Saturday, June 26, 2010

G20 Protests - You Expected Anything Different?

While I can't say that I'm impressed by the behaviour of protesters demonstrating against the G20 and G8 conferences being held in Toronto this week, I can't exactly say it surprises me either.

When an over-the-top set of security "measures" turns a large chunk of Toronto into a fortified bunker zone, disrupting the lives of thousands of Torontonians, it created a powderkeg situation.

Quite frankly, the security preparations around the G20 and G8 conferences - an expenditure of some $1 billion of taxpayer's money - serve only to isolate these so-called leaders from the very people they allegedly represent. It seems to me that there is something very, very wrong with a situation where our political leadership goes to such great lengths to avoid the public that they are allegedly accountable to.

I won't excuse those protesters who engaged in violence and destruction - they deserve to face our criminal justice system. However, the government(s) that demand such dramatic measures to "protect" their leaders also hold a degree of responsibility here. The "need" to isolate themselves entirely from the public that they are responsible to gives the extremists the excuse to become violent. The disruption of life in downtown Toronto this week is an excellent example of how an overweaning desire to create absolute security in fact creates the volatile situation that we see unfolding.

I've said it before about these types of situations - the most effective security is the security that nobody sees or experiences directly (except the violators). When you create what is so obviously a police state, that does not promote the peace and security that is sought, it provokes the very violence that we are seeing.

Sadly, I doubt that our government - either Mr. Harper or Mr. Toews - will understand or admit to their role in creating this powderkeg. Even more depressing is the lack of accessibility to our political leadership means that the politicians will go even further to isolate themselves from the public - and become even more disconnected from the people they purport to govern.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Attempting Erasure of Transsexuals

A paper was published in a journal called "The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly" last year. Titled The Psychopathology of Gender Reassignment Surgery, this paper attempts to lay out why it is wrong to provide Gender Reassignment Surgery to transsexuals.

I've spent a fair bit of time since I ran across this paper pulling apart its web of tangled reasoning. (and tangled it is) My first inclination is to go through it point by point and describe why each paragraph is leaping to incorrect conclusions or is so filled with assumptions that the authors clearly have failed to adequately research the subject they are writing on. However, that would produce a huge, tedious rebuttal that doesn't really address the underlying problems with this paper.

In my study of this paper, I have come to recognize a series of serious flaws in the assumptions and evidence that the authors have used. These include basing their description of what Transsexualism is on some deeply flawed theoretical models; drawing on sources that are, at best, marginal voices in the research and treatment community and ignoring data and sources that clearly arrive at different conclusions than the authors of the paper set out to find.

In short, the authors set out to confirm the conclusions they already had in mind, and paid little heed to the breadth and depth of the research field.

The first thing that the authors set out to do is invalidate the notion of transsexualism. They do this through several basic tactics. First, they use the emotionally loaded language of "mutilation" to describe Gender Reassignment Surgery. Any reasonable assessment of the ethical implications of a given procedure would be expected to stay away from such language in the early stages of the paper as it clearly prejudices the interpretation of subsequent data.

The paper proceeds to describe transsexualism using Blanchard's notion of Autogynephilia. Fortunately for transsexuals in the world today, Blanchard's model isn't exactly the dominant theoretical model describing transsexuals. In fact, the view that gender identity occurs in a spectrum has become much more prevalent. The problem with the Autogynephilia model is that it uses two fairly absolute categorizations to describe transsexuals - both firmly rooted in the language of sexual identity. Whether we are talking about the "Kinsey Scale" (which was emulated by Harry Benjamin for transsexuals), such attempts to define bounded categories tend to break down when applied to the breadth and depth of human diversity. As a thought experiment, try defining what it means to be 'a man' or 'a woman' in today's society - it's trickier than you might imagine. Then consider how difficult it is to categorize people in general.

The narrative discussion about transsexuals in general focuses intensely on people's sex lives, while ignoring the far more crucial discussions around the individual's adaptation and integration with society. While we are certainly all sexual beings in some capacity, it seems to me more than a little problematic to attempt to describe people based on their sexual behaviours. Worse, the reference material cited to derive this narrative is often based on such small numbers as to be better viewed as anecdotal evidence rather than population evidence. Sadly, the authors hold up numerous anecdotes about poor adaptation and misconceptions as being "the general case", a logical inference that simply does not stand up to any reasonable analysis.

