Where is the “sky is falling” crew when you need them?

Postmedia, the corporate near-monopoly on Canadian news outlets, is heavily invested in convincing the public that the same austerity which got us into the mess we’re in is the solution to our problems, because the filthy rich owners of Postmedia don’t want to pay taxes. An entire genre of “the sky is falling” hit pieces have graced print media for the past couple years as Canada’s left-wing governments engage in Keynesian economics to keep things running during the recession. Debt and deficit hysteria has given corporate oligarchs a convenient fig leaf, with cries of “but the credit rating!” concealing the grumbling about their dues to society.

By every reasonable metric, the Albertan NDP have been the most competent leadership the province has seen in years.

By contrast, corporate oligarchs are getting exactly what they want in Saskatchewan–and yet, it has not arrested Saskatchewan debt either, causing their credit rating to continue tanking.

Yesterday was the longest day of the year, and Standard & Poor’s chose the summer equinox to downgrade Saskatchewan’s credit rating from AA+ to AA.

It was the second time in the past 12 months Saskatchewan’s credit rating has been dropped by the famous New York credit rating agency, whose pronouncements are taken ever so seriously by conservative opposition parties here in Alberta.

But you could have waited all day and long after sunset – which took place at 10:07 p.m. here in the capital of Alberta, if you were wondering – to see a press release from either the Wildrose Party or the Progressive Conservative Party condemning Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and his conservative Saskatchewan Party government for this obvious failing.

Funny, that!

Because it’s certainly never taken this long for an angry press release to appear from the offices of either of Alberta’s two main conservative political parties when the same thing happened to Alberta’s New Democratic Party Government for the same reasons.

It turns out that increasing debt caused by keeping the lights on in resource dependent provinces in the face of low oil, natural gas and other resource prices has had pretty much the same effect in Saskatchewan governed by conservatives as it has had in Alberta governed by social democrats.

That said, a good economic case can be made that Alberta will be in far better shape as both provinces recover from the downturn because the NDP has not laid waste to health care, education and other public services, as the Saskatchewan Party is doing.

Regardless, when Standard & Poor’s downgraded Alberta’s credit rating for the second time, from AA+ to AA last month, the Wildrose press releasecalled it a “disastrous credit downgrade.”

“This is totally unacceptable,” wailed Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who is already a candidate to lead the still-unbirthed United Conservative Party.

“Credit rating agencies don’t care what politicians say, they care what they do, and the NDP are doing nothing but dithering while Alberta’s deficit spirals out of control,” shrieked Wildrose Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt, another UCP leadership candidate.

The real motive of the you-see-pee (United Conservative Party) has nothing to do with the provincial government’s credit rating, and everything to do with the same smash-and-grab that allowed capitalists to loot the public sector during a downturn, leaving the little guy to eat the recession while the capitalists sip martinis in the Cayman Islands.

I hope Alberta’s blue collar recognizes that.

-Shiv

A brief history of Bill C-16

On June 15th, 2017, the Senate finally voted on Bill C-16 after nine months of stalling. It passed, overwhelmingly, and was given the Royal Rubber Stamp shortly afterwards, marking the first time gender identity would be explicitly recognized in federal Canadian law. With that recognition comes restitution for transgender people–not just Canadians, since our Charter of Rights and Freedoms (theoretically) applies to anyone on Canadian soil–who interact with any institution federally regulated. One particularly potent consequence: Trans folk immigrating just received a (again, theoretical) huge upgrade in terms of their rights.

Even with this narrow demographic of who actually benefits from the law, its opposition frequently traded in outright lies, employing strategies that nonetheless demonized trans people as a whole. Mercedes Allen reviews it here:

Although I’ll be remarking on the passing of Bill C-16 elsewhere, I wanted to post Bill Siksay’s closing speech from February 7, 2011, back when the bill was in its third incarnation (of five), Bill C-389.  To me, it’s a profound moment to look back on, and realize just how far we’ve come.

It took 12 years to pass this bill.  For the first six, it was completely ignored, as was the trans* rights movement. Shortly after this speech, the bill did pass at Third Reading, and the effort finally was taken seriously… but was then very hard fought.  This speech was the moment (if there was any single one) that things changed.

I hope that Mr. Siksay’s efforts are remembered now.  Trans* people have usually been told to wait their turn, that legislation is incremental, that we should work for gay rights, and then the LGBTQ movement would come back for us.  This was a rare exception in which someone actually did come back.

