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)

Friday, April 30, 2010

What it means to be a libertarian

John Stossel in Reason magazine has written a quick guide to libertarianism: What Am I? Understanding what it means to be a libertarian. Here's an excerpt:
We know that conservatives want government to conserve traditional values. They say they're for limited government, but they're pro-drug war, pro-immigration restriction and anti-abortion, and they often support "nation-building."

And so-called liberals? They tend to be anti-gun and pro-choice on abortion. They favor big, powerful government—they say—to make life kinder for people.

By contrast, libertarians want government to leave people alone—in both the economic and personal spheres. Leave us free to pursue our hopes and dreams, as long as we don't hurt anybody else.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sustainable arugula isn't going to save the world

As the Liberals roll out their National Food Policy promising us a safe & sustainable food supply, and organic 100-mile diet fanatics salivate at the prospect of more government intervention in the food supply, it might help to read this article by Robert Paarlberg in Foreign Policy magazine. Here's a taste:
From Whole Foods recyclable cloth bags to Michelle Obama's organic White House garden, modern eco-foodies are full of good intentions. We want to save the planet. Help local farmers. Fight climate change -- and childhood obesity, too. But though it's certainly a good thing to be thinking about global welfare while chopping our certified organic onions, the hope that we can help others by changing our shopping and eating habits is being wildly oversold to Western consumers. Food has become an elite preoccupation in the West, ironically, just as the most effective ways to address hunger in poor countries have fallen out of fashion.


If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world.


Food grown organically -- that is, without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizers or pesticides -- is not an answer to the health and safety issues. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year published a study of 162 scientific papers from the past 50 years on the health benefits of organically grown foods and found no nutritional advantage over conventionally grown foods. According to the Mayo Clinic, "No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food."

Health professionals also reject the claim that organic food is safer to eat due to lower pesticide residues. Food and Drug Administration surveys have revealed that the highest dietary exposures to pesticide residues on foods in the United States are so trivial (less than one one-thousandth of a level that would cause toxicity) that the safety gains from buying organic are insignificant. Pesticide exposures remain a serious problem in the developing world, where farm chemical use is not as well regulated, yet even there they are more an occupational risk for unprotected farmworkers than a residue risk for food consumers.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some sensible thinking on Ontario's sex ed curriculum

In today's National Post, talk radio host John Moore has an editorial on the controversy surrounding Ontario's proposed sex education curriculum and Premier McGuinty's about-face after the deluge of complaints. I think a lot of the outrage is bordering on the hysterical, and Moore makes some points that I think are worth considering. Moore points out that
religious conservatives came out swinging. They were so eager to bolster their numbers that they welcomed conservative Muslims into the fold. So now the hijab is a good thing?
This story in the Globe and Mail elaborates:
Christians and Muslims in Ontario are united in their objections to the province’s new sex education curriculum.

Mentions of homosexuality as early as Grade 3 have raised objections from diverse groups and the participants in a school boycott on May 10 – aimed at putting pressure on Premier Dalton McGuinty to pull the new curriculum – will likely represent a cultural cross-section of the city.

“There’s a big reaction in Muslim community,” said Suad Aimad, president of Somali Parents for Education. “We believe basically that sex education may be taught by the parents to their children. It’s not public, it’s a private matter and that’s why I don’t think [sex] should be part of education, especially at such a young age.”
I'm sure there's a big reaction in the Muslim community, considering how tolerant Islamic fundamentalists are towards homosexuals. Islamic clerics in the Middle East engage in theological debates about the best way to punish gays: throwing them off tall buildings, flogging or torturing them. Do Christian groups in Ontario really want to make common cause with Somali Parents for Education on this issue, considering that homosexuality is illegal in Somalia and punishable by up to three years in prison, and is in fact subject to the death penalty in areas of the country governed by Sharia law? Since when do we look to Somalia - Somalia! - for advice on how to educate children in Ontario?

