banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rudy Giuliani and social conservatives

A while ago I wrote a post praising Rudy Giuliani's brand of conservatism and suggesting that it could be a model for a new direction in both the Republican Party and the Conservative Party of Canada. Fellow Canadian bloggers scoffed: the always-entertaining Canadian Cynic listed my post under "Blogging Tory Inanities" and chortled:

Yeah, Eric, why don't you promote Rudy Guiliani as a presidential candidate? I'd love to see how that turns out.

Suzanne over at Big Blue Wave wrote "if Republicans nominate Guiliani, they will lose". She had this to say:

Diogenes Borealis suggests that the Republicans would do well to allow Giuliani to be nominated as the Presidential candidate.If the Republicans don't nominate a pro-lifer, they will lose. The so-con base is not going to move mountains the way they did for George Bush for some guy who is not nearly as pro-life as he is.

Well, we'll see about that. John Hinderaker has a post today at Powerline called Can Giuliani Win Over Social Conservatives? He writes:

A couple of years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Rudy Giuliani would be a formidable Presidential candidate, but could never get the Republican nomination because of his liberal views on some social issues. I believe that we were among the first to question this assumption, noting that Giuliani is conservative on some social issues (notably, crime) and, more important, could win the support of a broad range of Republicans by putting the key social issues in procedural terms: I may be a New Yorker and more liberal on these topics than most Republicans, but I think issues like gay marriage and abortion should be resolved by through the democratic process, and I will appoint strict constructionist judges to the federal courts--which really, after all, is the only significant thing the President has to do with the social issues.

Giuliani has taken a course much like what we hypothesized, and there has been a lot of publicity lately about surveys that seem to show him doing well with the GOP's conservative base.

I still think Giuliani can win the Republican nomination, and social conservatives will by and large support him because he may be the party's best chance of beating the Democrats. The alternative is President Hillary Clinton. Who is more distasteful to social conservatives? Exactly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Guelph police seek man with groin-kick request

GUELPH, Ontario — Police in Ontario are looking for a man who allegedly approached women and asked them to kick him in the groin.

Three women reported similar incidents to police over the past two months, and two of the women reported the suspect was on a bicycle. None of the women reported injuries.

Police Sgt. Cate Welsh said Monday the man's request is not a crime, but they are concerned nonetheless.

from Associated Press

Monday, May 28, 2007

The disappearing male teacher

The Ontario College of Teachers has reported some surprising and disturbing statistics regarding the teaching profession in Ontario. The conclusion: male teachers are an endangered species in the province. In fact, there are schools in Ontario with no male staff whatsoever, including custodians. Alarm bells should be ringing at Queen's Park as we face a situation where our children will soon go to schools with few or no male role models.

Here are the statistics the college reports:

  • The percentage of English-language male teachers in Ontario dropped from 30 per cent in 2004 to 28 per cent in 2006, according to College data.
  • Men aged 55 and up teaching at the intermediate-senior level are the one subgroup in which male teachers comprise about equal numbers with females (51 per cent in 2006 versus 54 per cent in 2004). In 2004, only one-quarter of teachers over 55 at the primary-junior level were men. By 2006, the number dropped to 21 per cent.
  • In 2004, men represented just 10 per cent of primary-junior teachers under 30. By 2006, in the same under-30 primary-junior group, men accounted for 11 per cent. Of the under-30 primary-junior group certified to teach in French, men accounted for only five per cent.
  • According to the Ontario Universities Application Centre, the percentage of male candidates registered at Ontario faculties of education dropped from 28.1 per cent in 1999 to 27.3 per cent in 2005. Over the same period, however, the number of spaces for teacher education jumped from 5,923 to 7,496. More opportunities – but a smaller proportion of men rushing in to take advantage.
  • A 2004 study commissioned by former Trillium Lakelands DSB director David Hill, former Ontario College of Teachers Registrar Doug Wilson, and Pat Falter, a consulting director at Laurentian University, found that fewer than one in three teachers were men and that only one in 10 under the age of 30 were male. Further, 40 per cent of male teachers in 2004 were over the age of 50 and likely to retire.

So, does any of this matter? It's hard to make hard linkages between the issues, but surely the lack of male teachers has something to do with the poor performance of boys in Canadian schools, as shown in the following excerpts from a report on the subject by Statistics Canada :

  • In the academic achievement assessments carried out by the "Programme for International Student Assessment" (PISA) for a large international sample of 15-year-olds, girls performed significantly better than boys on the reading test in all countries and in all ten Canadian provinces.
  • Between 1991 and 1999, the high school dropout rate decreased from 18% to 12%; however, males continued to drop out of school at a higher rate than females. In 1999, 15% of 20-year-old males had not completed high school, compared to 9% of females.
  • Females were more likely than males to show attitudes and behaviours indicative of greater academic engagement in school. They were more likely to report getting along with teachers, finishing their homework on time and being interested in what they were learning in class. They were less likely than males to think that school was a waste of time.
  • Overall, male dropouts, in particular, appear to have been less engaged and more dissatisfied with their academic experience. They were clearly less likely to be “interested in what [they were] learning in class” and more likely to believe that “many things [they were] learning in class were useless.”
  • In 1999-2000, women accounted for 54% of full-time students enrolled in college. At the university level, women have traditionally had higher participation rates than men in part-time undergraduate studies; by 1998-1999, women also accounted for the majority of full-time undergraduate students. Women’s share of undergraduate enrolment increased from 51% in 1988-1989 to 58% in 2001-2002. There was a slight gain in women’s share of enrolment at the graduate level as well, with that share rising from slightly under half in 1988-1989 to reach 51% in 2001-2002.

