Monday, March 30, 2009

From The Humour File

I received this in an e-mail today:

A man died and went to heaven. As he stood in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him. He asked, "What are all those clocks?"

St. Peter answered, "Those are Lie Clocks. Everyone on Earth has a Lie Clock. Every time you lie, the hands on your clock will move." "Oh," said the man, "whose clock is that?" "That's Mother Teresa's. The hands have never moved, indicating that she never told a lie."

"Incredible," said the man. "and whose clock is that one?" St. Peter responded, "That's Abraham Lincoln's clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Abe told only two lies in his entire life." "Where's Stephen Harper's clock?" asked the man. "Harper's clock is in Jesus' office. He's using it as a ceiling fan."

The Scale Is Smaller

But I'm not seeing a lot of difference between The Pope's dogmatic opposition to condom use and what this bunch of religious whackjobs did to a 16 month old child.

Frankly, I hope that the judges involved in trying this case in Baltimore lock all of these nutbars up in separate prisons until they come out of the utterly destructive group hallucination they have been party to.

I suppose in the Pope's case it falls under the same rationale as this old statement:

"If you kill one person it's murder; if you kill thousands it's policy"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why The Pope Is DEAD WRONG About Condoms

It's not like Pope Ratzinger hasn't been swatted around already for his statements about condom use in Africa, but then again, today I spotted a story on BBC's website that puts the whole tragedy into into human terms.

Zenthu lives in a shack where she sleeps in the same room as her father and adult older brothers. She says that they are often drunk and sometimes there is no food for the family in the evenings.

The moment I ask her about her mother she bursts into tears, sobbing and sobbing.
Her mother gave birth to her baby sister two years ago, but months later still looked pregnant.
Despite the presence of other adults in the household, the care for both the new baby and her dying mother fell to Zenthu, then just 12 years old.

She began skipping school to tend to her mother.

Eventually, in Zenthu's words her mother "succumbed to the excruciating pains".

She had died from HIV/Aids. One in three pregnant mothers in some townships has the virus - so everyone must surely know someone with HIV. But the stigma means it is not discussed.

Imagine being twelve, and being the primary caregiver to the person who brought you into this world. Watching her wither away and die day by day - slowly and painfully.

Why? Because she had sex with someone who was HIV+...whether or not they knew it.

What's worse, is that the tragedy repeats itself with the next generation:

Or perhaps once they have been orphaned they are more likely to develop relationships with older men who can give them clothes and mobile phone time, but whose age makes them more likely to have HIV.

Or that without their parents' protection they might be more vulnerable to rape, a crime so common that some mothers living in the townships take their daughters to have long-lasting contraceptive injections at the age of 12 or 13, not because they think they're going to choose to have sex, but because the likelihood they'll be raped is so high.

Think about these things a bit. The dogmatic insistence of the Pope on "abstinence" is rooted in some fantasy world where everybody follows the same rules. Out in the real world, it's a much harsher, grittier picture. Condoms are a necessary part of the fight against HIV/AIDS, just like realistic sex education is. Sticking your head in the sand isn't going to do it.

Unfortunately, people in Africa are dying, and because old men in cassocks don't want to face the reality of that situation, simple things that could be done are being suppressed. This isn't just wrong, it's a moral failing far beyond that which they are so quick to criticize others for.

Will They Dispose of Anders?

I've watched Calgary West with the same kind of fascination that a wreck on the Deerfoot evokes.

While the Reform/Alliance party existed, it wasn't too hard to see how Rob Anders managed to get nominated repeatedly. However, when the Alliance party merged with the former Progressive Conservatives, there were suddenly some fairly serious challenges to Anders.

To this point, the Conservative party apparatus has moved to protect Anders whatever way they can, including changing the rules for nominations when Anders was clearly in danger of losing the nomination. How it is that Anders continues to be protected by the party apparatus is beyond me. The man is embarrassment to Canada and Canadians ... and it isn't some magical personality trait that gets him elected in a tough riding - you could nominate a bale of hay as a conservative in Calgary and it would get elected.

However, another move happened yesterday that might signal a sea change in Calgary West. It seems that most of Anders' supporters on the local riding board were swept away in what I presume was the AGM vote to replace the riding executive.

It's a sad statement about Alberta's political scene that this looks like some kind of victory for democracy; an even sadder statement is that Anders has been elected at all.

Dismantling The Saw About Polygamy and SGM

I see that a former Supreme Court Justice has a very similar take on the polygamy issue to what I have published on this blog before:

Claire L'Heureux-Dube, a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice, does not buy the argument that polygamy should be allowed in Canada in the name of freedom of religion.

"It is contrary to the equality of the sexes," L'Heureux-Dube said Thursday at a breakfast conference organized by Fatima Houda-Pepin, deputy Speaker of the Quebec national assembly.

L'Heureux-Dube, who has no problem with same-sex marriage, said the law is already clear in Canada and polygamy does not have the same acceptance as same-sex marriage.


"Marriage is a union of two people, period," she said, adding that Canada's Criminal Code clearly states that polygamy is illegal.

She makes one other very interesting comment, and it is one we should bear in mind when considering related subjects coming out of the United States, as well as some of the goofier things we've seen in Canada:

L'Heureux-Dube noted that in the United States authorities lay charges of sexual exploitation, rather than polygamy, because in the U.S. "freedom of religion has become a religion."

The retired high-court judge, who is still active at 81, said "reasonable accommodation" of religious differences is important, but it must be reasonable.

Revisiting the case of a Montreal YMCA that frosted its windows at the request of its Hassidic Jewish neighbours, she suggested a reasonable course for people who do not want to see women exercising in spandex.

"They should close their eyes," she said.

The simple fact is that the only people who claim any kind of relationship between SGM and Polygamy are the shrieking loons of the religious right. Nobody has ever put forth a single shred of coherent evidence that demonstrates even the slightest equivalency.

The coming trial will be very interesting indeed.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thin Skinned and Unaccountable Harper

I see once again that when the heat starts to get up in the kitchen, Harper runs away. This time, to the United States to do a bunch of network interviews down there - because he's too scared of what Canadian journalists might ask him:

No government-to-government business or meetings are planned Sunday in Washington and Monday in New York, said his spokesman, and the full list of media outlets Harper will speak to is not being released.

"The prime minister will be in these cities in his capacity as the prime minister of Canada, but with the purpose of speaking with international media about Canada's position going into the G20 and NATO summits," Kory Teneycke said Friday during a briefing on Harper's pending trip to London, Germany and France.

Think about this for a minute. Do you really believe that Americans give a flying fig what Harper's position is on anything? This is Harper going where he thinks he can get an "easy ride" interview instead of dealing with real issues.

Canadian correspondents were told not to bother trying to track Harper in Washington or New York. "You will likely be disappointed," said Teneycke.

The prime minister's latest round of media shopping comes just a month after he was last in New York.

It's part of a strategy to limit Harper's Canadian interrogations - where the questions tilt toward the specifics of Canada's troubled domestic economy - in favour of foreign media who can be expected to compare this country favourably to its international partners.

Oh yes, how typical of Canada's most dishonorable PM. He can't - and won't - face real questions about real issues. Instead he wants to flit about the world stage bragging about how great things are in Canada. Meanwhile Canadians are losing their jobs in droves, and the economy is slowly grinding itself to a halt.

As if to underscore the point about looking for a softball interview, we find this little turd being released by the PMO:

The only detail provided by the Prime Minister's Office was that Harper will be doing a live interview on Fox News on Sunday morning and a CNN interview on Monday.

The Fox interview comes less than a week after some Conservatives called on Canadians to boycott the network because of an offensive late-night talk show that disparaged Canadian military efforts in Afghanistan.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay called the Fox program "disgusting" and "crass" and a Conservative strategist said he hoped Canadians would cancel their Fox News subscriptions and that Canadian advertisers would stop doing business with the network.

Teneycke downplayed the controversy Friday, noting Harper's interview is with a prominent Fox News personality.

"There is a big difference between an interview with Chris Wallace - one of the most respected journalists in the Washington gallery who is a very substantive and tough interviewer - and a comedian, so-called comedian, with a show at 3 a.m. on a cable channel. It's different."

No, it's not different. Faux News should be boycotted by every Canadian this side of creation until they issue a credible apology and fire the bunch of morons that were so disparaging towards our troops less than a month ago. However, it is no secret that Faux News is a parrot stand for NeoCon talking points - that's why Harper's going there.