Aside from that, Moore points out that in some cases, critics are out of touch with the reality of life for teens in Ontario schools:
Many were astonished that the Premier seemed to know so little about the new sex ed package. But policy generally does not originate with the leader, nor even with his cabinet. The regime was formulated over a period of years by bureaucrats consulting with thousands of sex and learning experts, kids, teachers, parents and religious leaders. That's right, there was a nun involved in producing what would be decried as a devious attack on faith.

The regime mentions gays and lesbians because they can legally marry in Canada and because your kids go to school with a child who has two mommies. It discusses masturbation because your kid might masturbate and then cry himself to sleep because he thinks it's going to make him sick. It warns against the perils of oral and anal sex because around the age of 12 some smooth operator is going to tell your daughter she can swing with the cool crowd and stay a virgin if she yields on either one. Or maybe the smooth talker is your son.

The new program was developed for a modern world where kids now spend more time on the Internet and exchanging text messages than they do talking to people face to face. Conservatives are fooling themselves if they think their kids aren't Twittering and Googling words like "anal", "oral" and "masturbation." Try it yourself and see what comes up. Then get your computer scrubbed.

When parents truly realize what their kids are up to these days, they may find themselves wishing for the simplicity of an educator who doesn't blush at the word "vagina" working from a professionally developed pedagogy in an old-fashioned class room.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Life among the homophobes

I wasn't going to post on the Frank Graves/EKOS imbroglio since so many other bloggers have done the heavy lifting already, but Joanne at Blue Like You wrote this comment on her post about the incident that made me think I should say something:
Riley, I think my friend Eric should start that pushback against Graves.
Joanne was responding to this comment in which Riley Hennessey says
This would be a great time for blogs like yourself to prove Graves wrong. The Liberals and Graves (and the media right now) are trying to portray the party in a certain way, ie intolerant and old-age.

I think it is up to blogs like this to stand up and say that is ridiculous. As far as I know, the Conservative Party is a tolerant, open party which welcomes everyone into the fold. For me, the Conservative Party needs to do a better job marketing its ideas to a younger generation. A lot of those ideas (deficit reduction, new concepts for health care delivery, nationalism, smaller government, banking reform, infrastructure investments, post-secondary education reform) all are important for the future and I think are applicable to people in their 20’s and 30’s who don’t want a mess of a country in 20 years time.
The issue, of course, is the interview EKOS pollster Frank Graves gave to the Globe & Mail in which he stated
I do believe, and this gets more subtle, that there is a higher incidence of people who are less tolerant to homosexuals and more wary of other races, within the Conservative Party. I can demonstrate that empirically.

That does not mean that Conservatives or Albertans are homophobic or xenophobic, but it does mean that many people, and more people statistically that have those points of view, end up in that party than in other places. That may be a statement that people don’t want to hear, but it’s empirically accurate and has been for a long time.
For what its worth, here are my experiences as a gay Conservative supporter and blogger. I've been a Conservative for most of my adult life, and I've been associated with Blogging Tories for four years now. I haven't hesitated to post items on this blog about topics that supposedly get the "less tolerant" Tories agitated: gay marriage, gays in politics, Pride parades, you name it. I don't have a high traffic blog, but my experience with fellow Conservative readers has been by and large pleasant - many disagree with me on issues like gay marriage but enjoy discussing them with me and are usually intelligent and respectful. I regularly comment on gay issues in other Conservative blogs and they almost always welcome my input and appreciate the perspective I bring to the debate. I think I've even changed the minds of some fellow Conservatives whom I have engaged in discussion because they appreciate that, aside from our differences, we do have much in common. I get the odd anonymous commenter who is a little unhinged, but that's nothing compared to the vitriol I get from Liberal blowhards who regularly refer to me as a wanker or a douchebag. A gay Liberal blogger once called me a "gay stooge" and a "happy tap-dancing negro", and another suggested that I didn't believe in evolution. (I would provide links but I don't want to drive any traffic their way.)

I consider myself a libertarian conservative, and I'm the first person to admit that the Conservative Party of Canada is not a perfect fit for libertarians or for gays, but no party is. As I posted here, the Liberal Party has homophobes in its midst (including MPs and former Cabinet ministers), but it is unquestioningly (and sometimes undeservedly) assumed that the Liberal Party always has the gay community's best interests at heart.