After years of focusing on narrowing the education gap for girls, we are now faced with a school system that is staffed predominantly by women and is apparently alienating boys in large numbers. This is a situation with huge social ramifications, but one that gets little discussion because we are reluctant to accept the conclusion that there are too many women and not enough men in the teaching profession. Affirmative action for men? Not likely.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Desmond Tutu: Anglican church fiddles while Rome burns

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has spoken out about the Anglican church's obsession with gay priests and same-sex marriage, while practically ignoring far more serious crises like the spread of AIDS in Africa or the collapse of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. He suggests that it is time for the church to move on:

Speaking to the BBC World Service, the South African bishop said Zimbabwe, HIV/Aids and the crisis in Darfur were not getting sufficient attention. Zimbabwe's Anglican church also lacked courage to stand up to President Robert Mugabe's regime, he said.

This was the 76-year-old Nobel peace laureate touching raw nerves for the Anglican church in Africa on very sensitive subjects.

In his usual forthright manner, Archbishop Tutu told the BBC that the Anglican communion was spending too much of its time and energy on debating differences over gay priests and same sex marriages - a subject, he said, that had now become "an extraordinary obsession".

He said: "We've, it seems to me, been fiddling whilst as it were our Rome was burning. At a time when our continent has been groaning under the burden of HIV/Aids, of corruption.

The church had "kow-towed" to Mr Mugabe's regime, he said. "There are so many issues crying out for concern and application by the church of its resources, and here we are, I mean, with this kind of extraordinary obsession."

For Archbishop Tutu, the crisis in Zimbabwe was one such issue that had been eclipsed by the sexuality debate. He said he was saddened by the muted response other African governments had shown to the Mugabe regime.

But he also said that leaders of his own Anglican Church in Zimbabwe had failed to show more courage in dealing with the Zimbabwean president. "One seems to have to say they have kow-towed to President Mugabe. Certainly there's not been anything like the same kind of standing up to the evil and exercising the prophetic ministry that one would have expected from the church, and that has been very distressing."

There are growing tensions within the worldwide Anglican communion - pitching liberals against conservatives - mainly over the issue of sexuality. But as Archbishop Tutu recognised, there are other points of contention that need to be resolved and other issues that the church, especially in Africa, needs to turn its attention to.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

All is not well in Toronto high schools

It is difficult to draw conclusions about the tragic shooting of 14-year-old Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate in Toronto on Wednesday. Most commentators are justifiably careful not to jump to conclusions about the victim's race or the school's proximity to Toronto's notorious Jane-Finch corridor. Jordan has been described in the press as "a good kid who wanted one day to be an actor", and the National Post reported that C.W. Jefferys "takes pride in visual arts programs taught by practising artists, as well as state-of-the-art graphic arts and science labs". The Post also reports that "the school's hallmark is an enriched math, science and technology program; 75% of its students have gone on to post-secondary education".

Fair enough. However, on Friday the National Post carried a photo of Jordan's mother carrying a portfolio of his high school work as she was comforted by friends and family. Prominently displayed was a report Jordan had written about Group of Seven artist Tom Thomson. Here it is verbatim:
Researching on Tom Thomson
Year of birth 1887
Year of death 1917

Name of artist: tom thomson
Place of claremont ontario

Information about the artist's life he grew up in leith near owen sound. after he moving to toront his early career was spet as a commercial artist grip ltd the commereide. his troducolleagues there were several membersof what. In 1920 became the group of seven. He in turn introduced them to algonquin park in ontario. he encourageb themh to hike and canonthrough the wilderness. Which became their live

What kind of art did the artist do he painted pictures of subjects like the thnorern parts of ontario. he began to paint that. he might express the emotures the country inspired him

what is special about their style or techniques? Thomson would paint skys throughout his career. He used delibrate repetition of horizantal bands of paint.

I wouldn't bring this up, except for the fact that in the same story, one of the boy's teachers is quoted "[lamenting] the lack of funding for programs in low-income neighbourhoods that could help keep children occupied and inspired outside of school. 'These children should not be news after the fact. We need to stop dealing with money, numbers, paper and put in programs. There is a lack of building minds.... They feel trapped. They don't see anything other than their home community. They need to know the world is a bigger place. We [as children] had something else that they don't have. We had hope.' "

I know I'll take some flak for this, but is this work typical of a grade 9 student at C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate, or at the Toronto District School Board for that matter? Does anyone think that a sense of hopelessness in the youth of the school's neighbourhood might have something to do with the fact that the students can't read or write, and that this might be a huge obstacle to their progress in "the world as a bigger place"? Before governments start pouring money into "programs", maybe they should take a look at this fundamental issue.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Dangerous Book for Boys - review

When I was a kid, my father gave me a copy of the novel Two Little Savages by Ernest Thompson Seton. It was about two pre-teen boys who decide to spend the summer living in the woods like Indians, building teepees, making fire by rubbing sticks together, and trapping rabbits with snares. I loved that book and fantasized about having to live off the land like the two heroes after being a victim of a shipwreck or a plane crash. So with that memory before me I had high hopes when I picked up a copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden, as a gift for my nephew. I wasn't disappointed. I've been reading it myself before I give it away, and it's surprisingly good. I recommend it for anyone interested in passing on rapidly-disappearing "guy culture" to the next generation.

The book has been a surprise best-seller in both Britain and North America, and is currently ranked #20 on Amazon.com's bestseller list. It's a real throwback to a more innocent age, when kids didn't spend hours a day in front of computer screens or rely on PlayStations to be passively entertained.

