Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We're Living in a Compromise, or, I'll Sell My Soul / What is it Worth?

So, Parliament has been prorogued.  The Olympics are coming.  And it looks like we won't be getting to the bottom (read: Peter MacKay) of the detainee scandal anytime soon.

I pass judgement on this latest development here.

Scott at The League has some thoughts on the scandal, and y'all should check him out.

At ThePolitic, I've caught a lot of flak for not toeing the party line - I was actually called a 'bleeding heart liberal', if you can beleive it.  Some people want to conflate this prorogation with last year's (which I, unpublishedly, supported).  There's also a lot of talk about senate committees and 'pressing the reset button' (gawd, I hate that phrase) and a whole bunch of other 'valid' reasons for prorogation.  I'm unmoved, but no completely unsympathetic.

So, why don't we make a deal?  Mr. Harper prorogues Parliament but promises to have a full, open, independent investigation into the willful blindness our officials displayed in Afghanistan.  If he makes such a promise, I will support his prorogation 100%.

(Sure, I don't believe promises from politicians, but I find their promises useful.  In this case, if he backtracked on such a promise, it would be all the more ammunition against the Conservatives.)

Earlier this evening the wife and I noted that one purpose of CG&A is seemingly random pop culture references.  So, a propos Scott's post (titled Burn, Baby, Burn), I give you the appropriately named Ash:

And on that note, here's my favourite Ash song:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Counting on the End of the World

There's a minor controversy in the U.S. regarding Christmas, the census and Jesus Christ:

A push to spread the gospel about the 2010 Census this Christmas is stoking controversy with a campaign that links the government count to events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

The National Association of Latino Elected Officials is leading the distribution to churches and clergy of thousands of posters that depict the arrival of Joseph and a pregnant Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. As chronicled in the Gospel of Luke, Joseph returned to be counted in a Roman census, but he and Mary found no room at an inn, and Jesus was born in a manger.

"This is how Jesus was born," the poster states. "Joseph and Mary participated in the Census."

Most of the posters are in Spanish and target Latino evangelicals, says Jose Cruz, senior director of civic engagement at the Latino association, which launched its Ya Es Hora (It's Time) campaign in 2006 to promote voter registration among Latinos.

It is promoting the Census, used to help allocate $400 billion a year in federal dollars, redraw state and local political districts and determine the number of seats each state gets in Congress.

This is, probably, blasphemous. It is, definitely, offensive. It is, comically, stupid.

Let's re-cap the actual story of Christmas.  An unrepresentative and oppressive government forces a pregnant woman, who appears to be term, to travel cross-country on a donkey to participate in a useless bureaucratic excercise.

Is this what the National Association of Latino Elected Officials are trying to say?  The oppressive, undemocratic U.S. government, via the census, imposes incredibly trying ordeals on pregnant women.

Oh wait, it gets better.

Upon the birth of Mary's (the dutiful census participant) son, Herod, the corrupt ruler, attempts to kill her son.  When that fails, he orders the murder of all boys under the age of two.  So, apparently, participating in the census will lead to the slaughter of children.

Of course, that's not the end of it.  Mary gives birth to Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  So, apparently, participating in the census will lead you to give birth to the Son of Man.  Of course, this will be the second coming of the Saviour, which means, the End of Days.

Yup, according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, participating in the census will lead to the end of the world.

Well, I guess if they're quite devout, they might welcome the Rapture.

(H/T: Hit & Run)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Deception of Big Numbers, or, In Praise of Second Derivatives

I was taking a cab today and the cabbie had the radio tuned to CFRA (a rather right-wing radio staiton in Ottawa).  My cabbie started laughing at Lowell Green (one of the talking heads on CFRA) and then started telling me about the Tar Sands in Alberta.

(I didn't really care.  I tend to agree with Lowell Green on a number of issues, but I still think him a buffoon, and I disagreed with what he was saying today.  Nonetheless, I find the infantile outlook that everyone you ever meet obviously agrees with your politics quite irritating.  It's generally a sign of narcissism coupled with a week mind.)

All that aside, the cabbie then went on to talk about a book he'd just read, Hot, Flat and Crowded, written by the mass murder apologist, Thomas L. Friedman.  Anyway, the cabbie decided to apply the idea of overpopulation to his native country, Ethiopia.

Apparently (according to Mr. Cab Driver), Ethiopia had a population of 27 million in 1988.  In 19998, the population grew to 58 million, and in 2009, the population was 77 million.  His analysis:  77 million!  The growth is out of control!