The Conservative Party of Canada is, to use the old cliche, a big tent. The central tenets of the conservative movement - the ones that all conservatives, socons, neocons & libertarians share - have broad cross-cultural appeal. Small government, lower taxation, individual rights & responsibility, the rule of law and the promotion of democracy and the free market, all are legitimate policy stances that are independent of race or sexual orientation. Gays in particular should be able to easily embrace a movement that values individual liberty and a minimum of state intervention in the lives of its citizens, since we have suffered at the hands of agents of the state for centuries. It is the Liberal Party that has been pushing divisive identity politics for decades, encouraging the culture of victimhood and dependence on an intrusive nanny state, all the while taking the support of ethnic groups and gay organizations for granted, assuming that they would never bite the hand that feeds them.

Conservatives by nature are wary of change. We believe that society's traditions and institutions represent a valuable cultural heritage and this heritage should not be tinkered with unless there's a compelling reason. However that doesn't mean we oppose ALL change. Doubts about gay marriage and unfettered immigration, for example, don't automatically imply that one is a homophobe or racist; more often it indicates concern for the impact of these policies and a desire for a frank debate and slow, well-thought-out action if action is needed. We believe that individuals are best left to themselves to make decisions and we are naturally skeptical of the intervention of government, but that doesn't mean we oppose government action because we're racist, bigoted or close-minded. We just need a lot of convincing that we're going to be better off after we've given up some of our liberty to a distant bureaucracy that thinks it knows what's best for us.

I'm not going to deny that there are homophobes and racists who call themselves Conservatives, but they form a small minority which is not welcome in the main stream of the conservative movement and does not represent the opinions of the vast majority of the Conservative rank and file. Furthermore, there are racists and homophobes who call themselves Liberals and New Democrats as well - I've met some of them - and most people would resist suggesting that they represent their respective parties.

I am a gay Conservative, and I wouldn't continue to support the Conservative Party of Canada or blog at Blogging Tories if I didn't feel welcome.

The truth about GM's bailout repayment

Shikha Dalmia, writing in Forbes Magazine, debunks GM's recent claim that they have repaid the US & Canadian governments "in full, with interest, years ahead of schedule" for their bailouts last summer:
Uncle Sam gave GM $49.5 billion last summer in aid to finance its bankruptcy. (If it hadn't, the company, which couldn't raise this kind of money from private lenders, would have been forced into liquidation, its assets sold for scrap.) So when Mr. Whitacre publishes a column with the headline, "The GM Bailout: Paid Back in Full," most ordinary mortals unfamiliar with bailout minutia would assume that he is alluding to the entire $49.5 billion. That, however, is far from the case.

Because a loan of such a huge amount would have been politically controversial, the Obama administration handed GM only $6.7 billion as a pure loan. (It asked for only a 7% interest rate--a very sweet deal considering that GM bonds at that time were trading below junk level.) The vast bulk of the bailout money was transferred to GM through the purchase of 60.8% equity stake in the company--arguably an even worse deal for taxpayers than the loan, given that the equity position requires them to bear the risk of the investment without any guaranteed return. (The Canadian government likewise gave GM $1.4 billion as a pure loan, and another $8.1 billion for an 11.7% equity stake. The U.S. and Canadian government together own 72.5% of the company.)

But when Mr. Whitacre says GM has paid back the bailout money in full, he means not the entire $49.5 billion--the loan and the equity. In fact, he avoids all mention of that figure in his column. He means only the $6.7 billion loan amount.

But wait! Even that's not the full story given that GM, which has not yet broken even, much less turned a profit, can't pay even this puny amount from its own earnings.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yann Martel gets taken to the woodshed

In today's National Post, Mark Medley reports on a sound spanking delivered to Booker Prize winner Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi:
The review spread across Twitter like wildfire. On April 12 at 5:57 p.m. the noted literary blogger Edward Champion posted a link to his evisceration of Yann Martel's new novel, Beatrice and Virgil. Under the headline "Why Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil is the Worst Book of the Decade," Mr. Champion exhausted some 2,400 words surgically picking the novel apart.