Although the efforts of Randall Garrison, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Grant Mitchell deserve much recognition, it would be very wrong to forget the person who started it all.

You can follow more history here.

-Shiv

You’re supposed to bridge Hume’s gap, not dive into it

Hume’s gap, Hume’s law, Hume’s guillotine, the “is-ought” problem, the naturalistic fallacy–they’re all phrases for the same observation: That a moral prescription (an “ought” statement) cannot be derived from an empirical observation (an “is” statement) by itself. The gap that you ought to bridge, if you want other people to clearly see your reasoning and thus evaluate your claim more accurately, can be done with the use of an “if” statement, which will delineate a specific goal or intention and which provides the avenue for empirical investigation. Which, astute readers will note, I just did with that exact sentence: “You ought to bridge the is-ought divide if you want your moral reasoning to be understood clearly because the ‘if’ will provide a logical avenue of investigation.” We could do a poll and ask which argument is more convincing: “trees produce oxygen, I need oxygen to breathe, and if I want to breathe, I ought not to cut them all down” or “trees occur spontaneously in nature, nature is good, therefore trees are good” and thus shed some light on whether my premise is accurate.

Of course, even that formulation assumes “I want my moral reasoning to be understood clearly” and so it carries a few weaknesses: If I am a charlatan, my actual moral reasoning is likely related to my immediate material gain, but being a charlatan I’d want to convince you my moral reasoning is something else, in which case my argument falls apart–the charlatan doesn’t want their moral reasoning to be clear, so they have no incentive to bridge the is-ought divide and instead pretend you can make it from one side to the other with a judicious application of creative thinking.

And so we jump feet first into moral skepticism, the intellectual quagmire in which I have been stuck waist-deep for a few years. My arms are outstretched, if any theorists from other moral schools care to grasp them in a bid to free me from my prison. I invite you to heave-ho and extract me from this intellectual quicksand in the comments, though I suspect my colleague Marcus will likely try sabotage your efforts.

All of which was a rather long-winded introduction to one of the more stark demonstrations of the is-ought divide I’ve seen in trans-antagonistic arguments: Society hates trans people, transition “cures” gender dysphoria but marks us as “trans,” therefore we should (somehow) get rid of gender dysphoria without transitioning. I’m not the first trans feminist to see this proposed to them, either–here’s Zinnia Jones: (emphasis original)

[Read more…]

Liberal Party still waffling on major civil rights violations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, much to my frustration, seems to be coated in the same Teflon as the country itself, our squeaky clean public relations obscuring our role in American torture programs and a smattering of other egregious human rights violations around the world. While it is true (and important) to acknowledge that these programs were engineered by our former Conservative government, the Liberals have been slow to remove them, including the notorious Conservative Bill C-51* which greatly enhanced domestic surveillance powers. Said powers had a chance to flex their new muscles in 2015 when they persecuted civil rights organizers for actions that were not their own.

Unfortunately, too many people seem to be getting distracted by the inane “we caught Trudeau topless!” puff pieces to notice. Conservatives peddled a stereotype of the average Liberal voter who claim to have selected him because “his hair is pretty.” I don’t have any data to corroborate exactly how true that perception is, but I do know that the Liberals have not been substantially different from the Conservatives on areas of government that matter to me, and that I have seldom underestimated the depths of human shallowness.

So, back to business: Once we scrape off the Teflon, what are the Liberals actually doing about the human and civil rights violations they’ve inherited? In a word–fuck all.

In opposition, the Liberals were being squeezed by this bill. C-51 was the Conservatives’ attempt to assert they were taking muscular measures against terror. It came after two attacks in 2014, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and on Parliament Hill, and not long before the 2015 election. The bill was initially very popular.

But gradually, a campaign developed against a bill that civil-liberties advocates labelled an overreach. The NDP said they’d repeal it. But the Liberals, worried about looking either soft on terror or too much like the Tories, said they’d vote for it, and repeal the “problematic” elements later. A dodge.

So when the Liberals took power, it appeared to be one of those things they’d have to address quickly. A significant chunk of the left-leaning voters that elected the Liberals saw it as one of those Harper-legacy items that had to be undone. But from day one, they delayed.