Sadly, they even go as far as to reference a television show called Sex Change Hospital, as if such a program is going to be any kind of meaningful guide to the breadth and depth of experience that is humanity. Even worse, their criticism is that the people who have surgery aren't always "perfectly passable". Transsexuals, like the rest of the population come in all sorts of shapes and sizes - not everybody is model material, how dare they apply such a standard to transsexuals? Such programs tend to emphasize the physical change that surgery brings, but do not (and cannot) explore the complex and often bewildering path that is transition - that goes on with the patient and their therapist over a period of years.

The paper implies that there are always underlying psychological problems associated with Gender Identity Disorder (GID).

Some therapists too readily accept a patient’s “I feel trapped in the wrong body” explanation and do not probe—let alone help the patient to resolve—the patient’s underlying narcissism, anger, and inability to embrace the reality of their sexual identity.

To make such a claim is indeed spurious. The WPATH Standards of Care are very clear about the handling of comorbid conditions.

For Children:
3. Therapy should focus on ameliorating any comorbid problems in the child’s life,

For Adults:
Ideally, the clinician's work is with the whole of the person's complexity. The goals of therapy are to help the person to live more comfortably within a gender identity and to deal effectively with non-gender issues.

Assuming that a therapist is knowledgeable and working within the WPATH SOC guidelines, one might reasonably suspect that recommendations for steps such as surgery aren't likely to be made until other related issues are dealt with adequately.

Inevitably, as one might expect, the writers turn to NARTH for more "experts" to reinforce their overt hostility to transsexuality and its treatment. They quote a paper published on NARTH's website by a Dr. Breiner - a particularly offensive piece of work that I have already analyzed here.

Following down the NARTH path further, we find the usual attempt to establish childhood sexual abuse as a causal or root factor in transsexualism. We've seen this before with homosexuality - it wasn't a terribly successful strategy before, and I know of no legitimate research that establishes any kind of reasonable causal relationship beyond the usual assertions that large numbers of have been abused sexually as children. This is an old saw, and one that doesn't deserve further consideration without serious evidence to establish its veracity.

Similarly, the attempt to link transsexuality with masochism is not only a very feeble argument, it's at best spurious to make such an association. While there are no doubt some transsexuals who are interested in S&M play, drawing the conclusion that their masochistic fantasies led them to transition is dubious at best.

When the authors finally do start addressing the ethical issues involved in providing treatment to transsexuals, they do so from this framework of questionable theoretical models, really awful logic and blatant misinformation. Needless to say, their conclusions are similarly flawed.

I'm going to restate some of their conclusions in my own words, in part because the objections the authors raise are often done in a manner that is elliptical relative to what they conclude.

Conclusion #1:

GRS is unethical because it doesn't "really" change someone's sex. (That is to say a MTF transsexual will not be able to bear children after surgery)

I don't think anybody denies the limitations of GRS as it stands today. To say that it is therefore "mutilation" is to suggest that any surgery that reshapes the body at all is mutilation as well.

The accusation that because the person is not able to directly procreate after surgery ignores the fact that for many transsexuals, the dysphoria they experience is so severe that it is unlikely that they would procreate in the first place. Further, it reduces human sexual and romantic partnerships to the production of babies - a position that treats the people involved as mere objects, rather than as human beings.

Transsexuals are really just lying about themselves

This is possibly one of the most offensive accusations that you can level at a transsexual. The journey through one's inner self that is part and parcel of a thoughtful, reasoned transition takes one well beyond the idea that they could be "lying" to themselves.

The archetype of the 'transsexual as deceiver' is rooted in the same rubric that leads the authors to assume that the deeply flawed model of Autogynephilia actually meaningfully describes the overall population of transsexuals. One of the most glaring problems with Bailey's "The Man Who Would Be Queen" book is the fact that most of his subjects were found in drag bars. That's like going into an outlaw biker bar to interview motorcyclists and concluding that all motorcycle riders belong to criminal gangs.

Conclusion #3:

Transsexuals are demanding that others lie on their behalf and they have no right to do so

Those who believe that it is impossible to change a person’s sex do not want to be insensitive to others, but neither should they be forced to lie by calling a man a woman or by calling a woman a man.

If someone is clearly presenting as a woman, treat them as a woman - it's not difficult. To call someone who is obviously MTF trans "sir" or "he" when she is obviously living as a woman is just as wrong as the schoolyard bully calling his target a "sissy".

The religious objection that it is impossible to "change one's sex" is a personal belief, and should be kept personal.

