November 2nd, 2010

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Anders Sandberg breaks down the possible explanations for the Fermi Paradox, the perceived mystery surrounding the vast size of the universe and the failure of extraterrestrials to contact us. What's the filter?</a>
  • Geocurrents examines the plight of the Assyrians, a Chrisitan population indigenous to the area of Iraq subjected to ottoman genocide and since then suffering ever-greater levels of violence, all while the world fails to notice..

  • At the Global Sociology Blog, Habermas' warnings about the consequences of the delegitimizing of political elites are paired with reports from a Dubai where the idea of society, a shared public space, has collapsed altogether.

  • Personal Reflections' Paul Belslaw engages with some of the global controversies around multiculturalism.

  • At The Search, Douglas Todd writes about the traditional (and popular) Canadian belief in the possibility of interactions with the spirit world.

  • Window on Eurasia <a href="|>examines</a> Iran's influence in post-Soviet Central Asia. Perhaps alongside Tajikistan, Iran's closest relationship is with a determinedly neutral Turkmenistan. Cultural distances otherwise limit Iran's potential heft.</li> </ul>

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On recognition of anti-queer bullying, and how religious bigots are cannibals

Michael on Facebook pointed out to me this NPR piece pointing out the unsurprising news that, in fact, Christian denominations which teach that homosexuality is an abomination creates an environment where people affiliated with these denominations are quite likely to treat people who can be associated with homosexuality as abominations. It's a late recognition, like the recognition of gay teenage suicide, but it's a mainstream recognition.

The Department of Education sent a letter to schools, colleges and universities Tuesday warning them that failing to stop bullying could violate federal anti-discrimination laws. The letter comes amid growing concern that there may be a religious undercurrent to the harassment of teens who are seen as gay.

Consider Justin Anderson, who graduated from Blaine High School outside Minneapolis last year. He says his teenage years were a living hell. From sixth grade on, he heard the same taunts.

"People say things like, 'Fags should just disappear so we don't have to deal with them anymore'; and, 'Fags are disgusting and sinful,' " he told the Anoka-Hennepin School Board. "And still, there was no one intervening. I began to feel so worthless and ashamed and unloved that I began to think about taking my life."

Anderson told his story at a public hearing last month — a hearing convened because in the past year, the district has seen a spate of student suicides. Four of those suicides have been linked to anti-gay bullying.

Justin Anderson survived. Justin Aaberg did not. Aaberg, 15, loved the cello, both playing and composing numbers like "Incinerate," which he posted on YouTube. Justin was openly gay. He had plenty of friends, but he was repeatedly bullied in his school. In July, his mother, Tammy, found her teenage son hanging from his bed frame.

"They were calling him, 'Faggot, you're gay,' " she recalls. " 'The Bible says that you're going to burn hell.' 'God doesn't love you.' Things like that."

There are some people who don't particularly care for queers interviewed--one teacher, representative of an evangelical group, says that teaching students that it's okay not to be straight is a violation of religious freedom, but Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council stands out. Facts, see, don't matter.

"There's no correlation between inacceptance of homosexuality and depression and suicide," he says.

Rather, Perkins says, there is another factor that leads kids to kill themselves.

"These young people who identify as gay or lesbian, we know from the social science that they have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict," he says.

Homosexuality is "abnormal," he says, and kids know it, which leads them to despair. That's why he wants to confront gay activism in public schools. For example, his group supports the Day of Truth, when Christian high-schoolers make their case that homosexuality is a sin.

But Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical who teaches psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, says there is a problem with this argument: Many of the kids who commit suicide aren't gay.

"The common element is not gay identification," he says. "The common element is anti-gay harassment. And so it isn't a matter of them being gay and unhappy. It's a matter of others tormenting them with gay slurs."

These people's ideas should be, and are being, fought with reason. Anger also works; the chorus of this hit 2005 Mylène Farmer pop songs go represents my opinion of them perfectly.

When Voltaire was talking about cannibals, he included people like Perkins in that category.

[URBAN NOTE] Why one Torontonian voted for Ford, and its import

Over at Spacing Toronto, journalist and photographer Rick McGinnis wrote a fairly controversial post explaining why he voted for Ford. It comes down to McGinnis' skepticism about the practicality of the Transit City plan, and a hope that, maybe, Ford's lack of vision would be conducive to a less charismatic, more practical style of urban government.

Light Rail Transit, or the LRT, was the shiny totem of Transit City – a network of new streetcars running on dedicated lines pushing ever deeper into the suburbs, and (hopefully) providing the downtown with as near as it would ever see to the subway line that was desperately needed but never built. The first problem was that they would never be run as true LRTs – at top speed and on dedicated lines – but as tramways, plain and simple, stopping and starting at the same traffic lights as a bus, car, or bicycle.

