Saturday, January 28, 2017

Changing Education Curriculum

The Alberta Government kicked off a major review and overhaul of the province's school curricula in June of 2016.  Given that large tracts of the curricula haven't been reviewed or changed in a very long time, this seems to be a perfectly reasonable task for any government to undertake.

The current curriculum used by students is between eight and 30 years old. Some material predates the introduction of the internet, Eggen noted.. "The world is changing," he said. "We know that the 21st century career is involving using critical thinking skills to be able to process information, to access it and make evaluations on those higher levels."
 Ever since then, the right wing in this province has been losing their minds over what they call an "ideological" rewrite of curriculum.  PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney has been particularly vocal about this as well - calling it "ideological" and "social engineering".

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

About That 40% Suicide Attempt Rate

Over at a rabidly anti-transgender blog called "4th Wave Now" we find the following article which attempts to debunk the 40% suicide rate that several iterations of the US Transgender Survey have found.  The argument largely seems to be that the US Transgender Survey is "flawed", and therefore we shouldn't consider its findings legitimate.

Let's be clear, measuring suicidality isn't the primary focus of the US Transgender Survey's design.  In fact the question is incidental, primarily intended to give some insight into the consequences of stigma, discrimination and minority stress rather than to evaluate the overall risk of suicidal behaviour within the community.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The Ethics of Wikileaks

Wikileaks, and other information repositories like it, raises some interesting ethical problems.

To date, Wikileaks has pretty much taken a wholesale approach to the information that comes its way - it all gets published regardless of its validity, relevance or timeliness.  Many have applauded this, especially with bulk leak of government documents in the past which have revealed some less than savoury goings-on in various departments of government that we might not otherwise have gotten wind of.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The ACP's Latest Transphobic Screed

Well ... I will give the American College of Pediatricians  a little bit of credit.  Their previous position paper on transgender children was astonishingly vacant of references to literature.  They've posted a new one, which actually has some references in it.  However, as one might expect, it's an exercise in mental gymnastics to go through it, because they haven't used the literature properly. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

On The Role Of Police

This past weekend, Calgary's Police force were caught beating a man on video.  This isn't an overreach on the scope of those that we have seen in the US of late - the victim still walked away from it.  That's the good news.

The bad news is that this represents exactly the same kind of problem.  Namely that the police believe that their role is now to mete out retribution for whatever perceived slight may have happened in the seconds or minutes before the video was recorded.

On the video, we see 2 police officers restraining the man, while the third starts punching him repeatedly in the face.  If this had been 3 civilians, all three would now be facing charges for assault at the very least.  Instead, on CBC this morning, I got to listen to someone defending the police actions as "normal procedure".  Since when did beating the tar out of a restrained suspect become normal procedure?

We vest an enormous amount of authority in our police, and with that should come responsibility to act in a far more responsible manner than this.  Once they have the person restrained (and I don't know how you could argue that he wasn't restrained with two officers holding him down), that's where it should stop.

In some respects this is predictable.  Growing up, the motto on the side of police cruisers was usually something along the lines of "To Serve and Protect".  Today, we have "Pride, Courage, Vigilance" emblazoned on the side.  The older motto was outward looking, and reflected the role of the police as peacekeepers and protectors of the public.  The new motto is inward looking, and places the police apart from the public that they are responsible to.

There is a concept in Canadian law of "reasonable force".  Yes, we need to make allowance for the fact that the police on occasion may have cause to use more force than the average citizen on the street.  However, there must be limits.  Once the suspect is restrained, it should end there.  Period.

Telling me that what was in that video is "standard procedure" is simply telling me that "standard procedure" needs to change.  The police are a civilian force, whose role it is to bring those who breach the peace to justice.  They are not the arbiters of right and wrong, nor are they vested with the authority to mete out punishment because they're pissed off with a suspect.

Citizens should not live in fear of the police, and yet incidents like this where it is quite unambiguous that they are acting like the very street thugs that they supposedly protect us from make them appear to be a greater threat.  