That turned out to be shrewd. Time cooled the angry politics around it. The protest organizers – who had argued that Bill C-51 gave authorities powers to violate rights, interpret protests as security threats, and collect and share too much information on Canadians activities – directed their energy to influencing the consultations.

(Hey, about that “interpret protests as security threats” thing…)

“While this consultation was taking place, that’s certainly, for example, where my organization was investing its energies,” said David Christopher, spokesman for OpenMedia, an organization that played a sizable role in drumming up the protests.

Now, Mr. Goodale can go forward in calmer waters. Some of the controversial elements of C-51 didn’t really become the focus of criticism during the consultations. C-51 gave CSIS ill-defined powers to disrupt threats, rather than just gather intelligence; in the consultations, people expressed concern about that, but it wasn’t clear what they wanted in its place.

However, the consultation did find people aren’t sanguine about the accumulation of electronic-surveillance powers by government: warrantless interception of metadata, sharing of information between government agencies. Canadians want those things controlled. But some of those Canadian intelligence agencies will be arguing they need latitude.

Read more about Liberal waffling and stalling here. And remember this for the next election: The Liberals are saying one thing and doing another.

-Shiv


*Not to be confused with the Liberal Bill C-51.


Edit, June 20 2017: I wrote this post a few days ago before this news came up. Everything above is irrelevant. Bill C-59 is ten steps in the wrong fucking direction. I take it back–Liberals are not “waffling” on civil rights–they’re actively expanding its violations.

The valorisation of ignorance

Here today with another old post from TigTog, this time about the “valorisation of ignorance“–anti-intellectualism–in Australian politics. The topic is near and dear to my heart since intellectual fraudery is basically the entire reason this blog exists.

There has been too much under-reaction to what the government is advocating, so let me spell it out: if these grants shouldn’t happen then our universities shouldn’t have Arts faculties. If this use of resources is a waste then our universities should be downgraded to vocational training centres, all academics not working in medicine or technology should lose their jobs, and Australia can kiss goodbye to the income we get selling our education overseas, because people from other parts of the world won’t pay huge amounts of money to travel here for a qualification from an institution that can’t command international respect.

Kelly keeps referring to making Australia competitive, so let’s talk about that. Education is a product; you can’t sell it if what you are producing isn’t any good. The way the world judges whether you are capable of offering a good education is by looking at the quality of the research you publish. Not the immediate practical usefulness of the topic, the quality of the scholarship. If we stop participating in the system of higher learning engaged in by the rest of the world, it will take no time for us to have no standing in the international higher education scene. Universities function as a world-wide community, and they are wildly competitive. You fall behind, you disappear. Not publishing research across the breadth of potential fields of knowledge is to fall behind. If you want any hope of being competitive in education, you can’t limit your research to a few restricted areas.

You can’t publish without doing research, and no publications, no credibility. This is how the world measures whether people doing higher level intellectual work are any good or not. If our academics can’t prove they are good at what they do, no one will pay to come to their institutions to study under their guidance. People come to university to learn from experts. Experts carry out research. Grants pay their wages while they do. It is not enough for a university to only have experts in the narrow fields that sell best to overseas students. Universities are judged on the full breadth of what they produce, an institution that no longer publishes in philosophy, history or literature will not be seen as a serious site of intellectual activity. Our brand in the marketplace for that immensely valuable product, education, will be trashed.

Read more here.

-Shiv

Sex as a social construct

I had a lot of people click on the hyperlink I provided on my last long-form post in support of the claim that what is commonly referred to as “biological sex” is itself still a social model, and one that is often taught at an incomplete level at most public education institutions. Since I take the disproportionately large number of clicks to be an implicit interest in the idea, I’ve decided to signal boost another argument that explores this further. This is an oldie-but-goodie from Alex, a former FTB blogger:

A framework, not a fact

In her monologue above, Milinovich actually gives four criteria (by my count) for male/female sex determination.

  • Chromosomes: ‘[A] male has XY chromosomes and female, XX’.
  • Penis/vagina: ‘A male mammal has a penis . . . a female mammal has a vagina’.
  • Other sex organs: ‘A male mammal has . . . seminal vesicles, a prostate gland; a female has a . . . cervix, uterus, oviducts’.
  • Secondary sex characteristics: ‘size, vocal cartilage and musculature’, ‘a female mammal has . . . mammary glands’, a male facial hair, etc.

