Friday, April 28, 2006

What's in a place?

Much hay has been made of the fact that lots of Liberal leadership hopefuls are from urban Ontario. This is usually presented as a negative.

Of course, does a candidate's base of operations really matter? And if it does, why are we trumpeting Mr. Kennedy's western origins as a huge plus?

Personally, I'm of the mind that a candidate's location in the country should be at the bottom of the list in terms of factors determining support, right behind how good they are in bed. In other words, I find it irrelevant. (The only exception being Quebec - while it certainly wouldn't affect my vote, I'd prefer a leader from somewhere else, given that the prime minister from 1968-2006 was from Quebec with only brief intervals.)

And if we're playing up the regionalism angle, the maritimes haven't had someone occupying the PM's chair since 1919. (Okay that was a bit shameless, but you understand, yes?)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Oh Canada...

Apparently, Canada is awesome. (Hey, forgive me my patriotism, I like to try to be positive sometimes!)

Most people around the world think of Canadians in terms of the words, "Trustworthy, Honest, Modern, Competent and Hardworking."

Canada ranked number one for the question, "I would like to have a person from this country as a friend."

As for tourism, leaving aside our lack of landmarks (no pyramids or colloseums), Canada is third, behind Italy and Australia, for places people want to visit.

I just thought I'd share this happy piece of news. It's always nice to be reminded that people like us, eh? :)

They're not a "real family"

Words cannot express my disgust. A Missouri city is kicking a family out.

Even straight couples aren't safe from overbearing, puritanical, nanny-state conservatism. The reason they're being kicked out? They're not married.

A follow-up on Dildoes

Hey, it's an eye-catching title.

There is no right to pleasure oneself. So say the American courts. The Fight Against Evil (TM) continues. Hide your dildoes!

Speaking of Rae...

Seems Bob Rae may be able to count on the support of old friends. This endorsement by Peter Kormos, who would probably be Ontario NDP leader right now if Howard Hampton would just stop trying, (he's going for a third crushing loss, I think) speaks to his popularity.

Kormos' endorsement was obviously genuine. Said he, "If Bob Rae can do to the federal Liberals what he did to the Ontario New Democratic Party, I'd donate a thousand bucks to his campaign." Now THAT'S an endorsement!

I'd like to point out that I don't like taking shots at Rae (I genuinely believe he did the best he could for Ontario given the troubled circumstances he inherited) but come on, some of these things just beg to be said.

Rae on Harper's centralization

Bob Rae, trying to contrast his free-wheeling style (he is quite the charmer) with Harper's dictatorial authoritarianism, has predicted that Harper's attempts to run everything from the top-down will fail spectacularly. Says Rae, "It can't be done. Effective governments can't be run that way."

If I were Harper I'd heed the warning. I mean, who knows more about governments failing spectacularly than Bob Rae?

But seriously, what's funny about this whole control freak spectacle is that it's the exact opposite of what Harper has been fighting for since his days as a Reformer. Remember, larger role for MPs, more citizen involvement, etc.? Oh well.

Beyond Brokeback

I made a post earlier saying, tongue-in-cheek, that gay people politicize life simply by living. Perhaps I wasn't so far off, really - in this society, in this world, the issue of gays and their place in our society, even putting aside institutional questions like marriage, is unavoidably on some level political, which is why I feel no conflict is presented between the theme of this blog and my writing about gay issues here. I do wish it were the case that such a conflict existed, but that perfect world, alas, is not here yet.

That being said, here's my question - whither gays in our entertainment media? It's something I think about a lot, actually, mostly because I can't avoid it - overt and meretritious portrayals of unbounded heterosexuality are so common that I still wonder how anyone could accuse any gay person of "flaunting" their sexuality. Maybe you just don't notice it if you're of the hetero persuasion - I can tell you that gay people notice it, and we certainly notice our lack of unobjectionable portrayals in movies, on television, in books, etc. I'm not condemning any well-intentioned straight person who doesn't completely understand the feelings of isolation that this sort of thing can cause, since I don't think anyone who's not gay could really understand. But much as we all love to take shots at it, we do live in and with our pop culture, and to have to struggle to find representation in it is a very uniquely lonely experience, the lack of which those who don't have to experience it take for granted.

