Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where The HarperCon$ Don't Understand Canada

Canada is a unique country on the world stage. On one hand, we represent one of the largest, most diverse geographic areas under a national government on the planet. On the other hand, we're also very sparsely populated, with only a little over 30 million people.

In the past, Canada has been perceived as 'punching above its weight' on the world stage. Punching is perhaps the wrong term. We had enjoyed a very long period of influence that exceeded our population and overall economic strength.

Since 2006, the HarperCon$ have been prancing about the world stage trying to make Canada appear to be a major power. Whether that is some of the ridiculous defense purchasing commitments they have been making, or Harper trying to bully other world leaders (e.g. China) doesn't matter. What we have is a leadership which is trying to make Canada play a role as schoolyard bully.

Unfortunately, this is rooted in a profound misunderstanding of Canada's real power on the world stage. Our prominence on the world stage isn't rooted in our ability to force others to bend to our will, and is unlikely to ever be. No, Canada's real influence lies in our ability to persuade others to 'do the right thing'.

This is not that different from how women accomplish things in society. In terms of pure physical strength, a women generally can't overpower men. Yet, women have a great deal of influence over people in general. Why? Because they can persuade others to do the right thing. Women don't achieve persuasion by physical force, but through other more subtle means.

Canada's power lies in its ability to act as a broker between America and the rest of the world. Our strength lies in being seen to stand up against America when it is doing something foolishly wrong-headed, and yet being seen standing with the American government when it is appropriate. The ability to be an 'honest broker' with Washington is important, and it buys us credibility with other powers in various regions of the world.

Canada strutting about the world stage like some puffed up dandy as Harper has been doing really looks quite ridiculous. Even if we were to focus ourselves on becoming as big a military power as possible, we simply aren't a big enough country as a whole to be able to put forward an army big enough to impress any but the third tier powers in the world.

If they ever realize that Canada needs to conduct itself on the world stage in a more feminine manner in order to be effective, the more macho elements of the CPoC are going to be truly appalled.

Ted Morton's Alberta

Members of Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party may want to think carefully before selecting Ted Morton as their next leader.

Morton doesn't represent anything close to the politics of Peter Lougheed - in fact, in my view he represents a much more mean-spirited kind of politics.

First is the fact that Ted Morton is among those who signed the infamous Alberta Firewall Letter several years ago. At best, the Firewall Letter is a neo-separatist document that attempts to argue that Alberta should isolate itself from the rest of Canada.

Second is his legislative record. As this article points out, Morton hasn't exactly got a record of even-handedness in legislation.

Among his crosses to bear is a controversial law he championed that gives cabinet unilateral control over all land use with little compensation and no judicial accountability or appeals process. The law “extinguishes” individual land rights.

I find that particularly interesting since a long standing hot button issue among those who would be Morton's "base" is property rights. That he would engineer and support a bill that so blatantly undermines property rights in a province like Alberta tells us a great deal about Morton's desires. He isn't a politician with 'grass roots' desires - he's after power and power without consequences or accountability.

On issues like human rights, Morton's track record is equally deplorable. His zombie Bill 208 legislation is so blatantly hostile to GLBT people it's not even funny, and generally hostility to GLBT people also brings with it a parochial view of women which is very limiting to women's ability to participate fully in society.

Morton is (and has been) a polarizing force in Alberta's politics. The PCs need a broad base of support in order to survive the upcoming election - there's a lot of competition emerging on Alberta's political landscape, and polarization will not do the PC's any favours.

Both the Alberta Party and Wildrose Alliance are eating the support bases of an increasingly polarized and fractured PC party. Selecting Morton as a leader will not be favorable to the PCs. (although it will make for one heck of a dogfight with the WRA...)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Quest For Knowledge Continues

While correlation doesn't equate to causation, this is definitely interesting indeed.

Transsexual differences caught on brain scan

Antonio Guillamon's team at the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, think they have found a better way to spot a transsexual brain. In a study due to be published next month, the team ran MRI scans on the brains of 18 female-to-male transsexual people who'd had no treatment and compared them with those of 24 males and 19 females.

