Tuesday, February 21, 2023

He's Living In The Past

For quite some time, I have suspected that Putin was living in the past - quite specifically, the Cold War. His "State of the Nation" speech today confirmed that.  

Most news outlets are pointing out two major features of the speech:  

1.  Putin blaming "The West" for the war in Ukraine

2.  The suspension of Russia's participation in the "New START" nuclear arms treaty.

There are other dimensions to his speech, a lot of it being pretty much classic, old school propaganda tropes. Playing to the notion of "Russia the Great", and boasting about the regions of Ukraine that Russia annexed (but doesn't really control at this point).  

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, this is all old hat. Not a single part of this pattern of propaganda is surprising - it's all happened before with different Soviet leaders at one time or another.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

A Tale Of 3 Stories

Over the last several weeks, there have been a series of stories about alleged "indecent exposure" incidents in public change rooms involving transgender women.  

*Note:  Dates are first time that articles were published, not necessarily the actual dates of the alleged events. 

With the exception of the event in Nanaimo, the complainant is anonymous. That's the first red flag here. The article doesn't say that the complainant asked to be anonymous, so we can assume that the writer is simply drawing from other unverified sources. In the case of the incident in Calgary, the story seems to have started a few days before Western Standard picks it up, and it's carefully anonymous. 

Apparent Source Article For Western Standard

It's quite notable that the Western Standard appears to have basically copied this directly, and there's no sign of actual effort to contact the original source or to otherwise verify the content of the story. At least with the Nanaimo story we have an actual person named and (in theory) we could make some efforts to further corroborate their story. 

The degree of truth here is immediately suspect. We have essentially anonymous claims about the actions of another person, and no corroboration from other sources. There are a number of other issues here, including the use of language like "transgender man", when the more probable identity of the person being discussed here is female. Did the events described here take place at all, much less as described?

I would add to this that events like this are really prone to "telephone game" effects where it may change or become dramatically different as it travels around. So, what starts out as "I saw a trans person in the locker room" with one person goes through a few different sources, and becomes "I saw a transgender man in the locker room, and I saw their penis!" ... and you can imagine from there where it might go as further embellishment gets added. 

When we examine the Nanaimo story, the ChekNews article and the Western Standard article diverge from each other dramatically, and we should pay attention to the details.  First, ChekNews actually reached out to the local Pride organization, who commented as follows: 

Nanaimo Pride Comments On Pool Incident

The comments of the Pride Society are absolutely reasonable and correct.  We don't actually know anything about the alleged offender, or their motivations.  I'll come back to this a bit later, but transgender people have very complex relationships with their body, and there can be any number of explanations for the described behaviour that are completely benign. It is very dangerous to leap from "there was a transgender person in the locker room" to "they were being a sexual predator".  

In comparison, the Western Standard article on the same subject does not contain any reference to the Nanaimo Pride organization's statement, and more importantly immediately jumps to connecting the event with pedophilia: 

Opening Paragraphs From Western Standard

Further, Western Standard does some very sly "word weighting" here, by talking about the government's legislation and then noting that the Minister is now the Minister for Child care: 

In my opinion, this is not accidental. First, the role of that minister today is irrelevant to the story. Second, it clearly feeds a false narrative that there are connections between transgender people and pedophilia. 

The role of using pedophilia here is clear:  pedophilia provokes strong emotional reactions in most people, in particular reactions of disgust. It's an old trick to link people to pedophilia in order to justify marginalizing them. 

To be absolutely clear, there is no evidence that suggests that someone being transgender makes them more likely to be a pedophile, or hebephile. Assuming that a person who is transgender is somehow a "threat" in a change room is really unfounded. Further, I must point out that these accusations are almost always aimed at transgender women, and rarely at transgender men, which is more reflective of the attitudes of their accusers than of transgender women as a group. 

The fact that there is little, or no, corroborating evidence attached to any of these stories, including statements from police beyond "we're investigating", one is left with the distinct probability that the stories themselves are significantly embellished in their particulars.  When the news media carrying the story has failed entirely to reach out to community organizations and experts on the subject, it becomes even more suspicious that these stories are really part of a propaganda campaign.

Earlier, I said that transgender people have extremely complex relationships with their bodies. That is something of an understatement, perhaps even more so for transgender women.  Transgender women often face a multi-faceted set of obstacles relating to their bodies, combining both social and physical elements. 

Socially, transgender women face internal and external taboos about changing genders. The "feminine male" is a common subject of ridicule, and then there are the implicit and explicit barriers around clothing and make-up (although those are much less daunting than they used to be).  There is enormous social and psychological conditioning around these barriers that make the early stages of transition particularly daunting for transgender women. (Ironically, transgender men often have a much easier time of it because society has always made room for "masculine women").  

Places like locker rooms, washrooms, and so on, are strongly gendered spaces. This can make being transgender in one of them even more emotionally fraught. Many transgender people go through enormous amounts of anxiety learning to navigate highly gendered spaces like public washrooms or changing rooms. Add to that the degrees of discomfort with various aspects of their bodies, and many transgender women refuse to enter any space where nudity is likely until after they have had surgery to correct their body's configuration.  

Reflecting further on the Nanaimo story, there are several possibilities. Yes, it is possible that this was a case of what used to be called a “peeping Tom” who decided to appropriate a transgender identity. Another possibility is that this is an anti-transgender activist who decided to “create the problem” - discussions of doing just that have rolled around various corners of the religious right for years.  

If the person in Nanaimo is legitimately transgender, then we have to consider the possibility that they tried to take a step that was bigger than they were really prepared for, and they panicked. In which case, the mother’s reaction may have done an enormous amount of damage. Their behaviour is arguably inappropriate, but inappropriate behaviour is not the same thing as being a predator or being a pedophile. 