What PMSH is forgetting is that Americans don't elect him - Canadians do. ... and Canadians should rightly be outraged by this Prime Minister's refusal to communicate with them in any meaningful way, and insulted by the fact that he chooses to communicate more with Americans than he does with Canadians.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yet Another Celibate In A Cassock On Sexuality

I see Calgary's Bishop Henry is dutifully parroting his masters in the Vatican:

In a letter to the editor, Henry said the Christian virtues of chastity, abstinence and fidelity are "the most effective means of primary HIV prevention," and should not be pushed aside as valid prevention options in favour of passing out condoms.

When asked about his opposition to the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Henry said teachers do have other options in supporting AIDS charity efforts in Africa.

"If you have two businesses or organizations, one that doesn't support your values and mission statement and an-other that does, which one are you going to support? I think that the answer is obvious," Henry told the Herald in an e-mail.

Glad to see you are such an obedient scribe for your masters,, perhaps you might do something useful and start actually thinking for yourself and looking at the reality of the world. Perhaps you might figure out that people have sex all the time - regardless of what moralizing stance the Catholic Church puts forward.

Focus on the Family Takes On Transgender Issues

After reading this article over at Pam's House Blend talking about the latest round of shrieking insanity to come out of Dobson's organization, I found the following series of articles on the FOTF website talking about their position on trangender issues.

Part I: Transgenderism

This first essay is pretty lightweight, but it attempts to establish the basic position of FOTF with respect to transgender people by talking about the wonderfully ordered world described in Genesis:

We also learn that His creation and ordering of the world involved a series of "separations." These separations include heaven and earth, light and dark, day and night, morning and evening, clouds and seas, water and dry land, and sun and moon.
Specifically, in humans we see not only a separation from the animals, but also a separation of mankind into two sexes – male and female – wholly complementary, yet each uniquely and mysteriously bearing God's image – the imago Dei.

Of course, if we sit back and think about these separations rationally for a few moments, they are nowhere near as clear as FOTF's writers would have you believe.

Consider Night, Day and Evening. Evening is really the transition between Day and Night, is it not. Perhaps even more perplexing is the duration of evening. At latitudes closer to the equator, the transition between day and night corresponds almost precisely with the sun passing below the horizon. More northerly climes, the sun can set and there is still evening light for a full hour or more. Even more ambiguous is the question of when day becomes evening? One could argue that evening begins the moment the sun begins to move towards the western horizon after its midday peak. But I digress. Knowing what we do today about the way that the Sun's light is received on our world, evening (and dawn) are really nothing more than gradual transition times between night and day, and a far from absolutely delineated.

From this, they leap into the inevitable claim that man and woman are absolute and distinct. Of course, one only has to raise the issue of physiological intersex conditions to realize that there is a fairly serious logical problem here. We know that there are a myriad of conditions that result in someone being Intersex, and these are all naturally occurring (and therefore, are a natural part of God's creation).

Some will claim that Intersex people are so rare as to not be relevant in the conversation. To me, that makes about as much sense as saying that the brevity of evening at the equator is such that evening does not exist there. It does, and to claim otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

Part II: Cause for Concern (Transgenderism)

In the second essay, FOTF's writers start pounding on the drums of fear and otherness, attempting to demonize transgender people as a whole:

For decades, gay activist leaders worked hard to keep those who called themselves "transgender" or "transsexual" as far out of the public eye as possible. By their own admission, the last thing they wanted was a bunch of "drag queens" and cross-dressers to scare away potential allies and ruin any hope for their community to achieve its political goals. So, the activists only portrayed homosexuals in favorable and non-threatening ways.

This is a somewhat inaccurate portrayal of the situation. Transgender people have been part of the GLB scene since the dawn of time. Historically (pre-Stonewall), it was one of the few social contexts where a transperson could go and feel at least some degree of acceptance.

After Stonewall, the shape of the GLBT world became much more public and through a mixture of reality and misperceptions, the public at large associated transgender people with the much larger GLB community as a whole. This can hardly be seen as anything intentional. At the time, there were only a handful of transsexuals known in the world, and the subtle colourings of gender expression across the transgender spectrum were nowhere near fully understood. (The term 'Transsexual' didn't even enter the DSM until the DSM II was published in the late 1960s, much less the broader term "Gender Identity Disorder" which was introduced in the DSM IV)

To be sure, there are many people, both GLB and T, who are uncomfortable with the political association between subjects of gender identity and sexual identity. The reality is that many in the GLB community are just as perplexed by transsexuals as the straight community is. Similarly, the desire of many transsexuals to blend into the fabric of mainstream society often makes them uncomfortable with the symbolism of the GLB community and the events they use to raise their public profile.

That said, the political association between the two communities was mostly forged in the fires of public perception, and not by the willing consent of either group.

Of particular concern when it comes to the creation of protected class status for "sexual minorities" through hate crimes and employment nondiscrimination laws is the sobering reality that in increasingly secular societies, when "gay rights" collides with religious liberties, religious freedom nearly always loses.

Oh yes, the classic "religious freedom" saw gets pulled out. What I would like to know here is how it is that these people can justify in their hearts the very discrimination and hostility that in fact freedom of religion was embedded in our laws to stop in the first place? Freedom of religion or conscience does not exist in a vacuum, and the freedom to believe something does not automatically grant the right to project those believes onto others.

Part III: Our Position (Transgenderism)

* We affirm God's design for the two sexes – male and female – and sexuality as between one man and one woman. what? Rational inspection of reality shows us that in fact things are far from so cut-and-dried. Further, this first point of their position mistakenly combines the issues of gender and sexuality, and therefore quite misses the point of the transgender narrative in the first place.

* We disagree with pro-gay and pro-transgender revisionist theology as contradictory to foundational Christian doctrine and the Judeo-Christian sexual ethic.
* We oppose the ordination of "transgender" and "transsexual" individuals and the celebration of "transgenderism" as one of God's gifts.

Well, that's a matter of theological debate. I'll leave that to those who are more interested and passionate about it. Frankly, from my perspective, using theology as a club to beat someone else down socially is reprehensible.

* Because "transgenderism" violates God's intentional design for sex and sexuality, we believe that this is a cultural and theological battle that we must engage and win. The modern "transgender" movement is systematically working to dismantle the concept of gender as the Bible and the world have always known it to be. If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for marriage, family and society at large.

I argue that they have grossly misunderstood "God's Design" by relying solely upon the words in Genesis, and failing to look around at the world in which they live objectively. Transgender people have always existed, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. It seems foolish indeed to argue that transgender people violate any "design" (if in fact there is a design in our world at all)

As for the "consequences" for marriage, family and society at large, I can't imagine what those ominous "consequences" might be. Transsexuals in general are a very small percentage of the population, it seems highly unlikely that the basic concepts of family will change dramatically simply because a few people transition to live a live more suited to their natures.

Even when I consider the much larger population of transgender people, it strikes me that the numbers are still so small as to be inconsequential when compared with the breadth and depth of human society.

* While God's intent for sexuality and gender is being turned upside down, we must remember that those who struggle with their gender identity have lived lives of great pain, confusion and rejection. And, just as Jesus went out of his way to reach the outcasts of society, we're called to humbly share His love embodied in the Gospel, to lift them up in prayer and to allow the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction, healing and transformation.

This is nothing more than a recycling of the old "love sinner hate the sin" routine. It is an aphorism used to self-justify treating others as second class citizens.

* We affirm the Christian view that to be human is to be holistically united as body and spirit. Indeed, Scripture teaches that even in heaven believers will have gloriously redeemed physical bodies. In contrast, pro-transgender revisionists hold to the pagan view that the body is a container that the spirit is poured into. As such, they erroneously conclude that either God has mistakenly put an opposite-gendered spirit into the wrong body or that the body is not the real person – that only the spirit is real. As Christians, we believe that God can heal these disconnected, gnostic views and bring restoration and wholeness – where body, soul and spirit are in unity.

If "God can heal" people who are transsexual, then please explain to me the surprising number of ordained members of the clergy who have transitioned their gender, and are amazingly comfortable and whole in their post transition lives - often in ecclesiastical roles after transition.

The fact is that no matter how you twist scripture, it has very little, if anything meaningful to say about transsexualism. Even the much broader concepts embodied by the term transgender are not really addressed by scripture.

I think the reality for most transsexuals (in particular) is that each makes their own peace with their lives. While some may find solace in prayer, few who need to transition will ever find that such techniques do more than delay the inevitable.

* We call upon all parents to take a proactive role in their children's development by providing them with a strong, Christian example of what it means to be male and female. Many of the problems associated with transgenderism, like confusion and pain, stem from a lack of parental involvement and guidance. Children must be taught that, just as each individual life has inestimable worth, so too each gender brings its own unique characteristics of inestimable worth to relationships, family and society.

Bzzzt! Disconnect FOTF's buzzer for that answer. The sheer variety of family backgrounds that transsexuals come from proves beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no meaningful relationship between upbringing and gender identity. This is a false bit of reasoning that does not stand up to any kind of objective analysis.