It was, he wrote, a book "that contains a moral vision less sophisticated than the dribbling one might encounter from a human vegetable." And in one of the critique's more restrained passages, he compared the reading experience to "walking the Bataan Death March."
This is the same Yann Martel who, miffed at being snubbed at a Canada Council reception on Parliament Hill by the knuckle-dragging Conservative government, has taken it upon himself to deliver an education in culture to our supposedly semi-literate Prime Minister by sending him a book every two weeks and writing about it on his website, What is Stephen Harper reading?:
The Prime Minister did not speak during our brief tribute, certainly not. I don’t think he even looked up. The snarling business of Question Period having just ended, he was shuffling papers. I tried to bring him close to me with my eyes.Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts.But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness.

For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.
This is the same Yann Martel who acted like a teenage girl at a Jonas Brothers concert when he got a fan letter from Barack Obama (who according to Martel is the anti-Harper):
In February, Martel received an envelope from the White House.

It contained a quick two paragraph note: “My daughter and I just finished reading Life of Pi together. Both of us agreed we prefer the story with animals. It is a lovely book — an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling. Thank you.”

It was signed Barack Obama.

“It blows me away,” said Martel. “There’s nothing [Obama] can gain from it politically.”


While he’s not sure Obama’s response to Life of Pi will influence Canada’s leader, Martel does believe the note creates a tidy comparison between the two.

“I don’t think it’s going to make any difference, but it’s startling to the extent which it sets up a contrast between Stephen Harper and Barack Obama,” he said. “Not only does the man know how to speak, with an oratory that has inspired not only the U.S. but the world ... he reads.”
So what is all the fuss about Martel's new book, Beatrice and Virgil? I haven't read it, but based on this plot description from the National Post, one wonders what possibly could have gone wrong?
The novel concerns a writer named Henry, who at the book's outset is planning on writing a flip book about the Holocaust. His publishers reject the idea--something that happened to Mr. Martel in real life -- and, dejected, he flees to an unnamed city, where he meets a taxidermist who is writing a play about the Holocaust about a donkey named Beatrice and a howler monkey named Virgil --which did not happen to Mr. Martel in real life.
I'll leave it to Edward Champion to criticize Martel's new novel. In his blog he answers the question Why Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil is the Worst Book of the Decade. You have to read the whole thing to believe it, but here's a taste:
There comes a rare time — perhaps once every ten or fifteen years — when you read a book with such dreadful syntax, without even a fiber of merit, so libertine in the manner it insults the audience, and so producing the literary equivalent to being completely submerged into a vat of shit, that the reader, having embarked on the fetid journey, begins to pine for a brutal throng of vigilantes to chop off the author’s hands and prevent the hopeless hack from ever holding a pen or setting foot near a laptop again.

Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil is such a tome. And Martel himself is such an author. Yes, last year, I spoke considerable ill of Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones. But while Mr. Littell is a dreadful writer, I did not harbor retributive fantasies. I merely screamed out in pain and spent most of the day on the floor. Mr. Martel, however, is an altogether different specimen. Here we have a man who has written a book that is more crudely formed than a schoolboy’s primer, that contains a moral vision less sophisticated than the dribbling one might encounter from a human vegetable. And Beatrice and Virgil deserves to be severely reviled because this book, which should not have even been permitted even the fourth-class method of self-publication, earned its bumpkin author a six figure sum through indolence and incompetence. When I finished reading this book, I threw it with such force against the wall that a hairline crack formed in the plaster. And even if you have the basest literary taste (no judgment from me, I assure you), that is the kind of thing that this book will do to you. This book will fill you with such vileness that you will find yourself instantly ruminating about what an AK-47 might be able to do when fired in the right direction. And I contend that when an author conjures up such violent fantasies, he should hang up his hat and call it quits for good. Even when he has won, as Mr. Martel has, the Booker Prize.
If I were Prime Minister Harper, I would send a little note to Mr. Martel and politely state that, "while I found your novel a little tedious, I in no way condone vigilante action to cut off your hands. PS - love your website."