So, from 1988 to 1998, the population increased by 31 million, or 115%.

And, from 1998 to 2009, the population increased by 19 million, or 33%.

So, the growth between 1998 and 2009 dropped by 12 million, or 82 percentile points compared to the growth between 1988 and 1998.  In fact, the percentage growth dropped by 71%.

But apparently, the growth is out of control!

This is why math is important.

Speaking of math...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

So, Do We Still Think It's Okay to Randomly Hack off Bits of Little Boys?

Okay, really, outside of religious obligations, why does the developed world still think routine circumcision is fine? From peaceful parenting:
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
4-Yr-Old Hospitalized after Circumcision Escape AttemptIt happens yet again.

This morning a friend was telling me that one of her acquaintances causally mentioned to her that their 9 year old son is finally recovering from his circumcision - an amputative surgery inflicted upon him this past summer.

Why was it done?

A right of passage into manhood.

No, not in some far off land. Right here in North America.


Well, we do prohibit genital cutting on our daughters at any age...but we do nothing to protect our sons from the willy-nilly cutting off of their body parts.

Too often people believe there are no risks associated with the surgical amputation of the prepuce organ.


There are many risks. And every time a baby dies or seizures or lapses into coma or has a heart attach, or a boy ends up in the hospital with 1/2 his penis gone, or an infant suffers from uncontrolled hemorrhaging, or a newborn refuses to breastfeed after being cut -- we see these consequences of circumcision and just how grave and how frequent they are. And these are only the outwardly visible physical impact of genital cutting. It does not even touch on the mental, emotional, social consequences of such mutilation.
The article goes on tell the story of the mutilation of a four year old in New Zealand.  Apparently, this was part of the movement to 'circumsize the world'.  It's frightening that there are people who have a pathological obsession with cutting up little boys... and we don't lock them up:
A doctor who botched the circumcision of a wriggling four-year-old, severing an artery in the boy's penis, may face further disciplinary action, after a report by the Health and Disability Commissioner was released today.

The botched operation, which saw the boy require emergency hospitalization, was performed at an unnamed medical center in January by a general practitioner, assisted by a doctor unqualified to practice in New Zealand and the doctor's wife.


On arriving at the medical center, the parents and the young patient were directed to the waiting room, with the doctor busy performing a circumcision on another patient, a 14-year-old boy. The family were concerned to hear the screams of the older boy.


The boy's mother told the commissioner the child was taken into the operating room, was given an injection, then cut into seconds later, before the painkiller had time to take effect. Seeing her son in pain caused the mother to start crying, at which point she was ordered out of the room by the doctor, apparently for passing her anxiety onto the child and disturbing him.


After about an hour, the boy's father walked in to the operating room to see the doctor apparently talking to another doctor on the phone about how he didn't know what was going on.

He saw the clinic manager and the unlicensed doctor were holding the boy "as if they were holding a wild animal", the report said.

About an hour-and-a-half after the boy went into the operating room, the doctors called an ambulance, due to uncontrollable bleeding. The doctor, however, said the boy was subdued and calm, while the father complained of dizzy spells and became pale, and was asked to leave the room, lest he collapse during the operation.

He did admit the child became "extremely difficult to handle" and, due to the strength of the four-year-old's pelvic muscles, enlisted the aid of two people to hold him still. "It's really difficult because the pelvic muscles are tough and the forearm muscles are not that strong," the doctor said.
If you live in the developed world, there is absolutely no valid reason for partaking in routine circumcision.  If you subject your son to this unnecessary and dangerous procedure, you wronged your child.  If you were duped by doctors into thinking it was the best course of action, I feel sorry for you and your son, but it was your responsibility to learn about circumcision.  These days, the information is available, and it is wrong to abdicate your parental responsibility to someone else, regardless of that person's title.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Well, as Long as You Have Moved On...

The other day, I noted that Pittsburgh Steeler's Wide Receiver Hines Ward decided to bring into question whether or not Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should have played despite having a concussion.  It was a pretty wretched thing for Ward to do.

Well, now Ward has realized his error and apologized to Roethlisberger.  His comment about the matter:
"We talked. I'm not going to get into what was specifically said."


"The issue's been resolved. I apologized to the team today for having to even answer questions about this. We've moved on and getting ready for Oakland.''
 He created this whole situation by demonstrating insufficient concern over the severity of a teammate's brain injury when speaking to the press.  It's great that he apologized to Roethlisberger, but he doesn't get to just wave his hand and make everything magically go away.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Boys, We Need Less Sexism

It's too bad National Post's Adrian McNair (who also blogs at Unambiguously Ambidextrous) doesn't seem to understand the nature of sexism or even elementary biology.

