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)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Leftist dilemma: pesticides or GM crops?

Officials in the state of Maine have decided to allow farmers to grow genetically-modified (GM) insect-resistant corn in the state. This would make Maine the last state in the US to permit GM crops. According to this story officials at the Board of Pesticides Control made the ruling over the objections of organic farmers who worried that pollen from GM corn would contaminate their crops. The Board decided that the use of GM corn would result in less pesticide use, and that this would be a net gain for the environment:

The Board of Pesticides Control said Friday that its mandate of reducing pesticide use and its concern about state farmers being at a competitive disadvantage without the genetically altered feed trumped those concerns.

"If we don't take advantage of this technology, these farmers may not be here in five or 10 years down the road," board member Richard Stevenson said.

Critics urged the board not to cave to pressure for Maine to follow the rest of the nation in adopting the use of Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, corn. They said the modified corn poses a potential threat to wildlife and plants, as well as people.
Organic growers have their own concerns: contamination of their crops and possible revocation of their organic certification.

But Pittsfield farmer Tom Cote argued that eliminating use of some pesticides by growing Bt corn will be a net gain for the environment. Farmers like Cote say they'll be able to reduce the use of expensive pesticides. "I believe Bt crops are a bit better for the environment and the people who have to handle them," Cote said.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Don't get sick in Eastern Ontario

The Belleville Intelligencer had a helpful article yesterday with advice on how to find a family physician if you live in Eastern Ontario. "Wait a minute" you ask, "there are people in Canada who don't have access to a family doctor? Isn't this the greatest health care system in the world?" If you live in Eastern Ontario, and much of rural Canada, chances are you have no family doctor and your health care needs are met solely by overworked staff at hospital emergency departments.

Paul Huras is the executive director of the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) which controls funding for 126 health groups in Eastern Ontario. He admits that there is a chronic shortage of doctors in the area, and offers this advice to people who live out here and don't have a doctor:

1. Contact the department of family medicine at Queen's University in Kingston - they may know of some recent graduates who have set up in the Quinte area and are accepting patients.

2. Call local doctors, of which there are about 75 in the Hastings-Prince Edward counties area. Sometimes a doctor will be able to take four or five patients but does not advertise the fact because the office would get hundreds of telephone calls.

3. Write to local family doctors, explaining "anticipated health-care" needs. This method was used by a person new to the area as an employee of the South East LHIN office in Belleville and it worked, Huras said.

4. Go to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario website, where there is a listing of family doctors and whether they are taking on new patients.

It's hard not to laugh when I read this list. Canadians smugly defend their health-care system as a model that the rest of the world (specifically the US) should emulate, but we have health service in Eastern Ontario on a level with parts of the Third World, and you have to beg to be taken on by a local physician. When I moved out here from Toronto, I waited six years to get on a local physician's caseload, and that was only after I assured her that I was in excellent health and was unlikely to use her services very often. It is not uncommon for patients here to be chosen by lottery when a new physician moves to the area.

Michael Moore should have brought his Sicko film crew out to Belleville for a real snapshot of health care in Canada.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Best headline ever

from Reuters:

Tiny brain no obstacle to French civil servant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A man with an unusually tiny brain managed to live an entirely normal life despite his condition, caused by a fluid buildup in his skull, French researchers reported on Thursday.
Scans of the 44-year-old man's brain showed that a huge fluid-filled chamber called a ventricle took up most of the room in his skull, leaving little more than a thin sheet of actual brain tissue.
"He was a married father of two children, and worked as a civil servant," Dr. Lionel Feuillet and colleagues at the Universite de la Mediterranee in Marseille wrote in a letter to the Lancet medical journal.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The problem with "zero tolerance"

Don't think that this couldn't happen in Canada:

Unruly schoolboys or sex offenders?