Conclusion #4:

By providing GRS, the caregivers are not providing a medically justified procedure, and as such they are collaborating with the patient's mental disease

This is a restatement of Paul McHugh's position, which I have already addressed on this blog.

I will however, reinforce my statements about McHugh's position with the following from the WPATH Standards of Care (v6):

Sex Reassignment is Effective and Medically Indicated in Severe GID. In persons diagnosed with transsexualism or profound GID, sex reassignment surgery, along with hormone therapy and real-life experience, is a treatment that has proven to be effective. Such a therapeutic regimen, when prescribed or recommended by qualified practitioners, is medically indicated and medically necessary. Sex reassignment is not "experimental," "investigational," "elective,"cosmetic," or optional in any meaningful sense. It constitutes very effective and appropriate treatment for transsexualism or profound GID.

The ethical objections that are raised in this paper are also addressed quite effectively in the WPATH Standards of Care as follows:

How to Deal with Ethical Questions Concerning Sex Reassignment Surgery. Many persons, including some medical professionals, object on ethical grounds to surgery for GID. In ordinary surgical practice, pathological tissues are removed in order to restore disturbed functions, or alterations are made to body features to improve the patient’s self image. Among those who object to sex reassignment surgery, these conditions are not thought to present when surgery is performed for persons with gender identity disorders. It is important that professionals dealing with patients with gender identity disorders feel comfortable about altering anatomically normal structures. In order to understand how surgery can alleviate the psychological discomfort of patients diagnosed with gender identity disorders, professionals need to listen to these patients discuss their life histories and dilemmas. The resistance against performing surgery on the ethical basis of "above all do no harm" should be respected, discussed, and met with the opportunity to learn from patients themselves about the psychological distress of having profound gender identity disorder.

It is unethical to deny availability or eligibility for sex reassignment surgeries or hormone therapy solely on the basis of blood seropositivity for blood-borne infections such as HIV, or hepatitis B or C, etc.

It is a sad statement that the paper's authors could not even have been bothered to examine the WPATH Standards of Care, which addresses their concerns most directly.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stephen Harper: Dragging Canada Backwards

It's taken a while - far too long, IMO, but the press in this country is starting to realize just what Harper's been up to since day one:

Travers: Changing Canada, one backward step at a time

Imagine a country where Parliament is padlocked twice in 13 months to frustrate the democratic will of the elected majority. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that slyly relaxes environmental regulations even as its neighbour reels from a catastrophic oil leak blamed on slack controls. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that boasts about prudent financial management while blowing through a $13-billion surplus on the way to a $47-billion deficit. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where a political operative puts fork-tongued words in a top general’s mouth. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that refuses to fund the same safe abortions to poor women abroad as it provides at home. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where the national police commissioner skews a federal election and is never forced to explain. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that writes a covert manual on sabotaging Commons committees. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country dragging its climate change feet as the true north melts. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that silences political debate on the sale of a publicly owned, crown jewel corporation. That country is now this country.

Published On Sat Jun 19 2010

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By James Travers National Affairs Columnist

Imagine a country where Parliament is padlocked twice in 13 months to frustrate the democratic will of the elected majority. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that slyly relaxes environmental regulations even as its neighbour reels from a catastrophic oil leak blamed on slack controls. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that boasts about prudent financial management while blowing through a $13-billion surplus on the way to a $47-billion deficit. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where a political operative puts fork-tongued words in a top general’s mouth. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that refuses to fund the same safe abortions to poor women abroad as it provides at home. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where the national police commissioner skews a federal election and is never forced to explain. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that writes a covert manual on sabotaging Commons committees. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country dragging its climate change feet as the true north melts. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that silences political debate on the sale of a publicly owned, crown jewel corporation. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that puts higher priority on building super-prisons than keeping people out of them. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where parties that win the most federal seats are dismissed as “losers”. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that twists its foreign policy around the interests of another nation. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that argues that barricading its largest city promotes tourism. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that promises Senate reform only to continue stuffing it with political hacks. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that avoids answers about a controversial war by accusing questioners of supporting the enemy. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where party apparatchiks decide who in a nominally free press is allowed to ask the Prime Minister questions. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where donut shop wisdom is more prized than expert analysis. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that builds a fake lake for a tough-times summit. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that preaches law and order while killing a long-gun registry police chiefs insist makes citizens safer. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where serving the Prime Minister as chief propagandist is job preparation for running a national news network. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country where charities mute constructive criticism of public policy for fear of losing federal funding. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that can spend $1.2 billion for summit security but can’t find the petty cash needed to invest in the status of women. That country is now this country.