Part IV: Talking Points (Transgenderism)

Coming from a group that has badly mangled scripture repeatedly, all the while advocating an extremely literalist interpretation of it, I find FOTF's first statement in this essay quite laughable:

Attempts to subjugate objective biblical truths to subjective human experiences lead men and women to accept lies. Those with a personal interest in the pro-transgender theology often twist the Scriptures in ways that defy logic and common sense to support their behavior.

The term "objective biblical truth" lands quite firmly in the category of bad comedy. There are so many ways that scripture has been interpreted by so many, and every last one of them claims to be correct. Somehow, I'm not buying into the idea that Dobson's clan has a lock on "biblical truth".

The gender confusion embodied in the pro-transgender revisionist theology is a direct result of living in a fallen world. And as with the temptation of mankind in the Garden of Eden, the spirit of "transgenderism" casts doubt on God's clearly articulated ordination by acknowledging a well-known truth and supplementing it with a blatant lie. In this case, this acknowledgment of the two sexes (the truth) is supplemented with the view that male and female are merely two possible genders along a completely "fluid" gender spectrum (the lie).

To call the concept of human behaviour and identity existing along some kind of spectrum a "lie" is to blind oneself to the reality of the diversity of our world. Those of us with our eyes open to the world in which we live see that diversity and recognize that the rigid binary of Dobson's reasoning draws a false line that does not exist in any real sense.

Part V: Next Steps and Related Information

This is little more than a bunch of links to various other pages on the FOTF website that go on about homosexuality. They are neither helpful nor relevant to any meaningful discussion of gender.

In summary, FOTF uses a highly debatable interpretation of scripture to argue that anybody who is transgender does not deserve to be treated as an equal human being. Worse, they ignore the broad diversity of the world in which all of us live, preferring to cling to a very narrow, limited understanding of both gender and sexuality.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Accountability: The Ron Liepert/Ed Stelmach Interpretation

I see that Liepert's "health superboard" that was supposed to save the province all this wonderful money has just voted themselves an enormous raise (25%) at a time when Liepert and Stelmach are making noises about cutting funding for health care in this province (which they've already started doing).

Now, someone tell me how, in a time of economic contraction where thousands of Albertans are finding themselves suddenly unemployed, this bunch of bandits in Edmonton can justify voting themselves a raise that is so huge?

Oh, Boo Hoo!

I see that the University of Calgary decided to be consistent in their response to Campus Pro-Life's latest antics.

University security guards handed trespassing notices yesterday to the activists and collected their contact information.

I hope that the University lays further trespassing charges against these twits ... and bans them from campus permanently (and yes, that includes yanking their privileges as students).

Enough is enough.

Canada's Regressives

While they masquerade under the brand name "Conservative", today's Conservatives are arguably more interested in dialing the clock backwards, not merely preserving that which is good about our country.

A regular reader sent me the following essay a few days ago (and I've been a little slow to post it):

The shift from Edmund Burke ideals to Regressive conservatism.

Traditionally, in Canada, conservatism generally referred to a political ideology that attempted to maintain what its followers felt where the best aspects of the then current culture, a fiscal management style which favoured lower taxes and less government spending, and an economics model designed to promote more freedom of market activity.

A marked shift in the principals of Canadian conservatism started with the rise to power of the Mulroney led governments from September 17th 1984, to June 25 1993. This period saw a progressive movement to further market deregulation and the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement on December 17th 1992.

In the United States the shift away from traditional conservativism, which started with Ronald Regans time in office, gained momentum under George W Bush's administration. A strong shift towards a more theologically based system of government, of which the Faith Based initiatives is but one example.

Under G.W. Bush's watch a systematic attack on education was launched under the guise of the 'No Child Left Behind' program which further widened the quality of education gap between the private school system and the public school system. Concurrent to this was a reduction to funding of scientific research programs, the outright banning of certain lines of research that were deemed to be 'morally objectionable' to the religious community, and the attempts to have 'Intelligent Design' accepted and taught as science fact in the school systems.

This shift to a style of government that was both highly focused on appeasing the religious right and catering to the corporate power structure has resulted in a new style of conservatism that can best be described as being regressive. It is characterized by a highly patriarchic-al system with strong ties to a religious belief system, a reduction in overall educational levels of the population, a strong control over who gets access to information, and the concentration of wealth and power in a small group of corporate and political elites. The Regressive Conservatives have invaded sovereign nations under the guise of spreading democracy and the removal of threats to the mother land.

The closest parallels to the modern day Regressive Conservative can be found in the governmental structures that were in place during the height of the Catholic Churches' power around 1000 A.D. This time period saw the Catholic Church controlling information, education, restricting scientific research, influencing governments and increasing its own wealth through property acquisitions, mandatory tithing, the selling of indulgences and the waging of Holy Wars. The Holy Wars were waged by the Catholic Church to spread Christianity and to remove threats to the power of the Holy Church.

Canada has seen an accelerating shift towards Regressive Conservatism under the Harper led governments starting in January of 2006 and continuing through to the present day. Since Harper came to power there has been a steady erosion of access to information, reductions of funding to scientific research, the removal of funding for the court challenges programs, an increasingly large gap between the wealthy and the poor, and an increase in the cost of post secondary education that has become so large that only moderately well off families can afford it.

Canada needs to be moving forwards, a return to the status quo, as measured in 1000 AD, will do nothing but harm the Canadian people.

Credit: Commenter "SB"

Now, I've been saying that the HarperCon$ are about as backward looking as you can get outside of the Vatican these days for quite some time. In the Globe and Mail today, we find columnist Lawrence Martin summarizing the festering stew of Conservative backwardness in their foreign policy:

But look at the other indicators. Check the law-and-order fixation, the leisurely approach to the green file. And look at the record on foreign policy – Mr. Harper has surely earned his hard-line stripes. Previous Conservative governments showed some progressive strains abroad. Not these Regressive Conservatives. With Russia, with China, in the Middle East, they harbour old confrontational attitudes. There's no new outreach as there is in Washington, no new thinking for new times.

A month ago, there was that soft-sounding summit with President Barack Obama. It was barely over before the Conservatives tried to get Cold War juices flowing, accusing Moscow of encroaching on Canadian airspace with their bombers. Since the flights were in international airspace, the anti-Red rhetoric fizzled.

... and it gets better:

The Conservatives are in the midst of slashing the foreign affairs budget by $639-million from 2007 levels, while increasing spending on the military by $2.4-billion. If their creed is that guns trump diplomacy, it is being well-heeded.

Criticism comes not only from opposition parties but from the likes of a former Conservative foreign minister, David Emerson, who cites our failures to appreciate and exploit Canada's place in the world. While other Conservative governments, particularly that of Brian Mulroney, showed a more open-minded side, today's government keeps its eyes wide shut.

On fiscal matters, it may be that our PM has become more moderate. But as for world affairs, there's clearly no need for his party's hard-liners to be rolling over in their caves.

No, Harper hasn't moderated one iota on financial matters. The current circumstances have forced him to attempt to create the appearance of doing something ... especially when his government could collapse anytime.

Let's Look At The Other Side of This ...

So, we have Calgary's Bishop Henry expounding upon the Roman Catholic Inquisition's treatment of Galileo.

I'm going to start with Henry's conclusion and then work backwards from there, because this piece of sophistry is offensive in the extreme.

Alfred North Whitehead, a noted historian of science, concluded: “that the worst that happened to men of science was that Galileo suffered an honourable detention and a mild reproof, before dying peacefully in his bed.” The traditional picture of Galileo as a martyr to intellectual freedom and a victim of the church’s opposition to science is little more than a caricature.

Henry's conclusion here is that the Church was being oh-so-kind-and-just towards Galileo. But let's think about this for a moment. It doesn't matter how you slice this one, the Church fundamentally imprisoned the man - even if it was in his own home. A cage, no matter how guilded it may be remains a cage nonetheless. We should not lose sight of this.

The historical record is not quite that simple.

Galileo took his observation to the Jesuits who were among the leading astronomers of the day and they agreed with him that his sightings had strengthened the case for heliocentrism. The Jesuits told him that the church was divided, but the question was still open, and they did not think that Galileo had clinched the case.

When Galileo was reported to the Inquisition, Cardinal Bellarmine met with him. This was not a normal Inquisitorial procedure, but Galileo came to Rome in 1616 as a celebrity with great fanfare, where he stayed at the Medici Villa, met with the pope more than once, and attended receptions given by various bishops and cardinals.

Bellarmine wrote: “While experience tells us plainly that the earth is standing still if there were a real proof that the sun is in the centre of the universe ... and that the sun does not go round the earth but the earth around the sun, then we should proceed with great circumspection in explaining certain passages of scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me.”