To put it another way, institutionalized gay marriage is nice and all, but just because our law says we have a place in society doesn't necessarily mean that's the reality presented.

A fantastic article talks about the life of gay-themed media after Brokeback Mountain.

"Before Brokeback Mountain, most gay-themed entertainment projects do I put this charitably?

They were crap.

Portrayals of gay characters on television have alternated between outrageous, usually offensive stereotypes, and noble victims meant to transmit some preachy message to the apparently completely heterosexual audience. In books, we've had an endless stream of self-hating gay men who screw their friends and mess up their lives with irresponsible sex and indiscriminate drug use.

And movies? Don't get me started."

(Mr. Hartinger mentions among the body of decent gay-themed work the "Silent Empire" series of books by Steven Harper. I'm guessing that's not our current prime minister writing under an ingenious psuedonym. He also mentions Buffy, admittedly a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine.)

(Addendum: Check out this article as well.)

But as someone who has shared Hartinger's frustration, I can attest to the truth of that assessment. Yes, the vast majority of gay-themed work is utter, utter crap. Badly written, poorly acted, and abysmally produced. And most of which does nothing but perpetuate the very worst stereotypes that the gay rights movement has spent decades trying to debunk. I think "Queer as Folk" is probably one of the worst offenders, since it masquerades as a "progressive" work while simultaneously confirming to any uninformed straight person (or, perhaps more dangerously, uninformed gay kid) watching it the most ridiculous stereotypes perpetuated about us. (I have a love-hate relationship with that show - it does have a certain dark humour that I appreciate.) And like the writer, I too often "settle" for lower quality work simply to see myself represented on-screen.

It's changing - at least I'd like to hope it is. Obviously I'd like to see more stories like Brokeback told, since quite frankly they haven't been told before - and those that have certainly haven't been beaten to death for the past several centuries; they just chronologically have not yet had the time to be, since it only recently became acceptable to start telling these kinds of stories.

But more than that, so much more than that, what I'd like to be able to see is an honest portrayal of gay characters within film, television and print which are not explicitly "gay-themed." For all its beauty and brilliance, Brokeback Mountain was, unavoidably, a "gay movie." It was advertised, promoted, discussed, (condemned,) and billed as such. Even in works where they are portrayed positively and without resorting to overused stereotypes, gay characters are still often used to make a "point." As powerful a movie as Brokeback was, the "point" of it can still be summarized as a social commentary on the impact of homophobia, both on the lives of the two gay men, and on their families.

One of the reasons my aforementioned not-so-guilty pleasure was so revolutionary was that the character of Willow was not, first and foremost, gay. She was first and foremost an independent, stand-alone character, within a television series not explicitly designed to be "gay-themed," who happened to fall in love with a woman; and my issues with the general portrayal of her "turning gay" notwithstanding, the only time they even became remotely "preachy" about her sexuality was in the episode where the came out to her ex-boyfriend, and even in that episode the general point about "bigotry" was made by having a human character deal with his bigotry towards non-humans. (The kind of metaphor you can regularly get away with in a fantasy-horror-action-comedy-drama.) In other words, her point was not to make a point, it was to grow and develop along with the rest of the cast. (Creator Joss Whedon's short-lived Firefly also featured a bisexual character named Inara, who was also a developed and complex character independent of her sexual orientation.)

It seems that these deeper portrayals of gay (or just non-straight) characters are more common to females than to males. This list tells the story for me. The females seem to have more depth than the males, who are often jokes, stereotypes, thematic-plot devices, or twisted villains whose sexuality is an additional way to make them seem depraved (or some combination of the four.) I think the most notable exception on television today would be Andrew Van De Kamp, the rebellious son of one of the Desperate Housewives, though he's a less than stellar individual himself. (Not that I'm saying for a second that gay characters ought to be angels.) Comic books actually seem a bit further ahead of the game, featuring male and female character of non-heterosexual orientations, with screen portrayals of the characters often conveniently leaving out these facts. Okay, so I haven't seen Constantine, but I somehow get the feeling that they probably left out the title character's bisexuality from the final cut of the movie. (And of course, the Japanese seem both further ahead and a bit stunted on this front at the same time - but it's such a different culture that I'm not even going to discuss it here.)