"Most gay men have realised that the Oppressed Victimhood party is totally over"

James Delingpole at the Spectator wonders why so many of his right-wing friends are gay:
Personally I blame Ken Livingstone. Remember in his 1980s GLC days how shamelessly he courted the pink vote with his taxpayer-funded gay parades and lavish grants to any organisation run by crop-headed women with dungarees and CND badges? Well that all ended when he worked out there was more electoral mileage in shamelessly playing up to the prejudices of his Islamist constituents instead. And clearly, much as Ken might have liked it, you can’t court both minorities at the same time: not when one of them thinks the only suitable fate for the other one is to be thrown off a high rock, hanged from a crane or buried under a wall.

Maybe there’s some connection between these socio-political shifting tides and the fact that the majority of my most deeply sound right-wing friends (though not, I don’t think, my new mate Lord Tebbit) are gay. Probably not: as far as I know they were all born right-wing, not made. Then again, when I put my ‘Are gays turning more right-wing?’ hypothesis to one of them, he thought there was definitely something in it. ‘Because we have one less layer of skin, we’re more sensitive to the way the wind’s blowing,’ he said.

Not all the gay men I know are quite with the programme, yet. My old mucker Stephen Fry has yet to send me any emails saying: ‘Stap me vittals, Jimbo, you are so right about everything — and don’t I half feel a silly billy for having doubted your politics all these years.’ And obviously, there’s no hope whatsoever for the impossible Johann Hari who, even as the wall is pushed on top of him, will be squealing with his last breath that it’s all the fault of Western imperialism and white heterosexist Islamophobia. Generally, though, I think even the most obtuse homosexual male has realised that the Oppressed Victimhood party is, like, so totally over.

But how can this be when — anecdotally, at least, there are no official figures — gay bashing is on the up? This is what Nicholas De Jongh disingenuously asked in the Evening Standard the other week, ignoring the quite enormously vast elephant sitting in the middle of his dressing room. Hmmm, now let’s see. Is this surge in homophobia the result of a glut of English literature graduates reacting badly to Maurice? Or maybe, part of the great Elton John backlash? An increase in testosterone in the drinking water supply? The shrinking of the Royal Navy? Nicholas Boles?

No wait. Just a theory, this. I don’t want to be the second Speccie writer this year to be hauled up before the PCC kangaroo court but I wonder — might it be that there are certain ‘communities’ in Britain that believe the only good ‘batty boy’ is a dead ‘batty boy’? And certain other ‘communities’ where at their, ahem, places of worship, preachers project images of homosexual men onto screens in an amusing game they call ‘Spot the Fag’, while others, more forthright, urge their flocks simply to execute them. Could it be that an unfortunate side effect of New Labour’s otherwise wondrously enlightened policies on immigration and multiculturalism is that one of its hitherto most loyal constituencies has had to be thrown to the wolves?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dinner and a rant

I went out for dinner last weekend with some acquaintances to a fancy restaurant in Prince Edward County, not too far from where I live. For those of you not familiar with the area, it is in Eastern Ontario about a two-hour drive from Toronto, and is THE hot weekend getaway destination for wealthy urban professionals with self-professed refined tastes. Niagara-on-the-lake is SO twentieth century - Picton is where it's at in the new millenium. Artisan wineries and organic goat cheese producers are sprouting in "the County" like chanterelle mushrooms after a spring rain, and high-end restaurants are crowding out the donut shops in previously sleepy burgs like Bloomfield and Wellington. Celebrity Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy has a weekend place in the County, as do various CBC celebrities like Cynthia Dale and Sonia Smits. The local intelligentsia has a love-hate relationship with the weekend visitors - the cachet that all the attention brings is welcome and it's a lot easier to get kalamata olives and arugula in the IGA now, but people lament the fact that the County is now so hip that's it's harder to brag to outsiders about "this cute little cheese shop that only we locals know about".

There are undoubtedly some fine dining establishments in the County, but visiting them is sometimes a bit of a culture clash as rural Ontario meets Rosedale - locals can have a tough time criticizing this alien cuisine for fear of looking like hicks. So, I'm going to come right out and say it - sometimes the Emperor has no clothes, and if enervated Toronto yuppies eat like this when they venture out into the wilds of the Annex, I fear for the future of this country.