Let me summarize this briefly - essentially, Cardinal Bellarmine told Galileo to shut up because he wasn't willing to consider Galileo's proposal. Regardless of what instruments of inquiry the Inquisition used, the end conclusion is the same, the Church took specific steps to quash an idea because it offended their ideas, in particular with respect to scripture.

Henry then claims the following to justify why the Church imprisoned Galileo:

Galileo was confident now that he could openly preach heliocentrism and in 1632 he published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. This created a threefold problematic.

First, his so-called demonstration of the truth of heliocentrism was faulty. One of Galileo’s main arguments was that the rapid motion of the earth around the sun was responsible for the ocean tides. Galileo also assumed that planets move in circular paths, even though Kepler had shown that the planetary orbits are elliptical. Galileo contended that Kepler was wrong.

Okay...let's consider this in terms of scientific inquiry in general. Last I checked, investigation of the natural world in which we live tends to lead down lots of 'dead ends' and comes up with the odd gem of insight. This is why science gets published in journals and is often severely critiqued by peers. Flaws in theories happen all the time. Successful theories - no matter how you look at them - adapt and change as new evidence refines them. Yes, Galileo and Kepler disagreed on the orbital behaviours of planets. Given the era, that's a matter of interpreting the available evidence. By no means is this adequate reason for the Church's heavy handedness towards Galileo.

Secondly, Galileo embarrassed the pope by constructing his dialogue between two figures, one representing himself and the other representing the pope, who was given the name “Simplicio.” Of course, the foolish claims by Simplicio were refuted by the character speaking for Galileo.

Considering that dialog was a common way of expressing and arguing for a new idea at the time, I don't see any particular surprises in this. If the church interpreted "Simplicio" as being the Pope, well, all I can say there is that's a well-placed needle - especially given Galileo's treatment by the Inquisition a few years prior.

It's pretty hard to see this as anything other than someone smarting from being slapped around intellectually. Embarrassment of the Pope is hardly reason for imprisonment, is it?

Thirdly, Galileo’s writings were not confined to scientific issues; he argued that the Bible was largely allegorical and required constant reinterpretation to excavate its true meaning. The Jesuits had warned him not to venture into this territory as Scriptural interpretation was the church’s area but he ignored the advice and was once again reported to the Inquisition.

In 1633 Galileo returned to Rome, where again he was treated with respect. However, during the investigation, someone found Bellarmine’s notes in the file. Furthermore, Galileo had not told anyone about his previous agreement. Now Galileo was viewed as having deceived the church as well as having failed to live up to his agreements. Incredibly, for some strange reason, Galileo maintained that his Dialogue did not constitute a defence of heliocentrism.

Again, let's consider this further. The Church has decided in its finite wisdom that Galileo was arguing about more than just the science of astronomy (or astrology as it was understood at the time - astronomy arose from astrology). Apparently, he is making statements about how scripture should be interpreted. Big deal. The Church might consider this to be heresy or worse, but really, what he has done is present a challenge to church dogma. Whether it is the dogma of heliocentrism, or the dogma that the Catechism is the only valid guide to interpreting scripture, it doesn't really matter.

Galileo was still imprisoned for expressing ideas that the Church found offensive. In short, the Church acted with a very heavy hand to squelch thought and discourse.

Galileo was never charged with heresy, and never placed in a dungeon or tortured in any way. Technically he was under house arrest in his villa in Florence but enjoyed considerable freedom. The church also permitted him to continue his scientific work on matters unrelated to heliocentrism. He died of natural causes in 1642.

Why, how magnanamous of the Church. They only imprisoned him in his own home for the rest of his life for daring to challenge the Church's assumptions and dogma.

Sorry, Bishop. No matter how I look at it, this is another case where the Church blew it and is now trying desperately to justify its actions. Like the Church's current dogmas about human sexuality, the Galileo case is about controlling people and controlling what they think and believe.

... and we won't pay too much attention to the fact that it took the Church until 1992 to even express regret. A mere 350 years after Galileo died in Church custody. I'll remind myself of the Church's generosity in justice every time I hear another story about the Church excommunicating people for doing the right thing.

The Galileo story is really one that tells us how the Church ceased to be a source of enlightenment and wisdom, and became a political power out to squelch any dissent that would weaken their control over humanity.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Campus Pro-Life: Not Getting It

I see the snivelling little twits at Campus Pro-Life have repeated the mistake that they made last November.

Campus security officers have warned that members of Campus Pro-Life could face more trespassing charges, but that doesn't worry Leah Hallman, one of six people who has pleaded not guilty to trespassing charges stemming for setting up the display in November.

"If we view that our actions are just actions and that what we are doing is not wrong, then we should continue to conduct ourselves in the manner that we always have," Hallman said on Wednesday.

I'd love to know how much CCBR is paying to fund the legal bills that these students are racking up. We already know that they provide the signage to Campus Pro-Life, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if this same bunch are prodding Campus Pro-Life members to do more in the name of "free speech".

What they are doing is not "just" in any sense of the word. What they are doing is propagating an intellectually dishonest argument in the most inflammatory way possible. This isn't just, it's propaganda.

Brit Aberle, who held a pro-choice sign across from the anti-abortion display on Wednesday, said members of Campus Pro-Life have the right to voice their opinion but the way they do it crosses a line.

"They use really graphic images and appropriate the struggles of Jewish folks and the Rawandan genocide. I have talked to many Jewish and Rawandan people and they don't want their histories being used for this."

I hope the judge hearing their current case throws the book at this bunch. It's clear that they just don't get it.

Did Ignatieff Cave?

... or is there a more coherent plan afoot?

Yesterday, the government was able to pass its emergency stimulus fund without the accountability provisions that the Liberals had been demanding.

On the surface, it appears as though Ignatieff has caved in here and backed down from what is a perfectly reasonable demand. Certainly one that any reasonable PM would have acceded to as a "political bargain"

If I was to step back for a minute from this and ask myself "why did the Liberals let this one go by?", I come up on a couple of reasons.

The first is purely tactical. Financially, the Liberals are not in great shape yet. Triggering an election when they are in a bad financial state could easily trigger exactly what Harper has been aiming to do for years - wipe them out. Harper has said on many occasions in the past that he wants to eliminate the opposition parties - especially the Liberals, and he's certainly made plays for this in the past.

The second reason is more strategic. If you are looking for a chink in the Conservative armor, it's Harper's hypocrisy on accountability. If the Liberals play this right, the HarperCon$ are apt as not to walk into a trap of their own making. The first pieces of that puzzle fell into place with the Budget amendments which the HarperCon$ agreed to. This is a second piece of that same tactic - demand that the government be accountable in fact, not just claim, to the House of Commons (and therefore the public at large) on another large spending bill. Harper has fought this accountability issue tooth and nail. There's lot's of room in there for casting doubt on Harper's motives during an election ... and all of it comes falling forth from Harper's own mouth.

Whether I'm right in this guess is hard to say ... I hope I am, it would be good for North America to shed the last of the NeoCons from positions of power.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How Seriously Do You Take Faux News?

There has been an amazing amount of outrage in the Canadian blogosphere and media over a segment on Faux News which was snidely deriding the comments from one of our generals about the CAF needing a break after Afghanistan.

Yes, the Faux News commentary was inappropriate. But seriously, people, how credible is any organization that slavishly adopted every lie the BushCo Whitehouse fed them?

Dear Vatican: Nobody Was Asking For Your Approval

What is it with the Vatican these days. It seems like every second day some nitwit there opens their yap and demonstrates that they have no idea what they are about.

Today's gem is more faux outrage over a movie. This time, the prequel to Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code", "Angels and Demons".

The Vatican's official newspaper, Avvenire, ran a story Friday saying the Roman Catholic Church "cannot approve" of such a film.

And on Saturday, Turin daily La Stampa reported the Vatican will soon be calling for a boycott of the Ron Howard-directed film.

Ummm...note for the reality impaired: It's a movie based on a piece of fiction. What's the problem? Oh wait - let me guess - it offends your interpretation of your own favourite bit of fiction.

The Vatican has described the prequel as "an offence against God."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shorter Vatican: The Guy At The Top Is Clueless

Apparently a few people in the Vatican are starting to awaken to the reality that the current Pope is somewhat less than beneficial to the Catholic Church's image.

Another Vatican insider described Pope Benedict's four-year-old papacy as "a disaster", recalling the pontiff's previous inflammatory remarks on Islam and homosexuality.

"He's out of touch with the real world," the Italian insider said. "On the condom issue, for example, there are priests and bishops in Africa who accept that condoms are a key part of the fight against Aids, and yet the pope adheres to this very conservative line that they encourage promiscuity. The Vatican is far removed from the reality on the ground."