As the authors explain in the preface, "I didn't have this book when I was a boy":
In this age of video games and mobile phones, there must still be a place for knots, tree-houses and stories of incredible courage. The one thing that we always say about childhood is that we seemed to have more time back then. This book will help you recapture those Sunday afternoons and long summers - because they're still long if you know how to look at them.
...
When you're a man, you realise that everything changes, but when you're a boy, you know different. The camp you make today will be there forever. You want to learn coin-tricks and how to play poker because you never know when the skills will come in handy. You want to be self-sufficient and find your way by the stars. Perhaps for those who come after us, you want to reach them. Well, why not? Why not?
Here are a few of the chapter headings to give you a flavour of what this book is about:
  • The greatest paper plane in the world
  • Five knots every boy should know
  • Catapults
  • Building a treehouse
  • Timers and tripwires
  • Famous Battles part I: Thermopylae, Cannae, Caesar's Invasion of Britain, Hastings, Crecy
  • Extraordinary Stories part I: Scott of the Antarctic
  • Girls
  • The Golden Age of Piracy
  • Latin phrases every boy should know
  • Hunting and cooking a rabbit

My favourite chapter is the one where the authors give advice about girls:

Be careful with humour. It is very common for boys to try to impress girls with a string of jokes, each one more desperate than the last. One joke, perhaps, and then a long silence while she talks about herself.

When you are older, flowers really do work - women love them. When you are young, however, there is a ghastly sense of being awkward rather than romantic - and she will guess your mother bought them.

Avoid being vulgar. Excitable bouts of wind-breaking will not endear you to a girl, just to pick one example.

Finally, make sure you are well-scrubbed, your nails are clean and your hair is washed. Remember that girls are as nervous around you as you are around them, if you can imagine such a thing. They think and act rather differently to you, but without them, life would be one long rugby locker room. Treat them with respect.

This book is like an encyclopedia of guy lore - the kind of thing that young boys almost never get from the adult women in their lives, and that many adult men have been conditioned to be slightly embarrassed about showing an interest in. Grown-up men will also find it fascinating, although I suspect grown-up women will read it and just shake their heads, wondering why men just won't evolve. Get this book and give it to a young boy, or better yet, read it with him - he'll love you for it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Gay Conspiracy exposed

John Edwards: lightweight, but great hair

David Weigel at Reason Online has a good post about the presidential aspirations of John Edwards. The money quote:
Short version: He's a lightweight. Long version: If you tied cement blocks to his ankles and gave him a medicine ball to carry, then chucked him off one of the Petronas Towers, dude would float.

George W. Bush responsible for bestiality?

Many conservative commentators have identified a phenomenon on the left - "Bush Derangement Syndrome" - which is an irrational tendency to accuse the Bush administration of being responsible for every ridiculous problem in the world. The following example has got to take the prize: Darcey at Dust My Broom linked yesterday to a story about a film called Zoo which shocked audiences at Cannes with its true story of a bestiality ring in Washington state which involved horse-on-man sex:

But while Zoo has drawn big, curious crowds at its screenings, the real unsettling quality about the movie is its approach: it depicts the men in a sympathetic light, one that tries to push the viewers to understanding their sexual perversion.

The documentary - in which actors recreate non-explicit scenes under audio interviews with some of the men involved - centres on a true-life incident.

In July 2005, a 45-year-old man died of internal bleeding after being anally penetrated by an Arabian stallion during a bestiality weekend in the US state of Washington.

The victim, a Boeing engineer working on top-secret defence projects named Kenneth Pinyan, suffered a perforated colon. The ensuing investigation led police - and eventually much of the national media - to the farm where the interaction took place, outing the other members of the group.

OK - how would sufferers of Bush Derangement Syndrome link this to George W. Bush? Turns out that the victim's guilt at working for Boeing, which does work related to the "war on terror", was partly responsible for pushing him over the edge:

Indeed, the only judgement seemingly expressed in the documentary is not on the matter in the stable at all. It is in fleeting radio references to US President George W Bush's "war on terror" and the presumed complicity-for-profit of big companies such as Boeing.

Even the cast ended up feeling compassion for the men depicted in Zoo. John Paulsen, who played Pinyan, said he believed the engineer had been on a self-destructive streak linked to his defence work, a divorce and injuries from a motorcycle accident.

"Here's a man whose greatest loves in his life were so secret, so private," and who abruptly had "these great secrets in his life made so public by dying in such a public and humiliating way," he said.


Oh for god's sake, give it a rest.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rachel Carson kills children

Is the late Rachel Carson - author of Silent Spring, the book that was largely responsible for the worldwide ban on the insecticide DDT - responsible for the deaths of 800 000 children a year? Rich Kaarlgaard asks the question:

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring--the book that got mosquito-killer DDT banned and launched the modern environmental movement--while struggling with cancer. The disease killed Carson in 1964, two years after Silent Spring came out.

Today's Washington Post has a story on Carson--whose 100th birth anniversary occurs later this month--and her noble fight against cancer. A touching piece. But maddening, too! Because in the story's 34 paragraphs, there are only a buried pair, the 26th and 27th, that note the ongoing controversy about DDT's ban.

A Maryland Congressman (evil Republican, of course ... wink, wink) is quoted as saying that malaria deaths might have been prevented had DDT not been banned. That happens to be true. DDT kills mosquitoes, which carry malaria, which was all but eradicated before DDT was banned.

Buried in paragraph 27, and paraphrasing the Congressman, The Washington Post concedes that "numerous" deaths might have been prevented by DDT.

Let's stop here. Any curious reader would ask, Just how "numerous" is numerous? Wouldn't you ask that question? The Post never asks that question. Why?

Because the answer devastates Rachel Carson and her followers. According to these CDC figures, malaria kills more than 800,000 children under age five every year. Every year, 800,000 small children die from malaria, a disease once nearly eradicated.