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Bishops and Reality

Seldom do Alberta's Bishops allow reality to interfere with their preconceived ideas.  In fact, where Calgary's Bishop Henry is concerned, the idea of reality seems to exist in another dimension entirely where LGBT rights are concerned.  In his latest tirade, carrying the grandiose title "TOTALITARIANISM IN ALBERTA IV", is so profoundly riddle with ignorance, hyperbole and outright paranoid thoughts that it deserves a more detailed tearing down.  
Despite the differing signage, ranging from “Flush Bill 10” to “Everyone Can Pee,” the issues are not just about bathrooms, plumbing and urination, parental rights, safety of children, how people feel, GSAs and an imperfect Bill 10. What is at stake is the very order of creation. (emphasis added)
Apparently, protecting LGBT youth in Alberta schools is now such a profound threat to the Bishop that it now represents an existential threat to the world itself!  Wow ... I had no idea that LGBT, and in particular Trans, kids were so powerful.
Mr. Eggen's guiding principle for best practices is: “self-identification is the sole measure of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” This foundational statement is simply assumed to be true and no evidence is offered to substantiate the claim.

Such subjectivity is ever expansive and morally problematic. LGBT has now swelled to LGBTTQQIAAP2S. ... The newest addition is the “2S” which denotes being two-spirited, a term used for one who does not fit into the male/female binary. Some have even added “BDSM” for those into bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism.
Oh yes, the dreaded "slippery slope" argument.  Of course recognizing that human sexuality and expression is far more diverse than the simple male/female missionary model that the Bishop seems so hung up on would collapse - a reality that most of us have figured out the hard way.
However, facts, not ideology, determine reality. On April 6, 2016, the American College of Pediatricians, representing more than a hundred pediatricians, issued an important statement concerning gender ideology ... The College’s statement meshes perfectly with biblical and theological truths.
 Let's look at this for a moment.  "Biblical and theological truths" is a key phrase in here.  Let me be abundantly clear about something.  In spite of the Bishop's protestations, we are not talking about biblical or theological notions of truth here.  Bill 10 and the guidelines that came down earlier this year are not about those issues at all - they are about protecting children and creating a safe environment for them.  For all that the Bishop may wish to blather on about "biblical truth", the fact is that he is miles offside here, because there is clear evidence that providing safe, secure environments that acknowledge the realities of LGBT youth provide better outcomes for their education.  (There's a lot more like this)  From the pulpit, the Bishop is free to spout whatever he wishes, but when it comes to objective realities, the facts contradict everything he is saying.

Pope Francis, “the who am I to judge” Pope, has not minced his words: “the gender ideology is demonic.” He includes gender theory among the fundamental dangers of our era, with the same threatening potential as nuclear weapons and gene manipulation and describes it as an attitude with which man creates a new sin that is directed against God the Creator.
I love this.  The political right wing has started to use the language of "gender ideology" in its attacks on gender minorities.  Seriously?  Lovely attempt at trying to obfuscate the discussion by inventing terminology.  Rather than admitting that they are objecting to equality rights for transgender people (which means you have to admit that you are advocating for discriminatory practices), the Bishop borrows a meaningless piece of verbiage and uses it hoping that we won't notice the sleight of hand.
“Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension to cancel out sexual differences because one no longer know how to deal with it.”
Really?  I wonder if either the Bishop or the Pope realize that most transgender people experience  significant levels of dysphoria from the outset?  That for some, the only option for a viable life is to transition?  Many spend years trying desperately to "accept" the lot that they have been given, only to find that they are perpetually unable to do so.  It isn't merely "accepting their bodies", most have struggled for years to achieve that, and failed.

Bishop Henry might want to actually get to know the realities that transgender people face, the struggles of their lives and how his hostility to them affects their lives before making grandiose pronouncements about how they should be "treated" in his judgment.  

Friday, April 01, 2016

A Lament For Toyota

My first drivable car was a 1972 Toyota Celica.  I was all of sixteen or so when I bought it, and it was near the end of its useful life.  Was it the best car ever made?  No, but it had something that I haven't seen in a car from Toyota in decades.  It was a "cut above" the rest of the Toyota line from its day - a jazzy little coupe that performed just a bit better on the road than its peers.  