The two boys tore down the hall of Patton Middle School [in McMinnville, Oregon] after lunch, swatting the bottoms of girls as they ran -- what some kids later said was a common form of greeting.
But bottom-slapping is against policy in McMinnville Public Schools. So a teacher's aide sent the gawky seventh-graders to the office, where the vice principal and a police officer stationed at the school soon interrogated them.
After hours of interviews with students the day of the February incident, the officer read the boys their Miranda rights and hauled them off in handcuffs to juvenile jail, where they spent the next five days.
Now, Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison, both 13, face the prospect of 10 years in juvenile detention and a lifetime on the sex offender registry in a case that poses a fundamental question: When is horseplay a crime?
Bradley Berry, the McMinnville district attorney, said his office "aggressively" pursues sex crimes that involve children. "These cases are devastating to children," he said. "They are life-altering cases."
Last year, in a previously undisclosed prosecution, he charged two other Patton
Middle School boys with felony sex abuse for repeatedly slapping the bottom of a female student. Both pleaded guilty to harassment, which is a misdemeanor. Berry declined to discuss his cases against Mashburn and Cornelison.
The boys and their parents say Berry has gone far beyond what is necessary, criminalizing actions that they acknowledge were inappropriate. School district officials said Friday they had addressed the incident by suspending the students for five days.
The outlines of the case have been known. But confidential police reports and juvenile court records shed new light on the context of the boys' actions. The records show that other students, boys and girls, were slapping one another's bottoms. Two of the girls identified as victims have recanted, saying they felt pressured and gave false statements to interrogators.
The documents also show that the boys face 10 misdemeanor charges -- five sex abuse counts, five harassment counts -- reduced from initial charges of felony sex
abuse. The boys are scheduled to go on trial Aug. 20. A leading expert called the case a "travesty of justice" that is part of a growing trend in which children as young as 8 are being labeled sexual predators in juvenile court, where documents and proceedings are often secret.

(ht: Reason Online)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Encounters with global warming zealots

Documentary film-maker Martin Durkin, creator of The Great Global Warming Swindle, has written in The Australian about his hostile treatment by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation regarding the showing of his film on ABC:

The apparent unwillingness of Jones and others at the ABC to give airtime to a counterargument, the tactics used to minimise the ostensible damage done by the film, the evident animosity towards those who questioned global warming: all of this served to give viewers a glimpse of what it was like for scientists who dared to disagree with the hallowed doctrine.

Why are the global warmers so zealous? After a year of arguing with people about this, I am convinced that it's because global warming is first and foremost a political theory. It is an expression of a whole middle-class political world view. This view is summed up in the oft-repeated phrase "we consume too much". I have also come to the conclusion that this is code for "they consume too much". People who believe it tend also to think that exotic foreign places are being ruined because vulgar oiks can afford to go there in significant numbers, they hate plastic toys from factories and prefer wooden ones from craftsmen, and so on.

All this backward-looking bigotry has found perfect expression in the idea of man-made climate disaster. It has cohered a bunch of disparate reactionary prejudices (anti-car, anti-supermarkets, anti-globalisation) into a single unquestionable truth and cause. So when you have a dig at global warming, you commit a grievous breach of social etiquette. Among the chattering classes you're a leper.
The man-made global warming parade, on one level, has been a phenomenal success. There isn't a political party or important public body or large corporation that doesn't feel compelled to pay lip service. There are scientists and journalists (a surprising number) who have built careers championing the cause. There's more money going into global warming research than there is chasing a cure for cancer. Many important people and institutions have staked their reputations on it. There's a lot riding on this theory. And it has bugger-all to do with sea levels. That is why the warmers greeted my film with red glowing eyes.

Friday, July 20, 2007

World's Stupidest Fatwas

This month's issue of Foreign Policy magazine has an article listing the world's stupidest fatwas. As the magazine notes, "no central authority controls doctrine in Islam, one of the world’s great religions. The result? A proliferation of bizarre religious edicts against targets ranging from Salman Rushdie to polio vaccinations". Here are their favourites:

  • A fatwa banning unclothed sex, issued by Rashad Hassan Khalil, former dean of Islamic law at al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. He ruled in 2006 that for married couples, “being completely naked during the act of coitus annuls the marriage”. Other scholars rejected Khalil’s logic, claiming everything but “sodomy” is halal in a marriage. The fatwa committee chairman at al-Azhar, attempted a reconciliation, saying that a husband and wife could see one other naked, but should not look at each other’s genitals. And they should probably have sex under a blanket.
  • A fatwa banning Pokemon video games and trading cards, issued by Saudi Arabia’s Higher Committee for Scientific Research and Islamic Law. Claiming that the cartoon characters had “possessed the minds” of Saudi youngsters, Pokémon video games and cards werer banned in the spring of 2001. Saudi scholars believe that Pokémon encourages gambling, which is forbidden in Islam, but is also a front for Israel. The authorities claimed that Pokémon games include, “the Star of David, which everyone knows is connected to international Zionism and is Israel’s national emblem.” Religious authorities in the United Arab Emirates joined in, condemning the games for promoting evolution, “a Jewish-Darwinist theory that conflicts with the truth about humans and with Islamic principles,” but didn’t ban them outright. Even the Catholic Church in Mexico got into the act, calling Pokémon video games “demonic.”
  • A fatwa forbidding children to be vaccinated against polio, issued by Local mullahs in rural Pakistan. Even though Pakistan’s largest Islamist umbrella group, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), issued a fatwa in January 2007 endorsing the provincial government’s efforts to immunize children from polio in the country’s Northwest Frontier Province, the parents of some 24,000 children had refused to allow the workers to administer polio drops. It turns out that influential antistate clerics had been issuing their own fatwas denouncing the campaign as a Western plot to sterilize Muslims. Although Pakistan only saw 39 cases of polio last year and most children have now been immunized, a similar religiously motivated firestorm against polio drops in Nigeria in 2003 allowed the eradicable disease to spread to 12 new countries in just 18 months.

  • A fatwa about breastfeeding adult male co-workers, issued by Ezzat Atiya, a lecturer at Cairo’s al-Azhar University. Many Muslims believe that unmarried men and women should not work alone together, so one Islamic scholar came up with a novel solution to accomodate co-workers in modern workplaces: if a woman were to breast-feed her male colleague five times, the two could safely be alone together. “A woman at work can take off the veil or reveal her hair in front of someone whom she breast-fed,” he wrote in an opinion issued in May 2007. He based his reasoning on stories from the Prophet Mohammed’s time in which, Atiya maintained, the practice occurred. Although Atiya headed the department dealing with the Prophet’s sayings, al-Azhar University’s higher authorities suspended the scholar, and he subsequently recanted his ruling as a “bad interpretation of a particular case.”

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Gay stereotypes in a mainstream liberal film? Surely not.

I haven't seen I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, and this review at Libertas confirms my gut reaction that if I do, I'll probably hate it. Well-meaning Hollywood film producers just can't seem to resist portraying gay characters as flamboyant queens even if their intent is to draw attention to homophobia & stereotyping:

You know early on what Chuck’s character arc will be, but for it to occur within forty minutes damages the credibility of the character and what was an interesting and funny dynamic. The only explanation (other than bad writing) is that the filmmakers wanted to get the sensitivity-agenda humming as quickly as possible, and the only way they could figure out to do that was to get their protagonist on board immediately: Watch Chuck punch out religious fanatics protesting an AIDS benefit. Watch Chuck lecture his fellow firefighters about tolerance. Watch Chuck help Larry’s showtune loving son self-actualize and become comfortable with himself. A better film would’ve had homophobic Chuck commenting on the different world he’s forced to enter and then over time finding the humanity behind the stereotype. Methinks GLAAD was holding a stopwatch.

And speaking of gay stereotypes, Chuck and Larry is loaded with nothing but. After their fellow firefighters shun them upon learning of their relationship, Larry gives an impassioned speech about how Chuck-The-Gay-Firefighter saved this life, and did that heroic deed, and was always there when needed… Great speech. Only problem? Chuck’s not really gay. And the only people in the film who are gay are portrayed across the board as flamboyant, feminine, queens, who talk like thith. After Chuck and Larry inspire a fellow firefighter to come out of the closet this once stoic and strapping man suddenly becomes an eye-fluttering lisper.