Imagine a country that promises accountability only to impose secrecy. That country is now this country.

Every example is familiar, all are documented. Only the cumulative effect is surprising.

Think about it ...

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Idiot File: Lindsay Blackett - Television Critic

After hearing Blackett's statements about the quality of Canadian television productions for the last couple of days - and his flaccid attempts to defend the "rightness" of what he says, I finally have a few things to add.

First, let me put my own cards on the table with respect to television. I don't watch it - period. Quite frankly, I got turned off network television in the 1990s - the era of such innovative tripe as "Friends", "Beverly Hills 90210", "Frasier" and "Seinfeld" - and the first generations of so-called "reality" shows, a genre that I thought was awful then and I have yet to see anything to change my opinion. I simply decided that there were better places to spend my money than pouring hundreds of dollars into cable to get access to the handful of channels that I might enjoy.

Which leads to my point. Minister Blackett is busy whinging about how "poor" the quality of Canadian-made television is. A sentiment I find ironic in an era when shows like "Little Mosque on the Prairie" and "Corner Gas" have been garnering awards and audience share like wildfire.

However, if Minister Blackett wishes to whinge about "how bad" Canadian TV is, I invite him to think about it a little differently. He should be asking himself how it is with the millions of dollars that American productions sink into actors, advertising and so on for their shows why there's such a dearth of material that is actually worth the time to watch it?

Quite frankly, the most enjoyable TV series I've seen anything of (usually on DVD's borrowed from friends) have had precious little money sunk into them compared to the extravagant expenditures made by American networks on their "top prime time" material.

Are the big American productions profitable? Undoubtedly. On the other hand, are they high quality? Not necessarily. A glossy finish, perhaps - which is what I suspect Blackett is really attracted to.

It reminds me of a co-worker years ago getting a "great deal" on what was then a fairly new Camaro. When he pulled into the parking lot, we all admired the shiny, obviously fresh paint. On closer inspection though, one of us noticed that his car was sitting a lot lower on the left hand side than the right. The proud new owner told us "it was just that the springs needed to be replaced - besides, listen to how solid this thing is ..." followed by slamming the door shut so we could hear the solid "thunk" of a good car door closing. Well ... there was a thunk alright - it was the sound of half the door falling onto the pavement, revealing a travesty of automotive handiwork. An enormous lump of Bondo and fibreglass fell off the door, revealing a door which had been caved in by another vehicle.

The shiny paint was there as bait. The car itself was worse than a beater - it was beaten. I won't bore you with the litany of problems he had after that trying to rehabilitate the vehicle - the point is this - Television shows are a bit like that car these days. They are often very slick and glossy, but underneath it all, there often isn't much to recommend them.

Minister Blackett might want to consider that the next time he decides to make "off the cuff" remarks about the quality of Canadian productions.

Some friends have pointed me to shows I have actually enjoyed in recent years - Firefly, Dark Angel and Pushing Daisies among them - but there's not enough to make me want to do more than borrow the DVDs once in a while - I'd much rather be outside on my bicycle, walking in the mountains or have a good book to read.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Did Anybody Else See This Turd Coming?

I did. Way back in the 90s when King Ralph took away school boards' right to levy and collect property taxes.

It's taken a while, but sure enough the CBE takes some $10 million in deficit, and some 200 teachers are expected to lose their jobs as a result.

The problem? The provincial government has deliberately hamstrung regional school boards. First of all, the school boards are all funded by the provincial government, and they have no say in the amount of funding that Edmonton hands over.

It's pretty obvious to any thinking person that running the CBE is going to be a little more expensive than running the schools in the Crowsnest pass - at a minimum it costs more to live in Calgary than it does to live in Blairmore, therefore people demand higher salaries.

The second problem is that the province signed an agreement with Alberta's teachers - but it leaves the funding of those agreements in the hands of the school districts. So, on one hand, the government has placed a chokehold on the public school boards by committing them to employment terms and then tightens its grip by refusing to fund the school boards to meet their obligations - obligations which the province signed up to in the first place by signing those agreements.

That isn't just irresponsible governance, it's deliberate malice intended to undermine the public education system so that the privatization program that started with the introduction of so-called "Charter Schools" can be furthered.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bill C-389 - Including Protections For Transgender People

A private member's bill tabled by MP Bill Siksay, Bill C-389, has been wending its way through Parliament in recent months.