By the time the 1990s came to a close, Toyota had lost the program.  The Celica wasn't even recognizable from its roots.  What had been a good, fun little car to drive had become a harsh driving vehicle that was aimed at the "boy racer crowd".  That was never the Celica's market.  Toyota had killed the Supra some years previously by trying to make it a "Porsche-killer" - again, bending to the demands of the few willing to pony up big money for what ultimately turned out to be a great performing car that nobody else wanted.  

Today, I look through the Toyota product line and I see nothing that I want.  The cars are at best bland and uninspiring, and I want neither a truck or an SUV at this point in my life.  There is no "halo car" in the lineup.  There is no car that is slightly impractical, but compelling in other ways.  The FR-S is close, but let's face it, design-wise the thing is about as soulless as the rest of the lineup.  The Celica used to be the car that Toyota used to show off its design skills.  It was always a little ahead of the rest of the lineup, and that made it appealing (in part).  It was the car that had some "soul" among a lineup of otherwise competent, but unexciting options.  

The Celica appealed to two groups of people - young people with only occasional need for a back seat, who wanted a car that was both practical and fun, but weren't looking for the "pure performance" ride, and people whose children were teenagers, and they were seeking something both fun and elegant.  The Supra, introduced in 1980 as a sub-variety of the Celica, finished the line by providing an aspirational model that was graceful, and was a great highway touring car with long legs that would eat up the miles through the mountains with ease.  

Up until the 1989 restyle, the Celica was always a "bit more fun" than other offerings in Toyota's lineup.  The 1989 version sadly was little more than a slightly heavier version of its predecessors, with almost identical powertrains.  Most people kind of yawned at it, and wondered where it fit in Toyota's future.  The design didn't suggest the future, and frankly other cars in Toyota's lineup were more interesting.  

The sixth generation continued this pattern, with possibly the ugliest restyle of a car ever to come out of Toyota's studios.  Whoever told the designers that "fried egg" headlights were a good idea had no clue.  It just looked big, bloated and ugly.  Perhaps it handled better than its predecessors, bit if it did, it was only marginally so.  But, by this point in time, the vehicle was completely disconnected from the rest of Toyota's designs, and perhaps even more depressingly, Toyota had begun neutering the "sporty" models they offered by making them little more than a body-and-trim variant.  The Tercel-based Paseo was a great looking little coupe, which mechanically was identical to the incredibly pedestrian Tercel - no wonder it didn't sell. 

Toyota made two mistakes with the Celica starting in 1989.  One, they cut it adrift from the rest of their product line.  It ceased to be an aspirational car that people looked at as a "cut above" in the product line.  Then they lost the program in terms of what a Celica should be.  It was always a "sporty coupe" - a fun little car that hit the magic balance between being a comfortable car to drive day in, day out and something that was enjoyable when thrown into a corner at speed.  The interior was a "bit better" than other cars in the lineup (especially in the 1986 version with its faux Recaro style seating), but still recognizable as part of a larger program of development.  The Supra was the more elegant version of the Celica - longer, more of a graceful car.  

Toyota needs a new Celica - one that is an aspirational vehicle.  One that makes the buyers looking at the Camry slightly envious, even though the Camry is a perfectly competent family hauler.  These cars aren't about volume, they're about image.  Mazda doesn't sell a ton of Miatas here, but they keep making them because it draws eyes.  The Celica needs to be that car for Toyota.  Something that people can recognize as part of the family, and something that reaches for "just a bit better".  

What we have right now is a product line that provokes yawns.  The Yaris - an aluminum roller skate with a weight problem; the Corolla - competent, but basic (and no slapping an "S" on the back doesn't make it a replacement for the Celica); the Camry - probably today's Chevrolet Caprice - the most plentiful car on the road and a good family car.  The FR-S - neat little car, but because it's a joint venture with Subaru, it's really the "awkward cousin" in the lineup.  No, Toyota needs to step back in time and understand what made the first 4 generations of Celica successful.