I just don’t know any gay people like that. I don’t doubt they’re out there, but no gay person I know prances around making eyes at everyone wanting only and always to be defined by their sexuality. It’s one thing to ask a society not to judge others based on who they love, it is completely another to ask us to embrace a community as portrayed in Chuck and Larry. Gay or straight, it is not unreasonable to find this type of behavior unappealing and to portray Every. Single. Gay. Character. in that fashion is grossly unfair and horribly stereotypical. Why the gay community and organizations like GLAAD find this acceptable is beyond me.

I think the reason that Brokeback Mountain was so controversial, while Chuck & Larry won't even bat an eyelash is that the characters in the former were just regular guys, indistinguishable from their fellow men - much like most gay men. Even though many liberals profess their tolerance & openmindedness on sexual issues, they're much more comfortable when their "queer" friends fit the stereotype of the mincing, lisping interior-decorator. Take a look at the gay characters in popular TV shows like Will & Grace or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Hilarious, no? We love our gay characters when they're light in the loafers - it's easier then to separate them from reality.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Memo from Africa to Madonna: get lost

Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala has written an editorial in the Washington Post that is highly critical of Western celebrities trying to "save Africa": "I hope people will realize Africa doesn't want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth".

Iweala reserves special scorn for Westerners who use Africans "as props in the West's fantasy of itself":

This is the West's new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.
Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent's corrupt leaders, warlords, "tribal" conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like "Can Bono Save Africa?" or "Will Brangelina Save Africa?" The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and "civilization."

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually)wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head -- because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West's fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West's prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.

George W. Bush's legacy

It's hard to express a favourable opinion on President Bush without inviting heaps of ridicule & derision. William Kristol has done just that in an editorial in The Washington Post: Why Bush will be a winner, in which he postulates that Bush's presidency will be treated favourably by history:
Let's step back from the unnecessary mistakes and the self-inflicted wounds that have characterized the Bush administration. Let's look at the broad forest rather than the often unlovely trees. What do we see? First, no second terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- not something we could have taken for granted. Second, a strong economy -- also something that wasn't inevitable. And third, and most important, a war in Iraq that has been very difficult, but where -- despite some confusion engendered by an almost meaningless "benchmark" report last week -- we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome.
I once ventured a similar opinion at a party & was just about tarred and feathered. One particularly agitated guest said "Every day that man does something at best embarassing and at worst outright evil". Oh well - remember how Ronald Reagan was treated in the "evil empire" days? Who's laughing now?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Banning junk food in schools can make kids fat

The Law of Unintended Consequences at work: when do-gooder politicians try to rescue kids from unhealthy diets by banning junk food vending machines from schools, school administrators are forced to cope with the loss of revenue by cancelling extra-curricular activities which include, among other things, sports programs that promote fitness.

This is the experience of schools in Seattle, where the school district banned vending machines that sell soda and unhealthy snack food in high schools. The result, according to this story, was a cut in school budgets of up to 90%. This has forced schools to axe extra-curricular activities to make up for the shortfall.

West Seattle's Associated Student Body earned 50 percent profit on every can of soda. And now, without the vending machines, Jewell says the budget loses $16,000 to $20,000 each school year. That means extra-curricular cuts.

"Pretty much unless we find another way to fund it (extra-curricular activities), it's gone," [high school principal] Jewell said. "We had a very effective mentoring program for freshman to help them transition into high school, that's gone." The school newspaper is gone too, as is money for the marketing club and student store.

Leadership Training the school once paid for, now students have to pay for. And Jewell says there may not be enough money to transport students who play spring sports

The district responded that the vending machines would be replaced by machines selling juice and healthy snacks, but Principal Jewell says "kids don't want water and juice, she thinks they'll just leave school to buy their soda somewhere else."