Basically, all I really want to see is a decent amount of representation. I mean, by the most conservative estimates about 2-3% of the population is gay (I think it's higher than that, especially factoring in bisexuals, for whom no real statistics exist.) I'd say more like 5% for homosexuals alone. Would it be particularly out of line to suggest that maybe 5% of the principle characters in our popular media have such inclinations? At present, it's not even close to that. (I'd be surprised at 1%.)

Something doesn't need to be "the next Brokeback" (which the movie industry, of course, is rapidly searching to create, or re-create as it were) to have gay characters. In fact, it could go significantly beyond Brockback by simply presenting a character or two who, incidentally, just happen to be gay.


Do... do you get the feeling that John McCallum wants to eat your soul in this picture?

(Oh, I kid because I love.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I do hate to invoke the Trude, but...

Michael Ignatieff said it best - "there was one Pierre Trudeau." Of course, he has an interest in downplaying any Trudeau comparisons. He's been compared to the late great Rt. Hon. P.E.T., and if you're looking to meet or exceed expectations, no comparison could be more fatal. Nevertheless, he has a point.

But if I may be permitted to indulge myself, I'd like to make a simple comparison to answer a certain group of naysayers.

In 1965, Pierre Trudeau was a New Democrat. In fact, he had condemned Lester Pearson in the past as the "false prophet of peace" (strong words). But he switched parties, and in the same year ran and won as a Liberal. He was made a key minister in the Pearson cabinet, and in 1968, only 3 years after joining the Liberal Party, won the leadership.

In 2003, Scott Brison was a Progressive Conservative. In fact, he roundly condemned Paul Martin as being tired, old, etc. (You know the language.) But he switched parties, and in the same year joined the Liberal caucus, followed by an election win in 2004, and a key spot in the Martin cabinet. In December of 2006, three years after becoming a Liberal, he will be on the ballot for the leadership of the party.

Am I suggesting he'll win? Well, he has a shot. But my point is a simple one that you've probably already picked up - if Trudeau could do it, why not Brison? If you think it was a good thing Trudeau jumped ship and ran for the leadership, how could you not think the same about someone who has done pretty much the exact same thing? I mean heck, Trudeau only won one election as a Liberal before his leadership run; Brison's won two.

Just some food for thought.

Flying the Flag - A Red Herring

I'd just like to register my bewilderment at why the LPC is making an issue out of the so-called "flag flap," that is, the Conservative Party's reversal of a half-mast flag on the Peace Tower every time a Canadian soldier dies. To me, this makes sense, and there are more important things to fight about.

For one thing, imagine the Americans doing something like this - their flag would be at half-mast 24/7. Isn't the best way to honour the sacrifice of Canadian troops to fly the flag that they fought under?

Also, aren't the memories of soldiers who died during past wars cheapened by a policy which lowers the flag for certain soldiers today, when they received no such honour?

Finally, isn't Rememberance Day the day we're supposed to remember our fallen soldiers? Does it not make more sense to use the day designed for their memories to remember our dead, rather than dilute its impact by invoking its spirit almost daily?

To me, it's a red herring that the LPC is imposing on itself. The primary worry ought to be Harper once again showing his dictatorial and authoritarian side by refusing to allow the media to cover the patriation of our war dead. This is a policy similar to the Republican policy in the US, and the goal in both cases is pretty clear - to keep the Canadian public from seeing images that could be harmful to the ruling party. It's shameful, and it should be fought. Spending time worrying about when the flag is and isn't flying is a bit silly when there's a real issue to worry about.

It reminds me of the Emerson/Fortier issue. Where the real issue should be that unaccountable party hack in the Senate controlling billions of dollars worth of government spending (Fortier), Liberals have spent more time and energy attacking a turn-coat (Emerson), as if that's the real issue.