They found significant differences between male and female brains in four regions of white matter – and the female-to-male transsexual people had white matter in these regions that resembled a male brain (Journal of Psychiatric Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.05.006). "It's the first time it has been shown that the brains of female-to-male transsexual people are masculinised," Guillamon says.

I like seeing such results appropriately framed with a sense of clarity about what they really tell us:

Guillamon isn't sure whether the four regions are at all associated with notions of gender, but Ivanka Savic-Berglund at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, thinks they might be. One of the four regions – the superior longitudinal fascicle – is particularly interesting, she says. "It connects the parietal lobe [involved in sensory processing] and frontal lobe [involved in planning movement] and may have implications in body perception."

What an interesting bit of research - I hope that there's more like this to come.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Alberta Politics Just Got Interesting

First Dave Taylor moves to sit as an Alberta Party MLA, and then Stelmach steps down.

I'm not sure what to make of all this just now, but things definitely just got interesting.

If I had to make a guess, I'd say that the Alberta Party is well positioned to fill a void in Alberta's politics and Dave Taylor may be just the right guy to help them become a visible part of the process.

As for Stelmach's departure, I think it tells us that the PC party is not a united monolith at all. There's too many signs that suggest he was pushed out - and likely as not pushed out by the extremist right who are beginning to fear that the Wildrose Alliance is eating their base of support up.

With an election likely in the next year or so, 2011 should be very interesting with the PCs trying to portray themselves as "renewed" and two new parties competing for the votes of voters long disaffected.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

So ... When's Harper Going To Engineer His Defeat?

There's little to be optimistic about in recent comments from Mr. Harper on the subject of Abortion, Gun Control and the Death Penalty.

On the surface, Harper has said that he doesn't want to get into those subjects, right?

Well, let's look a little further, shall we?

First of all, Harper's "back benchers" like Vellacott, Bruinooge and Epp have been very active putting forward bills that are directly or indirectly about abortion. We know that the base is alive and well in Harper's caucus - and they haven't exactly been silent.

Nobody in Harper's caucus so much as sneezes without permission from the PMO, and usually with specific instructions as to precisely when to sneeze and at what volume. Make no mistake, those bills had Harper's permission to exist in the first place - which, given Mr. Harper, is essentially an endorsement of the bill itself.

Second, I've found plenty of occasions where Harper (or his minions) have been dog-whistling to their "base" on a regular basis.

So, how do Harper's recent statements constitute a "dog whistle"? Simple, they're key hot button issues to his base - even mentioning them publicly is a reminder to his base that those issues haven't been forgotten about even if they haven't been acted on yet.

He describes abortion as an issue he’s spent his political career trying to “stay out of” and insists he wants no debate on abortion law. “What I say to people, if you want to diminish the number of abortions, you’ve got to change hearts and not laws,” he said.

Uh huh - spot the dog whistle phrases in there:

insists he wants no debate on abortion law

That's perfectly true - Harper doesn't want a debate. What he wants is the absolute power to impose his will. There will be no debate about it.

if you want to diminish the number of abortions, you’ve got to change hearts and not laws

Ah - in other words, under Harper, Canada's government will be funding more wingnut welfare programs by handing money out by the ton to so-called "pregnancy crisis centers" (fronts for various anti-choice groups) that lie to women about abortion.

Remember, Harper has done more to subvert and disrupt our democracy than any previous Prime Minister, and he's got his sights set on power - and I don't think he gives a damn what the price for that is as long as he can impose his will on Canada.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Problem With Lies ...

... is that they come back to haunt you later.

As the Vatican is learning

A newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police – a disclosure that victims groups described as “the smoking gun” needed to show that the Vatican enforced a worldwide culture of coverup.

The letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican's rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland's first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits.

The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that the church in Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church's right to handle all child-abuse allegations, and determine punishments, in house rather than hand that power to civil authorities.