Ontario's government banned sales of all carbonated beverages in elementary and middle schools (but not high schools) in 2004, but are still free to sell junk food in vending machines and to raise funds from sales of things like chocolate bars & fudge. Are Ontario schools vulnerable to a Seattle-style crisis if the McGuinty government adopts an all-out ban? Probably, unless the provincial government coughs up money to replace the shortfall:

Across Canada, underfunded schools are attempting to balance their need for money with their responsibility to set an example. An annual ranking of per-pupil spending in 63 North American jurisdictions consistently lists many Canadian provinces at the bottom. There is no provincial legislation on food choices in schools, so decisions on junk food are often left up to cash-strapped school boards.

Amanda Alvaro, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Education, says the province is making an effort to fill the fundraising gap. "The province invested $1.1 billion in education this year," she says. "So, there is a lot more money in the system."

School kids sell chocolate bars to Ottawa resident Jim Cox during a fundraising drive. "Hopefully school boards do not feel the need to fundraise."

Fat chance.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

What if the NDP were at Thermopylae

"No, we don't get to see the light of battle; no we don't have real weapons, but we do have Scrabble night, so it all evens out."

NDP hypocrisy on Afghanistan

The National Post has an editorial today titled They Died for a Good Cause which pretty much sums up my feelings on Jack Layton's shameful reaction to the Canadian deaths in Afghanistan yesterday. This section in particular captures my incomprehension and amazement at the NDP's hypocritical position on the Canadian mission there:

Mr. Layton is a sad example of what has become of leftist politics: The same bleeding hearts who once urged Western politicians to help the world's poor and afflicted now run for the exits when peacemaking and nation-building turn tough.

In the case of Afghanistan, in particular, this defeatism is grimly ironic coming, as it is, from a politician who postures as the champion of gay rights and feminism: But not for the presence of brave NATO troops, the country would fall into the hands of medieval theocrats who behead homosexuals and treat women like burka-clad dogs.

Exactly. And to those gay activists and feminists who assume that being a woman or being gay and supporting the Conservative Party of Canada are mutually-exclusive positions: wake up and smell the cordite.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Assimilation & the Gay Ghetto

I've noticed a recurring theme in the various blogs that I frequent - a sort of unease in the gay commentariat about the apparent decline of gay neighbourhoods in big cities like Toronto, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

As the residents of ethnic neighbourhoods like "Chinatown" and "Little Italy" moved up the socio-economic ladder & moved out to the suburbs, their former neighbourhoods became ethnic theme parks. This has happened in Toronto to the Chinese neighbourhood at Dundas and Spadina, and the Little Italy on College Street. The same thing is happening to Toronto's Gay Village on Church St. & Wellesley, and not everyone is happy about it.

Church Street is still a gay neighbourhood, complete with porn shops, leather bars & bath houses, but fewer and fewer gay people live there. The expensive condos in the neighbourhood are increasingly being bought by young straight couples who are attracted by the bohemian atmosphere, while gays are buying houses in the suburbs or out in the country as they get tired of the expense and hassles of big city living.

The National Post carried an article today about Warkworth, Ontario - a tiny village of 700 people about an hour and a half from Toronto - that used to be famous for its prison which houses some of Canada's most heinous criminals. Now, it is referred to as "Ontario's Gayest Village":

Oak Heights [Winery] is close enough to Toronto to capitalize on the urban aesthete's newfound fanaticism about local wine. But what makes its location perfect is the proximity to Warkworth, a village down by a stream in the next valley.

Centred around a short Main Street and a dual hockey/curling arena, Warkworth is gay as a glass of rose on a summer's day, and fabulous as a fistful of wildflowers. Locals say there are perhaps 130 gay couples in an area with a population not much more than 700. So if you can't sell artisanal wine around here, you can't sell it anywhere.

"There was a certain charm where you could just come out, do your thing," said Neil Graham, 43, who moved 10 years ago from Toronto to a Warkworth farmhouse, where he lives with his partner Wayne Sabados. Mr. Graham used to be director of visual presentation for Club Monaco, but now runs Stone House Gardens, an upmarket gardening and flower shop on Main Street that also sells home furnishings. "But you discover a gem, and then everyone discovers it as well."