Dildoes: A Threat to America

The Republican base (read: lunatics) continue their Fight Against Evil (TM) by expanding the front yet again. The target this time: sex toys. Isn't it funny that this article seems like it could have been written for The Onion? Conservatism strikes again! What exactly differentiates the social values of these people from those of the Islamists?

Let's Unite the Centre

(This has been reposted; it was deleted along with all the comments for some reason. Sorry to those who commented.)

There's been talk lately of David Orchard mulling a run for the Liberal leadership. Now, my opinion of Orchard is less than stellar (I'll be honest, I think he's incredibly naive, especially for actually believing that Peter MacKay would honour either of his infamous convention floor "committments") but I'd welcome him to the race. Any other former PCs wanna take a stab at this?

Because quite frankly, with the elimination of the Progressive Conservatives, Canada's political landscape has shifted yet again. In the past, we always had a part of the far left (NDP), a party of the far right (Social Credit), a party of the centre-left (Liberal) and a party of the centre-right (PC). The far-righters in Social Credit eventually were replaced by the Reform Party and then the Alliance, but it was the same principle.

With the assimilation of the Progressive Conservative Party into the Alliance (resistance was futile), the Conservative Party now occupies the "right" (both far and centre) and the NDP have been moving to occupy the "left" (both far and centre). The Liberals can respond to this, I feel, in three ways.

The first is to try to squeeze out the NDP on the left - but we tried that in the last campaign, and look what happened. The left was split, and the Tories won by picking up crucial parts of the centre. An alternate version of this idea is to unite the left, but that would just succeed in alienating even more of the centre.

The second is to adopt a policy of radical centrism, taking up the centre on every issue, with the Tories on the right and the NDP on the left. The Liberal Party in the United Kingdom tried this approach - they are now the third party in the House of Commons, behind Labour and Tory.

Finally, there is a third option - adopt a position spreading out broadly from the centre-left to the centre-right, and fight both of the other parties, adopting the best ideas of the "right" and the "left" and merging them into the centre. I think this is the way to go, which is why it is good to have Gerard Kennedy, Bob Rae, Scott Brison, Maurizio Bevilacqua, Michael Ignatieff, and Stephane Dion all in the same race. Some could be described as more "right" or more "left" than others, but what they all have in common (beyond party affiliation) is this - they are all centrists. They all reject the radical left of the NDP and the radical right of the Conservatives.

Since the PCs no longer exist, the centre-right is up for grabs. The PC Party's power-hungry institution may have submitted themselves to Alliance rule, but I firmly believe that PC voters (1993-2003) are still up for grabs. I think Scott Brison and David Orchard would very nicely represent that constituency in the leadership race, and show former PC voters that there is a place for them in the Liberal Party. It's funny, Liberals and PCs fought for so long that many may not be able to accept just how much they had in common all along. They both fought for the centre.

Forget uniting the left, let's unite the centre, and take on the real enemy - extremism. Let's build a country based on individual rights, egalitarianism, environmental responsibility, equality, respect, diversity, and social freedom. I believe these are centrist values, and I support a candidate for leader who I believe best reflects these values.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The NDP and the Age of Consent

I don't spend a lot of time talking about the NDP, mostly because I find them more or less irrelevant. However, they've been making a few moves lately that I find very disturbing.

For instance, during the election campaign, Jack Layton came out in favour of a "get tough" policy on crime. Now, Jack's a smart guy, well versed in leftism, and thus really has no excuse for not knowing that "get tough" approaches do not work. They do succeed in putting more people in jail, but time after time this method has failed at actually reducing crime rates. It happens all the time in the US - they enact tougher and tougher penalties, but the crime rate stays the same; states with the death penalty have higher murder rates than states without. So it was equal parts disheartening and sickening for me to see him basically mirror the Conservative crime policy - that is, lock 'em up and throw away the key, no exceptions, and it smacked of Hilary-esque pandering to people who won't vote NDP anyway.

Expelling Buzz Hargrove was, institutionally, quite revealing, and it showed what the NDP really thinks of free speech.