Bill C-389 would amend our criminal and human rights laws to explicitly provide protections to members of the transgender community by adding the terms 'gender identity' and 'gender expression' to the Human Rights Act and to the Criminal Code. The bill itself is brief, but to members of Canada's transgender community, filled with positive implications.

Of course, Canada's wingnuts see it through a far different lens, and are quite unabashed about showing us their ignorance, too.

Let's start with McVety mouthpiece C.F.A.C, run by Brian Rushfeldt hand in hand with McVety. From their website, the following bit of inspired stupidity:

Dear members of parliament,

Beware of the ramifications of Bill C-389, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code put forward by Siksay.

If you legislate this ill defined and unsubstantiated definition of “gender expression” as Siksay talks of below you will have just opened the door to every uncommon, unnatural and dangerous sexual expression that can be imagined.

From Hansard May 10, 2010 – Siksay said “Gender identity refers to an individual's self-conception as being male or female, their sense of themselves as male or female. Gender expression refers to how a person's gender identity is communicated to others through behaviour, speech, dress or mannerisms.”

Just as Svend Robinson scammed wording changes and definitions through parliament now Siksay is trying the same thing. His use of “gender expression” is not only foolish it is dangerous.

Reject this attempt to legalize all sexual behaviors.
Pedophilia is already being argued as a sexual identity/ orientation. Will it now be argued that it is a “gender expression”?

I ask you as legislators - reject this attempt to change both Human Rights code but more startling the Criminal Code. Reject it before the second sober thought Senate has to do so.

This only underscores Rushfeldt's ignorance - he is busy misunderstanding the distinction between gender identity and sexual identity. Contrary to Rushfeldt's alarmist rhetoric, it would be impossible to argue that pedophilia has anything to do with someone's gender identity. Although sexual identity is intertwined with our gender, there is no meaningful way that one can claim that pedophilia is a form of gender expression.

Then we have LifeSite spewing Gwen Landolt:

Landolt said that the bill "goes to show that homosexuals are never satisfied and will push the situation as far as it will go." She warned that it could "create all sorts of difficulties to ordinary, everyday communication in society between men and women," such as the use of public washrooms.

Of course, trust Landolt to play the bathroom card along with the "trans people are homosexuals" card. Yet another example of how the right wing assumes that anything they cannot be bothered to truly understand is automatically conflated with a dozen threats - all of which are imaginary.

Then there's what one of the idiot Con$ said in the House of Commons during debate over this bill:

Daniel Petit, parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Justice, said Tuesday that the amendments proposed "are useless and unclear." "Transsexuals are already protected against discrimination based on sex under the Canada Human Rights Act, a federal law," he said, noting that "the courts have upheld the validity of discrimination complaints filed by transsexuals."

That's part of the problem - transsexuals are protected - but often only after surgery, assuming they are legally recognized in their chosen gender.

The problem is that those protections don't extend to people who don't transition fully, or who are in the midst of transition but have not yet started to live full time in their chosen gender role.

There are risks aplenty to those who find themselves between the normative gender structures that society has. The amount of systemic discrimination that exists throughout our social and legal structures that place transgender people in multiple forms of jeopardy is astonishing, and the impact on individual lives is astonishing.

Of course, it does not surprise this writer that the Con$ would happily throw transgender people under the bus.

I hope that Siksay's bill makes it through parliament and gets signed into law, but I'm not holding my breath - it's a private member's bill to begin with, and there is a high probability of an election sometime in the next six months.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Parochial Alberta ... Again

Can Alberta be any more parochial? Or perhaps the Stelmachites are just terrified of the Wildrose Alliance party. In any event, Alberta's reaction to CPP reform is just ridiculous.

Morton says the Flaherty's pension reform vision is an overreaction and not targeted response.

"Expanding the Canada Pension Plan may benefit the significant minority who are not saving enough for retirement, but it would also provide additional and unnecessary benefits to those who already have adequate income provisions, and at significant cost to both them and their employers. It would also hurt low-income workers, who would be required to make additional contributions during their working lives." said Morton.

He says Canadians should be encouraged to save for their retirement.

"We should be looking for the right combination of private sector delivery with public oversight and monitoring. Alberta is already working with British Columbia on harmonized pension standards legislation that will help enable the private sector to innovate and enhance the retirement savings system."