No kidding. The rest of us who live with reality on a daily basis figured that out ages ago. Before Benedict ascended to the papacy, really, but we also recognize that the Church has backslid an enormous distance since Pope Benedict took over.

The pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, also wears two other hats – he is also the head of Vatican radio and of its television service. Observers question whether he can effectively handle such an onerous workload.

"He's got too many jobs. There's talk that he is going to go," said a third Vatican source. "You have people around the pope who seem to be out of their depth. There needs to be a major re-think of the operation, not the structure necessarily but the people."

The Vatican's press office works to a timetable from a gentler era, closing each day at 3pm, and familiarity with the internet appears barely to have penetrated the Vatican's cloistered confines.

No kidding. This is a pope whose fossilized thinking is still aware (and barely) of the wire services, much less the speed with which stories get around on the Internet.

"I think there's a good story to be told about this pope but it just doesn't get out because of the colossal ineptitude of the Vatican in terms of communications," said John Allen, a veteran Vatican analyst with National Catholic Reporter who is travelling with the pope in Africa.

It's hard to imagine what that 'good story' might be, when the pope consistently opens his mouth and demonstrates to the world how amazingly out of touch with reality he is.

This is a pope who might be a good man, but he is not a man of the times by any stretch of the imagination ... and he repeatedly demonstrates it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Oh My ... God!

I don't think I'll ever quite be able to look upon either an image of the current Pope or Marilyn Monroe quite the same way again!

Check The Quality of Your Sources ...

I ran across this article which attempts to explain transgenderism in terms of homosexuality.

On first glance, it seems as though the author has made a sincere effort to do some serious research to build his position. As usual, when one starts digging through a paper like this more seriously, you quickly realize that the author doesn't really know what they are talking about.

Consider the following:

Transsexualism: A subset of transgenderism where the affected person desires to be the opposite sex and seeks sex-reassignment surgery and cross-hormone treatment. Transsexuals tend to cluster into two groups: those with straightforward opposite-sex identification and a more variable group consisting of those with opposite-sex identification in conjunction with autogynephilia.

Hmmm...I've read this before. Oh yes, it's a recycle of Blanchard's autogynephilia model, which Michael Bailey, Ray Blanchard and Anne Lawrence keep pushing. (and mercifully, only a handful of others)

And whom does the author cite?

1. ^ R. Blanchard, J Nerv Ment Dis 177, 616 (Oct, 1989).
2. ^ S. J. Bradley et al., Arch Sex Behav 20, 333 (Aug, 1991).
3. ^ R. Blanchard, J Sex Marital Ther 17, 235 (Winter, 1991).

Why, Dr. Blanchard himself. The use of the term autogynephilia might have existed in the DSM-IV, but I do note that my copy of the DSM IV-TR which is a more recent edition mysteriously does not contain 'autogynephilia' at all.

Thus passes the first mistake in the writing. Not only has the author chosen a poor classification model, but he seems to have chosen one that isn't exactly in widespread use.

The next mistake arises in what appears to be a quote lifted from another source (not one that is cited, sadly):

A number of transsexuals do not like being labeled homosexual. To address this issue, one should distinguish sex from gender identity. A person with male sex who has a female gender identity and is attracted to men would self-classify as a heterosexual because he believes that he is a woman. However, the standard conceptualization of a homosexual is based on biological sex, not gender identity. This is a very poor description of the distinction between a transsexual and a homosexual. The first point of error here is the anchoring upon "biological sex". The second point of error is to conflate someone's sexual identity with their gender identity.

Consider the following. A Male-to-Female Transsexual that identifies as heterosexual is attracted to men, as a woman. That is to say, she wants to interact with those men as a woman, and that includes in her intimate engagements with them. That is quite different from a homosexual male who is attracted to men, but wants to interact with those men as a man.

This is important, because it draws out a key distinction between gender and sexual identity. Further, it breaks the author's attempt to combine two distinct subjects. An additional consideration that needs to be examined is the fact that there are transsexuals who identify and live quite openly as homosexuals, and some bisexuals as well. The point being that one may transition gender roles, and still end up with an atypical sexual identity.

You might argue that because the author is building his argument up on the basis that sexual identity is based on biology that his argument holds. What I am bringing up here is that in fact it does not hold, especially when we are talking not so much about the physical aspects of sexuality, but the social aspects of sexual attraction. Further, as I have asserted above, gender and sexual identities are arguably quite distinct and deserve to be treated as such.

After making these mistakes, the author leaps into a series of arguments that fall into the "coincidence does not equate to causality" category.

Psychiatric morbidity, specifically of personality, mood, dissociative, and psychotic disorders is especially elevated among individuals with sex-identity disorders, and sex-identity disorders often occur as secondary to some other mental disorder.14 For instance, delusions about one’s physical appearance and a desire to drastically alter one’s looks are not unusual among schizophrenics;15, 16 about 25% of schizophrenics experience cross-sex identification at some point in their life.17, 18, 19, 20 The association between schizophrenia and increased odds of homosexuals interests is well-documented.

I love the use of terminology here. "Psychiatric Morbidity" - such a worrisome sounding bit of clinical language. All it really means is that some has a psychiatric condition of some sort or another. Given the breadth of what is contained in the DSM IV, that is hardly an indication of anything serious.

However, that is not my point here. The author is inferring that there is a direct relationship between atypical sexual or gender identity and various forms of mental illness. What he quietly ignores is the understanding that many of the co-existing conditions that occur in GLBT people are a direct consequence of the stresses of a hostile social context, not of being GLBT.

As for an increased probability that someone with schizophrenia will exhibit homosexual tendencies, that strikes as neither here nor there, since it doesn't follow from that reasoning that there is an increase in the chance of developing schizophrenia as a result of being GLBT. (although I'm sure the author would love for us to infer that, he fails to provide the evidence to make such a claim, and I dare say any such evidence would be very weak indeed)

Perhaps one of the funnier bits is the following attempt to link handedness to sexual and gender identity:

Left-handedness is associated with prenatal developmental disturbances, as evidenced by a higher incidence of first trimester-originating minor physical defects among left-handers.30 Behaviorally feminine boys who wish to be girls manifest elevated left-handedness/non-right-handedness.31 Both homosexuals32 and transsexuals33, 34 manifest elevated left-handedness/non-right-handedness.

Okay, so there is an increased number of left-handed people who are GLBT. Even if there is such a correlation, what of it? That's like looking at the department where I work, and wondering how it is that so many left-handed people wound up in our company's research department.

Left-handedness may or may not in fact have anything to do with prenatal development. To this point, we do not know, and to assume that there is any relationship between handedness and gender identity is going to be amazingly weak without serious amounts of corroborating data.

Lastly, through the entire article, the writer constantly combines sexual and gender identity related characteristics as if they are one in the same. In doing so, he tells us a great deal about how little he truly understands of the distinctions. There are some very good reasons why the relationship between the broad GLB community and the T community is very tenuous at times. Not the least of which is the reality that cross-gender identity is just as unsettling to GLB folk as it is to the straight community.

The author's credibility with me is already weak. Basing an argument heavily on the work of Bailey and Blanchard in particular is suspect indeed. Constantly confusing gender and sexual identity issues further erodes what little credibility he starts with. The reality of the writer's obvious bias shows up in this little bit of apologetics for Paul Cameron, a man whose research has long been discredited because of sloppy logic, and horrible methodologies - not to mention the man's blatant biases.

Canada's Conservatives - AstroTurfing For Power

I heard about this as I was driving into work this morning, but I haven't had the time needed to go doing the research.

It seems that the HarperCon$ have been teaching their "junior" organizations the oh-so-honest tactic of AstroTurfing as a means to influence and control campus politics.

Okay, in one sense, it's campus politics - those are always a little weird to begin with. However, what they are promoting is despicable at any level.

At a session held in early February by the Ontario Progressive Campus Conservative Association (OPCCA) and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, campus Conservatives, party campaigners, and a Member of Parliament discussed strategies to gain funding from student unions for the Conservative Party and ways to run for—and win—positions within student unions.

Oh yes ... I think I've seen this approach before. I seem to recall that's pretty much how Craig Chandler tried to gain the nomination for Calgary Egmont in the PC party.

Among those present at the workshop were Member of Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo, Peter Braid and his campaign manager, Aaron Lee-Wudrick. Lee-Wudrick is heard on the recordings providing advice on how to siphon money from students’ unions through “front organizations” that would work to further the goals of the Conservative Party.

Sure enough, Big Daddy's boys were there in full force. What a lovely bunch of scum.