And today, I read a National Post article that the NDP may help the Conservatives pass the age of consent increase, and in particularly Orwellian fashion, change the language, so that it becomes the "age of protection." One assumes that Vic Toews (anti-fun prude that he is) thinks that a consenting 15 year old needs "protection" from an 18 or 19 year old boyfriend/girlfriend.

Age gaps of about that size are actually fairly common; I'd bet everybody knows or knows of somebody who's been involved in a sexual relationship of that type. The new "age of protection" law would include a "close-in-age" exemption, but I somehow doubt the exemption would go as high as that. This means that someone could be forced to become a registered sex offender if they engage in a consensual sexual relationship with a younger partner.

This is particularly timely given the multiple murders of two registered "sex offenders," murdered because they were on that list. One of those on the list was definitely justifiably on there, convicted of rape of a child. But the other was on there because, when he was 19, he had (consensual) sex with his girlfriend, who was just shy of 16. That is enough to get someone on a list with child molesters and rapists. Is this really what we want for Canada? Can we not protect people from sexual exploitation and molestation without putting innocent people in jail for having consensual sex?

Apparently it's what the NDP wants. What the hell are they thinking?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ghosts of the past

Regarding the government's refusal to stop charging GST on top of the gas tax:

"Something is seriously wrong when Canadians are hurting from high gas prices and its own government is benefiting from their pain. Will the prime minister agree to at least axe the tax on the tax?"
- Stephen Harper, 2004

Just to be clear, I think the idea of cutting the gas tax is a bad one. But Harper seemed to think it was a really good idea back in the day. I wonder what happened?

Emerson recognizes it, too

Apparently, you don't have to be a Liberal to notice that the most significant Conservative motivator, and the only thing that really unites them, is their hatred of the Liberals. David Emerson has noticed this, too, and has cited it among his reasons for being unhappy with his current job as International Trade Minister (that whole "being dogged by protests everywhere he goes" thing being another.)

Now, there's two schools of thought on this whole Emerson matter that could be true. What's true in either case is that he switched parties, and he admitted outright that, had the Liberals won, he'd still be a Liberal. What you can take from this is that he's remarkably unpartisan and is concerned with serving his country in cabinet, or conversely, that he's remarkably unpartisan and unprincipled. I'm inclined to believe the former, considering he could be making much more in the private sector. Still, it is pretty audacious to admit that your party switch had nothing to do with principle and everything to do with getting a cabinet job.

Regardless, Emerson is really saying what all us onlookers are thinking. The Conservative government is remarkably dictatorial, they're being very unprincipled, and above all, their best and only excuse is the one I noted previously - the Liberals did it too. And again, the appropriate response is that the Conservatives promised not to.

What Emerson is saying, "They really hate the Liberals," is obvious to anyone who spends any time on Canadian politics-oriented internet message boards. They are practically overrun by partisan Conservatives these days, and all of them, all of them, say the same thing - the Liberals are worse; the Liberals did it too; whatever the Conservatives do doesn't matter because (it's my party... no wait, that's not it...) the Liberals did it too, and it's worse when Liberals do it because (they're the enemy... no wait...) they're Liberals. This isn't something that's hidden, it's glaringly obvious on the boards. The one thing, the only thing, that unites these Conservatives is hatred of the Liberals, and the one thing that really seems to motivate them is to take revenge on the party that kicked their asses for twelve years straight.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

On Harpocrites

Here's a good allegory.

A televangelist gets up on TV and condemns... oh... abortion. He gives his fire and brimstone speeches, and his ratings increase every week as fanatics tune in and nod and clap and shout and scream "hallelujah!" Then he gets some woman pregnant, and demands that she have an abortion. Naturally, his critics jump on him and call him a hypocrite...

Then, in most absurd fashion, he reponds by saying, "How dare they condemn me for practicing abortion when they themselves practice it!" Except that's a COMPLETE REVERSAL of the entire point - his critics never condemned abortion. Oh sure, many of them do think it's wrong, but they never condemned those who practice it, unlike Mr. Televangelist, who preached fire and brimstone every Sunday on his bafflingly successful show. HE condemns abortion. THEY condemn the hypocrisy of saying, "IT'S BAD WHEN YOU DO IT, BUT IT'S OKAY WHEN I DO IT."

