The strength of Darwin's model lies not in its detail, but rather in its ability to adapt readily to new data as it arrives. Darwin postulated that different species evolved from their forebears through a process of selection. He didn't limit the paths, in fact he didn't even try to do more than define what such a path might look like.

The logical model of a gender spectrum fulfils this very nicely, as such a model leaves open the likelihood that we will find that in fact gender identity - especially as it manifests in those who are members of the wide umbrella that is covered by the term 'transgender' - is a result of multiple attributes which intersect at the same time, and in varying degrees.

In general, an inclusive model will be much more semantically robust when subjected to scrutiny, because the model doesn't have to change much to accommodate new data. New data, on the other hand, must be scrutinized very carefully to understand how it fits into the model. (This is why Evolution infuriates its critics - it is such a simple, malleable model that it has yet to encounter a significant exception, but rather has been able to absorb the ever growing mountains of data that we keep adding)

To me, the long and short of all this is that while I support the research being done into the etiology of transsexualism (or HBS, if you prefer), I do not think that the evidence to this point comes anywhere near giving adequate reason to assume that what has been found does not apply in varying degrees to all of the transgender spectrum.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reform Starts Within

One of my biggest complaints with those who demand electoral reform is that so often they do so from outside the systems the comprise our government.

Our current Prime Minister is a classic example of this. He keeps on rattling about various kinds of 'electoral reform', and yet it's quite clear that he runs the Conservative party with an iron fist. The Conservative caucus in Ottawa is not our representatives to Ottawa, but rather, Stephen Harper's representatives to the party faithful. (Arguably, in Calgary at the very least, Conservative MPs are very careful not to be heard at all - I haven't seen anything consequential out of my MP since 2004 ... and Calgary voters still elect these twits)

Ignatieff is showing us what it means to effect change, but starting out with two moves in the last week that are very interesting. First was his approach to the Newfoundland MPs who were upset by the Harper budget. He sat down with them, listened and then created a compromise position that everybody could live with. I don't think you will ever hear something so pragmatic coming out of the Harper PMO - where the pattern has been to expel dissidents.

Then, we have Ignatieff's approach to advice and leadership:

Every morning at 8:30, he meets a proxy group of about 10 Liberal MPs and gets their input and advice. That's in contrast to the way most opposition leaders have operated; usually, it's been just the leader and a tight unelected clique of advisers who held sway.

The kitchen cabinet members, a veteran group to contrast the leader's newness, include Bob Rae, Ralph Goodale, David McGuinty, Ujjal Dosanjh, Marlene Jennings, Denis Coderre, Albina Guarnieri and Roger Cuzner.

Think about this for a moment. Ignatieff has just surrounded himself with a dozen or so MPs who are more experienced than he is, and he meets with them daily. When was the last time we heard of Harper listening to anyone's advice except his own ego?

Ignatieff has the potential to be the person who actually overhauls the Liberal party for the first time in decades - mostly because he's willing to listen to those around him.

"We've been punching well below our intellectual weight," says Mr. Graves. "We have the most educated public we have ever had but, instead of reaching higher to them, our politicians go the other way." They should understand, he says, that "you don't have to be aw-shucks and lowbrow to relate to average people. Average people are smart. Obama's victory showed that. On the Republican side, Sarah Palin was making George Bush look like a Nobel Prize winner."

Which is precisely what I've been saying about our politicians for a long time. Speak intelligently about things and you'll get a lot more traction. I'm glad to see that Ignatieff is willing to listen, and not willing to put his brain on a shelf for the sake of political ideology.

He may not be charismatic, but he's probably one of the brighter lights to appear on our political stage in the decades since Pierre Trudeau stepped down. (Especially in an era where the PM is elected because he successfully assassinated the character of his rivals)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

U of C Campus Pro Life Charged With Trespass

So, members of the U of C "Campus Pro Life" group have charged with trespassing.

To those of us who had our eyes open, this comes as no surprise. The U of C hinted quite loudly in November that this was a possibility...and rightly so - as the lands are University property.

Of course, over at Wingnut Central, this is a horrible affront:

Leah Hallman, president of CPL, stated today in an interview with LifeSiteNews that the students were "shocked" when they received the court summons, but added that "we did have an idea that it was coming."

