Wednesday, August 29, 2018

On "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria"

About a year or so ago, we started hearing about "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria".  This has primarily been a result of a "poster study abstract" by Lisa Littman.  For the most part, the supposed phenomenon has been commented on at length by TERF blogs like "Fourth Wave Now", and "Transgender Trend" (no links provided - I'm not going to send traffic to those sites).

Now we have the full paper by Dr. Lisa Littman available on PLOSone: Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports.

This is a deeply flawed study that needs to be examined carefully.  What follows is inevitably going to be a lengthy post.  If you don't want to read all the gory details, skip to Conclusions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

No, Maxime Bernier is not "Questioning An Orthodoxy"

So, CBC's Neil MacDonald published this screed defending Maxime Bernier's stream of tweets about "extreme multiculturalism" this week.

In an e-mail conversation about it, here's what I wrote, explaining why MacDonald is dead wrong:

I think more to the point, MacDonald is missing several aspects of the picture.

First of all, let’s consider the context in which Bernier’s tweets have been generated:

In early 2017, President Trump initiated some of the most draconian changes to US immigration (and in particular, refugee) policy that we have seen since the end of WWII. That created an environment where a lot of people who would have tried to settle in the US now found themselves endangered by that very prospect. This has resulted in an influx of irregular border crossings at various places in Canada (although hardly a large number overall), who immediately make an asylum claim (aside: Under both Canadian and International law, we are obliged to provide those people with safety while their claims are evaluated). Conservatives have been making noise about immigration ever since 2015 - and largely that has been built on the remnants of the Stephen Harper “Islam is evil” campaign in 2015 (remember the “barbaric cultural practices hotline”?), and in particular Trudeau’s decisive actions to bring in a large number of refugees from the Syrian civil war. While this has played well with the CPC “base” of supporters, most Canadians have largely ignored it (and well they should). We should also not ignore the fiddling that the CPC did to the immigration system as a whole, which had strongly racist overtones of assimilation.

Fast forward to earlier this year, and a few important events started to occur in (and around) Conservative propaganda streams:

  1. The was a marked increase in conservative controlled media talking about “illegal” immigration in Canada - this was clearly visible on both PostMedia and “The Rebel” (you get to guess which was more noxious)
  2. Conservative politicians have been increasingly seen in the company of known white supremacist organizations (especially Scheer, but also numerous other high profile idiots)
  3. On Twitter, there has been an enormous upswing in overtly Islamophobic “bots” spewing material about “we’re letting too many into the country” 

In this context, we have Maxime Bernier spout a bunch of nonsense about “Extreme Multiculturalism”. It is very difficult to see this as anything other than implicitly racist dog-whistling. I will further point out that Mr. Bernier is “Pur Lain Quebecois”, and that movement has long veered very close to the rhetoric of white nationalists - just with a uniquely Quebecois twist on the concepts of who should be “in control”.

Second, Mr. Bernier did not “challenge an orthodoxy”. Calling a pluralistic, multicultural vision of Canada “an orthodoxy” is ignoring the degree to which this country has changed since Pierre Trudeau’s government made multiculturalism a formal part of our cultural policies in the 1970s. As my partner points out, a multicultural Canada is not an “idea” in her experience, it is a fact. For her, the foundations of multiculturalism are baked into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and have always been the reality. Bernier’s arguments about “extreme multiculturalism” presume that something has changed under Justin Trudeau, and yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. MacDonald echoes what he believes is Bernier’s call for a “unified identity” in this country. He misses the point - we already have a unified identity. That identity is subtle and distinct in its ability to make room for those around us from other cultures, and allow for the development of an overall culture that reflects elements of all the cultures around us. It’s scary for people like Bernier who seek an absolute anchor for their sense of cultural identity - it is difficult in such an environment to quantify our sense of culture or identity. We do not find it anchored in overtly nationalistic symbols like flags, rather it is a more deeply held recognition that all who come here become part of the larger picture of our cultural mosaic. We adopt, and adapt because there is room to do so. While many new Canadians will continue to use a hyphenated identity label for themselves, their descendants become ever more part of Canada - free to honour their past, but also willing to live within the broader fabric of our society.

In short, MacDonald has missed both the context of Bernier’s comments, as well as the reality that Canada’s identity is in fact multicultural.  Bernier's arguments do not "question an orthodoxy", they attack the fundamental notion of what it is to be Canadian.