Ponder that.

(ht: Instapundit)

Stoning for adultery in Sudan

Jorge Pineda over at Northern Watch has commented on a new policy passed by the Canadian Federation of Students regarding Sharia law in Canadian Universities:
In a recent report by CFS which represents roughly half of Canadian students the federation has decided that by not recognizing Sharia law we are guilty of systematic racism. The CFS, which tends to be very close to the NDP, is pushing to recognize “Islamophobia” as a form of racism. After reading the report it seems that their definition of an Islamophobe is anyone who holds or expresses a critical stance toward Islam, even if it is not meant to offend ( they call this being misinformed or holding stereotypes). Islamphobia is not simply overt acts of discrimination against Muslims, rather, Islamophobia is seen in our Universityies inabilities to recognize the tenets of Islam and to accommodate Sharia law within the system. The report basically calls for an apartheid between Muslims and non-believers at the expense of the infidels (being non-Muslims) and an elevated recognition of Muslim sensibilities.

Meanwhile, in northern Sudan, two women have been sentenced by Sharia courts to death by stoning for committing adultery:

Two Sudanese women were sentenced to death by stoning for adultery after a trial in which they had no lawyer and which used Arabic, not their first language, the rights group Amnesty International said. Sadia Idriss Fadul was sentenced on February 13 and Amouna Abdallah Daldoum on March 6 and their sentences could be carried out at any time, the London-based group said.

North Sudan implements Islamic sharia law.

“The women had no lawyer during their trial and were not able to defend themselves, as their first languages are those of their ethnic groups,” Amnesty said. Both women are from non-Arab tribes but the proceedings were in Arabic and no interpreter was provided, Amnesty said. Their trial took place in central AlGezira state.

“One of the women, Sadia Idriss Fadul, has one of her children with her in prison,” Amnesty said.

Faysal el-Bagir, a Sudanese human rights activist, said sentences of death by stoning were rare, “but we have heard that in this area there have been other such judgments”.

The male accused in ms Fadul's case was let off because there was not enough evidence against him. Witnesses are usually required to gain a conviction and forensic tests are not normally used in such cases.

Under Sudan's penal code, anyone who is married and has sex outside wedlock shall be punished by execution by stoning. If they are unmarried, they are lashed,
Amnesty said.

El-Bagir said that in another case in Sudan's western Darfur region about two years ago, a woman sentenced to death by stoning had her punishment reduced to lashing after a public campaign by rights activists.

I anxiously await the first CFS-organized stoning at a Canadian university near you. Or perhaps the CFS will campaign to have the sentence reduced to lashing. Or maybe the CFS will, in the spirit of Sharia, ban extra-marital sex on Canadian campuses.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hand-wringing in India over gay Canadian diplomats

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out:

India's foreign ministry is stumped on what to do with Canada's request that the spouses of two of its gay diplomats be granted diplomatic spouse privileges.

Same-sex marriage, which is allowed in Canada, is not recognized in India, and gay sex ("carnal intercourse against the order of nature") is punished with up to 10 years in prison under Penal Code Section 377.

Legal challenges to the statute are stalled in the courts.

Canadian officials reportedly have suggested that under Vienna conventions on diplomatic and consular relations, Canadian diplomats would not be subject to Section 377. But India's foreign ministry maintains that the exclusion applies only to criminal procedure, not to local laws.

Canada should insist that the legally married spouses of its diplomats be given these privileges. We should not cave in to a country that punishes gay sex with a 10 year prison sentence and threatens the partners of its diplomats. Where will this end? Will we stop sending female diplomats to Muslim countries so as not to offend local sensibilities? Local customs be damned - we're right & they're wrong.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Iranian crackdown on gay men

On May 10, Iranian police raided a private birthday party at a residence in Isfahan. 87 men were arrested and are currently being held in jail incommunicado. According to the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO):
... police raided a birthday party for a man named Farhad. According to witnesses, the police brutally assaulted the host, his parents, and the guests. It remains unclear exactly how many people were arrested. A man identified as Peyman spoke to IRQO and said that he arrived at the house late only to find the police had already arrived. “As soon as I turned in to their street, I saw police cars parked everywhere," Peyman told IRQO."All my friends were arrested while seven or eight policeman beat them with batons. Fearing the usual punishments for attending a party, two had jumped from the second-floor window and were in a bad condition.”He also said that all communication with the individuals has been cut off. “We have no information about the situation inside the jail,” Payman added.
Iran, and the Muslim world in general, has a reputation for brutal suppression of its gay citizens:
This latest raid marks the largest single attack on Iran’s gay community, further confirming a disturbing trend of sexual cleansing in the Islamic Republic, made legal through Sharia law. Sodomy is a crime for which both partners can be punished by death, while all types of sexual activity outside a heterosexual marriage are also illegal.
Arsham Parsi, executive director of IRQO, is pleading for action by international human rights organizations:
"Obviously this crackdown is yet another systematic violation of human rights, along with brutal suppression of womens' movements in Iran and must be strongly protested by all human rights organisations as yet another violation of people's private rights and liberties."
Good luck with that. [sound of crickets chirping] International human rights organizations are too busy scolding Canada for not making sure Taliban prisoners are treated humanely when turned over to Afghan authorities, or fretting about banning hijabs in girls' soccer tournaments.

First they came for the donuts ...

As various municipalities investigate following New York's lead in banning the use of trans fats in restaurants and other food-service establishments, no one seems to be asking how easy it will be for these establishments to substitute something supposedly safer. Are we prepared for what a trans fat ban is going to do to the donut industry?