Yes, Ted, let's talk about how wonderfully the private sector has "innovated" on pension plans, shall we? Every private corporate pension plan in the country is in arrears with massive unfunded liabilities. Further, these "plans" have a nasty tendency to vaporize when the company goes bankrupt - as Nortel workers have discovered.

Then there is the practicality of putting aside enough to retire on - not many people I know have an income that enables them to pay their mortgage, raise their families _AND_ put aside the 20% of gross income that is likely needed in the face of an inadequate CPP. While from Morton's perspective (making a healthy six-figure income, no doubt), it may seem quite reasonable to put 25% of income aside in savings - I dare say that Canadians making less than that might just disagree.

I'm actually surprised to see Flaherty talking about pension reform at all. It comes completely out of left field for the most right-wing government we've ever had in Ottawa, and no doubt is another piece of the Harper "all elections, all the time" campaign machinery gearing up for a late summer or fall election call.

It's been no secret that Canada's CPP needs an overhaul. It's been bubbling about for the better part of fifteen years as an issue. With the baby boomers starting to retire, Flaherty and Harper are no doubt hoping to secure the vote of retirees with the carrot of pension reform to alleviate the belt tightening that will no doubt be necessary as people realize that their own savings aren't up to the job of carrying them through their retirement years.

Coming back to Alberta's response though, I'm actually quite annoyed with the Alberta government's out of hand dismissal. We often scoff at Quebec's seeming distance from the rest of confederation, and yet here's Alberta busy playing exactly the same game - playing the whiny, petulant child over matters where the province has to play ball with the rest of Canada.

Morton's response whiffs of an attempt to play to the so-called "libertarians" that are swinging towards the Wildrose Alliance - of whom Morton is one. His "firewall" advocacy has its roots in an attitude that government has no place in the lives of citizens - an approach that so often throws the people at the lower end of the economic scale under the proverbial bus wheels.

Yes, pension reform is going to cost money. I'd much rather see my tax dollars going into a program that I know benefits Canadians. In contrast to the billions of dollars being spent on fake lakes and "security" to isolate a bunch of politicians from any kind of opposition to their position. Whether Flaherty's proposals are what I'd like to see is another story.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Do I Think Canada Won't Follow Suit?

... any time soon at least.

US unveils new passport rules for transgender people

The United States has new, more flexible passport regulations for transgender people, and ended an earlier requirement that reassignment surgery precede a passport gender change, the State Department said.

"Sexual reassignment surgery is no longer a prerequisite for passport issuance," it said in a statement.

From June 10, "when a passport applicant presents a certification from an attending medical physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition, the passport will reflect the new gender," the statement said.

I'm guessing that we won't see the Harperettes adopting this stance anytime soon ...

Extemporaneous Ranting

I was listening to the radio this morning and one of the commentators said something to the effect of "the Liberals are baffled by the lack of traction they are getting in the polls".

The answer to this is simple - now is not the time to play "nice" - with either Layton or Harper. (Ignore Layton for now!) Harper is your adversary - he's not just the incumbent PM, he's the enemy. Whether it's in the House of Commons, or not, call him out on everything.

Catch his ministers lying to Canadians, and call them on it. Loudly and publicly. When Jason Kenney lies use a nice broad brush and tar the entire lot of them with his words.

When Harper stands up and calls spending a Billion Dollars of taxpayer money on a fake lake and "security" for the G8, call him a wastrel ... and repeat it.

When Harper sidelines a good minister like Ablonczy because she did something that offended "the base", call him a bigot. When he continues to promote females based on their looks rather than their brains, call him a misogynist. Do it, and do it often - where the public will hear it.

Every time one of his ministers opens their mouth, ask them if the PMO has approved their words in advance. When a bill comes before the house, broadcast its faults to the public - I don't care if you are going to let it pass for other reasons, but publicize every flaw as an example of a government that just doesn't get it.

It's time to go on the attack - and stay there. It's not about what you would do right now, it has to be about what's wrong with the current government. You're going to hammer a lot of nails - and sometimes your going to bruise your thumb - that's the nature of politics in Canada today - deal with it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

WRA Policy Amendments

I'm cautious about Alberta's latest political party, the Wildrose Alliance party. It's another right-wing party, which given Alberta's political climate shouldn't be a big surprise.

Recently, Daveberta posted a copy of the proposals for amending the party's policy/position to be debated at the upcoming AGM. It's taken me several days to wade through the 172 pages of proposals.

The reading has been an interesting exercise. It tells me a great deal about the activist elements within the party. Most of the proposals are fairly general attempts to appeal to what they think are broadly appealing positions for Albertans.