Friday, August 10, 2018

On Pride and Inclusiveness

So, according to the bright lights on the Calgary Herald's editorial board, Pride needs to become about including everyone, including those who have a track record of oppressing the LGBT community.
Harrison Fleming, Alberta co-ordinator of LGBTory, an LGBTQ conservative organization, calls organizers’ position short-sighted and characterizes their decision to deny the party’s participation as a political statement, which it is. 
“It limits the message of inclusion that we ought to be telling the next generation — all these young kids coming up right now,” says Fleming.
Let's take this to task, since the UCP (and other "big-C" conservatives) seems hell-bent on making it out that it is they who are the oppressed party here.   I find it interesting that the Herald trots out LGBTory as if this is supposed to convince us that Canada's conservative parties "really are inclusive".  Except, LGBTory has been shockingly unwilling to engage with LGBT Canadians who are skeptical of their motives - often blocking them on social media for questioning them.

Their silence on Bill C-16 was disappointing, only speaking on the matter as the bill passed to the Senate.  Strangely, they were completely silent while Conservative Senators like Don Plett, among others, spouted utter nonsense about the bill and its implications.

Presenting LGBTory (a group whose very name implicitly erases Transgender from its scope) really doesn't do a great deal to convince Canadians that conservative parties are inclusive isn't overly persuasive.  Make no mistake - I am fully aware that there are LGBT Canadians who honestly do support conservative parties.  I sincerely hope that those people are under no illusions about the degree to which those parties actually support the legitimate civil rights.

What tremendous wisdom Fleming possesses. Calgarians are stronger when we stand together. The organizers of the pride parade, while clearly well intentioned, would do well to heed his message. Let’s have fewer fences and more conversations, more embracing of hands.
Perhaps Mr. Fleming is quietly forgetting how UCP Leader Jason Kenney voted against LGBTQ rights at every turn while he was a parliamentarian.

As if that isn't enough, shortly after forming the UCP, Kenney's entire caucus voted against Bill 24, which clarified the legislation around GSAs to explicitly protect student privacy, and at their founding convention passed resolutions that were blatantly homophobic.   Kenney tried to walk it back a bit by claiming that as leader, he had final say on what the policy would be going into the next election.  On top of that, Mr. Kenney has been frustratingly unwilling to speak plainly on the subject(s) at hand - preferring to dodge with statements like "we won't legislate on divisive social issues" (which is hardly reassuring for an LGBT community that remembers all too well the decade long fight that Delwin Vriend took to the SCC, only to have an equally reluctant Klein shelve the court's ruling.

Maybe a "dyed-in-the-wool" conservative like Mr. Harrison Fleming can overlook Mr. Kenney's history, as well as the behaviour of MLAs under his direction, or the party membership's votes on matters.  Others look at this record, and wonder "in what universe could you imagine a party led by Jason Kenney being an ally of LGBT people?".

At its roots, Pride is about inclusion.  Its roots are in overturning the oppression that LGBT people lived under in both Canada and the United States through much of the 20th century and before that.  The core of it is in fact protesting oppression - oppression which still continues today, even with legal recognition of our existence. Mr. Fleming might wish to acquaint himself with the difficulties faced by Transgender Albertans who are seeking work in this province, or for that matter the very social conditions which have made GSAs desperately needed in our schools.  The struggle for inclusion is far from over, no matter what legislative changes have been made.

We should not mistake excluding a group with a suspect record from Pride with oppression itself. Organizers of Pride parades in both Calgary and Edmonton are clear about marching groups being able to show themselves as active allies of the LGBT community. A group that has so clearly not been an ally has no right to march in the parade.  It is not oppressive to be intolerant of another's intolerance.

As others have correctly pointed out, the UCP and its members are invited to attend, just not to march in the parade itself. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

On Ending Political Tribalism

Political Tribalism is the idea of belonging to a particular political "tribe" (in Canada, that's often expressed as a party) to the point of being utterly unwilling to consider ideas from outside of the dictates of whatever power structure exists within that tribe.

Federally, the long standing feud between Martin and Chretien supporters in the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) was perhaps our first introduction to this rigid mindset.  Anyone not in "your tribe" was automatically the rival to be defeated at all costs.  Once Harper formed the current day Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), he took things several steps further.

Under Harper, not only did the CPC become a very closed bubble, it was abundantly clear that the CPC was unwilling to engage in discourse with other parties. If you didn't agree with the CPC, you needed to shut down or removed entirely from the picture. Personal attacks replaced policy centred discourse in the House of Commons. Attack ads and character assassination became standard fare for defeating an opponent.  In short, our politics became warfare between tribes, instead of a competition of "who has the better ideas for the country".

Today, we see it unfolding yet again in both Ontario and Alberta.  In Ontario, Doug Ford is quickly falling into line with Harper's model of doing things - autocratic, mean-spirited, and utterly unwilling to consider anyone else's point of view.  In Alberta, we have Jason Kenney running about making statements like the NDP being "an accidental government", or that the "NDP just have really bad ideas" (of course, Kenney has been very unwilling to tell us what he would do as Premier, just that it "wouldn't be what the NDP has done".