Author Corby Kummer, writing in The Atlantic, has done the research and come to the conclusion that replacing trans fats will not be easy if we want to maintain the taste, texture & quality that their use provides. Donuts, in particular, are a difficult challenge:

I saw why lard and shortening have always been best for deep frying....The resolidified fat gives the interior a texture that oil simply cannot. Yeast-raised doughnuts are less problematic, because they should remain airy. But in a cake doughnut, the right texture is as unmistakable as the firm crumble of a butter cake—which requires a fat that solidifies at room temperature. A good cake doughnut has the substance of pound cake. It won't get that from corn or canola oil.
Will Canadians accept poor-quality donuts for a slight decrease in the risk of heart disease? An even better question is, should the state be making those decisions for us? Hands off my greasy donuts!

(ht: Jacob Sullum at Reason Online)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Academic fraud at the World Health Organization

Sometimes the UN is beyond parody. Case in point - this story about the World Health Organization (WHO) which, according to a study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, has been developing world-wide "evidence-based" health guidelines without, you know, collecting actual evidence:

When developing "evidence-based" guidelines, the World Health Organization routinely forgets one key ingredient: evidence. That is the verdict from a study published in The Lancet online Tuesday.

The medical journal's criticism of WHO could shock many in the global health community, as one of WHO's main jobs is to produce guidelines on everything from fighting the spread of bird flu and malaria control to enacting anti-tobacco legislation.

"This is a pretty seismic event," Lancet editor Dr. Richard Horton, who was not involved in the research for the article. "It undermines the very purpose of WHO."
...
WHO issues about 200 sets of recommendations every year, acting as a public health arbiter to the global community by sifting through competing scientific theories and studies to put forth the best policies.

WHO's Director of Research Policy Dr. Tikki Pang said that some of his WHO colleagues were shocked by The Lancet's study, but he acknowledged the criticism had merit, and explained that time pressures and a lack of both information and money sometimes compromised WHO work.

"We know our credibility is at stake," Pang said, "and we are now going to get our act together."

WHO officials also noted that, in many cases, evidence simply did not exist. Data from developing countries are patchy at best, and in an outbreak, information changes as the crisis unfolds.

This is a pretty serious indictment of an organization whose UN mandate says this:
WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.
Think about this the next time our governments overreact to a health threat like bird flu or SARS because of a WHO recommendation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Feminism & Muslim women

Christina Hoff Sommers has a thought-provoking article in the Weekly Standard :
The Subjection of Islamic Women and the fecklessness of American feminism.
Sommers takes American feminists to task for focussing on comparatively trivial cases of sexism in the west while practically ignoring the horrific plight of women in the Muslim world.

The subjection of women in Muslim societies--especially in Arab nations and in Iran--is today very much in the public eye. Accounts of lashings, stonings, and honor killings are regularly in the news, and searing memoirs by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi have become major best-sellers. One might expect that by now American feminist groups would be organizing protests against such glaring injustices, joining forces with the valiant Muslim women who are working to change their societies. This is not happening.
...
It is not that American feminists are indifferent to the predicament of Muslim women. Nor do they completely ignore it. For a brief period before September 11, 2001, many women's groups protested the brutalities of the Taliban. But they have never organized a full-scale mobilization against gender oppression in the Muslim world. The condition of Muslim women may be the most pressing women's issue of our age, but for many contemporary American feminists it is not a high priority. Why not?

The reasons are rooted in the worldview of the women who shape the concerns and activities of contemporary American feminism. That worldview is--by tendency and sometimes emphatically--antagonistic toward the United States, agnostic about marriage and family, hostile to traditional religion, and wary of femininity.

Sommers points out that women who speak out about this willful blindness and try to do something about it are not welcome in the "feminist movement":
One reason is that many feminists are tied up in knots by multiculturalism and find it very hard to pass judgment on non-Western cultures. They are far more comfortable finding fault with American society for minor inequities (the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club, the "underrepresentation" of women on faculties of engineering) than criticizing heinous practices beyond our shores. The occasional feminist scholar who takes the women's movement to task for neglecting the plight of foreigners is ignored or ruled out of order.

Sommers finds hope in the fact that there is an emerging feminist movement within the Muslim world which may eventually accomplish change, sadly without the support of western feminists.
The good news is that Muslim women are not waiting around for Western feminists to rescue them. "Feminists in the West may fiddle while Muslim women are burning," wrote Manhattan Institute scholar Kay Hymowitz in a prescient 2003 essay, "but in the Muslim world itself there is a burgeoning movement to address the miserable predicament of the second sex." The number of valiant and resourceful Muslim women who are devoting themselves to the cause of greater freedom grows each and every day.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

This guy's a "closet libertarian"? Hardly.

Saturday's National Post features a profile of Toronto District School Board trustee Josh Matlow, who "has a knack for placing himself in the spotlight". The article states that "a casual observer of Josh Matlow's style would be surprised to know he considers himself a libertarian". Huh? This is a guy who is pushing the school board to:

  • make Toronto schools "scent free"
  • ban homework five days before exams
  • ban cell phones, Blackberries, Facebook and MP3 players
  • run all schools on "green energy"

The interviewer summarizes Matlow's approach:

When asked about his banhappy reputation, Mr. Matlow gives one of his ebullient laughs: He's a closet libertarian. "It's not just about banning stuff," he says emphatically. The young trustee has a habit of furrowing his brow and leaning his robust frame back when he's making a point. For Mr. Matlow, schools are miniature versions of society where future leaders can be molded, often with a little regulatory push.

Matlow himself says :

"Schools are the perfect microcosm for society because you get kids from every walk of life, every background, and there they are, and they're forced to work together. If you can figure out how to make them work with each other in a positive way, hopefully those lessons then carry on into their lives, and then when they join society and become the leaders of industry or politics, or one of them becomes prime minister, they'll remember how their experience was in school and hopefully they'll take those lessons and make a society that cares about people, that validates people."