I had "beef rib two ways", which was described on the menu as "braised beef ribs, roast ribeye, roast shallots & horseradish potato." The plate arrived with a piece of ribeye the size of a two-dollar coin resting on a tiny bed of mashed potatoes. The ribs had been cleverly disguised; the helpful waiter explained that they had been "deconstructed", which meant that the meat was already removed from the bone and put in a little pile, also the size of a two-dollar coin, but covered with a thin slice of goat cheese. I thought maybe he had brought the appetizer by mistake, but no - that was the whole meal. It was washed down with a $12 glass of local red wine.

Dessert was "rhubarb honey cake with ginger ice cream". It arrived - a piece of non-descript cake about the size of an Oreo cookie, drizzled with pureed rhubarb and accompanied by a scoop of ice cream about as big as a ping pong ball. The total cost of the meal was $60, which could probably have kept a small African village alive for a month (unlike the miniscule portions of food). Is this what hipsters in Toronto eat all the time? No wonder the Liberals have a strangle-hold on the place - the diet is affecting people's judgement. I was so hungry after dinner that I stopped at Tim Horton's on the way home.

The meal, though, was second only to the company. I sat at a table for four with three highly-educated professionals, all of whom are naive left-wing flakes. The two women at the table styled themselves "feminists" but were in fact too shallow and idiotic to argue anything from a coherent feminist perspective outside of parroting their Judy Rebick talking-points. While complaining that the teaching of English in high schools and universities in Canada is exclusively done from a "white male European perspective", one woman stated that, while studying biology at York University in the late 80s, she had wanted to take a few English courses on the side and was shocked, SHOCKED, to find that the only courses available were on Shakespeare. At that point I roused myself and said "I don't believe you. Are you trying to tell me that you attended the second-largest university in Canada in the late 1980s and the entire English program was Shakespeare?" She insisted that that was the case, at which I replied "nonsense". I'm fairly sure she could have MAJORED in third-world lesbian Marxist post-colonial literature-of-colour at York in the 80s if she had really wanted to.

At this point the second woman chimed in with her observation that the study of western music was also done exclusively from a dead white male European perspective, and that when she had studied classical music there hadn't been a single female composer in the classical curriculum. I challenged her to name one who was worthy of being included in the pantheon with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Her response? Hildegard von Bingen. Groan - I should have expected that. In case you're not familiar with her, Hildegard von Bingen was a 12th Century Benedictine abbess who was a noted theologian who also wrote liturgical music. She was "rediscovered" a few years ago and is something of a fetish among politically-correct classical music lovers. I argued that, while pleasant, her music was not in the same league as the dead white males, and she was only significant because of the extreme rarity of female composers from the time. (To be fair, I also argued that that didn't mean that women in general weren't capable of composing music, but that one had to consider the culture in which most women weren't allowed to do so - but that wasn't an excuse to retroactively elevate mediocre talents to the canon along with the dead white male geniuses.)

She also went on at length about some 20th century female composer, whose name I have forgotten (probably because I'm a white male who doesn't WANT to remember), who was apparently brilliant but undeservedly obscure. "You know" she said, "she was Aaron Copeland's music teacher!" I replied that surely that didn't mean that she was automatically more talented than Aaron Copeland himself? Even Einstein had a math teacher at some point, after all. That then morphed into a discussion about visual arts and architecture, in which I made the same basic points and challenged the women present to name a female painter or architect before the twentieth century who was the equal of Michelangelo or Christopher Wren but was stifled by The Man. I also made the case that since the late 20th century there are essentially no obstacles to women in literature or the arts, and consequently many legitimately talented women have risen to the peaks of their crafts - take a look at contemporary Canadian literature, which is basically dominated by women. This caused prodigious hemming and hawing, because it didn't fit the thesis that women are still downtrodden victims of white male patriarchy. Tell it to Margaret Atwood, sister. Fortunately, someone from another table interrupted at this point and the conversation veered off in a safe direction for the rest of the evening.