However, there are hints of the more strident elements of the party in there too.

In broad terms, there's a lot of 'smaller government' in there (although saying Alberta is a "big government" province is a bit laughable when you compare us with other provinces in terms of government programs. Perhaps more concerning are a series of recommendations that smack of the pseudo-separatism "Firewall" model that Stephen Harper and his allies have advocated in the past.

There are also some interesting - if laughable - motions to scrap Alberta's personal income tax and make up the difference between oil revenues and cuts to government services. This merely goes to show how little some people understand about finances - and in particular the hazards of our continued dependence upon oil revenues to finance government.

Lurking in the midst of the document are a bunch resolutions aimed squarely at attracting the Ezra Levants who claim to be so hard done by at the hands of Alberta's human rights laws. These are among the first resolutions that hint at the reactionary conservative base in the party ... and they worry me on a dozen different levels, because they stand to create an environment where group slander can be used as a tool to facilitate discrimination and marginalization of minority populations in Alberta.

Following in that vein is a motion calling for specific policy and legislation to protect the "conscience rights" of medical practitioners in Alberta. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, it basically gives an "out" to any medical practitioner - from the doctors through to pharmacists and medical technicians the right to refuse to do something because it offends their religious beliefs. This has the potential to make accessing treatment an absolute minefield for Albertans who are female or GLBT in particular.

Inevitably, there are also a couple of motions demanding that abortion services be removed from the services funded by AHCIP. This is no surprise, I would have been more surprised if these motions didn't appear somewhere in there.

What it tells me is that the same constituency that substantially backed the Reform party in its early days are firmly entrenched in the Wildrose Alliance, and will be pushing constantly to drag it towards positions designed to appeal to the social conservative.

In the short term, the challenge for Danielle Smith will be to moderate these more extreme elements and present a set of party policies that don't reflect the desires of these groups. The longer term problem will be to keep these groups in check - the Reformatories in Ottawa certainly haven't done it, and the result has been one of the most destructive governments we've ever seen. In Alberta, it seems hard to believe that we could get much worse than the current government of Ed Stelmach, but in politics, it seems that every time you think you've hit the bottom of the barrel, someone lifts the barrel to reveal something even worse underneath it.

I'll see what gets through after the party's AGM later this month, but I'm not optimistic.

Marci McDonald Strikes Back

If you haven't been poking around the rightwingnut-o-sphere, you might be forgiven for having no idea just how over the top some of the reaction to Ms. McDonald's book has been.

She replies to it here:

Nor could I have foreseen that conservative gadfly Ezra Levant would feel obliged to unleash five hyperventilating denunciations, three of them duly reprinted, complete with errors and astonishing lapses of logic, in the National Post.

In one memorable appearance on the CBC's Power & Politics, during which he branded me "a bigot and a freak," he suggested the book was actually a veiled attack on what he termed "uncircumcised penises" -- a comment that seemed to reveal far more about his preoccupations than mine.

... go read the rest, then go read her book!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Conservative Talent Pool

AKA Lake Harper's Folly.

So much for the much ballyhooed Conservative "money management" talents - talk about "tax and spend" - sheesh!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Random Democracy

This is a concept that I've been playing with as a thought experiment for a while now. It emerges out of my frustrations with party politics in Canada, and the way that our elected representatives now put party ahead of constituents, ideology and political "points scoring" ahead of governance and statecraft.

Fundamentally, I'm starting from the assertion that democracy in Canada is broken. The rot is clearest here in Alberta where things have degenerated to a single party state with 22% of the eligible voters determining over 80% of the seats in the legislature. The politics of divisiveness and mendacity being played by the HarperCon$ are steadily pushing the rest of the country the same direction.

The concept of "random democracy" is simple - put responsibility for government back in the hands of the citizens in the most direct and absolute way possible. In this case, we change things from having a slate of candidates put forward by the various political parties to a process where prospective MP names are selected randomly from the electoral rolls. In other words, we make being an MP a responsibility that all citizens are subject to - in a manner similar to how jury selection works today.

Since the majority of citizens are non-partisan today anyhow, this will return political parties to what they should be in the first place - advocacy and lobbying organizations with their hands removed from the direct levers of power.