Memo to Mr. Matlow: libertarians don't force people to "work with each other in a positive way". Libertarians believe in individual freedom and limited government. They see the individual as the basic unit of society, and individuals should be free to make choices and take responsibility for their actions. They reject the use of the coercive power of the state to make these choices for them. Individuals have a right, as John Locke wrote, to life, liberty and property, and libertarians believe that the state’s role is to provide conditions where individuals are free to enjoy these rights. As author David Boaz has written, "libertarianism proposes a society of liberty under law, in which individuals are free to pursue their own lives so long as they respect the equal rights of others. The rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules, not by arbitrary commands; and that those rules should protect the freedom of individuals to pursue happiness in their own ways, not aim at any particular result or outcome."

You, sir, are not a libertarian.

The Latin American Idiot

Alvaro Vargas Llosa has an interesting article in this month's Foreign Policy discussing the resurgence of Marxist strongmen in Latin America and their legitimization by leftist American and European journalists and intellectuals.

Ten years ago, Colombian writer Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, and I wrote Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot, a book criticizing opinion and political leaders who clung to ill-conceived political myths despite evidence to the contrary. The “Idiot” species, we suggested, bore responsibility for Latin America’s underdevelopment. Its beliefs—revolution, economic nationalism, hatred of the United States, faith in the government as an agent of social justice, a passion for strongman rule over the rule of law—derived, in our opinion, from an inferiority complex. In the late 1990s, it seemed as if the Idiot were finally retreating. But the retreat was short lived. Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct.

Because of the inexorable passing of time, today’s young Latin American Idiots prefer Shakira’s pop ballads to Pérez Prado’s mambos and no longer sing leftist anthems like “The Internationale” or “Until Always Comandante.” But they are still descendants of rural migrants, middle class, and deeply resentful of the frivolous lives of the wealthy displayed in the glossy magazines they discreetly leaf through on street corners. State-run universities provide them with a class-based view of society that argues that wealth is something that needs to be retaken from those who have stolen it. For these young Idiots, Latin America’s condition is the result of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, followed by U.S. imperialism. These basic beliefs provide a safety valve for their grievances against a society that offers scant opportunity for social mobility. Freud might say they have deficient egos that are unable to mediate between their instincts and their idea of morality. Instead, they suppress the notion that predation and vindictiveness are wrong and rationalize their aggressiveness with elementary notions of Marxism.

As for their western apologists:

The Idiot’s worldview, in turn, finds an echo among distinguished intellectuals in Europe and the United States. These pontificators assuage their troubled consciences by espousing exotic causes in developing nations. Their opinions attract fans among First-World youngsters for whom globalization phobia provides the perfect opportunity to find spiritual satisfaction in the populist jeremiad of the Latin American Idiot against the wicked West.

...

The current revival of the Latin American Idiot has precipitated the return of his counterparts: the patronizing American and European Idiots. Once again, important academics and writers are projecting their idealism, guilty consciences, or grievances against their own societies onto the Latin American scene, lending their names to nefarious populist causes. Nobel Prizewinners, including British playwright Harold Pinter, Portuguese novelist José Saramago, and American economist Joseph Stiglitz; American linguists such as Noam Chomsky and sociologists like James Petras; European journalists like Ignacio Ramonet and some foreign correspondents for outlets such as Le Nouvel Observateur in France, Die Zeit in Germany, and the Washington Post in the United States, are once again propagating absurdities that shape the opinions of millions of readers and sanctify the Latin American Idiot. This intellectual lapse would be quite innocuous if it didn’t have consequences. But, to the extent that it legitimizes the type of government that is actually at the heart of Latin America’s political and economic underdevelopment, it constitutes a form of intellectual treason.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cuba: a primer for naive Canadians

Freedom House, a non-profit organization which monitors and encourages the spread of democracy around the world, has issued its annual report on repressive governments called The Worst of the Worst - the World's Most Repressive Societies. A lot of naive Canadians will be surprised to find Cuba on Freedom House's list - after all, they had such a nice time at that resort in Varadero, and the natives were so friendly, and you know they have free health care down there, which is a lot more than you can say for the United States, and Fidel Castro was a pall-bearer at Pierre Trudeau's funeral! So, in the interests of encouraging enlightened tourism, here are some of the things Freedom House is concerned about in the great socialist utopia in the Caribbean:
  • Cuba is not a democracy. In the last "election" in 2003, 609 candidates - all approved by the Communist Party of Cuba, ran for 609 seats in the National Assembly. No seats were contested.
  • Freedom of the press is greatly curtailed in Cuba, with all media controlled by the state and the Communist Party. The independent press is illegal, and independent journalists are subject to continuous repression including jail terms of hard labour and physical assaults by state security agents. Foreign news agencies may only hire local reporters from government offices.
  • Access to the internet is tightly controlled. It is illegal for Cubans to connect to the internet in their homes. State-run internet cafes in major cities are closely monitored, and are so expensive that they are inaccessible to ordinary Cubans. Only state employees are allowed e-mail.
  • Cuba remains one of four countries in the world that employs authoritarian actions to control religious belief and expression. State security agents spy on worshippers, the state continues to block construction of new churches, and the number of new foreign priests is severely limited. Churches are not allowed to conduct educational initiatives and church publications are controlled and censored by the state.
  • Teaching materials in schools for subjects such as math or literature must contain ideological content. Membership in the Communist Party is necessary for access to educational institutions, and student report cards carry information regarding their parents' involvement with the Communist Party.
  • The unauthorized assembly of more than three persons, including those for private religious services in private homes, is punishable by a fine and up to three months in prison. This prohibition is frequently used to harass human rights advocates.
  • Workers in Cuba do not have the right to collective bargaining or to strike. Membership in independent labour unions is considered illegal.
  • The government has been reducing private economic activity by revoking permits for self-employment, and privately-run farmers' markets are being squeezed out of business.
  • The executive branch controls the judiciary. The Council of State (Chairman Fidel Castro) controls both the courts and the judicial process.
  • There are more than 300 "prisoners of conscience"in Cuba, most of whom have been convicted of vague crimes like "disseminating enemy propaganda" or "dangerousness". Membership in extra-governmental groups often results in being labelled a "counter-revolutionary criminal" and resulting in arrest, beatings while in custody, and loss of work, educational opportunities and health care.
  • The Cuban government refuses to cooperate with UN human rights investigators, and does not allow the International Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations access to its prisons.
  • Afro-Cubans have only limited access to the dollar-earning sectors of the economy, such as tourism.
  • Freedom of movement and the right to choose one's residence and place of employment are severely restricted. Attempting to leave the island without permission is a criminal offence.
  • Membership in the Communist Party is necessary for access to jobs, serviceable housing and social services including health care and education.
  • Only state enterprises can enter into joint-venture operations with foreigners, but the government systematically violates international salary standards, terms of contract, and other labour codes for workers employed on the island by foreign-owned firms.
  • Violence against women is a problem, as is child prostitution.