I usually keep my mouth shut at things like this because I know I'm not surrounded by like-minded individuals, but that $12 glass of wine must have really loosened me up, and when one is surrounded by such culinary and intellectual stimulation, one does have a tendency to pontificate.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The danger of science denial

In this 16 minute video of his recent TED lecture Michael Specter, author of the book Denialism, asks "why we have increasingly begun to fear scientific advances instead of embracing them":
Vaccine-autism claims, "Frankenfood" bans, the herbal cure craze: All point to the public's growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter. He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"There's nothing inherently oxymoronic in a gay conservative"

James Kirchick, writing in The Advocate, argues that "politically right-of-center men and women make up a growing yet habitually ignored gay minority ... [and] now more than ever, their voices need to be heard." An excerpt:
Though it may seem paradoxical, the “gay agenda” today is fundamentally conservative. Neither gay activists nor mainstream conservatives will be happy to admit this, of course. Those in the conservative movement resistant to making peace with the main criteria of this program—the extension of civil marriage rights, the right to serve openly in the military, the right to adopt children, and the acceptance of homosexuality itself as a benign, naturally occurring feature of humanity—continue to think of the gay rights movement as it was in its heyday of the immediate post-Stonewall era. They see gay people as threats to the traditional American family structure and social order, which, to be fair, most of the prominent gay activists at the time were. Many had no interest in monogamous marriage, which they viewed as patriarchal and misogynist.

But today, there are no calls for free love or the sanctifying of bathhouses as battlegrounds for civil rights. The young gay activists protesting today do so in order to get married. They want to join a bedrock institution, not tear it apart. In this, they are taking up the mantle of the men and women who decided they had had enough harassment at the hands of the New York City police department. Though the modern gay rights movement was considered part of the counterculture, which in most respects it once was, the spark that lit its flame was a call to one of the most basic constitutional principles: freedom of association.

The same conservative impulses characterize the push for open service in the military. In the 1960s and 1970s some gay activists were rooting for a Vietcong victory and voyaging to Cuba to help realize Fidel Castro’s communist revolution. Today, a major demand of the country’s most prominent gay groups is the right to join the U.S. military. Such a position would be unimaginable to many of the gay activists of the early years, who, with some notable exceptions, were down-the-line hard leftists.

It is for these reasons that there is no conflict between the tenets of conservatism—at least philosophically—and a “progressive” understanding of homosexuality. It is, rather, certain critical constituencies within the conservative movement that have made that designation so difficult for many to comprehend and perhaps harder for its designees to bear. But there’s nothing inherently oxymoronic in a gay conservative. There is no reason why one’s sexual and romantic attraction to members of the same sex should render one predisposed to a left-wing view about the power of public employee unions or late-term abortion or affirmative action. Indeed, one could even argue, and some gay conservatives have, that on the latter two questions, being gay informs a right-of-center disposition. What will gay rights leaders have to say about abortion if medical advancements bring about the ability to discern a gay gene in fetuses? And while the prospect of employment and admissions preferences for sexual minorities may today seem like a wild idea (though not really so wild given the left-wing tilt of contemporary academia), does a realistic survey of affirmative action and the controversy it has caused on campus and in the workplace instill optimism for those who wish to see gay people fully integrated in society?

(HT: BlogCabin)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Will Toronto stand up to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid?

In an editorial in today's paper, The National Post wonders if the City of Toronto will actually cut the $200 000 it donates annually to the city's Gay Pride Parade organizers if they do not ban groups like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid:
Toronto's gay Pride Parade is in danger of losing the nearly $200,000 it receives annually from the city because it cannot bring itself to impose any standards whatever on the groups that enter floats and demonstrations. Specifically, it cannot even bring itself to ban hateful symbols that offend community standards and may even violate the Criminal Code.

That the parade and the week-long events that surround it have become mainstream can be seen in the crowds it attracts -- nearly half a million annually, including tens of thousands of families -- and in the fact that it has been named the country's top festival three times by the Canadian event industry, most recently in 2009.