A longer, fuller list could look like this:

  • Chromosomes (XX/XY)
  • Penis/vagina
  • Gonads (testes/ovaries)
  • Other sex organs: seminal vesicle, prostate gland/oviducts, Skene’s gland, cervix, uterus
  • Secondary sex characteristics: facial hair, greater height and breadth, deeper voice/wider hips, breasts, etc.
  • Gametes: sperm production/menstruation
  • Hormone levels: high testosterone, low oestrogen/high oestrogen, low testosterone

Milinovich runs those traits she does name together, suggesting a male necessarily has XY chromosomes and a penis and a prostate gland and seminal vesicles and a distinct build and a deeper voice (her blog adds sperm production to this list) – that biological maleness requires all ‘male’ features to be present. Especially with others in the mix like those above, this co-presence is far from reliable.

Chromosomes, as Anne Fausto-Sterling details in Sexing the Body, can’t be relied on as indicators of the other traits here – sets exist beyond XX and XY, as do humans in whom both are found and outwardly ‘female-bodied’ people with the latter. Anatomy comes in endless combinations, such that estimates of ‘ambiguous’ sets’ commonness vary wildly, with some as high as one in twenty-five (John Money, cited in Fausto-Sterling’s work). Bodies with the ‘wrong’ features – height, hair, breast tissue, Adam’s apples – are common. Everyone preadolescent, postmenopausal or otherwise infertile is sexless judging by sperm and ova. Hormones, like most of these attributes, can be altered at will.

When not all these tests are passed, which overrule which? Milinovich describes people with ‘female’ anatomy and XY chromosomes as male, for example – suggesting, confusingly, that she doesn’t think maleness requires physical traits. What reason is there to choose genes rather than body parts when diagnosing sex, and not vice versa? In practice, things tend to go the other way: medics who judge a foetus’s sex via ultrasound, for instance, do so only by identifying outer sex organs, and I know nothing about my chromosomes, interior sex organs, hormones or fertility. The fact (or assumption) I have a penis is seen as enough, most of the time, to classify my sex as male, but why should it outweigh these unknown factors?

It’s common enough for adult cisgender men – deemed male at birth, with bodies read straightforwardly that way – not to grow facial hair. I know two or three who don’t; so probably do you. This isn’t seen to affect their physical sex. Why then, barring blunt intuition, should the absence of a penis? We can argue facial hair is only a secondary sex characteristic, and penises a primary one, but this relies itself on defining sex by reproductive role: the logic is circular. From that standpoint, moreover, why not make testes the sole determinant, so people possessing them and a vulva were ‘males’? Testes have, after all, the more distinct and self-contained function of sperm production. A penis, being a shell for the urethra, is just another pipe among the plumbing – we’ve no grounds except cultural ones to treat it differently from a vas deferens. So why is it more necessary for ‘maleness’?

Milinovich calls sex a static, stubborn fact, then moves inconsistently between ideas (see above) about what it is. If she herself can’t pick a definition, what does this suggest?

Sex is a framework, not a fact – a means of interpreting biology, but not a part of it. Of course menstruation, chromosomes and so on aren’t social constructs, but the argument isn’t over their existence, it’s over what they mean. That’s not about empirical reality. Vaginas are as real as Pluto is; defining them as female is like defining Pluto as a planet, a question of inscription not description.

Alex is quite humble in estimating his own ability, but he’s nailed it.

-Shiv

No one is obligated to forgive

I’m a “mutually assured destruction” kind of gal. Christians had whole centuries in Europe to put their “turn the other cheek” philosophy into practice… we now call that period the Dark Ages for a reason. It don’t work. Convincing your many enemies that it costs more to hurt you than they’ll get out of it, however, appeals to even the ethically bankrupt, because it appeals to that unceasing selfishness they possess. Given that it is often the unceasingly selfish who gain power, this seems to me a smarter strategy than blanket forgiveness, which tells the abuser that they have permission to abuse again.

When my brothers and I fought, growing up, we were immediately halted and told to apologize.

“Say you’re sorry,” my dad would command, towering over us, brows furrowed.

I’d purse my lips and ball my fists before hissing a “sorry” between clenched teeth.

“Now, hug. Say ‘I forgive you,’ and tell each other ‘I love you,’” my dad would say next.