So, enjoy your margarita and your cigar while you're basking on the beach, and make sure you tell all your friends that the Cubans you met were so happy, you don't know what all the fuss is about Castro.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rudy Giuliani vs ferrets

Slate Magazine has a link to an animated version of New York mayor Rudy Giuliani tearing a strip off a caller to his radio show in 1999 who was upset about city regulations that prohibited the keeping of ferrets as pets. The money quote:
“The excessive concern that you have for ferrets is something you should examine with a therapist.”
The link to the video is here. Check it out - it's hilarious.

(ht: Right Side of the Rainbow )

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Vegan couple gets life for starving own child

An Atlanta couple was sentenced to life in prison today for starving their own six-week-old child to death by feeding him a strict vegan diet of soy milk and apple juice:

Superior Court Judge L.A. McConnell imposed the mandatory sentences on Jade Sanders, 27, and Lamont Thomas, 31. Their son, Crown Shakur, weighed just 3 1/2 pounds when he died of starvation on April 25, 2004.

The couple were found guilty May 2 of malice murder, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter and cruelty to children. A jury deliberated about seven hours before returning the guilty verdicts.

Defense lawyers said the first-time parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans, who typically use no animal products. They said Sanders and Thomas did not realize the baby, who was born at home, was in danger until minutes before he died.

But prosecutors said the couple intentionally neglected their child and refused to take him to the doctor even as the baby’s body wasted away. “No matter how many times they want to say, ‘We’re vegans, we’re vegetarians,’ that’s not the issue in this case,” said prosecutor Chuck Boring. “The child died because he was not fed. Period.”

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The totalitarian implications of public health

There's a great essay by Jacob Sullum in this month's Reason Magazine that outlines, from a libertarian perspective, the evolution of public health goals in the US from the prevention of the spread of communicable diseases to a moral campaign to change the behaviour of citizens who voluntarily engage in risky behaviour.
What do these four “public health” problems—smoking, playing violent video games, overeating, and gambling—have in common? They’re all things that some people enjoy and other people condemn, attributing to them various bad effects. Sometimes these effects are medical, but they may also be psychological, behavioral, social, or financial. Calling the habits that supposedly lead to these consequences “public health” problems, “epidemics” that need to be controlled, equates choices with diseases, disguises moralizing as science, and casts meddling as medicine. It elevates a collectivist calculus of social welfare above the interests of individuals, who become subject to increasingly intrusive interventions aimed at making them as healthy as they can be, without regard to their own preferences.
John Stuart Mill, in his 1859 essay On Liberty, argued that “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number is self-protection.…The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.” Current public health strategies focus on things like smoking bans, junk-food-free zones around schools, and prohibitions on the use of trans-fats in restaurants, and refuse to acknowledge the rights of citizens to make these decisions for themselves.
Maximizing health is not the same as maximizing happiness. The public health mission to minimize morbidity and mortality leaves no room for the possibility that someone might accept a shorter life span, or an increased risk of disease or injury, in exchange for more pleasure or less discomfort. Motorcyclists, rock climbers, and sky divers make that sort of decision all the time, and not all of them are ignorant of the relevant injury and fatality statistics. With lifestyle choices that pose longer-term risks, such as smoking and overeating, the dangers may be easier to ignore, but it is still possible for someone with a certain set of tastes and preferences to say, “Let me enjoy myself now; I’ll take my chances.”
...
Health professionals…have no personal attributes, knowledge, or training that qualifies them to dictate the preferences of others. Nevertheless, doctors generally assume that the high priority that they place on health should be shared by others. They find it hard to accept that some people may opt for a brief, intense existence full of unhealthy practices. Such individuals are pejoratively labeled ‘noncompliant’ and pressures are applied on them to reorder their priorities.”
Sullum warns that the complacent acceptance of the government's role in making some public health decisions that properly belong to individuals invites a totalitarian intrusion of government into the private lives of citizens:
“Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign,” Mill insisted. The mandate “Health for All” replaces that principle with a legally enforceable duty to be well, a demand by the collective to keep one’s body and mind in optimal condition. A government empowered to maximize health is not a government under which anyone who values liberty would want to live.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Banned in the West Bank

The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority has announced that a scholarly book on Palestinian folk tales must be removed from all school libraries in Gaza and the West Bank because four of the stories in it contain "references to body parts or human excretion". According to the Christian Science Monitor :

Religious conservatives say that they didn't like five stories within the 400-page book of folklore, which includes academic explanations and theory, because of references to body parts or human excretion.