As Mr. Graham tells it, the past decade has seen Warkworth transformed from a near-derelict whistle-stop amidst the industrial agriculture operations, into a bustling weekend retreat for wealthy gay Toronto couples. Now, with florists alongside feedlots, muddy pick-ups parked under quaint, faux-antique streetlights, and a couple of locals holding court outside a chic interior design boutique that boasts "fab accessories for home & entertaining," sleepy Warkworth has become as gay as possible.

"People all mesh here," said Sylver Vanderburgh, who runs the Eclectic Mix art shop, and used to be called Sylvia but fancied a change when her hair went grey. "It doesn't matter if you're young or old or from Toronto or whatever."

The June 28 issue of The Economist has picked up on the theme, with an article whose thesis is that "as tolerance spreads, gay life is becoming more suburban, contented and even dull":

A FEW years ago, a Gay Pride parade passed The Simpsons' house in Springfield. “We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!” chanted the marchers. Little Lisa Simpson replied: “You do this every year. We are used to it.” As usual, the cartoon was a few steps ahead of real life. But only a few. The New York Observer recently published an article about gays who think Gay Pride marches are pointless, since the big battles for gay rights have already been won. (The title: “Goodbye, Mr Chaps”.) One non-marcher remarked: “I live in New York, and it's sort of like every day is Gay Pride Parade. I don't need this special day where I'm out of the closet.”

Perhaps it is no surprise that gays find a hip city like New York hospitable. But two sets of data suggest that America as a whole is becoming steadily more tolerant. First, opinion polls show that homophobia has receded almost as far as Homer Simpson's hairline. As recently as 1982, only 34% of Americans thought homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Now, 57% do. Since young Americans are far more relaxed about homosexuality than their elders—three-quarters of 18-34-year-olds think it is OK to be gay, whereas half of those over 55 think it is not—this trend is likely to continue. This year was also the first since Gallup started asking the question that a majority of Americans have not said that homosexual relations are morally wrong. And a hefty 89% Think that gays should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities. If that strikes you as no big deal, recall that a total ban on gays working for the federal government was repealed only in 1975.

Second, and more subtly, one can look at demography. Gary Gates, a Californian academic, has been mining census data to determine where gays live in America. He observes several trends. First, the number of openly gay households is growing five times faster than the population as a whole. The last full census, in 2000, counted nearly 600,000 same-sex couples. Five years later, the American Community Survey (in which the Census Bureau quizzes a statistically representative sample of 1.4m households) estimated that that number had increased by 30%, to 777,000. Mr Gates reckons the bulk of the increase is because as tolerance spreads, more gay couples are willing to be counted. The increase was most pronounced in the Midwest, with Wisconsin showing an 81% jump in the number of same-sex couples and Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and Indiana also among the ten
fastest-growing states in this respect.

What this means, perhaps, is that gay America is becoming more like Middle America. “Much of the stereotype around gays is a stereotype of urban white gay men,” says Mr Gates. “The gay community is becoming less like that, and more like the population in general.” Gay couples are still more likely than straight ones to live in cities, but the gap is smaller than popularly believed, and closing. In 1990, 92% of gay couples but only 77% of American households were in what the Census Bureau calls “urban clusters”. By 2000, the gay figure had fallen to 84% while the proportion for households in general had risen to 80%, a striking convergence

San Francisco is great if you are young, single and looking for a party. But if you want to settle down with a partner, the suburbs and the heartland beckon. Gays who have children—and a quarter of gay couples do—gravitate towards them for the same reasons that straight parents do: better schools, bigger gardens, peace and quiet.

This trend hasn't gone over well with some gay intellectuals and activists. As the Economist puts it, "the kind of gay activists who think you can't be authentically gay unless you are permanently in opposition to the mainstream find the prospect of gay assimilation appalling". Daniel Harris, in a 1997 book called The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, wrote:

By looking closely at the changes that have occurred in gay culture in the past few decades, I attempt to represent the process through which a culture with unique traditions and rituals is submerged into the melting pot, its distinguishing characteristics dissolving into the grey, flavorless gruel as its members are accepted by society at large.
Niall Lynch responded to Harris in a great article that argues for gay assimilation into "straight" society:

What Harris and his ilk fail to realize is that assimilation is the solution to many of the problems they identify in modern gay life. The gays who want to flee the ghetto for the suburbs are precisely the people who, like Harris, are sick and tired of a “community” whose sole values are a hot body, eternal youth and a fabulous wardrobe. It is their way of thumbing their noses at the Hunky Golightlies who hold sway in Boy's Town, and the mind-numbing superficiality of the culture these have created. In other words, assimilation is a sign of maturity among gay people, both individual and communal.