... and here's the money shot:

“Yeah we had a front group like that: the Campus Coalition for Liberty. It was really just a front for the Conservatives, but it gave us like two voices.” said Lee-Wudrick.

He added: “Don’t think that the Party doesn’t like that, because they do. They’re things that will help the Party, but it looks like it’s an organically-grown organization and it just stimulated from the grassroots spontaneously. They love that stuff… Remember all of the Rallies for Democracy … that’s just an example of how big those things can get.”

It's not like any of us with our brains switched on figured that those "rallies" were anything other than an astroturfing exercise. The fact that Conservative party organizers are now bragging about how they created those rallies tells a lot about the intellectual honesty of the Conservative party in Canada - it's just about nil.

Frankly, they've just demonstrated that they will lie, cheat and steal just to attain power - even at the relatively insignificant level of campus politics. Stephen Harper has prorogued parliament twice when the heat got too much for him, and he quietly ignored his own 'fixed election dates' law last fall in order to "time" an election before the economic storm hit Canada full-force. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the CPoC is fundamentally opposed to democracy - they want control.

H/T: Maxwell Devin

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Not Good Enough, Mr. Goodyear

I've tried to ignore Gary Goodyear's idiotic tirade over being asked if he "believes in evolution". Frankly, it was a poorly phrased question, and Mr. Goodyear's response was childish, immature and off-topic:

Science minister Gary Goodyear now says he believes in evolution.

“Of course I do,” he told guest host Jane Taber during an appearance on the CTV program Power Play. “But it is an irrelevant question.”

That's a different answer from the one Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor and minister of state for science and technology, gave The Globe and Mail when asked the same thing during an interview published in Tuesday's paper.

“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” he said at the time.

Frankly, I don't care if Mr. Goodyear wants to believe in the Tooth Fairy. The real issue here, besides Mr. Goodyear's obvious religious fundamentalist sensitivities (his outrage is enough to convince me that underneath all that bluster, he really would prefer not to think too hard about such questions), is whether or not Mr. Goodyear understands the basic concepts of theory (as opposed to hypothesis) and the evidence that supports the theory.

It would seem that he doesn't actually understand. His recent attempts to clarify himself make my point for me:

We are evolving every year, every decade. That's a fact, whether it is to the intensity of the sun, whether it is to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it is running shoes or high heels, of course we are evolving to our environment. But that's not relevant and that is why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong.”

If Mr. Goodyear really understood the science, he would not have used those examples, because they do not represent the kind of long term picture that the broad theory itself represents.

Between this, and Mr. Goodyear's attempts to defend a brain damaged approach to science on the part of the HarperCon$ by being a complete drama queen, we can safely conclude that Goodyear really is in the wrong place - in large part because he clearly neither understands nor supports the actual day to day work that science involves.

I suspect that like Bush II, the HarperCon$ are fundamentally opposed to science. Science represents knowledge and thought - and modern era political conservatism has been very opposed to people thinking for themselves. Conservatives succeed when they can keep people in the dark - just look at Alberta's government.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Whine Much, Mr. Taylor?

Talk about double standards. Over here, we find the founder of/CPoC party operative responsible for the ever-so-partisan "Blogging Tories".

It seems that he has his knickers in a twist because someone operating under the pseudonym "Grit Girl" on Youtube posted a video that was somewhat less than flattering to Mr. Harper and his government.

Apparently, in Mr. Taylor's mind, this is "out of bounds". Never mind the fact that the HarperCon$ already signalled that they are gearing up for more attack ads at the beginning of March; and Harper shifted gears into campaign mode at the Manning Center Conservative Whoop-up more recently.

Never mind that the Conservatives spent millions on a campaign of character assassination against Stephane Dion. Never mind that it's become fairly obvious that the blogging tories are essentially an astroturfing operation that takes its marching orders from Conservative HQ.

No, Mr. Taylor is all upset because someone who claims to be aligned with the Liberal party posted a video that he thinks is "too slick" that happens to be critical of his heroes in Ottawa. Apparently, attacking other politicians is reserved for the HarperCon$ - nobody is supposed to critique them.

Moral Bankruptcy in the Pro Life Movement

If there was ever a case of moral bankruptcy, it is the so-called "Pro-Life" movement's sqawking over a 9 year old girl's abortion in Brazil.

Sure enough, over at Lifesite, they've found an authority to say that the girl could have carried the twins to term:

But in a recent interview with, Dr. Paul Byrne, a neonatologist and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Toledo, Ohio, strongly refuted the assumption that the Brazilian girl's life was threatened by the pregnancy, simply because of her age.

Byrne told LSN that it is certainly medically possible for a young girl safely to carry a pregnancy of twins to term. He acknowledged that the circumstances are unusual, but said that the problem of giving birth with an undeveloped pelvic structure could be safely avoided by a caesarean section.

This is not exactly a doctor who has examined the girl personally, so he's speaking from a purely hypothetical perspective. Hypothetically, just about anything is possible. That doesn't make it right, does it?

Dr. Byrne cited the case of Lina Medina, a Peruvian girl from the Andean village of Ticrapo who made medical history when she gave birth to a boy by caesarean section in May 1939 at the age of five years, seven months and 21 days.

Do I really need to point out that cases like this are exceedingly rare to begin with. Perhaps once in a while, a child carries the fetus to term (7 months is not "full term ... do I really need to point that out??) The doctor in this case is conveniently ignoring the fact that the case in Brazil involved multiple fetuses (twins), not a singleton - a situation that complicates pregnancy even further - and increases the risk to the pregnant female considerably - even as an adult.

But he emphasized that no matter what the situation in the case, "abortion is not the solution." The girl, he said, "was sexually abused" and needed treatment. "Someone should have tried to help this girl."

Which comes around to the problem, doesn't it? The girl was raped - by a parent figure no less. At the age of 9, did she have any say in the matter? No - or very unlikely.

Forcing a child to bear children is little more than repeating the rape that caused the pregnancy in the first place - every day until the pregnancy ends, and then every day after that the girl has to deal with the babies. I cannot even begin to imagine the horror that would be.

Dr. Byrne noted also that the girl now faces the usual long-term health risks associated with abortion, including possible future pre-term births and miscarriage due to an "incompetent cervix," a cervix that is too weak to stay closed during a pregnancy.

Prove it, Dr. Byrne. This is a 9 year old girl. Her body is still growing, and will heal a lot better than an adult body does. I'm sure that there are some risks involved here - any medical procedure bears risks with it. Somehow, I think being alive far outweighs the probability that pregnancy would have killed her - slowly and painfully.

Dr. Byrne decried the emphasis in the press and among Catholic bishops on the excommunications that were formally announced against the girl's mother and the doctors who performed the abortion by the Archbishop of Recife. "The focus is on excommunication when the focus ought to be on life of these three persons created in the image and likeness of God," said Byrne.

Wrong. This is so wrong on so many levels it isn't even funny. What this represents is nothing less than the moral bankruptcy of "Pro Life" politics. When a nine year old girl is to be repeatedly raped and forced to give birth afterwards, the "movement" has lost all credibility to take a moral high ground. In essence, they are saying that a child's life is of lesser value than a fetus. More to the point, they are arguing that the life of any pregnant female is worth less than a fetus.

Some notable pro-life twits will accuse me of being "utilitarian" about the matter, but in fact it is the pro-lifers who are being utilitarian - and they are doing so by treating women as nothing more than vessels of procreation. How much more utilitarian can you possibly get?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shorter Pope: Dogma Always Trumps Reality

The current leadership in the Vatican just doesn't have a clue about reality. Every time we turn around one of these idiots opens their mouth and says something that is beyond patently stupid.

Today, it's the Pope's turn:

Before arriving in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde, the Pope said HIV/Aids was "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem".

The solution lies in a "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer", the AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

While in Africa, the pontiff is expected to talk to young people about the Aids epidemic and explain to them why the Catholic Church recommends sexual abstinence as the best way to prevent the spread of the disease.

He gave a similar message to African bishops who visited the Vatican in 2005, when he told them that abstinence and fidelity, not condoms, were the means to tackle the epidemic.

Hmmm...let's think about this from a perspective grounded firmly in reality, shall we?

First of all, condoms are one of the few means known to prevent, or at the very least, minimize, the chances of HIV transmission. The Pope's addlepated logic that distributing condoms can make the problem worse is completely false. As the GLBT community in North America demonstrated during the 1980s and 1990s, condom use can and does reduce the rate of transmission from sexual contact.

I won't even begin to describe my revulsion with the dogma of "noble suffering". This is nothing more than a way to wash one's hands of a topic that is uncomfortable or unsettling. Instead of taking action, it becomes far too easy to simply blame the person suffering from HIV/AIDS and call their suffering "consequences" and "God's will". Intellectually speaking, this is sloppy reasoning.