This post isn't about a critique of the various positions of the political parties.  I'm basically at the point now where I no longer believe that any party is going to be able to effectively work to better Canada.  It's simply not going to happen.  The concept of "we're right, and all the other guys are wrong" has become too central a tenet of partisan politics.

Fixing this is not simple.  Even shifting to a Proportional Representation model would be barely a bandaid on a gaping wound in my opinion.  (and I have been a proponent of that particular model for a long time - I'd still support it today) We need to be even more radical in addressing political tribalism. In this regard, I take a page from Alberta's civic politics, where councillors are specifically non-partisan (yes, it's clear that some are from a particular political affiliation, but the working approach is collaborative rather than adversarial.  So, how do we make things change?

A Bold Proposal

This is, metaphorically, putting a stick of dynamite under the current system, so please bear with me.  

First, let's put the entire concept of political parties aside.  If people want to form organizations to advocate for a particular political philosophy, that's fine.  Being affiliated with one of those organizations should not be a problem - nor should it be allowed to dominate how someone works as a legislator.  

To accomplish the first goal of dismantling the apparatus of party politics, I propose the following:  

Let's treat being a legislator in a manner similar to how we deal with jury selection.  Using a randomized process, a pool of names is selected from the electoral rolls in each riding.  Each person on the list is then notified that they are a candidate to represent the riding in the next election.  People who are for one reason or another unable to do so, will be permitted to step aside.  This continues until there are 10-15 candidates who agree to be on the ballot.  

This means that each election cycle, chances are you have 10-15 candidates who are new.  The idea of a "political career" disappears. No one person is likely to appear more than once or twice in their lifetime.  The second point here is that we shift from "governing as a career choice" (what we really have today) to "governing as a civic duty".  In other words, each person has a responsibility to participate in the governance of the country - not merely as a voter, but potentially as a legislator as well.  

How Would This Affect The Structure of Government?

The first, and obvious point, is that it will create all sorts of chaos.  Who will lead the government?  Who sits in cabinet?, etc.  Today, voters have relatively little say in who leads the government - it's basically chosen by the party anyhow.  So, having the newly elected parliament select the PM and cabinet posts by some kind of vote (perhaps similar to the selection of Speaker today) seems perfectly reasonable.  

What about opposition? Frankly, that needs to shift and flux from issue to issue.  All members who sit in the house should have the right to challenge the legislation from the "front bench" (the PM and cabinet).  Having MPs acting as paid cheerleaders for the government in order to get legislation passed has long done a disservice to the concept of democracy in Canada. It should require actual work for the government to get legislation through.  (Not the kind of tit-for-tat crap we see in the US Congress, either)  Instead, we need robust debate and discussion of issues.  

One big issue is that of long term, complex matters of governance.  How do we enable a new batch of legislators every few years to provide reasonable continuity, as well as the needed knowledge to pick up from where their predecessors left off?  I see this as needing multiple lines of change to make it work:  

1)  Four year election cycles might be too short.  If most new MPs take at least the first year to come up to speed, let's look at 6 year election cycles.  
2)  To facilitate hand-off, each MP's term is 7 years in duration, with the last year spent acting as a mentor to their replacement. A much lower profile role, but one where the outgoing MP continues to be actively engaged, and providing guidance to their replacement.  
3)  The current bureaucracy which assists MPs with everything from learning parliamentary procedure to drafting legislation needs to be made much more robust.  An MP should not have to be an expert in law to draft meaningful and constitutionally valid legislation.  They should be able to draw on a body of expertise knowledgeable in both writing law as well as creating policy that is reasonable.  

How do we manage the structure of government - especially the bureaucracy?  Our politicians today have no special knowledge in this regard.  Often, these decisions are made in a seemingly arbitrary manner anyhow.  Again, this needs to be managed reasonably between the politicians (especially the front bench ministers), and the bureaucracy.  Major changes, such as merging departments or forming new ones, should become matters voted on in the House of Commons.  


This is a proposal - an idea.  As with any such structure, it can be undermined eventually.  It will doubtless have times where it becomes completely addled by the combination of personalities elected (although at 318+ seats, it seems fairly likely that most parliaments would be able to achieve reasonable consensus.  

Could tribalism emerge in this structure?  Probably. We should remember that it has taken 150 years of Canada's existence for us to reach a place where tribalism became a problem rather than a somewhat useful feature.  I'm arguing that whatever problems this would create, they are apt to be much less problematic than the current environment.

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...