"We're disappointed in the university," she said. Hallman said that CPS expects that six students in total will receive the summons, but that the summons have only been gradually coming in over the past week and a half.

Since 2006, the GAP, which includes large color photographs of abortion and compares abortion to other past genocides, has been set up on campus six times without incident. In 2006 and 2007, the University had protected the club’s right to put up the display under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Without incident? Hmmm...I doubt it. So I went over to the Gauntlet's website to see what had been reported in the student newspaper, and did a quick archive search to see what the response was to past Campus Pro Life poster campaigns.

Sure enough, it's been contentious in the past as well - and far from "without incident":

2005 - General objections to linking the Holocaust to Abortion - gee, big surprise there.

2005 - Editorial objecting to the presentation

2005 - Pulls the plug on their campaign because of restrictions

2005 (Spring) Campus Pro-Life Runs Afoul of Campus Security

2006 - Campus Pro Life whining about negotiations with University Administration

2007 - Pro-Life demonstration met with counter protesters

... and we all know what happened in 2008.

Without incident? I think not.

Reality here is that there is a learning moment to be applied. These people need to learn to respect the fact that the University is responsible for the lands of its campus. People who wish to raise controversial, or even spurious, campaigns can expect to be held responsible for their actions...including what they do on University property.

Act in a civil and mutually respectful manner, and you're far more likely to get a receptive audience.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

More Conservative Chicanery

It's not like these allegations come as any surprise. After tossing MP Bill Casey out of caucus, the Con$ descended into character assassination in a bid to prevent him from being re-elected.

I find it interesting that both the CBC and The Globe and Mail actually carried this story, but it's suspiciously absent from the pages of the National Post - probably the best indication that there's more than a touch of veracity to the story. I'm sure if we had access to the telephone records for the National Post - and I'll bet that as soon as this broke, the phone lines in the National Post were being lit up by calls from CPoC headquarters telling them what to publish.

One hint to the keepers of the National Post - quit playing Faux News to the Canadian Con$, and start doing real journalism. You might actually sell something.

He Just Had To Poke Someone In The Eye

I was waiting for confirmation of this, but one of the clauses in the budget reduced transfer payments to Newfoundland/Labrador.

You had to know that Harper was going to find an outlet for his instinctive urge to kick somebody around. Since he learned that kicking the opposition too hard was going to get him dethroned, he's decided to start exacting retribution from provinces whose premiers are "difficult" for him to deal with.

He's already written off Quebec entirely - mostly with some really stupid comments about arts funding in Quebec. So, now he's set his sights on Danny Williams. Make no mistake about it, this is another of Harper's politics of retribution maneuvers. Danny Williams has made it clear that he thinks Harper is bad for Newfoundland, and now Harper - in his zeal to make "political points" - is about to prove to Newfoundlanders just how bad he is for them. Talk about self fulfilling prophecy.

As for Ignatieff, he's got an interesting challenge ahead. If he's smart, Ignatieff will do nothing substantive to the Newfoundland MPs who are planning to vote against the budget. He might censure them in caucus or something relatively minor like that, but that's as far as he should take it.

By doing so, he will signal a couple of things that are important. First, he will demonstrate that he can respect the reasons for this difference of opinion; second, he will also show Canadians that he is not a vindictive autocrat - something which will distinguish him from his counterpart currently residing at 24 Sussex.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Shortsighted Budget

I think I understand why Ignatieff has not spoken up about this issue, but it still needs to be discussed.

One of the subtle aspects of the recent government budget was the quiet cuts to all kinds of advanced research - except perhaps for the latest philosopher's stone - "Carbon Capture".

This is not particularly surprising - the current crop of conservatives is remarkably short sighted. Research is the kind of investment that pays off in five to ten years, not five or six months.

Cutting back on advanced research inhibits Canada's ability to grow in the future. I appreciate that the issues 'here and now' are all about making sure that not too many people do not lose their jobs in the short term.

If the government is going to spend vast sums of money to prop up the economy, and (apparently) they are planning to auction off crown assets to fund some of this, then we have to ask just what kind of investments the government is making. Roads, waterworks and the like are pretty simple, tangible projects with legitimate payoffs; but then projects like the Human Genome Project are vitally important too - there is so much to understand about how the genome works, and the country that continues to invest in this area stands poised to become the next leader in medical technology.

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...