What was once a ramshackle collection of flamboyant gays and lesbians marching almost unnoticed through downtown Toronto has become one of North America's largest (and slickest) street parties -- so large and slick, in fact, that corporate sponsors now line up to partner with the organizing committee. The chaps and jockstraps, feather boas and transvestite costumes have been almost overwhelmed by unremarkable, middle-class gays, lesbians and transgendered persons, plus straight supporters of all three.

However, last year, the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), chose to sport tshirts with swastikas while they ambled down the street chanting "Fist by Fist, Blow by Blow, Apartheid State, Has Got to Go."

Leaders of QuAIA insist their members' shirts featured the Nazi symbol superimposed by a circle with a line through it -- a sometimes anti-Nazi symbol. The video evidence is inconclusive; if there were circles with lines, they were fainter than the swastikas they were meant to cover, which leaves reasonable people to conclude the hateful sign of genocide was what the crowd was truly intended to see.

But the larger point is why is there any need to protest Israel's treatment of Palestinians, at all, at a taxpayer-funded celebration of inclusion and rights for gays? Certainly, hatred of Israel cannot have anything to do with a legitimate campaign for gay rights: Israel stands out as the only country in the Middle East where gay rights are respected on a par with other Western nations. Gay Pride rallies, for instance, are common in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities -- while the staging of such events in the Palestinian territories or any other part of the Arab world would almost certainly end in a bloodbath of dead gay paraders. If organizers cannot bring themselves to ensure participants keep their displays "on message," why should municipal, provincial or federal taxpayers have an obligation to foot the bill?

Last year Pride Toronto received $175,000 from Toronto City Council, not including $85,000 for extra police and $81,000 to have civic workers clean up the streets afterwards.

Toronto has stringent anti-hate rules for groups seeking city grants. In order to keep its event within those guidelines, parade organizers last month announced that all symbols and signage from participants would henceforth have to pass muster with an ethics committee.

That seemed sensible: If groups at multicultural festivals or floats in local rodeo parades suddenly began sporting swastikas or bed sheets with eyeholes, their funding would quickly dry up and rightly so.

After an uproar from the city's queer community, though, organizers backed down and withdrew their new vetting policy. Still it is not clear whether city council will be taking away the funding they would quickly remove from most other organizations under similar circumstances. So why the kid-glove treatment for Toronto's gay community?

Let participants in the parade say whatever they wish. But if they insist on saying or doing hateful things, let them do it on their own dime.

Cows & global warming

"The science is settled" on the issue of anthropogenic global warming, said Al Gore to the US Congress in 2007. You scientists need to get your shit together, and until you do, don't tell us the world is coming to an end unless we voluntarily cripple the economies of the developed world.

Compare and contrast:

Cow 'emissions' more damaging to planet than CO2 from cars
The Independent, Dec 10 2006

Livestock could actually be good for the environment according to a new study that found grazing cows or sheep can cut emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas.
The Telegraph, Apr 8 2010

Friday, April 02, 2010

"New York's got the Statue of Liberty; London's going to get ..."

the shaft? Check out this absolutely hideous structure that is going to be built in London for the 2012 Olympics. Called the ArcelorMittel Orbit and standing at 115 meters tall, it will be a permanent fixture of the London skyline after the games end.

London's mayor Boris Johnson is beaming with pride:
''Long after the Games are over, our aim is to have a stunning spectacle in east London that will be recognised around the world," Mr Johnson said.

"[Artist] Anish Kapoor's inspired art work will truly encapsulate the energy and spirit of London during the Games and, as such, will become the perfect iconic cultural legacy."

Stunning spectacle is right. I know that the Eiffel Tower had its critics when it was built, but come on - this thing is ridiculous. Under no stretch of the imagination can it be considered beautiful - in fact it is deliberately, in-your-face ugly. It's only redeeming feature is the gravity-defying engineering that is going to be needed to keep it upright. When I look at it, I'm reminded of a scale model of someone's small intestine, or maybe two earthworms fucking. Or maybe the sad decline of Britain as a cultural power. In the crypt under St. Paul's Cathedral, Christopher Wren is spinning like a top.

(HT: Towleroad)