Please, Vatican, try to explain that one away as "an exception" or "a rogue priest". The fact is that the more that these things become visible to the public, the more set in the public's mind will be the image of the priesthood as a refuge for pedophiles, and the Church as their primary enabler.

Really, the best thing the Catholic Church could do right now for itself - and its victims - is issue a very lengthy "Mea Culpa", along with every last document related to their appalling handling of child molestation since the 1950s - and start negotiating settlements with their victims. Anything less shows the organization to be no better than those it covered up for so long.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Predictable: Vellacott's Tirade

Following up further on the recent Saskatchewan Court of Appeals ruling, we find MP Maurice Vellacott whining about how this ruling impinges upon his right to inflict his particular morality on everybody else:

The Court has hereby belittled religious faith by writing it off as something “you do in your head or on weekends” without it impacting all of a person’s life. This crowding it into a corner or to the edge of the gangplank is a secularist push premised on a false dichotomy.

No, Mr. Vellacott, you arrogant little arse, that isn't what the Saskatchewan Court of Appeals has done at all. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeals quite specifically says that government services must be equally available to all citizens.

Back in July of 2005, I suggested that, as an analogy on this matter, we look at how official bilingualism policy is implemented. When it comes to bilingualism requirements, federal government services must be available in both official languages, but not necessarily by the same person. Bilingualism is rooted in the Charter, yet attempts have been made to implement policies in a fair-minded fashion.

This is arguably an apples-and-oranges comparison. There is a huge difference between someone being able to speak French adequately to provide services to a citizen requiring them and choosing not to provide services to someone based on beliefs. What the marriage commissioners who are complaining need to realize is that they are solemnizing CIVIL MARRIAGES, not religious matrimony. Quite frankly, what they believe from a religious perspective is utterly irrelevant to the conduct of their job.

It is not as if there is some real impediment to carrying out their job (such as not speaking the language or physical obstacle). If providing services is "that immoral" to them, then it's high time they got another job. I will note that there are certain industries where I would not work simply because I think what those businesses do is immoral or unethical. Simply put, the responsibility is mine - I have to take ownership of that aspect of my life and find alternatives.

Commissioners who hold a "traditional or heterosexual" definition of marriage should not be forced to find another career or be subjected to fines and punishment, Vellacott said.

"We talk about people being in the closet, well now they are saying somebody of a faith perspective is supposed to keep it in the closet," he said.

Yes, I realize that one's faith can be seen as permeating all aspects of your life. That's just fine with me - until someone tries to demand that I live by their rules in order to be served. I'm sorry, but at that point, individual freedom is now being used to limit others in the lawful, peaceful conduct of their lives - and that is wrong.

Had I encountered Mr. Vellacott's attitude when I was dealing with a branch of the Saskatchewan Government this past year, I would have cheerfully sued the government (and the official involved) because their actions would have stood in the way of my ability to live my life peacefully.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They Just Don't Get It, Do They?

They're actually serious: Should we have a sex tax?

Politicians are always talking about taxes. Some of them want to “soak” the rich; others want to raise “sin” taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. But I can think of one “consumer item” we’ll never see a tax on: sex. But maybe we should. Sex—the wrong kind of sex, that is—is driving up the cost of government.

Right ... so would someone show me where in scripture it says that the anointed priesthood have any business in our bedrooms?

Mike McManus, who also is the founder of Marriage Savers, has a few more ideas: States ought to create a marriage commissions to encourage marriage over co-habitation. State welfare offices, he says, ought to “provide information on the value of marriage in reducing poverty and increasing wealth, happiness, and longer lives.” And we ought to require public schools and publicly-funded family planning clinics to teach kids about the long-term benefits of rearing children within wedlock over co-habitation.

Uh huh. Yeah, sure. Let's talk about the wonders of enforced marriage, shall we? Starting with the delightful prospect of keeping dysfunctional and abusive relationships together "for the sake of the children". Or perhaps they'd like to explain how they are going solve the recurring problems that the grinding cycle of poverty creates in families? Being married doesn't solve poverty. Poverty was a huge problem for families, and it still is.