Looking a step beyond this, and into the process of creating an executive from these MPs, we must rely on the fundamental principle that an MP is sent to serve in parliament to form a meaningful government. The easy solution to this is to form small committees for each area of government ministry from the elected MPs. These committees are formed from the pool of MPs in a similar random fashion to what was used for selecting the MP in the first place. The committee then selects its "chair" for the next year or 18 months who will act as the "Minister" for that committee's area of responsibility. Committees will be broken up and reshuffled every 2 1/2 years - this will avoid any one committee becoming someone's personal fiefdom.

The Prime Minister would also be selected at random as well - for a term no longer than half the duration of the parliament.

Serving as an MP is an obligation on the part of the individual, but on behalf of the greater good. So, in such a circumstance, the MPs should be adequately remunerated during their time in office. As such, like with Jury duty, employers would have to guarantee that the individual selected to serve as an MP must be able to return to their jobs at the end of their term without penalization of any sort.

This does several things that I think are desperately needed in Canada's democracy now:

(1) It breaks the stranglehold power that political parties have over the situation.
(2) It obliges MPs to in fact gather feedback from the citizenry.

Friday, June 04, 2010

How The Religious Right Misrepresents Sexual Assault Statistics

Repeating the "gays are evil" mantra that the right wing likes to push, we find a study published entitled Homosexuals In Military Three Times More Likely to Sexually Assault Than Straights: Survey.

Superficially these kinds of statistical analysis almost seem convincing:

a review of the "case synopses" of all 1,643 reports of sexual assault reported by the four branches of the military for Fiscal Year 2009 (October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009) found that over eight percent (8.2%) of all military sexual assault cases were homosexual in nature. Yet homosexual activist groups themselves have stated that less than three percent of Americans (2.8% of men and 1.4% of women) are homosexual or bisexual.

The inference is clear enough - if the population ratio is correct, then there's a huge disproportion of gays committing sexual assaults, after all look at the rate of "homosexual assaults".

Well ... it's not quite so clear cut as all that.

First of all, they are making the inference that a male who commits sexual assault on another male is homosexual. This is a highly contentious inference - and one that deserves some more careful examination.

Sexual assaults, especially in the context of rape, are about power not sexuality. To assume that the offender who commits rape is straight or gay based on the target of their rape is apt as not to lead you to incorrect conclusions.

In an environment like the military, where men still substantially outnumber women, it's not at all surprising that there are a significant number of male-male sexual assaults. In such an ultra-masculine environment, the power play fact cannot be overlooked. To be a "submissive" male is to fall immediately to the bottom of the power hierarchy socially - even if the rank says otherwise. There are a hundred reasons why someone with the right psychopathology would choose to commit a sexual assault against someone of the same sex in such an environment.

A similar bit of logical fallacy has been propagated in the Catholic abuse scandals, where many have tried to label the pedophile priests as "homosexuals", when in fact the gender of the victim has very little to do with the perpetrator's motives.

The best examples of this come out of prison environments (although similar issues have historically been reported in naval contexts too) where male prisoners may well participate in homosexual acts during the period of their incarceration. Once they are released from prison, they return to heterosexual activity as had been their pre-incarceration norm.

In short, male on male sexual violence doesn't say anything about the perpetrator's sexual orientation - especially not in substantially closed environments such as the military or the priesthood.

The Family Research Council's recent bit of pseudo science incorrectly associates sexual identity with the nature of a sexual assault, and conveniently doesn't examine any dimensions of the assailant's motives in the assault or their sexual identity. In terms of science, this is like claiming that fairies paint leaves green at night because we observe that the leaf is green.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I Wondered Why It All Sounded Familiar

Rachael Maddow has a great rant about the idiocy of what's going on with the blowout well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The upshot - we've seen this all before - 30 years ago. The same techniques didn't work then either.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

From The Idiot File

I see Ottawa's most protected MP, Rob Anders, is being an ass again:

Late last week, Mr. Anders again raised eyebrows among his colleagues.

There was a big card in the House of Commons lobby for MPs to sign to “Support Our Troops,” according to one MP.

Most MPs signed “best wishes” and expressed other sentiments. But not Mr. Anders, who wrote: “When in doubt pull the trigger.”

Before you go dismissing this as another antic from a buffoon of an MP, remember that this is the same MP that Con$ervative HQ has repeatedly changed its candidate selection process to protect.

We might better ask ourselves why it is that this man who has called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, and now is calling on our troops to use force unthinkingly, continues to be a protected member of Harper's inner circle? When you consider what's happened to Dianne Ablonczy, for example, how is it that an MP most citizens consider to be a complete waste is so highly protected?

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...