In a recent post regarding New Brunswick Tory MLA Carl Urquhart, Mr. McNair defends Mr. Urquhart's overtly sexist comment (for which Mr. Urquhart had already apologized) against a misguided attack from a political adversary.  In doing so, Mr. McNair ignores the actual implications of Mr. McNair's unfortunate remark, using non-sequitors and incomplete - and, thus, incorrect - arguments about reproduction.

Ok, here's the background:

Via Facebook, Mr. Urquhart wrote, "Another Liberal budget ... Another $1 billion on the debt by March ... Girls we need more babies or we will never be able to support our future."

In response, Liberal MLA Joan MacAlpine-Stiles said, "To suggest to New Brunswick's young women that their only role in society and their only contribution to the New Brunswick economy is to have babies is demeaning and outdated thinking."

Mr. McNair, for some reason, decided to defend Mr. Urquhart, writing:
I don’t think feminists like Ms. MacAlpine can really expect to be taken seriously when they wave their fingers at men in this way. Nobody has suggested that the “only role” of women in society is to have babies, nor did Mr. Urquhart suggest anything remotely close to that in his Facebook update. The only observation Mr. Urquhart made is a correct one: we have a negative population growth that will not and cannot be offset without either a baby boom, an increase in immigration, or a reduction of spending in services. Something has to give.

The other point I’d like to make is that Mr. Urquhart appealed to the only segment of the population which, so far as my sexual education classes taught me back in grade school, are actually able to have children: females. Should he have posted an equal opportunity request for men as well?


For some feminists, or in these cases, political opportunists, the truth is less important than the appearance of standing up for women’s rights, no matter how fictitious the reality. When did we, as a society, become so sensitive to gender roles that we deny basic biological imperatives? Admitting we need to have more kids isn’t sexist. It’s being a realist.

First of all, labeling someone with whom you have a difference of opinion as part of your rebuttal is, at the risk of understatement, poor form.  I don't know if Ms. MacAlpine-Stiles is a feminist or not, and I don't really care.  It has no impact on the validity of her argument.

(And by the way, if she currently goes by MacApline-Stiles, and is named such in the story to which you link, don't call her Ms. MacAlpine.  It is, again, poor form.)

Second, I assume that Mr. McNair's sex education classes taught him more than the fact that women are the only ones who get pregnant.  Perhaps it also taught him that men are necessary in order for women to get pregnant (the inspiration for the current holiday season notwithstanding).  So, unless we are to have mass woman on man rape, thinking that reproduction can be left solely to the actions of "girls" is pretty ridiculous.

But let's get to one point that Mr. McNair does get right.  Mr. Urquhart never said that reproduction was the only thing that "girls" are good for.  Bravo.

Is this how low we are setting the bar to determine if something sexist was uttered?  If it is possible to infer from a statement that "girls" might be good for something other than procreation, we are to consider this enlightened discourse?

So, here's where we really get into things.  Let's assume that Ms. MacAlpine-Stiles is a feminist.  And let's assume that she is the caricature of all things bad about feminism.  And let's admit that she was wrong.  Mr. Urquhart's statement is still sexist.

First, he calls women "girls".  Sure, maybe he's trying to be fun and colloquial, but men - especially older men in positions of authority - have to understand the context of their speech.  The fact is, for much of the past few decades/century/forever, feminists have been right.  Men treated women wretchedly.  Men still do, but it is not as systemic or pervasive as it was in the past.  However, men with any sort of power have to realize that the weight of history will colour much of what they say.  Refering to women as "girls" (unless he's going to start arguing for a lot of child brides) is demeaning.  It is dismissive of women as a gender.  It treats women as some sort of other; individuals who do not have the stature or value of adult males like Mr. Urquhart.

Now, I doubt that Mr. Urgquhart meant all of this.  Most of us say and write things without an appropriate thought to the prism through which it might be viewed, but that doesn't really matter.  A male politician has to understand why it is inappropriate for him to write that.  And if he does not understand, then it must be brought to his attention.  Mr. Urquhart understands that what he wrote was wrong.  He has apologized.  It is bizarre that this blogger at National Post would then decide to stick up for him.

Further, putting assided any argument about female on male rape, Mr. Urquhart does put the onus on women (I'm jettisoning his word "girls" for the rest of the post) to take care of procreation.  I don't know if this means promiscuity, chasing after men, unsafe sex or choosing to have a family when one might not have otherwise done so.  Again, this is a statement that, I charitably assume, ignores the significance of history.