If I wanted to live in Atwood's Republic of Gilead, I'd go move to some crazy religious enclave. I don't, and frankly I don't want someone demanding that we live our lives according to their interpretation of scripture.

It appalls me to no end to see these people on one hand crying and wringing their hands over "religious liberty", and on the other hand proposing to spend billions of taxpayer dollars trying to regulate human sexuality. There's so many things wrong with that picture it's not even funny.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Should We Teach Children To The Concept of Transgender People

The logic is a beautiful counterpoint to the usual screaming "omigod if we teach kids about these strange people, they'll become one themselves" that we hear from outer wingnuttia.

Kennedy and Hellen believe that school efforts do have a consequence, however. Transgender children learn very quickly that being transgender is "not acceptable," and so they conceal their identity, even from family members, to avoid suffering socially. As a result of fearfully suppressing their identity for such a long period, "many of these children achieve well below their abilities at school, leave school early, are more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide, and more likely to suffer from mental health issues in early adulthood."

By having schools introduce the concept of transgender people to all children, the authors assert, transgender children will "feel they are not alone and that their gender identity is as valid as any other." This will, in turn, greatly diminish the damaging consequences currently observed as these children mature.

This is an excellent point, and the study's authors make one last beautifully clear observation:

If a school system tried to coerce any other group of individuals to become people they are not, to regard an inner core of their identities as illegitimate, and prevent them from expressing their identities freely, particularly from a very young age, it would be characterized as barbaric. ... The [resulting] internalization of self-hatred, guilt, self-doubt and low self-esteem in childhood affects transgender people throughout their lives. Any education system, or indeed society, which allows this state of affairs to continue is neither fully inclusive nor fully humane.

It's about time we starting seeing some reasoned voices talking about the realities that trans youth face when they are in school - whether or not they are openly trans.

A Good Decision - If Unsurprising

I can't say I'm surprised by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal's decision regarding civil marriage commissioners and gay marriages.

The logic of the decision is pretty simple - civil marriage is just that - CIVIL marriage. At that level, they are carrying out a service as agents of the government, not as agents of their particular faith community. As agents of the government, marriage commissioners are obliged to treat all citizens equally.

Predictably, Canada's right wingnut religionists have begun complaining:

“What we are seeing now is that step by step religious rights in Canada have been diminished while homosexual rights have been accelerated by the appointed unaccountable judges,” Landolt told “This decision means that religious rights have been pushed to the side once again in favour of judge-made homosexual rights. If there were genuine equality between these two competing rights, then both should have equal recognition under the law which has been denied by this decision.”

“Canada has suffered a severe loss to its collective rights and identity today,” said Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) Executive Director and General Legal Counsel Ruth Ross, in a press release.

Where, might I ask, is there any "restriction" being laid upon what an individual believes? I don't see anyone saying that an individual must like the idea of a same-sex marriage. Rather, what we see is that where government functions are concerned, they must be carried out on behalf of all citizens equally.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

How Is This Any Different?

I fail to see how shooting a congresswoman is any different from the kinds of violence and intimidation that al-Shabab are carrying out in Southern Somalia.

Actually, what's particularly disturbing is how this fits in with some of the imagery that the "Tea Party" morons are using.

Consider the imagery of this screen cap from Sarah Palin's website (which was removed AFTER this shooting):

Now, tell me just how this isn't incitement? Crosshairs, and obviously what are supposed to be gun sight crosshairs ... one might just imagine that someone might take that as a suggestion.

From my point of view, whether the gunman was consciously following what he perceived to be the messages of the extremists or not is irrelevant. The messages are out there, and they are violent in the extreme - someone's going to take the wrong cue from it.

Any political "movement" that resorts to violence - real or implied - is no longer a valid part of democracy, and has descended into the realm of thuggery and violence.

In the Western World, we are quick to condemn the political violence that the Taliban or al-Shabab conduct. Will we be so quick to condemn that same kind of silencing violence on our own soil?

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...