The decision to pull the book "Speak Bird, Speak Again," first published in English in 1989 and later in Arabic in Lebanon, was issued by the education ministry last month in a letter to teachers, who were instructed to destroy it.

"Our society depends on Islamic values and has for hundreds of years," continues Sheikh Khader. "Our most important objective is to make curriculum adhere to our social values." In his viewpoint, too many Western influences are seeping into Palestinian society, and children must be better shielded from them. "This new generation is unable to distinguish between what is harmful and what is beneficial, so we have to protect them from these harmful influences," he says.

"The Israeli occupation is interested in introducing us to Western values that work to destroy our Arab and Muslim values."

The author of the book, anthropologist Sharif Kanaana, responded:
"I don't want to generalize about all of Hamas – I rather hope it's a unique case, a mistake by an individual," says Kanaana, a scholarly, bespectacled academic who was just heading into semiretirement when he inadvertently became the poster child of the Palestinian divide between liberals and ultra-conservatives. "Unfortunately, it confirmed some of the worst expectations people had for this government."

(h/t: Reason Online)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Compact fluorescent bulbs & mercury

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has linked to a story about compact fluorescent light bulbs which addresses the concerns about mercury contamination :

CFL critics like to remind you that CFL bulbs contain mercury, a highly toxic pollutant. This is true. The typical CFL bulb contains approx. 5mg of mercury. (Manufacturers are working to reduce this. Phillips is said to have developed a bulb that only has 1.5mg of mercury.)

If a CFL bulb is broken, special care must be taken to properly clean up and dispose of the remnants to prevent health risks. Further, CFLs must be recycled or properly disposed of to prevent the mercury from escaping into the environment. Here are the federal government guidelines for CFL disposal and cleanup.

What the critics forget to mention, however, is that coal-fired power plants are a major source of mercury pollution. Further, most of this mercury is emitted into the air, and is thus not contained or containable. Mercury in a CFL is already contained unless it is broken, and if properly recycled is fully containable.

We did some rough calculations to determine the mercury pollution impact of CFL v. incandescent bulbs. We used TVA's Kingston plant as an example. It generated 10,161,530 gross megawatts in 2005, and released 643 pounds of mercury into the environment. If our math is correct, this works out to about 0.000028702 milligrams of mercury pollution per watt of electricity generated. Based on this, a 100w incandescent bulb operated for 8 hours per day 365 days per year causes 8.4mg of mercury pollution. An equivalent 23w CFL bulb will cause 1.9mg of mercury pollution. Assuming a five year life of the bulb, and assuming the bulb is crushed and dumped in a landfill releasing its 5mg of mercury into the environment, the CFL will cause 14mg of mercury pollution over its lifetime as compared to 42mg of mercury pollution for an equivalent number of incandescent bulbs, a reduction of 28mg or 66%.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Gays & the Anglican Church

The Canadian Anglican Church is tying itself into knots over the issue of church blessings for gay unions. The Canadian House of Bishops has recently attempted to clarify the church's position:
But while other church sacraments are open to gay church members, the bishops draw the line at marriage, even disallowing prayers for God's blessing on civilly married same-sex couples. Without promising any particular action, the bishops suggest that "intercessory prayers" may be allowed for gay couples who make their covenant promises elsewhere, but not a "nuptial prayer." Although official church teaching affirms the sanctity of committed same-sex relationships, the bishops insist "the doctrine and discipline of our church does not clearly permit further action."
Meanwhile, at the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto:
An annual service [is] usually held the first Saturday in October to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. The Bishop presides, often animals from the Metro or Bowmanville zoo (in 2005, a camel!), horses from the Metro Police, the Humane Society is present and lots and lots of people and their pets - from all over the city and Metro area. All are welcome to bring pets for the bishop's blessing. Usually followed by a BBQ on the lawn & live music.
So, let me get this straight (no pun intended): the Anglican Church will bless camels from the Bowmanville Zoo, but will not allow "nuptial prayers" for gay couples who were married in civil ceremonies outside the church? Give me a break.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Extending daylight savings time worse than useless?

Kerry Howley at Reason Magazine has reported on a study which concluded that extending daylight savings time in Australia not only did not reduce energy consumption, it actually increased it slightly. This won't sink in with scientifically illiterate politicians who, above all else, must be seen to be taking action to reduce energy use.

An ideal study of daylight-saving time would randomly allocate time schemes across regions, a difficult experiment to execute. So Ryan Kellogg and Hendrik Wolff, Berkeley graduate students in economics, looked at the next best thing. When Australia hosted the Olympics in 2000, two states, Victoria and New South Wales, started DST two months early. Looking at Victoria, the state that didn’t host the Olympics, and excluding the time span of the games (when usage patterns were aberrant), Kellogg and Wolff compared Victoria residents on DST to those on a normal schedule one state over.

Australians, they found, were apt to use more electricity under the DST regime. Waking up in darker, colder conditions during September and October prompted a dramatic spike in usage each morning. Victoria residents did ease up on electricity at night, but the decrease was not enough to make up for the morning surge. And while U.S. legislators are hoping shifting an hour of sunlight from the morning to the evening will help balance out energy patterns, the Australian experiment showed more-dramatic swings with DST than without.Will the findings hold in the U.S.? At the very least, Kellogg and Wolff predict, the DST extension “will fail to yield the anticipated energy savings.” September in the Southern Hemisphere is equivalent to the American March, the very month Congress just tacked onto DST.