We did — and then stormed off to other rooms to avoid getting ourselves grounded in a moment of untempered rage.

The same scenario played out in my religious teachings for years. After all, my family and my preachers told me, Christianity itself exists because Jesus forgave our sin-riddled selves, so much that he died for us.

The sacrificial lamb metaphor was never one I completely grasped growing up, though. It never quite made sense to me that some oppressive leaders slaughtered the human embodiment of my religion’s deity because I was going to someday be born, bully my little brother, and go to hell for it. And every time I asked how that sacrifice worked logistically, I was given dismissive answers or elusive explanations with too many contemporary Christian buzzwords like “covenant” and “unconditional.” An English degree later, and I still don’t quite get it.

It’s with this same convoluted understanding that, as an adult atheist who must respect her family’s religious views in order to maintain healthy relationships with them, I’ve been forced to ask a question that Junior Asparagus never posed: If Christians are supposed to forgive every enemy, every single time, does that still apply when forgiveness could cause more harm than good?

I ain’t buyin’ it.

-Shiv

 

Signal boosting: Sex negative Christianity and ace folks

Siggy has a fantastic post on his blag about the impact of sex-negativity in Christianity on ace folks:

In ace discussion, one thing we talk about is “delayed realization”, when people realize that they’re ace much later than you’d expect. It’s the realization that, oh, people weren’t doing it just to be cool, they’re actually really into sex! Or else it’s the realization, hey this much-vaunted sex thing isn’t that great at all. Sadly for many, the realization comes only after being in a relationship, or even multiple relationships.

Christian views on sex often exacerbate the delayed realization. According to many Christian ace accounts I’ve heard, they receive all this messaging which doesn’t just tell them to resist sex, but which also implies that resisting sex is really difficult. This causes cognitive dissonance, but it isn’t enough to make a person realize they’re ace because the assumption is unspoken, and no alternative possibilities are offered. Sometimes, the resolution to this dissonance is to say, I’ll probably like sex once I’m married.

Read more here.

-Shiv

that double standard tho

Last Friday, Silentbob pointed out that TigTog, a radical feminist whose work I’ve occasionally encountered on teh interwebs, sometimes comments on FTB. From there I figured I could check out her blog, and I found a few excellent posts I’ll signal boost over the next couple weeks.

The first is a curious double standard which I wrote about on Friday, albeit with a different pair of power groups. TigTog writes about the double standard between criticisms from men (which are viewed as a dialogue and contribution to free speech) and criticisms from women (which are viewed as terrible censorship) despite the fact that the content of the criticisms isn’t overly different, based on a kerfluffle that started all the way back in 2013.

This time it’s women objecting to sexist content in the professional magazine for the Science Fiction Writers Of America who are causing Deep Rifts™. Pointing out that discussing female editors and writers in terms of how good they look in a bathing suit is a blatantly disrespectful trivialision of the work these women do and would never happen in a discussion of male editorsand writers and is therefore sexist and a double standard: that sort of talk is, according to the two men who did that, a call for censorship and suppression of their free speech.  As for complaining in the SWFA forum about a male columnist recommending women take Barbie as a role model to “maintain our quiet dignity as a woman should”?  Well, that was just making the forum  “the arena for difference”.

Hey, whatever happened to all that free speech crowd’s support for their beloved aphorism: “the only remedy for bad speech is more speech”?

Oh yeah – the ideal of more and more and more speech being an axiomatic good only applies when it’s men who are expressing contrary opinions to others. When women express our contrary opinions to men, we’re trying to silence them entirely. Because we’re just that evil and divisive.

It’s double standards all the way down. (And before anybody in the atheoskeptosphere starts Vaculating along the lines of “what about your double standards?” with respect to women identifying “what-Vacula-calls-disagreement” as an intimidatory silencing campaign, if only all the Vaculators were doing was “disagreeing” then you might have a point, but that isn’t what’s happening and you know it.  Refusing to engage with vexatious “you’re not allowed to ignore me” types is not a refusal to defend one’s ideas generally: it’s simply being aware that DARVO is the game being played and refusing to play it.)

Read more about this here.

Of course, the exact same power dynamic is sometimes re-created by TERFs who insist that any response to their material constitutes a grave moral failing, while issuing their poisonous diktats is seen as morally righteous.

-Shiv