Mr. Urquhart is implying that other desires and goals of women must accommodate being a mother.  He's not saying women can't do other things, just that their lives should include motherhood.  He is making no similar exortation for men to be fathers.  Again, considering how women were, historically, relegated to the role of wife and mother, to turn only to women to take on the role of parent is to echo the oppression that we have only recently deemed so distasteful.

But let's ignore women for now.  Let's look at the other side of the family/babymaking coin.  Mr. Urquhart makes no demand of men.  He sees a need for an increase in the birthrate (which leads to an increase in childrearing), and he makes no call to men.  His comment is not just offensive to women; it is offensive to men (though, let's admit, less so).  I assume he doesn't really think men have no place in the raising of a new generation, but he certainly implies it.  To diminish the importance of men in the reproduction of the species - by completely ignoring them when discussing the reproduction of the species - is to do what so many people blame cartoonish feminists of doing.

I do not understand why Mr. McNair would come to Mr. Urquhart's defense.  It was reasonable to point out the incorrect claim made by a rival MLA, but that does not require defending the indefensible.

The enemy of your enemy is not, necessarily, your friend.  Sometimes, he's just a guy who wrote something stupid on Facebook.

(H/T: @stageleft)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Please, Mr. Obama, Disarm.

I did not watch the president's speech last night.  I did, however, read the speech, and I found it uninspired and uninspiring.  I've long supported the war in Afghanistan, though recently I've been thinking it's time to just get out.  Perhaps Mr. Obama's plan will work.  I hope it will.  If he's going to mortgage the lives of so many soldiers, I hope there is a happy ending.

But I'm really skeptical.  Further, I don't think he actually laid out a viable case supporting the war.  That's not to say that there isn't one, just that he didn't make it.  Of course, TV orations aren't really the forum for deep policy analysis, so I'm willing to cut him some slack.

Nick Gillespie has a nice quick reaction to the speech at Reason:
While I think the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was never warranted, I think the invasion of Afghanistan was a legitimate use of American military power. The country was on the hunt for the people behind the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban government was clearly working hand in glove with them. When the trail went cold, the reason for us being in Afghanistan became far less clear. Are we nation or region building there? And if so, don't the myriad objections that Democrats and Republicans alike used to throw up in opposition to such efforts apply? If it's all about gutting al Qaeda and de-surging the resurgent Taliban, then what's with the timetable for exit?
Of course, the whole reason for this post - and especially the title - was to show this clip of Smashing Pumpkins playing at the '94 MTV Awards:

I was starting my final year of high school when this was aired.  I had a lot of friends in bands (including some I played with).  Most of my friends thought this sucked.  One of my friends agreed with me that it was an awesome performance.  He's the one I'm still friends with fifteen years later.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't Ask Don't Tell vs. Defense of Marriage Act

At The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Scott H. Payne expresses his displeasure with President Obama regarding two issues relating to civil rights and equality for gay people:
It is, I suppose, until one sees the run-off impacts of pushing the need to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or the Defense of Marriage Act off to another day, or not having a President who believes in equal rights under the law speak loudly and clearly of the need to support marriage equality, or inviting Rick Warren to participate in the inauguration of that President in the harsh and unforgiving light of purely putative and explicitly discriminatory legislation elsewhere.
I don't share Scott's disappointment in Barack Obama (I didn't have particularly high hopes for him, and he claimed to oppose same-sex marriage during the campaign), however, I share his displeasure with the lack of corrective action regarding Don't Ask Don't Tell.  It is a vile policy that should be repealed forthwith.

However, I'm not as convinced about DOMA.  According to wikipedia, DOMA has two effects:
  1. No state (or other political subdivision within the United States) needs to treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage, even if the relationship is considered a marriage in another state.
  2. The federal government defines marriage as a legal union exclusively between one man and one woman.
I'm fully in support of the first effect.  Civil marriage is, rightfully, the domain of each individual state.  The federal government has no standing to impose the decision of one state on another.  This means there will be unfair treatment of homosexual couples, but there will be a fair process of establishing what is considered civil marriage in each state.

It may seem paradoxical - to support same sex marriage, but also to support a state's right to deny recognizing it - but procedural justice is important for democracy and liberty.  Proposition 8 in California is wretched law, and I am no fan of plebiscites to decide such matters of policy.  However, it was a step up from the previous situation, in which gay marriage was forced on the state by judges.  Prop 8 may have lead to a poorer policy, but it was an improvement in terms of the democratic process in California.