While there are some transgender women who take delight in having a penis, even there the vast majority reserve that for the most intimate of situations. So far, to this writer's knowledge, there has never been a confirmed case of a transgender woman exposing their male genitalia to others in a context like a locker room. Such allegations are far more likely to turn out to be vastly exaggerated by their accuser.

As with all such matters, the majority of transgender women are no more likely to be offenders in this regard than any other adults. The simple reality is that while they unquestionably challenge many societal norms and expectations, there is very little evidence that they represent an objective threat to others. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Thoughts On The War In Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has now been slogging along for a year, with little real headway being made by Russia in what they clearly thought was going to be a 2 month “roll in, topple the government, install a puppet regime” action. 

On its own, the Ukraine war makes very little sense. Putin’s attack on Ukraine reeks of a combination of ego-driven desires on Putin’s part to cement his image in Russian history books as the man who restored the Russian Empire (and I’m not talking about the Soviet era sphere of influence, either - look up the Tsarist era).  

However, it goes further than that. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 didn’t really garner much of a response from Western powers beyond a handful of economic sanctions. At a guess, Putin interpreted that as a sign of “weakness” on the part of “The West” (largely NATO, based on current Russian propaganda). That lack of response may have been interpreted by Putin as a sign that NATO wasn’t willing to engage directly, and emboldened him to start thinking more about re-asserting Russia’s territorial ambitions. 

Thursday, February 09, 2023

On Trans People And Changing Rooms

I swim.  Regularly.  It’s my preferred form of exercise for a variety of reasons.  I like to think the staff and other patrons at the pool know me, and respect me. We don’t have lots of deep conversations, but we do talk, and I’ve known most of them for years - decades in some cases. I tend to go to the pool midday, and it’s not uncommon for a school group to be getting out of the pool as I’m changing and going in - it’s kind of how scheduling works, and the public swimming pools in this city are pretty busy places. 

So, on Monday, after I got home from my swim, I started seeing a story from a rag called “The Western Standard” (The Western Standard is a right wing propaganda mill currently owned by Derek Fildebrandt, but started by Ezra Levant in the wake of the collapse of the Byfield family’s “Alberta Report” publication).  The story recounted an alleged incident where some anonymous father was incensed that there was a transgender woman in the women’s changing room when his daughter might have been in there.  

There are a number of red flags that go up on this story that need to be discussed. 

- The anonymity of the complainant.  It’s extremely rare for a story like that to be so completely ambiguous about who is making what allegations.

- The specificity of the details are lacking, and what details there are don’t exactly make sense, especially if you know anything about transgender people.

- The story closely mirrors one from Saskatoon that came out a little more than a week before.

- To put it kindly, the articles rely on the oldest accusation levelled at LGBTQ people:  “they’re coming for your children”. It was false when it started, it’s false today.

* I’m not going to link directly to Western Standard for these stories - I consider them hate literature.  I have taken copies of them into my records for future consideration.  I will provide a few screen grabs here to underline my points. 

Yesterday, snooping about further online, I discovered that (surprise, surprise), that there is now a campaign to organize protests at this pool demanding changes to the policies “because ‘men’ shouldn’t be around little girls” (we’ll come back to this). 

Saturday, February 04, 2023

He’s Not Wrong … But He Kind Of Is

Over on Twitter, I found the following comment: 

He’s sort of right. A rental unit is a rental unit, and yes, people should be able to live there.  

There’s a “BUT” to this, and it’s actually quite a large one.  The problem is that speculator held properties are problematic for renters for a number of reasons.  Most speculators are basically in it for the capital gain somewhere along the way.  That means that they are constantly watching the market with an eye to when to sell so they can skim off their profits while someone else pays their mortgage costs for them (the renter).  

This makes for rental homes that are inherently unstable.  The owner could decide to sell at any time, or in the case of foreign held units, could decide that they want to live there when they come to Canada, and presto, the renter is out on their ear with very little recourse. 

The point that I am making is that this actually creates a very serious problem for renters - you can’t be certain that you will have any kind of stability. This is extremely hard on people who are at the lower end of the income spectrum where they may already be struggling to pay the rent in the first place. Having an owner come along and say “whoops - time for you to move” is both upsetting, but also makes already touch-and-go lives even more precarious. 

What we need to start talking about is the difference between financial speculation in real estate and long term businesses that manage and rent homes to people. The problems in our real estate rental markets are a combination of speculators, foreign owners buying a property to have an “anchor” in Canada, and a lack of political will to actually regulate the rental markets in a reasonable manner. 

The business of residential rentals has as much to do with property value speculation as it does with providing a service that people need. These businesses can be, and often are, skating between speculation and rental as a business.  The result being that renters often find their rents increase at the drop of a hat - “oh, I had to replace your fridge last month, your rent is now $50/month more”, or “I’m increasing your rent by $100 because I can”.  On top of that, so-called “gig rentals” - short term rentals on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO often are more “profitable” for speculators, and they don’t have to deal with all of the complications of longer term rental arrangements - like leases. 

The old idea in Canada has been that you rent for a while as you build up some savings so you can afford to buy a place. We tend to think of these people as young people “just getting started” - they are often students, and so on.  But that is far from the full spectrum of renters out there - there are long term renters for any number of reasons, and they deserve stability in their lives too.

We need to re-think our approach to property, homes, etc. in this country.  If we are going to continue to emphasize buying your own place, then the speculator part of the market needs to be better controlled, and the rental market should be subject to similar constraints to those on mortgages.  Right now a mortgage on your primary home is restricted to ~35% of your income; rent on the other hand can be anything, and often is well over 50% of a person’s monthly income.  

Again, this is one of those cases where the “long term” picture is that no market is perfect, and they almost always need some kind of reasonable regulation in place so that profiteering does not take over. 

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...