The second problem was that these call-them-what-you-want-but-they’re-not-LRTs would be built by the same people responsible for the upgrade of the St. Clair West streetcar line to a dedicated tramway. I left Roncesvalles Avenue just as the local pain of the streetcar upgrades was starting to bite, and moved to St. Clair at the dregs end of the years-long, over budget construction there, where the anguish of shopkeepers and residents was painful and prolonged. As visions go, you can’t blame voters for suspecting that it might be more in the nature of a nightmare.

[. . .]

Ford’s plan would probably do almost nothing for me, but once I let my self-interest slip, I realized that, in an imperfect world, it was probably the best idea out there. A line along Queen or King would be infinitely preferable to me, but apart from being wildly expensive and disruptive, it would drain resources away from servicing that part of the city where transit use ranged from the inconvenient to the purgatorial.

(The below paragraphs met with particular displeasure.)

Many people who voted for Ford might explain that they wanted to pay fewer taxes, and while that would be nice, I’m enough of a pessimist to assume that it’s in government’s nature to assume an ongoing entitlement to your largesse. After years of concentrating on his message of municipal waste, Rob Ford might not lower my taxes, but I can at least anticipate that the money City Hall gets might be used more carefully. That said, every vote is an expression of the purest pink-cheeked hope and optimism, and a part of me is, as ever, prepared to be disappointed, but what I don’t expect is ever more expansive – or expensive – vision.

The most stubborn criticism against Ford, though, is that he’s a bully and a clod, inept, uncouth and stupid. In tone, it most resembles the more vicious attacks made on Sarah Palin, and the similarity has inspired tenuous attempts to link Ford’s victory with the Tea Party in the U.S. On the most practical level, it’s undercut by Ford’s three successive terms as a councillor, and his apparently unaccountable failure upwards to the highest municipal office, against every expectation and the furious opposition of much of the city’s media.

What Ford clearly lacks is eloquence, and for that I’m grateful. Vision is given wings by eloquence, and history is full of poor ideas given inadequate criticism thanks to a carapace of pretty words. We’re long overdue for a debate over what government should and should not provide, and what our own city can and cannot afford, and since that debate will be harsh and uncivil at times, I have no problem with my choice for mayor.

I agree somewhat with McGinnis on the subject of LRT expansions disrupting traffic on major arteries--I think it's worth the disruption in the end, mind--and I don't think at all that Ford's quite suited to be a technocrat. McGinnis' position is one I don't agree with, but it's defensible. This makes what I did notice, in the comments at the Spacing Toronto blog particularly, rather disturbing. Saying that, as a self-professed public transit fan who supports Ford, he's no different from a man with non-white friends who's also a racist, is inflammatory at the very least. Yay! elevated political discourse.

[BRIEF NOTE] Towards the European Armed Forces?

Doug Saunders' Globe and Mail article examining the rather close new Anglo-French (or Franco-British) military relationship hits the essentials.

In French military circles they are known as the “crown jewels,” the fleet of Mirage fighter jets kept in the sky and devoted to delivering a nuclear strike. In Britain, the four Scottish-based submarines armed with 200 Trident nuclear warheads are considered untouchable.

So when the leaders of France and Britain agreed to combine military operations – including an astonishing deal to unite testing and maintenance of their nuclear arsenals – many senior military figures in both countries were aghast. There was talk, on both sides of the Channel, of Waterloo, Trafalgar, Agincourt and more recent instances of Anglo-French discord.

The agreement was nonetheless signed on Tuesday by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister David Cameron, both of whom are struggling with deep budget cuts and sagging economies. It will place British and French special forces together in a joint force of 10,000 troops and permit the sharing of aircraft carriers, unmanned drone aircraft and other military hardware. Most controversially, it will combine the testing and oversight of the two countries’ nuclear arsenals at a joint facility near Dijon, France.

[. . .]

A few years ago, such a deal would have been unthinkable. But France has rejoined the senior command of NATO after a four-decade absence, and its refusal to participate in the Iraq war no longer outrages Downing Street. The prospect of an
entente cordiale, or even an entente budgétaire, is now politically acceptable, at least to Mr. Cameron’s circle of moderates.

The very annoying contrast between a militaristic United States and a pacifistic Europe holds true inasmuch as the member-states of the European Union spend less, relative to their GDPs and absolutely, than the United States on their militaries. The two exceptions are France and the United Kingdom, which devote more than two percent of their GDP to their militaries. Germany follows behind in absolute expenditures and in terms of people in service, but is less militarized than the other members of the EU-3. Italy and Spain follow behind more distantly. Together, France and the United Kingdom account for almost half of the European Union's defense spending, with their large and experienced ground forces, substantial air and naval forces, and their previously mentioned nuclear weapons.

Assuming that this deal works, this--more than the Treaty of Lisbon--could precipitate the formation of something like a single European military. Close French military integration with the United Kingdom, that most Eurosceptic of states, would create a fairly attractive nucleus for some sort of more coherent European military constellation. Certainly a militarily integrated Europe wouldn't look like French hegemony. nwhyte, others, your thoughts?