The second effect in DOMA seems a little less defensible.  If DOMA is to leave marriage in the hands of each state, it seems odd to then have the federal government defiantly refuse to acknowledge any legal same sex union.  I can see how this is a very tricky situation.  The federal government must treat everyone the same, and, thus, until all states support same sex marriage, the federal government might be required to fully oppose it, lest it lead to some other challenge (equal protection, perhaps?) that would facilitate a federal court to impose gay marriage on all states.

If all the the second point does is safeguard against such an imposition by federal courts, I'm all for it.  However, it seems to me that it is not only safeguarding traditional marriage definitions in some states, but also negating same sex marriage in other states.  That seems to strike against any notion of federalism.

Now, I may be reading too much into it, and it might just be necessary to fully protect federalism, but it just seems quite wrong.  I would prefer DOMA be stripped of this portion, or at least have it re-written to read something like, "[t]he federal government defines marriage as a legal union between two people, in accordance with the laws of the state in which they reside."  I'm fully aware this could lead to all sorts of other problems (and I'm not a lawyer... or even an American... so I'm just taking a blind stab at this make believe legslative writing), but the spirit is more in line with what I would wish to see in any legislation like DOMA.

It is these sorts of intricacies that lead to a slow and methodical approach to crafting public policy, and, generally, this has its benefits.  However, if you have no philosophical hang ups to gays in the military and no philosophical objection to the judicial imposition of same sex marriage, there is little reason for caution.

And from that perspective, I fully understand Scott's despair.

Because Winning is Absolutely Everything

Hines Ward, wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is sometimes lauded as a tough, gritty player.  At other times, he is reputed to be one of the dirtiest players in the National Football League.

But apparently, he, perhaps along with other Steelers, is just a bad person:
The Steelers find themselves in the midst of a three-game losing streak and in the teeth of controversy Monday after WR Hines Ward suggested some in the Steelers' locker room might have wanted QB Ben Roethlisberger to play in the Week 12 loss to Baltimore in spite of a concussion.

Ward made the comments to NBC in an interview aired before the Steelers fell 20-17 in overtime to the Ravens with Dennis Dixon, not Roethlisberger, at quarterback.

"This game is almost like a playoff game," Ward said in a transcript released by NBC. "It's almost a must-win. I could see some players or teammates questioning, like 'It's just a concussion. I've played with a concussion before.' It's almost like a 50-50 toss-up in the locker room. Should he play? Shouldn't he play? It's really hard to say.

"I've been out there dinged up, the following week, got right back out there. Ben practiced all week. He split time with Dennis Dixon. And then to find out that he's still having some headaches and not playing and it came down to the doctors didn't feel that they were going to clear him or not. It's hard to say. Unless you're the person itself.

"I've lied to a couple of doctors saying I'm straight, I feel good when I know that I'm not really straight. I don't think guys really worry about the future while they're playing currently in the NFL. … Trust me, the players want to go out there because these games you don't get back. You're never going to get this Baltimore-Pittsburgh game back. This is a big game. Unfortunately, Ben can't play, so the 53 other guys have to rally the team and see if we can win one down here."
Of course, Ward eventually walked back from the comments:
After the game, Ward said that finding out just one day before the game that Roethlisberger was out was "frustrating." However, he indicated he wasn't being criticial toward Roethlisberger.

"You really don't want to mess around with concussions," Ward said. "Guys have concussions and still play. But you have to look at the whole big picture. When the health comes into question, you got to look at the long-term effect. When I said that, I really wasn't saying (it) in a negative towards Ben. You have to be concerned about it because we don't know what the future may hold considering all the research on concussions. I wish we would have had him out there. But we didn't, and we fell short."
Ward's obvious realization of what he said does not absolve him of having said in the first place.  Regardless of the whether or not he was one of the players that considered Roethlisberger's injury "just a concussion", by spreading such a noxious opinion, he is responsible for its implications.  The NFL has not done enough to protect players from the effects of concussions, to tragic results.  Ward, and anyone holding this opinion of Roethlisberger's injury, need to gain some perspective.

Thankfully, Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin had a better understanding of the gravity of the situation.  Although Roethlisberger dressed for the game, Tomlin told the crew of Monday Night Football that the quarterback would only play if the two other quarterbacks got injured - and even then all he would do was hand the ball off, never being exposed to further injury (and likely ensuring a Pittsburgh loss).

He understands the relative importance of a football game compared to a young man's health.  Nothing.