Lastly, while the concept of abstinence works in theory, it completely ignores the very real and human reality that people have sex. Just as the unreasoning "abstinence only" policies of Bush II failed miserably (with evangelical teens having sex just as often - and ending up pregnant more often - as their peers.

Condoms are not a solution in and of themselves. This is true enough. However, the rabid anti-condom stance of the Pope is rooted not in reason but in dogma ... and like the dogma of the church around abortion, it is completely divorced from reality.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Peter On Sexual Identity

It's a sad statement when wingnuts like Peter LaBarbera are among the more articulate of their peers.

Today, we have him pontificating on sexual identity.

We disagree on the morality of homosexual acts — plain and simple. I’m a sinner in need of God’s grace, but redefining my sins as part of my “proud” identity would be wrong. That’s how we view the “gay” movement.

This is pretty standard anti-gay rhetoric. In short, LaBarbera is trying to recap the usual "love the sinner, hate the sin" line - and is setting himself up to reveal the innate hypocrisy of his position - which we will come to in a moment.

I’ve known and interviewed too many FORMER “gays” like Charlene Cothran and Yvette Schneider to believe that homosexuality is some fixed, innate identity.

More standardized tripe. But here is also where his argument begins to fall apart. What LaBarbera fails to recognize here is the very distinct likelihood that those who are "successful" ex-gays (e.g. manage to live an apparently heterosexual life) are bisexual.

What LaBarbera is ignoring is that while a handful of GLBT people do manage to live as heterosexuals, the vast majority do not. There is very little evidence that suggests that the ex-gay concept applies to any but a small subset.

As for how your (new) “rights” affect me and those who agree with me, there is ample and growing evidence now that “gay rights” and historic American religious/moral freedoms cannot co-exist. Look at the case of the Christian photographer in New Mexico, who did not want to shoot a [lesbian couples’] wedding and was sued — and lost her case (it’s now on appeal). What about HER right to live by her beliefs? What about the right of an Orthodox Jewish small businessman NOT to subsidize homosexual employees’ relationships if he believes those relationships are based on (an egregious) sin?

The first of these cases falls into the same basic category of law as the case of Scott Brockie in Canada. Once you make an agreement to provide services to somebody, revoking that based on the fact that the client is associated with the GLBT movement is discrimination - pure and simple.

The second case quickly degenerates into an anti-tax argument. Taxes, like all matters relating to money in general, has no moral underpinnings. Money is devoid of either morals or ethics. My tax dollars go to a lot of things I disagree with - that doesn't give me any right to refuse to pay taxes. Period. That principle has been consistent in both Canada and the United States.

I always do interviews with the gay press. If a truly feared or hated homosexuals, I couldn’t do my job as I feel called to do: responding to the many PRO-GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] groups.

Yeah. Sure. What a condescending piece of garbage that is. That's no better than usual bigot's line "some of my best friends are ...". The fact, is that Mr. LaBarbera is working day and night to delegate an entire population to second class status based entirely upon your moralizing, which utterly disrespects the freedom of religion as it applies to the population as a whole.

Right Wing Hypocrisy 101

With the Rethuglicans desperate to rebuild their suddenly crumbling base in the United States, they seem to be desperately dragging out anything they can ... in this case, it's been Dick Cheney.

An October 23, 2001, memo from Justice Department lawyers John C. Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty said, "First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully."

Former Vice PresidentCheney also believes, according to these same memos, that the federal government can send troops to burst into the homes of American citizens without a search warrant, despite the Fourth Amendment's protection against such unreasonable searches. He believes that the federal government has the right to arrest an American citizen on American soil and hold him in prison without charges. He believes that the federal government can listen in on your phone conversations without a court order.

Now, think about this for a minute, and reflect on the Conservatives in Canada trying to resurrect unnecessary laws that give the government unprecedented police-state powers in peacetime.

"I worry a lot," he told King, "that they're using the current set of economic difficulties to try to justify a massive expansion in the government, and much more authority for the government over the private sector. I don't think that's good. I don't think that's going to solve the problem."

Set aside the, umm, irony of a guy who is alive, thank God, because of government-provided health care opposing health care for taxpaying Americans. And set aside the hypocrisy of the Bush-Cheney Medicare prescription drug entitlement, the greatest expansion of the federal role in health care since President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Focus instead on Cheney's alarmist rhetoric: "a massive expansion in the government", "much more authority for the government." Cheney is comfortable with a government that has the authority to torture, imprison, censor and kill. Just not a government that has the capacity and compassion to write a health insurance policy or take on Big Oil.

There's a second irony here - and it falls forth from Cheney's own mouth. In "worrying about" an expansion of government under Obama, Cheney fails quite utterly to admit that under Bush II (and Cheney), the government expanded dramatically - in ways that invade people's privacy and fundamental rights such as due process before the law far more negatively than anything that the Obama administration has proposed. Cheney has repeatedly denied many people access to the courts, has invaded their privacy and tortured others. Under Bush II, more happened to expand the reach of law enforcement and the military - aspects of government intrusion into private lives that we really should be worried about.

Consider that Canada's Con$ are pouring money into the military like there's no tomorrow, and want to resurrect laws that expired for good reason. These people take their cues from Bush II/Cheney ...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dear Dick: B*!!Sh!T

The morality of "the ends justify the means" logic - coming from Dick Cheney.

Cheney told CNN's "State of the Union" that the Bush administration's "alternative" interrogation techniques were "absolutely essential" to preventing further assaults like the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Critics said those techniques amounted to the torture of prisoners in American custody.

"President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack," Cheney said.

Right, asshole. So, in your view torture, illegal detention, handing people over to other countries for "interrogation" is all fair game. That's nice - it just proves to the rest of us that you truly are despicable.

Quite frankly, Cheney's rationale about the Bush II program of torture, illegal detention etc. being a "successful program" because it "stopped further 9/11 style attacks" is like selling shark repellent in Alberta. You can claim it works because there's no sharks in Alberta, but I don't think that exactly demonstrates anything meaningful.


Someone at the Globe and Mail decided to do some real journalism, and went digging into the subject of Subprime Mortgages in Canada.

What they found - at least in Alberta and BC calls into question the statements made by many of our politicians to the effect that Subprime Mortgages aren't a problem in Canada.

I remember seeing ads for what sounded like dubious lending offers in the early 2000s - especially in e-mail. I had always assumed that these ads were simply misdirected garbage out of the United States. Apparently, I was quite mistaken, as these lenders were moving into Canada - or at least Western Canada.

Despite having just a share of about 7 per cent of the national market, subprime lenders in Alberta accounted for 56 per cent of the foreclosures in 2008. In British Columbia, the tiny subprime market laid claim to 42 per cent of the province's 2008 foreclosures. In comparison, Canada's five largest banks accounted for 33 per cent of the foreclosures in Alberta in 2008, even though the country's chartered banks account for about two-thirds of Canada's total outstanding mortgages.

Okay, 7 percent of the total mortgage market isn't that much, but, the impact of that seven percent on the housing market in Alberta and B.C. has the potential to be significant - especially when they account for over half of the foreclosures in the region.

We would be ill advised to ignore the medium and long term impact of these loans on the rest of us. Those whose properties are being foreclosed by these predatory loan companies have been taken to the cleaners. The rest of us stand to see our investments in property devalued quite considerably while the housing market tries to absorb a sudden influx of foreclosures.

These loans should never have been created in the first place. Now that we know that they do exist as a measurable fraction of Canada's mortgages, it is time for us to examine how best to remediate these loans. These are truly toxic assets, both for the borrowers and for the rest of Canadians. I think I would like to see a program for converting these loans into more conventional mortgage structures, and reset the payment history on the revised loans. I'm not saying that the borrowers get off the hook at all, but rather that we remove the most predatory aspects of these loans (such as the surprise changes in payments) from the picture, and give the borrowers a chance to succeed in paying off the debt that they have incurred.

There will be some who simply cannot pay their debts, and those will still go into foreclosure. But we can at least remove the worst aspects of these loans from the picture and do something constructive with it all.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Harper's Real Face

Harper is probably about the most two-faced PM Canada has seen in decades. I've never seen someone who so blatantly speaks out of both sides of his face on such a regular basis.

After his attempt at a "reassurance speech" earlier this week (one which was promptly shot down in flames by the jobless numbers published on Friday)

However, there's that speech, and then there's the one he gave to "conservative insiders"
this week.

As usual, when this hypocritical PM thinks he's in a "safe space", his true colours come to the surface - and they aren't pretty.

In a recording obtained by The Canadian Press, Harper goes after the Liberals in a election-campaign style attack, saying the current situation would be much worse had they been in power.