Conservatives, you can try to weasel your way out of it any way you like, but the fact of the matter is, you're the teleevangelist who says abortion is wrong but gets one anyway. You're Bill Bennett, who made a career out of condemning gambling only to be found to be a huge gambler himself. You're Pat Robertson, who claims to spread the love of God but made a fortune off of slave labour in African diamond mines. You're Brian Mulroney, who destroyed John Turner in an election by condemning Turner for doing the exact same things he himself would go on to do. You're Stephen Harper, who thinks it's okay to do everything he ever said was wrong, because power is more important than principle.

At least, AT LEAST admit that much - that you value power over principle, JUST LIKE THE LIBERAL EXECUTIVE DOES. Because it's so painfully obvious that you do, and it's a truly ridiculous sight watching you all deny it by using the excuse, "The Liberals did it too."

My mom would have a perfect answer for that: "If the Liberals jumped off a cliff, would you?" Alternately, if Paul killed a man, would it be okay for Stephen to do so?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Does Sovereignty Trump Human Rights?

A new essay I've posted at the side there. Check it out if you're interested, along with the ones on euthanasia and proportional representation. (All written by me.)

"Are you queer?"

I received a rather friendly comment in my comments section the other day.

"What's with a the queer posts?

Are you a Queer?

No wonder you are not with the rest of the Blues in the Conservative Party.

We don't want your type."

Don't get me wrong, this doesn't bother me; it kind of makes me laugh. I love it when Conservatives show their true colours. Now if only they'd do it more often, and more publicly, during election campaigns.

You reap what you sow

Outgoing Italin prime minister Berlusconi is having quite the tantrum over his loss. The loss is well-deserved, not just because he's crooked, but in a much more richly ironic and poetically just way. The ridiculous scheme of the Berlusconi government to define Italian citizenship by bloodline rather than residency - thereby allowing people of Italian ancestry who live outside of the country to vote - ended up costing the government the election, with the out-of-country Italians casting the deciding votes.

It seems just, because the plan was unapologetically fascist in nature - defining Italians by race, rather than citizenship, something racist-fascists are constantly obsessed with. It's nice to see it backfire so brilliantly.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gays "politicize" life by living - religious right

Well, okay, they didn't say that. But that's the clear implication given by the far right on this latest issue in the fight against evil. Several *gasp* gay parents are planning to bring their children to the White House's annual Easter Egg Roll. Naturally, the right-wing is in its usual hysterics, saying that these gay families are "politicizing" the event with their mere attendance.

Think about the implications of that, for a moment. It is possible for gay people to politicize any event by their very attendance; therefore, is it not possible for gays to politicize all of life by their very existence?

Of course these people are against gay adoption citing that the kids' lives will be made more difficult - they'll be the ones making it difficult!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Opposing gay unions not "anti-gay" - Australian PM

What is it about semi-closet-homophobes that makes them unable to understand that discrimination against gays is, by definition, anti-gay? Australian prime minister John Howard is threatening to use federal legislation to block the ACT's proposed civil union legislation (that's civil union, not marriage).

Anti-gay types always want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to square their views of themselves as enlightened and tolerant individuals in pluralistic societies, with the fact that they're actually not, and finding themselves unable to do so, recite meaningless platitudes about how their targeted anti-gay legislation is not, in fact, anti-gay. It almost makes me respect Jerry Falwell and Larry Spencer and their ilk, because unlike closet bigots like Howard, they're at least honest about it, with open and outright hostility expressing what they really think.

Think about it: Howard can't even use the Stephen Harper excuse that he's for gay unions, he just doesn't want to call them marriage - he's specifically opposing civil unions in this case! At least Harper's position - while having been thoroughly deconstructed, debunked, discredited, and in this country defeated - makes sense at first glance. It's only after careful examination that one finds it flawed. Howard's position makes no sense and is utterly discriminatory on its face. And he has the audacity to say that it's not.