For the shocking truth about gay men is that they never shine more brightly than when they are in the company of heterosexuals. A gay man among heterosexuals is often witty, cultured, sensitive, engaging on all levels. But the minute gay men are alone together, the IQ suddenly plummets at least 500 points. Conversation ceases and the desperate posing and primping begins, the endless game of you're-not-hot-so-I-don't-have-to-talk-to-you. Ph.D's in art, philosophy and literature suddenly can speak of nothing beyond the gym, the bar or the bathhouse. Plato's cave becomes the Valley of the Dolls.

I'll say it loud and proud: We need assimilation to free us from slavery to our own oppressive social structures and sex roles.

Lastly, assimilation answers the original need created by growing up as gay people in a homophobic society. The pain we felt when we realized we were homosexual was the pain of separation from the culture and traditions that we were born into. We wanted to belong, not stand apart. The rage we feel at homophobia is rage at all it has kept us from, whether that is the religion of our people, the communal life of our neighborhood, or the vital traditions of our forebears. We were right to refuse the phony integration offered by the silence and shame of the closet. Our unrelenting campaign to force recognition of who we really are, without apologies, is entirely just. But it would be foolish for us to recoil from the world around us at the moment when it is finally beginning to see that we are in fact valuable members of any community. Having been involuntarily excluded by homophobia, we should not voluntarily exclude ourselves through heterophobia.

Since I do not believe that the gay sensibility is an accidental artifact of our oppression, I do not fear that assimilation will erode the sprightly spark that is our hallmark. Even in the very heart of the ghetto, where the only oppression we face comes from our friends, gay men still dress up in women's clothes and worship divas. All the “networking” opportunities in the world haven't emptied the leather bars. That won't change any time soon. But it needs to be recognized that we will have achieved true liberation only when we no longer have to justify our sexual orientation by carrying anyone else's moral baggage, whether that be Daniel Harris's aristocratic Marxist snobbery or Ralph Reed's puritanical Christian snobbery. We don't have to by gay and liberal or gay and free-market patriots in order to justify who we are.

Contrary to the fantasies of the Left and the Right, there is no necessary connection between homosexuality and morality or immorality. It is a sexual orientation, a pure capacity, nothing more. It can be deployed in the service of any lifestyle or ideology we choose. There are certainly good reasons for rejecting the materialism and banality of much of our culture, but homosexuality isn't one of them. The task of leading the examined life is a human burden, not a sexual one.

Mandatory prayers on all Iranian TV shows

This story is from the Daily Times of Pakistan :

All TV dramas in Iran to feature prayers

TEHRAN: The head of Iran’s state-run television has said all homegrown drama programmes should feature scenes showing characters praying or they will be denied airtime, the ILNA news agency reported on Monday. “In the current year, television productions that do not have prayer scenes will not be allowed to air,” said Ezatollah Zarghami. The new directive appears to apply to drama series and television films but it is not clear whether it also includes programmes such as game shows and sitcoms. Citing a scene in a popular Iranian series where a murder suspect is shown praying, Zarghami said: “Prayer scenes should not be confined to positive and leading characters, the elderly and the clean-living types.” He said children’s programmes should also seek to teach the young about praying. Zarghami took over two years ago, showing recent Hollywood films and controversial talk shows putting politicians and celebrities in the hot seat. Religion also plays a conspicuous role. Programming is interrupted for the broadcast of the daily prayers, newsreaders invoke God before each bulletin and there are frequent readings from the Quran. Officials have sought to make domestic television programmes more appealing in the past years to compete with satellite television channels which are banned in Iran but watched by many Iranians.