"Imagine the stance Canada would have taken when Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists attacked Israel. Imagine how many Liberal insiders and ideologues would be now in the Senate, the courts and countless other federal institutions and agencies - I should say, how many more," Harper said to laughter.

"Imagine the costs of going through with the Kyoto and Kelowna accords with no plan to actually achieve anything on either the environment or aboriginal affairs. Imagine what a carbon tax would be doing to our economy in the middle of a global recession."

He twice pointed disdainfully to tax hikes U.S. President Barack Obama introduced for the highest tax brackets.

Uh huh. This coming from a PM who has been trying to sell Canadians a "don't worry, be happy" line since last fall. Anyone with their eyes open last fall (or the year before that!) could see quite clearly just how ugly things were becoming. Harper did the worst thing he could have - not only did he try to blow sunshine at us, he failed utterly to actually do anything meaningful.

Under his watch, programs have been dismantled, major spending initiatives have been bungled, and long term thinking has been disastrously non-existent.

"I'm talking about compromises that address the reality of the lives of real people."

He went on to deride the spendthrift culture in the United States and the recklessness of Wall Street. Harper, who has been described as a libertarian in the past, surprised some in the audience by critiquing those same ideals.

"The libertarian says, 'Let individuals exercise full freedom and take full responsibility for their actions.' The problem with this notion is that people who act irresponsibly in the name of freedom are almost never willing to take responsibility for their actions."

Funny, Harper's comments of a few brief years ago seem to fly in the face of this. At the time he and his allies were busy demanding that the Banking system be massively deregulated so that it could "compete" (read be swallowed alive) with American banks. (remember that?) The HarperCon$ have long been in the category of extreme libertarian (at least by Canadian standards), and now Harper's criticizing that very model? Uh huh. Pure political opportunism is all that is.

But Harper vigorously defended his policies, arguing that compromises had to be made to face the economic reality.

"I'm talking about compromises that address the reality of the lives of real people."

No, you didn't do that to address any "economic realities", Harper. You did it because you know as well as the rest of us that failing to do so would cost you most of the votes you garnered last election - outside of Alberta, at least.

Harper's recent change of "heart" is nothing more than pure politics - Harper is a man who thinks solely in terms of the political score, not in terms of governance, nor the well being of Canadians.

The good news, is that Harper's speech is annoying both hard-line conservatives (the old reform/alliance base) and the libertarians who thought they had found a political home in the HarperCon$:

The prime minister has been criticized in some conservative circles for allowing the government to go into deficit with spending programs designed to stimulate the economy. At the conference, which continued Friday, some high-profile conservatives warned against watering down conservative ideas to win votes.

Mike Brock, a Conservative blogger who attended the conference, called the speech bewildering.

"The treatment to classical liberals and libertarians - of which I consider myself - was nothing short of stunning," he wrote.

"The condescension was literally dripping from his mouth. Was this his response to the disillusionment that libertarians across the country have had to his government and its policies of late?

"If it was, it did not build any bridges. Rather, it burnt them right down."

So which Harper is the real one? The man who was attempt to act "Prime Ministerial" on Tuesday, or the partisan politician on Thursday. My money's on the latter - there's far more evidence for it than there is for the other presentation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Conservative Totalitarianism

It doesn't matter really whether one is of "left" or "right" leaning persuasion here. The extremes off either end of the political spectrum tend to degenerate into totalitarianism.

What we should be concerned about is how close the right wing political parties in this country are to that totalitarian edge.

Consider the following. In Alberta (where we have had one party rule for rather longer than some 3rd world dictatorships have lasted), we find the government creating a new and more arbitrary form of censorship:

Bill 18 creates a new film czar position with the authority to reclassify films. It also puts new limits on children's attendance at movies.

In addition, the government will be able to hire inspectors who can, without warrant, check out movie houses and video stores and oblige owners to hand over films and any documents associated with the films.

Do you notice the "without warrant" clause in there? In essence, they are allowed to forcibly confiscate product for whatever reason the "inspector" decides that day. There is no due process, no appeals, nothing. In essence, the government has just created its very own media police, and given them a blank cheque.

Then on the Federal scene, we have Stephen Harper's gang busy trying to govern through fear:

The Conservative government will again try to bring in two controversial elements of an anti-terrorism bill that would extend police and judicial powers.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson gave parliamentary notice late Tuesday that he will attempt to bring in the provisions, which could be introduced in the House of Commons as early as Thursday.

The measures would give police the power to make preventive arrests, without a warrant, of anyone suspected of planning a terrorist attack.

They would also require anyone with information relevant to the investigation of a terrorist act to appear before a judge in secret for investigative hearings. Witnesses could go to jail if they don't comply.

Remember these little horrors? They were introduced just after 9/11 - with a sunset clause on them at the time. Fortunately for Canadians, the government of the day never actually used them (demonstrating that they are unnecessary to begin with)

However, the HarperCon$ are bound and determined to continue emulating the Bush II Rethuglicans, and are busy trying to ram unnecessary legislation through the house. Legislation which gives the police and other agencies unreasonable powers of detainment without accountability.

If that sounds like a police state to you, it's because it is.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Remember Rotting Cryptkeeper Phelps? Keeper of "" and some of the more wingnutty protests in recent history?

Via Pharyngula, we learn of a Chicago counter-protest to the latest antics of the Phelps clan.

The best sign:

Responding to the clinically insane with insanity! I love it!

... and I have to imagine that the Phelps clan has to look up two of the three words on that poster...

Monday, March 09, 2009

You Might Want Some ... Actual Experience

for someone heading up NATO. Somehow, I don't think Mackay's photo-op flights to Afghanistan count as the kind of military or foreign affairs experience required to head up NATO.

Come to that, do we need another war-mongering neoCon anywhere near the helm of anything even vaguely military? (especially reflecting upon the awe inspiring successes of recent ideology inspired forays into war in recent years)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Understanding Why NCR Laws Do Not Need To Change

In recent weeks, there has been a certain amount of "why isn't Vincent Li accountable for his actions"? being bandied about.

The Globe and Mail does a great job of explaining just how things failed at every step of the way where Mr. Li was concerned.

“The stigma around the illness is so severe,” said Mary Alberti, executive director of the Schizophrenic Society of Ontario, “that people are afraid to talk about it, afraid to come forward because they are afraid of how they will be treated by society.”

That's an understatement - especially for a condition as severe as schizophrenia, which most can only guess at how it affects its victims.

He was picked up by police and taken to William Osler Health Centre in Etobicoke. “He was vague, seemed to be hallucinating, staring into space,” a doctor there noted. “He has not slept or eaten for three days.”

He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and given medications that he refused to take.

Believing Mr. Li was at risk of harming himself or others, doctors placed him on two involuntary admission certificates and could have legally detained him for 14 days. For reasons still unclear, he walked away from the hospital after just 10 days.

There's a significant point here. We need to recognize that Mr. Li probably didn't understand that anything was really wrong with him. The disruption in thought that schizophrenia creates is sufficiently severe that from within, it can seem normal.

This is one of the reasons why we cannot ethically hold him liable for those actions. They took place under circumstances which the person we know as Mr. Li was "not in the building" so to speak. If we treat Mr. Li, and manage to restore him to a modestly stable condition, are we in fact punishing the same person that committed those crimes? In such a situation, it's extremely hard to say yes or no.

In his mind, he and his trusty buck knife had just slain a demon. With blood smeared across his face and three of the demon's body parts stuffed in his pocket, he couldn't understand why police surrounded him as soon as he landed, or why they “put cuffs on my hand and then they took me to the police station and treated me like a murderer,” he later told a psychiatrist.

It took weeks of treatment before Mr. Li realized the extent of his actions the night of July 30, 2008: that a major psychotic disorder had compelled him to stab, dismember and disembowel a 22-year-old stranger aboard a Greyhound bus bound for Winnipeg.

It sounds like he's aware of what he was did now (in which case, I pity the man, for he will remember both the incident and the process of digging out his role in it for the rest of his life, and he will have to find a way to understand, and accept, his role in that event - a punishment far worse for most than any prison cell).

The whole story around this man is one of a series of failures - on the part of Mr. Li, the medical system, those around him and society. Society probably holds the biggest weight here, for collectively, we continue to treat mental illness with a mixture of fear and contempt. Fear because we do not adequately understand it, and contempt because it is so difficult to empathize with someone whose illness is not physical.

Our medical institutions are woefully inadequate when it comes to treating mental health conditions, and we continue to underfund the area, meaning that treatment beds are at a premium; and the ability to track patients with severe, long term treatment needs is virtually non-existent.

When incidents like that of July 2008 occur, we should be cognizant of the fact that they represent more than a failure of an individual. They often represent a systemic failure that could well have begun years before.

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...